Friday, May 31, 2013

Strangers Abroad

In the The Atlantic, Michael Weiss examines the journey of Steven Seagal and a U.S. Congressional delegation to what they call the land of the "Chechnyans":
It is unclear as yet as to whether or not they went on to Chechnya, much less under the auspices of the unlikely cultural statesman Seagal, who apparently reached out directly to Rohrabacher. Politico has described an internal wrangle within the delegation about the wisdom of traveling alongside the star of Above the Law to the Kremlin's Caucasian suzerainty, which is run by a warlord who is nothing if not above the law himself.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Alyokhina continuing hunger strike

Via Ekho Moskvy:

"The situation in the colony is difficult. All the convicts who live or work beside me are on lock-up, which means they can't get medical help and exacerbates the situation. I'm now on the sixth day of my hunger strike, with the demand that the prison authorities stop putting pressure on me by means of the other convicts. The administration is ignoring the hunger strike. There is no word from the prosecutor's office and rights defenders of the region. I intend to continue the hunger strike, as I see no other way of inducing the administration to negotiate. Without any reasons being declared, I am deprived of all phone calls, but will take any opportunity to report on myself and my dear IK-28.

Masha Alyokhina
Perm Region


"Ситуация в колонии тяжелая. Всех осужденных, которые живут или работают рядом со мной, закрывают на замок, что лишает их возможности получить медицинскую помощь и обостряет обстановку. Я голодаю на данный момент 6-е сутки с требованием прекратить оказывать давление на меня посредством других осужденных. Администрация голодовку игнорирует. Прокуратура и праврозащитники региона не дают о себе знать. Я намерена голодать дальше, так как другого способа побудить администрацию к переговорам я не вижу. Я лишена всех звонков без объявления причин, но по возможности буду сообщать о себе и дорогой мне ИК-28.

Маша Алехина
Пермский край


Sunday, May 26, 2013

From Soviet dissent to Bolotnaya protest - 2



The double bind that converted Soviet dissent into Reaganesque conservatism began to unravel slightly when the second half of the 1980s ushered in the period of perestroika and glasnost, though there were still vast areas of almost complete misunderstanding. With Gorbachev's rehabilitation and release of political prisoners in 1988, Western media began to talk as though the repression was finally over, and a mood of exaggerated Western optimism vis-à-vis Russia and Eastern Europe took hold. Keith Gessen quotes from Paul Berman's A Tale of Two Utopias on a visit Frank Zappa made to Czechoslovakia in 1989
which came to represent for the author the yawning gap between the cultures. "You've been living with secret police for a long time," Zappa told an adoring crowd of time-frozen hippies in Prague. "It will take Americans a while to realize that we have them, too."
1989 also saw the rebirth of the Moscow Helsinki Group, which had been dissolved in 1982 when because of arrests and repressions its membership was reduced to three. But many in the West wondered why this re-establishment was necessary - surely the old order had irrevocably changed, and there was no more need for such an organization?

What Western observers did not understand at the time was that the changes in Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union were not in themselves political -- rather, they represented a huge shift in the consciousness of large numbers of people in a part of the world where freedom of speech and freedom of movement had been denied for countless decades, and where now for the first time in almost a century, hope seemed possible.  At a political level, the changes were not significant -- even under Yeltsin, many of the old Soviet government apparatchiks retained positions of power and influence, and the Soviet secret security and intelligence service, the KGB, which in 1991 had appeared to be dismantled,  reconstituted itself first in 1993 as the FSK, and then in 1995 as the FSB. While on the surface of things a degree of openness and relative civic freedom came to Russian society throughout the 1990s, the basic practice of terror against opponents of the regime remained unaltered, though now it was implemented not primarily through the courts and the judicial system (that method has since returned) but directly, by means of shootings and assassinations. During the first post-Soviet decade over a hundred reporters and journalists were killed in such circumstances, and although not all the deaths can be attributed to their investigative work and publications, many did have such a connection.

The war in Chechnya, which began in 1994, saw the work of the rights defenders extend to the arena of military conflict, and there was the spread of a perception that the extreme brutality of the Russian forces against the civilian population of the North Caucasus was a demonstration of the officially sanctioned violence that lurked beneath the surface of life in the rest of the Federation. Meanwhile, the authorities took advantage of the fear that was aroused by events like Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis and the 1999 apartment bombings -- the authorities presented themselves as the guarantors of social stability and order, and the first Putin presidency was ushered in.

Although the Soviet dissident movement had ceased to exist, in the new circumstances of a transitional Russia, where elements of the past coexisted uneasily with modernizing tendencies, the true nature of the movement became clear. It had not been a political movement - after the fall of Communism very few dissidents returned to Russia, and those who did mostly failed to take positions of power in the political system. In his correspondence with his sister, Keith Gessen points to the real nature of the movement, by summarizing the ultimate stance and message of one of its most prominent figures, asserting that
what remains of dissidence is what needs no real-world reference to make sense. You know what I would do? I'd start with Solzhenitsyn, with the Gulag Archipelago, the great monument to the immensity of will it took, the evil Solzhenitsyn saw in that regime, and I would ask: the archipelago is gone, the people whose memories this draws upon are dead, Solzhenitsyn is a silly and despised old man--what still remains here that is living truth? And most of it, I think, does. Solzhenitsyn is talking about the camps, of course, but in the context of a life. That scene at the beginning, when he's being taken to Lubyanka and he's taking the escalator up out of the metro, and he can see and touch all the people on their daily commute, who are not being taken to Lubyanka., but who do nothing to help him, who don't even notice-what an astounding metaphor for urban life, or just life, for the crowds of people who walk by us each day without pausing to notice. And there's another line I stumbled across somewhere in the depths of volume seven: "the sad thing is: we'll all die, eventually, without having done anything worth the doing of it."
In the new protest movement that had its inception in the Bolotnaya Square demonstration of May 6 2012,  this "context of a life" - the principle and practice of individual protest that is not a political program but a statement that draws its collective power from the perception of a shared humanity - is what is uppermost. Above all, it is a movement to support the right of people to live their lives peacefully in the way that they choose, for better or worse, without intrusion and coercion by the State, and find their way towards a better way of living together. As Hufvudstadsbladet's Moscow correspondent Anna-Lena Laurén pointed out in relation to Pussy Riot:
Pussy Riot are a feminist performance group who are not interested in PR or making money. They are interested in changing Russia. This means that their activities are concentrated in Russia and they rarely travel abroad. They never announce where they are going to be in advance. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

LGBT rallies broken up in Moscow

OMON police broke up three LGBT demonstrations in Moscow today and arrested many of the participants, who were also beaten by hostile bystanders. reports. (Photo: Yuri Timofeev/ Video here (@dmitryhorse)

From Soviet dissent to Bolotnaya protest


In order to understand the present situation in Russia with regard to social protest, human rights, the growing censorship of media and the steady increase in violent repression by the authorities, I believe it is necessary to look at the history of the Soviet dissident movement and its post-1991 evolution. In a series of recent posts I attempted to summarize Ludmila Alexeyeva's history of the movement as it appears in a section of her important book История инакомыслия в СССР (1983). What emerges from her carefully documented account is an enormous panoply of groups and individuals, many with widely differing views, yet united in their opposition to the cynicism and amorality of the Soviet regime, and their determination to hold it to the legal standards it professed on paper yet ignored in practice. Above all, Alexeyeva's history provides the basis of a proper explanation of why in the post-Soviet period so few figures in the dissident movement took positions of influence in the new governments that were established after the fall of Communism, and why in Russia no process of "lustration" - the government process regulating the participation of former security police agents in successor positions - took place, as it did the ex-satellite countries of Eastern Europe.

