We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Russia hacks the Republican Party

[Y]ou can get it from Robert Zubrin at the staunchly conservative National Review. “Carter Page is an out-and-out Putinite. A consultant to and investor in the Kremlin’s state-run gas company, Gazprom, Page has a direct financial interest in ending American sanctions against the company. Not only that, but Page is tight with the Kremlin’s foreign-policy apparatus and has served as a vehement propagandist for it.”

These are the people Donald Trump hired to hold his hand and tell him what’s what.

He’s not a Russian “Manchurian” candidate. He doesn’t take orders from Moscow, nor is Vlad bankrolling the Donald. There is no conspiracy here. There doesn’t need to be. Their interests and opinions align organically. Trump genuinely likes Putin, and the feeling is mutual.

Michael J. Totten

Olympics games at Dezeen

Now that Brexit has been and gone, the soon-to-be-upon-us Olympic Games are the new must-do design opportunity:


That’s going to get around. Although if you think it’s only Russians who are drug cheats I say you are being very naive. Nevertheless the above logo is all part of why I always enjoy all the they’re not ready stories which inevitably circulate around now in the Olympic cycle, before enough other people’s money is thrown at the various problems to make them go away, just in time.

This little flurry of bad Olympic news won’t last, alas. Drug doubts will get no mention from the television commentators. Bad Olympic news – i.e. proper Olympic news – will be submerged by a flood of good news, in the form of the various drugged-up competitors winning medals, and when it ends, it will all be declared a huge success. As of now, however, I can live in hope.

Trump v Putin

The wonderful Gary Kasparov finds that Donald Trump reminds him of someone:

Trump doesn’t talk much about policy and is incoherent when he does. This makes it difficult for the pundits to make useful policy contrasts with the other candidates. This is by design. When Trump’s lies and flip-flops are pointed out, he presses on twice as loudly as before. What Trump does talk about relentlessly, instead of policy, are simple words with positive connotations. “Strength”, “power,” “greatness”, “energy”, “winning”, “huge”, “amazing.” Trump delivers these words, over and over, with the bravura of a carnival barker and the righteous anger of the oppressed, the trademark combination of the populist demagogue.

Trump also refers regularly to how he will demolish any and all critics and obstacles, from entire nations like Mexico to elected officials like Speaker Paul Ryan. He doesn’t talk about boring things like legality or procedure or how any of these threats and promises will be carried out. Before anyone can even ask, he’s on to the next audacious claim. “It will be taken care of!” “He’d better watch out!” “We’ll take the oil!” “They’ll pay for it all!” “It will be amazing!” Bold, decisive, fact-free, impossible, who cares? His followers love it.

All of these rhetorical habits are quite familiar to me and to anyone who has listened to Russian media—all state controlled—in the past decade. The repetition of the same themes of fear and hatred and racism, of victimhood, of a country beset by internal and external enemies, of how those enemies will be destroyed, of a return to national glory. How the Dear Leader apologizing or admitting error shows weakness and must never be done. Inspiring anger and hatred and then disavowing responsibility when violence occurs. It’s a match. As is the fixation with a leader’s personal strength and weakness, intentionally conflated with national strength and weakness.

This is by far the best anti-Trump article I have read. This is probably because, rather than be simply repelled by the man, it attempts to understand what is going on.

I appreciate that Mr Kasparov is a genius but even so I wonder how well he understands terms like “trademark” (in this context), “bravura” and “carnival barker”. And what’s wrong with “taking the oil” – especially if it’s Gulf oil?

Samizdata quote of the day

Russia’s main problem is that no one smart or rich wants to live there. Their talent has been drained for 80 years. Their chief export now is herpes and orphans.

– Commenter ‘Solidar’ on an article over on Reuters called ‘Do you suffer from Russophobia? The Kremlin thinks you might‘.

