General Board, mark II

The old General Board can be found here.



  1. Помогите найти комикс!

    Автор: Виталий Терлецкий
    Год издания: 2014
    ISBN: 9785913393418


  2. J.T., saw a re-tweet on your account about Shaninka. I guess this means you are siding with those who are supporting it against RosObrNadzor’s decision. Let me offer some comments on the issue.

    Moscow’s Higher School of the Social and Economic Sciences (founded in 1995 by Theodore Shanin, 300 students, 5 faculties) lost its accreditation on 20th of June this year. Now, to shadowquote from RIA Novosti:

    “The decision was made on the basis of the results of the accreditation examination. It is noted that the experts found violations of federal state educational standards in the institution.

    So, some professors of “Shaninka” did not meet the qualification standards (e.g. professors with certain specialization were teaching subjects for which they had no official accreditation). Among them were the heads of the following departments: “Management of socio-cultural projects”, “Political and legal doctrines” and “Sociology.” Also, there were found problems with the content and quality of the programs.

    Having a certificate of state accreditation confirms the conformity of its activity with state educational standards. In case of suspension of accreditation, the institution can continue to work and issue documents of its own type. At the same time, it can not issue diplomas of the format established by the Ministry of Education and Science, and guarantee students a postponement from military service.”

    Tl;dr – fro, now on the diplomas of this pint sized ВУЗ founded in the heady days of the Rough 90s are good only as the very fancy (and very awkward to use) toilet paper. No one though closes them down. Also, Shaninka is Russo-British place of the Higher Education, that totally subsumes its needs and education style to the ones of its Western (senior) partner. Shaninka, naturally, is not state, but private venue of education.

    The fact that no less august figure than the uber liberal loyalist former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin began defending the “victims of the Regime” (he also defended Soros funded European University in St. Pete) made me realize, that there might be some real reasons why our government chose to do something right for a change. When suddenly professors all over the world (especially from the countries that would like nothing better than to see Russia annihilated) began writing the letters asking, nay – demanding RosObrNadzor to give back the accreditation, this suspicion grew into near conviction. So I began digging.

    Shaninka was founded in 1995 and received its informal name thanks to its “founding father” and president, Theodor Shanin, a man with veeeeery interesting biography. A Polish Jew, who for his anti-state activity ended up exiled in Siberia, at the age of 18 he was allowed to repatriate to Israel to where he fought for that country’s independence. Then there was his training at the University of Jerusalem, the beginning of teaching activities in Israel and the UK. In the late 80’s – early 90’s Shanin was a professor of sociology at Manchester University. And finally, in 1995 he decided to create in Moscow (why here in such “despicable” country as ours?) his university, originally oriented towards the European education system.

    It is known that among the first sponsors of the “Shaninka” was the “Open Society Foundation” of George Soros and his Central European University in Budapest, founded prior to that in 1991 thanks to the financial support of all the same “big friend of Russia” George Soros. In 2015, the Open Society Foundation, which prior to that actively infiltrated Russian education system (it financed universities, produced textbooks, etc/) was included by the Ministry of Justice of Russia into the list of organizations whose activities are undesirable in our country.The example of Soros’s educational experiments in Ukraine are VERY revealing – as well as his open calls for inflicting all kinds of woes upon Russia.

    It was from the Soros Foundation that the European University in St. Petersburg received money for its work. In addition, the aforementioned ВУЗ also received grants from the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation (both foundations in 2015 were included in the list of undesirable organizations according to the Ministry of Justice of Russia).

    According to open information on the website of the Federal Tax Service of Russia, among the founders of “Shaninka” are the “E.T. Gaidar’s Institute for Economic Policy”, “Economic Policy Foundation”, “New Economic Education Foundation”, “Center for Independent Research in Education and Science”, “Charity Foundation for Cultural Initiatives” (aka Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation).

    It is by pure coincidence then, that the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Gaidar’s Institute is the newly-minted head of the Russian Audit Chamber – one Alexei Kudrin. Together with him the council of the university includes such liberal economic figures as Herman Gref and Anatoly Chubais. Kudrin is also a member of the board of trustees of the European University in St. Petersburg.


      • You shouldn’t. J.T. You should not apologize or conform to otsider’s views, if the things you post are what you truly If you want – defent you position. Better still – ignore all nayseres. If you like it – unleash the ban-hammer and suppress the deviant opion 🙂

        I’ve been saying for a long time – THIS IS YOUR BLOG. I (or any other commenter) does not matter before you. Do what you want.

        No – do you want to re-tweet this thing about liberal Uni with some dodgy ties, buth which is OBVIOUSLY defeneded by the foreign Russia Watching Unis?


      • J.T., I felt really bad when I saw you deleting this retweet. Honestly.

        Yes, I have a “side” in this situation with the Shainka, as I make abundantly clear. The thing is – I make it abundantly clear. I explain why I’m of this opinion and what are my reasons for taking this “side”.

        You… I dunno. You re-tweeted it and then suddenly deleted the re-tweet. Why? What were your reasons to re-tweet in the first place? What do *you* (not the fine people who you were re-tweeting) think about situation. I genuinely want to know the reasons, and I can live with whatever answer you might provide, opting to “agree to disagree” if must. C’mon, just look at the amount of tro banter I throw routinely at the Professor’s place 😉

        You, OTOH, just slashed and burned the whole thing, that it made me think that my comment offended you. If this is so – my sincere apologies. I promise never to comment on things in your twitter ever again. All I wanted to know is “why?”

        Maybe it is cultural, as me being Russian means I’m less enamoured with the idea of “civility”at the expense of honesty.


        • I’ve made the Lyttenburgh feel bad? This is serious.

          1. You have nothing to apologize for, as your comment did not offend me. Startled, maybe, but not offended.

          2. You are free to comment on anything in my Twitter, in whatever style you prefer. Again, I won’t be offended – and I’ll likely learn something. For example, I had no idea the Open Society Foundation (with which I certainly do not agree) was behind Shaninka.

          3. I will never ignore those who disagree, nor will I wield the banhammer against them.

          Truth is – I am not informed enough to pick a “side” on the Shaninka issue. I read ASEEES’s statement, thought “rrgh, another univer’s had its accreditation revoked”, and retweeted. I apologized – and took down the RT – because it was a huge oversight on my part. It’s the kind of irresponsible behavior a previous J.T. would chew out other commentators for. You should never hop on a bandwagon without looking into things further, even if it’s your country’s foremost RAS association leading the way 😦

          So no, retweeting the ASEEES Shaninka statement isn’t worth it. Not worth the misunderstandings and upsetting one of the best commenters on your site 🙂


          • “I’ve made the Lyttenburgh feel bad? This is serious.”

            ME?! Oh, I’m just shy and conscientious intelligent, who likes spending evenings talking about poetry, literature, cinema and cultural-civilisational milestones. Nothing to be scary about 🙂

            [I rarely speak about history though. I usually argue if not shout about it. Occupational hazard, c’est la vie!]

            “It’s the kind of irresponsible behavior a previous J.T. would chew out other commentators for.”

            No mass beheadings in sight? Oh, well! 😉

            ^Yes, that’s the page from my first “adult” comic book “Peter The Great”.

            “Not worth the misunderstandings and upsetting one of the best commenters on your site”

            Who might have scared away all other prospective (and much more coherent and better) commenters with his rants? 🙂


            • No mass beheadings in sight? Oh, well!

              Naah, I’ve mellowed out. Now my preferred method is writing people into short stories and killing them off horribly.

              Who might have scared away all other prospective (and much more coherent and better) commenters with his rants?

              You’ve got a point. Things have been awfully quiet around here.

              I’ve no problem with ranty comments because (in most cases) I can see through them. However, your comments have certified(TM) made people uncomfortable with joining in (see some posts from 2016). Which leaves me as the blog proprietor in a difficult situation where I must balance between making everyone feel welcome and encouraging lively, provocative discussion…

              Eh, you’ve been demoted from “one of the best commenters” to “one of the most outspoken and engaged commenters”.


              • “However, your comments have certified(TM) made people uncomfortable with joining in (see some posts from 2016). Which leaves me as the blog proprietor in a difficult situation where I must balance between making everyone feel welcome and encouraging lively, provocative discussion…”


                I was half joking when I said that I’m scaring people off. The facts on the ground are the following – while you keep commenting in other fellow bloggers comment sections they (as a rule) return courtesy rarely if ever (even in the form of “+1” and “Cool post!” small talk token phrases).

                Am I to blame here? I don’t know. If you, J.T., know for sure that its “thanks” to me, i.e. that said bloggers told you so via personal messages – well, then this is how it is. And I’m asking these “scared off” commenters to speak up if I offended someone of them, or if they have issues with me and my comments. I’m open for dialog and ready for constructive engagement. I’m not above saying “I’m sorry – please, forgive me” and meaning it.

                Now, the question is – what would it change should I stop commenting at all? Would these new voices find the courage to speak up their opinion, unhindered by my outspoken views? Am *I* what is keeping the people from commenting here and engaging in exchange of opinions?

                How about making next poll about why/if the people post comments here?


                • Did I replace a misunderstanding with…another misunderstanding? I didn’t know you were joking!

                  I don’t think you’re guilty of anything except being extremely passionate. [meant in a half-playful way.] But one Olga T., a fellow book blogger who commented on some early posts here, felt uncomfortable after the exchange on My first troll. And judging by admin reactions to your comments on The Elicitor, RusHistBlog, NYU Jordan Center, and The Untranslated, I can see how the modern (overly?) sensitive Russian affairs commenter might not want to jump in after reading something you’ve written. Even if your comments aren’t intended to be trolling (as we both know), it won’t stop fellow commenters from seeing them that way.

                  Again, I don’t think you’re “to blame”, because no one can control other people’s reactions to what they say/do. People probably don’t comment here because the content isn’t particularly provocative.

                  Polling sounds like a good idea. If only turnout for these things weren’t so low 😦

                  And speaking of comments – three of mine – one original and two appeals to check the filter – were prevented from appearing on Irrussianality. No excessive hyperlinks or swears. I might be blacklisted.


                • No, not blacklisted from Irrussianality. WordPress has taken a dislike to you for some inexplicable reason and keeps shoving all your comments into spam.


                • “But one Olga T., a fellow book blogger who commented on some early posts here, felt uncomfortable after the exchange on My first troll.”

                  I read Olga’s BookGeek. As one can understand, I disagree with her completely when it comes to politics, social and life attitudes. I’m kinda banned on her blog too, seeing how she deleted one of my questions. Still, she’s a young mother now, a well-read, cultured intilligent person. Key word here – she’s a *person*. Not a nobody with no interests, no opinions of their own, she’s not a living and breathing re-tweeting machine. One has to grant other people their due when they deserve it. But it also does not mean that I’m willing to mellow my opinions in Olga’s presence for her to be more comfortable – she already has a husband 😉

                  “And judging by admin reactions to your comments on The Elicitor, RusHistBlog, NYU Jordan Center, and The Untranslated, I can see how the modern (overly?) sensitive Russian affairs commenter might not want to jump in after reading something you’ve written.”

