Posts Tagged ‘democracy’


May 4, 2016

2016-05-04Monstration-8Monstrations (shortening of “demonstrations”) are the only thing I have liked about Russia  in the last 30 years. Launched in 2004 in Novosibirsk, monstrations gained popularity and were held in a dozen other cities of Russia. I like them for at least three reasons. First of all, the participants mock official demonstrations and slogans by making a travesty of them. It is done in witty way: on the surface a “monstrated” slogan may look quite innocent, apolitical, and not prosecutable at all, but the implied meaning ridicules the stupidity and insolence of the officialdom.  In Putin’s retro-Soviet Russia party functionaries and other bureaucrats are rather sensitive as regards any gibes directed at their god-like status.

Second of all, I like young people (and monstrators are mostly young) maintaining their right to look and to sound  absurd. In an authoritarian country, which Russia undeniably is, absurdism is a kind of social protest.

2016-05-04Monstration-12Lastly, many slogans exploit red-hot topics of Russian life and are built on a play of words, which makes them cross-culturally and linguistically attractive.

Here are a few “translatable” slogans and some pictures – to give an idea of this event held annually on May 1. The last picture presents a mock flag of the United States of Siberia, which is a reference to official statements that the U.S. “conspires” to break Siberia away from Russia.

1. Monstrators Go For Mocracy!

  1. Hell is Ours (the association with the annexation of the Crimea, which was accompanied by the motto “Crimea is Ours”)
  2. Spring Has Come –Monstrators Are Back (reference to the painting by the 19th -century Russian artist Aleksey Savrasov “Rooks Are Back.” The picture is known to every Russian. Once all of them had to write a high school essay “Rooks Are 2016-05-04Monstration-15Back” with Savrasov’s work mounted on a classroom blackboard).
  3. Were Were Made To Attend The Monstration. (this slogan scoffs at the mandatory attendance of communist civil parades in Soviet times.)
  4. “My Dad Makes Me Eat Porridge” (the banner is carried by a six-year-old boy)
  5. “Onwards – To The Dark Future!” (the bureaucratic cliché has always been: ”… bright future.”)
  6. I’m bored by our smooth roads (roads in Russia are far from being smooth)
  7. Don’t’ Tell The Keepers that I’m Here (the guy is wearing a straightjacket).
  8. Forbid to Ban!
  9. “Lift Up The Black Square: Malevich Is Our Elder Brother (the slogan is rhymed, which attributes more power to it.)

2016-05-04Monstration-13bSome banners are absolutely empty, but are still  being carried by the monstrators. On one of such banners you may read: “I had no time to write anything.”

Incidentally, an absurdist approach was used by a guy in Moscow who wore a Putin mask and had a sign “War Criminal” on his chest. Eventually he was detained by the police:


December 9, 2015

By Michael Bird, Lina Vdovii, and Yana Tkachenko

Peace in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region comes with high risks, as ongoing negotiations are greeted with scepticism by citizens, analysts, and authorities on both sides of the conflict.

Russian-backed separatists have been in control of large parts of the Donbass region of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts since March 2014.

Currently under negotiation is a settlement which returns the zone to the Ukrainian state in return for an amnesty for rebel leaders, local elections in February and semi-independence for the territories.

But critics argue this legitimises the Russian-backed rebels’ annexation of property and businesses in the conflict zone, further undermining the economically and politically fragile Ukrainian state.

“The Russians will give Ukraine a poisoned chalice,” says Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “The idea is to make sure that Ukraine fails. This suits Moscow.”

After 8,050 people died in the Donbass conflict, the separatists and Ukrainian army are slowly withdrawing heavy weapons from the conflict zone, although fighting continues.

Ongoing peace negotiations involve the Minsk Contact Group, including representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics (DPR and LPR).

This works in tandem with the Normandy Format of French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders.

Russia pushing to return Donbas

Russia is pushing to “reinsert” occupied Donbas into Ukraine with huge costs for its redevelopment and a rebel leadership which has taken control of private property, Ukrainian state mines, hundreds of retail outlets and banks, while sanctioning the destruction of factories and other mines and the sale of their assets as scrap metal.

The rebels’ position could be empowered by a win in elections planned for the occupied LPR and DPR on 20 February 2016.

But this deal generates little enthusiasm among those in Ukraine on both sides.

The rebel leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, has said in a video: “No one from us wants to return to Ukraine and as I understand it, Ukraine doesn’t want us either.”