In their published correspondence entitled What Became of the Soviet Dissidents? (2002) Keith and Masha Gessen have discussed some of the attributes and circumstances of the dissident movement in a way that exposes one of its central features: its location in two separate geographical and ideological/cultural regions, commonly called "East" and "West". While the Soviet dissidents were cultural and social non-conformists, in political terms they had little in common with their counterparts in the West, the radicals of the 1960s and 70s. While Western radicals conceived their protest as a political act, for the Soviet dissidents resistance to the prevailing order took an essentially moral form. In this there was a fundamental clash, for while among the youth of the West political action was greatly valued, enjoying a high degree of respect, in the East it was viewed by most people with mistrust, as the language and practice of repression. In the West, on the other hand, the concept of morality had come to be equated with "bourgeois morality", which was rejected in favor of new cultural and social norms. So there was little room for mutual understanding in these two important areas. While the political protesters of the West were eagerly exploited for propaganda purposes by the Soviet authorities, in the West the dissidents were championed mainly by right-wing politicians. In his remarkable essay Exiles on Main Street, which forms the starting-point for the correspondence, Keith Gessen explains some of the tensions and the sense of incongruity: have a man dressed in an aging checkered sweater, over whose chair hangs a beige corduroy jacket with brown leather patches at the elbows, who is constantly smoking (Benson & Hedges), whose face radiates intelligence and skepticism and tolerance in the greatest tradition of the Left – to have such a man tell you he supported Reagan is remarkable! And then again, not so remarkable. Reagan was just entering office when we came over, and for the entire generation that arrived in the late seventies and eighties he will forever symbolize the welcoming arms that met us, the astounding difference of this new world. While the liberals shucked, shawed, and prattled on about universal health care in the USSR, Reagan believed us! Not only that, he was willing to act on this belief: he so hated the evil empire (how evil, we well knew) that he would plunge the country into debt, ship arms behind the back of Congress, bring us to brink of armed conflict to beat them!
This strange yet logical disparity, this almost surrealistic juxtaposition of two entirely different assessments of reality, is probably at the root of much of the bewilderment that is still felt both by radicals in the West  and by oppositionists in Russia today when seeking to understand the protests of the past and present day on either side. For the Soviet dissidents were not, as is commonly believed in the West, a few courageous voices in the wilderness crying out in isolation - they were only the most audible voices, the tip of a very large iceberg, a social and cultural stratum that underlay almost the whole of Soviet society, from bottom to top, and was instrumental in the Soviet system's downfall.  The leaders, like Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Yesenin-Volpin, Brodsky and others, were not political figures in any accepted sense - indeed, their work went far beyond political activism and involved social, historical, literary, intellectual, biographical and cultural factors that are often hard to pin down. Yet in spite of all the internal divisions, the apolitical arena and the frequent displays of personal rancour, the strength of the movement's resistance remained.

(to be continued)

Pussy Riot in Finland

Via Yle: 
Two members of the Russian political performance group Pussy Riot are in Helsinki for this weekend's World Village Festival.
The women are in Finland to talk about the status of political prisoners in Russia and to plug their new book on human rights. It’s a manifesto entitled A Punk Prayer for Freedom of Speech.
They are to appear onstage at the free festival in Kaisaniemi Park at 11am Saturday with the popular Finnish female duo PMMP, who recently said they will end their career this year.


Weekend performances in Helsinki by two members of the Russian political performance group Riot Pussy, as well as scheduled interviews, have been cancelled. Concerns for their safety seem to have led to the cancellations.

Update: According to Yekaterina Samutsevich, interviewed by Hbl  in Moscow, a performance by the two Pussy Riot members at  the Maailma kylässä festival in Helsinki was never planned, as Pussy Riot does not perform outside Russia, and doesn't announce its performances in advance: 
– Det stämmer att två av våra medlemmar har åkt till Finland. De skulle träffa stödtrupper och delta i utgivningen av en bok. Men det var aldrig meningen att de skulle stå på scen. Det måste vara ett missförstånd, säger Jekaterina Samtusevitj i en Hbl-intervju i Moskva.
Hon är mycket förvånad över att de finländska arrangörerna över huvud taget har tänkt sig att de båda Pussy Riot-medlemmarna skulle delta i ett evenemang som offentliggörs i förväg.
– Pussy Riot fungerar enligt helt andra regler. Vi meddelar aldrig i förväg var vi är och vad vi gör. Dessutom står vi enbart på scen i Ryssland för det är det här landet vi vill påverka och förändra. Jag förstår inte alls hur det här missförståndet kunde ha uppstått, säger Samutsevitj.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Shield of Achilles

by Tomas Venclova

The Shield of Achilles

To Joseph Brodsky

I speak alone that on the nerves' taut screen
I shall see clearly now, as once you used to,
The key lying there beside the empty ashtray,
These reailings by the chapels built of stone.
You weren't wrong: all's just as it is here.
For now. Even the scope of the imagination.
The same descent of kilometres to the shore-line
   Where still the sea

Hears both of us. Beneath the green leafed roof
Gleam,almost as before, the heavy lampshades.
The different tempi that impel the clock's hands
Are far more dangerous than the bitter wave
Between us. Moving far in space's grip
You grow as distant as the Greeks, as strange as
The Medeans. In shame we've stayed, we others,
   On board this ship

Which is not safe, not even for the rats.
And if one looks well, then one realises:
This is no ship, but brick walls, bright roofs, troubles,
A date that all too frequently comes round -
In fact, maturity. This tutelage
Sinks into all our brains. Expanses,
Each day growing emptier, would have come to blind us,
   If by the verge

Where, vertical, the rain hovers and roves
A solemn vault of sound had not arisen,
Almost annihilated in this sudden summer,
But giving us the blessed manacles
That probably coincide with, fit the soul -
Exalt and burn, defining outlines, forming,
Because our heaven and our terra firma
   Are in voice, all.

