oD Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/3513/all cached version 16/11/2018 09:19:34 en Why Ukraine needs an investigation into the murder of activist Kateryna Handzyuk https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/the-murder-of-activist-kateryna-handzyuk <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Handzyuk's death has led Ukraine’s parliament to create a temporary commission to investigate violent attacks on civic activists. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/komissiya-vypolnima-katerina-gandzuk" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_Гандзюк_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_Гандзюк_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kateryna Handzyuk. Source: Wikipedia. Public domain.</span></span></span>Ukrainian civil society organisations are calling for an effective investigation into the <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46091074">death of Kherson-based anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handzyuk</a>, who was the target of a contract killing in July 2018. She was doused with sulphuric acid and, despite all efforts to save her, died on 4 November. </p><p dir="ltr">The Ukrainian parliament has now set up an interim investigative commission to monitor the work of the police in the case, but its creation has turned into a political scandal. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Contract hooliganism</h2><p dir="ltr">“She was murdered,” this is what activists and people who knew Kateryna Handzyuk stated publicly after the Kherson campaigner died in Kyiv City Hospital №2 on 4 November. The official reason for Handzyuk’s death was multi-organ failure and chemical burns over 40% of her body, the result of an acid attack on 31 July. She was moved from Kherson, in southern Ukraine, to Kyiv for treatment and underwent 11 operations, but doctors didn’t manage to save her life. </p><p dir="ltr">The case of Kateryna Handzyuk has become a litmus test for the Ukrainian authorities’ response to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/who-is-ordering-attacks-on-activists-in-ukraine">attacks and killings of civic activists</a>, of which there have been over 50 in the past two years. The figures are beginning to mount up in towns and cities far from the front line, and each new attack becomes possible due to the lack of investigation of the attack that preceded it. And all this is taking place on the eve of the fifth anniversary of EuroMaidan, whose participants counted observance of the law among their demands.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_11.53.01_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_11.53.01_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>CCTV shot of the alleged attacker of Kateryna Handzyuk. Source: Kherson regional police. </span></span></span>The reluctance of law enforcement to see a political motivation behind the attack on Kateryna Handzyuk is clear, if only because the charge against the attackers has been changed several times. After being classified as “hooliganism”, “grievous bodily harm with the intent of intimidation” and “attempted murder”, it has ended up as “deliberate murder for self-serving motives, committed with extreme cruelty and carried out on a contract basis by a group of persons acting in collusion”. This frequent re-classification is linked to activists’ demands for an effective investigation of not only Handzyuk’s killers, but the people who ordered the attack.</p><p dir="ltr">The investigation is being carried out by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and, until recently, the National Police Service. The SBU is responsible for tracking down those who ordered the attack, while the police have been looking for the killer and whoever organised the attack. On 3 August, the police arrested Ukrainian citizen Mykola Novikov on suspicion of carrying out the attack on Kateryna Handzyuk. The courts sentenced Novikov to be held under arrest for two months, but he spent a mere 19 days in pre-trial detention before being released: the investigators had found no grounds for a charge. On the day when Handzyuk was attacked, Novikov was relaxing on the coast with friends, but the police tried to persuade him to sign a statement saying that he had walked past the site of the attack – Novikov was only detained as a result of the wide media coverage given to the case and protests by activists demanding the arrest of the perpetrator. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A commission is set up</h2><p dir="ltr">The investigation was handed to the SBU after Handzyuk died. The activist herself had <a href="https://humanrights.org.ua/material/preview/vbivstvo_kati_gandzjiuk_aktivisti_vimagajiut_vidstavki_lucenka_i_avakova?fbclid=IwAR0XKlFtuEsh1sMAOCfK4Ovy7_fSKH2pFXIdByGKpm79QpuChN-usXMkxMI">doubted</a> the effectiveness of law enforcement bodies given that she had previously exposed their corruption schemes. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Ukraine’s General Prosecutor Yury Lutsenko, the investigation <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/11/6/7197395/">carried out</a> 367 interrogations and 21 expert assessments. But Lutsenko accused activists of leaking information about one of the suspects, referring to a post on a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/gandziukgate/?__tn__=%2Cd%2CP-R&amp;eid=ARAtdOoo2hgKT-9RRtu5sdFYEls_CyvZTRqSdmStrIHaWAadZfEI6rYUHlKk1WbJekeYHqx6ykjLiUxQ">Facebook page</a> run by Handzyuk’s friends, who are conducting their own parallel investigation. According to <a href="https://www.facebook.com/gandziukgate/posts/330614741073516?hc_location=ufi">this version of the attack</a>, the contact between the crime’s contractor and perpetrators was Ihor Pavlovskiy, who currently works as an adviser to Ukrainian parliament deputy Mykola Palamarchuk, a member of the president’s political party. The activists also claim that Pavlovskiy was prepared to reveal the person who ordered the attack, since after the arrest of the men who carried out the attack, he expected to be arrested himself. But Pavlovskiy was only <a href="https://nv.ua/ukraine/events/ubijstvo-handzjuk-palamarchuk-prokommentiroval-arest-pavlovskoho-2506628.html">arrested</a> on 12 November. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1024px-Yuriy_Lutsenko_2018_Vadim_Chuprina_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1024px-Yuriy_Lutsenko_2018_Vadim_Chuprina_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yury Lutsenko. Photo CC BY-SA 4.0: Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The information about Pavlovskiy’s possible involvement in Handzyuk’s murder emerged on 5 November, the day that Ukrainian parliamentarians began actively discussing the creation of an temporary investigative commission to monitor the work of law enforcement agencies, which would, in turn, be accountable to it. But the process of setting the commission has dragged on: by law, all the groupings in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, were supposed to nominate candidates for the commission. The order creating it was registered in October, but only the Samopomich and Batkivshchyna parties had chosen their appointees. </p><p dir="ltr">The parties that initially ignored the temporary investigative commission included the presidential party Petro Poroshenko Bloc, which informally monitors the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the People’s Front, one of whose members, Arsen Avakov, is currently Ukraine’s Minister for Internal Affairs. But by the evening of 5 November they too had appointed their candidates for membership. Mustafa Nayem, the commission’s instigator, failed to be proposed for membership by his colleagues from Poroshenko Bloc. According to Iryna Herashchenko, the First Deputy Chair of the Verkhovna Rada and Ukraine’s envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group’s (TCG) humanitarian subgroup, Nayem was not delegated by his fraction co-members since he took no active part in its activities. Herashchenko also drew the Rada’s attention to the commission’s lack of powers and means to investigate Handzyuk’s murder. Nevertheless, Nayem was later appointed to the commission. </p><h2 dir="ltr">False retirement </h2><p dir="ltr">Parliamentarians voted for the creation of an interim investigative commission on 6 November, the day when they heard the progress reports of the General Prosecutor’s Office, the director of the SBU, the Interior Minister and the head of the National Police. During his speech from the platform, General Prosecutor Yury Lutsenko, among others, announced his intention to retire. Andriy Parubiy, the Verkhovna Rada’s Speaker, put Lutsenko’s declaration to the vote and 38 members voted in favour. Neither Lutsenko’s announcement, nor the vote, nor its results have in fact any legal force, as standing procedures require him to announce his intention to the President, who then, having agreed it, passes it to parliament – and only after this can members vote on it. This was not Lutsenko’s <a href="https://nv.ua/ukraine/politics/lutsenko-anonsiroval-sobstvennuju-otstavku-2496027.html">first attempt at retirement</a> – he mentioned leaving his post in September 2018 – but he intends to return to politics after the upcoming presidential elections.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-39514757_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-39514757_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="271" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>4 November: to protest against the death of Kateryna Handzyuk, several hundred people gather outside the Ukrainian Interior Ministry in Kyiv. (c) Sergii Kharchenko/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After hearing statements by the heads of Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies, the MPs approved, by 255 votes, the creation of a commission to investigate Handzyuk’s death. MP Anton Gerashchenko, a former advisor to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, joined the interim investigative commission as a delegate from the People’s Front party. In response Evgeniya Zakrevskaya, Handzyuk’s lawyer, said that the MP had received information from the investigators before the victim herself. Zakrevskaya had earlier filed a petition, on Handzyuk’s behalf, to establish who had passed on information on the pre-trial investigation to Gerashchenko, and on what grounds, given there was a direct embargo on passing information on the investigation of the case through third parties, including Gerashchenko.</p><p dir="ltr">The commission held its first session on 8 November. MP Boryslav Bereza, the commission’s chair, <a href="https://zn.ua/UKRAINE/vsk-rassmotrit-samye-rezonansnye-sluchai-napadeniy-na-aktivistov-bereza-299644_.html">announced</a> that commission members couldn’t bring more than five cases of attacks on activists to its attention. Mustafa Nayem <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Mustafanayyem/posts/10213794780809779">proposed</a> examining cases in Odessa and Kharkiv, cities where attacks were systemic, to the list. The next day, activists announced they would carry out an action called <a href="https://www.facebook.com/events/1405898892874453/?active_tab=discussion">“Avakov, leave!”</a> Interior Minister Avakov should retire, they claim, because of the unsolved murders of journalist <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/documentaries/killing-pavel/">Pavel Sheremet</a> and lawyer <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/who-killed-irina-nozdrovska">Iryna Nozdrovska</a>, as well as that of Kateryna Handzyuk, and for sabotaging investigations and fostering an atmosphere of fear and hatred towards campaigners. </p><p dir="ltr">The commission is an opportunity to monitor law enforcement’s progress on investigations into the cases of Handzyuk and others on its list. For those who have encountered attacks and pressure, it’s a chance to bring the guilty to justice and promote public awareness of the violence covered up by Ukrainian law enforcement. </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/tetiana-kozak/who-is-ordering-attacks-on-activists-in-ukraine">Who is ordering attacks on activists in Ukraine? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach/entrepreneurs-of-political-violence-ukraine-far-right">Entrepreneurs of political violence: the varied interests and strategies of the far-right in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/who-killed-irina-nozdrovska">Who killed Iryna Nozdrovska?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/where-is-ukraines-new-police-force">Where is Ukraine’s new police force?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/yevgenia-belorusets-interview">“We can’t use the war to justify anything”: photographer Yevgenia Belorusets on documenting Ukraine&#039;s most vulnerable groups</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> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Ukraine Wed, 14 Nov 2018 08:59:52 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 120562 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russian anti-fascist reveals violence, humiliation and threats in pre-trial detention https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mediazona/yuly-boyarshinov-network-case-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Russia, the security services have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">arrested 11 anarchists and anti-fascists on terrorism charges</a>. Yuly Boyarshinov, a defendant, describes the conditions in pre-trial detention – where prisoners beat, bully and humiliate others in league with investigators.</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/dscf7688_1_0_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/dscf7688_1_0_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Investigative prison, Penza. Source: OVD-Info.</span></span></span>Since October 2017, 11 people have been arrested as part of the&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“Network” case</a> – a terrorism investigation led by the Russian security services into anti-fascists and anarchists. According to investigators, these men were allegedly members of an organisation that planned to “destabilise the political climate in the country” during the Russian presidential elections and Football World Cup via explosions and riots. Cells of the organisation were allegedly operating in Moscow, St Petersburg, Penza and Belarus.</p><p dir="ltr">Several of the men detained have reported that the FSB tortured them into confessing to the charges against them. For example, software engineer Viktor Filinkov, who was abducted from St Petersburg Pulkovo airport in January 2018, has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/viktor-filinkov/fsb-officers-always-get-their-way">described</a> in detail how he was tortured with electric shocks into learning a false confession in a minivan on the outskirts of the city. Arman Sagynbayev, who previously ran a vegan food business, has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/media-zona/arman-sagynbayev-network-case-russia-torture">stated</a> that he underwent similar torture in November 2017 in St Petersburg. Other people detained as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/anti-fascist-torture-russia-alexey-poltavets">suspects</a> and <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2018/01/31/ilya-kapustin-they-said-they-could-break-my-legs-and-dump-me-in-the-woods/">witnesses</a> in this case have also reported brutal torture. </p><p dir="ltr">Yuly Boyarshinov, an antifascist, industrial climber and “free market” organiser from St Petersburg, was arrested on 21 January 2018. Boyarshinov later stated that city police officers beat him after he refused to answer their questions, citing his right not to incriminate himself. Four hundred grams of gunpowder were then discovered in his possession. On 23 January, a district court ordered his arrest for 30 days on a explosives possession charge. Boyarshinov was then visited by two FSB agents, who listed the names of defendants in the “Network” case and promised that if he did not talk, it “would get worse”. After he refused to talk, he was transferred to Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.6 at Gorelovo, in the outskirts of St Petersburg. On 11 April 2018, Boyarshinov was officially accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. </p><p dir="ltr">In total, Boyarshinov spent five months in Gorelovo Pre-Trial Detention Centre — throughout this time, the FSB tried to make him confess to the charges against him. In a <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/11/09/gorelovo-press">publication</a> by Russian media outlet MediaZona, he describes the atmosphere of isolation, violence and doom in the prison.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/-2_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/-2_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yuly Boyarshinov. Source: Personal archive, via <a href=https://rupression.com>Rupression</a>. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">***</p><p dir="ltr">Detainees in Gorelovo Detention Centre are subject to systematic physical violence and humiliations by other prisoners, who carry out the orders of the prison administration. Those prisoners call themselves “elders” or “seniors”, but other prisoners call them “reds” or “activists”.</p><p dir="ltr">These same people extract money from detainees for individual places to sleep, places next to the television, the right to sleep during the day and other “privileges”. For example, in Cell 3/14, I had to sleep in a twin-bed with four more prisoners. And in Cell 1/2, where I was from 1 March 2018 until 20 July 2018, I had to sleep either on the floor or the top bunk of a double bed with two, three, four more people.</p><p dir="ltr">More than a half of all prisoners in the cell do not have their own sleeping place, but this is not only due to overcrowding. In Cell 1/2, which has room for 116 people to sleep, there usually were 120-140 people, sometimes even 150. But, regardless of the overcrowding, there were always free beds in the “Kremlin”.</p><p dir="ltr">The “Kremlin” is a large space, separated by a curtain, where the “activists” live. In Cell 1/2, three or four people occupied 12 sleeping places in the “Kremlin”, while at the other end of the same cell regular prisoners had to share a twin bed between five people.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">More than a half of all prisoners in the cell do not have their own sleeping place, but this is not only due to overcrowding</p><p dir="ltr">A new arrival into the cell is met by “orderlies”, usually sporty young men. They shout at the newbie to run to the other side of the cell, then tell him to stand there and wait until he is called. The prisoner acting as a clerk writes down the new prisoner’s personal details: his name and surname, date of birth, charge/conviction and prison term (if he already has one). In Cell 1/2, as in many others, both convicted prisoners and those under investigation are detained together. People who are first-time prisoners and “second-timers”, as well as people who are facing charges of different severity, are all mixed together. When I was in Cell 1/2, there were detainees investigated under Articles 105, 111, 126, 127, 131, 132, 134, 135, 158, 159, 161, 162, 163, 205, 222, 228, 264, 210 and others.</p><p dir="ltr">The new arrival is forced to wait standing from anywhere between 20 minutes to one and a half hours, without talking to anyone. Then he is called to the “kitchen”, which is a small room at the far end of the cell, where no one is normally allowed in. This is where the “activists” eat, and a designated person cooks food for them on a stove throughout the day. Fresh meat and eggs are brought to them in a soup tureen. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/16be933fde22b51cb34e4c631e068801.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/16be933fde22b51cb34e4c631e068801.jpeg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yuly Boyarshinov. Source: David Frenkel / MediaZona. </span></span></span>Two or three “activists” talk to the newcomer in the kitchen, explain to him that one has to pay 5,000-10,000 roubles [roughly £60-£110] a month for a separate bunk, sometimes they extract a one-off payment for “moving in” – tens of thousands of roubles [up to £500]. If he refuses [to pay], they shout, hit him in the stomach or the back of the head. They threaten to beat his buttocks or heels with a stick, but this they do rarely in order to avoid leaving traces.</p><p dir="ltr">They also force the newcomer to clean the floor, sometimes non-stop, four or five times per hour from lunch until dinner, and then from dinner until lights-off. They threaten that if a prisoner cleans the floor, this will affect his social status and later he will be forced to do that permanently in the correction colony. In other words, cleaning is turned into a humiliating punishment.</p><p dir="ltr">Those who face charges under Articles 131-135 of the Russian Criminal Code [crimes related to sexual violence] are forced to clean the latrines, wash clothes for the “seniors” and pay much higher sums of money.</p><p dir="ltr">Sometimes, as an alternative to monthly payments, the “activists” propose these detainees become a “helper” – that is, to serve one of the “activists”, wash their clothes, bring food to the “Kremlin”, put up the curtain that separates the “Kremlin” from the rest of the cell and take it down when it’s likely that prison guards may visit, although they don’t remove it in the presence of the regular guards responsible for the block.</p><p dir="ltr">When one of the “activists” goes to the toilet, the helpers kick out everyone from there in advance, roughly 10 minutes or so before. The same happens if one of the “activists” takes a shower. There is no hot water in the first and third blocks. The water for “activists” is warmed up with an immersion heater in a big barrel – a designated person has to look after it the whole day. Only “activists” can wash with hot water.</p><p dir="ltr">Regular prisoners are only allowed to use one lavatory out of three in the toilet, two others are reserved for the “elders”. Because of that and the fact that they close the toilet so often, there was always a queue of four-five people there.</p><p dir="ltr">There are two “clerks” in Cell 1/2. These are the prisoners who read both in- and outgoing letters of other prisoners and check that nobody complains to their relatives about violations in the cell. They can block a letter or order you to cross out particular sentences. You are not allowed to put letters in the letterbox yourself. The clerks also sign to receive letters, sometimes also for food parcels and shopping for other detainees. They also pass statements and requests to detention centre officials. Almost all interactions with the guards, including during the morning inspection, are mediated by the clerks and elders, and you are prohibited from addressing [the guards] directly, which creates isolation and a sense of doom.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_D0_AE_D0_BB_D0_B8_D0_B0_D0_BD-_D0_B2-_D1_81_D1_83_D0_B4_D0_B5-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_D0_AE_D0_BB_D0_B8_D0_B0_D0_BD-_D0_B2-_D1_81_D1_83_D0_B4_D0_B5-2.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'>Yuli Boyarshinov and defense attorney Olga Krivonos at a custody extension hearing, 19 February 2018. Source: OVD-Info / Olga Krivonos. </span></span></span>I was beaten up several times: on the day I moved in to Cell 3/14, on the first day in Cell 1/2, and on the second day there too, and on the several more occasions from time to time when I was called in for a “conversation” in the kitchen. These “conversations” usually happened after my lawyer applied to transfer me to another cell or complained about the conditions of my detention and so on.</p><p dir="ltr">From the first day, I was told that “this can’t be solved with money” and that there was a special request on me from Ivan Prozarevsky, an agent, to create especially difficult conditions for me.</p><p dir="ltr">The first few months I was forced to clean the floor non-stop, then slightly rarer after that. During my whole time in Gorelovo I was barely allowed out to exercise, only a couple of times per month.</p><p dir="ltr">After I applied to be transferred to a non-smoking cell, I was called in to the kitchen. Two “activists”, Roman and Konstantin Makarov (“Makar”), were there. They said that they would not allow me to be transferred to another cell and that I now had to have a photo taken while holding a cigarette. I didn’t want to do it, Roman tried to persuade me and then threatened me with violence. From time to time, Denis Rymov, a “senior”, entered the kitchen. He shouted at me, threatened me and hit me several times on the face with an open hand and then left. This “conversation” lasted for about an hour and a half, then Denis entered again and said that if I didn’t take the photo with a cigarette he would rape me , record it on video and send it to the [prison] colonies. Kostya stood beside me and held me down, while Denis put his hand on my crotch and asked “Are you ready?” – after which I agreed to take the photo.</p><p dir="ltr">In Cell 1/2, I was forced to write a statement confirming that I was not subject to any pressure on at least three occasions. The first note was dictated to me by Konstantin Makarov, who was told to do so by agent Prozarevsky. The second note I wrote in Prozarevsky’s office after the detention centre received a collective letter from citizens concerned with conditions of detention in the prison. Prozarevsky didn’t show me the letter itself, he only gave me a list of approximately 180 names and instructed me to copy them into my note, and confirm that I did not know any of them and that I was not under any pressure in my cell.</p><p dir="ltr">This was not true at all. One of the “seniors”, Dmitry Smirnov, was in the room with us. Prozarevsky and Smirnov threatened that if I did not write this statement, they would create unbearable conditions not only for me, but also for my cellmates – for example, they would take away all mobile phones and shoelaces, thus aiming to provoke violence against me from other detainees. I had to write the third note when Prozarevsky entered the cell, sat down in the “Kremlin” and called me in there. The prisoners who sleep near the “Kremlin” were forced to move to the other end of the cell, so that they could not see us. After me, a few more prisoners were called in to write explanatory notes.</p><p dir="ltr">The “activists” in Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.6 carry out the orders of prison officers who, in turn, can follow the orders of agents investigating detainees. They may instruct the “activists” to “burn” certain detainees: beatings, threats, endless cleaning – in general, they create unbearable conditions. They say openly that to stop all of this, you have to give the required testimony in your case, “to solve the issue with your agents” – as it was in my case. </p><p dir="ltr">One evening, around eight or nine pm, I was called by agent Evgeny Vladimirovich and asked whether I would talk to the agents who were going to visit the detention centre the next day. I replied that I would, but only in the presence of my lawyer, after which I was sent to my cell and one of the “seniors” was called out. When he returned, he started shouting at me and forced me to do 1,000 squats. This punishment is used quite often, but usually only 500 times. After so many squats, one barely can move one’s legs for a week and it’s difficult to walk.</p><p dir="ltr">The basic conditions in Gorelovo are truly nightmarish: not enough space, around two square metres per person, overcrowded cells, a necessity to share the bed with many people, the lack of hot water, constant queues for the toilet and sink, one 12-seater table is used for 130-140 people, broken windows (prisoners break the glass during summer when it is too hot), so there is a cold draft for people sleeping on the top bunks during winter months. In winter, prisoners often sleep in coats.</p><p dir="ltr">But the hardest thing is surviving the atmosphere of isolation, systematic violence and the sense of doom. Often, “seniors” or “orderlies” are shouting at someone near you, threatening someone, administering beatings. It was routine to hear cries and pleas to stop from the “kitchen”, where somebody was being beaten on the buttocks or heels. It’s hard to avoid your fear of winding up in their place. </p><p dir="ltr">It was obvious that this didn’t happen on the initiative of individual “activists”, but an order from prison officers. Prisoners who try to complain or ask to be transferred to another cell are subjected to even more violence.</p><p dir="ltr">Various inspections and commissions often visit Gorelovo. When I was there from 1 March until 20 July 2018, approximately twice per month there was an inspection by the General Prosecutor’s Office, the human rights ombudsman or the Public Monitoring Commission. As a rule, they don’t find so many violations, because their visits are announced in advance, and an impression is created that there are no violations. </p><p dir="ltr">For example, before a visit from the Public Monitoring Commission, when they were planning to record the overcrowding of the cells, half of all prisoners (70 people or so) were taken out to exercise yard. Another time, the cell clerk simply lied to them, saying that there were 110 people in the cell, although there were many more. Before an inspection that was supposed to verify whether different categories of prisoners are kept separately, the “activists” announced at the morning check that if you were asked, you should reply that the cell held people who had not been previously convicted for serious offences. And everyone had to choose an appropriate article [of the Criminal Code]. During the day, the orderlies checked that.</p><p dir="ltr">If a detainee was called for a meeting with the Public Monitoring Commission or the representatives of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “activists” had a “conversation” with him first, explaining that he could only say that “everything is alright in the cell”, that it was pointless to complain, and made threats. During any meetings with the Public Monitoring Commission in a separate office, the head of the centre’s operational section or deputy head of the detention centre would be present, and they would always tell the “elders” when the detainees said something bad about the cell.</p><p dir="ltr">[As a punishment] for complaints, detainees could be moved from a paid-for separate bunk to a five-persons bed, deprived of access to the telephone, beaten up or forced to clean the floor endlessly.</p><p dir="ltr">There was also a “tax” on parcels in Cell 1/2. The “activists” would take two packets of cigarettes from every block and a bag of sweets (cookies, chocolates). </p><p dir="ltr">In Cell 1/2, I got infected with scabies. I received the diagnosis in Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.1 in Penza, where I was transferred from Gorelovo. Treating scabies requires the patient to be isolated, disinfection of your personal possessions, mattress, bedding and cell. Nothing of the sort is done in Gorelovo: people infect each other every day in the overcrowded cells. When I left Cell 1/2 in July, every second person in the cell was suffering from scabies and was scratching all the time. There was no treatment for scabies.</p><p dir="ltr">Officers investigating a case can threaten suspects with a transfer to Gorelovo. There, following investigator’s instructions, people under investigation are pressured in order to force them to give evidence necessary for the investigation. </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/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/media-zona/arman-sagynbayev-network-case-russia-torture">“They told me that if I didn’t become more cooperative, they could do whatever they wanted to me”: anarchist Arman Sagynbayev reveals torture by Russian law enforcement </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/anti-fascist-torture-russia-alexey-poltavets">Anti-fascist teenager reveals how Russian security services brutally beat and tortured him</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexandra-filinkova/its-important-not-to-give-into-panic">“It’s important not to give into panic”: how I found out my husband was being tortured by the Russian security services </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svyatoslav-rechkalov/anarchists-don-t-have-leaders-svyatoslav-rechkalov-on-torture-at-hand">&quot;They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser&quot;: anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov on torture at the hands of Russian law enforcement</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/this-is-karelia-tortured-voices-from-russia-s-prison-system">This is Karelia: tortured voices from Russia’s prison system</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/everyday-violence-in-russia-s-prison-system-has-to-stop">The everyday violence in Russia’s prison system has to stop</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/inside-russia-s-new-gulag">Inside Russia’s new Gulag</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Media Zona Russian anarchists and anti-fascists in the crosshairs Wed, 14 Nov 2018 05:19:06 +0000 Media Zona 120552 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could integration help Ukraine’s Roma? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-sokolova/can-integration-help-ukraines-roma <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Ukraine, civil society campaigners are trying to stop discrimination against Roma communities by helping them organise and integrate. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-sokolova/kto-i-zachem-integriruet-romov-v-ukrainskoe-obshestvo" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 11.47.13_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 11.47.13_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Since the beginning of 2018, there have been five attacks on temporary Roma settlements in Ukraine. After people arrived in Kyiv, Ternopil and Lviv areas for seasonal work from other areas of the country, mostly Zakarpattya in the southwest, nationalist extremist groups evicted Roma from their camps, setting fire to tents and household goods. These far-right groups were angered by the fact that Roma set up camp in parks and wooded areas, while the police “did nothing about it”. </p><p dir="ltr">In most cases, the attackers were charged merely with “hooliganism”, although the additional charge of “infringement of the equal rights of citizens in connection with their racial or ethnic origin or religious identity” was <a href="https://hromadske.ua/posts/rozsliduvannya-napadiv-na-romski-poselennia">added</a> in relation to attacks in Kyiv and Lviv after pressure from activists. In the <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-44593995">most recent attack</a>, in the Lviv area, a 24-year-old man, David Pap, was murdered, and four more were injured. </p><p dir="ltr">Civil society remained unsatisfied with Ukrainian law enforcement’s reaction on the attacks against Roma settlements. Attacks on Roma aren’t only offences under the criminal charges of hooliganism, murder and infringement of equality. This kind of persecution contravenes Article 24 of Ukraine’s Constitution, which states that “there can be no privileges or restrictions on grounds of race, colour of skin, political, religious or other principles, gender, ethnic or social background, material position, place of residence, language or any other factor”. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s not, however, easy to investigate attacks on Roma as racially-motivated offences. While the government and law enforcement have no particular position on the issue, victims of the crimes are disinclined to press charges, given that the police are representatives of the state. </p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Ukrainian civil rights campaigners are drafting a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the lack of effective investigation of events that took place in 2016 in the village of Loshchynivka in the Odessa region, when local residents <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-tucker/old-hatreds-rekindled-in-ukraine">attacked a settlement</a> after a member of the local Roma community was accused of killing a child.</p><p dir="ltr">“The police in Izmail [the nearest town] and the Odessa region prosecutor’s office overstepped the mark and created grounds for an appeal to the ECHR,” <a href="https://humanrights.org.ua/material/pravozahisniki_gotujiut_skargu_do_jespl_cherez_nerozsliduvannjia_pogromiv_u_loshhinivci?fbclid=IwAR1dv5tQ96isTSQgmTWsGzmtzOTjLgl703vZ3QE3UM_gvdTntaBoF_HXVjU">says</a>&nbsp;lawyer Yulia Lisovaya, who represents the Loshchynivka Roma community. “The police tried to close the case, the courts would force them to re-open it and they would close it again. This tells us that, at the very least, there has been no effective investigation under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights [the right to a fair trial – ed.], so we are preparing our submission to the ECHR”. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Roma communities need to get organised </h2><p dir="ltr">One of the reasons that Roma face persecution in Ukraine is the lack of systematic work with this community, Mykola Burlutskyi, who heads the Kharkiv-based <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chachimo.kh/">Chachimo</a> NGO, tells me. </p><p dir="ltr">“Working with Roma in our region, I’ve found one problem&nbsp;– there is a desire to integrate Roma, but the Roma community itself is quite passive,” Burlutskyi says. “That’s why you need to start by organising them into a community that can effectively react to issues arising both internally and in Ukraine as a whole.” </p><p dir="ltr">In Merefa, a town in the Kharkiv region, civil society activists have been organising meetings for Roma representatives to talk to lawyers, migration and social services personnel and health professionals, where they learn how to interact with state institutions and stand up for their rights. </p><p dir="ltr">“The idea is to find ten or so people who can be trained to take on active civil responsibilities. Then, in the future, they can represent their community in local administration and hold a dialogue with the authorities,” Burlutskyi 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/562891/Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 11.59.08_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 11.59.08_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mykola Burlutskyi. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Mykola decided to begin his project in Merefa, since he knows the local Protestant community and, as a pastor, has some sway within it. “We can run a pilot project here with minimal loss,” he says. After Merefa, the civic activist team plans to expand its work to the two other places in the region with the largest Roma population – Vovchansk and Vilshany. </p><p dir="ltr">At the sessions in Merefa, Burlutskyi acts as mediator between lecturers and the students. But first he has to persuade the Roma that they can trust the police and social services staff. And during the meeting he explains unfamiliar words to participants, repeating the points they need to remember in more accessible language. </p><p dir="ltr">“Around ten years ago, the police arrested me and tried to pin a charge on me, and demanded money from me in return for being released,” says Oleksandr, a local Roma resident. “So I’ve tried to avoid them ever since. But I’m now trying to get over my prejudices.” Burlutskyi sees Oleksandr as a future leader of Merefa’s Roma community and has already started introducing him to representatives of local government.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">One of the reasons that Roma face persecution in Ukraine is the lack of systematic work with this community</p><p dir="ltr">Last year, the village of Vilshany was the site of a <a href="http://www.mediaport.ua/konflikt-so-strelboy-v-posyolke-pod-harkovom-fotoreportazh">dispute</a> that ended in a shooting and the death of a local Roma resident. The day before, the village head had had an argument with a local Roma. He and his father, a former village head and member of the regional council, as well as other armed villagers, then demanded a meeting with the entire Roma community to settle the argument. It was only a year later that charges of murder and rioting were brought by the courts. And Andriy Mukha, a lawyer with the Romen organisation and counsel to one of the injured parties, <a href="https://lb.ua/society/2018/05/25/398614_advokat_postradavshih_olshanah.html">stated</a> that he had been beaten up by the local public prosecutor and three other men in his own office. He believes that the attack was a result of his professional activity; the prosecutor’s office has called it an attempt to discredit them. </p><p dir="ltr">“The man’s death could have been avoided if there were active members of the Roma community in Vilshany – people who knew their rights,” Mykola Burlutskyi tells me. “They would have called the police and got in touch with civil activists and the media, and the dispute could have been resolved peacefully.” </p><p dir="ltr">This was not the first dispute involving the Kharkiv region’s Roma community. There were two incidents in 2016 and 2017, when some of the residents of the town of Lozova and the village of Sheludkovka demanded the expulsion of the Roma. In both cases, the conflict began with claims that the Roma were responsible for an increase in crime, although there was no official confirmation of any such rise. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Public advisers</h2><p dir="ltr">In addition to heading Chachimo, Mykola Burlutskyi is also a paralegal: he helps people in the Kharkiv region solve common legal issues, as a mediator between them and the local authorities. Last year he and other civil society activists from other areas underwent training in setting up state institutions dealing with safety, the protection of human rights, finance and communications. </p><p dir="ltr">“As a paralegal, I have two aims connected with Roma communities,” says Mykola. “The first is the security that results from realising constitutional rights, when a state provides protection for its citizens. The second is building a dialogue with the government and law enforcement, in order to develop preventive and reactive measures.”</p><p dir="ltr">Paralegals, also called public advisors, are a new institution in Ukraine. The rationale for its creation is that most Ukrainian citizens, especially those who live in small communities, have no easy access to legal help of any kind. At the same time, Ukrainians tend to distrust the state judicial system, <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/columns/2017/11/9/7161092/">says</a> Olha Halchenko, one of the instigators of the idea and a coordinator of the Human Rights and Justice programme of the International Renaissance Foundation. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 12.01.02_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 12.01.02_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Natalya Andreyeva. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Any active citizen can become a public advisor: you don’t need a law degree; you just have to go through a competitive selection process and a training programme. Natalya Andreyeva, a resident of Babay, a small town in the Kharkiv region, has signed up for the course. She used to work at home, but after war broke out in Eastern Ukraine she began working as a volunteer, helping Roma who had moved to the region. </p><p dir="ltr">“I am a Roma myself. Lots of people in my community are uneducated, and this makes it hard for them to integrate. How can this situation be changed? Who will they listen to? Not to the authorities – to their own people,” she tells me. Natalya, like Burlutskyi, sees self-organisation of her community as a priority. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Creating Roma self-government </h2><p dir="ltr">In Zakarpattya, southwestern Ukraine, civic activists have a different way of helping Roma integrate into Ukrainian society. Since 2015, members of the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/human.rights.fund.rozvitok/?eid=ARC8y-u0mrqsPmlcW6CRm4GMg1xEM3x4IiIZs1RdG_Ad982nOpbguRFnPDpTJHMLZgBOgZK-c42cTMNo&amp;timeline_context_item_type=intro_card_work&amp;timeline_context_item_source=100001530154741&amp;fref=tag">Rozvitok</a> (“Development”) charitable foundation and the Mukachevo Human Rights Centre have been helping to set up Roma self-government – representative bodies created by local residents to resolve everyday social and cultural issues. Roma are coming together in their settlements to talk to the local authority about the needs and aspirations of their communities. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, local Roma representative bodies were set up in the town of Svalyava and the villages of Velyki Luchki, Pavshyno and Chomonyn. It’s too early to talk about results, but this spring, the Roma community in Velyki Luchki collected money and built a road, which the local civil society campaigners see as an achievement. </p><p dir="ltr">“I am really proud for the Roma: they have understood what self-organisation means and are beginning to take independent steps towards the creation of a safe social infrastructure, and the enforcement and maintenance of their space in an appropriately clean and tidy state,” <a href="https://www.facebook.com/oleg.grigoryev/posts/1732371946823794">says</a> Oleg Grigoryev, a representative of the Rozvitok foundation and the Mukachevo Human Rights Centre, who sees this type of development as the only effective way of integrating this ethnic minority.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30420416_1732370686823920_1760772717266410156_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30420416_1732370686823920_1760772717266410156_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 2018: improving the village road at Velyki Luchki. Source: <a href=https://www.facebook.com/oleg.grigoryev?__tn__=%2CdlC-R-R&eid=ARBar4WtR15-_Ae2ZxS8QYV0hMxfwRCFL1AuuskyKMQvctGJMHafV0o8oZgbJgQeCoyBBYixwUVyuaC_&hc_ref=ARSV4QKUgyBh9vQVA77FZhFZx_xsUaVi4oJ_jNfj9mhbDIH-SAxrLToiAS0I4Err940>Oleg Grigoryev</a>.</span></span></span>Different sources put the number of Roma living in Ukraine at between 47,000 and 260,000, with the largest populations in the Zakarpattya, Donetsk, Dnipro and Odessa regions. In 2013, the Ukrainian parliament <a href="http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/201/2013">approved</a> a “Strategy for the protection and integration of the Roma ethnic minority up to 2020”. Then in 2016, Aksana Filipishina, a representative of the Parliamentary Ombudsperson on Human Rights, called the strategy a “formal document”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Different sources put the number of Roma living in Ukraine at between 47,000 and 260,000, with the largest populations in the Zakarpattya, Donetsk, Dnipro and Odessa regions</p><p dir="ltr">“This document relates to European integration, it is supposed to demonstrate that the state is taking some action aimed at regulating the Roma issue,” <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXdBHNoya7Q">said</a> Filipishyna in an interview to Hromadske TV. “The Strategy was approved without any initial analysis of the situation, no research was carried out. This is a document that contains the unusable slogans such as ‘foster’ and ‘perfect’. These are abstract words.” </p><p dir="ltr"> At the same time, Roma human rights activist Zemfira Kondur believes that Ukrainian public officials are indifferent to Roma problems – more often than not, it’s the voluntary sector that works on these issues. The UN is nevertheless calling on the Ukrainian government to protect the country’s minorities, and the Roma among them, from discrimination and persecution. </p><p dir="ltr">“The lack of accountability in violent attacks against minorities and evictions of Roma in previous years has fuelled impunity,” <a href="http://www.un.org.ua/en/information-centre/news/4373-ukraine-un-urges-the-government-to-effectively-investigate-all-attacks-against-minorities">said</a> Fiona Frazer, head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. “We urge the Government to demonstrate zero tolerance by publicly condemning such acts, by investigating all attacks against minorities, by bringing perpetrators to account and by guaranteeing the right to non-discrimination and equality.”</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/tetiana-bezruk/yevgenia-belorusets-interview">“We can’t use the war to justify anything”: photographer Yevgenia Belorusets on documenting Ukraine&#039;s most vulnerable groups</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yulia-abibok/decentralising-ukraine">Decentralising Ukraine: the view from Khmelnytsky</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-tucker/old-hatreds-rekindled-in-ukraine">Old hatreds rekindled in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksei-arunyan/how-kyiv-and-budapest-fell-out-over-zakarpattya">How Hungary and Ukraine fell out over a passport scandal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ganna Sokolova Ukraine Tue, 13 Nov 2018 08:01:55 +0000 Ganna Sokolova 120533 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kyrgyzstan survives on money made by migrant workers, but it doesn’t know how to spend it https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kyrgyzstan-survives-on-money-made-by-migrant-workers-but-it-doesn-t-know-how-to-spend-it <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>No country in the world is as dependent on remittances as Kyrgyzstan. But this money is often used by families to survive, and allows the state to avoid its obligations to its citizens.&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/migr_inv_main-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_main-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration: Daria Udalova. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/08/23/strana-na-izhdivenii-kyrgyzstan-vyzhivaet-na-dengi-migrantov-no-ne-umeet-ih-tratit/">originally published</a> on Kloop, a Kyrgyz investigative website. We translate it here with their permission.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Altynai, 24, doesn’t know what she will do if her parents stop sending money from Russia. She’ll be in a hopeless situation without those 20,000 soms (£220) a month — this money is her only way of surviving. For the past three years, Altynai (name changed) has been living with her grandmother, whose pension isn’t enough to buy anything.</p><p dir="ltr">She says that residents of her village in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan frequently leave to work abroad. There’s never enough jobs here in Leylek district, which is bordered by Tajikistan on three sides. There are no new enterprises being opened. Most people work for low wages in state institutions.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, over the past decade, more and more people have been leaving Kyrgyzstan to work abroad. In Russia alone, there are more than <a href="https://mvd.ru/Deljatelnost/statistics/migracionnaya">800,000 Kyrgyz citizens on the migration register</a>. Most of them come to work. In 2017, they made money transfers to Kyrgyzstan totalling $2.5 billion — which was more than the <a href="http://www.minfin.kg/ru/novosti/godovoy-otchet-ob-ispolnenii-byudzheta/otchet-ob-ispolnenii-gosbyudzheta-kr-za-2017-god-.html">total state annual expenditure</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe id="datawrapper-chart-dIGz1" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/dIGz1/2/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" height="360"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["dIGz1"]={},window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].embedDeltas={"100":360,"200":360,"300":360,"400":360,"500":360,"700":360,"800":360,"900":360,"1000":360},window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-dIGz1"),window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe.style.height=window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in a.data["datawrapper-height"])if("dIGz1"==b)window.datawrapper["dIGz1"].iframe.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});</script></p><p dir="ltr">This is the second year in a row that Kyrgyzstan ranks first in the world in terms of percentage of remittances to GDP, overtaking Tajikistan and Tonga.</p><p dir="ltr">Batken region, where Altynai and her grandmother live, is the poorest in the country. Here, forty percent of the population live below the poverty line, with no more than 2,600 soms (£28) per month. Without payments from abroad, the percentage of people living below the poverty line would reach a staggering 60%.</p><p dir="ltr">Using data provided by the <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ALRYPi_njFBCCQXN41VOolXWajbZjMX7fRv4NCMp4bU/edit#gid=993226123">National Statistics Commission</a>, Kloop rated the most vulnerable regions in Kyrgyzstan — the poorer a region is, the more it becomes dependent on remittances from abroad. This concerns, first and foremost, the Batken, Jalalabad and Osh regions.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe id="datawrapper-chart-v3wJz" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/v3wJz/3/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" height="322"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["v3wJz"]={},window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].embedDeltas={"100":322,"200":322,"300":322,"400":322,"500":322,"700":322,"800":322,"900":322,"1000":322},window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-v3wJz"),window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe.style.height=window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in a.data["datawrapper-height"])if("v3wJz"==b)window.datawrapper["v3wJz"].iframe.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});</script> </p><p dir="ltr">According to Kyrgyzstan’s National Bank, remittances “help the state to ease tension in society”, lowering the unemployment rate and the poverty level. Emil Nasritdinov, an expert on migration, believes that this allows the state to avoid its responsibilities. “Migration simply helps people to survive, not to die from hunger. This is all that the government needs — it shirks the responsibility [to take care of] the population and transfers it to migrants.”</p><h2>Basic goods</h2><p dir="ltr">Remittances definitely help to save poor Kyrgyzstanis from hunger, but nothing more, as most of this money are spent on basic necessities. “[We buy] food, clothes. I have a sister, she’s a student in Bishkek, she also receives money from abroad,” Altynai says. “It’s impossible to save money. Sometimes I manage to save 1,000-2,000 soms [£11-22], but the money just goes.”</p><p dir="ltr">In 2015, the National Bank examined data from a survey <a href="http://www.nbkr.kg/DOC/20012016/000000000039978.pdf">of 2,800 families in Kyrgyzstan</a> and concluded that three quarters of remittance recipients spend this money on consumer goods — food, clothes, household items. This money more often goes on weddings than education or health care.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Altynai, many families in Leylek not only live on the money of migrants, but also take loans, which they then use remittance payments to pay off. “Every family has two or three micro-loans. People usually take loans for weddings. Some take loans for home improvements, sometimes to buy cars [...] Even when people leave, they take a loan to buy their ticket, buy it and then their relatives pay it off.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_01.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_01.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Remittances are often used to save families in Kyrgyzstan from hunger. Illustration: Daria Udalova. </span></span></span>According to <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1dYLHwO8iBWEXs75hxtVVArinxwaIKNKeOVC3HnzYw4A/edit#gid=620625839">calculations</a> by Kloop, every tenth wedding in Kyrgyzstan is paid for with labour remittances. “Several experts believe that weddings are a waste of money, because everything that migrants earnt with hard work is just spent on a single day,” says Emil Nasritdinov. “There are analysts who instead consider weddings an investment in social capital, which can, with time, bring some kind of dividends. But I tend towards the first position.”</p><p dir="ltr">Analysts with the National Bank believe that spending labour remittances on consumer goods “isn’t a bad thing”. For them, buying consumer goods stimulates the economy, helping local producers sell more goods. Of course, money from abroad is used to buy not only Kyrgyz-made goods, but also imported ones.</p><h2>Dead end</h2><p dir="ltr">For Kyrgyzstan to experience significant economic growth, it needs investments. Labour remittances could be used to invest in business, banking or securities. But according to a study by the National Bank, only 0.3% of the population do this.</p><p dir="ltr">Meder, from Batken region, is one of these enterprising people. For five years now, Meder, together with his partners, has been selling construction materials in the town of Isfana. He makes more money now than he did in Russia, where he worked for three years as a builder and loader — often for days at a time, and without holidays.</p><p dir="ltr">“I went to Moscow because I was in a dead-end situation, there was no work here [...] I had [a loan] at that moment. My mother was seriously ill, and my brother is an invalid. I had to go,” Meder recalls.</p><p dir="ltr">While he was Russia, Meder dreamed of setting up his own business (“so I wouldn’t have to be a migrant worker”), which is why his parents began saving the money he sent them. It was thanks to these savings that Meder managed to set up his own business.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyrgyz state is yet to start programmes to support labour migrants and attract their money for investment in business. Emil Nasritdinov confirms this: “The level of corruption is very high. I don’t see any large-scale investment in developing small or medium-sized businesses by migrants.”</p><p dir="ltr">The National Bank believes that commercial banks could attract migrants into the financial sector by creating deposit accounts with special conditions, conducting consultations on financial literacy or giving business loans to returning migrants. But the banks themselves <a href="https://www.adb.org/publications/financial-inclusion-regulation-literacy-education-kyrgyz-republic">are not particularly interested</a> in this, preferring to earn money on loans to large businesses, commissions on money transfers and serving clients.</p><p dir="ltr">The National Bank sees its role as “guaranteeing macroeconomic stability” and “supporting stable prices”. Together with the government, the Bank tries to teach Kyrgyz citizens how to use their money more effectively.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_02-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/migr_inv_02-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Remittances help reduce poverty levels — and the state avoid its responsibilities. Illustration: Daria Udalova. </span></span></span>As he continues to develop his business, Meder sees how more and more of his countrymen are leaving to work abroad. “Many people stay abroad because the situation here doesn’t improve.”</p><h2>What future?</h2><p dir="ltr">No country in the world is as dependent on labour remittances as Kyrgyzstan. If 10 years ago, remittances made up 20% of the country’s GDP, then today they’re nearly 40%.</p><p dir="ltr">This dependence is dangerous for Kyrgyzstan’s economy, as shown by the Russian crisis of 2014-2015, when payments dropped and the number of people living in poverty rose by 1.5%.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe id="datawrapper-chart-aOyAj" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/aOyAj/2/" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" height="400"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["aOyAj"]={},window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].embedDeltas={"100":570,"200":475,"300":425,"400":400,"500":400,"700":375,"800":375,"900":375,"1000":375},window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-aOyAj"),window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe.style.height=window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in a.data["datawrapper-height"])if("aOyAj"==b)window.datawrapper["aOyAj"].iframe.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});</script></p><p dir="ltr">“The future doesn’t good for Batken,” says Nasritdinov. “Another crisis in Russia will make the situation even worse. [...] It’s very unstable and unreliable, a crisis can hit at any moment.” He thinks that the latest <a href="https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0410">US sanctions against Russia</a> and <a href="http://kremlin.ru/acts/news/57883">tougher laws on registration for migrants in Russia</a> could have an impact on money transfers.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyrgyz authorities are planning to solve this problem in their own way&nbsp;— in the draft National Strategy on Stable Development for 2040, they’re planning on expanding the number of locations that people travel to for work. This is why the state plans to help people leave to work abroad and raise their ability to compete abroad. It seems that Kyrgyzstan will continue to survive on the hard-earned money of migrants for a long time to come.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was prepared as part of the Data Fellowship programme of Internews Media-K Project, which is funded by USAID in Kyrgyzstan and supported by the World Bank, IDEM Institute and the School of Data - Kyrgyzstan.</em></p><p><em>Illustrations by Daria Udalova.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/paolo-sorbello/ayka-film-migrant-screen">A new tale of migrant struggles in Moscow puts poverty, motherhood and hope on screen</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine">Listening to Russia’s female migrants</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/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/elnura-alkanova/how-social-media-users-in-kyrgyzstan-are-turned-into-extremists">How social media users in Kyrgyzstan are turned into “extremists”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Kapushenko Savia Hasanova Migration matters Kyrgyzstan Mon, 12 Nov 2018 11:36:12 +0000 Savia Hasanova and Anna Kapushenko 120501 at https://www.opendemocracy.net One year on from a planned “revolution” in Russia, dozens of people are facing jail time https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova-anna-kozkina/artpodgotovka-russia-vyacheslav-maltsev <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">In November 2017, hundreds of Russian citizens were involved in an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">apparent attempt to organise a new “revolution”</a> in Russia. Thirty of them are now facing serious charges.&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/Screen_Shot_2017-11-17_at_10_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen_Shot_2017-11-17_at_10_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian politician Vyacheslav Maltsev. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>One year ago, Russian law enforcement began a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-inside-story-of-russias-failed-social-media-revolution">campaign against opposition politician Vyacheslav Maltsev and his supporters</a> ahead of their planned “revolution” on 5 November 2017. According to Maltsev, members of his Artpodgotovka movement would unleash spontaneous protests across the country before storming the Kremlin. They would then hold a referendum and vote for the overthrow of Russian president Vladimir Putin.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>The revolution did not happen, and 30 people have found themselves under criminal prosecution as a result — they are accused of extremism, creating terrorist organisations, preparing acts of terrorism and mass unrest.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Russian news organisation <a href="https://zona.media">MediaZona</a> has collected all the known information about these cases — where we can see signs of FSB agents working undercover, the defendants reveal how they were tortured and where setting a hay bale alight is considered an act of terrorism. We translate their <a href="https://zona.media/article/2018/11/05/5/11/17-year-after">article</a> here.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 16.15.28.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 16.15.28.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="248" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Okunev, who is now based in Kyiv, Ukraine, is an active YouTube blogger. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>“Can somebody explain what this organisation is? Who’s the organiser? Who are the members? Where are the offices? The finances? It’s hilarious, to be honest,” this is how Sergey Okunev, an ally of Vyacheslav Maltsev, <a href="https://twitter.com/Okunev64/status/923452347027742720">responded</a> to the news that the Artpodgotovka movement had been banned in late October 2017. “If the information on the ban of Artpodgotovka is confirmed, it’s the Artillery Forces who will suffer the most,” Okunev <a href="https://twitter.com/Okunev64/status/923459677010251776">joked</a> on Twitter.</p><p dir="ltr">By that time, Okunev had known Saratov politician Vyacheslav Maltsev for two years and, according to Okunev, had conducted several hundred live broadcasts with him on YouTube.</p><h2>“We’re not waiting, we’re preparing”</h2><p dir="ltr">Vyacheslav Maltsev, 54, rose to national prominence in Russian politics in spring 2016 after winning the primaries for the PARNAS opposition party. This victory, which many put down to Maltsev’s populism and nationalism, <a href="https://www.rbc.ru/politics/02/07/2016/5777d08e9a794785461fc25a">provoked fierce arguments</a> in the party, but Maltsev still made it into the top three candidates for Russia’s parliamentary elections — though PARNAS still only received 0.73% of the vote, and failed to get into parliament.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, Maltsev’s “Artpodgotovka” channel on YouTube helped him win in the PARNAS primaries. Before it was banned in Russia, the channel’s videos — which hosted Maltsev’s opinions and current news — regularly received 100,000 views, with some videos reaching up to two million. Back then, Maltsev would repeat on every broadcast that there would be a revolution in Russia on 5 November 2017 — and that people should prepare for it. In several videos, Maltsev spoke with a banner behind him that read: “5/11/17 - we’re not waiting, we’re preparing”. This phrase later became a meme on the Russian internet — and the slogan of Maltsev’s supporters.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/M8Crcr4imH0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/M8Crcr4imH0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="280" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vyacheslav Maltsev and Russian anti-corruption politician Alexey Navalny, April 2017. Source: Vkontakte. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Sergey Okunev, who, like Maltsev, is originally from the Volga city of Saratov, says he met Maltsev just before the PARNAS primaries. At the start of 2o17, they began talking about forming a political party together. Initially, they wanted to take over a small party already registered with Russia’s Ministry of Justice, but these negotiations were unsuccessful. Instead, they came up with the idea of setting up a “Party of Free People” — and they opened a party office in Saratov on 26 May 2017, even before they’d made their first attempt at officially registering the party. Together with the Nationalists’ Party, supporters of Maltsev spent their weekends in towns across Russia, holding “walks for free people”. These actions often ended in arrests. “And there never existed any movement named Artpodgotovka as an organisation,” Okunev insists, adding that Maltsev came up with the date of 5 November 2017 back in 2013. Originally, though, this was supposed to be a “non-stop peaceful protest”.</p><p dir="ltr">Okunev believes that the campaign against Maltsev supporters before October 2017, the last month before the “revolution”. He recalls the case of Alexey Politikov, a businessman from the far eastern city of Ussuriysk and a close associate of Maltsev. Politikov was arrested at the beginning of June 2017 on charges of assaulting a police officer during the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/26-march-russia-protest">26 March anti-corruption protest</a> in Moscow. (Politikov was sentenced to two years in prison in October 2017, his sentence was reduced to 18 months on appeal.)</p><p dir="ltr">Investigators also carried out house searches in this case and, according to Okunev, including at his apartment in Saratov. “I told the investigators: ‘Respectfully, I don’t have anything against [this search], but I spent the whole day and night on 26 March in a Saratov police station. Forgive me, but what do you want to find here?’ They couldn’t tell me. Of course, this was a made-up reason [to search the flat].” Okunev adds that after the search he was taken to the Investigative Committee’s regional office for interrogation. None of the questions he was asked there “related to events in Moscow”; instead, Okunev was questioned about Maltsev and Artpodgotovka.</p><p dir="ltr">In summer 2017, Okunev says, Vyacheslav Maltsev received an “anonymous warning” that he was going to be investigated. “There were reasons to believe that these people were not joking. I remember it well: we were driving along Kutuzov Avenue [in Moscow], we were discussing the situation. There were three of us in the car and we were trying to convince Maltsev to leave the country. It wasn’t that he resisted this idea particularly, but he was weighing up all the pros and cons. We explained to him that it would be much better if he didn’t go to prison. Back then we didn’t realise that the attack on us was going to be so strong.”</p><p dir="ltr">Maltsev left Russia on 4 July 2017. On 11 July, Russian law enforcement <a href="https://zona.media/news/2017/07/11/lohino">searched the movement’s apartment</a> in the Moscow suburban town of Lokhino, as part of an extremism investigation. At the end of August 2017, it was <a href="https://zona.media/news/2017/08/15/malts">reported</a> that Maltsev was accused of making calls to extremist activity during a public meeting on 6 May, and in November, he was accused of creating a terrorist organisation. Maltsev has since requested political asylum in France.</p><h2>“They planted TNT on Seryozha”</h2><p dir="ltr">Krasnoyarsk Regional Court banned Artpodgotovka on 26 October 2017. In the days that followed, supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev were arrested in Krasnoyarsk, Volgograd, Saratov, Kazan and Tomsk. On 1 November, four days before the planned “revolution”, Sergey Okunev found out that his friend and comrade Sergey Ryzhov had been arrested — today Ryzhov is under arrest on terrorism charges at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.</p><p dir="ltr">“The lawyer rang me. I remember the moment well, it was about seven in the evening. He tells me: ‘They planted TNT on Seryozha [Ryzhov], a pistol, they blew opened the windows to his apartment and opened a terrorism case against him,’” Okunev remembers. “It’s hard to describe my reaction. And the lawyer, who was always completely calm, says: ‘Well, you know, you probably should be somewhere else. Do you understand the risks?’”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/kmo_111307_19310_1_t218_160105.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/kmo_111307_19310_1_t218_160105.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Ryzhov. Source: <a href=https://memohrc.org>Memorial Human Rights Center</a>.</span></span></span>Half an hour later, Okunev received a call from the Saratov branch of Alexey Navalny’s campaign, who told him that the police were looking for him. Fifteen minutes later, Okunev’s landlay rang him: “They’re almost breaking the door down, I don’t know if this is connected to you or not.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I was simply lucky that I was in a suburb of Saratov, in a place that’s difficult to get to,” Okunev says. “I had literally an hour, and I decided that I was going to leave the country. I had a shirt, jacket with long sleeves, shoes, keys to the apartment, a press card, a telephone, which I instantly dismantled, and 1,300 roubles [£15] in my pocket. I got to Moscow and then teleported to the place I am now.”</p><p dir="ltr">Okunev currently lives in Kyiv, and is waiting for a decision on asylum.</p><h2>“We’re waiting for the revolution”</h2><p dir="ltr">Despite the preventative detentions and arrests, many supporters of Maltsev still decided to gather on Manezh Square in Moscow on 5 November 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the <a href="https://www.sova-center.ru/en/">Sova Center for Information and Analysis</a>, also went to central Moscow to take a look at the “revolution”. “There were some men there, mostly middle-aged, but there were a few young people too, only a few. They were standing close to the wall of the Moscow hotel. Everything was barricaded off. And they stood there, it was full of journalists, it was easy, even with an untrained eye, to see the revolutionaries. Journalists would go up to them and ask why there were standing there. ‘We’re waiting for the revolution’ - ‘What will you do?’ - “Well they told us, we’re waiting for 12 o’clock’. Twelve o’clock came and nothing happened.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Verkhovsky, normal police officers were the first to come to the square, but then were followed by riot police. But none of the protesters tried to resist them. Verkhovsky notes that he didn’t hear any slogans or see any banners, or “even a button of any kind”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 16.55.58.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 16.55.58.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>5 November 2017: Echo Moscow journalist Andrey Ezhov is arrested alongside other people in central Moscow. Source: Andrey Ezhov / Twitter. </span></span></span>“Of course, this kind of movement inevitably attracts a certain number of inadequate people,” Verkhovsky says. “But Maltsev himself doesn’t look like a marginal, [he] has completely established himself in politics according to Russian standards. But some participants, not all of them, will definitely be marginals. And the main thing is that their behaviour was marginal. I can’t even imagine what these people were thinking when they gathered there. It seems they really thought that the leader knew, that he had some kind of clever plan.” Verkovsky categorically denies that there was any chance of Maltsev’s supporters organising a revolution.</p><p dir="ltr">OVD-Info, an NGO which monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia, <a href="https://zona.media/chronicle/5-nov%2315809">calculated</a> that more than 400 people were arrested on 5 November 2017 across the country — and not only supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, but also random passers-by. Most of them, roughly 300, were arrested in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">In the end, at least 31 people have or are facing criminal charges in connection with this “revolution”. Here’s everything we know about these cases.</p><h2><strong>Saratov</strong></h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendant: </strong>Sergey Ryzhov (34)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charge: </strong>preparing an act of terrorism (Articles 30.1, 205.1)</p><p><strong>What happened:</strong> Sergey Ryzhov, an activist with the Party of Free People, was arrested on 1 November. The FSB <a href="https://zona.media/chronicle/5-nov#15820">published a video </a>of Ryzhov’s apartment being stormed, where you can see security forces blowing off the windows to the first-floor apartment, running up the stairs and entering the premises. In the following scenes, two men are shown before the camera — one of them is Ryzhov — as well as bottles on the floor, and a pistol. Ryzhov insists that agents planted 200 grammes of TNT and molotov cocktails in the apartment.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen_Shot_2017-11-17_at_10.28.58_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen_Shot_2017-11-17_at_10.28.58_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>FSB storms apartment of Artpodgotovka members, November 2017. Source: Tass. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ryzhov is charged with preparing an act of terrorism, which was due to be carried out on Theatre Square in Saratov. He was arrested by Frunze district court in the city on 3 November 2017, and was then transferred to Moscow at the end of the month: his case was transferred to the FSB’s main investigation directorate.</p><p><strong>Sentence: </strong>A sentence has not yet been issued in this case. Ryzhov is currently in Lefortovo Pre-Trial Detention Facility, Moscow.</p><h2>Moscow</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants:</strong> Vyacheslav Maltsev (54), Alexander Svishchev (55), Andrey Tolkachev (41), Nadezhda Petrova, Yuri Kornyi (49), Andrey Keptya (42)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charges:</strong> organising a terrorist organisation, participating in it (Parts 1 and 2 of Article 205.4), preparing an act of terrorism (Part 1 of Article 30, Point A, Part 2 of Article 205)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened:</strong> at the beginning of November 2017, the FSB opened a terrorism investigation into Vyacheslav Maltsev, who had left the country. His associates Alexander Svishchev, Andrey Tolkachev, Nadezhda Petrova, Yuri Kornyi and Andrey Keptya were also accused of participating in Maltsev’s terrorist organisation. Tolkachev, Kornyi and Keptya are also accused of preparing an act of terrorism — they are currently in pre-trial detention, while Svishchev and Petrova managed to leave the country.</p><p dir="ltr">According to investigators, Artpodgotovka aimed to “violently change the constitutional order” of Russia, and Maltsev ordered Petrova and Svishchev to plan acts of terrorism, while the rest were to carry them out. On 11 October, Tolkachev gave a canister of petrol to Kornyi and Keptya, which they were to use to set alight some hay and pallets on Manezh Square in Moscow. On 5 November, Svishchev was meant to disrupt some electricity sub-stations in the Moscow area, and Petrova - to carry out arson attacks against state buildings. </p><p>One source familiar with the investigation told MediaZona that Andrey Keptya had refused the services of his lawyer and confessed to the crimes he is accused of, including giving evidence against other defendants. Kornyi and Tolkachev have not confessed. According to the source, this case is under control of the same investigators who worked on the case of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence: </strong>This case is yet to go trial.</p><h2>Saratov</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants:</strong> Fyodor Martynov (23)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charges:</strong> illegal trade in weapons (Part 1, Article 222), illegal preparation of explosive substances (Part 1, Article 223.1), illegal possession of explosives (Part 1, Article 222.1)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened:</strong> Agents of Saratov FSB detained Martynov on 1 November 2017, the same day as Sergey Ryzhov. According to the FSB, during the search of Martyov’s apartment, they found ammunition for a rifled weapon, improvised explosive devices and explosive substances. A video released by the FSB shows that they found a book called “Russian kitchen: A-Z of home-made terrorism” on Martynov’s computer. Prior to trial, he was held in pre-trial detention in Saratov.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence:</strong> On 9 September, Saratov’s Kirov district court sentenced Martynov to 2.5 years and a fine of 100,000 roubles. </p><h2>Kurgan</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants:</strong> Evgeny Lesovoy (51).</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charges:</strong> Public calls to extremist activity (Part 2, Article 280)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened:</strong> According to media outlet <a href="https://oblast45.ru/publication/22550/">Oblast 45</a>, Lesovoy was detained on 7 November 2017. Law enforcement found a mobile phone with the Telegram application installed. According to investigators, it was on Telegram that Lesovoy joined the “Artpodgotovka” chat, where, until 5 November, he wrote messages containing calls to mass unrest and extremism. The investigator in this case told journalists that there were more than 20 people in this chat. Lesovoy remained in pre-trial detention during the investigation, and did not admit to the charges against him. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 17.05.32.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 17.05.32.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Evgeny Lesovoy is detained in Kurgan: Source: Investigative Committee / NTV. </span></span></span><strong>Sentence: </strong>On 7 August 2018, Kurgan city court sentenced Lesovoy to two years of prison colony and banned him from administering websites for the same period. On 26 October, Lesovoy’s legal counsel told MediaZona that his client would be released “in a month”.</p><h2>Saratov</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants:</strong> Dmitry Kostin (33)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charges: </strong>recruitment for an extremist organisation (Part 1.1, Article 282.1)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened:</strong> On 28 March, Dmitry Kostin, a captain in Russia’s Rocket Forces, was, according to his statement, summoned to Saratov FSB, where he was put into a car and was presented with a warrant to search his home. Previously, Kostin had posted online a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV6CAI7hYg0">video-address by Vyacheslav Maltsev to Russia’s army and police</a> (this video is not listed on Russia’s Federal Register of Extremist Materials), and this was used as the reason for the search. During the search, FSB officers found a banned book (Restrukt) by Russian neo-nazi Maxim Martsinkevich. After the search, this book and Kostin’s electronic devices were confiscated.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kostin’s interview to <a href="https://fn-volga.ru/article/view/id/519">Free News</a>: “The recruitment charge is down to the fact that two people (out of roughly 10 who were questioned) gave evidence that I had invited them to take part in an ‘opposition walk’, that is, in a completely peaceful event that doesn’t bother anyone.” After the case was opened, Kostin was fired from the army.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence:</strong> A sentence is yet to be issued in this case. Although the case was opened on 10 may, Kostin is yet to face charges, and the method of restraint has not been chosen.</p><h2>Novosibirsk</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants: </strong>Vyacheslav Dobrynin (39), Alexander Komarov (56), Anatoly Plotnikov (51)</p><p dir="ltr">Charges: attempt to organise mass unrest, participation in mass unrest and assisting organisation (Part 1, Article 30; Part 5, Article 33; Parts 1 and 2, Article 212), illegal possession of firearms (Part 1, Article 222)</p><p><strong>What happened: </strong>On the evening of 5 November, the defendants and several dozen other supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev gathered on 1 May Square in Novosibirsk. They had neither firearms, nor banners. After this, the defendants’ homes were searched — according to the investigators, the defendants tried to organise a riot before the protest. The Investigative Committee <a href="http://nsk.sledcom.ru/news/item/1247912/">reported</a> that law enforcement had found more than 20 Molotov cocktails, radios, knives and a smoothbore weapon with ammunition during searches. Taiga.info <a href="https://tayga.info/142160">reported</a> that the main aim of this protest was apparently to seize the Novosibirsk State Television Studio.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The prosecution believes that the organiser of these crimes was Alexander Komarov, a former police investigator, and alleges that he planned to broadcast Maltsev’s appeals on television. As part of this, Komarov had found a map of the television studio complex and a key to an unguarded door in the perimetre fence.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Taiga.info, investigators found Molotov cocktails at Vyacheslav Dobrynin’s apartment. He was arrested on 9 November, while Komarov was arrested only on 22 March 2018. Both of them deny the charges against them and have <a href="https://tayga.info/143012">declared hunger strikes</a> in pre-trial detention. Anatoly Plotnikov, the regional leader of the Party of Nationalists, has admitted the charges against him, and is on travel restrictions.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence: </strong>a sentence in this case has not yet been issued. The case will be heard in camera in Novosibirsk Regional Court, “in the interests of guaranteeing the safety of participants of the trial.” </p><h2>Moscow</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants: </strong>Oleg Dmitriev (39), Oleg Ivanov (41), Sergey Ozerov (46)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charges:</strong> preparing a terrorist act (Part 1, Article 30; Point A, Part 2, Article 205), participating in a terrorist organisation (Part 2, Article 205.4)</p><p><strong>What happened: </strong>On 2 November, Moscow Newspaper <a href="http://mskgazeta.ru/proisshestviia/revolyuciya-zakonchilas---ne-uspev-nachat-sya--v-moskve-zaderzhali-ekstremistov-dvizheniya-artpodgotovka-vyacheslava-mal-ceva.html">reported</a> that four supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev had been detained in New Moscow — allegedly, these men had been planning to start a riot on 5 November. This same media reported that law enforcement had found 13 Molotov cocktails, three canisters of flammable liquids and equipment for making Molotov cocktails at the apartment rented by Oleg Dmitriev, Oleg Ivanov, Sergey Ozerov and Vadim Mayorov.</p><p dir="ltr">Initially, Ozerov, Ivanov and Dmitriev were <a href="https://www.mos-gorsud.ru/rs/shcherbinskij/services/cases/admin/details/c2eb4241-b2c6-493a-8f9e-28007c3177c0?respondent=%25D0%25BE%25D0%25B7%25D0%25B5%25D1%2580%25D0%25BE%25D0%25B2">arrested</a> for 15 days for failure to comply with police orders — apparently, they refused to present their ID documents when asked. These three men were then sent to pre-trial detention as part of an FSB investigation into alleged preparations for an act of terrorism and membership of a terrorist organisation.</p><p dir="ltr">According to activist Inna Kholodtsova, who is involved in the support campaign for people arrested in connection with the 5 November protests, 27-year-old Vadim Mayorov may have cooperated with the investigation. She notes that Vadim Mayorov may have been introduced to Ivanov and Dmitriev in Almetyevsk by Nadezhda Petrova, another defendant in the Artpodgotovka terrorism case in Moscow. Petrova <a href="https://vk.com/wall12257755_1774">visited</a> the city in July 2017. According to Kholodtsova, it was Mayorov who proposed that the activists travel to Moscow for 5 November.