Deza

deza

The bog standard “progressive internationalist leftist” narrative on today’s Russia can be encapsulated in four simple words: “Everything is Yeltsin’s fault.”

There is thus no need to shell out your hard-earned money on books with lots of pages and fancy words in them when the takeaway message is so easily memorized and painlessly digested.

If you suffer from panic attacks, as I do, repeating this message like a mantra will also calm you down in no time at all and put you to sleep on restless nights.

Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. Everything is Yeltsin’s fault. 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ДЕЗА

Messages like the one quoted below don’t jibe with the standard narrative aggressively enforced these days like Stalinist dogma among the west’s champagne socialist hipsters, who see Vladimir Putin as the nearly blameless victim of forces unleashed in the 1990s by the real villain of post-Soviet Russian history, Boris Yeltsin.

The problem with the standard hipster socialist narrative, however, is that it’s mostly wrong. It simply cannot account for wild variations among supposedly capitalist countries, just as it has trouble making sense of all the oddities and excesses of the Putinist system, many of which have nothing or almost nothing to do with capitalism and class relations as such.

Vladimir Putin. Let the Russian president stand in for any number of his country’s adept hackers. The country may have been relatively quiet—though not inactive—during the midterm elections, but Russia’s hackers still caused all manner of trouble throughout the world. Upset over a doping-related ban, they hacked and released emails of the International Olympic Committee in January, then attacked the Pyeongchang Olympics themselves, wreaking havoc during the opening ceremonies with so-called Olympic Destroyer malware. When a lab investigated the nerve agent used in the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, Russia tried to hack it, too. They continue to probe the US power grid for weaknesses. And on and on, all before you even get to Putin’s continued, unprecedented cyber-aggression against Ukraine. Russia has spent this year actively, opening lashing out at the world online—with Putin at the command.

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If Wishes Were Horses

DSCN4101There is a good chance this ordinary young Russian woman will be middle-aged by the time Putin finally leaves office. Photo by the Russian Reader

“Syria is a shocking, baffling mess. For ordinary Russians, it is a waste of men and money. For a watching world, appalled by scenes of relentless brutality and cruelty in Ghouta, Aleppo, and a thousand other towns and cities, it is Putin’s mess. It’s up to him to fix it.

[…]

“Putin faces a presidential election on 18 March. If Russia were a functioning democracy, not a corrupt oligarchy, he could be out on his ear.”

I want to make one tiny correction to Simon Tisdall’s otherwise fine, correct sentiments, as published on February 25 in the Guardian. Syria means absolutely nothing to “ordinary Russians.” To be more precise, there is absolutely no empirical evidence whatsoever it means anything to them at all.

If it does mean anything, however, it may not mean what Mr. Tisdall would want it to mean, as evidenced by the 30,000 people who turned out in Voronezh on February 8 for Russian fighter pilot Roman Filippov’s funeral.

Except for singular voices like Igor Yakovenko’s, which I have linked to, above, Russian society and its famed intelligentsia have been ear-shatteringly silent about the Kremlin’s predations on behalf of the Syrian butcher Bashar Assad since they kicked off in September 2015. Although there were fairly large demonstrations, especially in Moscow, to protest the Kremlin’s criminal adventures in Ukraine, there has not been a single notable mass protest in Russia against the Kremlin’s war against ordinary, absolutely innocent Syrians.

The only protest against the Syrian massacre in Russia I know of was a picket that occurred somewhere in Moscow during the last two years, witnessed by almostno one, and attended by almost no one. A reader of my Facebook news feed told me he had heard about it or perhaps even attended it himself. He wrote about it to me by way of saying there were, in fact, protests in Russia against the Kremlin’s Syrian horrorshow.

Try not to laugh or cry after you have read the previous paragraph.

We should thus conclude that most “ordinary Russians” do not care a whit about ordinary Syrians and their hellish ordeal. Or they have bought hook, line, and sinker the Kremlin’s stinky lie that it has been targeting only “terrorist groups” in Syria. It’s one or the other. There isn’t a third option, as “ordinary Russians” like to say.

You should know, however, that the Kremlin enacts this same stinky lie (about “combating terrorists”) on the home front, yet only a few more “ordinary Russians” get worked up about it.

