Sometimes people are like, Keith, what’s Russia like?

Here’s what Russia is like.

A couple of months ago a journalist for a small paper north of Moscow who’s been fighting the local administration over its desire to expand the new Moscow-Petersburg super-highway through a large chunk of forest—the Danny Goldstein of Russia, you could say—was attacked outside his home. He was beaten so badly that the bones in his hands were pulped and they had to amputate his leg.

There’s a neo-Nazi group of some kind—or maybe more than one—that’s been killing foreigners in Moscow the past month—Tajiks, Armenians, a man from Cameroon. They cut off one man’s head and took a photo with a cell-phone camera and sent it to human rights groups.

I’ve written a few times about the writer-turned-politician Eduard Limonov, most fully here. Kirill Medvedev discusses him here. Because he is so self-aggrandizing, the impulse with Limonov is to belittle him. And when he talks about seizing power from Putin, the coming revolution, etc. etc., it’s laughable—sometimes on purpose, because Limonov and the National Bolsheviks have a sense of humor. But the kids who join the party end up in situations that just aren’t funny. Last year one of them was beaten to death after being questioned by the police; today another NBP member, who was 20, was found beaten to death in Moscow.

This morning I woke up early and made my way over to the Arbat, where they’re holding the trial for three men involved in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. The trial is open to the press but I don’t have any kind of press badge and they didn’t let me in. “Dude,” I said. “!” They didn’t buy it. I went across the street to the Starbucks—yeah yeah—and sat there for five hours reading everything Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya used to work, has published about the case, which is a lot.

While I was in the Starbucks, a young human rights lawyer named Stanislav Markelov—he had once been Politkovskaya’s lawyer—finished a press conference not two blocks from me, walked out into the street, and was shot and killed at point blank range by a man who simply walked up behind him, then ran off into the metro. The man also shot the woman walking next to Markelov, a 25-year-old Novaya Gazeta freelancer who died this evening in the hospital.

I’ve been watching TV since I got home… and it’s amazing. It’s amazing. The most offensive, most propagandistic of the evening news shows is on Channel 3, TV-Center, it’s not a major channel so they try harder—the woman broadcaster acted like it was Markelov’s fault that he got shot on the night she was hosting the news. “Another of those killings that are said to ‘resonate,’” she began contemptuously before reading the details as quickly as possible—as though, ok, she understood it was “news,” but also she knew this was all part of Markelov’s brilliant marketing strategy, his media campaign, and, frankly, she found it in poor taste.

There was no hint of an idea that Putin or Medvedev would respond, or that people would grieve, or that something really really horrible had just happened, that they were killing all the best people in Russia and no one was going to do anything about it.

Nonetheless, happy MLK and pre-Inauguration Day everyone. There’s a funny piece on the website about inauguration poetry. Who should Obama really have invited? Actually, knows the answer to that, too. Amiri Baraka, obviously. That’d be an inauguration I’d stay up for.

Who own this city
Who own the air
Who own the water
Who own your crib
Who rob and steal and cheat and murder and make lies the truth
Who call you uncouth
Who live in the biggest house
Who do the biggest crime
Who go on vacation anytime
Who killed the most niggers
Who killed the most Jews
Who killed the most Italians
Who killed the most Irish
Who killed the most Africans
Who killed the most Japanese
Who killed the most Latinos
Who? Who? Who?
Who own the ocean
Who own the airplanes
Who own the malls
Who own television
Who own radio
Who own what ain’t even known to be owned
Who own the owners that ain’t the real owners
Who own the suburbs
Who suck the cities
Who make the laws
Who made Bush president
Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying
Who talk about democracy and be lying

Well, it was a poem of its time. For the inauguration he’d have written a new one. Amiri for Obama’s inauguration in 2013.

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