Z Is for Zombie Box

The Putinist Zwastika now graces the halls of Petersburg’s renowned physics and maths magnet School No. 239, writes Alexander Rodin, an alumnus who says that he will now try and get his alma mater excluded from all international projects including the school Olympics in maths and physics, and that he is sure that all his fellow alumni (some of whom I know) share his sense of shame at this turn of events. Thanks to PZ for the link.

The Zombie box. Smart people have been trying to persuade me that it is not a matter of propaganda at all, but that it has to do with the peculiarities of Russian culture and history, or with the psychology of the Russian populace, with complexes and resentments. As for the latter, I don’t really understand how one can deduce a particular reaction to current political events from such general categories as “culture,” which consists of many different things, nor do I really understand how so many complexes and resentments about Russia and the world naturally arise in the head of a specific person who mainly thinks about their own everyday problems. But as for the former — that is, propaganda — there is no theory for me here. Instead, there is the daily practice of observing my nearest and dearest: how this dark force literally enchains them, how this poison contaminates their minds, how these people repeat verbatim all the stock propaganda phrases and figures of speech, passing them off as information and arguments, and how they lose the ability to hear objections. Perhaps it isn’t the Zombie box that is the matter, but just in case, I advise you to turn it off and try to expel Saruman from your brains.

Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 21 March 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Vladimir Putin’s speech at the concert and rally in Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, 18 March 2022

Putin Marks Crimea Anniversary, Defends ‘Special Operation’ in Ukraine in Stadium Rally
Moscow Times
March 18, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin led a pro-government rally that was beset by “technical difficulties” and reports of people being forced to attend.

The event marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is not recognized by most countries, came three weeks into Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that has sparked fierce international condemnation.

“We have not had such unity for a long time,” Putin said, referring to the “special military operation” in Ukraine as he addressed the crowd of about 95,000 and another 100,000 outside the stadium, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium was awash with Russian tricolor flags as snippets from Russia’s military insurgency in Crimea flickered across the stadium’s screens, accompanied by songs that celebrated the success of Russia’s military.

A number of guest speakers, including RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, spoke from a stage emblazoned with the phrases “For Russia” and “For a world without Nazism.”

Many guest speakers were wearing orange-and-black St. George’s ribbons in the shape of a Z, a new symbol of support for Russia’s Armed Forces in the wake of the invasion.

Putin’s impassioned speech defended Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, citing the need to protect those in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region from a so-called “genocide.”

“This really was genocide. Stopping that was the goal of the special operation,” said Putin, who was wearing what has been identified as a $15,000 parka.

But the broadcast of his speech came to an abrupt end as Russia 24, the channel broadcasting the event, switched to footage of a military band playing on the same stage.

Russian state television is tightly controlled and such interruptions are highly unusual.

The Kremlin later said that the broadcast was “interrupted due to technical problems on the server.”

Reports prior to the event stated that many of those in attendance had been forced to attend, with state employees used to bolster the annual celebration’s numbers.

“They stuck us in a bus and drove us here,” one woman told the Sota news outlet outside the stadium.

Meanwhile, a photo shared by the Avtozak Live news channel suggested that event-goers were offered 500 rubles to show up to the event.

Videos circulating on social media showed streams of people leaving the stadium some 20 minutes after the event had started.

Crowds were subject to rigorous security checks when entering the stadium, as the atmosphere in Moscow remains tense amid the Kremlin’s decision to launch a military operation in neighboring Ukraine that many Russians have voiced opposition to.

The event’s strict guidelines also banned any symbols associated with Ukraine or the West, according to an unconfirmed report by the Baza Telegram channel.

Despite what appeared to be a festive mood in the crowd, a number of independent journalists were detained near the stadium, according to Sota, all of whom were later released.

In addition to referencing the Bible, Putin closed his address by invoking naval commander Fyodor Ushakov, who is now the patron saint of Russia’s nuclear bomber fleet.

“What a coincidence that the special military operation should fall on [the commander’s] birthday,” the Russian president said, as onlookers whooped in agreement.

Election Day: 18 March 2018

The “get out the vote” mobile just made its second pass down our street today.

The speakers mounted on its roof blared out at deafening volume the recording of a song that mentioned something about a “strong team” and resembled a jingle for potato chips or tampons more than anything.

Russia’s leaders take the Russian people for idiots.

Minutes later, the “get out the vote” mobile made its third pass down our street today, driving in the opposite direction.

This time, the speakers on the car’s roof were not terrorizing the neighboring with the ear-splitting jingle about the “strong team.” Instead, a middle-aged man with the velvety-toned voice of a Soviet news presenter explained — again, at extremely high volume — that today was a “celebration” in which Russians were “making a choice” that would “determine the country’s future.” 

The “get out the vote” mobile just made its ninth pass down our street in the last four hours. It drove slowly. The speakers on its roof were cranked up to eleven, playing a particularly unpleasant song.

I gather this is now the punishment phase for everyone on our street who hasn’t voted in the “celebration” to “re-elect” Russia’s dictator for life today.

It goes without saying that people like that deserve the worst. Even many of their own alleged friends and political allies have been emotionally abusing them online for the last several days, so strong is the Putin personality cult, especially among the Russian liberal and leftist intelligentsia.

Not that any of them would admit it. They are Putin’s real base, because they have the means to do something about his tyranny, but most have chosen to engage in more personally pleasant pursuits, some of which they have managed to pass off as “opposition” or “grassroots” politics.  ||| TRR, 18 March 2018

“Russophobia” (Abashin, Akunin, Averkiev)

Sergey Abashin, who teaches anthropology at the European University in St. Petersburg: Another reflection on “Russophobia.” Many people are now exercised about external criticism [of Russia], which is often emotional and indiscriminate. For us [in Russia], however, it is more important not to retreat into resentment. Instead, we should think hard and long on what in our public reflections proved to be wrong, why what has happened did happen, and where we made mistakes. Why the Chechen war with its thousands of victims and refugees did not teach us anything. Why we were unable to comprehend all the consequences of the war in Georgia. Why we completely failed to notice the bombing of the civilian population in Syria. Why the disputes over who Crimea belonged to caused us to miss the emergence of a new imperial project with its now terrifying consequences. That’s the task that awaits us after it’s all over.

Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 7 March 2022. Photo courtesy of Central Asia Program. Translated by the Russian Reader

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I watched this serious conversation between bestselling Russian writer and popular historian Boris Akunin and Russian vlogger and interviewer extraordinaire Yuri Dud last night before I went to sleep. Despite the overall grimness of their discussion, it left me feeling upbeat, oddly. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been subtitled in English, but I have translated the annotation and section headings, as published on YouTube on March 4, 2022. In any case, over 13 million (Russophone) viewers can’t be wrong. ||| TRR

 

vDud
9.92M subscribers

Everyone is blocking everything, so sign up to our Telegram channel https://t.me/yurydud

Boris Akunin https://www.facebook.com/borisakunin

A couple of paid VPNs to choose from https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-vpn-service/

And one free VPN https://protonvpn.com/

0:00 What is this episode about?
1:41 Why did Putin start the war?
5:44 Putin = Nicholas I?
7:47 The Crimean War
11:27 An important announcement
11:36 “Russia has never attacked first.” Really?
12:17 Why is Putin so interested in history?
13:20 Is being an empire bad?
16:09 Why do so many people in Russia support the war?
19:35 WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THESE PAST 8 YEARS?
21:17 Crackdowns
23:13 Was your grandfather a Chekist?
25:57 “You never need to listen to what a secret service agent tells you”
27.34 Can a KGB officer be president?
28:36 How did Mikhalkov influence the finale of “The State Councilor”?
31:35 Is the West to blame for the war?
34:54 Who breaks promises?
35:36 The bombing of Belgrade, the invasion of Iraq and Syria – is this normal?
37:27 Is America an empire of lies?
38:46 Is the death penalty good or bad?
41:58 Propaganda in Soviet schools
44:16 The (dubious) benefits of censorship
46:44 Opening up of Siberia = colonization of America?
50:42 Does another collapse await Russia due to this war?
55:15 The best period in the history of Russia
56:19 Why does Russia have a special path?
1:01:39 The worst period in the history of Russia
1:04:07 How does Stalin influence Russia today?
1:06:13 Will there be a nuclear war?
1:10:16 Should people flee Russia?
1:11:41 In 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. How do those two countries get along now?
1:13:40 Will Russians and Ukrainians be able to mend their relationship?
1:16:20 Is it right to claim collective responsibility for the war?
1:17:36 What will happen to Russia next?

_________

 

A policeman in Krasynoyarsk (Siberia) erases a “No war!” message written in the snow. Igor Averkiev writes: “People who are losing their minds never realize they’re losing their minds.” When I reposted this on my Facebook page and erroneously attributed the footage to Averkiev’s hometown of Perm, he wrote to me: “No, it’s not in Perm. It’s in Krasnoyarsk. But such ‘everyday madness’ is possible everywhere in Russia today. Of course, this hassle will pass. The question is when and at what human cost.” ||| TRR

Being Vladimir Putin

[Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe:] For example, when I first dressed up as Putin, I had the feeling that I had become some kind of colossal totemic maggot, which was about to burst from the shit it had eaten.

At the same time, I was not a villain, but a “forest sanitation worker” [sanitar lesa: animals such as ants, birds, wolves, badgers, etc., who “sanitize” their environment as predators and scavengers, are called sanitary lesa] and I had to devour our deceased country, the great Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, as soon as possible, so that a new life could begin as soon as possible.

[Interviewer:] Do you think he’ll consume us after all?

[Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe:] Yes, and quite soon. You know, in Bali, where I have lived for a very long time, there are lots of different parasites — wood beetles and termites. A luxurious teak cabinet in the style of the Dutch masters stands in the house. You use it every day, you have clothes hanging in it, but at some point you touch it — and it crumbles. It has simply been devoured. That’s what will happen to our country.

Thanks to Andrey Silvestrov for the quotation. I traced it to an Afisha magazine interview that it is no longer accessible. The passage as quoted here I found on Andrei Amalgin’s LiveJournal blog. Amalgin, in turn, cites this 2013 LiveJournal blog post about the late great performance artist Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe. The image above, from the 2005 series of staged photographs entitled StarZ, is courtesy of Mutual Art. Translated by the Russian Reader

Putin’s Plan Is Russia’s Victory

“Putin’s plan is Russia’s victory.” A United Russia campaign banner on the corner of Nevsky and Pushkinskaya in downtown Petersburg, in 2007. Photo by the Russian Reader

I suppose that none of the “analysts” who gloated — a mere week ago — that Biden was wrong about Putin’s plans to invade Ukraine will admit that they were very badly mistaken. ||| TRR

Paranoid Android

Snipers, security cameras covered with masking tape, and disinfected snowbanks: a Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery employee talks about the unprecedented security measures for the president’s visit • Galina Artemenko • Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg • 28 January 2022

On January 27, St. Petersburg celebrated the 78th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad. Vladimir Putin came to the city to visit the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. On the same day, a video was posted on the web showing how veterans who had come with flowers were not allowed to enter the cemetery. A young woman in an orange jacket explained to them, “People who have come just to lay flowers will not get in until three o’clock.”

Novaya Gazeta found the young woman: she turned out to be Piskaryovsky Memorial Complex (PMC) employee Margarita Nikolayeva. We asked here to explain why veterans were not allowed in and who was responsible for what during the president’s visit.

Vladimir Putin in a cordoned-off Piskaryovskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg. On the roof of the pavilion there is a group of FSO (Federal Protective Service) officers and two snipers. Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

How many days’ notification do you usually get that the president is coming to the cemetery?

Vladimir Putin has not come for the last couple of years. We knew for sure that the president would come this year on January 24. On the same day, we posted an announcement on the PMC’s official website that the memorial would be closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. o’clock. This information was given to us by the FSO (Federal Protective Services). Our employees shared the same information with everyone who telephoned to find out about the possibility of visiting the PMC on January 27. Several dozen people called a day.

Did you announce this on radio and TV, where it was more likely that older people who do not use the Internet would hear the news?

No, as far as I know, we didn’t.

In the comments under the video on the internet, you are accused of being the one who ordered not to let anyone in. What really happened?

It’s not my first year working for the PMC, and I know that every year there are people who come to lay flowers but have not looked at our the website, and they have to be told that it’s pointless to wait outside, especially in the cold. So I went up to the police and asked what to say to people who were expecting to be let through any minute. They pointed to the FSO officers: they said they were in charge.

The FSO officers clearly replied that no one would be allowed on the grounds until three in the afternoon. I exited the perimeter and told this to the people waiting outside.

Had it ever happened before that people came on January 27, but were not allowed in?

Yes, and last year it was like that too. People would come and wait for the delegation (Beglov, the Legislative Assembly, and other dignitaries) to go through, and then they would be let in, usually around noon. I believe that on such an important day for Petersburgers, everyone should be let into the cemetery without restrictions. But this is my personal point of view. Unfortunately, I do not decide such matters.

But this year everything was complicated because of the president’s visit. It was announced that the cemetery would be closed until three. In fact, they began letting people in not at 3:00 p.m., as the FSO had said they would, but at 1:30 p.m., when the president left the memorial. But still many people stood in the cold for two hours or so. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said people waited for ten minutes. That wasn’t so.

