The Russian National Idea

Putin Proclaims National Idea
Fontanka.ru
February 3, 2016

In Russia, there can be no other unifying idea than patriotism, argues President Vladimir Putin, as reported by TASS.

“This is, in fact, the national idea,” the head of state announced during a meeting with the Leaders Club, which brings together entrepreneurs from forty of the country’s regions.

According to Putin, this idea is not ideologized and is not linked to the work of a particular party, reports RIA Novosti.

“It is a common rallying point. If we want to live better, the country has to be more attractive to all citizens and more effective,” the president stressed.

_________

Who Killed a Transsexual in Ufa and Why?
Ufa1.ru
February 2, 2016

On Monday, February 1, Angela Likina was stabbed in the chest and killed in Ufa. The Ufa resident had gained notoriety in 2014, when a video recorded on a traffic police dashcam entitled “Ufa Traffic Cops Stop a Transvestite” [sic] went viral on the Web. Ufa1.ru found out who killed Oleg Vorobyov, who had changed his sex and become Angela Likina, and why.

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Angela Likina. Photo courtesy of Ufa1.ru

The controversial video from the traffic police car dashcam recorded an inspector checking the papers of a female motorist. It transpired, however, that the motorist’s name, according to his internal passport, was Oleg Vorobyov. The inspector was very surprised by this. The motorist was a transsexual who had been preparing for a sex change operation for several years, becoming Angela Likina. The restricted video was leaked to the Web.

Later, the State Auto Inspectorate conducted a review of the incident, because the restricted footage should have not ended up on the Web. Angela Likina also commented on the video herself. She was surprised the incident had provoked so much interest among Web users.

“People die in accidents, children get hurt, cars are stolen, blood is needed to save someone’s life. Gentlemen, why are you setting records for likes and reposts about me? I honestly don’t understand,” said Likina, adding, “I don’t care how you live, what you do, and so on, so long as you are alive, healthy, and happy. But my life does not concern you in absolutely any way.”

How Did Oleg Live?
Ufa1.ru spoke with friends and acquaintances of Angela Likina, who talked about the life of the murdered woman. We found out this sad ending had emerged from a number of factors. Before becoming Angela Likina, Oleg Vorobyov had been married. Acquaintances confess that, outwardly, the couple were seemingly happy. They were raising two daughters, now aged fourteen and nine. The family lived in a private house, which also housed Oleg’s auto repair garage. Many of the people with whom we spoke said automobile owners were satisfied with Oleg’s work, that he had a magic touch.

Over five years ago, Oleg realized he was living in someone else’s body. He understood he wanted to change his sex and become the person he thought he was. Oleg began calling himself Angela Likina and started the complicated process of preparing to change his sex. He took hormone pills and began dressing like a woman. According to his internal passport, however, he remained Oleg Vorobyov. He could only change his name after finally changing his sex.

Five years ago, the Vorobyovs divorced, but the former husband and wife and their two children kept living under the same roof. The house was the wife’s property, and her former husband had an established business there. Several of the family’s acquaintances believe that Angela did not want to lose her income from the auto repair garage and spend money on renting a place to live. After all, she had to save up a large sum of money for the operation, and the medicines she took to prepare for the procedure were expensive. Close friends emphasize that Angela worked a lot, sometimes seven days a week.

At the same time, Ufa1.ru’s sources noted the Ufa resident simply had no choice.

“He once tried to rent a flat, but was kicked out. A neighbor had said, ‘I don’t want my children to see this!’ Consequently, he was evicted and didn’t even get his money back,” said one of our sources.

Friends of the family noted that those who have lived under the same roof with ex-spouses can imagine the atmosphere that prevailed in the Vorobyov house. Some say that the rows over living arrangements caused the Vorobyovs to come to blows. Things were aggravated by the fact that the head of the family had become a woman. Their children also became the targets of reproaches and ridicule at school.

“They would come home in tears, and sometimes refuse to go to school, but Angela loved her daughters and gave them a lot of time,” acquaintances noted.

Who Killed Angela?
According to friends, a boyfriend came to visit Oleg’s ex-wife on the ill-fated evening. The criminal investigation will shed more light on what exactly happened in the house. For now, the family’s acquaintances have their own hypotheses. Perhaps the man intervened in yet another family row. Maybe he stood up for his girlfriend and wanted to intimidate Angela by demanding she pack her things and leave. The row, however, escalated into something bigger.

“She was stabbed in the chest near the heart. She did not die immediately. She made it to a neighbor’s house, told him what had happened and who had done it, and an ambulance was summoned. Then Angela died in the neighbor’s arms. It was apparently too late to help her. I don’t know what was happening in the family. Angela was a good person, but strangers often beat her up. Her neighbors respected her choice. It is a bad thing when a person steals, kills or rapes, but everything else is a private matter,” said an acquaintance of Angela’s.