                  Ah, good old days! 🙂

                  J.T., I already fulfilled my yearly quota of getting banned in 3 different non Ru-Net places with the options to comment. That’s not because I’m a net-Stakhanovite – that’s the way things roll. The only thing I honestly regret concerning these sites (and many, many others) was the fact that there were no conversation between me and them, no frank exchange of opinion and argumentative dispute. How can the people decry the lack of the “meaningful dialog” between the West and Russia. when all attempts of conversation are shut (and shouted) down? Here you (general “sensitive Russian affairs commenter”) have a living (in Russia) Russian. What – not a pretty sight and conversation? You expected a handshakable liberal instead? The West chose said “Living Not By A Lie” ™ people as their faithful (and loyal) interlocutors for the last 30+ years and as the result is none the wiser. What’s the point of engaging in Russia Watching if you are watching only for confirmation bias?

                  I’m not really preaching or reaching out for them in order to later convert them. AFAIK, I converted literally no one to my hodgepodge of the views and have no desire to proselytize whatsoever. That would require for me to make a great deal of compromises with my own consciousness or even lying. I’m more of the questioning other people instead of whacking them with the Holy Truth, aka I rely on the Socratic method of sorts. Besides, I’m genuinely interested in what makes other people “tick” views-wise, and, inevitable, have to prod and ask them about it. In return, I’m willing to explain what makes some Russians “tick” in this particular way. The answers might not be to that sensitive Russian affairs commenter” (SRAC) liking.

                  I regret nothing when it comes to these sites. Sorry, but this is true. They have to face the reality. Yeah, there is a good chance that this will make them uncomfortable. And in the great smörgåsbord of the Internet it’s all too easy to pick and choose your own. They chose not to choose something “icky” for their tastes. Therefore, I’m a problem. For them.
                  “And speaking of comments – three of mine – one original and two appeals to check the filter – were prevented from appearing on Irrussianality. No excessive hyperlinks or swears. I might be blacklisted.”

                  That’s totally unlike Professor. After all, he commented here not too long ago below your “My trip to Piter” post. Probably, his spam filter “chewed” your comments. Still, all non-indifferent Russia Reviewed Regulars must draw this fact to his attention, given that he can’t see J.T.’s comments for some reason.


                • J.T., I already fulfilled my yearly quota of getting banned in 3 different *non Ru-Net* places with the options to comment.

                  And what were they, если не секрет?

                  And *non-runet*, eh? Would you happen to know who translated parts of my Red Sparrow review for

                  How can the people decry the lack of the “meaningful dialog” between the West and Russia. when all attempts of conversation are shut (and shouted) down?

                  Because the dialogue does not occur within their preferred ideological bounds.

                  Reminds me a little of something I uncovered while researching for a post on RAS. Mark Bauerlein argues professors in the humanities have abandoned epistemology in favor of indoctrination. Long story short, this leads to professors/students sticking to a limited set of viewpoints and showing little interest in/understanding of opposing POVs, which in turn leads to lapses in research/learning, etc. I suspect a similar form of intellectual satisfaction is at work among the professional Russia-watching community.

                  Probably, his spam filter “chewed” your comments.

                  That’s what I thought, but I’ve had comments chewed by Irrussianality before, and my appeal comments usually still appear. Eh, it’s not that important anyway – the comment in question today just mentioned the crussialism in J.T.’s fave Putin bio Putin: His Downfall and Russia’s Coming Crash.


                • “And what were they, если не секрет?”

                  1) Sic Semper Tyrannis. I won’t badmouth Colonel Lang and his regular authors despite, naturally, not seeing eye-to-eye with them on certain topics of history (e.g. the Cold War). By pure coincidence (which I’m not to haughty to ascribe solely to my own efforts) SST for some period disabled comment section. Then it switched to Disquis, which greatly reduced the number of its kommentariat.

                  2) The Untranslated. I can take a hint when someone removes my comment from the “Your Comment Is Awaiting Moderation” limbo to a dust bin, and then when you try to re-post it you experience the same thing when you are banned from the comment section. I get it. No desire to overcome it and re-post.

                  3) A personal site of one American sci-fi writer, who’s chief “bread winning” series gets into the territory of time-travel/alt-hist. Early novels are not that bad (just re-read the first one). *Now* it’s bad. It’s really, really bad. But when it comes to Russia (be it of 17 or early 20 cc.) – it becomes abominable. The proverbial “I thought we finally reached the bottom, but then someone knocked from below” type of (ghost) writing. Good thing they have someone who knows *a bit* about Russia and its history – and willing to share this knowledge absolutely freely!

                  Also, had very enLYTTENing conversations with the local contingent (which also answers the question, who’s the target readership of things like “Overkill” might consist of). I was tempted to post excerpts from Umberto Eco’s article “The Ur Fascism” and draw certain parallels between their attitudes and the contents, but, well – that won’t happen.

                  All who banned me had absolute moral and physical right to do so. I was annoying (to them), violating the tranquility of their apparent jolly mishpokhe. It was (mostly) very enLYTTENing having conversation with them while it lasted. I learned many knew things. Hope they learned something knew from me 😉

                  Never heard about club443. The discussion in the Red Sparrow thread that I scanned was… typical. Mutual adoration and respect there literally infused the very code of the forum. 🙂

                  “Mark Bauerlein argues professors in the humanities have abandoned epistemology in favor of indoctrination.”

                  That’s only part of the horror. The other half lies in the fact, that truth (and lie) is proclaimed to be something utterly subjective. Which means that now e can only have “debates”, these exercises in futility and… opinion… measurements, instead of “disputes”, which while pit two ideas against each other also strive to find out the truth AND participants agree to respect the rulings of such intellectual “joust” on what is the truth then. Instead we are offered to club our opponents into intellectual submission. Even in the Middle Ages there were nothing of such kind of anti-intellectuality.

                  I also once again implore fellow Russia Reviewed Readers to go to the (prof. Robinson’s very own blog) and ask him to clarify the situation regarding his rebellious spam filter.


  3. (Moved the thread down here, as it was getting v. squashed.)


    Never heard about club443.

    Dangit! The mystery continues. I need to find out who’s translating my stuff.

    The other half lies in the fact, that truth (and lie) is proclaimed to be something utterly subjective.

    Yep. This is also a recent discovery of mine. For “us”, absolute knowledge is theoretically impossible – instead we (re)invent the context a “text” is read in, over and over, and *that* is knowledge. “We” value narrative imagination, and feelings. (As you can tell from all the quotation marks, I’m having a bit of an [academic] identity crisis.)

    I was (re)reading the RusHistBlog Anatomy of a Course – Final Student Thoughts (and my subsequent notes on it) today and realized I had some thoughts of my own. Some benefits of using fiction in the history classroom (according to the author) are it deconstructs the linearity of history, encourages students to think about “what ifs” and sheds light on the human cost. And yet I’m hung up on questions of…how does this improve historiography? Do discussions surrounding “what ifs” ever become more productive than acknowledging things could’ve turned out differently? Why are you citing Komiaga from the futuristic dystopia Day of the Oprichnik in your argument about human costs of history?!!

    Is this really what the disciplines I call home really want?
    Sounds like I might need to expound.

    I also once again implore fellow Russia Reviewed Readers to go to the (prof. Robinson’s very own blog) and ask him to clarify the situation regarding his rebellious spam filter.

    Might have to post something directly to the Irrussianality blog (on ‘Resilient Russia’) as not many people read this General Board.

    P.S. Speaking of historical fiction…

    Discovered this gem at the Barnes & Noble today. A fictional eyewitness account of the Romanovs’ last days with some of the most horrid glorious Russian mistransliterations I have ever seen.

    Oh Katya, vnoochka moya…


    • See, J.T.? Cultural differences between Russia and US are so great, that we even had different Yiddish words enter our common parlance. “Mishpokhe” (rus. мишпуха ) means “company, family, tight-nit group of people”. Also, here in Russia no one uses such Russisms like “blintzes” or “boychik” either. “Chutzpah” is mainly known to the Net-savvy, who got it from the Western texts. Mostly, we acquired words from Odessa and gangs related criminal argot (about which I wrote previously, e.g. the origins and meaning of the term “фрайер”).

      “For “us”, absolute knowledge is theoretically impossible – instead we (re)invent the context a “text” is read in, over and over, and *that* is knowledge. “We” value narrative imagination, and feelings. (As you can tell from all the quotation marks, I’m having a bit of an [academic] identity crisis.)”

      Yeah – “everything is just a narrative!” mentality. I know that this might sound like beating of the dead horse, but, still – I would like to speak out in defense of two simple ideas that were formerly considered so obvious and even simply ordinary just recently, but now sound very… unfashionable:

      1) The (Objective) Truth exists, and the goal of the Science is its search.
      2) When considering any problem or question, professionals (if they are really a professionals, and not just some “holders of the degree”) in the normal case are more right than any given amateur.

      That’s it. The core of any way to learn about the world around. To learn – not to fantasize.

      These small and till recently accepted axioms are opposed by now much more fashionable ideas:

      1) The Truth does not exist, there are only many opinions (or, in the language of postmodernism, “many texts”).
      2) On any issue no one’s opinion weighs more than the opinion of someone else. The opinion of any given Highly Opinionated Anonymous claiming that the Earth is flat has the “right” to persists in this kind of insanity. Not only that – all others must take such claims seriously and “equal” to the previously established “facts”, which are to be relegated into the “theories” category.

      If you apply these “fashionable ideas” to the sphere of science (yes, even to the Humanities) you won’t have a science anymore. That’s kinda a self-fulfilled prophecy, at least in the West, where, quite often the humanities are denied the title of the sciences based on the “unscientific” approach… and then all Smart Heads go extra mile away from the scientific approach.

      My chief gripe with those series in RusHistBlog was that I was absolutely appalled by the approach taken by the author. Any science requires for starters a “skeleton” of the facts, a firm basis. In history this is such “unglamorous” thing as the political history – dates and events, in short. Judging from what’s been written by the author, I had (still have) some very serious doubts that his students got enough “bones” for their skeleton, or that said bones were not brittle or damaged – or even from the same species. Instead, the author was way too enthusiastic in talking about the “meat”, forgetting about “sinews” that might connect it to the skeleton. On the closer inspection some of the “meat” looked rather very dated and even rotten.

      Most of all I was disappointed with the example of the students writing. That one deserved a solid “B+”… in the school. Vast copy pasta from the text books peppered with the things that her prof said. No personal input. No imagination. I know, for I’ve written something like that years ago – some obligatory, “сделано на от…вяжись” kind of stuff. But if that’s the best that he got then his chief aim of getting the students really interested in Russia and its history failed. Not even that circus and pandering to these teens “interest” helped him.

      Speaking of pandering – I don’t believe for a sec that the author chose those two books because “it deconstructs the linearity of history, encourages students to think about “what ifs” and sheds light on the human cost.” (c). I think he included them because he wanted to. No other explanation. I asked then and I ask now – why include “The Turkish Gambit” (about Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78) if you start with the Revolutions in 1917? If you (the professor who wants to be “kewl”) really like your Akunin and Fandorin so much, why not choose, e.g. “The State Councilor” instead? Here you have everything necessary to convey the pre-Revolutionary zeitgeist – Revolutionary terrorism, state security apparatus, their inevitable clash and intermingling, customs and mores of the Imperial Moscow seen from the highest to the lowest perspectives, and famous landmarks like Sanduni bathhouse (which is still there and functioning). Besides, the book takes place in *Russia*. Ain’t that the goal after all – to show your students a bit of it? A bit of real Russia?

