30 October 2016

Putin's Russia, the parable of the boiled frog and penal colony IK-31

Since the parable of the boiled frog was mentioned, I feel it is my duty to save the reader some googling.

Suppose you want to boil a frog. How do you do it? You could place the frog into a pot of hot water, but as soon as it feels the heat, it will jump out. So, what can you do? Put a pot of cool water on the stove and then add the frog. Not sensing danger the frog will stay. Next, turn the burner on low to slowly heat the water. As the water warms, the frog relaxes. The warmth feels good. As the water gets hotter it acts like a steam bath draining away energy and deepening the frog's relaxation. The frog becomes sleepy and has less and less energy while the water is getting hotter and hotter. By the time the frog realizes its danger, the water is beginning to boil, and it is too late to take action. There is neither time nor energy left to do anything. The frog perishes in the boiling water.
There seems to exist a debate on the parable's scientific value, but still there is a general agreement about the premise that when you heat the water slowly enough, the frog stays put and eventually is boiled to death.

Whether the parable carries any scientific truth or not, it is an excellent parallel to the goings on in the modern Russia during the 17 years reign of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Unlike Stalin (to use one example), Putin didn't arrest his real or imaginary enemies, dissidents and protesters in their hundreds of thousands. The railway cattle wagons weren't (still aren't) stuffed by hapless victims and taken to Siberian or northern Gulag camps . People aren't taken from their families in the middle of the night to be tortured and shot in NKVD basements. The (initial) proliferation of free press was surprising everyone familiar with the Soviet (and previously Russian) censors' heavy hand on the media's throat.

Nope, Vladimir Vladimirovich has chosen another way. Yes, a few too feisty protesters were arrested here and there, some even incarcerated - but never to the tune of the 193... Yes, a few journalists that went too far were eliminated in suspicious circumstances, later usually ascribed to various criminal acts. A few (but very few) political rivals died of violence, but of course the regime wasn't really implicated, was it? And you can't really blame censorship, when a too frisky TV channel gets taken over by a bigger rival - after all, it is a free market. If that bigger channel happens to be a government-owned one, so what? And if the government subsidies are denied to a certain theater or a troupe, if a controversial painter has his show closed down for some reason having to do with public morals - why, doesn't it happen everywhere? So slowly and gradually the screws are being turned and the freedoms are chipped away, with the (really small percentage of) people concerned feeling the heat a bit too late. The frog(s) is getting close to the boiling point.

Of course, to see to the sufficiently slow rise of the metaphorical water temperature in this case, you need some sophisticated measurement tools. And what is better than to produce here and there a wink to the good old days as a provocation? A public paean to Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin or to one of the lesser mass murderers under his command. A nostalgic speech about the good days of the Soviet empire (as if the current borders are insufficient for the ever dwindling population). A gradually managed and now at its pinnacle (oh well, probably not yet) discrimination of the LGBT... folks. The list of acts that allow the regime to measure the response of the hated liberal community (our frog) is endless, and the results are - very encouraging for Vladimir Vladimirovich. The frog is mostly relaxed and the movements of its appendages or its blinking are really not that alarming.

It is not to say that the Western liberals give a flying donut about the Russian regime becoming more and more oppressive, about the last remains of freedom being taken away from their Russian comrades. The opposite is rather true - Putin has become a darling of many Western lefties - but it's a separate, albeit a very sad, story.

All of the above (and apologies to all who consider that long introduction too obvious and unneeded) was a preface to a description of a recent outrageous affair that happened in Komi Republic, one of the favorite locations of GULAG. First the visual:

The text on the plaque says:
August 16 of the year 1937
In this place the construction of the penal colony (camp "Vodorazdellag - Mikunskaya") was started. This memorial plaque was placed on August 16, 2016 as a sign of respect and gratitude to the first builders and staff* - creators of the colony.
(*) Obviously "builders" and "staff" are not the same group of people, the first being the wretched prisoners - "Enemies of the People", brought to the empty, freezing and deadly environment of Komi and the other... well, it is your guess.

The colony in question - IK-31 is its official designation in the Russian prison system - is still open for business. Lately dealing mostly with criminals, it recently hosted a political prisoner, Hennadii Afanasiev, a Ukrainian protester of the Crimea grab (to name only one). But the uncounted thousands of political prisoners of Stalin's times, who entered the gates of IK-31 to die later of cold, illnesses and exhaustion - they and their names are not mentioned on that plaque. Well, there definitely isn't enough room for all. Besides, why be negative, when as festive an affair as unveiling of that plaque is being held?

And the unveiling of the plaque was festive indeed. Here come some pictures from an official site of the Russian prison authority:

The pair of prison employees who were entrusted with the honor of unveiling the plaque. 
To make you see the sweet side of the whole story, the author of that official article added some enjoyable tidbits (partial translation):
The most anticipated event was the beauty contest "Miss IK-31 - 2016", which brought together six female convicts. They had four competition stages to identify the most beautiful, intelligent, creative and economic girl.

The finest stage was the catwalk in dresses made [by the female convicts'] own hands. Here the contestants showed all their imagination, because they used for raw material steel wire, trash bags, thread and glue, shoes and gloves. Particular delight was caused by a dress made of crumpled newspapers, glued together and painted in the colors of the rainbow.
Another sporting event was held in the "Jubilee" city stadium. Here, on the football field, the colony staff team met the team of the colony's convicts. No matter how the convicts tried, they once again failed to defeat the staff. The match ended with a score of 10:2.
Ernest Mezak, the man who has written on Facebook about the whole wretched plaque affair, adds:
I think that it is necessary to read the lists of the repressed, incarcerated in the Komi Gulag camps near this "monument".
Let's not hold our collective breath waiting for this to happen.

And how does our frog do after that story was published (officially, no less)? Aside of Mr Mezak, there was some limited noise on the 'net (in Russian only), one article in English (by a Russian poster, obviously using Google Translate and not much else). And that's all. Nothing from the above mentioned Western knights of the human rights, freedom and justice. Nada. Zilch. As expected.

Yeah, so our frog is indeed very close to the boiling point. Moreover, it (the frog) doesn't have any friends to come to the rescue.

Too bad.

Hat tip: E.S. (aka M.M.)