On August 31, 1999, a handmade bomb exploded in a popular Moscow shopping mall. I was there, and watched rubble, dust, and screaming erupt around me.

Read more about the event and my changing understanding of this experience in an essay over at Pacific Standard.

Two important things I’ve learned since the piece was published:

  • Leaflets from a radical anti-consumerist organization were discovered near the site of the explosion. They read: “A hamburger not eaten to the end by the dead consumer is a revolutionary hamburger. Consumers: We don’t like your life style. And it is not safe for you.” (Any links to that organization have since been refuted.)
  • The video arcade where the bomb went off was called дунамитor “Dynamite.” Oof.
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In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt argues that totalitarian rule is truly possible only in countries that are large enough to be able to afford depopulation. The Soviet Union proved itself to be just such a country on at least three occasions in the twentieth century—teaching its citizens in the process that their lives are worthless.

From Masha Gessen’s exploration into the causes of Russia’s extremely high mortality rates. Read the whole thing at The New York Review of Books blog.

“What country are we living in and in what year, when priests bless half-drunk nationalists that pelt people with rocks while the police look on and then load us into police cars?”

Excerpt from a gorgeous interview with “Olga” and “Irina,” a gay couple in Russia, from the forthcoming Gay Propaganda, a bilingual collection of edited interviews with LGBT Russians.

For a moving post-Valentine’s day read, give the whole interview a look (published at PEN.org).

xo,

TP

Just read a lovely experimental essay about immigrant identity and longing. It’s a piece by Anna Prushinskaya up at The Millions. An excerpt:

I set alarms to call my grandmother. I don’t call her for weeks that add up to months, and when I finally call her, I tell her that I will call again next week. I don’t call her next week. I think about calling her each time that I say I will call her. When I call her, I can hear the background noise of the street. She says regular things like that she misses me. She asks for great-grandchildren.

I read something recently that described stealing as lack of faith. We steal when we don’t have faith that the things we need will come. When I don’t call, I think I am stealing time. I do not have faith that at the end of the conversation about the weather there is something that turns out to be love.

It’s a day of reading Russian stuff. So then I read some ruminations about Russian language from a piece up at Jewcy:

I love Russian. I love how the phrases resonate with innate lyricism; how the constants punctuate speech with that distinctly Slavic bite[…]But I especially love how speaking the language makes me feel – like an edgier, snarkier me, with a stockpile of one-liners and wit that rarely makes its way into my English-language conversations. For these reasons and more, I’ve incurred countless raised eyebrows from fellow Russian-speakers when answering that obligatory question – where are you from? Because I’m not from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Baku, Tashkent, or some variation thereof—I grew up right here, between Brooklyn and Jersey.

The author, Samantha Shokin,  goes on to say:

My bilinguality was always the defining characteristic I shared about myself, and eventually kids started accusing me of sporting a foreign accent. I relished having a unique background that set me apart from the rabble, but hated the exclusion that came with it. In truth, my pseudo-immigrant pride was really a defense mechanism used to cope with a general feeling of “otherness” that I could never quite shake.

I resonate wit this a lot, though it was less a true bilingualism for me and more of a biculturalism, that I had knowledge of this other country, this other world, and place. I had a strange nostalgia growing up for a place I’d never been to, a country that no longer existed.

The author goes onto meet some newer Russian immigrants:

These friends were creative, exotic, and spoke Russian so beautifully that even expletives fizzled in my ears with charming effervescence. To them, I was a novelty; a bridge between cultures. I laughed at jokes I didn’t understand because I wanted so badly to. Soon I found myself wondering, would I be like them if I’d grown up there? If my parents had never left?

I ask myself these questions a lot. Who would I have been if I had been born in Moscow?

UPDATE: [1:46 pm]:  Samhita over at Feministing says it way better than I can: “I ask not ‘where is occupy?’ but what will it take for the mainstream political [conversation] to reflect [Occupy Wall Street] values?” Read her.

– – –

It’s the beginning of year two of this movement. Almost one year ago, I filmed this video of the mass protest and march in Times Square NYC:

The crowds are now smaller, and I think it will take something major–like the election of Mitt Romney–to see crowds that big again.

But the urgency still exists, and I think most of the people who ever participated in any Occupy events would agree.