      As for the “Day of Oprichnik” – it was included because in the West people seriously think that it shows the “ugly reality of Putin’s Russia”. People, with the most peripheral knowledge about Russia (and various emigrants that left “This Country” in, say, 1991, and never came back) furiously agree and handshake. For such “historian” and that RusHistBlog author it IS the truth – and a clear attempt to shape the minds of his charges in the appropriate fashion. Mind you – he does this openly using something, which could not be possibly treated as the veritable, truthful account rooted in the reality. Also – mark my words. Not far away is the day, when the “Red Sparrow” will be used as the go to literature/movies, that would be used as a “documentary” to “show the ugly face of Putin’s Russia” (c). Some already do that.

      Naturally, I got myself banned for saying that. Who likes to hear criticism? Who wants to deflate their egos? Who wants to really change? Who’d like to hear from someone (on the Net!) that their course of history resembles an abominable bone-less mutant blob of flesh, that has no mouth, but wants to scream “Put me out of my misery”?

      “Soon to be a major motion picture starring Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient), directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters)

      Drawing from decades of work, travel, and research in Russia, Robert Alexander re-creates the tragic, perennially fascinating story of the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov as seen through the eyes of their young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanovs’ brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family. Does he hold the key to the many questions surrounding the family’s murder? Historically vivid and compelling, The Kitchen Boy is also a touching portrait of a loving family that was in many ways similar, yet so different, from any other.”

      What *secretes* and *questions* might he “hold keys to”? That it was a Judeo-Bolshevik Masonic ritual to awaken Cthulhu resurrect Rasputin? And the last phrase that reminds gentle reader, that there are racially superior nobs and royals, and then there is bydlo. Naturally, bydlo does not deserve to be cried over so openly and mainstream.

      Very… symptomatic book.


      • Judging from what’s been written by the author, I had (still have) some very serious doubts that his students got enough “bones” for their skeleton, or that said bones were not brittle or damaged – or even from the same species. Instead, the author was way too enthusiastic in talking about the “meat”, forgetting about “sinews” that might connect it to the skeleton. On the closer inspection some of the “meat” looked rather very dated and even rotten.

        This is going to sound v. humanities of me, but…nice metaphor! You should write a short story.

        I wouldn’t assign historical fiction in *my* [hypothetical] history classroom for the same reason I wouldn’t assign Red Sparrow or other spy thrillers in my geopolitics classroom. Experience has told me that a lot of so-called historical fiction manipulates/romanticizes details to make the novel more exciting. Because first and foremost, historical fiction is, well, literature.

        And sorry, but I don’t find Masood’s argument convincing in the slightest. Deconstructing linearity, considering alternatives, recognizing human cost – these things somehow can’t be achieved with wider (as in more varied) reading from nonfiction and existing historical record?


        Fiction can help dismantle the myth of uniformity—a characteristic that becomes all the more important when we consider how Soviet Russia has been portrayed in the past, and how propagandistic these portrayals have been. We cannot move away from painting Russia as a perpetual enemy until we dismantle the stories of a monolithic totalitarian state bent on destruction. Fiction can add much needed nuance to portrayals of Russia and its people.

        Great idea! We can start by not zeroing in on translating overtly political satires, “dissident stories”, chernukha-on-paper, and the like from the Russian.

        This is nothing new. See nineteenth-century “informational” translation in England. A wave of “russophobia” swept England in the 1820s, and during a thaw in the 1840s it was replaced by renewed interest in translating from Russian – mainly works deemed derivative of English romances (ex. Mikhail Zagoskin and Ivan Lazhechnikov).

        “Russophobia” returned with the Crimean War, and with it came translations of a different caliber. Supported by publishers who cared little about sources or fidelity to originals, translators produced work designed to serve political rather than aesthetic ends, i.e., to provide “information” about Russian life that supported prevailing stereotypes (Russian tyranny and backwardness, what else?). Some selected titles which appeared during this period:

        Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time became “Sketches of Russian Life in the Caucasus” (“by a Russe, many years resident amongst the various tribes”, 1853)

        Turgenev’s Sportsman’s Sketches became “Russian Life in the Interior” (1855)

        And a pirated translation of Gogol’s Dead Souls, retitled “Home Life in Russia’ (“By a Russian Noble”, 1854), in which the translator introduced a condescending narrator who reminds English readers of their superiority to the Russians.

        Okay, in the original, Gogol’s narrator doesn’t much like prevailing mores either, but he expresses his opinion ironically, and never presents it as historical fact. That didn’t stop the 1854 translator from making major changes (boldface my own):

        “Dost thou see it?” said the one to the other, “there is a wheel for you! What do you think of it, would it break or not, supposing it had to roll as far as Moscow?”

        “It might stand the journey,” replied the other, musingly, as he scratched himself sedulously behind the ear.

        “But supposing it was on its way to Kazan, I think it would not stand the wear and tear of such a distance?” said the first speaker again.

        “It will never roll into the ancient Tatar fastness,” responded his friend somewhat affirmatively.

        Thus ended the learned conversation, the scientific depth of which we will not venture to explore. (p. 2-3)

        So what we have here is an exaggeration of peasants’ uncouth ways (scratching behind the ear), dramatization of the story (describing speakers/manner), and adding commentary which wasn’t there before (“somewhat affirmatively”). Russian society was so uncivilized to English minds of the time that the translator could embellish Gogol’s text and no one would care. Or notice.

        Modern translators are much classier: we don’t outright distort Russian originals, even if sometimes our abridged English versions are 246 pages short (*coughBykov’sLivingSoulscough*). Just a little selection bias, that’s all…

        For more, see Rachel May’s bit on “informational” translation in her book The Translator in the Text. I wager it’s hiding on the runet somewhere.

        re: The Kitchen Boy.
        From the 16 pages I was able to read before leaving B&N, I learned that “the truth” about the Romanovs is going to involve a lot of hero-worship.

        And yet I’ve already placed a hold for it at P.— Library. You know what’s coming after Russia in Comics 😉


        • “That didn’t stop the 1854 translator from making major changes (boldface my own):”

          I… I just…

          Upon seeing that excerpt I could only stare blankly into… anything. Monitor, window, wall, mirror, fridge. I sat there, drinking one cup of coffee after another, asking myself “WHY?!”. I mean… it was all so crushingly, soul-sucking overpowering… I double checked if there is a gas leak in the house, am I drunk, or did some fresh toxic paint fumes somehow made their way to here. Nope, everything is okay. So there is no excuse for what I just read.

          The original. Volume I, Chapter I of the “Dead Souls”, first paragraph:

          “…только два русские мужика, стоявшие у дверей кабака против гостиницы, сделали кое-какие замечания, относившиеся, впрочем, более к экипажу, чем к сидевшему в нем. «Вишь ты, — сказал один другому, — вон какое колесо! что ты думаешь, доедет то колесо, если б случилось, в Москву или не доедет?» — «Доедет», — отвечал другой. «А в Казань-то, я думаю, не доедет?» — «В Казань не доедет», — отвечал другой. Этим разговор и кончился.”

          See – Надмозг.

          It’s a “common truth” ™ among shy and conscientious intelligentsia in This Country, that “Russia does not make anything”, and that the West, justifiably, is not interested in our culture as it is thoroughly secondary and below their rrrracially superior notice.

          Well… what have we here! I, honestly, pretty much shared some of the claims of these much touted “truth”. Turns out that the Western Valinor was not above the piracy of the intellectual property. Not only that – it deliberately mangled translations of our, Russian, works of the literature, in order to deliver a MESSAGE. One can excuse a poor “надмозг” (though I’m still hysterical when I recall how in so many books from the Blessed 90s “military intelligence” was translated as “военная интеллигенция”). Here, we MUST ascribe to the malignancy, what clearly, could not be ascribe to the incompetence.

          J.T. – that’s a “bomb” what you have here. The facts about “pirate translations” of our classic literature by the Western contemporaries are not widely known. I didn’t know that. I thought, that the interest in Russia literature came much, much later. Well, here you have it – propaganda needs beat all the sneering. After all, you have an added bonus that this is “genuine Russian” writing about Nasty Stuff.

          “re: The Kitchen Boy.
          From the 16 pages I was able to read before leaving B&N, I learned that “the truth” about the Romanovs is going to involve a lot of hero-worship.”

          🙂 Relevant!


        • Meanwhile:

          “Fiction can help dismantle the myth of uniformity — a characteristic that becomes all the more important when we consider how Soviet Russia has been portrayed in the past, and how propagandistic these portrayals have been. We cannot move away from painting Russia as a perpetual enemy until we dismantle the stories of a monolithic totalitarian state bent on destruction. Fiction can add much needed nuance to portrayals of Russia and its people.”

          Rant warning. Delete if you want, it’s still rather “raw” anyway.

          I think you are on to something BIG here, J.T., something potentially revealing and all explaining. At the moment I’m only at the “brainstorming” phase, so I still in the process of analyzing it and can’t really formulate the conclusion in the coherent way. Buuuuuuuut, so far I can enumerate several axioms of the Russia-West relations narrative.

          1) “Russia is big, has lots of resources and demonstrated time and again that it can convert this potential into power.”.

          No political elite of any other country with the great power aspirations will ever tolerate that. The fact that Russia has everything it needs to not only pursue independent policy, but also to serve as an alternative geopolitical pole is horrifying to them. Therefore, their own fears must be send downwards to their population via means of the internal propaganda (in the “liberal democracies” it is usually in the form of the “negative narrative”). And lo and behold – suddenly all shy and conscientious freedom loving taxpayers are now on board with the “power projection” and “defense of OUR national interests” across the globe.

          2) “Any Russian government during any given period of its history lacked the legitimacy”.

          First of all – these modes of government were not liberal democracies. Second – they were not sanctioned from the Western Center of Power ™ of the time period (be it Rome, London or Washington/Brussels). Third – they pursued policy contrary to the interests of the West. Ultimately, only the West is the judge of what “Regimes” are legitimate and what are not. By denying the “Regime” any legitimacy, you also cast a shadow on all its past achievements and conquests – which might be useful as the “legal” pretext of depriving Russia of any strategic potential thanks to which it might contend with the West. Cue Brzezinsky’s calls to dismember Russia even further and half(?)serious slogans of “Siberia – under international supervision!”.

          3) “Anything and anyone that harms Russian Regime is Good”.

          Hypocrisy galore. Ultimately, the West must admit that Hitler did the most damaging to his periods version of Russia, and, thus, must be not that bad (and, in fact, rather good). In our own time “freedom fighters” of a certain religious bent had, so far, most damaging to the Regime – therefore, these moderate headchoppers must also be good. The same goes to the anti-Russian cohorts in the so-called “New Europe” (aka “The Butthurt Belt of Europe”). The West is perfectly willing (yearly) to ignore this:

          but when something like that happens on their own “turf”, they go haywire

          ^ Oh, look! They even use the same brand of tiki-torches!

          Second facet of this is the encouragement of treason (yes, treason) within Russia. Because it is not really a “betrayal” when you commit a treason against a Regime. Any kind of betrayal will be forgiven.

          4) “There is no Russian people”

          There are only abstract “Russians”, which, at the moment, might mean literally anyone. “Russians” were synonymous to the Soviets in 1917-91 period, despite multi ethnic nature of the state. When the time is right to plain the “oppressiveness” of Russia (and the “Russians”), there you might play the ethnic card of the Russian nationals currently being “oppressed” – be they Jews of the Chechens. But the moment something bad happens – Boston bombers becomes uniformly “Russian”.

          Nuance of making distinctions is icky for the liberal public, so, better, deny the existence of the Russian people – they deny the existence of their own people after all. Only people sharing their views count as “people” – i.e. as humans.

