Yavka

gub_exit_04The turnout (yavka) for last September’s gubernatorial election in Petersburg was a record low of thirty percent. Less than a year later (at the height of summer, in the midst of a pandemic), the turnout for a meaningless “referendum” on amendments to the Russian constitution (which had already been ratified by both houses of parliament and signed into law by Putin) drew a record high turnout of 74% in Petersburg, according to local political blog Rotunda. Graphic courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Rotunda 
Telegram
July 2, 2020

The turnout [yavka] in St. Petersburg for the December 2011 elections to the State Duma waos 55%.

For the presidential election in March 2012, it was 64% (Vladimir Putin took 62% of the vote.)

For the gubernatorial elections in September 2014, it was 39%. (Georgy Poltavchenko won 79% of the vote.)

For the parliamentary elections in September 2016, it was 32%.

Turnout in St. Petersburg for the presidential elections in March 2018 was 63%. (Vladimir Putin took 75%.)

The turnout for the Petersburg gubernatorial election in September 2019 was 30% (Alexander Beglov won with a result of 64%.)

The turnout for the poll on amendments to the Constitution in the summer of 2020 was 74%. (77.6% voted “Yes.”)

Rotunda is a Telegram channel on Petersburg politics run by journalists Maria Karpenko (@mkarpenka) and Ksenia Klochkova (@kklochkova). You can write to them at: rotondaa [at] protonmail.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

No Culture Icons

putin-icon

[File under: You can’t make this stuff up; With friends like these who needs enemies?]

“Though in recent months Putin’s popularity has frayed at the edges, the dearth of comparably powerful and experienced political leaders leaves no doubt that he will continue to be a key political figure. During his tenure as Russia’s President and subsequently as Prime Minister, Putin transcended politics, to become the country’s major cultural icon. This book examines the nature of his iconic status. It explores his public persona as glamorous hero, endowed with vision, wisdom, moral and physical strength—the man uniquely capable of restoring Russia’s reputation as a global power. In analysing cultural representations of Putin, the book assesses the role of the media in constructing and disseminating this image and weighs the Russian populace’s contribution to the extraordinary acclamation he enjoyed throughout the first decade of the new millennium, challenged only by a tiny minority.” (Description of Putin as Celebrity and Cultural Icon, a volume of scholarly essays published by Routledge in 2013; my emphasis.)

Election Observers

election observerArtist, activist and teacher Darya Apahonchich found this “polling place” in the courtyard of her building in downtown Petersburg, across the street from the city’s Dostoevsky Museum. Early voting is under way in a nationwide referendum on 206 proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution. Courtesy of Darya Apahonich’s Facebook page

approvalFilmmaker Andrey Silvestrov took this selfie with his ballot paper at his polling place in Moscow. The question reads, “Do you approve [the] changes to the Russian Constitution?” Silvestrov voted no, of course. Note the fact that none of the amendments in question is listed on the ballot paper. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

prizesFortunately, Silvestrov’s “no” vote will not, one hopes, disqualify him from entering the “Million Prizes” program, as outlined on a flyer he was given by polling place officials along with his ballot paper. Voters are asked to send a “unique code” in a text message to the number 7377. Winners are promised “gift certificates” redeemable for groceries, sporting goods, and household goods, and for unspecified goods at pharmacies, cafes, museums, theaters, and cinemas. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the “gift certificates” (if any Russian voters actually receive them) will prove worthless. Photo courtesy of Silvestrov’s Facebook page

lurie precinctPhotographer Vadim F. Lurie took a snapshot of the referendum polling place in the courtyard in a town in the Moscow Region. Courtesy of his Facebook page. While the purported reason for such bizarre ad hoc polling places is ensuring health of voters during the coronavirus pandemic, still raging in many parts of Russia, they provide the added benefit of making it much harder for election observers to ascertain whether the referendum was conducted freely and fairly. Needless to say, “free and fair” is a meaningless concept to the Putin regime.

dictatorship of zerosJournalist and political activist Ivan Ovsyannikov took this snapshot outside Polling Station No. 1641, located on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg. The placard reads, “Our country, our constitution, our decision.” Someone has pasted a sticker on the placard, which reads, “The solidarity of ones will end the dictatorship of zeroes.” This is reference to the fact that one of the proposed amendments, if ratified, will “zero out” Vladimir Putin’s previous terms as Russian president, thus allowing him to run for two more consecutive terms of six years. If this scenario comes to pass, Putin would be able to rule until 2036. His current presidential term ends in 2024.

