Early days when it comes to a recently acquired book about Russians opposed to the rule of Putin. I've not yet turned as many pages as I'd like. This is not because the book appears to be uninteresting or otherwise heavy going. It's more a case that finding the time to read purely for pleasure continues to be a bit tricky due, I think, to a combination of factors: the nonsensical deadlines and weird hours of my currently (interim/temporary) BULLSHIT JOB; fair chunks of remaining free time spent pounding a treadmill, jumping onto boxes, curling the biceps etc.; a bit of running around to prepare for the keenly anticipated mega-vacation in the USA.
But just a short way into Panyushkin's Twelve Who Don't Agree, one strange detail caught my eye, sharpening my keenness to read on and learn more. The author, a Russian journalist, describes a St. Petersburg protest march which he covered in 2007:
"A line formed that was no fun to stand in. According to long tradition, the authorities drove a couple of hundred homeless to every opposition rally for the purpose of displaying the drunken riffraff who constituted Putin's opponents. In exchange for participating in the country's political life, the homeless demand vodka but not to be allowed to wash."
Thus far, I've not managed to Google up any other references to the practice alleged here to be a be a "long tradition" for Russia's security forces. Whether or not this actually is a real tactic used by the Kremlin & co. to discredit those who organise against the regime, the image is a colourful one, reminiscent of other ruses that come to mind.
For example, I'm reminded of a recent UK news story, reporting that Transport for London engineers were instructed to waste time digging a superfluous hole near Northumberland Park station purely to serve as a prop for a photoshoot involving George Osborne and Zac Goldsmith.
Turning my thoughts back to Putin's Russia, this idea of creating a completely false impression of how things really are by means of logistically complex dissembling reminds me, naturally enough, of the concept of the Potemkin Village. As I make further progress with Panyushkin's book, let's see if more elaborate, sinister ridiculousness of this sort is alleged and described.