</p><p dir="ltr">“He [Mayorov] suggested blowing something up several times, they refused, of course. They didn’t know that there were bottles in the bag, it wasn’t theirs. When they left the apartment, it seems he [Mayorov] prepared those concoctions,” Kholodtsova says. She makes reference to several acquaintances who were told by other Artpodgotovka supporters in detention that Mayorov had escaped the police van after being arrested. It is unknown where Mayorov is currently located, there’s no information that he has been arrested.</p><p dir="ltr">During a hearing on extending detention, Ozerov, Ivanov and Dmitriev all reported that they had been tortured with electric shocks, says Kholodtsova. The defendants are yet to receive a lawyer of their choosing — their relatives cannot afford their services, and the support group hasn’t managed to collect the necessary amount.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence:</strong> a sentence is yet to be issued in this case. The investigation is complete, and the defendants are reading the case materials in pre-trial detention. They refused to give evidence, citing Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.</p><h2>Kaliningrad</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants: </strong>Alexander Petrovsky (35)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charges:</strong> public calls to terrorism (Article 205.2)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened: </strong>Alexander Petrovsky, a taxi driver from the town of Baltiysk, was detained on 5 November 2017. According to investigators, Petrovsky uploaded two audio files to the Telegram chat “Revolution Kaliningrad” on 31 October 2017. The New Kaliningrad media outlet reported that forensic experts judged Petrovsky’s comments to be “speech acts [calling for] the complete transformation of the whole socio-economic structure of society, leading to a change of the social order in Kaliningrad oblast and Russia.” Petrovsky did not deny that he made these audio files, but denies his guilt in committing a crime. During the investigation, Petrovsky was held in pre-trial detention.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence: </strong>On 21 May, Moscow Regional Military Court sentenced Petrovsky to two years of general prison colony.</p><h2>Krasnoyarsk</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants:</strong> Roman Maryan (40), Pyotr Isayev (19), Alexander Zaitsev (44)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charges:</strong> preparing to participate in mass unrest (Part 1, Article 30; Part 2, Article 212), recruiting others to participate in mass unrest (Part 1.1, Article 212), illegal possession and preparation of explosive devices (Part 1, Article 222.1, Part 1, Article 223.1)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened:</strong> Roman Maryan and Pyor Isayev were detained on 30 October 2017 at Achinsk railway station, Krasnoyarsk region, as they prepared to travel to Moscow to join the “Russian March” event. At the same time, Alexander Zaitsev, 44, was detained in Krasnoyarsk. According to investigators, Zaitsev was responsible for encouraging Isayev and Maryan to participate in an “armed uprising” in Moscow on 5 November.</p><p dir="ltr">Isayev admitted to preparing to participate in mass unrest, as well as illegal possession and preparation of explosive devices, which were found on him when he was detained. Zaitsev admitted to recruiting the other defendants to participate in mass unrest.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/maryan.jpg" alt="" title="" width="117" height="131" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Roman Maryan. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center. </span></span></span>Maryan, who was accused of preparing to participate in mass unrest, did not admit to the charges against him. His legal counsel Natalya Mons says that the charges against him were based on information gained by agents who infiltrated Artpodgotovka. “They were infiltrated back in December 2016. That is, agents were present at all meetings, they were equipped with recording devices, or reported to FSB officers every week what happened at these meetings. And all actions connected to buying tickets, special clothing, devices — all of this was carried out by individuals cooperating with the FSB.” The Memorial Human Rights Assocation has <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/03/14/maryan">recognised</a> Maryan as a political prisoner.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence: </strong>On 28 April 2018, Achinsk City Court sentenced Isayev to two years of general prison colony; in July, Zaitsev was sentenced to 2.5 years. In August 2018, Maryan was sentenced to three years and three months. </p><h2>Volgograd</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants: </strong>Vladislav Bondarenko (22), Stanislav Babanov (26), Mikhail Turchenko (26), Oleg Kostik (33), Kirill Litvinenko (17).</p><p><strong>Charges:</strong> Calls to extremism (Part 2, Article 280), calls to mass unrest (Part 3, Article 212), incitement and preparation to participate in mass unrest (Part 4, Article 33; Part 1, Article 30; Part 2, Article 212).</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened:</strong> At the beginning of November 2017, five young men who were traveling to Moscow were detained in Volgograd. The first to be detained was Vladislav Bondarenko, a student of Volgograd State University, who had created several open Telegram chats in the lead up to 5 November — roughly 30 people in total were subscribed. According to case materials, Bondarenko called on subscribers to arm themselves in order to attack law enforcement officials and seize state buildings in Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar and Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">FSB agents detained the student on 1 November. On the same day, Bondarenko agreed in writing to participate in an experiment of the investigation, during which he, under the control of FSB agents, continued to write messages in Telegram chats and organised a meeting on the outskirts of Volgograd with several people who had agreed to travel to Moscow with him — Stanislav Babanov, Mikhail Turchenko , Oleg Kostik and Kirill Litvinenko. They were arrested at the meeting place. During the search, FSB agents found two safety helmets on Babanov, a crowbar on Turchenko, a stick on Kostik, and a hunting rifle and air pistol on Litvinenko, which belonged to his father. Babanov and Kostik are still in pre-trial detention, the rest are under travel restrictions.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence:</strong> a sentence has yet to be issued in this case. In September, a Volgograd district court began examining the case. Babanov denies the charges. According to Babanov’s family, Turchenko and Litvinenko confessed to the charges, but Turchenko withdrew his testimony in court.</p><h2>Moscow</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendant:</strong> Vyacheslav Shatrovsky (49)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charge:</strong> use of force against a police officer (Part 1, Article 318)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened:</strong> On 5 November 2017, Shatrovsky was arrested in Moscow together with his son. The next day, Tverskoy district court arrested him on suspicion of using a force against a police officer. The Investigative Committee claim that Shatrovsky, on being stopped for a document check, hit the police officer in question several times in the head. Shatrovsky <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/02/06/shatrovskij">says</a> that he himself received a trauma to the head when the police officer threw him over his shoulder.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/shatrovskiy_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="121" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vyacheslav Shatrovsky. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center. </span></span></span>According to the activist, this took place after he tried to protect his son, who had attracted the attention of the police. A medical report states that, aside from a head trauma, Shatrovsky was also diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">A criminal case into his assault was not opened. Memorial has <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/05/28/shatrovski">recognised </a>Shatrovsky as a political prisoner.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence:</strong> In May 2018, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court sentenced Shatrovsky to three years of prison colony, but this sentence was then reduced by three months.</p><h2><strong>Oryol</strong></h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendant: </strong>Denis Stepanov</p><p><strong>Charge: </strong>calls to extremism (Part 2, Article 280)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened: </strong>On 3 November 2017, Denis Stepanov, a resident of Oryol, was arrested for his comments (which “called for revolution”) in an online group connected to newspaper Oryol News. On the same day, the media outlet released a video which shows Stepanov retracting his words: “I called on people to come out onto the streets on 5 November, to overthrow the government and also insulted police officers, FSB officers… I wanted the people to punish them on 5 November, on the day of revolution. I made a mistake. And I regret this. And I believe that police officers carry out their duties and service. And I believe that changes in power should only happen via legal and constitutional means.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence: </strong>On 4 June 2018, Stepanov was sentenced to two years of penal labour, the case was examined according to special procedures.</p><h2>Tomsk</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendant: </strong>Name unknown (26)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charge: </strong>calls for extremism (Part 2, Article 280)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened: </strong>On 3 November 2017, the FSB reported that it had detained Tomsk activists who had allegedly “planned to organise mass unrest in public places”. Artpodgotovka was not mentioned in the press release, but the detainees were called “representatives of a civic destructive movement”. The press release only mentioned that a criminal case had been opened into calls to extremism.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence: </strong>At the beginning of February, a Tomsk city court sentenced this local resident to a 1.5 suspended sentence, according to an FSB press release. According to investigators, the Tomsk resident, who admitted to the charges against him, distributed calls on the internet to “carry out actions on 5 November 2017 that would stir up social tension, prevent the lawful activities of state institutions” and the violent seizure of power.</p><h2>Rostov-on-Don</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Defendants: </strong>Yan Sidorov (18), Vladislav Mordasov (22), Vyacheslav Shamin (18).</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Charge:</strong> attempting to organise mass unrest and participation (Part 3, Article 30; Parts 1 and 2, Article 212)</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What happened: </strong>On 5 November 2017, during a picket outside Rostov regional government building, student Yan Sidorov and metal caster Vladislav Mordasov were arrested. Both of them were sentenced to seven days in prison for carrying out a public action without informing the authorities. A week later, they were both sent to pre-trial detention in connection with a riot investigation. The third defendant, Vyacheslav Shashmin, was sentenced to house arrest — he is accused of attempting to participate in the alleged riot, which never took place.</p><p dir="ltr">The defendants have been accused of trying to organise an armed assault of the regional government building and law enforcement officials. This alleged attack was apparently organised by Mordasov in an open Telegram chat called “Revolution 5/11/2017 Rostov-on-Don”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/e05cd3964be83627088c8afb685d4c15.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/e05cd3964be83627088c8afb685d4c15.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yan Sidorov. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center. </span></span></span>Sidorov and Mordasov insist that they only planned a peaceful protest, organising a picket for 5 November via Telegram. Novaya Gazeta writes that, in contrast to other subscribers to the chat, Sidorov and Mordasov proposed beating up police officers and organising pogroms. Sidorov wrote: “We are gathering for a peaceful protest at 12.00 [...] Don’t discredit yourself.” Forensic analysis has not revealed any calls to violence in their messages.</p><p dir="ltr">Vyacheslav Shashmin was not a member of this open Telegram chat and was detained while he walked past the protest. He nevertheless admitted the charges.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sentence: </strong><strong>A sentence has yet to be issued.&nbsp;</strong></p><h2>Krasnodar and Samara</h2><p>In a 2017 press release, the FSB <a href="https://zona.media/news/2017/11/03/artppp">stated</a> that it had stopped the activities of Artpodgotovka not only in Moscow, Krasnoyarsk, Kazan and Saratov, but also in Krasnodar and Samara. There is, however, no open source record of any relevant criminal investigations in these two cities.</p><p dir="ltr">We filed information requests with the Investigative Committee in Krasnodar and Samara. They responded that no investigations into Artpodgotovka had been opened in the past 12 months. In June 2018, Samara FSB reported that it had opened a criminal investigation into calls for extremism into an Artpodgotovka activist. When we filed further requests for criminal cases against Maltsev supporters across the country, neither the Investigative Committee, nor the FSB responded.</p><h2>Glory at any cost</h2><p dir="ltr">Alexander Verkhovsky calls Artpodgotovka “a very strange phenomenon, which arose at a time of complete decline both in Russia’s protest movement generally and among Russian nationalists in particular.”</p><p>“The Artpodgotovka movement is just a weakly organised network of people who like Maltsev, You can’t even call it an ‘organisation’ really, they did nothing in an organised way. The most organised event they did was these ‘walks’, which were co-organised with the nationalists,” says Verkhovsky, who calls Maltsev himself a “right-wing populist”. After the unsuccessful revolution, Maltsev returned to blogging — he currently broadcasts live videos on his <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv5dc2Zi6j5IXQ_NKTZuSLA">“Narodovlastie”</a> (“People power”) YouTube channel. At the time of writing, the channel had 34,500 subscribers.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20645392_157944214761098_3145851565335400678_o_(1)_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20645392_157944214761098_3145851565335400678_o_(1)_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"The lack of justice leads directly to revolution": Vyacheslav Ryabkov, an Artpodgotovka member from Chuvashia, has faced criminal prosecution for repeatedly breaking regulations on public meetings. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/igor-gukovsky">Igor Gukovsky</a>, who works for the Memorial Human Rights Association, points to the “social demographic profile” of Maltsev’s supporters. Indeed, Gukovsky believes there is a connection between the lack of public interest in this case and Artpodgotovka’s demographics. “Take, for instance, the Rostov case of Sidorov and Mordasov. It became more well-known because Yan Sidorov has a grandfather with a legal education, a former army colonel and active person who began to visit various institutions, human rights organisations, journalists to try and raise this issue [publicly]. And if someone is without a university education or any social connections in Moscow, friendly lawyers or rights defenders, then their situation deteriorates sharply.”</p><p dir="ltr">Gukovsky is concerned that the majority of cases will be examined <em>in camera</em>. “Perhaps society will never find out about the prosecution’s evidence, whether something really was going on or not, and whether the FSB interpreted the activities, which people carried out as part of Artpodgotovka, correctly.” Gukovsky calls the situation of many of those arrested in connection with Artpodgotovka “tragic”. On the request of investigators, courts are examining appeals to extend the arrests of defendants in Moscow terrorism cases in closed sessions.</p><p dir="ltr">Alexander Verkhovsky believes that the prosecution of Maltsev’s supporters led Russian law enforcement to investigate similar cases, such as the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“Network” anti-fascist and anarchist case</a>, and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/interview-anna-pavlikova-new-greatness-case">“New Greatness” activism case</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">“There would be no ‘Network’ case, no ‘New Greatness’ case without Artpodgotovka. This is the case on both sides. It’s clear that there are always some groups of people who like to dream of revolution. But previously our security services used to dissipate these groups, they didn’t try and turn them into anything bigger. And after this huge [Artpodgotovka] case, everyone is hungry for glory. This is why you can take any group, which on the surface looks like a mini-Artpodgotovka, and make a big new investigation out of it. It’s good that we only have had two of these cases so far. To be honest, there could have been 20 of them.”</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/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/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Who will make Russia “great again”? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/interview-anna-pavlikova-new-greatness-case">“I wanted to wail, to scream at them: ‘What in the world are you doing to my daughter? Are you human or not?’”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/six-days-to-destroy-movement">Artpodgotovka: six days to destroy a movement</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-eremeyev/back-in-the-ussr">Back in the USSR: meet the people calling for the restoration of the Soviet Union</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Kozkina Elizaveta Pestova Russia Fri, 09 Nov 2018 16:47:56 +0000 Elizaveta Pestova and Anna Kozkina 120527 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s Mediterranean call: from Kerch to Palmyra, but without Constantinople? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marlene-laruelle/russias-mediterranean-call <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How the Russian authorities are justifying the military’s pivot to the south east.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-34108222.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-34108222.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="249" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin view a military parade at the Russian-run Khmeimim Air Base, December 2017. Photo: Syrian Presidency / Xinhua News Agency / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In August 2018, Russia’s fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean conducted major naval exercises, confirming the Sea’s newfound – or renewed – importance to Russian strategy and power projection. The 2014 military doctrine and the new National Security Doctrine, as well as the 2015 Maritime Doctrine, mention the Eastern Mediterranean as a region of influence, setting a goal of a permanent Mediterranean presence that would include one or two multi-purpose vessels and 10 to 15 surface ships. This presence is part of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/dome.12103">Russia’s broader plan to transform from a “green water” navy into a “blue water” one</a>, capable of operating in open waters. </p><p dir="ltr">Of course, this renewed presence in the Mediterranean is directly linked to Russia’s military operations in Syria. The civil war has offered a unique launchpad for Russia to test its capacities in a “real war” context outside the post-Soviet space and reassert itself in a region it largely abandoned with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The day may come when Moscow leaves the Syrian theatre, but it will nevertheless maintain a foothold in the region through its military bases at Tartus and perhaps Khmeimim.</p><p dir="ltr">Beyond Russia’s military return to the Eastern Mediterranean lies a more profound and long-term trend: Russia’s efforts to <a href="https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/russias-strategy-in-the-black-sea-basin/">oversee the Black Sea</a> and turn it into a mare nostrum. This strategy, given an additional impulse by the annexation of Crimea and important port of Sevastopol, has been a concern of Moscow’s since the 2000s, as evidenced by the August 2008 war with Georgia, with Abkhazia a central piece in this Black Sea puzzle. After years of being forgotten, the Black Sea Fleet is now being revitalised and modernised, and should, Admiral A.V. Vitko explained, also be able to <a href="http://milportal.ru/chernomorskij-flot-faktor-rasshireniya-boevyh-vozmozhnostej-v-zone-otvetstvennosti/">provide a presence in the Mediterranean</a>. Russia’s perception of a weakened southwestern flank is no phantom of the mind: the routine nature of NATO’s naval presence in the Black Sea is interpreted as a threat to Russia’s traditional domination of the region, further challenged in recent years by the war with Ukraine and the two countries’ competition to navigate the sea.</p><p dir="ltr">As Russia seeks to shore up its southwestern forces, it has seen a recent success on the Caspian front. Under Russia’s initiative, the five littoral states – Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – finally managed, in August 2018, to sign a collective agreement resolving some of the territorial delimitation issues that had hampered regional cooperation for 25 years. (The issue of seabed division, however, has yet to be settled.) But the real geopolitical accomplishment of the meeting was <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/caspian-sea-dispute-settled-on-the-surface/">banning non-littoral fleets</a>, reassuring Russia (and Iran) that there will be no U.S. military presence on the Caspian Sea. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Seen from the Kremlin, Turkey, even if it remains an uneasy partner, offers a unique opportunity to disrupt NATO solidarity mechanisms and US policy in the Middle East</p><p dir="ltr">Moscow’s expanded footprint in the Black Sea and its new focus on the Eastern Mediterranean should also be articulated with Russia’s foreign policy toward Turkey and the Balkans. Seen from the Kremlin, Turkey, even if it remains an uneasy partner, offers a unique opportunity to disrupt NATO solidarity mechanisms and US policy in the Middle East. The Balkan states – whether EU members such as Greece, Cyprus (where Moscow tried to get access to military bases for <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/43785687">refueling operations and emergency situations</a>), and Bulgaria, or potential candidates such as Serbia and Montenegro – present themselves as some of Europe’s weakest links, both in terms of their privileged relationship to Russia and their cautious attitude toward decisions made in Brussels. For Moscow, the Balkans has become a critical new point of <a href="http://valdaiclub.com/a/reports/report-where-are-the-balkans-heading/">power contestation with the EU</a> behind the Eastern Partnership countries. </p><p dir="ltr">But there is more to the story than foreign policy decisions and postures. Russia’s turn to the Mediterranean is a structural and long-term reorientation of the Russian state toward its ancient roots in the Black Sea region. Domestic demographic trends that show the Russian population’s move toward the more prosperous western and southwestern regions (with, for instance, Krasnodar being one of the fastest growing cities in the country) reinforces the geopolitical weight of Russia’s own Black Sea facade.</p><p dir="ltr">To this should be added, obviously, the annexation of Crimea, its integration into the Russian Federation and the heavy cost thereof (at least US$5 billion annually). To anchor the peninsula in Russia and make any return to Ukraine impossible, Moscow has to invest massively in reconnecting the region to the rest of Russia, not only in terms of logistics and administration, but also at the symbolic level. The Kerch Strait Bridge – inaugurated by Putin in May 2018, seven months ahead of schedule – illustrates the logistical reconnection to Russia’s territorial body. The unique status being given to the region is epitomised by the transformation of Sochi into one of Russia’s capitals: the city hosts high-level summits and personalities with a frequency eclipsed only by Moscow and St Petersburg. The Russian authorities have also made an array of symbolic gestures: reshaping the <a href="http://www.sostav.ru/publication/vse-o-novom-logotipe-kryma-25001.html">logo of the Crimean republic for tourism purposes</a>; integrating the peninsula and Sevastopol into the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/russia-unveils-new-crimea-themed-bank-note/a-40928711">new banknotes</a>, released in 2017; funding a massive rebranding of Crimean products, from wine and jams to soaps and teas; and securing preferential procurement for state institutions (Alexey Navalny denounced, for instance, the fact that the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyYIkgbH5cQ">Russian National Guard buys Crimean products</a> at well above market price, indirectly subsidising the peninsula’s economy).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">To anchor Crimea in Russia and make any return to Ukraine impossible, Moscow has to invest massively in reconnecting the region to the rest of Russia</p><p dir="ltr">To articulate foreign policy objectives and a “civilisational” branding that is now an integral part of Russia’s image-making, the Kremlin insists on a posturing as the authentic Europe, the “true” Europe of conservative and Christian values, whose spatial materialisation would be continentalism (a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis) rather than a pro-US Atlanticism. Far from being only a superficial geopolitical posture, the desire to appropriate Europe’s humanist traditions has shaped Russia’s recent cultural policies and their move toward the Mediterranean. The Mariinsky Orchestra’s <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/boris-filanovsky/bach-among-palmyra-s-ruins">open-air concert in liberated Palmyra</a> in May 2016 was a symbolic act of reconnection with Antiquity. As analysed in detail by Maria Engstrom as part of what she calls the <a href="https://www.ridl.io/en/the-new-russian-renaissance/">“new Russian renaissance”</a>, the country’s new exhibition policy has stressed this Ancient European heritage with a range of cultural events, among them an impressive exhibition of the Vatican’s Pinacoteca masterpieces. The current celebration of Russia’s Orthodox identity as being in close interaction with its Western counterparts, from a prestigious Roman past to the Italian Renaissance, is a clear break with the previous policy of confrontation. </p><p dir="ltr">Another insightful example of that trend is the Russian Geographical Society-funded archaeological expedition to Akra, a sunken city in the waters of the Black Sea, a way to celebrate Russia’s reunification with its Bosphorus legacy via Crimea. The branding of the sunken city as a <a href="https://www.rgo.ru/en/article/crimean-atlantis-0">“Crimean Atlantis”</a> epitomises the mythological process currently underway around Russia’s rediscovered Pontic identity. At least the expedition looks more serious than the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/aug/12/vladimir-putin-greek-urns-ridicule">orchestrated “discovery”</a>, by a scuba-diving Putin himself, of two alleged Greek urns on the floor of the Black Sea in 2011, a bold propaganda event ridiculed by the Russian blogosphere. </p><p dir="ltr">Orthodoxy also plays a pivotal role in Russia’s new Mediterranean entrenchment. A privileged and centuries-old relation to the Greek and Pontic realms, as well as the protection of Eastern Christians since Ottoman times, are powerful historical memories that can easily be updated. In this sphere, too, efforts have been accelerated in recent years. The Syrian civil war pushed the Moscow Patriarchate to display Orthodox solidarity, to the point that in 2013 it is said to have <a href="http://www.pravmir.com/50000-syrian-christians-ask-for-russian-citizenship/">supported 50,000 Christian Syrians in their applications for Russian citizenship</a> as a sign of Russia’s commitment to protecting Levantine Christians. But this policy has unexpectedly been challenged by the Constantinople Patriarchate’s decision, in October 2018, to recognise the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church. The <a href="https://warontherocks.com/2018/10/christian-geopolitics-and-the-ukrainian-ecclesiastical-crisis/">administrative, political and theological imbroglio</a> of giving autocephaly to a Church that did not ask for it, of the Ukrainian government pushing for it at risks of dividing the local parishes, and Moscow’s decision to cut links with one of the most respected, but geopolitically minor, Patriarchates, deeply shake the already troubled Orthodox waters. This move toward an unprecedented religious schism threatens to weaken Russia’s recently rebuilt legitimacy as a Pontic power, intimately connected to past and present Eastern Christianity.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s geopolitical heart beats harder in Europe than Asia. It is in Europe that Russia feels its great power status confirmed or denied: the tensions in the axis between the Baltic Sea and Ukraine are a vivid testament of it. Second after this northwestern flank comes the southwestern one, with renewed tensions in the Black Sea and Russia’s revamped security role in the Eastern Mediterranean. Yet whereas the Baltic Sea-Ukraine axis does not necessitate a rediscovery of Russia’s “northern” identity, the Black Sea theater has inspired an intense rebranding of Russia’s centuries-old Pontic identity.</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/mark-galeotti/chvk-wagner-and-privatisation-of-russian-geopolitics">Moscow&#039;s mercenaries reveal the privatisation of Russian geopolitics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marlene-laruelle/putinism-as-gaullism">Putinism as Gaullism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/syriauntold-editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/why-are-russians-indifferent-to-syrian-conflic">Why are Russians indifferent to the Syrian conflict?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/zeidon-alkinani/russia-s-cautious-role-in-syria">Russia’s cautious role in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/paul-rogers/mystery-of-russian-planes-that-never-were">The mystery of the Russian planes that never were</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Marlene Laruelle Russia Fri, 09 Nov 2018 10:16:20 +0000 Marlene Laruelle 120485 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A new tale of migrant struggles in Moscow puts poverty, motherhood and hope on screen https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/paolo-sorbello/ayka-film-migrant-screen <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This Russian-Kazakh film explores how people who migrate to Russia are often subject to forces far greater than themselves.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 17.01.38.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 17.01.38.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ayka. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>The <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oqsXdJnkKA">opening scene</a> of Sergey Dvortsevoy’s film <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8305116/">Ayka</a> sets the scene for a tough, realistic tale. A flickering image of newborn babies awakens Ayka, a Kyrgyz woman, from her hospital bed in Moscow. As she goes to the restroom to get changed, her plan is clear: abandon the baby she just gave birth to. Her dreams of success, of emancipation from an unwelcoming world, ride roughshod over her own health and her newborn child. The warmth of motherhood transitions to the agony and frost that make up Moscow’s winter season as the viewer runs and stumbles with Ayka, who picks up some icicles from the street to numb the pain in her abdomen as she gets to work in a dodgy chicken packing shop.</p><p dir="ltr">This, then, is the life of an undocumented migrant in Moscow, one whose registration card has expired and is thus at the mercy of both rogue bosses and violent police officers. <a href="https://iq.hse.ru/news/185646001.html">Studies</a> show that between 8 and 10 million foreign workers live in Russia, most of them hailing from Central Asia. While specific sectors attract certain types of migrants, men and women from the post-Soviet south interchangeably take up jobs in cleaning, hospitality and other services. <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2017/03/a-glimpse-into-moscows-little-kyrgyzstan/">Increasingly stringent residence rules</a> have made it easier for foreign workers in Russia to become illegal. And the recent economic crunch in Russia <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/strangers-in-village">has not halted</a> the arrival of labourers from Central Asia. Money transfers from migrant labourers in Russia sustain the economies of the poorest Central Asian countries; <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/29/remittances-from-abroad-are-major-economic-assets-for-some-developing-countries/">Kyrgyzstan</a> remains one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world.</p><p dir="ltr">Playing out this premise, <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8305116/">Ayka</a> depicts real-life repercussions of this migration wave. Migration-related hardships – scarce salaries, irregular jobs, harsh border regulation – pit mothers against their own children in what Dvortsevoy describes as an “anti-life” scenario. In 2010, after reading that hundreds of children were being abandoned in maternity wards in Moscow, Dvortsevoy decided to tell the story of a migrant from Kyrgyzstan who feels she has to pick between taking care of her baby and pursuing a career. Kazakh actress Samal Yeslyamova, who plays Ayka, won the highest prize for <a href="https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/festival/films/ayka">best female role at this year’s Cannes Festival</a> – the first from the former Soviet Union to win the award. Speaking to Open Democracy on the sidelines of this autumn’s <a href="https://365info.kz/2018/08/almatintsy-pervymi-uvidyat-polnuyu-versiyu-filma-ajka/">Almaty Film Festival</a> premiere, Yeslyamova described Ayka as constantly struggling for emancipation. “She’s very ambitious and has a very strong character. She walks away from her own child because she wants to be independent. She tells her sister that she doesn’t want to go back to Kyrgyzstan because she doesn’t want that kind of life,” Yeslyamova says, hinting that this attitude is not uncommon among migrant workers.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Studies&nbsp;show that between 8 and 10 million foreign workers live in Russia, most of them hailing from Central Asia</p><p dir="ltr">Back at her occasional job, the pool of blood from the butchered chickens is soon accompanied by the drippings of blood from Ayka’s womb. These crude parallels keep viewers uncomfortable throughout the length of the movie. The thumping of closing doors and stomping of feet and punches are the most vivid part of the soundtrack, together with the perpetual melody of her phone’s ringtone, which she leaves unanswered for long stretches because she knows that to pick up would only bring more trouble.</p><p dir="ltr">The red of the blood contrasts the white of the ubiquitous snow and the milk that soon starts to drip from Ayka’s breasts, keeping her in constant pain. Her squalid conditions leave her life hanging from a thread, until she is finally helped by a fellow Kyrgyz migrant, a cleaner at a dog shelter. She finally eats and drinks some warm tea. Turning on the radio, the notes of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P52H7f0U0GA">“Cry, Baby!”</a> by comedic pop-star Artur Pirozhkov finally break her grimace of pain into a relieved smile. For Ayka, the first, brief moment of happiness arrives an hour into the movie.</p><p dir="ltr">Yeslyamova says she essentially broke character during this scene, but that doing so brought her performance closer to reality. “Even though she was confined to a small room, she could finally have a moment of happiness because she had found some work to do. When the song came on, I found it funny and I really started to laugh and dance.” </p><p dir="ltr">The contrast between the abandonment of a child and the meticulous care for the dogs’ health starkly makes the point that Ayka and her son’s lives are, quite literally, worse than that of an animal. As Dvortsevoy <a href="https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/festival/actualites/articles/ayka-a-moral-dilemma-in-an-impoverished-society">said</a> in Cannes in May, the unnatural act of leaving a child behind is “what happens when relationships between people and their environment break down to the point that the individuals themselves become morally damaged.” This premonition of inhumanity and moral degradation runs throughout the film. Ayka knows that her precarious life is in danger due to a debt with some Kyrgyz mobsters, who pursue her through wintry Moscow and back home in Kyrgyzstan’s Chuy Valley alike. Violence and rape caused her pregnancy, and she is consciously leaving her unnamed child to a life of further strain. </p><p dir="ltr">Ayka will not show it until the final scene, but she is crushed by having to choose between raising a child and pursuing her dreams of escaping poverty through business (she sleeps with a textbook on how to start a business besides her rugged pillow). The parallel narratives of financial and personal ruin are brought together in the closing scenes, as Ayka carries her five-days-old baby out of the hospital towards the mobsters, who will accept the infant in lieu of cash to pardon her debt. In a last escapade, Ayka makes a sharp turn into a building hallway, letting her tears flow as she breastfeeds her son. The final cut to black leaves the viewer suspended in the sourness of the preceding 90 minutes.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Yeslyamova explains that the film’s intimacy and its succession of harsh contrasts are supposed to show the power of nature over free will</p><p dir="ltr">The full sensorial participation in Ayka’s life is an uncomfortable as it is vivid. Yeslyamova explains that the film’s intimacy and its succession of harsh contrasts are supposed to show the power of nature over free will. “We always tried to portray Ayka’s dream of success as her driving purpose. But the idea of the movie is that nature is stronger than your dreams, your efforts, your plans. You cannot resist nature. This is also why we waited for a harsh snowfall to shoot. Even the weather rebelled against the choice of a mother who abandons her child. With the fading of the snowstorm we wanted to show that Ayka was also changing.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ayka’s unflinching depiction of migrant life in Russia is a fresh example of Dvortsevoy’s attempts to show Central Asians’ true experiences with poverty, bureaucracy and racism. The style may be different, but the director draws on his achievements with 2009’s <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436854/">Tulpan</a>, a love story narrated through the lens of life in the steppe – also presented at Cannes, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize. Perhaps the most consistent note in the film is its critique of the myth of personal success. Ayka is the story of those who struggle in vain in the rat race towards personal wealth. At one point Ayka attends a talk by a motivational speaker, whose scripted liberal refrains echo the bluster of pyramid schemes. Dvortsevoy and Yeslyamova show us a world in which the consequences of these failed platitudes extend even to the primal bonds of motherhood. </p><p dir="ltr">Prior to the Almaty screening, the Shymkent-born director said he hoped his film touched the souls of the viewers. He got his wish: the Kazakh upper-middle-class audience was taken back to harder times, if only for 90 minutes.</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/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine">Listening to Russia’s female migrants</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/edward-lemon-john-heathershaw/can-we-explain-radicalisation-among-central-asia-s-migrants">How can we explain radicalisation among Central Asia’s migrants?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia">A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/womens-rights-in-the-north-caucasus">Women’s rights in Russia&#039;s North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” murders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Paolo Sorbello Migration matters Russia Tue, 06 Nov 2018 16:07:03 +0000 Paolo Sorbello 120411 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “We can’t use the war to justify anything”: photographer Yevgenia Belorusets on documenting Ukraine's most vulnerable groups https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/yevgenia-belorusets-interview <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Displaced persons, migrant workers and Roma – in Ukraine, there are whole communities whose lives remain unknown to society as a whole. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/my-nichego-ne-mozhem-opravdyvat-voinoy" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></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/Christina and Angela Belous.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Christina and Angela Belous.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Christina Belous and Angela Belous, human rights activists from Sumnokuno Petalo, a Roma NGO in Ukraine. Photo: Yevgenia Belorusets. </span></span></span>This month, Ukrainian photographer and writer Yevgenia Belorusets is <a href="https://izolyatsia.org/en/project/izolyatsia/happy_landings_belorusets/">publishing a new book</a> on the stories of women whose lives are changing together with the country they live in. <em>Happy Fallings</em> describes events that took place in Donbas and in peaceful areas of Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your book combines fictional and real women’s stories, including stories from Donbas after the war started. Don’t you think that your readers, not knowing which stories are fictional and which aren’t, might doubt the veracity of all the stories in the book?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Readers have to constantly sense what is happening. Any document is partly a lie, and this is especially true of documentary photography, which only ever conveys a small part of reality. When we look at the world, we should, on the one hand, always believe a document, because this belief lies at the heart of our political position, our ability to act: we believe the document and it spurs us into action. On the other hand, we must, unfortunately, remember that any document is part of a subjective perspective on a situation, and may indeed be subjective to the point of absurdity.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 15.53.22_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 15.53.22_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yevgenia Belorusets. Photo: IST Publishing / Facebook.