René Coignard

Sharing my thoughts

In the Realm of the Whitest Sheen

In a realm of whitest sheen,
Blissful lives and comfort seen.
Open wide your soul to show,
Deeper still, they’ll scoff and throw.

Rise too high, the fall is sheer,
Finding glee in that’s insincere.
Travel slow, you’ll journey far,
So spoke a famed “poet” star.

Never hold too firm or tight,
To any soul or any sight.
Pave a path, with no dismay,
Leading to your brighter day.

Carefree, with freedom in pace,
On that path, you’ll find your place.
Should you stumble, should you stall,
Few will note, if any at all.

When age approaches, silver and grey,
Fear not, it’s simply life’s way.
For the soul has veered astray,
Lost and gone, come what may.

Neither devil, nor to God above,
Your spirit will acknowledge with love.
Tread your trail, and you’ll decree,
Life on Earth is rich and free.

© Olga Podivilova, 1992

Mobilisation in Russia: A Year On

Exactly a year ago, on 21 September 2022, as Russia continued its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin declared a “partial” mobilisation. This initial phase, which endured through the autumn of 2022, witnessed the summoning of an estimated 300,000 individuals. This strategic step was taken by Russia to bolster its units that had incurred significant losses during the initial phases of the aggression and to establish over 75 new “territorial” regiments, which are now operative on the frontline.

Russian officials have stated that they will persist in their fight with the aid of volunteers and that they have an objective to recruit 420,000 contract soldiers in 2023. However, this target appears ambitious, and the Kremlin’s assertions of success are greeted with doubt. From September to December 2022, a mere 20,000 volunteers were enlisted, and it remains ambiguous if this figure has risen appreciably since then.

Concurrently, Russian forces persist in enduring heavy losses. By the close of May 2023, the Russian Armed Forces and the Wagner Group had suffered an estimated 47,000 men killed in action. From May to September, another 15,000 soldiers are believed to have been lost. Furthermore, about 50,000 contracts of pardoned prisoners who had previously served in the Wagner Group were ended in 2023.

As per the Russian Defence Ministry’s strategy, the army is set to augment by half a million individuals. Two new armies and an army corps were on the agenda to be founded in 2023. Yet, even if the initiative to recruit new contract soldiers is fruitful, the ambition to enhance the army’s dimensions is at risk.

Moreover, a rotation of the 2022 mobilisation cohort may soon be imperative. Compelling them to combat until the Ukraine campaign’s conclusive end could prove dear for the Russian command. Absent a change of personnel, units might witness a decline in their combat efficacy.

The sole uncertainty is pinpointing when the second phase of mobilisation will commence. Nevertheless, the protraction of the conflict in Ukraine makes this occurrence increasingly probable and imminent.

ProtonMail Supports OpenPGP Web Key Directory

Today, I unexpectedly discovered that ProtonMail can automatically encrypt emails for recipients who have WKD (which stands for “Web Key Directory”) set up. This feature allows email clients to automatically retrieve copies of PGP public keys over the HTTPS protocol.

In other words, if someone uses ProtonMail and wants to send me an email, ProtonMail will recognise that I have a PGP key, retrieve its public portion using WKD, and encrypt the email before sending it. Consequently, I’d receive an email encrypted specifically for me.

My Role as the Voice of Russia’s Election Hotline

For the first time in a long while, I was unable to observe the Russian elections firsthand. I am currently in Sakartvelo, and until Putin’s regime falls, it seems I won’t be returning to my homeland. Nevertheless, even though I couldn’t be physically present at the elections, I managed to participate in them. This year, for the first time, I volunteered at the election observers’ support hotline.

For security reasons, I cannot share the internal workings of the hotline, such as the number of participants, the specifics of an operator’s duties, or the details of calls received. However, I can say that it was an immensely rewarding and enlightening experience. It allowed me to assist numerous individuals, including voters and observers, and deepen my understanding of electoral law.

I was pleasantly surprised when an voter, well-versed in electoral law, contacted the hotline to report a violation at his polling station. I guided him on how to draft and submit a complaint to the local election commission. He reached out to me several times for clarification on the complaint submission process, and, in the end, he successfully reported the election violation.

I also fielded calls from observers asking about the mechanics of the remote e-voting system. This platform allows voters to cast their votes remotely without visiting their polling stations. Unfortunately, this system has some serious flaws that, I believe, enable the Russian government to tamper with the voting outcomes. During these elections, numerous reports emerged of voters being pressured to engage in e-voting.

