Z for Vendetta

No to War! Shame and dissent in Putin’s Russia.

As domestic resistance (and repression) escalates the extent to which the Russian state can control the message is faltering.

Marina Ovsyannikova, who staged this protest during a live broadcast, is a Channel One editor. The sign says: “No War. Stop the war! Don’t believe the propaganda! They’re lying to you here! Russians against war.”

She was immediately arrested and faces charges for violating Russia’s new ban on speaking against the invasion of Ukraine. Ovsyannikova had pre-recorded the following statement:

“What is happening in Ukraine is a crime. And Russia is the aggressor here. And responsibility for this aggression rests on the conscience of a single man: Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian. My mother is Russian. And they’ve never been enemies. And this necklace I’m wearing is a symbol of that fact that Russia must immediately end this fratricidal war. And our fraternal peoples will still be able to make peace. Unfortunately, I’ve spent many of the last few years working for Channel One, doing Kremlin propaganda, and I’m deeply ashamed of this. Ashamed that I allowed lies to come from the TV screen. Ashamed that I allowed the zombification of Russian people. We were silent in 2014 when all this had just started. We didn’t protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this anti-human regime at work. And now the whole world has turned its back on us. And the next 10 generations won’t wash away the stain of this fratricidal war. We Russians are thinking and intelligent people. It’s in our power alone to stop all this madness. Go protest. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t lock us all away.”

This is the English translation of her pre-prepared statement:

It’s interesting that protest is coming from all sections of Russian society. Marina Ovsyannikova was, as she outlines herself, part of the apparatus, she was an enabler. She states: “Unfortunately, I’ve spent many of the last few years working for Channel One, doing Kremlin propaganda, and I’m deeply ashamed of this.”

It’s a powerful honest statement and her action will have been seen by millions.

We thought she was now under house arrest – but are trying to confirm this. President Macron has offered her protection in the French Embassy in Moscow.

She faces the possibility of fifteen years in prison.

OVD-Info is providing legal aid to those arrested and is sharing information about the detentions. They report:

“On Sunday, March 13, anti-war rallies took place once more across many Russian cities. According to our data, as of 21:42 pm more than 866 people in 37 cities were detained. We know of people protesting against the war in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Irkutsk, Barnaul, Tomsk and Perm. This is not a complete list.

On Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square, where Alexei Navalny had called for a protest, space was cordoned off with police rails starting from the morning. Passers-by, who were rare, had their phones checked for protest-related information. On the nearby Theater Square, police went through bystanders’ personal belongings. Many police officers had images of the Latin letter “Z” on their helmets, which has become a symbol of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In Vladivostok, a detained girl was beaten up. According to Anastasia Kotlyar, she was thrown into a small police bus where an unknown policeman then entered. He called the girl a “bitch,” hit her head on the table and began choking her. Then other police officers entered the bus, after which the attacker left. Kotlyar was taken to the hospital with a suspected concussion.

Many detainees had their cell phones taken away and many police departments do not give them access to defense lawyers or attorneys. This has happened in different cities.

In Kazan, a woman told a police chief that her niece “was killed by your people the day before yesterday.” This police chief then ordered her to be detained.

Additionally, people displaying police IDs showed up at the apartment where activist Gleb Kondratyev lives. They broke into his room and beat a friend of the activist who was there at the time. He was hit in the face and fell to the floor, where they continued beating him. The man was then taken away in an ambulance. The people who broke into the apartment smashed certain equipment that they found. They painted the entryway with “Z”s and threatening messages against Kondratyev.”

In a move that feels straight out of a dystopian novel, Russian soldiers patrol the streets of Ukraine in cars and armoured vehicles marked with the “Z” symbol. As local government officials and Mayors are kicked out of office or kidnapped, local radio stations are blaring out Russin pop and Soviet ballads in between excerpts of Putin’s speeches.

This doesn’t seem like such a great idea.

But equally Ovsyannikova’s statement “Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t lock us all away” seems incredibly naive. Maybe the naivety of someone who has been inside the system? More power to her. It does seem like Russian resistance is mounting and gaining momentum, but like the war itself, it is likely to be brutal and drawn-out unless there are key defections from within the police and military. It is a test of three things: Putin’s influence and how much real belief in him there is through the system; how much fear and realisation there is that this is all a disaster with disastrous implications for Russian troops and the economy; and what alternative leadership (s) can emerge under such repression?

Finally, it’s been documented that the Soviet Union was undermined by the technology of the photocopier and the ability to create a dissident press and mass pamphleteering to bypass state propaganda. To what extent can new channels and apps such as Telegram do the same in 2022?