Konstantin Yankauskas and Alexander Zamyatin, popularly elected municipal councilors in the Zyuzino District of Moscow, discuss what their constituents can do to oppose the referendum under near impossible circumstances (the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on public campaigning against the amendments, evidence that thousands of state sector employees are either being forced to vote yes or hand over their passwords for electronic voting to their supervisors, etc.) They also reflect on why the Russian opposition has been unable to run a nationwide “no” campaign despite the fact that formal and informal barometers of public opinion have shown that Putin’s popularity has been falling and that many Russians are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The discussion was broadcast live on YouTube on June 24, 2020.

Amending the Dead

On June 21, 2020, the Party of the Dead staged two actions, one at the Volkovskoye cemetery in Petersburg, and another, by “Corpse Corpsevich,” in a cemetery somewhere in the Baltics, subversively affirming the proposed amendments to the Russian constitution, which would “annul” President Putin’s four terms in office, allowing him to remain in power until 2036. On July 1, 2020, Russians will vote on the amendments in a nationwide referendum widely seen as meaningless, and whose (affirmative) outcome is a foregone conclusion. (For more information, see “Russia’s Constitutional Court Approves Amendments Allowing Putin to Rule Until 2036,” RFE/RL, March 16, 2020.)

01
Eternity smells of Putin.
We shall annul ourselves and begin to live! We shall annul ourselves and return to life!
Dead people, get well soon!
The amendments are like hot packs for the dead.
The grave will straighten everyone out.*
Yes to death! Yes to the amendments!

*(This slogan plays off the Russian saying: “only the grave will straighten out the hunchback,” referring to an irredeemably flawed or “incorrigible” person.)

02
To the Constitution without clinking glasses!

(When toasting the dead, Russians do not clink glasses.)

Source: Activatica

 03
Vote while sheltering in place.

04
Be on the mend, Russian citizen!

(The reflexive Russian verb popravliatsia means to get well, to be on the mend. The non-reflexive form popravliat means to amend.)

05
Our amendments. Our constitution. Our country.

06
The “absolute majority” of citizens support the amendments.

(During his first public appearance after weeks in lockdown, Putin claimed that an “absolute majority” of Russians back his plan to change the Russian Constitution.)

07
Two things are certain in life: death and amendments.
It’s all predetermined on high.
Don’t console yourself with fleeting hope,
Annulment is our fate.

10
We will amend our demographics.

09
Here lies Vladimir Putin’s social approval rating.

Source: Facebook

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks

We Can Dance If We Want To

 

dance
Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 22, 2020

His hands trembling and sounding breathless, Judge Muranov sentenced Vitya [Viktor Filinkov] to 7 years and Julian [Yuli Boyarshinov] to 5 1/2 years in prison. He read out the date of Vitya’s ACTUAL arrest, that is, a day before his arrest was registered in the case file. (I wonder how this will be substantiated in the published verdict.)

We took a selfie as a keepsake.

As I was leaving the empty courtroom, I shouted, “Guys, we need to dance!” and I danced a little jig. The guys seemed to be smiling, but the bailiff said, “Dance somewhere else, young lady.” Where else should I dance? I think this is the most appropriate place.

#NetworkCase #OperationBarbarossa #Antifa

As my virtual acquaintance Liza Smirnova just reminded her readers, June 22 is not just any day for people in the former Soviet Union. In fact, you could hardly think of a more inappropriate day to sentence two young antifascists to twelve and a half years in prison.

Operation Barbarossa (German: Unternehmen Barbarossa) was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation put into action Nazi Germany’s ideological goal of conquering the western Soviet Union so as to repopulate it with Germans. The German Generalplan Ost aimed to use some of the conquered as slave labour for the Axis war effort, to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories, and eventually through extermination, enslavement, Germanization and mass deportation to Siberia, remove the Slavic peoples and create Lebensraum for Germany.

In the two years leading up to the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Nevertheless, the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto), which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about three million personnel of the Axis powers—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare—invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mi) front, with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked an escalation of World War II, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition including the Soviet Union.

The operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in history. The area saw some of the war’s largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties (for Soviet and Axis forces alike), all of which influenced the course of World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies eventually captured some five million Soviet Red Army troops, a majority of whom never returned alive. The Nazis deliberately starved to death, or otherwise killed, 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and a vast number of civilians, as the “Hunger Plan” worked to solve German food shortages and exterminate the Slavic population through starvation. Mass shootings and gassing operations, carried out by the Nazis or willing collaborators, murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust.