So, the problem is not just Putin and Syria, although were there ever an international tribunal on war crimes in Syria, he and his immediate Kremlin underlings and Russia’s top generals would be the only Russians legally liable to prosecution. Just as collective punishment is outlawed by international law, there really is no such thing as collective guilt.

It is equally true, however, that the vast majority of Russia’s 144 million people have been letting Putin and his satraps do as they please for the last eighteen years without so much as a peep.

You can put this down to state propaganda, the Soviet legacy or whatever you like, but it is a frightening, unmovable fact.

For now, the perennially hopeful would counter me, saying that someday, perhaps soon, things will change.

I would like to count myself among their number, but on March 18 Putin will have himself installed as Russia’s president for life de facto.

Why is this? Because Putin knows that, at this dreadful point in Russia’s history, even if he once again, after his new term as president runs out in 2024, handpicked a successor from his inner circle of loyalists to sub for him as president for six years, so he could reinstall himself as president in 2030, just as he once handpicked Dmitry Medvedev to do the same prestidigation act in 2008, that person probably would have to denounce him and his personality cult sheerly for reasons of political expediency, that is, if the “substitute” president wanted a freer hand in shaping his own administration for good or for ill, much as the Stalinist loyalist Krushchev did after Stalin’s death.

After twenty-four years of Putinism, the country would want the “substitute” president to denounce Putin and all his ways as fiercely as a drunkard wants a drink.

It is just too bad it does not have the will or the means to dismantle the Putinist tyranny now. The consequences of six more years of Putinism for Russia and the world will be dreadful. TRR

Overtaking America

Despicable but predictable. My heartfelt thanks to Mr. Shuvalov for finally having the guts to admit what has been obvious for years: that the Russian elites and mostly nonexistent Russian middle class are sick off their asses on catching up with and overtaking the specter of “America.” So, which side never stopped fighting the Cold War? The greedy mid-level KGB officers who have been running Russia for the last eighteen years. If you didn’t know that already, it means you’ve been looking in the wrong direction all this time. And to think this is what the “struggle against imperialism” has come to. Oh, and the VTsIOM “polling data” about “happiness,” cited at the end of this article, is total bullshit, yet another smelly burp from the well-funded belly of Russia’s rampant pollocracyTRR

slogan
Screenshot of the alleged slogan of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, currently underway in Sochi. Courtesy of the festival

Shuvalov: Russia’s Goal Is For Russians to Be Happier than Americans 
Fontanka.ru
October 18, 2017

By 2024, industrious Russians with higher educations will be able to catch up with and overtake abstract [sic] Americans in terms of happiness. Such were the horizons painted by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov at the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students on October 18 in Sochi.

“Goal number one is that, when the next political cycle [sic] is completed, in 2024, anyone who has a basic [sic] higher education and the ability to work would feel happier than in the United States,” said Shuvalov, according to Lenta.ru, as cited by RIA Novosti.

A presidential election is scheduled for 2024.

According to the Monitoring Center at RANEPA’s Institute of Social Sciences, nearly 45% of working Russians do not understand the purpose and meaning of the government’s economic policies. Only 47% of Russians have a sense of the government’s actions vis-à–vis the economy.

In August, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) published the results of a poll, according to which approximately 84% of Russians consider themselves happy.

Earlier, in April, according to VTsIOM, the percentage of Russians who felt happy reached its highest level since 1990, amounting to 85%.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Screenshot of the homepage of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, currently underway in Sochi, Russia.

The 1600th: Futurama

This is my 1600th entry since I started translating and writing articles about modern Russian politics, society, economics, art and culture, history, social movements, grassroots endeavors, and everyday life on this website nearly ten years ago.

