No One to Call Them on the Carpet

karlshorst tankA WWII-era Soviet tank, its muzzle pointed toward downtown Berlin, in the yard of the so-called German Russian Museum in the city’s Karlshorst neighborhood. Until 1994, it was known as the Capitulation Museum, since German high command formally surrendered to the Soviet high command in the building that houses the museum. Photo by the Russian Reader

At this point in their downward spiral towards worldwide moral and intellectual superiority, it is sometimes as hard to compliment Russians as it to make common cause with them or, on the contrary, argue with them.

I was thinking about this in a different connection when my attention was drawn to this column by Masha Gessen, published two days ago by the New Yorker.

The column is an odd beast.

First, Ms. Gessen makes a sound argument, based on hard, easily verifiable facts, but then she does an about-face and acts as her argument’s own resentful, miserably uninformed whataboutist, drawing false parallels between commemorations of the Second World War in Russia and the US, and the roles played by Putin and Trump in tarnishing these memorial events with their own sinister political agendas.

She is thus able to set readers up for the column’s takeaway message: “[T]he Trumpian spin on [the Second World War] is all maga, which makes it essentially the same as Putin’s.”

Ms. Gessen once was one of my favorite reporters, especially back in the days when she wrote for the weekly Russian news magazine Itogi.  Later, I adored her poignant, richly rendered dual portrait of her grandmothers and the turbulent times of their younger years. I would still urge anyone curious about what the Soviet Union was really like under Stalin and after his death to put the book, Ester and Ruzya, at the top of their reading lists.

Nowadays, however, Ms. Gessen finds herself in what should be the unenviable position of having no one willing to call her on the carpet . Whatever she writes and says is regarded as the gospel truth, apparently, by her editors, readers, and listeners. In any case, I have never come upon any criticism of her work, at least in Anglophonia.

Her editor at the New Yorker, David Remnick, himself a Russia expert of sorts, has gone missing in action when it comes to editing critically what she writes about the country of her birth, and so has everyone else who could be bothered to notice the sleights of hand and sophistry in which she now indulges all too often.

In this case, it is simple. In the United States, there has been nothing like the overbearing politicization of victory in the Second World War as there has been in Russia since Putin took power twenty years ago.

The US does not even have a public holiday commemorating victory in the war, whether on the European front or the Pacific front. I think this says something. Maybe what it says is bad, but the importance of the “victory” for US society, especially now that nearly seventy-five years have passed since the victory was declared, has been waning with every passing day.

More to the point, whatever deplorable uses Trump may have made of the war, he has had a mere two years in office to do his damage, while “decisive victory” in the Great Fatherland War (as the war is called in Russian) has long played a central role in Putin’s eclectic, opportunist but extraordinarily reactionary ideology.

It is an rather odd stance, since the Kremlin regularly speaks and acts almost as if the Putin regime and the current Russian Armed Forces achieved victory over the Nazis in 1945, rather than the Stalin regime and the Red Army.

Victory in the war has been used as much to bludgeon the regime’s “traitors” and “enemies” into submission as it has been used to brainwash the Russian people into a false sense of national unity and international moral superiority.

Of course, there have been periods since 1945 when victory in the war was politicized by the US establishment, too. We need only think of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” and, years before that last gasp, the ways movies and TV shows about the war functioned as surrogates for reinforcing western capitalist ideology during the Cold War.

As should naturally be the case, however, since the war ended a long time ago, and most of the people who witnessed it and fought in it have died, it has meant less to the rising generations in the US than it did to the generations of my grandparents (who fought in the war, if only on the home front) and my parents (who were born just before or during the war), and even to my own generation (who grew up in a vernacular culture still permeated by memories of the war, sometimes embodied in our own grandparents and their age mates, and a popular culture still awash in books, comic books, TV serials, movies, toys, and other consumerist junk inspired by the war).

A gradual waning of interest in the war should have happened in Russia as well,  albeit in a manner that acknowledged and honored the war’s much greater impact on the country and all the other former Soviet republics.

