Do as the Romans Do

welcome to russia

This notice was, allegedly, photographed in a notary’s office yesterday.

It reads, “Dear guests from the southern republics! All conversations in this room [should take place] only in the official language of the country that has kindly sheltered you. (The country is Russia, the language is Russian.)”

Source: Alex Scali (Facebook)

The Kids Are (Not) Alright

Piter_april15_35
Enter Pioneers, all in ranks, some with plywood planes and lorries,
Others with piquant denunciations, handprinted in block letters.
From the next world, like chimeras, shades of pensioned janissaries
Nod their approval to the kids, whose snub noses gleam with ardor.
They crank up “The Russian Balldance” and dash in the hut to Dad,
Chasing out sleepy Dad from the double bed where they were made.
What can you do? Such is youth.
Strangling them would be uncouth.
—Joseph Brodsky, “A Vaudeville”

_________

Survey

Students at the Russian State University for the Humanities disrupted a lecture by Nikolai Starikov, a member of the Anti-Maidan movement. They were supported by some professors. How, in your opinion, should the conversion of public universities into hotbeds of liberalism and a source of manpower for a Russian Maidan be stopped?

• Regularly rotate teaching staff, weeding out teachers known for making Russophobic statements and being involved with dubious Western NGOs — 83 votes (25%)

• Actively campaign for vocational education as an alternative to countless “lawyers” and “economists.” People who are busy with real work do not rebel — 33 votes (10%)

• Follow the recipe used by Tsar Alexander III, who pacified Russia for a long time after the terror campaign by the Populists: reduce the number of higher education institutions and raise tuition costs for fee-paying students — 53 votes (16%)

• Leave them alone, let them sow their wild oats. Students have always been rebels, but once they graduated and wised up a bit, they became conscious and law-abiding members of society — 168 votes (50%)

Total votes: 337

Source: Kultura newspaper

Editor’s Note. The survey results were current as of 1:30 p.m. Moscow time on May 27, 2015. Thanks to the invaluable Andrei Malgin for the heads-up.

________

“We’re still little,” or Delegating political responsibility to adults
Anna Zhelnina
May 26, 2015
Vedomosti

Recently, debates about how bad things are in Russia—whether they are very bad or whether there is light at the end of the tunnel—have been topical. For example, an article by Maria Snegovaya and Denis Volkov, published in Vedomosti (January 20, 2015), dealt with the political mood of Russian young people. The authors came to a relatively optimistic conclusion. Young people were much more democratic and focused on Western values than the older generation. This attitude on the part of young people gave the authors hope for social and political change in the foreseeable future.

Research carried out by the Higher School of Economics in 2012–2013, as part of the European project MYPLACE: Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement, found that the views of Russian young people were much more complicated and confusing than has been suggested by the usual divisions into “pro-Russian” and “pro-Western,” “pro-Putin” and “oppositional” camps. Our data consisted of 1,200 surveys, answered by young people 16–25 years of age in Saint Petersburg and Vyborg, and sixty in-depth interviews with survey participants where we had the opportunity to discuss the political views of respondents in greater depth. The interviews showed the survey data had to be treated with caution. Even if a person had come across as liberal in the survey, it did not mean they did not consider Stalin an effective manager, and Putin, a democratic leader.

Entrusting Russian young people with one’s political hopes is, at very least, premature. They have noticeable problems with political consciousness. Until we got to politics, the vast majority of our respondents gave the impression of being quite conscious, informed, independent citizens. But when it came to political issues, many felt insecure and did not want to analyze them. In part, this explains the comfortable, quite normative choices of answers in the questionnaire. It was easier to check off that you support freedom of speech, the ability of citizens to shape events at home, and other “correct” answers.

On the other hand, young people have traditionally delegated responsibility to “adults” and “those who know best.” This position—that we are “little”, that we have to finish our educations, and get our own lives up and running—is a powerful barrier to collective action. It is curious this stance is a response to the attitude of “adults” towards young people. In the Russian discourse, young people are usually imagined as dependent objects in need of refinement, “patriotic” and other mentoring, but not as subjects of their own destinies. (Elena Omelchenko, director of the Center for Youth Studies at the Higher School of Economics, has long argued this point; see, for example, her article “Youth Activism in Russia and Global Transformations of Its Meaning.”) Young people willingly accept this position and do not want to change anything. Consequently, they do not shape the participatory skills, the civic skills they would need for political engagement in adulthood. Postponing interest in politics “for later,” young people practically postpone it forever. No wonder that a variety of civic education programs designed to instill the habits of citizens in young people are so popular all over the world.