My first post, dated October 23, 2007, was a translation of an excerpt from Viktor Mazin and Pavel Pepperstein’s fantastic 2005 book The Interpretation of Dreams. Provocative and surprising as ever, Mr. Pepperstein argued that

[o]nly the interim between Soviet socialism and capitalism was ecological. It was a time of crisis: the factories stood idle, and the air became cleaner. It is a pity, but those days (the nineties) came to an end, and now (under cover of patriotic speeches) our country is becoming a colony of international capitalism. They try and persuade us this is success, but it is not true. We should (my dreams tell me, and I believe them) put our beautiful country to a different use, for example, by turning it into a colossal nature and culture reserve. (After all, our country, like Brazil, produces the most valuable thing on Earth: oxygen.) We should close the borders to foreigners (but let anyone leave as they like), carry out a program of deindustrialization, and limit the birth rate.

Shortly thereafter, I was offered the job of editing another website, Chtodelat News, where I volunteered for nearly five years, publishing 740 posts and slowly figuring out what I wanted to say with this hybrid of translation,  editorializing, and media collage, and how I could say it.

After the long stint at Chtodelat News, I revived the Russian Reader, trying to make it as pluralistic, polyphonic and, occasionally, as paradoxical as I could, while also fulfilling the brief I have tried to keep to the fore from the very beginning: covering stories about Russia which no other Anglophone media would bother with (although they thus miss tiny but vital chunks of the big picture) and giving my readers access to Russian voices they would not otherwise hear.

I had meant to celebrate my 1500th post on this beat, but that make-believe anniversary came and went without my noticing it. It was all for the best, however, since now nearly ten years have passed since I set out on this unpredictable journey.

Like the very first post on this blog, my 1600th post is a glimpse into Russia’s possible futures, as imagined by Grey Dolphin (aka Vladimir Gel’man), his fellow scribbler Grim Reminder (yours truly), Russian rappers GROT, and my friends at the Moscow Times. TRR

__________________

Russia: It Can’t Be Improved So Destroy It, or It Can’t Be Destroyed So Improve It?
Grey Dolphin
September 27, 2017

Grey Dolphin

The discussions about Russia’s prospects, currently underway among the conscious segment of Russian society, despite their public nature, in many respects resemble similar debates about the Soviet Union’s destiny, held in the kitchens of members of the intelligentsia and among politicized émigrés during the so-called stagnation. Relatively speaking, it was a debate between two parties. One party, the moderate optimists, grounded their expectations on hopes the country’s leadership would change course for one reason or another (or would itself change), and there would be a chance to change the Soviet Union for the better. (There were different opinions about what “better” meant and how to achieve it.) The other party, which included both moderate and radical pessimists, argued it was no longer possible or fundamentally impossible to improve the Soviet Union, and changes should be directed towards its total elimination. Time seemed to be on the side of the optimists, whose chances at success appeared realistic at perestroika’s outset, but in fact it was working inexorably on behalf of the pessimists. By the time the optimists seemingly got their chance, opportunities to improve the Soviet Union had largely been frittered away. History does not tolerate the subjunctive mood, and we do not know what turn events could have taken had perestroika been launched ten or fifteen years earlier. Those ten or fifteen years, however, passed only in conversations around kitchen tables, while the country’s leaders strove to prevent any change whatsoever. When the changes kicked off, the energies of both parties—the supporters of improving the Soviet Union, and the supporters of destroying the Soviet Union—had not exactly been exhaused in vain, but they had not been used very effectively.

Despite all the political and economic differences between the early 1970s and the late 2010s, the current conjuncture in Russia is not so remote from what it was then in the Soviet Union. Moderate optimists have proposed seemingly reasonable projects for improvements to the authorities and the public, but they themselves do not believe they can be realized “in this lifetime.” The moderate pessimists, if they had believed earlier in the possibility of improvement, have lost faith, while the radical pessimists never believed in improvements as a matter of principle. The optimists are waiting to see whether they will get the chance to improve at least something (and if so, when), while the pessimists are ready at a moment’s notice to exclaim, “Lord, let it burn!” For better or worse, however, so far there are no obvious “arsonists” in the vicinity who could and would want to demolish the current Russian political and economic order nor have any appeared on the distant horizon. Once again, as during the stagnation, time inexorably works on behalf of the pessimists. Sooner or later, yet another former optimist or, on the contrary, a person not involved in these debates will say something like, “Today’s Russia cannot be improved. It can only be destroyed.” (Essentially, this was what happened in the Soviet Union towards the end of perestroika. Of course, there were a different set of causes and other mechanisms in play then. What I have in mind is the rationale of transformation itself.) If and when the number of people supporting the verdict “destroy” reaches a critical mass, then the first of the questions posed in my post’s title will irreversibly be answered in the affirmative, occluding the second question altogether. The more news about events in Russia transpires every day, the more inevitable this outcome seems.

