A year ago to the day, an article of mine entitled “Anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories are now at the heart of Russian politics” was published on the website Redaction Report. As if to commemorate the anniversary, imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny released a statement yeasterday alleging that an antisemitic song is routinely played in the prison where he is being held, by the prison staff.
According to Navalny, the penitentiary makes all inmates listen to “patriotic songs” several times daily. This is supposed to be “educational work” (“воспитательная работа”) as part of the penal system’s mission of rehabilitating criminals. However, not only does, in Navalny’s telling, this “educational work” consist exclusively of songs and videos, at least one of the former contains clearly bigoted lyrics. Thus, one of its couplets goes like this:
“Если в Кремле отмечают Пурим,
Это значит, что снова в беде Третий Рим.”
“If Purim is celebrated in the Kremlin,
This means that the Third Rome is in trouble again.”
“Third Rome,” of course, is a term for Russia which implies a view of the country as a spiritual successor to the “second Rome” (Byzantium). This is an ideology which has often been used to legitimise Russian imperialism. I won’t go into it here, but Dr. Frederick Kagan provides a good explanation of it in his first appearance on Jordan Peterson’s podcast, which I have recommended before.
In Navalny’s telling, these words are played in the prison five times a day, along with other lyrics proclaiming “that we will not allow ‘our baptised sisters to be Salomes to them.’”
Both these quotes sound rather obviously antisemitic to me. According to the ill-fated politician, when he challenged the “cops” on the matter, the reply was: “No, everything is as it’s supposed to be, educational work according to methodological recommendations” (“Не, […] все как положено, воспитательная работа по методическим рекомендациям”).
Does this mean that not just the general principle of playing “patriotic songs,” but the specific list of tunes (including the antisemitic one) was handed down from some higher institution? Who knows?
The Russian publication “The Insider,” reporting on Navalny’s message, adds the following context:
On 22 May, Navalny was sent to solitary confinement for the 16th time already. Summatively, since August of last year, he has had 180 days [24-hour periods] of solitary confinement assigned to him.
The article goes on to list some of the preposterously trivial reasons for which the jailed dissident has received this penalty, as well as some of the apparent abuses to which the prison administration has subjected him.