In the nineties, under the “villainous” Yeltsin, this was on the verge of happening.

I remember going to the Victory Day parade on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg in 1995. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the war’s end in Europe, but the main event consisted only of columns of real war veterans, some in uniform, some in civilian dress, all of them wearing their medals, marching down the Nevsky accompanied by a few marching bands and a military honor guard, if memory serves me.

Tens of thousands of Petersburgers lined the pavements, cheering the veterans, crying, and occasionally running out into the parade to hand them flowers, kiss their cheeks, and thank them personally for their courage.

It was simple, dignified, and moving.

But then a new mob took over Russia. The new mob wanted to rob the country blind and install themselves in power for as long as they could, so they had to convince their victims, the Russian people, of a number of contradictory things.

One, the highway robbery, as committed by the new mob, was for their own good. Two, the highway robbery was making them better and their country great again; it would bring “stability.” Three, the highway robbery was spiritually underwritten by the former country’s former greatness, as demonstrated, in part, by its victory over the Nazis in the Great Fatherland War.

It is not true that all or even most Russians have swallowed all or even most of this dangerous nonsense.

Putinism, however, has destroyed politics in Russia not only by demolishing all democratic institutions and persecuting grassroots activists and opposition politicians in ever-increasing numbers.

It has also disappeared most real political issues and replaced them with non-issues, such as nonexistent “threats” to the glory of Russia’s victory in WWII, as posed by “traitors” and hostile foreign powers, the completely astroturfed “upsurge” in “love for Stalin,” and several other fake zeitgeist events that have been designed purposely to set the country’s dubious troika of official pollsters polling like never before and take up oodles of space in the real media, the social media, and ordinary people’s minds and their bar-stool and dinner-table conversations with strangers, friends, relatives, and coworkers.

I am much too fond of French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s distinction between “politics”—what happens in the public space around real sources of political and social conflict in democratic societies or societies striving towards freedom and equity) and “police”—the opposite of “politics,” the utter control of public space and a monopoly on decision-making by a tiny anti-democratic elite.

“Police” as a concept, however, encompasses not only real policemen kicking down the doors of “extremists” and “terrorists,” and casing and tailing everyone suspicious and “unreliable” every which way they can.

In Russia under Putin, it has also involved tarring and feathering all real political discourse and political thinking, while promoting sophistry, scuttlebutt, moral panics, two minutes hate, and intense nationwide “debates” about non-issues such as “the people’s love of Stalin” and “victory in the war.”

The point of substituting artificial “police” discourses for wide-open political debate has been to prevent Russia from talking about bread-and-butter issues like pensions, the economy, healthcare, housing, the environment, war and peace, and increasingly violent crackdowns against political dissenters, businessmen, migrant workers, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities.

Russians are capable of talking about these things and do talk about them, of course, but a steady diet of nothing, that is, immersion in a topsy-turvy world in which the state, mainstream media, and many of your own friend will try, often and persistently, to engage you in “serious” conversations about chimeras and phantoms, has had an innervating effect on serious political discourse generally.

Try and talk to Russians about politics and, often as not, you will soon find yourself talking “police” instead.

If Ms. Gessen had decided to write a substantive article about the Putin regime’s use and abuse of the “victory,” popular acquiescence to its campaign, and grassroots pushbacks against, it would have familiarized Ms. Gessen’s readers with a story about which they know either nothing or almost nothing.

I cannot imagine anyone better qualified to tell the story than Ms. Gessen herself.

But, as is the case with many other Russians, the straight talk in Ms. Gessen’s recent printed work and media appearances about what has been happening in Russia under Putin has been veering off, sooner or later, into whataboutism and a series of well-worn memes whose hysterical repetition passes for political argument these days.

There is a different but curiously overlapping set for every political tribe in Putinist Russia, from nominal nationalists to nominal liberals and leftists.

What is my own takeaway message?

