Sylvia Browne (2008) written with Lindsay Harrison, End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies about the End of the World.

The publication date is important here, 2008. Let’s say Sylvia Browne wrote the book in 2007. That gives us a baseline to work out how accurate her prophesies are in May 2022.

Confirmation bias tends to confirm what we already know, or think we know. Sylvia Browne cannot see a human race beyond the end of this century. With global warming that seems possible, if not probable.

‘…we’ve got a planet that’s slowly warmed to the point of cataclysmic flooding and violent weather events because of extreme levels of greenhouse gases. Rather than preserving our global forests we’re clearing them to create toilet paper…Tragically, we’ve become a cancer here, sending species after species into extinction and apparently forgetting that we as humans are every bit as vulnerable to extinction as any other species on Earth.’

One swallow does not a summer make. But you do not need to follow Postcards from the Anthropocene Age to know we’re on the same page. Our weather is switching on and off and once-in-a-lifetime events are common and becoming more probable. The lungs of our planet, and creator of our weather patterns, the Arctic is gone. A NASA study in 2019 verified that it had become a net emitter of greenhouse gases in the hottest recorded month in the history of our planet. Disasters are fine, as long as they are somewhere else. What Mystic Meg and NASA scientists is the same thing. We’re all connected.  When nothing matters, everything changes.

I’d put a tick beside Browne’s name for her prediction about the coronavirus outbreak.

‘In around 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatment.’

A cross against her name for

‘By 2013 we’re going to see an amazing development in the treatment of mental illness.’

Mental health problems have grown exponentially, especially, among the young. No cure involving ‘electromagnetic impulses’ as she believed. Her model is based on there is something lacking in the individual that a magic wand of technology can fix. Rather that societal pressures that also need a magic wand, but of a different sort that treats richness as an economic illness that  poisons politics and pollutes the wider ecosystem and stunts individual growth of the disadvantaged poor.  

‘We will have a very substantial drop in the crime rate’. She attributes this to satellite spy technology that monitors everyone. And the collection of a global database and an upgrade in forensic science that means there can be no secrets. We said much the same thing in the nineteen century with fingerprinting and in the twentieth century by DNA analysis. Twenty-first century fingerprinting will be of our eye iris.  Crimes such as femicide grow year on year, but are not picked up. Classified as crimes of passion. No eye in the sky can stop what goes on in our homes. And hard-core criminals aren’t stupid. They adapt new technologies and don’t think they’ll get caught as crime moves online.

‘The year 2020 will mark the end of the US Presidency.’ She might have a point there, with the Trump farrago and storming of Congress from the moron’s moron foot soldiers. The moron’s moron fulfils all her elements of a doomsday cult leader. Supported by the church vote, he too could be described as antichrist.

‘Any prophet/messiah who claims to be infallible is a liar.

Any prophet/messiah who claims that all those who criticise him or disagree with him are evil and doomed to God’s eternal punishment are a liar.

Any prophet/messiah who insists that no one cares about you or understand you as much as they do is a liar.

Any prophet/messiah who believes he or she is exempt from the laws of God and society and is entitled to divine immunity from consequences is a liar.

Any prophet/messiah whose power is based on fear, abuse and threats is a liar.    

The moron’s moron’s Presidency was based on fear, abuse and threat. The question that remains is is he too stupid to be the antichrist? But his ignorance and bullying didn’t end with him leaving office.

Browne therefore gets it totally wrong with her prophecy that the Presidency would end and the President would die in office of a heart attack (although Joe Biden might, soon). As she did with the idea Republicans would grow a backbone and gain some kind of moral legitimacy. The opposite has happened. For example, Browne’s belief in a  public health system and tax bonuses for those with careers in the arts, education…’ based on a ‘flat-rate’ tax is just hoo-ha. Thatcher introduced it here in Scotland, it was called the poll tax. A morally and economically bankrupt idea. You don’t need to be a prophet to tell which way a regressive taxation system works, but it helps if you’re an economist like Thomas Piketty.

‘Requirements for Senate candidates will be stringent and continuously monitored…The long-term effects of the reorganised government and closely examined body of lawmakers will be a return of accountability and public trust, and state government will follow no later than 2024…’  

 Everyone’s favourite prophet, Nostradamus, predicted the world would end around AD 3797, but his quatrains were of the time and of the event. For example,

The young lion will overcome the older one.

On the field of combat in single battle.

He will pierce his eyes through a golden cage.

Two wounds made one, then he dies a cruel death.

Nostradamus had to be careful what he said or wrote, because he could have been burned as a heretic and witch. Ambiguity was his friend. Context is everything. But Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, who ruled after a lance killed the king, during a jousting tournament, after passing through the ‘golden’ face mask of his helmet and piercing his eye, protected Nostradamus. The prophet predicted his own death with unerring accuracy.

In the year 1999 and seven months

The Great King of Terror will come from the sky.

He will bring back Genghis Khan  

Before and after War rules happily.

I have no idea what that means, but the reference to Genghis Khan could be a reference to Putin as the third antichrist, or maybe not. We see with our beliefs. Narcissistic sociopaths seems to be in the job description for the leaders of of doomsday cults. She lists some, such as Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, Heaven’s Gate; Jim Jones and the People’s Temple; David Koresh and The Branch Davidians; Sun Myung Moon and The Unification Church; Jeffrey Lundgren and the Reorganised Church of Latter Day Saints; Charles Manson and The Family. You could add L.Ron Hubbard and Scientology to that list. But then it gets a bit hard to stop. Donald J.Trump. Vladimir Putin. What about religions were someone says God spoke to them from a burning bush? Or was born to a Virgin, or went into a cave and came out with the word of god on his tongue, waiting to be transcribed? I quite like the story of Buddha under the Bodhi tree. But that’s an aside.

Biblical eschatology used to be like crosswords. Everybody was doing biblical calculus, trying to work out end of days. Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, when he wasn’t working on how gravity behaves or light bends, drawing on biblical sources, concluded he world would end in 2060. I’ll be about 100 by then. Maybe I’m the antichrist.

Checklist:   I’ll be dead. [tick] or worse have dementia. But Browne claimed it would be cured by now.

Heaven in these kinds of books always ends up sounding like a shopping centre you don’t want to go to, but end up there anyway.

‘As long as Earth exists, our Other side will exist too.’

Aye, read on. Free download of this book before the world ends.

Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Tango with Putin, Directed, written and produced by Vera Krichevskaya 

Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Tango with Putin, Directed, written and produced by Vera Krichevskaya 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00156cw/storyville-tango-with-putin?page=1

Memory is always being subverted. Tango with Putin begins with the Muscovite fairy-tale princess and her pink car looking for a prince. Natasha and Sasha…and they lived happily ever after in their castle.

James Cameron (reporting on the North Vietnamese):

‘They whispered that I was their dupe, but what they really meant was I was not their dupe.’  

The princess wants a toy to play with. And Sasha buys her a television station.

Ecclesiastes: ‘Who gathers knowledge, gathers pain’.

Starvation as a weapon of war. Stalinist policies kill between four and ten million in the Ukraine. War is called peace and stabilisation.

Ashkhabad, a crossroad that became a town when a Russian fort was built in 1881 to help break the Turkmen’s resistance to annexation, disappears in fifteen seconds in 1948. The Turks constitute the largest language group in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  An earthquake wipes out the city. Only the statue of Lenin remained.

Advisors from The Chicago School came to advise the Communist government how to initiate change in post-Gorbachev Russia. Shares. Every Russian citizen should have shares in the former dead-hand of the Russian economy and state enterprises. ‘You pretend to pay us and we’ll pretend to work’ is the Russian way of life. Job done in the free-market Russian economy. With their new-found shared wealth, former Soviets invested in new businesses.  They all lived happily ever after.

Maps of the world. American National Geographic Society cut the USSR in half place it in the fold where no child could find it. Moscow’s Institute of Geography prints a different map. Putin’s map shows Russia in a central spot. Former Soviet States in the middle. The United States is an appendage, cut in half and down to size.

Russia has a shrinking and ageing population. From 150 million 1914 to around 140 million. Natural wastage. Around 20 million, a generation lost in The Great Patriotic War. Around 24 million ethnic Russian’s live outside the former Soviet System, but not all is lost. It maintains the criterion of blood purity. Russia for Russians. Muscovites queued for hours to enter Lenin’s mausoleum. Another queue formed to get hamburgers, ketchup, fries and Coke. They came together. Closing McDonalds in Moscow helps maintain imperial isolation. Paradoxically, the second element is land. But the more land the former Soviet States claim, the greater the dilatation of Russian ethic purity. Ukraine provides an ideal fix. Population 44 million. The former breadbasket of Russia (and Germany) is ethnically pure. Many of the battles fought in the Great Patriotic War were fought in and around Ukraine. Many Russian troops that died and continued to die in wars such as Afghanistan were also Ukrainian.  You will see old Ukrainian comrades in news reports disparaging Putin’s claims that the Ukrainian people are Neo-Nazis or terrorists.

Stalin’s road to heaven. An ounce of gold is worth an ounce of bread. Auschwitz, Treblinka, Hiroshima, (Kolyma) Magadan. 11th November 1931, the Central Committee of the Communist Party create a trust to mine for gold, silver and other metals in Siberia. 160 gulags. Three million slaves don’t make it home. Permafrost maintains the expression on their faces when they died.

Russian’s console themselves, ‘Don’t despair, it was worse in Kolyma’.

There are no heroes in the camps, only survivors. Slave labour creates the long corridors underneath the Kremlin, Moscow Underground and Ukrainian Underground. Deep enough to shelter from bomb blasts, but not intrigues. The Georgian Stalin tried to destroy the old Moscow, but succeeded in only creating the new Moscow on the bones of the old.

Perestroika stretches only as far as the Kremlin walls: six comrades protest in Red Square about the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. No one asks a victim of the gulags were they have been for five, ten, twenty or twenty-five years. To ask questions is to leave yourself open to answers. Spies and informers are part of the state apparatus. Only those in power ask questions. The guilty are punished. The innocent fare worse for they have committed no crime. Truth is relative. Hunger ever-present.  Minsk to Pinsk.  Identification of comrade citizens is no longer easy. Mass deportations, famine, colonisation.  Some regard themselves as Georgian, but not Russian. Chechen, but not Russian. Ingush, but not Russian. Uzbek, but not Russian. East German, but German. Ukrainian but not Russian.  

The bounty system. The NKVD would inform locals when a prisoner had escaped from the camps. Bring a prisoner’s hand to match their fingerprints. Their reward was a sack of flour. Political prisoners were gullible. He would be taken along with a group of escaping prisoners and eaten. One less political. They lived happily ever after.

T.D. Allman: ‘Genuinely objective journalism not only gets the facts right, it gets the meanings of events right. It is compelling not only today, but stands the test of time. It is validated not only by ‘reliable sources’ but the unfolding of history.’      

Notes.

Jim Morrison: ‘Whoever controls the media controls the mind.’

By the end of Vladimir Putin’s second term in 2008, all Russian television was under state control.

Before this story begun, I spent 15 years working on independent television. News and political talkshows were my main passions. After all independent television had been destroyed in my country, I found myself at this house, where I spent many months in discussion of a new enterprise.

Putin 2009. [Cheering] The elections for the President of Russia are over. And our candidate, Dmitry Medvedev, is clearly in the lead.

Back in 2008, Russia still looked like a land of business opportunity.  For Natasha Sindeeva, the owner of that white mansion and this pink car, every road was another adventure.  And every adventure was her excuse for another party.

The top executive of a Moscow music radio station, Natasha was the dancing queen of the city. 

In Putin’s Russia, former music radio producer Natasha Sindeeva dreams of becoming famous and decides to build her own TV station to focus on pop culture.

‘Without any false modesty, I’m going to sing and dance. So be prepared to be sick of me on stage, today. Because today is all about me Natasha Sindeeva.’

Natasha knew how to make things up. She even dreamed up a husband, to be precise—a prince. I remember this moment. I was falling asleep, thinking: ‘I’ve been so good. I deserve a prince. To love me and cherish me. To bring flowers and gifts. A handsome, tall, smart guy with character. I literally painted Sasha’s portrait in my mind.

Their wedding was a literal palace. The Russian Versailles. Natasha spun around the fountains with the world-famous Russian ballet behind her.

And there was a new president too: Dmitry Medvedev. Just like Natasha he saw the world through rose or rather pink coloured glasses, but his partner was more czar than prince.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

Do you remember when he was asked about the most important thing in life?

Suddenly, the Russian President said ‘Love’.   If we had a president that talked about love being the most important thing Russia would be a perfect country. But he enjoyed it. Here’s my iPhone, here’s my iPad. Here I am meeting with American entrepreneurs. He enjoyed being the good guy.

Dmitry Medvedev:’ The principle of freedom is better than non-freedom. These words are a distillation of human experience.’

It seems naïve now, but when I watched that clip I wanted to cry. Like: ‘Look Americans, this is what our President is like’.

There was no room for politics in my life. We didn’t vote. We just didn’t.

The economy was booming, as if on steroids. It seemed that anything was possible. It was going to keep growing. 

Sasha made money banking, during Russia’s boom years and could finance a crazy idea. So Natasha had one. To build her very own tv empire. And that’s where I came in.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

We started at the most expensive real estate uptown (Moscow). Natasha loved the view.

I remember having talks with Natasha. ‘Why isn’t there tv for normal people, why don’t we make it?’ That’s how it started. It was as simple as that.

What’s the date today? Ah,  the 30th. It’s July 30th. The 31st. 2008 and our television station is on its way to being built.

Here it was. The American Dream. The definition of a start-up. ‘Where’s your business plan?’ We’ll finish our business plan later. That’s the reality we lived at the time.

Natasha was a big dreamer. She already had a name and colour palette for her tv station.

DOZHD: Optimistic Channel.

Big, obnoxious.

That was the first time fate intervened.

Radio broadcast: What’s happening on Wall Street… traders say…

Sasha’s bank had not survived the recession of 2008. And from uptown we came down to earth and downtown.

Downtown Moscow. The cheapest building… in ‘Red October’. An old chocolate factory named after the revolution of 1917. Our floor smelled of caramel and rats.

