I Have No Idea What I’m Talking About, But I’m Famous, So It Doesn’t Matter

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck offOne of the many young people in Russia who, according to Anne Applebaum, are leading the latest tiny, Moscow-centered pro-democracy movement there. The slogan on his t-shirt reads, “Fuck off.” Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who captured this image during the “authorized” fair elections march in Moscow on August 10, 2019.

What was I just saying about leaky arguments on behalf of Russia’s courageous but incredibly tiny fair elections movement?

I always had famous Anne Applebaum pegged as a real Russophobe, not a fake one like me, someone who has constantly run afoul of the liberal and leftist Russia discourse police and been crossed off their Christmas card lists many times over. But it turns out Applebaum is such a “Russophile” she is ready to turn reality on its head by comparing the truly grassroots, popular, massive well-organized pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with the minuscule ragtag non-movement in Russia.

In Russia, where propaganda also attacks the West and derides democracy as chaotic and anarchic, protesters have focused very directly on the most fundamental of democratic institutions: they are demanding the right, simply, to vote for independent candidates in local elections. Just as in Hong Kong, Russian protests are being led by younger people [sic], none of whom can remember any other leader except Vladimir Putin: “I am 20 years old, and in my entire life there has not been a single day of freedom,” one of them told reporters, according to Meduza, an independent website that covers Russia. They, too, are well organized, using up-to-the-minute apps to keep in touch with one other, deploying a phalanx of lawyers and a carefully planned social media campaign [sic]. Like the young Hong Kongers, young Russians aren’t just dedicated; they are organized, thoughtful and well prepared [sic].

There are some obvious explanations for this East-West paradox. Clearly, the inhabitants of stable democracies find it hard to appreciate what they have: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” isn’t just a song lyric; it’s an expression of something fundamental about the human brain. Like wealth or health, political freedom may simply be something that people don’t value if they’ve always had it [sic].

But it may also be that the young protesters of Russia and China are simply ahead of us. We’ve gotten used to the idea that political influence flows from West to East, but are we so sure that is still true? A generation of Eastern dissidents has thought harder than we [sic] have about how to self-organize, about how to operate in a world run by secretive, kleptocratic elites who go out of their way to create distraction and apathy. Remember that they, too, are fighting regimes that seem in hock to moneyed interests and wrestling to cope with the pace of technological change. It may be that we in the West simply haven’t thought about what tactics ordinary people need [sic] to deploy to compete in a world where money is offshore, power is invisible and apathy is widespread. It may be that we need to learn from people who have.
—Anne Applebaum, “Hong Kong and Russia Protesters Fight for Democracy. The West Should Listen and Learn,” Washington Post, 16 August 2019

For the sake of rapping the sock puppet known as “the west” on the knuckles, Applebaum conveniently forgets to compare the numbers of people involved in demos and other protest actions in a city of seven million people, on one hand, and the world’s largest country, on the other.

She claims “the west,” where, she alleges, everyone has suddenly given up on democracy, can learn something from “the east.” How is that someone who has written so eloquently about the Soviet Gulag has no clue that the people spearheading the Russian non-movement, people from Moscow and Petersburg, overidentify with “the west” and regard their cities, wrongly or rightly, as European cities, not “eastern” cities?

Wrongly or rightly, and unlike Applebaum, they overidentify so strong with the nonexistent west that they almost never show any sign they have anything to learn from “the east.” Maybe I have the wrong friends and follow the wrong people and groups on Russian social media, but I have not seen anyone talking about the lessons Russian protesters can learn from people in Hong Kong or, say, Puerto Rico. Forgive me if I don’t spell out, for the thousandth time, the darker side of the disdain many members of the Russian liberal and left intelligentsia have for “non-westerners,” especially “non-westerners” who make them look bad by fighting more fiercely and in much greater numbers for their freedom.

It is only possible to learn a real lesson when our teacher has all her facts straight. Unfortunately, when it comes to Russia and its “western” discourse police officers, including Applebaum, complexity, subtlety, and a basic grasp of facts go straight out the window. For reasons I have never been able to fathom, normally decent editors fall asleep at the wheel when their reporters and op-ed contributors write about Russia, especially when they have the cachet of someone like Applebaum.

