Until recently, the restaurant on Leningradsky Prospect, opposite the monumental Sovyetskaya hotel was called 'Antisovyetskaya'. Portraits of famous Soviet cultural figures, known for their dissident ideas, decorate its walls.
For the last 3 years the Kazakh government has been declaring to its people that the country's signals Kazakhstan's growing importance in the world. It will be the first of the post-Soviet states to do so.
Ulitskaya to Khodorkovsky 15.10.08.
Dear Mikhail Borisovich,
As we sit in one of Moscow's fashionable neo-Tsarist restaurants, an old friend reminds me that there are only three Cs that matter: Chelsea, Cartier and Courchevel. The economic crisis has affected his real estate business, but not so much that he has to forgo life's many luxuries. In any case, the oil price is already beginning to rise and the economy is easing itself out of recession, so his confidence remains undiminished. For the past 20 years of globalised gluttony, Russia's embracing of conspicuous consumption has been the most pronounced of any emerging market. Some of its manifestations are particular, notably its unhealthy mix of nationalistic hubris and resentment of outsiders, what I have long called "the politics of envy".
Yet Russia's embrace of materialism to the detriment of so much else, shares many characteristics of other countries. In a year of travelling to research my book, "Freedom for Sale", I looked at eight countries, four of them notionally authoritarian - Singapore, China, Russia and the UAE - four notionally democratic - India, Italy, the UK and the USA. Why, I wanted to know, is it that so many people are willing to give up their freedoms in return for the promise of either prosperity or security? Why are people so reluctant to cause trouble, even where they have legal protection for free expression? Or to put it another way: why are the middle classes so easily bought off?
I first went to Russia in the late 1970s. I have been a regular visitor since, including two spells of working as a correspondent, in the mid 80s, and during the heady years of the early 90s. I saw the Soviet Union in stagnation and not-so-blissful isolation, when the verb "to buy" was less important than "to get hold of". The joke was "we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us". In the Yeltsin years, as Communism collapsed and uncertainty was the only certainty, Russians enjoyed unprecedented freedoms.
For my mother, as the Nazis invaded Poland, the choice was easy. She ran away, with the rest of her Jewish middle-class family. They left a modern apartment, relatives, friends, jobs, family photographs and documents, a prosperous life with its hard-won routines, and their plans for the future.
When I sat opposite Antonia Tsentalya and looked into her eyes, I saw the same refugee's story. It had been the same for her: neighbours turning up in her house, shouting that Kitauri was already on fire, the enemy was getting closer to Gochari, and why were they still there while the Abkhaz military was attacking Ochamchira district?
Antonia, her husband, and their five children, fled without much more thought. Did they at least have time to pack some essentials? Clothes, cosmetics, documents, those invaluable family photographs? She looked at me as though I had landed in Georgia from a different planet. They had taken nothing. There were stories about wild and cruel Chechens and other highlanders, fighting on the side of their Abkhaz kin, burning everything in their path.
The family's biggest problem was Antonia's sick and half-paralysed mother-in-law. They took turns carrying her and even the children did their bit. Although she slowed them down, they never once considered leaving her behind. Finally, a man with a tractor agreed to give the ragged family a lift. Until then Antonia would never have believed how many desperate people could fit on one tractor. Maybe thirty, maybe even forty, clinging to the roof and sides, crammed onto each other's laps, every one of them praying there was enough fuel to get them to Gali, the capital of the neighbouring district.
Antonia Tsentalya helps her daughter Khatuna to run a kindergarten for children of refugees from Akbhazia
Listening to Antonia, I believed every word. She was the family matriarch, with her husband still ill after a stroke several years ago. Her black t-shirt and skirt adorned with flowers added a measure of feminine charm to her peasant looks. Even though she must have been sixty, Antonia radiated the energy of a woman used to working hard in life. Fifteen years after the war, she was still able to laugh about the tractor and its mountain of people. ‘It's a shame we didn't have a camera,' she exclaimed. ‘One photo of that tractor and its human cargo and we'd have had to send it to the editor of the Guinness Book of Records!'
The most interesting aspect of Antonia's story was her own ethnic background. She was Abkhaz, born into an Abkhaz family, and with Abkhaz as her native tongue. In the 1970s she was a student at Sukhumi medical school. That is where she met her Georgian husband, Gogla. At first they kept the wedding secret and spoke to each other in the Soviet lingua franca, Russian. When they finally let their families know, and moved into the house of Gogla's parents, she had no choice but to learn Georgian. It's not an easy language, and back then her Georgian was strewn with errors, but she felt it a moral obligation to learn the language of the family with whom she shared her food, house, emotions, dreams and plans.
Antonia's husband worked as a driver, while she made her living as a nurse. The jobs didn't bring in much money, but the family was comfortable thanks to a large piece of land that they inherited from the family's ancestors. Owning such land was something that marked out the republics of the warmer south Caucasus from the rest of the USSR. In contrast to the Central Asian republics, not to mention Russia itself, people in the Soviet Republic of Georgia could own substantial plots of land, and construct private houses with more than two storeys.
Antonia's husband's family added hard work to this inheritance, and were able to boast a good life by Soviet standards. They grew watermelons, maize, grapes and hazelnuts. In a shed in their yard they kept large jugs full of fermenting wine and chacha.
It was this contented life that filled Antonia's dreams after the escape to Zugdidi. A decade and a half later those dreams had become less frequent, but when she had them, the images were sharp in focus and vivid in colour. She remembered the family celebrations, with long successions of toasts; there were the family arguments, and the everyday challenges and joys of family life. Antonia wiped the tears away from her eyes as she remembered those days.
‘It was a good life. But who destroyed it?' she asked. ‘Who didn't want us to live in peace?'
Her answer was prompt, but hardly original. It's one that can be heard across all the countries of the former Soviet Union, mostly from the mouths of the old, for whom the unfolding of history has brought nothing but personal suffering and pain.
‘It was the politicians!' she exclaimed. ‘They play their games without thinking or caring about people like us.'
For eight months the refugee family lived in the crowded house of relatives in Gali, in the south of Abkhazia. But as the war went on, and Abkhaz forces recaptured the capital, Sukhumi, they had to flee once again. Together with thousands of others they crossed the Inguri River that separates Abkhazia from the rest of the Georgian republic. They settled in Zugdidi, a sleepy provincial town near the de facto border, and as close as they could be to their old home village.