Peace be to you. To you and me, both, peace.
Let it be dark. Abd let the seconds hurtle.
Through densest space, that dream of many layers,
I read each character your pen's released.
Whole cities disappear. In nature's stead,
A whitge shield, counterweight to non-existence.
In its enrgraving both our different eras
   Lie double-etched

(Were there but happiness and strength enough!)
As though in water. Or, put more precisely,
As though in emptiness. Waves beat the beach-head,
Distintegrate the mobile sketch. The squares
Of windows gleam with blackness. Late in dreams
The heated air seeps slowly through the glass panes.
Beyond the towers, a motor faintly rasping,
    And into me

Roll day and hours. You see, between each chime,
The bell's blind swing inside its belfry.
Till the foundations answer its peal dully
There flows an endless interval of time.
The portals quiver, tautened by the beat,
And archway signals out to neighbouring archway,
And souls and contintents call out to one another
    In living night.

A dirty gloom wnshrouds the sails, and sticks.
The sodden quay exhales a pungent vapour.
You see Thermopylae, having seen Troy earlier -
The shield is given to you. You are a rock.
The pillars set above this permanence
Impact the wind with their scintillant metal,
Although the rock, too, stands near sham and swindle
     And wordlessness.

Entrusting to each one of us our fates
You cross now to the level of remembrance.
But every mment that exists, exists twice.
Wee accompanied by a double light
Inside the ring that days, nights tighten more.
Low tide. On sand the ebb's pools glisten.
Boat, stone don't yet look different on the coastline,
     The empty shore.

(translated by David McDuff with the author) 

               Night Descended On Us With A Chill

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Alyokhina Interview

Two months ago Fiona Cook interviewed Maria Alyokhina via webcam for Dazed magazine. In the interview Alyokhina talks about what she sees as the widespread misunderstanding of Pussy Riot's activities, and explains her  views on social protest and art. The link to the video is here:

Alyokhina forced to accept defence lawyer

At the Berezniki City Court parole hearing today, Maria Alyokhina was forced to accept a defence lawyer to represent her against her will - but the lawyer, Evgeny Bardin, has said he cannot represent Alyokhina's interests without her consent, and without her participation in the hearing. In spite of this, Judge Shagalov has told him he must act for Alyokhina, and after a short recess the hearing has gone ahead, with the head of the unit inside the penal colony where Alyokhina is held outlining the breaches of prison discipline with which she is charged: these are 1) Not keeping her bed tidy 2) Not wearing a headscarf while using the sewing machine 3) Writing a letter during dinner.

The court is now in recess. A judgment on Alyokhina's parole is due to be given at 17.30.

Update: reports that parole has been denied.

This is the second day of Maria Alyokhina's hunger strike.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Two Letters

To The Berezniki City Court, Perm Region,
Russian Federation

It has come to my notice that the Berezniki City Court of Perm Region is to consider a request for conditional early release in connection with Maria Vladimirovna Alyokhina, who is currently serving her sentence at the FKU IR-28 of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service in the Perm Region.

I cannot justify the actions of those who took part in the demonstration in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, but I think that the further incarceration of Maria Alyokhina in a penal colony is harmful both for Alyokhina and for society as a whole, as it contributes to an atmosphere of intolerance and will  lead to a split and radicalization of society.

Regardless of Maria Alyokhina’s personal relation to the action, I see no legal foundation or practical sense in her further isolation from  the society to which she poses no real  danger.

The presence of Maria Alyokhina’s six year-old son, to whom every day of separation from his mother causes irreparable harm and suffering, is another strong argument in favor of Maria Alykhina’s early release.

I think there is a need to take note of the positive assessment of Alyokhina’s character given  by environmental organizations and the Orthodox Danilovtsy charity. They call her a kind and selfless person.

This leads one to hope that upon her release Maria Alyokhina will bring benefit to society - both as a caring mother and as a participant in ecological and charity work.

I am convinced of the need for Maria Alyokhina to be given parole, and I therefore ask the Berezniki City Court to show humanity and compassion for the fate of the imprisoned woman, her son and her family and I appeal to the court to grant her conditional early release.

Archpriest Alexey Anatolievich Uminsky
Dean of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Khokhly
Moscow, Khokhlovsky Pereulok 12

[my translation. DM]

Мне стало известно, что Березниковским городским судом Пермского края будет рассматриваться ходатайство об условно-досрочном освобождении в отношении осужденной Алехиной Марии Владимировны, которая в настоящее время отбывает наказание в ФКУ ИК-28 ГУФСИН России по Пермскому краю.

Я не могу оправдать действия участниц акции в Храме Христа Спасителя, но считаю, что дальнейшее отбывание Алехиной М.В. наказания в виде лишения свободы в исправительной колонии общего режима вредно как для Алехиной М.В., так и для общества в целом, поскольку способствует атмосфере нетерпимости и ведет к расколу и радикализации общества.
Вне зависимости от личного отношения к поступку Алехиной М.В., я не вижу законных оснований и практического смысла в ее дальнейшей изоляции от общества как не представляющей никакой реальной опасности.

Наличие у Алехиной М.В. 6-летнего сына, которому каждый день разлуки с матерью наносит непоправимый урон и страдания, является еще одним веским аргументом в пользу необходимости применения к Марии Алехиной условно-досрочного освобождения.
Я считаю необходимым принять к сведению положительные характеристики, данные Алехиной природоохранными организациями и православным благотворительным движением "Даниловцы". Ее называют добросердечным и самоотверженным человеком. Это позволяет надеяться на то, что, выйдя на свободу, Мария Алехина будет приносить пользу обществу - и как заботливая мать, и как участник экологической и благотворительной деятельности.

Я убежден в необходимости условно-досрочного освобождения Марии Алехиной, в связи с чем прошу Березниковский городской суд проявить гуманизм и сострадание к судьбе лишенного свободы человека, ее сына и близких и ходатайствую перед судом о применении к осужденной Алехиной М.В. условно-досрочного освобождения.

Протоиерей Алексей Анатольевич Уминский
настоятель Храма Святой Живоначальной Троицы в Хохлах
Москва, Хохловский переулок 12


To The Berezniki City Court, Perm Region,
Russian Federation

Monday 13th May 2013

Re: Maria Alyokhina

I am writing with regard to the release on parole petition of Maria Alyokhina now serving her sentence at the FKU IK-28 of the city of Berezniki, Pem Region, Russian Federation. 

I believe that further imprisonment of Maria Alyokhina is harmful both for her and for all those who are following her situation. To keep her incarcerated will help to divide society even further. 

Maria is a positive, generous person committed to making the world a better place in part through protest art, feminist ideals and the protection of the environment. She has also assisted social activists and worked hard to defend the rights and freedoms of individuals. 

Many people all over the world are watching what happens to Maria, and I ask you please to consider treating her with compassion, and justice is seen to be done. 

Thank you for considering this request.

Peter Gabriel

Update: Paul McCartney has written letters to Russian officials in support of Pussy Riot.

Alyokhina declares hunger strike

BEREZNIKI (Perm Territory), May 22 (RAPSI) - Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina has gone on a hunger strike after The Berezniki City Court in the Perm Territory denied her access to the hearing of her parole appeal.
Alyokhina takes part in the proceedings via videoconference. After being denied transportation to the courthouse, she refused to continue the conference and barred her defense team from representing her interests. Immediately after that court postponed the hearings until Thursday.