People were just left to stand outside at the entrance? Were they not invited inside the pavilion to warm up and drink hot tea?

No.

Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

How is the commemorative ceremony involving high-ranking officials organized?

Usually, the Smolny’s social policy committee sends us a list of organizations: the governor, the Legislative Assembly, the Federal Assembly, and the judges of the Constitutional Court are all arranged in hierarchical order. We print their names on pieces of paper, put them on music stands, take them outside, and arrange them so that no one, for example, stands in front of the governor.

I know that the social policy committee (which is in charge of the PMC) starts making the lists around two weeks before the ceremony. [Current Petersburg governor Alexander] Beglov is included automatically. I also never noticed any special preparations before visits by [former Petersburg governor] Valentina Matviyenko. At most, her protocol staff would come to the PMC to find out the details of the ceremony.

How was this presidential visit to the cemetery different from the previous ones?

The fact that he (the president) walked completely alone, that the security cameras were covered with tape, that the wreath stand was moved away from the sculptures, and that the snow was disinfected. The harshest preparations began at 8:30 a.m. on January 27. Metal detectors were set up: this had never been done before. A metal fence was set up on the opposite side of the Avenue of the Unvanquished, and public transport stopped making stops at the cemetery in the early morning.

They covered the security cameras with tape? Why?

The ones that were next to the Motherland monument, where the wreath laying took place, were covered with ordinary masking tape. We didn’t ask why. Probably for security reasons: so that [FSO] officers could not be seen next to the president.

We have a sound engineer’s room, and the cameras that were taped up feed into this room. The sound engineer turns on the music, the metronome, and the anthem, unless a military band is playing. To turn everything at the right time, he needs to have a view of the grounds. So, after the security cameras were covered with tape, they left him a small window so that he could see only the spot to which the president walked.

A photo of snipers standing on the roof of the museum pavilion has been posted on the web. Is it a fake?

Snipers on the roof of the museum pavilion at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Fontanka.ru

No, it’s not a fake. I saw them with my own eyes on the roof of the pavilion (the pavilion on the right side, if you stand with your back to the Avenue of the Unvanquished). There were also snipers in previous years. The picture was taken from inside the memorial: the snipers were aiming towards the Motherland sculpture, that is, where the laying of flowers would take place.

You mentioned that the snowdrifts were disinfected. It sounds funny, although in fact, what’s so funny about it? What did it look like? How many people were involved? Did the snow color change from this treatment? Did it smell? Was the snow treated in previous years?

I can’t say for sure. I wasn’t on site at that moment, my colleagues were there. About half an hour [before the ceremony], a special vehicle arrived: people got out, treated the snowdrifts with something, and left. The snow has never been treated before. There were other precautions: the wreath-bearers were brought from Moscow, where they were quarantined for two weeks. They were brought to the cemetery in a special vehicle and dropped off. They rehearsed with the wreath at a distance from everyone else.

All images courtesy of Novaya Gazeta. Translated by the Russian Reader

Popular Opinion

“Any action that dispels the illusions of order and resignation is a spell for more of the same.” Photo by the Russian Reader

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Вообще, ходить вокруг соседа, помахивая битой и приговаривая «че ты дергаешься-то, че дергаешься, я еще ничего не сделал» – так же отвратительно.
________

В правильном мире из братской могилы на Пискаревском кладбище поднялись бы тысячи рук и разорвали бы этого лицемера на атомы.

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 27 January 2022

The fact is that hovering around a neighbor, waving a bat, and saying “Why you so jumpy? Why you so jumpy? I ain’t done anything yet” is just as disgusting.
________

In a proper world, thousands of hands would have risen from the mass grave at Piskaryovskoye Cemetery* and torn this hypocrite into atoms.

________

* Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery (Russian: Пискарёвское мемориа́льное кла́дбище) is located in Saint Petersburg, on the Avenue of the Unvanquished (Проспект Непокорённых), dedicated mostly to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad.

[…]

The memorial complex designed by Alexander Vasiliev and Yevgeny Levinson was opened on May 9, 1960. About 420,000 civilians and 50,000 soldiers of the Leningrad Front were buried in 186 mass graves. Near the entrance an eternal flame is located. A marble plate affirms that from September 4, 1941 to January 22, 1944 107,158 air bombs were dropped on the city, 148,478 shells were fired, 16,744 men died, 33,782 were wounded and 641,803 died of starvation.

Source: Wikipedia

________

I don’t know why, but I have come across ladies with dogs so many times that I could do an entire exhibition on the subject. And yet, for example, I have never encountered an old man with a cat! That’s as good a topic for a large-scale sociological study as any other! 🤓

________

Real “popular opinion” is what people say and do unrehearsed and uncoerced not the dodgy sentiments that the Kremlin, Levada Center, and self-appointed Russia experts put in their mouths. ||| TRR

Social media posts translated by the Russian Reader

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Update (27.01.2022). This, apparently, was the subtext for Ms. Vvedenskaya’s remarks, above:

Photo of the day: Vladimir Putin came to lay flowers at the Piskaryovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg  in honor of the 78th anniversary of the complete liberation of the city from the fascist siege. The Siege survivors themselves were not allowed into the cemetery — they were left standing behind the fence. Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk / TASS

The War Criminal vs. the Asylum Seeker (The Case of Danila Vasilyev)

Danila Vasilyev

Maria Tyurikova • Facebook • December 31, 2021

URGENT MESSAGE FOR MEDIA AND HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES!

SHARE AND PROMOTE!

Stop deportation of Danila Vasilyev!

PREAMBLE

As a politically active young man, Mr. Vasilyev took part in various movements that took place around the presidential election in Russia in 2018.

He is also a founder of an athletics club which provided the local youth with an opportunity to exercise, take part in competitions and tournaments, as well as to participate in cultural events and activities. The athletic society was also involved in regional politics and a number of its members were political activists. Mr. Vasilyev also participated in the work of a YouTube channel that satirised current Russian political events and Russian politicians.

“War criminal V.V. Pynya”: a photo from a 2018 protest action in Perm accusing Vladimir Putin of war crimes in Ukraine and Syria. Photo by Alexander Kotov. Courtesy of varlamov.ru

As an act of civil disobedience and due to their disagreement with Russian foreign and internal policy (mainly due to the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Russian carpet bombings of civilian population in Syria), on 11.11.2018 Mr. Vasilyev and two of his friends (A. Shabarchin and A. Etkin) organised a political performance at one of Perm’s squares. The performance consisted of a mannequin with a mask of Vladimir Putin, that was tied to a pole. The placard on the mannequin’s chest read «Военный Преступник Пыня В.В.» [Translation: “War Criminal V.V. Pynya”; this is a derogatory nickname fior Vladimir Putin.] This political performance was recorded and later published on YouTube and various social media.