          5) “Deliberate confusion and interchangeability of the terms “Russia/Regime/Government of Russia/Russians/Agents of the Regime”

          Tl;dr – I’m a priori guilty of “Posting On-Line while Russian”. I’m routinely accused (well – less now, given the amount of bans I’ve amassed over years…) of being a “Kremlin shill”, “Olgino troll”, “FSB paid agent”. C’mon, raise your hands everyone who got “How much Putin/Kremlin pays you to write this?” kind of retorts on/off line?

          [Raises hand].

          There you have it. Because (see p. 4) there could not possibly be a distinct Russian people with its own culture, interests and worldviews, any given Russian individual must OPPOSE the Regime (see p.3) because it’s pure Evil and oppress its own people, while (see p. 2) lacks any legitimacy. If, OTOH, you are not against the Regime – then you are its supporter. No – you are part of that Regime! This line of thought, lead to its logical end (and, yes, there are people who did just that among Russia’s dem shizoids), you must actively HATE Russia and harm it. Even paying taxes is a crime against the humanity, because these money fund the “aggression”. See Arkady “The Undead” Babchenko as the finest example of living in accordance with these axioms.

          Foreign/Western Russia watchers must also go down this path eventually. “Doves” claim that Russians are merely “oppressed” and that The Truth is hidden from us. Only more money for propaganda projects will de-zombify huddled Russian masses and Set them Free! But even they have to admit, bitterly, that Russians dare to be “nationalistic” (as opposed to them, who, being citizens of the Exceptional Nation, are just “patriotic”). Russians support Putin. Russians support “collective Putin” throughout history. They don’t want to destroy their country so as to deprive it from its strategic potential (see p.1) – they are more than eager to harness that potential.

          Which leaves only War as an option. If you can’t accept Russia and Russians as we are (and most of Russia watchers can’t do that – especially on the class and ethnic level), if they can’t mold and break Russia to their needs – they must choose hatred of Russia as the country and not just the “Regime”, and hatred and demonization of the Russians as the people. No dialog here – no sympathy for the Devil.

          Here I must pass the ball to your part of field. J.T., because that’s not for me to answer. What should happen to at least some parts of the Western/American people, even the so-called “society” (which is, somehow, is distinct from the “people”), so that the genuine dialog could become a possibility? What should happen for the West to start taking Russian interests into consideration, let alone admit their existence? I’m not talking about the political elites, I’m talking about common people. Is it really so important for the Americans, to dictate other nations across the globe their will? Does it really matter what laws are in existence in another hemisphere? I’m asking the “thinking part of the society”, that considers itself more “educated” and “informed”, that is oh so sure, that THEY won’t fall for propaganda and disinformation. “Free-thinking” people with the “independent opinion”, yup.

          This rant had been brought to you by the “innocuous” comment by that RusHistBlog author, that he wants to deconstruct decades of his own country’s propaganda about Russia (= totalitarian Hell). No, there is, in fact, no connection between the claim that “Russia is a monolithic totalitarian state” and “Russia is an Enemy”. Still, how could the author deliver on his promise? In the typical maximalist fashion more appropriate for the teenagers, any demand of such refutation will inevitable cause another extreme: “Oh, so it was super-duper free and liberal?!”. It was neither, but who needs nuance and context? If the simple telling of the truth, that nothing was as bad as had been claimed (“propagated”) for years would be immediately seen as the “surrender” and “apologism”. There was a need to demonize the “Regime” and for all those cartoonish portrayals of the ordinary Soviet people (who, from the Western perspective, were not really the people). Right now these reasons are still relevant in the West. “Eternal Russia” is bad simply because it is not like the West and dares to threaten its hegemony. This is Russophobia. This is Xenophobia. Dear author has it in his own head, deep rooted over the years. What he wants to accomplish, really?

          P.S. Once again, J.T. – what are “Russian Studies”? 😉


  4. Re: This.
    There is this one Russian proverb: “Начали за здравие, a кончили за упокой” (literally: “Began the sermon with the prayer for one’s health, but finished it praying for the soul of the dear departed”). This expression is widely in use in Russia even by non-religious people. E.g. – more often than not, it perfectly describes the playing style of our football team.
    Or such articles. I blame myself for getting too hopeful while reading it and forgetting the chief tenets of the great philosopher Eyore de Donkey. I got excited that someone else actually knows about the time period and its intricacies. But then:
    “Then in March 2014, the very month in which I published The Winged Horse (Legends of the Five Directions 2: East), the Russian Federation formally annexed Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his land grab by insisting that “Crimea has always been part of Russia.” Yet here was my novel, set on the steppe, in which a Crimea that was very much not part of Russia played a significant role in the events—fictional and otherwise—affecting my characters’ life choices.”
    Putin’s speech on the reunion of Crimea and Russia:
    “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptised. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravery brought Crimea into the Russian empire are also in Crimea. This is also Sevastopol – a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge. Each one of these places is dear to our hearts, symbolising Russian military glory and outstanding valour.
    Crimea is a unique blend of different peoples’ cultures and traditions. This makes it similar to Russia as a whole, where not a single ethnic group has been lost over the centuries. Russians and Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and people of other ethnic groups have lived side by side in Crimea, retaining their own identity, traditions, languages and faith.
    Incidentally, the total population of the Crimean Peninsula today is 2.2 million people, of whom almost 1.5 million are Russians, 350,000 are Ukrainians who predominantly consider Russian their native language, and about 290,000–300,000 are Crimean Tatars, who, as the referendum has shown, also lean towards Russia.
    True, there was a time when Crimean Tatars were treated unfairly, just as a number of other peoples in the USSR. There is only one thing I can say here: millions of people of various ethnicities suffered during those repressions, and primarily Russians.
    Crimean Tatars returned to their homeland. I believe we should make all the necessary political and legislative decisions to finalise the rehabilitation of Crimean Tatars, restore them in their rights and clear their good name.
    We have great respect for people of all the ethnic groups living in Crimea. This is their common home, their motherland, and it would be right – I know the local population supports this – for Crimea to have three equal national languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar.
    In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia. This firm conviction is based on truth and justice and was passed from generation to generation, over time, under any circumstances, despite all the dramatic changes our country went through during the entire 20th century.”

    Huh. Not quite what everyone believes Putin actually said, isn’t it? But this just shows what the people (even with degrees and academicians) believe, earnestly, fervently, without doubt or desire to check the facts. Oh, and, surely, they will be greatly offended, if you point out at their, ah, “strawman”, let alone claim that they are lying.
    “Foreign states perceived as enemies beat at the gates: Poland-Lithuania, Crimea, Kazan. And beyond Poland lies “the West”— not yet identified as such — with its Italian architects and artillery founders, its German doctors, its Greco-Latin learning and supposedly heretic religion, ready to invade and to judge.
    Perhaps not so much has changed since 1538 after all.”

    Awww!.. How cute! “Perceived” enemies! Indeed, it’s not like at that time there was Starodubets War with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (not yet Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth), which resulted in the near complete wipe out of the titular city’s (Starodubets) population that even contemporaries considered an unprecedented massacre. All contemporarily sources agree, that hetman Tarnovsky ordered to kill Russian nobles (not only low ranking gentry like dvoryane and deti boyarskiye, but even aristocratic boyars), who were defending the city, right in front of his field tent. According to the letter of Jan Dantyshek (dated December 23, 1535) to the HRE ambassador and imperial adviser Cornelius de Schepper, who was at that time in Prussian Löbau (now Lubawa), Tarnovski executed “1400 boyars”, and then ordered to kill the remainder of the garrison (city militia and proto-strieltsi musketeers), PLUS all civilians living in posad (i.e. the outer town beyond the fortress walls) – i.e. about 2000-3000 in total. But, hey – them victims were Russians, so this does not count, right? It is *Russia* that is eternally brutal – not Europe.
    Verily, verily I say unto thee – “not so much has changed since 1538 after all” (c). “Eternal Russia” ™. NY Jordan Center will never lie to you! [nod, nod]


  5. ‘Content of a shelf’ part deux:


    • The hardest part is to find an adequate translation of the “folk” name of this or that ‘shroom into English. So – sorry in advance for resorting to the heartless official Latin 😉

      From top to bottom pics:

      1) Never saw them so well preserved, i.e. not bitten/eaten by some forest critters! Definitely a “Leccinum” genus, most likely – “Leccinum vulpinum”. But I’m not sure – their bright red caps and somehow yellowish “legs” are quite confusing.

      2) Warning – a poisonous/hallucinogenic ‘shroom! If they have specific smell – then these were “Inocybe acuta”. If you found it near swamp – it could be very poisonous Galerina hypnorum) said to be widespread in Europe and N. America. But, IMHO, most it’s likely Inocybe rimosa due to it’s tell-tale white “leg”, pronounced central “dome” on the cap and stripes. Also – because it’s deadly poisonous. 😉 Or just about any inedible/potentially poisonous kind of “Mycena”.

      3) Hmm. Some kind of “опёнок” (“Hypholoma”) genus?

      4) Hard to identify given the top-only view. Could be “Leccinum scabrum” (rus. подберёзовик, eng). Was there a birch tree nearby? Or it could be a “forest champignon” (“Agaricus silvaticus) found among the pines and firs. Sadly, it could even be a poisonous Cortinarius argentatus, if it has any violet hues on its cap.

      5) They look like semi edible Phylloporus rhodoxanthus.

      6) Some kind of “Russula” genus. Were there oaks nearby? If yes, then it could be “Russula laurocerasi”

      7) Definitely a white truffle (Choiromyces meandriformis).

      Hope it was at least a bit “helpful” 🙂

      P.S. Rule of thumb – while mushrooms found in/near swamps are a mixed bunch, the ones found in the “dry” part of any given forest are all suspicious. The one’s that are outright “carrion eaters”, growing on dead/dying trees are definitely up to no good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Please excuse the late reply – I was out of town the past few days and didn’t have many opportunities to use the computer.

        *after reading the descriptions and following hyperlinks*

        I suppose it would’ve been helpful to include size estimates and provide region information (southeastern US) in my post.

        1) This mushroom, I believe, was premature. It now looks like #5 (which you id’ed as Phylloporus rhodoxanthus).

        2) Yikes! Sounds like I need to keep the dogs away.

        3) Might also be a Veiled poisonpie (Hebeloma mesophaeum).

        4) No birch trees in my region, so probably not Leccinum scabrum. Agaricus silvaticus seems more likely, but they don’t appear until September, and my specimen was a lot more slender than any picture of Agaricus silvaticus I’ve seen. It might be another shroom in the Hebeloma family?

        5) IDK

        6) Cap seems too flat to be Russula laurocerasi.

        7) The day after I took this photo, the fungus turned brown. Might be a Brain puffball.


  6. I appreciate permission granted here. Unprepared readers – sorry in advance.

    Here we go.

    On Keith Gessen’s (KG) Aggressive Mediocrity (AM)

    [Instead of] Prologue:

    “And so, I began:

    “Reb Arye-Leib,” I said to the old man, “let’s talk about Benya Kreek. Let’s talk about his lightning-fast start and a terrible end. Three shadows clutter the path of my imagination. Here is Fraim Grach. The steel of his actions – can it not withstand the comparison with the power of the King? Here is Kol’ka Pakovsky. The fury of this man contained all that is needed to rule. And could not Chaim Drong discern the brilliance of this new star? But why did only Benya Kreek went to the top of the rope ladder, and all the others were left hanging below, on shaky steps?