Alyokhina denied access to parole hearing

11:11 22/05/2013
BEREZNIKI (Perm Territory), May 22 (RAPSI) - The Berezniki City Court in the Perm Territory has denied Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina's request to attend the hearing of her appeal for parole, RIA Novosti reports on Wednesday.
In response to this decision, Alyokhina has filed for the judge [NB should be "prosecutor" DM] [to] be replaced. .html


Alyokhina's plea for the prosecutor to be replaced was refused.

Radio Svoboda has a live video feed from the courtroom on this page:

RS reports that Alyokhina has declared a hunger strike, and because of many procedural irregularities she and her lawyers have ceased cooperation with the court.

The hearing is adjourned until 10 am tomorrow, May 23.

Gruppa voina says that Alyokhina will end her hunger strike if the court allows her to take part in the hearing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Luke Harding, on the collapse of the Litvinenko inquest (The Interpreter)

Masha Gessen, on why she is leaving Russia (The Lumière Reader)

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, on late capitalism, in correspondence with Slavoj Žižek  (The New Times - Russian)

Dexter Filkins, on the internal White House debate over Syria (The New Yorker)

David Satter, on what the Russians really knew about the Tsarnaev brothers (National Review Online)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Soviet Dissent - 6

The remainder of Ludmila Alexeyeva's discussion of the rights movement shows that 1977 was a kind of watershed for it. After the metro bombing the repression by the authorities became systematic and all-embracing: while the number of arrests and harsh sentences increased markedly, the exile of Andrei Sakharov to Gorky and the conditions of house arrest under which he was held there meant that the movement was deprived of one of its most cogent, moderate and internationally respected adherents. The demographics of the movement itself began to change: in place of the literary, philosophical, humanities-based background of many of the earlier pravozashchitniki, the context of the new generation was predominantly a scientific and technical one, and lacked the bohemian flair of the 60s intelligentsia. Thew author's account ends in late 1982-early 1983. By then the post-Stalin Soviet state had entered what was probably its darkest period - the illusions of détente were giving way to a general deterioration of relations between the USSR and the United States, the U.S. plans to deploy Pershing missiles in Western Europe in response to the Soviet SS-20s met with aggressive hostility on the part of Moscow, and it was at this period that Ronald Reagan coined the phrase "the evil empire".

In retrospect it is possible to see that the darkness was to some extent manufactured - a tactical maneuver by the Soviet government and its special services. After Andropov's death in 1983 the blackout persisted for a year or so during the retrograde Brezhnev-like presidency of Chernenko, and then began to show the odd flicker of light as the cracks in the system became more apparent, even to a few observers in the West. But the dissident movement continued its underground action, for even in the first year of Gorbachev's presidency a figure like the poet Irina Ratushinskaya was still being held in a Soviet labour camp, and was not released until 1986.

With the collapse of the USSR in 1989, the situation of the rights movement changed - but the precise nature of the change has yet to be defined. In a future post I will try to outline what I see as the differences between the protest movements of the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, and also the features that to some extent unite them.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sochi minus snow

Интересно, что во время телемоста Сочи — Ванкувер Владимир Путин отдельно затронул тему практически бесснежной зимы на восточном побережье Канады, не упустив при этом возможности сказать, что в Сочи в горах, там, где будут проходить соревнования по горным лыжам, снега сейчас достаточно. При этом шли кадры, как три ратрака укатывают снежную целину под живописной вершиной. Эти кадры вызвали у сочинцев множество вопросов. Дело в том, что в Сочи сейчас со снегом ровно та же беда, что и в Ванкувере, — его нет ни внизу у моря, ни в горах. Только на самых высоких вершинах, высотой более 2500 метров над уровнем моря, кое-где белеют снежные шапки. Например, вчера в Сочи температура воздуха днем поднималась до плюс 14 — 15 градусов, а в горном поселке Красная Поляна, в окрестностях которого строятся олимпийские горнолыжные трассы, биатлонный комплекс, трамплины, санно-бобслейная трасса и другие объекты Игр, воздух прогрелся до плюс 12.

It is interesting that during the Sochi-Vancouver teleconference Vladimir Putin touched separately on the subject of the almost snowless winters of Canada's east coast, not missing the opportunity to say that in the mountains of Sochi, where the alpine skiing events will take place, there is enough snow right now. This was accompanied by shots of three snowcats rolling away across the virgin snow under a picturesque summit. These shots provoked many questions among Sochi residents. The fact is that in Sochi right now where snow is concerned the problem is exactly the same as in Vancouver - there is none either down by the sea or up in the mountains. Only on the highest peaks, at a height of over 2500 meters above sea level are there white snow caps here and there. For example, yesterday in Sochi the daytime temperature rose to plus 14 - 15 degrees, while in the mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana, near where the Olympic ski trails, biathlon complex, jumps, bobsleigh track and other facilities for the Games are being constructed, the air warmed up to plus 12.

Vremya Novostei, February 15 2010

Friday, May 17, 2013

Litvinenko inquest: crucial evidence to remain secret

Via the Guardian
The foreign secretary applied for a PII certificate on 7 February. He argued that if secret evidence were revealed it might damage "national security and/or international relations". He gave no further details.
Ben Emmerson QC, acting for Marina Litvinenko, vehemently opposed Hague's request and accused the government of a "cover-up". He said Hague and David Cameron were seeking to suppress material not for reasons of intelligence but so as not to damage Britain's trade interests with Moscow. The government, he told the hearing, was in effect "dancing to the Russian tarantella".

Soviet Dissent - 5

As Alexeyeva continues to chronicle and analyze the various phases of the protest movement, she encounters from time to time an uncertainty that is reflected in the three words "инакомыслящий", "диссидент" and "правозащитник". In her account, "инакомыслщий" is mainly a general term that can be used of anyone whose opinions differ from those of official policy - thus even nineteenth century authors like Pushkin and Dostoevsky could be called "инакомыслящие", while "диссидент" is a more modern term, applied mainly to the individual writers, thinkers and publicists who set themselves in opposition to Soviet power. "Правозащитник" refers to the rights defenders, those who have studied the Soviet penal and legal code and use their knowledge of it in order, among other things, to hold the authorities to account.

In the sections that follow the book discusses the development of the Chronicle of Current Events, and its role in tracking and documenting the legal cases before the Soviet courts, in providing material, personal and financial support for sentenced and convicted rights defenders and in shaping the public protest actions that gradually became more numerous both in Moscow and Leningrad, and beyond. A section is devoted to the establishment of the Moscow Helsinki monitoring group, and there is a pointed discussion of the momentous tamizdat publication of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. Already evident here are the divisions that opened up between different wings of the movement, the national-patriotic views of Solzhenitsyn clashing, for example, with the internationalism of the Sakharovs. However, Alexeyeva is at pains to emphasize the essential unity of the protest, and keeps the activities and writings of the nationalists separate, in a special chapter.