I tried to imagine the scenes in Zugdidi as the refugees arrived en masse. The chaos of the evacuation, the shortages of food and accommodation, the lack of news about friends and relatives, and the desperation of local officials unable to deal with the sudden influx of refugees. At the back of everybody's minds, usually unspoken, was the question of whether they would ever be able to return to the places their families had called home for centuries.
The refugees living in the ceramics factory in Chavchavadze Street are mostly from Abkhazia's Ochamchira district.
Zugdidi was still full of these Internally Displaced Persons. More than forty thousand were living there when we visited in August. Before we arrived at Antonia's flat we had seen two giant concrete buildings in Chavchavadze Street, which had originally been a ceramics factory. They had since become home to several hundred refugees. This was something that could never in their wildest dreams have occurred to the factory's original architects. The production halls had been crudely partitioned into living units with basic privacy afforded by boards of plywood. The bunker-like external walls had been drilled to make holes for windows and chimneys. Those chimneys ventilated primitive ovens, used for heating and baking bread. Two latrines had been dug in the earth outside. Several years after the refugees first moved in, money from international humanitarian organisations paid for two bathrooms with showers, sinks and a washing machine, all arranged in a little pavilion in the factory courtyard. The refugees living in the ceramics factory in Chavchavadze Street were mostly from Ochamchira district. The homes that they feared they might never live in again were only an hour away by car.
At times of relative peace between Abkhazia and Georgia the families were able to get to their native villages, helping the handfuls of relatives who remained there to harvest walnuts and other crops, earning a few pennies extra to help them survive the winter. The Georgian government allowance for IDPs is 22 laris (around $15) per month. In Zugdidi most adults spent their time at the huge local market, desperately trying to earn a few extra laris.
Antonia and her daughter Khatuna both knew people living at the Chavchavadze Street compound, and counted themselves lucky to have found accommodation in an old medical clinic in the outskirts of Zugdidi. They were first brought there by distant relatives of her husband, and the staff at the clinic vacated two rooms for the family to move into.
The first years were incredibly hard. The only way to the city centre was on foot, a distance of about four miles, and the only chance to earn money was wheeling and dealing at the market. They soon realized that they could grow tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and carrots on the land surrounding the clinic. Later they bought a cow and some chickens. They worked hard to make their lives better, as they had in their old village.
‘Other people from Abkhazia followed us and moved into other buildings in the clinic compound,' Antonia remembered. ‘Now there are around fifteen hundred people living here.'
Antonia knew the story of nearly every family. The theme was always the same: they saw their houses set on fire and their relatives shot dead right in front of them; they remember the first nights after the escape, finding what shelter they could, in basements, tents, barracks, or anything they could improvise; they remember the taste of their own tears, and the feeling of helplessness, despair and abandonment. They were powerless in the face of this tragedy that changed their lives forever.
Antonia's daughter Khatuna tried to do something to help the children of the refugees, many of them born in exile. She had the idea of setting up a kindergarten in the old clinic. While the parents journeyed into the city for the chance to earn a few laris, the children were taken care of. They were fed well, learned songs and how to draw, and had the chance to play with dolls and toys, just like the children of normal families in normal countries. At first Khatuna ran the kindergarten as a volunteer. A year or two later, humanitarian organisations noticed her work and provided the funding to keep it going. Antonia also found work in the kindergarten as a cook.
So did Antonia still want to return to her home?
Twice in the last fifteen years she had visited her native village. Both times she was travelling to family funerals. The first time, the Abkhaz border guard didn't want to let her through. It didn't matter that she could speak fluent Abkhaz, was Abkhaz herself, and had a large cohort of relatives waiting on the other side of the border, including her brother. The only documents she carried were a new Georgian passport and her birth certificate. All other documents had been left behind during their escape. On that first occasion, and the subsequent one, only bribes had made getting across the de facto border possible.
‘Yes, we want to go back,' she said with resolve. ‘All our children are learning Abkhaz, and we tell them about our old life there almost every day.'
I told Antonia my own mother's story. She had ended up in Soviet Uzbekistan, deep in Central Asia, and lived there throughout the 1940s. During those years of cruel war that destroyed half the world, she dreamed only of going home. But when she did return, she could only weep at what had been lost. Her whole family had perished in the Holocaust. Her entire previous existence had also vanished, leaving a new one that looked and smelled differently, and not just because of the new Soviet domination of Poland.
‘It will be the same with us', agreed Antonia, nodding her head sadly. ‘But we should not be so divided. When I joined the Georgian family of my husband I was surprised how similar our cultures are. We eat similar dishes, dance similar dances. We shouldn't be fighting. Simple people are innocent.'
There was a glimmer of hope that her dream of return, however difficult, might happen. Abkhazia's leaders, including President Bagapsh, have spoken openly against allowing refugees to return to central Abkhazia, to cities such as Sukhumi, Gudauty, Pitsunda and Gagra. They argued that in the Soviet years Tbilisi kept sending Georgian settlers to Abkhazia, to change its demography and dilute the Abkhaz hold on their land. But in the south the politicians were more open to compromise, and did not rule out negotiating some form of return for the refugees.
It was also possible that Antonia would die as a refugee in Zugdidi, with her children and grandchildren exiled from Abkhazia forever. From what she said, I understood that the most important thing for Antonia was that there should be no more fighting, no more war.
Zugdidi's colourful market boasts an abundance of delicious fresh food
After taking leave of Antonia, I walked around the centre of Zugdidi. The huge, colourful market boasted an abundance of delicious fresh food. I took an enjoyable stroll along an old boulevard lined with maple trees, reminiscent of pre-Soviet Tsarist days but named after Georgia's first post-Soviet president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. A section of the boulevard had been turned into a fountain, with streams of water spouting up into the air from paving stones painted in the colours of the Georgian flag. Children ran in and out of the jets of water, as mothers and fathers kept watch from a safely dry distance. I stopped in a local cafeteria for some kharcho, a soup of hot peppers and meat, accompanied by a glass of chacha. Honey coloured melons sat for sale in every local grocer's shop, alongside juicy tomatoes that had ripened under the Georgian sun. I noticed a puzzlingly high number of pharmacies and hairdresser salons in the city centre. If it were not for my bald head, I would have been tempted to enter one for a swift hair cut.
There were plenty of people on the streets, but the atmosphere in Zugdidi, so near the de facto border with Abkhazia, was calm, almost sleepy. Yes, they had watched television news reports about shootings and the rise in tension in South Ossetia, reported Nino, the young receptionist in our hotel. But, she argued, that is a long way from Zugdidi.
‘Anyway, we are used to tension. It will be okay here, even if it gets worse over in South Ossetia.'
