Shortly before Russia’s 2011–2012 “Snow Revolution,” in which journalists and dissidents rallied against a flawed election process (“flawed” sounds like an understatement to be honest), Thomas Campbell began to follow the rise of a vigorous social movement germinating in Russia’s blogosphere. By translating activists’ work from Russian to English, Campbell hopes to lift the curtain on Putin’s Russia and expose the perennial nomenklatura. I learned about Campbell’s blog at a talk he gave last week at NYU’s Jordan Center.

“What have I learned from 8 years of blogging in St. Petersburg?” Campbell asked. “Most of my pieces fall under the purview of the Russian ‘history wars’ of the last decade. When I first started, there was a greater degree of freedom for activists and journalists. Now, voices are being suppressed in favor of an official, state narrative flowing from the pens and keyboards of the Kremlin spin doctors and other ‘authority figures.’”

Having been involved in dozens of collaborations in the early 2000s, Campbell solidified his role as defender and distributor of the Russian blogosphere in English by writing and translating the Chtodelat News (now defunct). Since 2007, he has been running The Russian Reader. What began as a personal project has evolved into an influential and open conversation space on protest movements, urban redevelopment, political prisoners, Soviet nonconformist art, and Leningrad counterculture.

“There was and continues to be a proliferation of Russian bloggers,” Campbell said. “The scene is booming. So I thought to myself, the world needs to know what is happening here. Part of my job is to translate the work of Russian activists that would not be accessible otherwise; another part is to translate reports and opinion pieces from pockets of both the Russian mainstream and alternative media; the last part is to comb the Internet in search of op-ed writers. They have carved out a nice niche for themselves on Facebook, focusing on the deteriorating Russian zeitgeist.”

Recommended reading from The Russian Reader:

“The Hipster’s Dream Debased (Portlandia)”: Campbell visits Portlandia, an oddly named convenience store in a redeveloped part of St. Petersburg:

I had not been back to that site of class warfare camouflaged as “redevelopment” since that grey unpleasant day in May four years ago, although whenever I was in the vicinity it had been hard to avoid catching sight of Paradny Kvartal towering on the horizon over its older neighbors. Not only had the elitist high-rises probably been built in violation of the height regulations for the historic center, but the whole estate, I discovered when I revisited it a few weeks ago, has been erected on a one-storey-high pile of landfill, probably to accommodate lots of subterranean parking.
Hipster convenience store Portlandia proved quite hard to find amid the vast pseudo-Petersburgian, semi-ghost town that is Paradny Kvartal.

Extra points to this post for coining the words “noblesseobligeville” and “inconvenience store”(both of which I’m adding to my vocabulary), and for a well-placed reference to cryogenic hibernation.

“Putin as the Mirror of the Russian Counterrevolution”, by Ivan Ovsyannikov. One of the pieces picked up and translated by Campbell. Worth reading for this paragraph alone:

In fact, Putin has been very consistent albeit historically ignorant. The 1917 Revolution is as hateful to him as the collapse of the Soviet Union, as hateful as any other subversion of Power with a capital p, which in the eyes of the people should remain sacred if only because it is Power, and all power comes from God. From the viewpoint of legitimists like Putin, the destruction of monuments to Lenin or the renaming of streets is a break with the mystical continuity of Power and thus almost a revolutionary gesture.

Also in that vein: “Back to the Future: Why Putin Criticizes Lenin”, by Alexander Reznik. Also takes up Putin’s attitude toward Lenin and Stalin and his marked preference for the latter.

Happy reading.

Posted by Anna Bokun

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