Sunday, July 15, 2012

Anna reviews 12 WHO DON'T AGREE, Valery Panyushkin

I had jury duty a couple of weeks ago, which was simultaneously fascinating and tedious. The best part, though, was hours and hours of uninterrupted reading! Valery Panyushkin's 12 Who Don't Agree, collected portraits of modern Russian dissidents, was a beneficiary of this idyll, months after I'd added to my list (it came up in discussion at WORD's Classics Book Group during our year o' Russians). Panyushkin himself is an anti-Kremlin, anti-Putin journalist (which can still get you mysteriously shot), with an easy narrative style. He's picked a wide range of folks to profile: young, old, male, female, even famous (former chess champion Garri Kasparov, now an opposition leader).

Many of the harrowing stories center around the Beslan massacre, an incident in 2004 when Chechen separatists seized a school in the Caucasian province of North Ossetia (Russia has something like 200 different ethnic groups, and the former Soviet republics just add to the total. It gets confusing almost immediately). After a three-day hostage crisis, heavily armed Russian troops stormed the building, killing most of the terrorists and fully a third of the hostages. The government responded by consolidating federal power, including changes to election law (eliminating direct gubernatorial elections, e.g.). It was the last straw for many former Kremlin supporters, especially as they saw the differences between what eyewitnesses said of the crisis and what the official media reported.

12 Who Don't Agree (the Russian title, 12 nesoglasnykh, I think means literally "dissenters," though I was sorely tempted to ask the folks from Moscow & Ukraine sitting behind me in the jury room) confirmed my belief that it's pretty much never not been awful being a rank-and-file Russian. Also, that people still use the word muzhik in casual conversation, which is adorable; and that there's a Russian candy bar called Hematogen that (as the name implies) contains processed cow's blood. GAH

[Original post here.]