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How to Tell If You are in a Mikhail Sholokhov Story
With love and respect for the writers of The Toast.

A relative you haven’t seen hide nor hair of since the Civil War has come back, and he wants to sabotage the collective farm.

An animal has been injured in a way that eerily mirrors your life situation or that of someone close to you.

Someone is beating his wife like a beast, kicking her with his heavy soldier’s boots. You are much better than him, because you only occasionally slap yours.

Your preferred method of flirting with women is grabbing  and kissing them when they are alone and vulnerable.  You figure this is okay, because you know they have "experience".

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You’ve found your old father after years of separation, but now he wants to disown you because you sided with the Reds.

People who speak standard Russian dialect and don't "гутарить" stick out like sore thumbs in your village.

Your sleigh breaks the crust on the half-melted snow and spritzes the air with ice.  It's cold, hard going, but this trip is your last hope.

Having slept with every passing soldier while your husband was away at war, you are now burning with syphilis.

You have been tasked with collecting bread for the Communist authorities. You know you won't succeed without violence.

That woman you’ve fallen for is probably a spy for the other side, but you don’t care.

You walk home alone in the frigid air, through the barking of dogs and the bitter smell of burning dung.

When you arrive home, your wife carefully removes your heavy soldier’s boots while you fumble at your Cossack coat with frozen fingers.

Your father and the other village elders were executed by the Reds. Or was that the Whites? It hardly matters now.

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You attempt to make up with your husband after cheating on him, but he only beats you even more than before.

They thought you were killed at war, but here you are, back home, for better or for, okay, let's be honest, it's definitely going to get worse.

Your love interest teaches you how to read in the schoolhouse with the portraits of Lenin in the corner.

You would like to study in the city, but you can’t; you are needed here, and the war and collectivization have stolen your youth.

Your whole family has died except for the children, and you know that you, too, will soon be gone.

An old friend has come knocking at your door. This would be fine, except that you fought each other in the Civil War.

Someone has ridden a horse into the ground. As you walk by, you catch its glassy, dead-eyed stare.

They keep telling you to abandon the child, but you know he must go on living, even if you don’t.

The river flows on, indifferent to the immense human suffering surrounding it.

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(If I had a dollar for every time Sholokhov wrote "heavy soldier's boots" . . .)

What is a Cossack, Really? The Long Answer

(Quick warning: this post contains a lot of images and I give source links for most.  However, I do not mean to promote the content of all these websites.  Some are kind of sketchy.)

What associations does the word “Cossack” evoke for you? A quick Google search in English brings up results on Cossack dance, the video game Cossacks 3 (1 and 2 are apparently not worth notice), and Cossacks fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

Depending on recent events, even more unpleasant news results may surface: Cossacks beat an opposition leader, Cossacks disrupt environmental activists.

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Looks like a decent game, all things considered.

You may be familiar with these headlines. You may even recall some photos of Cossack-perpetrated violence, like the famous shot of a Cossack swinging a whip at the members of Pussy Riot protesting at the Sochi Olympics. So who are these strange violent men with whips? What are they doing in modern Russia?  And where does the dance come in?

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In case you haven't seen that image, here it is.

The answers to these questions are much, much more complicated than one might expect.
Yes—even about the dance.

The words “Cossack” and “Cossackry” are concepts, not terms,” wrote a Yenisei Cossack in a forum on the Cossack Informational-Analytical Center website.  His point was that these ideas cannot be concretely defined.

Most attempts to write a definition sound something like this: Cossacks were warriors who defended and extended the borders of the Russian Empire. Cossackry is their answer to a code of honor, involving war, sacrifice, Orthodox religion, and loyalty to the Tsar. 

The Cossack from the forum might point out a few complications that these definitions leave out. First, use of past tense in talking about Cossacks is now debatable due to their resurgence in modern Russia, as is stressing that they defended the Russian Empire, since some accounts argue that they existed before the Russian Empire became a significant power. Second, due to their pride and unique traditions and dialects, Cossacks are frequently classified as an ethnic group, or at least a “sub-ethnic” group, rather than a class or cadre of warriors (the strongest campaigners for an ethnic definition are Cossacks themselves—no surprise there). Third, loyalty to the Tsar was not always an integral principle for all Cossacks, and some Caucasian Cossacks were Muslims—members of local populations who joined the ranks.

Since giving a concise definition will never cut it, I want to build an accurate understanding of Cossackry by starting from the beginning.

The Birth and Domestication of a Free People: Cossack History

Cossacks have been around since the Russian state was very young.  The first known use of the word “Cossack” is in a 13th century text, and the first text containing mention of Cossacks as the warrior group we know today was written in the 15th Century. As for the Cossacks’ origins, there are two main theories. The first proposes that Cossacks were originally tribes native to the region around the river Don; the second, that they were Slavic peasants fleeing serfdom or social upheavals. It seems fair to say that both theories are probably true to an extent—one can imagine runaway serfs joining local tribes, their customs mixing with native ones over time.

Until the early 18th Century, the Cossacks were a group of independent organizations based mostly in the steppes of modern southwestern Russian and eastern Ukraine. They farmed, raised animals, pillaged as needed, and had a special deal with the Russian Tsars. When skilled warriors were needed, they would be called up to battle; in peaceful times, they had far more freedom, and fewer restrictions on trade, than others living in the Tsar’s jurisdiction.  Cossacks developed a reputation as free people, an idea supported by their societal institutions.  Each Cossack settlement was governed by an elected leader, who served a three-year term.  This Ataman was more a manager than a dictator; he ran meetings of the krug, a gathering of male Cossacks from the settlement, where important decisions were made and punishments doled out to rulebreakers.  There were also bigger krugs for larger groups of Cossacks, for example, all the Cossacks living in a certain region.  (A region, the largest unit of organization in Cossack society, was called a voisko.)  The exclusion of women from these meetings, according to some sources, was remedied by the fact that wives could tell their husbands to bring up certain issues on their behalf.  As for whether that was true in practice, I don't know, but I'm not hopeful.

An artist's interpretation of the Cossack Krug.

Modern Cossacks vote at a krug of the Orenburg voisko.

In the 18th century, Russia turned from a Tsardom into an Empire, and the Empire took the Cossacks more firmly in hand.  Each voisko lost the right to elect an ataman; leaders retained the title, but were appointed by the Tsar.  The structure of Cossack society was slowly integrated into the Russian Imperial government, and military service became a constant requirement.  Young Cossack men alternated periods of military service with periods at home—a few years each.  However, the Empire also helped Cossacks spread their culture into new territory.  Cossacks were in high demand during this period due to the Russian Empire’s expansion, both South into the Caucasus Mountains and East into Siberia.  The Cossacks were skilled warriors accustomed to chaos and uncertainty, so they were sent to various locations on the edges of the Empire to keep the borders stable.  This led to the emergence of many new voisko.  This was also a period during which local peoples actively joined the ranks of Cossacks, encouraged by the government, which always needed more guards.  The Cossacks were officially a class of warriors which could be joined, rather than an ethnic or political entity.

WWI-era Cossacks on the offensive (possibly from a film?)

Now, the historical account given here is from a wholly Cossack perspective. Ask the people the Cossacks fought with, and you’re going to get a different story. Turks, Jews, Poles, and other non-Orthodox and/or non-Slavic peoples frequently found themselves on the sharp ends of Cossack weapons, and they don't describe the Cossacks as a freedom-loving, democratic society. (When you're being stabbed, you don't really care about how free the society of the stabber is--just ask someone from any country the US has ever bombed!)  For Cossacks’ victims, they were merciless, animalistic marauders, raping and pillaging on a whim, and not very smart either.

Screencap with Cossacks from a Polish film in which Cossack villains break into the Hetman's tent and mistake his chamber pot for a drinking cup.  No, really.

Even positive depictions of Cossacks can be shocking to modern Western sensibilities. Nikolai Gogol’s novel Taras Bulba is a literary classic about Cossacks of the Zaporozhskaya Sech (Ukrainian Zaporoz'ka Sich), one of the oldest Cossack organizations, based in modern Ukraine.  In the work, the main characters consider Poles and Turks less than human due to their non-Orthodox religion, and one prominent character is a cartoonish Jewish stereotype who also endures constant abuse from the heroes.  There is debate about how much of this Gogol intended to be satire, but even if he did not agree with his characters, you can’t satirize what doesn’t exist.  There is no doubt that Cossacks were merciless to their enemies, and probably to those who were simply different from them.  What’s more, their traditional life was surely more chaotic than rosy accounts make it out to be—I'm personally pretty confident that an average krug was mostly old men shouting at and over one another.

