oD Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/3513/0 cached version 20/07/2018 09:39:19 en Injustice for all: how Azerbaijan’s bar association was reduced to tatters https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ismail-djalilov-and-tamara-grigoryeva/injustice-for-all%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A strong and independent legal community is the most significant obstacle to the arbitrariness of authoritarian rule.</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/imageedit_1_5835882686.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_1_5835882686.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'>Image: Iryna Stasiuk. </span></span></span>On the evening of 29 May, Samad Rahimli, an Azerbaijani lawyer and human rights defender, was sat at a desk in the middle of a large auditorium. Facing him were seven members of the Azerbaijani Collegium of Lawyers’ admission committee, who were waiting to interview him and decide whether or not he would be admitted. Although Rahimli had been warned privately that he would not be accepted, he was calm and ready for the interview.</p><p dir="ltr">“The oral interview was supposed to last up to 30 minutes, and I was held there for 35,” he says. “The rest (of the candidates) were quizzed for 10-15 minutes.” Rahimli knew this because he’d been waiting for his interview since morning. His turn came at around 6 pm.</p><p dir="ltr">Rahimli knew full well that the second, oral part of the interview is broad by design, and that the seven committee members sitting opposite him at a U-shaped table, were not going to go easy on him. “I was interrupted, I was told my responses were wrong, I was told to cite the article by heart, not to be argumentative,” he says, adding that he refused to answer some questions or quote obscure articles and rules because he didn’t consider himself under any obligation to do so per rules of the examination.</p><p dir="ltr">In the end, just as the private warnings had prophesied, and despite years of experience working on cases and bringing dozens of them to the European Court of Human Rights, Rahimli was informed that he had not passed. He and others say that he was not admitted precisely because of this experience.</p><h2>The systematic elimination of free thinkers</h2><p dir="ltr">That Azerbaijan is no heaven for fundamental freedoms is common knowledge. The harassment of lawyers by law enforcement and judiciary has been occurring for a long time, and is <a href="https://www.osce.org/baku/20432?download=true">well documented</a>. But 2017 was the year when the Azerbaijani authorities began systematically eliminating the independent legal profession as an institution.</p><p dir="ltr">At the risk of dismantling the country’s already tenuous rule of law system, the Azerbaijani government has been arresting, harassing and disbarring lawyers. It has also influenced the Collegium of Lawyers to discriminate during bar entrance exams against any lawyer deemed unreliable or disloyal or who dares to provide legal representation to the authorities’ opponents. While introducing cosmetic reforms, the regime is rolling out new restrictive laws on lawyering, eliminating all the critical members of the Collegium and replacing them with subservient loyalists and government advocates.</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/Samad_Rahimli_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Samad_Rahimli_1_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'>Samad Rahimli (left), with lawyer Ziya Guliyev, and NGO worker Hasan Huseynli. Photo courtesy of Samad Rahimli.</span></span></span>“The crackdown on the lawyers is part of a long process of eliminating the government’s opponents,” says Yalchin Imanov, a lawyer who was <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/yalchin-imanov-suspended-practising-pending-trial">disbarred in 2017 for his human rights work</a>. “First, the government went after political parties, then, in 2014, they went after civil society and the media. From then on, the only institution that had independent free-thinkers was the Collegium of Lawyers… These attacks on them had been occurring in the past, as well, but not in such a systematic way like now.”</p><p dir="ltr">When the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan">notorious crackdown of 2014</a> on the Azerbaijani civil society started, it was the human rights lawyers who drew attention to these attacks, says Intigam Aliyev, a prominent lawyer in Azerbaijan who was <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-intigam-aliyev">disbarred and spent 2014-2016 in prison</a> for his human rights work. Aliyev adds that the state “always viewed the legal profession through a prism of political interests and as of strategic importance.”</p><p dir="ltr">Maran Turner, executive director at <a href="http://www.freedom-now.org/">Freedom Now</a>, a Washington-based NGO that works on the rights of lawyers in Azerbaijan among others, notes that despite all the pressure on the independent legal profession “the lawyers that are the most active, they are continuing to do this work, even though most of them have been disbarred.”</p><h2>The collegium of yes-men</h2><p dir="ltr">On paper, the <a href="http://www.barassociation.az/">Collegium of Lawyers</a> is an independent non-governmental organisation that operates based on Azerbaijan’s <a href="http://cis-legislation.com/document.fwx?rgn=10556">Law on Lawyers and Legal Activities</a>. It was created in 2004 as a requirement <a href="http://well-documented">set forth by the international organisations</a> that the country became a member of, such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). A self-regulating organisation, the Collegium is supposed to defend the rights and freedoms under the law, provide citizens with professional legal representation and enhance the prestige of the legal profession, as stated on its <a href="http://www.barassociation.az/en/azecollegium">website</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">“The legal profession that is considered one of most effective mechanisms for the defense of human rights in the world, in Azerbaijan is simply a decoration,” Intigam Aliyev remarks. “In the best case scenario, our Collegium operates like a department of the Justice Ministry or the Presidential Apparatus.”</p><p dir="ltr">The organisation’s complete dependence on the government’s good graces is not news. A <a href="https://www.osce.org/ru/odihr/124151?download=true">2014 OSCE report</a> outlines in detail many ways in which the organisation is not only dependent on the Azerbaijani state – but is also being used to suppress lawyers who are willing to represent and speak up on behalf of victims of grave human rights violations.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_120700006113.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_120700006113.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="192" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anar Bagirov. Source: Turan Agency.</span></span></span>When the Collegium of Lawyers <a href="http://en.apa.az/azerbaijani-news/social-news/new-chairman-of-azerbaijan-s-bar-association-elected.html">elected a new chairman</a> in December 2017, some had hopes that he would improve Azerbaijan’s legal profession on the whole and the organisation itself. </p><p dir="ltr">For years, the Collegium had been led by Azer Tagiyev, and Anar Bagirov, the young lawyer who replaced him, initially impressed observers in the legal community, media and civil society at large, giving frequent interviews in which he stressed the importance of improving the legal profession. Bagirov also acknowledged that Azerbaijan has one of the lowest ratios of lawyers per capita in the world (one lawyer per more than 10,000 citizens), and called for immediate reforms.</p><p dir="ltr">However, not everyone was impressed. “We stressed that the problem with Anar Bagirov is that he is a business partner of the Azerbaijani Justice Minister’s son, who also owns a <a href="https://bhm.az/az/sp/25.html">law firm</a>,” says Samad Rahimli. “We said that he (Bagirov) has a business relationship and (is in a dependent position on the latter) which would raise questions about his objectivity and further complicate an already complex situation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, many lawyers mention that although Azer Taghiyev wasn’t a reformist by any stretch of imagination, he was more protective of Collegium members – and willing to negotiate with the government.</p><p dir="ltr">When Bagirov took over chairmanship of the Collegium, he vowed to raise its membership numbers. Azerbaijan, with its population of 10 million, has slightly more than <a href="http://s">1,0</a><a href="http://www.barassociation.az/en/azecollegium">00 collegium members</a>, whereas neighbouring Georgia and Armenia – which have populations of roughly four and three million each – have more than 4,000 and 1,500 collegium members respectively, according to data released by the <a href="http://advokatura.kz/advokatskaya-deyatelnost-v-stranah-sng-i-baltii/">Kazakhstan collegium</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/info_4592b32ffc7f83841fb2888304e17374.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/info_4592b32ffc7f83841fb2888304e17374.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'>Collegium of Lawyers, Baku. Source: Collegium of Lawyers.</span></span></span>After Bagirov took over chairmanship, the number of bar members did increase by over a hundred people, but none of them were human rights lawyers. Just as Bagirov took over the organisation, a wave of disbarments started to hit Azerbaijan’s human rights lawyers. Yalchin Imanov was disbarred in December 2017, and then two other lawyers, Asabali Mustafayev and Nemat Karimli, <a href="http://iphronline.org/justice-under-threat-in-azerbaijan-as-bar-association-bans-yet-more-independent-lawyers.html">had their licenses temporarily suspended in April 2018</a>. Irada Javadova, another professional who had vocally opposed violations, was <a href="https://www.icj.org/azerbaijan-lawyer-irada-javadova-disbarment-decided-in-unfair-proceedings/">disbarred in June 2018</a>. At the same time, in October 2017, new amendments to the Law on Representation were introduced by the government, prohibiting lawyers who aren’t Collegium members from practicing even procedural and civil law.</p><p dir="ltr">“Anar Bagirov managed to do in six months what Azer Tagiyev couldn’t do [in years]. This is an indicator of his success in fulfilling all of his obligations before the government,” Rahimli comments facetiously, lamenting that Bagirov’s short tenure has seen a sharp decline in lawyers’ activity in general.</p><h2>Murphy’s law</h2><p>Prior to November 2017, if a lawyer was disbarred in Azerbaijan, they could still legally represent clients in court with the exception of criminal cases. But new amendments to Azerbaijan’s Law on Representation changed the consequences of disbarment for lawyers, reserving the right to represent clients in any court proceedings only for Collegium members.</p><p dir="ltr">Commenting on these changes, Yalchin Imanov says that some lawyers resisted them at the time, calling them a move against lawyers as an institution. For him, the goal was to deprive independent lawyers of an opportunity to work once and for all. “The disbarment would serve as a cautionary tale, it would keep the rest in check, sending a signal that if they follow in the footsteps of so-and-so, the same fate would await them too.”</p><p dir="ltr">Once these amendments were introduced, Bagirov <a href="https://www.azernews.az/business/131398.html">rushed to ensure the public</a> that the law was part of the reforms he’d promised, and that the Collegium would soon welcome new members as the result of the bar examination.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Anar Bagirov managed to do in six months what Azer Tagiyev couldn’t do (in years). This is an indicator of his success in fulfilling all of his obligations before the government”</p><p dir="ltr">Yet according to critics, the oral examination – previously a part of the Collegium’s entrance exam – has become a tool for undermining the candidacies of lawyers the government deems undesirable or disloyal. Most of the lawyers who fail the new examination have failed it exactly at the final stage, the oral examination.</p><p dir="ltr">Rahimli bemoans the lack of objective methodology for the exam, mentioning that the issue is considered so serious that it has been raised with the Council of Europe&nbsp;– whereas Imanov is critical of the vagueness of the rules and laws defining the oral examination process itself. “There are no articles enumerating the exact fashion in which this procedure is conducted in the law, rules or the by-laws of the Collegium of Lawyers. However, by common logic, the final step ought to examine the general worldview of the candidates who had already passed the first step and whose knowledge of the applicable law had been tested.”</p><p dir="ltr">“It clearly signals that the Collegium will not admit independent or opposition-minded members, as well as those working on human rights cases,” Imanov adds. “I don’t think it is plausible that lawyers who have participated in numerous civil cases, represented clients in court, successfully forwarded cases to the European Court of Human Rights, possess inferior knowledge of the law to the extent that they cannot pass the oral examination. This is the undeniable proof of bias against them and the intent to keep them out.”</p><p dir="ltr">It’s pure math, according to Aliyev: “The heavy workload of numerous administrative, civil and criminal cases in the campaign of repressions against civil society was shouldered by 10-15 lawyers. They turned into a major headache for the government. Now, imagine that the Collegium of Lawyers was an independent and democratic organisation, and it numbered not 10-15, but 1,000-1,500 independent and principled lawyers. The authoritarian government understands this danger very well,” he says, adding that in a country with 150 political prisoners, there are now only six lawyers working on political cases. </p><p>In terms of the future that awaits lawyers who fail the oral examination, Intigam Aliyev says that “for some of them, the doors close for good. These are the politically active lawyers who criticise the government in the press and on social media.” A second group, Aliyev says, are the ones who still have a chance to get back in the good graces of the government if they “behave”.</p><h2>Catch-22</h2><p dir="ltr">With less than a dozen independent members left in the Collegium, Azerbaijan is on the path of further dismantling the rule of law and the ability of the judiciary system to do its work. However, some international organisations are satisfied with what they see so far. “Unfortunately, a few international organisations have presented the cosmetic changes at the Collegium of Lawyers as a reform. How can you explain to them that a new building or even admission of new members to the Collegium does not constitute a reform?” Aliyev asks. “It is impossible to reform an organisation that is under total government control, is managed by the feudal era rules, that prohibits lawyers from speaking out, and where fawning and flattery are a norm.”</p><p dir="ltr">Speaking of the ethics code adopted by the Collegium’s new management, Rahimli is critical of some of its stipulations. “There are some difficult new obligations that the lawyers are supposed to abide by. It says a lawyer must be objective and neutral, which goes against the very nature of lawyers’ obligations to their clients. Lawyers are not objective, they take a side. Lawyers are also not supposed to engage in politics, a point reiterated by Anar Bagirov himself. Some of the lawyers were warned not to politicise the organisation, and warned that they will not be admitted because they were suspected of wanting to do just that.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Some of the lawyers were warned not to politicise the organisation, and warned that they will not be admitted because they were suspected of wanting to do just that”</p><p dir="ltr">But, as Maran Turner says, no matter how much the government has pressured independent lawyers, they are still highly regarded in Azerbaijani society and even by the government, who can’t easily dismiss them as a “fifth column”. In order to break the vicious circle of pressure on them, Turner suggests working with international financial institutions that provide the financial aid highly craved by Azerbaijani authorities. </p><p>“(International financial institutions) should be telling the government that respect for the lawyers is about respect for the international law, for the rule of law and independent judiciary. This is about having a healthy institution. If you don’t have independent lawyers, if you have very few lawyers, then you completely compromise your judiciary,” Turner adds.</p><p dir="ltr">***</p><p dir="ltr">On the evening of 5 June, almost a week after the examination, Samad Rahimli searched for his name on the site of those admitted to the Collegium. “I was not surprised,” he says dispassionately. “It meant I wasn’t admitted. Azerbaijan is a small country. I was warned my chances were pretty slim.”</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/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers">Azerbaijan’s unlucky lawyers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/compassion-fatigue-what-happens-in-eurasia">Compassion fatigue: what happens in Eurasia when the world looks away</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/harry-hummel/rule-of-law-contacts-with-azerbaijan">Rule of law contacts with Azerbaijan must raise human rights abuse</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla-hebib-muntezir/azerbaijans-authoritarianism-goes-digital">Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital</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 Tamara Grigoryeva Ismail Djalilov Azerbaijan Wed, 18 Jul 2018 09:29:16 +0000 Ismail Djalilov and Tamara Grigoryeva 118753 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s growing cultural divide: a sign of far-right populism? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tako-svanidze/georgia-growing-cultural-divide <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>One year on since Georgia’s far right publicly announced themselves, how has their agenda developed?</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/Bassiani-15.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Bassiani-15.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>11 May 2018: Georgian police detain people during clashes in front of the Bassiani nightclub, Tbilisi. Photo: Mari Nikuradze / OC Media. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Over the past year, the small country of Georgia has made <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-far-right-against-club-goers/29224427.html">international headlines</a> thanks to public clashes between liberals and radical far-right groups, exposing a cultural division between these two rival groups in Georgian society. One considers itself liberal and progressive, symbolised by young people with tattoos, piercings and colourful hair, and the other is considered conservative, religious, nationalist and often homophobic.</p><p dir="ltr">Disputes between conservative Georgians – the majority in this post-Soviet country – and those who support freedom of choice and diversity have continued since Georgia broke from the Soviet Union, where religious and sexual diversity were tabooed. This heritage still influences values and behaviour in the country. In the 2014 <a href="http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWV6.jsp">World Value Survey</a>, Georgia was ranked one of the most homophobic countries in the world – with some 86.6% of those surveyed unhappy with the idea of having a gay or lesbian neighbour. </p><p dir="ltr">Further developments over the past two months have shaken the government and led to changes in the cabinet. In May, Georgian police <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgian-police-raid-on-clubs-triggers-protests-in-capital/29223031.html">organised heavy-handed raids against two of Tbilisi’s most prominent nightclubs</a>. In response, young people took to the streets of the capital to protest the abuse of power by police, calling for freedom of expression and entertainment, as well as an ease on the country’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/the-struggle-for-humane-drug-policy-in-georgia%20">strict drug policy</a>. The situation intensified two days later when Tbilisi’s clubbers continued their protest, only for ultra-nationalist groups Georgian March and Georgian Idea to gather nearby and hold a counter-rally against young people with “coloured hair and piercings”. Finally, Georgia’s Interior Minister visited the demonstration and asked the young people to disperse due to the “high threat from another group” who tried to break through the police cordon and enter the crowd of “liberal protesters”, as local media dubbed them. </p><p dir="ltr">Though the rally finished peacefully, several days later, on 17 May, ultra-nationalist and traditionalist groups, as well as the Georgian Orthodox Church “celebrated victory” by marching on Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli avenue for “Family Purity Day”. A holiday set up by Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II in May 2014, “Family Purity Day” is meant as a counter-event to International Day against Homophobia. Yet more demonstrations followed, with the Orthodox Church <a href="http://oc-media.org/georgian-orthodox-church-calls-for-boycott-of-rustavi-2/">calling for a boycott of television channel Rustavi 2</a> for blasphemy in relation to two recent broadcasts by the opposition-led station. The first programme alleged that the Georgian Patriarchate failed to make public a letter of support for Georgia sent by the World Patriarch during the 2008 war with Russia; the second involved the <a href="https://www.myvideo.ge/v/3597631">broadcast of a controversial painting “Virgin Mary with a Toy Pistol”</a> by a TV anchor known for his criticism of the church. Indeed, this painting was used to argue against a <a href="http://parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/komitetebi/adamianis-uflebata-dacvisa-da-samoqalaqo-integraciis-komiteti/axali-ambebi-adamianis/sofo-kiladze-agmashfota-bolo-periodshi-ganvitarebulma-movlenebma-rodesac-martlmadidebluri-siwmindeebis-gamoxatva-arasatanado-formit-moxda.page">draft-law</a> initiated by an Alliance of Patriots of Georgia MP that would allow courts to ban distribution of artworks that insulted “religious feelings”.</p><p dir="ltr">All these events have show how the “cultural divide” in Georgia has intensified in recent years – and how Georgian far-right groups are playing a significant role in creating this divide. </p><h2 dir="ltr">14 July: When the “Georgian March” announced itself</h2><p dir="ltr">The public conflict between radical conservatives and liberals in Georgia traces its recent history to 14 July 2017, when hundreds of Georgians <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-tbilisi-rally/28618102.html">marched down a central Tbilisi street</a>, where Turkish and Middle Eastern restaurants are located, and called for an end to the “uncontrolled migration of Muslims” into Georgia. </p><p dir="ltr">Holding crosses, icons and flags, participants of the rally demanded the deportation of illegal immigrants and asked the government to tighten up the country’s immigration legislation. <a href="http://oc-media.org/who-was-in-and-who-was-out-in-tbilisis-far-right-march-of-georgians-analysis/">Various ultranationalist groups chanted</a> and carried placards with slogans such as “We will clear our streets of foreign criminals!”, “What is Georgian is for Georgia Alone”, “Go back to where you belong!” One of the leaders of the rally shouted through a megaphone that illegal immigrants had “turned Tbilisi into one big brothel!” Some bystanders urged tourists coming from the far-right marchers’ “target countries” to leave the area and find shelter in shops and cafes.</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/DSC_0030.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC_0030.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'>March of Georgians, 14 July 2017. Photo: Luka Pertaia / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This was a important moment for Georgian far-right groups – for both their apparent unification and entrance into the public sphere. It was the first organised, large-scale demonstration held by far right groups in Tbilisi – and it was the debut for small ultra-nationalist groups who united and made the transition from online activities to offline street demonstrations.</p><p dir="ltr">Not everyone in Tbilisi accepted the rally. More liberal residents found it to difficult to hide their anger and embarrassment as they watched the march. Some of them attacked the march’s Facebook page, calling the participants “bigots” and “Nazis”. No to Phobia, a coalition of civil society groups and thinks-tanks, released a statement describing the rally as a deliberate attempt to fan the flames of xenophobia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Today, dozens of small far-right, ultranationalist groups exist in Georgia, but three of them – Georgian March, Georgian Idea and Georgian Power – are the most well known</p><p dir="ltr">Political groups like European Georgia, a party run by ex-ruling United National Movement politicians, have since campaigned against far-right nationalism, seeing their manifestations as part of a Russian conspiracy. A week later, European Georgia held counter-rally titled “No to Russian Fascism”. The demonstrators protested against “Russian occupation, violence, hate speech, racism, and xenophobia”. They said that tactics designed by Russian “soft power” promoting xenophobia and persecution of certain groups were unacceptable.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Who are influential far-right groups in Georgia?</h2><p dir="ltr">Today, dozens of small far-right, ultranationalist groups exist in Georgia, but three of them – Georgian March, Georgian Idea and Georgian Power – are the most well known.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/qartulimarshi/about/?ref=page_internal">Georgian March</a> was established in 2017, and has made itself widely known due to its loud demonstrations and a series of incidents. This organisation is led by Sandro Bregadze, a former Deputy State Minister for Diaspora Issues, Lado Sadghobelashvili, a leader of the Homeland, Language, Religion movement and Gio Korkotashvili, founder of Civil Solidarity. Ideologically, Georgian March is similar to European far-right groups. Its positions includes radical anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, protecting “family purity” and opposing the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/the-struggle-for-humane-drug-policy-in-georgia%20">liberalisation of drug policies</a> in Georgia. </p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.facebook.com/GeoAltRight/">Georgian Power</a> is one of the ultranationalist groups active on Facebook – the group is made up of young people in their teens or twenties. The group was founded in 2015 and announced itself on the far-right scene by attacking a vegan cafe in Tbilisi in 2016. The story went viral and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/31/georgian-vegan-cafe-attacked-by-sausage-wielding-nationalists">spread widely through international media outlets</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">On its Facebook page, Georgian Power promotes anti-LGBT and anti-feminist narratives, expressing aggression toward civil rights activists, whose quotes, removed from context and shared with images, spark misogynistic and homophobic discussions. The group used to have its base at a military-themed bar in downtown Tbilisi until it closed in 2016.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.53.58.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.53.58.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In this screenshot from Georgian Power’s Facebook channel, the admins riff on an alt-right meme, claiming that if a user sends it to 10 friends, they’ll find love for the end of the year. </span></span></span>The far-right political union known as <a href="https://www.facebook.com/%E1%83%A5%E1%83%90%E1%83%A0%E1%83%97%E1%83%A3%E1%83%9A%E1%83%98-%E1%83%98%E1%83%93%E1%83%94%E1%83%90-1442080826006745/">Georgian Idea</a> is distinguished by its activities among the right-wing radical movements in Georgia. The organisation was founded by a former convict, Levan Chachua, in 2012. Chachua had previously been a member of the Orthodox Parents' Union (OPU), an umbrella group for parents and priests, notorious for its aggressive, often violent demonstrations against minorities. Chachua claimed that the OPU had “the blessing of the spiritual leader” in reference to the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II.</p><p dir="ltr">Members of Georgian Idea claim that the majority of Georgians don’t believe the “propaganda spun by liberals”. The organisation has already held several large-scale protests since its creation five years ago, including protest rallies against an electronic music festival held in Georgia’s coastal city Anaklia. The ultra-conservative protesters claim that the festival morally corrupts society.</p><p dir="ltr">If years ago, activities of Georgian radical far-right groups were fragmented, today this pattern has changed. The ultras have become more organised, openly demonstrating their dominance over vulnerable groups, as well as posing a threat of violence to people “outside of the mainstream”. </p><h2 dir="ltr">How Georgia’s far right are evolving</h2><p dir="ltr">Today, Georgia’s far right have decided to level up and try their hand at national politics. In April, Sandro Bregadze, one of the leaders of Georgian March, <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/can-a-reclining-georgian-nationalist-fake-his-way-to-the-top">announced</a> that he would participate in Georgia’s upcoming presidential election in October with a Marie Le Pen-style campaign. </p><p dir="ltr">“First and foremost we will stop illegal migration to the country and improve the demographic situation,” Bregadze said on his Facebook account. “In addition, the propaganda of homosexuality and immorality should be prohibited and the role of the Church in the development of the country should be increased. We should declare military political neutrality as the basis for restoring Georgia's territorial integrity.”</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/DSC_0344.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC_0344.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Georgian far right hold a counter-demonstration on 14 May 2018. Photo: Mari Nikuradze / OC Media. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>However, Tbilisi-based commentators aren’t convinced that far-right groups will win much in the way of votes at the election. “Georgian far-right groups can create an illusion that they have many followers, but in fact, most of them are trolls or wasted supporters,” says Dali Kurdadze, a researcher at Myth Detector Project for Media Development Foundation (MDF). Kurdadze believes that a far-right candidate has a small chance of winning in Georgia’s presidential elections later this year due to the far right’s instability and internal distrust.</p><p dir="ltr">“I cannot say that at this stage they can have a great impact or influence on important political processes,” Kurdadze tells me. “Their actions are often destructive, they are spreading information which later turns out to be a lie and disinformation. People don’t trust them anymore. Hopefully, the calls for violence are still unacceptable to Georgian society. However, young people can be a vulnerable group, because they often do not know what they are doing and are easy to influence.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Their actions are often destructive, they are spreading information which later turns out to be a lie and disinformation. People don’t trust them anymore”</p><p dir="ltr">Journalist Onnik James Krikorian, a consultant for the OSCE and resident of Tbilisi for several years, believes that the far-right are definitely becoming more visible, vocal and active – just as throughout Europe as well as the United States. “As for the potential threat it poses,” Krikorian comments, “it’s worth noting that far-right political parties are making some progress electorally in places and Georgia is not immune from populism either. This in itself is not illegal, of course, but the effect it can have on society and social cohesion is very definitely one of concern.”</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps one of the impacts caused by Bregadze’s decision will be the formation of new splinter groups. After Bregadze made his decision to run public, Gia Korkotashvili, Georgian March’s most high profile member, left the group. Korkotashvili said that he didn’t plan to become involved in politics, but would keep friendly relations with other activists. Instead, he would like to establish a “Popular Patrol” to watch out places where “foreign nationals spread drug addiction, prostitution, paedophilia and other crime”. The patrols will be equipped with video cameras to record “offences” before calling the police. So far, Korkotashvili’s idea is yet to be implemented. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Increasing hate</h2><p dir="ltr">Hate speech, xenophobia, homophobia against LGBT persons, which are the main focus of far-right groups’ messaging, continue to be widespread problems in Georgia. According to the<a href="https://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/ecri/country-by-country/georgia/GEO-CbC-V-2016-002-ENG.pdf"> latest report</a> by the Council of Europe’s anti-discrimination body, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), despite certain progress, far-right activity and ultra-nationalism are still problematic issues for the country and its government to cope with.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, the Georgian government amended the Criminal Code to introduce racial, religious, national, ethnic, homophobic or transphobic intolerance as aggravating circumstances in criminal offences. Since then, Georgia regularly reports hate crime data to different international organisations. </p><p dir="ltr">According to OSCE<a href="http://hatecrime.osce.org/georgia"> data</a> provided by Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, the number of crimes committed on a hate speech basis has gradually increased since 2012. While 13 cases of hate crime were recorded in 2012, and there is no available data for 2013, in 2014 there were 19 crimes, 2015 – 20, 2016 - 44 crimes. Moreover, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs <a href="http://police.ge/ge/shinagan-saqmeta-saministrom-2018-tsels-sidzulvilis-motivit-chadenili-danashaulis-braldebit-53-piri-daakava/11660">recently released</a> a report claiming 53 people were arrested for hate crimes in 2018, including racism and xenophobia, bias against Muslims and different sexual orientations.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where do Georgian ultras find their supporters?</h2><p dir="ltr">Facebook is the <a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/georgian-ultranationalist">main environment where far-right groups recruit their followers</a> and distribute their messages mostly composed of fake news from different online media outlets, including Russian, far-right European and American media sources. Their targets of abuse are mostly foreigners, Muslims and LGBT community, as well as NGOs and western organisations. </p><p dir="ltr">Georgia doesn’t have any research or statistics about ultra-nationalist groups and their activities, but some commentators claim that there are now about 20 active far-right groups on Facebook. Most of their users and followers are young people. To show that they have many followers, sometimes far-right groups create fake accounts, which actively share, comment and engage in the promotion of ultras ideas. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Dali Kurdadze, although Georgia’s far right use social media to communicate and spread their propaganda, they are also covered by some Georgian online outlets – mostly tabloids focused on gossip and catchy headlines. “Unfortunately, this coverage has boosted their popularity and they are visible in social media newsfeeds more often because these media outlets talk about them.”</p><p dir="ltr">Regarding national media channels, ultra-nationalists catch their attention only when there is a major event to cover.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Ties with Russia</h2><p dir="ltr">Georgian far-right groups deny connections with Russia, but some experts highlight their use of talking points similar to those of Russian groups, calling them channels of Russian “conservative soft power”. Indeed, parallels exist between the values and ideas of Georgian far-right nationalist groups and the type of social conservativism promoted in Russia, including Euroscepticism, homophobia and support for the role of the church in daily and political life.</p><p dir="ltr">“For civil society it is very hard to reveal direct connections between Russia and far-right groups in Georgia, because this doesn’t happen openly,” says Dali Kurdadze. “But if you follow and study Georgian ultra-nationalist messages and their targets, it coincides with Russian technique of disinformation and propaganda.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“If you follow and study Georgian ultra-nationalist messages and their targets, it coincides with Russian technique of disinformation and propaganda”</p><p dir="ltr">Giorgi Goguadze, Deputy Director at Georgian Center for Security and Development (GCSD), highlights that if you compare far-right agenda and narratives, they are almost identical with Russian. For example, both Georgian and Russian far-right groups demonise migrants, different religious and sexual orientation groups, and call for the protection of tradition, religious values and national identity, as well as often using hate speech.</p><p dir="ltr">“Russian interest is behind the ultra-nationalist groups both in Georgia and in Europe,” says Goguadze. “Supporting and empowering far-right groups is the Kremlin’s way of destabilising, spreading chaos and revising human rights and western values. In Georgia, Russian propaganda matches far-right groups’ rhetoric that getting closer to the Euro-Atlantic family will cause cultural erosion of the nation. A lot of myths are created malignance of West and in contrast showing how generous ‘coreligionist’ Russia is.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Goguadze, the rising xenophobic, homophobic and anti-immigration rhetoric in Georgia “pours water on Russia’s mill”, which tries to move Georgia out from of the west’s orbit, where the country has been heading since gaining independence from the Soviet Union. </p><p dir="ltr">Georgia faces many obstacles to overcome before becoming further integrated into European structures. In conditions where European Union countries are increasingly struggling with the prospect of standing up for an inclusive and tolerant society, the rise of ultra-nationalist rhetoric and campaigning in Georgia negatively impacts the country’s pro-European pathway and drags it closer to Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/inga-popovaite/georgian-muslims-are-strangers-in-their-own-country">Georgian Muslims are strangers in their own country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/a-war-for-hearts-and-minds">A war for hearts and minds: how Georgian civil society is putting Abkhazia and South Ossetia back on the agenda</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/the-struggle-for-humane-drug-policy-in-georgia%20">The struggle for humane drug policy in Georgia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia">Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia </a> </div> <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/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher">Georgia’s Russian cipher </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory"> Terms and conditions apply: Georgia and Ukraine’s visa-free victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</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 Tako Svanidze Georgia Mon, 16 Jul 2018 09:39:21 +0000 Tako Svanidze 118877 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The struggle for freedom of speech in Tajikistan: Khayrullo Mirsaidov and the question of international responsibility https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/saipira-furstenberg-john-heathershaw/the-struggle-for-freedom-of-speech-in-tajikistan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The conviction of a well-known journalist once again raises the question of the international community’s attitude to repressive regimes – and how foreign aid and human rights have been decoupled.</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/564053/12697300_996321923738785_1874946576982251757_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/12697300_996321923738785_1874946576982251757_o.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'>Khayrullo Mirsaidov (centre), 2016. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>Khayrullo Mirsaidov, a well-respected independent journalist in Tajikistan, was arrested on 5 December 2017, after he publically appealed to the country’s president regarding corruption in the northern city of Khujand. On 11 July 2018, Khayrullo was sentenced to 12 years in prison after a court in Khujand convicted him of embezzlement, forging documents and providing false testimony.</p><p dir="ltr">Mirsaidov is a well-known and respected journalist. He worked as a regional correspondent for Tajikistan’s Asia-Plus and Germany’s Deutsche Welle, as well as for various development projects funded by western donors. As&nbsp;<a href="https://excas.net/2018/07/tajikistans-imprisonment-of-journalists-khayrullo-mirsaidov-and-the-question-of-western-irresponsibility-by-ayesha-kenan/">noted</a> by Michael Andersen, an independent journalist and close friend of Khayrullo, in a meeting at the UK Parliament on 20 June: “Mirsaidov spent all of his life fighting against corruption. The fact that the government is prosecuting someone who has been fighting against corruption his whole life shows how the government and the prosecutors are acting with complete impunity.”</p><p dir="ltr">Mirsaidov is an extreme case of a wider problem.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/tajikistan">According to Human Rights Watch</a>, at least 20 journalists have fled the country within the past year, fearing persecution for their professional activities.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Repression at home and abroad</h2><p dir="ltr">This latest incident appears to be another attempt by the Tajik government to suppress any critical voices raised against the regime of Emomali Rahmon. </p><p dir="ltr">Since 2015, the Tajik government has&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/11/tajikistan-independent-journalist-detained/">pursued a widespread crackdown</a> on free expression, peaceful political opposition, independent legal profession and the independent exercise of religious faith. In 2015, the government blacklisted the two major democratic opposition groups, the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and Group 24, and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/tajikistan/report-tajikistan/">labelled them</a> as “terrorist and enemies of the state organisations”. International observers such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Fair Trials International&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/17/tajikistan-severe-crackdown-political-opposition/">report</a> that allegations related to corruption and terrorist crimes have become the most widespread methods used by the authoritarian regimes against their political opponents. Additionally, the Tajik government has also abused the Interpol notice system to target several peaceful political activists living outside of Tajikistan,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.fairtrials.org/muhiddin-kabiri/">including Muhiddin Kabiri</a>, an IRPT party leader.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Civil society space in Tajikistan has disappeared since any criticism against the government carries the risk of ending up in jail</p><p dir="ltr">As a result of the entrenchment of the authoritarian regime, civil society space in Tajikistan has disappeared since any criticism against the government carries the risk of ending up in jail. Moreover, as the judiciary is entirely the creature of the regime, it lacks of tools to hold the government to account, allowing those with connections to the ruling elite to act with impunity.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/13466465_1135837113125854_8843964721267948438_n (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'>Khayrullo Mirsaidov. Image: Antuan Veselov.</span></span></span>As a result of the entrenchment of the authoritarian regime, civil society space in Tajikistan has disappeared since any criticism against the government carries the risk of ending up in jail. Moreover, as the judiciary is entirely the creature of the regime, it lacks of tools to hold the government to account, allowing those with connections to the ruling elite to act with impunity.</p><p dir="ltr">This authoritarian closure is not confined within Tajikistan’s borders. As the Central Asia Political Exiles (<a href="https://excas.net/projects/political-exiles/">CAPE</a>) database developed at the University of Exeter demonstrates, the Tajik government has increased its repression of all forms of opposition – not only inside the country but also increasingly outside – by targeting perceived critics abroad, seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan. Increasingly, exiles are subject to surveillance and harassment from their home state while residing abroad. CAPE has recorded 37 high-profile exiles subject to harassment, detention, violence and/or forcible return in the period 2013-2017 compared to 10 in the 2008-2012 period.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A belated response</h2><p dir="ltr">The sentencing of Khayrullo Mirsaidov has shocked the international community, which has remained largely passive during his trial. According to Michael Andersen, from the 129 relevant MPs he contacted about Khayrullo’s case, he has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-andersen/khairullo-mirsaidov">received only three responses to date</a>. This is despite the work that Mirsaidov has done and that western governments have actually funded through projects run by the OSCE, UNDP and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).</p><p dir="ltr">Cases like Mirsaidov’s are linked to repression abroad in that the opposition figures, civil society activists and journalists being targeted were often those supported by western aid in the decade or so following <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">Tajikistan’s civil war</a> (1992-1997). As freedom of speech has been slowly eroded and then entirely stamped out, western states continued to cooperate on security despite the long-term problems that are likely being fostered by the hardening of authoritarian rule in Tajikistan, as well as the neglect of the terms of the 1997 peace agreement which aimed to create conditions for democratic reforms and economic liberalisation.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30247919045_200f9ceb45_k-2_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'>Leader of the Nation and president for life of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon. Photo CC-by-NC 2.0: Leiris202 / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In this light, the response from western diplomats to the jailing of Khayrullo is too little, too late. On 11 July, the Embassies of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United States, and the EU Delegation in the Republic of Tajikistan issued a<a href="https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/tajikistan/48257/joint-press-statement-mirsaidovs-case_en"> joint statement</a> expressing their “common grave concern” about the severity of the sentence and noted that this may “cast a shadow on our cooperation” with the government of Tajikistan.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Why has western aid failed?</h2><p dir="ltr">The reasons why western aid has failed to foster freedom of speech are multiple and complex. However, we can say with some confidence that the failure is not attributable to disengagement. </p><p dir="ltr">While the volume of western activity may be less than that of Russia and China, it remains significant. Since the early 2000s, EU development assistance to Tajikistan&nbsp;<a href="https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/4078/EU-Tajikistan%20relations">has increased</a> from around €20m annually to a figure of around €33m today. Currently the EU is Tajikistan's third largest trade partner after Russia and China, and its&nbsp;<a href="https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/4078/EU-Tajikistan%20relations">main imports</a> are in aluminium, agricultural products, and textiles. Since October 2008, the EU and Tajikistan entered into an enhanced dialogue on human rights, yet the deteriorating human rights situation in the country throughout the years demonstrates that there is a huge disconnect between intended EU reforms and their actual implementation in Tajikistan.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The hardening of authoritarianism in Tajikistan in recent years demonstrates that its leaders feel that support from Russia, China and other illiberal powers makes it immune from western criticism and human rights conditionalities</p><p dir="ltr">A more compelling reason for the failure of aid to protect basic freedoms is surely found in the decoupling of aid from foreign policy and the failure to make wider economic and security cooperation conditional upon a standard of human rights. Just as academic cooperation&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw-edward-schatz/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-critical-engagement-and-soli">cannot take place without a basic standard of academic freedom</a>, so international cooperation in areas of media and civil society requires the rule of law and freedom of speech.</p><p dir="ltr">Khayrullo Mirsaidov’s predicament demonstrates the need for relevant western diplomats and politicians to offer sustained pressure rather than nominal complaints to the Tajik authorities. It is both realistic and more coherent to adopt a policy of conditional and more circumspect engagement towards an increasingly repressive Tajikistan. Otherwise, programmes to support freedom of speech and an open media risk putting their participants, such as Mirsaidov, at risk. Western governments must take responsibility for the vulnerabilities created by their interventions, rather than walking away at the end of a funding cycle.</p><h2 dir="ltr">What are the alternatives?</h2><p dir="ltr">The aforementioned arguments may seem both idealistic and well-worn. However, it is simply pragmatic to reduce cooperation with a state like Tajikistan, whose meagre economy and politicised security services have very few business opportunities and reliable intelligence to offer foreign partners from the OECD states.</p><p dir="ltr">Beyond conditional engagement and gradual withdrawal, there is a growing call for “Magnitsky-style” measures to be adopted for countries like Tajikistan. The Global Magnitsky Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012 as a mechanism to target individuals (rather than countries) responsible for human rights abuses with punitive sanctions.</p><p dir="ltr">The law at first blocked&nbsp;<a href="https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/pl112_208.pdf">18 Russian government officials and businessmen</a> from entering the United States, froze their assets held by US banks and banned their future use of US banking systems. Since 2016, sanctions apply to 44 suspected human rights abusers worldwide.</p><p dir="ltr">The adoption of Magnitsky-style laws would allow for the sanctioning of officials in senior positions in the security services and judiciary in Tajikistan.</p><p dir="ltr">The hardening of authoritarianism in Tajikistan in recent years demonstrates that its leaders feel that support from Russia, China and other illiberal powers makes it immune from western criticism and human rights conditionalities.</p><p dir="ltr">But the very same leaders want to buy property in London, hold money in British overseas territories, and send their kids to universities in the USA. They do so, apparently, because they value the freedoms these places offer to individuals while not being willing to provide these freedoms to their own citizens.</p><p dir="ltr">At the very least, western governments should withhold freedoms abroad from officials responsible for repression at home. </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/michael-andersen/khayrullo-mirsaidov">Khayrullo Mirsaidov: the journalist from Tajikistan who received 12 years in prison for his honesty and courage</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/john-heathershaw-edward-schatz/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-endangered">Academic freedom in Tajikistan endangered: what is to be done?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/tajikistan-s-imitation-civil-society">Tajikistan’s imitation 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 Saipira Furstenberg John Heathershaw Tajikistan Human rights Mon, 16 Jul 2018 07:34:20 +0000 John Heathershaw and Saipira Furstenberg 118870 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Khayrullo Mirsaidov: the journalist from Tajikistan who received 12 years in prison for his honesty and courage https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-andersen/khayrullo-mirsaidov <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u564053/Screen%20Shot%202018-07-15%20at%2022.38.10.png" alt="Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 22.38.10.png" width="80" />The west cannot preach democracy and free media in Tajikistan while leaving the locals who implement these principles to fend for themselves.</p><br /><br /> </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/564053/13466465_1135837113125854_8843964721267948438_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/13466465_1135837113125854_8843964721267948438_n.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'>Khayrullo Mirsaidov. Image: Antuan Veselov. </span></span></span>In the 15 years I have known Khayrullo Mirsaidov, I have often called my friend and colleague an idiot.</p><p dir="ltr">The Webster dictionary defines an “idiot” as”a very stupid or foolish person”. That describe accurately anybody who, 25 years after the Soviet Union broke down, still fights for free media and democracy in a country like Tajikistan. </p><p dir="ltr">In Tajikistan today, the number of such “idiots” – courageous and admirable – is rapidly diminishing. A handful of journalists, some human right defenders and lawyers, some NGOs and a few political activists persevere, standing up to the corrupt and brutal authorities. They do this often with <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/central-asia/tajikistan/86-rising-risks-misrule-tajikistan">horrific consequences for themselves and their families</a>: living in permanent fear of a knock on the door, an “invitation” to come to the police station, false arrest, assault, torture, prison, or worse. </p><p dir="ltr">My friend Khayrullo Mirsaidov, from Khujand in northern Tajikistan, is one of these people. Khayrullo is 40 years old. In fact, he marked his 40th birthday in detention. He has worked for 20 years as a journalist in a country that has actually seen less freedom of speech during that period.</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, the first time I heard about Khayrullo Mirsaidov 15 years ago was when he, as a young journalist, upset pretty much all of his colleagues in Khujand because he openly criticised the local government. The same local government that sponsored (and therefore controlled) almost all of the media in town.</p><p dir="ltr">Since then, I have on countless occasions seen Khayrullo do what most journalists claim they do, but few of us actually do – namely, speak truth to power.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/12697300_996321923738785_1874946576982251757_o (1).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'>Khayrullo Mirsaidov (centre), 2016. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>I have seen Khayrullo interview wives and mothers of so-called “Islamic extremists” when no other journalist in the country dared to even meet them. Most of those cases were bogus, invented by the police in order to blackmail relatives and torture the imprisoned fathers and sons. Typical of Khayrullo, he got so upset with the lack of interest in the plight of these people that he helped them arrange a press conference.</p><p dir="ltr">As a result, the Tajik police “invited” him to come and “explain himself”. I happened to be in town to conduct a training and decided to attend the meeting. And yes, I was also amazed that they let me sit in the corner and observe the whole proceedings. More than anything, this illustrates the impunity with which people in power operate in Central Asia.</p><p dir="ltr">The scene: a group of aggressive middle-aged policemen flinging accusations at the then 25-year old Khayrullo, openly threatening him with years of imprisonment and worse. His only response was (and this is a direct quote from my notebook back then): “These people,” he answered, referring to the people accused of extremism, “deserve to be treated according to the law our president has signed, including access to a lawyer, and without pressure and torture. Do you not agree? Or do you disagree with the law and our president?”</p><p dir="ltr">In desperation, the local police chief called his superior in Dushanbe, the capital. For the next 15 minutes, I observed the bizarre scene of the young journalist holding his own – calmly arguing with the high-ranking police official on the phone, surrounded by the local police. After 15 minutes, Khayrullo handed back the phone to the local police boss, stood up and calmly left the room. People with experience in Central Asia will know that you rarely get a chance to walk free from a police interrogation.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the past decade and a half, I have had the privilege of working closely with Khayrullo on a number of media development projects as well as several documentary films – as his boss and his colleague. Literally hundreds of young Central Asians have benefitted from having had Khayrullo as their mentor and editor in media development projects financially supported by western organisations and governments – UK DFID, Index on Censorship, Danida, Deutsche Welle, OSCE, IREX and the UN.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Khayrullo would track down the ignored, the abused, the powerless&nbsp;– to give them a voice. Often with frightening run-ins with local authorities as a result</p><p dir="ltr">The focus of all of these projects has been free media and democracy both in Central Asia more widely and in Tajikistan specifically – by teaching young people and journalists to responsibly cover topics such as corruption, gender, education, inter-ethnic problems and border conflicts in Central Asia. </p><p dir="ltr">Hundreds, possibly thousands of articles, radio programmes and videos were published as a direct result of such projects and Khayrullo’s work. </p><p dir="ltr">In parallel to his own journalism, Khayrullo has helped me on a number of documentary films (mainly for Al Jazeera English) – on topics such as (the myth of) religious extremism, corruption, drug smuggling (including the involvement of local regimes) and inter-ethnic relations in Central Asia.</p><p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zckWipmOxG8" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media"></iframe><em>People and Power: breeding discontent - an in-depth look at the reality of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/edward-lemon-john-heathershaw/can-we-explain-radicalisation-among-central-asia-s-migrants">radicalisation in Central Asia</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">For these films, Khayrullo would track down the ignored, the abused, the powerless&nbsp;– to give them a voice. Often with frightening run-ins with local authorities as a result. And Khayrullo would stay on the topic – to continue helping these people – after the films were finished and I had the luxury of leaving and going home with my EU passport.</p><p dir="ltr">In November 2017, Khayrullo <a href="http://www.toptj.com/News/2017/11/10/khayrullo-mirsaidov-tadzhikskikh-kvnshikov-pytayutsya-sdelat-prestupnikami">published several articles</a> and gave interviews accusing a high-ranking official in the local government in Khujand of demanding a bribe from him. In his capacity as director of a KVN team – a form of competitive satirical theatre popular in the former Soviet Union – Khayrullo had secured funding for the team in order to represent Tajikistan in several televised competitions in Russia with huge success. Khayrullo accused the local government official of demanding a cut of the funding the team received. (It should be added that the official in question soon after “left” his job.)</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 22.29.52.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 22.29.52.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="229" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khayrullo Mirsaidov accuses an official on Facebook in Khujand of demanding a bribe. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Khayrullo being Khayrullo, he also wrote an open letter to Tajik president Emomali Rakhmon and asked him to intervene.</p><p dir="ltr">When I talked to Khayrullo during those weeks, he told me two things. One, that he of course, as an experienced journalist, would not have published such serious and potentially dangerous accusations unless he had proof. Two, that he was worried for his personal safety. </p><p dir="ltr">A few weeks later, on 5 December 2017, Khayrullo was arrested. He was accused of stealing public funds. A few days later, the prosecutor even expanded the accusations against him to the even more serious counts of “inciting national, racial hatred” – literally the very things that Khayrullo has spent his life fighting and speaking out against. He faced 16-20 years in prison if convicted.</p><p dir="ltr">Words like groundless and bizarre do not even begin to describe this. A string of international media and human rights organisations <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/11/tajikistan-independent-journalist-detained">agreed that his arrest was political</a> and that the charges were fabricated. </p><p dir="ltr">“We call on the Tajik authorities to drop the charges against Khayrullo Mirsaidov and release him,” said the <a href="https://cpj.org/2017/12/tajik-journalist-arrested-after-alleging-official-.php">Committee to Protect Journalists</a> (CPJ) in December immediately after his arrest. “In a place where free media and critical voices are nearly non-existent, journalists like Mirsaidov should be recognized for the important work they do, not locked up on bogus charges.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I have personally written to 128 politicians in the EU countries and talked to dozens and dozens of their so-called “advisers”. Most of them couldn’t point to Tajikistan on a map</p><p dir="ltr">More than anything, this is of course yet another example of the impunity with which the people in power work in Tajikistan. If you are in complete control, you do not need to provide even a shred of logic. Years of reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Crisis Group, Freedom House and others have shown that democracy and free media in Tajikistan are in a <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur60/4855/2016/en/">worse condition than 25 years ago</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The seven months since his arrest have been a roller coaster – not least for Khayrullo’s family in Khujand. On the positive side, his lawyers managed to eliminate the bizarre accusations of “incitement to ethnic hatred” from the court case. With Khayrullo’s body of work on tolerance and inter-ethnic relations, this was one step too absurd even for prosecutors in Rakhmonistan. I also believe that this was thanks to a campaign by a number of international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and CPJ, as well as <a href="https://excas.net">academics from Exeter University</a>, who brought Khayrullo’s case to public attention.</p><p dir="ltr">But in equal measure, the support for Khayrullo – a man who for 15 years has worked for free media and democracy, mainly in projects financed by western governments – has been disappointing. No, let me be honest, it has been shameful. Apart from the people and organisations mentioned above, few have cared or dared to speak out.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">That Khayrullo’s Tajik colleagues – again with a few impressive exceptions – have been too afraid to publicly support him, even cover his story, is sad but understandable. What isn’t understandable or excusable is the lame response from western politicians and governments. I have personally written to 128 politicians in the EU countries and talked to dozens and dozens of their so-called “advisers”. Most of them couldn’t point to Tajikistan on a map.</p><p dir="ltr">Only three reacted: leading German EU politician <a href="https://twitter.com/RebHarms/status/1009874093456359424">Rebecca Harms </a>(who on several occasions has tried to push Western politicians and diplomats to take an interest), and later the two British politicians, Baroness Vivien Stern and <a href="https://twitter.com/nigelmills">Nigel Mills</a>, who sponsored a committee hearing in the British parliament in June. And only after I conducted what can only be described as primitive and bombastic Twitter bombing – no fancy algorithms here, just a daily and ultimately annoying-enough rain of tweets tagging western diplomats in Dushanbe – did they bring up Khayrullo’s case with Tajik government officials. </p><p dir="ltr">Of course, this was done behind closed doors and we have no trace of it. And no reaction from the Tajik government. So, we can be pretty sure that “our” diplomats did not upset anybody in the Tajik regime. </p><p dir="ltr">Most bizarre of all, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media – the organisation that is supposed to be a leading defender of journalists – was totally silent on Khayrullo’s case for four months. This is an organisation that has stacks of advisers and describes itself as “the world’s only intergovernmental media watchdog”.</p><p dir="ltr">The court case against Khayrullo started on 5 June. Two representatives from the embassies of the EU and the US were in attendance. As anybody who has done work in the region knows, this is extremely important – to kind of show the local regimes that “we are watching you”. Often we have seen that this kind of attention works as a deterrent. But since that first day, over the following five weeks of court proceedings, no western representative showed up. Despite the fact that we bombarded them with emails and tweets, asking and begging them as we explained the importance of their presence.</p><p dir="ltr">On 11 July, Khayrullo was <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-sentences-journalist-to-12-years-in-jail">convicted of embezzling and misusing state funds</a>, and false reporting to the police. His sentence: 12 years in prison and damages of $13,000 (the amount he allegedly stole).</p><p dir="ltr">Bizarrely enough, the western embassies in Dushanbe were suddenly amongst the first to react. And <a href="https://twitter.com/UKinTajikistan/status/1017022678329384962">harshly</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see through this: western diplomats in Dushanbe – whose job it is is to analyse Tajik politics – pretend to be surprised by Khayrullo’s 12 year prison sentence? This is either the cheapest of alibi politics (possibly brought on by bad conscience, seeing as we for seven months in vain had begged them to take an interest), or their surprise simply shows their incompetence.</p><p dir="ltr">Yes, we do have a moral responsibility to people like Khayrullo. Yes, that old-fashioned word – moral responsibility – because for years worked for and with us on the basis of the principles of democracy we always preach. Yes, I am angry. I am angry that the people whose job it is to stand up and defend people like Khayrullo did not do so. Anybody who knows Tajikistan will tell you that the lack of reaction by the west has emboldened the Tajik regime, to condemn Khayrullo to 12 years in prison and, in general, to implement the crackdown on any free thought and media that has been seen over the past three years. </p><p dir="ltr">When I talked to Khayrullo’s parents on the day he had been in detention for six months, his father asked me: “These rich, important people in the west – do they not care about my son?”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Friends and colleagues of Khayrullo have started a campaign to attract attention to his case and hopefully protect him. You can join us <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/627652674276503/">here</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/saipira-furstenberg-john-heathershaw/the-struggle-for-freedom-of-speech-in-tajikistan">The struggle for freedom of speech in Tajikistan: Khayrullo Mirsaidov and the question of international responsibility</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/bakhtiyor-sobiri/tajikistan-so-close-no-matter-how-far">Tajikistan: so close, no matter how far</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan">“What kind of terrorist am I?”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/tajikistan-s-imitation-civil-society">Tajikistan’s imitation civil society</a> </div> </div> </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 Michael Andersen Tajikistan Human rights Sun, 15 Jul 2018 20:03:55 +0000 Michael Andersen 118872 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How social media users in Kyrgyzstan are turned into “extremists” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/how-social-media-users-in-kyrgyzstan-are-turned-into-extremists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Kyrgyzstan, social media users are persecuted for sharing their opinions online. It’s easy to find “incitement to hatred” where there is none. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/vrazhdebnyi-facebook" 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/srach1_cmyk.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/srach1_cmyk.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Since the 2000s, social networks have been widely used both as platform for like-minded users and an instrument for spreading information and ideas. But the rapid dissemination of facts and opinions also results in an uncontrollable stream of information. As a result, we are witnessing an increasing number of posts with negative content – from hate speech to open fomentation of online conflicts on ethnic grounds. And today, when expression online is under the control of law enforcement agencies, you have to take responsibility for your opinions not only according your society’s code of ethics, but also its laws. In Kyrgyzstan, those responsible for monitoring expression online can now charge someone with extremism without even conducting a forensic analysis of the offending statement.