Partisan Media Movement
Partisan Media Movement is an initiative which aims to break the ideological blockade in Russia and make the majority of people in the Russian Federation know what is really going on behind their backs.
On the situation in Russia
As I am writing this, part of my family is in Ukraine, whereas I myself am in Russia. I feel the urge to describe the situation with public opinion here so that we all could work more productively to stop the war.
For years the government of Russian Federation have been repressing any real opposition, including cultural, scientific and artisitc initiatives. At the same time the population has been trained to stay passive, “mind their own business”, “live their own small lives” and stay away from politics. Over the last two years the infrastructure of protest was completely destroyed, Navalny headquarters were recognised as illegal and “extremist”, the project “Memorial”, which dealt with collective memory of Gulag victims, was destroyed. At the same time billions were poured into state propaganda, which appropriated the victorious Soviet experience of WW2, persuaded people in Russian Federation that the whole world hates them, that Russia is the only force which really opposes NATO and China at the same time.
Several days before the war and during the first days of it all of us, the members of intellectual, artistic and activist commuinities tried hard to persuade people around us that the state media lied to them, we posted photos and videos of what was happening in Ukraine, showed evidence with Russian captive soldiers, went to protests, handed out leaflets and pasted antiwar . The first shock and despair for us was to witness the silence of our families and friends, the second and more painful thing was to see how people started to support the actions of Putin while at the same time refusing to look up for information. In some cases the absurdity went to the extent when people from Ukraine called to their relatives in Russia to tell them what is going on and call for action, and people on the Russian side just refused to believe. Over the last ten days facebook and all the media resources which were telling the truth were blocked or closed. Some journalists managed to flea from Russia to keep on working. Activists were attacked in the streets not only by police, but also by lay people. Thousands of politically active subjects have fled to other countries fearing severe repressions. On March 5th a new law was issued. According to it any disapproval of the military actions of RF is illegal and can lead either to a fine or to imprisonment up to 15 years.
So what actually happened? Why is the majority of people in Russia silently watch the catastrophe or even express their support for Putin? Well, I guess no one would argue that most citizens of RF did not expect such a turn. The weariness brought by hard life, the trained helplessness multiplied by the feeling of unreflected guilt and being accomplice in terrible crime made even the most neutral ones take the easiest way. This way consists in actually embracing the worldview offered by official propaganda. For most citizens the sactions worked as proof that all the world is against them. I perfectly know that these Russians who are against the war are supported all over the world. However, this support is invisible from the inside of RF. The propaganda keeps “reporting” extreme rates of Russophobia. The antiwar community in Russia feels desperate: they are hated and despised by the majority in RF and at the same time they feel that they are abandoned and doomed to go to prison. Most of people, who are against the war, do not feel appropriate to speak about their problems as they rightly consider them to be insignificant comparing to terror and pain which Ukrainians experience.
Why it might be important to deal with it? While the primer necessity consists in supporting Ukraine in any ways available, the changing of public opinion in RF will lead to a quicker ceasefire. However painful and inconceivable it might be, the understanding, the guilt and responsibility will come later. Everyday the price Russian citizens have to pay for their silence and ignorance is growing.
However, if we continue to scare the majority in RF, who was taught to be passive and impotent for decades, they will only drown deeper in denial and far-right moods, which will lead to more deaths and pain on both sides. Now people, who are in Russia and have no ways to escape, see only to options: either prepare for long-term encarceration or be silent and supportive of the picture offered by official propaganda. What we can do is show that there is a better way, that by rejecting Putin people can have a decent life without extreme poverty and havoc which is soon to come in RF.
What can actually be done? Firstly, it is important to draw Russian-speaking people, who are against the war. This is especially acute in case of media and professionals, journalisits and people who are able to write well in Russian. They need to influence the public opinion through the most popular social media and media in Russia: vkontakte, Yandex-zen and odnoklassniki. It is vital to support this movement. This has all chances to work well now when lots of people in RF lose their jobs and have loans to pay. Secondly, it is necessary to vocally support the anti-war protesters in Russia. Despite the criminilazation of anti-war protests and police vilonece the number of protesters is growing and this tendency needs to be encouraged.