In any case, Cossack life became a bit less chaotic with the Russian Imperial takeover. You could say that the free people was domesticated by the Russian state. Russian Imperial state institutions, however, were not fated to last, and the changes that took place at the start of the 20th century split Cossack society.  Cossacks served alongside ordinary soldiers in World War I, and when those soldiers began to complain that the war was leading to nothing and the people were starving at home, some Cossacks agreed.  After the Bolshevik takeover in 1917, Cossacks were divided: a small portion of them (perhaps 10%) strongly supported the Bolshevik cause, while a larger percentage supported the rebellions against the new Soviet government.  The rebels were collectively referred to as “Whites” (opposed to “Reds”), and were in fact a motley crew of different political movements.  “White” Cossacks were often Tsarists, but some fought for an independent Cossack government.  The pain and struggle of this civil war period, when brother fought brother and nothing was sacred or constant, is well captured in the novel And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov, which I recommend reading if you have a few free months.  In the end, the “Reds” won, of course, and Cossacks became targets for the Red Terror.  “Decossackization” was an official movement started by the Bolshevik government, characterized by disrupting and destroying Cossack culture and institutions, as well as the Cossacks themselves.

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Scene from Sergey Gerasimov's 1958 film adaptation of And Quiet Flows the Don.

Further divisions among the remaining Cossacks appeared during World War II. Some joined the Red Army and fought bravely against the Nazis, winning honors; others, feeling that the Soviet government (which had killed, exiled, and repressed many of them) did not deserve their allegiance, joined the Nazis instead, serving as a local SS. (No doubt racism and anti-Semitism also played into their decision.) After this Nazi collaboration, Cossacks were again targeted throughout the Soviet Union as a dangerous group.

By the end of the Soviet period, most Cossacks had scattered, assimilated into the mainstream culture, or simply disappeared. But in the late 80s and early 90s, those who still remembered their heritage took the opportunity presented by glasnost to bring it back.  It was one way to construct solid ground to stand on in a time of chaotic, fast change. In 1990, the first krug since the post-revolution civil war was held.  Soon after, Boris Yeltsin signed a law to rehabilitate the Cossacks from Soviet oppression (Russian text), then created a government register of Cossack organizations.  Independent organizations began to join government-managed voisko, imitating late Imperial times.  Then in 2005, a new law (Russian text) was passed requiring government service (of any kind) for registered Cossacks.  The situation created by these laws—Cossack organizations registered by the government, doing a variety of tasks on its behalf—continues to this day.

Cossack Culture: from Earrings to War Games

Now that history has been covered, we can discuss the culture and traditions that developed thanks to that history. Any discussion of Cossack culture should start with the disclaimer that Cossacks have always been very diverse. As previously mentioned, Cossacks lived in vastly different regions of the Russian Empire and were of varied ethnic origin, so while general principles and traditions can be discussed, specifics do not apply universally. To demonstrate, here are pictures of Cossacks from different regions in their traditional costumes.

Донские казаки отправились в поход на Берлин
Modern Don Cossacks in their bright-colored military uniforms replicating their ancestors' ride to Berlin after victory in WWII

Кубанские казаки войдут в состав Национальной гвардии
Kuban Cossacks in typical Caucasus-mountains-style coats

Tersk Cossack uniforms are similar to Kuban ones, but electric blue

Сибирские казаки
An old photo of Siberian Cossacks in their uniforms

Zaporozhian Cossacks (like these in modern Ukraine) are known for loose pants and frequent shirtlessness.  Their traditional hairstyle, the chub or "forelock", is also impressively displayed in this photo.

It is important to note that every uniform has elements of local dress worked in.  For example, the Kuban and Tersk Cossacks wear uniforms like those of the Caucasian (Caucasus Mountains) peoples they fought with, worked with, and married for hundreds of years.  Zaporozhian Cossack clothing borrows from Ukrainian national dress--the fellows in that photo wearing shirts are essentially dressed like Ukrainians (Ukrainian national dress does call for a shirt).  For an in-depth look at Cossack uniforms and clothing in English, look at this article on Russia Beyond the Headlines. It goes over the traditional costumes of Cossacks in different regions, as well as covering certain important traditions, like the use of earrings to mark Cossacks who needed to be protected—only sons or last representatives of their family line. Modern Cossacks still wear traditional uniforms at special events, festivals, parades and performances; some wear them while carrying out their “government service” in the form of patrolling, guard duty, and event security. As for the earrings, they can still be seen on some Cossack men, always silver and in a half-moon shape.

Valery Storygin of the Kuban Cossack Choir (seen here with his colleague Dmitry Pavlychev) usually wears a traditional earring during performances.  You can watch this one here.  Note that the men's costumes here include both Ukrainian elements (those hats!) and Caucasian ones.

Clothes may make the man, but it was tradition more than appearance that made a Cossack. Historically, daily life in a Cossack settlement was built on a few sturdy principles. Respect for the elderly was one of the most important. Cossack society was hierarchically organized by age; elders were to be respected, assisted, and allowed to speak first in any situation. Retired Cossacks who had reached sixty or so without dying in battle became the “elders’ council” for their settlement and took responsibility for advising the youth and preserving traditions. Meanwhile, small children weren’t even allowed to appear in the presence of adult guests; they had to stay in another room.  So basically, children were not to be seen or heard.

Along with the elderly, Cossacks showed respect toward women, in an old-fashioned sense. They followed rules of chivalry and would always step up to defend a woman if necessary. The roles of Cossack men and women in daily life seem to have been organized on the principle of “separate but equal.” Men were often away at war; their job was to serve. Meanwhile, women ran the house and farm. As in many societies throughout history, it was stressed that men should not occupy themselves with women’s matters and vice versa. Age-and-gender-based hierarchies led to stratification in the groups Cossacks could “hang out” with: they gathered to spend free time with people of their own gender and generation.

Returning home, Boldyrev’s father gave him to an officer as a servant in the hopes that his son would in time became a competent clerk. But Boldyrev had been attracted by appliances more than anything ever since he was a young boy. Spellbound, he tried to see how all manner of mechanisms worked. / A Cossack family
A 19th-Century Don Cossack family--at least three generations.  Note that the women have their heads covered--at this time, a Cossack woman would never be seen in public without a headscarf.  Follow this link for more wonderful photographs by the same photographer.

However, Cossack society was perhaps less patriarchal in practice than other neighboring societies, simply out of necessity. While men, as heads of their households, supposedly had the final say about family decisions, one can only imagine that their frequent absence gave women the chance to do essentially whatever they wanted. Plus, women's duties did include hitting things with swords if the village was attacked while the men were away. Cossack women also had a guaranteed veto right when their parents chose a spouse for them, could choose for themselves by organizing a “kidnapping,” and could divorce their husbands, all rights not every Russian, Ukrainian and Caucasian woman had at the time.

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Wedding scene from Sergey Uruslyak's 2015 TV adaptation of And Quiet Flows the Don

Белореченск, Казачья свадьба
A modern Cossack wedding.  It's traditional to walk under swords.  And you thought throwing rice was as hardcore as it got!

In modern times, Cossacks have assimilated into the dominant Russian culture, in which society is not quite so hierarchical. But they still make a lot of effort to show extra respect for women and elders: it’s even endearingly written into the user policies of the Cossack online forum I mentioned earlier that elders and Cossack women should receive extra "protection from displays of disrespect".  As for women's roles, while modern resources for Cossack women (such as the "Cossack Girl" magazine I found online--Russian text) discuss mostly housekeeping and Christian values,  many modern Cossack women know how to use swords and ride horses as well as the men.

казачка на коне
Here's an example.  All the photos on this page are pretty great.

Hospitality was another value historical Cossacks treasured highly. Russia is generally a welcoming country in which hosts lay out all the food they have for their guests, but apparently in Cossack settlements people were so friendly that traveling Cossacks never carried food for themselves or their horses, knowing that wherever they might go, another Cossack would provide for them. It was considered rude to ask a guest who he was, where he was going or why; the hosts would let him in and feed him without demanding answers.

A Ural Cossack girl in traditional dress.

Another frequently cited principle is general “orderliness”—a Cossack always kept himself and his things clean and orderly, even if he only had simple clothes and a small house; a Cossack woman did the same for herself, her children, and the house’s interior.