It seemingly never occurs to anyone in “the west” or “the east” (i.e., Russia) that this bizarre mixture of total indifference, willful ignorance masked as insider knowledge, and desperate cheerleading does nothing for the minority of people in Russia who have the courage to confront their country’s criminal regime. // TRR

Thanks to Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up and Vadim F. Lurie for the fabulous photograph.

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Alexei Tsvetcoff: The Myth of Moscow’s “Bourgeois Liberal” Protesters

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck off-2.jpg“Fuck Off, Putin!” Protesters at the August 10 fair elections rally in Moscow. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie

Alexei Tsvetcoff
Facebook
August 14, 2019

I have to say something about the extremely tenacious, contagious myth that bourgeois liberals are the only people protesting at present. They are strangers to regular folks, so the myth goes, and thus the cops, who come from the common people, take such pleasure in beating them black and blue.

The myth is not borne out by the facts. Among the most malicious “street extremists,” the people who have had criminal charges filed against them, there are an unemployed man, a construction foreman, and several students from a variety of colleges, some of which are not so posh.

There are, of course, also a couple of programmers and a manager in the group of people who have been arrested and charged, meaning it is a cross-section of the Moscow populace, with no class dominating one way or another. If you have been to the protest rallies you will have seen that members of nearly all social groups were in attendance except for oligarchs, officials of the current regime, and the cops, who are on the other side.

When you present this simple empirical evidence to proponents of the “elite protest” myth, they have one last argument, also fallacious, up their sleeves.

Okay, they say, maybe Muscovites of all stripes really have taken to the streets, but their leaders, the people who encouraged them to come out, who led them onto the streets, are definitely bourgeois liberals who are strangers to simple blokes.

There is no evidence of this, either. Among those who spoke at the rallies and somehow represent the protesters, there were people who espouse completely different political views and come from all walks of life. It would be hard to pigeonhole municipal district council member and independent candidate Sergei Tsukasov as a bourgeois and liberal, wouldn’t it? And what about Alexei Polikhovich?  I could go on but I would have to list nearly all the speakers.

To see “liberals” and “agents of the west” in this extremely diverse group of people, who share only one demand (the same rules for everyone: the universal right to nominate candidates for public office, vote for them, and run for public office themselves) you have to be willing to see the world the way the Putinist TV channels paint it.

As for the cops, they retire at a completely different age, earlier than ordinary folks. The current oligarchic regime provides them with apartments and tons of other perks. So, there is no way they could be classified as ordinary people.

They have such great fun waving their billy clubs at any and all dissenters because they have a very specific material interest. The thievish regime need only toss them scraps from its table for them to have an excuse to be really cruel to anyone who threatens the regime’s privileges.

Meaning, simply, that the cops are in on the take. They do a good job of guarding their master, who keeps them well fed. They could not care less who this master is. In this sense, it is completely pointless to reason with them, shame them, and appeal to their conscience.

Returning to the popularity of the myth that it is snobby liberals raising a ruckus on the streets nowadays, I should point that, first, although the myth is at odds with the obvious facts, it is so persistent because it is propped up by two crutches, not one. And, second, it relies on the regime’s ubiquitous propaganda. In this case, the oligarchic regime has no argument but that everyone who opposes it is an enemy of ordinary people.

So, the choir of Solovyovs, Kiselyovs, and hundreds of other agitprop yes men sing this song at a deafening volume, competing with each other in the process, because how loud they sing probably has something to do with how close they will get, in the end, to the feeding trough and, thus, with being able to be as far from the selfsame hoi polloi as they can. There is no way people like them want to get mixed up with the broad popular masses, to sink to their level. They want to keep on living the good life of propagandists with all the foreign real estate, offshore bank accounts, and other perks that working as professional fans of the Motherland entails.

But that was the second reason the myth of anti-populist liberals is so persistent. The first reason is completely different. It is the perfect excuse for the political passivity and political fear experienced by people in our atomized society with its extreme shortage of solidarity and self-respect.

The Russian man in the street says something like this to himself.

