Maxim Kantor Colorful Ribbons
April 22, 2015 Facebook
Tell me, what you are proud of?
You didn’t fight, not even your fathers fought.
You basically did nothing at all.
That was seventy years ago, in another country.
And it was completely different people who fought, and they fought for something else.
Ukrainians, Russians, Americans, British, Jews, French, Belarusians, and Tajiks fought shoulder to shoulder then against an empire that wanted to devour the world.
And now you are fighting for an empire against the Ukrainians. You are killing your neighbors.
You want to destroy their country.
And you want a decoration for this?
What do decorations from someone else’s victory have to do with this? What does someone else’s war have to do with it?
You are looters. You are bandits. You are imperialists.
Colorful ribbons are pinned to bandits. You think it looks nice?
Take the ribbons off now, don’t disgrace yourselves.
Maxim Kantor is a well-known Russian painter, writer, and essayist.
Since I was surprised myself, I intend to surprise you as well. Good evening, friends. Did you know that there are areas to which Europe’s sanctions against Russia do not apply? On the contrary, our western partners—who no longer conceal their dislike of Russia and [ethnic] Russians, who call the leader of our country a “führer,” who are pounding whole sectors of the economy and finance with sanctions, actually causing a rise in prices here—on certain issues these same people are ready at the drop of a hat to come here to Russia, to Petersburg, in particular, and send convoy after convoy with humanitarian missions.
And whom, do you think, the West continues to passionately love in Russia amid total sanctions? You’ll never guess. I myself was amazed by this fact, because the West, so I imagined, was now more than ever principled in its hatred of all things Russian. From Barak Obama to, dare I say this surname, [President of Lithuania Dalia] Grybauskaite, we hear insults directed towards Russia and [ethnic] Russians, and people have felt this on their skin. I mean the sanctions. A photo of men [with the slogan] “Sanctions against Russia are sanctions against me” [painted on their backs] has been making the rounds of the Internet.
So, just think, at the same time as hundreds of artists have been banned from traveling to Europe—in England, for example, the local “bodybuilders” have called for a boycott of Gergiev’s concerts—signs reading “No Russians allowed” are hung at cafes in Eastern Europe, Norway has left the “evil empire,” as it deems Russia, without the famous Norwegian salmon, Holland [has left Russia], without the famous Dutch cheese, and Sweden [has left Russia], without the ensemble ABBA, humanitarian assistance and close contacts continue in the area of . . . sexual partnership. And not traditional [sexual partnership] of some kind, but namely extremely perverted, gayropean [sexual partnership].
[Olufsen, in Russian:] “People should learn to respect and accept a person for who they are.”
Аs did Deputy Consul General of Sweden Björn Kavalkov-Halvarsson.
[Kavalkov-Halvarsson, in Russian:] “To eliminate prejudices what is needed are bold politicians who stand up for human rights and make laws that do not lead to the emergence of second-class citizens.”
A whole group of English-speaking western comrades decided to personally show solidarity and love for those they consider humiliated and subject to repression in Russia. Meaning—and this is important—officials who approve of repressions against Russia single out perverts as a special group of people who need special love and pity.
You remember the obscene anecdote about the sparrow that warmed itself in winter—I really apologize for this—in cow dung and was dragged out of the dung by a cat. [The moral of the story was that] the one who pulls you out of the shit is not your friend, and the one who covers you in it is not your foe. If there have to be three or four percent of the population with this abnormality of loving the same sex, then we will tolerate them and even feel sorry for them, but we will not let them into schools and kindergartens.
There used to be Doctors without Borders and Peace in Exchange for Food [sic], and now there is Sex instead of Food and Homosexualism [sic] without Borders. And most importantly, it is all so out of place, so ill timed. In the Ukraine, people are perishing. Everyone knows that at the forefront of the misanthropes are an outted faggot,* Supreme Rada deputy Oleg Lyashko, and a closet faggot, interior minister Arsen Avakov. Their sexual orientation really wouldn’t bother anyone if they hadn’t declared their fierce hatred of Russia and the friendship between Ukrainians and [ethnic] Russians. But it is just these “comrades” who are behaving heinously in Donbass.
And if one of those people who are sympathetic to the sexual “Mensheviks” would give them some good advice [and tell them that] at such a difficult time for the country not to show off in the company of Russia’s official enemies from Western Europe, but, on the contrary, protest against the actions of Lyashko and Avakov, which discredit the honest name of, so to speak, internationalist faggots. But no, instead they are also trying to convert them into fighters against the traditions of their own motherland.
In this context, the pass made to the faggots and lesbians by Petersburg [human rights] ombudsman Alexander Shishlov, who essentially greeted them in a special communiqué, appears completely dubious and politically mistaken. You know, back in the old days, the Soviet Communist Party general secretary would greet gatherings of student work teams in Siberia. So anyway, Mr. Shishlov—I quote BaltInfo—“sent greetings to the organizers of [Queerfest], a festival of gay culture taking place […] in Saint Petersburg.”
So, “among the stated objectives [of Queerfest] is the creation of an effective public space devoid of homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination, and the promotion of dialogue”—this is very important—“between members of different groups, organizations, minorities, and communities. These objectives are dear to all [‘of us,’ Tatarov adds] who consider human rights supreme values.”
Do you really want dialogue? Well, what kind of dialogue can there be here? Some get sanctions and hatred from the West, others—the ones in Donbass—get mass graves of civilians, and still others get touchy-feely. Will this actually make things better for the perverts? I am not worried about them: it’s a question. I don’t think it will make things better for them. So, friends, I will finish the anecdote about the sparrow eaten by the cat, which is obscene, like this whole topic of sexual perverts. The one who shits on you is not your foe, and the one who pulled you out of the manure is not your friend. But if you wind up in [shit], just sit there and don’t tweet!
*Translator’s Note. Here and throughout, the word in the original Russian is pederast (педераст), which despite its obvious origins and appearance is simply an offensive term for “homosexual,” although perhaps it has, as friends have noted, a slightly “pseudo-scientific” or “old-fashioned” ring to it that its popular and commonly used derivatives pidoras and pedik do not. (They are wholly offensive and thus, apparently, “not fit for TV,” especially after passage of the new law on swearing.) But as one of my friends writes, “He [Tatarov] says pederast so that everyone will hear will pidoras. His intention is to insult, and everyone understands it that way. Otherwise, he would have said sodomit [sodomite] or muzhelozhets [ditto]. […] But when the linguistic expertise is conducted [in connection with a possible criminal investigation, see below], it will turn out that he did not offend anyone.” This is a long way of saying there is no one perfectly good way of translating the word, especially in this context.
Organizers of the human rights LGBT festival Queerfest have demanded that Saint Petersburg TV publicly condemn statements containing hate speech and hostility towards gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT). These statements were made in the program “Reaction,” presented by Valery Tatarov, which the channel broadcast on September 29, 2014. The program, which dealt with Queerfest 2014, is still available on the channel’s official web site: http://topspb.tv/programs/v10655.
According to the activists, the program contained utterances (“perverts,” “faggots,” “if you wind up in manure, sit there and don’t tweet”) that were not only humiliating but could also be deemed incitements of hatred and enmity against a social group (LGBT).
The organizers and participants of Queerfest sent Saint Petersburg TV’s editor-in-chief a written request to make an official comment containing the editorial staff’s position on the program aired on September 29.