But he indicated there is room for compromise. Kyiv would need to grant amnesty to rebels accused of war crimes and a “special status” for the LPR and DPR, which would require a change in the Ukrainian constitution.

Favoured by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, this could legitimise the rebels’ institutions, in exchange for maintaining Ukrainian sovereignty and ending the killing.

The head of the DPR security council, Alexandr Khodakovsky, also supports reintegration, but under terms favourable to the self-proclaimed republics. In September, he told he is “not satisfied” with what Kyiv has to offer.

But on the street of Donetsk, most residents are sceptical about the effectiveness of talks between Ukraine, the separatists, Russia, and the OSCE in Minsk.

“I consider all peace negotiations finished when world leaders appear and say: ‘Gentlemen, the war has ended, no one else will shoot!’,” says Oleg, a student. “Because when they start to talk about something in Minsk, the gunfire begins in Donetsk.”

Putin’s political death

Despite the promise of an armistice, many still witness violence as part of daily life.

“It is likely that the withdrawal of arms after some agreements is happening, but there is still shooting every night,” says a manager, Marina, from the Kiev District of Donetsk city.

There is a demand for more practical solutions

“We are tired and want it to finish soon,” says Marina. “It is necessary to prepare for winter, not to engage in conversation. It is not clear whether we have gas, water, or electricity. This is what worries me – not the next negotiations.”

Donetsk governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky (who is pro-Kiev) also has a pessimistic attitude toward the Minsk process.

“A democratically successful Ukraine would mean the death of imperial Russia and Putin’s political death,” he says.

“Putin is not ready to leave Ukraine alone. Without the tightening of sanctions against Russia and without the economic collapse of Russia, to say that peace will come to Ukraine and Donbas means to deceive oneself.”

The governor spoke in his office in Kramatorsk, 70 km from the makeshift border.

“The shelling became more frequent last night – 15 attacks, the night before – 18 attacks,” he said. “The rebels are accumulating forces near the town of Novoazovsk, near Mariupol [a port in Ukraine]. Therefore, peace is very far from here.”

With a deal in place, Russia gifts to Ukraine is to be a collapsed infrastructure, a gangster ruling class, a broken economy, and a traumatised population, almost half of which are scattered across the rest of the country.

Donbass may become the region nobody wants, but Ukraine needs to preserve its territorial integrity. The region is on the road to becoming de jure a Ukrainian province, but de facto a Russian-backed micro-state.

“Pragmatically, in three years Ukraine could easily live without that territory,” says a Donetsk businessman and politician in exile in Kiev, Vitaliy Kropachov.

“But it is ours and nobody can guarantee that once we let it go, other scenarios like this will not take place in other regions. Federalisation cannot even be considered. We are a united country.”

(The address of the article:


July 11, 2014

2014-07-11TALKSThe trilateral talks on the implementation of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine begin today in Brussels between the Russian economic development minister, the EU trade commissioner and the Ukrainian foreign minister. Ukraine has long been trying to be a part of democratic Europe. The Association Agreement was signed on June 27. Russia has long been trying to drive Ukraine off from any such association. Last March it robbed Ukraine of the Crimea and at the moment it is waging an undeclared war in the East of Ukraine. However, the European Union decided to seek Russia’s permission to admit Ukraine into the fold. No, the EU does not align with Russia’s policy. Europe is deprecatingly wagging its finger at what Russia is doing and pinpricking some individuals with sanctions. But Russia has got gas, oil, nuclear weapons and deep pockets to lobby Western governments and parliaments.

The students who started the anti-totalitarian revolution last November in Kyiv were after democracy. At the moment, out of many definitions of this system of government, there remains for me a cynical one, heralded in a stentorian voice: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”


February 3, 2013

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PAC E) in Strasbourg keeps an eye on how human rights are observed across Europe. On January 24 only 79 out of the 224 participants at the session  voted for the resolution denouncing political reprisals in Azerbaijan. As a result, the resolution was rejected2013-02-03Council-of-Europe.

The main motivation for not supporting the resolution was that Christopher Straesser, the Rapporteur on Political Prisoners, had not visited Azerbaijan and didn’t have a firsthand knowledge about the situation. The fact that the Azeri government had not been granting Mr. Straesser a visa for the last three years, was not taken into account by the PACE.

