oD Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/3513/0 cached version 20/09/2018 15:46:23 en Defeat, disappointment and the glimmer of dictatorship in Russia’s Far East https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/fyodor-krasheninnikov/defeat-disappointment-and-glimmer-of-dictatorship-in-russia-far-east-primorye <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">A regional election has gone badly wrong. Dissecting the Kremlin’s defeat in Primorye shows paths for Russia’s future.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_5639376.LR_.ru__1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>18 September: election protest in Vladivostok. Viktor Ankov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3745475">decision</a> by Russia’s Central Election Commission is unprecedented. Falsifications and ballot-stuffing have long been common place at Russian elections, but there’s never been a case of election results being cancelled. This is understandable: elections are manipulated in the interests of Russia’s “party of power”. The remaining participants in the elections are far from angels and are also happy to engage in ballot-stuffing in their favour, but to <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-45546006">expel election observers from polling stations</a> with the help of the firefighters and engage in trickery at the level of election commissions, you need to have access to the heights of the Russian authorities.</p><p dir="ltr">This is the reality of the <a href="https://meduza.io/en/feature/2018/09/17/the-numbers-suggest-strongly-that-russia-s-primorye-gubernatorial-election-was-stolen">gubernatorial elections</a> in Primorye, in Russia’s Far East. But why did the Russian authorities opt for such radical moves, and what is really happening?</p><p dir="ltr">The main point is that Andrey Ishchenko, the Communist Party’s candidate for governor, has had his election victory stolen — twice. Initially, during the vote, and then in the ensuing administrative process, in which the election results were cancelled, and all votes, not only false ones, but honest ones, were annulled.</p><p dir="ltr">The annulment of these elections could seem like a good move to some. Indeed, a move that testifies to the sincerity of Central Election Commission Chairperson Ella Panfilova’s <a href="https://www.business-gazeta.ru/news/395856">statement</a> on the honesty and transparency of the election process in Primorye. But in fact, this decision by the Central Election Commission is just another manipulation in service of guaranteeing that power lies in the hands of Kremlin appointees.</p><p dir="ltr">Let’s look at the situation calmly: there were no questions on the validity of the results of the first round in Primorye — at least because the United Russia candidate Andrey Tarasenko, supported by Vladimir Putin, won with a significant margin. The scandal began in the second round when the Kremlin’s man began to lose, but who then won in the final vote count — only after all kinds of machinations were carried out in front of the entire country and clear evidence of 24,000 votes (Panfilova’s number) being fabricated.</p><p dir="ltr">If this is only about the second round, then the way out of this situation is clear: the second round of Primorye elections should be cancelled, and a re-election or re-count needs to be held, after the 24,000 fabricated votes have been excluded (the Central Election Commission confirms that they are invalid). Given that there are few illusions regarding the independence of the Central Election Commission, why did the authorities opt for a different path (cancellation)? Because a re-count of the second round would lead to Andrey Ishchenko’s victory, and they would have to award the position of governor to the Communist Party candidate. This kind of scenario is impossible in Russia today.</p><h2>Changing notions</h2><p dir="ltr">In a working representative democracy, elections are an open and transparent mechanism of distributing power between those who want access to it and those have the lawful right to it. To make this mechanism work, you need a consensus in society that elections are held honestly. Then, with the help of transparent election procedures, you can find the most popular candidate among the electorate, who then receives power for a certain time and according to a certain procedure. Importantly, this person receives power even when the real institutions of power don’t like the candidate.</p><p dir="ltr">In Russia today, all that’s left of this complex construction are nice names for institutions and carefully reproduced rituals, which are displayed eagerly to foreign observers on election day. See, these are our candidates, these are our voters, here are the ballot boxes, the ballots — everything’s the same. Meanwhile, placing your ballot in the box in Russia has nothing in common with elections in the west for the simple fact that it bears no relation to the real distribution of power — which is exactly what we are witnessing in Primorye.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This situation has revealed something truly important: the myth of Putin’s unassailable popularity and the all-powerful nature of the power vertical has begun to crumble</p><p dir="ltr">Who will take which official post — this is not decided at the polling station. If we are talking about gubernatorial elections, then there’s only voter, the president. Of course, before the final decision is taken, an intense fight can take place between various interested bureaucratic and business clans, but everything still ends when the TV shows Vladimir Putin saying to a confirmed candidate: “The elections are coming up. I’m sure everything’s going to be fine!” (Which is, essentially, what Putin <a href="https://www.bbc.com/russian/amp/news-45543554">said</a> to Andrey Tarasenko.)</p><p dir="ltr">Everything that happens after that — the primaries, election campaign, voting, the count — has no practical meaning. In effect, these procedures are important only for low-ranking public officials and other figures interested in good relationships with the future governor. This is how they demonstrate their commitment to the president’s chosen one, their readiness to work with and for them, their ability to mobilise and finance important projects.</p><h2>How the system works</h2><p dir="ltr">In Primorye, this scheme broke down: the candidate, who had been confirmed at all levels and personally supported by Putin several days before the second round, could not bring the campaign home and organise his legalisation as governor of the region. This alone is fairly shameful, and makes you think of the lack of popularity, talent and general capabilities of the authorities’ candidates, who are unable to win even when the whole state apparatus and president is working for them.</p><p dir="ltr">That said, there are also objective reasons that influence this situation. Andrey Tarasenko is no worse than than the majority of other governors who have won and continue to do so in Russia. It’s just that several tendencies came together in his case — the general decline of the authorities’ popularity, specific problems in Primorye and the unexpected stubbornness of his opponent.</p><p dir="ltr">To recognise Andrey Ishchenko, the Communist candidate, as the victor after the results were announced or even after a recount would mean setting a precedent. It turns out that, after destroying a candidate who was personally supported by Putin, a regional politician can still ingratiate himself with the president in the form of a partner and employee.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This is the dilemma before the authorities: either they have to make the elections competitive and open, at the same time giving them some kind of practical meaning, or to move in the direction of the final pushback against democracy</p><p dir="ltr">This is why the decision was made to declare the elections void, winning the authorities three months to work on the situation further. The Presidential Administration can now find itself a stronger candidate and guarantee them a win at the elections, especially if the Communists are pressured into putting forward someone more cooperative than Andrey Ishchenko.</p><p dir="ltr">In the end, they might even let Ishchenko win, but only as a Kremlin candidate — one supported by the president and who has publicly committed to Putin. This is also possible, especially given that Ischenko is yet to tire of stating his loyalty to Putin.</p><p dir="ltr">The main point here is to demonstrate that the principle that it’s not the elections that are important, but the Kremlin’s position. After all, they always decide who gets power in the regions. The elections are secondary: this is why they can be falsified, cancelled, held again — until their results suits the country’s main voter.</p><h2>The beginning of the end?</h2><p dir="ltr">Still, this situation has revealed something truly important: the myth of Putin’s unassailable popularity and the all-powerful nature of the power vertical has begun to crumble. Until recently, Putin’s personal support for a gubernatorial candidate, particularly during a presidential visit to a region, was considered a guarantee of success. In Primorye, this scheme has broken down once again.</p><p dir="ltr">If the Kremlin has had to falsify the results of an entirely controlled election process with carefully chosen opponents, then cancel them amidst a mood of public shame, then does this mean that president Putin and his regime are, in fact, as popular as we are led to believe? If the Russian people love him as much as the propagandists claim, then why didn’t his personal support for Primorye governor Tarasenko a few days before the vote lead to a victory in the first round? After all, voters in Primorye knew exactly which candidate the president wanted them to vote for — so what forced them to vote differently?</p><p dir="ltr">For many years, elections have been carefully transformed into a ritual which should demonstrate the unity of the Russian people around their irreplaceable national leader. It’s a few months since Putin’s triumphal re-election, and the regional elections have shown that a) this unity doesn’t exist and b) that a loyal electorate is ready to vote against clear signs from above.</p><p dir="ltr">If this tendency continues, then each new round of elections is going to cost the authorities more and more in terms of organisational costs and moral losses. </p><p>This is the dilemma before the authorities: either they have to make the elections competitive and open, at the same time giving them some kind of practical meaning, or to move in the direction of the final pushback against democracy. In the first case, the authorities will have to resign themselves to the fact that certain politicians will start appearing in parliament and other state institutions (and that they’ll have to start negotiating with them). In the second, they’ll have to admit to their own lack of popularity, which, in the long-term perspective, will mean defeat — only a complete and final one.</p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, there’s little hope for the first option: Putin doesn’t like losing, even in trivial matters, so we’ll have to wait for further crackdowns, expanding repressions against dissidents, and new foreign policy adventures — all the initiatives that are necessary for justifying dictatorship. In any case, Putin will not forgive the residents of Primorye, nor Russia as a whole. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-kolezev/why-ekaterinburg-needs-a-directly-elected-mayor">Why Ekaterinburg needs a directly elected mayor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/samson-larin-ivan-pivovarov-hera-critus/why-russia-needs-a-grassroots-campaign-against-political-repression">Why Russia needs a grassroots campaign against political repression</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/how-conservative-is-the-russian-regime">How conservative is the Russian regime?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-geyn/russias-rising-retirement-age">Russia’s rising retirement age: six real stories</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Fyodor Krasheninnikov Russia Thu, 20 Sep 2018 14:32:37 +0000 Fyodor Krasheninnikov 119756 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fear and loathing in Kyrgyzstan: how the LGBTQI community is fighting back against rising discrimination https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/juliet-jacques/fear-and-loathing-in-kyrgyzstan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>LGBTQI people remain easy targets in Kyrgyzstan, with nowhere to turn for recourse. But activists are fighting back.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/80.4._Trans_poster_(Labrys)_copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/80.4._Trans_poster_(Labrys)_copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Labrys organisation poster – "Together we are a Trans* force". Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In September 2014, I visited Kyrgyzstan for the first time, to <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2014/10/08/juliet-jacques/in-bishkek/">speak at the PEN International Congress</a> in the capital, Bishkek. We had to keep our panel, which argued for the repeal of “anti-LGBTQI” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) legislation that restricts the right to freedom of expression, secret. A few months earlier, the Kyrgyz parliament had introduced a bill that copied Russia’s legislation against “gay propaganda”, with additional jail sentences for people who “promote homosexual relations” through the media, so we feared that the entire Congress could be shut down if the authorities found out about it.</p><p dir="ltr">International concern grew after the bill passed its first reading by 79 votes to seven. The only MP who publicly criticised it was called “gay” by other politicians and newspapers, despite his “traditional” family. The bill had a second reading in June 2015 with little discussion, no questions asked of the 28 MPs who sponsored it, and 90 votes in favour. However, it then went no further, and in May 2016, a parliamentary subcommittee <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-anti-lgbt-bill-hits-the-buffers">proposed another second reading</a> rather than a third and final review. Their official reason was that the bill’s initial proponents were not re-elected in the October 2015 parliamentary elections, and that the new government should discuss this contentious issue. This has not yet happened. </p><p dir="ltr">Unofficially, pressure from the UN Human Rights Council, the EU Parliament and the Coalition for Justice and Non-Discrimination – a body of <a href="https://www.peaceinsight.org/conflicts/kyrgyzstan/peacebuilding-organisations/coalition-justice-and-non-discrimination/">NGOs and activists</a> that lobbies for anti-discrimination legislation in Kyrgyzstan – may have influenced the subcommittee, as well as the parliamentary rejection of a bill, inspired by <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2016/03/kyrgyzstans-ngo-and-lgbt-crackdown/">similar legislation in Russia</a>, requiring any NGO receiving foreign funding to register as a “foreign agent”. It is emblematic of Kyrgyzstan’s struggle to remain open towards Europe whilst sustaining ties with Russia and their central Asian neighbours that the bill seems to have been quietly dropped, but is still on the books. Politically, this may be the only way to appease the European Union, the Russian Federation and Kyrgyz nationalist groups, who, like their post-Soviet counterparts, notably in <a href="https://gay.org.ua/en/blog/category/situation-of-lgbt-in-ukraine/">Ukraine</a>, where far-right groups routinely attack Pride events, are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgina-rannard/kyrgyzstan%27s-conservatives-hold-their-antilgbt-rally">virulently opposed to LGBTQI people</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Such laws, however, do not have to pass to have a chilling effect. In 2014, <a href="http://www.dissidentblog.org/en/articles/one-afternoon-bishkek">I met Kyrgyz LGBTQI organisation Labrys</a>, who said that lesbians and trans men already faced corrective rape, and gay men and trans women were often beaten and sometimes killed. Such attacks have since <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41437866">intensified</a>. Soon after I went back to London, Labrys shut down their Facebook page, and had to sell the house where I first met them after it was subjected to an <a href="https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/04/10/arson-attack-on-kyrgyzstan-lgbt-centre/">arson attack</a> in 2015. They resurfaced last year, and in March I returned to Bishkek to meet a new generation of activists who, amidst the confusion and hostility, are fighting to make Kyrgyzstan more open to diversity of gender and sexuality.</p><p dir="ltr">“In 2017, we wrote to the Committee [on Law and Order] about the status of the bill, but never received a reply. It’s still unclear what will happen - every month it’s updated on the parliament website,” one of the activists, Aizhan, told me. There are still legal issues: this impasse meant Labrys’ National Action Plan recommendations – for LGBTQI groups, sex workers, drug users and HIV-positive people – were rejected after two years, as the Kyrgyz parliament said it refused to be ordered to withdraw the bill and called off the negotiations. A December 2016 referendum on the constitution included an amendment to define the family as “created upon the voluntary union of a man and a woman”, and gave precedence to Kyrgyz law, making it harder for Labrys and other human rights groups to cite international legislation in their opposition to institutional discrimination.</p><h2 dir="ltr">No law (yet), but more attacks</h2><p dir="ltr">The lack of statistics about crimes against LGBTQI people in Kyrgyzstan remains a concern, so last year Labrys started monitoring and published a report on their <a href="http://www.labrys.kg/en/">website</a> in 2017. Anecdotally, the activists agree that attacks have become more frequent, and organised, since 2014. </p><p dir="ltr">“After the draft law, far-right groups started working to promote family values. Two years ago, [US preacher] Scott Lively, who promoted the <a href="https://www.amnestyusa.org/anti-homosexuality-bill-could-mean-a-death-sentence-for-lgbt-people-in-uganda/">anti-gay law in Uganda</a>, <a href="http://www.scottlively.net/2016/10/11/report-from-kyrgyzstan/">visited Bishkek</a>. He met anti-LGBTQI groups, who put photos on Facebook,” one of the activists recalled as we met in their office in central Bishkek. “In 2015, we launched proceedings against nationalists who <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-nationalists-wreck-day-against-homophobia/27023358.html">attacked our 17 May</a> [the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia] event, which was the first-ever case concerning violence against a Kyrgyz LGBTQI organisation.” After two years, the court sent it for re-investigation; the police said there was not enough evidence, and that they couldn’t contact witnesses. The main victim declined to proceed because of security issues.</p><p dir="ltr">“In September 2017, we tried to organise a march for Bisexual Visibility Day,” said Labrys’ executive director, Sanjar. “We didn’t have to get permission from the mayor’s office, but we informed them, so we could say we did if anything happened. We still weren’t allowed to march, as the district court had ruled against it because the government were preparing for [presidential] elections [in October]. Then we got a call saying a taxi driver had a foreigner wanting to visit us, asking for our address. We told them to come to TSUM [a shopping centre in Bishkek]. It was someone from the national security office, saying we shouldn’t go on our march. People came three times, threatening us. Then, a nationalist group leader called, telling us we would regret going ahead.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The winner of Miss Kyrgyzstan said we should burn all LGBTQI people. We asked the national security office to investigate this as incitement to violence, but nothing happened”</p><p dir="ltr">“The police often undress trans women, and so do transphobic people,” says Sanjar. Indeed, this nearly happened to me on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border: a passport control clerk took exception to me, and soon I had five security guards yelling at me. They didn’t strip me, but made it obvious that they could. “People get outed online, and there is a lot of hate speech. The winner of Miss Kyrgyzstan said we should burn all LGBTQI people. We asked the national security office to investigate this as incitement to violence, but nothing happened.” </p><p dir="ltr">With the propaganda law lurking in the background, and no law against hate speech or crimes – in legal terms, only murder can be based on discrimination, with religion, ethnicity, and nationality as the only criteria – LGBTQI people remain easy targets in Kyrgyzstan, with nowhere to turn for recourse. “A [Kyrgyz] journalist went with the police on a raid and started filming trans women; she then posted on Facebook about how they beat her up, which wasn’t true. She provokes trans women, films them and then asks for 400 soms [about 6 USD] to keep it off social media,” said Mohira, an activist who has also been involved with queer leftist collective <a href="http://bantmag.com/eng/back-to-the-future-with-the-queer-communists-of-kyrgyzstan/">STAB – the School of Theory and Activism in Bishkek</a>, adding that the same journalist had leaked information about the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, a closed event, to Kyrgyz nationalists, and wrote a slanderous article about a film screening hosted by STAB. “She’s a long-term enemy,” Mohira stated.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Moldokmatov_resized.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="334" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhenish Moldokmatov, leader of Kyrgyzstan's Kalys movement, at an anti-LGBT rally in June 2015. Source: <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgina-rannard/kyrgyzstan%27s-conservatives-hold-their-antilgbt-rally>Georgina Rannard</a>. </span></span></span>However, Labrys have had some successes. In January, they secured the right for trans people to change their documents with just a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a medical professional, having previously required surgery; the health ministry also approved their guidelines on endocrinological and psychiatric support. On a wider level, Labrys have organised events to empower and mobilise communities, such as round tables in Bishkek and Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city, to create dialogue between trans people, medical specialists and the health ministry. They are also planning for a delegation to talk to the police about how to treat the LGBTQI community with greater respect.</p><p dir="ltr">Internationally, Labrys are part of a coalition of trans people in post-Soviet countries, and in touch with an association of Russian-speaking intersex people and LGBTQI groups in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. They are also part of IGLA (International Gay &amp; Lesbian Association) Europe, but Mohira stresses the importance of Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia being grouped with Eastern Europe, as their recent history has more in common with Ukraine or Belarus, and especially Russia, than India or Bangladesh. </p><p dir="ltr">This might be a step towards the social issues affecting the LGBTQI community in Kyrgyzstan, and the wider region, being better understood in the West and, it is hoped, receiving greater international support.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/evgenij-shtorn/the-future-of-russias-one-and-only-lgbt-film-festival%20">The future of Russia’s one and only LGBT film festival </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/zukhra-iakupbaeva/minorities-in-kyrgyzstan">Minorities in Kyrgyzstan: changed by revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/kyrgyzstans-indispensable-women-are-undervalued%20">Kyrgyzstan’s indispensable women are undervalued </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/david-lewis/moscow-consensus-constructing-autocracy-in-post-soviet-eurasia">The “Moscow Consensus”: Constructing autocracy in post-Soviet Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/cristina-maza/challenging-patriarchy-in-kyrgyzstan">Challenging patriarchy in Kyrgyzstan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgina-rannard/kyrgyzstan%27s-conservatives-hold-their-antilgbt-rally">Kyrgyzstan&#039;s conservatives hold their anti-LGBT rally</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Juliet Jacques Kyrgyzstan Thu, 20 Sep 2018 04:38:49 +0000 Juliet Jacques 119682 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Spiritual capital: why Ukraine is breaking from Russia’s Orthodox Church https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-fert/spiritual-capital-ukraine-orthodox-church <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Ukrainian government has promised its citizens a new, independent Orthodox Church that will unite Ukrainian believers. But bringing several denominations together is harder than you think. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-fert/tomos-dlya-ukrainy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/9319010331_0d9c63233d_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/9319010331_0d9c63233d_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ukraine is waiting for “Tomos”, a decree on the establishment of an independent United Local Orthodox Ukrainian Church. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Luca Moglia / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Over the last few months, the lexicon of many Ukrainians has been enriched by two new words: “Tomos” and “autocephaly”. These words, whose literal meanings are “religious decree” and “religious autonomy”, have been all over the newspapers, social media and TV screens. In April this year, Ukraine’s president and parliament asked the Patriarch of Constantinople, the highest arbitrator in the Orthodox world, to recognise the canonical independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. </p><p dir="ltr">Religion, a subject that the media normally ignore outside Christmas and Easter, has dominated headlines and public debate ever since. And all because for many, the Tomos is a kind of declaration of Ukrainian independence – not so much religious independence, but political. </p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, President Petro Poroshenko has stressed the political nature of this independence. Speaking on television recently, he <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2018/04/24/7178641/">declared</a> that “this isn’t a religious matter. It isn’t simply a matter of state either. It’s a historic event, when Ukraine’s own church will return home after hundreds of years.” Other public and political figures have echoed his sentiments. Vitaliy Deynega, a prominent activist on Ukraine’s frontline, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Tomos2018/videos/505527053205999/?fb_dtsg_ag=Adxe5gAGQJq--aQ3sSSm7h4_udjt1pgQjLGmeh2zXvfWxw%3AAdwhlhuBcmP7BTBQUhTyzCDfTMy7uvhPy-sDmrYH7IN4FQ">posted</a> this declaration on Facebook: “Many generations have fought for the independence of our country, including its spiritual independence… It’s important to free the hearts and minds of Ukrainian believers from the influence of [the Russian occupiers]”.</p><p dir="ltr">But a closer look at the situation shows that it is less a matter of “freedom from influence” or the unification of several denominations. Rather, this is about the creation of symbolic capital that will give Ukraine’s political elite an advantage ahead of next year’s elections.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Lawful and unlawful churches</h2><p dir="ltr">Ukraine has several Orthodox denominations, which have all long vied for the role of “national church”. The largest is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which retained its subordinate position to the Moscow Patriarchate after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The second and third largest are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.</p><p dir="ltr">These three denominations are identical in terms of their doctrine and liturgies: they only differ on church independence.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_и_Константинопольский_патриарх_Варфоломей_(сайт_president.gov_.ua).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_и_Константинопольский_патриарх_Варфоломей_(сайт_president.gov_.ua).jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew. Photo Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International / The President of Ukraine. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Thus, the Kyiv Patriarchate and Autocephalous Church believe that Ukrainian Orthodoxy has developed to the point where it has no need for any central authority outside Ukraine, namely - in Russia. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), on the other hand, considers Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians to be equal successors to medieval Kyivan Rus’, with a common faith and a common church.</p><p dir="ltr">So when President Poroshenko initiated his campaign for autocephaly, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church refused to become involved in it. Its representative <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/04/17/7177967/">declared</a> that the initiative was a form of interference in the church’s affairs and would come to nothing. And the church’s head, Metropolitan Onufrii, <a href="http://news.church.ua/2018/08/14/predstoyatel-yakshho-lyudina-znaxoditsya-v-poloni-grixa-to-niyakij-tomos-jij-ne-dopomozhe/">called</a> the Tomos “a trap”. The President’s idea was, however, immediately supported by the other two Orthodox denominations. This was understandable: these churches are not recognised by world Orthodoxy, and having a Tomos would give them legitimisation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“I’m an atheist, but God willing, this is what will happen”</h2><p dir="ltr">“What?” a friend interrupts me. “Is our Ukrainian church illegal, then?” “Our Ukrainian church?” I ask her back. “The Kyiv Patriarchate, I mean.” “No, they’re still unrecognised.” She goes silent with surprise as she absorbs this unexpected news.</p><p dir="ltr">My friend, like many Ukrainians, goes to church once a year, at Easter, to have an Easter kulich cake and some eggs blessed. Her faith boils down to the observance of the unwritten commandment: “Thou shalt not work on church holidays” and standing godmother to her friends’ children. Practising Orthodox worshippers call these people zakhozhane (“church passers-by”): they go to church now and then, light a candle for luck or have their kulich blessed, but take no active part in church life and don’t even know its basic teachings.</p><p dir="ltr">According to <a href="http://razumkov.org.ua/uploads/article/2018_Religiya.pdf">statistics</a>, which some sociologists <a href="https://www.facebook.com/nikolay.mitrokhin.1/posts/1280780898726239?__tn__=K-R">regard with suspicion</a>, 67% of Ukrainians are Orthodox believers. But most of them are “semi-parishioners”. There are very few people who take their faith seriously – only 12% of Orthodox Church members.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">According to statistics, which some sociologists regard with suspicion, 67% of Ukrainians are Orthodox believers</p><p dir="ltr">There is yet another category of people. For them, being Orthodox doesn’t necessarily mean believing in God and going to church once a year. In 2017, Pew Research Center <a href="http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2017/05/15120244/CEUP-FULL-REPORT.pdf">published</a> a report on field studies of religious belief in Central and Eastern Europe (the former “Eastern bloc”, the USSR and Balkan states). The report found that “in these countries, national and religious identities have converged” and that the church has become “one element of their national culture”. Respondents said, for example, that you have to be a Catholic to call yourself “truly Polish” and Orthodox to be “truly Russian”.</p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine, 51% of respondents believed that “being Orthodox is very or somewhat important to truly be a national in their country”. If you assume that 12% of practising Orthodox believers, divided between three denominations, are part of that number, there is still an enormous number of people for whom Orthodoxy is an important part of their national identity.</p><p dir="ltr">But let’s add some context here. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and is now at war with Ukraine via its puppet regimes in Donetsk and Luhansk. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s largest church is still subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate. How does that look to people for whom Orthodoxy is first and foremost an important part of the Ukrainian national project and who don’t pay a lot of attention to doctrine or church rules? Obviously, it is an unhealthy contradiction that needs sorting out. “Soon there will be one unified national church,” says Crimean Tatar journalist Aider Mudzhabayev in his videoblog, “I see this as a big step forward. God willing….hmmm, I’m an atheist, but God willing it’ll go that way”. </p><p dir="ltr">For many “church passers-by” and atheists like Mudzhabayev, “our” “Ukrainian” church should be recognised and receive a Tomos on autocephaly.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“The last missing part”</h2><p dir="ltr">These two groups and this mindset are the main targets of the Ukrainian elite. “A Ukrainian church for the Ukrainian state” is the slogan of a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Tomos2018/">Facebook group</a> created by civic leaders, theologians and clergy. Experts and politicians repeat the debate on social media. An independent Ukrainian Church is <a href="http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/the-last-missing-piece-to-make-ukraine-truly-independent">“the last missing piece to make Ukraine truly independent”</a>, writes the Atlantic Council. “A national autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a key element in our statehood and independence,” Poroshenko <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2018/04/24/7178641/">tells viewers on live TV</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">All these statements are part of the same principle – a connection between nation building and an independent church. And there are several important factors here.</p><p dir="ltr">The first is the politics of memory. From the start of the war in eastern Ukraine, the politics of memory has been centred on demonstrating the age-long struggle between Ukrainians (victims) and Russians (colonisers/enslavers), as well as emphasising successful instances when the “Ukrainians” fought/beat the “Russians”.</p><p dir="ltr">According to this logic, autocephaly is an important and essential victory over the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was long part. According to the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Tomos2018/videos/460058661086172/">social media campaign</a>, this empire “unlawfully seized the Ukrainian Church after the annexation of the historic <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-bank_Ukraine">Left Bank Ukraine</a> in the 17th century” and appropriated its history. This empire has, much in the same way, appropriated <a href="https://www.unian.info/politics/1997749-president-macron-sees-anne-de-kiev-as-important-figure-in-ukraine-france-relations.html">the history of Ukraine</a> itself, from the 11th century princess Anne of Kyiv, the daughter of Kyiv Duke Yaroslav the Wise, to the whole of the “Ukrainian” middle ages.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/29525326286_7278475756_z_(1)_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/29525326286_7278475756_z_(1)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The church is a patriotic church that knows who is fighting whom in the east of Ukraine, which supports the ATU soldiers and condemns the “LNR” and “DNR”. Photo CC-NC-ND 2.0: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>Once the Ukrainian Church becomes independent, the “imperial” or “colonial” historical narrative will finally be overcome. “The story of the Russian Church will begin not with Kyivan Rus’ in the late ninth century but with 1448, the point at which it split from the Kyiv Metropolitanate,” says Filaret, head of the Kyiv Patriarchate. “Ukraine was never, is not and never will be part of Russia. Rus’ existed, but Russia as an entity didn’t. And when it appeared, it was called Muscovy, while Rus’ was present-day Ukraine. And even Crimea is Ukrainian, because it belonged to Rus’.”</p><p dir="ltr">Autocephaly is also seen by Ukraine’s political elite as a tool for encouraging patriotism, essential for protecting the country from external aggressors. The New Church will be a patriotic church that knows who is fighting whom in the east Ukraine, and which supports the armed forces against the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic”. Like the Kyiv Patriarchate, but not the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. And this is why the Tomos is so important – a church that encourages Ukrainian patriotism can’t be unlawful. As Petro Poroshenko <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CCvgE7rzYA">never tires of repeating</a>: “The army protects our Ukrainian lands, our language protects our Ukrainian hearts and our faith protects our Ukrainian soul.”</p><p dir="ltr">This is why the issue of autocephaly is a litmus test to define who “we” and “they” are. “Whatever you think about Poroshenko or the political parties, autocephaly is a good thing. There can be no argument with that,” <a href="https://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/muzhdabaev/5b7830c41b0b7/">says</a> Aidar Mudzhabayev.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A uniting factor?</h2><p dir="ltr">There’s one intriguing question left here: where are the practising Orthodox churchgoers who are to go to this “United National Orthodox Ukrainian Church”? If the long-expected Tomos arrives, how will it affect those who go each Sunday to churches of various hues and bring their own ideas of “obedience” with them?</p><p dir="ltr">The well known theologian Ciril Hovorun, a former employee of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who now teaches at a number of Western universities, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OJ9iURdVQc">recently told an audience</a> at a public lecture in Kyiv: “The main thing for the politicians it getting the piece of paper – the Tomos of autocephaly – but they haven’t thought about what they’re going to do next, how they are going to create a new church.” </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This new church, as imagined by President Poroshenko, will act as a unifying force for Ukrainian believers</p><p dir="ltr">This new church, as imagined by President Poroshenko, will act as a unifying force for Ukrainian believers and will stem the anti-Ukrainian propaganda being spread among churchgoers by the Moscow Patriarchate. But for that to happen, all three denominations, each with their own followers, will have to amalgamate.</p><p dir="ltr">But the denomination with the largest number of practising churchgoers – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is subordinate to Moscow – has already refused to take part in the creation of this new church. So that just leaves the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church. “If all goes well, we shall amalgamate,” <a href="https://youtu.be/TjyPJUxUShE?t=3047">says</a> the head of the latter, Metropolitan Makarii. “And those who refuse to unite with us will have to call themselves the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine,” Kyiv’s Patriarch Filaret <a href="https://www.cerkva.info/publications/patriarkh-filaret-avtokefaliia-tse-sylnyi-udar-po-rosii-ta-ii-tserkvi-iakym-pryidetsia-perepysuvaty-svoiu-istoriiu">declares</a> confidently.</p><p dir="ltr">Obviously, this will mean big changes for practising Kyiv Patriarchate and Autocephalous Church members. The Orthodox world officially recognises their churches as bodies that save souls and have the grace of God. But Ukrainian Orthodox Church congregations will probably be forced to rename themselves into “Russian Church in Ukraine”. And their integration will be a crucial issue when creating a real united Church.</p><p dir="ltr">“Why do we need to think about integrating with these Moscowdox types anyway?” asks one of my Facebook friends. And it’s true that there are very few of them – polls <a href="http://razumkov.org.ua/uploads/article/2018_Religiya.pdf">show</a> that only 13% of Ukrainians regard themselves as belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, as opposed to 29% who belong to the Kviv Patriarchate. But these figures don’t actually <a href="https://www.facebook.com/nikolay.mitrokhin.1/posts/1280780898726239?__tn__=K-R">reflect the numbers of practising members of one denomination or the other</a>. The Kyiv Patriarchate’s 29% includes the “church passers-by” and patriotically-minded groups for whom it’s important to belong to that church “if you want truly to be a national of Ukraine”.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Russian Church in Ukraine”</h2><p dir="ltr">After the Tomos is received, the “Russian Church in Ukraine” will have more congregations and monasteries than the potentially united National Church (about 12,000 congregations and 200 monasteries as opposed to 5,000 and 60). But there’s no need to panic: about 30% of them will transfer to the new church as soon as the Tomos arrives, says Tetiana Derkach, a religious commentator. “The war in the east and the hybrid role played in it by the Russian Orthodox Church has alienated many former Moscow Patriarchate churchgoers, who have now turned to the ‘domestic market’ and taken the extreme step of refusing to pray for the [Moscow] Patriarch Kirill.”</p><p dir="ltr">And, as though to confirm Derkach’s words, priest of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Father Heorhii Kovalenko has made a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/mereza/permalink/1987940344837901/?__tn__=-UC-R">statement</a>, saying that, “we, the clergy and parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have begun a dialogue on what the Orthodox Church of Ukraine should be and its place in society. Most of us are convinced and stalwart supporters of autocephaly.” This statement has been open for signatures on Facebook and, as of 27 August has collected over 20 signatures of Ukrainian Orthodox clergy and several dozen lay members of the church.</p><p dir="ltr">But this initiative is little more than a drop in the ocean – nothing like the alleged 30%. Nikolay Mitrokhin, a leading specialist on the contemporary Russian Orthodox Church, recently conducted a field study of churches in Ukraine. He <a href="https://from-ua.com/intervyu/452907-mitrohin-edinaya-cerkov-v-ukraine-kogda-nibud-budet-sozdana-v-perspektive-25-let-no-seichas-dlya-etogo-net-uslovii.html">writes</a> that “realistically, only the group around [Ukrainian Orthodox Church] Metropolitan Aleksandr Drabinko, as well as five well known Kyiv priests and a maximum of 50-60 priests from other regions of Ukraine are ready to take part in the united autocephalic project.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/4606164320_bbb273480c_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/4606164320_bbb273480c_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>For many Ukrainians receiving Tomos is a symbolic victory over the Soviet past. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Vladimir Varfolomeev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The core of believers who take part in all the prayers take their lead from the monastic abbots. And if the abbots say that they don’t want anything to do with this, then their parishioners won’t accept it either”, Mitrokhin concludes. “In other words, the generals and officers, as it were – that is, the bishops and priests – will happily transfer their loyalties, but this force will be useless without its ordinary rank and file parishioners.”</p><p dir="ltr">The potential integration of these believers is complicated by two more issues. The first is the internal contradiction in the very idea of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – the attempt to simultaneously retain both their loyalty to Ukraine and their submission to the Moscow Patriarchate. The self identification of this denomination’s parishioners and clergy is based on the idea of the spiritual unity of “Holy Rus’” (Ukraine, Russia and Belarus), and to tear that apart would be close to a sin.</p><p dir="ltr">The second issue is the public’s attitude to practising believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Most of the media regard the members of this denomination as something out-of-date, a fifth column, accomplices of Moscow, and accuse them of a lack of patriotism. These non-patriots from the “Moscow church” can then be contrasted with the genuine patriots of the Kyiv Patriarchate.</p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainian society, which has been dragged into a war with Russia, has a desire to have its own Orthodox Church, independent of Russia. So it’s no surprise that the president and the political elite are taking advantage of the Tomos issue. If, after all, Ukraine receives this magic piece of paper, this can be converted into votes at the elections.</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, it’s important to realise that the Tomos request has less to do with practising believers than with “church passers-by” and other people for whom the church is first and foremost an important part of their Ukrainian national identity. This is why there is a lack of interest in what will happen after the Tomos arrives, how a new church structure will be created and how members of the various denominations will be integrated in it. The main thing, after all, is to create a symbol: an Independent United National Ukrainian Church – patriotic and recognised by Orthodoxy around the world.</p><p dir="ltr">In the circumstances, however, this united church is very unlikely to be genuinely united. Practising believers, who mostly belong to the Moscow Patriarchate, will not join it. This will be for various reasons: their conservatism, their conception of the unity of the Russian Church and their reputation in the eyes of the public. In this sense, the united national church – if it receives its Tomos – will be merely a symbolic victory for Ukraine’s patriotic “church passers-by”.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-fert/putin-is-your-god">“Putin is your God!”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/inside-ukraines-evangelical-business-empire">Partners in piety: inside Ukraine’s evangelical business empire</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/iannis-carras/can-ukraine%E2%80%99s-divided-church-help-heal-divided-country">Can Ukraine’s divided church help heal the divided country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukraines-orthodox-church-conflict">Ukraine’s Orthodox church “conflict” takes to historic Kyiv</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Andrii Fert Ukraine Mon, 17 Sep 2018 08:37:49 +0000 Andrii Fert 119684 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Double discrimination: why Uzbek women in Kyrgyzstan are a minority within a minority https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zhyldyz-frank/double-discrimination-in-kyrgyzstan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the aftermath of Kyrgyzstan's 2010 revolution, the country's Uzbek minority population has seen their position worsen — and Uzbek women have been marginalised most of all.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aravan village, Osh region, 2010. (c) Elyor Nematov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Echoes of the 2010 conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks continue to be heard in the Osh region in southern Kyrgyzstan. The four days of clashes between the two communities <a href="http://www.osce-academy.net/upload/file/Policy_Brief_15.pdf">left hundreds dead and thousands injured</a>, and came on the heels of the violent change of government in the country in April 2010. Today, it is clear these events have strengthened nationalism and re-traditionalisation among the Kyrgyz people. In turn, this process has worsened the conditions of ethnic minority groups in Kyrgyzstan, especially for the country’s sizable Uzbek population.</p><p dir="ltr">This trend also affected gender issues among the Uzbek community. Kyrgyzstan <a href="http://hdr.undp.org/en/indicators/68606">ranks 120 out of 188 countries</a> in the world in UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), just after South Africa and before Iraq. Albeit slowly, the struggle for gender equality has progressed in the country thanks to the efforts of a number of open-minded feminists among Kyrgyz women. Uzbek women, however, lag behind.</p><p dir="ltr">The disparity in experiences between Kyrgyz and Uzbek women can be observed just strolling through the streets of the southern city of Osh, where both ethnic groups live side by side but rarely integrate – a state of affairs that has only been exacerbated by the 2010 conflict. Compared to young Uzbek women, young Kyrgyz women even appear more emancipated. In the morning, they can be seen going to work or university wearing the latest fashion. By contrast, young Uzbek women often appear in public dressed as kelin (young wives) and accompanied by their husband or mother-in-law, with a look of resignation to their second-class condition.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In 2010, Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan felt that they were not treated as true citizens of Kyrgyzstan. They felt that they were foreigners in their own homeland, so they became more religious, more traditional”</p><p dir="ltr">“Why should one pursue higher education or a career, if after graduating we Uzbek women have few prospects for employment?,” Nafisa, a 16-year-old Uzbek girl from Osh, told me. “Instead, I will try to master some kind of craft to make a living and, hopefully, marry a good person who will support me financially.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/IMG_5428.JPG__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/IMG_5428.JPG__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="613" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Announcement: I am 25 years old and there is a 50% discount on me.” Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>A study conducted by the <a href="http://kg.one.un.org/content/dam/unct/kyrgyzstan/docs/Library/Youth%20Research_Final%20Report_ENG_26June2017.pdf">UN Women Country Office in the Kyrgyz Republic</a> on professional and marriage choices by Kyrgyzstan’s youth captures this disparity well. Compared to young Kyrgyz women, who pursue higher education and are career-oriented, many young Uzbek women tend not to negotiate their educational, professional and marriage choices with their parents, husbands, and in-laws. </p><p dir="ltr">This culture of obedience and subordination curtails their potential for educational and professional development, because of the preponderant influence of conservative and patriarchal principles among Uzbeks, according to which a woman needs to sit at home and early (and even forced) marriages are the norm.</p><p dir="ltr">On a hot Friday last July, the imam of the Al-Ansari mosque in one of Osh’s Uzbek neighbourhoods delivered a sermon that exemplifies this misogynistic discourse.</p><p dir="ltr">“You men are responsible for your wives, daughters, sisters, sister-in-laws, and mothers! You men should not be dayus (who let their wives go out, who “share” their women with others),” the imam said. “Do not let your wives wonder out and about! Do not let your wives go to cafes and restaurants, where they encounter other men, because they will look at your woman. Keep the women at home. If they need to go out, put their hijab on and accompany them,” he continued.</p><p dir="ltr">According to some people in attendance, this mindset is the result of the prevailing patriarchal culture and Saudi-inspired conservative interpretation of Islam which has gained currency among Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan. An increased focus on religion and traditions among Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbeks has significantly contributed to this misogynistic attitude. However, it is problematic to isolate Uzbek culture as the reason for gendered mistreatment, as it is very similar to Kyrgyz culture. Moreover, many Kyrgyz are also becoming more religious but, in spite of this, gender activism is growing among Kyrgyz women and even <a href="https://knews.kg/2017/03/30/muzhchiny-feministy-v-kyrgyzstane-malchikov-vospityvayut-seksistami/">male feminists</a>. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Strangers in their own land</h2><p dir="ltr">A crucial factor that contributes to limiting the space for gender consciousness and activism among Uzbek women is the growing marginalisation of the Uzbek population as a whole in Kyrgyzstan. <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgina-rannard/in-osh-flames-have-died-down-but-not-discontent">Kyrgyzstan’s state-led discrimination</a> against Uzbeks, including the <a href="http://enews.fergananews.com/articles/3023">official policy to marginalise the Uzbek language</a> in favour of Kyrgyz, has worsened since the 2010 conflict, fostering gender inequality among Uzbeks in the country and severely damaging the Uzbek population’s trust in the state. Uzbeks now prefer to live in their own neighbourhoods, with little interaction with the majority Kyrgyz.</p><p dir="ltr">“In 2010, Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan felt that they were not treated as true citizens of Kyrgyzstan. They felt that they were foreigners in their own homeland, so they became more religious, more traditional. So, after the 2010 events, Uzbeks started relying on their traditions and Islam, which for them are the main sources of their identity,” Hurshida Rasohodjaeva, a rare Uzbek feminist from Osh, told me. “This trend in turn strengthened the existing patriarchal culture and reinforced traditional gender norms and values.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Gender could be a rallying point for women in Kyrgyzstan to act together for the common good, but ethnic identity has hindered the potential for solidarity, at least so far</p><p dir="ltr">Rasohodjaeva, 25, works for <a href="http://noviritm.org">Novi Ritm</a> (“New Rhythm”), an NGO where Nafisa also volunteers to promote a peaceful, democratic and equal Kyrgyzstan. Both girls are Russian speakers and do not consider themselves fluent in Uzbek. Yet the majority of Uzbeks are not fluent Russian or Kyrgyz speakers, which means they are excluded from alternative sources of information to religious and traditional literature, as this is not readily available in the Uzbek language.</p><p dir="ltr">Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan have suffered from limited access to information due to language restrictions fostered by Kyrgyz state policies. The number of high schools with Uzbek as the main language of instruction has drastically fallen since the 2010 conflict, and in 2014 the government <a href="https://24.kg/archive/en/bigtiraj/170455-news24.html/">abolished</a> university entry exams in Uzbek. This has discouraged students at Uzbek high schools from continuing their education, as they question the logic of studying in Uzbek for 11 years before taking a general university entry tests in Kyrgyz or Russian.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/IMG_5429.JPG_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/IMG_5429.JPG_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="613" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Now the neighbors will not condemn.” Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“All these developments happened too quick. Had there been a representative of the Uzbek population in Parliament, they could have publicly voiced that education is important to integrate the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks of Kyrgyzstan,” Novi Ritm project manager Guliza Abdyzhaparova told me. </p><p dir="ltr">“Sustainable development hinges on the fair representation of the needs and concerns of different people. Uzbeks, especially Uzbek women, are left out of development programmes. The combination of patriarchal culture, lack of information in the Uzbek language, and discrimination have led Uzbeks to turn inwards. Consequently, uniting Kyrgyz and Uzbek women through gender activism is becoming less feasible,” Abdyzhaparova concludes.</p><p dir="ltr">Civil society in Kyrgyzstan has not been immune from these trends. Relevant information on the importance of education, gender equality, female healthcare, early marriage and domestic violence are rarely available in Uzbek. In addition, the Uzbek population of Kyrgyzstan is often excluded from development projects, and is rarely encouraged to participate in awareness raising activities organised by international organisations and NGOs.</p><p dir="ltr">Kyrgyz women are slowly <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2016/03/07/feministki-bishkeka-nam-ne-nuzhny-tsvety-nam-nuzhny-prava/">organising to fight the injustices</a> society imposed on them, such as <a href="http://www.warscapes.com/reportage/my-sister-didnt-give-her-consent">bride kidnapping and forced marriages</a>. But this trend has not caught up among Uzbeks, where women-led activism lags behind. Kyrgyz and Uzbek women have proved unable to unite for female empowerment. Gender could be a rallying point for women in Kyrgyzstan to act together for the common good, but ethnic identity has hindered the potential for solidarity, at least so far.</p><p dir="ltr">As a minority, Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are left outside development programmes initiated both by the government and civil society. This lack of support and inclusion encourages isolation and reinforces traditional ways of life. Both Uzbek men and women have seen their position worsen in Kyrgyzstan, but the latter face double discrimination: as ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan and as women within their own ethnic group. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/kyrgyzstans-indispensable-women-are-undervalued%20">Kyrgyzstan’s indispensable women are undervalued </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy">Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s “island of democracy”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/botagoz-seydakhmetova/fighting-patriarchy-in-kazakhstan">Fighting patriarchy in Kazakhstan: problems and perspectives</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Zhyldyz Frank Kyrgyzstan Mon, 17 Sep 2018 06:20:03 +0000 Zhyldyz Frank 119559 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “They told me that if I didn’t become more cooperative, they could do whatever they wanted to me”: anarchist Arman Sagynbayev reveals torture by Russian law enforcement https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/media-zona/arman-sagynbayev-network-case-russia-torture <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In this high-profile terrorism investigation into Russian anarchists, brutal torture has been used to extract confessions from detainees.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/photo_2018-04-14_21-12-51-550x426.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="356" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Arman Sagynbayev. Source: personal archive. </span></span></span>Since October 2017, 11 people have arrested as part of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network” case</a> in Russia — a terrorism investigation into anti-fascists and anarchists. According to investigators, these men were members of an organisation that planned to to provoke the “further destabilisation of the political climate in the country” during the Russian presidential elections and Football World Cup. Cells of the organisation were allegedly operating in Moscow, St Petersburg, Penza and Belarus.</p><p>Several of the men detained have reported being tortured into confessing to charges at the hands of the FSB. For example, software engineer Viktor Filinkov, who was abducted from St Petersburg Pulkovo airport in January 2018, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">describes</a> in detail how he was tortured into learning a false confession in a minivan on the outskirts of the city.</p><p>Arman Sagynbayev, 26, was arrested as part of “The Network” case in St Petersburg in November 2017. Sagynbayev, who previously ran a vegan food business, recently withdrew his confession to the charges in court. He stated that he was forced to incriminate himself and others under torture. Russian media outlet MediaZona <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/09/06/arman">publishes</a> a lawyer’s examination of Sagynbayev, and we translate his testimony here.</p><p dir="ltr">***</p><p dir="ltr">In November 2017, FSB operatives applied forbidden methods of investigation (torture) to me under the following conditions.</p><p dir="ltr">On 5 November 2017, at approximately six o’clock in the morning, someone rang the bell at the apartment in [...] in St Petersburg where I was at that moment in time. I opened the door, as behind the door I was told that the district police officer was outside. As soon as I opened the door, at least four men burst into the room. They began shouting that they were from the FSB, placed a firearm (pistol) against my face, and then put me facing the wall, having handcuffed my hands behind my back. These persons then began conducting a search of the apartment.</p><p dir="ltr">After the search, I was taken to a burgundy minivan parked outside the apartment block. I can’t name the brand or model of the car. In this car, the men put a fabric bag over my head, and one man began to beat me in the body and head to make me tell them my real address in St Petersburg.</p><p dir="ltr">Through the bag on my head I could see that the man beating me was of thick build, he had light blue eyes, and I also saw a tattoo “For VDV” [VDV is the acronym for Russia’s paratroopers - ed] on the back of his left hand. I later heard that other FSB operatives named him [xxx].</p><p dir="ltr">Unable to withstand the blows, I told them my real address in St Petersburg… They took me to this apartment, where these same persons conducted a search without any documents or witnesses.</p><p dir="ltr">After this search, I was again put in the minivan, where they placed the bag over my head. At one point I realised that I was being taken out of St Petersburg, but I couldn’t guess where. Throughout the entire journey I sat with a bag over my head and in handcuffs.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“There were two buttons on the box — I can’t say what they did, perhaps they regulated the strength of the electric current”</p><p dir="ltr">During the journey, I saw through the bag that the man with the “For VDV” tattoo, who had previously beaten me, had brought a box, which was of a brown colour, out from under his seat. There were two buttons on the box — I can’t say what they did, perhaps they regulated the strength of the electric current. The box had two cables running out of it, which they attached to my thumbs. They told me that they were going to check if there was current or not. After this I experienced incredible pain. I realised that they had started shocking me. At the same time, the people in the car began to ask me various questions, including the names and surnames of people I didn’t know, and if I said I didn’t know them, they shocked me.</p><p dir="ltr">They also beat me round the head with force using some kind of object which looked like a diary. When these men understood that I did not recognise the people they were talking about, they started asking other questions, including about how to make explosives, and what the names were of chemical and technical components for these devices. When my answers didn’t satisfy them, they beat me over the head and shocked me until I gave the answers they wanted. They also told me that if I didn’t become more cooperative, they could do whatever they wanted to me and people close to me, and that they would not have to answer for any of it, because I was a terrorist. They told me that they could [gang] rape my girlfriend [...], cut off my hands and hers, and burn me with a soldering iron.</p><p dir="ltr">All this torture lasted for roughly four hours, but I can’t be sure, I couldn’t follow the time, and I was in a lot of pain.</p><p dir="ltr">When I was delivered to Penza Regional Pre-Trial Detention Prison No. 1, there were marks on my hands from the shocks, but no one paid any attention, and they were not recorded when I was examined. Since my arrival at Pre-Trial Detention Prison No. 1, I have not been subject to any unlawful actions — beating, torture and so on. </p><p>Being afraid for the lives of my close relatives, for the life of [xxx] and my own life, the state of my health, which has deteriorated in the course of a serious medical condition, I, as a result of the torture applied to me, gave evidence against [Dmitry] Pchelintsev [another defendant in the Network case] and myself regarding the organisation of the “Network”, which in fact does not correspond to reality.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/anti-fascist-torture-russia-alexey-poltavets">Anti-fascist teenager reveals how Russian security services brutally beat and tortured him</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">“You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!”: Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexandra-filinkova/its-important-not-to-give-into-panic">“It’s important not to give into panic”: how I found out my husband was being tortured by the Russian security services </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Media Zona Russian anarchists and anti-fascists in the crosshairs Fri, 14 Sep 2018 04:37:24 +0000 Media Zona 119643 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The future of Russia’s one and only LGBT film festival https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/evgenij-shtorn/the-future-of-russias-one-and-only-lgbt-film-festival%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>New legislation will hit independent and controversial cinema in Russia. The organisers of this LGBT film festival are going to keep on fighting for their right to speak on “forbidden” topics. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/evgenij-shtorn/bok-o-bok" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/39053560591_78b4529b3f_z.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/39053560591_78b4529b3f_z.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Spectators of the festival “Side by Side” at the discussion of the film Querama with its director Daisy Asquith. St. Petersburg, November 2017. Photos from the archive of the festival.</span></span></span>In July 2018, Russia’s State Duma <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/indie-film-festivals-russia-under-fire-over-new-government-restrictions-62366">passed a new law on foreign films in Russia</a>. Only festivals and retrospectives included in a registered “permitted” list will be able to screen films without a special permit, as was previously the case. Everybody will encounter considerable financial and bureaucratic hurdles. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s clear that the new law has been designed to restrict the activities of independent cinema and festivals on “sensitive” subjects – such as the <a href="http://www.bok-o-bok.ru/news.asp">Side by Side LGBT and human rights film festival</a>, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. </p><p dir="ltr">Evgeny Shtorn talks to Gulya Sultanova, one of the festival’s founders, on homophobia and the future of independent cinema in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Gulya, before we discuss the recent so-called cinema festival law, I’d like you to tell me a little about the annual Side by Side LGBT film festival, which has been taking place for more than ten years in St Petersburg and other Russian cities. </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Side by Side is a human rights-themed LGBT festival that has been running in St Petersburg since 2008. We celebrated its 10th birthday last year. Its main aim is to create and develop an open cultural space for dialogue on LGBT subjects. Side by Side uses art to initiate discussion on a whole spectrum of issues relating to the LGBT community’s situation in Russia and around the world, the (non)acceptance and (in)tolerance it encounters and its place in the general fight for human rights. </p><p dir="ltr">Over its stormy 11 years history, our festival has lived through and outlived bans and disruption, negative coverage and being ignored by the media, attempts to have it classified as illegal and attacks by xenophobic members of parliament and nationalists. </p><p dir="ltr">The two most recent festivals have attracted large audiences: 3,600 in St Petersburg (over ten days) and 1,800 in Moscow (over four). These two cities are our main platforms, but the festival supports showings and discussions of LGBT cinema in other places as well: more than 15 Russian cities have been involved in our project. And apart from showing films, Side by Side publishes awareness raising literature on a large range of subjects, from coming-out and LGBT cinema that has changed the world to queer comics. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you cater to different audiences in St Petersburg and Moscow, as well as different audiences in the regions?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">After the festival was attacked and subjected to regular acts of provocation in St Petersburg in 2013-2015, our audience there was more tense than in Moscow. But that’s behind us now, people are more relaxed. In Moscow, things have been more glamourous and laid back from the start, and there has been a more diverse crowd than in Petersburg: older, more male and more business people. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>I remember the festivals you took to other cities – Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Perm. Regional audiences are basically less spoilt when it comes to festivals, and certainly LGBT festivals. Have they been a hit?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">From 2010 to 2012 we were able to run Side by Side not just in the two capitals, but also in Novosibirsk, Kemerovo, Tomsk, Arkhangelsk and Perm. At that time, there weren’t any explicit homophobic government policies at that time – after an initial reflex negative reaction, the local authorities would revert to disinterest. After a few attempts at disruption, the festival would run in comparative peace and always enjoyed good media coverage and large audiences; there was no problem there. </p><p dir="ltr">Our experience of running Side by Side in Kemerovo, for example, was quite typical: the first festival was plagued by disruptions and forced into underground screenings, but after two years of “normalisation” we had peaceful and successful showings with capacity crowds and a constantly neutral-to-friendly interest from the media. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/38428355724_7afd800330_z.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/38428355724_7afd800330_z.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Organizers of the festival “Side by Side” with a guest moderator Ira Roldugina. Gulya Sultanova – second from the left in the second row. St. Petersburg, November 2017. Source: archive of the festival.</span></span></span>In the summer of 2012, however, that changed. We were attacked by a nationalist group (funded, as we later discovered, by the city authorities). We had to drop our work in Kemerovo because of this and also because the local organising committee was intimidated and a smear campaign against us led to our volunteer group falling apart. And this pattern was repeated across the country. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What does the map of Russia look like in terms of homophobic reactions to your festival?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Before the government embarked on its homophobic policies, we could even cooperate with it. We had, for example, official support from Novosibirsk’s Department of Culture in 2010. At that time, we would initially either encounter a reflex negative reaction or be ignored, but this would be followed by a gradual acceptance of what we were doing. But 2012-2014 brought an increasingly ferocious official homophobia campaign: a witch-hunt against the entire LGBT community in the media, speeches by Duma members and a hate campaign that culminated in the infamous “gay propaganda” law. </p><p dir="ltr">Life became more difficult for us. Cooperation with state bodies, including state-controlled media, stopped entirely, independent platforms and spaces became more cautious and Russians in general more cautious-to-hostile. </p><p dir="ltr">But partially “thanks to” the witch-hunt, the LGBT issue became political – which had to happen sooner or later. Those people who have a generally critical attitude to life in Russia today have become more open to LGBT matters, but the majority, who imbibe a daily dose of hatred from the TV screen, have become even more narrow-minded on gender issues. Now we can only run large openly-LGBT events in Petersburg and Moscow, and only one-off small ones in the regions. We run single screenings there. For example, a film followed by a discussion. And that works. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You referred to the effects of the “gay propaganda” law as the politicisation of the subject. I remember how even 10 years ago, the attitude of many human rights campaigners to LGBT issues was, to put it mildly, sceptical. But after the smear campaigns and this ridiculous and harmful law, many of them changed their position, so I would say that the effects of the law were more positive than not. The situation where LGBT people had to stay in the closet has long since disappeared. Side by Side has spent almost half its existence under that law. To what extent has it helped you be heard, attracted new people to the cause, given you new opportunities?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The so-called “propaganda” law immediately made it much more difficult to run our film festival. We are an open cinema forum, and the question of a safe, however open, space is crucial to our work. Immediately after the law was passed, our opponents started using it to demonise the festival and scare the audience away. They threatened to disrupt or ban it, provoke mayhem with teenagers and so on. Regular appearances by homophobic parliamentarians and nationalists hired by them, illegal attempts to interfere with the film festival programme with fake phone calls about mines being laid (in 2013, for example, in five festival days there were five such calls requiring the general evacuation of a venue which was sometimes an enormous shopping centre) – all these ploys halved the size of the audience. It took us two to three years to build our audiences back to the size they had been before the “propaganda” law. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_39053627491_65d43c803d_h.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_39053627491_65d43c803d_h.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Discussion “How to talk with LGBT teenagers?”, Moderator – psychologist Maria Naymushina. St. Petersburg, November 2017. Source: archive of the organizers of the festival.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Over the last few years (when direct pressure on LGBT organisations weakened), however, the number of people visiting our screenings has dramatically increased – a result of stable and regular activity on our part, as well as the presence of security guards. Our audience feels calmer and safer. Our partner organisations have had the same experience: after the “gay propaganda” law was passed, we had to rebuild public confidence from the start and convince people to go on working with us, even though the state was not on our side. The only good thing the law did was to give us a high media profile and increase awareness of the significance and urgency of the issue of homophobia, bi-phobia and trans-phobia among Russians – a politicisation that was imperative for these issues to be resolved. And we have also gained a lot more volunteers than we had before. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your involvement with Russian business is striking. You are getting funding from large hotel chains, cosmetics companies and restaurants. How have you managed that?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s all down to our perseverance and professionalism. Business people can see that our work is highly professional and are ready to take part in our projects because they understand that we have an interesting and progressive audience and the contribution made by business is ever more visible. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do the companies that fund you see this as a political statement on their part, or is it just that they realise their target audience will visit your festival and so are read to support you for commercial reasons?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There are a lot of factors here: political motivation, general empathy and a wish to attract new customers to their business.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you see any prospect of attracting business to the work of human rights organisations?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Business will work with human rights organisations if they meet two conditions: they mustn’t threaten the actual business (as the saying goes, you can’t sell cookies on a battlefield); and they must be professional and successful in their work. Then everything will be fine. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The new “festival law” that is all over the papers will, as far as I can see, be yet another serious obstacle for you. Can you give me some more info about it, please.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This law could make independent film festivals a thing of the past. The chief snag is the need for the festival to be included in a special “register” that is approved by the government. Otherwise it will need to buy a distribution licence from the Russian Ministry of Culture for every single film in its programme. This will be incredibly expensive, might take years and it’s not clear how the system would work. The main thing is that it will create an absurd situation: why should a festival need a distribution licence when a festival screening involves no distribution? It’s like asking someone for their pilot’s licence when they’re just driving a car. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This law could make independent film festivals a thing of the past</p><p dir="ltr">Even festivals on the “register” (which has to be updated annually) will have to limit their range: they can last for no longer than 10 days and take in only one city. Regional tours will be considered the equivalent of one main festival and there must be a jury. All this isn’t easy for independent film festivals, which already receive no financial support from the government and often can’t even use state cinemas to screen their films (ours falls into this category). All this means one thing: a desire on the government’s part to control film festivals and dictate their agenda, otherwise the festival will be dropped, crossed off the list and its distribution licence revoked. This last has happened to film distribution companies more than once. </p><p dir="ltr">The law has more or less introduced censorship, which directly contravenes the Russian Constitution. The law is illegal. How can an organisation that works without any government funding be required to be on a register or a list? This is a direct obstacle to your work, an impediment to your cultural exchange and a block to the development of independent creative initiatives. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you have a strategy for the future?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I really don’t know what we are going to do. This year we moved Side by Side forward by three weeks, so that we could run it before the new law came into force. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But do you think there is some motivation behind the law, other than pure censorship? Why should a huge country that is armed to the teeth and loves showing off its bombs and submarines be scared of independent film festivals? Even if the entire six-million population of St Petersburg was in the audience, it would still be a drop in the ocean. Might the Ministry of Culture be thinking that festivals could be a good source of income?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s difficult to say what the precise reason for the law might be, given the lack of information about the process and people behind it: it’s unclear who actually takes decisions and how they are taken in the corridors of power. All we can see are the people who put them into practice, and they are usually incompetent and unqualified to decide anything, as we’ve seen from the fumbling interviews with officials trying to explain the new legislation. They certainly haven’t succeeded: they are completely unconvincing. So all I can assume is that they have a double motivation: censorship and commercial interests, hand in hand. </p><p dir="ltr">The state wants to ban festivals and make money from them at the same time, as well as putting them in a position of dependence. We’re talking, after all, about a military state, and military states fear debate, independent thought and criticism directed at themselves.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Gulya, can you tell us something about what awaits us at Side by Side this November?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Let’s hope so! We’ll be showing the hits of other festivals: winners from Cannes and the Berlinale, documentaries on controversial subjects and hot and lively shorts. There’ll be “A Fantastic Woman”, a Chilean film from the new queer genius Sebastiano Lelio that won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2017 (its star Daniela Vega might be at the festival) and “Girl”, by Belgian director Lukas Dhont that carried off the “Un Certain Regard” prize for a first film at Cannes. There will also be Rupert Everett’s “Happy Prince” and the Paraguayan/Uraguayan smash hit “The Heiresses” that won three awards at Berlinale 2018. And each and every film in the programme will be an event in itself. </p><p dir="ltr">But apart from its cinematic strength, this year’s Side by Side has an important socio-political element: it is 25 years since the repeal of Article 121 of Russia’s Criminal Code, under which passing on a sexually transmittable disease was a criminal offence. A separate evening will be devoted to the subject of this issue in the early 1990s, including a lecture by researcher <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/alexander-kondakov">Alexander Kondakov</a>. Two other documentaries will explore the music of activism: one about the Swedish rap star Silvana and the other about the Brazilian group Bixa Travesty (a <a href="http://teddyaward.tv/de/programm/?a-z=1&amp;select=&amp;id_film=772">2018 Teddy Award winner</a>). And that’s just a small part of the programme. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/igor-yasin-lgbt">Igor Yasin: “If there’s no freedom of assembly for LGBT, there’s none for anyone else”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people">Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/the-rise-of-russias-vice-squad">The rise of Russia’s vice squad</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Evgeny Shtorn Russia Thu, 13 Sep 2018 06:08:38 +0000 Evgeny Shtorn 119628 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Are Kyrgyzstan’s glaciers under threat? This ecologist thinks so https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/are-kyrgyzstans-glaciers-under-threat <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Central Asian state’s Tian Shan mountain range isn’t just home to shrinking glaciers. It’s also the site of an international mining operation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_kumtor_open_pit_for_dirty_water(1).jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_kumtor_open_pit_for_dirty_water(1).jpeg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kumtor. Image: Kalia Moldogazieva. </span></span></span>Kumtor is an open-cast gold mining site in Kyrgyzstan’s Central Tian Shan mountain system, situated in the mountains' central permafrost massif which reaches heights of 3800-4400 metres above sea level. Commercial exploitation at Kumtor began in 1997. The site is 100% owned by the Canadian gold-mining company Centerra Gold, which manages it through its subsidiaries, the Kumtor Gold Company (KGK) and the Kumtor Operating Company (KOK). Kyrgyzstan, in its turn holds roughly 33% of shares in the company through its OJSC Kyrgyzaltyn Joint Stock Company. The gold reserves at Kumtor are assessed as amounting to 716.21 tonnes, of which 316.57 are in open cast mines and 399.64 underground.</p><p dir="ltr">We asked Kyrgyz ecologist Kaliya Moldogaziyeva to tell us about the environmental threat to the area from the mining operations at Kumtor, the new amendments to Kyrgyzstan’s Water Code and the future of the region’s water resources. Moldogaziyeva worked with state commissions on issues concerning Kumtor in 2005 and 2012, and was deputy head of an interagency commission on the same subject in 2011.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Could you explain to us how activity at the Kumtor mine affects Kyrgyzstan’s water resources?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The Kumtor mine is situated at the sources of the Arabel and Kumtor river system, in an area at the centre of the glacier and river runoff of Central Asia’s most important waterway, the Naryn river, which flows into the Syr Darya. </p><p dir="ltr">The mining site includes a quarry, a gold-processing plant and other infrastructure elements. The mining is an open-cast operation, with 14-17 tonnes of explosives used daily, and the ore is processed using cyanides.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The mining is an open-cast operation, with 14-17 tonnes of explosives used daily</p><p dir="ltr">The construction of the mine workings contravened Kyrgyz law from the very beginning. At the first stage of the work, KOK management started dumping waste on the Davydov glacier, which was forbidden under Rule No.79 of the country’s Unified Safety Regulations and its law “On Water”. More than a billion tonnes of rock have been removed from the quarry and dumped, as well as 77 million cubic metres of glacial mass – the equivalent of 60 billion litres of glacial water.</p><p dir="ltr">The volume of dumped rock and cyano-containing tailings in the tailing storage areas will grow, and all this dumped material will remain forever in the headwaters of the Naryn river, requiring continual monitoring and technical maintenance, even after the closure of the mine, which is slated for 2026.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why were amendments made to Kyrgyzstan’s water code at the end of 2017?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">These amendments, and their connection to the Kumtor glaciers, was raised by the government as early as 2015. But the MPs didn’t manage to push it through as several members of the working party on additions to the code, of which I was one, resolutely opposed it. And thanks to this active opposition by experts and environmental activists, the amendments weren’t adopted. The question of more scheduled amendments to the code was raised again in September 2017 after the signing of a new agreement between the Kyrgyzstan government and Centerra, one paragraph of which talks about:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“The full and conclusive mutual release and settlement of all existing arbitration and environmental claims, disputes, investigations and court decisions, as well as the release of the Company and its daughter subsidiaries from future claims on the same grounds as the existing environmental claims resulting from approved activity”.</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, this agreement sidelines the whole question of compensation for the environmental damage caused by the company over the many years of mining at Kumtor, as well as the destruction of the Davydov and Lysy glaciers.</p><p dir="ltr">The adoption of amendments to the Water Code, for the benefit of a single company, became the next step towards Kyrgyzstan’s legal abandonment of any claims for environmental damage caused by Centerra earlier. The adoption of amendments permitting work on the glaciers because of the mine’s strategic importance is an indulgence that allows the entire Davydov and Lysy glaciers to be destroyed without a kopeck being paid in compensation. On 16 November 2017, the Jogorku Kenesh, the Kyrgyz parliament, ratified the amendments to the water codes, according to Article 62 of which:</p><p dir="ltr">Any activity affecting the speeding up of the glacial melting, using coal, ash, oils or other substances or materials that could affect the state of the glaciers or the quality of the water contained in them, as well as activity connected with ice harvesting, other than on the Davydov and Lysy glaciers, is forbidden. These exceptions do not apply to previous operations on these glaciers.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But perhaps the glaciers are melting because of global warming, and not the mining operations?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Experts engaged by the Kyrgyzstan government are indeed arguing that glaciers are melting all over the world and that the Kumtor glaciers would have melted by themselves. No one, however, has mentioned the fact that the rocks overlying the gold-containing ores were stored on the glaciers to a height of 90 and 120 metres and mixed with them, so the meltwaters already contained sulphates, heavy metals and other toxic substances that got into the waterways. This was confirmed by the conclusions of the Kumtor State Commission (2012-2013) on which I worked: the concentration of toxic substances in sediments had indeed increased.</p><p dir="ltr">Environmental protection laws, and in particular the “Law on Water” and the “Unified Safety Regulations” have been being infringed since the start of the construction of the Kumtor mine. Glacier No. 359 in the Catalogue of Glaciers of the USSR was completely destroyed, while most of the Davydov Glacier was ruined when the mine was already in operation. The situation is now under control, but by the end of operations there, there will be 1.7 billion tonnes of waste, mixed with glacial masses, and all the problems will lie at the door of Kyrgyzstan’s government and population.</p><p dir="ltr">Looking ten years ahead, we will see a reduction in water resources because of global warming, and theses resources will, in addition, be irreversibly polluted, and no injection of government funds will be adequate to the task of removing the polluting substances.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What is the Kyrgyz government doing to conserve the water resources at Kumtor for the future?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Government ministers have been insisting that without the legal amendments, Kumtor will turn into a catastrophe. But it was the systematic infringement of environmental protection legislation during mining operations that has caused the present state of affairs. And instead of demanding that the company clean up its act, our highest government officials and heads of key national agencies propose legitimising these irregularities.</p><p dir="ltr">Jeopardising Kyrgyzstan’s water resources for the sake of extracting mineral deposits is short-sighted. Meanwhile, according to the law “On Strategic Objects of the Kyrgyzstan Republic”, structures pertaining to water management and waterworks, including glaciers, natural lakes, river, hydro engineering structures, reservoirs, dams and pumping stations are all considered Strategic Objects of the country. In the case in question, the Kyrgyzstan Republic’s government and parliament are ignoring this law. Centerra’s environmental report for 2016 includes a statement to the effect that the company and its subsidiary KGK don’t consider that the water code applies to the Kumtor project. The corporation, in other words, is laying down the law to the Kyrgyzstan government and parliament.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Government ministers have been insisting that without the legal amendments, Kumtor will turn into a catastrophe</p><p dir="ltr">This same government has created and promulgated a National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSUD). Section 4.3 of this project for 2018-2040 (Environmental Safety and Adaptation to Climate Change) states, among other things, that “Kyrgyzstan’s natural resources and biosphere are the rare and unique property of its people; sustainability should therefore be the main criterion for all developmental measures and policies.”</p><p dir="ltr">This same strategy plan quotes World Bank data stating that the countries of Central Asia will be the second most affected world region in terms of glacier loss, including the loss of the Tian-Shan glaciers in Kyrgyzstan. The effect of the economic activity in mineral management and agriculture, as well as hunting and poaching, environmental pollution and lack of ecological accountability could all add up to an irreversible state of affairs. The new legal framework has created a basis for environmental protection and the conservation of the glaciers. But while mouthing the national strategy for sustainable development and the importance of environmental safety and compliance and the conservation of the glaciers, our government is changing the law and, among other things, introducing amendments in the water code which will allow the destruction of the glaciers at the Kumtor mine.</p><p dir="ltr">Even the Kyrgyzstan national anthem talks about the mountain glaciers bequeathed to us by our forebears:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“The high peaks blanketed in snow-white glaciers,<br />The valleys, the source of life for our people<br />Were preserved over many ages<br />By our ancestors in the Ala-Too Mountains”.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What is Kyrgyz civil society doing to stop the amendments going through?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In November 2017, then president Almazbek Atambayev signed off the “Law on Amendments to the Kyrgyzstan Republic’s Water Code”, passed by the Jogorku Kenesh after three readings, although members of the public sent him an open letter asking him not to sign that particular draft. Independent experts and civil society campaigners are still engaged in trying to have the amendment revoked. The “Democracy and Civil Society Coalition” NGO even brought legal action against the Jogorku Kenesh, on the grounds that parliamentary regulations were breached when the amendments were passed; there was no quorum and MPs voted for one another, which is forbidden when a law is being adopted. Its case was however thrown out by the courts.</p><p dir="ltr">A group of rights campaigners and environmental specialists is supporting the Coalition. After a consultation with me and ecologist Oleg Pechenyuk , the NGO sent a request to the Jogorku Kenesh to have an analysis of all the requisites of the draft law and its regulatory implications carried out. They received a reply: there has been an expert appraisal of its legal implications, but nothing about appraisals in terms of the ecological, civil and human rights, gender, anti-corruption implications which are required when laws are being passed. The amendments have obviously contained numerous irregularities. The Coalition is continuing to work on its legal case.</p><p dir="ltr">Ecologist Gulnura Beleyeva and I are intending to work with the environmental protection community to raise awareness of the work being carried out by the campaigning group and to develop an action plan for the future. It is essential to have the previous version of the water code reinstated, without the exceptions allowing the destruction of the glaciers that are an important source of water not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the whole of Central Asia.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/balihar-sanghera/economic-dystopia-in-kyrgyzstan">Economic dystopia in Kyrgyzstan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/katarzyna-kaczmarska/thin-red-line-between-kyrgyzstan-and-tajikistan">The thin red line between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov-knar-khudoyan/citizens-battling-a-controversial-gold-mining-project-amulsar-armenia">How citizens battling a controversial gold mining project are testing Armenia’s new democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Kyrgyzstan Wed, 12 Sep 2018 13:45:34 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia 119627 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Controversial trial in Kazakhstan sheds light on Chinese camps https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naubet-bisenov/controversial-trial-in-kazakhstan-sheds-light-on-chinese-camps <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>China’s attempts to suppress information about Xinjiang open floodgates to scrutiny of its indoctrination policy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/20180801_161337 Sauytbay shows her joy and happiness after the verdict.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/20180801_161337 Sauytbay shows her joy and happiness after the verdict.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sauytbay shows her joy and happiness after the verdict. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The trial of a woman who had worked in an indoctrination camp in China’s western region of Xinjiang has put the fate of minority Muslims under the spotlight of international media. Beijing’s attempts to suppress the flow of information about its over-policed Xinjiang province – where security forces are locking up, among others, ethnic Kazakhs visiting or returning to China from Kazakhstan – appears to have backfired after a Kazakh court ruled against the deportation of Sayragul Sauytbay to China in early August. </p><p dir="ltr">Sauytbay was tried in the languid Kazakh town of Zharkent, near the border with China. On 1 August, the judge ordered her release, delivering a suspended six-month sentence instead for illegally crossing the border. The sentence dismissed the previously-feared possibility of her deportation back to China. The woman, who was <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/30/kazakhstan-shouldnt-deport-asylum-seeker-china">tried at Beijing’s request</a>, made a plea during the trial not to be handed over to China, claiming she could face the death penalty for revealing the existence of political “re-education camps” for ethnic Kazakhs in the country. As part of her defence, Sauytbay claimed to have worked for four months in a camp before fleeing to Kazakhstan.</p><p dir="ltr">Emboldened by Sauytbay’s revelations, many of her fellow ethnic Kazakhs who moved from China to Kazakhstan have now come out with stories of relatives who they fear may have ended up in such camps. Some of those who managed to escape from the camps have also recounted their stories. The trial indirectly forced the Chinese authorities to admit to their <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/whats-behind-chinas-anti-kazakh-campaign">actions in Xinjiang</a> against ethnic Kazakhs, though they claimed that these measures were in place for all citizens and that, ultimately, this was a Chinese internal matter. Meanwhile, Sauytbay’s lawyer has warned that Beijing may still try to seek her extradition, hinting that Sauytbay’s problems may have just begun. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“No way of crossing the border legally”</h2><p dir="ltr">In her emotional and passionate closing statement, Sauytbay argued that she could only cross the border illegally because the Chinese authorities had seized her documents in 2016, when she had tried to move to Kazakhstan with her family. At the time, the authorities explained that since Sauytbay was a member of the Communist Party and headed a state-run nursery, she needed to undergo additional checks.</p><p dir="ltr">“I crossed into Kazakhstan illegally because it was the only way for me to escape life in the camp,” Sauytbay explained. Her previous attempts to get her passport back to visit her husband and two underage children, who acquired Kazakh citizenship in 2017, had failed. Ultimately, she managed to acquire a permit to visit a free-trade zone on the Kazakh-Chinese border and used the opportunity to sneak into Kazakhstan. “If my documents had not been seized by the Chinese authorities, I would have come here legally with my family. I would have been living a peaceful life and I would not have had to carry out any illegal action,” she explained.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I crossed into Kazakhstan illegally because it was the only way for me to escape life in the camp”</p><p dir="ltr">Sauytbay said the Chinese authorities demanded she force her family to return to China, accusing her of being a spy. “I had to resort to such illegal action because it was my last opportunity to reach my children. If I’d stayed for a week or five days longer, I would have disappeared into a Chinese camp.”</p><p dir="ltr">Sauytbay pleaded guilty of crossing the border illegally but appealed to the prosecution and judge not to deport her to China where, she said, she would face the death penalty for revealing during the trial that she had worked in a re-education camp for ethnic Kazakhs between November 2017 and February 2018. “After they appointed me to work in a political camp – which is a secret body – they engaged me in collecting secrets and forced me to sign a pledge not to reveal state secrets abroad. That measure had a clear purpose: even if only part of it is disclosed, then you will be sentenced to death,” Sauytbay said in court.</p><h2 dir="ltr">One million interned in camps that China disavows</h2><p dir="ltr">Beijing denies the very existence of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/whats-behind-chinas-anti-kazakh-campaign">indoctrination camps</a> for Muslim minorities, mainly Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz. Sauytbay <a href="https://www.hongkongfp.com/2018/07/17/person-will-simply-disappear-chinese-secretive-reeducation-camps-spotlight-kazakh-trial/">told</a> the court that around 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs were held at the camp where she worked and that she had heard about two other similar camps. During the trial, Zhang Wei, China’s consul general in Almaty, repeatedly gave interviews to local media <a href="https://tengrinews.kz/conference/266/">urging</a> ordinary Kazakhs not to believe the “falsified and groundless accusations” brought against China regarding ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang. However, <a href="https://www.academia.edu/36638456/_Thoroughly_Reforming_them_Toward_a_Healthy_Heart_Attitude_-_Chinas_Political_Re-Education_Campaign_in_Xinjiang">research</a> by Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany, suggests that “at least several hundred thousand and possibly just over one million” people had been interned in indoctrination camps in Xinjiang. The province’s population <a href="http://data.stats.gov.cn/english/easyquery.htm?cn=E0103">was</a> 24 million people in 2016, with Uighurs accounting for 46% and ethnic Kazakhs for 7%.</p><p dir="ltr">“Satellite imageries suggest China is expanding detention camps in Xinjiang at an unprecedented pace. The time of detention camp booming coincides with the escalation of China’s war against ‘terrorism, separatism, extremism’, which is reported to be targeting Uyghur and Kazakh minorities,” Shawn Zhang, a law student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, <a href="https://medium.com/@shawnwzhang/detention-camp-construction-is-booming-in-xinjiang-a2525044c6b1">argued</a> in a study of satellite imageries of suspected new prisons in Xinjiang. “It’s unclear whether these detention camps serve as ‘re-education camps’,” he added, providing satellite images of facilities he suspects serve as prisons.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_1386.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_1386.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="428" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nurbolat Tursynzhanuly, an ethnic Kazakh from China who obtained Kazakh citizenship in 2016, holds a protest during Sauytbay's trial to draw attention to the detention of his parents who are Kazakh citizens in China. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 13 August, at a meeting held in Geneva by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Chinese delegation <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-45173573">rebuffed </a>the one-million figure as “completely untrue”, but indirectly admitted to the existence of a state policy to resettle and re-educate Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.</p><p dir="ltr">Ethnic Kazakhs <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/whats-behind-chinas-anti-kazakh-campaign">started</a> raising the alarm about the fate of their relatives in China in 2017. The situation in Xinjiang has <a href="https://www.rfa.org/english/news/special/uyghur-oppression/ChenPolicy2.html">deteriorated</a> for Muslim minorities after Chen Quanguo, an official notorious for his rigid ethnic policy towards Tibet, became the head of the Communist Party’s regional branch in Xinjiang in August 2016. </p><p dir="ltr">After Quanguo’s appointment, ethnic Kazakh migration from China to Kazakhstan surged from 628 people in 2015 to 2,103 in 2016 and 3,184 in 2017. After obtaining independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has been running a programme to help ethnic Kazakhs abroad (<em>oralmandar</em>) to move to Kazakhstan. Under the programme, around one million people <a href="https://kapital.kz/gosudarstvo/47713/pochti-million-oralmanov-pribylo-v-kazahstan-za-25-let.html">migrated</a> to Kazakhstan between 1991 and 2016, of which 14.2% from China. </p><p dir="ltr">Many ethnic Kazakhs from China now live in Kazakhstan with residence permits (<em>yqtiyar khat</em> in Kazakh) which allow them to enter Kazakhstan visa-free and stay in Kazakhstan for 10 years so they can make an informed decision about their move to Kazakhstan. </p><p dir="ltr">Following the release of Sauytbay, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kayrat Abdrakhmanov <a href="https://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/kakie-problemyi-etnicheskih-kazahov-kitae-rasskazal-glava-351004/">admitted</a> that ethnic Kazakhs were facing problems in China, <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/29355190.html">adding</a> that Kazakh diplomats were working with their Chinese counterparts to lift a travel ban on 625 ethnic Kazakhs who had applied to move to Kazakhstan.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Forced to violate the law”</h2><p dir="ltr">In an unprecedented turn of events, the prosecutor in Sauytbay’s case rejected the defence’s attempts to enter a plea bargain during the trial. Instead, the prosecutor requested the judge to look into the mitigating circumstances that led Sauytbay to cross the border illegally, before asking for a lighter sentence, without calling for her deportation to China. “The Chinese citizen Sayragul Sauytbay committed a crime in order to reunite with her husband, Kazakh citizen Uali (Slam),” the prosecutor said. “She was forced to violate the law by illegally crossing the border of the Republic of Kazakhstan.” Because Sauytbay had been kept in custody since 23 May, the prosecutor asked the judge to award a six-month suspended sentence. The prosecutor’s request was greeted by cheers and jubilation by the attendees, particularly Sauytbay’s relatives and supporters who crammed the courtroom and the square outside the courthouse.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_20180801_153558_judge_reads_out_sauytbay_s_verdict.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_20180801_153558_judge_reads_out_sauytbay_s_verdict.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Judge reads out Sauytbay's verdict. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“They have shown such mercy to Sayragul and I am very happy, I can’t even tell you how proud I am,” Sauytbay’s husband Uali Slam told openDemocracy. After the verdict, the joyful crowd of supporters accompanied Sauytbay outside the courthouse. “I feel so happy as I stand with you all,” she told her supporters. “Long live Kazakhstan.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I know that I have obtained freedom thanks to the people. I could feel everyone’s support,” Sauytbay told openDemocracy. “This shows that Kazakhstan doesn’t discriminate based on race and Kazakhstan’s laws are truly just.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Threat of extradition</h2><p dir="ltr">After a short media appearance, Sauytbay was advised by her lawyer Abzal Kuspan to refrain from interviews in an effort not to antagonise the Kazakh authorities, who are now in charge of processing her request for refugee status. Kuspan explained that the judge took into account Sauytbay’s status as a person seeking asylum in her ruling, but until his client is granted such status she cannot claim the right to remain in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">“The trial was carried out under Kazakhstan’s criminal legislation regarding my client’s violation of Kazakhstan’s border rules,” Abzal Kuspan told openDemocracy. “But borders are a two-sided matter and there’s still a potential case of her violation of Chinese border rules. I expect Beijing will submit an official request for a trial in China.”</p><p dir="ltr">Formally, Sauytbay is a Chinese citizen who is allowed to stay in Kazakhstan only for three months as an asylum seeker, Kuspan noted. “Her fate depends on the decisions taken by government bodies, that’s why I don’t want her to take part in public rallies or events or hold news conferences,” he explained. “She will still have to fight for her right to remain in Kazakhstan, which is why I advised her against public speeches and she accepted my advice.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kazakh law, the commission on granting refugee status has to consider Sauytbay’s application within three months and the final decision has to be taken within one year. “We cannot really afford to go against the interests of our state because Kazakhstan and China maintain friendly relations and for Sayragul this is fraught with certain consequences,” Kuspan suggested.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Hundreds of Kazakh citizens languish in camps</h2><p dir="ltr">While Sauytbay claimed that there were about 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs in the camp where she worked, according to anecdotal evidence and information released by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, among the internees there are also ethnic Kazakhs born in China who have managed to become Kazakh citizens through the repatriation programme. In May, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kayrat Abdrakhmanov <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4920398-kazahstan-poprosil-knr-osvobodit.html">said</a> that nine of 12 Kazakh citizens detained in China for holding dual citizenship had already been released, but he also <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/29355190.html">revealed</a> that Kazakh diplomats had been working on lifting Chinese restrictions imposed on 625 ethnic Kazakhs to leave for Kazakhstan. The minister failed to specify whether these individuals had been detained for holding Kazakh citizenship.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_20180801_162238_supporters_greet_sauytbay_outside_courthouse_after_her_release.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_20180801_162238_supporters_greet_sauytbay_outside_courthouse_after_her_release.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters greet Sauytbay outside courthouse after her release. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>Orynbek Koksebek, a 38-year-old ethnic Kazakh from China who moved to Kazakhstan in 2004 and obtained Kazakh citizenship in 2005, is one of the few former Chinese citizens who managed to be freed from an indoctrination camp. He was detained by Xinjiang authorities after he visited his relatives in the Chinese border town of Tacheng in November 2017. Koksebek said that local officials had claimed that he had failed to revoke his Chinese citizenship properly, so he had to sign some documents. However, he cannot read Mandarin and could not understand the content of the documents. “When I crossed the border on 22 November 2017, I was interrogated for 24 hours,” Koksebek told openDemocracy. “During the interrogation they asked me only one question ‘Why did you come here?’”</p><p dir="ltr">The interrogators, an ethnic Kazakh called Zhenis and three Han Chinese, told the man to come back on 15 December to receive his papers proving he was unregistered as a Chinese resident, but instead they followed him and detained him for 125 days, Koksebek recalled. “After bidding farewell to my relatives I thought they would take me to the border, but for some reason they took me to a hospital for medical checks,” he said. “Then, they took me to another place. I didn’t know it was a prison, but it became clear when they stripped off my clothes.” </p><p dir="ltr">When he asked why he had been taken to prison, Koksebek was told: “Firstly, you are a Kazakh citizen and hold dual citizenship. Secondly, you have debts and own land and livestock in China. Thirdly, you are a traitor because you came purposefully in order to spy on China's state policy (in Xinjiang).”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Koksebek said he was told that he would be released after he learnt to sing three Chinese propaganda songs, including the national anthem</p><p dir="ltr">Koksebek said he was told that he would be released after he learnt to sing three Chinese propaganda songs, including the national anthem. “I burst into tears when I was told that I would be imprisoned for five years if I didn’t learn to sing the songs within one-and-a-half months,” he noted. “I didn’t fully learn the songs but only lip-synched them when other inmates sang.”</p><p dir="ltr">The former detainee added that they had been instructed to study texts and “undergo military training. They trained us to march, stand and sit, and to fold uniforms,” Koksebek said. Mandarin-language instructors were recruited among prisoners. “We were told to learn Chinese within one-and-half years in order to get released, but there were people who were kept in the prison for much longer.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">Change in Chinese rhetoric</h2><p dir="ltr">Sauytbay’s trial and a wealth of first-hand accounts by Kazakh citizens and ethnic Kazakhs from China have forced the Chinese authorities to recognise the problem and work with Kazakhstan on its resolution. Publicity around the trial, in particular, and around the problem, in general, are damaging bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and China which had been developing “quite well”, according to Rasul Zhumaly, an Almaty-based political analyst. </p><p dir="ltr">Coming to terms with this problem, Chinese diplomatic missions in Astana and Almaty have organised a trip to China, including Xinjiang, for a delegation of 18 Kazakh public figures between 13 and 19 August. “There are already small flickers of hope. People are already being released and (the Chinese authorities) are already agreeing to some discussion, whereas one year ago they said this was strictly China’s internal affair,” Zhumaly, who was part of the delegation, told openDemocracy. “Now the rhetoric is changing: apart from those who will be released now, many people in Xinjiang are indeed intimidated and we sensed this atmosphere of fear” during the trip, he said.</p><p dir="ltr">While ethnic Kazakhs in China may have a glimmer of hope to improve their lives, at least by seizing a chance to move to Kazakhstan - according to Zhumaly’s estimates, half of China’s 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs are seriously considering the move - the fate of Uighurs in Xinjiang seems less promising because they lack official institutions that could act on their behalf.</p><p dir="ltr">On 13 August, the American Anthropological Association <a href="http://www.americananthro.org/ParticipateAndAdvocate/AdvocacyDetail.aspx?ItemNumber=24182">asked</a> Terry Branstad, the US ambassador in Beijing, “to do what you can to locate and offer protection to Dr (Rahile) Dawut”, a celebrated anthropologist and renowned scholar from China’s Uighur ethnic minority group, who went missing in China in December 2017. “Her family and friends believe she was secretly detained as part of the Chinese government’s severe crackdown on Uighurs,” Edward Liebow, the association’s executive director, wrote to the ambassador.</p><p dir="ltr">“While Uighurs’ unique culture has been under scrutiny by China recently, Dr Dawut, who wrote and lectured widely on Uighur folklore and traditions, is far from being a threat of any kind. In fact, until recently, her work had been supported with grants and awards from China’s Ministry of Culture,” the letter signed by Liebow said.</p><p dir="ltr">“(Chinese actions) shouldn’t be fanning Sinophobic sentiments, especially when other countries and international organisations are getting involved,” Zhumaly said. “Since there are sparks of hope we have to keep pressing these soft spots and there will be a result. But we should not be naive either: this will not be resolved with just one or two tries.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/whats-behind-chinas-anti-kazakh-campaign%20">What’s behind China’s anti-Kazakh campaign? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/henryk-szadziewski/uyghurs-china-and-central-asia">The Uyghurs, China and central Asia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/amirzhan-kosanov/kazakhstan-s-thin-red-line">Kazakhstan’s thin red line</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Naubet Bisenov Kazakhstan Mon, 10 Sep 2018 14:42:28 +0000 Naubet Bisenov 119607 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Conspiracy theory has gone mainstream in Russia. But how does it work? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/conspiracy-theory-has-gone-mainstream-in-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Inside Russia’s conspiracy machine, things are more complicated than they seem. A new book demonstrates the pitfalls of conspiracy thinking.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_02824387.LR_.ru__0_1_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_02824387.LR_.ru__0_1_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="242" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 2016: journalists at a Moscow newspaper watch "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin". Photo: Aleksandr Vilf / VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>A review of <a href="https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Fortress+Russia%3A+Conspiracy+Theories+in+Post+Soviet+Russia-p-9781509522651">Fortress Russia: Conspiracy Theories in the Post-Soviet World</a> by Ilya Yablokov.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Ilya Yablokov’s Fortress Russia: Conspiracy Theories in the Post-Soviet World is a solid and illuminating piece of scholarship. Based on the author’s PhD dissertation, this book investigates the role, scope, uses and implications of conspiracy theories in post-Soviet Russia. Tracing the origins of Russian conspiracy theories back to the Crimean War in 1853-1856, Yablokov investigates the evolution of conspiratorial thinking in Russia’s Imperial and Soviet periods and, finally, turns to his ultimate goal: the uses of conspiracy theories in post-Soviet Russia. </p><p dir="ltr">Yablokov shows convincingly that instead of being primarily a grassroots phenomena as in case of the US, the capital of conspiratorial culture, in post-Soviet Russia, conspiracy theories exist in a complex political environment with many participants: grassroots activists, public intellectuals, as well as journalists, politicians, members of legislative and executive branches of the government. After Boris Yeltsin came to power in the 1990s, conspiracy theories were widely employed by the opposition to Yeltsin’s regime. The adversaries of Russia’s first independent president interpreted the collapse of the Soviet Union as a planned action envisioned by the West – and executed by the corrupt Soviet elite and predatory opposition. </p><p dir="ltr">However, after Putin’s rise to power, these theories migrated to another layer of political life. Putin’s government turned them into a vital instrument for mobilising supporters and discrediting opponents. This shift was closely associated with a number of Russian political technologists and politicians, such as Gleb Pavlovsky, chief of the pro-Kremlin Foundation for Effective Politics, and Vladislav Surkov, First Deputy Chief of Presidential Administration, who crafted conceptual framework underlying the new regime and developed a network of pro-Kremlin public intellectuals, educational programmes and publishing houses. Having moved from the bottom-up to the top-down level, conspiratorial thinking also migrated from the margins of Russia’s public sphere to the very core of the country’s political discourse&nbsp;– especially after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2013-2014.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Conspiratorial thinking migrated from the margins of Russia’s public sphere to the very core of the country’s political discourse&nbsp;– especially after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2013-2014</p><p dir="ltr">Yablokov exceeds in detailing the particular exchanges of conspiracy arguments between elites and the technology of their dissemination. It is common knowledge that conspiracy theories have become an important tool for the Putin regime, but the technology behind their dissemination isn’t. </p><p dir="ltr">Here is an example of a specific case Yablokov describes. In December 2006, state-owned newspaper Rossiiskaia Gazeta published an interview with Boris Ratnikov, a former general of Russia’s Federal Guard Service, in which he claimed that former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright thought that mankind should distribute Russia’s rich natural resources under the control of the US. In 2007, this particular idea was further developed during a presidential press conference, when a worker from Novosibirsk Alexander Sibert asked Putin a question on this topic. Since all questions are planned in advance during these events, it is logical to assume that this reiteration of Ratnikov’s theory was a part of the government’s anti-Western propaganda campaign during Russia’s 2007 parliamentary elections. In 2014, the “Ratnikov-Sibert theory” was reiterated by Putin, though both Ratnikov and Sibert denied that Albright made this statement. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-09-05_at_08.52.39.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-09-05_at_08.52.39.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Boris Ratnikov. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>This exchange demonstrates the way the system works: first, pro-regime politicians or intellectuals launch conspiracy theory in the public sphere. Second, it is mobilised by the regime as a resource to convince supporters and discredit opponents. At the same time, the regime denies its authorship of the theory to avoid responsibility. Rather than referring to anecdotal evidence, Yablokov uses the Ratnikov-Sibert case and many others to build a robust and comprehensive picture of the way the Kremlin’s intellectual and propaganda machinery functions. </p><p dir="ltr">Yablokov’s research also shows good ideological analysis. It clearly and vividly depicts how the Kremlin’s intellectual framework has undergone major ideological shifts since the 1990s. From its inability to establish intellectual hegemony in the 1990s to the “Putin majority” of the 2000s; from the clear ideological divide between pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet forces to reconciliation with the Stalinist past; from the Soviet vision of the West as an enemy to Surkov’s vision of the West as a competitor – all these tectonic changes in the regime’s intellectual foundations are carefully analysed and theorised. Moreover, the elite and pro-Kremlin networks producing and conveying these ideas are not depicted as a monolithic whole. Instead, Yablokov builds a complex picture, identifying tensions, disagreements and conflicts. Sometimes, the Kremlin authorises the use of conspiracy theories, but distances itself from them – as in the case of Ratnikov. Sometimes, particular elites and intellectuals, such as Alexander Dugin and Sergey Glazyev, become silenced or ousted because they are “too excessively devoted to conspiracies to be part of the rational and cynical Russian politics.” </p><p dir="ltr">The arguments mentioned above demonstrate the strong side of the book – given this analysis, it is a worthy read. However, there are some points that lack empirical confirmation and theoretical clarity which I want to point out. Some of them are shortcomings of the book. In this case, they indicate common theoretical and methodological problems associated with the analysis of post-Soviet reality rather than personal or intellectual flaws of the author. Some are, rather, possible avenues for further research absent in contemporary public and academic debate but still essential. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Methodological remarks</h2><p dir="ltr">Despite the book’s informative and illuminating argument, there are still some shortcomings that should be addressed. First of all, Yablokov’s analysis of the uses of conspiracy theories is often based on hypotheses and can hardly be fully confirmed empirically. This problem is related to the limits of the method selected for the analysis and cannot be resolved in the conceptual analysis based on the publicly available sources presented in the book. My comments are therefore a suggestion for further research rather than criticism.</p><p dir="ltr">It is not sufficiently clear what the nature of the links between different agents involved in Russia’s conspiracy machine is. For instance, in 2007, the Russian publishing house Evropa, which is associated with political technologist Gleb Pavlovsky, published the book Vragi Putina (Putin’s Enemies) as part of an effort to provide Putin with intellectual support and discredit his opponents. Later that year, Putin addressed his supporters during a mass rally held at the Luzhniki stadium. Here, he repeated arguments from the book “almost word for word” in Yablokov’s view. The author concludes that “since the book had been published before the rally, these parallels demonstrate a close relationship between Putin’s speechwriters and the ideas elaborated by the pro-Kremlin spin doctors” (p. 148). Similarly, in 2005, Vladislav Surkov gave a speech at a closed association of Russian businessmen in which he prioritised the creation of a “sovereign democracy” in Russia. A few weeks before that, Putin mentioned that the collapse of the Soviet Union is a “major geopolitical disaster.” </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Vladislav_Surkov_in_2010.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Vladislav_Surkov_in_2010.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladislav Surkov, 2010. Photo CC BY 4.0: Kremlin.ru / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>On this, Yablokov concludes: “the articulation of these two ideas in such a short space of time demonstrates growing concern among political elites at this time about social cohesion” (p. 7). These conclusions based on indirect evidence, such as proximity in time, are common in the book and are, in nature, educated guesses: they do not guarantee that the link exists. To build a more convincing empirical foundation for the argument, the author would need to triangulate data and draw on a more wide variety of sources, including expert interviews and, in the best case scenario, interviews with people who were or are close to the Russian presidential administration. </p><p dir="ltr">This purely external view of the conspiratorial machine narrows the picture and prevents us from analysing essential and yet unseen mechanisms. Who has the agency in this complicated alliance – the executive branch or Kremlin-affiliated intellectuals? Did people like Pavlovsky or Surkov come up with their ideas because they were asked to, or were the concepts introduced based on their initiative and then taken up by the executive? To what extent did the executive constrain them? </p><p dir="ltr">Consider the following example. In 2014, Russian independent magazine Colta published a number of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-sidorov/how-russian-tv-propaganda-is-made">anonymous interviews with employees of Russian TV channels</a>, detailing the way the propaganda machinery works. What was clear from these interview is that in the beginning of the Ukraine conflict in 2014, Russian TV channels were being managed manually by members of the Presidential Administration. As one of the interviewees <a href="https://www.colta.ru/articles/society/8163">notes</a>, even the use of particular phrases (such as “junta”, “Banderites”, “ukropi”) was coordinated personally by press secretary Dmitry Peskov at weekly meetings. In contrast, anonymous interviews with employees of Russian TV channels published by independent magazine The Insider in 2017 <a href="https://theins.ru/confession/61361">tells an entirely different story</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2017, there was no manual control anymore. There were “curators” who were supposed to control journalists, TV anchors and managers of TV channels, but employees managed themselves according to implicit, but clear and intuitive “internal rules”. These rules dictated the understanding of what the Presidential Administration expects them to do – they became a part of the journalistic routine. If this assumption is correct, then we witnessed a tremendous change in the way the Russian propaganda machine, including conspiracy theories and theorists, operates. Instead of being piloted manually, this machine became autonomous. It is clear that the analysis of such issues requires different methods, such as personal interviews, and it is tough and potentially dangerous to find insiders in the administration and TV channels who could and would willing to provide such details. However, given the topic of Yablokov’s analysis, it would greatly complement the purely external analysis of the way Russia’s conspiratorial/propagandist apparatus functions and would allow building more stereoscopic multidimensional picture. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Do we actually study conspiracy theories?</h2><p dir="ltr">An excellent analysis of the uses of conspiracy theories, Yablokov’s research also lacks the depth of theoretical, empirical and comparative study of conspiracy theories themselves. Conspiracy theories in the book are rather considered as frames used to mobilise supporters and discredit opponents at particular moments. </p><p dir="ltr">In terms of data, the in-depth analysis of conspiracy theories themselves is somewhat limited compared to the circumstances surrounding them. Being stripped of specific conspiracy theories used as examples, the text would still have a coherent argument. It considers the main events in post-Soviet Russian history, the main actors involved and would be a legitimate example of political history/political science analysis of post-Soviet Russia. Collecting data for his book about conspiracy theories, Eliot Borenstein set up a website, <a href="http://plotsagainstrussia.org/eb7nyuedu/2016/5/4/catastrophe-of-the-week">Plots Against Russia</a>. The analysis is yet to be done, but Borenstein’s archive represents a systematic effort to collect conspiracy theories in post-Soviet Russia. Yablokov’s research would also benefit from this kind of systematic basis. </p><p dir="ltr">Regarding theory, a few theoretical remarks about conspiracy theories are limited to brief mentions of scholars like Ernesto Laclau, Michael Foucault, and others, and theorise very general features not specific to conspiracy theories, such as the intersection of knowledge and power and Lacan-based linguistic rules of organising the political subject. The author gives an impression that the argument will not suffer much if it is stripped of the theoretical framework. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Conspiracy theories worldwide</h2><p dir="ltr">Concerning comparative analysis, the author does not put Russia’s conspiracy machine into an international perspective. (In fact, the post-Soviet World mentioned in the title is not discussed in the book at all: the analysis is limited to Russia.) Although Yablokov frequently cites scholars of conspiracy theories in the West, his main conclusion is limited to the fact that conspiracy theories in Russia are initiated from above as compared to the grassroots nature of western conspiracy theories. This argument is illuminating. Yet the book and our understanding of the subject would benefit from a more fundamental comparison. According to the author, the way “the Russian political and intellectual elites have made use of conspiracy theories in the new millennium show how they can be imported from, and, later, exported to, other countries”. However, the analysis of how they are exported, adjusted and reinterpreted is limited to a few remarks about the particular conspiracy theory about “the New World Order.” </p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps, a more systematic comparison would yield interesting results. For instance, in his <a href="https://www.palgrave.com/br/book/9781137409294">book on Russia’s post-colonial identity</a>, Viatcheslav Morozov argues that Russia is a subaltern empire: Russia is a subaltern in relationships with the West, and yet has to borrow the western language of the rule of law and democracy because it does not have its own language of self-description. Other scholars show that Putin’s regime <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Russia-Western-Far-Right-Routledge/dp/1138658642">increasingly relies on Western far-right</a> to build legitimacy in the eyes of both domestic population and international audiences. Being transported to Russia, do Western conspiracy theories dictate the shape and content of their Russian variations? Or they are instead entirely reshaped to fit local political narratives? The way imported conspiracy theories are reshaped to fit local narrative would give us a better understanding of the local political environment.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Putting Russia in the international perspective is essential for understanding the global political process, not only Russian specifics</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2013 and the 2016 US presidential election, the use of conspiratorial thinking and arguments has become increasingly popular around the world. In the Baltic States, the topic of Russian influence is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vassilis-petsinis/in-estonia-we-should-be-careful-not-to-overstate-impact-of-information-w">instrumentalised by domestic elites to achieve political goals</a>. As Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev argues in a 2017 <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/moritz-gathmann-colleagues/whole-pravda-about-russian-propaganda">discussion about the effects of Russian propaganda outside Russia</a>, in the Baltic States “more people are reading articles about the danger of Russian propaganda than are reading the propaganda itself”. Vytautas Bruveris, a Lithuanian journalist, continues: “(Russian propaganda) has become a convenient way for western political elites to discount their own failures, crises and impotence.” Finally, in this same discussion, journalist and analyst Vladimir Soloviev argues that “rebroadcasting this notorious ‘propaganda’” has become a means to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">keep audiences engaged and earn money</a> in Moldova. </p><p dir="ltr">Similarly, after the 2016 US presidential elections, the alleged link to Russia has become an important trope used in political debate to deal with dissent in the US. “Russia” is a codename for “Donald Trump” for American liberals, as brilliantly <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/opinion/american-liberals-vladimir-putin-russia.html?mcubz=0.">noted</a> by Ivan Krastev. These arguments do not belittle the authoritarian nature of Putin’s regime. They demonstrate that conspiracy theories in public discourse have become a common tactic. This pattern should be studied as a whole: putting Russia in the international perspective is essential for understanding the global political process, not only Russian specifics. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Political context</h2><p dir="ltr">There are several inaccuracies and missing events that slightly weaken the book’s argument. First of all, Yablokov is interested in how conspiracy theories are employed and used to legitimise or induce conservative social change. For instance, quoting other scholars, the author argues that “Putin’s remark that the Internet was a ‘CIA project’ served to kick-start the Kremlin’s offensive against the Internet industry” (p. 184). Similarly, conspiracy theories were “the starting point for this new round of legislative amendments” intended to repress independent NGOs in 2015 (p. 184). These connections are hypothesised rather than proven: Yablokov did not conduct interviews with people involved in decision-making who would indicate that repressive legislation resulted from conspiracy theories; similarly, there are no publicly available documents indicating that conspiracy theories are the reason for this particular piece of legislation. However, there are other cases not mentioned in this book where this link is clear. </p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="//www.ntv.ru/embed/296996" height="259" width="460"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr">For instance, in 2012, Russian channel NTV released <a href="http://www.ntv.ru/video/296996/">“The Anatomy of Protest”</a>, a documentary film consisting of pro-government conspiracy theories about the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">2011-2012 Russian protests</a>. The film, produced by journalist Arkady Mamontov, provoked a wide controversy but did not lead to any actions by the government. However, a second “Anatomy of Protest” released later that year directly led to the actions taken by the Russian Prosecutor General. Based on conspiracy theories in this film, the Prosecutor General launched an investigation resulting in the criminal charges against three important left-wing opposition leaders – Sergey Udaltsov, Konstantin Lebedev and Leonid Razvozhaev. All three were found guilty. Unlike in the cases of NGO and the Internet, in the Udaltsov-Razvozhaev-Lebedev case, conspiracy theories were directly used as evidence for criminal charges.</p><p dir="ltr">Further, Yablokov’s analysis inaccurately depicts the context around the idea of the “Putin majority” in 2011-2012. In one of the chapters, Yablokov analyses the 2011-2012 post-election protests and the regime’s reaction to it. In particular, he argues that Kremlin attempted to construct the concept of a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/putinist-majority-could-fast-become-anti-putinist">“Putin majority”</a>, representing “the majority of the Russian people, who opposed the minority of ‘dissatisfied Muscovites’” (p. 162). </p><p dir="ltr">As it follows from Yablokov’s analysis, this conceptual figure of a majority was constructed and promoted by pro-Kremlin media, spin doctors and regime-affiliated intellectuals only. This is not accurate. As researcher Ilya Matveev shows in his <a href="https://read.dukeupress.edu/south-atlantic-quarterly/article-abstract/113/1/186/3735/The-Two-Russias-Culture-War-Constructions-of-the?redirectedFrom=PDF">analysis</a>, many prominent intellectuals in the 2011-2012 protest movement, such as Dmitry Olshansky, Andrey Loshak and others, reproduced this discourse. Matveev concludes that liberal intellectuals “accept the rules of the polemics forced on them by the Kremlin and to treat the image of the ‘people’ created by the Kremlin as an accurate reflection of the ‘people’ they write about themselves. In this culture war, the two sides are fueling each other’s cause.” </p><p dir="ltr">This particular inaccuracy is indicative of a more general flaw. In Yablokov’s narrative, there are three distinct forces involved in the process of production, distribution and consumption of conspiracy theories: the elite, oppositional intellectuals and the general public. Yablokov gives a nuanced and stereoscopic view of the first group: the executive branch does not coincide with pro-Kremlin intellectuals; they do not always agree, sometimes have conflicts, and the relationships between them are structured in a complicated way. However, the public and the opposition seem to be depicted as monolithic wholes. </p><p dir="ltr">As Ilya Mateev demonstrates, the Russian opposition is unevenly structured too. Some of them tend to accept Kremlin narratives depending on their social position, some of them do not. Do they share conspiracy theories? What conspiracy theories do they share and why? This kind of multi-actor analysis of production and dissemination is necessary for building a more realistic argument, and yet it remains absent. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Persuasion, elite discourse and public opinion</h2><p dir="ltr">The Russian public also remains the weak link of the book. Yablokov extensively relies on polling data as a self-evident source of evidence and positive conclusions that the conspiracy theories disseminated by Kremlin and Kremlin-sympathetic networks did or do work. According to the author, conspiracy theories are used by the regime to achieve national cohesion, gather support and discredit opponents; all these goals are achieved with varying degrees of success depending on particular periods and circumstances. Yet there is no way to establish whether conspiracy theories speak to Russian public given contemporary Russian circumstances. </p><p dir="ltr">The Levada Center data frequently cited by Yablokov as evidence is not credible due to certain methodological and theoretical problems. Indeed, there are problems associated with public opinion research in authoritarian regimes and post-Soviet society. For many Russian citizens, pollsters represent an opportunity to reach the government with their complaints and requests, which biases results. Also, given the dramatically low response rate to surveys in Russia, it is safe to assume that <a href="http://open-lib.ru/dialogues/rogovyudin">most people who refuse to answer interviewers’ questions are dissatisfied</a> and have political reasons to be so. As a result, they are not detected by pollsters.This phenomenon is also known as “preference falsification” and is <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674707580&amp;content=reviews">extensively studied</a> in political science.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">For many Russian citizens, pollsters represent an opportunity to reach the government with their complaints and requests, which biases results</p><p dir="ltr">Likewise, there is an authoritative and long-standing theoretical tradition in the field of political communication which questions the idea of asking questions and accepting responses at face value regardless of particular political context. Based on dual theories of cognition backed by <a href="https://www.guilford.com/books/Dual-Process-Theories-in-Social-Psychology/Chaiken-Trope/9781572304215">solid experimental data</a>, scholars in political communication have found that the <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/the-nature-and-origins-of-mass-opinion/70B1485D3A9CFF55ADCCDD42FC7E926A">opinion formation process</a> is very much dependent on a wide number of factors, such as political knowledge, context, distance of events. For the majority of people not interested in politics, an individual’s opinion and perception of politics is a product of a complicated machinery of tricks used to ease one’s cognitive load and arrive at a conclusion without effort. </p><p dir="ltr">US sociologist John Mueller <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/War_Presidents_and_Public_Opinion.html?id=RENVPgAACAAJ&amp;redir_esc=y">ironically summarises</a> the difficulty of polling people in the context of fluctuating opinion: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“The respondent, on his doorstep or in his living room, is barraged with a set of questions on a wide variety of subjects (…) aware that their views are being preserved for the ages, they do not wish to appear unprepared at that moment. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising to find respondents pontificating in a seemingly authoritative, if basically ‘truthful’, manner on subjects about which they know nothing or to which they have never given any thought whatsoever”.</p><p dir="ltr">The analysis of public opinion in all its complexity using quantitative data would require theoretical and methodological resources that Russian pollsters do not possess. When qualitative data is used, the results are very different. For instance, Ellen Mickiewicz <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/television-power-and-the-public-in-russia/055AE3243DCEB39194EBEA2C11684E75">shows</a> that instead of being convinced by the state agenda, Russian TV viewers in the 2000s were highly skilled at processing media messages critically and identifying persuasive intent. My research <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">shows</a> a similar picture in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict: when Russian TV viewers are involved in discussion, their opinions are far from being shaped by Kremlin discourse. Also, the intensity and duration of media campaigns are crucially important when trying to understand the effect elite discourse has on the public. After several years of aggressive political propaganda, Russian TV viewers <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">are very tired of negative reporting </a>which makes them even more critical. These findings go in line with <a href="https://theins.ru/obshestvo/11216">quantitative data</a> indicating the decrease of popularity of TV channels due to their focus on the Ukrainian conflict. Russian viewers’ reactions to TV propaganda today is not the same as their reaction to TV propaganda before the Russia-Ukraine conflict. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-19312249_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-19312249_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Crimea Consensus has been generated largely through propaganda. Photo: Yaghobzadeh Rafael / ABACA / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>All these complexities mean that Yablokov should at least say that the Kremlin attempts to shape public opinion instead of claiming that “the Vesti nedeli reports became a powerful political instrument in shaping domestic public opinion” (p. 179) or “the call to rally round ‘Putin’s flag’ was strong enough to guarantee the success of the ruling party” (p. 180). At best, we need resources, expertise, theoretical and methodological innovation to build institutions capable of supplying the public and researches with reliable data about public opinion. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Theories of everyday life</h2><p dir="ltr">Even if we assume that conspiracy theories have a profound effect on Russian audience (which, again, is a problematic statement at the very least), it probably won’t be the theories voiced by Vladislav Surkov or Arkady Mamontov. Yablokov’s research is focused on spokespersons of the regime, while he ignores the vast majority of conspiracy theories in culture and entertainment which are in more immediate proximity for most people in Russia. In his chronicle of the work in Russia as a TV producer, Peter Pomerantsev <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Nothing-True-Everything-Possible-Surreal/dp/1610396006">argues</a> that in the early 2000s the Kremlin realised that the main mistake of Soviet TV was that it was “dull”. The task was, then, “to synthesise Soviet control with Western entertainment”. </p><p dir="ltr">Pomerantsev’s work itself is prone to generalisations about audiences and media which are not always grounded in evidence. However, this point is a reasonable one. Given the fact that entertainment is the primary type of media content consumed by most audiences and the fact that conspiracy theories are produced en masse by popular TV shows such as “Voennaya Taina” (Military Secret) and “Sovershenno Sekretno” (Top Secret) on NTV, it is logical to analyse these theories that are instead a part of entertainment/everyday life rather than official political discourse. If we assume that conspiracy theories have a substantial effect on audiences, these everyday life theories may work as a source of conspiracy theories for the general public or a background for amplifying the impact of official political conspiracy theories.</p><p dir="ltr">I want to reiterate here: in some cases, I refer to the shortcomings and flaws of the book; yet, in most cases, I instead suggest possible avenues for further research. As such, Yablokov’s book is an interesting, informative and illuminating read. It presents a complicated and convincing picture of an important phenomenon that is rarely analysed in public and academic discourse about Russia beyond anecdotal evidence. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/why-are-russia-s-journalists-so-prone-to-conspiracy-theory">Why are Russia’s journalists so prone to conspiracy theory?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-sidorov/how-russian-tv-propaganda-is-made">How Russian TV propaganda is made</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">Russia, Inc.</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Alyukov Russia Fri, 07 Sep 2018 05:57:57 +0000 Maxim Alyukov 119558 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet Russian anarchist Ilya Romanov. He’s spent nearly 20 years in prison https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandr-litoy/russian-anarchist-ilya-romanov <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Through radical protest of the 1990s and 2000s to the repressive machine of today, Romanov's biography shows how the Russian government’s attitude to protest has hardened. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksandr-litoy/za-chto-anarhist-ilya-romanov-pochti-dvadzat-let-sidit-v-turme" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/maxresdefault_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/maxresdefault_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Romanov, August 2015. Source: Grani.ru.</span></span></span>Ilya Romanov is 50 years old, and has been active in protest movements in Russia since the end of the 1980s. His war on the Russian authorities began in his native city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) when he was 13, secretly publishing and distributing leaflets denouncing the Communist regime. After being expelled from university in his hometown, he joined the Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists, producing local newspapers at the height of perestroika in the late 1980s – before becoming involved in social and ecological protests in Russia during the 1990s. </p><p dir="ltr">But Romanov has spent most of the last two decades behind bars. He is relatively unknown to the latest generation of Russian anarchists – and the wider world. After being sentenced to nine years on terrorism charges in Nizhny Novgorod in 2015, he is now facing a new charge of fomenting terrorist activity while serving his sentence in Mordovia. According to investigators, while in prison hospital Romanov posted an “Islamist video” to Facebook in summer 2017. Romanov claims that he is not in any way religious and that this was a provocation on the part of the Russian security services. This new case against Romanov has now been transferred to the courts. </p><p dir="ltr">Looking at Romanov’s life, we can see how the reaction of the Russian law enforcement to resistance has changed over time: while in the early 1990s, anarchists could seize regional administration buildings and still remain at liberty, now they face criminal charges for their Facebook posts.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Between Maoism and the Democratic Union</h2><p dir="ltr">“Ilya has always had his own view of the world, an usual way of looking at the world, a specific philosophy,” says Romanov’s ex-wife Larisa. “His ideas were always in step with his actions.” </p><p dir="ltr">Larisa recalls how Ilya once, on a train, gave his jacket to a homeless person who was bemoaning his life. Ilya and Larisa were together between 1996 and 1998 and have a child together. Larisa now has a new family, but hasn’t divorced Romanova in order to help him in prison.</p><p dir="ltr">After leaving school, Romanov began a degree at Nizhny Novgorod’s medical institute, but left after three years when he had qualified as a paramedic. He was thrown out for a protest action where he hung a barbed wire wreath on the local KGB building. At this time he was also a member of the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Union_(Russia)"> “Democratic Union”</a> organisation, which brought together people with various opposition views, including left wingers. “There’s a photo of him walking along a street with Valeriya Novodvorskaya,” Larisa recalls, referring to the organisation’s prominent leader.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ и Новодворская, 80ые copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Romanov with Valeria Novodvorskaya, Soviet dissident, leader of Democratic Union and later prominent Russian liberal commentator. Source: Larisa Romanova. </span></span></span>In the 1980s, Romanov was also interested in Maoism, but then he started hanging out with anarchists. Moscow anarchist philosopher <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/prison-is-the-ideal-model-for-the-state">Pyotr Ryabov </a>recalls how he met Romanov when the latter was already leading the Gorky section of the<a href="http://struggle.ws/eastern/kas_begin.html"> Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists</a>. Romanov also helped publish the “Obshchina” (“Community”) nationwide anarchist newspaper and produced an edition of his own paper, “Solntse” (Sun) and several editions of the “Chastnoye Litso” [Private Citizen] journal. Another member of the Confederation at the time was Andrey Isayev, who later abandoned his left wing views in the 1990s and is now an influential United Russia MP.</p><p dir="ltr">Larisa has also had direct experience of losing her freedom. In the late 1990s, she was given a four years suspended sentence for an assassination attempt on Nikolay Kondratenko, the then governor of the Krasnodar Krai who was famous for his ultra-right and anti-Semitic views. Larisa then spent five and a half years behind bars for involvement in the case of the “New Revolutionary Alternative”, which was allegedly responsible for two small explosions in the reception area of the FSB building in Moscow and the blowing up of a monument to Tsar Nicholas II in the Moscow region. On her release, Larisa worked for Andrey Babushkin’s<a href="http://www.zagr.org/"> “Committee for Civil Rights”</a>. She has four children.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s Anarcho-Syndicalist movement split up pretty quickly and Romanov later claimed that the Confederation was created by the KGB to manipulate the protest movement. He wrote a long article on the subject in his own “Grass and Freedom” newspaper. Ryabov considers this to be a conspiracy theory.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The battle for the environment</h2><p dir="ltr">In the 1990s, Russian anarchists were very active in social and environmental movements and protests against the war in Chechnya, and Romanov made his presence felt on both fronts. Anarchist Anna Pavlova remembers first meeting him in 1994, when he was an organiser of anti-war actions – they sprayed graffiti on recruitment centres together.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ 90ые 2 copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ 90ые 2 copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Romanov (centre). Date and place unknown. Source: Larisa Romanova. </span></span></span>“In 1992, Romanov was at an environmental camp in Lipetsk with his then wife Lada and their one-year-old son Rodion. A Swedish company in Lipetsk wanted to open a rape seed processing plant – it’s a pretty toxic process, and the environment there was impoverished already. The locals wrecked the future plant construction site with tractors and then called in the anarcho-ecologists,” Ryabov recalls. “Looking at the situation today, it’s hard to imagine that people at the camp, anarchists and local residents, seized the Lipetsk regional administration building, removed its Russian flag and raised a flag with the black anarchist cat image on it. They also seized the regional head’s office, where the phone with the direct line to central government was also located. They were arrested by police special forces, but all that happened was that after they got the crap kicked out of them, they were held till evening in the slammer and then released. They weren’t even taken to court.”</p><p dir="ltr">When the special forces team arrested the “invaders” of the Lipetsk administration building, a legend popular among Russian anarchists was born. It told of a certain “Slepukha”, the “anarchist-in-chief”, who was never caught at an action but who organised environmental protests. The factory in Lipetsk was never built.</p><p dir="ltr">“When some Moscow State University student was <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/moscow-student-faces-criminal-charge-in-world-cup-vandalism-probe/29267292.html">recently hauled up for scrawling ‘No to the fanzone’</a> on a bollard, I remembered how in the early 1990s you could seize an entire administration building and just get locked up in a police cell till the evening,” muses Ryabov nostalgically.</p><p dir="ltr">The radical battle for the environment didn’t stop at Lipetsk: Romanov decided to campaign on behalf of ancient forests in Russia’s North Caucasus.</p><p dir="ltr">“Ilya gathered people together to hold an action to spike beech trees [where camouflaged nails are driven into tree trunks to hamper felling],” Larisa recalls. “The beeches were cut down and removed by helicopter, as they were worth their weight in gold. The locals were afraid that if they were caught obstructing this business, they would be thrown into the nearest ravine and never be seen again. It had to be done by non-locals who could come and go. So we came, spiked and left.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">In the capital</h2><p dir="ltr">In 1996, Romanov was living in Moscow, in a squat on the Ostozhenka, a street now lined with expensive real estate. Hippies lived in one flat in the squat, anarchists in another, and the third was occupied by Paul Spengler, an American famous for his attempts to protect Moscow’s historic buildings from the bulldozers. In Moscow, Ilya took part in protests to preserve the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neskuchny_Garden"> Neskuchny Sad</a>, when anarchists, locals and Tolkien enthusiasts succeeded in saving this park in the very centre of Moscow from destruction.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Ryabov, Romanov was friendly not only with other anarchists, but also with Trotskyites. In 1993, he sold the Trotskyite “Workers’ Democracy” newspaper on Red Square. One day, he was attacked by “Barkashovites” (followers of Aleksandr Barkashov, the founder and leader of the<a href="https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&amp;hl=en&amp;prev=search&amp;rurl=translate.google.com&amp;sl=ru&amp;sp=nmt4&amp;u=https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25D0%25A0%25D1%2583%25D1%2581%25D1%2581%25D0%25BA%25D0%25BE%25D0%25B5_%25D0%25BD%25D0%25B0%25D1%2586%25D0%25B8%25D0%25BE%25D0%25BD%25D0%25B0%25D0%25BB%25D1%258C%25D0%25BD%25D0%25BE%25D0%25B5_%25D0%25B5%25D0%25B4%25D0%25B8%25D0%25BD%25D1%2581%25D1%2582%25D0%25B2%25D0%25BE_(1990)&amp;xid=17259,15700022,15700124,15700149,15700168,15700186,15700190,15700201&amp;usg=ALkJrhh1zbMzooy6oX-LR8Vt7nYJdfXMrA"> "Russian National Unity"</a> movement), who grabbed his papers and broke two of his ribs. In return, a group of anarchists and Trotskyites attacked the Barkashovites in possibly the first ever anti-fascist street protest in Russian history.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ сад 2 copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Romanova and Larisa Romanova at Neskuchnyi sad, Moscow. Source: Larisa Romanova. </span></span></span>In 2014, by the way, Romanov <a href="https://avtonom.org/author_columns/o-moem-bolshevizme">denied</a> that he was pro-Bolshevik: “Bolshevism as a phenomenon is possible in a backward, mainly peasant country exhausted by a basically interminable war. There are absolutely no preconditions for its appearance in today’s ‘consumer society’. So organisations that called and still call themselves by that name are in a complete state of degradation and can only be seen as sects of clowns – they have no effect on society.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the mid-1990s, Romanov’s first wife Lada converted from anarchism to conservative Orthodoxy and returned to her parents’ home in the Nizhny Novgorod region. A common attraction to anarchism and environmentalism brought him together with his second wife Larisa, with whom he began to publish the “Grass and Freedom” newspaper. The journal, with its radical articles and interesting illustrations, had a significant influence on anarchists at the time. “These days, it would lead to 100 criminal charges,” says Ryabov.</p><p dir="ltr">Aleksandr Zimbovsky, an activist with the Trotskyite Workers’ Revolutionary Party, remembers Romanov being part of a medical team during the Russian constitutional crisis of October 1993 – an initiative of Muscovite left wing radicals who decided not to take sides in armed confrontations, but instead to act as stretcher bearers, getting wounded away from the White House government building. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Zimbovsky, Romanov also took part in a second action in front of the White House,<a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2548126"> the miners’ camp protest of 1998</a>. In protest against months of delays in receiving wages, miners set up a protest camp outside the government building for several months. </p><p dir="ltr">Romanov found himself behind bars for the first time in the same year – for possession of a small amount of drugs. In those days, there was no risk of a long sentence, and according to Larissa, it was even unusual for a suspect to be remanded in custody on that charge. Evidently, the FSB hoped to tie him into a case against the anarchist<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Revolutionary_Alternative"> “New Revolutionary Alternative”</a> organisation, but couldn’t find enough evidence.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ Романова и Илья Романов, Алешево коммуна в Тверской области, 1996-1997 гг copy_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ Романова и Илья Романов, Алешево коммуна в Тверской области, 1996-1997 гг copy_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="302" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Larisa Romanova and Ilya Romanov at a commune in Tver oblast, 1996-1997. Source: Larisa Romanova.</span></span></span>As a result, Romanov was amnestied on the drugs charge, but declared insane – on FSB orders, Larissa believes. He was sent back to his home city of Nizhny Novgorod for treatment, thanks to the intervention of his father, a well-known cardiologist.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Odesa Komsomol Case</h2><p dir="ltr">Romanov returned to Moscow in 2002, but it was clear that the FSB were still on his case. He was arrested and driven by car to Penza, a city 550 km south-east of the capital, where an acquaintance made a statement to the effect that he and Ilya had made improvised explosives together in the 1990s. On arrival in Penza, Romanov slit his wrists. There was no other evidence against him, and the man who had given the initial evidence against him was certified as insane, so they had to release Romanov.</p><p dir="ltr">Romanov then left Russia for Ukraine, as anarchists there had promised to help him leave the the former Soviet Union in order to put him beyond the reach of the FSB. He didn’t actually meet up with them, but got involved in protests on<a href="https://uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%8C,_%D0%A3%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%97%D0%BD%D0%BE!"> Kyiv’s Maidan</a> demanding the resignation of the then President Leonid Kuchma, where he met communists from Odesa and other Ukrainian cities. In December 2002, he was arrested again, this time in connection with the so-called “Odesa Komsomol Case”.</p><p dir="ltr">This case involved 11 citizens of Russia, Moldova and Ukraine being accused of setting up a so-called “Black Sea Soviet Republic”, as well as possession of arms, robbery with violence and other criminal offences. The arrestees were subjected to horrific torture, and one suspect died under torture during the investigation. Romanov was given a 10 year prison sentence for carrying out an explosion in Kyiv, next to Ukraine’s Security Services (SBU) headquarters.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/odess-delo-600x400_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/odess-delo-600x400_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Odesa Komsomol members”. Source: Anarchy today.</span></span></span>“Ilya was tortured for a long time,” Larisa tells me. “He only took the witness box after he was taken to Kherson and put in a cell with two police informants who tried to rape him. He tried to escape from the cell by saying he would give evidence. But he only gave it against himself; he refused to implicate anyone else.”</p><p dir="ltr">Anarchist Anna Pavlova recalls how Romanov fought for the rights of his fellow prisoners during his time in Ukrainian prison, and succeeded in having the prison governor removed from his post. Romanov was eventually released in 2012. Two years later, the “Black Sea Soviet Republic” would become part of the mythology behind the so-called “People’s Republics” in eastern Ukraine, as “the first attempt to create the state of<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novorossiya_(confederation)"> Novorossiya</a>”. Andrey Yakovenko, another defendant in the “Odesa Komsomol Case”, succeeded in being sent to a colony inside the separatist-controlled area, where he was released “with honour”. In 2014, Romanov was more inclined to support the Maidan protests than the Donbas separatists.</p><p dir="ltr">Romanov has <a href="https://avtonom.org/author_columns/o-moem-bolshevizme">stated</a> that the “Odesa Case” was concocted by the SBU: there was no actual revolutionary group at all. “The investigators dreamed up an ‘organised group’ from a few unconnected incidents, to make up a more serious case… An organisation would have had a name of some sort, but the police couldn’t discover one here, which is significant in itself. In the end, they just convicted everyone of ‘banditry’, i.e. they defined the ‘organisation’ as a criminal ‘band’. But Ukraine’s Supreme Court removed that crime from my list of offences – even that ridiculous judicial system recognised that I wasn’t part of anything like that.”</p><p dir="ltr">“When a ‘banditry’ case is investigated, it always follows the same pattern. Various crimes committed by completely different people or groups of people are put down to a single organiser who plans everything and hands out roles to his co-conspirators. The ‘Odesa Case’ was no exception. Fewer than half the accused were ‘Odesa Komsomol members’: the rest were either not from Odesa, nor Komsomol members, or neither.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Release is not on the cards</h2><p dir="ltr">Ilya was free between December 2012 and October 2013. “Returning to Russia from Ukraine was a big mistake,” says Larisa. “There’s no way he could be freed here. They told him that would be the case, but he wouldn’t listen. He went for a job in a furniture factory in Nizhny Novgorod, but he couldn’t work there because of a back injury, and he couldn’t earn anything in a security job either. Then he got work at a sweet factory where they paid a decent wage. That employer gave him a reasonable recommendation in the later criminal case against him.”</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, Romanov’s freedom was quickly cut short. In late October 2013, a homemade firework went off while he was holding it, and one of his hands had to be amputated in hospital. This provided the cops with an excuse to re-arrest him on a charge of terrorism.</p><p dir="ltr">Romanov <a href="https://zona.media/article/2014/12/11/ariyskiy-terror">claims</a> that the local anti-extremism police hacked into his computer and posted several files, including a text file that included the following statement: “Shantsev, Sorokin, Kondrashov (leading Nizhny Novogorod officials): if you don’t stop destroying our parks I’ll blow you all the **** up.” A second file was entitled: “Aryan Terror: a guideline for training white terrorists”. These became the basis for a charge of planning a terrorist act, for which Romanov is now serving a nine-year sentence.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/dscf3308_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Romanov, August 2015. Source: OVD-Info. </span></span></span>Then, in summer 2017, Romanov was faced with yet another charge – for posting an Islamist video with Hebrew subtitles on Facebook. The implication was that Romanov supported Islamic terrorism. The case materials have been handed over to the courts.</p><p dir="ltr">Romanov <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/07/26/dzhihad-i-vudu-protiv-kesarya-vladimira-delo-anarhista-ili-romanova-peredano-v">claims</a> that he doesn’t know how to transfer files from his mobile phone to the internet, that he has no connection with Islam and that he is the victim of a local FSB operation. Judging from the case materials, law enforcement fabricated a medical diagnosis that allowed him to be transferred from prison colony to a prison hospital, which is easier to bug. There he shared a ward with another prisoner, who cooperates with the security services.</p><p dir="ltr">This prisoner gave Romanov a phone which he could use to access the internet (prisoners are forbidden to use mobile phones) and set up an account for him on Facebook. In the more comfortable conditions of the hospital, Romanov began to enjoy himself: he carried out Buddhist rites for the death of Vladimir Putin and posted caricatures of the Russian president with male and female sexual organs on his Facebook page. FSB officers eavesdropped on his ward for several months without doing anything more, but then posted a Jihadist video on the Facebook page they had set up for him and initiated a new criminal case against him.</p><p dir="ltr">Anna Pavlova notes that no human rights organisations are supporting Romanov, despite evidence of police abuse of power and the practice of “adding sentences”. Romanov is little known even amongst those who embraced anarchism in Russia in the 2010s, although he was among the founders of today’s anarchist movement. This is probably because of his radical convictions, which don’t chime with high profile rights campaigns.</p><p dir="ltr">Romanov’s activist experience goes back to the pre-Putin era, when you could scuffle with far-right agitators on Red Square or seize a regional administration building and hoist a black flag above it with impunity. He has not yet been able to take part in today’s Russian protest movement, but his attitude to the Russian authorities is understandable: he comes from an era when there was incomparably more freedom in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stanislav-markelov/patriotism-as-a-diagnosis">Patriotism as a diagnosis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/dmitry-okrest/who-are-your-comrades-now">Who are your comrades now?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/prison-is-the-ideal-model-for-the-state">Pyotr Ryabov: “Prison is the ideal model for the state”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/man-in-black-interview-with-russian-anarchist-dmitry-buchenkov">The man in black: interview with Russian anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach/anarchism-in-makhno%E2%80%99s-homeland-adventures-of-red-and-black-flag">Anarchism in Makhno’s homeland: adventures of the red-and-black flag</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-rykov/russias-security-services-against-anti-fascists">Russia’s security services have form in fabricating cases against anti-fascists </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> oD Russia oD Russia Alexandr Litoy Russian anarchists and anti-fascists in the crosshairs Wed, 05 Sep 2018 06:45:18 +0000 Alexandr Litoy 119524 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Transforming Tajikistan: how the Rahmon regime turned religion into a site of struggle https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/edward-lemon/transforming-tajikistan-islam <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This new book focuses on Tajik society’s turn to Islam as a means of coping with disorder.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/35579238771_c58f5b365c_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/35579238771_c58f5b365c_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A mosque under construction in southern Tajikistan. CC BY-NC 2.0: Rohan Shenhav / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p><em>A review of&nbsp;<a href="https://ibtauris.com/books/society%20%20social%20sciences/society%20%20culture%20general/social%20groups/religious%20groups%20social%20%20cultural%20aspects/islamic%20studies/transforming%20tajikisatn%20statebuilding%20and%20islam%20in%20postsoviet%20central%20asia">Transforming Tajikistan: State-building and Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia</a>&nbsp;by Helene Thibault.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Back in 2011, I met Mahmadali, a 38-year-old truck driver, on the outskirts of Dushanbe. He sported a clean-shaven face. Shortly after returning from Russia to his dingy Soviet-era apartment in Tajikistan’s capital city a few days earlier, Mahmadali had been stopped by police, taken to the local station, accused of being a “Wahhabi” (read: extremist) and threatened with repercussions if he did not shave off his beard. He duly went to the barber the next day. At that time, these were some of the first reports of such behaviour by Tajik police in the name of countering extremism. But in the years since, the practice has become more widespread. In 2016, for example, the chief of police in Khatlon region <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/tajikistan-shaves-13000-men-beards-radicalism-160120133352747.html">claimed</a> to have “encouraged” 13,000 men to shave. Religion, for the government, is an essential part of national identity. </p><p dir="ltr">Over 98% of Tajiks are nominally Muslim, in other words not of Slavic origin. The government regularly invokes the country’s Islamic heritage and contribution to Islamic civilisation through the work of Bukharan-born polymath <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Avicenna">Avicenna</a> (also known as Ibn Sina) and ninth century Islamic scholar <a href="http://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2017/05/27/Who-was-Imam-Al-Bukhari-the-most-famous-Muslim-to-documented-Islamic-hadiths-.html">Imam al-Bukhari</a>. According to President Emomali Rahmon, <a href="http://president.tj/node/17784">state-sanctioned Islam</a> is “the religion of justice, peace, security, and morality, and condemns any kind of destructive acts and violence.” But it is also a potentially dangerous force that threatens the regime. While certain forms of state-sanctioned Islam are promoted by the government, the regime has taken measures to curtail “foreign” forms of worship, such as growing beards or wearing hijabs. </p><p dir="ltr">These policies form part of a broader crackdown on independent voices within the country over the past decade, which culminated in the banning of the country’s leading opposition group, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) in 2015. Hundreds of academics, journalists, opposition activists and religious believers have been <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">arrested or fled the country</a>. At the same time, President Rahmon, who has ruled the country since 1992, has strengthened his family’s dominance over the economy and politics, being declared “Leader of the Nation” and cementing his position for life in 2016. This process of state management of religion and authoritarian consolidation forms the backdrop to Helene Thibault’s Transforming Tajikistan: State-building and Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As the Rahmon regime consolidated its power, the president gradually removed, arrested and exiled those who were incorporated into the government after the war</p><p dir="ltr">Tajikistan has always been considered the poor cousin of its neighbours in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan when it comes to academic studies. But recent years have seen the publication of excellent works on Tajikistan’s formation in the 1920s (<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Paul-Bergne/e/B0034PA13Y">Bergne</a>, <a href="https://www.upress.pitt.edu/BookDetails.aspx?bookId=36619">Kassymbekova</a>), its post-war development (<a href="http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140109711820">Kalinovsky</a>), the late Soviet period (<a href="https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/series/asian-studies-series/tajikistan">Bleuer and Nourzhanov</a>), civil war (<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Origins-Civil-War-Tajikistan-Contemporary/dp/1498532780">Epkenhans</a>) and establishment of peace (<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Post-Conflict-Tajikistan-peacebuilding-emergence-legitimate/dp/0415620082">Heathershaw</a>, <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/warlords-and-coalition-politics-in-post-soviet-states/35C80FC5066F4E419563F0A6A45423A6">Driscoll</a>, <a href="http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100095730">Markowitz</a>). Thibault’s book builds on these other works and examines developments in the country up to the banning of the IRPT in 2015. </p><p dir="ltr">Thibault conducted fieldwork for the book between 2010 and 2011. This was arguably the time at which Tajikistan’s post-civil war consensus was starting to unravel. Following the peace accord signed between the government and opposition in 1997, the opposition was allocated 30% of government posts. But as the Rahmon regime <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">consolidated</a> its power, the president gradually removed, arrested and exiled those who were incorporated into the government after the war. Although the IRPT kept its two seats in Tajikistan’s lower house until 2015, the party came under increasing <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">pressure</a>, having its offices raided by police in October 2010 and its women’s centre destroyed by an arson attack. </p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, the government took steps to tighten its control of religion. In 2009, it <a href="https://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/tajikistan-new-law-on-religious-organizations/">passed</a> a new “Law on Freedom of Conscience and&nbsp;Religious Organisations”, which placed restrictions over which religious organisations could register to operate in the country. Rahmon <a href="https://iwpr.net/global-voices/tajikistan-islamic-students-told-come-home">called</a> on the estimated 2,500 Tajik citizens studying Islam abroad to return home in October 2010, arguing they were becoming “terrorists.” And the 2011 “Law on Parental Responsibility” <a href="http://hrbrief.org/2012/02/tajikistan%E2%80%99s-parental-responsibility-law-preventing-extremism-or-violating-rights/">banned</a> under 18s from praying in mosques with the exception of funerals. Within this context of creeping authoritarianism, Thibault examines the “place of religion in society in contemporary Tajikistan”, blending analyses of these political developments with rich ethnographic vignettes illustrating how they are affecting citizens living in the country’s second largest city, Khujand. </p><p dir="ltr">Following a brief introduction, in Chapter One Thibault expounds on her approach, which she terms “neo-institutional ethnography,” and which combines a recognition of the continued “legacy of Soviet secularization” in the way the state approaches Islam with an examination of how Islam is lived and experienced by citizens. Chapter Two takes the reader through 70 years of Soviet secularisation, as Thibault explores debates within the Communist Party around the nature of scientific atheism and how the Soviet Union tried to manage religion in Central Asia. She examines how the Soviet authorities, having failed to eradicate religion, increasingly institutionalised it following World War II, rendering it subordinate to the state and making it an integral part of national identity, a topic discussed at greater length in a recent book by Eren Tasar.</p><p dir="ltr">Chapter Three takes the reader through the political history of post-independence Tajikistan from the civil war to the proclamation of Rahmon as “Leader of the Nation” in 2016. Thibault pays particular attention to the demise of the IRPT, illustrating its value to the local population through examples from her numerous visits to the party’s office in Khujand. The following chapter covers the various laws and institutions governing Islam in Tajikistan, as well as the government’s struggle to regulate the visual signs of piety in the country: beards and hijabs. The final chapter examines the impact this is having on the local population through examples from the lives of what the author calls “born-again” Muslims, individuals who have rediscovered their faith having been brought up in “secular” families. Through these examples, Thibault illustrates how Islam offers believers a moral guideline and way to cope with post-Soviet disorder characterised by a repressive regime, corruption and limited economic opportunities. </p><p dir="ltr">Rather than just looking at state policy or the way in which people have come to understand the world through Islam, Thibault’s book’s chief strength is its innovative approach – “institutional ethnography” – which draws attention to the interaction between the state and the population. She emphasises the way state secular policies are translated into local contexts, as well as how they are unevenly enforced and resisted by local people.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It is the state that usually politicises Islam, framing everyday expressions of piety as signs of radicalisation and transforming Islam into something in need of management</p><p dir="ltr">By understanding religion as a way to cope with post-Soviet disorder, Thibault’s book is a welcome riposte to alarmist accounts that view rising levels of religiosity as dangerous and potentially destabilising to the region. As the author notes: “Islamic values are sometimes seen as a way to find justice in the absence of a legitimate channel for expressing discontent.” Societal Islamisation is not the same as (violent) political radicalisation. For many, religion is part of daily life but lacks “any strong connection to political aspirations”. Instead it is the state that usually politicises Islam, framing everyday expressions of piety as signs of radicalisation and transforming Islam into something in need of management. </p><p dir="ltr">Transforming Tajikistan offers a snapshot of the period when the country was still transitioning to a more authoritarian regime, with repercussions on the space and possibility to conduct research on sensitive topics. The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw/consequences-of-detention-of-alexander-sodiqov">arrest</a> of PhD student Alexander Sodiqov, from the University of Toronto, in June 2014 in Khorog on espionage charges sent out a clear warning signal to academics. Although some researchers have managed to continue to conduct research on everyday Islam in Tajikistan, replicating Thibault’s research with IRPT activists is now no longer a possibility. </p><p dir="ltr">Due to the prioritisation of depth over breadth inherent to the use of ethnography, a number of further questions for future research emerge from Thibault’s book. The author’s ethnography focuses on “strict believers,” individuals who pray five times a day, have been on the hajj, fast during the Holy Month of Ramadan and keep halal. Such individuals remain in a minority in Tajikistan, where most people claim to be Muslim but do not actively practice the religion on a daily basis. Survey data from the time of Thibault’s study indicated that 39% of Tajiks prayed five times a day, which is likely an overestimation. </p><p dir="ltr">What do these less religious individuals think of state policies to manage religion? How successful has the state campaign to shape secular citizens through education and the state media been? Why are certain individuals targeted with repressive measures and others allowed to live visibly pious lives? Such questions address how the authoritarian state operates and how effectively it exercises power. Unfortunately, research on such topics has become <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw-edward-schatz/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-endangered">increasingly difficult in authoritarian Tajikistan</a> and researchers have come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Researched at a time when such data collection was easier, Thibault’s book is accessible, concise and offers a fantastic entry-point for those interested in knowing more about what is happening in this oft-misunderstood Central Asian republic. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/michael-andersen/khayrullo-mirsaidov">Khayrullo Mirsaidov: the journalist from Tajikistan who received 12 years in prison for his honesty and courage</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/free-fatima-tajik-regime-children-political-exiles-hostages">#FreeFatima: how the Tajik regime treats the children of political exiles as hostages</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/john-heathershaw-edward-schatz/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-endangered">Academic freedom in Tajikistan endangered: what is to be done?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">The long echo of Tajikistan’s civil war</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/franco-galdini/islam-in-kyrgyzstan-growing-in-diversity">Islam in Kyrgyzstan: growing in diversity</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> oD Russia oD Russia Edward Lemon Tajikistan Tue, 04 Sep 2018 06:29:17 +0000 Edward Lemon 119525 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan’s blocking of websites is a sign of further restrictions online https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijans-blocking-of-websites <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This month has seen yet another series of attacks on internet freedom.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Meydan_Azerbaijan.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The website of exile Azerbaijani news site MeydanTV, which was blocked earlier this year. </span></span></span>It has been a busy month for the Cyber Security Service at Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Transport, Communication and High Technologies. </p><p dir="ltr">Since early August, the service has targeted a number of independent news websites – first requesting them to remove specific content, and later blocking access to these websites altogether. The blocking came after the websites featured articles on the corrupt practices of certain government officials, other stories merely reported on local grievances. Editors and journalists have been summoned to the prosecutor office for questioning over the published articles, though the editors are reluctant to comply. In their public statements, editors say there was no slander nor misinformation in any of the articles published. </p><p dir="ltr">Here, the Azerbaijani authorities are relying on legislative amendments passed in 2017 to the “Law on Information, Informatisation and Protection of Information”. According to these amendments, if a website contains prohibited information that poses danger to state or society (“special circumstances”), the relevant authority can block the website without a court order within eight hours of notifying the manager and editor of a website. The lack of necessity for a court order (although in regular circumstances it must be obtained) allowed the authorities to block some of the most prominent news outlets in Azerbaijan. </p><p dir="ltr">Since May 2017, over 20 websites have been blocked in Azerbaijan, including Azadliq Radio (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Azerbaijan Service) and its international service, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Azadliq Newspaper (independent of the Azadliq radio), Meydan TV, Turan TV and Azerbaijan Saadi (Azerbaijan Hour), OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Unit), abzas.net, obyektiv.tv and others. </p><p dir="ltr">When in May 2017 a court upheld the decision to block access to Azadliq Radio and others, it did so on the ground that these outlets promoted violence, hatred, extremism, violated privacy or constituted slander. This time, the decision to block access is similar, although it focuses more on slander and spreading misinformation. An editor of one of the recently blocked websites (az24saat.org) was asked to remove four articles that mentioned Ali Hasanov, an aide to President Ilham Aliyev. Monitortv.info, which was among the blocked websites, also received a note requesting the removal of articles mentioning Ali Hasanov on the grounds that these stories contained slander and lies. </p><p dir="ltr">There is no official data on the number of blocked websites in Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Communication, High Technologies and Transportation has so far failed to provide accurate lists. This in itself is a <a href="https://alasgarmaammadli.blogspot.com/2018/07/onlayn-internet-resurslar-qanuna-zidd.html">violation</a> of Article 13.3.6 of the Law on Information, Informatisation and Access to Information, which requests the Ministry to prepare a list of blocked websites if it has blocked access to a resource and the court upheld this decision. </p><p dir="ltr">In the absence of an official resource, independent media experts such as Alasgar Mammadli argue there are far more websites currently blocked than reported – he puts the number at roughly 60. My own tests conducted during recent research at the Berkman Center for Internet Society show roughly half that number. &nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">Keeping information away from the public</h2><p dir="ltr">In July 2018, the Prosecutor General's Office <a href="https://azertag.az/xeber/Bas_Prokurorluq_Sosial_sebekelerde_ve_bezi_saytlarda_texribat_xarakterli_chagirislarla_elaqedar_cinayet_isi_baslanilib-1178164">launched</a> criminal investigations against four news websites: criminal.az, bastainfo.com, topxeber.az and fia.az. The former two were accused of “knowingly spreading false information,” while the latter two were accused of “spreading unfounded, sensational claims in order to confuse the public.” Criminal.az is an independent website, known for its coverage of crime-related news, while bastainfo.com is affiliated with the opposition party Musavat. The latter two are run-of-the-mill online news websites. </p><p dir="ltr">The decision to block these websites came in the aftermath of <a href="http://oc-media.org/two-police-officers-killed-in-ganja-rally-after-botched-assassination-on-mayor/">events in Ganja</a>, the country’s third largest city, where three people were killed in the span of just a few days. First on 3 July, the city mayor was seriously injured in an attempted assassination, and just days later, two police officers were killed in what authorities described as riots. The authorities were quick to <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/attacks-in-azerbaijan-raise-accusations-of-islamist-extremism-government-skullduggery">blame</a> Islamic extremists for the attacks and the unrest. But independent pundits saw these claims as a means to prevent information from reaching the public. </p><p dir="ltr">For press freedom advocates watching the events unfold in Azerbaijan over the past two months, there are plenty of signs that the authorities are coming after what is the only remaining space for dissent in Azerbaijan, the Internet. For years now, authorities in Azerbaijan have been notorious for clamping down on press freedom, whether by jailing or intimidating journalists, shutting down publications and fining independent newspapers. And since 2013, there has also been a clear <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey-marcin-de-kaminski/azerbaijans-digital-crackdown">trend</a> in curbing down on internet freedoms in Azerbaijan. </p><p dir="ltr">Over the years, attempts by members of the parliament “to control” social media platforms in order to avoid “external forces” from spreading misinformation on Azerbaijan have become more frequent. The most recent example <a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/43723/">includes at least 14 people being arrested</a> for their social media posts on the grounds of making “illegal appeals”. As a result, some of these people were <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/29562/">sentenced</a> to administrative detention. At least three face criminal charges for allegedly “supporting terrorism” and “disrupting social and political stability”. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/could-a-hashtag-challenge-the-aliyev-regime">Could a hashtag challenge the Aliyev regime? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey-marcin-de-kaminski/azerbaijans-digital-crackdown">Azerbaijan’s digital crackdown requires a political solution </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-bystrov/how-to-clear-belarus-of-independent-media-in-one-easy-step">With attacks on independent media, the &quot;thaw&quot; in Belarus is over</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ismail-djalilov-and-tamara-grigoryeva/injustice-for-all%20">Injustice for all: how Azerbaijan’s bar association was reduced to tatters </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Azerbaijan Fri, 31 Aug 2018 07:40:04 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 119408 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Will the war in Russia’s North Caucasus ever end? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denis-sokolov/will-the-war-in-russias-north-caucasus-ever-end <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Over the past 200 years, war and colonisation has defined Russia’s North Caucasus. But in a period of relative calm, significant changes are still underway. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denis-sokolov/severniy-kavkaz-buduschee-frontira" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-08-24 um 14.44.36_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-08-24 um 14.44.36_0.png" alt="" title="" width="452" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grandparents and grandchildren in a mountain village, Dagestan. Photo by CC-by-NC-2.0: Dagestan Mountains and People Partnership / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 4 August 2018, tens of thousands of mourners <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-temerkhanov-convicted-killing-budyanov-russian-colonel-buried-chechnya/29412668.html">gathered in the Chechen village of Geldagen</a> to bury Yusup Temerkhanov. Thousands more sent their condolences via WhatsApp. Temerkhanov died in a Siberian prison hospital during a 15-year sentence for the murder of Yuri Budanov. A Russian army colonel, Budanov had been convicted in 2003 for the kidnapping and murder of Elza Kungayeva, a Chechen woman, during the Second Chechen War. He was released on parole in 2009 – and shot dead in Moscow two years later. </p><p dir="ltr">Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who was present at the funeral, said in his eulogy that Temerkhanov’s guilt hadn’t been proven and that he had been unjustly convicted. But the crowd of people in Geldagen had gathered to honour the memory of the man who had become the embodiment of a nation’s revenge for the rape and murder of a young Chechen woman by a Russian war criminal. </p><p dir="ltr">For one part of the Russian Federation, General Alexey Yermolov, the man who conquered the Caucasus in the 19th century, and Colonel Yuri Budanov are the heroes. For the other, it’s Imam Shamil, the man who led the resistance to Russia’s designs on the Caucasus, and Yusup Temerkhanov who are the good guys. In 200 years of Russian conquest in the Caucasus, let alone the 25 years of post-Soviet history, this frontier has always been there. </p><p dir="ltr">This is the first part of a series of articles on the unfinished war in the North Caucasus today. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Two centuries of co-existence</h2><p dir="ltr">Administratively, the North Caucasus (officially, the Northern-Caucasus Federal Okrug – SKFO) consists of six national republics of the Russian Federation, each named after its majority ethnic group, along with Stavropol Krai. It has a combined population of nearly 10 million people representing several dozen ethnicities. The largest of these, according to the <a href="http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/perepis2010/croc/perepis_itogi1612.htm">2010 census</a>, are Chechens (1,335,857), Avars (865,348), Circassians (Kabardians and Circassians – 564,226), Dargins (541,552), Ossetins (481,492), Kumyks (466,769), Ingush (418,996) and Lezgins (396,408). Of these, only Chechnya, where ethnic Chechens make up 93.5% of the population and Ingushetia (with 94.1% Ingush) can be considered mono-ethnic. The most mixed region is Dagestan, with members of more than 30 peoples and ethnic groups represented in the population. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Tindi,_Daghestan_(M._de_Déchy,_late_1890s).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Tindi,_Daghestan_(M._de_Déchy,_late_1890s).jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="220" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The village of Tindi, in Daghestan, in the late 1890s. Photo: Moriz von Déchy (1851-1917). Source: Wiki Commons.</span></span></span>The North Caucasus is also home to a quarter of Russia’s Muslims, with a high proportion of Muslims concentrated in the eastern part of the region – in the republics of Dagestan (96% Muslim), Chechnya (97% Muslim) and Ingushetia (99% Muslim). In the western part of the region, thanks to a considerable ethnic Russian minority, as well as Ossetians, many of whom have adopted Christianity, and Christian Armenians and Greeks, there is a lower proportion of ethnic Muslims. In Kabardino-Balkaria they make up 71.5% of the population; in Karachay-Cherkessia 64%; in North Ossetia just 15% and in the Stavropol Krai a mere 4.5% – and the proportion of practising Muslims is correspondingly smaller. </p><p dir="ltr">When people talk about the North Caucasus, they also often refer to Krasnodar Krai and Adygea, which are outside the SKFO. In the 19th-20th centuries, these areas were, like Stavropol Krai, almost completely colonised by settlers from other parts of what was first the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union. Out of the original indigenous North Caucasus ethnic groups, only Circassians (officially divided into Adygeans, Circassians, Kabardinians and Shapsugs), Abazins and Nogai remain in those parts of the Russian Federation. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">The conquest of the North Caucasus by Russia has been going on for over two centuries, beginning in the 19th century with the Caucasian War of 1817-1864. This period saw the practical disappearance of the Adygean (Circassian) military aristocracy, with hundreds of thousands of Circassians deported to the Ottoman Empire. </p><p dir="ltr">In Chechnya and Dagestan, resistance to Russian colonisation was organised by members of the Murid Islamic religious order, the Naqshbandi Tariqa, whose Sheikh, and spiritual leader of the famous Imam Shamil, was the no less famous and respected Muhammad Yaragsky. After the end of the Caucasus War, Russia put down several bloody uprisings.</p><p dir="ltr">After the Civil War (1917 -1923), in which Caucasus people fought for both the Reds and the Whites, the Soviets began a systematic extermination of the regional intelligentsia, Islamic clergy and wealthy families as part of the repressions and collectivisation of the 1920s and 1930s. These actions by the Soviet authorities were accompanied by firstly, organised uprisings and later, sporadic action by small partisan groups whose resistance continued right up to the Second World War and was gradually replaced by robbing the local population and state establishments.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Chechens_AukhYurt_1957_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chechens deported from the village of Aukh-Yurt, Dagestan (now Kalinin-Aul) at a railway station in Soviet Central Asia in 1957, after being permitted to make the long journey back to their homeland. CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>The Second World War carried off half the male population of some mountain villages, most of whom were called up and dispatched to the front. In 1944, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and Karachay, most of them women, children and the elderly, were deported to Central Asia; they were only able to return in 1957. In the second half of the 1940s and the 1950s, it was generally women who restored life to village communities which had almost disappeared. After a preliminary annihilation of the military, intellectual and economic elite and the clergy, the industrialisation of agriculture and an invasion of Russian school teachers was supposed to finally turn traditional mountain villages into collective farms and their residents into ordinary Soviet farm workers.</p><p dir="ltr">It seemed as though after two post-war Soviet generations, the plan had worked. But by the end of the 1980s, national movements of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasian republics started making their presence felt. Local activists, inspired by the end of the ban on free discussion, the partial acknowledgement of Russian and Soviet repressive rule in the region and the exit of some Union Republics from the USSR held meetings and rallies at which they expressed their lack of trust in the Soviet party-economic nomenclature and started discussing self-determination and independence within the USSR, RSFSR or a new mountain republic. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The internal decolonisation of the North Caucasus</h2><p dir="ltr">The 1970s saw the beginnings of ethnic Russian emigration from Cossack villages in Stavropol Krai, Rostov region, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Checheno-Ingushetia and Ossetia and from Russian villages in the Kizlyar and Tarumovsky districts of Dagestan: young people went off to university in the cities and didn’t return. The settler population of the North Caucasus was rapidly growing old. </p><p dir="ltr">The first contested elections brought members of local ethnic elites to power almost everywhere. Without the support of the government, Russians, Ukrainians and members of other groups whose forefathers had either been resettled in the Caucasus five or six generations earlier or who had moved there quite recently at the time of Soviet manufacturing and agricultural industrialisation quickly lost their means of upward social mobility and political status. The more aggressively-minded members of local communities plastered the fences and walls of Grozny and Nalchik with messages such as “Russians go home!” </p><p dir="ltr">It was not just Russians, of course, who were leaving north Caucasian cities. Local members of the scientific and technical intelligentsia, Soviet white collar and skilled blue collar workers were also abandoning the region, either to increase their earning power or to permanently settle in Russia’s “inner” regions – Moscow, St Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don or north-west Siberia. But the settler population of the North Caucasus had an almost zero birth-rate (Armenian, Meskhetian Turk and Greek populations were another story, but one I will touch on here).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/5532383968_8e09455a92_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Buses leaving for Moscow from Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. CC BY 2.0 Un Bolshakov / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>In the 1990s, the population balance of the eastern North Caucasus republics changed by several dozen percent, and the population drain in the western part is still continuing, even in Stavropol Krai, where of the peoples living in the region before the Russian conquest only 22,000 members of the Nogai people and two Kabardian villages remain. The central point of ethnic Russian occupation moves 10 kilometres to the north west every year, and settlers from Dagestan, Chechnya, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria are moving in to replace them.</p><p dir="ltr">Soviet and now Russian census figures show that the highest rate of Russification in the North Caucasus took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before a gradual outflow of settler population groups that turned into a veritable exodus of Russians, Ukrainians and Jews (and in some areas Armenians) in the 1990s and 2000s. </p><p dir="ltr">In 1926, 12.5% of the population of Dagestan was Russian and 17.6% was Avar (the largest indigenous population group). By 1959, 20% was Russian and 22.5% Avar, but then the trend changed: in 1979 only 11% of the population was Russian and 25% Avar; in 1989 the figures were respectively 9% and 27.5%; in 2002 they were 4.7% and 29.4% and in 2010, 3.57% Russian and 29.2% Avar. </p><p dir="ltr">In Stavropol Krai in 1959, 91.3% of the population was Russian and only 0.05% Dargin (members of this ethnic group had just begun to migrate). In 2010 Russians still made up 80% of the population, and Dargins 1.77% according to official figures (experts put the figure at twice that). In 1979, 20 years after the Chechens returned from deportation, 30% of their republic’s population was Russian and 60% Chechen: the figures for 1989 were respectively 24.8% and 66% and in 2010, according to the last census, 95.8% of the population was Chechen and only 1.92% Russian. Finally, the population of Kabardino-Balkaria in 1959 was 45.3% Kabardian, 8.11% Balkar and 38.7% Russian, whilst in 2010, 57% was Kabardian, 22.5% Russian and 12.6% Balkar.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia's southern Caucasus frontier is nevertheless not only not dissolving due to urbanisation, the global market and the power vertical, but is, on the contrary, becoming ever more substantial and profound</p><p dir="ltr">At the start of the 1990s, the North Caucasus republics were governed by two types of leader. The first included Djokhar Dudayev in Chechnya and Ruslan Aushev in Ingushetia, both Soviet Army generals who turned to politics on the wave of national movements, a repudiation of the Soviet nomenklatura system and a tendency among participants of national movements towards militarisation.</p><p dir="ltr">The second type comprised representatives of ethnic nomenklatura groups who managed to hang on to power. They included Magomedali Magomedov, head of the Presidium of Dagestan’s Supreme Soviet; Valery Kokov, who fulfilled the same function in Kabardino-Balkaria; Aleksandr Galazov, First Secretary of the regional committee of the North Ossetian Communist Party and Vladimir Khubiyev, President of the Karachayev-Cherkessian Republic. Former Soviet officials had to take account of local ethnocentric movements and learn, in the end, how to control them. </p><p dir="ltr">In Moscow, meanwhile, a cut-throat battle for power was raging, and in October 1993 it descended into armed conflict in the centre of the capital. And the North Caucasus would have remained on the periphery of the political agenda had it not been for the outbreak of war in Chechnya in 1994. The years that followed saw the North Caucasus become the epicentre of politically motivated armed conflict in Russia: as well as the Chechen Wars of 1994-1996 and 1999-2009, there was the Ossetian-Ingush conflict in North Ossetia’s Prigorod district in 1992 and the attack on Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, in October 2005. In addition, there were almost 20 years of underground armed Islamic activity and a spate of terrorist attacks both inside then region and elsewhere – in Moscow, Volgodonsk, Volgograd and St Petersburg. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">The Caucasus frontier: the calm before the storm? </h2><p dir="ltr">Today, the North Caucasus is relatively quiet. The Caucasus Emirate, a militant Jihadist organisation active between 2007 and 2015, has been <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/regis-gente/is-this-end-of-caucasus-emirate">defeated</a>; thousands of Islamic dissidents have been killed in special operations or are behind bars and tens of thousands of jihadis have left the country. Several thousand Caucasus residents fought for ISIS at its peak of activity, but it is now moribund, and only concerned with returning the wives and children of dead mujahedeen to their homes. </p><p dir="ltr">Chechnya is headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, who calls himself “Putin’s Infantryman”; Dagestan is under external management by Russian Internal Ministry General Vladimir Vasiliyev, who has now turned to politics; and Yuri Kokov, another general and the former head of the Internal Ministry’s anti-extremism directorate, is in charge of Kabardino-Balkaria. Other republics are in the hands of experienced Moscow bureaucrats. The regional FSB, meanwhile looks after the financial side of things, elections and the appointment of heads of areas of financial or political importance. </p><p dir="ltr">Objectively speaking, no North Caucasus republic has any human, organisational, intellectual or financial resources that would allow it to successfully implement any national sovereignty project. Russia's southern Caucasus frontier is nevertheless not only not dissolving due to urbanisation, the global market and the power vertical, but is, on the contrary, becoming ever more substantial and profound. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">No North Caucasus republic has any human, organisational, intellectual or financial resources that would allow it to successfully implement any national sovereignty project</p><p dir="ltr">The Caucasus has a long memory: it doesn’t just remember the Chechen wars of 15 years ago. Every year, on 21 May, thousands of Circassians gather in Nalchik, Cherkessk, Istanbul, Berlin and New York to commemorate the 19th century Caucasian War, and the Kabardino-Balkarian regional authorities don’t openly obstruct this action. </p><p dir="ltr">More than 25 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the North Caucasus has not only not dissolved in Russia’s post-Soviet urban environment, but has, with unexpected help from today’s means of communication, revitalised its religious and ethnic identity. Young Circassians in Moscow or Turkey may not be able to speak their mother tongue, but they can write in Circassian because they “meet up” in Circassian social network groups. Caucasians travel all over the world, but modern means of communication allow them to create and maintain trans-ethnic networks in the form of village societies, religious communities and ethnic groups. <br class="kix-line-break" />People from the North Caucasus are much less trusting of the Russian judicial system than most other Russians and so often attempt to resolve conflicts among themselves, de facto refusing to recognise the Russian legal system’s monopoly on violence. </p><p dir="ltr">The hermetic nature of Caucasus communities leads to the legal side of life in village society being governed by common or Shariat law and implemented collectively. This can mean factional fights using knives or guns. In city, migrant or business networks “professionals” – guerrilla leaders, private army warlords or criminal bosses – are brought in to act as muscle.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9598298812_5a3fe713b4_z_1_0_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2013: the house of the third wife of underground leader Magomed Suleimanov is destroyed by Russian security forces. CС Varvara Pakhomenko/International Crisis Group/Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>This way of doing things has serious consequences. Russian law enforcement agencies, employers, bureaucrats and even ordinary citizens renting out accommodation in the big cities mistrust and fear people from the North Caucasus, regarding them as alien outsiders. And this mistrust, mutual dislike and fear, stoked from time to time by the Russian media as they both report the real presence of Muslims in the war in Syria and terrorist attacks around the world and at the same time take advantage of the collective reputation of Muslims and Caucasians to inflate any minor offence, is not only not on the wane, but is growing in strength.</p><p dir="ltr">This only too perceptible frontier between Russia and the North Caucasus works like a fully-fledged institution that accumulates mutual claims on social, political, religious, legal, economic and quasi-criminal levels on a daily basis. Every time the Russian authorities lose control of the regional elites or FSB, a new armed conflict breaks out from nowhere. The threat of armed violence and terrorist attacks will only disappear when the frontier is either abandoned completely or turned into an official administrative or state border.</p><p dir="ltr">And this is all under the control of the “unseen hand of the political market”, where the law enforcement bodies can take on the function of a protection racket (and warlords like Makhachkala’s former mayor Said Amirov maintain security service officers as their private army), or, on the other hand, turn back into a protection racket (when, for example, officers of the Kabardino-Balkaria anti-extremism department try to provide “protection” for a construction company or an illegal distillery). <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">Acquiring sovereignty is a two-stage process. You first have to create and consolidate sub-elites, on both sides of the frontier, who are looking for political independence and so aspire to a monopoly on protection income. As the experience of the Chechen conflict and the Caucasian Emirate has shown, this income needn’t necessarily come from your own territory: what is important is that governmental or quasi-governmental institutions will allow you to receive it. For the thing to work, your sovereign elites will need their own legal system and means of withdrawing income (money, a tariff policy and fiscal services) in large enough quantities to maintain independence and public safety. There are already societies in the North Caucasus <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/gubden-dagestan-where-radicals-police-themselves">with their own judicial system and social infrastructure</a>, but there are no elites interested in sovereignty: the Russian exchequer pays more and hands out cash more freely. </p><p dir="ltr">The second stage is armed conflict. An external conflict turns a protection racket into an army, an internal one into a police force and a terrorist war into a hit squad. The quarter century of post-Soviet Caucasus history is the history of a fight for income aided by internal and external conflicts. An absence of social mobility for the young, radical ethnic and religious ideologies, a conflict of generations, urbanisation – these are all well-known factors that, like dry sticks, burn well in the flames of political struggle. </p><p dir="ltr">While rents from land and infrastructure bring in less income than corruption and funding from the state, Russia’s Caucasus frontier will remain a subject for anthropological research. When this relationship changes, it will turn into either a frontline of battle or a state border. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/the-second-chechen-war">The Second Chechen War: Testimony of an Eyewitness</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/federal-control-in-the-north-caucasus">How the Kremlin’s anti-corruption agenda masks federal control in the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikail-kaplan/pressure-on-regional-languages-is-sparking-civic-activism-in-the-north-caucasus">How Russian state pressure on regional languages is sparking civic activism in the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/kumyk-people-are-still-fighting-territorial-claims">Seventy years on, the Kumyk people in Dagestan are still fighting territorial claims</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-real-urban-planning-could-address-the-demographic-challenge">How real urban planning could address the demographic challenge in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Denis Sokolov Russia Caucasus Tue, 28 Aug 2018 19:26:59 +0000 Denis Sokolov 119433 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Second Chechen War: Testimony of an Eyewitness https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/the-second-chechen-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Chechen journalist Abdul Itslayev lived out the Second Chechen War in his native village. Against a backdrop of rocket attacks, murder and robbery, he tried to piece together what, in fact, was happening.&nbsp;<em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/vyzhit-v-goiskom" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.22.14_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.22.14_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Note from the editors: In August 1999, Russian forces started a brutal air campaign against Chechnya, killing and forcing tens of thousands to flee. Weeks later, after a series of apartment block bombings in Russia, President Putin declared the Chechen President and parliament illegitimate, and ordered a ground invasion.</em> </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Abdul Itslayev experienced this conflict in his home village of Goiskoe, located in the Urus-Martan district, south-west of Grozny, the capital. Here we publish an excerpt of his forthcoming memoirs.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr">The second war arrived in my native village of Goiskoye on Friday 10 September, 1999. </p><p dir="ltr">There were two rounds of aerial bombing, the first at 11.30, the second at 13.30. Their targets: a television relay station and a bridge spanning the Goitinka River. Residential houses were destroyed as well. Flying fragments injured Akho Bakayev and killed old Zelimkhan Ibiyev on the spot. </p><p dir="ltr">On a road not for from the bridge, a car carrying my neighbour and teacher Mansur Eskiev and his wife and children was riddled with holes. On the second morning they all set off for Georgia, and from there to Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">My own house didn’t escape unscathed. A dozen fragments struck the roof and another flew in through a window and lodged itself in the wall. I’d built my two-room khibara (hut) the year before using materials salvaged from the ruins of my parents’ house, destroyed during the first war. My hut may have resembled a barn more than anything else, but I delighted in it as if it were a palace. Having a roof over your head is any refugee’s dream. And that’s what I was, having spent over two years homeless. </p><p dir="ltr">Fifty metres from there, on the site of the destroyed house, stood my mother’s home. Built out of used brick, it boasted a slate roof and a basement – the only one in the whole area. Neighbours would take refuge there during air raids and shelling. My mother lived with my sister and four brothers. We built this house between June and December 1996, coming in to do so from Urus-Martan, where we spent over a year living in the partially constructed house of a friend after our village was destroyed. </p><p dir="ltr">The air strikes shredded the power lines. The pumping station ceased to function in the absence of energy. We got water from the river. After it rained, the water was a mixture of sand and clay - and the sediment would fill half a bucket. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">No outsiders set foot in the village. This, everyone had decided, was Goiskoye’s fate: to be crushed by war for a second time</p><p dir="ltr">Our only connection with the outside world was an old transistor radio. Commenting on the movements of the army in Chechnya, General Manilov, representative of the Russian General Staff, would often mention Goiskoye. The strikes, he said, were being conducted against militant targets, even though there were absolutely nowhere to hide in the places he was talking about. Everything had been obliterated and bombed out back in 1996. </p><p dir="ltr">No outsiders set foot in the village. This, everyone had decided, was Goiskoye’s fate: to be crushed by war for a second time. Those who’d stayed put in the settlement numbered some four dozen people. </p><p dir="ltr">In early December, the shelling began to intensify. Military forces massed in the immediate vicinity of Urus-Martan.</p><p dir="ltr">They had missiles that detonated just above the ground, and they proved to be terrible weapons. Buildings ended up riddled top to bottom with fragments. Remaining in the village was no longer possible. Taking advantage of a window between raids, we relocated to my cousin’s place in neighbouring Alkhazurovo. Eight families holed up in the same house. Under a canopy in the yard was a dugout shelter for children and women. </p><p dir="ltr">The war, meanwhile, was following close on our heels. On the approach to Alkharzurovo, aerial strikes destroyed a Moskvich car and a motorbike being used by Salambek Soslambekov and Mumaid Gabzayev to transport some household things. Both Soslambekov and Gabzayev perished; Lom-Ali Ingayev sustained a knee injury. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The first sweeps</h2><p dir="ltr">That morning, all Alkhazurovo was talking about a column of militants.</p><p dir="ltr">Leaving Urus-Martan, they’d retreated to the Argun River gorge via Martan-chu, Goy-chu and Alkhazurovo. There were no Russian planes in the air while the column was on the move. The artillery remained silent the whole night through. We were far from the “big road” and neither heard nor saw the militants. The next morning brought more news: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhmed_Zakayev">Akhmed Zakayev</a> had stopped here for the night but left in the small hours and said that he’d be relocating to Georgia. </p><p dir="ltr">In the evening, a car pulled up by the gates. I came out to the car and saw Adam Gatsayev. Around three years younger than me, he’d once been my student. The period between the two wars saw him working for the village administration. He had news, and a question to ask me:</p><p dir="ltr">“Military forces have entered Urus-Martan. Representatives from three villages – Alkhazurovo, Goy-chu and Goiskoye – have been summoned there by Shamanov. Delegations will be travelling over from the first two, but we’ve no one to send. Yunus did promise but he’s old and sick. Come tomorrow he might not even be able to get up – or he might change his mind. Maybe your brother could make the journey with me?”</p><p dir="ltr">“That’s no place for my brother to be. If Yunus can’t or won’t go, I’ll go myself.”</p><p dir="ltr">After returning from Urus-Martan, Adam waited for me on the outskirts of Alkhazurovo. I squeezed my body, heavy with fatigue, into the Zhiguli. Adam told me what had happened en route: </p><p dir="ltr">“People had gathered from all over the district. Shamanov welcomed them in person. All the military men were seriously well oiled and there was a whole sea of vodka waiting to be drunk. And all this in the t mosque the Wahhabists built in the central square. Shamanov made a speech. He said that Goiskoye had given him a massive headache during the first war as well, and that now his intelligence operatives had been taken out there.”</p><p dir="ltr">“What operatives? I’ve not heard anything about this…” </p><p dir="ltr">“I understand that a Russian reconnaissance group encountered a group of militants who’d retreated from Urus-Martan. They took out an armoured personnel carrier... Shamanov promised to be in Goiskoye tomorrow at noon. The sweep will follow, whereupon the population will be able to return. That’s what Shamanov said.”</p><p dir="ltr">Vladimir Shamanov was the general who destroyed Goyskoye. Back in 1996, he’d also summoned village elders for negotiations outside Alkhazurovo and set them conditions that couldn’t be fulfilled. Then he summoned the helicopters. “At least allow the women and children to be evacuated!” they implored him. “No!” he replied.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The column was crawling along. Yards and houses were searched from top to bottom, basements and attics included. Anything that aroused the slightest suspicion was subjected to a microscopic examination</p><p dir="ltr">We, Adam and I, decided: Shamanov wouldn’t be coming tomorrow, and the sweep would commence in the morning. We needed to arrive in the village before the soldiers.</p><p dir="ltr">On the way to Goiskoye, Adam told me more about the previous day’s meeting. The district now had leaders chosen or appointed by God knows who. We too had just a single card to play: if anyone asked, we’d say we were local officials. The village streets were absolutely deserted. Adam parked the Zhiguli in my mother’s yard. Shana spent five minutes telling us about the events of the previous night– but then armoured vehicles materialised at the far end of the street, along with soldiers inching along fences.</p><p dir="ltr">We headed towards them, keeping strictly to the middle of the road. No words, no unnecessary movements. Like tin soldiers. The APCs stopped. Someone dropped to one knee and took aim at us. The butts of automatic rifles were poked into our napes, backs and stomachs: </p><p dir="ltr">“Who’re you?”</p><p dir="ltr">“Local officials. Tell your commander we’re here.” </p><p dir="ltr">Someone spoke into a walkie-talkie behind us. We were nudged onward: “Go! The commander’s at the end of the column.” The column was a good kilometre long. Before we reached the end we were stopped another dozen times, prodded with automatics, showered with profanities and sniffed by Alsatians. </p><p dir="ltr">Finally, we came upon a middle-aged military man wearing an astrakhan hat. </p><p dir="ltr">“I’m the commander of the internal troop brigade,” he said. “What did you want?”</p><p dir="ltr">“This is the first sweep. You ought to warn people, calm them down. We were expecting you at noon.”</p><p dir="ltr">“You have half an hour. Tell everyone: don’t lay a finger on my guys and I won’t lay a finger on you. I give you my word.” </p><p dir="ltr">Who had stayed put in the village? On what streets? Did they have documents or didn’t they? We were two ordinary guys, just like everyone else, we enjoyed no authority. But there was no doubt about it: people would listen to us. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.23.31_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.23.31_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="325" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Half an hour later we were back at the end of column. The colonel addressed us brusquely:</p><p dir="ltr">“Come with me. You’ll leave once the sweep is over. Yesterday,” he added, “they finished their inspection of Urus-Martan. 27 residents in the whole town. Would you believe it!” </p><p dir="ltr">The column was crawling along. Yards and houses were searched from top to bottom, basements and attics included. Anything that aroused the slightest suspicion was subjected to a microscopic examination. Reports and orders sounded over the walkie-talkie. Trailing two steps behind the officer, we heard someone exclaim in surprise: “Dirt-poor village, this is!” </p><p dir="ltr">The colonel glanced over at us: had we made out these words?</p><p dir="ltr">“Two years ago all this was just ruins,” said Adam. “At least there’s something here now.” </p><p dir="ltr">Another report over the radio:</p><p dir="ltr">“We’re here in the southern zone, we’ve just stopped a Moskvich with three people inside and a bloody axe and knives under the seat. We’ve roughed them up a bit…”</p><p dir="ltr">I guessed who “they” were:</p><p dir="ltr">“They’re from Urus-Martan, butcher’s sons. They’ve holed up at their uncle’s, relocated to Alkhazurovo together with us. Order them not to be beaten.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Don’t touch them until I arrive,” ordered the colonel. </p><p dir="ltr">All three were stood by the flung-open doors of the Moskvich, muddied, bruised, one of them with blood on his face. Recognising me, they addressed me by name, and I by theirs. </p><p dir="ltr">“Let them go on their way,” said the commander.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.24.21_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.24.21_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This was the first and last sweep to have involved next to no bloodshed. All the subsequent ones – and, in the first year of the counter-terrorism operation, they were conducted at least two or three times monthly – featured arrests, beatings, zindans (underground prisons), fingerprinting, widespread looting.</p><p dir="ltr">The second sweep followed a different playbook. The village was blocked off to the world before sunrise: no exit, no entry. The two generals in charge of the special op – Yakov Nedobitko and Viktor Medveditskov – stationed themselves on the village’s southern outskirts, near a roadblock. Close by was the filtropunkt (“filtration point”) to which all male residents aged 12 to 65 were being herded. Later, an old quarry in the north-eastern outskirts was transformed into a filtropunkt (and fingerprinting facility) as well.</p><p dir="ltr">If the first sweep didn’t fray people’s nerves, all restraints were now cast aside: rudeness, boorishness, high-handedness... Complaints from all sides: “They confiscated this, took away that, stole this, made off with that.” </p><p dir="ltr">Even my hut was picked clean. The items taken included old notebooks, a camera, a Dictaphone, a couple of t-shirts, and a honey harvesting tent. The hives themselves weren’t touched.</p><p dir="ltr">We now faced our first “official” ransom demand: one ram. </p><p dir="ltr">A relative fleeing Chechnya had left a Mercedes in Uvais Kayev’s yard. As for the documentation and keys, he either took them with him or left them in someone’s keeping. Whose? This remained a mystery. Some military men smashed one of the windows, opened the door, combed the interior of the car. The trunk wouldn’t open, not even with the help of a crowbar. So the officer laid down a condition: “Either you cough up a ram or the car gets towed!” </p><p dir="ltr">“The old master of the house has no sheep.”</p><p dir="ltr">“There’s sheep in the village. He can buy one.” </p><p dir="ltr">Long story short: a ram took a ride in the last car involved in the special operation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Death squads come to Urus-Martan</h2><p dir="ltr">The “federals” reported the coordinates of the mass grave site in the old quarry. Close by stood the 245th Motorised Rifle Regiment (notorious for its atrocities) and a regiment under the command of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Budanov">Colonel Yuri Budanov</a>. Even before his arrest and trial, Budanov was, how to put it, a familiar face to everyone. Everyone knew about his conflict with Khavazhi Dzhambulatov, the administration chief of the village of Tangi-chu. The colonel fought him and was beaten on more than one occasion.</p><p dir="ltr">Flash-forward to a courtroom in Rostov-on-Don in 2003. Budanov glanced at the next witness, Dzhambulatov, and asked, his voice full of anxiety: “How did you get here?” </p><p dir="ltr">“You and I are both here on your account…”</p><p dir="ltr">But this was still yet to come. Back in the present, people were angry after the bodies of 69 people had been uncovered, near Urus-Martan at the start of 2000. The anger and indignation could lead pretty much anywhere, and so the “federals” refused to honour their promise – to show people another three burial pits. </p><p dir="ltr">Most of the corpses in the mass grave had been laid out in a row, face up, and covered with tarpaulin and earth. Bodies in another mass grave discovered north-east of the village of Novye Varandy, on the banks of the Argun, had been “committed to the ground” in identical fashion. This area was within the responsibility zone of regiments stationed outside Tangi-chu. Later, corpses of residents detained in villages on the banks of the Argun were found scattered in Tangi-chu cemetery.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the evenings, the curfew forced the town’s denizens into their homes. The streets became the domain of forces what were soon dubbed “death squads” by local residents</p><p dir="ltr">People returned to Urus-Martan; public transport started working again, as did the market. In the afternoons, the centre was completely full. But the town was buzzing like a hive about to disgorge a swarm of bees. Not a day passed without someone being killed or kidnapped...</p><p dir="ltr">In the evenings, the curfew forced the town’s denizens into their homes. The streets became the domain of forces what were soon dubbed “death squads” by local residents. They freely bypassed roadblocks and initially didn’t even cover up the side numbers of armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles or the registration marks of UAZs and Zhigulis.</p><p dir="ltr">When the victim count rose into the hundreds, the town authorities were finally able to secure the consent of the military commandant’s office to nightly patrols by (unarmed) local residents. These patrols took control of key intersections and streets, documenting and suppressing any unauthorised movements. The murders and kidnappings stopped. A week later, however, the patrol parties formed by the locals began to come under fire. They ought to have been reinforced, made capable of striking back. The military, however, had decided otherwise – and banned the townspeople from going on patrol… </p><p dir="ltr">The death squads once again became the sovereign masters of Urus-Martan after dark. Among their victims were two imams from the congregational mosque (Umar Idrisov and Hasmagomed Umalatov), officials from local government agencies and security services, old people and young people. </p><p dir="ltr">The majority of the people who were kidnapped were unaccounted for. Some were found killed, tortured to death. Their remains were most often discovered in orchards outside Urus-Martan which had gone wild in the course of two wars. </p><p dir="ltr">There were two kidnappings in Goiskoye. Abducted directly from his house, Movldi Umayev struggled free and fled… only to be struck down by machine-gun fire. Aindi Dudurkayev, too, was dragged from his home at night by unknown individuals. Is he still alive? What fate befell him after his abduction, and where did it befall him? There’s no answer. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Without light or kerosene</h2><p dir="ltr">A different situation was developing in neighbouring Goy-chu. There was a roadblock manned by Rybinsk OMON personnel on the main road to the north of the village. A motorised rifle regiment was stationed in the south, at the foot of the mountains. Meanwhile, the authorities were also putting the heat on the populace: “Your sympathies are with militants and you’re helping them out.” How exactly they were doing so remained unclear. Forget about a human slipping through the regiment’s lines – a woodland creature hadn’t a hope in hell of doing it. </p><p dir="ltr">In late February-early March, however, the bulwark was found to have a breach through which a small group of militants had made their way into the village. The group surrendered, and the military summoned the village residents to a meeting. The generals threatened to wipe the settlement from the face of the earth. But the village’s military commandant – a captain everyone knew (Volodya) – asked the generals not to call in the planes: “I have to live with these people, I have to work with them…”</p><p dir="ltr">A day or two later, people started talking about a second group of militants who’d managed to make it through the cordons. The voices of those who’d suddenly discovered a conspiracy between the military and the militants now began to make themselves heard. Quiet at first, these voices grew ever louder; the military had allegedly provided a corridor for the militants, and the latter, a detachment led by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbi_Barayev">Arbi Barayev</a>, advanced through it, proceeding via Goy-chu and Goiskoye. It immediately turned out that this occurred on a day when Goiskoye was subjected to yet another sweep. Having mentally reviewed its entire course, we suddenly discovered that a single empty farmstead had remained “unswept” in the village.</p><p dir="ltr">We drove down there and took a look. Footsteps from the gate led not to the house but to a cellar off to the side of it. The floor was thick with dirt left there by dozens of pairs of shoes. Who’d been hanging about here for so long – the “Barayevites” or the “sweepers”? </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.25.14_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.25.14_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There was still no light, and kerosene for lamps wasn’t available. Your eyes quickly get tired in the candlelight. You could find yourself some transistor radio batteries at the Urus-Martan market and spend whole nights listening to news broadcasts on various frequencies. It was as though broadcasts out of Chechnya and about Chechnya weren’t about us at all. You sometimes heard something akin to the truth from Radio Svoboda and other foreign “voices”. </p><p dir="ltr">As for the reports on the new radio station Chechnya Svobodnaya (Free Chechnya), they were just pure fiction. Listening to them, you’d have thought we Chechens had one foot in a bright future and another in veritable ocean of bliss. According to Chechnya Svobodnaya, it was only yesterday that our children did no studying and had only ever held machine guns in their hands; and as for today, well… </p><p dir="ltr">My daughter entered Year 1 in September 1998. In September 1999, she ran home from school in tears as bombs and rockets rained down on us. Her school was housed in a prefabricated panel house allocated for that purpose by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees following the destruction of Goiskoye – and, specifically, the school – in the spring of 1996. Windows covered with polyethylene film. No light (nor would there be for another ten months). No heat (no gas, no wood, no coal). Roadside orchards and strips of forest cut down for firewood. Desks, tables, chairs all ramshackle. Teachers were mostly in Ingushetia, as refugees. Some were already in Europe...</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Russia’s presidential elections were scheduled for 26 March 2000. The bullet-riddled school was to be used as a polling station serving the settlements of Goiskoye and Michurina, with voter lists already being compiled. </p><p dir="ltr">How to make all of this out from Moscow, to say nothing of the provinces?</p><h2 dir="ltr">Massacre in Goy-chu</h2><p dir="ltr">Daybreak brought the sounds of combat from Goy-chu.</p><p dir="ltr">The first news came a couple of hours later: something odd was happening, people were leaving their houses… </p><p dir="ltr">You could see from the Y-junction, from the roadblock that soldiers had formed a semi-circle around those people who’d managed to escape. According to two women who’d forced their way through the semi-circle, residents were cajoled and threatened back into their homes. </p><p dir="ltr">Towards evening, the denizens of Goy-chu had been convinced that the group of militants who had forced their way into the village were now neutralised and the village itself swept clean. No need to worry: federal forces were in control of the situation. The road to the village was completely blocked off. Neither Adam nor myself – nor, indeed, anyone desperate to know if their relatives were still alive – were allowed access to the settlement. </p><p dir="ltr">The din of the approaching battle floated in from Goy-chu throughout the night. Now, with the coming of morning, the village was being pounded by aerial and artillery strikes. Columns of military equipment were advancing through Goiskoye on their way to Goy-chu. At the crossroads between Alkhazurovo and Goy-chu, the carnage taking place in the latter was clearly visible: shells and rockets were tearing houses to shreds and sending plumes of smoke and fire into the sky.</p><p dir="ltr">Half a kilometre from the intersection, on the outskirts of the village, a vast crowd of men, women and children had amassed in a field. They had been encircled, and no one was allowed to leave the encirclement or to approach it. Here, at the fork in the road, the “operation’s” HQ had been set up in the military-occupied house of Visayev. Communicating through “intermediary” officers, residents of neighbouring settlements attempted to persuade the generals to release women and children from the encirclement. The generals, though, had other ideas…</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The slaughter went on for over two weeks. Abating at night, the intensity of the battles would reach a peak by noon</p><p dir="ltr">Towards lunchtime, we learned the names of dozens of Goy-chu residents who’d failed to flee the village before the aerial and artillery strikes began. Then, after lunch, information filtered through that there was neither food nor warm clothing within the encirclement. People started putting together food packages in Goiskoye and Alkhazurovo and bread was brought over from Urus-Martan.</p><p dir="ltr">In a field next to the roadblock stood a battery of regimental mortars as well as Buratino rocket launchers. They were firing over the heads of the thousands of Goy-chu residents taken hostage by the military. These people’s houses, all their possessions, the village itself – it was being destroyed before their very eyes.</p><p dir="ltr">The slaughter went on for over two weeks. Abating at night, the intensity of the battles would reach a peak by noon. Having forced their way into the village from the south via the Goitinka River gorge, the militants reached the northern outskirts almost immediately. They were negotiated with, and then, after a turning point in the situation, methodically finished off – alongside local residents who hadn’t managed to flee the village in time.</p><p dir="ltr">Corpses... There were many of them. So many, in fact, that even six months, even a year later they wouldn’t let me sleep. Images of wounds, faces, clothing kept flickering before my eyes… They were brought in, freshly searched, either by military personnel conducting a post-battle sweep or else by the funeral team of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Clothes unbuttoned, pockets turned out, often shoeless...</p><p dir="ltr">Each corpse was photographed and filmed. Dress, appearance, approximate age, possessions – all this was recorded. Their official papers rarely turned up, and these records were supposed to help identify them. And so it frequently proved: over half of the individuals committed nameless to the ground went on to acquire names. Some were identified immediately, and relatives would either take away the corpse or bury it here, alongside the others.</p><p dir="ltr">It wasn’t only Chechens from settlements near and far who were searching for “their own” among the dead. One day a Russian general arrived:</p><p dir="ltr">“My intelligence operatives never left this village. I was informed that the corpses of some non-Muslims with wire-bound hands were brought here yesterday...”</p><p dir="ltr">“There were no such corpses here.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I’d like my guys to take a look at yesterday’s corpses.”</p><p dir="ltr">They left their weapons in the vehicle, inspected a long row of dead bodies in the cemetery – and recognised not a single one. Nor would it have been easy to do so: identifying familiar features on mutilated bodies crushed by rubble or lying for weeks under the open sky isn’t a straightforward matter. Some, the charred ones, were completely unidentifiable. A bloody mess where the face should be. Noses and ears cut off, throats slashed. There wasn’t a single elderly face.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Abdul Itslayev Russia Caucasus Tue, 28 Aug 2018 13:13:34 +0000 Abdul Itslayev 119445 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who is ordering attacks on activists in Ukraine? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/who-is-ordering-attacks-on-activists-in-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Ukraine, activists are being attacked, and law enforcement is standing idle. The pressure on civil society has become systematic. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-kozak/kto-zakazal-aktivistov" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_11.53.01_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_11.53.01_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>CCTV shot of the alleged attacker of Ekaterina Gandzyuk. Source: Police of the Kherson region.</span></span></span>The attack on activist Kateryna Gandzyuk in the southern city of Kherson has become the last straw for Ukrainian civil society. On 31 July, an unidentified man doused Gandzyuk, who works for the executive committee of Kherson city council, with sulphur dioxide near the entrance to her apartment building. She was taken to hospital with burns on 30% of her body.</p><p dir="ltr">“I am almost sure that the person who ordered the attack has a uniform with epaulettes hanging in his wardrobe, and possibly more than one”, Gandzyuk <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/08/16/7189363/">told</a> Ukrainskaya Pravda. Kateryna is well known for her civic activism, campaigning against police corruption and pro-Russian elements in the Kherson region. Indeed, she and her colleagues believe that this work was the reason for the attack.</p><p dir="ltr">Not trusting the police, who could have their own reasons for attacking Gandzyuk, activists demanded that the case be handed over to Ukraine’s Security Service. A month earlier, Kherson journalist Serhiy Nikitenko, another activist who like Gandzyuk had exposed the actions of pro-Russian forces in the area, was <a href="http://gordonua.com/news/politics/izbityy-v-hersone-zhurnalist-nikitenko-opoznal-napadavshih-251490.html">beaten up</a>. In this sense, Kateryna says that the attack against her was not unexpected.</p><p dir="ltr">“After crimes (against activists) went unsolved in Odesa, and the Kherson police took 32 days to establish the fact that Nikitenko was a journalist, I felt it would be me next,” Kateryna Gandzyuk <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1854177837961065&amp;set=a.564728083572720.1073741826.100001066002053&amp;type=3&amp;theater">told</a> friends and colleagues who visited her in hospital the day after the incident. “I’m not scared – it’s all part of my work,” she added.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/12718029_10209760579837680_14445405705609824_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/12718029_10209760579837680_14445405705609824_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kateryna Gandzyuk. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>The local police initially classified the attack on Gandzyuk as hooliganism, but after the mayor of Kherson added his voice to those calling for a more serious qualification, they changed the charge to grievous bodily harm with the object of intimidation, and then changed it yet again – to attempted murder. On the fourth day after the attack, a suspect appeared: the police arrested Kherson resident Nikolay Novikov. The investigation later turned up a second potential attacker; the police posted his photo and asked the public to help identify him. They also established where the acid had been bought.</p><p dir="ltr">However, activists and journalists who are carrying out a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/gandziukgate/?fref=mentions">parallel investigation</a> believe that the police are looking in the wrong direction and that Novikov was not responsible for the assault.</p><p dir="ltr">“Anyone who looks at the evidence will see that it was tweaked to fit someone who looked like him, nothing more,” says Serhiy Nikitenko. “The main evidence they have against him is that his phone was switched on that day. They just found their suspect through the photo-fit image that we published. There’s lots of things that don’t match.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The complete impunity of the attackers has lead to total lawlessness. Since 2016, journalists, activists, rights campaigners and bloggers have been murdered and attacked, one by one, all over the country”</p><p dir="ltr">“I sympathise with the poor guy who was arrested in my case – it’s 99% certain that he’s a random choice,” <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2018/08/16/7189363/">said</a> Gandzyuk. “I realise that they had to calm down the media, but they did it at the price of his life. Friends I was with who saw my attacker say that it wasn’t him.”</p><p dir="ltr">Several witnesses who spoke to journalists during their investigations have said that on the day of the assault he was with them at the seaside.</p><p dir="ltr">On 7 August, Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko announced that the case had been passed to the State Security Services (SBU). According to his statement, the attempted murder with extreme brutality was carried out on the orders of law enforcement and state organs, with the aim of destabilising the socio-political situation in southern Ukraine.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Evil must be punished</h2><p dir="ltr">The number of attacks on civil society activists in Ukraine has risen steeply over the last few years, and the form these attacks take is shocking.</p><p dir="ltr">On the same day as the assault on Gandzyuk, an activist was killed in Berdyansk, in the southern Zaporizhya region. Vitaly Oleshko, a veteran of<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russia-fighting-donbas-rebranding-ato-/28985423.html"> Kyiv’s anti-terrorist operation</a> who took part in the battle for the city of Ilovaisk, continued to fight after returning to civilian life – against businessman and former parliamentary deputy for the Party of Regions Aleksandr Ponomarev, who more or less runs the city. Oleshko was shot in the back with a rifle in his own yard, with his wife and daughter standing nearby.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1007788_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1007788_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vitaly Oleshko. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>A little more than a month earlier, in June, a tragedy took place in Eskhar, in the Kharkiv region. Mykola Bychko, 23, was found hanged in a forest, and his fellow activists immediately <a href="http://zaborona.com/interactive/zagynuv-za-ideiu/">said that they didn’t believe it was suicide</a>. They believe his death was connected with his activism: he had recently been investigating the pollution of village reservoirs and corrupt practices associated with sewage treatment plants in Eskhar.</p><p dir="ltr">“The complete impunity of the attackers has lead to total lawlessness. Since 2016, journalists, activists, rights campaigners and bloggers have been murdered and attacked, one by one, all over the country,” the organisers of the “Evil must be Punished” action told people who gathered outside the Ukrainian Interior Ministry in Kyiv on 1 August . “The frequency and intensity of these attacks is increasing, but not one of them has been properly investigated by the law enforcement agencies or brought to court.” </p><p dir="ltr">The list of uninvestigated cases that the activists have brought to police attention begins with the killing of journalist Pavlo Sheremet in June 2016. The investigation has still not found any suspects.</p><p dir="ltr">The people taking part in the “Evil must be Punished” protest in Kyiv demanded not only the effective investigation of attacks on activists and the dismissal of the top brass of the Kherson regional Ministry of the Interior, but also the resignation of Ministry of the Interior head Arsen Avakov. They also demanded that Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko and SBU head Vasily Gritsak accept personal responsibility for the attacks.</p><p dir="ltr">The attack on Gandzyuk was condemned by both the UN delegation to Ukraine and the American Embassy. Transparency International Ukraine called on the police “to finally show society that attacks on civil activists are crimes for which their perpetrators must definitely answer”.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Criminal conglomerates, repeated attacks and discreditation</h2><p dir="ltr">“The most obvious reason is the absence of any reform in the system,” says Tetiana Pechonchyk, head of Kyiv’s Human Rights Information Centre, when asked why attacks are on the increase. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/where-is-ukraines-new-police-force">Police reform</a>, announced in 2015 has only affected beat officers. Their supposed <a href="https://www.unian.ua/politics/1367007-chleni-komisiy-zapevnyayut-scho-pereatestatsiya-u-mvs-peretvorilasya-na-pokazuhu.html">reassessment was also a failure</a> – only 7% were dismissed, and some of those were reinstated through the courts. The reform didn’t apply to investigative departments.</p><p dir="ltr">According to the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement’s annual <a href="http://umdpl.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Styslyy-vyklad_ukrai-nskoyu.pdf">report</a>: “We’ve gone back to the old times, when the police report monthly on how the number of crimes reported has fallen while the number solved has risen. This ‘bubble’ always eventually bursts.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Reforms have taken place, and they are continuing,” Avakov <a href="http://project.liga.net/projects/avakov/">told</a> Liga earlier this year, as he recalls the work accomplished during Ukraine’s most difficult time: the creation of the National Guard, the formation of volunteer battalions within the Interior Ministry, the settlement of the situation in Kharkiv in April 2014. And also the phasing out of the State Traffic and Road Safety Inspectorates and transport and veterinary police and their replacement by “up-to-date government service structures”. He also lists the successes of the Cyber Police, the National Interpol Bureau and the Migration and Border Services and the renewal of the State Emergency Service.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_24847292579_7d246c3fae_k_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_24847292579_7d246c3fae_k_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Bogdan Genbach / Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Nevertheless, the <a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/reytingijfojseojoej8567547">polls</a> carried out by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov Centre Sociological Service show that public trust in the law enforcement agencies is in decline. Experts polled by the sociologists <a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/reformi-v-ukraini-ekspertna-otsinka-cherven-2018">believe</a> that the police, the Prosecutor General’s office and the courts are holding up reform.</p><p dir="ltr">Police corruption is yet another reason, says Pechonchyk, for cases such as attacks on civil activists not being investigated. “The law enforcement bodies often merge and form ‘conglomerates’ with the authorities, dishonest business owners and local bullies and criminal elements,” she says.</p><p dir="ltr">The Human Rights Information Centre, which Pechonchyk directs, has been documenting attacks since 2014 and has noticed several trends. Several groups of activists tend to be targeted. The first is the anti-corruption activists fighting for transparency in government finance and against corrupt practices. In July, for example, Vitaly Shabunin, the head of the Anti-Corruption Centre, was splashed with brilliant green paint during a protest outside the Specialised Anti-Corruption Procurator’s office and received chemical burns to his eyes. The police arrested two attackers, filed a charge sheet and let them go. The attack was classified as hooliganism.</p><p dir="ltr">In Kharkiv in August 2017, Dmytro Bulakh, the head of the city’s Anti-Corruption Centre and member of the Regional Council, suffered a beating. He believes that the attack was linked to the activities of the centre, which investigates financial machinations in the city and regional institutional bodies, among them a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/anticor.kharkiv/photos/a.1617708965171990/1963792753896941/?type=3&amp;theater">cooperative operation</a> in which Kharkiv’s mayor Gennady Kernes is involved. Another attack took place just a few weeks later – the victim this time was Yevhen Lisichkin, an expert with the Anti-Corruption Centre.</p><p dir="ltr">The second group of activists are the environmentalists, who oppose tree-felling and dodgy construction companies. One known incident here involved the beating up of four activists in the Kyiv region – Aleksandr Kulibabchuk, Vadim Mashtabey, Yevhen Melnichuk and Viktor Barkholenko. They fight against tree-felling and illegal housing development on behalf of the local authorities in the towns of Buche and Irpen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In small towns you very often find a coalition consisting of of the local authority, local criminal elements, construction firms and service sector businesses. When people start objecting, they find themselves under pressure from all sides”</p><p dir="ltr">“The dividing line between anti-corruption activists and environmentalists can also be pretty vague,” Tetiana Pechonchyk tells me. “Activists fighting for a clean environment and land rights can sometimes uncover instances of corruption as they go along. They are de facto also anti-corruption activists.</p><p dir="ltr">“In small towns you very often find a coalition consisting of of the local authority, local criminal elements, construction firms and service sector businesses. When people start objecting, they find themselves under pressure from all sides,” Pechonchyk explains.The result is that these attacks are only followed through by the police in individual cases.</p><p dir="ltr">The final group that is particularly subject to violence is LGBT activists: Amnesty International registered 30 attacks on them by far right groups in Ukraine in the last year alone. And in only one case were the villains brought to justice.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our monitoring activities tell us that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the activists being assaulted are completely defenceless before their attackers. The only chance of having a case investigated is to get the attention of the media – then the police will start doing something,” says Pechonchyk. “But in most cases, the attackers get away with it.” </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_12.09.24_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_12.09.24_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>August 19: attack on the “Platform TU”, Mariupol. Source: TU platform.</span></span></span>Another trend is repeat attacks on activists who continue their activities after they are initially attacked: that’s what happened to Mykhailo Berchuk, an environmental activist from the Kirovograd region. He was beaten up in the autumn of 2016, when he became interested in waste dumping from a local factory producing meat, ketchup and mayonnaise. The second time he was attacked was in the spring of 2017 – this time they fractured his skull and he ended up in intensive care. A year and a half later, the police have been unable to identify his attackers, despite the fact that the attack happened one morning in a busy area, the car’s number plate was noted down and there were witnesses.</p><p dir="ltr">Sometimes the attacks aren’t physical: they can be smear campaigns against activists and well-known anti-corruption organisations. Trumped-up charges are an example of this kind of persecution.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017, a case was initiated against the Ukrainian Patients organisation and the Living with HIV Network – they were accused of stealing grant money, as well as cooperating with the Russian security service and separatist groups in the occupied “LNR” and “DNR”. The organisations’ office was subjected to a search, but the case was closed in February 2018 for want of evidence. The members of the patient organisations believe that it was revenge for their anti-corruption activity.</p><p dir="ltr">“On the one hand, the law enforcement system can’t effectively investigate real attacks on activists, while on the other, it is busy fabricating evidence and concocting non-existent cases out of non-existent crimes,” concludes Tetiana. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A step backwards</h2><p dir="ltr">In its recent report, <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/nations-transit-2018">“Nations in Transit: Confronting Illiberalism”</a>, Freedom House notes the decrease in indicators of democratic processes in Ukraine – a situation that the report’s authors haven’t seen since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">The reasons listed by Freedom House researchers include growing activity on the part of radical groups, assaults, physical violence and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/devin-ackles/controversial-law-takes-aim-at-ukraine-s-anti-corruption-ngos">attempts to restrict the work of NGOs</a>. This last issue is to some extent connected with recent legislative changes.</p><p dir="ltr">In March 2017, President Poroshenko supported changes to the law “On Opposing Corruption” passed by Ukraine’s parliament, which requires members of anti-corruption organisations to file tax declarations online. Despite protests and strong criticism by EU, US and Canadian representatives, the law is still in force. A month ago, a group of 65 MPs appealed to the Constitutional Court to have this measure repealed.</p><p dir="ltr">In June 2018, a <a href="https://gazeta.ua/ru/articles/politics/_sergej-taruta-vydvinul-zakon-protiv-inostrannogo-vliyaniya-na-ukrainskuyu-politiku/843563">new draft law</a> appeared on the statute books, its aim to counteract “foreign influence”. It requires charities and NGOs who receive funding from outside Ukraine to declare their sources of income.</p><p dir="ltr">“Having accused NGOs and journalists of anti-nationalism, politicians are now trying to exclude legitimate voices from public debate just because they criticise the government,” <a href="https://ukrainian.voanews.com/a/freedom-house-ukrayina-dopovid/4340883.html">says</a> Nate Shenkan, the director of Freedom House’s Nations in Transit Project, about the worsening situation with civil rights.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Rights campaigners believe that the upcoming election will worsen the freedom of speech situation in the country</p><p dir="ltr">“The battle for power will be intense and very brutal,” Freedom House’s director of operations in Ukraine Matthew Schaaf tells me. “We are expecting a continuation of what we have been seeing already – physical violence combined with legislative attempts to limit the activities of activists and civil rights campaigners. The forecast for the near future is not very good, unfortunately.” </p><p dir="ltr">In April 2018, activists and organisations responded to this situation by setting up a <a href="https://helsinki.org.ua/en/articles/memorandum-on-the-creation-of-a-coalition-for-the-protection-of-civil-society-in-ukraine/">Coalition for the Protection of Civil Society in Ukraine</a>. A joint memorandum was signed by nearly 30 organisations, including the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Freedom House’s Ukrainian delegation, the Human Rights Information Centre, the <a href="https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://vostok-sos.org/about-project/&amp;prev=search">Civil Initiative East-SOS</a> and many other civil and human rights initiatives.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="https://helsinki.org.ua/articles/memorandum-pro-stvorennya-koalitsiji-na-zahyst-hromadyanskoho-suspilstva-v-ukrajini/">memorandum</a> concludes with the following statement: “The Ukrainian Government must recognise the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders and activists, who act in the interests of the public, and instead of hindering them, to assist them in their work, as well as to ensure efficient investigation of all instances of threats, attacks, intimidation, oppression or any other type of persecution.”</p><p dir="ltr">Freedom House’s Matthew Schaaf has announced that the coalition will soon have a website with a map showing all the cases of clampdowns on civil society, which will help to provide an accurate measure of the issue over the whole of Ukraine, including all its regions.</p><p dir="ltr">Today, Kateryna Gandzyuk is in Kyiv’s burns centre, where she was flown from Kherson. She has had several operations in recent weeks and will need several more. Her condition is still serious. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office has now <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/08/22/7189896/">closed</a> the case against initial suspect Nikolay Novikov due to lack of evidence. Five further suspects have been detained. </p><p dir="ltr">Back home, a banner has appeared on Kherson’s city hall. It reads: “Excuse me, but who ordered the attack on Gandzyuk?”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/who-killed-irina-nozdrovska">Who killed Iryna Nozdrovska?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/where-is-ukraines-new-police-force">Where is Ukraine’s new police force?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-movchan/what-are-ukraines-train-drivers-fighting-for">What are Ukraine’s train drivers fighting for?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/william-jay-risch/turning-a-protest-into-metaphysics">Turning a protest into (someone else’s) metaphysics</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">What are the real barriers to freedom of assembly in Ukraine?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maksym-kazakov/how-workers-in-ukraine-metal-industry-are-fighting-for-wages-rights-democracy">How workers in Ukraine’s metal industry are fighting for wages, rights and democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-botanova/ukraines-blacklists-in-defence-of-democracy">Ukraine’s blacklists in defence of democracy and national security are doing it no favours</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Thu, 23 Aug 2018 13:35:30 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 119414 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Russia needs a grassroots campaign against political repression https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/samson-larin-ivan-pivovarov-hera-critus/why-russia-needs-a-grassroots-campaign-against-political-repression <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Political repression is ramping up in Russia, but a network of people ready to stand against it is yet to emerge. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-36347668.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-36347668.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Riot police surround people during a demonstration against Vladimir Putin in Moscow, on 5 May 2018. Photo: NurPhoto / SIPA USA / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>2018, a presidential election year in Russia, has become a year of increasing repressions. In February, details of the “Network case” – in which 11 Russian anarchists and anti-fascists are being <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">investigated on charges of creating a terrorist organisation</a> – became public. This organisation never existed, and even its name is a figment of an FSB officer’s imagination. The number of criminal cases for reposting “extremist” memes online is only growing (OVD-Info <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ovdinfo/photos/a.275700985832857.61865.234837213252568/1775666022503005/?type=3&amp;theater">reported</a> 170 such cases in 2017), and this practice is developing quicker in the provinces than in the big cities. Recently, in the Siberian town of Barnaul, there have been <a href="http://www.euronews.com/2018/08/03/russian-woman-faces-6-years-in-jail-for-resposting-memes">three cases opened against users of social networks</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2018/03/24/solidarity-the-case-of-the-penza-and-petersburg-antifascists/">public campaign</a> in support of people arrested in connection to the “Network case” started well, with several actions in different cities in Russia and across the world. But it has not moved beyond that. It is mainly human rights defenders, leftists and anarchists who are supporting these new political prisoners. Now it is time for a broader campaign against political repressions and fabricated criminal cases in Russia – a campaign that will go beyond individual cases, and that will go beyond solidarity based on personal sympathies towards this or that group of political prisoners.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Why do we think that it is time for a large-scale campaign?</h2><p dir="ltr">Russian society’s understanding of repressions is changing, and it is changing visibly. Yes, the word “repressions” still has mainly historical connotations – something from the time of Stalinism, such as executions and deportations. But it is becoming more and more evident: imprisonment for reposting articles on social media, receiving five–seven years in prison for “thought-crimes” – this is the reality in Russia today, and it is not that far away from 10 years of prison camp for telling a joke or criticising the Stalinist bureaucracy.</p><p dir="ltr">The fact that a group of women from Moscow bohemian circles – actors, journalists, the head of a publishing house and a literary critic – consciously decided to organise an unsanctioned public protest (the <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/mothers-march-moscow-against-novoye-velichiye-extremism-case-62534">“Mothers’ march”</a>) to support two young women arrested in another fabricated case speaks volumes. These people, who were not ready to resist when Russian theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-damberg/serebrennikov-attack">arrested</a>, are now saying: “We know everything about how rallies are sanctioned. There is no time for playing games with authorities, we have to go out (and protest)”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/fsb_court_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/fsb_court_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A pro-Serebrennikov protester near Basmanny Court in Moscow. Image: Youtube / Radio Svoboda. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Our organisation, <a href="https://socialist.news/">Socialist Alternative</a>, has waited for this change in consciousness and warned: in moments of political upheaval (and a new cycle of upheaval is clearly on the rise after the announcement of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-raising-pension-age">pension reform</a> and <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-duma-passes-bill-raising-value-added-tax-20-percent-62331">VAT rise</a>), these changes can overshadow the analysis and actions of more permanent political forces and organisations. </p><p dir="ltr">Even the highly popular Russian rapper Oxxxymiron <a href="https://twitter.com/norimyxxxo/status/1029031471976271872">wrote</a> some words in support of <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-woman-reportedly-faces-6-years-in-prison-for-insulting-memes-62341">Maria Motuznaya</a>, the Barnaul resident accused of “offending the feelings of believers” on social media. The rapper, who has always had a good sense of his audience, didn’t shy from political comment: “There are more and more such ‘crimes’ without any victims. Nobody is killed, or beaten up, or even personally offended… There are enough articles in the Criminal Code penalising direct calls to violence. Articles 282 and 148 (which penalise “extremism” and “offending religious feelings”) are superfluous… and are becoming an instrument of repression.”</p><p dir="ltr">The other side of this debate is represented by the regime’s media lackeys. For instance, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT, spoke out in her traditional genre of “your protests are evil, and there are normal people who among the cannibals (in power)”.</p><p dir="ltr">“The general public does not know that it was the consistent personal intervention of those (normal) people which helped to free those who were unjustly imprisoned, whom we have cried for at different times,” wrote Simonyan, without naming a single person. “But if I understand anything about the mechanics of the system, what is certainly not going to help is an unsanctioned rally.”</p><p dir="ltr">And this is what is terrible: after the long years of growing authoritarianism in Russia, many people are intuitively ready to self-censor. “Yes, injustice and controlled courts are all around us, but perhaps in this particular case we can free one particular individual from the claws of the ‘justice system’, if we are quiet and agree to play by the cannibals’ rules.”</p><p dir="ltr">As an organisation, we have witnessed different protest movements in our country. Those of them that tried to distance themselves from politics did not achieve anything, and their participants were eventually demoralised. </p><p dir="ltr">Only a year ago, we took part in a campaign to free journalist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ali-feruz/i-don-t-remember-who-i-am-diary-of-detained-journalist-facing-deportation-from-r">Ali Feruz</a>, who faced deportation to Uzbekistan. Back then, activists also faced pressure – they were asked to stop street protests and were promised that “the case was already being resolved in the offices of power”. This pressure caused certain tensions between participants in the campaign, which is understandable. A threat “to make things worse” is the most vile trick to play on the friends and relatives of someone in prison – and the authorities use it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_DSC2783-site.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_DSC2783-site.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A column in support of Ali Feruz at the 19 January anti-fascist march in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. Photo CC BY 4.0: Dmitry Horov. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But immediately when the campaign retreated, the case began to linger. In winter, after months of false promises, the most “radical” part of the campaign led by our organisation <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">renewed public actions</a> and brought a whole column in support of Ali Feruz to the annual anti-fascist march in Moscow on 19 January. Several days later, a court made a decision in favour of Ali. He is free now.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Who’s in charge here?</h2><p dir="ltr">On 15 August, nearly a thousand people <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-rally-anarchists-revolution-plot-putin-new-greatness-a8493311.html">joined the “Mothers’ march”</a> as they walked down Moscow’s central Tverskaya Street to the Russian Supreme Court in the rain. Participants carried toys, which they then left at the entrance to the court, where a spontaneous rally began with slogans as “Freedom”, “Freedom for political prisoners”, “We are in charge here”, “Children should not be thrown in prisons”.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, Toys became the symbol of the protest after an image of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/interview-anna-pavlikova-new-greatness-case">Anna Pavlikova</a>, an 18-year-old facing extremism charges, with a unicorn began to circulate online. Pavlikova is one of those arrested in the fabricated “New Greatness” case – an organisation <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2018/03/30/extremism-inside-out/">formed by FSB agents themselves</a> so that they could later successfully uncover “an extremist group”. When she was arrested, Anna was not yet 18; later in pre-trial detention her health deteriorated, but the court refused to place her under house arrest. For many people who joined the action, the umpteenth extension of Anna’s detention at the beginning of August was the last drop – proof of the inhumane nature of Putin’s law enforcement system.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 10.56.33.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="342" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>15 August, Mothers' March in Moscow. Source: Youtube / sotavision. </span></span></span>This public protest was not sanctioned by the authorities, and the organisers did not buckle under pressure from police who visited some of them at home to “warn them against breaking the law”. The organisers were also not impressed by threats from pro-regime public figures, pro-regime media and even Anna Pavlikova’s lawyer who spoke against the march. Their decisiveness to carry the action out in spite of everything and the fact that more than 5,000 people joined the action’s Facebook group clearly scared the authorities&nbsp;– which are beginning to understand that threats are starting not to work and the situation is not under their control. People are not afraid to join unsanctioned actions anymore, which means that even bigger and angrier anti-government protests are coming.</p><p dir="ltr">A few hours before the march on 15 August, the Investigative Committee, hoping to decrease the number of protest participants, asked the court to release Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik, another young suspect in the “New Greatness” case, under house arrest. The Prosecutor’s Office supported this move, and the Supreme Court, as it suddenly turned out, compelled the presidium of the Moscow City Court to consider a petition regarding Pavlikova’s arrest previously on 9 August. Such a U-turn in the rhetoric of the repressive apparatuses only encouraged the participants of the march: mass pressure from an action which had not yet taken place was already working.</p><p dir="ltr">Similar actions, in slightly different format, took place in other cities as well. In St Petersburg, relatives of people arrested in the “Network case” also organised pickets, showing that solidarity is our only weapon against repressions.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Kids in prison</h2><p dir="ltr">There is a danger in these protests that we cannot ignore. The emotions of those protesting against the fact that “kids are in prison” are understandable. Their will to fight even more so. But devaluing the political beliefs of Anna Pavlikova, Maria Dubovik and other young people, who are now under pressure from the state, from a presumed “adult” perspective, is unacceptable. This is the other side of regime propaganda. They are trying to persuade us that these <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">young people do not have their own views</a> because they are kids.</p><p dir="ltr">Young people always feel injustice much more acutely than adults, who are protected by the armour of cynicism and routine. And when those adults swallow all the injustice of Putin’s regime, they are just showing young people how rotten the system is&nbsp;– in which evil is considered good, corrupted officials are called bureaucrats, where the lack of any future is concealed by experts on TV chatting about the country’s bright future, where billions are spent on the commercial show of the FIFA World Cup, while pensions are stolen and real salaries are much lower than propagandists’ feature stories. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_20Shot_202018-08-15_20at_2017.59.28.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_20Shot_202018-08-15_20at_2017.59.28.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anna Pavlikova.</span></span></span>Russian young people are getting politicised much quicker and are acting much more radically precisely because they are the conscience of the old world. Young people are put under all sorts of pressures to turn them into safe “experienced adults”. People who already have formed their political beliefs should not help the regime to achieve its goal of breaking the youth – even if their views are different from the views of young people. We should abolish the silly dichotomy of “adult/child”, express our solidarity with young people and fight together against repressions, poverty, discrimination and oppression.</p><p dir="ltr">In the <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2018/03/30/extremism-inside-out/">“New Greatness” case</a>, the FSB agent used the environment prepared by Putin’s policies to his advantage: he simply assembled those who were unhappy about the current situation in Russia and wanted to engage in political struggle. The very possibility of the provocation emerged because of the lack of transparent, genuinely democratic mass political organisations able to challenge the rotten regime openly. </p><p dir="ltr">These are the organisations that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">don’t offer “guerrilla”, “partisan struggle”, “revolutionary conspiracy”, “individual terror”</a>, but mass mobilisation in the streets, the organisation of political committees in workplaces and at universities – unified actions in the struggle for higher salaries, pensions, scholarships, and against the commercialisation and destruction of the public system of education and health care. This is the kind of organisation we will have to build if we want to change everything.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Why it is always about politics</h2><p dir="ltr">These shifts that we have described above are still not sufficient for the clear political positioning of a campaign against political repressions in Russia. The organisers of the “Mothers’ march” asked participants not to bring political placards, not to shout slogans and in general to avoid politics. We consider this a weak tactic. If we protest only out of our pity for those arrested in “New Greatness” case, but refuse to demand the immediate end of all political repressions and to understand their political reasons, we will lose.</p><p dir="ltr">The political reasons for this are as follows: under the conditions of economic crisis, big business cannot afford to share even a fraction of its super-incomes in the form of taxes, while the state budget is not sufficient for carrying out social obligations. The quality of life is decreasing, censorship and violence in suppressing protests are growing. Big business acts as a sponsor of repressions because it is the current regime acting in the interests of business that guarantees the possibility for continuous enrichment by exploiting the cheap labour of ordinary people – and, on top of that, transferring the costs of the economic crisis onto them. In recent years, the general population has become poorer and lost part of its social rights, while the number of billionaires is only growing.</p><p dir="ltr">Yes, we believe that, in addition to quota system within the security apparatuses, which encourages the enthusiasm of career-driven officers, repressions and censorship are directly connected to Russia’s economic crisis. They are connected to the rise of VAT (an attempt to transfer the costs of the crisis to ordinary employees), with the rise of the retirement age (the refusal of social obligations), with the rescue of private banks such as Otkrytie (instead of ordinary people affected by the crisis, for example, the holders of mortgages borrowed in foreign currency), with the rising petrol prices (a carte-blanche for the oil industry and again a transfer of crisis-caused losses to ordinary people). These are all links of the same chain: the regime that protects the interests of big business has prepared its police forces waiting for the wave of protests from below – a wave that is inevitable in the absence of any perspectives for the growth of the quality of life. These police forces are already unleashed on some people – usually those who have no one to protect them. </p><p dir="ltr">Most probably, this is a rehearsal of much crueler repressions in the light of the upcoming pension reform protests, which have not yet attained their full force.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Let us organise now before we all are arrested one by one</h2><p dir="ltr">We believe that it is time to start a campaign against political repressions and fabricated criminal cases. A general campaign that will not focus on individuals only. We call upon leftist political and human rights organisations to set up a round table and an organising committee for such a campaign. We call for a permanent campaign with regular mass actions and the dissemination of information in the media. Such a campaign already has natural allies: the journalists of MediaZona and the experts of OVD-Info have already created the infrastructure of quick reporting on new crazy political processes.</p><p dir="ltr">The task of the campaign is to react, to create a stable network of supporters in different cities, to come to courts and rally in front of them, to organise actions at each turn of every important case, to organise stickers and leaflets at the local level. The campaign must also demand the abolition of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-dugum/sacrificial-roosters-and-offended-feelings">Articles 148</a> and 282 of Russia’s Criminal Code. A person of any political beliefs if s/he is against repressions and censorship (and does not support repressions against political opponents – as the right often does) can join this campaign.</p><p dir="ltr">Calling for such a campaign, Socialist Alternative is nonetheless convinced that repressions will not stop under a capitalist state – they can only temporarily recede, since they are in the interests of the state. To end repressions, it is necessary to destroy their source: large-scale capital that sponsors them. It is necessary to socialise, under democratic control, the country’s largest economic sectors: oil and gas production, utilities, construction industry and so on. This will allow us to guarantee decent life for everyone and take power from the 1% who control everything now – big business and oligarchs who advance their interests, using millions created by our labour.</p><p dir="ltr">On their own, young people, students, people living from paycheck to paycheck will not be able to achieve this goal without their own party, independent from business and bureaucrats. Only if they are organised will they be able to fight for the democratic and socialist transformation of Russia and the whole world, which will end repression and exploitation.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">By defending Russian journalist Ali Feruz, we defend ourselves. Now we need to repeat it</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">The inside story of Russia’s failed social media revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ali-feruz/i-don-t-remember-who-i-am-diary-of-detained-journalist-facing-deportation-from-r">“I don’t remember who I am”: diary of detained journalist facing deportation from Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/can-russias-opposition-come-together-to-fight-the-kremlins-pension-reform">Can Russia’s opposition come together to fight the Kremlin’s pension reform? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-polikhovich/torture-missing-evidence-and-procedural-violations">Torture, missing evidence and procedural violations: how to make a terrorism case against 21 Russian Muslims</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/torture-scandal-makes-russia-pay-attention">A torture scandal makes Russia pay attention</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia openMovements Hera Critus Ivan Pivovarov Samson Larin Russia Wed, 22 Aug 2018 08:30:31 +0000 Samson Larin, Ivan Pivovarov and Hera Critus 119385 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How this DIY magazine is making space for taboo topics in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-rowley/diy-magazine-taboo-topics-russia-moloko-plus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Under conditions of growing self-censorship, small media can often raise questions avoided by Russia’s national media – but of real concern to readers. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-rowley/gde-my-a-gde-rossiya-24">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/photo_2018-08-16_17-30-40.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/photo_2018-08-16_17-30-40.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Juliana Lizer and Pavel Nikulin. Photo: Artur Davletshin. </span></span></span>Russian DIY journal <a href="https://moloko.plus/">moloko plus</a> appeared in 2016 and immediately attracted interest – not only for its medium (print only) but for its content (the first two editions focused on drugs and terrorism) and mission. Speaking to the current crisis of professional journalism, the journal’s manifesto states that “in Russia today, and perhaps across the world, the combination of experience in journalism, basic ethical and political principles and a generally logical perception of your own worth has turned into a curse. We didn’t choose this trap.”</p><p dir="ltr">Since then, the third edition of moloko plus (titled: “Revolution”) has been released. In July, Pavel Nikulin and Sofiko Arifdjanova, journal coordinator and writer, traveled to Krasnodar to present the journal, where they were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/15/v-krasnodare-neizvestnye-napali-na-uchastnikov-moloko-plus-nikulina-i">subjected to an anonymous chemical attack</a>. The day before, several unknown plain clothes police officers, who introduced themselves as members of the criminal investigation department, arrested Arifdjanova in connection with “a criminal investigation”. At the same time, Krasnodar Interior Ministry seized copies of the magazine “in the interests of preventing extremism”. On 12 August, seven journalists involved in moloko plus <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/08/12/mlkpls">reported</a> that there had been attempts to hack their email and Facebook accounts. </p><p dir="ltr">In April 2018, I interviewed the journal’s founders, Pavel Nikulin and Juliana Lizer, as part of our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/odr-debates/unlikely-media">“Unlikely Media” rubric</a> on new media startups. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> moloko plus is full of excellent texts – you don’t see this level of quality often. It tackles both unusual subjects and publishes serious essays. Let’s start with a simple question: it seems to me that your journal occupies a particular niche in the Russian media sphere. Why did you set it up and what is its mission?</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> I think there are three questions here. The question “why” should be addressed to me, as I’m the person who set the whole ball rolling. The question “how” – the journal’s quality and its mission – is for Juliana to answer. I’ll tell you quickly why we did it. I didn’t know why I should do it, I just knew that if I didn’t do something and just went on with my boring work, covering the city news and other routine stuff, I would either go mad or kill myself. And I didn’t have any idea what would come out of it. When I began, I had no idea who would support my idea, and when I sent out my first post about collecting money for it, I didn’t at all expect the feedback I had from friends in bookshops: “We’ll sell it, we’ll give you a platform for the launch” and so on. There was no original “why?”. It was a thing in itself, for itself, a kind of punk rock – any journalist can make a magazine.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> The second question was about our mission. At the start, it was all about us, our self-development. We wanted to do things that we weren’t managing to do any more, or had nowhere to do: write things, talk about subjects that I, for one, had been interested in for years. It also turned into a learning curve: many of the things we had to do I only knew in theory from a course at the journalism faculty where I did my degree. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In Russia, there is an established media consensus that this agenda – violence, terrorism, drugs – is marginal. But our audience is quite young and well aware of the fact that the media lie</p><p dir="ltr">With the magazine, I could turn a lot of this theory into practice. </p><p dir="ltr">Doing editorial work, for example. It’s one thing to be just a reporter – everything’s set up for you. But here, you need to make everything work and you carry all the responsibility – both for the print version and social media. And the mission behind all this is, in the first place, about information and education. And entertainment, to some extent: we write about music and films as well, of course.</p><p dir="ltr">But we have another mission as well: to try to bring together in one place everything we know about a given issue, look at it from every angle and produce something coherent, holistic. So that people who want to find out about that issue can at least have something to start from – a kind of mini-encyclopaedia on one subject. And it’s good that it won’t all disappear: something that is printed is tangible, and no matter what happens with the internet, with the power supply (we know how sites get closed, how texts just disappear) anything that’s printed can’t be destroyed. So that’s also a kind of mission as well. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Xo0wKrngw_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Xo0wKrngw_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="327" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Note from the Editors, "Drugs" edition. Source: moloko plus. </span></span></span>I am someone who came of age in the culture of the 1990s-2000s, when books were still a material object. The books of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Shulgin">Alexander Shulgin</a>, for example, may be banned in Russia, but I have them at home. And so do some other people. Knowledge doesn’t disappear. And knowledge has to be preserved and multiplied in every way possible. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> This is an enormous topic and one which we underestimate these days. I work pretty hard at our online platform, but I never know what will come out of it – perhaps nothing. So in this sense I admire your mission. Your journal often covers issues such as violence, terrorism, drugs. Why do you find it important to write about these subjects? You said that you need to write and publish on these topics otherwise it could all disappear. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> In Russia, there is an established media consensus that this agenda – violence, terrorism, drugs – is marginal. But our audience is quite young and well aware of the fact that the media lie. We are more idealists than cynics: we decided not to provide our readers with a concrete answer to the question of how to live, and instead to return them to asking questions. </p><p dir="ltr">As to the first two topics, terrorism and drugs are the most convenient targets for any propaganda: you can’t lose, you can’t win and you can hold society in a constant state of anxiety, scared that their kids will either turn into heroin addicts or blow up the Metro tomorrow. This constant stress means that they no longer know either the reasons for, or the complexity of, these issues. And when we hear the word “terrorism”, it’s important for me to know who is talking and about whom. The use of the term often tells you more about the person talking than the thing they are talking about. If somebody says that the “Workers’ Party of Kurdistan are terrorists”, it tells you more about the person talking than about the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan. Or if someone says that “weed is a drug”, it tells me more about that person than about cannabis. </p><p dir="ltr">There are questions, there are interests. We have decided that we won’t write about what is right or wrong, but about, to a greater or lesser degree, what we know, from both the outside and the inside.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">At the start, it was all about us, our self-development. We wanted to do things that we weren’t managing to do any more, or had nowhere to do</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> To sum up, we’re doing it to encourage people to think for themselves. These days, you can’t take anyone at their word, because the public and the media love to hang labels on people: “terrorist”, “drug addict” and so on. These labels already carry negative connotations, even though they describe things that have always existed in human society and have always been very complex. It’s like we’re trying to demonstrate this complexity by saying to people: “Hang on, please, and think about how it’s not just about labels: it’s more complicated than that.” </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> I had that impression when I read your article, Juliana, about left-wing radicals in Greece. And I did start to think about it. As an outsider, I have a question about so-called “marginal” phenomena in Russia – obscure stories about drugs, terrorism, violence. Why do you think this subject so popular in Russia? </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> Because there’s a lot of it. A lot of people have seen something, experienced something and want to find out about it. Take serious alcoholism, for example. It’s a pretty marginal phenomenon, you must agree – but in Russia it’s very widespread. It has affected a lot of people and families. And of course people like reading about it, even if it’s absolutely horrific – people killing one another while “under the influence” and so on. </p><p dir="ltr">As for drugs, they are theoretically a no-go area, and everybody’s interested in what’s forbidden. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> In the last year, I’ve twice been stopped on the street and searched for drugs in Moscow. This “stop and search” trend among the police has become so common that the hipster city press has started writing about it. Everyone has either been searched themselves, or their boyfriend or girlfriend has. People want to know what’s going on, but no one has the complete picture. Someone may know how the Russian Darknet works, and how drugs are bought and sold in Russia. </p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, the police are everywhere. You can hear the word “terrorism” ten times a day&nbsp;– all you need to do is use public transport. People in the Metro, on escalators, in railway stations and airports are always talking about the terrorist threat. They want to know what the threat is. In effect, the state has hyped up the subject completely.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Some individual journalists involved in their own small projects are more ethical and enjoy more trust than the big corporations. It’s no surprise that they believe us</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> For example, I go into my block of flats, and my neighbour is standing in the hall and there are two packages lying on the floor. I thought they were hers, but she’s asking me if they’re mine. I look around, but don’t touch anything (there are signs telling you not to everywhere in the Metro). They contain glass jars. She says, “who can we phone: the main thing is to avoid an explosion.” This reaction has been spreading among people over the years, in one way or another.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It’s the same with drugs: there are signs everywhere forbidding people to buy and sell them. I wanted to give a foreign acquaintance a glimpse of typical Russia, and took him to a Moscow suburb, Biryulyovo – not the capital’s most prosperous suburb. I told him that people live in high rise buildings, often without any space around them, nowhere to go for a walk. The walls of the buildings are plastered with warnings about drugs, but in every district there is a church going up – there’s an official church-building programme in operation. He didn’t believe me. And then we come out of the suburban train and he saw the tower blocks, he saw that there was nothing to do there, he saw hoardings advertising some online shop – and the fence round the space where they were building the church. He also saw bottles used for smoking weed in every hallway, although there were fewer syringes than there used to be. And there was absolutely no way of getting any information about anything.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/photo_2018-07-16_12-51-04.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="255" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Police raid the "Typography" establishment, where a presentation of moloko plus was being held, in Krasnodar, 15 July. Source: Alina Desyatnichenko. </span></span></span>On the one hand, it’s good that the younger generation have a certain distrust of the authorities, but on the other hand, the distrust is total. People don’t believe either Wikipedia, or their friends, or the friendly local cop, or the doctor, whether they’re good or bad. But they want information. They want the facts, so that they can draw their own conclusions. That’s why we haven’t tried to write pamphlets, telling them whether that’s good or bad.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> We refuse to give people value judgments, on principle. We need to inform, to talk about a subject from the start, clearly and in a way that’s easy to understand. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> Do you get feedback from your readers on your attempts to inform? Has anyone said: “I hadn’t thought about that, but I’ve started to think about it now after reading your stuff”. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Yes, we do get feedback. Sometimes people want to debate an issue with us, sometimes just say “thank you”. After reading their first issue, some people tells us they want to contribute to the second. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> I believe that there are people like that, and we sometimes have negative feedback as well, but from a particular type of people. When the National Bolsheviks (a political movement in the 2000s that combined elements of radical nationalism and Bolshevism – ed.) wrote a post on social media about us, it was very funny. There was one guy who came to the book market we had a stall at, where we were selling our first and second issues. He bought a copy of both, took them home, leafed through them and wrote a scathing post on social media which was, of course, only seen by his followers. For some reason what he didn’t like most was the people who bought the journal. He kept writing to us about spotty girls with ugly backpacks.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Nevertheless, I couldn’t care less about the fact that a person near 30 can think exactly the same way as we do, and that our work holds nothing new for them. A friend said to me: “I read the second issue, but why did you write it? I didn’t learn anything new from it.” If we gave the first issue to political analysts who are experts on Ireland or Greece, they would also say: “We know everything about that”. Our mission is more educational: to inform people about that this or that thing exists and that they can get in on the act; not to tell them how the world works in 100 pages. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There are two traditions in Russian media: one’s about punk, culture and then there’s samizdat, which is political, about “we cannot remain silent any longer”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> Another thing about making people think: an indirect sign that people start thinking about something after reading the magazine is the fact that copies are always being passed around. I don’t know how much this happens, but I know that it does. These magazines have a certain life of their own. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It is, of course, a bit of a niche market, but it works, and some people set up their own distribution networks: it has even reached the States, Israel and Armenia. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> These days, and especially in connection with moloko plus, there’s a lot of talk about the rise of small media in Russia. Journalists and editors know where the demand is coming from. On the one hand, texts are removed and blocked online; on the other, people want to do something for themselves, for self-fulfilment. How do you perceive this problem? </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> There are small media outlets of all kinds. There’s a terminological question here: what do we consider an example of the small media sector and do we not? If we include anything that isn’t a media corporation, a mass media title, then we have to acknowledge all the video-bloggers with more than 100,000 hits, since this is a good number of hits, but technically they can and usually do it themselves with their own resources. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Important nuances arise when a small media project is created by journalists. The point of licencing media outlets used to be that they would then be subject to the law and ethical code (which was practically the same thing). But now people who don’t register their outlet feel they have more freedom, including the freedom to protect journalistic ethics. Some individual journalists involved in their own small projects are more ethical and enjoy more trust than the big corporations. It’s no surprise that they believe us. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> You know where we’re at, and where the (state-owned) “Russia -24” channel is. We’ve never had any desire to compete, and never will. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> A little aside, but systematic – small media want, of course, to be noticed, but look at the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNTj-s36Fss&amp;feature=youtu.be">recent attack</a> by Rossiya 24 on the <a href="https://batenka.ru/">Batenka </a>journal. It’s clear to me that they made a second report not because they didn’t like how it delivered information, but simply out of envy. They realise that samizdat is believed by the people who will be a very large (and paying) audience in ten years time. </p><p dir="ltr"><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LNTj-s36Fss" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Russia-24 broadcasts an expose on Batenka journal, March 2018.</em><br /></p><p><strong>Juliana:</strong> They’ll die out by themselves, they have begun to realise that. I have a theory, that you don’t have to believe in evolution and progress, but if you believe in these things they will happen in society whether you like it or not. If you offer the public something that is out of date, sooner or later you’ll have to go. And that means today’s state-owned TV, its ways of working with information and its presentation style. </p><p dir="ltr">My first job was in TV, when it was still normal, and I saw how it changed in front of our very eyes. People who have realised how it all works will leave.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> At the start of perestroika, cooperatives appeared. It was believed that people involved in co-ops knew the demands of their audience better, although they couldn’t churn out as much as big, industrial TV companies. They did, however, work with the audience and the market around them. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s the same with small media companies. We know exactly what our target audience likes and we know how to supply it. National publications fly so high that they can’t see individual readers and viewers and their national status separates them from their audience. </p><p dir="ltr">I get messages on Telegram. One reader made us spend two hours looking for mistakes in a text. I knew I had already done that, but I psyched Juliana and myself up and we went through it again together.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many colleagues in journalism are scared that if they leave a media outlet, they’ll lose their audience. But they completely forget that they’re the ones that bring the audience in the first place</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> I checked every document that I had already fact-checked, because I was absolutely sure that everything was fine (we were right). But it’s important to do that, because our reputation hangs on it. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It’s hard to imagine how big media do it. Small ones are ok. </p><p dir="ltr">There are two traditions in Russian media: one’s about punk, culture and then there’s samizdat, which is political, about “we cannot remain silent any longer”. But these two are joined. Even Batenka magazine has started to annoy people close to the authorities. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> Does your work also provoke negative reactions, envious one? </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> If you like doing what you do, then go work for federal media, publish information on bankruptcies, write about which public official didn’t give you a comment, go to the Duma, where parliamentarians <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/07/bbc-journalist-accuses-russian-politician-of-sexual-harassment">grope female journalists</a> and don’t have to answer for it. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> It’s not that you don’t have to do that, that’s necessary work. You have to do a journalist’s job, go to all those places. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> But only if you like it. </p><p dir="ltr">We’re ready to risk our reputation and careers, but at least we know that we living for a reason. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> In 2011-2012, Russian society suddenly discovered that we have problems with elections – and democracy in general. This was in the air, everyone understood this, and so demand for propaganda texts emerged, to hush things up. On TV, journalists began doing strange things (e.g. not reporting on major protests, or if they did, then with incorrect numbers or negative framing). I asked why they were doing this: “I need to feed my family.” And it’s clear that that person most likely won’t find another job. This is tragic. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Many colleagues in journalism are scared that if they leave a media outlet, they’ll lose their audience. But they completely forget that they’re the ones that bring the audience in the first place and that you don’t need any outlet to say what they say. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> My suspicion is that people who work in big media, prestigious media – for them it becomes important after a time that that they work somewhere important. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> I’d probably agree. Most of the journalists I’ve met have this attitude: “I’m part of something bigger, I’m part of the team. And this is what we’re called.” And then you meet a group of these people and the first thing they ask is where you work. And you answer: nowhere. </p><p dir="ltr">I’m still surprised by this. Perhaps it’s connected with a human’s psychological traits – to define themselves through something else, to perceive themselves through that. Meanwhile, it’s comfortable to work on articles that disappear instantly, without any understanding what happens to it. I don’t like it when I don’t understand why decisions are made, who makes them and why I have to subordinate myself to that. </p><p dir="ltr">There’s a lot of stereotypes now that are directly connected to capitalist values – which are relatively new for our society (this began like an explosion in the 1990s, and in recent years has taken completely barbaric forms). Still, it’s clear that the value of being successful has embedded itself in our society. You need to have enough money, to need to work somewhere decent, and you need to have a decent job. And through all of this, you show everyone else that you’re not a marginal. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It’s a kind of career, only this is a career inside society rather than corporations. I have a lot of fellow students – they’re all interested in different things, but somehow they all fit into a single generalised personality. They wear nice clothes, they have the same interests (which are, it should be said, all sold under the rubric of individuality). A person who goes to a public event thinks that only they have the right to be there, because they’re special. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-rowley/russia-s-wild-decade-how-memories-of-1990s-are-changing">Russia’s wild decade: how memories of the 1990s are changing</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/feeling-yerevan-s-pulse-new-media-talking-about-armenia-s-blind-spots">Feeling Yerevan’s pulse: the new media talking about Armenia’s blind spots </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Thomas Rowley Unlikely Media Russia Beyond propaganda Tue, 21 Aug 2018 19:53:58 +0000 Thomas Rowley 119366 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Torture, missing evidence and procedural violations: how to make a terrorism case against 21 Russian Muslims https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexey-polikhovich/torture-missing-evidence-and-procedural-violations <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Another trial against Russian “Islamists” results in harsh convictions – this time, 21 of them.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/5b6c3723736a9.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="282" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>anastasia vikulova</a>. Source: OVD-Info. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/08/09/nenasilstvennyy-terrorizm-ufimskoe-delo-hizb-ut-tahrir">originally published</a> in Russian by OVD-Info.</em><br /><br class="kix-line-break" />In late July, a court in Ufa, capital of Bashkortostan, reached a final ruling in one of the largest cases concerning the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir in recent years. Alleged and real members of the organisation, which is banned in Russia, have been <a href="https://graniru.org/opinion/m.266475.html">targeted consistently</a> over the past 15 years: since 2003, there were at least 50 trials concerning Hizb ut-Tahrir – and no less than 300 people have been convicted (mostly in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan) as a result. </p><p dir="ltr">On this occasion, some 21 people were sentenced to between five and 24 years imprisonment. According to the investigation, the crimes of these men included reading certain books, as well as holding meetings and discussions about Islam. The defendants were charged under two articles of Russia’s Criminal Code: on terrorist organisations and on attempts to overthrow the constitutional order. </p><p dir="ltr">OVD-Info spoke with those present at the trial and specialists on Islamist movements.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>The investigation</h2><p dir="ltr">Rinat Nurlygayanov, 27, received the longest sentence&nbsp;– 24 years imprisonment. Before his arrest, Nurlygayanov repaired household appliances, helped out at his local mosque and arranged charity football matches for residents of Ufa’s poorest districts. His mother Milyausha Nurlygayanova, a public defender, recalled how her son was tortured in February 2015. </p><p dir="ltr">“Three of the detainees were tortured on the first day: my son, (Alexander) Kornev, and (Rustem) Latypov. Rinat told me about this when I visited him at the detention centre three and a half years ago. He was beaten by riot police officers in masks, who forced him to testify. They gave him shocks using the ‘army telephone’: it’s a device with wires which are attached to the victim’s fingers. They turn the handle and the electric current increases. Then he was taken back to (FSB investigator) Korepanov, who asked ‘Will you sign?’ Rinat refused, so was taken away and tortured again. He’s the youngest of all (the detainees). They probably thought he was weak, and so would easily give in.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />As Rinat told his mother:<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><span class="blockquote-new">“They tortured me for a whole hour, I screamed loudly. Then they took a break. They picked up a mop, put a condom over the handle and went to the nearby rooms where other detainees were being held. They told everybody that they would be raped with the mop. Then they tortured me again with electric shocks. Music blared loudly from the rooms next door – it seems so that the screams wouldn’t be heard.”</span></p><p dir="ltr">The case against Nurlygayanov and the other 20 men arose as a result of a <a href="http://old.memo.ru/d/200020.html">2012 extremism investigation</a> into four Ufa residents – Aydar Garifyanov, Yevgeny Kulagin, Rasim Satpayev, and Alexey Khamadeyev – who were charged with setting up a Hizb ut-Tahrir group. In the course of the investigation, Russian law enforcement carried out searches of many homes, and dozens more people became suspects under Article 282.2 of Russia’s Criminal Code (on membership of an extremist organisation), including eight of the suspects who were recently sentenced.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/nurgylayanov.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/nurgylayanov.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rinat Nurlygayanov. Source: Human Rights Center Memorial. </span></span></span>In September 2014, investigators declared these eight men were wanted by the authorities – a fact the suspects themselves only discovered in February 2015 when they were arrested as part of a group of 23 men. Three of them, Denis Statsenko, Aynur Klysov and Ayrat Ibragimov, escaped detention and are now in hiding. The new accusations, on the same grounds, were filed on a different charge: article 205.5 (participation in a terrorist organisation). Both cases were dealt with by the same department of Bashkortostan FSB. By June 2016, a further eight people were under investigation in two parallel cases. Rinat Mamayev and Rinat Gataullin, who pleaded guilty, were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/22/verhovnyy-sud-uzhestochil-prigovor-obvinyaemym-v-prichastnosti-k-hizb-ut">convicted</a> in March 2017 to four years imprisonment.</p><p dir="ltr">If Korepanov, the head of the investigation team, is to be believed, on 15 June 2016 at Ufa FSB, the eight defendants agreed to the closure of the case against them under Article 282.2. On the back of the order to terminate the criminal case, investigator Korepanov wrote that the accused had given their assent. The defendants state that they did not give their consent to the termination of the case, neither verbally nor in writing. Furthermore, they state that they only discovered the existence of the order to close the case at trial. At the request of their defence counsel, the entry and exit logs of the detention centre where the men had been kept were checked. According to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s records, the prisoners were not taken to meetings with investigators. It should be noted that closing a criminal investigation without the accused being present is a procedural violation – and that falsifying investigation documents is a criminal offence.</p><p dir="ltr">The public defender for Denis Fayzrakhmanov, who asked not to be named, stated that investigator Korepanov was in no hurry to carry out an investigation: while suspects in the case were detained in February 2015, investigators only set to work on 1 August. Literature allegedly seized during searches of the defendants’ homes was handed over to the investigators only in December. The defendants deny keeping any prohibited material at home.</p><p dir="ltr">“Korepanov tried to bargain with the accused,” says Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer. “He offered a shorter sentence in exchange for confessions. Defendants in other Hizb-ut-Tahrir cases struck deals, meaning the investigators didn’t have to do anything. Back in 2015, Article 205.5 carried a heavy sentence – from five to ten years – and it was impossible to keep defendants in custody for over a year. Korepanov came to the detention centre and tried to persuade the men to admit guilt, threatening new charges if they refused. And in January 2016, a few weeks before the end of the official investigation, he announced to defendants that Article 278 (violent seizure of power) would be brought against them – an especially serious accusation. As a result, on 29 January, all the accused men’s detentions were extended.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Linar Vakhitov, director of For the Rights of Muslims, a human rights NGO, was also convicted in the case. Vakhitov declared that officers from the Centre for Countering Extremism tried to persuade him to confess. “If you’re detained, there’ll be a sentence. The question is: for how long?” he was told. Law enforcement officials also mentioned summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS, which were to be held in the summer of 2015 in Ufa. One of the topics for discussion at both events was the global fight against terrorism. Investigators needed, as Vakhitov puts it, “something to show when they reported back to their bosses.”<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>Missing records</h2><p dir="ltr">7 April 2017: the final day the defendants had to read the charges and evidence against them. But on that day, they discovered that two volumes (80 and 81) of the case files had gone missing. By this time, most of the accused had only managed to read a third of the case files – though Rinat Nurlygayanov, for example, managed to study 78 volumes. Two offices at the detention centre were crammed with nearly as many lawyers. One of the offices was nearly half-full of case materials. With only 23 seats, many had to study the documents standing.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer, after the two missing volumes were eventually recovered, they were found to unexpectedly contain the confessions of one of the defendants, Khalil Mustafin. He claims that the files did not contain his confession before they went missing – not least, Mustafin stresses, because he never made such confessions and insists on his innocence. Other defendants who were able to examine these volumes before they went missing make similar statements. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/mustafin_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/mustafin_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="458" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khalil Mustafin is a martial arts champion. He worked as a domestic appliancetechnician, and received 22 years in prison. </span></span></span>“The investigator recovered these volumes the following way,” says Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer. “He allegedly discovered files including transcriptions of Mustafin’s interrogation on his computer. He then printed out the drafts, stamped them, then added his signature and the words ‘verified copy.’” Mustafin’s former lawyer Diana Miyassarova, who was not defending him at the time, also confirms these events. Among the documents were testimonies implicating not only Mustafin, but several other participants of the case. At the beginning of the investigation Miyassarova was appointed Mustafina’s lawyer, but he stopped working with her in 2016.</p><p dir="ltr">After the case was handed over to the court system, the defendants immediately requested additional time to familiarise themselves with the evidence against them. The volumes again began to appear in the detention centre once again. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />On 21 September 2017, the defendants stated in court that staff at the detention centre had informed them that two more volumes (139 and 180) had been lost. Judge Oleg Semyonov sent a request to the detention centre, which responded that the case materials had been transferred to the investigator. On 28 September, the court declared that volumes containing details of searches of the defendants’ houses had been lost.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer believes that the loss of these volumes was far from coincidental:</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="blockquote-new">“We believe that the volumes containing details about the searches were lost because they were carried out with a lot of violations. In Nurlyganov’s case, for example, one of the witnesses of the search was a minor. It was important for the investigator that this volume did not get to court. So, how did they replace the court materials? They summoned FSB operatives to court. They couldn’t remember all the details of the search – what, where, how it was carried out – but they knew the list of seized literature by heart. Meanwhile, the defendants claimed they had no forbidden literature.”</span><br class="kix-line-break" />As for the volume containing the investigators’ interrogations, Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer believes that it met much the same fate. Investigators submitted poorly-scanned transcripts of these interrogations to the court, again bearing the words “verified copy”. During questioning at court, many defendants began to declare that they had never given the evidence recorded in the transcripts, and that the signatures were not theirs. </p><p dir="ltr">Six or seven witnesses distanced themselves entirely from the interrogation transcripts, rejecting the testimonies they had allegedly given to investigators. According to Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer, it was now impossible to conduct a handwriting examination due to the lack of original documents.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>At court</h2><p dir="ltr">According to a verdict of the Volga district military court, in 2010 a cell of the Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir began to meet in Bashkortostan. Between 2010 and 2013, Nurlygayanov and other defendants joined the group. </p><p dir="ltr">In the opinion of the investigation and the court, the primary reason for the organisation’s existence was the “elimination of non-Islamic governments… and the foundation of a worldwide Islamic caliphate.” The contribution of the accused to this goal was to hold clandestine religious and political study sessions, recruiting new adherents and collecting funds. Moreover, the defendants were accused of organising conferences and attending rallies to propagate the teachings of Hizb ut-Tahrir. With the exception of Aramis Fazylov, none of the accused admitted their guilt. Many of them were not acquainted with one another before their detention.</p><p dir="ltr">These acts were classified under sections one and two of Article 205.5 of Russia’s Criminal Code (on the organisation of and participation in activities of a terrorist organisation), as well as Article 278 and Article 30 (on attempts to overthrow the constitutional order). However, the court took into account the fact that the article on terrorist organisations (205.5) only appeared in the criminal code in November 2013 – hence none of the defendants could be prosecuted for acts committed before that date. Therefore the court qualified all the defendants’ alleged criminal acts before November 2013 under Article 282.2 (on extremist organisations), but dismissed the charges as the statute of limitations had expired. All actions of the accused since November 2013, in the court’s opinion, could be charged under Article 205.5.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Milyausha Nurlygayanova says that the judge was not interested in allegations of torture. She says that her son and others tried to talk about their torture in the courtroom, but the judge stopped them, answering that such matters should have been addressed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. “Don’t discuss that here,” the judge said, “that’s not within my remit.” The judge refused to field questions to officials or witnesses about the defendants’ torture.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />There also an incident of physical violence at court, says Nurlygayanova. One of the guards insulted Farid Mustafayev: “I’ll cut your balls off.” As he had stood up for Farid, Rinat was dragged away to the guards’ quarters along with him. “Then the guard grabbed Rinat by the scruff of the neck, threw him into a cage and gave him several electric shocks. Rinat lost consciousness. They called an ambulance and he was taken to the emergency ward. Doctors recorded his injuries and even gave us documentation, but there were no consequences for anybody,” recalls Rinat’s mother.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />According to Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer, judge Semyonov behaved rudely and without any restraint. He berated the defence, telling them to watch their tone, and constantly interrupted the defendants and witnesses. He constantly threatened lawyers that he would lodge a statement about their conduct with Russia’s bar association. </p><p dir="ltr">In April, several dozen cadets from the Ministry of the Interior attended one of the court hearings. They arrived late, and entered the courtroom after the session had begun. Usually when a spectator tried to enter a the courtroom late, judge Semyonov would stop them, hector them, and then throw them out. “The courtroom is not a tram you can hop on and off!” he would shout. But Semyonov said nothing to the cadets. The defendants tried to point out this inconsistency, but Semyonov replied that he would only allow them to speak after he had heard a witness’s testimony. Nurlygayanov asked permission to speak. Semyonov glanced at his secretary and asked “Cadets? Do you see any cadets here?” The secretary replied that he could not. Judge Semyonov agreed.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/photo_2018-07-31_23-30-29.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Defendants stage an action wearing t-shirts "I'm a Muslim and I'm against terrorism" in court. Image provided via OVD-Info. </span></span></span>Regardless of the defendants’ preferences, and the easy availability of lawyers to represent them, the judge appointed several “understudies” as legal counsels. If a lawyer was not present at the courtroom, even with good reason and with prior agreement, one of the “understudies” would stand in for them in court, and the trial would continue. Consequently, situations arose where one understudy would be present for the first half of a witness’s interrogation, and after everybody had returned from lunch, a different understudy would arrive to take his place. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer, these lawyers did very little for their clients apart from sit in on the court hearings. As for their actual lawyers, here’s how they communicated with their clients during breaks:<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“Around the glass in which the defendants were held, the bailiffs set up a barrier of courtroom benches. We called it the ‘buffer zone.’ The guards didn’t let anybody through.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">“When a break was announced in the trial, the following took place: the 20 people sitting on the floor in the cage would shout to their lawyers two metres away. The lawyers craned their necks over the perimeter of the buffer zone in an attempt to hear something. Some defendants cried out through the holes in the glass, others pressed their ears to the openings. It’s a cacophony; everyone was trying to hold a conversation at once, to pass on information, trying to work out whether it’s worth asking this or that question of a certain witness. This scene takes place before the prosecutor’s gaze, and sometimes even before that of the witnesses.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“After the break, the defendants declare that they were not given the opportunity to communicate nor exchange documents with their lawyers. The judge asks the chief guardsman: “Were they?” He responds “Yes, they were.” The trial goes on.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer says that the lawyers filed separate complains on the court’s “buffer zone”. When these complaints were discussed at court, a representative of the guards said that they had been unable to allow the lawyers access to their clients for security reasons. Yet in further instances at court, the guards declared that they had allowed such access.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Milyausha Nurlygayanova believes that her son was given the longest sentence because he most actively defended everybody during the trial. In the opinion of the defendants and their legal counsels, the length of sentences depended on behaviour in court, and not on the sum of evidence presented. In the words of Fayzrakhmanov’s lawyer, those who received 22 years’ imprisonment or more were those who most actively defended their innocence. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />In Nurlygayanova’s words, the court secretary Serzh Loran said in front of all the lawyers that “after the debate, we will gather together all the appeals filed by each defendant – we’ll give a big sentence to whoever has more than a small pile to their name.”<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>A brief history of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Russia</h2><p dir="ltr">Muslims whom law enforcement agencies consider to be members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been targeted in Russia since 2003, when the Supreme Court pronounced the group a terrorist organisation. Criminal cases are launched on charges of membership, not on the basis of committed or planned terrorist acts.</p><p dir="ltr">In his <a href="https://theins.ru/obshestvo/92121">analysis</a> of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities, Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis, notes that there were no grounds for recognising the organisation as a terrorist group. The Russian Supreme Court’s decision to do so made no mention of acts of terrorism committed by Hizb ut-Tahrir members. Verkhovsky also points out that the organisation’s tendency towards anti-Semitism and aggressive rhetoric against Israel could be sufficient grounds to characterise it as extremist, but not necessarily terrorist.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">In the winter of 2017, at the request of OVD-Info, journalist Nadezhda Kevorkova and war correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal (who was killed on 31 July in the Central African Republic) shared their thoughts about the nature of Hizb ut-Tahrir. In Kevorkova’s opinion, nonviolent struggle is an integral part of the ideology of this Islamist party:</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="blockquote-new">“Hizb ut-Tahrir is the largest international, utopian Islamist party in the world today – and the most futile in all senses of the word. A member of the party must reject the path to violence and has no right to conceal his or her membership of the party. Of course, this is a real boon for the security services of Russia and Uzbekistan who consider the party a terrorist organisation: if somebody is arrested, they confess their membership and receive a jail term.”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, or the “Party of Islamic Liberation,” emerged in the early 1950s in east Jerusalem. The party appeared in the political context of a growing anti-colonial movement and the foundation of the State of Israel, which was perceived in the Arab world as a manifestation of western imperialism. The Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood party formed the core of the organisation. </p><p dir="ltr">“Supporters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir believe that the caliphate will arise by itself, when some politician or other eventually recognises the movement’s righteousness and proclaims their country an Islamic Caliphate,” says Kevorkova. “And from there, Islam will spread across the globe.”</p><p dir="ltr">Orkhan Dzhemal believes that the decision to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2003 was connected with the improvement in relations between the Russian and Uzbek governments: </p><p dir="ltr">“The move to equating the party to organisations which carry out armed struggle can be seen as a nod to [Islam] Karimov’s Uzbekistan, as a necessary step for improving relations. During the early 2000s, economic ties quickly developed, especially when it came to the extraction, transit, and sale of hydrocarbons. Right on the heels of this economic growth came cooperation between the security services. At the time, Hizb ut-Tahrir was a real opposition force in Uzbekistan. Members of its Uzbek branch often fled to Russia, with which Uzbekistan had a visa-free regime, in order to escape persecution at home. As a result, Hizb-ut-Tahrir spread across Russia, from the Volga to the Urals and Western Siberia, where it established party cells and proselytised the movement’s teachings.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The Supreme Court’s ruling was accompanied by a PR campaign initiated by Uzbekistan. Central to the campaign was the assertion that, in contrast to its own guidelines, Hizb ut-Tahrir had founded a ‘military wing’. The only evidence given for this claim was the fact that several people, none of whom had any prior connection to the party, had participated in terrorist activities in Uzbekistan. Juicy information on the topic from the Uzbek security services soon fell into the hands of Russian media outlets.” </p><p dir="ltr">Russia is not the only country where Hizb-ut-Tahrir is an illegal organisation. However, it’s worth considering that the term 'illegal' does not usually spell criminal investigations against an organisation’s members, but simply refusal of official registration. However in Lebanon, where Hizb ut-Tahrir is also prohibited, the organisation holds its international congresses unhindered. Meanwhile the party still holds high-profile events in Turkey, despite being banned.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.</p><p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/new-casualties-of-russia-s-war-on-terror">The new casualties of Russia’s war on terror</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists">How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/tortured-terrorised-russian-muslim-facing-deportation">Tortured and terrorised by the state, this Russian Muslim now faces deportation </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexey Polikhovich Russia Tue, 21 Aug 2018 06:18:11 +0000 Alexey Polikhovich 119367 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Turkmenistan spies on its citizens at home and abroad https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naz-nazar/how-turkmenistan-spies-on-its-citizens <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A mix of traditional techniques and new technologies allows the Turkmen regime to follow its citizens’ every move.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-33189962.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-33189962.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Photo: Kremlin Pool / Zuma Press / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>New documents obtained by openDemocracy can today reveal how Turkmenistan's regime is spying on its citizens abroad, in order to scrutinise who they are in contact with and what they post. The documents, which comprise the period between 2008 and 2014, also reveal the key role Turkmenistan’s Embassy in Turkey has played in spying on Turkmen citizens in that country.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">According to Freedom House, Turkmenistan is&nbsp;<a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018" target="_blank">one of the world’s least free countries</a>, where the flow of information is severely restricted and tightly controlled. Since&nbsp;<a href="https://rsf.org/en/news/list-13-internet-enemies" target="_blank">2006</a>, the Central Asian state has been part of Reporters without Borders’ list of “enemies of the internet”. Having an internet connection is punishingly expensive and satellite dishes have been dismantled. Turkmen Telekom, the only internet provider, is run by the government. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, VKontakte have all been blocked, alongside numerous news websites.</p><p dir="ltr">In the mind of the authorities, censorship helps to guarantee political stability and the durability of the regime by controlling what information Turkmen citizens have – or, more accurately, don’t have – access to. However, the new documents seen by openDemocracy reveal how the regime is attempting to track its citizens abroad, as well as at home. With Turkmen students present in significant numbers at institutions in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, it is legitimate to wonder whether the Turkmen Embassies in those countries exercise the same degree of control, too, and whether this practice continues to this day.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Tried and tested</h2><p dir="ltr">The system is simple, if laborious. The education attaché at the embassy requests a complete list of all Turkmen students from Turkish universities, as well as the courses they are enrolled in. This information is entered into Excel files – some of which have been obtained by openDemocracy – along with the students’ date of birth, passport number and permanent address in Turkmenistan. </p><p dir="ltr">The data is then passed on to informers, themselves Turkmen students who are lured into collaborating with the government in exchange for financial aid. According to the documents, there is one designated informer per university dormitory who is assigned a list of students to spy on. Informers work independently and do not know the identity of other informers. They fill in their own entries in the Excel files, which are then sent to the embassy and on to Ashgabat, in a constant back-and-forth of information.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kerim, one of the informers reached by openDemocracy, Ashgabat would often show an interest in students’ grades, course attendance and progress in their studies. This is confirmed in some of the entries in the Excel files, where it was noted that a ‘student has received low grades, therefore he should be questioned,’ while another student ‘tries to be good in his studies. He is under my control.’ But something more sinister lies behind this innocent facade, as not performing in one’s studies is interpreted in Ashgabat as engaging in extracurricular activities, which is why one of the informers’ tasks is to gauge students’ political and religious orientations.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/FA3BC9F4-7D04-44A7-A336-4C62AB49F179_cx0_cy47_cw0_w1023_r1_s.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Turkmen student Omriuzak Omarkulyev. Source: RFE/RL Turkmen Service. </span></span></span>A document from the Turkmen Embassy in Ankara classifies Turkmen students according to their links to various “groups”, a code word used throughout the files to mean Islamic religious movements such as the <a href="http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4b6fe30a0.pdf">Nur movement</a>, whose disciples follows the teachings of Turkish preacher Said Nursi, and the Gülen movement, which has been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naz-nazar/anti-gulen-campaign-in-turkmenistan">banned</a> both in Turkey and Turkmenistan. One entry states that a student “has bad marks and has been given a warning. More recently, he turned away from the movement and is now concentrating on his studies.”</p><p dir="ltr">As is often the case, however, spies end up being spied upon. It so happened that, since returning to Turkmenistan after finishing his studies, Kerim has been harassed by the authorities, who accused him of having been part of the Gülen movement, too, and of writing articles for foreign media outlets. </p><p dir="ltr">Others have had it worse. In June 2018, RFE/RL ran <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/turlmenistan-turkey-student-omarkulyev-imprisoned/29292029.html">a story</a> about a Turkmen student in Turkey, Omriuzak Omarkulyev, who was invited to visit Turkmenistan to take part in various events in the country, including addressing parliament, as the authorities were said to have been impressed with his activism at his Turkish university. Omarkulyev is now being held at the notorious <a href="http://enews.fergananews.com/articles/1803">Ovadan-Depe prison</a> in the Karakum desert. Less than two weeks later, RFE/RL’s Turkmen service <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbs9sw0KG9o">reported</a> that several people living and studying abroad who had returned to Turkmenistan on the authorities’ invitation had also been detained. </p><h2 dir="ltr">What continues abroad begins at home</h2><p dir="ltr">If the Turkmen government’s arm abroad is long, at home it appears to be ubiquitous, as it has effectively eradicated any form of opposition to the regime and ended all free media. Recently, the hunt is on for anyone commenting, sharing, liking and following Turkmen news sites from abroad such as Prague-based RFE/RL’s Turkmen service Azatlyk, Vienna’s <a href="https://tm.hronikatm.com/">Chronicles of Turkmenistan</a>, and the Dutch-based <a href="https://habartm.org/archives/category/news-in-english">Alternative Turkmenistan News</a>, which are the only remaining outlets reporting on daily events inside Turkmenistan. </p><p dir="ltr">Reports indicate that readers of these news sources have been warned during interrogations that, since these sites remain banned in the country, reading them constitutes a crime. They are <a href="https://tm.hronikatm.com/2016/12/turkmenistanda-sosial-ulgamlaryn-ulanyjylary-%20sohbetdeslige-akidilyar/">being questioned</a> as to why they visit those sites, whether they regularly follow their news and whether they give information to them. Azatlyk <a href="https://www.azathabar.com/a/turkmenistanda-syyasy-toparlara-agza-bolan-internet-ulanyjylary-yzarlanyar/28144033.html">disclosed</a> that social media users have received calls directly to their mobile phones by the authorities and, at times, have even received a visit at home.</p><p dir="ltr">This comes against the backdrop of a fast-deteriorating economic situation in the country with <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bruce-pannier-and-luca-anceschi/a-terminal-crisis-in-turkmenistan">food shortages and soaring unemployment</a>, which have the government increasingly edgy about any potential source of dissent, including online. Recently, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan <a href="http://tdh.gov.tm/news/en/articles.aspx&amp;article11337&amp;cat26">reported</a> that the vice president of Rohde und Schwarz, a German technology company, had met Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. While the official reason for the encounter was trade, activists and Turkmenistan-watchers fear that the government’s real aim is to obtain devices to monitor and block mobile and satellite communications, as well as internet access. Because of this, Human Rights Watch <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/25/turkmenistan-report-inquiry-german-cybersecurity-firm">called upon</a> Rohde und Schwarz to disclose its dealings with Turkmenistan in order to guarantee accountability.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Apart from cutting-edge technology, the Turkmen intelligence services still resort to threats and physical violence to extract information – and, sure enough, money&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In the past, Wikileaks <a href="https://wikileaks.org/spyfiles/document/gamma/GAMMA-2011-TMFinfFinF-en/page-2/#pagination">revealed</a> that Turkmenistan had acquired various spy technologies, including the FinFisher software. As CorpWatch, a watchdog covering corporate wrongdoing, <a href="https://corpwatch.org/article/turkmenistan-and-oman-negotiated-buy-spy-software-wikileaks">reported</a> at the time: “FinFisher – a suite of software products manufactured by Gamma International, a UK company – claim that it can track locations of cell phones, break encryption to steal social media passwords, record calls including Skype chats, remotely operate built-in webcams and microphones on computers and even log every keystroke made by a user.”</p><p dir="ltr">Apart from cutting-edge technology, the Turkmen intelligence services still resort to threats and physical violence to extract information – and, sure enough, money – from people. In a country with no rule of law to speak of, people are threatened with all sorts of consequences – they may not be able to travel abroad ever again; their children may be kicked out of school; a relative may lose their job – for them to snitch on the internet habits of family, friends, and acquaintances. Useful information includes whether they know someone who uses VPNs to access the internet – and what websites they visit. Students studying at a foreign university and spending their summer breaks at home are also an easy prey, especially if they need to renew their passports.</p><p dir="ltr">However, one Ashgabat resident told openDemocracy that people targeted include those whose behaviour or appearance seem to deviate from the norm – especially when it may be interpreted as an outward expression of religiosity. So, for instance, if someone grows a beard or refuses to drink alcohol at wedding parties, often they will be summoned for interrogation shortly after. There, they will subjected to severe physical and psychological pressure, <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2016/11/medieval-torture-in-turkmenistan/">including torture</a>, to make them comply with the intelligence services’ demands: either you report on people who speak against the government, online or otherwise, or you will spend 25 years in prison for terrorism.</p><p dir="ltr">In the end, whether at home or abroad, on- or off-line, one thing seems certain: the Turkmen government is out for any and all information about its citizens, and will go to any length to get it. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bruce-pannier-and-luca-anceschi/a-terminal-crisis-in-turkmenistan">A terminal crisis in Turkmenistan?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/day-watching-turkmen-television">A day watching Turkmen television</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anonymous-at-alternative-turkmenistan-news/turkmenistan-where-everything-in-garden-looks-rosy-ashgabat">Turkmenistan – where everything in the garden looks rosy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/naz-nazar/anti-gulen-campaign-in-turkmenistan">The tragic echoes of Turkey’s anti-Gülen campaign in Turkmenistan </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Naz Nazar Turkmenistan Thu, 16 Aug 2018 12:49:13 +0000 Naz Nazar 119277 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A torture scandal makes Russia pay attention https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/torture-scandal-makes-russia-pay-attention <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Graphic footage of a prisoner being tortured has gripped the Russian public. But the lawyer who helped expose this torture needs state protection.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/content_001_colong7.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta recently released footage of how Evgeny Makarov, a prisoner in Yaroslavl Colony No 1, was brutally tortured in June 2017. Source: Novaya Gazeta. </span></span></span>Last month, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/30/leaked-video-blows-lid-torture-russian-prisons.">a gruesome torture scandal broke out</a> in Russia — one that finally means the authorities cannot continue to ignore the gravity of the problem.</p><p dir="ltr">On 20 July, Novaya Gazeta, a leading Russian independent newspaper, published a 10-minute video of penitentiary officials viciously beating a prisoner in a penal colony in Yaroslavl, 266 km from Moscow. The beating was clearly meant as a punishment for an inmate who not only misbehaved but, notably, had filed many complaints with the prison service about mistreatment.</p><p dir="ltr">The officials went about the beating in a businesslike manner, stretching their victim on a table and methodically hitting him with batons. The video, recorded with the body camera of one of the torturers over a year ago, was leaked to Irina Biryukova, a human rights lawyer with the Public Verdict Foundation, an independent group that assists torture victims. Biryukova shared the video with Novaya Gazeta after months of futile efforts to force the authorities to investigate.&nbsp;<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">Over two million people watched the shocking video in the first 48 hours after its release. As a wave of public indignation was rising, the country’s chief criminal investigation agency swiftly <a href="http://sledcom.ru/news/item/1242402/">opened an&nbsp;investigation</a> into abuse of authority with the use of violence, and 12 suspects have been arrested pending trial.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The case of Evgeny Makarov is horrific and very specific — both because the video made the abuse proceedings impossible to deny and because officials suppressed the video for almost a year</p><p dir="ltr">The victim, 25-year-old Evgeny Makarov, was transferred to another penitentiary and eventual received government protection. The deputy head of the Russian Penitentiary Service publicly apologised to the victim and his family, promised full accountability for all the staff involved, and said that he was “ashamed by those staff members.” His apology and assurances appear unprecedented in Russia, where <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">authorities typically dismiss</a> prisoners’ complaints of ill-treatment.</p><p dir="ltr">Several weeks later, the Public Verdict Foundation passed excerpts from the arrested officials’ confessions on to Novaya Gazeta. These statements shed light on something very puzzling. Indeed, why would a prison guard make a video recording of a prisoner’s torture? Was he simply careless and forgot to turn off the camera? Was he a sadist? Did he want to keep the video to watch privately or in the company of people similarly inclined?</p><p dir="ltr">No. One of the suspects <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/08/10/77461-pytki-i-palki">explained in his testimony</a> that they recorded the video to demonstrate to the penitentiary’s senior officials that the order to punish an arrogant prisoner had been thoroughly executed. It’s particularly ironic and by no means a coincidence that the “punishment” was carried out in the room especially allocated for educational activities.&nbsp;They were, after all, supposed to “<a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/08/10/77461-pytki-i-palki">teach [Makarov] a lesson</a>”.</p><p dir="ltr">The case of Evgeny Makarov is horrific and very specific — both because the video made the abuse proceedings impossible to deny and because officials suppressed the video for almost a year. That did not go <a href="https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CAT/Shared%20Documents/RUS/CAT_C_RUS_CO_6_32062_E.pdf">unnoticed by the UN Committee against Torture,</a> which had been scheduled to review Russia’s torture record just as the scandal broke.</p><p>But Makarov’s case isn’t unique by far. To illustrate that torture is <a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2018/08/09/vse-soobscheniya-o-pytkah-etogo-goda-v-odnoy-tablitse-ih-uzhe-bolshe-polusotni">widespread</a> in Russia, Meduza, a leading online media outlet, pulled together data on more than 50 other torture cases reported in the public domain in 2018. The alleged torturers include police officials, investigators, security agents, and penitentiary officials. The alleged methods of torture include beating, asphyxiation, electric shocks, restraining in painful positions, sleep deprivation, denial of water and so on. Only a few criminal cases were opened into these incidents, and only one of them has been moved to trial.</p><p dir="ltr">The UN committee likewise expressed concern about “numerous reliable reports” of torture in Russia which rarely resulted in criminal prosecutions.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5301crop.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="213" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Irina Biryukova. Source: Personal archive. </span></span></span>Biryukova told Human Rights Watch that although the scandal over the case would not put an end to torture in Russia, it has at least served to get things moving in the right direction. </p><p dir="ltr">“The authorities finally acknowledged the problem and its gravity,” she told Human Rights Watch. “They started talking about the need to scrutinise video recordings from body cameras and to ensure better transparency.”</p><p dir="ltr">An important step in that direction would be to guarantee protection to whistleblowers and in this case, immediately extend government protection to Biryukova, something the UN committee also urged.</p><p dir="ltr"> Biryukova received grave threats right after the video’s publication and had to flee Russia with her teenage daughter. She filed a request for government protection weeks ago, but it hasn’t yet been granted. </p><p dir="ltr">Biryukova is eager to return to Russia, especially as her daughter needs to go back to school, but their safety is paramount. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oksana-trufanova/why-russian-prison-officers-can-kill-with-impunity">Why Russian prison officers can torture with impunity</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">Russia’s prison service is keeping its abuses under lock and key</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/inside-russia-s-new-gulag">Inside Russia’s new Gulag</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/this-is-karelia-tortured-voices-from-russia-s-prison-system">This is Karelia: tortured voices from Russia’s prison system</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Russia Thu, 16 Aug 2018 10:02:10 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 119296 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “I wanted to wail, to scream at them: ‘What in the world are you doing to my daughter? Are you human or not?’” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/interview-anna-pavlikova-new-greatness-case <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">An interview with the mother of Anna Pavlikova, an 18-year-old facing extremism charges in Russia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 17.59.28.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anna Pavlikova. </span></span></span>In mid-March, Russian law enforcement arrested ten people in Moscow on charges of creating an extremist organisation — the previously unknown “New Greatness” organisation. According to OVD-Info, which monitors politically motivated arrests in Russia, FSB officers <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2018/03/30/extremism-inside-out/">organised</a> “New Greatness” from the inside — providing funds, stimulus, direction, a meeting space and even training several participants how to use Molotov cocktails — before declaring it to be an extremist organisation and detaining its members. Charges against seven of the suspects are based on the testimony of the remaining three people who are under house arrest. These men are believed to be security service agents who infiltrated the organisation. Indeed, one of them wrote the organisation's charter.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Moscow resident Anna Pavlikova was 17 when she was arrested as part of the investigation into “New Greatness”. Since her arrest at home on 15 March, Pavlikova's health has significantly deteriorated. Regardless, her detention has been extended on several occasions: apparently she is a particularly dangerous suspect. </p><p dir="ltr">Thus, a Moscow court refused to place Pavlikova under house arrest on 9 August. But after an unsanctioned public meeting was announced in support of her and another defendant, Maria Dubovik, on 15 August, Russia's Supreme Court ordered that Pavlikova's request for house arrest be heard in court, and investigators requested that Pavlikova should be transferred to house arrest. The court is expected to hear this request on 16 August.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Alexander Chernykh, a correspondent for Kommersant, interviewed Anna Pavlikova’s mother Yulia at the request of OVD-Info in May.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Yulia, your daughter Anna was 17 when she was arrested. Tell me how the police conducted her detention.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Someone started trying to break into our flat around half five in the morning. There was loud knocking and yelling. The whole family was jolted awake, we didn’t understand what was going on at all. Some man we didn’t know said that we had flooded his apartment downstairs. We didn’t know this neighbour, but we inspected our flat anyway — everything was dry, no leaks — but he screamed to open the door. Then we called the police: we said that some thieves were trying to break in, and asked for help. They checked something and then responded that it wasn’t bandits outside, it was the police and that we should let them in. </p><p dir="ltr">My husband Dima opened the door and was immediately hit in the forehead, pushed to the ground and held there with a boot. They were all shouting “On the ground!” and swearing loudly. Four people in balaclavas and machine guns invaded our flat. Then two more in ordinary uniform &nbsp;came in. They didn’t show any ID: just forced everyone to lie down facing the ground. You know, my elder daughter was scared so much that shoved her five-month-old daughter under the bed to hide. And her husband who was lying beside her started yelling, “Don’t you see we’ve got a baby here?!” Only then the policeman told her that she could get up, and ordered her to sit on the bed with the child. They weren’t allowed to leave the room during the search.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/jpavlikova-2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yulia Pavlikova in her daughter's room. Source: Dmitry Bogolyubov. </span></span></span>In the meantime, we were sent to the kitchen and asked questions. They screamed at Anya [Anna], making her cry. “Tell us at once…”, “You’re probably a junkie, aren’t you?” and even “‘We’ll put you in jail for 20 years you’ll come out old and nobody will marry you.” It went on like this for a few hours. One of them even threatened to hit her.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>How did the search go? What were they looking for?</em></p><p dir="ltr">The police kept us in the kitchen, so we didn’t see the search itself. They were coming into the kitchen, showing stuff and asking ‘What is it? And what is this?’ But where they took it from we didn’t see. </p><p dir="ltr">As it turned out, they just ruined everything in the flat. They stepped on furniture in their boots. The sofa on which Anya sleeps was broken into three pieces. They threw everything off the shelves and took everything out of the cupboards and wardrobes. My daughter liked to make things out of plastic [either plasticine or polymer clay], so the police destroyed her work. What was it all for? </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Were there witnesses present?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, they brought some people with them. These weren’t our neighbours or just random people. Afterwards my husband saw them in the window talking to the investigator outside. They were laughing and smiling together with him.</p><p dir="ltr">You won’t believe how absurd the search was. My Anya is really into Harry Potter. So, she’s got all the books, posters on the walls, a scarf of the school. And she made badges from the book — with some magic symbols, with their coats of arms. It all turned out very beautifully. So, they pulled the badges out of her jewellery box brought it to us and yelled “What kind of swastika is this?” And she, clever girl, responded “If you haven’t read Harry Potter, I can’t help you with anything.” Then they looked at each other and decided not to take the badges. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>What did they confiscate in the end?</em></p><p dir="ltr">They took all the electronic equipment that was in the house. Her father’s laptop was taken, all phones and even their boxes were taken too. The only thing they left was my elder daughter’s very simple phone and our old printer.</p><p dir="ltr">But the main thing that drew their interest were some printed pages which later turned out to be the charter of “Novoe Velichie”. Anya told me later when we saw each in the court that she didn’t keep anything like that at home and that the only “political” things she had at home were badges with the word “Navalny” on them.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"The search ended. They took the organisation charter, the phones and drove Anya to the Investigative Committee. They put handcuffs on her, a 17-year-old girl. Can you believe it? Because of some sheets of paper"</p><p dir="ltr">I could have chosen not to believe her — although our relationship is good, and there’s never been an instance when she’s lied to me. But after Anna was arrested, I read her message exchange on Telegram and saw that she wrote to the others almost the day before the arrest: “I don’t have anything at home.” I am certain it all was planted.</p><p dir="ltr">So, the search ended. They took the organisation charter, the phones and drove Anya to the Investigative Committee. They put handcuffs on her, a 17-year-old girl. Can you believe it? Because of some sheets of paper. Her dad went with her. I stayed at home because of my disability. I went into her room and saw how they’d left it. </p><p dir="ltr">You know, she graduated from art school. Her drawings were very pretty. So, the policemen threw all her drawings all over the room. On one of the pictures – with a dog – there was a dirty footprint left. It seems so barbarian to me, so cultureless. Was it really that necessary?</p><p dir="ltr">I actually collect and keep all of her pictures, but that one I crumpled and threw away.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>What happened to Anna after she was arrested?</em></p><p dir="ltr">My husband was with her until late at night. He said the interrogation was very harsh. Four people conducted a cross-examination, with threats, with constant obscene language. And she was underage at the time. They didn’t even hesitate to swear in front of her, the officers of the “rights-protecting” agencies. We’ve got a law against profanity. They spell “18+” on books, people face fines for swearing. But these officers swore endlessly during the search and later during the interrogation. </p><p dir="ltr">My husband requested to have a psychologist present because Anya was underage. But the investigator responded: “What am I supposed to do, hang about with you until tomorrow morning? There are too many of you.” Then they wrote in the report that there was a psychologist present although there wasn’t. They didn’t allow her to call an lawyer — she managed to do that only late at night. My husband was sent home by the police while Anya stayed there.</p><p dir="ltr">Then, the next say there was a hearing in court, she was declared to be under arrest. When I saw her at the appeal session via video camera, I was tremendously shocked. I just wanted to stand up, to wail, to scream at them: “What in the world are you doing to my daughter? Are you human or not?”