Beyond my hotline duties, I also had the honor of contacting past election observers to invite them to monitor the current elections. While I was able to recruit only a handful of individuals, I am thrilled to have had this chance to support the strengthening of Russia’s civil society. I am hopeful that once the political situation stabilizes, I’ll have another opportunity to participate in the elections as an independent observer.

Contrary to what one might expect, working as a hotline operator was not stressful. In fact, after my shift, I felt invigorated and full of life. I cherish interacting with people and, more significantly, value being a part of a team that aids in protecting the rights and freedoms of my fellow citizens. Until I can return to Russia, I intend to continue serving in future elections as a hotline operator. The experience was truly fulfilling.

The Sakartvelo Chapter: Six Months On

Exactly six months ago, at five in the morning, I passed through border control in Sakartvelo and found myself at Tbilisi International Airport. Thus concluded my escape from the Russian police, who had been persecuting me for my anti-war stance. This journey had started in September of the previous year and only concluded in March of this year.

These have probably been the most productive six months of my life. An incredible number of events have occurred during this period, and I’ll likely never have the opportunity to tell the full story of them all. Although, perhaps if I write my memoirs one day, I will certainly strive to remember every detail. Today, however, I want to focus on the most significant ones.

My first night after arriving in Sakartvelo was spent at Ivan Drobov’s flat, and I’d like to extend my thanks to him once again. Following that, I spent two weeks living in a shelter. After my time there, I moved to a different shelter for a brief period. Finally, I settled into a rented room in a house near the Marjanishvili metro station. There, I met Maxim Ivantsov and many other equally fascinating people.

Thanks to Maxim, I conducted a lecture series called “Privacy Day” in the educational space “Frame.” Importantly for me, I also organized my first CryptoParty. During this event, participants exchanged PGP keys and went a step further by signing them for each other. In addition, I held a lecture on personal productivity methodologies like “Getting Things Done” and goal management strategies such as “Agile Results.”

I was also fortunate to find remote work as a DevOps engineer at a Cypriot IT company, complete with a wonderful team and a competitive salary. This job allowed me to get my mother out of Russia, where she had been unfairly targeted by the police. They had visited her and threatened to fabricate drug charges against her in order to open a criminal case, all because of my anti-war stance.

I didn’t want to stay in Tbilisi, as it was too noisy and large for my liking, so I moved to Kutaisi. I settled near the railway station, which allowed me, for the first time in many years, to visit the sea via a direct train. Kutaisi seemed more peaceful, quiet, and clean compared to Tbilisi.

In August, Charlotte, my beloved from France, came to visit me to spend our joint vacation together. We visited Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Tskhaltubo, the Prometheus Cave, Poti, and journeyed up to the mountains in Svaneti and Mestia. We had a wonderful time together and were fortunate to share many very special moments. It was an extraordinary and unique adventure.

After our vacation with Charlotte, my close friend Ivan Aleksandrovich came to visit me. The last time we had met was in Russia in February of the previous year, just a couple of weeks before the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I was genuinely pleased to see my friend again and, if I get the opportunity in the future, hope to visit him in the Czech Republic, where he now resides.

Importantly, I was also able to address many health issues that had been plaguing me since I began hiding from the police in Russia. I must admit it was quite stressful, and my body was thoroughly worn out over those six months. However, I now feel full of energy and ready for new achievements.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout this long journey: my wonderful mum, my amazing brother, my incredible friends, and my dear Charlotte. Thank you all for everything you’ve done for me. I really appreciate and love you. Be happy, my dear friends.

These have been remarkable six months. Let’s see what life has in store for me, my family, and my friends in the foreseeable future.

René Coignard

Relative Comparison

Following up on my previous note, I’d like to make a few important additions. Our sense of happiness is strongly influenced by what is known as “relative comparison”: this occurs when we feel uneasy about the gap between what we already have and the desired level we wish to attain.

Moreover, our sense of happiness is also affected by our prior expectations: for instance, if we have had a very enjoyable vacation, it’s likely that in the future we will measure our happiness against that previous successful experience, expecting that, at a minimum, we will once again have a similar experience and the same emotions. Generally speaking, we want our current situation to be as good as our previous positive experience.

