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As someone from Russia, which has been ruled by alt-right autocratic regime for the last 17 years, I have a privilege of conveying messages from the future to my friends in the US and Europe. You can find the previous message here.

Now that Donald Trump has been elected, you have every reason to be depressed, but there is a guy next to you thinking: “Now this is my golden moment!”.

It might be someone you didn’t pay much attention to because of their perceived lack of talent or charisma. In your intellectual snobbery, you may have even insulted them on more than one occasion without even noticing.

The success of a populist regime, like Putin’s, depends on its ability to provide social lifts to those who couldn’t succeed in a more meritocratic system – often due to mediocre education and a lack of confidence. Many of these people are genuinely talented, but not in the way you are – they begin to shine when the epoch requires a more vicious and misanthropic kind of talent.

Now they can overtake you in the race for better life by going over ethical barriers, which matter for you but not so much for them.

Putin has elevated a whole generation of non-entities, turning them into billionaires, ministers, spin doctors, television stars and top security agents. He has created numerous youth movements, agencies and institutions that pamper and educate young followers during their meteoric rise to power.

If Trump wants to succeed, he will need to do the same, else he’ll find himself alone against the old establishment that will simply eat him up. Like Savonarola or ayatollah Khomeini, he needs an army of loyalists obliged to him for having a life they could never have dreamt of.

I used to have many friends in the 1990s who are no longer my friends. They would depart into Putin jobs saying something like: “Good people need to be inside the system, else no one will ever stop these bastards”. Many would insist that the other – liberal – side is ethically no better than Putin’s, that they are technocrats who can help Russia no matter who is in charge. Some of them would point to the theory of small local improvements that eventually lead to tectonic cultural shifts.

All of them eventually turned into hideous monsters. I remember how in something like 2000 my wife complained to her school friend, who had just become a major political operative in the Kremlin, about the cynical way Putin tackled Kursk submarine disaster. “Now you are talking like an ordinary person”, said the man who over the next couple of years made a full evolution from living in a dingy Soviet apartment to owning oils wells and 17th century Flemish paintings.

Putin’s regime, both political and economic team, is comprised of young talented people who would fit naturally into a crowd of cynical Wall Street executives, such as those who precipitated Enron scandal, or crypto-fascist Silicon valley bosses of Peter Thiel type. Only their job is arguably more fun because on top of getting super-rich, they can manipulate millions of people, start wars, move borders and destroy the lives of their perceived enemies.

You’d say this is impossible in America because of long-established institutions, oversight, checks and balances, free media. But I also remember hearing that a candidate who blatantly ignores facts, logic and basic ethics couldn’t be elected the president of the United States. Trump has done the impossible and yes he can do much more.

To avoid what happened in Russia, it is crucial to be intolerant to any form of collaboration, to attack and ostracise anyone who turns to the other side without giving them a chance to breath and find their bearings. The psychological damage due to constant pressure should outweigh the perks of their jobs and shiny prospects. Many people say  Trump and his team should be given a fair chance to govern. Well, you may give that chance to them, but they won’t give you any.

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November 20, 2016 at 6:39 am

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As someone hailing from Russia, which has been ruled by alt-right autocratic regime for the last 17 years, I have a privilege of conveying stories and messages from the future to my friends in the US and Europe.

The first one will be about Trump’s racism and xenophobia. The president-elect and members of his team are often being accused of spreading hatred towards Muslims, Jews and Hispanics. The outrage is justified, but if Trump is to become a successful alt-right autocrat, he will soon neutralise this criticism by coopting numerous representatives of these communities into his camp and indeed the government.

For someone like Trump or Putin xenophobia is only a means of mobilising their constituency, not an end in itself, like it was for Hitler. People like them have no qualms about embracing someone who they hated just a second ago. Trump and Putin are ecumenical nationalists.