I love that. Those incredible pillars and windows. So the sofas could go here. We thought so too… We’re going to have a TV station. We’re going to do this.

‘All the elements are based on truth, this real life.’

So everything and everybody must be themselves as much as possible. Life must be as authentic as possible.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter.  Executive Director.

We came to the office to meet Natasha. And then at one point, this girl walks in and gives Natasha this bundle. Natasha takes this new baby and opens her shirt. And without missing a beat, Natasha starts breastfeeding her. I understood immediately these were great people. I really liked them.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

That was the first time I saw Natasha in person. She made a great impression on me because she was only wearing purple. Purple knee-high boots. Purple leggings. And a purple sweater. And she was wearing this ring with a huge stone.

Right away she made a big impression on me.

They switched on all the lights at once above our main news desk. From afar it looked like an operation table that was incredibly bright. There are people all around the table. The cameras are rolling. The screens are on. Vera  is yelling out orders from the control room. So it looks like we’re going to have a tv station after all.

In English, ‘Dozhd’ translates as rain, TV rain.

Only God knows why Natasha picked that name. In truth, the most accurate name for this enterprise… would have been The Adventure Channel.

April 2010 [opens] Dozhd TV goes on air.

The first broadcast looked hideous. Totally DIY.

I was afraid of running into my old colleagues from the real tv stations.

We were the industry’s biggest joke. But Natasha loved it. The parties I hated were great from the start.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

When the project started, Natasha knew nothing about tv news. How it works. What it’s for. And so on… her initial concept was very different. She wanted to have lots of nice conversations. Things like that.

Statement: Regardless of sexual orientation. Regardless of age. Regardless of health conditions. Of hair and eye colour. Of faith and political views. We are always yours.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

When I came to Dozhd, I instantly felt not to lie to myself. To be honest with myself. Because at that point I was still accepting myself as gay. 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

I had ten years’ experience reporting from war zones. I wanted…I don’t know, I wanted an adventure.

Apparent suicide bombing in the hall of the Domodedovo Airport. On TV, people are outraged the CNN and Twitter already has images. Apparently 70 dead. While Russian channels, federal channels have nothing.

Suddenly we found ourself in a different reality to other tv stations. Sometimes I felt that we lived in two disparate countries. The news we talked about were ignored by all State controlled media as if it didn’t happen.

In the last year of President Medvedev’s term we launched a weekly sketch show in which, with the help of the classics of Russian poetry, we staged scenes between the President and his  Prime Minister Putin.

And True Glory came. Our audience doubled every week. In April, 2011, we lauched a new episode of our viral show in which our father of the nation, Putin, decides not to give his heir Medvedev a second term.   

…But the episode never went live.

Natasha:

Because I think there are boundaries of constructive criticism. And occasionally drift towards personal criticism. That crossed the line. So I found it impossible to broadcast.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Everybody on social media shamed us for selling out. Federal media popped champagne. Opposition activists turned of Dozhd. I saw it as self-censorship. Then, in two weeks, I learned that President Medvedev wanted to visit out humble station.  At that point, I felt we had run out of independence. Natasha was busy preparing for the visit. But, for me, it was the end of our fairytale. Then I quit.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

When the broadcast finished [after Medvedev’s visit] we all had the feeling of having done well. And I remember for the rest of that week, I would come to work and see people crying at their desks. Our audience thought this was all part of some big pact. Natasha kills our satire show in order to host Medvedev as a guest.  Vera quit in protest. And now we’re all playing Judas…For Natasha, it wasn’t a pact.

Q to Natasha. What did you say to Medvedev?

A You’re a really cool dude. You should run for re-election.

CONGRESS

Medvedev : ‘I think it’s right that Congress should support the candidacy of our party leader, Vladimir Putin for the post of president of our country. 

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

Now, I’m going to scare you a bit. The thaw is over Medvedev represented political moderation. Now the screws will be tightened.

We’re living inside an experiment. An experiment in stopping time. Is it possible to survive 12 more years without change?

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

So I just hoped. Little by little, things would improve. That hope turned out to be completely naïve. It’s a shame, my hopes. All my hopes were wasted on this.    

4 December 2011.

Legislative Elections 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

The parliamentary elections are coming up. There are no battles. And the only way out I could think of was to get credentials [Parliamentary] for all our editorial staff. I got them all accredited as members of the electoral commissions at various polling stations.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

‘Hi Misha, I’ve only got a minute, we’ve opened the first electoral ballot box. There are stacks of 9-10 votes for United Russia that are for sure cast together. We’ve just found 3 huge stacks, 20 ballots wrapped in other’s ballots. Wonderful.   There’s no way to drop those in together by accident.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

When I went to that protest [against Putin] I expected to see some weird people, to feel a little awkward or even scared. But many of the people I found there were my friends. They’d say, ‘Hi, so, you’re here as well. Look—so and so is here too’.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Ironically, Sasha and I ended up in the same crowd. I was shooting my first documentary at the protest. Sasha was led there by voter fraud.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

The last thing we heard was one of our Dozhd reporter, Ilya Vasyunin was arrested.  We’re still trying to reach him now. We can see him in the police van. We should reach him soon.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

You said it was normal to be running from a police van.

Natasha

At first, I thought it would be a cultural, intellectual, lifestyle channel. But when I began to learn more, when I found myself on this wave of information, I realised just how much injustice was around us, which I hadn’t seen before. I honestly didn’t see it. Didn’t know it existed. I couldn’t keep not having an opinion about it.  

Cable audience grows exponentially (over 8 million).

When the protests started, Mr Gromov, an official from Putin’s administration called me for the first time.  He was screaming at me, ‘What do you think you are doing? How dare you! You’re spreading US State Department lies.

I remember I told him, ‘You know, I don’t work for you. I’m not part of the state media. We work in the way we think is right.’ 

Then he said, ‘We’ll ruin you.’ Something like that. It was a very nasty conversation.

6th May 2012.

Boris Nemtsov, opposition politician.

Today, Putin proved that he was elected illegally. The sheer number of special forces and military. This hasn’t happened in the centre of Moscow since 1993.

[crowd chanting: New elections]

Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

My first live broadcast was at the elections on May 6th with everything that happened there.

‘It looks like a stampede. Nobody is planning to leave. They are breaking through police cordons. Unfortunately, I can’t see what’s happening.

[Pulled down from his platform by riot police]

Polina Koslovskya  Digital Director. 

It looks like Boris Nemtsov is getting arrested too. The stream is unavailable. No one expected us to be attacked like that. At the time, it was the job from hell. Because I was negotiating with different platforms. So that people could watch our broadcasts. On other websites if they got hit. So during life broadcasts most of the work we had to do was sending people to the right website on time. The cyber-attacks always came. We were sure they would come and we couldn’t avoid them.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

I clearly remember May 6th, Putins third inauguration. That was the day I switched on Dozsd again. 

Our online broadcast has partially stopped. I’ll remind you that today we have been cyber-attacked. The station I’d left just didn’t tell you what’s really happening around you, it also makes you feel less alone.

Q Natasha what are you afraid of?

A I’m afraid that after all the effort and emotions invested into this, something out of control it gets closed down, dies, or gets taken away. I don’t know. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I just don’t want it to happen. Because I’ve put a lot of personal feelings into this. There’s a lot of my heart in this.

3rd Inauguration: Stately event.

Cf

Protest and chants, ‘Russia will be free.’

11th June 2013.

The law criminalising ‘gay propaganda’ passes with just one abstention.

The lives of many Russians will change. The problem with these homosexual propaganda laws is that for the first time in Russian history they are legally introducing the idea of the second-class citizen.

This law touched Dozhd more than other organisations. The newly inscribed second-class citizens made up more than half the team. When the bill was passed, it hurt us all.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

When the Afisha issue came with my interview came out, I was very afraid. Back then, I think, I was the first person with some level of recognition. To publicly come out as gay. And among journalists I was probably the first. Really, I should have approved the interview with Natasha Sideeva or Misha Zygar. I was, after all, a face on the station. The station had stuck my face onto buses as part of a promo campaign. Natasha took me into her office. Sasha, her husband, was there.  They hugged me, poured me a glass of wine. Sasha brought out a copy of the magazine he had found and asked for my autograph. I signed it. Then they told me I did the right thing. And I burst into tears. 

Natasha.

If nothing bad happens with advertising budget, maybe this year we’ll break even.

 Sasha, her husband

By the summer of 2013, we had essentially reached out goal. The station was popular. Many advertisers were eager to work with us.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

We were the voice of a new era.   People admired us. We felt like the media of the future.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

In  interviews with prospective employees would say, ‘what we are offering is not a job. We’re offering you a dream. ‘

Behind me is the ‘Sosny’ Holiday Homes Cooperative. The gates of which just closed on our camera crew. Holiday homes owned by Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin’s First Deputy.  Chief of Staff, Sergey Prihodka, Head of the Government Apparatus. And prominent United Russian Party members.

Aleksei Navalny (Opposition Leader)

We’re demanding that all of these people explain where they got their money for such luxurious lifestyles. Where did they get that money?    

The level of luxuries they have is not at all compatible with their actual incomes.

KYIV [loud explosion]

Meanwhile, at the independence square, protests continue. They are targeting the Ukrainian government, which refused to sign the deal with the European Union.

[Ukrainian protester] Please tell Russians that we are not against them. We are not against you. Not against Russians. We love them. We just don’t love Putin. That’s all.   

Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

I realised we were witnessing an event that was not only historical but one that was also determining our future. And I begged Misha to send me there.

From Kviv.

We have a breaking story. Both sides are firing live rounds. Some have been detained. It’s an absolute shitstorm over here. It’s a real war.

19th June 2014 was the first fight on Kyiv’s streets. At that point, everything split into Russian reporters on federal TV who’d talk about fascists burning down the SWAT teams, and Dozhd which covered it from a different angle.    

6 Days later (25th June)

Natasha:

Good afternoon,  It’s 8.37pm, you’re watching  amateurs broadcasting live.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

On the day, the show’s theme was the anniversary of the Leningrad siege ending. They mentioned this quote by a great Russian general, Victor Astafyev

‘Maybe Leningrad should have been given to the Nazis, so that thousands of lives could have been saved.’

[cf Moscow given to Napoleon]

Natasha:

Should Leningrad been given to the Nazis to avoid hundreds of thousands of deaths?  Should it?

[commentator,  people can answer this?]

Yes, I understand there’s already a debate on twitter.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

An avalanche falls.

[announcement on air]

About an hour ago, Dozhd tv was dropped from the NTZ and cable package. Dozhd was replaced onscreen by darkness. 

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

Nobody thought they would use it as a pretext to shut us down.

[screenshot of other stations] this question was morally and ethically beyond the pale for other people. The station crossed the line of what is acceptable.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief

The next day, on Tuesday, I think the State Parliament releases a statement chastising Dozhd tv. And on Wednesday, the expulsions begun.

‘Hello, my name is Anna Mongayt. Today I’m hosting the show ‘Online’. Our plan was to devote this hour to the life to Sochi in the lead up to the Olympics. But the situation has changed. Today, for the first time, the show will be devoted only to ourselves.’

It was interactive tv, you’d talk only to people that called in.

‘Can you hear me?’

When I started the show, all the providers were carrying us. But by the time I finished the show, everybody had dropped us.

[cable audience around 8 million drops exponentially to around 60 000 listeners]

A short break while we tell you who else has switched off Dozhd. 

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

That night for the first time since I left, I called Natasha. Sasha picked up the phone. They were hosting a late-night meeting with the newsroom at home. Natasha was smoking in silence. In one day they had lost most of their 80% of their audience and most of their advertisers.  Right away, we began again. We started to brainstorm new plans. It was like we had never split up.

Renat Davletgildeev interview on Dozhd with Natasha.

What is going on? What is happening now?

They were looking for some excuse, and now, it seem, we have given them one. In confidential conversations, meaning off the record, for all these providers told us today that they were ordered to find any excuse—technical, ideological, commercial, legal—to terminate these contracts with us. And  everyone who switched us off, confirmed it, just not as a public statement.

[cut to Putin announcement]

‘Dozhd is an interesting station. With a good young team. But, as you said yourself, one that’s made some mistakes. To put it bluntly, not simple mistakes, but an offence to many of our citizens. But you need to own up to it, which you’ve done, and figure out how to proceed.’

Renat Davletgildeev

‘Today we’re holding a press conference for Dozhd TV’s CEO Natalia Sindeeva. And Dozh TV’s investor  Aleksandr Sasha Vinokurov.’

Anna Mongayt

I could tell how difficult it was for Natasha. She was a mess. She looked as pale as a ghost. You could see it was hard for her because it was all about to collapse.  All of Sasha’s fortune had gone into it. You could see how hard it was on their relationship. She was completely lost. She’d come to work grief-stricken. Looking like a widow.

Q ‘Arkady Orstrovsky, The Economist Magazine: ‘Will you appeal to Vladimir Putin without whose approval this expulsion likely wouldn’t have happened?

A Natasha: I think in that situation I would appeal to Putin, because I will fight to the end for this station, for this business, for this baby, for the right to work in an independent media.

I remember being at their house. Sasha always grilled steaks. Natasha always danced around the pool. We drank champagne with strawberries and imagined our TV future. I recited chapters of the Russian Constitution on citizens’ freedoms and quoted Harvey Milk on the need to fight for your rights. Natasha kept saying: ‘We won’t lose anything.’ We were so fucking stupid.

Sasha.

An opportunity came to sell the house. Without a second thought we invested the money into the station. We sold several properties. 

Natasha.

What happened, yes, consequentially led to all doors closing for Sasha. He’s become toxic because he is owner of Dozhd tv.

Sasha

There came a point when we had almost no money left for ourselves.   When we trimmed our expenses down, life became more fun.

Natasha.

For Sasha, the bad consequences of the station are elsewhere.  For Sasha…he lost me.

[report]

Mr Putin, Anton Zhelnov,  Dozhd TV, the key tv players cable and satellite providers are saying there is no command, the situation’s getting worse.

Putin: Maybe they’re fooling you. You think I give commands to cable people and all your advertisers?

Q Well, they’re saying abstractly. There’s no command, so may I ask, who this command has come from?