In such cases, to alleviate constant frustration and cognitive dissonance caused by the mismatch between our expectations and reality, it’s sufficient to reasonably lower our expectations of the current moment and life in general. Obviously, this must be approached with full seriousness, as excessive lowering of expectations can lead to unhappiness.

Lowering expectations allows us to break free from the chains of “deferred life syndrome,” as learning to be content with little, but present, things—in the current moment—gives us the opportunity to let go of grand expectations that reside somewhere in a distant future that will never come; after all, the future doesn’t exist, it’s merely a figment of our imagination. We gain the opportunity to be content with what we have, rather than what we wish to have.

Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “No man is happy until he thinks himself so.” Indeed, expecting that we’ll only be happy when we “reach some goal” or “attain a certain moment” deprives us of the opportunity to consider ourselves happy right now, as we will inevitably expect happiness to come only after certain life conditions are met. And we will never be happy in such a case.

However, reasoning itself and, in principle, any philosophy are worthless if a person does not make conscious efforts to apply the acquired knowledge to their own life. Personally, I believe that one cannot become happy; one can only be happy, and be so right now: after all, we only have control over the current moment, and we have no influence over the future, which is entirely beyond our control.

From this follows that to achieve happiness, it is enough to have the desire to be happy (surprise!) and then allow oneself to experience aesthetic pleasure in the context of one’s own life: to find beauty in all manifestations of the current moment and everything that surrounds us right now. We should constantly ask ourselves where we are, and if the answer is “the future” or “the past,” one must make conscious attempts to return to the present—the only destination where happiness is possible.

The Right to Be Happy

I spent the whole last week contemplating why, despite the qualitative improvement in my quality of life, I still can’t seem to derive enough satisfaction from it. Indeed, if I compare my current life with how it was a year ago, everything has radically changed for the better: I now live in a safe country (not Russia) and work in a job I like, I have found the love of my life, I’ve moved my mother to Sakartvelo and no longer worry about her safety, and have moved to a city that I wholeheartedly adore. So why can’t I still find satisfaction in the life I have now?

In psychology, there’s a term called “negativity bias”—it’s a feature of our brain’s functioning that causes us to focus more on negative information than positive. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is entirely justified: our ancestors lived in conditions where resource scarcity and predators were daily realities, and quick, effective responses to negative stimuli could greatly increase chances of survival. The survival itself was the cost of failure every now and then, so only those with negativity bias used to survive: for example, those who heard a noise in the bushes and assumed it was a predator rather than just the wind.

Nowadays, of course, it’s unlikely that a predator will suddenly pounce on us from a bush, but this mechanism continues to operate as if we lived thousands of years ago. Here’s an example: imagine you have achieved all the goals we set in your life. So, you’ve got your own home, your own car, a family, a job you love, and peace around you. But then, let’s say, you develop a toothache, and now neither your own home, nor your car, nor your beloved job can fully compensate for the negative emotions you are overwhelmed with because of this ailment. In summary, we have built a civilization, but the firmware in our brains remains rather archaic.

Moving on. There’s also something called “hedonic adaptation”: this is when we quickly get used to the good things. Roughly speaking, if you repeatedly perform a pleasant action, the intensity of the positive emotions derived from it is going to exponentially decrease over time. For example, upon entering a relationship, many feel like they are on cloud nine, but after living together for a while they fall into melancholy and sadness, often breaking the relationship because they feel that “the love has gone” and “everything has become monotonous.” This, by the way, is one reason why I prefer Long-Distance Relationships—yes, people in such relationships see each other less often, but the experience gained from less frequent encounters is almost always more vivid than if these meetings happened on a regular basis.

Hedonic adaptation is a good explanation for why people so often strive for “bigger and better,” but rarely experience long-term happiness from their achievements. Again, from an evolutionary standpoint, the existence of hedonic adaptation makes sense: for example, in the distant past, people discovered how to make fire. This is much more pleasant than sitting and freezing at night without it. But eventually, they grew accustomed to the warmth from the bonfire—and it wasn’t a big leap from there to skyscrapers with central heating. Essentially, many of the benefits of civilisation that we enjoy today are partly due to hedonic adaptation and a constant nagging feeling that “everything is stale,” “there’s not enough,” and “to be happy, I want to have more than I have now.” And because of negativity bias, we adapt far worse to bad things than to good things. Sic!

