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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another Original LR Translation: Prison Camp Russia

LR is delighted to offer another installment from translator Vova Khavkin, this time from the pages of

Prison Camp “Russia1

By Natalia Gevorkian, Kommersant columnist (pictured)

April 4, 2007

Ukraine is the talk of the town in Russia. Ukraine is percolating: There are Maidan-1* and Maidan-2, supporters of the Prime Minister pitted against supporters of the President, state institution against state institution, the Constitutional Court and the Central Election Committee (SEC) don’t see eye to eye, and even the people inside the court and the committee don’t see eye to eye. New elections are around the corner, or perhaps the opposite is true — the crisis will sweep the president away. Who is going to prevail — Yushchenko or the parliamentary majority which will use its numerical strength, amend the Constitution, and, in essence, stage a coup? We are arguing about Ukraine which once again has entered the political turbulence zone because it is unclear how — and in what form — it will emerge from this upheaval. We would never even contemplate talking about ourselves the same way we are talking about Ukraine though elections are around the corner here—both parliamentary and presidential — although our own Constitutions has been amended without any rules, despite the fact that our own Central Election Committee is undergoing most improbable and nauseatingly obvious mutations tailored to the so-called elections. We are arguing about the others because they have options, and this is fascinating. We don’t have any options. Unlike the Ukrainians, we don’t know how to (pardon my language) do the authorities doggy-style. The difference between us and the Ukrainians is in that their crises and Maidan are like in any vibrant, open society, while here we have the so-called stability, and everything is under control like in a prison camp1.

Here we grow ecstatic discussing somebody else’s political affairs, haven’t you noticed? Scandals in the United States, Cheney and Iran, the unpredictable outcome of the French elections, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia—we endlessly argue about these or those decisions made by our Baltic neighbors. We agree or disagree. And we understand a priori everything that our own government is ramming down our throats—from fake successors, fake minister of defense, and fake SEC chairman to fake elections, fake parties, and fake “Kinfolk.”2 We don’t stage a Maidan, we don’t scream that all that’s happening in the country is our business too simply because we are supposed to be voters. Yet they are screaming — right there all over again—in the Maidan. And what’s most remarkable, the fact that we don’t have a Maidan is a source of our hubris, and we are in no rush to defend the rights of those who are at times compelled to take to the streets and to tell us what they think about this government of ours.

A prison camp is what it is — a prison camp — and it lives by its own law. Malcontents are beaten with a nightstick over the head, mutineers are simply shot. There is no concept of human rights in a prison camp, there one doesn’t concern himself with any liberties because it is a prison camp after all. There cannot be opposition; dissatisfaction may brew in a prison camp but its manifestations are always fraught with bloodletting, and even the most enlightened members of the public—those who haven’t yet forgotten that but for a short time they lived almost like in a free country and felt as if they were free people — are keen on talking about it. And by the way, they themselves once went to meetings and demonstrations, took to the streets to defend this very democracy (pardon my language) when they felt that it was somehow threatened. And now they publicly declare that they won’t go marching with anybody even hinting that all this business is really horrible because blood may be spilled. In other words, they in fact admit that they live in a prison camp because if this is not a prison camp, then why would blood of unarmed people — people who came to the Kremlin, for example, to tell the president that far from everyone is thrilled about his rule — has to be spilled.

We found out that one cannot live in a prison camp and be free of the prison camp. One develops a chamber mentality—from the word chamber [like a prison chamber], a constrained space with strictly defined dimensions and pre-approved conduct under the conditions of captivity. As strange as this may sound, Maidan has become a bogeyman not only to the Russian authorities and in the words of Russian government spokesmen but — indirectly — also in the words of those who once seemingly were sympathetic to the “orange.”3 Today’s crisis in Ukraine and the new Maidan could have easily been interpreted as an example of democracy’s instability. So the advantages of the morbid stability in prison camp “Russia” would look surprisingly nice against this backdrop. This is so not even because it’s to RF government’s advantage to present the situation in this light. This is so because the absolute majority of the people who are called upon to form the public opinion are in all earnestness publicly discussing different successors, dropping names, fantasizing, speculating about the third, or thirty-third, [presidential] term — or in other words are advancing postulates of a prison camp instead of repeating monotonously that this is not how things happen in a democratic country where nobody appoints successors and nobody tailors the length of the term to fit the specific person (unless the country is in a state of war), that the voter is under no obligation whatsoever to agree to all this, that the voter has rights and obligation guaranteed by the Constitution of Liberty, and these are worth to be defended. But this, in essence, is Maidan. Yushchenko can hear it outside his windows. And so can Yanukovich. They have no right not to hear.

But outside our windows one finds totally stable f***-up4 beyond the point of no return, as befits a model prison camp. And if one’s interested in real politics, the camp warden will turn on the TV, and Pavlovskiy5 will tell the inmates about the horrors of Ukrainian democracy and warn about where unchecked exercise of civil liberties could lead to. Let Maidan be their worst nightmare.

What do you think? [TN: This is an invitation to submit an electronic letter to the editors of at this link]

The views of this author are not necessarily those of the editors of publishers of



* MaidanHyde Park writ large in Kyiv, city’s main public square

1 Зона in the original Russian, slang for prison camp, state farm, or correctional facility

2 Наши in the original Russian, literally ‘Ours’ – a Kremlin-sponsored public movement sometimes referred to as Putinjugend

3 The orange—pro-presidential Western-oriented public movement in Ukraine

4 A play on the words ‘stability’ and total ‘f****-up’

5 A stoolpigeon, putinoid political scientist and administration mouthpiece

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