The failure of Operation Barbarossa reversed the fortunes of the Third Reich. Operationally, German forces achieved significant victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union (mainly in Ukraine) and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these early successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow at the end of 1941, and the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed German troops back. The Germans had confidently expected a quick collapse of Soviet resistance as in Poland, but the Red Army absorbed the German Wehrmacht’s strongest blows and bogged it down in a war of attrition for which the Germans were unprepared. The Wehrmacht’s diminished forces could no longer attack along the entire Eastern Front, and subsequent operations to retake the initiative and drive deep into Soviet territory—such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943—eventually failed, which resulted in the Wehrmacht’s retreat and collapse.

Source: Wikipedia

#NetworkCase

claims

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/06/22/russia-jails-e2-anti-fascists-ending-terror-case-plagued-by-torture-claims-a70653

“Plagued by torture claims” is a funny way of putting it. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is the real plague. It tortured the defendants in the Network Case and concocted their alleged “terrorist community” from whole cloth.

I realize that editors and journalists think they’re being “balanced” when they report the news this way. But in reality they’re lending legitimacy to systematic state terror against dissidents, minorities, and oddballs.

bus

#NetworkCase

Where are these people going? Why are they in a caged bus?

Why are they singing? What are they singing?

They made the “mistake” of being outside the courthouse in Petersburg earlier today to protest the outrageous but predictable verdict in the trial of Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, who were sentenced by a military court to 7 and 5 1/2 years in prison, respectively, for the awful crime of being antifascists in a country run by a certifiable fascist, Vladimir Putin.

What will happen to the people in this bus? I don’t know for certain, but I would guess they’ll be held at a police precinct overnight and then taken to their own kangaroo court hearings sometime tomorrow, where they will be sentenced to as many as 15 days in jail and stiff fines.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the video and much else.

bbc

#NetworkCase

Earlier today in Petersburg, the final two defendants in the notorious frame-up known, hilariously, as the Network Case, were sentenced to seven and five and a half years in prison, respectively, for “involvement in a terrorist community.”

In reality, anxious to show their paranoid fascist president that he was right to surround himself with one of the largest security and bureaucratic apparatuses in history, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) abducted and tortured a dozen absolutely harmless young men in Penza and Petersburg, and then cooked up a fascist fairy tale about how these young men (many of whom most of us would be happy to have as neighbors) were actually a secret “terrorist community,” code-named “the Network,” who were planning to cause mayhem on the eve of Putin’s triumphant re-election and the soccer World Cup in 2018.

There wasn’t any “Network,” and it had no plans of doing anything of the sort. But it is now over two and a half years since the FSB kicked off its little adventure in Penza (in October 2017). Over the last year, the ten defendants in the case have been sentenced to a total of 110 years in prison due to the FSB’s sick fantasy.

Thanks to the BBC Russian Service for the picture, the news reports and so much else.

video

#NetworkCase

It wasn’t bad enough that Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov were sentenced today in Petersburg to 7 years and 5 1/2 years, respectively, for “involvement” in the nonexistent “terrorist community” “the Network.” No, the Putinist police state had to send a small army of riot police and “Russian National Guardsmen” to the courthouse to settle the hash of the brave people who came out to protest the verdict, which was a foregone conclusion.

If you’re sitting in other parts of the world, especially the US, and having a hard time getting your head around this story, just think about the remarkable “coincidence” that, just before his now infamous conference call with US governors, Trump had been chatting with his mentor and idol Vladimir Putin on the phone.

What is happening in Petersburg today is what happens when “policing” is the end all and be of “government,” when the powers that be have to preserve their supreme power at all costs, even if this means, ultimately, destroying their people and their country.

Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova, who shared this video (which she found on Telegram), and all the other people who have taught me the lesson of endurance and solidarity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Edited, written and translated by the Russian Reader

Dreaming

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
June 20, 2020

(just dreaming a little)

I look at how everyone is tired after twenty years of putin’s rule—tired of cursing, tired of fighting, tired of resisting, tired even of taking toll of the damage.

the alleged referendum is a three-ring circus, but (speaking for myself) my lack of surprise and faith in the success of resistance are such that I listlessly repost things and make sarcastic jokes, but don’t think seriously at all about acts of resistance.

but i believe in acts of feminist resistance: they work, albeit slowly, albeit surgically. no, there is no law against domestic violence, but individual rapists have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs, new codes of ethics are being written, and so on. all of you are watching this happen. i see how women’s self-esteem has been growing, i see that what was the norm for my parents’ generation is no longer the norm for my generation. women have become more active, they are increasingly choosing not to be silent when they encounter injustice.