Now, Monsieur Dopamine enters our (already rather sad) story. The good news is that it has absolutely nothing to do with happiness, although it is often erroneously referred to as the “happiness hormone.” It is thanks to this hormone that any achievement turns into yet another disappointment, because—surprise!—dopamine is responsible not for happiness, but for motivation. In rough terms, dopamine is the hormone of anticipated happiness. You need it to keep going until you reach your goal, even if you don’t yet see the results. An example: you save money from your salary for several months to buy a new iPhone and eagerly await the purchase, yet just a few days after buying it, you realise it’s not that big of a deal. All because dopamine level starts to decrease.

It’s important to remember that we are the descendants of people who were most dissatisfied with their lives. Because if, in the ancient times, a person preferred to take a short nap in the shade instead of constantly striving to find food, they risked becoming prey themselves. The moment following the achievement of a goal is always less pleasant than the moment before achieving it. That’s because when you’re chasing a mammoth, you feel exhilarated and excited, but once the mammoth is killed, you realise you still have to butcher and cook it, and then eat it, and then hunt for a new mammoth... It’s all a long chain of problems! You had a purpose just a moment ago, and now it’s gone—taken away. Killed along with the mammoth.

The constant pursuit for a better life, coupled with hedonic adaptation, makes you feel like happiness is just around the corner; you just have to wait a little longer or speed up. But days, months, and years pass, and there’s no happiness—only dissatisfaction with life and constant self-deceit: “happiness will come, but only later.” As a result, there is no happiness in the past, present, or future—nowhere. When we treat the present moment as the preparation for a future in which happiness will definitely come, we deceive ourselves: in this case, we risk ending up in a future that will inevitably turn into the present, and we are not accustomed to waiting for happiness in the present—and thus, a wonderful future turns into a dreary present.

The conclusion is straightforward: if we’re not living in the present moment, there’s no point in planning for the future. Because when that future becomes the present, when “that long-awaited event” occurs, we’ll rob ourselves of the chance to feel happy by being preoccupied with building up expectations for a new happy future. There’s no happiness in the future, and it’s no use to search for it there. In fact, it’s pointless to search for happiness at all: happiness should not be an end in itself. In most cases, we experience anxiety and restlessness precisely because we can’t live in the present moment. For some strange reason, it seems inadequate to us. This makes sense: no matter how good the present life is, our brain has the remarkable ability to envision an even more wonderful future and make us suffer from the mismatch between reality and expectations.

We’re constantly chasing happiness and end up unhappy in the present. Therefore, to become happy, we need to stop chasing an unattainable future and stay in the present, embracing it with all its pros and cons. We need to stop treating the present as something inadequate. We must see it as the only kind of reality accessible to us. We must understand that neither the past nor the future exist—they are merely constructs of our brain—and only the present moment truly exists. A simple formula: if we think we will be happy in the future, we automatically become unhappy in the present. And by denying ourselves happiness now, we deny ourselves happiness forever. Paradoxically, the only way to become happy is to stop striving for happiness; to give up on happiness as an end goal.

Equally important, happiness shouldn’t be dependent on another person or any material thing. True happiness is always unconditional and doesn’t require the presence of anything or anyone.

Here, I’ll make a clarification about what I personally understand by happiness. Since I adhere to Stoic philosophy, the term that comes closest to describing happiness for me is “ataraxia.” Ataraxia is a state of mental tranquility, equanimity, serenity, and complete absence of fear.

Life is a game, and for some odd reason, its first rule is to consider it not a game but serious business. A greater mistake is to believe that life is a path or even an obstacle course. This concept has a significant flaw: every path must lead somewhere. A path is akin to a goal. But life can’t have an ultimate goal; otherwise, at some point, we’d reach that goal and be deprived of the purpose of life. This is what makes life beautiful. We’ve always misunderstood life, thinking it’s a path, but actually, it’s a musical composition.

Life has been a musical piece since the very first day of our existence, something aimless, the value of which is evenly distributed among all its parts, just as it is in music. From the first day of our lives, nothing has been required of us except to enjoy the present moment, to sing and dance while the record called “life” plays.

Our aversion to the present moment and attempts to live in the future (which is impossible) are due to our outdated mental firmware. You can download a new version of the firmware either by reading this text, or, if that doesn’t work, with the help of a therapist: essentially, that’s what they do—update obsolete worldviews as perceived by our ancient brain, and replace them with more accurate and modern ones.