    Reb Arie-Leib was silent, sitting on the cemetery wall. The green calmness of the graves spread before us. A man who is hungry for an answer must have patience. A person who has knowledge is important. Therefore, Arye-Leib was silent, sitting on the cemetery wall. Finally he said:

    “Why him? Why not them, you want to know? First – forget for a while that you have glasses on your nose, and autumn in your soul. Stop quarreling from behind your desk and stutter in public. Imagine for a moment that you are quarrelling at the city squares and stutter on the paper. You are a tiger, you are a lion, you are a cat. You can spend a night with a Russian woman, and the Russian woman will remain satisfied with you. You are twenty-five years old. If rings were attached to Heaven and Earth, you would grab those rings and draw the sky to the ground. And you have a daddy – bindyuzhnik Mendel Kreek. What is this dad thinking about? He thinks about drinking a good shot of vodka, about punching someone in the face, about his horses – and nothing more. You want to live, and he makes you die twenty times a day. What would you do if you were in Benya Kreek’s place? You would not have done anything. But he did. So he is the King, and you have a bupkis in your pocket.”
    – Isaac Babel, “How it’d been done in Odessa” from the “Odessa’s stories”.


    • Part ONE.
      very uneven, short, cryptic and data-dumpy

      ^Anton Pavlovich Chekhov shows his RIFLE. It will be hanging here for a while.

      Because you can’t talk about Konstantin Alexandrovich Gessen, without mentioning his extensive family. Which is, yes, very, very important.

      – Father: Alexander Borisovich Gessen (born 1944) is a programmer, later an entrepreneur. Had second marriage in 1999, when he married Russian actress Tatyana Veselova.

      – Mother: Elena Samuilovna Minkina (1942-1992) – translator and literary critic.

      – Grandmother on his father’s side: Esther Yakovlevna Gessen (nee Goldberg, 1923-2014) – translator and memoirist, worked in the magazine “Soviet Literature” (founded in 1946, closed in 1991, its chief aim was to propagate Soviet literature by translating it into English, German, French, Spanish, Polish, Czech and Slovakian languages). Widow of Boris Arnoldovich Gessen (1919-1980), son of the “Russkoye Slovo” daily reporter stationed at then-Czarist State Duma Arnold Ilyich Gessen (1878 – 1976), who later became a noted pushkinist.

      – Maternal grandmother: Rosaliya Moiseyevna Solodovnik (born 1920 in Pereyalslavl, Poltava gubernia) – by education a history teacher, worked in the post-war years as for the Soviet government at the Central Telegraph in Moscow as a censor of dispatches filed by foreign reporters such as Harrison Salisbury; later – as a translator of English and German fiction; widow of the Commissar/PolitRuk Lieutenant of the Guard Samuil Lvovich Minkin (1919-1942), KIA at the front during the GPW.

      Now, also a quick reminder, to what the citizens of the USSR were entitled from the birth and what they – YES! – received for free:

      – Guaranteed housing.
      – Medicare.
      – All levels of the education, the higher level of which was/is the envy of the rest of the world.
      – Guaranteed right for work and a minimum living wage.

      Virtually for free:
      – Central heating and utilities in virtually all cities and towns.
      – Tickets on all kinds of the (natural – public) transportations, which for some people were in fact free.
      – Various resorts, daily cares, health facilities, pionerskiye summer camps which, again, were often completely free for certain categories of the people.

      Other, not very interesting stuff:
      – Guaranteed 8 hour working day.
      – Guaranteed paid yearly vacation.
      – Protection of the workers from illegal firing by the unions AND Party organizations

      Yes, there was the ubiquitous deficit. Yes, there were privileges for some. Yes, there was gray market. Of course, there were personal connections used and abused.

      Gessens had it all – and more.


    • Part TWO
      full of heartbreaking family history – mercifully, short

      “[B]ut everyone makes a mistake, even God. A huge mistake was made, Aunt Pesya. But was it not a mistake on the part of God to settle the Jews in Russia, so that they would suffer like in Hell? And what, would it be bad if the Jews lived in Switzerland instead, with the first-class lakes, mountainous air and the Frenchmen all around? Everyone makes a mistake, even God.”
      – Ibid.

      Let’s allow Konstantin Alexandrovich speak for himself:

      “My parents took me out of the Soviet Union in 1981, when I was six. They did it because they didn’t like the Soviet Union — it was, as my grandmother kept telling us, “a terrible country,” violent, tragic, poor, and prone to outbursts of anti-Semitism — and they did it because there was an opportunity: Congress, under pressure from American Jewish groups, had passed legislation that tied U.S.-Soviet trade to Jewish emigration. Leaving wasn’t easy, but if you were aggressive and entrepreneurial — my father at one point paid a significant bribe — you could get out. We moved to Boston. Probably no other decision has had a greater effect on my life”


      A TERRIBLE COUNTRY. Wow. Title-drop, huh?


      Gessens had 4 children – Kostya was the youngest. His eldest… sibling… Maria Alexandrovna (b. 1967) managed what only a few children from the families with good faces, connections and Moscow’s registration of the residence could ever achieve – she was studying in the uber-prestigious, top of the crop Moscow’s School №57. The alumni (check the list – its impressive) are deservingly (self)called pyatisemits. After emigrating to the USA, Maria Alexandrovna continued her pursuits of the higher education: first studying architecture in the Cooper Union College (NY), then Rhode Island School of Design, then several more higher places of education… which she failed to graduate. At all. That’s right. Maria Alexandrovna Gessen failed to graduate from a single Uni upon arrival in the Land of the Free. She has no valid diploma. She, from the prospect of the strict labour law, is totally unsuited for any specialist work requiring a higher education. Up till… recently… I thought this includes the journalism.

      Her father received an education in the programming in late 1960s USSR. That was very rare, deficit specialty – it had its perks as well. Her mother was dye-in-the-wool humanitary – also diploma possessing. Her grandparents – granny Rosa graduated virtually under falling bombs in 1941, granny Esther – soon after the War’s end.

      When the Whites lost the Civil War in Russia they emigrated en masse. Stuck abroad they sucked at adapting. Sucked really hard. Language and cultural mores were not the problems. No – for the most part “taxi driving czarist officer” became a meme for the interwar France (and that were the successful ones) because thanks to the emigration they lost their connections, their ties, their purely Russian phenomena of блат and халява. They were Someone Important back in the Old Country. There, they were mostly nobodies…

      …But this does not apply to our heroes here – not entirely. For, you see, the Gessens still had one trump card down their sleeves. Once again, let Kostya Gessen continue his tale:

      “We moved to the Boston area and lived with some friends from back home, the Moshkeviches. Then, with some help from a local charity, we were able to rent a place of our own.”

      Less coy continuation:

      KG: …There’s a really nice story in David Bezmozgis’s first collection, Natasha, about a Canadian doctor who was active in helping to free Soviet Jews having two immigrant families over for dinner and basically insisting that they compete to tell him the most horrible story about their lives in the USSR. I don’t remember anything quite like that, but this feeling like, “You poor Russian Jews, you were so oppressed, we are so happy we were able to get you out”— that was very much a part of our first few years in the US. And it was tricky, because I think my parents were genuinely very happy to have come here, and were grateful to the Jewish agencies. At the same time, they had no interest in organized Jewish religion, and also no one likes to be condescended to, especially when, you know, most of the people who came over at that time had multiple advanced degrees. It was a pretty sophisticated group.”

      So Gessens had a “safety cushion” of the friendly diaspora already in place, ready to go for miles for them… provided, they will agree to their designated role. Gessens decided to eat their cake and have it at the same time (the usual tactic), still thinking that the local galut luminaries will have their back. After all – lil’ Kostya turned up all right:

      “I grew up in Newton, that’s Boston’s suburb. There, I did not understand the cultural context of my parents. Dad was a programmer, mother – a literary critic, she worked at the Russian Research Center of Harvard University with Alexander Nekrich.

      My parents communicated mainly with emigrants. I always tried to Americanize and “squeeze” the Russianness out of myself. For example, at school I was a captain of the American football team. Because it seemed to me that everything that seems strange to others of what I do, why I do not quite fit in the American society – it’s because I’m Russian.

      Then I realized that it was not so. Each person in some way does not fit into society. Well, yes, I have some notable characteristics, because I grew up in a Russian-Jewish-Soviet family of intelligentsia. But it turned out that this is not so bad.

      I returned to Russia in the third year of Princeton University. I studied at the RGGU (Russian State Humanitarian University – V.K.) under Galina Andreevna Belaya. There I met people who were very similar to my parents. And suddenly I understood their cultural context! I realized that I already know a lot about Russia – that I know about the 1960-70ss in Russia much more than about the American 1960-70ss. Because I grew up at home where this culture lived. They constantly listened to Galich and Vysotsky. And this is much closer to me, I love it more than all the Americans of the same period. I prefer Russian rock, for example, the group “Kino” …”

      Alexander Moiseyevich Nekrich is a name widely known in the closed circles (like among the historians). His “June 22, 1941” (which is based on exactly ZERO documentarily sources) is only slightly less notorious then “The Icebreaker” by Suvorov (Rezun). Naturally, for Konstantin Alexandrovich dear mom to be in the presence of such svetoch’ of the Emigration meant a lot. Working for Carnegie Foundation and its subsidiaries surely helped all of them.

      [I won’t even draw some additional attention, that ruthlessly repressed Soviet Jewish family of Gessens gave birth not to one or two, but to 4 children. Somehow, the old adage “There is no sex in the USSR” didn’t work for them. Oh, and if you compare the birthdates, it becomes obvious, that they had their firstborn while still young, fresh out of their respected places of the higher education, and kept improving USSR’s demographic situation for a long time – with no damage to their careers, what with the social state granted safety net and grandparents. Strangely enough – the same did not happened with their children in the Land of the Free]

      [And lets not forget that settled in, prosperous Gessens DID NOTHING to relocate their remaining relatives to them in the US after 1991, when it became both much easier and more popular]

      Konstantin Alexandrovich Gessen was a good boy. In 22 he married for the first time, relocated to New York and promptly divorced his wife. Still, as we know that in 1998 he travelled to Russia, and judging from the interviews where he talks about his grandmas (whom he was obviously visiting during his time in RGGU), the news about his marriage were very important and taken seriously across the ocean. The news about his divorce OTOH either did not register among his “other” family, or they kept bragging about his “success” just for the sake of the bragging.

      His early years career is not exciting and besides open to the public knowledge and self-aggrandizement of his own ego via the “All the Sad Young Literary Men”. Tl;dr version – la vie boheme in NY. Becoming a regular book critic for New York magazine in 2004-2005 at such a tender age (and failing to turn it into a regular profession), then trying his hand in not even translating, but, actually, “artistically retelling” of Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl in 2005 – that were his known accomplishments. After that – NOTHING. In “nothing” I’m also including his “All the Sad Young Literary Men” debut, ah, “novel”. Wikipedia, always shy and conscientious when it comes to such things, sez that it “received mixed reviews”. Reality (which years later Konstantin Alexandrovich admitted himself in the interviews) was much, MUCH more harsher. Kostya Gessen’s reaction at the time though was different :

      “The first time Young Manhattanite asked All the Sad Young Literary Men novelist Keith Gessen for an interview, it didn’t go so well. “You pussy,” the n+1 editor responded in an epic fail of keeping his cool. (“That’s pathetic,” he responded when we asked him to explain.) But it looks like they’ve kissed and made up — or maybe Gessen is just wanting to promote his reading tonight — because ol’ Keith has agreed to an e-mail Q&A… Other revelations:Paraphrased: Everyone is wrong, nobody understands, especially in how they interpret his book, people like us misconstrue things, not that they’ve read it (even though I have, several times); but anyway, “I think I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, the book I wrote, and the work I do in general, it’s meant for a large audience.” Neg! (Even though only about 7,500 copies are distributed of each issue of n+1.)”

      I.e. – an indignant ἀφεδρών to the last, despite showing the world that by the adult age of 33 he is a complete failure… with a literary high-lobed magazine (“n+1”), whose stylistic cosplaying of such Soviet literary magazines as “Oktyabr’” and “Novy Mir” (both – state funded and published by the Bloody Regime) quite predictably resulted in the Invisible Hand of the Market flipping him a bird when tried on the American soil.

      Granted – that Hand was very charitable to him at first:

      “VK: How did “Viking” promote you?

      KG: In the US, publishers do not particularly advertise. But they can tell the editor of the prestigious book review of the New York Times: this season this one is our best book. Of course, they can not just do it – they must really, sincerely believe that this is their best book.

      The publisher can also tell all his friends journalists: this is the best book I’ve read in the last five years. Sometimes this is very subjective: the book liked by the publisher or journalist, but in fact there are much better works.

      “Viking” published my book widely, loudly stated about it. And it turned out to be an insanely painful process, because the wider the audience – the more positive and negative opinions. Critics attacked me on the Internet, they scolded me. Many young people did not recognize themselves in my book. A young man wrote a letter to me and said that he was also a “sad literary debutant”, but for some reason he was not in the book! I did not do well with this stream of comments. I even started my blog and fought with all the Internet. It was completely wrong…”

      In short – it didn’t help. Keith Gessen was a failure. A loser. A veritable shlemazl (literally “big happiness” in Yiddish, only in this context – the exact opposite of that).

      Soon, very soon it all will be changed – for a better. Not by young Kostya’s own efforts though.


    • Part THREE
      the very tzimmes of the matter

      “Take up the White Man’s burden –
      Send forth the best ye breed –
      Go bind your sons to exile
      To serve your captives’ need;
      To wait in heavy harness
      On fluttered folk and wild –
      Your new-caught sullen peoples,
      Half devil and half child.


      Take up the White Man’s burden –
      Have done with childish days –
      The lightly proffered laurel,
      The easy, ungrudged praise.
      Comes now, to search your manhood
      Through all the thankless years,
      Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
      The judgement of your peers.”

      – R. Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden”

      Konstantin Alexandrovich Gessen agreed to the interview with the impertinent “Gawker” in late August 2008 (full 4 months after his debut novel’s non-success) to also land them another bombshell – he’s buggering off to Russia. For good – not just to visit his sis, like he did occasionally through the 2000s.

      Modern Russian history time.

      In April 2008 handshakable liberal minded oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, together with the equally liberal minded founder of the “KommersantЪ” publishing house Vladimir Yakovlev and “KommersantЪ”’s veteran journalist and editor Yuri Markovich Katzman founded “Zhivi!” media-group within larger Prokhorov owned media-holding. They conceived a plan of founding a successful modern media project “to unite Russian-speaking people living in different parts of the world, for which the processes occurring in Russia do matter; who occupy key positions in the society and do not hide their opinions on the main issues of our time” – the audience of so-called “successful professionals”, or “global Russians”. Thus, the “SNOB” magazine was born. Konstantin Alexandrovich called it “a new magazine for the transcontinental Russian elite… It comes in a sort of box, which unzips in front like an expensive dress, and costs $20” (at the height of the Financial Crisis of 2008)

      One such “global Russian” became the deputy chief editor of the magazine – it was none other than Maria Alexandrovna Gessen, a permanent fixture of the handshakable Media clique in Russia since 1990s. Naturally, in order to fulfill the stated goal of such elitarian oriented magazine, there was an urgent need to furnish it with other “global Russians” (being “successful professionals” became distant second criterion pretty soon). And you know what they say – “blood is thicker than water”. “Nepotism” is what other, unhandshakable people do – not the liberals with good faces and eyes, full of millennia spanning sadness.

      Here’s the interview, in which Konstantin Alexandrovich is most (but still – not entirely) honest and forthcoming about the circumstances that lead him to Russia in 2008. In all others he makes some… omissions:

      “Q: You’ve been busy the past ten years with journalism, translations, and other projects. What made you want to return to fiction?

      A: After “All the Sad Young Literary Men” came out, I had the opportunity to go to Moscow. I went to interview a hedge fund manager for n+1, and that turned into a book. I was also finishing up the translation of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, but mostly I was doing journalism. I wanted to do more fiction but I didn’t know enough about this place — I thought I couldn’t write about Russia in fiction. Then I got home, and I thought, wait a second — that time I spent there with my grandmother was profound, and if I keep the narrative focused tightly enough, I can branch out into other aspects of Russia, at least somewhat.
      It felt like it should be fiction, not memoir, because there just wasn’t enough material for a memoir. There was enough material to form the germ of something fictional. As a writer, I’m pretty attached to, you know, reality— not things that actually happened, necessarily, but things that could have happened.

      Q: Did you feel like Andrei was a separate entity from yourself?

      A: It’s hard to say. So much of the stuff that happens in the book — besides the grandmother conversations, which are pretty verbatim from life — is made up, so it was more like, “Andrei’s in the situation, what would I do?””

      That’s it – the truth. In all other instances, Konstantin Alexandrovich will be covering his tukhes with lame excuses as to what he really did in Russia in 2008-2009 period. Not spending days and nights taking care of the poor old granny. No – he was slumming along with other expats (and, yes, in other interviews he slips that he kept mostly expat company) while working for his sister and some side project of his, which generated, like, zero actual interest and output. After all, Keith Gessen grew up deliberately squeezing “Russian” out of himself – to such a degree, that by 2008 he had trouble communicating in Russian.

      But, with the same breath as he was admitting his sub par knowledge of all things Russians, of his rather short and intermittent contact with “Putin’s Russia” 10 years ago, Keith Gessen also admits that his newest attempt to crawl onto the literary Olympus is a “thinly veiled autobiography” .

      Which lacks truth. And takes some serious liberties with describing Russia as it is, giving way to the authors own musings about “humans and destinies” ™. Like here:

      “Q: You went to Russia right after your first book came out. You were there for a year and wrote several reported pieces for The New Yorker. Did you know you were going to write a book about that time?

      A: I did not. I thought I could not. I was there to take care of my grandmother and I was living with her in this old apartment and occasionally sort of venturing out into the world and doing some reporting, but the whole time I thought, “I don’t know enough about this place. I don’t know it as well as I knew for example the world of grad students and young writers that All the Sad Young Literary Men was about.” I was pretty sure that’s how well I needed to know something in order to write a novel about it. Then I got back, and I was like, “Wait, actually, that was a pretty profound experience —”

      Q: Of discovering the country where you were born?

      A: No. Of living with my grandmother and being trapped in that apartment with her and having those conversations. She couldn’t remember anything, and she couldn’t hear, so we just had these conversations about the same things over and over, about her obsessions — that she was abandoned, that her daughter (my mother) had died, that she didn’t know what we were going to eat for lunch. And it was on the one hand incredibly frustrating, but on the other hand incredibly sad. And once it was over I just really wanted to write it down somehow, to get it down.

      The fact that it was a year gave it a kind of narrative shape. I knew I would have to make things up, because I wasn’t Beckett and couldn’t do a whole book about two people sitting in an apartment having the same conversation over and over, but the year gave it a finitude that was helpful. And I thought, “Okay, that’s the story: this guy goes to Moscow to take care of his grandmother and then he lives with his grandmother and then he leaves.”

      Q: In terms of the biographical material, your character in the book gets arrested–were you ever arrested in Russia?

      A: I got arrested in Sochi when I was covering the mayoral campaign of Boris Nemtsov in 2009. He later got shot. I got arrested for going around to the polling stations with his campaign manager without a registration. It was a pretty different situation from what happens in the book, but it was very useful to me in writing it. I knew what it felt like to be trapped in a police station in Russia.

      Q: Have you ever gotten pistol-whipped like Andrei?

      A: That happened to a friend of mine. I did a very close study of his face after it happened. I do not recommend getting hit by a pistol.

      Q: Is Trump worse than Putin?

      A: Absolutely. Yes. Putin, as bad as he is, is well within the mainstream of Russian politics. His opinions about things are pretty average, for a Russian. I mean that as a factual statement, not as an excuse.”

      Ah, yes! Remember how above he mentioned being “journalist” while in Russia in 2008-09? Well, the reality was much more murkier:

      “Journalist of the American magazine New Yorker Keith Gessen was detained in Sochi. He covered the voting process. The fact of detention was confirmed to RIA Novosti by the representative of the electoral commission. Gessen came to the polling station together with members of the electoral headquarters of Boris Nemtsov. The police detained the American, since he did not have a registration in Sochi, as well as, according to the local election commission, an accreditation card and a journalist’s certificate. Now Gessen is in the Central ROVD [district department of internal affairs] of the city. “”

      Strange thing – if you, being a foreigner, come to do thing “A” in Russia (as your entry papers claim), but then you switch to thing “B” (and “C”, and a little bit of “Z”) you gonna be pwned by the law. Oh, sorry, sorry – in handshakable terms, you gonna be “trapped” in the police station. Spooooooooooky!

      Konstantin Alexandrovich Gessen arrived to Russia in early September 2008 at the heels of the Global Financial crisis. Formally, he was invited by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (google her – she wrote A LOT) editors and publishers on the Russian side, who took all the efforts to fill all necessary papers and file all needed files to ensure his arrival to Russia, his salary and, most importantly, his continual presence in Russia for a long time period. That was the pretext, a sinecure, to get into Russia and work for his sis, who had her “SNOB” scheduled to start running in November same year. As they say in Odessa, the tzimmes of the situation was in K. Gessen lacking even the basic journalistic accreditation to do any kind of such work in Russia. I know, I know – an unbearable thought for a true cosmopolite and citizen of the world. But – the cops in Sochi were absolutely right to ask him: “Who are, boychik? A journalist, you say?”. Naturally, when found in the illustrious company of Nemtsov hanger-ons (and there were plenty of Americans among them – who had their papers in norm), he was gently lead into the local precinct. What a tragedy – Crimea River!

      But that happened in 2009, and before that Kostya Gessen thought that he would strike rich in the Colonies, by having this little project of his, interviewing anonymous hedge fund finance guru. After all, with the Global Financial crisis being, eh, global and so attention grabbing, it was a golden opportunity to make a name for himself.

      So Kostya played hockey with Russian businessmen. This episode figures in his new novel – so it must be (kinda-sorta) true:

      Q: The novel also serves as a reminder of how protected American citizens are when they go abroad. You could do something stupid in another country virtually without consequence, whereas the citizens of that country could suffer for the rest of their lives after having done the same thing. Have you seen that dichotomy play out in your personal experience?

      A: Something that I’ve seen a lot of is just [us Americans] going over there and having this weird dual reaction. On the one hand, if you hang out with expats in Moscow you constantly have conversations where people complain about Russia. And this culture of constant complaint about Russia goes hand-in-hand with a culture of telling the Russians what to do and how to live. Andrei’s eventual political involvement in Russia is a bit of an extreme case, but you often do see Americans who are pretty cynical become emotionally involved in whatever Russian sphere of life they are encountering.