However, a more important reason might have been that on the eve of the PACE session representatives of the Azerbaijan authorities who were in Strasbourg called around members of the Parliamentary Assembly explaining that the political prisoners were “terrorists”, and also hinting that Azerbaijan was an oil-producing country. For oil-importing European countries the latter fact is of a special importance.

The case of the Ukrainian political prisoners is supposed to be discussed by the PACE this coming April. After the failure of the resolution on Azerbaijan we may say “was supposed to be discussed…” Mr. Pieter Omtzigt, a Christian Democrat from the Netherlands, who is preparing a report for the Assembly, cannot get a visa from the Ukrainian government to investigate the situation in Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities learn quickly from their Azeri counterparts.

As a teenager, I used to listen to the Voice of America, the BBC and Radio Liberty broadcasting on short-waves to the Soviet Union (actually, it was my father who listened – I was listening “with him”). I knew about Viktor Nekrasov, Daniel and Sinyavskiy, Ivan Dzyuba, Petro Hryhorenko, and later – about Yuri Orlov, Andrey Sakharov, Elena Bonner and many other Russian and Ukrainian dissidents. I was confident that the Western democracies were a bedrock for human rights standards all over the world. Now I know better.


September 22, 2012

The Putin government has ended the activities of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Russia. Commenting on the decision, Senator John McCain called it an insult to the United States. I’m not sure to what extent Putin meant it to be an insult (“a finger in the eye of the Obama administration”, as the Senator qualified it), but the Russian president’s move is further tightening control over the “dissenting minds’ inside Russia – over those who are looking towards the West for financial assistance or scholarships for studies or training. Dictators don’t like their subjects to be independent of them. State borders in the former Soviet Union were “dead bolted” not so much to prevent foreigners from coming in, as for its own people not to run way – in search of freedom or of “greener pastures”, as the case might be. There was a joke in those days: “What would you do if the borders got opened?” – “I’d climb a tree.” – “?!” – “Not to be trampled underfoot.”

Moscow’s decision comes after President Vladimir Putin in July signed into law a bill that compelled NGOs which were funded from abroad to register as “foreign agents.” Notably, in the time of my childhood the word “agent” meant not a “representative body”, but a “foreign spy”, and was often interchangeable with the word combination an “imperialist agent.”  A teacher at my school could tell lazy students that by being disposed to idleness they were “bringing grist to the imperialist mill.” The dictator-speak is surging back again!


September 20, 2012

ImageThis night I dreamed I visited a “gastronom” – a Soviet-style food shop. There was a huge crowd inside. People were queuing up to buy bread and bottled milk (the only products which were there). The victuals were sold from behind the counter by the military personnel: civilian shop-assistants had been dismissed.

Of course, the real Soviet life had been less gloomy: the assortment still contained basic necessities and soldiers were never employed as salesmen.  Neither do I think there’ll be a return to “gastronoms” in this country: at the moment boutiques and supermarkets are mushrooming all over the Ukrainian capital. However, my dream had a very realistic basis: the political and social atmosphere in Ukraine is getting more and more like it was in the then-USSR. Yesterday saw another landmark on the road to suppressing freedom here: a bill entitled ”On Slander” was submitted to Parliament. According to the bill, conscious spreading of deliberately untrustworthy information that defames honour and dignity of another person may be punishable by a prison term of up to five years. That might sound reasonable if you forgot that courts in Ukraine are rubber-stamping sentences decided upon by the powers-that-be.  If any ruling party official (even on a local level) doesn’t like a critical remark in the media about himself, he can sue the “culprit”, and there can be no doubt what the decision of the court will be.

I liked a sarcastic observation concerning the richest person in Ukraine Renat Akhmetov which I came across on the Internet today. Mr. Akhmetov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, is known NEVER to attend ANY of its meetings. However, he is always registered as the one who votes – by proxy, of course: he “has entrusted” his electronic card to party comrades who do the job instead of him, which is illegal in itself. So, officially, Renat Akhmetov “participated” in voting on the aforementioned bill, though he didn’t attend physically. The Internet journalist writes: “If I say that Renat Akhmetov didn’t vote this time, will it be a truth or a slander?”

Journalists say that, if implemented, the law will turn all newspapers into Pravda-like information sheets, and it will kill the very profession of a journalist (“Pravda” was the central organ of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union).