Garry Kasparov on the collapse of the Soviet Union

On the 70th anniversary of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, and the 63rd anniversary of Stalin’s death, the 80th birthday of the Spitfire, I post Mr Bill Kristol’s long (c. 80 minutes) and informative interview with Garry Kasparov, the noted former World Chess Champion, focusing on the collapse of the Soviet Union, with some vignettes on his own life, starting off in Baku, the fifth city of the USSR. As Mr Kasparov likes to tell Americans, he grew up in the Deep South close to Georgia, but around 1,500 miles from Moscow. One should remember that Mr Kasparov makes Muhammed Ali at his prime seem rather diffident.

Mr Kasparov is half-Jewish, half-Armenian, but culturally Russian. He talks about his early life, his Jewish father died when he was 7, he grew up believing in the Soviet system right into the mid-1980s, he thought that socialism’s ills were not due to ‘the rotten nature of socialism‘, but were a problem of implementation. He had been introduced, by his paternal uncle, to non-Soviet Jewish literature from the local Jewish intelligentsia so he got some insight into ‘the other side of the story‘, but it took time before he realised that the problem was the system.

For the talented under socialism, there were very few options, you could not go into law (perhaps a good thing?), into business, into politics (as opposed to the Party) a whole range of careers that Westerners might regard as options were not available under the Soviet system, but sport, ballet and chess were options for ambitious parents eager for their children to do well (they hadn’t quite abolished that). He also points out that chess was never part of the Soviet education system, they had no interest improving education, but only in finding talent, ultimately for propaganda purposes.

He was privileged to go abroad (and to Paris) at the age of 13 for a chess tournament, he had to be approved and recommended by a Party Committee even at that age, and he was the only person in his circle who had gone to a capitalist country (yes, I know). He read Solzhenitsyn in 1981, (when outside the USSR) and said his name was like Voldemort, everyone knew of him, but he was he who must not be named. He talks about how he managed to grope his way away from support for socialism and the Party, and discussions with his die-hard Communist grandfather, baffled by the jamming of Radio Liberty, and how the regime became less ‘vibrant‘, and the panic induced by the election of Ronald Reagan after the ‘malleable’ (my word) Jimmy Carter. Funny how looking back, it’s almost as if the Left in the West did everything that Moscow asked 😉

At one point in 1985, Steve Jobs went to Moscow to talk to the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a rather unproductive use of both’s time.

He talks about the coming of Gorbachev, who was utterly indifferent to the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku, Azerbaijan in what became the dying days of the USSR, and the SDI being what drove Gorbachev to negotiate a bad deal at Reykjavik.

He says that it is vital for Russia to have a Nuremburg Tribunal on the crimes of communism.

At 1 hour 9′ 9″ he talks about Soviet Nukes and the Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal, 2,000 warheads, bigger than France, China and UK combined, and the betrayal of the guarantees of Budapest in 1994.

If you take a look at his Facebook page, there are some choice quotes from him, e.g. this from 1st March 2016:

I’m enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means! Socialism sounds great in speech soundbites and on Facebook, but please keep it there. In practice, it corrodes not only the economy but the human spirit itself, and the ambition and achievement that made modern capitalism possible and brought billions of people out of poverty. Talking about Socialism is a huge luxury, a luxury that was paid for by the successes of capitalism. Income inequality is a huge problem, absolutely. But the idea that the solution is more government, more regulation, more debt, and less risk is dangerously absurd.

And this over a cartoon of the Bern wearing a hat with the slogan “Make America Greece again

A Bernie Sanders hat to compete with Trump’s! Needed to prepare for another great Socialist triumph like Greece and Venezuela.

And there’s no chess theory in there, not a single opinion on the King’s Indian Defence, Sämisch variation.

Marking Stalin’s victims in Russia

A valiant group of Russian activists, the Last Address project, have been commemorating some of Stalin’s many victims with plaques, the BBC tells us.

The rectangular plaques are small and simple. Etched into the metal there is a name, date of birth and occupation: radio technician, journalist, student.
Then come the dates of arrest and execution.

