As promised, and continuing with our arcing theme of Early Summer plus machinations of the Deep State plus Shakespeare, I bring you more “further developments” of the Arbat Hamlet story, well, this piece is from a week ago — May 31 — when the story was still burning hot. Currently the story is sort of in a holding pattern, while the police investigate their own and the wheels of justice slowly grind.
As you recall, a 9-year-old boy had a rough day out on the Arbat, in the center of Moscow, as he stood on a street corner declaiming Hamlet soliloquies to passing pedestrians. A police patrol jumped to the (logical) conclusion that the boy was begging for money, which is a crime by Russian law. Not so much against a child, as against adult pandering or corruption of a minor. Which is what appeared to be going on, at first glance.
The two patrol cops, both being male, wisely called in a female officer to help them out. Males always have to be careful around children, there could be misunderstandings, especially if they have to touch the kid; and it’s always better to have a woman there to supervise and act as unofficial ombudsman for the child, if needed.
The officers questioned the boy. Regardless what happened next, they would most likely have to take him to the station. But the situation escalated, almost to a dangerous level, when a crazy-seeming woman interefered, screaming at the officers and even laying hands on them. When asked directly if she was the mother, she denied any familial relationship. The cops started to get rattled when the woman continued to scream at them and try to rip the boy out of their hands. Readers, in your minds, please perform a mental experiment: Imagine this same scenario on an American street corner. Most likely, both woman and boy would have been tased. Now imagine if the woman and boy were black. The incident could have ended with weapons being discharged.
This being Moscow and not the good ole USA, nobody was physically harmed. Although the boy, who is of a sensitive nature, suffered psychological damage when the cops took him firmly by the collar and forced him into their vehicle. This literal “collaring” was both uncomfortable and humiliating. Although, as we heard it explained in my earlier post, cops are trained to use this type of hold on street kids. It’s safer for them then grabbing the kid’s arm — which can lead to bruising and even dislocation. Safest of all, from a technical standpoint, would be to cuff the kid, but the Moscow cops did not actually resort to that. Anyhow, once at the Arbat police station, the police proceeded to sort everything out, called the boy’s father, who turned out to be a man named Elias (=Ilya) Skavronski. Skavronski hastened to the police station to collect his child. Once there, and cognizant of the fact that the family faced potential legal issues and possibly even intervention from Children’s Services, possibly even having the boy removed from his custody — Skavronski hired an attorney named Anastasia Samorukova, who specializes in family cases and knows her way around the Russian foster system.
And, as far as I know, this is where things stand, in the legal sense, as the family waits to see if any charges will be laid unto them.
As computer professionals say: “There is the data… and now the metadata…”
Given the ideological Cold War between the West and Russia, everything that happens in Russia, however trivial and personal, always has two layers: (1) The Data, i.e., what actually happened; and (2) The Metadata, i.e., how the incident is perceived/exploited in the West.
There is a third layer as well: How the perceived reality is perceived back, by the Russians themselves. Westie ideologists watch Russia with the eyes of a vulture — a vulture who happens to own a microscope — looking for anything bad that happens. Even something like a landslide or a tornado is grist for the mill, like, proving that the government is ineffective and/or doesn’t care about people. Even the most trivial incident of daily life is rapidly promoted from the “personal” to the “geo-political” in a single bound. Westies see dark forces and conspiracies at work in everything that goes on in Russia. There is no such thing as a normal street incident; everything involves Putin’s tyrannical regime, unholy alliance of Church and State, a mad and tyrannical Tsar enraged by Hamlet’s soliloquy, etc. Such ludicrous, vicious, and inciting memes were actually employed by the Westie media when reporting on this otherwise banal case of a boy detained for allegedly begging in the street. And, as regular people know from their own daily lives, it can be frustrating to try to defend yourself against enemies who bear you not one molecule of good will.
Meanwhile, patriotic Russians, incensed at the unfairness of Westie propaganda, see the hand of the American State Department in every broadside directed at themselves and their elected government. And this “paranoia” is not so paranoid after all, given the long history of Westie NGO’s interfering in Russian “civil society”. Also given that a segment of the Russian intelligentsia — the so-called “kreakles” aka “Fifth Column” openly express their political fealty to Western institutions and collaborate with gusto in the defaming of their own government.
Hence, some patriots, once this “Arbat Hamlet” thing went viral, jumped to the conclusion that the entire matter was a put-up job, a “red flag” concocted by Westies and Fifth Columnists. Not unlike the Pussy Riot incident! They suspected that the boy’s dad, Elias, had been paid by anti-Putin Liberals to put on a show for the public. Which would make the Moscow police look bad and hopefully bring about more Western economic sanctions against Russia. In their suspicious minds, this dad put his own son at risk for political gain.