Putin has always been able to reach out to and find support base among Muslims, Jews, Chechens and even a part of LGBT crowd. Putin’s version of nationalism is truly non-ethnic and non-racist, but it is just as vicious and radical as nationalist movements that took over much of Europe in the 1930s. In the same vein, now being in America, I can see how Trump can appeal to Afro-Americans, Jews and Hispanics.  I met all of these at Trump rallies and I am now writing from Brighton Beach, a Russian-speaking Jewish district of New York which is overwhelmingly and vehemently pro-Trump.

Putin has created a version of modern nationalism which myself and many others in Russia call nashism. It comes from the word ‘nashi’, which means ‘our folks’ and was used by Putin and his alt-right predecessors in the 1990s to define the supporters and their enemies, who would naturally fall into the category of non-ours. The latter would include everyone who disagreed with the system – some minority activists indeed, but mostly straightforward Russian liberals of non-exotic origins and walks of life.

The likes of Putin and Trump don’t create ethnic movements, they create gangs, in which the only criteria that really matters is whether you are “with us” or “against us”, whether you are ready to insult or hurt the “others” no matter who they are and what you felt about them in the first place. They are mob artists, they are majoritarians or – translating the latter term into Russian language – the Bolsheviks.

Trump’s and Putin’s advantage is that they are not bound by logic or intellectual decency. Their constituencies have the span of attention of a toddler – they won’t even notice the leader and his propaganda machine switching from hating to praising and coopting a certain group. That’s what Putin has done with former Chechen independence fighters, who are now playing a key role in his machine or terror.

The anti-Trump march held by the opposition last weekend was all about minority rights, but I am not sure to which extent everyone present – the crowd included many radical left-wingers – is united on values, such as democracy, rule of law, transparency of the government and internationalism. Trump’s spin doctors will have no problem breaking this movement, pitting its diverse components against each other, the same way Putin did with Bolotnaya protests in 2012.

With their old rhetoric and linguistic taboos, left-wingers and liberals look obsolete and lagging far behind Trump or Putin who both represent a very modern, sophisticated and media-savvy political movement. To beat Trump, his opponents need to start everything anew and unite under more universal and unifying slogans.

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November 15, 2016 at 4:46 pm

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You hear it all the time when people, both Russians and foreigners, say that Russia is turning into something akin to North Korea. This comparison is obviously only rhetorical because by the standards of authoritarian regimes that existed in the last 100 years and still exist today, Putin’s can only be described as super-mild.

It’s hard to compare it not only with North Korea, but even with Turkey, a member of NATO and a key ally of the US. Whereas in Russia the number of political prisoners is hardly reaching 50, in post-coup Turkey there are dozens of thousands. Russia is also lagging behind Turkey in terms of media censorship.

Yet, Russia is degrading, institutionally and culturally. The brightest Russian intellectuals and businessmen are leaving the country in droves, while public discourse is becoming increasingly debilitating. The nuclear deterrent ensures that the system can’t be changed from the outside. Chronic social apathy and fatalism of post-genocidal society don’t leave much hope that it can be easily changed from the inside.

All of that means that over decades Russia can indeed turn into a Godzilla-sized North Korea by very gradually squeezing out everyone who is capable of acting on their own initiative and keeping only those who will silently cope with more repression and deteriorating economy.

That creates a problem for the entire world. While these days the gangster-ish Russian leadership is artfully playing a psycho while not actually being one, a more North Korean society will be pushing real psychos to the top, making an accidental nuclear conflict a greater possibility.

That’s why there is no alternative to engaging Russia, while antagonization only serves Kremli rulers and state propaganda. Engaging Russia, but not necessarily its political regime, which should indeed be indeed disengaged from its London bank accounts and Cote d’Azur villas. It is Russian people who should be engaged, over the heads of their government.

All problems with this giant country stem from the fact that after the fall of Communism Russians found themselves in a cultural vacuum, feeling that they were unwelcome in the Euroatlantic community and despised by most of its members. They have always lacked the beacon of integration that has forced society in Eastern Europe to change, despite a natural predilection for authoritarianism, patrimonialism and tribalism, which is now showing self in Poland and Hungary.