Fixed to buildings across Russia, the nameplates are gradually restoring the memory of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of Joseph Stalin’s political repressions.

The initiative of a group of activists, it is also a direct challenge to the growing number of Russians who see the Soviet leader in a positive light.

Here is one example of a victim:

Gennrich Rubenstein was a manager on Soviet Railways, arrested as a “counter-revolutionary” in 1937 and then executed. The grainy, sepia photograph Anna holds shows a smart young man, hair carefully parted to one side.
She has just had a memorial nameplate fixed to his home.
“There are still people who don’t want to know about this,” Anna reflects, bitterly.
“Especially young people who are taught history in such a way now that these victims are justified.
“They say ‘Well, we leapt forward. We created a country of tanks from a country of ploughs. So there were victims? So what?'”

So what if after NKVD chief Gennrich Yagoda was executed, his dacha was used to dispose of 10,000 corpses?

Just a few steps into the forest off one of the main roads out of Moscow, there is an even starker reminder of why.
Kommunarka was once the summer house of Gennrich Yagoda, Stalin’s secret police chief.
After his execution, at least 10,000 purge victims were brought here by the truck-load and buried.

And should you think that Bernie’s supporters are bad, consider the disdain or hostility that these people face.

“People tell us they don’t want their buildings turned into cemeteries, that the plaques are depressing,” project-initiator Sergei Parkhomenko explains.

“Or they don’t want their children to see them, because it’s too gloomy.”But those we’re remembering are not just VIP victims. They’re ordinary people.”

And yet recent polls show that Russians increasingly see Stalin as an “effective manager” or war hero, rather than a tyrant.

Opposition activists are regularly labelled “enemies of the people” on state TV programmes and Memorial, the organisation long devoted to restoring the memory of the repressions, has been branded a “foreign agent”.
It is accused of blackening Russia’s image for Western paymasters.

They do not appear to be daunted either by that, or by the scale of the task.

But back in the city centre, the Last Address project has already installed more than 170 of their metal plaques on prominent buildings where they can no longer be ignored.
“Our aim isn’t just to put nameplates on every building in the country, although you probably could,” Sergei Parkhomenko says. “What’s important is to gather people around them. So that they explain what happened to those who don’t know, and tell their children.”

There’s hope for Russia yet, whilst there are people willing to commemorate the dead and remind the ungrateful living of what their forebears’ government did.

Stop The War, 1916-style

In 1916, the Reverend Swan of the Brotherhood Church in Hackney held (I kid you not) a “Stop the War” meeting. It did not go well.

Trouble was forseen by the police

Now, why would that be?

…the first hymn was sung. Then the trouble began.

…soldiers and civilians rose in a body and denounced the cha’rman [sic] and his companions as traitors.

[The vicar’s supporters] tried to drown the opposition by singing “The Red Flag”…

Oh yeah?

…but the public voice was stronger and carried the day with “Keep the home fires burning.”

Those were the days.

…some one began throwing down Chinese crackers. Hand-to-hand struggles became common all over the floor of the church. A man, who said he was wounded at Neuve Chapelle and had been invalided out of the Service, stood up on a seat in the centre of the building and pointing at the little crowd of young men, asked why they were not in khaki.

The vicar abandoned the proceedings but the crowd did not.

…a resolution demanding that the war should be carried on with all vigour until Germany had been beaten was carried with cheers.

When I first read this article, I assumed this meeting was the doing of some wooly-headed cleric. Not so. The Brotherhood Church’s other great claim to fame was that in 1907 it hosted the 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (General Secretary, one V. I. Lenin). And, in case you were wondering, no, they were not duped.

You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

The Times 17 January 1916 p5

The Times 17 January 1916 p5

Calling all Russian-to-English translators: What does this say?

Ever since the universe obliged me by inventing digital photography, I have been taking a lot of photos (only click on that if you really want to see some of my photos and are willing to wait). One of the sorts of photos that I like to take a lot of is photos of other people taking photos. I particularly like it when they are holding something in front of their face, like a camera or a coat or a bag, so that I can then stick my photo of them photoing up on the internet without them being very recognisable, by which I mean face-recognition-software-recognisable.