</span></span></span>My book mustn’t be seen as a reason for journalists to go off and investigate what happened, say, in the east Ukrainian town of Antratsit. It’s impossible to find anyone in the book who has told me any story: the names of all the people and places have been changed.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But isn’t it dangerous to raise doubts about the truth of documentary facts in today’s fragile world?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Of course it is, but this is a book of fiction. The aim isn’t to tell any real story, but to re-establish the right of suppressed, unseen and unheard stories to be told. I was interested to study those types of personal stories that are usually pushed to the margins – the stories about individual fates that are usually remain in the background. This idea is closely linked to Simone de Beauvoir’s book<em>The Second Sex</em> and women’s voices in general.</p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine, the idea that there were people who felt no one listened to them was around for a long time. Sometimes they were even condemned for it.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are you talking about Donbas?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, I am. There was an idea that the fact that people in Donbas claim that they aren’t being heard – this is already a form of betrayal. I wanted to research this kind of betrayal. What did it mean to live with the idea that you weren’t being heard, that no one cared how you lived? This book is called <em>Happy Fallings</em>. It’s not called <em>Documentary Research into Displaced Women Living in Eastern Ukraine</em>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.05.52_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.05.52_0.png" 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'>Photo: Yevgenia Belorusets. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>I am trying to look at a whole slice of reality that consists of various elements: people connected to one another but not seeing one another. They are people <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">who have moved from Eastern Ukraine to other cities</a> and are surviving there. The very type of survival they are experiencing bonds them together and links them to every other person in Ukraine who has tried to survive in another city. They are all in the same situation. And all their stories have remained untold. Anyone who tries to move around and live in different parts of Ukraine encounters enormous difficulties.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Does your current work still involve the Donbas?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’m now involved in a new project connected with Roma communities in Ukraine, how these communities live in different areas of the country. I started with Toretsk, in the Donetsk region: people told me about this town and the heroic work being done by women in a Roma organisation that is trying to radically increase the number of Roma children going to school. They work and engage with families which are often totally illiterate.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/empty Toretsk.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/empty Toretsk.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Toretsk. Photo: Yevgenia Belorusets. </span></span></span>I feel that illiteracy is the Ukrainian Roma community’s biggest secret: Ukrainian society in general is completely unaware of it.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But this isn’t the first time you’ve worked on Ukraine’s Roma community, is it?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">No, it isn’t. I first got involved with Roma when I was working on labour migration in Ukraine. They were from Mizhhirya, a village the Zakarpattya region. I was involved in a large project about Ukrainian labour migration and photographed villages where men and women would leave their families to earn money in Europe and Russia. At that time, 70% of people went to Russia; I don’t know what it’s like now. Then they would return home and invest the money in their families. I left that job when the war broke out, but I’m thinking about going back to it.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did you meet the Roma community there? </strong></p><p>I went to Mizhhirya for a small photo shoot and discovered that there was a district there where Roma lived. The village head, whom I had met and who welcomed me to the village, told me not to go there under any circumstances, because they would “clean me out” and steal my camera and I would be lucky to escape with my life. He asked me not to go there, but I asked him to come with me to meet the Roma&nbsp;– if it was so dangerous, perhaps he could look after me. He categorically refused, which amazed me, and I decided to go anyway. These days I wouldn’t have any qualms, but back then I hadn’t any experience of working with Roma communities.</p><p dir="ltr">When I got to the Roma settlement, the inhabitants looked at me as though I was out of my mind&nbsp;– other people rarely went there. I was met with incredible hospitality. I met a family that was engaged in what we would call voluntary work; they were very poor but extremely religious and went around handing out religious books (there was an illiteracy problem there as well). This family provided dinner in their home for poor families three times a week, as well as lessons in reading and spelling. It was then I realised the extent of their isolation, as well as the fact that there was a community in the village that their neighbours had no idea about.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did you then feel, as an artist working in this area, when Roma settlements in Kyiv were attacked earlier this year?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I was stunned by the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-police-break-silence-after-video-shows-far-right-attack-on-kyiv-roma/29194216.html">Kyiv pogrom</a>. It wasn’t even the consequences, however horrendous they were, that struck me, but the story of how it happened, the scenario itself. Some anonymous patriots and activists exploited the better-off members of Kyiv’s Roma community to put pressure on people living in the settlement and have it destroyed.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.08.53_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.08.53_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="321" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Roma settlement in Bereznyaki, Kyiv, 2017. Photo: Yevgenia Belorusets. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>A well-known Roma singer would turn up, saying that everything was going up in flames and they should get out. Then these same patriots forced this singer, as well as other prosperous Roma and people living in the settlement, to hand over money for rail tickets, so that the Roma could leave. It was like the first stages of genocide, which is carried out by the local community itself: to destroy a Jewish community in the Second World War, you had to enter into communication with the head of the community, and promise the evacuation of the whole, or significant part of, community to safety.</p><p dir="ltr">This echo really struck me, and showed me how short the distance from civilisation to total barbarity is.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are you keeping an eye on how society is changing and how it has reacted to these attacks?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainian society is very complex and diverse. It is genuinely multicultural, with a thousand different groups, but Roma somehow constitute a separate group within this space and are now gradually taking on the role of persecuted and misunderstood minority. It’s as though society doesn’t have the resources to avoid falling into this barbarous state, where there has to be one group representing something absolutely alien, unworthy of any sympathy. Various communities sometimes vie for this role.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/091693d5e3cd5fa4c65033d4386f034f.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/091693d5e3cd5fa4c65033d4386f034f.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Survivor's Syndrome" - an action drawing attention to the threat that Ukraine's Roma communities face, May 2018. Photo: Aleksandr Burlaka. </span></span></span>But there are also positive tendencies. There were volunteer organisations working with children in the Roma settlement, helping and fostering their integration. My problem and fear is that both tendencies exist side by side, but too often it’s the people whose mindset is stuck in the dark ages that win. It is they who were players in Kyiv’s political game, which created the conditions that ensured that the settlement no longer exists.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think that this kind of city politics became possible thanks to the war?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The situation might continue and become more aggressive, or it might disappear during the war. But the point is that the war is undoubtedly having a strong influence on the Ukrainian public, making it anew. But whatever the narrative, how the war changes it – this is up to us. We can’t use the war as an excuse for anything.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Why does Ukrainian society find it so hard to define the people who carry out these attacks? They are often just described as “persons unknown”, “patriots” or simply “young men”.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Society doesn’t know what to call them. These are just random words that are used without thinking. Our political culture is still underdeveloped when it comes to defining the political spectrum, which starts on the left and ends on the right. Even our political parties are uncertain of where they belong on this continuum. We can only guess what they believe. The only word that has remained as a term of abuse since the Second World War is “Fascism”, but it is seen as just a generic insult deprived of meaning.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You and other artists organised an action to show solidarity with the Roma who were being expelled from their settlement. But not many people turned up. Have you found any explanation for this unwillingness of Kyiv residents to take part in your event?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s hard to say, predict or understand, but there are a lot of traumatic experiences in Ukraine right now. By the time Ukraine gained independence, there was already an idea that the country was a victim. An understanding of itself as a victim of aggression. And the war with Russia has intensified these ideas. It’s a question of recognising the full complexity of the situation and the negative actors present in Ukrainian society.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>To find out more about Yevgenia Belorusets' work, visit her website <a href="http://belorusets.com">here</a>.&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/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/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="/od-russia/ganna-sokolova/temporarily-displaced-pensions">Temporarily displaced pensions: how pensioners in Ukraine’s occupied territories survive against all odds</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-targets-same-sex-relationships">Draft legislation in Ukraine targets same-sex relationships</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/ukraine-s-displaced-people-status-unknown">Ukraine’s displaced people: status unknown

</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/katya-myachina/they-said-there-were-no-lgbt-people-in-transnistria">“I got called in by the KGB. They said there were no LGBT people in Transnistria”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Ukraine Tue, 06 Nov 2018 12:42:26 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 120449 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “I’d prefer to die in Poland”: Chechnya’s most famous YouTuber in exile faces deportation to Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marcin-wyrwal-malgorzata-zmudka/tumso-abdurakhmanov <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">After fleeing Chechnya, blogger Tumso Abdurakhmanov came to command a million-strong audience online. But now he could become the latest person&nbsp;to face&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marcin-wyrwal-malgorzata-zmudka/poland-azamat-baiduyev-deportation-kadyrov">“secret” deportation</a>&nbsp;from Poland.</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/Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 11.28.41.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 11.28.41.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tumso Abdurakhmanov. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was originally published in Polish on <a href="https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/tylko-w-onecie/czy-tumso-abdurachmanow-zostanie-odeslany-do-czeczenii/13whkhc?fbclid=IwAR2pD07skcos3yHLJ1WtyA83JjTb1AAJHBPAt7NwRumFDqij_iIMgd3f3EA">Onet</a>. We publish a translation here.</em></p><p dir="ltr">“There was war before, but we were less scared then. Now there is no war, and we are more afraid,” Tumso Abdurakhmanov says sitting in a cafe in a Polish city, where he is hiding from the Chechen security services. </p><p dir="ltr">A small, dark-haired man, Abdurakhmanov is inconspicuous. He orders coffee with milk and adds a few teaspoons of sugar. He tries the coffee, then adds two more. The only thing that sets Abdurakhmanov out from his surroundings is his characteristic beard.</p><p dir="ltr">One day three years ago, this beard changed his life radically: facing persecution by a relative of Chechnya’s authoritarian president Ramzan Kadyrov, Abdurakhmanov was forced to flee his home in the middle of the night. This sent him on a journey that has seen him spend six months in a closed immigration centre in Poland, find himself in the sights of the second most powerful man in Chechnya and, astoundingly, become the most popular YouTuber in his home country. </p><p dir="ltr">Abdurakhmanov’s beard might also be responsible for the Polish state sending him back into the hands of Kadyrov’s security services. &nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">1.</h2><p dir="ltr">This story begins with an accident on 4 November, 2015. Tumso is driving through cloud-covered Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, in his Lada Granta. It is a cheap car suited to the pockets of millions of citizens of the Russian Federation. Like most Chechens, Tumso — a manager at a state telecommunications company — does not make lots of money.</p><p dir="ltr">He stops at the traffic lights before an intersection with Putin Avenue, Grozny’s main artery. This is probably the only street in Russia that bears the president’s name — an illustration of what happened to Chechnya under Kremlin-appointed Ramzan Kadyrov. Unexpectedly, a column of government cars comes out onto the road from behind a corner. Tumso reflexively covers his face. His mustache and beard suggest he is a Sunni, while Chechnya’s official religion is Sufism. </p><p dir="ltr">This can end in problems.</p><p dir="ltr">Tumso drives on the green light, but out of the corner of his eye he notices that the column of cars is turning back. When he stops at the next set of lights, a luxury Mercedes pulls up alongside him. A tinted window rolls down. Behind the wheel sits one of the most recognisable men in Chechnya, and who is believed to be President Kadyrov’s right-hand man.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite being 28 years old, the man with the Mercedes has already managed to hold some of the most prominent positions in the country. At the age of 25, he became the youngest mayor of Grozny in history. Later, he was promoted to the position of Vice-President of the Government and Chechnya’s Minister for Property and Land Relations. Now he is the head of the Presidential Administration and Government of Chechnya. He is called Islam Kadyrov, and he is a relative of President Ramzan Kadyrov.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/31648050166_2d555a4c61_z (2).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/31648050166_2d555a4c61_z (2).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="404" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grozny. CC BY-SA 2.0 Alexxx Malev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>With a wave of the hand, Islam Kadyrov orders Tumso to stop at the side of the road. Abdurakhmanov’s car is surrounded by cars belonging to Kadyrov’s bodyguards. More than a dozen armed men in military uniform exit the cars. They take Tumso’s briefcase and phone, and order him to approach the Mercedes.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Abdurakhmanov, this is what happened next:</p><p dir="ltr">“You don’t know that you are not allowed this kind of beard here?” Islam Kadyrov asks.</p><p dir="ltr">“I haven’t seen any official guidelines,” Tumso says.</p><p dir="ltr">“You know it alright. When we passed you, I saw you trying to hide your beard,” Kadyrov replies. </p><h2>2.</h2><p dir="ltr">After speaking for an hour on the side of the road, Islam Kadyrov orders his bodyguards to detain Tumso. The guards take him to Islam Kadyrov’s official home nestled in a complex of government buildings. In the kitchen of one of the buildings, Islam Kadyrov is waiting for him. A six-hour “hearing” begins: Islam Kadyrov investigates Tumso’s phone, and finds satirical caricatures, photos and videos ridiculing the Chechen authorities’ policies.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Abdurakhmanov, this is what happened next: </p><p dir="ltr">“What I found on the phone is enough to kill you,” says Islam. “I am going to Moscow for three days. During this time, you either leave Chechnya or I will kill you. But there is one more option: if you are ready, we will organise a meeting with the Muslim elders. You admit your mistakes and maybe we’ll solve this problem somehow. Until then, I forbid you to cut your beard or tell anyone about this meeting.”</p><p dir="ltr">Tumso cannot imagine life outside of Chechnya. He agrees to meet the elders.</p><h2 dir="ltr">3.</h2><p dir="ltr">Three days later, Islam Kadyrov’s bodyguards pick Tumso up at his home and take him to the same kitchen where he was questioned before. There are some serious figures waiting for him: Magomed Khiytanayev, Grozny’s chief judge and an adviser to the mayor, Adam Shakhidov, an advisor to Ramzan Kadyrov, and Apti Alaudinov, Chechnya’s Minister of Internal Affairs. After photos of two of Tumso’s friends are found on his phone, they are also brought in. One of them is the head of an immunological laboratory, the other a lawyer.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 11.22.25.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 11.22.25.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="335" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Islam Kadyrov. Source: YouTube. </span></span></span>Islam Kadyrov accuses Tumso and his colleagues of being Wahhabists. In today’s Chechnya, this is an extremely serious accusation. In the 1990s, radical Islamic fighters, who were supporting Chechens in the fight against Russia, began to spread this fundamentalist branch of Islam in the country. “Wahhabists” are commonly associated with the anti-Kadyrov and anti-Putin opposition.</p><p dir="ltr">None of the men admit to being Wahhabists. They are actually Sunni, but this does not improve their situation. Other religions are considered subversive in Chechnya. During the meeting, the interrogators describe in detail the effects of beating, electric shock torture, as well as the conditions in the local prisons. Representatives of the clergy voice their regret that Tumso will not see his children anymore.</p><p dir="ltr">This is their conversation according to Abdurakhmanov:</p><p dir="ltr">“He called you a Wahhabi. He’s ashamed of it,” Islam says to one of Tumso’s colleagues.</p><p dir="ltr">“We’ll settle this when we get out of here,” his friend replies.</p><p dir="ltr">“They think they'll leave here,” an amused Kadyrov says to the other men.</p><p dir="ltr">A man enters the room. He holds a polypropylene tube in his hand.</p><p dir="ltr">“Leave them with me for 10 minutes,” the man asks Islam. “They’ll admit to everything.”</p><p dir="ltr">“It is my house. We can’t beat them here,” Islam objects. </p><p dir="ltr">In the end, Islam decides the following:</p><p dir="ltr">“When I come back from Moscow again, you will bring me all the members of your sect. We will meet again, but together with President Ramzan Kadyrov. If he decides to kill you, I will kill you. If he decides to put you in prison, I’ll put you in prison. And if he decides to release you, I will free you.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">4.</h2><p dir="ltr">Tumso is released at three in the morning. A few hours later, he sends his wife and children to Kazakhstan, because that’s the only place they can travel without passports (which they do not have at that moment). Together with his mother and brother, Abdurakhmanov travels to Georgia. They take as much as they can fit in several suitcases. The rest — their flat, car, furniture, personal belongings — stays behind.</p><p dir="ltr">The next day police appear at Tumso’s work, interviewing neighbours and acquaintances. Islam Kadyrov sends him a voice message on WhatsApp: “You talked to me like a man. You said we would see each other. I thought your word was the word of a man. A man’s word must be kept. I thought you would keep it. I trusted you, and you betrayed me. God does not leave betrayal unpunished. The betrayal which you committed. You understand this. The earth spins on. We will see each other again some time. Then we’ll talk to each other, face to face.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the course of one day, Tumso, an employee of a telecommunications company, has become a wanted criminal. He does not yet know the allegations against him.</p><h2 dir="ltr">5.</h2><p dir="ltr">But for now Tumso has bigger problems on his mind. It takes two days to find a flat for his mother and brother in Tbilisi. Then he flies to Kazakhstan to find a flat for his wife and children, who are waiting in a hotel. He still hopes that the authorities’ mistake will sort itself out in a month, maybe two at the most. With the hotels, air tickets and apartments, his savings are shrinking at a rapid pace.</p><p dir="ltr">There is hope: at the end of December, Tumso receives a call from the head of the police in Grozny, Magomed Dashayev, who promises help in solving the situation if Tumso returns to the country. Tumso wants to return to Chechnya. The family spends New Year’s Eve in a good mood and prepares to return to Grozny.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Georgia recognises that Tumso meets the requirements of necessary to grant him refugee status, but he will not receive it — his presence contradicts the country’s “national interest”</p><p dir="ltr">Shortly after New Year, Tumso receives a letter in which he learns that criminal proceedings against him have been opened in Chechnya. A document dated 12 November states that, at the time of his release, Tumso was located “in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic for purposes contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation.”</p><p dir="ltr">The issue is that on 12 November, Tumso was somewhere completely different — and he has hard evidence for this. But before he publishes it, he must deal with more important matters. For now, he is a wanted “Islamic terrorist”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/yTKktkpTURBXy81ZTMzYzEzYTE3MzE5OTRlZTM5NTg0N2E4YWMyZjBhNy5qcGeSlQLNBOwAwsOVAgDNAvjCww.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/yTKktkpTURBXy81ZTMzYzEzYTE3MzE5OTRlZTM5NTg0N2E4YWMyZjBhNy5qcGeSlQLNBOwAwsOVAgDNAvjCww.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Abdurakhmanov's passport shows that he left Kazakhstan on 12 November 2015, entering Georgia the next day. Source: Personal archive. </span></span></span>The document on the criminal case contains the signature of the same Magomed Dashayev who encouraged him to return to Chechnya and promised to solve his case. Tumso writes to the Georgian government requesting to be granted refugee status.</p><p dir="ltr">For the next nine months, Abdurakhmanov lives in Tbilisi, waiting for his application to be processed. In October 2016, he receives a very strange answer: Georgia recognises that Tumso meets the requirements of necessary to grant him refugee status, but he will not receive it — his presence contradicts the country’s “national interest”. Why? This letter does not explain.</p><h2 dir="ltr">6.</h2><p dir="ltr">Abdurakhmanov decides to make his case public. He contacts the Caucasus branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and tells reporters his story. A recording of the program is published online. This is the first publication for a man who, in a few months, will become the most famous YouTuber on the Chechen internet.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, further appeals in Georgia find no success — much like Tumso’s correspondence with prosecutors in Russia and Chechnya.</p><p dir="ltr">He decides to present his story in a video. For the first time in his life, Tumso turns on the camera and tells his story, showing documents from Georgia, Russia and Chechnya. Within two days, the movie is watched by 80,000 people on YouTube. For a republic of one million people, it is a significant number.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, it is significant enough that the Prosecutor’s Office of the Chechen Republic issues a statement on its website: Tumso learns that at their request, Russia has issued an Interpol warrant for him. His case was marked with the highest alert, the so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">“Red Notice”</a>, used in relation to people wanted for serious crimes. The charge: “Participation in an illegal armed organisation”.</p><p dir="ltr">Tumso records <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZXF8dgaKiE">another film</a> in which he presents clear evidence that on 12 November 2015, when he is accused of being in territory controlled by Islamic State in Syria, he was in a completely different place. In front of the camera, he opens his passport and shows that on 12 November he left his wife, who was staying in Kazakhstan, and flew to Georgia. He did not leave Georgia after 13 November. The Chechen Prosecutor’s Office does not respond to this information, and the Russian Federation does not withdraw the arrest warrant from the Interpol database.</p><p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gZXF8dgaKiE" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture"></iframe><em>Abdurakhmanov responds to the Chechen Prosecutor's Office via video, February 2017. </em></p><p dir="ltr">Tumso publishes more videos online. Tens of thousands of viewers on YouTube rise to hundreds of thousands, then millions. He becomes the most well-known Chechen Youtuber in Russia. Respected human rights organisations, such as Memorial and the Committee against Torture, come to his defence. He is <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/28858039.html">recognised</a> in a media competition run by Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny. He receives a grant from US think tank Freedom House.</p><p dir="ltr">However, Georgia maintains its decision to deport him. Tumso will never know why. The explanation is secret. So he starts looking for a country that will harbour him and his family.</p><h2 dir="ltr">7.</h2><p dir="ltr">Tumso decides on Poland. He cannot enter the Schengen Zone without a visa, but he buys a ticket from Tbilisi to Kaliningrad, with a stopover in Warsaw. On 11 July 2017, Abdurakhmanov lands with his family in Warsaw and, immediately after leaving the plane, approaches a border guard officer, shows him his documents and says: We are refugees.</p><p dir="ltr">The next day, the Polish court decides to arrest Tumso for two months. It turns out that Chechnya put him not only on the Interpol list, but also on the Schengen Information System II (SISII), and included a note that he could be armed and dangerous.</p><p dir="ltr">The family is placed in a <a href="http://www.hfhr.pl/en/conditions-in-guarded-centres-for-foreigners/">guarded centre for foreigners</a> in the south-eastern city of Przemyśl. After two months, Tumso’s detention is extended for another four months. Together with his wife and three children aged two, four and six, Tumso finds himself in conditions that he did not even experience in Chechnya.</p><p dir="ltr">From Tumso’s account:</p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“Maximum restrictions apply there. There’s no internet. You can walk in the courtyard only at certain times. You can go shopping only twice a week, but not everything can be bought: meat and eggs aren’t allowed. You can’t receive food from relatives. Everyone is counted like sheep five times a day. You can not close the door to your cell, guards can come in at any moment. The attitude of some of them is just awful, they are just like doctors. But the worst thing is the uncertainty. You do not know when they might come for you and hand you over to murderers in Russia.”</p><p dir="ltr">Tumso tries to get his name off the Interpol list. Abusing Interpol’s highest-level alert (“Red Notice”) is a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/revenge-by-red-notice-how-azerbaijan-targets-its-critics-abroad">common strategy used by authoritarian countries against dissidents</a>. The mechanism is simple:</p><p dir="ltr">1. The country fabricates a criminal charge: these charges often relate to terrorism, which Europe and the US are particularly concerned about, or membership of Islamic State.</p><p dir="ltr">2. The surname of the person sought is placed in the Interpol database, usually marked with a “Red Notice”.</p><p dir="ltr">3. At any border check or air travel, the wanted person can be detained and handed over to the authoritarian state by Western countries.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the last decade, the abuse of the Interpol system has rather popular among among authoritarian states:</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- in 2005, 2,300 surnames were placed in the Interpol database every day and marked under the “Red Notice”;</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- in 2010: 6,300 names </p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- in 2016: 12,700 names.</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr">After the failed coup in Turkey in 2016, the Erdogan regime sent requests to Interpol to place 60,000 surnames in their databases. </p><p dir="ltr">After analysing the documents sent by Abdurakhmanov, Interpol removes him from the list of wanted people. Germany follows, removing Tumso from the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/borders-and-visas/schengen-information-system_en">Schengen Information System II</a> list. The Russian Federation does not withdraw the arrest warrant for Tumso.</p><h2 dir="ltr">8.</h2><p dir="ltr">In January 2018, the Abdurakhmanov family is released from the guarded centre in Przemyśl in order to wait for further decisions of the Polish state. They immediately hide in one of the cities in Poland, far from places inhabited by the Chechen community. Tumso knows that he must blend in with the crowd to effectively hide from the kadyrovytsy, Ramzan Kadyrov’s private security force. </p><p dir="ltr">On his blog, Abdurakhmanov continues to criticise the Chechen authorities. He talks about arrests, violations of human rights, the public humiliation that people face. His videos gain more viewership than state television in Chechnya.</p><p dir="ltr">Tumso knows that the Kadyrov will not forgive him for fighting for his rights. Every Chechen knows the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I6KSJlPhgM&amp;feature=youtu.be&amp;fbclid=IwAR2KanUylQ13QcMTskI3JXJqm_SNEYTFn8TVkxpq_pSR1HlvGzETcAdTxQ0">famous recording</a> of President Ramzan Kadyrov, in which he addresses fugitives living abroad directly: “One day, maybe in ten or five years, when you become smarter or when parents tell you to come home or when they chase you out of Europe, you will not have anywhere to go. And then I will make you pay for every word.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">9.</h2><p dir="ltr">Just after midnight on 23 August 2018, Tumso receives a call from an unknown number. The caller turns out to be Magomed Daudov, chairman of the parliament of the Republic of Chechnya and, after the collapse of Islam Kadyrov’s career, the second most powerful person in the country. In the First Chechen War, Daudov fought against Russia, but in the second conflict he went over to Putin, for which he received the Order of the Hero of Russia. Today, Daudov is one of those people that makes the whole of Chechnya shake. His name is associated with intimidation, beatings and torture. In 2014, Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta revealed that he was involved in the beating and torture of Ruslan Kutayev, a well-known human rights defender and then president of the Caucasian People’s Assembly.</p><p dir="ltr">The conversation lasts over three hours. The goal is clear: get Tumso to shut up. For the first 10 minutes, Daudov tries to get Abdurakhmanv to give his address, referring to his honesty and honour. When it doesn’t work, Daudov opts for flattery: “You're a smart guy, we need people like you,” he says. Then he starts making threats.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_Чеченской_Республики,_Герой_России_Рамзан_Ахматович_Кадыров_вручает_Председателю_Парламента_Чечни_Магомед_Даудов.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_Чеченской_Республики,_Герой_России_Рамзан_Ахматович_Кадыров_вручает_Председателю_Парламента_Чечни_Магомед_Даудов.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ramzan Kadyrov and Magomed Daudov. Source: Instagram. </span></span></span>In the end, Tumso agrees to meet Daudov in Poland. “They do not let me into Poland,” Daudov replies. “And do you know why? They do not let me in because people in Poland, how to say it in Chechen, have their own customs. I do not want those customs in Chechnya”.</p><p dir="ltr">From the context of the conversation, it appears that Daudov was making a reference to LGBT+ people. Associating Europe with LGBT culture is common in the Russian media. In the programmes of the main state stations, the phrase <a href="https://www.eurozine.com/the-decline-of-gayropa/">“Gayropa”</a> is often heard instead of the word “Europe”.</p><p dir="ltr">Tumso publishes the conversation in three parts on YouTube. The first <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFIsC77234s">becomes the most popular movie on the Russian internet</a>. All three parts have been viewed by over two million people. </p><h2 dir="ltr">10.</h2><p dir="ltr">Some of the most important human rights organisations in Russia — Memorial and Svetlana Gannushkina’s Civic Assistance Committee — come to Tumso’s defence. They have been monitoring the situation in Chechnya itself and abroad for years. In their letters regarding Tumso’s case, they warn that the fears of persecution facing him and his family are absolutely justified; that his family will become an instrument in the hands of the regime; that the Russia federal authorities “have adopted the medieval principle of collective responsibility”; that “torture, falsification and coming up with criminal cases is a common practice of law enforcement in the Chechen Republic”; that victims are subject to “not only torture, but also extrajudicial executions”.</p><p dir="ltr">Human rights defenders warn that the situation in Chechnya, which was already bad, deteriorated further in 2016 and 2017 when “waves of mass detentions, torture in secret prisons, executions” took place. In August 2018, 15 OSCE countries <a href="https://osce.usmission.gov/human-rights-abuses-in-chechnya-15-osce-countries-invoke-vienna-mechanism/">launch the so-called “Vienna Mechanism”</a>, expressing “deep concern about serious violations and violations of human rights in Chechnya”. </p><h2 dir="ltr">11.</h2><p dir="ltr">In December 2017, the first decision in the matter of Abdurakhmanov and his family is announced. Rafał Rogala, the head of Poland’s Office for Foreigners, refuses them refugee status and subsidiary protection. The Office does not recognise the threat to Tumso, although, in a response to Onet, the Office admits that it is aware of the poor situation in Chechnya from documents presented by the Memorial Association, but still states the opposite in the ruling. </p><p dir="ltr">The Office for Foreigners admits that Tumso has a credible alibi against the accusations of the Chechen Prosecutor’s Office. It also admits that this action by the Chechen authorities may be considered persecution. The Office further states, however, that since Tumso has not yet been convicted, there can be no question of persecution. The Office for Foreigners states that Tumso is not in danger of death because “according to the ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation [...] a sentence of capital punishment can not be declared or executed.”</p><p dir="ltr">In its decision, the Office for Foreigners does not observe that Tumso has suffered from any persecution at the hands of the Chechen Republic. It also maintains the opinion that the general security situation in Chechnya has improved in recent years, in comparison with when the country was at war. In an email to Onet, the Office states: “There is no general armed conflict in this territory, thus the general security situation has improved.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">12.</h2><p dir="ltr">Tumso appeals to Poland’s Refugee Council. This body admits that Tumso may face repression in Chechnya for his anti-government videos on YouTube, and that he could be granted refugee status or subsidiary protection as a result. However, the Council does not grant this status, citing the negative opinion of Poland’s domestic counterintelligence service, the Internal Security Agency (ABW). It is unknown why the ABW’s opinion is negative, as it remains secret.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is another of many cases in which a foreigner’s right to defend themselves is violated,” says Jacek Białas, a lawyer from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. “Previously, there was <a href="http://politicalcritique.org/cee/poland/2017/ameer-alkhawlany-still-detained/">Ameer Alkhawlany</a>, an Iraqi doctoral student, <a href="https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/polands-deportation-of-human-rights-activist-the-back-story/">Ludmila Kozlowska</a>, the Ukrainian head of the Open Dialog Foundation, or <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marcin-wyrwal-malgorzata-zmudka/poland-azamat-baiduyev-deportation-kadyrov">Azamat Baiduyev</a>, a Chechen who, after being expelled by Poland, ended up in a Chechen prison. Each of these people was expelled from Poland based on the opinion of the Internal Security Agency, which remained secret not only for the public, but also for people being expelled. These people are unable to address the allegations against them, and their right to defend themselves has been violated. Complete secrecy can lead to abuses of power, and besides, Polish law has been violated. In the case of [Azamat] Baiduyev, there are additional violations because Polish law prohibits the deportation of people to countries where they are threatened with torture and death. And Tumso Abdurakhmanov is facing this.” </p><p dir="ltr">“The Refugee Council received an extensive body of evidence from us in favour of Tumso,” says Abdurakhmanov’s attorney from Poland’s <a href="http://panstwoprawa.org/?lang=en">Rule of Law Institute</a>, which is dealing with the YouTuber’s case. “But when two weeks before the final decision was issued, we received a note from the ABW, the Council just accepted it without consideration. They relied on this one piece of evidence, which is of dubious quality and which they did not assess. This is a violation of the law.”</p><p dir="ltr">Dr Paweł Dąbrowski, chairman of Poland’s Refugee Council, which issued the final decision, says: “Actually, we were moving towards granting Mr Abdurakhmanov refugee status. At the end of our proceedings, the head of the Internal Security Agency sent a letter to the Council, in which he stated that Mr Abdurakhmanov’s presence on the territory of the Republic of Poland posed a threat to state security. The council members have access to classified information, and have read the justification and agreed with the opinion of the Internal Security Agency. At our stage, we have acted accordingly.”</p><p dir="ltr">In response, we asked the following question: “You don’t give Tumso the opportunity to address the charges against him because they are secret. Doesn’t this violate his right to defend himself?”</p><p dir="ltr">Dr Paweł Dąbrowski: “It is true that Mr Abdurakhmanov could not refer to the letter of the ABW because of its secrecy. It may be the model of many other European countries to consider the introduction of a special procedure in which a special representative is appointed. This representative would not disclose the content of the letter to his client, but he would be able to read it himself and thus defend the client’s interests. In this respect, there is a certain dysfunction of Polish law. This dysfunction can not be removed by the authorities, for example by applying the directive directly.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Since receiving the Refugee Council’s decision, Tumso has 30 days to leave Poland. But he won’t leave — he has nowhere to go</p><p dir="ltr">Andrzej J. Reichelt, who acts as legal counsel to Tumso, claims that the Refugee Council violated not only Polish law, which obliges the Council to participate effectively in asylum proceedings, but also EU law regarding Tumso’s right to defend himself. “There is no doubt about the primacy of EU law over Poland,” he says. “If Polish law is imprecise or contrary to EU law, then EU law should be applied.” </p><p dir="ltr">Onet addressed a number of questions to Poland’s Ministry of Interior and Administration. We asked whether the Ministry upholds its opinion on the “good” security situation in Chechnya, or if the Internal Security Agency had contacted the Ministry in connection with the possible expulsion of Tumso Abdurakhmanov, and whether the Ministry is considering expelling him from Poland. The Ministry did not address any of these questions in its reply.</p><p dir="ltr">Onet also addressed questions to the Russian Interior Ministry. We have not received an answer.</p><h2 dir="ltr">13.</h2><p dir="ltr">Tumso is still hiding with his family in Poland. In September, his wife gave birth to a daughter. “I try not to let myself think that I might go to Chechnya,” he says. “I’d prefer to die in Poland at the hands of a Kadyrov hitman than to find myself in their hands. They can do with me what they like there. They can kill me immediately and say that I have hanged myself or can torture me.”</p><p dir="ltr">Since receiving the Refugee Council’s decision, Tumso has 30 days to leave Poland. But he won’t leave — he has nowhere to go. Proceedings will be automatically initiated to force him to return to Chechnya. The deportation procedure can be started at any time.