      And part of it is: Russia’s messed up, and people are like, “Why can’t this country fix itself?” They want to help, so people become emotionally involved — and then they leave. Every once in a while someone stays forever, but for the most part they leave. They get transferred, or they get a better job, or it’s time to go home. And there’s a type of unreflective person who’s like, “I went to Russia, I tried to fix it, and it didn’t work — fuck the Russians.” That kind of very unreflective person is maybe the American ambassador to Russia! Most people, though, experience it as personal failure. And that’s the story here.

      Q: Characters in the novel are constantly calling Russia a terrible country, but there’s a lot of relativity, and complexity, to that claim. Plenty of people benefit socioeconomically from a totalitarian regime and from the oppression of other people — and those same people may not consider Russia a terrible country. It’s a nuanced topic.

      A: For a lot of people it’s okay. Often it’s actually the middle class that is the most vocal in their complaints about Putin, but objectively they’re doing okay. The broader point is, we live in a terrible country and yet we go about our lives. That process of continuing to live your life can be quasi-criminal — like, you’re ignoring all the horrible stuff that’s going on. But you also have to keep living your life, and protesting and doing what you can. The idea that everyone in Russia is constantly oppressed, personally, by Putin is incorrect, and that’s the shock of going to Russia. Like, I read in the paper about how everyone was oppressed, and here they are drinking their six-dollar cappuccinos — what’s going on?

      You mention the Putinist people — the hockey guys in the book are kind of that. It’s not fully developed, but the guys on Andrei’s team are Russian people who are doing well but don’t like it. They’re businessmen who don’t like Putin, but they understand how the system works and they’re going to work in the system. As Andrei says about them, they’re Russian, and they don’t know of another place where they can go. They’re going to live here, and they’re going to make it work. Then there’s the white team, which is always beating Andrei’s team, and those guys are the same way but they actually kind of like Putin. Because they’re jerks.

      Konstantin Alexandrovich Gessen is… unreflective person. Reflection on being perhaps wrong in his assessment of the entire nation has no place in his beautiful, shining mind. He even had trouble filling Sberbank forms for his granny. He spread his attention in the (already Revolting) Colonies too broadly, venturing for sightseeing to Politkovskaya killers long, long trial (and making the authorities finally aware that there was something amiss with his visa entry paperwork). Soon, he left the blighted Mordor, happy, that he yet got something for all his sufferings – a new book on the “hot” topic of the financial crisis!

      That book, released in mid-2010, was a miserable flop and a failure. As per Gessen’s own words in the interview to VOA, he already had 2 failures in a row. That would be an end for any prospective writer. Even in this way, Russia, this terrible country, let him down. Azokhen vey!


      • Part FOUR.
        why after so many years

        Ahead of them was marching Benya Kreek, whom no one had yet called the King. He approached the grave first, climbed atop the mound and stretched out his hand.

        “What do you want to do, young man?” – ran up to him Kofman from the funeral brotherhood.

        “I want to say a speech,” – Benya Kreek answered.

        And he said a speech. It was heard by everyone who wanted to listen. I, Arye-Leib, heard it, and the lisping Moysike, who was sitting next to me on the wall, heard it as well.

        “Ladies and gentlemen,” said Benya Kreek, “gentlemen and ladies,” he said, and the sun rose over his head like a sentry with a gun. “You came to pay the last respects to an honest worker who died for a copper penny. On my behalf and on behalf of all who are not here – thank you. Ladies and gentlemen! What did our dear Joseph see in his life? He saw a couple of trifles. What did he do? He counted other people’s money. Why did he die? He died for the entire working class. There are people already doomed to death, and there are people who have not yet begun to live. And now a bullet flying into a doomed chest, punches Joseph, who has not seen anything in his life, except for a couple of trifles. There are people who know how to drink vodka, and there are people who can not drink vodka, but still drink it. And the first ones get pleasure from grief and joy, while the latter suffer for all those who drink vodka, not knowing how to drink it.”
        – Isaac Babel, “How it’d been done in Odessa” from the “Odessa’s stories”.

        Let Konstantin Alexandrovich speak for himself:

        “1. How long did it take you to write A Terrible Country?

        A: It took eight years. This is a little embarrassing to admit because it’s not like the book is a thousand pages long. At one point during the writing of it a friend who works in finance asked how long it would physically take to type a book if you knew all the words already, and the answer in my case, given how fast I type, was one week. And yet it still took eight years.

        8. What is the biggest impediment to your writing life?

        A: Sloth. Indecision. Inconstancy.”

        EIGHT YEARS.

        The idea to write it appeared to K. Gessen in 2010 – right after return from Russia. There were already some clouds on the horizon for him, to which he was oblivious. His much more practical sister Maria Alexandrovna came up with a scheme to get him back to Russia as a journalist for “Snob” in early 2010. It was in this capacity that he went to Kiev to cover the Ukrainian elections and musing, sadly, about “fates and destinies” ™ of the democracy. This kind of purple prose of the non-journalist and a failure of a writer was not up to “SNOB’s” target auditory liking – or lil’ Kostya just abandoned the whole charade, thinking he is up to strike big in NY, from the safety of which he can write about Russia (he never worked as a reporter “on site” in Russia).

        Meanwhile in Russia everything was not good for his sister, who now could not so easily offer sinecures to her relatives in the (now, truly revolting) Colony. In March 2011, 25 core members of the “SNOB” project, including writer Maxim Kantor, actress and restaurateur Larisa Bravitskaya, signed an open letter against the editorial policy, denouncing editorial board’s opposition rhetoric and tolerance for LGBT agenda, and then left the magazine. Maria Alexandrovna was unrepentant, sure to absurdity, that She’s The Authority Here – after all, she was the Chief Editor by now. On 15 September she was sacked by “KommersantЪ” head honcho Yakovlev himself. On October 28, 2011, Vladimir Yakovlev himself was given a boot by Mikhail Prokhorov. The sources of TV DO\\\D (obligatory – “the last independent TV station in Russia”) reported that before her departure, Gessen in retaliation for Yakovlev’s role in her ousting “probably” uncover the facts of his theft: allegedly, Yakovlev withdrew most of the money from “SNOB’s” budget, and the facts of this crime became known to Prokhorov himself.

        You won’t read about this in the “Terrible Country”. You won’t read the truth about Keith Gessen’s slumming with the expats. You won’t read about inner intrigues within the Non-Systemic Opposition movement(s) of Russia. Also – you won’t read about deplorable normal Russians and what makes them tick. Why? It will give the Western auditory an aneurism due to the cognitive dissonance. Even Keith Gessen himself is very wise when it comes to choose which examples of the “bad stuff” to put upon the shield. Thus, in November 2011 he participated in the OCCUPY protests (truly, a sad, pathetic fate for a full grown failure of a man). He was arrested by the most Democratic Police Force in the World. You won’t read about it in his books. No – Russia is a signature emblem of Oppression. GULAG genetics – some trashy talk like that. Lying on the pavement mutt-first in the ground – why, yes, that’s much more dignified! Sacred land of New York feed him with its positive energies. No doubt! om

        “Keith was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct, plus an additional charge of disrupting government administration, a misdemeanor. The reason is unclear. It could be because he declined to stand and walk to the paddywagon, and allowed police to carry him there.

        Keith was released, along with the last of the OWS detainees, late the following night. The reason given for his being detained for over 36 hours was that the arresting officer forgot to sign his statement.”

        Bloody Obamite Regime!, eh, I mean “What a professional conduct by the Men and Women in Uniform – totally unlike in the totalitarian Russia!”. Here – that’s more handshakable. Although:

        “UPDATE (Monday, November 21): Keith was released, along with the last of the OWS detainees, late Friday night. He’s grateful for all the kind messages he received while inside and thinks the way the NYPD treats prisoners is disgraceful.”

        Curse you, Gessen! “Disgraceful”?! Well, to make up for such disloyal (especially – by the modern day America) comment, you’d better to crank up the repression klyukva in your novel up to 11 – or else!

        After that, Keith Gessen was in tight spot – including financially. OCCUPY protests didn’t provide enough hype and geshaft for him and his snobbish (small “s” here) literature magazine. Meanwhile, going out to Russia and covering Bolotnaya protests – he was not equipped for that neither biologically nor financially and, most of all, not even in the patronage system. So, according to many new interviews that he is so magnanimously giving in order to promote his latest attempt to make a name for himself, he spent dark years of early 2010s in the library, reading literally anything about Russia and drinking cheap coffee. That’s right – he was striving to become Russia-smart purely empirically, failing to do that based on the personal experience and now, seemingly, barred from entering the Realm of the Sauron forever.

        The end result of his notes comprised some 600+ pages (in some cases – napkins, but that still counts) trying to tie in everything and Explain Russian History ™. Falling into despair, Keith Gessen threw this thing out.


        This man graduated from the Harvard Uni with a B.A. in history and literature. Uhm, I know that it was a case in Russia in the same blessed 90s, but… could he, somehow, buy his degree? Because nothing shows that it was truly deserved via real knowledge and work!

        The way out of his perpetual proud despondency took the form more befitting of XIXth, or even early XXth century – he first began dating, and then married in late 2014 Emily Gould of the Gawker infamy. Living aside for a sec this obviously gold-digging move on Keith’s behalf (and Emily Gould is much more successful than him), the whole affair, given Gawker’s tumultuous past with Gessen, serves as the living real-world epitome of the popular RuNet meme ЕЖГ.

        Safely financially in his second marriage, having kids coming up, thus, satisfying his immediate crucial needs, Keith Gessen turned back to his Big Idea. This time though, Russia became a constant “hot” theme. Any idiot (no, really – ANY idiot) could once again have a hefty geshaft in the sphere of Kremlinology v.2.0. aka being “Russia expert”. Gentle soul Gessen the youngest, naturally, protested against it – “Russia” was his favorite toy, and he was not up for sharing with various (better paid – and educated) idi self-styled experts. But sentiments and gentle soul won’t be buying hummus for you and your family. So the “Russia” project had to be revived. It was bound for success.

        Especially in the Age of Resistance. And neo-colonialism.

        “Colonial romance” of XIX and XX centuries was simple, even primitive genre, consisting of low in artistic value novels, serving the dual purpose of acting as the imperialist propaganda and as a venue for the much needed escapism for the restive masses of the young men. Life sucks? Go to the colonies! Take up the White Man’s Burden! You will have adventures, riches, new friends – and you will Win the Girl. You will become a Man, and an Authority in your own land. As time passed, the essence remained the same, only locales become more and more exotic and outlandish – giving rise to the entire genre of “попаданчество” . Quality, not great to begin with, arguably became even worse. The fact that the genre persists in its many diverse forms tells us a lot… about humans, mainly.

        At the same time, parallel to the crash of the old imperialist system, there appeared an undercurrent, some kind of attempt (only – attempt) of this “popadanchestvo’s” deconstruction. It served as the negative propaganda, aimed to convince the people that here in now is not that bad – so why try to go somewhere else where you will be worse to wear and wouldn’t change anything for the better anyway? You won’t change here anything either, but, hey – at least you will be alive. So – forget about these childish notions about Great Adventure and Inspiration. Grew up and Do Nothing – or else! Recent “real-world” examples are such movies as Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (makes one profoundly sick of the French spirit of 1968) and The Last King of Scotland screen adaptation.

        In the grand scheme of meta-narratives it doesn’t matter whether its “Putin’s Russia” or “Uganda under Idi Amin”. The gist of the message remains (in the West) the same – this is Bad Land. a Terrible Country. You have to be a complete meshuger to go there, let alone hope to change it while keeping all of your limbs still attached to the body. Don’t do that! Come back to the Land of the Free, where Appropriately Funded Institution and Agencies will take care of the Terrible Country instead. And the country after that. And another. And the whole world.

