Until recently, the restaurant on Leningradsky Prospect, opposite the monumental Sovyetskaya hotel was called 'Antisovyetskaya'. Portraits of famous Soviet cultural figures, known for their dissident ideas, decorate its walls. In the Moscow Times, Valery Plotnikov, the artist who took these photographs of people such as the poet, actor and singer, Vladimir Vysotsky and the musician Mstislav Rostropovich, says that "originally, the name 'Antisovyetskaya' was given to a shashlik joint there". "Back under the Soviet regime, it was a jokey name used by drinkers." For the officials of Putin's Russia, however, this name was unacceptable. In their eyes, the USSR was not an evil empire. They wish it to be remembered as the world's leading superpower, the country that won World War II, sent the first man into space and built a giant nuclear arsenal. Yielding to intense pressure from the authorities, the restaurant owner changed its name. He has simply removed the prefix 'Anti-'. Now he welcomes guests to the Sovyetskaya restaurant.
For Alexander Podrabinek this was the last straw. A prominent Soviet dissident, Podrabinek shocked the world in the late seventies with his exposure of the Soviet use of psychiatry as an instrument of political repression. He had actively opposed the Soviet regime and consequently served two terms in the Gulag. With the USSR a thing of the past, Podrabinek could not bear to see a restoration of old Soviet values. On the contrary, he believed Russia should commemorate those anti-Soviet fighters and dissidents who fought for freedom against the brutal and repressive one-party state.
In response to this latest attempt by the Russian authorities to reestablish Soviet ideology, Podrabinek posted a Letter to Soviet veterans on his blog, which was then published on the Opposition-run Yezhednyevny Zhurnal website. The reaction on the Russian blogosphere was extreme. Podrabinek's opponents posted violent threats and vowed to have their revenge. His supporters expressed their fear for his safety and demanded that the persecution stop. The Opposition's online magazine Yezhednyevny Zhurnal started collecting signatures in defence of Podrabinek. Nearly 3000 people, some of them prominent anti-Putin activists, signed the petition: http://www.ej.ru/form/?a=allsignups&p=1
Here are some excerpts from Alexander Podrabinek's original blog as well as some of the comments made by his opponents and supporters on the Russian blogosphere.
"It is a great shame that the owners of an "anti-Soviet" shashlyk cafe bowed to pressure from Shtukaturov, the head of the council and the prefect Mitvol and took down their sign. It is a shame, because the demands of the officials are unlawful. This is an infringement of the freedom of enterprise, and more specifically, a form of blackmail by the fire service and the health services. The veterans' complaints are vulgar, mean and stupid. It is a shame, because the word "Anti-Soviet" should be able to take a blow without bending.
The owners of the café should not be blamed, their actions are understandable - they want to protect their business. It is impossible to enter into any kind of dialogue with the Moscow bosses who are so intoxicated by their veneration of Stalin. But I would like to appeal to the veterans who wrote the complaint.
Only you believe that you hold a monopoly on patriotism, love of Russia and concern for its future. Only you believe that your holidays are honored and respected. Only you believe that you have universal respect. You were made to believe all this long ago, but your time has ended. Your homeland is not Russia. Your homeland is the Soviet Union. You are Soviet veterans, and your country, thank God, has not existed for 18 years.
But the Soviet Union is also not the country that you portrayed in school textbooks and in your dishonest press. The Soviet Union was not just made up of political leaders, Stakhanovites, shock workers and cosmonauts. The Soviet Union was also home to the victims of collectivization and the Holodomor famine. It saw peasant uprisings, hundreds of thousands of innocent people shot in Chekist basements, and millions tormented in the GULAG to the tune of Mikhalkov's wretched anthem. The Soviet Union represents permanent psychiatric wards for dissidents, murders in dark alleys, and endless camp cemeteries with the nameless graves of my friends who were political prisoners and did not live to see the freedom we experience now.
You were so incensed by the "anti-Soviet" name, because, in truth, you were the ones who ran those camps and jails, you were commissars in anti-retreat units and executioners at shooting grounds. It was you, Soviet veterans, who defended the Soviet regime, and so it treated you kindly. Now you are scared of the truth, and cling to your Soviet past, <...>
But I am from the anti-Soviet past of our country, and this is what I have to say. In the Soviet Union, there were other veterans besides you, who you did not want to know or hear about - the veterans who fought the Soviet regime. Your regime. They, like some of you, also fought against Nazism, and then they fought against communists in the forests of Lithuania and Western Ukraine, in the mountains of Chechnya and the deserts of Central Asia. They instigated camp uprisings in Kengir in 1954, or attended the 1962 rally in Novocherkassk that was fired upon. Almost all of them are dead and almost no one honours their memory. Squares and streets are not named after them. The few of them who are still alive, do not receive benefits or pensions from the state. They live in poverty and obscurity, not you, the preservers and respecters of the Soviet regime, but them - the true heroes of our country.