Reaching out to various segments of Russian directly, having a clearly formulated message for each of them, choosing the right words and making sure that the message finds its audience – all of that may change the landscape for the better. The problem though is that at the moment the West has no positive message for Russians that could inspire them to change, while the level of knowledge and understanding with regard to Russia is just pathetic. With issues Trump and Brexit, there is too much domestic mess to be dealt with before anyone get any fresh thoughts on Russia.

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October 19, 2016 at 4:39 pm

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Remember the panorama of Kiev’s Independence Square at the height of the 2014 revolution? Army tents, field kitchens, piles of burning tires, black smoke drifting through the frosty air and giant barricades manned by post-apocalyptic warriors straight out of Mad Max?

Now imagine the same Maidan scene at the National Mall in Washington – a square that stretches for three kilometres and abuts in the Capitol. If I were a Kremlin strategist – given their Tarantino-styled post-modernist obsession with re-staging iconic scenes over and over again – I’d be dreaming of orchestrating a colour revolution in the heart of America. That would be Kremlin’s most spectacular revenge for what it sees as US-backed revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia and the Middle East.

This is what comes to mind when Donald Trump starts talking about rigged elections. It is one of the surest symptom of a pending colour revolution. Allegations of rigging is what sparked Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in December 2004. Seven years later, same allegations triggered Bolotnaya protests in Moscow, which the Kremlin read as an attempt to use the same political technology in Russia.

If someone has told Trump about colour revolutions, it would be Paul Manafort, who once advised Viktor Yanukovych, the man who was defeated in Orange revolution and then once again in the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.

Largely based on voters’ honesty and backed up by outdated technology, the US elections can indeed be rigged or disrupted by hackers, as demonstrated by the recent cyber-attacks, which the US authorities blamed on Russian government-controlled hacker. With a very weak voter identification procedure, hardly anything prevents what Russians call “carousels” – when groups of people travel between polling stations voting multiple times.

If violations and disruptions are sufficient to convince a constituency that’s already known for buying half-baked lies like president Obama’s non-US origin, then staging a massive permanent protest will be a technical issue. Occupy Wall Street did work for a while, so this one might work, too.

Can Trump rally a million people – the number which Louis Farrakhan promised but failed to bring to the National Mall in 1995? I have no idea. But if I worked for the Kremlin, I’d definitely try to convey the vision of a DC Maidan to Trump and his advisors.

Kremlin’s evident support for Trump’s candidacy has never been about making him win, but about making America divided, weak and preoccupied with an internal crisis. That worked in Ukraine, which keeps bleeding ever since the latest revolution. Making it bleed is not a means of achieving something, but an end in itself.

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October 15, 2016 at 11:36 pm

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How many political prisoners are there in Russia? Around 50. Only a handful of them are genuine pro-democracy activists, while many are suspected jihadists and far-right extremists, who were naturally denied fair trial, just because it is Russia.

Now the number of people arrested in the aftermath of the failed Turkish coup is estimated at around 70 thousand, though some of them have been freed. The clampdown on the alleged “Gülenists” does smack of Stalin’s purges of the “Troskyists” in the 1930s. Most of the prisoners had nothing to do with Trotsky, it’s just that Stalin needed an enemy brand to rally his supporters by inciting fear and hatred.

There is a great irony in the fact that a NATO member and a country that once was just a step away from joining the EU (under the same government) is now more repressive than the much-feared Russia. More than that, the duo is now forging an alliance, as exemplified by the gas pipeline agreement announced today.

Just 20 years ago Russia was also a very different country, with a population naively enthusiastic about integrating with the West and ending the Cold War. But having been shown in every kind of away that it can’t hope for the same treatment as other Eastern bloc countries, it found itself in a cultural and political vacuum that has produced a monster called Vladimir Putin. Now it’s Turkey’s turn to create its own monster.