</p><p dir="ltr">My Anya is very emotional... Last year during exams at school, her blood pressure jumped up to 160, she fainted. They had to call an ambulance. After that I sent her to a doctor for examination: I’ve got multiple sclerosis, I was worried she could also have it. &nbsp;No sclerosis was detected but the MRI scan revealed some issues anyway. The doctor said then: “She needs care, so she doesn’t worry. She needs to be outside, to breathe fresh air…” </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Do you have any records of this? </em></p><p dir="ltr">Of course. We handed in all these medical documents at the first court session on preventive measures. All the hospital documents on her stomach, her dysautonomia, her cardiac issues. She gets examined annually by a cardiologist and neurologist. But unfortunately no judge looked at these documents.</p><p dir="ltr">Later, we learned from Anya’s letter to the Public Oversight Committee [an organisation that monitors conditions in detention - OVD-Info] what kind of conditions she was kept in during transportation to the remand centre. There was very little space in that police wagon. She had to sit on cold metal seats while it was -10C outside. She wrote in this letter that they were kept in this insane cold for 3 hours and that her kidneys and her adnexa were inflamed and that she really suffered. It’s a real torture, you know. What are they torturing my daughter for? For some pieces of paper? </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Did Anna’s interest in politics come as a surprise or did you know about it? </em></p><p dir="ltr">I knew she wasn’t indifferent. She never lied to me. We were like friends. I knew my daughter went to the march in memory of Boris Nemtsov. I wasn’t against it — I understood that it was important for her and the demonstration was sanctioned. But the search and the arrest, indeed, came as a complete surprise. </p><p dir="ltr">I was trying to understand how that happened, so I read all the messages of this “New Greatness” group on Telegram. My daughter’s number was registered to my name [underage children are not permitted to sign a contract with a mobile operator in Russia, therefore the majority of parents register SIM cards with their names]. After the search I got a new SIM with the same number, downloaded Telegram and went through the whole story. I read and saw how these provocateurs managed to do it all. It’s all visible in the chat, like a novel.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"In the message feed, you can see when this Ruslan D. appears [the undercover agent who, in effect, created the organisation]. You can see how he talks to the kids, makes them trust him"</p><p dir="ltr">The kids weren’t thinking about anything dangerous. They just gathered at McDonalds, hung out, worried about the election and discussed what to do to prevent falsifications. We adults discuss politics as well: someone in the kitchen, someone over a cigarette. So do children.</p><p dir="ltr">In the message feed, you can see when this Ruslan D. appears [the undercover agent who, in effect, created the organisation]. You can see how he talks to the kids, makes them trust him and then starts to provoke them. He says: “Why do you gather at McDonalds like dummies? Let’s find a space. That will be serious. A step forward.” Then he brags in their chat: “Guys, I’ve bought a printer. We will print our flyers now.” And he sends photos of the printer. Then he wrote the charter. You can see it clearly. This is how he formed the group little-by-little and the kids didn’t even notice it. He is not just a provocateur, he is a Provocateur with a capital P.</p><p dir="ltr">From reading the chat I understood how he caught Anya, I guess. But before that I should tell you a little about her. She grew up very just and responsible. She cares about the environment. For instance, she had been writing to all authorities, so they would put recycling bins near the house. Because of her we started to use ecological dishwashing liquids, laundry detergent, make-up…</p><p dir="ltr">She has a big heart for nature. When they were cutting trees down to make a bicycle path at Krylatskoye [a Moscow district], she attended all the meetings, gathered signatures against it. She explained the noise would interfere with birds nesting. She always worried about them deeply. This winter was hard on the birds — it was very snowy. So, she was buying immense amounts of food for them. We hung bird feeders.</p><p dir="ltr">Once, a tree fell down due to the wind. She went and found three tiny birds in the grass. The whole family fed them in turns, every two hours. Then they grew bigger and she took them back and let them go.</p><p dir="ltr">Anya loves animals in general. She wants to become a biotechnologist. She attended a preparation course at Moscow State University. She tried to enter it but her score was just by a little below the needed, so she decided to wait for a year and re-take the exams this summer. And she went to work in a veterinary clinic so she wouldn’t be a burden. They all love her there very much. When I went to get a profile on her for the court, her boss was in total shock. She complimented my daughter so much, saying that the girl runs herself rugged. </p><p dir="ltr">I think these feeling of caring, justice and responsibility — they played a nasty trick on her in the end. Probably I’m also guilty as her mom — I didn’t teach her how to be cunning. I didn’t teach her that sometimes she needs to keep quiet and sometimes to cheat a little. So she grew up very just and very straightforward. And then this provocateur Ruslan D. simply exploited it. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>How exactly?</em></p><p dir="ltr">He’s a good psychologist and knows what buttons to push. It is clearly seen in the chat. He writes to Anya: ‘“We need you. You don’t even have to pay the fees. The main thing: come to the meetings. The rest can’t do without you.” He plays on her sense of responsibility, you know. Later she writes that she doesn’t have enough time and that she wants to leave the organisation. But this provocateur doesn’t let her go, persuades her, writes her directly. He gives her important assignments. Probably the more people he puts in jail, the better for him.</p><p dir="ltr">I absolutely can’t understand how it is acceptable to act this way. He is significantly older than the rest. He’s over 30, probably married and with kids. How can he come home to them from work? You know, maybe even the fascists let kids go in some cases. But he didn’t show mercy to a 17-year-old girl, he pushed her intentionally. What for? For more stars on his shoulder boards? How can he live knowing he ruined someone else’s life? &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">My daughter should be preparing for exams now, applying to a university, engage with her animals. Anya bred parrots at home. Some of a rather rare breed. One bird they brought to her from Israel and the other one from St Petersberg. She spent a lot of time on them to make them nest. And the eggs hatched but she got arrested. So she didn’t see then. Anya hopes she’ll be let out, she asked not to give the birds away so she can see how they turned out</p><p dir="ltr">She is also is very worried about the dog. We’ve got an American Cocker Spaniel at home, he’s 11. Old and ill. Anya treated him. At our first meeting she started to cry that she wouldn’t see the dog anymore. She said: “When they were taking me they didn’t even let me to say goodbye to the dog.”</p><p dir="ltr">She was only 17 and she was arrested for a few sheets of paper. Some girls grow up quickly, but Anya isn’t like that. She hasn’t been in a relationship. No boys. She slept with a toy horse still. She’s just a child. And now she’s locked at the remand centre where there are 45 people in one cell. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">I still can’t wrap my head around it. How is it possible to ruin a child’s future taking all that she valued? I want to scream but I don’t know where. I was sitting at home today, crying and thinking that it would be great to find a place where Vladimir Putin goes. To tell him about this case.</p><p dir="ltr">Who benefits from having such a good girl taken to a remand centre? What did these kids do to put them to jail? I just don’t understand how our government lives with this. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.</p><p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">The inside story of Russia’s failed social media revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists">How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">The 26 March case: how Russia is cracking down on freedom of assembly</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Wed, 15 Aug 2018 17:08:39 +0000 OVD-Info 119281 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Research the revenge: what we’re getting wrong about Russia Today https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vasily-gatov/what-we-are-getting-wrong-about-russia-today <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Screen%20Shot%202018-08-15%20at%2009.15.58_0.png" alt="" width="80" />Data-mining and analysis will not reveal what makes Russian propaganda tick.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-33961593_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>(c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>I personally know many people who work at RT, and I have known some of them for over 20 years. When we first met in the “stormy 1990s”, some of them, like myself, were working for foreign TV bureaus in Moscow, others for independent radio. All those aspiring young people were enthusiastic, cosmopolitan, spoke a number of languages and loved bourgeois traits (which, yes, includes golf).</p><p>These boys and girls eventually hit western media’s glass ceiling. In the early 2000s, the big TV and news media bureaus in Moscow were curtailed — either due to economic constraints or decreasing interest in Russia. Very few of the capable producers, field reporters and editors continued their careers at the BBC, Australia’s ABC News, German public service broadcaster ZDF or Reuters. Western media, once enchanted with perestroika and glasnost’, and later the seismic events of the Yeltsin era, trained and taught this “local staff”, myself included. In the 2000-2004 period, most of these people lost their comfortable jobs, failed to qualify for transfers to other countries or find places for themselves at the Moscow offices of other foreign media outlets.</p><p dir="ltr">A decade later, most of them were working for Russian state television and other state media such as the newly born Russia Today. Today, they are the bosses and leaders of this TV channel, which is now regarded as a major threat to western democracy.</p><p dir="ltr">It is well known that Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, developed some sort of hostility to the USA after a <a href="https://exchanges.state.gov/non-us/program/future-leaders-exchange">FLEX exchange</a> she attended at the age of 15. A girl from the bustling seaside resort of Sochi found herself in Bristol, New Hampshire (population 1,688 in 2010) — not exactly the centre of the universe. Imagine someone who grew up at the seaside of Miami beach being diverted to an obscure depopulated village in Karelia, northwest Russia? You may fall in love with lakes and rocks, even with the nice cumbersome people who live there, but you’ll never sympathise with the country which sent you to the middle of nowhere — in the case of Simonyan, that’s FLEX (and the State Department that oversaw the programme).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There’s no algorithm in RT’s malevolence, no scrupulous propaganda technology. What powers it is the burning hatred of smart boys and girls who once thought of the West as the “shining city on the hill”</p><p dir="ltr">But Margarita Simonyan isn’t alone in her vigorous love-hate relationship with America and the west. Many of her accomplices at RT are disgruntled former staffers of western media in Moscow. These people are well-trained, well-educated, well-travelled — and completely disillusioned in press freedom, having formed their opinions after the abrupt ending of their comfortable and well-paid careers in western bureaus in Moscow. They all have this unifying event in the past: when you’re fired (or rejected) by someone who defined you and your life, it leaves a taste of betrayal in the mouth.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When academic colleagues <a href="https://reframingrussia.com/">collect data and dissect RT’s malignant practices</a> in an attempt to reconstruct the massive system of orchestrated agenda manipulation, I have to say — I don’t see anything of the sort. What I see are the faces of my former friends and colleagues who, in Star Wars terms, went to the Dark Side. Most of RT’s professional Russian leadership have the following background: once a ZDF producer, once a Agence France Press reporter, once a Golf Digest publisher… Each of them has a desire for revenge, and with time this desire only intensifies.</p><p dir="ltr">To <a href="https://medium.com/@d1gi">my colleagues researching Russian propaganda</a>, I have this advice: don’t overcomplicate RT’s practices. It is possible you will find some vicious patterns and suspicious signs of high intelligence capabilities — but this evidence is false. What you see is not a calculated offensive operation with long-term goals, but a pattern of rage and revenge. Furious in their revenge, people of RT and other Russian “disinformation troops” are merely trying to implement their sense of betrayal. They share this feeling with the Kremlin, which feels deceived by the triumphant post-Cold War West. And, because of this shared hate (and zeal), they tirelessly work and direct work of others — to revenge, to humiliate and deceive in return.</p><p dir="ltr">While I agree generally with the importance of scientific and data-rich research of RT’s activities, I see fewer reasons to develop any recommendations based on these kind of studies. There’s no algorithm in RT’s malevolence, no scrupulous propaganda technology. What powers it is the burning hatred of smart boys and girls who once thought of the West — and particularly Western media — as the “shining city on the hill”, but now feel offended and deceived. The ingenuity of broken illusions is the fuel of RT, coupled with lavish state funding and emotional reimbursement. Nothing is more creative than a desire for revenge — and this means that no “computational” or restrictive measures for opposing this revenge will be successful.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, a very similar ethos is present among RT’s western staff. Most of them are either outcasts in the journalism of their respective countries (and therefore join RT to wage revenge as well) or junior graduates who had never been really accepted into western journalism, and who easily consume tales and truths, “shaken, not stirred” and supplied by older and more experienced RT staffers.</p><p>That said, I am quite pessimistic about any perspective of policy or other means of response to RT’s continuing campaign. The broadcaster’s staff share the employer’s passionate position against liberal values, free and independent journalism, impartial and balanced reporting — and do their best to perform. Unless the Kremlin decides to opt for some sort of “informational détente” with the West — guided by some pragmatic reasons or terms of trade — RT will continue to efficiently overcome international barriers, playing on the devils and perils of Western societies and cleverly exploiting the weaknesses of the liberal political order. Well, “efficiently” is something of an overstatement: RT <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/11/technology/youtube-fake-view-sellers.html">continuously inflates its audience</a>, which has been reported <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/putins-propaganda-tv-lies-about-its-popularity">time and again</a>, and this doesn’t bode well for the declarations of grandeur for which Margarita Simonyan is so well known.</p><p dir="ltr">It is powered by revenge for a personal offence, nothing else.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">Russia, America, it&#039;s time to talk face-to-face</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/russian-media-s-double-white-lines">Russian journalism’s double white lines</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elisabeth-schimpfossl/reporting-on-russian-television">Reporting on Russian television</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-smirnov/ban-rt-uk-helps-putin-campaign-freedom">By banning Russian propaganda, the UK will help Putin in his campaign against press freedom</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vasily Gatov Beyond propaganda Wed, 15 Aug 2018 15:33:05 +0000 Vasily Gatov 119262 at https://www.opendemocracy.net With attacks on independent media, the "thaw" in Belarus is over https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-bystrov/how-to-clear-belarus-of-independent-media-in-one-easy-step <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The last few years have been viewed as a relative liberalisation in Belarusian public life. It seems this is coming to an end. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-bystrov/novye-zamorozki-belarus" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/obysk_tutby_20180807_shuk_tutby_phsl_5934_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Law enforcement search the offices of Tut.by, 7 August. Source: <a href=www.tut.by>Tut.by</a>. </span></span></span>After the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014, Belarus gradually began to shed its image as the “last dictatorship of Europe”. The country’s relative liberalisation was expressed through a decreasing level of repression against activists and politicians.</p><p dir="ltr">For Belarus’ independent press, though, the rules of the game have only got worse. Media that didn’t profess a clear political position could rely on a relative level of freedom. But everything changed overnight on 7 and 8 August, when Belarusian law enforcement conducted searches at five editorial offices — including <a href="http://www.tut.by">Tut.by</a> and <a href="https://en.belapan.by/">BelaPAN</a>, two of the country’s biggest media resources.</p><p dir="ltr">In Belarus, a journalist’s work was always complicated by a range of legal restrictions. A favourite method of pressure is fining non-accredited journalists working for foreign media — any freelancer can fall foul of this. In this year alone, journalists working for Belsat TV channel, which broadcasts from Poland, have been <a href="http://belsat.eu/ru/in-focus/vlasti-dushat-belorusskie-smi-pered-vyborami/">fined in Belarusian courts 70 times</a> at a cost of $25,000. Moreover, the homes of Belsat journalists are regularly searched by Belarusian law enforcement.</p><p dir="ltr">In parallel, the authorities have strengthened legislation governing the work of online media. A new packet of amendments on Belarus’ media law was accepted by parliament in the first reading in April 2018. In order to recognise a site as an online media, editorial offices now have undergo an official registration process, which includes a range of formalities — the editor should be a Belarusian citizen with five years of experience, the publication should have a separate legal entity and so on. Without registration, employees of an online media will not be treated as journalists — which means they cannot receive official accreditation, request officials for comment or cover mass public events.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It’s obvious that the authorities knew that these arrests would cause international concern — and that this contradicts their attempts to change the image of the country</p><p dir="ltr">These new legislative changes also propose introducing authentication measures for commentators on online forums. Media owners are now responsible if users post banned content — which is defined very vaguely — on sites under their control. Media experts agree that these amendments are designed to force commercial competitors out in favour of Belarusian state media. This is partially confirmed by President Lukashenka’s <a href="https://news.tut.by/economics/579931.html">own words</a> in February when he appointed new managers to the state broadcasting company and Soviet Belarus newspaper.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Over the past year, two of Belarus’ biggest opposition websites have been blocked — <a href="https://charter97.org/">Charter 97</a>&nbsp;and <a href="https://belaruspartisan.by/">Belarusian Partisan</a>. The Partisan website managed to re-open after changing its domain name, but Charter 97 remains inaccessible to the majority of residents of Belarus. Then, at the beginning of August, the authorities targeted Tut.by and BelaPAN.</p><p dir="ltr">An investigation into these media groups was triggered by a statement made by the director of the state news agency BelTA, whose clients were experiencing difficulties accessing a subscription newsletter. Ten people, including Deutsche Welle journalist Paulyuk Bykowski, were detained on the pretext that journalists at private media were accessing this resource via other people’s accounts. Five people were released as suspects, and five were detained for three days. Judging by investigation materials <a href="https://www.sb.by/articles/delo-o-banalnoy-krazhe-da-my-voruem-.html">released by state media</a> on the first day of arrests, this operation was prepared in advance. </p><p>In and of itself, journalists being detained in Belarus is nothing unusual. Employees of opposition and independent media are detained regularly at public protests. But there’s never been this kind of direct interference in editorial work before, and this latest incident is different for a number of reasons.</p><p dir="ltr">First, the media that have been targeted. Tut.by is the most popular news website in Belarus. It is still the number one resource, despite fierce competition from Russian media. The site has been <a href="https://news.tut.by/society/445957.html">criticised by Lukashenka on several occasions</a>. Its editorial policy is neutral, though it regularly publishes texts with criticism of the actions of state institutions. Since the website was set up in 2000, there’s never been a single search by law enforcement.</p><p dir="ltr">The other media targeted, BelaPAN, is the oldest private news agency in Belarus. It is a classic professional media, which has a critical position on the authorities, but does not support any political movement.</p><p dir="ltr">Second, all previous instances of mass pressure on Belarusian media have been connected to protest waves and direct criticism of the president. These detentions took place against a calm political background: there’s no mass protests being held, nor are any planned. Likewise, neither Tut, nor BelaPan have published any articles that exceed the current status quo in public life.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s obvious that the authorities knew that these arrests would cause international concern — and that this contradicts their attempts to change the image of the country. Most likely, in order to calm the situation, Minsk will end up solving this problem which it has&nbsp; created itself. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson has already <a href="https://belsat.eu/ru/news/mid-situatsiya-s-belapan-i-tut-by-ne-imeet-otnosheniya-k-voprosam-svobody-smi/">stated</a> that the situation “bears no relation to issues of freedom of speech”. The journalists will be released, and the criminal investigation will be stopped after damages have been awarded. But the security services, after analysing the contents of the journalists’ hard disks, will have new ways of pressuring editors’ further — and the already limited freedom that Belarusian journalists enjoy will be reduced.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the most likely versions of why this is happening proposes this is another attempt at establishing control over mass media before the Belarusian presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019-2020. But it could end up having the opposite effect. It’s unlikely state media can take the place of commercial operations, and competitors from Russia will come and occupy this newly liberated niche — and the Belarusian authorities don’t have much in the way of influencing these outlets.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/damir-gainutdinov/russia-s-new-foreign-agent-legislation-will-further-silence-independent-">Russia’s new foreign agent legislation will further silence independent media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yuri-drakakhrust/mind-gap-between-belarus-and-russia">Mind the gap between Belarus and Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/lorenzo-berardi/euroradio-from-warsaw-for-belarus">Euroradio: from Warsaw for Belarus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests">We are not parasites: understanding Belarus’s protests</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-spas/underground-belarusian">Underground Belarusian</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/how-to-make-whole-generation-apolitical-interview-with-bel">How to make an entire generation apolitical: an interview with Belarusian anarchist Mikola Dedok</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Andrey Bystrov Belarus Fri, 10 Aug 2018 05:35:23 +0000 Andrey Bystrov 119218 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How to return one billion dollars stolen from the people of Uzbekistan https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alisher-ilkhamov/how-to-return-one-billion-dollars-stolen-from-the-people-of-uzbekistan%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The saga of Gulnara Karimova’s ill-gotten and ill-fated assets – frozen in a number of mostly European jurisdictions – may soon come to an end.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1024px-Ch_C3_A2teau_de_Groussay__28Montfort-l_27Amaury_29.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1024px-Ch_C3_A2teau_de_Groussay__28Montfort-l_27Amaury_29.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>This house, the Château de Groussay in Montfort-l'Amaury, France, is owned by a close associate of Gulnara Karimova, Bekhzod Akmedov. Source: Wikipedia. </span></span></span>This story began in 2012, when two associates of Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek president Islam Karimov, tried, apparently on her order, to conduct a transaction involving an account at Lombard Odier bank in Geneva, Switzerland. Shokhrukh Sabirov and Alisher Ergashev were later <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/swiss-authorities-release-uzbeks-on-bail/24743724.html">arrested</a> by the Swiss police on suspicion of money laundering. </p><p dir="ltr">This prompted criminal investigations and forfeiture cases targeting assets belonging to Karimova, who ended her extraordinary career as a powerful oligarch and socialite with <a href="https://centre1.com/uzbekistan/gulnara-karimova-tri-goda-pod-domashnim-arestom/">house arrest</a> in February 2014. She later found herself in prison after being <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/28/uzbekistan-confirms-holds-ex-presidents-daughter-custody/">convicted for extortion and embezzlement</a> in 2015. The assets in question are being pursued by a number of jurisdictions, including, apart from Switzerland, Sweden, the United States and The Netherlands. In 2015, the US Department of Justice filed a civil case to forfeit <a href="https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/vimpelcom-limited-and-unitel-llc-enter-global-foreign-bribery-resolution-more-795-million">$850 million</a> of cash deposited in Swiss, Irish, Belgian and Luxembourg bank accounts registered in the name of Gulnara’s associates, alongside charging telecoms international Vimpelcom <a href="https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/vimpelcom-limited-and-unitel-llc-enter-global-foreign-bribery-resolution-more-795-million">$795 million</a> as a penalty for alleged bribery in Gulnara Karimova-related case. The total amount of Karimova’s assets <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-gulnara-karimova-custody-additional-charges/28644476.html">seems to be even larger</a>. In Switzerland alone, <a href="https://www.luzernerzeitung.ch/schweiz/das-dubiose-vorgehen-der-schweiz-im-fall-karimowa-ld.1029737">$700 million</a> has been frozen and is being targeted by the Federal Prosecutor's Office (BA) of Switzerland.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, the Swiss authorities are about to confiscate these assets. On 22 May, the BA <a href="https://www.luzernerzeitung.ch/schweiz/das-dubiose-vorgehen-der-schweiz-im-fall-karimowa-ld.1029737">issued</a> two penal orders leading to the confiscation of Karimova’s assets. Karimova’s lawyers have appealed the decision. If this confiscation process is completed, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs will start negotiations with the Uzbek government over the repatriation of these assets. In principle, the decision to return them has already been <a href="https://www.luzernerzeitung.ch/schweiz/das-dubiose-vorgehen-der-schweiz-im-fall-karimowa-ld.1029737">made</a> by the Swiss government. </p><p dir="ltr">On the one hand, this looks like the correct decision. A number of other parties are also after this money, such as some creditors of Zeromax GmbH, a company registered in the Swiss offshore zone <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1566935.stm">Zug</a> and whose beneficial owner is believed to have been Gulnara Karimova. Before going <a href="http://gca.satrapia.com/zeromax-gmbh-creditors-to-meet-in-switzerland">bankrupt</a> in October 2010, Zeromax GmbH had aggressively invested in one sector of Uzbekistan’s economy after another – apparently with the support from the country’s top leadership, but to the discontent of other big players among Uzbekistan’s political and business elite. The sudden and mysterious bankruptcy of this company left creditors without compensation for their investments.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Responsible” repatriation here means that asset return should provide a remedy to the victims of corruption, i.e. the whole population of Uzbekistan</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, a number of Uzbek civil society activists are <a href="http://nadejda-atayeva-en.blogspot.com/2018/05/open-letter-of-civil-society.html">concerned</a> that the Swiss may return the assets without sound preconditions and, in the past few years, have advocated for responsible repatriation. “Responsible” repatriation here means that asset return should provide a remedy to the victims of corruption, i.e. the whole population of Uzbekistan. They argued that the assets should not be handed over to the government of Uzbekistan, as some top officials have avoided accountability for complicity in the Gulnara Karimova-driven corruption case.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/800px-Gulnara_Karimova.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/800px-Gulnara_Karimova.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="361" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gulnara Karimova. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Timir01 / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>In light of the pending confiscation of Gulnara Karimova’s assets by the Swiss authorities, the same group of Uzbek activists has put forward a <a href="https://ahrca.eu/uzbekistan/rule-of-law/1000-on-principles-of-responsible-asset-repatriation-to-uzbekistan">set of principles</a> that should guide the repatriation of assets to Uzbekistan. </p><p dir="ltr">The main principle should be to consider repatriation in the context of the fight against corruption at the national and global levels. If the asset return does not contribute to this fight, then the asset-returning state (in this case, Switzerland) should be held responsible for perpetuating corruption in the asset-receiving state (Uzbekistan). </p><p dir="ltr">A notorious example of irresponsible asset return has been Switzerland’s 2012 <a href="https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/dokumentation/medienmitteilungen.msg-id-47337.html">transfer</a> of $48 million to Kazakhstan – a move that has been <a href="https://corruptionandhumanrights.org/app/uploads/2018/07/A-Case-of-Irresponsible-Return-Summary-Report.pdf">criticised</a> for supporting that country’s repressive and kleptocratic regime. This is not the kind of deal Uzbek activists want to see in the case of their country’s stolen assets.</p><p dir="ltr">Compared to previous stages of their campaign, there is some novelty in the Uzbek activists’ proposed principles, which reflect the new realities in Uzbekistan, especially President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s commitment to reform the government and its policies.</p><p dir="ltr"> Thus, the activists call for the assets to be used as an incentive for core anti-corruption reforms, the progress of which is still very weak to date. The activists believe that such use of returned assets would act as a genuine remedy for victims of corruption and serve their best interest in the long run. If implemented consistently, the reforms would guarantee that the rights and welfare of the general population would be less negatively affected by government corruption.</p><p dir="ltr">The activists argue that before the assets are returned, the Government of Uzbekistan should provide concrete proofs that the institutional driving factors which led to large scale bribery in the telecom sector are being addressed. They identify five such areas where reforms should be implemented, before the Swiss government transfer the assets, namely (1) transparency of tendering process and corporate registry; (2) integrity of civil service abiding by law and not by personal loyalty; (3) fair trial and due process; (4) transparency of public finance; and (5) an independent anti-corruption agency. If implemented these reforms would have positive impact far beyond the telecom industry, as every sectors of the state and economy are affected by the same problem. </p><p dir="ltr">These reforms would be a significant step towards establishing the standards of good governance. They would give sufficient guarantees that huge scale bribery in Uzbekistan’s telecom sector would not be repeated, and that the returned assets would not be stolen all over again. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nate-schenkkan/what-would-open-uzbekistan-look-like">What would an open Uzbekistan look like?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/luca-anceschi/modernising-authoritarianism-in-uzbekistan">Modernising authoritarianism in Uzbekistan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jessica-evans/in-uzbekistan-world-bank-is-masking-labour-abuses">In Uzbekistan, the World Bank is masking labour abuses</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alisher-ilkhamov/a-new-era-in-us-uzbekistan-relations">A new era in US-Uzbekistan relations poses old challenges for the international community</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bernardo-teles-fazendeiro/soft-power-under-mirziyoyev">Soft power under Mirziyoyev: Change and continuity in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alisher Ilkhamov Uzbekistan Thu, 09 Aug 2018 13:37:27 +0000 Alisher Ilkhamov 119212 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “We can’t let up”: theatre producer Anna Palenchuk on hunger-striking director Oleg Sentsov https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/sentsov-oleg-play <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike in a prison in Russia’s Far North, but he’s still working on projects. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyna-bezruk/nam-nelzya-rasslablyatsya" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/pasentschuk_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/pasentschuk_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anna Palenchuk. Photo from personal archive.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">I speak to producer Anna Palenchuk about her production of Oleg Sentsov’s <a href="https://www.screendaily.com/news/imprisoned-filmmaker-oleg-sentsov-hoping-to-adapt-his-play-numbers/5131358.article">dystopian play “Numbers”</a>. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did you come to start work on your film and stage production of Sentsov’s play “Numbers”?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’m in constant contact with Oleg through his lawyers, I support his family and I’ve published two of his books: “Buy This Book, It Is Funny” and “Stories”. I’ve been involved in his case since his arrest, and have tried to keep his name constantly in the news. He asked me to stage “Numbers”. That’s how it all started.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>When did he ask you to do this?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Two years ago I learned from his sister that he had said “Palenchuk should do a production of the play”, but at the time it was too much for me to get my head round. But the Russian documentary theatre Teatr.doc and other theatres were <a href="https://www.colta.ru/articles/society/5573">doing readings of the play</a>, and recently a Russian human rights campaigner told me that Oleg was upset that they were just readings and not an actual production. He wanted “Numbers” to be staged in a conventional theatre, to become part of the standard repertoire – it’s a very important work for him.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/10730770_853779494673555_5100924975336273584_n_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/10730770_853779494673555_5100924975336273584_n_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A reading of the play “Numbers” in Teatre.doc. Moscow, 2014. Photo: Andrey Kachalyan. The photo was provided by the producer Natalya Josef.</span></span></span>I got hold of a copy of the play in 2015, before we published his stories. But since it wasn’t a published edition, it just lay on a shelf. However, after I realised that Putin wasn’t going to release him before the March 2018 presidential election – I had always hoped that he would be amnestied – I decided that I would stage it.</p><p dir="ltr">I wrote to Oleg to tell him about this, and he gave me free rein with directing the production. But then I realised that he needed to be drawn into the process. Nobody knows what he is thinking about in prison, but if he were involved it would be something to keep him busy.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did Oleg react to the idea of getting involved in the production process?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I had a response to my letter from him on 14 May, the very day he began his hunger strike (the letter was dated 12 May). In it, he described the stage set and costumes he wanted. He set out his ideas very clearly and I was really discouraged by the letter: on the one hand, he was announcing his hunger strike; on the other, it was formal work correspondence.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“His body is the only weapon that he has left”</p><p dir="ltr">I realised at that moment that Oleg wasn’t planning on taking his own life. The hunger strike had nothing to do with him being bored with being behind bars. His body is the only weapon that he has left. He has the right to do what he felt is necessary with it. I didn’t try to dissuade him, because I respect his opinion. Oleg has taken that decision, and I know that Oleg Sentsov can’t be dissuaded from anything.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There’s going to be a film as well as a stage production?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Back before Oleg started his hunger strike, I wrote to tell him that I was going to do a production of his play. I knew I couldn’t stage it on my own, so I set a time scale for doing it and found people to take part. My ambition is to create the most important cultural project of 2018. And since Oleg’s name is already in the news, it's audience will be a lot bigger than can fit into an auditorium. So I realised that we had to find a way of doing it that would reach the largest possible audience, and started to talk to Oleg about that.</p><p dir="ltr">We came to the joint conclusion that we needed to shoot a film in the style of Lars von Trier’s 2003 film<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/may/20/artsfeatures.londonfilmfestival2003"> “Dogville”</a>, containing elements of both stage and screen. It wouldn’t be pure cinema, but both Oleg and I, as producers, find it easier to think in cinematic terms. As he wrote to me: “You do what you like with the theatrical side of things, but I’ll look after the screen version.” Despite his hunger strike, Oleg sends me very clear, succinct messages.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tell us about your correspondence with Sentsov. How do you shoot a film and stage a play with a director who is in charge of the production, but isn’t physically present because he’s in prison?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">If I was working with other colleagues, it might not have been realistic. In the history of world cinema, there has never been a film directed by someone sitting in a prison cell. But we live in times when we need to be pioneers in a lot of things. It’s very difficult, but not impossible.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/10553334_918445664873604_39235786133276424_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/10553334_918445664873604_39235786133276424_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A reading of the play “Numbers” in the Center for Contemporary Art "Dah", Kyiv, 2015. Photo: Katerina Gornostay. The photo was provided by the producer Natalya Josef.</span></span></span>The main thing is to get people who are creatively and mentally close to Oleg involved in the process. We’re choosing an artistic director who he has worked with him before, and our camera operator is also super-professional. There’s a great saying, that “in cinema, every small detail matters”. And with cinema, you’re never working on your own: it’s always a team effort. Oleg must be released, and he wants to direct his film when that happens.</p><p dir="ltr">And in any case, our format lies somewhere between theatre and cinema: we need to confirm the stage set and costumes with Oleg, and only he can fine-tune the script. There’s a lot he can do remotely, and we can use his work as we move into pre-production and the shoot.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How are you selecting your actors?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Oleg tells me who he can see as which character. We can’t, unfortunately play him videos of potential cast members, but we take photos and show them to him. He has suggested a lot of people himself, including Viktor Andrienko, Rima Zyubina and Natalya Vasko. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/12107725_1042845422433627_4672151095991350977_n (1)_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/12107725_1042845422433627_4672151095991350977_n (1)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A reading of the play "Numbers" at the Ivan Franko Theater, Kyiv, 2015. In the role of "Sixth" – Rimma Zubina. Photo: Kira Kuznetsova. The photo was provided by the producer Natalya Josef.</span></span></span>When we make suggestions to actors about taking part in Oleg’s story, they all say “yes”, but Oleg is giving me clear instructions about not using people who will empathise with him over his hunger strike. He tells me that I need to cast people who just like the material – that’s the most important thing.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Rima Zyubina is one of the people who doesn’t only empathise, but acts as well.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">She also likes the material and has taken part in readings: she knows the play well. We also have Yevgeny Chernikov, an actor friend of Oleg’s from Simferopol, on board. We need to hold some more auditions, in any case. We have now also acquired Darius Jabłoński, head of the Polish Cinema Academy, as co-producer. Darius was involved in making “The Trial”, director Askold Kurov’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">film about Oleg</a>. Kurov is making enormous efforts to have Sentsov released. I spoke to him about it at the Cannes Festival in May and we’re going to do the post-production of our film in Poland.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is the Ukrainian state doing anything to help?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We’ve just shown the scenario to the Ministry of Culture, as Ukraine has funds officially allocated for making patriotic films. But not all the experts accept our work as patriotic.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>When do you start shooting?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We’re planning to shoot in November-December. A lot depends now on the availability of state funding.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Will the film be launched in Ukraine?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We’re hoping for worldwide distribution. Everyone empathises closely with Oleg and it’s important to have his work shown. For the international cinema world, it would seem ludicrous for a director to be overseeing a production from a prison cell. But the film and stage director <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-damberg/serebrennikov-attack">Kirill Serebrennikov</a> has been working on a film despite being under house arrest since August 2017 and the Iranian director Jafar Panahi continued to make films while under house arrest for several years. But Sentsov’s story should show the world his inner strength and how he is changing views of our country. </p><p dir="ltr">His actions reveal his spiritual resilience. I thought that no one could survive such a long hunger strike, but evidently it is possible. His example is a sign that we can all do much more than we imagine. I keep thanking Oleg for showing me that: a year ago I never thought I would be able to work on a play and film simultaneously.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Does your work on Oleg’s film help you not give up?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’m amazed at how I keep growing stronger and stronger. I can’t accept the fact that he is in prison. I’m so happy that the people who were involved at the start are still on board. We mustn’t ever relax. I don’t know if anyone can have any influence on Putin, but if we give up, we’ll lose this war. And we can’t lose it – the life of the impossibly talented director Oleg Sentsov is at stake.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Russia Thu, 09 Aug 2018 05:36:19 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 119194 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kyrgyzstan’s north-south road to corruption https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/satina-aidar/kyrgyzstans-north-south-road-to-corruption <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new investigation reveals another side of Chinese infrastructure projects in Central Asia: elite corruption.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1475551171_2.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1475551171_2.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Construction of a tunnel on the alternative route North-South. Source: Gov.kg</span></span></span>On 26 June 2018, the <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/10031">Fergana website</a> published my investigation unveiling corruption schemes behind Kyrgyzstan’s biggest infrastructure project, an <a href="http://www.marketreportsonline.com/745177.html">alternative 433km road</a> linking the capital Bishkek in the North with the country’s main city in the South, Osh. The project has been funded with a 850 million USD loan from the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China under the One Belt One Road Initiative, with the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) as the main implementing partner.</p><p dir="ltr">According to the documents published on Fergana, former Minister&nbsp;of Transport and Communications <a href="https://ru.sputnik.kg/spravka/20160518/1025404696/biografiya-kalykbeka-sultanova.html">Kalykbek Sultanov</a> and&nbsp;the <a href="http://www.gov.kg/?page_id=84698&amp;lang=ru">current Minister&nbsp;Zhamshitbek Kalilov</a>&nbsp;– the latter allegedly one of former Prime Minister Sapar Isakov’s protégés – were responsible for the project. The documents indicate these officials colluded with the contractor CRBC to embezzle funds from the Chinese government’s infrastructure investments. Price tags were inflated by several orders of magnitude, from paying 1.1 USD per kilogramme of cement (cost on the local market: 0.07 USD) to paying 2,000 USD per month to provide office space to an engineer on the construction site.</p><p dir="ltr">In <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEo9WhtypYc">an interview with Azattyk</a>, the Kyrgyz branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, member of parliament and leader of the opposition Ata Meken party Almambet Shykmamatov stated that, given past cases of corruption in infrastructure projects, he does not believe “in the fairytale that not a cent was stolen” from the road construction contracts. In the same interview, officials from the Ministry of Transport and Communications threatened to press charges against me for the Fergana investigation.</p><p dir="ltr">Under former President Almazbek Atambayev’s six-year tenure, overpricing project costs appears to have been a widely implemented practice. Apart from road works, the same allegedly happened during the modernisation of the Bishkek <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/the-bishkek-power-plant-saga-former-kyrgyz-prime-minister-faces-corruption-charges/">Heat and Power Plant (HPP)</a>, which was also financed with a 386 million USD loan from China’s Exim Bank. As Fergana.ru reports, the Kyrgyz authorities and Chinese contractor TBEA (which was <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/the-bishkek-power-plant-saga-former-kyrgyz-prime-minister-faces-corruption-charges/">recommended by official Beijing</a> for the modernisation work) signed accounting papers for $600 pliers, $14,000 video cameras and $1,500 fire extinguishers. A parliamentary committee <a href="https://www.kyrtag.kg/ru/news/pri-modernizatsii-tets-byli-ukradeny-100-mln-utverzhdayut-deputaty-">concluded</a> that approximately 100 million USD was embezzled in the operation. As a result, former Prime Ministers <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/second-ex-pm-jailed-as-kyrgyz-power-plant-corruption-case-grows/29304010.html">Jantoro Satybalidiev</a> and <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-ex-pm-ex-mayor-of-capital-taken-into-custody-in-corruption-case/29273722.html">Sapar Isakov</a> have been arrested on corruption charges along with a number of other officials.</p><h2>The BRI as China’s financial diplomacy</h2><p dir="ltr">These projects have all been implemented through the One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR), also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Chinese government’s paramount development strategy for connectivity and cooperation in Eurasia. The <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2014/06/the-united-states-just-closed-its-last-base-in-central-asia/">closure of the US military base</a> at Kyrgyzstan’s Manas airport in summer 2014, through which most of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Afghanistan passed, as well as the drawdown of USAID and other western donor activities in the country, has left a void which the Chinese government has been quick to fill with their own brand of public diplomacy, especially in the form of infrastructure development projects.</p><p dir="ltr">In Central Asia, the BRI was launched during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, and Southeast Asia in September and October 2013. Here, Xi Jinping proposed his vision of jointly building a “One Belt” land route through Eurasia and a 21st-Century maritime “One Road” from the South China Sea to the Mediterranean. The Economist has <a href="https://www.economist.com/china/2016/07/02/our-bulldozers-our-rules">described</a> the revolutionary potential of the initiative, which is viewed as “a challenge to the United States and its traditional way of thinking about world trade. In that view, there are two main trading blocs, the trans-Atlantic one and the trans-Pacific one, with Europe in the first, Asia in the second and America the focal point of each. Two proposed regional trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, embody this approach. But OBOR treats Asia and Europe as a single space, and China, not the United States, is its focal point.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Advancing the Development of OBOR Leading Group was <a href="http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2015-02/03/content_19476441.htm">formed</a> in late 2014, with its leadership lineup <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/24761028.2016.11869098">revealed</a> on February 1, 2015. This steering committee reports directly to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and is composed of several political heavyweights, including the Council’s vice-premier <a href="http://english.gov.cn/statecouncil/zhanggaoli/">Zhang Gaoli</a>, evidence of the importance of the program to the government.</p><p dir="ltr">As <a href="http://docs.aiddata.org/ad4/pdfs/Ties_That_Bind--Full_Report.pdf">argued</a> in a June 2018 report funded by the US Department of State in partnership with the Asia Society Policy Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “(t)he effectiveness of China’s public diplomacy efforts ultimately rests on whether Beijing can influence public opinion and the behavior of political elites to the extent that it can secure economic gains, security concessions, and political wins from its counterparts (i.e., achieving a good neighbor dividend).” Moreover, the report continues, “while China’s financial support filled ‘a void left by the West’ …, critics raise the possibility that Beijing’s ready supply of capital may lead its recipients to debt insolvency as they enter into repayment.”</p><p dir="ltr">Sri Lanka is a case in point. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa collected Chinese loans worth billions of dollars. As the country cannot repay them, it has been forced to sell the strategic Hambantota Port to a Chinese company for 1.1 billion USD <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-02/costly-lessons-for-leaders-eyeing-china-s-belt-and-road-billions">to ease the debt burden</a>. A similar situation can be observed in <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-road/chinese-built-expressway-divides-uganda-as-debts-mount-idUSKBN1FK0V1">Uganda</a>, where interest payments on current debt will eat up a staggering 17.5% of domestic revenues in 2018-19. This includes approximately three billion USD in Chinese loans, with 2.3 billion more being currently negotiated. In Central Asia, Tajikistan repaid a debt it had incurred with China for the modernisation of the Dushanbe-2 thermal power plant, the <a href="https://bankwatch.org/blog/a-second-coal-fired-power-plant-for-the-tajik-capital">largest</a> in the country, by <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/373219_tadjikistan_rasplatilsia_s_kitaem_za_remont_tec_zolotorydnym_mestorojdeniem.html">handing over the Upper Kumarg gold mine</a> to Chinese contractor TBEA, the same company that appears to have been complicit in inflating prices during works at Bishkek Heat and Power Plant.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>Does a good neighbour interfere?</h2><p dir="ltr">As the Chinese state prepares to pour trillions of USD into infrastructure projects in Asia, Europe and Africa, a policy paper by the Washington-based Center for Global Development <a href="https://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/examining-debt-implications-belt-and-road-initiative-policy-perspective.pdf">warns</a> of the possible insolvency of borrower countries if current lending practices continue. Kyrgyzstan is listed along with seven other countries of <a href="https://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/examining-debt-implications-belt-and-road-initiative-policy-perspective.pdf">“particular concern”</a>. Obviously, the paper argues, the fear is that in the long term “(d)omestic spending on infrastructure and social services may be sacrificed in order to service the debt, with the problem compounded when governments borrow additional funds just to meet debt servicing needs.”</p><p dir="ltr">The key difference between Western donors and China is the latter’s principle of non-interference, which stands in stark contrast with the former’s <a href="https://cwp.princeton.edu/news/does-conditionality-still-work-china%E2%80%99s-development-assistance-and-democracy-africa-cwp-alumni">conditionalities</a> such as commitment to democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. For example, commenting on the Bishkek HPP corruption scandal, Chinese Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Xiao Qinghua <a href="https://24.kg/english/78763_Ambassador_of_China_to_Kyrgyzstan_TBEA_has_good_reputation/">stated</a> that “TBEA has accomplished its work within the project. And the investigation is an internal affair of Kyrgyzstan, and we do not interfere.”</p><p dir="ltr">Clearly, this makes collaborating with China extremely attractive for Kyrgyzstan’s elites, regardless of the knock-on effects of taking on unsustainable amounts of debt. However, as Chinese companies working in Kyrgyzstan are often state-owned or government-linked, for the average Kyrgyz they represent China, risking a backlash for Beijing’s public diplomacy efforts. Moreover, with the Atambayev’s presidency coming <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/kyrgyzstan-hunt-for-power-plant-corruption-continues/">under</a> increasing <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/was-kyrgyzstan-seriously-going-to-loan-helicopters-to-uganda/">scrutiny</a>, Beijing’s image could also be tarnished by association. In May 2018, parliament member Kanybek Imanaliev, also from the opposition Ata Meken party, <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan_parliament_corruption_isakov/29233553.html">called on parliament</a> to investigate former PM Isakov’s collusion in a number of projects financed through Exim Bank, including contacts with CRBC.</p><p dir="ltr">Beijing’s adherence to non-interference in cases involving Chinese loans may be interpreted as support for corruption, lack of transparency and, ultimately, high debt servicing and possible state insolvency. It is high time for the Chinese authorities to actively investigate allegations of misuse of loans and to better regulate investments, lest scandals associated with Chinese funds and companies end up neutralising the ultimate objective of China’s public diplomacy.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/zukhra-iakupbaeva/minorities-in-kyrgyzstan">Minorities in Kyrgyzstan: changed by revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again">In Kyrgyzstan, it’s revolution, revanche, repeat all over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/how-social-media-users-in-kyrgyzstan-are-turned-into-extremists">How social media users in Kyrgyzstan are turned into “extremists”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy">Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s “island of democracy”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Satina Aidar Kyrgyzstan Thu, 09 Aug 2018 04:23:29 +0000 Satina Aidar 119148 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How conservative is the Russian regime? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/how-conservative-is-the-russian-regime <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia's intensifying neoliberal policies and the accompanying conservative rhetoric are clear evidence of the prolonged crisis facing the Putin regime. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/rossiyskiy-konservativniy-rezhim" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-34570238_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-34570238_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"A strong president means a strong Russia!". Photo: Andrey Pronin / Zuma Press / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The atmosphere of Russia’s recent presidential election and Vladimir Putin’s predictable victory seemingly leaves no doubt that the current Russian regime is conservative.</p><p dir="ltr">The boring election was, in fact, a plebiscite in which affirming one’s fealty to the nation’s leader resembled pledging loyalty to the country itself – to its history, sovereignty and political traditions. The election campaign was a performance, and the roles were carefully blocked out by Kremlin strategists. An embodiment of the “perpetual present”, a present that rules out all unpredictable change, a depoliticised Putin towered over the pitiful opposition candidates, who stood in for the arbitrariness and irresponsibility of political gamesmanship. This image of the present does not envisage circumstances whereby people can choose their future themselves: they can merely affirm their complicity in an unspoken pact amongst the generations. Russian citizens thus made their true choice by observing rituals and performing long-standing practices. Politics, per se was, beside the point.</p><p dir="ltr">The Putin regime’s conservative, anti-political, and anti-democratic method of self-legitimation, however, is a natural fit with the market rationale that permeates Russian society. The rejection of political choice is justified not only by fealty to traditions, but also complete mistrust in public life – whatever its shape and colour.</p><p dir="ltr">The flip side of this prevailing conservatism is individual self-concern, the priority of private interest over the common good. The sustainability of the government’s conservative rhetoric, combined with market-driven social atomisation, was especially evident during Putin’s previous term as president (2012–2018). This was a period that witnessed the growth of state-promoted nationalism, especially after 2014, when the annexation of Crimea and confrontation with the west dovetailed with the commercialisation of medicine and education, as well as an overall reduction in the Russian state’s obligations to society. The so-called “Crimean majority” (the silent majority of patriotic Russians who rallied around the Kremlin’s foreign policies) was marked by its pride in the revival of “historic” Russia and its <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2016/10/13/660744-doverie-vlastnim-institutam">ever-growing distrust of specific government institutions</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">It has long been a commonplace to view these institutions (specifically, the police, the courts and high schools) as ineffective and corrupt. This distrust, however, has been reflected not in the rise of protest movements, but in the “depoliticisation” of social ills. The assumption was that individuals could not count on the state and must thus be <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/family-values">responsible for the safety, health, and economic well-being</a> of their families. Moreover, the hegemony of private interest encourages us to sympathise with each and every corrupt official, who, like everyone else, merely wants to secure a better future for their loved ones. This depoliticisation of social ills has been quite in keeping with neoliberal-minded reforms in Russia’s social sector, where the state merely offers services to the public on mutually beneficial terms.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Conservatism and neoliberalism: dangerous liaisons</h2><p dir="ltr">Despite the authorities’ rhetorical embrace of Russia’s “special path”, the current ideological conjuncture can be fruitfully compared with the neoconservative turn in the west, as exemplified by the policies of Thatcher and Reagan 30 years ago. It was then, during an economic crisis, that the right’s attack on the welfare state took the shape of an authoritarian populism featuring <a href="http://banmarchive.org.uk/collections/mt/pdf/79_01_hall.pdf">previously incompatible ideological components</a>, such as the appeal to conservative values and the defence of the market’s unlimited sway. Thatcher’s famous adage (“There’s no such thing as society”) directly contradicted the foundations of the conservative worldview, in which society had been a defining category. Thatcherism was a break not only with the previous social democratic consensus, but also with conservative political tradition.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/President_Reagan_giving_Campaign_speech_in_Austin,_Texas_1984_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/President_Reagan_giving_Campaign_speech_in_Austin,_Texas_1984_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail in 1984. Source: Reagan Library / Wikimedia Commons.</span></span></span>Since Disraeli’s time, English conservatism had opposed liberalism to the long-standing unity of the nation&nbsp;– a unity vouchsafed by a shared way of life and mutual obligations. Conservatives did not regard government as a night watchman whose only job was to protect private property and ring-fence private life, but as society’s natural extension, its shape. The relationship between state and subject was not a rational contract. It was based on authority, and it drew on the metaphor of the father vis-à-vis the members of his family. At the same time, conservatives were always <a href="https://www.roger-scruton.com/articles/330-the-meaning-of-conservatism">averse to the social democratic notion of “public interest”</a>, since it involved vigorous state intervention in the economy. </p><p dir="ltr">For conservatives, “society” was never as a normative concept. It was the particular outcome of every country’s history. The emphasis on long-standing relations within specific societies shaped conservative scepticism towards reforms aimed at implementing universal principles of liberty and justice. Conservatism’s sceptical attitude naturally led to its positive view of the law, which did not embody rational principles, but was the product of an unspoken agreement among generations. In this sense, there is no contradiction between a conservative apology for English constitutionalism and Russian autocracy, since the former and the latter are in full harmony with the histories of their respective countries. As the Russian conservative Fyodor Tyutchev aptly put it: “Russia’s history is its constitution.” </p><p dir="ltr">Conservatism’s aversion to norms and its sceptical attitude to universalist theories like liberalism and socialism have always lent it exceptional flexibility and adaptability with respect to different countries. Conservatism has always acquired a different content, since it has been defined by the unique ways of living in each particular country, although the <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cWRKkheBPbQC&amp;lpg=PP1&amp;pg=PA260&amp;redir_esc=y#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">political style itself</a> has shared a deeper rationale.</p><p dir="ltr">Conservatives see freedom as meaning something else – as the very right to difference, as the nation’s capacity to stay true to itself and its history. Freedom thus overlaps with the notion of sovereignty. All attempts to limit it for the sake of abstract principles, such as human rights, are thus a threat to freedom. True freedom belongs to the social body, whereas individuals, on the contrary, are limited in their freedom of self-determination. They are not free to choose the nation, gender, and class to which they belong, since all these things are defined by the society into which they were born.</p><p dir="ltr">It is not hard to see that the basic building blocks of the current Russian state’s discourse map onto these attitudes exactly. We find the same fight for sovereignty (true freedom) against the normative restrictions imposed by the west, and the hegemony of historic ritual over the letter of the law. Putin thus means more as the nation’s purported leader than the institution of presidential power as described in the 1993 Russian Constitution.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Putin means more as the nation’s purported leader than the institution of presidential power as described in the 1993 Russian Constitution</p><p dir="ltr">The Russian state attacks all attempts at revolutionary change from a consistently conservative stance, drawing historical parallels between the events of 1917 and recent so-called “Orange Revolutions” in the former Soviet republics. The Russian conservative critique also constantly stresses that the doctrinal fanaticism of revolutionaries, who experiment with societies grounded in history, has usually been <a href="https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/article/order-in-disorder">cynically exploited by foreign adversaries</a> to undermine their national sovereignty.</p><p dir="ltr">Preserving true freedom from the seductions of false freedom is guaranteed not only by combatting the revolutionary threat, but also constantly taking measures to reinforce moral discipline: abortion rights are restricted, homosexuality is criminalised and so on. The rhetoric of defending family values, which goes hand in glove with these disciplinary measures, is a direct reference to the conservative metaphor of the state as a large family whose members are bound together by mutual obligations. In this sense, moralistic discourse is a universal feature of neoconservative politics, whether in the <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/20452506">US during the administration President George W. Bush</a> or Russia under Putin. In the face of deepening social divides, it generates the illusion of unity, moral majority closing ranks against foreign threats and the selfishness of minorities demanding defence of their civil rights.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3427_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_3427_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="383" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>”The consequences of government cuts to culture, education and health” reads this display at a protest organised by Deystvie, Russia’s doctors‘ union, November 2015. Photo courtesy of medrabotnik.org</span></span></span>The neoliberal policies consistently pursued in Russia since the early 2000s have been peddled as purely rational, as unencumbered by ideology and politics. The reduction of the state’s obligations to society, tax breaks for big business, liberal reforms of labour laws and commercialisation of the public sector have been implemented by technocratic governments whose arguments invoke common sense and the know-how of other countries alone. The president, who symbolises society’s unity and historical continuity, has usually avoided publicly defending neoliberal policies, leaving the job to his depoliticised bureaucracy. The division of portfolios between the president and the government dovetails with the hegemonic conservative-liberal symbiosis overall. What matters is that the symbiosis is devoid of apparent inconsistencies, embedding neoliberal rationality and the conservative political style within an ideological unity.</p><p dir="ltr">Wendy Brown has <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/20452506">compared</a> the American take on this unity with the dream work, as described by Freud, where thoughts and emotions incompatible with reality are happily displaced by the imagination’s unconscious protocols. In this reading, neo-conservatism is not a mere rhetorical screen for neoliberal policies, but generates the overall ideological structure. It is crucial the structure’s own inconsistencies are not resolved. Rather, they are preserved in a state of reconciliation, whose features are dictated by specific historical circumstances.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Is Russian conservatism opportunistic or axiomatic?</h2><p dir="ltr">A popular leitmotif of Russia’s current period of stability is what might be called the birth of order from chaos. Per this narrative, the retreat from long-standing Russian historical patterns and the embrace of universalist liberal doctrines during the Gorbachev and Yeltsin administrations generated social catastrophe, moral degradation and a real danger of Russia’s losing its sovereignty. The oligarchs took advantage of this erosion of state authority, turning the country into an arena of unfettered competition for power and resources. Putin’s advent reversed these threatening trends by firmly separating business and government, thus returning the country to its dignity. The Putinist renaissance, however, not only involved revisiting the reforms of the 1990s, but, on the contrary, melding their outcomes with the continuity of Russian traditions of governance. It borrowed all the best aspects of the imperial, Soviet and Yeltsin periods, as it were: a heavyweight foreign policy, Christian morality and strong property rights.</p><p dir="ltr">This genealogy facilitated the political expropriation of both opposing camps during the Yeltsin period: pro-western liberals and the so-called patriotic opposition, including the Stalinists from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and imperial nationalists. On the one hand, the new official conservatism satisfied demands for a foreign policy independent of the west and rehabilitated the Soviet past as a legitimate part of national history; on the other, it strengthened the market institutions established in the 1990s. In the terms of the latter, it acted like a Bonapartist, preserving the revolution’s social gains while reassessing their political value.