Nino was wrong. In less than a week after military action began in South Ossetia, more than one hundred Russian tanks crossed the Inguri River and occupied Zugdidi.
Zygmunt Dzieciolowski's travel to Georgia and Abkhazia last year was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting (http://www.pulitzercenter.org/)
On the Georgian side of the border mostly cows welcome travellers arriving from Abkhazia
Also by Zygmunt Dzieciolowski:
Tbilisi: twenty hours before the war: http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/tbilisi-twenty-hours-before-the-war
Sukhumi: Cafe Lika on the brink of war: http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/sukhumi-cafe-lika-on-the-brink-of-war
Natalya Estemirova, one of the leading activists of the human rights centre ‘Memorial' in the Caucasus, has been murdered. Her body was found in neighbouring Ingushetia. The Ingush Ministry of Internal Affairs gave out precise information: on 15 July at 17.20 Moscow time Estemirova's body was found in a wood near the village of Gazi-Yurt in the Nazran district. She had died of shot wounds.
Natalya Estemirova was the first to be awarded the Anna Politkovskaya Prize in 2007 and had been awarded the Swedish Parliament Prize ‘A right to existence' in 2004. In 2005 she received the Robert Schumann Medal from the European Parliament.
The information that she had been kidnapped had appeared earlier that same day. We were told by ‘Memorial' that she came out of her apartment block in Grozny at about 8.30, was seized by several people in plain clothes, bundled into a white Zhiguli car and driven off in an unknown direction. Estemirova shouted that she was being kidnapped. Our informant told us that before the kidnapping she had been followed by a woman - probably leading the kidnappers to their target.
The day she was kidnapped and murdered Natalya Estemirova was to have met the relatives of Chechens killed by the security services. She had also planned a series of meetings and a visit to the Stavropol krai with officials from the Chechen Internal Ministry.
'Throughout the second Chechen War Natalya Estemirova publicised crimes committed in the republic, even when the perpetrators were Russian soldiers. This continued after the war as well', said Alexander Cherkasov, a board member of the International Society 'Memorial'. He also said that at some point Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov had personally expressed his displeasure with Natalya's work.
The 'Caucasian Knot' website recalls that at the end of March 2008 the President of Chechnya personally removed Estemirova from her position as Chair of the Grozny Community Council for Rights and Freedoms of Citizens. Kadyrov was outraged by Estemirova's statement on REN-TV about women being obliged to wear the head scarf in Chechnya. Natalya Estemirova was protesting at government intervention in people's private life.
Kadyrov demanded that 'Memorial' should appoint to the Council someone who agreed with Chechen Republic government policy in respect of the wearing of head scarves. 'Memorial' responded that it had no intention of appointing anyone else, as, while respecting Chechen traditions, it was in complete agreement with Estemirova's position.
Federal and local government reaction to Estemirova's murder was swift. 'The President has been informed of the murder of Natalya Estemirova. He expressed his outrage and ordered the head of the Investigative Committee at the Office of the Prosecutor General, Alexander Bastrykin, to do all he could to clear up the case,' Natalya Timakova, President Medvedev's Press Secretary said to the press on Wednesday. 'The President sends his condolences to Estemirova's family and friends....unfortunately it is clear that this premeditated murder might be linked with Natalya Estemirova's activities in the field of human rights'. The Press Secretary stressed that 'the criminals would get a very tough sentence'.
The President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov also spoke about the murder. He declared that he would personally assume responsibility for the investigation. 'The organisers and executors of this horrific crime represent a greater threat to society than terrorists and Wahhabists who have spilt the innocent blood of thousands. I shall personally direct the investigation of this crime and the best people will be put on the case, sparing nothing to bring the investigations to a conclusion', said Kadyrov on the evening of 15 July.
He also said that as well as the official investigation of Estemirova's killing, he intended to instigate an unofficial investigation in keeping with Chechen traditions.
Human rights activists have no faith in a conclusive investigation. Alexander Cherkasov recalls that the only cse of kidnapping and murder that was brought to court was the so-called 'Kadet' Sergei Lapin.
'This happened mainly as a result of the efforts of three people: Anna Politkovskaya, who publicised the whole affair, Stanislav Markelov, who represented the injured parties and conducted the case in such a way that there could be no appeal, that everything was correctly and properly done, and Natalya Estremirova. They were friends who had worked together a great deal. Now Natasha, the last of them, has been killed,' said Cherkasov.
'I am under no illusion that the Russian government will take effective measures to investigate this crime' he continued. 'The last thing Natasha did was a highly sensitive subject. On 7 July in the village of Akhkinchy-Borzoi a man was publicly shot. At the end of the 90s it was public executions in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria that proved conclusively this regime had no right to exist. And now we receive information about a public execution. The leadership of Chechnya reacted very nervously to this and there were indirect complaints about 'Memorial'. Now Natasha has been kidnapped and murdered'.
Oleg Orlov, the chairman of the human rights centre 'Memorial' made an even stronger statement. He said that 'there is state terror in Russia. We know about murders both inside Chechnya and elsewhere. Those who are killed have tried to tell the truth and criticise the government. Ramzan Kadyrov has made it impossible for human rights activists to work in Chechnya. Natasha Estemirova's killers wanted to put a stop to the flow of honest information from Chechnya. Perhaps they have succeeded.'
The Kirov Oblast is located about 1,000 km to the northeast of Moscow. It is the largest province in the Volga Federal District - 120,000 sq.km. Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and a few Monaco principalities would easily fit in this area, but instead of principalities the entire north of the Oblast is occupied by camps. These camps were built under Stalin. However, they started sending people here much earlier - under the Tsar.
This is a poor country...
The former co-owners of YUKOS, once one of the largest oil companies in Russia, are currently on trial in Moscow. In 2005, the Meshchansky court in Moscow sentenced Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev to lengthy prison terms for tax evasion. Now Moscow's Khamovnichesky Court will have to determine whether there is any truth behind the accusations that the disgraced oligarchs misappropriated government shares in the Eastern Oil Company and 350 million tonnes of oil. They are also accused of legalizing illegally acquired assets valued at over 450 billion rubles and 7.5 billion dollars.
The essence of the accusations against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, leaders of the criminal group called YUKOS, is that they stole all the oil the company produced in its ten years of existence and legalized the stolen money. To put it very concisely.
During his first trial Mikhail Khodorkovsky was kept in the metal cage.