When pinning hopes on young people, we need to consider two other things. First, young people, as they grow up, often forget about tolerance and the experiments of adolescence. Second, in Russian society there is not the radical ideological and cultural gap between the generations of parents and children that would be necessary for the kind of revolutionary outbursts of student unrest the world saw in 1968. For our respondents, parents and older relatives are the only people who can be trusted, and when making decisions, young people are guided by their opinions. Some respondents from the older age group (21–25 years of age) voted the same way in the 2011–2012 elections as their parents had. Moreover, family discussions of political change and parents’ opinions of the 1990s, the “restoration of order” in the 2000s, and even Soviet times have a much stronger impact on young people than any TV propaganda, which our respondents fairly easily identified and ignored, in contrast to the views of their elders. It is often forgotten that Russian society is experiencing a crisis of confidence in public institutions as well as in people outside the closest circles of friends and family. Our respondents are far from being ideological rebels in their families. Even if you do not agree about something with your parents, only they can be counted on for support, and only they want the best for you.

Under these circumstances, it was to be expected that the interviews showed the young people were extremely alienated from politics in general. Politics and everything associated with it was a “dirty business” in which involvement was absolutely senseless. This feeling of meaninglessness has been another important factor blocking attempts by even critically minded and informed young people from participating in political and civic processes. “Nothing can change” and “Everything has already been decided for us” were the phrases they used to explain their own lack of involvement. This, however, is not an exclusively Russian trait. Studies of European young people have also demonstrated a long-term, growing disillusionment with formal politics, declining interest in political parties, elections, and so on (see Flash Eurobarometer 375, April–May 2013).

Interpreting sociological data and trying to use them to make forecasts is a complicated and often thankless task, especially when it comes to mass mobilization, revolutions, riots, and similar “flash” events. Researchers of social movements have long been struggling with the question of why people do, nevertheless, take to the streets. Even in the most difficult conditions, when there is strong dissatisfaction with the situation, policies, and the regime, protests may or may not happen. That is why the analysis of attitudes and stated opinions is not an effective way of predicting behavior. People do not always do as they say, and even if they honestly believe in liberal values, it is not a given that at the crucial moment they will back up their statements with action. On the other hand, if they keep silent, it does not mean this will always be the case.

The author is a senior fellow at the Center for Youth Studies at the Higher School of Economic in Saint Petersburg.

Photo courtesy of anatrrra.livejournal.com

Anna Gaskarova: What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind

What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind
Anna Gaskarova
May 26, 2015
Snob.ru

My husband, who has been behind bars for over two years as a suspect, defendant, and convict in the Bolotnaya Square case, and I have long had a tradition of giving theater tickets to our parents on birthdays, New Year’s, and other holidays, nearly always to productions by Teatr.doc. Our favorite, by the way, is Two Men in My Home, about the house arrest of Belarusian opposition leader Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu. It is one of the theater’s rare productions in which there are more laughter-inducing scenes than frustrating ones.

Six months ago I was contacted by the playwright Polina Borodina and asked to help collect material for a production about the Bolotnaya Square case for the theater that I loved so much. All that was required of me was to give an interview. At the time I thought that Polina would find it hard to write the play: there was nothing impressive about being the relative of a prisoner. It is very boring. I didn’t think she could manage to put together a story about the Bolotnaya Square case that would be interesting to anyone besides those involved in it.

pict2883506107

The premiere took place on the anniversay of the events on Bolotnaya. Policemen gathered outside the theater, and plainclothes officers sat in the audience. I saw the third performance of the production, and police were again standing on duty outside. It was raining, and Elena Gremina, the theater’s director, asked the officers to come inside.

“It is warm in here, and the play is quite good,” she told them.

They would not come in.

I fidgeted, giggled, and fretted, because I could not remember a thing I had said to Polina in the interview. It was scary to hear myself. And every time I recognized my own words in the lines of the actors, I cringed, buried my face in the shoulder of my sister, who was sitting next to me, and thought to myself with relief that it was a good thing I had not put my foot in my mouth.

The boring trials, the red tape of the remand prisons, the monotony of putting together food parcels, and the terrible anguish of the relatives in the Bolotnaya Square case has been turned into a very interesting story told by four actors in the words of the mothers, fathers, wives, fiancées, and friends of the arrestees. There are no exaggerations and distortions; only quotations from interviews with loved ones. They talk about how visits go, how to get married in a remand prison, how the defendants entertained themselves during the boring trials—and how to inform a defendant that his mother has died.

