День победы 2017 / Victory Day 2017

boy holding portrait of veteran

Audio content: Participants in Moscow’s Victory Day celebration tell the story of their family’s connection to the war.
Video content: Images of the “Immortal Regiment” Victory Day event in Moscow.

Links to two videos below.

My first blog post concerned the remarkable “Immortal Regiment” event that has become a popular part of Russia’s annual Victory Day (День победы) celebration on May 9. Two years later, the event has only grown in scale, and so I thought I’d offer some fresh material drawn from the most recent iteration of this popular parade. While many people associate Russia’s Victory Day celebration with the traditional Soviet military parade (the military parade still occurs; for images, see this video), the “Immortal Regiment” is a very different event, one based on the mass participation of regular citizens. The point is that people walk while carrying portraits of family members — parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — who participated in the “Great Patriotic War” (or, “Great Fatherland War,” Великая Отечественная Война), as World War II is known in Russian. The event allows even those ancestors who did not live to see the end of the war, or who were far away from major cities when Germany surrendered, to symbolically participate in a victory parade. The event mixes happiness and sorrow as Russians celebrate a historical moment of great national pride while preserving the memory of the immense sacrifices made to defeat the Nazis.

The “Immortal Regiment” is a new phenomenon in Russia. The first Immortal Regiment was spontaneously organized by journalists at an independent TV station in Tomsk in 2011. (The station, ТВ2, no longer broadcasts — like most other non-government-affiliated media outlets, it was gradually shut down in 2014.) The Tomsk event was soon picked up at the federal level and began to receive government support. “Immortal Regiment” marches now occur in cities across Russia and in former Soviet republics or nations with significant Russian populations. Vladimir Putin joined the event in Moscow for the first time in 2015 and this year once again walked at the head of the Immortal Regiment. Official estimates are that 850,000 participated in this year’s event in Russia’s capital, where the route runs down Tverskaia Street to Red Square, and that eight million people marched across the country.

The main symbol of Victory Day in Russia is

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Крупные акции протеста против коррупции / Major Protests Against Corruption

Schoolboy at protest in Tomsk

      Photo: Марат Хамматов, Tomsk.ru

Audio content: Voices from the March 26 anti-corruption protests in cities across Russia.
Video content: Images of the protests, chanting crowds, speakers, police detainment of protestors.

I’ve finally found time to put together a great selection of voices and images from the anti-corruption protests that occurred in cities across Russia on March 26, 2017. The protests, which drew more participants than any similar event in the last several years, were organized by Aleksei Navalny’s Фонд борьбы с коррупцией (ФБК, Anti-Corruption Fund). In particular, demonstrators were reacting to the recently released video Он вам не Димон (He’s Not “Dimon” to You — a reference to a very casual nickname for Medvedev, which his press secretary famously rejected), in which Navalny methodically — and with quite a bit of PR skill — presents evidence that Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev has profited from numerous corrupt arrangements that give him access to magnificent vacation properties and luxury goods. The video is part of Navalny’s quixotic campaign to be elected president in the 2018 elections, an endeavor that is unlikely to end in his actual electoral victory but that nevertheless threatens to significantly undermine the political security of Putin and his circle.

Navalny’s video, together with details turned up by his foundation’s earlier investigations, is a pop culture phenomenon. The video seems to have appealed to young people in particular: many observers commented on the large number of high school students and college-age people at the protest events. Numerous “memes” related to Medvedev are visible in the videos below. They include ducks (a reference to a house for ducks located in a pond at Medvedev’s alleged secret dacha), athletic shoes (the first “thread” in Navalny’s investigation is a pair of colorful athletic shoes visible in Medvedev’s Instagram, which Navalny links to an Amazon order sent to an anonymous email account supposedly linked to Medvedev) and the phrase “сами вы держитесь!” (“hang in there yourself!!” — referring to Medvedev’s ham-handed response to a group of elderly people complaining about their meager pensions in 2016 — he told them to just “hang in there”).

Any group political protest in Russia is supposed to be pre-approved and assigned to a particular site by the authorities. Several of the March 26 protests were officially approved, but most were not. In Moscow, participants claimed they were just out for a “walk” (прогулка) near the Pushkin statue on Tverskaia street in the center. Although the vast majority of protesters attended the events without experiencing immediate repercussions, significant numbers were arrested, including about 700 in Moscow, according to the video from Телеканал Дождь below. Police also visited the offices of the Anti-Corruption Fund, initially claiming there were concerns about a fire, and took all employees into custody. Navalny was given a fifteen-day prison sentence. Authorities blamed him for leading the youth astray by encouraging them to engage in dangerous activities.