All these rules were supplemented by Orthodox Christianity (or, in some cases, Islam). The Ten Commandments were always kept in mind, as were the rituals followed throughout Russia. For Orthodox believers, that meant praying to icons, attending church, receiving communion, confession, and a variety of fasts and holidays. This is an aspect of Cossackry that has seen a major revival since 1990. All religion was suppressed under the Soviet Union, but it remained strong enough underground that it burst back to life in post-Soviet Russia. Modern Russian Cossacks tend to have views associated with religious conservatism: pro-life, anti-gay, and so on. (Note that in Russia, these positions are not frequently associated. Even nonreligious portions of the Russian population can be very homophobic, whereas pro-life views are rare in Russia except among religious conservatives.  This is a whole other interesting story stemming from Soviet morality, which I won't go into here.)

Cossacks taking part in a religious meeting in 2012

One more ancient Cossack principle was constant readiness to fight; Cossacks were always a warrior people, so much attention was given to keeping weapons in top shape. Traditional Cossack weapons included swords, daggers, pikes and whips. Modern Cossacks still train with these weapons, and hold competitions in, for example, saber-cutting. At war, any form of cowardliness was strictly forbidden. Not that a Cossack who failed to risk life and limb for his comrades would necessarily be officially punished—it was simply so shameful that no one would dare. Sacrifice and an honorable death were valued more than survival, at least in theory. It’s likely that Cossacks, like Japanese samurai (whose code of honor was similar) did not always follow their own professed rules.

The winner of a saber-cutting competition cutting a whole lot of sticks.

Of course, any Cossack’s closest partner at war was his horse. Cossacks were famed as exceptional horsemen, and no wonder: boys were trained to ride starting at age five. They were traditionally placed on horses even younger, at age two or three, with an adult standing by to stop them from falling.  It was said that if a toddler grabbed the horse’s mane or the saddle horn, he would grow up to be a worthy Cossack.  Cossacks typically rode horses of local breeds.  Cossacks near the Caucasus Mountains, for instance, might ride Kabardin or Karabakh horses.  The Don region also has its own native breed, called a Don horse or Donchak.

Many Don horses have straight shoulders, slender legs and gold-tinted coats, all of which hint at Turkoman (Akhal-Teke) influence on the breed.

The pinnacle of Cossacks’ equestrian art is Dzhigitovka, the performance of acrobatic tricks and weapon use on horseback.  Some tricks performed by Cossacks are now circus staples, and can also be seen in Hollywood Westerns, because the first Holllywood trick riders were Cossacks who emigrated to the US after the Russian Revolution.  Dzhigitovka is still practiced by modern Cossacks and other interested Russians.  Oh, and there's a British team now.  Dzhigitovka competitions are held mostly in Russia: the events work like figure skating or gymnastics (or, for equestrians: like dressage), with required elements and freestyle performances.  Each trick has a point value, and tricks that involve holding a position grant points for every ten meters ridden in that position.  Dzhigitovka performances are also popular at Cossack, military, and equestrian festivals.

My video--riders demonstrating some acrobatic tricks at the Ekviros horse show in Moscow, 2016.  If you have some time, watch a longer video of riders from the same program at their very best.

Like every other culture, Cossacks had their own dances and songs. And boy, did they have a lot of songs.  I can link to a few.  Common lyrical themes include death, love, death, heroism, and more death. Modern recordings of Cossack songs range from traditional to grand to poppy. As for dance, what in English is commonly referred to as the “Cossack Dance” is actually called gopak (Russian) or khopak (Ukrainian), and is generally considered a Ukrainian dance.  It became known as “the Cossack dance” probably Cossacks frequently performed it and used it to improve their strength and agility for battle (considering how much jumping and squatting it includes, that seems like a good training tactic).  This dance is a common feature of modern Cossack folk performances, as are dances with weaponry, like swords.

My video--a Cossack folk performance featuring dance and song, at the festival "Cossack Stanitsa Moscow" in 2016.

Cossacks had their own dialect of Russian, which shows up in songs and resembles a cross between Russian and Ukrainian with a decent amount of Turkic vocabulary. Of course, given the aforementioned diversity of Cossack groups, not all Cossacks spoke the same dialect. But there are plenty of words shared by multiple groups and used to this day.  For example, Cossack settlements have special names.  A Cossack village is called a khutor, and a collection of khutors forms a stanitsa.  There are settlements officially classified as stanitsas in some parts of modern Russia.  The word kuren’ refers to a Cossack house, which differed from the houses of neighboring peoples in terms of architecture.  The vital word “lyubo” translates to something like “good”—it was what Cossacks yelled at a krug in order to approve of a proposal, and now people yell it after songs at folk performances.  They probably yell it in other places too, but I’m not aware of those yet.

станица Вёшенская - музей-заповедник Шолохова. Туры по российскому югу. Станица Вёшенская фото. Станица Вёшенская достопримечательности. Станица Вёшенская Ростовская область фото
A Cossack kuren' with typical two-story structure and porch.  The top part of the house was for living; the bottom was for storage.  At the moment this one is a museum.

Cossacks, Kizyaks, Clowns: Cossackry Now

This sounds great—we’ve covered the history and origins of Cossacks, their unique traditions and cultural principles. But when are we getting back to those guys whipping Pussy Riot? Didn’t we just say something about respect toward women?

Those guys were part of the security at the Sochi Olympics. This is a form of the “government service” performed by registered Cossacks, which can involve security duties, patrolling public areas like parks, supervising events, and assisting the police with law enforcement. The service is not paid, but exchanged for the status and privileges of a Cossack, which include the right to carry traditional weaponry.  So these guys are official representatives of Cossackry, then?  Well, that’s a good question.

It turns out, Cossacks are as politically diverse as their ancestors. Remember, I already mentioned multiple ideological divisions among Cossacks. First, there was the split between “Reds” and “Whites”; then there was the one between Nazi sympathizers and Soviet loyalists.  If you look through the comments on internet posts and Youtube videos about Cossacks (not a practice I recommend, by the way), you will see people fighting about these things, saying that descendants of “Reds” or Nazi collaborators can never be real Cossacks.  Since the start of the civil war in Ukraine, the situation has been further complicated, as Cossack groups in Ukraine and Russia, who used to identify with each other due to shared origins, have come to regard each other as false.  “You’re no Cossack, you’re a [Ukrainian slur referring to a Russian, or Russian slur referring to a Ukrainian]” is a common refrain in online arguments on Cossack topics.  Russians use Ukrainian kozak (Cossack) in a disparaging manner, while I've seen Ukrainians call Russian Cossacks kizyaks, from a word for dried and treated animal dung traditionally used as fuel in Southern Russia.  Yikes.  Looking at all this is enough to make your head spin.

For lack of a better translation (original in Russian): "Woke" Ukraine: Modern Kozaks", with images of a civil war militia and a musical/dance group called "Cossacks" that is anything but.

Top panel (in Ukrainian): "Cossacks", with a picture of those Ukrainian shirtless Cossacks we saw before.  Bottom panel: "Kizyaks," with a picture of Russian (probably Kuban) Cossacks.   I am not providing source links for either of these images, because you probably don't want to wade that deep into shit.

Cossacks are split within Russia as well, mostly by their opinion of the government register. Here’s the deal with it: to sign up, you don’t necessarily need Cossack heritage or any experience participating in Cossack culture. This isn’t necessarily bad, as historically, anyone could join the Cossacks as long as they were willing to follow the rules of their society and learn their traditions.  The question raised by some modern Cossacks is whether the new blood recruited by the official register has any interest in these traditions at all, or if they just want to feel important and carry weapons.  There are also unregistered Cossack organizations that operate like NGOs, and people who identify as Cossacks but do not participate actively in any institutions.  Among unregistered Cossack organizations, some simply serve to preserve Cossack culture, while others are more politically active and may even involve themselves in protests against government policies.

Accusations fly between the two types of Cossack organizations. For example, every time Cossacks are involved in a scandalous attack, perhaps on an opposition figure, the registered Cossack organizations in the area distance themselves from the event by saying that those Cossacks were unregistered fakers. Meanwhile, unregistered Cossacks sometimes talk about instances in which local authorities use their official Cossacks as mercenaries to attack political opponents.  All modern Cossacks will happily complain about “dressed-up clowns” (ryazheniye klouni, or ryazheniye, “dressed-ups” for short) pretending to be Cossacks, but they disagree on who deserves that classification.

Строй казаков к статье Царское казачество

Of course people want to dress up as Cossacks--I mean, who wouldn't want to look as badass as these guys?