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“You call these stinky, boring and backwards Soviet buildings ‘architecture’? Those who regard those typical housing blocks as ‘architecture’ have no idea what architecture is. All you lovers of Soviet relics, why don’t you go to Russia, to somewhere in Siberia – where there’s plenty of this boring, poor and slave-like shit!” </p><p dir="ltr">This is a Facebook comment by Temirbek Bolotbek, a Bishkek university lecturer, who is now facing up to seven years in prison. The comments were posted in January 2018, under a post by Dina Maslova, chief editor of the media platform Kaktus.media. In her post, Maslova published an old photo of Soviet Bishkek, then Frunze, as she recalled how cozy she found the city as a child in Soviet times. </p><p dir="ltr">The publication sparked controversial reactions online: some focused on the differences between Soviet times and today, while others debated the merits of Soviet architecture. In late February, Kyrgyzstan’s State National Security Committee (GKNB) pressed charges against Bolotbek under Part 1 of Article 299 of the Criminal Code, “Incitement to ethnic, racial, religious or interregional hatred”. Article 299 carries a tariff of between four and seven years in prison. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Schermafbeelding 2018-07-09 om 12.05.56_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Schermafbeelding 2018-07-09 om 12.05.56_0.png" alt="" title="" width="160" height="169" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Temirbek Bolotbek. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>Referring to an independent examination by professional linguists, Kyrgyz law enforcement deemed Bolotbek’s comments extremist. The defendant’s attorney Zhygral Babayev told me that his defendant’s words can in no way be interpreted as hostile – the defendant did not specify any race or nationality, nor was he addressing a specific group of people. Bolotbek himself regrets having started the polemic. During interview, he admitted that his words were rather unethical: “My comments were emotional. As a lecturer, I should have known better. However, I did not violate any laws, I merely expressed my opinion on Soviet architecture as someone who knows the subject well.”</p><p dir="ltr">After a close reading of the comments under the original post, one might have the impression that this was just an ordinary argument between so-called “pro-Russian” and “pro-Western” social media users in Kyrgyzstan. These kind of disputes were typical among Facebook users during the period of Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) a few years ago. But today, more and more people in Kyrgyzstan are facing charges under Article 299. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Arbitrary interpretation </h2><p dir="ltr">Temir Bolotbek isn’t the only Kyrgyz citizen who is facing prosecution for expressing his views online. In July 2017, Bishkek’s Pervomaysk District Court <a href="https://www.currenttime.tv/a/29208911.html">examined</a> comments by city resident Nurbek Muktarov on Facebook – and found them extremist. Muktarov was sentenced to four years in a corrective labour colony under Article 299. Given that the court proceedings were closed to the public, Altynay Isayeva, a lawyer at the Media Policy Institute (MPI), was only able to reveal that Muktarov made a comment regarding the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zukhra-iakupbaeva/minorities-in-kyrgyzstan">violence visited upon minorities in southern Kyrgyzstan</a> during the 2010 revolution. </p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, Kyrgyz media experts are concerned about the absence of clear instructions that would help the authorities to differentiate between the ordinary opinions of frustrated users and comments of a destructive character. If the expression “why don’t you go to Russia” is regarded as an incitement to hatred, then Bolotbek should be joined by hundreds of other internet users who constantly post emotional content. </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/srach2_cmyk.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/srach2_cmyk.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>As one of the few lawyers who make legal evaluations of media content, Isayeva opposes detention for ambiguous statements. She is convinced that the Kyrgyz authorities – by trying to fight extremism through the use of dysfunctional or even borrowed laws – risk limiting freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. Isayeva draws attention to the absence of concrete legal standards that would enable the authorities to distinguish between incitement to hatred and free expression of opinion. Likewise, she is concerned that, as things stand, the security services can interpret the law as they deem fit: “It is almost impossible to say clearly whether both of these cases (Bolotbek and Muktarov) involve incitement to ethnic conflicts.” </p><p dir="ltr">Begaym Usyonova, director of MPI, is also <a href="http://www.media.kg/news/v-kr-po-state-299-cheloveka-mogut-posadit-za-vpolne-bezobidnye-frazy/">convinced</a> that Article 299, under which Temirbek Bolotbek is facing prosecution, has been borrowed from the Russian Criminal Code, but, contrary to the latter, Kyrgyzstan omitted the penalties in the forms of fines or forced labour, as in the original version of the Russian law. “Drawing on the allegations of ‘social dangers posed by public speech,’ any citizen can now be held criminally liable for any kind of online statements,” Usyonova says. She emphasises that, over time, despite the tariffs being increased, Russia’s anti-extremism legislation has established a now unchangeable principle that permits a wide range of sanctions aside from imprisonment. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Schermafbeelding 2018-07-09 om 12.12.46_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Schermafbeelding 2018-07-09 om 12.12.46_0.png" alt="" title="" width="160" height="210" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rita Karasartova. Source: YouTube.</span></span></span>Rita Karasartova, director of the Institute of Public Analysis, also <a href="http://www.koom.kg/index.php?act=material&amp;id=3762">believes </a>that gaps in legislation preclude lawful ways of tackling extremism. If the Kyrgyz authorities continue using Article 299 to detain citizens without submitting them to clear investigation, then Kyrgyzstan will soon be known as “a producer of extremists”: “All this activity has led to a point where, in the international arena, the Kyrgyz Republic has an image of a country where people are prepared and trained for extremist activity. We don’t want people to think this, it needs to stop.” Moreover, in 2016, the Russian media network Vesti, without reporting any factual evidence, named Kyrgyzstan a “producer” of ISIL fighters, while Kyrgyzstan, together with many other countries, has recognised this organisation as a terrorist one. After a heated reaction from Kyrgyzstan, the editorial office of Vesti changed the headline of their news story.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite warnings from human rights activists about how careless governmental services are neglecting people’s lives, journalist Kayrat Dzhaparov <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan-facebook-temir-bolotbek/29180554.html">justifies</a> the government’s actions: “Publications on social networks are having a significant impact, which is why any callers for religious or national discord must be held accountable. Commenters aren’t publishing these views for no reason at all, but because they want to open up a debate.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Systemic selectivity?</h2><p dir="ltr">It is still unclear which criteria the GKNB uses to initiate criminal proceedings under Article 299, but you could say that Tattygul Dootalyeva, a lecturer at Kyrgyz Medical Academy, got lucky in January 2017. The GKNB issued a warning after she published a Facebook post which accumulated thousands of hostile comments. Dootalyeva dedicated her post to the 40 people who died in the <a href="https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bishkek+plane+crash&amp;oq=bishkek+plane+c&amp;aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l4.2394j1j7&amp;sourceid=chrome&amp;ie=UTF-8">January 2017 plane crash</a> outside Bishkek, where she wrote that the crash was part of a process of “natural selection”, by which she implied that, because the plane crashed into allegedly illegal housing built by immigrants from southern Kyrgyzstan, their deaths were somehow justified.</p><p dir="ltr">After the incident, Dootalyeva was fired from the institute where she worked, while GKNB summoned hee for interrogation and publicly warned her that any repeated attempts at posting on the subject would lead to her being prosecuted for “inciting interregional hatred”. Just like in the previous cases, local media experts did not find any incitement to hatred in Dootalyeva’s post: “Her words did not involve any direct intentions nor incitement to enmity, she was not calling anyone to action, she was not trying to provoke anyone on national, racial nor religious grounds; she was not trying to humiliate the dignity of any ethnic group; nor was she trying to demonstrate someone’s superiority or deficiency on the grounds of religion, nationality, or class.” They also deemed Dootalyeva’s post as unethical and unacceptable from a moral standpoint.</p><p dir="ltr">In May 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Committee <a href="https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD%2fC%2fKGZ%2f8-10&amp;Lang=en">recommended </a>that the Kyrgyz government take necessary action to combat racist media coverage and incidents of incitement to hatred – including by politicians and other public figures. “Certain news media content, as well as statements made by some politicians and public figures, are inciting enmity towards ethnic minorities,” warned the Committee’s report. The Committee also suggested speeding up the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation and promote it widely through the news media.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/srach3_cmyk.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/srach3_cmyk.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>According to UN experts, the internet has not only widened the possibilities of freedom of expression, it also affected the distribution of nationalist rhetoric. However, the experts indicated that Kyrgyz legislation is still unable to distinguish between two types of online content: negative and illegal. Here then, public education plays an important role in the fight against racism, and, according to the Committee, the Kyrgyz government is failing at this fight, while political, social, and cultural equalities are guaranteed to ethnic minorities by the Constitution.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, debates on social networks can often provoke conflict. In an interview to Kyrgyz news agency Azattyk, journalist Naryn Aiyp <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/28544110.html">warned</a> about increased expressions of nationalism on Kyrgyz Facebook, yet law enforcement <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy">pressed charges against journalist Uglubek Babakulov</a> for an article in which he tried to notify state security of how one online community was actively spreading hateful messages about relations between Uzbek and Kyrgyz residents of the southern city of Osh, an epicentre of the 2010 violence that followed the revolution. But the GKNB considered that Babakulov’s article contained an “incitement to inter-ethnic conflict”, and pressed charges against him. He now lives abroad. </p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Temir Bolotbek hopes to be acquitted in court and promises to abstain from emotional comments on social networks. After acquiring nationwide fame for his biting criticism, Babakulov has now disappeared from Kyrgyz media altogether. It turns out that, despite the fact that the freedoms of speech and expression are guaranteed by Article 31 of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, we can see attempts to suppress certain elements of freedom of speech online under the pretext of “threats to society”. Intentional or inadvertent, these efforts by Kyrgyz security services are pushing people to self-censorship.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>All illustrations – <a href="https://www.behance.net/nnnccn" target="_self">anastasia vikulova</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><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/elnura-alkanova/temirlan-ormukov-kyrgyzstan-s-blind-satirist-poet-is-facing-prosecution">Temirlan Ormukov, Kyrgyzstan’s blind satirist poet, is facing politically motivated prosecution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy">Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s “island of democracy”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">Got tagged? Get fined! Russia’s battle against “digital extremism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press">“Inciters, deceivers, slaves”: Kyrgyzstan’s president takes aim at the press</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/david-lewis/moscow-consensus-constructing-autocracy-in-post-soviet-eurasia">The “Moscow Consensus”: Constructing autocracy in post-Soviet Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-dubrovsky/how-independent-analysts-create-crimes-for-russian-law-enforcement%20">Experts for hire: how independent analysts create crimes for Russian law enforcement </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 Elnura Alkanova Kyrgyzstan Thu, 12 Jul 2018 19:43:07 +0000 Elnura Alkanova 118803 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Russia, a spoonful of propaganda helps the pension reform go down https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/a-spoonful-of-propaganda-helps-the-pension-reform-go-down <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Davydov_Ivan_opED.jpg" alt="" width="80" />This is how the Kremlin enacts an unpopular economic reform: deny responsibility, declare its inevitability and, yes, distract the public with a popular sporting event.</p><br /> </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/564053/772505485723212b9cb615bafa54e4a5.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/772505485723212b9cb615bafa54e4a5.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'>1 July, protest against planned pension reform, Omsk. Source: Navalny.com.</span></span></span>Finally, Russian citizens can taste some of the bitter fruits of the Kremlin’s confrontation with the west: it’s clear that the<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-raising-pension-age"> government’s planned pension reform</a> are just the first of a series of coming unpopular policies.</p><p dir="ltr">On the one hand, having transformed the presidential elections into a test of loyalty, Vladimir Putin now has, in effect, the right to make any move. But on the other, the authorities have nowhere to move – there is no money, as Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev<a href="https://weirdrussia.com/2016/05/28/meme-medvedev-says-we-have-no-money-but-you-hang-in-there/"> famously noted</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The pension reform is thus a kind of testing ground, an opportunity to develop new forms of propaganda to accompany decisions by the authorities which will definitely be unpopular among Russian society. Even according to p<a href="https://newizv.ru/news/society/03-07-2018/rossiyane-oschuschayut-krizis-uzhe-pochti-kak-v-2009-godu">olling data from VtsIOM</a> (hardly the most independent of pollsters), up to 80% of people surveyed are against the reform. And this makes the reform doubly interesting.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The faceless authors of pension reform</h2><p dir="ltr">Aristotle believed that some unpleasant animals are born from dust and dirt alone, without creators. The same thing seems to apply to Russia’s pension reform. The reform has many defenders, but the authors are never in sight. State and regional deputies, officials, TV presenters and even representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church all agree: raising the retirement age is definitely a blessing. But there is no person in power who would go out to the people and say: “Yes, and this is my decision.”</p><p dir="ltr">Putin’s silence on the subject is almost comic. And this is quite sad for the national leader – his ultra-loyal electorate is ready to let him unleash almost anything, but Russia’s authoritarian leader doesn’t have the right to be funny. As his press-secretary Dmitry Peskov has constantly stressed: “The president is not involved in the pension reform.”</p><p dir="ltr">Putin’s most loyal electorate – it’s currently interesting to watch their activity on social media – have already begun asking their leader unpleasant, even offensive questions. These people supported all the president’s previous decisions, approving any and all of his actions and promising to put up with any difficulties – as long as these difficulties could be explained via the “external enemy”, scared into action by our “successes”. These groups were ready to forgive even the lack of radicalism – the fact that our tanks aren’t yet in Kyiv, and even the fact that the “fifth column” has not yet been crushed by bulldozers, like<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/destruction-of-sanctioned-food-only-exposes-russia%D5s-poverty-gap"> Polish tomatoes and French cheese</a>. They came up with reasonable justifications for the leader’s false restraint.</p><p dir="ltr">But the first sign of alarm for this section of the president’s supporters was the re-appointment of Dmitry Medvedev, the “liberal” who is deeply unpopular among this section of the population. Then the news of the pension reform was, first, completely unexpected, and second, an attack on this group. The Russian state betrayed the hopes of the super-statists, and this time without any pressure from outside. This is precisely how the most loyal (and importantly, sincere) Putinists are experiencing and describing these post-election reforms. And these people are bigger Putinists than Putin.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It will be hard to convince the Russian public that the president did not know anything about the preparation of this unpopular reform</p><p dir="ltr">And this means that the standard scheme of “Good Tsar, bad boyars” is showing some cracks. Sources close to the presidential administration and the government hint that, in the end, Putin will intervene. By autumn, Putin will decide to “work on the reform”. He will slap the government on the wrist, then give Russian citizens some minor concessions.</p><p dir="ltr">But this approach will not mitigate the situation so easily. It will be hard to convince the public that the president did not know anything about the preparation of this unpopular reform. After all, the government did not exactly originate from dust.</p><p dir="ltr">Neither the ruling party nor the government want to take responsibility for this reform. With this is in mind, leaders of the ruling United Russia party held a recent private meeting – the aim was to explain to regional leaders how to react to the reform. The information about that closed meeting reached the press. One of the key points was “to avoid theses about the support or approval by the party of pension reform in any formulations”. An important and ironic point: Medvedev, both the leader of the United Russia and the prime minister of Russia, attended the meeting. That is, the head of the government, who was preparing the reform, also does not want to recognise his responsibility for it.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Zealous defenders</h2><p dir="ltr">This strange “shyness” does not in the least prevent United Russia from cracking down on opportunists in the party ranks. For example, Mikhail Borovitsky, the head of the Yaroslavl branch of the United Russia, dared to doubt the meaningfulness of the reform. Borovitsky was<a href="https://www.rbc.ru/politics/27/06/2018/5b33c1df9a794720cb20fd78"> immediately sacked</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">After all, this reform might be lacking a father, but it has many admirers. Serious media support has been thrown at explaining why these reforms are necessary and inevitable. There are arguments for every season: some rational, others idiotic and even openly derisive of the target audience. (It is not easy to tell which is which). Thus, one Orthodox priest <a href="https://www.fontanka.ru/2018/06/22/054/">explained</a> that increasing the retirement age was cast upon Russians for their sins. One of the leading state propagandists, Dmitry Kiselyov, stated on his flagship Sunday show that people should not be allowed to discuss this reform at all. This, Kiselyov noted, is the preserve of experts and specialists.</p><p dir="ltr">Lawmakers are also using outlandish arguments to do with sin and atonement. United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fedorov<a href="http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&amp;div=70146"> believes</a> that the reform is a punishment. What for? For those Russians who betrayed the USSR in its time, allowing it to collapse. Russia’s Ministry of Health explains that having the opportunity to work longer will keep Russians in an optimistic mood for longer. At the same time, the ministry explains, prolonged economic activity will keep men from drinking themselves to death. (It will also keep women from getting depressed apparently). Vyacheslav Volodin, Speaker of the State Duma, asserts that the reform is for raising the standard of living for pensioners.</p><p dir="ltr">Equally interesting are the presidential administration’s notes for hired bloggers. These were leaked online, and recommend special emphasis on how pension payouts will now gradually increase.</p><h2 dir="ltr">World Cup cover-up</h2><p dir="ltr">An honest debate over what made all these reforms necessary is impossible – this would prove too damning of the Russian government’s track record. To mitigate the effect of political protests, the Kremlin’s pocket trade unions were given a green light to hold rallies. That sets the stage for “constructive dialogue” between the authorities and the workers. An easy arena for Putin to be the conciliatory presence.</p><p dir="ltr">Real attempts to protest at the same time are restricted. Moscow City Hall clamped down on a procession planned for 18 July in the city centre. The rationale? The city is hosting World Cup related events. But the World Cup will end on 15 July, not the 18th.</p><p dir="ltr">The World Cup is playing another part in easing the passage of pension reforms. Russians heard the news of retirement age increases on the opening day of the tournament. As Russia’s national team beat Saudi Arabia 5-0, the authorities revealed its plans. The calculation was that unpleasant news would be either sweetened or pass by unnoticed. But that did not work entirely. Independent media channels did pick this up. So did some Russian fans who chanted “Pensions! Pensions!” along with “Russia! Russia!”</p><p dir="ltr">The calculation did work, however, where the Russian authorities did not expect. Bloggers and publicists known for their radical opposition views were angry at their less principled associates who allowed themselves to watch football. All the while, these bloggers claimed, the regime continued to plunder the country. Most dwelt on whether an honest person can cheer for the Russian national team. Equally, they asked if the World Cup fever that seized the host cities is evidence of patriotic hysteria and militaristic frenzy. As a result, all the anti-pension reform protests that Alexey Navalny held in 39 cities on 1 July passed by without fanfare.</p><p dir="ltr">The latest scheme of how the Russian regime seeks to win approval for unpopular economic measures is gradually emerging. Such measures will appear by themselves – as if by magic, out of nowhere. They will not be bound to representatives of the authorities, and especially – will have nothing to do with the president. Those measures will then be framed as justified, meaningful, and even supposedly useful to Russians. Then the authorities will distract the Russians, by any means possible, from discussing those measures in a thoughtful manner.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, for Russia’s state propagandists, an increase or decrease in protest activity will, it seems, be the most reliable measure of success.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.ridl.io/en/">Riddle</a>, a website which aims to provide independent, balanced analysis on Russia without fear or favour.</p><p><a href="https://www.ridl.io/en/"><img src="https://www.ridl.io/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/cropped-5png-cccccc-border.png" width="100%" /></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/ilya-matveev/russia-raising-pension-age">While everyone’s watching the football, the Russian government is raising the retirement age</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/in-defence-of-society">In defence of society: an open platform</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ivan Davydov Russia Thu, 12 Jul 2018 08:18:33 +0000 Ivan Davydov 118804 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How the Russian authorities fabricated criminal charges against Crimean farmer Volodymyr Balukh https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/volodymyr-balukh-crimea-fabricated-case <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The prosecution of Volodymyr Balukh, who has been on hunger strike since 19 March, has been a show trial for those who are not prepared to accept the new reality of Russian-occupied Crimea.&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatiana-bezruk/kak-fabrikovali-dela-vladimira-baluha" 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/564053/32578521_214181322721065_2050688249222922240_o_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/32578521_214181322721065_2050688249222922240_o_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'>Volodymyr Balukh. Photo: Aleksandra Efimenko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Volodymyr Balukh is your average Ukrainian farmer. There was a Ukrainian flag flying from his roof. One of his t-shirts had a picture of a Cossack on it. But Volodymyr’s house and his t-shirt are in Crimea, in the village of Serebryanka in the peninsula’s Rozdolne district. Balukh was opposed to Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, and this was common knowledge in the village. The flag on his roof led to three criminal charges against him. </p><p dir="ltr">The string of criminal cases against Balukh began in spring 2015, when the security services conducted the first search of his home. FSB officers turned up at the home of Balukh and his civil partner Natalya on the pretext of some spare car parts having disappeared in the village. Six months later, they turned up again, and this time they not only searched the property but dragged him out onto the street, pushed him into a car and beat him up. They faced no sanction for this – on the contrary, it was Balukh who received 10 days detention for “failure to obey a police order”. The Russian <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silovik">siloviki</a> just needed time for the bruises left on the farmer’s body to disappear.</p><p dir="ltr">While Balukh was under arrest, the Rozdolne district department of Russia’s Investigative Committee launched the first case against him. He was accused of “insulting a representative of authority”. The case was “sewn” with great speed: the investigators conducted their investigation in two days before passing it on to the prosecutor’s office. In February 2016, Volodymyr Balukh was sentenced to 320 hours of community service. Balukh refused to comply with the sentence and it was changed to 40 days in a penal settlement.</p><p dir="ltr">Some people would have left it at that and stopped making their beliefs known, but not Balukh. In November 2017, he hung a sign reading “Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred Street” on his house, to commemorate the people who died during Euromaidan. The village head called on him the same day and asked him to remove it, but Balukh declined. A month later, the FSB returned to search his house once more: this step was initiated by the FSB’s Crimea chief Viktor Palagin himself – he had requested the courts to carry out an “investigation of the premises”, in other words a de facto search. The search took four hours, culminating in Balukh’s arrest: officers “discovered” 90 cartridges from Barnaul ammunition factory on his roof, right under the flag he had hung there. </p><p dir="ltr">The search of Vladimir’s house was carried out by former members of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). One of them was Alexey Leonov, who until spring 2014 was a major in the SBU and worked in its Crimean headquarters, but was afterwards charged with desertion when he crossed to the Russian side. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The prosecution of Volodymyr Balukh has been a show trial for those who are not prepared to accept the new reality of Russian-occupied Crimea</p><p dir="ltr">Apart from the ex-SBU officers, the search team also included Alexander Lopatin, a former member of the Berkut special unit. He now heads the Rozdolne district police operations department. </p><p dir="ltr">Volodymyr Balukh’s second trial was complicated by the lack of proof of his fingerprints on the infamous cartridges. This was no surprise, as he couldn’t have left his prints on them – they were, after all, planted by the FSB. Balukh’s defence lawyer Olga Dinze also requested an investigation of where, and to whom the cartridges were being sent, but the judge refused this request. </p><p dir="ltr">In October 2017, Volodymyr Balukh was convicted of illegal possession of ammunition and sentenced to three years and seven months in a penal settlement and a 10,000 rouble fine, reduced by two months on appeal. But several months before the sentence could be carried out, Balukh was charged with a third offence. </p><p dir="ltr">The charge, brought by investigator Bondarenko, concerned “the commission of an offence under Part 1 of Article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code”, relating to “the use of violence against a representative of authority”. It was instigated after Valery Tkachenko, the head of the pre-trial detention centre where Volodymyr was being held, filed a complaint about him. On 6 December 2017, the article under which Balukh was charged was changed to Part 2 of Article 321: “disruption of the work of an isolation facility”. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Tkachenko, Balukh attacked him during a routine inspection of his cell, punching him in his stomach and then hitting him on the arm with a bottle of detergent. Balukh’s defence lawyer immediately countered that the case was a complete fabrication and that it was Tkachenko who attacked Balukh, swearing at him and insulting him for being a Ukrainian. It later transpired that the FSB had forced the detention centre’s head to write the report on Balukh, and the CCTV footage of the incident showed clearly that it was Tkachenko who started the fight. </p><p dir="ltr">On 19 March this year, Volodymyr Balukh began a hunger strike in protest at the fabricated charges against him. Today, he is practically unrecognisable in the courtroom, emaciated and exhausted. The Ukrainian government has asked for permission for Ukrainian doctors to visit him, but this hasn’t happened. Russia’s ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova has visited Balukh and said that she asked how he was feeling – but that was all. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Balukh’s decision to go on hunger strike is a cry to alert people to himself and his position, which three court cases haven’t broken</span> </p><p dir="ltr">On 5 June, Balukh was sentenced to five years in prison and a 10,000 rouble fine – the sentence was cumulative, taking into account his previous two convictions. His defence team plan to appeal against the sentence. Ukrainian human rights organisations have criticised the accusations against Balukh as politically motivated: they consider him a political prisoner who is being persecuted for his political stance and his support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.</p><p dir="ltr">The prosecution of Volodymyr Balukh has been a show trial for those who are not prepared to accept the new reality of Russian-occupied Crimea. Grassroots political activity is impossible on the peninsula, as is any other opposition to the Russian authorities, which occupied Crimea in 2014. </p><p dir="ltr">Balukh’s family, as well as the many people who are following his case, are hoping for a prisoner exchange. This is of critical importance given the state of Balukh’s health – he has lost a lot of weight over the nearly four months of his hunger strike. Volodymyr’s decision to go on hunger strike is a cry to alert people to himself and his position, which three court cases haven’t broken. </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/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists">How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-korolyov/ill-definitely-go-back-to-crimea-umerov">“I’ll definitely go back to Crimea”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Ukraine Human rights Wed, 11 Jul 2018 08:38:18 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 118790 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Soft power under Mirziyoyev: Change and continuity in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bernardo-teles-fazendeiro/soft-power-under-mirziyoyev <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Much has been made of the new Uzbek leader's openness, but Shavkat Mirziyoyev's rule is rooted in the path set by his predecessor.&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/PA-36536869_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-36536869_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>17 May 2018: President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev visits the White House. Photo: Sipa USA / SIPA USA / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Less than two years after being elected in December 2016, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/mirziyoev-us-visit-uzbek-leader-white-house-2002/29230271.html">received in Washington</a> in May 2018. The relatively short turnaround attests not only to Mirziyoyev’s growing credibility as a reformist, but also to just how much the international context has turned in illiberalism’s favour. Mirziyoyev’s predecessor Islam Karimov waited nearly five years after Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union to be received by the White House.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/21/uzbekistans-new-era-might-just-be-real/">Much</a><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/01/world/asia/uzbekistan-reform.html"> has</a><a href="http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/03/27/a-new-dawn-in-uzbekistan/"> been</a><a href="http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/how-western-disengagement-enabled-uzbekistans-spring-and-how-keep-it-going"> written</a> and said already about Mirziyoyev’s first years in office, which has been defined as the Uzbek “thaw” or “spring”. Mirziyoyev has certainly striven to resolve or at least mitigate tensions in the region, mainly Uzbekistan’s persistent quarrels with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Border controls, strict visa regimes and high tariffs, on top of stagnant – not to say conflictual – governmental relations&nbsp;<a href="https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Departmental-Papers-Policy-Papers/Issues/2018/06/19/Opening-Up-in-the-Caucasus-and-Central-Asia-Policy-Frameworks-to-Support-Regional-and-Global-45910">had turned</a> the region into a place of relatively low intraregional trade at the global level. Were that not enough, Mirziyoyev’s international efforts have extended further, as he organised a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-offers-host-talks-taliban-afghanistan/29127849.html">major summit</a> in March 2018 in Tashkent focused on drawing a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan. </p><p>Besides aiming towards external openness, Mirziyoyev has also sought to foster&nbsp;<a href="https://jamestown.org/program/reforms-reach-uzbekistans-formidable-bastion-power">internal change</a> by launching a manifesto for political reform, releasing political prisoners and journalists, restructuring the much loathed National Security Service and encouraging the fight against nepotism. He has also taken unprecedented steps towards liberalising Uzbekistan’s currency, the som, after Karimov’s failed attempts in the late 1990s and early 2000s.</p><p dir="ltr">For the casual observer, all such foreign and domestic initiatives reveal much about Mirziyoyev’s agency, particularly his wish for and capacity to instil change. But&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alisher-ilkhamov/a-new-era-in-us-uzbekistan-relations">scepticism</a> in relation to Mirziyoyev’s commitment to change still runs&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/umida-niyazova/uzbekistan-s-new-leader-fails-his-first-test">deep</a>, not least because his is a push for liberalisation with the executive power reigning supreme. Not only did his appointment to the interim presidency in September 2016 flout constitutional procedure, insofar as the chairman of the senate should have taken the post, but Mirziyoyev also shows no discomfort with leading the country on his own terms. Not unlike under Karimov, politics and economics are to be managed from above, rather than from below.</p><p dir="ltr">On top of a measure of domestic continuity, key foreign policy priorities remain largely the same as before. Aside from a regional thaw, Mirziyoyev has acknowledged his commitment to Uzbekistan’s self-reliant&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2016/09/09/speech/">foreign policy conception</a>, intent on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.routledge.com/Uzbekistans-Foreign-Policy-The-Struggle-for-Recognition-and-Self-Reliance/Fazendeiro/p/book/9781138291058">foregoing military blocs and multilateral integration</a>. This is all the more revealing considering that, even in the early Karimov era, the government of Uzbekistan had toyed with the idea of regional cooperation, while at the same time dismissing the pursuit of liberal political and economic reforms.</p><p dir="ltr">Bearing in mind such parallels, how should change and continuity in foreign policy be evaluated, considering the distinct international contexts under which both presidents operated?</p><h2>Continuity across different contexts</h2><p dir="ltr">While Mirziyoyev has ignited greater regional cooperation, it is important to bear in mind that Karimov had not entirely fallen shy of such attempts. Uzbekistan’s first president toyed with the idea of “Turkestan – Our common home” and participated in regional forums meant to foster economic and political integration. Karimov also sponsored one of the first frameworks for resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, the so-called&nbsp;<a href="https://www.upi.com/Outside-View-Uzbek-Afghanistan-proposal-relevant-and-timely/71691257429600/">6+2 initiative</a>. Hence, Mirziyoyev’s recent UN-sponsored regional conference on Afghanistan is not exactly a radical departure from Karimov’s own policy in the 1990s. The same could also be said for Mirziyoyev’s attempt to foster regional cooperation.</p><p dir="ltr">And yet, one can accuse Karimov of hypocrisy. Though he sometimes praised regional cooperation in the early 1990s, he also sought to enhance Uzbekistan’s political and economic self-reliance. But the surrounding context also played a part in accounting for Karimov’s growing disdain for integration. Not only was Tajikistan <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">enveloped in civil war throughout most of the 1990s</a>, the government of Kyrgyzstan had failed, at least according to Karimov, to secure its borders against cross-border incursions by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 1999 and 2000. All such events, coupled with Karimov’s admiration for economic self-sufficiency and stability, in contrast to economic openness and political change, led to<a href="https://www.upress.pitt.edu/BookDetails.aspx?bookId=36708"> growing regional tensions</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">While Mirziyoyev has ignited greater regional cooperation, it is important to bear in mind that Karimov had not entirely fallen shy of such attempts</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, the centralised form of political authority that Karimov frequently praised, and which Mirziyoyev has continued to pursue, was highly contested at the broader international level in the 1990s. Kyrgyzstan, led at the time by Askar Akayev, came to be labelled as “the Switzerland of Central Asia” in light of its apparent commitment to economic and political liberalism. Russia, too, at least until 1992, embraced a liberal transition, the pursuit of which has since been deeply contested in the country and in Central Asia. Karimov, however, opposed all such liberal “reformist” trends. He was a post-communist advocate of illiberalism, before the likes of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, and well before the more recent rise to prominence of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia.</p><p>By way of contrast, Mirziyoyev has found a very different audience for his illiberal tendencies. Washington in the early 1990s operated under the aegis of the Freedom Support Act, intent on fostering liberal democracy abroad. The US government under Trump, instead, has&nbsp;<a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/the-inaugural-address/">spoken</a> of developing relations which speak to so-called American economic interests in the absence of political preconditions.</p><p dir="ltr">As concerns regional relations, the situation has changed substantially since the 1990s. No longer enveloped in civil war, Tajikistan has witnessed the spectacular increase of its president’s executive power, while Kyrgyzstan is no longer praised as Central Asia’s Switzerland, although it remains by far the most pluralistic country in the region.</p><p dir="ltr">All in all, with the US government no longer speaking as dramatically about the need for liberal reform, with Uzbekistan’s neighbours no longer maligned by the type of instability against which Karimov spoke so caustically, Uzbekistan’s overarching foreign policy conception has faced little external contestation.</p><h2>Soft power as novelty</h2><p>As highlighted by some Uzbekistani analysts, Mirziyoyev’s adherence to soft power is by far his&nbsp;<a href="https://podrobno.uz/cat/politic/myagkaya-sila-imidzh-i-dinamichnost-kakim-stanovitsya-uzbekistan-i-ego-vneshnyaya-politika-/">more novel undertaking</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Karimov, in contrast to Mirziyoyev, practised a confrontational approach to politics. He criticised liberal advocates in the US government, Russian unilateralism and the policies of his Central Asian counterparts. Besides rhetorical bombast, Karimov also spoke of power and domination in a more traditional manner. He preferred to highlight material investment in core industries, such as oil and gas, as well as in technology, mainly aircraft and car manufacturing. In short, Karimov remained an adherent to hard power tout court.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The insecurity that enveloped Central Asia in the 1990s was a major reason for Karimov's abstention from deeper regional cooperation</p><p dir="ltr">Mirziyoyev, on the other hand, has been more receptive to soft power broadly conceived. According to Harvard University <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Soft-Power-Means-Success-Politics/dp/1586483064">Joseph Nye Jr.</a>, soft power is “getting others to want the outcomes that you want” in that it “co-opts people rather than coerces them.” It is about attraction, building trust, fostering openness and admiration, and this conception has found a receptive audience beyond the United States, in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-big-bet-soft-power">China</a> most evidently. In effect, soft power allows one to speak of liberalisation in the absence of liberalism, of brokering economic and political openness in the absence of major structural and legal reforms. In China, Xi Jinping's Communist Party remains the key arbiter of change. Likewise, in Uzbekistan the executive authority continues to be the major catalyst of reform. When compared to Karimov, <a href="http://uza.uz/ru/politics/poslanie-prezidenta-respubliki-uzbekistan-shavkata-mirziyeev-23-12-2017">Mirziyoyev</a> has prioritised dialogue over confrontation in the region, spoken of connectivity and showed openness to World Trade Organisation membership.</p><p dir="ltr">Karimov’s tenure in office was systematically characterised by scepticism of global financial markets, as Uzbekistan was&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw-alexander-cooley/dictators-without-borders">kept away</a> from international money lenders. Mirziyoyev has, instead, sought to liberalise Uzbekistan’s currency and to open a financial and informational hub named&nbsp;<a href="http://uza.uz/en/politics/tashkent-city-will-become-a-new-city-06-04-2018">Tashkent City</a>. Financial services rely deeply on trust and openness, and Mirziyoyev’s soft power approach, in strong contrast to his predecessor, has been conducive to introducing Uzbekistan to that facet of globalisation.</p><h2>Possible obstacles</h2><p dir="ltr">Many of Mirziyoyev's key initiatives had already been spelled out by Karimov in the past. Save the soft power approach, the degree of novelty is not stark, although the different regional and global contexts allow Mirziyoyev to advance his priorities in the absence of major insecurity and contestation, domestic or otherwise. Even the pockets of domestic opposition which Karimov brutally repressed in the early 1990s have been absent in the Mirziyoyev era. Were any of those issues to arise again, however, to the effect of compromising the foreign policy priorities of his government, including its core illiberalism, then a retraction of some sort is certainly possible.</p><p dir="ltr">For one, should the global context change again in such a way that key international powers, such as the US government and the European Union, were to push for liberal political and economic reform as precursors to international engagement, this may force Mirziyoyev to spend more time and resources in defending the<a href="http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/how-western-disengagement-enabled-uzbekistans-spring-and-how-keep-it-going"> inherent illiberalism</a> of his executive authority, rather than on emphasising potential economic cooperation.</p><p dir="ltr">Great power reassertion in the region, be it China, the United States or Russia, is also something that might force Mirziyoyev to brush openness aside. Moscow’s attempt to push for growing multilateral integration in the former Soviet region found only scepticism within Uzbekistan. China, by contrast, has been able to put forth its major investment projects, as found in the One Belt One Road Initiative, without necessarily contradicting Uzbekistan’s key foreign policy conception. But here too Mirziyoyev is likely to refrain from becoming dependent on any one partner alone. Self-reliance and its trenchant commitment to sovereignty remains the cornerstone of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy, and Mirziyoyev is unlikely to compromise on this issue, much like his predecessor.</p><p>Finally, the insecurity that enveloped Central Asia in the 1990s was a major reason for Karimov's abstention from deeper regional cooperation. The IMU’s incursions and escalating civil wars in both Afghanistan and Tajikistan meant Karimov opted to strengthen Uzbekistan’s borders; openness was decidedly put on hold. While there is nothing to suggest a repeat of the 1990s, a regional crisis may certainly pose a threat to Mirziyoyev’s commitment to openness.</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/luca-anceschi/modernising-authoritarianism-in-uzbekistan">Modernising authoritarianism in Uzbekistan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alisher-ilkhamov/a-new-era-in-us-uzbekistan-relations">A new era in US-Uzbekistan relations poses old challenges for the international community</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nate-schenkkan/what-would-open-uzbekistan-look-like">What would an open Uzbekistan look like?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/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 odd"> <a href="/od-russia/umida-niyazova/uzbekistan-s-new-leader-fails-his-first-test">Uzbekistan’s new leader fails his first test</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 Bernardo Teles Fazendeiro Uzbekistan Mon, 09 Jul 2018 17:01:33 +0000 Bernardo Teles Fazendeiro 118750 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Modernising authoritarianism in Uzbekistan https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/luca-anceschi/modernising-authoritarianism-in-uzbekistan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Uzbekistan’s so-called “spring” is more about upgrading this Central Asian state than providing political freedoms.</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_pa-36547559.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-36547559.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'>Seventy kilometres south of Tashkent, Pengsheng Industrial Park is the biggest non-energy cooperation project between China and Uzbekistan. Photo: Zhou liang / Xinhua News Agency / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Understanding the configuration of political change in Central Asia is traditionally a challenging task. The temptation to examine the region’s authoritarian evolution through a lens of persistent stagnation has proven very hard to resist: such approaches ultimately contributed to the consolidation of a peculiar analytical standpoint, which identified a leader’s death as the exclusive harbinger of change in the region. Everything will get better, but only after the president dies.</p><p dir="ltr">This mantra brings with it two analytical pitfalls. To begin with, it reduces any alteration of Central Asia’s authoritarian governance to an inevitably positive process. This diminishes the analytical relevance of downward authoritarian trajectories similar to those recently experienced by <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-why-all-the-worry-in-kazakhstan-/29323651.html/">Kazakhstan</a> and, more extremely, <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/01/30/turkmenistan-at-twenty-five-high-price-of-authoritarianism-pub-67839">Turkmenistan</a>. In doing so, it obfuscates our understanding of the consequences of a leader’s death: these consequences must be positive, given that they are part of an essentially new landscape where the authority of a late president has all but disappeared. When the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-karimov-the-day-after-analysis-death-central-asia/27955577.html">“zero hour”</a> comes, governance standards are bound to be lifted. Some of the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/apr/18/turkmenistanstentativeopenin">positive</a> views of early post-Niyazov Turkmenistan were certainly inspired by this narrative, which, nevertheless, recently resurfaced to shape more decisively the international perception of what is going on in post-Karimov Uzbekistan.</p><p dir="ltr">After the death of Islam Karimov in August 2016, predictable references to an elusive “Uzbek spring” have shaped many of the <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-43582371">reports</a> published by prominent international media <a href="https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/after-years-of-darkness-uzbek-spring-raises-hopes-of-a-new-dawn-6xtbcrzsc">outlets</a>. Indeed, this term is used to describe the political landscape that has emerged in Uzbekistan after Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power. Some of the flagship initiatives put into place by the new regime strengthened this narrative: the re-establishment of contacts with international human rights organisations and international broadcasters, the accreditation of foreign journalists and the release of unjustly incarcerated local media operators, the introduction of full convertibility for the som and some embryonic attempts at reforming the local cotton industry suggest that something is actually changing in Uzbekistan.</p><p dir="ltr">As I have <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2017/11/the-resurgence-of-central-asian-connectivity/">argued</a>, however, it is Mirziyoyev’s new regional policy that we should pay attention to: the reopening of arbitrarily closed borders, the re-establishment of interrupted transit routes and the inauguration of new connectivity options (railways, flight paths, bus routes, energy networks) led to enormously beneficial influences on the lives of ordinary Uzbeks, particularly in those border communities that suffered most dramatically from Karimov’s isolationist trends. From whatever perspective we look at it, Mirziyoyev’s conceptualisation of change is not based on a linear process: Uzbekistan’s “spring” has been known to experience periodic “frosts” linked to the persistence of <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-the-tashkent-spring-experiences-a-frost">consolidated non-democratic practices</a> that have survived the leader who originally introduced them or, in turn, the emergence of <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-mirziyoev-usmanov-un-assembly/28749030.html">relatively new authoritarian strategies</a> that accompanied the attempts to consolidate the mandate of the new president.</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/564053/4510215004_d2ea9be5f0_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4510215004_d2ea9be5f0_o.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'>Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Vladimir Varfolomeev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>It is precisely at this juncture that a comprehensive reassessment of the policy framework promoted by the new Uzbek regime becomes an indispensable step towards a correct framing of Mirziyoyev’s controlled opening. For the last two years, I have been researching the politics of change in Uzbekistan, looking comparatively at Mirziyoyev’s policy initiatives in the economic and political realms and a defined set of analogous developments that emerged during the first two years of Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov’s presidency in Turkmenistan – the only other Central Asian state to have experienced a leadership transition out of a presidential death.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://harriman.columbia.edu/event/when-first-presidents-die-understanding-political-change-turkmenistan-and-uzbekistan">Preliminary results</a> indicate that, in both contexts, the power position enjoyed by the new leader at the time of his predecessor’s death significantly influenced the new regime’s attitude towards change. Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s prime minister at the time of Islam Karimov’s death (27 August 2016), had therefore more opportunities to rapidly introduce change than Berdymukhamedov, who, at the time of Niyazov’s passing (21 December 2006), was sitting at the margins of the presidential circle. These findings do not however suggest that Mirziyoyev has to be seen as a genuine reformer: echoing the conclusions advanced in an important <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/perspectives-tashkent-syndrome-is-uzbekistan-getting-a-free-pass">EurasiaNet</a> article, I would argue that analytical misrepresentations of the constituent elements of change in Uzbekistan are giving the government currently in power in Tashkent a “free pass”.</p><p dir="ltr">Shavkat Mirziyoyev is trying to modernise, rather than liberalise, Uzbek authoritarianism. His agenda of authoritarian modernisation is oriented towards the achievement of rapid economic growth, to be pursued through sustained attempts to globalise the Uzbek economy, abandoning in the shortest time-frame possible the autarkic model that defined the political economy of the Karimov regime. In this sense, the current Uzbek president demonstrates some fluency in the governance methods of the Soviet Union, which placed modernisation at its policy-making core, while maintaining a very close alignment to Central Asia’s fundamental rule of policy reform: economy first, politics never. There is no dilemma of simultaneity for Mirziyoyev: we have heard numerous policy announcements about the need to improve Uzbekistan’s economic performance, its re-engagement with regional trade partners as well as international financial institutions (IFIs), while no significant step has been taken towards the establishment of genuine political pluralism in the Uzbek domestic political landscape. It is the attraction of foreign investment, rather than the liberalisation of the domestic political landscape, that represents the ultimate goal for élites in Tashkent.</p><p dir="ltr">Looking at Mirziyoyev’s policies through the lens of authoritarian modernisation does also allow us to align more closely the post-Karimov transition to Central Asia’s authoritarian norm. Mirziyoyev’s emphasis on economic openness echoes the fundamental policy line that, for over a quarter of a century, guided the authoritarian strategies implemented by Nursultan Nazarbayev in neighbouring Kazakhstan. Borrowing heavily from Nazarbayev’s playbook, the Uzbek leader and his close associates are establishing a soft(er) authoritarian regime that is simultaneously globalisation-friendly and image-savvy, while remaining intolerant to criticism and uninterested in political pluralism. Looking at today’s Kazakhstan, we may identify some of the features that could define Uzbekistan in a decade or so.</p><p dir="ltr">Two final considerations capture the real rationale behind the regime’s deliberate choice to modernise Uzbek authoritarianism. To begin with, authoritarian approaches based on the delivery of economic growth aim to compensate the legitimacy gap that Mirziyoyev has inevitably inherited by taking over from the first president: the clout that ordinary Central Asians recognised to Karimov, Nazarbayev, and Niyazov is not to be automatically transferred to second-generation leaders, who are therefore expected to “work harder” if they are to achieve similar levels of popularity. The severe economic crisis that is currently hitting Turkmenistan has unveiled the risks associated with the preservation of production structures dominated by the Soviet economic logic. This ultimately reveals that, in Central Asia, the era of economic autarky is rapidly approaching its end. There is no reason to believe that Mirziyoyev and his entourage are not looking with interest at what is happening in Ashgabat, inasmuch as they identified economic reform as the cornerstone of the agenda of change they have advanced since December 2016.</p><p dir="ltr">Focusing on Mirziyoyev’s authoritarian modernisation strategy suggests that the understanding of change framed by the Uzbek leader has neatly separated between the delivery of economic growth and the qualitative improvement of Uzbekistan’s governance. While this conclusion may not ultimately be optimistic, it certainly delineates a more adequate approach to making sense of political change in a country that, very much like its surrounding region, has been exclusively analysed through the lens of stagnation and immobility. </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/bernardo-teles-fazendeiro/soft-power-under-mirziyoyev">Soft power under Mirziyoyev: Change and continuity in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/umida-niyazova/uzbekistan-s-new-leader-fails-his-first-test">Uzbekistan’s new leader fails his first test</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nate-schenkkan/what-would-open-uzbekistan-look-like">What would an open Uzbekistan look like?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alisher-ilkhamov/a-new-era-in-us-uzbekistan-relations">A new era in US-Uzbekistan relations poses old challenges for the international community</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jessica-evans/in-uzbekistan-world-bank-is-masking-labour-abuses">In Uzbekistan, the World Bank is masking labour abuses</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 Luca Anceschi Uzbekistan Mon, 09 Jul 2018 09:15:20 +0000 Luca Anceschi 118742 at https://www.opendemocracy.net This week, the EU should press Ukraine on fundamental rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-cooper/this-week-eu-should-press-ukraine-on-fundamental-rights-at-summit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As European and Ukrainian leaders gather in Brussels, it's time to highlight the need for further protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in Ukraine.&nbsp;</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/PA-37393723.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'>President Petro Poroshenko at Police Day in Kyiv, Ukraine. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>On 9 July, Brussels will host the 20th&nbsp;EU-Ukraine Summit, the annual exercise when Kyiv and the European block highlight their strong bilateral relations. No doubt, the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, and European Union leaders will follow the usual united front.</p><p>But they will also most likely have in mind that this summit is special. There might be some new faces in the family picture next year, as both parties will face tough elections by then, with the presidential election in Ukraine next March and the election of a new European Parliament less than two months later.</p><p>In this context, next week’s meeting will be a test of the EU’s will and capacity to promote a truly democratic Ukraine. But it will require EU leaders to go beyond business as usual and get honest with Kyiv.&nbsp;So far, the EU rhetoric has been supportive: Kyiv must continue reforms, which would bring it closer to the EU politically and economically, as&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-polytics/2488743-mogherini-eu-and-ukraine-are-closer-than-ever.html" target="_blank">Federica Mogherini</a>&nbsp;said just a week ago in Copenhagen. But when it comes to respect for the rule of law and human rights, the EU finds it a lot easier to address violations in the conflict-affected eastern Ukraine and Russia-occupied&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/14/crimea-persecution-crimean-tatars-intensifies" target="_blank">Crimea</a>&nbsp;than to call out Ukrainian authorities on human rights abuses in the rest of the country.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>To be clear, Ukraine has been devastated by Russia’s military incursions in Donbas and occupation of Crimea. Despite that, the country has made profound strides in transforming some of its political institutions and practices. However, in the past two years, Ukraine has taken several steps backward on media freedom and free association, and it has done little in the face of rising hate violence, without drawing much alarm or protest from the EU. The government’s backtracking might worsen if it chooses nationalist expediency in next year’s elections. The EU should take these disturbing actions seriously.</p><p>These are three things Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk should stress to Petro Poroshenko.</p><p>First, there should be no restrictions on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/26/ukraines-misguided-curbs-freedom-expression" target="_blank">media freedom</a>&nbsp;in Ukraine.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>The Ukrainian government tries to justify these restrictions by pointing to the need to counter Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine and anti-Ukraine propaganda. The EU needs to be absolutely clear that this is not an acceptable reason to curtail free speech and intimidate journalists. At least two journalists are in prison on treason charges for comments critical of government policies on eastern Ukraine.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Several foreign journalists, mostly Russian citizens, have been banned or expelled from Ukraine. Most of Russian media’s coverage of events in Ukraine is hard to stomach. But banning journalists for anti-Ukraine coverage should not be Kyiv’s preferred way to combat Russia’s formidable propaganda machine. Fighting fakes with facts and transparency is what will help Kyiv to keep its integrity and avoid using the same methods as the Kremlin.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Which is why protecting free speech and the work of journalists should be a priority. Yet, the killers of Oles Buzina and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/20/ukraine-who-killed-journalist-pavel-sheremet" target="_blank">Pavel Sheremet</a>, Ukrainian journalists killed in 2015 and 2016 respectively,&nbsp;are still at large years later, despite numerous public pledges by Poroshenko himself to bring Sheremet’s killers to justice.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Second, the EU should be genuinely concerned by the authorities’ attempts to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/31/ukraines-anti-corruption-campaigners-face-prison" target="_blank">curb independent watchdogs</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>When President Poroshenko signed a March 2017 law to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/07/ukraine-should-drop-law-hampers-activists-work" target="_blank">force activists and journalists</a>&nbsp;investigating corruption to publicly declare their personal assets or face prison if they refuse to comply – an intrusive and unnecessary measure that would largely deter any anti-corruption work in the country – Ukraine’s international partners rightly stood up and told Poroshenko that it was a terrible idea. Over a year later the law is now in full effect, despite the president’s promises to get rid of it.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Worse, two presidential draft proposals before parliament would impose new public reporting obligations on all nonprofit organisations. These proposals are shockingly out of line with principles Ukraine subscribed to when joining the Council of Europe and would jeopardise Ukrainian nongovernmental groups’ security and capacity to operate. European Union officials frequently voice their support for Ukraine’s civil society. Now they need to remind Ukrainian authorities that strangling independent groups with unnecessary and onerous measures is not the right thing to do to get closer to Europe.<span></span><span></span></p><p>Finally, European Union leaders should condemn the government’s inaction over growing&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/14/ukraine-investigate-punish-hate-crimes" target="_blank">attacks by violent radical groups</a>.</p><p>On 23 June, a group of ultranationalists&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/26/ukraine-fatal-attack-roma-settlement" target="_blank">attacked a Roma settlement</a>&nbsp;near Lviv, killing one person and injuring several more, including a child. This was the sixth recent anti-Roma attack. On 8 March, International Women’s Day, radical groups attacked the Women’s March in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine, physically assaulting participants. On 10 May, threats of violence by radical groups disrupted an&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/16/ukraine-radical-groups-disrupt-lgbti-event" target="_blank">LGBTI rights event</a>&nbsp;hosted by Amnesty International. Ukrainian authorities rarely investigate such attacks, and more often than not, police stand by and do nothing, despite resources and police training provided by the EU.</p><p>Ukraine is at a pivotal moment. If the EU truly wants to see a reliable and confident partner in Ukraine, it needs to consistently encourage President Poroshenko to foster genuinely democratic reform, rather than turning a blind eye to radical violence in the name of political expedience. The EU cannot say it fully supports Ukraine’s future if it’s looking the other way when Ukrainian authorities waver on core European values.</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/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">What are the real barriers to freedom of assembly in Ukraine?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukrainian-muslims-forbidden-literature">The permitted and the forbidden: Ukraine’s security services turn their eyes to “banned” Islamic literature</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maksym-kazakov/how-workers-in-ukraine-metal-industry-are-fighting-for-wages-rights-democracy">How workers in Ukraine’s metal industry are fighting for wages, rights and democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-movchan/what-are-ukraines-train-drivers-fighting-for">What are Ukraine’s train drivers fighting for?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/how-ukraine-is-selling-out-pensioners-from-crimea">Trading sovereignty: how Ukraine&#039;s Pension Fund co-operates with the Russian authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/where-is-ukraines-new-police-force">Where is Ukraine’s new police force?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism">Ukraine’s media: a plea for pluralism </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 Can Europe make it? oD Russia Tanya Cooper Sat, 07 Jul 2018 04:41:01 +0000 Tanya Cooper 118739 at https://www.opendemocracy.net OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 62: Drugs, hunger strikes, and psychiatry https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/weekly-bulletin-no-62-drugs-hunger-strikes-and-psychiatry <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This week in Russia: there's some good news, and there's some bad news.&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/Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 16.56.29_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="325" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zarema Bagavutdinova. Source: OVD-Info. </span></span></span></p><p><strong>This article is part of our partnership with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ovdinfo.org/">OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Russian anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov, now living outside Russia, has written a book on how criminal cases are fabricated in Russia</strong> — and it is <a href="https://www.samoopredelenie.info/knigi/buchenkow">accessible online</a>! Dmitry was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/man-in-black-interview-with-russian-anarchist-dmitry-buchenkov">prosecuted in the Bolotnaya Square case</a>, despite the fact he was not in Moscow during the unrest on 6 May 2012. Buchenkov was held on remand for more than a year before being convicted. He left Russia before sentence was pronounced.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>A human rights defender from Dagestan, Zarema Bagavutdinova has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/03/dagestanskaya-pravozashchitnica-zarema-bagavutdinova-vyshla-na-svobodu?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">released</a></strong>. Great news! <a href="http://memo.ru/d/180573.html">Bagavutdinova</a> worked in a human rights organisation and gathered together information about fabricated prosecutions, detentions, cases of torture and disappearances. She had been charged with aiding and abetting participants in an armed attack on police officers in the town of Buinaksk. The only evidence produced by the prosecution was that the accused, as a staff member of the Dagestan NGO Human Rights Defence, had criticised law enforcement and military agencies on the media. In May 2014, a court found Bagavutdinova guilty of persuading a person to join an illegal armed group and sentenced her to five years in a prison colony.