There can be no politics in Russia in the Rancierean sense or any other sense until the Russian liberal intelligentsia (with whom Ms. Gessen has explicitly identified herself on several occasions, obviously considering them vastly superior intellectually and morally to the American mooks with whom she has been condemned to spend too much time, Russiansplaining everything under the sun to them as best she can, mostly to no avail) and all the other intelligentsias and political tribes in Russia give up their pet sets of non-issues and non-solutions and revive the deadly serious politics and political discourses of the pre-Revolutionary period, if only in spirit.

However, the efficacy of “police” under Putin has been borne out by the way in which nearly everyone has united, time and again, around the very non-issues the regime and state media has encouraged them to discuss.

On the contrary, several painfully real issues, for example, Russia’s ruinous, murderous military involvement in Syria, have never been vetted by “police” for public hand-wringing of any kind.

As if obeying an unwritten rule or a tape reeling in their heads, nobody ever talks about them, not even the great Masha Gessen. {TRR}

Thanks to Comrade GF for bring Ms. Gessen’s column to my attention.

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Surviving the Siege

“I Only Want to Take a Bath, Nothing More”
Alexander Kalinin
Rosbalt
May 15, 2017

Anna Yegorova is ninety-eight years old. She defended Leningrad all nine hundred days of the Nazi siege of the city during the Second World War. On the seventy-second anniversary of Victory Day, the combatant did not even get postcards from the government. But there was a time when she wrote to Brezhnev—and got a reply. 

Anna Yegorova. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

Anna Yegorova was born in 1918 in the Kholm-Zhirkovsky District of Smolensk Region. When she was ten, her parents decided to set out in search of a better life and moved to Leningrad with their daughter. They settled in a wooden house near the Narva Gates on New Sivkov Street, now known as Ivan Chernykh Street. Yegorova finished a seven-year primary school and enrolled in the Factory Apprenticeship School, where she graduated as a men’s barber.

“Oh, what beards didn’t I trim in my time,” the Siege survivor recalls.

After acquiring a vocation, the 19-year-old woman married Alexander Vesyolov, a worker at the Kirov Factory. As soon as the war broke out, her husband volunteered for the first division of the people’s militia. Nearly the entire division fell in battle during July–September 1941 on the southern approaches to Leningrad. Vesyolov is still officially listed as missing in action.

Yegorova was drafted into the air defense brigades at the war’s outset. The young woman served in a basement, equipped with seven cots, in one wing of the Kirov Factory. It was the headquarters of the local air defense brigade.

Yegorova still remembers the war’s outbreak, her military service in the besieged Leningrad, and victory in May 1945.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Anna Yegorova as a young woman. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

“How did the war begin? We were going to the cinema, but my mother told me I should go to the factory instead. Then I got a notice stating I had been drafted to serve in the headquarters of the local air defense brigade at the Kirov Factory. I spent all nine hundred days there. I was able to come home only once a month. My parents starved to death. Dad passed away on February 3, 1942. He was a first-class carpenter. His comrades made him a wooden coffin: they could not bury a carpenter without a coffin. Mom died a month later. They just carried her off to the Volodarsky Hospital in a blanket. I don’t even know where she is buried. Maybe at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, maybe in Moskovsky Victory Park,” says Yegorova.

Her duties included running to other parts of the city to deliver dispatches, carrying the wounded, and standing on guard at the factory, armed with a rifle. The young woman would look into the sky and watch what planes were flying overhead: planes emblazoned with red stars or planes bearing black crosses. Once, during a heavy bombardment, she was shell-shocked.

“I still remember how we chopped up houses in the Kirov District. Once, a girlfriend and I were dismantling a house near a railroad bridge, and a woman called out to us, ‘Girls, girl, come here, come.’ We didn’t go: we were scared. There were all kinds of people back then, you know. Once, this girl stole my food ration cards, and my mom’s earrings were also stolen,” recalls Yegorova.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Yegorova’s collection of war medals. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

The Siege survivor recounts how she would travel to the Krasnoarmeysky Market to buy linseed cakes and oilseed meal.