And earlier this month, I took this photo, of a lady on Westminster Bridge, taking a photo of another lady. Well, that’s what I at first thought, but later I realised that she was almost certainly videoing the other lady. That’s because in addition to holding up her iPhone (over most of her face) she was also holding up a hand-made teleprompter, covered in text:


I did a few months of schoolboy Russian about half a century ago, so I am pretty sure that this is Russian. But what does it say?

Here it is closer-up and more easily readable, with the blueness removed:


So, is this harmless tourist guidance? Viciously mendacious Putinite propaganda, full of nonsensical lies about the Ukraine? Some kind of personal message? I have enjoyed wondering, but now I would really like to know.

I am sure that at least one of our most knowledgeable and obliging commentariat can knowledgeably oblige with the answer.

Samizdata quote of the day

If Stalin was 75 percent violence and 25 percent propaganda, Putin is 75 percent propaganda and 25 percent violence.

Peter Pomerantsev, from “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia”

Whose gambit over Syria?

The shooting down of a Russian military aircraft, by Turkey, allegedly after it passed into a sliver of Turkish airspace during a mission over northern Syria might well be an isolated incident, like Gadaffi’s clashes with the US Navy over the Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. For me, I hear an ironic but distorted echo of the shooting down of the Korean Air flight 007 by the Soviets in 1983, when it was 90 seconds from international airspace after passing briefly through Soviet airspace, but that was a civil flight and a clear case of Soviet mass murder.

Whatever happened may not become clear, but why it happened is for now, even murkier.

Was it a ‘gambit’, like a pawn sacrifice (the eternal lot of the military) in chess to gain a strategic advantage, a pretext to escalate the situation or to force others hands?
Was the shooting down a provocation by a resurgent Erdogan, confident in his election victory, expecting to shield from Russia behind NATO?
Was it Russian testing of Turkish resolve, or vice versa?
Did both sides hope for a crisis too good to waste?
Is Russia hoping to drive a wedge between Turkey and the rest of NATO, expecting the wetter elements to take fright and use the ‘Polish veto’ of NATO?
Is Russia hoping for a prolonged spike in the oil price to boost its economy, and distract the hard-pressed masses from their troubles and toils?
Or was it just a trigger-happy pilot?
And what would be the best outcome for the West from this tragedy?

The upshot of the Syrian refugee crisis, and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris almost seems as they were 1960s KGB/GRU operations designed to sow discord within Europe and to set countries against each other and élites against the people, with Putin having dusted down an old plan and re-worked it. But is that not over-complicating matters?

Samizdata quote of the day

Cowardice is the main and the worst sin on Earth. Betrayal is a personal form of cowardice… All of your propaganda is working excellently. Most of the Russian population believes what they are saying: Putin is great. There are fascists in Ukraine. Russia is never wrong. There are enemies everywhere… But I also understand that there are people who are smarter—such as you, for instance, here—who support the government. You perfectly well understand that there are no fascists in Ukraine. That Crimea was annexed illegally. That your troops are fighting in Donbas… These are facts that are on the surface… the troubadours of your regime… know everything as it is, but they continue to lie. Just as you continue your work, finding some sort of rationalization within yourself. Probably, they also rationalize to themselves: “We have to feed our children; we have to do something.” But, guys, what is the point of raising another generation of slaves?

Oleh Sentsov

Samizdata quote of the day

[Putin] is not an easy man … But I don’t think there is any substitute other than constant engagement.

Hillary Clinton

I would like to think she means an endless conveyor belt of ATGWs and artillery ammunition so that the Ukrainian Army can keep Putin’s assorted employees under ‘constant engagement’. But I think she might actually mean doing nothing very much other than exchanging LOLcats and Vines daily via unsecured e-mail.