The Kremlin authorities tried by every means in their power to discredit the growing opposition movement. A significant moment was reached on January 8, 1977, with the Moscow metro bombing*. That blast, like the others that occurred in the capital that day, was eventually blamed on Armenian nationalists. But as Andrei Sakharov pointed out, there were suspicions that the explosions might have been the work of someone else  Without directly charging the KGB with responsibility for the attacks, Sakharov wrote:
"I have serious grounds for concern. There is the provocative article in the London Evening News by Victor Louis. There are the arrests and interrogations of people who are clearly not related to the bombings. There are the murders of recent months, probably committed by the KGB. which were not investigated. It is enough to mention only two of them: the murder of the poet Konstantin Bogatyrev and the murder of the lawyer Evgeni Brunov."
*On a topical note: some commentators have noted that the explosive device in the 1977 metro bombing was of a homemade type (manufactured from a cooking utensil and black powder) similar to the ones that were used in the Boston attacks of April 15, 2013.

Soviet Dissent - 1
Soviet Dissent - 2
Soviet Dissent - 3
Soviet Dissent - 4
Soviet Dissent - 5

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alyokhina prepared to hunger strike

Sentenced Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina is prepared to go on a hunger strike if she is not allowed to present in person at a hearing appealing for her release on parole, her associate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said Thursday on Facebook.
The hearing is set for May 22 at the Berezniki City Court in the Perm Territory, which is trying to deprive Alyokhina of her right to present, the post reads. An application against the efforts to keep Alyokhina in prison that day has been filed with the judicial and penitentiary authorities.

Soviet Dissent - 4

Underlining the literary nature of the rights defending movement, in 1965-66 the authors Andrei Sinyavsky (Abram Tertz) and Yuli Daniel (Nikolai Arzhak) were tried and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment  for works of fiction - short stories and novellas - they had written and then published in the West. The charges related to "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda", though the prosecution had difficulty in proving intent to do harm, and after the trial additional clauses had to be added to the penal code. Alexeyeva points out that while the rights defending movement had hitherto been largely the concern of the young, this trial drew the attention of a much wider cross-section of Soviet society, including the middle-aged, middle-class technological sector.  

Another feature of the trial was the letter-writing campaign begun by Yuli Daniel's wife, Larisa Bogoraz. Initially the letters  to representatives of the authorities, in particular the public prosecutor, were private and signed by her alone, like the letters that had earlier been written by others in support of Pasternak and Brodsky. As time went on, however, more signatories joined her, until the public "open letter" was born. After the harsh sentences passed on dissidents like Alexander Ginzburg, Yuri Galanskov, Vera Lashkova, Alexander Dobrovolsky, Vladimir Bukovsky, Viktor Khaustov and others, such letters were signed by as many as 700 people, most of whom fell victim to repression of various kinds: exclusion from the Communist Party and expulsion from university followed by loss of employment.

The rights defenders began to adopt other methods of exerting pressure on the authorities, including the circulation of petitions. Alexeyeva comments that the petitions against re-Stalinization and repressive judicial decisions were an indication that the USSR was beginning a transition from a totalitarian state to an authoritarian one - the petition had been an instrument used by the pre-1917 opposition in Russia, and its reintroduction suggested a return to earlier methods of democratic resistance.

The protests against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 developed the rights movement even further - Alexeyeva likens it to the growth of mushrooms. In Andrei Amalrik the movement acquired its first "specialist" in making contacts with supporters in the West: the institution of tamizdat was born, not only bringing in previously unavailable foreign texts but also books by Russian-language authors: Alexeyeva lists works by Sakharov and Amalrik, Anatoly Marchenko's My Testimony, Vasily Grossman's Forever Flowing, Lidiya Chukovskaya's Moscow to the End of the Line, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward and The First Circle, and poetry by Iosif Brodsky, among others.  
Soviet Dissent - 1
Soviet Dissent - 2
Soviet Dissent - 3

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Soviet Dissent - 3

In her discussion of the Soviet dissident movement Alexeyeva places an initial emphasis on two central points:

1) The movement is properly defined as a правозащитное движение - literally, "rights (or law) defending movement". This name was entirely new and original: Alexeyeva notes that it came neither from the Russian traditions of constitutional democracy as practiced by the pre-1917 KD (Kadets), nor from the international human rights movement - instead, it described the experience and aspirations of  people who had spent their lives in conditions of "lawless actions (беззаконий), cruelty and the trampling of the individual in the 'interests of the collective', or for the sake of 'the bright future of all mankind'." The situation and actions of the rights defenders were characterized by Andrei Amalrik as the expression of "something brilliantly simple: they began to behave as free people in  a country that was not free and by doing so to change the moral atmosphere and the tradition that governed the country." [my tr.] Thus, the rights defending movement was not a political movement, but a moral one. This enabled it to encompass national, ethnic, social, economic and religious borders and to reach out across them to the USSR as a whole and to the world beyond.

2) The movement had its roots in Russian and Soviet literature: the work of authors like Vladimir Dudintsev, Ilya Ehrenburg, Alexander Tvardovsky and Boris Pasternak created the moral and aesthetic context for much of the writing that appeared in the journal Novy Mir throughout 1960s, including the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Of primary importance, however, were the home-produced, clandestine publications of samizdat, which embraced not only civic texts but also many literary works, both Russian and foreign, that were banned from official circulation. The output of samizdat contained  a strong component of  poetry, which took its inspiration from an earlier twentieth century tradition of инакомыслие centering on poets who included Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva and Osip Mandelstam. While figures like Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky dominated the official poetry scene, with occasional nods to the dissidents, the work of Iosif Brodsky was perhaps the best-known part of an enormous underground proliferation of  poems by many different and often anonymous authors. Because of the relative conciseness of the medium of poetry, these texts could easily be committed to memory, thus bypassing the need for typing and printing. The poems were also frequently set to music and sung to the accompaniment of a guitar, which extended their availability and popularity. This literary work was able to express and convey the ideals of the rights defenders in a form that was far more attractive than the texts of civic documents.

Soviet Dissent - 1
Soviet Dissent - 2

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Soviet Dissent - 2

Alexeyeva's book is essentially divided into three equal parts, which deal with the Soviet national movements, the religious movements and the human rights movement, with the addition of chapters on the socialists, the social-economic protest and the Russian national movement. Of the three main parts, it is the section on the human rights movement which most closely corresponds to a history of what in the West has come to be known as the "Soviet dissident movement".

It's significant that the word  диссидентство (dissidence) doesn't figure in the book's title, which opts for the more general term инакомыслие (literally "heterodoxy"), rendered by the English translators as "dissent" (несогласие). This leaves the way open for discussion of movements which less related to human rights and more to freedom of thought and belief, such as the religious ones.

The methods of chronicling and historical analysis adopted in the book are for the most part strictly factual and statistical. The author's personal view of the events and crises that are described and listed, though present, is not prominent, and the principal focus is on accuracy and detail, with the inclusion of as many movements, groups, societies and individuals as possible, giving rise to an extensive work that runs to nearly 400 pages in the Russian edition, and more than 500 in the English one.