I had always wondered whether anything except shame, three and a half lost years, and painful memories would remain after the the Bolotnaya Square trial, something decent and instructive—not for us relatives but for those were there with us on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and for those who were not.

I think this question has stopped vexing me. Stalin’s purges have left us Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales. The Bolotnaya Square case will leave behind Teatr.doc’s The Bolotnaya Square Case.

ee61b2c98d7567978852636630bb38f2Many thanks to Polina Borodina, Elena Gremina, Konstantin Kozhevnikov, Anastasia Patlay, Varvara Faer, and Marina Boyko.

Photos courtesy of Snob.ru

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Three years have passed since the opposition March of the Millions on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow ended in a physical confrontation with riot police, hundreds of arrests, and, later, dozens of criminal cases brought against protesters, who had engaged, allegedly, in “rioting” and “violence” against the police.

Although more than thirty defendants have been tried as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case, police investigators and prosecutors continue to unearth new suspects to this day.

This is the story of leftist social activist and antifascist Alexei Gaskarov, a 29-year-old economist from the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky, as told by his family and close friends. Gaskarov, who is also an elected member of the Opposition Coordinating Council, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on August 18, 2014.

Deportation of Crimean Tatars Remembered in Petersburg

Deportation of Crimean Tatars Remembered in Petersburg
David Frenkel
May 20, 2015
spdaily.eu

On May 19, Petersburg democracy activists commemorated the Soviet Stalinist government’s mass deportation of Crimean Tartars on May 18, 1944. Activists held a series of solo pickets on Nevsky Prospect before gathering for an evening event at Open Space, a co-working venue run by the organization St. Petersburg Election Observers.

Several activists, including Vsevolod Nechayev, leader of the Democratic Petersburg coalition, Andrey Zyrkunov of the liberal-democratic party Yabloko, and Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, a famous local activist, took to the city’s main street with placards calling on fellow citizens to remember the anniversary of the deportation and blaming the current Russian authorities for preventing commemorations in Crimea itself.

IMG_8818Local activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev picketing on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015. His placard reads, “Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars is a crime with no statute of limitations! A people’s memory cannot be murdered! Even according to the NKVD’s statistics, 44,887 deportees from Crimea died in 1944–1945.” Photo: David Frenkel

Apparently inured to pickets and demonstrations of various kinds, passersby mostly exhibited indifference. A couple of young men attempted to harass the protesters, but most passersby merely glanced at the picketers before continuing on their way.

IMG_8836Picketer handing out leaflets on Nevsky Prospect, May 19, 2015. Photo: David Frenkel

In the evening, activists gathered at Open Space to continue their commemorations. Alexandra Krylenkova, leader of St. Petersburg Election Observers, is field coordinator of the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights.

Activists viewed a documentary film about the deportation and chatted with Asan Mumdzhi, a member of the Crimean Tatar community in Petersburg.

They also talked via Skype with Zair Smedlya, head of the Qurultay of the Crimean Tatar People. Smedlya described the current situation in the Crimea. Police arrest protesters en masse even at authorized protests and auto rallies, but generally the authorities refuse to grant permission to hold such events.

“The same old story,” muttered someone in the audience.

The current Crimean authorities have tried to turn the commemoration of the 1944 deportation into a celebration of the fact that President Putin signed a decree “rehabilitating” the Crimean Tatars on April 21 of this year.

Mumdzhi compared this to Jews being “rehabilitated” by Germans.

IMG_8905Asan Mumdzhi. Photo: David Frenkel

Smedlya also claimed that people had been arrested for carrying Ukrainian flags, which is not illegal.

“Crimean policemen didn’t know the Ukrainian laws. Now they do not know the Russian laws,” Smedlya quipped.

The gathering ended with a screening of the Crimean Tatar-language film Haytarma, which tells the story of the highly decorated Soviet fighter pilot Amet-khan Sultan, who accidentally witnessed the deportation and managed to keep his family in Crimea.

Article and photos courtesy of spdaily.eu, a Internet-based Anglophone newspaper that will go online in the very near future.

The Workers’ Marseillaise

The Workers’ Marseillaise was a Russian revolutionary anthem first written and set to the tune of the French Marseillaise in 1875. It proved extremely popular and was sung frequently during the Revolution of 1905; famously, Maxim Gorky wrote of it in his 1906 novel “Mother”:

“In this song there was nothing from the old, slavish world. It floated along directly, evenly; it proclaimed an iron virility, a calm threat. Simple, clear, it swept the people after it along an endless path leading to the far distant future; and it spoke frankly about the hardships of the way. In its steady fire a heavy clod seemed to burn and melt—the sufferings they had endured, the dark load of their habitual feelings, their cursed dread of what was coming.”