So who’s right? Are unregistered Cossacks protectors of ethnic identity or roving gangs of bandits?
Are registered Cossacks a people given well-deserved rights by the government or a tool of the powers that be? I would say all of the above, unfortunately.  There are plenty of people with generations of Cossack heritage within both registered and unregistered organizations.  Both kinds of organizations set up cultural events, defend Cossack rights (though usually in different forums), publish interesting news and analysis, and, it seems, occasionally beat up people they don’t like.

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Men in Cossack hats attacking anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny and his colleagues.

So can we dismiss modern Cossacks as thugs? Of course we can’t, because of the good work so many of them do.  (All the following links are in Russian.)  They help restore historic buildings, they plant trees, they teach their neighbors to conserve electricity, they run self-defense classes, they organize events for poor children, they even write rap music about the Cossack experience.  I never expected to write that last phrase, and you never expected to read it, but here we are.  (Also, I'm not sure I'd call that "good work", considering the whole video is basically an exercise in how much the viewer can cringe, but I really wanted to let you know that Cossack rap is a thing.)

In closing, I want to tell a little story about Cossacks from different groups going head-to-head on an issue.

In the Russian city of Voronezh, Cossacks and ecological activists have participated in protests against nickel mining, which they believe is polluting their water. I found a video from a local government meeting on the subject, where Cossacks argued for both sides (the video is marked private on Youtube, i.e. accessible only via link, so I assume it’s for a limited audience and won’t link to it here—tell me if you really want to see it). One man introduces himself as a representative of an independent Don Cossack organization and the Don voisko, and calls the protestors a “Fifth Column,” organized by the US and trying to sabotage the regional government.  The reaction is a chorus of anger directed at him, including accusations that he wants to profit off the nickel himself.

After the fury has died down, a Cossack who has been standing in the back of the room, holding up his whip and waiting patiently to be called on, is given his turn to speak. He introduces himself as ataman of a local stanitsa.  With his whip, uniform, and scruffy beard, he cuts an intimidating figure, but his speech is surprisingly subdued and organized. “I won’t say traitors or neo-Nazis; let’s stay away from those formulations and look at the situation globally . . . People and children are sick,” he says.  “I have a deeply selfish goal—I want to be happy in old age.  I want my children to be healthy and live on my land.  I’ll do anything to make sure my children are healthy.  You can take that however you want.”

Seeing this man standing up for his own with restrained, righteous anger almost brought tears to my eyes. Who knows, maybe the increase in illness he’s observed isn’t connected to nickel mining at all. And maybe he’s a horrible person in his daily life.  But listening to his speech is enough to make you believe that there is good in Cossacks yet.

This photo also encourages that perception.

Казачьи танцы
And this one.

мальчика катают на лошадке
And this one.

Russian Reactions to Trump's Election

I probably don't need to tell you that Donald Trump was just elected the 45th president of the United States.  This is a very frightening development for a lot of people, and first of all I want to give all my love to you and let you know that you can reach out to me if you need help.  I am in Russia, yes, but I'm planning to donate to charities and do whatever I can to help my fellow Americans from here.

Now, to business.  Since many drew connections between Trump and Russia during his campaign, some people are wondering how Russia is reacting to his victory.  Luckily enough, I am in a good position to report on that.

One myth about Russia that I like to "bust" when talking to Americans is the idea that Russians, on the whole, agree with one another.  Russians sometimes have this problem when thinking about the US as well.  So instead of writing a long, complex post analyzing "Russia" as a whole, I'm going to present a lot of different reactions and opinions, and talk just a bit about all of them.

Note: all translations are mine.  If there are inaccuracies, I apologize.

America is Ours: Popular Journalists and Politicians

The most striking reaction to Trump's triumph, which needs to be mentioned first, is the reaction of the Russian parliament, or Duma, when the news was first announced.  They stood and applauded his victory in the US elections.  That sure does seem to support the idea that the Russian goverment and Trump were somehow connected, or at least that they were rooting for him.  And some of them certainly were.

The funniest reaction was doubtless from Ernest Makarenko a Duma Deputy from Putin and Medvedev's United Russia Party.  He posted an instagram video in which he, holding champagne and standing in front of a Russian flag, gives a small address, starting with, "America is ours! And America, like Crimea, was taken in an entirely polite, bloodless manner."  This needs no commentary or analysis.  Just watch it, even if you don't understand Russia, and savor it for a little while.

Anger toward the US and joy for Trump are common emotions among Russian media personalities right now.  It is interesting to see how, in their criticism, these people are echoing certain American commentators more than anything else (although their celebration is a whole different story).  Margarita Simonyan, chief editor of Russia's foreign news service, RT, unleashed a tweetstorm about America's mistakes and Trump's glorious victory after election day, including these highlights:
"People are sick of war.  Sick of the media.  People are sick of aggressive liberalism.  Sick of immigrants.  Good or bad, it's a fact."
"When the media and government spend years forcing values that society is not ready for, telling society that it is too slow, Trump wins."
"Today I want to ride through Moscow with an American flag in my car window.  If I find a flag.  Join in! :D  They've earned it today."

I wonder how she would answer if asked what the over 50% of the US that did not vote for Trump is sick of, what the American liberals must be thinking right now.  I also wonder if she recognizes the irony of someone who manages an avowedly anti-American news service driving around displaying an American flag.  But her facts are hard to ignore--she has picked up the same thread as many US authorities, who explain Trump's election as a backlash against perceived radical societal changes.

Aleksei Pushkov, Federation Council member and TV host, also explained Trump's victory with a theory cited by many Americans: "the result of the elections showed a huge gap between the ruling elite of the USA, which was for Clinton, and the majority of the country's citizens.  That is why Trump won."

Pushkov is also happy about Trump's victory, although, it seems, not enough to fly an American flag in his car window.  He tweeted his opinion about what Trump's policy will be like, and here it splits from the US liberal media's narrative: "You can't expect love or presents from Trump: he is a patriot and a businessman.  But he isn't an ideologue, he's a realist.  And a realist understands the language of agreement."

Pushkov, by the way, tweets a lot in English, and even some other languages.  He's a very educated man.  Here is another tweet that goes against the grain a bit.

And let me just show you my very favorite Pushkov tweet of this cycle: "the battle isn't over: the US ruling elite will try to turn Trump into a political copy of Clinton.  But they won't succeed.  The hairstyles are too different."

Maria Zakharova, director of the Press Department of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, joined in the US-bashing party in excellent form: "the Western media, the kings of mainstream, even now can't admit that they turned out to be bad experts . . . the reason for this failure is simple: the lack of objectivity.  For many years, and in the last few very aggressively, they pushed their mantra about "bad Russia" as the cause of all evils on everyone.  Then they talked so much that they started to believe it themselves.  Of course in these conditions the results of the US elections were "unexpected" for them and their audience . . . time to take an interest in your own countries and, most importantly, start studying your own people.  This isn't schadenfreude.  On the contrary, it's hope.  Because objectivity is an important prophylactic measure against global catastrophes."

It is tempting to dismiss these words as the ranting of a hateful Russian.  But on the other hand, the US media did in fact predict this election wrong--overwhelmingly so.  As did nearly every liberal in the United States.  I had friends posting the night before election day that "we will elect the first female president tomorrow."  That level of confidence can carry a monumental victory or fall into a crushing defeat.  And since this time, it turned out to be the second option, those who still have the emotional energy to think about it should probably reconsider some long-held positions if they want future success.

Among the Russian celebrations was heard one very expected and very loud voice.  Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a bombastic far-right Russian politician active since the 90s, whom many are now comparing to Trump, wrote a congratulatory tweet: "Congratulations, Trump, on being elected US president!  Russian citizens welcome this success!  We've known it a long time."  He then added "Congratulations, Donald!" in English.  It is an entirely predictable message, as Zhirinovsky is also a demagogue who plays on fears and says ridiculous things to get attention.  Unlike Trump, though, he is also a clever politician, so this cannot just be blind admiration for a kindred spirit: for the sake of his public character and for making connections with powerful individuals similar to himself, building a relationship with Trump is a good idea for Zhirinovsky.

One more interesting point: Zhirinovsky was recorded not long ago saying in English that Trump should and would become the president of the United States.  What makes that interesting is the opinion about him I've heard from a number of Russians: Zhirinovsky is awful, but he's also very smart, and when he makes predictions, they come true.  When I heard his prediction before the elections, I remembered what I'd been told, but thought, "no, this time it can't be true."  Guess I was wrong.  We were all wrong.