“The best human qualities—kindness, fairness, compassion, and unselfishness—were powerfully manifested in her. Unfortunately, that is a rarity nowadays. And she really never held a grudge against anyone, although there were a fairly large number of people who wished her ill. Most of them, it is true, were people who did not know her at all. They insulted and mocked her. You could say she was understanding about it: far from everyone in our city, or even our country, is ready to comprehend the decision to have a sex change. And that is another reason I have endless respect for her: the determination to go her own way to the end, to change her life fundamentally, the willingness to take one and overcome all the difficulties,” another girlfriend of Angela’s confided to Ufa1.ru.

“Apparently, Angela sensed her impending death. Not long before this she had asked forgiveness from her wife for all the rows that had happened between them,” said another family acquaintance.

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Fire at Moscow workshop kills 12 people, including 3 children
Boston Globe
January 31, 2016

ASSOCIATED PRESS, JANUARY 31, 2016, MOSCOW — A fire at a textile workshop in Moscow has killed 12 people, including three children, officials said.

The victims were not identified but were reportedly immigrants.

The Investigative Committee, the top state investigative agency, said the fire broke out late Saturday in northeastern Moscow, damaging more than 32,000 square feet of the structure.

Investigators said they are looking at negligence or arson as possible causes.

Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said Sunday on his Twitter account that three children were among those who died, including a baby. He said the victims were migrant workers who lived next to their workplace.

Several dozen fire engines responded to the blaze, and it took firefighters about five hours to extinguish the blaze.

Investigators continued to sift through the rubble Sunday for evidence.

Many immigrants work in Russian factories, some of which have been investigated for hazardous working conditions. In April, a blaze on the outskirts of Moscow killed 17 migrant workers.

__________

The death toll of Kyrgyz citizens (according to the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the Russian Federation):

1. Sajida Masaliyeva, born 1988. Home address: Village of Kyzyl-Bel, Batken District, Batken Region.

2. Toktokan Saliyeva, born 1983. Home address: Village of Tayan, Batken District, Batken Region.

3. Uulkan Saliyeva, born 1997, sister of Toktokan Saliyeva.

4. Isa kizi Aizat, born 1995. According to available information, Isa was a native of the Village of Kaiyndy, Batken Region.

5. Milikajdar uulu Koshonbay, born 1990.

6. Tologon Kozuyev, born 1991.

7. Manas, born 1995; brother of Tologon Kozuyev; no other details.

8. Daniel, 4-5 years old, son of Ergeshbay Japarov, a Russian national who perished in the fire; born in the village of Rout, Batken District, Batken Region; according to the victims, Daniel was a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Source: Radio Azzatyk

__________

The four-minute-and-twenty-five-second rap version of Alexei Navalny’s exposé of Russian prosecutor general Yuri Chaika, as performed by Nadya Tolokonnikova. Thanks to Comrade SC for the heads-up.

_________

[Elena Bobrova:] You are something of a patriot yourself?

[Nikolai Kolyada:] How else should I relate to Russia? I love her whatever she be like. Like Gogol I can tell the whole unvarnished truth about her. And Nikolai Vasilyevich said such awful things about Russia. He sobbed bloody tears when thinking about the country. But not because he hated it. On the contrary, because he loved it. When foreigners start speaking badly about Russia, I begin to boil: “Shut up, it is none of your business. I have the right to say anything about her, but you do not.” Well, it is okay when Europeans or Americans sling mud at us: they have a hard time coping with the fact we are different, unpredictable, and freer than they are. But when our own people hate their own country, that is terrible. This morning, I was reading Facebook and I thought, “Why do you live here if you hate Russia so much?”

[Bobrova:] But you just said yourself we have a right to chew out Russia because we live here.

[Kolyada:] Chew out but not hate. But Facebook is just seething with hatred.

—Excerpted from “20% of the Petersburg audience are loonies,” Gorod 812 (print edition), February 1, 2016, page 34

Items one, two, four, and six translated by the Russian Reader

Back to the Future: Why Putin Criticizes Lenin

Factory wall, Krasnoye Selo, October 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
Factory wall, Krasnoye Selo, October 25, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Alexander Reznik
Back to the Future: Why Putin Criticizes Lenin
RBC
January 26, 2016

Vladimir Putin has condemned Lenin for ideas that, in the president’s opinion, led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the ideas were those of Stalin, whom the head of state has avoided criticizing.