On 03.01.2019 Mr. Vasilyev and his friends were detained and their homes searched. They were charged with «Hooliganism committed by an organised group in a preliminary conspiracy» (Article 213, Part 2 of the Russian Penal Code). The investigation was conducted among others by the Russian Centre for Prevention of Extremism (known as Centre E), which in reality is one of the main tools of oppression and are frequently used to suppress and terrorise the opposition. The case and the course proceedings were covered by a variety of Russian and international media, while a number of organisations and individuals called the case a political one. On 18.08.2020 A. Shabarchin and D. Vasilyev were found guilty.

Mr. Vasilyev’s sentence ended on 18.09.2021.

THE GETAWAY

Due to persecution Mr. Vasilyev decided to leave Russia and seek political asylum in Europe. Once his probation term ended, he applied for and subsequently received a Hungarian tourist visa and on 14.10.2021 arrived in Budapest. His intention was to seek political asylum in Hungary in accordance with the Dublin Regulation. Upon arrival he reported to a Hungarian police officer at the Budapest Airport, who directed him to an immigration centre where he was informed that Hungary does not accept refugees, asylum seekers and does not grant political asylum. He was instructed to travel to Austria.

He was never able to apply for political asylum in Hungary, no formalised procedure took place (including verbal application), he was not at any point taken into custody and the Hungarian authorities refused to provide any written acknowledgement of his presence there.

He spent the night in a hostel in Budapest and the following day of 15.10.2021 took a train to Vienna.

Upon his arrival at Vienna Central Station on 15.10.2021 (Friday) evening, Mr. Vasilyev entered a local police station where he stated that he seeks political asylum due to persecution in his homeland. Once again he was unable to apply for asylum. He was given a piece of paper with the address of the nearest immigration centre and was told to report there on Monday. As his Schengen tourist visa was still valid for several days, Mr Vasilyev was able to leave the police station and for the next two days was hosted at a private residence of compassionate Austrian nationals.

The day of his arrival in Austria, the Russian authorities arrested a number of his friends and colleagues from the Perm athletic club. Mr Vasilyev’s flat was stormed by the Russian police and his whereabouts were investigated by both police and Russian security services.

On 18.10.2021 he reported to the Refugee Centre at Traiskirchen in Lower Austria, as it was established that he was under no legal obligation to report to the Viennese centre that he was referred to. There, Mr. Vasilyev once again attempted to seek political asylum, however, he was told to report to the Refugee Centre located near the Vienna International Airport Schwechat where he was finally able to apply for political asylum and begin the asylum seeking process as defined by the laws of the Austrian Republic. Following the required first interview he was transferred to the Traiskirchen Refugee Centre.

On 23.10.2021 Mr Vasilyev was transferred to a Refugee Centre in Ohlsdorf, Upper Austria, on the outskirts of Gmunden.

AWAITING DEPORTATION FROM AUSTRIA

On 27.12.2021 Mr Vasilyev received a letter from the Austrian authorities that suggests his eminent deportation to Hungary, in accordance with the Dublin Regulation. On the 29.12.2021 he was able to discuss the document in question with an advisor provided by the Bundesamt für Fremdenwesen und Asyl who failed to clarify the nature of the letter and was unable to communicate with Mr. Vasilyev in a language that he could understand. On 30.12.2021 Mr Vasilyev contacted the responsible agency (Bundesamt für Fremdenwesen und Asyl) with the desire to clarify the content of the letter and in order to preemptively appeal the possibility of deportation.

The Hungarian authorities instructed Mr. Vasilyev to travel to Austria in order to seek political asylum. The current Hungarian government led by Victor Orban is on good terms with the current Russian regime and will undoubtedly repatriate a Russian national who seeks political asylum. The practices of the Hungarian government in regards to refugees and asylum seekers have been criticised by both the UNHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights).

It is very likely that the Russian Federation will demand Mr Vasilyev’s extradition based on falsified criminal charges. In the event of his return to the Russian Federation, Mr Vasilyev will be arrested and tried on either false criminal charges or charged with one of the offences that the Russian prosecution service is currently attempting to pin on his friends and his colleagues from the Perm athletic club. A number of them were arrested in October 2021 and several are awaiting trial. In recent years, the regime of Vladimir Putin frequently tries political activists and opposition figures on fabricated criminal charges.

If Danila Vasilyev is returned to Russia and imprisoned, it is possible that he will not survive prison. Those who oppose the Russian government are frequently murdered while incarcerated, tortured by the prison authorities and denied medical assistance. The most prominent case is that of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax advisor who uncovered large-scale corruption and died in prison due to denial of medical assistance. His death resulted in international outrage and a number of sanction lists against Russian officials, enacted by the European Union and the United States.

!!! WE URGE ALL MEDIA, HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES, DECISION MAKERS, and all [concerned] people to stand up for Danila and PREVENT THE EXECUTION OF THE OFFICIAL DECISION TO DEPORT HIM TO HUNGARY and further to the Russian Federation !!!

(Credits to Democratic Movement for Freedom in Russia – Vienna, Austria , Michael Alexander Albert Korobkov-Voeikov for the text)

I have edited this message slightly to make it more readable. ||| TRR


Russian Jets Knock Out Water Supply In Syria’s Idlib • RFE/RL • January 2, 2022

Russian warplanes have bombed a pumping station that provides water to rebel-controlled Idlib city in northwestern Syria, potentially depriving hundreds of thousands of people in the overcrowded city of water, according to witnesses and a monitoring group.

Russian Sukhoi jets dropped bombs in Idlib and several surrounding villages on January 2, witnesses and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

“Reliable sources said that Russian fighter jets have so far carried out nearly 10 air strikes targeting the vicinity of Al-Sheikh Yusuf village in western Idlib countryside, the vicinity of the central prison near Idlib city, and the vicinity of Sejer water station, which feeds Idlib city and its western villages, leaving the station out of action as pipes have been damaged,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

An official at the city’s water utility service confirmed the pumping station was out of action as a result of the strikes.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian or the Syrian armies.

More than 3 million civilians live in jihadist and rebel-controlled Idlib Province, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria during the country’s decade-long civil war. Most of the population in Idlib is dependent on UN humanitarian assistance to survive.

In March 2020, Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and Turkey, which supports some opposition groups, agreed to a de-escalation zone in Idlib. However, rebel attacks and Russian and Syrian bombing have continued despite the cease-fire.