“The oilseed meal was like sawdust. Oh, how I gagged on that oilseed meal! But we had nothing to sell. We were poor.”

When Victory Day arrived, her house was nearly totally destroyed. Only an ottoman was rescued from the ruins.

Yegorova remarried after the war. Her new husband was a military officer, Nikolai Yegorov, who had fought not only in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) but also the Finnish War (Winter War). In peacetime, Yevgorov became a first-class instrumentation specialist. In 1946, the Yegorovs gave birth to a daughter, Lydia. Yegorova worked as a secretary at the Kirov Factory, latter becoming head of a bread and confectionery department at a store.

In the late 1960s, Anna Yegorova wrote a letter to Leonid Brezhnev, secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The essence of the message was as follows.

“Leonid Ilyich, no one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. But it has so happened that I, a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, awarded the medal For the Defense of Leningrad, and my husband, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, have to huddle with our daughter in a sixteen-square-meter room on Lublin Alley.”

Image courtesy of slideshare.net

Yegorova does not believe her letter reached Brezhnev personally, but she does think it wound up in the hands of a “kindly” secretary who helped the family move into a one-room flat in the far southern district of Ulyanka. She lived in the neighborhood for around thirty years. She was civically engaged, working with Great Patriotic War veterans. She says she even worked as an aide to Sergei Nikeshin, currently an MP in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, who was then quite young. Nikeshin and she inspected the fields then surrounding Ulyanka.

The certificate accompanying Anna Yegorova’s medal For the Defense of Leningrad. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

In 1996, Yegorova took seriously ill. She was struck down by deep vein thrombosis. Her left leg “was like a wooden peg.” Her husband Nikolai died in 1999.

“After that, Mom stayed at home. I took care of her. This is my cross. We would take her to the dacha only in the summer. Otherwise, she would move about only in the apartment. She would get up in the morning and make her bed, come into the kitchen and sit down on the couch. She would turn on  and call the station to request a song. She loved Boris Shtokolov’s “Dove.” Or she would request “A White Birch Weeps,” or something by Nikolai Baskov. But a month ago she took to her bed. Now all she does is lie in bed,” recounts her daughter Lydia Kolpashnikova.

Boris Shtolokov, “Dove” (a Russian adaptation of “La Paloma”)

Kolpashnikova is herself a pensioner. She has a third-degree disability. According to her, Petersburg authorities have practically forgotten her mother. True, three years ago, the Moscow District Administration called and said she could get a wheelchair. The women’s joy was short-lived. It transpired that the wheelchairs were used: they had been brought to Petersburg from Holland. To make use of the chair, they would have had to pay to have it repaired. The women decided to turn the gift down the gift.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин
Congratulatory cards and other memorabilia sent to Anna Yegorova over the years as a Siege survivor. Photo courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt

Yegorova has received no substantial help from the local Siege survivors society. The organization can only offer trips to museums and theater tickets. This is not an option for Anna Yegorova, who is in no condition to leave her apartment. On memorial days—the Day of the Lifting of the Siege and Victory Day—however, cakes used to be brought to her. But this time around, however, she was completely neglected. According to the pensioner, the city did not even congratulate her.

Yegorova’s daughter Lydia decided to remind the authorities of her mother’s existence after hearing President Putin’s speech on TV. The president demanded that the heads of the country’s regions do a better job of caring for Great Patriotic War veterans.

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин

“I clung to Putin’s words that veterans needed help, for example, if they needed help with home repairs. I called the district administration and asked them to repair our bathroom,” says Kolpashnikova. “Mom is completely ill. She is almost completely out of it. She has gallstones, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation. She is classified as a first-class disabled person. She survives only on sheer willpower. But now she cannot make it to the bathroom. I wipe her off in bed. She talks to me about the bathroom all the time, however. She wants to take a bath, but wants the bathroom repaired. The tile has crumbled in there. I called the Moscow District Administration and asked them to repair the bathroom, but I was told that ‘sponsors’ deal with these issues. Now, however, there is a crisis, and there are no sponsors. What sponsors were they talking about? Mom also needs medicines and diapers. There are social workers willing to run from one office to the next to get hold of diapers for free, but they also need to be paid to run around. The local Siege survivors organizations cannot do anything: they are the weakest link. I have no complaints against them.”

