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This week's editor

NSS, editor

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to 50.50.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

On the river: a Russian holiday diary

Holidays by the sea in Turkey or Egypt are beginning to lose their appeal to ordinary Russians, and they’re no longer that cheap either. This summer, Elena Strelnikova joined many of her compatriots in looking nearer to home for rest and relaxation.

Why I fled Russia

Maxim Yefimov was an activist working in the field of human rights in Karelia, in the Russian Far North. Following criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church, authorities attempted to incarcerate him in a mental institution. He was kept sane by the conviction he was doing right, but eventually the threat led to flee the country. Here is his story.

The dark doings of Russia’s Centre E

Russia’s shadowy ‘Centre E’ was officially set up to combat extremism and terrorism, but is now mostly known for incompetence and harassing opposition activists. In any other country, the agency would have been wound up long ago, says Grigory Tumanov.

Russia's police: new name, but can it change its spots?

Reform of the Russian police, initiated in 2009 by then president Dmitry Medvedev, is still ongoing and mired in controversy. Asmik Novikova and Natalya Taubina of the ‘Public Verdict’ Foundation offer a progress report.

How God came to vote for Putin: the background to Pussy Riot

The gradual intrusion of the Orthodox Church into Russian secular life and the state is something that went largely unnoticed by the Russian public. The Pussy Riot trial is beginning to change all that, writes Sergei Lukashevsky.

Strasbourg: Supreme Court of the North Caucasus

For the population of Russia’s North Caucausus, crippled by war, violence and lawlessness, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) enjoys an almost mythical reputation. But even those who are successful in Strasbourg face an impossible struggle for full implementation of the rulings, says Grigor Avetisyan. 

Palliative care in Russia: it's time to stop the suffering

In whatever country they manifest, life-limiting conditions are heartbreaking for children and their families. In Russia, a lack of resources and even more damaging disregard of children’s rights makes coping with the situation unneccesarily distressing, says Anna Sonkin

Media freedom in the Russian regions? You must be joking…

As the Kremlin tightens its grip even further on the Russian media, lawyer and legal rights activist Galina Arapova looks at the tough options faced by journalists, especially in the regions.

Pride, prejudice — just ‘don’t say gay’ in Russia

LGBT issues have taken a battering in Russia over the last year, with a number of regions introducing repressive laws against the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. The changes are part of a wider agenda to split Russian society, whipping up feeling against people ‘not like us’, says Igor Kochetkov.

Government — the main source of instability in the northern Caucasus

As violence in the north Caucasus hits the headlines again, Alexander Cherkasov sees the roots of the problem in the Russian government’s wilful misunderstanding of local issues and lack of strategy for dealing with them.

The Nationalists and the Protest Movement

The Russian opposition movement is of necessity a broad coalition, with little to hold it together but a common hatred of the Putin regime. Alexander Verkhovsky looks at how its most controversial element, the nationalists, fit into the picture.

Russian government declares ‘cold war’ on civil society

The draconian laws introduced by President Putin during his first 100 days continue to inflame hearts and minds. Some people have taken fright, but others are determined to carry on the fight, says Yury Dzhibladze

Russian rights at the crossroads

Anna Sevortian and Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch present a new week-long series on openDemocracy Russia

Siberia’s crying cannibal: when business became war

Last month, a Siberian gang leader accused of dozens of murders was unexpectedly given a prison sentence. Could it be that Russia is finally getting to grips with organised criminality? There is more to this case than meets the eye, says Aleksei Tarasov 

Updating Russia’s repressive software (and why the genie will say ‘no’)

The protests surrounding Putin’s third ascent of the presidential throne were dramatic and the new laws show the regime is fighting back. It will not be easy, says Nicu Popescu, and could turn into a protracted tug of war.

Customs and revenue on the Russia-Ukraine border

The break-up of the Soviet Union made foreign travel for Russians much easier, except, paradoxically, over the internal Soviet borders that previously required no passports or visas. The border guards that now patrol these crossings have too little to do and often turn to extortion in an attempt to increase their modest salaries - recounts Mikhail Loginov.

Is feminism in Russia a mortal sin?

The trial of Pussy Riot is encouraging Russians to talk openly about corruption. But how is their message being received in a country where feminism is still a dirty word?

Russia, over the cuckoo’s nest

President Putin’s first 100 days have been quite dramatic, with protests becoming edgier and draconian laws being introduced in response. It might be said that events in Russia are developing along the lines of Milos Forman's great film, says Dmitri Travin

Why local power and self-interest can be good for transparency

Think of your local Indian, South African, Mexican or Russian investor looking for guaranteed profits; pool them all together and you could have community of millions to leverage for demanding transparency in the extractive industries. It would be hard for their respective governments and companies to ignore the calls of seven million shareholders who have investments in the firms.