The Flow of Thought
On January 21, 2016, Vladimir Putin gave rise to another round of quasi-historical debate. Summarizing a discussion on reforming the Russian Academy of Sciences at a session of the Council for Science and Education, the president reacted to an excerpt from a poem by Pasternak, as quoted by the head of the Kurchatov Institute:  “He managed the flow of thought[s] and, only thus, the country.”

Pasternak was writing about Lenin, and the president ventured his opinion of Lenin, too.

“It is right to manage the flow of thought. Only it is important that the thought leads to the desired result, not as it did in the case of Vladimir Ilyich. But the idea itself is correct. Ultimately, the idea led to the Soviet Union’s collapse, that is what. There were many such thoughts: autonomization and so on. They planted an atomic bomb under the edifice known as Russia. It did, in fact, blow up later. And we had no need of world revolution.”

Thus, consciously or not, the president marked the anniversary of the death of the Soviet Union’s founder. Many observers were quick to detect a hidden message in his remarks and once again raised the question of burying Lenin’s body. (Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press secretary, had to quickly announce that this issue “was not on the agenda.”) It is more likely that the remarks, delivered as the curtain was falling on a boring meeting, were  made on the spur of the moment.

Putin had obviously specially prepared for his speech at the January 25 interregional forum of the Russian Popular Front in order to smooth over the impression made by his previous remarks. Replying to a question about Lenin’s reburial, he outlined his views on socialism in more detail. He admitted he had always “liked communist and socialist ideas,” and he compared the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism to the Bible. Later, the president mentioned mass repressions, including the “most egregious example,” the execution of the tsar and his family, the “breakdown of the front” during the First World War, and the inefficiency of the planned economy. Finally, Putin separately addressed the question of why, from his viewpoint, Lenin had been wrong in his dispute with Stalin over the nationalities question: Lenin had wanted “full equality, with the right to secede from the Soviet Union” for the republics.

“And that [was like] a time bomb under the edifice of our state,” said Putin, literally repeating what he had said in an 1991 interview. To strengthen the effect, he mentioned the transfer of Donbass to Ukraine.

Who Planted the Bomb and What Kind of Bomb Was It
Historians will find it difficult to ignore that in the first instance Putin has mistakenly attributed to Lenin the idea of autonomization, which meant the inclusion of territorial entities in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In reality, on December 30 and 31, 1922, Lenin dictated a few notes, which were included in the leader’s so-called political testament.

“I suppose I have been very remiss with respect to the workers of Russia for not having intervened energetically and decisively enough in the notorious question of autonomization, which, it appears, is officially called the question of the Soviet socialist republics,” wrote Lenin.

His secretaries called these notes a “bomb,” so evident was their explosive effect, since they were directed against the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Joseph Stalin, who was accused of a “Great-Russian nationalist campaign.” As a centralist principle, Lenin wrote, autonomization was “radically wrong and badly timed.” It was necessary to “maintain and strengthen the union of socialist republics” and be more sensitive to the nationalism of “oppressed peoples.” The union’s republics were granted the constitutional right to secede from the Soviet Union.

Formally, Lenin’s policy was approved, and thanks to the policy of indigenization, which historian Terry Martin has christened “affirmative action,” the 1920s were the heyday of national cultures. But by bypassing the Constitution and Party Congress resolutions, Stalin’s project gradually emerged victorious. By the late 1980s, the federal principles of Soviet power had been discredited as a screen concealing Moscow’s omnipotence as the center. So it is, at least, naive to believe that the presence of the constitutional right to secede from the Soviet Union (and Lenin’s responsibility for it) played a crucial role in the disintegration of the Soviet state.

At the Russian Popular Front forum, Putin clarified that, from the outset, he “had in mind the discussion between Stalin and Lenin about how to build a new state, the Soviet Union.”  His speech showed that Putin’s attitude towards Lenin’s revolutionary project as a whole was not very different from that of establishment experts and commentators. Liberals, conservatives, members of the opposition, and “patriots” can forge a bond in their rejection of socialism, radicalism, and similar -isms. It suffices to carefully examine the responses to Putin’s speech to notice that dislike of Lenin is quite sincere and sometimes jealously competitive. Setting aside conservative fetishists of all things Soviet, sympathy for Lenin, on the other hand, remains the bailiwick of leftist intellectuals.

Putin’s activist dislike of Lenin is noteworthy, given his demonstrative neutrality towards Stalin. In Putin’s view, although Stalin was a dictator guilty of mass repressions, he de facto rejected Lenin’s revolutionary maximalism. We cannot rule out that the president has taken into account the growth of public sympathy for Stalin, warmed by the economic crisis and political developments in Syria and Ukraine.