If it transpires that the humiliation of LGBT people and instigation of hatred and enmity against them was done intentionally and with the knowledge of the channel’s editorial staff, the organizers and participants of Queerfest intend to request that the Investigative Committee open a criminal case under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, as well as contact the Press Complaints Board, which is the journalistic community’s body for reviewing complaints of ethical violations by journalists.
Editor’s Note. Wholly owned and financed by the city administration of Saint Petersburg, Saint Petersburg TV, which began broadcasting in October 2010, is available on cable, satellite, and the Internet. In 2011, it was reported to have a potential audience of 1.7 million people, a figure that has probably risen considerably as the wholesale digitalization of TV broadcasting and reception in the city has continued.
In an August 2012 interview, Sergei Boyarsky, the channel’s then-new general manager, described Saint Petersburg TV’s editorial philosophy as follows:
I don’t agree that the only way to get ratings is by criticizing. I think all this talk about free media only benefits the poor [sic]. Our country is rife with freedom of speech. If you turn on Echo of Moscow [radio station], you can sometimes feel sick, so tactlessly and harshly do the guests and some of the presenters sound off about the political system, about the government, and personally about the country’s leader. If you think that is healthy, I don’t think so. We will present information objectively, but I won’t allow flagrant rudeness and showing favor to a particular side.
Boyarsky is the son of popular Soviet singer and movie actor Mikhail Boyarsky, who is well known for his demonstrative support of the current regime.
Curiously, in September 2013, the channel launched a section on its web site featuring selected news stories overdubbed in English, with accompanying English-language transcripts. The channel abruptly ceased posting these reports in August 2014.
A State of Mind in Windy Weather
October 1, 2014 Novaya Gazeta
A conversation with psychologists about hatred, aggression, the Russian mentality, cognitive breakdown, the loss of social sensitivity, and society’s lack of self-confidence
The side mirror showed that the cars in the next lane were a safe distance from me. I switched on my turn signal and merged. I realized right away the mirror had deceived me. My car was almost a millimeter away from the front bumper of a black jeep: I had rudely cut off this “stealth” car. It was clear in a situation like this that no one would try and figure out whether this had been done purposely or accidentally. I was ready, or so I thought, for anything. I knew the other driver might deliberately overtake me and brake abruptly right in front of me. And yet, I wasn’t expecting what happened next. When the person in the car I had cut off drove his jeep in front of me for the second time, I deftly avoided a collision by moving into the far left lane, meaning he simply had no way to pursue me. But he found a way: he drove down the oncoming lane and once again put his jeep in front of me. This time I turned on the emergency lights and stopped. He walked up to my car.
“Well what? Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I could have caused an accident. But do you realize that after this you did something that could have got us killed?”
“So what? Maybe I would have kicked the bucket, but I would have taken you down with me.”
There was not a shadow of doubt in his eyes, whitened with anger: one could “kick the bucket” for the sake of punishing one’s offender.
It is not that I recall this incident often, but that I have never forgotten it. Because I saw in a highly condensed form what has been happening with people everywhere—on roads, in supermarkets, on social networks.
“She was the godmother of my son, who is now twenty years old. I was very fond of her, and we were very close, but now that she supports all these Makareviches, I am forced to unfriend her. She has turned into a reptile,” writes a woman on a social network.
Those who call themselves liberals are no better. There is a new photo of a famous person who has more or less spoken out in favor of “Crimea is ours” posted several times a day on Facebook. People batter and pelt the photo with words like stones. “Another one has caved in.” “Creep.” “He used to be my favorite actor. Burn in hell.”
There is an amazing trait that unites everyone these days—their means of expressing hatred. “Fascists,” “traitors”: that is what everyone calls each other. And the verbs are also the same: everyone has “sold out,” either to the Americans or Putin.
You have to kill someone and eat them to take their power. Well, or poison yourself.
Dmitry Leontiev (head of the International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Motivation and Personality at the Higher School of Economics, doctor of psychology, professor in the psychology department at Moscow State University, and Viktor Frankl Prize winner): It reminds me of an essay by Hegel, published two hundred years ago, “Who Thinks Abstractly?” He gives an example: you go to the market, and a market woman tries to sell you apples. You try them and say, No, I won’t buy them; they’re a bit sour. The market woman says something like the following to you. It is my apples that are sour? You are sour yourself, and you have a sour mug. And who the hell are you to give my apples a bum rap? I remember your parents: they were layabouts! So she begins to generalize: you were only talking about the taste of the apples, but in response she—
Attacks you personally?
Leontiev: The personal attack is only a detail. But here everything is brought into play, the broadest contexts. Hegel calls this generalization “abstract thinking.” According to him, it is the market woman, rather than the philosopher or scientist, who thinks the most abstractly, because she cannot focus on anything specific and generalizes everything. From my point of view, this is what is happening in our society. The great philosopher Merab Mamardashvili, who for me is quite comparable with Hegel, said, “The devil plays with us when we do not think precisely.”
And the devil is playing with us now: we have stopped thinking precisely. Say, neither the Ukrainians themselves nor we understand clearly what is really happening in Ukraine. But the huge number of people who never for a moment doubt they know exactly not only what is happening now but also what will happen next horrifies me. The number of clairvoyants and seers has gone off the scales. And the farther they are from the scene of events, the more accurately they know everything.
What is the cause of this epidemic?
Leontiev: It is a symptom of cognitive breakdown. Criticalness—the ability to filter incoming information, separate fact from fiction, and soberly assess the limits of one’s own knowledge—is considered one of the main mechanisms of the mature mind. Now it would appear that all the natural filters have come undone. The mind ceases to function: it just swallows readymade packaged texts and spits them back out. As soon as you try in a debate to clarify or specify something, your opponent, like Hegel’s market woman, responds by expanding the topic of the conversation to infinity, entwining anything whatsoever into it. This is the most important method of the usually unconscious manipulation now being used: lumping everything together. The topic of the conversation becomes fuzzy, and a lot of details irrelevant to it are entwined in the conversation.
The meaning of the word “opinion” has been devalued in our country. Any nonsense that occurs to someone is labeled an opinion. This assumption that all opinions are equal is a product of so-called postmodernism. Earlier, when experts were asked for their opinions, it was assumed they were the products of intellectual work in the fields in which the experts were professionally employed. It is then that real discussion can unfold, and we can find someone who can be trusted.”
Nowadays, on the contrary, there is often no trace of analytical and intellectual work in what are commonly referred to as opinions. A person gets some “kind of, like” bit of information from somewhere in left field. These “opinions” are not rooted: they can easily switch to their direct opposites. So I am very skeptical about the figure of eighty-five percent of the population who, according to pollsters, now support everything the Russian president does in Ukraine. This is largely a weather phenomenon. The wind has inflated this degree of support, but when it blows in the other direction, it will fall below zero.
You mean the majority of Russians have a heightened psychological “meteodependency” on the political climate? On the stance of the authorities?
Leontiev: What is the “Russian mentality”? Everything said about the peculiarities of the Russian psychology wholly conforms to the psychology of a normal child. This includes a rich mental and emotional life, but a spontaneous one. Hence the inability to control oneself, to keep promises. Small children can be quite cruel: they do not know what pain is, and do not value life. Our country has had a prolonged childhood; we have not succeeded in growing up. Life, both one’s own and that of others, has a low value.