What unites Turkey and Russia is that they were both denied the possibility of integration in Euro-Atlantic structures not because of their merits or the lack of thereof but because of xenophobia and ancient animosities promoted by nationalists in EU member countries.

There are only two ideas that allow leaders to rally masses of people in most of Europe, especially in the east. One is nationalism, with its appeal to archaic tribal instincts of sticking with the kin and hating neighbours. The other is European integration.

When they come together – magic things happen, like Maidan revolution in Ukraine and velvet revolutions of 1989. When the integration component is missing, an authoritarian form of nationalism takes hold.

That’s because those who genuinely care about liberal democracy are never a majority. Not just in Russia or Turkey, but even in the US, as the current election shows.

There are various ways of stopping Putin’s and Erdogan’s brinkmanship as well as them building a Eurasian political alliance hostile to the EU. But there is only one that will ultimately work, if complemented by other methods, such as sanctions.

It is to appeal to the people and elites in both countries, over the head of their leaders, that they are welcome in the united Europe, provided they implement a set of conditions that include a thorough democratization and – in the case of Russia – withdrawing from Ukraine plus a complete overhaul of all corruption-ridden institutes. Leadership change is also a fair, though not necessarily practical demand.

This plan certainly sounds utopian now that various EU nations are now threatening to degrade into 20th century nation states, surrounded by barbed wire and customs posts. But the wind will change and EU expansion will be back on the table.

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October 10, 2016 at 8:46 pm

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Pavel Sheremet was a Ukrainian, as much as Russian and Belarusian journalist. He worked as a correspondent for the Russian ORT channel (currently Channel 1) in Minsk until he got jailed on dubious charges related to his professional activities. His cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky was later killed, allegedly by a death squad, also responsible for assassinations of Lukashenko’s opponents.

For a long time, I could not forgive Sheremet for his stint as a pro-Putin TV propagandist during Russian media wars that resulted in the defeat of Luzhkov-Primakov coalition and the hostile takeover of NTV – an event that heralded the beginning of the end of free press in Russia. To be fair, he was not the only democrat who backed Putin at the time. Many of Putin’s current fierce opponents regarded him as a lesser evil compared with his old guard foes.

I raised that subject when I first met Sheremet for a proper chat last year. He replied something along the lines that he would live to regret it. I immediately hated myself for my mindless righteousness.

Sheremet was one of the most nuanced journalist in the ex-USSR who didn’t give in to the temptation of joining crowds of zealots incapable of critical thinking, no matter whether they support Putin or the West. He understood the complexity of the post-Soviet discourse and bought neither Russian nor Ukrainian and Western propagandist cliches.

I think it is thanks to his Putin experience that he understood the risks of striking deals with the devil. His last op-ed, in which he warned about dodgy criminal characters associated with Ukrainian volunteer battalions, was exactly about that. It was a very carefully worded piece, which praised former Azov commander Anton Biletsky for cooperation with the government, but asserted that Biletsky’s progress should be watched very attentively because of his neo-Nazi past.

This is not to say that the blame should be immediately apportioned to the Ukrainian far-right. Sheremet was an important anti-Kremlin voice who has wholeheartedly supported Ukraine when it was invaded by Russian troops in 2014. As the owner of one of the main opposition websites in Belarus, he had enemies there, too.

Murders of journalists rarely get properly investigated in the former USSR. The lack of transparency in the case of pro-Russian journalist Oleh Buzyna, assassinated in Kiev last year, doesn’t leave much hope that this investigation will be any different. But Sheremet was a much more popular and respected media figure, so I am sure that in his case, the Ukrainian civil society will be pressing the authorities  very hard in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

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July 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

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Britain’s three main political parties – some of the world’s oldest – got defeated by a single-issue coalition that was formed just a few months ago and lost its charismatic leader less than a week after its victory.