At first, few people believed that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev would stand trial a second time. The Prosecutor General's office did threaten to charge the disgraced oligarchs with new crimes, and a statement to this effect was made back in 2004, but things later died down. Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were sent to penal colonies at the other end of the country. One went to Krasnokamensk, near Chita, and the other to the village of Kharp (Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region). News occasionally filtered through from these places. It was usually that the prison administration had imposed some punishment on Khodorkovsky and that court hearings had been instituted to get the penalty removed. One such episode deserves special attention.
The Kuchma Incident
In March 2006, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was put in a punishment cell for violating the conditions of his sentence. He and another prisoner, Alexander Kuchma, had been drinking tea in the wrong place. Some time later, Russian information agencies reported that Kuchma had attacked the sleeping Mikhail Khodorkovsky with a knife. The injuries were minor. Somehow the story was hushed up.
Then, in August 2008, it was reported that prisoner Kuchma had filed a lawsuit for half a million rubles against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The plaintiff claimed that Khodorkovsky had allegedly tried to force Kuchma to have sexual contact with him in the punishment cell, but Kuchma had refused. After this, life in prison got worse for Kuchma, the conditions of his imprisonment deteriorated and he was eventually sent to Vladimir Central Prison. All this caused the plaintiff moral and physical suffering, so Khodorkovsky was called on to pay him half a million rubles in compensation. But there was no evidence to support this claim.
When the Meshchansky court investigated the claim in February 2009 (shortly before the investigation of the new case began), it did not find in favour of the plaintiff. This decision was not appealed.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky's lawyers explained that the lawsuit had arisen because the authorities wanted to compromise the disgraced oligarch before the new trial. They claimed that Kuchma was acting on behalf, and at the instigation, of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS). In confirmation of these claims they alleged that it was FPS officers who helped the illiterate and mentally ill Kuchma to write and print out the petitions. They paid the state duty for court delays and helped to establish the place of residence of the defendant, in order to file the suit at the correct court (Meshchansky). The FPS issued no comment on the lawyers' allegations.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who were sentenced to eight years' imprisonment, were not held at the penal colonies for long. On 20 December 2006 the lawyer Natalya Terekhova came to see her client and was amazed to discover that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was not at the Krasnokamensk prison. Platon Lebedev, who was being held in Kharp, had also "gone missing". It transpired that both had been moved to Chita in great secrecy and put in an investigation cell. This is regarded as the beginning of the second Khodorkovsky case.
New charges were brought against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev in Chita. The investigation period was extended and then restricted; new volumes and documents were submitted. Khodorkovsky's lawyers claim that there were numerous violations, but only one was fundamental - the investigation was not supposed to be held in Chita. Initially the courts agreed with this. But in the end the prosecutor's office countermanded these decisions, which had already come into legal force.
What are the charges?
Attempts to make sense of these charges were doomed from the start. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and their numerous lawyers are still unable to understand exactly what charges are being brought against the businessmen.
The first episode is connected with the misappropriation of a block of shares in the Eastern Oil Company. Since the 10-year statutory limitation period on this case expired in autumn last year, it should not actually have gone to court at all. But the leader of the investigating team did not want it excluded from the case.
It is hard to make sense of this charge. Mikhail Khodorkovsky held a controlling stake in YUKOS. The oil was produced by "daughter companies", which were 100% owned by the "mother company" (YUKOS). So Khodorkovsky stole from himself and Lebedev (the biggest shareholder in YUKOS) exactly what the YUKOS daughter enterprises produced from 1998 to 2003. In other words, everything.
However, it can only provisionally be asserted that Khodorkovsky stole the oil, because from the indictment it is not clear what exactly he and Lebedev stole - oil, raw hydrocarbons, marketable oil or the rights to the oil. They are all listed in the indictment. Furthermore it is unclear when they stole it. According to the case files, YUKOS had sold as much as it produced. Finally, according to the letter of the law, theft is "secret physical expropriation". In this case, oil. During the hearings at the Khamovnichesky court Mikhail Khodorkovsky said to the chairman:
"I have been charged with expropriating 350 million tonnes of oil in secret from the owner. You can imagine, your honour, the barrel, cistern or wagon that would be needed. But these geniuses of investigation and the law are talking about 350 million tonnes of oil, i.e. rolling stock that would go around the equator three times! It's not surprising they can't even explain their thoughts, let alone prove anything."
Platon Lebedev was no less categorical in his statements, but much more emotional: "From the standpoint of criminal procedural law, this is not a charge. It is a schizophrenic fabrication. Not only do I not admit my guilt. I declare that the prosecutor's office together with the investigation team has committed a crime by making these false charges against someone known to be innocent."
Finally, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev are accused of legalizing dishonestly acquired funds. According to the charge, the former business partners "laundered" 450 million rubles and $7.5 million.
Khodorkovsky and Lebedev inside the bullet-proof glass defendents' cage
Platon Lebedev spoke about this during the hearings. He told the court that he did not understand how one could examine the charge of legalizing dirty money unless and until the actual fact of criminal activity had been established. Until there is a sentence that has come into legal force stating that a person has stolen something, it cannot be said that he has legalized stolen goods.
However, most of the questions raised by the defendants and their lawyers remain unanswered. To all requests for clarification the prosecutors reply that the charges have been "set down in the most comprehensive and easiest form to understand".
Greetings from the island of Gibraltar
The new charge against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev is, among other things, based on many documents containing absurd factual errors. As an example the defence highlighted the low quality of translations of international business correspondence adduced as evidence. For instance the translator misunderstood the word "products" as the names of several countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. There are also dates here such as the 32nd of December, the 33rd and 36th of December. This one of Lebedev's favourite subjects for sarcastic comment, and he frequently reminds the prosecutors of another absurdity. The investigator is either incompetent or simply ignorant, because he describes Gibraltar as an island. Lebedev said in court "If you tell me, your honour, where, in which galaxy or on which planet, the Island of Gibraltar is located, I will admit that I am guilty of all these crimes."
He was supported by Khodorkovsky, who asked: "How can you steal oil ‘by transferring it to the balance sheet?' This way of stealing oil by writing down figures, without any need to pump it into a pipe, is impossible without telekinesis. If someone actually did this under my management, and the state prosecution can explain to me how it was done, then I am ready to admit my guilt, because this is such an incredible scientific discovery that - well, bugger it, I don't mind going to jail for it."
The Khamovnichesky court
The second case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev is being heard at the Khamovnichesky court in Moscow. Before the start of hearings, everyone was joking about this. Some years ago the courthouse and the actual court where Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are now on trial was used for filming an episode from the comedy "Mimino", a hugely popular film throughout the former Soviet Union.