Фото ИА «Росбалт», Александр Калинин

Anna Yegorova gets gifts from the authorities only on round dates. When she turned ninety, they gave her a towel, and they presented her with bed linens when she turned ninety-five.

“I called them in the autumn. I said that Mom would be turning ninety-eight on November 25. I suggested they come and congratulate her. They said to me, ‘We don’t have the right. When she turns one hundred, we’ll congratulate her,” recounts the Siege survivor’s daughter.

Anna Yegorova does not want to ask the authorities for anything.

“I have no strength. What should I do? I cannot stand up straight. I fall. I just want them to fix the bathroom. I want to take a bath. That’s it.”

All photos courtesy of Alexander Kalinin and Rosbalt. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

The Immortal Regiment: The Regime’s Human Shield

Crimea Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya leading the Immortal Regiment in Simferopol, Crimea, May 9, 2016. According to TASS, she carried a "wonder-working" icon of Holy Martyr Tsar Nicholas II.
Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya leading the Immortal Regiment memorial procession in Simferopol, Crimea, May 9, 2016. According to TASS, she carried a “wonder-working” icon of Holy Martyr Tsar Nicholas II that had been sent to Crimea from Moscow for the event.

The Regime’s Moral Defense: The Immortal Regiment as a Shield 
Andrei Kolesnikov
Forbes.ru
May 9, 2016

On December 5, 1966, sitting as his dacha in Pakhra, Alexander Tvardovsky, an agonizingly conscientious and grimly self-reflective poet, recorded in his diary thoughts that nowadays would cause the higher-ups to stop inviting him to receptions at the Kremlin, and hired “patriots” to douse him, as is the custom nowadays, with brilliant green disinfectant.

First, Tvardovsky writes about the essence of Victory Day and its semi-official recension, including the myth of the Panfilov Division’s Twenty-Eight Guardsmen, whose debunking now costs people their jobs.

“Those who perished in the war for the Motherland have a indubitable, sacred right to be remembered and honored. […] However, there is a considerable admixture of ‘educational policy’ in all this as well, considerations on how to manipulate the moods of the ‘masses’ […] such as the tomb of the unknown soldier organized recently (God forbid he should prove to be a known soldier), a lot of needless bother, like the five or six of the twenty-eight [Panfilov Division Guardsmen] who utterly embarrassingly turned up alive.”

Tvardovsky then goes on to write about what is totally and even furiously excluded from the national memory and reflections on the topic nowadays.

“No doubt those who perished on the eve of the war and during the war, not at the front, but in the mad regime’s prisons, camps, and torture chambers, also deserve to be remembered in this way.”

Half a century has passed since Tvardovsky penned this diary entry, but nothing has changed at all or has been reborn in circumstances reminiscent of the Brezhnev period in terms of ideology and political strategy. The regime’s legitimacy was then directly linked to memory of the war, moreover, the official memory of the war, with many of the unpleasant particulars concealed. Today, too, the regime feeds on the juices of the past, powerful evidence of the effects of path dependence in the vast nation’s collective consciousness. Back then, however, there were still a couple of things that brought people together like conquering outer space and romanticizing the 1920s. (Fidel Castro and Cuba reproduced the spirit of that era.)  Our day and age parodies the things that consolidated the Soviet Union. But then again, Nikita Khrushchev would never have deigned to be personally involved in launching rockets from a cosmodrome, as did Vladimir Putin, a man who endeavors to inherit the Soviet Union’s achievements.

