Why we shouldn’t be surprised by Russia’s ‘digital draft notices’

Leonid Gozman on how a digital Gulag is par for the course for the Russian state

Why we shouldn’t be surprised by Russia’s ‘digital draft notices’

Photo: Stringer / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

I am not at all surprised by Russia’s new digital draft notice law: neither by its contents nor by its triumphant approval. It’s quite clear what this law is about and what it is for. However, I am baffled by the fact that some of our compatriots were caught by surprise when this law was approved. How can that be, they said?

Well, what did you expect? You’re not surprised by the fact that the acceleration of a free-falling object is always g, and that the object only speeds up as it falls instead of stopping.

The decision to introduce digital draft notices seems quite logical considering the legal and law enforcement practice of the past few years. The new law rids citizens of any possibility to avoid taking part in killings besides fleeing the country — and if that option fails, they will be hit with criminal charges. Yes, the state is taking away our remnants of freedom. Yes, it wants to control everything. Just like in prison, convicts are not allowed to cover up the peephole, so that the guard can monitor what is happening in the cell at all times. I think the last time Alexey Navalny was sent to solitary confinement was because he accidentally covered the view from the peephole with his body.

And you thought that while the government was building a Gulag, they would introduce labour camp practices selectively? No, they’ll do it all at once!

The bosses aren’t really that vicious, overall. They could have done without digital draft notices and many other things if the people had just shown commitment. If they actually had stood in line to the conscription offices, like Russian senate speaker Valentina Matviyenko said without batting an eye. But those scoundrels (the Russian people, that is) who are paying lip service to the “special military operation”, are actually trying to avoid taking part in it: those who can are leaving the country, or bribing draft board officials (now those are filling their pockets right now!) But how do we win the war, how do we destroy those Banderites? There’s nothing else besides Stalin’s tactic of throwing soldiers’ corpses at the enemy. There are no modern weapons (what happened to the Armata, the best tank in the world?), there are no motivated soldiers. But you can’t not win. What happens if you lose —you’ll put a bullet in your head? So you need hundreds of thousands more bodies on the frontline. This is what the digital draft notices are for — it’s all because of your lack of commitment.

And this won’t stop. Those ineligible for the draft will be affected by this, too. It’s not just the draft dodgers who will be under the government’s thumb. These bans are like water in connected vessels, the water level will approximately be at the same height. They’ll ban you from changing your job without permission: first for those employed in the defence industry, and then for everyone. The unemployed will be put to order, too: those used to be called “social parasites”. And then labour mobilisation would follow: what use is there to waste time in the office or in the service industry, the front awaits! And freezing accounts or seizing cars for the needs of the army is par for the course. They’ll cancel the draft exemption for students, too.

It all continues to escalate — and there is no other way. Now they’re cutting off the head of a man who is allegedly a Ukrainian POW. What is there to be surprised by?

If the Taliban are “decent guys”, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, then why not apply IS practices? And that didn’t just come out of nowhere.

There have been cases of torture recorded on video for a while. Of course, there are bad apples everywhere. But it’s important how the government reacts to that. And ours is rather humane: how many torturers are in jail for what they did? So you can torture, just don’t get caught. And the unit that was sent to Bucha and, according to our government, did not do anything bad there, has been awarded the honorary title of “guards”. For not doing anything, I suppose.

It’s important to understand one thing about the torture and the cut-off heads. Do you think that the torture only happens in jail, and the atrocities only happen in Ukraine? There is no impenetrable wall between prison and freedom in Russia; and those who murdered, raped, and pillaged in Ukraine, will go back home after they lose. With weapons — that will be impossible to control. And they will bring what they had learnt over there to the streets of the cities whose residents now think that it does not concern them. Putin is waging a war somewhere, what’s it to do with me?

The government will increase control over everything that moves. Part of this control will be completely rational — to recruit as many people in the army as they can. And some of it will be meaningless initiatives of Russian officials wanting to curry favour with their higher-ups and stay in the zeitgeist. There will be less freedom — if we can even use this word at this point. Less freedom for everyone except criminals — there will be exceptions for them, as they are “socially close” after all.

And, of course, the bosses will use high-tech methods. In Iran, they’re already using surveillance cameras to monitor women taking off hijabs in the car or where there is no one around. There’s no one around, but there are cameras! The technological progress has proven to be a good servant of obscurantism and dictatorships, as shown by the Third Reich with Zyklon B. And we’re not far behind, too.

For example, I was arrested several times with the help of surveillance cameras. And wiretapping is making such a great contribution to the fight for morality and stability!

During the State Duma elections in 2007, United Russia ran with the following motto: “Putin’s plan — victory to Russia!”. Back then, I led the Union of the Right Forces party list in St. Petersburg, and I kept asking during all the debates: where is this plan, where is this document that starts with the word “plan” and ends with Putin’s signature? We even went as far as to offer an alternative motto: “Putin’s plan — a path towards a dead end”.

But now, it has all become crystal clear. Putin’s plan has been successfully implemented: he wanted to create a fascist state, and he did. There have been some mishaps, of course. He failed to create a fascist society: it remains indifferent and distances itself from the state, like it did hundreds of years before. And the corruption among his own elites kind of ruins the overall picture. But generally, it’s fine.

There’s nothing good this state can offer to us — both to those who have left and to those who have stayed. The force is on their side, and they do not hesitate to use it. They’re not the Committee on the State of Emergency that tried and failed to seize power in August 1991, their hands are steady, they lead a healthy lifestyle. I’m afraid for the country. And for all of us. But do not give up — no government lasts forever. This too shall pass. And no matter what happens to each one of us, we have a bigger chance of overcoming and surviving this horror if we understand our reality without turning a blind eye to the most terrible things: the cut-off heads and the total control.

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