On the usage of "fascism"
I believe that now it is vital to speak about fascism and a fatal mistake of the majority of Russian citizens.
What is actually going on in Russia right now? Most media, which spoke againsts the war in Ukraine, have been shut down. The politicians, journalsits, activists have been either forced to escape from Russia or have been detained. Meta is recognised as extremist. No facebook, no instagram, no watsapp. The majority of the population does not use telegram, the elderly as well as simple working people know nothing about vpns. They are left alone with TV and state propaganda. While every hour children and women are dying in Ukraine, most people in Russia are sure that Putin is liberating them. They hate antiwar activists and believe they are traitors. There are numerous cases when lay people attack protesters and people with antiwar symbolics in the streets and report the “crimes” to police. Today there was a case when a man saw a person glewing antiwar posters on poles at night. He chased the activist, beat him up, tore his leaflets and called the police, who came – law and behold – in ten minutes. Usually, it takes the police three or four hours to arrive after a reported case of domestic violence. If they agree to come at all. So, here we see extraordinary willingness of law-inforcers to assist the fight with demands to ceasefire. There are also people who know what is going on, but seeing violence towards protesters, they are afraid to speak up or act.
But let’s take a step back and try to understand how people in Russia could let this happen. After the downfall of the USSR there were a lot of people who felt liberated and full of hopes, but also there were those who felt lost. Sometimes, they felt both liberated and lost. To pump the money out of economy corrupted power and oligarchs needed public support or at least lack of resistance, so they poured billions into propaganda. In its turn, the state propaganda needed to make lay people believe everything was going fine, to give them some kind of identity they could be proud of. This identity turned out to be a schizophrenic mix of unmixable things: the imperial past of Russia, the victories of Soviet Union, crazily twisted Orthodox religion, Russian folk culture and economic principles of wild capitalism. It still slips my mind how they managed to do this with so many national republics, where the population is mostly non-Russian. It still slips my mind how they succeeded when there are so many people from former Soviet contries living in RF. All these people as well as children of mixed nationalities have been treated as less worthy than “true Russians”, work migrants from neighboring countries have been facing discrimination and violence, being at the same time a source of cheap labour. Finally, it slips my mind how this nationalist agenda has been possible, considering that it is really hard to find a “true Russian”: after decades of Soviet secular policy the nationalities have become so mixed up, that there is hardly any 100% Russians left. So, “Russian” is not a nationality, it is basically an ideological consturct. To create it, the propaganda machine had to edit and rewrite history and appropriate various parts of it. One of the poles of contemporary Russian ideology is the memory of WWII. Since Soviet times it is called “The Great Fatherland War” here. Soviet past was taken out of the closet and reused for new purposes. It has become the main point for the majority to feel pride and unity. Billions have been spent on Victory Day parades, hundreds of new films and series about WWII have been made. In the new version of “Victory over fascism” those were Russians, not all Soviet people, who were brave and heroic. This nationalist “ version of Soviet experience excluded any reflection of grief or mistakes made. Little by little it exluded the memory about shameful pages of Soviet history like memory about victims of Gulag. “Memorial”, an organisation, which was dedicated to saving and reconstructing data about Gulag victims, had been under attack for years until it was destroyed last autumn. Thus, a bright legend was created for everybody to believe.
