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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: January 20, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Novaya Gazeta Loses Court Challenge to Russian State Censor

Rights in Russia reports that an effort by Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper and news site, has lost its court case to challenge Roskomnadzor, the state censor.

Novaya Gazeta was handed a warning last year for an article by Yulia Latynina, "If We Are Not the West, Then Who Are We?", published on September 10, 2014.

The court rejected Novaya Gazeta''s defense which said Latynina's article doesn't contain any extremist material and does not go beyond the scope of academic debate.

SOVA Center, an organization that monitors extremism in Russia, said they found Roskomnadzor's warning unlawful because they never explained exactly what was "extremist" about Latynina's work.

Perhaps it's a sign of the times that when making this analysis, Sova felt it still had to explain that they did not believe Latynina's "strident thesis" to be "beyond question."

Latynina, a journalist as well as a fiction writer, has been a popular presenter and columnist at both Ekho Moskvy and Novaya Gazeta and other papers long known for her controversial articles

In the article in question, Latynina analyzes the increasing use of the "ancient Rus'" theme in everything from state propaganda to advertising and makes a rather unflattering portrait of Russia today by contrast with the West (translation by The Interpreter)

It was Peter the Great who inoculated the Russian wilding with the European cultural strain, or to be more accurate, re-inoculated, since the first immunization was made by the Vikings, but then the Tatars chopped down the tree almost at the root. That's how Russia would have grown after the Tatars -- with drunkenness, with the Oprichina [Tsar's secret police], with ignorance, with the dance of Fedka Basmanov before the tsar, whose boots everyone kisses until he chops off their heads, and with the endless certitude in ignorance and hypocrisy of one's own superiority, if it had not been for Peter.


A reference to history might have been forgiven, even if not in the official canon, but Latynina applied this assessment of Russian culture to the present -- hence it was deemed "extremism," which, as Roskomnadzor saw it, using the language of the law, is "exceptionalism, superiority or inferiority of a person on the basis of their social, racial, national, religious or linguistic affiliation, as well as a public and knowingly false accusation against a person holding public office." As Latynina writes:

Under the slogan of "Return to great Russian culture" in a society rapidly turning fascist, we are told to consider Russian crudeness, drunkenness and lack of culture as primordial. It is instilled in us that what is primordially Russian is drinking, chopping off heads and taking bribes. And all the rest is supposedly the rotten West.

Alas, there is nothing "primordially Russian" in brutality and bloodshed. It's simply wildness which is peculiar to the roots of any civilization. Henry the VIII chopped off the heads of his wives, but David Cameron would hardly do the same and refer to "primordial British traditions." All successful civilizations pass through bestiality and barbarianism. But not a single successful civilization takes it into their head to make bestiality a model. Only fascism would get this idea.

Novaya Gazeta plans to appeal the court decision.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick



The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Moscow Art Activists Who 'Exorcized' Lenin Get 10 Days in Jail
Russian performance artists who threw holy water on Lenin's Tomb yesterday, January 19, have been sentenced to 10 days of jail, Yod News reports.

Oleg Basov and Yevgeny Avilov of the art collective Blue Horseman said they were "exorcizing" Lenin.

The group was formed in St. Petersburg in 2013 and describes its work as "petty bourgeois sots-art," which was a Soviet spin-off of pop art. Other actions include eating 100-ruble bank notes at the Bank  of Russia and posing as dead people on the Ukrainian flag at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.

Many Russians have demonstrated on Red Square over the years for all kinds of causes, but this action seems to be the first time that protesters actually attacked Lenin's Tomb, a sacred state object. Russians are still divided on whether Lenin should be given "a decent Christian burial" or kept on display. In 2013, renovation was completed on the tomb, which seemed to indicate that the forces for Lenin were prevailing. President Vladimir Putin announced at that time that the body would stay, and compared the preservation of Lenin to the custom of keeping saints' relics in the Russian Orthodox Church.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick


The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin Believes He Has Deliberately Been Left Out of Auschwitz Commemoration

Vladimir Putin will not be traveling to an event on January 27 in Poland to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' concentration camp Auschwitz, gazeta.ru reported.

Polish organizers of the event are believed by Moscow to have deliberately not invited heads of state so that they would not have to invite Putin, says gazeta.ru.

This year, not the government of Poland but the leadership of the Auschwitz-Berkanau Memorial Museum have issued a general invitation to all leaders of European countries and the US, without indicating specific names. Russia's envoy to Poland, Ambassador Sergei Andreyev will attend the ceremony on behalf of Russia.

President Barack Obama will not attend, but has organized a delegation which has been announced on the White House web site.  Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Department of Treasury, will lead the delegation. Nicholas Dean, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues of the Department of State is also included along with other officials responsible for European and religious affairs, and two Holocaust survivors.

French President Francois Holland, Austrian President Heinz Fischer and German President Joachim Gauck will all attend.
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Parliament Plans Law to Ban 'Undesirable' Foreign Organizations

Meduza reports that a new law to create a list of banned "undesirable" foreign organizations has been passed in the first reading, which means it still has to get through the second and third readings before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Russian laws are often drafted in the presidential administration and move as if on a conveyor belt to the docile parliament, but they can also originate in various interest groups and factions who are jockeying for position, as Moscow Times recently explained.