Translated by the Russian Reader

___________________________

GROT, “Fire”
If God wants to punish a man, He strips him of his reason.
I often think the whole country has been punished.
As in a fantasy story, I can see a light glowing over people’s heads.
This is not a sign of holiness.
It is a sign of moral decay,
Decay of beliefs, principles, and ideas.
The nostrils are already used to the rotting smell,
And there are cadaver spots on the faces of children and adults.
Self-destruction at the mental level,
The nation jumps into the abyss with a cry of “Keep off me!”
We will soon go extinct like the mammoths.
Young mothers with Jaguars and Parliaments.
People will have coming to them the trouble they stir up
Everyone will be punished according to their whims.

Fire!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Fire!
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.
Fire!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Fire!
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.

An ancient serpent lashes the sky with a crimson tongue,
Its breath ripples over the television networks.
Through TV screens it animates the golem and generates ghosts.
In the skulls of those who ate their souls
And vomited them out indifferently with counterfeit vodka
In the snow in winter or summer in the dust.
Two abused dudes filmed it on a mobile.
Look online, search for the tags “degenerates,” “masturbate,”
“Suck,” “come,” “sex with babies.”
I’m waiting for the last fire, but you better run.
Nothing can be fixed here now. Lord, let it burn!

Fire!
Will purify gold from impurities.
Fire!
Those who believe in the truth will stand their ground.

Source: rap-text.ru

Translated by the Russian Reader

___________________________

Russia could ban Facebook next year if it fails to comply with a 2015 law requiring companies to store Russian citizens’ personal data on local servers, the state media censor said on Tuesday.

The U.S. social network would follow in the footsteps of LinkedIn, the social platform for professionals that was banned in Russia last year after a September 2015 law requiring companies to store Russian users’ personal data on localized servers.

The head of Russia’s state media watchdog Roskomnadzor warned that “there are no exceptions” to compliance with the data storage law seen by some observers as unenforceable.

“We will either ensure that the law is implemented, or the company will cease to work in Russia,” Roskomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov was cited as saying by the Interfax news agency.

He said the watchdog is aware of Facebook’s popularity, with an estimated 14.4 million monthly and 6 million daily users in Russia as of last year.

“On the other hand, we understand that this is not a unique service. There are other social networks.”

Twitter, Zharov said, has agreed to transfer by mid-2018 its Russian users’ data to Russian servers.

“We have no plans to investigate Facebook in that regard until the end of 2017,” he added. “We will think about it in 2018. Maybe we will investigate.”

[…]

________________________

 

Grim Reminder

There are no technical or legal justifications for banning Facebook in 2018, only political considerations. The principal political consideration would be the need to find ways of “celebrating” Putin’s auto-reinstallation as president for “another six-year term” (i.e., for life).

As a tyrant who brooks no opposition to his illegimate rule, Putin would have to celebrate his hollow victory by instituting a series of crackdowns against his foes, as he did after formally returning to the presidency in 2012.

One of these crackdowns could involve banning Facebook in Russia, as is strongly suggested by the article I have quoted, above.

But that would be the least of everyone’s worries once Putin essentially crowned himself tsar as a gift to himself for his stunningly bad performance as the country’s leader for eighteen years.

Since his entire reign has orbited not around solving the country’s problems, but around imbricating himself and his clique of “former” KGB officers into every corporate and institutional nook and cranny in Russia (and beyond) while stealing everything he can get his hands on and rewarding his satraps with the booty “for a job well done,” he has not had much time to solve any real problems.

Hence the constant need to designate enemies and cripple, vanquish, jail, disappear or murder them, be they Facebook, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Boris Nemtsov.

Anyone who does not explicitly support Putin—and by definition only members of his clique really support him, in the sense that members of a mafia clan are loyal to their boss—is de facto opposed to him.