Subdued Celebration: the Kremlin Intellectuals

Another reaction that got a lot of attention recently in the US press was that of Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy minister of foreign affairs, who reported that Russia had "contacts" (meaning "communications") with Trump's campaign staff.  He said: "these are working moments, and the following sequence of actions will depend on the situation and the issues that stand before us."  He also added that, "in the US, during the campaign battle, a two-party consensus was formed on an anti-Russian basis," and said Russia should not look for great changes under President Trump.

Ryabkov's revelation is less shocking than it seems at first glance.  First, his measured reaction to Trump's victory suggests that he was not praying for this result.  Second, foreign authorities often communicate with US presidential candidates, trying to "feel out" the possible president's position toward their country.  Given Trump's compliments toward Putin early in his campaign, it seems clear why the Russian side might want to investigate this candidate.  This idea is backed up by the position of President Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, who explained that these contacts were "natural": "our experts, our specialists on the US on international affairs . . . of course they constantly discuss with their colleagues here [Peskov was, at the time of this statement, in New York], including those from Mister Trump's group."

Peskov has made a number of statements about Trump's victory, most of which echo the cautious line followed by Ryabkov.  "It isn't worth expecting immediate changes in the system of coordinates in Washington.  There's a lot of inertia . . . they have a system of checks and balances.  But even so, if our two leaders--I mean the current leader of Russia, president Putin, and the [US] president-elect Donald Trump--will be wise enough to have the political will to talk with each other, to attempt to solve problems not through confrontation, not through, let's say, the language of sanctions or other illogical things that bring harm to both sides, then we will have a chance, at least, to talk and try to solve problems constructively.
Of course, he also said that Putin and Trump have "phenomenally" similar views.

Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, was also hesitant to call Trump's win a Russian victory.  "We said that the American people would decide.  And the American people decided.  We waited to see their decision, and it happened . . . We have no preferences.  As Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin said, we will work with any new US leader the American people choose . . . I can't say that all previous leaders of our partners were predictable in the past.  That is part of life and politics.  We hear a lot of words, but will judge by actions, and answer those actions with our own."

Valery Solovey, professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where I study, said that Americans want internal problems solved more than they want to export democracy, so they picked Trump.  That sounds like a positive judgement, but it was followed by a pessimistic prognosis for all the issues Russians are hopeful about with Trump's rise.  Will the US recognize Crimea?  Probably not--it will just ignore it.  Will NATO keep growing?  Probably yes, though it might slow down.  Will the sanctions be withdrawn?  "I don't think they'll get right up and withdraw them.  After all, we got a set of conditions a long time ago, for the Minsk Agreements and for Crimea.  It's a different matter that with Trump coming to power, Russia will have a window of opportunity.  We have to see which people Trump puts in key positions.  Then it will be clearer what he's planning on in the future."

The same sentiment is expressed in tweet form by Vladimir Orlov, from the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (also the founder of the global security think tank "PIR Center," where I had an internship):

Aleksei Kudrin, former finance minister and head of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences at St. Petersburg State University (where I studied), also tweeted his opinion: "in spite of some of Trump's statements on economic questions, he depends on the existing system.  It will "smooth" his ambiguous intentions."

A slightly more positive evaluation of Trump came, odd as it is, from Gennady Zyuganov, the old, sturdy head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation: "in my view, these were stange elections.  On the one hand, they were just filthy, but on the other, an anti-system politician won, one who actually doesn't have a lot of experience, but is a great businessman.  In my view, this election was a sign that not only the US, but the whole world will have to interpret.  Globalists have suffered a devastating loss, because in recent times they have been trading in military risks and dollars and have been destroying international relations."  The fact that a communist would support a Republican businessman like Donald Trump becomes less surprising when one takes into account that the CPRF is more a social-democrat party than a truly communist or even socialist one--the more radical party, Communists of Russia, didn't even make it into the Duma in the last election.

Here's a fact regarding my personal experience.  I didn't attend the lecture I was supposed to yesterday--after the previous day's chaos, I was much too tired to stay at university until after 7 o'clock.  But I asked a friend who attended what the professor said about Trump's victory, because he works in the Russian Ministry of International Affairs and is well-connected.  My friend reported that the professor "has an American friend, who wrote him to say that Americans are upset," and "we mustn't celebrate, because Trump is too unpredictable."

The overall mood in the Kremlin--at least among its serious scholars and thinkers--is hopeful right now, but cautious.  Vladimir Putin himself expressed this well in his subdued, encouraging congratulatory letter, which expresses desire for real change while gently reminding the president-elect of all the actions of his predecessors that the Russian government does not approve of.

"Dear Mister Trump,

Please accept my heartfelt congratulations on the occasion of your victory in the United States presidential election.

I am counting on collaborative work with you to move Russian-American relations out of their crisis situation, and also to solve relevant problems on the international agenda and search for effective answers to the challenges of global security.

I am sure that the organization of a constructive dialogue between Moscow and Washington, based on the principles of equal rights, mutual respect and real consideration of each other's position, is in the interest of our countries' people's and the entire world community.

I wish you good health, well-being and success in your very important work as head of your government.

With respect,

Vladimir Putin"

No, America isn't Ours: Backlash in the Liberal Opposition

No doubt in response to the overenthusiastic announcements of Russian media figures and pre-election optimistic predictions, Russia's so-called liberal opposition (which in fact is nearly as diverse, and in some cases illiberal, as Russia on the whole) is in full-swing anti-Kremlin mode.  They are largely critical of the Russian response to Trump, if not of the man himself, and very, very skeptical that Russian-American relations will improve during his presidency.

Ilya Yashin, an oppositionist, politician, analyst and activist on whom I have a crush that will not die, wrote a short, firey but pessimistic piece criticizing both the Kremlin and his fellow oppositionists, as usual.  "Over the course of this whole presidential campaign in the US I watched with surprise as many of my colleagues in the liberal-democratic movement gave Hillary Clinton the guise of a savior of Russia," he wrote.  "They said that if she were to win, she would strengthen sanctions, Putin wouldn't survive the pressure, and there would have to be democratic reforms."  Yashin goes on to say that this can't be true, citing history--Clinton was actually gentle on Russia as secretary of state, while the Republicans pressured her and Obama to be strict.  What's more, he thinks she and Putin would get along, having clearly observed enough US politics to understand her two-faced reputation.  "Criticizing each other publically, Putin and Clinton would easily agree behind the scenes.  After all, they both understand the principle of "say one thing for the public, with each other--something else."

Yashin then gives his conception of the Trump-Russia relationship: "The key problem with Trump is that unlike Clinton, he's unpredictable.  During his campaign, the Republican allowed himself some compliments toward Putin.  Russian and US media during the election gave him the image of a Kremlin hire, and Trump can't be overjoyed by that reputation.  As a politician, he is ambitious, and wants people to see in him a savior for America, and not someone's puppet."  He concludes that, given this, Trump will turn tough on Russia in the coming months, and those in Russia who are celebrating will have to change their tune.  What's more, given the complex political system in the US, Trump will probably not be able to fulfill the promises he made during his campaign that Russia liked the sound of.  These positions are the ones most commonly echoed in other Russian liberals' statements about Russia and Trump.

Grigory Yavlinsky, the scandal-ridden head of the democratic Yabloko party, which has hardly changed since it was founded in the 1990s, expressed a similar opinion.  "With regards to Russia, it was already clear long before the elections that a victory for either candidate by itself would not radically change Russian-American relations . . . Trump won't be behind the wheel alone.  In the US, the president is an extremely important figure.  But he is only a part of the political system."

Yavlinsky also discussed the reasons for Trump's victory, sounding a lot like Pushkov, but with a negative evaluation of the situation.  "The gap in the relationship between the elite and the mass of voters, the crisis in the system is also expressed by the fact that the so-called "silent majority"--citizens who do not talk about their views and sympathies during the process of the campaign, but affect the result--became an important factor.  And that majority turns out to be the most sympathetic audience for populist play on fears, hate, and other "base feelings."  That was how it was in the UK during Brexit, and how it is in the US now."  Interestingly, it is exactly this ignorance of the country's majority opinion that many accuse Yavlinsky himself of.  Perhaps he should reread his own text again and draw a life lesson from it.  But to fair, he too has drawn an inportant conclusion about the significance of these strange recent elections.