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The investigation into the so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“Network” case</a> continues</strong>. Eleven young people in Penza and St Petersburg are accused of taking part in the organisation of a terrorist group, named The Network. Allegedly, they were making preparations for disturbances around the country. A number of defendants in the case have stated that FSB officers tortured them using electric shocks.</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Two suspects in the Network case, Mikhail Kulkov and Maksim Ivankin, have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/05/zaderzhany-dvoe-figurantov-dela-seti?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">detained and remanded in custody</a>. Kulkov’s father has said he saw his son and Maksim Ivankin in court for a few minutes while they were being taken along a corridor. He noticed bruises and abrasions on their skin. Kulkov and Ivankin are accused of organising a terrorist group. <br class="kix-line-break" />The first time they were detained, they were arrested along with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/anti-fascist-torture-russia-alexey-poltavets">Alexey Poltavets</a>, an anti-fascist activist, who has claimed he was tortured. Kulkov and Ivankin were at that time beaten, after which they left Penza.</p></li></ul><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the suspects in the Network case, has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/04/figuranta-dela-seti-dmitriya-pchelinceva-vyvezli-v-sankt-peterburg?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">taken to St Petersburg</a> from the No. 1 pre-trial detention centre in the city of Penza where he was being held for further investigative measures. According to members of the local Public Oversight Commission, Pchelintsev has no <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/06/chleny-onk-nashli-figuranta-dela-seti-dmitriya-pchelinceva-v-ivs-peterburga?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">complaints</a> about the temporary detention centre in which he was kept: “He is surprised that detainees are given food which is OK to eat.” <br class="kix-line-break" /></p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Penza regional court has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/06/29/v-penze-sud-ostavil-pod-arestom-obvinyaemyh-po-delu-seti?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">upheld the custody</a> of Ilya Shakursky and Andrey Chernov, who are held on remand.</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr"><strong>Stanislav Klykh, sentenced to 20 years in a prison colony on charges of killing Russian soldiers during the First Chechen War, has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/04/osuzhdennyy-ukrainec-klyh-nashelsya-v-psihiatricheskoy-tyuremnoy-bolnice?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">transferred</a> to a psychiatric hospital</strong>. </p><p dir="ltr">- Klykh has said that after his arrest in 2014 he was tortured with electric shocks, deprived of sleep, suspended from handcuffs, had his eyes crushed, and was beaten. He would have been physically unable to take part in military action in Grozny during the period in relation to which he was charged. As confirmed by witnesses and university documents, from the end of December 1994 Klykh was finalising his university coursework, and at the beginning of January 1995 his university exams had already begun. </p><p dir="ltr">- In court, Klykh behaved in a strange manner: he was at times apathetic, at times rowdy. Human rights defenders assert that Klykh became mentally ill because of the torture to which he was subjected. At one of the court hearings he began to shout at the prosecutor. Additional charges were laid against him of failing to respect the court, and he was given an extra month in the prison colony. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>Vyacheslav Shatrovsky has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/03/vyacheslav-shatrovskiy-nahoditsya-na-karantine-v-ik-5-kirovskoy-oblasti?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">transferred</a> to a prison colony before his sentence entered into force</strong>. According to his lawyer, this constitutes a violation of Article 49 of the Constitution (presumption of innocence until a sentence enters into force). Shatrovsky has been sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony on charges of attacking a police officer during the so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">“Maltsev revolution”</a>. At the time of his arrest, Shatrovsky suffered an open head injury.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In Crimea, pro-Ukrainian activist Vladimir Balukh has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/05/proukrainskogo-aktivista-vladimira-baluha-prigovorili-k-pyati-godam-kolonii?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">sentenced</a> to five years in a general-regime prison colony and a 10,000 rouble fine</strong>. According to the trial judge, Balukh attacked the head of a temporary detention facility, thereby disrupting the work of the institution. The activist’s sentence was handed down on the basis of two criminal charges: earlier Balukh had been found guilty of possessing ammunition and explosive materials. Balukh remains on hunger strike, which he began on 19 March.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Two <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/06/30/na-krymskogo-tatarina-soobshchavshego-o-pohishchenii-i-pytkah-zaveli-dva?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">charges</a> have been brought against Renat Paralamov, a Crimean Tatar, who reported disappearances and torture</strong>. Renat Paralamov has been charged with illegal trafficking of explosive materials and ammunition. The prosecutor refused to institute an investigation of the actions of FSB officers who conducted the search of Paralamov’s home and subsequently took him away with a plastic bag over his head.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Mikhail Savostin, an activist from Mineralnye Vody suspected of possessing drugs, has gone on <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/06/30/podozrevaemyy-v-hranenii-narkotikov-aktivist-iz-mineralnyh-vod-obyavil?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">hunger strike without water</a></strong>. Mikhail Savostin has drunk no water for nine days since he went on hunger strike, and his condition has seriously deteriorated. The activist asserts that the drugs had been planted on him and he demands that the criminal charge against him be dropped.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Texts</h2><p><span>Protect our forest: Buryatia residents are ready to pay fines to defend the taiga. In Buryatia the authorities’ plans to develop forestry and export timber to China have met with protests from local residents. We have <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/06/30/les-dorozhe-zhiteli-buryatii-gotovy-platit-shtrafy-chtoby-otstoyat-taygu?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">found out</a> how local protests have saved the forest in one particular district. True, the authorities immediately promised business they could fell trees in another area.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“He’s got involved with the wrong kind of things.” We <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2018/07/05/zanimaetsya-plohimi-veshchami-istoriya-podrostka-volontera-shtaba-navalnogo-v?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">relate</a> the story of Maksim Neverov, a Navalny election campaign volunteer, who has only just entered the 11th [final] class at high school. Maksim wants to go to university to study law. Police in the town of Biisk, where Maksim lives, are even now introducing him to the basic features of the rule of law in Russia. They want to prosecute Maksim Neverov under administrative law for “gay propaganda” among minors.</span></p><h2 dir="ltr">Thanks</h2><p dir="ltr">You can set up a monthly donation to OVD-Info<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=donate"> here.</a> This will guarantee that the work we do - monitoring human rights, running our telephone hotline, providing lawyers in court and paying for analysts and journalists - can continue. It is also guarantees we shall continue to help those who need our help. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. </p><p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/inside-russia-s-new-gulag">Inside Russia’s new Gulag</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/man-in-black-interview-with-russian-anarchist-dmitry-buchenkov">The man in black: interview with Russian anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists">How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”</a> </div> </div> </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, 06 Jul 2018 15:58:38 +0000 OVD-Info 118740 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What are Ukraine’s train drivers fighting for? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-movchan/what-are-ukraines-train-drivers-fighting-for <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukraine’s rail workers are now entering the second month of their work-to-rule action. I went to a train depot in Kyiv to find out why they're protesting.&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/Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 14.03.37_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 14.03.37_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>On 14 May 2018, employees of the Ukrainian state railway network started a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work-to-rule">work-to-rule action</a>. Drivers at Kremenchug, Kryvyi Rih, Darnytsa (Kyiv) and other rail depots refused to drive trains that do not meet safety requirements, which in turn has led to the interruption of freight traffic on whole sections of the rail network. After all, there are practically no other rail networks in Ukraine. </p><p dir="ltr">Difficult working conditions, low salaries and the removal of preferential pensions have led to people quitting their jobs on the railway en masse. Since 2014, the number of workers at Ukrzaliznytsia has been reduced by 30%, and overtime has become a commonplace.</p><p dir="ltr">I visited the Darnytsa Locomotive Depot on Kyiv’s left bank to find out how railway employees work and what they are fighting for. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Darnytsa depot </h2><p dir="ltr">It’s not easy to get to Darnytsa Locomotive Depot. It’s located in the vast industrial zone somewhere between the Darnytsa Car-Repair Plant and Novaya Darnytsa. But this is where Kyiv’s main transport hub is located – everyday, locomotives from Darnytsa run freight cars through Kyiv. But on 14 May, together with their colleagues from Kremenchuk, Kryvyi Rih and other train depots throughout the country, drivers refused to leave the depot. This is when their “work-to-rule” action began, and it’s still going on today. </p><p dir="ltr">I meet Alexander Skiba, Head of the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers of Ukraine (VPZU), as I make my through the winding tracks of the Darnytsa depot. When I ask how many trains can operate if all safety instructions are followed, Skiba responds easily: “Not a single one, I think.” According to Alexander, all trains have problems with leaking oil. In the cabs, approximately 90% of the windows are broken or cracked, there are safety violations, and 50%-60% of the locomotives lack basic means of electrical protection. There are no grounding rods, and the protective gloves are worn out. All this is more than enough to stop a locomotive from leaving the depot according to the official rules. </p><p dir="ltr">This kind of protest is also called an “Italian strike”, but the word “strike” is carefully avoided here. “This is not a strike. This is work according to instructions.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">Under the rule of Ukrzaliznytsia</h2><p dir="ltr">This campaign began because, as Alexander says, “we’d had enough”. It’s difficult to say what exactly triggered the protests: “Here is a chair. Which chair leg is more important? Take one away and everything falls down.” Yet still Alexander acknowledges the main issue – a wage increase for railway workers. Sergey agrees with him – he’s a locomotive driver from Kharkiv working at Darnytsa Depot, whom we meet the next day in the park next to Darnytsa station.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Sergey, the salary at the Darnytsa Depot is one of the lowest across Ukraine’s south-western rail network. And although official organisations and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_union">“yellow” trade union</a> stated at a meeting with Ukraine’s Minister of Infrastructure that the monthly average salary for locomotive drivers amounts to 18,000-20,000 UAH (£520-£580, an impressive amount for Ukraine), Sergey received this amount only once in his life. And that was after working almost double overtime. Indeed, the way the “average” salary is calculated raises a lot of questions for him: “Maybe this is the gross sum? But I can’t take my gross salary to the store and can’t use it to pay my gas bill,” says Sergey. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 14.07.07 1_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 14.07.07 1_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>If a driver works a standard 165-170 hours per month, they earn between 13,000 and 16,000 hryvnya (£376-£462), yet lately everybody has had to work overtime. In fact, since 2014 about 30% of employees have left the railway. They have left for <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Poland</a>, other Eastern Europe countries and the Baltic states – often as unskilled labour. “I know a man from Darnytsa depot who went to Poland to work at a sausage factory,” Alexander tells me. “Another one works in construction.” This is how overtime became the norm. In some depots, such as Znamenka or Zhmerynka, overtime can reach up to 250-280 hours per month. This schedule can mean wages of up to 27,000 hryvnya (£780). But this work, according to Alexander, simply kills people. “How can a person drive a train when he works everyday for 10 hours a day? In the cab, with the vibrations, the noise, the heat? They could work according to legislation that regulates work and rest time, but they don’t do that. Their passivity will kill them.”</p><p dir="ltr">The situation with overtime is made worse by the drivers’ working conditions. In summer, when the temperature outside rises above 30 degrees, in the cab (many of which are already 50-60 years old) temperatures can reach 50-60C, and in the engine compartment – up to 80C. You can get burned if you touch the train’s exterior. “You drink three litres of water and never go to the toilet on a single run. Over the summer season your jeans just fall apart. They are always wet from the constant dampness,” Alexander complains. Drivers aren’t allowed to place air conditioning units in the cab: temperature extremes in the cabin and engine compartment can easily cause illness. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“If you chose the railway, you don’t belong to yourself anymore. You belong to Ukrzaliznytsya. And the railway does with you whatever it wants”</p><p dir="ltr">This doesn’t bother Sergey: “They say that the air conditioner can’t be installed, that because of the temperature difference in the cab I can get pneumonia. I'm for pneumonia! I want air conditioning!”</p><p dir="ltr">After these exhausting shifts, drivers are entitled to rest. But because of overtime, time spent at home is reduced to a minimum. And for some professions, such as a training driver, time off can be less than 24 hours. “What do people have time for in life? Nothing! My father says to me: ‘Why do they pay you money? You make sandwiches at the station you arrive at, pay 1,000 hryvnya for cigarettes, and all the same you don’t get to spend any time at home,’” says Sergey. And if experienced drivers are ready to work like this, younger drivers don’t stay for long. “If you chose the railway, you don’t belong to yourself anymore. You belong to Ukrzaliznytsya. And the railway does with you whatever it wants,” Sergey concludes sadly.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Invisible people</h2><p dir="ltr">Despite the difficult working conditions, strict requirements from management and almost no free time, drivers are still an elite group inside Ukraine’s railway network and have the ability to influence management. But for a train to get outside the depot, the driver alone is not enough. This is the result of a big number of people – mechanics, machinists, shunting workers, station workers. And these people remain the invisible and the most undervalued workers on the railroad. Mechanics gets 3,500-4,600 hryvnya net pay (£100-£133). The nurse in the first-aid post gets 4,000. The duty officer at the station – 4,500. How can these people make their utilities payments on this money, one can only guess. As a result, there are almost no people brought up in Kyiv working in Darnytsa depot anymore.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 14.06.52_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 14.06.52_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>But it is no easier for others. Every year there are fewer and fewer people ready to work for this money, and this directly affects the operation of the whole enterprise. According to Alexander Skiba, sections from Teterev to Svyatoshino or from Trypillya-Dnipro to Petro Krivonos severely lack shunting masters. To get a shunting master capable of forming a train, sometimes it is necessary to drive him down on a train, which, in turn, leads to downtime. And downtime equals money. “We had to spend two and a half hours on the section Fastov-Bela Tserkva, waiting for the shunting master to arrive from Fastov. One more train had to wait due to this. Imagine: the delay of two trains. This is huge money! And the shunting master gets 5,000-5,500 hryvnya a month. Give him 2,500-3,000 more, and the trains wouldn’t have to wait,” Alexander tells me.</p><p dir="ltr">Representatives of the trade union believe that the policy of making savings on workers affects the entire railway. Meeting the demands of the work-to-rule action would only increase the efficiency of the enterprise and reduce the cost of transportation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Death as a means of saving money</h2><p dir="ltr">Giving all their time to work on the railroad, drivers could, until recently, at least count on early retirement – at the age of 55. But after a 2016 reform, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers has radically reduced the list of occupations with particularly harmful or difficult working conditions – the so-called “List No.1” and “List No.2” – and locomotive drivers were excluded from these lists. </p><p dir="ltr">This reform can definitely reduce the expenses of Ukraine’s Pension Fund – after all, according to my interlocutors, not everyone makes it 60. Dying a few years after retirement is common thing here. “Over the past week two people have died in Darnytsa. One was 51, the other - 55. It was his first year of retirement. And that happens every year: someone retires one year and dies the next. Imagine now what will happen if a locomotive driver dies during a job, and the young driver’s assistant doesn’t know anything? And you’re carrying up to 6,000 tonnes of phosphorus. What’s next? Catastrophe. And that’s an understatement.” </p><p dir="ltr">For railway workers, getting this profession back onto the preferential pensions list is a key requirements.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Trains are running, but negotiations aren’t</h2><p dir="ltr">Alexander admits that unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to stop operations at Darnytsa. Strikebreakers and redistribution of cargo to other deports filled in for the shortage of workers, who agreed to run on routes in faulty trains. According to rumours, the first strikebreakers even got paid a one-time premium – one month’s salary. And not everybody supported the campaign in Darnytsa. “The first to go were instructors,” Alexander tells me. “They were collected from their homes on the first day, and they set off. Then the older workers.” And although many people in the depot silently support the strike, they are not ready to go against management. Nevertheless, the campaign that started on 14 May was not a waste of time – it even managed to spread to other depots. Now 11 locomotive depots are involved in work-to-rule actions.The management of Ukrzaliznytsia has been forced to negotiate under this pressure. So far, unfortunately, to no avail.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Let the passengers join in if they don’t want to risk their lives”</p><p dir="ltr">“They are bargaining,” Sergey describes the negotiations. “Once we came out from negotiations at the Ministry, we hadn’t agreed to their proposal. We hadn’t gone far – they phoned us. Let us give you this option. Come back.” Minister of Infrastructure Volodymyr Omelyan stated that, in the current situation, he cannot interfere the work of the state enterprise and offered himself as an arbitrator. On the other hand, as confirmed by representatives of independent trade unions, the most numerous Trade Union of Railway Workers and Transport Builders of Ukraine did not support the protest officially (unlike many rank-and-file members) and completely shifted to the side of the employer. The railway’s general management is more ready to lose money on downtime and exercise pinpoint pressure on protesters rather than make any serious concessions. </p><p dir="ltr">After a month of struggle and negotiations, the situation seems to have reached a deadlock.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Passengers!</h2><p dir="ltr">The railwaymen still have their last trump card – the passenger trains. After all, the problems with the passenger trains are almost the same as the problems with freight. The same obsolete locomotives and half-ruined carriages. No one who has ever been in a suburban train would argue with that. And if tomorrow they also start working according to instructions, transportations will stand still, Alexander assures me. “They aren’t joining us yet, they understand that people need to get to Kyiv, to work. But the situation is heating up, and they are ready to do it any minute.”</p><p dir="ltr">Alexander asks passengers not to remain indifferent to the problems of the railroad. After all, a train driver who is well-rested and attentive, and who drives a serviced locomotive, is also in their interests – and their safety. “Let the passengers question the Ukrzaliznytsia management too. Especially those who travel daily on electric trains and see their condition. There is a hotline, there is a government hotline. Let them call and talk about the technical conditions of the trains and cars. And their requests will be considered. Let the passengers join in if they don’t want to risk their lives.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This text is published as a part of Political Critique's&nbsp;<a href="http://ukraine.politicalcritique.org/category/nevidima-pratsya/">“Invisible Labour” project</a>, implemented with the support of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Ukraine. </em></p><p dir="ltr"><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/maksym-kazakov/how-workers-in-ukraine-metal-industry-are-fighting-for-wages-rights-democracy">How workers in Ukraine’s metal industry are fighting for wages, rights and democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/diana-karliner/russia-car-industry-avtovaz">Russia’s car industry, where even the dead work overtime </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</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> </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 Movchan Ukraine Wed, 04 Jul 2018 12:25:35 +0000 Sergey Movchan 118690 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A war for hearts and minds: how Georgian civil society is putting Abkhazia and South Ossetia back on the agenda https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/a-war-for-hearts-and-minds <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Almost 10 years on from the 2008 war, Georgian civil society – both informal and formal – is increasingly engaging in the country’s breakaway territories. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/konflikt-tleet-idet-voyna-za-umy" 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'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ на трассе 2_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest against Russian occupation of South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There are no longer any military clashes along the demarcation lines between Georgia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia – there are now more or less established processes for crossing them, although <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/102574/eng">dozens of people are arrested on them every year</a>. Georgia’s internal problems have relegated these conflicts to the back burner. The Abkhazian issue is now 25 years old; the South Ossetian – 10 years. But when Abkhazian border guards shot and killed Giga Otkhozoriya, a citizen of Georgia, at the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint in May 2016, the incident opened old wounds.</p><p dir="ltr">According to eyewitnesses, an argument developed between the 30-year old refugee from Abkhazia and the border patrol. As a result, a guard started chasing Otkhozoriya and started shooting at him by the time he was on the Georgian-controlled side of the border. The guard’s name is known, but for two years now the Georgian government has been unable to negotiate the handover of Rashid Kandji-Ogly, despite the issue having been frequently discussed in Gali, on the Abkhazian side of the unrecognised border, and during discussions in Geneva. Thus, Kandji-Ogly was eventually tried in Georgia in absentia and condemned to 14 years in prison. The Georgian authorities have also issued an international arrest warrant through Interpol. The Abkhazian de facto government initially claimed that Kandji-Ogly was being held under house arrest, but the case against him was closed in April 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar tragedy took place two years later, but in another breakaway republic. In February 2018, police in the border district of Akhalgori in South Ossetia (where the district is known as Leningor) arrested Archil Tatunashvili, a Georgian citizen, for spying. He was taken to Tskhinvali (Tskhinval in South Ossetia), and a day later the authorities announced that he had died in custody. The dead man’s body was not immediately released to the Georgian authorities, and the cause of his death has never been established. The South Ossetians claim that he died of acute heart failure, but the Georgians claimed that he had been tortured and brought an in absentia charge against two South Ossetian police officers.</p><p dir="ltr">In amidst these tragedies, civil society groups are trying to put Georgia’s relationship with South Ossetia and Abkhazia at the top of the agenda.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Citizen patrols</h2><p dir="ltr">Several times a week, a dozen activists from the Georgian Strength in Unity movement drive along the country’s main motorway, displaying photos of Tatunashvili and Otkhozoriya. At the point in the road where the demarcation line with South Ossetia is just 400 metres away, they line up along the hard shoulder and unfurl Georgian flags and posters reading, “I remember August 2008” and “Russian Occupiers”, while trucks and cars honk their horns in support.</p><p dir="ltr">After last July, when South Ossetian border guards once again moved the demarcation line in the village of Berusheti in the Gori district, taking about 10 hectares away from the local residents and leaving part of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline on the South Ossetian side, Georgian activists decided to start monitoring the situation along the whole border.</p><p dir="ltr">The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali denied seizing the land, insisting that the border signs had been installed according to the official map and that they had notified the Georgians and the OSCE about it in advance.</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_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_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 border with South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The patrols will be constant – this isn’t a one-off or one-week action”, David Katsarava, a well known sportsman who heads both Georgia’s National Rafting Federation and the Strength in Unity initiative said at the time. “The aim is to find Russian border guards and groups of engineers before something happens, so we can inform the international public”. As for concerns voiced in Tskhinvali about possible “acts of provocation” on the border, the movement promised that all actions would be agreed with the Interior Ministry.</p><p dir="ltr">The activists have now encountered an extra problem: the regular arrests of Georgian citizens living in the area of the demarcation line. This April, for example, Strength in Unity organised a blockade of Russian trucks and cars with Russian number plates after a local resident, 65-year-old Akakii Misireli was detained in the village of Kere, on the border with South Ossetia. Misireli was handed back to the Georgian police after paying a fine.</p><p dir="ltr">“People in border villages are just scared: they feel like they’re all alone,” Ana Sino, a student and member of Strength in Unity tells me. “‘We’re the little people: the journalists come and go but we have to live here’ – that’s what they think. We want to show and tell them that they are not alone. We come here from Tbilisi every day and talk to them.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Tbilisi, activists have also set up an “anti-occupation taxi” where customers, as well as being taken to wherever they want to go, are told about the August 2008 war. The car is also covered in barbed wire stickers, symbolising the breakaway territories, and passengers can watch videos showing the armed conflict of 2008 and speeches by Vladimir Putin.</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_Деоккупационное_такси_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Деоккупационное_такси_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'>An “anti-occupation taxi”. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The Russian threats shown on the videos haven’t gone away,” says Lasha Berulava, an activist and journalist.</p><p dir="ltr">“We want to bring the subject of occupation back into the headlines,” says Ana, “this is a war for hearts and minds.”</p><p dir="ltr">Activists feel that in this war, the Georgian authorities are playing into the hands of the Russian government, parroting its propaganda slogans.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our government doesn’t want to provide the public with information,” Ana tells me. “They don’t want to annoy Russia. ‘We’re just a small country,’ they say. And they don’t want to frighten the public. But people need information.”</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the supposed “normalisation of relations with Russia” announced by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, there has been no breakthrough in the rapprochement between the two countries, and diplomatic relations have still not been re-established. Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories describes Russia as a country engaged in military occupation, and Russia’s calls to repeal the law are so far unsuccessful.</p><p dir="ltr">Ordinary Georgian citizens aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the idea of rapprochement with Russia, as is clear from recent research by the<a href="http://www.iri.org/"> International Republican Institute (IRI)</a>. In 2012, when Georgian Dream came to power, the idea of a dialogue with Russia had the fully support of 83% of the population and partial support by 11%, but this year, full support had dropped to 46% and disapproval had risen to 12%. The number of respondents who didn’t know if they supported dialogue had also increased in number, to 30% of the population.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Let’s talk</h2><p dir="ltr">Georgian civil society, as well as several politicians, are worried about Russian propaganda being spread through media and social networks. In 2016, for example, the Georgian government approved a broadcast license for Russian international channel<a href="https://www.broadbandtvnews.com/2018/04/10/ntv-plus-expand-to-georgia-as-ott-service-booms/"> NTV-PLUS</a> to operate in the country. Two years on, though, the licence was revoked after protests from opposition and civil society campaigners.</p><p dir="ltr">In Zugdidi, on the Georgian border with Abkhazia, people feel the increase in Russian propaganda very keenly. “We have Russian TV channels, and even my mother watches them,” cries Maya Pipiya, a journalist and presenter at the Atinati radio station, which promotes peace in the Zugdidi and Abkhazia. “The propaganda is directed at convincing us that Russia is our guarantor of security, although I can barely remember any stage when even good relations with Russia brought us any notable successes.”</p><p dir="ltr">On Atinati, Maya presents a Russian-language radio programme called “Points of Contact”, in which she talks about areas for concern for people on both sides of the demarcation lines. For example, farming problems – both Zugdidi and Gali depend on agriculture. The programme doesn’t cover hard politics, but engages with social issues and talks about general cultural contexts. The station also works with journalists from Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, who regularly send Pipiya programmes. There are frequent disagreements over language – it’s not easy to find ways to talk about things in a way that is acceptable to listeners on both sides of the demarcation line.</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_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_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'>In the studio of Atinati radio station. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Maya has been involved in dialogue issues for a long time. Her first attempt to find common ground took place in 2009, when she created a programme called “Let’s Talk”.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted to know about the rising generation – how they think, how they see us. And it turns out that we can talk to one another,” says Maya, who is herself a refugee from Sukhumi. “The more time that passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict.”</p><p dir="ltr">Before 2008, Zugdidi was just a small town, but now it has the highest number of immigrants after Tbilisi. Many of them still have no home of their own and are still living in collective accommodation built by the state. At the market, there’s brisk trade between Abkhaz and the locals.</p><p dir="ltr">Anna Kochua provides aid to both refugees and other vulnerable groups. “I’m still as close to it all as I was in the first days of the war. I’m not a refugee myself, but I find it difficult to see how displaced people live. Our country has got a lot of things wrong, but Georgia wasn’t a proper country then. During the fighting, the Georgian government was in the hands of bandits,” says Kochua, who was actively involved in Georgian-Abkhazian dialogue in her student years.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The more time passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict”</p><p dir="ltr">“The Abkhaz who were students back then are now responsible for decision-making in Abkhazia: they work in various ministries and there are ambassadors and people taking part the Geneva talks among them. They are the younger generation – they speak European languages and can express their views very easily and convincingly. I am proud of them and value them: they are people you can talk to, sit down at a table with. But I’d rather not have Russia involved. We have such a lot in common as it is, without Russia,” says Anna.</p><p dir="ltr">“But unfortunately, Russia will always be there – we couldn’t choose our geographic situation,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Giga Otkhozoriya, who was killed at the Khurcha checkpoint in May 2016, was a classmate of Anna’s at school.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Bedbugs, horses and people</h2><p dir="ltr">“Both here and there – they’re all business people, not a government,” our taxi driver David complains as he drives us along the demarcation line with Abkhazia. David is also a refugee, from the Gali area, and now lives in Zugdidi. His family didn’t manage to get state housing – you need connections to get a flat quickly, he says. He spent 15 years working as a labourer on building sites in Moscow, but when he came back home, to his family, he got work as a taxi driver to make ends meet.</p><p dir="ltr">“But now there’s a bridge – (Eduard) Shevardnadze built it after the war,” David tells us, referring to Georgia’s second president. The bridge spans the Inguri River on the way to Pakhulani, the village where one of the checkpoints is between Abkhazia and the area under Georgian rule. “There used to be a pedestrian rope bridge – it was used by refugees. A lot of looting went on – people had gold and money in their pockets and they would take it. Our lot as well as the Abkhazians.</p><p dir="ltr">“I remember lots of good times, but you never forget the bad ones,” adds David, who also crossed that bridge.</p><p dir="ltr">David’s eldest daughter died in the war. There was no money for medicines – and no medicines either, for that matter. He now has just two sons, one aged 24, the other 19.</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_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The closed border crossing where Gigu Otkhozoria was killed. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“My son is training as a professional soldier,” he tells us. “What can you do? Say there’s a war between Abkhazia and Georgia, anything could happen, a military man is better prepared. You need to know everything, if you want to go on living,” says the taxi driver.</p><p dir="ltr">We drive past a tea processing factory, in ruins since the 1990s. The economic situation was so bad then that it was taken down for its metal parts and building materials. There are hardly any tea plantations left in the region. They grow walnuts here now instead.</p><p dir="ltr">“There’s no work now,” says Tinatin Rogava, a young woman from the border village of Rukhi. “They planted nut trees instead of tea. But the nuts won’t grow, because of the beatles. We should have stuck with the tea. Life’s very hard.”</p><p dir="ltr">This is then second year that Tinatin’s family, her parents and brothers, who live in the neighbouring village of Rikhi, have had no harvest, income or work. Neither the Zugdidi nor the Gali district has been able to rid itself of the<a href="https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=https://taraklop.ru/klopy/mramornyj-klop/&amp;prev=search"> marble bug</a>, an infestation of which wipes out the citrus and hazelnut harvests. The bug is becoming a problem on a national scale, discussed at Georgian-Abkhazian meetings in Gali.</p><p dir="ltr">And bugs are not the only issue discussed in Gali. A few months ago, one of the main talking points was the release of Archiko and Paata Rogava, father and son. In early 2017, 59-year-old Archiko and 25-year-old Paatа were detained by Russian border guards beside the Inguri River, where they were searching for their lost horse.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_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'>Archiko and Paata Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The horse, the reason for the ten-month detention of Paata and eight-month detention of his father, is hidden in the walnut grove beside the Rogavas’ house. Their plot is the last one before the border with Abkhazia. The only thing stopping the horse escaping is a wide stream, which it can easily cross in dry weather. But now the horse’s legs are hobbled and it tramps disgruntedly on the spot.</p><p dir="ltr">The men were accused of crossing the border illegally. But the Rogavas claimed that it was not they, but the guards, who crossed the border. Paata also told the court that he was beaten and had dogs set on him during the arrest. But the Abkhazian Security Service claimed that he had “physically insulted” a guard.</p><p dir="ltr">Sitting round the big table in their modest, but hospitable home, Archiko and Paata tell us about their imprisonment. They don’t speak Russian well, so Tinatin helps with the interpreting.</p><p dir="ltr">“We had very good relations with the prison staff,” says Archiko. “The guards were all Abhaz, so there were no problems with them. They believed us when we said we hadn’t crossed the border. But the Russians didn’t believe us. I met an Abkhazian guy who had fought in 2008. He didn’t say anything bad about us. Now people in Abkhazia are saying that the war was all the fault of Shevardnadze and Gorbachev.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Abkhazians can’t do anything when there is Russia over there,” Tinatin adds.</p><p dir="ltr">“If Putin doesn’t get out of Abkhazia, there’ll soon be a war, and Abkhazia will be on our side,” says her father.</p><p dir="ltr">To release her father and brother, Tinatin planned an action on the Inguri River bridge linking Abkhazia to the area ruled by Georgia. The Rogava family organised four protests – a chain of people closed the bridge to traffic and lay down on the roadway. At the last protest, Tinatin’s sister Daredjan was arrested for resisting a police officer by knocking his cap off. Daredjan didn’t have the money to pay the fine of 250 Lari, so she spent several days in detention.</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_Тинатин_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Тинатин_Рогава_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'>Tinatin Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“We did it all ourselves,” Tinatin says. “No one helps.” The men were released when the family paid a 100,000 rouble fine: all their friends and relatives helped collect the money.</p><p dir="ltr">“Because my father and brother are good people. Everybody knows and respects them. And they’re still the same,” she tells us.</p><p dir="ltr">“Now they are heroes!” I say.</p><p dir="ltr">“Well, I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t use the word ‘hero’. But fame hasn’t gone to their heads,” says Tinatin modestly.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Taking responsibility</h2><p dir="ltr">The cafe-bar beside the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint is empty. The road to Abkazia is blocked by a metal mesh fence, although the buildings on the other side are visible despite the mesh and thick vegetation.</p><p dir="ltr">Irina, who works in a café in the village centre, tells me that everything has been “calm and boring” since the Abkhaz side closed the checkpoint in March 2017. Another one further down the Inguri, between the villages of Orsantiya and Otobaya, was also closed at the same time.</p><p dir="ltr">These checkpoints used to be used by the residents of Abkhazian border villages. Children crossed them to go to school; adults to buy groceries and other essentials, as well as accessing medical services. Now they have to make a 10km detour via the Inguri Bridge for everything.</p><p dir="ltr">The closure of three out of four of the checkpoints on the demarcation line between Abkhazia and Georgia was one of the election promises made by Abkhazia’s president Raul Khajimba in 2014. Residents in the Gali district protested, but the Abkhazian government claimed that the protesters were people involved in “illegal business activities” and “smugglers”, and that the checkpoints had been closed at the request of the “overwhelming majority” of the population.</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_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="333" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anuna Bukiya. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>So hundreds of people – both Gali district residents and ethnic Georgians – are now forced to cross the border by illegal means. Many of them don’t have the right papers, including Abkhazian passports, as they don’t want to lose their Georgian citizenship. Others are refugees who still have houses and agricultural land on the Abkhazian side.</p><p dir="ltr">An elderly woman leaning on sticks struggles at a barbed wire barrier; a few men help her through, pick her up in their arms and run. A young lad rolls up his trousers, a girl climbs on his back and the two wade across the river. Men and women run, one by one, across an open space towards a strip of wood – the Abkhazian border guards send a rocket flare into the sky. These are all shots from<a href="http://net.adjara.com/Movie/main?id=22652&amp;lang=0"> “I Swam across the Inguri”</a>, a documentary made by Anuna Bukiya about this unofficial to-ing and fro-ing across the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The filmmaker made this journey herself, from Georgia to Abkhazia: Bukiya wanted to go to Sukhumi to have a look at her house, which she was forced to leave at the age of four. She had a shock at the sight of her childhood home, she tells me – she was overcome by all sorts of emotions. And making the film was really important – an expression of her civil rights, a kind of activism.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted people from both sides to see what was actually going on,” says Anuna. She feels that people who have been involved in the peace process for so long, on both the Georgian and Abkhazian sides, have monopolised the right to information about the conflict and don’t talk about the real problems at the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The most difficult thing for Bukiya was to show her documentary on TV – she was worried about how it would be received, and what effect this would have on the people whose story it was.</p><p dir="ltr">“I realised that I needed to take responsibility for it. Otherwise things would just go on as they had done over the last 25 years,” she says. “Because nothing can get any worse than it has been and still is. The worst thing is just waiting for something unfathomable to happen, be it war or peace.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">25 years of being apart</h2><p dir="ltr">“The fact that Georgian and Abkhaz society has been living apart for too long is a very big problem,” Olesya Vartanyan, an analyst at the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Crisis_Group"> International Crisis Group’s</a> Tbilisi office tells me. In 2008, Vartanyan covered the conflict from Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, and her reports were published by the international press. But then she dropped journalism for peacemaking. “I’m more comfortable with myself in this role,” she says. “I can do something to change things.”.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Vartanyan, the subject of the unrecognised territories is no longer a priority for Georgia. It only makes the headlines when a serious incident occurs, such as the killings of Giga Otkhozoriya and Archil Tatunashvili. And peacemaking efforts on the Georgian side are not always welcome in Abkhazia: it was not particularly happy, for example, when in spring 2017 the EU lifted visa formalities for Georgian citizens travelling to Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is definitely a new attempt by Tbilisi to entice our citizens into Georgia,” announced the Abkhazian government at the time, “and like all previous attempts it is doomed to failure. If Georgia’s leaders are genuinely concerned about Abkhazian citizens’ freedom of movement, they should abandon their policy of isolating our citizens, who are denied entry to EU countries thanks to Tbilisi’s stance.”</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_Мост_через_Ингури_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мост_через_Ингури_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'>Bridge across the Inguri. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“In Tbilisi, there’s not always an idea of what is actually going on in the breakaway regions,” says Olesya Vartanyan. “For example, how much they need what is being offered here, and whether this is creating excuses that might be used by local nationalists to, for instance, close the border or put pressure on the people who are beginning to cooperate with the Georgian side.” This, Vartanyan considers, is the fundamental issue in relations between Georgia and the breakaway territories.</p><p dir="ltr">“These communities live their separate lives, and have no contact with one another,” is Vartanyan’s analysis of the situation. “After 25 years, that’s where we are.”</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/georgia/249-abkhazia-and-south-ossetia-time-talk-trade">A recent International Crisis Group</a> report states that although no political compromise is in sight, informal trade between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia is growing. And discussion of mutually beneficial commerce “might open up long since blocked channels of communication” between the two sides.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, the then acting Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced a new initiative – “A Step towards a Better Future” – designed to improve the humanitarian and socio-economic situation of people in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. The Tbilisi government declared that it wanted to reduce all procedures involving trade along the demarcation lines to a minimum, as well as opening education to people both within Georgia and outside its borders and giving them access to the benefits that Georgian citizens have received thanks to close relations with the EU.</p><p dir="ltr">In Sukhumi and Tskhinvali this peace initiative has been dismissed as a “PR offensive” and “a semblance of friendship”.</p><p dir="ltr">“The only step towards a better future would be for Georgia to recognise the independence of the Republic of Abkhazia and enter a real intergovernmental dialogue between our countries for the sake of stability and the prosperity of future generations,” says Abkhazia’s de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs Daur Kove. “There is no alternative to this process.”</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, in the Georgian border village of Rukhi, the shopping centre and market built in 2016 for traders from Abkhazia both stand deserted.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This text is part of the Unrecognised Stories project, supported by crowdfunding platform <a href="https://www.pressstart.org/funding_sessions/10">PressStart</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia">Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus">Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher">Georgia’s Russian cipher </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/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Georgia Caucasus Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:14:22 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 118657 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Three stories https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oleg-sentsov/three-stories <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov is on permanent hunger strike in Russia’s Far North. Here we republish three short stories by him.&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/Oleg_Sentsov,_Ukrainian_political_prisoner_in_Russia,_2015 (2)_0_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Sentsov. CC BY-SA 4.0 Antonymon / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In August 2015, Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison as part of a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">fabricated terrorism investigation</a> by Russian security services. He was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">tortured in the process</a>, and is currently serving his sentence in Labytnangi in Russia’s Yamal-Nenets region.</p><p dir="ltr">On 14 May 2018, Sentsov declared a hunger strike in support of releasing <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">all Ukrainian political prisoners</a> in detention in Russia. </p><h2>Testament</h2><p dir="ltr">We are all going to die. And I, unfortunately, am no exception. We’d all like to live a bit longer, and here I, fortunately, am also no exception. No, I don’t want to extend my life in order to live to a hundred and spend the last quarter of it dragging out my decrepit existence on various machines and drugs. I want to live my young, full life a bit longer, to receive pleasure from life and to give pleasure to others, to walk, or even better to run, to sleep at night or not sleep, and I want to be the one who decides all of this, not my body and my doctors.</p><p dir="ltr">This is the kind of life I’d like to live for a bit longer. But it’s not possible. We are all going to die. After death, we will all turn into lumps of rotting meat, buried a couple of metres underground. The worms will eat us, and our dutiful relatives will visit our graves, wear sad expressions on their faces, stand in front of the cross or gravestone, look at our portraits, forgetting entirely that crosses are planted at the feet of the departed, so the whole mournful company is now standing on his head and gazing tenderly at the portrait etched into the granite. Then they’ll get their supplies and booze out, and make sure everyone has a drink, including the deceased, of whom there won’t be much left by that time, and the flowers will bloom all around. Pathos and superstition, pointless religious-pagan rituals and scholasticism.</p><p dir="ltr">I don’t want people trampling on my head, even after I’m dead, and I don’t want my children and grandchildren to remember me as a portrait on a slab of granite. I don’t want a wake on my grave. I generally don’t like drawing attention to myself, not now, and certainly not after I’m dead. I don’t want a grave.</p><p dir="ltr">When I was a child, just four years old, I went to my grandfather’s funeral. Usually, children don’t remember themselves being that young, and only very occasionally do they remember the most remarkable events from that time. But I remember that funeral. I don’t remember much, but I remember the main thing: me standing at the edge of the grave on a pile of dirt together with my relatives. And then, after the funeral, I was stunned to discover that they wouldn’t be digging grandad up again, that he had died and that was it, forever. Throughout my whole childhood I had a recurring nightmare: in the evening or during the night I would see a black grave and a body in a white shroud being lowered into it. It was grandad’s body, but I imagined that it was me, and I knew that sooner or later it would be. Never take your children to a funeral.</p><p dir="ltr">As a child, I was afraid that I would die. Now I’m not afraid — now I know that I’ll die. As I child, I was afraid of the black grave, but now I just don’t want to lie in it.</p><p dir="ltr">We are all going to die. Each in our own way. Some will die quietly, as though closing the door to the bedroom of a child who has only just fallen asleep. Others will die in cries and suffering, as though during birth. I don’t know how I will die, but I definitely don’t want to die as a decrepit old man in bed surrounded by yawning relatives.</p><p dir="ltr">There was once a man who was asked how he would like to die, and he answered: “With a shout of ‘hurrah!’ on my lips, a gun slung over my shoulder and a mouth full of blood.” I’d also like that — it’s beautiful, it’s manly. But that’s not how it works. Heroes only die beautifully in movies and books. In real life, they piss blood into their pants, scream from pain and remember their mothers.</p><p dir="ltr">I don’t want a grave. I want to be burned. No, not on the bonfire of some inquisition, but in a simple crematorium. Burned, and the ashes sprinkled at sea. If possible, on the Black Sea, and in summer, when the sun is shining and a fresh wind is blowing. But even if it’s autumn and raining, that’s also not so bad. I wouldn’t want you waiting for summer if I kick the bucket in November. Otherwise you’ll have guests round asking, “What have you got in that vase there?” “That’s our grandad, he’s waiting for summer!” The vase should also go into the sea, by the way — no need to fetishise it. Otherwise, that same room, a year later, different guests will ask, “What’s that vase you’ve got there?” “Grandad was in that vase,” the relatives will announce, solemnly getting to their feet. In that case, why don’t we hang my socks and underpants around the house then — my favourite ones, and the ones I wore last?</p><p dir="ltr">I want to be burned. To ashes. And the ashes to be spread on the wind. On the sea. Best in summer, if, of course, I die in summer. Just remember to throw the ashes on the wind away from the boat, so that they are blown over the sea and not onto the boat, so that some cheeky grandchild (clearly taking after his grandad) won’t be tempted to comment, as he sweeps up my remains, “Nothing but problems with that old guy!”</p><p dir="ltr">Let the wind take my ashes out to sea. But if it’s raining, that’s okay. They’ll all say, “That means we’re burying a good man, since it’s raining.” But you’re not burying — you’re sowing, friends, that is, blowing!</p><p dir="ltr">And if it’s raining and the ashes get a bit stuck to the urn, that’s also fine. True, that same cheeky grandchild will look into the urn, see a bit of leftover ashes and say: “Yeah, grandad’s still hanging on!” But that’s fine, just throw the urn into the sea too. So that there’s nothing left. Nothing at all. Just memory. And the things I did. And my friends. And you. And then I’ll always be with you.</p><h3>Autobiography</h3><p dir="ltr">I was born on Monday the 13th. I guess that’s why I’ve had such a fun life.</p><p dir="ltr">My childhood was like any childhood, a happy time. I grew up in a village, in a semi-educated family: my mother was a nursery school teacher, my father a driver. We didn’t have much money, but I only have good memories.</p><p dir="ltr">I did well in school, was top of the class. I read a lot. Did my homework, but wasn’t a swot, I got by with a good memory and a thirst for knowledge. I was an outsider in my class. Skinny. I got beat up.</p><p dir="ltr">When I was twelve I got a really bad cold. It led to complications with my legs, I developed polyarthritis and they got paralysed. After half a year of treatment, I started walking again.</p><p dir="ltr">In my final years in high school I would argue with my teachers, sometimes on the topic we were discussing, sometimes just out of insolence – I can’t stand people who think they’re smarter than everyone else but really aren’t. I began to fit in better at school with the cool kids, started to hang out with the troublemakers, and life started to take on new dimensions. I got into sport, although the doctors warned against it. Medicine gave up on me, and I gave up on it. I got stronger and tougher.</p><p dir="ltr">After school I moved to the city of S. to study at college, a prestigious place, and applied for a state-funded place. They didn’t want to accept my documents:</p><p dir="ltr">“Where are you from, son?”</p><p dir="ltr">“From the village of S.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Did you finish school with a gold medal?”</p><p dir="ltr">“No.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Silver?”</p><p dir="ltr">“No.”</p><p dir="ltr">“So what do want from us?”</p><p dir="ltr">“To study!”</p><p dir="ltr">So I studied on my own. Scraped in with the bare minimum grades. The happiest day of my life. But half a year later I got disillusioned: the students only pretended to study, and the teachers only pretended to teach. I gave up on attending classes. Passed everything, but only just. I had a good time. I hung out with rockers and musicians. It was fun. I had no money, but it was fun. Things will never be like that again.</p><p dir="ltr">I finished my studies. I didn’t try to find a job in my specialisation (marketing). Nine-to-five wasn’t for me. I’d have murdered all my co-workers by the end of the working day.</p><p dir="ltr">When I was twenty, my father died (I was only able to start talking about it ten years later). My carefree days were over. I had been doing odd jobs here and there since I was about thirteen, but now I really had to start earning. I worked at the market. I sold Herbalife products for a year, cheated people out of their money. I started my own business with a friend. I borrowed a lot of money and lost a lot of money. My friend disappeared. But I survived. That was 1996.</p><p dir="ltr">I worked as an administrator in computer clubs, and then as manager. I got into gaming. I played online video games professionally for four years. I took part in competitions, became the champion of Ukraine. I travelled a bit. I created my own gaming team, my own website, gathered like-minded people around me, and now I’m the leader of the Crimean gaming movement.</p><p dir="ltr">The last year and a half I’ve been busy setting up the biggest Internet Centre in Simferopol. I did it. Business is good.</p><p dir="ltr">When I was twenty, I wanted a lot of money. I didn’t have any, and somehow I just couldn’t earn any. By the time I turned thirty my worldview had changed completely, and money was no longer so important in my system of values, but I had it… I guess that’s how things should be. I don’t know.</p><p dir="ltr">A bit about my personal life: for more than ten years I’ve been living with the same woman. I’m married to her. I’ve got two little kids with her. I love them all.</p><p dir="ltr">I never dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. But I’ve loved movies since I was a kid. Good movies. The older I got, the more I educated myself about films, and the more refined my cinematic tastes became. The more I matured, the narrower the circle of people I could talk to about films got. Today, there are only two or three people left.</p><p dir="ltr">I’ve always read books. A lot of books. At school I wrote essays. Always got top marks for them. After I got into gaming, I started writing articles about it, my thoughts just built up inside me, I couldn’t hold them back. And as my beloved Mikhal Mikhalych Zhvanetsky used to say: “Writing is like pissing, you should do it when you no longer have the will to hold it in.” I no longer had the will to hold it in, and I did have the will to write. At first, it all came out wrong somehow, though it was fun. After writing about ten articles, I had refined my technique and found my own style. I wrote a couple of stories or essays — I don’t really know what to call them myself. Now I’m writing a book.</p><p dir="ltr">I want to make films. My thoughts are building up again, and paper just isn’t as expressive as celluloid. I’m trying to get onto a directing course. It seems like a pretty good one. If I don’t get on it, then I’ll go ahead anyway, on my own, without any preparation — it won’t be for the first time.</p><p dir="ltr">I don’t like <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Grebenshchikov">Boris Grebenshchikov</a> much, but once he said something interesting in answer to a question about his musical education: “Thirty years of listening to music and twenty years of playing it.” I’ve been watching movies for thirty years — time to move forward.</p><h2>Dog</h2><p dir="ltr">When I was a child I wanted to have a dog. A German shepherd. Definitely a German shepherd. I saw them a lot in movies, and there was a couple in our Village. I wanted my own. To take it for walks, to train it. To walk along the street and have everyone look at me. I wanted it to obey me, I wanted us to love each other.</p><p dir="ltr">I had already had a dog before. It was more of a family dog, not really mine. It had an entirely unheroic name — Tuzik. He was a black mongrel, medium sized, who one day just wandered into our yard. Tuz (as I called him, to make him seem a bit more serious, mostly in my own eyes) had clearly had a rough time — you could tell he’d been beaten and abused plenty. His first week with us he spent inside his kennel and didn’t come out even to eat. He was so happy that nobody was hurting him, and he just preferred peace and quiet.</p><p dir="ltr">But later Tuzik got used to us, we all grew to love him; I was about nine or ten years old then. I took him for walks in the forest, in the fields. I walked him on a rope. At home he was chained up, but at night we let him go, and he ran around the garden or even in the street and didn’t bother anybody. He was really smart, obedient and good-natured. But his past life had left a mark on him. They say that people’s life experience can be read in their faces. It’s true. And dog’s lives can also be read in their eyes. That black mongrel’s eyes were sad for good.</p><p dir="ltr">A few years passed, and one ordinary morning my mum woke me up, sat on the edge of my bed and told me that Tuzik had been killed. They were going around shooting stray dogs, and they had shot him, early in the morning, in the street right by the gates to his house. My mum suggested I should cry a bit, it would make me feel better, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t believe it. No, I knew that he’d been shot, but somehow I neither believed it nor understood it.</p><p dir="ltr">That’s how it always is. Some time always has to pass between the moment when you’re told that a loved one has died and the moment when you understand it and feel the loss. It’s happened to me a few times. When I turned twenty, a man came and told me that my father had died, and the first sensation I had, which filled up my entire mind, was “it’s not possible”. And even an hour later, when I saw him lying there as though he were asleep, I didn’t feel the loss. And when they carried him out of the house in his coffin the next day, somewhere I felt a sharp pain, but there was no all-consuming grief. The next time I felt the dull pain was when a man at the cemetery, after telling the family to say goodbye to the deceased, gave the instruction to close the coffin, and they began to hammer, with dull, very dull blows, on the lid, in which they’d already stuck the nails in preparation. In the deep grave, the gravediggers had left an empty bottle that they’d drunk, discarded and forgotten.</p><p dir="ltr">It felt like everything was happening in a cotton-wool dream. Like it’s not happening to you. The wake at the workers’ canteen, the vodka that doesn’t make you drunk, and all those people, random or sympathetic observers, and all sorts of relatives.</p><p dir="ltr">And then, late in the evening, when everything had calmed down, when only close family were left in the house, when the cleaning up had been finished and we were getting ready for bed after the hard day, in a quiet place on the veranda, in the darkness, beyond the edge of the circle of light drawn by the street lamp in the yard, I sat down on a small, portable bench. I was very tired and sat in silence, staring into the darkness. And then I understood that I was sitting in the very place where my father used to like to sit. I was sitting on his favourite bench, which he had made himself. And then I distinctly and clearly understood that he was gone. I felt it physically — there’s his place, there’s his bench, but he’s gone, and he’s never coming back. It was frightening to feel this emptiness, this blackness. And I started to cry, quietly, slowly, barely making a sound. My eight-year-old nephew was standing nearby and noticed that I was crying. He tried to comfort me, like kids do — he started stroking my head. Also without making a sound. And so I sat on the bench, with my head bowed, silently crying, and he stood next to me and silently stroked my head.</p><p dir="ltr">After Tuzik died, almost a year passed, and I persuaded my parents to get me a new dog. A German shepherd! For my twelfth birthday, my dad and I went into town and bought a puppy at the animal market, a mix between a German shepherd and a Caucasian shepherd dog. The puppy was tiny, just over a week old, he could barely crawl and he barely ate anything, and he could fit easily on my childish palm; he had no breed registration documents, but he only cost fifteen roubles. At night, he squealed and crawled all over my bedroom floor, until my mum had had enough and came and put him in my bed, where he warmed himself up and fell asleep. At first, I fed the puppy by dipping my finger in milk and sticking it in his mouth, as he still hadn’t learned to lap up the milk. We called the little guy Dick.</p><p dir="ltr">The dog grew quickly. He was strong, shaggy and clumsy, and, like all puppies, loved to play. When Dick grew up, I was a bit disappointed: a mongrel is a mongrel, and although they cross German shepherds with Caucasians to try and get the best of both breeds, my dog didn’t look like any of the pictures in the little book on dogs that I’d once borrowed. For a while it really bothered me, but eventually my love for the dog overcame my consciousness of his imperfections.</p><p dir="ltr">My dog grew up big and strong. His reddish-black coat made him look more like a German shepherd, but his big bones were unmistakably Caucasian, as were his ears, which drooped at the ends, and his slightly curly tail. Dick grew very attached to me, and I to him. We walked a lot, and I trained him — he learned to do quite a few things that a working dog should be able to do. Although, at the same time, he had a rather wayward character. His hunting instinct would always come through whenever he saw a chicken, a duck or similar prey, which led to innumerable conflicts with the owners of such ravaged beasts, including with my own parents.</p><p dir="ltr">I usually took Dick to the forest that grew near our Village, on the other side of the field, up the hill. We would walk alone, or sometimes with my friends, who brought their own dogs — though none of them was as beautiful as mine. It was fun to hang out with the others, but I preferred walking alone in the forest with my dog. They were unforgettable moments. When he searches for you, after you’ve deliberately stayed behind a bit and hidden in the bushes. He searches for you and finds you. And how happy you are when you find each other again after such a brief parting! The dog is happy that he found his master, and the master is happy that he has such a clever dog, and you’re both happy because you love each other and you’re together again. Or how exciting it is when you come across a hare that sits quietly until the last moment and then shoots away from under your very feet, and you watch your seemingly unwieldy dog suddenly turn into an arrow, flattening his ears, and, squealing a bit, rushing after the animal, and gradually losing ground.</p><p dir="ltr">How beautiful it is to walk on a damp autumn day, in the long, bright twilight, when there’s nobody around, it smells of rotting wood, and there’s a light haze in the air.</p><p dir="ltr">Winter is also good for walking, when snow, so rare in our parts, falls, when you see footprints, your own and those of others, when your voice rings out and carries itself far into the distance, when you shout with all your might: “Dick, come here!”, and then you hear the beating of his paws, followed by his breathing, and then you see your dog running towards you, knocking snow onto himself from the lower branches. And on a summer evening, how wonderful it is to return from a walk when the air is full of sound and it smells of a downpour that hasn’t yet happened, and when you come out of the forest you suddenly become aware that the whisper of the leaves is much too loud, and you realise that it’s rain, that it has started and is following you through the forest. And you start running as fast as you can down through the field, and your dog runs with you, turning his head towards you, and halfway home the rain catches you. And then you walk home together, and you take him on his leash, and all the dogs on the street go crazy, and yours answers with his own thunderous bark, and you can barely hold him back, and you are both tired and happy. Then you give him some water, you pour it from the jug into his bowl, and then you bring him his supper. You both fall asleep happy. And next morning you go to school, and the dog, dragging his chain, follows you to the gate, and you both know that in the evening there’ll be another walk, and you’ll be together again, and you’ll be happy again.