In the US, the unofficial Trump party has effectively defeated GOP and will probably give a hard time to the Democrats in the coming months.

I am writing this in Ukraine, where – like in many parts of Eastern Europe – all parties are temporary coalitions coalescing around charismatic leaders or specific issues and showing no semblance of any coherent ideology.

It has been for a long time presumed that eventually they’ll give way to stable political institutions, such as Tory and Labour parties in the UK.

But see – it goes the other way round in the UK and also in America. Is it a sign of decline or is it the future of global politics? Perhaps Eastern Europe has simply rejected the institution that was already outdated at the time when democracy knocked on its door?

Media revolution has completely changed the tools of political mobilization. Do old parties fit into this new environment? I am not sure.

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July 3, 2016 at 4:18 pm

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Did you notice how all of us living OUTSIDE Britain were genuinely worried about the outcome of the British referendum? Like it is our domestic issue.

That’s because it is. Europe is our home. The outcome is a huge blow for all pro-European forces inside and outside the EU. It is a victory for the fledgling Nationalist International – a huge and powerful global coalition that unites Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, West European far-right and far-left populist demagogues, East European nationalists and last but not least – Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia that made its own contribution to making Brexit happen.

But it’s great that we see it as a common issue. It is time to rise to the next level and engage in pan-European political battle against archaic politics that nurtures divisions, jingoism, corruption and wars.

The liberal discourse in Europe has been poisoned by nationalism for decades. That happened because progressive politicians in the 19th and 20th century used nationalism as a tool of political mobilization in their fight for human rights, equal representation and against the oppression of archaic empires.

But on its own, nationalism is an ideology of regress that strives to take the world back to tribalism, patrimonialism and anti-meritocracy. It is the ideology of us against them, of always supporting your country and your kin, even if their actions are vile and immoral.

The division of Europe into ethnocratic nation states is unnatural. It is only the Holocaust coupled with post-WWII deportations that turned countries like Poland and Czech Republic into monoethnic and mono-religious states. But is Poland better without Jews, Germans and Ukrainians? Is Czech-only Prague better? It the multicultural cosmopolitan feel that makes countries like Britain and cities like London look stronger than the above two.

I am a Russian European. I am proud of my language and culture, but I am not proud of my country. Actually I am deeply ashamed of what it has done to Ukraine and what it is doing to its own intelligentsia and middle class. I am ashamed of it acting is a wicked teenager that won’t grow up despite all the harm it has done to itself and its neighbours.

Being Russian, I also realize how many people and politicians in countries to the west of mine are exact copies of those who have created Putin’s regime, how close all European countries are to replicating it – much closer than any of them would admit, even to themselves. Yes I mean you, Poland and Hungary. Putin’s Russia is indeed Dorian Gray’s picture of Europe.

I am totally on the same wavelength with my pro-European friends in Britain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Baltic and Scandinavian countries, Ukraine and Georgia.

I have as little in common with Russia’s pro-Putin majority as I have with Ukrainian and other East European nationalists, West European anti-EU populists of all shades and colours, Brexiteers, Trumpists and Tea Party supporters in the US. I have none of these among my friends and I can hardly see any of them on my Facebook timeline.

There are many Europeans like me, inside and outside the EU. It’s time for European liberals to realign the barricades – destroy the ones that divide us along the national boundaries and build a massive new bulwark against the White Walkers of the 21st century, the nationalists.

I totally believe that European Union is the best institution that has ever been created in this continent. It is also the best guarantee for the survival of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, from large ones to the tiniest. It is nationalists who start wars and conduct ethnic cleansing.

The EU is still very young, weak, poorly coordinated and disunited. Well, we need to make it stronger. It’s time for a new and more powerful European dream. We need to talk to each other and work it out. Now.

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June 27, 2016 at 8:08 am

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I spoke with a Baltic diplomat earlier this month and he said: “Putin is just a hooligan – it’s a hooligan state!”