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Comments (14)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    Are there any BBC employees feeling a sense of shame that they have not made a similar on-air protest? Well.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      Yes SD, the BBC is JUST LIKE Russian TV.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @John Learmonth, I don’t watch Russian television, so I cannot compare it. I do not know if they had a similar Jimmy Saville scandal, but I am not aware of BBC staff accusing him on air when he was in the corporation’s employ. I do know that the BBC has admitted that MI5 vetted their prospective employees, and lied about it.
        “For decades the BBC denied that job applicants were subject to political vetting by MI5. But in fact vetting began in the early days of the BBC and continued until the 1990s.”
        The BBC has championed British foreign wars and its imperialist theocratic quasi-constitution, and had to apologise for its false equivalence in promoting unqualified climate change deniers. You can read about the standard criticisms in Tom Mills’ The BBC: Myth of a Public Service, although I think the author unnecessarily stops short of labelling it a state (or indeed government) broadcaster. Medialens has some pertinent insights, and academic studies have routinely documented BBC bias, including the Glasgow Media Group. The BBC’s truth-crimes are also largely about maintaining a tight Overton Window and excluding many topics and events from its main news broadcasts, for which it has poor world coverage compared to rival broadcasters, preferring celebrity stories and a very narrow political focus on Westminster court shenanigans. Of course, the BBC was also heavily criticised for its elitist composition, especially in managerial and senior roles, in recent studies by the Sutton Trust.

        But since you are deeply familiar with Russian TV, perhaps you could summarise your views on it here, and draw the appropriate comparisons?

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Unfortunately RT (Russia Today) has been suspended from broadcasting in the UK. Obviously MI5 or maybe the Queen has made that decision.
          I’m not a great fan of the BBC but there are plenty of other sources in the UK to get your news from. Unfortunately the same doesn’t apply in Russia were all non-state broadcasters have been closed.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @John Learmonth, well, the comparable broadcaster to Russia Today would be the Russian-language successor to the BBC World Service, which was run on behalf of the UK Foreign Office. Nowadays, I gather it is web-only: https://www.bbc.com/russian which presumably limits on-air spontaneity. You would think that any oppressive regime worth its salt would demand broadcasting be slightly-off-air (‘deferred live’) in order to nip such indiscretions with seconds to spare, but no system is infallible, I guess. Unless someone is bilingual in Russian and English (I am not), I guess it is harder to compare outputs and editorial positions directly. I much prefer Al Jazeera English to the BBC television news, mostly for the former’s much better world coverage and less time wasted on ‘soft’ news, but it still has to toe some kind of line for its masters.

            In the UK, ‘voluntary’ news censorship is imposed via a number means such as D-notices. It should be noted that in the British Empire, much of its crimes were done in the dark, with most people in the metropole only finding out about atrocities in colonial lands decades or generations later (and almost certainly were not taught these in school). Even colonial crimes known to one generation may be forgotten by the next, such is the British cultural omerta. But other European nations may have reached the point of glasnost.

      2. BSA says:

        There is no equivalence, but there are certainly parallels.

    2. Niemand says:

      Good article Mike, well said.

      Thank God we do have the BBC and a free press generally, for all its faults, and not what Russia has. Even Johnson’s lies pale next to the endless stream of utterly crass bullshit coming out of the Kremlin. What is going on in Russia and Ukraine is a good way to get some proper perspective, you would have thought.

      I have heard talk they might shut Telegram down but that was just speculation (they have barred it before in Russia). But you are right, trying to get ordinary Russian citizens to understand what their government is really doing is crucial as I am sure if they really knew things could be very different since this is not some far flung war for them amongst people of a very different culture but with people who are in some cases literally their family members a few miles away. It really would be like England bombing the shit out of Scottish or Welsh cities (or vice versa for that matter) and somehow the English not knowing about it.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @ Niemand, thanking God? Well, that is essentially what we are being ask to do, for appointing our hereditary head of state for life. Something President Putin has not yet managed, albeit mangling the Russian constitution to obtain a fourth term, for which he possibly now thanks (Orthodox) God.

        Do you not consider that your example is exactly what happened when the British secret state (police, military, secret services) ran covert and paramilitary operations in Northern Ireland, with the British press ignorant, muzzled or complicit? And who do we have to thank for reporting on it? More RTE than RT possibly: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/rte-documentary-uncovers-government-collusion-with-loyalist-paramilitaries-31296370.html

        An insider perspective on the relationship between journalists and the British secret state and military establishment is provided by Richard Norton-Taylor in The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain, noting (p23) “the traditional Whitehall and Downing Street assumption that the media, especially the BBC, must unquestioningly accept the word of the intelligence agencies, in this case MI6.” And increasingly, compliant journalists are being drawn inside the tent, whilst investigative journalism, whistleblowers, protesters and charities face increasing police oppression and dirty tactics.

