Vox Pop

Vadim F. Lurie, Yaroslavl, 13 March 2022. From left to right, the shop signs read, “I Want It Beauty Salon,” “Blind Tomcat Men’s Haircuts,” and “Power Bar: The Power of the Present.” Reprinted with the photographer’s kind permission

The biggest surprise for me (and my biggest miscalculation) has been the number of people supporting Putin.

I had expected something else after two years of idiotic measures against the pandemic (measures that caused the deaths of more than a million people), after the [economic] crisis and the pension reforms.

This support cannot be explained solely in terms of propaganda. The regime’s propaganda is eclectic: it doesn’t supply people with a holistic worldview or logical arguments. It supplies them with mind-numbing slogans. The Russian Federation still has a fairly educated population, with a relatively broad outlook inherited from the Soviet education system. Over the years, I have learned from my own experience as an activist how difficult it is to convince such people using slogans alone.

In all the conversations [about the war] that I have had with people, it was they who initiated the conversations, vigorously advanced their positions, and went on the attack. This is completely atypical. Usually, it’s the other way around.

In all cases, the conversations boiled down to “we don’t know the whole picture” and “there must be good reasons,” segueing to “we don’t decide anything” and “it’s all completely pointless anyway.” A friend said that mothers refusing to look for their sons killed in combat have been saying, “There is no point, [the authorities] won’t give us anything.” A colleague at work ended our conversation [about the war] by saying, “Over in Khabarovsk they protested in defense of [Sergei] Furgal for three months and what of it? It’s completely useless.”

Now I have the feeling that people are very alarmed. They expect the worst and manifest the “social instinct” typical of post-Soviet society — siding with the strongman and rallying round “our guys” whoever they are.

That is, it is not propaganda that encourages them to support [the war], but “instinct.” Propaganda, on the other hand, only satisfies the demand for an explanation after the fact, the need for an indulgence and an analgesic.

Probably we should have expected something like this because the Russian Federation has been living in “counter-terrorist operation” mode for twenty years with berserk cops and crazed lawmakers. Nevertheless, I expected something different.

I don’t see any positive prospects yet. To do something, you need an organization, resources, intelligence, bases of support, media, and experience in underground work, finally. None of this exists. We are now in circumstances resembling those faced by the White Rose — only the authorities are not killing us yet, they can only send us to prison for ten years. And we don’t have the slightest preparation for working in such conditions.

The worse the situation in the country, the more people will consolidate. No introspection or arguments will break through the barrier generated by fear, guilt, and the imperial complex. Partisans [guerrillas] must have the support of the populace, but we don’t have it. One-off heroic actions would simply send crowds armed with pitchforks and torches to the houses where the heroes’ relatives live.

On the other hand, there are admirable examples of protesters mobilizing. They have also been consolidating and learning self-organization and mutual support. (Their leaders have all been jailed.) Theirs is not a left-wing mobilization, nor is likely to become one.

The left had a mobilization two years ago and we wasted it on another round of party-building projects.

These reflections were posted friends-only on social media by an experienced and extraordinarily thoughtful Russian grassroots activist whose day job as a tradesperson brings them into contact with Russians from all walks of life on a daily basis. They have kindly permitted me to translate their remarks and publish them here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Death to F—-ts

“Death to faggots.” Photo courtesy of Baza via Mediazona

Performers at show in honor of Yaroslavl patriotic club’s 20th anniversary smash stage prop with the inscription “Death to faggots” using sledgehammer 
Mediazona
August 31, 2021

During a performance by the military patriotic club Paratrooper in Yaroslavl, the regional news website 76.ru has reported, the performers used a sledgehammer to smash a stage-prop brick inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots.”

According to the website, a performance in honor of the club’s 20th anniversary was held at the Dobrynin Palace of Culture in Yaroslavl on August 29. The performers took their comrade, placed a prop shaped like a white brick, inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots,” on him and smashed it with a sledgehammer.

Andrei Palachev, the head of Paratrooper, explained to 76.ru that the club members had been joking.