Vladimir_Putin_with_Lyudmila_Putin-1

and so i am thinking: what if we suddenly stopped tolerating a “home boxer” and tyrant as president?

we know that putin is an abuser. we know he beat his wife, that he tortured her. even lyudmila putina’s memoir, chockablock with self-accusation and meekness, makes it clear that he treated his loved ones terribly. his wife published a memoir, which was quickly withdrawn from sale. but it’s all on the internet.

just dreaming a little: what if we stopped putting up with this scoundrel? (yes, we are used to putting up with him, but what if it’s reversible?)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Rain Came Down

 

 

TV Rain, April 8, 2020. “Three years after the first terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the court sent eleven people to prison—an entire terrorist network. We studied the evidence, talked to witnesses in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, and realized that there are too many secrets and questions left in the case. We assembled our own jury to decide whether the case should be reopened.”

People Freaked Out in a Good Way
Ilya Ershov spoke with TV Rain reporter Yevgenia Zobnina about her documentary film on the strange investigation of the April 3, 2017, terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway.
Open Space

Why did you decide to tackle this topic?

I was working as a correspondent for TV Rain in Petersburg and spent the whole day [of April 3, 2017] outside the Tekhnologicheskii Institut subway station. The most amazing thing was what happened afterward. The entire city raised money [for the victims and their families], government-organized rallies were held, and then somehow everyone abruptly forgot about it . Then there were fragmentary reports that the culprits had been caught. Next there was the trial. On the first day, reporters came running to film and photograph those eleven [defendants]. That was it. And then there was the verdict. There has been a good trend in journalism, on YouTube, of returning to the sore spots in our history. It seemed to me that this story should also be told.

Were there things you found out when shooting the film that didn’t end up in the film?

There was this thing with one of the relatives of the Azimov brothers, who had been corresponding on WhatsApp with unknown numbers. The investigation used some of them as evidence of [the brothers’] connection with terrorists. One of the relatives said, This is my number, I exist, I live in Ukraine, I am not a terrorist. If Ukraine had not gone into quarantine, we could have found more witnesses there.

How many people refused to talk to you?

It was a big problem for the relatives of the defendants to give their relatives’ contacts, because everyone is scared. None of the relatives turned us down. They were happy that someone was interested in their lives. They say that if their relatives were terrorists, the local security service would not have left them alone. But they came once, took their information, and never showed up again.

zobninaYevgenia Zobnina. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page

How openly were Kyrgyzstan’s human rights defenders ready to communicate with you? Were they and the relatives [of the defendants] under pressure from the local security services?

It was a great surprise for me to talk with Sardorbek, a lawyer at the [Kyrgyz] human rights organization Justice. He says that they know how to assert their rights. In Kyrgyzstan, there are laws that enable one to defend one’s rights. When they found out about the disappearance of their relatives, the Azimov family practically lived in the offices of the human rights defenders for several days, and no one came and tried to take them away. But we did not find any attempts by [the governments of] Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to stand up for their citizens.

Have the Russian authorities reacted to the film?

We made official inquiries even as we were making the film, but we didn’t get any answers. This film was made for society, not for the state.

What kind of reactions have their been to the film in general?

People have freaked out in a good way. Their reaction has been, “Wow, why is it like that in our country?”

You staged a jury trial in the film? Are such trials the future?

There should be jury trials at some stage. But there will never be a jury trial in this case. [On the day the verdict in the real trial was announced] Putin came to Petersburg: how could those people have not been convicted? In the film, the jury was there to keep us from turning into accusers of the FSB. We thought it vital to turn this into a conversation about what was wrong with the case. Jury trials are demonstrative. Every detail of a case is examined carefully, because both sides understand that they are facing people who do not understand anything about it. The verdict depends on how you explain the evidence. When we begin to explain what happened in the investigation of the terrorist attack, everything immediately becomes clear.