Snap goes the Crocodile

Marina Akhmedova spent four days in the company of drug users in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, and was met with a picture of desperation, punctured by love, humanity and misplaced hope. oDRussia is proud to reproduce Akhmedova’s harrowing piece of reportage journalism — perhaps unwisely, now banned in Russia. 

Why Russia needs a defamation law... a proper one.

Many democratically-minded Russians have seized upon the recent re-criminalisation of defamation as an further example of Russia’s regression during Putin’s third term. They miss the point, argues Poel Karp: Russia does need a law on defamation, but that law needs to apply to everyone, including those who hold office. 

Little Strangers. ‘Get me out of here!’

When twelve-year-old Lyosha tried to escape a children’s home to return to his family, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital — an abuse of psychiatry immediately reminiscent of Soviet days. Lyosha was eventually saved only by the investigative curiosity of local journalists, Aleksandr Koltsov and Ksenia Turchak. Alarmingly, they themselves are now the subject of a criminal investigation.

See it like Putin

Russia’s attitude to events in Syria and her stated determination to respect the viewpoints of both sides in that conflict is a cause for concern and reflection. It is, however, no more than another manifestation of President Putin’s aversion to the idea of any independence, for either his allies or his own citizens, says Maxim Trudolyubov

Tatarstan: the restoration of history, religion and national feeling

The Republic of Tatarstan is spending some of its not inconsiderable oil and gas revenues on restoring the ruined capital of an 8th century civilisation. This project may play well to the sense of Tatar identity, but it has many critics, recounts Maxim Edwards

'We’ve a war on here!'

Last month a small village in Kirov region became the unlikely location of serious interethnic violence. More than 100 people took part in a mass brawl, shots were fired and the governor of Kirov region, Nikita Belykh, was compelled to fly in by helicopter. Local correspondent Ekaterina Loushnikova, who made the 350 mile trip by more modest means, uncovers the roots of the conflict.

Turning the tables on Russia’s power elite — the story behind the Magnitsky Act

The murder of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 looks likely to trigger legislation in the United States which strikes at the heart of Russia’s corrupt elite. Bill Browder, founder of the Hermitage Fund, moving spirit behind the impending Magnitsky Act, tells the story.

The Kremlin and Georgia – collusion or illusion?

Georgia’s politicians are hypersensitive to charges of collusion with Russia, the old imperial power. President Saakashvili denounces opposition figures for being tools of the Kremlin. But the record suggests that he might himself be vulnerable to the same charge, says Vladimer Papava

Big Brother, little drones – protestors beware

Russia’s police are starting to use unmanned drones much more often for monitoring street protest rallies, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov report. This sinister development has the complete support of President Putin.

‘Appeal to all women: Don’t put up with it!’

Soon after the fall of communism, Ayshat (not her real name) was kidnapped by a stranger who wanted to marry her. Such kidnaps are not unusual in ultra-conservative Ingushetia, or in any of the North Caucasus republics. What is rare is Ayshat’s courage in speaking out. She tells the story of her violent marriage, breaking silence in the hope of persuading other women to resist abuse.

Natalya Estemirova – murdered, not forgotten

Three years ago the indomitable Natalya Estemirova was murdered in Chechnya. Her killers remain at large, and arbitrary executions of oppositional figures have remained a tool of power across the North Caucasus. Here, Tatyana Lokshina, Alexander Cherkasov and Igor Kalyapin, three of Russia’s leading human rights defenders review a deteriorating situation, and how address it


Chechnya’s women face fresh constraints, new rules and increased violence sanctioned from above. At home, they are subject to unwritten codes that systematically disenfranchise them. They must brave all this to enforce their rights under the Russian constitution. Beyond that, there is only the European Court of Human Rights.

‘The Chechen mentality’

Domestic violence is all too common in Chechnya. It is very rare for women to stand up for their rights, by recourse to the law. This is the story of one woman, Shoma Timagov, who did.

Chechnya’s fashion dictator

In Chechnya, the warfare that rumbled on between 1994 and 2009 has been turned against the republic’s women. The most public aspect of this campaign is the progressive imposition of a so-called ‘Islamic’ dress code. Lisa Kazbekova charts its course, enquires why it is happening, and how Chechnya’s men and women are responding

‘Why did I tell you all this!’

Taisa wanted to be a singer, but ended up becoming a victim of one of Russia's most patriarchal and violent societies. oDRussia continues its series of 'stories you weren't meant to hear' with a harrowing narrative from Chechnya.

Sex and Lies in Kabardino-Balkaria

Young women in Kabardino-Balkaria must resort to lies and stratagems to navigate a society governed by man-made rules and double standards. In this excerpt from an unpublished novel, Marina Marshenkulova reveals through fiction the reality she cannot describe as a journalist.

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