Subsequently, it served as a temporary national anthem for the new government after the February Revolution in 1917. After the October Revolution, it slowly fell out of use, and by 1918 it was entirely replaced as an anthem by the Internationale.

__________

Lyrics

Отречёмся от старого мира!
Отряхнем его прах с наших ног!
Нам не нужно златого кумира;
Ненавистен нам царский чертог!
Царю нужны для войска солдаты,
Подавайте ему сыновей;
Царю нужны дворцы и палаты,
Подавай ему крови своей:

Вставай, подымайся, рабочий народ!
Вставай на врага, люд голодный!
Раздайся, клич мести народной:
Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд!

Кулаки-богачи жадной сворой
Расхищают тяжёлый твой труд.
Твоим потом жиреют обжоры,
Твой последний кусок они рвут.
Не довольно ли вечного горя?
Встанем, братья, повсюду зараз —
От Днепра и до Белого моря.
И Поволжье, и Дальний Кавказ —

Вставай, подымайся, рабочий народ!
Вставай на врага, люд голодный!
Раздайся, клич мести народной!
Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд!

И взойдёт за кровавой зарёю
Солнце правды и братской любви,
Хоть купили мы страшной ценою —
Кровью нашею — счастье земли.
И настанет година свободы:
За эпохой кровавой борьбы,
И сольются в едином народы
В царстве славы, труда и борьбы!

Вставай, подымайся, рабочий народ!
Вставай на врага, люд голодный!
Раздайся, клич мести народной!
Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд! Вперёд!

English translation

Let us renounce the old world!
Let us shake away its dust from our feet!
Needless to us is a golden idol;
Loathsome to us are Tsarist palaces!
For the Tsar armies of soldiers are necessary:
Give him your sons;
For the Tsar palaces and halls are necessary:
Give him your blood!

Arise, awaken, working people!
Arise against the enemy, hungry folk!
Ring out, cry of the people’s vengeance!
Forward! Forward! Forward! Forward! Forward!

The kulaks-wealthy ones of greedy packs
plunder your hard work.
With it the gluttons then fatten themselves;
they tear apart your last piece of bread.
Is it not enough of eternal misery?
Let us arise, brothers, everywhere at once —
from the Dneiper unto the White Sea,
and the Cisvolga, and the far Caucasus —

Arise, awaken, working people!
Arise against the enemy, hungry folk!
Ring out, cry of the people’s vengeance!
Forward! Forward! Forward! Forward! Forward!

And for a bloody dawn there rises
the sun of truth and brotherly love,
although we bought it with a terrible price —
our blood for the happiness of the Earth.
And the time of freedom will arrive
in an epoch of bloody battle,
and nations will unite into one
in the tsardom of glory, labour, and struggle!

Arise, awaken, working people!
Arise against the enemy, hungry folk!
Ring out, cry of the people’s vengeance!
Forward! Forward! Forward! Forward! Forward!

Thanks to Advesperation for the upload and the annotation.

“Congratulate Me, I’m a Foreign Agent” (Dront Ecological Center, Nizhny Novgorod)

Congratulate Me, I’m a Foreign Agent
pippilotta-v-r.livejournal.com
May 14, 2015

It was to be expected, of course, and we all knew quite well approximately what would be written in the Ministry of Justice’s certificate of inspection, but for some reason it was unexpected all the same. Like a knife in the back.

Dront’s certificate of inspection was brought to our offices on Tuesday. I felt very bad about it all day. Plus, there was a lampoon on a stupid Nizhny Novgorod site (which I will not advertise here, of course) in which I was targeted personally. I even recalled the favorite joke of my youth, which I haven’t recalled for over ten years.

Piglet comes to Winnie the Pooh’s house and sees that the whole place is filled with blood. The bear is lying on the floor, his stomach ripped open, his guts hanging from the chandelier.

Piglet anxiously asks, “Winnie, Winnie, do you feel bad?

“Do I feel bad? Do I feel bad? Yes, it’s curtains for me!”

Because the problem is not the obvious disadvantages of this status, which we will legally challenge, of course. The problem is “faith in humanity.”

For an evening I lost my faith in humanity.

What has to be going through a person’s head to seek proof of “political activity” amongst people who protect nature on behalf of all citizens, and hence them as well? What kind of person do you have to be, for example, to classify money paid to do an analysis of a proposal to raise the level of the Cheboksary Reservoir as foreign financing, since the money came from the WWF (the Russian office of WWF, by the way)? I just hope that those three beauties from the Ministry of Justice who inspected us live somewhere in the Leninsky District, and their houses will be flooded when the reservoir rises.