</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/marcin-wyrwal-malgorzata-zmudka/poland-azamat-baiduyev-deportation-kadyrov">Poland vs. Azamat Baiduyev: how an EU member state deported a Chechen refugee back to face the Kadyrov regime </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya">No defence in Chechnya: Oyub Titiyev and the grim future of human rights in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/the-second-chechen-war">The Second Chechen War: Testimony of an Eyewitness</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Małgorzata Żmudka Marcin Wyrwał Chechnya Mon, 05 Nov 2018 10:43:57 +0000 Marcin Wyrwał and Małgorzata Żmudka 120417 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Back in the USSR: meet the people calling for the restoration of the Soviet Union https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-eremeyev/back-in-the-ussr <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Soviet passport-holders are agitating for a revival of the USSR and a takeover of the British crown. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-eremeev/back-in-the-ussr" 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/562891/27959930308_dbc9b2606d_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/27959930308_dbc9b2606d_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Aleksandr Kovalev / Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In April this year, police in St Petersburg’s historic Kupchino district stopped two men, Otabek Mirsadirov, 42, and Khashimboy Abdurakhmanov, 41, to check their papers. Born in Tajikistan, both men produced ID documents very reminiscent of the 1974 Soviet passport, but updated for the 21st century. The visitors claimed that they were citizens of the Soviet Union – and therefore needed no ID documents to regulate their stay in the city. Neither the police nor the judges were convinced. In July, the two men were deported to Tajikistan.</p><p dir="ltr">These Soviet-style documents had been issued by the St Petersburg branch of the <a href="http://souzknr.ru/">Union of Native Peoples of Rus</a> (SKNR) organisation. The men had been told that the Soviet Union had not, in fact, collapsed and that the Russian Empire was still in existence. When Mirsadirov and Abdurakhmanov found themselves in trouble, the SKNR offered them legal support throughout the proceedings.</p><p dir="ltr">This sadly farcical case, then, is another reminder of the fact that in Russia today there are people who continue to distribute Soviet state positions, elect one another to Soviet institutions, and refuse their Russian citizenship for the sake of restoring the Soviet Union.</p><h2>Replica documents</h2><p>According to the charter of the Union of Native Peoples of Rus, the treaties between the Soviet republics and the USSR’s 1977 constitution are still in force. Members of the organisation are clear that the Soviet Union is still in existence, but temporarily occupied by an external enemy, which they consider to be a private company created by Britain and ruled through PM Dmitry Medvedev.</p><p dir="ltr">SNKR activists believe that everyone should consider themselves citizens of the Soviet Union, since no one ever asked them whether they wanted to take Russian citizenship. For identification, they use old-style internal passports, emblazoned with the hammer and sickle, and the organisation provides those who don’t have one with new papers very similar to the original, except for the watermark in the paper.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s unclear how many people have taken advantage of this offer. SKNR activists can’t give a definite figure, but claim that there are around a million of them. The organisation’s VKontakte social media page has about 800 followers, but in the video clips they post on their site you see the same people over and over again.</p><p dir="ltr">Nina Kokoryshkina, from the town of Kommunar in the Leningrad region, who is one of them, tells me how she became a convert to their cause:</p><p dir="ltr">“There was a big banner hanging over the road to Pulkovo, reading ‘Gas belongs to the people’. I used to look at it every day as I went past, and wonder how something supposedly belonging to ordinary Russians, including me, could be constantly going up in price. In 2011 I wrote to Putin, asking him to give me my share of the Russian Federation’s expenditure on gas, and I would settle up at the end of the year, just as the officials do.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Presidential Administration replied to Kokoryshkina that “power” in Russia doesn’t belong to her, but the people in general, and that any attempt to seize power would be prosecuted under law. This only inspired Kokoryshkina to make further searches for the truth on the internet, and to become acquainted with Tatyana Barysheva, the SKNR’s chairperson.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 12.30.35_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 12.30.35_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nina Kokoryshkina. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Barysheva’s role was entirely self-appointed, as were those of her associates Khafiza Lysenko and Evgeniya Khrustaleva. The three held the organisation’s first meeting on 27 January 2011, when they recognised the SKNR as the lawful successor to the USSR. They also confirmed the adoption of a red flag with a crest in the shape of a yellow wreath surrounding a yellow sun on a red background.</p><p dir="ltr"><br />Later, as well as heading the SKNR, Barysheva also appointed herself Interior Minister of the USSR and became the only administrator of the group’s VKontakte page. By this time, the organisation had begun to issue Soviet and SKNR ID documents affirming that their holders were “natives” living on their primordial lands.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The fight for the right to a life based on these documents is the group’s current priority. Its members are attempting to use them to buy airline and rail tickets, as well as creating their own bank cards, attending court sessions and accessing health services. Activists claim it sometimes works. Nina Kokoryshkina, for example, says she acquired a bank card using a Soviet ID document issued by the SKNR.</p><h2>A Supreme Soviet</h2><p dir="ltr">By 2014, the organisation was strong enough to hold elections to a Supreme Soviet and Council of People’s Deputies. The first comprised 24members (whose names will mean nothing to the wider public) and the second had around 300 members elected from all the former Soviet Republics and RSFSR regions. According to SKNR activists, they deliberately added a few well known names to the candidates’ list, to make the elections seem more interesting and so attract more attention to them. Later, a few well-known media deputies were expelled, including celebrity TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak, who was “outed” as the daughter of an anti-Soviet politician.</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, almost all of the current “People’s Deputies of the USSR” whose faces can be seen on the SKNR website are recognisable public figures. Most of them probably aren’t aware of their status. The Leningrad region, for instance, counts not only Ksenia Sobchak, but State Duma member Sergey Zhelezhyak (a member of the ruling United Russia Party) and former St Petersburg legislative assembly members Igor Korovin and Vladimir Dmitriyev. Among other parliamentarians are journalist Sergey Dorenko, ex-gymnast Alina Kabayeva, former Estonian Minister of Culture Urve Tiidus and many other well known Russian politicians, such as Duma member Vera Ganzya. Comedian Garik Martirosyan, meanwhile, represents the “Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic”, while current Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka represents his former Soviet Socialist Republic. The head of Moscow’s City Duma Oleg Adabashyan, who studied in Riga, represents Latvia for the SKNR.</p><p dir="ltr">You can find <a href="https://vk.com/videos243240023?z=video243240023_456239458%2Fpl_243240023_-2">video recordings </a>of the latest, 19th Congress of RSFSR and USSR Soviets (which took place on 7 July this year) on the internet. It occupied a fairly small room, reminiscent of a school classroom, and there were just a few dozen people there, most of them pensioners. They were electing, out of those present, members of the Council of People’s Commissars, the Supreme Court and Central Election Commission of the USSR, as well as debating other questions of national importance.</p><h2>Connections with reality</h2><p dir="ltr">Apart from SKNR holding their own, Soviet elections, one of their members tried to participate in the Moscow’s regular mayoral election in September this year.</p><p dir="ltr">The city’s Election Commission website holds information on independent candidate Vladimir Kuvshinov, 77, who was denied registration. Kuvshinov tells me that he, as well as oppositionist Dmitry Gudkov, failed to squeeze through the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Municipal_filter_(Russia)">“municipal filter”</a> – the system of collecting signatures for potential candidates. The pensioner refers to himself as a “lifelong Moscow mayoral candidate”. He has tried to register his candidacy at every election since the 1990s, but always without success. And although Kuvshinov doesn’t recognise the fall of the Soviet Union and advocates for the restoration of the Russian Empire, he would happy to be elected as Moscow’s mayor. “We need to improve our material well-being,” he says.</p><p dir="ltr">The Union of Native Peoples of Rus is not the only organisation bringing together people who are convinced of the continuing existence of the Soviet Union. There are the supporters of Sergey Taraskin, a dentist in the Moscow satellite town of Zelenograd, who after failing in business announced that he was the “acting president of the USSR”. As the MediaZona website <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/08/21/outsiders-1-president">reported</a>, Taraskin began acting as Soviet leader in 2010, having described last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as a “deserter”. He posts orders on social media and claims that occupied Russia is ruled by its US ambassador. In July this year, the RBC media group announced that FSB investigators had <a href="https://www.rbc.ru/society/26/07/2018/5b59a16e9a79473908eae011">searched</a> the “acting president’s” home in connection with an investigation into public incitement to extremist activity, and Taraskin was questioned as a witness. The SKNR preferred not to discuss Taraskin, instead calling the dentist a “charlatan” and “provocateur”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.47.31.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.47.31.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sergey Taraskin. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Taraskin’s supporters do seem more radical than the SKNR, which is, for example, positive about many current politicians and especially about Vladimir Putin. It also has an ambiguous attitude to Donald Trump. At any rate they view the British government as the occupying power, rather than him. On 23 September, SKNR leaders invited the entire staff of the National Audit Office led by Alexey Kudrin to its Audit Chamber.</p><p dir="ltr">Barysheva’s supporters, however, feel that some government bodies are working in the interests of foreign governments: they disapprove, among other things of the work of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the judiciary, which they frequently have to deal with.</p><h2>An Imperial Twist</h2><p dir="ltr">Russia’s Imperial Standard, with its black double-headed eagle on a gold background, hangs next to the SKNR’s red banner at all its meetings and congresses. This imperial turn to the organisation became evident in 2017, when certain revealing documents started appearing on its site. On 24 February this year, several dozen people <a href="http://souzknr.ru/2018/novosti-ot-24-fevralya-2018-goda/">gathered</a> in the village of Aborino, in the Moscow region, for “a ceremony to celebrate the preparation of the Russian people for Empire”.</p><p dir="ltr">The idea behind the ceremony was that after the abdication of Nicholas II and his brother Mikhail, the right to rule Russia passed to the Russian people, but there was still no appropriate ritual to enshrine it in law. So after this ceremony finally took place, all SKNR’s supporters began to call themselves co-emperors. They see no contradiction between the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. They say that there are no documents confirming the collapse of the Russian Empire, which means it should be restored to its state in the early 20th century. But since it’s not easy for people to get their heads around this idea, they first need to recognise the integrity of the USSR.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.48.30.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-11-01 um 16.48.30.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2018: SKNR hold a ceremony to celebrate the "preparation of the Russian people for Empire”. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>SKNR’s restoration plans aren’t limited to the Russian Empire. They believe that Russia has the right to inherit the wealth of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Charles, they say, isn’t a worthy successor, as he sullied his biography with his <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morganatic_marriage">“morganatic” marriage</a> to Diana, who was far below him in rank. Nicholas II, on the other hand, was a cousin of King George V . The organisation believes that if the powers of the last Russian Tsar were passed to his people, the Russian people have the right to claim the Crown of the British Empire. Kuvshinov, the organisation’s imperial source of inspiration, believes Russians also have the right to rule in Rome, although admittedly he hasn’t shared the details of how he will accomplish the technical unification of these two areas with us.</p><p dir="ltr">The question of how to put the Union of Native Peoples of Rus’ ambitious ideas into operation is a difficult one. They insist that they don’t want revolution and a violent change of government. They plan, instead, to restore the USSR by handing out Soviet ID documents to everyone and making complaints to every possible governmental body. Meanwhile, naive migrant workers such as Otabek Mirsadirov and Khashimboy Abdurakhmanov will be deported to friendly republics – the SKNR admits that recently, this has been happening with growing frequency.</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="/dmitry-okrest/stalins-back">Stalin&#039;s back</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/how-conservative-is-the-russian-regime">How conservative is the Russian regime?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-rowley/russia-s-wild-decade-how-memories-of-1990s-are-changing">Russia’s wild decade: how memories of the 1990s are changing</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-geyn/russias-rising-retirement-age">Russia’s rising retirement age: six real stories</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergey Eremeyev Russia Fri, 02 Nov 2018 15:47:11 +0000 Sergey Eremeyev 120410 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Mimetic power: how Russia pretends to be a normal member of the international community https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anton-shekhovtsov/mimetic-power-russia-international-community <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/me_0.jpg" alt="me_0.jpg" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /></p><p>When it comes to promoting its influence abroad, the Russian state relies on mimicry and imitation.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_2360344.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_2360344.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Olympic and Russian flags at the opening ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Photo: Alexander Wilf / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Addressing Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives in July 2012, President Vladimir Putin <a href="http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/15902">complained</a> that while Russian diplomats were “well versed in the traditional and familiar methods of international relations”, there was “still much to reflect on” using “‘soft power’ methods”. “Soft power,” as Putin interpreted it, was “about promoting one’s interests and policies through persuasion and creating a positive perception of one’s country, based not just on its material achievements, but also its spiritual and intellectual heritage.”</p><p dir="ltr">For Putin, the problem with using soft power methods was that it was not the Russian authorities who were forming the country’s image abroad, but foreign actors who failed to assess “the real situation” in Russia or appreciate the country’s “contribution to global civilisation, science and culture”. The fault of the Russian authorities (and particularly, as it seemed, the country’s diplomats) was that they failed “to adequately explain” Russia’s position to other nations, implying, as it is often the case, the West.</p><p dir="ltr">Oddly enough, it is this very interpretation of soft power by Putin that, among other things, makes its use so problematic for Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">While explaining the concept to Russian diplomats, Putin viewed Russia’s soft power as either diplomacy, or most likely, propaganda that can be made available, or even enhanced or intensified, at will. Soft power, however, according to Joseph Nye’s <a href="https://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/titles/joseph-s-nye-jr/soft-power/9780786738960/">discussion of the concept</a>, is the pre-existing ability to influence other countries through attraction, with resources of soft power being a nation’s political values, culture and foreign policy. Being a pre-existing ability, soft power differs from an immediate action that, for example, can be a diplomatic action, propaganda effort or humanitarian gesture.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Various kinds of public events hosted by Russia used to reiterate ostensible triumph of Russian high culture were marred by some action by the state that turned attraction into repulsion</p><p dir="ltr">Many things have changed since summer 2012. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and started a war on Ukraine; in 2015, it became involved in the Syrian civil war to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime; in 2016, Russia interfered in the US presidential elections. Various kinds of mass public events hosted by Russia (such as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anar-valiyev-natalie-koch/sochi-syndrome">international sport competitions</a>) were used to create and reiterate a narrative about continuous domestic and global triumph of Russian high culture (a concoction of references to literature, classical music, ballet, art, etc). And yet, each of those events was marred by some action by the Russian state, or its consequences, that turned attraction into repulsion. The tremendous success of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was quickly overshadowed by the shocking land grab in Crimea, while the positive emotions derived from the celebration of the “beautiful game” at the 2018 FIFA World Cup turned sour when the British authorities and investigative journalists from <a href="https://www.bellingcat.com/tag/skripal/">Bellingcat</a> and <a href="https://theins.ru/politika/117161">The Insider</a> identified the men who almost killed former Russian spy Sergey Skripal earlier this year as Russian intelligence officers. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_5523133.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_5523133.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="348" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A worker at the construction site of the FIFA Fans Festival in St. Petersburg for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Photo: Alex Danichev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>What happened when Moscow realised that it was dramatically failing to use “soft power” to influence Western nations through attraction? Not only after 2014 but even before, they must have realised that the Kremlin’s political values did not match prevailing Western values and that its peculiar international behaviour – no matter how assured they were of its legitimacy and credibility – was one of the reasons for the deterioration of the relations with the West. Russian official diplomacy and public diplomacy can still draw upon what they believe to be Russian high culture as an important resource of soft power, but it has limited value considering the failures that overshadow Russia’s cultural achievements.</p><p dir="ltr">Rather than changing its political values or domestic and foreign policies, Russia – more specifically the authorities and Russian pro-Kremlin actors – morphed Russian soft power into what I call “mimetic power”.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s mimetic power is the ability to influence Western nations by creating the impression that Russia is a normal member of the international community and emulating what pro-Kremlin actors perceive as Western soft power techniques. By presenting Russia as a credible and responsible international partner, Moscow is trying to convince the West – especially following the Ukraine-related escalation of the conflict between the West and Russia – to lift the sanctions, go back to “business as usual”, and ultimately stop any attempts to democratise Russia (Moscow sees the latter as Western attempts to bring about a regime change in Russia). The emulation of perceived Western soft power techniques serves two objectives: first, to contribute to the creation of the image of Russia adapted to the Western normalcy, and, second, to undermine Western resolve to stand up to Moscow’s subversive activities.</p><p dir="ltr">One important trait of Russia’s mimetic power is its insistence on Russia’s moral high ground in its relations with the West, and this insistence borders on self-victimisation. Writing on “a mimetic cold war” shortly before the Ukraine-related escalation of the conflict between Russia and the West, Richard Sakwa <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2012.710584">argued</a> that the basis of Russia’s new assertiveness was “not an attempt to change the normative basis of the existing world order, but the claim that its equal participation in that system [had] not been fully acknowledged”. One may dispute today his assumption that Russia is not trying to change the world order, but Sakwa’s argument about Russia’s claim about equal participation in the Western system aptly correlates with Putin’s complaint about the West’s alleged failure to appreciate Russia’s “contribution to global civilisation, science and culture”.</p><p dir="ltr">Building on the Soviet contribution to the Allied victory in the Second World War – the one which the Soviet Union initially started together with the Third Reich by co-invading Poland in September 1939 – Putin’s Russia presents itself as a major anti-fascist force that watches over the world to thwart the resurrection of fascism. This agrees with the Western liberal-democratic consensus that is anti-fascist by default, but Russia goes further than simply showing off its seemingly militant anti-fascist stance. It claims that the West is actually conniving at, <a href="https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201503171019622653/">if not directly encouraging</a>, the revival of fascism in Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">This is a blueprint for exercising Russia’s mimetic power: to draw on a legitimate source of soft power (historical victory over fascism), couple a self-declared status (Russian anti-fascism) with the inherent status of Western liberal democracy (anti-fascism) to showcase Russia’s compatibility with the Western normalcy (defensive mimicry), and then attack the West – from the apparent positions of Western normalcy – for betraying its own principles (offensive mimicry).</p><p>The same logic of mimetic power is applied to concepts such as “human rights” or “anti-terrorism”. The Kremlin and pro-Kremlin actors know that these concepts are important for Western liberal democracies; therefore, they employ these concepts to show adaptation to the Western normalcy, but only to turn them against Western states by accusing them of violation of human rights or equipping terrorists.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, Russian officials would regularly slam Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for allegedly infringing on the rights of Russian-speaking minorities, while Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs would publish a series of <a href="http://www.mid.ru/en/diverse/-/asset_publisher/8bWtTfQKqtaS/content/id/698433">“white books”</a> discussing “violations of human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine” at the same time as other Russian agencies send military forces to invade Ukraine. Yet when human rights “go too far”, implying that Moscow fails to wriggle out of particular criticisms, Russian officials have a readymade excuse: Western human rights contradict <a href="http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2258885">“the fundamentals of our culture based on Orthodox Christianity”</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Western human rights ostensibly contradict “the fundamentals of Russian culture based on Orthodox Christianity”</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, only Russia “has legal grounds for fighting terrorists in Syria” <a href="http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2258885">according</a> to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. And the fight that the US-led coalition wages against terrorists in Syria is not simply illegitimate. The Russian Defence Ministry goes as far as to <a href="http://tass.com/defense/975528">claim</a> that the US provided direct support for ISIS in Syria. And this was Russian state media that ran <a href="http://observers.france24.com/en/20180514-white-helmets-allegations-fact-fiction">a massive disinformation campaign</a> — <a href="https://www.rt.com/news/381542-white-helmets-al-qaeda-members/">possibly coordinated</a> with Assad’s regime in Syria — that aimed at smearing as terrorists Syria’s first responders known as “White Helmets”.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet the use of mimetic power can go well beyond rhetorical exercises, as its logic can underpin actual subversive activities.</p><p dir="ltr">To understand this aspect of Russian mimetic power better, it is important to look again at how the Russian authorities interpret soft power. According to the now void yet still insightful <a href="http://www.mid.ru/foreign_policy/official_documents/-/asset_publisher/CptICkB6BZ29/content/id/122186?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_CptICkB6BZ29&amp;_101_INSTANCE_CptICkB6BZ29_languageId=en_GB">Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation</a> (adopted in 2013), soft power is “a comprehensive toolkit for achieving foreign policy objectives building on civil society potential, information, cultural and other methods and technologies alternative to traditional diplomacy”. At the same time, in times of crisis, the use of soft power (and “human rights concepts”, as they put it) can be “destructive and unlawful” as it aims “to exert political pressure on sovereign states, interfere in their internal affairs, destabilise their political situation, manipulate public opinion, including under the pretext of financing cultural and human rights projects abroad.”</p><p dir="ltr">Arguing about the “destructive and unlawful” use of soft power, the Russian authorities obviously implied that it was the West that misused soft power to exert pressure on Russia. However, we have witnessed that Russia itself has been engaged in the “destructive and unlawful” use of what it calls “soft power” and performed all the activities that were linked to the misuse of “soft power”. Russia has exerted economic and political pressure on sovereign states, interfered in their internal affairs, destabilised their political situation, and manipulated public opinion. </p><p dir="ltr">This is what Moscow imagines as “normal misuse” of “soft power” in times of crisis. But this is not soft power: these are actions informed by mimetic power, a capacity to exert influence by imitating what it considers normal political behaviour and emulating soft power techniques of the West.</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/anton-shekhovtsov/kremlin%E2%80%99s-marriage-of-convenience-with-european-far-right">The Kremlin’s marriage of convenience with the European far right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oleksandra-matviychuk-volodymyr-yermolenko/why-russia-should-not-enjoy-impunity-in-council">Why Russia should not enjoy impunity in the Council of Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/bulgaria-how-not-to-mistake-russian-propaganda-for-russian-policy">Bulgaria: how not to mistake Russian propaganda for Russian policy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-kobrin/eternally-wonderful-present-or-russia-s-need-for-new-culture">The Eternally Wonderful Present, or Russia’s need for a new culture</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 class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/katarzyna-kaczmarska-vincent-keating/feared-for-all-wrong-reasons-workings-of-russia-s-con">Feared for all the wrong reasons? The workings of Russia’s conservative soft power</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-over-the-barriers">Over the barriers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anton Shekhovtsov Russia Wed, 31 Oct 2018 08:08:44 +0000 Anton Shekhovtsov 120371 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Draft legislation in Ukraine targets same-sex relationships https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-targets-same-sex-relationships <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A Ukrainian MP has introduced legislation to criminalise same sex relationships and protect traditional values. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-bezruk/nenavist-k-lgbt" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 12.32.29_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 12.32.29_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleksandr Vilkul. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Catrifle / Wikipedia. </span></span></span>Earlier this month, Oleksandr Vilkul, an MP from Ukraine’s Opposition Bloc party, the successor to Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, registered <a href="http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=64775">draft bill No.9183</a>, “on the introduction of changes in certain legislation in Ukraine relating to the protection of public morals and traditional values”. </p><p dir="ltr">This is Vilkul’s first legislative foray into LGBT and gender issues. Most of Vilkul’s <a href="http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/pt2/reports.dep2?PERSON=8737&amp;SKL=9">draft bills</a> since Ukraine’s 2014 parliamentary election have concerned pensioners’ social welfare, the rights of temporarily displaced persons, education, budget amendments, taxes and land regulations. In June 2018, however, the MP filed several draft bills on the same subject areas as those he has revisited now — public morality and family values, changes to the Action Plan for the implementation of Ukraine’s national Human Rights strategy up to 2020, and creating a basis for the country’s family policies. </p><p dir="ltr">In the explanatory note to draft bill No.9183, Vilkul stresses the need for such a law, given that the state is paying particular attention to “the artificially created problem of discrimination against people with non-traditional sexual orientation”. The accompanying documentation to the bill makes no reference to attacks faced by LGBT activists in Ukraine or how the police classify these attacks. Ukraine’s Penal Code contains a specific article on hate crime, but it often remains unused in such cases, and most attacks are qualified under “hooliganism”. Vilkul also explains why equality marches, Pride events, gay parades and queer culture festivals must be banned as forms of “deviant behaviour”. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The bill proposes to remove the terms “sexual orientation”, “gender identity”, “gender equality” and “gender-based legal assessment” from Ukrainian legislation</p><p dir="ltr">The MP’s draft bill provides for a fine of an amount between 1,000 and 1,500 non-taxable minimum incomes for “demonstrating same-sex relationships”, which is to be raised to the amount of 3,000 non-taxable minimum incomes if the “offender” is a public official of any kind. A repeat offence may result in a three to five year custodial sentence, with officials liable to a four to six year sentence. Importing publications that “promote same sex relationships”, their distribution and possession will entail a prison term of up to three years. The bill also proposes to remove the terms “sexual orientation”, “gender identity”, “gender equality” and “gender-based legal assessment” from Ukrainian legislation. Vilkul dismisses these terms as anti-scientific and ideologically biased. He would like to replace them with “equal rights and opportunities for men and women”, “a legal assessment to ensure equal rights and opportunities for men and women” and “a culture of ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women”.</p><p dir="ltr">Vilkul’s draft bill would provide different rights to balance its restrictions on LGBT rights: financial aid during pregnancy, childbirth and maternity leave and after the age of three (at present, women are entitled to partially paid leave until their child’s third birthday); social grants and financial help for students from large families and orphaned students and free school meals and transport for pupils in school classes 1-4 (7-11 year olds – ed.). The bill would also allow existing schools to be closed down only if the communities in their local villages and towns agree to this step. According to the MP, all the social welfare initiatives he proposes are designed to support families and the children growing up in them. But the bill’s logic, and evidently also Vilkul’s, excludes any connection between LGBT people and families, as if children, and consequently maternity leave and benefits, can only happen in heterosexual families. </p><p dir="ltr">The bill will be examined by a number of parliamentary committees, including the Committees on Family Issues, Youth Policies, Sport and Tourism and Freedom of Speech and Information Policies. But the most pertinent committee is the Committee on Human Rights, Ethnic Minorities and Inter-Ethnic Relations. This is how a frankly homophobic bill designed to work on the “carrot and stick” principle, where criminal charges for same-sex relationships are matched with free school meals, will progress through hearings by a committee which is forbidden to permit any kind of discrimination in legislative initiatives. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 12.41.49_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 12.41.49_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March of equality, 2018, Kyiv. Source: YouTube.</span></span></span>This particular initiative of Vilkul’s will probably not pass the first hurdle and will be sent off for reworking, if not rejected out of hand. But it’s worth taking not just the antidemocratic views of its creator into account, but the time at which it was registered in parliament. </p><p dir="ltr">There’s just over half a year left before Ukraine’s next presidential election and a year before its parliamentary elections. The approach of these dates is evident in the infinite variety of pre-election political PR and propaganda. The opposition is exercised by the number of potholes in the roads around the country, while the government stresses the number that have been resurfaced. For many years now, candidats have been buying voters’ support with food parcels containing buckwheat kasha, sunflower oil and conserves. Some parcels also contain election leaflets, to remind people who they should vote for. But while the free food is still a few months away, the Opposition Bloc MP has decided to target the voters with tales of the differences in value systems between Ukraine and the EU, which continues to “inflict propaganda of homosexual relationships” on the former. It’s easy, after all, to say that the government and media are hung up on the country’s LGBT issues, while forgetting the plight of children who require assistance. </p><p>One of the most vulnerable groups in society has become a punch bag, to be bashed at the slightest opportunity. Political propaganda, even in wartime, continues to polarise a society that is already divided by the physical borders of the occupying “governments” in Donbas and Crimea. Meanwhile, gay people <a href="https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/features-russian-45369500">take part in art projects</a>, showing that they too are volunteers, whether civil or military, and soldiers. In return, they face possible arrest and prison. And the people who are proposing this are former members of the party of fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych, whose case is currently being heard in Kyiv’s Obolonsky courthouse.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-chesnokov/the-illuminator-project">Meet Illuminator, the online project making space for discussing LGBT issues in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nadzeya-husakouskaya/sex-change-commission-in-ukraine">The sex change commission in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-kondakov/putting-russia-s-homophobic-violence-on-map">Putting Russia’s homophobic violence on the map</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">What are the real barriers to freedom of assembly in Ukraine?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Tetiana Bezruk Ukraine Thu, 25 Oct 2018 11:08:26 +0000 Tetiana Bezruk 120273 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Abuse of power? On the trail of China's mystery millions in Kyrgyzstan https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/what-happened-at-bishkek-power-plant <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For over six months, Kyrgyzstan has been mired in a high-level corruption scandal: a disastrous $386 million project to rebuild Bishkek’s Power Plant, funded by Chinese state funds. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elnura-alkanova/provalennij-proekt-presidenta" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 16.39.36_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 16.39.36_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="287" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>30 August 2017: President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev opens Bishkek Combined Heat and Power Plant. Source: President.kg. </span></span></span>Before leaving his post as president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev carried out the ceremonial opening of Bishkek’s rebuilt Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP) in August 2017. The four-year modernisation of the city’s only source of heat for over half a century was initiated by the ex-president, and cost $386 million, which was borrowed from the Chinese government on credit. The contractor chosen for the project was also Chinese, Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co LTD (ТBЕА), which built two new boiler units, each with an emission capacity of 150 megawatts (MW) of power and 150 gigacalories of heat. In the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o24cjlua_hc">course of the ceremony</a>, Atambayev referred to those who claimed that he hadn’t built a thing during his six years in power as “dimwits” and “blind”: “Today, we bow to no one. We can cut off ‘certain countries’ lights at New Year. Energy specialists will understand what I’m saying.”</p><p dir="ltr">However, several months later it was the residents of Bishkek who were left without heating. On 26 January 2018, during a period of unusually hard frosts, an accident at the CHP plant led to a four-day breakdown of its heating system. Kyrgyzstan’s freezing MPs kicked up a stink, demanded that the culprits be put behind bars and took themselves en masse to the CHP plant to discover why the boilers had packed up. The then Prime Minister Sapar Isakov fired a series of officials and rank and file specialists, on the grounds that they hadn’t made the necessary preparations for winter.</p><p dir="ltr">After the power plant’s director Nurlan Omurkul uulu was fired from his job, he stated that the cause of the accident wasn’t any carelessness on the part of the specialists, but the siphoning off of funds allocated to the rebuilding project. According to Omurkul uulu, the real cost of the modernisation wasn’t $386 million, but $100 million less. “About 90% of the necessary materials and equipment were bought at an elevated price,” Omurkul uulu <a href="https://ru.sputnik.kg/video/20180315/1038173161/tehc-korrupciya-zayavlenie-ehks-direktor.html">told</a> a press conference.</p><p dir="ltr">At the time of the scandal, copies of purchase receipts for various items of expenditure appeared on social media, showing that TBEA, the Chinese contractors, were buying fire extinguishers at $1600 each and pliers at $320, as well as spending $6 million on consultancy fees and $14 million on administrative expenses. The press office of Power Stations, the company that runs the CHP plant, did not deny the accuracy of these figures and <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/05/09/parlament-zakonchil-rassledovanie-avarii-na-bishkekskoj-tets-no-poka-ne-opublikoval-ego-itogi-chto-o-nem-izvestno-sejchas/">called</a> the cost of the project “reasonable”.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, after three months of investigation, the Provisional Parliamentary Deputies’ Commission produced a 35 page report (Open Democracy holds a copy) on the scandal. Its main finding was that the contract with TBEA was concluded on disadvantageous terms for the country, and its conclusion covered in detail the causes of the accident and the losses incurred through the credit arrangements. Kyrgyzstan received a loan at 2% per annum over 20 years, but also has had to pay commission on the management of the loan at 0.18%. Its total repayment cost comes to almost $470 million.</p><p dir="ltr">The conclusion notes that since 1961, the Bishkek CHP plant has had 24 boiler units with 11 turbines producing 512 megawatts (MW) of power and 994.2 Gigacalories (Gcal) of heat. The units use only demineralised water produced by a special plant. Over time, a large part of the CHP plant has deteriorated, and eight of the boilers have been decommissioned and demolished. TBEA has meanwhile built two new, more efficient replacement boilers and a similar number of turbines, each capable of producing 812 MW of power and 1294.2 Gcal of heat.</p><p dir="ltr">Looking at the copy of the contract concluded between Power Stations and TBEA (a copy of which is held by Open Democracy), it becomes clear that the Chinese company was supposed to build a new chemical plant to produce the demineralised water for the updated boiler units. On the day of the accident, there were nine boilers in operation at the CHP plant, but six of them had to shut down for lack of water. Plant staff began refilling them by hand, but it takes two and a half hours to get one unit back in operation. And while the workers were trying to reboot the system bit by bit, the water stood motionless. Eventually, the 30-degree frost turned half of the plant into an ice rink.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A record number of arrestees</h2><p dir="ltr">The Kyrgyz parliamentarians investigating the accident agree that Bishkek needed its CHP plant to be modernised. According to Commission member Iskhak Masaliyev, since the modernisation, 50% of the CHP plant’s fuel has been local coal, meaning that Kyrgyzstan is buying 50% less Kazakh coal, and thus stimulating the local economy. The energy production should theoretically be higher by another 300 megawatts, but Masaliyev tells me that the real problem lies in the exorbitant cost of the project.