This might be especially true during the upcoming election, because, I would imagine, the majority of Russian voters are, at very least, quite weary of Putin and his oppositionless electoral “victories” by now and would be inclined to stay home on election day, even if they are not willing to march in the streets. (That might require too much effort.)

But a low turnout would still be a slap in the face to a man whose whole schtick the last eighteen years or so has been his alleged “wild” popularity, a schtick supported by the mainstream Russian press, corrupt Russian pollsters, foreign media covering Russia, and “Russia experts,” most of whom have no other gauge for measuring or probing “Russian public opinion,” so they rely on rigged, astronomically high popularity ratings.

If something around ten percent of voters in the two capitals (Moscow and Petersburg) and the non-ethnic regions showed up on polling day, the myth of Putin’s popularity would be dealt a near-fatal blow.

Putin would take his humiliation out on his treacherous non-constituency by unleashing a panoply of crackdowns, adopting a whole new raft of repressive laws at lightning speed, as happened in the wake of his 2012 re-election, and, perhaps, arresting a prominent figure from the opposition, such as Alexei Navalny, sending him down for hard time. Or worse.

Author photos courtesy of cetacea.ru and the Russian Reader

Putin’s Heartlands Are in Your Heads

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A snapshot of Putin’s real heartlands. Zagorodny Prospect, central Petersburg, September 10, 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

During Russia’s oil-fueled boom, Rashid Tamayev saw steady pay raises at his auto factory job, helping keep his family in relative comfort—and making him a loyal supporter of President Vladimir Putin. But since a plunge in oil prices three years ago, Tamayev has lost faith in the president. Last spring he and dozens of others at the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant lodged an appeal with the Kremlin when they were fired after pointing out safety problems. They got no answer. “Putin has forgotten about ordinary people,” Tamayev says as he watches workers from the factory leave after their shifts. “We used to live well.”
Henry Meyer, “There’s Trouble Brewing in Putin’s Heartland,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 13, 2017

I don’t know who concocted the myth of Putin’s base of support among the working class in Russia’s heartlands, but it’s a convenient way of not reporting facts staring you right in the face but that you chose not to think over.

The myth is based on the big-city/intellectual worker prejudice that the working class, i.e., people who, allegedly, work with their hands, not their heads, especially members of the working class who live in little towns and the smaller cities (as described in the article, cited above) are congenitally less intelligent and more easily gulled than their big-city slicker cousins.

But where do you have to go in Russia to find the people, whole classes and stratas, who have benefited the most, materially and otherwise, from the eighteen years of Putin’s rule? (It’s eighteeen years, not seventeen, as Bloomberg Businessweek mistakenly writes in the article.) Moscow and Petersburg. That is where you shall find Putin’s real base of support and his real heartland.

Because the unfortunate worker described in Henry Meyer’s article made a slightly better living during the years the oil price was high was not due to anything clever Putin and his successive governments did. Whether the unfortunate worker and his comrades nominally voted for Putin and United Russia or not during those years does not matter a whit, because the fix has been in at the voting stations and outside them all these eighteen years. If you do not believe me, look at what has happened to real opposition candidates who have managed to slip through the Kremlin’s obstacle course and win the occasional election.

Have you ever heard of Galina Shirshina, a young woman from the liberal Yabloko party who, in 2013, was elected mayor of Petrozavodsk, a city of approximately 260,000 people in northwest Russia, by popular vote? Do you know how long she lasted in office? Do you know how she got booted out of office in 2015 and who was behind her dismissal?

What do you do with the half-baked base/heartland argument in cases like this? And this is just one instance. I could give dozens of other examples off the top of my head, and even more if I did a little research.

Opinion polls, the beloved crutch of so-called Russia experts and reporters who write about Russian politics, are also unreliable, for many of the same reasons. One of those reasons is that respondents want to give pollsters the right answer, meaning, the answer they think the regime wants them to give, because they identify pollsters (correctly!) with a schizophrenic, brutal regime that alternately faux-coddles them and then whacks them over the head in different ways, alternately claims it has improved their living standards and then engages in so much mega-corruption that any sustainable, broad-based improvement of the country’s quality of life will always be impossible as long as the regime is in power. Poll respondents thus do not identify pollsters with unbiased academic research, with “sociology,” or some such nonsense, and do not tell them what they really think. In turn, the pollsters want to ask only questions that produce right answers, not find out what people really think.