The hall has changed somewhat since then. Before the hearings a glass cell was quickly installed instead of the cells with bars that are traditional for Russia. Several video cameras and microphones appeared - an innovation to facilitate the work of the journalists.
On the lower floor there is an entire hall for us to watch the proceedings broadcast by video. But we didn't get to enjoy this for very long. At one point on the day when the prosecutors planned to begin presenting evidence, the journalists came into court and found an unpleasant surprise: the court had forbidden broadcasting to the special press hall. This was at the request of the state prosecutors, who had told the judge it was now very important not to let potential witnesses know what was going on in court. The journalists were told that special efforts were being made for them, because it would be easier to follow the hearing and "get the feeling" of the trial from the courtroom. Our attempts to convince the prosecutors otherwise were unsuccessful.
At the beginning of the hearings we witnessed unprecedented security measures. The area around the court was controlled by policemen, and there were over 100 of them. Anyone who wanted to walk along the lane past the entrance to the court building had to show documents. You could have been forgiven for thinking that it was not two businessmen who were being put on trial for economic crimes, but a band of terrorists or an overthrown dictator. Now, two months later, everything looks much more modest,though there is still a bus with OMON troops outside the court. Special officers of the Federal Penitentiary Service with automatic weapons are still stationed at the entrance to the courtoom.
However, anyone who wishes may enter the courtroom. No matter that this means there is often not enough room there. Journalists remember wistfully how good it was to be able to watch the video broadcast. Sympathizers come to the Khamovnichesky Court every day. They bring flowers and the lawyers put them on their tables, which makes the defence area look very decorative. No one brings the prosecutors flowers, and their tables are usually covered in papers.
Anyone may enter the courtroom and this means it is often overcrowded.
The legal teams
There are eight lawyers defending Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev at this trial. Lebedev's team of lawyers is practically the same as it was during the first hearings at the Meshchansky Court: Elena Liptser, Evgeny Rivkin and Vladimir Krasnov.
But there have been significant changes in Khodorkovsky's defence team. Unofficially it is led by Vadim Klyuvgant, who joined the case one year ago, but Yury Shmidt and Karina Moskalenko are still considered the key lawyers. Elena Levina is also familiar to journalists from the last trial, but Natalya Terekhova, who is now responsible for procedural matters and communications with the press, only came into the limelight when Khodorkovsky was sent to prison.
There are four lawyers for the prosecution. Everyone remembers Dmitry Shokhin from the first hearings. He was promoted after the court found against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. He now heads the organisation and analysis section in the Chief Directorate of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation's office, which deals with the work of prosecutors in criminal investigations.
Valery Lakhtin has been the supervising prosecutor throughout the YUKOS case. Gulchakhra Ibragimova is also familiar to journalists, but not in connection with the YUKOS case. Comparatively recently she appeared for the prosecution at the trial of the murderer of Andrei Kozlov, the first deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia.
Valentina Kovalikhina is a dark horse and little is known about her. Revealingly, unlike Shokhin, Lakhtin and Ibragimova, she is not a member of the Prosecutor General's office. She is on the staff of the Moscow City Prosecutor.
On the first day of the court hearings the defence filed an objection against the prosecutors Shokhin and Lakhtin. The lawyers for Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev have waged a long procedural battle against Dmitry Shokhin and Valery Lakhtin. It was Shokhin who represented the state prosecution during the examination of the first case at the Meshchansky Court. Lakhtin has been the supervising prosecutor for the last few years and the defence was unhappy that he upheld all the actions of the investigators that the lawyers were trying to appeal.
The lawyers have already tried to remove Shokhin and Lakhtin from the case three times. But the judge Viktor Danilkin found no legal grounds to uphold this objection. They are also unhappy with Gulchakhra Ibragimova. They filed an objection against her, when she commented to Lebedev:
Mikhail Khodorkovsky's parents regularly attend the court sessions.
"It's all pointless, Platon Leonovich, we'll do things the way we've planned." But the court stayed true to itself, and rejected the objection.
Everyone has got used to the cut and thrust of remarks between the defence and the prosecution in this trial. Lawyers point to the non-professionalism of the state prosecutors; they and the journalists make fun of the way the prosecutors present their evidence, read documents and pronounce English words.
The prosecutors, in turn, say that the defence is disrespectful of the court and plays to the gallery, an audience that is "specific and partisan". The defence is also accused of dragging out the hearings.
‘The prosecution readings'
The second stage has begun at the Khamovnichesky Court of what journalists have called "the prosecution readings".
The first stage was in April, when prosecutor Valery Lakhtin read out the indictment over the course of eight days. This procedure exhausted almost everyone present, including Lakhtin himself, who constantly stumbled over the numerous names of foreign companies that worked with YUKOS. Journalists were particularly concerned that the state prosecutors would read out not only the decree charging the former owners of YUKOS, but would decide to read out the indictment in full, all 14 volumes of it. When Lakhtin finally came to a halt and said, in reply to a question from the judge, that at this stage the state prosecutors had nothing more to say, there was a barely concealed sigh of relief in the hall.
What is happening in the trial at present is very similar to the reading of the indictment, only they call it ‘presentation of evidence in support of the charge'. The law actually states that evidence must be investigated. The prosecutors understand this word differently, and simply read out the criminal files. No one explains what episode each document belongs to, and what relation it has to the case. The charters of companies registered in Cyprus and the Isle of Man are read out in their entirety in court, along with the minutes of shareholders' meetings (ordinary and extraordinary), meetings of YUKOS daughter companies, extracts from the register of shareholders and contracts. Including a letter from one employee of a company in the Isle of Man to another, where he says where he has left his apartment keys behind. What are the prosecutors trying to prove with all this?
I asked Lakhtin to explain this off the record. He pulled a conspiratorial face and said that in fact the prosecutors had brief analytical notes on all the files they were presenting, but he couldn't talk about this or explain anything right now. It's all part of their tactics.
The prosecution may, of course, have an ace hidden up its sleeve, but judging by what has been read out so far, they are currently actually proving that YUKOS was not an organised criminal group involved in secret and illegal machinations (for this is the main idea of the new charge), but a company working legally on the market.
It has recently become known that the European Court of Human Rights has upheld Mikhail Khodorkovsky's claim of illegal arrest and detention in the first criminal case. The Court will issue a ruling on the case after 10 July. Incidentally, an opinion was delivered in 2007 on a similar claim by Platon Lebedev. A board of seven judges found that his rights had been violated, and charged Russia to pay the former co-owner of YUKOS 3,000 Euros moral damages and 7,000 for legal expenses.