Putin: I don’t know. I don’t give such commands. I didn’t tell the cable providers to stop working with you and I don’t think I have the right to tell them to start working with you.

Q You work with them you yourself?

[cut to Natasha]

As of now, we have a month left to live. These are not just words. We have to shut down in a month. There’s a little bit of hope in today’s staff meeting, where I will ask the whole team if I can cut their pay and our expenses by quite a lot. If the team agrees we might be able to last another two or three months. So much as I’d like it to be, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

PAYWALL.

Anya Mongayt

It’s a pressing topic for us here, because we have decided to take some unusual measures. So, why is Dozhd going to sell its content?

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

The audience paying for our content gives us freedom.  It provides independence. What we’re putting behind the paywall is the live broadcast: $26 for annual subscription.

That’s something you’re probably going to miss, but it will be reasonably priced.

Anya Mongayt

It’s truly a way for us to be independent.  It’s a new way for us to survive. If you are in the same boat, you’ll understand why we are doing this.

[cut to]

What? When are we going on air? Anya get ready.

July 2014.

News feature on the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane. Ad lib. Responsibilty give an advanced surface to air missile to terrorist fighting against Ukraine in Ukraine who did not understand the system.

[cut to]

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Natasha has gone on vacation. Summer.

And suddenly, real combat operations begin in Donbass. And the first information comes in about Russian soldiers participating in real combat operations. I tasked all Dozhd staff with calling all Army recruitment offices to find out whether any Russian soldiers had been killed in Donbass. And to find out their last names.  

[in office]

Renat Davletgildeev

We are making a list of people to call urgently. Some of them possibly on air.  

[cut to Putin]

So the question is, ‘Is our army present in Ukraine or not?’ I’ll answer you directly. The Russian Army is not present in Ukraine.

[cut to] Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

Also today, reports of strange disappearances of Russian soldiers. Reports are coming from other cities. On this list: Saratov, Kostroma, Pskov. Our reporters are trying to find out how many soldiers were buried in the town’s cemeteries. 

Today, my colleagues and I, and other journalists were repeatedly attacked after trying to talk to the families of the people most likely being buried in Pskov’s cemetaries.

[cut to Army reservist jumps in front of their car]

What do we do?

Wait. What do they want?

[voice outside the car] they will break your camera.

You slashed our tyres.

Guys! We’re leaving.

They’ve slashed our tyres. We’re being attacked. We can’t drive away. I was asked to come here. Wait. Wait. Wait. We’re being attacked by two young unknown men who have threatened us. The said there are many bogs around Pskov and that if we continue asking questions we’ll simply disappear.

[cut to]

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Natasha has come back from holiday and asks me: ‘Am I imagining things, I was walking here from home and this black car seemed to be following me as if I’m being tailed.

I say, you know, I don’t think you are making it up. Look, this is what we’re up to.  

[cut to news]

Today, a Ukrainian press centre posted videos of four Russian soldiers captured by Zarleny village, near Donetsk.

[cut to press conference featuring a roomful of captured Russian soldiers]

[address them] ‘Hello, I’m Timor Olevsky,  a reporter from Russia’s Dozhd TV.

Q When did you understand who had detained you?

A When we were captured, we were told we were on Ukraine’s territory and were being held captive.

[fellow captive]

A  We didn’t know what was going on here. So we believed what the news showed.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We saw a jump in subscribers form around 15 000 to 50 000 in four days.

A month later, we got evicted. 

Natasha.

Option 1, we get our stuff together and move somewhere, where? Option 1 is to move to some factory.    

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

The idea of eviction at first seemed incomprehensible. It seemed terrifying for it to come true. If we got evicted we’d completely perish.

[cut to]

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

I never again became part of the team, but I always stayed close. At that point, I realised how much I wanted to help Dozhd survive. In between my filmmaking projects, I try to make up for lost time. Back then, our goal was to keep the news on air, no matter what. But how? We had absolutely nowhere to go.

[cut to newroom]

My name is Mikhail Fishman. It’s 8pm on the 31st October  and I’m hosting the last ever broadcast from this great Dozhd studio.

I was thinking about what these years at Dozhd means to me.  I can tell you one thing, that it’s clear to me after all these years that Dozhd is a big deal and will be around a long time. Why am I alone? Come along. Join me guys.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

We would drive around looking at places for days on end. Five or six places a day. Someone from our side would start the initial discussions. Everything would be a good fit, then—the size, the price, the condition. Then we’d tell them we were an actual TV station. That was the moment they’d understand who we really were. 

Two days later, we’d get a ‘no’.

This was right before Natasha was planning to go to the United States.

[cut to]

I really miss everyone. Life is really hard over here.

[rejoinder]

I’ve heard life overseas is hard. Don’t know why you even bother going. Should have stayed with us.

It’s awful, the way they treat black people. Terrible.

Natasha, let’s talk business because there’s a ton of people here and we need to get moving on schedules.

[cut to]

Natasha

This was the first time I’d given up hope. I said, ‘That’s it. I can’t beat the machine.’

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

So, one night, I called Natasha, I had this idea. I said, I know a place that’s perfect from a legal point of view. We can move in and nobody can stop us.

The view. That’s the Patriarch’s Pond there. Cool. Right?

Yeah.

This was Natasha’s flat in Central Moscow, which was not just unsuitable for a studio, but even for family life, because it was very much a bachelor pad. So, I go to this apartment with our engineers.

[cut to]

The mattress. Let’s lean it a bit.

That’s it.

We go into the bedroom and I say, ‘This will be the control room.’

Dec 2014

Natasha’s Appartment.

Secret Office.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

In the same building, the floor below Dozhd, housed an illegal brothel. Just like that. Two of the world’s oldest professions accidentally collided in the heart of Moscow. In a building owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Stop, Stop my friends, us posing a legal issue.  We’re gonna invite guest here. Roughly, every third guest will rat us out to everyone. But the KGB will find out about this on Tuesday…They already know. That’s all.

[cut to]

It’s 1.31 pm in Moscow. You’re watching Dozhd TV. Presenter Masha Makeeva.

Hello, we were stopped the Anti-Corruption Office where we are sitting on a windowsill next to Aleksei Navalny

I wanted to say, I’m very happy to be in your studio again.

But I’m very happy you dropped in and today our studio is a windowsill.

Natasha

I could feel a provocation coming on. People were afraid to leave the office at night. And my intuition came true. I called Forsch in the evening and said, Anna, pack up the studio, ASAP, I feel some shit’s going to happen.

Natasha to workforce.

The locks were covered in some sort of resin. They were shoved full of bolts. Basically, it took professionals, four hours to open the doors. No one has left us yet. Just as they are watching us, they still are. When it comes to work, we don’t have issues. But everything to do with your personal or political stuff…Just keep in mind it might become public.

[cut to]

Toast. A new life.

February 2015.  

Flacon

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

Miracles happened to us all the time. Our new office found us by itself. I got a call. ‘Hello, We’ve got a 1000 square meters and we know you’re Dozhd.’

I said. ‘OK, when can I come for a viewing?’

‘How about right now?’

‘Of course.’

We had to move everything ourselves. We didn’t have a moving company. It was just us. Misha was here, carrying boxes.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We would always say we became very much like a cult. That we all felt this familiar cultish atmosphere.  It wasn’t a cult in the name of Natasha. It was in the name of… I don’t know. The name of freedom.

Anya Mongayt

People got lost here. Their whole life is here. Few people here have functional families.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

At some point you stop distinguishing your work from your life. And you don’t notice the moment of this transition.

Natasha.

Hello, this is Dozhd TV, from our new home and location.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

It wasn’t just for Natasha to keep her dream project. It wasn’t about her dream. It was mainly about saving [Dozhd]  as a source of information. It was for the cause. We had to save our cause.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

I want my country to look like the faces of these people. I think this is important.

[cut to]

Natasha.

Well, to a happy new life for us in Flacon.

Timor Olevsky

After that we were a family. Just a family.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We are the chosen ones. Everyone wanted to be us.

Alexei ‘Alien’ Navalny.

Nadya ‘Alien’ Pussyriot.

Natasha ‘Alien’ Sindeeva.

Attention! Foreign Agents.

Putin:

We’re ready to talk to the opposition. We’ll continue to have a partnership with civic society, in the most expansive meaning. We always listen to everyone who constructively criticises any action or inaction of the government. That is on, any level. This kind of dialogue, this partnership, is always healthy. They are absolutely necessary for any country, including our own.

[cut to]

Dozhd is back with an emergency broadcast. My name is Vladimir Romensky. We’re currently on Moscow City centre on Zamoskyvorosky bridge, where Boris Nemtsov has been murdered. He was shot, it’s not yet known by whom, right on this spot

[cut to newsroom]

I’m Pavel Lobkov here with the main news. Boris Nemtsov’s murder.

Natasha

There was a point when I got scared and I thought: This place is wide open and I don’t have security guards.   I do everything myself. For a while I lived with this fear. And the fear ate me alive. I kept looking back in case I was being followed, or somebody was waiting for me. I don’t dwell on it because I don’t know how to change my life so that it doesn’t happen. Probably, shut down the station and leave the country. So I don’t think about it. If anything, I’m afraid to think about it, because if I do, it will definitely happen.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

When the battle is over When you’ve carried all the wounded to the rear and fixed them up.  It’s over. And now you don’t know what to do next.

All the boys and girls. All the young hipsters have all gone grey. All the ‘light’ news pisses them off. Civilian life pisses them off.

Natasha.

We all started to have conflicts. We all started to hate each other. That was it, when we met at briefings, it was impossible.

[cut to broadcast] Pavel Lobkov

Q to Natasha.

There’s a sense of despair, I’m not going to be positive. I’m not going to say everything is great here. I want to say that we’re sick. We’re sick with narcissism. And all of this dancing. You can’t fake that smile for five years. We had good times, but like we had this pigskin-pink colour. Enough. There’s a dissonance now.

Natasha.

We’re not trying to replace serious journalism, and what we do with dancing. Nothing has changed. You know this.

[cut to outside broadcast, face against a police van window]

‘Russia without Putin! Russia without Putin!’ 

Excuse me I’m on Dozhd TV, could you please tell me if you’re being released today? [faces camera] Unfortunately, the police aren’t talking to us yet, but we’re still here.  Just to remind everybody, there’s eight of us here. It’s unclear what will happen next.

Natasha

In a county of 140 million, only 60 000 are willing to pay for independent news. The paywall keeps Dozhd alive. But you cannot change the world with such a small audience. Over these five years we won small battles, but the war was lost.  Our grand adventure failed to change the world for the better. As long as you are invisible behind a paywall and never break even, you are not a threat to the state.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

We are all really believed in this bright future.  It hasn’t come. It’s time to admit it.

Anya Mongayt

I recently watched a film about the great Russian writer Sorokin. It has this very depressing but spot-on phrases. He says: ‘Russia shouldn’t hope for things to get better in the future. Russia’s present is Russia’s future.’

[cut to Putin and dog, barking in front of two Japanese dignitaries. Putin gives the dog a treat. ]

Anya Mongayt

She gathered us all in a room and said, ‘You have to make me happy’.  She said, ‘If you don’t make me happy in a year. I’ll shut the whole damn thing down.’ 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Kozreyv, Music Programming Producer: TV-Host.

I took it in the most pessimistic light. Maybe the last deadline had already past. And the decision to sell us off was fast approaching.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

It felt like the end. ‘If this is it,’ I said to Natasha, ‘I’m going to film it.’  But, as always with Dozhd, nothing went according to plan.

July 2019.

Moscow Summer Protests.

[cut to] We are unarmed. We are unarmed. ‘Hello to all Dozhd veiwers from this police van to which I was admitted during the process against the barring of opposition candidates from participating in Moscow City Council elections.

[cut to] PROTEST FOR ALLOWING INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES TO RUN FOR OFFICE.

We are unarmed. We are unarmed [chant]

[cut to newsroom and back to protest]

Masha we are going to leave you a second to go to Romensky. Right-now, they are trying to destroy the sit-in. People are being grabbed.

[cut to Natasha in studio]

We decided to hold this emergency broadcast late last night.

[cut to protest]

‘I’m a reporter. I’m a reporter.’

Natasha

We saw this was all completely lawless and unjust.  And realised we had to do something. So, we’re taking down the paywall for our  broadcasts.

Today you’ll be allowed to watch Fishman’s show for free. Please share and talk about it.

[cut to crowd, Fishman’s show]

‘They were pushing forward very roughly. Still, I’d never seen anything like this.’

Fishman:

We must be very open. We must be accessible. We must report things as we see them. This is our social mission as journalists, if you will.

After opening of paywall figures jumped. 18 000 viewers to 25 million (roughly). 

Anya.

Sorry to interrupt [coverage] but Dozhd TV is being raided. You can see it live. Police have entered our offices.  Right next to Natasha Sindeeva there are policemen, who are talking to her as we speak.  

There’s a cyber-attack happening against all of Dozhd’s internet channels. We have no internet connection. We can’t stream pictures from Trubanya Street or anything else that requires the internet.

Natasha.

[cut to] Hello Dad, sorry, did I wake you?

No worries.

I just thought I’d call. You must have read the news. I wanted to call, so that you didn’t worry. You were called in for questioning? You got a subpoena? I’m on my way to the Investigative Committee. Don’t worry, it’s about the protests.

OK. Thanks for calling. Good luck and good bye.

To say I was nervous was an understatement. This was my first time. This was my baptism of fire. This was my first subpoena, even with all of Dozhd’s difficult years and situations. 

In the morning at  the Investigative Committee my hands were sweating. This had never happened before.

[cut to Natash outside and her report]

I can tell you first they asked about how we covered the protests on July 27th. How we worked and who funded Dozhd TV. That’s it. There weren’t any other questions.

Q You came as a witness on the case? A witness?

[cut to Anya in studio]

The Moscow case isn’t over for our television station. Today, Natasha Sindeeva was called in for another interrogation  

Sasha.

I was worried. Of course. And the kids were even more worried. Because they didn’t understand what was going on. The night before, we had a long conversation about it. What to watch out for. What her strengths and weaknesses are. What to be wary of, what not to worry about, what to expect.