Our snivelling society has not yet realized this. It is still not able to appreciate the importance of the anti-communist resistance or commemorate those who died in the fight with the Soviet regime. Our society is still hypnotized by Soviet propaganda, or at best, indifferent to the past, not understanding its significance for the future. <...>
Yes, the people who fought against Nazism should be respected, but not the defenders of the Soviet regime. We should respect the memory of those who opposed communism in the USSR. They stood up for freedom in a country without freedom. Is their memory worth anything in Russia, a country that calls itself a democracy?
It is time to stop this histrionic sniveling about the feelings of veterans who are insulted by criticism of the Soviet regime. Evil must be punished and so must its servants. At the very least, the builders and defenders of the Soviet regime deserve that their descendants be held in contempt"...
"The elimination of saboteurs or Scum 2"
People try to criticise the great victory and spit in the face of veterans. They forget that victory was not achieved by blogging. Teams of enemy saboteurs carried out similar activities in the interior. When they were found, no one bothered to examine the provenance of their parachutes or consider political correctness or decency.
People want a war, but they forget that all means are justifiable in war: denial of service attacks, forum trolling, editorial sabotage, hacking, assaulting the editorial staff and wrecking their cars and property.
People who do this will indeed be acting outside of the legislation of the Russian Federation and I do not, under any circumstances, call on anyone to do this, but deep down I want to believe that the right people will step up. Just imagine if the entire site were suddenly brought to a total standstill".
And remember, friends, our grandfathers fought to the last drop of blood, it would be strange if we did not defend them to at least the last trickle of traffic."
Olga Bakushkinskaya, Moscow journalist
What is going on today, and perhaps right at this moment, already bears little resemblance to the definition of normal life in a civilized country. Some of you probably already know that "Nashi" have promised Alexander Podrabinek that his life will never be the same after publishing this article. They honestly intend to make their threats a reality.
Today, a group of comrades tried to break into Novaya Gazeta, but security stopped them. Alexander is being searched for all over Moscow. His wife, Alla, describes the situation at their home:
"A real hunt has been declared for Sasha. Throughout the day, "couriers" have been trying to get into our apartment with important documents for Podrabinek. They call neighbors and ask about our family (good neighbors do not talk to them, but report back to me), they try to break into my mailbox..."
I appeal to those who are taking part in this dishonourable activity. Stop harassing this woman, Alexander Podrabinek is not at home. Only wider publicity will help. I ask for this very rarely, but I would request a re-posting.
Darya Mitina, the Communist party deputy of the previous Duma convocation:
The situation of the Podrabineks of today - people who are completely worthless in their inability to till the land, forge steel, weave or understand the sciences, but who like to eat and drink well - is completely dependant on the level of their notoriety. So why do so many worthy and sensible citizens, consciously or unconsciously, draw attention to such people,? We believe the explanation lies in the sphere of the irrational, but the irrational can also be analyzed rationally.
From a photograph of this Podrabinek, who supposedly has a pseudo-education, we can see the face of a shameless tavern keeper, who does not understand the difference between selling overpriced counterfeit vodka to a 20-year-old hero or an old man at the end of his life. For Podrabinek there is, in fact, no difference between the tavern and the newspaper.
Nikita Borovikov, the leader of the pro-Putin Nashi movement, writes:
The Nashi movement would respectfully like to inform the media that all our actions towards journalist Alexander Podrabinek are of the most democratic nature. We would also like to announce that we have set up permanent pickets outside the home of the "frightened" Podrabinek. We will film all our activities, and therefore advise journalists not to accuse us of "acts of violent revenge" which we have not participated in.
We have never threatened Podrabinek, or anyone else with physical violence, as claimed by Ekho Moskvy, which will be taken to court for defamation... We intend to continue demanding an apology from Podrabinek in the Yezhednevny zhurnal. If no apology is forthcoming, we will demand that Podrabinek leaves the country.
Dear journalists! We do not understand why you do not speak out against Podrabinek's conduct. The fact that he has insulted veterans is incontestable. Stop defending your colleague and hiding behind "corporate ethics". Think about who you owe your lives to. They do not have that much time left, and they do not need anything from us but remembrance and respect for their grey hair. Given your scepticism of our movement, we do not ask you to join us. In this one situation, however, where there is only one truth, we call on you to be citizens of your country, and unite with us in forcing Podrabinek to apologise to our veterans".
Vladimir Varfolomeev, a journalist at the radio station, Ekho Moskvy
The Silence of the Media Lambs
In today's announcement by Nashi regarding Sasha Podrabinek, there is one part which, strangely enough, I find myself in agreement with: "Dear journalists! We do not understand why you are keeping silent about Podrabinek's act."