Turkey has thousands of troops deployed at bases in Idlib to deter a Syrian Army offensive, which it fears would push millions of people across the border as refugees.

Syrian and Russian planes have carried out deadly aerial strikes on schools, hospitals, markets, and other infrastructure in Idlib Province that UN investigators and rights groups say may amount to war crimes.

Jihadist factions have also been accused of carrying out possible war crimes.

Putin’s Little Helpers

Putin’s little helpers undermine solidarity • People and Nature • December 29, 2021

We know what solidarity in the face of war looks like. It looks like the Grupa Granica, set up to support those stranded on the Polish border by the government’s vicious anti-migrant policy and the Belarusian government’s cynical manipulation of refugees.

It looks like the thousands of Polish people who have demonstrated, demanding “stop the torture at the border”. And it looks like the solidarity networks set up further afield (including the Solidarity Without Borders appeal for cash to support groups on the spot).

To those supporting refugees – whether in Poland or Belarus, or in the English Channel, targeted by the UK government’s murderous crackdown – it makes no difference which war people are fleeing. It might be the US-UK-supported war in Iraq, or the bloodbath perpetrated in Syria by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Now, we face the possibility of renewed Russian military action in Ukraine. This carries the greatest threat of war in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

Demonstration in Warsaw, October 2021, to “stop torture on the border”. Photo by Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

The war in eastern Ukraine in 2014-15 has already caused 2 million or more people to flee their homes: more than 1 million now counted as “internally displaced” in Ukraine; at least as many have crossed the border to Russia. A new conflict would be both a human tragedy and a threat to social movements.

Solidarity is needed. An anti-war movement is needed.

Already, pro-Putin propaganda – that corrodes parts of the so-called “left”, as well as thriving on the extreme right – is being dialled up. It seeks to justify Russia’s military preparations. And it could endanger efforts to galvanise anti-war protest.

Putin’s little helpers on the “left” generally have a world view inherited from Stalinism: they believe that authoritarian regimes that spout anti-American rhetoric (Russia, China or both) are to be praised; the imperial character of these regimes’ actions is ignored; and these regimes, rather than popular movements, are seen as the means to resist western powers.  

Four of the fairytales told by Putin’s helpers, on the Stop the War website and the Morning Star newspaper, are:

Fairytale no. 1: NATO started it

Andrew Murray, writing on the Stop the War website, claims that “if there is conflict over Ukraine, it is the west that bears most of the blame”. But it’s not “if”. There has been a conflict going on for more than six years, which has taken more than 14,000 lives.

The forces involved are the Ukrainian army, the vastly better-resourced Russian army, and separatists and mercenaries supported by, and to a large extent funded and armed by, the Russian state. The western powers have been noticeable by their absence.

Murray says the 100,000 Russian troops stationed on the Ukrainian border are “allegations” and “media speculation”. John Wojcik in the Morning Star says they are there “if corporate press outlets are to be believed”. In the real world where the rest of us live, the Russian forces actually exist (see satellite pictures here and here).

Murray claims that the NATO military alliance is “trying to seize Ukraine by means of moving NATO right up to Russia’s borders”, that the US is “arming Ukraine to the hilt to resist” and that “British troops are stationed in the Balkans”. The journalist and commentator Paul Mason has demolished these claims point by point. He writes:

There is, in short, no NATO plan to “seize” Ukraine; no possibility of Ukraine joining NATO; no “arming to the hilt”; no significant number of British troops in the Balkans; no major deployment of NATO troops “eastwards towards Poland”.

The US military support for Ukraine so far amounts to Javelin anti-tank missile systems, and small arms and a group of training officers. It remains dwarfed by the Russian mobilisation.

The danger of war is real. But to deny the central role of the Russian military is to deny reality.  

Putin’s helpers have form on this. During the civil war in Syria, the Stop the War campaign and their friends had little or nothing to say about the murderous Assad regime and the Russian government that armed and militarily supported it – despite the fact that they were responsible for an estimated 90% of the killings.

While the regime preferred to butcher and torture its own citizens, rather than to grant them a measure of democratic rights, Putin’s helpers spoke up only about minor incursions by western forces … the “anti-imperialism of idiots”, as Syrian-British writer Leila al-Shami called it.

As for Ukraine, the Stop the War campaign did nothing to support the victims of the 2014-15  conflict, but nevertheless hurried to the defence of the Russian “leftist” Boris Kagarlitsky, who joined fascists and nationalists in supporting the Russian intervention.  

Putin’s helpers are everywhere, including the Moscow Carnegie Center. Screen shot by the Russian Reader

Fairytale no. 2: Ukraine is fascist, really

There was a “fascist coup” in Ukraine in 2014, writes John Wojcik in the Morning Star (in an article republished from the US-based People’s World, of which Wojcik is editor). “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government shortly after it came to power.” He also claims that the new government “banned opposition political parties, including the widely supported Communist party”. And it “banned the use of the Russian language, the primary language of 40% or more of the Ukrainian people”. Let’s go through the bits of this fairytale one by one.

(a) A “fascist coup”. The overthrow of the government headed by president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 was, by any measure, a mass popular action. A crowd of more than half a million people occupied the centre of Kyiv for more than two weeks, in the face of assaults ranging from baton charges to sniper fire, making it impossible for the government to continue. There were mass actions on a similar scale in dozens of other towns and cities. The politics of this “Maidan” protest were complex. Participants ranged from fascists, who played a key part in the violent confrontations with the old regime’s armed forces, to socialists and anarchists. But the word “coup” is meaningless to describe it. As for the new government, while its record on defending democratic rights was mixed to put it mildly, it was no more “fascist” than the governments of e.g. Poland or Hungary. And, in terms of the rights to assembly, free speech and workplace organisation, less repressive than the governments of e.g. Turkey or Russia. 

(b) “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government.” This is false – shockingly so. No such murders took place. No such murders have been recorded on the web sites of Ukraine’s two trade union federations. None have been mentioned in the detailed reports of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights on attacks on civil rights in Ukraine. Demonstrators were killed in clashes with the security forces, but this was mostly before Yanukovych was overthrown. Activists and journalists have been attacked, and some killed, apparently by non-state actors, albeit sometimes with covert support from elements in the state. In 2014, prior to the military conflict, there were other deaths and injuries resulting from civil conflict. The most serious incident, by far, was the deaths of demonstrators opposed to the new government who, confronted by its supporters, took refuge in a trade union building in Odessa that was then set on fire. Ukrainian law enforcement did little to investigate. Tragic as these deaths were, they were not murders of trade union leaders or activists by the government.