Natasha.

I was nervous. I didn’t sleep all night. I’d never been that scared before.

Sasha

It’s very difficult to decide what’s important to do in life—go to war and die heroically? Or live a long live and die from some common sickness? Both scenarios are possible for a person, or a TV station.  

December 2019.  

Natasha.

Right now people are unsubscribing for two reasons. First, they’re dissatisfied with the content etc, but that’s only a small part of it.

Second, people don’t have time of Dozhd. They don’t watch it, because they can’t find time.

?

Honestly, for the last few years I’ve had this feeling not only of stagnation, but of death This slow, horrible death, of this station, we all love.

?

If the most optimal way to reach our goal is to kill Dozhd, we need to kill it.

[cut to Natasha at home]

I’m awake at 4am yet again. I can’t sleep. It’s either old age or nerves. Dozhd is the thing that never lets you rest. You’re constantly thinking of where to find the money for all this.

At the beginning of 2019, I set myself a goal. By April 2020. Dozhd’d 10th birthday, I have to answer for myself. Only for myself. This question: What do I want to do with all this? I don’t know how I will answer this question in April.

Sasha believes closing the company is one of the best options. So that it just doesn’t die quietly, you know. But things can’t continue the way they are now.

Sasha

Selling the station to a media group is out of the question. We haven’t lived through our last ten years to end with a shitty thing like that.

Natasha

Sasha asked me, ‘Imagine you don’t have a TV station. It’s all good. Everything is calm. What do you do now?’

And I said, ‘I want to do the tango’.

[cut to Natasha doing the tango in a studio with a young male dancer]

Sasha.

Of course, I want to be the top priority for my wife and kids. But that’s extremely egotistical. It’s stupid and impossible. This is about our relationship. Not Dozhd. Even if not Dozhd, ‘Dancing with Stars’, or something else would have taken her, if not Dozhd. I just wish she could be next to me more often.

Natasha.

It’s unexpectedly hard to clap for yourself and to record. What I’m to say, I feel I must record it. Against the background of discussions and next moves etc. While all this was going on, last night I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sometimes I think everything happens for a reason. Maybe it’s time for me to stop and think about what’s really important. Are you prepared to sacrifice yourself for some mission or goal?

Where do your priorities lie?

Or, at the very least, this is a chance for me to stop and think.

Anya.

Dozhd means so much—socially, emotionally, historically—that if Natasha decides to shut it down, people won’t forgive her.  If, at a certain point, she decided to pull the plug, she will be always be remembered as the person that killed Dozhd. And not even Putin wants that honour.

February 2020.

Freiburg, Germany.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Natasha had never been away from Russia this long. She decided to take a break from the news.

Natasha.

I don’t miss it at all. You know I was guided by illusions. For quite a long time, I hoped things would change. But my optimism has run out. I’m not saying that I’m depressed all the time, but…yeah, I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that Putin is here to stay. He’ll be in power as long as he lives. I can’t say I know what to do with the rest of my life. But it’s definitely something I’m thinking about a lot.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

On our way to radiotherapy we found out that Vladimir Putin announced new constitutional amendments that let him stay in power until 2036, when Natasha will be 65. 

[cut to Putin]

Our duty is to protect the Constitution. To respect it, as we respect our country, our history and our accomplishments.

2003.

[cut to Putin speech]

I oppose anyone—however good their intentions—violating the Constitution of our country.

I repeat myself, we should protect the Constituion. I oppose any changes to it.

2007

[cut to Putin speech]

Amending the Constitution to serve a specific person is, I think, wrong.

2018

[cut to Putin speech]

I have never altered the Constitution. I wouldn’t do it for myself, and I don’t plan to, even today.

2020

 [cut to Putin speech]

I repeat once again, these amendments have been necessary for a long time, and I’m sure they’ll be useful to this country and its citizens.

Natasha [radiotherapy for her breast cancer]

You understand that nothing’s happening, things are getting worse. You just have to figure out how to live and exist in this. I think we live in a world that is so inverted, unfortunately, where our people get bullied, locked up, arrested, punished, killed, and persecuted and so on. There are very few of them. These people, us who fall prey to this machine. There are few of them. And, in that case, yes, you have to stick with each other. It’s very important. And not to betray your people. Is this journalistic? Probably not. Human. Yes.

I have remained human for ten years, and have never betrayed myself and my values. That’s more important to me. I don’t care whether I remain in history as an unprofessional media manager. But I remained a human with compassion, conscience and responsibility. 

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

When we shot the interview, she took breaks every twenty minutes to wash off the sweat. Still, the first thing she did when she got to Germany was finding a local tango teacher.

[cut to Natasha dancing a tango with her teacher]

The worse she felt the more she thought about dancing. Her goal was to ‘master the tango with tricks’ before she returned to Moscow.

April 2020.

 Moscow.

What is really going on in the hospitals and in the regions?

Natasha.

Right now, journalists are like doctors. They’ve ended up in the frontlines. Just like doctors have, although neither of them wanted to be. For journalists, this moment calls for an act of bravery.  

I completely stopped thinking about what I’ve been thinking about for the past year. About where I should go, leave, stay, or shut this down. I’ve gained a better understanding of why we need Dozhd and why we need to work. Our task to explain that to people, to be a guide in this complex situation. You know, when they cut out this sickness, it felt like they cut out something unnecessary. Something bad has left and I feel lighter inside. And I think, or need even think, I know that Dozhd needs to exist.

[cut to Moscow office]

Natasha.

[champagne] have you looked inside the fridge.

What’s in there?

It’s very beautiful in there. Though there’s less already.

[with friends]

Natasha.

I’ve lost weight. Got in shape. I feel great, I’m ready to fight. I really want to work and think we’re entering another good phase. So, I invite everyone to have a drink. Please make sure everyone has a drink.

[toast]

So to us. We haven’t been together in a while.

Natasha.

Today is 17th June, 2020. And there’s less than 2 weeks until the referendum.  I just got a call from the editor-in-chief, who said the police were at Dozhd. To question one of our reporters, who’s been investigating online voter fraud. 

Sasha

They can shut the station down at any time. They can put all sorts of pressure on us, literally. Even something directed at the owners of the station. I don’t think anyone doubts that for a second.

Moscow. Eve of the Constitution Referendum, June 2020.

Why won’t they tell people honestly that you want to rule over Russia for 36 years—7 years longer than Stalin? And two years longer than Catherine the Great? [broadcaster]

Natasha.

We want to release this at 3pm, alongside Putin’s address.

Today?

Yes, today.

We’ve grown up. Who are we to know who to love? No. [broadcaster]

Natasha

Hello. Hello, take this [camera phone] I’m here to vote on the constitutional amendments.  Let me take this selfie[shot]?   That’s it. Ballot paper and vote (camera shot) Not sure if it’s visible?

[cut to outside polling station]

Of course, this is all for show. The amendments have already been approved. I don’t really know why I bothered, but since this is the first time in a long time I’ve got the opportunity to say, ‘NO’ to tick that box. I decided to go.

Sasha.

I decided not to vote. The main reason is that I don’t think the state can be changed by some kind of flashmob. I don’t think it will be changed by elections. It will be changed in some other way.

Results are as follows: YES 77.92%. NO 21.27%.

Natasha.

Dozhd. So for the first time in ten years we’re celebrating in this zoom format.

The station changed us in many ways. The station and the changing times. Being in the middle of all these events and movements really changed us and the way we viewed life. What is or isn’t important. 

So, here’s the station, right. I think it had quite an effect on, among others, how we evolved as a family, as individuals, as Sasha, and I.

I think Sasha doesn’t regret it either. And believes all of it was done right.

Q) Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Is Dozhd the right kind of investment or the right kind of loss?

A The right kind of loss.  

Sasha

She regards this as her life’s work. Not a responsibility, not a burden, but her life’s work. And if it’s your life’s work, you have to do it well. You need to somehow see it through to the end.

Natasha.

This is my life, Vera. I now understand this is my life, you know. I’m now at a place where I can say, this is my life. And this is how I’m living it.

After the summer of 2020, Dozhd intensified its news coverage and started publishing on YouTube for free. There, broadcasts quickly reached tens of millions and quickly allowed Dozhd to pay off its debts.

In May 2021, Dozhd was banned from the Kremlin’s press corps, ‘for covering the protests in support of Alexey Navalny’.

In August 2021, a month before the Parliamentary elections, the Russian Ministry of Justice labelled Dozhd as ‘a foreign agent’.

In February 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

In March 2022, after six days of live coverage of the war in Ukraine, the Russian government shut Dozhd down again. Its new is available in Russia again as long as YouTube is available in Russia.

Natasha and Sasha have separated.

Tango with Putin charts Natasha’s journey, from building the station, Dozhd, to recruiting an open-minded team of outcasts who find themselves reporting on some of the biggest and most controversial stories of the day while trying to protect independent journalism in their country.

Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006) Chechyna: A Dirty War (1999—2002)

Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist, author and critic of Vladimir Putin was murdered in her apartment in central Moscow 7th October 2006.

Ryszard Kapuscinski. Imperium: ‘All dictators, regardless of epoch or country have one common trail: they know everything, are experts on everything.’  

Chechnya: A Dirty War 4th November 1999.

‘You probably think I’m writing this to stir your pity. My fellow citizens have indeed proved a heard-hearted lot. You are enjoying your breakfast, listening to stirring reports in the North Caucasus in which the most terrible and disturbing facts are sanitised so that voters don’t choke on their food.

But my notes have a quite different purpose, they are written for the future.’

Vladimir Putin, the new Russian prime-minister had been head of the FSB, formerly the KGB. The breakup of the former Soviet Union had been relatively peaceful, unlike the genocidal wars in the former Yugoslavia. But when two Chechen warlords staged an armed rebellion against the former Soviet Union, Russian troops attacked two villages in Daghestan. Apartments in Moscow and other cities suffered bomb explosions. Around 300 Russian citizens were killed. Russian propaganda linked the attacks to Chechnya separatists and the international terrorism of Osama Bin Laden.

Alexander Litvinenko, a British naturalised Russian defector and former agent of the FSB, was poisoned with polonium in London and died 23rd November 2006. He helped coin the term Mafia State. He accused Putin and FSB agents of planting the bombs in Russian cities. Chechnya separatists denied any involvement. Putin’s goal was to become President of Russia. His war against Chechnya and uncompromising stance was widely supported by the Russian public.  

Claud Cockburn the maverick Irish journalist put it quite simply, ‘Never believe anything until it is officially denied’.

‘The [Chechnya] refugees are unanimous. They talk today of a slaughter of the civilian population and the death of children, of pregnant women and old men.’          

March 2000

‘In December 1999 I went with Galina Matafonova to Pavletsky Station in Moscow to meet her son Lyonya. All that remained of this young man over six-feet tall was some ashes in a little box no bigger than the palm of my hand.

My name is Galina Nikolayevna Matafonova, I’m the mother of three children. My eldest son Alexi was taken into the army on 15 May 1998. He went out of a sense of duty and served for a year and a half. Every night he wrote home. Suddenly there was silence for two months and I began to fret. I was afraid he was in Daghestan. But I was reassured by the words of [Prime Minster] Putin: our boys would not be sent to fight without their voluntary agreement.   

The letter arrived in September…The boys in Alexi’s regiment told us how they were forced to sign a formal declaration of their agreement to fight. They were brought to the banks of the Terek River and told: ‘If you don’t agree, hand back your weapons. You’re free to go. You can make your own way back. Your Russian soldiers wearing uniform and you won’t make your own way back alive…It’s that or sign up.’  

‘My Homeland’ 27th December 1999.

We are in Ingushetia on the outskirts of the village of Yandara, not far from the Chechen border at a refugee camp called Goskhooz. Tents, sheds and dugouts. Nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep, no clothes to wear and nowhere to wash, not even once a month…Yet the [tent] school is working. Many children cannot attend regularly, they have nothing to wear. As a rule one child attends the school today, and tomorrow a different child.

Abdlezim Makhauri: Composition for eight and nine-years-old.

I have only one homeland, Grozny. It was the most beautiful city in all the world. But my beautiful city was destroyed by Russia, and together with it all of Chechnya and the people living there. The people that Russia had not yet managed to destroy went to Ingushetia, as I did. But I miss my home. I so terribly want to go home although I know my house has already been bombed to pieces. All the same I want to go…LEAVE US ALONE, RUSSIA. WE’RE ALREADY FED UP WITH YOU…GO HOME.

Richard Powers, The Overstory.

‘There’s a Chinese saying. When is the best time to plant a tree?

Twenty years ago.’

Putin’s ‘anti-terrorist’ campaign destroyed Grozny. The Russian Prime Minister refused Western mediation. He pointed to NATOs bombing of Serbia. The Council of Europe had temporarily suspended the voting rights of the Russian deletion. But Tony Blair invited Putin to London. The British Prime Minister offered his support and that of Washington for the ‘terrorist insurrection’ in Chechnya.

The price of oil up over $100 a barrel.     

‘When’s the next best time to plant a tree?’

Now.’

Ryszard Kapuscinski (1993) Imperium.

Ryszard Kapuscinski was born in 1932 and grew up in the Polesie region on Poland (today Belorussia). Pinsk was liberated by Soviet troops in 1939. From what wasn’t clear. He learned the Cyrillic Russian alphabet as school from a single copy of Stalin’s Studies in Leninism, watched arbitrary mass deportations to Siberia and starved with his family. He remained liberated for most of his adult life and witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  The unravelling of the Imperium: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn 1992.

The system that governs us is a combination of the old nomenclatura, the sharks of finance, false democrats, and the KGB. I cannot call this democracy—it is a repugnant historically unprecedented hybrid, and we do not know in which direction it will develop…[but] if the alliance will prevail they will be exploiting us not for seventy, but for one hundred and seventy years.   

We do know the direction Russia took under Vladimir Putin. Kapuscinski marks out the direction of travel. He speaks of the old native Russia. His reading and understand of Bierdayev’s book as a student at university who tried to outline what the Imperium was and the paradox of what does a Russian think when he is somewhere such as the shore of the Yenisry.

He can walk along for days and months and always Russia will surround him. The plains have no end, nor the forests, nor the rivers. To rule over such boundless expanses, says Bierdayev, one had to create a boundless state.