Red flags against the dad included allegations that he had brought his family to Moscow from Kiev — nothing suspicious in and of itself, except that he was said to be one of the people who stood on the Maidan — which, if true, would endow him with a certain ideological slant that is hostile to the Russian government. Another allegation is that he is unemployed and yet appears to enjoy a handsome lifestyle. Therefore somebody must be paying him off, most likely the “anti-regime” Liberals. Another allegation is that a former reporter named Lucia Stein, who used to work for the anti-Russia propaganda outlet “Radio Liberty” was johnny-on-the-spot: She just “happened” to be out there on the Arbat, videotaped the entire incident, and posted it on the internet.
In the face of these suspicions, it is time to meet the family. KP reporter Elena Kavun, accompanied by her photographer, Dina Karpitskaya did what real reporters are supposed to do: Instead of idly speculating, they went directly to the high-rise apartment building, walked into the rented flat, and they talked to the family. getting their side of the story. If you follow the link I posted above, you can see their photographs of the players, starting with the boy and his pet rat!
The so-called “Street Prince” is hiding in the entry, along with his caregivers: His “stepmother-neighbor-acquaintance” Kristina and the “unemployed musician from the Maidan” — his biological father Elias — peer nervously around. “The reporters are gone? Thank god!” Now we can go in. The electric lock beeps, and we are safely inside [their flat]. Or as safe as possible, given that the neighbors are all aware of the scandal, and glance at the trio, as if seeing them for the first time. Even those who don’t read the papers or watch TV, know the whole story, they heard it all from reporters and police who have passed through asking questions.
I am a reporter too, but I didn’t lie in wait for them. I came here openly and honestly, at the invitation of the family. Although I admit that it felt awkward to me. The role of “family inspector” does not really suit my personality.
The father, Elias: “You see, this is how we live. Please write [in your article] that we are not poor, and we are not struggling to get by. Although, I wonder… People will see [that we live well], and they will say that we live off the money of the Liberals….”
So, I write: They live well. The [rented] apartment is spacious, bright, comfortable. The view from the window is like a fairytale. The city lies below, as if on the palm of your hand: beautiful and green. To the right is Moscow-River, you can see floating on it languidly beautiful yachts and sail boats. (I had no idea there were so many boats in Moscow!)
Oscar’s bedroom: On his bed are strewn: cases, cellphone covers, old appliances, some lamps. “I am trying to sell these over the internet,” the enterprising boy explains to me. “Papa said it was okay. Do you see these two table lamps, each is worth around 500 rubles. The telephone case is worth around 100. All of this stuff is worth around 18,000 rubles! If I sell it, then I can buy myself a [computer] tablet!”
“Why, Oscar, you are a real businessman!” I marvel.
“He certainly is,” his father grins. “When he was still very little, he figured out how to make piggy banks out of plastic bottles. He would slice off the top, turn the throat inside out, and put [money] in the lower half of the bottle. We drink a lot of water and collected a lot of bottles. He kept trying to calculate how much money he could make off of selling them. I had to lie to him and tell him I was taking all this wealth to the market, and not to the rubbish pile! Oh wait, don’t write that!” the father interrupts himself. “They’ll turn it all upside down and claim that I exploited him…”
There is a knock. Everybody jumps (including me, for some reason). Kristina tiptoes to the [front] door and looks out the peephole. But it turns out, it’s just Oskar from inside the pantry. He was hiding there. He is playing hide-and-seek with my little daughter (I brought her with me, I didn’t have anyone to leave her with).
Meanwhile, Elias is talking to someone over the phone: “I have no idea why the attorney wrote 25 May, I met her for the first time in my life at the police station on the evening of 26 May. The reporters are calling every second. Please phone her and ask her yourself, why she wrote that. Sure, I’ll give you her number. No, I have no relationship with the Liberals. Or towards politics in general. All the power comes from God. Yeah, Kucherena came to see me, because he saw the news in the media. He was the one who recommended this particular attorney.”
He hangs up the phone.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says to me. If I talk to reporters, then they say I am stirring things up and getting more PR for myself. Which is what many are accusing me of. But if I don’t talk to reporters, then ever new rumors keep arising about me. We didn’t want to go on some talk-show, but they told us, If you don’t appear on it, then things will look worse for you. They’ll just discuss you behind your back, later you’ll have to refute all the gossip. This is the first time [in my life] I find myself in this situation.”
“If it weren’t for the media,” Kristina interjects heatedly, “then none of this would have blown up. I didn’t even know that Lucia character, let alone that she is a former reporter.”
The children come running into the kitchen, and the adults fall silent. They try not to discuss [the case] in front of the boy.
I cannot bring myself to question Oskar about what happened on the Arbat. Instead we talk about his school, which specializes in intensive study of foreign languages.
“It’s one of the best in Moscow,” the boy comments with pride. “I am studying there at the middle-school level.”
There is an entire zoo in the Skavronski apartment. A hedgehog lives in the corner, in a cage. Alongside it are two Chilean squirrels. On top of the refrigerator parrots are singing. There is also a pet snail.
The children run into the other room, they are having fun.
“Thanks for bringing your daughter,” Kristina says. “Oskar has really brightened up, he’s more like himself now.”
[Next: We learn more about the family relationships among Oskar, his dad, stepmother, and biological mom.]
[to be continued]