        1. Niemand says:

          And all this is equivalent to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and his total suppression of the fact in Russia by total control of the media and banning of all other platforms that might tell a different story? All states everywhere seek to control certain information about their actions and probably always will but equating them all as the same as a callous dictator is just not tenable. So yes I repeat give me the BBC any day over Russian state media and yes I trust them about 1000x more.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, but using your own method, would you not trust Russian state media 1000x more if you were a Russian? I find it sad that you choose not to engage on substantive points. Actually, I was suggesting that BBC staff might be collectively worse in that they have not demonstrated against their organisation’s propaganda role; and of course the British Empire has been far worse than the Russian Empire, given the former’s aggressive expansions and well-documented misdeeds. If President Putin imagines himself a modern-day Henry V, obtaining backing from his Church to claim lands in France, I wonder if he went cloaked amongst his campfires on the eve of battle if he finds agreement amongst his base troops for the invasion of Ukraine. Yet Henry V, Shakespeare’s ‘best’ English king and serial war criminal, is apparently a much-admired figure in England.
            “Henry V was one of the great warrior kings of medieval England, famous for his victory against the French at the Battle of Agincourt.”
            Why do you suppose the UK authorities banned RT when government dissidents warned that this would be a pretext for Russian authorities banning outlets like the BBC? And I would note that President Zelenskiy has apparently said that Ukraine should not and would not join NATO, which likelihood gave the biggest pretext of all. None of this justifies the belligerent invasion of Ukraine using the weapons of modern mechanised warfare, but there you are: imperialism is ugly and criminal. The more we see the ugly and criminal side of imperialism, the better. And the more we see the ugly and criminal side of our own (or allied) imperialism, the better. Though I doubt we will be seeing much of it on your beloved BBC any time soon.

          2. BSA says:

            A vacuous comparison between Russia and the British State. The parallels are enough to convict the BBC and the rest in the British context and that’s what matters. Nobody said there was equivalence but that does not allow you to say that the BBC is preferable in any way at all – preferable to Putin ? What on earth does that mean.. There is also an fair case for saying that BBC Scotland has contributed to the covid mortality with its deliberate undermining of public health here.

          3. Bill Wilson says:

            Niemand, here are a few highlights of BBC activity since its foundation. So can you explain, given that these are just a few examples of how the BBC has distorted the truth since its foundation, how the BBC is so much better than the Russian press?

            During the General Strike the BBC failed to allow a single supporter of the strike to speak on radio. Even to the extent of allow anti-strike Church of England bishops to speak, but not allowing commentary from the pro-strike arch-bishop of Canterbury (Head of the church).

            During the miner’s strike the BBC actually reversed footage. The original footage showed police charging the miners and the miners counter charging. The version the BBC aired reversed the footage.

            During the second world war around a million died in Bengal, as a direct result of the UK stripping the resources to aid the UK war effort – this was not reported by the BBC.

            Prior to the Iraq war we had almost nightly reports from the BBC of sites being searched for chemical weapons. However, we did not have nightly reports saying nothing had been found.

            When doctors in Fallujah told women not to get pregnant due to the high risk of foetal abnormalities; a direct result of the use by the UK and the US of depleted uranium weapons, the BBC ignored the story, but put many hours into a ‘cat in a bin story’

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Bill Wilson, and much more serious crimes can be charged against the BBC. Recent archival releases show how the British Information Research Department used the BBC World and Indonesian Services including special radio stations among other channels to incite murderous hatred against Indonesia’s communists and ‘communists’ that led to the genocide of 500,000 to a million people, from 1965, backed by covert British and USAmerican agencies:

  2. gavinochiltree says:

    Repression breeds dissent and opposition. Russian history is one long story of extreme leaders, revolution and purges. I salute the bravery of any person in Russia who stands up to the State, especially right now.
    Putin is correct in one aspect. The soft underbelly of the West, is the corruption of its elites, whether political, media or business—-all available at a knock down price. Are Cameron or Johnson any different in their morality than the obnoxious George Galloway?
    Is the narrative fed to us by the “Scottish” media any less slanted than the Russian version? Would any BBC Scotland person call out the BEEB for its news management? And lose their cushy number?
    We are all headed for the crazed culture wars of the United States or the Happy Clappy “China is GREAT” news style, and where an underground opposition media has largely failed to develop.
    New York Times or Murdoch or Pravda————THAT is the question.

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