Of course, I see what has been going down. I see how the haves have divvied everything up among themselves and where things are going. Why don’t I go out and take my stand against them? Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a chicken?

But that hurts and I don’t want to think about it. I need another, more flattering argument . . . Right, that’s it.  I don’t go to protest rallies and avoid getting messed up in politics because all the people who do go out and protest are—

(He reaches for a lifesaver in the shape of his TV set’s remote control or a Kremlin-funded website.)

—all liberals and agents of the west. (Thanks for the prompt!) Employees of the US State Department and enemies of the common folk, they want to bring back the nineties. Elections are only a cover.

I am no fool. I would never go anywhere with these people and demand anything. I am smart and discerning, and now I have an alibi for when I look at myself in the mirror. And since I want to stay this way forever, I am going write the treasured mantra on the inside of my door: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Vadim F. Lurie. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. You are probably wondering why a pro-common people myth-buster such as Mr. Tsvetcoff would resort, in the end, to trotting out the sock puppet of the Russian “man in the street” (obyvatel’) who, allegedly, believes everything he sees on Kremlin-controlled Russian TV. This is because, whether liberal, leftist (like Mr. Tsvetcoff), nationalist or none of the above, almost no one in the country’s self-styled opposition has figured out that you oppose a terrifying, destructive, criminal regime like the Putin regime with superior political organization, not with a sense of your own moral and intellectual superiority.

Since the Russian opposition is inordinately fond of protest rallies and marches, you would think it would pull out all the stops to get as many people to them as possible and, thus, scare the hell out of the regime. But if there is anything the Russian opposition hates more than the Putin regime, it is grassroots political organizing, meaning knocking on doors, stopping strangers on the street, buttonholing friends, neighbors, and workmates, and persuading them to do something most of them will not want to do at first: protest publicly against the regime. As nearly no one does the dirty work of getting people to rallies, almost no one goes to them.

Rather than blame themselves for their unwillingness to mobilize people and thus organize a movement that could, eventually, be capable of confronting the regime and perhaps defeating it, the opposition is fond of blaming the unwashed masses and “men in the street” for their passivity and timidity. When opposition liberals play this blame game, they usually target public sector employees, the lumpenproletariat, and residents of Russia’s far-flung hinterlands, who, allegedly, constitute Putin’s electoral base.

I would have thought opposition leftists would know better than to make what amounts to the same argument, but I was wrong. // TRR

Donbas Family Photo Archive

donbass family albumPhoto courtesy of Donbas Family Photo Archive

Plus/Minus Art Residency
Facebook
December 24, 2018

The visual anthropology project Donbas Family Photo Archive was presented on November 29 at the IZOLYATSIA Platform for Cultural Initiatives. Kateryna Siryk, curator of the Plus/Minus Art Residency in Severodonetsk, and Vadim F. Lurie, an independent researcher, anthropologist, and photographer from Petersburg, presented the project.

The expedition kicked off in February 2018 in three neighboring cities in Luhansk Region: Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, and Rubizhne. The aim was to find and digitize the family photo archives of local residents and compile a database.

“Family life (private life) and public life are bound up in photo archives. The boundary between them is not always visible, a consequence of the ideological structure of society and life in the twentieth century. These things helped us record and analyze culture, history, and the socio-political aspects of life in Luhansk Region,” said Lurie.

According to Lurie, the memory and post-memory of Donbas are not simply timely subjects. They are also painful subjects for many people in Ukraine and Russia.

“The issue of this region’s memory has been politicized. It has been overrun by speculations and rebuttals of these speculations. These are not merely different opinions. They are one of the ideological grounds of the conflict of Eastern Ukraine. The family archives of Donbas residents can lead us to an objective understanding of the people who have lived here,” Lurie argued.

The project’s plans for 2019 include a series of exhibitions and discussions in the cities involved in the project and elsewhere in Ukraine, museumification of the photo archive, and creation of an online database.

Prior to Kyiv, the project had been presented at the seminar War, Photo Archives and the Temporalities of Cultural Heritage, at the Max Planck Institute’s Art History Institute in Florence, the seminar Urban Landscapes of Memory: Conflicts and Transformations, at CISR Berlin, and a press conference at the Seversky Donets Crisis Media Center.