Many things are caused by the inability to link cause and effect. There is no sense of time, of the dynamics of change: Russia is worried about territories, about not giving an inch. We have virtually no social institutions. The State Duma is like a kindergarten during naptime, when the minder has left the room. Everyone is bawling about his or her own thing.
Maybe it is time to replace the concept of “state of mind” with the concept of an “instinctual state”?”
Leontiev: I would rather speak about a state of mind in windy weather. Thinking is energy consuming, and people who have failed to grow up find it easier to throw words around. The fundamentals of humanity’s survival are simple and sound. They unite rather than divide people, despite all their differences. For example, it is good when people live, and bad when they die and kill, even under the most plausible pretexts. But we have a divided society, and in this situation it is important not to contribute to the polarization. It is a virus that has infected the country
Olga Makhovskaya (fellow at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ph.D. in psychology, and writer): I would say that what is happening today is a reflection of the country’s biggest fault: we have frittered away our values. When they answer any question—whether to fight or not fight with Ukraine or the whole world, whether they are for or against Putin—people are guided by their fears rather than values. And I can say that there, at Maidan, even before the war the protest was not as encapsulated as it is in our country. Encapsulation is when everything happens in cliques: I go to a protest rally with my friends, but as for everyone else, I do not really know or understand how they live. When there is no overall consolidation, you are among a circle of friends but in a society of strangers. It is extremely difficult to get past the bouncers at the door. In Ukraine, there is definitely not this stark opposition between the intelligentsia and people of the land, for example. There, the latter are in fact the most respected, because the land will always feed you, whatever the regime. And these are grounds for personal dignity. They have greater reserves of values there than we do. There is a Russian proverb that says money cannot buy you love. But there is no comprehension that money cannot buy you anything valuable at all—neither freedom, life, talent nor friendship. It is these things that have failed in Russia today.
I think it is not just a matter of events in Ukraine. This segment of people who think alike, a whopping eighty-five percent, is also encapsulated. A person who is willing to kill someone else and himself in the process is not trying to clarify your stances on these issues. He is just ready to kill.
Makhovskaya: From my point of view, the figure of eighty-five percent is rather an indicator of society’s extreme lack of self-confidence than of public opinion. When a survey on happiness, for example, is conducted, and the vast majority says it is insanely happy, politicians see this as a lovely figure. But any psychologist will tell you that such uniformity indicates a state of helplessness. This is a society of old people and little children—of old people, who suffer from diminished intellect and have no future, and of children, who because of their age cannot be independent.
What is happening in our country today—the intolerance and hatred—is directly linked to the state of being in an axiological and normative vacuum. The social psychologist Durkheim called this condition “anomie.” It happens when old institutions, functions, and norms have been destroyed, and new ones have not yet formed. The main conditions for the emergence of a new set of values are the consolidation of society and an optimistic view of the future. But in Russia, values are promoted that divide people and narrow their horizons: money, power, and pleasure. Transient values camouflage the lack of eternal values—“Thou shalt not kill,” for example—of the old conservative attitudes to work, education, patience, love, and mercy.
Perhaps the Soviet legacy could also be making itself felt in this case. At school, we were made to memorize Nekrasov’s lines “The heart grown weary of hating / Will never learn to love.” But no one told us about the saying of Confucius: “If you hate, it means you have been defeated.”
Makhovskaya: What we remember in childhood is quite important, because we pass it on to our own children as a cultural code. If you cannot love because you cannot hate, it means you must hate: it is a terrible thing, of course, to send this message to schoolchildren. But nowadays there are no less alarming signals, first and foremost, the loss of sensitivity among most citizens. Social sensitivity is a sympathetic attitude to the problems of groups of people to which the individual himself or herself does not belong. Television has “scorched” its viewers by constantly raising the sensitivity threshold.
Why does everyone call each other fascists nowadays? What is the cause of this?
Makhovskaya: It is similar to the children’s game of good guys and fascists [i.e., something like the Anglophone games cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers]. Psychologists believe that the unbearable fear of death is overcome in such children’s games. Given the depth of the trauma caused by World War Two, a trauma passed from generation to generation in Russia, the power of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the relief a small victorious war gives to “inflamed” consciousness are understandable. Despite the fact we won World War Two, psychologically we have been left unappeased, inconsolable, and uncertain that it will never happen again. On the contrary, we have always been reminded that the enemy never slumbers, that we have to be prepared. We live with the convulsive readiness to attack or flee. Sooner or later, individuals cannot contain themselves and enter into conflict; an insignificant occasion can serve as the trigger. The abusive fascist phraseology comes from this same source.
There is another factor that affects how events are perceived—group favoritism. Members of one’s own group are perceived as better, more educated, smarter, prettier, and broader-shouldered.
I will illustrate what you are talking about with a quotation from writer Zakhar Prilepin: “[U]krainian POWs and Russian POWs differ even physiognomically. The Russians are whiter; their eyes are more bewildered and kinder. [The Ukrainians] are darker. They do not look you in the eye; there is something hunted and angry about them at the same time. Almost all of them are shorter than me.”
Makhovskaya: It is a classic example. When we at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences studied how Soviet viewers perceived Americans during the first spacebridges with the US, we discovered that a couple weeks after the programs people could not recall either the faces of the “enemies” or what they had said. But as they tried to recall what they had seen, they confidently insisted the Americans were “reptiles.” They recalled the “good guys” in detail, with a tendency to add height, texture, and beauty: the people who had gone out to do battle with the ugly dwarfs from the US were simply cartoonish epic heroes.
Sadly, the level of our psychological culture is such that we do not cope with these cognitive distortions. Even more frightening is that this is the level of the politicians and their servants who induce hatred and broadcast negative stereotypes to the whole country.
Editor’s Note. I usually do not have much truck with psychologistic explanations of political and social phenomenon, especially when it comes to Russia, where even before the onset of Putinism 3.0, the popular, public and academic discourses, both liberal and nationalist, were lousy with all-encompassing exegeses of Russian society’s ills (or virtues) based on a supposedly unique, perennial or horribly mutated (as a result of Stalinism, serfdom or perestroika—take your pick) mindset or mentality shared by most Russians or certain classes in Russia. The article translated above certainly possesses many of this approach’s defects, but in its own clumsy way it gives some insights into the zeitgeist in the country right now, details usually ignored or dismissed by, say, local leftist commentators, eager to inscribe everything going on into a more palatable, boilerplate “anti-capitalist” narrative. Whether we like it or not, the sheer hysteria of recent months and its effects on people’s sense of their possibilities, responsibilities, and limitations becomes a factor in political and public life every bit as material and potent as the Putin oligarchy’s need to bolster its financial fortunes or generate new venues for state-sponsored highway robbery.
Kado Cornet The Story of Russia, the General, and Other Folks www.facebook.com
September 8, 2014
The General is the man who attempted to revive Russia.
“I’m the General, I served in Rostov!” is how he later introduced himself.
Actually, I feel terribly uncomfortable because I had called him a “homeless alcoholic” or “drunk tramp” (in an English-language post). These words carry many negative connotations, unfortunately. It was just difficult to succinctly and neutrally define his social position and state of mind or something. But by no means do I want this description to belittle him in the eyes of an outside observer.