</p><p dir="ltr">The contractors didn’t complete the work: a new chemical plant was also planned, but for some unknown reason the Power Stations company was in a hurry to have the new CHP plant operational by August 2017 and signed off the incomplete reconstruction earlier than expected. “It’s clear that there’s an element of corruption at work here,” says Masaliyev. “It’s all to do with the increase in prices for the services, labour and materials used in the reconstruction process.We therefore ordered the law enforcement agencies and National Audit Office to study the implementation of the project in detail and bring the officials involved in it to justice.”</p><p dir="ltr">In early June 2018, after the publication of the parliamentary report, ex-PM Sapar Isakov, ex-mayor of Bishkek Kubanychbek Kulmatov, MP Osmonbek Artykbayev, ex-PM Jantoro Satybaldiyev, the former director of Power Stations Salaydin Avazov, as well as a representative of the Chinese contractor and other people implicated in the scandal – 30 people in all – were remanded at Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee’s pre-trial custody facility.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-36417001.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-36417001.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Current President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeyenbekov, Victory Day 2018. (c) Xinhua/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>According to the <a href="https://www.prokuror.kg/news/3474-generalnoj-prokuraturoj-kyrgyzskoj-respubliki-vozbuzhdeno-ugolovnoe-delo-v-otnoshenii-deputata-zhogorku-kenesha-kyrgyzskoj-respubliki-artykbaeva-osmonbeka-mambetzhanovicha.html">investigators</a>, in 2013 Osmonbek Artykbayev, the then Minister of Energy and Industry, decided to conclude a disadvantageous contract with the Chinese firm TBEA on the conditions it offered. And neither his deputies nor the CEO of Power Stations “demanded the required techno-economic feasibility study and other documents”. The prosecutor’s office also notes that contractor was only chosen after President Atambayev instructed Artykbayev, in writing, to consider Sapar Isakov’s proposal to begin talks with TBEA on 24 May 2013. The investigators state that, during the tender process, Isakov and his second-in command <a href="https://vesti.kg/politika/item/51646-obnarodovano-pismo-sapara-isakova-na-imya-almazbeka-atambaeva-foto.html">wrote a note</a> to the president advising him to instruct Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Energy to hold talks with TBEA over a reduction in the proposed cost.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyrgyz government had to choose a contractor from among four companies, and TBEA won the bid. For the Prosecutor’s Office, Isakov’s actions while he was part of the presidential apparatus amount to lobbying for a foreign company. Isakov has been charged with corruption, and Jantoro Satybaldiyev, another former PM, is suspected of being complicit in his crime. Kubanychbek Kulmatov is also suspected, while mayor of Bishkek, of illegally using two million dollars of grant money allocated to the modernisation project to build two new schools.</p><p dir="ltr">Klara Sooronkulova, a former Constitutional Chamber judge, says that the participation of the presidential staff in choosing a contractor for the CHP project is unusual. “What have Sapar Isakov and Nursulu Akhmetova (head of the presidential administration’s financial department) got to do with all this? The president’s office is an auxiliary body for the president, which facilitates his work. They were not supposed to interfere in the power plant contract and the sphere of responsibilities of the government. This is an abuse of their official position, a violation of constitutional principles and division of powers.”</p><p dir="ltr">Sapar Isakov does not agree with the accusations made against him, and called his arrest “lawlessness”. “Now I will work with my legal counsel closely and prove my innocence. But I will say that this is complete lawlessness. I’m in shock from all of this,” Isakov said to journalists immediately after his interrogation by the National Security Service on 29 May this year. </p><p dir="ltr">Ravshan Jeyenbekov, a former parliamentary deputy (no relation to the current President), tells me that the authorities are now busy trying to hang the entire blame on one man – former Kyrgyz energy minister Osmonbek Artykbayev. Jeyenbekov tells me that, according to government regulations, decisions on these kind of projects is always taken collectively. “Knowing this system, I can say that the minister (Artykbayev) is not the person to be blamed for everything and made the scapegoat. He is only a minor implementer of the will of the government. But in terms of this modernisation, he was also implementing the will of the president.”</p><p dir="ltr">At a parliamentary session on 17 May, Osmonbek Artykbayev <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29232410.html">stated</a> that it was the people who implemented the project who were being accused of wrongdoing, rather than those who took decisions. “But I believe that the investigation and other authorities will clarify and define who made this decision, and come to a conclusion. Sapar Dzhumakadyrovych (Isakov) says that he merely handed on information. But there was a request there: give this task to the Minister of Energy, Minister of Finances, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other ministers, let them implement this. The ministers carried out their work on this basis.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">What was the money spent on?</h2><p dir="ltr">The Chinese contractors began their work in June 2014. According to the company’s report given to Kyrgyzstan’s National Audit Chamber (which Open Democracy holds a copy of), TBEA spent the allocated funds gradually – the reconstruction took place more or less in three stages.</p><p dir="ltr">The report says that the first stage was ensuring “the reliable performance of the remaining CHP installations” (although this phrase wasn’t further explained); $9.163 million was spent on this stage. The second stage was the demolition of installations and equipment requiring reconstruction (at the cost of $18.336 million); the third stage, the construction and assembly of the new installations and equipment, cost $358.5 million.</p><p dir="ltr">Nurlan Omurkul uulu, the former director of the Bishkek CHP plant, shocked the public by revealing detailed breakdowns of various expenses: small items such as pliers, for example, cost $320 dollars. Andrey Voropayev, the newly appointed director of the CHP plant, brought these very pliers to a session of parliament – the equipment in question turned out to consist of a set of several tools. But MPs complained that you could buy these kits at the market for $40. At that point, Voropayev produced an enormous roll of rubber belt track and said that this was also included in the price, but the parliamentarians were not impressed.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 11.34.36_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 11.34.36_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="356" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Furniture costs presented by TBEA. Source: 24 Information Agency. </span></span></span>The contractors made yet another interesting purchase: 128 CCTV cameras for a video surveillance system came to $1.7 million. But a CHP plant representative quickly explained their huge cost by telling the MPs that eight out of the 128 cameras were heat resistant and would be installed within the boiler units. The construction company’s executives met up to begin their work, sitting on swivel chairs, and the 24 news agency published information to the effect that they cost 200 dollars each, and standard chairs 130 dollars each. The complete furniture bill came to $200,000.</p><p dir="ltr">The parliamentarians’ investigation also revealed a discrepancy between data from the CHP plant and the Customs Service. The CHP plant said that the project included the acquisition of duty-free materials and equipment to the tune of $170,737,744, while the Customs Service presented a figure of $169,940,177.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Atambayev’s project </h2><p dir="ltr">This information suggests that there could have been improper use of funds during the reconstruction of the Bishkek CHP. But the question is who benefitted from it in the end. Neither the security services, nor the MPs are in a hurry to come to any conclusion. But many believe that one man alone should carry full responsibility for the collapse of the project.</p><p dir="ltr">“In this case, the President abused his power,” Ravshan Jeyenbekov tells me. “Under our constitution, he (Atambayev) had no right to intervene in economic issues – these are the responsibility of the Prime Minister. If the president receives a note from his department head, then gives an order echoing its content to the government and ministers, he is abusing his power and intervening in the work of the government. Kyrgyzstan is an authoritarian country where all decisions are taken by the president alone.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 10.22.11_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 10.22.11_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>CHP director Andrey Voropayev. Source: Kaktus.media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>I tried to contact Atambayev to find out his opinion concerning the accusations being laid against him, but the press officer of the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, of which Atambayev is chairman, told me that the former president is unavailable for comment. But we can recall what Atambayev <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29136760.html">said</a> at the SDPK Congress on 31 March this year. He didn’t deny that he initiated the energy projects, although TBEA had a greater role in implementing them. “I gave the order not just for the reconstruction of the CHP plant, but for all my country’s energy projects. [...] And if someone has stolen something, haul them before the courts and put them behind bars,” said Atambayev during a press conference. In his speech, the ex-president proposed laying the blame at current president Sooronbay Jeyenbekov’s door, suggesting that his actions should be examined, as it was Jeenbekov who, as PM, was responsible for preparing the city for winter.</p><p dir="ltr">While the officials look for the guilty parties in the failed modernisation of the CHP plant, the public in Kyrgyzstan is more concerned about what awaits them this winter. What effort is the present government making to prepare for the cold weather, and will the Chinese finish building the promised chemical plant? I spent three weeks trying to gain access to the CHP plant’s territory to see how far building has progressed, but in the end it's press officer Tagjana Aidaraliyeva refused me entry. CHP director Andrey Voropayev also refused to meet me, citing a full diary.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, at a press conference on 12 September 2018, Damir Sagynbayev, the secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, stated that five criminal cases had been opened into the modernisation of Bishkek CHP. The harm to the state is calculated in the billions of soms. These cases are expected to go trial in the next month.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><h2 class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">A chronology of events </h2><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">From the beginning, the project was not open to participation from outside. There was no open tendering. Four companies’ proposals were considered: TBEA, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) and “Chjun Khan” from China, and the Russian Inter RAO EES.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">To discover why the Kyrgyzstan government picked TBEA, you need to start at the beginning: the moment when the contract was signed. In fact, Kyrgyzstan’s law on state procurement requires companies to tender, but its government, citing its law on utilities, which allows large strategic projects to waive that requirement, refused to put the contract out to tender.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">Members of the parliamentarians’ commission have given me the documents on which the decision was based, and from them we have drawn up a chronology of all four years of the implementation of the project:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>1 February 2013:</strong> A memorandum of intent to cooperate on electrical power development between the Kyrgyz Power Stations company and the Chinese company TBEA is signed.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>4 May 2013: </strong>The Secretariat of the Chinese Embassy’s Advisor on Trade and Economic Issues sends a note to Kyrgyzstan’s Energy Ministry recommending TBEA as the only possible contractor among Chinese firms.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>24 May 2013:</strong> President Almazbek Atambayev directs his Minister of Energy and Industry Artykbayev to consider a <a href="https://vesti.kg/politika/item/51646-obnarodovano-pismo-sapara-isakova-na-imya-almazbeka-atambaeva-foto.html">letter</a> from Sapar Isakov, asking the Minister to begin talks on lowering the price suggested by TBEA and describes the meeting he held with Tsin Yuilun, China’s trade representative in Kyrgyzstan, who has told Isakov that TBEA might drop its price.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>28 May 2013: </strong>Artykbayev holds a collective meeting, the minutes of which record that out of the four potential partner companies the Chinese TBEA and the Russian company Inter RAO EES are the most technically and economically advanced. Avazov, who heads the Power Stations company, proposes working with TBEA and his deputy agrees with him. Deputy Energy Minister Kaliyev reminds the meeting that the presidential administration is also in favour of TBEA. The meeting ends with a collective decision: TBEA is the most advantageous option.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>13 June 2013:</strong> Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry forwards a note from the Chinese Embassy to the Power Stations company, annotated, “Most urgent”, where the Chinese diplomats again insist that TBEA is the only possible option as contractor.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>8 July 2013:</strong> The Kyrgyz government creates an inter-agency committee for talks with TBEA.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>16 July 2013: </strong>The Power Stations company concludes a $386 million contract with TBEA, for the modernisation of the Bishkek CHP plant.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>11 September 2013: </strong>Kyrgyzstan’s government signs a credit agreement for the same reconstruction figure with China’s Eximbank.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr"><strong>3 January 2014:</strong> Kyrgyzstan’s new law, ratifying the credit agreement passed by parliament and signed by its president, comes into force.</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/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy">Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s “island of democracy”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again">In Kyrgyzstan, it’s revolution, revanche, repeat all over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press">“Inciters, deceivers, slaves”: Kyrgyzstan’s president takes aim at the press</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/satina-aidar/what-we-know-about-alleged-elite-corruption-under-former-kyrgyz-president-almazbek-atambayev">What we know about alleged elite corruption under former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/satina-aidar/kyrgyzstans-north-south-road-to-corruption">Kyrgyzstan’s north-south road to corruption</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/seven-moments-from-life-of-almazbek-atambayev">Seven moments from the life of Almazbek Atambayev</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Elnura Alkanova Politics of Plunder Kyrgyzstan Wed, 24 Oct 2018 14:51:29 +0000 Elnura Alkanova 120258 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What we know about alleged elite corruption under former Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/satina-aidar/what-we-know-about-alleged-elite-corruption-under-former-kyrgyz-president-almazbek-atambayev <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As Kyrgyzstan’s new regime consolidates power, fresh allegations of corruption by Atambayev loyalists are emerging.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-33823283.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-33823283.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Almazbek Atambayev was president of Kyrgyzstan between 2011 and 2017. (c) Roman Gainanov/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Until November last year, Almazbek Atambayev was the hugely wealthy president of Kyrgyzstan — although the sources of that wealth remain unclear. Now it seems that Atambayev is on his way out of the country, where there is talk of prosecution. Atambayev’s former prime minister is in prison and a loyal adviser has been deported. Just how did he reach the heights from which he now seems to be falling?</p><p dir="ltr">On 22 October, it was <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/381425_zachem_almazbek_atambaev_poedet_v_rossiu.html">announced</a> that Atambayev was flying to Moscow for the 10th General Assembly of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties on 24-27 October, as part of his role as chairman of the Social-Democratic Party of Kyryzstan. In the meantime, Atambayev has announced that he is travelling to St Petersburg for the funeral of a relative. Coming after the <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/10/20/foto-dnya-zaderzhanie-ilmiyanova-v-aeroportu-manas/">arrest and deportation of Ikram Ilmiyanov</a>, Atambayev’s former driver and presidential adviser, on 20 October, this Central Asian state is starting to talk about the possibility of the powerful ex-president facing prosecution. As Edil Baisalov, a Kyrgyz activist and commentator, <a href="https://twitter.com/baisalov/status/1054272539869044736">said</a> on Twitter: “Almazbek Atambayev NEVER, never took part in international party conferences, never represented the SDPK [Kyrgyzstan’s ruling party] at high-level meetings. Participating in this third-rate conference in Moscow is just a pretext to FLEE Kyrgyzstan.”</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, since Atambayev’s term in office ended in November 2017, the ex-president’s name has appeared in connection with cases ranging from the illegal <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2016/09/15/zemlya-i-dom-atambaeva-v-koj-tashe-chto-izvestno-iz-dokumentov/">privatisation of municipal property</a> to the embezzlement of funds from <a href="http://respub.kg/2018/06/06/yavka-s-povinnoj-atambaev-priznalsya-vse-resheniya-po-tec-prinimal-on-sam/">infrastructure projects</a>. In 2018, following presidential elections and a concerted campaign by Kyrgyzstan’s new president Sooronbay Jeenbekov to consolidate power, the allegations about the sources of Atambayev’s wealth have started to emerge. Publications implicating Atambayev and his close associates in corruption and illegal activities have started appearing in Kyrgyzstan’s mainstream media and on social networks.</p><p dir="ltr">Among the highest-profile cases, former prime minister Sapar Isakov is currently held at the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) detention centre. He is <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/the-bishkek-power-plant-saga-former-kyrgyz-prime-minister-faces-corruption-charges/">charged with corruption</a> relating to lobbying in the Bishkek Heat and Power Plant scandal. Former Bishkek mayor Albek Ibraimov is also in GKNB detention as the authorities investigate two separate cases of corruption in which he is implicated.</p><p dir="ltr">There can be little doubt that Atambayev loyalists have fallen victim of the clash between the former president and Jeenbekov, a sometime ally turned foe. In reaction to the arrests of his closest associates, Atambayev <a href="http://elet.media/ru/vlast/zayavlenie-kotorogo-zhdali-atambaev-prokommentiroval-arest-isakova-kulmatova-i-artykbaeva/">issued a public statement</a> in June this year, in which he claimed responsibility and oversight over projects associated with these new corruption investigations:&nbsp;</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Neither S. Isakov, former presidential Chief of Staff, nor the former mayor of Bishkek K. Kulmatov had the authority to independently take the decisions that are at the basis of these accusations. [...] All strategic decisions for the reconstruction of the [Bishkek] Heat and Power Plant and the associated loan from China, including our agreement that the Chinese side appoint the contractor, the decision to redirect foreign grant funds... were made by me as the Head of State. The key role of the President in making these decisions is due the lack of responsibility among state institutions and employees.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">The same applies to the implementation of other national projects [...] including: [...] the construction of an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/satina-aidar/kyrgyzstans-north-south-road-to-corruption">alternative North-South road</a>, the <a href="https://www.upi.com/Energy-News/2013/12/12/Gazprom-buys-Kyrgyz-gas-company-for-1/21671386852086/">transfer of Kyrgyzgaz</a> infrastructure to the company Gazprom, construction of the Verkhne-Narynsky cascade of hydroelectric power plant, [...] reconstruction of the History Museum and many other strategically important facilities and activities.”</p><p dir="ltr">What follows is an overview of what is known about Atambayev’s assets, as well as ongoing investigations against Atambayev loyalists.</p><h2>Origin story</h2><p dir="ltr">Atambayev, 62, has often <a href="http://enews.fergananews.com/articles/3000">publicly boasted</a> about his wealth. In 2016, at a ceremony to receive the credentials of several foreign ambassadors, Atambayev claimed that his political career started when he was already a multi-millionaire.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2017, Atambayev <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3229271">boasted</a> (in the third person) that “Atambayev has never stolen! He made his own money! When Atambayev became a multi-millionaire, many of today’s millionaires were only starting their businesses! I was already a dollar multi-millionaire here!”</p><p dir="ltr">Atambayev’s business activity began in 1991 with the <a href="http://kyrgyztoday.org/ru/news_ru/burevestnik-uhodit-v-pike-nekotorye-podrobnosti-iz-zhizni-sotsial-demokratov-kirgizii/">Kyrgyz Writers’ Union</a>, where he gained control over the foundation’s assets. In November 1992, the Nooruz Writers’ Club – a large two-story building in Bishkek’s city centre owned by the Writers’ Union – was converted into a Joint Stock Company. Atambayev’s Forum company held 70% of the Nooruz shares, and Atambayev’s close relative Nurbek Sharshenov turned the premises into a restaurant.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Meeting_Vladimir_Putin,_Raisa_Atambayeva,_Almazbek_Atambayev.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Meeting_Vladimir_Putin,_Raisa_Atambayeva,_Almazbek_Atambayev.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'>June 2017: Almazbek and Raisa Atambayev with Vladimir Putin, Moscow. CC BY 4.0 Wikipedia / Kremlin.ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPuj0K6hdko">2014 interview</a> from exile in Moscow, the first President of independent Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev, accused Atambayev of stealing a 50 million-rouble grant made to the Kyrgyz Writers Union by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the early 1990s. According to Akayev, the money was used to privatise state assets, such as a sheepskin and coats factory in Kant, a town 20 kilometres east of Bishkek, and the <a href="http://kompozitgroup.ru/eng/avtomash-radiator/">KyrgyzAvtomash</a> factory for car engine radiators, which Atambayev headed from 1997 to 2005. In 2017, in a defamation case against the Zanoza news website and journalist Naryn Aiyp, the Kyrgyz General Prosecutor’s Office <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/28586453.html">stated</a> that Akayev’s claims had been disproven in a 2014 interview on Kyrgyz Television (KTRK). According to Aiyp, when the journalist asked the Prosecutor’s Office to present this programme (or a transcript) in court, they failed to do so.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Atambayev’s <a href="http://archive.premier.gov.ru/eng/visits/world/15234/info/15243/print/">career in politics</a> began as a member of parliament for the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (1995-2000) – of which he was one of the founders – followed by stints as a Minister of Industry, Trade, and Tourism (2005-2006), Prime Minister (2007), and again Prime Minister for the interim government established after the ouster of President Bakiyev in the April 2010 revolution. In October 2011, Atambayev won the presidency in a landslide and served one six-year term (2011-2017) as stipulated in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution.</p><p dir="ltr">Atambayev is undoubtedly rich, but the origins of his wealth are less clear. For example, when, in 2017, Kyrgyz opposition politician Omurbek Tekebayev accused the former president of having business interests outside Kyrgyzstan, Atambayev argued that he had sold his stake in the Turkish company Elektromed Elektronik in 2003 for 45 billion Turkish liras (which, he <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9363">added</a>, was equivalent at the time to $35 million). When activist Edil Baisalov pointed out that, at the 2003 exchange rate, 45 billion liras amounted to $26,000, the press service of the Presidential Administration <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2017/04/12/administratsiya-atambaeva-oshiblas-v-tsifrah-ob-istochnike-millionov-prezidenta/">intervened</a> to specify that the company’s market value was much more than its authorised capital.</p><p dir="ltr">When journalists from Kloop.kg, one of Kyrgyzstan’s best investigative journalism websites, requested Atambayev’s income statements for 2005-2006 in 2017, it was <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2017/04/21/deklaratsiya-o-dohodah-atambaeva-za-2005-2006-gody-byla-unichtozhena/">stated</a>&nbsp;that the records had been destroyed. According to the State Personnel Service, the law requires public officials’ statements to be kept for six years, after which they can be disposed of</p><h2>Living the life</h2><p dir="ltr">Atambayev’s declared income is quite modest. In 2010, he earned $5,944 as prime minister in the interim government. A monthly salary of $500 is good money in Kyrgyzstan, but it doesn’t make you rich. By 2015, according to official records, Atambayev had accumulated $111,205, while Raisa Atambayeva, his wife, had $580,860 to her name. That said, the Atambayevs’ lavish properties reveal that the former first couple can count on much larger financial resources, which apparently increased significantly during Atambayev’s presidential rule and whose origin remains unknown.</p><p>One such property is the three-storey palace in the former president’s compound in Koi Tash, south of Bishkek. This site was built in 2016 and is equipped with gazebos in a luxurious private park. Before being elected president, the Atambayevs lived in a nondescript house in a dusty eastern district in the capital.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/atambayev properties.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/atambayev properties.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Before and after: the Atambayev family's houses before and after Atambayev assumed the presidency. Source: Youtube / Kloop. </span></span></span>In March 2018, Atambayev built a 300-square-metre summer villa on the territory of the official (and state-owned) presidential residence in Bishkek. The total cost of construction was reported to be approximately $1.3 million – in Kyrgyz currency, 89.3 million som. While 77.8 million som came from Atambayev’s private funds, the origin of the remaining 11.5 million <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/kyrgyzstan-atambaev-dacha/29134868.html">remains unknown</a>. Attorneys from the Jakupbekova &amp; Partners Law Firm requested information regarding this project from Kyrgyzstan’s State Agency for Architecture and Construction, which, in a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/Letter%20regarding%20presidential%20residence.png">letter</a> obtained by openDemocracy, denied having given permission for the construction. Likewise, the contractor’s name is unknown.</p><h2><span>Alleged corrupt deals</span></h2><p dir="ltr">Since Atambayev left office at the end of 2017, a serious rift has emerged between him and current president Sooronbay Jeenbekov, which has <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/07/matraimov-wins-court-case-and-reinstatement-in-kyrgyzstan/">split</a> their Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan.</p><p>Here follow several allegations of corruption that have been made following the end of Atambayev’s presidency. Former prime minister Sapar Isakov, whom Atambayev <a href="https://ru.sputnik.kg/politics/20170818/1034774193/pyat-faktov-o-sapare-isakove.html">described</a> as his “right-hand man” to visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2016, appears in connection with all these cases. In a statement to Open Democracy, Nurbek Toktakunov, legal counsel to Sapar Isakov, said that his client is being “persecuted by the new regime”: “He [Isakov] was under a ‘black media campaign’ by state media and state trolls on social media for several months to ‘justify his arrest’.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Attempted lease of helicopters to Uganda</em></p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-xsmall'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_Сапар_Джумакадырович.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_Сапар_Джумакадырович.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="190" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xsmall imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sapar Isakov, former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan. CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikipedia. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>As I detailed recently in <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/was-kyrgyzstan-seriously-going-to-loan-helicopters-to-uganda/">The Diplomat</a>, in 2014 Atambayev signed off an order to lease two Mi-24V and two Mi-8MTV helicopters to Uganda under Sapar Isakov’s supervision. </p><p dir="ltr">Instead of paying through official channels, the contract committed Uganda to paying for the lease through a company based in the United Arab Emirates. After then-Minister of Defence Abibilla Kudaiberdiyev demanded a judicial review of the deal, the military prosecutor’s office declared this deal to be illegal. So <a href="https://24.kg/obschestvo/88172_vertoletyi_dlya_ugandyi_kto_nasamom_dele_initsiiroval_sdelku_veka_/">did</a> the inter-ministerial commission that looked into the case, but apparently no one has been held accountable.</p><p dir="ltr">The lease cost remains secret. In 2015 Isakov warned the chief of staff of Kyrgyzstan’s armed forces that “failure to execute the deal will cause a loss of $30 million”. In the end, the deal did not go ahead.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>North-South Road</em></p><p dir="ltr">At the May 2014 opening ceremony of the North-South Road, an artery connecting Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities – Bishkek in the north and Osh in the south – Atambayev <a href="http://www.stanradar.com/news/full/9619-atambaev-segodnja-my-perezhivaem-istoricheskoe-sobytie-v-zhizni-kyrgyzstana-nachalo-stroitelstva-dorogi-sever-jug.html">declared</a> that this was a historical event whose significance would be understood only four years later, once the road would be completed. Four years later, details have emerged of the extent of corruption that marred this road construction project.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1475551171_2.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1475551171_2.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Construction of a tunnel on the alternative route North-South Road. Source: Gov.kg. </span></span></span>In June 2018, the Fergana news portal <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/10031">published documents</a>&nbsp;alleged that the Kyrgyz authorities and the Chinese contractor China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) colluded to embezzle funds from the Chinese government’s infrastructure investments by overpricing numerous items. Price tags on the project were inflated by several orders of magnitude, from paying $1.10 per kilogramme of cement (cost on the local market: 7¢) to paying $2,000 per month to provide office space to an engineer on the construction site. </p><p dir="ltr">Current Minister of Transport and Communications Zhamshitbek Kalilov, who, according to someone familiar with the situation is one of former Prime Minister Sapar Isakov’s protégés, oversaw the project, along with his predecessor Kalykbek Sultanov. Commenting on these allegations of embezzlement appearing on Kyrgyzstan’s online media, Kalilov <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29313029.html">told</a> Radio Azattyk that “someone is distributing unsubstantiated information.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kyrgyz MP Almambet Shykmamatov, no investigation into this case is ongoing.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>History Museum refurbishment in Bishkek</em></p><p dir="ltr">In March 2016, Atambayev launched an ambitious renovation project for the Kyrgyz History Museum in Bishkek under Sapar Isakov’s supervision, as he himself <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/374944_eto_bydet_gordostu_kyrgyzstana._chto_sapar_isakov_govoril_o_remonte_istoricheskogo_myzeia.html">told</a> an interviewer on April TV in April 2018. “This will be the pride of Kyrgyzstan. A museum that we can be proud of,” Isakov commented. “Because during the reconstruction I was the curator, followed the progress of reconstruction and the whole process.” Two years later, opposition MP Kanybek Imanaliev <a href="https://ru.sputnik.kg/society/20180525/1039349239/bishkek-istoricheskiy-muzey-genpodryadchik-skandal-fakty.html">claimed</a> that $13 million of public funds had been stolen during the works. The museum, Imanaliev claims, was restored without a proper tender process and project documentation being drawn up.</p><p dir="ltr">As Kloop.kg website <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/05/25/mebel-za-360-tysyach-evro-kak-remontirovali-istoricheskij-muzej-i-pochemu-u-deputatov-voznikli-voprosy-ob-etom/">reported</a>, the project costs appear inflated. €394,000 was spent on consultancy and design, while €224,000 was earmarked for a bar counter and furniture for the museum cafe, among other very expensive items. Moreover, the granite and marble blocks that had originally adorned the museum&nbsp;<a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/378034_rassledovanie:_kyda_delis_granit_i_mramor_s_istoricheskogo_myzeia.html">disappeared</a> from the site.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Czech investor Liglass</em></p><p dir="ltr">In July 2017, the presidential administration press service circulated a statement detailing that Czech company Liglass Trading CZ, SRO, had agreed to buy 50% of the shares of Joint Stock Company Verkhne-Naryn hydroelectric power stations from Russian company RusHydro for $37 million. Previously, in December 2015, the Kyrgyz government had rescinded the 2012 agreement with RusHydro to build small hydroelectric power stations on the Naryn river due to <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5cLmQFPklQ">lack of funding</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">As Kaktus media website <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/360109_chehiia_bydet_stroit_verhne_narynskiy_kaskad_ges._dokymenty_podpisany.html">reported</a> at the time: “Agreements were signed between the Kyrgyz government and the Czech company in the presence of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.” The president solemnly <a href="https://knews.kg/2017/07/10/stroitelstvom-verhnenarynskogo-kaskada-ges-zajmetsya-cheshskaya-kompaniya/">declared</a>: “The arrival of large private investments from Europe will serve as a powerful signal for potential investors from around the world.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/F53EDE07-5E9C-4318-A366-2534C1158E34_cx0_cy9_cw0_w1023_r1_s.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/F53EDE07-5E9C-4318-A366-2534C1158E34_cx0_cy9_cw0_w1023_r1_s.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="255" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Head of State Committee on Industry, Energy and Natural Resources Duishenbek Zilaliyev, President Almazbek Atambayev and Michael Smelik (Liglass). Source: Press Office of Kyrgyz President. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The deal is surrounded by questions about why the Kyrgyz government would commission a contract worth several hundred million dollars from a company in the red with a turnover in the tens of thousands of euros. According to <a href="https://www.radio.cz/en/section/business/scandal-deepens-around-liglass-trading-company-which-won-lucrative-contract-in-kyrgyzstan">Czech media</a>, no one in the Czech republic seemed to know about Liglass before the company shot to fame in connection with the Kyrgyz deal. According to <a href="https://www.radio.cz/ru/rubrika/tema/liglass-trading-cz-investor-ili-moshennik">Marat Dzhonbayev</a>, the Czech Republic's honorary consul in Kyrgyzstan, Vratislav Mynář, the head of the Czech president’s office, reportedly recommended the firm to Sapar Isakov, after which Czech President Miloš Zeman and then-President Atambayev discussed the company at the opening ceremony of Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan.</p><p>And yet, why would Isakov and Atambayev still be willing to engage with Liglass when, after conducting research on the company, in March 2017 the embassy of Kyrgyzstan in Austria <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/28620788.html">had clearly recommended</a> that Bishkek discontinue any cooperation with the company as they “could not find any evidence of [its] successful implementation of investment projects abroad”?</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyrgyz Embassy added that Liglass had gone bankrupt. The deal with Liglass was eventually <a href="https://www.hydroworld.com/articles/2017/09/krygyz-republic-terminates-deal-to-build-12-hydropower-plants.html">cancelled</a> in September 2017.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The general director of Liglass Trading <a href="http://www.liglasstrading.cz/news/2-7/answers-to-frequently-asked-questions/">states</a> that the company “was specially separated from a group of companies under my control, specifically for this project in Kyrgyzstan”, and that the company has experience in hydroelectric projects in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, United Kingdom, Romania, Serbia, Chechnya and India.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Heat and power plant scandal in Bishkek</em></p><p dir="ltr">On 4 April 2018, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) <a href="https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/kyrgyzstan-hunt-for-power-plant-corruption-continues/">brought charges</a> against a number of Atambayev officials in connection with a $386 million Chinese loan to refurbish Bishkek’s heat and power plant.</p><p dir="ltr">Former PM Sapar Isakov was among those arrested. In a <a href="https://vesti.kg/politika/item/51646-obnarodovano-pismo-sapara-isakova-na-imya-almazbeka-atambaeva-foto.html">2013 letter</a>, Isakov had reported back to Atambayev himself with details of the power plant project. While members of the Kyrgyz parliament <a href="https://www.kyrtag.kg/ru/news/pri-modernizatsii-tets-byli-ukradeny-100-mln-utverzhdayut-deputaty-">allege</a> that $100 million was stolen from the loan, at the time of writing Atambayev hasn’t been linked to the investigation.</p><h2>You scratch my back, I scratch yours</h2><p dir="ltr">While the presidency has allowed Atambayev to reap huge financial benefits, he has generously rewarded his friends and associates with posts, power and money.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Albek Ibraimov</em></p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, Atambayev catapulted his former car mechanic Albek Ibraimov to the post of Bishkek mayor despite the latter’s lack of relevant education.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xsmall'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_ИБРАИМОВ.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xsmall/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_ИБРАИМОВ.jpg" alt="" title="" width="140" height="191" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xsmall imagecache imagecache-article_xsmall" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Albek Ibraimov. CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikipedia. </span></span></span>Indeed, under Atambayev, Ibraimov’s star had already soared. from 2010 to 2011 he was head of Bishkek Free Economic Zone; then spent a year as the head of state concern Dastan, a torpedo manufacturer, followed by a year as deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration. From 2013 to 2016 he was chairman of the board of directors at Manas International Airport before becoming mayor of Bishkek, a position he held until this year.</p><p dir="ltr">Like Atambayev, Ibraimov lived modestly prior to 2010. Journalists have uncovered the many properties Ibraimov <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/366101_imyshestvo_i_dohody_yje_byvshego_mera_albeka_ibraimova._chto_ne_napisano_v_ego_deklaracii.html">did not&nbsp;declare</a> in his income statements, including a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&amp;v=R3RyqWQR_zc">50-hectare estate with a manor</a> in Arashan village, half-an-hour south-east of Bishkek. </p><p dir="ltr">The estate is surrounded by a three-metre brick wall stretching for 3.5 kilometres around the property. Armed guards <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/377508_dve_versii_odnogo_zaderjaniia._bylo_li_maski_shoy_pri_areste_albeka_ibraimova.html">patrol</a> the perimeter.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ibraimov estate 2 copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ibraimov estate 2 copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="221" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Albek Ibraimov's estate in Arashan. Source: AKI Press News / Youtube. </span></span></span>Ibraimov’s luck appears to have run out, however. In June 2018, he was <a href="http://kabar.kg/eng/news/bishkek-mayor-albek-ibraimov-detained/">arrested</a> on charges of corruption. He is accused of misappropriation and embezzlement during his tenure at Dastan, where he allegedly inflated the prices for the purchase of spare parts. A month later, Ibraimov was charged on <a href="https://kaktus.media/doc/377568_albeky_ibraimovy_prediavleno_novoe_obvinenie_v_korrypcii.html">another count of corruption</a> for the illegal allocation of municipal land south of Bishkek while serving as mayor. Currently, Ibraimov is held at the GKNB detention centre. The investigation is ongoing.