Thanks to Ilya Ershov for the heads-up and for permission to translate and publish this interview here. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged financiers and planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking absence of local and international solidarity with the eleven people convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in the case:

 

Ivan Davydov: A Poor Excuse for a Belarus

800px-Europe-Belarus.svgHow many Belaruses would fit into Mother Russia? Eighty-three! And yet, as Ivan Davydov argues, the current Russian regime is a “failed police state,” unlike the Belarusian regime. Neither fish nor fowl (although most certainly foul), Putin and his vassals have tanked their country’s economy while also signally failing to save people’s lives, nor have they been able to conjure away the coronavirus pandemic (rhetorically, if not in reality) as successfully as their frenemy the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

A Poor Excuse for a Belarus: The Collapse of Vladimir Putin’s Police State
Ivan Davydov
Republic
May 14, 2020

My apartment looks onto the Yauza River and the park on the shore. In peacetime, there are crowds of people strolling there when the weather is good. And lots of shishkebabers, who are famously to blame for all our troubles.

For more than a month now, I have been locked up like all law–abiding Russians, making only occasional trips out of the house on urgent business. I watch the world mostly from my balcony, and my world has narrowed to the size of this selfsame park.

Going to parks has been prohibited in Moscow by a special decree of the city’s all-powerful mayor. In parks, the coronavirus is particularly brutal, tracking down rare passersby, lonely morning jogging enthusiasts, and mothers with children, attacking and devouring them. On construction sites, on the contrary, the virus is weak and cowardly: it is afraid of construction workers, whom it does not touch.

Parks are a different matter.

The irresponsible residents of my neighborhood would still go to the park. Not in droves, as was the case before, no. They would go in small groups, as families, apparently. Joggers occasionally popped up, and bicyclists flashed by. Children made their way to the playgrounds (which were also closed, of course). In other words, they violated the mayor’s wise orders.

To put a stop to this unbridled lawlessness, police patrols would come to the park. The guardians of law and order would park their car on a hillock and stand around smoking and watching people walking. Once, when it was particularly cold, wet snow was pouring down, and only a lone madman was sitting on a bench, they went up to the madman and forced him to sign some papers.

And once they went down to the park and fed the ducks, pointedly ignoring the people walking around, before returning to their car. Oh yes, and a couple of times they shouted into a megaphone about the fact that going to parks was temporarily prohibited, and that citizens should look out for themselves and their loved ones.

I will explain later what this pastoral sketch was all about, but in the meantime let us look through the window at our neighbor to the west. It is a fascinating story.

A Wonderful Neighbor
While the rest of the world has been in quarantine, Alexander Lukashenko has gained fame as a maestro of fiery speeches and colorful aphorisms. He has suggested treating the coronavirus with vodka, a bath, and field work. He has advised Belarusians who have lost their jobs to find a job and get to work. (It’s brilliant, really, and simple, like all brilliant solutions.) He advised overly light-minded men to be patient and not to mix with other men’s women for a while. Lukashenko is a president with real gusto, not a president who talks about ancient battles with the Polovtsy from his bunker.

To the frenzied delight of Russian jingoists, Lukashenko held a parade on May 9 [Victory Day], attracting crowds of people, including the elderly. And the very elderly—veterans, in fact. But that was only half the trouble. He also said that after the parade, the statistics on the incidence of pneumonia had gone down. He confessed (he’s an honest man) that he had feared an increase in the incidence of pneumonia, but it didn’t happen. “Well, what did we end up with? There has been a significant reduction in pneumonia in Minsk: it dropped by half yesterday. And I made the sign of the cross yesterday: God grant that we will continue giving hell to pneumonia like this.” Fresh air, he said, helps a lot.

And if Lukashenko had wanted, he could have said that people who died from the coronavirus had begun resurrecting after the parade. (As of May 12, according to the official statistics, 142 people in Belarus had died from the coronavirus.) Why? Because he can, that’s why. He can stamp out any protest. He can ignore the reports from the doctors.

It’s not even the Swedish model. The Swedish model, whose success is a matter of debate (a debate we will have later) stipulates that big public events not be held, and citizens behave responsibly. The Belarusian model assumes that there are no citizens. There is a populace that absolutely obeys the decisions of the supreme leader. Happily for us, the new virus is not the medieval black death: clearly, the country will not die off if you purposely avoid imposing a quarantine in order to save the economy. The Belarusian president made his choice by deliberately deciding to sacrifice a certain (non-essential) number of inhabitants, who cannot be saved by vodka or field work.