</p><p>Since the 2000s, a considerable number of elite Russian liberals have abandoned their previous political selves, serving as consultants on implementing neoliberal reforms or integrating directly into the state bureaucracy. This strategy was the basis of a liberal conservatism that <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4946/94814a1ed8d1c3a95dff17cc1c5c0de6dad1.pdf">regarded</a> the rejection of liberal democratic principles as a necessary sacrifice that would make Russia’s transformation into a market economy irreversible. Conservatism’s anti-revolutionary aspect played a central role in this case, whereas the rhetoric of historical greatness and morality was regarded as instrumental and derivative. Meanwhile, former members of the patriotic opposition <a href="http://evrazia.org/article/2536">cherished the hope</a> that sooner or later Putin would release himself from his obligations to the Yeltsin-era liberal elites and would set about implementing a thoroughly nationalistic conservative programme.</p><p dir="ltr">If, following Samuel Huntington’s well-known <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/1952202">classification</a>, we can term Russian liberal conservatism “situational”, then the second case would have to be termed a conservatism of values. The relative proportions of official conservatism’s two ingredients have always been in flux throughout the Putin regime. Whereas situational conservatism dominated during the economic boom and the unsuccessful attempts at integrating Russia into the western hegemonic system in the noughties, the outset of Putin’s third term as president in 2012 and the nascent confrontation with the west after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 should obviously be defined as a turn toward the rhetoric of axiological conservatism. However, what members of both ideological camps regarded as tactical fluctuations were, in fact, parts of a uniform ideology.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/6512507309_c0db70f66d_z_2.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>14 December 2011: free elections protest in Moscow. CC misha maslennikov / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>By 2012, the Putin regime had arrived at a political crisis, spurred by popular protests against vote rigging during the December 2011 parliamentary elections. The regime responded to the crisis by engaging in an abrupt rhetorical transition to a conservatism of values. The democratic protests were spun as a revolt, directed by outside forces and driven by hedonistic members of the Russian upper middle class, against the Russian “cultural code”, as embodied by the patriotic majority and the nation’s political leader. </p><p dir="ltr">The annexation of Crimea was the climax of the rhetorical conservatism of values. Unconditional support of the regime’s foreign policy was categorically equated with affirming one’s loyalty to the country and its historical choice. The fronts in the cultural wars between the so-called silent majority and the selfish minority virtually turned into a point of confrontation between Russia and the west. This stance was quite clearly articulated in Putin’s <a href="http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20603">famous speech of 18 March 2014</a>, in which critics of the annexation were branded “national traitors”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The 2011-2012 democratic protests were spun as a revolt, directed by outside forces and driven by hedonistic members of the Russian upper middle class</p><p dir="ltr">The turn to political conservatism coincided with the onset of economic stagnation, attributable to the limits of growth under post-Soviet capitalism’s model of society. The government responded to the structural economic crisis, exacerbated by a decline in oil prices and western sanctions, by slashing social spending. The government’s anti-crisis economic policy largely aped the austerity measures enacted in the European Union and were even tougher. The conservative discourse, which had virtually criminalised all grassroots protests as unpatriotic and playing into the hands of foreign foes, <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/06/russia-vladimir-putin-opposition">legitimised</a> the Russian variation of austerity.</p><p dir="ltr">The phase of the Putin regime’s evolution that kicked off in 2012–2014 has thus been marked by simultaneous radicalisation of both halves, neoliberal and conservative, of the ideological symbiosis. At the same time, their discordant unity has acquired an ever more coherent shape in which the idiom of axiological conservatism has served as the natural expression of neoliberal content. Thus, Russia’s unconditional sovereignty and the moral and political unity it imposes on society has been proffered as a necessary condition in the global fight for resources, a fight depicted as a natural extension of the law of competition amongst individuals, while conservatism’s scepticism towards doctrines that limit sovereignty in favour of universal rights has led to the suspicion that all appeals to defend society’s interests are hypocritical. </p><p dir="ltr">Paradoxically, the rationale of competition has infused the conservative notion that the communal has priority over the personal. A typical specimen of conservative discursive performativity was Putin’s <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/social/news/2018/02/14/n_11170243.shtml">recent statement</a> that the aspect of collectivism was still a strong presence in the heart and soul of the Russian people, and the ability to work as a team was nowadays a competitive advantage.</p><p dir="ltr">The radicalisation I have described, involving both neoliberal policies and the conservative rhetoric that has attended them, definitely testifies to the regime’s protracted crisis. Its further progress will inevitably lead to ruptures in the current ideological hegemony. These breaches by reality of the dream’s illusory unity, to once again evoke Wendy Brown’s metaphor, will be occasioned by the need for ever more radical neoliberal reforms, reforms <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-geyn/russias-rising-retirement-age">increasingly inimical to society</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This text was originally commissioned for the Slovak magazine "Kapital", 8/2018. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-raising-pension-age">While everyone’s watching the football, the Russian government is raising the retirement age</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/can-russias-opposition-come-together-to-fight-the-kremlins-pension-reform">Can Russia’s opposition come together to fight the Kremlin’s pension reform? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-rocheva/keeping-welfare-russian">Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-geyn/russias-rising-retirement-age">Russia’s rising retirement age: six real stories</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">Russia, Inc.</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ilya Budraitskis Russia Wed, 08 Aug 2018 14:35:55 +0000 Ilya Budraitskis 119193 at https://www.opendemocracy.net #FreeFatima: how the Tajik regime treats the children of political exiles as hostages https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/free-fatima-tajik-regime-children-political-exiles-hostages <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Preventing the children of opposition exiles from leaving Tajikistan is one of the cruellest forms of repression.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/fatima davlyatova.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fatima Davlyatova. Source: Shabnam Khudodoydova. </span></span></span>It was one of the most beautiful days in the life of ten-year old Fatima Davlyatova. She woke up in the morning full of hope and vigour, although the journey she was about to undertake was meant to be long and arduous. At 5pm on 3 August, together with her 65-year-old grandmother and 18-year-old uncle, Fatima got into a taxi, thinking that she was leaving her hometown of Kulob in Tajikistan forever.</p><p dir="ltr">With passports in their hands, the family headed to Dushanbe, the capital, to board the 6:50 morning flight to Almaty, Kazakhstan. There, they were meant to collect visas to Poland in to reunite with Fatima’s mother, Shabnam Khudoydodova, an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan">exiled human rights activist</a>, whom they have not seen since June 2011.</p><p dir="ltr">But Fatima and her family never made it to Kazakhstan. Before takeoff, Tajik security agents walked onto the plane and asked the family to come with them. The three were then locked in a closed, hot room for eight hours without water, food or access to a bathroom, unaware of the reason behind their detention. Only later did they discover that their journey was interrupted because their names featured on a list of wanted persons. Upon the release, the three were forced to sign documents acknowledging this fact.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Holding children and families of exiled regime critics hostage in Tajikistan has become one of the cruelest methods in the Tajik security services’ repertoire of repression. It is also one of the most common. Unable to fully control the actions of the opposition abroad, Emomali Rahmon’s regime has resorted to various forms of oppression against the family members of political exiles, including the confiscation of passports and property, questioning, direct threats and arbitrary detention.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In the past few years, the government has detained family members, publicly humiliated them, removed them from their jobs, confiscated their property and taken their passports to prevent them leaving the country”</p><p dir="ltr">“One method the government has increasingly used is harassing their relatives back in Tajikistan. This practice is rooted in the Soviet concept of collective punishment, by which the families of dissidents were also considered guilty by association,” Edward Lemon, a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the department of political science, Columbia University, tells me.</p><p dir="ltr">“In the past few years, the government has detained family members, publicly humiliated them, removed them from their jobs, confiscated their property and taken their passports to prevent them leaving the country. Children have also been targeted as part of this cruel campaign.”</p><p dir="ltr">Repressions strengthened in the autumn of 2015, when the government banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the only real opposition group in the country, and included it in the list of terrorist organisations. Following the ban, hundreds of party members <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">fled the country</a> seeking refuge in Russia, Turkey and the European Union, while others were sentenced to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/left-behind%20">long years of imprisonment</a> in notoriously biased trials.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Shabnam_Kh_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Shabnam Khudodoydova. </span></span></span>But repressions were not only confined to the IRPT. Foreign-based critics of the government, including members of the oppositionist Group 24, have also experienced the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot">long arm of Tajik security services</a>. Shabnam Khudoydodova was one of them. In 2015, having realised that the Tajik security services were after her for her criticism of the government, she left St Petersburg, where she lived, and took the well-travelled route through Belarus to Poland. On 13 June, she asked for asylum in Brest, but the Polish border guard did not allow her entry.</p><p dir="ltr">Shortly after, Khudoydodova was arrested by the Belarusian security services — Tajikistan placed her name in the INTERPOL list of persons wanted for extremism. She spent nine months in a Belarusian prison. Only with the help of the US State Department and human rights groups did Khudoydodova manage to get out of prison and claim asylum in Poland. She received refugee status in June 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">But Khudoydova’s path to safety did not end with crossing the Polish-Belarusian border. In Tajikistan, she left her young daughter and mother, who were then to accept the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/fergana-news/tajikistan-s-imitation-civil-society">punishment</a> for their beloved mother’s and daughter’s political activism.</p><p dir="ltr">“There were protests against my daughter, people went into the classroom, beat her up,” Khudoydodova recalls. “They pointed at my daughter and said: ‘meet a terrorist’. Then they brought her home, my mom took her from them, they threw eggs, stones, apples at her, beat her with their hands, broke a window, the door.”</p><p dir="ltr">“They said to my mother: ‘if your daughter doesn’t stop, we will kill you.’ Then they said they would burn the house down. Of course, it was horrible for me. My niece wrote me on Viber: ‘please do something, your daughter keeps crying, she’s afraid, we all are.’”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Saipira Furstenberg, project manager of the University of Exeter’s <a href="https://excas.net/exiles/">Central Asia Political Exiles Database</a>, humiliation plays a central role in the psychological pressure exerted on family members. “The authorities frequently remind local residents about the ‘shame’ that the exiles have brought on their family members. Relatives of the exile activists are often treated with hostility and blamed by their communities for the political activities of their exile family member.”</p><p dir="ltr">When Khudoydodova entered Poland, the Tajik authorities confiscated the passports of her family members to prevent them from leaving the country. In 2017, she hired a lawyer and in January 2018 the security services returned the passports to her relatives. For her activism, Khudoydodova’s brother was expelled from university. Her mother now suffers from hypertension.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The travel ban placed on this ten year old girl, her grandmother and brother are entirely politically-motivated, have no basis in Tajik or international law”</p><p dir="ltr">In 2018, Khudoydodova finally received a positive decision on her application for family reunification. She immediately sent her relatives money to buy plane tickets to Almaty, where they could obtain a Polish visa in a local consulate. She did not expect, however, that for the Tajik regime, her case was far from closed.</p><p dir="ltr">“The travel ban placed on this ten year old girl, her grandmother and brother are entirely politically-motivated, have no basis in Tajik or international law, and are designed to cruelly retaliate against an activist for exercising her fundamental right of free expression,” Hugh Williamson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, told me.</p><p dir="ltr">“A daughter should be with her mother and this action by the Tajik government truly shocks the conscience. All of Tajikistan’s international partners, including the US and EU, should articulate their strong concerns with this practice both publicly and privately, signaling that their bilateral relationships with Dushanbe will suffer as a result of this policy of retaliating against family members,” Williamson added.</p><p dir="ltr">The family of Shabnam Khudoydodova are further awaiting the possibility to reunite with her. But they <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/18/tajikistan-stop-persecuting-opposition-families">are not the only ones</a>. The relatives of a well-known Tajik lawyer, Jamshed Yorov, who is awaiting asylum decision in Poland, were stopped by the security services at their doorstep in February 2017 and prevented from leaving the house. That day they were planning to flee to Russia. Security services have also threatened to rape Yorov’s 15-year-old daughter.</p><p dir="ltr">Last week, the Tajik authorities <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/tajikistans-child-hostages/">allowed</a> Ibrahim Hamza Tillozoda, the grandson of IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and his mother to leave the country. Hamza suffers from an advanced form of cancer which requires specialist treatment abroad. It was only thanks to international pressure that the authorities decided to issue passports for the boy and his mother.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“The Tajik security services are psychologically torturing the relatives of the regime’s political opponents. I’m not the only one,” Khudoydodova said. “When I called my daughter, [before the flight] she was so happy. She said: ‘Mum, they separated us for no reason’. I will raise the case with international organisations and diplomats to help my family. My daughter should be next to me.”&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan">“What kind of terrorist am I?”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/tajikistan-s-imitation-civil-society">Tajikistan’s imitation civil society</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot">The long arm of the despot</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/michael-andersen/khayrullo-mirsaidov">Khayrullo Mirsaidov: the journalist from Tajikistan who received 12 years in prison for his honesty and courage</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/tajikistan-so-close-no-matter-how-far">Tajikistan: so close, no matter how far</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska Tajikistan Wed, 08 Aug 2018 07:52:21 +0000 Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska 119179 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How citizens battling a controversial gold mining project are testing Armenia’s new democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-liakhov-knar-khudoyan/citizens-battling-a-controversial-gold-mining-project-amulsar-armenia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Can Armenia’s Velvet Revolution deliver change for communities struggling for their health, livelihoods and futures? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-lyakhov-knar-khudoyan/the-saga-of-amulsar">Armenian</a></strong></em>,&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-lyakhov-knar-khudoyan/barhatnaya-revolutsiya-i-zolotaya-lihoradka" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-36383916_copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-36383916_copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia's Prime Minister, came to power off the back of paralysing campaign of street protests in April-May 2018. Photo: Yaghobzadeh Rafael / ABACA / ABACA / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In April, Armenia’s government was overthrown. Weeks of strikes and civil disobedience <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/karena-avedissian/real-revolution-protest-leader-armen-grigoryan-on-what-s-happening-in-ar">paralysed the country</a> until leader Serzh Sargsyan had no choice but to step down. But Armenia’s Velvet Revolution, as it has come to be known, was much more than just a change in government. It was and continues to be a cultural transformation. Having overthrown the Republican Party regime that held power for nearly two decades, Armenians are realising that other hopes – which had once seemed completely impossible – are perhaps within reach.</p><p dir="ltr">Armenia’s post-revolutionary government has done little to dampen these expectations. Led by Nikol Pashinyan, the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">dissident journalist and politician</a> widely seen as the leader of the revolution, the government has painted itself as post-ideological and representing nothing less and nothing more than “the people” – with few concrete policies in between. And this vagueness, in tandem with post-revolutionary euphoria, has transformed the new government, and “Nikol” as Pashinyan is popularly known, into a blank screen onto which all manner of Armenian society’s hopes are projected. To be sure, these hopes are multifarious, often contradictory, and usually deep-seated challenges to the old order that are not easy to put into action.</p><p dir="ltr">In the spa town of Jermuk, these feelings have now coalesced into the country’s first post-revolutionary crisis: a confrontation that pits local residents against an international company and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/neoliberalism-mining-and-politics-of-plunder-in-armenia">long and corrupt legacy of mining</a> in Armenia.</p><p dir="ltr">“If we protested during Serzh Sargsyan’s rule, we would have been arrested right away,” one local resident in Jermuk remarked to us, referring to Armenia’s leader who lost power in April after ten years in charge. “Now we, all of us Armenians, have overcome fear and created a democratic government. We can protect our rights, in this case, our right to live in a healthy environment.”</p><h2>A Soviet oasis</h2><p dir="ltr">Jermuk, some 170 km southeast of the capital Yerevan, was founded atop its hot springs in 1951. During its Soviet heyday, thousands of visitors would come every year here to rest and recuperate from all the domains under Moscow’s control.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/8098007474_5d2fcc6656_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/8098007474_5d2fcc6656_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jermuk. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Raffi Youredjan / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Like many of Armenia’s provincial towns, Jermuk began to decline sharply with the collapse of the USSR. Sky rocketing poverty, closed borders and a war with Azerbaijan devastated the tourism industry. But not all was lost: even as the airport shut down and some of the grandest sanatoriums were abandoned, visitors still came to Jermuk. </p><p dir="ltr">In the 2000s, the town enjoyed a partial renaissance with the opening of new hotels and influx of international visitors (primarily diaspora Armenians and Russians). Though wracked by poverty and unemployment, Jermuk remains one of Armenia’s touristic gems.</p><p dir="ltr">Immediately after Armenia’s revolution in April and May this year, the town rose up in revolt against a local gold mine. For years, concerned local residents had <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush">struggled</a> with the company that runs the mine, but the conflict had never before reached fever pitch. The revolution, it seems, is changing the balance of power.</p><p dir="ltr">The Amulsar mine, located just several kilometres from the town, is owned and operated by British-based company Lydian International. At the time of the revolution, it was nearing completion. Today, the mine’s once deafening construction yards lie silent. The four entrances to the mine are blocked by protestors who keep watch day and night. Meanwhile, a propaganda battle is raging between the mining company and the protestors – and Armenia’s post-revolutionary government faces its first major crisis. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4429.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4429.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Blockpost at Amulsar, Jermuk. Photo: Knar Khudoyan.</span></span></span>The fate of Jermuk, the company, and perhaps much of Armenia itself hangs in the balance.</p><h2>The company comes to town</h2><p dir="ltr">Lydian International was incorporated in 2007 in the British corporate tax-haven of Jersey. It began exploratory processes near Jermuk that same year, and so far, the Amulsar mine has been its only active project. The mine has a storied history, with several environmental safety and social assessments (ESIAs) being submitted and approved through the years, the latest in 2016, following which construction began in earnest.</p><p dir="ltr">But even before full-on construction began, tensions began to rise around the mine – with some local residents and environmental activists coming out against the mining company. The first major problems emerged in the village of Gndevaz, just south of Jermuk. The apricot groves of a number of residents were located on land that was to be the site of the mine’s heap-leach facility (a structure which utilises cyanide to separate gold from ore). The same year the ESIA was approved (2016), the Armenian authorities <a href="https://lydianinternational.co.uk/news/2011-news/128-lydian-receives-land-status-change-approval-for-amulsar-gold-project-armenia">changed the status of this land</a>, to be used for the future heap-leach facility, from agricultural to industrial. Residents reported that they were pressured by the company to sell their groves.</p><p dir="ltr">Samvel Poghosyan, a resident and landowner in Gndevaz, says that they had no choice in the matter: “I have to admit the prices the company offered for our land were high. But the thing is, there was a contract supplement note saying ‘if you refuse to sell your land now, it will be recognised as a public need’. We witnessed many residents in Yerevan expelled from their homes on a ‘public need’ designation, so we knew that threat in the supplement was real.”</p><p>In effect, residents were <a href="http://ecolur.org/en/news/officials/government-recognizes-eminent-domain-over-gndevaz-land-areas-for-amulsar-project/8271/">given the choice</a> of selling their land or having it expropriated by the state (for Lydian’s purposes) under the auspices of “public need” – an act <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/As_Yerevan_Gets_FaceLift_Many_Armenians_Lose_Their_Homes/1968306.html">previously carried out</a> by the local authorities in Yerevan for private real estate developers. The prices offered per tree differed for young and old apricot trees. Ultimately, the greatest beneficiaries of Lydian’s buy-out were the wealthiest and most established residents of the village.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_8388-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_8388-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gndevaz village, Jermuk. Photo: Peter Liakhov.</span></span></span>The tensions in Gndevaz were only the beginning, however. Environmental organisations started to publish information about the ecological threat that the mine posed to surrounding communities, and residents who were once either disinterested or even excited about the mine began to fear for their future health and livelihoods.</p><h2>The information war</h2><p dir="ltr">Although the <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/mining-dispute-threatens-armenias-post-revolutionary-political-consensus">fervour of the present-day controversy</a> around Lydian International may make it seem like the company was always hated by residents of Jermuk, Gndevaz and Kechut (another village just to the south of the resort town), the company initially enjoyed a warm reception.</p><p dir="ltr">Aharon Arsenyan, now one of the key protest leaders, recalls how happy he was when he first heard about the mine opening and how excited he was to personally apply for a job at the company. Lydian created a great deal of public relations fanfare when it first arrived, <a href="https://www.lydianarmenia.am/img/uploadFiles/bbfa0e9af97cfe6c5f9eQ&amp;A_eng.pdf">claiming</a> that not only would the mine be completely environmentally safe, with “no water discharged into the surrounding environment without proper treatment”, but that it would bring jobs and development to the region and the country –&nbsp;employing 1,300 people during construction and 770 people during its planned 10 years of operation, while also making a total of $488m of future contributions to the state budget through taxes and royalties.</p><p dir="ltr">This rhetoric was also matched by effusive praise from the <a href="https://banks.am/en/news/interviews/15093">British </a>and American embassies. For instance, US Ambassador Richard Mills made the following <a href="https://am.usembassy.gov/lydian-internationals-amulsar-site/">comment</a> during a visit to Amulsar in 2015: “The Amulsar project is an excellent example of what is possible when our countries and peoples work together.” But over time, amidst this torrent of positivity, a less rosy picture of the mine began to emerge, and once construction began, the relationship between locals and the company quickly turned bitter.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4586.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4586.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Amulsar mine, Jermuk. Photo: Knar Khudoyan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2015, as the date of mine construction neared, Armenian environmental NGOs ArmEcoFront and Ecolur (among others) began to publish a <a href="http://www.armecofront.net/en/news/amulsar-expert-opinions-analysis-and-articles-2/">slew </a>of articles and documents vociferously opposing the optimism of Lydian International. </p><p dir="ltr">They pointed out that the Amulsar Mine is located within stone’s throw of two of Armenia’s largest and most strategic water reservoirs: the Kechut reservoir (4.5km away from the mine) and the Spendaryan reservoir (six kilometres away). These reservoirs not only sustain the agriculture in the Vayats Dzor region. The Kechut reservoir is directly connected to Lake Sevan through the Arpa-Vorotan tunnel. Any toxic discharge from the mine, therefore, would endanger not only the immediate area, but Armenia’s largest freshwater lake – its single most valuable hydrological resource.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In addition to the environmental risks, local residents also began to see the mine as anathema to their old way of life</p><p dir="ltr">This was only compounded by more nebulous though still troubling claims regarding the presence of radioactive material at the Amulsar site. A paper <a href="http://ecolur.org/files/uploads/pdf/radioaktiv.pdf">published in 2007</a> in a Russian scientific journal argued that there could be significant amounts of uranium located at the Amulsar site. Lydian International and the previous administration of the Government of Armenia <a href="https://ecolur.org/en/news/amulsar/geoteam-director-hayk-aloyan-i-would-like-national-security-service-to-deal-with-this-matter/2517/">disputed</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ecolur.org/en/news/nuclear-energy/energy-and-natural-resources-ministry-says-no-uranium-in-amoulsar-based-only-on-data-of-lidian-international-company-v-a-stakeholder/2454/">the validity</a> of the article, citing tests conducted by Lydian that apparently showed negligible amounts of radioactive material at the site. But matters were somewhat complicated by the identity of the article’s author: the late G.P. Aloyan, a geologist who had worked on research expeditions to the Amulsar mountain in the 1980s, was also the father of Hayk Aloyan, the managing director of Lydian International’s Armenia operations.</p><p dir="ltr">In addition to the environmental risks, local residents also began to see the mine as anathema to their old way of life. Lydian had not included Jermuk in its initial ESIA reports, and when it finally did in 2016, it acknowledged the social impacts of the mine beyond simply “jobs”. Specifically, Lydian pointed to the inescapable fact that the nearby mine would significantly alter the social dynamics of Jermuk, calling it the four m’s: men, money, mobility and mixing. The influx of monied single men would lead to a concomitant <a href="https://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/esia/dif-lydian-amulsar-gold-mine-extension.html">increase in prostitution and similar mining-town “ills”</a>. This was in marked contrast to the bucolic and family-friendly tourist atmosphere the town had long cultivated, and would in its own way come to pass as construction of the mine neared completion.</p><h2>A troubled narrative</h2><p dir="ltr">All this said, nothing much changed as the years rolled along. Resentment may have simmered below the surface. Beyond the immediate region, Lydian’s position seemed almost unassailable and construction of the mine continued. Still, weaknesses began to show in Lydian’s narrative. Slowly, the company began to lose control of the story – and along with it some of its key allies.</p><p dir="ltr">Armenia’s mining history has been uniformly terrible, with corruption and environmental destruction <a href="https://efface.eu/sites/default/files/EFFACE_Environmental%20crime%20in%20Armenia_A%20case%20study%20on%20mining.pdf">plaguing many of the over 400 mines in the country</a>. But Lydian used this legacy to its advantage, advancing the narrative that they were not only different, but would stand as <a href="https://www.lydianarmenia.am/index.php?m=newsOne&amp;lang=eng&amp;nid=19">“an example of responsible mining in Armenia, and will bring tangible, direct, and lasting economic benefits to the country”</a>. To this end, they <a href="https://www.lydianarmenia.am/index.php?m=newsOne&amp;lang=eng&amp;nid=60">marshalled</a> the fact that Amulsar was the only mine in Armenia to have received investment both from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Financial Corporation (IFC) – investments that are, at least on paper, attached to strict social and environmental requirements.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Armenia’s mining history has been uniformly terrible, with corruption and environmental destruction plaguing many of the over 400 mines in the country</p><p dir="ltr">It is important to note that these two organisations’ work is marred by several controversial projects. The IFC is <a href="http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/projects/worldbank-evicted-abandoned/how-worldbank-finances-environmental-destruction-peru">dogged by international controversy</a> over other mining projects, and the EBRD, in addition to <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2014/11/ebrds-environmental-policy-under-scrutiny-in-kyrgyzstan/">international controversy</a>, has been involved in <a href="https://bankwatch.org/publication/armenia-gold-mining-problems-cast-shadow-over-renewed-ebrd-financing">financing of the Deno Gold Mining Company</a> – a company implicated in the failure of the Geghanush tailings dam, near the southern Armenian city of Kapan. The IFC even acknowledged some of the problems with the Amulsar mine in 2017, when the IFC ombudsman’s office finally replied to a complaint launched by several Gndevaz residents.</p><p dir="ltr">The ombudsman <a href="http://www.cao-ombudsman.org/cases/document-links/documents/LydianComplianceInvestigationReport-06192017_forwebsite.pdf">concluded</a> that many of the mandatory public consultations from 2009 to 2016 were insufficient and that the dangers facing communities near the mine were understated. A significant number of consultations that took place were “informal” and “ad-hoc”, while “risks and impacts” with associated mitigating measures were “beyond those (...) contained in the current ESIA”. Perhaps most importantly, the report concluded that the “IFC does not have assurance that potential impacts on Jermuk’s brand as a tourist center have been assessed and mitigated” with the IFC’s internal requirements.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Teghut_Strip_Mining_Forest_Destruction_by_Vallex_Corp_in_Armenia_trucks.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Teghut_Strip_Mining_Forest_Destruction_by_Vallex_Corp_in_Armenia_trucks.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mining trucks at work at the Teghut Mine in Armenia's northern Lori province, closed in February 2018. Photo CC SA 3.0: Sara Anjargolian / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Several months after the publication of this report, the IFC pulled out of its partnership with Lydian International. The letter explaining this decision did not criticise Lydian, and in fact commended the company, stating that the <a href="https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/armenia-environmentalists-urge-govt-private-intl-financial-institutions-to-stop-supporting-amulsar-gold-mine-operated-by-lydian-international-over-health-climate-concerns">IFC’s investment was simply no longer necessary</a>. However, as Fidanka McGrath, an analyst at international financial affairs watchdog <a href="https://bankwatch.org/">Bankwatch</a>, told us, this behaviour appears to be “uncommon and an exception” to how the IFC normally operates, especially in light of their public plans to deepen cooperation with Lydian, and may have been a result of them losing trust in the project. In any case, the evacuation of the IFC removed one of the key elements that Lydian had used to justify the mine’s positive presence in Armenia.</p><p dir="ltr">It was not long after that the EBRD’s relationship with Lydian also took a hit. Another major mining operation in Armenia connected to the EBRD was the Teghut Mine, which was <a href="https://bankwatch.org/blog/financial-intermediaries-must-not-prevent-transparency-at-the-ebrd">financed through loans</a> from an EBRD funding recipient, the Russian commercial bank VTB, which in turn made loans to the mine’s parent company: Vallex Group. Vallex made their initial pitch for the mine in a similar tenor to Lydian, claiming to open a new chapter for responsible mining in Armenia. And the mine, which began operations in 2014, counted as investors both the EBRD and the Danish National Pension Fund. In 2017, the Pension Fund <a href="https://www.azatutyun.am/a/28817980.html">divested from the mine</a>. Shortly afterwards, Vallex Group announced the closure of the mine and decision to lay off more than one thousand workers.</p><p dir="ltr">Another important connection between Teghut mine and Amulsar is their parent companies’ mutual work with consulting firm Global Resource Engineering (GRE). GRE has authored three technical reports for Lydian and, according to its principal environmental engineer Larry Breckenridge, has also worked with Vallex Group in a “consultant/advisory role” for 18 months – though when he wrote to us, he could not discuss anything further due to a confidentiality agreement regarding all GRE work at Teghut. As of July 2018, GRE no longer lists Vallex Group as a client on its website (it does however still use a photo of the Teghut Mine as the background on that very same <a href="https://www.global-resource-eng.com/gre-clients">webpage</a>).</p><p dir="ltr">That said, there is one important distinction between Vallex Group and Lydian International that should be mentioned. The former (similar to many other mines in the country) is <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/54322/teghouts-offshore-labyrinth-and-valeri-mejlumyans-business-empire.html">owned</a> primarily by a domestic oligarch (in this case Valeri Mejlumyan), while the latter is a <a href="http://www.4-traders.com/LYDIAN-INTERNATIONAL-LTD-1410710/company/">fully foreign-owned entity</a>.</p><h2>The man from Los Angeles&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">Harout Bronozian, a US-based Armenian chemical environmental engineer, first learned about the Amulsar project in 2014 when Lydian representatives held promotional events for Armenian diaspora communities in Los Angeles and New York. Bronozian, an engineer by profession, immediately had reservations about the project. In his view, the mine’s location precluded it from safe operation: located, as it was, so near to several of Armenia’s key water resources.</p><p dir="ltr">However, Bronozian did not feel that he could accurately assess the risks of the mine, and did not trust the environmental materials presented by Lydian. He turned to independent consultants, hiring Buka Environmental, Blue Minerals Consultancy, and Clear Coast Consulting, who would analyse the data (provided by Lydian) and make a new assessment. As he put it to us: “I don’t want to believe the environmentalists, nor the company or anybody else. I wanted to see geochemically what kind of responses I can get.” And just like that, he found himself on the frontlines of the propaganda war raging around the Amulsar mine.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-08-03_at_09.10.48.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>23 June 2018, Dr Ann Maest and Dr Andre Sobolewski hold a press conference at Plaza Hotel, Yerevan, introduced by Harout Bronozian (right). Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>The report <a href="http://www.armecofront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/BronozianConsultants_Concerns.Consequences.Recommendations-Appendices_8Jan2018.pdf">published</a> by the Bronozian consultants landed like a bombshell in January 2018, galvanising the mine’s opponents, and triggering a withering response from Lydian and its own consultants. The report primarily reiterated the dangers that had already been raised by the environmentalists, but it also raised one new claim: the greatest danger of the Amulsar Mine was a phenomenon known as Acid Rock Drainage (ARD). This occurs when sulfide-rich rock dug up during the mining process comes into contact with water (e.g. rain or snow) and, as a result, generates acid which flows into the surrounding environment. ARD, if unchecked, would increase the acidity of surrounding bodies of water, making them barely habitable for aquatic life and useless for agriculture for hundreds of years.</p><p dir="ltr">The root of this problem lies in Lydian’s mitigation methods for ARD: their primary method is a process called “encapsulation”, whereby acid-generating rocks are literally entombed within a structure of non-acid-generating rock, and are thus prevented from coming into contact with rain or snow. However, the Bronozian consultants claim that after examining the data, the process outlined by Lydian was insufficient to prevent ARD. In June 2018, two of the Bronozian consultants flew to Armenia and visited the mine site under Lydian’s supervision. Following this visit they delivered a <a href="http://www.armecofront.net/en/press-releases/announcement-of-bronozian-consultants-after-visiting-amulsar/">press conference</a> where they stated that they had adjusted their conclusions. Given the new information, they now understood that there were no non-acid generating rocks present at or near the Amulsar site, and that encapsulation was thus completely and utterly ineffective. As a result, they claim they were told that Lydian would use different mitigation methods, which in the view of the two Bronozian consultants were unreliable and “experimental”.</p><p dir="ltr">In a heated exchange at that very same press conference, Larry Breckenridge (who had personally escorted the two consultants at the mine site) defended Lydian and its mitigation measures. He stated that encapsulation remained the primary method of ARD mitigation and that “if we choose to add additional levels of protections, it is our right and prerogative. But in no way we are changing the plan which is approved in the ESIA.”</p><p dir="ltr">We reached out to both Bronozian consultants and Larry Breckenridge for comment on the apparent contradictions between their respective positions. In an email vetted by Lydian International, Larry Breckenridge stated: “What Amulsar plans is encapsulation with an engineered cover... in particular, a dry cover... Amulsar does use an-internationally-accepted method of managing the ARD. GRE made the case clear to the Bronozian consultants exactly what type of encapsulation was planned. Indeed, the consultants praised Amulsar on the soil lysimeters that are used to prove the effectiveness of a dry cover.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_20180716_142904.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/IMG_20180716_142904.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest site outside Amulsar mine. Photo: Peter Liakhov. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Bronozian consultant,Dr. Andre Sobolewsi, responded with the following: “When we met them at Amulsar, Lydian told us that they had abandoned their proposal to encapsulate acid-generating waste. They conceded that there was no acid-neutralizing material available on site for the proposal encapsulation (as is normally required) to counteract acid generation from the reactive waste rock. Their proposal to use a dry cover was previously described as a separate, but complementary measure to encapsulation. According to their new plans (as described to us), encapsulation is replaced by other mitigation measures, but the dry cover remains as planned. Thus, in their own words, and as broadly understood in the industry, applying a dry cover is a different, separate measure from encapsulation.”</p><h2>The revolution comes to the countryside</h2><p dir="ltr">Even if Lydian has been losing the information war, it had a reliable partner in the previous Armenian government, which not only greenlighted the mine, but was also willing to expropriate private lands and even change legislation to suit Lydian’s needs. For instance, in 2015, Armenia <a href="https://lydianinternational.co.uk/news/2015-news/203-lydian-to-improve-amulsar-economics-with-revised-mine-plan-following-favourable-legislative-changes">changed</a> the maximum allowable ramp gradient for haulage roads from 7% to 10%, thus allowing the company to reduce operating costs by approximately $100m.</p><p dir="ltr">But after Serzh Sargsyan and the ruling Republican Party were overthrown in April-May this year, Lydian’s position has become more precarious. Not only have they lost their staunchest ally, but opponents of the mine have been emboldened and are now armed with tools that they believe could deliver them victory.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Amulsar mountain where the mine is located has had its name for as long as local residents can remember – it comes from the Armenian word “Amul” or “barren” because no crops would ever grow on its slopes</p><p dir="ltr">Eduard Aghabekyan, a Jermuk resident and opponent of the Amulsar mine, summarised the power of the revolutionary transformation to us: “The former corrupt government is complicit in all this business. There was an atmosphere of terror in Jermuk and it was the Republican party that controlled everything. If we protested during Serzh Sargsyan’s rule, we would have been arrested right away. Now we, all of us Armenians, have overcome fear and created a democratic government. We can protect our rights, in this case, our right to live in a healthy environment.”</p><p dir="ltr">In late May, in the immediate weeks following the revolution, the residents of Jermuk, led by the youth that had left for and returned victorious from Yerevan, began the first steps in mounting an organised public resistance to the Amulsar mine.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/image(6).jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest in Jermuk. Photo: Knar Khudoyan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 25 May, they held their first public meeting, a gathering of roughly 70 people from Jermuk, Kechut and Gndevaz in an old school house in Kechut. During this meeting the people assembled discussed what should be done about the mine; the dangers they had learned about; and whether they could trust the new government. There was no direct voting, and there were no official leaders (everyone present at the meeting were meant to be complete equals). Instead, it was a slow (yet often loud, argumentative and deliberative) process of generating consensus.</p><p dir="ltr">Questions and complaints were raised, many that had been discussed privately now being aired in public. Issues far beyond the usual talking points about environment and health. Dust was a particularly salient point: though Lydian had <a href="https://www.lydianarmenia.am/index.php?m=newsOne&amp;lang=eng&amp;nid=68">promised</a> that dust would not travel further than one kilometre from the mine, on certain very windy days, everything and everyone in Jermuk would quickly find themselves covered a thin layer of the stuff. There were also grievances about the discrimination suffered by workers. In a later interview, Davit, an engineer working for Lydian, described the situation:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“You had to know somebody high ranking at the company to even get a simple job as a truck driver. It was never a fair game. When it comes to salary, engineers are paid not based on what they do, but on where they are from. An engineer from Jermuk gets half the salary of an engineer from Yerevan and many more times lower than an Englishman or an American. They fire people when they want, they ask you sign a resignation document you don’t agree with. There is no way we could protect our labour rights.”</p><p>Issues of vice also arose. People told stories of mine construction workers not local to the region coming into town getting drunk, starting fights and driving dangerously after having taken license plates off of their vehicles. Local residents, who said they’d never locked their doors before, reported feeling unsafe. After a loud few hours, a conclusion was finally reached: they would wait and see what the new government would do. Though wary, the attendees of this meeting had found trust in Nikol Pashinyan.</p><p dir="ltr">In the meantime, on 26 June, the new government <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/90670/new-working-group-to-examine-amulsar-mine-project.html">announced</a> a working group to investigate every single mine in Armenia, including Amulsar. But even with an investigation looming, construction at Amulsar was not halted, and as the mine entered the final stage of construction, local residents started to become restless. For the next several weeks, spontaneous blockades momentarily emerged, briefly halting construction, and were occasionally met with counter-blockades by Lydian workers who blocked the main thoroughfare to three resisting communities.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4326.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4326.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Blockpost at Amulsar. Photo: Knar Khuodyan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Another meeting was called in short order. This time, over 500 people attended (a great number for three cities whose collective population is roughly 7,500 people). They decided that they could no longer wait: the mine could not be allowed to reach completion. A series of organised blockades staffed by volunteers and supported by local communities would halt construction indefinitely.</p><p dir="ltr">The blockades were organised as four “posts” at each of the entrances to the mine, crewed by a rotating cast of volunteers. The protestors, primarily veterans of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">April War of 2016</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">Karabakh War of the 1990s</a>, borrowed much of their practices and terminology from their military service, emphasising their “military discipline” and calling shift-changes “changing of the guard” in interviews. This was part of a greater conceptualisation of the protest itself as a patriotic act&nbsp;– an <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">important frame</a> after the brief, but bloody resurgence of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan two years ago.</p><p dir="ltr">Babo, one of the young protestors whom we spoke to, put it as follows: “Our friends died defending a piece of our land (Nagorno-Karabakh), we are here so they didn’t die for nothing.” In fact, it seems likely that this patriotic conceptualisation of the clash between the mine and local communities explains another strange development: roughly half of the protestors that we spoke with were, until the blockade began, contracted mine construction workers (and on paper, still remained as such). When asked to comment, protestor’s replies often shared a common sentiment: a choice between one’s homeland and the promise of a paycheck is no real choice at all.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The blockades have remained in place for over a month now, and their endurance is a testament to the popularity of the cause in the region</p><p dir="ltr">The blockades have remained in place for over a month now, and their endurance is a testament to the popularity of the cause in the region. Nearly every car that drives past honks in approval. Passersby often stop to offer the protestors food, drink, cigarettes and gasoline. Some have even donated tents so protestors can sleep more comfortably.</p><p dir="ltr">As the protestors have settled in for the long haul and the mine shutdown for an indeterminate amount of time to come, the new Armenian government is quickly becoming a major player, and though there were initially doubts from the anti-mine campaigners about its role, right now the feeling at the blockade seems unanimous&nbsp;– a victory that had seemed impossible to them before, now looks to be at hand.</p><h2>Between a rock and a hard place </h2><p>The new Armenian prime minister’s first major engagement with the Amulsar controversy seemed to pit the man of the people against the protestors. Pashinyan apparently viewed the protestors in Jermuk as a possible threat to his authority and a danger to the country’s international economic standing. On 25 June, in one of his now famous Facebook livestreams, Pashinyan criticised the protestors, stating: “If the objective of these actions is not sabotage and creating a deadlock situation for the Government, I call on you to stop your civil disobedience. Don’t hinder our investigation into the case, let us collect facts and make a decision based on those facts.”</p><p dir="ltr">But Pashinyan’s request was not heeded. The blockades were not disassembled. Protest leader Aharon Arsenyan delivered a <a href="http://epress.am/2018/06/27/%D5%8A%D5%A1%D6%80%D5%B8%D5%B6-%D5%93%D5%A1%D5%B7%D5%AB%D5%B6%D5%B5%D5%A1%D5%B6-%D5%81%D5%A5%D5%A6-%D5%BD%D5%AD%D5%A1%D5%AC-%D5%A5%D5%B6-%D5%B6%D5%A5%D6%80%D5%AF%D5%A1%D5%B5%D5%A1%D6%81%D5%B6%D5%B8.html">statement</a> on behalf of the protesters, which included the following: “By calling our actions sabotage, you insult us. Your comments undermine and devalue our struggle for such fundamental rights as are the right to life, the right to access water, and the right to live in a healthy environment.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“By calling our actions sabotage, you insult us. Your comments undermine and devalue our struggle for such fundamental rights as are the right to life, the right to access water, and the right to live in a healthy environment”</p><p dir="ltr">In a later Facebook <a href="https://www.facebook.com/nikol.pashinyan/videos/2047258032261248/">livestream</a>, Pashinyan warned that while new investigations into Armenia’s mining sector should find and deal with instances of companies failing to comply with their obligations to the state, they must not result in negative consequences for Armenia either in international bodies or courts, nor should they have a negative impact on the country’s investment climate. To this end, Lydian has announced that it will not hesitate to resort to international arbitration if the new government decides to shut the mine down. In an interview given to <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv025lEGa6E&amp;t=983s">Kentron TV</a>, Lydian’s managing director Hayk Aloyan said: “As a listed company we are obliged to make certain steps if a radical decision is made to shut down the mine. Of course, there are certain tools... It’s not the desired scenario, that’s the extreme case, but we have to take that step, as we have many shareholders.”</p><p dir="ltr">It is clear that with Armenia’s low annual budget and already high level of state debt (58.8% of GDP), a costly settlement with Lydian would deliver a significant blow to the country’s economy. On the other hand, Pashinyan’s legitimacy as revolutionary and patriot is at stake. How would it look, after all, for police to repress idealistic protestors (veterans, no less) using the peaceful tactics of the revolution? And perhaps most importantly, how can Nikol Pashinyan navigate this issue without harming international investor confidence in the new Armenia?</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen_Shot_2018-08-02_at_14.54.43.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="355" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nikol Pashinyan at 6 July meeting, Jermuk. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>The answer to this question remains to be seen. But when Pashinyan arrived in Jermuk to mediate a meeting between protestors and Lydian on 6 July, it seems that his view of the situation had changed. In a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F4S0OGQB2g">raucous televised meeting</a>, Pashinyan called for calm and constructive dialogue, and again called for space to be given to the government to investigate the matter. Pashinyan asked Lydian’s CEO if he could give a plausible timeline that would allow the Armenian government to conduct an investigation into claims about whether the company is operating in accordance with Armenian law. Lydian’s newly appointed CEO João Carrêlo refused to give this timeline, claimed that the construction delay has already cost the company $26m and counting, and stated that any investigation would have to run parallel with ongoing mine construction/operation.</p><p dir="ltr">To this, Pashinyan gave an uncharacteristically undiplomatic response: “What is Lydian's contribution to this process? Do you want this situation to have any conclusion? Or would you prefer that this has no solution? What are you more interested in?” He further questioned the role played by Lydian’s newly appointed CEO in legal action with previous mining projects: “I am told that your company has changed the CEO, and you brought in a CEO experienced not in mining, but in suing countries.”</p><h2>Recent events</h2><p dir="ltr">On 24 July, Nikol Pashinyan confirmed the members of the working group that will investigate the Amulsar Mine. It is being spearheaded by Artur Grigoryan, a long time environmental lawyer and a former legal counsel of several Gndevaz residents who launched an administrative suit against the Amulsar Mine. Other members include members of the affected local community (including Aharon Arsenyan), environmental experts and members of Lydian who were explicitly selected as not having been contributors to the company’s previous Environmental Safety Assessments. The working group is due to begin their work imminently.</p><p dir="ltr">Though environmentalists have brought up claims regarding remaining conflicts of interest between the new Pashinyan government and Lydian, the individuals involved vociferously denied any meddling in the investigation or the issue at large. Armen Sarkissian, the current President of Armenia who served on the Lydian Board of Directors in 2013, said in an interview with news.am that he did not sit in on board meetings and <a href="https://lydianinternational.co.uk/news/2013-news/170-lydian-international-announces-resignation-of-director">left the company</a> after three and a half months, <a href="https://news.am/rus/news/460528.html">stating:</a> “I had no relation with that company. Period.” </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4373.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/199A4373.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Blockpost at Amulsar. Photo: Knar Khudoyan.</span></span></span>Armenia’s current Minister of Nature Protection Erik Grigoryan has also had ties with Lydian. From August 2014 to February 2015, he worked with international consultancy firm <a href="https://www.c-resource.com/">Critical Resource</a> on stakeholder engagement studies for Lydian International. However he has told the authors: “What I did is listed openly on my Linkedin account. I have nothing to add. I would have declared if I were in a conflict of interests. I wouldn’t take any position like this one if it was there.”</p><p dir="ltr">But the perhaps the biggest recent development in the controversy around the Amulsar Mine has been the <a href="http://investigative.am/news/view/lidian-armenia.html">announcement</a> by the Special Investigation Service of the Republic of Armenia (SIS) that a criminal case was being pursued in regard to the mine. This follows an allegation made to the SIS that the pre-revolutionary Ministry of Nature protection “willfully concealed” information from the Armenian population concerning the dangers of possible pollution from the Amulsar Mine.</p><h2>Amulsar</h2><p dir="ltr">The saga of the Amulsar mine <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/mining-dispute-threatens-armenias-post-revolutionary-political-consensus">looks like its entering its final act</a>. As the new government is fully turning its gaze towards the mine and protestors man the barricades, Lydian International finds itself in its most precarious position yet. And perhaps there is a certain poetry to that fact. The eponymous Amulsar mountain where the mine is located, has had its name for as long as local residents can remember – it comes from the Armenian word “Amul” or “barren” because no crops would ever grow on its slopes. It seems that barrenness may extend to what is beneath the soil as well.</p><p dir="ltr">When Lydian arrived in 2006 it sought a gold-rush. Now it may very well leave Armenia empty-handed.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush">Armenia: before the goldrush</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ashot-gazazyan/on-border">On the edge: how rural Armenia is responding to the country&#039;s &quot;Velvet Revolution&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/neoliberalism-mining-and-politics-of-plunder-in-armenia">Neoliberalism, mining and Armenia&#039;s politics of plunder </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">Saint Nick of Armenia: how protest leader Nikol Pashinyan “rescued” Armenia and made it merry</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Knar Khudoyan Peter Liakhov Armenia Tue, 07 Aug 2018 13:21:59 +0000 Peter Liakhov and Knar Khudoyan 119166 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Kazakhstan’s anti-extremism blacklist forces activists, bloggers and opposition politicians into the shadows https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-grishin/kazakhstan-anti-extremism-blacklist <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Kazakhstan, persecution of citizens convicted for extremism does not end with a court judgement or sentence. Being blacklisted also threatens an indefinite suspension of your financial rights. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-grishin/chernee-chernogo" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_vladimir_kozlov_01_photo_by_agrishin_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_vladimir_kozlov_01_photo_by_agrishin_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Detention of Vladimir Kozlov. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In Kazakhstan, it’s easy enough to find yourself charged with extremism and terrorism offences. Being affiliated to a “non-traditional” religious denomination or belonging to the political opposition can lead to prosecution.</p><p dir="ltr">But people who face criminal prosecution on “extremism” and “terrorism” charges are subject to punishment even after release. A complex system of financial blacklisting means many find it difficult to return to their normal lives.</p><h2>Extremist thoughts about God</h2><p dir="ltr">Alexander Kharlamov is a human rights activist and public commentator who lives in Ridder, a small town in eastern Kazakhstan. In January 2013, Kharlamov, 63, was charged with “incitement to religious hatred” after sharing atheist views on his blog<a href="https://my.mail.ru/community/enerqia/?ref="> “The Global Party of True Communists”</a>. Kharlamov was arrested later that year, on 17 March, after he continued publishing his thoughts on religious matters.</p><p dir="ltr">The prosecutor’s ruling stated that, after having studied major world religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, Kharlamov produced his own interpretation of a religious system – this essentially served as the main reason for his conviction. </p><p>The investigation concluded that Kharlamov was fully aware that his opinions radically contradicted the views and beliefs of the majority of believers in Kazakhstan, which was why his actions could have lead to negative consequences such as religious hatred and strife, as well as negative attitudes towards religions on the whole.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Kharlamov had always openly declared that, in his view, true religion is in fact a science, and that Jesus was a genius scientist. In September 2013, after signing an undertaking not to leave his place of residence, he was released from a detention facility. Since his release, all efforts to get any updates on the status of his case have been in vain.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_alexander_kharlamov_01_photo_from_his_archive_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_alexander_kharlamov_01_photo_from_his_archive_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="184" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alexander Kharlamov. Photo from personal archive.</span></span></span>Kharlamov was lucky. In Kazakhstan, incitement to hatred belongs to a category of crimes which threaten the “peace and safety of humanity”. However, Kharlamov belongs to the 30-40% of those people charged with extremism and terrorism whose cases never reach court. The majority of cases do face trial, which means that the chance to prove one’s innocence, however absurd the charges, shrinks to less than one percent. </p><p>According to the Committee for Legal Statistics and Special Reports of the Procurator-General, in <a href="http://qamqor.gov.kz/portal/page/portal/POPageGroup/Services/Pravstat">2017 alone</a>, there were 528 criminal investigations into terrorist propaganda, extremism and incitement to hatred, as well as three cases under the “terrorist acts” article, even though last year there were no actual events classified as terrorist or extremist. 304 legal cases reached the court, with only <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4885921-v-almatinskoy-oblasti-v-dele-o.html">one known acquittal</a>. Bearing in mind that each case can involve various numbers of defendants, in 2017 the overall number of sentenced people increased by at least one thousand.</p><p dir="ltr">The majority of the detainees are Kazakh Muslims convicted for possession of banned literature or reposts on social networks, which, according to the Kazakh government, threaten political stability or incite others to religious hatred. A number of detainees include civic activists, bloggers and human rights activists whose opposition simply had to be neutralised. Due to the vague formulations of Kazakhstan’s Penal Code, the latter can be applied to almost anything&nbsp;– just as in the case of the Ridder-based human rights activist Alexander Kharlamov.</p><p dir="ltr">On average, these sentences imply imprisonment from three to 10 years. In rare cases, people are given suspended sentences. However, both those whose sentences were suspended, and those released from imprisonment, still have to suffer an additional punishment which precludes their full re-integration into society. Moreover, the Kazakh government refers to recommendations made by UN and EU bodies. Namely, it refers to the list of organisations and individuals involved in funding terrorism and extremism; the <a href="http://kfm.gov.kz/ru/the-list-of-organizations-and-individuals-associa/current.html">list</a> currently includes 1,343 Kazakh citizens.</p><h2>Alimony was equated to terrorism financing</h2><p dir="ltr">Olesya Khalabuzar is a resident of Almaty, a human rights activist and director of the Justice Society for Young Professionals. After receiving a one-year non-custodial sentence for incitement to hatred, Khalabuzar found that financial sanctions were not only applied to her, but her three under-aged children as well.</p><p dir="ltr">“This January I went to take alimony payments from my bank account, and it turned out that the money was blocked. It remains blocked to this day,” Khalabusar tells me. A single mother of three under-aged children, Olesya is number 1,140 on Kazakhstan’s terrorist/extremist list. “In the Prosecutor’s Office they told me that my funds were blocked by the Financial Monitoring Committee at the Ministry of Finance. I then sent a query to which the Committee replied that my alimony can be collected only at second-level banks (all banks apart from Kazakhstan’s National Bank). Apparently, since I am now on the terrorist list, the banks treat me as a terrorist. Banks are afraid of everything, and I am refused access to my money. I cannot even pay my taxes.”</p><p dir="ltr">In August 2017, Khalabuzar was sentenced on the charges of incitement to national hatred. Earlier the same year she was prosecuted on charges of extremist propaganda after she published a video containing statements by pensioners who had suffered in the Kazakh judicial system. The elderly people threatened self-immolation if their problems were not resolved.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Olessya Khalabuzar_01_photo from family archive_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Olessya Khalabuzar_01_photo from family archive_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Olesya Khalabuzar. Photo from personal archive.</span></span></span>As part of this case, the office of the Justice association was raided without the presence of witnesses, lawyers nor staff themselves. Police stated that they found leaflets with anti-Chinese content, which served as a reason to close the previous case and institute new criminal proceedings. After being a social activist for over a decade, Khalabuzar announced her withdrawal from all public activities, and she is now handing her organisation over to other activists. During the court proceedings that lasted only one day, she admitted her guilt and added that this was a necessary measure. Consequently she received a minimum sentence as stipulated in the article on incitement to strife.</p><p dir="ltr">However it turned out that apart from legal prosecution, she was also included in a financial blacklist. The blacklist appeared in Kazakhstan in November 2015, in accordance with the Penal Code article “Countering the legalisation (laundering) of criminally obtained income and terrorism financing”. Today everyone convicted of extremism and terrorism is blacklisted by default.</p><p dir="ltr">Unlike the majority of those in a similar situation, Khalabuzar was rather lucky. She lives with her children in a house acquired when she was still running a successful business. However, both her house and her car were seized by the court in order to prevent Khalabuzar from selling them and funding terrorism. Khalabuzar has a small business, but she can only operate in cash because banks deemed her a persona non grata.</p><h2>Five years in prison for quoting commentaries on the Quran</h2><p dir="ltr">In September last year, after having <a href="http://informburo.31.kz/3485">served a five-year prison sentence</a>, Ablaykhan Chalimbayev (number 320 on Kazakhstan’s terrorism and extremism list.) became the first person among those blacklisted to raise the question of additional punishments.</p><p dir="ltr">Chalimbayev was charged with incitement to religious hatred after he quoted the book Tafsir Saadi, a collection of comments on the Quran by Saudi theologian Abd ar-Rahman as-Sa’di. Published by the Salafi-related religious centre Al-Barakat, the book is publicly available in Kazakhstan. In spite of the Salafi movement being legal, Salafism is still regarded as a non-traditional religion in Kazakhstan, and both security services and the police never miss a chance to pay extra attention to it. During a meetings, a Kazakh secret service agent wearing a concealed camera filmed Chalimbayev reading lines containing offensive statements towards other religions from Tafsir Saadi. Even though this became the basis for Chalimbayev being sentenced to five years, the book itself remained publicly available. Furthermore, this did not affect the religious centre (allegedly supported by a Kazakh MP), nor the Kazakh publishers who published the translation of Tafsir.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Ablaikhan Chalimbayev_02_foto A.Grishin.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Ablaikhan Chalimbayev_02_foto A.Grishin.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ablaykhan Chalimbayev. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">After his release, Chalimbayev attempted to draw the Kazakh authorities’s attention to the existence of both the religious centre and the book that cost him five years in prison. Nine months after submitting a statement to the police, he still is waiting for a reply. Chalimbayev has now come to a realisation that the views he got from the Al-Bakarat centre were wrong, however he is unable to return to normal life because of his being blacklisted. “I tried to get a job multiple times, but because of that kind of criminal record nobody wants to take me. I’m now publicly blacklisted, and everybody knows they have no right to sign any legal contracts with me,” says Chalimbayev.</p><p dir="ltr">Chalimbayev was forced to move to his mother’s house on the outskirts of Almaty, where he now makes a living as an illegal cab driver, picking up odd jobs with his old car. “I cannot even buy train tickets, my identity needs to be confirmed for that too,” complains Chalimbayev.</p><h2>The actions of the Ministry of Finance are illogical</h2><p dir="ltr">In August 2016, Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the unofficial opposition party Alga! (“Forward!”), was released on parole after a 4.5 year prison sentence. He is currently number 950 in the blacklist. As a party leader, he was accused of provoking the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-kostyuchenko/what-i-didnt-write-about-zhanaozen">Zhanaozen events</a>, when, after eight months, a 2011 strike by oil workers in the west of the country ended with armed police opening fire on the strikers. Kozlov’s party was in fact giving the strikers media support, as well as providing them with tents and sleeping bags. Vladimir Kozlov himself publicly addressed the striking oilmen, which was later interpreted as an extremist act.</p><p dir="ltr">The organisers of the massacre that left 17 dead (according to official statistics) still remain unpunished. Meanwhile, prosecutors targeted many participants in the strike, including people wounded and those who had experienced torture, as well as opposition activists. Kozlov was acknowledged by the international community as a prisoner of conscience and was released before he could complete a 7.5 year sentence. However, because he was prosecuted for incitement to social hatred and calls to overthrow the constitutional power, after his release he was also included in the financial blacklist.</p><p dir="ltr">“Those included in the blacklist are deprived of any means of survival, not to mention the ability to lead a normal life,” says Kozlov.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Vladimir Kozlov_02_photo from his archive_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Vladimir Kozlov_02_photo from his archive_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Kozlov. Photo from personal archive.</span></span></span>“The monitoring of financial operations might make sense in cases involving real funders of terrorism. But instead, we have a universal ban on any financial operations. As a blacklisted person – an ‘extremist’ – I cannot even get a bank card, nor can I pay my taxes for any kind of service. Apparently, I am also banned from using notarial services and all kinds of insurance. I am constantly getting a ‘the following person is banned’ message.”</p><p dir="ltr">Kozlov is surprised by the lack of logic: “It’s not so much wrong, rather it rather deliberately contradicts the aims of Kazakhstan’s counter-terrorism law as such. I would enable essential financial operations in cashless payments,” adds Kozlov. “Meanwhile, today almost 1,500 Kazakh citizens are driven into the shadow economy. I cannot get an official job that pays into bank accounts, only one that pays in cash, and I am forced to pay my utility bills on the side. I am banned from making financial operations transparently!”</p><h2>Kazakh government is referring to UN</h2><p dir="ltr">The creation of the blacklist was justified with reference to Kazakhstan’s membership of the <a href="http://www.fatf-gafi.org/">Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering</a>. This was what Ardak Tengebayev, ex-Vice Minister of Finance, referred to in May 2015. In addition, Tengebayev noted that the legislation would include a mechanism to freeze the assets of both individuals and organisations associated with terrorism and extremism financing; and, in accordance with the so-called “humanitarian” amendment to UN Security Council Resolution 1452, it would allow access only to the funds necessary for the basic needs of life.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, in defence of this initiative, the Kazakh government refers to four UN conventions, a UN Security Council resolution and a Council of Europe convention. There are also other counter-terrorism treaties affecting both the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – the international security alliance that includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, despite promises made by Ardak Tengebayev, Kazakh citizens included on the blacklist are not offered any kind of opportunities that would ensure a normal way of life. So far, 84 people have been removed from the list, but it continues to grow at a much higher rate. Among those blacklisted, 30 people are civic activists, human rights activists and bloggers. There are also two members of Christian organisations deemed as belonging to a “nontraditional” religion in Kazakhstan. The majority of those blacklisted are Muslims convicted mostly on questionable legal grounds. Obviously, the list also includes people convicted for attacking members of the Kazakh police or military, or participation in “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law is currently preparing a collective appeal to the Ministry of Finance, demanding that they stop including convicted people on the blacklist, and to recognise the list itself as illegal. To date, the organisation has received only four statements: people previously on the list are afraid of the consequences of speaking out.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/whats-behind-chinas-anti-kazakh-campaign%20">What’s behind China’s anti-Kazakh campaign? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/botagoz-seydakhmetova/fighting-patriarchy-in-kazakhstan">Fighting patriarchy in Kazakhstan: problems and perspectives</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/how-social-media-users-in-kyrgyzstan-are-turned-into-extremists">How social media users in Kyrgyzstan are turned into “extremists”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/amirzhan-kosanov/kazakhstan-s-thin-red-line">Kazakhstan’s thin red line</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">Got tagged? Get fined! Russia’s battle against “digital extremism”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Andrey Grishin Kazakhstan Tue, 07 Aug 2018 04:56:17 +0000 Andrey Grishin 119146 at https://www.opendemocracy.net OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 66: Parents against the FSB, Islam against Terrorism, and how OVD-Info does its job https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/weekly-bulletin-ovd-info-no-66-parents-against-fsb-islam-against-terrorism-and-ho <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Read the latest in Russia's crisis of political repression.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/parens.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="347" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Parents of young men facing terrorism charges as part of the <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network>"Network" case</a>. Source: OVD-Info. </span></span></span></p><p><strong>This article is part of our partnership with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ovdinfo.org/">OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Over April, May and June 2018, the OVD-Info telephone hotline was in use for 153 hours 11 minutes and 43 seconds. That’s the equivalent of talking nonstop for eight hours a day for 19 days. Behind these very significant figures lie arrests at demonstrations, searches, assaults and criminal prosecutions. Our lawyers provided advice over the phone and assistance in court. We have published a full <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/reports/crf-2018-2?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">report</a> of our work over these three months.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>This week, there have been a number of positive developments.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Courts quashed fines and community service orders imposed on participants in demonstrations in support of Alexey Navalny. We have already seen this happen in <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/08/01/v-chelyabinske-volonteru-shtaba-navalnogo-otmenili-shtraf-za-uchastie-v?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Chelyabinsk</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/08/01/sud-v-krasnodare-otmenil-nakazaniya-pyaterym-uchastnikam-akcii-nam-ne-car?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Krasnodar</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/08/02/v-krasnoyarske-otmenili-obyazatelnye-raboty-pyaterym-uchastnikam-akcii-nam?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Krasnoyarsk</a>. As for <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/08/01/repera-timati-oshtrafovali-na-20-tysyach-po-state-o-massovom-skoplenii?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Тimati</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/08/01/egora-krida-oshtrafovali-na-20-tysyach-pel-s-timati-na-bolshoy-dmitrovke?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Еgor Krid</a>, who were fined 20,000 roubles, this had nothing to do with Navalny but was for an action on the roof of an SUV.</p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/08/02/sud-otkazalsya-vzyskat-s-figurantov-bolotnogo-dela-stoimost-dubinok-i-raciy?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">lawsuit</a> brought against those previously prosecuted in the Bolotnaya Square case has been dismissed. Police had tried to claim approximately 44,000 roubles in compensation for the loss of two police walkie-talkies and five batons.</p><p dir="ltr">In the case of the <a href="https://therussianreader.com/tag/new-greatness-movement-novoye-velichie/">New Greatness organisation</a>, prominent lawyers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/31/advokat-genri-reznik-soglasilsya-voyti-v-delo-figurantki-novogo-velichiya?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Genri Reznik</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/31/advokat-karinna-moskalenko-voydet-v-delo-figurantki-novogo-velichiya-marii?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Karinna Moskalenko</a> have agreed to act on behalf of Anna Pavlikova and Mariya Dubovik respectively. New Greatness is an organisation set up and “uncovered” by police detectives. There are a total of 10 defendants in the case, which is based on the testimony of three men who have not themselves been arrested. One of the three has said he was ordered to infiltrate the group.</p><p dir="ltr">The Investigative Committee has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/30/sk-otkazalsya-vozbuzhdat-ugolovnoe-delo-o-primenenii-nasiliya-k?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">not brought charges</a> in an incident in which a person arrested by police had their arm broken. Local police - what a coincidence! - found there had been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/31/policiya-v-kaluge-ne-nashla-narusheniy-pri-zaderzhanii-uchastnikov-akcii-nam?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">no violations</a> at the time of the arrest.</p><p dir="ltr">Pussy Riot members who protested in Luzhniki Stadium during the World Cup final were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/30/petra-verzilova-zaderzhali-na-vyhode-iz-specpriemnika?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">detained</a> as they left the detention centre where they had served 15 days in prison. New charges were drawn up against them for having failed to have the agreement (!) of the authorities for going onto the pitch. However, the court <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/31/sud-vernul-dela-zaderzhannyh-uchastnikov-pussy-riot-obratno-v-policiyu?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">returned the case</a> to the police for review.</p><p dir="ltr">In Ufa, 21 Muslims have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/30/sud-v-ufe-oglasil-prigovory-figurantam-ufimskogo-dela-hizb-ut-tahrir?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">sentenced</a> to a total of 343 years in prison and a fine of 10,800,000 roubles. The men were accused of taking part in the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir which has been designated in Russia as a terrorist organisation. Some of those convicted were also accused of preparing a violent seizure of power. The defendants heard their sentences wearing t-shirts that read, “I am a Muslim and I am against terrorism,” and “Islam against terror,” with the word “terror” crossed out in red. &nbsp;Human rights defenders have reported numerous violations by the authorities during the investigation into this case, including the use of torture against the defendants. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/38125770_893171560871373_8023716378919829504_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="347" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>30 July 2018: sentencing of the "Ufa 26". Source: Memorial HRC.</span></span></span>Four people have been detained in Moscow for taking part in a protest against pension reform. The reason for the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/29/v-moskve-zaderzhali-organizatorov-mitinga-protiv-pensionnoy-reformy?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">arrests</a> was the use of the slogans, “Putin is a thief” and “Putin is a dickhead,” which in the view of the police did not correspond to the announced theme of the protest. In Sarapul (Udmurtiya) the police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/28/v-sarapule-policiya-potrebovala-obyasneniy-iz-za-frazy-putin-vor-na-mitinge?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">explained</a> in talks with the organisers of a similar protest why the use of the phrase “Putin is a thief” was a violation. According to the police the organisers of the event should have stopped the protest after this slogan was sued.</p><p dir="ltr">“He said: ‘Mum, they tortured me.’ I saw the scar he had. He said I should keep my spirits up. That I should be calm.” We <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/07/30/mezhdunarodnaya-set-roditeli-anarhistov-protiv-fsb?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">report</a> how the relatives of anti-fascists charged in connection with the Network prosecution have joined together to form a Parents’ Network Committee, and how this helps them live through what is happening. &nbsp;<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />It is hard to find any good news regarding those charged in the Network case. Pressure continues to be applied to them, in particular those from St. Petersburg who are for the time being on remand in a detention centre in Yaroslavl. They are not <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/08/02/figurantu-dela-seti-viktoru-filinkovu-ne-peredayut-lekarstva-v-sizo-1-v?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">receiving any of the medicines</a> or letters sent to them.</p><p dir="ltr">Eleven young people in Penza and St. Petersburg have been charged with taking part in and organising a terrorist group with the name “Network.” Allegedly, they were preparing for disturbances in the country and “were engaged in illegal acquisition of skills of survival in forests and provision of first aid.” A number of the defendants have stated they were subjected to torture involving electric shocks by FSB officers. </p>Thank you!<p dir="ltr">You can set up a monthly donation to OVD-Info <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=donate">here.</a> This will guarantee that the work we do - monitoring human rights, running our telephone hotline, providing lawyers in court and paying for the work of analysts and journalists - can continue. It also guarantees we shall continue to help those who need our help.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.</p><p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists">How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">The inside story of Russia’s failed social media revolution</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Fri, 03 Aug 2018 16:12:38 +0000 OVD-Info 119124 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Russian prison officers can torture with impunity https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oksana-trufanova/why-russian-prison-officers-can-kill-with-impunity <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russian courts continue to protect prison service officers accused of torturing and murdering inmates. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oksana-trufanova/dazhe-ne-pytaytes">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/content_001_colong7.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/content_001_colong7.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian independent newspaper recently released footage of how Evgeny Makarov, a prisoner in Yaroslavl Colony No 1, was brutally tortured in June 2017. Source: Novaya Gazeta. </span></span></span>Everyone knows that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/everyday-violence-in-russia-s-prison-system-has-to-stop">torture is an everyday occurence</a> in Russia’s prison system. Even the <a href="https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23412&amp;LangID=E">UN</a>. But while domestic and international organisations write about torture cases in their reports, it seems that no one can take any concrete action to solve this problem. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2010, a number of staff members at Prison Colony No 1 in the Urals town of Kopeisk, outside of Chelyabinsk, found themselves in the dock. They included the regional prison service director, Vladimir Zhidkov, and were accused of <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2010/07/23/2373-gromkie-dela-o-proizvole-rabotnikov-fsin">beating four prisoners to death</a> – provoking a prison riot to cover up these murders in the aftermath. On the orders of the regional prison service management, evidence of these murders was destroyed; prison officers tore their uniforms, faked injuries to themselves, photographing and drawing up reports on these “injuries” in the process. These fake documents on this “prison riot” were sent to Russia’s central prison service management in Moscow. </p><p dir="ltr">Some two years later, Denis Mekhanov, the head of the same town’s Colony No.6, was also convicted – in this case of extortion. The world <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/olesya-gerasimenko/scenes-from-uprising-kopeysk-revolt">found out about Mekhanov’s crime</a> after inmates held a protest action over the torture and inhuman treatment taking place there. The prisoners were later punished by having long extra stretches added to their sentences, while the colony boss was later amnestied. </p><p dir="ltr">Today, Russia has been shaken again by news of torture in its prison system – this time in <a href="https://meduza.io/en/brief/2018/07/20/the-real-russia-today">Yaroslavl Colony No 1</a>. Immediately afterwards, the Metallurgichesky district court in Chelyabinsk, one of the country’s largest cities, held a closed session to try a number of prison officers accused of the 2015 beating and killing of a Chechen inmate, Sultan Israilov. Back then, 500 detainees went on hunger strike in demand of a proper investigation into Israilov’s death.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-08-02_at_13.25.41.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-08-02_at_13.25.41.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="280" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>21 December 2015: prison officers at Chelyabinsk Prison Colony No 2 take Sultan Israilov to a punishment cell. Source: ADV-TV. </span></span></span>Human rights campaigners and legal experts believe that the Chelyabinsk trial is a farce, an attempt by the penitential system to defend itself from public opprobrium inside and outside Russia over the torture practices embedded in the system for decades – and to call attention to the fact that the perpetrators <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">will yet again get off scot free</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">In July 2017, Russia’s Investigative Committee completed their investigation into the death of Sultan Israilov at Chelyabinsk’s Colony No.2. According to their findings, on 21 December 2015, prison officers Vladimir Malinin, Alekcandr Dontsov and Viktor Podkorytov beat up inmate Sultan Israilov in a punishment cell. They then faked his suicide, leaving him to die a slow death by hanging him from the cell window.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“You should see how brazen they are. They laugh in our faces, as though they know they won’t be found guilty”</p><p dir="ltr">This case involves a second victim, another prisoner by the name of Andrey Chernikov, who was also beaten up by Dontsov, Podkorytov and another warder, Viktor Zaviyalov. Evidently Israilov tried to protect Chernikov after he was beaten up: the court papers say that the prison officers beat Israilov, who was handcuffed, with a rubber truncheon and then tied one end of a scarf to a high window bar and the other end round his neck.</p><p dir="ltr">Prisoner Anzor Mamayev, a witness at the trial, was afterwards transferred to Prison Colony No.7 in Karelia, where he and another inmate, political prisoner Ildar Dadin, would later <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ildar-dadin/letter-from-prison">report their experience of torture in November 2016</a>. Mamayev later asked human rights lawyers who were trying to defend him to stop assisting him, saying he was fine and could look after himself. Another prosecution witness was prison officer Vladimir Zorin, who worked at Colony No.2, and whose truncheon was used to beat the victims. Immediately after giving detectives evidence against the officers, Zorin was found hanged. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_dsc00627.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_dsc00627.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anzor Mamayev. Source: Oksana Trufanova. </span></span></span>“He gave evidence against the two prison guards, confirmed that they had actually entered Israilov’s punishment cell,” lawyer Andrey Lepekhin <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/07/06/zavhoz">told</a> MediaZona, a website focusing on Russia’s justice system. “The three of them took Israilov into the cell, Zorin went out again and the other two stayed inside. He doesn’t know what they did there, but then they found Israilov’s body.”</p><p dir="ltr">All the officers accused of killing Israilov and beating Chernikov were released on bail, on written agreements that they would not leave the region. Today they visit the courthouse on their own steam, sitting in the corridor next to the victims’ lawyers. </p><p dir="ltr">“You should see how brazen they are,” says Dmitry Gromovoy, an ex-inmate of the same colony who has attended the trial as an observer. “They laugh in our faces, as though they know they won’t be found guilty.”</p><p dir="ltr">Immediately after his own release, Gromovoy decided to help Andrey Chernikov and represent him in court, but the court refused him entry, saying that he wasn’t a professional defence lawyer. In fact, Russian law has nothing to say about reasons for refusing entry to a representative. The very next day, the court sessions were closed to journalists and observers. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_3." rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_3." alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sultan Israilov. </span></span></span>“On 23 July 2018, the lawyer for one of the defendants requested that the court proceedings be closed to all visitors, because of the widespread negative feedback on social media,” Chernikov’s lawyer Anna Dunayeva tells me. “It seems that Judge Sirotin has taken the function of defence lawyer on himself, although he should be impartial. He claimed that the case should be tried in camera because the accused and their families might be in danger, given the active discussion around it online.” </p><p dir="ltr">So, for the moment not even members of the press can enter the courtroom in this Chelyabinsk district court. Kheda Saratova, a member of Chechnya’s Human Rights Council, is also dissatisfied with the judge’s decision.</p><p dir="ltr">“When this terrible crime was committed, I personally went to see the Prison Service deputy director Anatoly Rudoy, who assured me that the guilty men would be punished and the investigation would be thorough,” she says. “But now we see them at liberty, arriving at court on their own two feet while Sultan Israilov, whom they mercilessly tortured, is dead. People who have been arrested on mere hooliganism charges are left for years in pre-trial detention, whereas here prison officers accused of abusing their authority with force get away with just a travel ban… And this inexplicable court secrecy is also worrying. But everyone needs to realise that we won’t let the case be dropped. We’ll shout it from the rooftops.” </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Today, making the fact of torture in Russia’s prison systems public – even at the international level – doesn’t necessarily lead to results</p><p dir="ltr">Today, making the fact of torture in Russia’s prison systems public – even at the international level – doesn’t necessarily lead to results. On 25 July, the Russian Federation <a href="https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23412&amp;LangID=E">once again reported</a> on its fulfillment of international obligations via the UN Convention Against Torture. The UN Committee Against Torture stated that the Russian delegation did not answer all the committee’s questions, and does not use good quality statistics on the number of violations. </p><p dir="ltr">The fight against torture is focused on closed trials. The tendency to arbitrarily hold trials in camera can lead not only to perpetrators being judged not guilty, but to even more dangerous repercussions. Any judge naturally feels more at home without observers and dictaphones: they can then just mutter another platitude about “legality and well-founded judgements”, as a colleague at the Agora international human rights association recently <a href="https://www.advgazeta.ru/mneniya/poterya-glasnosti-kak-ugroza-pravosudiyu/">remarked</a>. Many members of Russia’s human rights community agree that the country’s uniformed and robed mafia will remain untouchable for the forseeable future. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oksana-trufanova/prisoners-of-the-donbas">How prisoners in Ukraine’s occupied territories live, work and survive</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">Russia’s prison service is keeping its abuses under lock and key</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ildar-dadin/letter-from-prison">“10-12 people would beat me all at once, kicking me”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/olesya-gerasimenko/scenes-from-uprising-kopeysk-revolt">Scenes from an uprising: the Kopeysk revolt </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/inside-russia-s-new-gulag">Inside Russia’s new Gulag</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Oksana Trufanova Russia Fri, 03 Aug 2018 10:21:14 +0000 Oksana Trufanova 119119 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hidden motivations: a brutal attack on a Russian Orthodox Church in Chechnya leaves questions unanswered https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/katerina-nerozhikova/hidden-motivations <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Allegations of a cover-up and improper qualification of an organised assault on an Orthodox Church in May this year have left space for conspiracy and intrigue.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.45.34.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Earlier this summer, the capital of Chechnya <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/19/world/europe/chechnya-church-attack-grozny.html">witnessed an attack on a Russian Orthodox Church</a>. Young gunmen entered the Grozny’s Archangel Michael Church, killing two military personnel and one worshipper while also injuring another. </p><p dir="ltr">Many theories have emerged as to what happened. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, for his part, is convinced that these “rootless scumbags” acted on “instructions issued by one of the western countries”. Many local residents, meanwhile, believe that the attack was carried out in accordance with a security services “directive”, with the attackers’ corpses planted at the scene. So-called Islamic State entered the fray as well, immediately <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-russia-chechnya-church-attack/islamic-state-claims-responsibility-for-church-attack-in-chechnya-idUKKCN1IL0NX">claiming responsibility</a> for the atrocity. </p><p dir="ltr">But while the Chechen authorities <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/322446/">now wish to build a new Orthodox Church in Grozny</a>, no one wants to give serious consideration to another version of events: that the murders were motivated by religious and national hatred.</p><h2 dir="ltr">An unqualified attack</h2><p dir="ltr">On 19 May, four young men, armed with firearms and bladed weapons, entered the church grounds while the evening service was underway. There were around 15 people in the church and four military personnel on duty around the grounds. The wife and children of church rector Father Sergiy were also in attendance. The attackers neutralised two of the military personnel on duty at the church entrance, removing their weapons. The attack was repelled by the other two military personnel following an exchange of gunfire that continued for around 20 minutes.</p><p dir="ltr">The four attackers – twin brothers Ali and Amir Yunusov, 19, Mikail Elisultanov, also 19, and Ahmet Tsechoev, 18 – were killed during the shootout. So too were Russian military personnel Kairat Rakhmetov and Vladimir Gorskov.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.34.35.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.34.35.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="335" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Images of Russian military personnel Kairat Rakhmetov and Vladimir Gorskov, who were killed in the attack, at the main entrance to the church in Grozny. Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>The attack also claimed the life of one worshipper. Artyom Vshikov, who entered the church grounds a couple of minutes before the attack commenced, died of gunshot and stab wounds. The attackers also managed to injure Vshikov’s fellow worshipper Fyodor Napolnikov, a paediatric surgeon. Napolnikov and Father Sergiy kept the church door closed and prevented the attackers from getting inside. But they couldn’t prevent bullets from penetrating the walls, one wounding Napolnikov, the others damaging icons and furnishings.</p><p dir="ltr">The other worshippers – mostly elderly women – suffered no injuries but were traumatised psychologically, none more so than Galina, Father Sergiy’s wife: on hearing the gunshots, she dashed to the rescue of her children and found herself in the attackers’ sights. She managed to hide from the bullets in the basement of the church refectory.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the fact that the attack was referred to as a terrorist attack in the press, legal proceedings were initiated only under the following two articles of the Russian Criminal Code: Article 317 (encroachment on the lives of law enforcement officers) and paragraph two of Article 105 (the murder of two or more persons). </p><h2 dir="ltr">Breaking the peace </h2><p dir="ltr">The Archangel Michael Church in Grozny is surrounded by a high unbroken fence. The entrance to the grounds looks out onto a flower park opened in honour of Chechen Women’s Day. The city centre boasts few spots suitable for a stroll – there’s Putin Avenue, there’s the square near the central mosque, and there’s the just-mentioned flower park, which teems with people (mothers with kids, school children, young people) throughout the day. </p><p dir="ltr">Chechens tend to stroll in groups – young men often walk the streets in threes or fours. So a group of inconspicuously dressed guys carrying a guitar case wouldn’t have aroused anyone’s suspicions. </p><p dir="ltr">It is understood that the attackers drove most of the way to the church in a taxi, emerging from the vehicle either at the intersection or slightly further down the road, and proceeded on foot through the flower park. The park would have been less busy than usual that lunchtime: the holy month of Ramadan had just begun and many people don’t leave their homes till evening.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ezgif-2-a5db568bf4.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The church is a stone’s throw away from the park, with a single pedestrian crossing en route. Planters with palm trees – a big hit among tourists – line both sides of the road. </p><p dir="ltr">A two-minute walk brings you to the church grounds entrance, where you’re greeted by two green sculptures – one of a great she-bear, the other of a little bear cub. Sculptures of this ilk have recently been springing up in Moscow, and the trend quickly spread to Grozny. The bears, too, have proved popular among the city’s tourists.</p><p dir="ltr">Chechen police officers now keep watch by the entrance while others shelter from the heat in civilian cars parked nearby. Six seconded military personnel patrol the grounds, weapons at the ready. Prior to the attack, two military men usually stood outside the gate, with several others scattered throughout the grounds. They’re used to the fact that the main guests here are tourists and worshippers: older Russian women, military personnel from Khankala air base and gypsies. Locals occasionally drop by the gate as well. On a couple of occasions under Father Sergiy they entered the church itself to find out for themselves whether the interior is covered in gold. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Chechen police officers now keep watch by the entrance while others shelter from the heat in civilian cars parked nearby</p><p dir="ltr">On entering the grounds, you see the large wooden door to the church immediately in front of you. Usually this door is closed: the main entrance is on your left, just around the corner. It’s through this entrance that worshippers and tourists enter the building. The door, kept closed by Father Sergiy and paediatric surgeon Fyodor Napolnikov, saved worshippers’ lives on 19 May.</p><p dir="ltr">Going left round the church, you’ll see a small utility room in front of you. There, behind several plastic brown doors, assorted scrap materials are stored. There’s also a toilet with a washbasin and a small room for security staff. </p><p dir="ltr">Adjoining this structure is the site where the seconded military personnel are housed. Two of them died on 19 May, while two others miraculously survived.</p><p dir="ltr">Before the main entrance to the church is a small courtyard. Pheasants once lived here, and it remains home to several chickens, cats, rabbits and a dog. Sergiy and Galina’s kids often frolic here. Sergiy and Galina recently had their third child – he’s still very young and hasn’t learned to sit up on his own yet. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.28.02.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.28.02.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="375" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The grave of the parishioner Artyom Vshikov, who died in the attack. Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>To the left of the main entrance is the refectory, its glassed section seriously damaged by bullets. Below is a basement where Galina hid from the attackers. The worshipper Artyom Vshikov could also have taken refuge there – but he dashed in the opposite direction and attempted to conceal himself between an unfinished building (abandoned after the departure of the previous priest) and the house where the church staff live. It was there that he met his end. Now he is buried to the right of the refectory. The grave was dug in the garden, just behind a sprawling fruit tree.</p><p dir="ltr">The church is absolutely riddled with bullet holes. Icons have been damaged, windows broken, the holy water tank ruptured. One bullet hit the church shop. Georgy Petrovich, who was manning the shop at the time, thankfully escaped unharmed: he was laying the wounded Fyodor Napolnikov on the ground when the bullet struck. Some of the damage has already been covered up with whitewash.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Kadyrov’s leading role </h2><p dir="ltr">Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev dubbed the attack on the Michael Archangel church “blasphemous, treacherous and unprecedented”. Nukhazhiyev also stressed the importance of the work of the security services, who, he claimed, arrived at the church in good time. Some of the ombudsman’s arguments are highly debatable. This attack on an Orthodox church is by no means unprecedented for the North Caucasus: only a few months ago, in mid-February, 22-year-old Khalil Khalilov <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-43105171">shot dead five worshippers</a> – all of them women – in the Church of Saint George the Victorious in Kizlyar, Dagestan.</p><p dir="ltr">So-called Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for that shooting, has declared that it carried out the Grozny attack as well. That the atrocity really was the handiwork of IS doesn’t seem likely to anyone&nbsp;– not even Ramzan Kadyrov. IS, he quipped, “has orchestrated absolutely everything that’s happening in the world, including low egg production at some random poultry farm.”</p><p dir="ltr">Kadyrov has his own version of events: in the immediate aftermath of the attack, he asserted that the militants had “received an order from one of the western countries”. Kadyrov also claims that the security services were in possession of intelligence regarding an impending attack on an important protected site. The veracity of these assertions is difficult to ascertain. But if this is indeed the case, it ought to be asked why security in and around the church was not increased.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Kadyrov also claims that the security services were in possession of intelligence regarding an impending attack on an important protected site</p><p dir="ltr">After the Kizlyar attack, unknown individuals spread rumours that the next atrocity would take place in Grozny, potentially at Easter. On the night of 8-9 April, the Archangel Michael Church held its Easter service – the congregation, as always, was vast. Not everyone can make it out to church at night, however, so the church arranged a daytime service as well, the latter even better attended than the former. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The day dawned sunny and warm. The table in the churchyard was absolutely heaped with kulichi (Orthodox Easter breads) and eggs, so much so that late arrivals had to put their baskets full of traditional festive dishes on the ground instead. Father Sergiy was in a genial mood and even gave people the chance to go up to the top of the bell tower and ring the bells.</p><p dir="ltr">Security was high indeed: the approach to the church was completely blocked off, with an initial cordon set up directly on Kadyrov Avenue. Bags and pockets were systematically searched. A second security check, no less thorough than first, was performed at the entrance to the church grounds.</p><p dir="ltr">The day passed without a single incident. If someone puts their minds to guarding a building in Chechnya, not even a fly will get in. </p><p dir="ltr">On 19 May, however, a semblance of this level of protection was created only ex post facto. “Special groups of law enforcers,” who, according to Nukhazhiyev, “prevented the armed men from entering the building,” arrived on the scene when the surviving security staff had already done their job and eliminated the assailants.</p><p dir="ltr">To document yet another “successful” special operation, the siloviki had to block off all nearby streets for several hours. Civilians were not allowed through the cordon under any pretext, and anyone caught taking pictures had their phones seized, whereupon any photographs were promptly deleted.</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-NSpvypvCes" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe><p dir="ltr">The result was a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NSpvypvCes">perfectly watchable movie</a> made in the spirit of Indian action films. Leading man Ramzan Kadyrov takes charge of a special operation to rescue the believers. Under his sensitive guidance, military men surround the church and force their way in to rescue women and children. It’s not for nothing that the first film the young Ramzan Kadyrov ever saw at the cinema was an Indian one.</p><p dir="ltr">“They just couldn’t decide what door to open for them. Eventually they opened the one that’s always locked,” says Georgy Petrovich. Fully outfitted military men were screaming “Hands up!” despite the fact that there was no one in the church but the worshippers. Because the streets were all blocked off, it was a long time before the heavy bleeding Fyodor Napolnikov could be taken away. “‘He’s dying here!’ I tell them. ‘Can’t go outside yet,’ they reply. It was God who saved him,” says Georgy Petrovich.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Another Chechnya</h2><p dir="ltr">Chechen officials of all stripes like to declare that the republic has long fostered peace and mutual understanding between representatives of all nationalities and religions.</p><p dir="ltr">The national and religious composition of Chechnya is currently rather homogeneous. In 2010, the republic’s population was over 95% ethnically Chechen, with 17 nationalities making up the remainder (ethnic Russians comprise under two percent).</p><p dir="ltr">Things were very different back in 1989, when over 25% of the population was Russian. The older generation remembers Grozny as a multinational city home to large numbers of Russians, Armenians and Jews. But they began leaving in droves in the early nineties – an outflow of people triggered by the mass ethnic cleansing practiced under President Dudayev. Chechnya’s Russian-speaking population even sent President Yeltsin a letter about the pogroms and ethnically motivated attacks going on in the region. The facts of the unfolding inter-ethnic conflicts were also documented by human rights activists from the Memorial human rights association.</p><p dir="ltr">There are currently almost no indigenous Russians living in Chechnya today. Though you might encounter a few Russians on the streets of Grozny, these are most likely to be visiting tourists or seconded military personnel stationed with their families at the military base in Khankala. The so-called Russian stanitsas (villages) of Chechnya – Naurskaya, Chervlenaya, Shelkovskaya, Assinovskaya – are populated mainly by Chechens. A total of eight churches and two chapels are registered in Chechnya. Their congregations consist of military personnel and a few Russian oldsters who had nowhere to hide from war and ethnic cleansing.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There are currently almost no indigenous Russians living in Chechnya today</p><p dir="ltr">Irina Vasilievna (name changed) and I say our hellos in Chechen. Irina came to Grozny as a young woman. She worked at a factory not far from her house, close to the bus station. She had a husband and two sons. All three died.</p><p dir="ltr">Irina Vasilievna nearly perished herself on several occasions. One time a bomb fell in the immediate vicinity of her house, bursting a major gas pipe. Miraculously enough, there was no fire. She spent some time in a village where she was taken by a Chechen neighbour. A young Russian soldier holed up in her house for several months: some Chechens found him hiding in the forest and delivered him into the “safekeeping” of the only Russian woman they knew.</p><p dir="ltr">Several times a year, Irina Vasilievna and a small group of Russians head to the graveyard near the old cannery. More Russians can be encountered here than anywhere else: a large swathe of land very much akin to a forest accommodates some 300 Christian graves.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_2303.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: Ekaterina Neroznikova. </span></span></span>The group tidies up the graves of relatives and acquaintances. Their efforts, though, are a drop in the ocean. The cemetery is in a terrible state: tombstones wrecked by vandals, fences dismantled for scrap metal, wooden crosses rotting and metal ones rusting away. Visible traces of the war remain, too: surviving monuments are riddled with bullet holes and some graves are still torn up by bombs.</p><p dir="ltr">The cemetery once served as a dividing line between the militants and the Russian military. Now it’s a quiet place: ivy curls around the trees, birds tweet somewhere. The bomb craters are overgrown with weeds and filled with garbage (how it got here is anyone’s guess). There’s almost never anyone around. </p><p dir="ltr">“Well, where else would we Russians meet if not here?” Irina Vasilievna laughs when we come across her and several other Russian women on the way back from the cemetery. The women had been clearing up, and now they were walking together to the bus stop. Having recently celebrated Easter, they were discussing how this year’s service had gone. The militants’ attack on the church was still a month and a half off.</p><p dir="ltr">“What’s really scary is not so much that they’ve already attacked us as the fact that they might come back,” says Georgy Petrovich from the church shop. The Archangel Michael Church of Michael, the principal gathering spot for Grozny’s Russians, is becoming more and more like a fortified stronghold.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/kumyk-people-are-still-fighting-territorial-claims">Seventy years on, the Kumyk people in Dagestan are still fighting territorial claims</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Russia Caucasus Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:23:39 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 119076 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s rising retirement age: six real stories https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-geyn/russias-rising-retirement-age <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Russian government’s move to raise the retirement age is encountering a lot of public discontent. Here, six Russian citizens tell us why they're against the reform.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/28800685278_63e9d69c69_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/28800685278_63e9d69c69_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Andry Markison / Flickr. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>On 19 July 2018, Russia’s State Duma reviewed and accepted draft legislation on increasing the retirement age. The retirement age for men will be raised from 60 to 65, and for women from 55 to 63. This initiative has caused discontent across the whole country. Some cities have already held public actions, and on 28 July a nationwide protest is planned. </p><p dir="ltr">I spoke with six Russian citizens who will be among the first to experience the effects of pension reform. These are men (born around 1959-1963) and women born around 1964-1968, who will reach retirement age in several years time. Here, they share their life stories and opinions on the pension reform. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Viktor Moshkin: “Who will need me if I fail the medical examination?”</h2><p dir="ltr">I live in Ekaterinburg, and I will soon be 55. I work as an engineer in the Sverdlovsk Regional Radio and Television Broadcast Centre, a telecommunications service provider. My duties include working with electrical installations and devices, servicing the radio and TV broadcasting equipment, and working in increased risk environments. I work under considerable pressure and I am now experiencing certain health problems. I was hoping to retire at 60. </p><p dir="ltr">Previously I worked at high altitudes, however I had to stop because of the health issues – there are younger people who can do this. Of course, I would have liked to retire after working five more years. However, it turns out that I will now have to wait twice as long. The main problem is that each year the company employees have to undergo a medical examination. With age, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with the health requirements. Who will want me if I fail the examination? Finding a job at 55 is impossible. They keep telling us that workers are wanted everywhere. But what kind of workers? Guards, janitors? You need to have your health for those jobs too.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/znakcom-2094267-666x667.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="461" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Viktor Moshkin. </span></span></span>My colleagues are also upset about the pension reform. I haven’t seen anyone who agrees with it. Perhaps it is all the same for the deputies at the State Duma – their job is to sit in parliament. But our job is a physical one.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Marina Tsai: “Despair – that’s what I’m feeling at the moment”</h2><p dir="ltr">I’m 51 and I live in St Petersburg. I am a designer in a small company. I was planning to retire in four years. I find it difficult to move around because of arthritis in my knees, and one of my eyes is very short-sighted. However, I haven’t been categorised as having a disability. Despair – that’s what I’m feeling at the moment.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the 1990s, we found ourselves in a state of constant learning because the new market economy was emerging. Forty years later we are no longer needed anywhere</p><p dir="ltr">I started work right after graduating from the university, and I currently have 27 years of working experience. I love my work, but I am not sure if I’ll be able to keep my position in the next few years. If I lose my job, I have no one to rely on. It is also most unfortunate that our generation became employable during the crises of 1997-1998, and we were unable to save any money. We were out of work! We went through a lot in our lives. Most of us are childless and without families. For example, I was not able to build a family. My husband used to tell me: “With a life like this, we can’t have children.” We eventually got divorced. I have no one to rely on.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Ekaterina Denina: “My father will not live to see his pension”</h2><p dir="ltr">Our whole family will suffer because of this reform. We live in Bryansk, my father Sergey turned 55 this March, and my mother Valentina is now 54. On 1 July, our whole family went out to join the strike against raising the retirement age. I also wrote a letter to the Presidential Administration. We understand that our father will not live to see his pension. He constantly has to be hospitalised because of his condition and his job, and we are praying for him to still be alive by the time he’s 60. My mother had to start working as a janitor, but her joint pain is so strong that she can barely sleep at night. And the government is asking them to keep working.</p><p dir="ltr">My father is an Afghan War veteran, he has certificates and rewards. After the military service he went to work in the railway industry, however because of the reform, he is now no longer a worker of Russian Railways, but rather an employee of a private company. It appears that a war veteran, who all of his life worked on railways, is not entitled to pension subsidies.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 22.36.53.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 22.36.53.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="355" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Denin, Afghan War veteran.</span></span></span>With all that said, my father’s job is very labour-intensive – he is a rolling stock blacksmith. This usually involves getting on the top or underneath of a diesel locomotive in order to perform repair work. How is he expected to be doing this kind of work at 65, if he already finds it challenging at 55?</p><p dir="ltr">They work two days in a row, sharing 12-hour shifts between two people. Even young people would find this difficult to handle. Because of cardiovascular problems he has to go on a sick leave every year, and he’s constantly on medication. My mother was supposed to retire in January 2019. She worked in an industrial greenhouse complex for over 20 years. As a consequence of her constant exposure to various toxic substances, she now has a duodenal ulcer as well as other chronic diseases. At her age, she was only able to find a job as a cleaner. </p><p>I myself am raising a three-year old daughter, and because of her poor health I can barely ever leave her in a kindergarten. We were hoping that, after her retirement in January next year, my mother would be able to look after my little girl so that I could work. It is common for grandmothers to look after the children these days. And the fact that 55-56-year old grandmothers will now have to work will be a painful blow to young families.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Tatyana Astakhova: “I have only one demand: the government must resign and the President must be impeached”</h2><p dir="ltr">I was never interested in politics, but the pension reform forced me to change my views. I’m now 52, I live in St Petersburg. I’m an HR and a Health and Safety Officer in a construction company. </p><p dir="ltr">I have been living on my own since I was 16. I raised two kids, all by myself. I was not intending to become a burden for them at 55. My plan was to keep working, although I was still hoping to find a profession to my own liking. However, I am now forced to prioritise a job with a decent salary instead. This is not necessarily how I would like things to be. I graduated in Arts, but I was not able to realise myself as an artist. I had to find a job in order to feed my children. I was hoping that after my retirement I would find an occupation that I would enjoy. </p><p dir="ltr">I earned my pension and I would like to be able to rely on it. But when I’ve heard the news about this pension reform… It’s a catastrophe! At the beginning, when Siberia began to protest, I was thinking to myself: My God, I must do something about this! I was in despair! Meanwhile, people around me were completely indifferent to this, and I could not understand why this was happening.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 22.39.48.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 22.39.48.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="321" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tatyana Astakhova.</span></span></span>Only a year ago, I was completely apolitical. But now, upon encountering this complete injustice, I want to do something. So, little by little, I started talking to my colleagues and the young. People usually react with perplexity at first, but this reaction soon gives place to pensiveness and interest.</p><p dir="ltr">The most important thing is to keep people informed. I have only one demand: the government must resign and the President must be impeached, because it would be naive to assume that the latter is oblivious to this problem. </p><p dir="ltr">People are now in need of a leader. Perhaps, it is part of our mentality, but we need someone with a flag to lead us. Everyone is full of fears. People fear repressions and punishments. I no longer have this fear. I am now free. If they will take my life, I’ll be ready, for there will be another judgement awaiting for us. Heartbreak and pain are not merely pathetic words.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Our first protest was held in the total outskirts, and it had no impact whatsoever”</p><p dir="ltr">Our first protest was held in the total outskirts, and it had no impact whatsoever. Unfortunately, I did not take part in it because I was away on a business trip. People keep asking: “So, when next?” We are are not allowed to hold a protest legally. But I keep telling everyone: “Guys, what are we afraid of? St Petersburg is full of tourists! Let’s not do anything unlawful, let’s just walk along Nevsky Prospect!” Of course, some of us might be stopped and taken in. But it is better than… Who else, if not me?</p><p dir="ltr">I distribute the leaflets. Every day I follow what is happening in other cities in relation to the pension reform. I think we will prevail, I want to believe in it. I want to be proud of my own country, however, all I feel about my people now is grief. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Igor Sotnikov: “This is the scenario we already saw in Ukraine”</h2><p dir="ltr">I am now 53, I live in Ekaterinburg, and I have been unemployed for a long time now. I am making a living as an investor. </p><p dir="ltr">I think that this pension reform is very premature. Today it will only bring problems rather than solutions. Currently we don’t need so many additional jobs.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 22.42.22.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 22.42.22.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Sitnikov.</span></span></span>Of course, this reform will have to be initiated, but no sooner than we change the Constitution. We need to establish the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, and in order to do that we need to change Article 15.4 on the priorities of international law. We can gradually start increasing the retirement age only when we get rid of the American officials in our government who oversee the adoption of every single of our laws. We need to start making our own decisions. I am declaring this position as a member of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Liberation_Movement_(Russia)">National Liberation Movement</a>. Why was the pension reform initiated at this particular time? This was done in order to create resentment among people. People are taking to the streets led by all sorts of Navalnys and communists. They start with pensions, and end with Putin. “Down with Putin!” and so forth. This is the scenario we already saw in Ukraine. That is the whole purpose of this reform.</p><p dir="ltr">The pension reform is initiated by the International Monetary Fund whose headquarters are in the USA. They have been talking about this for several years already. The Russian government is in compliance because we have lost our sovereignty. I am part of the protesters who support Putin’s decision against raising the retirement age. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Yuliya Voyevskaya: “We were waiting for Moscow to stand up”</h2><p dir="ltr">This is a blow straight to the heart. This government is the same age as us. We don’t need to explain to our children how we lived during the 1990s, they know it all too well: our pensions will be very limited because we all have gaps in our employment records. We were living in the conditions of a wild market. We were hoping that we will receive fixed pensions because each of us lost 10-odd years of our work experience. </p><p dir="ltr">Our generation is experiencing never-ending reforms which are never to our advantage. In the 1990s we found ourselves in a state of constant learning because the new market economy was emerging. Forty years later we are no longer needed anywhere. They are now telling us that our knowledge is obsolete, and that they are looking for the young ones with contemporary education. In order to remain employable, me and my husband got ourselves three majors each. I’m now 50, and I work as a distribution operator for the post office in the city of Balashikha. </p><p dir="ltr">I am not planning to retire in five years, but I was hoping for my pension payments. I had two difficult operations over the last two years, for which I received around 200,000 rubles. And so, we’ll just keep on killing ourselves. </p><p dir="ltr">We were all waiting for Moscow to stand up, and we would all have gone to protest without hesitation. People are seriously discussing this everywhere I go, but nothing is happening. We are no longer sure if we should expect any protests anymore. People are trying to come up with some ideas, but what should we do next?</p><p dir="ltr">My vacation coincided with the World Cup. I happened to visit various regions of Russia. This whole thing seemed nothing short of a feast in time of plague. Everything is great, people are jolly, the policemen are smiling, foreigners are happy. Meanwhile, the population is in shock, people are literally in tears! Because in the regions everyone’s waiting to see whether mothers will receive their pensions or not, an extra penny for the family. </p><p><em>This article was <a href="https://www.znak.com/2018-07-17/zhiteli_rossii_o_povyshenii_pensionnogo_vozrasta_sem_realnyh_istoriy">originally published</a> on Znak.com. We translate it here with permission.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/a-spoonful-of-propaganda-helps-the-pension-reform-go-down">In Russia, a spoonful of propaganda helps the pension reform go down</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-raising-pension-age">While everyone’s watching the football, the Russian government is raising the retirement age</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/can-russias-opposition-come-together-to-fight-the-kremlins-pension-reform">Can Russia’s opposition come together to fight the Kremlin’s pension reform? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-pogrebniak/how-rostov-miners-are-fighting-against-all-odds-for-their-wages">“In two years of picketing, 15 miners of working age have died”: how Rostov miners are fighting against all odds for their wages – and respect</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anastasia Geyn Russia Fri, 27 Jul 2018 07:34:22 +0000 Anastasia Geyn 119037 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tree cutting and pollution in Bishkek: to the last breath? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zukhra-iakupbaeva/tree-cutting-and-pollution-in-bishkek <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>While the leaders of Kyrgyzstan’s capital insist on removing the city’s greenery, local groups are trying to stop it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_protest_at_dushanbinskaya_street_a_logo_of_china_road_and_bridge_corporation_on_the_car_truck_author_kloopkg.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_protest_at_dushanbinskaya_street_a_logo_of_china_road_and_bridge_corporation_on_the_car_truck_author_kloopkg.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>One of the local residents being arrested for protecting tree from felling in the protest on June 2, 2017. Source: 5news.kg</span></span></span>On 2 June 2017, police arrested ten people protesting against the felling of decades-old trees for road expansion in central Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, implemented with Chinese grant funds. More than a year on, many of the trees that line Bishkek’s large boulevards are still being cut by local municipalities to build parking lots and for housing construction, degrading the city’s air quality. Citizens have organised to research the subject of air pollution and have established platforms to discuss this topic in order to try to influence decision-makers.</p><p dir="ltr">The project to renovate the city’s roads was <a href="https://www.vb.kg/doc/347081_meriia_i_kitayskaia_korporaciia_podpisali_dogovor_na_rekonstrykciu_49_dorog.html">granted</a> by the Chinese government through the China Road and Bridge Corporation under China’s Ministry of Communications in September 2016, but the actual reconstruction works only started on 2 June the following year. On that day, a group of about 40 local residents and activists protested on Dushanbinskaya Street in east Bishkek to prevent the trees from being felled, with some physically trying to stop bulldozers and municipal workers by hugging trees and sitting on branches. The city police arrested ten people officially for “road blocking” and “failure to obey the police.” Later that day, the Pervomaisky court released all of them with a warning to desist from protesting. By then, 140 trees had already been cut down to expand Dushanbinskaya Street.</p><p dir="ltr">The incident highlighted the existing divisions in Bishkek between those who support the protesters, as they advocate for green conservation to balance Bishkek’s arid climate, and those who continue to consider road expansion as development. Obviously, <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29384448.html">recently ousted</a> city mayor Albek Ibraimov led the latter camp. In a recent interview, Ibraimov <a href="https://ru.sputnik.kg/society/20180426/1038819189/albek-ibraimov-mehriya-drovosek.html">stated</a> that “urban greenery hadn’t been previously cut down because there was no Chinese grant for large-scale street reconstruction.” He added that road expansion is important because Bishkek is developing – there are five times more cars in the city than there were seven years ago. On social media, opponents of the road works have taken to scorning Ibraimov with the label “drovosek”, a Russian term that rhymes with his name Albek and translates as “the woodcutter.” </p><p dir="ltr">The indicator of green areas per citizen has dropped sharply in Bishkek in recent years. “In the 1980s, the norm was 21 square metres of greenery per citizen compared to today’s 3.5 square metres,” said retired architect Natalya Mukhamadiyeva at a roundtable organised in May 2017 by the Archa Initiative NGO, whose staff (including the author) was among the ten arrested at the protest site on Dushanbinskaya Street. Rapid population growth cannot alone account for such a dramatic drop, as Bishkek’s population has seen roughly a 50% increase since the 1980s according to the Kyrgyz government’s Statistics Department, while green areas have shrunk by six times in the same period.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In the 1980s, the norm was 21 square metres of greenery per citizen compared to today’s 3.5 square metres”</p><p dir="ltr">Mukhamadiyeva has spent her life planning urban projects in Bishkek’s architectural bodies, such as the Kyrgyz State Institute for Construction Design and the Frunze City Design Institute. At the roundtable, she stressed how “insufficient irrigation system and irrigation water deficit, as well as the totally inadequate number of nursery areas and the lack of a unified strategic policy in city greening” are leading to the disappearance of urban parks.</p><p dir="ltr">In contrast, former Mayor Ibraimov <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/28310684.html">argued</a> that if “we look at the classification of urban greenery per square metres per capita, it is not catastrophic.” But Dmitry Vetoshkin, a local environmentalist, who was also detained at the protest, agrees with Mukhamadiyeva’s analysis. “This microclimate of green areas creates a favourable temperature and humidity in (Bishkek) city, protecting city dwellers from noise, dust and chemical pollution,” he told me, adding that the project of road expansion “satisfies the interests of particular housing construction developers,” rather than the needs of the people living in the city.</p><p dir="ltr">However, the former Mayor seemed uninterested in engaging with protesters to address their grievances. “The day before the 2 June massive tree-cut, the Mayor’s office promised to meet with Dushanbinskaya Street residents – but they met only on 3 June,” Raushanna Sarkeyeva, the head of the Urban Initiatives NGO and who was also detained, told me. “No environmental assessment and no public hearings were done to discuss the feasibility of expanding the street.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Urban air quality</h2><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, local experts are sounding the alarm on air quality in Bishkek. Rustam Tukhvatshin, a professor at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, shared his research on the link between urban air quality and reproductive health at the Green Bishkek Forum, which was also organised by Archa Initiative NGO, in June 2018. “Together with Kazakh colleagues, we studied the air quality at the busiest street intersection in the city. It turned out there was a tenfold increase of one of the most toxic and carcinogenic substances, formaldehyde.” </p><p dir="ltr">Tukhvatshin added that when they examined pregnant women living in the area, they found that almost 100% of newborns had defects to their internal organs. As he explains in his <a href="http://greenbishkek.com/uploads/Date/Prezi/prezi/1/%D0%9A%D0%90%D0%A7%D0%95%D0%A1%D0%A2%D0%92%D0%9E%20%D0%93%D0%9E%D0%A0%D0%9E%D0%94%D0%A1%D0%9A%D0%9E%D0%93%D0%9E%20%D0%92%D0%9E%D0%94%D0%A3%D0%A5%D0%90%20%D0%98%20%D0%97%D0%94%D0%9E%D0%A0%D0%9E%D0%92%D0%AC%D0%95%20%D0%93%D0%9E%D0%A0%D0%9E%D0%96%D0%90%D0%9D.pdf">research</a>, formaldehyde concentration was one of the leading ecological factors causing perinatal mortality. Moreover, even when babies are born, they will likely have congenital defects due to car-produced formaldehyde and the lack of greenery in the city.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_chinese_grant_kills_residents_of_bishkek_author_kloopkg.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_chinese_grant_kills_residents_of_bishkek_author_kloopkg.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chinese grant kills residents of Bishkek. Source: kloop.kg</span></span></span>Tukhvatshin’s findings echo <a href="http://meteo.kg/environment_air.php">warnings</a> by the state-owned meteorology unit KyrgyzHydroMet, which states that there is an excess of the maximum permitted concentration of hazardous elements in Bishkek air. “In June (2018), it was observed that the maximum allowed concentration of nitrogen dioxide was exceeded for 25 days, (while) the daily average allowable concentration for (...) nitrogen oxide was exceeded for 21 days and for formaldehyde for 24 days,” KyrgyzHydroMet reported. The MoveGreen civil movement also <a href="http://greenbishkek.com/uploads/Date/Prezi/prezi/1/%D0%A7%D0%B5%D0%BC%20%D0%B4%D1%8B%D1%88%D0%B0%D1%82%20%D0%B1%D0%B8%D1%88%D0%BA%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%87%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B5.pdf">published</a> the results of their research, which shows a growth in formaldehyde concentration. Activists deployed three monitors, two in the city centre and one in the local botanical garden, who measured air pollution and followed air quality trends through the free online app <a href="http://movegreen.kg/abakg/#/diagram">Aba.kg</a>. All results showed that the air was “unhealthy” between December 2017 and January 2018.</p><p dir="ltr">Bishkek city sits in the Chuy Valley at the feet of the Tian Shan mountain range in the largely arid region of Central Asia. During Soviet times, the Botanical Garden planned the city’s green spaces, which was then implemented by the municipal services. Emil Shukurov, 80, a biologist and well-known environmentalist, remembers how Bishkek was turned into “an urban oasis. I recall it was even windy in Bishkek because streets were in the shade.” The current tree-cutting spree is reversing this trend. The Urban Initiatives NGO used a thermal camera in areas of the city that have been deprived of greenery. The results <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2017/09/21/eksperiment-s-teplovizorom-kak-silno-nagrevaetsya-bishkek-bez-derevev/">show</a> temperatures reaching more than 50 degrees celsius with differences of more than 20-30 degrees celsius between areas in the shade and in the sun. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Corruption has roots</h2><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the BishkekZelenKhoz municipal body <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/373252_meriia_zakypila_syperdorogie_sajency._po_9_tysiach_somov_za_shtyky._kakie_oni.html">cut down</a> about 3,000 trees in 2017 and <a href="http://knews.kg/2017/11/08/smogut-li-prizhitsya-novye-sazhentsy-v-bishkeke-poyasnyaet-zelenstroj/">planned</a> to purchase new trees for 60 million KGS (about 880,000 USD). Some were surprised that the price tag per young tree was between 4,000 and 9,000 KGS (about 60-130 USD) for trees purchased from Poland by the Mayor’s office. Environmentalist Dmitry Vetoshkin believes that “these are not only expensive if compared to local market prices, but those trees are often not adaptable to Bishkek’s climate.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 14.07.08.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 14.07.08.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="330" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A new parking area in central part of Bishkek, where trees used to grow before the cut. Source: “Urban Initiatives” NGO.</span></span></span>Importing trees at prices considered high in comparison to local producers suggests taxpayers’ money has been squandered. An <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/373165_dlia_bishkeka_zakypaut_zarybejnye_sajency_v_50_100_raz_doroje_mestnyh.html">investigation</a> by two journalists in April 2018 found that the former Mayor purchased foreign trees at prices 50 to 100 times higher than local ones, to which Deputy Mayor Erkinbek Isakov replied that “there are no nurseries close to Bishkek with large-sized trees.” Nevertheless, a week after the article was published and shared across many local media outlets, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) <a href="https://24.kg/obschestvo/85778_sajentsyi_za9tyisyach_somov_gknb_spodrobnostyami_obugolovnom_rassledovanii_/">opened</a> a criminal case against the Mayor regarding the purchase of imported trees. Moreover, following a no-confidence vote in the City Council in mid-July <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29384448.html">unrelated</a> to the tree-purchase investigation, Mayor Ibraimov has been removed from his post.</p><p dir="ltr">While the Green Bishkek Forum tried to involve the competent state institutions and the public in a dialogue about the consequences of Bishkek’s disappearing urban greenery, the Mayor’s office sent a letter to the organisers after the Forum in which local municipal services denied that “massive tree cutting” is taking place in the city, indicating that there is little political will to even recognise the problem. As the Mayor’s dismissal <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/377158_40_depytatov_progolosovali_za_otstavky_mera_ibraimova.html">appears</a> to have <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/377158_40_depytatov_progolosovali_za_otstavky_mera_ibraimova.html">little to do</a> with his tree-cutting policy, it remains to be seen if his successor will choose to engage with civil society or continue to ignore protesters. As Dmitry Vetoshkin comments, “at a time when car fleets in developed countries are shrinking, public transport is developing, lanes for bicycles and pedestrians are being created and green areas expanded, our city is being designed only to individual cars with air conditioners. Do ordinary people really need (such a) city?”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/balihar-sanghera/why-are-kyrgyzstan%E2%80%99s-slum-dwellers-so-angry">Why are Kyrgyzstan’s slum dwellers so angry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/madeleine-reeves/breaking-point-why-kyrgyz-lost-their-patience">Breaking point: why the Kyrgyz lost their patience</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Zukhra Iakupbaeva Kyrgyzstan Fri, 27 Jul 2018 04:38:58 +0000 Zukhra Iakupbaeva 119024 at https://www.opendemocracy.net