Interest in the topic of the Soviet Union’s collapse may well be regarded as the hint of a veiled threat to today’s Russia that at some point can be used as the ideological basis, for example, of a public mobilization against “enemies.”

A Revolution for New Needs
The excitement generated by the statements of leading politicians about the distant past casts a negative light on Russia’s intellectual and political culture. The centennial of the 1917 Revolution is approaching.  We can hardly expect success from the government’s project of reconciling the Whites, Reds, and Greens, as proposed by the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky. Rather, the symbolic resources of the Russian Civil War will be exploited for the production of more and more new conflicts, as was the case with the Great Patriotic War. On the lines of the Banderites, it will be easy to construct new imaginary enemies of Russia. The president has discovered one such group of national traitors, revolutionaries and especially Bolsheviks. It will be harder to find heroes, but here the market, which previously has been successful in selling the image of Admiral Kolchak, will lend a helping hand.

In these memory wars, academic scholarship, which cultivates the specific language of dialogue and therefore seldom provides simple and definitive answers to debatable issues, will hardly be heard. Thus, Pasternak’s line about “managing the flow of thoughts,” which flustered Vladimir Putin, takes on a particularly alarming ring.

Alexander Reznik is a senior researcher at Perm State University and a member of the Free Historical Society. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Same Old Tapes Spin Round in Our Heads

kom

We don’t ever think. We just have a small collection of tapes we stick in slots in the back of our heads when the need to say something “smart” arises.

* * * * *

Russian speakers living in Finland are not a homogeneous group, but one thing unites them strongly: a large number of them regard asylum seekers with a grain of salt.

“I relate to the phenomenon negatively. I think the people coming here do not have the necessary information on how people live here. They are trying to come here with their own traditions and customs, and at the moment this hinders their adaptation,” say Gleb Ulanov, who lives in Helsinki.

[. . .]

Despite the fact that the Russians themselves are immigrants, they do not want to compare themselves to the people now arriving from the Middle East. Russian speakers are of the view that they do not have similar adaptation problems.

“The biggest difference is the mentality. Most Russian speakers adapt, find work, and respect Finnish customs and celebrations. In my experience, only a small minority of people from the east does this. They prefer to form their own communities,” says Grigory Berkinfand, who lives in Helsinki.

[. . .]

Many Russian speakers fear that Finns have a naive attitude toward the asylum seekers, and do not properly distinguish those who are genuinely in need of protection.

Just like Finns, Russians are primarily concerned about safety. Many say that traditionally peaceful Finland is changing at a rapid pace.

Gleb Ulanov, who in Soviet times lived for about a year in the Caucasus, is of the opinion that merely integrating the refugees is not enough. In addition to telling the asylum seekers about Finnish customs and laws, Finns should also tell the refugees about culture and how they should behave around them.

[. . .]

Even a man from Russian Karelia who is living in a reception center and applying for political asylum questions the motives for coming to Finland of many of the people living with him. The man wished to remain anonymous.

“I can see what is happening here. They do not appreciate either the local culture or the help they receive. The majority are of the opinion that the Finns are obliged to help them. Many of them say that one can live here without working, and everything is given free of charge. They are quarrelsome if they notice they have not been given something and they complain about conditions. For example, I am really satisfied with everything here. I have not received such a warm reception in my own country,” he said.

* * * * *

Excerpted from “Suomen venäläiset varoittavat: Ei kannata olla liian sinisilmäinen turvapaikanhakijoiden suhteen” [Russians warn Finland: do not be too gullible with regard to asylum seekers], YLE, January 30, 2016. Image courtesy of nashehobby.narod.ru. Translated, from the Finnish, by the Russian Reader

Refugees from Yemen in Dead End

EMERCOM Flights Brought Yemeni Refugees to Russian Dead End 
Elena Srapyan (Civic Assistance Committee)
refugee.ru
January 29, 2016

Refugees from Yemen, who came to Russia in April 2014 aboard Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) flights, have found themselves in a desperate situation. As they have attempted to gain asylum in Russia, they have run not only into bureaucratic hurdles but also deliberate resistance from migration service officers. Thus, instead of being received during office hours on January 11 at the Moscow office of the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) on Kirpichnaya Street, the Waqidi family was taken to the immigration control department and threatened with expulsion for overstaying.

The family became refugees in April of last year, when armed conflict erupted in Yemen, and many countries began evacuating the civilian population from the country. Russia was also involved in this operation. EMERCOM planes delivered several hundred people to Moscow. Among them were nationals of other countries as well as Yemeni nationals who planned to seek asylum.