Besides, all these eighteen years, the instability generator has been turned up to eleven, despite the regime’s loud claims urbi et orbi it has been establishing stability the likes of which the world has never seen.

A side effect of this turbulent instability has been that sometimes people actually do not know what they think or think things that are blatantly contradictory. Hence, there probably really are some number of Russians who have reapplied the old good tsar/bad boyars myth to the supposed confrontation between the well-meaning Putin and his hapless or hopelessly corrupt underlings. This myth has been reinforced by endless dressing-downs at cabinet meetings, pointedly rebroadcast on all the main evening news programs, and the occasional arrest and prosecution of a high government official for bribery or something of the sort.

Incidentally, the other thing that struck me about this article is how much time Bloomberg has been spending lately mansplaining Russia to its readers in a terribly charitable way recently, especially via the often dubiously argued op-ed columns of Leonid Bershidsky, supposedly a Russian dissident journalist in exile somewhere in Europe. I have no explanation for this overly friendly approach to a regime that has done nothing to deserve it.

In any case, Putin has no base in the nonexistent Russian heartlands. He does, however, have a considerable base in his hometown of Petersburg and the capital, Moscow. In Russia’s two largest cities, huge numbers of officials, big businessmen, and certain strata of the intelligentsia have benefited considerably from Putin’s rule, and have in turn supported it with their loyalty, although their support may be souring a bit as the regime has turned more oppressive with each passing month since Putin’s 2012 re-election.

(I write “oppressive” rather than “conservative,” which is another term that has no place in debates about the different sham ideologies Putinism has apparently embraced or flirted with over the years. These ideologies, from neoliberalism to Eurasianism to conservatism to Russian Orthodoxy, are only mummers, meant to alternately distract the public and observers from what has been really going on, and, when they are not distracted, to intimidate them into shutting up, often by creating the false impression that they are what the masses, the heartlands, the working classes or ordinary people really want, even though the latter are all fictions fashioned from whole cloth or, when they are not, the actual working masses and regular joes really do not want anything of the sort.)

Finally, there is very little evidence that trouble is brewing in Putin’s nonexistent non-heartland or anywhere else in Russia, if only because the numbers of flagrant trouble-brewers are clearly much smaller compared to the much larger numbers of Russians who, at best, are undecided as to whether they want to save their country or let Putin install himself as tsar next year and, I fear, plunge the country into a self-destructive nightmare from which it will never recover.

Putin is going to have to turn the instability generator up to twelve or even thirteen, because he will somehow have to justify his presence on the throne for what will surely be the rest of his life. This means another wave of more crackdowns on renegade individuals (that is, individuals made to look like renegades or “extremists”) and more wholesale legislative assaults on civic and personal liberties.

Tyrants usually do not justify their endless, stultifying reigns by abdicating the throne and re-instituting grassroots social democracy. They only do that if they are pushed, but right now almost no one in Russia is pushing. TRR

Evgeny Anisimov: Ivan the Terrible Monument Is Sacrilege

Evgeny Anisimov
Russia’s Shame and Misfortune: Ivan the Terrible Monument Is Sacrilege
Moskovsky Komsomolets
October 16, 2016

The undertaking by the Oryol authorities has left me, a historian of ancient Russia and a citizen of modern Russia, in a state of shock and amazement. Erecting a monument to Ivan the Terrible violates every conceivable ethical norm and Russian tradition.

Monument to Ivan the Terrible in Oryol. The statue was unveiled on October 14, 2016, amid great controversy.

In the 1850s, during the reign of Alexander II, a heated debate erupted among the intelligentsia and court circles over many of the historical figures proposed for inclusion on the monument The Millennium of Russia, which was to be erected in Novgorod the Great. They were unanimous on only one point. Ivan the Terrible should not be depicted on the monument in any way, for his reign had been Russia’s shame and misfortune. There had never been such a hideous villain in Russia’s history as its first tsar. And this opinion was voiced under an autocracy!