“The kids just decided to make a joke and drew this inscription at the last moment. Faggots have no business being in Russia at all. […] And why should [the performers] be punished? They just don’t like fudge packers, and I don’t like them either. The family should be traditional: a boy and a girl, and not all this faggotry,” Palachev said.

Igor Derbin, the palace of culture’s director, stressed that this part of the performance had not been vetted with him.

“We are outraged. Initially, the event was supposed to be pleasant and joyful. We weren’t expecting their stunt. It was not planned in advance or agreed upon, because they knew that we would not allow it. By doing what they did, they canceled all the good impressions made by the event,” he added.

Taras Sidorin, the head of the Yaroslavl branch of the veterans organization Defender, said that he had filed a complaint with the police about the incident. “We consider such outburst incitement to murder. […] There were small children in the audience. This behavior is simply unacceptable,” he said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Bugger

victimA photo showing evidence of the outrageous crime against the Russian state and Russian society committed in Yaroslavl the other day. Fortunately, nearly all mentions of it have been forcibly deleted from local media. However, some traces of the sickening crime are still faintly visible in the photo, alas. Courtesy of Kirill Poputnikov and Yarkub 

Russian Law on Offending Authorities Enforced for First Time
Ksenia Boletskaya, Elizaveta Yefimovich and Alexei Nikolsky
Vedomosti
April 2, 2019

Over the past several days, officials of Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor and the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Yaroslavl have ordered local media outlets and Telegram channels to delete news about a inscription concerning Putin that was written on the local Interior Ministry headquarters building, 76.ru editor Olga Prokhorova wrote on Facebook and Yarkub wrote on its Telegram channel. Prokhorova claims other Yaroslavl media outlets have been contacted by officials about the report, and many of them have deleted it.

Yarkub reported on the morning of April 1 that police were looking for the person who scrawled “Putin ****r” [presumably, “Putin is a bugger”] on the columns of the local police headquarters building. The inscription consisted of exactly two words, so one could not conclude definitively that it was directed at the Russian president, who has the same surname. 76.ru did not quote the graffiti even in partially concealed form, but both media outlets published photographs of it. The second word in the inscription [i.e., “bugger”] was blanked out in the photos.

Vedomosti examined a copy of Roskomnadzor’s letter to Yarkub. Roskomnadzor did not explain why the news report should be deleted. Roskomnadzor wrote to other Yaroslavl media outlets that the news report violated the new law on offending the authorities. (The website TJournal has published an excerpt from the letter.)

The amendments restricting the dissemination of published matter that voices blatant disrespect for society and the state went  into effect on Friday, March 29. According to the amended law, websites are obliged to delete such matter at Roskomnadzor’s orders or face blockage. They can also be forced to pay fines starting at 30,000 rubles.

According to the new law, only the prosecutor general and his deputies can decide whether a piece of published matter offends the authorities and society, and Roskomndazor can send websites orders to remove the matter only when instructed by the prosecutor general’s office.

Roskomnadzor’s only telephone in Yaroslavl, as listed on its website, was turned off today.

A source at the prosecutor general’s office told Vedomosti the office had not sent Roskomnadzor any instructions concerning news of the inscription in Yaroslavl.

“We have had nothing to do with this,” he said.

Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky categorically refused to discuss the actions of the agency’s officials in Yaroslavl. After the new law went into force, Roskomnadzor’s local offices had been carrying out preventive work with media outlets, he said. Roskomnadzor officials had thus been trying to quickly stop the dissemination of illegal information without charging media outlets with violating the new law.

When asked whether Roskomnadzor had received instructions from the prosecutor general and his deputies about news of the inscription in Yaroslavl, Ampelonsky avoided answering the question directly.

“We can neither confirm nor deny it,” he said.

Prokhorova argues incredible pressure has been put on local Yaroslavl media.

“Our nerves are frazzled, and we have been left with a nasty taste in our mouths,” she wrote.

Yarkub’s editors claim the incident was an attempt at censorship.