It was then that an EMERCOM plane took on board Amina Hassan Hadi Mohamed Waqidi, her husband Mohamed Abdo Naji, their nine-year-son Abdul Karim Mohamed Abdo, and seventeen-year-old daughter Yasmin Mohamed Abdo. They arrived in Moscow on April 23, 2014.

Nobody gave the Yemenis any advice on how to obtain asylum status. Instead, the Waqidis found out everything on their own and applied for asylum at the appropriate time. On August 3, however, the FMS refused to grant refugee status in Russia to any members of the Waqidi family.

In November, Amina and Yasmin first applied for temporary refugee status. But instead of accepting their applications, FMS officers transported the women to the Izmailovo District Court. The court, in turn, returned the matter to the local FMS office, underscoring the fact the family had arrived on an EMERCOM plane from Yemen and had already, at the time of the hearing, submitted an application for temporary asylum to the head of the FMS Moscow office.

Amina and Yasmin finally submitted their documents on November 10. Yasmin’s passport was taken and she was issued a certificate stating her application for temporary asylum was under review. Her mother, who was not issued the same certificate, was asked to submit translations of several documents. Amina also had no luck during the interview, either. Here it would be appropriate to mention that Amina is originally from Vietnam. While Yasmin easily got through the interview at the FMS office with assistance from an Arabic translator, her mother, who speaks only her native Vietnamese fluently, was not provided with a Vietnamese translator. The interview was nevertheless conducted in December, but in Arabic, which Amina speaks quite poorly.

Молодой Ясмин совсем недавно исполнилось, но она уже хорошо знакома со взрослыми проблемами беженцев в России.
Yasmin Wadiqi. Photo courtesy of Civic Assistance Committee

By the new year, the translated documents, certified by the UNHCR, were ready. On the first working day of January, Yasmin and Amina went once again to the FMS Moscow office on Kirpichnaya to secure the certificate. Without certificates that their documents were under review, the Yemenis would be vulnerable to police, who periodically detain migrants for violating their terms of stay, whereas FMS-issued certificates would attest to the legality of the Waqidi family’s presence in Russia.

But strange things began to happen on Kirpichnaya Street. Instead of issuing the certificate to Amina, FMS officers summoned an immigration control officer. He took the certificate and her mother’s passport from Yasmin, went into Office No. 104, where the refugees were planning to submit documents, and reemerged with two passports. He took them upstairs to Yuri Yevdokimov, head of the department for refugees and displaced persons. The Yemenis were then taken to the FMS immigration control department at Sadovnicheskaya Street, 63.

Laila Rogozina, head of the Civic Assistance Committee’s community liaison office, contacted the immigration control department on Sadovnicheskaya and suggested the officers there familiarize themselves with the text of the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

“I picked up the telephone and told the man on the other end of the line to read Article 31.* He read it and said, ‘Well, everything is clear. I will give them back their passports and let them go wherever they like,'” recounted Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee.

Indeed, there had been no grounds for sending Yasmin and Amina Waqidi to the immigration control department. Their applications were in the midst of processing, and they had applied for asylum in due time, so it had been unlawful to confiscate Yasmin’s certificate and take her and her mother’s passports.  The passports were returned to the women and they were released.

“What was once a trend has become a regular practice,” concluded Svetlana Gannushkina. “When people come to the FMS Moscow office to file asylum applications, Mr. Yevdokimov immediately calls immigration control to come and get them. They are written up for having violated Russian federal migration rules, and the asylum seekers are taken to court. Whereas earlier this happened only to those people who had been in Russian illegally for long periods and, according to the migration service, intended to be legalized by submitting an asylum application, now it applies to everyone, both new arrivals and even those whose applications are already in process. This practice has led us to accompany every refugee [to FMS]. Otherwise, we run the risk of finding our applicants later at the Special Detention Facility for Foreign Nationals (SUVSIG), without their even having had the chance to apply for asylum.”

Gannushkina discussed the Waqidi family’s case with both Svetlana Pleshakova, deputy head of the Moscow migration service, and Valentina Kazakova, head of the citizenship department at the Russian FMS. Both officials agreed that the refugees had been treated improperly. Amina and Yasmin then went to see Marina Kapustina, deputy head of the department for refugees and displaced persons. She issued application processing certificates to both women.