And after Vladimir Putin announced a “phased exit” from the semi-imposed non-quarantine, Lukashenko condescendingly praised his junior comrade, saying that Russia had followed the Belarusian path.

The Russian Miracle
But in fact, Russia has its own special path. The “non-working weeks” battered the economy considerably, but it is questionable whether they were able to protect residents. When the quarantine was imposed, there were very few cases. When the government started lifting the quarantine, Russia shot up to second place worldwide in the number of infected people.

Discussing the reliability of Russian statistics is a risky business: nowadays, the prosecutor’s office does not see much difference between well-founded criticism and “spreading fake news” about the coronavirus. But we will not make any arguments, we will just note what respected officials and politicians have been saying.

On May 12, Anna Popova, the head of [Russian federal consumer watchdog] Rospotrebnadzor, said that 28.4% of people identified in Russia as infected with the coronavirus were hospitalized. At the time, the total number of people identified as infected was around 230,000; a simple mathematical calculation gives us approximately 65,000 people in hospitals. (In fact, the real figure is another ten thousand less, since we are not taking into account the people who have recovered). But the next day, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said at a cabinet meeting that there were more than 100,000 Russians hospitalized with the coronavirus. You would agree that all this makes it seem that our government is surprisingly footless and fancy-free with statistics, even with their own official statistics, with statistics intended for the public.

On May 13, the Moscow Health Department reported that 60% of those who died with a diagnosed coronavirus had not been included in the coronavirus fatality statistics for capital, because they had died from “obvious alternative causes.” The governor of Petersburg also reported that there had been a spike in the incidence of pneumonia in the city: the indicators were “five and a half times higher than the average.” Since the first of March, 694 residents of Petersburg have died from pneumonia, and 63 from the coronavirus.

Perhaps this is the reason for the Russian miracle of rather low mortality rates from the coronavirus infection. Especially if you remember that Russia is not only made up of capital districts and metropolitan areas, that in the regions, as a rule, all or almost all media outlets are controlled by the local administrations, and it is even easier for them to turn statistics from an enemy into an ally.

And why did the head honcho announce the end of the “non-working weeks”? Well, it’s not so hard to turn a terrible virus into a non-scary one. It’s like with elections: what matters is not what really happened, but who counts the votes and how they count them.

Amulets for MPs
But what’s really going on? In fact, our high officials are afraid, and they are trying to protect themselves by turning the nightmare into a joke and not standing on ceremony with the public. Saving your own life is more important than standing on ceremony.

On May 13, Igor Molyakov, an MP from A Just Russia, asked State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin why some of their colleagues were coming to sessions of parliament not wearing their MP pins, as required by law, but wearing quite different pins featuring a white cross on a black background. Molyakov added that he was a dog breeder himself and would like to know whether it would be possible for him to wear the pin of his kennel club instead of the Russian tricolor on his lapel.

Volodin’s answer, I hope, will go down in the annals: “Let’s ask the people who are wearing these pins, but as far as my colleagues have told me, they are special devices for repelling the virus.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day soon, MPs ran naked around the State Duma building on Okhotny Ryad banging on pots: this method of fighting pestilence has been described by anthropologists. And we can only pray that no one tells them that fresh human flesh, for example, staves off the virus. They would believe them.

Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press Secretary, has fallen ill. And now he remembers regretfully the “virus blocker” that he wore and then stopped wearing after he was mocked in the press.

Here it is important to understand that the people wearing the miracle badges and warding off the virus with life-giving white crosses are the same people who explain why “phasing out restrictions” at the peak of the epidemic is justified, and make decisions that affect our lives.

Of course, they themselves get sick and get infected, but let’s not forget that we will be treated in slightly different hospitals, if push comes to shove.

It’s hard to stop. For dessert we have another intellectual delicacy, this time from Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov. He has explained why masks cannot be distributed for free in the city during the mandatory mask regime: “Yesterday, we adopted a resolution not to give out free masks, but to hand out money. There are a lot of people in our city, both visitors and non-visitors, and people from other regions. How should we should distribute these masks? We should make you show your passport and ask where you are registered.”

The virus, you understand, asks to see people’s residence permits and attacks only native Petersburgers. It presents no danger to out-of-towners and migrant workers, nor can they themselves infect anyone. Governor Beglov is in charge of Russia’s second largest city, the home to millions of people and a “pneumonia outbreak” that, of course, has nothing to do with the coronavirus.