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace showed the hubris of Napoleon and the triumph of Mother Russia. The Great Patriotic War as the Second World War was called was when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic defeated the Nazis (that had an alliance with until 1942). There were two superpowers in the world when the war ended and America was the enemy. They fought proxy-wars, Korea at the beginning of the 1950s. Communist China, a pauper state, under Chairman Mao provided unlimited manpower and around one million troops. Soviet MIG fighters protected ground troops. General McArthur, holed up as proxy-Emperor of Japan wanted to fight on, go all the way to China, all the way to Russia. War weary, General, later President Eisenhower, divided Korea. Both superpowers had nuclear weapons. China acquired them from Russia.

The Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction. John F. Kennedy at the end of 1962 called the Russian’s bluff over Cuban missiles. I was too young to remember. Now we’re too old to care. Then Putin, 24th February 2022 threatens nuclear war for interference over his invasion plans of Ukraine.

Ukraine has been at war with Russia for eight years. It used to be the breadbasket of Russia and exported grain to Germany, now it exports its crops to China. Its soil was so fertile it was said that if you left a stick in the ground a tree would bloom. Yet, during Stalin’s purges millions starved. Putin’s military has annexed Crimea. The second day of their full-scale invasion and troops surround the capital Kyiv. But with amphibious landings on Mariupol and Donbas.   

Kapuscinski reminds us of falling into the abyss. The massacre of around 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey in 1915, the greatest mass genocide until Hitler. Regarded as traitors and infiltrators. In Putin’s terms neo-Nazis and drug addicts.    

‘Nationalism is the forbidden fruit.’

The Chechen Wars were good wars for Putin. The use of overwhelming military force, mass murder and torture quelled the North Caucasus. Puppet government.

‘A state that does not have a state seeks salvation in symbols. The protection of the symbol is important to it as protection of borders to other states. The cult of the symbol becomes a form of the cult of the country. Protection of the symbol becomes an act of patriotism.’

Look at the map, Kapuscinski says of Aremenia, but he could also be speaking of Ukraine.  The Russian bear wants to swallow it up. But he offers another lesson.

Look at the history books, ‘A magnificent ascent, and then, a dispiriting fall’.

The West (by which we mean President Joe Biden) offers overwhelming sanctions against Russia, but not if it pushes up the price of petrol for the average American. I wonder when the backbiting will start about the four million refugees not coming into Europe, because they’re already here. Are we sliding down the same road, taking sides, picking allies? Imperium is an insider account of a refugee that’s not a refugee in the old Soviet Socialist Republics Putin thinks still exist. Keeping your mouth shut doesn’t guarantee you’ll be OK. Not taking sides is taken sides. I’m not taking sides. I hope Ukraine wins, whatever that means. But I doubt its people will. Putin will win—for now.  I don’t know what that means either.   

Storyville, Misha and the Wolves, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Sam Hobkinson.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00142bh/storyville-misha-and-the-wolves

Jessica Brody, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel takes lessons from screenwriters.. The Hero’s journey. The ‘shard of glass’. ‘A psychological wound that has been festering beneath the surface of your hero for a long time.’

The moron’s moron, for example, a narcissistic psychopath with a troubled childhood that lies, lies and lies again. He hooks up a band of far-right fundamentalist Christians and other far-right hate groups until he begins to believe everything he says must be true because they’re saying it too. Find support from the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, and Kremlin backed ability to produce propaganda and hatebomb through Facebook, predominantly. And he gets elected the 45th American President.  

Misha Defonseca stood up in her local synagogue in the early 1990s and told an extraordinary story about Holocaust survival and triumph. The shard of glass was shown, and people wept. Jane Daniel owned a small publishing company in Millis. She urged Misha to write her story down. For around two years Misha refused, but then the true hero finds his/her truth, and she writes her extraordinary story.

Jane Daniel’s recognised its potential for commercial value. Because not only was it Holocaust literature, which generally sold well, but it had a Save-the- Cat-type twist. Misha, the seven-year-old heroine, trudged from her Belgian home in search of her parents. She was befriended by a she-wolf in the forest and became part of the wolf pack living off scraps of meat, and distrustful of humans.

Misha and the Wolves published April 1997, Mt. Ivy Press, Boston. It sells reasonably well internationally and at home. Oprah Winfrey comes calling. A spot on Oprah’s Book Club, Jane Daniel’s explains guarantees over a million sales. Disney talk about making a film of the book. A virtuous circle of sales and publicity. Win-win.

Lose-lose. Misha balks at going on Oprah. She sues Jane Daniels for return of her book rights.  

Middlesex Superior Court, Massachusetts, August 2001. Jane Daniels is shown to have deposited money in the tax haven of Turks Cacao (beloved of crooks and internet giants)  which she never paid royalties, and which she disputes. After a ten-day trial, the jury found for Misha on all counts and awarded her $22.5 million damages.  

The Hero may not be as simple as you think, Save the Cat advises writers.

ACT 2. The Hero decides to accept the call to action.  The Hero ‘shard of glass’ is the court judgement against her. Jane Daniel takes on the world of Misha and the Wolves. She assembles a team and cast of characters to help her.

ACT 3. Setbacks and false defeats. The HERO triumphs. But there is a sting in the tale. Trump gets elected President, fails to win re-election and commits treason. His supporters attempt to stage a right-wing coup.

Misha does not go to live with the wolves, but is fed to the wolves.  

  Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) I think we would like to believe that [the moron’s moron Donald Trump] Misha Defonseca believed. That [he]she was a survivor of the Holocaust [electoral fraud]. I think we would like to believe that we were not so naïve. That we believed it, because she believed it. And we would even like to believe that this narrative has a redemptive purpose. Because it made right the wrong of her childhood. I think it’s nonsense. There is no redemptive purpose. We were so naïve. It was all a fabrication. 

Evelyne Haendel: ‘It’s human to believe. Creditability is something else. It’s your need to question things or not that will help you discern what’s true and what’s not.’ 

NOTES:

There’s a saying in Millis, small-town big family. We became friends with Maurice and Misha. Belgian refugees. Eccentric personality. I never saw anybody that had such a relationship with animals and had so many cats. She told me about her life, during the war.

Misha was waiting for her father to pick her up from school. And he never came. A woman tapped her on the shoulder and said ‘Come with me’. She was taken into a family that she didn’t know. She was given a new name and different clothes.

When she was only seven years old she walked alone through Nazi occupied countries. Across thousands of miles in search of her deported parents.

Misha: ‘I never discovered my parents or where they went to. To this day, I do not know’

I was asked to speak about my story. Temple Beth Torah. My husband convinced me to do it. Saying it would free me. When I went up to the Beema. I realised I was going to speak for the first time. I burst into tears. And slowly, snatches. I began to tell.

The dramatic tale of a woman whose Holocaust memoir took the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher – who turned detective – revealed an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.

Karen Schulman (The Friend) I was mesmerised. I had tears in my eyes. She was hungry. She was thirsty. She was cold. She wanted her parents. How did this person (this little girl) survive?

‘If they think I’m alive, I can’t let them down. I have to keep going.’

You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was entranced with her story. I never expected to hear what I heard. When Misha was seven her parents were arrested by the Nazis. And she was told they’d been deported. She was place in the care of a Catholic family. Called De Wael. It was a safe place. They gave her a new identity. Monique De Wael. The deception saved her, but she felt very alienated there.

‘I ended up in a family that didn’t love me. That’s the least you could say. They hated me there. They would call me ‘worthless’ ’.

There was a grandfather in the family that was kindly. ‘He told me, my parents were in Germany.’

‘He showed me with a compass, that Germany was in the East. So Germany didn’t seem that far.’

At that point Misha made a tremendous decision. It turned her life upside down.

She decided at the age of seven to walk to Germany, to find her parents.

So she took her compass and some supplies and started walking. Heading East.

‘I know exactly what to do. I need the basic. I need food. Something to drink. To have a light for protection. ‘

‘The first night I slept under a bridge. It was not far from home.’

‘Each time I approach a village, I see the station.’

She had to hide from the Nazis. Being alone in the forest. Having to steal food. Freezing temperatures. She had been traumatised by this.

‘Killing. I saw killing. The dead people. It was really desperate. I dreamed of seeing my parents. So I stayed deep in the woods. Away from the war.’

When she was away from the woods, she was away from people being sent to concentration camps. She was away from the horror that was happening in the cities. She was with birds and flowers. She said that was what saved her.

‘I completely gave into the wild life. I saw animals living normally. Eating just what they need. Not more than they need.’

‘With animals I didn’t need any words. We were near each other, in silence. And understood, without words.’

 Jane Daniel. (The publisher). I was thinking this would make a fascinating book.  I had a small publishing company. And I mean tiny. And I was looking around for new project. I was the one that said, can we take this public?  Take it to another level?

I could make something big out of this. There’s a market for this story. Because it had an amazing twist.

‘I remember, I’d just been called by a farmer who saw me stealing food from his farm. I run away, full of fear. When you run away, you run very hard. Suddenly, I had the impression somebody was watching me. I turn around and see this magnificent animal. To me it was like a huge dog. The wolf seemed alone. And I needed a companion. It was a beautiful grey she-wolf. I look in my bag for something to eat. And I give a piece to the wolf, which it doesn’t take.

It takes a long time. But after a while, we would walk in parallel. I was able to see its generosity. To see the strength it had. I was able to live with it. She was like a mother to me.

Much later, it was a whole pack of wolves. I don’t know how long I was with them. They accepted and protected me.’

 Jonni Soffron. The Wolf Expert. Wow, this is quite a story. Misha was very different from most people I met. She should have been an animal. Or her spirit is an animal. We talked about being accepted by the pack, but treated as a low-ranking member. And she had to exhibit low-ranking behaviour, in order to be with them.

Misha said, typically, the alpha male would eat first. The others would lay around the carcase waiting for their turn. They would leave little scraps, in close proximity to where she was, when they were finished.

‘Wolves eat 10kg, in one meal. The leftovers were more than enough for me.’

We became very good friends. She visited multiple times. She would hand-feed them the pieces of meat. I think they sensed in Misha, she was a friend, as opposed to a foe. She had such a sense of being with them. It was as if she belonged in there.

‘I had no reason to stop walking. It’s what I done every day. Day after day. Month after month. I hoped to find my parents. Figuring, if I’d survived as a child. My parents must have survived. This belief helps me continue.’

Jane Daniel, Publisher. This is a moral narrative The battle between good and evil. The innocent child and the evil Nazis. And the child survived. It had mythic qualities. It could take my little publishing company to a world-wide happening. So I asked Misha if she would be interested in publishing her stories.

‘With everything I went through, I learned to mistrust people.’

I don’t think she was very impressed with me. There was no reason she should be. The only book I’d published before was a legal-financial book. Not exactly her thing.

‘For more than 2 years I refused. But my friends and community said to me “Misha, do it” for future generations.’

‘I found myself in hell, again.’

It was a painful process, but it was as if she was compelled to tell her story. As if it was some kind of catharsis. Everyone was stepping up. All over the world we were selling the translation rights. My agent came back from California and said “Disney wants this. Period”.  This was the case of a hot property.

When the book was published April 1997, Mt. Ivy Press, Boston.  I said, let’s see if we can get Oprah to do this.  Oprah had her book club. If you were one of her books, you had a guaranteed sale of one million books. They said they were interested. So that’s a big, big deal. And we’re beginning to say, we’re heading into a monster bestseller here. (Misha, The Memoir of the Holocaust Years)

Jonni Soffron. The Wolf Expert. Jane Daniels said they (Oprah) wanted to send a crew and film Misha in the wolves. So I said , yeh. (Wolf Hollow in Ipswich).  I told Misha before we went into the enclosue, “This is an adult wolf. He’s a very big boy. His name is Pedro.’

Jane Daniel, Publisher. Nobody went in but Misha. The sound man had his boom over the fence. Misha squatted down and she’s feed the wolf. Everything is going fine. The wolf is very friendly. And then the wolf decided to put its paws up on her shoulders.

Jonni Soffron. Pedro was much taller than she.

Jane Daniel. Then all of a sudden, very quickly opened his mouth and put her whole head in his mouth. Very gently. Fangs on both temples.

‘I had no fear. Nobody talk about  the big bad wolf to me.’

Jane Daniel: The wolf held her head for a minute. We stopped breathing. Then just as fast as it happened, it was over. At that point, Misha appears and lets out a big howl. At this point I get goosebumps. Way back in the pen, we hear an owww coming back.

Jonni Soffron. When she howled, they immediately howled back. 

Jane Daniel: There it was, you could immediately see the connection between the human and wolf. I saw it. It was amazing. A shocking moment. So they got a really lot of interesting footage. I thought this is going to make a great Oprah show. The next step was she was to go to Chicago for the studio portion.

Jonni Soffron. Things were going swimmingly well. Then I began to see some tension between Misha and Jane.

Karen Schulman (The Friend) It wasn’t very pleasant as time went on. The book wasn’t selling very well. She kept saying “I have no money. I have nothing. Jane Daniels is no good.” I felt saddened. But Misha was sitting at my table one night and said to me: “She didn’t want to go on Oprah Winfrey”.  I said, gee Misha. I don’t understand that.

Pat Cunnigham. (The Neighbour). Well Misha and Maurice were having financial difficulties. Then she started selling things from her house. I felt bad, they were losing everything.

Jane Daniel: All of a sudden Misha is not co-operative. Had one objection after another. Doesn’t return phone calls. She doesn’t want to go. It’s inconvenient. She needs somebody to take care of her animals at home.

‘Jane made me so mad. So insecure. My husband said many times. “We’re a survivor. You don’t use that kind of attitude”.

Jane Daniel. Come on, it’s Oprah. You find a dog sitter or pet sitter, or whatever. You make yourself available. “No!”

‘The bad memory came back. I had a nightmare. I was very anxious.’

I tried everything. I wrote her notes: This is a million sales. “No, No, No”.  I thought this is crazy. Any other author would be falling over themselves to do this. It never happened.

