One Solution: Demolition

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Sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov putting the final touches on his monument to weapons designer Mikhail Kalashnikov. Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
September 19, 2017

Everything about the new monument in Moscow is disgusting. Once again, it is huge, and it shows us a non-military man holding a rifle. As an obvious symbol of militarism, it looks savage in the downtown of a major city. And then there is the very man the monument commemorates, who besides giving his surname to a lucrative arms brands apparently did nothing else for his country, let alone for a city in which he never lived.

Debates are underway about what to do with monuments when the context in which we view them has changed. Should we demolish them? We are not obliged to destroy them: we could move them to places where their symbolic baggage vanishes. Or would it be better to recode monuments where they stand by building something around them and thus imparting a new meaning to them? In my opinion, we have no choice in this case. There is no way to remedy this abomination. It can only be demolished.

Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Moscow To Unveil Statue Of AK-47 Inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov
Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL
September 18, 2017

75AC53AB-0E8F-47DE-BC13-452E78BD5FBF_w1023_r1_sThe 7.5-meter tall statue to Mikhail Kalashnikov, which stands on a northern intersection of the Garden Ring around central Moscow.

MOSCOW — After several false starts and some grumbling from locals, a prominent statue of a gun-toting Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of one of the world’s most ubiquitous weapons of war, is set to be unveiled in an official ceremony in the Russian capital on September 19.

The 7.5-meter metal likeness — still covered in plastic — features Kalashnikov cradling his eponymous AK-47 assault rifle and looking west down the Garden Ring that loops around central Moscow.

The statue was hoisted onto its plinth over the weekend beside a new business center.

A second metalwork sculpture, of St. George slaying a dragon with a spear tipped with a rifle sight with AK-47 written on it, stands nearby.

The Kalashnikov statues’ sculptor, Salavat Shcherbakov, is also the artist behind a towering 17-meter statue of Prince Vladimir the Great that was erected — amid controversy — outside the Kremlin in November at a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin.

A4E87823-7F31-405E-A58C-7FE440CBDC33_w650_r0_sRussian sculptor Salavat Shcherbakov presents a model for a monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, at his workshop in Moscow on November 10, 2016.

Shcherbakov told TASS news agency that the rifle was added to his original plan for the Kalashnikov statue because people might not recognize him without his signature contribution to the Soviet Army.

“So we dared to include the rifle after all,” Shcherbakov said.

Other prominent statues in the vicinity include statues to poets Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky presented plans to Putin for the Kalashnikov statue in September 2016 during a tour of the Kalashnikov arms manufacturer, headquartered in Izhevsk, the capital of the republic of Udmurtia.

The project was backed by the Russian Military-Historic Society, which is chaired by Medinsky and Rostec, the state weapons and technology conglomerate run by powerful Putin ally Sergei Chemezov.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Medinsky, Chemezov, and Kalashnikov’s daughter, Yelena Kalashnikova, were expected to attend the unveiling ceremony on September 19.

The statue was originally meant to be unveiled on January 21, marking the day in 1948 when Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov signed a decree ordering the construction of an experimental batch of Kalashnikov rifles.

But the ceremony was moved because of inclement weather to May 8, ahead of Victory Day, and then to September 19, Gunmaker Day.

Not everyone is on board with the project.

7926FEAF-D770-479A-84A0-0FB57CC87D96_w650_r0_sMikhail Kalashnikov with one of his fabled assault rifles in 2006.

Veronika Dolina, a local resident, posted a photograph of an apparent protester at the still-shrouded Kalashnikov statue holding a sign that said, “No to weapons, no to war.” She wrote: “Man at Kalashnikov pedestal. Humble hero, no posing.”

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“No to weapons, no to war.” Photo courtesy of Veronika Dolina/Facebook

Resident Natalya Seina told 360, a local media outlet, “This is not artistic, to put it mildly. This is trash. It’s loathsome.” She also noted how Kalashnikov had lived his life in Izhevsk, not Moscow, unlike playwright Anton Chekhov and poet Aleksandr Pleshchev. “These are probably more worthy people than the creator of a rifle.”

There are estimated to be as many as 200 million Kalashnikov rifles around the world —prompting one expert to label it “the Coca-Cola of small arms” — and they are manufactured in dozens of countries.