This victorious legend was too hard to resist for post-Soviet individuals on the rerritory of RF, who were mostly crashed and humiliated. They happily embraced it together with blindness towards current problems and growing nationalism. This gave an opportunity for state propaganda to depict opposition as something foreign, invasive and coming from the evil West (I am sure, that any western person with the skill of critical thinking may name the sins of the West, but now our topic is different). Women in Russia cannot want equal rights and laws against domestic violence, feminists are paid by the West to disrupt strong and beautiful Russia. LGBTQ+ people do not exist in Russia, these are agents, who want to destroy Russia. Any real opposition is paid from the West. Eco-activists are traitors from the West. All this ensured carte blanche for arrests and prosecution of politicians and activists, murders as well as the destruction of the infrastructure of protest. For years younger people have been experiencing a painful rapture in family relationship: their parents called them “traitors of mortherland” and “the fifth column”. Now the situation has become so bad, that families are torn forever. When people under 40 are trying to speak with relatives about what is really happening in Ukraine, they get sharp denial and anger as feedback. Last year a long ago created law about foreign agents came into full power. According to it, one could be recognised as a foreign agent just for speaking against Putinist policies in public and for receiving any amount of money from abroad, which could be not connected with their political activity anyhow. Even the Comettee of Soldiers’ Mothers was recognised as a foreign agent. This mark of shame restricted activity of online resources, organisations and individuals, which in turn also contributed to the catastrophe we are all doomed to live in now.
But let’s return to the ideological version of the events of WWII. Why has it worked so well? Not only because post-Soviet people in RF were prone to catch this desease due to conditions they lived in. And here I am coming to the point of this text. When somebody calls the other a fascist, fights fascism with words or actions – no matter what these action are – they have an illusion, that they have localized fascism and its elsewhere. This gives a false feeling of moral superiority. By calling Ukrainians fascists, Putin and putinist propaganda sanctioned the invasion and war for citizens of Russia. It is so hard to accept reality because people think: “No, we cannot be fascsists, we fought fascists back then, all our culture is based on fighting fascists, so we are just continuing to fight fascists now”. After uncritically watching hundreds of films about honest and courageous Russian soldiers people in RF think: “No, it is not possible that Russian soldiers kill civilians and children, this is fake”, while they themselves live in a totally fake world.
When somebody calls the other a fascist, it is very hard to see inner fascism emerging and growing. Contemporary fascism cannot be simply localized. To resist contemporary fascism one needs to examine oneself honestly. And there are thousands of people from Russia who have been doing this work for years. Being unfortunate enough to be born and live in post-Soviet Russia does not automatically mean you are a fascist. Thousands risk considerably to resist putinism, they get fired for signing antiwar petitions and speaking against this war in public. Every day activists and protesters are facing police raids, police violence, tortures in prestincts as well as imprisonment. It goes without saying, that the horrors people in Ukraine are currently experiencing, cannot be compared to the difficulties in RF. These are Ukrainians who need support right now. However, I am asking not to condemn and curse any people with the citizenship of RF. A couple of days ago president Zelensky adressed people in Russia. He said that now when any sources of true information are banned in Russia, it is vital for us to break through the ideological blockade and make all the rest know what is really going on. There are numerous initiatives dedicated to this inside and outside RF. However, this is hard to give a decent fight to a state-sponsored propaganda: propagandists get sky-high salaries and guaranties of safety for their loathsome full-time job, when day by day members of antiwar movement have less and less possibilies to support themselves and cover basic needs of their families, while at the same time fearing prosecution. All this makes their efforts less effective.
Several days ago I saw a picture which combined two real episodes: there was a Ukrainian person bravely stopping a Russian tank with bare hands, on the same picture there was a crowd of Russian protesters running away from one policeman; in the upper-part of the picture there was a question “Why?”. I think I can answer this question. I believe it is because Ukrainians have something very precious to fight for. They fight for the future of their country, the future of their children. They also know that they fight for the world, because the world supports them. In Russia antiwar protesters and activists mostly feel despair. It is very hard to fight for the future of Russia when their country have been repressing them for decades. Most of them believe their country is doomed, and I guess no one could argue with that. It is very hard to fight for something that rejects and represses you. However, antiwar protesters and activists in Russia can fight for one very precious thing. They can also fight for the world, for the world to exist. World, please hear me. Support Ukraine with all your might. But also, world, please do not reject people from Russia who are willing to resist putinism. We need to make it international. We also really need to show to the majority of the population of RF that they have other ways other than sticking to their violent master.