A year after the book came out, there’s a knock on the door. And I’m handed a big package. It’s Misha filing a lawsuit against me. Everything stopped. No other country wanted to do business with us. We had a lawsuit attached to this project.

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney) The first time I met Misha, I felt very compelled by the circumstances of the case. It was clear to me that several things had been done that were improper, illegal, fraudulent.

Misha was asking for return of the copyright. And for all of the royalties which she was due for book sales.

‘Jane Daniels saw in my life a goldmine. And she took advantage of it.’

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney)  There was so much anger and bitterness by the time I got involved. There was not much room for negotiation.

Jane Daniels It was clear we were going to trial. It wasn’t going to settle out of court.

Middlesex Superior Court, Massachusetts, August 2001.

Jonni Soffron :The sense in the courtroom was a lot of drama. The atmosphere was pretty tense. Then, of course, the money comes up.

Romana Hamblin (The Attorney)  We found that Jane Daniels had set up a company in Turks Cacao so that contracts that came from overseas came directly into her account and she never paid royalties.

Jane Daniels, We had documents to show that she’d been paid. We had cancelled cheques to show that she’d been paid. So everything she was saying, we had documentation to refute.

Jonni Soffron but she could speak no falsehood. Where’s the money? Jury was very sympathetic.

Romana Hamblin, The jury was riveted. Here was a person in front of you that had survived the Holocaust. They were engaged and absolutely enthralled by this story.

Misha was a good witness.

‘Oh what I live is…because it’s my life.’

Jane Daniels: It just made me look like a monster. And I thought. This is not going well.

‘Jane was always fighting. She fought for what she wanted.’

There was a 10 day trial and it was gruelling.

JD: The Judge asks the jury, how do you find on count one? 

Romana Hamblin: The jury found unanimously for Misha on all counts.

JD: I mean, ultimately they came in for a massive judgement against me.

Jonni Soffron. It was kind of mind-boggling to hear the number. I was blown away. I said, ‘are you kidding me?’

Romana Hamblin, $22.5m. It was a very large verdict.

JD: I’m an optimistic person. But that hit me like a ton of bricks.

RH: The money damages against JD was largely based on JD’s testimony. This was going to be on Oprah. There was some contract with Disney. There were thing JD testified to that really elevated the level of damages. Well beyond what would seem supportable to a book like this. So everybody paid attention. People love a big verdict.

JD. Disney had fallen through. Oprah had fallen through. There was no millions of dollars. It’s an untenable position to be in. A cruel exploited of an innocent Holocaust survivor. Your world falls apart at that point.

After the trial. This was the lowest point in my life. I ended up going into therapy and being diagnosed with PTSD. I had horrible insomnia.  I was hanging on by my fingernails. My publishing company was gone. My copyright was taken away. I mean, I was destroyed at that point.

I ended up doing a post-mortem on what had happened. Looking at it piece by piece by piece. I was in my lawyer’s office going through old records and documents. I had no idea what I was going to find. I opened a bank account. And it’s in Misha’s writing. And it’s her signature card. And on there it says, date and place of birth, 5/12/37, ETERBEEK. And mother’s maiden name: DONVILLE.

All of a sudden I get a flash. She knows who she is. She knows where she was born. She knows who her mother was. This was stuff she supposedly didn’t know She lost her identity in the war. This doesn’t add up. Clearly, she know a lot more about who she was than what she had told me. What else might not be true? I had be owned by courts and lawyers. My life had been turned upside down. I wanted my life back. If I can prove she’s not who she said she is, I can overturn this judgement.

It was the dead of winter. The days were short. I was standing in my kitchen. And I thought, I have to do something.

I started recalling all the things that had happened. How I’d met her. What had happened there. What happened and how did the law suit come about? And then I thought, I’ll write a book about the case. I’ll do it as a blog. I was writing my memoir of her memoir. And maybe somebody will read it. Talk about a long shot.

The next day, I get up. I turn on my computer and there’s an email. The email says,

Sharon Sergeant. (The Genealogist)I think I may be able to help find out what’s the real story. I did a timeline of Misha from a variety of photographs. First from the book. Then from other images on the internet. So I could get a sense of her life.

JD: I wanted to know who she was. Who is this person who has just ruined my life.

Sharon Sergeant: Each photograph I tried to analyse to find out what kind of information I could squeeze out of it. The first clue was Misha claimed she was 7 years old, when she was taken in by this foster family.  In the American book there was what are called polyphonic images. And the poly photos were taken at that time. And I looked at the photos and thought, No, this doesn’t look like a 7 year old. This looks like a toddler. 3-4 years old. Big bow in her hair, chubby, chubby cheeks, frilly clothes. Something’s wrong.

ERNEST and MARTHEW.

The next picture I looked at was who Misha said was her forster grandfather and grandmother. According to the narrative, he’s a rustic, farm man. I did a close-up of the hands of grandfather, which were manicured (nails). Did not look like a farm person’s hands. And he had a ring on one of his fingers. Not the kind of thing a farmer would wear.

And the little dog on grandmother’s lap, that looks like a little house dog.  Not a farm dog. I thought, jeez, that’s strange.

And that’s when I started comparing the French and American books. I was looking at names and places and dates. [De Wael, grandmother and grandmother]. That was the big red flag.

JD. She called me and said, did you notice Misha’s name is different in the French from the one she used in the American book? 

 In the American book the name she was given by the foster parents was De Wael. The foster family gave her the name Mme Valle. Why would you have two different names?

 Sharon Sergeant. There’s too many discrepancies between the name changes and the pictures and so on. Fishy, yeh. Definitely seemed fishy.

JDaniels. If her story were true and I was doubting it there was something particularly vicious about doubting somebody that is telling the truth about something that’s happened. The callousness to say I don’t believe you. And the harm you can cause. That was in my mind. On the other hand, so many discrepancies.  Why would you be saying things that aren’t true? Maybe she’s so traumatised she’s just lost her grip on reality. How much did that explain, I didn’t know. I needed a lot of answers at that point.

We need boots on the ground. In Belguim. (Brussels).

Sharon had a connection with a Belgian genealogist, who was herself a Holocaust survivor? As it turned out, she grew up in the area Misha claimed to have lived in.

Evelyne Haendel (The Holocaust Survivor) During the war, I myself was a hidden child. I went to a Catholic school. And I became a very good little Catholic girl.  I have no recollection of anybody telling me what happened to my parents. I have no memory at all. I was about 40 and I went through a sort of terrible breakdown, which led me to find what happened to me, in fact. And what happened to my parents. And my family. And I started to make research.

I found out my father was deported to Auschwitz in September 1942. My mother was arrested in October in Brussels. And deported to Auschwitz. I was told they didn’t come back. So, I went by car to Auschwitz. I saw the camp. Where there was not a single soul. The chambers. The gas chambers were exploded. I found some candles we call ‘yeseh?’ still burning the rubble of the gas chambers. Before evening, I had a Star of David done in dried flowers. I just didn’t know where to put it. I couldn’t put it at the monument. So, finally, I choose the little pond. It floated there. And I think that was the time that I…Sorry…put my parents to rest. My parents. My grandmother, my cousin.

JR. Evelyne is a Holocaust survivor whose story is very much like Misha’s. So she was the perfect person to find out what was going on.  

Sharon Sergeant. In the French book the foster family had a surname of Valle. In the American book the surname was De Wael.

Royal Library of Belgium. To reconcile the name changes Evelyne went through the city directories for the 1930 and 1940s.

Evelyne Haendel. I came for three days, searching for the De Wael and the Valle’s. The name Valle was not in the phone books. Valle name didn’t exist. De Wael, yes. Many, many.

Jane Daniels: Now you start to think the French book was distributed in Belgium. If something about Misha’s story wasn’t true, it would be important for her not to put her real name in that book. There would be somebody over there who would say, ‘I know the De Wael family. I know whether or not she was around or disappeared during the war’.

Sharon Sergeant, The fact that she changed the name in France and Belguim from DeWael to Ville suggest to me she’s trying to hide something.

JD: Sharon and I both looked at this and said. ‘Something’s really wrong with this story’.

So at this point, the book had been taken over by a French publisher. And it was a huge hit. I was published in 20 languages. She was speaking to school children, all over the French speaking world.

Marie-Claire Mommer. (The School teacher) In 2005, I was planning on creating a professor of psychology, a project on this young child who experienced all these adventures.  The project became a huge magnificent exhibition.  Then we had the idea of to try and bring her to Belgium.

We watched her get out of the train. It was a fascinating sight. She was dressed in blue, like a shining canary, with all its colours.  With two, no three, big suitcases.

She came towards me all radiant and beaming. Right away, she exhibits a very dynamic character. Very welcoming. And very generous.

When Misha entered the exhibition she collapsed.

‘I was not warned of this. So when I visited the exhibition, I burst into tears. Because it touched me very deeply.’

She was so delighted to be there. But on the other hand, we saw the sadness come out.  And the tears, the tears, the tears. It was very emotional.

JR: in the book, Misha says her parents were arrested by the Nazis and deported. Although she didn’t know their surname. Their names were GERUSHA and REUVEN. Evelyne? Said I have access to the Nazi records of deportation. I’ll take those records and see if I can find them. If they were deported, almost simultaneously with those names.

. When we examined the deportation list, we found they were not deported as a husband and wife.

War Victims Archive, Brussels.

 Evelyne Haendel, During the war, the French/Belgian committee had made a list of hidden children. With the name of their rescuer and the name of their parents. There was a real, real, risk these archives would be taken by the Nazis. Children would be found. And killed. But it was quite clever. There were four different booklets. You needed all four to find the child. But all four of them were in different places. If any Nazi found a single booklet, they would not be able to trace the child. But, at the end of the war, with the four different booklets, there would have been a way to find whose child it was. And so I searched for Misha’s parents. No names of the parents. So, I knew there was something wrong. And in the list of hidden children, they didn’t have Misha. And they didn’t have DeWael. That is for sure. She was not mentioned.

Marie-Claire Mommer. (The School teacher) Misha’s book had a snowball effect. Already millions of books had been sold. Thereafter we had to work to prepare the conferences. And get her to them. So we were always together. At that time, she would often come back to our home. She would eat with us. She was like a member of the family. We had dozens of events. Of course, we took her to them. She was always welcomed by the organisers. And always with a lot of friendliness and kindness. Everyone left the conferences dazzled by this character.

War Victims Archive, Brussels.

 Evelyne Haendel. I was stuck, really. No findings. But no proof. So that was the point that I thought that she could have been undocumented. Some children were hidden. But not necessarily through organisations. As extraordinary as her story was, I had to keep in mind she might have been a Jewish, hidden child.

Jane Daniels. So now the stakes go up. I will feel a lot of guilt, if this story is true. I’m digging into her past. And what if it is true. How unfair to challenge her. And even if it’s mostly true, but not quite…How unfair to disrespect what she’s been through. I felt I’d been cast in a play, I didn’t audition for. I didn’t want the part. I didn’t want to be in the play. It was devouring me. This had taken over my own life. But I’ve had this judgement hanging over my head for quite a while, I’d lost the appeal. I was looking at the possibility of being completely wiped out. So it was starting to get pretty uncomfortable. But I needed to get to the truth. So when we had no Jewish records to support her story, the question is, maybe she’s not even Jewish?

Evelyne Haendel, If she’s not Jewish, then she’s most likely Catholic.

Jane Daniels. If she was Catholic, perhaps she was baptised. 

Sharon Sergeant, Misha’s bank records from the trial, said she was born in 1937, her mother’s maiden name was Donneville. And she was born in Etterb. A suburb of Brussels.

Evelyne Haendel: So in Etterb, I searched for different churches.

JD. The first, the second, the third had burned to the ground. I thought, we’re probably sunk now. Because the records were probably destroyed in the fire.

Evelyne Haendel. But the office of the Presbytery was in an adjoining street.

JD. They were preserved. So Evelyne was looking date by date by date. All the children born in that parish.

Evelyne Haendel, I knew two things, her date of birth, 12th May 1937. And the mother’s name. And in that book, I found her. Monique Emesfina Josipshiux De Wael. Daughter of Roberti Floneca Ernesti and Josiphina Germane Barbashei Donil.

JD the revelation was that Misha’s father’s name was De Wael. So her real name was Monique De Wael. It wasn’t a name given to her by foster parents to hide her from the Nazis. It seems she was born Monique De Wael. She was a Catholic. She was baptised Catholic. Her father was De Wael. However, it wasn’t proof conclusive. Because in those days they used to take names of dead children and give them to Jewish children, by way of hiding them.  

 Sharon Sergeant. It was possible that the DeWaels had taken in a Jewish child and their own child had died.

Evelyne Haendel. I needed further proof.

[what did you do next?]

Off the record, this is a good question.

JR. Evelyne figured out, where can I find this proof?

Evelyne Haendel. She would have gone to school.

Sharon Sergeant: I tried to find the school, in the tram track she mentioned in her book.

Evelyne Haendel: And as I walked by, I had the school. The door was open. I walked in and asked if they had any someone with the name of Monique De Wael.

JR. So, we’re biting our fingernails to the point where they’re actually bleeding, waiting for this information. Either we’ve got the records or we don’t.   (2/9/37). That was the final proof. Both the Baptismal certificate and her attendance in the school.

JR. I got to the phone and I picked up the phone and it was Sharon. And Sharon could hardly contain her excitement. Practically, screamed into the phone, we’ve got the records. We’ve got the records. That was the smoking gun. Now I’ve caught her in a lie. My life had been contaminated by a whole spiderweb of lies. And here it is. Exposed as a hoax. Now, I thought, the whole story she tells in the book, falls apart. At that point I knew she was not who she said she was. Not only was she not a Jewish child hiding in the forest from the Nazis. She was a Catholic child, safely enrolled in school. She wasn’t anywhere near wolves. She was playing to an audience. She knew exactly what she was doing. Now we can see this not just a little white fib. This is a massive conspiracy over 20 years to propagate what was a complete falsehood. This was not the real Misha.

Evelyne Haendel: I had many feelings. I felt angry. I felt disgusted. I just saw the fake history. The fake identity. A way to get money out of the Holocaust.  Somebody stole a very painful part of my life. I felt it for myself. And for all the hidden children. The dead children. Through the Holocaust. For all the parents. For my parents. But, in fact, for all the Jewish community.