Myshonok Pik

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to finally find the soundtrack to the eponymous Soviet animated film, based on the literary work of the same name by the naturalist writer Vitaly Bianki.

This animated film has no dialogue; it solely features the music of Vladimir Martynov, which I am pleased to share with you today. This is the music of my childhood, and it evokes the warmest nostalgic memories in me.


“Klaus” is an animated film by Spanish director Sergio Pablos. What immediately struck me was the visual style of the animation: throughout the viewing, I savoured this deliberately vibrant and touching atmosphere with no less vibrant characters. Interestingly, the director of the film also contributed to the screenplay for “Despicable Me,” yet in the styles of these two films, I could only identify one similarity—the way the external features of the characters are exaggerated in accordance with their personalities.

So, this is a wonderful film that successfully combines beautiful visual animation style with an intriguing plot and profound themes. At the centre of the narrative is Jesper—an infantile young man whose father owns a postal company. One day, his father decides to put an end to his son’s spoilt behaviour and sends him to mature at the northernmost town of Smeerensburg to organise a post office and process at least six thousand letters within a year. An interesting fact: the town’s name is derived from the Dutch “Smeerenburg”—a former settlement on Amsterdam Island founded by Danish and Dutch whalers in 1614.

Upon arriving on the island, Jesper discovers that the town is home to two clans that are in a state of constant feuding. Clearly, the townspeople are not interested in letters; their only concern is causing harm to each other. Jesper realises that he is not destined to process the required six thousand letters and falls into despair. However, one day he accidentally discovers a remote location on the map, where a mysterious grey-haired old man named Klaus lives. Klaus is a reclusive woodsman and carpenter who has his own woodworking shop and a multitude of toys made by his own hands.

Jesper arrived on an island where senseless fighting between the two clans never ceased for even a day. Both clans had long forgotten what they were feuding for—their leaders claimed they were fighting each other because it was their “legacy,” and all their past generations had also fought each other. (Thus, it seemed logical to them that they should continue feuding with each other.)

The director uses allegory to mock the social stereotype that one must unquestionably accept their ancestors’ legacy, even if it contains inherent flaws. For example, Russia comes to mind—its government is so obsessed with its historical past that, rather than advancing and aspiring towards a brighter, freer future, the country seems stuck in the last century, adopting all the most aggressive repressive practices from the times of the Soviet Union.

In reality, the animated film doesn’t have any hidden subtext: the entire film revolves around the phrase “A true selfless act always sparks another.” Frankly, this is what captivated me about the film: it’s simple, but for that reason, it felt incredibly authentic to me. As the plot unfolds, Jesper befriends Klaus and together they create and give toys to the children of the town of Smeerensburg, revitalising and transforming the town in the process. There is a stark contrast between the town as it was in the beginning and how it becomes after Jesper’s arrival (though initially upon arriving in the city, Jesper had no intention of changing himself, let alone changing anything in the city.)

To reinforce the phrase I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Jesper transforms from a childish young man into a self-sufficient, mature, and complete adult—all thanks to Klaus’s kindness, which enabled Jesper to perform a good deed and witness the result. In the end, Jesper even takes a bold step: when his father comes to take him back, he refuses to return to his luxurious life—Jesper stays in Smeerensburg, with Klaus and his new love, Alva.

The film also teaches empathy and demonstrates that there are no truly bad people in the world: the fates of all the characters transform throughout the film—both Jesper and members of the feuding clans. In the end, there isn’t a single truly negative character left: each finds their place in life and shows their brighter side. The same holds true in the real world—there are no truly evil people, only those whose darker sides temporarily suppress the good. Darkness does not exist—there is only the absence of light. Most often, this is coupled with some sort of unhappiness, as a genuinely happy person would be unlikely to intentionally harm others. For the unhappy, one can only feel compassion; they’re already suffering enough.

Absolutely stunning animated film, totally recommend it.

Cold Showers

I recently stumbled upon the benefits of cold showers quite unexpectedly. It turns out this is one of the few ways to legally receive a dose of dopamine that lasts in your system for up to six hours. Surprisingly, it really works: now I start every morning with a cold shower and feel invigorated and full of energy all day long.

I take a cold shower every morning, lasting anywhere from thirty seconds to one minute. The next stage is a contrast shower: this is when you stand under a warm shower for one to two minutes, followed by a cold shower for ten to twenty seconds.

I highly recommend it to everyone.

Earlier Ctrl + ↓