</p><p dir="ltr">Childhood is a happy time. Thank God I had a happy childhood, in which the warmest and most cherished moments are those spent walking my dog.</p><p dir="ltr">But then childhood gradually finished, and walking the dog turned into a tiresome obligation, or an excuse to go and have a smoke or play cards with the guys in the forest. In summer, I dedicated more evenings to my friends and to football than to walking my dog. And every time he saw me approaching the gates, Dick would jump out of his kennel with hope in his eyes that we would go for a walk, but almost every time he was disappointed. At first, I always stopped, stroked him, apologised that we wouldn’t be going for a walk that day, and he would lick my face, and we’d part. Later, I would give him a quick pat on the head before going out, and later still I would just walk right past him. The further I progressed through school, the rarer our walks became, the less time I dedicated to my dog, and soon the walks stopped entirely. I found new interests, new friends, and the dog faded into the background, like a wife that you continue to live with but stop noticing.</p><p dir="ltr">Later, when I’d finished school, I went to study in the city and only saw Dick once a week. I would stroke him when I arrived, sometimes when I was leaving. Did I still love him? Of course I did, but that love had already turned into a habit, like the way you love old people. Dick was already ten years old by then, and he’d started to age. Did he still love me the way he had before? I think so. It had been my mum who had looked after him in those later years — fed him and let him out for the night into the yard or the street — but all the same, a dog only chooses one master, and stays faithful to him until the end. Dick started to get sick, then his back legs started to buckle under him; he’d rarely get up; he had rheumatism. My family was able to fight the illness (which, by the way, I suffered from myself as a child), and we started to inject him with the necessary medicine. Dick improved, gained strength, and he managed to keep going for another year and a half.</p><p dir="ltr">He died a long and painful death. While we were trying to decide whether to put him to sleep or not, it all finished. I came back from the City, put him in a large box and dragged him off on a metal trolley to bury him. In his old age, Dick had dried up and shrunk to about half his original size, but all the same he was pretty heavy.</p><p dir="ltr">I buried him myself on some waste ground that was slowly turning into a rubbish dump, next to the road that leads to the forest – the same one we used to like to walk along. I dug a hole, put the dog in it and began to bury him. I had nothing to cover him with, and, after my first spadeful of earth landed on the dog’s muzzle, I stopped. It was hard. I couldn’t do it. After the second spadeful, tears welled up in my eyes. When the earth closed up over the dog, then it got easier. I would never have thought that it would be harder to bury my dog than my father.</p><p dir="ltr">They say that there’s no such thing as bad people, only bad deeds. That’s true. There is at least a bit of goodness in every person. It’s called kindness. And the kinder a person is, the better. All this kindness is instilled in us in childhood. It’s in the gentleness of our mothers and the hands of our fathers, it’s in our friends, it’s in fairy tales and books. It’s in the cartoons we watch. In the little mammoth swimming towards his mum in the ice floe there’s more kindness than in all the charitable organisations put together! And kindness is also love. And not only love for your parents, for your kith and kin, but also for animals. Especially domestic animals, especially your pets.</p><p dir="ltr">And the best thing of all is to love a dog, and to have the dog love you. Cats and especially parrots — they are incapable of love. They’re capable of living, for sure, but not of loving. Love for a dog is the closest thing there is to love for a woman. Your mum can love you, but she also has to love your dad, your brothers and sisters, her own mother and father, and maybe also your neighbour, Uncle Petya, though that’s none of our business… But a dog will love only you and will be devoted only to you. And it asks for nothing in return. Apart from your love.</p><p dir="ltr">God, how I want to look into those eyes just one more time.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>These stories were translated by Uilleam Blacker and first published on <a href="https://pen-international.org/">PEN International</a>. </em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Oleg Sentsov Thu, 28 Jun 2018 13:46:06 +0000 Oleg Sentsov 118632 at https://www.opendemocracy.net No “Velvet Revolution” for Lebanese Armenians https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/no-velvet-revolution-for-lebanese-armenians <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Revolution in Yerevan has stirred the global Armenian diaspora. But how real are the links between political change in the homeland and Armenian communities abroad?</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/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.37.30.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.37.30.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bourj Hammoud municipality square. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>For Armenians around the world, 24 April is a day of sorrow and reflection. On this day in 1915, Ottoman Turks began a systematic campaign of extermination and displacement of ethnic Armenians. Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered or evicted from their homes and forced to take on an arduous journey through the Syrian desert, where death awaited. The tragic events have been referred to as the Armenian Genocide.</p><p dir="ltr">But 24 April 2018 was like no other. For Karnig Asfahani, a 25-year old teacher in an Armenian school in Lebanon, for the first time in his life the day was full of hope and joy. The day before, Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s long-time ruler, resigned from his post as prime minister under pressure from mass demonstrations on Yerevan’s streets. Soon after, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">Nikol Pashinyan</a>, a former journalist and charismatic protest leader, was tasked with forming a new government that would manage Armenia’s affairs prior to fresh elections.</p><p dir="ltr">“It was the first time in 103 years that we felt that it’s not the time to cry and mourn, but to think about the future,” said Karnig Asfahani sitting in a café in eastern Beirut. “It’s time to stand up and heal the trauma.” </p><p dir="ltr">Armenians, both at home and the diaspora, which is said to house eight out of 11 million Armenians in the world today, saw the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/revolution-of-values-freedom-responsibility-and-courage-in-armenias-velve">“Velvet Revolution”</a> in Armenia as a triumph of the will of the people and hope for their country’s remaking, free from the corruption and cronyism of the old regime. </p><p dir="ltr">In his first days in power, Nikol Pashinyan promised that he would make renewing ties with the diaspora a priority. Diaspora Minister Mkhitar Hayrapetyan proposed creating a chamber of parliament composed of diaspora representatives to engage the Armenian community outside of Armenia. While it is yet unclear if this idea will materialise, many remain hopeful. </p><p dir="ltr">But for Karnig Asfahani and many of his friends the hopes have been double. They are not only anxious to see change in their remote motherland of Armenia; they also hope that Armenia’s democratic surge will spill over to their home communities in Lebanon. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A unique diaspora</h2><p dir="ltr">It is estimated that around 1.5 million Armenians perished in the 1915 genocide. Some were murdered, while others did not survive the death march through the Syrian desert. The genocide has defined generations of Armenians around the world, leaving a lasting scar on the nation’s identity. Even today, with a sovereign state of their own, Armenians are continuously haunted by the past trauma, as Turkey has failed to accept the blame for the genocide. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.39.19.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.39.19.png" 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 “Karabagh shop”, Bourj Hammoud. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Out of those who survived, thousands managed to find a safe haven in Lebanon, which had given shelter to earlier generations of Armenians. First, in the end of the 17th century, Armenian Catholics settled in areas north of Beirut, and then in 1894 mainly Orthodox Armenians arrived in the country fleeing Ottoman violence – a prelude to the genocide. Following the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which left Armenians without a state of their own, former Ottoman territories, such as Lebanon, were instructed to grant them citizenship. </p><p dir="ltr">In Lebanon, Armenians flourished and soon became known as reliable merchants and skilled artisans. They easily integrated in the multicultural landscape of the country, becoming one of its seven major communities. Unlike the rest of the groups forming the Lebanese nation, however, Armenians were the only ethnic minority involved in power sharing, next to Christian Maronites, Sunni, Shia, Druze and other religious sects. </p><p dir="ltr">Today, Armenians hold six seats in the country’s 128-member legislature, as the system grants proportional representation to its constitutive groups. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The rules of the game</h2><p dir="ltr">“The Lebanese confessional system has given the various sects a level of autonomy to run their internal affairs, which gave the Armenians in Lebanon the ability to build, strengthen and develop institutions that are similar to a state within a state,” explains Asbed Kotchikian, professor of politics and international relations at Bentley University. </p><p dir="ltr">Thus, although the Armenian community is well integrated into the Lebanese system, it also has a life of its own, speaking its own language alongside Arabic, reading its own press and organising itself via social and cultural institutions. </p><p dir="ltr">This system has also created a strong relationship between the Armenian people and their political representatives. ARF Dashnaktsutyun party, or Tashnag, which also operates in Armenia, is the most important one. Founded in 1890 in Tbilisi, the party has been active in Armenian diaspora circles, most notably in Lebanon, where it has operated since the 1920s. In a standard patron-client manner, the party has positioned itself as the sole protector of Armenians’ rights. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The Tashnag party, like other sectarian parties and regional bosses in the country, encourages Armenians to think of themselves as clients who should be thankful to the party”</p><p dir="ltr">“It comes down to the Lebanese sectarian system; religious differences blind your class consciousness and you’re more like a client,” explains Ara Sanjian, the director of Armenian research center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. “The Tashnag party, like other sectarian parties and regional bosses in the country, encourages Armenians to think of themselves as clients who should be thankful to the party.” </p><p dir="ltr">Sanjian also notes that within the core of Lebanon' Armenian community, people do not think that being in the national parliament makes much of the difference in their daily lives and concerns as a community. Lebanese politics and common national issues have usually been of little interest to Armenians when it comes to choosing their political affiliations and how they vote.</p><p dir="ltr">“The parties have been controlling everything, the schools, and the church and the municipality in Bourj Hammoud [traditional Armenian district in Beirut]”, said Nared Aprahamian, a retired Lebanese Army general and the founder of the secular Free Lebanese Armenian Movement. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.42.31.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.42.31.png" 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'>“Turkey guilty of genocide” written on a wall in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“All Armenian parties are corrupt. There is no democracy within their structures,” he continued. “If someone wants to be free from the traditional control, they say that this is against the people who sacrificed themselves for Armenia, killed by the Turks.” </p><p dir="ltr">The Turks remain an important group defining today’s Armenian identity in Lebanon. Last month, Armenians won an all-Lebanese basketball tournament. During the last match against the team close to prime minister Saad Hariri, the latter’s supporters chanted racist slogans against the Armenians and waved Turkish flags (Armenian fans, in response, paraded with the flags of Hezbollah – the long-time adversaries of Saad Hariri’s party). After the victorious match, the Armenian district of Bourj Hammoud lit up with the flames of burning Turkish flags. “It is still the main thing to burn a Turkish flag,” Asfahani says.</p><h2 dir="ltr">New forces</h2><p dir="ltr">To break Lebanese Armenians’ political inertia and express solidarity with people on Yerevan’s streets, both Nared Aprahamian and Karnig Asfahani joined a protest at the Armenian Embassy in Beirut on 22 April, where close to one hundred people gathered to demand change in Armenia. During this time, the Lebanese diaspora political parties held their breath and silently supported the old regime, not least because Tashnag was part of the ruling coalition.</p><p dir="ltr">This was one of the first protests organised by Lebanese Armenian civil society. The attendance, however, was not high. “Armenian society is closed, conservative and traditional. It’s hard for them to accept new ideas,” Asfahani explains. “They fear persecution, that they could lose their jobs, or fall out of the establishment. Plus, they are not used to democratic action. Right now, the leaders make decisions and the people follow.” </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.45.55.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.45.55.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A banner with Paula Yacoubian, the first Armenian woman to enter the Lebanese Parliament, Bourj Hammoud. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In the May 2018 Lebanese parliamentary elections, Aprahamian supported Paula Yacoubian – a half-Armenian, half-Lebanese former TV star who entered the election from the civil society movement list – a new secular political force in the country. Yacoubian was the only candidate from the movement to receive a seat, becoming the first Armenian woman to enter the parliament and a role model for progressive Lebanese youth. </p><p dir="ltr">Yacoubian was also the first member of the Armenian diaspora in Lebanon to congratulate Nikol Pashinyan’s new government. In the end, after two of its members received posts in the newly formed government, the Tashang party also ended up endorsing the new rulers. A move which has been seen by many as hypocritical and opportunistic. </p><p dir="ltr">“As a diaspora, we should change our mentality, the way we look at Armenia and our community,” Asfahani said bitterly. “I hope that the changes in Armenia will also inspire the diaspora. And I know we can change what is going on here.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">More of the same</h2><p dir="ltr">Harout, 64, has been running a music shop in eastern Beirut since 1977. Surrounded by CDs and cassettes that no one buys, he explains the ins and outs of the Lebanese political system. </p><p dir="ltr">“If you want something from the government, you have to ask your party to help you. When the time comes and the government gives you everything: water, electricity and phone without begging, you will no longer need the parties,” Harut said with serene acceptance. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.47.16.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.47.16.png" 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'>Armenian flag next to an Armenian jewellery shop in Bourj Hammoud. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“But I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. Paula Yacoubian does not represent anyone. She is the only one in a 128-people parliament. The power rests with groups.”</p><p dir="ltr">Harut admits he votes for the Tashnag party, although he acknowledges that he is not entirely happy with his local representative and the leadership. He is deeply skeptical of the possibility for changes in Armenia to inspire reform in the diaspora. “From my father and grandfather, we’ve been part of this party, even my son, my daughter – they are party members. It’s not easy to change the mentality,” he explains. “The party represents me.” </p><p dir="ltr">Ara Sanjian shares Harout’s skepticism. “I would like to see a livelier scene among the Armenians, but I don’t see any direct connection between what is happening in Armenia affecting the events abroad,” he said. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“This idea that we should not criticise what is going on in Armenia is very deep, we should avoid controversy and in that sense a lot of people were not following the problems”</p><p dir="ltr">Sanjian also stresses that over the years, the Armenian diaspora in Lebanon has remained largely uninformed of the problems and struggles in Armenia. Positive news dominated the Lebanese Armenian press and therefore, people have developed a romanticised view of their homeland. </p><p dir="ltr">“This idea that we should not criticise what is going on in Armenia is very deep, we should avoid controversy and in that sense a lot of people were not following the problems,” Sanjian says. “About a billion dollars <a href="https://www.lragir.am/en/2015/12/12/35058">were siphoned</a> from the Armenian economy by illegal means into offshore accounts in the past ten years. This information emanating from international organisations monitoring corruption never came up in the diasporan Armenian press. What the Freedom House said, what Transparency International said about Armenia in the past few years – this was never reported in Lebanon.”</p><p dir="ltr">What is certain is that Lebanese Armenians, just like the rest of the world, will now be carefully watching the developments in their faraway home. But so far, Turkish flags will keep burning in Bourj Hammoud. </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/ashot-gazazyan/on-border">On the edge: how rural Armenia is responding to the country&#039;s &quot;Velvet Revolution&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/karena-avedissian/real-revolution-protest-leader-armen-grigoryan-on-what-s-happening-in-ar">A real revolution? Protest leader Armen Grigoryan on what’s happening in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/revolution-of-values-freedom-responsibility-and-courage-in-armenias-velve">A revolution of values: freedom, responsibility and courage in Armenia&#039;s Velvet Revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">Saint Nick of Armenia: how protest leader Nikol Pashinyan “rescued” Armenia and made it merry</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska Armenia Thu, 28 Jun 2018 08:34:14 +0000 Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska 118624 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could new business models make NGOs in the post-Soviet space more representative? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/barbara-von-ow-freytag/commercialising-ngos <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>New business models are reshaping relations between the non-profit sector and wider society in post-Soviet countries.</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/564053/23755308_1730935210286339_5145820140509040316_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/23755308_1730935210286339_5145820140509040316_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A workshop on setting up a socially-oriented not-for-profit, GRANI Centre, Perm. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>Amid <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">mounting state pressures on foreign funding</a>, civil activists in eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia are embracing new business models to generate alternative sources of income. For not-for-profit organisations, the transition to money and markets is full of challenges. However, as they explore strategies for marketing, fundraising and, yes, even profit, civil society groups are winning new freedoms and reshaping long-neglected relations with their domestic audiences. </p><p dir="ltr">The shift to paid services is part of a wider dynamic in the region as civil society pioneers new ways to push back against the closing space in which it can operate. Groups and individuals are redesigning strategies, re-registering operational models, embracing new technologies and devising new communication plans.</p><p dir="ltr">The transition to monetisation is proving a special challenge. So far, only a small vanguard have dipped their toes into this area, but those that have are enjoying surprising success. </p><p dir="ltr">“It’s a big jump for everyone, the director, the team and the clients,” says Svetlana Makovietskaya, founder of the renowned <a href="http://www.grany-center.org/">GRANI Centre</a> in Perm, Russia. “It is difficult to ask for money from people who have been used to getting free services for 25 years.” </p><p dir="ltr">Despite this, GRANI is already earning 85% of its budget by selling services, notably research, consultations, trainings and the like. As a “resource centre” for civic activism, it is also teaching NGOs how to do the same. “We offer an exclusive product,” Svetlana says confidently. “For NGOs it’s an investment. They have to learn that it has a price.”</p><p dir="ltr">As in all walks of life, necessity begets invention. The struggle for sustainable financial support remains the number one challenge for civil society across the region. This struggle is compounded by increasing legal restrictions on foreign funding. In Russia in particular, stringent laws targeting “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations” have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">taken a toll on the third sector</a> and have resulted in the withdrawal of many leading western donors. At the same time, state funding through Russia’s so-called presidential grants scheme is creating new dependencies and often funds questionable pseudo-NGOs that promote government agendas.</p><p dir="ltr">“We never planned to earn any money,” says Svetlana Kuzevanova from the <a href="http://mmdc.ru/">Centre for Media Rights</a> in Voronezh, which provides legal aid to journalists in Russia. Since being declared a “foreign agent” in 2015, it has been a “trial-and-error run” to find additional funding. Today, the NGO operates a subscription scheme for access to legal services for Russian media outlets, which provides 20% of its budget. The rest, Svetlana is sure, will still continue to come from foreign funding. “In Russia, no one is ready to pay for the freedom of media.” </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In Russia, no one is ready to pay for the freedom of media”</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, the attitude to philanthropy and giving to causes is changing, at least in the social sphere. In Russia alone, there has been a quiet revolution in social engagement. Crowdfunding and social entrepreneurship have become a new normal in recent years, while online donations for charitable organisations <a href="https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/cafworldgivingindex2017_2167a_web_210917.pdf?sfvrsn=ed1dac40_10">doubled in 2017</a>. An impressive 10 million Russians have also become involved in volunteering. The trend is even more positive in Central Asia. In the CAF World Giving Index, all republics show scores of around 30% of people ready to help, donate or volunteer (compared to 20% for Russia) for 2017. Tajikistan, the poorest country in the region, even rose to the ranks of “most improved countries” in the world in the World Giving Index. </p><p dir="ltr">Amid these new opportunities for willing domestic funding, civil society organisations are making the “jump” to integrating innovative business models into their work. Examples vary from paid services and membership fees, to selling tickets for events, lending space and equipment or selling merchandise. Groups that have ventured to take the first steps, often go on to develop more high-flying ideas, like opening up art cafes, hostels or other commercial outlets they want to run in parallel with their NGO work. </p><p dir="ltr">But for many organisations, taking the first step still poses major challenges. “Non-profit organisations still have too many fears about turning their assets to money,” says Bahrom Saydulloev, a young marketing expert from Tajikistan. Bahrom is sure that “not being performance-orientated is what makes NGOs weak.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/26814635_1706813806024320_36173830781904307_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/26814635_1706813806024320_36173830781904307_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="253" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Advert for a reading club at Bactria NGO, Dushanbe. </span></span></span>Saydulloev’s NGO <a href="https://www.facebook.com/BactriaCC/">Bactria</a>, which focuses on civic education and cultural events, already manages to generate 30% of its own income – the rest is largely grants for language and cultural programmes from a <a href="https://www.acted.org/en/abous-us/">Paris-based development NGO</a>. By 2020, Bahrom says, he wants to be 60% self-financed. “NGOs have to learn that money is intrinsic to any organisation, including those who want to be beneficial for society.”</p><p dir="ltr">Some organisations have adapted with amazing ease, such as <a href="https://homeless.ru/en/about/">Nochlezhka</a> – the oldest NGO helping homeless people in Russia. The Petersburg-based organisation has built up an impressive range of services, including a night bus, heated tents, counselling services, a shelter for the homeless, and even a “cultural laundrette”. “If we rely only on western funding, we could not exist,” says project coordinator Victoriya Ryzhkova. </p><p dir="ltr">The organisation has helped some 100,000 people in the city and saved thousands of lives over the past 28 years. But only 10% of Nochlezhka’s funding comes from government grants, another 10% from foreign funding. The rest of the NGO’s 45m rouble ($722,000) annual budget is raised from individual donations, business philanthropy and joint projects with businesses, such as a “buy and help” initiative in coffee shops last year. </p><p dir="ltr">With astonishing drive for an organization dating to the 1990s, Nochlezhka has co-opted banks to facilitate regular online transfers by clients and organises an annual rock concert with popular Russian musicians, which has become its star fundraising event. “Our sponsors are happy to support us,” says Victoriya, “they know that their money helps to improve the lives of people.”</p><p dir="ltr">Life is more difficult for organisations not working in social sphere. Human rights, environmental issues and other “political” groups still find it very difficult to raise funds in their societies. But positive examples do exist. For example, fundraising initiatives by the OVD-Info platform, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ovd-info">monitors political arrests</a> in Russia, and the Anti-Corruption Foundation of opposition activist Alexey Navalny, which raised 80m rubles (1.1m euros) in 2017, more than ever before. </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/nochlezhka_2016.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/nochlezhka_2016.jpg" alt="lead " 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 staff at Nochlezhka, a St Petersburg NGO that helps people without homes in the city. Source: Nochlezhka. </span></span></span>To some human rights organisations, the shift to paid services is logical. “Human rights is needed not by foreign donors, but by our society,” says Kyrgyz lawyer Fatima Yakupbaeva. The civic rights sector, she is convinced, has become “de-emancipated” by decades of foreign funding. “People have to relearn that our reality is a jungle in which you have to fight for your rights.” </p><p dir="ltr">Since 2012, Yakupbaeva’s organisation Precent has operated a double structure, running both an NGO and a registered law firm. Like others, Fatima says monetisation has been the only way to be financially sustainable and truly independent. “Today we define our own mission, instead of filling in endless donor documents.” It is important for her that “society learns that assistance on civic rights is not something you get for free forever,” she notes. “When people pay, they become more conscious of the deeper value of their rights.” </p><p dir="ltr">Others are finding the struggle more up-hill. “It is a constant fight for everything, for clients, attention and money,” says Yulya Malkova, who runs <a href="http://prowomen.by">ProWomen.by</a>, a small centre in Minsk, Belarus, supporting young women to set up their own business. In total, Malkova has not managed to raise more than $200 this year. NGOs like hers, she says, have to accept that “the public is simply not ready to pay for our ideas”. The biggest challenge for her remains to “work non-stop to reach out to my own citizens.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Many organisations wait for grant calls like for a white knight. They’ve never had to reach out to their own citizens and they don’t want to”</p><p dir="ltr">Forcing NGOs to turn to their local communities may be the biggest benefit of new monetisation strategies. Many experts see that the lack of “constituency building” by NGOs is the biggest deficiency fostered by western donor strategies of the 1990s. </p><p dir="ltr">“International funders have formed a whole culture of dreaming of grants,” says Almut Rochowanski, an expert working with civil society groups in the North Caucasus. “Many organisations wait for grant calls like for a white knight,” she notes. “They’ve never had to reach out to their own citizens and they don’t want to.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-30706731.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-30706731.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'>Russian organisation OVD-Info monitors politically-motivated arrests and detentions at public rallies. Photo: Xinhua/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Thinking about fundraising, marketing and profit makes NGOs reach out and become more embedded in their own societies. “Like others, civil society has to be clear about its target audience,” says marketing expert Irina Davydenko, who advises social start-ups. For her, in-depth market research is the key for a successful transition. “Like in business, the client has to be at the heart of everything.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the end, the funding crisis may be a much-needed game-changer for civil society in the post-Soviet countries. According to Rochowanski, “local fundraising is the best way to encourage community buy-in, financial sustainability, stronger mandates, better programming and enhanced security.” Meanwhile the challenges of transition are huge, as NGOs learn to change long-standing management structures and rebuild their teams to include fundraisers, PR experts and digital specialists. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Like in any other sector, NGO people should be happy and well-paid”</p><p dir="ltr">New critical issues stir up heated inner debates in organisations. By making money, are they shifting from partners to service providers for their clients? Who should pay and who shouldn’t have to for their services? How to keep a balance between business plans and the mission of an organisation? How much accountability can donors expect? Is it ethical to spend income on furniture and better salaries in the organization? “Inner development is as important as helping people,” says Svetlana Makovietskaya from the GRANI Centre. “Like in any other sector, NGO people should be happy and well-paid.”</p><p dir="ltr">“In the end, the most important is to understand monetization as a means, not an end,” says Bahrom from Tajikistan. “The aim is not to turn into a commercial structure, but stay a civic organisation able to fulfil a mission for society.”</p><p dir="ltr">Some are dedicated to go a long way. “If a project exists,” says Yulya Malkova from ProWomen.by defiantly, “it means that there is money for it somewhere.” However little money people give, she sees her NGO on the right way. “However small we are,” she adds, “we are already an engine working for development in our country.”</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/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">Five years of Russia’s Foreign Agent law</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/barbara-frye/could-crowdfunding-yes-crowdfunding-save-journalism-in-partly-free-societies">Could crowdfunding – yes, crowdfunding – save journalism in partly free societies?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/orysia-lutsevych/what-can-western-states-learn-from-civil-society-engagement-eastern-europe">What can western states learn from civil society engagement in eastern Europe?</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/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/compassion-fatigue-what-happens-in-eurasia">Compassion fatigue: what happens in Eurasia when the world looks away</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">Crowdfunding to bypass Russia’s civil society crackdown</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 Barbara von Ow-Freytag Russia Central Asia Tue, 26 Jun 2018 07:21:15 +0000 Barbara von Ow-Freytag 118587 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet Atsamaz Khadikov, the man leading North Ossetia's quiet struggle for a non-toxic environment https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-heavy-metal-processing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia's North Caucasus region is famed for its landscapes and nature. But as this local doctor and activist tells me, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.43.18_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.43.18_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="338" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kavzinc, 1921. Source: OAO Electrozinc.</span></span></span>The story of Vladikavkaz’s Electrozinc plant goes back to the Russian Empire. It was the first place in Russia to produce electro-plated zinc on an industrial scale, and later it became the flagship of the USSR’s mining and metallurgy sector.</p><p dir="ltr">But large scale production in Vladikavkaz has inevitably been <a href="http://oc-media.org/north-ossetias-toxic-choice/">accompanied by toxic emissions</a>. Ecologists started to raise alarms in the late 1990s: a combination of clapped out equipment and obsolete technology threatened to turn not just North Ossetia into a chemical waste dump, but neighbouring republics in the North Caucasus as well. </p><p dir="ltr">Despite the fact that toxic atmospheric emissions have been documented on many occasions, and the protests that have arisen around them, the plant is still in operation. It took until 2016 for the plant’s management to announce it was closing down its zinc production and clearing the accumulated industrial waste for the first time in 70 years. As Alina Bigayeva <a href="http://oc-media.org/north-ossetias-toxic-choice/">points out</a>, Electrozinc is also North Ossetia’s largest taxpayer and investor, contributing around $5.4m to the republic’s budget in 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">I spoke to Atsamaz Khadikov, one of the leading activists in the fight for environmental protection in North Ossetia, about the prospects for the region’s ecology. A doctor by profession, Khadikov took part in a Prosecutor-General’s Office inspection of the plant in 2005. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How long has this plant been in operation?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Electrozinc has been operating under its present name since 1934. It was previously known as Kavzinc and used local raw materials, but in 1934 it began to use imported raw materials from 40 countries. It is still doing this, although they don’t admit it and insist that their raw materials are all mined locally. “Elektrocadmium” would now be a much more appropriate name.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are the plant’s operations ever inspected?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In April 2017, the plant’s management refused entry to its premises to the well-known environment expert Alexey Kiselev and Sergey Tsiplenkov, the head of Russian Greenpeace. They were instead shown an exhibition on the history of the Gulag and then taken to a regional government meeting about unsafe housing stock. Tsiplenkov himself told me that they only managed to request that documents relating to the plant be sent to them in Moscow. </p><p dir="ltr">It took a month and a half for anything to arrive, and another two months before we could talk about them. I asked what raw materials were being used at the plant, and it turned out that for the last few years they have been reprocessing radioactive concentrates from South Africa. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.40.05_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.40.05_0.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="332" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Atsamaz Khadikov. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>We reported this to Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the Presidential Council for Human Rights and the Development of Civil Society, and he was supposed to pass the information on to President Putin. But back in 2010, in a conversation with the then head of North Ossetia Teymuraz Mamsurov, Putin asked whether the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company (Electroczinc’s mother company) would be coming into operation? What could Mamsurov answer? Of course he said yes. We were protesting actively back then.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The plant’s management insists that the waste issue is under control. What’s the real situation? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">At the end of last year, an air quality monitoring system called “SKAT” was installed in Vladikavkaz. I, along with other people involved in environmental and consumer rights organisations, was invited to the opening ceremony, which was recorded on video and by the local TV channel. I also spoke for some time, and asked, among other things, why the air monitoring instruments weren’t the same as those in operation in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">Boris Revich, a world-class environmental specialist from Russia’s Academy of Sciences, <a href="http://rusrep.ru/article/2014/06/10/nikel/">explained</a> that the local instruments weren’t up to scratch, especially for a city with such serious environmental pollution issues. The equipment used in Moscow is a western import that has passed “Eurotest” system scrutiny and other checks. But Vladikavkaz nonetheless decided to install the “SKAT” system, despite Revich’s advice to the contrary.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the last few years we in North Ossetia have had regular visits from various medical specialists – cardiologists, neurologists, endocrinologists – but none from toxicologists. And for some reason doctors don’t ever admit that the symptoms displayed by the local population look like the results of poisoning. Why has the Russian Ministry of Health’s chief toxicology specialist never visited us? It seems rather odd.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How has pollution from the plant changed over the recent years in terms of its effect on people’s health? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">In 2007, Electrozinc commissioned specialists to collect blood samples from children living in North Ossetia, but the results were hushed up to avoid compromising the plant’s owners. They wanted to shrink the controlled access area around the plant to a radius of 300 metres, although most similar installations have a controlled radius of one kilometre, and 15-20 years ago it was two kilometres. </p><p dir="ltr">A few years ago the plant’s laboratory decided to recultivate the ground around nursery schools. They began looking for suitably safe soil all over the republic, and indeed didn’t find any that wasn’t polluted by heavy metals. This served as the basis for an announcement by the planet’s CEO that what we had was a high background pollution level. He didn’t, however, mention the fact that the highest levels of pollution were next to the plant and the mining and enrichment works. </p><p dir="ltr">But they were working without observing hygiene and environmental norms. The whole world brought us their waste for years, and now they put everything down to “high background pollution”. That is a flagrant lie. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.44.40_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.44.40_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Installation on Nikolaev St., Vladikavkaz. Source: OAO Electrozinc.</span></span></span>There’s can’t be any objective figures for Electrozinc because there is practically no environmental monitoring service. There are structures that carry out management instructions to hide everything that has to be hidden and tart up everything else. I think the people who work in these structures get extra benefits on top of their salaries.</p><p dir="ltr">Local doctors, unfortunately, keep their mouths shut, because they can lose their jobs. And they’re not the only people reliant on the plant. If you wanted to appoint staff who would be independent of management, you would have to fire the chiefs of every public body.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What can you say about <a href="http://electrozinc.ugmk.com/ru/press/news/Since-2004%2C-the-%22Electrozinc%22-has-reduced-emissions-by-85%25/">recent announcements</a> about an alleged drop of 80% in toxic discharges over the last 13 years? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">In October 2016, the plant management <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/290397/">announced</a> that, in the interests of environmental improvements, they had closed down the most toxic process – lead production. But at the same time they have increased production of zinc. </p><p dir="ltr">Besides producing 80% of Russia’s lead, Electrozinc also produced 40% of its cadmium, although this is more than 60 times more toxic than lead. We have more of it in our bodies and our environment here than anywhere else in Russia, and it is considered even more toxic than mercury – in other words, it is the most toxic metal of them all. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How can you find out whether someone has been poisoned by toxic waste? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Many people imagine that I’m an ecologist, but in fact I’m a doctor, so my main concern is the symptoms that people have. Even in people with other serious conditions, the first thing I notice is chronic cadmium and arsenic poisoning. In international classification, arsenic is considered a Group 1 carcinogen that is particularly dangerous to skin and lungs. And cadmium carries the same classification for its effect on the kidneys and prostate gland. There are also figures to show that higher cadmium content in the body increases the risk of mammary gland disorders by 21%. </p><p dir="ltr">In the 1980s, most complaints were about throat infections – a sign of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. Now the symptoms are different: a metallic taste in the mouth, a drying out of the mucous lining in the nose. And this suggests an increase in arsenic levels. </p><p dir="ltr">These metals all have a cumulative effect – their effect on the body increases with time. So symptoms of poisoning can develop even 30 years after a person has worked with these metals. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What medical conditions are most common in North Ossetia now?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Skin cancer. Our oncology clinic is always full to overflowing. Its director once gave an interview, and you know what she said? Our people, she claimed, spend too much time in tanning salons. I have never met anyone, woman or man, who was diagnosed with skin cancer after using a sun bed. The late ecologist Alexey Yablokov used to say that the North Caucasus had the highest incidence of cancer in the whole of Russia, and North Ossetia had the highest incidence of six kinds of cancer. He, by the way, referred to Electrozinc as a cadmium factory, after its main toxic waste product. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What generalisations can you make on the basis of these discharges of toxic waste products into the environment and their effect on people’s health?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There are figures that show that in 1985 there were 67.5 tonnes of toxic waste discharged, and in 2005 only 2.5 tonnes – 27 times less waste for the same level of production. Fantastic, eh? And now they tell us that waste levels are down to 800 tonnes. Well, for that, every worker, as well as the CEO, should be awarded the Nobel Prize and have gold monuments erected to them. </p><p dir="ltr">Seven or eight years ago we asked the Ministry of Health for information on the incidence of various conditions (and sometimes I could get hold of figures through unofficial channels). And here in North Ossetia, the incidence of respiratory conditions is statistically 20 times higher than the Russian average. </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/564053/38_big_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/38_big_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'>Embankment of the Terek. Source: Wikimapia.</span></span></span>Two years ago, three people died of flu and 13 of complications from it. Neither antiviral nor antibiotic medicines helped. And it was only in Ossetia that people died. Why did no one die anywhere else? What is this flu that only kills residents of North Ossetia? </p><p dir="ltr">We have a sick joke that’s been doing the rounds for a while: “You’ve got a gas chamber in a concentration camp. They carry one lot out, dead, then another lot. But there are four inmates still sitting inside, playing cards. Somebody asks them: ‘Where are you from? How come you’re not dead?’ And they reply, ‘We’re from Electrozinc, we’re used to it.’” That joke is 40 years old. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Does the plant’s work affect neighbouring republics? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Of course. The rivers flow down from here. A few years ago we had a flood, and that got the ecologists from our neighbours, Chechnya and Ingushetia, worried. They could see the effects – the fish started dying off and cattle were falling sick. And even they could tell us that it was because of so-called tailing ponds – places where several million tonnes of waste from mining and enrichment works would accumulate. </p><p dir="ltr">We poison people in Ingushetia through both air and water. There’s a small river there, the Kambileyevka (a tributary of the Terek) that is considered the “deadliest” river in Russia. In May 2006, the zinc content was recorded as 898 times the normal level and the copper, 71 times the norm. In September of the same year, however, zinc levels were recorded as only 12 times the norm, which was odd, but production levels at the plant hadn’t changed over that period. In other words, staff were told to record a much lower figure. </p><p dir="ltr">A friend of mine who lives there says that nothing will grow near that river. The number of cattle has also fallen – they drink the river water. And locals are often diagnosed with cancer.</p><p dir="ltr">In Dagestan there is a professor called <a href="https://www.zin.ru/Animalia/Coleoptera/rus/abdurahm.htm">Gayirbek Abdurakhmanov</a>. He wrote in 2013 that there had been a 2000-fold increase in the zinc ion content of the waters of the Terek River in Dagestan. I was a conference in Makhachkala (the capital of Dagestan) two years ago, and asked whether there had been any improvement. What percentage of Dagestan is washed by the waters of the Terek, I asked, and was told that it was 30% of the whole republic. They hadn’t, however, measured the quality of the water. </p><p dir="ltr">There is an <a href="http://www.iwp.ru/">Institute of Water Problems</a>, which looks after the Volga. But no one is taking any notice of the Terek, although it is 600 kilometres long. </p><p dir="ltr">We have two mining and enrichment works, neither of which is operational now. But when there was a flood in the Phiagdon Gorge five years ago, something was washed down with the water and all the fish died. And these dead fish were carried downstream as far as Chechnya. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You’re very informed about what’s happening at Electrozinc, you often organise protest action. But there doesn’t seem to be any mass movement against the plant. Why do you think this is?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I inspected the plant for a month and a half in June 2005, and really got involved in it. I live just a kilometre from the place. When I go out onto my balcony at night I can hear it working. </p><p dir="ltr">I don’t understand why people here are so passive. In Sochi, environmentalists are campaigning around forests and dead trees. But here there are people dying, and nobody is doing anything about it.</p><p dir="ltr">A lot of people don’t realise how harmful it all is. People get the idea that everything is fine, even though many of them have cancer or diabetes. And they start believing, like people back in the superstitious Middle Ages, that it’s all a kind of voodoo, the evil eye and so on. Some of them are even well educated. </p><p dir="ltr">Residents of North Ossetia live under the weight of years-long disinformation. They look at the government, which tells them that everything is just fine. They have TV, which from time to time shows them positive stories about various ways of avoiding illness, about healthy environments… The mountains of Ossetia are beautiful to look at – that’s true. But their beauty is deceptive. The whole republic was full of factories – there were more than in any Russian city. That had to have consequences. Our generally low level of environmental awareness is a result of our being told for decades that everything was safe. </p><p dir="ltr">People in Vladikavkaz go for walks to the banks of the Terek. There is a park there, and a funfair. But everyone knows that most of the waste from the plant settles on the riverbank (a result of differences in temperature). It was always thought that living beside the river was an elite kind of thing to, and the flats are more expensive there. But the reality is the opposite. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>At the same time, we associate the Caucasus with pure mountain air, and open air leisure is being actively promoted. So are you saying that it’s not such a healthy environment as people think? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, people always associate the Caucasus with mountains, green grass and clean rivers. But none of that applies to Ossetia, Ingushetia or Chechnya. There might be a few unpolluted spots somewhere, in a more remote area, but in general everything is seriously poisoned. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But surely some government figures are talking about the harm caused by industry?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Well, yes, occasionally Duma deputies show some signs of activity and talk about the harm caused by Electrozinc – usually before some election or other – or someone who’s had a family member die of cancer will speak out. But nothing ever changes – this activity seems to be just an act. </p><p dir="ltr">The last time the parliamentarians of North Ossetia paid any attention to the Electrozinc problem was at the beginning of this year. A committee, headed by well known local politician Djambolat Tedeyev, was set up to assess the environmental health of Vladikavkaz. So far, there has been no news of any progress. </p><p>Meanwhile, there was <a href="http://metalinfo.ru/ru/news/102254">news</a> at the end of May that the reconstruction of the plant’s sulphuric acid facility, built in the 1980s and long past its sell-by date, is almost complete. The part of the plant responsible for the highest level of air pollution will soon be back in operation.</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/dmitry-shevchenko/protecting-the-environment-is-becoming-a-deadly-occupation">Protecting the environment is becoming a deadly occupation in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-chesnokov/no-future-in-karabash">No future in Karabash, one of Russia’s most polluted towns </a> </div> <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/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/karelia-mining-conflict-russia">Extremists by any another name: how Karelian pensioners fought against a mining company – and won</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Caucasus Mon, 25 Jun 2018 05:38:05 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 118524 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Anti-fascist teenager reveals how Russian security services brutally beat and tortured him https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/anti-fascist-torture-russia-alexey-poltavets <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Since October 2017, the FSB have been running a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">terrorism investigation</a> into Russian anarchists and anti-fascists. But as Alexey Poltavets' experience shows, this case has a violent backstory.&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/dscf7688_1_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Investigative prison, Penza. Source: OVD-Info. </span></span></span>Since October 2017, nine people have arrested as part of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network” case</a>, which has seen Russian anti-fascists and anarchists in St Petersburg and Penza detained on terrorism charges. According to Federal Security Service (FSB) investigators, all the arrested men were members of an organisation that planned to provoke the “popular masses for further destabilisation of the political climate in the country” during the Russian presidential elections and FIFA World Cup. Cells of the organisation were allegedly operating in Moscow, St Petersburg, Penza and Belarus.</p><p dir="ltr">But as has become clear, this case has a history that goes back to spring 2017. Sofiko Aridzhanova, a Moscow-based journalist and anarchist, recently <a href="https://vk.com/sofico_ghaval?w=wall38103741_6020">revealed</a> that FSB officers informally interrogated her in February last year. And on 23 May 2018, Viktoria Frolova, a friend of the suspects in Penza, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2018/05/31/tuda-i-obratno-zaderzhannaya-podruga-obvinyaemyh-po-delu-seti-pokinula-rossiyu">detained</a> at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Frolova was forced to give a testimony against her acquaintances from Penza. Prior to that, Frolova’s boyfriend Alexey Poltavets told OVD-Info how he was arrested, beaten up and tortured by FSB officers in Penza. According to Poltavets, he is referred to as “Boris” in the FSB’s case files for the “Network” case.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, he tells how he was detained and tortured in March 2017.</p><h2>About me</h2><p dir="ltr">My name is Alexey Poltavets, I was born in Omsk. In terms of my beliefs, I am an anarchist, anti-fascist and vegetarian; I am against the current government of the Russian Federation.</p><p dir="ltr">In Omsk, I took part in animal rights events — film screenings and rallies. In 2014, I was an active supporter of the Maidan protesters in Kyiv, I was speaking out against the annexation of Crimea and the incursions of the Russian army into Ukrainian territory. I attended rallies organised by the local authorities to “celebrate the return of Crimea” with a Ukrainian flag and yellow and blue balloons. This is how I tried to troll the participants of these events. As a result, I was threatened and on time policemen, including agents from Centre “E” [<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/grigory-tumanov/dark-doings-of-russia%E2%80%99s-centre-e">Centre for Countering Extremism</a>], tried to detain me, but I managed to escape.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, after another quarrel with my parents caused by our political differences, I decided to leave and move to St Petersburg, to join my friend <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">Viktor Filinkov</a>. I met Filinkov through my brother (they were course mates at university) in Omsk in 2014. We became friends because of our shared beliefs. Together with Viktor, we attended many opposition events, including against the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine, as well as animal rights events. In 2016, Filinkov left for St Petersburg and got a job there, but we stayed in touch.</p><h2>How it all began</h2><p dir="ltr">On my way from Omsk to St Petersburg, I decided to stay with some friends in Penza — Filinkov had some temporary troubles with money and accommodation. I arrived in Penza in December 2016. I was 16 years old then. My friends helped me to find a job and a place to live. I was hanging out with local political activists, anti-fascists and anarchists. I knew Egor Zorin, Dmitry Pchelintsev [suspects in the “Network” case], Maxim Ivankin, Mikhail Kulkov and other local activists. We were playing Airsoft together and walking in the forest — collecting rubbish, sitting around the fire.</p><p dir="ltr">Around the end of February or the beginning of March 2017, Zorin was detained. An acquaintance invited him over, and then during that meeting he, according to Zorin, constantly left to make some calls. After one of the calls, a group of men stormed into the flat, they introduced themselves as FSB agents, a typical “maski-show” [a raid by masked security agents] followed. They found some weed in the flat and started putting pressure on Zorin, claiming that the drugs belonged to him. They told him that his acquaintances who were in the flat had already started giving evidence against him. Then they offered him a “solution”: to cooperate with the FSB and follow their orders, collect information for them and pass it on to them in a timely fashion. The agents were asking about Islamic terrorists, and were saying that there were recruiters at the university [Penza State University], where Zorin was studying. They explained that if he agreed to cooperate, they would close down their investigation into drugs in the flat, but if he refused — they would lock him up on a maximum sentence. Zorin agreed, signed necessary documents and then was released.</p><p dir="ltr">Next day, he met his friends and told them what happened. It was obvious from how he looked that he was scared and didn’t know what to do. A week later Zorin said that the FSB agents had another conversation with him: they met him next to his apartment block and put him in a car. An agent was asking questions about left-wing activism and also asked whether Zorin knew any activists. Three weeks later I was arrested.</p><h2>Arrest</h2><p dir="ltr">At 10pm, 30 March 2017, I and two of my acquaintances — Mikhail Kulkov and Maxim Ivankin — were walking to my place after a gathering at Kulkov’s place. My comrades decided to walk me home, I’m from another city. </p><p dir="ltr">A grey VAZ-2115 police car approached us, five men jumped out of it — some in plain clothes, some in uniforms. I didn’t even have time to ask why I was being detained before my hands were behind my back in handcuffs. The men in police uniform were shouting “Give me your fucking hands, give me your hands, bitch” while a man in plain clothes was overseeing the whole process. The men in uniform put me facing the car and shouted “Give us your fucking full name, quickly”. Then one of them hit me on the head and I hit my face against the car. I gave them my name, patronymic and surname. One of the men in uniform started searching me, took my money and passport and put them on the top of the car. When he didn’t find anything else, he put the things back into my pocket. After that, the same man pressed my head against the car and didn’t allow me to turn it. Another man in uniform (a FSB agent named Ilya, as I learned later) was searching Kulkov’s and Ivankin’s backpacks just where we weren’t allowed to look. Whenever I tried to turn my head to see what the men in plain clothes were doing or asked “Why am I being detained”, I was hit with a fist in the kidneys area. A few minutes later Ilya (the FSB agent) shouted: “There are drugs here!”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The FSB agent Ilya figured out what was in the bag without opening it, and said: “That’s it, guys, you’re done.”</p><p>At that point, a white Ford minibus with blue plates arrived, four men got out of it, they were dressed in tactical clothes, they were wearing caps and masks, and there was one more agent in plain clothes. The agent who was holding me turned me to face Ilya. The latter was sitting next to a pile of stuff he’d taken out of the backpacks, he was holding a transparent bag with some sort of roll of stuff inside it. The FSB agent Ilya figured out what was in the bag without opening it and said: “That’s it, guys, you’re done.” We instantly replied that the bag had been planted. In response, they started hitting us.</p><p dir="ltr">We were taken to the minibus, one of the agents set down next to me. He took me by my neck and pressed my head against the seat in front of us, and then hit me several times on the back of my head. I asked: “What did I do? Why have I been detained?”. But in response I only received more punches on my head and my face, after which the agent said: “I’m the one who asks questions here, do you understand?” Then he hit me on the face with his palm once again. I replied: “Understood.”</p><h2>Torture</h2><p dir="ltr">We drove to a police or FSB station. I didn’t have time to read what was written on the plaque at the entrance. While they were bringing us there, the agents threatened that we would now be beaten up, and we would say whatever they tell us to say.</p><p dir="ltr">I was brought into an office that had a door that led to another office. They put me into the “one and a half” position next to this door. This is when you have to stand with your legs half-bent, as if one is sitting but without a chair. It is very difficult to stand in this position for a long time. Apart from me, there were two agents in plain clothes in the room. They made sure that I could not stand in a normal position. This was around midnight. An agent called Mikhail entered the room. He approached me and, while turning me around, said “Well, hello!” and then punched me in the upper part of the stomach. I bent down, and was trying to restore my breathing, while he said: “Take it easy, I’m just warming up.”</p><p dir="ltr">Mikhail took me into the office behind the door. Ilya was already there. Mikhail took the passport and money from my pocket (later they returned my passport, but kept the money). Then he took off my handcuffs and told me to strip naked and do 20 squats. While I was doing the exercises, Mikhail checked my clothes. After that, I put my clothes back on and they again locked the handcuffs tightly behind my back. Agent Ilya said: “So, you do understand why you were arrested, don’t you?” I replied: “No.” The agents started laughing. And Ilya told me: “It is really funny how you always pretend that you have no fucking idea, but after we beat the shit out of you, you immediately begin to understand.” Mikhail punched me a few more times in the stomach and, holding me by the hair, said:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“You understand that it is not by accident that we found drugs on you. Now you sign a testimony against your anarchist mates, then repeat it to an investigator, and we let you go, you will be a witness. If you don’t, you will get a maximum sentence, and I will make sure you have a good time in the detention centre, they love young boys like you there.”</p><p dir="ltr">I replied that I was not going to sign anything.</p><p dir="ltr">Mikhail was still holding me by the hair. Ilya stood up, approached me and punched me several times in the upper stomach. Mikhail let my hair go and pushed me, I felt on the ground. Ilya said: “Wrong answer, we are asking you nicely. Your friends are going to prison no matter what you say, the only question is whether you are going to join them.” I coughed and tried to stand up, the same agent put a chair next to me and said: “Sit down.” I sat down and replied: “I have already told you that I am not going to sign anything.” Mikhail kicked me in the chest with his leg (the kick was more like a push than a kick) and I fell backwards together with the chair. He said: “Ok, this means you will get a full term together with them, right now your friends are ratting you out next door, while you’re protecting them here. If you don’t want to lose your health in this room — &nbsp;you will have to answer our questions.” Then the agent picked up the chair and I sat down again.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">They threatened and pressured me a lot, they threatened to rape me with a broom. This went on the whole night</p><p>Next, they threatened and pressured me a lot, they threatened to rape me with a broom. This went on the whole night. Sometimes an agent named Nikolay entered and also humiliated me. Nikolay would wring my arms behind my back, which was extremely painful, and it seemed as if he was going to break my arms, he was also pulling my hair, screwing my ear up in a ball. Whenever I fell and was lying on my back, he put his foot on my genitals and was pressing stronger and stronger. I felt unbearable pain, which lasted for a long time afterwards. Nikolay threatened to hang me up and to send me in to people who would rape me.</p><p dir="ltr">After threatening me, the agents began to ask when I came to Penza, why, what I was doing, how I met others who were arrested, and other things that concerned me. I replied to those questions. Sometimes the agents took breaks and ate and drank — during those intervals I was put back to the wall in the “one and a half” position. When I could not stand like that anymore and tried to stand normally, an agent would come and hit me with his palm in the stomach, and was threatening to hang me up. After that, I stood back in the “one and a half” position.</p><p dir="ltr">I held this position until evening. Then they brought me to the office and sat me down on a chair. There were three agents in the room: Mikhail, Ilya and Nikolay. They asked me: “So, have you changed your mind?” I replied: “No.” Ilya sat down in front of me and said: “Your friends have already testified against you. What happened to you earlier was the best thing that could have happened. I have broken many people like you with these very hands.” It was clear that he was proud of himself. Nikolay stood behind me, he placed the backrest of the chair between my back and my hands, so I couldn’t get up or move. Nikolay took an old thick plastic bag out of the cabinet, the sides of it were rolled down, he rolled them once more and placed it on my head, without tying it. They repeated all questions again, I didn’t answer.</p><p dir="ltr">At that point, I got really scared, I feared for my life and was afraid that I wouldn’t leave that room alive if I didn’t do what the agents wanted. Nikolay tied the bag from behind, and I began to suffocate and jerk. The chair began to tilt, but Ilya pressed it down, while Nikolay pressed me against the back of the chair. Nikolay took off the bag from my head, I started coughing, some saliva dropped on the floor, which made Ilya angry and he hit me, saying something about me making their floor dirty. Ilya repeated the questions, I repeated that I was not going to say or sign anything. After that, Nikolay put the bag back and tied it, but this time he hold it for longer than the first time.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This time I was suffocating much more seriously: the first time I tried to hold my breath and keep calm before they tied the bag, as if I was diving, but I soon ran out of air and started panicking</p><p dir="ltr">I was experiencing an overwhelming sense of fear, I was suffocating and could not do anything. I felt like doing anything they would tell [me to do] to get a gasp of air.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">This time I was suffocating much more seriously: the first time I tried to hold my breath and keep calm before they tied the bag, as if I was diving, but I soon ran out of air and started panicking. When they took the bag off, I started coughing and said: “Stop it, stop torturing me.” In response, they put the bag back on, while I didn’t even have time to cough after the previous time. The third time, Nikolay held the bag on even longer. After he took the bag off, I was asked again whether I was going to sign a evidence statement and an agreement to cooperate. I replied: “Stop torturing me. You are twice as old as I am, I am in handcuffs, how can you do this?” They replied: “There is no other way with you” — and put the bag back on. I experienced an unbearable lack of oxygen, panic and fear.</p><p dir="ltr">They repeated these “procedures” five or seven times more, after that they took the bag off for a few seconds and put it on again, and hold it even longer, as a result I almost urinated on myself. Afterwards, Nikolay took off the bag, all agents were very angry, they repeated the question, I didn’t reply. After that, Mikhail who was sitting all the time and observing the torture said: “We’ll get the soldering iron and you will agree to everything” — and Ilya started looking for a soldering iron in the office. Mikhail opened the door to the office nearby and shouted: “Bring me the soldering iron”, and then left the room himself. At that point Nikolay said: “I will now take this broom and shove it in your asshole, and you will agree to everything, you won’t want to live after that. Do you want that?” I said: “No, I don’t.” At this moment, Mikhail returned, asked Nikolay to come with him, and they left the office and were discussing something, but I could not hear what exactly. Afterwards, Mikhail came in and said: “You have been lucky so far that your friends turned out to be more cooperative, but later you will pay for your behaviour here.”</p><p dir="ltr">Then they told me that they would let me go if I sign a pledge not to leave the city and that if I discussed what happened there — they would torture me again. The FSB agents promised to pick me up again on Monday. They brought me into the office where I was before and put me back into the “one and a half” position. It was late and the agents told me that they hadn’t slept for three days, and that they were going to bed now, and would continue to deal with us in the morning. The whole night I held the “one and a half” position next to the wall. During this time, two agents watched a film, eating and making sure that I couldn’t stand normally. But this time the agents were not so aggressive when I tried to stand in a normal pose. They allowed me to go to the toilet once, and there they were also with me.