I have to admit, every time I’d walk by the remnants of the movement–stragglers still meeting, camping out, human mic-ing, arguing, squatting around the Financial and Flatiron District–I’d feel a mixture of regret for not getting more involved and a simultaneous tinge of judgment. Like, you’re still trying to revive this movement, to capitalize on that original energy? Of course most people only have the energy and interest for the occasional march and protest and aren’t going to be in it for the long haul, to build organization infrastructure (or organic structure, whatever the case may be). I am only somewhat surprised to remember that I–someone who a few years ago would have been in the front lines–is stepping back, observing, commenting.

There’s a place for everyone in this movement. The movement for transparency in our government, for getting corporate money out of our elections, for getting the financial priorities in this country realigned so that we don’t have teachers needing to strike in Chicago while other people are getting their pockets lined with bonuses and tax breaks.

I salute you Occupiers all over the country and the world. I salute the tens of thousands of anti-Putin protesters who gathered in Russia two days ago. I salute the Libyans who condemned the violence against the U.S. Ambassador.

Let’s get back to work, whatever that looks like for you.

 

From an op-ed by singer/songwriter/author Alina Simone in the Wall Street Journal:

But as recent headlines make clear, we still haven’t managed to outrun some of our Cold War-era habits. There is an I-told-you-so kind of glee in U.S. reporting of the Russian protests over mishandling of the elections, the same glee that’s reflected in coverage of the “Occupy” movement by Russian news outlets. “Mass arrests in the United States” a nightly news report on Channel 1 bleated. Thirty-one protestors had been taken into custody in Washington D.C. — hardly a revolution, but such is the distorted glimpse we tend to get of one another’s politics.

I witnessed the same thing when I first visited Moscow, Russia in 1994. From an essay I wrote about that trip:

That first time in Russia, I couldn’t figure people out. They had a strange air of contradiction in their essence. Architecture was torn between modernism and an attachment to classical forms, Greek-style columns painted over with awful pastel greens or yellows that were now flaking off. The youth were torn between making jokes at the expense of Americans and between a strong desire to imitate American culture. Life was torn between glamorous fashion magazines and crumbling Khrushchev-era apartments.

I first heard about Alina from this silly article in The New York Times Style Magazine about a new wave of Russian literati and media makers. Can I have in, please?

Police detain an activist during a protest rally by opposition group "Another Russia" in central Moscow Sunday. (Reuters)

For the last two days, Muscovites have been taking to the streets to protest the recent (and rigged) Russian parliamentary election results. They have been joined by many people from other Russian cities who have dropped everything to join these unprecedented protests.

For a summary of the activities that took place on Monday and Tuesday, click here and here. The WaPo also has some good photos. You can also see my Twitter feed, where I’ve been re-tweeting the live tweets directly from the streets.

Here are a few important takeaways:

  1. Many of the participants are first-time protestors. Before this, they considered themselves too cynical to participate in oppositional activism, let alone vote in elections they knew to be rigged. Thousands upon thousands are meeting in the streets despite the heavy (and predictably violent) presence of police and special forces.
  2. People are very active online, on Facebook for events, and on Twitter (the hashtag for Monday was #5dec or #5дек, but I’m not sure what they are using now). Some are drawing comparisons to Tahrir Square.
  3. There are widespread (and deeply-held) rumors that Americans and other foreigners are paying Russians $$ to participate in such protests in order to tarnish Russia’s image. Putin has said things to spread this type of belief in the past. Even activists are wary of American support (as evidence by the tone when I wrote an English-language message of support on Facebook).
  4. Putin’s response has been to organize massive rallies of supporters for the “United Russia” party. People are being bused to Moscow, and one woman, when asked why she was joining, replied: “I don’t know–they just put us on a bus.”

This LiveJournal user (reminder: LiveJournal or Живо́й Журна́л is a serious blogging platform in Russia) posted some great photos. I’ve translated some of the signs in the images:

  • Photo #3: Police attempted to keep #s low by using metal detectors. So many people showed up that they spilled onto neighboring boulevards.
  • Photo #5: “These elections are a farce” and “UnitedRussia in the trash” (except the Russian has great word play that I can’t translate).
  • Photo #4: “Russia Will Be Free” and “We’ll Return Power to the People.”
  • Photo #6: “Gays and Lesbians Against Crooks and Thieves.”
  • Last photo reads “United Russia is the party of crooks and thieves.”

Let’s see what comes of all this. And don’t forget that the presidential elections are coming up in March, when Putin is expected to take back his old job (how convenient).