Hi! I haven't written a letter for ages. You don't need to with mobiles and the internet. I'm more likely to ring my friends or colleagues or exchange short messages with them.
Living in Moscow. If you had told me 10 years ago that this would happen, I would have smiled politely as at a bad joke. Not because I didn’t like Moscow. Moscow simply had no need of me, nor I of it, although I had friends and acquaintances there who kept inviting me to stay. I was happy at home in Baku,I had been in a good job for over 20 years and I wouldn’t have exchanged it for any other.
But fate decided otherwise. Our independent publication had become a target: there were legal battles with important officials, excessively high fines, then the editorial office was closed down and our property was confiscated. The officials didn’t like what we wrote about them. They sued us for libel and defamation and they always won. In fact, journalists in Azerbaijan never win court cases against officials.
The final action was when the leader of the City Council in Baku was seeking to have the publisher, the editor and me (as the editor of the article) imprisoned. Well-wishers warned me that this time it was all very serious, and I would not get off with a conditional sentence. My publisher insisted I leave the country. Jumping ahead, I can say that there had indeed been real danger: the court ruled in favour of the plaintiff (the leader of the Council), my publisher was taken into custody in the courtroom, and I was declared a wanted person. He was released two months later, as a result of pressure from international organizations. He started publishing the weekly paper again, but six months later he was murdered. Neither the killers nor the people who ordered the killing were ever found.
So I ended up in Moscow. With a small bag, 50 dollars in my purse and the hope of returning home soon. This faded with each passing month, until I finally realized that there was no way home, and would be none in the near future. I had to think about settling down here. But how?
A pop singer once told the story of how he moved from Odessa to Moscow in search of fame and glory. He said that he had arrived with almost nothing at all (just like me and people like me), and that initially he was helped by “Eau de Cologne (odecolon)”. it turned out that this what people from Odessa call themselves in Moscow – “Odecolon”, the Odessa colony. He stayed with people from Odessa, some helped him with money, some with advice, others with recommendations.
I had a similar experience. A Moscow friend had her own two-room flat, so she took me in. I had met her in Baku when she was working there on contract, and we had become friends. Other friends, who moved to Moscow for various reasons long before I did, helped me with everything else, but most importantly they gave me moral support. I know from experience how very difficult it is to get used to new conditions, a new environment, a new rhythm, new traditions and psychology. Every time I despaired, my friends were by my side, helping me by listening attentively and genuinely sympathizing with me. Evidently, the maxim that “he who has needed help will be more willing to give it” is true.
Pathetic as it may sound, it’s very difficult to deal with the feeling of shame when your friends buy you things and give you money. The shame that you, an independent adult, used to earning your living, have been uprooted and have to accept help. Having been through this, I could well understand my friend who had also ended up in Moscow. Zarina was born in Dushanbe and studied there. She married a Russian soldier, and travelled with him wherever he was sent. They came to Moscow and were given accommodation in a hostel outside Moscow. The pay was poor and Zarina, who was used to working and had always earned a good salary, couldn’t find work for a long time. In her desperation she was even prepared to work as a nanny.
Our “team” supported her as best we could. I remember when she was in a particularly critical situation: her husband had been taken to hospital, her daughter announced that she was pregnant and intended to keep the child, and they had practically no money. We decided to help her financially, but, remembering how painful this is, we bought her a piggy-bank and put as much money in it as we could manage. When we gave her the present and said “break it in an emergency”, she shed a few tears. She later found a job as a manager at a supermarket. She was responsible for supervising the storage and sell-by dates, but the salary was so low that it was barely enough to buy food, as all the money her husband earned went to paying for the hostel. She worked on Saturdays too, but when she tried to ask for a rise, they refused. They also said “If you don’t like it, go back to Dushanbe, the salaries are probably good there.” Now things are better for her. Her husband went back to work after his operation and the daughter gave birth to a wonderful girl, though Zarina was forced to send them to her parents in Dushanbe, because it is still cheaper to live there than in Moscow…
We often talked about what we had gone through when we moved to Moscow. Our experiences were fairly similar. True, we didn’t sleep at train stations. We didn’t live several people to a room like sardines in a tin. We didn’t work in the open in the cold and rain. We weren’t fleeced of every penny or conned out of our money. Our situation was much better than that of the average gastarbeiter. But we still feel like gastarbeiters at heart. We have non-Slavonic surnames, we were not born in Russia and our passports are a different colour. You feel this as soon as you start looking for a flat. We had to look through friends, because most landlords refuse people with non-Russian names. When my friend Zarina asked a friend to find me an apartment, I was an involuntary witness to the following dialogue:
“You know that people don’t like renting apartments to Azerbaijanis”.
“But she’s as much of an Azerbaijani as I am aTajik. You’ve known me for years, and you’ve never thought of me as Tajik.She’s the same”.
“I do have one possibility - I’ll try to talk the owners round,” she said after a long pause.
The next step was finding a job.
What is psychologically hardest for each of u sis that in spite of our higher education, experience of work, and, in some cases, even recognition back home, we find ourselves in a place where all ofthis counts for absolutely nothing. Once again you are at the bottom of a mountain, and you have to embark again on the same path you have already walked, perhaps even several times. Authority, education and respect have to be earned all over again. Is this easy? It may seem so, because you have already done it in different circumstances. But, believe me, it is not easy at all. Just as you cannot step into the same river twice, you cannot follow the old path, because the road is completely different. Your age and energy are quite different. What you worry about isn’t losing the job your friends helped you find and where you work illegally. It’s the documents you are using that belong to a friend who has a Russian passport and official registration in Moscow. I would gladly have bought a work permit, as I wanted to work legally. There is an agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan that years of work in Russia can be counted as working years. Alas, I was still an illegal worker, because my employers didn’t want to buy a work permit for foreign workers. They would have done, if it hadn’t been for the inconvenient regulations. In a word, no one wants more red tape.
The underlying fear is that you won’t be able to hold back, that you might be overwhelmed by the injustice of it all and break down, telling your boss exactly what you think of him. He’s a 27-year-old guy who is reasonably intelligent, but has been given several employees to order around and wants to seem important. An analytical piece about the South Caucasus had been commissioned: I offered to write it, as it was my field of expertise. I’ll never forget his look - right through me as if I were a wall, not a person. He said: “No, you won’t do it well enough”. He asked my colleague to write it, a graduate of the journalism faculty at Moscow State University. I ended up helping her with the article, but I never offered to write anything again. I edited other writers’ articles, until friends found me another job. The salary was higher, it was an international team and, incidentally, the boss was one of “ours”, a citizen of another republic who had come to Moscow 20 years before.