(c) The government “banned opposition political parties”, including the Communist party. It didn’t. The electoral commission banned the Communist party from participation in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections, under the 2015 “decommunisation” law. This law, which forbids the promotion of “totalitarian regimes”, defined as Nazi and Communist, and their symbols, has been and is being used to attack democratic rights. Together with similar laws in other eastern European countries, it deserves to be denounced and resisted. But note, too, that the Communist party continues to operate legally; that it has mounted legal challenges to the ban; that no other party has been banned from electoral participation under the law; and that the government and the electoral rights group OPORA are currently in dispute over the extent of proportional representation – an election procedure that in the UK, for example, remains an unattainable dream.

(d) The government “banned the use of the Russian language”. It didn’t – and it’s irresponsible and inflammatory to sit in an editorial office in the US claiming it did. A law making Ukrainian the single state language was adopted in 2019 – the culmination of three decades of argument, shaped both by by aspirations to revive Ukrainian culture that has suffered historically from Russian imperial domination, and by hard-line Ukrainian nationalism. Ukrainian socialists opposed the measure (and I sympathise with them). Remember, though, that the law requires that Ukrainian be used in public spaces, and not exclusively; that it does not apply to private or religious life; that it will be applied in the education system, and to TV, over an extended period; and that breaching the law is essentially a civil, not criminal offence. (See reports by Russia’s state owned TASS news agency here, and Russia’s opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta here.)

Another of Putin’s helpers’ favourite tricks is to portray Ukraine as protective of the memory of wartime Nazi collaborators. With no reference to the real, complex battles over memory (see e.g. here and here), they point to Ukraine’s opposition to a Russian resolution on the holocaust at the UN, in a ridiculous diplomatic ritual repeated annually since 2005 (see here and here). This is a facile attitude to a serious subject. Putin’s helpers seem blind to the reality that it is the security forces in Russia, not Ukraine, that have recently tortured and jailed a group of young anti-fascists.

Fairytale no. 3: Ukraine is part of Russia, really

Putin’s helpers insist that Ukraine is not really a country with a history. The Stop the War site says that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 “turned what had been internal borders, arbitrarily drawn with no great significance, into inter-state boundaries”; Ukraine has “failed to develop anything like a common democratic culture”; therefore what is now “decisive” is the “international aspect” and the actions of the western powers; and what mattered about 2014 was that the government established in Kyiv was “anti-Russian”.

Both Stop the War and the Morning Star quote Putin’s article On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, published in July. It heightened fears in Ukraine of imminent invasion, with insanely exaggerated warnings of a path towards “an ethnically pure Ukrainian state”, that would be comparable to “the use of weapons of mass destruction against us”. (Putin followed up earlier this month, with a deranged claim that “current developments in Donbass” are “very reminiscent of genocide”.)

In his article, Putin explains the tsarist empire’s anti-Ukrainian legislation of the 1870s on the grounds that the Polish nationalist revolt was in progress; argues that Ukrainian nationhood was an invention of the Poles and/or Austro-Hungarians; and describes the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, by which Poland and the Baltic states were divided between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, with the words “the USSR regained the lands earlier seized by Poland”. He never once refers to Russian imperialism and colonialism, and the role they have played in shaping, and trying to deny, Ukrainian national identity.

That Putin justifies his imperial aspirations with reference to Russia’s imperialist past is not surprising. For western “leftists” to endorse this logic suggests that the “left” has sunk to a new low.

Fairytale no. 4: Putin is protecting Russia’s riches from imperialist looters

“Possible western aggression against Russia” is caused, in part, by “the desire of the fossil fuel monopolies to control the world energy market”, the Morning Star claims. These western interests seek to “turn Ukraine into a base”, in order to “achieve economic control of Russia”. This is unbelievably upside-down and back-to-front.

The Russian economy was subordinated to world markets, as a supplier of raw materials such as oil, gas and minerals, in a process that took two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In the first decade of Putin’s presidency, especially, large chunks of the wealth earned from these exports found its way into private hands and was shipped to offshore locations, at the rate of tens of billions of dollars per year.

Although Putin insisted that the private owners of oil and metals companies pay more taxes than they did in the 1990s, and some oil assets have been renationalised (the state owns an estimated 50% of the oil industry now), investigations by journalists and the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny have shown conclusively that his governing team put far, far more effort into diverting many billions in to their own accounts. Russian oil companies remain open to foreign investment; the largest of them, Rosneft, is 22% owned by BP.

So Russia’s economy has been integrated into the world capitalist economy in a way that serves its elite, not its people. Material inequalities have widened substantially under Putin.

Since 2014, a giant contradiction has opened up for the Russian government. The elite’s economic interests would be best served by developing these good relations with foreign capital. But its political interests required it to stoke up nationalism, to seek to reinforce its diplomatic and military control over its near neighbours that have slipped from its imperial grasp, Ukraine first among them. The war fought by Russia in Ukraine in 2014-15 was driven by these politics, not by economic interests. It, and western sanctions that resulted, damaged those interests.

The western powers already have most of what they want from the Russian economy. The idea that they are plotting military action to control it is, frankly, daft. There’s no doubt that the US hopes to constrain Russia’s geopolitical and military reach in central Europe – although the western alliance is split, and Germany is generally readier to compromise with Russia. But there is another factor here: the popular movement that removed Yanukovich and drastically weakened Russia’s political control over Ukraine, rooted in a history of colonialism. Putin is not only trying to reassert Russian influence against a divided NATO, but is also reacting to those changes in Ukrainian society. And it is Ukrainians who are being killed, and Ukrainian communities divided and devastated, by war.

In conclusion

The arguments put by Putin’s helpers are so absurd that I find it hard to explain them to Russian and Ukrainian friends. In 2015, a Ukrainian friend living in the UK asked: “What is it with these people? Are they being paid by the Russian embassy?” I answered that I was sure they are not. They justify Putin’s actions on account of their messed-up ideology, which on some level they must believe. That’s why, although it’s a bit like explaining why the earth isn’t flat, I offer readers these thoughts. SP, 29 December 2021.