JR. At the point we got the records, the book was a huge bestseller, all over Europe. And the book had just came out. And the movie was called. ‘Surviving with Wolves’.

It had Premiered in Paris, ‘Based on a true story’. And here we’re holding these documents. So we said, let’s go with this. Let’s put it on my blog. And email somebody over in Belgium.

The next morning it had broken, front page of all the newspapers. We had fired a truth bomb. It had landed. The whole fake thing blew up.

Jonni Soffron, I went home. Put her name on my computer. And there it was. And it felt like my blood just drained from my body. You know, how can this possibly be? I was angry. I was sad. I was hurt. I felt betrayed. I felt used. She became that close to me that when we had a litter of pubs born, we named one, Misha. It was just heart-breaking. Absolutely heart-breaking. We were duped. Just like the rest of you.

Karen Schulman. That fact that she lied, made me cry. Misha played on sympathy. That’s how she became a wonderful storyteller. Sympathy. That’s how Misha was able to fool people. Sympathy.

Pat Cunnigham: I burst into tears. I felt so taken advantage of and lied to. The lies and bitterness came out. Some of my neighbours did give her quite large sums of money. We’re talking $25000, $30 000. To help her save the house. She’d go to the Rabbis and ask for donations from the temple. The entire community. The neighbours than knew her. Nobody talked to, that I know of. Everybody felt betrayed. Yeh…

Marie-Claire Mommer. There was a kind of anger that rose up in me, which never left me. The students that took part in the project. The day I entered the class there was a state of revolt. You have to imagine a pack in revolt. Rants. Tears. Cries. They were standing up on the benches. I was no longer in control. And I usually contained my students very well. I contacted Misha straight away. I wanted to be honest and authentic with her. But she said, ‘Don’t worry, it must be the doing of the publisher in America.’

Jane Daniels. And then came the next twist in the story. It couldn’t have got more bizarre. I said to myself I could never make up this plot, if I did, they would say, this is preposterous. This would not happen.

Marc Metdepinnigen (The Journalist) Every journalist dreams of a scoop.  The question for me was if the story was false, what is the real story? What I did was simply go through the Brussel’s phone book, where there are approximately 400 De Waels. So I started going through them. One after the other. And at the forty-third or forty-forth, I stumbled across a woman Emma De Wael. My meeting with Emma, Misha’s aunt was extraordinary.

Marc Metdepinnigen :She didn’t go in search of her parents?   

Emma De Wael: Good god, no. Her grandfather and grandmother

Marc Metdepinnigen. She told me her niece had always been delusional. That she would create imaginary worlds for herself.

Emma De Wael: I went and fetched her regularly with the number 56 tram to Anderlecht and brought her to Schaerbeek. In the evenings I took her back to Uncle Ernest.

Marc Metdepinnigen,  Emma De Wael told the truth about what happens during war. What happened to Robert, Misha Defonseca’s father.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael worked at Schaerbeek Town Hall. He was really very patriotic. And very engaged with his role as a reserve officer.  

Marc Metdepinnigen, I met Jean-Philippe Tondeur by chance. But he had a lot of documentation on Misha Defonseca’s father. So I went to consult Robert De Wael’s file.

On 10th May, 1940. Germans invade Belgium. They crush the Belgian army during an 18 day campaign. The king surrenders. And Belgium is occupied. Robert De Wael joins the Resistance. And begins to recruit resistance fighters. As a resistance fighter, Robert DeWael was involved in gathering weapons. Activating intelligence networks. And transmitting intelligence to the Belgian government which had gone to London.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael wasn’t very discrete about his activities for the resistance.

Emma De Wael, he had a loose tongue, because he was proud of what he was doing. Because I knew he had secret documents. He even showed them to us at home. My father told him to be careful. That he was becoming careless. He risked address.

Marc Metdepinnigen. He was denounced by a Nazi collaborator. And was quickly arrested. Robert DeWael, his wife and 41 resistance fighters were arrested. And are deported to Germany. And sent to Bruweiler prison in Cologne. The Cologne prison had a very harsh regime. He’s interrogated by the Gestapo.

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) Robert De Wael starts to scream. He cracks. He made a deal in the Cologne prison. This deal involved him handing over the names of his fellow resistance fighters in exchange for his wife being protected. And to once again see his daughter, Misha.

In 1942, after betraying his fellow officers, as the Germans demanded of him. Robert De Wael got one last opportunity to see his daughter. And that would be the end for Robert De Wael. He would later be deported. Robert and his wife Germaine would die in the camps.

Emma De Wael. We called her the traitor’s daughter. Because it was said that her father sided with the Germans.  

Jean-Philippe Tondeur (Military Historian) The Municipal would prescribe a plaque with the resistance fighters who died during the war. Robert De Wael, whose name was listed last, was later erased.

Marc Metdepinnigen, on 28th February 2008, when things became very clear, we published Robert De Wael’s whole story. The betrayal. The falseness of the story. Misha Defonseca’s account. And in the hours that followed a statement was issued. This was Misha Defonseca’s statement:

‘They called me the “Traitor’s daughter” because my father was suspected of having spoken under torture. This book, this story, is mine. It is not the actual reality, but it was my reality. My way of surviving. I ask forgiveness.  All I ever wanted was to exorcise my suffering.’

‘I felt so rejected. But I could not explain it to myself. Neither to my grandmother of my grandfather. I am not the girl I thought, but there are times I hesitate. I say to myself, “Did I or did I not, experience it?” I have to think.’

‘Particularly, with animals, I can still see myself, rolling on the ground with wolves.’

‘Have you seen my lovely picture with wolves? They will always be my wolves. I will be at their side. Even if I know the truth now. I am at their side. I got into a bubble. A world of my own. And this world of mine was filled with animals. Animals that defended me against humans.

Candy O’Terre. The Radio Host. Listening back to this intro the first words in this were ‘sometimes a story is so astonishing, it’s unbelievable. That’s very astonishing. Those were the first words. Then it turns out, it’s not true.’

I believed her. I didn’t see anything in those eyes that made me think she wasn’t telling me the truth. All I was doing was looking for more truth to confirm what I already believed. In hindsight, it’s chilling. But for me, at that moment, I was so respectful of someone’s experience of what we think of as citizens of the world will recognise was the darkest time of the history of the world. Far be it from me to question her.

Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) When it comes to questioning Holocaust survivors, one brings a great deal of diffidence to those claims. But the danger of believing everything puts history and the historical reality of genuine survivors at risk.

In December 1996, I got a letter and a manuscript from Jane Daniel. That manuscript was Misha (a memoir) during the Holocaust. I called Jane Daniel to explain why this narrative just didn’t work. I said to her, I would not publish this book. I have thought over the years why Jane Daniels decided to go forward with publication. She clearly hoped that the manuscript was true. But she clearly worried, it was not. I think it was greed that powered her, this narrative. For Misha and Jane Daniels. And then, as those sales’ figures rose, more and more people accepted the memoir as real. As true.

JD: I admit it. I created this monster. I created this monster with enormous sympathy as a character. Somebody that had suffered terribly. Somebody that deserved respect. In fact. Awe. And nobody wants to admit they were tricked. And I admit it, I was tricked by her. I believed her. Everybody was seduced. The American jurisprudence system. The judges. The juries. We were all seduced by this story.

Evelyne Haendel: It’s human to believe. Creditability is something else. It’s your need to question things or not that will help you discern what’s true and what’s not.  

Marie-Claire Mommer: I have enough distance to take a more analytical look at Misha’s character. Misha created a world for herself. A world of her own belief. Misha sought refuge in fantasy and with time she slowly becomes a character in her own story.

Deborah Dwork (The Holocaust Historian) I think we would like to believe that Misha Defonseca believed. That she was a survivor of the Holocaust. I think we would like to believe that we were not so naïve. That we believed it, because she believed it. And we would even like to believe that this narrative has a redemptive purpose. Because it made right the wrong of her childhood. I think it’s nonsense. There is no redemptive purpose. We were so naïve. It was all a fabrication.  

Evelyne Haendel: I feel about her today, (shrug) mixed emotions. I think she was a protagonist in the story but she was not alone. There were other people that helped to make this biography be a bestseller. Just talking about her right now, the search and the years that went by- some pity, ah, some repulsion, maybe it’s too hard a word, but I’m feeling some understanding. As a child it must have been very difficult for her after the war. The fact her father was called a traitor. A collaborator. She is both the victim and the villain. She’s both. She is both in the story.

The real Misha Defonseca still lives in Massachusetts with her husband and animals.

She chose not to be interviewed for this film.

The financial penalty against Jane Daniels was partially overturned.

Alexander Starritt (2020) We Germans.

Alexander Starritt’s name can be added to the list of great Scottish writers. (He’s written another book I’ve not yet read, The Beast.)  I, initially, thought We Germans was a translation like Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Road Home. The format is simple.  A grandfather writing to his Scottish grandson, Callum. And his grandson replying. Oberkanonier Meissner was in the Wehrmacht. Six-foot-two and broad shouldered, he was conscripted at nineteen. He was posted to the East. He weighed seven-and-a-half stone (48 kilos) when he was repatriated from the USSR, aged twenty-six.

Early in his written monologue, he promises his grandson,

‘I wasn’t a Nazi. No court would find me guilty of anything, even an omniscient one. What I want to tell you about isn’t about atrocities on genocide.’

What he wants to talk about is courage. War he describes as ‘a battle between hammers and anvils’.

The war in the East was the real war. ‘Out of every eight German soldiers killed. Seven were killed in the East.’

He describes the decision to invade the East like a decision to invade the sea. In the first year in the East, the Germans starved two-and-a-half million prisoners to death. In barbed-wire camps Russian’s ate their friends. Western loses in comparison were a blip, easily brushed off.

Meissner’s letter tells Callum he’s familiar with the idea of ‘collective guilt’—as a concept—but not as a feeling.

Shame, however, he claims holds ‘a more pitless truth’.     

‘Shame is not like guilt. It’s not a matter of reparation. Shame cannot be atoned for, it is a debt that cannot be paid.’

In the introduction to Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,  a Bulgarian historian on the Balkan’s Conflict observed, when we ask the question ‘WHY? Guilt becomes the focal point’. Twenty million soldiers killed in the First World War, roughly the number killed in USSR alone. Little wonder even Vladimir Putin calls it ‘The Great Patriotic War’.

Meissner admits to no guilt, but does admit to shame. He assures us we have become overfamiliar with the ‘pantomimes of valour’. Survival was enough.

When he and four other soldiers are sent foraging for food, the war was already lost. They were retreating home.

‘In that first, victorious summer, our invading tanks covered half the distance to St Petersburg in five days…The limiting factor wasn’t the Red Army, but the road surface: mud rather than tarmac.’

 ‘I became a pedestrian one day in spring 1943, in the Eastern part of Ukraine, more than a thousand miles from the German border.’

‘By 1944, those of us still alive were fleeing on foot, broken, bedraggled, our tanks blown up, our artillery abandoned, our good name blackened for generations, our friends and brothers-in-arms buried in hostile soil.’

Hunger eats away at a man, but when a man loses hope, he’s already dead. That autumn a rumour had spread that there was a food depot nearby. Stashed with French wine and Italian sardines and other loot from occupied countries the general staff were in such a hurry to retreat they’d left it to the Russians.  

Meissner didn’t believe the rumour. He didn’t disbelieve it either. He’d been ordered, with four others in their rag-tag army, to find it. None of whom he knew particularly well. Luttke, he didn’t like because he parroted party propaganda and tried to take charge. But he was quickly put in his place. The only one he could bully was Jensen. It wasn’t worth trying to remember newly conscripted soldier’s names. But they’d a little horse, Ferdinand, which hadn’t yet been eaten, when they set off.

He finds the nostalgia for when Germany was for Germans a throwback to when villages were looted and their occupants crucified and hanged—and all to protect a civilian population that readily took part in pogroms.

Primo Levi asks an open question: If This Is a Man?

We Germans offers no ready answers. Alexander Starritt, now there’s a writer worth knowing.  

Edvard Radzinsky (2000) Rasputin, The Last Word, translated from the Russian by Judosn Rosengrant.

At just over 650 pages this offers a comprehensive account of Grigory Efimovich Rasputin’s life and deaths. Deaths—plural. Most of us are familiar with the legend that Rasputin was poisoned, shot and finally drowned. His bound hands still clawing underneath the ice. Radzinsky takes the reader through different versions, but with the same outcome. Rasputin was murdered. The question of why he was murdered in much the same way that the tsar, tsarina and the Romanov children were murdered, he leaves to the last paragraph of his account.

Rasputin is the key to understanding both the soul and brutality of the Russia that came after him. He was a precursor of the millions of peasants who, with religious consciousness on their souls, would nevertheless tear down churches, and who, with a dream of the reign of Love and Justice, would murder, rape, and flood the country with blood, in the end destroying themselves.   

There is an Afterword, in Putin’s Russia the name St Petersburg had been restored (formerly Petrograd and Leningrad) and the coffin of the tsars (like Rasputin’s body their bodies were burned to ash, so it would be an empty coffin) was returned from Ekaterinburg and laid to rest in the great cathedral. Putin said he wouldn’t attend, but did. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra (Alix) and their children Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexi were feted as living saints by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In a black and white, cartoonish, world it was Rasputin that led them astray. While he lingers in infamy their goodness vindicated shines anew.

When you look for miracles, often you find them, especially if you are one of the last autocratic rulers on one of the biggest and richest, but technologically backward countries on earth. The 1905 war against Japan had ended in Russia’s humiliation. I’m no fan of Shakespeare but Richard II and the appeal for treason is perhaps a good place to start if you want to understand autocracy.

‘The unreal world of miracles and prophecies was increasingly becoming Alix’s real world. In Sarov they spent whole evenings by the spring and the rock where Serafim had lifted his voice in prayer. At night she and Nicky would bathe in the waters of the spring, putting their trust in the saint’s help and praying for an heir.’  