I felt much more confident and comfortable at the new job, though there too I had first to prove my worth. It may seem unimportant, but I felt that I had been accepted as one of “the team” when one of my colleagues, a third generation Muscovite (as she liked to emphasize), admitted to me: “When the boss first brought you here, I thought he’d brought another one of his bonehead friends to us, but you’re quite different, you’re a first-class specialist. Are you really an Azerbaijani?” I was very surprised and tried to explain that there were lots of people like me and she shouldn't have preconceptions about us, as we can do more than just sell things at markets, sweep streets and build houses. There were things that upset me though. For example, we foreigners can never get used to the Russian weather, and when we come to our work on a cloudy day, we start complaining: “When will the weather get warm? We really want some sun.” Our Russian colleagues say: “If you don’t like our climate, you should go home, where it’s warm and sunny.” There wasn’t really anything offensive about this, it just sounded rather challenging.
Over time I stopped paying attention to these things. Perhaps I simply got used to it. I have become wiser or more indulgent with age, but I am now quite different. I am more confident and dynamic, and I’m always in a hurry, like the Muscovites. Most importantly I have become more patient, or tolerant, to use the fashionable word.
But we are still gastarbeiters, because we need to work better than everyone else. The concept of an 8-hour working day doesn’t exist for us - not because we are forced to work overtime, no, we simply do this so that the boss will prefer us to the rest, even to potential employees. There can be any number of reasons why we do this, whether it’s paying the rent that hangs over us like the sword of Damocles, the desire to live like a human being, in the way we are used to, or the Moscow “temptations” (museums, exhibitions, theatres). We simply want a life.
While I’ve lived in Moscow I have made many connections. I no longer shudder when I see the police, because I am legally registered now. I have a job that I like, and I don’t want to lose it; I have reliable friends; I can occasionally allow myself to go to the theatre; I can buy books and CDs, and I can update my wardrobe in second-hand shops. But I live in the present: I’m afraid to think about approaching old age, I don’t know what will happen next year and where I will receive my pension (or if I will receive it at all). I drive these thoughts away, hiding behind my favourite maxim of “overcoming difficulties as they arise”.
From the editors of oDRussia:
From the start, Natalia Morar, a 26-year-old journalist born in Moldova, was allergic to autocracy. She arrived in Moscow in 2002 to study sociology at Lomonosov University. Her democratic instincts led her to work at the "New Times" magazine, well-known for its anti-Putin views. In recent years few articles angered the Kremlin as much as Morar's investigative piece "The Black Till of the Kremlin" about a vast illegal political slush fund used to keep various parties dependent on the central authorities. The Kremlin struck back. On her return from Israel in December 2007 Morar was barred from entering Russia. As the wife of a citizen of the Russian Federation they both claimed the right to live in her husband's country. But when she landed at Moscow's Domodyedovo airport she was detained in the immigration zone for three days before being flown back to Moldova.There, Natalia soon joined the democratic movement in this, one of the poorest of post-Soviet states. She went on to become one of the leaders of the democratic youth group Think Moldova. We present recent entries from her emotional blog over the last few days,since the Moldovan Central Election Commission announced that the Communist Party had won the parliamentary election held on 5 April. Morar was hoping that with this election Moldova would finally join the family of democratic nations. But her last entry was on 7 April. Since then she has fallen silent. No one in the capital Chisinau knows where she is. Her mobile phone is switched off.
According to the exit polls at 7.0 p. 45.5% voted for the Communist party.
For the Liberal party - 13.9% for the liberal party and 13.9% for the Liberal Democrats. The "Moldova Noastre" alliance (also liberal) got 10%.
No other opposition parties got into parliament. So all together, the liberals got less votes than the communists. The communists have got at least 56 mandates out of 101. This will be enough for them to form a government on their own. Choosing a president's going to be their only problem.
Moldova is now the only modern European country where the communists have won three elections in a row.
12.39am April 7, 2009 I'm not a communist!
Six people. 10 minutes of brain-storming. Several hours of spreading information by networks, facebook, blogs, sms to friends and email links. All through the internet.
Then 15,000 young people took to the streets!!! This was only a few hours later, with no help from television or any other media.
Our group is called "I'm not a communist". It includes representatives of several NGOs - our association Think Moldova and the organisation Hyde Park. Only young people, no parties.
Our group declared the 6 April to be a Day of National Mourning. We called on all the young people who disagreed with the results of the parliamentary elections to come to the statue of Stefan cel Mare and light a candle. We sent word to 50 people. 15,000 came. They chanted "Down with the communists!", "No to censorship!", "Better dead than a communist!", "We will bring change!" After the candles were lit we marched to the government building, and from there to the Square of National Assembly. For several hours, Stefan cel Mare Street was closed to traffic.
We maintain that the elections were dishonest. We refuse to accept the results. What matters in elections is not just the day of voting, but the four years running up to it. All political parties should have had equal access to the media. As I've written before, there are only two channels in Moldova with nationwide coverage - the state channel Moldova 1 and NIT. NIT belongs to a close friend and business partner of the son of our president, leader of the communists. It looks as if we'll be announcing our main demand tomorrow- snap elections. But the opposition's got to have equal access to the media. To make sure this - among other things - happens, we demand that the state channel Moldova 1 is placed under public control.
Everything started getting rather chaotic. So we formed an organising committee, all young people, and asked everyone to disperse until tomorrow, 10am. We only had one megaphone today, and it wasn't easy to keep things coordinated. We took a break, as we needed time to get prepared. All the opposition parties have already announced that they'll be taking part in our rally tomorrow.
So far so good. But we need to think.
In Bucharest, 250 people took to the streets in support of our action, mainly Moldovan citizens. They found out about it through the Internet and organised themselves. In the Romanian city of Iasi and the Moldovan city of Balti people also came out in protest.
7.32am April 7, 2009 Update. From the street
As you'll remember, 15,000 young people took to the streets just a few hours after our group "I am not a communist" (5 people so far) released information on the internet - blogs, networks, forums. You can read more about it in the last post.
Two and a half hours later we held a press conference where we announced our demands. Three hours later we came out on to the Square of National Assembly once more. Now all the opposition parties have joined us. I'll write about the demands in more detail later.
In brief, we want a public commission to be held primarily on television, but also in the press, to create a wide civil opposition coalition, and hold pre-term elections. The list may be changed, as the organizational committee is gathering in an hour.
Wish us success. We're going to need it.