“Maybe Mr. Yevdokimov should also read the 1951 Convention and the Russian federal law ‘On Refugees’?” Gannushkina commented. “It is important to note here that this is a matter of people who not only arrived from a dangerous region but were brought here by Russian EMERCOM planes. You get the impression that our foreign and domestic policy are totally inconsistent. People arrive from a war zone, where their lives were definitely in danger, and it is obvious they are going to apply for asylum. However, the Moscow migration service apparently has no access to geographical information or reports from other agencies about how the people came to Russia, and tries to avoid doing any work to this end.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

*Article 31 (United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees)

Refugees Unlawfully in the Country of Refuge

1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

2. The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.

Hafsa Sabr: Geneva or Bust

Refugees in Europe demonstrate in support of France and against ISIS terrorism. Photo by Hafsa Sabr. Courtesy of Maria José Ferreiro
Refugees in Europe demonstrate in support of France and against ISIS terrorism. Photo by Hafsa Sabr. Courtesy of Maria José Ferreiro

Geneva or Bust
antidotezine.com
January 28, 2016

AntiNote: Hafsa Sabr is a vital presence at the enormous, improvised, and barely survivable camp in Dunkirk, northern France. She has been instrumental both in coordinating with independent aid and solidarity organizations operating in the camp as well as in insurgent media work, filming conditions in camp and reporting day-to-day on activities and incidents there.

The following could be a model script for the dystopian road-trip movie of the future. Its hopeful, tragic anger not only fits the Antidote vibe, but it also reveals much about revered institutions and the real effects their often arbitrary decisions have on people. We have edited it lightly for clarity, and thank Hafsa for her kind permission to print it.

Geneva or Bust
23 January 2016
by Hafsa Sabr

We need to talk. Everyone asked us what we did in Switzerland. This is our answer.

One week ago we heard that the UN would make an urgent conference in Switzerland: A journalist from New York came with her team to film the miserable conditions in the camp. She also made interviews. Her video was supposed to be shown during the UN meeting!

At this moment we all thought that the UN could change the world, and would make huge decisions about the camps of Dunkirk and Calais.

On Tuesday morning we (Sarhang, Besh and I) prepared ourselves to go to Paris. We were in a hurry and positively excited, thinking about what we were going to say.

We had an invitation from the UN, and that’s right: Sarhang and Besh are refugees and they don’t have any passport or ID card, but according to international laws on humans rights after 1948, everyone is free to travel anywhere.

Anyway, in Paris we met the journalist, Dina. She organized the way to participate in the conference (the open forum “Immigration to Integration”) and talk, mainly about the jungle in Dunkirk and the more than three thousand refugees there—men, women and children, and babies of course.

In the train station the French police surrounded Sarhang and Besh. They said they could be potential terrorists! I told the police guy that the refugees ran away from ISIS; how can they be terrorists? After ten minutes of negotiations they let us go to take the train.

While we were in the train, the journalist told us that the UN warned the police! Because Sarhang and Besh don’t have any papers! And if they enter Swiss territory, some people who invited us will be fired from the their jobs. This is the UN.

We wanted to go back home! The UN canceled our invitation!

When we crossed the border from France into Switzerland, at the first train station the border police stopped us. They were looking for us! They put us in jail for almost six hours! We were interrogated! And one guy from the police told me, “I’m sorry, what I’m going to say might hurt you, but we received the order to focus on Arab people. We don’t distinguish between Kurdish or Amazigh.”

After a few hours they asked for a lot of money from us. They wanted 170 euros. Sarhang and Besh could not afford it, so they let them off it. We even showed them the paper of invitation, but they didn’t care…After that, they told us we were all free. On our way to the last train to go back to France, a woman and a man from the police team stopped me once again and told me to stay here, and to pay 480 euros in taxes!

Sarhang and Besh told the lady they would not go back to France without me. I warned the two police that I would not give one euro to them because this money in my wallet was not mine! This money was for the refugees! And in my religion it’s called amana, which means a trust! I was upset and crying. The police man was kind. He told us, “I know that, but it’s my boss’s orders…otherwise I’m so sorry for what’s happened to you.” We were disappointed about everything, and we went back to the police office.

I will stop here and go back to history, to the 1880s when the people of southern Europe ran away because of inequality and the dictatorial law of rich people. Many people sacrificed to get to a life with rights and safety. In 1908 the same thing happened in Europe with African people.

And now in 2016, in a period of modernity and technology: in power and politics, no one cares about people who fled because of war, even Kurdish people who are fighting ISIS.

Dina was in contact with UN staff to find a way to get us free of the Swiss border police. But after another five hours they fingerprinted Sarhang and Besh. Then the police started shouting among each other. And then they let us go. We were FREE. El hamdullilah.

We thanked the one kind policeman, he had tears in his eyes.

We returned by bus to Mulhouse, and we slept there; the day after, we took a train to Paris and from Paris to Dunkirk. We were “home.”

We had spent a lot of the money that the refugees raised to help Sarhang and Besh join the conference. But it’s the UN: everyone in the jungle was waiting for great news from Sarhang and Besh. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything to say.