The first third of the book is devoted to a history of the ethnic-national protest movements in the republics of the USSR, including Ukraine, the Baltics, Armenia, Georgia and Crimea, the Jewish refuseniks, the ethnic Meskhetians, and the Soviet Germans. The section that follows deals with religious movements - Baptists, Pentecostalists, Seventh Day Adventists and Russian Orthodox - and it is not until page 205 that we arrive at a historical account of the dissidents most familiar to Western readers: figures such as Brodsky, Sinyavsky, Daniel, Gorbanevskaya, Amalrik, Bukovsky and so on.

Soviet Dissent -1

Monday, May 13, 2013

Soviet Dissent - 1

During a recent discussion of the Bolotnaya Square May 6 rally and the difficulty of determining the precise nature and composition of the various Russian opposition groups, I was reminded of similar debates about the Soviet dissident movement several decades ago. As many observers have pointed out, that movement, too, was not a coherent, united one, and could not be likened to a political party with a unifying ideology, program and strategy. The problems for historians trying to map out the structure and internal dynamics of the dissident movement are formidable, and it’s perhaps not surprising that Ludmila Alexeyeva’s История инакомыслия в СССP (published in English in 1985 as Soviet Dissent) still remains the only major study of the subject, though it stops at 1983, and the English edition is now out of print. The Russian text can be accessed online at several locations, including this one.

In future posts I'm going to discuss this book, and consider how its historical account of the dissident movement may be relevant to present-day conditions in the Russian Federation. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Brzezinski on Syria

In a Time article headed Intervention Will Only Make It Worse, Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that

broader regional fighting could bring the U.S. and Iran into direct conflict, a potentially major military undertaking for the U.S. A U.S.-Iran confrontation linked to the Syrian crisis could spread the area of conflict even to Afghanistan. Russia would benefit from America’s being bogged down again in the Middle East. China would resent U.S. destabilization of the region because Beijing needs stable access to energy from the Middle East.

Read more:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Parody and Propaganda

This Pravda article, which quotes an "expert" in the Russian security services as saying that the Tsarnaev brothers were probably enticed with money and then "set up" in an FBI plot to make the Boston bombings look like an al-Qaeda terrorist attack, gives the unmistakable impression of a not-so-subtle parody: the parodied text is a generic one - the reports in Russian opposition media and among Western sources that have in the past suggested the FSB's involvement in the 1999 apartment bombings. The piece's tit-for-tat approach is striking, to say the least.

Dissidence and Division

In her Minding Russia blog Catherine Fitzpatrick discusses the conflicted nature of the political opposition in Russia, and points out that it is indeed entirely natural:
Long ago I said to myself -- hey, it's their country, they are going to do what they want and I'm not required here except to show solidarity as appropriate to what is appropriate. I think the frenzy that people like [Kevin] Rothrock get into over the Russian opposition is in part driven by the notion that if only they can incite enough indignation and even hatred, they will actually shame or compel people into changing -- either the opposition themselves, or their default supporters. They likely truly believe that Putin needs protection.
So hey, I get it about the opposition.  They're no angels; they have some iffy pasts; they are not effective; they fight among themselves; blah blah blah. But you know something? So do people in the State Department, about what to do about Russia -- which strategy to use. And so do people in the European Union -- there are huge splits over the issue of whether you coddle or curb Russia, or whether you foster capitalism or socialism, and how, and the role of religion or the secular state. So it's not as if the rest of the world is in fact any better about the central problem at hand here, the figure of Putin, which is a construct of "the Kremlin," as in "that fortified place".
The post raises some basic issues about political and individual resistance in societies that are either totalitarian or are moving in the direction of totalitarianism. Meanwhile, the spectacle of Western indifference or hostility to opposition movements in Russia is not a new one: in a comment I noted that such lack of faith is frequently grounded in the often fragmented character of the opposition itself : after all,
there were similar divisions in the former Soviet dissident community - for example, between figures like Bukovsky, Brodsky, Venclova on the one hand and Etkind, Sinyavsky/Tertz, Medvedev, etc. on the other, though many other such splits existed. Some of the differences were probably personal, while others originated in issues of background, philosophy and outlook. Despite the superficial Western public perception of a unified Soviet dissident movement, the internal divisions were reflected in differences of approach among Western reporters, journalists and commentators, just as they are today where the Russian opposition is concerned. As Fitzpatrick makes clear in her post, however, now as then the divisions don't really matter: what matters is to "not break faith with people being sent to the GULAG".

Thursday, May 09, 2013

U.S. - Russia Relations After Boston - 2

North Caucasus analyst Alexander Cherkasov, interviewed by Vladimir Kara-Murza on Radio Svoboda's Grani vremeni programme:
Of course, the fact that the main issue in Russian-American relations might be a topic that isn't Syria at all ... but rather the Boston attack – has somehow, in my opinion, made the subject of the situation of NGOs in Russia even more relevant. Above all, the organizations that undertake independent expert studies – either the monitoring of civil rights, in particular, civil rights in the areas where counter-terrorism operations are underway, or the work with refugees like that done by Svetlana Gannushkina. The Boston terrorist attack is an event that everyone is trying to duck responsibility for. The Chechen authorities say it’s nothing to do with them, the bombers lived mostly in Central Asia and then in the States, and the one who did come to Russia went to Dagestan. The Russian authorities are washing their hands of the whole affair. I would point out that this is the second time in the last half-century when there has been a need for close cooperation between the two countries. The last occasion was the Kennedy assassination, when the Soviet Union had to provide information about the presence of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Soviet Union… At a time when the powers that be on all sides have interests of their own, only independent expert organizations like Human Rights Watch or Memorial can say how far this terrorist attack may be linked to the North Caucasus underground, or the Chechen sector of the North Caucasus underground. Right now we are seeing that those organizations that are working in the region more intensively are either being called "foreign agents" or are having every square inch of their activities minutely examined.
U.S.- Russia Relations After Boston

Udaltsov video

The Russian edition of Rolling Stone has posted a video that shows Sergei Udaltsov, the leftist opposition leader who now faces charges that could lead to life imprisonment, during the May 6 2012 demonstration on Bolotnaya Square. From the video it's clear that at this crucial point in the demonstration when the action began to get out of hand, far from urging the crowd on, Udaltsov is appealing to it to step back:

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


- Alexey Navalny's reflections on Monday's rally, in English.

- Boris Akunin, on how his speech at the rally in which he warned Russia's celebrities not to collaborate with the "police state" was misinterpreted - he was describing a possible future, not the present: 
1. In my speech I repeated several times that I was talking about the situation when Russia will finally turn into a police state.
So far the judicial reprisals have been fragmentary, spasmodic: the Yukos case, Pussy Riot. But now we await a wave of convictions (in the cases of Alexey Navalny and Aksana Panova, and the "May 6" case). And then our authoritarian state will move from a relatively herbivorous phase into one of primary cannibalism People with a name, with a reputation will, as previously, find it impossible to live in such a situation. Otherwise their name will remain, but they will have to say goodbye to their reputation.
2. I am not calling for a boycott of the state and all its institutions, for a rejection of state subsidies, state grants or state salaries. That money is all yours and mine, Putin won't get it out of his own pocket. He has the power, but not the state, which is not equivalent to the presidential administration and the Investigative Committee. A boycott of the state is something else entirely. It's a campaign of civil disobedience, the direct prologue to a revolution. Perhaps one day the situation will come to something like that, but that wasn't what I was talking about. And I was addressing some quite specific people.
- The Times (UK) writes about Boris Berezovsky's will. In The Interpreter, Alexander Goldfarb looks at Berezovsky's death in terms of theatre:
The interrelations inside and among the triangle of Sasha-Volodya-Boris, which ended with the polonium murder of Litvinenko and Berezovsky’s suicide on the banks of the Thames rise to the level of a Shakespearean drama not only because the backdrop includes untold wealth, the fate of the throne and the relations of states but because of the clash of characters and the play of passions; here there are loyalty, and betrayal, and revenge.
-  RFE/RL's Berlin correspondent Yury Veksler on the continuing topicality of Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Propaganda:
Nonetheless, Joseph Goebbels is probably the only one of the Nazi leaders whose legacy, alas, is still relevant today. Almost every authoritarian regime, in building up its propaganda system, voluntarily or involuntarily bases itself on the techniques and methods that were once developed and tested by Goebbels's ministry. It is fortunately true that since then the level of skill - and fanaticism - of most of the propagandists has clearly diminished. It is hard, for example, to imagine Joseph Goebbels saying the following: "I'm not really a liberal, but I don't know whether I'm a conservative either. I try not to attach myself anywhere: for the most part it doesn't matter, because I'm a member of the presidential administration, working for the head of state, and my convictions are my own business " These are the words of Vladislav Surkov, who enjoys the reputation of the main propagandist of the current Russian regime. Propaganda that is not much believed even by its own creators is unlikely to be truly effective. Here Dr. Goebbels might have a lot to tell.

Update: Surkov has been fired. Or did he resign of his own volition?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Bolotnaya - May 6

Among the events and speeches broadcast from the large and well-attended demonstration on Bolotnaya Square yesterday, the contributions by Alexei Navalny and Oleg Kashin stand out as particularly memorable. 

A complete English translation of Navalny's speech ( has been published by The Interpreter magazine. Excerpt:
I don’t have another country; I have nowhere to go. I don’t have another country. I don’t have another Moscow or another family or another people except you. And I don’t need anything else in fact except the support of my family, and your support, I am sure that like me, you won’t go away, and I congratulate you with the coming holiday of Victory [Day on May 9], a great victory.
I know, if our relatives and our ancestors at one time kicked out of the country those who wanted to enslave us with the force of arms, with tanks and planes, then our task is to free the country from those who want to enslave us, with the help of falsified ballots, with the help of sell-out journalists, and the help of crooks and thieves in police uniforms.
Oleg Kashin's rough and ready rendering of Yegor Letov's "Все идет по плану" was moving in its directness and passion, as was his concluding statement that
"Our leaders are not here and not under house arrest, our leaders are Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Letov".

Monday, May 06, 2013

May 6 Prisoners - Bolotnaya protest

Via Комитет 6 мая

6 may, Bolotnaya square

19 people are currently on trial with 12 of them being kept in Russian prisons, on charges of involvement in the “mass riots” on May 6, 2012. Ahead of them are unlawful trials which may result for them in many years of imprisonment.
So, what is, in fact, their crime?
On May 6, 2012, on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, dozens of thousands of people took part in a peaceful demonstration of protest in Moscow. This was the 7th mass manifestation of protest since the wave of political protest swept Russia in the aftermath of the December 2011 elections, which were marked by mass fraud. People went out into the streets to protest against the authoritarian political regime in their country, against corruption, arbitrariness of the authorities, and in defence of the fundamental human rights and freedoms. The protest rallies under democratic slogans were supported by a wide variety of political groups, yet the bulk of protesters were represented by politically unaffiliated rank-and file activists, ordinary citizens of Russia, young people.
On May 6 the police suddenly blocked the way to Bolotnaya square where the sanctioned rally was planned to take place, thus provoking a clash with the protesters. After that the police announced that the rally had been cancelled and immediately attacked the protesters, beginning to disperse them violently using truncheons and special equipment and weapons. As a result, approximately 600 people were illegitimately arrested, many had to spend the entire night in detention, several dozens were injured, with hundreds and thousands of other protesters leaving shocked and dazed by what had happened.
The criminal proceedings were, however, initiated neither against the police force, nor individual police officers, but against protesters who took part in the dispersed demonstration, with them facing charges of alleged involvement in “mass riots”. That blatant lies– recognising the culprits behind the violence as victims and declaring that their victims are criminals – became the response of the authorities to the peaceful protests against their own political fraud.
19 people were selected by the authorities at random from among the thousands of protesters, 12 of them were incarcerated for the duration of the inquiry. Their only guilt was their attempt to avail of their legitimate right to take part in a peaceful demonstration of protest and to defend people standing next to them from the brutal actions of the police.
The so-called “May 6 case” is a perfect proof of that the authoritarian ruling regime in Russia increasingly tends to resort to political repressions, resolved to stop at nothing, including forgery and election fraud, quite in the best traditions of the Stalinist era of terror.
If we want to stand up against the repressive onslaught of the authorities against civil society in Russia and to put an end to the lawless suppression of any manifestation of dissidence and opposition to the current Russian government, we first of all must struggle for an end to the May 6 repressions.
What we demand:
- release and complete legal rehabilitation of all those who are on trial in connection with the May 6 events, as well as compensation for both material and psychological injury sustained by them;
- just punishment for officials who were responsible for the crackdown on the peaceful demonstration, beatings and illegal arrests of some of the participants.
For this we will need the efforts of all concerned people not only in Russia, but all over the world. We ask you to disseminate information about what is happening in Russia, to address individual and collective letters of protest and appeals to the Russian authorities and diplomatic representatives, to organise protest actions and other actions of solidarity with the “May 6 prisoners”. People in other countries of the world can also help the victims of political repressions in Russia by demanding from their own governments and from international organizations to put pressure on the Russian authorities in order to prevent violations of the international human rights obligations on their part.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Freeman

Many of the articles in early issues of the Foundation for Economic Education's journal The Freeman still have a relatively modern resonance. In spite of their deep entanglement in the Cold War espionage and un-American activities debates of the day,some of the discussions of U.S.-Soviet relations in the August 1952 edition were still relevant more than 30 years later. Fascinating items include an appeal for an end to Western appeasement of the USSR by the double defector Igor Bogolepov (alias Ivar Nyman), with his account of how passive resistance could bring the Soviet system down if only there was co-operation with the resisters on the part of the West, and his "confession" about his own duplicitous behavior:
Thus, during the years 1923 to 1942, I was personally connected with the Communist business of selling to the West a false picture of an innocent, peace-loving, arch-progressive and democratic Soviet regime. At first I was none too pleased to be associated with this "operation confusion" carried out by my boss, Maxim Litvinov. But since it was impossible to live in the Soviet Union without somehow serving the Communist cause, I said to myself: "I might as well remain where I am, because if a real Communist takes my place here at the Foreign Office, then who is going to throw monkey wrenches into this monkey business?"
So I began to sabotage in my own field as my fellow-countrymen all around me were sabotaging in theirs. Although it was not in my power to alter Soviet strategy, I could at least try to make its execution less effective. I always overemphasized the legal or factual difficulties in the way of carrying out political moves. Or I tried to soften their effect. And whenever I was charged with conveying Soviet propaganda to the West, I did my best to make it as unfit for the Western mentality as possible. This was not difficult, since the censors were mostly sharp, uneducated boys from the Secret Police who preferred to have articles from Pravda, and other propaganda for home consumption only, translated into foreign languages with very little alteration. 