Donbas Family Photo Archive: http://donbasphotoarchive.tilda.ws/ru

Contacts: donbasphotoarchive@plusminus.org.ua, (099) 944-6803

Translated by the Russian Reader

Militarism Is Fascism

Vadim F. Lurie
Facebook
March 19, 2018

An endless stream of Muscovites and out-of-town visitors headed to the concert marking the anniversary of Crimea’s “annexation.” And only the lonely voice of a man, heard by a few and jotted on a piece of paper on Tverskaya, quietly resisted the general hysteria.

Photograph by Vadim F. Lurie. Thanks for his kind permission to reproduce it here and translate his annotation. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ekaterina Prokopovich: Independence Day

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Vadim F. Lurie, from the series “Russia Day in Petersburg,” June 12, 2017

Ekaterina Prokopovich
July 4, 2017
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Facebook

I finally must tell you about the events of June 12. Otherwise, I will lose their thread altogether.

Navalny announced another round of anti-corruption rallies nationwide. The first rallies were on March 26. I wrote about it. I was detained at the rally [in Petersburg]. I was also detained during a rally on April 29. I wrote about that as well. You all know I have a ton of gripes against Navalny, but I think it’s important to demonstrate publicly.

On June 12, my son and I arrived at the Field of Mars. We walked several meters. There were a lot fewer people than in March. Somewhere, people were shouting, “Russia will be free!” and stuff like that. I saw the Russian National Guard lining up. I said to my son, “Let’s get the heck out of here.” I really did not want to get arrested again. We turned around and were leaving. I suddenly saw that the Russian National Guard had kettled us. That was all she wrote.

People next to me asked what was happening. I told them I’d been through it before. I said we would be taken to different police precincts, charged with violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“violating the rules for holding a public event”), and go home late in the evening. I said that, by law, the police had three hours to do this, but they violate the law. What I didn’t realize then was that our arrest would last not three hours, but several days.

Now I understand we should have broken out of the kettle and left. We cannot let them treat us like sheep and illegally detain us. I had already talked to people who had managed to break through another kettle and with a man who had given the slip to a Russian National Guardsman who had grabbed him. That’s the way to do it.

Skipping ahead, I’ll say that a young man who interrogated me about what would happen to us, a young man who had come to the Field of Mars simply to hang out, was sentenced to fourteen days in jail. Everyone got the same sentence, no matter why they were there.

We were thrown onto buses and taken to police precincts. Once there, we were initially charged with violating Article 20.2, but in the evening, the police got orders to charge us with violating Article 19.3 (“disobeying a police officer’s lawful request”) as well. We know this, because the police dicussed it in front of us. One female officer was even outraged. “Why charge them with 19.3?” she wondered. The precinct deputy commander replied, “Do I need to explain why? Let’s go and I’ll explain it to you!” So we spent the night in a cell. We were taken to court only in the evening of the next day. Personally, I was convicted and sentenced in the dead of the night, around two in the morning. The women generally got five days in the slammer. For some reason, I got seven. On the other hand, I’m a recidivist. My son got a lighter sentence: his defender, Yevgeny Pirozhkov, argued his case for several hours, trying to get him off. In short, the district courts were operating round the clock. Around six hundred people were detained. Around two hundred or so were sent to the slammer. The temporary detention center could not have handled any more. Everyone’s charge sheets were identical down to the last comma. The police faked the charge sheets, and the judges had gotten word from up top that people should be sent to jail for several days based on the trumped-up charge sheets.

We were taken to the temporary detention center twice. The first time was on June 14 at six in the morning. We waited, but they had run out of mattresses. We were shipped back to the precinct. They brought us back in the afternoon and put us in our cells in the evening.