Thanks to Simon Pirani for permission to reprint his essay here. ||| TRR

(A Quiet) Civil War

(A Quiet) Civil WarDictionary of War, Novi Sad edition, January 25–26, 2008

My concept is “civil war”— or rather, “a quiet (civil war).” Another variant might be: cold civil war. I will talk about how the (global) economy of war—hot war, cold war, civil war—is experienced by victims and bystanders in a place seemingly far from actual frontlines. In reality, the frontlines are everywhere—running down the middle of every street, crisscrossing hearts and minds. This permanent war is connected to the project that posits the presence of civil society in one part of the world, while also asserting the necessity of building civil society in other parts of the world where allegedly uncivil social, political, and economic arrangements have been or have to be abolished. The real effect of this high-minded engineering is the destruction of people, classes, and lifestyles whose continued survival in the new order is understood (but hardly ever stated) to be either problematic or unnecessary. The agents of this destruction are varied—from random street crime, assassinations, inflation, alcoholism, factory and institute closures, to pension and healthcare reform, the entertainment and news industry, and urban renovation. The place I will talk about is Russia and Saint Petersburg, where I have lived for much of the past fourteen years. My concept is intended as a memorial to a few victims and local eyewitnesses of this war—people I either know personally or came to know about through the stories of friends or other encounters. I will also sketch the tentative connections between that civil war and the troubles in this part of the world; and, very briefly, show how the victors in this war claim their spoils.

This term—(a quiet) civil war—was suggested to me by the Petersburg poet Alexander Skidan during a conversation we had last spring. I had been telling Alexander about the recent murder of my friend Alexei Viktorov. Alexei is fated to remain a mere footnote in Russian art history. I mean this literally: in a new book, Alexei is correctly identified as the schoolmate of the Diaghilev of Petersburg perestroika art, Timur Novikov, and the painter Oleg Kotelnikov. I met Alexei in 1996, when Oleg let me live in his overly hospitable studio in the famous artists squat at Pushkinskaya-10. Alexei showed up a few weeks later. He had spent the summer in the woods, living off mushrooms and whatever edibles he could find. In his youth, he had acquired the nickname Труп (Corpse). With his gaunt features and skinny frame, he certainly looked the part. As I would soon discover, he was one of the gentlest men on earth. He was also a terrific blues guitarist. And he was the first Hare Krishna in Leningrad and, perhaps, the entire Soviet Union—which was quite a feat, considering that his conversion took place in the dark ages of the seventies.

Last winter, friends chipped in on a plane ticket, and Alexei was able to fulfill a lifelong dream and travel to India. When he and his companions arrived at the Krishna temple, Alexei was greeted by the community as a conquering hero. Since Alexei’s life had been quite miserable of late back home, his friends insisted that he stay behind in India. Instead, he decided to return to Petersburg. A few days after his arrival home he was walking from the subway in the northern Lakes district of the city to the house of a friend. Along the way he was attacked—the police say by a gang of teenagers. The teenagers beat Alexei within an inch of his life and pushed him into a ravine. The police investigator guessed that Alexei had lain unconscious for some time. When he came to, he had apparently struggled to raise his battered body up and clamber out of the ravine; in his struggle, he had for some reason started tearing off his clothes, perhaps because his rib cage and chest were so badly crushed that he was suffocating. His body was discovered a couple days later. The police held it for another few days while they completed their investigation, which led to no arrests. Alexei’s funeral was held a few days afterwards at the Smolensk Cemetery on Vasilievsky Island. He was buried a few hundred meters from the grave of his schoolmate Timur Novikov, who died in 2002.

It was this story that prompted Alexander Skidan’s remark to me: “A quiet civil war has been going on here.” What did Alexander have in mind? What could the random albeit violent murder of a single human being have in common with the explicitly political and massively violent struggles that have taken place here in the former Yugoslavia and such parts of the former Soviet Union as Abkhazia, Southern Ossetia, Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Chechnya? How could Alexei—who, as the Russian saying has it, lived “quieter than the water, lower than the grass”—be viewed as an enemy combatant in such a war? Can we really compare his unknown assailants to representatives of the opposite warring party? Given what they did to him, it is clear that they viewed Alexei as their enemy—an enemy subject to sudden, violent execution when encountered in the proper (hidden, invisible) setting.

I anticipate serious objections to my line of argumentation. One such objection I have already heard in the person of my friend Igor. Igor, whose father is Ossetian, and whose mother is Ukrainian, grew up in Dushanbe, which was then the capital of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. I have never been to Dushanbe, but I have heard Igor describe it so many times in such glowing terms that I have come to think of it as heaven on earth. While I am sure that much of the paradisiacal tone in Igor’s recollections has to do with temporal and physical distance, it really does seem that the Dushanbe of the sixties and seventies was a kind of cosmopolitan oasis—a place where all sorts of forced or voluntary exiles from all imaginable Soviet ethnic communities and other cities ended up living in something like harmony.

This harmony bore the name “Soviet Union,” and Igor himself has often seemed to me the ideal homo soveticus (in the positive, internationalist sense of that term), a person to whom the refrain of the popular song—“My address isn’t a street or a building, my address is the Soviet Union”—fits perfectly. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Igor was the country’s leading expert on the seismic stability of electrical substations. From the onset of the Tajik civil war, in the early nineties, Igor was unable to return to Dushanbe. This had to do with the fact that in his internal Soviet passport, his place of birth was identified as Khorog, the capital of the Pamir region, which is where some of the “anti-government” forces had their power base. If Igor had returned to Dushanbe, he could easily have been stopped by soldiers during a documents check and executed on the spot. This is what happened to a number of his friends and schoolmates.

After the war was over, Igor’s father was able to reclaim the family home near Vladikavkaz, in Northern Ossetia, which had been confiscated by the authorities when Igor’s grandfather had been executed as an enemy of the people in the thirties. Northern Ossetia was a relative oasis during the nineties, despite the fact that Chechnya and Ingushetia were just over the mountains and neighboring Southern Ossetia had broken away from Georgia. This relative calm came to an abrupt end in September 2004, when terrorists besieged the school in neighboring Beslan. During the siege, members of Igor’s extended family were killed.

This is how Igor puts it: “Civil war is when the bus you’re on is stopped by soldiers and some of the passengers are taken off to be shot. And you sit there in the bus listening to the sound of gunfire and waiting for it to be over so that you can continue on your way. That’s civil war. What you’re talking about is not civil war.” Igor is certainly right.

He is also wrong in another sense. The quiet civil war I am describing here—among whose victims, I claim, was our friend Alexei—draws its energy and some of its methods from the real civil wars that have been fought in the hinterlands that are literally unthinkable to folks in such seemingly safe, prosperous places as Petersburg and Moscow. An immediate consequence of the siege in Beslan was that President Putin abolished gubernatorial elections in the Russian Federation’s eighty-four regions and federal cities. This, it was argued, would strengthen Moscow’s control—its so-called power vertical—over local officials whose incompetence and corruption had led, supposedly, to guerrillas infiltrating Beslan and capturing the school with such ease. Meanwhile, the civil wars and socioeconomic collapse in places like Tajikistan have led to a flood of refugees and migrant workers into Central Russia and its two capitals. The booming building trade in Moscow and Petersburg to a great degree now depends on the abundant, cheap supply of workers from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, and other former Soviet republics.

