Here’s a look at the politicians and street organizers driving Ukraine’s "EuroMaydan" protests (a movement supporting integration with the European Union) following President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject an EU trade deal under pressure from Moscow.
Read more. [Image: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]
"A lawmaker from the ruling United Russia Party says the ‘unreasonably gigantic’ suitcase blocks views of historic sites like St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin tower. A Communist Party lawmaker says the installation undermines ‘state foundations’ and mocks the Red Square, which is also home to the tomb of former Communist leader Vladimir Lenin.”
Where does Europe end? Geographically, this is an easy question to answer. Geopolitically, not so much.
The European Union’s “Eastern Partnership“ initiative was launched in 2009 to bring six post-Soviet countries—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine—closer to the EU, primarily via trade agreements. The outcome, to be unveiled at a summit in Lithuania later this week, has been disappointing. In September Armenia broke off talks with the EU and announced that it would join the nascent Eurasian Customs Union, alongside Belarus, Kazakhstan and the group’s paymaster, Russia. Last week, Ukraine did the same—a much bigger blow to the EU’s ambitions, given Ukraine’s size, mineral wealth and strategic position. Now, only tiny Georgia and Moldova are expected to sign trade agreements with the EU this week.
Ukraine’s U-turn sparked huge protests in Kiev over the weekend. As many as 100,000 people took to the streets on November 24 in favor of closer integration with the EU. Sporadic clashes between dwindling ranks of protestors and police are continuing; jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko announced a hunger strike yesterday on November 25.
Read more. [Image: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]
Selfies, selfies, everywhere: in our Facebook feeds, in our news reports, in our dictionaries. But what do these tech-enabled self portraits say about their subjects? And, indeed: What do they say about us? Are they, as their names might suggest, symptoms of narcissism? Are they empowering? Are they a cry for help?
They are probably, on some level, all of those things—in addition to being just, you know, playful pictures. But here’s another thing about selfies: They are not new. Selfies, contemporary anxieties about them notwithstanding, are very, very old.
The latest reminder of this (which is also an appropriately aged reminder of this): the selfie above. Which was, apparently, snapped by the Grand Duchess Anastasia (yep, that Anastasia) in 1913, when she was a teenager. The youngest daughter of Russia’s last czar is using the wildly popular camera of her time—the Kodak brownie, released in 1900—and a mirror to capture her own likeness. She is gazing at herself. She is looking at herself. She looks, to me, a little bit curious. And a little bit excited. And a little bit scared.
Read more. [Image: Retronaut]
If the Kremlin actually follows through with prosecuting Pyotr Pavlensky, then hold onto your hats—it promises to be one hell of a show.
Pavlensky, of course, is the 29-year-old St. Petersburg artist who seized Russia’s attention on November 10 when he stripped naked on Red Square and nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones—an act of protest on the Police Day holiday against what he called a creeping police state. He dubbed the act “Nail.”
"I used a metaphor," Pavlensky told DozhdTV after being released from police custody the next day. “It was a metaphor for the political indifference that threatens to become irreversible.”
Prosecutors have opened up a criminal case against Pavlensky for “hooliganism motivated by political, ideological, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred” and he has been summoned for an interrogation on November 21. He could face as many as seven years in prison.
As Kevin Rothrock, editor of Global Voices’ RuNet Echo project, notes in a recent post, his case is based on the exact same article of the criminal code used to prosecute Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich for their anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Read more. [Image: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters]
For all the crude xenophobic placards and slogans at this week’s Russian March, one stood out for its—dare I say—cleverness.
“The good half of the population already hates the regime. Soon you will get to know the bad half,” read a sign carried by a marcher.
Not only was it clever, but it also rang true. In a recent editorial, Gazeta.ru wrote that “for the first time, nationalist marches are taking on an oppositionist character.”
After years of successfully manipulating nationalists for their own purposes and cultivating xenophobia among the population, the Kremlin is now standing face-to-face with the monster it helped create. “Those nationalists who did not join up with the authorities in time attached themselves to the protest movement—you have to avoid your own marginalization somehow,” political analyst Andrei Kolesnikov wrote in arecent commentary.
In addition to the predictable chants of “Russia for Russians,” “Stop Feeding the Caucasus,” and various anti-migrant diatribes at this year’s Russian March, there were plenty of calls for the end of Vladimir Putin’s “Chekist regime.”
Read more. [Image: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]
MOSCOW—Critics say a new law designed to quell the insurgency in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region revives the Stalin-era principles of collective guilt and collective justice.
President Vladimir Putin signed the legislation on November 3, requiring “close relatives and acquaintances” of those who commit acts of “terrorism” to pay damages—both material and moral—resulting from those acts. It also empowers authorities to seize property from friends and relatives of suspected militants and provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years for those convicted of receiving training “aimed at carrying out terrorist activity.”
"This is absolutely not normal. It’s a return to the 1930s, when Stalin advocated collective responsibility for crimes which were carried out," Mairbek Vatchagayev, a North Caucasus analyst for the Jamestown Foundation and head of the Paris-based Center for Caucasus Research, says. "Once again, we’ve ended up there when Putin regards himself a supporter of Stalin and the Stalin period."
Read more. [Image: Kazbek Basayev/Reuters]
MOSCOW – In Russia, all riots are apparently not created equal.
Nationalists clashed with police in Moscow on October 13. They smashed windows, overturned cars, and ransacked a vegetable-storage depot as they searched for a migrant worker who they believed had killed a Russian. Investigators called their crime “hooliganism.”
On May 6, 2012, opposition protesters clashed with police on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in an anti-Kremlin rally on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. Many were charged with “participating in a riot,” “inciting mass unrest,” and “attacking police.”
Read more. [Image: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters]
Whenever I write about homophobia in Russia, several readers invariably leave comments defending the country’s approach to gay rights:
"Why is everybody here talking about homophobia? We don’t have phobia (an irrational and unjustified fear) to homos in Russia. It is just a natural disgust to perversion and desire to protect our children against it," one wrote.
Oh, I see. You don’t fear gay people, you just think they’re gross. Guess it’s time to run a big ol’ retraction.
Elsewhere, like when my articles about opposition figures are translated and posted on Russian news sites, the comments get downright personal and anti-Semitic.
I don’t get too worked up—Internet haters gonna hate, as we all know—but given the outlandishness of their responses (even their fellow angry commenters often try to take them down a notch), it leaves me wondering, “Who are these people?”
Now, it seems, we have an answer to where some of this acrimony originates. It’s of course impossible to tell whose vitriol is genuine and whose is being bankrolled, but at least some anti-Western comments appear to come from staffers the Russian government pays to sit in a room, surf the Internet, and leave sometimes hundreds of postings a day that criticize the country’s opposition and promote Kremlin-backed policymakers.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]