Saturday, May 04, 2013

U.S.- Russia Relations After Boston

In Novoye Vremya, three Russian political analysts are asked how the events surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers will affect Russia-U.S. relations [my tr.]:

Vyacheslav Nikonov, President of the "Politika" Foundation:

They will have a bad effect.  When I saw the reports  about Boston, I immediately thought that a "Chechen trace" would definitely be found.  It’s not for nothing that  Kadyrov was included on the "Magnitsky list" .

Igor Bunin, Director-General of the Center for Political Technologies:

The most significant thing is that  Russia immediately showed sympathy for the United States, and offered its moral support. I would draw  attention to the reaction of Putin, who immediately expressed his condolences and, having flown in [to Sochi] for a  U.S- Russia hockey tournament, organized a minute of silence. This was reminiscent of the situation on September 11  2001, when  Putin was one of the first [leaders] to support the United States in the fight against terrorism. And now, making use of the same theme, he  is trying to repair relations with the United States. Back then, however, the U.S. was able to provide real assistance in connection with  the Afghan "Northern Alliance"... with which our FSB had close ties ...

This time an offer of  assistance is more difficult, as it’s unclear how it should be expressed. Most probably, the suspects are linked to "Al-Qaeda". But the fact that they came from the Russian hinterland has almost no significance. For example. Osama bin Laden, the world’s biggest terrorist, came from Saudi Arabia, but the U.S. did not then sever relations with Saudi Arabia.

Dmitry Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center:

I don’t think relations between the U.S. and Russia will alter dramatically. In Russia there are very powerful circles that promote anti-Americanism. and in the United States there are those who deny the legitimacy of the current Russian government.

In America, the majority of public opinion doesn’t perceive what we call "Chechen and North Caucasus terrorism" as a problem of international terrorism. When people [in the West] talk about international terrorism, they’re referring to September 11, 2001 in New York, July 7, 2005 in London, March 11, 2004 in Madrid – they’re not talking about what has happened in Moscow and other Russian cities, such as the apartment bombings and subway terrorist attacks, they don’t see those as an international issue, but rather as a purely internal Russian one. The Russian leadership aims to see to it that that terrorists operating on Russian territory also qualify as international terrorists in the West.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Alexey Gaskarov

Today is a day of solidarity with Alexey Gaskarov, a Russian civic activist and member of the Opposition Coordinating Council.

On April 28 2013 Alexey Gaskarov was arrested in Moscow. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has charged him with taking part in a riot and using violence against a policeman on May 6 2012, when OMON (Russian riot police) attacked a peaceful demonstration.

On May 6 2012  Alexey was beaten up by police during an anti-Putin demonstration on Bolotnaya Square for intervening to help a demonstrator whom the police were dragging along the asphalt. Alexey filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee, but no criminal case against the officials responsible was opened.

Alexey Navalny writes:
But the Investigative Committee didn't forget about him. On April 28, 2013 he was seized on the street when he went out to the local pet store to buy food for his cat.
According to reports, Alexey is now being held in Moscow's SIZO-5 pretrial detention center.

Inside Out

In EDM, Mairbek Vatchagaev writes that "locating Tamerlan’s ideological trajectory in the North Caucasus may prove to be little more than a distraction." He points out that, with impaired links to Chechen culture, Tsarnaev appears to have been relatively isolated from the Chechen world, and probably picked up his Islamist views in Boston, from local Salafists. This would account for his hostility to U.S. Middle East policy, and his choice of the U.S., rather than Russia, as the target for a terrorist attack.

The article also draws attention to the fact that it was only some time after the Boston attack that the potential North Caucasus link began to be mentioned, giving the Moscow authorities an opportunity to become involved in the investigation:
In all this tragedy, Moscow seems to consider itself a winner. President Vladimir Putin said at a press conference that Russia had long sought cooperation from the US in the field of international terrorism ( There was more of a reprimand of the US in Putin’s words than an admission of Russia’s own guilt for the attack in Boston. Moscow interprets terrorism in quite broad terms and includes everyone who is dissatisfied with the Russian political system and seeks to secede from Russia.
It has been observed that one point not addressed in the piece - though raised obliquely in one passage - is the question of whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev might have been a Russian agent.

Meanwhile, an RFE/RL report considers the role social media may have played in interactions between Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his Kazakh college friends Dias Kadyrbaev and Azamat Tazhayakov:
The vKontakte post by Kadyrbaev is striking mostly because of its timing. When it was posted there had already been reports of a shoot-out that had left one suspect dead and another on the run, but at the time, most of the world -- perhaps including police -- would still not have been able to connect a name to the grainy image of suspect no. 2 being shown on television screens. Kadyrbaev though, had allegedly already known for up to nine hours.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Interpreter

From the About page of The Interpreter:
The Interpreter is a daily-updated online journal dedicated primarily to translating media from the Russian press and blogosphere into English.
Conceived as a kind of “Inopressa in reverse,” The Interpreter aspires to dismantle the language barrier that separates journalists, Russia analysts, policymakers, diplomats and interested laymen in the English-speaking world from the debates, scandals, intrigues and political developments taking place in the Russian Federation.

North Caucasus Situation - 2

In EDM, Valery Dzutsev has commentary on Kavkazskii Uzel's interview with Emil Pain:
As instability in the North Caucasus persists, experts are increasingly coming to the realization that Moscow’s present policies in the region can hardly address the pressing issues of the area. Even though Russian authorities appeared to be satisfied with a containment strategy in the North Caucasus for limiting violence to the region, this approach does not seem to work. A territorial dispute between Chechnya and Ingushetia, a revolt by ethnic Russians in Stavropol region, and the expanding conflict in Dagestan and elsewhere in the region indicate that instability is not simply simmering at a certain level, but is proliferating and emerging in unexpected forms and in new territories. Given the current dynamics of the security situation unfolding in the North Caucasus, chances are slim that the Olympics in Sochi in 2014 will not be affected in some adverse way by regional developments and blowback from the ongoing insurgencies in the North Caucasus.