The law, which is to become operative on December 1 this year, may affect not only journalists, but 80 per cent of rank-and-file Ukrainians. What if I give my estimate of a leading politician in an email? Or if I post an unflattering political blog? The comforting thought is that I have at least two months when I can fear no repercussions. Two months of freedom.


August 19, 2012

On this day twenty-one years ago thousands of Muscovites came to the building of their parliament (the “White House”) defending the Gorbachev democracy against the pro-communist coup. Then, after two days and two nights of confrontation, the Muscovites won. The putsch began on Monday morning. On Wednesday evening the putschist leaders were arrested.

Today the Muscovites came here again – to lay white flowers at the memorial where three young people had died at that time and whose names are carved now on the stele: Dmitriy Komar, Ilya Krichevskiy, Vladimir Usov. The white colour is the sign of protest against the present-day regime in Russia and all those who came with the flowers were closely observed by the police. A young woman came wearing a balaclava.  The mask was orange in colour but everybody understood that it was also a protest: the woman was expressing her solidarity with the Pussy Riot group who had been sentenced to two years in jail while staging an anti-Putin performance in such balaclavas. The young woman was immediately held up by the police, because, as it was explained by the policeman in the rank of lieutenant colonel, it was “prohibited to wear masks in the street.”

Today I have read about the software Prisma which is used by the Russian authorities to quickly analyse the communication in social networks and to assess how the internet community reacts to political and social events. The software scans about 60 million sources (including blog posts) in real time: only a few minutes pass from the moment when an opinion is uploaded to the time of its classification. The analysts know immediately what internet users on Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, etc. think of any event. In this connection it may be reminded that last month in the south of Ukraine joint maneuvers of Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Russian troops were held which were solving the task of coping with the “mutineers” who were going to destabilize the situation in the country…

Twenty-one years have passed… It’s quite a different country now…


July 3, 2012







On its official site the Ministry of Justice in Russia presents a list of  1,271 “extremist publications”  which shall not be reproduced, saved or distributed in any form. For those who violate the regulation criminal liability is established.  Among the prohibited printed matter there are materials about the man-made famine of 1933 in Ukraine (orchestrated by communists), books and articles about the Ukrainian Liberation Movement in 1941-1952, the archives about the activities of the KGB.

All that sounds rather familiar. About 30 years ago your career could be broken (or you could even face a prison term) if you mentioned those millions who had died as a result of the genocidal Holodomor, or if you started being interested in the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera.

I think the only reason why the Bible is not on the list is that the Russian Orthodox church is performing a political function at the moment: it’s gathering the ex-USSR lands.

Interestingly, the list was first published in 2007. At that time it contained 14 items of banned literature.


November 4, 2011

Ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence after her Oct. 11 conviction for abuse of office while in power. She is actually a political prisoner, the victim of revenge after a show trial. President Viktor Yanukovych knows about life in prison as a twice-convicted felon, for theft and assault, in 1967 and again in 1969, before his release from prison in 1972. The convictions were overturned in 1978 and his record expunged. Yanukovych has said that prison made him a better man. In an interview with TV host Savik Shuster, Yanukovych said: ”Of course it was a traumatic experience, but one that gave me the opportunity to think about life more deeply. When a person receives a test in life, he suffers and gains experience. The realization that something awful can happen to anyone at any time forces me to pause, to meet people halfway and, at a minimum, to understand them and empathize.” (from Kyiv Post)


October 20, 2011

One of the most eccentric and ruthless heads of state is dead. In his life-time he surrounded himself with gun-toting female bodyguards, and for years he traveled with a voluptuous Ukrainian nurse. He brought along a Bedouin tent to sleep in when he traveled abroad, and once attended a summit in Belgrade with six camels and two horses in tow. Gadhafi wore flowing robes, favored oversized sunglasses and received Botox injections. His peacock-style military uniform reminded me of Joseph Stalin whom I remember from portraits seen in my childhood. Later Leonid Brezhnev had five stars of the  Soviet Union Hero on the left part of his chest and a common joke was that his left shoulder had to be elongated in pictures– to make it big enough for the stars and for kilos of other “rewards.”  Why are dictators so vain? Or, they wouldn’t be dictators if they weren’t vain?

Gadhafi got what he deserved. However, when I was watching the rebels on all the channels today as they celebrated their victory, dancing in front of the cameras and shooting into the air, it seemed to me that Gadhafi wasn’t dead at all. He was living in each of the rebels. In the aggressiveness of their joy, in the vehemence of their anger… In their stupid vanity.

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