Something Has Gone Wrong in Our Country

October 28, 2013
The riots on Manezh Square, December 11, 2010 © Vasily Maximov / Kommersant

The following is an editorial that appeared in Colta, an independent media website. It is a revealing look inside the xenophobic and racist culture that pervades Russia today. – Ed.

It turns out that no single idea in modern Russia has such a mobilizing effect as the nationalist idea. Xenophobia is a spiritual clamp which is capable of uniting our atomized society. The power of this clamp is understood perfect by the Russian government, which apparently makes it horrified. The show with the helicopters when [Orkhan] Zeynalov [the accused murderer whose crime set off the Biryulyovo riots – Ed.] was detained [the perp walk was televised, as was the police brutality —Ed.] is a manifestation of that horror, and not strength. Here Putin, with his fame as the “gatherer of the Russian lands” [a title used with Tsar Ivan III—Ed.] can only be sympathized. After all, the attempt to turn Russia into a Russia national state makes it virtually inevitable that the country will fall into numerous non-Russian national states. Yugoslavia fell apart in a similar fashion. In the modern world, it is extremely difficult to keep peoples under the boot; for this, far more subtle cultural and economic mechanisms have been conceived, cleverly dubbed by Naomi Klein “Coca-colonization.”

Unlike the brainless kids, those shouting “Russia for the Russians!” and “F**k the Caucasus, f**k!,” Putin understands perfectly well what such slogans lead to, but contemporary realities, it seems, do not leave him a choice. In order to stay in power, he will be forced to make a right turn along with all of society. And having won, as is customary, with a short-term maneuver, he will lose the country in the future.

Putin has done a lot in order to end up in this dead end. The war he has declared on liberal values could not but help lead to a situation where something contrary to them would take their place. Kremlin propaganda in the last few years has diligently incited the fire of hatred in people. The decadent West, liberals, and homosexuals have been designated as the enemies. The television screens are filled with schizoids foaming at the mouth, cursing up and down at the “enemies of Russia.” If before, these people were only interesting for psychiatrists, now they are engaged in an ideological work-over of the population on behalf of the government. Kurginyan, his face twisted with fury, dried spittle on his lips – that is the ideological Gestalt of the current reactionary. It is supposed that the Russian Orthodox Church, will speak out as the bearer of a positive program with traditional, or rather to be more precise, family values. But instead of Christian love – in strict correspondence with Orwellian double-speak – the patriarch and those close to him, from homily to homily, incite the very same intolerance and paranoia: there are enemies everywhere!

“He has a metallic sound in his voice like a Chekist [KGB agent] at an interrogation,” an acquaintance of mine said, upon first hearing his holiness. Those metallic notes, ringing with hatred toward enemies, are now extremely in demand. They are in the voice of Deputy Yarovoy as well. Dmitry Kiselev has mastered them to perfection – the chief metal-clanger of Russian television. The prosecutor-like intonations helped make the rapidly-rising career of the still very young journalist Olga Skabeyeva, who has been nicknamed on the Internet, “the iron puppet of the zombie-box” [the television set].

They did not manage to instill any traditional values in those two years. According to the latest figures from the Supreme Court, “the demand for children who have been left without parents, has grown less inside the country,” which you can’t say about divorces, the number of which this year continued to rise (one of them is on the account of Putin himself). On the whole, ideals still remain, as the well-known caveat has it, as covers, although the degree of mutual hostility in society is now maxing out. People themselves have found “who is guilty of everything.” Not a polymythical liberal, but a quite real vegetable warehouse with non-Russians.

For a public prepared for pogroms, Navalny, with his Yale background and desire to bring the country up to world standards, is too complex. Friendship with liberals also does not make him the idol of thugs. They need somebody more simple. For example, Maksim Martsinkevich, whose nickname is Tesak. Now there’s somebody with a great future. As straight-edged as a Seig Heil, an enemy of pedos, yids, and churki [pejorative term for Caucasians–Ed]. After serving three years in prison for Art. 282 (“incitement of hatred or enmity”), Tesak opened up a mega-popular site on the web called “Occupy Pedophiles” which has been involved in catching pedophiles. The site has branches in almost 40 cities of Russia. They catch the predators with live bait – an underage child invites a pedophile to a meeting, where an ambush awaits him. The pedophile is them humiliated and filmed on a video camera, after which he is turned over to police.

In principle, everything about the site is unlawful, but the public and the police seem not to notice that. Martsinkevich forced one man, Igor Kireyeyv, who fell for the messenger’s bait, to drink urine and suck on a dildo before he turned him over to police. Judging from the reports of Martsinkevich, the arrests of pedophiles caught on such “safaris” take place regularly. A reason for an arrest, as far as I understand, should be some actions of a sexual nature, but in these cases people are arrested only for their intentions – no matter what moral freaks they are. On the way to the court house, 26-year-old Kireyev complained of chest pains, a doctor from the emergency service was summoned but said there were no threats to his life, the pedophile was taken to the courthouse, where he died from cardiac arrest. The next day, a video appeared, in which Tesak for some reason emerges from a pool, and flexing his muscles, laughingly reports that finally “the movement has achieved a real result – the pedophile Igor Kireyev has croaked. Hurrah!” No one pities pedophiles, a sentiment Tesak successfully exploits, but why does no one tell him: hey, dude, you’re no God, or a superhero or even a cop. Who gave you the right to decide people’s fates, even such bad people as pedophiles?

Tesak’s army of admirers is growing. I did an interview for TV Rain with a man named Filipp with the nickname Deniz – there was such a general in the Third Reich. At first the boy was used as live bait to catch the pedophiles. Then he grew up and opened up his own community on VKontakte called “Occupy Gerontophiles” where he posted videos to brisk rap music like “F**k the pedos from Vladivostok to Peter” and ridiculed juvenile gays. Fortunately, his “public” [as VKontakte groups are called—Ed] was soon closed and a criminal case was opened up on morality charges against the young fighter. He looks to be a typical juvenile bone [skinhead], pumped up, in New Balance shoes. In a soft, half-childish voice he says that gays have to be killed, and it’s too bad it’s against the law. In his political views he is a staunch national-socialist. That is what he said: staunch. “A Nazi, or what?” I asked. “Well, yes,” the boy answered. That is, if it weren’t for the law, there are a lot of people he’d kill. He says this for the camera, without the slightest embarrassment. The kids at school respect Filipp because they know: he is a friend of Tesak himself, and goes with him to pump iron. After the interview, the boy gets an SMS text. “They got a friend. For murder of a Tajik. His mother is writing,” he explains with a sigh and then immediately cheers up. “But they won’t give him much because he’s young – maximum eight years, in about four years he’ll get out on parole.”

What dealt the final blow for me was the cameraman, who was also a very young guy. When we were leaving the filming, he said, “You can tell right away, it’s Tesak’s school. I have a cousin – 17 years old – he’s also a fan. He watches all his videos, he pumps iron, he imitates everything about him, even his walk is the same. I tell him, ‘You idiot, you’ll never get anywhere with such methods, you’ll only land in jail.’” The cameraman fell silent for a while, and then added, “Essentially, I’m with Tesak, of course, I agree, but only the methods should be different.”

In an irony of fate, Tesak got his prison sentence after he started shouting “Heil Hitler” and making Nazi salutes in debates in which Yuliya Latynina and Alexei Navalny took part. Essentially, it was on Navalny’s statement that he was put in jail. Furthermore, Tesak and his liberal opponents are not so different. They all are part of a common right turn. Latynina, for example calls the people who voted for Putin “anchovies” who should be stripped of the right to vote, and Tesak says he despises 90% of the population of Russia. “I have even invented a new term instead of ‘vegetable,’ ‘fiber’. It is flexible, it absorbs shit, and you can do what you want with it.” The liberal Adolph, forgive me, Alfred Kokh, suddenly became a Russian nationalist and patronizes the ultra-right site Sputnik & Pogrom. Alexei Navalny also loves to re-post the pictures from Sputnik & Pogrom. During an interview on TV Rain, he was sincerely amazed that not all such creatives find it funny:

Alexei Navalny: “Raise your hand, those who have retweeted Sputnik & Pogrom” Tisha [Tikhon], I think you’ve done this, too.”

Tikhon Dzyadko: “Never in my life.”

Alexei Navalny: “Never in your life?!”

It is worth mentioning Sputnik and Pogrom separately. Two hundred of my Facebook friends have clicked “like” on this page. Among them are journalists, advertising executives, film directors and others in the creative class. I don’t understand what the word “sputnik” has to do with anything, because there is nothing on this page but ecstatic (I would even say orgasmic) calls to pogroms. The invasion of the Nazis in 1941 is called in the programmatic article “the day of vengeance.” The touching “Dr. Goebbels’ Rules for Life” ends with a question to the readers: “I ask you: do you agree, along with the Dear Editorial Board, with the full and final pogrom?” They say this is a stunt, in the spirit of the satirical shows of Colbert and Stewart (they would be surprised if they learned of this). Perhaps I just don’t get the sense of humor. But 200 friends on Facebook – hardly bone losers – find the jokes about pogroms to really be funny.

The word “pogrom” has entered into most languages of the world, which doesn’t happen often with Russian words. That means there is something strictly national, just as there are in the words “intelligentsia,” “siloviki” and “vodka.” On the Internet, people joke, “You say ‘pogrom’ as if there is something bad in that.” I even stumbled on an online game called “Happy Pogrom,” in which you have to destroy some colored balls. Originally the game was called “Merry Smash,” but then someone figured out how it should be translated into Russian. These linguistic observations have a direct relationship to the events in Biryulyovo. Public opinion no longer perceives a pogrom “as something bad.” And here I am forced to agree with the author of Sputnik & Pogrom. “Many ask how the Russian can be distinguished from the non-Russian. We reply: you can distinguish the Russian from the non-Russia most easily by their reaction to Biryulyovo.” I’m afraid that’s the sad truth. Apparently, everything is really in the genes, although before, it seemed that it wasn’t only in the genes. My genetic memory turns on the alarm signal when I hear the word “pogrom.”