Oh, to find out where they live and never to stand up for that corner of the city again. Let them build all the auto service centers and waste incineration plants right there!

And why do so-called patriots (we were inspected at the behest of the National Liberation Movement) so hate the natural environment in their own country? On the other hand, they love power in all forms. This phenomenon, incidentally, has haunted me for a while. So some people have decided they are “Russian patriots,” and what do they do? That’s right, they set out to spoil the lives of people trying to do something good for their country. I still remember those young men, “Russian patriots,” who six years ago tried to attack me, a pregnant Russian woman, just because my female friends and I were coming back from a protest rally against a nuclear power plant. Of course, there are different views on atomic energy, and debates can be very emotional, but it’s a matter for debate, damn it, not a matter for a fist fight. And they would have attacked us, and maybe even stabbed us with something, but we ran and got on a bus, and the driver closed the door on them. One young man with wicked eyes kept banging his fists against the windows, spewing out his anger and hatred. Roman Zykov, that wasn’t you, by chance? And now you’ve grown up and become an informer?

During its April 17, 2015, broadcast, the NNTV program Itogi nedeli aired a segment on the “foreign agent” case against Nizhny Novgorod’s Dront Ecological Center. The segment begins at the 1:40 mark, with the presenter explaining that the Ministry of Justice launched its audit of Dront after receiving a complaint from Roman Zykov of the National Liberation Organization (NOD). Zykov is interviewed on camera beginning at the 5:25 mark. He is identified as NOD’s “information officer.”

To be honest, I don’t understand any of this. I can’t get my head around it. I don’t believe there are people who really are happy, for example, if a highway or an asphalt plant is built near their home in place of a forest. People can be indifferent to environmental topics or indulge in pessimism because “everything has been decided, nothing can be changed.” I have seen this many times. But for people sincerely to desire the deterioration of their habitat, that I can not imagine. And I don’t understand how it can be called “patriotism.”

Well, the heck with them, the informants.

So the certificate of inspection was delivered to us. Here it is, this wonderful document. Of course, we have proven to be “foreign agents”: the law interprets the concept as broadly as possible. The inspectors had to prove a quite simple theorem: that we have foreign money (we can check off that box), and that we are engaged in political activity, that is, that we haven’t exactly been sitting on our asses but have been doing something. (Here we could check off a hundred boxes if we so desired.)

And the law does not require a logical connection between these parts of the theorem. It matters not a squat that the money was for one thing, and something else was deemed “political activity.”

Damn, when I was in university, “politics” meant being involved in the struggle for power. Nowadays, if you say it would be good idea to amend a law, you’re already a nasty political intriguer. And even if you praise a law, you’re an intriguer as well, because it is none of your damn business to evaluate laws.

You might think that all Russian environmental legislation is absolutely perfect: that it was handed down to us in the sacred tablets, and each word was cast in gold. This, to put it mildly, is not true. Moreover, these laws are constantly amended and changed, meaning the authorities are aware of their imperfections. It suffices to mention the new law on waste management. It was completely turned inside out and redrafted. I don’t really understand why we should stop criticizing  laws.

The whole business with foreign money is also ridiculous.

After all, it doesn’t matter to the inspectors that the funds have been earmarked, for studying turtles, for example. (And, in fact, protection of animals is not deemed political activity, and that is stipulated in the law.) Or for seminars on sustainable development. Or for a public impact assessment of the proposal to raise the level of the Cheboksary Reservoir. No one except the WWF provided any money for this—no state agencies, no legislators, no businessmen—although the entire Nizhny Novgorod Region rose up as one against the proposal.

And it doesn’t matter that all these funds were not only earmarked but were quite small sums (less than one percent of our annual budget) and could not significantly have impacted our operations. We would have criticized the same laws even without this money. But who is interested in logic if you just have to tick off some boxes?

In short, the young female inspectors proved the theorem to their own satisfaction. But I just don’t have the heart to call them lawyers, because, for example, they don’t distinguish between federal and municipal (i.e., local) government. (Maybe employees of the Ministry of Justice don’t necessarily have to have a law degree?) Apparently, the way they see it, all power is sacred and should be beyond criticism.

Well, my depression has passed. It has been nice to see that many people support us and have stood up for us. It has been nice to read your kind words.

P.S. I will not approve any vicious comments, if they show up.

___________

NB. You can see the list of Russian NGOs included in the registry of “foreign agents” (as of May 15, 2015) here. This list is constantly updated, apparently.