The current Russian regime’s final privatization of the Soviet victory in the Second World War and the amazing propagandistic transformation of each new war, including the Syrian campaign, into a direct sequel of the Great Patriotic War has divided the nation instead of consolidating it.

And the minority, who are not at all against remembering the great war, but are opposed to hysteria, official narratives, vulgarization, schematic renderings of the war, marking “friends” with Saint George’s Ribbons, and rejecting critical takes on historical events, have been virtually excluded from the ranks of citizens.

If you did not take a Saint George’s Ribbon foisted on you at a football match, and your kid was not involved in an Immortal Regiment event at school, you are a renegade, not a citizen. Everything the state gets its hands on immediately acquires an imperative and moralistic aftertaste and helps to identify an individual as friend or foe. Strangers have no place in this political system. People who think about the Gulag, for example, have no place. They are attacked, even if they are children, as happened during a Memorial school essay contest, and declared “national traitors.”

In our hybrid political framework, these prescriptions and nearly obligatory moral codes, sometimes reinforced by the Criminal Code, have been rented not even from authoritarian systems but from totalitarian ones.  In this model, morality is immoral, Russia’s heroes are anti-heroes, and vice versa. The nation has repented of the repentance it felt thirty years ago. It turns out that iPhones can peacefully coexist with the most primitive variety of Stalinism, and supermarkets, with archaization of the mind.

The Great Patriotic War is used, including to sell nonexistent threats to the general public. These threats strengthen the authority of the man commanding the besieged fortress and expand the food supply of the military and security services elites.

Today’s Russian society is a society of people who have been insulted a priori and attacked before the fact. We were attacked in 1941, and we are attacked now. We are attacked, so we defend ourselves and conduct just wars. These wars are triumphal and victimless, and ennobled and sterilized by TV. They resemble computer games where the players have a big supply of extra lives.

You cannot die a hero’s death in such wars, although you can go as a tourist. (According to Christopher Coker of the LSE, modern war is often a continuation of tourism by other means.)

In the name of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, you can do anything whatsoever. You can even crack down on the opposition, conduct a wild goose chase for “national traitors,” annex Crimea, invade Syria, and do battle with “Banderites.” Ceremony, rather than real success, has become a ritual means of “consolidating” the nation. Anyone who has avoided being consolidated during collective rituals is an internal enemy.

The victorious official narrative is a set of rote answers in the absence of questions. It is the triumph of simplification, the refusal to understand that history is complicated. It is the refusal to imagine the war as a tragedy. The topic of the unnecessary sacrifices and wastefulness of the Stalin regime, which did not count soldiers and devalued their lives, has disappeared from the discourse. Simplifying complicated things has also ben a means of simultaneously justifying the current regime and Stalin’s regime at a single blow, of dividing the nation into right and wrong, moral and immoral, by tying the “right” folks together with a single Saint George’s Ribbon, by marketizing the war and making it fashionable.

Everything in Russia is hybrid: the wars in Donbass and Syria, the political system itself, and now the celebration of Victory Day. Sacred memory has been placed at the service of solving a single albeit blistering problem: preserving the power of the current leaders and current elites as long as possible. To do this, the regime takes cover behind the Immortal Regiment’s morally impeccable shield, which, however, makes it look even more immoral.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Roman Dobrokhotov and TASS. For more on this topic, see Peter Hobson, “How Russian Authorities Hijacked a WWII Remembrance Movement,” Moscow Times, May 6, 2016.

Victoria Lomasko: We Won

lomasko-we won (stencil)Victoria Lomasko, We Won, 2015. Pen and ink on A4 colored paper

______

We Won

Victory Day 2015 was celebrated in Russian with great fanfare. Nearly all the veterans and witnesses of the war are dead, and now people who had nothing to do with it can privatize “the Victory”.