They had a last hope with the UN.
Just think about it: the UN made a conference about refugees in Dunkirk and Calais, but they didn’t let one refugee come to represent them.
Shame on them.

They called the cops! The UN.
I give up on humanity.

Please share this post as much as possible.

Sarhang, Besh and Hafsa

Kadyrov Is Not Chechnya

Kadyrov Is Not Chechnya
Grigory Tumanov
Snob
January 26, 2015

Kommersant newspaper correspondent Grigory Tumanov has returned from a trip to Grozny and reports everything you hear about modern Chechnya and its bloodlust is a myth invented by Ramzan Kadyrov

Фото: Дмитрий Коротаев/Коммерсантъ
Photo: Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant

If you said the pro-Ramzan Kadyrov rally, held last Friday in Grozny, was a kind of vote for Kadyrov, you would have to admit it was a failure. It has long been argued the event was meant to hide some of the Chechen leader’s deeper problems, and he had begun to haggle with Moscow not by offering stability in exchange for a free hand, but by offering the explosive situation in the region. But on the ground it turned out all the stories about how, as soon as Kadyrov resigns and loosens his grip, the entire republic would secede from Russia, immediately impose sharia law, and establish a free Ichkeria are a myth.

I remember January 19, 2015, in Grozny: the rally for the Prophet, which had also been organized not without the involvement of the local authorities, to put it mildly. The vast majority of the people at the rally had, of course, never seen any Charlie Hebdo cartoons on the web, the cartoons that sparked the brutal murders of the magazine’s journalists. Despite this, however, from early morning there was a huge traffic jam even on Chechnya’s border with the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan. Yes, there were state employees. Yes, ralliers were bussed into Grozny. Yes, there were quotas and roll calls, and prototype placards imposed by the higher-ups, and campaigning in dean’s offices. It is odd, of course, to try and assess the degree to which those people went involuntarily to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque that day, but it should be said they stayed on the square both at twelve o’clock to perform the midday prayer and afterwards.

Several days later, every other car was still sporting a “We Support the Prophet!” placard. It made sense. How, in a Muslim region, would you say no to the question, “Are you going to the rally for the Prophet?” You wouldn’t say it, of course.

“I have not seen the cartoons, but I am a Muslim, so I have no choice but to come out. Rally or no rally, how could I not come out? For some reason you all say we should not be offended by cartoons about something that matters to us. But why should you decide for us? You don’t believe in it!” one rally attendee told me.

It was a conclusive victory for Kadyrov. People really did come out for the rally, driven not only by official lobbying but also by their own indignation. So it was a great way for Kadyrov to announce his candidacy for the post of chief defender of Muslims in Russia.

Фото: Саид Царнаев/РИА Новости
Photo: Said Tsarnayev/RIA Novosti

Contrary to the official Instagrams posted by Chechen officials and Kadyrov himself, it turned out that the personal pull exerted by the head of the republic was still not comparable to that of Muhammad. The Chechen Interior Ministry reported that over a million people gathered on the squares of Grozny last Friday. This is not true. I stood on the roof of the judicial department of the republic’s Supreme Court and saw with my own eyes that there were hardly 100,000 people in attendance. And as soon as the officials moderating the rally announced it was over, all those one hundred thousand people literally evaporated from the square. It was impressive. I was especially touched by the way that people who were not employed in the state sector proudly said they would not be going to the rally.

“Oh no, I am going to stock up on potato chips and sunflower seeds and plop down on the sofa. If it is a day off, then let it be a day off. No one is going to force me to come out for the tsar,” a private entrepreneur in Grozny told me.

“Maybe we will not be allowed to work on this day, but we are not going anywhere, so if you suddenly feel like some tea, stop by,” the proprietors of a kebab place near the hotel where I stayed told me on the eve of the rally.

While it was true there was no smoke coming from their grills the next morning, all the place’s employees were in fact at work, watching with curiosity as state-sector workers carrying placards shuffled by them on their way to the Heart of Chechnya Mosque.

Yes, everyone with whom I spoke in the crowd on the square spouted off rote phrases about how Kadyrov had raised the republic from ruins, and that he needed support, since Ilya Yashin had launched a real vilification campaign against him.  But it was no less impressive to see how people squinted and smiled ironically as they said this, to see placards embossed with slogans about Kadyrov and against Navalny just lying in the flowerbeds after the rally, and how policemen quickly tried to clean them up when they noticed the interest they aroused among photojournalists.