In the letters they sent, Roskomnadzor’s local Yaroslavl officers did not threaten to block media outlets that did not delete the news report. But the letters and telephone calls did their work, and many local media outlets, including newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets in Yaroslavl, the website of radio station Echo of Moscow in Yaroslavl, the website of Yaroslavl TV Channel One, deleted the news report. Our source at Moskovsky Komsomolets in Yaroslavl initially told us the report about the inscription had not been deleted. Subsequently, he explained the report had been deleted at the behest of the newspaper’s Moscow editors. However, the Moscow editors claimed to know nothing about the news report’s removal.

Editors at Echo of Moscow in Yaroslavl radio station told us the news report had been deleted after several conversations with Roskomnadzor officials, but refused to say more. The official requests were recommendations, we were told by a source at the radio station who asked not to be named. Initially, Roskomnadzor asked the radio station to soften the news due to the fact that the main surname [sic] was in it. After some discussion, the editors decided to remove the report from the station’s website altogether, because “an act of hooliganism had ruffled feathers where it counted,” our source told us.

Georgy Ivanov, Kommersant Publishing House’s principal attorney, said the offensive remarks must be voiced in a blatant manner. In the news reports, the inscription has been blurred or blotted out, however. Legally, only the prosecutor general’s office can decide whether published matter is offensive or not, while Roskomnadzor’s function in these cases is more technical, he said. Roskomnadzor has been engaged in constant discussion with the media on implementing laws, but editors are not always able to interpret the agency’s communications with them, to decide whether they are recommendations or orders, and it is thus no wonder regional media perceive their interventions as coercion. Ivanov argues the Russian media had numerous worries about the new regulations on offending the authorities and fake news, and these fears had come true.

“We criticized the proposed regulations primarily because of how law enforcers and regulators act in the regions,” said Vladimir Sungorkin, director general of the popular national newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “In Moscow, we can still foster the illusion laws are enforced as written, but out in the sticks the security forces cannot be bothered with the fine points. They often get carried away.”

Sungorkin is certain that incidents in which local officials use the law about offending the authorities and fake news to twist the media’s arm will proliferate.

“It is a birthday gift to the security services in the regions,” he said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Denis Stark: Welcome to the Clean Country

Welcome to the Clean Country*
Denis Stark
Activatica
February 8, 2019

In an article I wrote six months ago, I argued Russia was at a crossroads and there were two scenarios for the future of waste management there. I also wrote that the window of opportunity was quite narrow and was closing. If Russia chose the road of waste incineration, it would be an irreversible decision, at least for the next thirty to thirty-five years.

The window of opportunity has closed, and the scenario has been chosen. Russia is set to become a country with two hundred waste incineration plants and function as the trash bin of Europe and Asia.

What I am about to say is very unpleasant, and you are likely to put it down to the my pessimism. That is why I should say a few words about myself. I have been doing waste management projects for fifteen years. During the last seven years, although I lived and worked abroad, I would come to Russia on weekends and holidays to clean up trash, organize the separate collection of recyclables, hold conferences, and meet with officials.

I believed so strongly in Russia that when my contract in the United Arab Emirates ended in 2018 and my family decided to take a six-month vacation, we didn’t go to Bali, Goa or Montenegro. We went to Russia, where we made the rounds of conferences, met with officials, talked with activists, and wrote articles.

Until January 14 of this year, I continued to believe we could make a difference. This is hard for me to write after fifteen years of intense work in the waste management sector, after making so many friends and publishing a book. I feel responsible to my friends and my country, to my relatives who live in Russia and cannot leave.

I have always been someone who inspired and organized by arguing that small deeds and grassroots involvement would make a difference. I belied it was true, and I still believe it. But now we must admit we have failed.

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What happened on January 14, anyway? President Putin signed a decree establishing the Russian Environmental Authority [Rossiiskii ekologicheskii operator], a public nonprofit company responsible for developing systems for the treatment of solid waste.

Let’s examine several points in the decree and find out what the dry, incomprehensible legal jargon means. The meaning of decrees must be deduced, since they contain numerous long clauses with nice-sounding words, difficult turns of phrase, and formal language. It is thus difficult to cut to the chase and figure out who and what are implied.