You can talk about the rivers of blood that Ivan spilled in his own country, the monstrous, cruel reprisals that he visited on his own subjects. We are talking about thousands and thousands of people. I will recall only one absolutely true story, the story of what happened to the highly respected boyar Ivan Petrovich Fyodorov-Chelyadnin, head of the Boyar Duma. Ivan accused him of a nonexistent conspiracy to seize power. He forced the boyar to don the tsar’s cloths, seated him on his throne, mocked the old man, and cut out his heart with a knife. The poor man’s body was tossed onto a pile of manure, where it was ripped to shreds by stray dogs.

But that was not enough for the tsar. He carried out a savage reprisal against Fyodorov’s relatives and servants.

As a contemporary wrote, “Having thus murdered [Ivan], his family, and all his people, the tyrant mounted a horse and for nearly a year made the rounds of his estates and villages (Fyodorov was wealthy) with a mob of murderers, sowing destruction, devastation, and murder everywhere. When he captured his soldiers and payers of tribute, the tyrant would order them stripped naked and locked in a cage. Sulfur and gunpowder would be poured into the cage and ignited so that the corpses of the poor men, lifted by the force of the explosion, seemed to fly in the air. The tyrant found this circumstance quite amusing. All the large and small animals and horses were gathered in one place, and the tyrant ordered them hacked to pieces, and some of them pierced with arrows, since he did not wish to leave even the smallest beast alive anywhere. He torched his estates and stacks of wheat, turning them to ash. He would order the murderers to rape the wives and children of those he killed as he watched, and do with them as they willed before exterminating them. As for the wives of the peasants, he ordered them stripped naked and driven into the woods like animals. However, the murders secretly waited in ambush there to torture, kill, and hack to pieces these women wandering the woods. He thus destroyed the clan and entire family of this great man, leaving not a single survivor among his in-laws and relatives.”

The tsar especially tormented women during the atrocities on Fyodorov’s estates: “The women and girls were stripped naked and in this state would be forced to catch chickens in the field.”

These recollections are confirmed by Ivan’s own written records. In later years, to beg God for forgiveness, he kept a “Synodicon of the Disgraced,” a book commemorating the people he had killed and tortured personally over a lifetime. He used a curious verb to describe the cruelest reprisals, otdelat’, “finish off.” This is how he describes Fyodorov’s people in the “Synodicon”: “In Bezhetsky Verkh, 65 of Ivan’s men were finished off, and 12 were chopped to pieces by hand.”  So these last twelve people had relatively easy deaths by sword or ax, compared with the first sixty-five, who were “finished off” in some way—burned, drowned, sawed, and so on. Over three hundred of Fyodorov’s men were executed in this way.

The “Synodicon of the Disgraced,” which Ivan the Terrible kept himself, included around three and half thousand victims in one five-year period alone, including the tsar’s close relatives, famous generals, church leaders, simple peasants, and men taken captive in the fortresses taken by his army. The tsar himself conceived the brutal methods of execution and enjoyed watching as people were boiled alive, blown up on barrels of gunpowder, turned over a slow fire like kebabs, skinned alive, and impaled. Moreover, to exacerbate their torments, Ivan’s oprichniki raped the wives, daughters, and mothers in front of the men as they slowly died. None of these are fables and fairy tales, but real stories, recorded in numerous documents and the confessions of the tsar himself, who was sometimes given to bouts of remorse.

It is no wonder the Russian Orthodox Church did not even consider a recent proposal to canonize Ivan the Terrible: he mercilessly ordered the killing of hundreds of monks and priests. Look on the Internet for information about the tragic fate of Philip Kolychev, then head of the church, strangled by the tsar’s minion Malyuta Skuratov. The tsar ordered the Archbishop of Novgorod sewn up in a bearskin and baited by dogs.

Novgorod the Great suffered especially badly at the hands of the villain in 1570. Thousands of its residents, including women and children, were put to death in terrible ways. Some were drowned in the Volkhov River; Ivan’s oprichniki patrolled the river in boats and finished off anyone who floated to the surface with axes. Ivan committed a terrible sacrilege by pillaging the holiest place in Russia, St. Sophia Cathedral, a church that had stood untouched for five hundred years. The next people to rob the cathedral were German and Spanish fascists in 1941.

