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The Real Russia. Today. Putin's ‘grave,’ protesting Internet isolation and celebrating women, and the Darknet price of a detective's life

Meduza

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

This day in history: 101 years ago today, on March 12, 1918, the Soviet government restored Moscow as Russia's capital, taking back St. Petersburg's status after 215 years.
  • First modern textbook on rare Jewish language Juhuri published in Russian-Israeli partnership
  • Russian social media network caught deleting photos of mock Putin grave
  • Thousands protest in Moscow against the ‘isolation’ of the Russian Internet
  • How Russian feminist protesters celebrated International Women’s Day
  • Yandex acquires question-and-answer website launched by Russian journalist
  • The men who killed a Russian police detective last year were reportedly hired on the Darknet for 1 million rubles
  • Speaker of Chechen parliament reportedly announces blood feud against blogger who criticized Akhmat Kadyrov
  • Economist Dmitry Nekrasov wishes Russians took a more structuralist view of their nation's post-Soviet development
  • Columnist Oleg Kashin says conformists are the real heroes in authoritarianism
  • Ivan Kolpakov is reinstated as Meduza’s chief editor

Some news from the Mountain Jews 📚

On March 11, the STMEGI Foundation announced that the first ever Russian-language textbook for learners of the Judeo-Persian language Juhuri has been published by the Sholumi Center for the preservation of Mountain Jewish culture. The textbook’s publication was much anticipated in the Juhuro community and reflects a growing international interest in Russia’s minority languages.

Read Meduza's story here: “First modern textbook on rare Jewish language Juhuri published in Russian-Israeli partnership”

RIP mockery 🕯️

Raushan Valiullin / Facebook

On March 10, in the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, activists affiliated with the group Unlimited Protest installed a sculpture designed to be a mock grave of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The sculpture consisted of a black gravestone with Putin’s photograph and the engraving 1952-2019, and it was created as part of broader protests against the separation of the Russian Internet from the World Wide Web. A channel on the social platform Telegram published the first known photograph of the piece alongside the caption, “Putin buried the free Internet — the residents of Naberezhnye Chelny buried Putin.” Two local activists were detained on March 12 in connection with the appearance of the mock grave. In the meantime, VKontakte has notified Meduza that it will restore deleted photos of the protest sculpture. Its content moderators previously believed that the images were photo-shopped but have since been convinced otherwise.

Read Meduza's report here: “Russian social media network caught deleting photos of mock Putin grave”

Protests and whatnot

Embrace the hate?

Over the weekend, Russia’s Libertarian Party staged a public demonstration at Sakharov Prospect in Moscow in support of Internet freedom, as two controversial bills outlawing “fake news” and “insults against state officials” make their way through Parliament. According to monitors from “White Counter,” 15,200 people attended the event. (As usual, the estimate from police was smaller: 6,500 people.) Law enforcement detained more than a dozen demonstrators before the rally even began, including eight activists carrying armfuls of blue balloons, which the authorities seized as “unmanned aerial vehicles.” By the end of the day, 28 people had been detained. Similar demonstrations also took place on March 10 in other cities across the country.

Read Meduza's special report here: “Thousands protest in Moscow against the ‘isolation’ of the Russian Internet”

👩‍🔧 No to phobias

A typical International Women’s Day gift in Russia might include flowers or chocolate. On March 8, Russian feminists demanded more vital forms of attention. Protesters took to the streets in multiple Russian cities, touting slogans like “We need rights, not flowers!” and spreading the word about a wide variety of legal and political causes.

Read Meduza's coverage here: “How Russian feminist protesters celebrated International Women’s Day”

Winter is leaving 🔥

On the traditional East Slavic holiday of Maslenitsa, revelers celebrate the coming of spring by eating blintzes and burning a large straw doll to symbolize the resurrection of the world through the destruction of winter.

In Argamach Archeological Park, located in western Russia’s Lipetskaya Oblast, that doll took the form of the Night King, a prominent character in the Game of Thrones series. Photographs of its celebratory burning were posted on the social site Pikabu and the image service Imgur, where they were also spotted by English-speaking users.

Local residents have been burning the Night King in Argamach Park since 2017. However, Maslenitsa festival organizer Pavel Semyonov explained on his VKontakte profile that not everyone in the area approves of the Game of Thrones-themed celebration.

“The people who complain the most about preserving Russian traditions are the people who make seven grammatical errors, two punctuation errors, and a semantic error every time they try to string together five Russian words. They’ve yelled at us, cursed at us, and demanded that we ban [the effigy],” Semyonov complained.

See all the photos here: “Western Russian province celebrates spring by burning the Night King from ‘Game of Thrones’ in effigy”

The blood feud that wasn't? 👊

Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a Chechen blogger living in Poland, wrote on the social platform Telegram that Magomed Daudov, who leads the Chechen parliament, announced a blood feud against him on March 9. Daudov made the threat after Abdurakhmanov called Akhmat Kadyrov, the father of current Chechen government head Ramzan Kadyrov, “a traitor.” The blogger, who has 140,000 online followers, claims that he left Chechnya due to a separate conflict with the Kadyrov family. The Chechen government has accused him in turn of taking part in the war in Syria.