These workers are literally visible everywhere nowadays: with the oil economy fueling a tidal wave of consumerism whose major players have now turned to real estate as an outlet for investing their wealth, the capitals have become gigantic construction sites. And yet the conditions of their work and their lives are just as literally invisible. For example, Tajik workers and other darker-skinned Central Asians and Caucasians are subjected to frequent, unnecessary documents checks in public places such as subway stations. This is something that every Petersburger and Muscovite has seen ten thousand times, but it is also something they pretend not to see, judging by the lack of public reaction to the practice. Even less reaction is generated by neo-Nazi attacks on such workers, other foreigners, members of Russia’s ethnic minorities, and anti-fascist activists, which have become more and more common in the past several years.

I want to paint one more, brief verbal portrait of another victim in this quiet civil war. This portrait is connected with the violence inflicted on this city and other parts of Serbia during the NATO bombing campaign of 1999. The official and popular reaction in Russia to this violence was quite harsh. There were massive demonstrations outside the US embassy in Moscow; unknown assailants even fired a grenade into an empty office at the embassy. What surprised me were the more spontaneous reactions to the bombings. One day, a young American artist and I were standing in the courtyard of the squat at Pushkinskaya-10 chatting with a local artist. Two acquaintances of ours—members of a well-regarded alternative theater troupe—entered the courtyard. When they saw us, they shouted, “Don’t talk to those Americans! They’re bombing our Serbian brothers!” Since they said all this with a smile, it was hard to know to what extent we were supposed to take their warning as a “joke.”

It occurred to me then that a fundamental shift was occurring in the consciousness of Russians who had been, both in practical and philosophical terms, “westernizers” and “liberals” not long before. That this shift was also extending into the “masses” was confirmed for me a few days later. Late one night, I suddenly heard a drunken-sounding young man yelling up to an apartment across the street: “Masha! Goddammit, come downstairs and let me in!” Since repeated requests had no apparent effect on the silent, invisible Masha, the young man became more explicit in declaring his unhappiness with Masha’s thwarting of his affections. “Masha, you fucking bitch, come down and let me in! You’re breaking my fucking heart!” The turn the man’s soliloquy took next, however, signaled to me that we all were living in a new world. “Masha, go fuck yourself! NATO, go fuck yourselves!” (Маша, пошла ты в жопу! Блок НАТО, пошли вы в жопу!) This effusive condemnation of Masha and NATO continued for some time, after which the thwarted lover fell silent or fell over drunk.

If I had known that I would be invited to speak at this conference nine years later, I would have recorded the whole performance. Instead of speaking to you now, I would have played back the recording in full. Not in order to make fun of the young man whose heart had been broken in two by the combined forces of Masha and NATO, but so that you could hear what the quiet civil war I am trying to talk about sounds like. This is what I meant when I said, at the beginning of my remarks, that the frontlines in this new kind of war cross through hearts and minds and run down the middle of streets. This is not what happens when civil society breaks down; it is what happens when “civil society” is a code word (pronounced and enacted in tandem with other code words such as “democracy” and “liberal economy”) used to camouflage the incursion into the city of invading forces. The new regime they have come to establish can in reality do quite happily without “civil society,” democracy, and liberalism. But these words and the real actions taken and deals made behind their smokescreen are quite effective in destroying the historic and imaginary forms of solidarity that might have given folks like our unhappy young lover the means to defend themselves somehow. Instead, we end up with the muddle in our heads that lets us imagine that Masha and NATO are allied against us. Or that NATO is bringing democracy and security to Afghanistan. Or that, instead, to thwart NATO’s expansion to the east we have to round up Georgian restaurant workers and deport them back to Georgia—which, paradoxically, used to be nearly every Russian’s favorite place on earth.

As Alexander Skidan himself told me, the NATO bombing campaign of 1999 really had destroyed the illusions that he and most everyone else he knew had both about the west and about the meaning of the radical transformation of Russian society that was carried out under the banner of a rapprochement with the west and a leap forward into liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism. What Alexander and his friends saw as the west’s treachery in the Kosovo crisis had thrown a new retrospective light on a period they had until then been experiencing as a golden age for artists and ambitious young people like themselves—an age of unprecedented opportunity for self-expression at home and dizzying trips abroad. Why hadn’t the massive immiseration and unemployment of the post-Soviet population during the early nineties produced this same enlightenment? Or the violent disbanding of the Russian parliament, in 1993? Or the first war in Chechnya? Or the fact that, in Alexander’s case, his own father, a professor at the city’s shipbuilding institute, had gone in a matter of a year or two from being a respected member of his society to being an outmoded nobody who had to struggle to survive? Somehow, Alexander and his kind had noticed all this, of course, and not seen it. Or seen it and decided that these were the sort of temporary measures and necessary obstacles on the road to a better future. As he sees it now, the whole point of the Russian nineties was to decommission and eliminate whole sections of the population—teachers, doctors, factory workers, the poor, the aging, the less ambitious, and the more gullible. And this civil war, which continues to this day, paved the way to the quite logically illiberal current regime.

Which of course is wholly staffed by the victors in the quiet civil war of the nineties—not by the victims, whose victimhood is converted into ever-greater quantities of political, symbolic, and real capital by those same victors. Thus, the current favorite to win the Russian presidential elections in March announced the other day that his goal was to create a strong civil society where the freedoms and rights of all citizens would be cherished and protected.

This is one way to cash in your chips at the end of a successful quiet civil war. But our globalizing economy is such that you can even profit from someone else’s civil wars. My favorite new example of such capitalization is the American alternative band Beirut, the brainchild of 22-year-old Zach Condon, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Overly sensitive types might wonder how you grow up in peaceful Santa Fe and end up calling your band Beirut—but as we Americans love to say, It’s a free country.[1] (In its article on the band’s “Balkan-inspired” debut album, Gulag Orkestar, Wikipedia helpfully explains that the “Gulag was a system of Russian [corrective labor camps] in Siberia.”)

It is too much to expect that alternative radio stations would play, instead of Beirut’s fake Balkan wedding music, the 1999 lament of Masha’s spurned lover. Besides, I didn’t have the good sense to record it and release it as an album.


[1] “One of the reasons I named the band after that city was the fact that it’s seen a lot of conflict. It’s not a political position. I worried about that from the beginning. But it was such a catchy name. I mean, if things go down that are truly horrible, I’ll change it. But not now. It’s still a good analogy for my music. I haven’t been to Beirut, but I imagine it as this chic urban city surrounded by the ancient Muslim world. The place where things collide.” Rachel Syme, “Beirut: The Band,” New York, 6 August 2006.