Alexey Navalny, the anti-corruption activist popular in the West, expressed the same skepticism about improvement in US-Russia relations as Yavlinsky with an apt metaphor:  "the main reason why I think that the election of Trump won't change anything, and won't be good or bad for us: American foreign policy isn't a racecar driven by one person.  That's possible here, yes--in the space of two months, the Turks our our main allies, then main enemies, and then again best friends.  In a country where there are strong institutions, things work differently.  It's more like a loaded-down tanker.  Even if you really want to turn it, it will still chug along its former course for a long time simply out of inertia."

Dmitry Gudkov, former member of the Russian Duma (first in the Just Russia party, then as an independent), went a bit deeper, using his connections to explain the Kremlin's mixed reaction to the US election news.  "The Duma's applause for Trump's win possibly shows that the deputies weren't told everything," he wrote.  "Not long ago I talked with a certain high-ranking source, as they say in the news, and he explained that the Kremlin wasn't hoping for a Trump victory.  They were even formulating a strategy for work with Clinton's administration.  From a propagandist's point of view, the plan, taking everything into account, was like this: Russia supports the weaker candidate, and after his loss accuses America of unfair elections.  And then back along the beaten path."  He added that more important members of the government "have already quickly changed their line.  Take note, the head of the committee for international affairs Leonid Slutsky didn't express concern that Trump might not fulfill expectations, practically "betraying Russia's interests", for nothing. Because when he really doesn't fulfill them, it will be very useful, as it was before, to accuse the US of all the deadly sins."

Of course, any statement by a member of this opposition will include sharp criticism toward the Russian government.  But with regards to Trump, the criticism is fairly insightful, and closer to the actual Kremlin position (judging by statements from Peskov, Ryabkov and so on) than one might expect.  Trump's unpredictability and lack of absolute power in the office of the US president have convinced the Russian liberal opposition that hoping for change from him is useless.

Maybe Trump is Something Good, or at Least Neutral: When Russia's Opposition is Not so Liberal

The position of the liberals above meshes nicely with that of many Americans who support their cause.  But there are other liberals who say things that might drive Americans away.

Analyst Stanislav Belkovsky wrote a piece that sounds a bit shocking to the Democratic American ear, though in principle it's hard to object to it. He, like Simonyan of RT, takes the position that Trump's win is a form of backlash.  "Of course," he said, "it was all coming together to bring forth a woman president.  And then--a Jewish president, an Islamist president, a gay president, an Islamist gay president of Jewish heritage, and so on.  But it turned out that they're repaving the highway to the bright future, and for now we have to take a detour.  On an old country road.  Essentially, everything is happening strictly by the third law of dialectics, and so there's nothing surprising here.  Well yes, after Obama, we get Trump.  And after him will be those gay Jews."

Ksenia Sobchak is an interesting figure.  Her father, Anatoly Sobchak, employed Putin and helped bring him to power in the 90s and 2000s.  She began as a Putin supporter, but since then has moved toward the liberal opposition side.  Also, she has gone from "Russia's Paris Hilton," famous for scandalous photos, sex tapes, and terrible songs, to a decently respected journalist.  Her opinion always tends to contain something that no one else thinks to say, which is why I read her columns with relish.  In this case, she did not disappoint.  "America organized for itself its own Maidan, challenging the system.  And the system heard, was scared by this result, and will unavoidably start to change regardless of whether Trump wins the next election or leaves in shame four years from now.  As a result the system will perfect itself and become stronger."  Sobchak seems to think that Trump's victory is something good for the US--a much-needed wake-up call at least, and proof that the US is a good, strong democracy.  Sobchak did note that she was disappointed with Trump's election, though--because it meant she lost a bottle of wine in a bet.

Alright, so a rich former Putin supporter thinks Trump's election symbolizes something good.  Perhaps that's just her?  But it isn't; just ask Mikhail Gorbachev, first and last president of the USSR and Nobel Peace Prize winner: "it is striking that people gave their votes . . . for those who stood for the interests of wide layers of the people.  That is just what came before serious changes in the life of our country.  Maybe in the US too it will now be easier to bring about changes?  Of course, so far it's hard to say for sure, what those changes will be.  But we are within rights to say that the people of the USA are expecting them."

These are moments when the opposition's love for the US stretches to take Trump under its wing.  He is American, and America is good, so he must be a sign of America's goodness.

An expert from the Carnegie Center Moscow went even further, writing in his blog that "Russia needs its own Trump . . . set on decisively and qualitatively changing matters in his own country . . . a Trump-like politician could save this country."  Of course, it seems clear that he doesn't mean a politician who admits to sexual assault, insults every possible minority, and knows nothing about the actual process of politics.  He means a politicia outside the system who nevertheless attracts a lot of popular attention.  Should we hope he gets what he wishes for?

The Zhirinovsky Effect: how Russians Perceive Trump's Unexpeccted Win

It really seems that Trump's victory came as a surprise to the Russian leadership and opposition as much as it did to Americans.  And some Russians have an explanation for why all the predictions were wrong.

I'll start with my experience this time.  What I did go to yesterday was a shorter lecture, more like a Q-and-A session technically meant for bachelor's students, with a teddy-bear-like journalist from Russia's main government-run TV channel.  Even he commented on Trump--that's how big the news is here.  He said the reason no one predicted Trump's win was probably because of the "Zhirinovsky principle."  To appoximate the journalist's statement: "you listen to this guy talk, he says a lot of awful things and you feel some internal protest, but somehow you like him, so you vote for him.  But in the polls, you say you'll vote for someone else, because it's shameful to admit you support Zhirinovsky."

This journalist is not alone in his opinion: Aleksei Venadiktov, head of Echo of Moscow, Russia's "opposition" radio station, backed him up:
"A lot of people are shy to admit in pre-election polls that they will vote for some exotic candidate.  They sort of join in with a traditional candidate to look respectable.  But when they go into the booth to vote . . . Zhirinovsky got, at first, you remember, 3-5% in polls, and then--tada! First--20%, then 17%, then 19% . . ."

But perhaps these commentators are mistaken after all.  Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center, Russia's only independent polling organization, disagreed: "could it be that people were simply afraid to tell the truth?  Say, they support Zhirinovsky or Trump, but it's uncomfortable for them to admit that?  That idea is actually an intellectual's invention.  In fact, in America, almost no one is afraid to speak . . . of course, Trump is a populist, a demagogue.  But he had support.  It was his promises that strengthened the complexes and dissatisfaction of the white working population, which mostly voted for him." His explanation for the inaccuracy of polls is simpler: "Americans mostly use the cheapest methods--telephone or online polls.  And all telephone polls give slightly higher results to the party in power.  This is a well-known phenomenon. Second, in America they do surverys too often.  So the level of refusal is very high, reaching 90-95%.  People are just sick of sociological surveys!  Here, by the way, the percentage is much lower."

And What do the People Think?

The opinions of ordinary Russians, like those of ordinary Americans, are based on the media and politicians they listen to, which means, in essence, that they vary.  I have collected some of these opinions and will present them more or less without commentary, to let you get a feel for the voice of Russia.

First, from a Russian news source: reporters from the "New Times" asked ordinary Muscovites how they thought Trump's election might affect life in Russia.  Here are some excepts, translated.

"I think positively," said one older woman.  "Well, because if Hillary hadn't even come to power yet and was already saying she'd beat everyone, fight with everyone . . . he at least didn't say that.  I understand that that could also happen with Trump, but at least he didn't say it earlier."

"I think that the country isn't run just by the president, but also by some mechanism--the president is just a public figure, who doesn't make important decisions," said a long-haired young man.

One young woman said, "Well, we need to observe.  Trump is such an unusual person--at least until now he's been supporting Russia.  What will happen in the future, time will tell."  Her friend added, "I think that even so, some unseen people are in power.  It doesn't really matter if they put person number one or person number two on the throne."

"Russia is Russia.  We have our path, our road, and our own problems--so many!" said an older gentleman, not judging the question to be relevant.

A woman in all pastels gave a similar opinion: "Actually, the full day of discussion of elections yesterday made me nervous.  Because really, that's their president--ours is here, thank God, and I wish him health. But even so, it was discussed so much . . . maybe we shouldnt' talk about it that much."

"I think that US policy toward Russia will hardly change.  Because--national interests first, and as they say, everything else second.  So if they recognize Crimea--well, maybe they'll recognize Crimea, but then in response they'll demand the recognition of, say, the division of Kosovo from Serbia," said a fellow in a baseball cap.