People from all the Soviet republics fought on the frontlines or worked in the rear on behalf of the soldiers at the front, but now the victory has become the victory of ethnic Russians alone. Atheists fought for their communist homeland, but now they are dubbed “agents of Russian Orthodox civilization,” and Patriarch Kirill says a “divine miracle” played the decisive role in the victory. Soviet soldiers bore red flags emblazoned with hammers and sickles as they scrapped their way toward victory over fascism, but now Soviet symbols have been replaced by orange-and-black striped ribbons that originated in the tsarist era.

To be eligible to celebrate “the Victory” you have tie to St. George’s Ribbons to your clothing, your backpacks, your rearview mirrors, and your car antennae, adorn yourself with crucifixes, oppose Ukrainian independence, and be a flagrant homophobe.

This has been the route to public renown taken by the Night Wolves bike gang leader nicknamed The Surgeon, a Putin favorite who organized the To Berlin! “patriotic” motorcycle rally, and had the full support of Russian state media in this dubious and potentially offensive endeavor.

To find yourself labeled an “enemy” and a “Nazi,” however, it suffices to point openly to the way history has been distorted and to remind people that war is primarily an act of mass slaughter. This was the route taken by the Oleg Basov and Pyotr Voys, the artist and the curator who organized an exhibition entitled We Won, which police and the FSB shut down on May 8, a day after it had opened for a private viewing, and one day before Victory Day, May 9.

The art community did not discuss what happened, because what happened was too frightening for them to discuss.

Victoria Lomasko

* * * * *

Here is a translation of the statement the organizers of We Won posted on the exhibition’s Facebook page on May 7, 2015.

The country is celebrating a great victory.

The St. George’s Ribbon, portraits of Stalin, the red flag, and the word fascist are vigorously being replicated again nowadays, becoming a part of everyday life.

But we should clarify the situation. The St. George’s Ribbon is orange and black. It was awarded for military valor, and during the Second World War itself it was a decoration awarded in Vlasov’s Army, which fought on the side of the German Wehrmacht.

As a symbol of victory in the Great Patriotic War [the Soviet name for the Second World War], it was suggested by RIA Novosti news agency in 2006, and the government supported this proposal. The St. George’s Ribbon is now tied to backpacks, dogs, and Mercedes-Benz cars. It has become something commonplace, as if the rank of general or medals for heroism were handed out to everyone.

When heroism becomes a cult, and its symbols are reproduced en masse, its meaning is emasculated. The St. George’s Ribbon is today an identifying mark of the pro-Putin regime fans of Russian TV Channel One.

We won! Let’s take a look back at what this meant.

When counting the numbers of the dead, the margin of error amounts to millions of people.

The beheading of the Red Army’s command on the eve of the war, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the shameful Winter War, which undermined the army’s authority, were only a prelude.

The illusion that the Soviet Union had unlimited human resources led to terrifying losses: seven Soviet soldiers for every German soldier.

In the postwar years, the military-industrial complex accounted for two thirds of the Soviet Union’s GDP.

These years also witnessed total poverty and devastation, a deformed civil society, an epidemic of fatherless children, concealment of the disabled from the general public, widespread reprisals against war veterans who had been in Europe during the war, and Stalinism’s postwar apogee. The list could go on.

The victory was seen as a justification of the Stalinist terror. Declaring ourselves victors blocks our chances to humanize and evolve our society today as well.

Cultural trauma and post-traumatic amnesia distort our identities. This is expressed in the brain drain of talented people to other countries, widespread alcoholism and drug addiction, and the monstrous lives led by the elderly and the disabled.

We won, and today the outcome of this discourse is a restoration of totalitarianism with an admixture of Orthodox fundamentalism.

Our exhibition does not question the heroism of the people, that is, the men and women who stood in muddy trenches and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

But we question the chimera of the great imperial past, which today is manufactured as the one and only indisputable core of Russian identity.

The Second World War was a monstrous bloodletting by the nations of Europe. A day of mourning is not an occasion for congratulation.