All of today’s Chechnya is a myth invented by Kadyrov. The bloody seriousness and the obsession with sports and Islam are a myth. Another such myth is the stability Kadyrov provides, thus reining in the unbearable craving of Chechens for secession from Russia and terrorism. Talking about politics in the republic frightens everyone, especially talking about politics with reporters. There is the risk you will find yourself on a treadmill with your pants pulled down. Both critics and supporters of the regime agree on the main point, however: the wars are over, the bombing has stopped. However, if you get both critics and supporters to talk, all of them will admit that the choice between nocturnal visits by men in cars with KRA license plates [i.e., marked with Kadyrov’s initials] and Russian bombing raids is not great.

Фото: Дмитрий Коротаев/Коммерсантъ
Photo: Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant

Ruslan has a cafe. If you walk down Putin Avenue and then turn into the courtyards, walk past the houses, go down into a basement, and push the door with a yellow sign featuring a guitar, inside you will find something resembling the Mos Eisley Cantina in the first Star Wars movie. The place is terribly smoky, and there are strange groups of people sitting all round it. Only the drum kit is empty. The alien band that produced the whimsical sounds in the movie has been replaced by a young boy now quite long-windedly showing his support for FC Bayern Munich, whose match is on the telly.

Ruslan was a physical education teacher and was about to get housing in a dormitory when the first Chechen campaign started. On the day Russian forces stormed Minutka Square, he was trying to find bread. Ruslan says he cannot eat supper without bread.

Ruslan also cannot live without the blues. While he never has learned to play the guitar, he knows so many artists by heart it would blow your mind. The cafe is not even a business to him but the chance to live as he likes. Sometimes, friends come to the bar and perform jam sessions, and a bottle of cognac can always be found for regulars.

“Around the New Year it was totally excellent here. Everyone would dance until dawn to Pink Floyd, and they were barely standing when they would go home early in the morning,” says Ruslan.

He understands that even in Moscow a blues cafe is a very niche establishment, not to mention Grozny, but this is how he wants to live.

“I would have long ago earned money from the cafe by showing football matches and letting customers make bets. It is quite profitable, but in Chechnya you are not allowed to engage in bookmaking. It is permitted all over Russia, but here it is forbidden. It is forbidden, and that is that. Why should I regard this as normal?” he says, incensed.

Here it is not the custom to say out loud that there is anything wrong with Kadyrov, but the cafe owner does not like having to choose between war and autocracy.

“Look, no one here has any illusions. By all means, let it be Ramzan and Ramzan. But could they just leave us in peace? I want to work in peace, not to be hassled by anyone. People have nothing to eat, but all day long they show on the telly how Kadyrov went for a sleigh ride, what car he drove and where. It is like a reality show,” says another resident of Chechnya, who has a small business.

For him, the pro-Kadyrov rally was an additional irritant. I do not know whether some good people in Moscow actually explained to the Chechen leader he should not appear before his happy people on Friday or maybe he figured it out himself, but I heard a fair number of jokes about the big theatrical production without the main character on stage.

On the eve of the rally, there were rumors in Grozny that now as never before Kadyrov had to demonstrate people’s gratitude to him, and so the presence of media at the rally that were not subordinate to local authorities was undesirable. Allegedly, the nervousness of the local government had reached such levels that members of patriotic youth clubs had been instructed to seek out federal and foreign journalists in the crowd and prevent them from doing their jobs any way they could.

Ultimately, this did not happen, but such a nervous atmosphere could hardly have arisen if the leader were confident if not in the people’s absolute loyalty then at least in its absolute fear.

Some wonder what to do with the republic’s zombified population when Kadyrov goes. But it turns out that nothing in particular has to be done at all. Kadyrov is not Chechnya, and the Chechens are not the pumped men in camouflage you see in the Instagrams, signed with nicknames ending with the number 95 [i.e., the regional code for Chechnya on Russian license plates].

These are people who are insulted to hear they are wasting Moscow’s money. These are people who are afraid men will come for them in the night. These are people who want to open the kinds of cafes they want to open, and who do not want to stand holding identical placards at eight in the morning instead of going to work, and who do not want war. And what sets them apart from the vast majority of Russian citizens (it has become all the rage lately to oppose the two groups) is that they remember war quite well.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. See Sergey Abashin’s recent comment on the same topic, as posted on this website.

Travel Tip

Mostly homebound folks like me learn a lot by going on illustrated and narrated trips to various parts of Russia and the former Soviet Union with graphic reportage artist extraordinaire Victoria Lomasko. Her recent “Trip to Dagestan,” now published in English in Drawing the Times, is no exception. In fact, it will blow your socks off if you read it all the way through. 

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Victoria Lomasko, Elmira, A Kumyk Woman, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Drawing the Times