oD Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/3513/all cached version 19/03/2018 21:50:17 en By banning Russian propaganda, the UK will help Putin in his campaign against press freedom https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-smirnov/ban-rt-uk-helps-putin-campaign-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/photo_2017-05-09_22-24-07.jpg" alt="photo_2017-05-09_22-24-07.jpg" width="80" />Why banning Russia Today will have consequences for press freedom in Russia.</p><p>&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/PA-33961593.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In November 2017, a US TV company linked to RT was registered as a foreign agent in the US. (c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.(c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The poisoning of Sergey Skripal has led to a sharp deterioration in UK-Russia relations. For now, London’s official moves, such as deporting 23 Russian diplomats and searching planes inbound from Russia, look moderate. But Boris Johnson’s <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43429152">statement on 16 March</a> was likely unexpected for Moscow. The British foreign minister came to the conclusion that Vladimir Putin sanctioned the attack on Skripal too quickly, though the Kremlin has, for now, <a href="http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/14764161.Sanctions_against_Russia_should_be_considered__says_Johnson/">merely commented</a> that Johnson’s tone was “unacceptable”.</p><p dir="ltr">Immediately after the attack, the British parliament began discussing possible responses to Moscow. One of the <a href="http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/mps-call-for-russian-backed-tv-station-rt-to-be-banned-from-broadcasting-in-uk/">first proposals</a> was to stop the Russia Today TV channel, which is financed by the Russian government and is openly involved in propaganda, from broadcasting in the UK. And here it’s important to understand that British MPs have raised an important topic — one that’s painful not just for the Kremlin, but the whole of Russian society, including the opposition.</p><p dir="ltr">Banning the Russian propaganda channel in the UK will provoke a predictable reaction in Moscow. And London needs to understand beforehand what will happen (though the Kremlin hasn’t particularly hidden its intentions). First, Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, then Margarita Simonyan, head of RT, made it clear: all British media <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-skripal-uk-media-kremlin-reaction-putin-foreign-ministry-latest-britain-a8254246.html">will be banned</a> in response. This will concern first and foremost the BBC. It’s unclear what will happen to the work of other British media in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kremlin brought independent media in Russia under control long ago. If they managed to deal with television by the mid-2000s, then the internet didn’t really attract the attention of the Russian authorities for some time after. But in recent years the pressure has increased: independent media are often brought under control via oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin. For big internet publications, every year it gets harder to work. High-class independent journalists are fired if they choose not to betray their principles. Meanwhile, the authorities aren’t in a rush to pressure foreign media working in Russia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The issue is that Vladimir Putin and his team don’t have — and have never had — a clearly worked-out programme to destroy democracy, including freedom of speech</p><p dir="ltr">Here, it’s important to explain the actions of the Russian authorities, which have been and will be demonised quite enough. The issue is that Vladimir Putin and his team don’t have — and have never had — a clearly worked-out programme to destroy democracy, including freedom of speech. As a rule, all their decisions are situative. Russian television was taken under control after Putin was sharply criticised by the oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky. The Russian president likes to act in response to any threats.</p><p dir="ltr">Take the events of the past six years. In 2011, hundreds of thousands of people, dissatisfied with the prospect of Putin returning to power, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">came onto the streets of Russian cities</a>. The protest was suppressed, but the Russian authorities were seriously worried. They set themselves the task of making<em> everything </em>dependent on them, in order to ensure these scenes would never be repeated. The authorities undertook various actions: from formally liberalising the political sphere to passing repressive laws at the very moment when people stopped protesting.</p><p dir="ltr">Once again, it’s important to understand that the Kremlin’s reaction was a response to street protest. Although these laws may have been prepared beforehand, it seems they were thought up on the spot. Take the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">“Foreign Agents” law</a> as an example — this law banned NGOs which take foreign funds from being involved in “political activity”. As is often the case in Russia, this law didn’t only touch on the work of human rights organisations, but many others, from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-shevchenko/protecting-the-environment-is-becoming-a-deadly-occupation">environmental NGOs</a> to, most recently, a <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-diabetics-foreign-agent-saratov-volga-ngo/28967337.html">diabetes society</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Why did they pass this law? Because the authorities believed that the 2011-2012 protests were organised from abroad. The mass protest started after election observers found large-scale falsifications at the parliamentary elections. The Golos election monitoring association prepared the observers. Golos received foreign funding. This is how the Kremlin put it together.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar situation happened with the Kremlin’s response to Ukraine. Putin was sure that he was simply responding to attempts by the west to take Ukraine further from Moscow’s influence — and, at the same time, breaking Putin’s agreements with Viktor Yanukovych. The 2012 ban on adopting Russian children (the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-kotsyubinsky/suffer-little-children%E2%80%A6">“Dima Yakovlev” law</a>) was also perceived as a response to hostile actions from the west.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, I’m trying to explain the Kremlin’s logic, which becomes even clearer in the case of Russia Today in the US. After RT was registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act in November last year, Moscow started feverishly searching for return measures. The initial suggestions were more reminiscent of North Korea, e.g. banning all independent media, including social networks and even the internet. But then the Kremlin softened its position. All US media, which receive state financing, were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-lukashevsky/russia-expanding-the-field-of-uncertainty">declared foreign agents</a>. Other US media have yet to fall under this law’s purview.</p><p dir="ltr">For me, there’s two reasons for this. The first, as I wrote above, is that the Kremlin is convinced that it’s defending itself from attacks. It has to respond. The second is that Moscow still leaves itself room for manoeuvre and bargaining. If you ban everything at once, there’s nothing to discuss further — and the Kremlin doesn’t want to end up isolated like North Korea. But the risk of isolation has risen after the Skripal poisoning, and the Russian authorities see this. They won’t make any sudden moves on their own.</p><p dir="ltr">This is what western states need to understand about the Kremlin’s behaviour. Currently, there’s no signs that Putin will change his traditional tactics after re-election. The Russian authorities will still monitor the domestic opposition and the actions of the west (and will respond to them). The west needs to understand that the Kremlin’s reaction vis-a-vis freedom of speech and human rights depends on their reaction. Not least of all because the Russian authorities love appealing to the west’s double standards. All actions in connection with RT are seen as the west’s hypocrisy in the field of freedom of speech.</p><p dir="ltr">By banning Russian propaganda, the western world helps Putin in his fight against freedom of speech. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/russian-media-s-double-white-lines">Russian journalism’s double white lines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-kennedy/who%E2%80%99s-afraid-of-russia-today">Who’s afraid of Russia Today?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/damir-gainutdinov/russia-s-new-foreign-agent-legislation-will-further-silence-independent-">Russia’s new foreign agent legislation will further silence independent media</a> </div> </div> </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 Smirnov Beyond propaganda Mon, 19 Mar 2018 19:05:01 +0000 Sergey Smirnov 116723 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s presidential election: a decline in citizen rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-taubina-bobbie-jo-traut/a-decline-in-citizen-rights <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The re-election of Vladimir Putin has been preceded by a significant crackdown on freedom of assembly and rule of law.</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/Open_Omsk.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Open_Omsk.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'>26 March 2017: 2,000 protesters come out for anti-corruption protests in central Omsk, Siberia. Image still via YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>A busy intersection in downtown Washington DC right in front of the Embassy of the Russian Federation now bears a new name,<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/street-signs-outside-russian-embassy-in-washington-now-honor-slain-dissident/2018/02/27/159de03e-1bdd-11e8-b2d9-08e748f892c0_story.html?utm_term=.991ade9fe642"> Boris Nemtsov Plaza</a>, in honour of the opposition politician and outspoken critic of the Kremlin who was murdered in February 2015. Since Nemtsov’s death, supporters of the Russian opposition have held annual marches in Moscow to<a href="http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/how-i-remember-boris-nemtsov"> commemorate</a> the bravery and determination of a leader who fought for integrity, transparency and accountability in government. Nemtsov’s murder, believed by many to be politically motivated, has mobilised thousands who are fed up with an entrenched, elitist system that enriches a few through corrupt and illicit activities and<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/paradisepapers/general-offshore-trove-exposes-trump-russia-links-and-piggy-banks-of-the-wealthiest-1-percent"> shady offshore business deals</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">While the politically disillusioned among Russian society protest on major city streets, those concerned with bread-and-butter issues <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">attempt to affect change at the local level</a>. This is evidenced through residents’ efforts to have a voice in city, town and neighbourhood urban planning and development decisions, which in many cases are overshadowed by corruption and conflicts of interest. Russians strive to petition their local officials for better quality public service delivery, whether it be for roads, schools and health care facilities, as in rural areas such infrastructure and facilities can end up dilapidated and outdated. Though there are optimistic signs of an economic upswing, the benefits are unlikely to trickle down to most people, especially in rural areas. Russians are worried about what the future holds for them with fluctuating oil prices and<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pershing-square-utc-stake/ackman-ends-public-battle-with-herbalife-takes-stake-in-united-technologies-idUSKCN1GC2N0"> foreign sanctions</a>. For now, it appears the future holds more of the same old story.</p><p dir="ltr">As Russia prepares to elect a new president on 18 March, there are no viable opposition candidates. The ballot will list several names, but the man who has already governed directly as president or indirectly as prime minister for the past 18 years will most likely be named president, maintaining his position of power through 2024 and making him Russia’s<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/09/14/putin-quietly-becomes-longest-serving-russian-leader-since-stalin/?utm_term=.b16c5f3755c9"> longest-serving leader</a> since Brezhnev.</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_pa-35292625_copy_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-35292625_copy_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 1999 came at a period when people craved stability, order and security. The country had endured economic instability; dealt with political scandals; witnessed the horrors of the first Chechen War; and lived through several terrorist attacks. Fatigue and fear plagued the general public, generating a desire for a more heavy-handed approach to ruling the country that would bring stability, order and security. The state, in turn, responded to the public’s demand for better order by tightening its fist around independent media, then crushing the political opposition under its heel by controlling elections. An illusion of order may have appeared but it came with a hefty price: repressive laws, authoritarian policies, rights violations and limited civic space.</p><p dir="ltr">The<a href="https://monitor.civicus.org/"> CIVICUS Monitor</a>, which tracks and rates civil society conditions across all UN member states in close to real-time, has found that<a href="https://monitor.civicus.org/country/russia/"> civic space</a>&nbsp;in Russia has closed dramatically as civil society groups have been publicly vilified and marginalised. Groups receiving foreign funds or engaging in political activities have been<a href="http://iphronline.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/UPR30-HRW-Russia-FINAL.pdf"> discredited</a> as so-called “foreign agents”. Any form of civic activism on sensitive or controversial issues is quickly crushed. Investigative and independent journalists are under threat and in constant danger. Journalists, business opponents and members and leaders of the opposition face persecution, vilification, imprisonment and, as in Nemtsov’s case, physical violence.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Though the state has made deliberate strides to suppress civic activism, thousands remain undeterred and still persevere</p><p dir="ltr">In the face of constant fear and repression, Russians have nonetheless responded, with groups galvanising around environmental, economic, labour and social issues. Tens of thousands of truck drivers mobilised in 2017 in a nationwide strive over an<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-truck-drivers-protest-road-tax/28399194.html"> increased road tax</a> that would allegedly line the pockets of officials and oligarchs rather than create better road conditions. Mass protests have taken place across Russia’s eleven time zones around causes and key moments, such as Nemtsov’s murder. </p><p dir="ltr">Corruption – a sticking point for so many – has led to mass protests under anti-corruption advocate and former presidential hopeful Alexei Navalny’s campaign. Though the state has made deliberate strides to suppress civic activism, thousands remain undeterred and still persevere. The status quo in the Kremlin is likely to continue come 18 March, but there may also be an impending “wind of change” as thousands protest, from Moscow to Vladivostok, in support of Navalny, who was prohibited from running in this year’s elections and now faces<a href="https://meduza.io/en/news/2018/02/27/alexey-navalny-heads-back-to-court-next-monday-and-he-ll-probably-spend-election-day-in-jail"> charges</a> of organising unauthorised assemblies, as well as in support of other causes – from socioeconomic to environmental issues.</p><p dir="ltr">When citizens exercise their fundamental freedoms to organise, speak out and protest, the state has a duty to protect them. The Russian authorities, however, have repeatedly failed in this regard, despite their obligations under national law and commitments to international human rights standards. Rather than protecting citizens, the current system criminalises dissent and suppresses civic space. Watchdog groups have&nbsp;<a href="http://en.publicverdict.org/topics/found/7406.html">documented</a> incidents in which the state security services (FSB) has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">detained and tortured activists who represent anti-fascist or anarchist groups</a>. In the volatile North Caucasus, Memorial Human Rights Centre has been persecuted for its efforts to document and report on egregious abuses in the region. In an attempt to suppress Memorial’s increasingly powerful voice, the authorities arrested the head of the organisation’s office in Grozny, Chechnya,&nbsp;<a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news_old/kampaniya-solidarnosti-s-oyubom-titievym">Oyub Titiev</a>, who now faces dubious criminal charges, and Memorial’s office in Ingushetia was burned and the Dagestan office’s car also destroyed.</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/rsz_pa-34708740_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>28 January: an election boycott rally, St Petersburg. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Image. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Law enforcement has repeatedly failed to protect protesters and have instead prevented protest actions by tightening bureaucratic restrictions. Police have used&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/02/youve-been-warned-protesting-russia">intimidation tactics</a> and warnings to keep people off the streets. Organisers of the truck drivers’ strike last year were&nbsp;<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/the-latest-protest-moscow-is-trying-to-ignore-thousands-of-angry-truckers/2017/04/21/13f87080-1a2d-11e7-8598-9a99da559f9e_story.html?utm_term=.c05480371330">reportedly</a> harassed, interrogated and detained by police. Anti-corruption protesters, environmental activists and human rights defenders are not fully protected under the law, especially when the judiciary is at the behest of the authorities. In many cases, attacks against those expressing independent opinions and critical voices are not properly investigated, and perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.</p><p dir="ltr">With the upcoming election largely a foregone conclusion, Russians will most likely see another six years of Putin’s policies. As the past has shown, prolonging Putin’s power means hardship and difficult times ahead – for civil society and for the society as a whole. Russian citizens have exhibited resilience against seemingly insurmountable odds. </p><p dir="ltr">Their task, however, is less daunting when the international human rights community actively shows solidarity with activists, peaceful protesters and independent associations in Russia by keeping the human rights situation at the forefront of any dialogue and interactions with the government. It is crucial for the wider human rights community to be united in condemning the abuses and demanding an end to violations, even in the face of backlash from the Russian authorities. </p><p dir="ltr">A resolute and unequivocal stance on fundamental freedoms demonstrates to Putin that crackdowns on civic space and the use of political violence will never be ignored and his harmful tactics will always be met with fierce resistance.</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-kalikh/hope-for-russias-hopeless-elections">Hope for Russia’s hopeless elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrew-wilson/russias-elections-the-rise-and-fall-of-dramaturgiya">Russia’s elections: the rise and fall of “dramaturgiya”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-activists-face-continued-pressure-in-run-up-to-presidential-elections">Russian activists face prosecution in the run up to the presidential elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-zviagina/imitation-civil-society-gets-ready">Imitation civil society gets ready for Russia’s imitation elections</a> </div> <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> </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 Bobbie Jo Traut Natalia Taubina Russia's 2018 election diary Russia Fri, 16 Mar 2018 22:33:56 +0000 Natalia Taubina and Bobbie Jo Traut 116679 at https://www.opendemocracy.net There may be no one to vote for in Russia’s elections, but they will be well monitored! https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/there-may-be-no-one-to-vote-for-in-russia-s-elections-but-they-will-be-well- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">A tussle over election monitors in northwestern Russia reminds us of a simple truth: electoral authoritarianism takes a lot of effort.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <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/PA-35541652.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-35541652.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>15 March: Vladimir Putin takes questions on the campaign trail. (c) Alexei Druzhinin/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russia’s election monitoring community has formed in the years since independence. Today, it’s the Golos, Sonar and Citizen Observer movements that conduct independent (that is, non-partisan) observation, as well as other less well-known initiatives.</p><p dir="ltr">The federal authorities have done all they could in recent years to make independent electoral observation more difficult by law. The Golos association — the main monitoring force in the country — was registered as a “foreign agent”, basically paralysing its activities. (That said, a civic movement without foreign funding emerged to take on Golos’ tasks.)</p><p dir="ltr">For several years now, not a single civic organisation has had the right to send election observers to polling stations. The opportunities for other potential monitoring structures have also been severely weakened. For instance, only journalists from registered media organisations — and only those on permanent contract — can be present at polling stations.</p><p dir="ltr">Restrictions to monitoring have become particularly topical this March. Several weeks before the elections, the Central Electoral Commission refused to issue accreditation to two publications: Molniya (Lightning) and <a href="https://leviathan.fbk.info/">Leviathan</a>. Eight hundred and fifty people from Golos were due to act as election monitors on behalf of Molniya; 4,500 supporters of opposition politician Alexey Navalny were supposed to observe from Leviathan. Despite these impediments, both are determined to send as many observers as possible.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">It is surprising that, under such pressure, Russia’s monitoring community didn’t collapse, but rather strengthened. Collaboration between several monitoring projects has been arranged, forums of social observers have been organised, as well as collective training for all those willing to monitor elections.&nbsp;</p><h2>The authorities enter the field of election monitoring</h2><p dir="ltr">In response, the Russian authorities decided once again to make observers’ life harder, launching their own election observation project. In autumn 2017, the Russian parliament adopted changes to the legislation on presidential elections, allowing Russia’s Public Chamber (a civil society institution designed to analyse draft legislation and monitor state activity) and its regional counterparts to send their own observers on election day.</p><p dir="ltr">Independent observers reacted with scepticism to the initiative. “Trust in elections is low, and the Public Chamber isn’t much trusted either. So you end up with sticking together two institutions people do not trust,” remarked Grigory Melkonyants, vice-president of Golos.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“There can be no question of genuine election monitoring because it is separated from widespread practices of unlawful election agitation”</p><p dir="ltr">In various regions, the process of enrolling people in the official “Team of observers” association enjoyed brief success, although insistent calls to local and regional NGOs helped get the right number of people. Far from all recruits managed to go through training, but in this case the Central Electoral Commission has prepared textbooks — the so called “Golden Standard of Election Observation” distributed in all regions of the country. The “Golden Standard” is a very clear and precise method to monitor polling stations, according to Maxim Grigori, vice-chairman of the Public Chamber’s working group on election monitoring.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In Karelia, the co-chairman of the Public Monitoring Team called this document a “typical instruction for the passive contemplation of the simplest violations of the electoral procedure, which, in fact, never occur.”</p><p dir="ltr">“In this regard, unfortunately there can be no question of genuine election monitoring,” explained Oleg Reut, “because it is separated from widespread practices of unlawful election agitation, pressure from management, monitoring of turnout by public officials, compelling people to vote the right way, potential violations and even falsifications by member of electoral commissions and so on.”</p><h2>Karelia: the opposition under pressure.</h2><p dir="ltr">Karelia is considered one of the most opposition-minded regions of Russia. The party of power, United Russia, traditionally receives a lesser share of the vote than on average elsewhere in Russia. In the 2012 presidential elections, Vladimir Putin received a modest result here, which led the region’s governor to be sacked.</p><p dir="ltr">Several experts explain these political tendencies by the high level of education in the republic, its closeness to Europe, the fact that residents are in some sense “Europeanised”. This sort of framing apparently irritates the authorities, which has led law enforcement to react unreasonably.</p><p dir="ltr">Together with the regional directorate of the FSB, Karelia’s authorities <a href="https://7x7-journal.ru/anewsitem/91505">tried to fire</a> the regional coordinator of the Golos movement from the university where he works. The pressure on campaigners for Alexey Navalny is also <a href="https://7x7-journal.ru/item/104587">more serious</a> here.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s all the more surprising that independent observers haven’t once criticised the regional electoral commission in the last few years. It’s rather the contrary: several missions by the “Observers of Petersburg” group and Golos have been concluded with <a href="http://www.karel.izbirkom.ru/docs/2122/">statements of gratitude</a> to the electoral commissions for their professional work.</p><p dir="ltr">No serious violations in the work of the electoral commissions during the parliamentary and local elections in 2016 and 2017 have been reported. Indeed, the Central Election Commission’s recently formed Public Council is made of civic campaigners loyal to the authorities, representatives of Golos and members of the regional Public Chamber who aren’t under the control of the Karelian authorities.</p><h2>Self-trained observers</h2><p dir="ltr">In February 2018, a month before the presidential elections, Karelia’s Central Electoral Commission <a href="https://7x7-journal.ru/anewsitem/104178/2018/02/28">welcomed</a> the opening of the Public Monitoring Team’s office and took part in the press conference dedicated to the event. The team became the first independent monitoring project in Karelia. Its chairpersons are representatives from the Golos movement, as well as two internet media, <a href="https://stolicaonego.ru/">Capital by the Onega</a> and <a href="https://7x7-journal.ru/karelia">7x7 Karelia</a> (where I work).</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/intro_34.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'>Alexey Bakhilin, head of Karelia's CEC, welcomes the opening of an election monitoring service in Petrozavodsk, Karelia. Source: 7x7.ru.</span></span></span>In one month, this initiative has recruited and trained observers. Its main working principle has been collaboration with all parties interested in the electoral process. Social activists have laid out collaboration not only with candidates’ staff, but also Navalny’s Voters’ strike — whose activists are ready to go to polling stations on 18 March to monitor voting and count turnout. Several dozens of people have been trained by the staff.</p><p dir="ltr">However, according to these same experts, that number of activists is not sufficient to cover all polling stations in the region. But in all polling stations of Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, there will be at least one observer using the professional tools devised by Golos: the <a href="https://www.kartanarusheniy.org/">“Violations Map”</a>, a hotline and an app for smartphone, allowing to receive efficient information on voting in polling stations.</p><p dir="ltr">Oleg Reut explains: “Several mobile groups will be active, in coordination with the staff of the Central Electoral Commission in the polling stations, in Petrozavodsk and the neighbouring district. Operational information will be released on <a href="http://t.me/observers_RK">Telegram</a>, <a href="http://vk.com/observers_rk">Vkontakte</a>. Observers will use a mobile app built by the Golos movement and other tools.” </p><p dir="ltr">Karelia’s Public Chamber also announced that it has enrolled the required number of observers. However, due to lack of the necessary materials, some training was conducted remotely, with the help of video- and audio-lectures. In other words, these observers will actually be self-trained. Independent political observers have not taken yet to evaluate the level of training of these observers, their motivation, and can’t yet predict the quality of their work on election day.</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/asya-fouks/karelia-a-story-of-autocracy-and-resistance">Karelia: a story of autocracy and resistance</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-zviagina/imitation-civil-society-gets-ready">Imitation civil society gets ready for Russia’s imitation elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-kolezev/ekaterinburg-presidential-election-russia">If Russians are ignoring their upcoming presidential election, what are they talking about?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mitya-lebedev/alexey-navalnys-election-boycott">Alexey Navalny’s election boycott reveals the symbolic matrix of Russian politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/hope-for-russias-hopeless-elections">Hope for Russia’s hopeless elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-solovyova/apathy-is-running-high">As Russia’s presidential election approaches, apathy is running high</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Yarovaya Russia's 2018 election diary Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:41:25 +0000 Anna Yarovaya 116701 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Harassment, detention and torture: Russia’s presidential election is marred by repression https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/harassment-detention-and-torture-russia-s-presidential-election-is-marred-by-repr <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russian law enforcement and the security services have been given carte blanche to beat, intimidate, torture and fabricate cases before the elections.</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/dyvvwpex4aagtul.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nizhny Novgorod branch of the Alexey Navalny campaign. Source: Twitter. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>A version of this text originally appeared on <a href="http://www.ovdinfo.org/">OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated detentions and freedom of assembly in Russia.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">On 18 March, Russia will elect a new president. The campaign has not been particularly inspiring or interesting. On the other hand, politically-motivated harassment and persecution by law enforcement agencies — the arrests of activists, jailings, searches, and also torture by electric shock — have recently all become more common.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Law enforcement agencies searched the homes of members of Left Bloc and anarchists following a protest outside the United Russia offices</strong> on the night of 30-31 January, during which a window in the building was broken and a smoke-bomb was thrown in. The police have begun an investigation into alleged “vandalism” and at least nine people have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/14/chast-zaderzhannyh-utrom-aktivistov-otpustili?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">arrested</a>. One person, anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, was held in a police cell. He managed to tell his girlfriend that he had been tortured (a plastic bag was put over his head and he was beaten on the legs). Later Rechkalov <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/15/zaderzhannyy-v-moskve-anarhist-rasskazal-o-pytkah?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">confirmed</a> this information to human rights defenders and a lawyer, who had been refused access to him for a long time. The human rights defenders recorded red marks on Rechkalov’s body and a paramedic confirmed physical injuries.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>A witness in the investigation into an alleged terrorist group in St Petersburg, Ilya Kapustin, who reported that he had been tortured by FSB officers, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/14/svidetel-po-delu-o-terrorizme-v-peterburge-zayavivshiy-o-pytkah-pokinul?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">has left Russia</a></strong>. He has asked for political asylum in Finland. The defendants in this case, Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin, have apparently also been tortured.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/iljasuomessa1_503_ul.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Kapustin, who is being treated as a witness in the Petersburg "terrorism" case, is now seeking political asylum in Finland. </span></span></span>In February, Chelyabinsk young people were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda/chelyabinsk-anarchists-tortured">arrested</a> on suspicion of taking part in a protest in support of left-wing activists who are under investigation</strong>. On the night of 14-15 February, a smoke bomb was thrown onto the territory of the local FSB building. We publish the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2018/03/09/ponyal-za-chto-suka-anarhist-iz-chelyabinska-rasskazal-o-pytkah-v-zdanii-fsb?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">account</a> of the anarchist Dmitry Tsibukovsky about how he was tortured with a taser.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In Moscow, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/15/v-moskve-zaderzhany-uchastniki-oppozicionnogo-dvizheniya-novoe-velichie?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">have searched</a> the homes of members of the Novoe Velichie (New Greatness) movement</strong>. Few details are available. At present, neither the number of those detained nor the nature of the charges brought against them are known. A video has been published on a Telegram-channel posting police video footage in which a person who calls himself leader of the movement testifies they planned to “hold a tribunal to judge members of the ruling elite” and the “abolition of the current repressive laws and Constitution.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In St Petersburg, anti-extremism police have drawn up a list of 20 people</strong> who are supposed organisers of, and participants in, the “Voters’ Strike.” Many of them have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/12/v-peterburge-zaderzhivayut-aktivistov-shtaba-navalnogo?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">arrested</a> and some of them <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/13/sudy-nad-zaderzhannymi-storonnikami-navalnogo-v-peterburge-12-marta?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">jailed</a> for ten days.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In Nizhny Novgorod, a number of people were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/12/v-nizhnem-novgorode-zaderzhannogo-za-pohorony-vyborov-arestovali-na-20-sutok?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">jailed for 20 days</a></strong> for taking part in a march in memory of Boris Nemtsov and the “Funeral for the Elections” protest. True, the judge dated the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/13/sudya-datiroval-postanovlenie-ob-areste-za-pohorony-vyborov-proshlym-godom?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">court ruling</a> sentencing one of them “2017.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Residents of the region outside Moscow are protesting against waste incinerators</strong>. People have been arrested for taking part in single-person pickets, attempts to enter the premises of the waste dump, and other forms of protest in the towns of <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/08/v-volokolamske-zaderzhali-mestnyh-zhiteley-kotorye-perekryli-vezd-na-poligon?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Volokolamsk (twice)</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/10/v-klinu-zaderzhany-uchastniki-protesta-protiv-poligona-tverdyh-othodov?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Klin</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/11/v-podmoskove-policiya-zaderzhala-pyateryh-uchastnikov-protestov-protiv?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">Naro-Fominsk</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/belogorokhov-listovki-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A leaflet accusing Sergey Belogorokhov, a <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-how-residents-of-chelyabinsk-are->Stop GOK</a> activist, of paedophilia. Source: Our Chelyabinsk. </span></span></span><strong>In Chelyabinsk, leaflets calling for the murder of an environmental activist have been distributed</strong>. The anonymous leaflets accused the activist of being a pedophile. The target for the attack is Sergei Belorokhov, an activist of the Stop GOK movement who campaigns to stop the construction of a mining and processing plant [GOK]. We <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2018/03/16/pri-obnaruzhenii-v-policiyu-ne-soobshchat-raspravitsya-na-meste-voyna-s?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">discovered</a> that this is only part of a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-how-residents-of-chelyabinsk-are-">continuing war</a> against environmental activists in Chelyabinsk.</p><h2>Thank you</h2><p dir="ltr">As the elections draw closer there is ever more work to do. You can help us continue our work now and in the difficult coming months before and after the 2018 elections<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/?utm_source=tg&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=donate#donate"> here</a>. You can volunteer to work with us <a href="https://medium.com/@ovdinfo/%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B4-%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%84%D0%BE-%D1%8D%D1%82%D0%BE-%D0%B2%D1%8B-c5a6f2e585ed">here</a>.</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><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-activists-face-continued-pressure-in-run-up-to-presidential-elections">Russian activists face prosecution in the run up to the presidential elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-anarchist-case">&quot;At the first shock I couldn’t help but groan and shake&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/arson-attack-on-memorial-s-office-in-chechnya">Election season in Russia: violent acts and criminal cases against rights defenders, political activists </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-taubina-bobbie-jo-traut/a-decline-in-citizen-rights">Russia’s presidential election: a decline in citizen rights</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, 16 Mar 2018 14:18:50 +0000 OVD-Info 116698 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Imitation civil society gets ready for Russia’s imitation elections https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-zviagina/imitation-civil-society-gets-ready <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>While the Russian government recruits loyal NGOs as election observers, other organisations refuse to be part of the process. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalya-zvyagina/vybory-i-nko" 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/Screen_Shot_2018-03-14_at_17.27.38.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-03-14_at_17.27.38.png" alt="" 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'>Sverdlovsk regional forum of election observers, March 2018. Source: For Fair Elections.</span></span></span>I stand here like a model civic activist, a rights defender in my white coat, while the presidential elections are taking place around me. Colleagues standing nearby are proudly declaring that human rights and politics are far removed from one another, and never cross paths. After all, NGOs try to help people whatever the political priority of the the day is. Our business is policy (defending the public’s interests) not politics, which is a power struggle. And all of us, including the most loyal NGO, are united: there’s no intrigue, the election result is known in advance, but still they flap and bustle around, drumming up volunteers out of nowhere, signing agreements with <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_Chamber_of_the_Russian_Federation">Public Chambers</a> to send observers to polling stations on election day.</p><p dir="ltr">There’s an incredible fuss in Russian civil society about what the right stance is to take on the elections – no one has seen this kind of fuss in 15 years, and there was no sign of it just a year ago. And only a handful of stressed out (but proud!) rights activists are watching this celebration of civic and political life from afar, getting on quietly with their everyday tasks. No one even turns their head towards the noise of the election: elections are a momentary commotion, but we want to talk about timeless things... And this gives us double protection from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">“foreign agent”</a> register.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">For the last ten years, the trend has been clear: politics and elections are one thing, NGOs quite another</p><p dir="ltr">You’ll say I’m exaggerating. Perhaps. But I’ve taken leave for the duration of the election campaign, so as not to put any NGO colleagues at risk. And this is despite the fact that for as long as I remember working in the voluntary sector, I have always observed elections. But for this campaign, the entire coalition of organisations belonging to the <a href="http://hrdom.hrworld.ru/">Voronezh Human Rights House </a>have decided to stress their distance from the process. Any project with the slightest connection to politics has been banned from our premises, even our discussion space, for many years on principle. The only exception is if some opposition activist is beaten up or searched. Our NGOs’ avoidance of politics isn’t just formal, it’s total. We won’t take part, for example, in the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mitya-lebedev/alexey-navalnys-election-boycott">election boycott proposed by Alexey Navalny</a>. This distancing is conscious and even reasonable in our seriously risky situation, so for those people who couldn’t resist the lure of politics, taking leave seemed a sensible decision.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the past decade, NGOs have been systematically excluded from the election campaign period all over Russia, and Voronezh region is no exception. The first amendments to electoral legislation, in 2006, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/06/17/uncivil-approach-civil-society/continuing-state-curbs-independent-ngos-and">removed</a> NGOs from the list of bodies that could send observers to national elections and propose candidates. Later, NGOs with the “foreign agent” status (which applies to most decent organisations) were left with only one clear limitation – a ban on observing. The trend has been clear: politics and elections are one thing, NGOs quite another.</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/564053/13726725_1643721409279989_436250115108413976_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/13726725_1643721409279989_436250115108413976_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="206" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'> The Voronezh Human Rights House. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>In 2017, however, things changed. In December, the Russian president <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/social/news/2017/12/06/n_10901354.shtml">announced</a> that 2018 was going to be “Year of the Volunteer”. As it turned out, we were no longer restricted to caring for orphans and the elderly, but even monitor the elections. The imitation <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_Chamber_of_the_Russian_Federation">Public Chambers</a> that had grown up over the previous decade acquired the right to train and send observers to polling stations. The chambers immediately and collectively announced that they would find volunteers for every polling station, even two for each. Voronezh region has 1715 polling stations. We’ve never seen so many volunteers. I just wonder how much each of them will cost the taxpayers.</p><p dir="ltr">The entire might of Russia’s system of imitating public life has been directed at a massive Potemkin election monitoring exercise. Our public chamber reports success: 26 NGOs that have been in existence almost since Soviet times – representing war veterans, trade unions and women’s councils – have signed a cooperation agreement with the chamber and immediately produced 1,500 volunteers. In those parts of the region where it’s hard to find a functioning NGO (and not a nominal voluntary organisation under the aegis of the local administration), all the polling stations have already closed. It’s more difficult in towns and cities, where volunteers can be drummed up by public officials. More than 100 members of district public chambers have been coming together to discuss election issues as part of a <a href="http://opvo36.ru/kongress-obshhestvennogo-razvitiya-voronezhskoy-oblasti-18">“Civil Development Congress”</a> initiated and supported by the Voronezh regional government.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://xn--80acclih9bqek6cvccd.xn--p1ai/">“For Honest Elections”</a> observers, working with the Lawyers of Russia Association, has no compunction about its involvement in politics or problems with the mobilisation of volunteers. In Voronezh, it works from a regional state-funded young people’s organisation, and its coordinators are actually bringing hundreds of observers together and training them. These are good guys: active young people who are really trying to make the lives of their peers more interesting. A system of “decurions” and “centurions” who have gone round the local universities collecting “volunteers for victory” is centralised and effective. More than 400 students have attended a series of seminars on the electoral system, and the project coordinators have even invited specialists from the Golos election monitoring organisation to train them.</p><p dir="ltr">There is just one small contradiction here: this entire movement has been created as a positive and uncritical alternative to Golos, a venerable monitoring organisation founded in 2000. It has even copied Golos’ <a href="https://www.kartanarusheniy.org/">election violations map</a>. And it stands to reason that neither Golos, which the Public Chamber, for want of legal status, couldn’t send anyone to a polling station even if it wanted to, nor even the political parties are capable of fighting official youth policy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Activists loyal to the regional authorities can adjust their positions in sync with the party line, while still claiming to be “outside politics”, at least on paper</p><p dir="ltr">At one point, <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TM7KbB75qCYC&amp;pg=PA221&amp;lpg=PA221&amp;dq=administrative+resources+russia&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=nBQbXMgqSu&amp;sig=nqcg1FMFTGYYgvgWGCPSXKDQedM&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwihhJ2G0evZAhUjDcAKHYpSAa4Q6AEIOTAD#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">“administrative resources”</a> squeezed politics out. Now the same administrative resources have been elevated to administrative-public status.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Where there are too few independent observers, efforts are being made to mobilise more. The Belgorod section of the Russian Union of Youth, for example, is <a href="https://fonar.tv/news/2018/02/21/v-belgorode-na-vyborah-prezidenta-proydet-fotokonkurs-golosovach-na-kotorom-mozhno-vyigrat-iphone-8">running a competition to sign up volunteers</a>, with prizes including iPhones and bicycles for those who recruit the most. It’s a great scheme, if you ignore the fact that the <a href="http://www.ruy.ru/regions/8030.html">organisation’s local coordinator</a> is also the <a href="http://www.belkult.ru/about/rukovodstvo%20%20%20http://www.ruy.ru/regions/8030.html">head of the region’s cultural department</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Activists loyal to the regional authorities can adjust their positions in sync with the party line, while still claiming to be “outside politics”, at least on paper. But if NGOs can still be removed from politics, the same can’t be said for hardened activists employed by the state. An old friend of mine, a political analyst who works with the All-Russia People’s Front (ONF), a so-called public movement initiated and led by Vladimir Putin, insists that it is not a political organisation. Of course it’s not: it’s simply the public avatar of one political party, created personally by the president and working behind the scenes at his command.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The members of these “neutral” public chambers, by the way, from Moscow to Russia’s farthest borders, are trusted officials of the president: Natalya Narochitskaya, president of the Historical Perspective Foundation and a member of Russia’s central Public Chamber, for example, or Alexey Lazarev, who heads the Kursk region’s Public Chamber. During election campaigns they also take leave, out of politeness – in the past only candidates for election did this, and not even all of them.</p><p dir="ltr">This makes me, on leave in my white coat, feel a bit embarrassed. But at least I have the time to observe what is happening.&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/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded">If Russia’s minorities are excluded from national political life, then why are they the most “loyal” on paper?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-solovyova/apathy-is-running-high">As Russia’s presidential election approaches, apathy is running high</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/hope-for-russias-hopeless-elections">Hope for Russia’s hopeless elections</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 Zviagina Russia's 2018 election diary Russia Thu, 15 Mar 2018 22:23:04 +0000 Natalia Zviagina 116658 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Surviving imprisonment: does Ukraine need a law for former prisoners from the Donbas conflict? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/katerina-iakovlenko/surviving-imprisonment <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukrainian society has had to face many challenges since 2014. One of them is reintegrating people who have experienced imprisonment and violence. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/katerina-yakovlenko/perezhit-plen" 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/vstrecha_plennix_v_borispole_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/vstrecha_plennix_v_borispole_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'>Meeting prisoners at the airport Borispol, Kyiv, December 27, 2017. Photo: Elena Zhemchugova / Facebook.</span></span></span>Just before New Year, a much-awaited event happened: prisoners held by Ukraine and the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics” were exchanged. Shortly after, Ukrainian media started to discuss a possible second round of exchanges, although there is yet no word about concrete dates or who might be freed. Meanwhile, volunteers and NGOs have started drafting legislation that could define the rights of people taken hostage and their role in the Minsk Agreements.</p><h2>“You can’t live in the DNR now and still love Ukraine”</h2><p dir="ltr">Volodymyr Fomichov spent over two years in the hands of “Donetsk People’s Republic” law enforcement. In August 2016, Fomichov was abducted, in front of his parents, from his home in the city of Makiivka near Donetsk, where he was accused of extremist activity and treason. In December 2017, he was released as part of the prisoner exchange.</p><p dir="ltr">Before war broke out in Ukraine, Vladimir was a member of the <a href="http://fri.com.ua/">Regional Initiatives Foundation</a> (FRI), a student organisation aimed at developing leadership abilities in young people and campaigning for reforms in education, student support and rights. During Euromaidan, Fomichov supported a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">similar initiative in Donetsk</a>, but moved to Kyiv as soon as the armed conflict broke out. He started working with <a href="https://centreua.org/en/about-us/">Centre UA</a>, which monitors the effectiveness of members of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and drafts reformist legislation.</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/fomichev_lenon_donetsk_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/fomichev_lenon_donetsk_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="767" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Fomichev beside the statue of Lenin in Donetsk. A week later, he was arrested. Photo: Vladimir Fomichev / Facebook.</span></span></span>In the summer of 2016, Fomichov came to visit his parents in Donetsk. He announced his arrival on his Facebook page, posting a selfie standing beside the statue of Lenin with the caption: “Lenin in Donetsk. Lenin who has been torn down”. A week later, he was arrested. His parents said that when they entered his room he was already handcuffed and there were signs that he had been beaten. In 2015, it seems, an FRI colleague of Volodymyr’s in Donetsk had given information about him to the DNR authorities. Volodymyr himself says that he has proof, but doesn’t know the possible motives and reasons they might have had. They had met for the last time, Fomichov says, before the war and he didn’t know what happened to Roman later. The two didn’t meet during his investigation.</p><p dir="ltr">I caught up with Volodymyr a few days after he left Kyiv’s Feofaniya rehabilitation centre in the south of the city. He tells me that during his time at the centre, he tried to engage with the media and NGOs as little as possible. But in that short time, he managed to take part in a <a href="https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-society/2380262-v-rade-sostoalas-vstreca-s-osvobozdennymi-zaloznikami.html">Verkhovna Rada meeting with foreign diplomats</a> where he spoke about conditions in the DNR prison system.</p><p dir="ltr">Fomichov tells me that he saw a lot during his time under arrest and only pleaded guilty at his trial because he knew that the verdict was inevitable. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison plus an extra year suspended sentence without the right to leave the DNR. Fomichov spent most of his sentence in solitary confinement, apart from time in a prison colony in Horlivka.</p><p dir="ltr">“I read a lot, including literature in Ukrainian that I found in the prison library,” he tells me. “I also listened to the radio, mostly Ukrainian stations – we couldn’t pick up either Russian or DNR stuff. There were the usual prison regulations and routine.I wasn’t considered an important political prisoner and didn’t have any ‘special’ conditions.”</p><p dir="ltr">On some days at the Horlivka colony, Fomichev was given administrative duties and could see what was happening in the town. There was no shooting or bombardment to be heard, but the town was sinking into an ever deeper state of depression, with no jobs outside the “state sector”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There was no shooting or bombardment to be heard, but the town was sinking into an ever deeper state of depression</p><p>“You blame people for going to work in a prison,” says Fomichev. “There’s no work around, everything’s at a complete standstill. I met all kinds of people there, both inmates and staff. Some would even break the rules and let me use their mobile to phone my parents and friends in Kyiv.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Fomichov, the DNR is attempting to run a system with proper rules, to create a bureaucratic apparatus – all the stuff you have in a state system. They even theoretically have an Ombudsperson. However, Darya Morozova, who is supposedly fulfilling this role in the DNR, never once replied to Fomichev’s parents’ letters or visited him in prison.</p><p dir="ltr">But perhaps the worst thing Volodymyr has had to deal with wasn’t even the conditions in DNR prisons, but the absence of any rehabilitation system in Ukraine. Returning from his imprisonment, he was given a “separatist certificate” (as the employees at the passport office people called it) – a document stating that he was a displaced person. He refused, however, to accept any financial compensation from the state, arguing that 400 hryvnya (£11) a month would not solve his problems and he didn’t, in any case, want to be dependent on the state. At that point, there were no other measures in place to help reintegrate former prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">“After a few weeks of rehabilitation in the Feofania Centre, you are left on your own,” Fomichev tells me. “You need to sort out a place to live and a job. I have refused any counselling so far, although you immediately come up against all kinds of challenges after leaving prison.”</p><h2>Hostages of war</h2><p dir="ltr">Despite two official exchanges of prisoners between Ukraine and the “People’s Republics”, it is practically impossible to calculate how many people have been freed and how many are still languishing in L/DNR prisons and cellars. As Anna Mokrousova, a psychologist with the<a href="https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&amp;hl=en&amp;prev=search&amp;rurl=translate.google.co.uk&amp;sl=ru&amp;sp=nmt4&amp;u=http://hostage.org.ua/&amp;xid=17259,15700022,15700105,15700124,15700149,15700168,15700173,15700201&amp;usg=ALkJrhiv5mLTLEpu03_NYARV2gSeQq8h3Q"> Blakytnyi ptakh</a> (Blue Bird) organisation tells me, people generally return home after they have served their sentence, but there are some who disappear without trace. Or they could be imprisoned in one of the unrecognised republics. An entire organisation may also be imprisoned.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://pr-z.com.ua/Izolyatsiya_protiv_Prezidenta">case</a> of the Donetsk Isolation Art Foundation, a platform for contemporary art and cultural initiatives, is one example of this. In the spring of 2014, the foundation was forced to leave the former factory building it occupied and move to Kyiv – the building’s basements and exhibition spaces are now being used to hold hostages. Dmytro Potekhin, a political analyst and trainer in passive resistance, is <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/36e6cb8c-458c-11e4-ab10-00144feabdc0">one of the people who were held in Isolation’s old premises</a>. The “evidence” beaten out of him became part of a major criminal case against the Isolation centre, which was fabricated by the DNR. The art foundation is now planning to take all the related documents to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and demand damages.</p><p dir="ltr">Mokrousova tells me that recently a lot of people held in the former factory have recently contacted her organisation for help. At present, former prisoners and hostages can receive written confirmation that they have been imprisoned. To receive this, they need to contact the<a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/CentrZvilnennya/about/?ref=page_internal"> “Prisoner Liberation Centre”</a> or bring their evidence to the prosecutor’s office. In that case, according to volunteers and civil activists, the evidence must be in the form of an official record. Aggrieved parties can also appeal to the ECHR for compensation for emotional distress.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">A group of volunteers and civil activists have started drafting legislation that would define the rights of hostages</p><p dir="ltr">The initiative for specific legislation dealing with former prisoners has been taken by a group of volunteers and civic activists, including people from the human rights group <a href="https://helsinki.org.ua/pravozahysna-hrupa-sich/">Sich</a>, <a href="https://bezbroni.net/organization/gromadska-organizacia-forpost">Forpost</a>, which helps veterans adapt to civilian life, and <a href="http://hostage.org.ua/category/novosti/">Blakytnyi Ptakh</a>. But this legislation is also the idea of former prisoners themselves, such as <a href="https://censor.net.ua/resonance/463914/volonter_grajdanin_rf_anatoliyi_polyakov_vo_vremya_plena_v_lnr_so_mnoyi_proizoshla_nasilstvennaya_ukrainizatsiya">Anatoly Polyakov</a>, a Russian citizen who volunteered during and after Maidan, and who spent nine months as a prisoner. In November 2017, Polyakov and other ex-hostages set up a new organisation, the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/%D0%A3%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%97%D0%BD%D1%81%D1%8C%D0%BA%D0%B0-%D0%B0%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%86%D1%96%D0%B0%D1%86%D1%96%D1%8F-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%85-958140977670749/">Ukrainian Prisoners’ Association</a>, to defend the interests of this unprotected group.</p><p dir="ltr">Polyakov had already decided on the main aims of the organisation: to have a representative of prisoners’ families included in the Minsk contact group; to create a parliamentary commission on how best to rehabilitate prisoners; to restart the exchange process and to ensure that all hostages were recognised as such.</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/fomichev_kurina_ganzha_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/fomichev_kurina_ganzha_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'>After the return: Vladimir Fomichev with journalists Lesia Ganzha and Aksinya Kurina. Photo: Aksinya Kurina.</span></span></span>Later in November 2017, Ihor Mamontov, an assistant to parliamentarian Yuri Shukhevych (a nationalist politician, himself an ex-political prisoner in the Soviet Union) <a href="https://hromadskeradio.org/programs/kyiv-donbas/poka-zakon-ny-plennykov-ny-osvobozhdennyh-ne-zashchyshchaet-ukraynskaya-assocyacyya-plennyh">announced</a> on the independent Hromadske Radio that the initiative would be known as the “Law on people unlawfully deprived of their freedom” and would begin by defining the rights of civilians imprisoned during a conflict. The new law would not give them prisoner of war status: as Mamontov pointed out, Ukraine is a signatory to the Hague and Geneva conventions that govern that status. He also commented on the structure of the new law, which would have two main parts. The first would concern hostage status per se, which would apply to citizens unlawfully deprived of their freedom or unlawfully held in places of detention or places functioning as such, as well as unlawfully convicted citizens given prison sentences in the Russian Federation. The status of an unlawfully convicted person could be determined through the courts: Ukrainian courts would set up a procedure for establishing this legal status.</p><p dir="ltr">“The agreement with the Ministry of Social Policy and other relevant ministries that will ensure compliance with the law is now being concluded,” said Mamontov.</p><p dir="ltr">The second part of the law, he continued, would define the social provision for people affected by the issue: treatment and rehabilitation; the right to free legal services; the provision of immediate material needs (temporary social housing for the period of Kyiv’s anti-terrorist operation; financial compensation for the period of detention or detention as a result of unlawful conviction by a foreign state; the right to postpone loan repayments).</p><p dir="ltr">Polyakov said earlier that there was a good team drafting it, and the volunteers had been assured of support from parliamentarians. The volunteers are sure they will have the support of the Verkhovna Rada: the hostage law, they believe, can, after all, provide a basis for the proper reintegration not just of people affected by it, but of the region as a whole.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The hostage law can provide a basis for the reintegration not just of people affected by it, but of the region as a whole</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s Ombudsperson Valeriya Lutkovska also <a href="https://donpress.com/news/13-01-2018-v-rade-gotovyat-zakonoproekt-o-statuse-plennyh-v-ldnr">believes</a> that the legal definition of hostage status is a good idea: “I very much like the idea of introducing such a status and believe that parliament will soon vote for a bill to introduce it, so that these people will be given a status, even if only retrospectively, that will guarantee them a number of social benefits, support for getting into work and certain advantages in other areas.”</p><p dir="ltr">Valentin Krasnoperov, a political analyst with Silny Hromady (“Strong Communities”) and Centre UA disagrees. He sees no need for a new law. “I strongly support any public attempts to help prisoners. It’s right that NGOs should get involved in solving our country’s problems. But, unfortunately, when Ukrainians take a useful initiative, they always see it as culminating in a law. My idea is simple: we can’t solve all our problems through the state and produce more people entitled to social benefits. If someone becomes disabled, they should receive help as a disabled person.”</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/pogranichniki_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/pogranichniki_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="383" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2, 2018 at the checkpoint “Hoptovka” in the Kharkov region, the exchange of four border guards. Photo: Irina Gerashchenko / Facebook. </span></span></span>Krasnoperov believes that there is no point in discussing the issue internally: “There’s also the question of what issues can be aired in the international arena: how can Ukraine give rights to hostages if we can’t provide rights for Ukrainian citizens in the occupied territories? How can we help Ukrainian citizens forcibly detained in the Russian Federation?”</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the earlier statements by activists that the new law could be published in late 2017-early 2018, it remains under development.</p><h2>The need for security</h2><p dir="ltr">Blue Bird is one of the few NGOs to provide support and help for both prisoners and their families. Its leader, psychologist Anna Mokrousova, was herself imprisoned in Luhansk in 2014. After her release, she moved to Kyiv and some time afterwards set up her NGO.</p><p dir="ltr">She tells me that the first thing that she tries to ensure for someone leaving prison is to meet their need for security: remove them from the conflict zone, organise their daily life (provide them with accommodation and food and, where necessary, other essentials). Their desire for security, Mokrousova says, plays an important role in their reintegration: people return from prison changed and have to re-enter a different, changed world.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">People return from prison changed and have to re-enter a different, changed world</p><p dir="ltr">Another side of Blue Bird’s work is legal help and advice if someone has lost their ID papers or needs to file a claim with a court. Anna tells me that this is one of the most important things they do: sooner or later, someone who has been wrongfully imprisoned needs to receive satisfaction and the culprit needs to be punished. Mokrousova’s own case has gone through several stages and at present is being examined by an international court.</p><p dir="ltr">Blue Bird also provides medical and emotional help on request – Anna says that there is a constant need for such help. For example, although the prisoner exchange took place in December, some people only made their way to Kyiv later. There were several possible factors at play here: a lack of personal papers or a delay in the Donetsk or Luhansk region or in areas under Ukrainian control. All this can affect the process: the state, as a bureaucratic system, can’t react instantaneously, while Blue Bird can provide more rapid help.</p><p dir="ltr">Mokrousova tells me that any institutional help, from either the state or an international organisation such as the Red Cross, is designed for a short period immediately after release. It can, however, happen that people need both medical and psychological help some time later. As well as health issues arising two or three years after release, there can be problems with housing, say, or work. At present, Blue Bird can help people search for vacancies, but its volunteers can’t have any influence on potential employers. As Mokrousova says, it’s important for the person to realise they need to take responsibility for their lives and try to retrain, improve their qualifications and so on.</p><p dir="ltr">The need to feel secure that Mokrousova talks about is crucial not just for ex-prisoners but for people who are otherwise affected by the war – immigrants, soldiers and their families; witnesses and to war and just ordinary Ukrainians. This security, she tells me, is made up of various factors: social stability, a reasonable economic situation, a functioning legal system, working courts, an absence of political scandals and so on. A law about hostages is unlikely to provide this security if the existing laws and legal system aren’t working. Nor will such a law define Ukraine’s attitude to other important issues: Donbas, for example, or the reintegration of displaced people or people in areas not under Ukrainian control who have also ended up imprisoned and hostages of military action.</p><p dir="ltr">If recent prisoners and hostages are not to feel like a burden on the state, it seems that reintegration and rehabilitation require more wide-ranging solutions.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/how-eastern-ukraine-was-lost">How ‘eastern Ukraine’ was lost</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">Ukraine’s ministry of internal hatred</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/nikita-pidgora/ukraine-s-displaced-universities">Ukraine’s displaced universities</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 Kateryna Iakovlenko Ukraine Wed, 14 Mar 2018 22:14:14 +0000 Kateryna Iakovlenko 116637 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Kazakhstan, architectural heritage is a path into a forgotten future https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/owen-hatherley/in-kazakhstan-architectural-heritage <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the former capital city of Almaty, the move to catalogue Soviet buildings is an attempt to create an alternative history of one’s own.</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/564053/9632912699_2e4dc50d5c_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/9632912699_2e4dc50d5c_z.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'>Almaty outdoor. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Marco Fieber. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>There are certain cliches about the architecture and urbanism of Central Asia. Of course, there are the historic cities of the Silk Road, mostly in Uzbekistan – the minarets and domes of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, long explored by Travellers to the Orient. But when it comes to anything later, the image is of an empty desert or steppe where despotic rulers have imposed a turbo-capitalist dystopia, best suited for Instagram accounts and photo-heavy travelogues. Here, the emblematic cities are Ashgabat and Astana, one transformed and one entirely new capital defined by grandiose axes around surreal, oversized monuments, frequently to the “Oriental Despots”. The World Expo in Astana last year conformed to type – one journalist was banned for referring to the central sphere where the event was held as a <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/15/kazakhstan-spent-5-billion-on-a-death-star-and-it-doesnt-even-shoot-lasers/">“Death Star”</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Between these images is the Soviet city, in which, one assumes, nothing much happened except the same thing that happened everywhere else – prefabricated housing estates, concrete squares, now obsolete factories. Where that leaves a city like Almaty is anyone's guess. The capital of Soviet Kazakhstan (and then independent Kazakhstan until the late 1990s) is still the largest city in the country, but it seldom features in these narratives. It has no “historic monuments”. It wasn’t on the Silk Road. It has no contemporary follies. Instead, as the financial centre of the country, it is the focus for something else: “modernisation”, with luxury flats, a central business district and a new Metro.</p><p dir="ltr">The notion that the city doesn't have “heritage”, and hence that what it does have is of little value, was seriously contested at a fringe event of the Astana World Expo, in Almaty itself. Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art organised a round table at the Hotel Almaty, a building that turned out to have its own significance. It was designed by the architect Nikolay Ripinsky in the early 1960s, in a chic modernist style that you could mistake for Miami or Cannes were it not for the mosaic of folk bands and workers and peasants at its entrance. The conference began with quite sober papers defining and charting the architectural developments in the former capital across the 20th century, until there were some harsh words said about the renovation of another building by the hotel’s architect: the Palace of the Republic (or as it was originally called and as everyone still calls it, the Lenin Palace). Photographs showed a precisely calculated Brutalist pavilion&nbsp;– disciplined and ordered, with a magical interior of coloured glass&nbsp;– that had been suddenly covered over with mirror-glass and fake classical columns. Then, the architect who redesigned the Lenin Palace stood up to defend himself.</p><p>At this point, there was a furore, as he made excuses for what had happened. First, he pointed out that he had proposed seven different plans, beginning with a simple restoration, to the building's owners, only for them to choose the most destructive of the original fabric. Clearly reluctantly, he justified the change with a comparison: “In Soviet times, we wore grey clothes, and now we wear colourful clothes.” The speaker, Elizabeth Malinovskaya of Almaty’s ARK gallery, was not impressed. “I do not have words for the emotions I feel when I look at the current facade.” I tried to follow the argument through a translator, but it soon got out of hand. (There were claims about the drinking habits of the original architect and counter-claims about who really designed it in the first place.) This public argument about the preservation of Almaty’s modern buildings seemed to stand for an entire complex of opinions about the city's history and its future.</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/564053/36043803711_55a01deb92_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/36043803711_55a01deb92_z.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'>World Expo 2017, Astana. Source: Owen Hatherley.</span></span></span>Not the least irony in these events was the fact that this was a side-event to a larger event in the planned capital that has supplanted Almaty as Kazakhstan’s administrative centre. An exhibition at the Expo site was centred around <a href="https://www.artforum.com/picks/astana-contemporary-art-center-70192">photographs by Yuri Palmin</a> and quasi-architectural wooden models of these “utopian skeletons” by the Kazakh ZIP Arts Group. This exhibition proposed that the shift to Astana meant that, unlike in other Central Asian capitals like Tashkent or Ashgabat, the Soviet city was relatively untouched. This contrasted with the ferocious argument at the Hotel Almaty, and with how many people in the city describe their buildings and the spaces around them, often with a sense of loss, as an international “garden city”.</p><p dir="ltr">The most obvious quality of Almaty – especially compared with Astana&nbsp;– is its extraordinary integration of landscape, urbanism and vegetation. It sits at the foot of the Tien Shan mountain range, where it meets the Kazakh steppe, near the border with China. The intensity of the greenery on the city’s grid-planned streets is extraordinary. It grows onto the buildings, with creepers nearly covering limestone-clad Brutalist apartment complexes, and cafes on their ground floors spilling onto the two-level pavements, with fast-flowing irrigation canals rushing alongside raised pedestrian levels, usually audibly bubbling away while you sit outside and drink your tea. It is by some measure the greenest town I have ever seen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We had here all of the USSR’s intelligentsia during the Second World War. These people taught our teachers, they taught us”</p><p dir="ltr">Although you gradually notice the poor quality of much of the built fabric, the effect remains of a very well-planned city – especially when you've experienced Astana, where the vast distances and lack of tree cover or pedestrian shelter make it feel like one city’s unwinnable war against its own climate. But that’s not geographical luck on Almaty’s part. Beautiful as its mountains are, it is a highly inhospitable place to build a city, with strong winds, extremely hot summers and extremely cold winters, and frequent earthquakes. The difference is that its builders – in an era before air conditioning and mass car ownership – recognised this, and planned accordingly.</p><p dir="ltr">The Soviet city, renamed Alma-Ata in 1921 (after the Kazakh for “apple tree”) was initially a place where people were dumped, as much as where they came to create a new capital. Tens of thousands were exiled to eastern Kazakhstan in the 1930s; the entire Soviet film industry were relocated there during the war. Yuliya Sorokina, an Almaty-based curator, tells me that it's the combination of artists and prisoners (frequently, both) that defined the sort of place the Soviet Kazakh capital became. “We had here all of the USSR’s intelligentsia during the Second World War. These people taught our teachers, they taught us.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-TV-Turm_Almaty_-_3.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'>Almaty TV tower. CC A-SA 3.0 Michael Gurau / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The two names I heard most in conjunction with the Soviet garden city were Nikolay Ripinsky, architect of the Hotel Almaty and the Lenin Palace, and Dinmukhamed Kunayev, head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan from 1964 to 1986. Kunayev, according to Anel Moldakhmetova, of the campaign and research group <a href="https://archcode.kz/">Archcode Almaty</a>, was able “because of his close connections and good relationship with the centre, Moscow,” to “increase the budget for architecture development in Almaty and improve the quality of construction.” When Mikhail Gorbachev dismissed Kunayev i 1986 on grounds of corruption and replaced him with the Russian Gennady Kolbin, this led to violently suppressed protests. Among Kunayev’s proteges was the hard-working apparatchik Nursultan Nazarbayev, who succeeded Kolbin in 1989. He’s never left power since.</p><p dir="ltr">If Kunayev was a typical Soviet bureaucrat, able to pull strings for his people and for the edification of “his” republic, then Ripinsky was at the other end of the scale, a victim, then a beneficiary of the system. A student of the Constructivist Vesnin brothers in Moscow, he was deported to Kazakhstan in 1949. After Stalin’s death, Kunayev was made head of the state construction body Kazgorstroyproyekt, becoming the most important figure in the city’s planning and architecture, teaching a generation of Kazakh architects, and developing a distinct school of modern architecture, Internationalist with delicate local touches.</p><p dir="ltr">The low, long Lenin Palace and the city’s first high-rise, the Hotel Kazakhstan (which still features on Kazakh banknotes as an icon of Almaty), were intended as vertical and horizontal complements to each other. On the same street is the Three Knights residential complex, an aggressive Brutalist composition of three interlinked towers, softened and worn by residents’ insertion of new balconies and additions. The ensemble is completed by a silvery TV tower, placed on the Kok-Tebe mountain above the city. Later Soviet architecture, after Ripinsky, went further into a Communist-Islamic-Postmodernist “national style”.</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/564053/2-77917_small.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/2-77917_small.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="302" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Almaty's Hotel Kazakhstan was built over 1974-1977. Source: Hotel Kazakhstan.</span></span></span>The Almaty Circus has a twisted, yurt-like roof, while the Palace of Pioneers and the Arasan Baths combine domes and towers in what the architectural historian Boris Chukhovich calls the “made in Moscow national style”, especially common in Uzbekistan. Full of nostalgic and Orientalist motifs (golden domes, minarets, great marbled baths, ceremonial stairs), these buildings are highly atmospheric, but for Chukhovich, their visual cues to “The East” are often facile gestures, taken out of context, with little real connection to the actual needs and traditions of the cities in which they are placed. He argues that this has become particularly influential in post-Soviet capitals, a ready made sourcebook of how to make a new building look “local” and “national” – something that has evidently been influential on all the domes and yurts applied to the office blocks and malls of Astana.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Soviet Almaty was never an egalitarian city in which a worker could feel ill at ease</p><p dir="ltr">In that, the more abstract architecture sponsored by Ripinsky can seem like an alternative to nationalist kitsch. I asked the photographer Yuri Palmin, who <a href="https://www.artforum.com/picks/astana-contemporary-art-center-70192">documented the city’s Soviet architecture</a> for the Garage exhibition, whether or not there was any nostalgia in his lovingly detailed depiction of the city Kunayev and Ripinsky built. “There never was, and I hope never will be, any nostalgic element in my work with the architecture of Soviet Modernism,” he replies. “I’m 51 now and was born and raised in the period of most obvious stagnation of the Soviet bureaucratic regime when its cynicism and hypocrisy were impossible to hide under the thin film of (mostly imported) modernity.” Instead, these images are a matter of showing the way that the buildings are changed as they are inhabited.</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/tri_bogatyrya_almaty.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/tri_bogatyrya_almaty.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Three knights” housing complex on Dostyk Street.</span></span></span>According to Yuliya Sorokina, “Kunayev’s heritage is still valuable for the oppositional intelligentsia, but current state leaders would like to forget everything he did.” Partly this is a matter of taste: “It is not their style; they prefer Stalin's quasi-empire,” and in Astana’s flamboyant but cheap neo-Stalinist buildings, they’ve had a chance to realise it. She is scornful of the architectural aspirations of Kunayev’s protege. “Nazarbayev is talented leader, but he is a kind of primitive architect, let’s say. He uses architecture as a tool for showing his power.” At the heart of this, she tells me, is the fact that Nazarbayev, as a worker turned bureaucrat, was never fond of the city. “Almaty was and is a city of progressive intellectuals. Almaty and Astana are like two different universes. I guess Nazarbayev did not like Almaty. He felt like an alien here, and probably that was one of the reasons that he changed the capital. He wanted to build the city of his dreams and he did.”</p><p dir="ltr">However much it might seem to be a thing of the past for long-time residents of the city, the intelligence and elegance of the capital built between the 1960s and 1980s is still very striking to the visitor. It is so not only by comparison with the ruthlessly inhospitable and riotously kitsch new capital, but seen alongside other Soviet cities of the same era that were not able to resist Moscow’s pressure for standardisation and cost-cutting. Oddly enough, however, its recent buildings are distinctly post-Soviet, in a style which you can see in Moscow or Kyiv or Baku – concrete framed residential towers inserted into the green interstices of the garden city, clad in brightly coloured stone and mirror-glass, with no natural ventilation, and with the roofs given a profusion of domes so as to look “local”. Several are placed in the way of the carefully planned vistas of the 1970s.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Campaigning for the Soviet historical heritage has a lot to do with rethinking history and identity of Kazakhstan after gaining independence”</p><p dir="ltr">So how to campaign to save the remnants of this city, as it is being gradually suppressed and supplanted? Anel Moldakhmetova tells me that the work of <a href="https://archcode.kz/">Archcode</a> came initially from trying to create an “inventory” of the city, after which they “created a list of 100 objects which we published in the form of an online catalogue, to start a conversation with the public about the importance and value of these buildings.” So far this is proving to be a difficult task, “taking into account that architects and restoration professionals often have to compromise their values to their clients”, who are in her words “shaping the architectural landscape of the city based on their personal tastes and beliefs”. (Something obvious when the hapless architect of the restored Lenin Palace tried to defend himself by blaming the client.)</p><p dir="ltr">There was no public oversight over the rebuilding of the Lenin Palace, so “construction works started before anyone could realise what was happening”. It happened so fast that it “became an object of discussion and criticism only after all the works have been done.” For Moldakhmetova, “campaigning for the Soviet historical heritage has a lot to do with rethinking history and identity of Kazakhstan after gaining independence”, and that may be the problem.</p><p dir="ltr">In terms of approaches to architecture and planning, if not in personnel, there is little in the way of continuity between Kunayev’s rule and Nazarbayev. “After independence many useful traditions of Soviet construction and approaches to the formation of visual style of the buildings were forgotten, and new approaches are mostly dictated by the availability of cheap imported materials from China and Turkey and interest in the maximum profit from the most minimal investment.” There is a rush for “western” solutions in order to make the city look less “Soviet”, which have the paradoxical but common effect of making Almaty look not so much “normal” and “European”, as intended, but distinctly post-Soviet, with a rejection of long-term planning and architectural education that is common across the former USSR. Not only that, some of the new structures look not so much Soviet as Stalinist. The Almaty Metro is typical here, with its vast baroque marble halls and framed portraits of the leader, a peculiar post-modernist reproduction of Moscow in 1938. In that context, the Soviet modernist city stands out all the more.</p><p dir="ltr">By all means, Soviet Almaty was never an egalitarian city in which a worker could feel ill at ease. Buildings were never particularly well-built, and local democracy was irrelevant. However, all these are equally true of post-Soviet Almaty, along with other questions altogether – a carelessness about planning, ignorance of climate and the embrace of totally standardised, off-the-peg solutions (ironically something the centre of Soviet Almaty rejected). The research into, and campaigns around the Soviet capital are attempts to find a qualitatively better city, an artistically planned, holistic garden city of granite, greenery and geometry, rather than a globalised Eurasian outpost of adverts, mirror-glass and oligarchic financial power.</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/nick-kochan/kazakhstan-%E2%80%93-succession">Kazakhstan – the succession</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/luca-anceschi-paolo-sorbello/kazakhstan-and-eeu-rise-of-eurasian-scepticism"> Kazakhstan and the EEU: the rise of Eurasian scepticism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/paolo-sorbello/concreting-over-silk-highway">Concreting over the Silk Highway</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/luca-anceschi/change-put-on-hold-in-nazarbayev%E2%80%99s-kazakhstan">Change put on hold in Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anar-valiyev-natalie-koch/sochi-syndrome">The Sochi Syndrome</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 Owen Hatherley Kazakhstan Wed, 14 Mar 2018 22:04:07 +0000 Owen Hatherley 116646 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Reconstruction and restitution in Tomsk https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/galina-sakharevich/reconstruction-and-restitution-in-tomsk <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How a conflict between the Orthodox church, the authorities and the residents is playing out in this Siberian city.</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/cYaOdAXHnEwMINX-800x450-noPad.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/cYaOdAXHnEwMINX-800x450-noPad.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="250" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tomsk Medical Military Institute. Source: Change.org.</span></span></span>In the very centre of Tomsk stands a brick building, a listed monument in the late Russian style, with a cupola, arches and lateral porches. In 2010, the Tomsk Military Medical Institute that was based here, the only one in the country to train military chemists, closed down, and responsibility for the building was then transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the city. Over the years, the Tomsk authorities have changed their plans for this building a number of times: it was going to be an education park, an inter-university lycée for gifted children, a presidential military academy, a campus for a specialist high school and a museum.</p><p dir="ltr">Another of Tomsk’s listed monument, a second building belonging to the military medical institute on Nikitin Street, is in the same situation: at various times, this building was slated to be the district administrative centre, a sports and a cultural centre. However, in autumn 2017, the Tomsk diocese demanded it become church property&nbsp;– and this has not been a popular move with the city’s residents.</p><h2>Restitution</h2><p>“Under Federal Law, there should be a restitution of these buildings to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), since they have a religious purpose,” the diocesan chief press officer <a href="https://news.vtomske.ru/news/141409-eparhiya-zdaniya-byvshih-voennyh-gorodkov-v-tomske-doljny-byt-vozvrashcheny-cerkvi">told</a> journalists in May 2017. “Metropolitan Rostislav, the archbishop of Tomsk and Asinovo, has made this position clear on numerous occasions.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Tomsk diocese has the right to the restitution of these buildings because, a century ago the Tomsk Military Medical Institute was a girls school belonging to the diocese, with room for 600 boarders and its own hospital; in the winter its playground was flooded to provide an ice rink for the pupils. After the 1917 revolution, the building was taken over by the Soviet state and became a military medical institute (the building on Nikitin Street had been a theological seminary before the revolution).</p><p dir="ltr">In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper in 2002, when Metropolitan Rostislav had just been appointed Archbishop of the Tomsk diocese, he <a href="http://www.ng.ru/ng_religii/2002-06-19/6_rostislav.html">declared</a> that the church had no money and no need for extra buildings.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“These buildings are standing empty, disconnected from the city heating system… My heart bleeds when I pass them”</p><p dir="ltr">Later, however, Metropolitan Rostislav changed his mind, and for the last eight years he has been lobbying for the return of the buildings&nbsp;– first from the Ministry of Defence and then the city authorities. He has also expressed a wish for Tomsk to have the third higher theological academy in Russia (at present there are just two, in Moscow and St Petersburg).</p><p dir="ltr">Two years ago, the city’s mayor <a href="https://www.riatomsk.ru/article/20160301/ploschadki-tvmi-tomsk-plani/">announced</a> that a new school would be built at 49 Kirov Avenue in 2017. Tomsk’s parliament made a special provision and <a href="https://www.riatomsk.ru/article/20161226/uchastok-na-kirova-49-v-tomske-oficialjno-poluchila-status-shkoljnoj/">changed the status of the land</a> where the medical institute formerly stood so that a school could be established there.</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/_военно-медицинский_институт.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_военно-медицинский_институт.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="253" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>TVMI in its heyday, before closure and fire damage. Source: Wikipedia.</span></span></span>At the same time, the former deputy mayor Alexander Tsymbalyuk <a href="http://www.tomsk.ru/news/view/117570">announced</a> that, while the buildings formally belonged to the diocese, the local church was silent on the subject of their possible demolition (although in 2013 its head was actively declaring his intention to return them to the church). “These buildings are standing empty, disconnected from the city heating system, and are consequently falling into disrepair and in danger of collapse,” Rostislav <a href="http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&amp;div=50719">commented</a>. “My heart bleeds when I pass them.”</p><h2>Schools before churches</h2><p dir="ltr">The conflict between Tomsk’s city authorities and the diocese has been dragging on in part because the city doesn’t have enough schools – by 2025, there will be a 16,000 place shortfall. One school in a new district is working in three shifts, despite the Ministry of Education’s directive to have all schools transferred to two shifts by 2018. Some parents queue up overnight just to register their child in the first grade. New schools built on the land at present occupied by the old medical institute, as the city authorities planned, would ease the pressure on school places.</p><p dir="ltr">The diocese, however, is proposing the building of an Orthodox high school or nursery school, and it is supported by local parliament member and founder of a military-patriotic camp, Alexey Vasiliyev.</p><p dir="ltr">“The city authority, the legal successor of Soviet power, has declared the actions of the city’s previous authorities unlawful and ratified the basis, mechanisms and sequence of actions to return church property,” says Vasiliyev. “However you look at it, 70-80 years ago the church was deprived of its rights.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Given that the city needs schools – in two or three years the system will be at crisis point – the best thing would be to open an Orthodox school. There is a demand for them”</p><p dir="ltr">“People are putting forward very odd arguments: ‘The city needs leisure and cultural facilities.’ Of course it does! But if someone is asked to hand over his house for it to become a cultural centre, he’ll say, what do you mean – it’s mine! This [building] also belongs to someone: if you’re not ready to hand your property over, why should you ask the church to do so? Or another fine argument: there has been a church there for 20 years, but it belonged to the Soviet government for 70 years.</p><p dir="ltr">“I think the law has to be observed, and then we need to decide what to do with the site. And given that the city needs schools – in two or three years the system will be at crisis point – the best thing would be to open an Orthodox school. There is a demand for them.”</p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, there was already an attempt to open an Orthodox nursery school here. “Orthodox couples tend to have large families,” its founder Larisa Nedogovorova tells me, “and they have the means to pay for nursery education for their children. But there weren’t enough Orthodox families who wanted to send their children there, so we also took people who are tolerant towards Orthodox ideas.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Anna (not her real name), an active churchgoer and teacher at a church school, the opening of any new school would improve the situation with secondary education in the city, but there is no need for a specialised Orthodox school. “An Orthodox school would actually only differ in its holiday dates, which would be tied to religious festivals, and in having religious education as a subject instead of ‘The Basis of Orthodox Culture’ as taught by ordinary schools. As a mother, it’s important to me for my child to study with children from members of various religions or none: it’s more important for him to live in the real world, and not just visit it after school.”</p><p dir="ltr">This situation is complicated by the fact that none of the warring factions have the cash to restore the former medical institute buildings. Surrounded by a fence and trees, for the last eight years the building on the central Kirov Avenue has been reminiscent of an abandoned mansion from a thriller movie. And since 2014, the building on Kirov Avenue has suffered 11 fires. Three years ago, it was burned to the ground as, for want of proper security measures, it had become prey to looters. The building on Nikitin Street is also in a terrible state and, as both of the buildings are listed, their restoration would be more expensive than usual.</p><p dir="ltr">The diocese had planned to include them in the federal-level “Culture of Russia” restoration project, but that project ends this year, and may or may not be extended. And Tomsk’s city council, having laid out more than a billion roubles on building its first new school in 25 years, is unwilling to spend anything on the restoration of the site.</p><h2>Why do we need a new chapel 300 metres from a church?</h2><p dir="ltr">In May 2017, it became clear that the Tomsk authorities had given up the idea of building a school in one part of the medical institute, and in October they announced that the other building was to be given to the Orthodox Church.</p><p dir="ltr">Tomsk members of the national Left Block organisation responded by picketing the city’s main thoroughfare: “We tried to organise a protest demo against it,” Maxim Kot, one of the solitary pickets told me. “But they wouldn’t give us permission, on the grounds that an event was taking place on the square where we wanted to demonstrate. They suggested we hold it at a “Hyde Park” [a site designated for protest without prior approval from city authorities] on the outskirts of Tomsk,where there’s nobody except dog walkers and mums with buggies.” Unable to hold their protest, Left Block posted a petition on the internet, and got 1500 signatures.</p><p dir="ltr">In May, people also learned about the plans to build a chapel on Tomsk’s central Novosobornaya (New Cathedral) Square, where, as the name suggests, the city’s main cathedral stood until 1930, when it was blown up by the Soviet authorities.</p><p dir="ltr">“Novosobornaya was the square where the most important sacred building in our city and indeed the entire Tomsk region, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, stood,” Metropolitan Rostislav said in April 2017. “And our goal as the people of this city is to rebuild it, whether sooner or later.”</p><p dir="ltr">Not everyone agrees with him. Around 3,500 people have signed a petition against the chapel. But an open letter supporting its construction has been signed by local business owners, sportspeople and public figures. Formally, the city authorities could only get permission for the project after public hearings, which the city’s residents were insisting on. But on the day chosen for the hearings the administration cancelled them.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“They’re going to build a chapel 300 metres from another church, in a student city where there are no public leisure facilities”</p><p dir="ltr">The Tomsk office of the Russian Communist Party is, symbolically, on Konstantin Batenkov Square, named after a revolutionary exiled to the city 200 years ago after the abortive Decembrist uprising. Its walls are painted red and a bust of Lenin stands amongst the vases of flowers. One of the local activists is Valeriya Zaikova, who has been organising protest demos against the chapel.</p><p dir="ltr">“They’re going to build a chapel 300 metres from another church, in a student city where there are no public leisure facilities,” she tells me. “More people came to the protests organised by the Communist Party than had ever come to any of our events before. We didn’t lobby anyone, to persuade them to protest, but when we saw how many people were on our side we realised that this was a hot issue among the public.”</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/564053/1a34734c-50e2-47f1-a873-8656ec74cdd9_(1)_copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1a34734c-50e2-47f1-a873-8656ec74cdd9_(1)_copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Valeria Zaikova. Source: KPRF Tomsk Press Office.</span></span></span>After the protests, Valeriya, as the local leader of the Communist Party’s youth wing became a target of abuse from active churchgoers, a symbol of their hostility: a local Orthodox radio station discussed photos of her on holiday wearing a swimsuit, which they had found on social media. And one day Valeria arrived home to find her door covered in pieces of paper carrying threats. “I went to the police, where they said if anyone attacked me they could find them from their fingerprints,” Valeriya tells me.</p><p dir="ltr">There is now no further talk about a chapel, which the Communists see as a victory for them. But they are still hoping to set up some communication channels with the Tomsk diocese. “We’d like to speak to the people who talk about us on the radio and social media,” says Ivan Obydennov, a member of the Communist Party.</p><p dir="ltr">After party members requested official correspondence with the church, they sent their list of questions: why does the diocese, in their campaign to restore the church, use the argument that a church stood here in the past but takes no notice of the fact that there was a stadium here in between? What does the city council actually want to build on Novosobornaya Square? And who will decide which events can take place on the square and which will hurt the churchgoers’ feelings? There has been no response to these questions from the diocese.</p><h2>Silent conflicts</h2><p dir="ltr">This is not the first conflict Tomsk has had in its relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2013, there was a standoff between church members and other residents in the new Zarechny housing estate, where there were plans to build a church. The residents rejected this proposal: it would increase traffic in an area that was already congested enough. The first stone of the new church was officially laid and consecrated, but nothing more was heard on the issue.</p><p dir="ltr">Another conflict arose over plans for a church in the Kashtak district, at a spot used for executions during Stalin’s Terror. Both the locals and environmental specialists resisted: the building was slated to rise on an unstable site on a hill. After a few pickets, the subject seemed to have been dropped from the agenda, but last month a church was opened: a small, temporary structure standing beside the foundations for a large one to come.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Novosobornaya Square hasn’t become the site for a new church, but it has also lost its public and political importance</p><p dir="ltr">Representatives of the Tomsk diocese couldn’t answer my questions. At first they said there was no point in talking about a building being transferred before it happened, and then added that they couldn’t answer any questions without the blessing of the archbishop. Meanwhile, the church expressed the hope that yet another building that had belonged to the diocese, housing a concert hall with an organ and the local history museum, would also be returned to it.</p><p dir="ltr">“In the early 20th century this was the bishop’s residence,” says Elena Andreyeva, one of the museum’s researchers, as she points at the museum walls around us. “If we were to return to the church all the buildings it owned before the revolution, we would discover that there is also a household chapel in the auditorium of Tomsk State University’s main building. Other buildings that belonged to the church included the assembly hall in the high school in Mariinsky Lane, the Forestry Technical College and the building opposite this museum, now the NKVD prison museum.”</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_2018-03-09_at_16.54.10.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-03-09_at_16.54.10.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The site in Zarechny, Tomsk, where originally a school was planned, is now planned for a church. Source: sib.fm.</span></span></span>According to Andreyeva, a very large area of central Tomsk was church property: the Boloto district near the men’s monastery; the student residential complex of Tomsk Polytechnic University, where you can still see structures belonging to the demolished women’s monastery. There is also the area of the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seversk"> closed city of Seversk</a> with its former summer residences for the men’s monastery and the Predtchensk district where the women’s monastery had its country retreats.</p><p dir="ltr">The future of the the former military medical institute is currently on hold.</p><p dir="ltr">“The formalities haven’t been completed, so the transfer can’t go through yet,” I was told in the city administration building. At the end of last year, Tomsk’s mayor announced that “after long negotiations with the Russian Orthodox Church, we were planning to build a school there. But when the planners did all their calculations it became clear that the old walls couldn’t provide the space required. There would have to be major reconstruction, which would be much more expensive – running to billions of roubles – it’s easier just to build a new school.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I would say that after their fingers were burnt over the Novosobornaya business, the Mayor’s Office will try anything,” historian and political scientist Sergey Shpagin tells me. “Everyone is looking in bewilderment at the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/world/europe/24iht-moscow.html">federal law on the restitution of church property</a> [passed in 2010], but the guys at City Hall just want to avoid a new ‘raid’ from the prosecutor’s office.”</p><p dir="ltr">Novosobornaya Square hasn’t become the site for a new church, but it has also lost its public and political importance. At the end of last year, the mayor announced a ban on protests being held there, as they disturb people while they relax. At present, the square is full of ice sculptures as part of the Crystal Tomsk competition. A ice sculpture entitled “Shaman” won first place. The city authorities are evidently not keen on their main square going Orthodox.</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/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukraines-orthodox-church-conflict">Ukraine’s Orthodox church “conflict” takes to historic Kyiv</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniil-dugum/sacrificial-roosters-and-offended-feelings">Sacrificial roosters and offended feelings </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity">St Petersburg: in search of solidarity</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 Galina Sakharevich Cities in motion Russia Tue, 13 Mar 2018 11:18:06 +0000 Galina Sakharevich 116611 at https://www.opendemocracy.net For Eurasia’s activists, no place is a safe haven https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/no-place-is-a-safe-haven <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Existence of regional safety hubs is key to alleviating Eurasia’s human rights crisis.</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 2018-03-10 at 11.49.24.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="349" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhanara Akhmet at Kyiv regional court, January 2018. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>In March 2017, Zhanara Akhmet packed two rucksacks: one for herself and one for her 10-year-old son. Soon afterward, Zhanara and her son left their home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. If she didn’t, her lawyers told her, the journalist would soon be arrested for her reporting. As they were walking out, she looked into her son’s eyes, squeezed his hand and tried to smile reassuringly. Akhmet hugged him and promised they’d find a safe place.</p><p dir="ltr">They spent the next 65 hours on the run. </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“We first went to the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It took us almost one full day to cross it. We were hiding nearby, looking for a place to cross. The guards with guns, flashlights and dogs, were in the vicinity and could get us any time. My son became so scared, he had a panic attack. I tried to calm him down… We found a smuggler who helped us cross the border by river. He carried my son, and I carried our bags. My legs were freezing as we waded through the icy water. I could barely move my feet, but I didn’t stop… Once in Kyrgyzstan, we caught a plane to Istanbul, and then on to Kyiv. We spent a day at acquaintances’ house, and then rented an apartment.”</p><p dir="ltr">Since 2013, when she started covering the activities of Kazakh human rights defender <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2016/02/crackdown-dissent-kazakhstan-economy-slumps-160211175726278.html">Yermek Narymbayev</a>, Akhmet had been frequently harassed by the government for her work. But in 2017, the Kazakh authorities launched three administrative and two criminal cases against her, including charges of political extremism, for her investigative reporting and news coverage, as well as jaywalking, for good measure. </p><p dir="ltr">Akhmet’s case is one of many in Eurasia. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2018 <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018">report,</a> most Eurasian countries are at the very bottom of the list in terms of fundamental freedom indicators. With the rise of authoritarianism, the guardians of those fundamental freedoms – human rights activists, journalists, lawyers and other civil society actors – are increasingly becoming targets of state harassment. Unable to reinforce the rule of law and protection mechanisms at home, in some of the gravest cases civil society members have no other way but to flee in search of safety. </p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, the number of safe havens is rapidly dropping. </p><h2>Regional safe havens</h2><p dir="ltr">Ironically, the Iron Curtain may have fallen long ago for everyone except civil society actors – people who advocate for the values espoused by western states. No matter how grave the threats, without a Schengen visa, activists often have few options left. In Eurasia, possible destinations include Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia – states that are somewhat more democratic and respectful of the rule of law, according to Human Rights Watch’s <a href="https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018">World Report</a>. But recent developments show that these states are also failing to provide safety and protection to fleeing civil society actors. </p><p dir="ltr">Richard Kauzlarich, a former US ambassador to Azerbaijan and Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, says that authoritarian governments “don’t really feel constrained by national boundaries so that people who are unable to function in their home country are no longer safe in neighbouring countries.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kauzlarich, human rights and fundamental freedoms across the region are at stake when countries like Georgia or Ukraine, for which there was “some hope in the west that the political process was moving in the right direction”, renege on their human rights commitments. </p><h2>Georgia: a drowning island </h2><p dir="ltr">On a gloomy morning in late May 2017, Leyla Mustafayeva woke up in her Tbilisi apartment with an uneasy feeling that something was wrong. Mustafayeva, who’d been living in the city for more than two years, is a journalist and wife of Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli.</p><p dir="ltr">“I realised Afgan wasn’t home. When I saw that his side of the bed was untouched, I became frantic. I called our friends with whom my husband went to dinner the night before, and they told me they’d parted company in the early evening.” </p><p dir="ltr">Mustafayeva rushed to the local police station a few blocks away. Walking briskly up – and downhill through the windy streets, she tried to comfort herself thinking they’d lived in a part of town very close to the city centre. The area was littered with video surveillance cameras trained in every direction, the majority operated by the Georgian police. On the way to the station, Mustafayeva passed a large number of restaurants, banks and small shops in this lively part of Tbilisi that was just waking up, taking mental note of their own surveillance cameras. </p><p dir="ltr">“I realised my husband was taken, and when I went to the police asking them for help, they played along, feigning concern and ignorance, and promised to help.”</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/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi. Image via Kavkazskiye Novosti / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“When the inquiries were made later with the police as to the footage recorded by the surveillance cameras belonging to them,” Mustafayeva adds, with notes of resignation and frustration in her voice, “the response was that there was no footage at the time of the kidnapping because the cameras were being upgraded. In addition, the border post [between Georgia and Azerbaijan through which Mukhtarli is believed to have been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">forcibly taken out of the country</a>] still hadn’t supplied us with their footage. It shows that this kidnapping operation was organised at the level of the [Georgian] government. The police went to the shops that had their own surveillance cameras and erased the footage from them too.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of Mukhtarli, who exposed high-ranking corruption and foreign assets belonging to the Azerbaijani regime, the Georgian government’s official response closely mirrored their counterparts across the Azerbaijani border: “They [the Georgian government] even wanted to launch a criminal investigation similar to the one already launched in Azerbaijan regarding the illegal border crossing by Afgan, but when the issue drew public attention, I think it made them change their minds.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“We had chosen Georgia as a place to stay permanently. Since 2016, the situation started to change”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Mustafayeva looks pained as she recalls the immediate aftermath of her <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">husband’s disappearance</a> from the downtown of the capital of a state where they thought they had finally found safety. From the modest surroundings of her kitchen in Germany where she had to urgently flee and subsequently seek asylum, she remembers feeling scared: “I was followed. After Afgan’s kidnapping, we forwarded the pictures of the people following me in the streets to the prosecutor’s office. These pictures were taken by my friends. But we received no response as to these people’s identities or motives.” </p><p dir="ltr">Unlike law enforcement, Georgia’s civil society reacted strongly to the prosecution of Afgan Mukhtarli. Natia Tavberidze, coordinator at <a href="http://humanrightshouse.org/Members/Georgia/index.html">Human Rights House Tbilisi</a>, says that the incident was on top of the agenda for the civil society. </p><p dir="ltr">“The government saw how civil society reacted,” Tavberidze adds, noting that before the apparent kidnapping, the issue of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Azerbaijani activists living in Georgia</a> wasn’t a prominent one. But while Georgian civil society was strongly supportive, Azerbaijani dissidents <a href="http://iphronline.org/repression-beyond-borders-exiled-azerbaijanis-georgia.html">started reporting</a> that they didn’t feel safe in Georgia anymore. To many, this posed a question whether Georgia was no longer a safe hub for the fleeing activists. </p><p dir="ltr">Svitlana Valko, manager of Tbilisi City Shelter, a non-profit that hosts activists and journalists from Eurasia and MENA regions, says there are nuances. “If we look at hubs as a temporary place to make a stop and restore your resources in order to return to one’s home country and continue work, they’re there. If we talk about moving for good, it’s another issue altogether. Bishkek, Kyiv and Tbilisi are still hubs,” Valko says, adding, “…if you follow certain security measures and follow certain rules, everything will be fine if you are there temporarily.”</p><p dir="ltr">But for Mustafayeva, hunched over her notebook in a kitchen in Germany where she and her daughter are just starting to feel at home, the situation in Georgia looks less nuanced. “We had chosen Georgia as a place to stay permanently. Since 2016, the situation started to change. We started feeling that the government wasn’t too amenable to us staying there, but they couldn’t also directly tell us to leave because they didn’t have any legal grounds for that. In 2016, the first ‘soft rejection’ came with regards to the permanent residency. I’d officially applied for [it], and in spite of the fact that I had previously been granted such a permit twice, the third time, I was denied.”</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/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.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'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Author's personal archive.</span></span></span>Asked to explain the reasons for this change, Mustafayeva pauses. Her tone exudes quiet confidence; her deliberate and contemplative speech mixed with detached melancholy betrays no doubt: “When the Georgian Dream party came to power, the situation changed drastically.” She said that the fact that pro-Russian politicians have replaced the pro-European wing in the Georgian state “will make these safe islands [in Georgia] drown.”</p><p dir="ltr">But Georgia is not the only safe haven where things started changing. </p><h2>Ukraine: abusive security services, supportive civil society </h2><p dir="ltr">On 21 October 2017, Zhanara Akhmet was reading in her apartment in Kyiv, Ukraine when the lights suddenly went off. </p><p dir="ltr">“I thought, this is weird. I opened the door to look into the hallway, and suddenly somebody grabbed my arm above the elbow and dragged me out. There were a few men in plain clothes, they forced me to follow them to the courtyard downstairs where there were two cars. These men started twisting my arms, pushing me into one of the cars and telling me there is an Interpol Red Notice on me. I started screaming for help, and at that time, my son who was playing in the courtyard, heard my voice and ran to me. I remember seeing horror in his eyes,” she says gasping, her voice trembling. </p><p dir="ltr">The men didn’t provide any credentials, so Akhmet screamed at the top of her lungs until the apartment complex’s security arrived, and then she asked to call the police. When the police came, Akhmet was taken to a detention centre. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“These men started twisting my arms, pushing me into one of the cars and telling me there is an Interpol Red Notice on me. I started screaming for help”</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine is perceived as a “more or less democratic country in the post-Soviet space, but, unfortunately, there were recently a number of cases where bilateral agreements and Interpol Red Notices were used by authoritarian governments to harass activists that found refuge here,” explains Maria Tomak from the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MediaInitiativeForHumanRights/">Media Initiative for Human Rights</a> in Kyiv. Red Notice is an alert system that Interpol member countries’ law-enforcement agencies use to put criminals on “wanted” lists. Authoritarian regimes <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">use this system to hunt critics</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine is a member of the Minsk Convention (for Eurasia region states) and the European Convention (for European states), explains Boris Zakharov, director of the Lawyers Center of the Ukraine Helsinki Union for Human Rights, adding that Ukrainian authorities claim that they only abide by the European Convention. </p><p dir="ltr">According to this convention, a person can be detained for 18 days until the country that submitted documents with Interpol for a Red Notice provides further clarifications and evidence. Also, according to Ukrainian legislation, temporary arrest is compulsory and cannot be substituted with a fine or a release on bail. After temporary arrest comes extradition arrest, which usually lasts for two months, but can be replaced by release on bail. </p><p dir="ltr">However, Zakharov says, when processes are happening “within the law [as is the case with Red Notices],” then “we can fight, and we haven’t lost a single case, even during president Viktor Yanukovych’s time.” The biggest problem, he says, is “the formal and informal collaboration between post-Soviet security services. We have lots of such cases. And we see that Ukraine's security services are for some reason interested in this”.</p><p dir="ltr">Zakharov cites the case of Fikret Huseynli, an Azerbaijani dissident who became a Dutch citizen, as an example of cooperation between the security services of Eurasian states. “He came to Kyiv on 7 October 2017, to open the office of the opposition <a href="https://www.facebook.com/turantvaz/">Turan TV</a>. On 10 October, the Azerbaijani authorities filed a Red Notice against him, and he was detained on 13 October.” After being trapped for months in Ukraine, Huseynli was <a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/azerbaijani-dissident-fears-kidnapping-kyiv-attack.html">viciously attacked</a> at his Kyiv apartment on 5 March in a kidnapping attempt by men who presented themselves as Ukrainian police.&nbsp;</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/huseynli.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/huseynli.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fikret Huseynli. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>Speaking of Zhanara Akhmet’s case, Zakharov says when Kazakh authorities filed a Red Notice against her, “they knew her exact Ukrainian address and other details of her whereabouts. Such factors either mean that Ukrainian security services are so arrogant they don’t see their colleagues from neighbouring countries operating on their soil, or, which is more likely, that they cooperate.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“While Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies sometimes don’t know how to deal with such cases, we see good support from Ukrainian civil society and media”</p><p dir="ltr">Maria Tomak, who has also encountered these kind of cases in her work, adds that “while Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies sometimes don’t know how to deal with such cases, we see good support from Ukrainian civil society and media.” Akhmet echoes Tomak’s praise for Ukraine’s supportive civil society , but says her case was a vivid example of the Kazakh government’s involvement and pressure. “I was released, but I rarely go out these days. I don’t walk outside in the evenings. I don’t feel safe,” she adds. </p><p dir="ltr">Back in Germany, Mustafayeva is wondering whether there’s any place where dissidents feel safe.</p><p dir="ltr">“The deaths of Daphnie [<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/02/who-murdered-daphne-caruana-galizia/552623/">Caruana Galizia</a>] and <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/jan-kuciak-murder-slovakia-shaken-to-the-core-after-mafia-structures-revealed/a-42833645">Jan Kuciak</a> several days ago,” she says, referring to the investigative journalists from Malta and Slovakia, “showed that even in Europe itself it’s meaningless to look for safe hubs. If a criminal group or a corrupt government get it in their heads that a journalist must be killed, they can carry it out regardless of the location.” </p><p dir="ltr">One of the most vivid examples of an authoritarian regime targeting activists inside the EU is Turkey. </p><h2>The long arm of Erdoğan</h2><p dir="ltr">The Turkish government, notorious for its determination to target dissidents globally and particularly in the EU, went to a new extreme in late February. Turkey’s authorities <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/turkey-asks-germany-to-extradite-syrian-kurdish-leader-salih-muslim/a-42833078">issued</a> an Interpol Red Notice that resulted in Czech authorities arresting Salih Muslim, former head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria and a Syrian citizen. </p><p dir="ltr">A Czech court <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/czech-releases-salih-muslim-preventing-extradition-turkey-180227105106092.html">released</a> Muslim several days later, but Rosa Burç, editor at Kurdish media outlet <a href="http://theregion.org/">theregion.org</a> and a political scientist at the University of Bonn, calls Muslim’s arrest outrageous. “He is a Syrian citizen, he has been in Europe for two and a half years, he is participating in various international conferences, he is a very public and civil person, while they accused him of being a terrorist. He was released, yet it was possible for the Turkish government to at least detain and yank him into the courtroom.” </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_pa-21347346.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-21347346.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'>PYD leader Salih Muslim marches during a rally in support of Kobane in November 2014 in Paris. (c) Apaydin Alain/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>According to Burç, Turkey now not only prosecutes its own citizens, but even those of other countries. She adds that it was clear that nothing would come of this as the charges were fabricated. “Muslim was one of the people who mediated between the YPG and Turkey, he was in Ankara, he was welcomed, but now the narrative changed, and now anyone in his situation is being accused,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Jens Uwe Thomas from Reporters without Borders says the German government is generally very careful when it comes to Interpol’s requests for arrests. He says due to the high presence of Turkish dissidents in Germany and their active advocacy directed at the German authorities, the government has been continuously supportive. Thomas cites two recent cases in which the German government was actively involved – one of Turkish-German writer <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/20/german-writer-held-in-spain-on-turkish-warrant-granted-conditional-release-dogan-akhanli">Doğan Akhanlı</a>, who was released after being detained in Spain, and that of <a href="https://ipi.media/die-welt-turkey-correspondent-deniz-yucel-to-be-released-on-bail-after-a-year-in-prison/">Deniz Yücel</a>, the recently released Turkish German Die Welt journalist<a href="https://ipi.media/die-welt-turkey-correspondent-deniz-yucel-to-be-released-on-bail-after-a-year-in-prison/">. </a></p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Now our project is to get every Turkish journalist a German passport”</p><p dir="ltr">But Can Dündar, one of Turkey’s most prominent dissident journalists and editor of the Ozguruz media outlet, recalls that these two individuals were German citizens. He wonders about the “many other voiceless imprisoned activists or prosecuted dissidents”, joking: “now our project is to get every Turkish journalist a German passport.”</p><p dir="ltr">But while Germany is one of those countries taking a strong stand on Turkey’s crackdown, many other countries continuously abuse the system in order to further prosecute activists. Valko, who calls Interpol a “large, fat, clumsy machine”, says the organisation needs to review some of its practices. </p><h2>Interpol: a large, fat, clumsy machine? </h2><p dir="ltr">Bruno Min, Legal and Policy officer at Fair Trials, a London-based NGO that closely works with the Interpol, says that there have been some positive reforms at the organisation and cites <a href="https://www.fairtrials.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Strengthening-INTERPOL-update.pdf">Fair Trials’ 2017 report</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">“In 2016, Interpol introduced timeframes. Now, requests for access to information sent to them have to be considered within four months, and requests for removals of the names from the Red Notices lists within nine months,” he says, adding that before one could wait for years prior to hearing back from the organisation. Another change is related to the organisation’s refugee policy. Now, if a person is granted a refugee status in the country to where they fled, the Red Notice against them that originated in the country they had fled is deleted. </p><p dir="ltr">If a Red Notice is issued concurrently with the person’s asylum application, “there’s no procedure for that case, but an argument can be made,” Min says, adding that the Interpol also has political neutrality and respect for human rights provisions under which it operates. </p><p dir="ltr">He also says that the Interpol is often misinterpreted, and what stands behind the Red Notices is really just the issuing country. According to Min, countries don’t always act on every Red Notice they receive, and often it “has no grounds, the situation gets resolved quickly, like in the case of Salih Muslim.” </p><p dir="ltr">Among solutions to the Red Notice dilemma, Min suggests closer interactions with Interpol, pointing to the increasing number of extradition lawyers who are concerned with the existing procedures. </p><p dir="ltr">Zhanara Akhmet, whom Fair Trials helped remove her name from the Interpol list, however, says that the solution has to be more complex than simply addressing the Red Notice system, and include multiple components that would help strengthen regional safe hubs. </p><h2>Publicity, reforms and accountability </h2><p>Civil society actors, victims and western diplomats involved in this process echo Akhmet’s concern. Interpol is only one of the many tools dictators use to reach activists: kidnappings, surveillance, loopholes in other countries’ legislation and close cooperation between law enforcement agencies have been used in multiple cases as well. </p><p dir="ltr">Valko, with Tbilisi Shelter, says that, in order to make the hubs stable, the support of the host nation’s government is essential. “We work with the office of the [Georgian] ombudsman and are trying to cooperate with the municipal government. If this works out, we will be more protected in terms of the status and reputation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In cases of arrests and other attacks, Rosa Burç says, public support from local communities (whether in Prague, Berlin or Kyiv) could change things for the better. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“You never know why someone is crossing the border and why he or she is coming into the country this way”</p><p dir="ltr">Oleksiy Skobrach, a Ukrainian lawyer who often works with persecuted dissidents, recommends reforms to Ukraine’s legislation on refugees and asylum, revisiting the arrest and detention procedures as well as increasing the accountability of the law-enforcement agencies involved. Boris Zakharov, on the other hand, says reforms of the national security agencies are essential: “They should be dealing with matters of national security, and not like now, with every sphere.” </p><p dir="ltr">Tavberidze wants to see a Georgia where there are no illegal migrants: “In Georgia, it’s a criminal act if someone crosses the border illegally, but I don’t think it should be criminalised. You never know why someone is crossing the border and why he or she is coming into the country this way.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ali Feruz, the Uzbek journalist who spent months in Russian prison in fear of extradition to Uzbekistan, and was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">finally able to leave for Germany in February 2018</a>, says he’s been waiting for his Schengen visa forever, and therefore simpler visa procedures and local safe hubs in Eurasia are important. </p><p dir="ltr">Back in her apartment in Germany, Leyla Mustafayeva dreams about what improvements she would want to see if she were granted a wish with an unexpected laughter: “Of course, first, we would have changed the situation in our own country.” Suddenly, the well-suppressed notes of worry return: “If there’s no normal government, no democratic government at home, you can go wherever you want, reach whatever safe hub you want, those tyrants will reach you there with their long arms.” </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><em><a href="https://fpc.org.uk/publications/closing-the-door/">Closing the door: the challenge facing activists from the former Soviet Union seeking asylum or refuge</a>&nbsp;</em>- this Foreign Policy Centre publication examines how countries, particularly in Europe, are making it more difficult for activists and others from the former Soviet Union to seek temporary refuge or secure asylum.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia">A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">Revenge by red notice: how Azerbaijan targets its critics abroad</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-shabnam-khudoydodova/what-kind-of-terrorist-am-i-tajikistan">“What kind of terrorist am I?”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon/long-arm-of-despot">The long arm of the despot</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 Human rights Mon, 12 Mar 2018 05:23:23 +0000 Tamara Grigoryeva and Ismail Djalilov 116604 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russian activists face prosecution in the run up to the presidential elections https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-activists-face-continued-pressure-in-run-up-to-presidential-elections <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Law enforcement are prosecuting activists left, right and centre ahead of the elections, stigmatising public activity and protest.&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/sdy_bxm7qd8.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'>Denis Mikhailov. Source: Navalny Team in St Petersburg. </span></span></span><span>A version of this text originally appeared on&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.ovdinfo.org/">OVD-Info</a><span>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated detentions and freedom of assembly in Russia.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The well-known Moscow activist Mark Galperin has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/07/sud-naznachil-aktivistu-galperinu-dva-goda-lisheniya-svobody-uslovno-za?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">given</a> a two-year suspended sentence for two videos</strong>. The videos, in which Galperin discusses the possibility of revolution, were considered to contain an incitement to extremism. According to the court ruling, for the next three months Galperin is banned from taking part in the activities of civil society groups.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In Crimea, the home of left-wing activist Alexey Shestakovich was searched</strong>, after which he was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/02/arestovannyy-v-krymu-levyy-aktivist-rasskazal-chto-ego-perevozili-s-paketom?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">taken away</a> with a plastic bag on his head. During the search, Shestakovich was kept on the floor of the apartment in his underwear and in handcuffs. He was subsequently jailed for ten days. Along with him, trade union activist Ivan Markov was also arrested and then jailed for ten days. However, Markov was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/08/v-sevastopole-profsoyuznogo-aktivista-ivana-markova-otpustili-iz-ivs?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">released</a> early when an appeal court quashed the ruling to jail him.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Two jail terms in a row for one and the same thing</strong>. The coordinator of the St Petersburg headquarters of Alexey Navalny’s campaign for an election boycott, Denis Mikhailov, had not been able to leave the detention centre where he had been serving a 30-day jail sentence for organising the “Voters’ Strike” of 28 January before he was again <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/02/koordinatora-shtaba-navalnogo-v-peterburge-zaderzhali-srazu-posle-vyhoda-iz?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">arrested</a>, taken to a court and once again <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/02/v-peterburge-koordinatora-shtaba-navalnogo-arestovali-na-25-sutok?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">jailed</a> — this time for 25 days. And again for the Voters’ Strike. Only this time for being a participant in the protest.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Ekaterinburg activist Sergey Tyunov has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/07/sud-na-15-sutok-arestoval-muzhchinu-zaderzhannogo-nakanune-s-kritikuyushchim?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">jailed</a> for 15 days</strong>. He was arrested carrying a placard critical of Putin. On the placard was written: “If you want six more years of lies and thieving, then vote for Putin.” Tyunov was charged with a repeat violation of the regulations governing public assemblies. He has declared a hunger strike.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Following the preliminary investigation, the case against court secretary Alexander Eivazov has now reached <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/06/delo-sudebnogo-sekretarya-aleksandra-eyvazova-peredano-v-prokuraturu?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">the prosecutor’s office</a></strong>. Eivazov has been charged with hindering the course of justice and defaming a judge. The formal reason for the initiation of the case against him was that Eivazov had refused to sign an official record of a court hearing. Eivazov said that he did not sign the document because it had been drawn up by another officer of the court. The real reason for his criminal prosecution, human rights defenders believe, is the numerous complaints about violations in court proceedings that Eivazov had made to various authorities.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Twelve days in solitary confinement for bread found in a bedside table</strong>. Тhis is the punishment meted out to Alexey Mironov, a volunteer at Navalny’s Cheboksary campaign headquarters sentenced to two and a half years in prison for social media posts. Mironov asserts that he had not kept any bread in the bedside table. Meanwhile, the authorities are preparing to <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/07/na-koordinatora-shtaba-navalnogo-v-kaliningrade-hotyat-zavesti-ugolovnoe?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">prosecute</a> Egor Chernyuk, coordinator of Navalny’s headquarters in Kaliningrad, on charges of avoiding military service..</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The Commission for Children’s Affairs is <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/03/05/komissiya-po-delam-nesovershennoletnih-interesuetsya-synom-koordinatora?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">taking an interest</a> in the son of an Open Russia activist</strong>. Coordinator of the Krasnodar branch of Open Russia, Yana Antonova, has been fined in connection with the public event commemorating the death of Boris Nemtsov — an event with which, she has stated, she had no connection. After the event, she was told that staff of the Commission for Children’s Affairs were seeking to establish the actual address at which her ten-year-old son lives.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Politically-motivated prosecutions are nothing new.</strong> Recent convictions of participants in protests bring to mind a case of 50 years ago. We have published the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/documents/2018/03/02/zachem-bylo-tyanut-delo-sem-mesyacev-poslednee-slovo-vladimira-bukovskogo?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">final words</a> of Vladimir Bukovsky at his trial when he was sentenced to three years in a prison camp for taking part in a demonstration on Pushkin Square on 22 January 1967.</p><h2>Thank you</h2><p dir="ltr">As the elections draw closer there is ever more work to do. You can help us continue our work now and in the difficult coming months before and after the 2018 elections <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/?utm_source=tg&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=donate#donate">here</a>. You can volunteer to work with us<a href="https://medium.com/@ovdinfo/%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B4-%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%84%D0%BE-%D1%8D%D1%82%D0%BE-%D0%B2%D1%8B-c5a6f2e585ed"> here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</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><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/young-people-gathered-to-voice-silent-reproach-dmitry-borisov-s-closing-statement">“Young people gathered to voice a silent reproach”: Dmitry Borisov’s closing statement in court</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">The 26 March case: how Russia is cracking down on freedom of assembly</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/violence-and-impunity">This week in Russia: violence and impunity</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Russia's 2018 election diary Fri, 09 Mar 2018 14:56:58 +0000 OVD-Info 116578 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s elections: the rise and fall of “dramaturgiya” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrew-wilson/russias-elections-the-rise-and-fall-of-dramaturgiya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Kremlin is used to scripting election campaigns to the minute. But the 2018 election shows how they’re losing control.</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-35292625_copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-35292625_copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russian elections used to be all about <em>dramaturgiya</em>, meaning an artificial and carefully-scripted drama. Elections may not have had the normal interest, like an uncertain outcome, but they buzzed with all the drama of artificial conflict. In fact, one of the tricks of local “political technology” was to deliver emotive narratives to marginalise subjects that the Kremlin didn’t want to see discussed.</p><p dir="ltr">The 2018 presidential election, however, isn’t just boring. It’s devoid of any politics at all. If it is about anything, it’s about the politics of nothingness. It may therefore apparently not be worth paying too much attention, but <em>dramaturgiya</em> has been a functional part of the Russian political system for over 20 years, and it’s not clear how things will work without it.</p><h2>Switching the tracks</h2><p dir="ltr"><em>Dramaturgiya </em>has changed its function several times. In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was part of a weak state’s box of magic tricks. Russia’s leaders were presented as either a lesser evil against exaggerated threats (Yeltsin against the “red-brown” coalition in 1993 or against the Communists in 1996), or as a crusader against soft targets or threats that the state didn’t have the capacity or desire to properly confront (the oligarchs in 2003, the Chechens in 1999 were arguably both). <em>Dramaturgiya</em>’s main function was thus distraction, changing the dominant narrative away from the authorities’ corruption or incompetence.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Under “mature Putinism”, <em>dramaturgiya</em> became the key means of maintaining Putin’s mega-rating, at 70% or more</p><p dir="ltr">Under “mature Putinism”, <em>dramaturgiya</em> became the key means of maintaining Putin’s mega-rating, at 70% or more. This wasn’t about popularity in a bipartisan system like the USA, where the leader hovers either side of 50%. It was about creating and maintaining what the political technologist Gleb Pavlovsky and others used to call the<a href="http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/what_does_russia_think"> “Putin majority”</a>. Seventy percent or 80% was the level of loyalty that was expected in the system; a degree of opposition in discredited 1990s circles or amongst the intelligentsia mattered little, so long as the “majority” was intact.</p><p dir="ltr">The majority marginalised other voices, but most importantly it aligned political elites via a loyalty test to the script of the <em>dramaturgiya</em>. Political debate was replaced by a virtual chorus. The majority functioned as a post-modern equivalent of Václav Havel’s greengrocer in his well-known 1978 essay <a href="http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&amp;val=2_aj_eseje.html&amp;typ=HTML">“The Power of the Powerless”</a>. Back in the era of Leonid Brezhnev and Gustav Husák, it didn’t matter whether Havel’s conformist really believed in the slogan he was supposed to put in his window (“Workers of the world unite”) – what mattered was his display of loyalty to the official party line. The modern-day Kremlin script functions in the same way. It’s pointless to ask whether the Russian elite actually believes all the tropes, myths, propaganda and downright lies. The point is their loyalty to the overall narrative, and maintaining the closed circle of its reproduction.</p><p dir="ltr">A further change under late Putinism is that the <em>dramaturgiya</em> acquired a harder edge. Russian political technologists had always read too much Carl Schmitt for their own good. They now revelled in his “Theory of the Partisan”, creating a “state of exception” to justify constant, even escalating conflict between “Fortress Russia” and its enemies. And far from <em>dramaturgiya</em> somehow fading away, the authorities needed constantly to create new episodes to renew fading impact effects. Or, most worryingly of all, ever higher doses to maintain the effect.</p><p dir="ltr">One final change is that the record got stuck. In the 1990s, political technologists never really played the same trick twice. Since 2012, the refrain has constantly been foreign enemies, orchestrated by the USA, and channelled by the domestic fifth column. And in so far as the script didn’t change too much, its intensity changed instead.</p><h2>The empty election</h2><p>This all meant that <em>dramaturgiya</em> was increasingly permanent. It wasn’t just deployed to win elections. The majority became the means by which the mythical “power vertical” actually worked – not by the orders given, but by the need for the administrative machine to join in the virtual chorus. But there were dangers of too much drama. If Gleb Pavlovsky was one of the original architects of the system, one reason why he fell out of favour in 2011 was that he began to warn of the dangers of over-mobilisation, and of creating too many enemies. When I interviewed him in 2007, he said, “we have to prepare tranquilisation, not mobilisation”. And by 2011, Pavlovskii was in the Dmitry Medvedev camp. He thought he had saved Russia, job done.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“2017 is the year when the Kremlin’s domination over the ‘scenario’ ends, although it’s far from being the end of the Kremlin’s hegemony over politics”</p><p dir="ltr">But the Medvedev project was beset by internal tensions. Medvedev was designed to be a virtual liberal, but protesters wanted him to act like a real one. He was supposed to de-mobilise protest potential, but the spark for the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">Bolotnaya protests</a> was the desire for a first term of rhetoric to be succeeded by a second term of action.</p><p dir="ltr">What the protesters got instead was reaction. Putin overdosed on <em>dramaturgiya </em>with his conservative values project in 2012, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. The Kremlin was grappling with the need for internal-external enemies after Putin’s re-election, even before the crisis in Ukraine. Who now remembers the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dima_Yakovlev_Law">row about American foster parents</a>? Then confrontation with Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, sanctions and constant rows with the west took things to a whole new level. Ukraine segued into Syria. And America was always the Great Satan.</p><p dir="ltr">But now we have nothing. In<a href="http://gefter.ru/archive/23653?mc_cid=b303f5d162&amp;mc_eid=8c76d3ed3f"> Pavlovsky’s words</a>:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“2017 is the year when the Kremlin’s domination over the ‘scenario’ ends, although it’s far from being the end of the Kremlin’s hegemony over politics. All year Putin’s scenarios have been late, catching up with issues emerging inside the public domain. But in the minds of TV viewers, even Kremlin critics, the inertia of his former power reigns… The views of observers, their language and vocabulary, are aimed at ‘Putin’s campaign’. But there is no campaign.”</p><p dir="ltr">Unlike 2012, there is no overriding theme. There is no manifesto. There are no Putin articles in the press. The mythology of “Fortress Russia” is still there in part, but ritualised, with the option of taking it to a higher level excluded for now. The Kremlin toyed with the idea of a victory campaign, declaring an end to Syria operations many times over, and even toying with peace proposals for Ukraine. Putin would run on accumulated <em>dramaturgiya</em>, banking his fake victories abroad. But this proved hard to deliver – or more exactly, to stage convincingly.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Over-mobilisation has recently become more of a concern. The 2016 Duma campaign was almost deliberately boring</p><p dir="ltr">There are mini-dramas. Ksenia Sobchak seems to be running both to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yulia-taratuta/whats-wrong-with-ksenia-sobchaks-campaign">create a new pseudo-opposition</a> and to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/the-symbolic-meaning-of-the-presidential-elections">discredit a certain type of caricatured liberalism</a>. Pavel Grudinin seems to have passed his screen test to join the ranks of Kremlin outriders, a fake populist to ride the global wave of populism rather than letting it crash against the Kremlin unchecked. But there is nothing to make sense of the whole. (Though Grudinin, at least, does hint at one possible future direction.)</p><p dir="ltr">The changing nature of the Kremlin’s <em>dramaturgiya i</em>s illustrated by the shift from Vladislav Surkov to Vyacheslav Volodin to Sergey Kiriyenko as information overlord. According to one Ukrainian expert on information war I interviewed recently: “Surkov was a creator, Volodin a brutish builder, but Kiriyenko is only a manager. He’s not developing the system, just controlling it. This shows that Putin thinks propaganda works well, it doesn’t need further development. But it’s probably a short-term appointment, just for the elections.”</p><h2>A pause or a re-calculation?</h2><p dir="ltr">But because the election is a great big blank, we don’t know whether this is because of short-term or long-term factors. Whether this is just a pause or a strategic re-calculation.</p><p dir="ltr">Over-mobilisation has recently become more of a concern. The 2016 Duma campaign was almost deliberately boring. The obvious price to be paid was the fall in official turnout to 47.8%, although<a href="http://euromaidanpress.com/2016/09/21/statistical-method-measures-voting-fraud-of-russias-pro-putin-party/"> independent estimates</a> calculated it as low as 36.5%. In part, this revived a point made by<a href="http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/paradoxes-new-authoritarianism"> Ivan Krastev</a> in 2011; one of the paradoxical strengths of Putin’s regime before 2012 was its lack of ideology, without which there was little for protesters to mobilise against. The Kremlin is clearly afraid of the opposite scenario to 2012 (protesters after rather than before the election) because the election will not actually decide anything. So turnout, or more exactly real turnout, will undoubtedly be low this time (65.2% was claimed in 2012). Hence all the methods used to make it look higher, with a virtual civil society campaign fronted by ersatz NGOs like “Volunteers of victory” collecting signatures for Putin.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Kremlin is unlikely to risk further disengagement; it will not want to leave the old Putin majority strategically adrift</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s “conservative turn” after 2012 seemed for the longer term. But there were reasons to pause for breath in 2018. There were too many tigers to ride. There was the danger of what Mark Galeotti called<a href="http://www.intellinews.com/stolypin-will-2016-see-the-three-russias-diverging-83962/"> “fantasy fatigue”</a>. There was the real world, and the real-world consequences of too much virtual conflict, blowing back to Russia from Ukraine, Syria and the USA. And there was the accumulation of real world demands. Putin’s annual address in March 2018 didn’t solve the problem of defining what the election was actually about; but it made some nods in the direction of development rather than drama, without of course addressing the reasons why so many practical issues had been neglected. And Putin’s nuclear machismo pointed in the opposite direction.</p><p dir="ltr">In part, the Kremlin was relying on the momentum of existing <em>dramaturgiya</em>, on the script remaining the same. Everyone should know it by now. But the system looks old. Putin is tired. According to Pavlovsky <a href="http://gefter.ru/archive/23653?mc_cid=b303f5d162&amp;mc_eid=8c76d3ed3f">again</a>, everyone can see “the wear and tear of the outdated scenario-planning machine in the Russian Federation”. The whole show is empty. “Putin has become a pilgrim in his own country. Puzzled, he wanders around in the fogs of politicisation, visiting cities and ministries, like a pensioner, moving from dacha to dacha. The <a href="http://carnegie.ru/commentary/66534">“theatre of depoliticization has exhausted itself”</a>.</p><h2>Life without drama</h2><p>I won’t attempt to predict what will happen to Russia over the next six years. But logically, we can say what will happen without <em>dramaturgiya</em>, at least at election time.</p><p dir="ltr">First, the population is less mobilised. It is more of a spectator for whatever Putin decides to do next. Inevitable low turnout for the election, whatever the official statistics may claim, will be a damp start to the new term. The Kremlin is unlikely to risk further disengagement; it will not want to leave the old Putin majority strategically adrift.</p><p dir="ltr">Elites may also gain a certain destructive freedom. In ideal type democracies, competitive elections confer a mandate. The losers acquiesce in the winners’ right to rule. But if Russia no longer has a propaganda chorus to align elites, then they may go off-script. Clan politics will be more prominent; though individual clans will likely claim their own mini-dramarturgiyas, posing as “nationalists” or “reformers”. Ramzan Kadyrov is already trying out his narrative, as leader of a more radical version of Russian Islam. There may be a new Time of Troubles, but with competition between false narratives rather than <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_Dmitry">false Dmitrys</a>. And if a hypothetical succession struggle hots up, it will not be for the keys to the Kremlin, but the keys to NTV.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia may also be buffeted from abroad, or by the simple force of events. The whole world now faces narrative volatility, and Russia has played its far from small part in encouraging that trend. It would be deeply paradoxical, and unlikely, if Russia now took a back seat. As the election has been so devoid of debate and meaning, there is nothing to stop Putin ramping up the rhetoric again if he wants.</p><p dir="ltr">An alternative explanation for the current, possibly temporary, lack of drama might be the 2018 World Cup. The most prosaic answer of all might be that Putin just wants a free hand in a very uncertain next term. But he is unlikely to get it, having failed to define the script in advance.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andreas-umland/preparing-for-a-democratic-russia">Preparing for and working towards a democratic Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/what-is-russian-influence-anyway">What is Russian influence, anyway?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-morozov/kremlin-s-so-called-partners">The Kremlin’s so-called “partners”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-kolezev/ekaterinburg-presidential-election-russia">If Russians are ignoring their upcoming presidential election, what are they talking about?</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 Andrew Wilson Russia's 2018 election diary Russia Fri, 09 Mar 2018 11:40:01 +0000 Andrew Wilson 116549 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Alexey Navalny’s election boycott reveals the symbolic matrix of Russian politics https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mitya-lebedev/alexey-navalnys-election-boycott <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Boycotting the Russian presidential elections is the logical extension of the opposition politician’s radical street politics. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/zabastovka-izbirateley" 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/564053/800px-FEV_6460_1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/800px-FEV_6460_1_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'>Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader, at Central Election Commission's session which is about to deny his right to be in the ballot on the upcoming presidential elections. Photo CC BY-SA 4.0: Evgeny Feldman / Wiki Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Presidential elections in today’s Russia are often talked about as mere formalities, as procedures essential to maintaining a democratic façade. The outcome of the process is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/hope-for-russias-hopeless-elections">known to everyone in advance</a>. In public, the only person who can doubt the outcome is the one who is actually responsible for it – Vladimir Putin, who delayed announcing his re-election bid for long enough to generate rumours about potential successors. This “modesty” is an integral part of the game: the acting and future president has to hesitate (playfully) in order for the elections to gain symbolic weight – only then to announce his candidacy over rapturous applause during a visit to Gorky Automobile Plant.</p><p dir="ltr">But here’s what makes the 2018 election unique: doubt over the election results, which had been privatised by a key political figure, has now been expressed by unofficial leader of the Russian opposition Alexey Navalny. More accurately, Navalny’s large-scale grassroots presidential campaign turned out to be the form of that doubt. Eighty campaign offices across Russia, thousands of activists on the ground – this sits in clear contrast to the Presidential Administration’s traditional script. To say it more simply: Navalny has proposed a new, democratised interpretation of the elections – and, as expected, the Central Electoral Commission refused to register him as a presidential candidate, citing a corruption conviction (which, according to Navalny himself, was politically motivated). Once Navalny was barred, the campaign organically morphed into what he has dubbed the “voters’ strike”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Navalny proposed a new, democratised interpretation of the elections – and, as expected, the Central Electoral Commission refused to register him as a presidential candidate</p><p dir="ltr">Navalny made it clear after submitting his candidate registration papers in late December that he could potentially switch his strategy from campaigning in the elections to advocating a boycott of them (his chances of being registered were obviously negligible). “To go to the polls,” he said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz50vEX0nwE">pre-prepared video statement</a>, “is to vote for lies and corruption.”</p><p dir="ltr">This change in strategic direction precipitated the widespread boycott protests on 28 January. Held in cities all over the country, these protests resulted in 371 arrests, including that of Navalny himself. It has also sparked a broader debate on the point of staging a boycott – and, by extension, the meaning of the 2018 presidential elections themselves.</p><h2>The mathematics of the boycott</h2><p dir="ltr">This isn’t the first time Navalny has deployed protest tactics in an election context: in 2011, for example, he called on voters to cast their ballots for any party other than United Russia. The “party of power” ended up with under 50% of the vote (although calculating the effectiveness of Navalny’s tactics that year is next to impossible). Yet attempts to grab a piece of the pie during a presidential election whose outcome is a foregone conclusion, with a known-beforehand winner taking all, yield less conspicuous results. On the other hand, low turnout cannot be catastrophic for the simple reason that the minimum turnout threshold was <a href="https://ria.ru/politics/20061206/56559199.html">abolished</a> in 2006.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">As expected, the idea of ​​a boycott wasn’t received with mass enthusiasm by the liberal opposition</p><p dir="ltr">As expected, the idea of ​​a boycott wasn’t received with mass enthusiasm by the liberal opposition, which, given how fragmented it is, is by no means certain to get on board with Navalny’s initiatives. “It’s a delusional, meaningless protest. A great many political scientists have already said as much. What’s the point of holding a boycott? In all of history, if statistics are anything to go by, doing so made sense about twice,” <a href="https://www.svoboda.org/a/28945688.html">claimed</a> Ksenia Sobchak in an interview with Radio Liberty in late December (with Navalany barred from running, Sobchak is one of only two remaining candidates from the liberal-democratic camp, the other being Grigory Yavlinsky).</p><p dir="ltr">Among the political scientists and experts alluded to by Sobchak, there’s a clear preference for a mathematical approach. Simply put, if we want to evaluate the boycott, we must first of all consider its impact on the final results. The logic is simple and clear: if fewer potential anti-Putin voters turn out to the polls, then, in purely mathematical terms, this is going to play right into the latter’s hands –while Putin’s share of the vote will increase, a high turnout will still be guaranteed by fair means or foul. This is the stance of Yabloko deputy Boris Vishnevsky. Writing in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Vishnevsky <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/12/09/74854-pochemu-prizyvy-ne-hodit-na-vybory-pomogayut-kremlyu">stresses</a> that “as far as the winner is concerned, electoral success is determined primarily by vote share rather than turnout” – and argues for the theoretical possibility of a second round. Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin deploys the same kind of arithmetic in <a href="https://snob.ru/selected/entry/133119">this January column</a>, underscoring that the boycott will only amplify the significance of the elections in regions such as Chechnya and Dagestan, where both turnout and Putin’s vote share are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded%5C">traditionally at their highest</a>. Oreshkin’s calculations also imply that the probability of a second round would automatically decrease in the event of an active boycott.</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/564053/800px-Moscow_rally_24_December_2011,_Sakharov_Avenue_-8.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/800px-Moscow_rally_24_December_2011,_Sakharov_Avenue_-8.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="260" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rally at the Academician Sakharov Avenue, Moscow, 24 December 2011. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Wiki. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Generally speaking, this mathematical angle on the elections is subject to the following prerequisites: the elections are just that (elections) and the election commission’s refusal to register Navalny doesn’t render them a sham by default. This means that the opposition’s prospects cannot be reduced to those of Navalny, and Putin’s vote share must be reduced by every possible means, which, in the liberal paradigm, implies a vote for Yavlinsky or Sobchak. Turnout, meanwhile, isn’t treated as the most important piece of the electoral puzzle.</p><p dir="ltr">And yet, categorically dismissing the notion of a boycott as an appropriate tactic on the basis of numbers alone may be a step too far. As political analyst Grigory Golosov told me: “2011 taught us not to invest too much belief in mathematical forecasts because of their conservatism: they are made on the basis of observed electoral dynamics and are extrapolations of what has already happened. We cannot regard such large-scale social processes as mere manifestations of social mechanics, and a lot depends on the degree to which people are actively involved.”</p><h2>This is how it really works</h2><p dir="ltr">In a sense, Navalny himself is for this mathematical perspective, albeit with an emphasis on turnout: thus, he openly <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUakKvd0Uk8">declares</a> a decreased turnout to be the boycott’s primary objective while maintaining that his primary battle force is a <a href="https://2018.navalny.com/observer/">network of observers</a> tasked with calculating that turnout on election day. It’s unsurprising, then, that physicist Sergei Shpilkin, an active researcher of the electoral calculus in Russia, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwY0Vx9ie5g&amp;index=5&amp;list=LL_LI9UIdTrNyLSAqH1nEMWQ&amp;t=6s">put in an appearance</a> on the Navalny.Live YouTube channel. In one of his calculations, Shpilkin <a href="https://echo.msk.ru/blog/spilkinspilkin/2125182-echo/">stressed </a>that the boycott would prove ineffective in terms of the final result if all campaigning were geared exclusively towards opposition-minded voters. Pro-boycott campaigning, Shpilkin argues, should therefore be geared towards potential and actual supporters of Putin – precisely what Navalny is calling for.</p><p dir="ltr">That turnout does indeed represent a crucial element of the elections in the eyes of the regime is evidenced by <a href="https://theins.ru/politika/91224">specific examples</a>: local referendum initiatives, door-to-door visits by polling station commission members, and the notorious use of “administrative resources”, including appeals to state-financed sector workers to turn out and vote. As sociologist Denis Volkov told me: “turnout is a genuine issue, but it’s quite possible that the government will ensure that it remains high by mobilising the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-solovieva/don-t-count-on-administrative-resources-this-russian-presidential-election">state-dependent electorate</a>. In addition, the eve of the elections witnessed increases in pensions and salaries, and a withdrawal of Russia troops from Syria was announced as well, which, of course, represents a pivot towards Putin’s traditional electorate. And although there’s no utilitarian need for a high turnout, 70% is the regime’s benchmark – they’ve more peace of mind that way.”</p><p dir="ltr">As <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ilya-budraitskis">Ilya Budraitskis</a>, a left-wing commentator, told me: “A high turnout is important [for the regime] as regards the legitimacy of the elections; in the eyes of local authorities, on the other hand, it constitutes an indicator of loyalty.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In this way, the boycott seeks to emphasise on a symbolic level the illegitimacy of the interpretation of the elections put forward by the Kremlin</p><p dir="ltr">The electoral mathematics around the turnout question sheds light on the key refrain of this new phase in the Navalny campaign, which concerns the illegitimacy of the elections as such – that is, a phenomenon of a primarily symbolic order. Attention to the final turnout figures stems from a general refusal to play by the rules in view of what is believed to be a politically motivated registration refusal. Even Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has pointed out the connection between refusal and legitimacy, <a href="https://www.rbc.ru/politics/26/12/2017/5a421f099a7947e4f16c21c7">stating</a> that “if a would-be presidential candidate is prevented from participating in accordance with the law, this can in no way affect the legitimacy of the election.”</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_4_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_4_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Budraitskis. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Paying exclusive attention to the turnout issue, and that of that final results, can, in this case, give greater prominence to the significance of the boycott, which denies the Russian political system as such. According to Ilya Budraitskis, “a high turnout will be achieved, and Putin will secure a high vote share, so on one hand all the mathematically-inclined arguments are correct, but, on the other, they give rise to no political conclusions other than submission and passivity. The boycott issue is specifically propagandistic, facilitating the initiation of a discussion that isn’t about programmes and superficial differences within the existing system but about the system as such. So as far as propaganda efforts are concerned, calling for a boycott is very much the right tactic.”</p><p dir="ltr">In this way, the boycott seeks to emphasise on a symbolic level the illegitimacy of the interpretation of the elections put forward by the Kremlin, and, ipso facto, that of the entire institution of presidential power – the keystone of political reality in Russia.</p><h2>Street style</h2><p>In January, the popular <a href="https://t.me/hobbes_channel">Hobbes Channel</a> on Telegram, whose primary focus is political analysis, <a href="https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.ru/&amp;httpsredir=1&amp;article=1025&amp;context=political_science_theses">drew attention</a> to a scientific study of boycott strategies in authoritarian regimes. The results of this study were less than reassuring: a minor boycott that fails to attract the involvement of major political forces is not capable of exerting any influence on the electoral process and simply constitutes an additional mode of protest. As for large-scale systemic boycotts, the chances of subsequent democratisation aren’t really that great either.</p><p dir="ltr">The strike announced by Navalny, meanwhile, represents a situational transformation of a more general grassroots street protest. In the words of Budraitskis, “Navalny is constructing his campaign not in the form of an electoral campaign but as a campaign of non-system street politics. From this point of view, the boycott is an element in the construction of a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/alexei-navalnys-campaign-effective-management-or-grassroots-movement">movement centralised around a single persona</a> – a persona for whom every step is tactical in the sense of exerting progressive pressure on the regime and bringing the movement into the [mainstream] political area, with the key goal of abolishing the existing political model.”</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the fact that the “voters’ strike” that took place on January 28 wasn’t particularly well attended, it marked a natural transition from preparing for the elections to disavowing them for the movement’s activists. As Golosov notes, “these protests are necessary in order to unite the activist collective. In the absence of a massive upturn in political engagement, they can perform no other function. A massive upturn in political engagement can only achieved on the basis of certain results. I believe that Navalny himself is very much aware that whatever the results of the election, the effect of the boycott will depend on the results.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Targeted repressions against opposition activists aren’t the only threat to the boycott: there’s also the ill-concealed leaderism of Navalny himself</p><p dir="ltr">The authorities’ response has been telling: having decided to eschew mass arrests in Moscow on the eve of the elections and even to give the go-ahead to a small procession with flares, they still <a href="https://zona.media/chronicle/poslezabastovki">unleashed targeted repressions </a>(for instance, the St Petersburg campaign office coordinator and an activist detained in Moscow together with Navalny were both sentenced to 30 days arrest).</p><p dir="ltr">But targeted repressions against opposition activists aren’t the only threat to the boycott: there’s also the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/alexei-navalnys-campaign-effective-management-or-grassroots-movement">ill-concealed leaderism of Navalny himself</a>, who periodically stands in marked contrast with the active and ideologically diverse grassroots movement and potentially repulses possible supporters. The arguments of those in favour of participation in the elections often emphasise precisely the fact that calls for a boycott are, as it were, the flip side of Navalny’s striving towards one-man leadership of the opposition.</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_5_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_5_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'>The “voters’ strike”, January 28, 2018, Moscow. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>That said, it remains impossible to affirm with any certainty that the boycott is reducible exclusively to the figure of Navalny. As Golosov recalls, “when the tactic of voting for any party other than United Russia was implemented in 2011 – and with great success to boot, I think – the reason this happened wasn’t because the adopters of this tactic were all supporters of Navalny, who was little known back then.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Budraitskis, “a great many people refuse to conflate Navalny and the boycott and take to the streets simply to voice their discontent. There was a demand for a movement and a persona of this ilk, and that demand was seized on and instrumentalised by Navalny. If the movement keeps growing, it will inevitably outgrow him.”</p><h2>Elections without choice</h2><p dir="ltr">The effectiveness of the boycott, however, will not be so easy to assess. According to Golosov, “we will not be able to quantify its effect in numbers, even if we look at public opinion polls. We’ll be able to gauge the effect of the campaign from public sentiment, from the tone struck on both official and unofficial media outlets, and from whatever happens on social media.”</p><p dir="ltr">Changes in the mould of the cosmetic measures introduced after 2011, such as the installation of video monitoring systems at polling stations (to combat falsification), could serve as a possible indicator of the boycott’s successfulness. But measures of this kind, purely technical as they are, clearly do not meet the symbolic and pragmatic objectives of a strike demanding real elections without the removal of representatives of the non-systemic opposition. As Denis Volkov points out, Russian society does not as yet “understand that fair elections mean more than just fair vote counts – that they also presuppose equal access to the media and a level playing field as a matter of principle.” The boycott is the sole remaining means for Navalny and his grassroots movement to articulate this.</p><p dir="ltr">Thus, the voters’ strike should be understood as an extension of the general protest movement in Russia – one that throws into question not so much the formal institution of elections per se, but that institution’s specific, system-imposed meanings. As a protest against the stage-managed nature of the elections and the politically motivated barring of would-be candidates, the boycott actually only serves to emphasise how essential it is that this and other democratic institutions function appropriately. On the other hand, Navalny has repeatedly stated that the elections will not usher in a change of regime in Russia. This means that the main result of his campaign, which has gone from collecting signatures to the boycott itself, will remain a revitalisation of street politics – otherwise marginalised under Putin’s managed democracy.</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-kalikh/hope-for-russias-hopeless-elections">Hope for Russia’s hopeless elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-kolezev/ekaterinburg-presidential-election-russia">If Russians are ignoring their upcoming presidential election, what are they talking about?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/the-symbolic-meaning-of-the-presidential-elections">The symbolic meaning of the presidential elections for Russian liberals</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-solovyova/apathy-is-running-high">As Russia’s presidential election approaches, apathy is running high</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Lebedev Russia's 2018 election diary Russia Fri, 09 Mar 2018 05:34:31 +0000 Dmitry Lebedev 116533 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What does the flight of a controversial news editor tell us about press freedom in Ukraine? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/brian-milakovsky/igor-guzhva-flees-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After the editor-in-chief of a controversial website flees for Vienna, there’s questions to answer – both for Ukraine’s authorities and the editor.</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/564053/11825727_950811568274772_6739856184022127202_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11825727_950811568274772_6739856184022127202_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="357" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Guzhva, former chief editor of Vesti and now Strana.ua. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>Kyiv is abuzz with the news that the editor-in-chief of several popular and controversial media outlets has fled Ukraine and asked for political asylum in Austria. Igor Guzhva justifies his flight as a reaction to politicised criminal cases and the inaction of Ukrainian law enforcement after radical activists threatened his life. He claims that the administration of President Petro Poroshenko sanctions both forms of harassment and is trying to intimidate him into changing the editorial policy at the popular news website,<a href="https://strana.ua/"> Strana.ua</a>, which he manages. Two weeks after Guzhva left Ukraine, a Kyiv court issued a warrant for his arrest and the government will ask Austria for his rendition.</p><p dir="ltr">Guzhva’s flight has inspired expressions of&nbsp;<a href="https://cpj.org/2018/02/editor-flees-ukraine-after-receiving-death-threats.php">concern</a> from the OSCE Representative on Freedom in the Media and the Committee to Protect Journalists. In response, Interior Ministry spokesman Artem Shevchenko&nbsp;<a href="https://cpj.org/2018/02/editor-flees-ukraine-after-receiving-death-threats.php">voiced</a> a common accusation against Guzhva as a “Russian information agent of influence”.</p><p dir="ltr">This situation takes place at a time of heightened concern about press freedom in Ukraine, with international observers like Freedom House and the UN human rights monitoring mission <a href="http://novosti.dn.ua/news/279784-ehksperty-ukraynskaya-vlast-ogranychyvaet-svobodu-slova-y-ne-rassleduet-prestuplenyya-protyv-smy">raising the alarm</a> about frequent attacks on journalists, the <a href="https://rsf.org/en/news/ukraine-rsf-condemns-leak-journalists-personal-details">publication of personal information about “suspect” journalists</a> and alleged <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">political and economic pressure</a> on critical media.</p><h2>Kremlin mouthpiece?</h2><p dir="ltr">Indeed, many <a href="https://mediananny.com/novosti/2309119/">public officials</a>, <a href="https://mediananny.com/novosti/2310950/">media commentators</a> and activists see traces of Russian information warfare narratives in the materials Guzhva publishes and suspect that he is secretly funded by the Kremlin. Both Strana.ua and the newspaper Vesti, where Guzhva was editor-in-chief from 2013 to 2015, are highly partisan outlets that barely conceal their alignment with political forces opposed to Poroshenko and European integration.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, it&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2015/07/29/7076104/">became known</a> that Vesti’s main sponsor was Alexander Klimenko, an oligarch and former tax minster in the disgraced Viktor Yanukovych administration who fled to Moscow after the revolution. Klimenko’s ambitions for political revanche likely influenced the paper’s tone and became entirely transparent after he forced Guzhva out in 2015.</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_2018-03-06_at_09.41.31.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-03-06_at_09.41.31.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'>A search at Strana.ua's offices, August 2017. Source: Elena Lukash / Facebook.</span></span></span>Since then Guzhva has grown Strana.ua (using, he claims, funds from selling his shares in the Vesti holding) into a very popular outlet with a confrontational attitude towards the government. The site’s alignment with the Opposition Bloc (the political heir to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions) is visible in the sympathetic coverage and large space in the editorial section given to the party’s parliamentarians and consultants.</p><p dir="ltr">In the past three years, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), the Prosecutor General’s office, and the tax authorities have opened five criminal cases against Guzhva. These are aimed at alleged money laundering (with allusions to “Kremlin financing”), incitement to treason in Vesti’s reporting on separatist unrest in the Donbas, demanding hush money to spike a critical story about a Radical Party parliamentarian, and possession of a flash drive containing military secrets. I have described these cases in detail&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bryan-milakovsky/vesti-weapon-or-casualty">here</a>, but in short, there are concerning gaps in the evidence presented by the authorities. Not a single case has led to a conviction, and the head of Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists <a href="https://www.facebook.com/sergiy.tomilenko/posts/1407333969351463">characterises</a> them as “selective enforcement” by the authorities with risk of political motivation.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“Only the government has the evidence that could disprove suspicions of a ‘political hit,’ whereas its absence only confirms this hypothesis”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Ironically, the case that raises the most serious questions is the one with the least ideological content – the accusation of spiking articles in exchange for money. In July 2017, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/LarysaSargan/videos/vb.100001906009251/1532363710170481/?type=2&amp;theater">released</a> a video of Guzvha and his alleged go-between with the Radical Party discussing conditions of the deal in May. Guzhva points out that the recorded conversation includes no moment when he agrees to anything, that the proposal to withhold articles was actually voiced by the go-between and that off camera he refused to enter into the deal multiple times, while his attorney Elena Lukash (Justice Minister in the late stages of Yanukovych’s presidency) went further to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjhbE_XAUMo">say</a> the audio in the clip is an edited montage.</p><p dir="ltr">At the climax of this murky situation in July, the go-between brought a gift bag to the offices of Strana.ua which Guzhva claims he placed, unopened, in a desk drawer after telling the man to leave. Ten minutes later, police burst in without a warrant and opened the gift bag, revealing $10,000. In October, I asked Guzhva why he didn’t just order the uninvited go-between to take the gift bag with him, but he did not offer an explanation for this strange decision.</p><p dir="ltr">This case raises serious questions about journalistic ethics and suggests that dirty bargaining was going on. But the publicly available materials don’t actually show the moment of alleged blackmail that would make the case. Nor do they give credence to the idea that Guzhva is a latent separatist, even though that is the accusation that the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">increasingly radicalised public dialogue</a> is focused on.</p><h2>Rhetorical escalation</h2><p dir="ltr">Guzhva and his outlets have also been the target of violent words and acts from Ukraine’s far right. In 2014, an extreme nationalist group called Chesne Slovo (Honest Word) took&nbsp;<a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/59814-otvetstvennost-za-razgrom-vestej-vzjali-na-sebja-nacionalisty-vo-glave-s-rasistom-vahniem">public credit</a> for smashing Vesti’s offices. Later, Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) activists confiscated and destroyed thousands of copies of Vesti, posting a&nbsp;<a href="http://censor.net.ua/video_news/332115/pravyyi_sektor_otobral_chast_tiraja_gazety_vesti_i_sdal_na_makulaturu_video">video</a> of the raid on Facebook. Both groups claimed their acts were a warning against treasonous journalists, and no criminal case was opened against either.</p><p dir="ltr">More recently, Guzhva was&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2017/12/25/7166697/">confronted</a> and threatened by activists from the far-right organisation C14, whose name refers to the 14-word motto of global white supremacists. A recent series of&nbsp;<a href="https://strana.ua/articles/analysis/116203-chto-izvestno-ob-ultrapravoj-orhanizatsii-s-14-kotoraja-blokiruet-lavru-i-napadala-na-hlavreda-strany.html">articles</a> in Strana.ua alleges that C14 works closely with state security organs and receives government funding through educational and cultural initiatives it organises. Guzhva cites the fact that the police did not open a case against C14 as proof that “despite their constitutional obligations, they do not want to react to threats and obstruction of the journalistic activities of our writers.” </p> <p dir="ltr">After Guzhva’s flight to Austria, several politicians made alarming statements regarding the editor. Oleh Lyashko, head of Ukraine’s Radical Party,&nbsp;<a href="https://o-liashko.livejournal.com/506040.html">claimed</a> that as a result of the leaking of military secrets by Strana.ua (the “flash drive” case mentioned above), there were deaths on the Donbas front. According to Svetlana Kryukova, the deputy editor at Strana.ua, this accusation is unprecedented, and in several television interviews Lyashko has declined to offer any particulars. But Lyashko set the tone of rhetorical escalation, a frequent tactic for this well known populist and political showman.</p><p dir="ltr">Lyaskho would soon be surpassed by his party colleague Ihor Mosiychuk, a controversial nationalist who was prominent in the Euromaidan revolution. Mosiychuk wrote on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/igor.mosijcuk/posts/1594836937259734">Facebook</a>:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Dammit, when will these pro-katsap [a derogatory term for Russians] freaks ever be stopped from fleeing the country and be forced to answer for their crimes??? Patience is running out and there’s a chance that what happened to Buzina can be repeated many times! When the government is incapable of punishing collaborators and spies then unknown patriots will take on that task!”</p><p dir="ltr">Here, Mosiychuk referred to the pro-Russian author and political commentator Oles Buzina, who was murdered outside his Kyiv apartment building in 2015. The main suspects in the killing are far-right nationalists, though the authorities have also spoken of a possible Russian provocation. But Mosiychuk suggests that this was in fact righteous vigilante justice, which should also be unleashed on Guzhva and other suspect journalists.</p><h2>Taking sides</h2><p>Igor Guzvha’s case has created two widely divergent poles in media and political elites with only a small number of figures bridging the gap.</p><p dir="ltr">On one side are opponents of the Maidan revolution and the Poroshenko government in the form of disenchanted journalists and Opposition Bloc politicians. Vyacheslav Chechilo, chief editor of the business site<a href="https://www.capital.ua/"> Capital.ua</a> (which allegedly belongs to Sergey Arbuzov, the acting prime minister at the time of Viktor Yanukovych’s fall who now lives in Moscow) told me that in contrast to most other editors Guzvha refuses to make arrangements with the government to avoid negative news about the president. (These arrangements that do not extend, apparently, to the blogosphere where the president is regularly criticised.)</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/Screen_Shot_2017-10-19_at_10.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="245" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A still from CCTV that allegedly captures Strana.ua editor Igor Guzhva blackmailing a Ukrainian politician via a go-between. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>Thus Strana is a “real political threat” that “constantly spoils the picture of the world that our leaders want to present to both internal and external media consumers.” Interestingly, Chechilo added that the authorities nonetheless could have reason to investigate Guzhva since “in our country there are no transparent means to finance media projects, there are many unclear points in the law.” He added: “similar questions could be directed at any media manager in Ukraine.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We can’t ignore the rights of media with controversial editorial policies even if we don’t agree with their content”</p><p dir="ltr">On the other side are many liberal journalists, pro-presidential bloggers and members of his party and allied factions in the parliament. Taras Berezovets, a political consultant close to the president,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/taras.berezovets/posts/1747336805296314?pnref=story">wrote</a> after Guzvha’s arrest in 2017 that “Strana.ua is a Siamese twin” to the aggressive Kremlin media outlets Russia Today and LifeNews, that has “no relation to the free and liberal press” and which “knows only one freedom: the freedom of lies, disinformation and discord.” When Guzvha left Ukraine, Berezovets&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/TarasBerezovets/status/958802470091804672">mocked</a> him for fleeing to Austria, which he claimed “long ago became the most comfortable hub for all lovers of the <a href="http://globalinterests.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/FINAL-CGI_Russian-World_Marlene-Laruelle.pdf">Russian World</a>. It’s easier to love Russia from a Viennese confectionary shop than a bread store in Voronezh.”</p><p dir="ltr">But several figures whose ideology differs strongly from Guzhva’s have come to defend him on principle. Serhiy Tomilenko, a liberal journalist and the president of the Ukrainian National Journalists Union, told me that “we can’t ignore the rights of media with controversial editorial policies even if we don’t agree with their content.” The prominent Euro-optimist parliamentarian Serhiy Leschenko of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/leshchenko.ukraine/posts/674898365914168">insinuated</a> in 2014 that Guzvha himself could have staged the attack on the Vesti office, but by 2017 he&nbsp;<a href="https://112.ua/mnenie/istoriya-s-zaderzhaniem-guzhvy-vonyaet-397468.html">wrote</a> that the situation surrounding the editor’s arrest “stinks”.</p><h2>Time for transparency</h2><p dir="ltr">Guzhva told me that he chose to seek asylum in Austria after confidential sources in the Prosecutor General’s Office, the courts, the presidential administration and the SBU told him that an order had been issued to convict him on as many charges as possible. In his version, such pressure is possible because the sweeping judicial reforms pushed by Poroshenko have “put judges on the president’s hook” and reduced their independence.</p><p dir="ltr">There is, of course, an alternative explanation: the government has a real case against Guzvha and he knows it. If this is true, then his public accusations of judicial corruption could be a preemptive strike to discredit the government’s attempts to bring him to justice.</p><p dir="ltr">If this is so, the Ukrainian government must convincingly make its case to the public. It is not as if state organs have been reluctant to release materials from the ongoing investigations. Quite the opposite: they have distributed them enthusiastically, such as the video of Guzhva from the blackmail case that the Prosecutor General posted on Facebook.</p><p dir="ltr">But, taken together, they do not make a compelling justification for such intense legal pressure on a major media outlet. As parliamentarian Leschenko&nbsp;<a href="https://112.ua/mnenie/istoriya-s-zaderzhaniem-guzhvy-vonyaet-397468.html">put it</a> last summer: “Only the government has the evidence that could disprove suspicions of a ‘political hit,’ whereas its absence only confirms this hypothesis.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>8 March: This article has been updated to reflect the nature of Strana.ua's funding.&nbsp;</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/bryan-milakovsky/vesti-weapon-or-casualty">Vesti: Weapon or casualty in the information war?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergii-leshchenko/defending-ukraines-revolution-against-ukraines-leaders">Defending Ukraine’s revolution against Ukraine’s leaders</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/valery-kalnysh/goodbye-radio-vesti">Goodbye, Radio Vesti</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/what-is-meaning-of-journalism-in-ukraine-today">What is the meaning of journalism in Ukraine today?</a> </div> </div> </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 Brian Milakovsky Ukraine Thu, 08 Mar 2018 06:12:36 +0000 Brian Milakovsky 116505 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why are some Ukrainian feminists boycotting the International Women’s Day march in Kyiv? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kateryna-semchuk/why-are-some-ukrainian-feminists-boycotting-international-women-s-day <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With increased donations and grants to Ukraine from western countries after Euromaidan, the number of non-governmental organisations have flourished. So have feminist groups. <em><strong><a href="http://ukraine.politicalcritique.org/2018/03/08/chomu-deyaki-ukrayinski-feministki-bojkotuyut-mizhnarodnij-zhinochij-den-u-kiyevi/">Ukrainian</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/555493/17157757_1000281156738975_7145743407633217778_o.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'>International Women's Day on 8 March 2017, Kyiv. Source: Serhiy Movchan / Political Critique.</span></span></span>There’s been a number of good feminist initiatives in Ukraine in recent years — whether it’s the internet media platform <a href="https://genderindetail.org.ua/">Gender in details</a>, the Kyiv-based <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ReSewKyiv/">ReSew sewing cooperative</a>, the Lviv organisation <a href="https://www.facebook.com/feministworkshop/">Feminist Workshop</a> or the Kharkiv <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/441117112617365/about/">Week of Women’s Solidarity</a> festival, to name a few. But despite this, Ukrainian feminism stays in the same place it began in the 2000s — online and, nowadays, mostly on Facebook. It’s hard for feminist discourse to step outside of Facebook and reach the public; it doesn’t have a solid existence in Ukrainian academia. In addition, there’s another problem, one that is common to most feminist movements: inconsistency and division over differing views on gender, the rights of LGBTQ people, sex workers and others.</p><p dir="ltr">So, for Ukrainian feminists, 8 March is particularly important because it’s one of the few opportunities for public action. But every year, the period leading up to International Women’s Day is when the country’s passive online feminist movement experiences its deepest crisis. All of Ukrainian feminism’s inner conflicts come to the surface when a public event addressing the fight for women’s rights is being planned.</p><p dir="ltr">First, a short (and necessary) historical excursion. In 2017, Ukraine witnessed a controversy (predominantly on Facebook) around celebrating International Women’s Day after the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance (UINR) created a new draft state calendar. This was a list of public holidays in which all of the “communist” public holidays would be erased as part of decommunisation. International Women’s Day was, naturally, among them.</p><p dir="ltr">The main argument of Volodymyr Viatrovych, who heads UINR and initiated the “new calendar”, was that an occasion when men give women spring flowers and perfume to celebrate their beauty — that’s what 8 March is in Ukraine — shouldn’t be a state holiday. But after Viatrovych received a wave of criticism, he proposed to change 8 March from International Women’s Day to the “Day of Struggle for Women’s Rights”, though he still wanted to deprive it the status of a public holiday. What’s important here is how the effort to erase 8 March as a communist holiday received more attention than ever. Ukrainian society discussed the subject of International Women’s Day at length: Does it deserve to be a day off? Is it a communist holiday? Do women in Ukraine need it? This discussion lasted for two months before the holiday itself and, when it came to it, many people came to the march to show their support for the status quo.</p><p dir="ltr">How will it be this year? It seems that, in 2018, there are few controversies around 8 March. Instead, there are internal scandals.</p><p dir="ltr">This year, the march in Kyiv on International Women’s Day under the slogan <a href="https://www.facebook.com/events/1502684193162219/">“Tolerate no more”</a> has, typically, no specific political goals, aside from ratifying the Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence. The main organiser (<a href="http://www.insight-ukraine.org/en">Insight</a>, a prominent LGBTQ non-governmental organisation) declared that they aimed to repeat <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/21/protests-around-world-show-solidarity-with-womens-march-on-washington">what women in Washington did in January 2017</a> in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration, and that they will march to address the same issues. There was no open discussion on what the march’s agenda should be, and it was decided to make “disrespect at work”, “domestic violence” and “rudeness in the streets” the three main themes.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/17218687_1000278936739197_599687029098470656_o.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'>Rhythms of Resistance on 8 March, 2017. Source: Serhiy Movchan / Political Critique. </span></span></span>The first to speak out were <a href="https://www.facebook.com/KyivROR/">Rhythms of Resistance</a>, Ukraine’s only samba band. Rhythms of Resistance, an independent, self-organised anti-homophobic, anti-racist and anarchist group, has been involved for three consecutive years as co-organisers of 8 March. In their <a href="https://www.facebook.com/KyivROR/photos/a.839433239426184.1073741828.839309446105230/1594578413911659/?type=3">statement</a> on Facebook, they expressed their lack of confidence in the organisers after the march was organised in this way. The band were against the march’s agenda, as well as the intention to create their own samba band and the usage of a particular font in the Women’s March poster (it is similar to that of a prominent ultra-nationalist group).</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“The very text of the event [on Facebook] does not speak of racism, which has only intensified in the country, about the transphobia, that has become the ‘business card’ of mainstream feminism in Ukraine, it doesn’t speak about women involved in sex work, those who use drugs, non-citizens of Ukraine, lesbians, Roma people, people with HIV and other vulnerable groups.”</p><p dir="ltr">Another important voice in this discussion was raised by the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/queeranarchofem/">“Queer Anarcho-Feminism”</a> Facebook group, the only Ukrainian left-wing feminist group. This group, which is related to Rhythms of Resistance, separated from the larger feminist groups after arguing with people who have become the leaders of LGBT and &nbsp;feminist organisations in Ukraine. This is how they explained their <a href="https://www.facebook.com/queeranarchofem/photos/a.237780856692507.1073741828.237687180035208/383964055407519/?type=3&amp;theater">concerns</a>:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Removing the word FEMINISM from the march’s agenda depoliticises the feminist movement, and transforms it into a struggle for ‘treating women well’. Narrowing the protest to the Istanbul Convention on Action Against Violence, issues of wages and ‘disrespect for women’ — this is the agenda of the neoliberal right turn in the feminist movement. [...] We see this year's march as the rebirth of the ‘Women’s sotnia’ [a <a href="https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/news/a24362/womens-opposition-euromaidan-protest-kiev/">women’s brigade</a> active during Euromaidan] which presented a right liberal agenda for a general feminist one, maintaining and strengthening the dominance of rightwing discourse after 2014.”</p><p dir="ltr">Instead, this group asks important questions: “Why is the ‘Women’s March’ afraid of talking about feminism, transfeminism, anti-racism and the emergence of the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-azov-right-wing-militia-to-patrol-kyiv/29008036.html">National Militia Units</a>?”</p><p>Olena Shevchenko, head of Insight, told me her response: “Yes, there was no open call for the organisation of the march this year. One month before 8 March, there was still no preparation for the upcoming holiday. This is why we just took the initiative, announced the event, and asked every volunteer to join with their own agenda and march all together.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Really, I don’t understand the issue. We also position ourselves as queer feminists,” says Olena Shevchenko. (When I asked the Queer Feminist group to respond to Shevchenko’s statement, they didn’t find the time to comment. Unfortunately, we can neither confirm, nor deny Olena Shevchenko’s interpretation of events.)</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/17098006_1000278626739228_1124213781624390290_o.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'>Olena Shevchenko speaks to march participants on 8 March 2017, Kyiv. Source: Serhiy Movchan / Political Critique. </span></span></span>Although Rhythms of Resistance and Queer Anarcho-Feminism have written statements accusing Insight of failing to include the interests of Roma women and sex workers, three organisations — the Chiricli Roma Women’s Fund, Legalife-Ukraine (which supports <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/ukraine-sex-work-in-times-of-war">sex worker organising</a>) and Positive Women (which advocates for the rights of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic">women living with HIV</a>) — decided to join the march with their own agendas. Now the organisers also include, among others:<a href="https://www.facebook.com/ICFUkrainianWomensFund/"> Ukrainian Women's Fund</a>,<a href="https://www.facebook.com/fightforright.ua/"> Fight For Right</a> and<a href="https://www.facebook.com/amnestyua/"> Amnesty International Ukraine</a>. Rhythms of Resistance have chosen to perform in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, where, as they wrote, “it’s the right time for queer feminism”.</p><p dir="ltr">There is yet another side in this conflict, and one that illustrates the condition of Ukrainian feminism: conservative feminists (whom some call radical feminists, because of their position on sex work and transphobia). These are mainly feminists from Facebook groups such as FeminismUA, FemUA Nordicmodel and Resistanta. They also don’t like how this year’s march has been organised. </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“We understand that women have a lot of common problems and tasks, but on 8 March we are marching separately as (unlike some organisers) we would like to emphasise that violence against women, the humiliation of women’s honour and dignity and the sexual exploitation of female bodies should not be called ‘just work’.” </p><p dir="ltr">This is what Olena Zaytseva from the Resistanta Facebook group tells me. If queer feminists criticised the march because it wasn’t intersectional enough, for Resistanta, the march stands for the wrong values because Legalife-Ukraine, a sex worker advocacy organisation, is listed as an organiser. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Should we expect Ukrainian feminism to polarise further in the future, as in other western countries? Will Kyiv host two marches on 8 March in 2019 instead of one?</p><p dir="ltr">In response, Zaytseva and others are organising an “abolitionist” block that will march on International Women’s Day. When asked what their main reason for participating on 8 March is, she said (on behalf of all three groups): </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“We want to show that Ukrainian feminists support the Nordic model of fighting against prostitution. [...] The majority [of us] decided that we cannot simply surrender and allow the march on 8 March to present as ‘female’ a one-sided view of prostitution, which is not supported by the largest feminist community in Ukraine.”</p><p dir="ltr">“It's not a conflict. It’s a difference in position,” responds <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova-maria-dmytrieva/shut-up-woman-your-day-is-march-8">Maria Dmitrieva</a>, gender expert and founder of the highly popular Feminism UA Facebook group. When I asked her why she isn’t boycotting the march, she answers: “I wanted to boycott it. But it would mean handing over the whole march to the legalisers [i.e. women who support legalisation of sex work]. So we will come out with our slogans. This is a struggle of discourses. We refuse to give them the exclusive right to determine the agenda.”</p><p dir="ltr">It’s hard to say which position is more reasonable here: to boycott or to not let the majority occupy the movement by stepping out. Should we expect Ukrainian feminism to polarise further in the future, as in other western countries? Will Kyiv host two marches on 8 March in 2019 instead of one? We shall see — and KyivPride in June will likely tell us. </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="/denis-gorbach/struggle-for-progressive-politics-in-ukraine">The struggle for progressive politics in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic">Meet the women at the centre of Ukraine’s resurgent HIV epidemic</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/olena-svitlytska/can-feminist-art-free-women-from-patriarchy-in-eastern-europe">Can feminist art free women from patriarchy in Eastern Europe?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/invisible-battalion-ukraine">“Invisible battalion”: how Ukrainian women secured the right to fight on a par with men</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova-maria-dmytrieva/shut-up-woman-your-day-is-march-8">“Shut up, woman. Your day is 8 March”</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 Kateryna Semchuk Ukraine Wed, 07 Mar 2018 06:07:23 +0000 Kateryna Semchuk 116495 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Elena Misyurina case: botched procedure or botched investigation? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-rodionova/the-elena-misiurina-case <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How and why Russia’s medical community have united in the fight against the country’s Investigative Committee. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-rodionova/delo-misurinoi" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></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/564053/6-1_0.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'>Elena Misyurina. Source: misyurina-help.ru</span></span></span>Two years in prison – this was the verdict handed down to Moscow haematologist Elena Misyurina in January 2018. But this decision has roused the Russian medical community to action in unprecedented fashion.</p><p dir="ltr">Throughout January and February 2018, Russian doctors displayed solidarity with Elena Misyurina to the extent that the public campaign waged in her support has gone all the way to the top. Russia’s deputy prime minister and the presidential press secretary both had to comment on the story. But whether this high-profile case will exert any impact on the work of Russian investigators is an open question.</p><h2>Trephine biopsy</h2><p>Elena Misyurina was found guilty on 22 January, 2018. But her story began back in 2013, when she was working at a private clinic called Genotekhnologiya. One July morning, she received a visit from Alexander Bobrov, a 55-year-old man who required a trephine biopsy (a method of diagnosing haematological malignancies which involves taking samples of bone marrow and bone tissue for histological examination).</p><p dir="ltr">Bobrov was afflicted by three serious diseases: prostate cancer, diabetes insipidus and myelofibrosis that was transitioning into acute leukaemia. An hour after the procedure, the patient left the clinic and went to work. That same evening, however, Bobrov was transferred to a <a href="https://medsi.ru/">Medsi clinic</a> and diagnosed with “acute appendicitis”. Bobrov now had signs of internal bleeding; he was operated on, but died three days later.</p><p dir="ltr">A year passed before the Investigative Committee came calling, and Misyurina finally discovered that her patient had died. A year after that, in January 2015, a criminal case was opened against Misyurina under Article 109.1 of Russia’s Criminal Code (“Causing death by negligence”). Then, when the statute of limitations expired, another – and even more serious – charge was brought against her under Article 238.2 (“Rendering of services which do not meet safety standards”).</p><p dir="ltr">Misyurina has been under travel restrictions since 2015. On 22 January, she was sentenced to two years in a standard regime penal colony and dispatched directly to a detention facility. The judge ruled that the patient died because the haematologist had botched the trephine biopsy procedure, resulting in damage to his blood vessels. In addition, relatives of the deceased demanded 17 million roubles’ (£216,000) compensation for moral damage. Whether a similar claim has been filed against Medsi Group, which conducted the operations on Bobrov, remains unknown: the network of clinics is not familiar with the materials of the case. Medsi’s press office also <a href="https://vademec.ru/news/2018/01/25/v-medsi-ne-znakomy-s-vyvodami-sme-po-delu-eleny-misyurinoy/">explained</a> that they “do not and cannot take a stance on the substance of the criminal case”.</p><h2>#IAmElenaMisyurina</h2><p dir="ltr">As soon as Russia’s medical community learned of the verdict, a social media campaign was launched in Misyurina’s support. The campaign focused on two primary issues. Firstly, the grounds for positing a cause-effect relationship between the trephine biopsy procedure and the patient’s death were, in the doctors’ eyes, very shaky indeed. Secondly, the doctors argued that the sentence meted out to Misyurina – a jail term for possible iatrogenic injury (a condition inadvertently induced by medical intervention) – was unjustifiably harsh.</p><p dir="ltr">Their furore was only to be expected: Misyurina is a specialist who commands wide recognition among the professional community. Since 2014, Misyurina has headed the Haematology Unit of Moscow City Hospital No. 52, where she has established a dedicated bone marrow transplant ward, one of only two under the umbrella of the Moscow Healthcare Department. The first patients to undergo these high-tech operations were scheduled for admittance to the hospital in March this year.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I don’t believe there would have been such a stormy reaction in Omsk or Yaroslavl. This could only have happened in the capital”</p><p dir="ltr">Doctors began replacing their Facebook profile pictures with images of the convicted haematologist; they disseminated the hashtag #яеленамисюрина (#iamelenamisyurina), created a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/145775779551971/?multi_permalinks=154963671966515&amp;notif_id=1518398410992659&amp;notif_t=group_highlights&amp;ref=notif">Facebook support group</a> (3,600 members and counting) and launched a <a href="http://misyrina-help.ru/">dedicated website</a>. A physicians’ association called the Doctors’ Defence League started a <a href="https://www.change.org/p/%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B7%D0%B8%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%83-%D1%80%D1%84-%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B5-%D1%81%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B1%D0%BE%D0%B4%D1%83-%D0%B2%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%87%D1%83">charge.org petition</a> calling for the case to be reviewed; as of 28 February, it has been signed by almost 87,000 people. Doctors and patients with haematological malignancies and oncological diseases also set about collecting signatures and handing them over to Russia’s Presidential Administration, the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General’s Office.</p><p dir="ltr">Misyurina’s defence team filed an appeal against the first-instance court’s ruling, as well as a petition to change the preventive measure imposed on her, requesting that she be released from the detention facility prior to the final verdict. A week later, the Moscow city health department <a href="http://mosgorzdrav.ru/ru-RU/news/default/card/1701.html">intervened</a>. Speaking at a clinical conference on the same day, Leonid Pechatnikov, Moscow’s deputy mayor for social development issues, declared that “a horrendous mistake seems to have been made” and promised that the haematologist would be provided with “the very best lawyers”. On 29 January, Mayor Sergey Sobyanin <a href="https://twitter.com/MosSobyanin/status/957936078463426560">tweeted</a> that he was “extremely concerned” about the doctor’s case, noting that “cases of this kind should be considered as correctly and objectively as possible.”</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/564053/27459718_1609368149143799_7820828079010058884_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/27459718_1609368149143799_7820828079010058884_n_0.jpg" alt="lead " 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'>A medical personnel flashmob in support of Elena Misyurina. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>The haematologist received <a href="https://vademec.ru/news/2018/01/29/vrachebnoe-soobshchestvo-podderzhalo-elenu-misyurinu-/">public support</a> from the head physicians of various Moscow hospitals; the National Haematological Society has appealed to President Vladimir Putin, the State Duma and the Civic Chamber on her behalf; members of the Presidential Council for Human Rights have called for the verdict to be reviewed; and Duma deputies and senators have thrown their weight behind the campaign. Meanwhile, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets and presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov have also released statements on the matter, with Peskov asking officials not to aggravate the situation.</p><p dir="ltr">On 5 February, the Moscow City Court granted the defence’s request for a change in the preventive measure imposed on Misyurina: two weeks later, she was released from the detention centre and placed under travel restrictions.</p><p dir="ltr">“I plan start working again from next week,” Misyurina told me the day after being released. “And I hope that in two or three weeks’ time we’ll still be able to open the bone marrow transplant unit.” It remains unclear when the appeal session regarding the verdict itself will be held: as the doctor noted, the wait could be “anything from two weeks to six months.”</p><p dir="ltr">Excerpts from the court’s reasons for judgement, <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3546790">published on 12 February</a>, shed light on previously unknown details. For instance, the Cheremushkinsky district court argued that Misyurina had conducted the biopsy “with procedural, tactical and technical violations”. Medsi, however, doesn’t get away scot-free either: the conclusion of a forensic examination features a number of remarks regarding the autopsy procedure while also proclaiming that “if a diagnosis were correctly established upon the patient’s admission to hospital, and timely surgical intervention performed, a lethal outcome may have been prevented.”</p><h2>“Express intent”</h2><p dir="ltr">Regardless of the final verdict, the Misyurina case has forced the Russian medical community to give serious thought to the legal basis and practice of prosecuting doctors when their patients die. Lawyers and doctors who’ve spoken to me about the matter link this process to the so-called “iatrogenic campaign”. Last autumn, Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin <a href="http://sledcom.ru/press/events/item/1168957/">proposed</a> that a special provision relating to liability for medical errors and improper medical care be introduced into the Criminal Code. In addition, Bastrykin instructed the agency to undertake measures aimed at improving the quality of the investigation of such cases.</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/BastrykinAlI_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/BastrykinAlI_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'>Alexander Bastrykin. Photo CC BY 4.0: Wiki Commons.</span></span></span>The number of criminal cases related to the provision of medical assistance has, in point of fact, increased since then. According to Investigative Committee figures, 6050 allegations were examined in 2017, with 1791 criminal cases being opened on their basis. By way of comparison, Bastrykin <a href="http://sledcom.ru/press/events/item/1069831/">remarked</a> in September 2016 that 2,516 reports of medical errors and improper provision of medical care had been received by the investigative agency in the first six months of that year, resulting in the opening of 419 cases.</p><p dir="ltr">As Olga Zinovieva, managing partner of the <a href="https://onegingroup.ru/">Onegin law firm</a>, explains: “The Misyurina case is part of a general trend we’ve observed over the last three to five years, wherein law enforcement agencies are devoting ever more attention to the medical sphere. The case,” she adds, “illustrates all too well how medical professionals are being improperly charged under a Criminal Code article that was introduced into the text of the code for an altogether different category of crimes.”</p><p dir="ltr">More often than not, cases against medical workers are opened under Article 109 (“Causing death by negligence owing to the improper discharge of one’s professional duties”). Misyurina, however, was convicted under Article 238, which presupposes express intent on the part of the charged individual. “In other words, the investigation and prosecution must prove to the court that the doctor knowingly violated certain official regulations,” Zinovieva explains. “The formulation of Article 238 implies that the doctor knows about certain regulations (in this context, procedural ones) and yet deliberately violates them, disregarding the potential for negative consequences and banking on them not to arise. Sometimes, of course, doctors do knowingly violate regulations, but this is extremely rare.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The Misyurina case is part of a general trend we’ve observed over the last three to five years, wherein law enforcement agencies are devoting ever more attention to the medical sphere”</p><p dir="ltr">The Misyurina case, Zinovieva maintains, typifies modern law enforcement in Russia while simultaneously pointing to the fact that the point of view of the investigation and the prosecution is “not always shared by the courts” in such instances. By way of example, she adduces a recent case from St Petersburg in which the court acquitted an anaesthesiologist-resuscitator who’d been charged for the same offence: in 2016, a patient with preeclampsia was delivered by ambulance to Maternity Hospital No. 1, where doctors had to administer an epidural for normal delivery. As Doctor Piter, a healthcare website in Petersburg, <a href="http://doctorpiter.ru/articles/13442/">writes</a>, they ended up leaving a piece of catheter in the patient’s lumbar space, which necessitated a C-section and the transfer of the patient to a specialised neurosurgical department, where the catheter was surgically removed. The woman’s condition stabilised within a month, and the baby was born healthy.</p><p dir="ltr">“Delivering the verdict, the judge cited a lack of evidence regarding the doctors’ intent to contravene procedure, maintaining that intent must be proven if the offence is to be classified correctly,” says Zinovieva. At the same time, the lawyer doesn’t share the doctor’s indignation regarding the implementation of Article 238 in general, and reminds us of the criminal case that followed the demise in the dentist’s chair of the Mariinsky Theatre’s ballet-master.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, ballet-master Sergey Vikharev arrived at the Dr Livshits Clinic in Petersburg to undergo a tooth implant procedure. After being administered general anaesthesia, his condition deteriorated sharply, and he died despite 30 minutes of resuscitation attempts. Following an inspection, the Investigative Committee and Rospotrebnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being) discovered that the clinic didn’t hold an anaesthesiology and resuscitation license.</p><p dir="ltr">The clinic was fined 200,000 roubles (£2,500), with the Investigative Committee initiating criminal proceedings under Article 238 in November 2017. “What we have here, then,” says Zinovieva, “is a medical organisation with no license to administer general anaesthesia and with no technical resources to resuscitate patients in cases of complications arising from the same. And yet said organisation knowingly provided medical services of this kind, banking on there being no adverse consequences. In this case, it was absolutely correct to classify the offence under Article 238 of the Criminal Code. It’s not the code itself that’s deficient – it’s the people who improperly interpret and enforce it.”</p><h2>Political games</h2><p>Ivan Pecherey, Associate Professor of the Department of Forensic Medicine and Medical Law at Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry, notes that the Misyurina case became a cause célèbre for a combination of reasons.</p><p dir="ltr">“First of all, she was given an actual prison term, whereas most doctors receive suspended sentences. The doctor’s guilt has not been proven on the basis of the available materials,” he noted at an <a href="http://pravo-med.ru/">online conference</a> held by the Pravo-Med portal. “Secondly, doctors fear for their future: they realise that they enjoy no protections whatsoever as regards the exercise of their professional activities, and that they will be held criminally liable for potential medical errors. Another issue is the way the investigation was conducted: it dragged on for five years and the original charge was changed to a still harsher one, this being done, in my opinion, for one purpose only – to ensure the doctor was given an actual prison term.” Pecherey believes that Misyurina’s jail term could be commuted to a suspended sentence if the charge was reclassified.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Politicians haven’t ignored this story because there’s an election in March, and doctors at public sector institutions are the electorate”</p><p dir="ltr">Alexey Panov, director of the <a href="https://www.medpravo.pro/">Medical Law Centre</a>, is more pessimistic: “The Investigative Committee have an interest here, the campaign against iatrogenic injuries. Yes, the case has attracted a colossal amount of attention, the prosecutor’s office has said that the forensic medical examinations contradict one another in their findings and that the assembled evidence is insufficient to draw firm conclusions about the doctor’s guilt. But this may not help if there is strategic support aimed, shall we say, at motivating doctors to provide proper medical care from high-ranking figures,” Panov told me. “I imagine there’ll be a guilty verdict, but that the term will be decreased. Political games are often beyond common sense.”</p><p dir="ltr">The expert also highlights several additional details: “I don’t believe there would have been such a stormy reaction in Omsk or Yaroslavl. This could only have happened in the capital. We can’t exclude the possibility that certain interests were impacted – interests that may have been related to the provision of commercial healthcare services or else to the activities of the Investigative Committee. Politicians haven’t ignored this story because there’s an election in March, and doctors at public sector institutions are the electorate.”</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/tatyana-dvornikova/svetlana-sidorkina">Svetlana Sidorkina: “Defending the innocent is the most difficult thing of all”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-babich/crimea-is-pushed-to-limit">Crimea needs a cure</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/yuri-dmitriev-gulag-historian-interview">“Anyone can find themselves in prison, it doesn’t take much courage”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-rocheva/keeping-welfare-russian">Scaling back on healthcare may start with Russia’s migrants. But it won’t end there</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-platonova/crimea-ukraine-drug-users-fate">Death by disdain: the fate of drug users in Russian-occupied territories </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 Anna Rodionova Russia Mon, 05 Mar 2018 11:04:25 +0000 Anna Rodionova 116459 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The first steps towards exonerating Russian Gulag historian Yuri Dmitriyev https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/the-first-steps-towards-exonerating-yuri-dmitriyev <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This Russian historian spent 13 months in pre-trial detention on fabricated child pornography charges. The latest court proceedings confirm that he’s just as “normal” as the rest of us.</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/Dmitryev_Court_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="280" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yury Dmitriyev is brought before court in Petrozavdosk, March 2017. Image still via YouTube / Semnasem. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Yuri Dmitriyev, a Russian researcher of Stalin-era repressions and head of the Karelian branch of <a href="https://www.memo.ru/en-us/">Memorial</a>, spent 13 months in pre-trial detention in 2016-2018. In a case that has attracted solidarity and support in Russia, Dmitriyev was arrested in December 2016 and charged with producing child pornography, the supposed evidence for which consisted of photographs of his adopted daughter. As part of the police investigation, two experts were <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/yuri-dmitriev-sandarmoh">called upon to evaluate the photos</a>: one of them considered them pornographic; the other not.</p><p dir="ltr">The case is still running, but a court has now ruled that there was no need for Dmitriyev to remain in detention and on 27 January he was released from custody on condition that he not leave the country. Dmitriyev returned home on the eve of his 62nd birthday. On 27 February, Petrozavodsk’s city court confirmed that a medical assessment carried out at Moscow’s Serbsky Institute has found Dmitriyev suffers from no psychiatric or sexual abnormalities, and that the “incriminating” photographs on Dmitriyev's computer were not pornographic.&nbsp;</p><h2>The support group is out in force</h2><p dir="ltr">“There’s no more space, you’ll have to take your coats with you,” says the cloakroom assistant in a slightly annoyed tone. The cloakroom at Petrozavodsk city court was obviously not designed to cater for the number of people who have turned up to observe the latest session in the Yuri Dmitriyev case. The ushers are noticeably nervy, because 15 minutes before the court session is due to begin, an indecently long queue has formed in front of the security gate – it’s blocking the main door. When people ask rhetorical questions about why the cloakroom couldn’t be enlarged to cater for the increased number of cases being heard, the staff answer wearily that this is the judicial department’s responsibility, and nothing to do with them. </p><p dir="ltr">In a long, narrow corridor on the second floor of the court building, people are packed like sardines: more than 40 of them have come to support Yuri Dmitriyev. They are still not letting anyone into the courtroom: the case is being heard in camera because it involves personal information about Dmitriyev’s adopted daughter, who is underage. But in conversations in the corridor there is none of the stress that was palpable two months earlier, when Dmitriyev arrived in handcuffs and witha police escort.</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_Катерина_и_киношкольцы.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Катерина_и_киношкольцы.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'>Katerina and students in the cloakroom at Petrozavodsk city court. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>The older spectators sit on the wooden benches along the walls, but most people stand – or rather, come and go between small groups, depending on their connection with the case. At the entrance to the courtroom, Dmitriyev’s elder daughter Katerina is telling students from Moscow’s International Film School that her father is already completely at home in the court building (today, he began his visit by criticising the security protocols). Nearer the staircase, local civic rights activists, who are also members of Dmitriyev’s support group, are talking amongst themselves. They have chosen their spot with care: anyone passing by is handed a badge with a picture of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition politician murdered in February 2015, and a slogan reading: “Russia will be free”.</p><p dir="ltr">In the centre of the corridor, a dozen people have crowded round Marietta Chudakova, who has come to the city for the first time to support Dmitriyev. Chudakova, a literary specialist and public figure with a PhD in philological sciences who is well acquainted with the ins and outs of the Russian and western judicial systems, shares her impressions of both the trial and public reaction to it:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“This is really typical of the slimeballs who began this whole farce. It’s not enough for them to have him put on trial and sent to prison – they want to blacken his reputation as well. So we not only owe him our moral support, but need to show the judges that the public does actually react to things like this, even though they sometimes seem totally indifferent.”</p><p dir="ltr">Reporters from the Karelia state TV company, noticing the interest Chudakova has aroused, also come over to record her comments. “I’ll say exactly the same thing to you on camera, as I said to these guys – about the slimeballs, the smear campaign and the trumped-up charges. Only you have to promise not to misquote me,” she tells the TV crew. They make their promise, and Chudakova repeats her phrases about slimeballs, as well as lots more interesting stuff about Russia’s judicial system. The crowd applauds. </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_Мариэтта_Чудакова1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мариэтта_Чудакова1.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'>Marietta Chudakova. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>This is probably only the second time since the start of the trial that applause has been directed at someone other than Yuri Dmitriyev himself – he has been greeted and accompanied by ovations at every court session. At the end of December, people also applauded when lawyer Viktor Anufriyev announced that the judge had decided to release Dmitriyev from pre-trial detention. And now there is applause for Chudakova. The TV crew also, by the way, kept their promise and didn’t misquote her statements. Or rather, they just left her out of the report shown on state TV.</p><h2>Anufriyev raises a laugh</h2><p dir="ltr">It would, of course be an exaggeration to say that the entire courtful of people has waited for the decision quietly. No one has expected any pleasant surprises from the prosecution for a long time, and Petrozavodsk’s public prosecutor Elena Askerova arrived in person to represent her department. Another “catch” is likely enough. </p><p dir="ltr">The prosecutor’s office has tried several times to send the photographs connected with the Dmitriyev case to (putting it mildly) dodgy and incompetent organisations for examination, and then insisted on a second, in-patient psychiatric assessment of the accused himself, on grounds of “suspected sexual abnormalities”. The assessment was carried out at Moscow’s notorious <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbsky_Center">Serbsky Institute</a>, where Dmitriyev had to spend New Year and the whole of January 2018. The assessment report is the main thing to be discussed at today’s court session.</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_Виктор_Ануфриев.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Виктор_Ануфриев.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'>Viktor Anufriyev. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>Contrary to Anufriyev’s expectations – yesterday he predicted a court session lasting several hours – both the prosecutor and the judge left the courtroom after only one hour. Anufriyev and Dmitriyev followed a few minutes later. The defence lawyer announced, in his usual, slightly ironic manner, that the Serbsky assessment had revealed no psychiatric or sexual abnormalities in Dmitriyev.</p><p dir="ltr">“The report says that, like all of us, Dmitriyev is a slightly odd person, but perfectly sane,” began Anufriyev with a smile, after which he had to pause for several seconds to allow the laughter in the corridor, and afterwards the hissing of the staff (“There are other sessions taking place in adjacent rooms”) to die down. Behind Anufriyev, Katerina is already hugging her father, and his close friends follow her example. </p><p dir="ltr">Anufryev then continues, quoting the experts’ conclusion: </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“There are no sexual abnormalities: the report states clearly that he is not a paedophile, he took the photos of his adopted daughter for a completely different reason, and, taking his general approach to life into account, he tried to protect himself from any possible removal of his adoptive daughter from his family. He did no harm to the child.”</p><p dir="ltr">Any further details seem only to interest the media people, who continue to ask technical questions: when will the next court session take place, when will the two sides make their statements, and can we expect a conclusion to the case in the near future? Despite the defence insisting on a second examination of a witness, Anufriyev hopes that case won’t drag on: the witness will be examined on 14 March, on 20 March the lawyers will put their cases and the trial should be concluded by the end of the first month of spring. </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_Дмитриев_на_экскурсии.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Дмитриев_на_экскурсии.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'>Yuri Dmitriyev (in the centre). Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>Dmitriyev himself still refuses to comment on the court case, but is happy to talk about his feelings after his first month of freedom after a year of detention:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“For the moment, I’m concentrating on regaining my physical strength. And, despite all my bluster, the 13 months I spent there have had an effect on my psychological health as well, and I’m trying to recover from that too. I’m getting back to my interrupted work, assembling all the material I was working on and trying to get my head round where I was with it and how I can continue in the same vein.” </p><p dir="ltr">Thanking again everyone who supported him during his trial and came back again (“It’s one thing when they see you off quickly and you just hear applause, and another when you can talk to people”), Dmitriyev invites everyone on a short excursion:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“It has somehow happened that when people have come to my trial, they also absorb information about the repressions that took place here. Today we’ll make a trip to the Zaretsk cemetery [where the official memorial to Soviet victims of political repression stands] and I’ll talk about how these graves appeared and who [is buried there]”. </p><h2>Dmitriyev carries on his good work </h2><p dir="ltr">The trip is not planned to take long: in Petrozavodsk it is the coldest day of this winter, with thermometers showing minus 27 degrees. The memorial at the Zaretsk cemetery is covered in snow: the last time there was such a crowd there was on 30 October, on the memorial day for the victims of political repression. So the first thing the visitors do is to clear the snow from the graves, to read the names of the people buried there. More than a quarter century has passed since the remains of political prisoners shot near Petrozavodsk have found their final resting place.</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_На_Зарецком_кладбище.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_На_Зарецком_кладбище.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'>Visitors at the Zaretsk cemetery. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>“This is the first row of graves we found, 13 coffins,” Dmitriyev begins, talking about their work in 1990-1992, “and then we found six more. We picked them like mushrooms in the quarry beside the Sulazhgorsky [Karelian: Suoluzmägi] brickworks. We shovelled sand from the quarry and the bones just fell out of it and we collected them in bags. We spent two years working on them to prove that they were the remains of Stalin’s victims, and then we were allowed to re-bury them here.”</p><p dir="ltr">Anatoly Razumov, the historian and archaeologist who heads the “Returned Names” Centre at Russia’s National Library is a friend of Dmitriyev and his partner on many expeditions. Razumov tells the visitors that, according to his sources, newly independent Russia’s first official ceremony to bury Stalinist victims was held here, in 1992. </p><p><em>5 March: this article has been updated to reflect that the forensic analysis received by Petrozavodsk court also stated that the images of Dmitriyev's adopted daughter were not pornographic.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/yuri-dmitriev-sandarmoh">The historian who dug too deep</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/dance-me-to-end-of-history">Dance me to the end of history</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-polouektova-krimer/unearthing-russia-s-dead-over-and-over-again">Unearthing Russia’s war dead, over and over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/protest-in-karelias-paper-town">Protest in Russia&#039;s paper town </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/yuri-dmitriev-gulag-historian-interview">“Anyone can find themselves in prison, it doesn’t take much courage”</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 Anna Yarovaya Russia Fri, 02 Mar 2018 21:28:27 +0000 Anna Yarovaya 116416 at https://www.opendemocracy.net As Russia’s presidential election approaches, apathy is running high https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-solovyova/apathy-is-running-high <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On 18 March, Russians go to the polls to elect a new president (or rather, re-elect the old one). But there’s little enthusiasm around. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-solovieva/razshiryaya-prostranstvo-apatii" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-34570238.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"A strong president means a strong Russia!". (c) Andrey Pronin/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In Syktyvkar, the capital of Komi in northwestern Russia, there is a junction where October Avenue crosses Pecherskaya Street. It’s a busy spot: the locals drive 14km along this, the longest avenue in Europe, to the outlying district of Ezhva and their jobs at one of Russia’s largest timber processing complexes. Here, there’s a large billboard at the junction, from which a portrait of Vladimir Putin observes the comings and goings of the city’s residents and visitors. The message on it reads: “A strong president means a strong Russia”. Putin’s face radiates confidence and calm. A police car sits next to the hoarding, alternating from time to time with an ordinary car and driver in plain clothes.</p><p dir="ltr">Putin’s image has been under police protection since the beginning of February. The first person to comment on it was Tatyana Ivanova, a local blogger and civil society activist, who pointed out that the president was especially privileged: billboards showing other presidential candidates attracted no such official attention. This situation was confirmed by Nikolay Bratenkov, a member of Komi’s oldest environmental organisation, the Committee to Save the Pechora River. In fact, anyone driving or walking past Putin’s picture can see the car and its occupant. One police officer even admitted to the bloggers that he was parked at the junction specially to guard the hoarding.</p><p dir="ltr">What were the people who ordered the guard afraid of?</p><p dir="ltr">The most famous incident connected with the defacing of a billboard took place in Syktyvkar in 2010, when civil rights activists Ernest Mesak and Igor Sazhin threw tomato ketchup at a portrait of Joseph Stalin. Putin, of course, isn’t Stalin (although the veneration of both is in full swing in Russia), and this incident happened eight years ago. But Mesak and Sazhin are still around, still engaged in campaigning for civil rights and possibly messing with people’s heads, while ketchup is still available in the shops.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Every city has its seamy side, its industrial estates and back streets, and there you can read all sorts of things about Putin</p><p dir="ltr">But perhaps it’s not just those two who could cause trouble. Every city has its rough side, its back streets and industrial estates, and you can read all sorts of things about Putin there. On October Avenue itself, for example, graffiti on a concrete fence around a railway siding and market area reads “But Putin’s dead” for anyone walking or driving into the city centre to see. And if you live in the housing estate on Morozov Street and take a short cut, along a short road flanked by garages, to your nearest shopping centre on the highway, you can read a lot of interesting stuff. There is, for example, an inscription reading: “Lame duck Putin, limp off into the sunset. It’s Putin’s last summer!” Or another: “Putin loves the Chechens and Yanks and hates the Russian people”. Or, even blunter: “Putin does everything to harm the Russian people”. </p><p dir="ltr">For the moment, the scrawls are confined to garage walls, but tomorrow they might migrate to the billboard. No one knows what the people who decided to guard Putin’s image were afraid of – that the local sorcerers might put a spell on the president by defacing his portrait? Or, more likely, that a blob of ketchup on his smooth presidential face might spoil his saintly image?</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_20180211_150144_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_20180211_150144_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'>“Putin, lame duck, limp into retirement. The last summer of Putin”. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>In other words, things are hotting up in the city. Even an ordinary taxi driver might turn out to be an anti-government agitator. If you ask him, for example, about the protest about boycotting the presidential election, he’ll tell you that protesting is useless: “There’s no point in voting: Putin will be elected anyway. And who else is there to vote for? Apart from<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergey_Baburin_presidential_campaign,_2018"> Sergey Baburin</a>, perhaps.”</p><p dir="ltr">The taxi driver knows that Boris Yeltsin was a stooge of the USA and handed power over to Putin also at the behest of the Americans. But if Alexey Navalny should ever become president, the US will still win out because he’s their stooge as well.</p><p dir="ltr">It seems as though the closer we get to the spring, the deeper the paranoia behind the pre-election apathy goes. You’d have thought that passions should be running high in the battle for votes, but nobody seems to give a damn. Milk cartons have election reminders printed on them. The section leaders at one of the local university hostels have promised their students that the section with most votes cast will get a pack of detergent as a reward. Buses are plastered with exhortations to come and vote (“Otherwise, they’ll do it for you”).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There is no risk that Putin will lose the election, however low the turnout. But there is a risk that the symbolic majority is going to lose faith in the president</p><p dir="ltr">A few years ago, the opposition used a similar slogan, implying possible machinations with unused ballot papers going to the current leader or party in power. Now, when it’s part of an official election campaign, it’s unclear who might want to fiddle the vote, and in whose favour. You might just imagine that, while honest folk are sitting at home in front of their TV, hordes of their fellow citizens, recruited by the US State Department, will be flocking to the polling stations to vote …for whom? For Ksenia Sobchak, Grigory Yavlinsky or, heaven help us, Sergey Baburin? And then the country will wake up the next morning and a new president will pack off anyone under pension age off into military service and send gays to share the flats of simple Orthodox families, as<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-not-voting-video-presidential-election-homophobic-gay-putin-russians-voters-a8218241.html"> a viral video clip</a> claims. </p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NrmXbNkkl60" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>26 February: this video shows a police officer writing "Putin" on the side of a fence in Syktyvkar, Komi.</em><p dir="ltr">But where are the ordinary voters who seriously believe that if they don’t vote, someone with crazy ideas will seize power? The video may have gone viral but is there any guarantee that it will have any effect on voting numbers? It’s so crude that it reeks of desperation.</p><p dir="ltr">Even these media flurries don’t change the fact that, in general, we’re talking about a presidential election campaign that is extremely depressing and lacking in inspiration. The reason is simple: the people who are charged with getting the voters to the polling stations are also ordinary citizens affected by the same pre-election apathy. The presidential election is being promoted as the event of the year, but the media and the public have been more interested in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/my-baby-knows-how-to-speed-up-judges-when-he-needs-to">a story about yachts and a billionaire</a>, a politician and “girls with a reduced level of social responsibility”.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, voter turnout will have no effect on the Russian president’s legitimacy – it can’t go any lower. But <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-solovieva/don-t-count-on-administrative-resources-this-russian-presidential-election">public sector workers</a> (who usually vote for whoever is in power already) will still be obligatorily bussed to polling stations. In other words, there is no risk that Putin will lose the election, however low the turnout. But there is a risk that the symbolic majority is going to lose faith in the president, and if the time comes when there is a need to relieve the president of his legitimacy, his election campaign will be a good place to start looking for evidence. But this is unlikely to have anything to do with the turnout: according to the <em>Sobesednik</em> newspaper, the cost of the billboards themselves <a href="https://sobesednik.ru/politika/20180131-dorogoj-nash-prezident">went way over the legal limits on election expenses</a>.</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-kalikh/free-russia-forum">Free Russia Forum: sanctions and boycotts</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/hope-for-russias-hopeless-elections">Hope for Russia’s hopeless elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/protest-in-karelias-paper-town">Protest in Russia&#039;s paper town </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 Elena Solovyova Russia's 2018 election diary Russia Fri, 02 Mar 2018 04:15:58 +0000 Elena Solovyova 116405 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Academic freedom in Tajikistan: critical engagement and solidarity https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/john-heathershaw-edward-schatz/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-critical-engagement-and-soli <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If academic solidarity and forms of critical engagement with Tajikistan are going to emerge, we must first recognise the primary problem comes from the regime.&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/555493/1200px-Donishgohi_davlatii_tibbii_Tojikiston_ba_nomi_A_Sino_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Avicenna Tajik State Medical University in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Foteh Rahimov via Wikimedia Commons.</span></span></span>In January 2018, we wrote an article for <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-endangered-what-is-to-be-done">Eurasianet</a> discussing the decline of academic freedom in Tajikistan and how foreign scholars involved in research might respond. We considered several options, including withdrawal, but advocated critical engagement as part of the academic response to the <a href="https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/tajikistan">human rights crisis engulfing the country</a> and the increased risks faced by Tajik scholars.</p> <p>We sought to start a debate in the international research community about what “critical engagement” might mean for academic freedom. The responses to our call from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/malika-bahovadinova/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-boycotts">Malika Bahovadinova</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/karolina-kluczewska/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan">Karolina Kluczewska</a>, published by OpenDemocracy in February 2018, make some good points about the ethics of fieldwork; we have <a href="http://www.centraleurasia.org/assets/site/cess-task-force-on-fieldwork-safety_final-report-march-2016.pdf">elsewhere</a> made similar points. However, both authors, proceeding on a fundamental misreading of our argument, say little about the core issue of academic freedom that we raise. </p> <h2><strong>Tajikistan’s human rights crisis</strong></h2> <p>Academics, journalists and civil society widely acknowledge that Tajikistan is going through a period of authoritarian retrenchment. <a href="https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/tajikistan">Human Rights Watch</a> has called this a “a severe, widespread crackdown on free expression and association”. </p> <p>As we discussed on Eurasianet, academics are part of civil society and have not been insulated from its wider crisis. We know of six cases over the last three-four years of Tajik researchers who have been harassed, constantly questioned, detained for lengthy periods, abused, and ultimately forced to flee. There are probably many more. Few scholars are able to speak out, although one account is published anonymously <a href="https://excas.net/2018/01/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan/">here</a>.</p> <p>The purpose of our article was to sound a note of deep concern and ask what is to be done. Naïve or inattentive foreign academics can inadvertently make matters worse for their Tajik partners, as both Bahovadinova and Kluczewska correctly indicate. However, neither of the authors seems to accept the full extent of this crisis. If academics act as if this crackdown is merely a problem of our making that can be avoided, then we risk being by-standers as our colleagues are subject to abuse. </p> <p>So, what may be done?</p> <h2><strong>Neither boycott nor blacklisting</strong></h2> <p>In the Eurasianet article, we first consider two options before ultimately dismissing them as counter-productive in the current Tajik context. </p> <p>Boycotts and blacklists are occasionally appropriate. We support our Turkish and Turkish Studies colleagues at <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/academics-peace">Academics for Peace</a> who have taken such measures in response to senior managers who have complied with state demands to discipline and dismiss academics for their political beliefs.</p> <p>The hard truth is that such complicity in state actions against colleagues is widespread in Tajikistan too — something that neither Bahovadinova nor Kluczewska acknowledges. The six cases we know of show that locally-based colleagues may be required to collaborate with the security services in the repression of their colleagues. We understand what might motivate such behaviours, but foreign academics should not be party to such processes.</p> <p>However, there are many reasons why a boycott or blacklist would be inappropriate for the smaller and poorer environment of Tajikistan which gets so little attention and so few partnership opportunities anyway. Thus, both Bahovadinova and Kluczewska seem to have misread our piece; like them, we believe that a boycott or a blacklist would not be appropriate at this time, which is why instead we advocate critical engagement.</p> <h2><strong>What does critical engagement mean?</strong></h2> <p>We suggest that critical engagement with Tajikistan may mean that many of the current collaborative projects in the social sciences and humanities should not go ahead. This may include those projects where sensitive topics elicited state repression leading to the flight of the six academics mentioned above. This would also include the many projects that proceed in the extractive manner that we, Karolina Kluczewska and Malika Bahovadinova have described. </p> <p>But they are not all the projects. Kluczewska and Bahovadinova, for example, have produced some of the most outstanding doctoral and post-doctoral work on Tajikistan in recent years and have worked hard to ensure partnerships which are equitable and relatively safe for their research subjects and co-workers. Such projects are also examples of critical engagement.</p> <p>However, critical engagement must also extend to engaging with academic societies, advisory councils and research funding bodies to ensure that non-critical partnerships are less likely to take place. We hope this debate will help in raising awareness.</p> <p>For example, is it really appropriate to partner with Tajikistan’s Centre for Strategic Research under the President on terrorism research given that the President in question defines “terrorism” so expansively as to encompass anyone in public opposition to his rule? These ought not to be controversial questions to ask, yet we know of several projects of this kind that have proceeded in recent years, apparently without full considerations of the risks involved.</p> <h2><strong>Risks of division, routes to solidarity</strong></h2> <p>Researchers will naturally take different views on how to engage, and such a diversity of perspectives is to be encouraged. Our concern is that in working out what constitutes appropriate and critical engagement we end up blaming one another rather than recognising the source of the crisis. </p> <p>The primary problem is not clumsy western academics or local scholars who don’t keep to the red lines, but an authoritarian regime which has little or no appreciation of the value of academic freedom. It is clear that the Tajik government has increased its repression of scholars in recent years to the point of making research in many areas difficult or impossible. </p> <p>We scholars must have broad discussions about the ethics of fieldwork, but as we do so we must not miss the primary problem: a hard authoritarian regime can strike at any time, however careful we may be. We strongly believe that the researcher is not to blame when the regime strikes. The six Tajiks we have mentioned were not to blame for their brave research projects and willingness to speak out. Nor were they simply the “victims” of the foolishness of their foreign colleagues. Foreign scholars who have been arrested, detained and interrogated in Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia are hardly to blame for their misfortune? Giulio Regeni, the Italian PhD student <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/wfd/north-africa-west-asia/antonio-marchesi/search-for-truth-over-what-happened-to-giulio-regeni">brutally murdered in Egypt</a>, is an extreme case of an unfortunate trend that Tajikistan has been a part of.</p> <p>Researchers and project leaders make mistakes — we certainly have. As researchers, we should seek an environment where we feel able to speak about these publicly rather than professing the infallibility of our partnerships, as Karolina Kluczewska <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/karolina-kluczewska/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan">appears to do at one stage</a>. But what we don’t cause are arrests and imprisonment. Both academic solidarity and a sound analysis of these incidents demand that we recognise that the primary problem comes from the regime, and that this is true not despite, but precisely <em>because</em> authoritarian governance is inconsistent and unpredictable. </p> <p>The debate on these questions is a hard one and must continue. But it must begin from a recognition that we as an academic community are <em><strong>all</strong></em> at risk from authoritarian regimes like Tajikistan which host our research. </p> <p>We strongly encourage further and diverse interventions on this important topic.</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-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/karolina-kluczewska/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan">Academic freedom in Tajikistan: western researchers need to look at themselves, too</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/malika-bahovadinova/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-boycotts">Academic freedom in Tajikistan: why boycotts and blacklists are the wrong response </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 Edward Schatz John Heathershaw Tajikistan Thu, 01 Mar 2018 10:34:56 +0000 John Heathershaw and Edward Schatz 116402 at https://www.opendemocracy.net If Russia’s minorities are excluded from national political life, then why are they the most “loyal” on paper? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>By rejecting popular support in Russia’s national republics, you can win more votes than you lose.<em><strong> <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/vybory-v-zazerkalie" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/7_7UUESN4_g" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>Alexey Navalny's video address to Russia's national republics calls on people to act as election observers on 18 March. </em></p><p dir="ltr">On 20 February, Alexey Navalny, banned from standing as a candidate in Russia’s presidential election, turned to civic activists in the country’s national republics. The opposition politician <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_7UUESN4_g">called</a> on them to prevent the authorities from fabricating voter turnout in the presidential election on 18 March (the Putin administration is <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/kremlin-plans-record-turnout-for-2018-elections-57227">planning to achieve record turnout</a>). Navalny believes that unbiased election observing in these regions “is more important than the rest of Russia”, as these republics regularly <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-chechnya-elections/analysis-chechnya-how-did-putins-party-win-99-percent-idUSTRE7BK1CA20111221">report incredibly high turnouts</a> and almost unanimous support for the government in power. </p><p dir="ltr">Turnout in the national republics, particularly in Russia’s North Caucasus, is definitely an important issue. But it goes much deeper than the crude sleight of hand practised by local leaders that Navalny discusses here.</p><p dir="ltr">In the national republics, the “attachment to large numbers” is ultimately the result of the social exclusion of ethnic minorities from Russia’s political life. Against the background of Russia’s new pariahs – some members of the “unofficial” opposition, <a href="http://www.seguridadinternacional.es/?q=es/content/islam-russia-challenge-or-opportunity#_ftnref108">“non-traditional Muslims”</a> and so on – the exclusion of entire ethnic groups can be imperceptible, and take place without any extrajudicial executions, arrests or torture. </p><p dir="ltr">This process takes place at the level of mainstream debate, fostered by the powers that be. The signals are easy to read by Russian politicians and public, so even novices in the president’s election campaign have no scruples about reminding smaller ethnic groups that their real place is on the margins of the country’s political life.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A helping hand from the Communists </h2><p dir="ltr">“Vote for Pavel Grudinin!” Arkady Goryayev tells me, referring to the Russian Communist Party’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/christopher-moldes/struggle-for-new-blood-and-future-of-russia-s-left">presidential candidate</a>. Goryayev is a well-known public figure in Kalmykia and the North Caucasus. In 2009, Goryayev became head of the Union of Repressed Peoples, whose <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/elista_deportation/">inaugural congress</a> gathered together activists from ethnic groups en masse deported by Stalin during the Second World War: <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/kalmykia-s-long-goodbye">Kalmyks</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">Chechens</a>, Ingush, Karachays, Balkars and Volga Germans. </p><p dir="ltr">In an interview with major Russian media outlets at the time, Goryayev announced that the new organisation would seek “real compensation” for Stalin’s victims, as well as demanding public repentance and “territorial rehabilitation” from the Russian government. This should, he continued, include the return of the Primorsky and Dolban districts to the Kalmyk Autonomous Republic, which lost them when it was reinstated in 1958 – they currently form part of Astrakhan region to the west. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/jpg_5." alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Arkady Goryayev (second from right) at a protest in Elista. Source: Badma Biurchiev.</span></span></span>Russia’s Ministry of Justice refused to register the organisation, and attempts to take the dispute to court were unsuccessful.</p><p dir="ltr">Arkady Goryayev is now the regional coordinator of the People’s Patriotic Forces of Russia, a political association that has joined forces with the Communist Party to support Grudinin, whom he believes will get through to the second round of voting. And in Kalmykia, Goryayev believes his candidate will have the support of 45% of voters. “The Stalin thing has been blown up by the media,” Goryayev says when I remind him of the notorious interview in which Grudinin <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IPXiNIXuFI">called</a> Joseph Stalin “the best leader of our country over the last century”. </p><p dir="ltr">“Some people in Kalmykia might well take this provocation seriously, but most will see through it,” Goryayev tells me. “Grudinin is an agricultural specialist, the head of a state farm, and he’s thinking in a different paradigm. For him, Stalin was the man who, as we say, ‘found his country with a wooden plough and left it with the atom bomb’. If he wins the election, the first thing I’ll ask him about is the full posthumous rehabilitation of Stalin’s victims. But first I need to concentrate on his election campaign.”</p><p dir="ltr">The conversation would not have needed detailed retelling if Goryayev was one of those people who bend with the wind and can switch camp at a moment’s notice if it suits him. But Elista, capital of Kalmykia, is a small place. You can’t hide here, and you can count the number of principled oppositionists on one hand. Further conversation reveals that Goryayev sees a change of leadership as the most important thing. He believes that the country now has a chance. </p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Elista, capital of Kalmykia, is a small place. You can’t hide here, and you can count the number of principled oppositionists on one hand</p><p dir="ltr">There is some basis for this hope. According to <a href="http://president-rf.ru">this site</a>, Grudinin is far above the current president in text message polls (at the time of writing, 62.07% against 28.09%). But Goryayev’s prediction about his candidate’s success in Kalmykia is over-optimistic: if you look at social media, the picture is very different. </p><p dir="ltr">Basan Zakharov, head of the Tengrin Uydl (“Milky Way”) <a href="https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Oirats&amp;item_type=topic">Development Centre for Contemporary Oirat Culture</a>, believes that after Grudinin’s remark about Stalin on 6 February, “no Kalmyk, Chechen, Ingush, Karachayev, Balkar or Crimean Tatar – indeed no sensible person who thinks about the future – should vote for him”. Oirats are the westernmost group of Mongols, whose most prominent representatives are the Kalmyk people today. </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_Грудинин1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Грудинин1_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'>"Pavel Grudinin is a man of his word" - pre-election agitation in Elista, Kalmykia. Source: Badma Biurchiev.</span></span></span>Commenting on his own Facebook posts, Zakharov complains that Pavel Grudinin was the only person he could vote for, and now there is no one. Other participants of this pretty active (by Kalmyk social media standards) discussion are also disillusioned with Grudinin, who’s referred to by some as “people’s president”. “I have also totally changed my opinion of him,” writes one, while another adds: “Me too. He wasn’t bad at the start”.</p><p dir="ltr">This furious reaction of opponents to the “strong hand” all over Russia,and especially relatives of Stalin’s victims, was <a href="https://www.svoboda.org/a/29023988.html">predictable</a>. But Grudinin is lightly, even ostentatiously, sacrificing the votes of this part of Russian society. And it’s not even a risk that he’s taking, since a presidential candidate has nothing to lose. Grudinin is only too aware that these days open support for Stalin will win him more votes than stating the historical fact that the “best leader” was personally responsible for the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens. </p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">It is those who are de facto excluded from political life who provide the exceptional election results</p><p dir="ltr">The evolution of Putin’s ideas about government towards <a href="https://www.spectator.co.uk/2015/05/uncle-joe-is-revered-in-putins-russia-as-a-benevolent-dictator/">“effective management”</a> is demonstrative here: from Putin’s 2010 statement that “there can be no justification for Stalin’s crimes… and this assessment of him will not be revised” to 2017 sentiments about “the over-demonisation of Stalin” as a form of <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2017/06/17_a_10721567.shtml#page1">“attacking the USSR and Russia”</a>. The cult of Stalin per se is a different matter. But if you place this irrational phenomenon in the wider context of Russia’s political reality – examine it within the framework of policies towards Russia’s diverse ethnic groups, for example – you can see that, to quote Foucault, “intermittent and obvious madness hides within itself well-ordered and secret madness”. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A celebration of disaster</h2><p dir="ltr">Stalin’s deportation of entire peoples was recognised by the Russian government as an act of genocide in <a href="http://base.garant.ru/10200365/">a law passed in 1991</a> on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples. Almost three decades have since passed, but Russia still celebrates Fatherland Defender Day every 23 February, the anniversary of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">deportation of the Chechens and Ingush peoples</a>. And two weeks later, Russian men congratulate their wives and mothers on International Women’s Day, and few people remember that the Balkars spend that day mourning their kinsmen and women who didn’t make it back home from exile.</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/Chechen_Deportation_in_1944 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>NKVD troops loading Chechens and Ingush onto trains for deportation, likely taken in February 1944. Source: Wikipedia. Fair use.</span></span></span>The NKVD (forerunner of the KGB and FSB) presumably had a reason for “combining a celebration with arrests”. It’s easier to organise a mass exile at the weekend, when most people are at home. And a generation that grew up in the USSR probably finds it hard to wipe the memory of their favourite public holidays from their minds (although 7 November, when the 1917 Revolution is commemorated, is an example of the opposite).</p><p dir="ltr">But how could anyone with any common sense take it into their heads, as the regional authorities of Krasnodar did two years ago, to <a href="http://kavpolit.com/articles/krasnaja_poljana_i_smeshno_i_greshno-23458/">hold a public street festival on 21 May</a>, the Day of Mourning and Memory for those who died in the 101-year long <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russo-Circassian_War">Russo-Circassian War</a> (1763-1864)? </p><p dir="ltr">It’s unlikely to have been simple oversight by public officials. The dates are well known in the western Caucasus and Black Sea coast, where the <a href="https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/151025">ethnic cleansing of Circassian territory</a> took place. Not to mention the fact that the aborted event had a direct prequel, when the village of Krasnaya Polyana, a venue for Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics, decided to move its annual festival to that date. </p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">In Russia, political activity by minorities is coupled with an almost inevitable marginalisation, even when they play by the rules of the system</p><p dir="ltr">Festivals on memorial days, like the revival of Stalin’s personality cult, are just examples of the Russian public’s “split personality”. The problem is that Russia’s entire political system is based on the logic of madness. You have to work out how to live in a simultaneously <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3554493">federal and unitary state</a>. Or try to have a sensible discussion of the proposed <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/features-40660518">“Russian Nation Law” </a>when the principle of <a href="https://www.currenttime.tv/a/29029935.html">collective punishment</a> in the North Caucasus has become the norm.</p><p dir="ltr">Life in this disintegrating reality is uncomfortable for any sensible person. But the situation for members of ethnic minorities is even harder. In Russia, political activity by minorities is coupled with an almost inevitable marginalisation, even when they play by the rules of the system. </p><p dir="ltr">Yesterday, Arkady Goryayev was, in the eyes of Russia’s Communists, a “separatist” and <a href="https://kprf.ru/rus_soc/65977.html">“successor to Hitler’s accomplices”</a>. Now Goryayev is united with their party on the side of a candidate who defends Stalin’s crimes, and therefore alienates a majority of Kalmyks. Only my personal acquaintance with this opposition politician allows me to see this as a desperate attempt to break out of the madness of our political reality. But this life strategy is unacceptable for most people: hence the mass alienation from the political practices of the regional authorities. </p><p dir="ltr">It is those who are de facto excluded from political life who provide the exceptional election results. Everything comes full circle, and with each new cycle our absurd reality seems more and more ordered. The experts discuss the <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/dagestan-arrests-stifle-regions-leaders-russia-putin-60639">“lawlessness” of ethnic minority elites</a>, and the Kremlin responds – in the case of <a href="https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2018-02-14/a-purge-dagestan-ahead-russian-election">Dagestan</a> – by installing an <a href="https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2018-02-14/a-purge-dagestan-ahead-russian-election">externally-controlled government</a>. </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/artur-asafyev/these-hills-are-ours">These hills are ours</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/kalmykia-s-long-goodbye">Kalmykia’s long goodbye</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/could-elections-wake-up-kalmykia-navalny">Could Russia’s presidential elections wake up Kalmykia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-zubarevich/four-russias-new-political-reality">Four Russias: the new political reality </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 Badma Biurchiev Russia's 2018 election diary Russia Thu, 01 Mar 2018 10:11:20 +0000 Badma Biurchiev 116398 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda/chelyabinsk-anarchists-tortured <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A recent public action in support of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">tortured anarchists</a> in the city of Chelyabinsk has led to a backlash. Here, two people reveal how they were tortured by the FSB.</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_5f34322fbb6756c224dc61a385a1fba4_1400x850.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_5f34322fbb6756c224dc61a385a1fba4_1400x850.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>14-15 February: the action outside FSB headquarters, Chelyabinsk. Source: Popular Self-Defence group / VKonktate. </span></span></span>In late January, news that Viktor Filinkov, a left-wing activist and computer programmer, had disappeared (24 January) at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport was followed by arrests and searches (26 January) at the apartments of anti-fascist activists in the city. When Filinkov then surfaced in court and pre-trial detention, he <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">stated</a> he had been tortured by officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – as <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/01/27/kapustin">did a witness in the case</a>, Ilya Kapustin. Another Petersburg anti-fascist, Igor Shishkin, also <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/01/26/shishkin">disappeared</a> after his apartment was searched. </p><p dir="ltr">As it later became known, the Penza branch of the FSB opened an investigation into a “terrorist organisation” (Section Two of Article 205.4 of Russia’s Criminal Code) in October 2017 – and are charging six people in this case, some of whom have been tortured. The news of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/torture-penza-petersburg">“Penza-Petersburg” case</a> has understandably stirred Russian activist circles, leading to a series of public pickets against FSB torture.</p><h2>The main terrorist</h2><p dir="ltr">On the night of 14 February, a banner reading “FSB is the main terrorist” appeared on the fence of the Federal Security Service building in Chelyabinsk. “In solidarity with repressed anarchists across the country, we paid a visit to the FSB in Chelyabinsk,” - this is how the action’s organisers explained their <a href="https://vk.com/class__war?w=wall-34380444_159703">slogan</a> in support of detainees in the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/torture-penza-petersburg">Penza-Petersburg anarchist case</a>. In this <a href="https://vk.com/video-34380444_456239267">video</a>, you can make out three figures in black hanging up the banner, after which one of them lights a flare and throws it over the fence around the FSB building. </p><p dir="ltr">At roughly 10pm on 19 February, FSB officers detained two anarchists in different districts of Chelyabinsk, Dmitry Tsibukovsky and Dmitry Semenov. The latter is known for <a href="https://vk.com/id383181058">coordinating assistance</a> for Ukrainian anti-fascist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-novikova/a-birthday-in-the-urals-oleksandr-kolchenko">Oleksandr Kolchenko</a>, who was sentenced together with Oleg Sentsov in the “Crimean Terrorists” case. At the same time, FSB officers visited the home of Semenov’s first cousin Maxim Anfalov, as well as a common friend and hitchhiker by the name of Maxim. </p><iframe src="//vk.com/video_ext.php?oid=-34380444&id=456239267&hash=d09a37c3d93ba07e&hd=2" width="460" height="259" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>The action outside Chelyabinsk FSB headquarters on 14-15 February. The men and women later detained and tortured in connection with this action were not involved in it. </em><p dir="ltr">The brothers were talking to each other on Skype when FSB officers simultaneously knocked on their door. Anfalov recalls that the officers initially did not introduce themselves, saying that they were collecting signatures in support of returning the “against all” option on ballot papers. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Tsibukovsky, men in masks and uniforms with FSB insignia detained him at Chelyabinsk Tube-Rolling Plant, where he works: “They pushed me to the ground, pushed my hands painfully behind my back and handcuffed me, though I didn’t resist. After this, the uniformed officers punched me no less than ten times in the torso, head and neck. They beat me with the base of their hand against the soft parts of my body, neck, and clipped me round the back of the head.” Without drawing up a report, the officers confiscated Tsibukovsky’s mobile phone at work, and he was taken for a search of his apartment, which he rents together with his friend Anastasia Safonova. </p><p dir="ltr">After the apartment searches, all four men were taken to the FSB building, where, as they report here, they were forced to confess that they hung the banner outside the building. A “hooliganism” investigation (Article 213, Part 1) was opened into the incident.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“They brought in some kind of machine, they said that it was a taser of some sort, they strapped me to a chair and said that this was my last chance to write a confession”</p><p dir="ltr">Tsibukovsky and Anfalov state that they were beaten and tortured with a taser in the FSB building – as a result, Tsibukovsky signed a confession, naming himself as organiser of the action. Anfalov, who insisted that he was visiting his hitchhiker acquaintance Maxim in Kopeisk with his cousin, remains a witness in the case. According to Semenov, he was not tortured with the taser, but was forced to hold a painful position throughout the night. “The handcuffs cut into my hands, I spent a lot of time in a half-squat, practically the whole night, I don’t remember exactly. I got hit round the head once, they were demanding I confess that it was me who hung up the banner,” Semenov recalls. Anastasia Safonova was not treated violently, but, as Tsibukovsky remembers, the officers let her hear his shouts during torture. </p><p dir="ltr">By the morning, when the detainees had been brought to a central district police station, the FSB had started to threaten Semenov with torture. “They brought in some kind of machine, they said that it was a taser of some sort, they strapped me to a chair and said that this was my last chance to write a confession, but I still didn’t write it,” Semenov says. He believes that it was the arrival of a lawyer that saved him.</p><p dir="ltr">It is unclear what happened to the hitchhiker Maxim. Semenov says that he heard his cries in the FSB building, but after release has been unable to contact him. </p><p dir="ltr">In the end, the detainees have all been released. Tsibukovsky, Semenov and Safonova are being treated as suspects in the hooliganism investigation, and have now signed statements to the effect that they won’t leave the country. Anfalov (and, it seems, the hitchhiker Maxim) is a witness in the case. </p><p dir="ltr">Maxim Anfalov and Dmitry Tsibukovsky plan to make statements regarding torture to Russia’s Investigative Committee. MediaZona publishes their stories about the searches and interrogations here. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Maxim Anfalov: “They beat me with the taser: on my hands, my legs, my shoulder, my back”</h2><p dir="ltr">They rang the door to my apartment, they said they were collecting signatures in support of returning the “against all” option at the elections. I didn’t open the door. Then they started banging the door and shouting that I open it, because they’re officers from the FSB. They said that if I didn’t open the door, they were going to break the door down – which, indeed, they started doing 30 seconds later. It was terrifying, I didn’t know why they were here, and answered only “open up and you’ll find out” to all my questions. In the end, I opened the door and was instantly pushed to the ground. They were saying that I knew why they were here. They also said that they have an order to search my apartment, but showed it to me 20 minutes later, when I was already on the floor in handcuffs. </p><p dir="ltr">After they pushed me to the ground, they took my phone and began looking at it. They found my VKontakte page, and started asking about the <a href="https://vk.com/class__war">“Popular Self-defence”</a> group [where the video of the banner action first appeared] or something like that, I don’t remember the exact name of it. Their questions were accompanied by shocks from the taser. </p><p dir="ltr">Then they started asking questions about where I was from 14-15 February. They tried to convince me that I was in the centre of town, and I started to say that I didn’t remember where I was exactly. It was hard to remember anything in that kind of situation. </p><p dir="ltr">I can’t remember their faces, three of them were wearing masks. One of them was the one that beat me. They beat me with the taser in the lower back, on the legs, on the hands – it felt as if they were pressing something very hot [against me]. The worst was when they used the taser on my hands in the handcuffs, it was very painful, and because of how I moved as a result, the handcuffs also hurt me. </p><p dir="ltr">After they stopped torturing me, they showed me a video from my own phone, in which three people hang a banner saying “The FSB is the main terrorist”. And then one of them throws a smoke grenade or something over the fence. They asked if I recognised anything, I answered the truth: that I still couldn’t understand what I had to do with all of this. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">They ordered me to hold the taser with both hands and then turned it on. It was very painful</p><p dir="ltr">Then they started searching the apartment. There were witnesses, I don’t know where they got them from – they weren’t from my building. The search lasted an hour or two, they took two coats (I wore one of them), jeans, two hats, two laptops (mine and my girlfriend’s), all the telephones (mine and my girlfriend’s), five of them, two USB sticks, four sim cards, all charging devices. They even took a broken memory card for one of the phones. They filmed the search on a phone. </p><p dir="ltr">They found my airsoft gun, put it in my hands and photographed me. It seemed like they did it for a joke, but who knows. </p><p dir="ltr">They pointed out that I was not in a good situation and that it was better not to ask stupid questions, and then let me sign the search report. I read the report and then understood why they were there – but why they’d come to me, someone who isn’t involved in activism whatsoever, I don’t know.</p><p dir="ltr">Then they took the witnesses home, I sat in the car with my head down. One of them spoke to me in the car, he said that I had the right to remain silent, but whether I’ll survive what comes next… They threatened to ruin my girlfriend’s life. Or my mum’s. Then they brought me somewhere – the only thing I saw was the tile floor, they wouldn’t let me raise my head. The officers took me into a room with a table, couch and cupboard. They put me on my knees facing the cupboard. </p><p dir="ltr">They started asking what I knew. In the car, I’d remembered that on that day [14 February] I’d gone with my cousin to see a hitchhiker, Maxim, who was renting a flat in Kopeisk [a nearby town]. They said that I was just lying and started torturing me again. At the start, they hit me with the taser: arms, legs, shoulder, back. The worst was when they hit my hands – they ordered me to hold the taser with both hands and then turned it on. It was very painful. </p><p dir="ltr">As I understood, they wanted me to say that I knew the organisers of the action [outside Chelyabinsk FSB]. Or that I’d been involved. But neither of these were the truth, and I didn’t say anything. I repeated that I’d been with my cousin in Kopeisk at a friend’s house on the 15th. </p><p dir="ltr">After the next round of torture and questions, they told me to stand with my legs half-bent, otherwise they’d hit me with the taser again. I stood like that for 10-20 minutes, I couldn’t do any more than that. Then they said do 100 squats, which I did. It was very painful. It was hot, and they didn’t let me drink. When I told them I was about to faint, they took me out of the room and let me sit down. </p><p dir="ltr">In the end, they weren’t satisfied with what I said – that I’d been in Kopeisk together with my cousin. They forced me to write that I’d been there without my cousin. They accepted this, and then after a few hours of standing by the wall, they took me to the police station, it was morning then. There [in the Central District police station] they questioned me for a long time as a witness, but I said basically the same thing. Then they just kept me there for a very long time, they let me go around four o’clock. My mum was waiting for me outside – my brother’s lawyer had found us, it seems. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Dmitry Tsibukovsky: “The most important thing was to come out alive”</h2><p dir="ltr">The following is from Dmitry Tsibukovsky’s statement to the Investigative Committee. </p><p dir="ltr">They took me into my apartment, put me face-down on the ground and started conducting a search. I was lying with my face on the floor and didn’t see what was happening. They searched the apartment, and forced me and my girlfriend to sign the search report. They confiscated all my devices, phones, bank cards and other stuff, without an expert present. </p><p dir="ltr">After the search, they took me – as I later understood – to the FSB building. They took me into the lift and said they were taking me to the fifth floor. There, I could remember the layout of the offices. They took me into an office at the end of the corridor on the right. There was around seven people in the office. Some of them I can identify. One of them was wearing a uniform and mask over his face. The rest of them were in civilian clothes. They kept me there illegally overnight, without conducting any investigation. </p><p dir="ltr">They didn’t let me sleep, eat, drink or use the toilet. They started demanding a confession about how I’d conducted an action outside the FSB, I refused. They did not remove the handcuffs, and placed me in an uncomfortable physical position, a half-squat. I spent a lot of time in that position, I started getting pins and needles. When I tried to change my position, two officers would beat me. They beat me to make sure they didn’t leave marks on my body, but I still felt physical pain. Those two officers, I can identify them, beat me more than 10 times around the head, neck, body, thighs. All this time they were trying to force me to confess. They threatened me that if I didn’t start talking and confess, then it would be worse for me – that is, more painful. They threatened that they’d put me away for a long sentence. They threatened to use violence against my girlfriend [Anastasia] Safonova. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">For me, the main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive</p><p dir="ltr">After I didn’t confess for a long time, one of the two officers who’d beaten me started tasering me. He tasered me more than five times in the leg, around my thigh. After each shock, he asked me if I’d made up my mind to speak. The pain from the electrocution was unbearable, and I decided to “confess”, give the evidence that the officers wanted, incriminate myself and others. For me, the main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive.</p><p dir="ltr">These same officers discussed with me what I should say and who I should incriminate. They said to me directly that I should indicate Safonova and Semenov. They promised that after this they’d release me and my girlfriend. They took me into another office where an officer, who also didn’t introduce himself, wrote up my interrogation. This officer had been in the office before, when they were beating me. During the questioning, the officer himself drew up testimony and asked me to sign it. This document stated that I, together with Semenov and Safonova, had hung up the banner outside the FSB building. From what the officers said, I understood that a fourth person had been involved in the action. The officers said that I should name them another person, just anybody. Seeing as I didn’t take part in the action, didn’t know its participants, I just named the first person who came into my head – Ilya, who I just made up. </p><p dir="ltr">During the questioning, I was allowed to speak with Safonova, who was in the next room, on their internal telephone. They told me that I needed to convince her to confirm my words and then they’d let us both go. I asked Safonova to confirm my testimony, that is, sign the testimony. I told her that they’d tortured me and if she didn’t agree to help me, then they’d torture me even more. After that, they continued to detain me illegally, without compiling an official report, for the whole night. The officers told me that if I told my state-appointed lawyer about the torture, change my testimony or even chose my own lawyer, then they’d arrest me, and then they’d torture me even worse in jail. </p><p dir="ltr">On the morning of 20 February, they took me to the Central District police station, where I remained under guard until 8.30pm – also without sleep, food and water. I didn’t tell the state-appointed lawyer about the torture, as I was afraid of the threats from the FSB. Even more, at the police station, an investigator confirmed that if I didn’t confess my guilt or I revoked my testimony, they’d arrest me and send me to pre-trial investigation prison. That’s why I just told them everything the FSB officers told me and written down in their report. At that moment, it was important just to be released, so that I could then get a decision on my innocence.</p><p dir="ltr">When I was released without any forms of communication, I first slept, as I hadn’t slept for two days, and then I went to Regional Clinical Hospital No.2 to get medical care, as I was experiencing physical pain in my whole body after the torture. At the hospital, they wrote down a few of my injuries in a report – I link this to the fact that they tried to not leave any traces when they beat me. All the same, a doctor indicated that I had injuries to my stomach wall as well bruises from tasering on my thigh. I request you to bring a criminal prosecution against the FSB officers.</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/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 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/andrey-rykov/russias-security-services-against-anti-fascists">Russia’s security services have form in fabricating cases against anti-fascists </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> </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 Yegor Skovoroda Russia Wed, 28 Feb 2018 23:08:14 +0000 Yegor Skovoroda 116379 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “It’s important not to give into panic”: how I found out my husband was being tortured by the Russian security services https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandra-filinkova/its-important-not-to-give-into-panic <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In late January, my husband Viktor Filinkov <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">went missing</a> on route to Petersburg airport. When I found him two days later, he’d been tortured and charged with terrorism.</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/filinkova1_(1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/filinkova1_(1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Self-portrait of Alexandra Filinkova, the wife of Viktor Filinkov. </span></span></span>In late January, news that Viktor Filinkov, a left-wing activist and computer programmer, had <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">disappeared</a> (24 January) at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport was followed by arrests and searches (26 January) at the apartments of anti-fascist activists in the city. When Filinkov then surfaced in court and pre-trial detention, he <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/01/26/fil-fsb">stated</a> he had been tortured by officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – as <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/01/27/kapustin">did a witness in the case</a>, Ilya Kapustin.</p><p dir="ltr">Russian security services have now <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">accused Filinkov</a> of being a member of a terrorist organisation – together with several other people, including six people from the Volga city of Penza. Filinkov describes what happened to him at the hands of FSB officers on 23-25 January <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">here</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Alexandra Filinkov, Viktor’s wife, had traveled to Kyiv for vacation and was waiting for Viktor to arrive when he disappeared. Here, via OVD-Info, a Russian NGO that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ovd-info">monitors freedom of assembly and politically-motivated arrests</a>, Alexandra <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2018/02/22/vazhno-ne-poddavatsya-panike-zhena-figuranta-dela-seti-o-zhizni-posle-aresta">shares</a> her experience of helping a loved one.&nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">After the arrest</h2><p dir="ltr">It’s natural to be left-wing. To stand against discrimination, to stand for the freedom of self-expression, cooperation and mutual aid – this is normal. It’s a profitable mode of behaviour, game theory demonstrates it. It’s normal to feel hostility to racists, police violence, drunk priests who run people over in their cars and ex-gangsters who occupy positions of power. Who can like this? </p><p dir="ltr">We used to be involved in the anti-fascist movement, but we led a settled life in Petersburg. I was studying, Viktor worked. We used to hang out with people with similar views, and we didn’t miss an opportunity to argue about injustice. </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/filinkova3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/filinkova3.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'>NOD picket, by Alexandra Filinkova.</span></span></span>Last spring, we were walking near the Chernyshevskaya metro station [in Petersburg] and came across a picket by NOD [<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Liberation_Movement_(Russia)">National Liberation Movement</a>] in front of the US consulate. Everyone’s dressed up, wearing scarfs in the colours of St George ribbons, duffel coats, they’re shouting. We started asking what their demonstration was about. The NOD men and women thought we were “interested youths”, and started talking our ears off. It turned out they were protesting against human rights. They were shouting:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><br />“The laws of the Russian Federation should be above the Constitution! This is the West and the USA imposing their rules of the game on Putin, these juvenile courts, these animal rights activists! The enemies of Russia are setting up anti-missile and echo radio locator systems near the border so that all the planes lost contact and crashed!” </p><p dir="ltr">Viktor is a tech guy, he was interested by the “echo radio locators”. He asked if the NOD people knew about the laws of physics. After Viktor asked the question, a lady in a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribbon_of_Saint_George">St George’s scarf</a> started shouting at him: “The laws of physics can exist if they don’t contravene the laws of the Russian Federation. Police! Take these provocateurs away!” A sad-looking police officer (who had been guarding the zoo) asked us not to make the situation worse and leave. This is how their action ended. Later, I recognised a few of the NOD activists from photographs near the FSB building in the city [on 6 February, NOD members picketed the FSB building in Petersburg, calling for them to “suppress the terrorist scum”]. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Sometimes Viktor recognises he’s wrong. For him, the truth is higher than his own pride. That’s what kind of person he is</p><p dir="ltr">Viktor and I lived together, the marriage was a legal formality.* Neither of us have relatives in Petersburg, and we had to get married to have the right to legally represent a spouse or if one us wound up in the hospital. Viktor and I are good friends and spend almost all of our time together. He’s a reserved person, good-hearted. You can’t call him hot-headed, but some friends are annoyed by the way he argues, though later they themselves recognise that they didn’t have much in the way of argument either. Sometimes Viktor recognises he’s wrong. For him, the truth is higher than his own pride. That’s what kind of person he is. </p><p dir="ltr">I don’t boast that our relationship is a good one. I say this because my husband can’t just disappear for a few days, like he did on the evening of 23 January 2018. He couldn’t unexpectedly leave to hang out with his friends, to get in some kind of argument on the street, to get knocked over by a car just because he crossed the street on a red light. I waited in the airport until I couldn’t anymore. All the passengers had long left, the security guards had closed the doors of the arrival zone. No one else could come out. I tried to ring him. No one picked up, then the phone was switched off, then switched on again, but no one picked up. I started ringing the airline, the border services of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. I harassed the security guards at the airport until they checked the arriving passengers. They said that Viktor hadn’t arrived in Kyiv. </p><p dir="ltr">There were a few possible options of what could have happened, and I started turning them over in my mind. He wasn’t late for the flight, because he left early; the flight wasn’t delayed, he wasn’t stopped for a “chat” by the Ukrainian security services at the border; he didn’t board the plane, and didn’t answer his phone when it was working and there was an internet connection. I contacted Vitaly Cherkasov, a lawyer.</p><p dir="ltr">We started searching [for Viktor]. A chain of calls, faxes, emails, missing person reports, the police station in one district, a second, a third. At several stations, they’d pick up the phone and shout “He’s not here!” in irritation; some places they didn’t even pick up the phone. The Prosecutor’s office, Emergency services – they were just awful. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of people from ONK [the Public Monitoring Commission, a civic organisation that monitors human rights in places of detention], definitely not in one day. </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/filinkova2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/filinkova2.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'>Self-portrait in the airport, by Alexandra Filinkova.</span></span></span>On 25 February, I received a call from Yana Teplitskaya [one of two ONK members who visited Viktor Filinkov in pre-trial detention]. She said that they’d found Viktor – he was in court facing serious charges and had confessed to participating in a terrorist organisation.</p><p dir="ltr">I didn’t know what had made him agree to these charges. I thought it was a mistake and prepared myself for the worst. In these kind of moments it’s important not to lose yourself – don’t give in to panic. If you start panicking, you’re vulnerable. You have to act methodically, note your telephone calls, save your faxes, statements. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">You start to feel sick from what’s happened and the hate you feel for those who did it</p><p dir="ltr">Then Vitaly Cherkasov went to see Viktor. After a short meeting, he rang me and said that my husband had been taken into the woods and tortured with a taser. He has shock burns on his chests and outside thigh, and that the torture lasted for five hours. It’s impossible to be ready for that. You start to feel sick from what’s happened and the hate you feel for those who did it. </p><p dir="ltr">I’m not scared. I’m safe. I think that’s the most important thing for Viktor and me in the fight against the crimes of the FSB and prison service officers. I write to Viktor regularly via friends from Russia, I’m afraid that letters from Ukraine will take a long time. Unfortunately, he’s still not received a single letter. I don’t think anything has changed for us. In my letters, i write the same as before, in our everyday life: I joke, tell him how my day was, that the bitcoin price has dropped, that something is working out in my studies, I send him interesting articles. I subscribed him to some magazines. I write about how he wanted to take a vacation for ages and restore his sleep pattern – here’s a good opportunity to do that. I don’t want these new conditions to change him as a person. This nightmare will end sooner or later, and he should come out the same person he went in as.</p><p dir="ltr">People we didn’t expect to help are helping, and those we expected to – not always. I think people are scared of the situation, and several try to give the impression that nothing is happening. I think that until you get into this kind of situation, you don’t understand how much help you need from other people. Nevertheless, I’m thankful to my family, my friends and all the people who don’t remain indifferent for their support for me and Viktor. </p><p dir="ltr">What can you do? Don’t be a coward. If you hesitate, they’ll destroy you and your loved one. It won’t be easy for you, you want to cry, complain, say that no one is helping – leave all that. At the given moment, you are possibly the only person who can help your loved one, and now is not the time to think about how sad you are, how shitty the situation is. Together with your loved one, you need to discuss how to act in an extreme situation, have a number of a lawyer and know this: the longer you remain quiet, the longer they’ll be in the hands of sadists, and you won’t know what’s happening. Don’t let yourself be manipulated. Don’t believe in noble actions from the side of law enforcement. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Update: On 18 February, Ekaterina Kosarevskaya, a member of ONK, reported that one letter from Alexandra Filinkova had been passed on to Viktor. Alexandra is yet to receive a letter.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>* Alexandra also asked us to add that her relationship with Viktor is a romantic one. With the phrase “marriage is a legal formality,” she wanted to say that the formal registration of their relationship hadn’t influenced them at all. </em></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><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/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">“You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!”: Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">Russian authorities take aim at anti-fascists in St Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">The inside story of Russia’s failed social media revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/torture-penza-petersburg">Torture, Penza, Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/they-made-this-man-invalid-can-you-imagine-how-they-crippled-my-soul">“They made this man an invalid. Can you imagine how they crippled my soul?”</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 Alexandra Filinkova Russia Wed, 28 Feb 2018 21:54:59 +0000 Alexandra Filinkova 116378 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s security services have form in fabricating cases against anti-fascists https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-rykov/russias-security-services-against-anti-fascists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On the eve of Russia’s presidential elections, a new wave of repressions has begun. This 2011 case demonstrates how these prosecutions are fabricated – and their impacts on real people’s lives. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-rykov/delo-antifa-rash" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></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/rsz_анти_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Artem Bystrov, who had to flee Russia to escape a fabricate prosecution. Source: Vkontakte.</span></span></span>In April 2011, a group of anti-fascists in Nizhny Novgorod were charged with creating an “extremist organisation” and conspiring to prepare a coup d’état. Not a single one of them was ever sentenced in court, and all but two defendants were later amnestied. But now, after the final defendants have received political asylum abroad, it’s time to talk about what happened in the “Antifa-RASH” case. </p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, this case sheds light on how Russian law enforcement fabricates criminal prosecutions – and the events of January-February 2018, when several anti-fascists were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">abducted and then brutally tortured</a> by the Russian security services. You can read a minute-by-minute description of what happened to one of the activists here. The pretext in 2018 was sadly familiar: alleged participation in a “terrorist organisation” and conspiracy to conduct a coup d’état. </p><p dir="ltr">I spoke to Artem Bystrov, one of the Nizhny Novgorod activists, about the 2011 case and life on the run. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“Free for a while”</h2><p dir="ltr">The strange name “Antifa-RASH” was concocted by operatives of Nizhny Novgorod’s Counter-Extremism (“Center E”) department, who conducted searches in the apartments of five anti-fascists in 2011. According to the investigation, this was the name of an extremist group that attacked Nazis and football fans while simultaneously laying the groundwork for an armed coup. Error-riddled “membership cards” allegedly found during these searches were produced as evidence, together with an charter for the organisation “discovered” by investigators on a seized computer.</p><p dir="ltr">The name of the exposed extremist grouping is absurd in and of itself. Not only does it sound like a tautology (RASH is an acronym for Red and Anarchist Skinheads, that is, a grouping of non-racist skinheads united by left-wing views), but the counter-extremism officers didn’t even spell the name right in English on the cards. </p><p dir="ltr">These “membership cards” became a fully-fledged meme on the Russian internet, but they were by no means the only evidence that the case had been crudely cobbled together. There were eye-witness taxi-drivers, attesting-witness soldiers, aggrieved parties who admitted that they’d testified under torture – the entire gamut of Russian justice in its most repulsive guise. But even Russian judicial system didn’t hurry to return a verdict in a case that had provoked a scandal across half of Europe. The Antifa-RASH case was monitored by the Russian national press, while solidarity rallies were held in the UK and Poland.</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/564053/404683_235085506573621_1526336598_n-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="373" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The “membership cards” for the fabricated "Antifa-RASH" organisation.</span></span></span>Eventually, in December 2013, three of the anti-fascists – Pavel Krivonosov, Oleg Gembaruk and Dmitry Kolesov – were <a href="https://tvrain.ru/teleshow/novosti_sajta/troih_obvinjaemyh_po_delu_antifa_rash_amnistirovali-359643/">amnestied</a> in advance of the Sochi Winter Olympics. By this time, the case had practically collapsed, with the defendants facing a sole remaining charge – that of hooliganism. The amnesty, by all appearances, was welcomed by all parties: the three defendants, the defeated prosecutor’s office, and the court itself, now wearied of pointing out to the prosecution that multiple violations had been committed on their part. </p><p dir="ltr">But for Albert Gainutdinov and Artyom Bystrov, the case wasn’t over. Gainutdinov and Artyom Bystrov, the alleged leaders of the group, fled the country before legal proceedings began and were not covered by the amnesty – they’d been put on the federal wanted list. The pair lived in Ukraine for over five years, trying in vain to secure political refugee status. It was only in October 2017 that they were granted residence permits abroad. Bystrov agreed to talk to me about his flight from Russia and his life abroad on the condition that he wouldn’t name the country where he’s currently residing.</p><p dir="ltr">Bystrov was the only member of the mythical group to be placed under house arrest. His co-defendants were placed under travel restrictions. Center E’s bête noire Gainutdinov, who published (among other things) information defaming the counter-extremist agency on his streetmob.org website, was out of town while the searches were taking place. After the arrests, Albert lived in Moscow for a time before leaving for Ukraine.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Bystrov is convinced that, even if he had been found not guilty, he wouldn’t have been left to live in peace in his hometown</p><p dir="ltr">Ahead of the preliminary hearings in March 2012, Bystrov decided to follow his associate’s example. His disappearance came as a surprise not only for the court and the prosecutor’s office, but for his closest friends as well.</p><p dir="ltr">“My lawyer once said that, formally speaking, the house arrest period lasts only as long as the investigation. Between the referral of the case to court and the hearing, I’d supposedly be able to ‘go free for a while’. And so I did just that,” Bystrov recalls.</p><p dir="ltr">Bystrov maintains he didn’t particularly hesitate with this decision. The anti-fascist is convinced that, even if he had been found not guilty, he wouldn’t have been left to live in peace in his hometown. Center E operatives and FSB personnel, who’d pressured him to collaborate, had hinted as much.</p><h2 dir="ltr">All legal recourse</h2><p dir="ltr">“Since I’d no plans to travel abroad before my arrest, I didn’t get myself an external passport,” says the fugitive. “Of the ‘near-abroad’ countries I could enter on my internal passport, I ended up choosing Ukraine. Crossing the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, I wasn’t sure they’d let me through, though the risk of an info leak had been minimised. In the end I got to Kiev without a problem.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs ascertained Bystrov’s approximate whereabouts relatively quickly, but, for all the scheming of Russian law enforcement, they didn’t succeed in returning him to Russia. Bystrov says he has seen a extradition query sent by Russian police to their colleagues in Ukraine. This query presented the anti-fascist as an individual who’d been accused under the “hooliganism” article of the Criminal Code (no mention is made of the anti-extremist Article 282, under which deportation from Ukraine is not stipulated) and who’d escaped arrest (Bystrov was under house arrest).</p><p dir="ltr">Bystrov recalls that during the reign of Yanukovych, when the two countries’ respective law enforcement agencies were actively cooperating together, he always erred on the side of caution, communicating only with a small circle of people, never revealing his location to anyone and encrypting all his online correspondence.</p><p dir="ltr">“I entered the country legally on a three-month permit,” Bystrov explains. “I applied for asylum in Ukraine and, when my application was rejected, I explained my situation to the UN and simultaneously contested the decision of the Ukrainian State Migration Service, which allowed me to continue residing in the country on a legal basis. Despite my status, however, I remained cautious: Russian nationals in analogous situations would sometimes be dispatched to Ukrainian detention centres until the facts of the case were clarified, or else abducted and taken back to Russia – only to end up in prison once again.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“There was work to be had in Kiev. If you looked for it, you’d find it”</p><p dir="ltr">Artyom exhausted all legal recourse for getting the Ukrainian migration service’s decision revoked. But then came EuroMaidan and a change of regime, which allowed him to apply for asylum once again. To no avail, however: in the second half of 2014, Bystrov was asked to leave Ukraine. He lived in Kyiv illegally for a time before obtaining a residency permit in another country. </p><p dir="ltr">Despite these circumstances, Bystrov managed to find work and avoided tangling with the local police.</p><p dir="ltr">“There was work to be had in Kiev. If you looked for it, you’d find it,” the anti-fascist explains. “There’s always a risk that certain ‘responsible citizens’ among your colleagues might share their suspicions with law enforcement operatives, but if you’re really up against it you run the risk. Naturally enough, there’s a lot less choice when you’ve no documents, and you’ve always got to have one or two options up your sleeve.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Russian accent</h2><p dir="ltr">Bystrov recalls that the popularity enjoyed by the ultra-right took him aback even in the first few months of his time in Kyiv. He was particularly alarmed by the fact that the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) Party managed to garner 10% of the vote in the 2012 parliamentary elections.</p><p dir="ltr">The flight of president Viktor Yanukovych, lustration and the wave of euphoria that swept the country in the wake of the Maidan victory all conspired to raise Bystrov’s hopes. He stopped hiding himself away from the local authorities, got married, secured a business grant. He started working in a hardware store owned by a Syrian refugee he met through the UN. In 2015, after the UN gave him a grant, he opened his own electronics department in the store.</p><p dir="ltr">The rapidly developing events in Crimea and Donbass in 2014 brought new risks. He contemplated relocating to Crimea, where his wife was born, but Russia’s annexation of the peninsula made this impossible.</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/rsz_url_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Artem Bystrov and a comrade in Ukraine. Source: Vkontakte.</span></span></span>“Once the migration service had definitively refused to renew my residence permit, all I had left document-wise was my internal passport and a Russian military service card, which would’ve aroused considerable suspicion if I’d happened to have them on me during a street check. Also, even five years down the line, people would frequently pick up on my Russian accent. Propaganda was doing its work among the population while yesterday’s Nazi-style criminals and bandits were handed power, epaulettes and weapons. That, in addition to policies of decommunisation and de-Russification and an escalation of hostilities, meant there was very good reason to start being as cautious as possible once again.”</p><p dir="ltr">Bystrov’s status was ambiguous. Despite being an undocumented migrant, he couldn’t be deported – he was, after all, under UN protection. And where could he have been deported, what with the country fighting an undeclared war with Russia? Bystrov didn’t rule out the possibility of being placed in a detention facility and then exchanged for Ukrainian POWs, but it never came to that.</p><p dir="ltr">“The UN are really doing substantial work in Ukraine,” Bystrov continues. “They supported me financially, legally and morally throughout my five years there, from the word go to the moment I was resettled. I can’t say the same about the migration service – it’s poorly funded, by the looks of things, and this is impacting the quality of its work. Many’s the time I spent all day in the queue, only to be turned away. The constant turnover and shortage of staff, a lack of translators (even from English), a lack of photocopies – all these bureaucratic delights await people who have enough life problems as it is.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Ukrainian state failed to provide him, an asylum seeker, with any temporary accommodation. Bystrov was forced to rent apartments and stay in hostels; early on, when money was particularly tight, he even spent some time living in a garage.</p><h2 dir="ltr">No regrets</h2><p dir="ltr">In January 2017, following a threefold government tax hike, Bystrov was forced to shut down his department in the store. But he didn’t have to fret over this for long. The spring brought him good news: he’d be able to relocate to a new country, which meant an end to his years-long battle to obtain a Ukrainian permanent residence permit.</p><p dir="ltr">A host of countries denied the anti-fascist entry without offering any justification for doing so. But Bystrov himself believes they were put off by his “hooliganism” charge and his radical left convictions, which first-world countries find “unpalatable”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I regret nothing. If anyone’s waiting for me to express remorse and regret about my ‘wasted youth’, they can carry on waiting”</p><p dir="ltr">Had Artyom remained in Nizhny Novgorod in 2011, it’s quite possible that he too would have been amnestied two years later. But the anti-fascist himself doesn’t think along these lines, regarding his destiny as only logical. The city’s Center E, taking on the role of a modern political police, tried its utmost to purge the entire protest-inclined electorate, from the extreme left to the extreme right. Activists from provincial cities with traditionally sky-high levels of proizvol (lawlessness and abuse of power) had it particularly bad. Unsurprising, then, that the anti-extremists eventually got to the radical leftists, Bystrov included.</p><p dir="ltr">Fully cognizant of the sheer absurdity of his case – all those paper “membership cards”, the victims beaten up by Center E operatives, the strange witnesses – he looks back at it without regret, unphased by his fate: “I regret nothing. If anyone’s waiting for me to express remorse and regret about my ‘wasted youth’, they can carry on waiting. Enemies remain just that: enemies. As I see it, an amnesty entails leniency to convicts or defendants. Asking to be forgiven for fabricated crimes is something I find humiliating.”</p><p dir="ltr">A little more than one presidential term has elapsed since Bystrov’s high-profile detention in April 2011. During this time, the personnel strength of Nizhny Novgorod’s Center E has changed dramatically. As far as we know, however, none of the operatives involved in the case of the Nizhny Novgorod anti-fascists left their posts in the wake of inspections by the Prosecutor’s Office and the Internal Security Directorate, despite the fact that the just-mentioned agencies had been receiving torture-related complaints. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that Nikita Danishkin, another resident of Nizhny Novgorod, had been subjected to torture and <a href="http://www.pytkam.net/press-centr.novosti/4560">awarded</a> him compensation worth 20,000 euros. He was tortured in 2010 by operatives of that selfsame Center E, who forced him to confess that he’d been hatching plans to commit a terrorist act.</p><p dir="ltr">But Colonel Alexey Trifonov, head of Nizhny Novgorod’s Center E, remains unsinkable. In May 2017, The Insider <a href="https://theins.ru/politika/54329">traced out the links between Trifonov and provocateurs</a> who splashed liberal activists with zelyonka (brilliant green ink). Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who’d come to Nizhny Novgorod to visit a women’s penal colony, were subjected to just such an attack.</p><p dir="ltr">In a statement on its website about the incident, the human rights organisation Zona Prava (Justice Zone) <a href="http://zonaprava.info/blog/2014/3/9/hooligans.html#sjemka">asserts</a> that “at least two Ministry of Internal Affairs officials, Vasily Stepnov and Alexey Trifonov, played a part in organising or backing the attack.”</p><p dir="ltr">There have been no high-profile cases against Nizhny Novgorod anti-fascists following the failure of the Antifa-RASH operation. According to local activists, however, Center E occasionally makes its presence felt by staging minor provocations, predominantly involving the disruption of music concerts and festivals. What purpose does this serve? Nobody knows exactly. Perhaps it’s a way of “preventing extremism” among Russian youth. As Nizhny Novgorod residents who’ve been subjected to such “preventative checks” make clear, the destinies of Bystrov and Gainutdinov remain a subject of interest for Center E.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stanislav-markelov/patriotism-as-a-diagnosis">Patriotism as a diagnosis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">Russian authorities take aim at anti-fascists in St Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/new-casualties-of-russia-s-war-on-terror">The new casualties of Russia’s war on terror</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/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/dmitry-okrest/prison-is-the-ideal-model-for-the-state">Pyotr Ryabov: “Prison is the ideal model for the state”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Andrey Rykov Human rights Wed, 28 Feb 2018 06:41:56 +0000 Andrey Rykov 116337 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “You should understand: FSB officers always get their way!”: Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov reveals how he was tortured by Russian security services https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On 24 January 2018, I was tortured by the FSB into confessing to terrorism charges. Here is what happened.</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/d6ab1dfc74572d008e057261680e235f_1400x850.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/d6ab1dfc74572d008e057261680e235f_1400x850.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The room in St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport where Viktor Filinkov was taken. This image was made by Filinkov’s wife Alexandra according to his description. </span></span></span>In late January, news that Viktor Filinkov, a left-wing activist and computer programmer, had disappeared (24 January) at St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport was followed by arrests and searches (26 January) at the apartments of anti-fascist activists in the city. When Filinkov then surfaced in court and pre-trial detention, he <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/01/26/fil-fsb">stated</a> he had been tortured by officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – as <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/01/27/kapustin">did a witness in the case</a>, Ilya Kapustin. Another Petersburg anti-fascist, Igor Shishkin, also <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/01/26/shishkin">disappeared</a> after his apartment was searched. </p><p dir="ltr">As it turns out, the Penza branch of the FSB opened an investigation into a “terrorist organisation” (Section Two of Article 205.4 of Russia’s Criminal Code) in October 2017. Here, Egor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Andrey Chernov and Arman Sagynbayev (arrested in Petersburg and transported back) were arrested within a month. According to investigators, all the arrested men were members of the Set’ (‘Network’) organisation and were planning to use bombs to provoke “popular masses for further destabilisation of the political climate in the country” during the presidential elections and the football World Cup, thus organising an armed uprising. The network’s cells were allegedly operating in Moscow, St Petersburg, Penza and Belarus.</p><p dir="ltr">Russian security services have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">accused Filinkov</a> of being a member of this same terrorist organisation. In detention, Filinkov described everything that had happened to him after he was detained at Pulkovo airport on 23 January 2018 and until his arrest by a city district court. Below, Filinkov describes how he was medically examined before he was subjected to electric shock torture, interrogations at the FSB and endless conversations with bored agents. He sent the following text to members of the city’s Public Monitoring Commission (ONK), which monitor human rights in detention centres. </p><p dir="ltr">Other suspects in this alleged terrorist organisation – <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/02/16/shakursky">Ilya Shakursky</a> and <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/02/09/penza-tortures">Dmitry Pchelintsev</a>, and <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/01/27/kapustin">Ilya Kapustin</a>, the witness detained in St Petersburg – have also provided detailed testimonies of torture. Pchelintsev and Shakursky said that FSB agents tortured them with electric shocks in the basement of Penza’s detention centre. Igor Shishkin, the anti-fascist who also disappeared in Petersburg, did not mention torture, but doctors documented that the interior wall of his eye socket was broken, and that he had multiple bruises and abrasions; members of the ONK who visited him in detention documented multiple marks on his body that resembled electricity burns. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Russian outlet <a href="https://zona.media/">MediaZona</a> recently published <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/02/21/filin">Filinkov’s story in full</a>, alongside illustrations drawn by his wife Alexandra, who is based in Kyiv. You can read her letter <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandra-filinkova/its-important-not-to-give-into-panic">here</a>. </em></p><h2 dir="ltr">The first meeting with FSB agents: “Is it SS or VV?”</h2><p dir="ltr">My detention began on 23 January 2018 at boarding gate A08 at Pulkovo Airport. My flight was at 20:05. Several men in plain clothes were wandering around the waiting area for half an hour before – it was obvious they were not flying anywhere. </p><p dir="ltr">I was surrounded by five-six men, a middle-aged man in a pink checked shirt was standing in front of me. He opened up an ID in a brown cover and introduced himself: “FSB Major Karpov [I am not sure about the surname, I could not see anything in his ID], come with us.” I was surprised, asked what the matter was. I heard behind my back: “Take his phone!” “Give me your phone, follow us!” said the man in the checked shirt. I complied, pulled out my headphones and gave him my smartphone. “All phones!” I heard again behind my back. “Alright, we’ll sort that later.” Karpov was the only FSB agent who introduced himself.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/photo_2018-01-24_22-04-13_(1).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'>Viktor Filinkov. Source: Personal archive. </span></span></span>They brought me to a room, which you could only gain access to via a special pass. There were a server box, a cabinet, a device I didn’t recognise the size of a cash machine, a table with chairs, a leather couch and a cupboard. They put my stuff on top of the cabinet, and asked me to sit down on the couch. I looked at the wall clocks: it was approximately 19:35. Around an hour later, the first couple of agents arrived. They asked many questions, including about my salary. I even thought they were going to demand a bribe.</p><p dir="ltr">After another hour, two more agents came. “So, Vitya, have you already realised why what is happening to you is happening?” one of them asked. I answered: “I don’t understand. What’s happening?” I had already asked this question several times, and earlier they replied that this was a simple check, that the flight was going to be delayed and so on.</p><p dir="ltr">“Another guy also didn’t understand, then he fell down once and understood everything.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Are you threatening me?”</p><p dir="ltr">“No, just telling you how it happens sometimes.”</p><p dir="ltr">At that moment, I’d already unlocked my smartphone for the agents (without showing the password), but refused to unlock my laptop, because it was my work-laptop and there was an original code on it, worth millions of dollars. There was a CCTV camera in the room, I don’t know whether it was working. They told me to get my stuff out of my rucksack. Among other things, there was a photo of my wife with some friends, one of whom was in a police hat. “Who is that? Is he a policeman or what?” they asked, going through my things. They turned on my mobile phone, started looking through texts, calls and contacts. They took my passport, Kazakh ID [Filinkov is a citizen of Kazakhstan], and tickets. They didn’t return my documents. I had to carry my stuff around until the search. They also investigated my smartphone, asked about pictures, and also took pictures with their own smartphones, holding the cameras to the display of my smartphone.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The man – the tall one, who was seated to the right from me&nbsp;– was rumpling something in his hands [...] That made me nervous</p><p dir="ltr">This was mainly done by the first pair [of agents]. From the mouth of Bondarev K.A., I heard the surname Isayev. That this man was actually Bondarev K.A., I learned only on 29 January. I had to give my charger to one of those men. They returned the charger block, but I don’t remember if they returned the cable. They put my things back into the rucksack and brought me to the airport police department, entering with their own electronic ID. A police officer came from another room and asked everyone to introduce themselves. He was shown an ID, and then he asked the FSB agents not to enter without warning: “There are three of us here, and there’s such a crowd of you coming in. We tensed up.” They tried to check my fingerprints, but they couldn’t read the fingers: Papillon [a fingerprint scanning and recognition device] came up with red light, the search didn’t produce any results. Later, we spent 20-30 minutes collecting my luggage. Somebody (perhaps, Bondarev K.A.) helped carry it. I think he put it in a Priora. At the exit, the FSB agents who were stationed at the airport were discussing where they would go afterwards, and decided to go to McDonalds, and they didn’t leave the airport.</p><p dir="ltr">After leaving the airport, we turned left, and I saw a blue minivan with darkened windows. From the car, two men with masks covering their faces were approaching. One was tall, and had reinforced gloves (the pattern on the gloves resembled carbon composites – checked), the other one was short. Both were dressed in cargo trousers, coats and dark, almost black, military-type gloves. The tall one put handcuffs on me (in front, not very tightly), pushed me into the car, and started patting me down. He was told “Stop!”, and replied: “But how do I know, maybe he has a concealed blade!” The next two times he also patted me down. Then he pushed me in the second row from the back, pressed my head to my knees and told me to sit like this. Later, when I realised that he wasn’t really watching me, I looked up and turned my head around to orient myself.</p><p dir="ltr">We left the airport. “I’ll tell you where to go,” said an agent. I saw he had a smartphone with a map open, because there was no headrest on the seat in front of me. I tried to remember where we were driving, but quickly abandoned the effort – as it turned out later, it wasn’t necessary anyway. While we were driving, one of the agents received a call, and another agent asked: “Is it SS or VV?”.”‘SS,” answered the man who was called. The phone conversations were not lively. “Yes, all is fine, we are already on our way with Viktor.” I heard such conversations several times during the following 24 hours.</p><p dir="ltr">The man – the tall one, who was seated to the right from me&nbsp;– was rumpling something in his hands, but I couldn’t quite see what it was (but it wasn’t a taser); perhaps he was rumpling his gloves or the reinforcements on them. That made me nervous. During the first or the second trip, the tall one changed places with the short one. Otherwise, the tall one was always seating on my right side.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Police department. Medical inspection before torture</h2><p dir="ltr">I was ordered to get out of the car. I got out; the men in masks grabbed me under my arms one of them, the shorter one, adjusted his mask (perhaps, he was driving with an open face), and they dragged me to the porch. The tall one said: “Yes, cover up, there are cameras in there.” We were passing a red plaque: “…MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] Krasnogvardeisky District.” Policemen (in uniform) were not surprised by the guests. I was taken into a small room with a bench, a table, a chair and a Papillon device.</p><p dir="ltr">A policeman (under the close watch of two or three FSB agents; there was not much room) pressed my fingers against the glass of the Papillon device, often he wasn’t satisfied with the quality, and he repeated the procedure. When he saw “Quality: 47”, he was satisfied. |Patronymic?” he asked me. “I don’t have a patronymic in my passport.” “Well, if you don’t have one, you don’t have one” the policeman agreed and pressed enter, leaving the line empty. Then, it seems, they discussed the list of countries that stopped including patronymics in passports. “But who entered his patronymic?” the policeman asked, turning to those around him. “Well, the FSB, probably,” was the answer.</p><p dir="ltr">We were not delayed for long, and I – in handcuffs, still closed lightly – was taken to the minivan. Somebody’s voice ordered to follow the silver Priora. While we were driving, my mobile phone was ringing in my rucksack, it had been turned on for investigation by the first pair of the FSB agents at the airport.</p><p dir="ltr">I was again ordered to leave and take my rucksack. It wasn’t easy to do that in handcuffs, but after leaving the car they took them off. The men in masks didn’t go into the building. There was a plaque on it: “…Hospital 26”. An ordinary hospital, everything in terrible condition. There was a queue at the registration, the agents even complained that they had to wait with everyone. Everything was sorted out by a doctor from hospital administration. He looked young, he was unshaved, medium – a bit below medium – height. They were discussing for a long time what to do with my insurance, since I am a foreign citizen and don’t have a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Compulsory_Medical_Insurance_Fund_(Russia)">compulsory medical insurance</a> certificate. The FSB agents suggested I pay with my own money: “What’s the problem? Do you have a lot of money?” At the registration office, the agents said that they needed to have me “examined”.</p><p dir="ltr">I was asked about my complaints without waiting in the queue. I hadn’t been to a doctor for a while, I’d been waiting for insurance from my company, which I was supposed to get in February, so I had many complaints: neck, back, psoriasis, joints pain (especially my knees), headaches, and so on. The doctor noticed a bruise that already turned yellow on my right arm and asked where it was from. I didn’t remember. The agents suggested that someone had grabbed me there. They took my phone out of my rucksack, it had run out of battery from all the incoming calls. They ordered me to find the charger. I found it and one of them took it away with the phone. Then he complained that I lied to him when I said that the phone lasted a couple of weeks without charging.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I really like it how at first they all that they don’t understand anything” </p><p dir="ltr">Before they did a blood test, we were waiting for a doctor, and the agents were discussing something loudly, and the doctor who was sitting with us disciplined them: “I’m not disturbing you, am I?”, and later she kicked almost all of them out: “Right, you wait outside! What are you, his convoy?’” The agents talked back, but left, only one of them stayed with me. After the blood test (if I am not mistaken, three phials from a vein), my whole body was examined – probably, by a surgeon. Another agent came, he was asked to look at my tattoo and take a picture of it. After we returned to the first room, I was asked to touch my nose with closed eyes, they checked my hands, I was asked to press the doctor’s hands and so on.</p><p dir="ltr">We were waiting in the X-ray queue for a very long time. “More than two hours already! Why did you tell him that you have pain in your knee?” an FSB agent complained. “Who’s calling you?” an agent asked, showing me the screen of my phone. There was: “+380… 99 is calling”. “I don’t know, perhaps, my wife,” I replied. “But it’s a Ukrainian number, isn’t it?” the question, from an agent from St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Directorate of FSB, was rhetorical. While we were standing there, I was trying to find out what was going on.</p><p dir="ltr">“I really like it how at first they all that they don’t understand anything,” one of them (not Bondarev K.A.) said.</p><p dir="ltr">In the X-ray room, there was an X-ray machine made by Samsung that looked very futuristic. The stickers warning of the danger of laser damage to eyes, the mapping nets were all in English. One of the FSB agents (perhaps, Bondarev K.A.) went into the operating room. Almost my whole body was X-rayed: the head (profile, enface), upper body, low back, pelvis, left knee. I don’t remember the exact number of pictures, perhaps seven or 10.</p><p dir="ltr">“He is healthy! Nothing on the X-rays!” exclaimed an agent, as he came over with the medical documents. I wouldn’t say I was happy: after all, I was experiencing pain. They put my phone in my rucksack, and we went to the exit.</p><h2 dir="ltr">In the minivan. “Don’t move, I haven’t started yet”</h2><p dir="ltr">Next to the minivan stood a man in mask (the tall one) He asked: “Done?” “Yes, lock him from behind,” ordered Bondarev K.A. I was surprised. The man in mask pushed me into the car: he patted me down, pressed me into the second row from behind, forced my hands behind my back and put handcuffs on me. Then he pulled my hat down my face and shouted something into my ear, forcing my head to my knees. It was very scary. </p><p dir="ltr">The driver was told to follow the Priora, but I don’t remember when we set off. Bondarev K.A., the driver, one or two men in masks and one or two more agents from St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Directorate of FSB were certainly in the car. I saw a switched-on smartphone in one of those guys’ hands (possibly Viber or WhatsApp was open). So there were at least five men in the car, apart from me.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Everything was planned in advance and didn’t cause any questions among those present</p><p dir="ltr">There was no headrest at Bondarev K.A.’s seat from the first ride. Earlier I didn’t grasp the purpose of that. Now I understand that that was a special car for such “actions”, or perhaps it was prepared while I was in the airport. The one thing that was clear to me at the moment was that everything – the medical examination, headrest, handcuffs behind my back, hat on my head, men in masks – everything was planned in advance and didn’t cause any questions among those present.</p><p dir="ltr">It was difficult to breath, and so I decided to free my face from the hat. I started slowly nudging the hat, but managed only to free my nose, after which the man in mask pushed me to the seat with, I think, his left hand, and, I think, with his right hand punched me twice in the right side of chest, in the lower part of chest muscles. I pressed my jaws, expecting punches in the face, so that he didn’t break my teeth, but he forced me down in the initial pose with my head toward my knees. Clearly, he punched me not with a palm, the area of the punch was narrow. When he later repeated those punches in the chest, when I could see more than through the hat, I noticed that he punched with his fist, but turned his palm towards me. When he turned me into the previous position, he began to punch me in my back – also not in the centre, but to the right of my backbone. I made some noises through my teeth.</p><p dir="ltr">“Don’t move, I haven’t started yet,” the man in mask said. Bondarev K.A. said something like “Vitya! Vitya!” and hit me several times on the back of my head. The area of the blows was quite large and I decided that he was hitting me with the palm of his hand. His voice was right in front of me, behind the back of the seat, into which my head was pushed by those blows, and his words were synchronised with them.</p><p dir="ltr">I was panicking, it was very scary, I said that I didn’t understand anything, after which I received my first electric shock. Again, I was not expecting that and I was overwhelmed. It was unbearably painful, I started shouting, my body straightened. The man in mask ordered me to shut up and not to shake, I pressed against the window, and was trying to turn away my right leg, turning with my face to him. He forcefully turned me back and continued shocking me. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I was panicking, it was very scary, I said that I didn’t understand anything, after which I received my first electric shock</p><p dir="ltr">He shocked my legs and then the handcuffs. Sometimes they punched me in the back and the top of the head, that felt like a clip round the ear When I was shouting, they closed my mouth, and threatened to gag it, to tape or to stop up my mouth. I didn’t want to get a gag, and tried not to shout, but it wasn’t always possible.</p><p dir="ltr">I gave up almost immediately, in the first ten minutes. I was shouting: “Tell me what to say, and I will say anything!” But the violence did not stop.</p><p dir="ltr">Their threats sounded very convincing. I believed that they would act upon them if I didn’t comply. I’ve never passed out in my life, never lost consciousness from punches in the head, only lost coordination, that is ‘I was groggy.” Once, when I was hit with a brick in my temple, I fell in a complete stupor, frozen, but was still conscious, was even falling with my eyes open and recovered quickly. I considered that an advantage of my body, but this time… I wish I could pass out from blows on my head, but that was not happening. I gave up because I was certain that otherwise I would lose my health. To be honest, I am not sure, whether my health is going to be more damaged in prison than it could have been damaged in that situation. I am feeling unwell in pre-trial detention, local doctors and nurses are unlikely to diagnose my problems and definitely are not able to help me. It’s scary to think how it is going to be in a strict-regime prison.</p><p dir="ltr">I don’t know whether I made the right choice, but now, when I am writing these lines, the traces [of torture] are disappearing while the state attorney and the Investigative Committee are doing nothing. The traces on my chest are gone, yesterday they counted 33 marks on my leg, six of them – pairs. Today I can discern only 27 marks. Perhaps, it was worth enduring a bit longer and attempting to leave my biological traces, also before torture, but at that moment it was difficult to think about anything at all, and in general I never thought I was going to be tortured.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There were no breaks. Just blows and questions, blows and answers, blows and threats</p><p dir="ltr">They asked questions. If I didn’t know the answer, they hit me with electric shocks, if the answer didn’t correspond to their [expectations] – they hit me with shocks,. If I tried to think or formulate – I was hit with electric currents. If I forgot what they said, I was hit with currents.</p><p dir="ltr">There were no breaks. Just blows and questions, blows and answers, blows and threats. “You will now go naked outside in the frost, want that?”, “We’re gonna beat you in the balls with the taser” – and other threats were mainly made by Bondarev K.A. The man in mask was usually interested in the position of my body, shouts, he forced me, grabbed my neck, the scruff of my neck, arms and coat, and also punched me in my back, chest, back of the head and rarely - face, when I was trying to turn my leg away, turning my back towards the window.</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_2018-02-26_at_13.16.08.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-02-26_at_13.16.08.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Volkswagen, with a headless seat – this is where FSB officer KA Bondarev sat, with Filinkov behind him. </span></span></span>In comparison to electric shocks, these ordinary blows felt weak, the punches in the head I noticed mainly when I saw whitening in my eyes. The masked man’s selection of phrases was rather restricted: “Why are you shaking? I haven’t done anything yet!” he said, when I pressed myself against the window, when he was “cracking” the shocker next to my face or my leg. That was very humiliating, I felt my complete helplessness and defencelessness. I thought if I were playing according to their rules, it wouldn’t be painful, but it was painful in any case. For some questions they didn’t have the answers themselves.</p><p dir="ltr">“Where are the weapons?”</p><p dir="ltr">“What weapons? I know nothing,” I replied, and was shocked.</p><p dir="ltr">“You know everything, where are the weapons?” Bondarev K.A. pressed. </p><p dir="ltr">“Tell me, I will say what you tell me!” I hoped for mercy, but was still shocked. After several rounds, these questions were changed for ones which there were answers.</p><p dir="ltr">The masked man shocked me in different places: handcuffs, neck, chest, crotch, but the most convenient place was the right leg – he pressed me against the window, fixed my body in place, pressed the taser in, pushed the button and held it like that, and I couldn’t move my leg anywhere. Bondarev K.A. repeated punches on the back of my head from time to time – all in all, he hit me at least 10 times.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I felt awful, I didn’t want them to read my messages with my wife and close friends</p><p dir="ltr">“Now, you will repeat in order.” After that, there was a list of topics I had to report on. The list was long, and while it was read (not by Bondarev K.A., it was another voice, I thought), I forgot it all. “Sorry, I forgot the beginning…” I tried to explain, and they shocked me even more intensely. The threats were repeated: frost, balls.</p><p dir="ltr">“Why are you with your wife?” asked Bondarev K.A. “I love her!’” I shouted. “Who does she talk to?” “I don’t know!” “She is getting *******, and you don’t know?” – some questions shocked and humiliated me particularly strongly. </p><p dir="ltr">“Password! Password for the laptop!” [asked] one of the agents. I was trying to remember, and so got hit with electric current. “I am remembering,” I was shouting. “viktor.filinkov.***” I dictated. “In one go? One word? Bitch, we are going to check, if you are **** [lying], you’re *** [done]!” an FSB agent shouted. I felt awful, I didn’t want them to read my exchanges with my wife and close friends. I felt completely lost and doomed, I never felt so awful, I could not understand how all these people were sitting here and calmly enacting this violence.</p><p dir="ltr">“Hey, have you shit yourself? What’s that stink?” somebody asked. I thought there was a burning smell, the smell was indeed strong, and not particularly pleasant. I was looking at my leg, it was in dark spots, but I couldn’t understand what the spots were. I thought they were from the currents, but they were mainly on the inner side of my thigh.</p><p dir="ltr">The green light on the taser made me panicked and terrified, and the electric arc between the thick electrodes was, it seemed to me, lighting up the whole car.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Roadside. License plate: OM 938. “Hey, now I’ll wash him with snow”</h2><p dir="ltr">How it all ended, I don’t remember very well, but I was carried out of the minivan, and somebody noticed that my face was blooded. The man in the mask took me behind the minibus – that was the first and only time when I saw it from behind, before that I was taken up and down the side of the car. I looked right and tried to remember the number. That was very hard, my head was going to explode, my whole body was aching. OM 938, as it seems to me, was written on the plaque.</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_2018-02-26_at_13.13.26.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-02-26_at_13.13.26.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'>The Volkswagen where FSB officers tortured Viktor Filinkov. This image was made by Filinkov’s wife Alexandra according to his description. </span></span></span>“Hey, now I’ll wash him with snow. Vitya, what happened to you, did you hit yourself? Probably when we put the breaks on!” “Yes, take his hat and clean him, leave that snow!” the agents were saying. Somebody ran to pick up snow at the side of the road. I indeed felt something on my chin. Somebody removed my hat and rubbed my face with it. </p><p dir="ltr">It was light, perhaps, the road was lit up. There were trees in front of me, I couldn’t see how dense they were, but it was possible to see the moon through the treetops. The silver Priora was a bit ahead, closer to the roadside, parallel to the minivan.</p><p dir="ltr">I was shaking, shaking very strongly: my hands and body were moving uncontrollably, the handcuffs made noises. From this moment on, I was shaking like this every time I was on the street or in a cold car. It was not connected to cold directly, I was wearing a thick coat, and it was not freezing, I think. I was just shaking very strongly: before torture and after the temporary detention centre this didn’t happen.</p><p dir="ltr">They took off the handcuffs, and then put them on again, lightly, in front of me. There was some trouble with the handcuffs, I don’t remember exactly, but the masked men had their own handcuffs, and they were supposed to keep them. At some point this problem was discussed, but then, from Priora, I was in the handcuffs, connected by two plates. Whether I was earlier in handcuffs with a chain, I don’t remember.</p><h2 dir="ltr">MVD Department. Blood and a snickers</h2><p dir="ltr">We returned to the “MVD for Krasn…”, I was sitting on a bench, my rucksack was nearby. I was asked whether I eat chocolate, and what I was going to drink. I nodded and asked for water. All the agents had left apart from Bondarev K.A., who started writing up the papers. Rarely, he asked “clarifying” questions, checked what I remembered and corrected me if I made mistakes. They brought a snickers SUPER and water. My head, neck and legs hurt a lot. I ate a half of the snickers, put the other half aside on the right, it was difficult to eat, I was feeling very weak. It was difficult to talk, I felt depressed.</p><p dir="ltr">“He’s soaked his trousers in blood. That’s bad!” “Hey, buy him sweatpants and that’s it.” “Maybe wash it away?” I looked more attentively. Dark brown spots indeed looked like blood. Somebody threw a very small piece of wet cloth and told me to clean up. I rubbed my trousers. “What are you rubbing? Rub the big spots!” I was ordered. My half-hearted attempts to wash away the spots were in vain. “Alright, we will come up with something” an agent said, taking the cloth away from me.</p><p dir="ltr">“What’s the time?”</p><p dir="ltr">“7:30.”</p><p dir="ltr">Bondarev K.A. complained that he hadn’t slept for two days. “You now sign this or you will spend 24 hours driving with the same people for identification in another region of Russia. You should understand: FSB officers always get their way! It will anyway be like we decide!” Bondarev threatened me. The threat of being taken in another region of Russia was repeated once again, in one of the latest versions they added: “And a whole day back!” He wasn’t, it seems, the only person to make the threat. They called it “a car with specialists”.</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_2018-02-26_at_13.13.36.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-02-26_at_13.13.36.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Filinkov’s leg after torture, the taser is next to him. This image was made by Filinkov’s wife Alexandra according to his description. </span></span></span>“Why are you like this? Tired? Want to sleep? He hasn’t even finished the chocolate bar,” I was handed the second half of the snickers. I finished it.</p><p dir="ltr">There were several papers, it was written that it was a “testimony”. I didn’t know what it was, and didn’t understand my status. I signed everything, including a statement to the effect that the testimony was “recorded correctly from my words”. I was at this place for the second time, and I tried to look around: it seems to me that the building was made of pale bricks, [there was] an internal parking lot, at least from one side – normal housing.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Search. Lists with passwords</h2><p dir="ltr">I was taken for a search. The details of driving to my apartment block was only known to Bondarev K.A., and he explained how to park. There were cars everywhere. The FSB agents introduced themselves, showed their IDs to the porter and told her that they would be conducting investigation, and that they needed witnesses not from the inhabitants. She asked: “Which flat?”, but they replied that that was a secret. She called up some cleaners, and one of the agents double-checked: “Are they Russians?” “Yeah,” the porter replied.</p><p dir="ltr">They took the keys out of my rucksack and opened the door. Two agents rushed forward: “Get up! Get up quickly! Get up!” was heard from the room, then there was a sound of something falling down. Stepan [the neighbour in my rented flat] fell down. The agents rarely called him anything but “Bandera”, “Stepan Bandera”, and several times called him “crazy”&nbsp;or something like that.</p><p dir="ltr">There was a man with a bag, he took a printer and a laptop out of it, and placed himself in the kitchen. I don’t remember when he came. Then in the middle of the search, two more agents came, they were “busy” with Stepan in another room. They asked all passwords for Stepan’s multiple laptops, smartphones and so on, and attached them, written down on bits of paper, with tape to the devices. Immediately after entering, the agents called to ask other men to come to pick up Stepan.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“So he was telling you something? Well, it’s obvious, but you have to say that it happened. Well, that he made some off-cuff remarks in messages, it was there, understood?”</p><p dir="ltr">The balcony, room, hall, kitchen. They had to explain to the witnesses that they had to follow the agents and observe. It was clear that they wanted to make the search “clean”. I was surprised they didn’t plant anything on me – it seemed they prepared a secondary role for me. After all, it would have been stupid to plant something in my rucksack after I passed all controls at the airport. The witnesses didn’t move on their own, and looked at the floor most of the time. I tried to place my leg in such a way that the blood spots on my jeans were visible to those present, but I think it only made an effect on Stepan, and made him even more afraid.</p><p dir="ltr">“So, you will receive a copy of the protocol from us,” said the man with the printer, pointing at me. Some lists and seals had to be signed, attached to the bag with confiscated stuff. After signing the stickers with seals, the witnesses were dismissed. By the way, all devices were placed in my luggage bag, tapped with scotch and sealed.</p><p dir="ltr">We already were in the kitchen, where the man with laptop was writing the search protocol, when two more men entered. I barely saw them, only heard. They took “Bandera”to the room, and started “working” with him. “So he was telling you something? Well, it’s obvious, but you have to say that it happened. Well, that he made some off-cuff remarks in messages, it was there, understood?” Stepan clearly did not understand, and they were almost shouting in the room. Konstantin Bondarev rushed into the room to calm them down and close the door, because he was trying to build a “cooperative” relationship with me and understood the damage of trying to persuade my acquaintance to testify falsely against me. I heard everything, but didn’t show it. Bondarev K.A. didn’t comment on the behaviour of his colleagues, perhaps he thought that I didn’t understand anything.</p><p dir="ltr">I was sitting on a chair, it was still impossible to think. Trying to comprehend the information, I understood – they were going to put me away in any case, their “good attitude” was just a tactic, a distraction, to avoid using threats unnecessarily.</p><p dir="ltr">“Are we taking this one too?” asked an agent from “my team” after the colleagues who were taking Stepan away. “Yes, somehow he doesn’t agree,” was the answer.</p><p dir="ltr">At some moment, my clothes were “changed”, I don’t remember. First, they instructed me to take laces out of my shoes, then collect underwear and find a sweater, implying that it would be cold at the temporary detention centre. They ordered me to take off my trousers, somebody thrown Stepan’s sweatpants from the drier. “Change your t-shirt too!” was another order. I took off my old worn blue t-shirt for travelling with the word Kazakhstan on it and was looking for another one. I found an equally old t-shirt “Vintage Holiday”, which was a gift from my old friend Boris, also thrown thermal underwear pants in the bag and put a decathlon sweater above my thermal shirt. It’s better to sweat than to be cold, I thought.</p><p dir="ltr">Also in the hall they took everything out of my purse, put all my cash, around 2,000 roubles, into the rucksack. I put the same banknotes in the back pocket [of my trousers], which I still had on then.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The FSB building. “Testimony” and its editors</h2><p dir="ltr">At the FSB building we were waiting for some permits at the entrance. Across from me a man was sitting, dressed in a MultiCam uniform, his face concealed; next to him – a guy in a red sweater and a lady. They had a lively discussion, but I didn’t understand anything, I was ready to fall asleep. At some point, a short man with his face covered, but without a hat, was standing in front of me. He was talking to the agents, but I could not understand anything. His hair was partly grey; he wore black and had cargo trousers, of dark, almost black colour. He was looking very much like one of those “specialists”.</p><p dir="ltr">At the checkpoint, at exit and entrance, the agents threw their IDs into a tray under a large window covered with a mirror, a minute later the IDs were returned in the same tray. We took a lift to the third or fifth floor, and then climbed up one more floor. I was brought to a room in the depth of the hall, there was a man in it.</p><p dir="ltr">Something more or less similar to the [previous] “testimony” was happening: clarifying questions and a request to sign the documents. Apart from two aspects: the first list, which was put on the table for me, said that I was a witness for such and such case. There was the surname “Pchelintsev”. I asked where my lawyer was. The man smirked and answered “A lawyer? You’re a witness, you are not supposed to have one. But do you have one? I can call. Give me a number?” I didn’t know any numbers of lawyers.</p><p dir="ltr">“Alright, take the chair and leave”– that was the second strange moment. We left, I was sitting in the middle of the hall, facing some door, which the investigator entered with a print-out of my “testimony”. I could hear them discussing my “testimony” from behind the door. When he understood that I could hear them, the investigator looked out of the door. Perhaps, it was a double door, later I couldn’t hear anything. We returned to the office, he gave me six sheets of paper that he’d taken way: “Here, read and check,” he told me with a smirk. I was reading – well, everything was like in the “testimony”, I was trying to pick up on the phrasing, and one sheet was even re-printed, with the word “constitutional” changed for “state”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-02-26_at_13.17.38_0.png" alt="" title="" width="160" height="233" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The chair in the corridor of the FSB building, and the office of investigator Belyaev. </span></span></span>At this point, Bondarev K.A. arrived, brought me tea with sugar (two spoons, as I asked). Then I could not contest even separate terms – they told me that it depended on them in which detention centre I would end up, and I should better cooperate. I signed everything, including that I knew that there was Article 51 of the Russian Constitution [which protects against self-incrimination], which didn’t work – if I had used this right, the agents of FSB would have violated all my other rights.</p><p dir="ltr">The investigator took the papers with my ‘“witness testimony” out of the room several times. It became obvious that this story, authored by the FSB agents, had editors-in-chief, who were checking that nothing contradicted the general line.</p><p dir="ltr">Most of the time at the FSB, I spent in a small room of investigator Alexey on the second floor in the beginning of the hall. It was much smaller than [the room] of the previous investigator and the investigator Belyaev G.A. There was a sofa there (on which Bondarev K.A. allowed me to nap for a short period of time in the middle of the day), a large table with a computer (used by everyone), some shelves, a window (everyone smoked through it), a chair (I was sitting on it) and a little table (in vain, I tried to nap on it). Investigator Alexey said that he had been recalled from his vacation, that officially he was away, and that he didn’t understand what was going on. He also allowed everyone, including Bondarev K.A., to use the computer in his office, only warning them that some people would come for identification and then everyone would have to leave.</p><h2 dir="ltr">FSB Building. Conversations with agents</h2><p dir="ltr">What was happening the next few hours in the building of St Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Directorate of FSB, I remember only partially, I could separate time into three general parts – before 7pm, from 7pm to app. 11pm and later. But I could not locate all events precisely in each time interval.</p><p dir="ltr">Before 7pm, there were many informal conversations between the FSB agents and between me and them. Arrests, [Vyacheslav] <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">Maltsev</a>, [Alexey] Navalny, protests and so on were discussed. One of the men who were in the office for a long time looked, in comparison to others, young – he was a bit chubby and lazy. I think, he was in the first pair that arrived at the airport and dealt with my smartphone. According to his own words, he was in “the car with the specialists”. “I was in that car, what were you shouting there about your wife? That you love her? Seriously? And why ‘krya-krya’?” “Because it’s a duck” I shrugged, as I understood that they were searching my Telegram account. My wife has a duck as her avatar, and her account there is called krya krya.</p><p dir="ltr">Also he was telling stories how earlier he had caught Nazis. For example, how he caught “Antitsygan”, who “was happy that he got 13 [years]” [this is likely a reference to <a href="http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/news/counteraction/2012/07/d24847/">Russian neo-Nazi Georgy Timofeyev</a>, nickname Antitsygan – literally “Antigypsy” in English, from the gang NS/WP, sentenced in 2012). At some point he got a call, after which he went to “arm himself” – so it meant he had to act as a convoy somewhere. He returned in the evening, with a small gun (perhaps, Makarov) in a holster with a space for the second magazine, attached on the right to his belt. He was dressed practically – a black sweater, black cargo trousers. When he saw my wife’s cargo trousers from the <a href="https://www.splav.ru">Splav</a> brand during the search, he exclaimed: “He has trousers just like me!” But he didn’t have Splav trousers, even though, on the outside, they’re almost identical.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The relations between agents were friendly; [they were] somewhat dismissive towards subordinates, and evasive and compliant towards those of the higher ranks</p><p dir="ltr">He was not very enthusiastic about working on my case: when Bondarev was asking him to finish the second version of “testimony”, complaining about the third day without sleep, he usually replied: “No, I am on the team, but I don’t quite understand what this is about.” He was trying to avoid work as much as he could – when other agents were called on the phone, he gesticulated that he “was not there”. Moreover, he managed to sleep, sitting on the sofa.</p><p dir="ltr">He also talked about how the TsPE (Center for Combatting Extremism, Center E) had nothing to do, so they were putting people in prison for pictures with swastikas. I immediately remembered how an acquaintance was threatened with a prison term by TsPE agents, who showed him a print-out of a picture of two [unclear] guys and a Nazi tattoo, which they found among his saved pictures.</p><p dir="ltr">During the first and the beginning of the second periods in the FSB building they waged a war on computer viruses. The main enemy force was a virus that was a .bat file (performing batch script cmd.exe) which not only wrote itself in autorun.ini, but also created an icon looking like the basket, clicking on which concealed all files in the directory, changing their attributes. “And where are my files?” was one of the most popular phrases of the evening. The anti-Antitsygan guy explained that one must not click on the “basket”, but some agents still did. Over several hours, anti-Antitsygan manually restored his colleagues’ files and cleaned their flash drives. The computers in the building were not connected to either a local network or the Internet. The transfer of documents was done with USB sticks. When they got a free anti-virus somewhere, they started to scan the computer of investigator Alexey, during which malware software was detected, including two VBS-scripts for bitcoin mining.</p><p dir="ltr">Apart from his participation in torture and work at the FSB, he gave off an impression of a smart and technically competent man.</p><p dir="ltr">“So did you find something on his devices?” someone asked.</p><p dir="ltr">“How to say, not so much so far,” the man with the smartphone (perhaps anti-Antitsygan) replied.</p><p dir="ltr">For identification, I was taken away and sat on a chair in the hall, where I also had to communicate with FSB agents passing by. I told them my story, many were sympathetic, but all were united on one point: I would go to prison anyway, so it’s better for me “to cooperate with the investigation”, independently of my involvement in anything. From the conversations and short discussions with them, one could see their one-sided perception of many things, the fact that they’re “brainwashed”, one could feel their instrumentality, [they were] like puppets. The relations between agents were friendly; [they were] somewhat dismissive towards subordinates, and evasive and compliant towards those of the higher ranks. The hierarchy was palpable, even without knowing their actual ranks.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I barely felt sleepy at that moment, I had a feeling as if I was in somebody else’s body, and everything that was going on was unreal</p><p dir="ltr">Anti-Antitsygan told a story about a Nazi with a swastika on his chest, who had to remove the tattoo to “clean” himself, because he was getting harassed at a prison camp. Some time the agents spent discussing criminal tattoos. Anti-Antitsygan was trying to find a volume of prison tattoos with commentaries, then called a colleague, who sent him a version of the book. Anti-Antitsygan was looking there for a goat, a donkey and a pentagram. He read the funniest entries aloud.</p><p dir="ltr">“Have you seen his tattoo?”</p><p dir="ltr">“No, show me,” that was a dialogue between investigator Alexey and anti-Antitsygan with a request addressed to me. It was inconvenient to roll up my trouser-leg in the calf area. Anti-Antitsygan “saved” the situation. “Yes, look, I took a pic of it,” he showed a photo of my tattoo on the screen of his smartphone. Most likely, the photo was taken at the hospital during the medical examination.</p><p dir="ltr">“O-o-o, what’s that? A goat? You’ve got a ‘residence’ in the hut [prison cell] guaranteed!’ investigator Alexey commented.</p><p dir="ltr">“And who is going to ‘keep you warm’?” asked Bondarev K.A. from the room.</p><p dir="ltr">“I don’t know,” I replied.</p><p dir="ltr">“And what about your wife?”</p><p dir="ltr">“I hope she won’t come,” I forced myself to say, trying not to think about my wife being tortured.</p><p dir="ltr">“You what, haven’t understood yet?” Bondarev K.A. was surprised.</p><p dir="ltr">“XXX is still free, why?” he mentioned a woman’s name.</p><p dir="ltr">Somebody among the agents tried to change his mind: ‘“Let it go, he will later understand everything himself.” Then a whole list of female names (five-six) was mentioned, most of them I heard for the first time in my life. </p><p dir="ltr">“Where are they all? Haven’t understood yet? Free, because we are not animals.” I was indeed confused by what was going on. “We don’t take girls. Only guys will go to prison. Feminism is a good thing, but we don’t think so. There was no order to arrest the girls. But we will [hurt] your wife even in Kiev, if you misbehave,” he finished. I got scared.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The FSB building. “The General himself”</h2><p dir="ltr">Even before the war on viruses, there was terrible news: the first version of my “testimony” was not accepted, it did not satisfy the bosses. Bondarev sat in front of investigator Alexey’s computer and started typing a new version. Until the very end, he was complaining that he hadn’t slept for a while, that he didn’t understand what he was writing himself, and begged his colleagues to change places with him and check what he wrote before it would be passed “higher up” for approval.</p><p dir="ltr">Typing indeed took a lot of time, it was easy to believe that Bondarev K.A, was tired: he was squinting all the time, massaged his fingers, got up to smoke, and his speed of typing was incredibly slow. The colleagues refused to help him, but he managed to persuade them to do one “useful” thing: to buy a shawerma [kebab] around 7pm.</p><p dir="ltr">I agreed to eat shawerma – it was my second food of the day – and asked for water again. When they got back, the agents noticed that they were tricked at the canteen called “Seven types of shawerma”: they were given only five shawerma instead of six. As for drinks, they brought water for me and several bottles of kvas “Stepan” (perhaps, Razin).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Were you tortured? You were accidentally hit in the car! Understood?”</p><p dir="ltr">At some point they started saying that “we” were waiting for a lawyer. As it turned out later, we had been waiting for a state lawyer for me. Closer to his arrival, they explained that I should not try to do anything. They motivated me in the same old way: a choice of a detention centre with tuberculosis-infected inmates was in their hands. Also during the day they repeated the threats of a drive in “a car with the specialists”, if I didn’t comply. Realising that this meant several more days without sleeping in a car with criminals, who could do shifts, without giving me any breaks, I complied. They also threatened to leave me without water. “There won’t be any water there. How long can a human be without water?”</p><p dir="ltr">There was almost no conversation about torture in the FSB building. My attempts to say that torture is inhumane, that I signed those papers because I didn’t have any choice, as I didn’t want to be tortured again, were quickly stopped. “Were you tortured? You were accidentally hit in the car! Understood?” My attempts were stopped not only by Bondarev K.A. When I realised that they were all in this together, I became afraid of talking more about the violence during the night. I was totally broken.</p><p dir="ltr">Somebody came by: he was referred to as “the general himself”. A thin old man, his clothing looked like a military uniform, but, it seems, was just an ordinary formal suit. Inside, after the checkpoint, I only saw people in plain clothing. “The general”, as I remember, also asked why I was there for so long, nodding in my direction. They replied that they were waiting for a lawyer.</p><p dir="ltr">It was obvious, that the “general” indeed had a high rank and could also approve my testimony. “Why is XXX there, when the general himself came?” He was untalkative, I don’t remember his voice, as well as the purpose of his visit. He sat for some time in the corner between the wall and the sofa and then left.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I was asked a few more clarifying questions: they were the same questions to check that I learned the material, which Bondarev K.A. had asked</p><p dir="ltr">“Well, let at least Genka look at what I’ve written here! I can’t think anymore! I think this is total nonsense!” Bondarev K.A. gave up, getting up from the computer and leaving the room. Some time later a man entered and sat in front of the computer. Almost immediately he began to type something. “How did you learn about YYY?” asked the man behind the computer. “From the Internet, I got it from Wikipedia” I answered sluggishly. “Are you trolling? Do you have a note somewhere that you have to troll agents?” I heard from the sofa (perhaps, it was anti-Antitsygan).</p><p dir="ltr">“How is it? Total nonsense, right? I haven’t slept for 72 hours,” I heard Bondarev K.A. shouting to “Genka” from the hall. The man at the computer answered something, continuing his concentrated typing.</p><p dir="ltr">I barely felt sleepy at that moment, I had a feeling as if I was in somebody else’s body, and everything that was going on was unreal.</p><p dir="ltr">I was asked a few more clarifying questions: they were the same questions to check that I learned the material, which Bondarev K.A. had asked. They usually touched upon the topics that I invented myself during torture, when they didn’t believe that I didn’t know somebody or something. It was difficult to sustain the coherence of these stories: I couldn’t remember what I’d answered, and couldn’t say about all evidence whether I’d made it up or the agents.</p><p dir="ltr">The second version of the “testimony” was printed out and they ordered me to sign it, I don’t know what is written there, in the end. There were surprisingly many papers. After that, “Genka” inserted a USB stick, did something and took it away. I was told several more times that everything was going to be fine, if I cooperate.</p><p dir="ltr">The term “hat” meaning something bad was popular among the agents: “Made a hat, this is a hat.”</p><p dir="ltr">When I was alone with investigator Alexey, he told me that one could believe the agents’ promises: “Because FSB officers always fulfil their promises! Always! Understood?” that was already the second “FSB officers always” phrase during this day. The phrase was on my mind, often added with “use torture”. I decided that even Nazis did not deserve torture. In general, breaking the law, while being proud of protecting it, is absurd.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The FSB building. Interrogation</h2><p dir="ltr">How I got to the office of the investigator, I don’t remember. I was sitting in front of him at the table. “Belyaev Gennady A.” the investigator introduced himself. He was the man who recently finished my “testimony”. “Now we are going to formalise your arrest, then do a search, then you will have time to talk to a lawyer before interrogation,” he continued. A state lawyer, witnesses arrived, the investigator searched me, obviously, it had nothing with me. The lawyer noted that it was not necessary to do a search, to which Belyaev replied that he just got back from his vacation and he didn’t understand yet what was going on, and also told a story how after an arrest pot was found on a suspect at the temporary detention centre and the quality of his search was questioned.</p><p dir="ltr">When asked whether I agree with my arrest and acknowledge my guilt, I replied negatively.”‘No? Sure?” the investigator double-checked. I confirmed that I didn’t consider myself guilty, that I didn’t break any laws, and knew nothing about preparing and committing crimes. Officially, I was detained on 24 January at 11.30pm, 28 hours after the moment when they took my smartphone from me.</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/564053/748494e7f1ce19085a4a54cc77b5e076_(1).jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/748494e7f1ce19085a4a54cc77b5e076_(1).jpeg" 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'>The office of investigator Alexey.</span></span></span>“Well, here, you can talk in the corner at the window,” Belyaev G.A. pointed to the spot for “a confidential meeting with a lawyer, unrestricted in time”. He closed the room and went into the hall. I had only one question for the state lawyer: “What to do?” “To be honest, I don’t quite understand what is going on with you here…” he replied.</p><p dir="ltr">I told him briefly what kind of article they were trying to impose, that the prison term is from five to ten years of strict regime prison, what kind of papers I already signed, and that I had done nothing. “Well, it’s clear what they want, but you will get a suspended prison term for the first time…” When I heard that, I understood that the state lawyer had no clue where he was and what was going on. I had to interrupt him: ‘“There is no suspended sentence for [Article] 205 (“Terrorist act”)!’ My zero confidence in the inhabitants of this building now encompassed the state lawyer too. I didn’t tell him about torture, because I lost any hope of being helped. The state lawyer was telling me that the investigation would sort everything out and it was necessary to cooperate with it.</p><p dir="ltr">“Are you done?” asked Belyaev G.A., opening the office door. We entered inside. The state lawyer asked in which detention centre I was going to be sent. “First, to the temporary detention, and tomorrow after the court. It’s either Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.3 [SIZO-3], Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.4 [SIZO-4], or Kresty-2,” replied Belyaev G.A., looking at me. “It depends on different factors, how full it is, we will see where.”</p><p dir="ltr">“So are we going to cooperate?” he asked me.</p><p dir="ltr">“We will,” I replied.</p><p dir="ltr">“Do you acknowledge your guilt?”</p><p dir="ltr">“I do,” I replied, deprived of any choice and hope.</p><p dir="ltr">“Well, then I will compose the interrogation on the basis of the testimony…”</p><p dir="ltr">There were questions again, he was saying some utter nonsense. The investigator was interested in the details of my “stories”. As during the writing-up of the “testimony”, there were no checks related to the topics I learned in the minivan. The state lawyer asked “to leave space for pre-court [proceedings]”, and not to ask many questions.</p><p dir="ltr">“Hmm, in fact, there is no suspended sentence for Article 205. This is the first such article in my practice,” said the state lawyer. He was sitting on the sofa and looking at a smartphone. He returned to the table, when the “interrogation” was finally written by the investigator and it had to be signed. I was browsing, signing, and giving the pages to the lawyer. After the end of the interrogation, investigator Belyaev G.A. said: “I will inform the Consulate [of Kazakhstan]”. Obviously, the Consulate was not informed, as it turned out later.</p><p dir="ltr">After the interrogation, I asked the lawyer to get in touch with my wife and tell her what happened and where I was. “Alright, but if the investigation learns about it, that can undermine ‘pre-court’ [proceedings], if it affects the investigation,” he said.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Temporary detention centre</h2><p dir="ltr">I was led by foot to the temporary detention centre. During the examination, a doctor came, he was standing in two metres from me and didn’t approach me. He asked me about my chin, I told him I hit myself.</p><p dir="ltr">“What about the spots?” he continued.</p><p dir="ltr">I looked at the agents, they looked at me.</p><p dir="ltr">“I don’t know…” I replied.</p><p dir="ltr">“Are they painful?”</p><p dir="ltr">“No.”</p><p dir="ltr">Then there was another question, and at that moment, the agents took the paper from the hospital and gave it to the doctor.</p><p dir="ltr">“What’s that?” he asked.</p><p dir="ltr">“Well, he is healthy,” they explained, “[He] was examined on the 24th. Somebody smirked that 24 January 00.30 was recently (I assume it was early during the night of the 25th of January), while in fact a whole day passed.</p><p dir="ltr">In the cell, it was dark and [unclear]. My neighbour asked: ‘First time or second?” He introduced himself, but I don’t remember his name. Asked why he was there, he named the article: “One hundred…. and five’, I don’t remember for sure. “Stabbed. With a knife,” he explained. I laid down and closed my eyes.</p><p dir="ltr">“Get up!” I heard the news that it was morning. I closed my eyes again, and opened them because of the noise: my neighbour was taken away. The third time – I was led away. “Rubbish!” ordered a man in uniform. I didn’t leave any rubbish, and didn’t even have anything, so replied that I didn’t have any rubbish. “Sure? All rubbish, even the rubbish that’s not yours!” he ordered. I collected a couple of cigarette butts, somebody’s socks and put them in a bag. Had I slept at all? I didn’t understand.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Court. “This is not a brothel”. Pre-Trial Detention Centre</h2><p dir="ltr">I was brought to court. Some faces were familiar, also I already knew everyone in my convoy. In the car both times (to and from the court), they were trying to discuss with me informally various unrelated themes. I was still depressed and barely spoke – the agents did the talking. We spent some time in front of the court hall, then I was put in the cage, and the court began.</p><p dir="ltr">“…During the interrogation… the suspicions of the investigation accepted… no moderating connections… has income… bribing witnesses… arrest,” the investigator was gibbering.</p><p dir="ltr">The judge asked whether I agreed with the investigation. I replied that I didn’t know what to say. “Do you leave it to the court’s discretion?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered. The lawyer repeated: “At the court’s discretion.”</p><p dir="ltr">The state lawyer came to me a few minutes later and said: “Okay, I am leaving,” and then left the court.</p><p dir="ltr">Leaving, the judge said that this was for 40 minutes. At some point I lay down on the bench in the cage. The investigator Belyaev G.A. came and said that this was not a brothel and one was not allowed to lie down here. Then he asked some questions about my wife’s acquaintance and whether I would be able to identify her.</p><p dir="ltr">The judge read out the decision, then went to a room and returned in plain clothing. “If you refer to [Bondarev K.A.’s] report, you have to deposit it at court!” The FSB agents replied that it “was never necessary to bring anything and it was always fine”. In the court’s decision, it was written that the court studied the materials of the case, and that there was among them the report of the senior officer of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Directorate of FSB Bondarev K.A., concerning the discovery of the traces of crime.</p><p dir="ltr">In Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.3 [SIZO-3], the agents told me to take off my shoes and dress before a doctor arrived. “Well, it looks like it’s only the face,” the detention staff told the doctor. I again said that I was hit accidently. There were several diagnosing questions, I mentioned that I had psoriasis. The agents left, and I was waiting for something. A doctor came and again asked some questions, mentioned that I can ask for his help with psoriasis. I did not tell him anything about torture, because the FSB agents were still next-door – moreover, they may have conspired with the detention centre [staff].</p><p dir="ltr"><em>All images by Alexandra Filinkova.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>The campaign against anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia continues. Read this <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda/the-main-thing-was-to-come-out-alive">story from Chelyabinsk</a>.&nbsp;</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/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 even"> <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 class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">Russian authorities take aim at anti-fascists in St Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stanislav-markelov/patriotism-as-a-diagnosis">Patriotism as a diagnosis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/prison-is-the-ideal-model-for-the-state">Pyotr Ryabov: “Prison is the ideal model for the state”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/torture-penza-petersburg">Torture, Penza, Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda/chelyabinsk-anarchists-tortured">“The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive”</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 Viktor Filinkov Russia Wed, 28 Feb 2018 05:05:15 +0000 Viktor Filinkov 116363 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Young people gathered to voice a silent reproach”: Dmitry Borisov’s closing statement in court https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/young-people-gathered-to-voice-silent-reproach-dmitry-borisov-s-closing-statement <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This Russian activist received a one-year prison sentence for allegedly kicking a police officer during an anti-corruption rally in March 2017.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/dborisov-3 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dmitry Borisov at court. Source: Irina Yatsenko.</span></span></span><p><strong>A version of this text originally appeared on <a href="http://www.ovdinfo.org">OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated detentions and freedom of assembly in Russia. It was translated by the <a href="https://therussianreader.com">Russian Reader</a>.</strong></p>On 22 February, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-protester-dmitry-borisov-26-march">sentenced</a><span> Dmitry Borisov to one year in prison. Borisov is a defendant in the so-called </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">“26 March Case”</a><span>, involving various “forceful actions,” allegedly taken by protesters against policemen and Russian National Guardsmen on Pushkin Square during March 2017, rally inspired by </span><a href="https://therussianreader.com/2017/03/03/russia-basket-case-antihysterians-antirussophobians/">Don’t Call Him Dimon</a><span>, a video exposé by anti-corruption activist and would-be presidential candidate Alexey Navalny. The video accused Russian prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev of wide-ranging corruption. The prosecution asked the judge to sentence Borisov to three years in prison.</span><p dir="ltr">The court heard the defense’s and prosecution’s closing arguments, as well as Borisov’s closing statement on 20 February. According to our count, 46 people came to the hearing to support Borisov, many of them wearing t-shirts emblazoned with his picture. Prosecutor Larisa Sergunyayeva rattled off her closing argument, a printed text that she read out to the court. During Sergunyayeva’s speech, activist <a href="https://therussianreader.com/tag/ildar-dadin/">Ildar Dadin</a> called her a few rude names. Dadin was removed from the courtroom, but Sergunyayeva did not slow down her rapid-fire delivery.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Sergunyayeva, the testimony given by policemen was believable, while the testimony of protesters could not be trusted because they had a stake in the case’s outcome. Borisov’s malicious intent was allegedly proven by the discovery of a chat session on Telegram chat on his elephone in which he had written about planning to go to the rally with friends. Many positive character references were made on Borisov’s behalf, and he had no criminal record, but if the prosecutor has her way, he will spend three years behind bars for violating Article 318 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code, which stipulates a maximum punishment of five years in prison.*</p><p dir="ltr">Borisov’s attorneys, Ilya Novikov and Nikolay Fomin, spoke for about an hour and a half. They explained Borisov had been standing calmly at the rally when, for no apparent reason, police seized his friend and dragged him to the paddy wagon. Borisov grabbed his friend. The police knocked Borisov to the ground and beat him. Four of them dragged him to the paddy wagon. The lawyers explained the prosecution’s claim Borisov had wrested a leg free from one of the policemen carrying him and kicked him in the helmet was untenable, since the policeman who had testified he had seen this was located somewhere where he could not have seen the incident. They also argued the policemen who were witnesses in the case had perjured themselves when discussing the administrative charges also filed in connection with the events of 26 March 2017. They argued that if Borisov really had kicked the policeman’s helmet, he probably would have broken his visor, because Moscow police are currently outfitted with extremely poor-quality helmets. </p><p dir="ltr">Finally, the defense pointed out the alleged victim did not immediately file charges. He did so two months later, apparently under pressure from Investigative Committee detectives Alexander Uranov and Rustam Gabdulin, notorious for their involvement in the <a href="https://therussianreader.com/tag/bolotnaya-square-case/">Bolotnaya Square case</a>. They handled the investigation of the 26 March Case in exactly the same manner.</p><p dir="ltr">The defense attorneys predicted the court would hand down the worst sentence possible.</p><p dir="ltr">OVD Info has published Dmitry Borisov’s closing statement in court, below. The transcript may contain a few mistakes, because the accused spoke softly.</p><h2>Dmitry Borisov: Closing statement in court</h2><p dir="ltr">Your honour, the lawyers spoke very professionally, for which I am quite grateful. I did not use violence against police officers, nor did I intend to do so, because, at very least, it would have been senseless to do so. I had been captured by four policemen and was in a vertical position. All I could see was the sky.</p><p dir="ltr">I honestly do not understand why for nine months running I have been traveling to interrogations and court hearings not from home, but in trucks in which 15 people sit in a three meter square cage. After sitting in this cage for seven hours, they faint and have to urinate in bottles, because the truck is parked in the garage of the Moscow City Court.</p><p dir="ltr">I also do not understand why I have spent many hours in the so-called assembly cells at the remand prison, that is, halfway between my cell and the trip to court. These cells are 16 metres square, and 50 men, all of them smoking, are crammed into them. That is more than three persons per square meter. Try and imagine three men smoking in a one square meter space. Try and imagine how they feel. These cells are so filthy many people would not believe such a thing was possible in the capital of our mighty country. I do not want that to sound too sarcastic. I love my country, and that is a partial explanation of why I was on Pushkin Square on 26 March. There are people who say you can judge a city by the cleanliness of its toilets. If you saw the toilet in the assembly cell you would think you were in a village on the outskirts of a godforsaken banana republic.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We did not gather to engage in bloody revolution, but to remind the authorities it is worth giving things some thought</p><p dir="ltr">As for the cells in Butyrka Prison, they are scruffy, filthy dungeons with a view, for example, of an unimaginably dirty brick wall. That is the view in my cell. There is no heat. We have a single radiator in our cell, but it does not work. The ventilation consists of nine tiny holes, although the cell houses twenty-eight smokers.</p><p dir="ltr">My lawyers have spoken about how the case was politically motivated from the get-go. The actions of the investigators and their assistants were aimed from the very outset at proving my guilt. Although Ilya Novikov has spoken about it, I would like to mention the photograph of eight defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case that proudly hangs above Investigator Uranov’s desk, with the sentences they received written below each defendant in increasing order. If I am not mistaken, the longest sentence was four years. Apparently, Mr. Uranov is especially proud of this picture. I personally witnessed him getting on the internet and searching for news about how he had apprehended “enemies of the people.” He was upset when he discovered his name spelled incorrectly in one article. I cannot remember whether his first name is Alexey or Alexander, but it was written incorrectly in the internet. He was quite adamant on this point.</p><p dir="ltr">As for the case itself, my guilt consists only in the fact I tried to prevent my friend from being abducted. In the opinion of some people, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on 26 March in Pushkin Square. I am convinced it is wrong to grab people in the center of our country’s capital as if they were animals and drag them to a paddy wagon without identifying yourself and explaining the charges, even if you are wearing a security services uniform.</p><p dir="ltr">And that day more than a thousand people were detained.</p><p dir="ltr">They were detained not for holding an unauthorised rally, but for making a silent reproach. It took me a long time to find the right word to express what happened there. Young people gathered there to voice a silent reproach, to force the authorities to think a little.</p><p dir="ltr">We did not gather to engage in bloody revolution, but to remind the authorities it is worth giving things some thought. Otherwise, their actions really will lead to hungry bloody riots. Therefore, I ask you to exonerate me. I am not guilty of anything. I have been in jail for nearly eight and a half months for no reason at all.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>* “Use of violence that does not endanger human life or health, or threats to use violence against a representative of the authorit[ies], or his relatives, in connection with the discharge [of] his official duties, shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of 200 to 500 minimum wages, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of two to five months, or by arrest for a term of three to six months, or by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to five years.” Source: <a href="http://www.russian-criminal-code.com/PartII/SectionX/Chapter32.html">The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. </a></em></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><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">The 26 March case: how Russia is cracking down on freedom of assembly</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20">Bolotnaya 2.0?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-protester-dmitry-borisov-26-march">Russian protester gets one-year prison sentence for waving his leg in the air (while he was carried off by police)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Russia Tue, 27 Feb 2018 17:54:30 +0000 OVD-Info 116304 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “My baby knows how to speed up judges when he needs to” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/my-baby-knows-how-to-speed-up-judges-when-he-needs-to <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Recent revelations concerning a Russian oligarch and Russian deputy prime minister demonstrate how friendship, business and politics are intertwined in the Russian state’s influencing operations. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/yachta-rybka" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 10_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nastya Rybka, the escort/girlfriend of Oleg Deripaska who revealed an important behind-the-scenes meeting between Deripaska and Sergey Prikhodko. Source: Instagram. </span></span></span>Over the last 10 days, the Russian reading public’s demand for popcorn has increased sharply. On 8 February, Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQZr2NgKPiU">published a new investigation</a>, and launched a fascinating new soap opera. The investigation is based on the book and the Instagram account of a young woman, Nastya Rybka, who witnessed a meeting between a deputy prime minister, Sergey Prikhodko, and oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The meeting took place on the billionaire’s yacht in August 2016.</p><p dir="ltr">Analysing a string of events between Washington DC and Deripaska’s yacht, Navalny concluded that a possible purpose of the meeting was to allegedly discuss bribing members of Donald Trump’s campaign — and secure Russian influence on American public opinion shortly before the US presidential elections. Deripaska was <a href="https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/03/paul-manafort-tried-help-russian-oligarch-oleg-deripaska-suspected-mob-ties-gain-us/">once a client of Paul Manafort</a>, the US lobbyist with Russia ties who ran part of Trump’s presidential campaign. Prikhodko, who has a relatively low profile, answers for the Kremlin’s “foreign portfolio”.</p><p dir="ltr">Even before the public had time to enjoy <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQZr2NgKPiU">Navalny’s film</a>, however, a sequel began — this one launched by the Russian state. Less than a day after the investigation came out, Roskomnadzor (the Russian government’s media regulator) requested every outlet that published articles relating to the story to remove images and videos from their websites on the pretext of protecting privacy. On the evening of that same day, Roskomnadzor announced that all online information relating to Navalny’s investigation had been included in Russia’s <a href="https://eais.rkn.gov.ru/en">Unified Register</a> of banned websites. Roskomnadzor didn’t only include videos and pictures from Rybka’s Instagram and in the press, but even Navalny’s website in its entirety. On 15 February, Internet providers across Russia <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/news-43072741">started to block Navalny.com</a>. All this was done on the basis of a court ruling <a href="https://www.znak.com/2018-02-12/na_sayte_ust_labinskogo_suda_opublikovana_kartochka_dela_deripaski_k_rybke_i_lesli">that took 10 minutes to make</a>, establishing “interim measures” pending a proper ruling.</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/deripaska - prikhodko aug 2016.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="302" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Deripaska and Sergey Prikhodko, August 2016. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>The time between the publication of the investigation and the complete blocking of Navalny’s website was seven days — an unbelievable speed for Russian courts. Here, the Russian state’s power has been used to protect the interests of a public official and an oligarch, and to punish an anti-corruption activist, rather than establishing truth and justice. “After all, my baby knows how to speed up judges when he needs to,” this was Nastya Rybka’s tender <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BfOkejLh-Kx/?taken-by=nastya_rybka.ru">comment</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">One wonders, what was all this for? </p><p dir="ltr">It makes no sense to Deripaska to worry about his reputation in the world and especially in<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-xsmall'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/28459309_10156388050946842_1319396317_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/28459309_10156388050946842_1319396317_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="226" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xsmall imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A 2014 letter from Russia's General Prosecutor's office to Transparency International, confirming a 2007 Spanish criminal investigation into Oleg Deripaska for organised crime offences and money laundering. It was passed onto Russian investigators in 2012. According to the letter, the Russian investigation lasted until February 2015. </span></span></span>&nbsp;Russia. He’s been unable to visit the United States since 2006, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/deripaska-chrysler-usa/u-s-revoked-deripaska-visa-state-dept-official-idUSN1143738620070511">allegedly due to links with organised crime</a>. The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the Treasury Department (FinCEN) has had a <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/30/europe/putin-list-russia-oligarchs-intl/index.html">thick&nbsp;file</a> on him since the 1990s, when he was the owner of an aluminium business with Mikhail Chernoy, aka Michael Cherney, a criminal entrepreneur with links to the <a href="http://rubakhin.org/?page_id=1043">Izmaylovskaya organised crime syndicate</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">There’s also a <a href="https://www.latribune.fr/journal/edition-du-2701/evenement/353135/comment-oleg-deripaska-a-conquis-paris.html">file</a> on Deripaska in France, where he <a href="https://www.latribune.fr/journal/edition-du-2701/evenement/353135/comment-oleg-deripaska-a-conquis-paris.html">lobbied in support</a> of an IPO for his Rusal aluminium giant in Paris in <a href="http://www.interfax.ru/business/120453">2010</a>. And there’s another file at the office of the Attorney General of Spain, where <a href="https://theins.ru/politika/17298">Deripaska was formerly accused of money laundering</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">But the biggest file is, of course, in the Kremlin.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2007, fugitive Russian businessman Dschalol Haydarov gave testimony to German investigators in the course of a criminal case against the bosses of the Izmaylovskaya crime syndicate. Haydarov <a href="http://rubakhin.org/?page_id=867">made the following statement</a> to the Stuttgart police:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“One of the partners of Chernoy and Malevsky [one of the bosses of the criminal organisation] was Oleg Deripaska. He was responsible for operations with aluminium. It can be said with confidence that he knew about the murders and the methods of the organisation. Deripaska shared an office with Malevsky, and a joint bank account too.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">Deripaska had local connections with the FSB and the police. His job consisted of using his contacts with the FSB in the interest of the organisation. Close connections to the FSB and the police had strategic importance for the group. With the help of these connections, it was possible to follow business partners, &nbsp;eavesdrop their phones, conduct surveillance, receive their papers. That way they found out the weak spots of entrepreneurs in order to extort them more effectively.”</p><p dir="ltr">In this light, the oligarchs’ escapades with women on a yacht are neither news, nor “compromising material”. The story with Rybka was known long before Navalny’s investigation: the picture of Deripaska with his arms around the young woman was posted on Instagram in August 2016. Rybka’s book <em>Diary of a Billionaire’s Seduction</em> was published in 2017; the Russian tabloid press have written about the affair between Rybka and the businessman before. Deripaska’s security team could have deleted Rybka’s webpage long ago, and “disarmed” Rybka herself. But apparently the disclosure of this information was not considered a threat.</p><p dir="ltr">However, after the scandal around Navalny's investigation, everything was quickly cleaned up. Even Instagram rushed to delete all saucy pictures from Rybka’s account, fearing that Roskomnadzor could block them in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">So the question is: what was all this for?</p><p dir="ltr">In his investigation, Navalny asserts that Sergey Prikhodko’s three day holiday with prostitutes on Deripaska’s yacht, as well as the flight in his private jet, constitutes a bribe from the billionaire to an official. But if it is a bribe, then in exchange for what? What did the powerful “aluminium king”, 23rd on the Forbes Russia list, receive in exchange for his bribe to a deputy prime minister?</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-31534560 (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 Deripaska. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It’s completely possible that he didn’t receive anything in particular and that those who are defending the Kremlin are right: the businessman and the deputy prime minister were simply on a holiday together. “One shouldn’t confuse normal, friendly, unofficial relationships with perks and bribery,” this is what Mikhail Abyzov, Russia’s Minister for Open Government, <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2018/02/15/751180-abizov">commented</a>.</p><p>And he’s right. What’s more desirable for a businessman than a friendly relationship with a government official? When business and political power are so closely merged (as it is in Russia), it’s ridiculous to talk about bribes. Corrupt connections are interwoven to such extent that it has long become hard who’s an official — and who’s an oligarch.</p><p dir="ltr">This is why what took place behind Rybka’s back on Oleg Deripaska’s yacht is not bribery. It’s a political conspiracy to influence specific international events, which the Russian state organises with money from businesses dependent on it.</p><p dir="ltr">To strengthen their status, Russian businessmen have to participate in these kind of affairs and carry out the authorities’ political instructions. On the behalf of the Kremlin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire who goes by the nickname “Putin’s cook”, <a href="https://www.vox.com/2018/2/16/17020974/mueller-indictment-internet-research-agency">funds a “troll factory”</a> to divide American society and fuel hatred towards the Russian opposition. Deripaska, the aluminium tycoon, buys up lobbyists in Washington to defend the interests of the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. Others buy up Russian media outlets to control those who criticise the authorities.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, let’s admit that the role of Nastya Rybka has been unfairly belittled. We should acknowledge that we have only learned about all of this thanks to Rybka (who has <a href="https://meduza.io/en/news/2018/02/26/thai-police-arrest-the-woman-who-leaked-photos-of-oleg-deripaska-and-sergey-prikhodko-meeting-aboard-a-yacht">now been arrested</a> in Thailand, where she faces possible deportation to Russia). Risking her life, this young woman shed light on a secret meeting aboard a yacht and, in the name of the public good, published proof of a conspiracy. She’s the real whistle-blower, the Russian Chelsea Manning. It’s possible that Rybka didn’t realise the significance of what she was doing, or the information she disclosed. But thanks to her, the world has seen again that you can’t harbour illusions about the real way the <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/russian-world-moscows-strategy">“Russian world”</a> is put into action.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/russian-interference-in-virtual-world-is-not-problem">Russian interference in the virtual world is not the problem</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">Russia, Inc.</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-morozov/kremlin-s-so-called-partners">The Kremlin’s so-called “partners”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Who will make Russia “great again”? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Andrey Kalikh Russia's 2018 election diary Russia Tue, 27 Feb 2018 06:24:44 +0000 Andrey Kalikh 116308 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A wave of brutal crackdowns on LGBT communities in the post-Soviet space has exposed civil society’s shortcomings — and destroyed lives.</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/555493/2 copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>Every day, before leaving the house, Milan zips his jacket all the way up to his chin. He puts on his sunglasses, hat and earphones with the volume cranked up to the max and walks to a language class.</p><p dir="ltr">“People can barely see my face that way, and I can barely hear what is happening around me. I go to class, and then sometimes I meet with the social worker or go to the doctor. Then I have something to eat and set off to walk around the city until I’m so exhausted I can barely walk. Only then do I go home,” Milan says, adding that the thing he is most afraid of is closing his eyes and not being able to fall asleep.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is why I prefer to come home so tired that I literally pass out. Otherwise, every time I close my eyes, I feel the cold concrete floor against my stomach, I can taste the blood on my tongue, hear the shouting of the guards and see those smeared walls.”</p><p dir="ltr">Almost a year after Russia’s <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/01/71983-ubiystvo-chesti">broke</a> horrific accounts of the roundups and severe torture that gay men were subjected to in Chechnya (the exact number of deaths remains unknown), the crisis is far from over. Though many gay men in Chechnya, like Milan, fled abroad with the help of Russian LGBT rights defenders, they still have to hide their real identities and locations to prevent possible harassment from the Chechen intelligence — just like in Chechnya. Over the summer of 2017, reports of similar crimes across the North Caucasus increased, and in September, reports of similar roundups, humiliation and torture against LGBT people (who allegedly had STDs and were involved in sex work) <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge">emerged from Azerbaijan</a> — and in October, Tajikistan <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-lgbt-registry/28800614.html">created</a> a registry of LGBT citizens after police conducted operations to identity them.</p><p dir="ltr">While each crisis had its specifics, they all were used by the authorities to demonstrate their ability to crush any vulnerable community in an atmosphere of impunity, as well as to divert attention from other issues and extort money from the victims. The crises also exposed weak points, such as the lack of evacuation mechanisms, the fragility of the LGBT communities in question and inadequate collaboration between LGBT rights and general civil society groups in Eurasia.</p><h2>Copy-paste crimes</h2><p dir="ltr">“The crisis is ongoing, we definitely receive more casefiles and requests. Not on the scale of last year, but there are still many cases that get referred to us,” says a spokesperson for LGBT Network, the rights group in Russia that handled the majority of the cases of Chechen gay victims in 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">“We are receiving requests for help not only from Chechnya, but also other neighboring republics in the North Caucasus: Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and beyond. We are still not sure what to make of it. Was that the overall situation in the North Caucasus on the eve of the last year’s crisis, or did the other republics in the region simply adopt the pattern of the Chechen authorities? The attention created by the crisis is fading away, but it’s still ongoing.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">While these crises share similarities, the causes are not necessarily the same</p><p dir="ltr">Gulnara Mehdiyeva, an Azerbaijani LGBT rights defender, also cites ongoing problems in her work with victims of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge. “Now, a few months after these roundups in Baku, the risks for the LGBT community aren’t as high as before. But those whom we helped back in September say they are continuously receiving threats and being targeted by the law enforcement.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Tajikistan, the news that the General Prosecutor’s Office had created a list of “proven LGBT people” with hundreds of names was more a confirmation of existing information, according to Dilrabo Samadova, a Dushanbe-based human rights lawyer.This list first came out in 2015 after Tajik officials went after sex workers, “uncovering” the country’s LGBT community in the process.</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/content_map_2.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'>Former military offices in Argun, Chechnya, where gay men were detained, humiliated, tortured and subject to extortion in 2017. Image: </span></span></span>Following Tajikistan, the news of similar attacks on a smaller scale started to pop up elsewhere across Eurasian.“Any such negative developments tend to have a negative effect and find their way across the region at some point. We’ve seen that with the ‘gay propaganda’ law and other similar events,” says Kyrgyz Indigo’s activist Amir Mukhambetov, commenting on <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/04/kyrgyzstan-lgbt-community-fear-attacks-russia">Kyrgyzstan’s 2014 gay propaganda law</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">But while these crises share similarities, the causes are not necessarily the same.</p><h2>Show of power and corruption</h2><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/dmitry-dubrovsky">Dmitry Dubrovsky</a> with Saint Petersburg’s Human Rights Council says it’s hard to explain why the attacks on gay people happened in Chechnya. Dubrovsky says that previously, for example, honour killings of women were widespread in Chechnya, but “they were carried out by the families, while gays were targeted by the Chechen authorities.” He adds that “homophobia in general in Russia is quite high”, citing a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/19/homophobic-video-warns-russians-of-dangers-of-not-voting">recent homophobic video on social media</a> that called on Russians to participate in the March 2018 presidential elections as an example.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Chechen authorities were always hostile towards anyone who could be labeled as ‘the other,’” says the LGBT network spokesperson, adding that the LGBT people had always suffered physical attacks in the past, as well as attempts to extort money from them.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_ copy 2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>“This is the first time it was so massive. In an instant, the gays became the whole focus of the Chechen authorities… What we’ve learned is that it just happens in Chechnya that someone, some group just becomes ‘the other’ at one point or the other: drug users, traffic violators, etc. There's no one who is on the safe side living in that area, anyone can easily become a victim,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">In Dushanbe, Samadova also cites the rise of homophobia and says events like the crackdown in Chechnya or Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law affect the state of LGBT rights in Tajikistan. “The government harasses the LGBT community to extort money. However, interestingly, the harassment partially comes from the State Committee on National Security [known by the abbreviation GKNB] and if GKNB does it, it means the state is portraying the LGBT community as a threat to national security.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Right now, this [the evacuations] is happening ad-hoc, which is not helpful in terms of security. There’s a need for fast evacuation routes”</p><p dir="ltr">In Azerbaijan, according to Mehdiyeva, there were dozens of explanations floating around regarding the reasons for the crackdown, but she attributes the situation in October to corruption, adding that “the LGBT people who had an STD at the time of an arrest had already been registered with the Ministry of Health. Also, in Azerbaijan, if anyone in any district wants to do any kind of work, the police know about it. The same is true of sex work. They [the police] were told to catch the LGBT people, so they caught the ones they already knew and demanded others’ phone numbers from them, and then engaged in extortion.”</p><p dir="ltr">But no matter what the causes, these crises have exposed major problem areas.</p><h2>Exposing the fault lines</h2><p dir="ltr">One of the biggest problems that these crises faced was the lack of swift and well thought-out evacuation mechanisms for victims. Referring to his own experience of observing evacuations of LGBT Chechens, Dubrovsky says “there were no mechanisms that worked well. Right now, this [the evacuations] is happening ad-hoc, which is not helpful in terms of security. There’s a need for fast evacuation routes in the cases when there are threats to one’s freedom and/or life.”</p><p dir="ltr">Another problem is that the “public narrative in many of these cases is such that it’s the victims’ fault,” says Amir Mukhambetov.</p><p dir="ltr">In Azerbaijan, Mehdiyeva says the narrative fits the same pattern, noting that “the officials caught those who were too loud in the streets, or had STDs.” Unlike Chechnya, Mehdiyeva adds, the victims of the LGBT crackdown in Azerbaijan didn’t receive a lot of help in terms of relocation to safety. However, she links the lack of assistance to the fact that in Chechnya there were instances of people dying as the result of torture, and “in Azerbaijan, the worst we had was the use of a taser.”</p><p dir="ltr">The spokesperson for the Russian LGBT Network says their organisation, on the contrary, had seen a lot of support from the international community, including help with ensuring safety. However, “there were a lot of governments that were hesitant to address this crisis in public speeches or take it up with president Putin. There was a lot of back channeling, but some were hesitant to speak out publicly. [Had they done so,] more countries could have opened their borders and accepted more refugees.”</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/_ copy_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: <a href=https://www.behance.net/nnnccn>Anastasia Vikulova</a>. </span></span></span>Mehdiyeva says in Azerbaijan, the lack of support on behalf of civil society at large was obvious. “The public thought that there was really some crisis as it was portrayed by the Ministry of Health. Members of civil society at large could have said something, but they chose to remain silent.” Mehdiyeva mentions that the international media’s attention to the matter was much higher than their local counterparts, though the Azerbaijani Service of the BBC, as well as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Germany-based Meydan TV later started reporting as well.</p><p dir="ltr">Samad Rahimli, a human rights lawyer based in Baku who <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/azerbaijans-unlucky-lawyers">represented a number of the victims in court</a>, describes Azerbaijani civil society’s reaction as “less than desirable”. “On the one hand, there was no condemnation, and on the other, a small part of civil society reacted with homophobic statements.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In a nation like Azerbaijan, where homophobia runs high, the political opposition cannot touch the issue or support it”</p><p>Rahimli adds that the situation did not pertain solely to the LGBT community. “Since we witnessed blatant discrimination on the one hand, and violation of fundamental rights such as the use of torture, restriction of the right to liberty and due process, it was directly within the purview of the civil society groups and organisations.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The potential reasons for such a reaction,” Rahimli adds, “is the fact that, quite unfortunately, a sizable portion of the civil society organisations see themselves as part of the political opposition and identify with them. In a nation like Azerbaijan, where homophobia runs high, the political opposition cannot touch the issue or support it. They are afraid to lose votes and are wary of the people’s reaction or that the government would use their support in a smear campaign. Civil society, sadly, shares this hesitation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, the situation has developed along a somewhat different path. The LGBT Network’s spokesperson calls the current state of things “a new era of human rights-related crimes” and adds that the shift towards severe attacks on communities has shown that “we are not protected anymore”, and “there should be more unity in resolving such crises.”</p><h2>Unity is key</h2><p dir="ltr">The same spokesperson with the LGBT Network in Russia says they’d like to see more of Russian civil society at large addressing LGBT issues.</p><p>“In Russia, we still have the ‘normal’ people’s rights and the rights of LGBT,” they say, adding that a number of civil society groups “started to make a huge leap towards appreciating the need for supporting the LGBT people in Chechnya, as well as acknowledging their existence in the first place.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“There is a clear need for more communication and collaboration between the LGBT rights community and the civil society at large”</p><p dir="ltr">However, both the LGBT Network and Dmitry Dubrovsky state that in Russia speaking out about the violations of the rights of the LGBT community can at any time be interpreted as LGBT propaganda, which is punishable under the provisions of the notorious gay propaganda law of 2013.</p><p dir="ltr">“There is a clear need for more communication and collaboration between the LGBT rights community and the civil society at large,” says Dubrovsky, pointing out that “the LGBT rights community is a group of self-defense, and the rights defenders at large are more a group formed around principles. These groups have a lot of common points, but also conceptual differences. It is important to understand that their strategic goals are not always the same. For example, from the point of view of the rights defenders, discrimination at a university must be publicized, but from the point of view of a student, this will greatly complicate their life.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="251" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maxim Lapunov, centre, who <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice>came forward publicly to seek justice</a> after he was detained and tortured by Chechen police. Source: Human Rights Watch. </span></span></span>Existing personal relationships help collaboration at the time of crises like the one in Chechnya, says the LGBT Network’s spokesperson, adding that it’s important to “at least try to establish our points of collaboration”.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the frequently mentioned areas for collaboration is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">research</a>. Going forward, those knowledgeable of the issue point out that conducting research on LGBT topics could help push for change.</p><h2>Lack of research</h2><p dir="ltr">Recent crises have shown that there’s little systematic data on the issue of the LGBT rights or communities in general across Eurasia, and all that’s available is anecdotal data. “When there’s a more systematic data, then these issues are taken more seriously,” Dubrovsky says.</p><p dir="ltr">Mehdiyeva agrees that substantial research would help in the areas such as litigation, legislative changes and advocacy. Rahimli also mentions the lack of any substantive public opinion data or research in the country. He cites a public attitudes study carried out by ILGA-Europe, a leading LGBT rights advocacy group based in Brussels, which <a href="https://www.ilga-europe.org/sites/default/files/Attachments/side_a_rainbow_europe_map_2016_a3_small.pdf">described Azerbaijan as the worst place to be gay in Europe</a> in its LGBTI index of 2016.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Milan and most other victims will continue living in hiding and in fear that something similar could happen again</p><p>“Only after such a study is conducted can we talk about creating a sound framework to address the LGBT issues in Azerbaijan, such as strategic litigation, the scope and size of discrimination faced by the members of the community or enacting anti-discrimination legislation,” Rahimli says.</p><p dir="ltr">A year later, the world has moved on to address other challenges. Milan has moved on too — after he managed to relocate. His steps brisk, his shoulders wavering and long arms flapping, is yet again on one of his walks “till exhaustion” when his phone rings. He says he understands that the world can’t be transfixed with Chechnya forever, but “you all need to know this crisis isn’t over.”</p><p dir="ltr">Milan and most other victims will continue living in hiding and in fear that something similar could happen again. In an environment of impunity and lack of local and international accountability mechanisms, further spread of such attacks on other countries and other vulnerable communities is inevitable.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">What is being done right now, Milan says, only addresses the immediate aftermath of the attacks, but “there should be something else. So that the government knows they can’t treat people like they’ve treated me. There should be some sort of retaliation. If it is not punished, the government will do something like this again.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge">“We don’t want to be invisible”: the meaning of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option">Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov-evgeny-shtorn/charting-russia-s-most-dangerous-cities-for-lgbt-people">Charting Russia’s most dangerous cities for LGBT people</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/victim-of-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-seeks-justice">Victim of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT purge seeks justice</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 Tamara Grigoryeva Ismail Djalilov Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Human rights Chechnya Azerbaijan Tue, 27 Feb 2018 05:45:51 +0000 Ismail Djalilov and Tamara Grigoryeva 116342 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ukraine’s Orthodox church “conflict” takes to historic Kyiv https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukraines-orthodox-church-conflict <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The stand-off between Ukraine’s “Moscow church” and patriotic citizens receives a new breath of life in the country’s capital. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-kozak/novye-ikonoborzy" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6474_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6474_0.jpg" alt="lead " 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 rally near the Kyiv’s Appeal Court building, February 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>In late January, Kyiv’s police service received an distressing call – there had been arson attack at the Church of Tithes, located near the city’s landmark Andriyivsky descent. Two local architects, Oleksandr Gorban and Oleksiy Shemotyuk, were apprehended at the scene. They claimed that it wasn’t arson, but a protest aimed at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which owns the church. </p><p dir="ltr">Gorban and Shemotyuk’s action was not the first of its type: the Moscow Patriarchate’s decision to build the monastery in the very heart of Kyiv – on the grounds of the National History Museum – has created conflict between the Church and city residents for more than a decade. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A convenient miracle</h2><p dir="ltr">The Church of the Tithes (Desyatynna tservka) is one of Ukraine’s most important historical and architectural monuments. Built in stone in 996 by Prince Vladimir the Great, who introduced Christianity to Kievan Rus’, it was burned down in the 13th century during the Mongol Invasion. Only the foundations survived, and it was here that the Orthodox Church attempted to establish a foothold in 2006. First, without any authorisation, they erected a tent surmounted by a cross in the museum grounds. The idea was for the priests to celebrate Easter there, but they somewhat overstayed their welcome.</p><p dir="ltr">“At first, the plan was to celebrate a single Mass there,” the church’s website <a href="http://desyatynniy.org/">reads</a>, “but such was our parishioners’ joy and wish that they asked for permission to hold services throughout Holy Week. They would probably have had to take the tent down at the end of the week, but… the Lord blessed them all with a miracle – a vision of his Holy Mother Mary, the Queen of Heaven.”</p><p dir="ltr">The church’s clergy say this was the first miracle to take place there on the Feast Day of the icon known as the “Life-giving spring”, before which the Virgin herself had prayed. The icon was brought from the USA, where it was painted by the artist Alexander Kharon, whose brother Gedeon is the monastery’s abbot. The church’s website claims that there are still witnesses of the miracle among its parishioners today. </p><p dir="ltr">After the miracle, more and more people began visiting the church, and its clergy decided to replace the tent with a wooden building, which was consecrated in 2007. Since then, the building has been encased in cement and faced with stone and marble. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">All this time the Moscow Patriarchate, under the protection of the Party of Regions, has been putting forward plans to rebuild the church</p><p dir="ltr">All this time the Moscow Patriarchate, under the protection of the Party of Regions, has been putting forward plans to rebuild the church, despite official government disapproval: both the Ministry of Culture and the Cabinet of Ministers <a href="https://ukranews.com/ua/news/171244-popov-zapevnyv-shho-ne-dozvolyt-budivnyctvo-na-misci-desyatynnoi-cerkvy-v-kyyevi">believe</a> the foundations should be conserved and the church ruins “museified”. Archaeologists and architects also deplore the Moscow Patriarchate’s position, and are supported by UNESCO, under whose protection the monastery site lies. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, the Moscow Patriarchate’s occupation of part of the National History Museum site was partially legalised. Its official head was to be Mikhail Goitman, a former advisor to Serhiy Arbuzov, the head of Ukraine’s National Bank during Viktor Yanukovych’s time as president. </p><p dir="ltr">It was then that the conflict came to a head: the first arson attack on the monastery took place in 2012 and the perpetrators were never found. Shemotyuk and Gorban’s action was the first newsworthy protest aimed at the monastery in post-Maidan Ukraine. But the demands that the illegal structure be removed have also acquired a political angle – the complete removal from Ukraine of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-fert/putin-is-your-god">systematically accused</a> of defending the interests of the Russian government in general and Vladimir Putin in particular. </p><h2 dir="ltr">What are the priests complaining about?</h2><p dir="ltr">Civil activists and the media have <a href="https://hromadskeradio.org/programs/kyiv-donbas/podzhog-yly-performans-maf-yly-hram-podrobnosty-skandalnogo-dela-s-popytkoy-podzhoga-desyatynnogo-monastyrya-v-kyeve">compared</a> the arson attack with the stunts of Pyotr Pavlensky. The action’s echoes of the Russian performance artist’s own stunts – the most famous of which include setting fire to the doors of the FSB’s headquarters in Moscow – are quite clear:</p><p dir="ltr">“My actions were intended to draw public attention to, in the first place, this illegal structure and, in the second, to the presence of FSB officers in cassocks in Ukraine,” Shemonyuk said at his trial. </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_6371_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6371_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'>For many Ukrainians, the Moscow Patriarchate is a synonym for the FSB. Protesters near the Monastery of the Tithes, February 3, 2018. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>However, if Pavlensky got away with a fine in Russia, judge Tetyana Levytska was made of stronger stuff and sentenced the two architects to pre-trial detention for two months, with bail of 2.2 million hryvnya (£53,000). Levytska based her decision on the fact that the church contained icons, that people could have been inside, and that “the burning building might melted the foundations of the ancient church.”</p><p dir="ltr">Given that people accused of serious offences at the time of Maidan have recently emerged from high-profile trials with <a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1513962865">suspended sentences</a> and <a href="http://gordonua.com/news/maidan/sudya-kotoryy-prigovoril-krysina-k-uslovnomu-sroku-otpustil-iz-sizo-dvuh-obvinyaemyh-v-pokushenii-na-ubiystvo-aktivistov-evromaydana-223991.html">house arrest</a>, the punishment imposed on Shemotyuk and Gorban seemed absurd. Indeed, it sparked outrage among the Ukrainian public and a viral response on social media, where their supporters have set up the hashtag #Свободу_архітекторам (#Freedom to the Architects). </p><p dir="ltr">There is also a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/1875977039079557/">Facebook group</a> aiming to coordinate efforts to free the two architects and fight the possible rebuilding of the Church of the Tithes: it amassed more than 3,000 members in a few days, and has been used to plan a peaceful protest. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“We’ve got laws in Ukraine! What are those priests yelling about?”</h2><p dir="ltr">On 3 February, around 300 people gathered at the monastery: not to pray but to demand the release of Shemotyuk and Gorban. The space around the entrance is crowded: the priests have asked their parishioners to come and “defend”, as they phrase it, “the alma mater of Kievan Rus churches” from an attempt to take it by force by radicals.</p><p dir="ltr">“People are in prison because of these priests,” shouts Konstantin, part of an action in support of the architects. </p><p dir="ltr">“What are you yelling for? You’re stopping people from praying to God,” the church members hiss back at him. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“For some reason, priests here are a separate caste, above everybody else. What’s that about? Why do they get all kinds of benefits and preferential treatment?</p><p dir="ltr">“What god is that, then? We’ve got laws in Ukraine! What are those priests yelling about?” Konstantin is not to be shouted down and continues to argue loudly. “For some reason, priests here are a separate caste, above everybody else. What’s that about? Why do they get all kinds of benefits and preferential treatment? So that they can drive Mercedes-Maybach cars and rob people who come to them for counselling? The church should be helping people, not itself! But it helps itself, because it belongs to Moscow. There have been no normal people in the Moscow Patriarchate church since the commies killed them all – there have just been KGB and FSB agents!” </p><p dir="ltr">High-ranking Orthodox church officials, including the late UOC(MP) leader Metropolitan Vladimir, are regularly in the headlines, with journalists <a href="https://zn.ua/SOCIETY/zhurnalisty_snyali_roskoshnyy_osobnyak_nastoyatelya_kievo-pecherskoy_lavry_video.html">investigating their sumptuous lifestyle</a> and close links with the politicians, especially those from the now defunct <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/international/2014/08/140813_ukraine_onufriy_new_metropolitan_analysis">Party of Regions</a>. And Metropolitan Pavel, abbot of the historic Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, one of the most sacred sites of Orthodoxy, has no scruples about entering into conflict with the media: his security people <a href="https://nv.ua/publications/ljubov-k-roskoshi-skandaly-i-lizane-tapochek-samye-gromkie-istorii-s-uchastiem-vladyki-pavla-67782.html">have been known to threaten journalists</a>, and the Metropolitan himself has verbally abused media people and even taken a mobile phone off one of them. </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_6339_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6339_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'>February 3, 2018: protest action near the Monastery of the Tithes. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>During the Maidan protests in 2014, Metropolitan Pavel assured then President Viktor Yanukovych that he had the support of the Church, and after Russia annexed Crimea, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) on the peninsula was re-registered and now is under direct control from Moscow. This was taken by Kyiv as recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, and the Moscow Patriarchate’s <a href="http://tass.ru/obschestvo/4854199">calls for peace in Donbas echo the clichés of Kremlin propaganda</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Two elderly women are frantically praying for peace as they circle the monastery site with icons in their hands. </p><p dir="ltr">“There is no love, you see. Just hatred,” they wail. </p><p dir="ltr">“Down with the FSB! Free the architects!” counter the protesters. They include ultra-nationalists, members of radical groups and people who have fought against the separatists in Donbas, as well as members of the creative professions – architects, artists, planners. </p><p dir="ltr">The diversity of the crowd is no accident. For the last few years, urbanism has been developing as a movement in Ukraine. People are involved in initiatives aimed at humanising urban spaces, studying and transforming towns and cities “from below” and basing their plans on residents’ needs rather than those of business or government. And architects are by definition an important part of this process. Shemotyuk and Gorban also have close links with the veterans’ movement – Oleksey did his military service in Ukraine’s air reconnaissance service and Oleksandr supported the Ukrainian Army as a volunteer. </p><p dir="ltr">The rally sings Ukraine’s national anthem, and start including lyrics from popular poet Serhiy Zhadan. </p><p dir="ltr">“What’s happening now is madness, Satanism, paganism, unbelief in the real God,” comments one of the church members. </p><p dir="ltr">Shemotyuk and Gorban’s friends and colleagues are worried about potential provocation and call for the protest to remain peaceful – any violence could threaten their court appeals. Dozens of police and National Guard officers are keeping their eyes on the situation, and whenever confrontation seems to be looming, the police form a line between the two factions. But in general, the rally passes off without incident – both the churchgoers and the protesters have brought children with them. And both groups actively engage with one another and debate the situation. </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_6299_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6299_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'>Archimandrite Gedeon (left) near the Church of Tithes on the day of the protest. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>A member of the “Moscow church” tries to reason with the protesters: “We’re nothing to do with Moscow: we’re the canonical Ukrainian Church.”</p><p dir="ltr">“We have to respect all religions, and especially because it’s a single religion,” says church member Vladislava angrily. “We don’t want them to spoil that. We’ve been Orthodox all our lives – I’ve been baptised, and so have my children. What way is this to resolve the issue?” </p><p dir="ltr">Archimandrite Gedeon, abbot of the Church of Tithes, explains his views on the subject a little way off: “It’s radical elements who are responsible for this conflict. And they include members of parliament, pagans, who incite people to make war on canonical Orthodoxy.” He repeats his message that the monastery is legal, that all the documents are in order. And also, that it’s a popular parish with thousands of members and the monastery has 20 monks, 10 priests, two miraculous icons and a large number of relics. </p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, beside the church, the protesters have unrolled a banner with a portrait of Putin on it, and the children are using it to slide down the hill. The prayers and the protest continued till evening.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“I regret having insulted ordinary believers”</h2><p dir="ltr">On 5 February, it was impossible to reach the fifth floor of Kyiv’s Appeal Court. Dozens of people had come to support Shemotyuk and Gorban as they put their case for the overturning of their sentence. Their defence counsels were going to demand that the court release them on bail, and the public prosecutor was also asking for a milder form of pre-trial custody. Several MPs announced their readiness to support the architects, as indeed did clergy from the monastery (although they failed to turn up in court). </p><p dir="ltr">The defence appended an addition to the court papers from the Planning and Architecture department responsible for the monastery. It stated that it hadn’t assigned any address to the monastery, that the land registry had not received any plans for the building and that the department had received no data on the design of the project. </p><p dir="ltr">The accused were not in the courtroom: they took part in the proceedings by videolink. </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_6489_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6489_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'>Oleksiy Shemotyuk via video in the hall of Kyiv’s Appeal Court, February 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>“Where such a sensitive and painful subject as religion is concerned, any violence is totally impermissible,” admitted Oleksiy Shemotyuk. “And although we just wanted to draw attention to the issue, there was a certain element of violence involved. And I would agree that we insulted those apolitical believers who go the church. I’ve had time to think it over,” the activist told his supporters in the courtroom. The Appeal Court released Shemotyuk and Gorban on bail for the duration of their judicial investigation</p><p dir="ltr">As the case attracted increasing public attention, Ukrainian MPs have also got involved. The illegal building situation was examined by the Parliamentary Anti-corruption Committee, after which Ihor Lutsenko, one of its members, filed two lawsuits with the public prosecutor’s office – one for the unauthorised acquisition of land and the other for the destruction of an architectural layer as a result of unauthorised construction works. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Moscow Patriarchate is more interested in preserving its influence than its soul</p><p dir="ltr">Ministry of Culture officials also announced that they would take part in the examination of the case and re-send their original requests to Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies. Kyiv’s relevant municipal committee also supported the monastery’s demolition, and on 9 February MPs <a href="http://interfax.com.ua/news/general/483908.html">examined</a> the petition initiated by the two architects, </p><p dir="ltr">The church’s parishioners produced their own response – 10,000 signatures on a petition asking for the building to be preserved. Archmandrite Gedeon meanwhile sent a request to “all current organs of power”, not to mention the UN and USA president Donald Trump, to defend “the right to security and freedom of religion”.</p><p dir="ltr">The church has now acquired a major new relic – St George’s right hand – a gift from Mount Athos, and daily prayers are being offered up there for peace in Ukraine before the beginning of Lent. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Self-preservation</h2><p dir="ltr">By this stage, public attention is focused on other unauthorised church buildings that were proposed or under construction – an interactive map of them recently appeared online. And after the arson attack on the Church of Tithes, another protest was organised, this time to protect a famous Kyiv monument, the <a href="https://www.interesniy.kiev.ua/place/pamyatnik-loshadka-yozhik-v-tumane/">“Hedgehog in the Fog” sculpture</a> (the eponymous animal was the star of a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eaVOYizc80">popular 1975 cartoon film</a>). The Moscow Patriarchate also recently erected a cross nearby, on the site of St George’s Church, which was demolished by the Soviet government in 1934. </p><p dir="ltr">“These attempts at pin prick occupations are part of a hybrid strategy of the Moscow Patriarchate to legitimise its ancient Russian origins. ‘We have always been here,’ they seem to be saying. But we’re saying: ‘The hedgehogs were here first,” reads the protest organisers’ statement. People tore down the Orthodox cross and gave it back to the priests. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“There are people who don’t believe priests driving around in expensive cars are moral compasses, but still believe that the Church is higher and stronger than the weakness of a single person, including one wearing a cassock”</p><p dir="ltr">The pollsters have identified a decrease in membership of the UOC(MP) in Ukraine. According to a 2017 survey by the Razumkov Center, more than 38% of Orthodox Church members <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/67089/">belong to the church’s Kyiv Patriarchate</a>, and only 17.4% to the Moscow Patriarchate. And only 7.7% of believers (as opposed to 22% in 2010) <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/69680/">want the UOC to remain part of the Russian Orthodox Church</a>. The number of people wishing to unite around the Kyiv Patriarchate is growing, with more than 50 former Moscow Patriarchate congregations becoming part of the UOC(KP). </p><p dir="ltr">Despite the high level of trust <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/68726/">enjoyed by the church in general</a>, its institutions are <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/67093/">losing their moral authority</a>. As Elena Bohdan, a senior lecturer in sociology at the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/expert_thought/interview/67601/">says</a>: “There are people who don’t believe priests driving around in expensive cars are moral compasses, but still believe that the Church is higher and stronger than the weakness of a single person, including one wearing a cassock.”</p><p dir="ltr">Over the last four years, Ukrainian civil society has shown its capacity for self-sacrifice in the interests of building a state based on the rule of law and determining the future of its country. The Moscow Patriarchate, unfortunately, is not prepared, as it is more interested in preserving its influence than its soul. This is why it will have more and more questions to answer. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-fert/putin-is-your-god">“Putin is your God!”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/iannis-carras/can-ukraine%E2%80%99s-divided-church-help-heal-divided-country">Can Ukraine’s divided church help heal the divided country</a> </div> <div class="field-item 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/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-botanova/ukraines-blacklists-in-defence-of-democracy">Ukraine’s blacklists in defence of democracy and national security are doing it no favours</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Tue, 27 Feb 2018 05:37:47 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 116315 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Anatomy of The Times: how a British newspaper uses Russian propaganda tricks to discredit striking academics https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elisabeth-schimpfossl-ilya-yablokov/anatomy-of-times-russian-propaganda-university <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A leading British newspaper is using patchy “evidence”, insinuation and intrigue to vilify the UK university protest. We know these techniques well from our research into Russian propaganda.&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-35162189.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'>Professors, lecturers and administration staff at dozens of UK universities have gone on strike against proposed pension reforms. (c)Tobias Schreiner/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is an open letter in response to an investigative article in <em>The Times </em>entitled <a href="https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/university-activists-have-been-plotting-strike-for-seven-years-nhkx6brk8">“University activists have been plotting the strike for seven years”</a>. The article appeared after day two of an <a href="https://www.ucu.org.uk/USS-action">ongoing strike</a> by University and College Union university lecturers against a pension reform (which, in our case, would mean a loss of roughly 40% of our pensions).</p><p>The article, by Paul Morgan-Bentley, Head of Investigations at <em>The Times</em>, describes a plot radical union leaders hatched for at least seven years as to how to organise a UK-wide strike. The article’s main hook is a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5p1C0s-VEs&amp;t=227s">YouTube video</a> showing Matt Waddup, Head of Policy and Campaigns at University College Union, discussing possible strike actions and how to escalate them in 2011.</p><p dir="ltr">Dear Paul Morgan-Bentley,</p><p dir="ltr">For Friday the week after next I need to prepare a lecture on propaganda and fake news for a course on media sociology. It is the first time that I am teaching the course and I have not gathered yet any course materials together. I have been working on media-related issues for years, together with Ilya Yablokov, a colleague from Leeds University, which is what qualifies me to teach this course.</p><p dir="ltr">Our research has been mostly focused on Russia. To speed up things when preparing this lecture (I am desperately overworked, as most lecturers are), I thought I would ask colleagues to help me find UK-based examples (preferably not from <i>The Daily Mail</i>, it is too obvious) — to appeal to my students.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Yesterday morning, I received an email of the <em>The Times</em> top stories via my subscription — it featured your article. It was a godsend — and written by Head of Investigations at <em>The Times</em>, no less.</p><p dir="ltr">My colleague Ilya helped me to prepare the course material. We decided to nevertheless include Russia-related material. After all, western media often criticise Russian president Vladimir Putin for waging a war of words against the country’s opposition (and, of course, doesn’t limit himself to words).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-19312249_0_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'>Russian propaganda has been used to corral citizens behind the flag in turbulent times. (с) Yaghobzadeh Rafael/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Moreover, your <a href="https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/university-activists-have-been-plotting-strike-for-seven-years-nhkx6brk8">article</a> reminded us a lot of the approaches state-affiliated media in Russia have been taking in recent years, especially the notorious films made against the Russian opposition with screaming titles such as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McZq52M8XVg&amp;t=66s">“Anatomy of protest”</a>. Five points in particular caught our attention:</p><p>- How you elaborate on the “leaders’ radicalism”</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- The causal link you create to something seven years back (without explaining it)</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- The creepy image you paint of us lecturers being led by “radical leaders”</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- These leaders’ “cunning plan”</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- And the allegation that they create chaos for the sake of chaos</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr">First of all, there is the question what your article actually is about: It is built around this <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5p1C0s-VEs&amp;t=227s">video</a> which has been online since October 2011. Neither of us has ever conducted investigative journalism, but we would have thought it involved more than using a video that has been available for more than seven years. But then again, investigative journalism was perhaps not the task on this occasion.</p><h2>1) Demonise the opponent by referring to their radicalism</h2><p dir="ltr">In winter 2012, the punk band Pussy Riot performed a song in a major Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The song was called <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grEBLskpDWQ">“Virgin Mary, Drive Putin away”</a>.The performance triggered a moral panic once the Russian media started depicting the young women (three of whom were arrested and jailed) as tools of western intelligence conspiring to destroy Russia from within.</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/Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Pussy Riot in 2012. CC BY-SA 3.0 Igor Mukhin / Wikipedia . Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Now your text:</p><p dir="ltr">Matt Waddup “began his career at the hard-left Rail, Maritime and Transport union.”</p><p dir="ltr">The other radical, Ed Bailey, who is Waddup’s deputy at UCU, “posted a photograph from a demonstration in 2009 showing a sign denouncing ‘Israeli terrorists’.”</p><p dir="ltr">Waddup has liked on Facebook “a number of far-left groups, including “Young Communist League — Britain”.”</p><p dir="ltr">Waddup also “linked to pro-Soviet groups online, including one that pledges to ‘establish a post-capitalist, communist society’.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Other groups he [Waddup] has liked online include those backing Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn.”</p><p dir="ltr">With this line of argumentation and evidence, you have made us both very worried about what we ever might have “liked” somewhere on the web!</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 21.24.20.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Matt Waddup in the 2011 video used by The Times. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>But back to Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">Back in 2012, TV presenter Arkady Mamontov <a href="https://daily.afisha.ru/archive/gorod/archive/arkadij-mamontov-o-pussy-riot/">called</a> the Pussy Riot performance a “relapse into neo-Bolshevism”, implicitly raising the possibility of new anti-Church pogroms under Soviet power and the destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in the same manner as the Bolsheviks during the 1930s</p><p dir="ltr">More frequently, Russian state-affiliated media relies on homophobia as the major element of “othering” the opposition. Links to LGBT issues are associated with the imperial west and western decadence — see, for example, this episode of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYIWgduByfw">“Special Correspondent”</a> on Russia’s Channel One.</p><p dir="ltr">In the aftermath of the scandal around Pussy Riot, who sympathised with Russia’s LGBT movement, the Russian NTV channel heavily edited an interview with an LGBT activist to give the impression that they said <a href="http://www.ntv.ru/video/305205/">“gays want to destroy the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour”</a>.</p><h2>2) Take content out of its context and rearrange it within a different frame</h2><p dir="ltr">“Footage shows that he [Matt Waddup] has been planning strikes over lecturers’ pension benefits for seven years, telling academics that industrial action should escalate gradually until ‘real damage is done’.”</p><p dir="ltr">We have read your article several times and yet we still cannot understand what the specific context and issue around which Matt Waddup gave this speech. Is it possible that you left this out? Perhaps if you had explained the context and the issues, then the link the current 2018 strike would be fairly tenuous.&nbsp;How much could Matt Waddup have known six-and-a-half years ago about the latest pension plans?</p><p dir="ltr">What makes this a little creepy is that it is a classic element of conspiracy theories: to artificially create a causal link where there is none.</p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KYn8Bz_OYGs" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>The "Provocateurs" show fit into an organised campaign to discredit and stigmatise protests in 2012.</em></p><p dir="ltr">The Russian media are full of examples. For example, several television shows, broadcast in 2012 under the screaming title <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYn8Bz_OYGs">“Provocateurs”</a>, had one goal: to convince the Russian public that Pussy Riot, mentioned above, was not just “a performance”. Russian journalists portrayed them as part of a century-old plan developed by the west to destroy Russian statehood and undermine trust in Russian sacred relics.</p><h2>3) Associate collective action with cattle-type behaviour led by a mastermind</h2><p dir="ltr">This is a favourite method of Russian media. For years on end, they have told us that protesters only take to the streets if they are either fooled by their leaders (who are <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-samara-governor-merkushkin-united-russia-cia/27978955.html">getting paychecks from the CIA</a>), or <a href="https://newrepublic.com/article/107349/russias-wild-fantasies-all-powerful-state-department)">get paid themselves</a> (again, usually by the US).</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, you don’t go that far, but there is an element of it: we lecturers are led by radicals, right? Are you saying we would not strike if it wasn’t for them?</p><h2>4) Depict a cunning plan of an internal enemy</h2><p dir="ltr">The master narrative in Russia, developed and spread by politicians and pro-Kremlin intellectuals, is about an enemy of the people aiming to destroy the country in the interest of an external force. A recent example for this is Alexey Navalny, a leading Russian opposition leader who became famous thanks to (truly) investigative reports into the cronyism of Putin’s regime and its political elite. In 2014, Navalny <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/opinion/how-to-punish-putin.html">published</a> an op-ed in the New York Times. One of the state channels <a href="http://vesti7.ru/article/346201/episode/23-03-2014/">immediately accused Navalny of treason</a>, calling him an American agent and US “inside man” who reported on his fellow countrymen.</p><p dir="ltr">In your article, Matt Waddup is not led by an external enemy, but by his radicalism. Plus, he is cunning, as we learned by watching this <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5p1C0s-VEs&amp;t=227s">video</a> you found:</p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“He [Waddup] described tactics — which have been used over the past seven years — of gradually increasing pressure on university chiefs by “escalating sustained industrial action”. Lecturers were told they should initially refuse to do work outside their usual hours. If vice-chancellors still would not talk, strikes would then begin at individual campuses ‘to hurt them’. Eventually the plan would be to boycott marking and eventually final exams.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The UCU’s tactics are similar to those used by the RMT, including timing strikes to cause maximum disruption and building to a climax over a number of weeks.”</p><h2>5) Accuse the opponent of creating chaos for the sake of chaos</h2><p dir="ltr">Again, let us go back to the Pussy Riot case and quote the notorious Arkady Mamontov: “They wanted to disrupt society, to divide it and split [it]. That is what the organisers of this horrible provocation wanted to achieve. They hold nothing sacred.”</p><p dir="ltr">Your article:</p><p>“Millions of students are not being told whether or not lectures will take place, with academics staying silent until the last minute to cause chaos.”</p><p dir="ltr">One of the leaders is “a former rail unionist and a communist supporter who pledged to ‘dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave’.”</p><p dir="ltr">Just like in Russia, it seems, nothing is sacred.</p><p dir="ltr">Is there anything we might have missed? Please let us know.</p><p dir="ltr">There is one thing for which we couldn’t find a Russian equivalent — although, given how notoriously sexist Russian society is, there should be plenty of examples.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Ms Hunt is the public face of the organisation but works closely with Mr Waddup, who has been described as her ‘guru’”.</p><p dir="ltr">Strangely enough, according to our search, neither Pussy Riot nor current Russian presidential candidate <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yulia-taratuta/whats-wrong-with-ksenia-sobchaks-campaign">Ksenia Sobchak</a> have been depicted as puppets of some guru, rather than being able to think for themselves.</p><p dir="ltr">Yours sincerely,</p><p dir="ltr">Elisabeth Schimpfossl and Ilya Yablokov</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-sidorov/how-russian-tv-propaganda-is-made">How Russian TV propaganda is made</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/why-are-russia-s-journalists-so-prone-to-conspiracy-theory">Why are Russia’s journalists so prone to conspiracy theory?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> </div> </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 Yablokov Elisabeth Schimpfossl Sun, 25 Feb 2018 21:13:48 +0000 Elisabeth Schimpfossl and Ilya Yablokov 116314 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russian protester gets one-year prison sentence for waving his leg in the air (while he was carried off by police) https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-protester-dmitry-borisov-26-march <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This week, a Russian activist was prosecuted in a landmark trial that is being used to restrict freedom of assembly — and punish citizens who try to assert it.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/dborisov-3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dmitry Borisov at court. Source: Irina Yatsenko.</span></span></span><p dir="ltr"><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><strong>The latest person to prosecuted in connection with the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">26 March protest</a> has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/22/sud-otpravil-figuranta-dela-26-marta-dmitriya-borisova-na-god-v-koloniyu?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">sentenced</a> to one year in a prison colony. Prosecutors had asked for a three-year sentence.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Dmitry Borisov is a Muscovite and activist of the “14%” movement who works in a small hotelier business. He was arrested on 9 June. According to the investigators, when four police officers were carrying Borisov to a police van, he freed his left leg and twice kicked police officer Ilya Erokhin in the head. Erokhin suffered no physical harm and did not request medical care. The first time Erokhin remembered he had been hurt, according to the prosecution, was in mid-May, about two months after the events.</p><p dir="ltr">Watch the following video (in Russian) for the incident in question:</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VZld20RCeKQ" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Dmitry Borisov’s <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/report/2018/02/21/molodye-lyudi-sobralis-chtoby-vyrazit-nemoy-ukor-poslednee-slovo-dmitriya-borisova?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">final speech in court</a> </p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Detailed information about <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">the “Case of 26 March”</a></p></li></ul><p dir="ltr"><strong>The Investigative Committee has finally begun a <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/22/sk-nachal-proverku-po-zhalobe-o-pytkah-arestovannogo-antifashista-viktora?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">review</a> of complaints about torture by the anti-fascist activist Viktor Filinkov.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The young man has been charged with taking part in the “Network” terrorist group. Filinkov has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/02/07/sledy-elektricheskih-provodov-zaklyuchenie-onk-o-pytkah-v-sankt-peterburge?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">reported</a> that he was tortured by FSB officers when they tried to obtain confessions from him. The officers forced him to learn answers to questions by heart. If he made a mistake, he was given an electric shock.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/photo_2018-01-24_22-04-13_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Viktor Filinkov. Source: Personal archive. </span></span></span>- “It’s important not to panic”: we have <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2018/02/22/vazhno-ne-poddavatsya-panike-zhena-figuranta-dela-seti-o-zhizni-posle-aresta?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">spoken</a> with Aleksandra, Viktor’s wife, about life before and after her husband’s arrest, and also about how you can help someone close to you if you are in another country.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In Chelyabinsk one of three left-wing activists who were detained has reported they were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/21/v-chelyabinske-otpustili-zaderzhannyh-levyh-aktivistov-odin-iz-nih?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">tortured</a>.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">On the evening of 19 February, police officers arrested three left-wing activists at their homes. Subsequently, it was not possible to <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/20/v-chelyabinske-propali-neskolko-levyh-aktivistov">get in touch with them</a>. Two other individuals also went missing at the time.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">On 21 February, the activists were located and one of them said they had been tortured after their arrest. “After the search, we spent that night and the next day at the FSB, and they used physical methods to put pressure on us [...] I stood in an uncomfortable pose for hours, they pinched my wrists with handcuffs, I have marks from the handcuffs on my wrists. My brother and a friend, who had been at my home, were subjected to electric shocks.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />According to the investigators working on the case, those arrested could be involved in acts of solidarity with activists who have reported being tortured. On 15 February, on the fence surrounding the regional FSB headquarters, unidentified persons <a href="https://vk.com/video-34380444_456239267?list=81520f820e0c61666a&amp;from=wall-34380444_159692">hung</a> a banner with the words: “FSB is the main terrorist!” and threw a smoke bomb over the fence. &nbsp;<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Leader of the “Russians of Astrakhan” organisation, Igor Stenin, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/17/astrahanskiy-aktivist-igor-stenin-uehal-iz-rossii?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">has left</a> Russia.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">According to the latest court ruling in his case, Stenin should have been sent back to serve time in a prison colony. In 2016 a court <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2016/05/16/nacionalista-na-2-goda-otpravili-v-koloniyu-poselenie-za-repost">sentenced</a> the activist to two years in an open prison colony for incitement to extremist activities. The evidence against him at his trial was a repost on the VKontakte social media website of an article about the war in Ukraine. According to Stenin’s defence, he was convicted for a repost and commentaries made by another person using his name. In 2017 Stenin’s sentence was quashed, but subsequently, on an appeal by the prosecutor’s office, the case was reviewed and the sentence reinstated.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>A student from Krasnoyarsk has been added to the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/22/krasnoyarskogo-studenta-vnesli-v-spisok-terroristov-i-ekstremistov-za-memy?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">register</a> of terrorists and extremists for a meme.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The student has been charged with inciting hatred. The court ruling authorising an expert assessment in the case states that Alexey Sverdlov saved 61 pictures on VKontakte, which included “depictions of the Teletubbies characters with a Nazi swastika,” “a photograph of a fist with raised middle finger with two police officers in the background, standing with their backs turned,” and also a “photo-collage with people standing against a background of the Tower of Pisa with extended right arms, one of whom was depicted as Adolph Hitler.”</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Our correspondent Alexsander Litoi has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/02/19/gorstka-pikseley-prigovor-za-diplom-privlek-vnimanie-k-tyuremnym-srokam-za?utm_source=mailchimp&amp;utm_medium=mailing&amp;utm_campaign=this_week">looked into</a> the high profile “extremist” case against Alexander Kruze, a resident of Stary Oskol, sentenced to two-and-a-half years in an open prison colony for texts posted on VKontakte. Kruze asserts that he posted the texts “for research as part of his work on a diploma.” This may seem doubtful, but, even if it is not true, his actions hardly represent a serious danger to the public.</p></li></ul><h2>Thank you</h2><p dir="ltr">As the elections draw closer there is ever more work to do. You can help us continue our work now and in the difficult months ahead, before and after the 2018 election campaign, <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/?utm_source=tg&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=donate#donate">here</a>. You can volunteer to work with us <a href="https://medium.com/@ovdinfo/%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B4-%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%84%D0%BE-%D1%8D%D1%82%D0%BE-%D0%B2%D1%8B-c5a6f2e585ed">here</a>.</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><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-anarchist-case">&quot;At the first shock I couldn’t help but groan and shake&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">The 26 March case: how Russia is cracking down on freedom of assembly</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-target-anti-fa">Russian authorities take aim at anti-fascists in St Petersburg</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, 23 Feb 2018 15:51:22 +0000 OVD-Info 116299 at https://www.opendemocracy.net One Chechen man’s quest for a real education https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">On this day in 1944, thousands of people in Russia’s North Caucasus were deported to Central Asia. They had few rights in exile — and had to fight every step of the way. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/kostry-v-groznom-slezy-v-kazahstane">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/Chechen_Deportation_in_1944.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Soviet authorities loading Chechens and Ingush onto trains for deportation, likely taken in February 1944. Source: Wikipedia. Fair use. </span></span></span>In February-March 1944, fires burned in Grozny and other settlements of the former Chechen-Ingush autonomous republic — fires made of books printed in Chechen and Ingush. The readers of these books — some 500,000 Chechens and Ingush people — were deported to Central Asia as part of Soviet security forces’ so-called <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/chechen-deportation-1944-survivors/25273614.html">“Operation Lentil”</a>, which began before dawn on 23 February. Over several days, thousands of people were crammed into livestock carriages and transported thousands of kilometres by rail to the Soviet East.</p><p dir="ltr">Chechen and Ingush children did not learn their native languages in exile in Kazakhstan and other parts of Central Asia. They went to Kazakh- and Russian-language schools. Between 1944 and 1955, there were no books, newspapers, magazines nor radio shows published in Chechen and Ingush. No national cultural institution existed, and limits were placed on the number of places available in higher education. These were part of the conditions of the so-called “special settlement”, the forced resettlement of peoples under Soviet rule.</p><p dir="ltr">Satsita Yandarova, a senior lecturer at Chechnya State University, cites the following figures: “In the first years of deportation, many children did not receive an education… In 1944, out of 50,323 school-age children of ‘special settlers’ in Kazakhstan, 16,000 went to school. In 1945, 6,643 children out of 21,015 in Kyrgyzstan went to school. In Kazakhstan in the 1945-1946 academic year, 22,020 children went to school out of 89,102. In 1946, in Kyrgyzstan, 4,560 children out of a possible 21,240 went to school.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In exile, the struggle for the right to education required particular courage.</p><h2>Execution</h2><p dir="ltr">In January 2000, some time after the start of Russia’s Second Chechen War, the body of an executed man was found in the basement of a half-destroyed building in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. In the man’s pocket, a passport was found in the name of Akhmed Magomedovich Tsebiyev, born 1935.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the building’s residents recognised the man. He explained that, since Russian forces had begun the storm of Grozny in late 1999, Tsebiyev had moved some of his belongings from his apartment to the basement, and had been living in it. The witness pointed out that some items were missing — Tsebiyev’s computer had been removed from the basement. Tsebiyev, born in the Chechen village of Makhkety, had worked as a physicist: he was a candidate of technical sciences, the co-author of a scientific discovery, and the inventor of more than 23 radio-electronic devices and author of more than 50 articles. Indeed, he was a member of a group of Soviet scientists that received a prestigious Lenin Prize in 1997 for their work — though he himself was not included in the final list. Tsebiyev’s son Ruslan was a journalist — he died in Grozny in March 1995.</p><p dir="ltr">Several years later, a head of faculty at Chechnya’s State Pedagogical University, Ayndi Yakubova, published two books on Tsebiyev’s life and work, and his name was given to a school in Grozny. In search of new documents, Yakubov made requests to state archives in Kazakhstan, and received copies of documents from Tsebiyev’s personal file during his time as a “special settler”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/tsebiyev 5.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Akhmed Tsebiyev at work, date unknown. Source: <a href=www.ahmed-tsebiev.ru/>Ayndi Yakubov</a>. </span></span></span>The following documents testify to the desperate fight of a 17-year-old boy — who had lost his rights as a Soviet citizen under “special settlement” — for the opportunity to receive an education.</p><h2>Deportation</h2><p dir="ltr">The majority of the files in the young man’s file are letters to various official institutions written between May and September 1952. In one such letter, sent in June 1952 to the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Tsebiyev describes what happened to him and his family:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“I, Akhmed Tsebiyev, was born in 1935, and I am a special settler deported from the Caucasus in February 1944 to Jambyl region, Kazakhstan. Before we were deported, my parents, who come from a poor peasant family, had worked in a kolkhoz [a collective farm], and I was studying in a local (Chechen) school.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">After deportation, my father has been working in a workshop at the Shu station in Jambyl region until the present moment (until May 1952). After two years, in 1946, I decided to study (prior to that I did not have the opportunity to study) in the fourth class of the Russian railway middle school No. 32, and have studied in the class until now. This year, I have studied in the 9th class, but I didn’t manage to finish it…</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">When there only five-six days left before the exams, we were deported again, from Shu to Sary-Su district [north of Shu], to one of the collective farms there. It is unclear why. There is not a full middle school apart from a Kazakh school in the whole Sary-Su district, not even in the administrative centre…</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">All of my efforts, my whole nine years of studying have turned out to be useless as a result of our second deportation.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the next part of the letter, Tsebiyev voices concern at the working conditions in Shu, and invokes the right to education and work, as proclaimed in the Soviet Constitution of 1936:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“It’s not only my study that has been disrupted as a result of this deportation. My father has lost the job he was qualified for, a job that he was suited for. He is an invalid, he has tuberculosis… However, both my father and me, a former student, and my mother, a sick old woman, all of us, apart from my nine-year old sister (who studies), will have to work in the kolkhoz fields, as members of the kolkhoz, under the burning sun from early morning to late at night. I am afraid that my weakened parents will not survive this work, and I will soon lose them…</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">After all of the above, the question arises: what did we do wrong, what crime have we committed? Perhaps, one of the residents of Shu has done something, and we’re having to answer for it… If I or my parents have done anything, then we are ready to accept any punishment. But if this isn’t the case, then why should we suffer for someone else, lose our jobs, schools, shelter — in a word, lose everything that is necessary in life?!</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">Furthermore, we often hear at the kolkhoz, and in the district (from representatives of the Sary-Su branch of the Interior Ministry) that we have been sold to the kolkhoz, and that the kolkhoz has paid money for us and so on. Was there a decree by the Supreme Soviet to deport us once again, do the local Interior Ministry have reason to talk about such things as selling people in the Soviet Union? Do we have the right to work and education?”</p><p dir="ltr">Two stamps on the letter show that it was received by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and the Ninth Department of the Ministry for State Security.</p><p dir="ltr">This letter was a cry of desperation. Before this, Akhmed had written to every local institution for three weeks.</p><h2>Exams</h2><p dir="ltr">Tsebiyev wrote his first letter on 16 May to the head of the Shu branch of the Interior Ministry.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“I was studying at Shu’s railway middle school in the 9th class. I left there without sitting exams. I need to pass the exams, and, without losing any time, finish the 10th class in the next academic year. I request you to send me and my parents to Talas district, where there is a full 10-class middle school.”</p><p>There’s a few notes on this letter. The first reads: “Tsebiyev will be given permission to sit the exam, but his parents’ request will be refused.” The next: “Refused, he himself does not want this, he wants to be transferred together with his family to Chulak-Tau, so he stays… for the autumn.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/tsebiyev 2.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Akhmed Tsebiyev, date unknown. Source: <a href=www.ahmed-tsebiev.ru/>Ayndi Yakubov</a>. </span></span></span>Two days later, Tsebiyev wrote to the regional branch of state security with a request to “transfer [me] together with my parents to Chulak-Tau as soon as possible”. They refused.</p><h2>Deceit</h2><p dir="ltr">In July 1952, Tsebiyev sent a 12-page letter to the Soviet Council of Ministers, in which he describes how his family was deported for the second time. He talks about how this came at a “stressful moment of preparing for my exams”, insists that he not be “deprived of the opportunity for further study, not torn away from Soviet culture and education”. Apparently, Tsebiyev had been told by several official representatives that his applications had been received, and that his family would be sent to a settlement with a full ten-year school. Yet, when Tsebiyev’s family got to Assar, where some families were sent to Sary-Su and others to Talas, they were sent to Sary-Su — which did not have a school.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“I asked, I complained for me and my family to be sent to Talas district… Despite all these requests, despite the cries of my parents, we were ordered to load our things into a car for Sary-Suisk district…”</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/tsebiyev 4.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tsebiyev (first row, right) with fellow students, date unknown. Source: <a href=www.ahmed-tsebiev.ru/>Ayndi Yakubov</a>. </span></span></span>Despite orders from state security to send the Tsebiyev family on to Talas after Sary-Su, they were sent to Sary-Su — with officials refusing to deal with them, and even mocking them en route. The Tsebiyevs were sent to work at a kolkhoz, after a state security representative told him they had been sold to a collective farm.</p><p dir="ltr">Tsebiyev did not lose hope of reaching the right person, and that someone would hear his cry for help. In early June, he wrote again to regional state security on the following grounds:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“In connection with the deportation, I have not passed my exams. Throughout my entire study I have got good and excellent marks, which my certificates ‘For excellent successes and model behaviour’ show. I should be in an institute of higher education, but in connection with my first deportation I have fallen back in study, losing two years. I am very worried that the same thing could happen again. Moreover, I do not have any opportunity to prepare for the coming exams because I have to work at the kolkhoz. My mother, a sick old woman, cannot fulfil the kolkhoz work. My father, an invalid with tuberculosis, also cannot carry out the work that requires physical strength…”</p><p dir="ltr">Tsebiyev once again requested that him and his family be transferred to Jambyl or Chulak-Tau. The state security officer wrote his decision in large letters across the document: “Tell him that we cannot satisfy his request to transfer the entire family. As to the exams, tell the district office to issue a temporary permit for Chulak-Tau. On confirmation that he has finished ninth class and is going into tenth class, we will decide the issue of granting further study in a middle school.”</p><p dir="ltr">The insistence with which the 17-year-old Tsebiyev defended his right to education and reasonable standards of living, it seems, irritated local state security officers. They continued to put pressure on him. State security officers tried to accuse Tsebiyev of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasitism_(social_offense)#Soviet_Union">“parasitism”</a>, and sent him for diagnosis at a hospital — apparently, with the idea that symptoms of a disease “suitable” for uncompromising citizens would be found.</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/tsebiyev 3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="333" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Soviet citizens placed under "special settlement" faced lengthy sentences in labour camps if they tried to leave exile. Here, Akhmed Tsebiyev signs a note to the effect that he understands the consequence of leaving Sary-Su district, Kazakhstan. Source: <a href=www.ahmed-tsebiev.ru/>Ayndi Yakubov</a>. </span></span></span>After an incident in which state security officers demanded Tsebiyev’s father bring him in for questioning (and his father forgot to pass the message on), Tsebiyev was subject to administrative arrest for five days in August 1952.</p><h2>Register</h2><p dir="ltr">In September 1952, the regional state security office gave permission for Tsebiyev, together with family, to move to Chulak-Tau on a permanent basis. Some last-minute resistance from the kolkhoz administration, however, meant that his parents and sister had to stay behind at the kolkhoz.</p><p dir="ltr">In 1953, a copy of Tsebiyev’s school graduation certificate was added to his personal file, and in 1954, another document added, which updated the Tsebiyev’s information on the “special settlers” register — evidence that Tsebiyev was still in state security’s sights. Tsebiyev finished middle school with a silver medal in 1953, and left for Alma-Ata to continue his education, where he had been registered as a student at a medical institute before transferring to Kazakh State University’s physics and mathematics faculty.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/tsebiyev 7.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>One of the last images of Akhmed Tsebiyev before his death. Source: <a href=www.ahmed-tsebiev.ru/>Ayndi Yakubov</a>. </span></span></span>When the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chechen-Ingush_Autonomous_Soviet_Socialist_Republic">restored</a> in 1957, the Tsebiyev family returned home. Akhmed transferred to Rostov State University and, on graduating, was sent to a Soviet research factory in Fryazino, outside of Moscow, where he made his career as a scientist. He returned to Grozny in 1983.</p><h2>Consequences</h2><p dir="ltr">In a <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/%D0%9D%D0%B0%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%BE_%D1%8F%D0%B7%D1%8B%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0%D1%8F.html?id=gnkbAQAAIAAJ&amp;redir_esc=y">monograph</a> from the year 2000, Musa Ovkhadov sums up Chechnya’s education problem in the late 1950s:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“In 1957, [...] in terms of numbers of specialists with higher and middle special education (per 10,000 people of each nationality), Chechens occupied last place, with 19.1 specialists [per 10,000] in comparison to an average rating of 326.3 for the USSR. In comparison to other deported peoples — Balkars, Kalmyks, Karachay and Ingush — Chechens fell behind by four times in this category.”</p><p dir="ltr">This education gap is plain to see in Chechnya itself. Thus, in 1959, for every 1,000 people over the age of 10 in Chechnya, there was only one person with higher education — when the average for most republics was 21. The deprivation of Chechens and Ingush of the right to education had a long-term effect. The 1989 Soviet census confirmed this significant education gap in Chechnya: if for every 1,000 people over the age of 15 of other nationalities in the Soviet Union there were 113 people with higher education, for Chechens, it was only 45.</p><p dir="ltr">Russian society tries not remember the Chechen deportation and its consequences. But Chechens and Ingush cannot forget about it, and are looking to finds way of overcoming this tragedy. </p><p><em>Translation by Tom Rowley.&nbsp;</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/fatima-chumakova/five-bloody-days-in-north-ossetia">Five bloody days in North Ossetia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/kalmykia-s-long-goodbye">Kalmykia’s long goodbye</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/dance-me-to-end-of-history">Dance me to the end of history</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/burning-lands-leninaul-dagestan">The burning land of Lenin-Aul</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Abdul Itslayev Education Chechnya Fri, 23 Feb 2018 05:12:38 +0000 Abdul Itslayev 116275 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The prisoner of Yerevan: an American's unfortunate journey back to Armenia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/grigor-atanesian/prisoner-of-yerevan-americans-unfortunate-journey-back-to-armenia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">In Armenia, repatriates from the US enjoy comfortable middle-class lives — unless they engage in political activism.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02666574.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2014: police officers block activists from "Stand up, Armenia!" from moving towards Yerevan's Freedom Square. (c) Asatur Yesayants / VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Over the last decade, President Serzh Sargsyan has ruled over Armenia in a style that Freedom House ambiguously calls <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/armenia">“soft authoritarianism”</a>. Sargsyan’s rule is characterised by <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/01/armenia-excessive-police-force-protest">widespread police violence</a> and unlawful detention of journalists and activists. Falling short of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">outright dictatorship in force</a> in neighbouring Azerbaijan, Sargsyan’s authoritarian regime has managed to maintain a tight grip on power. It has steadily cleared the political field, leaving the electoral politics a doomed adventure for any force except the ruling party, but has maintained relative press freedom and freedom of speech, especially online.</p><p dir="ltr">Halfway into Sargsyan’s second term as president, there are few political opposition forces independent from his administration. One non-parliamentary group, known as <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-founding-parliament-explainer-sefilian/27865671.html">Founding Parliament</a>, has attracted attention for its nationalist rhetoric, radical social justice platform and refusal to engage in electoral politics. The group’s core of Karabakh veterans from the 1990s has ensured a uncompromising stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — a position common to Armenians inside and outside the country, as well as the majority of politicians and activists across the political spectrum. &nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, the brief, but tragic flare-up of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016 provoked a wave of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">“national unity”</a> — and public calls for a firmer position on the disputed territory of Karabakh. Three months later, an armed group <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory">seized</a> a Yerevan police station, accusing the Armenian authorities of “endangering the security” of the country through their military conduct. Six members of Founding Parliament, including the group’s vice president, were among the gunmen.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the people detained during the security operation that followed was Garo Yegnukian, an American Armenian supporter of the group. He has now spent 18 months in pre-trial detention on charges of assisting hostage-taking — despite the fact that he bears no direct relation to the siege.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/cleaned1128 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Garo Yegnukian in court. Source: Yegnukian family. </span></span></span>Armenian society is divided on the precinct takeover, and opinions vary on Yegnukian's case. For some, his public support for the gunmen and ties to diaspora organisations make him an apologist of terrorism and a foreign spy. Others call Yegnukian a political prisoner, pointing out at his long record of political activism and intimidation from the Armenian security services. Throughout the last nine years, he was involved in many protest actions. His car was burnt, his family was followed, and together with other protesters he was assaulted by the police.</p><p dir="ltr">But no matter political views, many across the political spectrum agree with human rights advocates and US officials that Yegnukian's case is marked by the excessive use of pre-trial detention.</p><h2>Mason and spy</h2><p dir="ltr">Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, thousands of Americans with Armenian roots have moved to the South Caucasian republic to join what they see as a nation-building effort — and Yegnukian is no exception. </p><p dir="ltr">Born in 1959 in Soviet Armenia, Yegnukian emigrated with his family to the US in the 1970s. In 2009, after building a real estate company in Brooklyn with his brother, Garo, together with his wife and their five children, became repatriates to Armenia, too.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/19260700_1355987151121555_4793435097903460649_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 Yegnukian family, with Garo Yegnukian (centre). Source: Yegnukian family. </span></span></span>Yegnukian’s move was followed by a growing political engagement with Armenia. Soon after moving, he became involved in local movements against the way the city’s <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Mashtots Park</a> was being managed, as well as the 2012 <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Vahe_Avetyan">Vahe Avetyan case</a>, in which an army doctor died from being beaten by an oligarch’s bodyguard — it was around this time that Yegnukian joined Founding Parliament as well. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Yegnukian’s brother, the group’s leader Jirayr Sefilian, a popular Lebanese-born military commander, asked if he could use a building Yegnukian owned in downtown Yerevan as the group’s office “for a couple of months”. They’ve never moved out.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Yegnukian’s family confirm that they were followed and intimidated after the Pak Shouka protest until Garo’s arrest. One of their cars was damaged, another set on fire</p><p dir="ltr">In 2013, Yegnukian founded the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Rights-Support-184193651786962/">Rights and Support Foundation</a>, an initiative to provide legal and financial support to persecuted activists and their families. The same year, a banner featuring Yegnukian’s photo captioned “mason”, “foreign spy” and “grant eater” was installed on the front of the central Pak Shouka market. The banner is believed to be a warning from MP Samvel Aleksanyan, a hypermarket chain owner who turned the market into one of his stores. Yegnukian had participated in <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/29026/opposing-sides-clash-at-yerevans-pak-shouka.html">protests against the transformation of the historical landmark</a> into a shopping centre. Yegnukian’s family confirm that they were <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/71905/garo-yegnukian-what-is-most-incomprehensible-is-the-position-of-the-us-ambassador-to-armenia.html">followed and intimidated after the Pak Shouka protest</a> until Garo’s arrest. One of their cars was damaged, another set on fire.</p><p dir="ltr">In January 2015, Founding Parliament members were stopped and beaten by the police when trying to enter the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh republic, a disputed region controlled by Armenian forces — and which refused Selifian’s rally entry most likely to keep Yerevan sweet. The Yegnukian brothers were among them. Few months later, Armenian law enforcement searched the group’s office without a warrant. They confiscated the tapes made on a car video recorder that had documented<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykTa9roUlLM"> police brutality</a>.</p><h2>July stand-off</h2><p dir="ltr">Twenty two years after a ceasefire agreement froze the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the resumption of conflict&nbsp;in April 2016 resulted in the deaths of 94 Armenian soldiers, including volunteers and reservists, and the loss of three-square miles of territory to Azerbaijan. This galvanised the country’s Karabakh war veterans, including those who were members of Founding Parliament.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, Jirayr Sefilian, Founding Parliament’s leader — a public figure who is known for his leadership in the 1988-1994 conflict with Azerbaijan — was the first Armenian politician to publicly acknowledge the loss of territory. Sefilian used that information to call on Armenians to take up arms and return the land from Azerbaijan by force. And though Armenian officials first denied the territorial losses, by May, Sargsyan had confirmed Sefilian’s allegations, saying those three-square miles was a minor gain for Azerbaijanis which had cost them too many lives. A month later, Sefilian was <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/68649/yerevan-police-arrest-jirayr-sefilyan-on-illegal-arms-trafficking-and-possession.html">arrested</a> and charged with illegal possession of weapons as well as <a href="https://armenianweekly.com/2016/06/21/sefilian-arrested/">conspiracy to seize state buildings as part of a planned coup</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02898053.LR_.ru__1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>23 July 2016: members of Sasna Tsrer stand outside the police compound in Erebuni, Yerevan. (с) Asatur Yesayants / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These, then, were the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikayel-zolyan/standoff-in-yerevan">conditions that surrounded the “Sasna Tsrer” siege</a> in July 2016, when an armed group took a police station on the outskirts of Yerevan hostage. The group, which named itself after a medieval Armenian epic, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/from-civil-disobedience-to-armed-violence-political-developments-in-armen">demanded</a> the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan as president, the establishment of a new government, as well as the release of political prisoners, including Sefilian. The siege lasted for two weeks, and though the gunmen eventually handed themselves over to the police, numerous protests in their defence were held in Yerevan.</p><p dir="ltr">During the siege, Armenian law enforcement arrested a number of opposition activists on charges of assisting the gunmen — and it was here that Garo Yegnukian was detained. While the majority of the detained have been released or bailed out, Yegnukian has remained in custody ever since.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-Jirair_Sefilian_2009.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="540" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jirayr Sefilian, the popular Lebanese-born military commander turned Founding Parliament leader. Source: Serouj / Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>As stated above, of the 32 men on trial in connection to the July 2016 events, six are members of Founding Parliament. No evidence has been presented that the group itself played any role in the police precinct takeover. It has never advocated violence previously. Although some of its members ended up taking up arms, it never was a militant group per se. &nbsp;Middle-aged men and women — an architect, academic, engineer, lawyer, physicist and doctor — were members, alongside war veterans such as <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Yenikomshian">Ara-Alexander “Alec” Yenikomshian</a>, a former ASALA militant. (From the early 1970s through the late 1980s, ASALA terrorists <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Secret_Army_for_the_Liberation_of_Armenia">killed a number of Turkish diplomats</a>, copying the tactics of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, with which it shared training camps in Lebanon.)</p><p dir="ltr">The trial against the 32 men allegedly involved in the takeover opened roughly a year after the events. Divided into two groups, 14 of them, including Yegnukian, have been on trial since June 2017, while the trial against the other 18 opened a few days later. According to relatives and legal counsel, as well as contemporary interviews with the press, Yegnukian was surprised by the attack on the police station and volunteered to negotiate with the hostage-takers.</p><h2>Pre-trial detention</h2><p dir="ltr">Yegnukian’s case is bizarre: he has spent 18 months in pre-trial detention for reasons that remain unclear. Yegnukian, who is charged with assisting the taking of hostages and buildings, is being tried in the Avan and Nor Nork district court together with 13 gunmen. The criminal charge against Yegnukian is a mere 40 pages long within the 75,000 pages that comprise the 120 volumes of the collective prosecution.</p><p dir="ltr">Four wiretapped phone conversations are the only evidence against Yegnukian, according to his legal counsel Tigran Hayrapetyan. In an interview with me, Hayrapetyan says three of the conversations were among Yegnukian and his wife, and another call was with the gunmen inside the precinct. According to Hayrapetyan, nothing in these conversations proves Yegnukian’s part in the conspiracy — though they are being interpreted as evidence of support for the gunmen.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Yegnukian proposed that people should view the police station takeover as “a political action rather than an act of terrorism”, and “a rebellion, not a coup”</p><p dir="ltr">In <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3Tvk_dervs">an interview</a> recorded and published on 18 July 2016, the second day of the siege, Yegnukian mentioned he knew that the gunmen were running out of food but wasn’t aware of the details. A day later, speaking to <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5CDXM7NsUY">CivilNet TV,</a> Yegnukian proposed that people should view the police station takeover as “a political action rather than an act of terrorism”, and “a rebellion, not a coup”. He said he didn’t know how many of the gunmen were members of Founding Parliament and assumed that the majority were not. Later that day, Yegnukian was arrested, his apartment and car were searched by the security services, and two mobile phones and five computers were seized.</p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/i3Tvk_dervs" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>Garo Yegnukian is interviewed outside the police station siege, 18 July 2016.</em></p><p dir="ltr">While Yegnukian is charged with assisting in the taking of hostages and buildings, the gunmen tried alongside him have not been charged with hostage-taking, but seizure of government buildings and illegal procurement of weapons. And yet, the judge dismissed Yegnukian’s lawyers’ motion to try Yegnukian separately. A motion to place him on bail was also dismissed, despite pleas on behalf of Yegnukian signed by dozens of public figures, including MPs, a former ombudsman and a number of local celebrities.