Daudov announced his threat against Abdurakhmanov live on Instagram, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. The BBC Russian Service translated his statement into Russian, indicating that the parliamentarian said roughly the following: “I’m announcing officially, Tumso, that my brothers and I — and you know who my brothers are — officially, due to the words you said about Akhmat-hadji, we are announcing a blood feud against you. […] We aren’t planning to kill you; we’ll just make you have a little surprise fun. From now on, when you go to sleep, make sure you’ve locked your door.” The blogger told the BBC that he considers the threat against him “realistic and dangerous.” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov responded to queries about the situation by saying that “no legal basis for the tradition of blood feuds currently exists.”

On March 12, the press secretary to Chechen government leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied that Magomed Daudov had announced a blood feud. Alvi Karimov told TASS that the politician’s words had been deliberately mistranslated from Chechen and that Daudov had only intended to “call on [Abdurakhmanov] to take responsibility” for his words.

Market news, above board and below

💡 A multi-million-dollar idea

What started out as a project to stimulate Russia’s grassroots democracy is now a multi-million-dollar Internet resource, following Tuesday’s announcement that Yandex has fully acquired TheQuestion, a question-and-answer social network founded by former Ekho Moskvy journalist Tonia Samsonova. Yandex will merge the website with a similar service it launched last year, integrating the answers submitted and up-voted by users into the company’s “Alice” virtual assistant.

Read Meduza's coverage here: “Yandex acquires question-and-answer website launched by Russian journalist”

👮‍♀️ The price of a cop's life

Sources tell the BBC Russian Service that someone paid 1 million rubles ($15,215) to arrange the murder of Interior Ministry detective Evgeniya Shishkina last October, hiring the gunman through the Darknet. Shishkina was shot twice outside her home in the town of Arkhangelskoye on October 10, 2018, as she was leaving her apartment building and walking toward the parking lot, on her way to work. She was a lieutenant colonel in the police, rising from inspector in the Moscow Railway Special Transport Department to senior detective in the Major Cases Division.

Read Meduza's summary of the story here: “The men who killed a Russian police detective last year were reportedly hired on the Darknet for 1 million rubles”

Opinion and analysis

💥 Nekrasov is sick of Russians blaming the state of the nation on historical cataclysms

In an op-ed for Republic, economist Dmitry Nekrasov does his best to explain Russia’s current political and economic situation as the result of various macro-inevitabilities. Nekrasov objects to the argument that various cataclysms over the past three decades have knocked Russia off course. Instead of looking for singular moments where the country “took a wrong turn,” Nekrasov says it’s more useful to talk about the structural restraints that have steered Russia’s development since the fall of Communism.

To bolster his claim that a series of inevitabilities has shaped modern Russia, Nekrasov highlights several trends that have affected most post-Communist states, such as painful transitions to market economies and a steep learning for both individuals and governments. He also argues that a global plummet in oil prices and the sudden contraction of a bloated military industrial complex predetermined Russia’s financial troubles in the 1990s.

Market inefficiencies and corruption, Nekrasov says, are partly the result of the Russian state’s mismanaged macroeconomic and urban planning policies, but the Russian people are to blame, as well, for their millions of incompetent market decisions over the past three decades. Learning from their mistakes has been a difficult process, but he believes it’s hard to imagine progress being made any faster, though it could have happened far slower.

Nekrasov says the boom years of the early Putin regime were largely structurally determined, too, given resurgent oil prices and “easy growth” that could finally be tapped efficiently. This influx of resources naturally led to the state’s “revenge” on society and powerful businesspeople, as well as Moscow’s tighter grip on the regions.

Turning to the boundaries along which the USSR collapsed, Nekrasov allows a bit more historical contingency, while arguing that Russians should welcome the fact that Moscow lost territory, insofar as it reduced the number of dependents on Russia’s natural resource rents and spared the country some of “economic, demographic, and cultural diversity” that would have impaired a “coherent transformation strategy.”

🙇 Kashin says conformity paves the way to Russia's brighter future

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Oleg Kashin addresses the recent backlash against satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky’s acceptance of an award “For Merit to the Fatherland” from President Putin, arguing that the “radicals” responsible for the scandal represent a doomed wing of the intelligentsia with habits that go back to the USSR. Zhvanetsky’s critics today are the same “nonconformists” who fought tooth and nail against the Soviet authorities, Kashin says, but it was the conformists, he believes, who were the “real creators and harbingers of change in the end.” In other words, the Soviet “nonconformists” celebrated today are actually figures who compromised with the authorities, like Vladimir Vysotsky, Andrei Tarkovsky, Yuri Lyubimov, Yury Trifonov, and Bulat Okudzhava.

Kashin says we don’t know today which conformists will become tomorrow’s “architects of new reforms,” but he offers up the following list of potential collaborationist candidates: state television pundit Vladimir Solovyov, actress and philanthropist Chulpan Khamatova, and the Russia Today correspondents denied admission to a recent Internet freedom rally in Moscow. For some reason, Kashin doesn’t include himself on this list, though he clearly has his own situation in mind. Since Crimea, his sympathetic views on the annexation have enraged Ukrainians and many in Russia’s opposition, and more recently he started appearing on state television as a token outsider. “In the beautiful Russia of the future, whoever builds it, it won’t be the nonconformists who come out on top,” Kashin argues, presumably in self-defense.

Kolpakov reinstated 

On March 11, 2019, Ivan Kolpakov was reinstated as Meduza’s chief editor. Acting chief editor Tatiana Ershova is now our editorial director. Read CEO Galina Timchenko's announcement to readers here.

Yours, Meduza