One opposition party that got into parliament - the Liberal Democratic party - has already said that it does not recognize the election results. Representatives from two other opposition parties which also got into parliament (the Liberals and the "Moldova Noastra" Alliance) also came to our rally yesterday. Among them was the mayor of Chisinau Dorin Chirtoaca. So don't take any notice of what they're saying about us all being "a bunch of losers who didn't get into parliament".
10.25am April 7, 2009 Update. News from the field.
Half an hour ago the General Prosecutor's office issued a statement that a case was being brought against the organisers of yesterday's rally under Article 205.
Immediately after the conference they went to a lawyer to get warrants for our arrest. After that they'll be going to the square.
The square's full already. The parties are making speeches. If our guys haven't been arrested they'll go there too. They're going to make a speech demanding the creation of a wide civil coalition made up of public organisations and parties.
So far the liberal democrats have been taking the initiative, but they're calling our guys all the time.
On the way to the press conference the organisers saw a long line of students from the Moldovan State University walking towards the square. The Prometheus lyceum was blocked by the police, to stop the students reaching the square.
We'll be posting information, whenever we can get online.It's not clear how things are going to develop. They may get arrested.
Update. They're being charged under article 285 (Republic of Moldova Criminal Code) - organizing mass disturbances.
This article carries 4-10 years or 8-15 years in jail.
Our guys are meeting with lawyers from Amnesty International at the moment.
They're discussing how they can appear on the square safely.
People keep on moving towards the square.
1.40pm 7 April, 2009 Chisinau city centre.
A large group of policemen were summoned to the government building and parliament.
According to various reports, there are already victims, very serious ones.
The windows of the government building have been smashed up to the 3rd floor. Furniture is being thrown out of the windows. The parliament building has been set alight.
The liberal-democratic party, which had got permission for today's demonstration can't control the situation.
We've sent out an appeal to representatives of all public organisations and parties to join our civil coalition. The Liberal Democrats and the Democratic Party have already announced that they'll join. We'll be holding a meeting about this today with the Liberal Party and the AMN.
Mobile phones are now being blocked on the square. All public transport in the country has been stopped. People aren't being allowed into the capital.
So far we're fine. Please don't call my mobile.
Text me. The connection keeps breaking off.
We keep saying that we want create a wide civil coalition, that we won't allow any party to have a monopoly.
We've now got details on the criminal case that has being taken out against us: they're accusing us of being responsible for a group of 10 people overturning over a shuttle taxi yesterday at 10 p.m. We say this is an act of provocation, as our rally ended at 8 pm. At 10 pm there were policemen and people from the prosecutor's office there (by the shuttle taxi), and they did not intervene.
We're sure that all the attempts to set fire to the parliament and break glass are acts of provocations directed against people who peacefully came out on to the street. One death has already been reported.
People on the square are starting to light candles. I will try to make contact again later.
4.26pm 7 April, 2009 Statement!
We, the youth initiative that organized a rally of 15,000 people in Chisinau yesterday are starting to worry that the political parties that got into parliament will use this youth protest for their political ends.
Three political parties - the AMN, PLDM and the Liberal Party - have already signed a statement demanding a review of the elections results. They've left the square, although the Liberal Democratic Party received permission for today's event. We call on them, along with the other political parties, to stop playing their political games, and not to forget that it was not the activists of their parties that took to the street, but us, young people who organised themselves through the internet.
This is why on behalf of our group we announced from the tribune that today at 7 pm we were calling on the political leaders of all the opposition parties to come to National Assembly Square for a dialogue with the young people who took to the streets yesterday and those who try to exploit this protest for their own benefit.
We repeat that we do not support any political party and reject any attempts by them or a group of them to take this process into their own hands. Those parties which do not come to the Square of National Assembly today at 7 pm will show that they don't care about us - about the people on whose behalf they spoke from the tribune today.
We demand the formation of a civil coalition made up not just of politicians, but members of civil society.
If the parties insist on playing their political games, we call on our young people not to let themselves be manipulated by them.
This appeal got enormous support from the young people on the Square. After 7pm we're going to come and tell them how the talks the political parties went. We'd like to note that no one was hurt as a result of the flash mob we organised yesterday.
All the roads to Chisinau are blocked now. People trying to get here from all over the country can't get into the capital. The internet is partly blocked, and mobile phone connections are almost completely down. Tear gas has already been used round the government building. Water cannons have also been used.
We've just been informed that a rally was held in support of us today in Paris at 7 pm opposite the Moldovan embassy and in the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca.
We repeat once again that our initiative group is not responsible for the looting today. The official organiser of today's rally is the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP).
The youth whom we called on are standing peacefully on the square. Today, during our press conference, disturbances began by the government building. We don't understand what the LDP, which were responsible for organising today's rally, were doing then.
This is why we call on everyone today, including the LDP, to come to the government building at the Square of National Assembly at 7pm. Our young people are expecting a constructive dialogue with them. We will ensure this.
The people who have been on the square since morning just reported that they were called on to march to the government building by the leader of the LDP, which had permission for today's rally. We stayed on the square and called on the young people to return.
In the end, they only returned when the leaders of three parties - Filat, Chirtoaca and Urekian - went there with the young people.
Shukhrat Berdyev, a schoolteacher from Uzbekistan, is 48 years old. He was born in a suburb of Shakhrisabz, a provincial town 400 km from the capital Tashkent. Before the collapse of the USSR his life followed a predictable script: happy childhood as a pioneer at the Lenin collective farm,studying at the Tashkent pedagogical institute, teaching psychics in a rural school, marriage, three children, membership of the Communist party and a future career as a party worker.
The new year in Russia
Russia's new economy
Russian rights at the crossroads
Beyond the gastarbeiter: post-Soviet migration
Madeleine Reeves (Manchester University, UK) presents the other side of post-Soviet migration.
Russia's year of elections
Women, tradition and power in the North Caucasus
Privatizatsiya, twenty years on
Russian economy: trying to please people doesn’t help, Dmitry Travin
Privatisation, but no private property, Andrei Zaostrovtsev
Is corruption in Russia's DNA?, Pyotr Filippov
Russia’s crony capitalism: the swing of the pendulum, Vladimir Gelman
Russian reforms, twenty years on. Introduction to the series, Dmitry Travin
Russian economy: trying to please people doesn’t help, Dmitry Travin
Privatisation, but no private property, Andrei Zaostrovtsev
Is corruption in Russia's DNA?, Pyotr Filippov
Russia’s crony capitalism: the swing of the pendulum, Vladimir Gelman
Russian reforms, twenty years on. Introduction to the series, Dmitry Travin