</p><p>“The judge ruled that Garo can’t be released on bail because he can leave the country, interfere with witnesses or destroy the evidence,” says Hayrapetyan. “These are groundless claims. The witnesses’ testimonies were recorded in the court protocols, and we’re kept in the dark about the evidence. Given that his family lives in Armenia, it’s seems highly unlikely he’d leave the country.” In August, Hayrapetyan reported that the European Court of Human Rights gave a special status to the petition on Yegnukian’s case. The ECtHR haven’t examined the case yet.</p><p>Yegnukian believes that his support for Founding Parliament is only a pretence for the case against him, and that he is being punished for his activism. In July 2017, Garo Ghazarian, a co-chair of the Armenian Rights Watch Committee, sat in on one of Yegnukian’s court hearings. “I was left with impression that the judge was either inexperienced, which proved not to be the case, or some outside force was orchestrating his actions,” Ghazarian told me. “In this case, we can see punitive use of pretrial detention.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/29117 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The banner on Yerevan's Pak Shouka market denouncing Garo Yegnukian. Source: <a href=www.hetq.am>Hetq</a>. </span></span></span>A week after Yegnukian’s arrest, the pro-government newspaper <i>Iravunk</i> (The Law) <a href="http://www.iravunk.com/news/7019">published</a> what it called an investigation that concluded Garo Yegnukian was among “foreign agents” that had orchestrated the Erebuni police station siege&nbsp;— another accusation that sought to paint Yegnukian as a spy. The piece, written by the paper’s editor (who in 2015 received a medal of gratitude from Sargsyan), was also published by major Russian-language newspapers in Armenia.</p><h2>International reaction</h2><p>To date, the US Department of State and international human rights groups have expressed little or no public concern about Yegnukian’s case. In February 2017, US Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce meeting in Yerevan, addressed the Sasna Tsrer trial. Mills said he was “concerned by the pre-trial detentions of several defendants who are suspected of giving non-violent support to the militants”, but did not mention any particular case.</p><p dir="ltr">“In a private conversation, an embassy official to Armenia explained the reluctance to comment on the case by saying that Yegnukian is a dual citizen of the US and Armenia,” says Ghazarian of Armenian Rights Watch. “It sets a bad precedent against seeking Armenian citizenship. French Armenians, Armenian Americans — who wants to be judged by the Armenian judiciary?”</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“Politics and human rights should never mix, but they do mix in countries undergoing transition to a full democracy”</p><p dir="ltr">“By all means, he's a political prisoner,” Ghazarian says, referring to Garo Yegnukian. “Politics and human rights should never mix, but they do mix in countries undergoing transition to a full democracy.”</p><p dir="ltr">In a statement provided to me, the US Department of State wrote that “the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan is providing all possible consular assistance to Mr Yegnukian and we will continue to do so.” In a written response, the US Embassy in Armenia said it has been in contact with Armenian officials regarding the case and, and that it has made clear “the U.S. Government expects Armenian authorities to use pre-trial detention only as a last resort”. “We have also been pressing for a fair trial for Garo Yegnukian and the others in similar cases,” said the statement.</p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ykTa9roUlLM" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>This video relays the 2015 incident, in which Jirayr Sefilian and a group of 30 cars were refused entry to Nagorno-Karabakh. Two dozen people were injured in the proceedings.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Diogo Pinto, director at European Friends of Armenia, a Brussels-based NGO, says he doesn’t consider Yegnukian a political prisoner, given that he was (in my opinion, allegedly) involved in apology of terrorism. However, Pinto acknowledged the excessive use of pre-trial detention in Yegnukian’s case. “I do believe that his case should have been trialed much faster,” &nbsp;Pinto tells me. He stressed that the imperfections of the judiciary in Armenia is a major issue ahead of European states’ decisions whether to ratify the <a href="https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/36141/new-agreement-signed-between-european-union-and-armenia-set-bring-tangible-benefits-citizens_en">Armenia–EU Association Agreement</a> signed in November 2017. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights wasn’t made available for an interview.</p><p dir="ltr">“The excessive use of pre-trial detention should be the last resort, and it should be well-justified,” says Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “In Garo’s case, the court’s excuses are not enough to justify that [...] It’s clear that Garo is a victim of the excessive use of pre-trial detention.”</p><h2>The prisoner of Yerevan</h2><p dir="ltr">During court hearings in October 2017, Yegnukian’s blood pressure would rise when he entered the courtroom. In November, he was hospitalised as a result. Ever since the incident, Judge Artush Gabrielyan won’t let Yegnukian step foot in a courtroom. On the days of his hearings, Garo is taken into the courthouse basement for 15-20 minutes, and then brought back to his cell in the National Security Service of Armenia building.</p><p dir="ltr">During a more recent hearing, Judge Gabrielyan <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_0seiMM3h0&amp;feature=share">said</a> he ran into Yegnukian on the stairs and quipped that Yegnukian must have invented a trick to control his blood pressure. Under the Armenian legislation, any interaction between a judge and defendant outside of a courtroom is strictly prohibited. This small detail is interesting given that the Armenian judiciary is treating Yegnukian as a dangerous defendant. However, no evidence justifying this treatment has been made public.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s worth noting that the Sargsyan administration has a record of holding its opponents in pre-trial detention. In 2008, a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe committee even <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/PACE_Moves_To_Sanction_Yerevan_Over_Political_Prisoners/1361558.html">called for sanctions </a>on Armenia for the arrests of those who protested the 2008 election results. As people involved in campaigning for the release of Yegnukian and others are currently <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/85756/ngos-demand-release-of-sefilyan-and-other-political-prisoners.html">reminding</a> the Armenian public, the PACE <a href="http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=19150&amp;lang=en">elaborated</a> the very definition of “political prisoner” to address the problem of “alleged political prisoners in Armenia and Azerbaijan” in 2001 — particularly on grounds where pre-trial detention is excessive or detention is imposed for reasons unconnected to the criminal case.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the crackdown on the Founding Parliament continues. On 27 December, Armenia’s National Security officers arrested yet another group’s member, Vigen Nazaryan, on allegations of espionage. He was set free on the same day, after his apartment was searched, a mobile phone and tablet computer confiscated.</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/armine-ishkanian/from-civil-disobedience-to-armed-violence-political-developments-in-armen">From civil disobedience to armed violence: political developments in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikayel-zolyan/standoff-in-yerevan">The standoff in Yerevan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory">Armenia’s crisis and the legacy of victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">“Karabakh rules Armenia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/christina-soloyan/in-armenia-front-line-starts-at-school">In Armenia, the frontline starts at school</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Depoliticising protests in Armenia</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 Grigor Atanesian Armenia Fri, 23 Feb 2018 05:02:35 +0000 Grigor Atanesian 116281 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russian interference in the virtual world is not the problem https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-junes/russian-interference-in-virtual-world-is-not-problem <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p lang="en-US">If there were no Russian "influence operations" in the virtual world, no disinformation campaign spearheaded by Russian bots and trolls, would the western world look much different today?</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-31349753.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'>Robert Mueller. (c) James Berglie/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It's Mueller time, again. Or rather, it's time to charge up the headline generators about Russian interference and Putin's "master plan" to undermine the west. In the wake of the recent <span><a class="western" href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/us-election-2016-russia-robert-mueller-investigation-fbi-latest-updates-a8214651.html">indictments of 13 Russians for attempted meddling</a></span> in the 2016 US presidential elections, the international media produced a hail storm of articles and op-eds about Russian trolls and bots on social media apparently capable of influencing political outcomes and more in the west.</p> <p lang="en-US">It doesn't seem to matter that most of the revelations were already known and first <span><a class="western" href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2013/09/09/56265-gde-zhivut-trolli-kak-rabotayut-internet-provokatory-v-sankt-peterburge-i-kto-imi-zapravlyaet">reported on by Russian media</a></span>. Instead, it appears that the "Russian threat" is now more real than ever and will impact anything from the upcoming <span><a class="western" href="https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/italy-warns-election-meddling-parties-court-russia-53224379">elections in Italy</a></span> to the mid-term elections in the United States. Even <span><a class="western" href="https://www.cnet.com/news/the-honeymoon-is-over-in-silicon-valley-facebook-google-twitter/">Silicon Valley's Tech Giants are now apparently dismayed</a></span> that their products might have indeed changed the world, though not in the way they intended. But this should not be surprise us. After all, we are living in an era of "hybrid war" in which social media are a "tool" for Russian bots and trolls to succeed in what the erstwhile Soviet propaganda and intelligence network could only have dreamed of during the Cold War. </p> <p lang="en-US">The techno-fetishism surrounding social media, compounded by the hours per day millions of us spend on Twitter or Facebook, has managed to blur the lines between wishful thinking and reality, between the "virtual world" and the real world beyond the immediate vicinity of our screens. Could it not be that we are giving social media too much credit, from inciting mass protests and even "revolutions" to enabling hostile foreign election meddling?&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Ukraine and the rise of the Russian threat</strong></h2> <p lang="en-US">In early November 2013, there was no mention of a "Russian threat" let alone a "hybrid war" waged against the west. This changed in a matter of months as mass protests erupted in Ukraine following then president Viktor Yanukovych’s sudden decision not to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. The Euromaidan protests and ensuing Revolution of Dignity were a political earthquake nobody had expected, even though it happened in a period of increasing global protests, and it pitted Russia and the west against each other.</p> <p lang="en-US">However, geopolitical rivalry over influence in Ukraine was not new. Russia had installed <span><a class="western" href="https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21583998-trade-war-sputters-tussle-over-ukraines-future-intensifies-trading-insults">a trade blockade against Ukraine</a></span> in the summer of 2013 in order to pressure Yanukovych to refrain from signing the Association Agreement and consider joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union project. But back then there was no perception of any "Russian threat". So little did that possibility seem to be considered by western leaders and commentators that from today's perspective it is hard to believe how complacently and overconfidently EU politicians and US diplomats approached the issue of Ukraine's opening to Europe.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" lang="en-US">While Ukraine and its population paid the highest price for Russia's geopolitical gambit, the west was in shock</p> <p lang="en-US">It was Russia's occupation and annexation of Crimea, and its subsequent backing for the insurgency in Donbas that set off alarm bells in the west. The idea that Moscow would react militarily to what had been a national uprising in a neighbouring country showed that Russia and its leadership was <span><a class="western" href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/treat-russia-as-a-global-power-35055">serious about being seen as a Great Power</a></span> which is prepared to act in defence of what it saw as its vital interests. While Ukraine and its population paid the highest price for Russia's geopolitical gambit, the west was in shock. Instead of reflecting upon their earlier miscalculations and lack of caution regarding Ukraine and Russia, western political elites and commentators suddenly reverted to mirroring a Russian discourse of an aggressive and expansive west by invoking an exaggerated Russian threat.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Western politics as Russian conspiracies</strong></h2> <p lang="en-US">The fallout from the unexpected turn of events in Ukraine evolved into what came to be coined as a "<span><a class="western" href="https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/12/22/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-cold-war-216157">new Cold War</a></span>". Despite the recurring alarmism of some commentators and analysts about a Russian military threat, neither any significant escalation of the war in Ukraine, nor any purported Russian act of aggression against the west has materialised in the past years. Rather, the threat of the so-called "hybrid war" has become internalised while the Ukraine crisis has gradually been forgotten as it no longer captures international headlines. The invisible hand of the Kremlin is now used as an explanation <em>ad absurdum</em> for major political events that transpire in the west.</p> <p lang="en-US">From SYRIZA's ill-fated attempt to challenge the externally-imposed austerity package to the <span><a class="western" href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-politics-catalonia-russia/spain-sees-russian-interference-in-catalonia-separatist-vote-idUSKBN1DD20Y">outbreak of the Catalan crisis</a></span>, from debatable electoral successes of far right parties in Europe to the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, western commentators and politicians have been quick to point the finger to alleged Russian interference or conspiratorial Kremlin-linked destabilising activity as causal explanations instead of looking at deeper societal and historical developments - even if some of the latter are blatantly obvious and common-sensical albeit uncomfortable explanations.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">The perceived crisis in the west in its various forms is not of Russia's making. This is not to say that Moscow stays aloof from western affairs. Of course Russia does not, just as <span><a class="western" href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39339679">it did not in the past</a></span> (i.e. prior to the Ukraine crisis when there was no perception of a Russian threat). But "Russian subversive activity" should not be blown out of proportion. In countries like Ukraine that share a border with Russia, the Kremlin can afford to rely on its military power. In <span><a class="western" href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-junes/what-is-russian-influence-anyway">other parts of the world</a></span>, Russia acts as a spoiler, projecting itself as a counter-weight to the west’s hegemony, and makes use of its energy and financial assets or applying soft power.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">None of this really threatens the western liberal order. Nowhere has the Kremlin thwarted the west. The threat to western liberal democracies is internal. The longer western elites, policy makers and commentators keep ignoring this fact, the greater that threat will become — regardless of what Russia does or does not do. If there was a time when western observers rightly pointed <span><a class="western" href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/annaborshchevskaya/2014/10/09/putin-and-russias-anti-westernism/#7906aced46ea">to how Putin's authoritarian regime bolstered</a></span> itself by seeking to blame "western interference" or "western aggression" for problems not of the west's making, then it is time to acknowledge that we are increasingly seeing a similar phenomenon in the west. By reverting to a "blame-Russia game" we are <span><a class="western" href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">undermining our own democracies</a></span>.</p> <h2><strong>The disinformation about disinformation</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p lang="en-US">In the wake of the Ukraine crisis with the occupation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in Donbas, we clearly saw a Russian propaganda effort compounded by the murky realities of oligarch-owned media companies in an environment where Russian-language media outlets have a transnational impact. As a result, disinformation spread through both traditional and new media outlets. Ultimately, this was a classic effect of war and military operations, which back in 2014 also turned the virtual world of social media into a proxy battlefield to "win hearts and minds".&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">But it is a distortion of reality to compare the Ukrainian context to the influence of Russian disinformation, twitter bots or facebook trolls in the west. First of all, because Russia does not have a monopoly on disinformation. Western Europeans who opposed the war in Iraq still remember how <span><a class="western" href="https://www.salon.com/2015/05/23/perilously_close_to_propaganda_how_fox_news_shilled_for_iraq_war_and_jon_stewart_returned_sanity/">Anglo-American media promoted the Bush administration's invasion plans</a></span> based on false claims of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" lang="en-US">Social media are, of course, a technological innovation that protesters use to communicate and spread information. But it does not cause people to mobilise</p> <p lang="en-US">Secondly, what is classified as Russian disinformation? Much of the "disinformation" we see circulating can be easily categorised as tabloid-like lies and gossip. In this sense, <span><a class="western" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/world/europe/london-tabloids-brexit.html">British tabloids can claim much credit</a></span> for the Leave campaign's victory in the Brexit referendum. If only because the tabloid press has a much larger market share and distribution than any organised Russian disinformation campaign could have mustered. Similarly, US cable news market leader FOX News' years-long anti-Obama and anti-Hillary spin surely must have had more impact on American voters than a series of Russian-made memes spread on facebook?&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">In Bulgaria, historically a country where a significant part of society maintains sympathetic views towards Russia, <span><a class="western" href="http://hssfoundation.org/en/anti-liberal-discourses-and-propaganda-messages-in-bulgarian-media/">research has shown</a></span> that what is often seen as "Russian propaganda" is rather a <span><a class="western" href="https://codastory.com/disinformation-crisis/foreign-proxies/made-in-bulgaria-pro-russian-propaganda">home-grown phenomenon</a></span> of "pro-Russian propaganda". The fact that similar tropes of political discourse appear as in Russia does not necessarily imply that these tropes were deliberately infused elsewhere by some Kremlin-ordered operation. The German Marshall Fund’s "<span><a class="western" href="https://dashboard.securingdemocracy.org/">Hamilton 68 tool for tracking Russian influence operations</a></span>" lists MAGA (Make America Great Again) as a top hashtag and FOX News as a top url spread by an undisclosed list of Russian bots on twitter. It suffices to note that neither MAGA nor FOX News were conceived in Russia.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The power of social media fallacy</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p lang="en-US">The significance of social media should not be inflated. Researchers of protest movements still debate the veracity of so-called Twitter or Facebook "revolutions". The internet and social media has become an important mainstay in most of our lives. Yet, research has demonstrated that social media works against mobilisation as it leads to "<span><a class="western" href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/09/05/from-slacktivism-to-activism/">slacktivism</a></span>" while the impact of twitter and facebook on protests and their ability to force political change <span><a class="western" href="http://www.cyberorient.net/article.do?articleId=7439">has likewise been qualified</a></span>.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">Social media are, of course, a technological innovation that protesters use to communicate and spread information. But it does not cause people to mobilise. On the contrary, authoritarian regimes have proven quite successful in using social media <span><a class="western" href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/09/net-delusion-morozov-review">to counter possible mobilisation</a></span>. In this light, it is doubtful whether the activity of Russian bots and trolls or the dissemination of Russian-made memes on social media could provide a platform to mobilise voters in any country to elect a candidate or a party preferred by the Kremlin.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">We should thus be wary of sensationalist stories about Russian disinformation campaigns or the activity of Russian bots and trolls in the social media bubble. The fact that disinformation can be spread via social media does not necessarily imply that this leads to actions by those who are exposed to it. Does this mean Russian interference should not be investigated? No, it should, but it needs to be put in right perspective. As Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian intelligence and crime networks, <span><a class="western" href="https://inmoscowsshadows.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/a-few-thoughts-on-the-troll-farm-indictment/">poignantly commented</a></span>, this is about crime not politics. The Mueller indictments are an effort to prove "whether crimes were committed under US law", and the indictments are not a conviction so "unless and until there is proof, we should be cautious."</p> <p lang="en-US">The war in Ukraine and western politics are two very different realities. Instead of amplifying hysterics about what goes on in the virtual world, western policy makers and commentators should better focus on the roots of the problems on which disinformation preys and through which it resonates. To phrase this as a counter-factual question: if there were no Russian "influence operations" in the virtual world, no "disinformation campaign" spearheaded by Russian bots and trolls, would the western world look much different today?</p><p lang="en-US">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/what-is-russian-influence-anyway">What is Russian influence, anyway?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-over-the-barriers">Over the barriers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bryan-milakovsky/vesti-weapon-or-casualty">Vesti: Weapon or casualty in the information war?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">The trap of “countering Russia”</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 Tom Junes Beyond propaganda Thu, 22 Feb 2018 09:12:37 +0000 Tom Junes 116269 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Academic freedom in Tajikistan: western researchers need to look at themselves, too https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/karolina-kluczewska/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The way people in the west research Central Asia isn’t always the most honest – and this shapes our understanding of academic autonomy.</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_3_campus_of_the_tajik_national__university.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_3_campus_of_the_tajik_national__university.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'>Campus of the Tajik national university. Source: Personal archive.</span></span></span>In a recent <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-endangered-what-is-to-be-done">Eurasianet commentary</a>,&nbsp;two respected figures of Eurasian studies, <a href="https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/political-science/professor-and-chair-ed-schatz">Edward Schatz</a> and <a href="https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/politics/staff/heathershaw/">John Heathershaw</a>, discuss the Tajik government’s tightening control over the local academic sphere by the government. They elaborate three options for funding bodies, western universities and field researchers: a refusal to cooperate with Tajik state institutions and academics employed there; a blacklist of institutions with a track record of repression, which, in their opinion, in practice would be similar to “a comprehensive boycott”; and finally, critical engagement and caution in entering partnerships with Tajik state institutions. </p><p dir="ltr">As a young, foreign researcher in Tajikistan who collaborates with official bodies, I am particularly concerned with the authors’ conclusion: </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“In light of the deepening authoritarianism in Tajikistan, it is difficult to see how most partnerships in the social sciences and humanities with [Tajik] official bodies can either be academically valuable or ethically permissible.”&nbsp;</p> <p>In her response to the article, Malika Bahovadinova <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/malika-bahovadinova/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-boycotts">discusses</a> the problematic use of the authoritarian label, the potential consequences of further isolating the Tajik academic community through boycotts and blacklists, and the power hierarchy between foreign scholars and local researchers, with the latter often reduced to the former’s data providers. </p><p>In my response, I would like to discuss the partnerships of foreign researchers with Tajik official bodies, which, according to the Eurasianet commentary, make research like my own academically non-valuable and ethically dubious. I will provide some reflections on the production of knowledge on Tajikistan by foreign researchers and refer to my experience as an early-stage female researcher with over three years of fieldwork in the country. My research is mainly on development aid in Tajikistan and interactions of international organisations with government institutions and local communities.&nbsp;</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/rsz_april_2017_tajik_academy_of__sciences_-_celebrations_of_the_day_of_science.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 2017: Tajik Academy of Sciences - celebrations of the day of science. Source: Personal archive.</span></span></span>For many years, knowledge production on Central Asia has been relegated to the backstage of the research process. New knowledge was generated and published, but the question of <em>how</em> this knowledge was acquired was rarely discussed beyond informal conversations and short methodological sections in the introduction to academic books and articles. Today, the nuances of knowledge production have made it to the frontstage. Scholars of Central Asia and other parts of the world have <a href="https://securitypraxis.eu/content/images/2018/01/Lottholz_CentralAsia_longform.pdf">started reflecting</a> on issues such as researcher safety while conducting fieldwork and a <a href="https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319689654">new volume</a> examines research methods and risks in authoritarian contexts, including in Central Asia. A number of <a href="https://excas.net/2017/10/workshop-academic-freedom-and-production-of-knowledge-in-the-middle-east-north-africa-and-central-asia-today/">events</a> on the subject have been taking place in European universities.&nbsp;</p> <p>While such debates on <em>how</em> we do research<em> </em>might be especially useful for younger researchers who have yet to start their field work, the discussion appears to have already been skewed by a safety and security lens. While it is important that we discuss how to do research effectively and minimise risks in the field, we are still neglecting to scrutinise ethics and power relations embedded in research, and to promote collaborative research methods and designs. We have just started <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/fieldresearch/2017/10/30/why-practitioners-treat-researchers-like-a-nuisance/">unpacking</a> these <a href="http://siba-ese.unile.it/index.php/idps/article/view/17450">matters</a>, but Schatz and Heathershaw call for a boycott of partnerships between local and international researchers in Tajikistan.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">I believe that building partnerships with state institutions is a necessary step for any foreign researcher who intends to conduct research on Tajikistan&nbsp;<em>in</em>&nbsp;Tajikistan</p> <p>I believe that building partnerships with state institutions is a necessary step for any foreign researcher who intends to conduct research on Tajikistan <em>in</em> Tajikistan. This isn’t a matter of personal preference, but a pre-requisite to operate in respect of local legislation. Whether we like it or not, official bodies in a given country decide the rules to conduct research there as a foreigner. Currently, in Tajikistan, foreigner researchers need either to have a permission from the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or secure an affiliation with a local research institution, which is accompanied by the granting of a research visa. Building these partnerships can be extremely lengthy, complicated and bureaucratic. For example, it took me five months to obtain an affiliation with Tajik National University. To do this, I had to build relationships with university’s management and gain their trust, familiarise myself with the work of various departments and collect a huge number of supporting documents from the country and abroad.&nbsp;</p> <p>Affiliation to a local research institution, however, was not simply a piece of paper. Once affiliated, I became involved in university matters. I had a specific work plan, which was approved by the dean, as well as deliverables to reach. I worked in collaboration with an academic supervisor from the Tajik university, who involved me in various projects. He invited me to participate in various local conferences, asked me to write short articles for a local academic journal, comment on his work, and even teach some of his classes. I joined the local academic community at the research library.</p> <p>Tajik universities are underfunded, professors receive very low salaries and classrooms are often cold in winter. There are no national research grants available. Still, I have always met with interest from the local academic community, and was often asked about my progress and findings. I had a chance to discuss my research with employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some Tajik embassies abroad. I never had to lie about my research topic and the critical approach I was taking. I never had to bribe anyone to obtain information for my research, nor was I ever asked by anyone to reveal the identities of my interviewees and the content of the interviews. To my knowledge, none of my interviewees has been interrogated by the state authorities after our conversations.</p> <p>I know of several foreign researchers who followed a similar path to conducting research in Tajikistan. They are anthropologists, geographers, political scientists, historians. Most of them are at an early stage in their careers, but have spent a significant amount of time in the country, continue to visit it regularly and are truly passionate about it. They have managed to conduct research on a broad range of topics concerning Tajikistan, and some have co-authored work with local scholars employed in official bodies. Aren’t these collaborations — which we developed with local official bodies during years of work — “academically valuable or ethically permissible”? Can our attempt to conduct research that is ethical and based on thorough fieldwork, in full respect of Tajik legislation, no longer be deemed “academically valuable or ethically permissible”?&nbsp;</p> <p>During my fieldwork in Tajikistan, I have met foreign researchers who did not want to engage with any official bodies. In most cases a certain pattern can be observed. They would visit Tajikistan for a short period of time, often without much prior knowledge of the country or the local languages. They would come to Tajikistan on a tourist visa, conduct a series of interviews and leave the country soon after. I witnessed bizarre situations when these researchers were convinced that, because they were in a country where corruption is said to be widespread, they felt they could bribe literally anyone — including waiters, to get a table in restaurants where all tables had already been booked.&nbsp;</p> <p>Conducting research on a tourist visa is of course possible, and since the introduction of an electronic visa system in Tajikistan obtaining one has become easier. However, I believe that in such case the researcher needs to acknowledge that they are breaching local legislation, and this might have an impact on their safety, but mainly it can negatively influence anyone they interact with. I have heard of several cases when interviewees of researchers who briefly visited Tajikistan on a tourist visa to conduct sensitive research were later interrogated by state authorities. Obviously, this does not justify the actions of the state bodies. Rather, I am drawing attention to the issue of positionality of foreign researchers and the hierarchies of knowledge production. First, there is the instrumental approach to research as a data collection process, which limits local <em>subjects</em> to pure <em>objects</em> of academic inquiry. Second, we need to ask whether it is legitimate for foreign scholars to break domestic laws because they work at western universities and produce knowledge there. Is such knowledge academically valuable or ethically permissible?</p> <p>Finally, there is the issue of foreign universities seeking collaboration with Tajik researchers only to “tick the box” of having access to the field in order to obtain research grants from estern funding bodies. Most of these grants go to research on topics that are a priority for western policy-makers, such as terrorism and counter-terrorism, Islam and radicalisation, but raise the suspicion of Central Asian governments (whether this is legitimate or not, it is a fact). While working in a Tajik NGO last year, I came across three big European and American institutions with no focus or expertise on Central Asia, which wanted the NGO to collect data for their research projects on radicalisation. We discussed these proposals in the office. My then boss justified rejecting all offers thus: “It is them who need our data, but we do not need their problems and their money, we are economically fine.” </p><p>Alas, most Tajik institutions and individual researchers cannot say the same.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/malika-bahovadinova/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-boycotts">Academic freedom in Tajikistan: why boycotts and blacklists are the wrong response </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/john-heathershaw-edward-schatz/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-endangered">Academic freedom in Tajikistan endangered: what is to be done?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Karolina Kluczewska Education Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:34:23 +0000 Karolina Kluczewska 116237 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Academic freedom in Tajikistan: why boycotts and blacklists are the wrong response https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/malika-bahovadinova/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-boycotts <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A recent call to disengage with educational institutions in this Central Asian state misses crucial points about academia under 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/564053/17060172033_5ea02de77e_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/17060172033_5ea02de77e_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tajik State Pedagogical University. Photo CC BY 2.0: Flickr / Prince Roy. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>I read with interest Edward Schatz’s and John Heathershaw’s recent article published on <a href="https://eurasianet.org/">EurasiaNet</a> under the title <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan-endangered-what-is-to-be-done">“Academic Freedom in Tajikistan Endangered: What is to be done?”</a> While the authors rightly characterise the Tajik government’s attempts to tighten control over the academic sphere, I find their conclusions problematic. Partnerships with local institutions should be terminated, the authors argue, and the academic and ethical validity of any research conducted with such partnerships should be questioned. But by calling for the isolation of the country’s academic sphere, Schatz and Heathershaw risk further endangering academic freedom in Tajikistan.</p><p dir="ltr">The issues with this article and its conclusion are manifold. As it is so often the case, there is something that needs to be done about countries such as Tajikistan: something that can be done only by western outsiders. The country itself becomes the problem, and should be avoided wholesale. I would suggest that Schatz and Heathershaw are misguided in their call for Tajikistan’s isolation. This is not to say that there aren’t problems in the country’s academic sphere. But the authors’ understanding of the situation is flawed, and their proposed solutions only likely to exacerbate matters.</p><p dir="ltr">Reading the article, one may be forgiven if they conjure up images of a traditionally thriving academic environment in Tajikistan, with various partnerships between foreign and local educational institutions. The situation, however, is quite different. Tajikistan is a small mountainous country in Central Asia of little strategic importance (especially as the interest in Afghanistan, with which Tajikistan shares its southern border, has dwindled) and with limited economic resources. In short, few people are interested in the country, including in academia, as academic interest is also political. Those of us who study Tajikistan find ourselves marginalised in the job market, at conferences, and in academic discussions. In such a context partnerships are rare, a situation that has remained unchanged since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">country’s civil war </a>(1992-1997).</p><p dir="ltr">However, there are some existing partnerships that can help to explain the actual academic environment in Tajikistan. I shall touch upon two kinds of partnerships that I have observed and in which I have participated. Sometimes, foreign educational establishments do form partnerships with local Tajik institutions or researchers. Last year, while working with Rugo (a pseudonym for a local research company), I was asked by some confused colleagues to figure out what some “Germans” who had emailed them wanted. The “Germans,” it turned out, represented a network of European universities that wanted Rugo to collaborate in putting together a proposal for significant EU funding. At first, I was surprised by their choice: Rugo isn’t an academic institution, but a firm specialising in data collection for international organisations.</p><p dir="ltr">The “Germans,” as I later learned, had gone to Washington to find some “Tajiks”. There, they had spoken to a Tajik journalist living in the US who suggested contacting Rugo because he was friend with the company’s director. I was tasked with developing the Tajik side of the proposal within a predefined thematic framework, as well as with identifying appropriate researchers. None of us could afford to go to Germany for a planning meeting with our partners, so I sat in on meetings online. We weren’t given any feedback on our contribution and, throughout the process, Rugo was simply reacting to the Germans’ requests. As I so often experienced in this kind of situation, the themes and topics of the research were not defined in Tajikistan.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Locals could not analyse”: analysis was presented as some sort of an inherent skill of outsiders, which locals could neither possess nor develop</p><p dir="ltr">Rugo is a well-established institution in Tajikistan and, at least in part, its reputation comes from having worked with many international organisations. As the director put it to me one day, however, they were still engaged in doing the “dirty work” for others: they were a data collection hub for international experts. In other words, Rugo was involved in a knowledge production hierarchy, where raw data came from the periphery (Tajikistan), while its analysis was done in metropolitan centres by “experts,” many with little to no experience or interest in Central Asia. The reason for this was that, as it was often said, “locals could not analyse”: analysis was presented as some sort of an inherent skill of outsiders, which locals could neither possess nor develop.</p><p dir="ltr">Schatz and Heathershaw argue that an extractive relationship between foreign and local researchers was a common occurrence only in the 1990s. But this continues to this very day, with established professors and experts working in the west hiring local firms, such as Rugo, or often underpaid local researchers to collect data for them. Sometimes, local researchers are also hired to conduct sensitive research where the potential risks are considered too high for outsiders.</p><p dir="ltr">The relationship is also strongly hierarchical. As a local, and a local woman, I was hardly ever taken seriously by foreign researchers. Instead, it was my white and foreign husband, a PhD student at the time, who was often consulted by foreign graduate students for advice about conducting research in Tajikistan. When meeting the (often male) foreign researchers, I was rarely asked about my own research, and was instead treated as an exotic local wife who had nothing to add to important conversations about Tajikistan. Some researchers would ask me if I could work as an assistant for someone who was in need of a person to help them with data collection or translation. Patriarchy is not a trait exclusive to the Tajik context, although there, too, local men would introduce me to others as a translator, or simply disregard my critique of local state institutions or initiatives because I was a young woman. The behaviour of western researchers in Tajikistan was frequently the same, part and parcel of the patriarchal spirit I also encountered in western classrooms.</p><p dir="ltr">Another type of academic partnerships in Tajikistan are those established between foreign PhD researchers, on the one hand, and local educational institutions, on the other. These relationships are usually necessary for the former to conduct research in Tajikistan and, in my experience, have been growing more frequent and are much more equal. In Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe in 2014, I met numerous researchers who were all conducting long-term research on various topics. They learnt local languages, partnered with local universities, and many presented their work and findings locally. These relationships involved an enormous effort on their part to cultivate relationships of trust with local academics, who in turn risked their positions to help them to become affiliated and receive formal access to archives, fieldwork, and the academic community. As the academic institutions involved were often Tajik state institutions, in practice these are the partnerships that Schatz and Heathershaw call ethically and academically questionable.</p><p dir="ltr">While it is true that certain types of research – notably touching on political issues – are becoming more difficult to conduct openly in Tajikistan, Schatz and Heathershaw infer that as space closes for some foreign researchers to conduct fieldwork, no valid research can come out of the country at all. This claim is problematic as it invokes the image of an all-encompassing “authoritarian” state, where anyone associated with said state becomes complicit in its “authoritarianism.” It assumes both that the whole “state” is bad and an opposition between the state and the people. This disregards the kind of politics and heterogeneity that actually exists within such a state. Last year, I participated in a meeting at the Tajik Academy of Sciences, during which one researcher presented his work on migration and strongly critiqued the Tajik Ministry of Labour. Towards the end of the meeting, another woman lashed out at corrupt officials in the government who are aware of the problems migrant workers face, but fail to step in and resolve them. These were state employees living and working in Tajikistan, who openly voiced a critique of their colleagues. </p><p dir="ltr">While there are a good number of intellectuals who do pay lip service to the government, there are also many others who tacitly or openly provide critique and commentary on political developments in the country. Many of them are employees of local state institutions. Such critique often happens on local terms and without overt proclamations or accusations of authoritarianism, but the context is clear for everyone to understand. Paradoxically, the only time I can recall being censored in Tajikistan was at a conference organized by the OSCE, where foreign expatriates suggested that my views were “too critical”. Instead of acknowledging this ambiguous and heterogeneous environment, however, arguments such as Schatz and Heathershaw’s invoke the discursive category of “authoritarian,” which evokes in the popular imagination an all-encompassing police state creeping into people’s homes and lives. The general assumption is that such state is simply unliveable.</p><p dir="ltr">My critique doesn’t deny the existence of increasingly controlling state practices in Tajikistan. As in other authoritarian cases, authoritarianism refers both to the actual practices of control and suppression, and to the wider field of what can be voiced and what should be silenced: therefore, it is inherently bad and should never be defended. Yet, the academic literature and my own experience of studying bureaucracy in Tajikistan illustrate that even in such increasingly controlling environments politics and negotiation do continue. Instead of juxtaposing the state and the people, the strict divisions between state and non-state actors should instead be problematised. </p><p dir="ltr">By calling for a boycott or blacklist of Tajik institutions, western academics may feel that they are trying to affect positive change on the ground. Alas, they appear to disregard the actual political existence of the people who live and work in such environments. The blind spot of this discursive construction of “authoritarianism” is precisely the context and politics of those who have no choice but to live and make the most of their lives in what we call “authoritarian states”. These are the same individuals who are the most in need of the academic partnerships Schatz and Heathershaw suggest should be terminated – and those who stand to lose the most from a boycott.</p><p dir="ltr">We should, of course, be considerate of the type and form of research being conducted in Tajikistan. Yet when we evaluate the academic validity of research it should be based on the quality of the research in question. While strict ethical principles should underpin any research undertaken in any environment, this cannot mean that engagement with the local academic community in Tajikistan automatically raise ethical concerns. A boycott or blacklist would further contribute to the marginalisation of the voices of those living, working, and operating in an already difficult environment. Local research is already penalised not only by restrictions on what can be said, but also by the absence of research funds, good publishing houses, and access to translated works. Ironically, further isolating the Tajik academic community would complement the government’s efforts of increasing surveillance.</p><p dir="ltr">I can see no benefit of further isolation for Tajikistan or its academic community. If calls for boycotts and blacklists are voiced, it would be useful to elaborate exactly how and when these would bear any fruit and what sort of fruit, exactly, this would be. In my view, the isolation of academia and local knowledge production is not the answer to increasingly authoritarian state practices. Removing the scarce resources that are available to local institutions and researchers though small grants or partnerships will only further undermine the legitimacy and independence of Tajik academia.</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-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/karolina-kluczewska/academic-freedom-in-tajikistan">Academic freedom in Tajikistan: western researchers need to look at themselves, too</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">The long echo of Tajikistan’s civil war</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/tajikistan-s-imitation-civil-society">Tajikistan’s imitation civil society</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/tajikistan-so-close-no-matter-how-far">Tajikistan: so close, no matter how far</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Malika Bahovadinova Tajikistan Education Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:33:47 +0000 Malika Bahovadinova 116239 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The growing gap between Ukraine and Russia – and the people trying to bridge it https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yulia-abibok/the-growing-gap-between-ukraine-and-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukraine and Russia are mired in a self-perpetuating conflict. Ukrainian and Russian activists recognise the problem, but will they be able to overcome it? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yulia-abibok/vechniy-konflikt" 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/_Вари_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Write a letter to Moscow” - an action in Kyiv, 2015. From left to right: Andrey Ignatchuk, an actor from Minsk; Varya Darevskaya, Natalia Bugreeva. Photo: Elena Podgornaya.</span></span></span>Of all the possible post-Soviet models of political behaviour that might be adopted in the face of separatist conflict, Ukraine appears to have opted for the least successful one of all – namely, the Azerbaijan-style strategy of blockading territories not under its control and limiting contacts with its neighbouring state. In these conditions, the actual everyday experiences of citizens of both countries are easily supplanted by propagandist bravado, and any attempt at diplomacy from below becomes risky. It feels as if the conflict is hooked up to a kind of perpetual motion machine, whereby it replicates itself on all possible levels, forcing even local governments to keep the flywheel of confrontation constantly spinning.</p><p dir="ltr">Without the opportunity to operate freely in their own country, some Russian nationals who have come out against the war in the Donbas have attempted to participate in Ukrainian civic life. The response they’ve met with, however, has been less than enthusiastic. Motivated as they are by the best of intentions, Russian activists grow disillusioned when they encounter a wall of antagonism across the border.</p><p dir="ltr">Today, no one’s awaiting any magnanimous gestures in Kyiv or Dnipro. The only thing people are waiting for is the day Russia leaves Ukraine alone – and they’re transferring all their grievances from those who are really to blame (specific politicians) to people within range (activists and volunteers). The resentment is quickly becoming mutual: Russian anti-war activists expect Ukrainians to oppose any continuation of the armed conflict in the Donbas, without realising that you can’t protest against a war fought in self-defence.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Your fear is no better than our fear”</h2><p dir="ltr">“I had a meeting with some local youngsters in Gorlovka [a town west of Donetsk, inside the separatist-controlled territories], and invited the people in attendance to write letters to Kyiv. They really brightened up: ‘To Kyiv?!’ For them this was like writing a letter to Mars.”</p><p dir="ltr">At a table in my Kyiv kitchen, Varya Darevskaya lays out stacks of handwritten letters, children’s drawings and postcards. Varya’s idea is to persuade the opposing sides in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict to “start talking”: hence the letters, and hence, too, Varya’s Facebook page, which she uses to urge the parties in question to exchange views on developments in Ukraine and Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">“When people enter into direct dialogue with one another – even if they end up quarrelling – I think it becomes harder to pull the trigger. After all, the injunction ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is deeply ingrained in us,” she tells me.</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_Рисунки(1)_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Рисунки(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'>Letters and drawings as a way to start a conversation. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>According to Varya’s scheme, I can answer any of the letters she’s brought over from Russia and the territories in Ukraine’s east outside of state control. The letter mustn’t contain anything insulting or offensive. And yet several letters remain unclaimed – they were penned from people living in the Donbas to Ukrainian soldiers, but the latter are keen only on letters which praise them. Varya’s Donbas letters, however, are full of bitterness and exhaustion more than anything else.</p><p dir="ltr">Varya, too, is tired and disillusioned. She’s been doing this work at her own expense since 2014. In addition to her postal services, she delivers medical supplies for the Ukrainian military and collects humanitarian aid for civilians affected by the war. </p><p dir="ltr">Varya hasn’t found the response she was counting on in Ukraine. At first, she says, she was upset at not being invited to the west of the country – before realising that the Donbas interests only people with direct links to the region. As for the Donbas itself, militants operating in areas beyond Kyiv’s control have even threatened to kill Varya, and to punish any local residents with links to her. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“At first I found it very upsetting that Ukraine had such hatred for us. Yes, there’s Putin and there was Crimea. But we tried to take a stand against that”</p><p dir="ltr">“Many Russians went into complete shock on account of the war. They were ready to help, and did so,” Varya recalls. “They sent money over, found medical supplies, uniforms and much else besides. They looked into what was going on in our military units and went to fight for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of roubles have passed through my hands alone. As I was saving Lugansk’s grannies, I was sure that I was doing all this for Ukraine. And then they told us that, since we couldn’t stop the war, we could all do one – good guys or bad, it didn’t matter. And a great many people stopped helping.</p><p dir="ltr">“At first I found it very upsetting that Ukraine had such hatred for us. Yes, there’s Putin and there was Crimea. But we tried to take a stand against that. But now, believe it or not, it’s all the same to me how Ukrainians behave towards us, and towards me personally. This is why I haven’t got any ideas about reconciliation at the moment. That goes for both reconciliation between Ukraine and Russia and even between Ukraine and the Donbas.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainian activists who’ve made attempts to initiate or respond to initiatives akin to that promoted by Varya encounter condemnation or even aggression from their compatriots – and pull the plug on their endeavours as a result.</p><p dir="ltr">“Your fear is no better than our fear,” she says.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A country of free people</h2><p dir="ltr">“Some separatists have arrived and are staging a rally by the Eternal Flame. I’m instructing the legal department to draw up a suit to ensure that there won’t be any provocations on the eve of Independence Day.” This was the&nbsp;<a href="http://styknews.info/novyny/sotsium/2016/08/16/frankivska-meriia-podast-do-sudu-na-organizatoriv-aktsii-spilna-kukhnia">response</a> given by Ruslan Martsinkiv, mayor of the west Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk, to a “shared kitchen” event staged in 2016 by activists who’d relocated from Luhansk together with their Russian colleagues.</p><p dir="ltr">Yaroslav Minkin, one of the rally’s organisers, says that its format was jointly developed by Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists involved in a project run by the Human Rights House NGO in Chernihiv, which is supported by the OSCE. The activists concluded that controversial issues ought to be discussed in public forums, giving anyone keen to speak out the opportunity to do so. The name “Shared Kitchen” – a nod to the fact that apartment kitchens were the primary forums of the Soviet era – hints not so much at the danger of talking openly, but rather an intimacy of sorts.</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/564053/13920900_1078226905589869_5679842966077171256_n_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'>“Shared kitchen” event in Ivano-Frankivsk, 2016. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>“We wanted to establish an open dialogue with people who’re sticking up for Ukraine on the territory of Russia,” says Minkin, who hails from Luhansk, lives in Ivano-Frankivsk and heads the&nbsp;<a href="http://stan.org.ua/">STAN youth organisation</a>. “It seemed obvious to us that patriotically inclined Ukrainians would support the desperate guys prepared to speak out for justice on the territory of the aggressor country. Instead, however, the reaction of the majority turned out to be a negative one. We began to receive threats from people with close links to the local authorities, and from radically inclined citizens as well.”</p><p dir="ltr">STAN was able to hold three more “shared kitchens”, after which the event was transformed into an “open dialogue”, conducted with the same participants, but now without any involvement from Russian nationals.</p><p dir="ltr">Another Ukrainian NGO, Country of Free People, also recently encountered attacks of this kind. “Friends, you must agree, this is out of all proportion – to bring in a psychologist specialising in work with military men from Moscow and Grozny to train up Ukrainian psychologists who work with Ukrainian soldiers. And this event will take place tomorrow or the day after tomorrow in Kyiv.” The head of another NGO wrote this on Facebook last November, attaching to his post a scan of his appeal to the Security Service of Ukraine. “Who are these ‘experts’? What motivated them to come to Ukraine and make speeches at the conference? Could it be that they’re cooperating with the intelligence services of the Russian Federation?” the NGO head asked in his appeal. On the day of the conference, a crowd of aggressive youths gathered in front of the hotel where it was taking place with the intention of disrupting the event. The organisers were forced to call security.</p><p dir="ltr">Nadiya Khomenko, who heads Country of Free People, maintains that Russian psychologists and trauma therapists are her favourite professional partners. This partnership was made possible thanks to projects run by the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.austausch.org/ru/">German-Russian Exchange</a>, which is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office; prior to the outbreak of war, the parties in question knew nothing about each other.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We don’t convene simply to bandy about slogans like ‘We are brothers’ and ‘Peace, friendship, chewing gum’. The boundaries remain demarcated”</p><p dir="ltr">“We’re dealing with an enemy that used the same modus operandi in Russia – methods grounded in deceit, wiliness, propaganda, intimidation. Their support is therefore important to us: they’re the senior, more experienced players, they’ve been through more than we have. On the other hand, they draw inspiration from our example. In their eyes, we represent a new generation of people fighting for our country,” says Nadezhda about her organisation’s Chechnya-based partners. She’s glad they can still hold meetings in Ukraine, even if doing so isn’t difficulty-free, since going to Russia is dangerous for patriotically minded Ukrainian activists and volunteers. The risk of ending up in a Russian prison remains significant.</p><p dir="ltr">Country of Free People do more than simply train Ukrainian psychologists for work with sufferers of post-traumatic disorders. CFP and their Russian colleagues also co-administer projects involving engagement with children and young people, as well as those aimed at countering domestic violence in the families of Ukrainian servicemen – projects that encompass areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts not currently under Kyiv’s control. They’re planning to hold a peace camp for children from Russia and Ukraine, including children from the self-proclaimed “republics”, during the summer.</p><p dir="ltr">“We realise that this won’t break the Putin regime,” Nadiya Khomenko admits. “We haven’t invented some kind of magic machine that’s going to solve all our problems. We don’t convene simply to bandy about slogans like ‘We are brothers’ and ‘Peace, friendship, chewing gum’. The boundaries remain demarcated: there’s black and there’s white, there’s annexation and there’s military aggression. But when politicians are incapable of reaching any consensus, human relations must endure nevertheless. When you’re overwhelmed by hatred, thinking straight becomes impossible. Cooperating with our friends from the North Caucasus – for me, this is a pill against hate.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">The failure of intervention</h2><p dir="ltr">The idea of participating in peace-making projects, however, provokes nothing but scepticism in many other Ukrainian activists. For certain people in Ukraine, peace-making has, to put it bluntly, become a lucrative area of ​​activity: Western donors don’t stint when it comes to financing any such initiatives, although in practice participants in these kind of initiatives are sometimes unwilling to hold even the most rudimentary of dialogues with the opposite side, understanding the notion of “peace” only in terms of that side’s surrender.</p><p dir="ltr">Like CFP, the humanitarian organisation&nbsp;<a href="http://vostok-sos.org/">Vostok-SOS</a> was established at the peak of the conflict in 2014 to provide assistance to civilians in the Donbas. Initially, Vostok-SOS also played a part in the peace-making project run by the German-Russian Exchange. But the organisation quickly left the project, considering any efforts at mediation with Russian participation – regarded here solely as attempts to “reconcile Ukrainians with Ukrainians” – as out-and-out hypocrisy.</p><p dir="ltr">“They’re looking where it’s light, and not where everything is lost,” asserts Vostok-SOS co-founder Konstantin Reutsky, referring to the organisers of these kind of peace-making projects.</p><p dir="ltr">Reutsky doesn’t doubt that it is imperative to reconcile the warring sides – but only after the cessation of hostilities. As long as the war in the Donbas continues to smoulder, he says, representatives of Russian civil society can assist their Ukrainian counterparts only by working to expedite regime change in Russia itself.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It’s completely possible to turn them [Russian civil society] into allies simply by adopting a decent attitude towards them”</p><p dir="ltr">Ilya Ponomarev, a former deputy of the Russian State Duma, is in partial agreement with this stance. He was far from a household name in Ukraine until early 2014, when he became the only Duma deputy to vote against the annexation of the Crimea. Residing in Kyivv since his forced departure from Russia, Ponomarev acknowledges the fragmentation of Russian civil society. Differing attitudes to the “Ukrainian question” and differing tactics of behaviour under conditions of regime pressure, says Ponomarev, have divided Russian civil society into two factions, one exclusively civic and one exclusively political, with the former becoming more moderate and the latter more radical. In his opinion, Ukraine has many opportunities to influence the situation within Russia by supporting separate camps in these factions. Unfortunately, he notes, Kyiv is letting these opportunities slip by.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s completely possible to turn them [Russian civil society] into allies simply by adopting a decent attitude towards them, by holding regular joint events and facilitating media cooperation,” the former deputy says with conviction. “However, the dominant stance here is this: ‘It’d be great if Russians just stayed out of our way.’ No one wants to work with a potentially toxic asset. This is a mistake, in my opinion – we have to work with them.”</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 2018-02-05 at 13.47.49_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 13.47.49_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="359" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ilya Ponomarev. Photo: Wiki Commons.</span></span></span>Russian NGOs, Ponomarev notes, are more robust and more dependable than numerous others across the post-Soviet space, including many Ukrainian ones, relying as they do on internal resources rather than the support of foreign donors. At the same time, he believes that civic life in the Russian regions is more active and diverse than the capital, and that the Ukrainians could certainly look for suitable partners there.</p><p dir="ltr">“I’m generally a supporter of an interventionist approach to foreign policy,” says Ponomarev. “In other words, if I need something from someone – whether from my friends or my enemies – I’m going to engage with them in an active fashion and not just sit there and wait for things to happen of their own accord.”</p><p dir="ltr">Konstantin Reutsky, for his part, notes that Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists cooperate effectively on international platforms and under the aegis of structures such as the UN and the OSCE. In particular, they make joint monitoring visits to the conflict zone before reporting to the international community on conflict-related challenges facing civilians in the Donbas, thereby influencing public opinion abroad. According to Reutsky, however, there’s a lack of similar efforts on the part of Russian nationals to influence public opinion in Russia itself.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We offered a number of Russian colleagues the opportunity to work together in an attempt to change the situation inside Russia, because we believe that doing so is crucial”</p><p dir="ltr">“We offered a number of Russian colleagues the opportunity to work together in an attempt to change the situation inside Russia, because we believe that doing so is crucial if the conflict in the east of Ukraine is to be resolved,” says Konstantin. “We for our part have always expressed our willingness to play a part in such efforts, relaying intelligence and making trips to Russia, despite full awareness of the risks involved. Unfortunately, we can see that our Russian colleagues shrink from work of this sort. They don’t say that it’s bad or unnecessary, but they do talk about the associated risks and opt for neutral tactics – tactics we believe to be completely ineffective and perhaps even harmful.”</p><p dir="ltr">Russian activists themselves, however, can’t help but recall the fate of Boris Nemtsov, the fate of the people behind the various “federalisation marches”, the fate, too, of teacher <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/writing-poetry-in-russia-is-dangerous-profession">Alexander Byvshev</a>, on trial in Russia for penning a poem in support of Ukraine. Worse still, they think back to the murder of Duma deputy Denis Voronenkov in Kyiv, to the attempt on the lives of <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-41811969">Adam Osmayev and Amina Akuyeva</a> – Russians who travelled to Ukraine to fight on the Ukrainians’ side only to be abandoned to their fate by Kyiv and denied any legal status or documentation, with the threat of court proceedings and extradition to Russia frequently hanging over them. No public initiatives will in and of themselves tackle the conflict without the broad involvement of the Ukrainian state and society. Ukraine, after all, has never boasted its own instruments of soft power, whether in Russia or anywhere else.</p><p dir="ltr">As the victims of military aggression, Ukrainians believe that the Russians are in their debt and must repay that debt unconditionally. The burden of the debt, however, falls not on those who unleashed the war or supported it, but on those who attempted, by one means or another, to take a stand against it.</p><p dir="ltr">As for the future, it’s likely that mutual grievances and misunderstandings will accumulate; internal pressure will be exerted on activists in both countries; and the public sphere will be corrupted by investments from donors for the sake of simulating any kind of activity, whereby funding and encouragement is given to people willing to make the right moves and say the right words, and not those who possess real social clout and are capable of making a real impact.</p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainians have long since decided not to mention their partners and colleagues from Russia and the Donbas territories outside of Kyiv’s control, acutely aware of the dangers facing them both in Russia and Ukraine. This has been driven home to them by the most active and aggressive strata of Russian and Ukrainian societies – and by certain individuals in power – that they’re less than pleased with these contacts and interactions. And without publicity, these joint ventures won’t change anything.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, the most natural thing that’s likely to happen is mutual isolation à la Azerbaijan or Armenia. Diplomacy from below remains the only means to counter the hatred poisoning these feuding countries, not least because government-level negotiations have dragged fruitlessly on for decades. And vice versa: when people stop talking, it becomes easier for them to kill each other.</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/invisible-battalion-ukraine">“Invisible battalion”: how Ukrainian women secured the right to fight on a par with men</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isobel-koshiw-anastasia-vlasova/growing-up-apolitical-in-ukraine-s-war-zone">Growing up apolitical in Ukraine’s war zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/gabriel-levy/eastern-ukraine-we-need-new-ways-of-organising">Eastern Ukraine: “We need new ways of organising”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-botanova/ukraines-blacklists-in-defence-of-democracy">Ukraine’s blacklists in defence of democracy and national security are doing it no favours</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yalovkina/russian-dissidents-seek-asylum-in-kyiv">Russian dissidents seek asylum in Kyiv</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Yulia Abibok Ukraine Russia Conflict Wed, 21 Feb 2018 06:02:17 +0000 Yulia Abibok 116235 at https://www.opendemocracy.net