Some people have suggested the General’s role in the performance was planned. But that is not the case at all. Before I appeared, he was sleeping peacefully on the windowsill of the Yeliseyevsky store. To be honest, I had turned onto Malaya Sadovaya completely by accident, because I really was blindfolded.
“What the f#ck you waking me up for?” the poor guy said, outraged, in response to my cries.
I decided to fall down after I heard someone say, “Just f#ck her, what is the bitch doing?” and felt that someone, either one of the homeless people or a cop, had grabbed my arm.
Lying on the pavement, I listened to a very serious dialogue between a little boy and his mother about what was happening. I promised myself to remember it, but alas, I wasn’t able to. It’s too bad.
“Is she dead or something?” the General asked, bewildered, and began feeling my pulse. The crowd laughed and took pictures.
I don’t know what the story is with his generalship, but the guy clearly knows first aid. He found the pulse on my arm and neck, removed my blindfold, pulled my eyes open, and checked my pupils (“Ha-ha, you’re not dead! Get up and quit pretending!”). Then he slapped my face (it hurt!) and pulled me up by the arms. He didn’t even spare his booze, pouring it all over my face. My eyes stung for the rest of the day.
“Kiss her!” someone cried out from the crowd.
To my great relief, the General didn’t dare. A moment later, Russia miraculously awoke, finally, from her sleep.
It turned out that a policeman had already called an ambulance. He kept guard over me until it came, not believing me when I said I was fine. The General solicitously questioned me about the incident.
“What did you fall down for? I was really scared! And why are your hands red? I got all dirty while I was resuscitating you! Now I’m all red, too!”
“Why did you fall? Did something happen to you?”
“I was feeling bad, but you saved me.”
“Here, at least put on my shoes. You’re sitting there barefoot.”
He started taking off his shoes and proffering them to me. It wasn’t cold, but I had to get out my shoes and put them on to calm him down.
Two women butted into our conversation.
“Quit bothering her! Leave her alone!”
“He just wants to help her!”
“What do you want?”
“I don’t want anything, I’m just—”
“Even cats don’t just f#ck.”
“What did you say?”
“I will always help you! Do you need money? Take some money!” said the General, pulling a crumpled ten-ruble bill from his pocket.
“Aha, you’re getting paid!” said a man in the crowd, catching me red-handed.
“Now I am, as you can see.”
I couldn’t have got away with lying: there were too many witnesses. I managed to return the money later, although not right away. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything with me except a subway token. Getting taken to the police station with cash on you is bad luck.
That’s when the ambulance pulled up.
“What you got here?” the doctor asked.
“This girl here was yelling and lunging at people,” the policeman said.
“Was she screaming anti-government things?”
“Maybe you should take her in, then?”
“No, you’d better examine her.”
“I am so fed up with all this stuff.”
They led me to the ambulance. The male doctor was skeptical, the female doctor, supportive. They politely asked me about my occupation, attitude towards alcohol, education, health, source of income, and, finally, the meaning of my performance.
The female doctor tossed me a couple of interesting ideas.
“Well, I understand you wanted to show suffering Russia. You should have done it so that people would understand and not get worried about you! And warn the policeman ahead of time.”
I apologized to them at length for the inconvenience.
“Alright, sign this and get out of here.”
The doctor handed me a document stating I had declined hospitalization.
While recording my passport information, the policeman asked, hopefully, “Now you’re going to go home, young lady?”
I didn’t want to upset him any more than I already had.
In conclusion, here is a small vignette as told by Vadim Lurie.
Three young Armenian men in their forties were watching the performance. Two of them soon decided to move on, but one was so fascinated they had to call out to him.
“Let’s go already, Odysseus!”
Translated by Bela Shaveyich and edited by the Russian Reader.
Activist Stages Dramatic Protest Against Russia’s Policies on Ukraine
Anna Dolgov The Moscow Times
September 8, 2014
A peace activist has staged an emotive protest against the Kremlin’s policies on Ukraine by wandering blindfolded through St. Petersburg with her hands stained blood-red.
The activist, who goes by pseudonym Kado Cornet, was captured in a YouTube video walking barefoot down St. Petersburg’s central Nevsky Prospect, clad in a red skirt, blue shirt and a white headscarf — the colors of the Russian flag.
Cornet also wore on her wrists the orange-and-black ribbons of St. George — a Russian symbol of military valor — and a blindfold over her eyes, while walking with her outstretched hands stained in red.
“This is my Motherland. Blinded, insane, screaming in agony,” the activist said Saturday on her Facebook page. “It does not know where it is going, but it is sure that everyone should be afraid of its hands, which are stained in blood — others’ and its own.”
Passersby stopped in their tracks to watch the young woman as she staggered forward, emitting screams, witnesses said.
“This action made a most powerful impression on me,” Vadim Lurie from St. Petersburg said on his Facebook page. “Kado walked and screamed, and her scream could not be ignored. People received this action much more readily than any [protest] sign.”
The action titled “Russia’s Scream” ended after Cornet collapsed near the renowned Yeliseyevsky food store, lying motionlessly on the pavement, according to social media accounts.
While some passersby expressed concerns that the young woman may have fallen ill, nobody appeared willing to approach her except a homeless man, the protester and witnesses reported.
“When [Russia] falls, it will turn out that nobody except a homeless drunk is able to come to its aid,” Cornet said via Facebook.
A police officer summoned to the scene called an ambulance, Lurye said, though the protester appeared to be in good health, saying later on her Facebook page that she planned to travel around the country and eastern Europe in the coming days.
The artistic action was received positively by a number of Facebook users.
One woman praised the “fragile young woman, who is stronger than a million healthy men who are quietly watching from the side or yapping support for the authorities.”
“Brave girl, well done,” wrote another Facebook user.
The West has repeatedly accused the Kremlin of supplying arms to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, leading to a conflict with government forces that has left thousands dead and many more displaced. The Kremlin has denied the charges.
But Cornet in her Facebook message was keen to underline that her protest was not just directed at those in power: “No one who has tried to turn a deaf ear to this scream will be able to wash off the blood,” she wrote.
Russian leftist activist Ilya Budraitskis has given a quite eloquent answer to the first question, which you can (and should) read here. But these recent, seemingly irrelevant items from Russian urban lifestyle web site The Village seem more to the point.
Beer Geek, a craft beer store, has opened in the courtyard at Rubinstein Street, 2/45 [in central Petersburg]. Both Russian and foreign beverages are sold there, including beverages from small experimental breweries.
The selection includes very bitter American-style ales, sour Belgian specialities, cherry beer, and much more. Twelve taps have been installed right in the wall to save bar space. The beer is predominantly poured for takeaway, but you can drink it right in the store if you like. Most of the varieties will cost 200 rubles per half liter [approx. 4 euros].
The owners of the place are Pyotr Gordeyev and Dmitry Evmenov. They have installed steps, rising towards the ceiling, on which you can sit or even lie down on the store’s small premises. Another interior design element is a cupboard with sliding drawers in which the bottles have been arranged as in a filing cabinet.
[Petersburg’s] third City Grill Express recently began operating at Rubinstein Street, 4. The owners had long intended to open the new place near Nevsky Prospect, and over the next few years they plan on launching four more burgernayas with the same name.
The menu feature around three dozen burgers, french fries, Idaho fries, and several kinds of beer, including cherry beer and house beer. City Grill has beef, pork, veal, chicken and turkey burgers, as well as a Kansas City Burger with mushroom filling. All dishes are cooked to order in the open kitchen. The average check is 300 rubles [approx. 6 euros].