The tsarina Alexi resented that Alexander II who was appointed by God to rule over the Russian people could no longer do so directly but by decree. He had to pay more than lip service to the Duma. And she feared her son Alexi would inherit the wind. His powers would be curbed and he would be little more than a token head of state like her grandmother, Queen Victoria. But the blood of the Romanov’s was tainted. Alexi was born with haemophilia. There was no cure, but Rasputin. 

As a peasant he was a direct link to the Rus, the real Russian people that provided the bread that they all ate. He called the tsarina, ‘Mamma,’ and tsar, ‘Pappa,’ mother and father of all Russia. God’s anointed. And he prophesised that their paths and that of all Russia, were inextricably linked.

Radzinsky allows Rasputin to be both miraculous and diabolic. The spirit the peasant channels he suggests, however, is Alix’s. Semi-literate, he could read her easier than he could any book. Her wishes, where his wishes. ‘Pappa,’ needed to be sure that God was watching over him. Rasputin gave him evidence of this. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a useful tool.

Sex plays a big part in the legend of Rasputin. Radzinsky links it to secret sect of Christianity that didn’t come from the West of Europe and was purely Russian in origin, but were more universal in their ideas of chastising and subjugating the body for Christ’s glory. The Skoptsy (Castrators) cut off their penis.  The Kylysty (Flagellants) was another heretic sect with a belief in the second coming of a Russian redeemer to liberate the oppressed and dating back to the seventeen century to the time of the first Romanovs. A mixture of paganism and Russian Orthodoxy. It taught that every man should become Christ and the Holy Ghost would descend upon him. Self-scourging, Christ-like flagellation and ascetic practices were one part of their belief. But during radenic (rejoicing) at communal gatherings, when the Holy Ghost descended an orgy took place. Svalnyi grekh (group sinning)  promiscuous sex between men and women took place in order to conceive as many new ‘Christs’ and ‘Mothers of God’ as possible.

Rasputin when having sex with many women followers was healing them and himself of the sin of lechery by having sex. Tautological reasoning, but for Rasputin it was a living creed. He wore out many couches he kept in the houses in which he lodged and his sexual appetite was overwhelming. ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa,’ believe none of these government reports, believing him, Christ-like, to be unjustly accused and vilified.

With a direct link to the highest of the high, the tsar and tsarina, Rasputin pedalled public offices and millions of roubles passed through his hands. Much of it stolen by his ‘secretaries’.

The plot to kill Rasputin came from the aristocracy of Russian society, member of the Yacht club. The war with Germany was a debacle mirroring that of Japan. While condemning the tsar would be an act of treason, criticising his Germanic bride was not, and demonising her proxy Rasputin was aligned with a malignant hatred of a peasant interfering in matters of state. An act of righteousness would wipe out Rasputin. Peasants could be quietly flayed and beaten to death. But there was a note of caution.  Rasputin’s supernatural powers, his guards, and ‘Mamma’ and ‘Papa’ watching over him, yet the plan to kill him was quite straightforward.

‘At Midnight A Friend Will Come To See Him.’  (16th / 17th December 1916)

The Friend is Prince Felix Yusopov, a bisexual, who dressed in girl’s clothes when he was a little boy and had adult sex with men and women. Radzinsky hints he may have been treated for his homosexuality by Rasputin, in what ways is not made clear. Yusopov had millions of roubles and thousands of hectares of land, he was friends and neighbours with the Romanovs. Yusopov’s wife, Irna, a society beauty was the—missing—bait in the trap. The hypocrisy of the widespread acceptance of Yusopov’s sexuality and the condemnation of Rasputin’s was based on class. Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich who was briefly engaged to one of Tsar’s daughters, before it was called after a behind-the-scenes scandal about his love affair with Felix. He was said to have fired the final shots at Rasputin and left him for dead (although water in his lung suggested to pathologists he’d finally drowned). Felix shot him too. And tried to poison him. Radzinsky explains these failures were not supernatural, but amateurish attempts to take his life.

The police officer’s account of hearing three or four shots and having seen Prince Yusopov and his butler crossing the courtyard of his palace was significant in that he was regarded as public servant, little more than a jumped-up peasant, the other a Prince. One’s testimony could be believed, the other ignored. Class matters. And it never mattered more in the cover-ups then and after the 1916 revolution. Rasputin was said to have prophesised his own death and the Bolshevik revolution in the name of natural justice that would end with the Romanov’s deaths mirroring Rasputin’s.  He created his own hell and he paid the price of being an upstart peasant. The Romanov’s are in heaven looking down on us. Aye, right. Believe that and you’ll believe Trump won the 2020 election.  Read on.

Simon Sebag Montefiore (2003) Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

Simon Sebag Monefiore won the British history book of the year with his portrait of Stalin and his followers. They were always one step away from being shot, tortured in the Lubianka, and beaten to death. Their families facing the same fate, or being sent away to the gulags. Stalin only wanted true believers in Stalinism, in Marxism, in Leninism, in his leadership to a mythical Bolshevik and true socialist revolution. Self-taught, a voracious reader of books and men. Stalin saw plots and conspiracies everywhere. If they didn’t exist he would invent them. Yet when Hitler betrayed him and his troops invaded the Soviet Union, Stalin refused to believe he’d been duped, despite countless reports telling the Communist leader the day, Sunday 21st June 1941, Operation Barbarossa would take place. The Great Patriotic War, as the Soviet Leaders termed it, had begun and because its dictator refused to believe, the Soviet Union was unprepared.

The Soviet Union paid in blood. Around 27 million war deaths in the USSR, compared to less than 5.5 million German war deaths. British and American casualties of less than half a million. https://worldwar2-database.blogspot.com/2010/10/world-war-ii-casualties.html. Around two million German women raped in the advance to Berlin.   

Montefiore gives us other rough figures of Stalin and his henchmen’s tyranny. Two famines, constant hunger, ‘perhaps 20 million killed, 28 million deported, of whom 18 million had slaved in the gulags.’

‘Yet,’ Montefiore notes, ‘after so much slaughter, there were still believers’.

When what Churchill termed ‘the iron curtain’ had descended, the Allied nations that had won the war had split, Truman was in the Whitehouse, Labour were in power in Britain and Churchill like his country and the British Empire was bankrupt. America had the atomic bomb they had used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Soviet spies had made copies of their plans and the USSR was the second nuclear power with the explosion of the hydrogen bomb. Two world powers stood nose to nose.

True believers, then, as now, with Putin, suggest all this bloodletting and suffering was necessary. That the Soviet Union wouldn’t have been able to industrialise and mechanise in constant five-year plans and drag a largely rural nation in a short amount of time to face the existential threat of fascism and Hitler’s subjugation of what the Nazi leader thought of an inferior breed of Slavic people.  

Stalin, with his pock-marked face, false teeth and birth to a Georgian drunken father that beat him, and a mother that beat him even harder, would have fitted into the Nazi category on inferior. As it did to the Tsarist forces of Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov, before his abdication, 15th March 1917 and the rise of the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. Montefiore deals with this in a chapter termed, That Wonderful Times, Stalin and Nadya, 1878-1932. And Montefiore despite the over 600 pages here, deals with it more fully in his book Young Stalin.   

These of course, weren’t wonderful times for all Soviet Citizens. The Politburo’s war against the kulaks, Stalin compared to Ivan the Terrible’s  culling of the boyars. Grain deliveries were taken from the peasants and millions such as those in Ukraine, the former grain basket of Russia, starved and mothers ate children. Montefiore focus is not on this, but in the semi-cult like activity of those close to Stalin, physically close; they lived beside each other and were in and out of each other’s apartments. Stalin allocated each family a car and an allowance. They held elaborate parties and some women dressed in the latest fashions from Paris. George Orwell got it pretty much right in his book, Animal Farm, with the red court of Stalin mimicking that of the late Tsar’s.

In 1922 Lenin effectively appointed Stalin as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. After Lenin’s death, the threat to Stalin’s power came from Leon Trotsky. He didn’t forget or forgive. Laverenti Beria’s present to Stalin was to send assassins to Mexico and on August 1940 they finally succeeded in murdering him.

Beria was ‘one of the talented dirty trick specialists in quiet and quick deaths’. But he was also head of the NKVD, KGB, and SMERSH. He was prepared to torture, rape and murder in person, but also like Stalin to give others their head before torturing and killing them in turn. Stalin trusted no one. He deified his wife Nadya who committed suicide. He’d know her as a three-year-old girl, but courted and married her when she came to work for Lenin. A culprit had to be found and punished for her death.  Incestuous relationships between members of the Politburo were commonplace. Beria’s son, for example, almost married Stalin’s daughter, Svetlania, who called Beria, ‘Uncle Lara’.  

The oafish Nikita Khrushchev who outwitted Beria to become party leader, but was thought be Stalin to be so dumb as not to present much of a threat to his leadership. Stalin sometimes made him dance for his amusement. Stalin slept little and conducted much of the Party business at all night parties where the Politburo members were forced to attend and drink vodka and other spirits. Some became alcoholic. Stalin held meetings in the darkened  ‘Little Corner’ outside his office where he paced and would dictate policy, head to head, no records. Here he orchestrated search for ‘Rightists’, which led to the purging of the old Bolshevik guard and the Moscow Show Trials. Doctors, Jews, Foreigners, there was always another Rightist around the next corner, ready to be denounced in the Little Corner. Khrushchev was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians.

At the Court of the Red Tsar all members had blood on their hands. And in a note from history the current Tsar, President Vladimir Putin’s grandfather worked as a chef in on of Stalin’s many houses. Before that he’d worked for the Tsar and served Rasputin. He’d served food to Lenin and then Stalin. A former Russian KGB officer is the new Tsar, much like the old Tsar, spreading disinformation and intent on keeping Russia’s place in the sun. Trusting no one is always a good place to begin. Social isolation, monomania, madness. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The saviour destroys what he tries to save. But he can never be proved wrong. World will tumble before that happens. Stalin died aged 73, his courtiers stood outside, waiting, too scared to intervene, to save him.

The Countess and the Russian Billionaire, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editors Gregg Morgan, Chris Dale.

The Countess and the Russian Billionaire, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editors Gregg Morgan, Chris Dale.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000h3nt/the-countess-and-the-russian-billionaire

A poignant voice towards the end of this docu-drama told viewers Sergei Pugachev was likely to be down to his last £70 million (or it might have been dollars $70 million). That was to put things into perspective. I’m not sure if we were meant to feel sorry for him. My Russian stretches to nada.   Pugachev had once been worth around $15 billion. He was a Russian oligarch and friend of Vladimir Putin. His portfolio included one of Russia’s largest private banks, shipyards, a coal mine and designer brands. He’d been married but divorced when he employed Countess Alexandra Tolstoy to teach him English.

Tolstoy was still married to Chama Uzikstn, whom she’d met while yomping across Russia on horseback. They were stars of a Russian television series ‘It’ll Never Last’, which proved prophetic. Here we had the English ideal of female beauty celebrated with pale, flawless complexion and rosy cheeks and some dark skinned horseman.

President Putin, Pugachev tells us, wasn’t keen on the Russian oligarch marrying an English rose. Putin told him much the same as he (allegedly) told President Trump that Russia had the most beautiful woman and prostitutes, who could piss on anybody’s bed (perhaps not in that order) even his.  

Pugachev tells us he defied Putin and married Countess Alexandra Tolstoy and they had three children together with houses all over the world. It’s a happy-ever-after scenario. The education of the children taking place in their home in Kensington, London. Here we have the English-language version of ‘It’ll Never Last’.  

Let’s not fall for he married the wrong woman argument. Bill Browder in his book, Red Notice, tell us how he became ‘Putin’s No.1 Enemy’. Pugachev puts himself around Putin’s No. 3 Enemy. He admits he fears with his life. With almost 40 Russian oligarchs dying and the use of  Novichok nerve agent on British soil, and the then British Prime Minster, Teresa May, condemned Russian involvement and naming two Russian agents who had perpetrated the crime, he had good reason.

Post-Soviet Russia after the fall of the Berlin wall was cowboy country in which the Chicago School model attempted to  transform Communism into Capitalism in one big gulp. Browder estimates that around twenty men ‘stole’ around 39% of the economy.  Pugachev was one of these twenty men which took him into the top 1000 richest men in the world (of around 8 billion). 

Putin, the little grey man, was pushed forward by oligarchs and regional gangsters and in January 2000, became President of the Russian Federation.  Pugachev was still part of the inner circle, still friendly with Putin as others grabbed the money and fled abroad. England, and London, offered citizenship at a fixed price of around £2 million, access to the money-laundering capital of the world and access to Conservative politicians. Pugachev remained in Moscow.

Pugachev’s narrative that he married an English rose and defied his old friend Putin, doesn’t hold. His claim that Putin’s agents took over his bank and demanded $240 million, accused him of $100 million tax fraud and threatened to kill him, his wife and children unless he paid up immediately does. Browder reports the same tactics and his Russian manager was imprisoned and beaten to death in a jail cell. The Russian state used English law to call for his deportation back to Russia (similar to the tactic they had used with Browder). Here  Pugachev made a tactical error, his passport was impounded but he fled London to his chateau in France. In absentia, he was jailed for two years for breaking English law.

Here we’re on the English version of it’ll never last. Countess Tolstoy’s parents were related to THE Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace, (perhaps also to the émigré writer and nobleman Alexi Tolstoy favoured by Stalin) and fully supportive of their daughter marrying a Russian billionaire. When things went badly, they remained supportive. Here’s the narrative of the plucky daughter, who although Pugachev was trying to bully her in the same way Putin was trying to bully him into returning home, she would not bend. The lady’s not for turning narrative.

Pugachev had tried to take her passport and imprison her and the children in his chateau in France. Countess Tolstoy said he’d a gun. He was no longer a billionaire, just another millionaire that tried to control his wife and kids and hit her when things went badly. Billionaire wife beater. That sounds about right, although not factually correct.

Countess Tolstoy was paid to appear on Russian telly, the equivalent of Fox News in America, Putin’s channel and confronted with Pugachev’s claim, she wasn’t even a proper Countess.

Fake news turns up everywhere. The wife beating Pugachev remains abroad. Tolstoy returned to Russia in an attempt to make a living. I guess with Covid-19 she’ll be home now. Home being, Kensington, London. Down and out in London and Moscow. George Orwell, eat your heart out.