Indeed, if one believes Yandex, this whole time, only the online media have written about the Podrabinek issue. Of the traditional media, only Ekho Moskvy and Radio Liberty have addressed the topic.
Medialogia's database confirms this: the scandal surrounding the article and the subsequent persecutions has been raging since the middle of last week, but not one newspaper or magazine (not to mention television, of course) have written a single line on the subject. Is it not newsworthy, or are there other reasons for this silence?
"It is possible that the situation is worse than it appears at first glance. The problem is not Nashi. Their attacks on my family and myself are just a propaganda trick, a simulation of "national anger". There are serious people with serious intentions standing behind them. I have received information from reliable sources that at a sufficiently high level an order has been issued to eliminate me by any means necessary. Who will carry this out? I do not know. I doubt that Nashi would. In any event, they will be held responsible, because that will be the most convenient for everyone. The campaign of "national anger", which has been so forcibly encouraged over the last week, should serve to explain away the physical violence that has been planned for me. The only thing that might stop our criminal regime is public protest.
I want to thank everyone who has spoken out in my defense.
At present I have restricted my contacts for reasons of security. I apologise to all the good people who wish to contact me and are not able to do so."
Appeal which appeared on the site of Yezhednevny zhurnal:
Stop persecuting this man!
The Russian regime, in the person of the Vladislav Surkov, 1st deputy of the administration of the Russian President, and the gang he leads, the so-called Nashi movement, have launched a campaign to persecute and hound the journalist Alexander Podrabinek and members of his family for ridiculous, pseudo-ideological reasons. This campaign is unprecedented in its brazenness and cynicism. Podrabinek is at the receiving end of constant violent threats, Kremlin youth plan to picket his house and he is threatened with exile.
We demand that this monstrous abuse of power towards journalist and human rights advocate Alexander Podrabinek be stopped immediately!
We would remind everyone involved in this dirty campaign - from the masterminds behind it to the lowly perpetrators - that this criminal infringement of the current Russian constitution means that criminal charges will be pressed. Sooner or later.
Hands off Alexander Podrabinek!
The appeal was signed by Lyudmila Alexeeva, Yelena Bonner, Vladimir Bukovsky, Garry Kasparov, Sergei Kovalev, Boris Nemtsov, Lev Ponamarev, Yury Ryzhkov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Viktor Shenderovich and many other renowned human rights advocates. The total number of signatures on this appeal is close to 2500.
Yury Vdovin, the deputy chairman of the human rights organization "Civic Control"
Let's call things by their real names!
Put the real criminals on trial!
Do apologists for the Soviet regime and veterans of this regime have the right to consider themselves insulted by the indisputable fact that they are veterans of an awful, tyrannical state, which luckily for them was not put on a Nuremberg-style trial by an international court? Do they still not understand that the best thing that they can do now, is keep silent and be grateful that justice has passed them by? All they have had to face is the contempt that they deserve, as the courageous and honest (unlike this communist rabble) Alexander Podrabinek expressed so aptly in his brilliant article!
We can forgive the wretched "Nashi" members, who know nothing and don't want to know anything. They try to protect these veterans of a bloody regime and are brutishly encouraged by all the secret and open "patriots" of a criminal state! What can you expect from the wretched?
But what about the "veterans" themselves! They know and understand! They know what they are worth and what they served! But they have to hide it somehow!
It's gone, your Soviet Union, and it's never coming back. Your communist values, which led to the deaths of tens of millions of people wherever your communist ideas put down their poisonous roots, will never come back either.
And don't hide behind real veterans of the war, who you used mercilessly. You sent millions of people to war to preserve your criminal regime and your parasitical influence over a duped and suffocated country. It was because of you that the country was decades behind the civilized world in its economic, technological, cultural, educational and scientific development...
We demand a stop to the government-supported persecution of the courageous and honest journalist Alexander Podrabinek. He is the one who finally spoke the truth when the regime was keeping shamefully silent and doing its best to run society along Soviet Stalinist lines. We must remember, know and understand that achievements in electrical engineering (Sayno-Shushenskaya, for example), putting the first person in space and having the world's greatest ballet dancers do not erase the crimes the communist regime of the USSR committed against humanity. The tears of "insulted veterans" will not help either.
It is time to stop repeatedly lying and saying that the Soviet Union was great, that Stalin was great, that Beria was great, and that the collapse of the USSR was a global catastrophe. Let us agree, at last, that the collapse of the USSR and the infamous socialist camp meant that humanity was saved from a possible global catastrophe. The potential expansion of the communist plague through nuclear war or nuclear blackmail was averted.
And hands off Alexander Podrabinek! These "veterans" need to be put on trial for their crimes. They need to stand before the peoples of our country and the countries where they spilt blood and finally take responsibility for their suppression of freedom in all its forms.