To simplify the task, I have replaced what I regard as superfluous verbiage with ellipses and generated my own reading. I am not a lawyer, and so I make no claim to be right. I could be mistaken. My view could be one-sided, so I would advise you to read the decree, watch the president’s speeches on waste management, and reach your own conclusions.

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“The company is established with the goal of creating […] waste management systems […] for producing energy.”

I.e., waste incineration plants will be built. I should explain what this means for readers not familiar with the subject. Officials refer to waste incineration as the production of energy from waste or even recycling waste into energy. This language is misleading, papering over the fact that, besides the energy generated from waste, toxic ash and toxic emissions are released into the atmosphere as byproducts.

“It is involved […] in coordinating the work of the federal government, regional executive authorities, and local governments.”

So, the newly established company will tell the federal government, regional governments, and local governments what to do when it comes to waste. The wording is so gentle and deceptive: “involved in coordinating.” I think this means the new authority will them to what to do.

I am especially jarred by the idea of its riding roughshod over local governments. Are you?

“It is involved in drafting and implementing government programs and projects in the field of waste management.”

My guess is that the new company will handle all government waste management projects. The decree does not say this outright, of course, but no other company has this portfolio. So, I imagine that the new company will enjoy a monopoly.

“It drafts proposals for improving legislation […] and is involved in drafting regulations in this area.”

The new company can amend the laws regulating waste management. Other companies do not have this power, but it does. Does this mean no one else would be able to propose amendments to the laws on waste management? Formally, no. In practice, however, I think the new company will either coordinate or sign off on any and all amendments to the relevant laws and regulations.

“It is involved in drawing up […] agreements […] on the transport […] of waste generated in one region of the Russian Federation to other regions of the Russian Federation.”

That is, the new company will handle the logistics of transporting waste between regions.

“It carries out expert analysis of waste management transport routes and locations […] and submits recommendations for adjusting them.”

So, the new company will be deciding on the logistics, technology, and locations of landfills and disposal facilities in Russia’s regions. But what if local communities do not agree with its decisions?

“It analyzes […] whether the procedures of public discussion of proposed locations have been observed.”

The authority decides whether procedures for public oversight have been observed. For example, if a community opposes the proposed location of a landfill or waste incineration plant, the company can rule the procedure for assessing impact was not observed properly and declare the feedback made at public hearings null and void.

“It implements […] international cooperation […] on issues of waste management, and it makes agreements with international organizations.”

What international issues on waste management could there be? Maybe the decree has in mind importing waste from China and Europe, where the requirements for waste disposal have become more stringent, proposals for waste incineration facilities spark protests, and there is no vacant land left for landfills.

The import of foreign waste should be fairly profitable. Where will the money go?

“It invests temporarily available funds […] and engages in other income-generating activities.”

I will not hazard a guess as to where available funds will be invested.

“It drafts federal and regional government support programs for investment projects and analyzes these programs.”

I.e., it decides which projects to invest in and which not to invest in.

“It is involved in concession agreements and agreements on federal and/or municipal public-private partnerships.”

In Europe, waste management concession agreements are made for periods of twenty-five to thirty years, and governments cannot get out of them. What will happen in Russia?

“It provides […] guarantees (sureties) to private investors..”

For example, it could guarantee shipments of waste in a certain amount, as in Sweden, which provided guarantees to waste incineration plants and currently imports waste from other countries to be burned in Sweden, despite the protests of locals. Nothing can be done, however, because the Swedish government gave its word.

“It carries out voluntary certification of the technological processes, equipment, and capital construction sites necessary for implementation of activities in the field of […] waste management.”

Did I read that correctly? Certification is “voluntary” but at the same necessary for working in the waste management field, meaning that the authority sets the conditions for certifying technological processes, equipment, and construction sites, and no one can make a move without this certification.

“It functions as a customer, operator and/or developer of information systems in the field of waste management.”

The company will have its hands on all waste management information systems. It will bear sole responsibility for the accuracy of information about its doings.