Mikhail Kalashnikov died in 2013 at the age of 94.

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Remembering Beslan

The Memory of Beslan
Takie Dela
September 1, 2017

On the anniversary of the tragedy, Takie Dela remembers the principal witnesses to the events in School No. 1.

On September 1, 2004, terrorists seized School No. 1 in Beslan. The gunmen herded over a thousand hostages, including small children, into the school’s gym. For three days, the hostages were forcibly held in the building without food and water. The security services assaulted the school to free the hostages.

A total of 334 people were killed in the terrorist attack, including 186 children. 126 of the former hostages were crippled. During the assault, the FSB killed 28 terrorists. The only terrorist taken alive, Nurpashi Kalayev, was arrested. A court later sentenced him to life in prison.

Many articles, investigative reports, and special projects have been written about the Beslan tragedy, and several documentary films and books have been released. Takie Dela recalls the primary witnesses to the events in School No. 1.

Novaya Gazeta

Novaya Gazeta reporter Elena Milashina was in Beslan during the terrorist attack. The first article she filed about the tragedy, “Lies Provoked Terrorists’ Aggression,” was published in the newspaper’s September 6, 2004, issue.

“According to the police officers and special forces soldiers with whom we have spoken, the preparations for the assault were vigorous. That the authorities were learning toward this option is borne out by one other fact. They did not, in fact, negotiate with the gunmen. No one intended to meet even their formal demands. They explained to us, ‘It’s not clear what they want.'”

In 2014, on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, Milashina recalled how events had unfolded before and after the terrorist attack .

“The Beslan terrorist attack will go down in Russian history as an instance when the populace was disinformed on an unprecendented level. Up until the assault of the school, officials concealed the scale of the tragedy (the number of hostages). They also concealed negotiations with Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was ready to ask the gunmen to put down their weapons. Akhmed Zakayev, Maskhadov’s emissary, was ready to fly straight to Beslan and take part in negotiations with the terrorists.”

In 2006, Novaya Gazeta published a special issue on the outcome of its investigation, featuring forensic evidence, annotated maps, official reports, and eyewitness testimony. The newspaper came to several conclusions. Reliable information about the upcoming terrorist attack was known to the authorities at least three hours before the school was seized, and Alexander Dzasokhov, president of North Ossetia, offered to replace the children with 800 officials and local MPs, but Moscow forbade him under pain of arrest from entering into negotiations. The biggest public outcry was caused by the newspaper’s claims that the school was fired upon by grenade launchers, flamethrowers, tanks, and helicopters on several occasions when the hostages were still in the building. According to the newspaper, the official inquiry, while it was in full possession of these facts, found no wrongdgoing in the actions of those in charge of the operation to free the hostages.

Twelve years later, Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Elena Kostyuchenko wrote down the dreams of surviving hostages.

“Vladimir’s dream: “I want to pick a plum. “Now,” I say, “I want a ladder to the plum and to pick the plum.” A young girl below me says, “I’m not your little girl.” I say, “And where is my little girl?” She says, “She is not here. I am another girl here.” After all, she was lying with my wife in the grave. “I’m not your daughter,” she says, “Don’t pick me plums.” I say, “Where is my little girl?” She says, “I don’t know. Look for her.”‘”

Kommersant

Kommersant reporter Olga Allenova was returning from Grozny, when her editors called her and told her about the terrorist attack in Beslan. She went to North Ossetia to write a story.

“‘Don’t let the hostages’ relatives on the air. Don’t cite any number of hostages except the official figure. Don’t use the word “storm.” The terrorists should not be called gunmen, only criminals, because terrorists are people you negotiate with.’ This was what several national TV channel reporters, located in Beslan, heard immediately from the top brass. We were all side by side, and I saw how hard it was for those guys to carry out the orders of the top brass. And I saw one of them crying in the evening after the school had been stormed.”

On October 17, 2004, the newspaper published an article entitled “How Did We Help Them?” The story dealt with the fortieth day after the terrorist attack. [In Orthodox culture, the fortieth day after a person’s death is usually remembered and marked by a ritual.]

“In Moscow, we say that forty days have passed since the school in Beslan was seized. Here those days did not exist. In their place is a black hole, like the hole made by a grenade in the floor of the assembly hall. And every day is a day of mourning.

“The entire city of Beslan is dressed in black. There are houses here in which not a single child is left, and entryways through which three caskets a day are carried out.”

In 2011, an infographic was posted on the newspaper’s website: it features a map of the school on which the main locations where the events took place are illustrated by short excerpts from archival video footage.

Esquire

In 2006, the Russian edition of Esquire published an article [in Russian] by New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers, in which he retraced the events in Beslan School No. 1 hour by hour: from the beginning of the ceremonial, first-day-of-school lineup at nine in the morning of September 1 to the medical care administered to the victims in the Vladikavkaz Hospital on September 4. Chivers had written the article [in English] o understand who the hostages had felt the whole time.

“Like many people who have been to Beslan, I subsequently thought a lot about what had happened. Like the people of Beslan, I was infuriated by the endless contradictory statements, the lack of information about many important episodes in the hostage crisis and the actions of the Russian authorities.”

Radio Svoboda

Ten years after the tragedy, Tom Balmforth and Diana Markosian published a story on the Radio Svoboda website about the lives of the surviving schoolchildren. The former hostages talked about their memories, features, and thoughts of the future.

“The children behaved heroically. We all grew up immediately. We really supported each other. In fact, we came together like a family there. Even many of the adults did not behave with as much dignity as the children. Apparently, the adults understand everything in terms of their being grown-up and wise, while we children saw it all through rose-tinted glasses, maybe. I know for a fact that, after those three days, we became completely different people,” recalls Zarina Tsirikhova. She was fourteen when the terrorist attack occurred.

Takie Dela

Takie Dela published Diana Khachatrian’s story about how, in September 2016, the memorial events in Beslan ended in arrests. During the ceremonial school lineup at School No. 1, five women staged a protest. They removed their jackets, under which they were wearing t-shirts that bore accusations against the regime.

Voice of Beslan activists in the gym of School No. 1. Their t-shirts are emblazoned with the slogan, “Putin is the execution of Beslan.” Photo courtesy of Diana Khachartian and Takie Dela

“The female activists of Voice of Beslan stand apart in the gym. The five women are wearing handmade t-shirts on which the inscription “Putin is the executioner of Beslan” has been written in marker pen. This is not a hysterical slogan. Based on their own impressions and evidence from the investigations, the women argue that on September 3, 2004, Vladimir Putin or a member of his entourage gave the orders to storm the school in order to expedite events and prevent negotiations with Aslan Maskhadov. They argue the hostages could have been saved.”

Photography

Photographer Oksana Yushko has for many years produced unique photograph projects on the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy. Yushko takes pictures of the children who were taken hostage in September 2004 at different stages in their school careers, both in everyday life and during graduation from school.

Amina Kachmazova, left, and Fariza Mitdzieva hugging each other in the old school No. 1 in Beslan. Fariza, 18: ‘Here we are, such heroes, living after the attack. And somehow we are able to find happiness in life. Life just goes on and we cannot change what already happened to us. Just the opposite: now it is more pleasant to look at how we laugh, have fun and enjoy life.’ Beslan, North Ossetia, 2013. Photo courtesy of Oksana Yushko

Documentary Films

In 2005, some of the relatives of those who were killed during the terrorist attack established the grassroots organization Mothers of Beslan. That same year, due to friction within the group, a number of committee members left the group and founded another organization, Voice of Beslan.

Rodion Chepel’s The Committee, released on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, focuses on Beslan’s female activists.

Chepel discussed how the film was made in an interview with Rusbase.

“We have never met such people. They are such uncompromisingly honest people, it was if they would be shot for lying. From a distance it seems that Beslan is god knows what, part of Moscow’s war with terrorism. But when you go there, you understand it is just human grief that has made them so tough and very honest. It’s not a matter of politics. They’re in touch with their humanity. You talk to them and you realize you simply have not met such people. This was what we wanted to show in the film: what these ten years have done with these people is incredible. They just want someone to explain to them what happened, for someone to say, “Forgive me. It was my fault.” Instead, they have been threatened and slandered. People have tried to sick them on each other, drive a wedge through them, and present them as insane.”

Filmmaker Vadim Tsalikov has shot four documentary films about the terrorist attack in Beslan. One of them is Beslan: Memory.

Foreign filmmakers have also shot films about the tragedy in North Ossetia. For example, Joe Halderman shot the film Beslan: Three Days in September for Showtime. The picture was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006.

Personal Diary

In 2012, one of the hostages, 14-year-old Agunda Vatayeva, decided to publish her memoir of the terrorist attack. The young woman launched a diary on LiveJournal and wrote three posts in which told from beginning to end the story of the three days she spent in captivity.

“If you deliberately searched for my diary, you probably want to read my memoir of the terrorist attack in Beslan: Day One, Day Two, and Day Three. It is unlikely that you will find my LiveJournal exciting or at least positive reading. It was started once upon a time for quite different purposes. It was a kind of psychotherapy for me.”

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In April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights award three million euros to the relatives of the victims. There were over 400 plaintiffs in the case. The court ruled that the Russian authorities had not taken sufficient measures to prevent the terrorist attack and had violated Article 2 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: the right to life. In addition, Russia had not prevented a threat to people’s lives and had not planned the assault on the school properly. The European Court of Human Rights likewise deemed that the Russian authorities had not properly investigated all circumstances of the terrorist attack and the causes of the hostages’ deaths.

The Kremlin reacted to the ECtHR’s ruling by saying that “an emotional assessment is hardly appropriate.”

“Of course, we cannot agree with this formulation. In a country that has been repeatedly attacked by terrorists, and the list of such countries has been growing, unfortunately, these formulations and purely hypothetic arguments are hardly acceptable. An emotional assessment is hardly appropriate.

“All the necessary legal actions related to this decision will be taken,” said Dmitry Peskov, the president’s spokesman.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Cossacks versus Pokémon: Which Are More Real?

“In 1996, game designer Satoshi Tajiri invented the Pokémon, which immediately garnered immense popularity. Years have passed, and their glory had seemingly faded, but on July 6, 2016, the Pokémon Go mobile app set the Internet world on fire and split Russian society. Some psychiatrists believe the game was developed by American neo-Nazis; others, that it is a CIA project; still others, that it is simply a brilliant commercial project. But spokesmen for the Russian Orthodox Church have detected an occult component in the game. While others have been trying to figure out what Pokémon Go is, the Cossacks are certain the game is part of the information war against Russia. So they went out on a raid against the Pokémon.”
—Annotation to the video of a TV news report, above. It was posted on YouTube on August 1, 2016, by Svoyo TV, based in Stavropol, Russia. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Rustam Adagamov for the heads-up

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If the “Cossacks” are against this Pokémon business, I am all for it. And you should be, too. Because there are no “Cossacks” in reality, only mental patients, policemen, and FSB officers dressing up as “Cossacks.”

In this sense, the Pokémon are just as real as the “Cossacks,” but much less harmful. They don’t try and shut down art exhibitions and plays, they don’t assault opposition leaders, they don’t attack Pussy Riot with “real Cossack whips” in Sochi, and they have not set themselves up as the ultimate voice of popular Russian common sense.

The “news segment,” above, is like a news segment in which Darth Vader is asked what he thinks about Santa Claus.

There is no Darth Vader. There is no Santa Claus. There are no Cossacks.

“Russia’s strident conservatism,” mentioned in the article, below, is a hoax as well, a total fiction, spun from whole cloth by a gang of crooks and thieves who, first of all, want to fool themselves about having real “moral” values, “anti-liberal” values, rather than admitting they are just soulless, greedy nihilists on the make and on the take.

More importantly, the “conservative” fiction is a nifty gimmick for occupying the minds and hearts of people whose time would be better spent thinking hard and creatively about how to rid themselves of the gang of crooks and thieves, rather than tolerating or even buying into the endless waves of hokey moral panics dreamt up and launched by mainstream TV, the Putinist online troll army, the relevant FSB directorates and offices in the presidential administrations, and the FSB and police agents (bolstered, no doubt, by a handful of true believers) who dress up as “Cossacks,” “members” of the “grassroots” National Liberation Movement (NOD), and so on.

Finally, pace what Tom Balmforth has written, below, there are no “senators” in Russia, either, for the starkly simple reason that Russia has no Senate. (Post-Petrine Imperial Russia had an institution called the Senate, but that is neither here nor there.) The upper house of Russia’s current rubber-stamp parliament is called the Federation Council. A few years ago, its members took to calling themselves “senators,” just as other self-empowered clowns took to calling themselves “Cossacks.” No one, especially self-respecting reality-based journalists, is obliged to encourage this blatant attempt at dignifying an utterly undemocratic, unelected institution.

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Pokemon Go Away: Russians See CIA Plot, ‘Satanism’ In Viral App
Tom Balforth
RFE/RL
July 15, 2016

Russia’s strident conservatism, perhaps best personified by Cossacks and the Orthodox Church, probably could not have less in common with Pokemons, the multicolored, virtual “pocket monsters” from Japan’s Nintendo.

So it’s unsurprising that reports that Pokemon Go, a new augmented-reality app that invites users to seek and “collect” the creatures by navigating in real space with the help of a mobile device, could be unveiled in Russia this week have irked some of the country’s conservatives.

Further still, though, some in Russia have depicted the application as an extraordinary scheme by the U.S. secret services to craftily enlist millions of people across the world to photograph and film hidden, out-of-the-way places.

“Imagine that the ‘little creature’ in question doesn’t appear in some park but on a secret site where a conscript or other soldier takes and photographs it with his camera,” state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Aleksandr Mikhailov, a retired major general of the Federal Security Service (FSB), on July 15 as saying. “It’s recruitment by one’s own personal desire and without any coercion. This is the ideal way for secret services to gather information. And no one takes any heed, entertainment is fashionable after all.”

Russian ultranationalist thinker and frequent conspiracy theorist Aleksandr Dugin made similar allegations on July 12, even claiming that Niantic, the San Francisco-based developer of the application, is linked to a CIA venture capital firm.

Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov told Tass his ministry does not intend to specially regulate or ban the application. “Some people like creating their own startup, achieving results, some people like to lounge on the sofa all day, some people like running after Pokemons and falling into ditches. Everyone chooses for themselves, happily, we have a free country,” Nikiforov said.

On July 14, influential business newspaper Vedomosti quoted two sources in Nintendo’s Russia office as saying the application could be released by the end of this week.

There has been some hype on Russia’s social networks where Pokemon Go has been trending, and experts predict it will take that country by storm, toomuch to the disapproval of some officials.

On July 14, Lyudmila Bokova, a senator [sic] from Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, attacked the latest incarnation of the Pokemon franchise as a provocation and a trick to extract money from the parents of its fans.

“This is some kind of strange trick to renew this story, to again get children hooked on who knows what, and to actively obtain the money in their parents’ wallets,” Senator Lyudmila Bokova was quoted by Tass as saying.

‘Smacks Of Satanism’

Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the country’s cultural capital [sic], the Irbis Orthodox Union of Cossacks called for the application to be formally banned.

Andrei Polyakov, the ataman of the society, said he intends to appeal to the Consumer Health Watchdog and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, Znak.ru reports.

“We need to drag people out of the virtual world; otherwise it all smacks of Satanism. There are so many real interesting things and professions in the world, so much of interest to do that it is wrong to be distracted by every nonsense.”

Polyakov continued: “As for churches and temples, holy places, cultural institutions, children’s institutions, this absolutely has to be banned. We must respect culture and people’s faith, regardless which. Either there must be a sensible framework, or instructions that must be observed, or the application has to be banned completely.”

The smartphone application invites users to gather imaginary Pokemons that are projected onto images of real locations.

Vakhtang Kipshidze, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, has urged users not to play the game in places of worship. In particular, he mentioned the duels that can be called between Pokemon Go users and their retinues of pocket monsters.

The Kremlin’s Council for Human Rights and Civil Society said on July 14 that it would discuss threats linked to the game and would make recommendations.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said of the fad in the Russian context: “Pokemons are not the reason to visit the Kremlin, a jewel of world culture. Moreover, the Kremlin is unprecedentedly open, although it is the residence of the head of state.”

Pokemon Go has prompted concerns outside of Russia, too. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, for instance, felt obliged to warn players and seek exclusion from the game, announcing that “playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism.”

Kuwait on July 15 banned the game at “sensitive landmarks,” AP said, reportedly to include military and other government locations. Authorities in California said two men fell off a seaside cliff there after climbing through a barrier to play Pokemon Go, underscoring what U.S. officials have warned is a risky tendency to trespass in the heat of the chase.

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