Source: Facebook 

The Ninth of May

anatrrra
May 9, 2015
LiveJournal

The Ninth of May
Seventy years of victory. An even more years of sorrow. But sorrow has no place on the ninth of May. People rejoice. This is a holiday. The veterans, to whose stories the younger participants in today’s festivities listened with curiosity, were the same age back then as some of the young women in these pictures are now. I wonder what kind of victory they will tell youngsters about in seventy years?

9mai15_20 9mai15_25 9mai15_47 9mai15_106 9mai15_183 9mai15_228 9mai15_266

anatrrra’s photographs are reprinted here with their kind permission. Their complete poignant photo reportage of grassroots Victory Day festivities in Moscow can be viewed here.

Red Poppies vs. St. George’s Ribbons

Remembrance Poppies versus St. George’s Ribbons
Sergey Chernov
Special to The Russian Reader
May 8, 2015

Petersburg police detained two activists and a photojournalist near Park Pobedy metro station on May 8 as pro-Kremlin provocateurs attempted to prevent Democratic Petersburg activists from handing out buttons and leaflets dealing with the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The Democratic Petersburg coalition, which opposes Russia’s current Second World War victory symbol, the St. George’s Ribbon, claiming it is “distinctly militarist,” passed out buttons featuring the red remembrance poppy, a European symbol for war victims, and leaflets explaining its meaning.

In 2014, Ukraine had rejected the St. George’s Ribbon, used by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and Russian officialdom, choosing the remembrance poppy instead.

The buttons the activists handed out were emblazoned with the red poppy and the phrase “1939–1945 Never Again,” in Russian and Ukrainian, while the leaflets, which quoted John McCrae’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” described the symbol’s history and meaning.

Poppies-4892Buttons reading “1939–1945, Never Again” in Russian and Ukrainian

“We believe the St. George’s Ribbon, which has a distinctly militarist message, should also give way in Russia to the red poppy, the universal symbol commemorating those who perished in the most terrible war.”

Activists said Victory Day should be commemorated on May 8, because Russia was part of Europe, rather than on May 9, in keeping with Soviet tradition. According to them, what Russians have usually called the Great Patriotic War was in fact part of the Second World War and was launched in 1939 by both Germany and the Soviet Union, rather than in 1941, when Germany suddenly attacked its formal nominal ally the Soviet Union.

The pro-Kremlin provocateurs, mostly young people, who were apparently led by two older men, were already waiting outside the metro station, sporting St. George’s Ribbons, when the Democratic Petersburg activists arrived to hand out leaflets. The provocateurs approached them and started an argument, justifying Joseph Stalin and promoting what they saw as the Kremlin’s current interpretation of the war’s history. Some of the provocateurs took photos and videos as the argument proceeded. However, when asked, one of the young provocateurs said he was “just passing by,” denying he had come deliberately with the others to harass the Democratic Petersburg activists.

Poppies-4925Pro-Kremlin provocateurs harass democratic activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev

Within minutes, police had arrived at the scene, led by a colonel, the head of Precinct No. 33, whose beat includes the Park Pobedy station. The colonel argued with the activists before detaining 76-year-old activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev and, seconds later, our correspondent, who had attempt to photograph Andreyev’s arrest.

While the two detainees were held in the police room inside the metro station, police detained Anton Kalinyak, an activist who had been wearing a large red poppy on his lapel, allegedly for “using coarse language in public.” According to Democratic Petersburg, one of the provocateurs filed a false complaint with the police against Kalinyak, while the police officers at the scene corroborated his accusations.

Poppies-4999Andreyev detained by police

The detainees were taken to Precinct No. 33, where they were charged, correspondingly, with “smoking in a public place” and “using profane language in a public place.” After about two hours in custody, Kalinyak was fined 500 rubles (around $10) on the spot, while the formal written charges against the other two detainees will be sent to their respective local police precincts. They face small fines of between 500 and 1,500 rubles.

All photos by and courtesy of Sergey Chernov

Maxim Kantor: Colorful Ribbons

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.

pobeda
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.

Photo by The Russian Reader