Finally, I feel it is important to say one more thing to be honest to the end. While hundreds of activists escape from Russia to avoid imprisonment and to be able to support those who are staying, there are even more people with far bigger financial resources, who just want to go on being neutral, drinking their Starbucks lattees, shopping, travelling and watching Netflix. I want to adress these latter people: now it is not possible to keep your neutrality. If you are neutral, you are supporting putinism. Now that you are not in RF, it is time to contribute to antiwar initiatives, because if you do not, there might be no place in the world where you can set up a nice life. Support Ukrainian refugees with money and accomodation, support OVDinfo and other organisations, which provide free juridical assistance to detained protesters and activists in Russia, support activists outside Russia who are working to break the ideolgical blockade. It is necessary to take responsibility now in order to stay people, in order to go on living.
mothers giving birth in basements
open burial pits
death from starvation and dehydration in besieged Mariupol
blocked humanitarian corridors
shelling of evacuees
deliberately destroyed residential areas
officials who lie about dead conscript soldiers
stampede and panic at the borders
provocations in Donetsk fabricated by the military
refusal to return dead bodies to their homes
war crimes committed with cluster and vacuum bombs
playing with nuclear threats – the grin of madness and powerlessness
How did this even become possible? During the years of Putin’s regime the political space has been narrowed by repressions, total censorship and the military-style rule exercised by the security apparatus. The entire opposition has been liquidated by contract killers shooting in plain sight, political persecution, trumped-up criminal cases and imprisonment of activists.
Currently, any opinion that differs from the official view of the state amounts to treason and is punishable by fines and imprisonment for up to 15 years. In order to be prosecuted, it is sufficient to draw a “NO WAR” banner or post a tweet.
In the first week of the war, the Russian censoring agent Roskomnadzor shut down almost all opposition media outlets. Аfter a series of searches, direct threats, pressure and arrests their employees were forced to leave the country. Many independent media have suspended their work because their right to public speech has been crippled. Students are expelled from the universities and employees are illegally fired for articulating an anti-war position.
For those who have left Russia and continue to talk about the war and cover the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces, it will be impossible to return home under Putin’s current government. Certainly this is not the first mass exodus from the country during his rule, but probably the last and the most devastating one.
I am writing about this in Georgia with my 12-year-old son, where we stay in limbo between the impossibility of returning back and the lack of prospects for the present. This position allows me to write from a safe place. Same cannot be said about the people of Ukrainian cities, those who shudder at explosions, refugees waiting their turn at the border or the morally and physically repressed activists in Russia – all those who for various reasons needed but haven’t been able to leave.
I want to think that the invasion of Ukraine by Russian Armed Forces, mass repressions in Belarus, bloody suppression of the protests in Kazakhstan are the final convulsions of the outdated clinical patriarchal politics, which will soon become impossible.
Veneration of dictatorship and Tsarism ingrained in the minds of the Russian majority cannot exist in the contemporary world. Nowadays it is not enough to shut down the radio station “Ekho Moskvy” and think that one controls the mindset of the country. Digital capabilities are precisely the capabilities rather than means of control. If we use them strategically, we all have the capacity to organize and mobilize resistance.
Passivity, hegemony, universalism and authoritarianism are not our only problems, of course. The reactions of a number of NATO countries and the US also leave a lot to be desired; it repeats the same outdated scoreline: mutual deterrence and subsequent payoff.
If feminist politicians dominated the field of public policy, the majority would not think in terms of the conflicting interests of states. Imperialism, war crimes, fascism and discriminatory logic would be directly criticised. (By the way, what is the strange coincidence that so many captive soldiers of the Russian Armed Forces turn out to be from the peripheral Russian geographies, from sub-proletariat classes but not from wealthy families of Moscow or St.Petersburg?) Why are we now pinning the hope of resistance on the women’s mobilization against the conscription of their children into the army? Because it is the mothers who are aware of the reproductive care work and social responsibility. The latter are of no value to the Russian state apparatus with its low social security provision and shimmering health care.