        Keith Gessen’s book simply does not work as intended and is destined to be a financial flop just like all his previous attempts. Gessen arrives with the right attitude – self-righteous, foam in the mouth fury, more befitting of his scorned sister. But turning this a book into something about his family – this sin won’t be forgiven. That’s the faux pas that murders it in the eyes of the intended auditory – and we live in the time when in the West for such things to be commercially viable, they must pander to the basic, base instincts of its intended adorable auditory. It MUST be a tale about Nether-Land, the Underworld, about Mordor – no one wants to a shocking, Shadow over the Innsmouth like revelation or a mere thought, that you might be in some sort related to the repugnant Orks/Demons/Fishmen of the Terrible Country. Gessen does just this – and this is his undoing. Stupid, stupid…

        In most of the interviews extolling his new book, Keith Gessen admits, that the novel protagonist’s grandma is based on his own, who worked as a translator in the big Soviet state publishing house. It bears repeating, that both during and after the war, his family was not working in the field in kolkhozes. They did not rebuild with their hands the country by 1\4 cover in ruins. They did not work in the factories. No, they were the new gentry they were the ones who unbelievable benefited from the Soviet system – they were the elitarians, standing head and shoulders above the deplorable masses of the fellow Soviet citizens.

        Granny Gessen hated USSR. She hated the communism, she hated the Party. Why – here grandson says so in every interview and article! But then – blessed 90s stuck. Elder Gessens, still in “Democratic Russia”, had their wish:

        “LG: It’s been an exciting few weeks on that front here in the US, certainly in New York, with Ocasio-Cortez’s win. Andrei becomes a socialist in Russia, though at the end of the novel, with his return to the US and his cushy academic job, it’s not clear how steadfast that position will remain…

        KG: I think it’s a very interesting question, how people move to the left. In my case, it was my encounter with Russian capitalism. The ideological journey that Andrei goes through in the book is a journey that I took over the course of many more years. When I first came to Russia as a college student in the mid-90s, I thought like a good American that the Russians needed to carry out the reforms and destroy the communist heritage root and branch — that this was the great drama of those years, reformers versus communists. But eventually I realized that the reforms were being carried out and that they sucked! And that there were huge numbers of victims that everyone just wished would die off. And that the criminality and inequality that accompanied them were not some kind of aberration of capitalism, but capitalism as it actually exists in most places in the world. Once I realized that, I found myself holding a very different view of capitalism. ”

        Journey was slow and very uneven. Gessen’s paens to Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Gusinksy and late and unlamented sack-sack loser Boris Nemtsov, are anything but “critical” of the capitalism perpetuated by them in Russia.

        It as if Konstantin Alexandrovich Gessen admits, yes, every single one of them “has the soul of a killer, but he is ours. He came out from us. He’s our blood. He is our flesh, as if one mother gave birth to us.” (c) The book, naturally, does not dwell upon this ugly subject. Narrative must be complicated – but not too much. Here Russian capitalism is all too Russian and, egro, is bad to the core.

        Here you have it – the second critical, mortal flaw of the “Terrible Country” the book. Gessen’s family stand-ins, the people we, in theory, must have a modicum of sympathy to, were part of the System. They benefited from it, profited from it, even built and maintained it. Then, they betrayed it – some were rewarded with the warm place on the shores of the Western Valinors, while other had to share the fate of their fellow citizens, becoming, overnight, equal with them in their misery… but not learning a bit about humility. Gessens of this world like rural noble gentry and provincial barons, envious of all dukes and earls with their big estates and shiny palaces. For them – it was a Tyranny and Inequality. Not the fact that both of them were feeding off the serfs. Serfs do not come into their vision of the world – they are bydlo, cattle on two feet. They do not count as human beings.

        So, yes – Russia, Putin’s Russia right now, is a Repressive Hell. Because it repress all Who Counts As Human. Simple as that. If entire stable full of ponies burns down right in front of children, you won’t console them with the reasoning: “Look, chicken that give you daily eggs on breakfast are safe in their coop, no bird suffered, and come tomorrow you will have your eggs! Besides, both the chickens and ponies are domesticated animals, members of the genus chordate… Chickens in some respect are more useful on the farm!”

        It won’t work – especially for children, or truly elfish people who refuse to grow up. Because ponies are cute. If you don’t think so – you are a meanie and a monster. Beh-beh-beh!

        The only reason why Konstantin Alexandrovich Gessen revaluated his attitudes to Russia post 1991 were because of the personal, familial reason. As such, it is both hypocritical in general and unrelatable to his general readership. Third mortal flaw finishes off his book as well – he has no message to offer, no comment to make, no plan to suggest. He has nothing to contribute. He can only whine. He, 43 year not-starving old man, finally, as father and a husband, can only freak out and whine. This makes him no different from the messianically destructive ancestors. Country owes them everything, he and his people owe it nothing – the end!

        As for his work – it’s a mule of a literature, just like Keith/Konstantin Gessen is mule of national culture. It fails to fit in into the mainstream rabid russophobic chorus of much more popular Crussionalists and Neo-Red Dawnists (often – same people, depending on the day of the week). But it also defines “Russia” so narrowly, approaches it portrayal with so many caveats and finds too often refuge in making things up that it can not possible serve as an adequate source on the modern Russia as it is – Gessen’s own prejudices prevent it. Even judging by the lack of the continual resonance since the flurry of promotion via multitude of platforms this summer, that the Terrible Country despite “promising” title failed to capture the imagination of the Americans.

        In the end – another, third failure by K. Gessen. What will happened next to him? Will his much more successful wife dump him, pathetic failure of a man? Will he radicalize in either side, choosing either the bliss of the pure mind-killing ultra-hatred like his sister, or something equally pathetic and unbecoming as becoming a “proper” socialist with the all-American twist in rhetoric?

        People around him managed to accomplish so much. They are Kings! Him – he is not. He sits on the fence and shades his eyes full of millennial sadness against the Sun and in his soul… in his soul is Autumn.

        3 Sep 2018


  7. Once a year, a Magic(k)al event happens. Olga “BookGeek” T.’s blog “forgets” about previous settings and allows us, poor anonymouses, to post comments… Which are then get deleted by the owner and proprietor of

    Just like that, this Magic(k)al event graced all low and sundry this year as well – with the predictable results. “Один преданный читатель блога с именем на букву L” (c) did NOT “укорил” Olga T. in “прочтении «ГУЛАГа» якобы после фильма Дудя” and hype-eating (rus. “хайпожорить”). One could easily see for themselves what I wrote… if only Olga T. did not delete my early May comment under this blogpost. Once again – I have nothing against comment deleting and user-banning – any owner and proprietor of the blog has not only a right, but a duty to wield the mighty banhammer.

    But I’m against lying. Baselessly claiming something that is not true, while conveniently “erasing” (literally) all evidence, is lying. I did not imply anything “hype” related when I made my comment, Olga. In fact, my comment was a question – to you personally. You didn’t answer it. I guess, I know what the problem was, and now will “re-format” it accordingly – as to help you answer it.

    Хвилиночку вашої уваги, шановна пані Ольга! З огляду на вашого підвищеної уваги до твору Анни Аппельбаум, ретвітів посилань на «документальний» фільм влогера Юрія Дудя, і інших коментарів минулих років, у мене до вас всього лише одне питання – чий Крим?

    З повагою, відданий читач блогу «L»


    • *Goes back to reread Примечания апрель 2019*
      If the deleted comment in its entirety is the same as posted above (except in Russian):
      I’m not on board with erasure, and “укорить” (rebuke) is too strong a word for the context. However, I can see how the comment could be read as accusatory, therefore problematic.
      If you don’t mind me asking: what did you seek to achieve by asking this question?


      • “If the deleted comment in its entirety is the same as posted above (except in Russian)”

        Yes, in Russian, no, not 100% the same – no “attention please” introduction, and, come to think about it, with a typo in the very first sentence. Content-wise is the same.

        “However, I can see how the comment could be read as accusatory, therefore problematic.”


        I for one see no problem with answering this question should anyone ask me. Even if someone indeed had problems with the possibility of accusatory tone of the comment – is it a reason to then lie about me?

        “If you don’t mind me asking: what did you seek to achieve by asking this question?”

        I had no intention to “rebuke” Olga T. for things that she reads. I only seek knowledge, J.T., by asking questions. And this is a perfectly honest answer. 🙂


        • I for one see no problem with answering this question should anyone ask me. Even if someone indeed had problems with the possibility of accusatory tone of the comment — is it a reason to then lie about me?

          You have been banned from commenting on…uh, several sites before. For comments with a similar tone as your BookGeek one? If so, we may have isolated the problem.


          • “For comments with a similar tone as your BookGeek one?”

            No, each time it’s different. E.g., from this year alone, Rod Dreher from the American Conservative banned me for the fact based explanation of the De-kulakization process, which involved bursting some oft-touted myths and misconceptions with official documents, statistical data and historical research. He replaced the entirety of my comment with his outburst of rage over such “whitewashing” and “apologism”.

            “If so, we may have isolated the problem”

            But *I* don’t see me getting banned as a problem. Obviously, me commenting is a problem for those who ban me. OTOH, post-factum lying (while ensuring a convenient “cover”) about me and contents of my comments – well, that’s a problem, yeah. Especially coming from the people (at least – nominally) belonging to the shy and conscientous intelligentsia, striving to “Live Not By A Lie” (c).

            Am I an irritant to some people? Sure, no doubt. Pretty much anyone can be an irritant to another human being simply by the virtue of different opinions and outlooks.


            • You’re right.

              But *I* don’t see me getting banned as a problem. Obviously, me commenting is a problem for those who ban me.

              Of course. I speak from the perspective of an admin rather than a commenter.


              • “how have you been otherwise, Lyt?”

                Not sure if I understand the (non-rhetorical?) question. If it’s “how are you”, then the answer is – “dacha season”. If it’s “have you ever behaved in other less irritant fashion?”, then the answer is “compared to RuNet – that’s nothing”.


                • “Such happens when a *veteran commenter* reappears after a lull”

                  Better title – “veteran of the sofa-based forces” (rus. ветеран диванных войск)


                  I just had nothing to comment about. I mean – whatever I might have say about that “Putin in manga” could not possibly be… worthy.


  8. Akismet cut off the thread.

    I just had nothing to comment about. I mean – whatever I might have say about that “Putin in manga” could not possibly be… worthy.

    Since when has worthiness been an issue on this site? Do you know how many things I’ve written that were unworthy of any reader’s time, but still saw the light of day?

    But I must change this anyhow. Maybe there’d be something to comment on had I chosen to review In Putin’s Footsteps or even Autobiography of Joseph Stalin, but I want to have at least some sanity and enthusiasm for life left intact when I arrive in Bloomington two weeks from now.


    • “Since when has worthiness been an issue on this site? Do you know how many things I’ve written that were unworthy of any reader’s time, but still saw the light of day?”

      Ah, c’mon, J.T.! You know the general principle of the Net comments – as a rule, most readers do not comment, like, ever. Only strong emotions might solicit a comment from your typical commenter. The strongest emotions are, naturally, the negative ones. Judging by the lack of “YOU SUXXX!” ™ types of comments below RR blogposts one can safely deduce that: a) New content is still read by the faithful readership. b) Said readership is Content. Therefore, whatever you do, J.T., is, in the end, worthy.


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