Ivan the Terrible was a genuine rapist and sadist. He himself bragged that he had raped a thousand girls in his life. It is important to note that he was not ill or insane. He was well aware of what he was doing. Sometimes, fear of divine punishment would scare him into repenting and writing down his sins and crimes, but then he would kill and rape again.

If everything I have written above means little to statist readers, I would underscore the fact that Ivan was a complete failure as a statesman. He botched all the good undertakings at the outset of his reign, lost all the wars he fought, forfeited all his initial conquests, and was incompetent and cowardly as a military commander, but he enjoyed finishing off captured prisoners with a spear. Ultimately, he brought Russia to the brink of ruin. His reign ended in complete failure: military, political, and economic failure. The once-flourishing country was desolated. In Northwest Russia, archaeologists are still finding numerous villages and new settlements that perished forever during Ivan’s reign.

What we know as the Time of Troubles, when Russia was invaded by enemies and plunged into civil war, was a direct outcome of Ivan’s reign. Russia sunk into oblivion for a time then, and even vanished from the map of the world, and only common folk, who had survived the hell of Ivan’s reign, saved Russia under the banner of Minin and Pozharsky. They saved Russia for us, too.

We can be amazed at the humility and patience of the martyr-like Russian people. As early nineteenth-century historian Nikolay Karamzin wrote, Russia “endured the destroyer for twenty-four years, armed only with prayer and patience. […] Generous in their humility, the sufferers died at the Lobnoye Mesto, like the Greeks at Thermopylae, for Faith and Faithfulness, having no thought of rebellion. […] The tiger  reveled in the blood of lambs, and the victims, dying the deaths of innocents, demanded justice and touching commemoration from contemporaries and descendants as they took their final gaze at the pitiable country.”

We are their descendants. Was their sacrifice in vain? Was their blood not like ours, but water?

If we are alive, it means that the chain of our ancestors leads back to the time of Ivan. How many such chains the murderous tsar sundered! The people slain by Ivan the Terrible were people just like us, and we must honor their memory. The monument to Ivan the Terrible is a sacrilege against their nameless graves. All those innocent victims will no doubt someday demand a reckoning from us for this sacrilege, for erecting a monument to Russian history’s greatest villain. Oryol will pay a price for this.

At the end of his life, the tsar rotted alive, emitting a foul odor. Undoubtedly, the Lord did not let Ivan the Terrible escape hell. At the last minute, he tried to take monastic vows, which were then believed to be a sure way to save the soul. But no! The monastic dress had been laid out on the villain’s stiffening corpse, but there is no doubt he is in hell, where he belongs, not on a square in one of Russia’s wonderful, radiant cities.

Dr. Evgeny Anisimov is a full professor at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, and chief researcher at the St. Petersburg Institute of History (Russian Academy of Sciences). Translated by the Russian Reader

Addicted

Greg Yudin
Facebook
September 29, 2015

In his interview with CBS, Putin was asked how long he intended to remain in power.

Putinweb
Andrei Molodkin, Putin Fuck You, 2012. Image courtesy of a-political.org

“How long depends on the circumstances. Of course, there are rules stipulated by the Constitution, and they definitely will not be violated on my part. But I am also not sure I should take full advantage of these constitutional rights. It will depend on the specific situation in the country and the world, and on my own mood.”

Do you also feel something is missing in this response? I recall there should be something about voters, the people, and that kind of thing. But no, the old man is as honest as ever: it all depends on his “mood.”

The main problem with Putin is that he has usurped power. And all because if once, “by virtue of the circumstances,” the Constitution was adapted to a particular person, the next time round that person will forget about the Constitution altogether, firmly convinced there is only one law—his mood, his arbitrary will.

Incidentally, Putin is well aware that his entire reign amounts to the destruction of order on behalf of tyranny. Otherwise, he would not have led off his reply with something no one had asked him about: the fact his third term is unconstitutional. You can conjure away reality as much as you like, but you cannot hide the truth from yourself.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at The Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader