I made reference to Susan Richards’ book Lost and Found in Russia: Encounters in a Deep Heartland in my last post. I have not read the book, nor can I buy it unless I want to pay extra shipping from England. Lost and Found has yet to be published in the US. Too bad. As this Guardian review suggests, it sounds like a worthwhile read:
In the great tradition of Chekhov or Dostoevsky, her subjects live in the anonymous provinces, in the appropriately named town of Marx (what a great choice – at one point she was categorically informed by a telephone operator that “Marx does not exist, but Engels does”). The opening chapters are ones of pure despair. Richards describes struggling to capture the weird reality that just when we all thought the Russians should be celebrating the advent of democracy and freedom, their lives were collapsing around them. Provincial Russia knows a thing or two about hopelessness.
The subsequent 16 years of change have tested her characters to the limits – throwing some off into Siberia, a couple to the Crimea. Richards kept on going back, doggedly and affectionately following the lives they offer up.
Or you can get a taste yourself. OpenDemocracy has published a few excepts from the text:
And if that isn’t enough, Richards recently spoke at OpenDemocracy’s Russia evening in London. Anatol Lieven provided commentary.
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- By Sean — 10 years ago
When Kommersant reported a few days ago that the Russian Orthodox Church was planning on creating Orthodox militias to patrol Russia’s streets, the story was immediately seized by the Russian media, including this blog.
Now according to RIA Novosti, the Church has denied such claims. “The church is not setting up a private army and would never attempt to do so. It is nonsense. The Russian armed forces already consist of 80% Orthodox believers,” said Dmitry Smirnov, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s military relations department. He also rejected Kommersant‘s claims that the Church had any discussions with the MVD on the subject.
Smirinov did add that if there are such militias they are of local initiative only. “It could be a private public initiative put forward by local parishes. If they want to patrol the streets – let them do it. If they want to sweep the streets – even better.” This seems to be the case in this instance.
Local manifestations of “people’s militias” aren’t unprecedented. One such militia called the “Veterans of North” appeared in Novovinsk, Arkhangelsk province this past summer. The group, which numbered in the tens, engaged in a variety actions from cleaning cemeteries and playgrounds of garbage to making citizens’ arrests. This year alone, the group was responsible for the arrest of ten people suspected of criminal activity, about a hundred local administrators for violation of the law, seventeen people for traffic violations, and around sixty people in connection of domestic disputes. The group also functions as security during Church holidays and celebrations. The Veterans however aren’t the first church inspired militia. A similar one was created in Krasnsoyarsk in 2006.
So yes, the Church might not be creating them from the center. But they are forming in localities. This isn’t surprising. If the Soviet period in any indication, experimentation with volunteer groups always began locally, and if they showed promise were adopted by central authorities (even to the point where the authorities took credit for them). Often establishing central control was done to focus and subordinate local group activity to central concerns, or to get control over locals who took their initiative too far. One might suspect that something similar is potentially at work here.
Another thing must also be said about these “church militias” and other social forms like them. The Russian public is often portrayed as politically passive and that Russian civil society is weak. But if such militias are forming locally and are targeting crime and corruption, perhaps we should rethink how we talk about Russian civil society. As the local church militias show, there is a Russian civil society. It just isn’t the “civil society” (i.e. liberal, inclusive, cosmopolitan, tolerant, etc.) that many liberals desire.
- By Sean — 12 years ago
The study, in which monitors observed more than 1,500 police document checks at 15 Metro stations over a five-month period in 2005, concluded that
police are engaged in “massive ethnic profiling.” The practice is unlawful discrimination, a violation of the equal rights of citizens under the Russian Constitution and the country’s international commitments. For example, the United Nations Race Convention prohibits racial discrimination with respect to “freedom of movement,” and guarantees the “right to equal treatment” by judicial officials. Moscow
Anita Soboleva, executive director of Jurix, the lawyers’ group that conducted the survey with funds from George Soros’ Open Society Institute, says “Police ethnic profiling reflects social attitudes against people who look ‘different.’ This racist approach appears to be deeply ingrained in police procedures.”
The full 72 page report written by the Open Society Justice Initiative and can be downloaded here argues that the Moscow Metro posts the “highest ethnic profiling odds ratio ever documented.” Here are some figures (benchmark means the sample number of people monitored at a give stop.):
These high rates of police harassing and extorting non-Slavs persists despite a Fenurary 2003 order by Moscow police Moscow police chief Lieutenant-General V.V. Pronin that instructing officers that:
Let every officer know that it is prohibited for the police to use the kinds of treatment that humiliate citizen’s personal dignity, to check identity papers and registration in the city of
without cause. According to the Law [On Police, Article 5], a police officer is obliged to protect and respect every person with no regard to their citizenship, place of residence, social, economic and professional status, racial or ethnic origin, gender, age, education, language, religious, political or other affiliations. Moscow
Yet as one narrative in the report of a Turkish worker named Bairam tells:
After the decree of [Pronin in 2003] prohibiting th[e] lucrative pursuit, the only thing that changed for the Turk is that now he is stopped not at the exit from the Metro station, but closer to home . . . And what really deserves attention is that all the papers of the Turkish citizen are in thorough order. But alas, the practice is that policemen, depending on their mood find fault either with the visa, or residential permit (every day they claim that something in his papers is counterfeit. . .) Sometimes Bairam didn’t have any money on him, and the officers would kindly give him a comfortable place for the night in the police cells. If by the morning no one brought them 1,500 Rubles (and that is the standard bail for the Turkish worker), they took his mobiles (during 6 months Bairam left 3 of his mobiles with the police), watches (one), new purse (one), and new leather gloves. . . . But as long as he will stay in this
district, he has found only one solution—to keep it secret and silently share his wages with them. Moscow
The report makes many, many recommendations to the
police and the Russian government to address the problem of racial profiling. However, given the amount of non-Slavic labor migration into the capital, a remedy to police harassment will be hard to come by. Policies can be set in place, and if the Pronin order is any indication there are, but they must be enforced. Enforcement of law is always something missing on Russian authorities’ agenda. If anything, the report further confirms the already wide evidence of the ugly public racism that many face in Moscow ’s cities. Russia
- By Sean — 5 years ago
This week’s Russia Magazine column, “The Gulag but Now with a Brutal Commercial Grin,”
The political and moral power of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s letter describing the living and working conditions of her prison, Penal Colony No. 14 in the Mordovia, is immeasurable. The letter immediately made her a candidate for the pantheon of Russian chroniclers of prison life—Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov and Danzig Baldaev,—and brought into view the daily existence of Russia’s lowliest outcasts. Dostoevsky wrote in the House of the Dead (1862) that “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” That maxim, unfortunately, still rings true.
Historically, the prison has served as a metaphor for Russian society writ large. The soviet gulag, argues Steven Barnes, a historian of the camps, mirrored soviet society. Soviet social structure, deprivations, strictures, and transformative impulses of daily life were replicated in the camps, albeit often in extreme form. The bare life of the soviet prisoner was revealed in the state’s naked power to exploit his or her labor. The slogan of the Soloveskii camp in the 1920s read: “A prisoner is an active participant in socialist construction.” The prime directive of the soviet prison camp, Barnes quotes, was that “every prisoner must work as appointed by the administration of the camp.”
Tolokonnikova describes a similar world where the inmate is ruled by the rhythms of the prison-industrial machine. “My whole shift works sixteen to seventeen hours a day in the sewing workshop, from seven-thirty in the morning to twelve-thirty at night. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners “voluntarily” apply to work on weekends. In fact, there is nothing “voluntary” about it. These applications are written involuntarily on the orders of the wardens and under pressure from the inmates who help enforce their will.” Today, instead of serving as a constructor of socialism, today’s Russian prisoner is an active participant in the construction of capitalist profit. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and private companies alike benefit from that revenue.