The first City Grill Express opened at Griboyedov Canal, 20, in 2012. Previously, City Grill cooked and sold burgers in street carts for six years. The second diner has operated for more than a year at Vosstaniia, 1. The chain’s owner, Yevgeny Arkhipov, comes up with the recipes and names of the burgers and the interior designs.
Freedom and Social Identity
August 11, 2014 OpenLeft.ru
The past is the locomotive that pulls the future. Sometimes it is someone else’s past to boot. You go backwards and see only what has already disappeared. And to get off the train you need a ticket. You hold it in your hands. But whom are you going to show it to?
—Victor Pelevin, The Yellow Arrow
I was born in Donetsk to a family in whose home there were two diplomas on the bookshelf: a factory furnace builder’s and an artist’s. The holders of these diplomas desperately tried to build their happiness on the ruins of a communism that might have been. But what seemed like temporary measures turned into permanent professions, and now my father is a taxi driver with years of experience, and my mom has been selling flowers for fifteen years. Earnings were laid away; I studied foreign languages, graduated from a lyceum, got into university in Kyiv, and then went to Europe to study. It is time, in my self-imposed exile, to reflect on where I come from and how to live with it.
The Donbas, where I lived for eighteen years and where my friends and family still live, has now borne the brunt of post-Soviet society’s collective hysteria. And so I feel all the consequences of the conflict that has broken out in my country and that rages in the hearts of many of my countrymen. Attempting to analyze what has happened is primarily a way of understanding myself, this flimsy construction of memories, desires, and ideas that threatens to crumble with each new surge of emotions.
In the most difficult moments of internal fragmentation and rethinking, I remember what French writer Amin Maalouf wrote on this subject in his essay “Deadly Identities”: “The identity cannot be compartmentalized; it cannot be split in halves or thirds, nor have any clearly defined set of boundaries. I do not have several identities, I only have one, made of all the elements that have shaped its unique proportions.” However, I have trouble with my identity, and finding its advantages and positive aspects is a matter of survival and mental health.
Today, the line between absurdity and reality has seamlessly disappeared for a long time to come, obviously, and one spends all one’s mental energy only on understanding the causes of what has happened. For example, why did the separatist movement turn from a marginal idea in the east of the country into the cause of a political and military conflict that has riveted the world’s attention for several months? Why does the line of fire run along the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions? What exactly does this line separate? Russia and Ukraine? Asia and Europe? The Soviet Union and the capitalist West? The best minds (and not only the best minds) in different countries have been strenuously and almost fruitlessly reflecting on these questions day after day, especially in Ukraine, for which the situation proved indecently unexpected. I won’t hidе the fact it was a surprise for me as well, and for all the people in Donetsk I know.
Donetsk is a city that had always lived comfortably without any ethnic identity. It is a city of immigrants, ex-prisoners, and a totally impoverished proletariat that owns nothing but the strength of its own hands. Its center was never a church or town hall, and for a long time no public square was provided in the city plan for assemblies or celebrations. The heart of Donetsk was the factory, something terrible, dangerous, and unpredictable, and at the same time necessary, generous, and paternal. The factory and the mine played the role of idols and taboos: they gave life and had the right to take it away.
Self-definition was based primarily on the principle of “private property,” which clearly divided the proletarianized city and the kulak villages long before these concepts were adopted by the Bolsheviks. The total opposites of the townspeople psychologically, culturally, and economically, the villagers spoke Ukrainian to boot. Few people nowadays know (and usually just deny the fact) that people who spoke Ukrainian had also inhabited the region. The reasons for this memory lapse largely lie in the policy of collectivization, “dizziness with success,” and the famine of 1932–1933. My great-grandmother, a resident of the village of Chicherino in the Donetsk region, was one of three survivors in a family of eleven children. The first time she talked about what she had been through was at the age of ninety, when she was finally convinced the hammer and sickle had been removed from the village council building for good and the yellow-and-blue flag had been hanging there for several years. It was already her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to whom she told her story. She talked about executions and cannibalism, finishing her story with the phrase, “If only Stalin had known.”
According to those whose children and parents had died of hunger, none of it would have happened if Stalin had known. It is quite scary to realize it is the regions that were most affected by the man-made famine that deny this crime most furiously. I am not willing to support Ukrainian politicians who claim it was a genocide of the Ukrainian people. The people who spoke Ukrainian back then did not always think of themselves as a nation, but they did feel the land belonged to them and they held onto it until the bitter end. My great-grandmother’s family suffered not because they spoke Ukrainian, but because they did not want to give up their patch of black earth and their cow. It was easier to nurture the new “Soviet” man on this scorched earth, and it was not hard to convince my grandfather to speak Russian and be ashamed of his uneducated mother, babbling in a dialect alien to the mighty country.
I was born to a Russian-speaking family, but I went to a Ukrainian-language school (then one of fifteen in a city of a million people) only because it was close to home. I never cease thanking the heavens that my teachers were people with “double” identities who gave us the ability to think critically and try on different “folk costumes.” Thanks to our history lessons, Bandera is not a dirty word to me, but nor is he a guiding light. I was never faced with the question of choosing heroes and ideals, because I felt my future should not and would not depend on my country’s past. And the issue of countries never came up. I always loved the Russia “we had lost,” while contemporary Russia mostly inspired pity and disgust, increasingly causing me to try on the Ukrainian embroidered blouse known as “it’s not much of a democracy, but it’s a democracy all the same,” because it obviously fit better.
While I was wearing embroidered blouses, speaking Russian in Lviv, studying French in Kyiv, and insisting on my proletarian background in the company of European students, life went on its own way in the Donbas. When revolution began in Ukraine, I once again actively reconstructed my identity, organizing fellow citizens to demonstrate outside a UN building in Geneva, giving fiery speeches about my love for Ukraine, feeling I was needed, and also feeling guilty towards those who were risking their lives for our country.
Then one day some Donetsk friends sent me a video. A column of several hundred people with foreign flags and shouting the name of a foreign country march down Ilyich Avenue, where I was born and where I went through more than one stage of socialization. A woman at a bus stop ostentatiously displays her Ukrainian passport, which the marchers snatch from the woman, violently insulting her in the process. I can use bare facts, surveys, and other data to analyze why this happened, but I cannot get my head around the fact that it happened on my street.
As a native of Donetsk, what has surprised me about this situation is the demand of the regions to grant them greater economic and cultural powers. Over many years, not counting the Kravchuk and Yushchenko administrations, the Donbas received unprecedented subsidies, since the Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk clans were in power. But the local bosses, who tirelessly chanted the mantra that Donbas money was going to feed the idlers in Lviv and Kyiv, pocketed the money. The region’s economy was totally controlled by the local authorities. What greater powers could there be to give? And to whom could they be given? To the same local bosses who all these twenty-three years, working like dogs, “raised the Donbas from its knees”?
They say each region should decide what language to speak and what heroes to honor. But in order to decentralize one fine day, it would be first necessary to centralize the country around a common cultural concept. Complaints about excessive Ukrainization of the region not only do not correspond to reality, but contradict it. Ukrainian was more exotic sounding than Arabic in Donetsk: I never heard anyone speaking Ukrainian on the streets there. No newspapers were published in the language, and the local TV stations did not broadcast in Ukrainian. To find the books I needed on Ukrainian literature, I had to order them from Kyiv. The last step to de-Ukrainization was removing the Ukrainian flags from government buildings, which were the few signs of Ukraine’s presence in its eastern lands. And the popular masses took this step to de-Ukrainization.