He was actually talking about Russian military posturing in the vicinity of his country, but clashes in France clearly confirm his viewpoint. It’s not football hooligans as such, but the reaction of the Russian state to their hooliganism – like summoning the French ambassador on the account of arrests made by French police.

Many media outlets have contrasted the Russian reaction to that of British government officials and politicians.  While British dignitaries condemned their fans for street violence and mischief, the Russians endorsed the considerably more dangerous behavior of their compatriots. Some of them even used hooligans’ language, like Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin who said that Europe is simply “not used to seeing real men after all the gay parades”. In addition to all that, some of the ultras appeared to be members of the official delegation.

It entirely fits into Russia’s general line of behavior. There is no purpose or strategy – just the desire to be evil for the sake of it and to engage in all kinds of antisocial behavior. The country is a teenager that will continue to break windows and pee on the porch until he grows up – something that may or may not happen since there are no grown-ups around to look after his upbringing.

Russia’s behavior stems from the 20th century trauma coupled with its unique status of the only East European state that has no real chance of hoping to be integrated into the Euroatlantic community.

That realization, which descended on previously naive and enthusiastic ex-Soviet people late in the 1990s, produced another layer of trauma on top of the first one.

There is no chance at all that Russia will change, while both Europe and America are themselves degrading into political hooliganism, as in the case of Trump, Brexit or Dutch referendum on Ukraine. But it will definitely happen when the pendulum of history swings the other way, the European Union gets its act together and starts fulfilling the project of united Europe without borders and the archaic menace of nationalism.

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June 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

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The whole of Europe is  outraged by the mayhem caused by Russian and English football fans in France and rightly so. But in fact we could have had another Orlando, if not for the Ukrainian secret services. A couple of weeks earlier (the announcement came on June 6), they intercepted a terrorist suspect who tried to smuggle grenade launchers and explosives from from the war-torn Ukraine into France.

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) that the suspect, identified by the French press as Gregoire Moutaux, planned to stage simultaneous bombing attacks targeting bridges, highways, a tax office, a mosque, a synagogue and Euro-2016 offices.

SBU press release suggests that the man is a far-right radical. In that case it’s no wonder that he was on SBU’s radar from the moment he stepped on the Ukrainian soil.

Ukraine has a problem with its own ultra-nationalists, who took an active part in the war effort after the Russian invasion in Crimea and Donbass. That made them firmly entrenched in various parts of the government, particularly law-enforcement bodies.

But so far it seems that it is the state that controls and steers them and not visa versa. One example is the gay parade that took place in Kiev last Sunday. There were calls by notable right-wingers to attack LGBT activists.

But major right-wing organisations, like Azov Civil Corps, refrained from doing so. That’s largely thanks to the effort by security services and political consultants who are steering these very real extremists towards relative mainstream.

The ones who actually tried to stage attacks (but were repelled and detained by the police) were mostly connected to Dmytro Korchynsky – a veteran political provocateur, who was formerly an ally of Russian ultra-nationalist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin and fought alongside Donbass rebel commander Igor Girkin (Strelkov) in Moldovan war in 1992. Curiously or not, he also happen to be Ukraine’s chief Russophobe who has been supplying Russian propaganda outlets with “fascist Ukraine” material for two decades.

I was curious to check out how Korchynsky reacted to Orlando. He used the tragedy to attack his arch-enemy – MP Mustafa Nayem, who took part in Kiev Pride. A Ukrainian journalist of Afghan origin, Nayem is also the man whose Facebook post triggered Maidan revolution in 2013.

This is what Korchysky wrote about Orlando:

“I am sorry for the unfortunate victims, but I lack the spirit to sympathise with the Americans. It’s them who should sympathise with us. America is a great country. But why is everyone better there, even the Afghans? While the Ukrainian Afghan was waving a rainbow flag at the gay parade, the American one was skilfully emptying his gun cases”.

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June 14, 2016 at 5:58 pm

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