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>“Voditel”</em></p><p dir="ltr">Ikramjan Ilmiyanov is Atambayev’s former chauffeur, hence the nickname “voditel’” (“driver” in Russian). Ilmiyanov had his career fast-tracked to presidential advisor due to his total dedication to his boss (legend has it that <a href="http://delo.kg/policy/prezidenta-igraet-svita/">he literally saved</a> Atambayev’s life by smuggling him into Tajikistan in the early 2000s when he was wanted by Akayev).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ilmiyanov.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ilmiyanov.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="189" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ikram Ilmiyanov in custody, 20 October 2018. </span></span></span></p><p>During Atambayev’s tenure, Ilmiyanov amassed considerable assets and even made it onto Kyrgyzstan’s <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/28650355.html">rich list</a>. In 2011, he acquired a 143.6-square-metre apartment on Bishkek’s central Chui avenue, as confirmed by a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/ilmiyanov letter.png">statement</a> from the state registry service obtained by openDemocracy.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, Ilmiyanov’s two daughters entered the private Sagemont school in Florida, US, where tuition fees <a href="https://www.sagemont.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2018/04/Sagemont-Upper-School-Tuition-Fees.pdf">exceed</a> $20,000 per student per year. That same year, Ilmiyanov’s <a href="http://www.mkk.gov.kg/contents/view/id/382/pid/157">declared annual income</a> was $4,500.</p><p dir="ltr">An <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29244632.html">investigation</a> by Azattyk stated that Ilmiyanov is affiliated with the IHLAS construction company and made an allegation that he is involved in the illegal acquisition of land in Bishkek. Following the arrest of other Atambayev’s associates, Ilmiyanov <a href="https://ru.sputnik.kg/politics/20180516/1039184146/kyrgyzstan-ilmiyanov-vyezd-hadzh.html">left the country</a>. On 20 October, Ilmiyanov was <a href="https://24.kg/proisshestvija/99329_ikramjan_ilmiyanov_zaderjan_idostavlen_vbishkek/">detained</a> in Russia and returned to Bishkek to face corruption charges.&nbsp;</p><h2>Island of corruption</h2><p dir="ltr">Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyz officials have been linked to everything from <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9544">protection racketeering</a> to <a href="https://jamestown.org/program/kyrgyzstan-relaxes-control-over-drug-trafficking/">drug trafficking</a>, <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/03/19/modernizatsiya-tets-bishkeka-kak-tratili-386-mln-kredita-i-chto-sejchas-izvestno/">misappropriation of public funds</a>, <a href="https://iwpr.net/global-voices/are-kyrgyzstans-leaders-serious-about-war">bribes</a>, <a href="https://photos.state.gov/libraries/kyrgyzrepulic/231771/pdfs/KYRGYZ%20REPUBLIC%202016%20HUMAN%20RIGHTS%20REPORT_RUS.pdf">extortion</a>, <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9500">kidnapping and ransom</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Transparency International’s <a href="https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2017">2017 Corruption Perceptions Index</a>, Kyrgyzstan ranks 135 among 180 countries, preceded by Iran and followed by Lao. More than an “island of democracy”, as it used to be known after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan is an <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/06/30/structure-of-corruption-systemic-analysis-using-eurasian-cases-pub-63991">island of corruption</a>. It is hard to distinguish where the criminal underworld ends and the official upperworld begins: politicians and criminal groups in the country <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9507">live in symbiosis</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">International criminal Kamchi Kolbaev lives cheek by jowl with public figures. As the US Department of the Treasury <a href="https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1430.aspx">reported</a> in 2012, Kolbaev is the Central Asia overseer for the Brothers’ Circle crime syndicate, which is involved in narcotics trafficking, among other things. As a consequence, then US President Barack Obama singled out Kolbaev “as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act”. The US Treasury Department states that he is “is wanted in Kyrgyzstan for organized crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives, and organized/transnational crime”. And yet, a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&amp;v=hKjLDbhhB3s">video</a> emerged in May 2018 showing former prosecutor general Elmurza Satybaldiev <a href="https://en.crimerussia.com/criminalauthorities/kyrgyzstan-ex-prosecutor-general-at-wedding-of-brothers-circle-member-and-major-international-drug-p/">attending</a> the celebration of Kolbaev’s mother’s birthday.</p><p dir="ltr">It is a well known fact that illicit funds have been moved out of Kyrgyzstan to purchase luxurious real estate. As corruption watchdog Global Witness <a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/en/reports/surrey-mansion-used-hide-suspect-funds/">has</a> amply <a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/ru/campaigns/corruption-and-money-laundering/anonymous-company-owners/grave-secrecy/">documented</a>, Maxim Bakiyev, son of former President Bakiyev, set up a money-laundering scheme that siphoned $1.2 billion through accounts in Citibank in New York, Standard Chartered in the UK and Raiffeisen Zentralbank in Austria. Eugene Gurevich, a financial advisor to Maxim Bakiyev currently serving a prison sentence in the US for fraud, confirmed these schemes in a <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/29462108.html">recent interview</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">After fleeing Kyrgyzstan in April 2010, the former minister of industry, energy and fuel resources, Saparbek Balkibekov, <a href="https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Extradition+of+ex-Energy+Minister+Balkibekov+to+Kyrgyzstan+might+be...-a0248703141">purchased a small British island</a> in the Atlantic Ocean. According to <a href="https://24.kg/archive/ru/parlament/39960-2008/09/26/93579.html/">former MP Bakytbek Beshimov</a>, the alleged source of his enrichment was the illicit sale of 116 million kilowatts of Kyrgyz electricity through a company in the British Virgin Islands, causing an energy crisis in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">The conflict that has erupted between Atambayev and Sooronbai Jeenbekov, his former ally and appointee, raised hopes that the new president may steer the country towards real change. That hope was short-lived, however. Under the current government, people connected to former president Bakiyev’s administration are staging a comeback. Official posts continue to be handed out on the basis of favouritism and clientelism. A case in point is the recent appointment of <a href="https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/07/27/aziz-surakmatov-veroyatnyj-budushhij-mer-bishkeka-rasskazyvaem-kak-on-svyazan-s-zastrojkoj-i-chto-ob-etom-dumayut-deputaty-bgk/">construction magnate</a> Aziz Surakmatov as the new mayor of Bishkek, despite his long record of construction and land laws violations, and the obvious conflict of interest.</p><p dir="ltr">Given the looting of state resources, and the rampant corruption in Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement and judicial bodies, it seems a safe bet that Jeenbekov’s presidency will continue Atambayev’s legacy with only a different cast of actors. While the two former allies fight it out, the people of Kyrgyzstan are left with only crumbs on which to survive.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>The author would like to thank Tom Mayne and the Kazakhstani Initiative on Asset Recovery (<a href="https://kiar.center">KIAR</a>) for their assistance in researching this article.</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/fergana-news/seven-moments-from-life-of-almazbek-atambayev">Seven moments from the life of Almazbek Atambayev</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/satina-aidar/kyrgyzstans-north-south-road-to-corruption">Kyrgyzstan’s north-south road to corruption</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again">In Kyrgyzstan, it’s revolution, revanche, repeat all over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ulugbek-babakulov/farewell-to-kyrgyzstans-island-of-democracy">Farewell to Kyrgyzstan’s “island of democracy”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press">“Inciters, deceivers, slaves”: Kyrgyzstan’s president takes aim at the press</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Satina Aidar Politics of Plunder Kyrgyzstan Mon, 22 Oct 2018 10:09:39 +0000 Satina Aidar 120220 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Moscow is solving its waste problem – by sending it to Russia's regions https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-solovyova/moscow-is-solving-its-waste-problem-by-sending-it-to-regions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Waste disposal has become a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalya-paramonova/moscows-waste-wars">political problem for Russia’s capital</a>, and the authorities are now looking to transfer it to the regions. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-solovieva/musornaya-bucha">RU</a></strong></em></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/rsz_5srmyczw-uo.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/rsz_5srmyczw-uo.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Shiyes station. Image: Viktor Kokarev. </span></span></span>The railway station in Shiyes, on the border between Arkhangelsk Region and the Komi Republic in Russia’s far north, used to be part of a village of the same name. But no one has lived here since the timber camp was closed down in 1974. Occasionally, hunters or foresters get off the train here. And it was two hunters from the neighbouring village of Urdoma, Nikolai Vorontsov and his brother, who noticed at the end of July that there were felled trees, foundation trenches and building equipment around the station. The brothers spread the information on social media and wrote to the local Lensk district council, asking what was going on. The officials there had no idea, so the residents of Urdoma set up a small committee and set off for Shiyes.</p><p dir="ltr">“The foresters told us straight away that they had been ordered to clear five hectares of forest for industrial development,” Nikolai Viktorov, a member of the Clean Urdoma public campaign tells me. “I talked to them. They were in shock at the very idea that such a large area of forest had to be cleared in a short time — every tree has to be marked for felling, after all. We then discovered the scale of the project: millions of cubic metres of domestic rubbish were due to be transported here for dumping. The builders were quite open about it, they told us that yes, there would be a landfill site and Moscow’s rubbish would end up here.”</p><p dir="ltr">In early August, there were already 80 workers and 40 pieces of equipment at the station, and by October nearly three times as many people were at work there. In August, protest meetings began to be organised at a number of places in the area, and one action in Urdoma at the end of the month attracted about 1,500 protesters, over a third of the population of the village. By mid-October, local activists had sent 82 letters to numerous addresses, including those of Russia’s Prosecutor General and the Presidential Administration.</p><h2>Putin against rubbish</h2><p dir="ltr">In mid-March, six months before all this happened, the residents of Volokolamsk, a town on the outskirts of Moscow, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalya-paramonova/moscows-waste-wars">greeted officials with shouts and whistles</a> outside their local hospital. Fifty seven children had been admitted there as a result of poisoning by landfill gas (LFG) from a landfill site about three kilometres from the town.</p><p dir="ltr">There had been protests against the site for nearly a year, but that day the conflict reached boiling point: the town’s mayor Yevgeny Gavrilov was hit on the head and the Moscow region governor Andrey Vorobyev was first jostled and then pelted with snowballs. The police took no serious action against the protesters, evidently afraid to tackle the aggressively inclined crowd. The protest quickly took on a political overtone, but in this case it wasn’t opposition politicians who were in conflict with the authorities, but people who could be called Putin’s core electorate. They didn’t just collect signatures and compose petitions, or go on marches opposing the Yadrovo dump — they blocked the road to the trucks transporting rubbish to the site. They weren’t just angry: they were organised as well.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_про_полигон_из_Москвы.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_про_полигон_из_Москвы.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="161" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Confirmation of construction work in Lensk district, Arkhangelsk oblast, by Moscow city authorities. </span></span></span>On 21 August, a YouTube channel, run by long distance truck drivers, <a href="https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DK2lQDYDMjGI%26featu&amp;h=AT3rrxSJvNsjddAazm2JNPdGkmC7HnikKGy0sIXCkGxIEjc3bRNFgEdANMfhYz7U75C8Jj3ogPE0mhXvLdZaI1kkAp1fXLZt07SIsMajs1GJHv00x5LHBlsua2uqw5CaR3a0lA">posted</a> a video of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his officials, where they discussed the possible closure of the Yadrovo landfill site. </p><p dir="ltr">This conversation clearly took place soon after the clash between officials and the Yadrovo residents in March. The video showed Sergey Donskoy, head of Russia’s Environment Ministry, who was fired from his job on 7 May, reporting to Putin on the incident. The president was demanding the closure of the site and an expert assessment of the material transported there within a month, at the end of which Donskoy and Moscow governor Vorobyev would have to report on the situation. Putin also told Donskoy that there was a budget of seven billion roubles for a clear up and proposed that Moscow’s rubbish be transported to more remote areas of Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">“We need to make the question of storing waste somewhere far from human habitation a priority,” the president told his officials. “I want the administration to make this a task today,” he told PM Dmitry Medvedev, and charged him with personally overseeing the matter.</p><p dir="ltr">In early April, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of Russia’s Liberal-Democrat Party, also proposed creating rubbish dumps in under-populated area. “Let’s scatter the rubbish over the tundra,” he said. “There’s nobody to organise protests there.” Zhirinovsky is in fact well known for making odious statements like this one, after which the regime weighs up the public response to them and bases its further actions on that.</p><p dir="ltr">The Moscow rubbish issue quickly gained momentum around the country. There was a plan to transport the trash to the Yaroslavl region, north of the capital. Then, in late April, refuse trucks with Moscow number plates were <a href="https://tvernews.ru/news/231533/">seen in the Tver region</a>, northwest of Moscow. Construction of a rubbish recycling plant <a href="https://www.currenttime.tv/a/29498575.html">began</a> in the Tula region, a similar distance south of the capital. Local residents complained that this would be the equivalent of sweeping domestic waste under the carpet rather than removing it.</p><h2>The worst place for a rubbish dump</h2><p dir="ltr">The Arkhangelsk region stretches over almost 600,000 square kilometres and has a population of just over a million. But even this sparsely populated area can’t allow for the creation of landfill sites remote from centres of habitation: to transport rubbish to a new site requires a road, and roads are usually located in places where people live.</p><p dir="ltr">The Clean Urdoma campaigners believe that regional governor Igor Orlov has just handed his entire region over to the Russian government to be used as rubbish dumps. A dumping site outside Severodvinsk, in the north of the region, should be ready in 2019, and people in the Konosha district in the south of the region are worried that Moscow’s rubbish will also land on their doorsteps, over 700km away.</p><p dir="ltr">“Yevgeny Fomenko, deputy head of government of the Arckangelsk region came to the area and told a public meeting in Urdoma that ten places in the region were under consideration as waste disposal sites and several had already been selected. The criteria were a railway line and remoteness from populated areas,” Nikolai Viktorov tells me.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/rsz_cgefcdedrss.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/rsz_cgefcdedrss.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Shiyes station. Image: Viktor Kokarev. </span></span></span>The officials who came to Urdoma tried to calm the locals down by explaining that a timber processing plant and rubbish sorting facility would be built in Shiyes and would provide more jobs for the locals. But the Clean Urdoma activists are angry that work might start without any public consultation. And no one knows whether an official environmental survey has been carried out: they haven’t been shown any evidence of one.</p><p dir="ltr">“It would be theoretically possible to build a recycling plant without carrying out a preliminary survey,” says Alexey Kisilev, the head of Greenpeace Russia’s toxic programme. “But a combination of factors might lead someone who tried such a thing to end up behind bars for a fairly long time, because they would have committed a serious crime. I can’t imagine how no one has informed the police about this.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Arkhangelsk regional government has promised that a public consultation will take place, but while we are waiting for this to happen, an area beside the railway station has not only been cleared and strewn with sand, but a helipad has been constructed for visits by the top brass.</p><p dir="ltr">The 56-hectare construction site also occupies part of the land belonging to Urdoma. In 2004, the site was leased to the Russian Railways Corporation until 2056, and subsequently sublet to the state-owned Automobile Roads organisation, which is a subsidiary of Moscow’s housing department. Then in August the last subcontractor let the site to the Tekhnopark Company, which was set up a month before this deal. An initiative group applied to the housing department, asking for permission to carry out works, but this was refused.</p><p dir="ltr">In mid-August, an internal ministry telegramme arrived from Russian Railways, saying that the first 56 goods wagons of rubbish were about to be dispatched to Shiyes. The news immediately went round all the neighbouring towns and villages, including Urdoma, and led to a new wave of protests. In the end, the rubbish never arrived. But the fact that Moscow is sending its rubbish to Shiyes is a worry not only for the southern part of Arkhangelsk region, but also to neighbouring Komi Republic.</p><p dir="ltr">“If you were looking for the least suitable place to build a rubbish disposal site, Shiyes would be it,” Nikolai Viktorov tells me. It’s a boggy hill with clay soil. All the groundwater flows downhill from here and into the rivers.</p><p dir="ltr">The Vycherga river, which flows close to Shiyes, is a tributary of the Northern Dvina, which flows in turn into the Barents Sea. Viktorov believes that if a large amount of rubbish is deposited in the Shiyes district, toxic substances building up in the dumping site may leach into the river and from there into the Barents region, which includes the land mass of Russia, Sweden, Norway and Finland.</p><p dir="ltr">Urdoma resident Nikolai Vorontsov, who has a hunting lodge near Shiyes, tells me that when it was a village there was no cemetery there. “No one was ever buried in Shiyes. Corpses were taken to either Madmas or Urdoma because this was all just bog,” he says.</p><p dir="ltr">Nina Ananina, chair of the Komi Environmentalists group, also says that the local bogs are a source for the northern streams and rivers — it would be very dangerous to pollute them.</p><p>“The idea of depositing rubbish in a northern area is strange, at the very least,” she tells me. “We have a nine-month long winter when we’re totally inaccessible, and the decomposition of the biological residues that there might be in this waste happens over a much longer period than in more southern areas.”</p><p dir="ltr">The initiative group that is fighting the construction of a landfill site in Shiyes is calling for local residents to use only legal methods for opposing the project. Recently, activists have proposed running a local referendum on the issue of solid household waste being imported into the area from other regions, but the regional prosecutor’s office <a href="https://7x7-journal.ru/anewsitem/112559">ruled </a>this initiative unlawful.</p><p dir="ltr">“We’re all hunters. I don’t even know what would happen if they brought the waste to Shiyes. Although all the grannies might go and lie down on the railway line — anything to stop it happening.”</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/natalya-paramonova/moscows-waste-wars">Moscow’s waste wars</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/dmitry-shevchenko/protecting-the-environment-is-becoming-a-deadly-occupation">Protecting the environment is becoming a deadly occupation in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-solovyova/the-rise-and-fall-of-komis-power-vertical">What would happen to Russia’s elections if the regional authorities stopped controlling them?</a> </div> <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> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Elena Solovyova Green Eurasia Fri, 19 Oct 2018 10:15:02 +0000 Elena Solovyova 120168 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the editors of a new journal challenging prejudices about eastern Europe https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/kajet-journal-interview <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Bucharest-based Kajet journal was founded to challenge cliches about eastern Europe — a region that can be “more than a sheer pile of debris awaiting reconstruction.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-10-09_at_14.58.57.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-10-09_at_14.58.57.png" alt="" title="" width="398" height="333" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: Kajet Journal. </span></span></span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><em><span>Read the latest in our ongoing </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/odr-debates/unlikely-media">Unlikely Media series</a><span>. As part of this series, we profile new independent (and independently-minded) publications from across the postsocialist space, interviewing editors who are trying to make spaces for alternative journalism, political commentary and reporting.</span></em></p><p dir="ltr">For the generation of western European journalists writing about post-Socialist Europe after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, eastern Europe was a often exotic land of hopeful optimism. </p><p dir="ltr">Twenty-five years and dozens of tabloid headlines about Romanian immigrants later, much of the region’s exoticism to western European audiences has disappeared – and in post-Socialist Europe, so has a great deal of the hope. Today, this Europe is making headlines again, whether as a testing ground for illiberal democracy or a battleground between Russian and the EU/NATO. Yet the region is still written with as the same paradigms (a Europe in imitation that is struggling to become Normal) or as the frontline between liberal democracy and revanchist Putinism.</p><p dir="ltr">Some eastern Europeans are speaking out against this binary between the west and the rest, and seek to salvage the region’s post-socialist identity as a potential source of transformation. Take the editors of Bucharest-based <a href="https://www.kajetjournal.com/">Kajet Journal</a>, who flaunt an unapologetically post-socialist identity and put western cliches about the region under a microscope. The journal, which has just released its second issue, is the brainchild of “Founding Mother” Laura Naum and “Founding Father” Petrică Mogoș. </p><p dir="ltr">Naum is a writer and graduate in Cultural Economics from the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. She’s proud of her Aromanian roots and is first and foremost interested in the ethnic melting pot which characterises eastern Europe and its representation (the topic of Kajet’s first issue). Mogoș holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the Erasmus University and researches precarity under neoliberalism and the post-socialist art word. They were recently joined by Bucharest-based graphic designers Gabriel Barbu and Ana Maria Dudu. This growing team is fascinated with archival materials and printed matter from the socialist period, a passion reflected in Kajet’s design. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />I spoke to Naum and Mogoș about what it means to be eastern European today – and what it means to write about eastern Europe.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Let’s start with the name, from the French “cahier” (a worn notebook). Why did you choose it?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> We consider KAJET to be a forever work in progress, and just like a notebook that is bursting with scribbles and scrawls, doodles and sidenotes, eastern Europe is a region that seems to be ever-changing, a cultural-geographic concept whose historical as well as political marks and dents are still visible. KAJET – an easternised version of the cahier – is also a personal and above all nostalgic tribute to our childhood and school paraphernalia (God forbid that your notebook’s corners were bent over!) The journal’s name is also a reference to <em>samizdat</em>, writings that were voluntarily enclosed within the limits of a writer’s workspace, not to be read, distributed, or commercialised within the outside world, but secured in personal notebooks. </p><p dir="ltr">In addition to our attempt to evoke a tangible form of nostalgia, KAJET is a platform where we can freely disseminate a revised perspective of eastern Europe, and this vision is transmitted both through content and form. It only makes sense for us that the visual identity is representative of the area and the social critique that it aims to convey. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>Kajet’s design is striking, as is its amazing photography. A small-circulation print journal is a brave choice in today’s media environment. Why did you choose print, and who are your audience?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> We fight against the abundance of information (and very often misinformation) that harrasses us on a daily basis. Most of the times this bombardment takes place online, so by choosing recycled paper, we extract ourselves from the noise. And although this limits our scope of reach, we do not deceive ourselves that this is not a niche publication, because it is. For the first issue we had an overall print run of 1,000 copies, whereas for the second we have put in circulation an overall of 4,850 copies (out of which a considerable amount has been included in <a href="https://www.stackmagazines.com/">Stack Magazines</a>’ own distribution network of subscribers).</p><p dir="ltr">With help from Stack Magazines, we hope to enlarge our audience and to popularise not just the project itself but also the underlying discourse regarding the future of Europe in general and the eastern European one in particular. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We fight against the abundance of information (and very often misinformation) that harrasses us on a daily basis”</p><p dir="ltr">Ultimately, we don’t believe that print is dead. Of course long gone are the days when newspapers used to be the only means of information, but you’d be surprised how varied our readership is, from Hong Kong to Stockholm, from Zurich to New York, or Warsaw to Sydney, the interest in the region exists and cannot be ignored. Having said that, we are still aware that such a project cannot change perceptions en masse regarding eastern Europe, but if with each issue we manage to provide a new consciousness to at least some of our readers, it means that we are doing something right. Of course, we also see printed matters to still be piercing political weapons; let’s not forget about this region’s past, where printed content could be a form of dissidence, one that currently bears the spirit of samizdat. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Who are your authors? And why did you decide to publish in English, rather than German or even in the languages of the region?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> In addition to commissioning various artists and writers, we place great emphasis on the open character of our project. For each issue we launch an open call for entries based on an eastern European theme that we find both timely and timeless. We cherish greatly the interdisciplinary nature of our initiative, as we work with visual artists, illustrators, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, geographers, architects, graphic designers, poets, musicians, undergraduate and PhD students, IT programmers, and the list can go on. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/ok_12_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/ok_12_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Inset from Kajet Journal. Source: Kajet Journal. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">From the very beginning of this project, we have been aware of the fact that the west (here represented by the English language) has done us a huge favour in spreading our eastern European agenda to take over the world. This also made us mindful and cautious that, in order to reach one of our most important objectives – that of decolonising eastern Europe, the publishing industry, and the way printed matter is scattered across the globe – we had to make a compromise and accept a tender form of self-colonisation. We paradoxically embraced the English language as a tool of spreading knowledge; instead of seeing this choice as a limitation or a cause of invalidating the legitimacy of our project, we acknowledge that in order to prompt any kind of social change or to stimulate any sort of shift in the popular perception vis-a-vis eastern Europe, we do not only have to appeal to western readers, but we also have to – quite literally – speak their own language. </p><p dir="ltr">However, this does not mean that our eastern European readership is less important; on the contrary, it transcends a simple writer-reader relationship, as we believe that there is a certain responsibility on our behalf regarding the means through which we choose to represent other eastern Europeans. We have a steadfast ambition to be accepted by the eastern European community, for eastern Europeans to identify with our content, and for them to feel represented by it. If this is not the case, then the journal becomes simply useless. We like to believe that this almost contractual exchange between writers and readers is based on a bifold process of empowerment. After all, this is a process whose ultimate purpose is to provide eastern Europeans with a louder and sharper means of expression.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your first edition opens with a <a href="https://www.kajetjournal.com/manifesto/">Manifesto</a>, in which you say that “as eastern Europeans who have decided to come back home after (varied) experiences in the west, we attempt to dismantle the aura of mythical irrationality that obscures the popular belief, together with the region’s counterfeit sense of inferiority against the powerful, the prosperous, and the advanced.” What were those experiences in western Europe, how did they inform your decision to found Kajet?&nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> Our project departs from the premise that there is a sharp contrast between what happens intellectually, socially, or culturally in the east and how these ideas are disseminated within the western sphere. It is as if the traffic between eastern outsiders and and our more privileged western equals works exclusively in one direction: as though works of art or manifestations of culture can move only eastward, whereas anything originating in the east is deemed to be mocked, ignored, or rejected (at best), or consumed, appropriated, metabolised, and absorbed (at worst). And KAJET started precisely out of this kind of frustration. </p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, if we are to actually think about the patronising sentiments of disdain and superiority coming from the west, most of them stem from a lack of awareness regarding what is happening outside their own bubble. Some may call this ignorance, but we think that this may not be entirely the case. Instead, we believe, that such sentiments have been perpetuated through repetition and unjustified fear by mainstream media looking to sensationalise subjects and sell stories. </p><p dir="ltr">Furthermore, most of our Dutch/British/foreign colleagues, professors, neighbours, etc. were driven by a self-declared desire to know more about this mythical place we came from. And although the desire was most of the times stained with outrageous (as well as hilarious) claims, we appreciated their effort and took it upon ourselves to address this deficiency through print. </p><p dir="ltr">Nevertheless, KAJET remains a personal project, a therapeutic one, that we hope can help us recover from our anxieties and our own sense of inferiority against the other “better” citizens of the world. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>No publication about eastern Europe is complete without navel-gazing about the term we use for the region. You’ve written that “eastern Europe is more than a sheer pile of debris awaiting reconstruction,” and that the image of “lagging behind or being late bloomers” is a “terminological cloak” which drapes from Tallinn to Tirana. Is this what defines “eastern Europe” for you? </strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> This is a good time to come back to the previous rhetorical question regarding the ability (or lack thereof) to easily pinpoint eastern Europe. By negation, if this area is neither western European, nor Russian, then what is it? The intricacies of the region are greater than ever. How come that Prague is regarded as more eastern European than Vienna, despite that it is situated further westward? Are Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia part of Central Europe, or what Milan Kundera and others refer to as <a href="https://www.eurozine.com/growing-up-in-kunderas-central-europe/">Mitteleuropa</a>? Should the Balkans – the plot of land stretched between the Adriatic and the Black Sea – be seen as a sub-region of eastern Europe or a completely different territory? What about the Baltic region? If we are to base our rationale solely on ideology, how eastern European is the post-Soviet side of Eurasia? Alternatively, how much can we leave behind from the legacy of the Cold War imagination when we try to understand the intricacies of a region such as eastern Europe? Perhaps we’d be uselessly adding fuel to the already existent terminological debates if we were to go on like this. </p><p dir="ltr">Instead, what we are interested in is the ideological, political, social, and cultural differentiation made through discourses and practices through which Europe is divided in two separate, self-contained spaces: western liberalism as prosperous and eastern post-socialism as retrograde; the civilised and the barbarians; the core and the periphery; essentially, the west and the east. Eastern Europe is not just a (as one of our articles from the first issue ironically puts it “scary and different and, for the everyone’s sake, far away”) geographical part of Europe. It is an imagined, translocal community, that comes with its own quirks, embellished with both perils and delights. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Eastern Europe is an imagined, translocal community, that comes with its own quirks, embellished with both perils and delights”</p><p dir="ltr">But what is even more perplexing regarding eastern Europeans is the disabling lack of capacity to understand themselves. So rather than being interested in the cultural geography of the area, we’d say we are more keen to engage with its psychogeography. Molded by a distinct social and cultural hybridity, eastern Europeans have been on a perpetual journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and approval regarding their roots and origins. In fact, we are defined by this constant feeling of uneasiness; we are utterly incompetent to come to terms with our own past, while this alienated sense of rootlessness and isolation, alongside a majestic sense of inferiority, seems to have marked us forever. These are all sentiments that we have firmly anchored within ourselves, and undoubtedly our desire to explore eastern Europe stems from them. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>A lot of writing about Poland or Hungary uses that kind of teleological language. Beyond the “democratic backsliding” of governments in Budapest and Warsaw, there’s even talk of a <a href="https://www.li.com/activities/publications/is-transition-reversible-the-case-of-central-europe">“reversal of the transition”</a>, a process which some analysts considered completed. With Romania and Slovakia potentially following their neighbours’ concerning examples, is it time to call this style of populism ahead of the curve?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura: </strong>The transition – explored critically either as an absolutist necessity of the post-communism condition or as a forever undergoing project of catching up – is a subject that we deal with consistently in our work. Although some argue that the transition hasn’t been sharp enough, that it hasn’t achieved a desirable degree of westernisation, the free market is clearly both king and queen in eastern Europe, as much as it is almost elsewhere around the world. </p><p dir="ltr">What draws the eastern European case apart from others is the context in which the free market has been adopted: on the ruins of utopia. Post-socialist eastern Europe has been fully dragged into the neoliberal capitalist universe, but this happened with a strident twist: its already characteristic position at the (semi-)periphery has stood still, ever present and more bitter than ever. In this regard, eastern Europe has borrowed the governing strategies of capitalism and is currently suffering miserably: a minimal state, the disposal of highly educated yet precarious labour, nationwide privatisation and retrocession, dependence on multinational corporations and banks, accumulation of debt as a way to subjugate the individual, and ultimately, a predominantly aged population with most labourers leaving the region for a better life in the west.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">What draws the eastern European case apart is the context in which the free market was adopted: on the ruins of utopia</span></p><p dir="ltr">And while we see this kind of transition to be long realised, there is, as you said, a new wave of backsliding and retrogression happening at democracy’s most basic levels. One reason for this is that the mainstream political imagination is limited as well as limiting: some are smitten with populist visions of gliding back in the <em>Belle Époque</em> and the subsequent glorified interwar period, to the pure, traditional Orthodox family, to restoring so-called true, ancestral values (which are nonetheless the invention of modernity) where iron hand autocracies represent the only viable alternative. Others are still captivated by the American/European dream and enamoured by the prospect of an Occidental utopia guided forward by de-politicised technocrats who will tame our barbarian innerness and re-civilise eastern Europe through a governing exclusively for a decaying middle class. We refuse to believe that an alternative to both of the aforementioned cults does not exist. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>It sometimes seems political debates in Central and eastern Europe are still fighting perceived (neo)communism in various guises, over 25 years after its collapse. As such, the ghosts of communism are still seen to have an explanatory power for so many societal ills, which possibly weakens a more critical analysis of the western ideal which is to be embodied. Boris Buden even <a href="http://politicalcritique.org/cee/2016/the-ideals-of-1989-turned-upside-down-interview/">links</a> this “mimicry,” the figure of “children learning democracy” to a form of colonialism. From your first volume, it seems that you agree.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> Undoubtedly, a review of today’s eastern Europe that exclusively focuses on the perils of communism is doomed to provide no fruitful outcomes. Communism in post-communism becomes either a mnemonic device for the nostalgic masses, or a key element of a legitimising witch-hunt unfolded by the transition’s winners. For instance, the discourses that view homophobia or poverty as the last living remnants of the former communist regimes are nothing else but part of the hegemonic mold through which all shortfalls of contemporary capitalism are artificially explained. </p><p dir="ltr">This kind of colonising – as well as patronising – discourse makes its subjects believe that eastern communities were cut off from their so-called normal historical development by nothing else but communism, and that only now, although belatedly, they are getting accustomed to the normal way of life, that they are essentially catching up with the rest of the developed world. And in post-communist capitalism there is nothing more important than this process of catching-up, of emerging, and recovering the time lost during communism. </p><p dir="ltr">This is a sentiment that has been buried deep in the post-communist social imaginary, to the extent that it is now engrained in the anxieties and the sense of inferiority that most easterners unwillingly comply with. And thinkers like Srećko Horvat, Igor Štiks, Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu, or Boris Buden have been talking about this for at least the past decade or so. Anyway, it is interesting (and somewhat scary) to see how the discourse has developed over three decades of post-communism and how it continues to degenerate in the future. </p><p dir="ltr">Ultimately, it is obvious that while clearly delineated political systems seem to be losing trust, ground, and legitimacy, we could indeed be faced with similar situations to those in Hungary or Poland, where fanatically anti-communist rhetoric is deviously intertwined with right-wing mobilisation and anti-democratic principles. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Nostalgia for the communist past can have many causes and takes many forms. But among citizens of post-communist Europe one thing that lingers is still an abiding sense of the state as a social provider, even if it routinely fails to meet those obligations. Do any “ghosts of the communist past” still have emancipatory potential?