“It engages educational and public awareness work in the waste management field and popularizes modern waste management technologies.”

The company will supersede all grassroots campaigns, organizations and movements that have been engaged in raising public awareness when it comes to waste management and recycling. There is not a word in the decree about cooperating with grassroots organizations, supporting them, developing them or even coordinating them. The new company will do all the educating, explaining, and informing, and the technologies it popularizes will be the most modern by definition.

So, what technologies will the company popularize?

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Perhaps I am worrying in vain? Maybe the new authority will use its unlimited powers for influencing the executive branch from the federal level to the local, its capacity to make and amend laws, and its functions as investor, educator, and certifying agency to promote separate waste collection, recycling, and waste reduction? These things are also mentioned in the decree, after all, not only producing energy from waste. Maybe the company has been established for these purposes?

President Putin answered my questions on December 20, 2018.

“I understand people who oppose the construction of waste incineration plants. We have to make sure the plants do not scrimp on filters, and everything is top of the line in terms of technological know-how, as in Tokyo, where the plants are located right downtown, but there is no smell and there are no problems, because the right know-how is used. We must build two hundred processing plants by 2024.”

This was much more to the point than what Putin said on June 7, 2018, during his annual “Direct Line” TV program. He was as matter of fact as a politician could be.

The decision has been made: two hundred waste incineration plants must be built in Russia. The know-how will be determined by the Environmental Authority, which will have oversight over its own work and also “educate” people about the outcomes of its work.

The decree establishing the authority has been signed. There is no going back: the regime does not take back what it says. Welcome to a garbage-free country, dear rank-and-file Russians. Get your minds ready for “public awareness” campaigns.

That was my introduction. Now I would like to ask the environmentally aware segment of the Russian grassroots community a question. My question is addressed to those of you who know what dioxins and furans are. It is addressed to those of you who have seen the design specifications for the trash incineration plants approved for construction in the Voskresensk and Naro-Fominsk Districts of Moscow Region, and know the differences between this type of plant and similar plants in, say, Tokyo and Vienna.

For ten years you encouraged people to recycle while it still could have made a difference. When, however, you were ignored, you said, “There is still time.”

You thought the horror story in Moscow Region and the regime’s obvious intentions to build trash incineration plants there would trigger a broad-based backlash from the Russian grassroots. When they ignored the story, you said, “It serves Muscovites right.”

When Moscow’s trash was exported to Yaroslavl and Arkhangelsk Regions, you thought it would be more than people could bear. But it was okay: people grinned and bore it.

At each step of the way, the president’s statements have been more and more definite. Now the party’s over. The time for testing the waters has come to an end. The common people have accepted their lot and the powers that be are segueing into “public outreach” mode.

What are you going to do next?

c8238179bed9f435fa597a3ebd1272c2.jpg“Dumping prohibited. Fine: 5,000 rubles.” 

Arkhangelsk activists organized a nationwide day of protest. The protest rallies were attended by several thousand of the usual suspects from around the country. The protest was ignored, and the regime was confirmed in its convictions.** 

That was the best possible outcome. If the day of protest had drawn huge crowds, the regime would have engaged in provocations and arrested the organizers. There was no way to get positive-minded activists who collect waste paper in their own residential buildings to attend: they have no use for rallies.

It would appear that the days of grassroots public conscious raising are over. I doubt the majority of peaceable environmentalists are willing to go to prison like Pussy Riot.

The few remaining dissenting organizations will be subjected to government inspections and shut down for violating the rules. They will be declared “foreign agents.” Or they will simply stop getting grants. On the internet and TV, their campaigning will be seamlessly replaced by the “outreach work” of the Russian Environmental Authority and loyal bloggers and reporters.

* The article’s title is a reference to the Russian government’s so-called Clean Country project for waste management.

** This pessimistic assessment of the protest campaign’s effect seems to be partly contradicted by a February 3 article in the Moscow Times, according to which 30,000 people came out for the protest in Arkhangelsk alone.

Thanks to Sergey Reshetin for the heads-up. All photos courtesy of Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader