oD Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/3513/author/pravyysektor.info/news/oficial/218/zvernenna-do-ukrains-kogo-narodu.html en No answers on 2016 attack against international election observers in Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aage-borchgrevink/international-election-observers <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An incident involving international election observers during Georgia's 2016 parliamentary election raised questions that the official investigation is still yet to answer.</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/Jikhashkari_incident.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2016: Scenes of disturbance at a polling station in Jikhashkari village in the southern district of Marneuli. Image: Luka Pertaia / Netgazeti. </span></span></span>Just before midnight on 8 October 2016, the day of the parliamentary elections, a group of men stormed into a polling station in Jikhashkari, a village in Western Georgia. The station was closed for the counting of votes, but the attackers were able to get past the police guards and into the polling station. There were at least four police officers present in and around the station, while other units were nearby.</p> <p>The attackers threw ballots and papers around, disregarding the protests of the polling station commission. They disrupted the vote tabulation, in a manner that resulted in the annulment of the elections at that precinct, and acted in an intimidating and threatening manner. Then they turned their attention on <a href="http://iphronline.org/investigate-georgia-attack-international-election-observers-20161221.html">three international election observers</a> who were present.</p> <p>We’ve had the privilege of working closely with Georgian civil society organisations for the last 15 years. While these years have been marked by disturbing and dramatic events, such as the war in August 2008, there has also been progress in some important areas, such as freedom of expression and access to effective courts of law.</p> <p>While relations with neighbouring Russia remain strained, relations with Europe have improved to the extent that Georgians <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory">now travel visa free</a> to the EU. There are many reasons for these developments, but key has been the willingness of the people to participate in public affairs and express their opinions through elections that have generally become more free and fair over the last 15 years.</p> <p>In the Caucasus region, free and fair elections do not come about by themselves. They are hard-fought achievements. Georgian civil society and key human rights institutions have worked with Parliament, the Central Electoral Commission and the media to protect the right to vote. In this, they have been supported by international election observers.</p> <p>In 2016 the Norwegian Helsinki Committee together with the European Platform for Democratic Elections, International Partnership for Human Rights and the International Electoral Studies’ Center observed the parliamentary elections. We focused on regions that had previously experienced irregularities and violence in connection with elections. Three of our teams went to Western Georgia.</p> <p>Specifically we chose to observe in the district (#66) where Sandra Roelofs ran as the candidate of the United National Movement (UNM), the main opposition party. Ms. Roelofs is married to Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s former president who fled the country after facing charges relating to corruption and abuse of power.</p> <p>It seemed to us that this seat was a prestigious prize and that the local authorities perhaps would like to avoid a second round of voting, which would indicate the Ms. Roelofs, Mr. Saakashvili and the UNM still have support. After tip off’s about possible trouble in Jikhashkari, one of our teams went there to observe the count. At one point during the count, the sizeable pile of ballots for Ms. Roelofs suggested that the ruling party candidate would not gain an outright victory in the first round at that precinct. Just afterwards a number of election commission members left the premises, and the attackers entered.</p> <p>Election observation is an important democratic institution that is protected by Georgian law and international organizations that count Georgia as a member. Yet the police in Jikhashkari <a href="http://iphronline.org/investigate-georgia-attack-international-election-observers-20161221.html">did not intervene</a> when our three observers were attacked. Two of the observers had their mobile phones taken (they had filmed the altercation in the polling station), two were physically attacked and one female observer from Russia sustained light injuries.</p> <p>The incident was covered in Georgian media. Various Georgian and international bodies protested. The authorities opened a criminal investigation and an administrative inquiry into the conduct of the police. The NHC followed the processes, wrote letters and had meetings with the Ministry of Internal Affairs on many levels and the Office of the Prosecutor. Our aim was to ensure that case was properly investigated.&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, and on the eve of local elections, it is perhaps useful to sum up how the incident was dealt with. The administrative case <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/67373/eng">launched</a> by the General Inspectorate of Georgia’s Interior Ministry resulted in the reprimanding of two officers who were found to have neglected their duties. In two separate cases in May and June, two men were convicted of attacking our observers and given conditional sentences.</p> <p lang="en-US">Throughout the year, Georgian authorities answered all our queries promptly and convincingly declared that such an incident should not happen again and that election observers should feel safe in Georgia. The administrative actions taken against the two policemen and the conviction of two of the attackers are evidence that the justice and police authorities recognised that a crime had taken place and that actions were taken to punish some of those who were responsible.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet we are also left with a number of unanswered questions. It is difficult to understand why the identity of the other attackers have not been established. Jikhashkari is a small village, yet even the policeman present during the attack was unable to identify any of the other attackers. There is no explanation as to why why the police failed to contact reinforcements stationed on the outskirts of the village. Individuals who witnesses reported to have been part of the group of attackers were apparently not questioned during the investigation.</p> <p>There is no mentioning of a motive for the attack. Local witnesses, interviewed by us, claimed that the commission members were warned about the attack beforehand, but instead of locking the doors, they left the building. They believe that the commission members and the police colluded with the attackers, in the sense that they did not intervene to stop the attack, and that there may have been an order to disrupt the vote count in Jikhashkari and annul the results there.&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident in Polling Station 79 does not appear to have been linked by the investigators to the identical attack on the other polling station (108) in the village, which took place at the same time and presumably involved the same group of perpetrators. Indeed even the cases against the two individuals who were charged with attacking Polling Station 79 and our observers, were investigated and tried separately.</p> <p>Our feeling is that Georgian police and justice authorities have refrained from a full-fledged investigation into the aims and organisation of the attack, and settled for a “compromise solution” where a few individuals are punished, administratively and by the courts. We are left wondering: If it was a premeditated attack, as circumstances seem to suggest, who planned and ordered it?&nbsp;</p> <p>We will anyway return as election observers in order to strengthen democratic institutions and cooperate with Georgia’s vibrant civil society. We trust that Georgian authorities will do their utmost to protect the institution of international observers in the future. In many respects Georgia is way ahead of the neighbuoring states with regard to human rights and democratic standards.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">Still, the lesson from Jikhashkari seems to be that some of the practices from previous Georgian regimes have survived despite the many improvements that have taken place.</p><p lang="en-US">&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/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin">Mayor or manager? Tbilisi chooses its kingpin</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anne-rennschmid/is-election-observing-in-central-asia-lost-cause">Is election observing in Central Asia a lost cause?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/big-trouble-in-little-georgia">Big trouble in little Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/aage-borchgrevink-simon-papuashvili/ending-impunity-in-europe">Ending impunity in Europe?</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 Simon Papuashvili Aage Borchgrevink Georgia Fri, 20 Oct 2017 05:33:06 +0000 Aage Borchgrevink and Simon Papuashvili 114105 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Peace-building versus human rights in Ukraine’s Donbas https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/peace-building-versus-human-rights-in-ukraines-donbas <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/13654189_1762518223963655_138236124276395719_n.jpg" alt="13654189_1762518223963655_138236124276395719_n.jpg" width="80" />Diplomatic games are being played in and around Ukraine. But officially recognising a Russian invasion is the only way toward peace. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-goncharuk/plohoy-mir-donbass" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-20992372.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-20992372.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'>September 2014: Burnt out rocket launchers and the remains of munitions lie amongst the rubble of a Ukrainian Armed Forces field camp near Dmitrivka in the north of Lugansk Oblast, Ukraine. (c) Jan A. Nicolas/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Human rights don’t exist in a warzone. The conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region is now in its fourth year. Ukrainian civil society, human rights activists and international organisations such as the UN and OSCE are trying to solve and stabilise the situation. But despite the fact there is only one conflict, there are different views on how to resolve it. There are also different views regarding the territories controlled by illegal armed groups under the guise of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”.</p><p dir="ltr">Currently, the OSCE and UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission operate in the territory of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Donbas. The UN’s mission is to monitor the general situation in the ATO zone. The OSCE monitors and records violations in the Donbas, as well as acts as a mediator in negotiations. According to Ukrainian human rights defenders who regularly travel to the conflict zone in order to document human rights violations, representatives of the OSCE don’t always record instances where Ukrainian sovereignty is violated, as well as evidence of Russian state aggression. What is the reason for this: a lack of desire to recognise the obvious fact of war? Or is it something else? </p><p dir="ltr">In my view, the key point of contention between human rights defenders and peacebuilders at the UN and OSCE has to do with the shift in emphasis from external aggression to internal conflict. While rights defenders are recording violations of sovereignty and international law, the UN and OSCE are trying to “build peace”. </p><p dir="ltr">International organisations and the European community prefer to see the conflict in Ukraine as a largely internal one, rather than admit that there needs to be harsher resistance to the real aggressor, the Russian Federation. Peacekeeping organisations still popularise the idea that there are “pro-Ukrainian Ukrainians” and “pro-Russian Ukrainians”, with the former wanting to join Europe while the latter - Russia. For them, one of the solutions to the conflict is helping Ukrainian citizens reconcile their differences with one another, establishing a dialogue within the country and holding mediation meetings with Ukrainian citizens who have found themselves on the opposite sides of the conflict. They see the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-soloviev/ideal-conflict-on-dniester">Transnistria scenario</a> in Moldova as a possible model for resolution. Stopping the violence and creating peace is the top priority.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Minsk Protocols have failed to significantly influence the situation</p><p dir="ltr">Does this scenario satisfy human rights defenders and volunteers who travel to the ATO? I don’t think so. Human rights defenders are more categorical in their thinking: for them, the fact that Ukrainian sovereignty has been violated is an undeniable fact. Likewise, international law is not being enforced and is, in fact, in crisis. After Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, it gave up its nuclear weapons under pressure from the US and Russia (at that moment, Ukraine had the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal) in exchange for safety guarantees should its sovereignty be threatened. The US, Russia, Great Britain, France and China all signed up to guarantee Ukraine’s safety. Today, this memorandum exists on paper only, while the guarantors are trying to pretend that nothing’s happening. </p><p dir="ltr">The Minsk Protocols have failed to significantly influence the situation. Ukrainian rights activists continue to record numerous human rights violations, inhumane treatment (especially toward both military and civilian prisoners), violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and open acts of aggression by the Russian Federation. According to international accords, civilians cannot be tortured and cannot be held prisoner during times of war. Yet the situation in the Donbas testifies to the opposite: local residents are regularly detained by armed groups whose actions are controlled from Russia. Long negotiations on prisoner exchanges take place, but they are not always successful. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Ukrainian rights activists, the most important thing is to try and influence the real cause of destabilisation of the Donbas — Russian aggression. <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83791">Financial support</a> and arms shipments to the self-proclaimed “DNR” and “LNR” must stop. These so-called republics will shut down should they no longer have resources. At the very least, there is a high degree of probability that this will happen, Ukrainian rights activists tell me.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We have a lot of speculation, propaganda and diplomatic games related to the Donbas</p><p dir="ltr">The current situation is further complicated by the fact that the Ukrainian government, after all of these years of war, is afraid to (or else simply doesn’t want to) officially recognise Russia’s armed aggression. This is why it calls its campaign an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maryna-stavniichuk/ukraine-s-rulers-are-backing-themselves-into-corner">“Anti-Terrorist Operation”</a>. Thankfully, there aren’t any terrorists in Ukraine. Instead, we have a lot of speculation, propaganda and diplomatic games related to the Donbas.</p><p dir="ltr">The Ukrainian parliament recently voted to approve the President Poroshenko’s law on <a href="http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=62638">Donbas reintegration</a> in its first reading. This legislation involves officially recognising the Russian Federation’s armed aggression on Ukrainian territory, as well as Russian occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">Discussions between Ukrainian MPs are yet to die down. Our parliamentarians are now speculating on the Minsk Protocols and whether they should be referred to in the text of the new legislation or not. Those who are for inclusion of the protocols argue that this will enable Ukraine to call in UN peacekeepers and seal the border. Those against it point out that their inclusion will “conserve Putin’s aggression”. </p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine’s human rights community, people are also discussing this topic. Here, the introduction of a UN peacekeeping force is seen as a necessary step. The discussion also includes the following question: should UN peacekeeping forces be stationed on the border between Russia and Ukraine or on the border between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed “republics” too?</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Every day, civilians held hostage by the current situation —real people with real stories — are dying in the war or because of it</p><p dir="ltr">Will the UN’s blue helmets arrive in Ukraine and will the Donbas duplicate the experience of Transnistria? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, as Ukrainian MPs argue about how to reintegrate the Donbas and international organisations engage in so-called peace-building, the Russian Federation <a href="https://jamestown.org/program/coal-smuggled-ukraines-occupied-donbas-ends-poland/">illegally transports coal out of the Donbas</a> and showcases new feats of propaganda.</p><p dir="ltr">Every day, civilians held hostage by the current situation — real people with real stories — are dying in the war or because of it. “DNR” and “LNR” militants still target Ukrainian military personnel and the civilian population with shelling. </p><p dir="ltr">While diplomatic games continue to be played, Ukraine <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">suffers from economic and human losses</a>. Thousands of Ukrainian servicemen return home with post-traumatic stress syndrome, with mangled bodies and souls. Millions of people have lost their homes and were forced to abandon their native Donetsk and Luhansk. </p><p dir="ltr">The only way out for Ukraine is this: openly resist Russia after officially recognising an armed invasion and urging everyone involved to take responsibility for the consequences, as well as real reforms in the country, not to mention a realistic information policy to counter Russian propaganda.</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/isobel-koshiw-anastasia-vlasova/growing-up-apolitical-in-ukraine-s-war-zone">Growing up apolitical in Ukraine’s war zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/gabriel-levy/eastern-ukraine-we-need-new-ways-of-organising">Eastern Ukraine: “We need new ways of organising”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/no-way-out-for-bloggers-in-ukraine-s-donbas">No way out for bloggers in Ukraine’s Donbas</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">Donbas: “We’re used to the shelling”</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 ukraine Tetiana Goncharuk Human rights Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:20:31 +0000 Tetiana Goncharuk 114142 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Vesti: Weapon or casualty in the information war? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bryan-milakovsky/vesti-weapon-or-casualty <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The search for Russian influence in Ukraine’s media is an important task. But when the mainstream makes little space for inconvenient facts, who ends up losing?</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 2017-10-19 at 10.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="245" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A still from CCTV that allegedly captures strana.ua editor Igor Guzhva blackmailing a Ukrainian politician. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>In Ukraine, the long-running conflict around the <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com">Vesti media group</a> and its successor <a href="http://strana.ua">Strana.ua</a> has produced strongly contrasting narratives. For many patriotic minded Ukrainians, these outlets are weapons in Moscow’s information war. They believe these media mixes lies and half-truths to undermine support in the Ukrainian government and the army, still fighting in the east. Yet for those opposed to Ukraine’s post-revolutionary political order, the papers are a victim of repression by a state intolerant of dissent.</p><p dir="ltr">In truth, much of the worst of both narratives is true. Vesti is the revanchist project of a Moscow-exiled oligarch from Viktor Yanukovych’s fantastically corrupt administration, while Strana.ua is a partisan organ for the remains of Yanukovych’s party. Both media are in transparent pursuit of the latest <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism"><em>zrada</em></a> (treachery, sellout) of the ruling liberal-nationalist coalition. But they are also the object of selective, heavy-handed investigations and raids by Ukraine’s tax authorities, prosecutor general and security services on questionable charges of money laundering and inciting treason. In parallel to this official pressure, they have faced forceful intimidation from radical activists who have taken on themselves the task of “fighting separatism”. </p><p dir="ltr">This conflict tells us much about the challenges of maintaining open discourse in conditions of hybrid warfare —&nbsp;and how the boundaries of civil society are policed in Ukraine. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Speaking for whom?</h2><p dir="ltr">The tangled narrative begins in 2012, when the Vesti media group burst onto the scene with anonymous funding and a free daily paper, a long read journal, a TV station and a countrywide radio network. Under the management of veteran editor Igor Guzhva, the Vesti group quickly became one of the country’s leading media outlets.</p><p dir="ltr">Fast forward two years, and Vesti did not join many other papers in championing the Euromaidan cause. Instead it took a skeptical and sometimes hostile attitude to the revolution. However, in contrast to most Russian media, Vesti did cover the brutalisation of protestors by the Berkut riot police. One of its reporters, Vyacheslav Veremiy, was <a href="https://cpj.org/killed/2014/vyacheslav-veremiy.php">murdered</a> when he tried to photograph the titushki thugs bussed in to beat up protesters.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">This tangled narrative does not lead to easy conclusions. It is difficult not to see a concerted campaign against specific media and journalists in the efforts of the security services, tax authorities and prosecutor general’s office</span></p><p dir="ltr">Vesti’s opposition to the revolution marked it for opprobrium from both liberal and radical circles. These suspicions darkened in the intense atmosphere of national survival brought on by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and concealed invasion of the Donbas. Many heard echoes of Russian media narratives in Vesti’s relentlessly critical view of Ukraine’s new government and the military operation in the east, which included reports of high civilian casualties. At a<a href="https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-other_news/1709230-pod_sbu_trebovali_zakrit_vesti_ot_putina_1667626.html"> demonstration</a> in September 2014 to shut down Vesti in Kyiv, one Maidan activist put it thus: “This mouthpiece of the Kremlin is meant to destroy the consciousness of Ukrainians, deceiving them about the real events going on in the east and inciting civil war in our country. We believe that the articles in this newspaper kill no less than bullets.”</p><p dir="ltr">The authorities and activists saw Vesti’s anonymous funding as a possible inlet for Kremlin financing. In May 2014, the tax authorities raided the paper’s offices and opened a criminal case alleging that money was laundered to the paper through Crimea by the fugitive oligarch Sergey Kurchenko. Others linked the paper to Viktor Yanukovych’s son, but most often to Aleksandr Klimenko, a notorious figure <a href="http://hubs.ua/authority/genprokuratura-zavershila-rassledovanie-protiv-eks-glavy-minsdoha-klimenko-107850.html">accused of epic embezzlement</a> at Ukraine’s Ministry of Revenue and Fees. When Yanukovych fell in February 2014, Klimenko set up shop in Moscow, where he runs a<a href="https://uspishnakraina.com/ru"> marginal Ukrainian political party</a> that peddles business-friendly politics and plots his return to Ukraine.</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/thumb_316.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2016: Alexander Klimenko appears at a Uspishna Kraina ("Successful Country:) forum on tax reform. Source: Uspishna Kraina.</span></span></span>The idea of money flowing into a major media outlet from the state waging war on Ukraine raised appropriate alarm. But the case itself is highly questionable. Beneath the trappings of “Kremlin financing”, the case actually boiled down to an administrative dispute over the timing of tax payments. Though several more raids were made as part of the case over the next two years, Guzhva claims it largely fizzled after a court decided there were no damages to the Ukrainian government.</p><p dir="ltr">Soon the official accusations took a more ideological hue. In 2015, the Ukrainian Security Services<a href="http://gordonua.com/news/society/sbu-zavela-delo-na-vesti-reporter-i-obyavila-v-rozysk-eks-glavreda-izdaniya-85558.html"> opened a second case</a> against Vesti.Reporter — this time for “compromising Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability”. The accusation pertains to <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/import/vesti-reporter/48259-hunta-predali-doloj">three </a><a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/import/vesti-reporter/59436-mahnovskoe-sostojanie">articles </a>about the <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/import/vesti-reporter/47863-slavjansko-proletarskaja-respublika">unrest</a> in eastern Ukraine which extensively quoted separatist sympathisers. I’ve read the articles in question, and in fact they are nuanced examinations of how Russia mixed mercenaries and arms into large-scale indigenous unrest in the Donbas to launch its separatist project. This allegedly treasonous narrative would soon find outlet in Deutsche Welle, the Guardian, the New York Times and other leading papers covering the Ukraine conflict. This case also went dormant after a forensic linguist testified that the articles contained no incitement to treason.</p><p dir="ltr">In parallel to this official attention, Vesti was targeted from the street. Radical activists led by parliamentarian Ihor Lutsenko (who had been kidnapped and tortured by titushki during the revolution) <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/58680-provokatory-pytajutsja-sorvat-patrioticheskuju-akciju-vestej">ransacked</a> a Vesti event on 28 June (Constitution Day), <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/58976-davlenie-na-vesti-otkryvaet-put-k-terroru-protiv-zhurnalistov">warning</a> that “This is our last peaceful demonstration about Vesti. We won’t have any more patience if they don’t change their editorial policy.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/80_main.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="335" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2014: roughly 40 people in masks turn up to disrupt a Vesti public event in Kyiv. Image: Vesti. </span></span></span>A week later, at the start of July 2015, several dozen masked youths beat up a security guard at the paper’s offices, smashed some windows and hurled flares inside. Liberal parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko<a href="http://gordonua.com/news/society/Leshchenko-Lyubomu-ponyatno-chto-napadenie-na-gazetu-Vesti-ne-vygodno-nikomu-krome-samoy-gazety-30398.html"> speculated</a> that Vesti organised the attack itself in order to attain martyr status, and the leader of a radical nationalist organisation soon took public responsibility. He was never arrested, and later <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/96547-ukrainskie-specsluzhby-sozdajut-armii-iz-radikalov">showed</a> Vesti reporters a certificate of appreciation from the SBU and told them he actively cooperates with the Service “against separatism and the opposition, the actions of which are aimed at the undermining of national security and discrediting of the government.”</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the nation’s leaders began weighing in on the situation. After chief editor Igor Guzhva complained of repression on Facebook, the chair of the Verkhovna Rada Freedom Speech Committee Viktoria Siumar fired back: “Are you sure you don’t work for the government that is waging war on my country? I’ve got a question for the security service: why after a year and a half of war does the public still not know about the sources of financing of this expensive ‘free’ paper?” (Vesti was distributed for free in large cities). On Journalist Day (5 June), President Petro Poroshenko <a href="http://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/poroshenko-nameren-ukazaniya-zakrytii-teh-1433501096.html">stated</a> that “transparency of media ownership in wartime is an extraordinarily pertinent national security question… If the tax authorities provide evidence of opaque financing of Vesti, the country has the ability to defend itself.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">"I consider pressure on the press unacceptable, even in wartime. But to treat these media like regular publications that supposedly have their own viewpoint would be suicide"</span></p><p dir="ltr">The claims that Vesti had funding from a fugitive oligarch received ironic confirmation in June 2015, when Guzhva suddenly announced he was resigning as editor in chief and selling his share of the media group. Media observers <a href="http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2015/07/29/7076104/">alleged </a>that he had been forced out by owner Aleksandr Klimenko as a sop to the Ukrainian government, possibly to facilitate the latter’s return to Ukraine or at least reduce pressure on his remaining business interests. Journalists and radio newscasters from within the media group<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valery-kalnysh/goodbye-radio-vesti"> confirmed</a> Klimenko’s ownership and the handoff of management to his common law wife. Complaints of editorial manipulation quickly emerged and many leading journalists and radio personalities jumped ship.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Journalists practicing politics?</h2><p dir="ltr">After Guzhva’s jarring departure, Vesti has continued reflecting and stoking the discontent of some Ukrainian citizens over the government’s management of the economic crisis, the conflict in the Donbas, linguistic and national memory policies. But it has become less hard-hitting and more transparently an organ of Klimenko’s political project, publishing constant fluff pieces about the oligarch. In this cruder form it is distinctly less influential in the Ukrainian information sphere. This, perhaps, was the goal of the intense political pressure: to defang the troublesome paper without shutting it down, which would lead to international outcry.</p><p dir="ltr">As for Guzhva, he quickly opened a new internet outlet, <a href="http://strana.ua">Strana.ua</a>. Strana has continued to bait Ukraine’s post-revolutionary ruling elite. Guzhva claims that after Strana published recordings by fugitive parliamentarian Aleksandr Onischenko in late 2016 that alleged vote buying by President Poroshenko, the order came “right from Bankova Street” (that is, the presidential administration) to shut him down. Citing political repression from the top makes good copy, but Guzhva’s claims received some confirmation when two more criminal cases were opened against him. These were <a href="https://www.facebook.com/LlutsenkoYuri/posts/767187116813799">loudly publicised</a> by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko, who even had his press secretary <a href="https://www.facebook.com/LarysaSargan/videos/vb.100001906009251/1532363710170481/?type=2&amp;theater">publish </a>video evidence of Guzhva’s alleged wrongdoing on Facebook.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Vesti has become less hard-hitting and more transparently an organ of Klimenko’s political project, publishing constant fluff pieces about the oligarch</p><p dir="ltr">The first case alleges that Guzhva coerced $10,000 from a Radical Party parliamentarian to pull an unflattering story about him. According to Lesya Ganzha, chief editor at the public watchdog <a href="https://dostup.pravda.com.ua/">Access to Truth</a>, there are frequent rumours in the Ukrainian media sphere of monetary payments for withholding negative press and removing already published stories. Prosecutor General Lutsenko released multiple videos of Guzhva in alleged negotiations with an intermediary, but they are barely decipherable and the story has its share of unanswered questions. The parliamentarian’s own testimony about the proposed transaction contradicts that of the intermediary. The second case involves Guzhva’s alleged possession of a flash drive full of military secrets (confiscated during a search of the site’s offices as part of the first case). Strana.ua published a rebuttal claiming that the flash drive is missing from the official protocol of items confiscated during the search. The first case is now <a href="https://www.facebook.com/veprwork/posts/1581699555222249">due to go to court</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/11825727_950811568274772_6739856184022127202_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="357" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Guzhva, former chief editor of Vesti and now Strana.ua. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>This tangled narrative does not lead to easy conclusions. It is difficult not to see a concerted campaign against specific media and journalists in the efforts of the security services, tax authorities and prosecutor general’s office. Yet the role of both Vesti and strana.ua as organs of revanchist political forces is also clear, the former for Klimenko personally and the latter for Opposition Bloc, the political party which emerged from the ruins of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Guzhva himself ran on the Opposition Bloc ticket for Kyiv city council in 2016, and the editorial section of strana.ua is chock full of MPs and political consultants in the party’s orbit.</p><p dir="ltr">Because of their association with discredited pre-revolutionary politics, Vesti and strana.ua have received little in the way of journalistic solidarity from their liberal peers. Denis Kazansky, a journalist who fled Donetsk for Kyiv after the outbreak of conflict, acknowledges the political motivation of the investigations against Guzhva, but claims that’s just the point. “Guzhva is not a journalist,” Kazansky tells me, “he’s a politician practicing journalism. He and his party have a political conflict with the government. This isn’t between politicians and journalists, it’s between politicians and politicians.” In Kazansky’s assessment, Vesti and strana.ua cannot help but filter the news through their political sponsors’ “Moscow interests”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Inciting separatism or laundering stolen funds are prosecutable crimes, but serving an unpopular reading public is not</span></p><p dir="ltr">Yury Lukanov, a veteran Ukrainian journalist and active participant in Ukraine’s independence movement and EuroMaidan, believes the publications’ links to exiled oligarchs in Moscow puts them outside the journalistic fold. “I consider pressure on the press unacceptable, even in wartime. But to treat these media like regular publications that supposedly have their own viewpoint would be suicide.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Information security</h2><p dir="ltr">Journalists who do express solidarity (even mild) with the publications can find themselves similarly ostracised. Serhiy Tomilenko, the head of Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists, <a href="http://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2017/08/14/ukraine-journalists-union-attacked-by-pro-government-mp/">criticised </a>the Ukrainian government’s “selective approach” towards investigating Vesti and strana.ua on Facebook. This immediately brought the ire of National Front parliamentarian Dmytro Tymchuk, who runs Inforesist, a patriotic website that publishes war dispatches from the east. Tymchuk wrote that Tomilenko “is playing against the information security of Ukraine… acting as advocate for anti-Ukrainian publications… seriously strengthening the position of the aggressor in the media sphere.” Tymchuk inspired an intense online campaign against Tomilenko and the Union, and the latter claims he even received violent threats.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/^C64F69A921F858EBE94712C3E626DB20FA89E93413853618B3^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>3 March, 2017: a largely older crowd protest the closure of Radio Vesti outside Ukraine's presidential administration, Kyiv. Source: Vesti.</span></span></span>For his own part, Guzhva claims no owner has ever influenced his editorial policy and asserts his commitment to a unified Ukraine (he is a native of Donetsk). </p><p>In 2015 he <a href="http://spektr.press/bolshevizm-yavlenie-internacionalnoe-glavred-ukrainskih-vestej-o-raskole-v-smi/">described </a>how Ukrainian journalists had divided into three camps — those who were ready to serve the Euromaidan revolution, those who wished to see it crushed with tanks (who today reside in Donetsk or Moscow) and those who tried to objectively record events. </p><p class="blockquote-new">“The first group hates the second, and the second the first, and they both hate the third. Vesti belongs to the third group, so we have problems with both sides of the front… That’s the fate of objective media in a breakthrough period of history. It’s a very difficult position to hold, because you’re constantly in the crossfire.”</p><p dir="ltr">Given the partisan bent of his publications, Guzhva’s claim of strict objectivity raises eyebrows. In truth, Vesti and strana.ua are representative of one of Ukraine’s dominant ideological camps, which opposes the post-revolutionary order, pines for “eight hryvnia to the dollar” under ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and criticises the military operation in the east. Many liberals distrust this camp and suspect it of blending easily into separatism. But the fact is that many Ukrainian citizens subscribe to it. Inciting separatism or laundering stolen funds are prosecutable crimes, but serving an unpopular reading public is not.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The only struggle?</h2><p dir="ltr">Watchfulness over the role of oligarchic money in Ukraine’s press and vigilance against Russian media warfare are necessary tasks. But in monitoring publications like Vesti with suspect finances and loyalties, we should avoid ascribing Kremlin origin to any narrative that is challenging or uncomfortable. </p><p dir="ltr">For instance, in July 2014 Vesti’s front page showed two residents of the warzone community Stanitsya Luhanska fleeing their flaming home after <a href="https://www.ostro.org/lugansk/politics/articles/449307/">bombing</a>, most likely by the Ukrainian air force, that tragically killed up to twelve civilians. The headline read “Mass civilian death in the east.” One critic<a href="http://nv.ua/ukraine/Durnye-vesti-Konflikt-vlastey-i-prokremlevskoy-gazety-vyshel-na-novyy-uroven-11523.html"> indignantly offered</a> this as proof that “the publication has more than once used openly anti-government rhetoric and distorted facts.” </p><p dir="ltr">But a Ukrainian battalion commander <a href="https://lenta.ru/news/2014/07/03/azov/">acknowledged </a>the airstrikes could have been caused by pilot error, and the rising civilian death toll in the Donbas was confirmed by the UN, OSCE, Amnesty International and other international organisations. I have spent much time in Stanytsya Luhanska, a rural suburb of Luhansk severely shelled by both sides of the conflict, and can attest to the critical importance of understanding the violence its inhabitants experienced. More and more Ukrainian media are grappling with such painful topics, including major outlets such as <a href="http://hromadskeradio.org">Hromadske Radio</a> and <a href="http://pravda.com.ua">Ukrainska Pravda</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">This deserves at least as much effort as the search for Kremlin mouthpieces.</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/valery-kalnysh/goodbye-radio-vesti">Goodbye, Radio Vesti</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-eristavi/terror-against-ukraine-s-journalists-is-fueled-by-political-elites">The terror against Ukraine’s journalists is fuelled by political elites</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/what-is-meaning-of-journalism-in-ukraine-today">What is the meaning of journalism in Ukraine today?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">Donbas: “We’re used to the shelling”</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 ukraine World Forum for Democracy 2017 Brian Milakovsky Ukraine Beyond propaganda Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:48:50 +0000 Brian Milakovsky 114112 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Estonia’s Narva: caught between two worlds? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-eremeyev/estonias-narva <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An attempt at self-immolation in this Estonian border town is shifting the focus back on geopolitical games between Russia and the EU. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-eremeev/ne-narvatsya" 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/Kindlused_Narva_jõe_kaldal_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Kindlused_Narva_jõe_kaldal_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'>View of Narva Castle and Ivangorod Fortress. Photo CC BY-SA 4.0: Aleksander Kaasik / Wikimedia Commons.</span></span></span>Narva lies on the easternmost edge of Estonia, on the Narva river, right by its border with Russia. Indeed, the Russian town of Ivangorod lies across the river. The results of municipal elections in town have shown that most local people have no desire for change. But one Russian pensioner who&nbsp;<a href="http://rus.err.ee/636518/foto-i-video-v-narve-muzhchina-pytalsja-sovershit-samosozhzhenie">tried to take his own life</a> by setting himself on fire was a reminder that not everyone was happy with the results.</p><p dir="ltr">On 15 October, Estonians went to the polls to elect new municipal governments. In Ida-Viruuma, a border region with Narva at its centre, a place where more than 80% of residents are ethnic Russians, Estonia’s Center Party retained its majority in the local council, winning 23 out of 31 seats. There was nothing unexpected in either its victory or the traditionally low (46.7%) local voter turnout.</p><p dir="ltr">The day, however, didn’t pass without incident. An elderly man, thought to be a Russian citizen, tried to set himself alight in the city’s central Petrovsky Square in protest at Estonian government politics. He managed to douse himself with petrol and use his cigarette lighter, but police officers swiftly put out the fire and he was not seriously hurt.</p><p dir="ltr">For Narva this was an extraordinary event. Back in the early 1990s, certain sections of the Russian population of Ida-Viruuma dreamed of establishing an autonomous "Narva Republic", but for the last few years life here has been quiet. The older generation discusses its problems in its kitchens while younger people, who have grown up in the EU, are busy getting educated and moving to Tallinn or another European capital.</p><h2 dir="ltr">In the shadow of Estonia’s last Lenin statue</h2><p dir="ltr">You can travel from St Petersburg to Narva by direct train or bus, but it’s a boring journey. It’s more interesting to buy a ticket to Ivangorod, on the other bank of the river, and see the difference between the two halves of a city divided by the river that forms the border between Estonia and Russia. Ivangorod has roads full of potholes, smashed street lights and a path between bushes leading to the grass-surrounded old customs post. Your first impression of Narva, on the other hand, will be of smooth, clean roads, a new customs building and well-lit streets. Only overhearing Russian hits of the 1990s by bands such as<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phxQFEH51SE"> Rukhi Vverkh</a> (“Hands Up”) and<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzRTKNM0meU"> Demo</a> might remind you that we are in the most Russian city of Estonia, and indeed the entire EU.</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_img_20171006_154511_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_20171006_154511_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'>The last undestroyed statue of Lenin in Estonia on the territory of the Narva Castle. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In the first light of dawn, no doubts remain. The rows of five storey housing blocks once ubiquitous throughout the USSR remind you that Russia is close. This Khrushchev-era innovative architecture stands next to a 17th century town hall, but a statue of Lenin, the last in Estonia, can still be seen inside the even older Narva Castle. It was moved here from the city’s central square a few years ago, so that Ilyich, as Lenin was popularly known, could hide from the tourists, his arm stretched out towards Russia, on the other bank of the river. Whether he yearns to go there, or is just calling for help, is unclear.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As you stroll through its streets, you can’t stop wondering how this place regularly finds itself at the centre of geopolitical scandals</p><p dir="ltr">This city, the third largest in Estonia and an outpost of the<a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/russian-world-moscows-strategy"> “Russian World”</a> on the Baltic Sea, is small and quiet. As you stroll through its streets, you can’t stop wondering how this place regularly finds itself at the centre of geopolitical scandals.</p><p dir="ltr">When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and the Ukrainian government countered with its Anti-Terrorist Operation in south-east Ukraine, Narva was inundated with journalists from both the<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d24PpeP2hg0"> Russian</a> and western media. Armed forces flexed their muscles on opposite sides of the border: first there was NATO carrying out exercises and then, on the other bank of the Narva River, the Russian Army followed suit. But the special correspondents, after gauging the mood of the local population, sent very similar reports back to their countries: this won’t be another Donbas — people here like Russia, but no one wants a war.</p><p dir="ltr">Vladimir Izotov, a deputy of Narva’s city council, had to spend a lot of time answering western correspondents’ questions about whether Narva would be a second Crimea, citing himself as an example of the ethnic Russians’ loyalty to the Estonian state. Being Russian, he could be successful in both politics and business, and could even make speeches at council meetings in his own language without any problems.</p><p dir="ltr">“The news from Estonia doesn’t always reflect the opinions of either the government or the local people,” Izotov tells me. “The news agenda is often set by Estonian nationalists, who have only 10% of seats in parliament. They are always thinking up populist slogans about things like removing the vote from non-citizens, and the media feed off them hungrily in search of sensations. But I can tell you for sure that 99% of Narva’s population has no interest in leaving Estonia. They have enough problems.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This won’t be another Donbas — people here like Russia, but no one wants a war</p><p dir="ltr">The nationalists in question are the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_People%27s_Party_of_Estonia"> Conservative People’s Party of Estonia</a> (Eesti Konservativne Rahvaerakond, EKRE). This party is both anti-Russia and critical of integration in the EU, and in particular of the<a href="http://www.interfax.ru/world/479740"> government’s lack of legislative independence</a>.</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/PA-33297883.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'>Estonia's ruling Center Party won Sunday's local election in what has been seen as a key test for Prime Minister Juri Ratas, whose party <a href=http://news.err.ee/119395/center-party-split-and-loss-of-power-in-tallinn-inevitable>split into two factions</a> in 2016. (c) Guo Chunju/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>The radical conservatives have seven seats in the national parliament, but neither they nor other nationalist parties took part in the municipal election, as there was no point. The only political forces that have any traction here are those that promise to support the Russian-speaking population: the Centre Party has traditionally done well here, as has the main opposition party, the Our Narva electoral alliance, one of whose central slogans is, “Narva is also Estonia.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">A Narva Republic?</h2><p dir="ltr">The first post-Soviet years in Ida-Viruuma were marked, to an extent, by burgeoning ideas of revolt. Enthusiasts among the Russian-speaking population nurtured a plan to create a Narva Republic, an autonomous Russophone entity within Estonia, and proposed to give its government the power of veto over laws that would infringe the rights of the ethnic Russian population. The issue came to a head with a referendum held on 16-17 June 1993. The pro-autonomy faction claimed that they won a majority of the votes, but the Estonian government didn’t recognise the referendum and neither did Russia, on whose support the Russian-speakers were counting.</p><p dir="ltr">These days, the might-have-been Narva Republic has museum displays devoted to it. Even Estonian nationalists — the people who call for removing the vote from Estonian citizens with Russian or grey “stateless” ID papers and expect Russian aggression at any moment — don’t believe it could ever happen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We believe that there might be a Russian invasion anywhere along the border, but the people living in Ida-Viruuma won’t support it”</p><p dir="ltr">“We believe that there might be a Russian invasion anywhere along the border, but the people living in Ida-Viruuma won’t support it,” Martin Kummets, of the nationalist Estonian Independence Party (Eesti Iseseisvuspartei, EIP), tells me. “Many of these people have family on the other side, and they know fine well that life is better here. And after all, nobody outside Russia recognises the legitimacy of the referendums in Crimea and Donbas.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kummets, Russian and Estonian young people are well integrated with one another and ethnic-based conflicts between them never arise. He also believes that his party has supporters among Narva’s Russians.</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_img_20171006_112044_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_20171006_112044_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'>Narva Town Hall, built in 1671. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Alexander Kornilov, head of the<a href="http://projectbaltia.com/en/"> Baltiya</a> information project that is the voice of the Russian community in Estonia NGO, is one of the main ideological opponents of Estonia’s radicals. Articles debunking the ultranationalists appear on it alongside news of Russian-language cultural highlights and<a href="http://baltija.eu/news/read/44470"> events honouring Second World War veterans</a>, criticism of the EU and updates on Catalonia’s fight for independence. Kornilov believes that the Estonian government deliberately withholds funding from the Ida-Viruuma region because of its Russian population, and in doing so is making its biggest mistake.</p><p dir="ltr">Unlike Estonian patriots, the Russian journalist accepts the possibility of Narva and the area around it breaking away from Estonia: “Anything is possible in our world today – you just have to look at the United Kingdom and Spain. And given central government’s negative attitude to our region, there’s no telling what might happen”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">According to Kummets, Russian and Estonian young people are well integrated with one another and ethnic-based conflicts between them never arise</p><p dir="ltr">Figures from Estonia’s Revenue and Customs Department show that in 2016, residents of Narva had the lowest incomes of anyone in the country. Their average monthly salary, pre-tax, was €802 (£715): the average for Estonia as a whole was €1,084 (£967). Ida-Viruuma has also traditionally had the highest unemployment rate in the country: at the end of September 2017 this stood at 9.2%, over twice the national average of 4.5%.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Teens go to the polls</h2><p dir="ltr">The 2017 elections have been the first in which 16 year olds have been able to vote, after a law was passed last year lowering the age limit for municipal elections. And although most of Narva’s teens have little interest in voting, there are socially active young people who are interested in politics, says Alexey Kupavykh, the Speaker of Narva’s Youth Parliament. This body is elected on the basis of votes cast in schools, and its main job is to organise social events. But the members see their chance to vote at such a young age as a sign of trust in them.</p><p dir="ltr">“The people who vote are the ones who have concerns, who have faced problems they can’t deal with on their own,” Alexey tells me. “It doesn’t even matter whether they’re interested in politics or not: it teaches them responsibility. It’s like a leap into adult life.”</p><p dir="ltr">Alexey is 17, and this is his last year at school. He is planning to continue his education in Tallinn: it’s a more interesting place for both studying and having a good time, and salaries are higher there too. He does, however, think that he might come back to Narva in the future. He’s happier in his home town than he would be in, say, the more prosperous Tartu, Estonia’s second city.</p><p dir="ltr">I listen to his thoughts on his future and ask an awkward question: “Lyosha, you’re an ethnic Russian and you’ve spent the last four years living in the EU. Do you still feel a link with Russia?”</p><p dir="ltr">“With Russian culture, yes,” he answers, “But not with the country. It probably sounds rude, but everything’s different there. All those advertising boards on houses and along the roads. You arrive in Russia, and you look at all the run-down villages… and the people are different: sad and bad-tempered.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Lack of jobs and prospects</h2><p dir="ltr">Narva is literally dead at night. After eleven o’clock it’s not just a question of no one out on the streets — most of the windows are dark as well. The only things that are open all night are a flower shop and currency exchange kiosks, not to mention casinos where taxi drivers hang around waiting for fares and tipsy punters smoke nervously. I decide to buy some flowers.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the late hour, temporary florist Zlata and her husband Sergey have a customer: a fortyish woman is buying flowers for Teachers’ Day. After she has paid and left, the couple turn their attention to me, and, having quickly realised that I’m not a local, pour out all their stories of woe.</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/Ivangorod-2008-1.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'>Ivangorod fortress. CC BY-SA 3.0 Simm / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Zlata and Sergey are from Ivangorod, and are filling in at the flower shop for Zlata’s sick sister, who owns the shop. It’s no problem for them – home’s just a walk away - but there’s no work in the Russian border town: all the factories have closed down.</p><p dir="ltr">“We had so much here before! The fish processing plant was a prestigious place to work, for a start,” says Zlata. “But it all disappeared overnight, and now there are just food shops and pharmacies.”</p><p dir="ltr">There is nothing accidental about these types of business — they are targeted exclusively at Ivangorod’s western neighbour, Narva. People come across from Estonia to buy unobtainable medical products, cheap alcohol and cigarettes. And there’s a parallel stream in the other direction, with Russians going to Narva to buy contraband cheese (unavailable in Ivangorod because of international trade sanctions), red salmon and second hand clothing, usually for resale.</p><p dir="ltr">There are more and more second hand dealers, or touts, as Zlata calls them, in Narva. After the collapse of the USSR all the factories closed here, just as in Ivangorod, and no new large firms have come to replace them. Sergey may have spent all his life in honest work, but he can understand the touts. Two employers in Ivangorod owe him money – he was working for them on the side, cash in hand. And it’s not easy to find another job, on either side of the river.</p><p dir="ltr">“I think the Estonian authorities are ruining Narva,” he says. “You know what I think? In the future there’ll just be a NATO base here, nothing else. That’s all they need the city for.”</p><p dir="ltr">When Zlata discovers that I’m a journalist, she tells me her “favourite story” that has to do with fireworks: </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“On ‘Ivangorod Day’, they used to have a firework display. But then they switched off the lights in people’s homes, to recoup some of the money it cost. It’ll soon be the New Year; we’re already stocking up on candles, so we’ll be ready. You write about it, try to let President Putin know what’s happening here. The local authority has tarted up some small bits of Ivangorod; they’re taking photos of them and publishing them all over the place, but the whole town’s in ruins.”</p><p dir="ltr">The “ruins” of Ivangorod are a walking distance from Narva — a kind of dreadful warning against any attempts at reintegration with the Russian world. The year 2012 saw the start of a project to build promenades along both sides of the river, as part of an EU financed “United by Borders” programme for cross border cooperation. The promenades were opened in February 2014, but much less of the work on the Russian side was completed, and it was noticeably less impressive than on the Estonian side.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The “ruins” of Ivangorod are a walking distance from Narva — a kind of dreadful warning against any attempts at reintegration with the Russian world.</p><p dir="ltr">Another story that has turned into folklore on both sides is that of the new customs posts, where building work also started at the same time in both Russia and Estonia. Estonian officials have now been occupying their new buildings for two years, while the Russians are still awaiting their “housewarming.”</p><p dir="ltr">In August this year, Rosgranstroi, the body that oversees border construction projects, announced that the two Ivangorod Customs Posts would be in operation by September. It’s now nearly November, and people are still walking along paths between bushes to the old Customs buildings.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s issues like this that make the inhabitants of Narva love their country a little more, despite all its problems and disadvantages — even as they have no confidence in the ability of their local government bodies to solve these problems any time soon.</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/vassilis-petsinis/in-estonia-we-should-be-careful-not-to-overstate-impact-of-information-w">In Estonia, we should be careful not to overstate the impact of the information war</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/martin-aidnik/new-reforms-that-are-hollowing-out-estonian-education">The new reforms that are hollowing out Estonian education</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors-tatiana-golova/russian-germans-and-surprising-rise-of-afd-germany">Russian-Germans and the surprising rise of the AfD</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/vassilis-petsinis/contentious-politics-in-baltics-new-wave-of-right-wing-populism">Contentious politics in the Baltics: the ‘new’ wave of right-wing populism in Estonia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/martin-aidnik/estonian-economy-needs-social-imagination">The Estonian economy needs social imagination</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 Sergey Eremeyev Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:15:41 +0000 Sergey Eremeyev 114110 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Victim of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT purge seeks justice https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p lang="en-US">But will the Russian authorities deliver on their pledges to Investigate?</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/555493/9.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="251" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maxim Lapunov, centre, at a news conference in the office of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Moscow. Image: Human Rights Watch. </span></span></span>Yesterday, I <span><a class="western" href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/10/16/136184-geroy-rassledovaniya-novoy-gazety-publichno-rasskazal-o-pytkah-v-sekretnoy-tyurme-dlya-geev-v-chechne">ran a news-conference</a></span> at which a man described how he was rounded up and tortured during <span><a class="western" href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/26/russia-anti-gay-purge-chechnya">Chechnya’s anti-gay purge</a></span> in the spring. One of dozens of victims of this large-scale “cleansing” operation against gay people in Chechnya, Maxim Lapunov, 30, is the only one who has dared to file an official complaint with the Russian authorities and then talk to the media, without hiding his face or real name. He is also the only non-Chechen local security officials had targeted because of his homosexuality.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> <span><a class="western" href="https://youtu.be/TgCE9IPL3KE">As Lapunov spoke to a roomful of journalists</a></span>, reliving the horrific experience of beatings and humiliation during his 12-day confinement in a dark, fetid basement, his hands shook and he had to stop several times to regain composure. On 16 March, security officials dragged him into a car in central Grozny, where he had been selling bright, festive balloons, took him to a police compound, pulled out several grisly torture devices, threatened to use them on him and to “tear him apart”. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> The officials forced Lapunnov to call a gay acquaintance and invite him to a “meeting” — in fact a set-up with security officials waiting. Lapunov slept on the blood-stained floor of a tiny basement cell. He was beaten, and witnessed and heard as security officials beat and tortured other men presumed to be gay with electric shocks. Close to 30 others assumed to be gay were held at the facility during his time there — along with other detainees who weren’t part of the anti-gay round-ups.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" lang="en-US">Lapunov needs justice. The Russian authorities have no excuse not to deliver it to him and to the rest of the victims of Chechnya’s anti-gay purge</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Lapunov did not expect to survive. His legs, buttocks, ribs and back were all black and blue. When his torturers finally released him, he “could barely crawl”. Six months later, he still wakes up in a cold sweat from the piercing screams of other detainees in his nightmares. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Facing a broad international outcry over the purge, the Kremlin gradually moved from <span><a class="western" href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/13/chechnyas-gay-purge-should-spark-international-action">shrugging off the allegations</a></span> to <span><a class="western" href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/04/06/130527-moskalkova-poobeschala-napravit-zapros-v-genprokuraturu-o-presledovanii-geev-v-chechne">pledging to conduct an effective investigation</a></span> and opening a federal-level inquest. However, high-level officials repeatedly <span><a class="western" href="https://ria.ru/society/20170615/1496549885.html">flagged that not a single victim had stepped forward</a></span>. They did not acknowledge the depth and legitimacy of victims’ fears about coming forward but rather used this to justify the investigation’s apparent lack of progress. </p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Like the rest of the victims, Lapunov had every reason to fear retaliation by Chechen authorities, especially as the security officials who released him warned him to keep silent. But, as a Russian man from Siberia who had gone to Chechnya for work, Lapunov did not have to face <span><a class="western" href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/20/gay-men-are-detained-and-killed-chechnya-kremlin-slow-respond">what every Chechen man caught</a></span> in the purge feared: being targeted by his own relatives for “tarnishing family honour” or exposing his entire family to overwhelming stigma because of his homosexuality. It took Lapunov months to reach a decision, but ultimately he felt that no matter the risk of retaliation, he could not live without justice.</p> <p lang="en-US">In August, with the help of Russian human rights lawyers, Lapunov met with the federal ombudsperson, Tatiana Moskalkova, who in May had <span><a class="western" href="http://www.rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/05/16/1615502.html">stressed her readiness to speak to “anyone who wants protection and official investigation.”</a></span> On 22 September, Moskalkova forwarded his statement to federal investigative authorities. Lapunov and his lawyers had several meetings with investigators and asked to travel to Chechnya with the investigative team to examine sites and interview alleged suspects and witnesses. Lapunov kept it quiet from the media, giving the investigation ample time to take some meaningful steps. But after almost a month, nothing happened. He requested government protection, but the investigation has made no arrangements to accommodate his request. Lapunov and his lawyers believe that media exposure is their only hope to get the system to budge.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Since Lapunov started his quest for justice, he has received threats from Chechnya. Nevertheless, he perseveres. “We all have rights…,” he said, “If we just let it be [in Chechnya], it’ll start happening across the country… and we’ll never know whose son or daughter will be taken next.”</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US"> Lapunov needs justice. The Russian authorities have no excuse not to deliver it to him and to the rest of the victims of Chechnya’s anti-gay purge.</p> <p class="western" lang="en-US">&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-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/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/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option">Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-guskov/i-spoke-to-four-russian-gay-men-on-discrimination-rights-and-vladimir-putin-">&quot;You have to start improving yourself to improve Russia&quot;</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> </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 Human rights Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:16:58 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 114103 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A response to “Georgian land, Georgian freedom” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/response-to-georgian-land-georgian-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We recently published an article arguing in favour of Georgia’s proposed ban on selling agricultural land to foreign buyers. A foreign landowner with several years’ experience in the country’s agricultural sector uses his right of response to argue against the move.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/GrapeHarvest_Georgia.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/GrapeHarvest_Georgia.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'>The grape harvest in Kakheti, a region of eastern Georgia famous for its winemaking. Photo CC-by-2.0: Joe Colne / Flickr. Some rights reserve.</span></span></span></p><p>In <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom" target="_blank">this article on Georgia’s proposed ban on selling agricultural land to foreign buyers</a>, Sopo Japaridze makes a number of excellent points: in policy, the needs of Georgia’s rural population should have priority. They make up more than 40% of Georgia’s population, yet are often neglected. She also makes the sensible point that Georgia imports far too much food (though it is unlikely to be quite the 80% that she cites). However, the proposed solution —&nbsp;banning foreign land ownership — is unlikely to be the solution for either of these problems.</p><p>Right now, the main problem in Georgia is that most land is not actually being farmed. By some estimates, as much as 50% of Georgia’s arable land lies fallow, being used for grazing at best. Foreign investors can contribute to putting this land to use by bringing skills, capitals, and access to international markets. These investors can also bring employment, and can help to revive agriculture, through some anchor investments. Foreign investments have already led to employment, to increased standards, and have helped to export Georgian products to Germany, Japan and other destinations. It might have been useful to highlight this dimension, given the current discussion.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The main problem in Georgia is that most land is not actually farmed. Foreign investors can help put this land to use</p><p>It is also sensible to keep focusing on exports. First, Georgia needs export revenue, to buy the things it does not produce. While manufacturing jobs are desirable, they cannot be conjured out of nothing. Next to tourism and hydropower, agriculture offers a sensible source of revenue. </p><p>Export requires high standards, which are in demand in Georgia, too. Currently, many farmers over-use pesticides and herbicides, and while most Georgian produce looks wholesome and tastes delicious, a chunk of it is not particularly safe. One case in point is the recent US health warning about <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/lead/georgian-spices.pdf" target="_blank">high levels of lead in Georgian spices.</a> That is just the tip of what unfortunately is a far-from-healthy iceberg. Exporters, particularly those to Western European markets, are held to high standards, with regards to residues. They are, incidentally, also held to standards with regards to labour safety. </p><p>Thus, working to export standards can bring the quality and productivity that likely will contribute to reducing imports, too. In Georgian agriculture, we have a long way to go before we reach a zero-sum game of either exports or imports. </p><p>To be sure, not all investment (foreign or Georgian) is great, getting the details of regulation right is difficult. The details are complex. I do wish that future articles on this issue take account of that complexity, and contribute to a nuanced discussion. </p><p>In Georgia, and all across the former Soviet Union, there is much misery today, because of hot-headed decisions that were taken on impulse, in the past. The right answers often are not in extremes (“any investor in!”; “all investors out!”), but in identifying sensible trade-offs. Journalism contributes to developing such policies when it highlights the complex mechanics that are at play, and illuminates the unintended consequences that could result from courses of action that appear superficially attractive, while leading us down some unhappy paths. </p><p><em>Hans Gutbrod has been working in and on the Caucasus region since 1999. He is also active in agriculture, and believes in its potential in Georgia, if the right decisions are taken. </em></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>“<a href="https://medium.com/@hansgutbrod/ban-on-foreign-ag-ownership-in-georgia-why-leases-are-not-the-solution-6abdb72706e1" target="_blank">Ban on foreign ag-ownership in Georgia — why leases are not the solution</a>”, Hans Gutbrod for <em>Medium</em></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/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom">Georgian land, Georgian freedom</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 Hans Gutbrod Georgia Caucasus Tue, 17 Oct 2017 22:32:50 +0000 Hans Gutbrod 114047 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s ravenous redistribution: the plunder of Sakhalin https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-borodikhin/russias-ravenous-redistribution <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Residents of Russia’s far-eastern island of Sakhalin are outraged by Moscow’s abrupt decision to take away regional budget revenues.</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/564053/64c8daebd3f08d14d53593ec72d320f1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/64c8daebd3f08d14d53593ec72d320f1.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'>Activists are collecting signatures in the Cheknhov square in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Photo courtesy of Ksenia Semenova. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>This article&nbsp;<a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/10/05/cherny_peredel">originally appeared</a>&nbsp;in Russian on MediaZona.</em></p><p dir="ltr">The Russian government’s draft federal budget for 2018 came as an unpleasant surprise for Sakhalin oblast, Russia’s only island region. Officials have proposed redistributing half of the Sakhalin-2 oil-and-gas project’s contributions from the regional budget to the federal one. Local authorities see this as nothing short of catastrophic and complain that they were never notified of Moscow’s plans. In response, activists have been collecting thousands of signatures and are organising a rally to protest the proposal.</p><p dir="ltr">“Since 2015, the government’s economic policy (and budget policy as an integral component thereof) has been geared towards negotiating the consequences of the largest external shock of the past half-century.” These are the opening words of the explanatory note to Russia’s draft federal budget for 2018 and the 2019-2020 planning period. The word “stability” appears four times in the introduction, but in fact it is this document that has served to destabilise the situation in Sakhalin Oblast — and to do it sharply.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://sozd.parlament.gov.ru/bill/274618-7">draft bill</a> appeared on the State Duma website on 29 September. It referred to an “additional transfer to the federal budget of 50% of the profit tax, with the subsequent redistribution of corresponding additional revenues towards the development of the Far Eastern Federal District.” This means that if the region currently receives 75% of tax revenues from the project, with the remaining 25% going to the federal budget, the opposite will soon be the case: 25% for the region versus 75% for the government.</p><p dir="ltr">According to the explanatory note, a redistribution of 33.7 billion roubles (£444m) has been proposed for next year (the total income of Sakhalin Oblast being some <a href="http://openbudget.sakhminfin.ru/Menu/Page/273">100 billion roubles</a>). This isn’t the first attempt to seize revenues from Sakhalin-2. Until last year, 80% of the profit tax went to Sakhalin Oblast; towards the end of the year, however, the government <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/business/29/09/2017/59ccd9379a794751c0afbfab">took 5% to support other regions</a>.</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/lng-tanker-sakhalin_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/lng-tanker-sakhalin_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Sakhalin-2 LNG plant is the first of its kind in Russia. Source: www.shell.com. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Gazeta.ru’s government sources <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/business/2017/09/28/10910270.shtml">contend</a> that Yuri Trutnev, the president’s representative in the Far East, instructed the Ministry of Finance to transfer the Sakhalin contributions to the Development Fund of the Far East and the Baikal Region. It is alleged, however, that a different plan was originally discussed in government, and which involved funnelling this money into the budget in exchange for subsidies from Moscow. According to RBC sources, the redistribution initiative <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/business/29/09/2017/59ccd9379a794751c0afbfab">originated</a> from the Ministry for the Development of the Far East and was supported by Trutnev. Furthermore, it had allegedly already been given the green light by President Vladimir Putin. Representatives from Sakhalin Oblast strongly opposed the initiative, but unsuccessfully so.</p><p dir="ltr">Yuri Trutnev is rather well acquainted with the Sakhalin-2 project: at the peak of the conflict between the Russian authorities and an international consortium of developers in 2006, he held the post of Minister of Natural Resources and personally revoked the decree that approved the findings of the project’s environmental impact assessment. As a result, the conflict led to a change of ownership: Gazprom <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/732787">bought</a> a controlling stake (50% plus one share) from Shell and the Japanese companies Mitsui and Mitsubishi.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Monstrously complicated”</h2><p dir="ltr">Reports of the imminent budget redistribution first emerged on September 28: an <a href="https://oilcapital.ru/news/regulation/28-09-2017/istochnik-pravitelstvo-gotovit-proekt-izmeneniy-usloviy-sahalinskih-srp">article</a> in the Oil and Capital magazine was followed by articles in <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/business/29/09/2017/59ccd9379a794751c0afbfab">RBC</a> and other business publications. Ksenia Semyonova, editor-in-chief of <a href="http://sakhalin.info/">Sakh.com</a>, Sakhalin’s largest media outlet, said in an interview with MediaZona that she’d found out the news from a source only a little earlier and didn’t have time to publish any original material. According to Semyonova, such initiatives had never previously been so much as rumoured on Sakhalin.</p><p dir="ltr">“The elections went wonderfully well for United Russia,” says Semyonova, “all the right people got elected, nothing augured any misfortune. The budget had already been drawn up with the proper indicators and forecasts [at the current level of funding]. And now they tell us we’ll have 30 billion less. I can just imagine our finance minister’s face. I’m not a particular fan of the authorities, but I can understand very well on a human level how they must have collected the regions’ budget wants, coordinated state programmes — it’s all monstrously complicated.” Semyonova noted that the bill is set to receive its first Duma reading only on 27 October, and that the region won’t be able to work on a new budget in the interim.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">For the first time in the history of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, all authorised sites for mass picketing were occupied</p><p dir="ltr">The Sakh.com reports about the proposed revenue redistribution attracted some 50,000-60,000 views apiece — very impressive figures for a regional outlet, and enough to convince the editor-in-chief that its readership wouldn’t be difficult to mobilise: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“I came up with the idea of ​​holding a rally or some kind of protest action. I decided I’d publish an item about this first and then see whether or not people would support the idea. They did, and so I paid a visit to the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Administration on September 30 and filed my notice.” </p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, securing approval for a mass rally in such a short space of time is impossible, so Semyonova and a group of like-minded people decided to organise a series of pickets with signature collections: “For the first time in the history of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, all authorised sites for mass picketing were occupied. This really freaked out the administration: the authorities had never encountered this before and didn’t know how to implement security and public order.”</p><p dir="ltr">During the picket, activists managed to collect over 17,000 signatures for a <a href="https://static.sakh.com/info/p/docs/13/139934/e95b4114bc.docx">petition</a> imploring President Vladimir Putin “to intervene in the revenue redistribution process” and not to deny “Sakhalinites and Kuril Islanders the opportunity to develop their islands and live in dignity”.</p><p dir="ltr">“I look [at the list of signatories] and I see familiar names, including those of high-level officials who occupy important posts but don’t want to go public for obvious reasons,” says Semyonova. “We’ve had signatures from the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Sport, the Department for Civil Defence and Emergencies. There’ve been loads from social institutions as well – hospitals, kindergartens, palaces of sport, shops, construction firms, banks. Even Sberbank. Sakhalin Energy and Exxon personnel working on the PSA have signed as well. As have people from Rosneft-Sakhalinmorneftegaz.”</p><p dir="ltr">The petition was due to be sent to Putin as early as 4 October, but “prominent people from Moscow” advised choosing an individual respected throughout the region to act as envoy. A candidate for the job didn’t take long to find — Nivkh writer Vladimir Sangi became flag-bearer. He signed the petition, and the document was delivered by car from the settlement of Nogliki, located over 600km north of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. On Thursday, Semyonova sent off to Moscow a parcel full of petition forms. Total weight? Seven kilos. The electronic version (a full three gigabytes) was sent to Putin via the Kremlin’s official website.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“I believe Russia needs a tsar or lord who’d come and hear us out, take action, help us. We’re counting on nothing else”</p><p dir="ltr">Semyonova adds that, with the petition dispatched, Sakhalin activists are now discussing the holding of a rally that would “consolidate” the results.</p><p dir="ltr">“Why is it that we’re writing to Putin? I believe Russia needs a tsar or lord who’d come and hear us out, take action, help us. We’re counting on nothing else,” says the journalist.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Redistribution as catastrophe</h2><p dir="ltr">On the evening of 29 September, Sakhalin Oblast governor Oleg Kozhemyako warned in an interview with Sakh.com of the “catastrophic consequences” that a revenue redistribution would bring about.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Fn6un-ByAJQ" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>Finance Minister Anton Siluanov discusses redistribution of budget income from Sakhalin oil and gas development</em><br /><br />“If this were to happen, we wouldn’t even be able to budget for ongoing expenses. If we lose 40-45 billion roubles out of a regional budget of around 100 billion, the remainder won’t even be enough to live on.” Kozhemyako reeled off a series of programmes that would be particularly affected by the decision — the construction of schools, hospitals and residential developments, municipal improvements, benefits, the Kuril Islands development programme — and predicted that the region would experience renewed out-migration “with negative demographic indicators.”</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“We’ve only just begun reaping the first genuinely tangible benefits of these investments. And all these efforts are now in jeopardy”</p><p dir="ltr">“Any oil-and-gas ventures on Sakhalin must first and foremost benefit the economy and social well-being of Sakhalin Oblast residents,” said the governor. “People waited many years for these ventures to start generating returns before this finally happened. Oil-and-gas revenues began to be invested into the development of the region, into new projects aimed at improving the quality of people’s lives. We’ve only just begun reaping the first genuinely tangible benefits of these investments. And all these efforts are now in jeopardy.” The governor noted, furthermore, that the decision was made “without taking the region’s opinion into account” — the Sakhalin authorities “were not informed”.</p><p dir="ltr">“We ourselves discovered this information from the media. It undoubtedly came as a bombshell,” <a href="https://sakhalin.info/search/139736">said</a> Andrei Khapochkin, the newly-elected chairman of the Sakhalin Oblast Duma, commenting on the morning of 29 September in response to what were then still “conjectures and assumptions”. “The most terrible thing of all is that a whole host of social benefits will be suspended and possibly cancelled altogether — and Sakhalin Oblast provides more social benefits than anywhere else in Russia. There’s 127 of them in total, it was a challenge to put them into place, and it’s thanks to them that Sakhalinites and Kuril residents are able not simply to remain on Sakhalin but specifically to remain on the islands, to build housing and roads, to develop the energy industry.”</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/564053/951d9cca58a3488c0145abffb0a7f5d7.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/951d9cca58a3488c0145abffb0a7f5d7.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'>Governor Oleg Kozhemyako and the newly-elected chairman of the Sakhalin Oblast Duma Andrei Khapochkin. Photo: Press center of the Sakhalin regional Duma. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When the “conjectures” were confirmed, the Oblast Duma began formulating an appeal to State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin that was finalised only today, while the SakhalinMedia website promptly launched a hashtag campaign called<a href="http://sakhalinmedia.ru/news/hashtag/850/"> #OilandGasDekulakisation</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In their letter to Volodin, the Oblast Duma deputies emphasise that the initiative has met with “a negative public reception” and that it “could undermine Sakhalinites’ confidence in the organs of state power.” They explain that work on the Sakhalin-1 and 2 projects began back in 1990s, but that the companies were initially exempted from paying taxes and fees to the regional budget with an eye towards future profits.</p><p dir="ltr">Principal revenues from offshore projects began to arrive in 2012, but have already led to a marked increase in living standards. Meanwhile, in excess of 30 billion roubles will need to be spent over the course of three years on moving people out of dilapidated and substandard housing; the region intends to carry out a gasification of housing stock (today, a mere 13% of households in this so-called oil-and-gas hub are connected to gas pipelines, as compared to 66% across Russia as a whole) as well as undertaking large-scale repairs of the electrical power supply system. The deputies estimate budget losses of some 40 billion roubles — an amount comparable to the volume of all financial assistance to municipal budgets.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“The Ministry of Finance is essentially trying to rob the region while leaving interest groups well alone”</p><p dir="ltr">On 2 October, members of the Sakhalin Public Chamber called on local State Duma deputy Georgy Karlov to inform them whether or not he had taken part in any discussion around the proposed changes and to let them know how he intended to vote on this issue. Karlov’s response was to the point: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“First of all, I believe that any project involving the subsidisation of certain federal subjects out of another subject’s pocket must first be green-lighted by said subjects. Second, it clearly won’t be easy for me to drive home to all the State Duma deputies the fact that the position of Sakhalinites and Kuril residents is significantly at odds with the draft law on the federal budget. I therefore ask Sakhalinites and Kuril residents to support me in the State Duma and to voice their opinions directly to the State Duma and to myself in order to consolidate our position.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The country’s top brass sets the objective of regional development – only for the Ministry of Finance to turn a blind eye to this without giving a moment’s thought to the social and geopolitical ramifications of such a step,” argues Mikhail Yemelyanov (A Just Russia), first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee for Economic Policy. “The Ministry of Finance is essentially trying to rob the region while leaving interest groups well alone. Nothing good will come of this as far as the country is concerned.” Federation Council Chair Valentina Matvienko criticised the draft federal budget in more general terms, noting that strictly locking in expenditure under conditions of “sluggish stability” isn’t enough.</p><p dir="ltr">On 4 October, Sakhalin Oblast government head Vera Shcherbina broached the redistribution issue at a Federation Council hearing. “I can’t fail to mention some of the region’s particularities. […] [Given] the difficult transport accessibility of the Kuril Islands, we’re forced to spend 2.4 billion on air transport subsidies alone. Here’s a simple example: an economically sensible ticket price for a flight from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to the Kurils is 17,000 roubles; we fly local residents for 6,000 roubles apiece and subsidise the rest of the cost; we run helicopter services between the islands, and, though we might only be transporting, say, five people at a time, we’re aware that these services are critically, vitally important for people, since they’ve no other options whatsoever.”</p><p dir="ltr">Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Federation Council, interjected: “I’m sorry but there’s no need for you to itemise your entire budget. The issue has been raised.”</p><p dir="ltr">No response to these developments was forthcoming from Sakhalin Oblast senator Dmitry Mezentsev — MediaZona was informed by his office that Mezentsev was busy preparing for the anniversary of the Russia-China Friendship Association, of which he is chair. The senator’s representative failed to call back following a request for comment. An enquiry addressed to the Sakhalin Gubernatorial Administration has yet to receive a response.</p><p dir="ltr"><em><strong>Further note: </strong>The Sakhalin-2 oil-and-gas project is being developed on the island’s north-eastern coast under the terms of a production sharing agreement between the investor and the state. The project, operated by Sakhalin Energy, involves the development of the Piltun-Astokhskoye oil field and the Lunskoye gas field as well as the construction of a plant for the production of liquefied natural gas. Under the production sharing agreement (PSA), the state grants the investor the right to mine, and the latter undertakes to carry out the mining using its own resources. The agreement, signed in 1994, was the first of its kind in Russia.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>The Sakhalin Energy website states that the PSA provides for a special tax regime: instead of paying VAT, mineral taxes and other charges, Sakhalin Energy must pay 6% of royalties (periodic payment in specie). After the company has successfully recouped the production commencement costs, it pays profit tax at a rate of 32% and transfers to the state a percentage of the natural gas it has produced. Sources within the company note that in excess of $5 billion has already been paid to the Russian state.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><i>Translation by Leo Shtutin. </i></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/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-zubarevich/four-russias-new-political-reality">Four Russias: the new political reality </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/russia-regions-federalism-and-its-discontents">Russia’s regions: federalism and its discontents</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</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 Alexander Borodikhin Russia Tue, 17 Oct 2017 22:20:02 +0000 Alexander Borodikhin 114080 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How to hide evidence of torture inside Russia’s prison system https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-zotova/stop-torture-in-russian-prisons <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Russia, law enforcement quickly puts pressure on prisoners who come forward about torture inside the prison system. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-zotova/davlenie-i-ugrozy" 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/maxresdefault_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_0_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'>Alexey Galkin. Photo: Youtube. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>If you try typing “torture in Russian prison colonies” into any Russian search engine, you immediately get a vast number of hits. They won’t just be video clips and articles describing violence, but a catalogue of “types” of torture published by glossy magazines. Just about anyone who lives in provincial Russia will tell you that prisoners are beaten up, and that this is “normal” — it’s always happened and always will. Physical abuse of inmates has been part of our reality for a long time, and it doesn’t bother anyone except human rights campaigners and, of course, the prisoners themselves.</p><p dir="ltr">The<a href="http://stop-torture.info/en/"> Torture Territory</a> project, which helps prisoners combat illegal violence against them, has been going in Russia since December 2016. Together with the<a href="http://www.zaprava.ru/"> “For Human Rights”</a> movement and the<a href="http://www.zashita-zk.org/9F33175"> “Defence of Prisoners’ Rights Foundation”</a> (which have had a much longer involvement in this field), we organise visits to prisons by lawyers. These are specialists with considerable experience who are able not only to assert their rights when dealing with prison administrators, but can tell whether there has indeed been mass violence against inmates in this or that jail, or it’s just an excuse for prisoners to get free legal advice.</p><p dir="ltr">If a lawyer believes that inmates’ complaints have a basis in reality, we write to the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main federal investigating authority, and the Prosecutor General’s Office, asking them to check the torture claims and penalise sadistic prison officers. We also continue to work with the lawyer, attempting to bring charges to courts at various levels.</p><p dir="ltr">However, despite all our efforts, not a Russian single prison officer whom we suspect of torture has been disciplined in any way — charged with an offence, undergone a criminal trial or been put behind bars. I should note that if the Territory of Torture project has been operating less than a year, then the Defence of Prisoners’ Rights Foundation has been working on these issues for more than a decade. And if it was possible to get results before (a criminal investigation, convictions), then over the past year the situation has changed quite sharply, and Russia’s Federal Penitentiary System has turned out to be completely unaccountable to civil society. Legal counsels are now the last form of defence for prisoners under pressure.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia’s Federal Penitentiary System has turned out to be completely unaccountable to civil society. Legal counsels are now the last form of defence for prisoners under pressure</p><p dir="ltr">You can accuse the Investigative Committee and the Procurator General’s Office for this inaction: these bodies are, in theory, responsible for investigating breaches of the law, but in fact do nothing but pass the buck around. The prisoners themselves are often part of the problem, dropping their claims because of either threats or promises of “favours”.</p><p dir="ltr">One <a href="http://stop-torture.info/po-izbieniyu-zaklyuchyonnyx-v-kolonii-ik-1-bryanskoj-oblasti-ne-vozbudyat-ugolovnoe-delo/">recent example</a> of this took place in the Bryansk region. In July 2017, we received a collective letter from several dozen inmates of Colony IK-1, stating that they had been subjected to physical abuse by prison staff. Some of them, we were told, were forced to do the splits, and had paper bags put on their heads and their mouths taped up. All this is, not surprisingly, illegal. Here’s an excerpt from one of the prisoners’ letters: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“They made us stand with our faces to the wall and started hitting us on our bodies and legs. They formed two lines and ordered us to run between them to the toilet block, with our arms behind our backs and our heads bent. Then they beat us as we ran. When we got to the toilets, they shaved us — our heads, our beards. I’m bald, so they shaved off my eyebrows. After the shaving, we had to run back. Then they brought a bucket of water in and made us wash the floor with our clothes, and after that the stood us against the wall and started beating us on the legs again.”</p><p dir="ltr">We immediately attempted to send lawyers into this prison, but none of them were allowed near the prisoners for more than two weeks. (This is absolutely against Russian law.) And when they were eventually let in, many of the complainants refused to testify about the torture. Only six men (out of more than 50 initial complainants) made statements about the illegal physical abuse they had suffered.</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/564053/19059218_1592363807460934_8731928805528236610_n_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/19059218_1592363807460934_8731928805528236610_n_1_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'>Discussion in the Public Chamber about the protection of prisoners' rights. Photo: Facebook. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Investigative Committee and the Procurator General’s Office immediately refused to bring any criminal charges: neither the prison staff nor the inmates would confirm that any violence had been used. So, nothing illegal had taken place.</p><p dir="ltr">We have no hard evidence of how the prisoners were “persuaded” to withdraw their complaints. It could have been threats, or blackmail, or perhaps the promise of “favours”. This last seems the most likely, since this autumn we have been asked by the families of the prisoners in Bryansk Colony IK-1to stop making a fuss — everything’s “fine there now”.</p><p dir="ltr">The pressure put on prisoners who complain can be clearly seen from a case in the Kirov Region, where several clients of Torture Territory are serving their sentences. Alexey Galkin, a prisoner in Colony IK-20, <a href="http://stop-torture.info/delo-alekseya-galkina/">claimed </a>that a member of staff beat him up. Galkin had been beaten in prison before and even lost two ribs, but this time his patience had evidently run out and in March 2016, during a short stay in hospital, he wrote a complaint to the Investigative Committee against his assailant, a Major Kovrov.</p><p dir="ltr">The major’s illegal use of violence was not hard to prove: Galkin had bruises on his face for several days after the beating, and they were even on record, since by chance he had to have his photograph taken that week for a new passport. Galkin’s cellmate could also confirm that he had been beaten. In the end, though, it was Galkin who faced a charge — of a false denunciation. The prisoner was released in January 2017, but in April he was remanded in custody again while the “denunciation” was investigated. And his cellmate was hastily transferred to a colony in Tver, so that he couldn’t be questioned.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GaKhNr6o878?rel=0" height="259" width="460"></iframe><span style="font-style: italic;">Alexey Galkin shows worms found in Kirov region pre-trial detention as evidence of the conditions there.</span></p><p dir="ltr">On 17 June, Judge Pantyukhin, a former Kirov police detective,<a href="http://stop-torture.info/delo-alekseya-galkina/"> sentenced Galkin to a further two years in jail</a> — the maximum sentence for a “false denunciation”. An appeal hearing on 13 September confirmed the sentence. Experts from the For Human Rights foundation will obviously challenge the court’s decision, but other convicts wanting to assert their rights are being intimidated by this precedent: “you’ll just spend another two years behind bars”. </p><p dir="ltr">And it is an effective deterrent.</p><p dir="ltr">Another of our clients, Eduard Gorbunov, has reported the illegal use of force in Kirov Regional Colony IK-6, claiming that he was subjected to sexual abuse by prison staff, including the colony’s head. He has proof in the form of a medical certificate listing the injuries he received.</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/564053/2017-08-01_18-22-12.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/2017-08-01_18-22-12.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'>Eduard Gorbunov is 40 years old, he was convicted of fraud. In 2009, he was sent to colony No. 27 in the Verkhnekamsky district of the Kirov region.</span></span></span>In fact, local lawyers have over the years accumulated a whole stack of complaints lodged against IK-6 Colony staff. Some prisoners have even died in the prison: Aleksandr P., for example, was found hanged after he complained about beatings and torture in 2014. But numerous inspections have failed to uncover a single reason to open a criminal case against the sadistic prison staff.</p><p dir="ltr">After Gorbunov complained about his ill-treatment he, like Galkin, was <a href="http://stop-torture.info/zayavlenie-ot-e-gorbunova-ik-6-kirovskoj-oblasti-i-advokata/">charged</a> with making a false denunciation, and his case is going through the courts now. At one court session, on 7 September, his cellmate Aleksey Gabin was put on the stand as a witness for the prosecution: he was supposed to testify that no torture ever took place in Colony IK-6. But instead, he told the court that he had witnessed<a href="http://stop-torture.info/en/torture-in-ik-6-in-kirov/"> the same type of abuse</a> as that described by Gorbunov. Gabov then asked the judge and public prosecutor to assure his safety: prison staff had threatened him with physical injury if he spoke out. But neither the judge nor the prosecutor took any notice of his request.</p><p dir="ltr">At the next court session, on 22 September, Gabov was recalled as a witness, but this time he denied that any anyone was tortured in Colony IK-6, and said he had just made the whole story up. What triggered his volte-face is anyone’s guess, but it’s likely that prison staff had had another “little chat” with him.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar case took place in the Karelian Republic. On 30 January 2017 Hazbulat Gabzayev, a prisoner who had made a number of formal complaints against warders, was <a href="http://stop-torture.info/v-karelii-na-rasskazavshego-o-pytkax-zaklyuchennogo-ik-7-zaveli-delo/">charged</a> with “assaulting prison staff”. And another inmate of the same colony,<a href="http://stop-torture.info/en/totrures-in-karelia-report/"> Koba Shurgay</a>, was accused of the prison administrations’ favourite crime, making a false denunciation. And this was despite the fact that in both cases there were witnesses who could testify that illegal force had been used against the prisoners. One of Shurgay’s legs, for example, became very swollen after a beating more than six months ago, and the swelling has not yet gone down. Not that this bothers the prison administration, which is claiming that Shurgay has had this swelling from his schooldays, when he studied dance. And no charge has been lodged against their sadistic staff.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Prison staff, while seeing themselves as crime fighters, become criminals themselves, and also instill in their “charges” the idea that no one respects the law</p><p dir="ltr">Human rights campaigners in Sverdlovsk region have, however, succeeded in initiating a criminal investigation of abuse of prisoners in Colony IK-5 in the town of Nizhny Tagil, where there have been many complaints from inmates about illegal force being used against them. In May 2017 Farukh Berdiyev, a prisoner there, <a href="http://stop-torture.info/pravozashhitniki-zapisali-video-s-osuzhdyonnym-vognavshim-v-svoyo-lyogkoe-igolku/">announced</a> that he had cut open his abdomen to make the warders stop torturing him. In June, Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against staff at the colony, charging them with “exceeding their official authority in use of force”. By law, Berdiyev was then supposed to be taken to the pre-trial remand centre in Ekaterinburg, to give evidence to detectives.</p><p dir="ltr">In September, Berdiyev was, however, <a href="http://stop-torture.info/poterpevshego-iz-ik-5-sverdlovskoj-oblasti-pereveli-v-drugoj-region/">transferred</a> to Colony IK-44 in the Kemerovo region, almost 2,000km away. One might think that this was for his own safety, but the local human rights campaigners believe that the prison service was just trying to complicate the investigation, since it would be highly inconvenient for an investigator to travel so far to question the accused officers’ chief victim. Berdiyev then <a href="http://stop-torture.info/zaklyuchennyj-kotorogo-pereveli-v-ik-5-nizhnego-tagila-podvergaetsya-psixologicheskomu-vozdejstviyu/">stated</a> that he’d been under pressure (to cooperate with the prison administration, threats of being “made into a homosexual”). Thanks to the interference of rights defenders, Berdiev managed to return to Sverdlovsk region. </p><p dir="ltr">And yet <a href="http://stop-torture.info/ik-37-kemerovskoj-oblasti-izdevatelstva-nad-zaklyuchyonnymi/">another drama</a> is unfolding in Colony IK-37 in the village of Yaya, also in the Kemerovo region, where the Investigative Committee is carrying out an inspection after a suicide attempt by over ten prisoners who complained about their intolerable conditions there.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">If the aim of the correctional system is to correct convicts’ behaviour, torture is unlikely to help</p><p dir="ltr">The prisoners sent to IK-37 have reported that they were forced to sign statements about “cooperation”, and those who refused were threatened with various punishments. At the beginning of September lawyer Ekaterina Selivanova, prisoner Panikorovsky’s defence counsel, said that “Prison staff took his trousers off and stuck a bottle brush into his anus.” After being threatened with rape, Panikorovsky signed every piece of paper he was given, without even looking at them. And prisoner Krasilnikov told his lawyer Tatyana Menshikova that he had been subjected to violent sexual abuse.</p><p dir="ltr">Menshikova videoed Krasilnikov’s story during a meeting with him, but at the end of the meeting prison staff grabbed her and took the tape. And Selivanova was refused permission for a private meeting with Krasilnikov — a breach of lawyer-client privilege. Since then all lawyers trying to video meetings on their phones have had the phones confiscated. And prisoners are also complaining that staff at IK-37 try to pressurise them, to make the investigators’ work harder.</p><p dir="ltr">People serving custodial sentences are obviously no angels. They weren’t thinking about human rights when they stole handbags or robbed flats. But if the aim of the correctional system is to correct convicts’ behaviour, torture is unlikely to help. Russian prison service staff, while seeing themselves as crime fighters, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">become criminals themselves</a>, and also instill in their “charges” the idea that no one respects the law, not even those who enforce it.</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/anastasiya-zotova/inside-russia-s-new-gulag">Inside Russia’s new Gulag</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/everyday-violence-in-russia-s-prison-system-has-to-stop">The everyday violence in Russia’s prison system has to stop</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/badma-biurchiev/no-rules-in-russia-system-turns-on-defenceless">The red zone</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/this-is-karelia-tortured-voices-from-russia-s-prison-system">This is Karelia: tortured voices from Russia’s prison system</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/working-in-gulag">Working in the 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 human rights Anastasia Zotova Russia Human rights Tue, 17 Oct 2017 22:09:40 +0000 Anastasia Zotova 114078 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A tale of two revolutions, or “decommunisation”, Ukrainian-style https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/a-tale-of-two-revolutions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukrainian politicians see their country’s Soviet heritage as a major obstacle on the way to a brave new world. It's a shame they’re using the same revolutionary methods as the communists to deal with it. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev-vstrecha-dvuh-revoluziy" 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/_-_Майдан_Незалежности_ноябрь_2016_года_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_-_Майдан_Незалежности_ноябрь_2016_года_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_1.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'>Kiev, Maydan Nezalezhnosti, November 2016. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Almost a third of a century has passed since the collapse of the USSR, and like never before, the symbolic legacy of the 1917 October revolution is at the centre of Ukraine’s political discourse. The protests on Kyiv’s Maidan and ensuing conflict with Russia have reawakened, to use the eminent theorist of nationalism Ernest Gellner’s metaphor, the Sleeping Beauty – the Ukrainian nation – from the “mystic sleep” she seemed to have fallen into after the 2005 Orange Revolution. New, ambitious projects await – among themffecting a final break with the Soviet past.</p><p dir="ltr">Why, after all this time, is the Soviet legacy in Ukraine still just about “Public Enemy No 1”? And why does dealing with it require a strategy of revolutionary propaganda on a truly Leninist scale?</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, perhaps it’s precisely the practices of decommunisation which best reflect the social and political climate in post-Maidan Ukraine – and not least, the country’s complex relations with its neighbours.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Europeanisation is democracy plus decommunisation </h2><p dir="ltr">Many Ukrainian politicians and public intellectuals believe that the crucible of a continuing bloody conflict in the country’s east has led to the Ukrainian nation making an irreversible,conscious choice in favour of democracy and Europe. On 1 September, president Petro Poroshenko promised the students of a secondary school in the Kharkiv Province that the children taking their first steps at primary school that day would see Ukraine become a fully-fledged member of the EU. A week later, in a speech to the Ukrainian parliament, he was equally optimistic in stating that his government was ready to bring Ukraine closer to not only the EU – but NATO as well. </p><p dir="ltr">Many of his country’s citizens have, however, little first-hand experience of European democracy and bureaucracy. For most Ukrainians, living in the traditional “Soviet” (or already post-Soviet?) manner, i.e. from month to month, that ideal Europe plays a similar role as nostalgia for the Soviet years – reflecting a far-off dream of financial stability and decent social welfare. In the same speech to parliament, Poroshenko said “Ukrainians should feel the presence of Europe, even if they never leave their own country” and stressed that he was also referring to his citizens’ “level of material well-being”. Three post-Maidan years have, however, shown that carrying out economic and social reform, reconstructing the education system and fighting corruption and poverty – in other words, making Ukraine “truly European” – is a lot harder than challenging attitudes toward Lenin and his associates – many of whom live on in bronze and stone to this day. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">A considerable proportion of Ukrainian citizens have little first-hand experience of European democracy and bureaucracy</span> </p><p dir="ltr">In his speech to Kharkiv school students, Poroshenko also stated that “cutting edge technologies would allow us [politicians and teachers?] to create new Ukrainians”. It was evidently thanks to these new technologies that the Ukrainian elite, buoyed by yet another change of government, announced its determination to once more overcome its Soviet past as a means of drawing closer to an imagined Europe. A package of four “decommunising” laws, one of which outlawed all Soviet symbols as totalitarian, had already been passed with unbelievable speed in May 2015. In other words, the political elite decided that Ukrainians had to be done with anything connected with their Soviet and/or peasant past. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_2017_-_Славянск_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_2017_-_Славянск_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Slavyansk is Ukraine", July 2017. Photo courtese of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Any casual observer who lived through the process of rejection of Soviet symbolism in any ex-Soviet republic in the 1990s must be now experiencing déjà vu. There’s nothing much new to be found in reconstructions of the memorial landscape and destruction of sites associated with the Soviet regime. In Ukraine, like everywhere else, the most famous monuments were demolished immediately after the USSR’s collapse, with more enthusiasm in the west of the country than in the central and south-eastern provinces. And like everywhere else, there were just too many “Bolshevik” monuments, not to mention squares and streets to destroy them all. Even in western Ukraine, and even in the course of several waves of emotion, one of which was the penultimate Ukrainian revolution of 2004. The mass “Leninopad” in the winter of 2013-4, when statues of Lenin were destroyed wholesale, didn’t help either. </p><p dir="ltr">This law package followed a certain decline in destructive enthusiasm, and enabled the process of decommunisation to proceed in a more routine fashion. According to sculptor Yuri Merkurov, creator of a granite statue of Lenin that stood on Bessarabskaya Square in the centre of Kyiv (which only actually became famous after it was demolished in December 2013), “the country demanded” the creation of an enormous number of new monuments. Now the country, or at least those of its citizens who are most in the public eye, have demanded that its politicians demolish them. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">More than 50,000 streets in the country’s towns and villages have also been renamed because of some connection or another with the Soviet past. </p><p dir="ltr">Considering the untiring efforts of Merkurov and his sculptor colleagues, not to mention the generosity of the Soviet regime in its patronage of the arts, the Ukrainian government can continue to exploit its populist image as an uncompromising enemy of the Soviet past for some time to come. Especially since decommunisation seems, at first glance, to be one of the few areas where it can’t be too hard to achieve at least statistical success. In the same speech in parliament on 7 September, Poroshenko reported his success in destroying more than 1,300 statues of Lenin and renaming nearly a thousand towns. And these are by no means the only achievements of Ukrainian decommunisation. More than 50,000 streets in the country’s towns and villages have also been renamed because of some connection or another with the Soviet past. </p><p dir="ltr">The post-Maidan government is inclined to push its own image as the only true enemy of the legacy of Soviet totalitarianism. But the question arises: will itsapproach to decommunisation actually promote greater solidarity among Ukrainians themselves? </p><h2 dir="ltr">What to do with Victory Day</h2><p dir="ltr">The emotions around “Leninopad” (of which Merkurov’s statue became a symbol) quickly dissipated after the winter of 2013-4. But if the demolition of yet more monuments to leaders of the international proletariat has lost any interest it had among ordinary Ukrainians, a key memorial site from the Soviet years has retained its relevance for many of them. Historian Aleksey Miller believes that you can’t exclude communism from Russia’s national history because “the Victory over Hitler’s forces in 1945 occupies a central place in our national mythology, which amongst our neighbours, only Belarus and south-east Ukraine share”. But the Second World War holds an important memory for western Ukraine as well – except that it’s not a story of Victory, but of occupation.</p><p dir="ltr">So do we have to see the Soviet military-monumental tradition, the mythology of victory and surrounding rituals , as part of the totalitarian legacy that we need to reject? Decommunisation laws (including the law on the Commemoration of the Victory over Nazism) seem to suggest that we do. The Great Patriotic War, as we called it, has now become the Second World War. In this narrative, the Soviet Union must share the blame for the outbreak of war, and both the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s, the Nazi and the Communist, are guilty of war crimes and genocide against the Ukrainian people. </p><p dir="ltr">But having taken a number of decisive steps towards the decommunisation of the ictory of 1945, the government evidently baulked at a complete devaluation of this memory.Instead, it came up with something of an oxymoron: there will now be a public holiday on 8 May - VE (Victory in Europe) Day for Europeans and Americans, to be known as Remembrance and Reconciliation Day – and a second one on 9 May, to be called, as in Soviet times, Victory Day.</p><p dir="ltr">Does that mean one celebration for western Ukraine, and another for the pro-Russian south east of the country? The bigger question, however, is whether this attempt to decommunise 9 May is an impossible task. Even the Soviet propaganda machine failed to inculcate the mythology of cictory in western Ukraine and suppress the memory of local heroes. Could retaining Victory Day’s status as a public holiday help today’s national propaganda efforts win the support of the south east? </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_Фрагмент_мемориала_ВОВ_в_Святогорске_Июль_2017_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Фрагмент_мемориала_ВОВ_в_Святогорске_Июль_2017_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_1.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'>Fragment of the WWII memorial in Svytatohorsk, July 2017. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Every<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali"> Ukrainian nationalist</a>&nbsp;will find something Soviet and Putinist in commemorations of Victory Day. The aesthetic of military monuments and rituals; the veterans with their uniforms and medals – and a lot more – inevitably raises the spectre of Soviet mythology. Perhaps it would be possible to construct a commemoration that could involve the whole of Ukraine as part of the western European 8 May celebrations. But given the country’s present conflict with Russia, the Ukrainian government and its key ideological agency, the Institute of National Remembrance, have instead made yet another attempt to nationalise the myth by flooding the public space with counter-symbols and counter-discourses. It’s a question of Ukraine’s new red poppy against Russia’s orange and black St George Ribbon. Perhaps the Soviet crest on the shield of Kyiv’s Motherland Monument will soon be replaced by the Ukrainian trident. </p><p dir="ltr">What is more important is that the main strand of this nationalisation of the myth is a resurrection of “our heroes”. Poroshenko has gone further than Viktor Yushchenko, president in 2005-2010, in passing a law “On the Legal Status and Remembrance of Fighters for Ukrainian Independence in the 20th Century”. These include the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), who were infamous for their involvement in the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust_in_Ukraine"> Holocaust</a> and the<a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%2525D0%252592%2525D0%2525BE%2525D0%2525BB%2525D1%25258B%2525D0%2525BD%2525D1%252581%2525D0%2525BA%2525D0%2525B0%2525D1%25258F_%2525D1%252580%2525D0%2525B5%2525D0%2525B7%2525D0%2525BD%2525D1%25258F&amp;prev=search"> Volyn Massacre</a>. Now, any denial of the legitimacy of their fight for independence has been made illegal; an insult to the memory of the fighters and dignity of the Ukrainian people. If the law is transgressed (though who will decide where this dignity begins and ends?), even foreigners doubting the warriors’ feats will be liable for the consequences. Even the famous campaign by Putin’s ideologists against the “falsification of history”, which reached its peak in 2009-2012, will be nothing in comparison. </p><p dir="ltr">By accentuating the differences in regional commemorative traditions, the conflict with Russia has only intensified this rivalry between the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War. Meanwhile, the mobilisation discourse that has predominated since 2014 forbids any mention by politicians of a regional divide. We have instead a dubious ironic hyperbole, where we thank Putin for the actions (the annexation of Crimea, invasion of eastern Ukraine and so on), that have finally turned Ukrainians into a coherent national community. But can just a common hatred of Russia really unite them, and if so, for how long? The government’s “revolutionary decree” demonstrates its determination to affirm the unity of all Ukrainians, be they western or south-eastern. In doing so, it’s given preference to the myths around the OUN and UPA, united only in their hatred of the Muscovites.</p><h2 dir="ltr">One foot east, one foot west</h2><p dir="ltr">The tensions between the pro-European west of Ukraine (only annexed by the USSR in 1945) and the pro-Russian south east are undoubtedly often simplified. Regional borders are not always obvious. The active and mobile element of the post-Soviet generation crosses them more easily than the middle-aged. The Ukrainian government’s concerns are also understandable: there is a lot of truth in the idea that the politicisation of regional differences has become a major obstacle to stability. But will denial, silence or the ultimate demand that Ukrainians whose fathers and grandfathers fought in different trenches respect and venerate the “Banderists”, or followers of Stepan Bandera, help bring the two sides together? </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Regional differences, reflecting a rich and diverse culture, are normal for any large country</p><p dir="ltr">Regional differences, reflecting a rich and diverse culture, are normal for any large country. The problem isn’t in the differences themselves, but in how they are perceived. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, and then in 2005 and 2014, the government could have tried initiating a broad and open dialogue aimed at depoliticising regionalism and turning what was seen as a weakness into a strength. But either the sin of silence turned out even stronger, or the government lacked legitimacy, or the politicians had their own ideas about how to use regionalism. </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/Slavyansk_thirdanniversary_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Slavyansk_thirdanniversary_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'>Celebration of the third anniversary of liberation on Karachun hill, Slavyansk, July 2017. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The years of Viktor Yanukovich’s rule and Russia’s destabilisation of Ukraine did a lot to derail, and even marginalise, the position of the south-east and the mythology of the “Great Victory”. In this conflict situation, many intellectuals have either drifted to the right, or just don’t want to risk making unpopular critical statements. So while during the Soviet years the mythology of the Great Victory was forced on the whole of Ukraine, now it’s the turn of the OUN/UPA to be lionised. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The territory of today’s Ukraine was determined first by Imperial, and later by Soviet expansionist politics</p><p dir="ltr">Today’s dominant national myth (the “Banderist” version) is still of little use in bringing about Ukrainian political and cultural integration. That said, it fits well into the wider narrative of contemporary nationalism, founded as it is on a total suppression of the fact that Ukrainians were complicit in the creation of both the Russian Empire and the USSR. Many members of the post-Soviet generation believe that their country was a Russian colony and that the Bolsheviks, a completely alien force, occupied a Ukraine that had already gained its independence. This version of history also has a western Ukrainian slant, given that this region, like the Baltic States, only became part of the USSR after the Second World War. </p><p dir="ltr">However, the territory of today’s Ukraine was determined first by Imperial, and later by Soviet expansionist politics. Ethnic Ukrainians also made an enormous contribution and were rewarded with a share of the “cake” when the Soviet Union was divided up after its collapse. It has not been an easy task to unite the country’s population within the context of modern Ukrainian nationalism, while denying the involvement of the Russian Empire and its successor, the Soviet Union in that nation’s formation. So far, it seems to me that Ukrainian government has been unable to pull that act of unison off. Which is not surprising: there is simply no way of assimilating the country’s contradictory imperial legacy and integrating its citizens within a context of post-Soviet Ukrainian nationalism.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Soviet past: ever-pressing, ever-present</h2><p dir="ltr">What is striking, however, is less the contradictions of “decommunisation” itself than the emotional uplift which has resurfaced during its implementation. Witnessing the passion of its torchbearers and supporters, you feel you’re back in 1990-91. According to the historian of public monumental art Sergiusz Michalski, photo-reportages of the destruction of monuments back in the day are a “major visual symbol” of the fall of Soviet regimes. In other words, the monuments have played a much larger historical role after being demolished than they ever did while fulfilling their original commemorative function. </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/_Дружбы_Народов_созданная_в_честь_60-летия_образования_СССР_Киве_ноябрь_2016_г_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_Дружбы_Народов_созданная_в_честь_60-летия_образования_СССР_Киве_ноябрь_2016_г_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_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'>Friendship of Nations Arch, created in honor of the 60th Anniversary of the USSR, Kyiv, November 2016. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Why are feelings running so high now, almost 30 years after the collapse of the USSR? Perhaps because in the former outposts of the Empire, Russia was always identified with the USSR. Given the Putin regime’s determination to monopolise the rights to the obviously “embellished” legacy of the Soviet Union, de-Sovietisation/decommunisation is becoming an obligatory symbolic practice designed to counter enemies without and within. This is particularly salient in areas which have seen armed conflict such as Georgia, where a “Freedom Charter” was introduced after the 2008 war with Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine, decommunisation is accompanied by a mass renaming of itowns and villages, streets and squares. Yet its inconsistency is a constant reminder of the Ukrainian government’s inability to implement its own directives and laws in a timely and systematic fashion. In the centre of Slavyansk you can still walk along Communard Street, and in the centre of Kyiv you can cross Red Army Street. Both streets were officially decommunised years ago. Dnipro, Ukraine’s fourth largest city, is still Dnipropetrovsk on most road signs. If you were to list all these unchanged names, the list would be as long as one of the tens of thousands of officially decommunised streets and squares. Most ordinary Ukrainians, however still use the old names.Three years after the events on Maidan, they’re more concerned with their own social problems than the toppling of yet another Lenin.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>Gearing up for a national awakening</h2><p dir="ltr">The conflict that broke out with Russia in 2014 decisively confirmed the “negative” Imperial legacy narrative. Official Ukrainian nationalism is adopting ever more militaristic and vengeful traits. The concept of an enemy (within and without) is needed more than ever before, to establish the necessity for complete solidarity among Ukrainians. </p><p dir="ltr">The government and the Institute of National Remembrance are busy trying to boost Ukrainians’ national pride with the help of militaristic arguments and narratives. A visual display concentrating on 24 warriors, curated by the Institute’s director Volodymyr Viatrovych as part of its “Warriors. The History of Ukraine’s Army” public project is designed to show today’s Ukrainians the timeless story of their people’s military prowess. There doesn’t however, seem to have been room for Imperial and Soviet-era Ukrainian warriors in the display. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Ordinary Ukrainians are often unaware of, or perhaps indifferent to, liberation celebrations </p><p dir="ltr">Despite the fact that the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine goes through “hot” and “cold(er)” phases (there was the usual escalation of fighting along the contact line this summer), its heroic commemoration has never let up. In Kyiv you can bow before the monument to what is officially known as the anti-terrorist operation (ATO). The second and third anniversaries of the “liberation of Slavyansk” have been marked both in the Donbas city itself and on the nearby Karachun Hill, where the main Ukrainian army forces were deployed. And although national trauma is always a popular topic, the commemoration has a certain note of triumph in it, a celebration of a victory over the “Russian occupiers” and their “terrorist” associates. It must be said that ordinary Ukrainians are often unaware of, or perhaps indifferent to, such liberation celebrations. </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/_-_празднование_третьей_годовщины_освобождения_на_горе_Карачун_Июль_2017ю_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_-_празднование_третьей_годовщины_освобождения_на_горе_Карачун_Июль_2017ю_Автор_-_Сергей_Румянцев_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'>Celebration of the third anniversary of liberation on Karachun hill, Slavyansk, July 2017. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Soviet commemorative legacy, with its practices and terminology officially dead and buried, even pervades the populist pronouncements of not only president Poroshenko but the ultra-right patriots who gathered on Karachun Hill in July 2017. ATO veterans, as well as their predecessors from the Soviet years and even the Second World War, were thanked for their efforts to keep “a peaceful sky above our heads”. And Bandera’s imposing monument in L’viv – just like Lenin – is “so young”. </p><p dir="ltr">The official national discourse tells us that we need to fight for your country, your land, your nation, and your people. Just as in Soviet times, ordinary people’s pain pales before these higher goals, and there is no such thing a war without casualties (including peaceful civilians). </p><h2 dir="ltr">Prospects for peace </h2><p dir="ltr">Given the strength of current Russian and Ukrainian nationalisms and the militaristic and revenge-seeking rhetoric popular in both countries, a peaceful transformation of the situation is highly unlikely. In fact, if these tendencies persist for the next 20-30 years (which may well be the case) the conflict is likely to intensify. </p><p dir="ltr">Maybe an antidote can be found in the everyday resistance of the man or woman in the street. Many Ukrainians and Russians are unprepared for war and more concerned about social problems. Economic and even cultural ties between Russia and Ukraine are still intense and many intellectuals are ready to strive for a peaceful transformation of the conflict. </p><p dir="ltr">Until Ukraine, which, like Russia, is a successor to the Russian and Soviet Empires, comes to terms with its past, the outlook seems dim. The new laws, Poroshenko’s falling to his knees in front of the memorial to the victims of the Volyn Massacre, the new national narratives – all these either have a purely superficial effect or merely offer to replace one dubious myth with another. This approach does little to help people recognise the depth of their responsibility to history and reconciliation with their own past. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many Ukrainians and Russians are unprepared for war and more concerned about social problems </p><p dir="ltr">Kyiv’s famous Maidan Nezalezhnosti, a space filled with memories of the collapse of the USSR and two post-Soviet “revolutions”, is the best place to take in the spirit of this contradictory situation. The architectural design and aesthetic of what has become the symbolic epicentre of anti-Imperial and anti-Soviet activity is actually one of the most impressive examples of Ukraine’s totalitarian heritage. </p><p dir="ltr">A constructive relationship with the past can produce change in the future – alternatively, we can just retouch yet another heroic myth. The choice is ours.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>The author thanks the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its support for the projects carried out by Berlin’s Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), designed to contribute to the peaceful transformation of conflicts in the post-Soviet space. </em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></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-portnov/bandera-mythologies-and-their-traps-for-ukraine">Bandera mythologies and their traps for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-polouektova-krimer/unearthing-russia-s-dead-over-and-over-again">Unearthing Russia’s war dead, over and over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/olesya-khromeychuk/what-place-for-women-in-ukraine-s-memory-politics">What place for women in Ukraine’s memory politics?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/clash-of-victimhood-1943-volhynian-massacre-in-polish-and-ukrainian-culture">Clash of victimhoods: the Volhynia Massacre in Polish and Ukrainian memory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/per-rudling-tarik-amar-jared-mcbride/ukraine-s-struggle-with-past-is-ours-too">Ukraine’s struggle with the past is ours too</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 ukraine Sergey Rumyantsev Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:43:01 +0000 Sergey Rumyantsev 113973 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Don’t give up on democracy in Moldova https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maia-sandu/dont-give-up-on-democracy-in-moldova <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/MAIA%20SANDU%20JPG%20red.jpg" alt="MAIA SANDU JPG red.jpg" width="80" />Moldova had high hopes for democratic transition. But with an oligarch at the helm, democracy is under threat on the EU’s border.</p><p>&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/RIAN_02778856.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_02778856.LR_.ru_.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'>An opposition protest in Chișinău, January 2016. The cartoon poster depicts a starving Moldovan, who holds a placard reading “Glory to the oligarchs!” An oligarch steals the clothes off his back, reassuring him that he brings “reliability and stability.” Photo (c) RIA Novosti / Myroslav Rotar. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>My country was once a leader in democratic transition in the post-Soviet space. It had high hopes of joining the European family of nations as the poster child of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership programme. This has proven to be an illusion. Despite struggling with corruption and poor governance, political pluralism and independent media are a cherished achievement of Moldova’s young and feeble democracy. But even these achievements are coming to an end.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Moldova is now a captured state that needs to be returned to its citizens. One politician, whose party received<a href="http://www.e-democracy.md/en/elections/parliamentary/2014/"> less than 16% of the vote</a> in the 2014 parliamentary election, now has the dubious honour of running the entire country. Despite holding no public office, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc</a> is now the kingpin of Moldova. He has managed to take over all of the key state institutions, including parliament, the government and the judiciary, by all the means at his disposal. </p><p dir="ltr">Plahotniuc’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">ownership of the largest media holding</a> in the country, coupled with his control over the nominally independent national public broadcaster, allows for his vast political influence to go completely unchecked. &nbsp;</p><h2>Changing the rules of the game</h2><p dir="ltr">The recent adoption of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mihai-popsoi/changing-rules-of-game-in-moldova">highly controversial electoral reform</a> and attempts to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mihai-popsoi/moldova-s-civil-society-braces-for-another-attack">restrict the independence of civil nongovernmental organisations</a> serve as vivid examples of Moldova’s democratic backsliding. </p><p dir="ltr">By changing the electoral system, Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc and pro-Russian president Igor Dodon, elected with Plahotniuc’s support, have established a de facto political cartel in order to marginalise the remaining opposition parties from political competition, even if Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party polled at just four percent in the<a href="http://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/iri_moldova_poll_march_2017.pdf"> survey conducted by the International Republic Institute</a> last spring. The new electoral system is clearly designed to benefit the incumbent Democratic Party, which can rely on its vast resources to gain undue advantage, but it also gives the Party of Socialists a head start in almost all districts as a result of the party’s consolidated grip over the left-leaning pro-Russian electorate. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The new electoral system is clearly designed to benefit the incumbent Democratic Party</p><p dir="ltr">Moldova’s Action and Solidarity Party, of which I am president, as well as all of the other major opposition parties have strongly opposed these changes to the electoral system. Civil society has also vocally condemned the Plahotniuc-Dodon electoral reform. The Venice Commission <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-moldova-election-commission/exclusive-moldova-plan-to-change-vote-rules-inappropriate-rights-body-experts-idUSKBN18X1JW">criticised</a> the proposal as inappropriate for Moldova. Nonetheless, after months of media manipulation and political intimidation, the Plahotniuc-Dodon cartel has enacted the mixed electoral system.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Protests as the last sliver of hope </h2><p dir="ltr">Plahotniuc’s illegitimate tactics of getting lawmakers to defect and join his party by hook or by crook, coupled with his vast wealth, a private media conglomerate and the entire administrative resources of the Moldovan state, including the justice system, increasingly puts him at an unfair advantage over other parties. All of these anti-democratic actions have triggered mass popular protests. </p><p dir="ltr">Most recently, on 17 September, thousands of Moldovan citizens <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/moldova-protest-chisinau-new-electoral-law/28740324.html">came together and voiced their dissent</a> in front of the parliament building in the capital of Chișinău. However, instead of listening to their legitimate grievances, the regime depicted the peaceful and mostly elderly protesters as a security threat to the police force. &nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">After capturing the Moldovan state, Plahotniuc has the audacity to portray himself as the promoter of Moldova’s EU integration</p><p dir="ltr">My colleagues and I are alarmed that the next parliamentary election in November 2018 will fail to meet democratic standards, particularly when it comes to the 51 single member constituencies. As electoral districts are now being drawn by a government committee, major concerns arise about potential gerrymandering. Voter suppression and reduction of voting power in the diaspora is another cause for concern. </p><p dir="ltr">Most worrisome is that the district winner will be decided by a plurality vote in a single round election, which is sure to produce an incredibly unrepresentative outcome as legislators may be elected with as little as 15% of the vote or even less. </p><h2 dir="ltr">What is at stake? </h2><p dir="ltr">After having captured the Moldovan state and continuously depriving its citizens of their basic human rights and liberties, Plahotniuc has the audacity to portray himself as the promoter of Moldova’s EU integration agenda and, recently, came up with an amendment to the Constitution, which would <a href="http://en.publika.md/pdm-put-up-european-integration-to-amend-moldovan-constitution-vlad-plahotniuc_2640060.html">reconfirm Moldova’s strategic goal of European integration</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">This move is yet another empty gesture aimed at maintaining the pretence of Democratic Party’s pro-European image, while also channeling the public debate along geopolitical lines away from pressing social, economic and political issues at home. Yet, it is becoming increasingly apparent, both for Moldovan citizens as well for the more astute observers abroad, that the geopolitical power play between Plahotniuc’s ruling coalition and president Dodon <a href="http://www.euronews.com/2017/10/06/moldovas-leaders-step-up-east-west-tug-of-war">leaves the European Union mostly unimpressed</a>. Through its rhetoric and actions, the party in power is only discrediting the European ideals in Moldova, helping pro-Russian parties strengthen their popular support. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As a leader of a genuinely democratic, pro-European political party, I plead with Moldova’s friends not to give up on democracy in my country</p><p dir="ltr">Moldova is nowhere near graduating from the Council of Europe monitoring mechanism in the field of democracy, human rights and rule of law. During his most recent visit to Moldova, Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, questioned the government’s human rights record, citing the recent tragic death of Andrei Braguța, a man with mental disabilities, in police custody<a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/republic-of-moldova-important-advances-on-addressing-domestic-violence-but-more-progress-needed-in-justice-reform"> as evidence of major systemic failures in the justice system</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">We share the Commissioner’s concern about the lack of public trust in the judiciary being extremely damaging to a democracy. We are also extremely worried about the growing number of cases of politically motivated harassment and intimidation of our fellow party members and supporters in the regions. Law abiding citizens (school teachers and managers, doctors and librarians etc.) are being persecuted for their political views and their civic initiative of joining and supporting the Action and Solidarity Party. We are determined to report all of the government’s abuses in this regards to our international partners.</p><p dir="ltr">In light of the above, last week’s decision by the European Union to <a href="http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/moldova-risks-difficulties-after-eu-funds-cut-10-12-2017">cut the budget support programme for justice reforms</a> in Moldova and, particularly, the suspension of macro-financial assistance is an indication of the government’s lack of real commitment to EU values. But it also serves as a test case for EU’s political conditionality. It vividly highlights to even more Moldovan citizens that the government controlled by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc does not represent the “steady path to Europe” he wants everyone to believe it does. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">As a leader of a genuinely democratic, pro-European political party based on integrity, I plead with Moldova’s friends and partners in the international community not to give up on democracy in my country. Too many Moldovans still hold great hope and are willing to stand up for their country and its democratic future.</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/mihai-popsoi/changing-rules-of-game-in-moldova"> Changing the rules of the game in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">Vlad Plahotniuc: Moldova’s man in the shadows</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/eleanor-knott-mihai-popsoi/our-man-in-moldova-plahotniuc">Our man in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-soloviev/for-moldova-s-journalists-surveillance-is-new-norm">For Moldova’s journalists, surveillance is the new norm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mihai-popsoi/moldova-s-civil-society-braces-for-another-attack">Moldova’s civil society braces for another attack </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stefan-grigori/moldova-s-political-tourists">Moldova’s political tourists</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 Maia Sandu Moldova Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:03:42 +0000 Maia Sandu 114029 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Closure of the European University at St Petersburg: a dead cert? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-dubrovsky/closure-of-european-university-at-st-petersburg-dead-cert <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Dubrovsky_Dmitry.jpg" alt="" width="80" />The attack on this institution is another example of how Russia has chosen to ignore the international community — and how Putin’s political order is changing. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitriy-dubrovskiy/evropeiskiy-universitet">RU</a></strong></em></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/EU 3_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A rally in support of EUSP, St Petersburg. Image: Anna Klepikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Recent events around the European University at St Petersburg — the refusal to grant an education license (accompanied by an openly <a href="https://ria.ru/sn_edu/20171005/1506222634.html">mocking comment</a> by the deputy head of Russia’s education watchdog) as well as the <a href="https://lenta.ru/articles/2017/10/04/eu_spb/">loss of the building</a> that the university has occupied since opening its doors — tells us something that the international academic community has already long warned of: the attack on the European University, a private and internationally-backed postgraduate school with an international reputation, is not a conflict over property ownership.</p><p dir="ltr">Instead, we are dealing with a serious violation of academic rights and freedoms. In March this year, the influential international organisation<a href="https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/"> Scholars at Risk</a> already posted a warning about the threats to the university on its<a href="http://monitoring.academicfreedom.info/reports/2017-03-20-european-university-st-petersburg"> academic freedom monitoring site.</a></p><h2>Total control over education and science</h2><p dir="ltr">Academic rights and freedoms consist of two interdependent elements. On the one hand, they’re about the freedom of teachers and researchers “to teach, research and learn”. On the other, they’re about academic autonomy, guaranteeing a university’s right to decide not only the content but also the form of its teaching.</p><p dir="ltr">It has to be said that the history of academic freedom in Russia is minimal, whereas authoritarian traditions are strong, especially where academic autonomy from the ideological diktat of the state is concerned. Ideally, the state should restrict its oversight of education to the support of fundamental research and the social welfare of students, guaranteeing them not only academic freedom but also the “usual” constitutional rights and freedoms. As for ideology, in a democratic country a university should be a school of civic education with a bit of academic stuff thrown in. A university graduate should be not only a professional in his or her field of study, but a critical thinker and socially responsible citizen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The attack on academic rights and freedoms is a product of the Putin era</p><p dir="ltr">Authoritarian states, on the other hand, have little interest in civic freedoms. They are more interested in maintaining loyalty to the political regime: here, “freedom from politics” is understood as a ban on criticising the authorities and total control over educational and scientific institutions. And those who hold this view see any free thinking that uses the language of analysis and a critical approach to sources instead of ideological clichés as “criticism of the political system”. Hence the moral panic around such banalities as “western ideological aggression” or “a threat to Russia’s unique spirituality”. It wasn’t always like this, however. This attack on academic rights and freedoms is a product of the Putin era.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-EUSPBuildingFacadeProject1859_2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="244" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A new facade for the mansion of A.G.Kushelev-Bezborodko by architect E.Schmidt (1859). Credit: European University at St Petersburg. Free Art License.</span></span></span>Indeed, it was the spheres of education and research where Russia, it seemed, chosen internationalism and active role in the global educational and scientific community at the start of the 1990s: the Bologna Process, aimed at the convergence and harmonisation of higher education systems in Europe; the rivalry over international educational ratings; conversations about the knowledge-driven economy. In 1988, the<a href="http://www.aic.lv/bolona/Bologna/maindoc/magna_carta_univ_.pdf"> Magna Carta Universitatum</a> — a declaration providing a framework for academic freedom and institutional independence from government — was signed by almost 400 heads of universities across Europe, including many in Russia, such as those of Moscow and St Petersburg’s state universities (although the Magna Charta website doesn’t list them as participants in this academic rights and freedoms movement).</p><h2>A fire safety problem</h2><p dir="ltr">The first attack on the European University took place in 2008, when it was accused of “interfering in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation”. The accusation was made at the highest level, making it clear that the university’s desire for innovation and modernisation was inconsistent with the open and democratic nature of this process. Its involvement in an EU funded “Interregional Electoral Support Network” research and training project then triggered an official rebuke in the form of a “fire inspection crisis”: fire inspectors who had previously signed the necessary certificates suddenly discovered a number of serious breaches of health and safety regulations in the university’s venerable building, including a “previously unnoticed” cast iron staircase (installed in 1881) in the front hall. The building was immediately shut down (in the interests of student safety, naturally) and the courts dutifully rubber stamped the fire inspectors’ decision.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/22369029_10155974880574665_781611890_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Terrorising higher education institutes isn't patriotic". Students lay a hose at the city's monument to Mikhail Lomonosov in response to accusations that the EUSP building breaks fire safety regulations. Source: YouTube / Polit.Ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The European University was saved from closure thanks to wide Russian and international support, mostly from the academic community but also from Russian Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin himself. The university also showed that it was ready to make serious compromises, <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/903361">withdrawing from the EU-funded project</a>. The conflict was resolved: the same court that a month earlier refused to listen to the university’s side of the question then ruled that EUSP could continue to function while gradually sorting out the “serious violations”. Making an 18th century palace conform to 21st century health and safety regulations is, after all, not easy.</p><p dir="ltr">That said, even before the crisis, EUSP didn’t stand out among St Petersburg’s educational facilities in terms of violating fire regulations, but afterwards it was certainly the safest educational facility in the city.</p><h2>An international reputation questioned</h2><p dir="ltr">The present crisis around EUSP, which has brought it to near-closure, has also re-activated the question of how this small but very influential and exceptional in all senses educational establishment could have an effect on higher education reform in Russia. If in 2008 it seemed like a storm in a teacup against a background of cooling relations between the EU and Russia, the situation today seems very different. There are, to begin with, two main differences between then and now: the serious decline in Russia’s international reputation and the no less serious change in higher educational trends.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2008, Putin’s Russia still obviously valued its reputation on the global stage. An international scandal, especially one connected with international cooperation in education, would have been pretty inconvenient. But the resolution of the conflict also suited its initiators: all “political activity” was withdrawn from the university and its leadership constantly stressed the “unpolitical” nature of the crisis.</p><p dir="ltr">One element of the 2008 crisis was the obvious unwillingness of its initiators to make it public. But the students of both EUSP and other international universities were equally obviously unhappy with the outcome, and their letters of support provided a direct link between the university’s problems and the politicians. I was studying at the university at the time, and took part in EUSP’s public defence to the best of my ability — among other things, made a joint application for a permit to hold a rally in its defence (the permit was issued, of course, after the crisis had passed).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">A politically-motivated attack is now more difficult to define, but you can’t beat the bureaucracy where abuse of power is concerned</p><p dir="ltr">Law enforcement took an active part in putting pressure on university management, convinced that it was the university’s rector himself that was in charge of the informal student protest. One of the things the students organised was a Shrove Tuesday comedy ushow, which included a specially written short play on the subject of fire regulations and the threatened closure of EUSP, and included a couplet by a “Burgomeister” who threatened: “I won’t allow you to learn/ Subjects that are out of turn / For European cash”. It’s clear from the play that even then there was a political motive behind the “routine” fire inspection: the inspectors were just following the direct instructions of their handlers in the Russian power ministeries, who had also received a clear order to “punish and close”.</p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, the result of this incident was a general belief that administrative procedures are managed: the main thing about this tacit (?) agreement was the proviso that the rector would always deny that there was anything political in what had happened, and in return he would always be able to “come to some arrangement” — which is what indeed happened. It was evidently an essential condition for the conflict to be resolved. And this is still the situation today: a politically-motivated attack is more difficult to define, but you can’t beat the bureaucracy where abuse of power is concerned.</p><p dir="ltr">The increasingly obvious demise of the university is not just a local problem. Sociologist Grigory Yudin <a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/09/29/pochemu-ataka-na-evropeyskiy-universitet-v-peterburge-katastrofa-dlya-rossiyskoy-nauki-i-obrazovaniya">calls</a> the attack on EUSP not just a warning sign for Russia’s universities, but a catastrophe, no matter who is organising it:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“The attack on EUSP is a signal that the state doesn’t take its own development strategy for education seriously and is prepared to destroy those who are effectively implementing the tasks they have been given.”</p><p dir="ltr">The point, however, is that the European University misunderstood the goals and mission of Russian academic and scientific development, or rather, it took them literally.</p><p dir="ltr">When you are looking at a statement of goals and tasks, you must remember good old Soviet habits and read between the lines. And what you find between the lines is a pretty old Russian tradition: modernisation without political reorganisation, or milk skimmed to the point where it is indistinguishable from water. In this situation, when a university tries to implement its officially announced plans, it becomes the object not just of political accusations, but of innumerable inspections. (It’s like the old Dick Francis detective story, <a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/107368/dead-cert/"><em>Dead Cert</em></a>.) While at the same time, the Russian Ministry of Education has recognised EUSP as excellent according to a whole range of criteria that it itself created for higher education leaders.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s telling that EUSP has been accused of “subversive activities” only by an unknown informer, via the leak site <a href="http://okolokremlya.ru/content/4633">“Close to the Kremlin”</a>, though from here the picture of a global plot against Russian science, education and government is more than gloomy. For the author of this “investigation”, EUSP is a foreign-financed think tank that educates the people who will in the future become “agents of influence strongly convinced in the superiority of liberal values and the inferiority of Russia’s governmental system”.</p><p dir="ltr">Attempts to generalise these threats have already been made in a <a href="https://riss.ru/analitycs/5043/">well known 2014 report</a> by the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, written in the form of a direct denunciation of numerous scientific and research facilities, including the highly respected<a href="http://www.levada.ru/en/"> Levada Center</a>. According to the report’s authors, independent research bodies like this are seen as “trendsetters”, so that Russian experts feel they need to be “on trend”. In other words, they try to think along prescribed lines and adjust their opinions to fit these, so that they can maintain their popularity and remain in demand in the media”. For the authors of the report, this is exactly what constitutes “propaganda”, which should be punished as the activity of a “foreign agent”.</p><p dir="ltr">The report, however, for all the coincidences in its accusations, omits any mention of EUSP (possibly because it was written in February 2014, before there was, it seems, any question of the university’s closure).</p><p dir="ltr">In the university community itself, these issues are not normally formulated in such an alarmist manner. Nonetheless, in “ideologically sensitive” faculties such as history or political science, charges of partiality to western sources — i.e. grovelling before the west — are to be frequently heard. The most recent example I know of this are the <a href="https://praktika.ru/articles/culture/spbgu/">accusations</a> against my Smolny Faculty colleague Pavel Kononenko (a fellow-graduate of EUSP), who was accused at St Petersburg State University of “using exclusively foreign material” and having a “pessimistic” view of Russia’s political development, as well as using “politically engaged” textbooks.</p><p dir="ltr">There are many examples of this, but given that EUSP has been refused a teaching licence, it’s hardly a coincidence that Irina Shirokopad, one of the experts who decided not to issue it, has <a href="http://naukarus.com/vospitat-vysokonravstvennoe-pokolenie-spetsialistov-delo-obschee">written</a> the following in one of her research publications:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Certain forces (the so-called “global cabal” and their agents in the US government) have tried to create a unipolar system in the world and, with this in mind, have made every possible attempt to trigger the collapse of the Russian world. During Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, they tried to force an unacceptable value system on our country, mobilising hidden technologies to artificially aggravate tensions within the country, as a zone of their interests — conflict between the older and younger generations, for example, or between members of different religions. With their stooges in Russia’s power structures, they produced permanent reforms in our governmental and education systems and social habits, and used international foundations and NGOs to stir up campaigns for rights and freedoms that were blown totally out of proportion, while they filled young people’s and students’ consciousness with ideas of “liberation from government influence”.</p><p dir="ltr">Given the EUSP’s own history and the general context, it’s hard to imagine that ideas like this have no influence on the expert’s objectivity. In other words, I have a suspicion that both the group of experts in general, and this expert in particular, are a special “expert killer squad” who are essential for using the formal licensing procedure to close down an inconvenient favourite institution in the process of Russian education reform.</p><p dir="ltr">Officially, of course, the whole thing is just “a matter of licensing and observing Russian law” and “nothing to do with politics”. The instigator of the public prosecutor’s inspection, United Russia Duma deputy Vitaly Mironov, sees nothing wrong in the inspections and says that “you just need to work with documents better” — although he has more than once made <a href="https://lenta.ru/articles/2016/12/18/evroagenty/">statements</a> about “students there being made to write essays defending the rights of sexual minorities and other devils and demons”. And another St Petersburg politician, Andrey Anokhin, a city council deputy, wrote in the <a href="https://lenta.ru/articles/2017/10/04/eu_spb/">denunciation</a> he sent to the public prosecutor’s office that “the university’s website promotes western values”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia has already decided to ignore international public opinion. The possible demise of one, however respected institution will do little to further worsen the Putin regime’s international reputation</p><p dir="ltr">Comparing the crises of 2008 and today shows how the nature of the Putin regime has changed somewhat. In 2008, questions of “ideological security” were in conflict with concerns over international reputation and the desire to maintain contact with the west — and this made protests by the international academic community quite effective. Now, our post-Crimea situation makes such protests (EUSP has received <a href="https://eu.spb.ru/news?filter_40=support_letters">dozens of letters of support</a>) irrelevant. Russia has already decided to ignore international public opinion. The possible demise of one, however respected institution will do little to further worsen the Putin regime’s international reputation.</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, the fact that in 2008 there was a single (and predictable) line of attack against EUSP (the fire inspection), plus the presence of a single “organiser”, meant that this conflict could be resolved. The person who gave the command to “destroy” then went and retracted it. In our present state of affairs, there seems to be no such central authority. Instead, there are more interested parties who are united, it appears, only by Putin’s obvious refusal to intervene directly. Given the logic of the situation, perhaps the regime has changed to the extent that Putin can no longer become involved in the conflict, according to the logic that “the vassal of my vassal is not my vassal”.</p><p dir="ltr">The case of the European University in St Petersburg is yet another example of how Russia is entering a <a href="http://www.nlobooks.ru/node/8393">“new Middle Ages”</a>. As everyone knows, a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, but one that is fast or slow never does. After Crimea, the Putin regime’s clock is showing yesterday’s time.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></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/polina-aronson-tatyana-dvornikova/european-university-at-st-petersburg-no-license-to-learn">The European University at St Petersburg: no license to learn? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">Cuts, cuts, cuts: the life and times of Russia’s university teachers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-pisarenko/raiding-in-russias-education">Raiding in Russia’s education system is causing the death of professional education</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 Dmitry Dubrovsky Russia Education Sat, 14 Oct 2017 04:38:37 +0000 Dmitry Dubrovsky 113991 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Yulia Galyamina: “Party politics has exhausted itself” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-rebrov/yulia-galyamina <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Yulia Galyamina is a newly elected municipal councillor in Moscow. I asked her about networked protest, party discipline and her plans for the future. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitriy-rebrov/yuliya-galyamina" 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/Galyamina_12-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Galyamina_12-1.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'>Yulia Galyamina is a civil activist, politician, teacher of philology and journalism. Photo: Julia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Today, oDR begins a series of interviews with Russian independent politicians and civic figures. Dmitry Rebrov opens this series with an interview with Yulia Galyamina, an active participant in the movement against the Moscow renovation project and a recently-elected municipal deputy in Timiryazevsky district, Moscow. </em></p><p dir="ltr">Yulia Galyamina has something of an activist past. A humanities lecturer at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics, Galyamina has worked on the problems of Russia’s education system as part of the<a href="https://www.dissernet.org/"> Dissernet</a> project, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bill-bowring/putins-dissertation-and-revenge-of-runet">exposes plagiarism inside the academy</a>, organised a <a href="http://mundepschool.ru/">school of local self-government</a>, fought against illegal property development at Moscow’s <a href="http://carnegie.ru/2017/05/02/defending-one-s-backyard-local-civic-activism-in-moscow-pub-69822">Dubki park</a> and ran for parliament as a candidate from the Yabloko party in 2016. Like others in the Russian opposition, Galyamina has also experienced her fair share of pressure. For instance, at the Moscow anti-corruption rally on 12 June, police officers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/06/12/aktivistku-yuliyu-galyaminu-i-ee-muzha-izbili-policeyskie-ona-v-bolnice">beat up Galyamina and her husband</a>, and she was diagnosed with a closed skull trauma as a result.</p><p dir="ltr">Still, Galyamina remains active. In September 2017, she won a seat at the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/towards-a-different-city">Moscow municipal elections</a>, becoming a deputy on the Timiryazevsky district council. These elections didn’t happen without a scandal, however: the district election committee falsified the election results, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1700782119964326&amp;id=100000976634979">depriving</a> independent candidates of one seat. Galyamina is now trying to protest the committee’s decision in court.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Most national media have already called the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/towards-a-different-city">victory of independent candidates</a> at the Moscow municipal elections a “triumph of the Gudkov team”, in reference to Dmitry Gudkov, a Russian opposition leader. Do you agree with this interpretation?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">To view these events as if they’re orchestrated by one or even two people doesn’t make sense. This is a primitive approach, and it’s connected with the inertia of our perceptions about the “vertical” nature of power. In reality, the results at the municipal elections were a victory of those civic activists, leaders of local protest groups, participants in the mass “grassroots” protest who have made their voices heard in recent years. It is their victory. And I’d like to thank everybody who helped them.</p><p dir="ltr">Maxim Kats and Dmitry Gudkov, as well as other projects such as School of Local Self-Governance, the Open Elections project, the Candidate’s Personal Advisor, did a lot for the result. But then they took advantage of the situation in order to put their brand on the candidates. That’s a matter for their consciences, there’s no point in arguing about it now.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So where have these local communities and civic groups we’re talking about come from?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">For Muscovites, self-organisation at some point became a matter of survival. The state ran out of funds, and it began to infringe on the interests of citizens more and more aggressively: tearing up parks, taking away car parks, cutting back on healthcare provision. And when the state started to “step on people’s heels”, they instantly woke up. </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/564053/17.09.27_web-004.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/17.09.27_web-004.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'>Photo: Julia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>We saw the Torfyanka protest, groups of deceived mortgage-holders, people with foreign credit, people waiting for social housing, car owners, long-distance truck drivers, groups against the construction of advertising hoardings and churches. With time, they began to build horizontal connections and a networked structure emerged, mutual assistance. If no one defends your rights, you have to defend them yourself.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your political career began with a small group of district activists who came together around protecting Dubki park in Moscow, which the city administration signed over for development to a commercial developer. After the scandal with the Moscow “renovation”, many in the Russian press have started talking about a second wave of protests after Bolotnaya. You’re at the centre of this story. How does this new round of protest differ from the “White Ribbon” era?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There won’t be a second wave, and we don’t need one. First, the story with Dubki is long over. That part of the park that we were fighting to protect was, in the end, developed anyway. Second, it’s clear that neither the Dubki protest, nor the Moscow renovation protest were in any way like the White Ribbon protest. And definitely not the second round of it. These are two completely different processes, which might somehow connected to one another, but very lightly. Moreover, we won’t see any more protests with 100,000 people out on the streets. Even against the Moscow renovation project.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps young people will come out for Alexey Navalny, but only out of lack of experience — because it seems to them that you can still achieve something with public rallies.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Now people are starting to think in concrete terms and are making an effort to take power — at that level, of course, which they can</p><p dir="ltr">What were the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">protests of 2011-2012</a>? It was about emotions. The explosion of emotions of an outraged class that was used by national politicians and people close to politics in order to take over the movement. There were a lot of slogans, but there was no programme of action.</p><p dir="ltr">Now people are starting to think in concrete terms and are making an effort to take power — at that level, of course, which they can. For example, in Moscow and other big regional centres, in the Urals and Siberia.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Indeed, in Moscow, it’s the local protest groups who have become the alternative to “big” party politics. Why do you think this is?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The old parties are too cumbersome, inflexible. They’ve stopped being able to answer the challenges of the era. It’s easier for the state to put pressure on them, and in general it’s very hard to use force against a networked community. How can you pressure people who aren’t connected by a single institute? You can put down one local leader, but someone will take their place without harming the cause.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So Russia’s party system has exhausted itself?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This is an evolutionary process. When the dinosaurs died out, mammals appeared, and the mammoths were slightly smaller in size. I’m sure that big party politics in Russia, in the form it’s existed over the past 20 years, has definitely exhausted itself.</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/564053/17.09.27_web-032.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/17.09.27_web-032.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'>Photo: Julia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Parties should become service organisations for local leaders. Their task is to serve politicians, formulate common goals and coordinate. In the 2000s, our parliamentary parties didn’t do this. Russian opposition parties could have become the kind of organisations with resources at some point, but they didn’t cope with this task.</p><p dir="ltr">For a long time, the opposition has been working on any old rubbish, organising “marches of dissenters”, walking around the streets… You shouldn’t think that I’m not for public rallies, I am, but you have to understand that protest is a tool. What were those “marches of dissenters” for? They simply didn’t work.</p><p dir="ltr">Now we have a significant amount of independent leaders who don’t really need parties. And if all political parties operating in our country just disappeared, nothing much would change, on the whole, for those leaders I just mentioned.</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/Timehascome_graffiti.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Timehascome_graffiti.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"We are waiting for changes!", Graffiti in Moscow, 2012. Photo CC-by-2.0: Evgeny Isaev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There have been local “revolts” before, including in Russia’s regions — after the Russian state banned righthand drive cars, after the state monetised welfare privileges, against property development…</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Back then, there was no organising infrastructure, no understanding how protests should work. Now there’s been a change of generation. An ideology of grassroots politicisation has emerged, and there’s organisations that can structure local protest.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You mentioned Siberia and the Urals, but there we haven’t seen the same kind of effect that local protest has had in Moscow.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The poorer people live, the less resources they have for self-organisation. There’s a metaphor: after the sanctions against Russia began, a struggle between the “television” and the “refrigerator” began. But that’s a myth. The refrigerator and the television, as a rule, either both win at the same time, or both lose, but always together.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>It seems to me that Russia’s old vertically integrated parties, including the liberal parties, were parties that followed the Leninist model. That is, they thought of themselves as a kind of avant-garde, sending their activists to meet “the people” in order to lead a passive electorate which was, in essence, unable to self-organise… Now everything has changed, and now the other side has the initiative.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">You know, at the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s everything was quite different. Where did Boris Nemtsov come from, for instance? Which party put him forward? Who sent him? The party system that we’re discussing — and which I’m criticising — formed later. But as soon as it did form, it basically ossified instantly.</p><p dir="ltr">What’s happening now, by the way, looks a lot like what was happening in Russia during the late 1980s. The victory of independent candidates at the Moscow municipal elections is, in some sense, analogous to the first “democrats” who made their way into the Gorbachev-era city councils. The only difference is that there was mass enthusiasm back in the 1980s, rather than the apathy of today.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">What’s happening now, by the way, looks a lot like what was happening in Russia during the late 1980s</p><p dir="ltr">There was a lot of disappointed people back in 1990 and 1991, a lot of cynicism. Looking back today, it seems that everything was so one-sided. I’d say that today we’re seeing the emergence of politics itself once again.</p><p dir="ltr">But this can all end at any moment — if local grassroots leaders who’ve been elected to the municipal councils suddenly demonstrate that they are unable to do anything, that they cannot become a political force. And moreover, if it turns out that they won’t be closer to their fellow citizens than the old politicians — because then people will turn away from then. And that will be the worst thing. We’re pioneers, the first people to discover huge new political continents, and we bear a huge responsibility for that.</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/Galyamina_Yuliya.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Galyamina_Yuliya.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Julia Galyamina urges Moscow residents to take part in the protest on May 27 and 28 against the plans of the Moscow government to begin a mass demolition of five-storey buildings. Photo: Нeadquarter / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>I want to ask you about responsibility. We agreed not to discuss Maxim Kats, but there’s already a split emerging in the municipal council of Moscow’s Khamovniki district, which Kats is very actively involved in.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Independent candidates took the majority of seats in Khamovniki, and yes, there is a split there because certain deputies belong to Kats’ “team”, and others don’t. The non-Kats people have a candidate for district council chairperson, Alexandra Parushina, an old activist Whereas Kats’ team has their own candidate.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And why doesn’t Parushina suit Kats?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">He doesn’t want Parushina as head of the council mostly because he doesn’t control her.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But he controls his own people?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes. For many people, Maxim Kats is an authority, and they obey him. I don’t know why he needs to have all that control. But the issue is that Kats is actively involved in the process of appointing the heads of local self-governance structures like a kind of grey cardinal. He’s visited council meetings in other districts, as far as I know.</p><p dir="ltr">You could say that among the 300 independent Moscow councillors there’s real district activists and local leaders who have been elected by themselves, and then there’s people who came out of nowhere, people who were chosen by Kats off the street, without any experience. Moreover, there’s a certain number of deputies — quite a few actually — who used to be activists, but then took advantage of the services of the Kats team.</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/564053/17.09.27_web-001_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/17.09.27_web-001_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'>Photo: Julia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In Moscow's Eastern Degunino district, for example, someone with two convictions for breaking and entering ran from Kats team, the communists ran their own candidate instead. Both sides lost in the end, and not one independent candidate made it through.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why take inexperienced people into the district councils?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Well, this is quite simple. For Kats and Gudkov, the municipal elections were a technical issue. Gudkov plans to run for the Moscow mayoral elections next September, he needs to get through the<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-filters-out-competition-regional-elections/28685869.html"> “municipal filter”</a>. If you look at local self-governance only from that angle, then what difference does it make who’s going to be a councillor?</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>By the way, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) failed these municipal elections on the whole.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">That’s right, and Yabloko only managed a decent result thanks to Emilia Slabunova, who thinks in the right way: from the bottom up, and not the other way round… It’s a different matter than those who won seats, even those who ran on party lists, are now talking about ourselves as an independent force. A force that doesn’t want to come together into organisations with a bureaucracy and budget.</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/564053/17.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/17.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Julia Koroleva. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You recently held a congress of independent councillors. Were there candidates “from Kats” there?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, but for us the congress wasn’t about Kats. The congress is an attempt to build horizontal connections between the district councils. Roughly 100 people took part. We came to an agreement on coordinating our legislative efforts, on creating our own Council of Municipal Formations of Moscow in counterbalance to the official one. But this is already politics.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You mean something like the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrograd_Soviet"> Petrograd Council</a> of 100 years ago? That is, a kind of alternative power vertical?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, but one that acts within the limit of the law. This council, as I see it, could become a driver of positive changes in our city.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Moving on to personal matters, you used to be an academic, quietly working on Siberian languages…</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’m still an academic today. But I never worked on Siberian languages quietly. I was always switching between activism and research.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>For many of those involved in the truck driver protests, their long protest at Khimki ended in divorce…</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ah, you’re talking about my husband, right?</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Yes, I mean, surely he used to have a normal life!</strong></p><p dir="ltr">He’s never had a normal life! [Laughs] I came to political journalism in 2003 when our child was one year old, and we’d been married for two and a half… So he’s used to the fact that I’m always being detained, beaten. He spent his last birthday in the local election committee building, it was the height of the municipal elections, and the first person to congratulate him was the secretary of the electoral committee, not his wife. He understands that all this isn’t for nothing.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>I noticed that you have this “STOP Communism” sticker on your office door.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Our local communists are always telling me to take it down, but I don’t. These are my beliefs. And all the same, I know that they’re my best allies, I can always rely on them, and they – on me.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">People need to come together not as part of a party brand — communists there, liberals here — but to fight a concrete battle</p><p dir="ltr">People need to come together not as part of a party brand — communists there, liberals here — but to fight a concrete battle, which speaks to the real interests of the communities that elected them. Otherwise, we’ll end up in never-ending arguments without achieving anything.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But what about their attitude to Stalin, for example?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">That’s also important, but at the municipal level, the question is simple: do you vote for a member of United Russia to be head of the district council or not? This is what’s important, as this is a political action. What your opinion on history and the rulers of the 20th century is, well, that doesn’t really matter.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But what about party discipline? Particularly when it comes to those who have ran as party candidates?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’ve seen how people choose which flags to run under. They had to take a photograph of themselves for leaflets and they were discussing: “Oh, Yabloko has this photographer, KPRF has this one, and so on. Who takes the best photos? KPRF? Then let’s join them!” In this situation, “party discipline” and everything that our political dinosaurs are used to — this is just archaic.</p><p dir="ltr">Yes, a party is an effective instrument if you have a national agenda. Partially because our legislation is written for parties. But local leaders don’t have this kind of agenda. Perhaps with time it will emerge.</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/ivan-davydov/towards-a-different-city">Oops! How Moscow’s municipal election turned into a headache for city hall</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/viktoria-lomasko/green-shoots-of-russian-grassroots-activism">The green shoots of Russian grassroots activism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rinat-miftahov/inside-tomsk-political-machine">Inside Tomsk’s political machine </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-lev-gudkov/dissent-in-russia-festival-of-disobedience">Dissent in Russia: a festival of disobedience?</a> </div> <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/aronson-kozlov-tereshenkov/beyond-bolotnaya-future-of-russia-s-civil-society">Beyond Bolotnaya: the future of Russia’s civil society</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 russia Dmitry Rebrov Russia Fri, 13 Oct 2017 22:26:35 +0000 Dmitry Rebrov 113981 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia's anti-corruption protests: detentions, detentions, detentions https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russias-anti-corruption-protests-detentions-detentions-detentions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The pressure on Russian individiuals and organisations involved in anti-corruption rallies continues.&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/court.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="238" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>We continue our partnership with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ovdinfo.org/">OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we bring you the latest information on freedom of assembly.&nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This week, we report on what happened over the weekend of 7-8 October and the aftermath in terms of arrests, fines and jail sentences.</p><p dir="ltr">On 7 October, supporters of Alexey Navalny held events in 79 Russian cities. Jointly with Meduza, we have <a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/10/10/7-oktyabrya-protestnaya-karta-gde-i-skolko-lyudey-vyshlo-skolko-zaderzhali">made</a> an interactive map of the protests. According to our data, between 2,560 and 21,520 people took part in the various protests. In total, the number of those detained was 321 in 30 cities; some of the activists were detained before the start of the protests. &nbsp;<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />The interactive map shows how many people took part in the protests, whether the rallies had official permission or not, how many people were detained, and in addition the various specifics of how each rally was held. You can <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">tell the story of your own detention</a> by using the form on our website (click on the megaphone in the top righthand corner) or add to the information about detentions on the map if we have missed something.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>What’s most important&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">In Moscow, during the protests one person was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/07/v-moskve-zaderzhali-uchastnika-akcii-7-oktyabrya?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">detained</a>. He was released without charge. An activist was also <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/07/v-moskve-zaderzhan-voditel-mashiny-kotoraya-ezdila-po-tverskoy-s?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">detained</a> driving a car broadcasting a recording of a speech by Navalny on loudspeakers. The activist was charged with violating the regulations governing public events, and then released.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">The more serious events in Moscow began later that night. Some protesters decided to continue the protest on Manezh Square. Altogether that night and the next day (8 October) <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/10/08/zaderzhaniya-na-manezhnoy-ploshchadi-i-u-gosdumy-posle-vserossiyskoy-akcii-7-i-8?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">64 people were detained</a> on Manezh Square and outside the State Duma<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />In St Petersburg, arrests began on the evening of 7 October on <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/07/v-peterburge-na-liteynom-prospekte-nachalis-zaderzhaniya?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Liteiny Prospekt</a>, where the protesters had gone from the Field of Mars. The journalist David Frenkel was beaten (later he was released) and a woman who tried to defend him was badly injured by a blow to the head.</p><p dir="ltr">Altogether there were several waves of detentions of protesters in the centre of St Petersburg. At least 68 people were taken to a minimum of five different police stations. Most of those detained were released before nightfall.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">Late on the evening of 8 October some Navalny supporters went to Palace Square where a total of 20 people were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/08/v-peterburge-na-dvorcovoy-ploshchadi-policiya-zaderzhivaet-uchastnikov-akcii?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">arrested</a>. On 9 October courts sentenced some of those detained to <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/10/09/sudy-nad-zaderzhannymi-v-sankt-peterburge?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">jail terms</a> ranging from three to 17 days. Kalininsky district court jailed one of those arrested for 32 days. Other protesters were fined or sentenced to community work. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/08/sk-vozbudil-ugolovnoe-delo-posle-opozdaniya-skoroy-pomoshchi-vo-vremya-akcii?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">criminal investigation</a> was launched following the dispersal of the protests in St. Petersburg when an ambulance was unable to reach a woman, as a result of the numbers of people gathered in the city centre, and she subsequently died.</p><p dir="ltr">In Yaroslavl, on the evening of 7 October police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/07/v-shtaby-navalnogo-v-peterburge-i-yaroslavle-prishla-policiya?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">arrived at the local Navalny campaign headquarters</a>. During the rally itself two people were detained. Other protesters went to the police station to support those detained. The police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/07/v-yaroslavle-zaderzhano-neskolko-desyatkov-storonnikov-navalnogo?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">took them</a> into the station (more than 50 people) and forced them to listen to a talk. Finally, administrative charges were brought against four people for violating the regulations governing public events and for failing to obey the lawful demands of police. They were held in the police station overnight.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />In Ekaterinburg, 14 people were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/07/v-ekaterinburge-nachalis-massovye-zaderzhaniya-na-akcii-7-oktyabrya?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">arrested</a>. A chokehold was used against one of the protesters, Ruslan Markelov, at the time of his arrest, as a result of which he lost consciousness. The bicycle of another protester was stolen on the square where the rally took place, but the police dismissed this as of no significance.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Еven before the start of the protests, preventive detentions of Navalny campaign staff and activists had taken place in many cities. Detailed accounts of the circumstances in which the protests took place throughout Russia can be read <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/10/10/7-8-oktyabrya-kak-proshli-vyhodnye?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">here</a>. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Information about the various court hearings that took place can be read <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/10/09/sudy-nad-uchastnikami-akciy-v-podderzhku-navalnogo-7-i-8-oktyabrya-rossiya?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">here</a>. This information is being regularly updated. At the current time, in relation to the protests held on 7 and 8 October throughout Russia, activists have been fined a total of 1,040,000 roubles and sentenced to 166 days in jail and 410 hours of community work.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Moscow City Court <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/10/11/prigovor-v-25-goda-kolonii-uchastniku-akcii-12-iyunya-rasimu-iskakovu?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">upheld</a> the two-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed down to Rasim Iskakov, a participant in the 12 June anti-corruption protest.</p><p dir="ltr">The whereabouts of film director Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced on trumped-up charges of organising acts of terrorism in Crimea, is now known. We have published his <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/10/11/garantiruyut-polyarnuyu-noch-i-severnoe-siyanie?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">letter</a> to Chelyabinsk human rights defenders. Among other things, you can read in his letter about the Northern Lights, the great Russian rivers and about the pros and cons of using the services of prison tour operators.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />A judgment in the case of Dmitry Krepkin, a defendant in the “26 March case,” will soon be issued. We publish <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/10/13/delo-dmitriya-krepkina-minimum-tri-narusheniya?utm_source=rightsinrussia&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">extracts</a> from the complaints made by his lawyer to the court about the more serious violations in the case.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>Thank you!</h2><p>&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Our thanks to everyone who continues to support our work. Find out how you can help us <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</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><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/dmitry-rebrov/yulia-galyamina">Yulia Galyamina: “Party politics has exhausted itself”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ovd-info/for-once-since-2012-no-one-charged-in-russias-bolotnaya-square-case-is-officially-in-prison">For once, no one charged in Russia&#039;s Bolotnaya Square case is officially in prison</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-pisarenko/raiding-in-russias-education">Raiding in Russia’s education system is causing the death of professional education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/daniil-dugum/sacrificial-roosters-and-offended-feelings">Sacrificial roosters and offended feelings </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 Russia Fri, 13 Oct 2017 12:50:22 +0000 OVD-Info 113998 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Screen%20Shot%202017-10-13%20at%2010.jpg" alt="Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 10.jpg" width="80" />My husband was kidnapped on the streets of Tbilisi and ended up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. Four months on, I’ve got no answers — only more questions.</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/555493/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.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'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Author's personal archive. </span></span></span>Four months have now passed since my husband, the Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">abducted from Tbilisi</a> and illegally delivered into the hands of the Azerbaijani government. Initially, this case was investigated by Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Now it is under the purview of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia. But despite the efforts of these two state agencies, the Georgian authorities have still not released any finding related to my husband’s abduction. I’m not sure they ever seriously intended to.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan fled to Georgia in January 2015 as a result of prosecution against him. In late 2014, he conducted a series of investigations into <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/3626/">high-level corruption in the Azerbaijani army</a> and other state agencies. When Afgan moved to Georgia, he started to investigate the investments of Azerbaijan’s ruling family, the Aliyevs, in Georgia — he was the first Azerbaijani journalist to do so. As Afgan revealed, the first family of Azerbaijan, namely <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/8759/">Ilham Aliyev’s daughters Arzu and Leyla Aliyeva</a> have<a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/society/9330/"> a stake</a> in Georgia’s banking sector. The family also own tourism and cargo companies operating in Georgia. My husband’s last article was about politically motivated abductions that he faced four months after publication.</p><p dir="ltr">Recently, we met with some investigators in the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding Afgan’s abduction case. The investigators said that they have sent CCTV videos for forensic examination in order to identify car license plate numbers involved in the abduction — several videos are of low quality and were recorded from a distance. I told the investigators that they don’t need to make their job too difficult.</p><p dir="ltr">As Afgan has <a href="http://1tv.ge/en/news/view/163596.html">said</a>, several Georgian-speaking men wearing Georgian police uniforms detained him on Niaghvari Street in central Tbilisi, beat him in a car on adjoining Ukleba Street in front of a small grocery shop, then turned the car back to Niaghvari Street, drove up to Daniel Chonqadze Street and took him through Shio Chitadze street where Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Italian Embassy are situated. These ministry and embassy buildings both have high resolution cameras. Investigators can easily see the license plate numbers of the cars from these videos. The investigation has to look into the car which transported Afgan to Chitadze Street.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office</span></p><p dir="ltr">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office, which continues to press trumped-up charges against Afgan. The current investigation in Azerbaijan claims that Afgan, currently in jail in Baku, crossed the Azerbaijani border illegally, smuggled €10,000 and attacked an Azerbaijani border service official. Here, Georgia is caught between two dilemmas. The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office cannot “prove” whether Afgan Mukhtarli crossed the border illegally or was abducted. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When the investigation was under the control of the Georgian police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that CCTV under the control of the police were switched off during the hours when abduction happened. The police had already <a href="http://iphronline.org/repression-beyond-borders-exiled-azerbaijanis-georgia.html">intruded and doctored CCTV videos from private businesses</a>, as the Rustavi 2 television channel has reported. </p><p dir="ltr">Ten days after the allegation about the involvement of Georgian police officers in Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction, the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Besik Amiranashvili, who heads up the Georgian police, was <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/77651">dismissed</a> from his post without any explanation. Then, later, the Head of Georgia’s Border Police and Chief of Georgian Counter Intelligence Agency were<a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng"> dismissed</a> from their posts temporarily. Georgia’s Interior Minister <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng">stressed</a> this step was taken to “exclude any questions in the case”. However, we still haven’t been able to find answers to our questions.</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/images-cms-image-000033736_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afghan Mukhtarli has been charged with smuggling in Baku after being kidnapped in Tbilisi. Image: <a href=www.meydan.tv>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>Dismissing these officials on its own does not make any sense. Afgan claims that he was forced to cross the border checkpoint without his passport. Actually, the border police officials who allowed it should have been immediately involved in the investigation, interrogated and necessary measures implemented. But this didn’t happen.</p><p dir="ltr">Before 22 July, when the Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office took the case under investigation, we had already submitted photographs of the people who had followed Afgan prior to his abduction, but the police did not identify these people. They only surfaced after we published their photos on social media.</p><p dir="ltr">Georgian police investigators informed us that the recording mechanism of the border checkpoint CCTV did not work during the hours when the abduction happened. Then, after four months, the videos from border check point somehow “surfaced”. The Prosecutor’s Office stated (but did not show us) that they have the relevant border checkpoint videos in their possession and that there is no evidence of violence and abduction.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">Regarding the videos of the unknown people who surveilled Afgan and his friend Dashqin Aghalarli, an Azerbaijani opposition activist in exile in Tbilisi, investigators from the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office said that about four months had passed and they can not obtain videos from private businesses as they have been deleted.</p><p dir="ltr">The criminal case on Afgan’s abduction was launched after I made a complaint to the Georgian police in reference to Article 143.1 (Illegal limitation of freedom) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. We demand that Articles 143.2, 143.3, 143.4 also be added into the criminal case: the crime has been committed by taking the victim abroad with a prior agreement by a group using violence. This is about more than just the illegal deprivation of freedom.</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mULfXgJWJgE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p dir="ltr"><br />Neither Afgan, nor myself have yet been granted official victim status. Legally, this means that no one has suffered, and the abduction is not a serious crime. Georgian investigators claim there is not enough evidence to add the above articles to the criminal case. And unless these articles are added to the criminal case materials, none of us can be granted victim status. Neither I, nor my legal counsel have yet been able to read the criminal case materials relating to Afgan’s abduction in full.</p><p dir="ltr">The surveillance of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Azerbaijani dissidents living in Georgia</a> continues even after Afgan’s abduction — indeed, <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-muxtarli-wife-mustafayeva-flees-georgia/28789847.html" target="_blank">I have now left Georgia due to concerns for my safety</a>. On 29 June, in a Tbilisi café, an unknown man placed a laptop bag on the sofa as soon as I left my seat to visit the bathroom. The video that we watched in the Prosecutor’s Office showed that this man approached the table, put the bag on the sofa and left the place. It is obvious that he put the bag on the sofa by purpose.</p><p dir="ltr">But the investigators started to defend this individual, saying that he is a solid person, a professor who speaks multiple languages. I found it interesting that this “polyglot professor” was walking around Tbilisi with an empty bag and, when I asked him “Whose bag is this?”, could not find any language to respond. He just explained me with gestures that the bag belonged him, grabbed the bag from my hands and moved away extremely quickly.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20156047_1794766803871955_5385920858339400145_n.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'>22 July, 2017: Leyla Mustafayeva and others protest the detentions of Azerbaijani journalists in Tbilisi. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>I checked the above bag when I took it in my hands and it was empty. I suspected that there could have been a listening device inside — why else would someone have placed the bag near a table where complete strangers were sitting? He placed the bag on the sofa so professionally that Dashqin Aghalarli, Afgan’s friend who was also sitting at the table, didn’t notice him — he was busy on his mobile phone.</p><p dir="ltr">Surveillance intensified after Azerbaijani’s Ministry of Interior Affairs <a href="http://en.axar.az/news/society/196126.html">visited</a> Georgia in early August. We delivered the photos and videos of the men whom we suspected of following us again when I was out walking with Dashqin Aghalarli and my four–year-old daughter. We wrote to the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding this surveillance on 7 August, 2017. Two months on, they have not yet identified them.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As to the people who followed Afghan, Dashqin, I and Rahim Shaliyev, one of the witnesses who saw Afgan last, on 19 September <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1859508930731075&amp;set=a.108657322482920.16377.100000159571507&amp;type=3">I published their photographs on Facebook</a> in order to identify them. These men then surfaced as a result. Before then, the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office had no information about them. We provided the Georgian investigators with their names.</p><p dir="ltr">The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office does not have Afgan’s testimony. They claim they have applied to Azerbaijani Chief Prosecutor’s Office to interrogate him. However, no response has been received, investigators claim. This month, when the OSCE Media Representative Harlem Desir visited Georgia, the First Vice-Speaker of Georgia Tamar Chugoshvili <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/455547-eutho-s-tsarmomadgeneli-mediis-thavisuflebis-sakithkhebshi-thamar-chugoshvilthan-shekhvedrisas-afgan-mukhtharlis-saqmith-dainteresda.html">stated </a>that the results of the investigation into the abduction also depend on the Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan. However, the Georgian side has not carried out a proper investigation. The abduction happened on Georgian territory. Afgan claims that the group of people who abducted him were reporting to someone occasionally in Georgian. These people beat and tortured him by putting a bag on his head. They wore Georgian police uniforms. Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As it happens, Azerbaijan’s Channel One and Elman Nasirov, an Azerbaijani MP, have answered some of these questions, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/azerbaijani-mp-georgian-intel-abduction-48710">saying</a> that Afgan Mukhtarli was brought to Azerbaijan as a result of a joint operation of the special forces of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Georgian State Security Service <a href="http://ssg.gov.ge/en/news/248/saxelmtsifo-usafrtxoebis-samsaxuris-gancxadeba">denies</a> this. </p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s abduction has led to grave consequences for Georgia. There is now a <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0267+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN">Resolution of the European Parliament</a> on this case, a <a href="https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/06/271551.htm">statement of the US Department of State</a> and statements by other European institutions. Indeed, the resolution of the<a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=P8-RC-2017-0414&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN"> European Parliament</a> says that the Georgian authorities have to clarify beyond doubt all suspicion regarding the involvement of Georgian state agents in the forced disappearance of Afghan. Any illegal act committed in order to maintain a good relationship with Azerbaijan or violate the rights of a foreign citizen means that Georgia’s current government is ready to violate the rule of law in the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-tyrants-reach-knows-no-borders/2017/09/28/b95f9946-a2e9-11e7-b14f-f41773cd5a14_story.html?utm_term=.42a83d94afe2">interest of a tyrant</a>. Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">The more this investigation is slowed down, the more suspicion arises regarding the involvement of Georgian officials in the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli, who today sits in pre-trial detention in Azerbaijan.&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/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/casey-michel/eurasia-incredible-spin-men-press">The rearguard battle against Eurasia’s incredible spin-men</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 Leyla Mustafayeva Human rights Georgia Azerbaijan Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:15:35 +0000 Leyla Mustafayeva 113986 at https://www.opendemocracy.net No way out for bloggers in Ukraine’s Donbas https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/no-way-out-for-bloggers-in-ukraine-s-donbas <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/13631576_10210200367591722_204667795520323865_n_0.jpg" alt="" width="80" />In Ukraine’s occupied Donbas region, bloggers — some of the only reliable sources of information left — are feeling the pressure from all sides. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexey-matsuka/zaghatye-so-vseh-storon" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/177505_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/177505_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The fate of the Donetsk blogger Stanislav Vasin remains unknown. He was last seen on 2 June. Image courtesy of the OSCE. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The situation with press freedom in the territories not under Ukraine’s control hasn’t been surprising for a long time. The new authorities liquidated independent local and commercial media offices for their lack of loyalty to the new formation known as the “Donetsk People’s Republic”. The region’s main newspapers, such as <em>Donbas</em>, <em>Evening Donetsk</em>, <em>Donetsk News</em>, and the television channels Donbas, First Municipal and K61 left Donetsk back in 2014. Since then, the city’s media environment has been chilled by censorship overseen by the “Ministry of Information of the Donetsk People’s Republic” (which employs over 100 people).&nbsp;</p><p>Today, censors read all newspapers before publication. Television channels agree on their broadcasts with a controlling body, and bloggers have to be registered with the “Ministry of Communication”. This leaves just two relatively reliable sources of information in these two territories in eastern Ukraine: foreign journalists who come to Donetsk for a short trip and local citizen journalists — those bloggers and professional journalists who lost their job during the initial stage of the conflict.&nbsp;</p><p>There is, it should be said, one more source of information: the local opposition to Alexander Zakharchenko, head of the “DNR”. While these people are ideological supporters of the “<a href="https://codastory.com/lgbt-crisis/frontiers-of-the-russian-world" target="_blank">Russian world”</a> idea and the separation of Donbas from Ukraine, they criticise the actions of the current leadership in Donetsk. You can trust their information, but only so far. This category of bloggers have their own agenda and are fighting to increase their own power in the region.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Many involved in media in the “DNR” have no alternative. They are forced to revolve around the circle of spin and propaganda without any hope of help from the outside world&nbsp;</p><p>At the end of summer 2017, we saw the publication of different coloured lists for journalists working in Donetsk. If a media professional appears on the yellow list, they’re neutral; on the orange list, they require the attention of “state security”; and if they’re on the red list, they need to be detained or deported. This logic is also applied to the region’s bloggers. There are different methods (described back in 2015 by “DNR” officials) for dealing with political activists and those who criticise the Donetsk authorities. Every district had to send lists of critical individuals to higher authorities. But it’s not completely clear whether this practice of searching for dissenters is still in operation today.&nbsp;</p><p>Journalists who work in media outlets supporting the breakaway authorities do not admit that censorship officially operates in the uncontrolled territories. For example, this is what Valery Gerlanets, editor of the <em>DNR Herald</em>, <a href="https://youtu.be/VCgw7Hly6Ks?t=3m56s" target="_blank">says</a>:&nbsp;</p><p class="blockquote-new">“According to the law, we don’t have censorship in our republic. But there is internal censorship, which requires newspaper pages to look good, high quality illustrations — censorship that works towards a result, a quality product for readers… If there are some cases [of censorship] — and they are inevitable because of personal interference — I and a series of other comrades from the department of print media look at the newspaper pages to avoid these cases [of censorship] and give readers a quality product.”&nbsp;</p><p>When Gerlanets talks about “comrades”, he is referring to employees of the “Ministry of Information”. There is a <a href="http://mininfo.dnr-online.ru/?page_id=66" target="_blank">special department</a> inside this “Ministry” that controls “state media” (and in Donetsk that means practically all media).&nbsp;</p><p>Despite the high level of loyalty among employees of this “state media” to power structures in Donetsk, we still saw the appearance of the different lists earlier this year to keep tabs on them, too. And it seems that Stanislav Vasin, a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/pro-ukrainian-blogger-disappears-in-separatist-controlled-area-of-eastern-u" target="_blank">blogger from Donetsk who disappeared in June 2017</a>, was placed on one of these lists. His fate still remains unknown. In Kyiv, representatives of the United Nations recently presented a report on human rights in the “DNR” and “LNR”, but the only thing they could say with confidence about Vasin was that he was imprisoned by “DNR” militants. Despite the fact that the “DNR” has placed him on a list for prisoner exchange with Ukraine, the authorities refuse to give access to his family, nor rights defenders. A letter from Vasin was <a href="https://en.hromadske.ua/posts/imprisoned-ukrainian-journalist-sends-letter-from-separatist-jail" target="_blank">published online in September</a>, but it has not yet been verified.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/maxresdefault.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/maxresdefault.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'>Luhansk blogger Eduard Nedelyaev was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for messages sent over Telegram. Image still: YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Facebook blogger Eduard Nedelyaev also ended up on the separatists’ lists. In August, Nedelyaev, who was living in Luhansk, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for “state treason”. According to the separatists, Nedelyaev “reported negative information on residents of the LNR [“Luhansk People’s Republic”] which disparages the honour and dignity of citizens, and tried to spread hate and hostility towards the Russian nation.”&nbsp;</p><p>Separatist authorities have <a href="http://novosti.dn.ua/news/264964-lnr-zaderzhala-eshhe-odnogo-luganskogo-blogera" target="_blank">suspected</a> Gennady Benitsky, another Ukrainian citizen from Luhansk, of “spreading extremist materials” via Facebook. He was also suspected of “committing actions aimed at whipping up hate and humiliating human dignity”, as well as espionage on behalf of Ukraine. Benitsky was held in pre-trial detention from November 2016 to March 2017. He was then <a href="http://novosti.dn.ua/news/268390-boevyky-lnr-otpustyly-zaderzhannogo-v-luganske-blogera-benyckogo" target="_blank">released</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/belinsky_12.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/belinsky_12.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="158" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gennady Bennitsky. Image still via YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The cases against Benitsky, Nedelyaev and Vasin became public only recently, and only thanks to the independent press. Personal conversations with fellow journalists does give us some information regarding media freedom in the two Donbas territories, and on what the “DNR” and “LNR” demand of journalists still working there. </p><p>However, we cannot circulate this information in its entirety as doing so would put our colleagues in danger. Suffice it to say, there are various ways of pressuring journalists in the “DNR” — from financial incentives (for sticking to the pro-separatist line) to beatings and arrests.&nbsp;</p><p>Unfortunately, today the possibilities for media organisations, unions and and journalists’ associations in the uncontrolled territories are highly limited. Those structures created in Donetsk with the title “trade union” are trade unions in name only, and include the “DNR” leader Alexander Zakharchenko among their members. The website of the Union of Journalists of “DNR” hasn’t been active for a long time, and it’s unclear to whom and how journalists who have suffered there can make complaints.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">It feels as if journalists in Ukraine’s occupied Donbas remain locked in a small, stuffy room without windows or ways out</span></p><p>Indeed, it feels as if journalists in Ukraine’s occupied Donbas are locked in a small, stuffy room without windows or ways out. On the one side, they are pressured by the separatists’ security services, on the other, the Security Service of Ukraine, which suspects them of cooperating with “terrorists”. Then, there’s the pressure from the FSB, the Russian security services. And last but not least, there is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali" target="_blank">an audience who wants a one-sided interpretation of the ongoing conflict</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Many of those involved in media in the uncontrolled territories have no alternative to the current situation. They are simply forced to revolve around the circle of spin and propaganda without any hope of help from the outside world — an outside world which, to them, appears hostile.</p><p><em>Translated by Tom Rowley.</em></p><p><em><br /></em></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/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">Donbas: “We’re used to the shelling”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/crimea-s-unfreedom-of-speech">Crimea: freedom of speech turns to freedom of silence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</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 Oleksiy Matsuka Ukraine Conflict Wed, 11 Oct 2017 14:52:37 +0000 Oleksiy Matsuka 113949 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Auf der Suche nach dem Anderen: Wen wählten die russischsprachigen Deutschen in den Bundestag? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/redaktionelles-odr/auf-der-suche-nach-dem-anderen <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Die "Alternative für Deutschland" erzielte bei der Bundestagswahl einen historischen Sieg. Welchen Beitrag leisteten "die Russen"?&nbsp;<em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/odr-editors-tatiana-golova/russian-germans-and-surprising-rise-of-afd-germany" target="_self">English, </a></strong><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/redaktori-odr/v-poiskah-chuzhogo-germanii" 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/564053/rsz_14040027143_a905be03fd_o_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_14040027143_a905be03fd_o_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'>Die AfD im Wahlkampf. Bild: strassenstriche.net / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Einige Rechte vorbehalten. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Am 24. September hat Deutschland den neuen Bundestag gewählt. Die drittstärkste Partei, nach den beiden Traditionsparteien CDU/CSU und SPD, wurde die rechtspopulistische "Alternative für Deutschland" (AfD) - eine Partei, die in der Migrantenfrage eine ausdrücklich fremdenfeindliche Position einnimmt, und die zu allen anderen politischen Fragen herzlich wenig zu sagen hat. Mittlerweile verbreitet sich in den öffentlichen Debatten die Überzeugung, dass die AfD von den "Russen" gewählt wurde - genauer gesagt, von den Russlanddeutschen aus der ehemaligen UdSSR, die als Spätaussiedler nach Deutschland kamen. Wie kommt diese Vorstellung zustande - und trifft sie überhaupt zu? Darüber sprach oDR mit der wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiterin am <a href="https://www.zois-berlin.de/">Zentrum für Osteuropa- und internationale Studien (ZOiS)</a>, Soziologin Dr. Tatiana Golova. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Wie begründet ist die gängige Meinung von der AfD als einer Partei der russischsprechenden Einwanderer? Die AfD selbst positioniert sich öfter als solche, und zwei neue Bundestagsmitglieder kommen aus den Reihen der Spätaussiedler, oder, wie sie auch genannt werden, der Russlanddeutschen. Stimmt es, dass diese Partei die Interessen der russischsprachigen Diaspora vertritt - oder ist das falsch?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Auf Ihre Frage stelle ich zwei neue: Was ist die russischsprachige Diaspora und wer sind die Russlanddeutsche? Geht es um die postsowjetischen Migranten, dann sind es laut dem Mikrozensus aus dem Jahr 2015 ungefähr drei Millionen Menschen (die Zahlen für die zweite Generation sind übrigens aufgrund der Untersuchungsmethodik zu niedrig ausgefallen). Die meisten davon sind deutschstämmige Einwanderer aus der ehemaligen UdSSR. In Deutschland erhielten sie den Status der sogenannten "Spätaussiedler" - gemeint sind Menschen deutscher Herkunft, die nach der Öffnung des Eisernen Vorhangs in ihrer alten Heimat repatriiert wurden. Zwischen 1990 und 2015 kamen ungefähr zwei Millionen zweihundert Tausend Spätaussiedler nach Deutschland. Inzwischen gibt es schon die zweite oder sogar dritte Generation ihrer Kinder, die hier zur Welt kamen. Es gibt aber auch noch andere Gruppen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Zwischen 1990 und 2015 kamen ungefähr zwei Millionen zweihundert Tausend Spätaussiedler nach Deutschland</p><p dir="ltr">Die zahlenmäßig zweitstärkste ist die Gruppe der jüdischen Zuwanderer aus der ehemaligen Sowjetunion, vor allem aus Russland, ungefähr zweihundert Tausend Menschen, die in der gleichen Zeit gekommen sind. Darüber hinaus gibt es hochqualifizierte Migranten, die seit 2015 mit der sogenannten <a href="http://www.bamf.de/DE/Migration/Arbeiten/BuergerDrittstaat/BlaueKarte/blaue-karte-node.html">"Blauen Karte" </a>einreisen. Es gibt Familienmitglieder, es gibt Flüchtlinge, Menschen, die aus Russland stammen, aber vor der Einreise nach Deutschland in Israel oder in den USA oder in einem anderen europäischen Land lebten. Von allen diesen Gruppen sind die Russlanddeutschen - die Spätaussiedler - für die AfD besonders interessant, da sie mehr politische Rechte haben, vor allem das passive und aktive Wahlrecht. Für alle anderen Kategorien der Migranten aus der ehemaligen Sowjetunion ist der Weg zur deutschen Staatsbürgerschaft und den damit verbundenen politischen Rechten erheblich erschwert, und bei weitem nicht alle sind eingebürgert. Daher unterscheiden sich die postsowjetischen Einwanderer nicht nur in der Struktur des Kulturkapitals und in ihrer Lebensweise, sondern auch im Zugang zur politischen Beteiligung in Deutschland. </p><p dir="ltr">Der <a href="https://www.svr-migration.de/">Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration (SVR)</a> veröffentlichte 2016 eine Studie über die politischen Neigungen der Migranten - sowohl der Eingebürgerten als auch der Nichtbürger. In der Gruppe der Spätaussiedler waren 4,7% für die AfD. Die Umfrage wurde vom März bis August 2015 durchgeführt, also bevor die Partei entschieden nach rechts abgedriftet ist. Zum Vergleich, unter Deutschen ohne Migrationshintergrund zeigten 1,8% eine Vorliebe für die AfD – also dreimal so wenig.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Welche politischen Sympathien haben die Einwanderer aus der ehemaligen Sowjetunion im Vergleich zu anderen Migrantengruppen in Deutschland? Haben Spätaussiedler irgendwelche Besonderheiten? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Sie setzen sich von den anderen ab, und doch gibt es auch Ähnlichkeiten. Türkische Einwanderer - Gastarbeiter und deren Nachkommen - hatten und haben immer noch eine&nbsp; ausgeprägte SPD-Präferenz. Lange Zeit war die CDU die wichtigste Partei für die Russlanddeutsche, die Stimmanteile erreichten 65-68%, wobei diese Zahl in 2016 auf 40-45% sank. Eigentlich durchlaufen die Russlanddeutsche den selben Prozess, den die türkischen Zuwanderer seinerzeit durchgemacht haben. Das beobachtet Andreas Wüst, deutscher Politikwissenschaftler: Die politischen Präferenzen differenzieren sich zunehmend. Je länger die Zuwanderer in einem neuen Land bleiben, desto weiter auseinander gehen ihre politischen Sympathien. Neue Favoriten - die Linkspartei, die Grünen - gewinnen ihre Anhänger unter den Zuwanderern.</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/Merkel_EEpresidency_Feb17_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Merkel_EEpresidency_Feb17_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'>Die Kräfteverteilung nach der Wahl hat sich verändert, jedoch bleibt Angela Merkel zum vierten Mal im Amt. Foto CC-by-2.0: Arno Mikkor / Flickr. Einige Rechte vorbehalten. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Nun zur Wahl. Wie erfährt man, wie Russlanddeutsche abgestimmt haben? Man könnte sich Bezirke ansehen, wo der Anteil der Spätaussiedler besonders hoch ist – sie entstanden in den 1990er Jahren sowohl durch die kurzsichtige Migrationspolitik auf der Kommunalebene als auch durch die eigenen Neigungen der Zuwanderer. Die Russlanddeutschengruppe in der AfD beruft sich selbst auf die glänzenden Ergebnisse in solchen Kommunen, zum Beispiel im Wahlbezirk Maibuche in Waldbröl, Nordrhein-Westphalen, wo die AfD 50% der Stimmen bekam. Es ist ein kleiner Bezirk, in dem Russlanddeutsche kompakt wohnen. Diese 50% bedeuten 124 Stimmen, die keine entscheidende Auswirkung auf die Wahlkreisergebnisse hatten. Und wenn man noch genauer hinschaut, dann sieht man, dass die Wahlbeteiligung hier eher niedrig war, mit 44% gegenüber den 78% deutschlandweit. Ähnliche Ergebnisse für die AfD sehen wir in vielen anderen Wahlkreisen mit einem hohen Anteil von wahlberechtigten Zuwanderern aus der Sowjetunion. Zum Beispiel im Stadtteil Buckenberg in Pforzheim bekam die AfD 37% der Stimmen. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">AfD greift Themen auf, die für alle ihre potentiellen Wähler relevant sind, und bereitet sie so geschickt auf, dass Russlanddeutsche sich besonders angesprochen fühlen</p><p dir="ltr">Sinnvoller wäre es zu fragen, inwiefern man anhand der Daten, die uns vorliegen, die Wahlergebnisse aller Spätaussiedler durchs Extrapolieren errechnen kann. Es gibt ja auch noch Menschen, die nicht in den Zuwanderervierteln wohnen und nicht voll und ganz von den relativ hermetischen russischsprachigen Sozialnetzwerken in Beschlag genommen sind. Allerding liegen uns zur Segregation der Russlanddeutschen kaum Daten vor. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Woher kommt dann überhaupt diese Verknüpfung "Russlanddeutsche - AfD"? Warum hat die AfD diese Gruppe als ihre potentiellen Wähler eingekreist? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Das hängt zum Teil damit zusammen, wie diese Gruppe sich selbst begreift. Die Geschichte der Russlanddeutschen im 20. Jahrhundert ist eine Geschichte der Deportation und Repression. Aber die Erinnerung an die Repression wird jetzt in den Hintergrund gedrängt. Es ist nämlich schwierig: Wenn man an eigene Vertreibung denkt, wie soll man dann eine Politik unterstützen, die einen restriktiven Kurs gegenüber Menschen auf der Suche nach einer Zuflucht fordert?</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Die AfD schöpft ihre Anziehungskraft in der Enttäuschung: "Wir kamen in unsere Heimat zurück, sind endlich zuhause angekommen - doch hier ist alles anders und fremd"</p><p dir="ltr">In den Vordergrund rückt daher das Thema des gemeinsamen Schicksals: "Wir sind in unsere Heimat zurückgekehrt. Wir kamen mit bestimmten Erwartungen nach Deutschland. Es ist ein Land, wo normales Leben möglich ist: Wir arbeiten, verdienen, bestreiten unser Lebensunterhalt. Wir teilen die Vorstellung, dass Wohlstand durch Arbeit erreicht wird. Wir haben unsere Traditionsfamilie: Vater-Mutter-Kinder - und eine starke Verbundenheit der Generationen. Und natürlich nehmen wir die deutsche Kultur an; wir wollen "als Deutsche unter Deutschen leben". </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/AfD_Rus_Advert_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/AfD_Rus_Advert_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Als Deutsche unter Deutschen leben" - AfD-Wahlkampfplakat in einer deutschen Zeitung. Auf dem Plakat steht: "Bewahrt eure Kinder von den Folgen einer unkontrollierten Migration und vom Schulunterricht in Perversion". Bild: Aider Muzhdabaev / Facebook Einige Rechte vorbehalten.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Es ist auch die ethnische Komponente dabei - "Wir wurden als Deutsche verfolgt, wir wollen nun in unserer deutschen Heimat leben”. Aber diese Vorstellung vom „richtigen deutschen Leben" bringen sie aus den ländlichen Gebieten und Kleinstädten Sibiriens und Kasachstans mit, wo sie aufgewachsen sind. Die CDU zehrte lange von diesem Heimkehr-Diskurs. Doch die Realität der 1990er Jahre und wie sie jetzt erinnert wird sollte man nicht verwechseln. </p><p dir="ltr">Die AfD schöpft ihre Anziehungskraft in der Enttäuschung: "Wir kamen in unsere Heimat zurück, sind endlich zuhause angekommen - doch hier ist alles anders und fremd". Die Spätaussiedler wurden damit konfrontiert, dass die Deutschen sie als Fremde behandelten, sie fühlten sich als Menschen zweiter Klasse. Der Prozess der Integration läuft trotzdem, und im Laufe der Integration differenzieren sich die politischen Einstellungen. Die Frage ist nur, wer davon profitiert. Da taucht die AfD auf und knüpft an der Enttäuschung an, indem sie die Themen von allgemeiner Brisanz - die Flüchtlingsfrage, zum Beispiel - so interpretiert, dass es bei den Russlanddeutschen einen besonderen Anklang findet. Zum Beispiel, so: "Wir mussten so lange warten (das ist übrigens wahr, viele warteten jahrelang auf die Einreise), und die Flüchtlinge, kaum angekommen, werden einfach durchgewinkt - wo bleibt die Gerechtigkeit?" Es steht auf einem anderen Blatt, dass die Spätaussiedler gleich nach der Ankunft völlig andere Rechte und Möglichkeiten hatten und unverzüglich die Staatsbürgerschaft erhielten. Das wird jetzt gern übersehen. AfD greift Themen auf, die auch für ihre anderen potentiellen Wähler relevant sind, geben ihnen aber eine geschickte Wendung, so dass Russlanddeutsche sich mit ihren eigenen Problemen und Diskursen angesprochen fühlen. </p><p dir="ltr">Es ist noch etwas zu berücksichtigen: AfD ist eine neue Partei, und sie rekrutiert ihre Mitglieder bei weitem nicht nur aus der CDU. Ein junger Politiker in Deutschland muss schon im Schulalter in einer Partei aktiv werden, damit er es irgendwann in den Bundestag schafft. Für viele Zuwanderer aus Russland ist dieser Zug also schon abgefahren. Die neue Partei - AfD - macht es möglich, einige Anfangsstufen der Parteileiter zu überspringen. Das klappt zwar nicht für jeden. Waldemar Herdt stand auf dem Platz sieben in der Parteiliste der sächsischen AfD, Anton Friesen (Jahrgang 1985) war auf Platz fünf in Thüringen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Die AfD wünscht sich einerseits die Unterstützung der Russlanddeutschen, möchte andererseits die Vertretung, die Chancen für den Bundestag nicht so gerne teilen</p><p dir="ltr">Einige Kandidaten gingen leer aus, wie Sergej Tschernow – Platz 11 der Parteiliste. Das gleiche passierte Eugen Schmidt: Russlanddeutscher und AfD-Aktivist, er war die Nummer 17 in der Parteiliste und bekam keinen Sitz im Parlament. Die AfD wünscht sich einerseits die Unterstützung der Russlanddeutschen, möchte andererseits die Vertretung, die Chancen für den Bundestag nicht so gerne teilen. Allerdings wächst eine neue Generation heran. Es gibt nun in der CDU und SPD und anderen Parteien Menschen, die jung genug sind, um ihre Parteikarriere von der allerersten Stufe an zu durchlaufen. Die Zukunft wird spannend. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Ähnliche Tendenzen sind auch woanders abzusehen. Auch in Israel oder den USA können russischsprachige Migrantengruppen die rechtslastigen Tendenzen stärken. Wie lässt sich das erklären? Die Zuwanderer in Deutschland unterscheiden sich nach ethnischen, sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Kriterien stark von denen, die nach Israel oder in die USA ausgewandert sind. Und dennoch bewirken sie in den Zuwanderungsländern ähnliche Prozesse. Woran liegt das?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ich kann ihnen nicht viel zu Israel und USA sagen, aber zu Deutschland fällt mir einiges ein. Schon die Aufenthaltsberechtigung für die Russlanddeutsche sowie ihre Identität selbst sind durch die Kategorie der Herkunft begründet; die Zugehörigkeit zur deutschen Nation durch Geburt - das ist ein sehr konservatives Prinzip. Also können sie ebenso wenig gegen diese Grundsätze antreten wie sie ihre eigene Identität abstreiten können. </p><p dir="ltr">Die AfD war nicht die erste rechte Partei, die versuchte, Russlanddeutsche zu mobilisieren. Schauen wir uns die Wahlergebnisse in Sachsen an, mal abgesehen von den Russlanddeutschen. Früher haben dort bereits die Nationalisten gute Ergebnisse erzielt. Sie kamen jedoch nie so weit wie die AfD jetzt: Viel weniger Wähler waren bereit, die offen rechtsextreme NDP zu wählen. Die AfD hat ihre Wurzeln nicht im klassischen rechtsextremen Milieu, und das machte sie auch für die politisch weniger motivierten Bürger wählbar. Russlanddeutsche haben noch nie radikal gewählt, dafür sind sie viel zu konservativ.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Die AfD versucht direkt die Zuwanderer mit Wahlrecht anzusprechen. Nach Deiner Einschätzung, unternehmen andere Parteien ähnliche Dialogversuche? Versuchen die etablierten demokratischen Parteien einen Dialog mit den russischsprachigen Zuwanderergruppen einzuleiten? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Es gibt diese Versuche, aber sie bleiben wenig erfolgreich und setzen möglicherweise nicht an der richtigen Stelle an. Ich finde, dass die für die sogenannten Volksparteien typische Arbeit an der Basis, auf der Bezirksebene, die meisten Russlanddeutschen nicht erreicht. Dazu muss man sagen, dass es für die meisten Migranten aus dem postsowjetischen Raum gilt: sie halten sich von der politischen Tätigkeit fern, es ist eine gemeinsame kulturelle Prägung. Nehmen wir die Teilnahme an den Parteiversammlungen als Beispiel. </p><p dir="ltr">Für einen postsowjetischen Menschen hat eine Parteiversammlung einen starken negativen Beigeschmack, der schwer zu überwinden ist. Aber es gibt auch eine ganze Reihe von Projekten im Bereich politischer Bildung für Russlanddeutsche und andere russischsprachige Zuwanderer. <a href="http://www.bvre.de/">Bundesverband russischsprachiger Eltern (BVRE)</a> ist ein Versuch, postsowjetische Migranten politisch zu engagieren. Vor der Wahl organisierte man eine Reihe von Diskussionen in Berlin (Marzahn), Leipzig und anderen Großstädten. Eingeladen wurden Vertreter vieler Parteien, es wurde auf Russisch diskutiert. Es ist bemerkenswert und sehr positiv, dass diese Diskussionen keinen eingebauten Filter hatten, dass es hier nicht gesagt wurde "Die AfD bleibt draußen".</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Einer Partei kann man beitreten und aktiv mitarbeiten, ohne ein deutscher Staatsbürger zu sein</p><p dir="ltr">Die Frage ist nur: wie spezifisch sind die Probleme der Einwanderer aus der ehemaligen UdSSR? Inwieweit können die etablierten Parteien ihre Interessen vertreten? Die Grünen versuchen, in diese Richtung zu gehen, sie engagieren sich schon lange dafür, die im Ausland erbrachte Lebensleistung für die Rentenanrechnung zu berücksichtigen, insbesondere für die jüdischen Flüchtlinge. Auch andere Parteien haben ähnliche diskursive Möglichkeiten. Ich würde aber nicht sagen, dass sie ausgeschöpft werden. Und natürlich wäre es wichtig, dass die Kommunikation systematisch in russischer Sprache stattfinden würde. </p><p dir="ltr">Es geht nicht darum, dass die Leute nicht gut genug Deutsch sprechen: Die zweite Generation spricht schon sehr gut, mit der ersten Generation verhält es sich unterschiedlich, und hier spielen Faktoren ein wie die institutionellen Bedingungen der Einwanderung, Alter, Bildung, Arbeit oder Lehre und Studium in Deutschland. Aber wenn sie auf Russisch angesprochen werden - dann ist das eine Anerkennung ihrer besonderen Situation. Die AfD macht das übrigens. Es ist schon sehr interessant: Sie sprechen sie als "echte Deutsche" an - auf Russisch! </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Das Wahlrecht hat also eine wichtige Gruppe innerhalb der russischen Diaspora, aber bei weitem nicht alle. Neben den Russlanddeutschen gibt es eine Menge Leute, die jahrelang mit einem russischen Reisepass in Deutschland leben. Die deutsche Staatsbürgerschaft nehmen sie aus verschiedenen Gründen nicht an, dennoch liegt ihr Lebensmittelpunkt längst hier. In der gleichen Situation sind die Bürger aus dem EU-Ausland zumindest auf der Kommunalebene wahlberechtigt: Sie können bei der Kommunalwahl abstimmen, aber nicht für den Bundestag. Bürger der postsowjetischen Länder haben diese Rechte nicht. Würden ihnen diese Rechte erteilt, würden die Wahlergebnisse anders ausfallen? Und würde eine solche Reform die demokratischen Parteien stärken? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Die Untersuchung der Parteipräferenzen aus dem Jahr 2016 fand keine grundsätzlichen Unterschiede bei Bürgern und nicht-Bürgern. Außerdem zeigen nicht nur Russlanddeutsche eine konservative Tendenz, sondern auch hochqualifizierte "Blaue Karte"-Inhaber. Ich schlage vor, wir sehen uns andere Formen der politischen Beteiligung an neben Wahlrecht. Einer Partei kann man beitreten und aktiv mitarbeiten, auch ohne ein deutscher Staatsbürger zu sein. </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_35023461874_6ac0d21828_k_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_35023461874_6ac0d21828_k_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'>Zwei AfD-Bundestagmandate erhielten Kandidaten aus den Reihen der Spätaussiedler, oder, wie sie auch genannt werden, der Russlanddeutschen. Bild: Andy Blackledge /Flickr. Einige Rechte vorbehalten. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Wie sieht es mit dieser Art von politischer Beteiligung bei unseren ehemaligen Landsleuten? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Es hält sich in Grenzen. Auch hier spielt das Mistrauen gegenüber der öffentlichen Politik eine gewisse Rolle. Die liberale Migranten-Szene in Berling betreibt aktive Aufklärungsarbeit über das politische Geschehen in Russland, und zwar auf Russisch (es wäre aber nicht verkehrt es auch in der deutschen Sprache zu tun). Sie besprechen unter anderem die Versuche Russlands, die Wahlen und die gesamte Situation in Deutschland zu beeinflussen. Es gibt einen liberalen Flügel der russischsprachigen Öffentlichkeit, die nicht nur aus Russland stammt, und sie diskutiert über die Situation der Krim. Es gibt also eine Diskussion, aber die Frage ist, welche Form nimmt sie an: Ob es auf der Straße ausgetragen wird oder nicht. Die Demonstrationen vor der Russischen Botschaft sind dann doch nicht besonders zahlreich. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/merkel-victory">Unser Kolumnist Nikolai Klimeniouk sieht den Sieg der Rechten darin, dass sie nun die politische Tagesordnung bestimmen</a>, ohne dass sie selbst so etwas wie ein politisches Programm vorweisen könnten. AfD ist es gelungen, das Gespräch auf Flüchtlinge und Migranten zu lenken. Alle anderen Themen sind in den Hintergrund gedrängt. Unter anderen diktieren die Rechten das Agenda für die politische Beteiligung der Bürger. Plötzlich rückt die Verbindung „der Russen“ und der deutschen Rechten im Wahlkampf in den Vordergrund. Warum griffen die AfD-Gegner so bereitwillig den Gedanken auf, dass die russischsprechenden Einwanderer eine Art innere Feinde sind? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Das ist nicht das erste Mal, dass die Aussiedler aus der ehemaligen Sowjetunion stigmatisiert werden. Anfang der 90er Jahren wurden sie nicht als Deutsche anerkannt, man machte über sie schreckliche ausländerfeindliche Witze, dann wurden sie als kriminelle Ausländer dargestellt: Angeblich brachten sie die russische kriminelle Subkultur in die deutschen Gefängnisse, angeblich waren sie hoffnungslose Alkoholiker, und so weiter. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Nun gelten sie als "AfD-Wähler", und diese Schuldzuweisung zu einem feindlichen Fremden ist für viele sehr bequem</p><p dir="ltr">Nun gelten sie als "AfD-Wähler", und diese Schuldzuweisung zu einem feindlichen Fremden ist für viele sehr bequem. Und wieder spielt hier das Vorurteil hinein, dass Russlanddeutsche keine echten Deutschen seien. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Schon wieder Kanaken? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ja, so ein rückständiges Völkchen. Angeblich hätten sie so abgestimmt, wie es ihnen Putin eingeflüstert habe. Die Wähler stimmten nicht deswegen für die AfD, weil da jemand daherkam und ihnen eine Gehirnwäsche verpasste. Sie brauchten keine Propaganda, um bestimmte Haltungen zu teilen, zum Beispiel die Ablehnung der Flüchtlingsaufnahme. Aber für die aufgeklärte Öffentlichkeit ist es sehr bequem anzunehmen, dass es Russlanddeutsche waren, die die AfD in den Bundestag gewählt haben. Ja, Russlanddeutsche haben jetzt zwei Abgeordnete im Bundestag - zwei von 94. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Heißt das etwa, dass die deutsche Politik aus dem Teufelskreis der Fremdenverfolgung nicht herauskommt? AfD prangert die muslimischen Flüchtlinge an, und die liberale Öffentlichkeit stürzt sich auf die "Russen", die ebendiese AfD wählen. Es ist ein Teufelskreis, in dem jeder seine Feinde sucht und jagt. </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ich glaube nicht, dass das lange anhält. Es gibt andere Fragen an der Tagesordnung, und ich hoffe, dass die Jagd nach dem Anderen bald aufhört. Das wird davon abhängen, wie die AfD im Bundestag verfahren wird. Langfristig könnten diese Wahlergebnisse die Menschen in der russischsprachigen Community, die die AfD-Ansichten nicht teilen, dazu anspornen, politisch aktiver zu werden. </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/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory-deutsch">Es gelten die Allgemeinen Geschäftsbedingungen: Visafreiheit für Georgien und die Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/warum-wir-keine-artikel-ber-putin-publizieren">Warum wir keine Artikel über Putin publizieren</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 Tatiana Golova Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Mon, 09 Oct 2017 21:52:27 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia and Tatiana Golova 113900 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Photographing the 20th century https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-zavadski/photographing-the-20th-century <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Hungarian artist Peter Puklus talks about his photography book The Epic Love Story of a Warrior, European history of the 20th century, and Marina Tsvetaeva. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-zavadski/fotografiruya-xx-vek"><strong><em>RU</em></strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><em>This article continues oDR’s series “Practically about memory”. Find out more <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-zavadski/the-great-return-of-the-past" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Peter Puklus often finds inspiration in the past. Memories of people, objects, encounters, and experiences are transformed in his artistic practice into a very distinct visual language. The Hungarian artist’s latest project,<a href="http://peterpuklus.com/books/the-epic-love-story-of-a-warrior-book/"> The Epic Love Story of a Warrior</a>, is dedicated to the events of the 20th century. This acclaimed photography book tells the story of an abstract Central and Eastern European family that, in the course of the century, is forced to move westward. Created mostly in his studio, the photographs that сomprise Puklus’ book reference easily recognisable imagery of Europe’s difficult past, thus turning The Epic Love Story of a Warrior into a “memory book” for every European. &nbsp; </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is The Epic Love Story of a Warrior based on your personal and family memories? &nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_peter_puklus_the_epic_love_story_of_a_warrior1_2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_peter_puklus_the_epic_love_story_of_a_warrior1_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Cover of the book "The Epic Love Story of a Warrior"</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, on two family histories. The first is that of my wife: she comes from a very rooted, once affluent Jewish family from Budapest; her grandmother survived Auschwitz. The second family history is my own: I was born in the Romanian region of Transylvania, in the Hungarian minority. One of my great uncles about whom I know little, was deported by the Soviets to the Gulag. My family, which is partly Catholic, unwittingly became a sort of opponent to the regime in Romania, and fled as soon as they could.</p><p dir="ltr">I picked personas, memories, cities and other elements from both of these family histories at random, and mixed them well. Thus I created a new story. The resulting narrative – the wanderings of a Central and Eastern European family throughout the 20th century – is fictional, but at the same time based on actual memories. I wanted to create a story of an “average” family that is affected by history.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In other words, you take very personal memories to produce, so to say, everybody’s memories. How does the book’s title fit into this?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I believe that one of humankind’s most powerful tools is its ability to tell a story. I love stories. They usually consist of three obligatory elements (or at least one or two of them): birth, love, and death. All three are present in my book, and that is why it is an “epic” story: it aspires to be a reference to the medieval and even ancient Greek art of storytelling. After all, a “love story” is a synonym of life itself: we constantly fall in love. </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/564053/3_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/3_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'>Thunder. 2014, Budapest. Photo: Peter Puklus. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And not only with people, but with places, ideas, objects…</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Exactly. Love transforms us this way or another, forms our personality. It is a crucial feeling for a human.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And “warrior”?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">That stands for heroism. When I was thinking about the title for this project, I reflected a lot on European values. Including, possibly, heroism. But what becomes of a European hero? In most cases, especially during hard times (as the 20th century was), people become heroes when they die. In other words, you have to sacrifice yourself to become a hero - take, for instance, Joan of Arc or Sophie Scholl. Every country has people like that: just ordinary people who, when necessary, rise up against injustice and die on a battlefield, or in prison, or in front of an execution squad. They die and are then proclaimed heroes. Bronze statues are built in their honour…</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Painted plaster head (Self-portrait of a man in blue). 2015, Budapest. Photo: Peter Puklus. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>…national myths are built around their stories.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes. But dead people cannot raise children. For me, heroism lies in the everyday. It is about being an example for others. That’s why I think that the focus on the dead hero needs to be reconsidered in the 21st century: we have to come up with ways to become a hero without dying.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So, you have created this warrior who goes through the 20th century, struggles, endures a lot of hardships - and stays alive. Is that what heroism should be?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I don’t know if there is only one warrior in this book. And I do not know if he or she actually survives. It is more about posing the question, rather than giving an answer: Is it right to believe that a hero should always die? </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The book is divided into four chapters: “The beginning of hope (1918-1939)”, “Unsafe to Dance (1933-1945)”, “Bigger. Faster. Higher (1944-1989)”, and “Life as Techno (1989-2016)”. It thus is a history of the last hundred years. At the same time, you seem to be using Eric Hobsbawm’s concept of a “short 20th century”. Why?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">For me, the 20th century begins with the First World War and lasts until around 1989, when communism fails in Central Europe. It was an extremely important time for who we are now: during that period, our value systems were destroyed and rebuilt anew. Our current borders, agendas, rules and ways of thinking originate in that time, especially the first decades after WWII. Some of them are great, but some need to be rethought. The question is: Can we move into the 21st century without a major war? Because history teaches us that a great change happens as a result of a great war…</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/564053/7_2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/7_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Statue of a Lefthanded Soldier, position nr. 1. 2013, Budapest. Photo: Peter Puklus. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But 1989-1991, when the Soviet system collapsed all over Europe, is considered by many to have been a more or less peaceful revolution. From your perspective, we are now faced with a question of whether that event and the change that followed was radical enough… </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes. For instance, after the Romanian Revolution of 1989, a politician named Ion Iliescu became president. And he had been a Securitate agent in Ceaușescu’s era. Is that a real change or not? That’s why, despite talking about the “short 20th century” that ends with the collapse of Communism, I feel that, in some way, we still live in the 20th century – and it’s high time we moved into the 21st.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What does the time overlap between “The beginning of hope (1918-1939)” and “Unsafe to Dance (1933-1945) imply?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Those six years are a milestone in European history. Hitler gained power in 1933, the Great Terror began in the USSR in 1937, World War Two started in 1939. Retrospectively, it’s very easy to judge those who did not rise against what was happening. But I try not to hold the hand my readers’ hand. I may have my own views, but I’m sure they’re not perfect. So I set the framework but leave some freedom for the reader to reflect.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Let’s talk about the “Bigger. Faster. Higher” – or the “Faster. Higher. Stronger”, as the classic Olympic slogan goes – in Hungarian history. How important is the Communist period for Hungary and Hungarians today? How is it remembered?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s difficult to talk about it, especially because there are so many blank spots. For instance, we still have very limited access to communist-era secret police archives in Hungary. This creates room for fake facts and fake news and, besides, leaves the past looming over the present. For example, there has been speculation that Viktor Orbán’s father, and indeed the prime minister himself, were informers for the secret service. But we don’t know the truth.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think that finding out that a neighbour or father of a friend used to be an informer will improve Hungarians’ lives?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I believe in communication: it is better to talk about things, discuss them publicly, than to hide them. I also believe in freedom, in the necessity to take decisions for oneself and be responsible for them. Going back to your previous question: many Hungarians cherish communist times because of the strict rules that governed people and the clear patterns of behaviour that people were expected to follow. It didn’t require too much thinking, it was easier. And now that almost 30 years have passed, people feel nostalgic about that life. This is dangerous because the oppression and tyranny of those times can then be easily forgotten. I can’t really discuss this even with my own father because he inevitably says that there also were good things under Ceaușescu.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Starting from 1989, according to your story, life has been “techno”. What does that mean to you? Is it about parties and dancing or, since techno was born in Detroit, about American influence on Central Europe?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Neither. There is a very interesting thing inherent in the structure of techno music. It is based on repetition, but if you’re attentive, you realise there is a slight change, then it is the same again, then there is a big change. That’s how I understand life: it repeats itself, again and again. Be it whether with small or huge variations, there is a constant repetition.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/9_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/9_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hula-hoops (Blue and Red). 2014, Vienna. Photo: Peter Puklus. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is the book then also a comment on the current Hungarian government?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’d like it to be. &nbsp;I’m happy that you asked; nobody asked me that before. But it was there in my mind when I was working on the book: I wanted to address what was happening around me and say: “Hey, guys, things seem to be repeating themselves”. This isn’t very obvious in the book, but it is there.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Then what is your take on the Fidesz government’s politics of memory?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There are many things that I dislike, but in this context it’s the government’s obsession with the antique idea of a Great Hungary “whose shores were washed by three seas” and its desire to restore this “great nation”. That’s why they are putting up statues to Hungary’s kings all across the country. For example, there was a huge wave of monuments to Stefan I, our first king, erected across Hungary. I think this is an attempt to strengthen the regime.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What about memory of the Holocaust? Recently a memorial to the Nazi occupation of Hungary has been put in the centre of Budapest. It presents Hungary as a victim of Nazi Germany, which, on some level, is true, but on another, this shifts the emphasis away from Hungarians’ participation in deporting Jews to Auschwitz…</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The Holocaust plays an important role in The Epic Love Story of a Warrior. Among others, there is a photograph of the former Gestapo headquarters in Budapest, one of the few images taken outside my studio. The Nazis sent only a few officials to Hungary, and this handful of people could not conduct the deportations on their own. All they needed was the collaboration of Hungarians. And they got it. So, it wasn’t just them, it was us. Maybe my grandfather was involved, I don’t know… The government’s stand on the Holocaust is rather ambiguous: I would say, Hungarians’ role in the Holocaust is not admitted explicitly enough.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fachwerk in fire. 2014, Vienna. Photo: Peter Puklus. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>While each <a href="http://peterpuklus.com/the-epic-love-story-of-a-warrior/">photograph</a> in The Epic Love Story of a Warrior could be seen as a separate work, I feel it is much stronger as a story. This might be the case, of course, because I personally relate to narrative, to “words” better than to an individual image. What was your rationale behind the decision to create this, if I may say so, Gesamtkunstwerk (because, in addition to photography, you use poetry and, in exhibitions, sculpture)? Is it because of the limitations of photography for telling a story? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">I like to think that I am not a photographer, but an artist who mostly works with photography. This gives me freedom to go beyond the medium. The Epic Love Story of a Warrior does not push the boundaries of photography, strictly speaking. But it strives to do something else. There is this saying that one plus one equals three; I prefer to think that one plus one makes eleven. So, it was an attempt to go beyond the photo book as an object and prompt the reader to think. How do we actualise memories? Either through stories (texts) or with the help of images (photos, films, etc). I tried to unite these two strategies and create a synergic effect. That’s why I used recognisable, in some cases iconic images from the 20th century as a point of departure for my own photographs. Looking at them, and looking at their juxtaposition with other images, can trigger a whole flow of memories, which I do not want to control. Many of the questions that you ask me are not in the book, but it made you think of them. So I have probably achieved my goal.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Instead of page numbers, you punctuate the story using Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem<a href="http://alt.angst.narkive.com/ejYQPVeT/tsvetayeva-on-death"> “How many people fell in this abyss, I fathom from afar!”</a>. Why?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It is a lovely story: we met by accident… </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You also quote the Russian singer Zemfira, whose lyrics say almost exactly that: “In the early hours of morning, I fell in love with you, Marina Tsvetaeva”.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Funny: my Tsvetaeva story is also related to music. I am omnivorous when it comes to music and am constantly looking for new things to hear. Once I came across this<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV-prOm1Y_A"> track</a> by Max Richter, it started with a female voice [of the Russian actress Alla Demidova] reading a Russian poem. Obviously, I couldn’t understand a word, but I liked the language and melody of it. I listened and listened, and at some point decided to look up whose poem it was. I found a Russian translator living in Australia, Ilya Shambat, who had translated the poem into English. And when I started to read about Tsvetaeva, I became obsessed with her: in a way, her life is symptomatic of the 20th century. So, I used the poem as a tool to demonstrate the passage of time. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/12.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/12.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maquette of a Monument Symbolising the Liberation III., view nr. 1. 2014, Vienna. Photo: Peter Puklus. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Was the project for you about overcoming death through being remembered by future generations, along the lines of Tsvetaeva’s poem? Or was it more about contributing to how the 20th century will be recollected by Europeans tomorrow?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s very much about recollection of the unknown, of the countless deaths of people whose names we do not remember. Was it worth it, or should we find other ways to make radical change happen? The history of the 20th century taught us that it’s always about the opposition between the “right” and the “left”: Nazis against Soviets, the Warsaw Pact against NATO, etc. I believe that the real opposition is not between left or right, it’s between “up” and “down”: the oppressive state, the banking system, extremist ideas – which work against us, ordinary people, average working families. That’s what we have to realise to really move forward.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</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/andrey-zavadski/the-great-return-of-the-past">The great return of the past</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/dance-me-to-end-of-history">Dance me to the end of history</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Romania </div> <div class="field-item even"> Hungary </div> </div> </div> <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 Hungary Romania Andrei Zavadski Practically about memory Russia Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:15:46 +0000 Andrei Zavadski 113831 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sacrificial roosters and offended feelings https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-dugum/sacrificial-roosters-and-offended-feelings <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What do a film about a Tsar’s mistress, Pussy Riot, the opera Tannhäuser, voodoo magic, and bloggers from Bryansk have in common? They’ve all “offended the feelings of believers”… <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-dugum/kriminalnoe-bogohulstvo" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03184229.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03184229.LR_.ru__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'>The damage to Yekaterinburg’s Kosmos cinema building after the attack on 4 September. Photo (c): Pavel Lisytsin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>One day, Denis Murashov decided to hold his own form of protest. On 4 September, this 39-year rammed a jeep filled with gas cylinders straight into Ekaterinburg’s Kosmos cinema. The building burst into flames, but didn’t burn down completely.&nbsp;</p><p>Murashov, a native of the small town of Irbit in the Sverdlovsk Region, was a devout Orthodox Christian and was <a href="https://codastory.com/disinformation-crisis/traditional-values/kremlin-nationalists-face-off-over-romanov-romance-mathilda" target="_blank">incensed by the release of “Matilda”</a> — a film by director Alexei Uchitel about the last Russian Tsar, who is considered a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. Social media anointed him the “cinema-jihadist”, drawing parallels with the methods of extremist Islamist terrorists. Several days before Murashov’s attack on the cinema, <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/society/31/08/2017/59a7eace9a7947dc809649fd" target="_blank">unknown persons had thrown Molotov cocktails into Uchitel’s studio</a> in St Petersburg. One week later in Moscow, <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/society/11/09/2017/59b63b479a7947193aa904d8" target="_blank">two cars were set ablaze</a> outside the offices of Konstantin Dobrynin, the director’s lawyer. Flyers were left scattered about the floor, reading “burn for Matilda!”</p><p>So it was that the historical melodrama about the young Nicholas II’s affair with the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya inflamed the passions of religious believers — even before it hit the screen.&nbsp;</p><h2>“Cinemas will burn, and people may even get hurt”</h2><p>Attention was first drawn to the director’s work by Natalia Poklonskaya, former prosecutor general of Crimea and currently a Duma deputy for United Russia. Poklonskaya had repeatedly appealed to the federal prosecutor general’s office to <a href="http://www.sova-center.ru/religion/news/authorities/feelings/2017/04/d36850/" target="_blank">investigate the funding and screenplay of the film</a> and order a full examination of the three-minute trailer. Poklonskaya even tried to sue Uchitel’s studio on behalf of the the widow of Nicholas II’s nephew.&nbsp;</p><p>Experts who rallied behind Poklonskaya concluded that one could insult the feelings of the faithful by more than disrespecting religious objects and holy places. The insult can now be done by insulting individuals “revered by religious believers, and whose authority is inseparable to that of the religious organisation as a whole (for example, individual clergymen today or holy people who have since passed away).”&nbsp;</p><p>Tsar Nicholas II was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church for having died a martyr’s death. Martyrdom, as Orthodox Christians see it, washes away the sins of the past — therefore, any image of the young king’s personal life should not besmirch that of the martyr Nicholas II. However, neither the investigation commissioned by Poklonskaya, nor her appeal to the prosecutor’s office had any effect — and the film was not deprived of its licence. Offended believers then decided to take more radical steps.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Natalia_Poklonskaya_(2016-10-05).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Natalia_Poklonskaya_(2016-10-05).jpg" alt="lead " 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'>Natalia Poklonskaya, United Russia Duma deputy and former chief prosecutor of Crimea. Photo CC-by-4.0: Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>In January, Russian cinemas <a href="http://cinemaplex.ru/2017/01/30/pravoslavnye-aktivisty-ugrozhayut-kinoteatram.html" target="_blank">started to receive letters demanding that they cancel screenings</a> of the film. The authors were from “Christian State — Holy Rus’”, an unregistered, ultra-conservative Orthodox Christian organisation. They threatened that if Matilda was released, “cinemas will burn, and people may even get hurt.” Six months later, the Orthodox activists began to take direct action.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">These days, religious activists in Russia ever more fervently oppose works of art which make any allusion to the church</p><p>Once the film started showing at cinemas, a wave of emergency evacuations swept across Russia. In tens of cities, anonymous telephone calls were made to airports, railway stations, and shopping centres warning of explosive devices in the immediate vicinity. Leader of “Christian State,” <a href="https://www.svoboda.org/a/28755657.html" target="_blank">Alexander Kalinin, once convicted for murder, robbery, and forgery of documents</a>, drew a <a href="https://meduza.io/en/feature/2017/09/14/the-lord-has-given-me-a-mission" target="_blank">connection between these telephone calls and offended religious believers</a>. The state investigative committee instead <a href="https://meduza.io/news/2017/09/14/ria-v-massovyh-anonimnyh-zvonkah-o-bombah-zapodozrili-islamskoe-gosudarstvo" target="_blank">believed Islamic State to be responsible</a>. Two weeks later, Kalinin was arrested regardless — a case was brought against him under article 179 of Russia’s criminal code (on fraud, or more formally “coercion to conclude a transaction or refusal to conclude it”).&nbsp;</p><p>The attempt to disrupt the screening of Matilda is by no means an isolated case. These days, religious activists in Russia ever more fervently oppose works of art which make any allusion to the church. In recent years, their anger has become a growing trend.&nbsp;</p><h2>Praying punks and offended feelings</h2><p>Russia’s law “on protecting the feelings of religious believers” (article 148) appeared in the criminal code hot on the heels of Pussy Riot’s scandalous “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Three members of the group were convicted of hooliganism; the court saw in their performance a “gross violation of public order, expressing obvious disrespect to society at large”, which had been “committed by a group of persons by prior arrangement” (article 213, section 2).</p><p>With support from on high, the most conservative figures in the government and Orthodox Church, as well as journalists from official media outlets, started murmuring about “blasphemy” and “sacrilege”. These ghastly words should have had no legal weight — they may as well have been sorcerers’ spells from far-flung islands. After all, Russia is still de jure a secular state.</p><p>Pussy Riot’s call “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALS92big4TY" target="_blank">Mother of God, drive Putin away</a>” rang out against the backdrop of the violent events of 2011-2012. Those years saw the rise of the movement for fair elections, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on" target="_blank">mass protests on Sakharov street and Bolotnaya square</a>, as well as the Occupy Abai demonstrations.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pussy Riot, now notorious in Russia for their “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Photo CC: Igor Mukhin / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Putin needed these things to be swept under the carpet. Dissenters and members of the opposition were torn apart by the pro-Kremlin media, criminal cases were brought against the protesters on Bolotnaya, and fines for holding public protests increased. When it came to defending the regime’s ideological allies, the stakes had become a lot higher.</p><p>According to <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/cons/cgi/online.cgi?req=doc&amp;base=LAW&amp;n=221148&amp;rnd=285391.744631169#0" target="_blank">article 148 of Russia’s earlier (1996) criminal code</a>, you’d end up with a fine, correctional labour, and perhaps be detained for up to three months. The <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/cons/cgi/online.cgi?req=doc&amp;base=LAW&amp;n=220982&amp;rnd=285391.48628044&amp;from=221148-0#0" target="_blank">amended version, which came into force in June 2013</a>, significantly increased the fines. It now included the possibility of a real prison term of up to a year. These days, the law refers not only to obstructing religious observances, but also mentions insulting the feelings of believers. These provisions are quite vague — exactly what level [of offence] leads to a jail sentence? How exactly does one define “offending religious beliefs”?&nbsp;</p><p>Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova centre for information and analysis, was frank about the amended law. “Such laws are adopted for two reasons,” he said. “An ideological shift towards traditional values is one factor; another is the inertia in the new norm of adopting repressive laws.”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“The authorities aren’t really interested in anybody’s feelings — the topic forms part of a wider ideology of ‘traditional values’. It’s an ideology which engenders repression”&nbsp;</p><p>“The authorities aren’t really interested in anybody’s feelings — the topic forms part of a wider ideology of ‘traditional values’. It’s an ideology which engenders repression, and such repression is supported by newly-charged ideological commitments” — concluded Verkhovsky.&nbsp;</p><p>Andrei Sabinin, lawyer of the human rights centre Agora, agrees with Verkhovsky’s assessment: “In all honesty, I don’t see a particularly concerned attitude from the authorities when it comes to protecting the feelings of religious believers. They just rolled out a new mechanism for law enforcement which cannot but react to certain perceived challenges, no matter how absurd they actually are.”&nbsp;</p><p>Sabinin believes that there are more than enough administrative and legal provisions — including, for example, fines — to allow the state to effectively react to inappropriate behaviour towards religious relics, rituals, or sites. Hypothetical “feelings” are another matter. “If we’re talking about statements or artistic expression, then that’s a different matter — and they cannot possibly result in a criminal case,” Sabinin says.&nbsp;</p><h2>Kicking the Buddha</h2><p>For most Russians, Buddhism is almost a synonym for contemplative tranquility. But in the Republic of Kalmykia in the country’s south, it’s the traditional religion of the ethnic majority. In April 2016 Said Osmanov, a sportsman from Dagestan, arrived in Kalmykia’s capital Elista with a team of athletes to attend a wrestling competition. Osmanov slipped into a Buddhist temple, where he urinated and demonstrated the strength of his kick on a statue of the Buddha.&nbsp;</p><p>The fighter’s friends soon put a video recording of the event online. Before too long, a crowd of angry Kalmyks gathered outside the hotel where the athletes were staying, and threatened to take matters into their own hands. As Kalmykia borders mountainous, Muslim-majority Dagestan to the south, a regional conflict seemed in the making. High-profile politicians from both autonomous republics <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5Ls4guamjo" target="_blank">urgently issued a joint statement</a> condemning the antics of the now-arrested fighter.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Osmanov_Kalmykia.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Osmanov_Kalmykia.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'>The Dagestani athlete Osmanov kicks a statue of the Buddha while on a visit to Kalmykia. Image still via YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>A criminal case was opened according to article 148, and article 282 (on inciting hatred or enmity). Osmanov was handed a suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment with a one year probation period. The sentence was a compromise between Buddhist Kalmyks and Muslim Dagestanis. Some media in Dagestan even reported Osmanov’s trial through the lens of “<a href="https://onkavkaz.com/news/1066-novyi-udar-po-dagestanu-siloviki-kalmykii-reshili-lyuboi-cenoi-ne-vypuskat-saida-osmanova.html" target="_blank">the Kalmyks have got it in for us</a>”.&nbsp;</p><p>Osmanov is not the only person who ran afoul of the law due to desecrating the holy relics of other faiths. Last summer in the village of Staraya Malinovka in the Kirov region, two local residents were sentenced to correctional labour for attaching a homemade scarecrow to a cross used for public worship. The court <a href="http://tass.ru/info/4245069" target="_blank">even took into account the repentance</a> of the accused.</p><h2>When magicians offend&nbsp;</h2><p>A special case is that of Anton Simakov from Ekaterinburg, who in 2014 tried to murder Petro Poroshenko with the help of Voodoo ceremonies. Thankfully, the Ukrainian president’s health was not affected, nor was he heard to complain about any curses.&nbsp;</p><p>Meanwhile, scandalous journalist Maxim Rumyantsev had filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office to raise his concern that many “enemies of Russia” were hiding among the ranks of journalists and members of the opposition. </p><p>Rumyantsev also added that his feelings had been insulted upon watching an online video of Simakov’s voodoo rituals, in which the master magician laid out objects used in Orthodox Christian worship alongside a sacrificial rooster. A court hearing ensued, and Simakov was sent to a psychiatric clinic for compulsory treatment. The magician recovered and was released, <a href="https://www.znak.com/2017-02-16/magistr_vudu_simakov_prodal_za_2_5_mln_rub_kartinu_napisannuyu_v_podderzhku_sokolovskogo" target="_blank">eventually becoming a successful artist.</a>&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">These initiatives are usually the doing of those with the most sensitive temperaments — Cossacks and other “Orthodox activists”</p><p>Alongside disrespect to holy objects or places, there are other acts which can technically fall under article 148. Firstly, some believers might be offended by the “incorrect” portrayal of sacred objects or revered figures in works of art. While such outrage rarely leads to the punishment of artists or criminal cases being brought against them, investigations ordered by the prosecutor’s office and associated legal red tape can create their own problems. These initiatives are usually the doing of those with the most sensitive temperaments — Cossacks and other “Orthodox activists”.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02600426.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02600426.LR_.ru_.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 protest for freedom of artistic expression on Lenin Square in Novosibirsk. Photo (c): Alexander Kryazhev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In 2014, the director Timofei Kulyabin of the Novosibirsk State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet decided to stage Wagner’s famous opera, Tannhäuser. The performance was met with wide, and deserving, acclaim on the part of critics and spectators alike — but it also incensed the local Russian Orthodox diocese. The plot of Tannhäuser features an “improper” depiction of Jesus Christ, and all sorts of events take place against the backdrop of a cross on stage — a setting all too unacceptable to the ever-watchful diocese and its priests. The investigative committee closed the case due to lack of clear evidence of a crime — but the scandal <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/russia/2015/03/150329_russia_novosibirsk_theatre_director" target="_blank">led to the dismissal of theatre director Boris Mezdrich</a>.</p><p>In the spring of that same year, a tour by the Polish heavy metal band Behemoth ended in brawls with “activists of the Russian Orthodox Church” (people more reminiscent of far-right football hooligans). The fight broke out at the entrance to a club in Novosibirsk. The complaints of the “Orthodox activists” were more of an ultimatum: the governor of Khabarovsk, they declared, would be a “coward” if he “failed to speak up for Russia and the very foundations [of the nation].”&nbsp;</p><h2>“Death, violence, sexual perversion and cannibalism”&nbsp;</h2><p>That autumn, a tour by the American death metal band Cannibal Corpse was obstructed by the police and state narcotics bureau, and resulted in mass, violent detentions of members of the audience in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, and Ufa. Once more, these raids were provoked by activists of the “Orthodox Union”, who had complained to the investigative committee about both bands on the basis that they <a href="https://echo.msk.ru/news/1416930-echo.html" target="_blank">propagandised “death, violence, sexual perversion and cannibalism.”</a>&nbsp;</p><p>Criminal cases on the basis of article 148 were soon being filed left, right, and centre — and with great enthusiasm. In some instances, they were provoked by disrespectful or even just critical online statements about religious belief.&nbsp;</p><p>In the autumn of 2014, Viktor Krasnov from Stavropol got into a heated discussion on social media, in which he stated that “there’s no such thing as God” and that “the Bible is a collection of Jewish fairy tales”. Two of Krasnov’s opponents complained to the police. They had been insulted not only by the obscene language he used in their debate, but also by the anti-religious content of his messages.</p><p>The case was brought to court and was widely publicised — and eventually alarmed the public at large. The injured parties — the two insulted religious believers — did not turn up at court for so long that while as case dragged on, they graduated from their law courses at university and became police officers. And so the case of Viktor Krasnov, who never admitted his guilt, was eventually closed after the statute of limitations expired.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03096526.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03096526.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky, accused of “offending the feelings of religious believers” in court, May 2017. Photo (c): Pavel Lisytsin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Upon hearing of religious extremists’ attack on the editors of <em>Charlie Hebdo</em>, the 22-year old video blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky from Ekaterinburg made a series of satirical recordings about religion for his YouTube channel. A number of personal threats followed, so the young blogger decided to combine business with pleasure by venting his rage at fundamentalists and clericalists. He began to address religion even more frequently in his videos — it was a popular topic, and always brought thousands of views (and, therefore, advertising revenue).</p><p>Sokolovsky had already touched a nerve with religious believers by the time he uploaded his most famous video — of his <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/05/pokemon-go-russian-youtuber-ruslan-sokolovsky-five-years-jail-church" target="_blank">attempt to hunt for Pokemon using “Pokemon Go!” in Ekaterinburg’s Church of All Saints</a>. The faithful eventually filed a criminal case against Sokolovsky. The investigative committee identified nine video clips which, in their opinion, were deliberately aimed at insulting the feelings of religious believers and inciting hatred towards them and denigrating their human dignity. The prosecution also alleged that Sokolovsky had illegally acquired a “spy-pen” with hidden webcam for making his video clips.&nbsp;</p><p>For Sokolov, libertarian atheist, the internet was a space of free expression and easy money. In <a href="https://www.svoboda.org/a/28457326.html" target="_blank">his last speech before court</a>, the young blogger said that his case featured no victims, no violence, no calls to violence, nor calls to offend or denigrate religious believers. In his case, much like other criminal cases on offending religious believers, a large role had to be played by “experts” who could establish exactly what could reasonably be considered offensive.&nbsp;</p><p>On 11 May 2017, the court found Sokolovsky guilty on all counts and sentenced him to 3.5 years’ imprisonment with a three year probation period. The prosecutor’s office went further, and demanded 3.5 years’ imprisonment in a prison colony with no chance of probation. Such “lenient” sentences are given in Russia when attempts to get a clear verdict of guilt are hampered by either lack of evidence or negative public opinion.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The prosecutor demanded 3.5 years’ imprisonment for Sokolovsky. Such “lenient” sentences are given when attempts to get a clear verdict are hampered by lack of evidence</p><p>Nikolai Vitkevich could become the latest hero in yet another criminal case involving article 148. In addition to his <a href="http://vitkevich.ru" target="_blank">website about martial arts</a>, Vitkevich, a businessman, blogger, and sports journalist, maintains a <a href="http://blog.vitkevich.ru" target="_blank">personal blog in which he criticises local government officials</a>. In the summer of 2016, the blogger criticised the closing of several streets in Bryansk for an Orthodox Christian religious procession — accusing the city’s mayor of “demonstrable violations of the Russian constitution.”</p><p>Alexander Turykin — a local “patriot” and former bureaucrat who was also an activist for the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandr-litoy/ultimate-conspiracy-theory" target="_blank">ultranationalist National Liberation Movement</a> stood behind the complaint — filed a complaint against Vitkevich. </p><p>When the prosecutor’s office <a href="http://www.sova-center.ru/religion/news/authorities/feelings/2017/04/d36776/" target="_blank">analysed the language</a> of Vitkevich’s blog post, he was found to have insulted the feelings of religious believers.&nbsp;</p><p>This was <a href="https://bryansku.com/2015/07/15/bryanskij-sportsmen-i-bloger-nikolaj-vitkevich-otpravlen-pod-sud/" target="_blank">hardly the first attempt by the authorities to sue Vitkevich</a> — on account of his fighting litigation with two former governors of Bryansk and a fine for a <a href="http://www.chaskor.ru/article/nikolaj_vitkevich_ne_hochu_byt_besslovesnoj_skotinoj_5522" target="_blank">brawl with a prosecutor</a> among other scandals. Simply put, Vitkevich had investigated and criticised the authorities, so the local administration responded to him in kind.&nbsp;</p><h2>FSB vs. “fuck”&nbsp;</h2><p>On the dawn of 8 April 2017, the local anarchists in the city of Irkutsk welcomed a whole load of uninvited guests — <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1339792329441562&amp;set=a.715470515207083.1073741828.100002324228473&amp;type=3&amp;theater" target="_blank">namely, members of the FSB, rapid-response police force, investigative committee and counter-extremism centre</a>. Detentions and interrogations were conducted with threats and violence. Several anarchists disappeared, only to resurface in prison colonies in the middle of nowhere. One can only imagine the surprise of the Irkutsk anarchists at discovering that the special operation had been provoked by a single photo on VKontakte, the popular Russian social network — the word “fuck” written on the wall of a church. The photograph had been taken by the anarchist Dmitry Litvin and published on his profile some two years earlier.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/311d2e0168ddabd84252e6c82dfa8b8b.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/311d2e0168ddabd84252e6c82dfa8b8b.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dmitry Litvin, from his personal profile on VKontakte. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>These days, Litvin can’t even give comments to the press due to his signing a non-disclosure agreement on the case materials. His comrades Valeria Eltarenko, Igor Martynyuk and Sofia Mikityuk acted as witnesses, and are all convinced that article 148 was simply used as a pretext to conduct searches, confiscating cameras and computers — and preventing the anarchists from participating in the “Dissenters’ Council” which was planned to take place on 9 April.</p><p>The witnesses were questioned about their own activism, and last but not least about Litvin’s views on religion. One of the security service officers searching Eltarenko even remarked that “you must understand, that photo is key— now, everything we’re doing is legal!” At the first meetings held in summer 2017 on the case, the anarchists <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/229939717484182/permalink/252207198590767/" target="_blank">persistently but unsuccessfully demanded that the searches of their homes be recognised as illegal</a>.&nbsp;</p><h2>Blasphemy-busters go global&nbsp;</h2><p>Persecution of those who commit “crimes against the feelings of religious believers” is a very specific legal phenomenon. The emergence of article 148 and how it is applied cannot be understood without social context. In Russia, almost everybody who is prosecuted under the law gets entangled in a bigger political game. Even the trial of Dagestani fighter Osmanov, who desecrated the statue of the Buddha in Kalmykia, caused yet another reason for enmity between two neighbouring republics. In this case, the court found Osmanov guilty, but handed down a very mild sentence.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russia is a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country, which requires the authorities to be sensitive to any conflicts in the making</p><p>Russia is a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country, which requires the authorities to be sensitive to any conflicts in the making. At the same time, the Kremlin simply cannot turn away from its useful alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church. After all, during the trial of Sokolovsky, the prosecutor did not forget to point out the accused’s negative attitudes towards “Putin, Russia, and the Constitution” as discrediting factors.&nbsp;</p><p>Unsurprisingly, articles 148 and 282 (on “extremism”) frequently go hand in hand. In addition to proving a “desire by the accused to offend the feelings of religious believers”, investigators also search for evidence online of “incitement to hatred and enmity against the dignity of a specific social group” (that is, a particular religious confession). Nevertheless, Alexander Verkhovsky believes that the “article on the feelings of religious believers cannot be <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova/eight-years-for-utopia/feed" target="_blank">as widely applied as the article on extremism:</a> its scope for use is much narrower, and can only be expanded if there is a significant ideological change in the authorities’ governance.”&nbsp;</p><p>A study by the Sova Centre dedicates an entire chapter to the jurisprudence of Russia’s battle to “combat blasphemy”. Laws like Russia’s article 148 can be found in the criminal codes of most countries — in some cases, the right to freedom of conscience and religious expression is protected, while in others a penalty is outlined for the desecration of holy objects or sites. In some cases, there’s even a provision, from the very mists of time, against insulting the person of God himself — though that practice is gradually fading away, and sentences for that particular crime are quite rare.&nbsp;</p><p>In Russia meanwhile, traditional values are cultivated, if not imposed, from on high. Russia’s believers then pick up on their cues, become dutifully “offended,” and go about their “activism” from there.</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards&nbsp;</em></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/ksenia-leonova/performance-artist-katrin-nenasheva">The performance artist</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/you-wanted-civil-society-well-now-you-ve-got-it">“You wanted civil society? Well, now you’ve got it”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova/alexander-sokolov-four-years-for-utopia">Four years in prison for utopia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">How should we talk about abortion in Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/egor-mostovshikov/yelena-mizulina-creation-of-conservative">Yelena Mizulina: the creation of a conservative</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 Daniil Dugum Uncivil society Russia Thu, 05 Oct 2017 11:16:33 +0000 Daniil Dugum 113806 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russian-Germans and the surprising rise of the AfD https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/odr-editors-tatiana-golova/russian-germans-and-surprising-rise-of-afd-germany <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The right-populist AfD party is soon to take its first seats in the Bundestag. What was the role of Germany’s Russians in that unprecedented electoral success? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/redaktori-odr/v-poiskah-chuzhogo-germanii" target="_self"><strong><em>RU</em></strong></a>, <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/redaktionelles-odr/auf-der-suche-nach-dem-anderen" target="_self">Deutsch</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_14040027143_a905be03fd_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_14040027143_a905be03fd_o.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'>“A people’s decision, not politics against the people!” AfD members out campaigning before Bundestag elections. Photo: CC-by-NC-2.0: strassenstriche.net / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On 24 September, Germans voted for a new Bundestag. Chancellor Angela Merkel clinched an historic fourth term, with her party, the centre-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union), and its sister party the CSU (Christian Social Union), topping the polls. Her victory was, however, marred by the hard-right populist AfD winning its first seats in parliament. </p><p>Alternative für Deutschland, or to give the party its full name: Alternative for Germany, holds an openly xenophobic attitude to immigrants and refugees and precious little in the way of policies on other issues. Much of Germany’s media have no doubt where the blame lies: AfD’s votes, they say, must have come from the “Russians” – or rather, recently repatriated ethnic Germans from the former USSR. But is this really the case – and where did the idea come from in the first place? oDR talked about the situation with sociologist Tatiana Golova, a Research Associate at Berlin’s <a href="https://www.zois-berlin.de" target="_blank">Centre for East European and International Studies</a> (ZOiS).</p><p><strong>Two repatriates from the former USSR, or Russian Germans as they are also known, have just won seats in the Bundestag. There’s also a common perception of the AfD (encouraged by its leaders) as the party of the Russian-speaking Diaspora. How true is this? Does the AfD really represent their interests?</strong></p><p>I’m going to answer your question with two more – what is the Russian-speaking Diaspora and who are these “Russian Germans”? If we mean post-Soviet immigrants, the 2015 census gave their number at around three million (and the structure of the census was such that the number of second-generation repatriates recorded was lower than is actually the case). A majority of them are, of course, ethnic Germans from the former USSR. In Germany they are officially described as “late resettlers”, meaning people of German ancestry who repatriated after the fall of the Iron Curtain. About 2,300,000 of them, together with their families, resettled in Germany between 1990 and 2015. Many of them have since had children in Germany, so there is now a second and a third generation. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">About 2,300,000 people with German ancestry from the former Soviet Union resettled in Germany between 1990 and 2015</p><p>There are, of course, other groups of settlers. The second largest belongs to the Jewish emigration from the former USSR, mainly from Russia – about 200,000 people from this group settled in Germany over the same period. Since 2015, highly qualified immigrants have also been arriving under the aegis of the <a href="https://www.apply.eu/" target="_blank">Blue Card scheme</a>, the EU equivalent of the US Green Card programme. And then there are family members, refugees and Russian nationals who have been living in Israel, the USA or other European countries. </p><p>The AfD is keenest to reach “late resettlers”, because they have the right to vote in Germany. Other immigrants from the former USSR face considerable difficulty in gaining these rights, and not all of them are successful. Thus, post-Soviet migration is divided not only along cultural lines but also by potential participation in German political life. </p><p>As for their interests and political leanings, a 2016 publication by the <a href="https://www.svr-migration.de/en/" target="_blank">Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration</a> revealed that just 4.7% of late repatriates, with or without German citizenship, supported the AfD (the figures reflect a poll conducted in 2015, before the party’s open drift rightwards). For comparison, the figure for its support among the “indigenous” population was a mere 1.8%. </p><p><strong>How do the political views of people from the former USSR compare with those of other immigrant groups in Germany? Do late repatriates differ from other groups in this respect?</strong></p><p>They share much, but much divides them. Turkish immigrants, gastarbeiters and their families, have always supported the Social Democrats and still do. For a long time, the CDU were the party of choice for Russian Germans, with 65-68% supporting them, but by 2016 this figure had fallen to 40-45%. German sociologist Andreas Büst, however, notes that the same thing is happening with Turkish immigrants – a broadening of political preference. The longer people live in the country, the more diverse their political views. The left-wing Die Linke are gaining popularity among them, as are the Greens and other groups.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Merkel_EEpresidency_Feb17_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Merkel_EEpresidency_Feb17_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'>Germany’s latest elections saw a shift in the balance of power, but chancellor Angela Merkel has held on for a fourth term in office. Photo CC-by-2.0: Arno Mikkor / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In terms of elections, how do you find out what party Russian Germans voted for? Well, you can look at districts where they live with a high population density, a result of both a short-sighted housing policy in the 1990s and individual preferences. The Russian German faction within AfD is always crowing about its results in areas of high density housing – take Maibuche in the town of Waldbröl in North Rhine-Westphalia. It’s a small constituency with a high concentration of Russian Germans, where 50% of voters support AfD – though their 124 votes had little influence on the local result. The turnout was only 44%, much lower than the German average of 78%. This pattern is similar to many other places, including larger population centres with a high proportion of post-Soviet immigrants with the right to vote – in the Buckenberg district of Pforzheim in Baden-Württemberg, for example, AfD got 37%. </p><p>A more interesting question is to what extent one can extrapolate the views of all Russian Germans from these results. There are, after all, people who don’t live in areas of high immigration and are not immersed in more or less closed Russian-speaking communities. However, there’s little quantitative analysis of voluntary segregation of such groups. </p><p><strong>So what’s the origin of this supposed connection between Russian Germans and the AfD? Why is it assumed, and why has the AfD identified them as potential voters?</strong></p><p>Remember that the story of Russian Germans in the twentieth century was one of deportation and repressions. But the repressions have become a background issue – after all, anybody who considered it seriously would find it difficult to support a political party that is demanding a restrictive policy towards asylum seekers. The main factor now is how they perceive a common future: “We returned to our roots in Germany, and expected it to be like this and like this. We work, we earn money, we provide for ourselves. If you want to do well here, you work hard; you have a traditional family; you have strong intergenerational links and of course you adopt German cultural norms, you live like a German among Germans”.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Migration has a particular resonance for Russian Germans: “we waited so long, then these refugees turned up and they let them in straight away!”</span></p><p>There is also an ethnic component to this – “we were persecuted as Germans; we want to live in our German homeland” and so forth. On the other hand, this is a generic picture of Russian Germans’ way of life in small towns and villages in Siberia and Kazakhstan before they repatriated to Germany. The Russian Germans’ “return to the homeland” in the 1990s didn’t play out quite as it’s remembered today.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AfD_Rus_Advert_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AfD_Rus_Advert_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Defend your children from the consequences of uncontrolled migration and the teaching of perversion in schools!” reads this Russian-language AfD newspaper advertisement. Photo: Ayder Muzhdabayev / Facebook. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>That return was a potent story, and it was exploited by the CDU. The attraction of AfD, for its part, lies in disenchantment: “we returned to our homeland and found it completely different”. Russian Germans discovered that that Germans didn’t actually see them as fellow Germans. They felt discriminated, even as they underwent a process of assimilation that led them to a variety of political positions. And today you have AfD, ready to exploit the disenchantment, and not just on issues close to Russian Germans, but to those like the refugee question which remain highly charged among the wider population.</p><p>Russian Germans are particularly sensitive on this point: “we waited so long [and many of them did wait several years] and then these refugees turned up and they let them in straight away – why was it all so unfair?” What they don’t mention is that once the “Russians” did arrive, they were presented with considerably more rights and opportunities, and a fast track to German citizenship. We can say that the AfD gains traction on the back on wider issues, but cleverly tailors its statements to resonate with the attitudes of Russian Germans.</p><p>Importantly, AfD is a new party, and its members are not all former Christian Democrats. In Germany, if you want to end up in the Bundestag you need to get involved in politics from an early age – say, at school. That wasn’t common among Russian immigrants 20 or more years ago. But the AfD, as a young party, allows you to skip all the preliminary steps in your political career. That often has mixed results. Waldemar Herdt’s was the seventh name on the AfD candidate list in Lower Saxony at this election; Anton Friesen (born 1985) was fifth on the list in Thuringia. They, with their good German names, were both elected, but others were not so fortunate. Sergey Chernov was eleventh on his local party list, and Yevgeny Schmitt, another Russian German, was seventeenth. AfD supposedly wants Russian German support, but is not keen on putting Russian names high enough on its lists for them to be actually elected.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">AfD supposedly wants Russian German support, but is not keen on putting Russian names high enough on its lists for them to be elected</p><p>At the same time, a new generation of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and others is also on its way up through the ranks, having started at the bottom. Things should be getting interesting.</p><p><strong>The growth of right-wing movements like the AfD is hardly confined to Germany. The Russian-speaking community in its various incarnations has a powerful rightist potential in both the USA and Israel. Yet the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of people emigrating to Germany is very different from that of those who emigrated to those countries. Nevertheless, we see similar processes taking place. How can we explain this?</strong></p><p>I can’t say much about the USA and Israel, but I can about Germany. Russian Germans’ desire to emigrate to Germany and to belong there is based on their ancestry – that is a conservative principle. If they were to argue against that, they would be arguing against themselves. It didn’t start with the AfD – which was hardly the first rightist party to start mobilising Russian Germans. Just looking at the election results in Saxony, we can see that although nationalist and “patriotic” parties once had a lot of support, they weren’t as popular as the AfD is today. After all, not everyone was prepared to vote for the openly extreme right-wing NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany). Since the AfD didn’t have its roots in classic right-wing extremism, it got votes from ordinary people who had little interest in politics. And although many Russian Germans had right-wing views, they preferred not to vote for radicals – they generally had a more traditionalist outlook. </p><p><strong>You say that AfD’s strategy is to appeal directly to those immigrants who have the vote. Do you think other parties are equally interested in their views? Have the established democratic parties made any attempts to set up a dialogue with the Russian-speaking Diaspora? </strong></p><p>Somewhat, but they haven’t been successful and have perhaps started on the wrong foot. It seems to me that Russian Germans rarely get involved in the typical grassroots party work of knocking on doors in your local community. At the same time, distancing oneself from politics is a particularly strong phenomenon among post-Soviet people. Most wouldn’t touch political party meetings with a bargepole. But there are projects out there which aim to raise political consciousness among both Russian Germans and other Russian-speaking communities. The <a href="http://www.bvre.de/o-nas.html" target="_blank">Union of Russian-speaking Parents</a>, for example, attempts to involve post-Soviet immigrants in political life by organising a series of discussions before the elections in places like Leipzig and Marzahn, a dormitory suburb of Berlin.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The AfD chooses to speak to Russian Germans as “real Germans” - in Russian!</p><p>These events took place in Russian, and representatives of different parties were invited. It was really interesting and it was good that they took a different approach from the “oh, we can’t invite the AfD”. </p><p>The key question is, how specific are the problems of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and to what extent can their concerns be met by existing parties? The Greens are working on this – they’ve been raising question of full recognition of people’s earlier pension contributions before they came to Germany (this is especially relevant for Jewish immigrants). Other parties are also running discussion sessions, but I wouldn’t say they had met their full potential.</p><p>And last but not least, parties should be speaking to immigrants in Russian. It’s not a question of people not being able to speak German: the second generation speaks it well, the older generation with various levels of fluency – but when you speak Russian to people, you acknowledge their distinctiveness. How the AfD approaches this is fascinating, because they speak to them as “real Germans” – in Russian!</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_35023461874_6ac0d21828_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/rsz_35023461874_6ac0d21828_k.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'>Two candidates from repatriate backgrounds (or as they’re still known, “Russian Germans”) have won seats in the Bundestag. Photo CC-by-2.0: Andy Blackledge / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Electoral rights are just one aspect, albeit an important one, of the experience of Russian speakers in emigration. Quite apart from the Russian Germans in Germany, there are a larger number of people who keep their Russian passports for years, don’t apply for citizenship in their new country for one reason or another but have nevertheless settled and live a normal life there. </strong></p><p><strong>Meanwhile, nationals of other EU states resident in Germany have at least local voting rights (they can elect members of their local council but not vote for a Chancellor), but citizens of post-Soviet states have no such rights. If they were given the same rights, would we see a different election result? And could such a reform increase the electoral potential of Germany’s democratic parties? </strong></p><p>The 2016 report I mentioned earlier found no significant difference in voting patterns between people with German citizenship and those without. Also, it’s not just Russian Germans who are conservative in their attitudes, but also the highly educated immigrants who have arrived under the Blue Badge scheme. So I’d like to look at other forms of political participation. There is electoral legislation, but in principle one can join a party and be a political activist without having citizenship. </p><p><strong>And do former Russian or Soviet citizens avail themselves of this kind of participation?</strong></p><p>To a limited degree, to put it mildly. There’s a certain distrust of public politics. The liberal immigrant community in Berlin is active in raising consciousness of what’s going on in Russia, but only in Russian-speaking circles (it would be good to do the same thing in German). Nevertheless, they do also discuss Russia’s attempts at interference in the German elections and the general political situation in Germany. There is a liberal Russian-speaking community, not only from Russia, that actively debates the situation in Crimea, for example. So discussion exists, but it’s a question of what concrete political forms it can take: whether people should take to the streets or not. After all, there are rarely many protesters in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin.</p><p><strong>Our columnist Nikolai Klimeniouk <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/merkel-victory" target="_blank">believes that the true victory of the right is that it now sets the political agenda</a>, despite lacking any coherent manifesto. The AfD has succeeded in getting everyone talking about immigrants and refugees, while other issues have been put on the back burner. Even the extreme right is setting an agenda for political participation. Given that, during the election campaign a supposed link between “Russians” and the German right suddenly started making the headlines, this is very relevant. So why did AfD’s opponents go along so easily with this idea that Russian-speaking immigrants were some kind of enemy within? </strong></p><p>This isn’t the first stigma to have been attached to settlers from the former Soviet Union. Back in the 1990s they were often not acknowledged as Germans and were on the receiving end of nasty xenophobic jokes; then they acquired a criminal reputation: young guys spreading Russian prison culture in German jails, alcoholics without a future and so on. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russian Germans are now “the AfD voters”, which is very convenient: responsibility for the rise of the right can be shifted onto the shoulder of foreigners</p><p>Now they are “the AfD voters”, which is very convenient: responsibility for the rise of the right can be shifted onto the shoulders of foreigners. The stereotype that Russian Germans are not real Germans is still very strong. </p><p><strong>In a word, they’re seen as some kind of hicks from the sticks?</strong></p><p>That’s it – they’re behind the times. And Russian Germans “obviously” voted this way on orders from Putin. But they didn’t vote for AfD because someone from outside had brainwashed them. They didn’t need propaganda to convince them of some of the party’s policies – restriction on refugee entry, for example. But the enlightened German public found it very convenient to believe that Russian Germans were responsible for AfD candidates winning Bundestag seats – even though Russian Germans have only two parliamentarians out of AfD’s 94. </p><p><strong>So all German politics revolves around the harassment of the “Others”? AfD stigmatises Muslim refugees, while liberal Germans lash out at the “Russians” who vote for this same AfD. It seems to be a vicious circle, with everyone looking for enemies.</strong></p><p>I think this will stop soon. There are other issues on the agenda, and I hope that this hunt for the “Others” will end. But that depends on how AfD behaves in the Bundestag. In the long term, these election results might encourage people in the Russian community who don’t share the party’s positions to become more politically active. </p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></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/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andriy-portnov/germany-and-disinformation-politics-of-ukraine-crisis">Germany and the disinformation politics of the Ukraine crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/how-operation-liza-failed">How “Operation Liza” failed</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/polina-aronson/you-re-better-than-you-think">You’re better than you think</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-grinko/why-moscow-will-never-get-museum-of-migration">Why Moscow will never get a museum of migration</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany </div> </div> </div> <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 Germany Tatiana Golova Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Migration matters Russia Wed, 04 Oct 2017 15:52:50 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia and Tatiana Golova 113799 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Raiding in Russia’s education system is causing the death of professional education https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irina-pisarenko/raiding-in-russias-education <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">There is a full-blown struggle for the future of Russian higher education going on. Right now, the professionals are losing. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irina-pisarenko/reydery-ot-nauki" target="_self"><strong><em>RU</em></strong></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/564053/24572147460_1c7f70244c_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/24572147460_1c7f70244c_k.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The repair of Russian science is carried out so haphazardly that nothing of educational traditions remains . Photo: Nickolas Titkov / Flickr, CC-by-2.0. Some rights rederved.</span></span></span>It’s a shame: Russia’s new parents, bouncing their children along in pushchairs, have no idea of what is happening right now in their schools and universities, and how it will affect them for years to come. That is, the fate of Russia’s professional education system is being decided as you read this. </p><p dir="ltr">At every stage, these children will be in the hands of professionals —&nbsp;kindergarten, school and university. But where do Russia’s professionals come from? And, most importantly, why are they disappearing in a country with such a rich tradition of education? </p><h2 dir="ltr">Highly educated, highly dangerous</h2><p dir="ltr">Several years ago, I was struck by a story that, at the time, seemed fantastical: the director of a successful district center for social aid was suddenly fired in a single day. The director had the right education for the job, didn’t accept bribes and received no complaints from either clients or colleagues. In a word, she met the highest professional requirements. It was just that the centre, which she had built from the ground up and which was used by local bureaucrats as an example to their superiors, needed a different director — one who was easier to negotiate with, less strict in observing professional and ethical norms and, I’ll say it straight, less educated. Today, an educated person, it turns out, presents a risk for the Russian state. </p><p dir="ltr">The events around the sacking developed quickly: first, there were unambiguous hints that the director should resign from the centre (which she’d built with her own hands), next, the local prosecutor’s office conducted an audit in search of evidence to blackmail the centre with. And then, on the final day of the audit, when the director had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance due to a heart attack, she was threatened over the phone. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If your fingers were light enough, the assets of colleges and schools could guarantee the “new managers” a pleasant enough existence</p><p dir="ltr">Lying in hospital, with her future health uncertain, the centre’s director surrendered and wrote her resignation. Then, after returning to health over several months, she found that she couldn’t find a new job in her field. Eventually, the former director did find something through an old colleague, who told her to keep her nose clean while she worked until retirement age. This is how a competent person, a professional, wound up in the gutter of her profession. The center is now quietly falling apart. </p><p dir="ltr">I’ll repeat myself: back then, this kind of story seemed fantastical. But today, these situations are happening more and more in Russia, in different fields and cities. We are now dealing with a new trend — raids on Russia’s social sphere. For Russia’s education system, raiding, the process of <a href="https://rusi.org/publication/occasional-papers/corporate-raiding-russia-tackling-legal-semi-legal-and-illegal">stealing control over an asset</a> (usually a successful one), is focused on taking jobs that permit financial gain and a rise in professional status. Raiders are usually not interested in research or helping others. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The hegemony of pragmatic interests</h2><p dir="ltr">Having divided up the industrial base and political posts, the “entrepreneurial” part of Russian society placed its sights on the country’s education resources. Thanks to the Soviet legacy, education institutes and schools were, as a rule, based in large buildings, and if your fingers were light enough, these assets could guarantee the “new managers” a pleasant enough existence. Plus, higher education institutes receive state funding, which guarantees a <a href="http://www.aif.ru/money/mymoney/dohodnoe_mesto_pochemu_rektory_vuzov_shikuyut_a_prepodavateli_nishchenstvuyut">high level of financial stability</a>. In effect, the annual budget of your average higher education institute in Russia could cover the expenditures of a small town. </p><p dir="ltr">The myth that there’s no money for Russia’s education system is gradually evaporating. You just need to look at the sums allocated by the government for the implementation of state contracts in the “humanities” on the <a href="http://www.zakupki.gov.ru/epz/order/notice/ea44/view/common-info.html?regNumber=0373100128917000014">Russian state tender website</a> and the <a href="https://www.rospres.org/finance/21351/">annual salaries of the top 50-richest university rectors</a> in Russia. The average monthly income for employees of university rector offices is often between 300,000-500,000 roubles (£3,800-£6,400), so it’s no surprise that people ready to convert their souls into hard cash have gravitated towards these positions. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">People from the so-called “human-oriented” spheres should have stronger moral sensibilities. After all, their work involves “developing human capital”</p><p dir="ltr">The “new entrepreneurs” also began to work on academic publications (which don’t require serious investment, many publications don’t even have a print version), internet conferences, academic competitions (with a significant administration fee) and so on. The long-running struggle over publishing school textbooks continues, and you can understand why: the Enlightenment publishing house, which publishes a third of all Russian school textbooks, made 4.4 billion roubles (£56m) last year. </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/RIAN_02262281.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_02262281.LR_.ru_.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'>School textbooks - profitable business. Photo: Valeriy Ankov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It seems that people from the so-called “human-oriented” spheres should have stronger moral sensibilities. After all, their work involves translating “cultural codes”, “caring for the vulnerable” and “developing human capital”. Well, at least that’s what they were taught. But where do their professional ethics go when we start talking about material wealth? Apparently, it’s instinct that wins out in the humanities. You only have to find the “golden vein” — the comfortable job or source of funds — and it doesn’t matter how you make your money. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The absence of transparency</h2><p dir="ltr">Despite the fact that Article 3 of Russia’s Federal Law on Education <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_140174/15956ae575273a483e753fc119fb41fc4c37f846/">states</a> that education should be transparent and democratic in nature, higher education institutions — and, indeed, the Ministry of Education and Science&nbsp;itself — don’t always adhere to these principles. The double standards regarding education institutions allow officials not only to apply the law selectively, but interpret it as they see fit. Indeed, the fight against uncooperative institutions often starts with personnel changes mandated from above. </p><p dir="ltr">In the beginning, cases where institute directors were fired were rare, and Russia’s pedagogical community honestly tried to find the reasons why. For instance, in 2010, the St Petersburg education system lost one of its most talented managers, the director of the City Palace of Youth Creativity. Despite the protests of palace employees and the director’s significant professional achievements, he was fired. The people behind the decision couldn’t explain why. Rumour had it that the director was fired to smooth the way for certain persons to take ownership of the building in the historic centre of the city. </p><p dir="ltr">The palace’s new director, who was appointed from “above”, worked at the palace of creativity for a relatively short period of time, and didn’t have time to destroy it. The building remained, and the employees were lucky enough that one of them eventually took over the institution. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The policy of “secret decisions” is becoming increasingly popular. Moreover, this policy is affecting not only the highest level of Russia’s university system, but dozens of faculties</p><p dir="ltr">This kind of “happy ending” is, however, a rarity. Usually, personnel changes clouded in secrecy are able to destroy any education institution in a very short period of time. In spring 2017, for example, Moscow’s teachers were shocked by the forced resignation of a legendary professor at Moscow State Pedagogical University. The professor in question not only ran the first private school in Russia, but institutionalised the practice of tutoring in Russian education — setting up a Tutors Association and training several dozen specialists. </p><p dir="ltr">But after the appointment of a new rector at the university, neither this person, nor their ideas, were needed any more. And this in a situation where tutoring could have “fed” Moscow State Pedagogical University financially for many years. It seems the new rector has their own ideas (which are, it should be said, still unknown). Similarly unknown is the direction of many “reformed” education institutions. The Ministry of Education doesn’t consider it necessary to consult the academic community on decisions that will define the direction of their development for many years. </p><p dir="ltr">The policy of “secret decisions” is becoming increasingly popular. Moreover, this policy is affecting not only the highest level of Russia’s university system, but dozens of faculties. Across the country, people are drawing up “lawful schemes” to fire faculty heads and deans behind their backs. The many stories published on social media are evidence of this. </p><p dir="ltr">“As the head of faculty at an institute in the Moscow region, I received an order not to apply for re-election to my post given that there was another candidate, a dean! The dean was inviting experts from the region where he used to work. The dean thus created a system to pressure us, lobbying his own interests and freeing up posts! This is how ‘manual control’ becomes more interesting than system development!” (Anna)</p><p dir="ltr">“The most terrible part of it is that you can see similar things happening at other institutes. People who can work, who loves their profession, sets the bar high for themselves and a high level of work in general — this category of lecturers begins to annoy those above, and people try and get rid of them quickly.” (Tatyana)</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/EU 3_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/EU 3_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'>Meeting in support of the European University, St. Petersburg. Photo: Anna Klepikova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In situations where, having fired the directors, the Ministry of Education fails to destroy an institute, it tries liquidate the whole university at once. The fight to save the European University at St Petersburg is now in its second year. This institution, which is modern, loved by students and has a strong teaching staff, it seems, is now in the way of Russia’s cultural capital. According to the rector, the reason why certain groups are trying to bring EUSPB down is that it is too independent, and this independence is <a href="http://newtimes.ru/stati/xroniki/evropa-poperek-gorla.html">“perceived as a threat to the existing order in Russia”</a>. But wait: surely this is what our educational standards are aiming for? Doesn’t every educational institution dream of “producing” this kind of individual?</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://eeip.ru/">East-European Institute of Psychoanalysis</a>, one of the oldest institutions of its kind in Russia, found itself in a similar situation. Despite its international authority, experience (4,000 specialists in 26 years), the institute lost its accreditation for a rather strange reason — inaccurate names for classes. If we were talking about an institution that was more loyal to the Ministry of Education, this “violation” would have been dismissed out of hand. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A crisis of competency</h2><p dir="ltr">Raiding in Russia’s education system occurs according to two main scenarios: one group of academics leave after being humiliated, others stay and continue to work at their new jobs, waiting for better times. It’s not worth condemning either group — there’s often specific circumstances at play. But none of the organisers or those who carry out the raiding schemes even think about the potential and real risks to which they subject an organisation.</p><p dir="ltr">When a professional leaves an institute, this is always a problem with the institute management — a problem of how competent its managers are. It means that the administration has put its personal interests and ambitions above those of the professional community. After all, when professionals leave, so do students, and possible partners, which means, in the end, a decline in reputation.</p><p dir="ltr">The Ministry of Education is supposedly inspired by the “development of science”, but at the same time, scientific schools are destroyed, successful teams dissipate, interest falls, and so the possibility of research itself disappears. It seems like a good idea to introduce younger personnel into management. But it’s often people from outside who come to manage institutes — and these “effective managers” have no knowledge of the traditions (open and secret) it might have, instead viewing the academy as a cabbage field that needs to be harvested.</p><p dir="ltr">This year, students in Irkutsk <a href="http://baikal24.ru/text/30-06-2017/nerjadovoe/">made a stand</a> — they been through three universities in the course of “amalgamation” and “transformation”. In Kemerovo, another Siberian town, the process of changing rectors in two institutes (Kemerovo State University and Kemerovo Institute of Food Production) turned out to be unexpected for all. One rector just upped and took the place of another, when the latter announced his candidacy for the regional assembly. &nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">To drag Russia’s education system out of this abyss, we need professionals — people who can see the situation holistically, with an eye on the past and the future</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/564053/24774700571_f6b7e4ea31_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/24774700571_f6b7e4ea31_k.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="348" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Decisions "from above" remove scientists from their positions and deprive them of the opportunity to work. Photo: Nickolas Titkov / Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The Russian State Pedagogical University paid similarly for attempting to preserve its own autonomy. The university’s charter gives the right to elect the rector to its employees, which means they cannot be appointed from outside. For two years, the Ministry of Education <a href="http://businessfm.spb.ru/novosti/vybory-rektora-rgpu-imeni-gercena-vnov-pod-voprosom">still can’t stabilise the situation</a>: the rector elections have dragged on since March 2016, with candidates not being approved by the ministry, or being knocked out of the competition, or being involved in court cases. Employees are leaving en masse: some are going to other institutes, whereas others have decided to work as part of the “new team”. The former administration has dissolved into the faculties, and the new managers are sorting out ongoing problems. The lecturers are still waiting to find out what’s going on, and the struggle for power continues. </p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, in Ekaterinburg, a similar situation has emerged at two humanities institutes, the Institute of Humanities and Arts and Institute of Social and Political Science at the Ural Federal University. After recent reforms, these institutes will now be merged into the Ural Humanities Institute. As Kommersant <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3298395">writes</a>: “lecturers expect that there will be cuts after the merger, given the university will focus on developing its technical education.” Of course, this blending of “arts” and “politics” can probably be called an “interdisciplinary approach” to teaching students, but I suspect that quite different goals are driving this merger. </p><p dir="ltr">To drag Russia’s education system out of this abyss, we need professionals — people who can draw on experience, and that means people who can see the situation holistically, with an eye on the past and the future. The professional is someone who can make decisions relying on academic knowledge. The professional has experience in their own concrete field, and can tell a competent specialist from someone who isn’t. They are someone who will chose in favour of the work, not their own personal interests. But if you look at the people who work at the Ministry of Education (in particular, the “team” of ex-minister Dmitry Livanov), then you can clearly see that the key jobs were taken by people who were very far from the sphere they were invited to manage.</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/RIAN_02892749.LR_.ru__3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_02892749.LR_.ru__3.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'>Former Education Minister Dmitry Livanov. Photo (c): Alexey Druzhinin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2 dir="ltr">Non-systematic education</h2><p dir="ltr">Experience shows that you can steal someone else’s territory, but that it's impossible to reproduce its own, specific atmosphere. Every person who has ever created their own humanities project — a lesson, a lecture, whatever — makes it “out of themselves”. In the humanities, working “with yourself” is our profession’s main tool. All great ideas have been born out of the individual. This how Freud, Vygotsky, Montessori worked. </p><p dir="ltr">You need decades of work to create a scientific school. Even if you appoint a new rector and give them the right financing, they won’t be able to “order” development from faculties, schools or students. The fabric of academic practice takes years to construct. But when the educational authorities continue to appoint their “own people” as deans of universities rather than the best, or the most competent, they rip this fabric. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There is a need to renew personnel, our concepts of development — and yes, our buildings. But why does this process have to be so opaque?</p><p dir="ltr">The Russian government is seriously concerned with raising the ability of our universities to compete. But this concern hasn’t been thought through or planned: endless grants are assigned from the budget <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">to try and get our universities into international ratings</a>; the regulation governing our universities is constantly being “modernised”, leaving paralysis in its wake when documents don’t match up; the numerous conferences and seminars that don’t discuss real problems, but just use up grant money. </p><p dir="ltr">There is a need to renew personnel, our concepts of development — and yes, our buildings. But why does this process have to be so opaque? Our government claims to stand for “diversity”, “the individual approach” and “democracy” in education, but then takes the opposite track, focusing on “unification”, “standardisation” and “regulation from above”. Why did they have to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">merge so many institutes</a>, which led to so many scientific and human losses?</p><p dir="ltr">Education is the core of any society. Everything is built upon it — the economy, science and culture. When this core comes under attack, Russia loses more than the field of education. It loses its values that give our country its uniqueness. </p><p dir="ltr">The education system is one of the few fields that touches nearly every individual. This is why Russian society, and its professionals, need to take a hard look at its education system today — and why we don’t need more stagnation-inducing regulation from above.</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/tatyana-dvornikova/inside-russia-s-beleaguered-vocational-education-sector">Inside Russia’s beleaguered vocational education sector</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">Cuts, cuts, cuts: the life and times of Russia’s university teachers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/three-teachers-monologues">&quot;I don&#039;t falsify elections and I don&#039;t spread propaganda. But I&#039;m still a teacher, I exist&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladislav-lobanov/for-russia-s-students-price-of-protest-can-be-high">For Russia’s students, the price of protest can be high</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 russia Irina Pisarenko Russia Education Mon, 02 Oct 2017 13:03:44 +0000 Irina Pisarenko 113726 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Reasons for arrest: anti-capitalism, separatism and “political hatred” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/reasons-for-arrest-anti-capitalism-separatism-and-political-hatred <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">This week, Russian law enforcement gets inventive as it detains activists across the country.&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/photo_2017-09-24_21-16-48_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Capitalism is shit": officers in Barvhikha demonstrate protesters' banner inside the police station. Source: Left Bloc.</span></span></span>On Saturday, at least 40 people were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/09/23/zaderzhaniya-na-shestvii-antikapitalizm-2017-v-moskve">detained</a> in Moscow at the “Anti-Capitalism 2017” <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/18/meriya-moskvy-ne-soglasovala-marsh-antikapitalizm-2017">march</a> that had been held without official permission. On Monday, court proceedings began against Sergei Udaltsov and other activists of the Other Russia organisation, who had been arrested at the march. Most of the trials were postponed, but Udaltsov was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/25/zaderzhannogo-na-antikapitalizme-2017-sergeya-udalcova-sud-arestoval-na-pyat">sentenced</a> to five days in jail, whereupon he declared a hunger strike.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Also on Saturday: nine Left Bloc activists, who were tried to hold a protest outside elite housing in Moscow’s Barvikha district, were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/23/aktivisty-levogo-bloka-po-prezhnemu-nahodyatsya-v-policii-v-barvihe">detained</a> as they arrived at the nearby commuter train station. On Monday they were tried and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/26/sud-arestoval-zaderzhannyh-v-barvihe-aktivistov-levogo-bloka-na-sroki-ot-3">given sentences</a> ranging from three to 14 days in jail. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />The deputy chair of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Ilmi Umerov, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/27/sud-prigovoril-k-dvum-godam-kolonii-zamglavy-medzhlisa-krymskih-tatar-ilmi">sentenced</a> to two years in a low-security prison colony for calling, live on television, for Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. This was despite the fact that the prosecution had <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/20/dlya-zamestitelya-glavy-medzhlisa-krymskih-tatar-poprosili-uslovnyy-srok">asked</a> for Umerov to be given a suspended sentence. The court considered it necessary to hand down a more severe sentence. Under the same article of the Criminal Code on separatism, Ukrainian journalist Mykola Semena was given a 30-month <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/22/zhurnalista-prigovorili-k-dvum-s-polovinoy-godam-uslovno-po-obvineniyu-v">suspended sentence</a> for his article “A Blockade is a Necessary First Step towards the Liberation of Crimea” published on the website <a href="https://ru.krymr.com/">Crimea. Realities</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The latest news about prosecutions that followed anti-corruption rallies earlier this year is as follows: </p><ul><li>- Dmitry Krepkin, charged in the Case of 26 March, has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/28/figuranta-dela-26-marta-dmitriya-krepkina-pereveli-v-drugoy-sizo">moved</a> from one pre-trial detention centre (Vodnik) to another (Butyrka). The first hearing in his case will take place on 13 October at 11:00 in Tver district court. It is possible that the judgment will be issued the same day</li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Moscow City Court <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/25/mosgorsud-ostavil-v-sile-prigovor-zimovcu-za-akciyu-26-marta">upheld</a> on appeal the conviction of Stanislav Zimovets in connection with the rally of 26 March. He has been sentenced to 30 months in prison</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- In St Petersburg, the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/26/policeyskiy-pozhalovavshiysya-na-napadenie-podrostka-12-iyunya-poteryal">trial</a> began in the case of the minor Dmitry Myakshin, charged with using force against a police officer during the rally held on 12 June. The court heard the testimony of the victim, testimony which is very different from what can be seen on the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BVP3oMdhKPC/?taken-by=kroliaz">video</a> of the arrest of the young person</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- The case of the high school student Mikhail Galyashkin, charged with releasing pepper spray at a police officer at the rally of 12 June, has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/25/delo-shkolnika-obvinyaemogo-v-raspylenii-gaza-na-akcii-12-iyunya-peredali-v">transferred to the court</a></p></li></ul><p dir="ltr">Across the country, the local campaigning headquarters of Alexey Navalny are trying to obtain permission for him to hold public rallies and meetings, but in many cities permission is being <a href="https://www.leonidvolkov.ru/p/233/">denied</a>. In Krasnoyarsk, his local campaign staff were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/28/krasnoyarskiy-shtab-alekseya-navalnogo-priglasili-na-besedu-v-meriyu">summoned</a> to city hall and shown a written warning that violations of the law were not permitted. Apart from the standard warning about rallies, they were also threatened with criminal prosecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code. And police colonel Prokopishko came up with a new category of hatred: “political hatred”. Students ofthe Far East State University for the Fishing Industry in Vladivostok have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/22/studentov-vo-vladivostoke-predupredili-o-problemah-iz-za-uchastiya-vo">warned</a> they may face problems if they take part in a meeting with Navalny, and were also threatened with potential prosecution under anti-extremism law.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />OVD-Info member Aleksandr Litoi attended the trial of Dmitry Buchenkov and gave testimony on behalf of the defence. Buchenkov is being tried in the Bolotnaya Square case, despite the fact that on the day in question he was not in Moscow, let alone on Bolotnaya Square. <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/opinions/2017/09/26/etot-sud-ne-mozhet-dlitsya-ni-sekundy-dolshe">This trial must not last a second longer</a>.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2>Thank you!</h2><p dir="ltr">Our thanks to everyone who continues to support our work. Find out how you can help us <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p><p>For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <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/ovd-info/metal-pipe-for-your-trouble">A metal pipe for your trouble</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, 29 Sep 2017 11:14:10 +0000 OVD-Info 113694 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/osce_budapest_portrait-37.jpg" alt="osce_budapest_portrait-37.jpg" width="80" />We all know about Baku’s international efforts to whitewash criticism of human rights abuses. What makes these latest revelations so different?</p><br /> </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/PA-32971826.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'>23 September: several thousand people gather in Baku for a protest rally of the National Council of Democratic Forces, under the slogan ''Return the money stolen from the people!''. (c) Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It’s been a busy last few weeks for Sofia’s City Prosecutor Office, which has launched an <a href="http://sofiaglobe.com/2017/09/07/azerbaijani-laundromat-reports-bulgarian-prosecutor-general-orders-probe-of-mitrev/" target="_blank">investigation into Kalin Mitrev</a>, the Bulgarian representative to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. In Slovenia, a presidential candidate <a href="https://www.sns.si/izjava-za-javnost/" target="_blank">dropped out of the race</a>. In the UK, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/theresa-may-challenged-over-azerbaijani-money-laundering-scheme" target="_blank">called for a full investigation</a> into the whereabouts of dirty money channeled through UK offshores to buy influence and powerful friends.&nbsp;</p><p>The reason for all this commotion is the revelations surrounding a new money laundering scheme dubbed the “<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/" target="_blank">Azerbaijani Laundromat</a>”, released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) together with international investigative media outlets and Belingske. Stories of offshores, investments and businesses owned by members of the ruling Aliyev family have adorned international publications for years. This is hardly the first <a href="https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160404-azerbaijan-hidden-wealth.html" target="_blank">investigative exposé</a> of corruption and money laundering schemes commonly used in Azerbaijan — just remember the Panama Papers.&nbsp;</p><p>So what makes the latest round of revelations so special? In the days since their announcement, I’ve had time to chew over the question. As executive director of OCCRP Paul Radu told me, this was the first time investigative journalists have actually gained access to bank accounts, and revealed the actual beneficiaries of these huge transactions. Radu added that the funds were used not just to purchase luxury goods and politicians in Europe, but that countries like Iran had used Azerbaijan’s slush fund to bypass sanctions.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Unlike ever before, these revelations reveal the extraordinary lengths to which Baku will go in order to whitewash criticism and buy praise</p><p>These revelations concern me, not only as an Azerbaijani but also as a journalist. Unlike ever before, they reveal the extraordinary lengths to which the government in Baku will go to whitewash criticism of the country’s dismal human rights record — with a little help from its foreign friends.&nbsp;</p><h2>A serving of caviar diplomacy&nbsp;</h2><p>The time frame indicated in the investigations is significant. In 2012, the Azerbaijani leadership tasted what an international outcry on human rights abuse at home meant <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17479011" target="_blank">while hosting the Eurovision song contest</a>. By this point, the regime had already started making useful friends at the Council of Europe thanks to what Berlin-based think tank ESI described in its 2012 report as “<a href="http://www.esiweb.org/pdf/esi_document_id_131.pdf" target="_blank">Caviar Diplomacy</a>”.&nbsp;</p><p>Their report is an excellent explainer for anyone trying to understand how Azerbaijan’s laundromat works. Caviar Diplomacy was about “winning and retaining the stamp of legitimacy” — and win Azerbaijan certainly did when it came to finding positive assessments about the country’s internal democratic progress.&nbsp;</p><p>In some cases, these friendly voices needed a little gift. At least, this may have been the case with German politician Eduard Lintner. Lintner, a Christian Social Union politician, <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/azerbaijani-laundromat-brings-german-ex-politician-into-spotlight/a-40379377" target="_blank">allegedly received a total of 819,500 euros between 2012-2014</a>. He also led a German mission to Azerbaijan to observe the <a href="http://www.osce.org/institutions/110015" target="_blank">rigged 2013 presidential elections</a>, though concluded that the contest had been <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/azerbaijani-laundromat-brings-german-ex-politician-into-spotlight/a-40379377" target="_blank">held with “German standards”</a>. The now retired politician has since denied benefitting from the slush fund, insisting that the money was received through an NGO he established to promote Azerbaijani-German relations after stepping down from the Council of Europe.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lintner_15.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lintner_15.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'>The German CSU parliamentarian Eduard Lintner. Like several other European politicians, Lintner has highly praised rigged elections held by Azerbaijan’s autocratic regime. Photo CC-by-SA 3.0: Togodumnus / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>European politicians once called for sanctions and suspended the Azerbaijani delegation’s voting rights at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). That tone began to change some time after the presidential elections in 2008 and <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7949327.stm" target="_blank">referendum in 2009</a> that removed presidential term limits. Instead of calling for sanctions over Baku’s human rights violations, they now call for “patience” (in the words of former British Liberal Democrat MP Michael Hancock).&nbsp;</p><p>Others joined these calls for patience. Delegates from Baku argued there was scope for progress despite the falsifications, irregularities and shortcomings to which even they readily admitted. But the highlight of Azerbaijan’s “caviar diplomacy” really showed its true impact in 2012 when PACE <a href="http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-en.asp?newsid=4296&amp;lang=2" target="_blank">voted against a draft resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan</a>. This served as a green light for the authorities in Baku to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan" target="_blank">launch a crackdown against civil society</a>. They went after journalists, rights defenders and political activists, while making deep changes to legislation governing NGOs and the media.&nbsp;</p><p>Parliamentary elections in 2015, and another <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">country-wide referendum held in 2016</a> were no different. Aleksander Nikoloski, a Macedonian MP from the VMRO-DPMNE party who headed the PACE mission to Azerbaijan said the result expressed the will of the people of Azerbaijan and was a “step forward towards safe, stable and sustainable development of the country”, while other MPs <a href="http://www.epde.org/en/newsreader/items/international-election-observers-whitewash-fraudulent-referendum-in-azerbaijan.html" target="_blank">stated</a> the results were <a href="https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2016/09/27/azerbaijan-referendum-result-is-ringing-endorsement-of-aliyev-plans/" target="_blank">democratic</a> and took place according to international standards.&nbsp;</p><h2>Beyond business as usual&nbsp;</h2><p>Praise for these elections was music to the ears of the Azerbaijani government. While the regime’s threshold for criticism has never been too high, it has certainly stepped up its game.&nbsp;</p><p>When in 2015, OCCRP <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/azerbaijan-telecom/offshores-paid-nothing-for-share-of-state-telecom">published an investigation</a> revealing the hand of Finnish-Swedish telecommunications firm TeliaSonera assisting the president and his family to acquire more than $1 billion, the president’s top aide Ali Hasanov called the work “unfounded”, “false” and “primitive”. The most recent revelations have prompted the government in Baku to block access to OCCRP’s website altogether. As usual, the report was slammed as “biased”, “ridiculous” and part of an orchestrated “smear” campaign organised by no other than the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby">“Armenian lobby”</a>, albeit with the help of British Intelligence and George Soros.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-Manat.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-Manat.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="150" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Azerbaijani manat – money that gets about. After the OCCRP revealed information about Baku’s $2.8bn slush fund, the site was blocked across Azerbaijan. Photo courtesy of Photolia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This kind of reaction isn’t surprising. After all, this time there is evidence of money being transferred directly to politicians and members of the European parliament who we know have played their part improving Azerbaijan’s image in Europe. It is these revelations that have pushed the European Parliament, PACE and politicians across Europe to condemn such acts of corruption, thoroughly investigate them and adopt measures to prevent their ever occurring again. </p><p>The timing is also important. On 7 September, three days after the breaking of the laundromat story, United States Senator Richard Durbin <a href="https://twitter.com/RobBerschinski/status/905816750838644736">proposed sanctions against Azerbaijan</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>What these latest revelations reveal is how Azerbaijani money has been used to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">buy favours and praise while playing down criticism</a>. It also shows that rather than investing in long-term development of Azerbaijan, the country’s ruling elite prefers to invest in assets abroad. The corruption in my country is such that even the elite know that their property rights are respected only abroad, and that it’s only abroad that they don’t have to pay bribes to keep their businesses. They also know that no one will ask questions or hold them accountable for their actions at home. Or so they thought.</p><p>Earlier this year, Azerbaijan <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-azerbaijan-eiti/azerbaijan-leaves-transparency-group-after-membership-suspended-idUSKBN16I007">left the EITI</a> (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative) amid growing international criticism of crackdowns on dissent. For years, Azerbaijan had tried to push certain policymakers to see criticism of the country’s human rights record as not being theirs to make. Now that we know what we do about Azerbaijan’s lobbying onslaught, whose place is it to make that criticism?</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">As European politicians choose to look the other way, Azerbaijan is bringing its corruption onto their turf, undermining the very basis of their commitments to democracy</span></p><p>It’s up to you to peek <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a>. Yes, Baku’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline" target="_blank">“business as usual” with large western energy firms breeds apologists</a> for Azerbaijan’s regime overseas. But the west is not the only powerful actor in this relationship — governments in Europe and North America are themselves the targets of a concerted campaign of political influence, on which the Aliyev regime has lavished millions of dollars.</p><p>As European politicians choose to look the other way, Azerbaijan is bringing its corruption onto their turf, using their institutions and their citizens, undermining the very basis of their commitments to democracy.&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/casey-michel/eurasia-incredible-spin-men-press">The rearguard battle against Eurasia’s incredible spin-men</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-mikhail-kaluzhsky-natalia-antonova-thomas-rowley/from-panama-via-london-with">From Panama, via London, with love</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 Caucasus Azerbaijan Fri, 29 Sep 2017 09:22:54 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 113688 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Tajikistan is trying to persecute what was once Central Asia’s only legal Islamist party out of existence. But is this really about countering terrorism, or just cracking down on dissent in any form?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/tajikistanposter15-min.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/tajikistanposter15-min.jpg" 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'>A campaign poster from the Islamic Renaissance Party for Tajikistan’s 2015 parliamentary elections. Ten of the party leaders depicted here are currently behind bars.</span></span></span></p><p>On a rainy day in March, I met Ilhomjon Yaqubov in a town I will not name. In a nondescript socialist-era apartment block, we drank tea from ceramic bowls, and ate dried fruits. </p><p>Two years ago, Ilhomjon was <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/21/tajikistan-video-spotlights-crackdown" target="_blank">detained by the Tajik authorities</a>, beaten, and made to renounce his membership of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on camera. Yaqubov is a prominent member of the party and use to lead its branch in Sughd, Tajikistan’s northernmost province. For more than six hours, his captors forced him to literally swallow articles he had written against Tajikistan’s authoritarian regime.&nbsp;</p><p>Since 2015, party members have begun to flee to Europe after IPRT, the sole legally operating Islamist party in Central Asia, was banned as an “extremist organisation” by the Tajik authorities. In September that year, the authorities received the perfect pretext: Tajikistan’s former deputy defence minister Abdulhalim Nazarzoda broke ranks and <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-general-nazarzoda-deadly-attacks/27233955.html">staged an attack on a police station</a> in the Vahdat region. Blame fell on the IRPT, and the authorities <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/09/18/tajikistan-opposition-activists-detained">arrested</a> 13 high-ranking party functionaries and detained over 150 ordinary members. Dushanbe accused the IRPT of plotting a terrorist coup, and of links to so-called Islamic State.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Yaqubov_Video.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Yaqubov_Video.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>After torture, Ilhomjon Yaqubov is made to renounce his membership of the IRPT in this video circulated by Tajikistan’s authorities. Image still via YouTube / Human Rights Watch. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Nazarzoda affair was the tip of the iceberg. Tajikistan is facing one of the worst crackdowns on dissent since independence. Emomali Rahmon has ruled the place since 1994, and thanks to constitutional amendments last year, he can run for as many presidential terms as he pleases.&nbsp;</p><p>Fears over terrorism both globally and in the region has put Central Asia's Islamist parties in the security spotlight. But Islamism is a broad school of thought, and its causal links to violent extremism are far from established. </p><p>Under cover of counter-terrorism, the Tajik authorities have cracked down on the country’s most potent opposition force — and they’ve gotten away with it.</p><h2><span>Blessed are the peacebuilders&nbsp;</span></h2><p>You can’t understand the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan without <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war" target="_blank">the country’s brutal civil war, perhaps the most forgotten post-Soviet conflict</a>. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the signing of Tajikistan’s peace accords in 1997. The agreement ended a conflict which led to as many as 157,000 deaths and 1.5m people being displaced in their own country alone.&nbsp;</p><p>The IRPT played a key role in the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a motley alliance of democrats and Islamists from the central and eastern regions of the country. They faced off against the Popular Front, an alliance of former Communist apparatchiks who tacitly enjoyed Russian and Uzbek support.&nbsp;</p><p>The peace accords guaranteed the IRPT a presence in Tajikistan’s public life, providing an outlet for the more conservative-minded, at first mostly rural electorate. It became the country’s go-to opposition force. But as Rahmon started to renege on his commitments to the peace accords, the IRPT came into the authorities’ crosshairs. In September 2010, a group of militants unaffiliated with the IRPT <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/john-heathershaw-sophie-roche/conflict-in-tajikistan-%E2%80%93-not-really-about-radical-islam">attacked government soldiers in the Kamarob Gorge</a>. Tajikistan’s authorities cracked down hard, introducing a whole raft of anti-religious laws.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00869563.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00869563.LR_.ru_.jpg" 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'>Emomali Rahmon and Abdullo Nuri of the UTO and IRPT sign the peace accords which ended Tajikistan’s bloody civil war, December 1996. Photo (c): Alexander Makarov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In early 2012, talk of a certain <a href="https://rus.ozodi.org/a/24547674.html">Protocol 32-20</a> arose online — allegedly an order to Tajikistan’s security services to put pressure on IRPT members to leave the party, offering financial incentives if necessary. Tajik state media soon launched a hate campaign against the party. “State newspapers even declared that 60% of all Tajik ISIS fighters had once been members of the IRPT,” sighs Yaqubov.&nbsp;</p><p>Despite rising harassment, in March 2015, the IRPT was the largest opposition party in parliament, counting over 40,000 members. The party received 8.2% of the vote in the <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/69061" target="_blank">rigged 2010 elections</a> (Rahmon’s rubber-stamp People’s Democratic Party won 71%), and just 1.6% in the <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/tajikistan/158081?download=true" target="_blank">even more outrageously rigged 2015 elections</a>, losing its only two seats in Tajikistan’s parliament. IRPT politicians insisted to me that their share of the vote in 2015 was significantly higher.&nbsp;</p><p>It’s difficult to emphasise quite how widely this hunt for dissent has spread. Even the legal profession is not immune: in October 2016, two lawyers representing IRPT members in court were <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/06/tajikistan-long-prison-terms-rights-lawyers" target="_blank">sentenced to 23 and 21 years’ imprisonment</a> respectively (<a href="http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/in-tajikistan-lawyer-buzurgmehr-yorov-faces-even-more-charges/" target="_blank">one of them now faces an extended sentence</a>). One of the charges is “supporting extremist activity.”</p><h2>You say you want a renaissance</h2><p>Islamism is an elastic term, with wide-ranging applications and understandings. The IRPT’s version has a post-Soviet pedigree, tracing its lineage to the Revival of Islamic Youth of Tajikistan, founded in 1972 as an underground organisation in the Tajik SSR. </p><p>Two key Islamic scholars at the time of the Soviet collapse were Muhamadsharif Himatzoda&nbsp;and Abdullo Nuri. Like many people of faith in Soviet Central Asia, they chose to pursue law or technical sciences, using their free time to attend clandestine Islamic study circles under the tutelage of Hanafi Islamic scholar, Muhammadjon Hindustoni.<span>&nbsp;</span>For Hindustoni, the Soviet repression of religion was a test to be solved with fortitude and patience, rather than political violence.</p><p>Indeed, Nuri and his comrades took inspiration from the the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/1060543.html">Jadid movement</a> during the waning years of Tsarist rule, and saw the Islamic reformist movement as an indigenous liberalising tradition rudely interrupted by the Soviet experiment.<span> </span>In 1986, he was imprisoned for “spreading religious propaganda”, and later led the IRPT through the Tajik civil war. Muhiddin Kabiri succeeded Nuri as leader in 2000, and his leadership marked a more liberal shift of IRPT policy, which was met with strong scepticism by some more conservative party members. The death of the revered Abdullo Nuri also emboldened president Rahmon, who now faced a younger competitor.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The party’s level of organisation, rather than its Islamist teachings, made it a threat to Emomali Rahmon’s regime</span></p><p>Reading through a Russian translation of the party’s most recent (2015) manifesto, I found many policy proposals fairly social democratic in origin. Its populist language denounces elite-level corruption and decries the “moral decay” it brings. The document describes Islam as the catalyst for the party’s policies, but also stresses its commitment to parliamentary democracy and freedom of expression. Even the IRPT’s first manifesto in 1991 speaks more strongly of anti-colonial Tajik nationalism than of strident Islamism.<span>&nbsp;</span>When interviewed for this article, Tajikistan scholars such as Edward Lemon and Human Rights Watch’s Steve Swerdlow do not doubt the party’s commitment to democratic and pluralist values, seeing the crackdown as expressly political in nature.</p><p>Kabiri’s liberal shift brought a move toward gender equality, too. In 2013, the IRPT <a href="https://www.cacianalyst.org/publications/field-reports/item/12811-tajik-opposition-parties-nominate-female-candidate-president.html" target="_blank">put its support behind a female presidential candidate</a>, lawyer Oynihol Bobonazarova, in conjunction with the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (under the Alliance of Reformist Forces of Tajikistan).<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khujand_Square.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khujand_Square.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Central square in Khujand, Tajikistan, 2008. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Steve James / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>Indeed, increased political repression led to an <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/87108?download=true" target="_blank">unexpectedly greater representation of women in the IRPT</a>. As one exiled Tajik journalist told me on condition of anonymity, an estimated 45-50% of all party members are women. It’s partly a tactical approach, which allows some families to continue their party links without fathers and husbands putting their careers in jeopardy.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Abdullo Nuri advocated making Tajikistan an Islamic state, albeit within the framework of the country’s secular constitution and “in accordance with popular wishes.” As one party member recalled to me, in a telling but perhaps apocryphal quote that hints at the country’s fragile peace, “<em>Ustod</em> Nuri famously said that he didn’t want to create an Islamic state on a cemetery.”<span>&nbsp;</span>Exiled party leader Muhiddin Kabiri expanded on Nuri’s vision in an interview earlier this year. “After many years of study,” began the IRPT leader, “I concluded that the idea of an Islamic State is a modern phenomenon — many parties across the Islamic world have declared their support for one, but never explained exactly what that meant. It’s not an idea with solid religious justification — religion should play an important role in society, but government should be technocratic and non-ideological. Islam doesn’t demand state-building on its own behalf, but to build a society where people are fulfilled and free.”</p><p>“After all,” he continued “how can there be an Islamic state without an Islamic society?”</p><h2>In the service of the motherland</h2><p>Millions of Muslims find themselves living under secular nationalist dictatorships, and Central Asia is no exception. The war on terror was a boon for the region’s autocracies. By 2005, US embassy cables from Dushanbe already 2005 described Kabiri as <a href="https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/05DUSHANBE1870_a.html">“walking a tightrope”</a> — Rahmon wanted to marginalise him, and the more traditionalist Islamist wing in his party distrusted him.</p><p>Kabiri, who fled Tajikistan in March 2015 in anticipation of the crackdown, described the president’s Machiavellian reasoning. The IRPT, he told me, became Rahmon’s “pro-democracy business card” in meetings with western officials — a token gesture to political pluralism.<span>&nbsp;</span>In response, the party began to consider rebranding itself as early as 2004. Leaders even proposed removing “Islamic” from its title, though Rahmon himself allegedly advised Nuri against doing so. A more official move to “de-Islamise” the party in late September 2015 was also stymied by Tajikistan’s authorities.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>A legal Islamist party of any shade was of great political use to Rahmon. As his regime began violating the 1997 accords with impunity, Tajikistan’s authorities began a smear campaign against the IRPT. Rahmon was able to hold up the spectre of the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan (not to mention Tajikistan’s own brutal civil war) in order to smear the opposition. The fact that elements of the IRPT leadership had sought safety in Afghanistan during the civil war (albeit with ethnic Tajik anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud) hardly helped the perception.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Thanks_Independence_Rahmon.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Thanks_Independence_Rahmon.jpg" 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'>“Thank you for our country’s independence!” reads this billboard depicting president Emomali Rahmon in Nurek, Tajikistan. Photo CC BY 2.0: Prince Roy / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>“We were being presented as a ‘radical’ party — so I asked people in the government what we could do to comply with their wishes, to ‘deradicalise.’ But they just told me it would be worse for me if we changed the party’s name” - recalls Kabiri.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Members stuck by their party. As exiled IRPT members in the EU told me, the party simply represented an alternative. Tajik citizen Massud fled to Russia in 2015 after after heavy fines and harassment by the police on various pretexts. He’s an elderly, intellectual type, and joined the IRPT in 1999, and is eager to tell me why. “I knew something wasn’t right in the Soviet period, when students had to be sent into the fields to collect cotton rather than study, and were told to shut up when they complained.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class="mag-quote-center">&nbsp;“The IRPT was the only party which really talked seriously about corruption and social inequality. The attraction wasn’t strictly because it was Muslim”</span></span></p><p>While he was never the most pious Muslim, says Massud, the IRPT told the truth about the corruption ravaging the country. “When I noticed that all the other deputies appeared to hate them, I was intrigued. So I joined — simple as that.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Rostam, a small business owner, is another IRPT party member who entered the EU via Ukraine in 2015. He’s a man of fewer words, punctuated by sighs, but says much the same: “The IRPT was the only party which really talked seriously about corruption and social inequality,” he tells me. “For me, the attraction wasn’t strictly because it was Muslim.”</p><p>Ilhomjon Yaqubov makes the same argument. Simply put: the party’s level of organisation, rather than its Islamist teachings, made it a threat to Emomali Rahmon’s regime.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Crackdowns driving radicalisation?</h2><p>Emomali Rahmon’s Tajikistan presents its citizens with a loaded choice; better the devil you know than the Wahhabi fundamentalists you don’t. As bloodshed continues in the Middle East, that binary has left little room for the IRPT.</p><p>These days, Dushanbe seems terrified of any overt signs of religiosity. In July, the government <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-to-promote-clothing-to-counter-alien-traditions/28631026.html" target="_blank">established a commission</a> to combat “improper clothing” (the country’s <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/72816" target="_blank">relentless anti-hijab campaign</a> has continued for two years.) But religious men aren’t off the hook — last January, Tajik police boasted that they had <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/tajikistan-shaves-13000-men-beards-radicalism-160120133352747.html" target="_blank">shaved 13,000 beards across the country</a> “to combat radicalism.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Kabiri despairs of these moves, arguing that their motivation cannot solely be anti-extremist. “The authorities in Tajikistan are not interested in promoting any ‘good’ form of Islam. It’s not even about Islam <em>per se</em>: they’re not interested in any strong opposition or autonomous social movement, whether secular or religious!” he exclaims.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Party spokesman Mahmudjon Faizrahmonov and Muhammadjon Kabirov, head of the IRPT’s mass media department and cousin of Muhiddin Kabiri, are convinced that the ban of their party has led to an increase in radicalisation among young Tajik Muslims. “When the party was active, the youth had a chance to use their religious insight for social and political activities. But now, young people don’t even believe in elections anymore,” Faizrahmonov tells me. “Just look at the numbers: before 2015, there were around 250 Tajik ISIS fighters. Now, it’s over 1,000.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s understandable why the Tajik authorities are worried. But employing ham-fisted methods at home can hardly help social stability</p><p>Indeed, Faizrahmonov fears it is political nihilism, not religious piety, that will breed violence in Tajikistan. An increasing body of research on countering violent extremism, whether from the <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/isis-foreign-fighters-british-european-western-dying-radicalised-islam-not-strongest-factor-cultural-a7421711.html" target="_blank">US military</a> or <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/apr/13/who-are-the-new-jihadis" target="_blank">European scholars of Islam such as Olivier Roy</a>, bears this out — many ISIS recruits from overseas are hardly pious in their former lives, having superficial religious knowledge.</p><p>However, the IRPT’s view of radicalisation may be missing something. While the Islamic State’s threat to Central Asia itself <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw-david-w-montgomery/‘muslim-radicalisation-of-central-asia’-is-dangerous-1" target="_blank">has been massively overstated in English-language media</a>, Tajiks are by and large not actually radicalised in Tajikistan. Instead, most people from Tajikistan who join terrorist organisations <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/edward-lemon-john-heathershaw/can-we-explain-radicalisation-among-central-asia-s-migrants" target="_blank">were radicalised while working as labour migrants in Russia</a>, where they live in precarious and often denigrating conditions.</p><p>It’s understandable why the Tajik authorities are worried. That said, employing ham-fisted methods at home can hardly help social stability — especially when some Tajik migrants began to return home from Russia after the crash of 2008.<span> </span></p><p><span></span>One grund for concern is the fact that Tajik militants have found their way to Iraq and Syria, where they’ve risen quickly up IS’ ranks. Among their number was <a href="https://jamestown.org/program/tajikistans-counter-productive-campaign-against-terrorism/" target="_blank">Gulmorod Halimov</a>, a former Tajik security forces chief who had even received counter-terrorism training in the USA. Once the terrorist organisation’s commander in Mosul, Halimov then came to serve as IS “Minister of War”. Halimov’s death has been reported on several occasions, but his influence on IS military strategy is undoubtable.<span>&nbsp;</span>A report in February found that last year that <a href="https://icct.nl/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ICCT-Winter-War-by-Suicide-Feb2017.pdf" target="_blank">Tajiks were disproportionately represented on the among IS’ suicide bombers</a>&nbsp;— likely Halimov’s doing.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gulmorod_Halimov_CATV.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gulmorod_Halimov_CATV.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'>Gulmorod Halimov, IS “Minister of War” (right), was once a high-ranking official in Tajikistan’s security forces who received counter-terrorism training in the USA. Image still: CATV News / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>Reliable figures on Tajiks in IS ranks are scarce, though the country’s Interior Ministry told RFE/RL that 1,141 Tajik nationals had gone to fight in Syria and Iraq. As the tide has turned against ISIS in Iraq, around a hundred of these Tajik militants have returned home. <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-islamic-state-pardoned-militants-reintegration/28661770.html" target="_blank">Half of them have been pardoned</a>, though they still face suspicion. IRPT members have not failed to notice the bitter irony, given that they must still conduct party activities from abroad, or clandestinely at home.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Kabirov shares another bitter irony: during the final years of the IRPT’s legal existence in Tajikistan, state media lowered its bar to surprising depths in its search for anti-IRPT guest speakers. They allege that these broadcasts even included hardline Salafis who denounced the party for participating in a formally democratic system.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>There’s a logic here, too: while they may be intolerant and fundamentally opposed to democracy, Salafists are not necessarily violent extremists — many are quietists, and see the political oppression of Muslims as divine punishment for their sins. In this worldview, austere piety unsullied by politicking is the path to salvation. From the perspective of a post-Soviet autocrat, one might even see them as useful bedfellows.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">In 2014, Tajikistan’s chief mufti issued a fatwa against criticising president Emomali Rahmon</span></p><p>It’s maybe unsurprising that, <a href="http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/22142290-00204001" target="_blank">as Central Asia scholar Tim Epkenhans wrote</a>, Tajikistan’s state-sanctioned Islam “embraces an idea of Islam that almost resembles a Salafi interpretation, excluding Muslims who follow a broader Islamic tradition or emphasise the political relevance of Islamic thought.” </p><p>In 2014, Tajikistan’s chief mufti Saidmukarram Abdulkodirzoda even <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-fatwa-government-critics/26609272.html" target="_blank">issued a fatwa against criticising president Emomali Rahmon</a> and his regime. The government’s Islamic Centre has imposed its own examinations on all imams, which highlight regime loyalty. Tellingly, it issued a Friday <em>khutba</em> (sermon) the day before the 2015 elections arguing that “Islam is no political party, and if Islam needed a party, the Prophet Muhammad would have established one.”<span>&nbsp;I</span>t was a veiled, but pointed reference to the IRPT.&nbsp;</p><h2>Making a run for it</h2><p>The IRPT members interviewed for this article live in a number of countries across the European Union. Kabiri estimates that there are round 500-600 IRPT members living in Europe, around 80 to 100 of which have received political asylum.</p><p>Poland is the most accessible EU state, a point of access for Tajik and Chechen refugees crossing from Belarus. But now, asylum seekers are <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/343261" target="_blank">encountering more problems entering the country</a> and having their claims heard.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Slowly but surely, the road to Europe is closing. Many post-Soviet states are not safe for Central Asian political exiles. According to IRPT members, Rahmon has ordered his team to try and sign an separate extradition treaty with Ukraine as soon as possible — perhaps spurred on by Kyiv’s refusal to extradite former prime minister <a href="https://jamestown.org/program/leader-of-northern-tajikistan-is-arrested-in-ukraine/" target="_blank">Abdumalik Abdullajanov</a> in 2013.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Yaqubov_Protest_Still.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Yaqubov_Protest_Still.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="701" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>On 22 September 2016, over 200 people protested outside the home of Ilhomjon Yaqubov’s mother in Khujand, Tajikistan, chanting “Ilhomjon is a traitor”. The act was possibly in retaliation for Yaqubov’s presence at the OSCE’s HDIM meeting in Warsaw. Photo courtesy of Ilhomjon Yaqubov.</span></span></span></p><p>With its large number of Tajik migrant labourers, Russia is the most obvious destination. But it’s more dangerous for other Tajik opposition groups than for the IRPT, says Faizrahmonov. Many are well aware of the close cooperation of the Russian and Tajik security services — even dissidents holding Russian passports such as <a href="http://www.ahrca.eu/tadjikistan/torture-prevention/807-tajikistan-officially-reported-that-maksud-ibragimov-is-sentenced-to-17-years-of-imprisonment" target="_blank">Maksud Ibragimov</a> have been spirited back home by the FSB. Understandably, many would rather not take the risk.</p><p>Many Central Asian political exiles have long called Turkey home, though an increasingly unsafe one. In 2015, Umarali Kuvvatov, leader of Group 24 (another Tajik opposition group), was <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-31760810" target="_blank">shot dead in downtown Istanbul</a>. Indeed, amid Ankara’s own human rights crackdown, the situation for IRPT members has rapidly deteriorated. </p><p>In October last year, the Istanbul offices of <em>Payom</em>, an IRPT-affiliated publication, were closed down by the Turkish authorities at the request of Dushanbe. The party’s council members conclude that an informal was reached on the sidelines of the Turkish deputy prime minister’s <a href="https://news.tj/en/news/tajikistan/politics/20170217/236816" target="_blank">visit to Dushanbe</a> in February.</p><p>Wherever they run, Tajikistan’s authorities have another way of getting at critics — namely, their families. After senior opposition activists including Muhiddin Kabiri spoke at a conference in Dortmund last month, a <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/18/tajikistan-stop-persecuting-opposition-families" target="_blank">new round of intimidation began against the participants’ relatives</a> back home. </p><p>This has become <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/20/tajikistan-abuse-dissidents-families" target="_blank">standard practice for Tajikistan’s authorities</a>&nbsp;— and was last deployed on this scale following speeches by Tajik dissidents at the OSCE’s HDIM conference in Warsaw last September. This year’s conference ended last week — though the Tajik government never sent a delegation. Safar Kabirov, father of Muhammadjon, was detained and tortured by Tajik authorities on 6 September, threatened with imprisonment if his son attends. Dushanbe has even <a href="https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2017/09/08/tadzhikistan-ugrozhaet-zakryt-u-sebya-missiyu-obse " target="_blank">threatened to expel the OSCE mission in Tajikistan</a> (the largest in Central Asia) should IRPT members speak up.</p><p>But Tajik dissidents have done more than speak up — in an <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/12/letter-secretaries-tillerson-and-mnuchin-global-magnitsky-submissions" target="_blank">open letter with 23 NGOs</a> including Human Rights Watch, they’ve requested that Rustam Inoyatov and Saymumin Yatimov, heads of the security services of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, be added to the USA’s Global Magnitsky List.</p><p>The number of imprisoned IRPT members across Tajikistan is unknown. Last June, the 13 high-ranking party officials arrested in September 2015 <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-islamic-party-leaders-prison-sentences/27774038.html" target="_blank">received prison sentences ranging from two to 28 years</a>. Four months later Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman among the 13, <a href="https://news.tj/en/news/tajikistan/laworder/20160906/230525" target="_blank">received a presidential pardon</a>. IRPT deputy chairman Mahmadali Hayit remains behind bars amid rumours of rapidly deteriorating health. Faizrahmonov says that as remaining IRPT members in the country fear pervasive surveillance, it’s difficult to get reliable information on his condition and that of other political prisoners.</p><p>The IRPT’s story reminds us that, far from being a product of isolation, Tajikistan’s authoritarianism is deeply globalised. As John Heathershaw and Alexander Cooley <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2017/03/27/book-review-dictators-without-borders-power-and-money-in-central-asia-by-alexander-cooley-and-john-heathershaw/" target="_blank">have written</a>, Central Asian rulers launder their money in western offshores, fight their legal battles in western courts, and <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/72396" target="_blank">use Interpol arrest warrants to pursue critics</a> (Muhiddin Kabiri remains on an Interpol wanted list to this day). It should also remind us, in the current political climate, to be more discerning in how we understand Islamism and those who, however elastically, adhere to that set of beliefs.</p><p>Those like Shamsuddin Saidov, an exiled member of IRPT’s supreme council. For a short while, Saidov was the youngest political prisoner in the Soviet Union, and was freed shortly before its collapse. We drink tea, from cups and saucers, with Janatulloh Komilov, a party organiser in Germany. Saidov knows all one would want to know (at least, Komilov’s polite silence seems to suggest so).</p><p>He tells me about the days of Nuri, the exile in Afghanistan, and what Europe really doesn’t get (and ought) about the Islamic world and democracy. About the west and the rest.</p><p>To sum it all up, he adds, with palms aloft: “We can rule. We could even implement the secular constitution — a hundred times better than Emomali Rahmon.”<br /><em><br />Editor's note: Pseudonyms have been used in this article to protect identities.</em></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/mark-galeotti/on-shaky-ground-russia-s-fsb-vs-migrant-radicalisation">On shaky ground: Russia’s FSB vs migrant radicalisation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 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/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot">The long arm of the despot</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon-john-heathershaw/can-we-explain-radicalisation-among-central-asia-s-migrants">How can we explain radicalisation among Central Asia’s migrants?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan">“What kind of terrorist am I?”</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 Maxim Edwards Tajikistan Central Asia Thu, 28 Sep 2017 10:49:04 +0000 Maxim Edwards 113660 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Armenia’s parents dream of having sons https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-avetisyan/armenia-s-parents-dream-of-having-sons <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Armenia still has one of the world’s highest rates of sex-selective abortions. Here are the mothers’ stories.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00758680.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00758680.LR_.ru_.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'>Two boys play in a slum outside Echmiadzin, Armavir Province, Armenia, 2001. Photo (c): R. Mangasaryan / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This article originally appeared on&nbsp;<a href="http://oc-media.org/the-women-affected-by-abkhazias-abortion-ban/" target="_blank">Open Caucasus Media</a>. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.</em></p><p>Although their number is slowly decreasing, Armenia still has one of the highest rates of sex-selective abortions in the world. oDR’s partners at <em>OC Media</em> talked to a number of women who faced pressure from their families after falling pregnant with a daughter about the decision they were forced to make, and the consequences they’ve had to live with.&nbsp;</p><h2>An unexpected daughter&nbsp;</h2><p>“I got married at the age of 17, and five months later I was already pregnant. The pregnancy was expected in our family, it was even considered late because my husband’s family subscribes to the view that the purpose of a bride is to have a baby, and that she should get pregnant after the first night of sleeping with her husband”, says Gayane (a pseudonym), a resident of Aragatsotn Province in the west of Armenia.</p><p>Gayane started to visit a local clinic with her mother-in-law to monitor the condition of her pregnancy.</p><p>“We went to the doctor very often — so often that [at one point] they wouldn’t even receive us telling me all my tests were fine. I was already ashamed to go, but my mother-in-law made me go, saying ’I’m afraid something will happen to my boy’”, Gayane recalls.&nbsp;</p><p>By “boy”, the mother-in-law meant Gayane’s baby — she was convinced that her daughter-in-law would have a boy. During one of the visits, when she was 13 weeks pregnant and the doctor was able to see the baby’s sex, Gayane was told she would have a baby girl.&nbsp;</p><p>“It was probably the most terrible day of my life. When my mother-in-law learnt I was going to have a girl, she did not say anything to the doctor and we returned home in silence. I felt there was going to be a quarrel at home. And there was. My mother-in-law was screaming that her son didn’t want a wife who was going to have a girl. She was shouting that she would be ashamed before her family, that she had already told everybody her son’s wife was pregnant and she was going to have a boy.”</p><p>“My father-in-law was listening silently, but from his look I could see he agreed with his wife’s words. Even my husband’s sisters, who were not married at the time, looked at me with disapproval. I was looking forward to my husband coming home from work so at least he could defend me”, recalls Gayane.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Gayane’s husband sided with his mother, claiming that he was not the kind of a man from whom a girl could be born</p><p>Gayane’s husband, however, sided with his mother. He claimed that he was not the kind of a man from whom a girl could be born. A family gathering was held, where they all discussed the issue of Gayane’s having a girl. Ultimately, they decided that the baby was not a desirable and should be removed.</p><p>Gayane had not been allowed to speak at the meeting.&nbsp;</p><p>“They forced me to go to the hospital... where I had an abortion. God has punished me for that day, but I am not guilty. They forced me!” says Gayane, bursting into tears.</p><p>Some 12% of Armenia’s population considers sex-selective abortion acceptable, according to the United Nations’ Population Fund report from 2016, “<a href="http://armenia.unfpa.org/en/publications/men-and-gender-equality-armenia" target="_blank">Men and Gender Equality in Armenia</a>”. More women (13%) than men (11%) consider sex-selective abortion acceptable.</p><p>Approval of the practice is generally higher in rural areas — 18% of respondents in rural areas and 13% in urban areas consider sex-selective abortion acceptable. The report also links higher acceptance with lower levels of education.&nbsp;</p><h2>Complications</h2><p>Six years have passed since Gayane had the abortion. Over those years Gayane has been trying to get pregnant again, but in vain. She has undergone many tests which found that she now has fertility problems due to the abortion, which prevent her from becoming pregnant. Gayane is now undergoing treatment.&nbsp;</p><p>“Now my husband and mother-in-law are paying a lot of money so I can at least have a girl. They are very sorry for what they did. And I’m still suffering because I couldn’t find the strength [to resist]. I killed my unborn baby with my own hands. I was a child, I was stupid.”&nbsp;</p><p>Obstetrician and gynaecologist Naira Vardanyan spoke with <em>OC Media </em>about some of the complications women face after having an abortion.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Adopting legislation isn’t enough while societal attitudes change so slowly</p><p>“After abortion, women face a number of complications: directly and indirectly. Direct complications occur during abortion or several days after it, such as uterine perforation, bleeding, remains of the embryo in the uterus cavity, acute inflammation of the uterus, and others. The indirect complications can arise over the years, and the most important one is infertility, as well as miscarriages and future complications in pregnancy,” explains Vardanyan.&nbsp;</p><p><em>[oDR editors’ note: according to data from multiple countries, an abortion performed by qualified healthcare professionals in hygenic conditions is widely considered a safe medical procedure, rarely leading to complications]</em></p><p>Two years ago, the government decided to combat sex-selective abortion. On 2 July 2015, the Armenian parliament approved a package of draft amendments to the law on “Human reproductive health and reproductive rights”. The law prohibits sex-selective abortion, applying penalties to doctors who carry them out. On 19 June 2016, the law was adopted by parliament.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Vardanyan, however, the law is vague and is difficult to apply. She says adopting legislation alone cannot be successful in combatting sex-selective abortion because societal attitudes are slow to change.</p><h2>“We broke up because I was going to have a girl”</h2><p>“I was 34 when I got married. I loved my husband very much. We were so happy when we got married that I couldn’t even imagine breaking up, or that the reason for that could be a baby girl”, Zhanna Tepanyan from Gyumri told&nbsp;<em>OC Media</em>.&nbsp;</p><p>Zhanna explained that when her husband and mother-in-law learned she would have a daughter, they immediately ordered her to terminate the pregnancy. The reason they gave was that before marrying Zhanna, her husband had been married to another woman, and he had two daughters from the first marriage. He now dreamt of having a baby boy.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tepanyan_OC.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tepanyan_OC.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="264" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhanna Tepanyan with her daughter. Photo (c): Armine Avetisyan / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><div><span>“I was told either I have an abortion or we would divorce. I chose the second option. Now my daughter is one and a half years old. I’m happy. Although I do not have a house and have very bad living conditions, there is a miracle living here with me. My parents help me out. Soon, I’ll take my baby to kindergarted and I’ll start to work. my child should live well”, says Zhanna.</span></div><p>Zhanna’s husband did not recognise the child as his own — his surname was not given to the girl. He saw her only once, about a year ago, but has since passed away.&nbsp;</p><p>“My daughter was eight months old when her father was dying. I took my girl to her father. He saw her. But there was no reaction from his family. Shortly afterwards he died. I have no contact with my mother-in-law. She doesn’t need us anymore,” sighs Zhanna.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">While the number of sex-selective abortions in Armenia is now three times lower than it was in 2005, the current sex ratio is still one of the most unequal in the world</p><p>According to Armenia’s National Statistical Service, 112 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2016. Although the number of sex-selective abortions is three times lower now than it was in 2005, the current sex ratio is still considered one of the most unequal in the world. <a href="https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html" target="_blank">According</a> to the CIA’s <em>World Factbook</em>, the number is also high for Azerbaijan and Georgia with 111 and 108 boys born respectively for every 100 girls. The world average is 103 boys to 100 girls.</p><p>Zhanna’s story is not uncommon in Armenia, which is why doctors try to work with men when they notice the warning signs that a future father is not inclined to have a baby girl. Usually, doctors ask women to attend a consultation with their husbands and during the echocardiogram, they start talking specifically to the men, showing them details of the baby’s body on the screen.</p><p>The doctors thus preparing the man for the idea that he is waiting for a miracle, that he is going to become a father&nbsp;<span>—</span><span>&nbsp;and that the baby’s sex doesn’t make a difference.</span></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>“<a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/georgias-missing-girls" target="_blank">Georgia’s missing girls</a>” on <em>Chai Khana</em></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/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/armenia-invisible-women">Standing up for Armenia&#039;s invisible women </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marianna-kotova/meet-women-affected-by-abkhazia-s-abortion-ban">Meet the women affected by Abkhazia’s abortion ban</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/regina-jegorova-askerova/breaking-cycle-ending-underage-marriage-in-georgia">Breaking the cycle: ending underage marriage in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">How should we talk about abortion in Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</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 Armine Avetisyan Caucasus Armenia Tue, 26 Sep 2017 09:40:07 +0000 Armine Avetisyan 113530 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The caring state: how Russia’s new babushkas are filling in the welfare gaps https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inna-leykin/russia-the-caring-state <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Expectations of babushki taking care of their grandchildren, shaped by the Soviet history of family and economic policies, are hard to implement in a radically different post-socialist context.</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/555493/2925464428_b5f6ff6168_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vyborg playground. Photo: passer-by/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Little Alesha is pushing his stroller down the boulevard. While he practices his new walking skills, Nadia, Alesha’s mom, laments the insufficiency of daycare in the city: “I’ve heard that there is a new law now, according to which they must offer you a slot in a municipal daycare when your child turns three. Still, I hear about all these kids who couldn’t get in. I have no idea what I am going to do. I wanted to get Alesha into daycare soon, when he turns two, but I hear that it’s close to impossible these days.”</p><p dir="ltr">Nadia lives in a large provincial city that, similarly to other cities in Russia, suffers from a shortage of daycare facilities, which often contradicts the <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/01/31/675515-premer-stimuliruet">official state rhetoric encouraging women to have multiple children</a>. Although this issue has been at the centre of national and regional politics, municipal and regional governments find it hard to keep pace with the growing demand for daycare. Nadia’s older daughter is in municipal daycare already. After she was born, Nadia took maternity leave and stayed at home for 18 months. Less than a year after resuming work, she got pregnant again and took maternity leave again. Nadia can, of course, stay at home until Alesha turns three, she told me, but it is hard on the family financially (as only the first year and a half are paid) and she was actually eager to go back to work. I asked Nadia if she was considering private daycare or a nanny. “No,” she replies without much hesitation. “It’s either municipal daycare or babushka [grandmother]. I don’t trust anyone else when it comes to caring for my kids.”</p><p dir="ltr">Nadia’s story is only one of many I heard during the year I spent in a large provincial city in the Urals, where I was conducting an ethnographic study of Russia’s so-called “demographic crisis.”</p><p dir="ltr">While encouraging young families to have more children, the state fails to provide them with adequate childcare support. Thus, freshly baked parents turn to babushkas as a means to navigate their lives in a new economic and political environment - but grandmothers are not as readily available as one may expect them to be.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Great Expectations: Babushki and the new political economy</h2><p dir="ltr">The expectations of babushki — poignantly named by Jennifer Utrata “<a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/23044175">the reserve army of feminine self-sacrifice</a>” — caring for their grandchildren are framed by socialist and postsocialist experiences. It is no secret that relying on relatives and networks of close friends was a crucial skill in the context of the Soviet economy of shortage. Socialist political economy shaped the structure of kinship care and domestic labour. &nbsp;Intergenerational residence, for example, was an inextricable part of the Soviet experience — a goldmine of Soviet jokes about in-laws and a space where gender inequalities were cemented and normalised. Consider this example:</p><p dir="ltr">Son-in-law says to his friend: my mother-in-law has never been foul-mouthed with me. Friend: lucky you, she must be a very kind person. Son-in-law: no, she is not kind, she is mute.</p><p dir="ltr">Thus, while the housing shortage could lead to not-so-peaceful forms of co-existence, it also facilitated social and material support, strengthening expectations of intergenerational care (who is taking care of whom).</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/atkritka_1437328126_19_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/atkritka_1437328126_19_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="425" height="237" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“The majority of children in our country have been raised by a same-sex couple: a mother and a grandmother”. Source: Atkritka.com</span></span></span>The relatively young age of a mandatory retirement for women (55) and particular gender expectations turned grandmothers not only into primary caregivers for their grandchildren, but also made household labour into their primary responsibility. Grandmothers navigating the perils of queues and dragging their grandchildren to music schools and dental appointments became a hallmark of Soviet existence. When a few years ago the state banned adoption of children by gay couples, the Russian internet responded with a meme that is representative of the role of babushka as an important cultural anchor: “The majority of children in our country have been raised by a same-sex couple: a mother and a grandmother”.</p><p dir="ltr">However, the expectation of a relatively young babushka caring for her grandchildren and taking care of the household does not easily align with new post-Soviet realities. Emerging state policies, growing economic inequality and demographic changes occurring in contemporary Russia have a direct effect on ways familial care is perceived and enacted.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">One attribute of the post-Soviet reality that still shapes the practices of care in Russia: the retirement age for women remains 55, though&nbsp;not many can afford retiring at this age and therefore continue being part of the active workforce</p><p dir="ltr">What is interesting is that while clearly failing in their explicit goal to transform people’s reproductive decisions, Russia’s new demographic policies and state discourse on the demographic crisis have been rather influential in affecting the redistribution of care in post-Soviet Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">In order to understand this new redistribution of care, it is imperative that we take seriously a temporal gap between the cultural expectations of kinship care and a new regime of care circumscribed by a new political economy. As people try to reconcile between competing expectations of care, this gap transforms practices of kinship and social support and indexes the ways in which people if not necessarily resist then creatively reconfigure official expectations expressed in state discourses and programs.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Babushkas vs. nannies</h2><p dir="ltr">One attribute of the post-Soviet reality that still shapes the practices of care in Russia: the retirement age for women remains 55, though <a href="https://www.academia.edu/4666327/The_Backbone_of_Russia_Babushkas_in_Modern_Russia">not many can afford retiring at this age and therefore continue being part of the active workforce</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Older women’s participation in the workforce is accompanied by the commercialisation of domestic labour. Over the last two decades, <a href="https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/aeer/article/view/938/1054">a whole new service economy has sprung up</a> offering private daycares and nannies. Most women I have interviewed considered nannies or private kindergartens as options to rely on. Yet, the unease that young mothers felt about these services was also evident. Perhaps not all of them were as confident in their answers as Nadia (who just said “no” to nannies and private daycare). Many expressed their clear preference for a relative, and more often than not this relative was a babushka.</p><p dir="ltr">I ask Lina, a woman in her late twenties, about what she is going to do next month when her maternity leave ends and she is expected to return to her job in the regional government’s legal department: “No one knows my child as good as my mom,” she replies. “She is the only one I can really trust.” Lina continued by sharing a story that she had heard from a friend of a friend about a series of unreliable nannies that cemented her reluctance to use their services. Indeed, the “sadistic babysitter” is a persistent protagonist of multiple urban legends circulating <a href="http://mirtv.ru/video/52298/">in Russian media</a>. Some of the women I spoke to referred to several TV shows that had exposed nannies’ violence and made them understandably reluctant to use this option. “It’s different with nannies, even if I put a hidden camera in the flat, I can’t really trust her,” Lina concluded.</p><p dir="ltr">It is, however, not easy for Lina to make her dream arrangement happen. Although officially a retiree, like most women in the “grandmother” cohort, Lina’s mother is still working, and though Lina understands the economic and personal motives for this decision, she is, nevertheless, dissatisfied with it. There is also a significant geographical barrier — a hallmark of urban life — to consider. “We used to live in the same neighbourhood, but my husband and I moved away to a neighbourhood where we could afford to buy our own apartment. My mom is some 40 minutes by bus away from where we live. But without traffic, it’s not that bad.” In the end, Lina hired a nanny for four days a week and her mother and Lina alternate for the rest of it. “Kuda devat’sya. Nothing I can do,” she told me.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">While encouraging young families to have more children, the state fails to provide them with adequate childcare support.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Unlike Lina, Olga, another young woman in her early twenties, was not yet employed when her first child was born. She was a student and resolute to finish her university degree. She was able to go back to school fairly soon because her mother asked to be named a primary caregiver of her grandson and thus became eligible to the paid maternity leave from her workplace. Olga told me that it was a better solution for all of them. Olga’s mother was still working as an engineer and she heard about another grandmother who took maternity leave to take care of her granddaughter. It is a provision made possible by a relatively egalitarian law that provides families with an opportunity to employ other kin as primary caregivers and thus with a paid maternity leave. It allowed Olga’s mother to remain on the workforce and help her daughter raise her child while she continues her education.</p><p dir="ltr">Babushka as a main caregiver is an option young mothers are aware of and consider using, even if in the end they take maternity leave themselves. Interestingly enough, during my long-term fieldwork, an option of a father taking maternity leave instead of his wife came up only once — and even then as a joke between a husband and a wife meant to offset some of the anxieties in anticipation of a new baby.</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, while the egalitarian nature of the current maternity policies allows families to employ other relatives as caregivers, the gendered expectations of kinship care make babushkas the most available option.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Maternal capital: unintended consequences</h2><p dir="ltr">While Russia’s emerging monetised welfare regime may help some individuals to avoid falling into poverty or unemployment, it also revitalizes some of the traditional expectations of care. In 2007, after Putin famously <a href="http://kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/23577">called the Russian demographic situation “the most acute issue facing contemporary Russia,”</a> the government launched a new pronatalist policy, offering women a one-time monetary incentive to have multiple children. The lump sum of a little over 450,000 roubles (£5,700) can be received when a child turns three.</p><p dir="ltr">Called “Maternal Capital,” this policy aims at changing reproductive strategies of Russian women — and by extension men — by incentivising them materially. Defined by the state need to resolve its demographic crisis, this policy targets young families that are considered to be “the demographic reserve” of the country — a <a href="https://womaninrussiansociety.ru/article/chernova-zh-v-demograficheskij-rezerv-molodaya-semya-kak-obekt-gosudarstvennoj-politiki-str-26-38/">concept coined by sociologist Zhanna Chernova</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Statistically speaking, <a href="https://demreview.hse.ru/2014--1/120991254.html">Maternal Capital has not been successful in changing people’s reproductive decisions</a> (although there are attempts to <a href="https://iq.hse.ru/news/177669383.html">argue that the policy actually succeeded</a> and reproductive attitudes have changed and are now transforming the overall fertility rates in the country). Nevertheless, as the following example demonstrates, monetised welfare policies affect how care is practiced and distributed. In this example, Maternal Capital is used to reconcile the lingering cultural expectations with challenges posed by growing social and economic inequality.</p><p dir="ltr">Masha, a single mother of two had been struggling to make ends meet when we met for the first time. I met her when she was in her mid-twenties, divorced, raising a daughter and working at a market research firm. She moved to a big city from a much smaller provincial town to study at the university. She met her first husband while still a student. They got divorced fairly soon after her first daughter was born. He then moved to a different city and has not been present in his daughter’s life ever since. Masha got married for the second time when her daughter was four years old and soon her second daughter was born. Throughout this period, Masha’s mother who still lived in a small town, some two hours away from the city, used to come and visit for extensive periods of time to help Masha with raising two small kids. Masha’s mother received disability benefits from the state because of her extremely high blood pressure and so was not working although she was very busy cultivating her home garden, which was a steady channel of food supply for Masha and her children.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Babushka as a main caregiver is an option young mothers are aware of and consider using, even if in the end they take maternity leave themselves.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When, after the birth of her second child, I accompanied Masha to the retirement fund responsible for issuing Maternal Capital certificates, she joked, like many other women I spoke with, saying that she can probably frame the certificate and hang it in her bathroom because she can hardly see how it can be useful.</p><p dir="ltr">When I met Masha again, three years later, she was divorced for the second time, living with her mother and two children in a small apartment she bought at the outskirts of the city. I asked how she managed to do it. Even before divorcing her second husband, Masha was looking for a small apartment she can buy using Maternal Capital when the state amended the law and allowed to use the Maternal Capital certificate for the mortgage before the child turns three. It was close to impossible, she told me, as the real estate prices in the city, even in the most remote neighbourhoods, were far from affordable. Masha’s mother was practically living with her by then, caring for the children, especially for the younger daughter who was still waiting to be placed in the municipal daycare. In the end, Masha’s mother sold her apartment in a small town contributing the sum, along with the Maternal Capital, to the down payment on a flat in what looked like a dilapidated apartment complex on the outskirts of the city. In effect, the Maternal Capital contributed not to the restructuring of Masha’s reproductive decisions but rather to the redistribution of care in her family.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet again, the “Russian same-sex family” — the mother and the babushka — has established itself. The state in this example, although clearly ceasing to play an ultimate role in structuring people’s life course as it did in the Soviet period, continues to play a pivotal role in shaping forms and practices of care.</p><p dir="ltr">The expectations of care from kin and from the state are shaped by the Soviet legacy. But Russia’s new neoliberal economic and political arrangements are rarely in-tune with these expectations as well as with the state’s pronatalist rhetoric. Trying to reconcile work, family and marriage, young women creatively utilise state policies and reconfigure resources available to them through their personal networks.</p><p dir="ltr">We should understand interactions between the Russian state and its citizens in terms of their relations of care. Intergenerational care and the state childcare support are only two of many examples of these relations. There is an ingrained expectation that the state should and will care for its citizens. Providing care marks a person and the state as good and decent, while failing to provide it is interpreted as a form of disrespect and ingratitude. Even when these expectations fail, Russian citizens find ways to mobilize the state in order to maintain their relations of care.</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="/beyondslavery/christina-weis/workers-or-mothers-business-of-surrogacy-in-russia">Workers or mothers? The business of surrogacy in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-borozdina/natural-birth-in-russia">Natural birth in Russia: the costs of “keeping it real”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">How should we talk about abortion in Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</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 Inna Leykin Russia Mon, 25 Sep 2017 21:34:57 +0000 Inna Leykin 113597 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Inside Tomsk’s political machine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rinat-miftahov/inside-tomsk-political-machine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Tomsk’s recent governor elections, rigged and managed from above, illustrate how the electoral system really works in many Russian regions. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rinat-miftahov/elections-in-tomsk" 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/rsz_voting_tomsk_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_voting_tomsk_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="247" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The voting day in Tomsk is a mirror image of the electoral system in the rest of Russia. 10 September 2017, photo from the author’s personal archives.</span></span></span>Tomsk’s recent gubernatorial election had a little bit of everything: the incumbent governor as the frontrunner, spoiler candidates on the ballot, the ruling party’s haughty and occasionally rude attitude, a low-grade campaign with an attempt at some fake intrigue at the end, some modest self-enrichment by talentless spin doctors, a low turnout and a lot of indifference from the voters, a few irregularities at the polls… In a word, everything as it should be.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The filter and the “opposition”</h2><p dir="ltr">Tomsk’s first gubernatorial election campaign in 15 years was supposed to go off without a hitch. In February this year, when the incumbent governor Sergey Zhvachkin gave his notice, president Putin endorsed him for the coming election. Everything seemed so predictable. The political field was cleared, what other option could there be? To take part in the gubernatorial election, anyone aspiring to become a “candidate” had to overcome the so-called “municipal filter” by collecting signatures from 156 municipal deputies or heads of local administrations. No party had half that number of deputies, as almost all local councillors are members of the ruling party. Thus, getting through the filter without prior approval from United Russia was impossible.</p><p dir="ltr">This approval (of the highest order, by Tomsk standards) was duly bestowed: mere minutes after officially announcing his candidacy at a United Russia press conference, the then and future governor declared that his party supported political competition and was happy to share its “filter” on request with anyone who asked.</p><p dir="ltr">The requests came from two spoiler candidates, Natalya Baryshnikova (of the Communist Party of Russia, KPRF) and Aleksandr Rostovstev (A Just Russia). These “opposition” parties could not even bring themselves to nominate their leaders for the governor’s post, enlisting instead two innocent local deputies for the slaughter: an educator and a doctor, for whom their elections, through party lists, to the regional parliament were in itself the pinnacles of political triumph.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Everything seemed so predictable. The political field was cleared.</p><p dir="ltr">Going against the grain of this list was the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) candidate Alexey Didenko, who deserves a few words all to himself, if only because of how symptomatic his case is. This local ace has long been a favourite of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the party’s sensational leader, and, having progressed through the city and local Dumas, was mobilised to join the national parliament in 2011 through the top rung of the federal party list. Five years later, Didenko sought to be returned to his seat not through the list, but by winning a majority in a single-member district. To make this happen, Zhirinovsky allegedly arranged, in the quiet corridors of power in Moscow, for United Russia not to nominate a candidate in Didenko’s district.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, that fact alone should remind us of just how oppositional Zhirinovsky and his brave men are, but that’s not the point. The point is that a year ago Didenko succeeded in being elected to parliament from the district cleared for him, so that by the start of the gubernatorial campaign he was no less than a full-blown parliamentarian from Moscow. Of course, Didenko has no use whatsoever for the governor’s post, but he had to take part if only to maintain his status and feed his ambitions. For the same reason, he had no interest in requesting (especially in writing) the assistance of his nominal political opponents from United Russia in going through the “municipal filter”.</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/IvenBGfKZcY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>An example of coverage loyal to Sergey Zhvachkin on Tomsk local television. Source: GTRK Tomsk.</em><p dir="ltr">I suspect that, among other things, the young man let his feelings get the better of him: just as the campaign began, the local TV station (fully controlled by the governor) aired a<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvenBGfKZcY"> series of blatantly sordid episodes praising Zhvachkin and denigrating Didenko</a>. Thus, our ace decided to lean on his support in the capital by forcing the “municipal filter” issue through Zhirinovsky, instead of asking United Russia directly. The ruling party smelled a rat and called a press briefing for local media a few days before the registration deadline, inviting all three of Zhvachkin’s “opponents”.</p><p dir="ltr">At the briefing, each of the KPRF and A Just Russia candidates blushingly managed to say a few eloquent words to thank United Russia for their help in clearing the infamous “filter”. Didenko, undeterred, proclaimed that he had no intention of asking anyone for anything and would collect the required signatures on his own. No one knows exactly who in Tomsk got a call from Moscow, but at the appointed hour Didenko arrived at the electoral commission office with the right number of signatures, most of them from United Russia deputies.</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/didenko_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/didenko_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'>Tomsk Oblast gubernatorial candidate Alexey Didenko (LDPR). Photo from the author’s personal archives.</span></span></span>This did not lay to rest the issue of the “filter”, which came to a tragicomic conclusion. The LDPR candidate had no qualms about publicly bragging how he had defeated the “municipal filter” all by himself. It seems as if the head honchos of United Russia in Tomsk, under some kind of obligation to Moscow, could not respond directly. So the media were treated to a leaked letter of protest, apparently composed by municipal United Russia deputies who had given their signatures to Didenko.</p><p dir="ltr">Local district deputies banded together and threatened to withdraw their signatures from the young Zhirinovsky ace (which, of course, would have been against the law).</p><h2 dir="ltr">A clubby campaign</h2><p dir="ltr">The drama of the “municipal filter” is worth describing in detail not just because the realities of Tomsk politics may be unfamiliar to many, but also – and even primarily – because the events described above were perhaps the stand-out moment of the entire campaign, even as they made the sham nature of the whole exercise blindingly obvious.</p><p dir="ltr">The campaign itself was a stale affair. In an interview for<a href="http://tv2.today/"> TV2, a news and analysis website</a>, the Tomsk political consultant Konstantin Baksheev had<a href="http://tv2.today/Istorii/Kak-griby-i-debaty-otravili-predvybornuyu-kampaniyu-v-tomskoy-oblasti"> this to say about each of the candidates</a>: </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“To understand the style of the campaign, it is worth considering the image presented by each candidate. Didenko is all about dynamics. No matter what kind of dynamics, but the excitement around his name is somewhere at a level now known as ‘hype’. Alexey’s advantage is his ability to define the media cycle. He often forces his opponents to keep coming back to topics they have nothing to gain from.”</p><p dir="ltr">Zhvachkin, in Baksheev’s eyes, was “the father of Siberian Athens”. His measured and dignified image was reflected in his electoral campaign.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“The governor has intentionally stepped away from a situation where he needs to prove anything to the electorate. His slogan about being from Siberia, in my view, smacks of populism, which is not quite fitting for the front runner. As for Ms Baryshnikova, she shows us that ‘communists are people too’. Basically, we are seeing her join the list of electoral figures in the Tomsk Oblast. I would not be surprised if the leader of Tomsk communists Fedorov had to leave his post soon, because Baryshnikova is a clear improvement in terms of tactical flexibility.”</p><p dir="ltr">As for the last candidate, Rostovtsev, Baksheev had just this brief remark:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“He is a ‘doctor on vacation’. That is, he looks like someone whose heart breaks for us and who would help us, if only he had not left his first aid kit at home again.”</p><p dir="ltr">The candidates’ publicity campaigns played out in the same vein. Zhvachkin toured the entire region with working visits, bearing gifts for villagers: money, asphalt for roads, doctors, and folk song festivals. The locals were genuinely excited and the governor’s press office routinely sent out between six and twelve releases along the lines of “the governor brought with him so-and-so, the governor opened this or that, the governor promised to…” It was an amusing sight, not least because over the years he had spent in the governor’s chair, Zhvachkin was almost never seen not only in the villages, but in Tomsk, too, where he apparently on average spends at most six months in a year.</p><h2 dir="ltr">An animated TV presence</h2><p dir="ltr">The achievements of the current head of the region were a constant staple of local TV news, as well as of other advertising materials. The communists piped up occasionally, whereas A Just Russia more or less ignored the need to promote their candidate. The most visible and rather well-funded campaign was run by Alexey Didenko, who was clearly shooting for a respectable second-place finish.</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_фото_Жвачкин_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_фото_Жвачкин_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="286" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Zhvachkin of United Russia – the newly elected governor of the Tomsk Oblast. Photo from the author’s personal archives.</span></span></span>Yet even in this case, the United Russian spin doctors did their boss a disservice when they distributed a rather underhanded series of direct mail leaflets aimed against Didenko.</p><p dir="ltr">The LDPR candidate, offended yet again, was well served by the arrival of TV debates, which Zhvachkin decided to boycott — perhaps wisely, given his complete lack of ability to speak without a piece of paper in front of him, let alone respond to uncomfortable questions. In the end, the debates were taken over by the spoiler candidates. As the senior spoiler, Didenko opted against debating his other opponents, going after the absent governor instead.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the years he had spent in the governor’s chair, Zhvachkin was almost never seen not only in the villages, but in Tomsk, too, where he apparently on average spent at most six months in a year</p><p dir="ltr">This he did concisely and vividly; during the second-to-last debates in prime time, he went so far as to challenge Zhvachkin to something of a duel: come join us tomorrow, he said, be a man, answer my questions.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Polls in decline</h2><p dir="ltr">In a word, the languishing campaign got a boost; to make things worse, there were new objective circumstances to consider. First, the Axe Festival (a popular local attraction with annual attendance in the tens of thousands) was<a href="http://tv2.today/News/Prazdnik-topora-v-tomskoy-oblasti-otmenili">&nbsp;cancelled</a>&nbsp;on the eve of its anniversary opening. The reason behind the<a href="http://tv2.today/News/Kolichestvo-gospitalizirovannyh-s-otravleniem-s-tomskogo-prazdnika-topora-topora-uvelichilos-do">&nbsp;cancellation</a>&nbsp;was unsavoury in every sense of the word: in the run up to the festival, its participants and organisers contracted dysentery; 129 people were hospitalised. This was a major blow to the reputation of the regional government: according to the<a href="http://pravdaserm.com/">&nbsp;PRAVDASERM</a>&nbsp;website, Zhvachkin fell 32 places in its online rating, from the 38th position in July to the 70th in August.</p><p dir="ltr">Then, a week before election day, the LDPR candidate went for the jugular and launched a massive social media campaign, recording a few insulting music videos about Zhvachkin and even issuing a Navalny-style incriminating report. Adding fuel to the fire, in August, the All Russia Opinion Survey Center (VTsIOM)<a href="https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&amp;uid=116376">&nbsp;published a survey</a>&nbsp;suggesting Zhvachkin polled at just 54%.</p><p dir="ltr">All told, the campaign — which had had no intrigue to offer from the beginning and with an easy victory seemingly destined for the preferred candidate, thanks to the “municipal filter” and the years-long campaign to bulldoze over the political field — took on a shade of real political competition on the eve of the election. The regional administration lost its confidence in a positive outcome. Even a runoff election would have looked like a defeat for the incumbent governor.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Role-play victory</h2><p>Nonetheless, Zhvachkin won the campaign. The official result put him at 61% of all votes with a 25% turnout. The spoiler candidates were a long way behind and did not, it seem, mind that much. For example, although the Tomsk communists’ leader Alexey Fedorov grumbled a little bit to keep up appearances, ultimately said<a href="http://tv2.today/News/Podozreniya-est-no-ih-nuzhno-dokazat--partii-i-nablyudateli-podvodyat-itogi">&nbsp;he did not notice any irregularities</a>:</p><p class="blockquote-new">“The election campaign was a quiet affair. There is no need to blame the weather. It is just that the citizens have lost their trust in elections and therefore do not vote. There is an authoritarian approach to the selection of gubernatorial and local authority candidates. Everyone understands that the ruling United Russia party has passed such a set of laws that people would never have an interest in elections. Because there is no competition and no contest. We have always said: why would you hold elections in September, there would be no turnout. It is a time when many have not yet returned from vacations or from the country, the start of the school year. If this had been in November, I think the turnout would be around 40%. What sense does it make it to campaign in the summer, when half of Tomsk and of the region, the most active citizens, go on vacation? There have been almost no irregularities at the election. In the past, as I recall, we would boycott entire polling stations because we knew that they would simply come up with the final results from scratch. This is no longer the case. Any irregularities are usually in the villages, where the local strongmen control everything and there is no oversight.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The campaign, which had had no intrigue to offer from the beginning, took on a shade of real political competition on the eve of the election</p><p>The head of United Russia in Tomsk was<a href="http://tv2.today/News/Podozreniya-est-no-ih-nuzhno-dokazat--partii-i-nablyudateli-podvodyat-itogi"> magnanimous</a> to his former sparring partners:</p><p class="blockquote-new">“Well, we have no bones to pick with our opponents. Yes, there are some among the voters who have a bone to pick with the government, but this is because there are many problems in our society that we are yet to solve”.</p><p>The idyll was spoilt somewhat by Zhirinovsky, who went on a habitual rant about falsifications in Tomsk, but calmed down quickly.</p><h2 dir="ltr">After the “battle”</h2><p dir="ltr">Zhvachkin did not win the election in the region’s capital. Despite the shrivelling turnout of 19%, he could only get 49.97%, according to official results. A total of 36,043 citizens of Tomsk voted for him, while four years earlier the mayor of Tomsk Ivan Kliayn (a constance source of jealousy for Zhvachkin) had secured 48,438 votes at his election, about a third more.</p><p dir="ltr">Many observers drew unflattering comparisons with Zhvachkin’s predecessor Viktor Kress, who governed the region for over 20 years and comfortably won every election he ran for. Firstly, those elections had, on average, twice the turnout: 49% in 1995, 63% in 1999, 42% in 2003. For reference, this time the turnout was 25%. The difference in results from past Tomsk elections was even more striking. In total votes, Kress had secured: 241,750 votes in 1995; 260,259 votes in 1999; 215,258 votes in 2003. Zhvachkin could only get 120,441 votes.</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, 120,000 is just the official result.<a href="http://tv2.today/Istorii/Byli-li-pripisany-golosa-sergeyu-zhvachkinu"> According to statistical analysis of the results in Tomsk by Sergey Sphilkin</a>, a well-known expert in electoral manipulation, approximately 36,000 votes for Zhvachkin had simply been added to his tally. There was a corresponding “increase” in the turnout.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Every falsification adds up to a single effort to stuff the ballot box</p><p dir="ltr">“The elections of regional heads took place in 16 subjects of the Russian Federation,” Shpilkin told the TV2 website. “These are several ethnic republics (Buryatia, Mordovia, Udmurtia, Mary El), a few oblasts from areas with a tradition of manipulations (Belgorod, Saratov, Ryazan), and a few oblasts that had not previously been observed to engage in falsification. In that context, the Tomsk Oblast earned a B- or a C+. It is clear that the results had been altered, but not to a catastrophic extent. For example, it is clear that the votes in the regional capital were left untouched. Unlike, for example, in Saratov, where the real distribution of votes had been skewed to death, so that they even had to fire the chair of the Saratov city electoral commission (who had, in my opinion, been innocent), when they should have fired the regional electoral commision head instead.”</p><p dir="ltr">As for the raw data, Shpilkin estimates that around 36,000 of the 120,000 votes officially cast for governor Zhvachkin were doubtful. Consequently, the same number of voters recorded as having turned up for the election in the Tomsk Oblast should be doubted, too.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is the conclusion I make on the basis of a simple model that assumes that every falsification adds up to a single effort to stuff the ballot box,” Shpilkin says. “Under that assumption, 36,000 is an exact number. If there had been some more complicated forms of falsification, than it is more of an approximation, but it still correctly reflects the scale of falsifications.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Shpilkin’s calculations, Zhvachkin’s actual result would have been just 52% rather than 61%. This would still have been enough to win in the first round. But that would have been a strained victory, so the government decided to take matters into its own hands. Curiously, Shpilkin’s model provides almost the same numbers as a VTsIOM poll conducted just before the election. This coincidence seems quite significant, given that VTsIOM can hardly be accused of underreporting the authorities’ standing.</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 Shot 2017-09-15 at 16.13.55.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 16.13.55.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="221" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A table of the results of the Tomsk gubernatorial election (official Central Electoral Commission results, data from Shpilkin’s calculations, VTsIOM poll projections)</span></span></span></p><p>Tomsk’s imitation election largely followed the pattern everyone expected and they ended as planned. Now the “elected” governor has to face up to reality. The problem is that this reality – our actual, day-to-day life (with all its grotesque deviations from the norm) – is no imitation.</p><p dir="ltr">You can fake journalism, law and order and democracy up to a limit, but you can’t turn the people’s lives into an enormous simulation. So no one should be surprised if sooner or later the play comes to an end — and we would do well to hope the final scene is no more than just a silent tableau.</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/elections-that-werent">Russia’s elections that weren’t</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/towards-a-different-city">Oops! How Moscow’s municipal election turned into a headache for city hall</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</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 russia Rinat Miftakhov Russia Mon, 25 Sep 2017 12:24:42 +0000 Rinat Miftakhov 113615 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A metal pipe for your trouble https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/metal-pipe-for-your-trouble <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">The Russian authorities’ campaign against Alexey Navalny is getting violent.&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/DJx6l7IXcAA6s0B.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'>The pipe used to attack Nikolay Lyaskin. Source: <a href=https://twitter.com/nlyaskin>Twitter</a>. </span></span></span>The Russian authorities continue to refuse permission to Alexey Navalny’s election campaign to hold public rallies, and campaign activists are, on occasion, being detained. But sometimes the anti-Navalny campaign gets even more serious: Nikolay Lyaskin, the coordinator of Navalny’s Moscow headquarters, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/15/koordinatora-moskovskogo-shtaba-navalnogo-udarili-metallicheskoy-truboy">attacked</a> this week with a metal pipe. Police are investigating, but rather strangely.</p><p dir="ltr">As a result of a blow to the head, Lyaskin is suffering from <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/15/u-izbitogo-koordinatora-moskovskogo-shtaba-navalnogo-diagnostirovano">concussion</a>. The police quite quickly opened a <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/16/mvd-zavelo-ugolovnoe-delo-posle-napadeniya-na-glavu-moskovskogo-shtaba">criminal investigation</a> into what they classified as “hooliganism”, and several days later <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/19/policiya-soobshchila-o-zaderzhanii-podozrevaemogo-v-napadenii-na-soratnika">announced</a> they had found a suspect. True, he was not shown to Lyaskin immediately. However, a video appeared in which the suspect alleges Lyaskin himself had promised the man money if he attacked him. Lyaskin <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/20/podvergshiysya-napadeniyu-soratnik-navalnogo-zayavil-o-provokacii-v">claims</a> this is a set-up. The day of the face-to-face confrontation with the suspect Lyaskin was kept waiting the whole day in the police station, and before he left they tried to <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/21/policeyskie-popytalis-izyat-telefon-glavy-moskovskogo-shtaba-navalnogo">take away his telephone</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">On a positive note, in Kostroma a criminal investigation has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/15/sk-vozbudil-ugolovnoe-delo-o-napadenii-policeyskogo-na-volontera-shtaba">opened</a> into an assault by a police officer on a volunteer from Navalny’s election campaign, while in Makhachkala an investigation into an <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/19/zavedeno-delo-o-napadenii-na-zhurnalistku-vo-vremya-mitinga-12-iyunya">attack on a journalist</a>, who works for the news website Caucasian Knot, during a protest on 12 June, has begun.</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/azykov (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="410" height="260" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alexander Zykov, a volunteer for Alexey Navalny's campaign in Kostroma, was attacked on 17 August. Image: <a href=https://7x7-journal.ru>7x7</a>. All rights reserved to the author.</span></span></span>The European Court of Human Rights has accepted an <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/09/19/nashi-v-strasburge-espch-prinyal-k-rassmotreniyu-zhaloby-pyati-uchastnikov">application</a> by five prominent Moscow activists, four of whom (including Ildar Dadin) were earlier prosecuted for alleged violations at street protests. The grounds for the applications to the ECHR are the detentions and administrative prosecutions of the activists which formed the basis for their criminal prosecutions in Russia. We <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/09/19/nashi-v-strasburge-espch-prinyal-k-rassmotreniyu-zhaloby-pyati-uchastnikov">set out in detail</a> why the individuals were detained at these protests, and what happened to them after they had been detained. The Russian courts have not treated Ildar Dadin so well: his suit on the conditions of his transfer to the prison colony in Karelia and his detention there was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/19/sud-otklonil-isk-ildara-dadina-ob-etapirovanii-i-soderzhanii-v-kolonii">dismissed</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">An activist of the Artpodgotovka group, Alexey Politikov, has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/18/obvinyaemyy-po-delu-26-marta-aleksey-politikov-priznal-vinu">pleaded guilty</a> to charges of using force against a police officer during the dispersal of the Moscow demonstration on 26 March. Politikov has agreed to a plea bargain, which means the court will not examine the evidence against him, but will likely offer a reduced sentence. Earlier, three others charged in the same case (<a href="https://ovdinfo.org/persons/yuriy-kuliy">Yury Kuly</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/persons/aleksandr-shpakov">Aleksandr Shpakov</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/persons/andrey-kosyh">Andrey Kosykh</a>) also agreed to plea bargains, but this did not help them avoid terms in prison. Meanwhile, this coming Monday, an appeal by <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/persons/stanislav-zimovec">Stanislav Zimovets</a>, the first to be prosecuted in the 26 March protest case, is to be heard against his sentence. Zimovets, who maintained his innocence of the charges, was sentenced to 18 months in a prison colony.</p><p dir="ltr">In a number of regions the authorities have taken tough measures against local protests. In Chelyabinsk region they are cracking down on members of the environmental movement Stop GOK, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aaron-pelei/chelyabinsk-copper-plant-conflict">campaigns against construction of the Tomino copper processing plant</a>. One of the members of Stop GOK, Gamil Asatullin, is facing criminal charges for attempted arson. Others have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/17/aktivistov-dvizheniya-stop-gok-zaderzhivayut-i-doprashivayut-po-delu-o">detained and questioned as witnesses</a>. In addition, the authorities banned a rally in Chelyabinsk against construction of the plant, and one of the rally organisers, Boris Zolotarevsky, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/17/v-chelyabinske-zaderzhali-volontera-shtaba-alekseya-navalnogo">detained</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/17/odnogo-iz-organizatorov-ekologicheskogo-mitinga-v-chelyabinske-oshtrafovali">fined</a> 25,000 roubles.</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/Iwanttobreathe.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'>''I want to breathe": almost half of Chelyabinsk region’s residents are against a new copper mining project, and the regional authorities are now trying to discredit the movement with a criminal investigation. Source: VK. </span></span></span>In Rostov region, meanwhile, participants in a movement supporting miners from the town of Gukovo, who have not received their pay for many months, are being prosecuted. </p><p dir="ltr">After a rally, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/15/policiya-zaderzhala-uchastnikov-akcii-shahterov-v-gukovo">detained</a> two protesters, who had taken part in single-person pickets, and the coordinator of the protest, Tatyana Avacheva. All three were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/15/vseh-troih-zaderzhannyh-na-akcii-shahterov-oshtrafovali">fined</a>. Subsequently, the activist Vasily Dyakonov, who had not even been at the protest, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/19/v-rostovskoy-oblasti-v-organizacii-piketa-obvinili-cheloveka-kotorogo-na-nem">detained</a> and charged with organising the single-person pickets and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/09/19/aktivista-dvizheniya-shahterov-oshtrafovali-za-pikety-na-kotoryh-ego-ne-bylo%5C">fined</a>. Dyakonov is currently under investigation for allegedly threatening to kill someone, and a court has banned him from taking part in public events and placed restrictions on his movements.</p><h2>Thank you!</h2><p dir="ltr">Our thanks to everyone who continues to support our work. Find out how you can help us <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <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/ovd-info/russia-s-gubernatorial-elections-marred-by-political-pressure">Russia’s gubernatorial elections marred by political pressure</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, 22 Sep 2017 11:57:58 +0000 OVD-Info 113568 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Chelyabinsk copper plant conflict reaches new (and sad) lows https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aaron-pelei/chelyabinsk-copper-plant-conflict <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A copper mining complex in one of Russia’s most polluted regions has been given the go-ahead — and is fraught with intimidation at the local level. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aaron-pelei/gok-stop" target="_blank"><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/Iwanttobreathe.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Iwanttobreathe.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'>''I want to breathe", almost half of the region’s residents are against the project, and fear the environmental impacts. Photo: Vk.com</span></span></span>Despite the open protests by ecologists and locals, it seems the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-how-residents-of-chelyabinsk-are-/feed">Tomino copper mining complex</a> is going ahead. This month, Russia’s largest extractor of copper ore received permission to build in the Chelyabinsk region, in the southern Urals. The project’s designers believe that this mining and refinement plant will bring billions of roubles to the regional budget through taxes, create new jobs and raise the investment potential of the region as a whole. However, almost half of the region’s residents <a href="https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&amp;uid=115579">are against the project</a>, and fear the environmental impacts.</p><p dir="ltr">The project design proposes a full-cycle complex in Tomino, some 12km south of Chelyabinsk. This will make it the largest such factory in Russia today. As the Russian Copper Company (RMK) reports, there’s enough ore reserves at Tomino to last for roughly 50 years. On a yearly basis, that would translate to roughly 28m tonnes going through the complex. Indeed, RMK is currently preparing a site of more than 3,000 hectares for construction, with more than half a million dollars committed.</p><p dir="ltr">Currently, this site is occupied by a forest, which previously enjoyed the status of a protected territory, and offered some protection to one of Russia’s most polluted cities. However, in 2013, the regional government removed this protected status, without much in the way of public discussion or the necessary decisions in the regional bureaucracy.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">The authorities’&nbsp;attitude to Chelyabinsk residents is already provoking open resistance. Rallies against the Tomino complex have been held every few months in recent years</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, it is the felling of this forest and possible pollution of the Shershnev reservoir, the only source of drinking water for the city, which has generated a wave of resentment in the south Urals. Likewise, there are concerns regarding the drilling and blasting method of extraction. Some people believe that this will send tonnes of dust into the air on a daily basis, which will then drift into the city limits.</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/thumb_uploads_images_BlogPost_3714_5ebf05e3516f7d1b62687d4b751cd895___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'>The tree-felling operation at Tomino has already started, despite protests by residents. Source: Stop GOK.</span></span></span>These risks have been confirmed by ecological analyses, including those conducted by the Chelyabinsk governor’s office. Off the back of these reports, RMK has been recommended to rework the projects further. Boris Dubrovsky, the regional governor, promised that construction will only begin after everything has been agreed. But the official opening of the Tomino complex <a href="https://www.russianpressa.ru/ecology/razrabotka-tominskogo-mestorozhdeniya-oficialno-zapushhena">took place on 11 July 2017</a> (albeit, without Dubrovsky in attendance); the forest felling and preparation work had begun a few days before.</p><p dir="ltr">Only at the end of August 2017 this year did Dubrovsky <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3390889">state his support for the project openly</a>: “The storm around the Tomino complex doesn’t suit its scale. Strictly speaking, there are emotions, and then there’s the practicality of life. This is about investment, this is about jobs. And if a business follows all the rules, then what grounds or risks, apart from emotions, do we have to permit or not permit the construction?”</p><h2>“This is about investment, this is about jobs”</h2><p dir="ltr">The governor’s opinion contradicts many of his constituents, who, according to an <a href="https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&amp;uid=115579">official poll</a> by the All-Russian Opinion Research Center, are against it in 51% of cases. When municipal deputies conducted their own survey, they found that more than 70% of people living in direct proximity to the site (Tomino and the nearby Korkino district) were against it. Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council also recently <a href="https://wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&amp;uid=115579">recommended</a> RMK not to start construction without the necessary decisions in place. However, as yet no one has presented new project plans (which are supposed to deal with the risks) to the public. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The authorities’&nbsp;attitude to Chelyabinsk residents is already provoking open resistance. Rallies against the Tomino complex have been held every few months in recent years, and the Stop GOK movement has the clearest and most active position on the issue. According to its leader Vasily Moskovets, RMK’s project is unconstitutional, and the local authorities are, in effect, repeating the unlawful activities of the project’s backers.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/thumb_uploads_images_blogpost_3909_ac37fea7858c6395f04e879ff558b785_ (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="367" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gamil Asatullin at a solitary picket against the copper plant, Chelyabinsk. Image: Activatica.</span></span></span>Local officials regularly refuse to permit Stop GOK from holding rallies or try to permit them in unpopular locations. In particular, the authorities have used various pretexts to refuse rallies during spring and summer this year. </p><p>For instance, for an <a href="http://chelyabinsk.74.ru/text/news/343565469552640.html">unsanctioned rally this past Sunday</a>, the authorities deployed a significant number of police and equipment, in order to deter and intimidate participants. This resulted in a small number of participants, several of whom were detained both during and after the protest in relation to a criminal investigation. Gamil Asatullin, a Stop GOK participant and local political activist, was recently arrested on charges that he attempted to burn down the mining complex site. Asatullin was <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/09/19/gok-stop">arrested by a group of FSB and anti-extremism officers</a>, and the investigation is likely to involve several more activists of the Stop GOK movement.</p><p dir="ltr">Sadly, this isn’t the first time those against the Tomino complex have been declared criminals or foreign agents pursuing commercial and political interests. For instance, Felix Panov, a representative of Russia’s Civic Chamber, recently <a href="http://pravdaurfo.ru/news/155681-v-obshchestvennoy-palate-rf-stop-gok-priznali">claimed</a> that the ecological component of locals’ demands is secondary: “We can conclude that, despite its ‘humane direction’, environmentalism is being used here as a means of influencing public opinion, to make people antagonistic towards any state projects and projects, including those that are useful.”</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Despite the difficulties of getting the message out, public actions against the development of the Tomino site regularly gather hundreds of people</p><p dir="ltr">Attacks on Chelyabinsk’s ecological activists can also be found in the local and federal press. In June this year, local TV Channel 31 <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpSSbcUGIO8">broadcast</a> a documentary film which called Stop GOK a “political sect” that was trying to bring down the region’s economy. “They present themselves as ecologists and researchers. But as a rule, they aren’t. These activists are involved in ecological extremism and are controlled and financed by foreign organisations,” the voice-over claimed. The region’s main print and online media have a similar opinion. This is why people involved in the movement consider social media groups to be the only source of information on the potential risks of the Tomino plant.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VpSSbcUGIO8" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>"The imposters", a recent film broadcast on regional television, "exposes" Chelyabinsk activists for pursuing foreign interests.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Despite the difficulties of getting the message out, public actions against the development of the Tomino site regularly gather hundreds of people. These people aren’t only concerned with the ecological risks, but the outflow of capital and people from the south Urals. <a href="https://vecherka.su/articles/society/126702/">According to Oleg Vitkovsky</a>, president of the Ural Economic Union, over the past few years, 150,000 people have left the region&nbsp;— and the main factor for emigration has been the environmental situation.</p><p dir="ltr">In turn, the people who move to Chelyabinsk for work are mostly from neighbouring regions or former Soviet republics, and travel mostly for low-skilled labour. In any case, it seems likely that the Tomino complex will not find itself with a labour shortage — over the next three years, it plans to hire 1,200 people. Most people are willing to forego principles, including dissatisfaction with the environmental state of the region, to find work in an increasingly difficult market.</p><h2>Catastrophe zone</h2><p dir="ltr">Chelyabink’s ecological problems are no secret. The city suffers from poor weather conditions several months a year. You can feel the industrial smog all year round. At this time of year, the city is covered in mist, visibility is reduced, and the air reeks of chemicals.</p><p dir="ltr">The south Urals has already found itself at the bottom of Green Patrol’s ecological rating <a href="http://www.greenpatrol.ru/ru/stranica-dlya-obshchego-reytinga/ekologicheskiy-reyting-subektov-rf?tid=282">three years running</a>. People passing through notice the air immediately. Russia’s Minister of Ecology Sergey Donskoy <a href="http://irinagundareva.com/news/sergey-donskoy-nazval-chelyabinsk-v-chisle-samyih-gryaznyih-gorodov-rossii.html">stated</a> in 2016 that Chelyabinsk leads Russia in terms of hard particles released into the atmosphere, and it is joined by towns nearby, Magnitogorsk and Karabash. Last year, Vladimir Soloviev, a prominent TV presenter, <a href="http://chelyabinsk.74.ru/text/newsline/155770280988672.html">called</a> Chelyabinsk an “ecological catastrophe zone”.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“I believe the chances of stopping construction are high. Governors in our region change often”</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps <a href="http://econadzor.com/analytics/news/2430.html">amendments</a> to Russia’s ecological legislation will change this; they’re due to take effect in January 2018. This legislation will ban the construction of potentially harmful enterprises (such as Tomino) without an initial state ecological survey.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, RMK has already started construction, and is ready to reach its performance indicators in terms of extraction and refinement in the coming years — though it still hasn’t stated whether it will consider the results of critical ecological surveys. Currently, Russian legislation gives these surveys only the status of non-binding recommendations.</p><p>Despite recent defeats in the struggle against the Tomino complex, people involved in Stop GOK are sure that the final decision hasn’t been made just yet. “I believe the chances of stopping construction are high,” <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3390889">believes</a> Vasily Moskovets. “After all, Governors in our region change frequently.”</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/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-chelyabinsk-copper-enrichment-tomino">Stop GOK: how residents of Chelyabinsk are resisting plans for a new copper plant</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/claudia-ciobanu/my-very-first-death-threat-life-and-times-of-russian-ecological-activist">My first death threat: the life and times of a Russian ecological activist</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 Aaron Pelei Green Eurasia Cities in motion Russia Fri, 22 Sep 2017 05:20:03 +0000 Aaron Pelei 113523 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Not in my classroom: Russia’s refugee children struggle to get to school https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/russia-refugee-children-school <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Headteachers in Russia’s schools are turning foreign children away — fearing hefty fines and pressure from the migration services. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/deti-bezhenzev" target="_blank"><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/Education-in-Emergencies-Will-Syrian-Refugee-Children-Become-a-Lost-Generation_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Education-in-Emergencies-Will-Syrian-Refugee-Children-Become-a-Lost-Generation_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'>Children of Syrian refugees in an improvised school in Jordan. Forty percent of refugee children from the Middle East are not educated. Photo: Freedom House, open source.</span></span></span>Nura, 12, takes her belongings from her rucksack and lays them on the desk: a big, bright pink pencil-case emblazoned with the words “I’m CHIC”, a notebook, textbooks, and erasers. Nura always shares erasers with her neighbour Gufran, with whom she sits at the back desk in this classroom. On the next row sit two younger girls — another Nura and Soraya, who are best friends. The children slurp lollipops and freshly-picked plums as they take out trading cards. All of them are originally from Aleppo.</p><p dir="ltr">The girls have turned up for a lesson at an integration centre in the town of Noginsk, just outside Moscow. It’s run by <a href="http://refugee.ru/en/">Civic Assistance</a>, a human rights organisation that runs classes for the children of foreign citizens in Russia. The school itself comprises two classrooms in an office building. The walls are covered with posters of the alphabet, animals and household objects, as well as children’s drawings. Among them are samples of applications made to Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS), including possible answers in Arabic and Russian (and phrases such as “documents must be submitted to file an application” and “refusal for temporary asylum”).</p><p dir="ltr">Usually around 10-15 people turn up for a lesson, but today there are just five girls. After all, tomorrow is the festival of Kurban-Bayram. There’s no single timetable — teacher Elena Lebedeva, who is trained in pedagogy, begins the lesson with multiplication tables, then everyone reads a text about a boy, in which they have to insert the missing words in the correct grammatical case. “The towel is on the windowsill — so there is a messes in his room,” concludes Nura.</p><p dir="ltr">“A mess,” Elena Yurevna corrects her. “Teacher?” Gufran raises her hand, pronouncing the Russian word without softening the final “l” as is custom. “What’s a windowsill?” Nine year-old Shahad doesn’t know what the word “everywhere” means. While their elders are engaged, the young girls share green plums among themselves — during breaks Soraya and Nura make a break for a plum tree which grows near the school.</p><p dir="ltr">Gufran tells me that she and her sisters (Soraya and the younger Nura) have lived in Russia for five years. The older Nura and her family moved to Noginsk even earlier — back in 2011. This school for the children of refugees opened three years later. One of its founders was the Syrian journalist Muiz Abu Aljadail. Initially, teachers’ salaries were paid by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). However, local authorities actively obstructed the centre’s work: the FMS put pressure on those from whom it rented facilities, and it soon had to move premises. Muiz eventually left Russia. Today, the centre’s work is only possible thanks to private donations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Without a clear legal status, the children of refugees cannot receive an education — although they formally have the right</p><p dir="ltr">Syrians have lived in Noginsk since well before the war, and generally worked in textile factories (of which there are eight in this city of 100,000). When war broke out in Syria, many decided to stay here for good and arranged for their families to join them. The majority of these people had arrived in Russia on tourist visas, after which they received temporary asylum. Once that period had expired, the migration service told them that they could return home — in the minds of these government officials, the war in Syria had already come to an end.</p><p dir="ltr">Civic Assistance cites <a href="http://refugee.ru/publications/39-priznannyh-bezhentsev-v-2016-godu-rossijskie-antirekordy-i-pochemu-malta-silnee-rossii">data</a> from the Federal Statistical Service: as of 1 January 2017, only two Syrian citizens in Russia had full refugee status. Some 1,317 had temporary asylum. According to the same body, there are over 2,000 Syrians living in Noginsk alone.</p><p dir="ltr">Without a clear legal status, the children of refugees cannot receive an education — although they formally have the right. Article 43 of Russia’s Constitution <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_28399/8452df644dd1f63f07ca7744f87beddac2947282/">guarantees</a> the right to a free education, accessible to all. Article 78 of the federal law “On Education” <a href="http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_140174/61481667d956e25b4c53b1febedf53ed1121e78c/">addresses</a> the right of foreign citizens in Russia to free pre-school, primary, and secondary education. Nevertheless, in 2017 the RUssian Ministry of Education adopted <a href="https://rg.ru/2014/04/11/priem-dok.html">Order 32</a>, according to which foreign citizens must present documentary evidence of their right to stay in Russia upon enrolling their children in school.</p><p dir="ltr">This development essentially closed the Russian education system to the children of migrants and refugees. School directors and headteachers frequently interpret the order as meaning that migrants must have the right to temporary or permanent residency in Russia — and refuse to enrol children without it. To make matters worse, pupils are threatened with expulsion when it becomes clear that their registered residency in Russia is drawing to an end.</p><p dir="ltr">Civic Assistance points out that directors and headteachers <a href="http://refugee.ru/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Doklad-o-dostupe-k-obrazovaniyu.pdf">often avoid giving written refusals</a>, and instead simply delay enrolment of refugee children in school, citing incomplete documents. Online enrolment, which has been introduced in all Moscow’s schools, is no better: the system doesn’t allow non-citizens without registration to send their children to first grade.</p><h2>Meet the migration service</h2><p dir="ltr">In 2015, Nurbek Kurbanov, an Uzbek citizen, took his sons’ expulsion from school to Russia’s Supreme Court. Vera Pankova, director of school 34 in the city of Tver, openly discussed her close cooperation with the FMS. In October 2014, the service sent letters to schools across Russia (a copy of which was obtained by Civic Assistance) instructing them to verify the legal status of all their pupils. Otherwise, the letter continued, the school would be fined under an article of Russia’s code of administrative offences, which concerns “provision of a dwelling, vehicle, or other services to a foreign citizen or stateless person who is in the Russian Federation in violation of the established order of rules of travel or transit through its territory.”</p><p dir="ltr">In assessing Kurbanov’s appeal on the case of his expelled children, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the practice was illegal. “The absence of the listed documents [such as a registered place of residence or domicile] cannot be sufficient grounds for refusing the enrolment of a child in any educational institution which has free places,” <a href="http://refugee.ru/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Reshenie-VS.pdf">concluded</a> the court. Yet despite this decision, and aid provided by Civic Assistance, school directors are in no hurry to enrol children without registration.</p><p dir="ltr">Daniil Aleksandrov, a professor at the department of sociology at the Higher School of Economics, adds that not all schools cooperate with the FMS. “I myself have seen how school administrations cover for children who don’t have the right documents from the migration service. The teachers were very worried about their pupils — to such an extent that our researchers were not allowed to enter some of these schools, due to the fear that the children might encounter some [legal] problems as a result.”</p><h2>Avoiding an answer</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_02501227.LR_.ru__0_1 (1).jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="332" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children during lessons in the secondary school of the village of Krasny Desant, in which there is a refugee camp from the south-eastern regions of Ukraine. Photo: Sergey Pivovarov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Arseny Kovpan, an eight-year-old boy from Odessa, didn’t go to school this year. Just like the year before, and the year before that. His family has lived in Russia for three years — Arseny’s father works as a barman, his mother as a hairdresser. His parents are on the migration register, have work contracts, and rent out an apartment. Furthermore, his older sister Yaroslava has already been studying at school for three years — the same school which refuses to admit Arseny.</p><p dir="ltr">Yury Kovpan, the boy’s father, says that when he tried to enrol Arseny in the first grade in June 2016, the school demanded to see not only their temporary registration (which the family had last year, and still has today), but also a temporary residence permit or residency card. The school’s director Natalya Faydyuk didn’t provide a written refusal. “They didn’t directly say ‘no’,” remembers Yury, “but simply kept on repeating that our documentation was incomplete. Bring all the documents, and we’ll admit him.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Kovpan family decided to bring the case to the courts — but first and second instance courts sided with the school. In the words of Darya Manina, an employee of Civic Assistance who reviewed the situation, the main argument of the department of education rested on the expiration of a certain three-month period: Arseny’s parents had <a href="http://refugee.ru/news/ne-hochu-suditsya-hochu-uchitsya-2/">appealed</a> to the court more than three months after the school’s refusal.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">''As soon as the decision is clear, the family must demand the refusal in writing. Headteachers frequently avoid face-to-face meetings, preferring to communicate through their secretaries''</p><p dir="ltr">In a Moscow City Court session on the Kovpan family’s case, a representative of the Department of Education insisted that Arseny’s parents first came to the school not in June, as the father had said, but on 28 August — by which time there were no more free places in class. The court dismissed the case against the school, but Arseny’s parents still intend to petition the Supreme Court. That said, they’ve now gone back on the idea of a conventional school education altogether; Arseny and Yaroslava will now study at home instead.</p><p dir="ltr">Konstantin Troitsky, a rights defender, believes that the case of the Kovpan family, just as many others, shows that parents should always insist on a written refusal. “As soon as the decision is clear, the family must demand the refusal in writing. Headteachers frequently avoid face-to-face meetings, preferring to communicate through their secretaries — they’re very reluctant to provide any written statement, but you must insist.”</p><h2>Prospects and paradoxes</h2><p dir="ltr">The children of Syrian refugees are no exception to this trend — they’re also not wanted in the education sector. This year only three of them are enrolled in school; the rest must stay at home. The families of Nura and Gufran also received a refusal.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our children really like learning. What would they be doing without this school? They’d just sit at home all day, left to themselves. Here, they can spend time together, learn, and meet the volunteers. The main thing is they feel that they’re starting to speak Russian better, that they’re making progress,” says Elena Yuryevna, the children’s teacher in Noginsk. Anna, a volunteer at the centre, agrees with her: “Once we let the younger kids go home early, and thought the older ones would then want to leave too. But Nura said ‘No! We still have maths!’”</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/mlag8.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/mlag8.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'>Children of migrants, as a rule, exemplary pupils, and parents inspire respect for teachers. Photo: MIA "Fergana". All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Nura and Gufran speak Russian well, and take their studies seriously. They always listen to their teacher. But as the sociologist Daniil Aleksandrov puts it, that’s nothing exceptional for the children of migrants or refugees. In a <a href="https://spb.hse.ru/data/2014/11/05/1102249517/Polozhenie_Detei_Migrantov_FULL.pdf">report</a> for the Higher School of Economics on the situation of migrant children in St Petersburg, researchers stated that the main factor affecting progress in education is the age at which they move. If a child moves to a new country before the age of seven, her academic performance will not be markedly different from that of her classmates. Progress in English language, for example, is on average slightly higher among children for whom the Russian language is not native. For example, the average score for algebra among Russian children is 3.5 — for foreign children it’s 3.4.</p><p dir="ltr">“The children of migrants are, as a rule, exemplary students,” concludes Aleksandrov, recalling the words of one school director in the Moscow region. “They are always neat, they always do their homework, and their parents instil in them a respect for their teacher.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">''We asked children without Russian citizenship whether they encountered xenophobia or discrimination. They say that there were some cases — on public transport, on the street — but not a single instance at school''</p><p dir="ltr">Nura and Gufran say that from time to time, strangers glare or shout at them to “go home.” However, Aleksandrov is certain that migrant children rarely face xenophobia. “My colleagues came across an interesting paradox” begins the sociologist. “On the one hand, a teacher says that migration is an awful thing — ‘people come over here, they fill the streets…’ and so on. But if you give it ten minutes and ask about her migrant pupils, she’ll say that she has amazing children in her class who study very hard. Half her mind is occupied by this fear of migrants; the other half by her wonderful students!”</p><p dir="ltr">Aleksandrov continues that other schoolchildren tend to have a good attitude towards children of other nationalities. “We asked children without Russian citizenship whether they encountered xenophobia or discrimination. They say that there were some cases — on public transport, on the street — but not a single instance at school.” Stories about frequent conflicts between Russian schoolchildren and the children of migrants are nothing but myths, he believes.</p><p dir="ltr">Fatima’s mother (one of the three Syrian children who have been enrolled in school in Noginsk) confirms this: “Fatima does clash with other children: she says that sometimes the kids whisper behind her back, but there are no big problems with her classmates.” As Aleksandrov puts it, school is a safe social space for migrant children.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">''Children who don’t have access to a school education often experience serious difficulties — they find it difficult to socialise, and rarely end up with a well-paying job''</p><p dir="ltr">Research carried out in 2010 by Yuliya Florinskaya, a researcher at the Russian Institute of Demography, found that the <a href="http://demoscope.ru/weekly/2012/0515/analit02.php">percentage of the children of migrants who don’t attend school varies from 10 to 25%</a>. Troitsky believes that migration policy depends on the position of the particular region: “In Moscow city everything is fairly harsh, but in the wider Moscow region, there’s no unified, centralised system — so variants are possible. However, in Noginsk the authorities won’t budge, and Syrian children aren’t going to school.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Children who don’t have access to a school education often experience serious difficulties — they find it difficult to socialise, and rarely end up with a well-paying job, as they have very limited opportunities,” explains Aleksandrov. “A child may fall into the grey economy, or work in a tyre repair shop or something like that, and remain there for the rest of his life. A girl who stays at home and helps her mother with the housework will usually end up as a cleaner or work in the service sector. Furthermore, schooling for these children is also a way of integrating their parents — they’ll go to parents’ meetings and participate in the life of the school. That’s why we stress the idea that schools should be left alone.”</p><p dir="ltr">Yet despite the hard work of lawyers and human rights defenders, school education is accessible only to a few. A March 2016 report by Russia Today on the school in Noginsk <a href="https://russian.rt.com/article/153232">claimed</a> that “Russia [compared to western countries] strives to take all necessary measures to fully integrate refugees into society, so that they can continue to live, work, and study as usual.”</p><p>A school education, apparently, is not included in these “necessary measures for integration” — foreign parents should presumably educate their children themselves. Meanwhile, Russia continues to provide <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/neil-hauer/to-victors-ruins-challenges-of-russia-s-reconstruction-in-syria">increased military support</a> to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and the self-proclaimed republics in south-eastern Ukraine. The victims of these conflicts will just have to make do.</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards.</em></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-neroznikova/convert-and-love-russia-s-muslim-wives">Convert and love: Russia’s Muslim wives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-grinko/why-moscow-will-never-get-museum-of-migration">Why Moscow will never get a museum of migration</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/strangers-in-village">Strangers in the village </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 Platonova Migration matters Education Thu, 21 Sep 2017 20:20:50 +0000 Anastasia Platonova 113517 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Uzbekistan’s new leader fails his first test https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/umida-niyazova/uzbekistan-s-new-leader-fails-his-first-test <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Umida_AuthorPic.jpg" alt="" width="80" />One year after the death of Islam Karimov, the continued use of forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields shows how slow the pace of change really is.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Fergana_Cotton_17Sep.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Fergana_Cotton_17Sep.jpg" 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'>Labour in the cotton fields of Fergana Region, eastern Uzbekistan, 17 September 2017. Photo courtesy of Uzbek-German Forum for Human RIghts. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>While President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan tucked into his third course at a <a href="https://www.bciu.org/events/56109/dinner-with-his-excellency-shavkat-mirziyoyev-president-of-the-republic-of-uzbekistan-" target="_blank">New York dinner</a> with wealthy American businessmen on Wednesday night, university students back home were preparing for a long day in the fields plucking cotton.</p><p>Despite the president’s promise to outlaw forced labour in the country from which I am exiled, institutions all over the country received an order to send their able-bodied staff and students to harvest cotton. September should be the start of the academic year. Instead, faculties, schools, kindergartens, as well as companies and hospitals, are emptying out as employees are ordered into the sweltering heat to work 14-hour days.&nbsp;</p><p>One year ago, the 78-year-old former president, Islam Karimov, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-kislov/goodbye-karimov" target="_blank">died suddenly</a> after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He had been in office for 27 years, presiding over one of the world’s most repressive and secretive regimes. Thousands of innocent people were imprisoned for their politics or their religion. Dissidents were tortured and murdered. Others, like myself, fled in fear of another prison term.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">About one million people are forced to work in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector every year, under threat of losing their jobs or worse</p><p>The early actions of the new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, have encouraged optimism among many of my compatriots and western politicians. He is improving relations with neighbouring countries, has <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-currency-sum-dollar-convertible-liberalization-exchange/28714017.html" target="_blank">liberalised currency regulations</a> and <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/05/uzbekistan-new-political-era-should-focus-rights" target="_blank">allowed international human rights defenders to visit Uzbekistan</a>. These are all steps we should welcome. In New York for the UN General Assembly this week, he is hosting a <a href="http://www.aucconline.com/events.php?content_id=6&amp;events_id=45" target="_blank">business forum</a> with leading US businesses and members of the Trump administration, hoping that his early actions will tempt US businessmen to invest in Uzbekistan.&nbsp;</p><p>However, it remains unclear whether Mirziyoyev is willing to address the systemic problems which continue to facilitate wide-scale violations of human rights in our country.</p><p>One such violation is the use of <a href="http://www.cottoncampaign.org/uzbekistans-forced-labor-problem.html" target="_blank">mass forced labour</a>, with about one million people forced to work in the cotton sector every year, under threat of losing their jobs or worse. This unique practice, in which the population is forced to subsidise the cotton sector has remained unchanged since the Soviet era. A few days ago I received a message from a schoolteacher in the south-eastern corner of the country: “This year the press reported that teachers would not have to collect cotton, which we were very pleased about,” wrote the teacher, who I dare not name for fear of retribution.&nbsp;</p><p class="blockquote-new">“Today, we were suddenly told: ‘Be ready.’ An order came from the&nbsp;local authorities that you will have to go out and pick cotton tomorrow.”</p><p>This is not an isolated incident. The organisation I lead, the <a href="http://uzbekgermanforum.org/" target="_blank">Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights</a> (UGF), has observed that educational and medical institutions throughout the country are again <a href="http://uzbekgermanforum.org/chronicle-of-forced-labor-2017-issue-3-september-2017/" target="_blank">dispatching unwilling workers to the cotton fields</a>. In August, official media published statements by several officials that teachers and medical workers would not be mobilized to harvest cotton. Several regional <em>hokims</em>, or local authority figures, also publicly promised that teachers and medical workers would be spared the cotton draft.</p><p>Yet it now seems these were <a href="https://www.just-style.com/news/concerns-over-ilo-uzbekistan-cotton-monitoring-mission_id131670.aspx" target="_blank">empty promises</a>. My organisation has <a href="http://uzbekgermanforum.org/chronicle-of-forced-labor-2017-issue-3-september-2017/" target="_blank">gathered evidence</a> that, from mid-August, the heads of schools and kindergartens once again had to send a list of their employees to the local administrations in command of cotton production.</p><p>Fast becoming a distinctive feature of the 2017 cotton season is the requirement for written confirmation of “voluntary participation in the collection of cotton” from employees of government institutions. In some cases, employees were allegedly encouraged to make a collective decision at meetings, where they took they agreed to participate in the cotton harvest to help the country before the rains begin.&nbsp;</p><p>The obligation to collect cotton applies not only to employees of state organizations, but also to private entrepreneurs. During the cotton harvest, tax inspectors go to the markets and collect what they call “cotton money” from medium and small traders.&nbsp;</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/trkF1WJ0ad4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Students tell their stories of forced labour in Uzbekistan's cotton industry.</em><p>As reported by Radio Ozodlik, private entrepreneurs from the Tashkent region are being forced to sign statements in which they agree to participate in the cotton harvest. According to a businessmen from Bekabad who was interviewed by the radio, officials of the hokimiyat are forcing businessmen, builders and market traders to sign statements in which they commit to participating in the collection of cotton.&nbsp;</p><p>Let’s be clear that what is happening in Uzbekistan is illegal. This is mass forced labour that cannot be excused or justified. Collecting cotton in 35 degree heat is grueling work. Each year UGF documents deaths in the cotton fields.&nbsp;</p><p>The conditions are perhaps best made clear by a nurse who wrote to me last week:&nbsp;</p><p class="blockquote-new">“Yesterday evening, the head of our department asked me to come to the hospital at 5:30 am. I didn’t expect that and I wasn’t ready for the field. I had to leave my children or find someone else who could go out to the field. I was left there all day long. They brought water to the field late and I suffered sunstroke during the day. Worse, the bus to collect us arrived late too.”&nbsp;</p><p>Western leaders listening to president Mirziyoyev’s grand pledges should remember he was an integral part of a Karimov government that never fulfilled its promises. They should look at actions rather than words. The cotton harvest was his first big test. It’s one he has failed.</p><p><em>Click <a href="https://www.change.org/p/ўзбекистон-пахта-секторида-мажбурий-меҳнатни-тугатишнинг-зарурати-тўғрисида-d93c53f1-d2ef-4ebf-8fd0-94b8206e72b5" target="_blank">here</a> to sign the UGF’s petition urging Uzbekistan’s president Shavkat Mirziyoyev against using forced student labour in the country’s cotton fields.</em></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>“<a href="http://telegra.ph/CHto-delat-esli-zovut-za-hlopok-09-19" target="_blank">What to do if you’re called to pick cotton</a>”&nbsp;<span>– practical advice by two civic activists for Uzbekistan’s latest cotton-picking season (in Russian).&nbsp;</span></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/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/nate-schenkkan/what-would-open-uzbekistan-look-like">What would an open Uzbekistan look like?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/john-heathershaw-alexander-cooley/dictators-without-borders">Dictators without borders</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/surat-ikramov/walk-free-for-two-million">“Two million soms and we’ll let you go”</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 Umida Niyazova Uzbekistan Central Asia Thu, 21 Sep 2017 18:06:27 +0000 Umida Niyazova 113510 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgian land, Georgian freedom https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A proposed amendment to Georgia’s constitution would ban the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens. Is it a necessary evil, or a hollow gesture?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgia_Cow_Bagrati.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgia_Cow_Bagrati.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'>A cow rests in view of Bagrati Cathedral outside the city of Kutaisi, western Georgia. Photo CC-by-00: Candoyi / Pixabay. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Constitutional reform is afoot in Georgia. Many observers worry that new amendments to the electoral system may help <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/84666" target="_blank">entrench the parliamentary majority of the ruling party</a> Georgian Dream, which claimed victory at the ballot boxes last October. This week, the Georgian parliament started discussing a <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30176" target="_blank">new amendment restricting the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens</a>. It’s a move that has raised less of a stir&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;but nonetheless could have important repercussions.&nbsp;</p><h2>Free Georgia, free land&nbsp;</h2><p>Following the collapse of the USSR, most people in Georgia received small plots of land from the government of first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The state granted individuals exclusive usage of these modest plots, though it was not until 1996 that Eduard Shevardnadze’s government conferred ownership on their users. Nevertheless, land records remaind patchy, and disputes were not uncommon.</p><p>Along came the reformist government of Mikheil Saakashvili, which in 2007 instituted a digital record of land ownership, helping to streamline the sale of these small plots; the Georgian Dream government has gone further, utilising <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83286" target="_blank">potentially risky blockchain technology</a> to develop a land register.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Banning sales of agricultural land to foreigners may be an easy populist vote-winner, but it still has an internal logic</p><p>Today, Georgian politicians tend to tread delicately around the question of land ownership. This is in part due to popular memories of the Soviet Union’s catastrophic experiments in state-owned collectivised land, and partly due to the capacity of the issue to feed into inter-ethnic disputes. In this context, Georgian Dream’s decision to raise the issue anew was a bold one&nbsp;<span>–&nbsp;</span>but not without precedent. Fears of foreign ownership of land and displacement by a foreign workforce may feed into rising xenophobic discourse, but there’s an internal logic to them.&nbsp;</p><p>Much like other proposed amendments, the proposal to ban sales of agricultural land to foreign owners seems partly an easy populist move bound to appease certain sections of the electorate. Parliamentary chairman Irakli Kobakhidze <a href="http://parliament.ge/en/parlamentarebi/chairman/chairmannews/irakli-kobaxidzem-konstituciuri-kanonis-proeqti-mecnierebs-gaacno.page" target="_blank">admitted just that</a>, noting that Georgian society “had a particularly emotional attitude to the issue, so it served as an important driver for the decision.” Of course, such a popular gesture by Georgian Dream comes at just the right moment, given <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin" target="_blank">impending local government elections</a>.</p><h2>Singapore of the South Caucasus&nbsp;</h2><p>The amendment in question is a mechanism that can at least delay the fire sale of valuable land to which many developing countries have been subjected. After all, there are certainly examples of foreign attempts to monopolise sectors of Georgian agriculture.&nbsp;</p><p>One colourful but <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/26/opinion/as-in-the-hazelnut-caper-these-folks-dont-listen.html" target="_blank">mostly unknown incident</a> occurred during Eduard Shevardnadze’s rule (1995-2003), and involved Aslan Abashidze, maverick ruler of the autonomous region of Adjara in southwestern Georgia. Abashidze, who ruled the balmy Black Sea region as a virtual fiefdom, was in constant opposition to the central authorities in Tbilisi until he was ousted by Saakashvili in 2004 and fled to Russia. Hillary Clinton’s brothers, Hugh and Tony Rodham, were introduced to Abashidze where they made a deal to corner the hazelnut processing business in 1999. The Rodhams were about to strike a deal worth $118m, which was <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1999/sep/17/news/mn-11267" target="_blank">stopped providentially</a> by Bill and Hillary&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;Shevardnadze was seen as an ally of the US, while the unruly Aslan was his enemy.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Saakashvili_Mural_234.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Saakashvili_Mural_234.jpg" 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'>Saakashvili’s supply-side: headaches and high hopes. Photo CC-BY-2.0: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>A more recent example of a foreign companies having free reign on Georgian soil involves the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, whose owners include BP, Stratoil and the Azerbaijani state gas company SOCAR. In the course of its construction, farmers who surrendered land to the pipeline’s eight kilometre corridor <a href="http://www.greenalt.org/webmill/data/file/publications/btc_dev_model.pdf" target="_blank">received little to no compensation</a>, losing access to water and seeing their land polluted, especially in the vicinity of Borjomi. This deal was made by Shevardnadze, and the pipeline was constructed under Saakashvili, <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/recaps/articles/eav080604.shtml" target="_blank">who had some surprisingly tough words against BP</a> in 2004: “We won't be bullied, here in Washington [BP] are pressuring us... We are not a banana republic, and we still have issues with BP.”&nbsp;</p><p>While there were some initiatives to inject funds into small agrobusinesses (such as a <a href="http://www.saakashviliarchive.info/en/PressOffice/News/?p=7194&amp;i=3" target="_blank">2011 voucher scheme</a>), Saakashvili’s plan for economic development mostly&nbsp;<a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hcMZCAAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA132&amp;dq=rural+life+saakashvili&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiMntjbxbTWAhXoJcAKHW-5BVEQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&amp;q=rural%20life%20saakashvili&amp;f=false" target="_blank">saw little role for rural life apart</a> from attracting tourism. His rule also saw a <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2473_october_28_2011/2473_salome.html" target="_blank">failed hybrid corn fiasco</a> where seeds were <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2323_march_24_2011/2323_econ_one.html" target="_blank">sold to farmers</a> for purportedly “high yield” harvests, ending abruptly when the harvests failed and the farmers had to challenge the government in court to avoid paying.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Despite Georgia’s focus on exporting specialised agricultural products, the fact remains that the country imports around 80% of its food</span></p><p>The opposition under Saakashvili consistently pointed out the government’s neglect of the countryside. Many of the United National Movement’s policies were inspired by the East Asian Tigers, embracing high industrialisation in lieu of agriculture, mixed with a heady blend of American libertarian supply-side ideology. The result was a mass import of foodstuffs with which local agricultural producers simply could not compete. The only role left for many plots was subsistence farming.&nbsp;</p><p>Today, Georgia may be gaining a reputation for its wine industry, but alongside this new taste for specialised agricultural products, the fact remains <a href="http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Europe/documents/Publications/AI_briefs/Georgia_ai_en.pdf" target="_blank">around 80% of Georgia’s food requirements are met with imports</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;mostly from Russia, Turkey and the EU.&nbsp;</p><h2>Theft or investment?&nbsp;</h2><p>Since Georgian Dream came to power in 2012, the state has given the Ministry of Agriculture a new lease of life, assigning it concrete programs to encourage agricultural development.</p><p>While these new agricultural initiatives may leave much to be desired, they are still unprecedented for post-Soviet Georgia. The ministry has subordinated institutions that co-finance small and medium loans to farmers by covering high interest rates of the banks, providing agricultural training and expertise, encouraging building and expanding of processing plants. They also offer support for agricultural cooperatives, market Georgian agricultural products abroad (especially wine), develop new systems of irrigation, promote agro-insurance, and try to resurrect Georgia’s tradition of tea production.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Telavi_Market_24.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Telavi_Market_24.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Morning market in Telavi, Kakheti province, eastern Georgia, 2013. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Carsten ten Brink / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Nevertheless, the size of Georgia’s small, fragmented land plots makes it difficult to develop farming on a large enough scale to drive down prices and increase overall yield. As it stands, 73% of land ownership is below a hectare, in a country where 43% of land is designated as agricultural.&nbsp;</p><p>Representatives of Georgia’s libertarian right, such as the UNM member of parliament Zurab Chiaberashvili, have argued that this fragmented land ownership is a perfect reason for a complete free-for-all in Georgia’s market for agricultural land, regardless of the buyers’ origin. As Chiaberashvili stated in a panel discussion at Tbilisi’s Ilia State University, unless these areas of land are amalgamated into larger plots, large-scale agriculture can never develop. Other parliamentarians have even argued that Georgia shouldn’t develop its agriculture sector at all, as urbanisation is linked to higher incomes and foreign direct investment.&nbsp;</p><h2>Networked Georgia&nbsp;</h2><p>Other parliamentarians and businessmen stress that Georgia <a href="https://www.investingeorgia.org/en/keysectors/regional-logistics-hub" target="_blank">must instead concentrate on its new role as a “transport hub”</a> for trading goods between Europe and Asia. Georgia’s proximity to the “<a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83121" target="_blank">new silk road</a>” is a motivating factor. The move would also be an attractive prospect for investors from China, Iran and Turkey&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;countries which unlike Georgia do not enjoy an association agreement with the EU. Here’s the crux: with their products registered as Georgian exports, foreign businesses will now be able to capitalise on the European markets they could otherwise only access with difficulty.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Georgian Dream’s projects to support agricultural development are also tailored to this new reality&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;they are oriented to develop exports to EU markets. The EU Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) have strict and expensive standards that have to be applied in agriculture and animal husbandry in order to enter the EU market.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“It is a shame that Georgian khachapuri is now produced with imported wheat, and that Georgian cheese is produced with imported powdered milk”</p><p>Crucially, the Georgian Dream government has taken no concrete steps to reduce cheap food imports, instead further encouraging the hyper-liberalisation of trade. Even the responsible EU attaché, Juan Echanove, <a href="http://www.georgianjournal.ge/business/30764-does-georgian-meat-have-a-future-at-the-european-market.html" target="_blank">advised correctly</a> that the “priority for Georgia should be to replace imports. It is a shame that khachapuri is produced with imported wheat, it is a shame that your cheese is made from imported powdered milk. Think about it.” Echanove <a href="https://www.georgianjournal.ge/georgian-review/30883-juan-echanove-there-is-a-future-of-georgian-products-in-europe.html" target="_blank">stressed</a> that he believed Georgia was more than capable of exporting competitive agricultural products to Europe, and meeting its domestic food requirements.</p><p>The summary of the <a href="http://www.moa.gov.ge/Ge/Public/Annual/10/" target="_blank">Ministry of Agriculture’s 2016 report</a> boasts of increases in exports, thus lowering our trade deficit. Imports have only slightly declined, reflecting their continuing importance in domestic consumption. Of course, those products developed for export are hardly daily fare for most Georgians&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;expensive wines, spirits, and mineral water.&nbsp;</p><p>Dependence on imports for staple foods is especially dangerous given that the lari frequently devalues in relation to the dollar, thus increasing food prices. Although a <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/71026/eng" target="_blank">new law on “lari-isation”</a> is supposed to bring some relief, Georgian families find it increasingly difficult to meet their increasing loan payments with their meagre household incomes. This <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1512188716000105" target="_blank">increasing vulnerability</a> drives families to take out even more loans.&nbsp;</p><h2>Credit on the cheap&nbsp;</h2><p>While the libertarian <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check" target="_blank">Liberty Act, which could be enshrined in the constitution</a>, forbids government debt to be more than 60% of GDP, many Georgian households now have loans that are 200% more than their disposable income.</p><p>According to the&nbsp;<a href="http://data.imf.org/?sk=E5DCAB7E-A5CA-4892-A6EA-598B5463A34C&amp;sId=1460043522778" target="_blank">IMF’s 2016 financial assessment survey</a>, 717 of every 1,000 Georgians borrow money to meet basic needs. This was <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/6880/In-Debt-%26-Broke-in-Georgia" target="_blank">shockingly the second highest in the world</a> (though by my calculations in 2016, it was the fourth most). The net profits of one of the country’s largest banks, TBC Bank, over the first quarter of 2017 alone <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/brief-georgias-tbc-bank-groups-q1-net-pr-idUSL8N1IO3JL?feedType=RSS&amp;virtualBrandChannel=11563&amp;c=15111507804719012357&amp;mkt=en-us" target="_blank">have increased by 64.5% y/y</a>, which amounts to $40.25 m. The exorbitant interest rates charged by Georgian banks are justified by the argument that “Georgians are high risk,” though it has been consistently shown that repayment is actually very high.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Given low wages and high prices,&nbsp;the only option for many people is to either leave the country or take out loans at exorbitant interest rates</p><p>By statistical sleight of hand, rates of employment are inflated by the authorities. Given the low wages (<a href="http://geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=149&amp;lang=eng" target="_blank">according to official statistics</a>, the mean monthly wage was 990 lari (£295); the median is not calculated), high prices and high dollarisation, the only option for many people is to either leave the country or take out loans. The countryside is hit hardest; waged work is hard to find and most people have small plots of land with extremely basic farming tools. An estimated 43% of Georgia’s total workforce is <a href="http://www.moa.gov.ge/Ge/Public/Annual/10/" target="_blank">engaged in some form of agriculture</a>, but 97% of those people are described as self-employed. The category of self-employment is also a <a href="http://geostat.ge/cms/site_images/_files/english/methodology/labour%20force%20statistics%20Eng.pdf" target="_blank">dubious classification</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;it could include anyone selling a few eggs on the side of a country road.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgian_Lari_Banknotes.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgian_Lari_Banknotes.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A block of Georgian 20 Lari banknotes, ready to be put into circulation – and ready for easy credit. Photo CC: Videoblocks. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In my opinion, encouraging further commodification of land in this situation is highly irresponsible. The desperation in our countryside, the lack of jobs, low financial literacy, the high cost of healthcare and high dependence on loans guarantees that Georgian citizens will sell land cheaply and quickly.</p><p>With that in mind, a constitutional amendment is a necessary but insufficient step to protect Georgia’s farmers. Land cooperatives, once proposed by Georgian Dream, could help circumvent the problem of fragmented smallholdings. Logistical problems like the efficient collecting of produce by distributors should also be a central concern. Most importantly, the underlying logic of export orientation needs to be completely overhauled and replaced with a food security program. In addition, many rural households <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235218072_The_Role_of_Social_Capital_in_Rural_Community_Development_of_Georgia" target="_blank">depend on collective land</a> like forests (which make up 40% of Georgia’s total land area) in order to survive. Any sound agricultural policy has to take accessibility to these traditionally communal lands into account.</p><p>By substituting imports, Georgian Dream could actually decrease poverty and develop a domestic market for agricultural goods, safeguarding Georgia from the global and local market volatilities that affect our currency. It could also protect Georgians from the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/sep/15/europes-food-apartheid-are-brands-in-the-east-lower-quality-than-in-the-west" target="_blank">inferior quality food</a> that big multinational corporations have been found selling in Eastern Europe under the guise of their western counterparts. In many countries, the agricultural resources for self-sufficiency simply don’t exist. But Georgia is exceptional in this regard. </p><p>After all, we should remember that if food insecurity is man-made, this means it can be unmade too.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Read this <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/response-to-georgian-land-georgian-freedom">response</a> from Hans Gutbrod, a businessman and executive director of Transparify based in Georgia.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></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/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check">Georgia’s new constitution keeps real change in check</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">Kakha Bendukidze and Georgia’s failed experiment</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 Sopiko Japaridze Rights for all Georgia Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:30:54 +0000 Sopiko Japaridze 113488 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s highlanders against hydropower https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/hydropower-project-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Georgian government moves ahead with its plans for increasing the country’s hydropower capacity, local communities are being sidelined in the process of compensation payments.</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/555493/33107055270_a7149bc31e_z.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'>Locals working on their land to produce their food, Svaneti. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Earlier this summer, I visited Georgia’s Svaneti region together with colleagues from <a href="https://bankwatch.org">Bankwatch</a>. Svaneti, located high in the Caucasian mountains, borders the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, and is home to some of the most pristine rivers in the Caucasus. As a team of civil society members, we travelled there to talk with local people and analyse the quality of consultations over future development projects on their lands.</p><p dir="ltr">Together with the surrounding forests, Svaneti’s Nenskra and Nakra rivers have existed in a symbiotic bond with local communities for centuries. This strong interdependence between people and nature is visible everywhere in Svaneti — a constant reminder of the important role that local communities must play in designing infrastructure projects.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet in recent years, Svaneti has been transformed into a battleground between communities and the Georgian government with its plans for building large hydro power plants. The threat has united Svan people who are struggling to conserve what is left of their cultural heritage and the biodiversity of the region.</p><h2>Public funding</h2><p dir="ltr">The Georgian government’s ambition to build<a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/hydropower-development-georgia"> dozens of new hydro power plants</a> (HPPs) in the Svaneti region has caught the attention of international financiers. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have all expressed interest in financing the planned 280MW Nenskra HPP, the most advanced project in the government’s pipeline. Up to 75% of the project costs <a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/nenskra-hydropower-plant-georgia">could come from international public sources</a> and with the <a href="http://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/esia/nenskra-hpp-portage.html">loan approval date</a> coming up on 15 November for the EBRD, there is little time to act.</p><p dir="ltr">But while the dam is supposed to ensure energy security for Georgia during winter and eliminate imports from Turkey, locals and activists are opposing the project, which they view as a threat to Svan culture, the biodiversity of the region and the safety of local communities given the area’s seismic instability.</p><p dir="ltr">Seeing the awe-inspiring Svaneti region, the forests and rivers that will vanish for the Nenskra HPP, it is easy to understand these concerns, the anger and the feeling of hopelessness that locals express. Capturing water from these two serene rivers, the impacts of the project would stretch for dozens of kilometres, from the transmission lines to the power house, the site of the dam and over and across the mountains along the future water intake tunnel from the Nakra river. If the dam plans are implemented, it will get Nakra river down to 10% of its current flow and Nenskra to 5%. The project will affect numerous pasture lands and summer grazing areas for animals and its reservoir will flood hectares of forest.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods</p><p dir="ltr">A biodiversity expertise commissioned by Bankwatch identified several species of wild protected animals in the region including Eurasian lynx, brown bear, Persian leopard, booted eagle among many whose habitats will be disturbed by the future dam. Moreover, the region is experiencing annual mudflows and landslides and is well known for its geological instability, something people fear might be emphasized when the dam is built. Locals have also expressed great concerns over the impact the the dam will have on the humidity levels in the villages, causing numerous health problems as was the case of the Enguri HPP built in the region during soviet times.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.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'>Hiking trail in Svaneti mountains. Photo: Bankwatch / Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The project promoter is JSC Nenskra, a Georgian company established by Korean K-Water with a 10% share of a Georgian state owned company. JSC Nenskra has already benefitted from several deals with the Georgian government, among others <a href="https://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/Nenskra-LALRP-11Sep2017.pdf">receiving forest land for one dollar contracts</a> (see page 20). The locals we spoke to and who have used this land for centuries told us they were not even aware of the deal.</p><h2>Patronising perception of local culture</h2><p dir="ltr">JSC Nenskra has committed to compensating the rightful owners for all pasture land and assets that will be lost due to the project. But during our visit and discussions with affected people, we discovered major flaws in the company’s assessment of the number of people that will be affected, their assets as well as the compensation they are entitled to. The shortcomings, which we have collected in a <a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam">report</a>, are proof and consequence of a lack of proper consultations with local communities.</p><p dir="ltr">The majority of people living in the two valleys own cattle that graze on summer pastures, lands which are inherited since generations and co-owned by up to five families. Customary law still dominates the region and people share both pasture and other assets such as summer cabins. During our discussions with affected households, we discovered that the project developer failed to map all the rightful users of these lands and assets. Instead, the company included single users in the compensation scheme, thus leaving behind numerous other co-users. This is the case for all the households we interviewed and from the assessment of the project documentation it seems it has been the practice for all the pasture lands that will be lost. In addition, a number of individual owners of land and cabins from the Nakra valley have been completely left out of the compensations scheme.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33107062370_749173de39_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khaishi villagers discussing Nenskra HPP. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These systemic gaps in how JSC Nenskra assessed people’s land rights reveals not only the poor quality of public consultations, but also a patronising perception of local culture and livelihoods. Our visits to the region have left no doubt that the company has failed to recognise locals’ dependence on their land and the way their communities are functioning, based on strong internal rules of sharing and inheritance.</p><p dir="ltr">The poor quality of consultations is also reflected in the unjust amounts of compensation. As detailed in our<a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam"> report</a>, the project documentation does not thoroughly assess the economic situation of affected households. The company’s assessment does not take into consideration the number of cattle that a family owns and which of these families would lose access to pasture and therefore to fodder. It also does not account for the numerous internally displaced people in the communities, or acknowledges the impact of changes in logging activities. In sum, the company has overlooked major aspects of the socio-economic profile of locals which are crucial for a just compensation scheme.</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, the company is still delaying an assessment of the impacts of facilities associated with the hydropower plant such as transmission lines and a waste disposal site. Needless to say that also the consultations with affected communities has not happened yet.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews</p><p dir="ltr">While the project documents made available by JSC Nenskra do not contain information on the location of these associated facilities, cadastral plans obtained from the Georgian authorities show that the location has already been agreed on. Local residents, who have signed letters demanding to be consulted about the locations of these facilities and the compensation they are entitled to, are understandably outraged.</p><p dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews, afraid there might be repercussions on their families or jobs. A change in the logging licence system from 2015 has restricted the possibility for locals to obtain licences, forcing many into the illegal logging and timber sales business.</p><p dir="ltr">But the threat of losing parts of their identity along with the development of the project drove more than 300 people to sign a <a href="http://greenalt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Collective_letter_2017.pdf">letter </a>this June expressing their opposition to the project and their disappointment with the company’s failure to take account of customary law and local culture. And some are still taking the risk of openly opposing the project — in August, Bankwatch <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx-fjdZ4WfAIMkVTMGNRV3ROT2s/view">witnessed</a> a large group of locals stepping out from the last round of public consultations held by the company.</p><h2>International standards</h2><p dir="ltr">Assessments of expropriation and compensation are not the residents’ own ideas, but international standards that JSC Nenskra has to respect to receive international public finance. Yet countless breaches of these standards are evidence that the Nenskra hydropower project is a serious threat to the local Svan communities.</p><p dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods. The project must not go ahead until the project company is conducting individual assessments in order to have a full picture of the socio-economic situation and the fair amounts of compensations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable</p><p dir="ltr">Multilateral development banks have so far delayed their approval date for loans for the Nenskra project in light of the numerous environmental and social concerns. With Georgia’s hydropower sector marked by controversies and major errors in the past, international investment ought to tread more carefully with approving any more projects.</p><p dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable. &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/kate-horner-igor-vejnovic/river-defenders-gather-forces-in-georgia">River defenders gather forces in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/nuclear-transboundary-consultations-are-test-for-public-participation-and-">Nuclear transboundary consultations are a test for public participation and transparency across Europe</a> </div> <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/vladlena-martsynkevych/hatching-discontent-in-ukraine">Hatching discontent in Ukraine</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 Ana-Maria Seman Green Eurasia Georgia Caucasus Wed, 20 Sep 2017 20:56:27 +0000 Ana-Maria Seman 113484 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Oops! How Moscow’s municipal election turned into a headache for city hall https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/towards-a-different-city <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The unexpected success of independent candidates in Moscow’s recent council elections may be relative — but it's real enough. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/towards-a-new-city" target="_blank"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-32732940.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-32732940.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'>City day (c) Evgeny Sinitsyn/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Russian opposition enjoyed an unexpectedly decent showing at the municipal council elections in Moscow last week. The Yabloko political party, having broken with its own traditions by participating under the umbrella of Dmitry Gudkov’s United Democrats coalition, secured 176 seats, while a further 108 were won by independents, the majority of which have been working together with Gudkov. Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia movement, which set up a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/open.election/">school for prospective municipal deputies</a>, also contributed to the overall result. There’s even been talk of a “united opposition victory” at the election.</p><p dir="ltr">On balance, however, this talk is premature: United Russia candidates won 1152 seats out of an available 1502. In the wake of the elections, city newspapers controlled by Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin came out with identical editorials proclaiming a “triumphant victory for United Russia”. They can’t exactly be accused of lying, either: winning over 75% of all seats is certainly a triumph.</p><p dir="ltr">Furthermore, the opposition’s showing isn’t sufficient to overcome the so-called “municipal filter” at next year’s mayoral elections: candidates must enlist the support of 110 deputies from 110 districts, but the oppositionists are represented on only 66 district councils.</p><h2>System failure</h2><p dir="ltr">At first glance, the results of this year’s municipal elections aren’t all that different from what we witnessed in 2012. Back then, United Russia also garnered some 75% of seats, with the rest being divided between nominal oppositionists.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, however, around half of all opposition seats went to the Communist Party. A year later, the Communists were able to overcome the municipal filter at the mayoral elections. In 2017, the Communists have only 43 seats. The respective performances of the other nominal opposition parties were even more dismal: 10 seats for Sergei Mironov’s A Just Russia, a mere two for Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democrats.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia’s official party system, purely ornamental in nature, is edging predictably towards collapse</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/18118560_2261378150754136_7183869404110667017_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/18118560_2261378150754136_7183869404110667017_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Educational Center "Open Elections". Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>Russia’s official party system, purely ornamental in nature, is edging predictably towards collapse. In the years following the annexation of Crimea, the nominal parliamentary opposition, throwing itself into raptures over Russia’s — and Putin’s — successes, is no longer regarded by voters as meaningfully different from United Russia. The upshot? All-round failure in the parliamentary elections of 2016, and a constitutional majority for United Russia in the Duma.</p><p dir="ltr">The Moscow elections have shown that voters have no need of pseudo-oppositionist pseudo-parties at the metropolitan level either. But in contrast to Russia’s federal-level elections, the systemic opposition has now lost (considerable) votes to the non-systemic opposition as well.</p><p dir="ltr">But that’s not the main thing, of course. In 2012, United Russia enjoyed no majority in a mere three Moscow districts. That number has now increased to 28. Furthermore, certain local councils have no United Russia representation at all. A notable case in point is the Gagarinsky district, where Vladimir Putin is formally registered to vote, where he cast his ballot last Sunday — and where every seat was won by Yabloko candidates. This time round, United Russia’s triumph has left a bitter aftertaste.</p><h2>Architects of success</h2><p dir="ltr">If anyone has emerged as hero in these elections, it’s opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov. Despite his relative youth (Gudkov is 37 years old), he cannot by any means be called a political novice.</p><p dir="ltr">Gudkov served as a Just Russia deputy in the Duma of the previous convocation and became renowned, among other things, for his unswerving willingness to engage frankly with the media. He was one of three deputies not to vote for the annexation of Crimea in 2014 (Ilya Ponomarev, the only lawmaker who voted against it, has now left the country). Gudkov was expelled from the party; despite taking part in the elections as a single-mandate deputy, he didn’t make it into the new Duma either. He has made no secret of his intention to run for mayor of Moscow, and began preparing for the municipal elections virtually before anyone else.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_02798304.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_02798304.LR_.ru_.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'>Deputy of the State Duma Dmitry Gudkov at a plenary meeting of the State Duma. (с) Vladimir Fedorenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When it comes to the mayoral elections, the municipal filter is all-important. To make it to the elections, prospective candidates need loyal deputies in local councils. And Gudkov has decided to train these candidates up. Working in collaboration with Maxim Katz (who served as the politician’s chief of staff during the parliamentary elections as well), he has inaugurated an online platform and a centre providing prospective candidates with ideological and strategic assistance in addition to financial support via crowdfunding. Gudkov and Katz launched a campaign that ended up motivating over a thousand candidates — mostly young people with no prior involvement in politics — to take part in the elections.</p><p dir="ltr">They negotiated a cooperation agreement with Yabloko — practically the first time anyone had managed to do so in the entire history of post-Soviet Russia. Assistance was also provided by the school for municipal deputies inaugurated by Open Russia, with some candidates receiving training from both the Gudkov and Khodorkovsky teams. Remarkably enough, this failed to precipitate any scandals — despite the fact that the Russian opposition can’t resist a good old internal spat.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Ilya Yashin, a young politician with a national profile and an associate of the late Boris Nemtsov, has been working miracles of his own. He and a group of fellow-thinkers from the Solidarity movement decided to compete for seats in Moscow’s Krasnoselsky district... and prevailed: Solidarnost won seven seats to United Russia’s three.</p><h2>Unexpected ally</h2><p dir="ltr">Another key player in the opposition’s electoral successes must be mentioned here. That player is the Moscow mayor’s office.</p><p dir="ltr">It sounds paradoxical, but that's the way it is. The mayor’s office bet on the loyalty and discipline of Moscow’s pensioners, who were canvassed by employees of the welfare system, as well as on public sector employees voting “the right way”.</p><p dir="ltr">Other Muscovites simply weren’t informed that an election was imminent. Posters featuring polling station addresses weren’t even displayed at information stands by apartment block entrances. Things came to such a pitch that Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Election Commission, publicly scolded Moscow City Election Commission chair Valentina Gorbunova.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, an anonymous representative of the presidential administration <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/09/06/732691-proval-viborah-v-moskve">insinuated to the Vedomosti newspaper</a> that the strategy chosen by the mayor’s office was a fallacious one. Not only did posters materialise at information stands in the last two days before the vote, but people even received text message alerts from the Electoral Commission. After the elections were over, a hastily concocted poll <a href="http://www.mskagency.ru/materials/2704088">proved</a> (a fact that had been apparent to the the displeased anonymous source from the administration) that at least 80% of Muscovites knew about the elections.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The mayor’s office reckoned on the loyalty and discipline of Moscow’s pensioners, who were being canvassed by social workers, as well as on state employees voting “the right way”</p><p dir="ltr">But it was too late. Loyal voters were out celebrating Moscow City Day — organised on a particularly grand scale by the mayor’s office on account of the round anniversary — and simply had no time (or energy) to make it to the polls. The mayor’s office had achieved what it set out to achieve: a record low turnout of under 15%. But the people who did turn out were those whose votes had been solicited by youthful, charismatic, door-to-door canvassing opposition candidates.</p><p dir="ltr">City hall’s cause was helped neither by traditional violations such as ballot-stuffing and the alteration of vote tallies (incidentally, not all that many infringements were recorded this time round), nor even by certain innovations – thus, for example, several thousand servicemen were registered at a Ministry of Defence building in central Moscow shortly before the elections, their votes securing a victory for United Russia in that district.</p><p dir="ltr">The mayor’s office, it must be said, has shot itself in the foot like this on a previous occasion: a similar scenario unfolded in the mayoral elections of 2013, allowing Alexey Navalny to take second place in the contest and garner 27% of the vote – a record total for the non-systemic opposition.</p><h2>Opposition squabbles benefit the Kremlin</h2><p dir="ltr">The opposition, as noted above, loves a squabble, and this remains the case even now: their victory is as yet a highly relative one, and fresh scandals are already brewing. Dmitry Gudkov has gently <a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/09/11/my-deputaty-za-nami-narod-kakogo-hrena-u-nas-net-polnomochiy">chided</a> Alexey Navalny for providing his campaign with insufficient support; and Maxim Katz, who’s been locked in a longstanding conflict with Navalny, directly <a href="http://www.the-village.ru/village/city/city-interview/283280-vyu-s-katsem">accused</a> Russia’s most famous oppositionist of working for the mayor’s office. Katz, who served as deputy chair of Navalny’s mayoral campaign, ended up being ousted from Navalny’s staff office, although the details of this affair surfaced much later, during the opposition’s abortive attempts to form a coalition for the 2016 parliamentary elections.</p><p dir="ltr">Navalny apologised for the fact that he hadn’t been overly active in his campaigning for opposition candidates and <a href="https://navalny.com/p/5531/">congratulated</a> the winners. But commentators and bloggers working in cahoots with the presidential administration had already picked up on the story: the Runet was suddenly awash with identikit articles to the effect that Gudkov must be regarded as the real opposition leader — his deeds and actions serving as proof of his right to be so called — rather than the manipulator and provocateur Navalny, by whom the Moscow elections were simply ignored.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet just a month ago, lest we forget, Bolotnaya Case defendant Sergei Udaltsov’s release from prison was greeted by rather similar sentiments from those selfsame bloggers: Udalstov, they wrote, is the real opposition leader, his sufferings serving as proof of… And so on and so forth.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Local self-government in Moscow is pretty much non-existent: it was systematically dismantled by previous mayor Yuri Luzhkov and is now being completely killed off by Sergey Sobyanin</p><p dir="ltr">The Kremlin, of course, doesn’t need any “opposition leader”. What the Kremlin needs is discord in the opposition ranks. Another dispute is to do with the nomination of a single candidate for the mayoral elections. Gudkov intends to stand as the Yabloko candidate. So too, however, does Yabloko veteran Sergey Mitrokhin. He has already <a href="https://tvrain.ru/news/mitrokhin_isklyuchil-444705/">branded Gudkov a “weakling” </a>and insinuated that his chances of success are slim to nil.</p><p dir="ltr">Mitrokhin, incidentally, took part in the 2013 elections and picked up 3.5% of the vote. And let’s not forget that a single opposition candidate, even if one suddenly emerges, still won’t overcome the municipal filter unless the mayor’s office deigns to gift them the votes of United Russia deputies, as happened in 2013 with Alexei Navalny.</p><p dir="ltr">Another risk is that the newly-minted municipal deputies — young people who were inspired by the campaign and who see their victory as an initial foray into big politics — will simply skedaddle when they realise what they’re really up against. In practice, local self-government in Moscow is pretty much non-existent: it was systematically dismantled by previous mayor Yuri Luzhkov and is now being completely killed off by Sergei Sobyanin.</p><p dir="ltr">Municipal deputies enjoy minimal power and can in no way influence mayoral decisions that have a real bearing on the life of the city. Of course, neither Gudkov nor Open Russia concealed this fact from their candidates, but knowing it is one thing and experiencing it first-hand quite another.</p><p dir="ltr">Will many of these deputies be sufficiently captivated by debates around whether or not to allow a local entrepreneur to open a household section in his grocery store? This is a big and difficult question.</p><h2>All power to the councils</h2><p dir="ltr">But there’s room for optimism, too. Alongside the young romantics, the ranks of the new deputies boast individuals with media fame and political experience: among these are the abovementioned Ilya Yashin, the journalist Ilya Azar, and Yulia Galyamina, an unswerving opponent of the mayor’s office (incidentally, a scandal has <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1700782119964326&amp;id=100000976634979">erupted</a> in Timiryazevsky district, where Galyamina stood for election: vote tallies there were altered to ensure a majority for United Russia).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There have already been proposals to organise a rally with a view to marking their electoral success, and — more significantly — in the hope of forming something like a permanent city council of oppositionist municipal deputies</p><p dir="ltr">They’ve now acquired a new status and the opportunity for active collaboration. There have already been proposals to organise a rally with a view, as it were, to marking their electoral success, and — more significantly — in the hope of forming something like a permanent city council of oppositionist municipal deputies.</p><p dir="ltr">Such a council could serve as an effective platform for honest engagement with voters and journalists. And, naturally enough, it would complicate things for the mayor’s office, which has learned to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/petr-v-ivanov/battle-for-moscow">contrive a semblance of dialogue with society</a>, and to convince itself and the “folks up top” that any actions Sobyanin might undertake invariably send the capital’s denizens into raptures. An alternative hub for genuine dialogue could present Sobyanin with a real headache — especially in an election year.</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/petr-v-ivanov/battle-for-moscow">The battle for Moscow</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/alexei-navalnys-campaign-effective-management-or-grassroots-movement">Alexei Navalny&#039;s campaign: effective management or grassroots movement?</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 Ivan Davydov Russia Wed, 20 Sep 2017 14:13:05 +0000 Ivan Davydov 113505 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s wild decade: how memories of the 1990s are changing https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-rowley/russia-s-wild-decade-how-memories-of-1990s-are-changing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="western">A time of freedom and survival, memories of Russia’s first post-Soviet decade have come to divide people. The editors of a new collection on the 1990s share their thoughts. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/okrest-buzev-kuvaldin/ona-razvalilas">RU</a></strong></em></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/555493/36_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="433" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Artifact of the 90s: a visit to McDonald's captured on Polaroid. Image from the personal archive of Olga Ostapova, courtesy of Dmitry Okrest. </span></span></span>Check out the latest in our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/odr-debates/unlikely-media">Unlikely Media</a> series, which profiles independent (and independently-minded) publications from across the post-Soviet space. As part of this series, we interview editors who are trying to make space for alternative journalism, political commentary and reporting.</p> <p class="western">Here, Dmitry Okrest, Stanislav Kuvaldin and Evgeny Buzev speak about their new book, <em><a href="http://www.ozon.ru/context/detail/id/141150484/">It fell apart: Everyday life in the Soviet Union and Russia, 1985-1999</a></em>, which traces forgotten moments of the 1990s — how people switched to the market economy, the Russian and Ukrainian miners strikes, the growth of radical movements and the legacy of Soviet dissidents. Specifically, we deal with memories of Russia’s experience of the 1990s, the retroactive politicisation of this time and what the future holds for the “wild decade”.</p> <p class="western"> <strong>Th</strong><strong>e</strong><strong> book is based on your VKontakte </strong><strong>group </strong><strong><a href="https://vk.com/ussrchaosss">“It fell apart”</a>, which was set up in June 2014. </strong><strong>Could you tell us what led you to start this group? What role did it play when it come to financing the actual book?</strong></p> <p class="western"><strong>Dmitry Okrest:</strong> It’s worth noting that our VK group came about as a platform to share photos and videos on the theme of the Soviet collapse. EuroMaidan, the “Russian spring”, Crimea, the 2 May fire in Odessa, the start of the Anti-Terrorist Operation — all these events reminded strongly us of how events started in the Caucasus, Transnistria and Central Asia in the early 1990s. And judging that we now have over 200,000 people signed up to our groups, they didn’t remind just us.</p> <p class="western"><strong>Evgeny Buzev:</strong> Crowdfunding didn’t play a decisive role in publishing our book. We collected funds rather slowly, but because we started the process ourselves, a lot of people found out about our plans to publish and became interested. This is how we came into contact with our publisher, the <a href="http://www.s-and-e.ru/index.php?id=publishing-house">University of Dmitry Pozharsky</a>. Crowdfunding is, at minimum, a good advertising move.</p> <p class="western"> <strong>Moving on to the subject of the book itself, what differences do you see between the reality of the 1990s and the way people remember it now? What future do you see for the memory of the 1990s?</strong></p> <p class="western"><strong>Dmitry:</strong> It’s natural for people to distort reality, their memories and images that they make for themselves — whether by themselves or thanks to the media. I encountered this right from the start: I was preparing to collect material and I was asking people who were involved in things more than 30 years ago — from cooperative trade to civic activity. For most, this is a time when they were young, full of energy and that’s why many things have faded, and others – have only grown stronger.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">On the one hand, people demonise the “wild 1990s”, and on the other, there’s a certain idolisation of the “era of freedom”</p> <p class="western">I paid attention to this particular form of perception when I was taking interviews for the book. For instance, there are interesting differences between what one figure says now, and what he said in interviews to journalists 20 years ago directly after the events in question. The same thing happens with collective memory — on the one hand, people demonise the “wild 1990s”, and on the other, there’s a certain idolisation of the “era of freedom”.</p> <p class="western"><strong>Stanislav Kuvaldin:</strong> The articles I produced for the book are largely based on the press of the time. While I was working on it, I studied a lot of newspapers. Strictly speaking, it’s difficult to talk of the 90s as a single, united decade. The public mood, the limits of the permissable and the general line of the press both before and after the 1993 Constitutional Crisis, the First Chechen War, the 1996 presidential elections and the 1998 default were quite different. The 90s is, in fact, several epochs, which people now united into one.</p><p> <iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mpVMF8N5W9E" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>With the 1990s encompassing so many events, it's hard to find a single symbol for the epoch.</em></p> <p class="western">I used to take some newspaper articles and post them on my Facebook page, just for fun. I can say that practically all of them provoked a small storm of emotions. People began to discuss this or that, argue, remember things. Indeed, it seems to me that these posts caused such emotion precisely because the language of those years has gone, as have the media’s ways of evaluating various situations. People perceive the words “government”, “president”, “state” and others very differently now. So in that sense, people really don’t remember something important from the 1990s, they can’t remember in detail how they thought and felt back then, even though they might read the same newspapers still.</p> <p class="western"><strong>Evgeny: </strong>Today, there’s no unified memory of the 90s. There’s no consensus in Russian society about that period of history, although there isn’t for practically all periods. Historical memory is often replaced by political slogans. By hearing just a single phrase about any given element of the 1990s, you can guess what someone thinks about the whole period.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The 90s are going to generate artificial memories for a long time — memories that don’t come from real experience, but are guided by people’s political views</p> <p class="western">I don’t think that this situation will change anytime soon. You can see the parallels with Stalinism. Seventy years have passed since the death of Stalin, but his rule and his personality still provoke discussions, which often, it should be said, don’t address the past, but the present. I think the 90s are going to generate artificial memories for a long time — memories that don’t come from real experience, but are guided by people’s political views.</p> <p class="western"> <strong>You’ve previously talked about a certain sense of nostalgia you felt during </strong><strong>Euro</strong><strong>Maidan and afterwards — watching the news during those days reminded you of your childhood, the events of the 1990s — and this pushed you towards making a space to share pictures and information from that time. There’s a lot to be said about the role of nostalgia, the myth of the 1990s in Russia today as an important part of the “stability” paradigm </strong><strong>promoted by the Kremlin</strong><strong>. </strong><strong>I</strong><strong>t seems </strong><strong>here that</strong><strong> you see the upheaval characteristic of that time as your home, your childhood. What does it mean for you to study </strong><strong>the 1990s</strong><strong>, to engage with others from your generation?</strong></p> <p class="western"><strong>Dmitry:</strong> For me, this epoch is all about the new cemeteries that had to be built for the mafia, the dominance of Disney over Soviet cartoons, scare stories about Roma and sect members looking to steal your apartment, TV soaps about gay men in love and the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbYM1PFLtAE&amp;index=2&amp;list=PLJQXkdGK444vCyYu-fSdvIlec2CHP67Kg">Dolls</a> satire show, which used to poke fun at the Russian government. When I was preparing the promo video for the book, I was surprised how many things from back then are impossible to imagine being public today. Several people who watched it then said that, over those two minutes, they saw their whole childhood. I think the images used there are memorable for many people.</p> <p class="western"><strong>Stanislav: </strong>For me the 1990s aren’t quite childhood, they’re the last classes of high school and then studying at Moscow State University. So, for me, researching this time carries quite a few emotions with it. First of all, I should probably say that I wasn’t a fan of what was happening around me at the time, I wasn’t prepared to accept the regime of time whatsoever, and in 1996 I voted for Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate.</p><p class="western"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/64.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="371" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Moscow Komsomolets was one of the most popular newspapers of the 1990s. Today, it's known for its tabloid views. Image courtesy of Dmitry Okrest. </span></span></span>The meaning of the 1990s became clear later. And it’s unlikely this was connected with the usual idealisation of youth. I suspect I missed the “rarefied atmosphere” of those years — that is, the lack of pressure (in many forms) from the authorities, various bans on public activity. Nevertheless, when people just “forgot” about the authorities, this led to different behaviour, people began to have different ideas about what was possible, what was permissible. I don’t want to see these phenomena in a purely positive light, but I can say that, for me, something of that time is lacking today.</p> <p class="western"><strong>Evgeny:</strong> In terms of the 1990s, then they are definitely part of the paradigm of stability — only they’re not connected to nostalgia, but the opposite, state propaganda uses the image of the 90s as an antithesis to the situation today.</p> <p class="western">For me personally, this decade coincided with growing up — I finished high school in 1999. I have a lot of personal memories that illustrate the epoch for me, even more so as I lived in the Far East back then, which experienced a lot of changes back then. I remember the sudden blackouts and problems with heating in winter. But the majority of my memories aren’t about political upheaval, of course, but what people usually remember about school, friendship, love and so on.</p> <p class="western">Many of my friends, and me, see how our generation is different from people who were born 10-15 years before. They are completely different people, who seem far more calm and naive than us. Though maybe this is just the start of my old age grumbling, and not the portrait of a generation.</p> <p class="western"><strong>There’s a lot of discussion about the role of nostalgia </strong><strong>in Russia </strong><strong>today, the Stalin cult (</strong><strong>the </strong><strong>Levada Center </strong><strong>recently </strong><a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/stalins-popularity-in-russia-reaches-16-year-high-57152"><strong>f</strong><strong>ound</strong></a><strong> </strong><strong>“respect” for Stalin at a 16 year high), “Soviet mentality” — often in pejorative or negative terms. </strong><strong>P</strong><strong>art of the lasting appeal of Stalin (</strong><strong>in addition to </strong><strong>the state’s manipulation of public memory) seems to be related to the fact that the 1930s-1950s is a key moment of Russ</strong><strong>o-</strong><strong>Soviet modernity. Factories were built, infrastructure, grand projects, and, of course, the crowning moment of the Soviet Union – the war. But if the 1930s-1950s are often thought of as the construction of modernity, then the 1990s are about the destruction of that modernity, the transition into something else. How do you see your generation’s experience and idea of the 1990s in comparison to other generations? Is this a source of tension?</strong></p> <p class="western"><strong>Dmitry:</strong> You’re right that the 1990s were a transition into “something else”. And it seems to me, that it’s still hard for people to reflect what that “something else” is. People’s positions today are still connected to what they did in the 1980s and 1990s, which means that the time for unbiased judgement still hasn’t come.&nbsp;</p> <p class="western"><strong>Stanislav: </strong>It seems to me that while the current regime remains more or less stable, the 1990s could occupy a similar place in public consciousness as the New Economic Plan period did for the Soviet Union. That is, a short, bright period, which was then destroyed by ensuing repression. A period that saw many forms of freedom — economic and cultural, which now appear impossible. Soviet propaganda often condemned many things connected to NEP — the focus on individual gain, the fall in moral standards — but couldn’t exclude it completely, given that Lenin himself announced the NEP. That’s why, despite the official condemnation, some nostalgic memories of that time (which was unlike the entire epoch that followed it) began to be permitted.</p><p class="western"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/54.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Blessing 2000" in St Petersburg. Image from the personal archive of Petr Skutin, courtesy of Dmitry Okrest. </span></span></span>Nowadays, it’s impossible for the 1990s to be completely denied, despite all the criticism of that “wild” time — not least of all because Putin is the successor to Boris Yeltsin. This is why the memory of this epoch will continue to be maintained, even romanticised, unconsciously and unofficially.</p> <p class="western"> <strong>How would you compare this dynamic with other countries experiencing a wave of cultural insecurity, for example, the UK or the US?</strong></p> <p class="western"><strong>Evgeny: </strong>It’s hard to draw parallels without digging deep into the cultural and historical context. But, as far as I can judge, the image of the 1990s in the US and the UK is quite different from the post-Soviet space. The epoch of John Major and Bill Clinton is very distant from what happened in our country. The realities of America (and, to a lesser extent, Europe) were a utopian place for part of Russian society during the 1990s (and remain that way for some people today).</p> <p class="western"><strong>Stanislav:</strong> For the US, I think the 1990s were the peak of its power — when the Cold War finished in the best way possible for them, and it seemed that the world would be, at last, built in the best way possible. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me that, for America, the 1990s were a time of euphoria and confidence in their own strength.</p><p class="western"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/52.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dome Square, Riga. Image from personal archive of Dmitry Mashkov, courtesy of Dmitry Okrest.</span></span></span>Certain forms of discomfort and unease, which manifested themselves in the anti-globalisation demonstrations or books such as Generation X and Fight Club, were connected to a desire not to be a part of this new order, which seemed, on the whole, unbreakable. These emotions, it seems to me, are less like those that the average resident of the post-Soviet space felt during the 90s. But, as before, I’m judging the situation from the outside.</p> <p class="western"> <strong>Looking through the book, it’s intriguing to see so many stories from other parts of the Soviet Union — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania. For us at oDR, we’re deeply interested in what happens in these countries, and, with all the attention to local specificities, we often see clearly comparable situations in the realm of politics, social welfare, rule of law, corruption, media and so on. It seems to me that this interest in other parts of the Soviet empire is rare among the younger generation in Russia. That the late 1980s and 1990s were not just a reorientation towards free-market democracy as the stated goal of transformation, but the emergence of the national as the main point of reference. How would you evaluate the interest of your public’s users to other countries of the former USSR? How does their interest relate to the population at large?</strong></p> <p class="western"><strong>Dmitry: </strong>According to independent booksellers such as <a href="http://www.falanster.su/">Falanster</a> and http://primuzee.ru/<a href="http://primuzee.ru/">http://primuzee.ru/</a>, the first copies have sold quickly. In the central Moscow bookshop, the book was number four on the list of historical books. And the online seller Ozon marked it as a bestseller. A quarter of the book is dedicated to former Soviet republics — the standoff between OMON riot police and new authorities in Latvia and Lithuania, the student Maidan in Ukraine, miners’ protests and the rise of far-right in Ukraine, Armenian refugees in Azerbaijan, the civil wars in Georgia and Tajikistan. The statistics for our online community show that a significant number of our subscribers are young people born after the fall of the USSR. And today, the main driver of foreign news on Russian TV is Ukraine, there are large numbers of labour migrants from Ukraine and Central Asia — people in Russia are interested in understanding who these people are and what links them to Russia.</p> <p class="western"><strong>Evgeny:</strong> The interest is high, but it’s often connected to certain aspects of history of other post-Soviet states — conflicts and coups. Today’s generation knows nothing about these events, they are hardly covered in school history classes, and don’t have a place in mass culture. And for them, these events are a kind of Game of Thrones, the end of which is unknown, and whose main characters emerge in the course of the story. </p> <p class="western">At the same time, Russian people are apathetic towards many, even the most prominent events involving culture or politics in their own country. But we do have a significant audience from other post-Soviet states. We can also pick out Ukraine as a special example: for Russian readers and internet users, there’s additional interest in what’s happened there since the events of 2014.</p><p><i> Dmitry Okrest is a correspondent for RBC, and works with GQ, New Times and Snob. He writes about the Middle East, political extremism and the justice system.&nbsp;</i></p><p><i>Evgeny Buzev is a journalist and social media editor. He works with Snob, FurFur, OVD-Info and other platforms. He has invented dozens of online communities, and will continue to do so.&nbsp;</i></p><p><i>Stanislav Kuvaldin is a historian and journalist. He finished Moscow State University and has a PhD in history. He has a number of academic publications on recent history in Poland, and currently works for Republic. he is also an expert for the Russian International Affairs Council.&nbsp;</i></p><p><i><br /></i></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/elizaveta-spivakovskaya/what-russian-theatre-critics-won-t-tell-you">What the Russian theatre critics won’t tell you</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/behind-russian-mirror">Behind the Russian mirror</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine">Listening to Russia’s female migrants</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-andrei-urodov/russia-without-whom">Russia without whom?</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 Fri, 15 Sep 2017 04:53:37 +0000 Thomas Rowley 113354 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Serebrennikov and the attack of the Russian state-security chimera https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-damberg/serebrennikov-attack <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There’s a chimera coming for Russian theatre – and it’s not corruption, but a bloated state apparatus. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-damberg/himia-himera" target="_blank">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/Serebr_court_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/Serebr_court_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kirill Serebrennikov near Basmanny Court in Moscow on 4 September. Image: (c) Ramil Sitdikov/RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Theatre tends to prompt the asking of two questions. Is it appropriate to spend public money on creative experiments? And can the performing arts generate profits? It’s the done thing to judge theatre through the prism of money.</p><p dir="ltr">But in a country where the state doesn’t fulfill its technical functions so much as it simply rules over everyone, there’s no taxpayers’ money in the budget. There’s officials’ money and there’s state money - money that’s been taken away from taxpayers once and for all. And the directors of every state institution must try and get their hands on as much of that money as possible - wheedle and acquire it; such are the official rules.</p><h2>The actual state of Russian theatre</h2><p dir="ltr">Whichever way you slice it, most theatrical genres require subsidies. Now, musicals do sometimes bring in profits. Widely publicised, long-running productions at well-patronised 1000-seater-plus venues can amass handsome box office takings… provided the songs are accompanied by recorded music. But throw in a live orchestra – and the concomitant wage bill - and all said profits will disappear.</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, scandals around so-called “stolen stage millions” must surely please our quasi-military officialdom: anything to distract the populace’s attention from the question of “defence billions”, with their cozy mysteriousness and dubious returns. Take a look at this year’s budget: a mere fraction thereof - just over 0.5% - has been allocated for culture, an order of magnitude more for defense, and 13 times more for “security and law enforcement”. Both the army and the National Guard receive a trillion plus - but what do you know about this money? Is it “public” as well?</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Most theatres are devoid of experimentation; they exist in the service of clichés as required by the audience</p><p dir="ltr">Secondly, there’s the issue of “experimentation”. Creative experimentation is a pleonasm. A director can, of course, stage any play without experimenting: the text is there to be used, along with long-established stereotypes regarding costumes and décor. And most theatres are indeed devoid of experimentation; they exist in the service of clichés as required by the audience. In the provinces, where great works are parasitised by directors, theatres often remain half-empty. You don’t head to a provincial theatre to catch a show; you head there to show off your new dress, civilise your husband and to pretend you’re actually middle-class. But even provincial stage veterans will tell you that they were staging nudity as long ago as the late sixties, that they appreciate and value experimentation, and that they’re being forced into wilful bungling of the art form.</p><p dir="ltr">There are approximately 600 to 700 theatres in Russia (a number that doesn’t include several hundred non-state theatres with no stages of their own). Of these, perhaps one hundred at most enjoy wide renown, and even the most forward-minded of theatre connoisseurs would struggle to name more than two hundred. All the rest simply amuse their audiences with sitcoms and comedies of manners. Molière? Just a bunch of uproarious comedies. Beaumarchais? Ditto. Richard III? Pantomime freak.</p><p dir="ltr">If there’s no experimentation to be seen onstage, there’s none at management level either. Most theatres are run by old-timers who’ve long since turned their offices into holiday retreats for the elderly. They’ll never be a thorn in the side of any governor, and you’ll never find out their surnames. Their theatres wither and die - but who cares?</p><p dir="ltr">Say some artistic director decides to put on a stage version of Snow White for the fifth time. This means he’ll be pocketing extra roubles on top of his basic salary - something like 1.5 million for the adaptation, the set design and the costumes. Of course, the whole thing is utter garbage: the adaptation is vacuous, the set wouldn’t be out of place in a middling school production, and the costumes even more so - but the director has connections and years of experience. So the guy gets his way. Come New Year’s, he might award everyone bonuses of 5,700 roubles - and a 750,000-rouble bonus for himself. And only the committee chair ever gets to see the figures. The director’s nephew, meanwhile, has opened a touring agency and taken the theatre abroad - making use of Culture Ministry grants all the way, of course.</p><p dir="ltr">Murky money; obscure festivals; expensive tours embarked upon for the sake of a three-show run; grants awarded to the same “trusted individuals” year in, year out - all this smoke-and-mirror stuff corrupts management and eats up hundreds of millions of roubles every year. Roubles that wouldn’t need to be spent if the state stopped trying to control theatres and, indeed, culture in general.</p><h2>Committee Culture</h2><p dir="ltr">There are three strata of cultural administration in Russia: the Ministry of Culture, at the top of the pile, is followed by regional committees at the intermediate level and municipal departments and committees at the bottom.</p><p dir="ltr">The primary objective across all these strata is the implementation of cultural policy. But it doesn’t exist even at the federal level (save for the usual comic backwardness the Russian public is occasionally witness to) - and its aims on the municipal level are entertainment-driven at best. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The principal task of any cultural committee is a time-honoured one: it must ensure that official holidays are marked in appropriate fashion. Insipid song concerts are very convenient to organise: every town has its own concert hall, little orchestra and amateur choir - and, needless to say, it’s thanks to cultural committees that all these Soviet-era trappings are still flourishing. To say nothing of separate budgets for Flag Day, National Unity Day and so on and so forth.</p><p dir="ltr">Secondly, committees have to distribute money. They inherit and come up with a load of accounting documents, each with its own disputable meaning. Officials understand that they don’t need to evaluate the quality of performances - so they evaluate quantity instead, and do so in the following way: too few means you’re doing a bad job, too many means you’re being greedy. Which means you need to put on 280 performances a year. Yes, a normative standard exists even for this. An entirely arbitrary one. Committees concoct rules regarding how theatres should function, and the theatres manoeuvre as best they can. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">For example, the state decrees that a theatre’s average attendance must be 80% of capacity. Someone concocts the rule, someone gives it the green light - and so cadets, schoolkids and “theatre fans” head to the stalls, arms twisted behind their backs. And there are yet more cunning ways of achieving that 80% figure; ticket sales, for instance, can be limited to 100 per performance, allegedly for “artistic reasons”. Why control such variables? Could it really be that this is how officials motivate theatres to seek out their audiences? Of course not: for officials, control is an end, not a means.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Culture committees are bodies of power unburdened of objectively necessary tasks, methodologies and undertakings. They can dispense money to some and withhold it from others</p><p dir="ltr">And here’s another such rule: all state money must be distributed by means of funding competitions. In requiring these competitions to be held, our honourable lawmakers steer &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;cultural administrators away from familiar, tried-and-tested contracts and towards unknowns. But they also provide a load of loopholes: yes, the competition must take place – but you can still enter into contract with just one single producer – but don’t conclude too many of them – but make sure the whole thing’s arranged correctly… Why all these “buts”? Why do the authorities seek control over these procedures? Same reason as above, of course: control is power.</p><p dir="ltr">Far from stymying corruption, these rules stimulate it.</p><p dir="ltr">Everything culture committees do – with the exception of actual budget transfers – constitutes corruption. Their officials sit in working groups, decide to construct some new theatre venue, put up a memorial plaque, rename a street. Why do these specific people get these jobs? Only because they work in culture committees. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">If, officially speaking, rank-and-file experts are competitively selected, committee chairs are appointed without any public procedures whatsoever. The right to influence the selection of a committee chair is an eminently corrupt privilege: the appointment sometimes arises out of complicated bargaining between the governor and the Ministry of Culture, senators and party officials. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</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/559247/pskov_banshik_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/pskov_banshik_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The "Pskov Bath Attendant" performance directed by Varvara Fire, was canceled when Sergey Damberg and the Pskov Drama artistic director Vasily Senin were forced to leave the theatre. Image: Che TV / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Culture committees are bodies of power unburdened of objectively necessary tasks, methodologies and undertakings. They can dispense money to some and withhold it from others; they can give a theatre 100 million, or they can give it 50. And so GR -government relations - becomes the most important of the arts for us. It works a little something like this:</p><p dir="ltr">The conductor of a symphony orchestra calls up to find out about what’s going on with his orchestra’s application for a contest - and gets through to an “expert” who, with qualifications from music school and the ministry of culture under her belt, has been pushing papers around in this government body for the past zillion years or so.</p><p dir="ltr">“You’re really floating our boat!” she says. “Yes, you gave a wonderful performance at the opening of Chelyabinsk Days in Chelyabinsk - well done, guys!”</p><p dir="ltr">“Oh, I’m so glad you’re happy, honestly, I don’t even know...”</p><p dir="ltr">“Though you did upset me the other week. Yes, you upset me!” (always a bit of sweet talk before the reprimand)</p><p dir="ltr">“Oh God, what was it??”</p><p dir="ltr">“I took a look at your report on the disabled - you didn’t create a single position for them, there’s still no mention of anything in the report. I did warn you, you’re like little children, I have to scold you every time!”</p><p dir="ltr">“Oh, will you find it in your heart to forgive me?” (And so on and so forth.)</p><p dir="ltr">This is passive “GR”. Active GR, meanwhile, could be termed Kekhman’s Syndrome.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Great theatre director Mezdrich is sacked; brilliant theatre director Itin prostrates himself before investigators; fantastic theatre director Serebrennikov finds himself under arrest. The state accepts only the Kekhmans of this world</p><p dir="ltr">There was once a Russian banana mogul, Vladimir Kekhman, and he went bankrupt. But he bounced back by managing to become director of two (!) opera houses, one in Europe, one in Asia. How did he do it? Well, he had a knack for making friends. Get chummy with an official with the power to appoint you to some post or other and everything else becomes quite meaningless. It really works, funnily enough. The great theatre director Boris Mezdrich is sacked; the brilliant theatre director Yury Itin prostrates himself before investigators; the fantastic theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov finds himself under arrest. The state accepts only the Kekhmans of this world. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In a healthy state, government relations constitute a partnership between business, NGOs and the state. Here in Russia, on the other hand, GR exists as a competition within the public sector: everyone’s studying Kekhman’s Syndrome and trying to apply it in practice.</p><p dir="ltr">What do we need instead of these culture committees? Nothing but simple and transparent agencies that would distribute equal, preliminarily announced grants to contest winners. Production grants. Festival grants. Theatre building maintenance grants. The latter are easy to calculate: the standrd norms are multiplied by square footage and a special coefficient, if you’re talking about a historic building. Not exactly rocket science, is it?</p><p dir="ltr">Furthermore, all the committees’ strategic functions - the discussion and implementation of cultural policy, the assembling of competition juries, decisions regarding construction and perpetuation - must be transferred in toto from the state to the third sector, that has its creative unions, human rights movements, veteran organisations, and so on. But this won’t happen as long as theatres remain under the control of the state-security chimera.</p><h2>The state-security chimera</h2><p dir="ltr">What exactly led to the arrest of the popular and much-loved Serebrennikov?</p><p dir="ltr">Consider this: Soviet people lived by simple stereotypes, the most important of these being the notion of the state as the foundation of the entire societal edifice on one hand, and the source of justice, pensions and television on the other. Decommunisation didn’t really happen in Russia - leaving us with a state qualitatively different to those throughout the rest of Europe. For our state, functionality is secondary; what truly matters is status and greatness.</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/559247/fsb_court_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/fsb_court_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 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></p><p dir="ltr">The culture of state grandeur and the belief in the sacredness of all things governmental converge in the phenomenon of "state security". This has been all-encompassing throughout Russian history, its structures proliferating far beyond the FSB.</p><p dir="ltr">The state security apparatus is a club for the elites of officialdom; everyone within it exists above and beyond their professions, their industry expertise, their technical skills - they’re masters of "communication", that is, of subjugating and being subjugated. And of course they exist alongside thousands of their charges: investigators, security guards, diplomats, protocol assistants, awards departments, narks, political officers… &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Functionally speaking, only the budget transfer side of things is truly indispensable</p><p dir="ltr">The state-security club first came to power in 2000. Ivan IV wasn’t an oprichnik (that is, a member of the imperial Russian police force), Nicholas II wasn’t a gendarme, Stalin wasn’t a Chekist. So if Andropov’s abortive term can be considered a farce, then Putin’s is a veritable tragedy. The tragedy stems from the fact that the very existence of a state where high-status demagoguery trumps any institutional functions is criminal through and through. Criminal, too, are said state’s component structures: convicts are abused in prisons; ditto international law in the embassies; ditto army conscripts in the regiments; ditto penurious regions and municipalities in tax administration offices; ditto libraries, newspapers, hospitals and farmers in the regional administrations; and so on.</p><p dir="ltr">But not everyone’s a criminal, are they? The majority of people are actually very decent! I’ve observed the work of several cultural committees in several regions. Not a single committee was devoid of sensible, right-minded people; not a single committee boasted a majority thereof; not a single committee operated in anything other than a friendly atmosphere; not a single committee had enemies of culture and creative freedom in its ranks; not a single committee was chaired by an individual without manifold positive qualities; and not a single committee was in any way indispensable. Not one generated obviously useful results for the industry. Not one was responsible for any breakthrough achievements. Their sudden dissolution wouldn’t paralyse the industry even for a day. Not a single day. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Functionally speaking, only the budget transfer side of things is truly indispensable. As for the committees and departments, the audit chambers and the dozens of different inspectorates, they’re entirely surplus to requirements. They are, in fact, dysfunctional.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Serebrennikov was arrested by state security because we believe that state security is a necessary thing</p><p dir="ltr">Dysfunction doesn’t destroy society; society can neither materialise nor perish - it only mutates. Our own society is mutating very slowly and tortuously because it is paralysed by the culture of state security. Here, people believe that the driver of commerce isn’t advertising but some commerce development committee - and they believe that culture is created in culture committees.</p><p dir="ltr">In the twenty-first century, maintaining this kind of state is beyond anyone’s means. Its eternal culture of state security perpetuates poverty and rightlessness. Today we need nothing more than mechanisms for the centralised redistribution of resources. The most complicated of these is competition among public experts, conducted with the involvement of the media and the general public. We’re seriously lacking experience in this regard, and we need to gain it quickly. Before we do so, however, we must dismantle status structures that are incapable of working properly.</p><p dir="ltr">Don’t ask how this is to be done. First and foremost, we have to stop believing in the state and in the idea that its security structures are of benefit to anyone. We have to stop believing that the suspicions of the investigator are of greater consequence than the convictions of the theatre director. And that case materials are more substantial than the live materials utilised by theatre.</p><p dir="ltr">At the end of the day, Serebrennikov was arrested by the state security apparatus because we believe that said apparatus is a necessary thing. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><em>Translated by Leo Shtutin</em></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/mikhail-kaluzhsky/freemalobrodsky">#FreeMalobrodsky</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elizaveta-spivakovskaya/what-russian-theatre-critics-won-t-tell-you">What the Russian theatre critics won’t tell you</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-ovsyannikova/moscow-s-authoritarian-future">Moscow’s authoritarian future</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 Sergey Damberg Russia Cultural politics Wed, 13 Sep 2017 15:01:59 +0000 Sergey Damberg 113320 at https://www.opendemocracy.net