One of my Russian facebook friends noted that the gap between the liberal elite and majority of the population, which allowed Trump to be elected, exists in many places, not the States alone.  (The post is not public, so I am neither quoting directly, not providing a link.)

Another acquaintance of mine wrote on Twitter, "I'm so happy it's Trump!  This will be fun."  And then, "can't wait for an official meeting of Putin and Trump," with a blushy face emoji.

And for a somewhat oppositional opinion, which I think will close this post well, we go to the twitter page belonging to Dmitry Sukharev of Transparency International Russia: "My whole feed is shaming the Americans for picking Trump.  You guys chose Putin three times."

Почему россиянам не стоит радоваться тому, что Дональд Трамп станет президентом США
Вчера я записала видео-обращение русскоговорящим друзьям и вложила его в фейсбук.  Темой видео стали результаты выборов в президенты в США, моя родная страна, и их значение для России.  Здесь я изложу свою позицию в письменном формате, и более подробно.

Среди моих русскоговорящих друзей есть разные мнения по поводу этих выборов.  Есть те, кто был за Клинтон, им сейчас грустно, и я сочувствую.  Из тех, кто был за Трампа, есть те, кто тихо радуется, и те, кто празднует.  Этот текст в основном для тех, кто празднует, потому что я бы хотела дать им пощечину.  Не для того, чтоб наказать, а для того, чтоб разбудить.  Им на самом деле не стоит радоваться тому, что Трамп будет следующим американским президентом.  Их реакция должна быть, как максимум, вздох облегчения: слава Богу, что не Клинтон.  Здесь я хочу объяснить почему.

Начнем с эмоционального аргумента.  Не надо радоваться, потому что радость сейчас кажется жестокой другим.  Россияне в основном об этом не думают, и не объязательно думать об этом, потому что вы далеко от США, и это вас не касается лично.  Но все-таки я хочу как-то передать вам нынешние эмоции половины американского населения.  Я не могу объяснить, какие чувства я испытала, узнав, что Дональд Трамп станет следующим президентом США.  Даже по-английски не могу.  Я могу сказать, что я проснулась холодным, ярким, московским утром после американских выборов, с тревогой зашла на фейсбук, и сразу же мне тошно стало. 

Как больно было читать столько постов, выражающих ужас, депрессию, отчаяние, разочарование.  Знаете, в России высказывания Трампа в течение кампании часто называют "неоднозначными".  Но в США, где его оскорбления и чрезмерные предложения более актуальные, это не просто "неоднозначные" высказывания.  Представители разных меньшинств в США, в том числе чернокожие, латиноамериканцы, мусульмане, евреи и ЛГБТ принимают эти высказывания как угрозы их правам человека и даже жизни.  Они сильно боятся не только Трампа, но и той части Америки, которая его родила и за него проголосовала.  Они ее боятся, потому что среди нее есть ультраправые силы--неонацистские группы и Ку-Клукс-Клан--у которых сейчас развязаны руки, так как кандидат, которого они поддерживали, выйграл президентскую гонку.  Из-за этого многие мои друзья приняли результаты выборов как конец света.  И это было так больно мне, потому что я люблю их, ценю их, хочу, чтоб они были в безопасности и чувствовали себя спокойно.  Я, конечно, сильная, не сдаюсь и делаю, что могу.  Но я знаю: то, что некоторые россияне сделали из президентства Трампа праздник, только давить других людей, которые и так страдают.

Теперь от эмоций переключимся к "делам", так сказать.  Некоторые люди радуются, потому что они думают, что Трамп--сильный лидер, такой же как Путин.  Это бывает чаще в США, чем в России, как ни странно.  Но и в России я слышала такое мнение.  Сразу скажу, что это не правда.  На самом деле это очень разные люди.  Путин--это разумный человек.  Вежливый человек (как на всех футболках написанно).  Это человек, который умеет вести спокойный разговор, который публично (по крайней мере) уважает даже тех, с которыми он не согласен.  Он пытается не оскорблять собеседников, и стремится к целям, которые он считает полезными для своей страны.  Трамп, наоборот, тупой, грубый, агрессивный.  Он всех оскорбляет, не думает, прежде чем говорить, и не понимает ни мировой политической системы, ни государственных дел США.  Если, допустим, он по крайней мере в экономике разбирается (в чем я сомневаюсь), он ничего не знает про все остальные важные сферы президентской деятельности.  И его главная цель личная: он говорит вызывающие вещи, чтобы на него обращали внимание.  Лучше сравнивать Трампа с Жириновским, чем с Путиным, хотя Жириновский, я уверена, тоже не тупой.

Можно, конечно, смотреть на эту ситуацию и смеяться над Америкой.  "Наконец, карма подействовала на них и дала им такого долбоеба в качестве президента!"  Но прежде чем так говорить, подумайте.  Вы хотите, чтоб одной из самых сильных стран мира управлял грубый долбоеб?

Наконец, скажу главное.  Большинство россиян, которые празднуют победу Трампа, делают так потому что они ожидают улучшение российско-американских отношении при президенте Трампе.   А я не уверена в этом.  Пока непонятно, какая будет внешняя политика президента Трампа.  Он уже говорит о внутренней политике, но внешняя еще загадочная.  Есть разные версии о том, что будет, но никто не знает точно.  Возможно, отношения между Россией и США станут лучше, как Трамп на предвыборной кампании обещал.  Но надо учитывать то, что Трамп--тупой, непредсказуемый, агрессивный и обидчивый, и всегда готов атаковать любого человека, который ему не нравится.  Хотя он говорит, что хочет дружить с Путиным и Россией в целом, если он приедет в Россию и вдруг почувствует, что кто-то к нему несправедливо или неправильно относится, он может все налаженные связи разрушить.  Конечно, у него будет команда и советники, которые будут ему помогать и даже сдерживать его.  Но с другой стороны, многие из них наверное будут республиканцы, и чаще всего республиканская партия ведет такую же антироссийскую позицию, как Хиллари Клинтон.  Да, Клинтон была "дьявол, которого мы знаем", с ней безусловно было бы трудно для России.  Но Трамп--это "дьявол, которого мы не знаем".  Значит, дьявол все-таки, и радоваться этому не стоит.  Мне кажется, что россиянам пора ждать, затаив дыхание.

Хочу сказать, что я ни Клинтон, ни Трампа не люблю; я на праймеризе проголосовала за Берни Сандерса, чем я горжусь, и в конце концов я поддержала Клинтон лишь потому, что она не Трамп.  Я понимаю, что многие американцы проголосовали за Трампа не из расизма, а потому что они думали, что он представляет их экономические интересы лучше Клинтон.  Я не думаю, что они все злодеи, и не думаю, что россияне, которые тоже поддерживали Трампа, злые и плохие.  Для России, эта позиция имеет смысл.  И в конце концов, я знаю, что это не конец света.  Мои друзья тоже знают это, хотя в то же время они готовятся к бою.  Но как я уже писала, россиянам еще рано радоваться, тем более праздновать победу.  Для многих в США это очень тяжелое время, и еще неизвестно, как этот поворот будет влиять на Россию.  Поживем посмотрим!

Про Русскую идею и Запад
Я знаю, что немного опасно писать о политике, но . . . это больше о философии, на самом деле.

Мне кажется, сейчас в моде (среди определенного слоя российского общества) говорить о "национальных идеях" западных стран.  Например, говорят, что в Америке национальная идея--развивать современную технологию, а в России ничего такого нет, и прочее и прочее.

Теперь я, как человек, родившийся на западе, раскрою секрет: на западе нет национальных идей.  Поиск национальной идеи сам по себе является русской идей (и может быть даже Русской идей с заглавной буквой, но я, конечно, не могу уверенно высказываться об этом).

В Америке есть известная "Американская мечта", но это лишь общая мечта о личном благополучии, в которую далеко не все верят, и которая не влияет на правительство страны.  Скорее всего, единственная страна, где единная национальная идея влияет как на правительство, так и на население--Бутан со своим "Валовым национальным счастьем".

А поиск национальной идеи--это красивая, глубокая, философская вещь; проявление литературы и высоких ценностей в повседневной жизни; и достойная цель, которая привлекает (иногда) жителей западных стран, разочарованных бессмысленностью своего общества.  Для тех, то есть для нас, путь (поиск) и есть цель.

Необъяснимая красота постсоветских балконов
Я обожаю балконы.

Когда друзья гуляют со мной по любому городу, я раздражаю их такой просьбой: "давайте остановимся на секунду, буквально на секунду--там красивые балконы!"