The Ukrainian project failed because it did not succeed in making the Donbas part of Ukraine over these twenty-three years. No unifying idea based on a vision of a common future, rather than on the historical legacy, on ethnic and linguistic identity, was found. So Ukraine lived for its heroic and tragic history of the struggle for freedom, while the Donbas was left to dream about returning to the Soviet Union.
The project of creating a “Soviet people” was a success in the Donbas, and now the hour has come to reap its fruits. The fact that the “Kyiv junta” is being warded off there with two iconic images simultaneously—those of Stalin and Christ—should not be taken seriously. They are merely symbols, shells, talismans, and amulets. People in the Donbas are motivated by the honest desire, which no one makes any bones about, to obey someone who can embody the image of the “father” (or batya, in the common parlance).
Whence this desire for a strong hand? Increasingly, journalists provide a simple explanation: it is all because mentally, physiologically, and almost genetically they are slaves, sovoks (homo Sovieticus), irrational, and uneducated besides. I find explanations like this unacceptable. They render this gap almost biologically insurmountable, and doom attempts to find common ground to failure before they start.
First of all, it is worth remembering this society had no experience of building horizontal social ties. This chance was first given in 1991, but the criminal clans quickly took advantage of it. They grabbed the “strong hand” baton, leaving behind, in terms of social welfare, the working people, who were totally out of their depth and utterly discouraged.
A government that controls nothing, but instead shifts responsibility to its citizens, is a weak government. For example, many people in Donetsk consider democracy a weak form of government. Why are the local housing authorities dysfunctional? Why are there no light bulbs in the stairwells of residential buildings? Because all that has multiplied like rabbits is democracy and freedom, they think. Freedom turned out to be something no one needed, because it was confused with the liberty to do what you want and survive as you can.
Thanks to the experience of living in a European country, I became aware of the inconsistencies in this understanding of freedom. I once had to explain to a Western classmate the perennial dilemma of our society: the question of whether order or freedom was more important. He saw such reflections as something out of the Middle Ages, because for many Europeans it is evident that the freedom of each citizen is the sole guarantee of order. Freedom of choice and democracy are, in fact, the mechanisms that enable society to control those it elects to leadership positions.
It seems the Donbas lived until 1991, and after that it only survived and was more like a terminally ill patient. It was not only high salaries that disappeared along with prosperity but also the meaning of life, which had been based on a belief in slogans about the invaluable contribution of miners and workers to building the bright communist future. And then it was gone: the privileges, the confidence in the future, and the pride in one’s work. Poverty is easy to manipulate, and the people who stated at every opportunity that “the Donbas feeds Ukraine” and that it “could not be brought to its knees” have secured a comfortable future for themselves at the expense of the region’s population, who live below the poverty line.
All these twenty-odd years, people of the Donbas who had been born in the Soviet Union recalled it with nostalgia, reviving only the good things in their memories. My mother often recalled how there was such delicious fatty milk every day in kindergarten, and how she had been paid a phenomenally high salary for frescoes depicting athletes and cosmonauts on the walls the Mariupol House of Young Pioneers. Even queues for dish sets and rugs, and then for sausage and bread, were recalled as something bright, as a symbol of the people’s unity amidst its misfortune. After all, almost everyone stood in queues for sausage, and those who did not stand in them avoided flaunting their wealth.
People are not looking for politicians who tell them uncomfortable truths. And the truth is that the coal industry has long been a loss-making dead end. The whole industrial structure of the Donbas has to be changed and the process of retraining the region begun: there are no other chances. It is not hard to guess that the population has preferred to be robbed, but consoled. In Orwell’s anti-utopia 1984, there is the following passage: “[Winston] knew in advance what O’Brien would say. That the Party […] sought power because men in the mass were frail, cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth, and must be ruled over and systematically deceived by others who were stronger than themselves. That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better.” Maybe those born in the Donbas can fully sense the meaning of these lines.
The Soviet-era rhetoric came back pretty quickly, while the standard of living increased very slowly: the population contented itself with the myth of the good life more than the real thing. My neighbors on the landing spoke with pride of what a pretty stadium Rinat Akhmetov (the oligarch and “boss” of the Donbas) had built, and how nice it was that the European football championship was being held in our city. They were genuinely happy, although they had no way of buying a ticket to any of the matches and had no idea who had footed the bill for building stadiums they could only look at from afar.
All reputable political forces in the Donbas persistently promised one thing: union with Russia. No one dared promise a return to the Soviet Union, but the descriptions of Russia were exact copies of a landscape from the lost Soviet paradise. In this fairytale Russia, everyone was equal, loved the motherland and the supreme leader, despised the rotten West, and belonged to the Moscow Patriarchy of the Orthodox Church (the real patriarchy). But most importantly, everything was stable in Russia: there was a normal life there without shocks and unnecessary hassles. Well yes, there were parasites there, too, who scoffed at the government and the church, demanding some kind of freedom, but they were quickly isolated from normal healthy society, thank God.
Honest naïve citizens believed in this caricature of the Soviet Union. They took the flagrant mockery at face value and raised it on a pedestal as a national idea. This unimaginably grotesque amalgam of tsarism, Stalinism, National Bolshevism, Eurasianism, the cult of victory in World War Two, and Orthodoxy was crowned with the name of Putin, who subsequently betrayed the sincere faith of Donetsk’s people.
I am faced with a lot of questions. First, how will these deceived people go on living if the twenty year-old promises of the Russian world do not come true? Second, how will those who never believed in these fairytales live alongside them? How can I return to my hometown? After all, my age-mates, who once waited outside the entrance to my building to scare or insult me for the fun of it are now toting machine guns and having fun the adult way. Who knows when I will get answers to my questions, when I will be able to live at home and not travel in search of gracious hosts willing to shelter me. Who knows when my parents will again find work in desolated Donetsk, where no one takes a taxi nowadays, and flowers are bought only for funerals.
Identity comes at a high price to us. Thousands of people have been killed, and one of the reasons is so that more and more Russian-speaking people in the country can say with confidence, “We are Ukrainians,” not because we speak Ukrainian, but because we want to be free. People are not free if they do not want to know the truth and are comfortable living in ignorance. People who began to think become free. That is why I want Ukraine to become free in the search for truth, which often hurts the eyes, but cleanses the soul.
Hanna Perekhoda, a native of Donetsk, is a student at the University of Lausanne. Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of OpenLeft.ru.
Events are unfolding in plain sight, and strange as it might seem, the flood of disinformation cannot prevent us from seeing a quite simple picture.
The subway workers’ union had long warned of the danger, and there had generally been a lot of reports in the press on the growing number of accidents in the Moscow Metro, and now there has been a new fatal accident.
The last couple of weeks, Russian media had reported constantly about how deftly the separatists had learned to use the Buk surface-to-air missile system and how many Ukrainian airplanes had been shot down. Just before news of the Malaysian airliner broke, reports had managed to surface—in “Strelkov’s dispatches,” in the media, everywhere—that the militants had shot down another Ukrainian transport plane. The plane turned out to be the civilian jetliner.