In short, they tormented us for two days, but everything was decent at the detention center, both in terms of the staff and the conditions. I have no gripes against the detention center. I’ll write about it separately, because this text is too long as it is.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Kouprianov for the heads-up. Please read my other postings on the events of June 12 and their horrendous (il)legal aftermath:

 

Vadim F. Lurie, “White Night”

vadim f. lurie-girl smoking in windowsill (01.07.17)
Vadim F. Lurie, White Night, 2017

At night, the young women in Petersburg often sit in the windows, gaze at the street, and smoke. On a white night, they are visible from the ground even if the light in their flats has been turned off. I have several similar shots. All of them were takenfrom a distance, with a hidden camera, you might say. I don’t see it as unethical, because I’m not peering into windows and trying to see what’s inside. It is the young women who are showing themselves to the city. Moreover, this particular girl (I took the picture on June 17, 2017, on the Petrograd Side) has become an image, a symbol, which, in fact, makes the shot quite good.
—Vadim F. Lurie, July 2, 2017

My thanks to Mr. Lurie for his kind permission to reproduce his photograph here and his agreeing to respond to my questions about it in writing. TRR

Happy Russia Day 2017

Office of the Guidance Counselor, Saint Petersburg State University of Film and Television
VK
9:11 p.m., June 9, 2017

Dear students,

June 12 is a public holiday, Russian Sovereignty Day [sic]. Certain people have been trying to use our national holiday to destabilize the situation in the country. Alexei Navalny has called for Russians to take to the streets of their cities in protest against the current regime.

The administration of Saint Petersburg State University of Film and Television asks you to approach the question of involvement in such events responsibly, not to yield to such calls and other provocative proposals whose objective is inveigle young people in unauthorized mass actions and marches aimed at destabilizing public order, calls and proposals that are transmitted via social networks and other sources of information. We cannot let these people achieve their political ambitions illegally.

Thanks to Comrade VS for the heads-up

happy russia day
“⚡️Gas sprayed on Pushkinskaya Square. Police in gas masks. If you smell gas, wet t-shirts and breathe through them. #12june.”

Alexandra Krylenkova
Facebook
June 12, 2017

So, 658 people were detained [in Petersburg]. Minors whose parents were able to come and get them and people with disabilities have been released. Nearly everyone else will spend the night in jail.

There will be court hearings tomorrow. Everyone who can make it should come. The hearings will take place at the Dzerzhinsky District Court [in downtown Petersburg]. The first detainees are scheduled to arrive at the court at 9:30 a.m. Considering the number of detainees, we will probably be there into the night.

happy russia day-2
Field of Mars, Petersburg, June 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Polukeyeva/Rosbalt

Alexei Gaskarov
I was invited to speak at the rally on Sakharov Avenue. I planned to talk about why it was important to support the anti-corruption campaign despite our political differences. In short, in order to put a stop to reaction, dissenters need to be represented on a massive scale, so the elites would not even think about just trampling them or not noticing them.  Everyone has the same goal right now: resurrecting political freedoms. The contradictions among people are secondary. Considering the scale of protests nationwide, things turned out quite well. You can see that people have stopped fearing crackdowns, and that intimidation no longer works. In Moscow, switching the rally to a stroll down Tverskaya was an absolutely apt response to the Kremlin’s behavior. Everyone who wanted to avoid arrest had the chance to do that. There were downsides as well, but given the colossal confrontation, they don’t seem important.

Ilya Budraitskis
Of course, one cannot help but welcome today’s protests on a nationwide scale. We are witnessing the continuing rise of a new protest movement that emerged on March 26. This movement is indivisible from Alexei Navalny’s presidential campaign and owes both its virtues and weaker aspects to that campaign. Despite the fact that Navalny’s campaign could have launched a broad grassroots movement, on the contrary, it has been built like a personalistic, vertical political machine in which decisions made by a narrow group of experts and approved by the leader are mandatory for the rank-and-file. This raises the majority’s political consciousness to the degree necessary at each specific moment of the campaign. The leader’s political strategy, his objectives, and the meaning of decisions are not up for discussion. Navalny must be believed like a charismatic CEO. What matters is that he is personally honest and “he has a plan.” On the eve of the protest rally, authorized for June 12 in Moscow, the rank-and-file found out a new particular in the plan: everyone had to go to an unauthorized protest march, which would predictably end in arrests and criminal charges along the lines of the March 26 protests. The rationale of the organizers is understandable. They have to pull out all the stops to keep the campaign moving at a fever pitch, keep it in the public eye, and use the threat of riots to pressure the Kremlin. Moreover, this radicalization in the media reduces the complicated picture presented by Russian society to a simple confrontation: the thieves in the Kremlin versus the honest leader who has united the nation. This set-up renders all forms of public self-organization and all social movements secondary and insignificant, and their real interest ultimately boils down to making Navalny president. However, even Navalny’s most dedicated supporters should pause to think today, the day after June 12. Would his campaign be weakened if it were opened up to internal criticism, if horizontal discussions of his political program and strategy were made possible, and the political machine, now steered by a few people, turned into a real coalition, where differences did not get in people’s way but helped them agree on common goals?