Почему балконы?  Почему не окна, двери, крыши, знаки?  Я не знаю точно; невозможно объяснить любовь.

Но я могу сказать, что во-первых, мне нравится чистые геометричные линии многобалконных зданий.  Во-вторых, балкон--это особенное место между домом и остальным миром. Ничего не видно из-за стен дома; прохожим нельзя посмотреть на дом и понять быт жителей.  Но все, что размещено на балконах, видно всему миру.  И балкон много рассказывает и о жителях дома, и об истории района, города, страны.

Больше всего я люблю балконы постсоветских стран.  Они очень разнообразные по архитектурному стилю: есть те, что были построены еще до советских времен, советские балконы, и самые современные варианты.  И так как почти все эти балконы пережили тяжелые времена при Большевиках, войнах и бедстве 90-их, у них старый, мудрый вид.  Они сами исторические артефакты.  Поэтому в течение путешествий по Литве и России, я собрала большую коллекцию фоток балконов.  Давайте посмотрим на них.

Что еще я люблю в балконах?  Вот что . . .

Творческие выборы в процессе ремонта.

Контраст между соседями.

Неожиданные предметы.

Местные детали.

Жуткий вид.

Хорошое сочетание с окружением.


Строгие формы.

Драматический свет.

Разнообразие окон и лестниц.

Новые перспективы.

Старое и новое вместе.

Праздничное настроение.

Разноцветные украшения.

Каждый раз, когда я интересуюсь каким-то новым, красивым балконом, мне кажется, что скоро я должна отвлекаться от балконов вообще.  Но это неконтролируемая любовь еще не исчезла.

Балконы так интересны и красивы!  Может быть у этого поста будет продолжение . . .

Battle for the Babushkas: A Rundown on the Kostroma Elections
I think part of the draw of Russian politics for those of us who, by all means, don't belong in it, is the battle.  In the run-up to American elections, we find ourselves squabbling uselessly about social issues that neither side will budge on and losing faith in humanity when we see that a reality show buffoon with a croissant on his head can not only run for president, but gain a lot of popularity.  In Russia, the fight is still sometimes for survival, for minority parties' very right to exist and participate in elections.  It's an underdog story where "good" and "bad" feel clear--a small, righteous group fighting a big, scheming one.  Now, in reality it's all more complicated than that, but to outside observers it seems honest and simple compared to the American rats' nest of bullshit from all directions.

The basic state of things, to state it as uncontroversially as possible, is that opposition figures in Russia are few, far between, and frequently given a hard time.  The party of power, United Russia, which was started by President Vladimir Putin, has authority all over the country, and corruption levels are high.  But some people are trying to change the situation.

If you haven't been following Russian internal politics of late, the story goes like this: the newly-formed Democratic Coalition (Russian site), made up by a variety of democratically-minded opposition parties, including world famous anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny's Progress Party, has attempted this year to get into regional elections in some of Russia's most rebelious provinces.  They gathered all the necessary signatures and submitted their requests to be included on the ballots.  And in every case, their petitions were rejected--the signatures were said to be fake or improperly taken.  So the Coalition went to court.  And in the end, they won the right to participate in elections in one of three regions--the humble province of Kostroma (whose capital, by the way, is a sister city of Durham, NC--fun fact!).  Now in Kostroma, two representatives of the party RPR Parnas, Ilya Yashin (Russian profile) and Vladimir Andreichenko (Russian profile), are running for office in the regional legislative body, the duma.

Since then, the best of Russia's democratic activists--including Navalny, although he isn't running for office--have been campaigning in Kostroma with all their might.  And not in vain, it seems to me; their reports suggest they are making an impression.

These opposition figures greatly stress their contact with ordinary folks from Kostroma--"Kostroma babushkas" are specifically mentioned frequently in their social media posts.  This shows that they are making an effort to address what is, in my opinion, their most grevious past flaw: not listening to ordinary Russian people.  Rebels like Navalny have made the authorities shake in their boots before; protests in 2011 made at least a small impact on policy; but all that time the opposition was a team of young, urban professionals with Western econo-political and cultural inclinations who mostly appealed to other young, urban professionals with Western econo-political and cultural inclinations.  Those people are not the majority in Russia--not by far.  They're gathered in large cities, particularly Moscow and St. Petersburg; the much bigger part of the population lives in smaller ones or in the countryside.  It's clear that the biggest concerns among ordinary Russians are economic and local--they aren't, in general, moved by sweeping arguments about democracy and human rights and liberal values.  (And why should they be, when the economic issues affect their lives much more?)

Watching the playlist of reports (all in Russian) from Kostroma published by the RPR Parnas team suggests that the focus on the people is not just talk.  Yes, these videos are designed to make  the opposition look good, a form of advertisement.  But It's undeniable that they are meeting with diverse people--listeners at the filmed meetings range from kids about seven years old to white-haired women with wrinkles and headscarves.  The focus of the candidates' speeches is economic and strongly anti-corruption, and focuses on redirection of state funds where the people want them.

Honestly, it's wonderful to watch these videos and see the Moscow men in their suits and collared shirts walking down flooded dirt roads and alongside grassy village fences, climbing into weatherbeaten apartment blocks to look at broken infrastructure and incomplete rennovations, and of course, giving passionate speeches to groups sometimes as small as seven or ten people next to a neighborhood parking lot or rusty children's play structure.  The recordings of these meetings and wanderings also contain the complaints of ordinary Kostroma residents and the party's response to them--always a reaffirmation of the goal to redirect money from officials' pockets to the people.  This is a direct answer to the people's wants, which are indeed economic: they want paved roads, their own businesses, compensation for veterans, affordable medicine, and buildings without cracks in the walls.

Will the opposition be able to give all this?  It seems unlikely to me; even if they do win seats in the Duma, their influence will be small.  Paving the roads may seem like a molehill, but in Russia's bureaucracy, it's a real mountain.  And if they win, it will be in spite of a lot of conflict with the powers that be.  Watching these reports from the ground, you also see run-ins with the law; on day 7, Yashin was actually detained briefly by the police. Yashin probably doesn't help his case by confronting the police each time they show up, but he is fully within his rights to tell the police that there are no grounds for his arrest, and to point out to his listeners that the authorities are unfairly interrupting a peaceful meeting.  The official reason Yashin was detained, by the way, was that he was using a microphone and it was too loud.  You could say that's fair, but in any case, he shouldn't have been removed from the meeting by force in a police car.  (Other party members continued the meeting without him or the microphone.)

Navalny reports on Yashin's detainment: "a universal sign: if you don't know who to vote for, we'll let you know--the most honest candidate looks about like this."

The hard path that stands before the Russian opposition is clearly visible here, and this is what makes it interesting to us observers from the side.  But for the ones fighting, it's not just interesting--it's a battle for a better country.

Can they succeed?  I don't know.  Sometimes opposition leaders to get into local legislative bodies, sometimes they don't.  And as I said, if they get in, they'll have a difficult time achieving anything.  But they seem to have made a splash already.  To start with, the fact that they have attracted police attention (and, apparently, the attention of paid anti-opposition agitators (video in Russian), who tried to attack a recent meeting) means that someone is worried about their possible influence.  On a positive note, they've been allowed into televised debates and have done well, particularly in the debate between Ilya Yashin and UR's Sergey Kalashnik.  The debate is, of course, in Russian, but suffice it to say that Kalashnik did not seem very prepared and spent all his time trying to directly discredit his opponents, while Yashin actually discussed his party's platform.  And although it's hard to tell who will vote for whom in the elections, polls show that awareness of RPR Parnas is higher in Kostroma Province than it was before--up 13% to 35% in under a month, and up 18% to 48% in its capital city (article in Russian).  That's still nothing compared to the other parties, but for a campaign that was not permitted to start agitating until the middle of August, it's great, and it could be just enough to squeeze a candidate into the Duma (note: Russian local elections involve voting for a party, not an individual; 5% or more of the vote gives that party representation in the legislature).

So who knows?  There's not much Americans can do--in fact, in all official capacity, we should stay far away, as this is a Russian matter, and any attempt from our side to support the Russian opposition will hurt them more than help. But we can and should watch the results of this election. Will it be more of the same? Or will the efforts of the oppositionists in Kostroma not be in vain?

The voting is scheduled for Sunday the 13th.  And now you're informed enough to look for and appraise the results.

(no subject)
Вот, работала допоздна чтобы переделать этот блог.  А теперь я только хочу слушать эту песню и спать.

Простите за неудобство


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