Four videos are linked or embedded below. They include images and participant comments from the Moscow protest (video one), speeches in Novosibirsk that give a taste of the protesters’ rhetoric (video two), an overview of events in multiple cities with chanting crowds and comments from individual participants (video three), and a viral video of a school-age boy’s short speech in Tomsk (video four). Also, Meduza compiled a photo gallery of events in numerous cities.

To learn more about Navalny, see this earlier post on his speech to an opposition rally.

Заметки о языке: Useful words include “вор” (“thief”), “воровать” (“to steal”), “митинг” (“demonstration”), “акция” (“rally”), “позор” (“shame,” commonly chanted at police who are detaining protesters), “коррупция” (“corruption”), “власть” (“power,” “the authorities”), “задержать” (“to take into custody, detain”), “молодёжь” (“young people”), “терпеть” (“to be patient, to put up with”).

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Russian Transcript

Video One

0:00-0:20

Ведущая: Я напомню, что в нескольких десятках городов России сегодня, двадцать шестого марта, проходят акции против коррупции, поводом для которых стало расследование Фонда борьбы с коррупцией Алексей Навального о премьер-министре Дмитрии Медведеве.

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Жизнь во время войны на Донбассе / Wartime Life in East Ukraine

older woman living in wartime Donbas

Audio content: Several women describe their decision to remain living in villages that have been under heavy fire during the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Visual content: Images of wartime destruction in some Ukrainian villages and small towns.

Excerpted clips are posted below. You can view the entire report in high-quality video at TV Rain. (A subscription or one-time payment is required, but your money goes toward a good cause — supporting one of the last independent TV news organizations in Russia.)

The war in Eastern Ukraine has been in the news again, sadly, as the conflict that began in April 2014 flared up again in early February 2017, soon after President Trump’s inauguration. The Ukrainian government based in Kiev continues to battle the pro-Russian separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which have been functioning as self-declared autonomous governments under the names “Donetsk People’s Republic” (Донецкая народная республика) and “Lugansk People’s Republic” (Луганская народная республика). (The entire region is often called “Donbas,” an abbreviation of “Донецкая бассейн,” i.e. the basin of the Donets River.) Russia, despite official denials, is supporting the breakaway regions with both troops and supplies. Hostilities first began in the wake of the late-2013 “Maidan” revolution in Kiev, which deposed the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in favor of a pro-European-Union government. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in spring 2014 is another part of this same geopolitical conflict, which arises from Russia’s desire to maintain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Since Ukraine used to actually be part of the USSR, it seems that Putin is not willing to let the country drift out of Russia’s sphere of influence entirely without putting up a fight. The Kremlin’s goal in eastern Ukraine is probably not to fully annex the pro-Russian regions, as happened with Crimea; instead, Russia, via the internationally-brokered negotiation process in Minsk, Belarus, is urging Kiev to grant a large degree of autonomy to the eastern territories — which could then function as a sort of Russian foothold within Ukraine. The “Minsk Agreements” have produced temporary ceasefires and incomplete political resolutions but have failed to stop the violence permanently. The latest surge in violence was centered on the town of Avdiievka, which is not far from some of the villages featured in today’s videos. Besides the rise in violence, the eastern Ukraine conflict also entered the news recently when Russia controversially declared it would recognize passports from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The Ukrainian conflict also factors into concerns over the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Specifically, it has been reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen brought a peace plan to the White House that would have the US and Ukraine essentially recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea (by granting Russia a long-term “lease”) in exchange for peace in the eastern regions. The plan was given to Cohen by a Ukrainian parliament member who has now been accused of treason.

The videos featured in this post are excerpted from an early 2016 report by TV Rain. TV Rain sent the reporter Viktoriia Ivleva into some Ukraine-controlled territories very close to the border with the breakaway republics. Ivleva brought humanitarian supplies as well as video cameras. Although the footage is over a year old, it gives us insight into what life probably looks like for residents of the same region today. Ivleva talks to some tough yet traumatized people who, through a mixture of courage, stubbornness and a lack of better options, have stayed in their village homes despite the war. During active periods in the fighting, artillery fire severely damaged most of their homes and forced many of them to live in their basements. The communities presented in the video are Sjeverne (Северное, Ясиноватский район), Opytne (Опытное, Артёмновский район) and Krasnohorivka (Красногоровка, Донецкая область).