Sometimes it’s not bad to work as Captain Obvious. It is hard to find a more base manifestation of human nature than pogroms. On the eve of events in Biryulyovo, there were two links to posts on Live Journal going around the Russian Internet, devoted to events in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. In the first post was a detailed photo reportage of the Lvov pogrom of 1941. Breaking things isn’t in the German style. The Holocaust was a smoothly-running bureaucratic machine, in which German Jews, before being sent to the ovens, were forced to sign a pile of authorization slips. Ordnung muss sein. The Nazis let the less pedantic peoples lord it over others. In the photographs [of Lvov], Jewish women are stripped naked and chased through the streets of the city with ridicule to the place of execution. The most disgusting thing in these pictures is the joyful excitement on the faces of the local population. These aren’t isolated maniacs, but the most ordinary city-dwellers, from whom the Nazis removed their customary civilized restraints. Freud reflected a great deal on the instincts of the crowd. In his last work, Civilization and Its Discontents, written on the eve of the coming of the Nazis to power, he made a grim conclusion: individual freedom is not achievable because in the conditions of an absence of restraining mechanisms, people instantly lose their human face. The other link was to the story of the Volyn Massacre, which happened several years later, in 1943. During the course of three months, Ukrainian nationalists massacred from 30,000 to 50,000 Polish civilians. And this illustrates an obvious thought: it’s never enough for the pogromists. First, they destroy the Jews, but their life doesn’t get better because of it. Then they massacre the Poles. Next they would have found others to blame, but the Soviet soldiers arrived.

Jewish pogrom in Lvov, 1941

Jewish pogrom in Lvov, 1941


People say that all that they destroyed in Biryulyovo was the vegetable warehouse. Few noticed that a few days later, on nearby railroad tracks, the body of a labor migrant was found, riddled with knife wounds. This story remained on the wire services for a few hours and then disappeared without a trace. Who was interested in an old Uzbek man? They didn’t even find out his name. The same thing had happened after Manezh [riots in 2010—Ed.]: juvenile skinheads stabbed a 37-year-old migrant from Kyrgyzstan. It’s always that way with pogroms – somebody whips up the crowd for a long time, somebody smashes the stores and then the beast awakens in somebody, and he is no longer able to stop himself.

The government tries to pretend that it is on the side of the conventional Biryulyovo. A state television channel describes its new project: an interactive map, “Migrant Moscow,” which they propose to fill up with the help of informants’ reports of illegals. Each day, they report about the new updates: mass raids with inspection of migrants on Fridays, new concentration camps for illegals beyond the Moscow Ring Road. As always, they battle the consequence, and not the reason. To this day, there has not been a single (!) instance when an employer has been brought to justice for use of an illegal work force.

Romandovsky, head of the Federal Migration Service, speaks with disarming candor: “They hire law offices, they litigate against us, they oppose us through all channels. Of course, it is harder with employers. They have the legal and financial resources.” Truly, it is much simpler to demonstratively punish a crowd of powerless people then try to solve the problem. And then, no one gets rich on the labor of illegals like government officials. During the crisis of 2008, I filmed a show about how high-ranking people with military ranks kicked illegal workers out of a Spetsstroi government construction site without paying them a kopeck for half a year. Said, the hero of the story, grumbled, “It’s a game of tag, everywhere.”

It is sad that for the majority of even quite intelligent Muscovites, migrants are a faceless vegetable warehouse, occupying the capital. The eternal source of irritation. They cause unsanitary conditions (although they’re the ones who clean up after us). They take our jobs (although we hire them ourselves for kopecks to work: can you recall who did your last repairs?). They are the main criminals (although migrants are robbed by everybody and his brother – from the employers to the police). We are outraged that the government treats us, citizens, arrogantly and disrespectfully. But we ourselves behave exactly the same regarding people who have less rights than we have. Then how are we any better than the government we are fighting?

In December 2010, about 10,000 nationalists staged a pogrom on Manezh Square. They beat up several school children with Caucasian features who happened to be nearby. If the OMON [riot police] had not intervened, it is unknown how the incident would have ended. This was the first really massive protest in all the years of Putinism. The sense I had then was ideally described by the expression “f**king shame.” A year passed, and then December 2011 came. Hundreds of thousands of Muscovites went out on the streets and demanded honest elections. This was the most wonderful crowd of fellow citizens since August 1991. It seemed that an evolutionary leap had occurred in that year with society – the quantitative changes at least turned into qualitative. Free, thinking, proud people appeared. And then another two years passed. The evolution of protest did not occur. Instead, there was a degradation. In people’s heads, instead of the previous collapse is the pogrom. To the usual feeling that the government is to blame for everything, there was added something unusual: it seems that things have gone wrong with us as well.