</p><p dir="ltr">In the morning, Nikolay, Mikhail and Ilya came back. They said that now I was going to answer the questions, some of which I had already answered. These were questions about me: what I was doing, why I came to the city, when, where I was going. But this time it was necessary to sign them with the investigator. They told me that I would be released together with Ivankin, since he testified against Kulkov, and Kulkov had taken the guilt on himself. They said that since I was from Omsk, I would live at Ivankin’s place. To avoid torture, I agreed. The agents wrote down my answers on a piece of paper. I asked: “What is going to happen to Kulkov?”They replied that they would put him under house arrest. Then they led me out of the building and put in a car, where there were three more agents, I didn’t know one of them, his name was Andrey.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">&nbsp;“You have been lucky so far that your friends turned out to be more cooperative, but later you will pay for your behaviour here.”</p><p dir="ltr">On our way, we stopped next to a bridge, rail trucks and a forest. I was told that we had to make a photo where I point to a particular spot on the ground. I said that I was not going to get photographed and they started hitting me on the back of my head, back and the whole body, as well as threatening me. They told me that they would bring me back to the department, where I would be raped and tortured. Then I complied since I understood that the FSB agents could indeed do that. We left the car, another car stopped behind ours, and three girls came out of it. One of them, I thought, was a police officer, while two others were there just to stand next to me while they photographed us. They took off the handcuffs and told me to point first to one column of the bridge and then to another and then at an empty piece of land between the columns. I did that. Then they put the handcuffs back and drove me again.</p><p dir="ltr">When we arrived at another department, they unlocked the handcuffs and brought me to an office, a woman in police uniform was inside. She told me to sit down on a chair, I did that, and then she asked one agent to stay with me. Mikhail stayed. She offered me water. This was the first sip of water in one and a half days. Before that I was not allowed to sit (apart from the time when they were putting the bag on my head), to drink, not to mention, to eat. She offered me a chocolate bar. The door into the hall was open, and I saw how Kulkov and Ivankin were led by the office. I asked whether I could share the chocolate with my friends, and the officer (as I learned, her name was Ekaterina) said: “Eat.” I ate a half of it, and asked to give the second half to my friends, but nobody bothered to do that.</p><p dir="ltr">After that, she gave me a phone and told me to call my parents, which I did. Ekaterina told my mom that I was detained and that she would now allow us to talk. I asked my mom to find a lawyer for me, because I didn’t have &nbsp;one, and that I was not guilty. Ekaterina immediately demanded that we ended the conversation. Agent Mikhail said: “How is that we are not giving you a lawyer, you refused yourself.” I replied that I asked for a lawyer, but was refused. Mikhail gave Ekaterina the paper with my answers. She started typing what was written on it, sometimes asking questions about details. When she finished with my answers, she printed them out, and said that she was going to compare them with the answers of others. Then she returned and said that almost everything coincided. She gave me the papers with my answers and told me that if I sign them and then another paper (a pledge not to leave the city), I would be released.</p><p dir="ltr">Mikhail said: “Well do you want to drive again to us and then go to the SIZO, instead of home?” I said no and signed the papers. After that, they returned my passport and said: “Well done, now sit down and wait while Ivankin is interrogated and his testimony is printed, then we will take you home. You will sit at home, not a step outside, understood?” I said: “Understood.” Around two hours passed and then Nikolay entered the room and said that it was time to bring me and Ivankin home. Nikolay and Andrey led me and Ivankin out of the department and put us in the same car, in which I was driven there. They brought us to Ivankin’s place around 8pm, the agents explained to his parents that I was from Omsk and that I would be living with them for now. They promised to come for me on Monday [3 April 2017].</p><h2>After detention</h2><p dir="ltr">Later, Ivankin and I discussed what happened at the FSB. Ivankin told me that at the FSB, he and Kulkov had agreed that Ivankin would testify against Kulkov and Kulkov would confess — to stop the violence of the agents. They were not tortured with the bag, but were beaten up, threatened with a soldering iron, and made stand in the “one and a half” position. We decided that it was not safe to stay and that there was a direct threat to our lives from the FSB agents. We feared that the violence and torture would continue. We got in touch with Kulkov and told him that we were planning to escape, and he replied that he was going to run away too. Since we were not allowed to sit, drink, eat and sleep for almost two days, we went to bed. Next day, 2 April 2017, we left the house. Before leaving, I called my girlfriend Vika and told her what had happened. We decided that she would also leave Penza as soon as possible.</p><p dir="ltr">Since then I have not seen either Ivankin or Kulkov. I was afraid of getting in touch with human rights defenders since I thought that I would be placed in a detention centre where they would not be able to help me, and where I would be forced to testify against myself under torture. Later, it turned out that my fears were not groundless: exactly that — torture and detention — happened to my friends from Penza and Petersburg. </p><h2>Another city</h2><p dir="ltr">After we left the house where we were obliged to stay according to our pledges not to leave, I decided to go to the city N to my acquaintances. I hitchhiked there, told my friends what happened to me and they offered me to stay with them until the situation became clearer. Now I am incredibly grateful to these people and realise that they literally saved my life. Then I got in touch with my parents. According to my parents, FSB agents visited them and were asking whether they knew where I was and how to get in touch with me.</p><p dir="ltr">Understanding that the agents were looking for me, but also that I had to make a living somehow, I started looking for a job that would be possible without any papers. I found such job at a construction site, I just talked to the foreman of one the brigades. Then when they started to work on the external surface of a house, the site needed industrial climbers and people who would be able to work at heights, and since I used to do climbing and understood how everything worked, they took me on board. I lived like this for a few months, I would go home immediately after work, and tried to avoid public areas.</p><p dir="ltr">All that time, I was thinking how to leave Russia, understanding that “staying” was a direct threat to my life and health. I was considering any options of reaching a country where I could ask for an asylum, and Ukraine was my priority.</p><h2>Ukraine</h2><p dir="ltr">When I got an opportunity to move to Ukraine illegally, I used it and reached Kyiv. I was afraid to go to the migration service, since I heard that there were some cases when unknown people had abducted asylum seekers from the Russian Federation and bringing them back to Russia. In Kyiv, I found a job as an industrial climber and insulating houses, but there was no work in winter, and I worked as a delivery driver for a vegetarian cafe instead.</p><p dir="ltr">In autumn 2017, I learned that my friends had been arrested in Penza. A month earlier Victoria had got her foreign passport and joined me. Since then we have been living in Ukraine. Before her detention in May 2018, Viktoria already returned to Penza once. Then she did not have any problems at the border. This time she was brought for an interrogation to FSB, where an investigator, Tokarev, asked many questions about me and asked her to pass on his “greetings”. He threatened that they have “their own people” in Ukraine and that they would take me illegally to Russia and put in prison.</p><p dir="ltr">I also learned that FSB agents mentioned the nicknames of the arrested, including my nickname, “Boris”. In one article somebody made a mistake and wrote that Kulkov is “Boris”. I would like to correct this: “Boris” is me. I was nicknamed “Cat Boris” or simply “Boris” because I love cats very much, and I had a cat, and once while I was playing with it, there was an advertisement of cat food on TV that mentioned a cat called Boris, and a female friend called me “Cat Boris” as a joke, and then everyone started addressing me that way.</p><p dir="ltr">I read in the media that FSB agents have threatened to get to Aleksandra, Viktor Filinkov’s wife, who has very recently left Kyiv for Finland and applied for an asylum there. I also read that there were cases when some unknown people abducted asylum seekers from Russia and brought them back to the country. After that, I began to fear for my life and health, and I am afraid that I can be returned to Russia, where I will be tortured again and most probably put in prison. Therefore, I would like to get asylum in another safer counter. During this time, my health has significantly deteriorated, especially my moral and psychological state, I have developed a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which has been confirmed by a psychologist. &nbsp;</p><p>I realised that there was a danger of being extradited secretly here, but still made a decision to apply for an asylum in Ukraine. I am waiting for the authorities’ decision now. Currently, I am living in Ukraine legally.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. </p><p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">“You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!”: Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svyatoslav-rechkalov/anarchists-don-t-have-leaders-svyatoslav-rechkalov-on-torture-at-hand">&quot;They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser&quot;: anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov on torture at the hands of Russian law enforcement</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexandra-filinkova/its-important-not-to-give-into-panic">“It’s important not to give into panic”: how I found out my husband was being tortured by the Russian security services </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-rykov/russias-security-services-against-anti-fascists">Russia’s security services have form in fabricating cases against anti-fascists </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <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 Russian anti-fascists in the crosshairs Sat, 23 Jun 2018 07:59:50 +0000 OVD-Info 118562 at https://www.opendemocracy.net OVD-Info Weekly Bulletin No. 60: Torture, a hunger strike and Russia's rising retirement age https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/ovd-info-weekly-bulletin-no-60-torture-hunger-strike-and-increase-in-pensionable- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Don't worry, it's only going to get worse.&nbsp;</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/555493/35628266_2025764754115002_4225661457443848192_o.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'>"This one knows a lot, but isn't speaking. Re-interrogate with an electro-recaller." Notes found on an FSB investigation file into a Church of Scientology in St Petersburg. Source: Team 29. </span></span></span></p><p><strong>This article is part of our partnership with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ovdinfo.org/">OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.</strong></p><p>This week’s Bulletin is not the happiest, but despite that we manage to conclude with two bits of good news.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is now on Day 40 of his hunger strike</strong>. He is demanding the release of Ukrainian political prisoners.</p><p>- We have studied the cases of 88 people linked with Ukraine who have been prosecuted by the Russian authorities. To make it easier to understand what is happening, we can see our <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/06/18/zalozhniki-neobyavlennoy-voyny?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">interactive project</a> that provides information about each case. At least 26 of those prosecuted have stated that they were tortured. Thirty-one have experienced serious health problems.</p><p>- Four people were detained in Moscow for handing out leaflets about the case of Oleg Sentsov case, while in Kazan a student was sentenced to 20 hours compulsory work for holding a single-person picket in support of Sentsov.</p><p>- Oleg Sentsov’s lawyer has said that Sentsov’s problems with his heart and kidneys have worsened, and his kidneys are becoming obstructed. Doctors consider that Sentsov’s condition will become critical over the next few days.</p><p><strong>The investigation into the so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“Network” case</a> continues. </strong><strong>Nine young people in Penza and St Petersburg have been charged with taking part in Network, an alleged terrorist group. The suspects have allegedly made preparations for disturbances in the country. A number of the suspects stated that FSB officers tortured them with electric shocks.</strong></p><p>- Three more individuals are being investigated for involvement in the terrorist group - two for drugs-related offences, one for arson.&nbsp;</p><p>- Dmitry Pchelintsev has said that as a result of torture he only has two molars left, and he has difficulty eating.</p><p>- Pre-trial detention has been extended until 18 September for Dmitry Pchelintsev, Vasily Kuksov, Ilya Shakursky, Andrei Chernov and Arman Sagynbaev.</p><p>- Pre-trial detention has been extended until 22 October for Viktor Filinkov, Yuly Boyarshinov and Igor Shishkin. Members of the public were not admitted to the court hearing at which judgment in the cases of Filinkov and Boyarshinov was announced; a journalist from Mediazona was detained. Filinkov has said that both “physical and psychological” pressure were applied to Boyarshinov while he was in detention.&nbsp;</p><p>- “I answered: ‘Stop torturing me. You are twice my age, I am in handcuffs, how can you even do this?’ To which he answered: ‘You can’t be treated any other way,’ - and again put a plastic bag over my head. I experienced an unbearable sense of a lack of air, panic and terror.”</p><p>This is how FSB officers obtained testimony from 16-year old anti-fascist activist Alexey Poltavets. Тhe young man confirms he is referred to in the materials of the Network case under the name of Boris. This account will be available in English soon.</p><p><strong>Moscow city authorities have refused permission for a demonstration against a planned&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-raising-pension-age">increase in retirement age</a> because of the FIFA World Cup</strong>. In Chelyabinsk, parents of students at School No. 152 have been threatened with being arrested if take part in events of that kind.</p><p><strong>In St Petersburg, lawyers of followers of the Church of Scientology were given materials of the criminal investigation that included comments by the FSB investigator</strong>. The comments included: “He knows a lot, but keeps quiet - reinterrogate with an electric aid to memory,” An idiot, but knows for sure that there is no extremism or paid-for services,” “No link with the Church of Scientology Moscow - question him again.” The investigation into the members of the Church of Scientology is being conducted by the same FSB officers as conducted the investigation into the Network terrorist group, in which the suspects were repeatedly tortured with electric shocks.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Alexey Kungurov, a blogger from Tyumen convicted in connection with a blogpost, was released on 15 June</strong>. Kungurov was sentenced to two years in an open prison colony on charges of justification of terrorism (Article 205. 2, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code) for a publication entitled ‘Who are Putin’s hawks actually bombing?’ in which he described the situation in Syria. The blogger intends to leave Russia.</p><p><strong>The Presidential Human Rights Council has concluded that Oyub Titiev’s complaint that the drugs were planted on him has not been investigated appropriately</strong>. Oyub Titiev is head of the Chechnya branch of Memorial Human Rights Centre. He has been charged with possessing marijuana and held on remand since January.</p><h2>Thank you</h2><p>With your help we can do more! <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">Sign up to make a monthly donation to OVD-Info</a>. This guarantees our monitoring work, our telephone hotline, provision of legal representation in court, and the work of our analysts and journalists. It is a guarantee for the people we are helping.</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/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">“You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!”: Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya">No defence in Chechnya: Oyub Titiyev and the grim future of human rights in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov</a> </div> </div> </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 Jun 2018 15:09:44 +0000 OVD-Info 118553 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How real urban planning could address the demographic challenge in Russia’s North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-real-urban-planning-could-address-the-demographic-challenge <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As new data shows, birth rates, migration and urban planning in Russia’s North Caucasus affect the region’s politics. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/severokavkazkie-goroga-ne-gotovy-k-rostu-naseleniya" 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/HqCFcLGQBAk_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/HqCFcLGQBAk_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'>Aleksandr Panin. Source: Vkontakte.</span></span></span>Kartfond’s recent series of maps “Demographic Trends in the North Caucasus” show that in the east of the region – Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan – the birth rate is higher and the death rate lower than average. Is this connected with local traditions, or do state programmes to stimulate childbirth work better in republics with a high unemployment rate? Does this dynamic lead to mass migration to other areas and, as a consequence, interethnic tension in the region?</p><p dir="ltr">I talked about this to Aleksandr Panin, a senior research fellow at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Geography and a managing partner of <a href="https://vk.com/kartfond">Kartfond</a>. Here, Panin analyses new maps of the region, published in February, and explains that the North Caucasus republics actually have an increasingly aging population. If the authorities are going to halt the process of youth migration, creating a more pleasant and comfortable environment in urban centres will be key.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>We are looking at charts of birth rates, death rates and the natural growth of the population in this region. How important are they?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">What you see on the table is only a small sample of our maps. But even they can show how the regions of the Caucasus vary and how difficult it is to develop a single spatial development strategy for all its different areas. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can we trust the figures that the research is based on? Rosstat, Russia’s Statistics Agency, has often been criticised for the lack of objectivity in its published figures.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We base our maps on municipal statistics. The demographics are accurate in terms of births and deaths, as these require the issue of official certificates. But there are a lot of questions around other figures. </p><p dir="ltr">In the first place, Rosstat took a long time to perfect its data collection processes. The agency is still a “Soviet Mammoth”, unable to adapt to reality and implement the up to date methodology we need to measure our population. Secondly, Rosstat first forgot how to count accurately and then eliminated whole categories of indicators, which are essential for managing a multiethnic region. </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/_прирост_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_прирост_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Map of natural population growth in the North Caucasus. Source: Kartfond / Facebook. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2001, for example, the agency stopped registering ethnicity in natural population movement. And in 2007 Rosstat lost the figures on the nationalities of people migrating. And that year was the last time that we compiled maps of ethnic-based migration: maps telling us, for example, how many ethnic Russians were leaving eastern Stavropol and what the city’s ethnic mix should look like ten years later. Now we don’t have these figures and we – researchers, experts – have to look for other sources of information: rural household registers, social networks, BigData and so on. I’ve no idea if this a good thing or not.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can we talk about the influence of ethnic specifics on childbirth? Do areas with a population increase tend to be mono-ethnic or poly-ethnic?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In terms of demography, the Caucasus can be divided into the wealthy east, which is multi-ethnic, and the poor west, which has a larger Russian population. But the frontier between the two is in constant movement – by 10 kilometres a year in a north-western direction, according to our calculations. Over the last 20 years we have seen a gradual change in the ethnic composition of the population. It has happened in stages. We’ve already mentioned the eastern districts of Stavropol. Now we’re looking at the large cities of the North Caucasus (including their suburbs) – Krasnodar, Stavropol and the Caucasian Mineral Spring towns. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Does this mean an increased risk of inter-ethnic conflicts? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Of course. And no one knows how to avoid it. There’s nothing wrong with the ethnic composition of the population changing – it’s a normal process. The problem is that our local authorities are unwilling to work with people who migrate. The worst place in that regard is the east of Stavropol, but now cities in the Caucasus Mineral Spring area are also affected, especially Pyatigorsk. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s worth saying that the roots of conflict aren’t, of course always ethnic. Questions of land use in the Caucasus, for example, are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/burning-lands-leninaul-dagestan">very badly regulated</a>, and there is hardly any transparency there. Pasture boundaries often get extended to the detriment of neighbouring landowners, for example, which can spark conflicts. So in practice they are economic clashes, not inter-ethnic ones. </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/jpg_1..jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_1..jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chart of birth rates in the North Caucasus. Source: Kartfond / Facebook. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The authorities try to stand back from the problems, sending the Cossacks in to fix them, for example. But we need to take a close look at the system of measuring migration, and develop a strategy to include migrants in urban life, to take a variety of approaches to the issue. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is a high birth rate connected to any ethnic factors? Or do social initiatives stimulate an increase in fertility? I’m referring to “maternal capital”, the scheme to subsidise young families with one or two children. </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ethnic reproductive traditions and government efforts over the last few years are, of course, having a positive effect on natural population movement. But we must remember that at the point when “maternal capital” kicked in (the early 2010s), people born in the 1980s, a decade with a high childbirth rate, were entering their childbearing years. And we also mustn’t forget that, in the North Caucasus, a high birth rate in the past has produced one of the highest percentages of young people in the whole of Russia. Many of them are keen to have second and third children, and this also raises the demographic figures of their home cities. </p><p dir="ltr">The demographic potential of the North Caucasus is nonetheless in decline. And it can’t go on forever supplying labour for other Russian regions, as it has done in the past. </p><p dir="ltr">We see today a totally predictable decline in the birth rate across Russia, including the North Caucasus. Each year, fewer and fewer couples choose to have a large family. The lower birth rate is already visible in North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and there is no doubt that it will start falling in other parts of the North Caucasus. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>It is often said that an increase in prosperity is needed to improve Russia’s demographic situation. But judging by your maps, a high birth rate coincides with areas of poverty and high unemployment.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Increasing the living standards of Russians is a priority, irrespective of what demographic or other maps tell us. And that would of course have an immediate positive effect on life expectancy, the death rate and so on. But where childbearing is concerned, global, and now also Russian figures show that there is no clear correlation between income levels and birth rates. The most economically developed cities in Kuban, for example, are located in a depopulated area, as can be seen from the gradations of blue on the map below. </p><p dir="ltr">If we look at regions in Central Russia, we see a similar picture. Take the highly developed Kaluga and Belgorod regions, for example: the trends are the same. They have strong government and excellent social policies, but their population is declining before our very eyes. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is the opposite also true – do rising living standards lead to a lower birth rate?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There is a similar situation in Europe, where birth rates among the indigenous populations are falling like mad. But the main reason behind this is the changing role of women, a change that is also affecting us in the North Caucasus. Nowadays it’s very difficult to persuade young couples to have three or four children. And it’s not a question of benefits or lack of them, but the fact that women want to have a life outside their husband’s flat. These changes can also be seen in the eastern part of the North Caucasus – in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can we call this process “Europeanisation”?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, that demographic process is well documented. Social structures and behavioural stereotypes are changing.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can the state do anything to halt the depopulation of the region?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I feel that the state has a lot of room here for work and creativity. There’s nothing to stop it creating interesting new work opportunities and the user-friendly innovative environment that our young people need so badly. And wherever you get lots of young people, the marriage statistics inevitably rise – look at Krasnodar, for example. </p><p dir="ltr">We’re now at the stage where the large cities and their suburbs are madly sucking rural communities into their spheres of influence. The main beneficiaries of this are low-cost housing developers. “Urbanist ghettos” have sprung up in most flourishing cities in southern Russia – these places could be cited in architectural textbooks as good examples of how not to build houses. </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/jpg_2..jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_2..jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chart of death rates in the North Caucasus. Source: Kartfond / Facebook. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The cities of the Caucasus are still not prepared for the scale of this population migration in terms of either infrastructure or institutions. As a result, instead of gradually developing a pleasant urban environment while aiming for high standards in public services and amenities, the local authorities have surrendered to the developers (Makhachkala is a prime example). So what we get are hideous high rise housing estates that often don’t just contravene planning regulations but fly in the face of common sense. For the record: for the last 40 years, in European countries, residential buildings usually haven’t been more than seven stories high, and most development conforms to a gridiron pattern, rather than tower blocks in a park-style layout. </p><p dir="ltr">Here, it’s just the opposite. The builders have dug out extravagant blueprints conceived by Soviet architects, modified them to reduce the cost to as little as possible and are now attempting to shoehorn them into a modern cityscape. </p><p dir="ltr">But one of the functions of the Soviet city was to breed a Soviet citizen: a person who lived in one place (a dormitory suburb), worked in another (usually in an industrial zone) and took their leisure somewhere else again. Buildings were planned at a distance from one another, so that Soviet cities rarely had any mixed-use development. As a result, a Soviet citizen usually had to expend considerable time and energy on his or her commute to work, and had no decent services within walking distance from their home. The surroundings of these dormitory zones are usually ugly, unattractive, and inconvenient. And most crucially, residents can’t feel that their open space belongs to them. </p><p dir="ltr">So our cities have become inconvenient places to live: inconvenient for work, rest and play. But it’s even worse in rural areas, so even an “inconvenient city” is a magnet for the rural migrant. Although, this too loses its attraction after a time.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do people from the Caucasus move still further away?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, migration is a gradual process. People move from a village to a district centre, then to a larger town, then to their republic’s capital and eventually to Moscow, St Petersburg and so on. People living in villages and small towns lack services, both in terms of their basic needs – accessible health services, schools, shops, roads and so on – and more evolved facilities such as coffee shops, hairdressers, petrol stations etc. Everything that makes life more comfortable. Young Dagestanis can’t find these in Kizlyar, for example, so they move to Makhachkala. And if Makhachkala doesn’t have the amenities they need, they’re off to Moscow. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It’s not yet very obvious on the maps, but the demographic situation in Dagestan is worsening</p><p dir="ltr">It’s not enough to build a factory or holiday resort and wait for the area around it to come to life on its own. You need some town planning. But the people in charge in the North Caucasus still haven’t grasped that. It’s not yet very obvious on the maps, but the demographic situation in Dagestan is worsening. The birth rate is falling and outward migration is growing, so the population’s age structure is changing. Young people are leaving. If the regional government is really worried about an aging population and demographic decline, the urban environment issue has to have the highest priority.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There are now debates taking place over what should be developed – towns or villages. What would be better for the demographic situation?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">President Putin recently <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2018/04/27/768170-putin-goroda">put an end</a> to all the bureaucratic wrangling over strategies for spatial development. He said: “One view is that we should develop large agglomerations, but a more appropriate approach would be to ensure that spatial development is seen in the context of transport and other infrastructure between population centres.” </p><p dir="ltr">There is in fact no contradiction between these two approaches: we need both. But we need to realise that people want to live where there is movement and scope for development. Dagestan’s mountain villages have excellent tourist potential, for instance. But the question is, how many do we develop, and which ones? There is no one to provide a considered answer. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Every year projects to develop the mountain areas are announced, but we haven’t noticed anything happening.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Many investment projects initiated in the Caucasus quote grandiose figures – great statistics – but provide work for only a small number of people, and most of these have specific skills and experience. They also come from other regions, since none of the locals have the appropriate specialisations. So you end up with just a few dozen local people getting work. </p><p dir="ltr">The problem is that these cornerstone investment projects turn out in practice to be not so cornerstone as all that and have no multiplicative effect: they don’t, in other words, provide a trigger for complementary sectors. All these large projects work in a highly specific way that excludes the local populace. They are not even mentioned in the master-plans for these projects. </p><p dir="ltr">In France, for example, there are no projects for the development of ski resorts. There is, instead, a programme for mountain areas, including both villages and small towns, which are ripe for tourist development. This approach could also work for the Caucasus: first we develop the area, then the big projects will come to us. There is already a certain movement in this direction: over the last few years the North Caucasus has been improving its roads and general transport infrastructure. And it would be logical to assume that this will trigger new business opportunities. </p><p dir="ltr">In economic and investment terms, the North Caucasus is still insufficiently studied and understood, and needs the development of complex programmes to open up its potential. The Russian government is still just getting its head round the socio-economic specifics of the region and still hasn’t grasped the multiplicity of its character. For a long time, it seemed as though all the issues could be resolved via economic means – you build the factories and resorts, and everything will burst into life. But that approach failed: the problems of the North Caucasus need a much more complex solution. </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/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/islam-tekushev/unlikely-home">An unlikely home</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikail-kaplan/pressure-on-regional-languages-is-sparking-civic-activism-in-the-north-caucasus">How Russian state pressure on regional languages is sparking civic activism in the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/womens-rights-in-the-north-caucasus">Women’s rights in Russia&#039;s North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” murders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Cities in motion Caucasus Wed, 20 Jun 2018 12:58:25 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 118452 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the four years since the peninsula’s annexation, Russian security services have become well practiced at prosecuting Crimean Tatars on terrorism charges. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alena-savchuk/fsb-preduprezhdaet" 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/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.03.23_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.03.23_0.png" 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'>Evelina, daughter of Arsen and Zarina Dzhepparov, looks at photographs of her parents. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>“I will prove by all possible and impossible means that he’s guilty – even if he isn’t guilty.” These were the first words Arsen Dzhepparov’s family heard from the mouth of a Federal Security Service investigator in after his subordinates broke down a gate and entered the family’s yard. The investigator in question was a senior FSB lieutenant named Alexander Kompaneytsev. A former Security Service of Ukraine operative, Kompaneytsev is known for having instigated the beating and arrest of Crimean human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku, and also for being an active recruiter of “witnesses” for Hizb ut-Tahrir cases in Crimea.</p><p dir="ltr">The FSB paid three visits to Arsen Dzhepparov in April 2016. The first came two weeks before his arrest, and took place at the boiler plant where he was working. Kompaneytsev told Dzhepparov in no certain terms that he must give incriminating evidence against four already-arrested individuals named in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case. When Arsen refused to comply, he was fired from his job at the FSB’s request.</p><p dir="ltr">The second visit occurred exactly one week later. Dzhepparov was driving to a construction site where he was making some extra money. Another car cut in ahead of him right by a traffic police station. The police immediately stopped Dzhepparov; the offending vehicle, meanwhile, braked to a halt nearby and a group of now-familiar FSB officers, two of them in uniform and armed with automatic weapons, exited. The officers ordered Dzhepparov out of the car together with its other four occupants and proceeded to search it. One of the other guys tried to object, earning himself a blow to the chest with the butt of an automatic. In the meantime, the traffic police were busy deleting CCTV footage of the incident. Asked whether he’d changed his mind about providing incriminating evidence, Dzhepparov replied that he had not. He was then charged with drunk driving, stripped of his license and fined 30,000 roubles (£350).</p><p dir="ltr">“Mate, you need to agree. I don’t know what they want from you, but agree or they’ll just crush you” – these were the last words Arsen Dzhepparov heard from the traffic police officer who wrote the incident report.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.04.56_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.04.56_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Russian security officer during a search of a Crimean Tatar home. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Another week later, at 6am on Monday 18 April 2016, FSB operatives raided Dzhepparov’s home, detained and ultimately arrested him. Dzhepparov’s wife Zarina recalls her husband’s withdrawn, taciturn behaviour in the days leading up to his arrest, and remembers seeing him trawl the internet for information on the unspoken rules of prison conduct.</p><p dir="ltr">“It was too late to leave – he wouldn’t have been allowed to exit Crimea,” Zarina tells me. “But there was no question of his agreeing to their conditions. After all, how can you slander people you’ve never even seen in the flesh? ‘They’ve got their own kids, their own families,’ he told me. ‘How could I explain to my child afterwards what the meaning of conscience and honour is?’”</p><p dir="ltr">On the weekend before his arrest, Arsen drove Zarina down to the Yalta seafront. “He already knew they’d take him away. So we went for one last stroll by the sea,” the young woman recalls. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The faces of Crimean “terrorism”</h2><p dir="ltr">Arsen Dzhepparov is one of 28 individuals to be named in the peninsula’s Hizb ut-Tahrir case. According to the Russian investigation, all of them are members of cells within a “radical Islamist terrorist organisation”. Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation which describes its objectives as “reviving the Islamic way of life in countries where it has been abandoned, and disseminating Islamic ideology around the world”, is banned in Russia, but operates in Ukraine. </p><p dir="ltr">In the eyes of Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists, then, these men are political prisoners who are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Five Crimean Muslims have been convicted of or charged with establishing terrorist organisations, and the remaining 23 with involvement in terrorist activities (Article 205.5 of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code). The “instigators” face sentences up to and including life imprisonment, with the “participants” facing up to 20 in prison colonies.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.09.01_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.09.01_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters of imprisoned Crimean Tatars gather outside Crimea’s Supreme Court. Among them are wives and daughters of defendants charged with terrorism. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Four Crimean Tatars have already been sentenced to prison terms by a Russian court. In 2017, Sevastopol residents Rustem Vaitov and Nuri Primov were both sentenced to five years in a standard regime penal colony, Ferat Sayfullaev to seven years in the same, and Ruslan Zeytullayev – charged with establishing a terrorist group – to 15 years in a strict regime colony. However, the first-instance court didn’t find the evidence for his guilt convincing and handed Zeytullayev a seven-year sentence, reclassifying him as a “participant” rather than an “instigator”. His lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, said that, “given Russian realities,” the court’s ruling must be deemed a “victory”.</p><p dir="ltr">But the state prosecutor challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which promptly remanded the case for a retrial. Having re-examined the same evidence, the North Caucasian District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Ruslan Zeytullayev to 12 years in a strict regime colony in April 2017. Towards the end of the retrial, Zeytullayev went on hunger strike, hoping, if not to influence his sentence, at least to draw greater attention to the persecution of Crimean Tatars across the peninsula: “For over two years now, I have refused to acknowledge any guilt in the commission of the crime imputed to me, and I will not acknowledge it now. And I hope that any reasonable individual can understand why. Because this indictment – one where every single fact is misrepresented – isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”</p><p>But even 12 years proved insufficient. Once again, the public prosecutor challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, which issued a final sentence in July 2017: 15 years in a strict regime colony. Ruslan Zeytullaev thus became the first Crimean in the history of the peninsula to be convicted by Russia for “organising terrorism”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.11.07_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.11.07_0.png" 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'>Sabrie, Mumine and Nurie - daughters of Ruslan Zeitullayev play outside their home in Orlinoye, Crimea. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>The military court in Rostov is now <a href="https://ru.krymr.com/a/news/29245733.html">examining</a> the second Crimean Hizb ut-Tahrir case. The case is being prosecuted against the so-called “Yalta group”, which includes Arsen Dzepparov. In February 2016, FSB operatives arrested four Muslims from the Yalta area: Muslim Aliyev, chair of the local community group; Emir-Usein Kuku, a human rights activist; Vadim Siruk, a market trader; and Inver Bekirov, a school watchman. Two months later, in April 2016, Dzepparov and Refat Alimov were detained as well.</p><p dir="ltr">Bekirov, Dzhepparov and Alimov lived next door to one another in the village of Krasnokamenka. Refat and Arsen are childhood friends, and Alimov is Bekirov’s nephew. Though urged to testify against his uncle, Alimov refused. The investigation alleges that Dzhepparov and Alimov attended unauthorised meetings in the watchman’s lodge at Bekirov’s school. Relatives and lawyers are convinced that the criminal prosecution of Arsen and Refat is payback for their unwillingness to “collaborate” with the security services – and that it also serves as an exhortation to other “witnesses”: don’t bother standing up to us.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“One tablet of analgin covers every base”</h2><p dir="ltr">The Yalta case’s six defendants have spent the last six months in the pre-trial detention centers of Rostov-on-Don, prior to which they’d been forced to endure the inhuman conditions of Simferopol Remand Prison. According to Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), this is one of the most overpopulated incarceration facilities under Russian control, according to Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). A <a href="http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201804130011?index=2&amp;rangeSize=1">document</a> published on 6 April 2018 states that “the number of inmates (...) exceeds the maximum official capacity by 1.8 times.” It also refers to the urgently required “reconstruction of the facility’s buildings”, which were built in 1803 and 1965.</p><p dir="ltr">In practice, this means that prisoners take turns to sleep, since there are more people in the cells than beds. Fleas and bedbugs multiply like mad in the completely unsanitary conditions, there are cockroaches in the food, and Muslim inmates are sometimes given pork to eat, even though the prison bosses are fully aware that its consumption is forbidden by Islam. Inmates who fall ill very rarely receive medical visits and aren’t prescribed medications (“one tablet of analgin covers every base”).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.12.35_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.12.35_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Simferopol Remand Prison. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The prison doctors’ negligence almost killed Arsen Dzepparov. In November 2016, a fistula developed on his buttock, but instead of receiving treatment, Dzhepparov was placed in solitary confinement and left there for ten days because he’d allegedly failed to shave. In the meantime, the fistula ruptured.</p><p dir="ltr">“No one attended to him or did anything to help. He remained in his solitary confinement garb, all wet and dirty, with an untreated wound and cat-sized rats scurrying around him,” says Zarina, paraphrasing her husband’s words. “He was eventually taken to hospital and operated on but then thrown back in his cell before he’d even come to from the anaesthetic.”</p><p dir="ltr">In March 2017, Dzhepparov developed another fistula – this time, it formed behind his left ear. He began to be tortured by headaches so intense he’d lose consciousness. He suffered from high fever and hearing loss. His ear wept pus. The prison doctors failed to respond. Fearful that he would simply perish, Dzhepparov’s family and his lawyer, Dzhemil Temishev, spent weeks penning numerous petitions and complaints to the prison, the prosecutor’s office and the ombudspersons of Crimea and Russia. It was only thanks to their perseverance – and the ensuing blaze of publicity – that Dzhepparov was finally given treatment.</p><p dir="ltr">Two months ago, Uzeyir Abdullayev, another defendant in the Crimean Hizb ut-Tahrir case, <a href="https://lb.ua/society/2018/04/27/396420_sizo_krima_lechat_figuranta_dela.html">fell victim to similar negligence</a>. Abdullayev developed a purulent lesion on his leg, only to be ignored by prison doctors for several days. His leg became so swollen that he could no longer move about, and he was running a 40-degree-plus fever. Abdullayev’s relatives feared that he could end up losing his leg altogether.</p><p dir="ltr">Conditions in Simferopol Remand Prison are so intolerable that suicide attempts among prisoners have become more commonplace. In April of this year, at least four people <a href="https://crimeahrg.org/v-sizo-simferopolya-v-aprele-4-cheloveka-umerli-neestestvennoy-smertyu/">died unnatural deaths</a> while in solitary confinement. The prison administration insists that these deaths were suicides.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Run-of-the-mill terrorists</h2><p dir="ltr">On 14 February, the military court in Rostov-on-Don proceeded to examine the merits of the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case. Charged with orchestrating or contributing to the terrorist group’s activities, the six defendants also stand accused of attempting forcible seizure of power (punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment, as per Article 278 of the Criminal Code). None of the defendants have pleaded guilty to any of these crimes.</p><p dir="ltr">“The charges are absurd in their very essence: how can six people who neither possess vast financial resources, nor enjoy the support of the top brass of Russia’s Armed Forces possibly seize power in a powerful nuclear-armed state with a million-strong army?!” asked an incredulous Emir-Usein Kuku in an <a href="https://lb.ua/society/2018/05/26/398763_tempi_vizvoleniya.html">open statement </a>to the Ukrainian people in May 2018. “Yet the FSB,” he continued, “continues to paint us as terrorists, falsifying ‘evidence’ for our ‘guilt’ in a fashion consistent with most dismal traditions of the NKVD – and thereby demonstrating that little has changed in Russia since Stalin’s time.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.30.48_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.30.48_0.png" 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'>Dzhemil Temishev, Arsen Dzhepparov’s lawyer, sits on the right during a meeting of families of political prisoners and the Crimean Solidarity movement. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Similarly to its Sevastopol counterpart, the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case is built on the testimonies of secret witnesses and on wiretapped recordings of “run-of-the-mill” conversations engaged in by the defendants – conversations about the political situation in Russia and Ukraine, the fate of Crimea, the place of Islam in both countries, about religious norms. The court has already questioned several prosecution witnesses, with some departing from the testimonies they provided to investigators 12 to 18 months ago and presenting the defendants in a positive light in court hearings. Moreover, one of the secret witnesses declared during questioning that he wanted to testify openly, which left the prosecution in a difficult situation. </p><p dir="ltr">“Shamil Ilyasov stated in court said that he worked at the same school as Inver Bekirov and that Bekirov was well versed in Islam and that many villagers would turn to him for advice on religious issues. In his testimonies to investigators, however, Ilyasov maintained that Inver Bekirov was an adherent of Hizb ut-Tahrir. But he gave these testimonies at the FSB offices, having been taken there after a raid of his home. I believe he was testifying under duress,” says Refat Alimov’s lawyer Eden Semedlyaev, articulating the unified stance of the defence team.</p><p dir="ltr">The FSB then attempted to discredit Ilyasov’s testimony. Viktor Palagin, head of the Crimean FSB, submitted a petition to the court with a request that a note allegedly found at a defendant’s home be entered into the case file. In the alleged note, Muslim Aliyev asks Inver Bekirov to get in touch with three prosecution witnesses and tell them that “giving false testimonies against people is something that shouldn’t be done”. According to the investigation, the note confirms that the defendants attempted to pressure the witnesses.</p><p dir="ltr">Vadim Siruk’s lawyer Emil Kurbedinov issued a brief comment on Palagin’s petition, calling it “the FSB’s revenge” for the witness’s open testimony. Sergey Legostov, defence counsel for Muslim Aliyev, stressed that the note couldn’t have materialised “at a more timely moment as far as the prosecution was concerned,” and that the court decision’s to enter it into the case file ran counter to the law and had no reasonable basis.</p><p dir="ltr">“The note was submitted by a body that isn’t party to the case. There’s a prosecutor in the case, and only that prosecutor has the right to present evidence. Otherwise we’ll have some plumber from the public utilities office turning up at court tomorrow with more evidence to file,” said Kurbedinov. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.36.42_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.36.42_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Legostov, lawyer for Muslim Aliyev, a defendant in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case, and Nadzhie Aliyeva, Muslim’s wife. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The court also questioned FSB investigator Alexander Kompaneytsev, who claimed that Muslim Aliyev was in charge of the “Yalta and Alushta branch” of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea. Aliyev allegedly answered to Inver Bekirov, leader of the “Yalta sub-branch”, who, in turns, answered to Vadim Siruk, “head of the Yalta cell”, and Emir-Usein Kuku, leader of “the cell in Koreiz and Simeiz” in the Yalta area. Bekirov had also allegedly recruited Refat Alimov and Arsen Dhzepparov. </p><p dir="ltr">Kompaneytsev went on to claim that the defendants were all preparing to seize power in Crimea. Inver Bekirov responded by saying that he first saw the FSB operative when he was already in custody at the detention centre, and that Kompaneintsev had come there to induce him to collaborate. Refusal to do so, Kompaneintsev had threatened, would result in the arrest of Bekirov’s nephew, Refat Alimov. Bekirov did indeed refuse – and Alimov was detained a few months later.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Creating and eliminating enemies</h2><p dir="ltr">The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has declared Emir-Usein Kuku a “prisoner of conscience” and called on Russia to halt the prosecution of the “Yalta Six” immediately.</p><p dir="ltr">“Kuku was subjected to repeated pressure from the FSB before his arrest on 12 February, 2016, and his house was searched twice,” said Amnesty International Ukraine’s director Oksana Pokalchuk. “His wife and young son were harassed and intimidated by Russian intelligence agents after the human rights activist was already behind bars.”</p><p dir="ltr">In March of this year, the Russian human rights centre Memorial also <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news_old/figuranty-yaltinskogo-dela-hizb-ut-tahrir-politzaklyuchennye">declared</a> defendants in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case to be political prisoners and demanded their immediate release. According to Memorial, the charges levelled against the six men are unfounded. The human rights activists are adamant: the defendants not only didn’t engage in any terrorist activities, they haven’t even committed any socially-dangerous acts.</p><p dir="ltr">“The ‘Yalta affair’ is part of a repressive campaign unleashed by Russian siloviki across the occupied peninsula. Further, the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases are among so-called ‘serial cases’: the FSB achieves ‘top results’ (dozens of convicted offenders) with minimal effort, launching mass prosecutions without any grounds for doing so,” Memorial said in a statement.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.37.55_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.37.55_0.png" alt="lead " 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'>Men pray namaz on the anniversary of the Yalta Four’s arrest at Emir-Usein Kuku’s home. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>According to Memorial data, 237 individuals are currently detained or incarcerated in Russia in connection with their alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, declared a terrorist organisation by the country’s Supreme Court in 2003. One hundred and eight people have already been convicted: 27 of them have been slapped with terms in excess of 15 years, with a further 13 sentenced to between 10 through 15 years; 33 are currently being tried; and 96 are under investigation. Memorial takes care to <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news_old/spisok-presleduemyh-v-svyazi-s-prichastnostyu-k-hizb-ut-tahrir-obnovlyaetsya">stress</a> that the “list is undoubtedly incomplete”.</p><p dir="ltr">Thanks to a <a href="http://nac.gov.ru/zakonodatelstvo/sudebnye-resheniya/reshenie-verhovnogo-suda-rf-ot-14-fevralya.html">ruling</a> by Russia’s Supreme Court, investigators no longer need to prove that defendants are “planning a terrorist attack” – it is sufficient merely to establish a link between them and Hizb ut-Tahrir. But even this sometimes proves an impossible task.</p><p dir="ltr">While outlawed in Russia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is legal in Ukraine. Prior to the annexation of Crimea, its supporters organised conferences and rallies across the peninsula. It seeks to recreate a caliphate that would unite the entire Islamic world, but advances its cause by pointedly non-violent means. Radical Islamist organisations have repeatedly criticised the movement for “shirking jihad”.</p><p dir="ltr">Many independent human rights organisations (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Memorial Human Rights Center, the Civic Assistance Committee, For Human Rights, the SOVA Centre) believe that the organisation’s activities cannot be dubbed terrorism and consider the defendants in the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases to be political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">“Hizb ut-Tahrir isn’t recorded as having committed a single terrorist act,” <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/235276/">says </a>Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee. “In my opinion, turning the organisation’s leaders into martyrs will only serve to swell its ranks. And trying them for preparing the overthrow of the system is just as illegitimate as trying the Communists for the idea of ​​building worldwide communism or for the theory of the withering away of the state.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.39.03_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 15.39.03_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Emine, mother of Refat Alimov, prays on the anniversary of the arrest of the Yalta Four at Emir-Usein Kuku’s home. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Meanwhile, the prosecution continues to present its evidence in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case at the Rostov military court. The defendants themselves are pessimistic; so too are their lawyers.</p><p dir="ltr">“We will of course appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court of Russia,” says Refat Alimov’s lawyer Edem Sememlyaev. “Overall, though, the efforts of the defence teams are geared towards the prospect of the case coming before the European Court of Human Rights.”</p><p dir="ltr">The only hope for political prisoners is exchange, as in the case of Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chyigoz, deputy chairs of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, who were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anton-korolyov/ill-definitely-go-back-to-crimea-umerov">released in October 2017</a>. But this mechanism, too, is difficult to rely on. “The fact that the release of our political prisoners is being secured at a truly snail-like pace – five people in four years – testifies to the ineffective operation of the relevant state bodies (of Ukraine). It isn’t hard to calculate how long it’s going to take for all our prisoners to be released,” wrote Emir-Usein Kuku in his recent statement.</p><p dir="ltr">“Arsen tells me: a five-year term, well, I could just about live with that. I’d be released at 30. But 12 years or more? My daughter will be an adult by then, she’ll be ripe for marriage,” says Dzhepparov’s wife. Evelina, Arsen and Zarina’s daughter, is now seven. She recently penned a letter to her father: “How are you, my beloved babashechka (daddy – from baba, “father” in Crimean Tatar)? What are you up to? I miss you very much. What food are you eating there? What’s your mood like? Oh, how I miss you. I think about you at night and sometimes I want to cry.”</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/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/why-we-should-write-about-the-crimean-tatars">Why we should write about the Crimean Tatars</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dzhemil-insafly/keeping-crimeas-muslims-in-check">Keeping Crimea&#039;s Muslims in check</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-korolyov/ill-definitely-go-back-to-crimea-umerov">“I’ll definitely go back to Crimea”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukrainian-muslims-forbidden-literature">The permitted and the forbidden: Ukraine’s security services turn their eyes to “banned” Islamic literature</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 Alona Savchuk Ukraine Russia Human rights Tue, 19 Jun 2018 20:32:05 +0000 Alona Savchuk 118465 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Desperately seeking socialism: why the Soviet Union's left-wing dissidents matter today https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gabriel-levy/desperately-seeking-socialism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This new collection of essays seeks to rebalance our understanding of dissent in the late Soviet Union, drawing attention to democratic socialists from the 1950s into the 1980s.&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/555493/1280px-10_Soviet_Invasion_of_Czechoslovakia_-_Flickr_-_The_Central_Intelligence_Agency.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>August 1968, Prague. Wikipedia / Public Domain. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>This is a response to Dissidents Among Dissidents by <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ilya-budraitskis">Ilya Budraitskis</a>, a new collection of essays published in Russian in 2017 by Free Marxist Publishers. It was originally published on <a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/">People and Nature</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p>The <a href="http://www.manifestajournal.org/issues/situation-never-leaves-our-waking-thoughts-long/language-cold-war">“New Cold War”</a> is the subject of the most politically compelling of the essays in this book by the Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis. He wrote it in the summer of 2014, as Russian troops streamed into eastern Ukraine to fight alongside the Russian-armed militia of the separatist “people’s republics”, and the Russian ultra-nationalists, mercenaries and volunteers who joined them.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">At that time, the existence of a “New Cold War” was already being treated in public discourse as an “obvious and indisputable fact”, Budraitskis argues — but “the production of rhetoric has run way ahead of the reality”.</p><p dir="ltr">To question the assumptions behind the rhetoric further, Budraitskis considers the character of the original Cold War, i.e. between the Soviet bloc and the western powers between the end of the Second World War and 1991, in the essay “Intellectuals and the Cold War”. As he writes, the Cold War was a set of “principles of the world order”, construed by ruling elites and then confirmed in intellectual discourse and in the everyday activity of masses of people.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">The reality of continuous psychological mobilisation, and the nerve-straining expectation of global military conflict, as apprehended by society as a whole, became a means of existence, reproduced over the course of two generations, in which loyalty to beliefs was combined with fear and a feeling of helplessness before fate.</p><p dir="ltr">This proposition, that the Cold War was essentially a means of social control, in which masses of people were systematically deprived of agency, certainly works for me. I wondered whether Budraitskis knows of the attempts, made during the Cold War on the “western” side of the divide, to analyse this central aspect of it — for example, the work of Hillel Ticktin and others in the early issues of the socialist journal <a href="http://www.critiquejournal.net/index.html">Critique</a> (from 1973). Here, Ticktin wrote on the political economy of the Soviet Union, interpreting it in the context of world capitalism.</p><p dir="ltr">Today, the Cold War's binary ideological constraints live on, Budraitskis argues. “The trauma of choice between hostile camps has still today not been overcome”. As an example, he quotes the reactions to Russia's participation in the war in eastern Ukraine by, on one hand, Alexander Dugin, the extreme right-wing Russian “Eurasianist”, and, on the other, the American historian Timothy Snyder. (See <a href="http://evrazia.org/article/2536">here</a> and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qihk1rfloag">here</a>.)</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It is undeniable that elite-controlled public forums have increasingly been dominated by the two-sided, one-dimensional discourse of the Cold War</p><p dir="ltr">For Dugin, the military conflict in eastern Ukraine amounted to “the return of Russia to history”. For Snyder, it was confirmation that Ukraine had finally to recognise that it was part of Europe. Dugin's anti-Europe and Snyder's Europe leave no room for a third way, Budraitskis asserts gloomily.</p><p dir="ltr">On this at least, I feel more optimistic. It is undeniable that elite-controlled public forums have increasingly been dominated by the two-sided, one-dimensional discourse of the Cold War. On the “left”, this false dichotomy has been reflected in “geopolitical” stances that base themselves on the relative qualities of imperialist blocs, and deny agency to, or sideline, society generally and social movements particularly. But those social movements exist, and there are voices in the intelligentsia that reflect them.</p><h2>Escaping the binary</h2><p dir="ltr">From the late 1940s, both in the west and in the Soviet Union, the intelligentsia began to be transformed “from a group that was capable simply of implementing an ideological order, to one that was prepared independently to formulate it, make it more precise and reproduce it,”</p><p dir="ltr">Budraitskis writes. In the Soviet Union, the intelligentsia was constrained by the state's imperialistic and chauvinistic approach to politics. That defined not only 1960s debates such as those about the scientific-technical revolution and “socialism with a human face”, but even 1970s Soviet dissidents' discussions of the relationship between “national” and “universal-humanist” values.</p><p dir="ltr">It was “self-evident”, and “required no special confirmation from above”, that a “third way” for intellectuals, that escaped the “binary structure of the East-West conflict [of states]”, was “impossible”, Budraitskis argues. The proof, for him, is that as official “Marxism-Leninism” became completely discredited in the two decades prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, that collapse “could not then be understood otherwise than as the victory of one of the military-political blocs [i.e. the western one]”.</p><p dir="ltr">I read this passage hoping for more caveats and qualifications. I accept that the western liberal narrative about the “collapse of communism” in the 1990s became ubiquitous and overwhelming in those spaces — journalism, academia, etc — that in the west are called public opinion. But surely there were dissenting and critical strands in the intelligentsia — particularly if understood in the wider way that it used to be in Soviet times — both in the west and in the former Soviet states.</p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, those public spaces were taking shape, uncensored, in a new way. Immediately before and after the collapse of the USSR, Russian journalism was in its heyday, lashing out at corruption and the horror of the first war in Chechnya, before corporate control and Putin-era censorship tightened the screws. In film, the reckoning with Stalinism began, running from Elem Klimov's <em>Come and See</em> (1985) to Nikita Mikhalkov's <em>Burnt By The Sun</em> (1994). In literature, Viktor Pelevin's <em>Generation “P” </em>(1999), magnificently, turned Yeltsin's regime into an absurd phantasmagoria.</p><p dir="ltr">These are just the (perhaps rose-tinted?) memories of a western leftist who started travelling to Russia at that time. But I want to know how this rich, chaotic ferment fits in to Budraitskis's argument.</p><h2>The dissidents’ history</h2><p dir="ltr">The centerpiece of Budraitskis’s book is a longer essay, “Dissidents Among Dissidents”, that traces the history of socialist trends in the Soviet dissident milieu between the mid-1950s and the Gorbachev reforms of the mid-1980s. It is a fascinating and valuable piece of work.</p><p dir="ltr">Budraitskis describes how a “wave of social discontent” in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, echoing the workers' revolts in Hungary, Poland and the German Democratic Republic — from large-scale riots in Chechnya (1958) and Kazakhstan (1959) to protests and attacks on Communist party offices in Murom and Aleksandrov (1961) and culminating in the Novercherkassk rebellion (1962) — formed the background not only to the twentieth Communist Party congress (1956) and Nikita Khrushchev's post-Stalinist “thaw”, but also to the emergence of the first big wave of socialist dissident groups. They were mostly made up of students and young workers in larger cities, they always met in secret, were usually isolated from each other, and their activity was almost always cut short by arrests.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the early 1970s, the conservative wing of the Soviet dissident movement, with Alexander Solzhenitsyn at its head, lurched politically to the right</p><p dir="ltr">There had been precursors, in the last years of Stalin's rule, such as the “Communist Party of Youth” (formed in Voronezh in 1948) and the “Union of Struggle for the Cause of Revolution” (formed in Moscow in 1951). These student groups were soon crushed by arrests and long prison sentences. But the “thaw” of the late 1950s and early 1960s brought such public forums as gatherings in Moscow for poetry reading and discussion at the statue of Vladimir Mayakovsky, and a corresponding widening of political activity.</p><h2>The meaning of socialism, then and now</h2><p>In the early 1970s, the conservative wing of the Soviet dissident movement, with Alexander Solzhenitsyn at its head, lurched politically to the right, and Budraitskis's account of this was for me one of the most interesting passages.</p><p dir="ltr">In 1974, soon after his forced emigration, Solzhenitsyn launched a broadside against the idea of socialism in general, and the socialist dissidents particularly. One of his chief targets was the historian Roy Medvedev, who from the late 1960s, influenced by “Eurocommunism”, had advocated “the democratisation of the economy, education and structures of power”, aims that he believed could be pursued both through samizdat (illegal publications) and through official channels, including pressure on elements in the Communist party.</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/Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn_1974b.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'>Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Heinrich Böll's home, Germany, 1974. CC BY-SA 3.0 Dutch National Archives / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Budraitskis describes how tensions between Medvedev on one side, and Solzhenitsyn and the physicist Andrei Sakharov on the other, came to a head over, among other things, the wording of an appeal to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in defence of the socialist poet Pablo Neruda. Medvedev scorned a sympathetic reference to Pinochet's “epoch of Chilean renaissance and consolidation” (which had of course been founded on the killing and torture of thousands of his opponents).</p><p dir="ltr">In a collection of essays <em>From Under The Rubble</em> (1974), Solzhenitsyn denounced “cleaned-up” Marxists whose differences with the official line were “insignificant”. He clearly had Medvedev in mind. The latter responded in samizdat that, for Solzhenitsyn, “in general there is no difference at all between the idea of socialism and its implementation in reality”; socialism had won out in countries such as Russia and China precisely because the suffering of millions of people there under capitalism had been so severe. Budraitskis writes:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">For a significant part of the samizdat readership, though, these conclusions were hardly convincing. On the contrary, Medvedev's position was considered to be comfortable and collaborationist, by comparison with the uncompromising author of The Gulag Archipelago [i.e. Solzhenitsyn].</p><p dir="ltr">It was precisely at this time that the dissident milieu began to see the use of Marxist language — which was completely dominant in Soviet politics and academia (where Medvedev worked) — as negative in and of itself. “In oppositional ideological discussions, Marxism was taken to be a ‘Soviet language’, which it was indecent to use.”</p><p dir="ltr">This issue starts, in my view, to get to the heart of the problems faced not only by Soviet dissidents, but by anyone who wants to understand socialism in the light of the Russian revolution and the Soviet experience. My fervent plea to Budraitskis would be to develop this theme further.</p><p dir="ltr">The underground dissident groups of the 1960s and 1970s about which Budraitskis writes, who had neither Medvedev's privileges nor Solzhenitsyn's fame, braved the danger of arrest and imprisonment precisely to try to recover the meaning of “socialism”. Having so inspired 19th-century workers' movements, and the Russian workers, peasants and soldiers who made the 1917 revolution, this idea had — by the post-war period in the Soviet Union — had its meaning completely mangled. The lifeless “Marxist” prose of every school textbook was the butt of a thousand jokes. This language had indeed become indecent. I remember clearly how, when I first visited the Soviet Union, in 1990, I declared myself a socialist to militants in the newly-independent trade union movements — and they looked at me as though I had two heads. The positive connotations of the word in my naive western mind simply did not register with their life experience of “socialism”.</p><p dir="ltr">The socialist idea had been trashed; the meaning of words had been turned inside-out. This was the problem that — unknown to me, and probably unknown to those workers too — the dissidents had been arguing about in the 1970s. Today, in the time of the “socialist” Bashar al-Assad and the “communist” Xi Jinping, it remains unresolved.</p><p dir="ltr">Budraitskis's essay on the centenary of the Russian revolution, “A Heritage Without Inheritors”, did not bring clarity to this issue. He argues that “the aim of the transition to socialism did not arise out of the dynamic of class struggle itself” — rather, it was posed as a Kantian imperative. “The Leninist party took upon itself this moral burden: the transition to socialism in a country that was by any definition unprepared for it.” Fair enough. But what was this “socialism” that the Bolsheviks was trying to build? What was the corrosive effect of this “socialist construction” on the understanding, in Russia and beyond its borders too, of socialism as an aim?</p><p dir="ltr">To my mind, the search for a meaningful soul of socialism is more effectively pursued in Budraitskis’ research of the dissidents. He explains how <em>State and Revolution</em> by Vladimir Lenin became a key text for the socialist dissidents of the 1960s. That most hopeful and democratic of Lenin's pre-revolutionary attempts to discuss what a future socialist state might be like was — unlike many more far-sighted and utopian imaginings by 19th century European socialists and anarchists — officially published, and therefore widely available, in the Soviet Union.</p><p dir="ltr">The Leningrad dissident Mikhail Molostvov, who formed a discussion group in 1956 and was soon afterwards sent to a prison camp for seven years, recalled in his memoirs a worker who went around libraries, underlining in copies of State and Revolution passages calling for the regular election and recall of all officials, and for their pay to be limited to the average. Another dissident of that generation, Boris Vail, met workers in his prison camp who had been arrested after re-covering officially published copies of Lenin's book with jackets picturing barbed wire.</p><p dir="ltr">These stories reminded me that Solzhenitsyn’s early novels — which, notwithstanding his lurch to the right in the 1970s, remain for me a profound contribution to my understanding of Stalinism — are full of references to these very issues. In <em>The First Circle</em>, he riffs on Lenin’s musings in State and Revolution about every cook being able to participate in state administration. Stalin's thoughts, as imagined by Solzhenitsyn, were that Lenin had made</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">promises that turned into a rod for Stalin’s back. Every cook will be able to run the state? What on earth was he [Lenin] thinking, concretely? That every cook on Fridays won’t cook, but will go and work in the district executive office? A cook is a cook: she has to prepare meals. But directing people — that is a great calling, which can be trusted only to special cadres, specially selected cadres.</p><p dir="ltr">Characters in <em>The First Circle</em> (chapter 90) discuss the mind-bending “just inequality” (?!) that characterised the Soviet Union. In Cancer Ward, Pavel Rusanov, the personnel officer and bully who personifies the Soviet “workers’ state”, is subject to a withering denunciation by the central hero, Oleg Kostoglotov. What do you know about work, he asks, when you have such lily-white hands?</p><p dir="ltr">In these books, written and published both in samizdat and in the west by the end of the 1960s, Solzhenitsyn had, clearly, already broken free of the constraints of official Soviet “Marxism” and its contorted language — at a time when he had not yet developed a clearly anti-socialist ideology. Did the socialist student and worker dissidents also make such a break? Or did they, like Roy Medvedev, remain constrained in a linguistic, and therefore to some extent ideological, framework, set by officialdom? Budraitskis’ fascinating quotations from their political manifestos, many of which characterised the Soviet economy as exploitative and its political regime as hierarchical, left me wanting to know more.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Some of the left-wing dissidents saw the USSR, for all its reactionary characteristics, as a stepping-stone towards a truly socialist society</p><p dir="ltr">There are related questions, about the extent to which the prison camp writers, of which Solzhenitsyn was the best known, influenced the small groups of students and workers that Budraitskis has researched. To what extent did those groups integrate the camps — that in many ways were a world apart&nbsp;— into their understanding of Soviet society and economy? Had they read Solzhenitsyn? And Varlam Shalamov? I imagine he was far closer in spirit than Solzhenitsyn was to the left-wing dissidents — in his socialist humanism, in the way that his politics were shaped when he was young in the workers' movement of the 1920s, and even in the bleak pessimism of his later writings.</p><p dir="ltr">Here too, I am looking with the eyes of an outsider, who read these books not in samizdat but in the comfort of my London home. But I am perhaps not the only western reader for whom Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov were stepping stones, and who needs to try to join these up with the stepping stones that Budraitskis is pointing to.</p><h2>Analysis in the underground</h2><p dir="ltr">Budraitskis’ focus on the small underground groups, who were far less visible than the internationally-known dissidents, is welcome. Those who considered themselves socialists almost all characterised the Soviet system as an exploitative one with class divisions, he explains. Revolt Pimenov, who with Boris Vail established a dissident group in Leningrad in 1956-1957, drafted theses asserting that in the USSR, “the state has become the only capitalist, the only landlord and the only thinker”. For Pimenov, Budraitskis writes, the Soviet economy was “state capitalist”; state property could not be socialised property; and state property and socialism were mutually exclusive. Another Leningrad group, organised by Mikhail Molostvov, while declaring Stalinism and Trotskyism both to have taken a bureaucratic road, nevertheless advanced a political programme that, unlike Pimenov’s, clearly saw the road ahead through reforms, advocating that “the mass of working people are brought into the management of the country”.</p><p dir="ltr">Some of the left-wing dissidents — if I have understood Budraitskis's account correctly — saw the USSR, for all its reactionary characteristics, as a stepping-stone towards a truly socialist society. For example the Union of Communards, set up in Leningrad in the 1960s, entitled its main platform document “from the dictatorship of the bureaucracy to the dictatorship of the proletariat”, and included an epigraph by Lenin advocating a republic where there would be election and recall of all officials, and “no police, no army and no state bureaucracy”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1989_sacharov_slides10.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andrey Sakharov joins Revolt Pimenov during his 1989 election campaign in Syktyvkar, Komi Republic. Source: <a href=http://bogemnyipeterburg.net/>Bohemian Petersburg</a>. </span></span></span>Another significant aspect of the socialist dissidents' politics was their internationalism, which in the 1950s underpinned their support for workers' revolts in eastern Europe, and in 1968 for the “Prague spring”. Budraitskis underlines the role of socialist dissidents in Ukraine and other non-Russian Soviet republics, whose attempts to combine ideas of socialism with those of national liberation from Russian imperialism would stand in sharp contrast to the increasingly strident nationalism of Solzhenitsyn and other right-wing Russian dissidents.</p><p dir="ltr">The end of the Khrushchev political “thaw” in the mid 1960s opened a new chapter in the history of the dissident milieu. The hopes among the most reformist elements for the “self reform” of the Soviet bureaucracy had been dashed. Socialist dissidence, Budraitskis argues, continued in two parallel trends: one that worked in the dissident milieu and human rights organisations in the big cities, including prominent figures such as Roy Medvedev; the other comprising “underground socialist groups, continuing in the traditions of the 'thaw'”.</p><p dir="ltr">In the late 1960s and through the 1970s, such groups appeared and reappeared repeatedly, across the Soviet Union: Budraitskis writes of groups in Chisinau (Moldova), Odessa (Ukraine), Tallinn (Estonia), Voroshilovgrad (now Lugansk, Ukraine), Ryazan, Saratov, Petrozavodsk, Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) and Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), as well as in Leningrad and Moscow. “Practically all of them took positions of Marxism and ‘cleaned-up’ Leninism, considered the [Communist] party to have degenerated and the USSR to be some type or other of exploitative society.” This was the background against which the clash between Medvedev and Solzhenitsyn was played out.</p><p dir="ltr">The Soviet dictatorship relied heavily on controlling and limiting the flow of information (and in this respect at least can not be replicated in the 21st century), and the dissident groups worked in suffocating isolation, often learning of each other's existence only in the prison camps. Budraitskis’ essay is the first I know of by a post-Soviet socialist to start to summarise, compare and think about their experiences collectively — something that was hardly possible at the time. I hope it will soon be translated into other languages, and that the discussion of the dissidents’ legacy will be conducted not only in the former Soviet countries, but internationally, where their heroic battles to recover the meaning of socialism from its Soviet imprisonment are no less significant.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Ilya Budraitskis comments: how circumstances defined the possibility of a “third position”</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I may say that I am doubly grateful to Gabriel Levy for his response to my book: this is a review not only by an attentive and educated reader, but also by a politically engaged person, a socialist activist who almost three decades ago witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Levy’s political position helped him to evaluate that dramatic process in all its diversity and contradiction: on one hand, the atmosphere of social animation, the intensive searches for democratic alternatives to the Soviet system, the widespread mineworkers’ strikes, and the rapid growth of the independent trade unions; and, on the other, the brutal primitive accumulation, the destructive transition to the market, the mass impoverishment, and the beginning of the evolution of the post-Soviet political regime, the results of which we are still living through today, with all the consequences.</p><p dir="ltr">This experience gave rise to questions which, in essence, have for the past two decades not been seriously considered on the Russian left. What were the objective reasons for the collapse of “really existing socialism”? What can we, and must we, counterpose to the historical and political speculation on the Soviet legacy both by the authorities and the liberal opposition? And finally, how can we establish a relationship between our own historical continuity and the Russian socialist tradition of the twentieth century?</p><p dir="ltr">My collection <em>Dissidents Among Dissidents </em>obviously did not exhaust these questions, but I hope that it helped to pose them correctly. The texts included in the volume, including the outline of the history of the Soviet Union’s socialist dissidents, are in one way or another related to establishing the possibility of a “third position” between uncritical apologetics for the Soviet system and aggressive anti-communism.</p><p dir="ltr">Today, the rhetoric of the “New Cold War” — the second time it’s returned more as “farce” than “tragedy” — brings back the logic of an enforced choice between two opposing camps, a logic to which so many intellectuals in the past, from Sartre to Sakharov, were subordinated. Attempts to get away from that choice, and from the loss of political independence that it signified, were all too often seen as evasions of responsibility, as indifference to the real struggle for social emancipation or for human rights (which in the binary logic of the cold war were made to stand in opposition to each other).</p><p dir="ltr">In this way, the possibility of a “third position” came to be defined not as a once-and-for-all dogma, but by the force of concrete circumstances. The socialist dissidents, who criticised the Soviet regime from the left, acted under the constant pressure of these circumstances — not only repression by the Soviet regime, but also the “right turn” in the mood of the intelligentsia, so evident from the beginning of the 1970s. (The issue of the contradictory social and political character of the Soviet and post-Soviet intelligentsia is the subject of another of the essays in my collection.)</p><p dir="ltr">The collapse of the USSR resulted in the collapse of the Soviet intelligentsia as a social group, with all the consciousness specific to it. The striking cultural artefacts of the late 1980s and early 1990s that Gabriel mentioned essentially reflected this phase, of both the disintegration of the intelligentsia’s way of thinking, and the fragmentation of social consciousness in general. From the epoch of glasnost (with its bold engagement with the traumas of the past, that had previously been forbidden), the intelligentsia moved to the postmodernism of the 1990s. The other side of that coin often turned out to be dogmatic political judgments — above all, with respect to the eternal ghost of the “Soviet”, which blocked the transition of post-Soviet Russia to global modernity and “normality”. (I wrote about this in the article “The eternal hunt for the Red Man”, also in my book.)&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">It seems to me that the ideas presented in Dissidents Among Dissidents may be of significance not only for Russian leftists but also in the context of current discussions internationally of the political nature of modern Russia and its relationship with the Soviet past. </p><p><em>Note from the author: If others wish to join this discussion, please email me with contributions, which – within the usual guidelines (<a href="https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/about/">see here</a>) – I’ll be happy to publish.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/Michael-Laurence-valery-pavlukevich/samizdat-in-samara">Samizdat in Samara</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/1968-revolution-too-early-to-judge">1968: a revolution too early to judge</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/russian-presidential-elections-2018-predicable-results">Russia’s presidential elections: predictable results with an unpredictable aftermath </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-rowley/talented-solidarity-chronicle-of-current-events">Talented solidarity: why Russia’s oldest human rights journal is important today</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 Gabriel Levy Russia Tue, 19 Jun 2018 16:12:35 +0000 Gabriel Levy 118460 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fighting patriarchy in Kazakhstan: problems and perspectives https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/botagoz-seydakhmetova/fighting-patriarchy-in-kazakhstan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Kazakhstan’s feminist activists thought it would take 10-15 years for gender inequality issues to be resolved. That was 25 years ago. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/botagoz-seidahmetova/feminism-v-kazakhstane" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1024px-Кентау._Торговки_хлебом_2007.10.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1024px-Кентау._Торговки_хлебом_2007.10.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'>Women in Kentau. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Yuriy75 / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Feminism and gender studies are still a subject for academic research for Kazakhstan’s first generation of feminist activists. The younger generation of activists are defending the rights of the LGBT community, and public officials are simply ignoring feminism and gender equality altogether.</p><p dir="ltr">Kazakhstan is 57th in the world in terms of female members of Parliament. The country’s Senate has only four women members out of 47, and in the lower house of Parliament there are a mere 29 women members out of 107. Admittedly, if we take another set of statistics, the country does have the <a href="https://informburo.kz/novosti/po-chislu-zhenshchin-v-politike-sredi-stran-eaes-kazahstan-ustupaet-tolko-belarusi-.html">second largest number of women</a> occupying senior governmental posts in the Eurasian Customs Union (after Belarus). </p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the top jobs in all kinds of commercial structures are overwhelmingly occupied by men. Only <a href="https://forbes.kz/stats/jenskoe_otstuplenie_1/">11.6% of chief executives of Kazakhstan’s 2,291 mining and quarrying companies are women</a>; just 12.6% of its 867 electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning enterprises are run by women and they head only 12.9% of 9,218 agricultural, timber felling and fish processing firms.</p><p dir="ltr">Family relationships, even in urban centres, remain organised around the “breadwinner” role. Unemployment levels are higher among women (5.5%) than men (4.4%). The <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4868253-zhenshchiny-v-kazahstane-luchshe.html">highest unemployment levels</a> are to be found among young people aged 25-34 – and here too there are more women (7.7%) than men (6.1%). And it is the same across the country. Both in the north and south of Kazakhstan, there is still a strong feeling that the responsibility for feeding the family lies on the man, and that women readily accept this situation.</p><p dir="ltr">It was only in 2009 that President Nursultan Nazarbayev <a href="https://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=30525680">signed</a> two gender-orientated laws that feminists had been promoting for many years. Feminist Svetlana Shakirova admits that this development was a complete surprise to activists in Kazakhstan women’s movement, and that the laws were evidently passed to satisfy western countries’ demands on the eve of Kazakhstan’s presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).</p><p dir="ltr">In an article published in March this year, lawyer Gulmira Akmoldina <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4907400-gendernoe-ravenstvo.html">writes</a> that “over the 25 years since Kazakhstan became independent, progress has been made in gender equality, but it is still incomplete and it will require great efforts to complete the process, especially given the patriarchal tendencies of our country.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In 2017, Kazakhstan was number 52 out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality levels”</p><p dir="ltr">Akmoldina cites World Economic Forum tables, according to which, “in 2017, Kazakhstan was number 52 out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality levels” – a high rating for the country. She considers that the two laws passed by Nazarbayev still don’t allow Kazakh law enforcement agencies to help women at risk of domestic violence. One reason, she believes, is that the women themselves “don’t want to air their dirty linen in public”.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, a more traditional and patriarchal way of life survives in the countryside, small towns and the south of the country – the majority of the Kazakh population lives in Kazakhstan’s southern regions and rural areas. As sociologist Mayra Kabakova <a href="http://e-history.kz/ru/contents/view/440">writes</a>: “a socio-psychological analysis of ethnic Kazakh value systems has revealed that family, children, health and prosperity remain the central values of today’s ethnic Kazakhs.” In general, it is the women living in big cities such as Almaty and the capital Astana who talk about gender equality, domestic violence and inequality at work. Everywhere else, feminist activists have no support from either the authorities or women themselves, who prefer a way of life in which their roles are defined as homemakers, daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers.</p><h2>What do people know about feminism in Kazakhstan?</h2><p dir="ltr">People in power don’t always have a strong grasp on feminism. A lot of bureaucrats can quote Wikipedia, but that’s not the most reliable source of information. At the same time, it’s impossible to find any official quotes on the subject from Kazakh politicians and bureaucrats. They evidently try to avoid making public statements or asking straight questions.</p><p dir="ltr">Zhanar Sekerbayeva, an activist in the Feminita feminist initiative, believes that the concept of feminism in Kazakhstan is associated with hatred, spite and resentment: “People don’t seem to recognise the term, even if they do accept that women’s rights are infringed, LGBTIQ people are discriminated against, women face sexual harassment at work and domestic violence at home, and so on.”</p><p dir="ltr">The attitudes of Kazakhs, both male and female, to stories of sexual harassment at work are also hard to pin down. It is supposedly the woman’s own fault: she led the man on and awakened his natural desires.</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/564053/04-2-1c823339_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/04-2-1c823339_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhanar Sekerbayeva. Source: kok.team</span></span></span>Thus, human rights campaigner Valentina Almatinskaya writes in her report, “Sexual Harassment of Women at Work”, that this issue is ignored in Kazakhstan. This research work, made available to me, includes both the personal stories of women as told by them and the famous <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-woman-wont-back-down-rare-sexual-harassment-case/28560472.html">“Belousova Case”</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">This case concerned Anna Belousova, a 35-year-old woman living in a village in the Kostanay region of Kazakhstan, who was subjected to sexual harassment by her boss. She reported it to the local police, but they took no action. In 2012, with the help of the Kostanay office of the UNHCR, Belousova contacted the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Three years later, the committee ruled in her favour and demanded that the Kazakhstan government award her “financial compensation for the moral and material damage incurred as a result of the infringement of her rights”. The government, however, refused to give her any compensation. “This case shows that even with defence mechanisms and international obligations in place, it’s still impossible to exercise your rights,” says Almatinskaya, whose work makes it clear that the government has done nothing to raise awareness of the fact that sexual harassment is a crime.</p><p dir="ltr">Another case, which went <a href="http://today.kz/news/zhizn/2018-02-02/759231-roliki-s-tseluyuschimisya-devushkami-nabirayut-populyarnost-v-seti/">viral on social media</a> in February 2018, is a video of two young women kissing in public. The clip sparked a literal witch hunt against the women by the local guardians of morality, the “uyatmen”, as they are known (in Kazakh, “uyat” means “shame”). The public is divided into two camps: those who support the moralists and are prepared to shame not only these young women, but everyone who rejects the strict code of behaviour imposed on them by their patriarchal upbringing; and those who feel that, in the first place, no one has the right to show a video in public without the permission of its participants and, in the second place, well, there’s a need to discuss the country’s real problems.</p><p dir="ltr">This row is still only gaining momentum, which is evidence that, in Kazakhstan, a new public set of views is forming, however slowly.</p><h2>Islam and feminism</h2><p dir="ltr">The first NGOs run for and by women emerged in Kazakhstan in the mid-1990s. By 1997, their number had risen from six to 30, and by 2000 there were around 200. Centres for gender studies and feminist leagues appeared at the same time.</p><p dir="ltr">These women’s NGOs are funded by international foundations and European embassies in the country, and the main issue they engage on is gender-based discrimination, both open and hidden. Svetlana Shakirova, from Almaty’s Gender Research Centre, has <a href="https://goo.gl/1BoKSX">noted</a> in one of her articles that “gender research developed in Kazakhstan… for the purpose of providing the government with data for annual UN and other international organisations’ reports.”</p><p dir="ltr">Today, the situation has changed to some extent. We have seen the emergence of a new wave of feminists with a western education who are aware of all the latest trends in social development. Such people can be found among the activists in the <a href="http://feminita.kz/">Feminita</a> feminist initiative, who are involved in defending the rights of Kazakhstan’s LGBT community.</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/xOuZo_NOPp8_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/xOuZo_NOPp8_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'>Round table “Harassment is a crime”. Organizers: Inga Imanbay, Gulzada Serzhan. Source: Feminita / Vkontakte.</span></span></span>According to Karlygash Toktybayeva, a German language specialist who works at the Almaty Gender Research Centre, people in the west often have very superficial notions about Asia and Kazakhstan. During a recent discussion entitled “Feminism and Gender Research in Kazakhstan: 2018”, Toktybayeva talked about how westerners “were completely fazed by finding educated, laid back women in fashionable clothes, rather than the downtrodden, shawl-wearing ones they were expecting. On a trip to the States, our group was met by a facilitator who explained that our programme would be very busy and advised us to pray just twice, rather than five times a day.”</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, though, there is a second new trend in Kazakhstan alongside feminism – <a href="https://ia-centr.ru/experts/timur-isakhanov/polzuchaya-islamizatsiya-v-kazakhstane-uskoryaetsya-na-glazakh/,%20https:/camonitor.kz/27572-ugrozhaet-li-islamizaciya-kazahstana-svetskomu-harakteru-gosudarstva.html">Islamisation</a>. In government and state institutions there are, for example, people who consider themselves Muslims because they observe all the necessary rituals: they fast during Ramadan, they pray five times a day. In government structures, of course, staff follow a European dress code. But outside, in the street, there are more and more young women and men whose clothing distinguishes from their non-religious peers – the women wear long clothes and headscarves, the men beards and skull-caps. The <a href="https://camonitor.kz/27827-kazahstan-religioznoe-protiv-nacionalnogo.html">fashion</a> for wearing hijab arrived in Kazakhstan with the first Turkish high schools, as well as repatriates.</p><p dir="ltr">Is there any crossover between these two new trends? The concept of <a href="http://vostalk.net/islamskij-feminizm/,%20https:/islam-today.ru/blogi/ildar-muhamedzanov/musulmanskij-feminizm-i-ego-sut/">“Islamic Feminism”</a> is, in fact, firmly established in academic discourse in such countries as Egypt, Algeria, Turkey and Pakistan. And some Islamic feminists believe that Islam has been hijacked by men, steeped in a patriarchal mindset.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In Kazakhstan, you will not find either any Muslim feminists or any high profile example of Islamic feminism</p><p dir="ltr">In Kazakhstan, however, you will not find either any Muslim feminists or any high profile example of Islamic feminism. This may be because Islamisation is just a recent trend, and also because Kazakhstanis still don’t know enough about Islam.</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, both the first Kazakh feminists and the current generation of activists embrace western values, which is why the concept of Islamic feminism hasn’t taken root in Kazakhstan. But this doesn’t mean that there are no practising Muslims among young women with progressive views actively involved in promoting civil rights. Those there are, however, have usually studied at universities in China, Malaysia or Turkey. And they may also be engaged in combating issues such as domestic and sexual violence.</p><h2>Violence in the home</h2><p dir="ltr">According to <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4892833-do-400-zhenshchin-ezhegodno-pogibaet-v.html">World Health Organisation statistics</a>, around 400 women die annually in Kazakhstan as a result of domestic violence, and one in three women around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence.</p><p dir="ltr">Child psychologist Margarita Uskembayeva, Chair of the Institute of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities of Kazakhstan and director of ARASHA, a refuge for victims of domestic violence, is not only actively engaged in research into gender equality but puts her precepts into practice. And one of her projects is helping to rehabilitate women who have experienced domestic abuse.</p><p dir="ltr">This help comes in a number forms: psychological intervention, financial support and special victim crisis centres. The public foundation she heads raises a variety of national issues, from violence against children in the family to police violence towards victims of domestic abuse. In one interview, Uskembayev <a href="https://www.zakon.kz/4873695-v-almaty-otkryli-prijut-dlja-zhertv.html">remarked</a> that “all the women say that their abusers just buy off the police, doctors and other people”, adding that “everything is for sale here, including male solidarity.”</p><p dir="ltr">Uskembayeva’s crisis centre is not, of course, the only one in Kazakhstan: there are 28 similar centres for victims of domestic violence around the country, supported by public and international organisations. In June 2016, for example, the Prosecutor General launched a project called <a href="http://www.exclusive.kz/expertiza/obshhestvo/13928/,%20https:/the-steppe.com/news/razvitie/2017-12-11/kazahstan-bez-nasiliya-v-seme-intervyu-predstavitelya-genprokuratury-o-novom-proekte">“Kazakhstan without Violence in the Home”</a>, to be carried out by his Office in conjunction with the Presidential National Commission for Women and Demographic Policies; the Ministry of Internal Affairs; UN Women, the global champion of gender equality and an EU programme in Kazakhstan. The very serious social consequences of domestic violence – families destroyed, health broken, women dying – were highlighted at an specialist meeting of the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2016.</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/maxresdefault_8_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_8_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'>Dina Smailova (on the right). Source: YouTube.</span></span></span>Meanwhile, as regards punitive measures against people inflicting this violence, in July 2017 the president signed a law turning domestic violence into a mere administrative, rather than a criminal offence, attracting a maximum of 15 days under arrest. Dina Smailova, who heads the Nemolchi.kz (“Speak Out.kz”) movement, explains the change by the fact that “it’s a rare woman who is prepared to send her husband to prison, even if has crippled her” – and the new law at least gives her “two weeks of peace”.</p><p dir="ltr">But how can administrative measures change the general domestic violence situation if you don’t also change the patriarchal mentality that has governed family life for centuries? It is crucial to promote intolerance towards domestic violence, and by both men and women. Our only hope in this situation is the new generation of Kazakh feminists, who stress the need to resolve concrete issues in the country’s regions – issues such as domestic violence, the kidnapping of young brides, early marriage and all the other fallout from patriarchal tradition in Kazakhstan.</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/elena-kostyuchenko/what-i-didnt-write-about-zhanaozen">What I didn’t write about Zhanaozen</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maurizio-totaro/fire-and-oil-in-western-kazakhstan">Fire and oil in western Kazakhstan&#039;s “spiritual renovation”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/owen-hatherley/in-kazakhstan-architectural-heritage">In Kazakhstan, architectural heritage is a path into a forgotten future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dina-baidildayeva/internet-censorship-in-kazakhstan">Internet censorship in Kazakhstan: more pervasive than you may think</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/inga-imanbai-andrey-grishin/whats-behind-chinas-anti-kazakh-campaign%20">What’s behind China’s anti-Kazakh campaign? </a> </div> </div> </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 50.50 oD Russia Botagoz Seydakhmetova Kazakhstan Tue, 19 Jun 2018 05:10:09 +0000 Botagoz Seydakhmetova 118433 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Global capitalism in Central Asia and competing economic imaginaries https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/balihar-sanghera-and-elmira-satybaldieva/global-capitalism-in-central-asia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For the US, Russia and China, Central Asia is a space of competing economic influences.</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/564053/10253845646_ba363b44c6_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/10253845646_ba363b44c6_z.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'>Khan Shatyr entertainment centre. Photo CC BY 2.0: Ben Dalton / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The US, Russia and China have competing visions and strategies of economic development in Central Asia, partly in response to economic problems and contradictions in their own advanced and emerging capitalist economies. In seeking to regulate Central Asia, the major powers are also competing to shape global capitalism and the international order. Central Asia offers an array of economic opportunities for major powers, including access and control of valuable natural resources, favourable terms of trade and efficient trade routes.</p><p dir="ltr">In recent years, two economic regional integration initiatives have propelled Central Asia&nbsp;<a href="https://publicpolicy.stanford.edu/news/one-belt-one-road-exporting-chinese-model-eurasia">from the periphery to the centre in geopolitics</a>. First,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ernesto-gallo-giovanni-biava/new-eurasian-world-order">the Eurasian Economic Union</a> (EEU) was established by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2015, with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan joining later. The EEU introduces the free movement of goods, capital, labour and services, and provides for common policies in macroeconomic and industrial spheres. There are plans for greater economic integration and harmonisation, and for its expansion and cooperation with countries from South Asia and Middle East. It operates through supranational and intergovernmental institutions, and is largely modelled on the European Union.</p><p dir="ltr">Second, in 2013 President Xi Jinping of China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to create&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-cecire/china%E2%80%99s-quiet-splash-in-post-soviet-space">trade and infrastructure network</a> connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes, such as the land and maritime Silk Road.&nbsp;Since then, many Central and South Asian countries have signed cooperation agreements with China to invest in roads, railways and transport hubs, as well as in mines, factories and plants. Many of the BRI investment proposals have been approved and are at the planning stage, and some have been completed, such as the Khorgos Gateway dry port in Kazakhstan.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s EEU and China’s BRI contrast with the dominant neoliberal Washington Consensus model, which is promoted by US-backed international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, neoliberal reforms have been standard economic prescriptions in Central Asia and other parts of the world.&nbsp;Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have adopted many of the measures, such as the IMF macroeconomic framework and de-regulation of trade and capital, though other Central Asian economies have been more cautious, and have retained strong state controls over industries and markets.&nbsp;</p><h2>The Washington Consensus</h2><p dir="ltr">Neoliberalism developed as a macroeconomic doctrine in response to the crisis of Atlantic Fordism in the west. It was used to valorise private enterprise, to be suspicious of the state, and to fetishise the free market. For over two decades, western-dominated international development agencies promoted structural and institutional market reforms in transition and developing economies under the banner of the Washington Consensus policy agenda. Their “super-vision” resulted in de-territorialisation, globalisation and market integration between developed and developing economies. Neoliberal reforms opened up key economic sectors to foreign investment, reduced trade tariffs and subsidies, de-regulated and privatised public utilities, and strengthened and expanded private property and the judiciary. Foreign and private investors seized opportunities to extract rent through&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/andrew-sayer/moral-economy-different-way-of-thinking-about-economics-for-future">the ownership and control of key assets</a>, such as oil fields, mines, quasi-monopolies and money.&nbsp;The neoliberal economic growth regime has been characterised by David Harvey as <a href="https://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/5811/2707">“accumulation by dispossession”</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/800px-Jack-up-rig-in-the-caspian-sea.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/800px-Jack-up-rig-in-the-caspian-sea.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'>Drilling platform “Iran Khazar” in operation on a Dragon Oil production platform in the Cheleken field, Turkmenistan. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, western development agencies helped to frame and regulate the transition to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/balihar-sanghera/unmasking-central-asias-neoliberal-judges">a market economy in Central Asia</a>. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were favourably compared to other countries in the region on a number of indicators of market transition, including price liberalisation, large-and small-scale privatisation, and trade and foreign exchange system. Western companies were among the major beneficiaries of neoliberal reforms, acquiring and controlling lucrative assets, including quasi-monopolies.</p><p dir="ltr">The US is one of the leading sources of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.state.gov/e/eb/rls/othr/ics/2017/sca/270019.htm">foreign capital in Kazakhstan</a>, and the majority of its investment is in&nbsp;the oil and gas sector. US corporations were among the first foreign investors to establish ownership and control in the sector. In 1993, two US oil corporations, Chevron and ExxonMobil, established a 75% stake in Tengizchevroil, a leading Kazakhstani oil company.&nbsp;Recently, the US corporation General Electric <a href="http://getransportation.com/ge-transportation-signs-locomotive-and-service-agreements-valued-over-900-million-kazakhstan">signed a strategic partnership</a> with the Kazakhstani state railway company, Temir Zholy, giving the former 50% stake in the latter.</p><p dir="ltr">In addition, the neoliberal reforms sought to separate commercial banks from the central bank, liberalise interest rates, restructure and privatise state banks, and allow the entry of foreign banks. Since the early 1990s, western-backed international financial institutions have provided substantial credit and technical training to many banks and microfinance institutions in Central Asia, in particular Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">US-led financial institutions were instrumental in creating open spaces of trade, capital and finance flows in Central Asia</p><p dir="ltr">Commercial banks and microfinance institutions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are strongly integrated into the global circuit of capital. In the 1990s and 2000s, these states heavily borrowed from US and other western financial institutions through syndicated loans, securitisation and issuance of bonded debt to fund a rapid expansion of credit. In Kazakhstan,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2010/cr10241.pdf">the share of foreign currency lending</a> (especially in US dollar) in the total bank credit was 71% in 2001, and 47% in 2009.</p><p dir="ltr">US-led financial institutions were instrumental in creating open spaces of trade, capital and finance flows in Central Asia, in particular Kazakhstan. Western companies seized opportunities to extract rent through the ownership and control of scarce assets, including natural resources and money.</p><p dir="ltr">The&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/balihar-sanghera/economic-dystopia-in-kyrgyzstan">neoliberal economic imaginary</a> also resulted in volatility, debt, insecurity, criminality and violence in Central Asia. For instance, in 2014 and 2015, the&nbsp;Kazakhstani&nbsp;tenge devalued against the US dollar that increased the debt of individuals and companies who had borrowed in dollars. The rate of non-performing loans rose to alarming levels, and some major banks were bailed out by the state. The easy access to off- and onshore centres, in particular the City of London, incentivised public corruption and rent-seeking activities by political elites, and facilitated&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw-alexander-cooley/dictators-without-borders">illicit and licit outflows of capital from Central Asia</a>. In Kyrgyzstan, the <a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/corruption-and-money-laundering/anonymous-company-owners/grave-secrecy/">scale of looting by Maxim Bakiyev</a>, the son of the then-president, contributed to the overthrow of the government in 2010. These negative externalities of the Washington Consensus were borne by ordinary Central Asian people, who lacked the economic and social capital to protect themselves.&nbsp;</p><h2>Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union</h2><p dir="ltr">The EEU can be interpreted as&nbsp;<a href="http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/72026/1/blogs.lse.ac.uk-Eurasian%20integration%20could%20offer%20a%20counterpoint%20to%20the%20EU%20and%20the%20United%20States%20but%20only%20in%20close%20co-.pdf">a movement in progress</a>, responding to the chaos and crises of neoliberalism and globalisation. The 1998 financial crisis exposed the vulnerability of Russia and other post-Soviet states to powerful external forces and organisations beyond the control of single nation states. This crisis prompted Russia to have an interest in regional economic integration, which previously it was ambivalent about. The 2007-2008 global financial crisis accelerated the pace of economic integration. Russia betted on the fact that its economy would be less affected by disruptive global economic forces if it was embedded in a larger, more diverse, economic community.</p><p dir="ltr">The EEU has similar measures to the European Union to deepen regional integration. It allows for the free movement of labour and services, not just trade and capital.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/strangers-in-village">Migrant labour from Central Asia</a> has helped Russia to tackle its labour shortages. A major part of Eurasian regional integration is the customs union, which was formed in 2010 and induced a trade diversion towards Russian manufactures, because the member countries applied Russia’s tariff schedule as their common external tariff for third countries. Kazakhstan’s average tariff almost doubled in the first year of the customs union, improving Russia’s competitiveness.&nbsp;Kazakhstan’s imports from Russia substantially increased, displacing imports from the rest of the world. This resulted in growing&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/luca-anceschi-paolo-sorbello/kazakhstan-and-eeu-rise-of-eurasian-scepticism">scepticism about Eurasian</a>&nbsp;integration in the country.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The formation of the Eurasian Economic Union has allowed Russian industries to be price competitive within the EEU, exploit migrant labour, modernise production, and conduct transactions in roubles</p><p dir="ltr">Deep regional integration also seeks to encourage productive investment and cooperation within member countries. The EEU aims to modernise the sphere of production, which was neglected in the 1990s. In 2006 Russia and Kazakhstan established the Eurasian Development Bank to support regional integration through large-scale productive investment. Russia and Kazakhstan have developed cooperative projects in several priority sectors, such as chemical manufacturing and mechanical engineering.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia gave soft loans, subsidies and guarantees to secure poorer member countries’ commitment to deepen integration, and to address uneven development within the EEU. In 2015 Russia gave loans totalling USD 500 million to establish the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund. The Fund’s goals include the&nbsp;modernisation of Kyrgyzstan’s export-oriented industries (including agribusiness and clothing) to ensure a smooth transition to the economic union. The Fund also issues business loans for productive investment only, and caps interest rates well below the market rates.</p><p dir="ltr">To deepen economic integration, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus envision&nbsp;<a href="http://www.pravdareport.com/russia/economics/10-04-2014/127325-russia_kazakhstan_belarus_new_currency-0/">a new common currency</a> possibly by 2025. This would ensure greater monetary control and stability, and would insulate member countries from disruptive global economic crises. It would also counter the hegemony of the US dollar and its ‘exorbitant privilege’. The international monetary system has been criticised for sustaining the US’s excessive military and consumer spending, without imposing austerity cuts to address the US’s budget and trade account deficits.</p><p dir="ltr">The EEU attempts to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rt.com/business/416636-russia-ruble-dollar-dependence/">de-dollarise the region</a>.&nbsp;Between 2012-2017 the share of rouble settlements in the <a href="https://www.rt.com/business/416636-russia-ruble-dollar-dependence/">EEU increased from 56% to 75%, while the share of the US dollar decreased from 35% to 19%</a>. In addition,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.globalresearch.ca/de-dollarization-and-the-resistance-economy-president-putin-in-tehran-negotiating-a-multi-billion-petro-ruble-oil-deal/5616906">Russia promotes the rouble</a> in trade negotiations with numerous countries. For instance, Russia signed&nbsp;billions worth of tripartite hydrocarbon deals in roubles with Iran and Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The formation of the Eurasian Economic Union has allowed Russian industries to be price competitive within the EEU, exploit migrant labour, modernise production, and conduct transactions in roubles. But the EEU faces some obstacles. As the EEU market size is small, Russian companies can struggle to fully realise their economies of scale. The EEU’s trade barriers can restrict imports of high quality and innovative products, thereby damaging member countries’ technical and long-term competitiveness. Tension and conflicts between member states can threaten the EEU’s future viability, as members disagree over key issues, including political sovereignty.&nbsp;Member states also face challenges arising from western-backed sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea.&nbsp;</p><h2>China’s Belt and Road Initiative</h2><p dir="ltr">By the late 2000s,&nbsp;China faced <a href="http://isj.org.uk/chinas-capitalism-and-the-crisis/">an overaccumulation crisis</a>, stemming from both overproduction and demand deficiency. Capital accumulated at a rate higher than what could prevented the average rate of profit from falling. Economic decentralisation created a fragmented national economy, in which local governments engaged in anarchic competition to attract foreign direct investment. This nurtured overinvestment and uncoordinated construction of redundant production capacity and infrastructure.</p><p dir="ltr">China’s economic crisis was exacerbated by its response to the 2008 global financial crisis. Fearing a downturn in global trade would trigger a collapse of the export sector, and then an economic recession and a loss of political legitimacy, the Communist Party quickly introduced a 570 billion USD stimulus package of government spending and credit. The stimulus package did little to re-balance China’s economy and its dependence on exports to western markets.</p><p dir="ltr">China’s BRI is an economic imaginary that attempts to address the tensions and contradictions of its capitalist economy. It re-affirms the model of&nbsp;<a href="http://isj.org.uk/chinas-capitalism-and-the-crisis/">investment-driven and export-oriented economic growth</a>. It relieves and displaces the crisis in regions of overaccumulation by moving capital to new territories at home and abroad. The existing regime of capital accumulation is enlarged and transformed, as new spatial networks are created, and capital is re-routed to areas that can ensure more profitable returns. The new space is endowed with the necessary infrastructure to create different and faster circuits of production, distribution and consumption.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The three economic imaginaries of Central Asia are attempts by major global powers to address specific dilemmas, contradictions and crises within their own capitalist economies</p><p dir="ltr">The BRI attempts to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/alejandro-frenkel/brics-and-chinese-expansive-multilateralism">rebalance the Chinese economy</a> by creating new trade routes and markets in Eurasia, South Asia and the Middle East, so that it can become resilient to debt deflation and economic slowdown in the west. The 2008 financial crisis exposed the vulnerable nature of China’s economic dependence on the US and Europe for exports and capital accumulation.</p><p dir="ltr">China views&nbsp;<a href="http://centralasiaprogram.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/OBOR_Book_.pdf">Central Asia as a strategic region</a> for trade and access to natural resource reserves, such as oil and gas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and minerals and precious metals from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. China used its surplus capital to give loans to Central Asian states to secure energy and resources. For instance, in 2009 China provided 10 billion USD in loans to Kazakhstan in return for access to its oil and gas sector, about 15% of the total oil output.</p><p dir="ltr">China helped to fund and build transport infrastructure in Central Asia to increase and speed up transcontinental trade.&nbsp;<a href="http://centralasiaprogram.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/OBOR_Book_.pdf">Kazakhstan’s Khorgos</a> has become a key transit hub and logistical centre for cargo on the Silk Road between China and Europe. Khorgos is one the BRI’s flagship projects, and is being developed as the world largest dry port. Freight trains from China to Europe increased from 1,000 in 2016 to 1,612 in 2017, though not all of them went through Kazakhstan.</p><p dir="ltr">China is also running new freight services to emerging markets. For instance, in 2016 cargo trains started to operate between China and Iran via Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. In addition, a proposal is likely to be approved to construct&nbsp;<a href="https://www.timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19193-china-kyrgyzstan-uzbekistan-railway-to-improve-attractiveness-of-central-asia">a new railway from China to Uzbekistan</a> that will shorten the delivery time of Chinese products to the Persian Gulf countries by 7-8 days.</p><p dir="ltr">Several local protests have broken out in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan over China’s access to agricultural land and mines, its environmental damage and pollution, and the use of Chinese workers over local labour. Furthermore, the lack of transparency of the BRI projects’ terms and conditions has raised fears that political elites in Central Asia are involved in corruption and fraud.</p><h2>The economic imaginaries compared</h2><p dir="ltr">The three economic imaginaries of Central Asia (the Washington Consensus, the EEU and the BRI) are attempts by major global powers to address specific dilemmas, contradictions and crises within their own capitalist economies. In trying to manage the crisis of Atlantic Fordism, the US opened up and liberalised other economies to US trade, investment and finance. Russia’s strategy to promote deep regional integration and&nbsp;productive investment evolved in response to the neoliberal shock therapy and the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. China’s ‘going out’ strategy aimed to invest surplus capital into other countries’ infrastructure and productive projects so as to tackle its overaccumulation crisis.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite their historical differences,&nbsp;the global powers’ economic imaginaries have treated some capitalist dilemmas and contradictions in a similar way. For instance, in order to secure cost advantages at home and abroad, the US, Russia and China emphasised the importance of the wage as a cost of production. This meant that the US weakened collective labour power at home and moved its production abroad to low-wage countries. Russia used migrant labour from Central Asia to depress domestic wages and to be price competitive within the EEU. China maintained tight controls on wages to secure its export-growth strategy.</p><p dir="ltr">The economic imaginaries also highlighted the role of the state to secure internal and external conditions for&nbsp;the valorisation of capital. Their&nbsp;integration into the world economy and the global circuit of capital partly explains these similarities. While there were differences in their treatment of rentier activities and collective production, they recognised the importance of capital as an abstract value in motion.</p><p dir="ltr">The global powers’ economic imaginaries of Central Asia involved significant discursive, cultural and historical elements. The neoliberal discourse in the post-Soviet space was powerful, because market reforms were associated with broader economic and political values, such as choice, enterprise, individualism, freedom and pluralism. While Central Asia’s middle class groups found ideas of openness and competition attractive, the ruling elites were more cautious.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite ethnic and religious differences, EEU member countries had strong cultural, linguistic and symbolic ties, because of their shared Soviet history, though this also caused Central Asia countries to be wary of reproducing any remnant of the past. China re-invented the historical connections between China and Central Asia, by comparing the BRI to the Silk Road’s ancient network of trade routes. But a history of territorial disputes and Chinese persecution of Turkic ethnic groups such as the Uyghurs have shaped regional distrust of Chinese expansion.</p><p dir="ltr">The political legitimacy of global powers’ economic imaginaries, or social fixes, have not gone unchallenged, partly because of negative effects in Central Asia. For instance, neoliberalisation in Kyrgyzstan generated social discontent over foreign and elite acquisition of assets, predatory lending practices and household indebtedness. After entering the EEU, both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan experienced economic difficulties. Households either bought inferior Russian commodities or paid higher prices for non-EEU goods. Some Chinese-financed projects were embroiled in controversies over Central Asian kleptocracy. For example, Tajikistan’s ruling elites were accused of fraud when they transformed a BRI highway project into a toll road.</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/john-heathershaw-nick-megoran/central-asia-discourse-of-danger">Central Asia: the discourse of danger</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/daniele-rumolo/%E2%80%98switzerland-of-central-asia%E2%80%99-is-not-looking-very-swiss">The ‘Switzerland of Central Asia’ is not looking very Swiss</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/balihar-sanghera/economic-dystopia-in-kyrgyzstan">Economic dystopia in Kyrgyzstan</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 Elmira Satybaldieva Balihar Sanghera Russia Kazakhstan Economy Mon, 18 Jun 2018 14:26:20 +0000 Balihar Sanghera and Elmira Satybaldieva 118405 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Better from a friend or from a bank? Kyrgyzstan between informal and formal financial services https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/iliyas-mamadiyarov/kyrgyzstan-between-informal-and-formal-financial-services <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A third of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP sits in informal institutions. I spoke to people who use these systems to find out how it works — and why it’s important.</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/564053/34403394043_b68b5c3cc6_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/34403394043_b68b5c3cc6_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Market at Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan. Photo BY-NC-ND 2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>As the taxi driver prepares to embark on his daily route connecting Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, to Talas, a city located in the country’s north east, a passer-by hands him stacks of money. The man explains that the money (which is the national currency, the som) is for his village. The driver appears accustomed to this sort of request: he charges his fee and takes the stacks. Once we depart, I ask the driver about this financial transfer, and he explains that the funds are meant to cover the person’s sherine obligations. “You know, his sherine is quite a costly one, I wonder why do people go on with this system?”</p><p dir="ltr">Sherine is the Kyrgyz term that designates an informal financial institution widespread across Kyrgyzstan, a country in the heart of Central Asia that achieved independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This system corresponds to what economists term <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotating_savings_and_credit_association">Rotating Savings and Credit Associations </a>(ROSCAs). The concept describes a group of individuals who agree to make a number of financial contributions to a common pot over a predefined period of time. At the group’s regular meetings, the pot’s lump sum is given in turn to each contributor for their personal use, until eventually every group member has had their turn in using the funds, which ends a sherine life cycle.</p><p dir="ltr">ROSCAs have been around for centuries all over the world, albeit under different denominations. As prominent US political scientist Robert Putnam <a href="https://press.princeton.edu/titles/5105.html">puts it</a> in his seminal book Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, ROSCAs have been found from “Nigeria to Scotland, from Peru to Vietnam, from Japan to Egypt, from West Indian immigrants in the eastern United States to Chicanos in the West, from illiterate Chinese villagers to bank managers and economic forecasters in Mexico City.” Putnam goes as far as to claim that many US savings and loan associations owe their beginnings to ROSCAs.</p><p dir="ltr">As it stands today, sherine is a widespread informal financial institution in Kyrgyzstan. But while the working mechanisms and structures of ROSCAs have been widely studied across the world, little information is available about the socio-economic role this associational form yields within Kyrgyzstan. Given that a great share of the country’s population engages in sherine, what is its effectiveness in alleviating poverty and insuring sustainable economic growth?</p><h2>A bank or a friend: who do you trust more?</h2><p dir="ltr">In 2014, The Economist <a href="https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21618900-coaxing-does-more-boost-saving-compelling-beyond-cows">suggested</a> that adults in developing countries are half as likely to have an account in a formal financial institution as their counterparts in developed countries. Among other reasons, this is due to myopia, namely the failure to recognise the benefits of long-term savings and the desire to pursue immediate gratification instead. Yet ROSCAs, albeit informal, are savings institutions. In Kyrgyzstan, their proliferation may not be necessarily tied to economic short-sightedness, but are rather a question of trust.</p><p dir="ltr">“As a rule, sherine members are people from your birtuugan (relatives), friends or co-workers,” says Aijarkyn, a resident of Ming-Bulak village in the north-east of the country. “It’s just not possible for a random person to become part of a sherine, as you have to trust the person to let them be part of it. This is because it’s possible that he collects the pot and takes off, failing to commit to the group’s financial obligations,” she continues.</p><p dir="ltr">A wife and mother of five, Aijarkyn is a 51-year-old music teacher at a secondary school. In the course of three decades, she has been participating actively in various ROSCA groups. “My husband and I took part in sherine for the first time during the Soviet period. The participants were the immediate friends and members of my husband’s family. Within our family, we would spend the returns generated by sherine to purchase items for the household,” she tells me. “One good thing about ROSCA is that you can buy big furniture. For instance, once a member of my husband’s family was able to buy a big flat screen TV. If it wasn’t for sherine, he would never have been able to save enough to afford it.”</p><p dir="ltr">For Altyn Kapalova, an anthropologist and researcher at the University of Central Asia, trust is one of the defining elements for Kyrgyz ROSCAs. “Certainly, informal financial institutions possess a high degree of trust, as they are formed by the people themselves. These structures do not allow in a random individual. The control mechanisms inside ROSCAs are powerful, too,” she explains. Kapalova believes that the dozens of microfinance associations spread across Kyrgyzstan — in other words, formal financial institutions — are equally popular among the country’s population. However, ROSCAs prevail because of how rapidly they can mobilise funds. In a sense, ROSCAs are better suited to provide financial help to members during critical circumstances when funds are needed at a moment’s notice, such as for the organisation of funerals following a sudden death in a family, the celebration of marriages, the birth of a child, anniversaries and other occasions.</p><p dir="ltr">This points to a crucial aspect of ROSCAs in Kyrgyzstan, where informal financial structures seem to be preferred to formal ones. As Andrea Bohnstedt found in <a href="https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/77390728?q&amp;versionId=90616188">her study</a> of informal systems in Kenya, accessibility and flexibility determined the pervasiveness of ROSCAs, a pattern which can also be observed in Kyrgyzstan. For instance, Ming-Bulak village residents cite the less onerous and more rapid fund mobilisation in the informal sector as one of the main reasons they prefer it to formal institutions such as banks. “I have heard that it’s possible to make a deposit in a bank,” Aijarkyn explains. “However, it remains difficult for me to do this because of the many formal papers that I am required to hand in.”</p><h2>The delicate formal-informal interplay in Kyrgyzstan</h2><p dir="ltr">Since financial transactions inside sherine are not registered, it is extremely difficult to calculate the exact number of these institutions. The picture is also blurred by the at times contradictory information provided by sherine participants. “There are at least ten sherines in our village,” says Gulmira, a resident of Tchat-Bazar village in north-east Talas who has been actively taking part in a ROSCA for the last five years. For Kalbubu, a resident of the same village, this number is not even close to accurate. “Possibly every household participates in some sort of sherine. Say the population of Tchat-Bazar is 3,000, then we can presume that there are at least 2,000 people taking part in sherines. So, possibly, there may be up to 1,000 active sherines,” she says.</p><p dir="ltr">Still, it is possible to come to a rough estimate of the money circulating in the informal financial system in Kyrgyzstan. Azattyk <a href="http://www.azattyk.org/content/kyrgyzstan_economy_traditions_round_table/24764740.html">reports</a> that approximately 2 billion USD originating from informal structures such as sherine are spent annually in the country. These expenses reflect the diverse types of economic transactions that take place within Kyrgyzstan’s rich informal networks. Apart from sherine, these include diverse social gatherings such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries (commonly known in Kyrgyz as toi) where invitees are expected to make a financial donation to the hosting family.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Approximately 2 billion USD originating from informal structures such as sherine are spent annually in the country</p><p dir="ltr">All in all, the financial turnover in the informal sector represents a staggering one third of Kyrgyzstan’s official GDP of <a href="http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/reportwidget.aspx?Report_Name=CountryProfile&amp;Id=b450fd57&amp;tbar=y&amp;dd=y&amp;inf=n&amp;zm=n&amp;country=KGZ">6.55 billion USD</a>. This has a significant impact on its formal counterpart, such as banks and microfinance institutions. The law in Kyrgyzstan <a href="http://www.nbkr.kg/index1.jsp?item=50&amp;lang=ENG">stipulates</a> that the latter should “provide accessible microfinance services to alleviate poverty, increase employment, assist in development of entrepreneurship and social mobilization of the population.” But given the size of the informal sector, serious doubts remains on the extent these formal institutions actually achieve their goals. “You know, in our village, it’s a common issue. We get loans from a microcredit institution to pay sherine dues,” says Gulmira, the resident of Tchat-Bazar village. “And when the time comes to pay interest rates on the loan, we go through much pain to find the funds. People go to other microfinance companies or pawnshops to find the money. So many people left their jewelleries at various pawnshops.”</p><p dir="ltr">Inevitably, this problem has caught the attention of Kyrgyzstan’s lawmakers. In 2012, Ulukbek Kochkorov, Deputy Chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Economic and Fiscal Policy, headed an initiative to introduce amendments to the law on microfinance institutions. According to him, Kyrgyzstan has too many microfinance associations that disburse loans without necessarily inquiring on the funds final use. “Microfinance associations are not interested if their borrowers squander loans at gambling or host a lavish toi,” Kochkorov <a href="https://www.bbc.com/kyrgyz/kyrgyzstan/2012/11/121112_credit.shtml">said</a> during an interview with the BBC World Service. “What matters to these institutions is to make a profit by reselling the collateral for a price much higher than it was initially assessed.”</p><p dir="ltr">In a country known for <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2018/kyrgyzstan">weak rule of law</a>, and given that most borrowers come from Kyrgyzstan’s poor and predominantly rural population, who struggle to grasp the terms of the loans they take up, it is possible that the country’s <a href="https://eurasianet.org/node/65527">microfinance bubble</a> may burst, significantly damaging the informal financial sector in the process.</p><p dir="ltr">But for now, sherine participants seem to have much more pressing problems to deal with on a daily basis. “You know, it’s difficult to save money in the village,” says Kalbubu, also a resident of Tchat-Bazar village. “This is why sherine provides a great opportunity to save up and purchase something useful for the household.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/kyrgyzstans-indispensable-women-are-undervalued%20">Kyrgyzstan’s indispensable women are undervalued </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy">Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s “island of democracy”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/anna-yalovkina/as-kyrgyzstan-joins-customs-union-business-finds-itself-in-standby-mode">Kyrgyzstan joins the Customs Union, and business finds itself in stand-by mode</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/balihar-sanghera/economic-dystopia-in-kyrgyzstan">Economic dystopia in Kyrgyzstan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/balihar-sanghera-and-elmira-satybaldieva/global-capitalism-in-central-asia">Global capitalism in Central Asia and competing economic imaginaries</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 Iliyas Mamadiyarov Kyrgyzstan Sun, 17 Jun 2018 23:00:00 +0000 Iliyas Mamadiyarov 118402 at https://www.opendemocracy.net While everyone’s watching the football, the Russian government is raising the retirement age https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-raising-pension-age <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Screen%20Shot%202018-06-15%20at%2015.13.27.png" alt="Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 15.13.27.png" width="80" />This move signals the end of the Russian federal state’s social commitments. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/pension-age">RU</a></strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><br /> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_2701431.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A pension office in Kaliningrad, one of the World Cup host cities. (c) Igor Zarembo / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Increasing the retirement age in Russia is quickly becoming a reality. On 14 June, as Vladimir Putin opened the FIFA World Cup in Moscow, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced the retirement age rise as if it was a done deal. Of course, the legislation still has to go through Russian parliament, but given United Russia’s parliamentary majority, the government is unlikely to face any problems.</p><p dir="ltr">In the end, the government has chosen most brutal version of the reform — the one which the Russian Finance Ministry insisted on. For men, the pension age will be increased to 65 (up from 60), and for women – to 63, an increase of eight (!) years. The age at which citizens can receive a basic state pension, i.e. if you don’t have the minimum number of years worked, is also going up: from 65 to 70 for men, and from 60 to 68 for women. For employees in the healthcare and education sectors, as well as residents of the Far North, the conditions for taking an early pension will change. Significantly, the situation with early pensions for people in the military, Interior Ministry, National Guard and prison service<a href="https://www.rbc.ru/economics/14/06/2018/5b224f169a794751ac9165d3?from=main"> won’t change</a> — at least, in the current version of the pension reform.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As ever, the Russian authorities pass anti-social laws as if they were carrying out a police operation</p><p dir="ltr">The authorities prepared well for this. Before the presidential elections, the population was served only good news — for instance, a new (and very generous) benefit for families when they give birth to their first child. If the pension age increase was discussed at all, then only as something abstract and theoretical. But straight after the March presidential elections, it became a necessary move: the discussion went from being about whether the pension age should be raised at all, to the details of this now compulsory policy.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, Medvedev’s announcement came in June, the holiday period, and during the opening of the Football World Cup, when Russia’s big cities are flooded with law enforcement and there’s a strict ban on public meetings in place. As ever, the Russian authorities pass anti-social laws as if they were carrying out a police operation.</p><p dir="ltr">Objectively, though, there’s no need to raise the pension age. Let’s take a key criteria — the ratio of state pension expenditure to Russia’s GDP. In 2017, it was 8.7%, slightly higher than the average (8.2%) for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It’s not a low number, but it’s not over the odds either. It’s unclear why Russia should spend less on pensions than developed states in the OECD. (Russia was in fact close to joining this organisation, but negotiations broke off in connection with the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.)</p><p dir="ltr">Supporters of raising the pension age claim that there’s no other way of closing the hole in Russia’s Pension Fund, which is now being covered by subsidies from the federal budget. But the conceptual question here is whether these subsidies should be considered a problem at all. Why shouldn’t oil and gas revenues accumulated by Russia’s federal budget be spent on pensions? Surely that expenditure line can’t be considered a less legitimate expenditure than the army, police and civil service, which the Russian federal government spends trillions of roubles on every year?</p><p>The deficit in Russia’s Pension Fund is also connected to the huge number of workers in the grey economy. In effect, the lion’s share of unpaid pension contributions turns into a profit for employers. Why should business owners have an advantage over workers and pensioners? Instead of raising the pension age, it makes more sense to develop a real strategy to bring wages out of Russia’s grey sector.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A broad mobilisation could definitely lead to a real change in the nature of this reform. And the Confederation of Labour of Russia, which has launched a civic campaign against the rising pension age, is becoming the centre for this grassroots struggle</p><p dir="ltr">According to a recent survey by Romir, 92% of people surveyed<a href="http://romir.ru/studies/dojit-do-pensii"> did not support this reform</a>. This isn’t surprising: after all, 43% of Russian men<a href="https://ria.ru/society/20171006/1506300652.html"> simply do not live past 65</a>, the new pension age. They are being told to basically work until they die — a practice more out of the 19th century than the modern era of developed social states. Yes, the current pension age in Russia is one of the lowest in the world, but it’s pointless to compare numbers without demographic factors. Moreover, it’s unclear why Russia should follow the model of a country with a high pension age as if this was in and of itself a virtue, and not a flaw of social welfare systems in other states. In the US, for example, labour legislation does not provide annual paid leave — is it worth copying this too?</p><p dir="ltr">As you can see, there’s enough arguments against raising the pension age. But why is the Russian government opting for such an unpopular move? To answer this, we have to analyse the dynamics of federal expenditure. In comparison with 2013, Russia’s last pre-crisis year, in 2017 federal budget expenditure on the bureaucracy rose by 37% in nominal value, on national defence – by 36%. Meanwhile, federal expenditure on education reduced by 9%, and healthcare – by 12% (if you correct for inflation, this reduction is even larger). Expenditure on pensions rose by 32%, which is comparable with the “priority sectors”, defence and bureaucracy (even expenditure on other social benefits rose even less, by 14%).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 17.20.14.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 17.20.14.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At the start of Russia's 2011-2012 protest wave, Igor Kholmanskikh, a foreman at a major manufacturing plant, became a key figure in the symbolic battle between regional working class and urban middle class that played out during those protests — with Vladimir Putin as the protector of the former. Source: Youtube / Vesti.</span></span></span>In other words, the subsidies covering the Russian Pension Fund’s deficit are the last hurdle on the path to finally transform Russia’s federal state budget from a socially oriented budget to a military-bureaucratic one. The federal centre is simply refusing to carry the burden of any social expenditure, transferring that job to the regions. This has already happened with education and healthcare, which has led to a sudden deterioration of both sectors. Only pensions are left, and the Russian government has now gone for them, having waited for the start of the new political cycle.</p><p dir="ltr">The care with which the Russian authorities have prepared in order to push this reform through is evidence of how nervous they are. Russia’s leadership is afraid of social protests because it has nothing to respond to them with. In 2011, at the start of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">Russia’s winter protest wave</a>, Igor Kholmanskikh, a foreman at the huge Uralvagonzavod factory, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTNqTe28rj8">promised</a> on television to use his men to “return order” to Russia’s streets. But when the men from Uralvagonzavod come out onto the streets in defence of their pensions in 2018, they can’t be threatened with, well, themselves. </p><p dir="ltr">A broad mobilisation could definitely lead to a real change in the nature of this reform. The Confederation of Labour of Russia, which has launched a civic campaign against the rising pension age, is becoming the centre for this grassroots struggle. Their <a href="https://www.change.org/p/%D0%BD%D0%B5-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%8B%D1%88%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%8C-%D0%BF%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B9-%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B7%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%82">petition</a> on Change.org already has 800,000 signatures. Right now, protest — in any form — can genuinely influence the situation.</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/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">Russia, Inc.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/what-is-the-football-world-cup">How this grassroots initiative in St Petersburg is making a World Cup for everyone</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/how-ukraine-is-selling-out-pensioners-from-crimea">Trading sovereignty: how Ukraine&#039;s Pension Fund co-operates with the Russian authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/in-defence-of-society">In defence of society: an open platform</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ilya Matveev Russia Sat, 16 Jun 2018 16:20:40 +0000 Ilya Matveev 118432 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How this grassroots initiative in St Petersburg is making a World Cup for everyone https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/what-is-the-football-world-cup <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Major sporting events speak to people in the language of money, prestige and officialdom. But they can – and must – speak the language of culture, equality and solidarity. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalya-schkurenok/futbol-dlya-ludei" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_2298_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_2298_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Participants of the Cup for People project. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>The Russian state’s massive effort in hosting the 2018 FIFA World Championship has led to an unimaginative decision: to deploy police officers to 11 host cities from all over Russia, while restricting citizens’ freedoms, from freedom of movement to freedom of assembly.</p><p dir="ltr">But grassroots initiatives are springing up. And these aim to help visitors not just to enjoy the football, but to find out about the real lives of Russian citizens as well. In St Petersburg, which is hosting four matches, a project called <a href="http://cupforpeople.spb.ru/">A Cup for People</a> has been launched, and its organisers believe it will help them show people the Petersburg that only they know – vibrant, creative, open to the world and resistant to all setbacks.</p><h2>No entry here and no entry there&nbsp; &nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">The most eye-catching and high profile element of the preparations for FIFA-2018 is Petersburg’s new stadium, which the locals refer to as “Arena-Zenit” after the city’s football team Zenit St Petersburg. The stadium has taken 10 years to build, and those years have been marred in corruption scandals. The final bill came to almost 50 billion roubles (about £60 million), making it one of the most expensive in the world.</p><p dir="ltr">Other building works have also been taking place – to make life easy not only for the football fans, but for local people in the future as well. The city’s two island districts, Vasileostrovsky and Petrogradsky, have now been connected to one another by a new footbridge; the Nevsko-Vasileostrovsky metro line has two new stations, Novokrestovskaya and Begovaya. All this will allow players and fans to avoid traffic congestion and get them as close as possible to the new stadium.</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_5523465.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_5523465.LR_.ru__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'>Players before the football match on the platform of the station “Mezhdunarodnaya”. Photo: Alexander Galperin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>But all the positive impressions from the new developments dim before the massive restrictions and bans affecting both the locals and the tourists. Nana Gvichiya, deputy chair of Petersburg’s Tourism Committee, <a href="https://www.fontanka.ru/2018/04/26/085/">reckons</a> that between mid June and mid-July, 400,000 fans, players and team staff and their families will pass through the city. To deal with this, the Petersburg authorities have introduced what is basically a form of martial law from 25 May to 25 July.</p><p dir="ltr">During these two months, <a href="https://iz.ru/744089/elina-khetagurova-anzhelina-grigorian/rossiian-obiazhut-uvedomliat-politciiu-o-poezdkakh-v-goroda-chm-2018">stricter rules</a> on migration will be in force: people coming from other countries will have to register with the city authorities within 24 hours of their arrival; Russian citizens within 72 hours. Public transport and the movement of locals and visitors will be seriously affected: the whole of Krestovsky Island, where the stadium is located, will be closed to everyone except its residents. Fans will only be allowed on the island with an official “fan card”; everyone else will need a special entry pass. On match days, part of Krestovsky Island and the Griboyedov Canal between Nevsky Prospekt and the Moika River (up to the fan zones on Konyushennaya Square) will be closed off.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Our aim is to make this summer memorable for our visitors from all over the planet, as a big friendly meeting of various cultures”</p><p dir="ltr">In addition, during the Championship, there will be a strict limitation on any kind of mass event unconnected with football. Because of this, Petersburg’s city government, for example, decided, for the first time in 30 years, to <a href="http://sanktpeterburg.bezformata.ru/listnews/aktciyu-pamyati-zaklyuchennih-pogibshih/67413462/">ban a commemorative event</a> marking the deaths of prisoners who died in the city’s jails, which has traditionally taken place on the first Saturday of June. Only the intervention of the human rights ombudsperson allowed it to take place after all.</p><p dir="ltr">On match days, trips to other towns and walks along rivers and canals will be restricted, and between 1 June and 17 July tourist and excursion buses will be banned from World Cup host cities, apart from those on regular routes within the cities. Haulage firms, meanwhile, will need special permits from Russia’s Interior Ministry, and all buses must have a new navigation system installed.</p><h2>We’ve paid, so we’ll have a good time!&nbsp; &nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">“At the beginning of January, I initiated a discussion on social media: What is this championship? What can good can we do with it if we’re paying for it anyway in cash and our freedoms?” activist Olga Polyakova tells me. “There was a really good discussion around my post, and that’s how I came up with the idea for this project – A Cup for People.”</p><p dir="ltr">In their <a href="http://cupforpeople.spb.ru/unitedlocalcup">manifesto</a>, the people involved in the Cup for People project declare that they don’t want this summer in Petersburg and elsewhere to just consist of a high-profile football matches. “Our aim is to make this summer memorable for our visitors from all over the planet, as a big friendly meeting of various cultures,” say the project members. “One of our ideas is to use the World Championship to organise our own, simple and open festival of sport, diversity and humanity. There will be room for everyone there, whatever their gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnic background or social status.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If the state doesn’t want to talk to its people and listen to their voices, people who are capable of taking the initiative and responsibilities can do it themselves</p><p dir="ltr">Cup for People volunteers were also recruited openly, mostly via social media. And the main thrust of the work emerged very quickly. The project would be split into a number of themes: awareness raising work in Diversity House, Alternative Excursions, a “Responsible Consumption” map and “Bars without Violence”.</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/RIAN_5523133.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_5523133.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="348" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Worker at the construction site of the Festival of fans of FIFA in St. Petersburg for the World Cup 2018. Photo: Alexey Danichev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“All our initiatives are connected more with life than football,” says Elena Belokurova, a member of the Cup for People group and one of the coordinators of the German-Russian Exchange in Petersburg. </p><p dir="ltr">“For us, the World Cup is more to do with creating an interesting project. But we couldn’t have got anywhere if we hadn’t coordinated our efforts with the FARE (Football against Racism in Europe) network. They helped us open our Diversity House, and they’ve been creating this kind of thing, in conjunction with FIFA, for many years, wherever the Championship has been taking place. FARE initially planned to have just one Diversity House, in Moscow, but when they found out about the ideas coming from the people in Petersburg, they decided to have one here as well.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Diversity House is open from 12 June on Konyushennaya Square, next to the official FIFA 2018 fan zone. According to Elena Belokurova, the organisers have already planned more than 30 events for the space – discussions, meetings, master classes. Various NGOs will have stalls, and they’re expecting a presentation from a group of activists from Finland and Germany who campaign against homophobia in sport. In early July, the final games and debates held by the city’s <a href="https://www.facebook.com/demclub.chtodelat/">Democratic Club</a> will take place. And of course, all the football matches will be streamed in Diversity House – large monitors have been set up in two spaces with 160 seats. The new space will open with a photo exhibition dedicated to diversity in Russian and world football. The exhibition will show footballers who have led all kinds of lives: migrants, refugees, LGBTIQ+ players.</p><p dir="ltr">“We are open to everyone, but leave ourselves the right to exclude people who might pose a threat to us – who are too drunk, too aggressive, too exuberant,” Alfred Miniakhmetov, coordinator of the Diversity House project tells me. “We have our own security people, and interpreters from several European languages will be on hand. Beer? We’ll let people in with beer, but won’t sell it.”</p><h2>Eating in St Petersburg</h2><p dir="ltr">According to the TurStat agency, at the end of last year St Petersburg <a href="https://www.spb.kp.ru/daily/26668/3689795/">joined the top three of Russia’s “best food” cities</a>, beaten only by Moscow. Members of the Cup for People group suggested compiling a gastronomic map of the city, but only showing places that comply with their social responsibility principles.</p><p dir="ltr">“We use specific criteria to select establishments that comply with social, ethnic and environmental standards,” says Svetlana Kozhukhanova, one of the project group. “This means people who are trying to lessen their environmental footprint, use responsible suppliers, are concerned about recycling, provide spaces for socially important events and organise them, and take part in charitable initiatives.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Map for People group looked at dozens of Petersburg eateries and found that café and bar owners were interested in the idea: they were keen to be in contact and shared their concerns about separate rubbish and recycling collections, use of leftover food and an avoidance of disposable plates and glasses. The Map for People group are working out how to help them: getting establishments working together, getting the city authorities involved in things that matter to everyone. There will soon be a new map on the Map for People site, showing where to find vegan restaurants, what bars and cafes cater for people with various food allergies and what eating places are art spaces as well.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_2301_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_2301_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'>Boris Konakov – press officer at the crisis centre and the coordinator of trainings on safety in bars. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>Another important aspect of the project is safety in bars and restaurants. As part of the Map for People project, the staff at St Petersburg’s <a href="https://crisiscenter.ru/">Women’s Crisis Centre</a> offered to lead violence-avoidance workshops for bar owners and staff. “I work at the Crisis Centre helpline, and we receive an awful lot of complaints from women, telling us that they are subjected to aggression in bars or near them, and from both men they know and people they’ve just met casually who have been drinking,” says Anna Reshetnikova, the Crisis Centre’s manager. “And we decided that we had to do something. Football inflames passions, and we are seriously concerned that violence will be on the increase during the Championship.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The aim of the workshop sessions is to talk to bar owners and staff about violence, and in particular gender based aggression, different kinds of aggression and how women can counter it,” says Boris Konakov, press officer at the crisis centre. “We’re not suggesting that bar staff take on any security role, but we are appealing to their sense of responsibility, helping them recognise real danger and asking them not to ignore any requests of help from women.”</p><h2>The citizen and the state: 100 years of solitude</h2><p dir="ltr">Another aspect of the Cup for People project is, of course, guided tours around St Petersburg. The organisers of the Tours for People programme are offering visitors and residents tours of a kind that no one else is doing.</p><p dir="ltr">Arkady Konnov, a town planning specialist and professional guide, is running two tours of the city. The first tour is a kind of photo-quest where people can take unusual pictures. And the second goes by the name of “Made in St Petersburg”. “I want the visitors to meet creative business people,” says Konnov, “people who invent and create original stuff, from craft beers to individual designer clothes, footwear and jewellery. I’ve already set up an association with a <a href="http://klasstrueda.ru/">community workshop company</a> and a <a href="https://handmade.ru/refarforma">company</a> who make jewellery and all kinds of original works in porcelain. And the visitors don’t just get to look at other people’s work – they can also make some small piece of their own.”</p><p dir="ltr">Dmitry Vorobyev, on the other hand, takes visitors on tours of Petersburg’s suburbs and industrial outskirts – areas where there are no palaces or other historic buildings, but where most ordinary Petersburgers live.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“For us, the World Cup is an opportunity to establish contact with members of global civil society and begin a dialogue with them about issues affecting every country”</p><p dir="ltr">One of the <a href="https://trava.timepad.ru/event/738538/">most important tours</a> offered by Cup for People will take tourists on walks around human rights hotspots. “We want to show how relations between people and the state have changed over the last century, to talk about human rights,” says Olga Polyakova, one of the creators of the programme. “We shall be telling people about the most striking human rights protest actions, from the Soviet years up to the present day. We have almost finished making an online map of where they happened, with 50 places marked as the points that speak most powerfully of instances of solidarity and human dignity.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Daily free human rights tours will take visitors round the Peter and Paul Fortress, where they will learn about the first Soviet political art demonstration in 1976. They’ll also find out about the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/last-address-project-aims-to-honor-/26711340.html">Last Address project</a>, which marks the homes of people who died in Soviet repressions. Then, at the Russian Prison Service’s special detention centre, people can hear about solidarity with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ovd-info">people who are being arrested at protest actions today</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/555493/34345874_10209158844926629_6370277540463902720_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'>The Last Address project installs memorial plaques at the homes of citizens who died in Soviet repressions. Source: Natalia Shkurenok. </span></span></span>“We will be offering a number of tours: they are all being put together now,” says human rights activist Pyotr Voskresensky. “We don’t just talk about the Gulag, but also the Second World War and the 900 day siege of Leningrad. Outside the Dutch Church we’ll talk about the ethnic diversity and religious tolerance when the city was the capital of the Russian Empire and what happened under Soviet rule, when small Baptist communities, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other faiths were persecuted.”</p><p dir="ltr">“These tours are mainly aimed at Russians,” Voskresensky tells me. “We want them to think of St Petersburg not as a collection of facades, but a city where people want to outlaw discrimination against minorities and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">infringement of basic rights and freedoms</a>.”</p><p dir="ltr">Major sporting events can speak to people not just in the language of big sport and big money, national prestige and officialdom. They can – and must – also speak to people in the language of culture, equality and solidarity. And if the state doesn’t want to talk to its people and listen to their voices, people who are capable of taking initiatives and responsibilities can do it themselves.</p><p dir="ltr">“For us, the World Cup is an opportunity to establish contact with members of global civil society and begin a dialogue with them about issues affecting every country: culture and local identity, civil society, discrimination, the right to the city and the influence of megaprojects on city life,” write the authors of the Cup for People project on their website. “We want to see and hear one another, and make all the visitors to our project feel at home in Petersburg and take fond memories of the city away with them.”&nbsp; &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-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/after-bomb-crisis-management-petersburg-style">After the bomb: crisis management in Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/nizhny-novgorod-protestant-deportation-student">The “safeguarding of morality” in Nizhny Novgorod is turning into an attack on the city’s Protestant community</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 Natalia Shkurenok Cities in motion Russia Thu, 14 Jun 2018 08:58:09 +0000 Natalia Shkurenok 118392 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What can western states learn from civil society engagement in eastern Europe? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/orysia-lutsevych/what-can-western-states-learn-from-civil-society-engagement-eastern-europe <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">There’s lessons to be learned on populism from new initiatives in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.</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/555493/3239432996_f160ede0ee_z.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'>CC BY-NC 2.0 Dr Case / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The growing tide of populism in the west is a symptom of failing representative democracy. Current political systems increasingly struggle to translate popular preferences into public policies. The crisis of democracy leads to disillusionment, mistrust and consolidation of populist politics.</p><p dir="ltr">Civil society, with active and effectively engaged citizenship could help mend deficiencies in representative democracies. High level of mobilisation and civic oversight, as demonstrated by developments in the transition economies, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, offer important insights into successful anti-populist measures.</p><p dir="ltr">Populists can be many things in disguise, but their main threat to representative democracy is their anti-pluralism and uncontested claim of the moral right to represent <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/29/what-is-populism-jan-werner-muller-review">“real people”</a>. They undermine accountability, because they refer to “popular will” as the sole driver of their actions.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Because of the relative democratic tranquillity over the last decade, the civic sector in consolidated democracies has concentrated on delivering innovation and much needed social services. In view of current risks to democracy, there is an opportunity that effective civil society can be a safeguard against populist politics thanks to of its high social trust, connection to the needs of various constituencies and commitment to inclusive values.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In many countries in Europe, civil society enjoys much higher levels of trust than governments. For example, in the UK 54% of people t<a href="https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/trust-charities-down-six-points-past-year-survey-finds/fundraising/article/1460172">rust charities</a> compared to only <a href="https://www.edelman.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Website-Edelman-Trust-Barometer-Press-Release-2018.pdf">34% who trust the government</a>. Globally, giving and volunteering are <a href="https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/cafworldgivingindex2017_2167a_web_210917.pdf?sfvrsn=ed1dac40_10">showing positive long-term trends</a>. Civil society organisations increasingly play a role of facilitators and conveners around the issues of inequality, gender, conflict resolutions and human rights. The sector often leads a way to social innovation at national and global levels.</p><p dir="ltr">To seize the opportunity in putting a cap on populist politics, civil society oversight and control should be directed mainly towards ruling elites, who under the temptation of quick wins adopt populist rhetoric. Civic actions could include fact checking of party candidates and politicians for the use of false narratives. For example, VoxCheck in Ukraine regularly <a href="https://voxukraine.org/en/voxcheck-impact-17-weekly-project-for-checking-statements-from-the-most-influential-politicians/">rates politicians for lies and populist rhetoric</a>. In Georgia, a coalition of civil society organisations. led by the Media Development Foundation, <a href="http://mdfgeorgia.ge/eng/view_research/137">monitors disinformation and anti-liberal propaganda</a> disseminated by media outlets and politicians. Such “name and shame” campaigns could shed more light on the fact that populist rarely win on their own and need collaboration from mainstream parties to rise to the top.</p><p dir="ltr">By offering meaningful engagement for citizens beyond elections, civil society could help shape inclusive policy. This kind of engagement should be easy, clear and extend across different ages. For example, in Ukraine consultative Civic Councils at the Ministry of Health and National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) deliver civic representation at the national level. Over 70,000 citizens participated in electing the council members online that maintain a feedback loop between citizens and national agencies. The council member can join administrative and disciplinary committees of NABU, which hire new personnel and review its performance. Two out of five committee members are from civil society. After vetting the candidates, each tenth applicant was rejected due to a high corruption risk. Other tools might include development of participatory budgeting at the local level, where a share of a local budget is allocated for projects voted digitally by the local community. It helps generate ownership and interest of citizens in the life of municipalities.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, effective communication could bridge disconnect between citizens and elites and help channel citizens’ view into political society. By monitoring the implementation of public policies, civil society organisations could bring to the table practical policy results and identify false narratives spanned by the populists. Various policy barometers, independent opinion polling could be designed to explain trends and policy impact. By focusing on public issues, civil society organisations could steer discussion away from personalisation or moralisation of political conflict. In Moldova, strong civic mobilisation backed by independent expertise of Legal Recourse Centre managed to stop legislative initiative on capital liberalisation and tax incentives due to high money laundering and corruption risks.</p><p dir="ltr">But in order to capitalise on those opportunities, civil society has to carry weight and legitimacy, which mainly comes from strong links to constituency and accountability. It is important to avoid the trap noticeable in the transition region, where civic groups turn into elitist networks, which use access to decision-makers and western donors to influence policy. Non-profits in the region often act on behalf of citizens, rather then jointly with citizens. Instead of strengthening democracy they breed NGO-cracy. The proposed anti-populist remedies are also contingent on strong downward accountability and transparency of the sector. Civil society groups need to stay focused on their missions, retain integrity and nurture current levels of social trust.</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="/openglobalrights/orysia-lutsevych/civil-society-in-post-soviet-space-fighting-for-end-of-history">Civil society in the post-Soviet space: fighting for the “End of History” </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/orysia-lutsevych/civil-society-in-post-soviet-europe-seven-rules-for-donors">Civil society in post-Soviet Europe: seven rules for donors</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maksym-kazakov/how-workers-in-ukraine-metal-industry-are-fighting-for-wages-rights-democracy">How workers in Ukraine’s metal industry are fighting for wages, rights and democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">What are the real barriers to freedom of assembly in Ukraine?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kupatadze/the-politics-of-police-reform%20">The politics of police reform: dissecting the barriers to change in the post-Soviet world </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/yulia-abibok/the-growing-gap-between-ukraine-and-russia">The growing gap between Ukraine and Russia – and the people trying to bridge it</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> </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 Orysia Lutsevych Wed, 13 Jun 2018 05:32:32 +0000 Orysia Lutsevych 118348 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Contemporary Ukrainian culture is far less contemporary than one hundred years ago” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/vasyl-cherepanyn <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As a recent cultural festival in Kyiv shows, generating new languages of internationalism is more important than ever before. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-bezruk/vasil-cherepanyn-interview-biennial" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_DSC5558.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_DSC5558.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="327" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vasyl Cherepanyn. Photo: Olga Ivaschenko.</span></span></span>Kyiv’s Visual Culture Research Center recently hosted <a href="http://vcrc.org.ua/en/">The Kyiv International</a>, a biennial comprised of lectures by leading critics and cultural figures. I spoke to Vasyl Cherepanyn, one of the co-organisers of the Biennale, about the programme, Ukrainian modernism and the emergence of new walls in Europe – metaphorical and all too real.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>This isn't the first Kyiv Biennale organised by the Visual Culture Research Centre (VCRC). How did your work as organiser of the Biennale begin?</em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">We took up this idea three years ago, when it had already been initiated by someone else, but not us. The first Kyiv Kyiv Biennial – <a href="https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/34314/arsenale-2012/">Arsenale 2012</a> – was held as part of the European Football Championship. As an institution, we participated in it with our own parallel programme. The next Kyiv Biennial was at first postponed because of Maidan, and then later it was cancelled altogether because of the decision of the then-Directorate of the <a href="https://artarsenal.in.ua/en/">Mystetskyi Arsenal</a>. We had previously worked with Hedwig Saxsenhuber and Georg Schöllhammer, the former curators, so we decided to take over the organisation of the <a href="http://theschoolofkyiv.org/">“School of Kyiv”</a> in 2015, completely changing its logic and structure. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Our goal was to visualise, via artistic and educational means, what was absent in Ukraine’s political sphere after Maidan</p><p dir="ltr">At that time, our goal was to visualise, via artistic and educational means, what was absent in Ukraine’s political sphere after Maidan. We wanted to work through the experience of revolution, and this was where the “School of Kyiv” fulfilled its role. We used various discussion platforms: institutions inherited from the Soviet times, new galleries, state cultural institutions, platforms of various initiatives and organisations that work with internally displaced persons, and also establishments that have never previously been associated with the cultural field – for example, the House of Clothing on Lviv Square, Kyiv. This way we managed to create the conditions for a discourse on Kyiv as a new post-revolutionary spot on the European map, and, surely enough, Kyiv did begin to speak. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>Has the first part of the “Kyiv International” been easy, given the experience of organising the last event? </em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">Quite the contrary. Today we are in far worse, politically counter-revolutionary conditions. After the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&amp;v=iJmjLOiuqsU">attack on David Chichkan’s exhibition at VCRC</a> in winter last year, we had to decide: should we do the biennial at all, especially with this year’s internationalist theme?Here it is necessary to bear in mind the general situation in Ukraine, when any association with the left side of the political spectrum is simply off limits.</p><p dir="ltr">For the first part of the Kyiv Biennial, in 2017 what was important was that it was the “Kyiv International”. We don’t have a fetishistic commitment to using the biennial format every two years. We are using the biennial framework in order to raise a certain range of problems, and we are attracting international institutional partners in order to create an intersection between artistic, intellectual and political grassroots movements. And, in light of that, we still remain an autonomous institution. All events that took place during last year’s Biennale were organised by the VCRC; we did not invite any external curators. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>You mentioned the word “international”, a notion that is already discredited in Ukraine. How did you introduce this notion into the framework of the Biennial, and how one is supposed to work with it in the first place?</em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">“Internationalism” isn’t a discredited word, but rather one that has been pushed out and forgotten. The thing that it signifies is what we are missing the most right now. On the other hand, are there any words that aren’t discredited? “Democracy” is just as discredited a word, it is also a notion that has been used to cover many wars. </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/564053/42320942271_da552d58e6_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/42320942271_da552d58e6_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Poster of the Biennial “Kyiv International”. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>Take an example from religion, where most notions have been discredited and used to justify mass murders. The field of politics is currently dominated by a combination of transnational global capital and far-right localism. The idea of internationalism has always lead to progressive shifts and emancipatory consequences.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, the very idea of a unified Europe at its core is based on free movement of people, and not only commodities. This idea is aimed at increasing liberty, intensifying communicatory, educational, cultural and political possibilities. Only standing up for yourself, the principle of extreme protectionism – this is a dead end for society.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>Does the “International” provide a universal language for art as well?</em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">Here we’re dealing with the question of creating a universal political language by means of education and art. Today’s global agenda, of which Ukraine is a part, is based on the following: outsourcing of wars – i.e., carrying them out in the peripheries – raising new walls, and the necropolitics of memory. Meanwhile, the notion of internationalism primarily implies the necessity of international solidarity. </p><p dir="ltr">The idea of internationalism always was and still is revolutionary, and democratic internationalism is also something that is sorely missing in our contemporary status quo. Here we are referring to the revolutionary movements and social protests that are both temporally remote, and contemporary – from Occupy Wall Street and indignados, to the Arab Spring uprisings and Ukraine’s Maidan. The “Kyiv International” is both a proposal and an attempt to develop a common political language – the “common” European space lacks a common vocabulary. Not least, this results in a tendency towards shrinking or even partial disintegration of this space.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Reactionary forces cannot appropriate the idea of internationalism, which always constitutes a political alternative in relation to them</p><p dir="ltr">We are in the process of developing both the vocabulary and the political and intellectual movement. We don’t know what this vocabulary will look like eventually, and what path its development will take, which is why it is the sign of a real emancipatory politics: we have no prescribed recipes and no guaranteed results, we are merely trying things out. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>Are you talking about physical walls?</em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">Certainly. Today the Schengen system itself is no longer working: several Balkan and East European countries are building new physical walls and surrounding themselves with barbed wire, while their right-wing radical parties are taking the positions of power. This is a very dangerous situation, and today we have to ask ourselves: how can we resist this tendency, and survive these new dark ages? </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_DSC5631.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_DSC5631.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: Olga Ivaschenko.</span></span></span>Here the “Kyiv International” hits the bull’s eye – by their very definition, reactionary forces cannot appropriate the idea of internationalism, which always constitutes a political alternative in relation to them. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>If the “International” is a tool, then what would be the unifying factor?</em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">Here we are talking about a certain range of actions in our current social reality – not in some phantom future, nor in a constructed history, but in our present time. </p><p dir="ltr">The most pressing need today – and not only for Ukraine, but for the whole of Europe, as well as the whole world – is stopping war. After all, the Second World War was what gave birth to Europe itself. War is a cancer of politics, a poison that is now unleashed against revolutions. It is no accident that all the countries that were recently shaken up by revolutionary uprisings and civic resistances are now involved in wars. </p><p dir="ltr">Generally all revolutions – including the one in Ukraine – represented the politics of hope. They were aiming at the future, while wars and walls are expelling the very idea of the future altogether. In this context, the idea of “Kyiv International” is aimed at remembering this future.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>To return to the programme, tell us how the “Dish” (the nickname for Kyiv's Institute of Scientific, Technical and Economic Information) at Kyiv’s Lybidska metro station became the main location for the Biennale?</em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">In a way, all the main locations we chose existed outside the field of art. As for the “Dish” itself, for a long time one of the protestant sects has been using it as a place for prayer meetings. We found it important both conceptually and politically to direct our attention to the phenomenon of Kyiv modernism. Historically, modernism has always been inherently directed towards utopia, and internationalism has always been at the basis of the former. Modernism is unique because it is both universal and local: after being born in Europe, it spread during the 20th century throughout the whole world, which is why today we have Brazilian, French, Senegalese, and other modernisms. Modernism is global, but it always retains its local specificity.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_DSC5603.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vasyl Cherepanyn at the "Dish", the Ukrainian Institute of Scientific, Technical and Economic Information, Kyiv. Photo: Olga Ivaschenko.</span></span></span>Being one of the key components of the city, Kyiv modernism – together with Baroque – is currently exposed to vulgar and barbaric renovations. Both the “Dish” and Zhytny Market [another Biennial location] are now threatened by renovation. Because of the primitivising effect of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/a-tale-of-two-revolutions">Ukraine’s decommunisation policy</a>, and low level of artistic consciousness in general, the debates on the value of this architectural heritage are starting only now. By the way, according to its architect Florian Yuryev, the “Dish” has the best acoustics for a public space in Ukraine. It was built in the spirit of avant-garde and was intended as a theatre of light-music, which has its historical origins in Kandinsky’s idea of artistic synesthesia – a synthesis of sound, light, and image.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And the Zhytnyi market? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Zhytny market is also a unique construction that draws directly from the so-called international style. For the first time in the context of the Biennale, this market was used to host an art show – the exhibition “Bazaar” was dedicated, among other things, to the architectural tradition of the indoor markets. </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/564053/26217721889_3e3d854290_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/26217721889_3e3d854290_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Opening of the exhibition “Bazaar” in the Zhityny market, October 2017. Photo: Alexander Kovalenko, Daria Nikolenko / Visual Culture Center. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Interestingly enough, on the level of an artistic concept, Zhityny market was constructed as a reflection on the theme of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_route_from_the_Varangians_to_the_Greeks">“trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks”</a>. This imagery is mainly based on the fact that Kyiv was founded on the crossroads of commercial, and, consequently, communicative and cultural routes, which fits the historical location of Zhytnyi market. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em>The first part of Kyiv Biennial featured a film programme. Was it an attempt to emphasise the importance of Soviet Ukrainian cinema?</em></strong></p><p dir="ltr">A call back to the Ukrainian visual and literary culture of the period of 1910s-1920s is necessary relief in the contemporary Ukrainian context. </p><p dir="ltr">This period gives us a chance to learn what it means to be modern because, as a specific quality, “contemporaneity”is far from being identical to “the present”. Contemporary Ukrainian culture is far less contemporary than it was a hundred years ago. </p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s tradition of the artistic and literary avant-garde has been forced out of its once dominant position and remains in the margins to this day. </p><p dir="ltr">European cinema is unthinkable without Dziga Vertov and Olexander Dovzhenko; Olexander Arkhipenko, Kazimir Malevich, and Olexandra Ekster were at the forefront of artistic innovations of their times; while Valerian Pidmohylny and Mykola Khvylevoy brought contemporary urbanism to Ukrainian literature. This cultural avant-garde remains unsurpassed till this day.</p><p dir="ltr">How blind can Ukraine’s decommunisation policy be, cleansing Ukrainian culture of everything connected to the Soviet period, depriving it of its strongest artistic periods! Ukrainian modernism is among one of the most productive, progressive and contemporary periods in the whole history of Ukrainian culture.</p><p dir="ltr">In this sense, the film programme of the “Kyiv International”, curated by Stanyslav Menzelevsky, a researcher at the <a href="http://www.dovzhenkocentre.org/eng/">Dovzhenko Centre</a>, included films by Dovzhenko, Kavaleridze, Dziga Vertov and Kaufman. This programme didn’t only trace an outline of that time, a selection of things that defined Ukraine in the 1920s. It was also a retro-futurist reflection on contemporary Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translation by Tomas Čiučelis.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><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/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach/that-obscure-object-of-desire-reforms-labour-code-and-progressive-agenda-in-">#DontFuckWithUs: labour reforms and the progressive agenda in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">Ukraine’s ministry of internal hatred</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/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="/denis-gorbach/struggle-for-progressive-politics-in-ukraine">The struggle for progressive politics in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/a-tale-of-two-revolutions">A tale of two revolutions, or “decommunisation”, Ukrainian-style</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Ukraine Cultural politics Tue, 12 Jun 2018 14:04:55 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 118340 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Russian documentarian Askold Kurov recently visited filmmaker&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Oleg Sentsov</a>, who is on hunger strike in Russia. I spoke to him about the role of documentary today, activism and conditions in Russia's Far North. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/interview-askold-kurov-sentsov">RU</a></strong></em></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/555493/11201906_1436041440032584_4329710980419666743_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Askold Kurov. Source: <a href=http://lira.megakino.com.ua/cinema/index>Cinema Lira</a>. </span></span></span>The last time I met Russian documentary filmmaker Askold Kurov, he was still filming his documentary <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFohGYNapj0">The Trial</a>. In 2015, Kurov was a constant observer of the show trial of two Crimean residents — filmmaker <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Oleg Sentsov</a> and anti-fascist <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-novikova/a-birthday-in-the-urals-oleksandr-kolchenko">Alexander Kolchenko</a> — who were sentenced on terrorism charges to 20 and 10-year sentences respectively. The Trial, which follows Sentsov’s case in depth, was first shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017, and screenings have since turned into public events in support of releasing the Ukrainian filmmaker and other political prisoners. Indeed, filmmakers from across the world have called for his release.</p><p dir="ltr">On 4 June, Kurov met Sentsov in prison at Labytnangi in Russia’s Yamal-Nenets region, where Sentsov has declared a hunger strike in support of releasing all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Sentsov’s hunger strike has led to a whole series of actions across the world. Sentsov recently wrote a letter to G7 leaders with a request to do something to change the fate of Ukrainian political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">Kurov and I met a few days later in Kyiv to talk about his mission, activism, the trip to Labytnangi and The Trial.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Why are you in Kyiv? Have you come on some sort of mission?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, I have a mission. I was in Labytnangi prison on Monday, I met Oleg Sentsov. And so Maria Tomak, a Kyiv rights defender, invited me here to attend a closed meeting with representatives from embassies of G7 states. This was a special meeting dedicated to Oleg Sentsov. I talked about our trip to the prison colony, meeting Oleg, his condition, his living conditions there and what Labytnangi and the region in general is like. We spoke about the solidarity movement among filmmakers in support of Sentsov. Natalia Kaplan, Oleg’s cousin, talked about Oleg’s family. Maria Tomak talked about Ukrainian political prisoners as a whole, the trials, what will happen next.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, the main aim was to convince the representatives that Oleg Sentsov’s plight be included on the G7 summit’s agenda. We didn’t receive, of course, any answers, but these people weren’t authorised to give us any. But they promised to give this information to their governments. We really hope something comes of this.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>What’s your impression after the meeting?</em></p><p dir="ltr">They were interested, they listened. Then they asked questions. We gave them a link to the film. I hope they watch it. It will help them relay the case in more detail.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Tell me about your trip to Labytnangi.</em></p><p dir="ltr">I went on the request of Radio Liberty to shoot a film about the journey of Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, to Labytnangi together with Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea, who also wanted to get a meeting with Oleg. When we arrived, it turned out that Archbishop Kliment couldn’t get a meeting with Oleg. And I wasn’t counting that I would get one either. Dmitry Dinze mentioned that perhaps they might permit a telephone conversation with Oleg, perhaps a meeting. But the prison administration somehow heard this, and they decided to permit a meeting.</p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GFohGYNapj0" height="256" width="460"></iframe><em>A trailer for Askold Kurov's film The Trial.</em></p><p dir="ltr">This is an unprecedented case — it’s a strict regime prison, Oleg should only have meetings with relatives or his lawyer. And I don’t know why they decided to permit it. I have a theory that they wanted to demonstrate some sort of openness, friendliness. On the other hand, they understand what kind of international attention from the press is on Oleg’s hunger strike, and thus on the prison colony itself. And perhaps, they just needed a unbiased witness to the fact that Sentsov isn’t complaining about the conditions there, that he’s in a normal physical condition.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>A gesture of good will, then.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes. A big thank you to them.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>How was it?</em></p><p dir="ltr">The meeting was short. We lost half a day just getting to Labytnangi. The ice has started melting on the Ob river and you can’t take the ferry from Salekhard to Labytnangi, you can only go by helicopter. We had to wait for it. It’s very cold there now, there’s still snow on the ground. There’s not much in the way of plant life, a very harsh climate — and that’s affecting Oleg’s health.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Of course Oleg wants to live, he hasn’t got a death wish. He’s got something to live for — kids, aims in life. But he’s an idealist and these higher tasks, his convictions, are more important than everything else</p><p dir="ltr">It took a long time to get there, then, and there had to be time for Dmitry Dinze to meet with Oleg. Our meeting lasted 45 minutes in total. He seemed to be in a good state psychologically. He isn’t depressed or in a bad way. He isn’t wavering or doubting what he’s doing. He’s as decisive as before, logical and confident in himself. As to his health, yes, he has lost eight kilos since he started even preparing for the hunger strike. He prepared for it over a month and a half, gradually refusing and stopping taking food. The day we arrived, he was taken to a hospital outside the prison for a medical inspection. They did an ultrasound, some other tests that didn’t find any problems with how his body is working. Oleg agreed to have supporting therapy — twice a day he gets an IV with glucose and some other vitamins, to support his body.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Is he writing anything?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, he’s writing. He didn’t tell me what he’s writing. But he said that he’d written several short stories. And a novel. And now he’s working on two film scripts. I told him that I was really looking forward to when he’ll be able to make these films, because I really like his cinema. He said that, yes, he’s also waiting. </p><p>Of course Oleg wants to live, he hasn’t got a death wish. He’s got something to live for — kids, aims in life. But he’s an idealist and these higher tasks, his convictions, are more important than everything else.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>So it turns out you met the main protagonist of your film.</em></p><p dir="ltr">At last! I couldn’t film it, record it. The prison officers recorded it on camera. That’s also unprecedented. Usually, prison visits aren’t filmed. But that was a condition here. Oleg and I later joked that we would ask the man who filmed our meeting to save that recording, we’ll definitely need it later.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Did you speak about The Trial?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Oleg told me: “Sorry, but I won’t watch your film, I don’t want to.” I understand him completely, no one wants to live through all that all over again, to remember. You want to forget it like a bad drea,. But still he was very interested how it’s going in general, where the film has been shown, what the press reaction was, the audience reaction. He was very happy that the film was being shown in Ukraine, including on television. Now the film is <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/05/28/process-film-o-sude-nad-olegom-sencovym">free to watch in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania</a> in connection with the hunger strike — this is to attract more attention, so that people can watch it.</p><p dir="ltr">I told him that this year was the last <a href="http://artdocfest.com/eng">Artdocfest</a> in Russia. He was interested in all the news. And about cinema, too, he asked about Cannes, but I couldn’t answer him — he told me off for not preparing for the visit. And, of course, he asked about what was going on — the support actions in 30 countries, 80 cities. It was clear that his mood lifted, it’s important for him that people don’t forget about him, that this wave of support has come up, this movement. It seems to me that he’s got what he wanted: attention to the problem of political prisoners in Russia. I think he’s done it.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>I remember a quotation of Oleg at trial, it’s in your film: “This sentence of 20 years, I’m not scared. I know that the era of the bloody dwarf’s rule will end before then.” And now he is on hunger strike — until his demands are met.</em></p><p dir="ltr">As Oleg said: “Why should I live like this for the remaining 16 years, at least I can do something for Ukrainian political prisoners.” That’s a direct quote. I think it’s connected to the fact that, it’s true, hopes are fading. There’s already been so many reasons to expect an early release — after the release of Nadiya Savchenko, Hennady Afanasyev. Every time this wave of support rises, we think: oh any day now, it’ll happen. And then earlier this year there were Putin’s elections in Russia, now the World Cup — and again nothing happens. So this is probably an act of desperation. If nothing is changing, then he doesn’t just want to live another 16 years like this.</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/Oleg_Sentsov,_Ukrainian_political_prisoner_in_Russia,_2015 (2)_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Sentsov. CC BY-SA 4.0 Antonymon / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Today people are really supportive of Sentsov. There’s a lot of interest from media, politicians are getting involved. But the trial itself, as you remember, attracted little attention in comparison. And I thinking why did it turn out like this, wouldn’t it have been simpler to stop the trial at the very beginning, when no sentence had yet been announced — after all, it was clear then that this case was fabricated, “sewn with white threads” as Oleg put it.</p><p dir="ltr">On the contrary, I think there were less chances before. Now, at least, there are reasons — the G7 meeting, the World Cup in Russia just about to begin. And that’s why there are many more chances now, the time frame is clear. First, we are counting the number of days he’s on hunger strike, reminding one another and ourselves that time is running out — this man is getting closer and closer to death by the time, because he won’t give up. This is why everyone has mobilised, come together to apply their energies. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Another courtroom quote from your film, this time from Russian political scientist Kirill Rogov: “This is how repressions in autocratic states are organised, this is what we’re seeing in Russia today. They work very well with the media agenda, and repressions for them are very important stories. They popularise, signal to the elites, activists and general population about how to behave, what the costs might be.” Your film is about part of the media story. What role is it playing?</em></p><p dir="ltr">I often have the following dialogue after I show the film to audiences. Especially abroad. They ask: “Are you being persecuted?” I say: “No, I’m not being persecuted”. “Have you had any problems filming?” “No, no problems.” “Why, do you think?” And I say probably because that this is a show trial, they want it to be seen. “So you’re being used?” “Yes, I’m being used. But I think that this film is not fulfilling that task. Yes, it shows the cynicism and absurdity with which this case was fabricated. But I think that the topic of choice is important here. Someone will see the film, get scared and decide that they’ll never stick their neck out and do anything on dangerous ground. But someone else will hear Oleg’s call “to learn how not to be afraid, and stop being frightened.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>You’re one of the people who heard that call. </em></p><p>Well, I hope so. Although what I’ve done is not comparable to what people in prison, including Oleg Sentsov, are suffering for.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>So you’re not afraid?</em></p><p dir="ltr">How am I not afraid? Any person is afraid. Not a single normal person wants to be in prison. No one wants to go through all of this. It’s just you start thinking and realise that you can’t behave differently. If you behave differently, it means, that you’ve broken something inside yourself, you’ve gone somewhere — and from there, you won’t be able to restore and repair yourself.</p><p><em>Having met Oleg, you, it seems, have moved from documentary cinema to activism. Or were you always an activist? Or are you still more of a documentary maker?</em></p><p dir="ltr">I’ve never been an activist. But here, in the situation with Oleg… You could call this activist cinema. Cinematic activism. This film is the least directorial one I’ve made. I had different concepts, there were some very creative ideas, to use animation, a voice over.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Any person is afraid. Not a single normal person wants to be in prison. No one wants to go through all of this</p><p dir="ltr">But I understood that this film doesn’t need any of that. You just need to leave Oleg on his own. All these effects are out of place here. The most important thing is to edit it properly, arrange it the right way, to make sure that Oleg is the focus, his speech addressed to us.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Was it difficult to edit?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Very difficult. We had three versions, three editors - a Russian, German and, in the end, a Swedish one of Polish background Michal Leszczylowski, which we found thanks to co-producing from the Polish side, Dariusz Jabłoński and the Polish Film Institute. Leszczylowski is a leading editor, very experienced. One of his first films was Sacrifice by Andrey Tarkovsky. It’s a big honour for me that he helped create the final version.</p><p dir="ltr">Coming back to activism, then I need to say: we understood from the very beginning that this film should become part of the campaign in support of Oleg Sentsov. This is not simply a piece of art, it isn’t a piece of creative documentary. As Vitaly Mansky said, it’s a film-gesture. I think that’s a new term. I haven’t read about it before. And sure, let it be a film-gesture.</p><p dir="ltr">At showings, people often stay for the discussion, and they ask how they can help. Last year, Artdocfest printed postcards, two kinds of them. One set had bank details where you could transfer money, and others had Oleg’s address in Labytnangi, where you could write him a message.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Are you ready for a new film now? Or are you still finishing work on The Trial? </em></p><p>I’m already finishing edits of a new film about <em>Novaya Gazeta</em>. I spent a year and a half with them, documenting the life of the team there — this coincided with difficult moments such as the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">LGBT crackdown in Chechnya</a>, persecutions, the case of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">Ali Feruz</a>, the <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> journalist who they fought for and got released in the end. Now they are actively participating in the Sentsov campaign: each issue they print some kind of material on him, and they have a counter of the days he’s been on hunger strike. The last issue had an image of Oleg across the front cover and the hashtag FreeSentsov. And Oleg is subscribed to the only newspaper in prison, <em>Novaya Gazeta</em>. He hasn’t seen the cover yet — the paper gets there two weeks after it comes out. Everything, it turns out, is connected one way or another.</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/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-novikova/a-birthday-in-the-urals-oleksandr-kolchenko">A birthday in the Urals</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/open-letter-in-support-of-ukrainian-political-prisoners">An appeal to the representatives of countries who are expected to travel to the World Cup football games in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Tue, 12 Jun 2018 10:59:25 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 118361 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The media who cried wolf: how Eurasia’s autocracies use media for crisis management https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-and-ismail-djalilov/the-media-who-cried-wolf <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Eurasian governments’ use of journalism for crisis agenda management erodes trust in media.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-35712120.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-35712120.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'>Kemerovo's Winter Cherry shopping centre, which caught fire on 25 March, killing 64 people. Photo: Kommersant Photo Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When the Winter Cherry shopping mall in Kemerovo, Russia caught on fire on 25 March 2018, Russia’s citizens found themselves glued to televisions anxious for updates.</p><p dir="ltr">With 60 dead, among them 41 children, the fire was classified as the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-republic/in-russia-safety-comes-cheap">second largest in Russia in recent years</a>. However, what the Russian public saw on TV wasn’t so much news updates about the conditions of the victims or condolences from president Vladimir Putin, or news of a thorough investigation into what caused the tragedy. Instead, anchormen and women, their suits pressed, their most serious masks on and hair conservatively styled, dove into demagogic tirades, highlighting the importance of national unity at a time of crisis in the face of an ephemeral enemy. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be an external enemy,” says Russian journalist Alexandrina Elagina, speaking in the aftermath of the tragedy in Kemerovo. “These could be terrorists, or ‘western partners’, or enemies of the people and the fifth column. This is where the shenanigans begin,” she adds, speaking of the punishment of the low-level officials that usually comes next, while top-tier management is left untouched.</p><p dir="ltr">But Russia’s state and pro-government media, the principle news sources available to Russian citizens across the entire country, continued their deceitful harangue on why this fire was an attack on president Putin and why the people should unite with the government against western threats, instead of questioning the authorities and expressing discontent over the handling of this crisis.</p><p dir="ltr">That the media take cues from state authorities in the immediate aftermath of a serious event or a disaster is nothing new. As Maria Tomak of the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MediaInitiativeForHumanRights/">Media Initiative for Human Rights</a> in Kyiv recalls, one of the oldest examples, as well as the most tragic, is the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in the waning days of the Soviet Union in 1986. For days the Soviet media refused to report on the incident until after the international broadcasters broke the story.</p><p dir="ltr">Disasters, be it natural or man-made that result in loss of human life on a mass scale can cause spontaneous mass outrage and, eventually, unrest. As such, Maria Tomak says, the Chernobyl catastrophe, according to some, was one of the reasons behind the collapse of the USSR. Aware of such contingencies and seeing them as a threat to their authority, governments in Eurasia seek to prevent escalation and do so by attempting to manage media coverage in the crisis situations.&nbsp; The authorities divert public attention and anger from the real events to manufactured ones, as well as using media to divide the agenda and&nbsp;minimise the scale of the event. If that fails, the next step seems to be to blame the event on an artificially created enemy&nbsp;– be it internal (terrorism, civil war) or external (an unfriendly&nbsp;neighbour or the west.)</p><h2>The winds of negligence</h2><p dir="ltr">Media practitioners across Eurasia interviewed for this article agree that the underlying problem is often government negligence. When it results in mass catastrophes, authoritarian governments do their best to shift the blame and make sure they are in control of public reactions. In doing so, they attempt to distract the public and divert its attention from its own complicity in the unfolding events.</p><p dir="ltr">Alasgar Mammadli, a media rights lawyer from Azerbaijan, cites a few examples of clear mismanagement in this South Caucasus state, such as the deaths of more than <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35016461">30 oil rig workers</a> due to high winds in the Caspian sea, and a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rt.com/news/260125-azerbaijan-building-fire-fatal/">fire in a high rise</a> in Baku because of fake decorative panels that turned out to be highly flammable in 2015, the burning down of an in-patient <a href="https://tribune.com.pk/story/1649275/3-fire-kills-25-drug-treatment-centre-azerbaijan/">drug treatment facility</a> that resulted in three dozen deaths, as well as the deaths in the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/02/conflict-erupts-between-azerbaijani-and-armenian-forces">April 2016</a>&nbsp;flare up of the ongoing conflict with Armenia. In all of these cases&nbsp;the Azerbaijani authorities first attempted to minimise the tragedy and then divert the focus to other news, which seems to be the usual modus operandi.</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/get_img.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/get_img.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At 5:40 pm on 4 December 2015, a heavy storm and high waves swept through an underwater gas pipeline on the Guneshli 10 oil platform. Photo: Meydan TV. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Lobar Islamova, editor of <a href="https://anhor.uz/">Anhor.uz</a> news site in Uzbekistan, says autocratic governments seek to portray themselves as faultless, whereas they are quite often the ones at fault. Citing the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-andijon-what-happened-and-why/27012137.html">Andijon tragedy</a>, when Uzbek security forces fatally fired on protesters in 2005, Islamova says there’s a litany of serious and uncomfortable questions regarding the government’s failure to prevent a peaceful resolution of this conflict, and in order to conceal information, autocratic governments are forced to initiate mass repressions, as it happened after the Andijon events.</p><p dir="ltr">In the immediate aftermath, the Uzbek authorities limited media access to the city, and let only those local and international (mostly, Russian pro-government) media that would support their narrative: that the crackdown was an anti-terrorism operation. To ensure the victims of the Andijon crackdown didn’t talk to independent media and reveal the truth, the authorities arrested them, and also threatened their families. “People were thrown in jail on hastily put together charges with little regard for the authenticity of the evidence… while their relatives were threatened not to disclose the arbitrary jailings to the public to avoid bringing more harm upon their arrested family members,” Islamova adds.</p><p dir="ltr">What often follows after tragedies like Andijon is an attempt to downplay the tragedy through mass media. “We see it in a systemic fashion, as the media are directly controlled by the government or the people connected to it, so the first effort is to minimise the scale of the event, to move it to the backburner to the extent possible, and switch the agenda,” says Alasgar Mammadli.</p><p dir="ltr">Mammadli notes that these attempts usually unfold on TV because these channels are precisely the ones under control. “They bring completely (irrelevant) people into the agenda,” he says, describing a notorious case when a TV host on Azerbaijan’s ATV channel, <a href="https://youtu.be/FGtqqPQc2hk">Matanat Aliverdiyeva</a>, seemed to call people not to blow the 2015 Baku apartment block fire – which resulted multiple deaths, including children – out of proportion. “This was just like the wind that’d blown over us, as if we’d watched a horror movie,” Aliverdiyeva said on her live show, pointing to the fact that the tragedy was done and over with, seemingly urging people to move on. These comments enraged a huge chunk of the Azerbaijani public, many of whom called for her dismissal.</p><p dir="ltr">Mammadli says in these situations the goal is to prevent the unifying of mass protest and directing it towards a singular&nbsp;target, and, instead, to create a number of smaller alternative targets and direct the attention there. He calls it a purposefully done, controlled process. “It’s not just a statement by someone who misspoke or said something ignorant. This is something that was planned consciously because everybody knows that at the end of the day, be it a social issue or a natural disaster, behind all of them there is either an element of corruption, or bad governance, if you look deep enough. And the protests, as the result, will be directed at the government,” he adds.</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/PA-33043767.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-33043767.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>After ammunition depots in Vinnytsia region catch fire, people wait near a security forces check point to be allowed to take some their belongings from abandoned homes. September 2017. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In cases when minimising the problem doesn’t work, there’s always an internal or external enemy that could come handy. Zebo Tajibayeva, editor of the <a href="https://news.tj/">Asia Plus</a> news agency in Dushanbe, says in Tajikistan there’s a popular pro-government narrative that states that anything is better than the 1992-1997 <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">civil war</a>. At different times, the Tajik state, and media close to it, create false narratives of neighbouring Uzbekistan as an exterior enemy, as well as painting the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Islamic Renaissance Party</a> and the former United Tajik Opposition members-turned-militants as internal enemies.</p><p dir="ltr">Maria Tomak echoes this sentiment, saying that this kind of “enemy manufacturing” narrative is well-known even in seemingly pluralistic countries like Ukraine. She cites an example of a <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-explosions/ukraine-says-ammo-depot-explosions-huge-blow-to-combat-capability-idUSKCN1C316Z">series of explosions at military ammunition warehouses in central Ukraine</a> last year which were blamed on the Russian Federal Security Service without hesitation, while it might have been a simple result of negligence on the Ukrainian side.</p><h2>The false estate</h2><p dir="ltr">But when the media as a source of news and facts is reduced to nothing more than a trumpeter of government propaganda in former Soviet republics, their citizens no longer view these outlets and journalism as the fourth estate – one that would inform them of the true dealings of the government.</p><p dir="ltr">Zebo Tajibayeva says that in rural areas in Tajikistan, where <a href="http://www.pressreference.com/Sw-Ur/Tajikistan.html">state media are often the only sources of news</a>, there is still some trust towards them. However, she adds, in areas where populations have access to more media and alternative sources of information and fact-checking, propaganda media outlets – and the media in general – often lose their credibility.</p><p dir="ltr">Lobar Islamova says even in Uzbekistan, where access to information has for years been severely restricted, government media are treated with a grain of salt. “For years people have been calling the <a href="http://www.portalostranah.ru/view.php?id=308">Akhrobot</a>, (state TV news) program ‘News from Heaven’. But nobody believed or paid attention to them. All these state newspapers and media were able to sustain themselves till now only due to government subsidies,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Tomak says that a similar trend can be observed even in a country like Ukraine, where the media scene is rather vibrant, and freedom of expression does exist. “The largest channels in terms of ratings and audience in Ukraine belong to oligarchs and industrial groups, and, therefore, we can’t talk of healthy pluralism. And while, on one hand, the media is often seen as an instrument of upholding the law, there is also apprehension that they are lying,” she says.</p><p dir="ltr">Mammadli says that in a society like his native Azerbaijan, the people “normally don’t trust the media. They know that the media do not cover its problems or realities, and instead are engaged in propaganda. In this regard, we shouldn’t lose sight of one aspect: in the modern times, social media are more effective.”</p><h2>Stop being the megaphone</h2><p>The growing appeal of social media – which are key channels in a crisis – as an alternative source of information in countries where the traditional media are regarded with mistrust or ridicule often means that the former play the role of not only preserving the “real” agenda, but also pushing it on the government-controlled media, says Mammadli. “The agenda in Azerbaijan is being set by social media, its agenda seeps into the official media one way or the other, even in counter-effective ways. For instance, in the case of a big event and its discussion in the social media, it becomes necessary (for the state) to use the traditional media in order to either to deny, condemn or ridicule it.”</p><p dir="ltr">Islamova comments that the secret of gaining back the public trust is pretty simple: “The authorities must make their work transparent, verifiable and open. The media must report the facts without the fear of persecution and being judged with extreme bias. An important factor is the money, as businesses are afraid to (advertise) in the brave media who criticize officials and the authorities.”</p><p dir="ltr">“First of all, they have to stop acting like a megaphone for the authorities,” is Tajibayeva’s solution. “The media have to learn how to make money, and their financial independence will afford them independence in other aspects, as well.”</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/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths">Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/after-bomb-crisis-management-petersburg-style">After the bomb: crisis management in Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-republic/in-russia-safety-comes-cheap">In Russia, safety comes cheap</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/luca-anceschi/end-of-nazarbayev-dream">The end of the Nazarbayev dream </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 Ismail Djalilov Tamara Grigoryeva Ukraine Russia Caucasus Tue, 12 Jun 2018 09:35:40 +0000 Tamara Grigoryeva and Ismail Djalilov 118353 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The “safeguarding of morality” in Nizhny Novgorod is turning into an attack on the city’s Protestant community https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irina-slavina/nizhny-novgorod-protestant-deportation-student <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In this World Cup host city, two students involved in local Protestant life are facing deportation after interference from the security services. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irina-slavina/peli-pro-hrista/von-iz-rossii" 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/_Шиба_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_Шиба_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nosisa Shiba. Source: YouTube. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>As the opening of 2018 FIFA World Cup approaches, security issues in Nizhny Novgorod, one of Russia’s host cities, are hotting up. And the clinical symptoms of this “fever” are shocking even those who have long since ceased to be amazed. </p><p dir="ltr">In May, Nizhny Novgorod’s Sormovsky district court charged Nosisa Shiba, a citizen of Swaziland in her final year at Nizhny Novgorod Medical Academy, with an administrative offence for publicly singing hymns at an Easter service in the city’s Embassy of Jesus Pentecostal church. The local police and legal authorities interpreted this behaviour as missionary activity, incompatible with Shiba’s stated aims when entering the Russian Federation. As it turned out, Shiba’s actual “offence” took place in 2017, but her trial has only just concluded. The outcome was a fine of 7,000 roubles and deportation from Russia, but the court has shown some leniency and deferred her expulsion until 30 June, after Shiba’s final exams and degree conferral. </p><p dir="ltr">The trial established that the charge, based on article 18.8 of part 4 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the Russian Federation, was put forward by Major Tatarov, a Senior Special Inspector of the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Immigration Control Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and that it was, in fact, the second time Shiba had been charged with a breach of residence regulations. </p><p dir="ltr">The charge, of which I have a copy, reads that Nosisa, having come to study in Russia, “effectively took part in a missionary conference called ‘To Save One More Soul’”, organised by the Russian Association of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (RACEFP) in Nizhny Novgorod. In other words, the inspector concluded that, by singing about Jesus, she was engaging in religious activity. This activity included the fact that Shiba <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=517&amp;v=6lIKIWb_smA">sang about Jesus at a public concert</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">The case documents show that Major Tatarov didn’t take an interest in a foreign student singing in church off his own bat. The documents include a file sent to the Regional Immigration Control Department by the FSB on 18 April, in which Lieutenant-Colonel Malyshev, the deputy head of an FSB department in the Nizhny Novgorod region, informs his senior officer that “in the course of FSB operations in the Nizhny Novgorod region it was discovered that a foreign national had breached Russian residence regulations” – Shiba had engaged in activity incompatible with the stated aim of her coming to Russia. In his file, Malyshev states that the “unlawful religious activity” engaged in by Nosisa Shiba could be seen on a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=517&amp;v=6lIKIWb_smA">YouTube video</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Drawing up the charge, Major Tatarov mentions the fact that Shiba had already been charged earlier under the same article, and that she had been fined and required to leave Russia by 30 June. </p><p dir="ltr">While Nosisa Shiba was prosecuted for publicly singing about Jesus, Kudzay Nyamarebva, another foreign student at the Nizhny Novgorod Medical Academy and member of the Embassy of Jesus church, was threatened with prosecution for reposting a video in which her fellow-parishioners and friends talk about how God had helped them. </p><p dir="ltr">The police, again at the instigation of the FSB, charged Nyamarebva with an administrative offence, in this case a breach of the law concerning Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1_1_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kudzay Nyamarebva. Source: YouTube. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The public outcry about Nyamarebva’s prosecution, however, evidently led the police to announce that legal time limitations meant that the case could no longer go ahead. Kudzay was earlier prosecuted for inviting people to come to an event at the Embassy of Jesus via her social media page. Nyamarebva too has been required to leave Russia by 30 June, after receiving her degree. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s worth mentioning that the two articles under which Shiba and Nyamarebva were charged form part of the so-called <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-yarovaya-law-religious-freedom-restrictions/27852531.html">“Yarovaya law”</a> – a package of amendments passed in 2016, supposedly designed as anti-terrorism measures but which civil rights campaigners believe violate privacy and freedom. </p><p dir="ltr">“The law is intended as a means of combating terrorism, but so far has only affected Protestant churches and anyone connected with them”, says the Embassy of Jesus press officer Yulia Ermoshina. “The amendments to the earlier, 1997 law ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations’ are very vague, and in practice the Law has turned into a very convenient tool for the law enforcement bodies to use against Protestant churches. And now it has the ‘Embassy of Jesus’ in its sights. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It’s worth mentioning that the two articles under which Shiba and Nyamarebva were charged form part of the so-called “Yarovaya law”</p><p dir="ltr">“This church has been around for over 20 years, during which it has carried out an enormous amount of social work throughout the Nizhny Novgorod region: rehabilitating alcoholics and drug users, rehousing the homeless and supporting children’ homes, families living in poverty and other socially vulnerable citizens as well as disabled people. And all without any state support.”</p><p dir="ltr">Since the “Yarovaya Law” was passed, Ermoshina tells me, Russian security services have been subjecting the Embassy of Jesus to numerous inspections: “We are being charged with new offences by the courts and threatened with cumulative fines of over a million roubles (£12,015). We are accused of failing to put information on a video about faith in God. Just think: they want to take a church to court for incomplete listings on a video talking about Christian values such as faith, love and mercy,” she says angrily. </p><p dir="ltr">How does the court respond on the matter? “These things are essential for the protection of the foundations of our constitutional order, ethical basis, health, the rights and interests of others and our country’s defence and state security.” </p><p dir="ltr">We should remind ourselves here that all this is taking place in a city where earlier this year the police <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irina-slavina/tortured-terrorised-russian-muslim-facing-deportation">removed Russian citizenship from Al-Tbahi Visam Mohamed Farhat, a father of seven children</a>.The court took the side of law enforcement: it seems that 17 years ago, when the Palestinian man received Russian citizenship, the head of the police directorate, whether by accident or design, failed to sign one of the necessary documents. </p><p dir="ltr">All this needs to be borne in mind not only by the football fans who are risking a trip to Russia to watch the World Cup, but also by young people who choose to go to Russia to receive their higher education: they can’t rely that their civil rights will be observed or their safety guaranteed in a situation where the FSB spends its time searching social networks for possible signs of dissidence. </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/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/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">By defending Russian journalist Ali Feruz, we defend ourselves. Now we need to repeat it</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/syrian-refugees-in-russia">Syrian refugees in Russia have to fight for their rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/new-casualties-of-russia-s-war-on-terror">The new casualties of Russia’s war on terror</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/tortured-terrorised-russian-muslim-facing-deportation">Tortured and terrorised by the state, this Russian Muslim now faces deportation </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Irina Slavina Russia Fri, 08 Jun 2018 20:52:11 +0000 Irina Slavina 118301 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A victory for real politics? Chișinău’s mayoral elections in perspective https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalie-sprinceana/victory-for-real-politics-chi-in-u-s-mayoral-elections-in-perspective <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/32714373_1839874162718477_6334540156975972352_n.jpg" alt="32714373_1839874162718477_6334540156975972352_n.jpg" width="80" />By electing a mayor who has consistently promised to fight oligarchic control and corruption, residents of Moldova's capital have voted for the return of politics.&nbsp;</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/Andrei_Năstase.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'>Andrei Năstase. CC BY-SA 4.0 Andy.redbrick / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Andrei Năstase <a href="http://www.moldova.org/en/andrei-nastase-wins-chisinau-mayor-seat-5257/">is the new mayor</a> of Chișinău. The candidate from Platform “Dignity and Truth” won 52.57% of the vote in Moldova’s capital, compared to his opponent, Ion Ceban, the candidate of the Party of Socialists, who won 47.43% of the vote.</p><p dir="ltr">As with all <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/moldova-elections-against-all-of-above">recent electoral campaigns</a> in Moldova, the Chișinău mayoral race was a dirty electoral campaign. At one point, <a href="https://unimedia.info/stiri/un-nou-atac-la-adresa-lui-andrei-nastase-o-interceptare-telefonica-dintre-liderul-politic-si-mama-sa--facuta-publica-154055.html">an audio recording</a> of Andrei Năstase talking to his mother about her participation in a party event was leaked. But it was also a campaign marked by a lack of any “grand visions” of the city which could capture citizens’ imaginations and inspire them to dream and act.</p><p dir="ltr">But Năstase’s victory on Sunday is, in a way, less surprising than his progress into the second round two weeks ago. Before the first round of elections on 20 May, the polls and most of the political commentators put Năstase <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vitalie-sprinceana/anti-politics-as-politics-chisinau-goes-to-polls">firmly in third place</a>. Năstase, 42, was considered a potential but somewhat improbable contender for the second round. He doesn’t have a strong local profile in the city: he has no experience in dealing with urban problems, and his political party has not participated in any significant local urban battle (the city was almost totally absent from his party’s political agenda). Likewise, Năstase’s programme for the city was far from original and not much different from those of his opponents, and comprised the traditional mix of better urban governance, transparency and anti-corruption.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It is almost axiomatic in Chișinău that a pro-western, anti-Russian candidate wins the local elections. This is the way the capital imagines a “progressive political orientation”</p><p dir="ltr">But Năstase took advantage of several crucial factors: a) his active, motivated and disciplined electorate that went to the polling stations; b) the low general participation (especially among younger age groups); and c) the media coverage provided by <a href="http://www.jurnaltv.md/">Jurnal TV</a>, a TV station funded by the fugitive oligarchs Victor and Viorel Țopa, which fully supported him. These factors, plus his consistent &nbsp;“anti-oligarchic” position and the support of Maia Sandu, his partner in the “anti-oligarchic coalition”, helped Năstase to qualify for the second round against all the odds. In the end, he took 32.12 % against the 17% of votes for the “big favourite” of the first round, the pseudo-apolitical — but closely related to the Democratic Party — Silvia Radu.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Once in the second round, it was much easier to imagine Andrei Năstase’s victory. For one thing, he was the only openly “pro-western” candidate remaining in the race. And it is almost axiomatic in Chișinău that a pro-western, anti-Russian candidate wins the local elections. It is the way the capital imagines a “progressive political orientation”. In the Moldovan context, where all the parties and political movements package their messages in geopolitical terms (I have called this elsewhere <a href="http://www.platzforma.md/arhive/34983">“the geopolitical guillotine”</a> — in which right corresponds to pro-western and left - pro-Russian), this makes perfect sense.</p><p dir="ltr">No “leftist” candidate (in the Moldovan sense) has won the local elections in the city since 1991. This is why it was important for Andrei Năstase (and, indeed, Silvia Radu or any other candidate) to make it into the second round against the Socialist candidate. Because after that you (no matter what your name is) usually win. This worked for Serafim Urechean in 2003, when he fought an unknown candidate supported by the then ruling Party of Communists of Moldova, and for Liberal Party vice president Dorin Chirtoacă in 2010 and in 2015. And it has worked now for Andrei Năstase. No matter what they say, Năstase’s opponents had the same strategy: to get into the second round and then to try to appear the “reasonable” candidate at any price.</p><h2>Why did Ion Ceban lose?</h2><p dir="ltr">In the aftermath of the campaign, an ironic observation started doing the rounds in Chișinău: it’s not that Andrei Năstase won the elections, it’s that Ion Ceban lost. Here, the irony was that Ion Ceban had, in theory, all the advantages that would allow him to win a local electoral campaign in the city easily: a strong and visible profile, a rich history of involvement and action at the local level, some experience in dealing with urban issues. He also leads the most numerous faction in the City Council., and enjoys the support of Moldova’s president Igor Dodon, as well as the parliamentary faction of the Party of Socialists of Moldova.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite being known as an eccentric, colourful, sometimes uncontrollable and unpredictable public figure — in 2015, he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvtxGUpTdq4">hit now former mayor Dorin Chirtoacă in the ear in public</a> — in this campaign, Ceban chose to play the figure of the sober technocrat, the expert, the man that knows how to manage the city. But it didn’t work: neither for him, nor the party he represents. For one thing, the strong party that backed him was both an advantage and a liability. Though the party brought a numerous, disciplined and very active electorate to vote for Ceban, the “technocratic”, “apolitical” figure of Ion Ceban stood out on his own against the background of a Socialist Party that lacks any technocrat profile. The party breathes identity politics, geopolitics, culture and identity wars — and in this context, the figure of Ion Ceban as a “pragmatic” politician for the city looked insincere.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33345861_2089707371251200_8884372432845012992_n.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'>Ion Ceban, candidate from Moldova's Party of Socialists. Source: Ion Ceban / Facebook. </span></span></span>Moreover, the candidate himself was more than ambiguous: on the one hand, he was playing the figure of the pragmatic politician (discussing streets, sidewalks and parking spaces), while on the other he was still active on the culture war fronts: anti-LGBT, pro-“traditional” family and against unification with Romania. At one point in the campaign, Ion Ceban <a href="http://adevarul.ro/moldova/politica/ion-ceban-ajung-functia-primar-interzice-organizarea-marsurilor-unioniste-chisinau-1_5acdcdd4df52022f75b24c39/index.html">declared</a> that he would forbid public demonstrations by supporters of reunification with Romania. This was a “reasonable” thing to say as a culture warrior, but a very poor statement for a “pragmatic” mayor.</p><p dir="ltr">Add to this the fact that in the context of the Party Ion Ceban has a clear, strong, but not different &nbsp;profile, than other party members. It might sound paradoxically but he is just a regular figure in the Socialist Party (and has a similar profile as many other member of the party, including the president). He is, for sure, the best man to the president Igor Dodon, his companion and closest ally, but he is not a distinct figure, with distinctive vision and attitudes. He is a regular member of the party that does and says whatever the party does and says at the moment. If it is geopolitics, he does it, if it is a play in “pragmatism” to win the local elections in Chisinau, he does it. And so on.</p><p dir="ltr">And then there was geopolitics, as usually happens at elections in Moldova. Bad geopolitics, of course: people agitating other people to go to the ballot box because “democracy was in danger” — threatened, in one story, by “Russian tanks” and, in the other story, by “behind the scenes games” from the Romanian, EU and US embassies.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, the pro-Russian Party of Socialists of Moldova has a relatively low potential to grow its electorate. Being very vocal on “identity issues” and positioning itself as the only true friend of the Russian Federation in Moldova, the party offers little prospects and bridges for collaboration for parties that do not share its agenda. For example, in the second round, Andrei Năstase attracted more than 50 000 new votes, while Ion Ceban only 25,000. These numbers matter crucially if we take into account that the difference between the winner and the loser was less than 13,000 votes.</p><p dir="ltr">Also, this time the Party of Socialists was deprived of the direct support of other smaller pro-Russian parties. Renato Usatîi, a powerful ally in the past, whose support proved crucial in the 2016 presidential campaign, and whose candidate won impressively the elections in Bălți directly in the first round last month, withdrew his support for Ion Ceban and called his voters to chose his opponent.</p><h2>What next?</h2><p dir="ltr">The new mayor of Chișinău now has two tight and demanding schedules to face. Regular local elections are scheduled to take place one year from now, in the spring of 2019, which means that Andrei Năstase doesn’t have too much time to implement radical changes in the city and at City Hall. He has a hostile City Council. Moreover, his opponent, Ion Ceban, has already <a href="https://noi.md/ru/politika/poslednie-novosti-cheban-uhodit-s-dolzhnosti-press-sekretarya-prezidenta">declared</a> that he will quit his job as a media counselor for the president in order to focus only on local problems in Chișinău. In a way Ceban has already started the new electoral campaign: although he declared that he will support the “good” initiatives of the new mayor, he will hardly want to act only as a supporter of Andrei Năstase and will probably try to put pressure on the new mayor at each and every step.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">By electing a candidate that claimed from the day one of his campaign that his priority is to fight oligarchic rule and corruption in the country, voters have rejected the city's “apolitical” agenda</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place this autumn. And Năstase will want for sure to use his high profile function at City Hall as a trampoline to push the anti-oligarchic bloc of his party and Maia Sandu’s “Action and Solidarity” party into parliament. It is hard to believe that he will choose to leave his newly gained office in the City Hall for a place in Parliament (as the trajectory of former mayor Serafim Urechean shows, this is a sure route to political oblivion). But still, he’ll take part in the campaign: his “deeds” in Chișinău will be part of his party’s bid for seats in Parliament.</p><p dir="ltr">It is hard to predict how these two schedules will interfere (a safe assumption, at this moment, is to presume that a good result at the parliamentary elections will be the top priority of Andrei Năstase and his party), but it is sure that both of them are important and specific. Meanwhile, each misstep will be punished by his rivals, both at the national and local level.</p><h2>Post-scriptum: Politics, apolitics, anti-politics</h2><p dir="ltr">Andrei Năstase’s victory has temporarily dismissed the “anti-political” agenda of Silvia Radu and, to a lesser extent, the “technocratic platform” of Ion Ceban. Both Ion Ceban and Silvia Radu attempted to play the electoral game as a non-political contest between plumbers managers. By electing a candidate that claimed from the day one of his campaign that his priority is to fight oligarchic rule and corruption in the country, voters have rejected the city's “apolitical” agenda. But this return of politics should be treated very carefully. It shouldn’t mean the return of party politics in the city. The capital has already suffered by being treated as the “own” domain of one party under former mayor and Liberal party vice-chairman Dorin Chirtoaca. What is needed in Chișinău is not any politics, especially not party politics, but urban politics.</p><p dir="ltr">Thus, a cornerstone of the new urban politics in Chisinau should be increasing the participation of citizens in the decision making process by improving existing institutions and platforms or/and by creating new ones. Participation could be both the solution to take the country back from the oligarchs (as both the parties of Ion Ceban and Andrei Năstase seem to want this), but also putting the city into a path of inclusive, democratic development of the city. So far, the record of the city in terms of participation is, to put it mildly, bleak. And this means there is space to grow.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In a way, the most important job for Chișinău’s new city administration is an old one: ensuring that the city’s most important element, its residents, are included in decision-making processes</p><p dir="ltr">To begin with, the City Council for Participation (CCP), a municipal institution that was supposed to offer representation and possibilities for participation for activists, civil society organisations and regular citizens, still remains an empty promise. The creation of this institution was envisaged by the City Council of Chișinău several years ago. But the Statute of CCP was lost in some commissions in the City Hall and there is no will to change things. The other participatory initiative (<a href="https://www.chisinau.md/slidepageview.php?l=ro&amp;idc=773&amp;t=/Bugetul-civil-Chiinau/">Participatory Budgeting</a>) was started one year ago and to this date is has an equally poor record. From the more than 50 projects that were presented and voted by the citizens last year, only a handful have been implemented. This year, the online vote had to be <a href="https://www.chisinau.md/libview.php?l=ro&amp;idc=403&amp;id=22443&amp;t=/Presa/Comunicate-de-presa/Repetarea-procedurii-de-vot-pentru-proiectele-depuse-spre-finantare-prin-mecanismul-bugetarii-civile">cancelled</a> because City Hall’s website didn’t work properly.</p><p dir="ltr">This hardly advertises the capacity of the City Hall to absorb and foster participation in a positive light. At the same time, it doesn’t increases the willingness of citizens to participate in political process at the local level. When authorities pervert the participation of the citizens, the result is usually decreasing interest in participation itself. The distortion the case of participatory budgeting has an even worse side: residents’ total ignorance of the process of approving the city’s formal budget. This process took place in the last years with almost no participation from city residents.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, besides ignoring and distorting participation, there is another trend — the co-optation of participation in order to achieve exactly the opposite. Public consultations, one of the mandatory procedures at the city level, has become, in the absence of clear rules and procedures, a way to tame potential subversive and radical effects of participation. To give an example: often, during public consultations on a real estate project — the most common in Chișinău, whereby powerful private interests take over public infrastructure in order to build more flats — the contesting voices of activists and citizens are taken and considered to be just “an opinion among others” and do not affect the overall process. This is despite the fact that activists and citizens usually point out blatant violations of the law or procedure.</p><p dir="ltr">In a way, the most important job for Chișinău’s new city administration is an old one: ensuring that the city’s most important element, its residents, are included in decision-making processes. To my mind, this is the surest recipe of success for any local administration.</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/vitalie-sprinceana/anti-politics-as-politics-chisinau-goes-to-polls">For the frontrunners in the race to be mayor of Moldova&#039;s capital, city hall is no place for politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">Vlad Plahotniuc: Moldova’s man in the shadows</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mihai-popsoi/changing-rules-of-game-in-moldova"> Changing the rules of the game in Moldova</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 Vitalie Sprinceana Cities in motion Moldova Fri, 08 Jun 2018 11:11:13 +0000 Vitalie Sprinceana 118309 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Trading sovereignty: how Ukraine's Pension Fund co-operates with the Russian authorities https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/how-ukraine-is-selling-out-pensioners-from-crimea <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>By sending official information requests to the Russian authorities, Ukraine's Pension Fund de-facto recognises Russian jurisdiction in occupied Crimea.&nbsp;<a style="font-style: italic;" href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/torgovlya-suverenitetom-po-shodnoy-zene" target="_self"><strong>RU</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/RIAN_3296234.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_3296234.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'>A visitor at the pension fund in Simferopol. Photo: Alexei Malgavko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Even as the Russian Federation continues to pursue military aggression in Eastern Ukraine, Ukraine’s Pension Fund is engaging in intensive communications with its counterpart body in Russia in order to establish whether Crimean residents who have applied for a pension in Ukraine are also receiving one in the occupied territory.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Whose pensioners?</h2><p dir="ltr">Following the forcible annexation of Crimea in March 2014, a certain percentage of the peninsula’s inhabitants left their homes and relocated to mainland Ukraine, with some departing immediately and others some time later. Given that pensioners also had to leave Crimea, the payment of pensions became an issue. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Ukrainian legislation, pensioners departing the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine (parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Crimea) and the zone of hostilities in the Donbas have the right to receive pensions in their new place of settlement throughout the rest of Ukraine. Pension payments for internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Donbas were commenced almost immediately – back in 2015, in fact. But the Ukrainian Pension Fund altered the procedure for the granting of pensions to displaced persons from Crimea, acting in disregard of current legislation and doing so on its own initiative. </p><p dir="ltr">A “rule” concocted by the Pension Fund dictates that a pensioner displaced from Crimea can only be granted a pension once an official inquiry has been sent to the Russian Federation to ascertain whether said pensioner received a pension in Russia while living in occupied Crimea. Officials in Moscow scrutinise documents in detail before putting together a response for Kyiv. If it transpires that the Russian Federation has been paying out a pension to a given person, the Ukrainian Pension Fund refuses to issue one. “Fair enough!” one might say. “Two pensions – one from Russia, one from Ukraine? That really is a bit much, isn’t it?” But this brand of “fairness”, arbitrarily instituted by Ukrainian officials, can end up having serious consequences for Ukrainian citizens. To say nothing of the fact that actions of this ilk represent a gross violation of human rights. </p><p dir="ltr">Sending official inquiries to the occupying authorities in Crimea is forbidden by Ukrainian law. Indeed, there is no postal service from Ukraine to Crimea. And this is why the Pension Fund resorts to subterfuge. Inquiries are sent to Moscow, Voronezh and Krasnodar region, from where they are redirected to Crimea by the Russian Federation’s Pension Fund. It’s noteworthy that the payment documents which the Ukrainian Pension Fund uses as a basis to refuse pensions are invariably issued by the Pension Fund in the so-called “Republic of Crimea” – and this despite the fact that all documentation issued by the occupation authorities has been recognised as void by Ukrainian legislation. The documents are then sent back the way they came: from annexed Crimea to Moscow and then to Ukraine.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Awarded doesn’t mean paid</h2><p dir="ltr">The responses sent by the Russian Pension Fund to its Ukrainian counterpart are very vague, specifying only whether or not a pension has been awarded. And since the Russian Pension Fund provides no primary financial documentation (namely, payment receipts), it ultimately remains unclear whether or not a given resident of Crimea has ever actually received a pension from the Russian Federation. “Awarded” doesn’t mean “paid”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Ukrainian Pension Fund fails to question the information received from its Russian counterpart</p><p dir="ltr">After the so-called “accession” of Crimea into the Russian Federation, the Russian authorities needed to resolve the peninsula’s pensions issue, and to do so quickly. They didn’t spend a long time delving into the details: rather, they simply awarded the same amount multiplied by two (the rouble equivalent of the hryvnia figure). The money was awarded even if the individual had left Crimea. </p><p dir="ltr">The whole absurdity of this situation manifested itself when pension awards were made to people who had passed away. The relatives of a late Crimean resident, whose <a href="http://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/71551729">case</a> was handled by lawyers from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, appealed to the Ukrainian Pension Fund and requested that it pay out an as yet unreceived installment of her pension for the period when she was still alive and residing in mainland Ukraine. It turned out, according to information from Russia’s Pension Fund, that the woman was awarded pension payments for two years after her departure from Crimea, and for eight months after her actual death.</p><p dir="ltr">The Ukrainian Pension Fund fails to question the information received from its Russian counterpart – which, to put it mildly, is rather strange, given that Ukraine and Russia are in a de facto state of war.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Disclosure of personal data</h2><p dir="ltr">When it sends an inquiry to Russia, the Ukrainian Pension Fund specifies the current address of the pensioner who has relocated from Crimea to Ukraine; in effect, then, it officially informs the occupying country about a particular resident’s departure from Crimea to Ukrainian-controlled territory. The pensioner’s personal information is sent to Russia without their consent. Why this is done remains unclear: the pensioner’s mainland address doesn’t need to be specified to obtain the relevant information from Russia, and doing so represents a gross incursion into a citizen’s private life.</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/imageedit_5_8163975745_0_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_5_8163975745_0_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="350" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Request to the pension fund from the Ukrainian side. Material is provided by the author.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">According to Anna Rassamakhina, a lawyer for the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union who regularly represents the interests of displaced Crimeans in Ukrainian courts, the Ukrainian authorities have (as of December 2017) handed over the personal data of 2,700 Crimean residents – all of them citizens of Ukraine – to their Russian counterparts; the fact of the residents’ displacement is communicated to the Russians together with a notification of their new address. Some of the displaced Crimean pensioners are also Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) veterans. And so arises the question: why is people’s personal data being handed over to third parties without their knowledge or consent? It’s hard to believe that the Ukrainian Pension Fund is unaware that its actions are, at the very least, in violation of Ukraine’s personal data protection law. Or are we dealing with simple negligence here?</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Specifying citizens’ addresses represents a gross incursion into their private lives</p><p dir="ltr">Over the course of several years (from 2015 to July 2017), officials did their best to pretend that there was really nothing out of the ordinary about handing over the personal information of displaced Crimean residents, some of them ATO soldiers, to an aggressor country. Things began to change slightly only after <a href="http://forpost.lviv.ua/novyny/2497-u-lvovi-atoshnyk-u-sudi-doviv-shcho-hu-pfu-rozholoshuie-personalni-dani-pereselentsiv-kraini-ahresoru">Pavlo Dovbush</a>, a displaced Crimean and a member of the Aidar volunteer battalion, enlisted the help of lawyers from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union to bring legal action against <a href="http://forpost.lviv.ua/novyny/4426-nikhto-ni-v-chomu-ne-vynen-okrim-mene-bo-ia-zvernuvsia-do-pensfondu-ukrainy-za-nalezhnoiu-meni-pensiieiu-pereselenets-ta-dobrovolets-prosyt-u-lvivian-pidtrymky-u-sudi">Oksana Syvch</a>, the head of the office of pensions provision for military personnel and certain other categories of citizens at the Lviv branch of the Pension Fund. The action was brought because personal data had been unlawfully disclosed and handed over to the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. Dovbush won the first-instance trial, and an administrative fine was imposed on Oksana Sivch. The appellate court revoked this ruling, however. But in July 2017 the leadership of the Pension Fund in Kyiv, fearful of a public outcry, instructed that the current Ukrainian addresses of pensioners from Crimea must not be specified.</p><p dir="ltr">And here’s another interesting nuance: the declarations pensioners are made to sign by Ukrainian Pension Fund officials feature requests to transfer their pension files from the Pension Fund of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The applicants are told that their files will be transferred from the Crimea to Ukraine, yet no mention is made of the fact that said files will be processed by the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation – which already constitutes a deliberate deception on the part of the Ukrainian authorities.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Does the Pension Fund recognise the annexation?</h2><p dir="ltr">To find out how the Ukrainian Pension Fund rationalises its position, and why it is engaging in communications with its Russian counterpart, I sent an information request to Elena Okhrimenko, deputy director of the Pensions Department. On 8 May, 2018 I received a response from Irina Kovpashko, the deputy chair of the Pension Fund board, in which the Fund’s actions are justified with reference to the <a href="http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/997_107">pension provision agreement</a> that currently exists between countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).</p><p dir="ltr">This agreement stipulates that if a pensioner relocates from one CIS country to another, the pension can only be paid out by one of the countries in question. Does it follow, then, that Crimea – officially recognised by Ukraine as temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory (as per the “Law on Ensuring the Rights and Freedoms of Citizens and the Legal Regime on the Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine”) – is, in the eyes of the Pension Fund, now another country, that is, a constituent part of Russia? If so, the Pension Fund of Ukraine de-facto recognises Russian jurisdiction in Crimea.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Pension Fund of Ukraine de-facto recognises Russian jurisdiction in Crimea</p><p dir="ltr">The Pension Fund also cites Resolution No. 234 of Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers, which supposedly authorises the sending of inquiries to Russia. Once again, however, it is guilty of prevarication: as Anna Rassamakhina notes, the resolution doesn’t apply to displaced persons from Crimea. Which means that the aforementioned procedure of sending pension calculation inquiries to Russia is provided for neither by Ukrainian legislation, nor international instruments. Rather, it is the result of a decision arbitrarily taken by the Pension Fund of Ukraine.</p><h2 dir="ltr">What is to be done?</h2><p dir="ltr">Some of the displaced Crimean pensioners have asserted their rights in court: the actions of the Ukrainian Pension Fund have been declared illegal by the Shevchenko and Podil District Courts in Kyiv, as well as the Busk District Court in Lviv region. In and of themselves, however, these positive rulings have failed to solve the problem. As UHHRU lawyers (who are alone in taking such cases on) assert, most of the rulings aren’t actually executed – Kyiv prohibits the Pension Fund authorities from executing them on the ground. In addition, not all pensioners can afford to go to court: the average monthly pension in Ukraine is around €70.</p><p dir="ltr">Though Ukrainian pensioners do prevail in the majority of cases fought against the Pension Fund, a systematic solution to the problem is a different matter entirely. Because precedent law does not exist in Ukraine, older displaced persons are forced to defend their rights through the courts on an individual basis. A few possess the requisite energy, knowledge and resources to muster a legal challenge; the majority, however, do not. </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/imageedit_3_5012004066_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_3_5012004066_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Correspondence between the Pension Fund of Ukraine and the Russian authorities. Material is provided by the author.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">In the main, pensioners are not aware that the truth is on their side. After all, Ukrainian Pension Fund officials threaten to hold them criminally liable for being in receipt of two pensions simultaneously. Here’s a typical example, as provided by Anna Rassamakhina. A Crimean resident relocated to mainland Ukraine and appealed to the Pension Fund to resume her pension payments, only to be told that her paper file must first be requested from Russia. The pensioner’s file was never located, and she ended up travelling to Russia to find it herself. Since Ukrainian officials were constantly looking for pretexts not to award the woman a pension in Ukraine, there was no option left to her, now exhausted and browbeaten, but to formalise the pension in Russia. </p><p dir="ltr">The solution to this problem must be a systemic, structural one. To obtain information about the pensioners’ work histories – pensioners from Crimea included – the Ukrainian Pension Fund doesn’t necessarily have to send inquiries to Russia. There’s an alternative means of doing so, and one enshrined in Resolutions Nos. 365 and 637 of the Ukrainian government. These resolutions stipulate that pensions payments to displaced persons can be resumed in accordance with data from a digital pension file (as opposed to a paper one) containing the full gamut of information essential for calculating pensions payments. The Pension Fund is authorised to request such a file from the Computing Centre of the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine. All the necessary mechanisms exist, then, and they’re legislatively enshrined – but fail to work in practice, and the Ukrainian Pension Fund continues to abuse power and violate the law.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Scrimping on sovereignty </h2><p dir="ltr">Ukraine has been unable to guarantee sovereignty and territorial integrity for its citizens. The Ukrainian state cannot therefore refuse to pay out pensions simply because certain residents have found themselves in occupied territory and have been forced to live under conditions imposed upon them by the occupying country.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Anna Rassamakhina, the Pension Fund’s actions are <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lIX_FPcZnc">primarily motivated</a> by the desire to save budget funds. This state of affairs epitomises the totalitarian-style thinking and approach of the Fund’s officials, not least because the amounts involved are almost laughable: approximately €70 in Ukraine, €120 euros in occupied Crimea (as paid out by Russia). </p><p dir="ltr">According to Crimean pensioners, meanwhile, the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation suspends payments on the peninsula the moment it learns from its Ukrainian counterpart that a given pensioner is receiving a pension in Ukraine. It would appear that the Pension Fund in Crimea is just as paranoiacally afraid of the possibility of Crimeans receiving two pensions at the same time.</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine will be able to assert with confidence that it has moved beyond totalitarian-style thinking only when its officials respond to Russian inquiries regarding Crimeans in receipt of pensions in mainland Ukraine by declaring that they’ve no business communicating confidential information to a country that has illegally occupied Crimea. For the time being, however, Ukraine continues to sell off its sovereignty – and to betray its own citizens for peanuts.</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/john-weeks/economics-of-disintegration-in-ukraine">Economics of disintegration in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-korolyov/down-and-out-in-crimea">Down and out in Crimea</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/crimea-international-law-opposition">Death by Crimea</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Goncharuk Ukraine Russia Fri, 08 Jun 2018 09:47:00 +0000 Tetiana Goncharuk 118286 at https://www.opendemocracy.net An appeal to the representatives of countries who are expected to travel to the World Cup football games in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/open-letter-in-support-of-ukrainian-political-prisoners <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Russian Federation is holding 70 Ukrainian political prisoners in custody. Many of them have been convicted under torture and using false evidence.&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/Oleg_Sentsov,_Ukrainian_political_prisoner_in_Russia,_2015 (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'>Oleg Sentsov. CC BY-SA 4.0 Antonymon / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Your Majesties, esteemed representatives of the citizens of your states (see list of world leaders below)!</p><p dir="ltr">The main football event of the year, the World Cup, is drawing closer. It will take place in Russia despite this country occupying the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, unleashing a war in eastern Ukraine, supporting the brutal dictator Assad and war crimes in Syria, curtailing the democratic rights of its own citizens, repressing the indigenous population of occupied Crimea - the Crimean Tatars, interfering in the elections of western countries and unleashing a disinformation campaign against them.</p><p dir="ltr">Your excellencies, the list of Russia's crimes can be continued, however, one stands out. On 14 May, the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who had resisted the occupation of his native Crimea in 2014, <a href="http://euromaidanpress.com/2018/05/16/filmmaker-sentsov-launches-hunger-strike-untill-release-of-all-ukrainian-political-prisoners-jailed-by-russia/">announced</a>&nbsp;a termless hunger strike. The only condition for ending it is the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">"release of all Ukrainian political prisoners held on the territory of the Russian Federation"</a>. There are at least 70 such prisoners, and the number increases each day.</p><p dir="ltr">Oleg was sentenced to 20 years in a penal colony as a result of a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">falsified trial</a>. Other political prisoners have been convicted in a similar manner: on the basis of false "confessions" obtained under <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">torture</a>, fake witnesses, planted ammunition. The latter was the reason for the arrest and conviction of Volodymyr Balukh, a Crimean farmer who rejected the occupation of Crimea and kept raising a Ukrainian flag over his house. Balukh is holding a termless hunger strike for over 70 days since 19 March, balancing between life and death. Also on hunger strike, in solidarity with Sentsov, are Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleksandr Shumkov. The number of arrests and sentences grows with each day. Just on 4 June, Ukrainian journalist Roman Suschenko was <a href="https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/325710-russian-court-gives-ukrainian-reporter-12-years-for-espionage">sentenced</a> to 12 years of "severe regime" imprisonment in Russia on baseless mystery “spying” charges. All these tragedies go unnoticed by the world.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia has established a real repression machine in occupied Crimea. Civic activists among Crimean Tatars are being arrested in droves and accused of terrorism. Also accused of terrorism is the 19-year old Ukrainian Pavlo Hryb, whom the FSB kidnapped while he was on a trip to Belarus. The list of political prisoners is long and each name in it represents a shattered fate and children left to grow up without parents (see more information <a href="http://letmypeoplego.org.ua/">here</a>).</p><p dir="ltr">Your Excellencies, all of these Ukrainians became victims of Russia's undeclared war against Ukraine. In authoritarian Russia, their purpose is to be broadcast on state TV playing the role of "enemies," "terrorists," and "extremists," inciting the hatred of Russians towards Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, and ramping up support for Vladimir Putin's aggressive politics.</p><p dir="ltr">Oleg Sentsov has declared that he intends to hold the hunger strike until the fatal end. This is a realistic scenario: one has to only recall his letter from prison, where he wrote about Ukrainian political prisoners: "If we are destined to become nails in the lid of the tyrant's coffin, then I would like to be such a nail. Just know that this nail will not bend." And he told his lawyer: "If I die before the World Cup or during it, then there will be a [public] resonance in favor of the other political prisoners."</p><p dir="ltr">A hunger strike is the only weapon that the imprisoned filmmaker has to counter the horrendous injustice against 70 Ukrainian citizens.</p><p dir="ltr">Your Majesties! You, the powerful of this world, have another weapon. One of the dreams of Vladimir Putin is to use the presence of foreign dignitaries at the tribunes of the World Cup to embellish his image of a "strong leader" and as visual support for his politics of repressions and wars. You can take the side of the filmmaker who was sentenced for protesting the occupation of his native Crimea by joining the political boycott of the World Cup, inviting others to follow your lead if you have already done this, and calling upon Russia to fulfill the demands of Oleg Sentsov and release all Ukrainian political prisoners. History shows that leaders of authoritarian states prefer to put on a mask of mercy before sports events.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The full list of signatories is here:</strong></p><p>Willem Aldershoff, former head of unit, European Commission, analyst international affairs, Brussels, Belgium</p><p>Alim Aliev, program director, Crimean House, Ukraine</p><p>Victoria Amelina, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Yuriy Andrukhovych, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Ivan Andrusiak, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Anne Applebaum, journalist, historian, USA</p><p>Antoine Arjakovsky, historian, France</p><p>Larysa Artiugina, film director, project leader NGO NewDonbas, Ukraine</p><p>Kateryna Babych, No Borders Project, Committee of Solidarity with Crimean Hostages, Kyiv, Ukraine</p><p>Marieluise Beck, former State Secretary, Alliance '90/The Greens (Germany)</p><p>Мark Bielorusets, translator, Ukraine</p><p>Andriy Bondar, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Kateryna Botanova, journalist, curator, Switzerland/Ukraine</p><p>Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council, USA</p><p>Maksym Butkevych, human rights defender (No Borders Project, Committee of Solidarity), Ukraine</p><p>Artem Chapeye, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Simas Čelutka, Head of European Security Programme, Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, Lithuania</p><p>Yevgen Chernykov, actor, Ukraine</p><p>Halyna Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Ukraine</p><p>Mustafa Dzhemilev, Crimean Tatar leader, political prisoner during the USSR</p><p>Danilo Elia, journalist, Rai - Radiotelevisione italiana, National Public Broadcasting of Italy</p><p>Michel Eltchaninoff, philosopher, France</p><p>Andrew Fesiak, International Director, Final Cut Media, Ukraine</p><p>Leonid Finberg, sociologist, cultural researcher, director of Center for Studies of History and Culture of Eastern European Jewry, Ukraine</p><p>Gregory Frolov, director of Free Russia House, Kyiv, Ukraine</p><p>Svetlana Gannushkina, human rights defender, Russia</p><p>Nina Garenetska, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine</p><p>Georg Genoux, Theatre/film director, Germany/Ukraine </p><p>Anastasiya Gernega, Chairperson, NGO Touchpoint, Ukraine</p><p>Iryna Gorban, art-manager, Ukraine</p><p>Marko Halanevych, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine</p><p>Rebecca Harms, MEP, Alliance '90/The Greens (Greens)</p><p>Markéta Hejkalová, writer, Czech Republic</p><p>Ola Hnatiuk, University of Warsaw, PEN Club member, Poland</p><p>Yaroslav Hrytsak, historian, Ukraine</p><p>Jakub Janda, Director, European Values Think-Tank, Prague, Czech Republic</p><p>Andrey Khadanovich, litterateur, Belarus</p><p>Borys Khersonsky, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Oleksandra Koval, head of the Publishers’ Forum NGO, Ukraine</p><p>Maxym Kurochkin, playwright and screenwriter, Ukraine</p><p>Askold Kurov, filmmaker and producer, Russia</p><p>Myroslav Laiuk, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Philippe de Lara, professor of political science, France</p><p>Anastasia Levkova, writer, journalist, Ukraine</p><p>Danylo Lubkivsky, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine (2014), Diplomatic advisor to the Prime Minister of Ukraine (2015-2016)</p><p>Edward Lucas, London, UK</p><p>Olesya Mamchych, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Myroslav Marynovych, former Soviet political prisoner, Ukraine</p><p>Juraj Mesik, global risks analyst, Slovakia</p><p>Diana Matsuzaki, journalist, Hungary</p><p>Marina Meseguer, journalist, Spain,</p><p>Patryk Michalski, journalist, Poland</p><p>Vitalii Moroz, Internews Ukraine, Ukraine</p><p>Mustafa Nayyem, member of Parliament of Ukraine</p><p>Oleksandra Nazarova, psychologist, Ukraine</p><p>Andriy Nikitchyuk, Euromaidan Press, Ukraine</p><p>Tetiana Okopna, translator, Ukraine</p><p>Oleksiy Panych, philosopher, Ukraine</p><p>Tetiana Pechonchyk, Human Rights Information Center, Ukraine</p><p>Kateryna Petrovska, writer, Ukraine, Germany</p><p>Nataliia Popovych, Co-Founder, Ukraine Crisis Media Center</p><p>Anzhela Prazdnichnykh, medical doctor, Belgium</p><p>Antje Rempe, Germany, President of the association for partnership between the twin cities of Kharkiv and Nuremberg</p><p>Mykola Riabchuk, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Oleksandra Romantsova, Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine</p><p>Olexander Scherba, Ukrainian Ambassador to Austria</p><p>Anton Sliepakov, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine</p><p>Arkadiy Shtypel, poet, translator, Russia</p><p>Roman Shutov, EaP Strategic Advisor, Baltic Centre for Media Excellence, Ukraine</p><p>Alya Shandra, Euromaidan Press, Ukraine</p><p>Konstantin Sigov, Director of the European Humanities Research Centre, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Ukraine</p><p>Ostap Slyvynsky, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Bohdana Smyrnova, filmmaker, New York/Kyiv</p><p>Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, USA</p><p>Alice Stollmeyer, Executive Director, Defending Democracy, Belgium</p><p>Maksym Strikha, professor of physics, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Sergiy Sydorenko, European Pravda, Ukraine</p><p>Joanna Szostek, researcher, Royal Holloway University of London, Great Britain</p><p>Liudmyla Taran, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Tetyana Teren, journalist, Ukraine</p><p>Halyna Tkachuk, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Olena Tsybulska, musician, Dakhabrakha band, Ukraine</p><p>Halyna Tytysh, journalist, Ukraine</p><p>Andreas Umland, Senior Fellow, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Ukraine</p><p>Oleksandr Vilchynskyi, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Pavlo Volvach, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Natalia Vorozhbyt, playwright and screenwriter, Ukraine </p><p>Maryna Vroda, director and writer, Ukraine</p><p>Wira Wowk, writer, translator, PEN Club member, Brazil</p><p>Volodymyr Yermolenko, UkraineWorld, Internews Ukraine, Hromadske.ua, Ukraine</p><p>Pavlo Yurov, independent director and actor, Ukraine</p><p>Iryna Zabiiaka, translator, Kyiv, Ukrainereza Semotamová, Writers in Prison Committee of the Czech PEN Centre, Czech Republic</p><p>Oksana Zabuzhko, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Yevgeniy Zakharov, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Ukraine</p><p>Alla Zamanska, TV Director, Ukraine</p><p>Serhiy Zhadan, writer, Ukraine</p><p>Bohdan Zholdak, writer, Ukraine</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>List of world leaders</strong></p><p dir="ltr">President of Argentina Mauricio Macri</p><p dir="ltr">Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull</p><p dir="ltr">King of the Belgians Philippe, Prime Minister of Belgium Charles Michel</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Federative Republic of Brazil Michel Temer</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos</p><p dir="ltr">President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado Quesada</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Premier Minister Andrej Plenković</p><p dir="ltr">Queen of Denmark Margrethe II, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail</p><p dir="ltr">President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe</p><p dir="ltr">Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Angela Merkel</p><p dir="ltr">President of Iceland Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir</p><p dir="ltr">President of Iran Hassan Rouhani</p><p dir="ltr">Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe</p><p dir="ltr">Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea Lee Nak-yeon</p><p dir="ltr">President of the United Mexican States Enrique Peña Nieto</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco Saadeddine Othmani</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Panama Juan Carlos Varela</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Peru Martín Vizcarra</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Portuguese Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Prime Minister António Costa</p><p dir="ltr">King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Senegal Macky Sall, Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić</p><p dir="ltr">King of Spain King Felipe Vi, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy</p><p dir="ltr">King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Confederation of Switzerland Alain Berset</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Republic of Tunisia Beji Caid Essebsi, Head of Government Youssef Chahed</p><p dir="ltr">Queen of the United Kingdom Elizabeth II, Prime Minister Theresa May</p><p dir="ltr">President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay Tabaré Vázquez</p><p dir="ltr"><em>If you would like to sign the letter, please fill out <a href="https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScjZmnWVFDTIim8PSZ4VszMJG0IRJF0l4-RTvhkn4V5qNM5rA/viewform?usp=sf_link">this form</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ukraine Wed, 06 Jun 2018 16:46:24 +0000 openDemocracy 118256 at https://www.opendemocracy.net