For the Russian extractivist war machine, nineteen-year-old children from the periphery are just another kind of resource for maintaining colonial authority, so that the Russian government can further back other oppressive regimes in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Syria. Providing social securities or life prospects is not important for the regime which foments pseudo-patriotism in schools and suppresses the individual’s ability to criticize and question.
Russia’s contemporary imperialism became possible through perpetuation of political irresponsibility and normalization of violence against the racialised subjects, migrant laborers, political and LGBTQI* activists. Nothing will change without changing education policies and the parameters of access to knowledge and public speech. We need institutions to develop political subjectivity from an early age.
Today we see borders of states being redrawn before our eyes: by missile strikes, blown up bridges, captured infrastructures. The borderlines are bleeding. Bodies mutilated by explosions manifest these borderlines. The wounds left on the body of earth by the funeral ditches and forcibly occupied territories will be turned by the authorities into shining pictures of recent history in school textbooks. No one shall learn to live with the pain of war and to become patient about their grief. So, the stories of war must be retold in tongues of fear, despair, impossibility and sorrow. The patriarchal optics is to blame for glorification and aestheticization of war narratives.
media resistance group
In recent years, we got used to hearing corporations and companies brag about their responsibility to customers and employees. These days, when the Russian Federation is bombing Ukraine and killing have hardly made any attempts to explain their actions to Russian citizens. That wouldn’t be significant or peaceful Ukrainians, we also see that giants of trade are actually leaving Russian market or suspending their activity there. However, while presenting it as a conscious behaviour outside Russia, these giants necessary if there were free, independent media in Russia which could cover or explain what was going on to their audiences. In reality, there are hardly any left. Over these three weeks, almost all credible sources providing reliable information and hard facts have been completely destroyed. And while companies stay silent and not explain their actions to Russian citizens in an attempt to secure their possible return to the Russian market, while antiwar activists are hunted inside the RF, the Russian state’s propaganda is already probing its way towards legitimising the use of nuclear weapons.
Correct us if we are wrong, but we thought that there would be no trade if there is no world to trade in. You cannot trade if humanity does not exist. Well, maybe big companies have some other planets to do their business on. Otherwise we cannot explain why Adidas, Google Russia, McDonalds Rus, Ikea Rus, Pepsico, Inditex, H&M, LVMH etc. have not made any vocal statements for their Russian customers or employees. We are outraged to see how these corporations are contributing with this silence to the Russian military propaganda, effectively supporting the repressions against antiwar activists and the suffering of Ukrainian people. While outside the RF some of those companies made statements outlining their deep concern regarding the tragedy in Ukraine, in the Russian media space they at best called the very same deaths of peaceful Ukrainian citizens a “current situation” or “circumstances”.
We do not want corporations to call deaths of children and pregnant women “circumstances”, when it is not convenient for them to call it war and genocide. But neither we want them to keep silent. We believe that this kind of silence, the silence of those whose life and freedom is not at risk, is a crime against humanity. It is a crime against both Ukrainians and those Russian citizens who are struggling to break through the propaganda blockade every day. It is a crime against those who have worked for these companies for years in the Russian Federation, as this lack of explanation condemns them to being brainwashed by propagandists, effectively pushing them to support this nightmare. In the best case scenario, the lack of an articulated position will lead to a longer war in Ukraine and extreme poverty in Russia. In the worst case scenario, it will hasten the end of humanity.
We demand that corporations make statements to their former employees and customers in Russia, and explain the reasons for their withdrawal from the Russian market. We want them to call it what it is: a war started by Russia. All the companies mentioned above have a big media presence in Russia, and they are currently NOT using it to stop the war. We want to see them use it. Otherwise, we ask conscious consumers around the world to push them to speak against the war.