By the way, Beglov’s “money” amounts to 800 rubles [approx. 10 euros] for pensioners and members of large families to buy masks.

A Failed Police State
But let’s go back to my park. I started with it to illustrate the fact that the police state in Russia has failed. There has been a lot of overkill, and people all over Russia have been pretty annoyed, but the police have been unable to ensure compliance with the imposed restrictions. They are good at breaking up peaceful protest rallies, but bad at everything else.

The government had a choice. It could have engaged the citizenry in dialogue, rejected intimidation in favor of education, sought compromises where possible, and, of course, provided direct financial assistance to those forced to stay at home. It could have made Russia’s citizens its allies instead of making them the targets of an incoherent police dragnet. To do this, however, it would have had to see the populace as citizens, but we have a big problem with this sort of thing in Russia.

The government could have done it, but it was impossible—forbidden—for the government to do it.

It would have been possible to issue endless prohibitions of varying degrees of savagery and to force the population to comply with them using an old and proven argument—the police billy club. But that didn’t work out either. It turns out that there is no police state in these parts. There is a useless system of governance that starts to crumble at the first serious test. Ensconced in his bunker, the head honcho denounces the immorality of the Spartans, while his subordinates are decked out in life-saving amulets, expecting that by summer everything will have somehow worked itself out.

The reason they terminated the “non-working weeks” is that they simply could not enforce the lockdown measures. And they decided to rescue the economy since they had been unable to save people. But there was a tiny twist: they did this only after after the economy had been dealt a serious blow.

The Russian state makes war on Russian citizens as if they were the main threat when, in fact, there are no real threats to it, but it simply vanishes when there is a real threat. This is exactly what Putin has built over the last twenty years. This is the whole “Russian federal system”—terrifying, unsinkable, tending to totalitarianism. It’s a poor excuse for a Belarus. It’s a slightly rotten Belarus.

Take care of yourselves and help each other. No one else is going to help us.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s Most Dangerous Shaman

shamanAlexander Gabyshev. Photo by Andrei Zatirko. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Riot Police Storm House of Alexander Gabyshev, Yakut Shaman Who Promised to Exorcise Putin
Radio Svoboda
May 12, 2020

Riot police have detained Alexander Gabyshev, the Yakut shaman who last year promised to exorcise Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin, and taken him to a mental hospital, according to MBKh Media, citing Alexei Pryanishnikov, the coordinator of Pravozashchita Otkrytki [Open Russia’s human rights program].

According to the human rights activist, at least twenty special forces officers had stormed the shaman’s house in Yakutsk. The reason for his arrest is unknown. Earlier in the day, Gabyshev had been visited several times by people who presented themselves as medical professionals, and asked to test him for the coronavirus. Two of Gabyshev’s supporters were detained along with him for violating self-isolation rules.

Gabyshev gained notoriety in the spring of 2019, when he set off on foot to Moscow to perform an exorcism ritual to force Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin.

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A Shaman for Putin: What Siberians Are Telling Gabyshev on His Way to Moscow, Radio Svoboda, September 12, 2019. Yakut shaman Alexander Gabyshev believes that Vladimir Putin is the “spawn of dark forces,” so he set off on foot to Moscow to “exorcise” him. The shaman began the journey alone, but soon followers began to join him. In Chita, he spoke to a large rally. Buryatia was the next region on Gabyshev’s journey: mass protests started in Ulan-Ude after his supporters were arrested. Gabyshev planned to take two years to get to Moscow so he could unhurriedly converse with the people along the way. The shaman and his followers moved along the roads, covering an average of twenty kilometers a day, stopping for the night in tents, sometimes at roadside motels. Local residents and passing people went to talk to Gabyshev, taking pictures, and helping with food and money.

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On September 19 of last year, Gabyshev was detained at the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk Region during an operation involving special forces. He was identified as a suspect in a criminal investigation into alleged instances of “incitement to extremism” and released on his own recognizance. A psychological and psychiatric examination ordered by police investigators found that Gabyshev was mentally incompetent.

Gabyshev subsequently tried to resume his campaign, promising to make another march on Moscow in June.

The criminal case against Gabyshev was suspended for the duration of the epidemic. International human rights organization Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

“‘What sounds like a tale from Russian folklore has become, in today’s Russia, just another act of brutal suppression of human rights,” the organization noted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

BBC Russian Service, From Yakutia to Moscow: A Shaman’s Journey Against Putin, September 24, 2019