Recent articles in Vedomosti newspaper and especially leaks at b0ltai.wordpress.com make it easy to piece together the fiscal and economic situation in Russia. The country is in an “autonomous” recession, meaning one caused by internal factors. The resources for growth have been exhausted, and there is no money for Crimea or for executing Putin’s May 2012 presidential decrees. The government is preparing to respond with austerity measures: the abolition of free medical care for nonworking citizens, tax increases, and another raid on retirement savings. For now the situation is rough but not catastrophic. At the same time the overall trajectory is clear: there will be less and less money, and it will be ordinary people who pay the bills.
However, there is no one to protest: all the country’s internal contradictions, which were somehow politically articulated in 2011-2013, have been crushed by the Crimean steamroller, and the opposition is divided and marginalized. The population has closed ranks around the new Putin “geopolitics,” becoming an aggressively frightened mass. Any possibility of electoral protest has been completely blocked off: with stunning cynicism, the field has been purged in the run-up to municipal elections in Moscow and Petersburg.
We can see that the new system is closed upon itself: the geopolitical adventures are needed, ultimately, only to strengthen Putin’s personal power, to maintain his sky-high rating. The exact same role is performed by mega-events like the Olympics and the 2018 World Cup. Yet the economic cost of the geopolitics and mega-events will be huge, and people themselves will foot the bill (for sanctions, for Crimea, for kickbacks). However, the imperialist ideology surrounding the events for which they are paying out of their pockets will prevent them from articulating their protest politically. It is a paradox, but a paradox that has already been observed in history. Recall, for one, Marx’s remark that Louis Bonaparte ruled in the name of the peasant masses (who supported him at elections) but against the interests of these masses.
This new period of stability might last as long as the previous one. No, it is no longer the apolitical period of stability of the noughties, but it might prove no less stable.
The Gendarme′s Return: On the Nature of Russian Imperialism
Stalinists of all stripes have been praising Russia’s actions in Ukraine as an attempt to restore the Soviet Union or create an altogether new entity capable of opposing the might of the United States and the imperialism of Western Europe. Their arguments smack of nothing but sheer stupidity.
What Putin has done in South-Eastern Ukraine has simply been to send Russia back some two hundred years into the past by restoring the country’s status as the “Gendarme of Europe,” a moniker the Russian Empire earned in the nineteenth century after dispatching a one hundred forty thousand man strong punitive expedition to crush the 1848–1849 democratic revolution in Hungary.*
The ruling elites of the west and the east have been trying to use the conflict to their advantage. Yet while western imperialism is quite pragmatic, motivated by the desire to secure control of resources, Russian imperialism’s rationale is fundamentally different.
Russia does not need control over other people’s resources: it has quite enough of its own. But to be able to go on controlling them and disposing of these resources as it will, the Russian oligarchical elite requires strictly authoritarian rule. Anything that threatens to undermine the regime is, therefore, suppressed quickly and ruthlessly, be it freedom of the press, the movement for fair elections or the right of NGOs to operate freely. And the emergence of alternative systems, states whose governance is based on democracy, in immediate geographical proximity to Russia, does undermine Putin’s regime, for they can nourish and inspire the dissident movement and popular unrest within Russia itself.
This is why Russia provides huge loans to Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime and severely punishes those countries where it suspects the beginnings of democratic rule. Thus, Moldova was punished, in its time, with the secession of Transnistria. More recently, Georgia paid with the annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and now the Ukrainian Maidan has been punished with the loss of Crimea.
The Gendarme’s logic at work: “Punish and let others beware.” This was the motto of the nineteenth-century Russian emperors when they sent punitive expeditions to Europe.
At the same time, Russia has little use for these territories: it has more than its fair share of economically depressed regions. It is the logic of the Gendarme that is at work here: “Punish and let others beware!” And it wants to weaken these countries: without their annexed territories, democratic governments will be unable to build sustainable economies. Heaven forbid that uncorrupt, free, and democratic countries should emerge along unwashed Russia’s borders.
This was what motivated the nineteenth-century Russian emperors when they sent punitive expeditions to Europe. Their Stalinist successors adhered to the same logic when they suppressed popular uprisings in Eastern and Central Europe in the twentieth century, but the Soviet Union, at least rhetorically, tried to imagine itself as a non-capitalist society. Today’s Russia in no way represents an alternative to the capitalist system. It differs from the major capitalist powers only in terms of the monstrous levels of hyper-exploitation to which its workers are subjected, a state of affairs maintained by a blatantly repressive system of labor relations.
* A gendarmerie is a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations.
This comment was originally published in Russian at gaslo.info. It was translated into English by the author, and has been slightly edited by The Russian Reader and published here with Mr. Buketov′s kind permission.
There is one point on which there is striking agreement among liberals, Putinists, and the “populist” segment of the Russian left. This is the idea that the majority of the Russian population adheres to leftist values, as opposed to the narrow strata of the middle class and intelligentsia in the big cities.
This simplified representation of societal processes, typical of both semi-official and opposition propaganda, is based on a juxtaposition of the so-called creative class with the notional workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank and railway car manufacturing plant, supposed wearers of quilted jackets with alleged hipsters. Discussion of such complicated topics as the Bolotnaya Square protests, Maidan, and Anti-Maidan revolves around this juxtaposition. The various ideological camps differ only in terms of where their likes and dislikes are directed.
Leaving aside left-nationalist figures like Sergei Kurginyan and Eduard Limonov, the most prominent proponent of the “populist” trend within the leftist movement is Boris Kagarlitsky. The whole thrust of his current affairs writing is to exalt the silent majority (the working people), who are organically hostile to the parasitic petty bourgeoisie that, allegedly, constituted the core of the anti-government protests in Russia in 2011–2012, and in Ukraine in 2013–2014.
Ukraine in the Mirror of Russian “Populism”
In an editorial published on the web site Rabkor.ru, entitled “Anti-Maidan and the Future of Protests,” Kagarlitsky (or his alter ego: unfortunately, the article has no byline) describes the events in Ukraine as follows: “Nothing testifies to the class character of the confrontation that has unfolded in Ukraine like the two crowds that gathered on April 7 in Kharkov. At one end of the square, the well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class, the intelligentsia, and students stood under yellow-and-blue Ukrainian national flags. Across the square from them had gathered poorly and badly dressed people, workers and youth from the city’s outskirts, bearing red banners, Russian tricolors, and St. George’s Ribbons.” According to Kagarlitsky, this is nothing more or less than a vision of the future of Russia, where only the “state apparatus despised by liberal intellectuals defends them from direct confrontation with those same masses they dub ‘white trash.’”
The fact that the venerable sociologist has been forced to resort to such demagogic methods as assessing the class makeup of protesters by reversing the proverb “It’s not the gay coat that makes the gentleman” indicates the conjectural nature of his scheme. (I wonder how much time Kagarlitsky spent poring over photos from Donetsk with a magnifying glass.) When discussing the social aspect of Maidan, most analysts have noted the dramatic changes that occurred as the protests were radicalized. “At the Euromaidan that existed before November 30–December 1,” notes political analyst Vasily Stoyakin, “it was Kyivans who dominated, and in many ways the ‘face’ of Maidan was made up by young people and the intelligentsia, albeit with a slight admixture of political activists. Many students, people with higher educations, and creative people attended it. […] After November 30, when the clashes began, […] a lot of blue-collar workers without higher educations arrived, in large part from the western regions.”