For more on this topic see my earlier posts on the Maidan and on life in Crimea after annexation.

Заметки о языке: The most notable linguistic feature of these videos is the distinctive pronunciation of the letter “г” as something closer to the letter “х,” a typical feature of the southwest Russian or eastern Ukrainian dialect of Russian.

 

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Excerpt 1

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Nemtsov March

I have a new post ready to go — it will appear in a day or two — but in the meantime, an earlier post about Boris Nemtsov is newly relevant. Today in Moscow and other cities thousands of people marched in memory of the assassinated politician. My earlier post featured a committed group of people who were participating in round-the-clock guardianship of the unofficial memorial at the site where he was shot.

 

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Нарушения на выборах / Voting Irregularities

young woman confronts police officer

Audio Content: In Moscow, voters and polling site observers describe some of the odd large-group voting activity they are seeing in their precincts.
Video Content: Interior of two different Moscow voting sites.

Video available below or in a higher-quality version at TV Rain (subscription required).

Here’s a second post on the elections topic! See the previous post for information on the general results of the September parliamentary elections. This post focuses on some of the irregularities observed during the voting. The general consensus seems to be that this voting day had fewer irregularities than in 2011. Nevertheless, some apparent voting fraud was observed, and in any case there are numerous ways to influence elections well before voting actually occurs. The major Russian TV channels are more or less state-controlled and opposition parties do not get media exposure, public demonstrations require prior government approval, opposition candidates and parties are charged with crimes or administrative violations, etc. Meanwhile, a few types of voting-day fraud are well known enough to have acquired common nicknames. The most straightforward and egregious method is “вбросы,” simple ballot-box stuffing. One alarming instance of this in the city of Rostov was caught on video and widely circulated on the internet. Results for this precinct were subsequently annulled. Another method is the “карусель” or “merry-go-round.” In this procedure, voters (who for one reason or another — money, employment status — are under the control of the entity organizing the fraud) are given an already filled-out ballot. They go into the polling place and are given the same empty ballot as all voters. They then put the pre-provided ballot into the voting machine and upon exit give the empty ballot to the organizers of the fraud, who thereby confirm that the individual acted as instructed.

The potential voting irregularity featured in this post is related to a sort of absentee voting. Voters in Russia are able to vote at a site other than their home precinct if they provide a legal document called an “открепительное удостоверение” (loosely, a “detaching attestation”).

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Выборы в Госдуму / Russia’s Parliamentary Elections

Moscow voter

Audio Content: A journalist quizzes voters on their choices.
Visual Content: Images of Moscow voters, voting precincts, ballots and machines.

Video available below or in a higher-quality version at TV Rain (subscription required).

On September 18 Russians turned out to elect representatives (депутаты) to the lower house of the national parliament (Государственная Дума, Госдума). Actually, turnout (явка) was quite low, around 48 percent, a circumstance generally viewed as favorable to the party in power because it means that their supporters (some of whom are pressured to vote) end up carrying greater weight. This election was carried out using a hybrid system. Half of the Duma representatives (225 of them) were chosen according to closed party lists, similar to the “parliamentary” style of democracy used in Canada and many Western European nations: voters select a party and seats in the Duma are allocated proportionally according to the votes each party receives. This is referred to as voting “по партийным спискам” (by party lists). The other 225 representatives were chosen as individuals particular to a district, similar to how the United States votes. This is referred to as voting “по одномандатному округу” (by single-mandate district). This system allows for ticket-splitting: one can vote for one party overall but support a candidate from a different party for one’s individual “single-mandate” district.

In this video, the TV Rain journalist Pavel Lobkov visits voting precincts in several elite neighborhoods in the center of Moscow and asks people how they voted. (The introductions to each section, where he provides statistics for each neighborhood, are great listening practice for numbers.) Lobkov also converses briefly with Andrei Zubov, a well-known historian and Duma candidate from an opposition party. Muscovians tend to give more support to opposition parties than do voters in the regions, so you’ll hear a variety of parties mentioned in the video.

Although Putin’s party is by far the dominant force, Russians can choose among several other options.

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