Anna Ivanova
“Sakharov Avenue is out,” Navalny said in his morning video message.

Navalny’s adviser Leonid Volkov put it more democratically.

“The hypocritical scum who dreamed up the ‘opposition rally on Sakharov’ will fry on a separate frying pan.”

The rally on Sakharov happened anyway. It was mainly attended by opponents of Moscow’s new law on the large-scale renovation of residential buildings: urban activists and residents of the buildings slated for demolition, as well as defrauded investors in residential building projects, foreign currency mortgage holders, and other victims of the construction sector. Many fewer of them came out, however, than on May 14, even considering that some of the outraged Muscovite anti-renovation protesters followed Navalny over to Tverskaya. Protests rise and ebb like the sea, and this time round the excitement was muted. These people—old women, families with children, old men—were not suitable for getting arrested at an unauthorized protest. Although they realize that Moscow’s problems are merely one logical outcome of the Russian political system, they are in no hurry to support Navalny and other inveterate oppositionists, for what is at stake are their housing and property, not supreme civil liberties.

happy russian day-4
“Day of Russian Cops” on Tverskaya in Moscow, June 12, 2017

Meanwhile, on Tverskaya, young folks realized that A.C.A.B. Around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and the social networks were flooded with even more photographs of derring-do amidst the so-called cosmonauts [riot cops]. The ultimate damage from the protest might be acknowledged only over time, when we know whether there will be new criminal cases, and if there are, what charges are laid against the protesters. But everyone loves looking at riot porn (and being involved in it), although this hobby devastates and dulls the senses as much as watching ordinary porn. This is the danger of protests “for all things good,” of protests focused on a certain political agenda or figure: neither fat nor thin, neither old nor young, neither socialist nor nationalist, but generally sweet and better than the old protest rallies. In this case, protest risks degenerating into a social order in which everything is decided by Sturm und Drang. Not the worse prospect, some would argue, but others would argue it would be a disaster. But whether you like it or not, “Russia has thousands of young people dreaming of revolution,” for the time abstractly encapsulated in the slogan “Dimon must answer for his actions,” and they have been taking to the streets.

Two worlds did not in fact meet in Moscow today. One world is the world of people who are mostly old, people whose property is threatened with eminent domain and who imagine politics as a way of building an urban environment. The second world is the world of bold young people (and their slightly older idols), who are hellbent on regime change. It would not be a bad thing if these worlds met and acted in concert. This is the only way for a democratic politics to emerge from this.

Source: openleft.ru

happy russia day-3
“A crossword in reverse. USMANOV, DACHA, DUCKIE. You provide the clues.”

Carine Clement
Facebook
June 13, 2017

Notes from the field (the Field of Mars). Putting aside emotions:
1. It’s true there were lots of young people. And they are not afraid of anything.
2. There were many young families, who are likewise not afraid for their children.
3. “We’re fed up” is the key phrase.
4. There were slogans about healthcare, infrastructure, and pension. Well, and about corruption, too.
5. The out-of-town students came out because “it is wrong to drive the regions into a pit like this.”
6. There was a sense of support and public acceptance.
7) The people who came out were true patriots genuinely worried about the country’s future.
8) A spirit of freedom . . .

Photos courtesy of Protestnaya Moskva, Rosbalt, anatrrra, and Vadim F. Lurie. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. On the Six O’Clocks News last night, BBC Radio 4’s Moscow correspondent had the temerity to refer to yesterday’s protest march on Tverskaya as “illegal.” Is this the new tariff for keeping one’s press accreditation under Putin’s perpetual reign? TRR