According to Vadim Karasev, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, as quoted in late January, “[T]he backbone of Euromaidan is men between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five, ‘angry young men,’ often unemployed. […] In my opinion, it would be mistaken to call Maidan a lower-class protest, just as it would be to call it a middle-class protest. It is a Maidan of all disaffected people who are able to get to Kyiv.” According to a study carried out in mid-December 2013 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, every fifth activist at Maidan was a resident of Lviv, around a third had arrived from Ukraine’s central regions, every tenth activist was from the Kyiv region, and around twenty percent were from the country’s southeast.
Sixty-one (two thirds!) of the protesters killed at Maidan were from villages and small towns in Central and Western Ukraine. As political analyst Rinat Pateyev and Nikolai Protsenko, deputy editor of Ekspert Iug magazine, noted, “Among the victims, we see a large number of villagers, including young subproletarians. […] On the other hand, occupations favored by the intelligentsia are fairly well represented [in the list of the slain]: there is a programmer, a journalist, an artist, several school teachers and university lecturers, several theater people, as well as a number of students.” By “subproletarians” Pateyev and Protsenko primarily have in mind seasonal workers “who live on the money they earn abroad.” Isn’t this all fairly remote from the portrait of the “well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class” painted by Rabkor.ru’s leader writer? We should speak, rather, of the classical picture observed during revolutionary periods, when peaceful protests by students and the intelligentsia escalate into uprisings of the working class’s most disadvantaged members (who for some reason were not prevented from fighting by either liberals or hipsters).
As evidence of Anti-Maidan’s class character, Rabkor.ru’s editorialist adduces no other arguments except to point out the “short text of the declaration of the Donetsk Republic,” which “contains language about collective ownership, equality, and the public interest.” However, many observers have also noted the growth of anti-government and anti-oligarchic sentiments at Maidan. Journalist and leftist activist Igor Dmitriev quotes a manifesto issued by Maidan Self-Defense Force activists: “The new government of Ukraine, which came into office on Maidan’s shoulders, pretends it does not exist. We were not fighting for seats for Tymoshenko, Kolomoisky, Parubiy, Avakov, and their ilk. We fought so that all the country’s citizens would be its masters—each of us, not a few dozen ‘representatives.’ Maidan does not believe it has achieved the goal for which our brothers perished.”
Maidan and Anti-Maidan, which have a similar social makeup, employ the same methods, and suffer from identical nationalist diseases, look like twin brothers who have been divided and turned against each other by feuding elite clans and the intellectuals who serve them. There is absolutely no reason to force the facts, cramming them into a preconceived scheme drawn up on the basis of completely different events that have occurred in another country.
Is Russian Society Leftist?
But let’s return to Russia and see whether the “populist” scheme works here. Can we speak of a “leftist majority” that deliberately ignores protests by the petty bourgeoisie, who are protected from popular wrath by the authorities?
This belief is common within a certain section of the left, but there is no evidence at all to support this view. Poor Kagarlitsky is constantly forced to appeal to absences. For example, commenting on the outcome of the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, he declared a “victory” for the “boycott party” (that is, people who did not vote in the election), which by default is considered proof the electorate is leftist. It logically follows from this that the absence, say, of mass protests against fee-for-services medicine must testify to the triumph of neoliberal ideas within the broad masses of working people.
Sure, in today’s Russia statues of Lenin are not knocked down so often, and Kremlin mouthpieces eagerly borrow motifs from Soviet mythology. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is still the largest opposition party (but is it leftist?), and many people see the Soviet Union as the touchstone of state and economic power. But are all these things indicators of leftism in the sense the editorialist, who considers himself a Marxist, understands it?
To get closer to answering this question, we need to ask other questions, for example, about the prevalence of self-organization and collective action in the workplace. The statistics on labor disputes in Russia, regularly published by the Center for Social and Labor Rights, are not impressive. Even less impressive are the statistics for strikes. Independent trade union organizations are negligible in terms of their numbers and their resilience, and the rare instances of successful trade union growth are more common at enterprises owned by transnational corporations, where industrial relations approximate western standards. Activists in such trade unions as the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (which rejects the paternalist ideology of the country’s traditional trade union associations) are forced to resort to translated textbooks on organizing and the know-how of foreign colleagues, not to native grassroots collectivism or the remnants of the Soviet mentality.
The above applies to all other forms of voluntary associations, which currently encompass a scant number of Russians. Whereas Russian Populists of the late nineteenth century could appeal to the peasant commune and to the cooperative trade and craft associations (artels) and fellow-countrymen networks (zemliachestva) that were common among the people, the “populists” of the early twenty-first century attempt to claim that a society united by nothing except state power and the nuclear family adheres to leftist values.
The standard explanation for the failure of the Bolotnaya Square protests is that they did not feature “social demands,” meaning slogans dealing with support for the poor, availability of public services, lower prices and utility rates, and increased pensions and salaries. But such demands are part of the standard fare offered by nearly all Russian political parties and politicians, from United Russia to Prokhorov and Navalny. These demands sounded at Bolotnaya Square as well. Successfully employed by the authorities and mainstream opposition parties, this social rhetoric has, however, absolutely no effect on the masses when voiced by radical leftists, strange as it might seem. We are constantly faced with a paradox: opinion polls show that the public is permanently concerned about poverty, economic equality, unemployment, high prices, and so on, but we do not see either significant protests or the growing influence of leftist forces and trade unions. Apparently, the explanation for this phenomenon is that a significant part of the population pins its hopes not on strategies of solidarity and collective action, but on the support of strong, fatherly state power. The Kremlin links implementation of its “obligations to society” with manifestations of loyalty: this is the essence of its policy of stability.
Leftists in a Right-Wing Society
Finally, should we consider ordinary people’s nostalgic memories of the Soviet Union during the stagnation period a manifestation of “leftism,” and rejection of western lifestyles and indifference to democratic freedoms indicators of an anti-bourgeois worldview? According to the twisted logic of the “populists,” who have declared most democratic demands irrelevant to the class struggle and therefore not worthy of attention, that is the way it is. Instead of accepting the obvious fact that proletarians need more democracy and more radical democracy than the middle class, and that protests by students and the intelligentsia can pave the way to revolt by the lower classes, theorists like Kagarlitsky try to paint ordinary conservatism red.
They tacitly or openly postulate that workers can somehow acquire class consciousness under a reactionary regime without breaking with its paternalist ideology and without supporting the fight for those basic political rights that workers in the west won at the cost of a long and bloody struggle.
It is time to recognize that we live in a society far more rightist than any of the Western European countries and even the United States. What European and American right-wing radicals can imagine only in their wildest fantasies has been realized in post-Soviet Russia in an unprecedentedly brief span of time and with extraordinary completeness. The Soviet legacy (or, rather, the reactionary aspects of the Soviet social model) proved not to be an antidote to bourgeois-mindedness, but rather an extremely favorable breeding ground for a strange capitalist society that is simultaneously atomized and anti-individualist, cynical and easily manipulated, traditionalist and bereft of genuine roots. And we leftists must learn to be revolutionaries in this society, rather than its willing or unwitting apologists.
Ivan Ovsyannikov, Russian Socialist Movement April 20, 2014