This law would require first a decision of the Prosecutor General's Office and the Ministry of Justice that determined an organization was "not desirable" before it could be included in the "banned" list. This would mean such organizations could not operate on Russian territory or distribute their materials, including over the Internet.

Under the draft law, an organization found to be "undesirable" will be fined 20,000 rubles (US $305), and after already being branded with that designation, its members could face up to 8 years in prison.

The law was introduced in November 2014 by Aleksandr Tarnovsky, the deputy head of the State Duma Committee on Civic Organizations, and Anton Ishchenko, a member of the ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, BBC Russian Service reports.

There is already a "Foreign Agents" law under which any group that receives grants from abroad and engages in vaguely-defined "political activity" can be placed under further regulation and scrutiny. This has led some to close.

The new law would broaden the scope behind foreign organizations with grantees in Russia, to any foreign organization that fell afoul of arbitrary state definitions of what is "undesirable."


-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Conservative Appointed as Deputy Head of Bank of Russia

Meduza.io has a profile today of Aleksandr Torshin, the Russian senator from Mari-El who has been named state secretary and deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia.

With the drop in the price of oil and the ruble crash, President Vladimir Putin has decided to bring in a figure who was last involved significantly in credit and monetary policy more than 15 years ago but is now associated with the championing of conservative state ideals. He is now the only member of United Russia, the ruling party, in the bank's management.

Torshin is remembered most of all for heading the parliamentary commission to investigate the terrorist hostage crisis in Beslan in which 385 were killed, mainly children. Critics faulted Russian riot troops who refused to negotiate after initial successes by Ingushetia's former president Ruslan Aushev in getting out some pregnant women and infants. They stormed the building, killing many of the hostages. So when Torshin's commission produced a report in 2005 blaming Ingushetia's law-enforcers and not containing any criticism of federal troops, there was a great deal of dismay and anger, especially from survivors.

"The terrorist act in Beslan mobilized the resources of the state that enabled the turning of the tide for the better in the battle against terrorism," Torshin said in 2006.

7o8MmpYVfupvQnDpjO_TVw.jpg
Torshin in Beslan.


Meduza has collected a number of other details from Torshin's career:

- He presided over a toughening of the criminal code to crack own on terrorism, and also urged that pedophiles be "chemically castrated" -- a move that was not approved.

--He pushed for life sentences for drug dealers and severe punishment for "spice" sellers.

- He advocated for the right to carry a weapon, a position that has little support in Russia (he's a life-time member of the National Rifle Association);

- He has been an outspoken critic of Ukraine's Maidan movement, and has described the election of Viktor Yanukovych as "fair" and not marred by fraud. "I don't understand those who call Maidan a peaceful protest, but the advocates of federalization terrorists and separatists," he said in an interview.

- He defended the Federation Council's authorization for President Putin to send Russian troops in Ukraine.

The one qualification Torshin doesn't have is recent experience on economic issues, since he's mainly been preoccupied with cracking down on terrorists and drug dealers. In 2013, he criticized the Central Bank for high interest rates for refinancing mortgages, and believed that lowering these rates below the inflation rate would help grow the economy. Meduza quotes him as saying (translation by The Interpreter):

"Current legislation defines the chief purpose of the activity of the Bank of Russia is to secure the stability of the national payment system. And not to oblige the Central Bank to be concerned about the development of the economy and to support the economic policy of the government. But that is what is extremely important to do now."

Torshin also welcome the introduction of a sign for the ruble, calling it "historic," and praised his future boss, Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Central Bank.

Torshin is also well-known on Twitter, with 23,000 followers.

He uses the account to post several dozen tweets a day, links to news, congratulations on religious holidays and the anniversaries of various events. The feed is chock-full of cat pictures and religious greetings, but also has some thinly-veiled anti-Ukrainian sentiment:

Translation: Good night, friends!
Translation: Happy Baptist Cathedral and St. John the Baptist Day!

Translation: I'm watching the biathalon race. Well, and the last names: the Ukrainian Zhirny, the Slovenian -- Fak, imagine! Perhaps an 18+ mark should go on this. Children are watching.

"Zhirny" is a Russian word that means "fat."

Torshin is a big supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church, and one of the authors of the Orthodox publication "Rus Derzhavnaya" [Rus' Supreme, a term using the ancient name for Russia--The Interpreter]. In 2012, he was famous for saying "Enough blasphemizing!" about Pussy Riot, and fulminating against evil:

"Against us there are forces fighting that are hidden, cunning and systemic, with the help of the newest network technologies. Who are they? They are various forces, but the worst is that we are fighting ourselves! The Russian Orthodox Church opposes negative processes occurring in society. Therefore it is not surprising that it has become an object of massive attack, the aim of which is to discredit this most important institution. Nothing more nor less is at stake than the fate of Russia."

Meduza doesn't comment on Torshin's actual political affiliations beyond mentioning that he is in United Russia -- the vehicle for Putin's re-election.

This tweet shows him posing at a conference with Sergei Baburin, one of the most prominent Russian nationalists, vice speaker of the State Duma, leader of the Narodnaya Volya [Popular Will] Party of National Revival and member of the parliamentary Rodina [Motherland] bloc.


Translation: Sergei Nikolayevich Baburin. Mercury Club

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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