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura: </strong>Unfortunately, the rhetoric of transition has been fixed on destroying the legacy of socialism through mischievous attempts of rewriting the past. But the so-called ghosts or zombies survived in most cases through collective nostalgia. Therefore we are still able to find fragments of the recent past with its inner dynamics and complexities, with failures, as well as accomplishments, with a living history of detachment from the capitalist world, an environment which in itself should provide social and cultural critics with a great deal of inspiration. </p><p dir="ltr">Even though most products of the past have been either destroyed or rendered pointless by the winners of the transition, present-day eastern Europe remains a living trace of the past. In addition to a sense of inclusiveness, as well as a rule for the many instead of the few, the legacy of communism teaches us about a powerful internationalist dimension, one that leaves room for a post-national model of humanity to emerge, one that has the potential to break the unbearable spell of neoliberalism. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-10-09_at_15.00.17.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-10-09_at_15.00.17.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'>Source: Kajet Journal. </span></span></span>Having said this, the emancipatory potential of nostalgia shouldn’t be ignored: the past shouldn’t be regarded as a sensitive topic, whereas its passive dimension shouldn’t be exaggerated until acceptance. Nostalgia after all is an acute indicator of the contemporary bleak state of affairs and embodies an emerging desire to build toward a better future. This nostalgia is the result of an impulse that opens up political questions at their most basic political, as well as human, level. The ensuing nostalgia–regardless of it form, be it ostalgia, yugonostalgia, or simply a nostalgia toward the bygone times – can indeed function as a proficient method that condemns the contemporary ruling elites, as well as the underlying status-quo.</p><p dir="ltr">However, in order to stimulate change, we need to replace the sentimental, teary side of nostalgia with a proactive, engaged, and radical nostalgia, one that has its fists raised up in the air. Only in this way ghosts may have emancipatory potential. Otherwise, they will be kept at the level of electoral promise and political opportunism. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your current edition, released last month, asks whether there are utopias after utopia. But it seems to me that after 2008, a lot of old certainties have collapsed on the other half of the continent, and people are seeking new political alternatives. This could be a major challenge to <a href="https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/explaining-eastern-europe-imitation-and-its-discontents">how we’ve been invited to view eastern Europe</a> in the continent’s cultural geography. What lessons does post-socialism have here, and what comes after it?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> The second issue begins with an extensive discussion regarding the idea of a utopian eastern-futuristic society that is based on hope. Instead of futile, fragmentary explosions of despair, we argue that we need to organise a mechanism for social autonomy that can empower new subjectivities and sensibilities. A new social model that borrows from the past yet is upgraded for the needs of the many in contemporary times: in this regard, such a model of the future needs to balance the failures of the past with an actually emancipatory movement inclusive of all human beings, that is also aware of the surrounding ecosystem. </p><p dir="ltr">Such a post-(or even anti-)national mankind needs to be recognised as a vital position in the current state of affairs, where new visions arise from the idea of an emerging class without a nation. An eastern society of the future (but perhaps not only eastern, for the west needs also to be liberated) should be built around the action of learning how to practice hope. Hope in this sense acts as a new terrain for a struggle of the future, insofar as hope itself is actively sustaining thought into action, discourse into praxis. After all, in this desert of transitioning in perpetuity, we don’t need to wait for an oasis to reveal itself, but to actively pursue it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">We need to bring the politics of imitation to a halt and to start assembling our own eastern future</span></p><p dir="ltr">It is upon the current distrust of business elites that we can start building. Instead of turning toward profound conservatism (just like Hungary or Poland did), however, we need to bring the politics of imitation to a halt and to start assembling our own eastern future. Even more so, in the case of postsocialist eastern Europe, it is the very fluid history of the region that makes it the perfect site for critically delving into its troubled relationship with the notion of utopia. That is why, we argue, it is especially in the context of post-socialism, that we must continue to juxtapose the current desolate order with a well-established ideal. </p><p dir="ltr">With utopia itself becoming utopian – a forsaken relic of the past and a symbol of failure to many, our second issue seeks to revive a hopeful perspective upon everyday life, as well as politics, in eastern Europe. After all, post-communist countries of the former eastern bloc were not exclusively established upon velvet revolutions, as for the most part they were guided forward by the iron fist of military violence and economic remodelling toward systemic material scarcity and an addiction to private funding: in Darko Suvin’s words, a violent transition dependent on tanks and banks. The recent history teaches us that the deficiencies of the 1980s were swapped – without a coherent intermediate passage of recovery – with the catastrophic hopelessness of the 1990s, with a depression of the soul and body alike. </p><p dir="ltr">As you rightly noticed, we do seem to assemble the entire issue around an open-ended question (Is there room for utopia after utopia?) However, we like to think that this question is by no means rhetorical, as it has a clear answer, and that answer is an affirmative one. Hoping that this sort of spoiler hasn’t cast off any potential readers but has intrigued them, we do believe that a better future, a utopian future awaits us, if we learn how to build. After all, this is what the second issue is about: how do we use our radical imagination in order to build a better future and what mechanisms and strategies do we employ in order to ignite our advancement toward utopia… </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your third issue will be about “struggle,” against a “dogmatic present and apparently inescapable future.” What does this struggle mean to you, and what other issues are in the pipeline for Kajet?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Petrică &amp; Laura:</strong> Our interpretation of struggling inside eastern Europe can be actually very broad, but the third issue will be focusing on: how should the act of struggling against the emergent status-quo look like? What conditions do we need to create in order for our struggle to be fruitful? Ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, where should this struggle take us? </p><p dir="ltr">The kind of eastern Europe we envision through KAJET shall remain open toward the possibility of a socially reformed tomorrow. By changing the paradigmatic understanding of the region, what if eastern Europe is better off as a space of transcultural existence under continuous construction, or a transitory stage toward an improved geopolitical arena of a revolutionary future that can allow us to form an experimental post-Europe – an environment marked by the legacy of shared upheaval, the existing time of collective struggle, and the potential of joint cooperation in pursuance of social change and social revolution. After all, struggling remains completely ineffectual if it does not follow a thoughtful scheme toward a better future. Struggling shall not be just about past/current conflicts; instead, we consider that struggling needs to be planned, and it is only through perceptive planning that we can redeem our salvation.</p><p dir="ltr">We usually take projects one at a time, so for now all our attention is focused on trying to spread around our second issue and on putting together our third. </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/thomas-rowley/diy-magazine-taboo-topics-russia-moloko-plus">How this DIY magazine is making space for taboo topics in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/feeling-yerevan-s-pulse-new-media-talking-about-armenia-s-blind-spots">Feeling Yerevan’s pulse: the new media talking about Armenia’s blind spots </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/behind-russian-mirror">Behind the Russian mirror</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-rowley/russia-s-wild-decade-how-memories-of-1990s-are-changing">Russia’s wild decade: how memories of the 1990s are changing</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Edwards Unlikely Media Cultural politics Thu, 18 Oct 2018 05:43:40 +0000 Maxim Edwards 120097 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What went wrong in eastern Europe? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-junes/what-went-wrong-in-eastern-europe <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">A new book sheds light on the early warning signs of illiberalism – and gives some modest hope for the future.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1024px-Praha_1989-11-25_2C_Hrad_C4_8Dansk_C3_A1_2C_dav_se_val_C3_AD_na_Letnou.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1024px-Praha_1989-11-25_2C_Hrad_C4_8Dansk_C3_A1_2C_dav_se_val_C3_AD_na_Letnou.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'>25 November 1989: people walk from Prague cathedral to Letná Plain. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>A review of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/aftershock/">John Feffer’s Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">On the eve of the 30th anniversary of 1989, one could be forgiven succumbing to pessimism following the news coming out of Eastern Europe. Apart from the alarmism about a resurgent and aggressive Russia, it is the “rise of illiberalism”, for instance, in Hungary and Poland, or instability in the Balkans that has captured the imagination of media commentators and political scientists. </p><p dir="ltr">Students of the region’s history can read about that “we-the-people” moment in which the nations of eastern Europe took to the streets demanding freedom and democracy. In a seemingly ironic twist of history, merely a generation later, conservative, populist and far-right parties are capitalising on the same “we-the-people” slogan to advance nativist and xenophobic policies. “What has gone wrong?” is the question now asked about a region once thought by some to have heralded “the end of history”.</p><p dir="ltr">John Feffer’s <a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/aftershock/"><em>Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams</em></a> is a book that ventures into this question from a unique perspective. Based on an impressive number of in-depth interviews collected over nearly a quarter century and spanning a geographical scope from the Baltic coast to the Balkans, <em>Aftershock</em> unlocks a plethora of personal stories and experiences from the region, showing the complexity of the post-1989 transition and political trajectory of eastern Europe.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Illiberalism as a transnational phenomenon</h2><p dir="ltr">The book’s main premise is to trace the causal processes that precipitated the rise of illiberalism in eastern Europe by re-assessing the hopes and fears of 1989. Writing from the vantage point of an American observer (who also aims to draw lessons for western societies), Feffer relies on an analytical framework grounded in the work of political scientists such as <a href="https://www.yaschamounk.com/">Yascha Mounk </a>and <a href="https://www.princeton.edu/~jmueller/">Jan-Werner Müller</a>. This framework leads Feffer to conclude that illiberalism owes its appeal to three overlapping “anti-internationalist” backlashes that have materialised over the past decades: resentment against “multiculturalism”, anger with the negative effects of economic globalisation, and mistrust in the functioning of liberal democracy.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1024px-WieczorWroclawia20marca1981.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1024px-WieczorWroclawia20marca1981.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Editions of Polish newspaper Wieczór Wrocławia for 20-22 March 1981. Censors removed texts concerning the violent suppression of trade unionists at Bydgoszcz. CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Feffer’s approach provides a useful integrative plain through which to look at the countries in eastern Europe given some apparently similar developments in the west: the victory of the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and the relative success of populist and far right parties in western Europe. However, such an approach also obscures part of the longer historical process that is idiosyncratic to the region. No western state has seen a simultaneous political, social and economic transformation take place on a similar scale and depth.</p><p dir="ltr">None of the Eastern European countries tackled in the book are close to resembling the multicultural societies of the west. Eastern Europe did not experience similar levels of immigration for a variety of reasons, while the treatment of the region’s national minorities has been left wanting for decades. In addition, the region’s communist regimes were decisively conservative when it came to social and cultural rights – a trend that was perpetuated after 1989 despite the political changes that took place, for instance, in the sphere of women’s and LGBT rights. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The post-1989 transition dismantled what was left of the imperfect welfare provisions of state socialism in eastern Europe </p><p dir="ltr">After the experience of fascism and the Second World War, liberal democracy became widely accepted in western Europe as it was simultaneously entrenched in a social-democratic welfare state. Eastern Europe was subject to a Soviet-style modernisation project of state socialism which, though combining state-led industrialisation and a paternalistic form of welfare state, was based on non-democratic authoritarian rule.</p><p dir="ltr">The post-1989 transition dismantled what was left of the imperfect welfare provisions of state socialism in eastern Europe just at a time when the social-democratic achievements were being rolled back in western Europe under the banner of neoliberalism. But in eastern Europe, the weakening of the state was a far more pervasive process leaving its institutions vulnerable. </p><p dir="ltr">There are still significant portions of the region’s population who have first-hand memory and experience of authoritarian and thus “illiberal” rule. Given the shortcomings or deficiencies of the transition, one cannot exclude a certain persistence of nostalgia, be it for the welfare state or the efficacy of a “strong state”. Given the region’s relatively short experience with liberal democracy, it might not be so surprising that it is seemingly coming undone more rapidly than expected.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The end of a utopia</h2><p dir="ltr">Nevertheless, it is the hopes of 1989 that make Eastern Europe stand out. With the people’s revolutions and demise of communist rule came a utopian moment, one embodied by a desire to catch up with the west. But utopian feelings soon gave way to the realities of the transition. Issues that represented the promise of a bright future for the peoples of eastern Europe like German unification or integration into the European Union, a “membership in an idealised West” as Feffer calls it, have lost their appeal. The fall-out from the financial crisis and then the refugee crisis have served to bolster populist rhetoric blaming Brussels for the weakening of the nation-state.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-30671745.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-30671745.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kelebija, a recently constructed detention camp for migrants at the Serbian-Hungarian border. (c) Krystian Maj/Zuma Press/PA Images.</span></span></span>Feffer identifies the urban-rural divide as perhaps the most important issue on which eastern Europe’s populists have managed to capitalise politically. The regions felt the brunt of the negative impact of the shock therapies of the transition, while a fledgling middle class in the cities at least managed to grasp some opportunities ushered in by the economic transformation. This experience of differing economic fortunes resulted in a societal divide that Feffer somewhat problematically labels an “Eastern Europe A” and an “Eastern Europe B”.</p><p dir="ltr">At the root of this divide, according to Feffer, lies the fact that the post-1989 transformation reflected the concerns of urban intellectuals whose biographies reflected their struggle against communism and who then arguably stood closer to the liberal values of the west. The overall majority of the countryside’s populace did not share such a worldview, adhering rather to traditional conservative and nationalist values.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many of the liberal and cultural freedoms that are under assault in eastern Europe are, in fact, the result of hard-fought struggles that only came to fruition in western Europe in the 1990s and later</p><p dir="ltr">In addition, the reforms of the 1990s were macro-economic, focusing on the financial sector and dealing with the major factories bestowed by state socialist regimes. Though most of the countries were still predominantly agricultural societies, less attention was paid to agriculture. A miscalculation, Feffer underlines, that has come with a high political cost. The illiberal challenge that has emerged essentially started as a reaction of “the people” in the provinces against the “cosmopolitan elites” of the cities. </p><p dir="ltr">What Feffer omits is that many of the liberal and cultural freedoms that are under assault in eastern Europe are, in fact, the result of hard-fought struggles that only came to fruition in western Europe in the 1990s and later – that is when eastern Europe was “catching up” during the transition. Given the fact that a large part of Eastern Europe’s urban dwellers also vote for populist parties, and that the region’s urban elites’ support for liberal values (such as women’s and LGBT rights) remains in doubt, it is questionable whether a breakdown between an Eastern Europe A and an Eastern Europe B captures the problem. The idealised west of eastern Europe was and still is the pre-1989 west, a beacon of desired prosperity and consumerism, but significantly more conservative than today. Perhaps the real issue stems from the fact that eastern Europe didn’t “catch up”, and might not do so in the foreseeable future.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The legacy of the past </h2><p dir="ltr">Taken at face value, the illiberal challenge in Eastern Europe can be seen as a rhetorical proclamation of a verdict or condemnation of the transition in name of “the people”. Populists everywhere make promises about correcting erroneous ways of the past as they attack corruption or feed on economic resentment. In eastern Europe, however, there is an additional specific problem that relates to dealing with the communist past and in particular the approach to those who had been targeted by or collaborated with the former regimes’ security apparatuses. Anti-communism is a common branding adopted by today’s populists in the region.</p><p dir="ltr">The exposure and sometimes prosecution of communist crimes was part of a <a href="https://www.e-ir.info/2012/06/01/is-it-possible-to-devise-a-fair-system-of-lustration/">legitimate campaign for transitional justice</a>, but the various attempts at lustration ended up being a botched process practically everywhere, often victimising those who had actively contested the communist regime. As Feffer convincingly demonstrates in the book, the issue of haphazard lustration mixed with the wild capitalism and corruption of the 1990s helped create a culture of suspicion that was ultimately easy manipulated by populists to undermine trust in the institutions of liberal democracy. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Nationalism, often under the banner of patriotism, was an integral part of the events of 1989 and the democratisation that followed</p><p dir="ltr">But populism and illiberalism are not recent or new phenomena in the region. As Feffer poignantly observes, some warning signs were already visible in the 1990s. Shortly after 1989, Poland’s first presidential election was unexpectedly contested in a second-round run-off by Lech Wałęsa, Solidarity’s legendary leader, and Stanisław Tymiński, an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/02/world/evolution-in-europe-tyminski-in-peru-spiritual-awareness-then-cable-tv.html">obscure émigré businessman</a> promising an easy fix to the country’s problems and prosperity for all. Tymiński’s proclamations, as Feffer duly notes, uncannily resembled the soundbites of Donald Trump’s populist campaign more than a quarter century later.</p><p dir="ltr">In Slovakia, the 1990s were dominated politically by Vladimír Mečiar, a former dissident, whose brand of policies included playing on economic resentment, espousing nationalism and anti-Roma sentiments. Mečiar was <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/02/23/my-country-had-its-own-trump-heres-how-we-beat-him/?utm_term=.ca2bb7653f9c">ultimately defeated at the polls</a> in 1998 thanks to an internationally supported grassroots campaign, which as Feffer aptly notes, relied on the legacy of the Velvet Revolution but also served as a precursor to the Colour Revolutions of the 21st century. Indeed, Mečiar’s politics could be seen as a forbearer of the illiberal and authoritarian tendencies we see today. While these tendencies ultimately did not manage to break through in the 1990s, from today’s perspective they should be interpreted as a warning not heeded. Populism is a symptom of our times, but illiberal ideas are not new.</p><p dir="ltr">Feffer rightly points out how nationalism has fuelled the rise of illiberalism in eastern Europe. The regions’ communist parties were already decisively playing the nationalist card in the 1980s and their opponents were often conservatives and nationalists rather than liberals. Nationalism, often under the banner of patriotism, was an <a href="http://neweasterneurope.eu/2016/04/20/a-struggle-for-ideals/">integral part of the events of 1989</a> and the democratisation that followed. In the decades after 1989, mass protests throughout eastern Europe have more often than not been characterised by the use of national flags; conservatives and liberals have found it difficult to criticise such expressions of “patriotism”. Meanwhile non-nationalist liberal or left-wing parties have floundered, and ultra-nationalist and far right parties have flourished, leading the region’s political centre to have <a href="https://www.eurozine.com/bulgarias-post-1989-demostalgie/">decisively shifted to the right</a>, thereby embracing nationalist and illiberal positions.</p><h2 dir="ltr">What can the future bring?</h2><p dir="ltr"><em>Aftershock</em> not only explores the failures of the transition. It also highlights positive developments and offers hopeful alternatives. Some of Feffer’s respondents recount their personal success stories allowing for a more nuanced understanding of people’s diverging trajectories since 1989. The plight of national and sexual minorities, or the transnational predicament of the region’s Roma communities are reason for grave concern, but Feffer’s book engages with local activists who have taken up these causes showing that there is also some cause for hope. In addition, the EU has managed to play a positive role in part by empowering aiding human rights campaigners over the years.</p><p dir="ltr">Feffer introduces an array of political and cultural activist milieux, dubbing them “the new dissidents” creating “islands of hope” or even “new worlds”. He also points to a generational element at work. The young generation has grown up with all the benefits of EU membership, but rejects the orthodox liberalism of those who constructed the post-1989 order. This generation also believes its voice must be heard, leading Feffer to conclude that in future the members of this generation could hold the key to decisions whether the old order will be reformed or a new world would be created. </p><p dir="ltr">At this point though, it is hard to share Feffer’s moderate optimism. His new dissidents, ranging from the milieu of <a href="http://politicalcritique.org">Krytyka Polityczna</a> in Poland to that of <a href="http://novilevi.org/nlpenglish">New Left Perspectives</a> in Bulgaria, do not have much impact on the political process in the region. Polls and surveys show that many among the younger generation are critical of the old order, but in fact <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/why-central-europes-youth-roll-right-voting-politics-visegard/">support the far right</a>. Yet, the question about the future of Eastern Europe that Feffer puts forward in his book through its plethora of elucidating personal testimonies is a crucial one: what can we expect for the future in eastern Europe? Will we see more nationalism, more populism and possibly the rise of a new political order? Or will we see a reformed EU that could mitigate the negative consequences of economic liberalisation and restore faith in liberal democracy?</p><p dir="ltr">Illiberalism in Eastern Europe is certainly not a predetermined outcome just as the acceptance of liberalism did not hail the end of history. In the past decade, the region has both witnessed the rise of populist politics and mass grassroots protest movements challenging the status quo. There is cause for pessimism, but also for optimism. If the history of the region teaches us something, then it is that it never ends and it can be unexpected and surprising. After all, to many at the time the events of 1989 seemed unexpected and surprising.</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/william-jay-risch/turning-a-protest-into-metaphysics">Turning a protest into (someone else’s) metaphysics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">Kakha Bendukidze and Georgia’s failed experiment</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/conspiracy-theory-has-gone-mainstream-in-russia">Conspiracy theory has gone mainstream in Russia. But how does it work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/kajet-journal-interview">Meet the editors of a new journal challenging prejudices about eastern Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/where-does-key-to-political-change-in-post-soviet-space-lie">Where does the key to political change lie in the post-Soviet space?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tom Junes Thu, 18 Oct 2018 04:43:00 +0000 Tom Junes 120098 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Entrepreneurs of political violence: the varied interests and strategies of the far-right in Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach/entrepreneurs-of-political-violence-ukraine-far-right <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For Ukraine's far right, violence has become a source of influence and power.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/figure_3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/figure_3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>25 April: C14 attacks and sets alight a Roma camp in Kyiv. Source: Instagram. </span></span></span>The recent wave of <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-44593995">anti-Roma pogroms in Ukraine</a> has spawned a new series of texts on right-wing violence. However, a significant part of this literature still <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">mostly relies on discourse analysis</a>, which cannot fully explain the actions of far right organisations on the ground. Analysing far-right movements’ programmes and ideological statements can be useful when combined with a closer look at the actual activities of the movements in question, the way they interact among themselves and the wider social and political context. But judging a group primarily by how it presents itself to the world is misleading. </p><p dir="ltr">The lack of primary sources from Ukraine’s far-right milieu, as well as the general scarcity of research on non-EU (and non-Russian) eastern Europe, has led to an exoticised perception of central and eastern Europe as whole – and one that is open to politicisation by both liberals and leftists. Public discussion thus tends to degenerate into either liberal denial of the very existence of the far-right problem in Ukraine or sensationalist and exaggerated “anti-imperialist” accounts of the “fascist junta” ruling the country. </p><p dir="ltr">To avoid oversimplification, I focus on the grounded context rather than ideologies and programmes of far-right groups. Here, I will try to contribute to a better understanding of the far right in Ukraine by conceptualising them as “entrepreneurs of political violence” – a portmanteau of two established terms from different fields. A “political entrepreneur” is a political actor who pursues opportunistic strategies aimed at gaining popularity and influence, rather than following a specific ideological agenda. Likewise, <a href="http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100364090">“Violent entrepreneurs”</a> is the title of an influential study of Russian organised crime by sociologist Vadim Volkov, who analysed post-Soviet mafia as a particular kind of entrepreneurship where violence resources become a crucially important capital asset. </p><p dir="ltr">By taking a similarly pragmatic look at the activities of Ukrainian far right, I claim that they should be viewed as political entrepreneurs who are trying to capitalise on their expertise in violence. This can be a more productive lens than engaged approaches which “take a stance” on the far right – approaches that simply acknowledge the gravity of the situation or belittle it. These tend to be accompanied by wider political conclusions, and do not seek to understand the issue at hand. </p><p dir="ltr">I give a concise chronology of the incidents of right-wing violence between January and April 2018 (i.e. before the more recent string of Roma pogroms). I will look only at episodes reported in the media, involving violence or a realistic threat of violence by members of various organised far-right groups, directed outside the far right subculture, in peaceful areas of Ukraine. I will then regroup these episodes, interpreting them as several processes that have their own inner logic, but which intersect in time and space. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Chronology of events</h2><p dir="ltr">The 2018 season of political violence opened in Kyiv on 19 January, when nationalist organisation C14 <a href="https://hromadske.ua/posts/chleny-s14-zavazhaiut-provodyty-aktsiiu-pamiati-markelova-i-baburovoi">attacked a demonstration</a> commemorating Russian antifascists Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. </p><p dir="ltr">This annual event is a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/rise-of-azov">traditional target for the far right</a>, although previous attacks had been led by different forces. C14 activists blocked the demonstration organised by liberal and leftist activists in central Kyiv, shouting down the speakers and attacking them with snowballs and eggs. The Kyiv police failed to create a barrier separating the two demonstrations, advising the antifascists simply “not to provoke” their opponents. Later, the police detained eight anarchists; the arrest was met with cheers from the nationalists, who were free to keep assaulting the demonstrators physically and verbally. After the end of the demonstration, the far right attacked a random passerby whom they mistook for an antifascist – <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-british-tourist-beaten-attacked-kyiv/28986994.html">he happened to be a British tourist</a>. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-10-15_at_11.26.33.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-10-15_at_11.26.33.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="363" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>19 January 2018: attack on anti-fascist march, Kyiv. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>Ten days later, an <a href="https://socportal.info/2018/01/28/u_lvovi_zatrimali_zoozahisnikiv.html">important incident took place in Lviv</a>. On 28 January, a large group of far-right activists, mostly members of the Azov National Corps and its allied group Misanthropic Division, violently attacked a demonstration (organised by the local leftist scene) against the use of animals in circuses. The attackers threw smoke grenades into the crowd and shook hands with police officers, exchanging the motto “White Pride”. The police soon intervened by detaining leftist demonstrators in a brutal manner; they were all taken to a police station, where they spent several hours.</p><p dir="ltr">On the next day, 29 January, Azov’s vigilante organisation National Militia <a href="https://strana.ua/news/120628-cherkasskij-horsovet-prinjal-reshenie-o-samorospuske.html">blocked Cherkasy city hall</a> in central Ukraine. Here, they forced city deputies to vote for the self-dissolution of the city council after they refused to approve new members of the executive committee proposed by the mayor. The police did not intervene.</p><p dir="ltr">These January events set the trends for the period that followed. On 11 February, Azov fighters <a href="https://www.0629.com.ua/news/1950382">violently intervened</a> and stopped a lecture about discrimination in the film industry, held at a cultural centre in Mariupol. On 13 February, a group called Freikorps, which is believed to be close to the Azov/National Corps movement, <a href="https://lb.ua/society/2018/02/14/390048_harkove_natsionalisti_sorvali.html">attacked a lecture</a> on the LGBT movement in Kharkiv in a similar manner. Two days later, C14 and Azov’s National Militia <a href="https://ukr.lb.ua/society/2018/02/15/390213_bilya_solomyanskogo_sudu_pobilisya.html">clashed with police forces</a> in Kyiv during a bail court hearing concerning Odessa city mayor Gennady Trukhanov, who is facing theft charges.</p><p dir="ltr">International Women’s Day, 8 March, saw many public events and almost as many attacks by far right groups. Azov assaulted feminists and liberals marching in Mariupol. In Kyiv, attackers from several organisations made use of the <a href="http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/a-story-of-one-banner/">benevolent passivity of the police, who were reluctant to protect the marchers</a>. A plainclothes police officer actually helped them steal a feminist banner.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyiv police ignored statements by victims of violence. Instead, they opened criminal proceedings against Olena Shevchenko, the organiser of the Women’s March, after nationalists claimed that the contents of the banner were tantamount to desecration of national symbols. The first court hearing was held in the presence of a large nationalist audience, mobilised by C14, Katekhon (a conservative circle tied to Ukrainian far-right political party Svoboda) and Tradition and Order (TiP), a conservative nationalist group. At the second hearing, the defence mobilised their own support, including some diplomats and liberal politicians. With the dignitaries present in the court hall, and with far right waiting outside, the court acquitted Shevchenko. She had to leave by taking a taxi from the court’s backdoor.</p><p dir="ltr">On the same day in Lviv, members of National Corps <a href="https://femwork.org/novini-fm/napadi-8-bereznya-nasha-tochka-zoru/">physically assaulted</a> visitors at a feminist exhibition and participants of a “Sisterhood, Support, Solidarity” march. When the marchers retreated into a tram, the attackers started throwing cobblestones at it and later burnt one of their banners saying “No means no”. The city police, meanwhile, stood by, ready to intervene the moment the leftists would try to fight back. Some of the police exchanged friendly greetings with the far right.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, in Uzhgorod, events took a slightly different turn. Activists of the local organisation Karpatska Sich (KS) <a href="https://zakarpattya.net.ua/News/179515-V-Uzhhorodi-feministok-oblyly-farboiu.-Kilkokh-napadnykiv-zatrymala-politsiia-FOTO-VIDEO.">poured red paint</a> over a speaker at a local feminist demonstration, which led to a chemical eye burn. Here, the police promptly detained the attackers – though they were released later that day. In the week that followed, Karpatska Sich organised a string of attacks against local leftist and liberal activists. Coincidentally, that week also hosted a wave of anonymous property destruction against cars with Hungarian or other EU number plates. Once again, local police reacted very reluctantly. According to activists, these were preparations for a large demonstration that Karpatska Sich staged on 17 March. In Uzhgorod as well as in Lviv, local police, realising their own inability to control the streets during such big events, simply gave carte blanche to the far right. </p><p dir="ltr">A 17 March event in Uzhgorod to honour wartime nationalist anti-Hungarian fighters (Karpatska Sich’s namesake) became an <a href="https://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/uzhgorode-proshel-marsh-slavy-geroev-1521324252.html">event of nationwide importance</a>, gathering a wide spectrum of Ukraine’s extreme right, from Right Sector and Tryzub to C14 and Freikorps. Karpatska Sich, the hosting organisation, accounted for a few dozen of the 250 participants. Contrary to the customary repertoire, the marchers readily demonstrated “controversial” symbols like the “Celtic cross” and gestures like the “Roman salute”. Normally these are avoided at public events as too “provocative”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/4mCX5LidGMA.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/4mCX5LidGMA.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'>17 March: Karpatska Sich hosts a march in honour of wartime anti-Hungarian fighters, Uzhgorod. Source: Karpatska Sich. </span></span></span>On the eve of this gathering, the regional police chief refused to take measures to protect a roundtable on discrimination and hate crimes organised by an LGBT organisation, and strongly advised them to cancel it. Upon receiving this information, the hotel that was to host the event revoked its agreement. Rank-and-file police officers were better disposed to the organisers and helped them leave the town safely.</p><p dir="ltr">The town’s leftist/liberal milieu reacted to these events by <a href="https://hromadskeradio.org/news/2018/03/31/v-uzhgorodi-proyshly-dvi-akciyi-za-yevropeyskyy-uzhgorod-ta-za-tradyciyni-simeyni-cinnosti">organising a demonstration</a> “For a European Uzhgorod” on 31 March. Their opponents occupied the same square with their own demonstration,“For traditional family values”. The city council tried to forbid all demonstrations on that day, citing public safety considerations. However, a local court did not prohibit the gatherings. Notably, Karpatska Sich was not officially present at the counter-demonstration: it was formally organised by a KS-allied group “Black Sun”, Social-Nationalist Assembly (SNA) and a few less significant organisations. Karpatska Sich militant activists were present next to the square, but there was no violence on that day. The police did their job, efficiently separating the two demonstrations. </p><p dir="ltr">On 19 March, the far right blocked two events organised by liberal NGOs: a roundtable on countering discrimination and hate crimes in <a href="https://helsinki.org.ua/appeals/schodo-zirvanoho-u-vinnytsi-kruhloho-stolu-na-temu-protydiji-dyskryminatsiji-ta-zlochynam-na-grunti-nenavysti/">Vinnytsia</a> and a lecture on gender-sensitive words in <a href="http://report.if.ua/lyudy/u-frankivsku-molodi-nacionalisty-zirvaly-lekciyu-pro-feminityvy-video/">Ivano-Frankivsk</a>. In Vinnytsia, around 40 far right introduced themselves as ordinary citizens, blocking the entrance and demanding to be let inside. The police created a corridor to evacuate the participants of the roundtable. In Ivano-Frankivsk, the lecture was sabotaged by Karpatska Sich and their partner organisation, Sokil. KS promised to repeat such interventions in the future.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Unlike Right Sector, which tried and failed a strategy of violent confrontation with the post-Maidan government, Azov’s leadership has opted for a “long march through the institutions”</p><p dir="ltr">On 23 March, a special police squad conducted searches at Kyiv’s ATEK factory, which is used by Azov as its headquarters and training grounds. Police chiefs explained that the intervention had nothing to do with Azov, but the latter nevertheless quickly mobilised around 1,000 supporters, including members of parliament from Svoboda, to block the work of the police and expel them. On that day, Azov leader Andriy Biletsky <a href="https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/29120174.html">mentioned</a> that “a considerable part of the military will support in their hearts” a hypothetical coup d’état.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Three days later, 26 March was marked by <a href="https://hromadske.ua/posts/pravi-sprobuvaly-zavadyty-dyskusii-na-docudays-ua-pro-poshyrennia-ultrapravykh-rukhiv">far-right violence against a lecture</a> about the dangers of the far-right violence in Kyiv: Right Sector, Svoboda and Tradition and Order, altogether around 40 people, invaded a cultural centre and tore down posters bearing the slogan “Respect diversity”. The police pushed them outside, where they verbally attacked people coming in. Two hours later, the police evacuated the building due to an anonymous report of a bomb threat. </p><p dir="ltr">On 29 March, several dozen National Militia members <a href="https://strana.ua/articles/analysis/132900-chto-proiskhodit-v-nikolaeve-i-pochemu-savchenko-hrozit-otstavka-.html">broke into the Mykolayiv regional council</a> and demanded that the deputies impeach the regional governor. The deputies did not comply with this request, but the next day the governor himself asked the president Poroshenko for temporary suspension.</p><p dir="ltr">On 16 April, an art exhibition dedicated to the far-right violence, which was opened at the premises of a university in Kyiv under heavy police protection, <a href="https://zaborona.com/sklo-self-censorship/">had to close down</a>. The exhibition’s curator insisted on shutting it down, citing the risk of aggression from far-right groups; the administration of the university put additional pressure, accusing the artists of a provocation.</p><p dir="ltr">On 18 April, C14 organised an anti-Roma raid at Kyiv railway station. The Roma, who had been staying at the station for a few days, had become the subject of a moral panic in the mainstream Ukrainian media a few days before. On 20 April, Hitler’s birthday, a voluntary “municipal guard” consisting of C14 activists <a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1524441220">violently expelled a Roma camp</a> from a Kyiv park, burning their possessions in the process. Their report, illustrated with picturesque photos, received a very enthusiastic feedback from the wider public on social media. The city police chief said they had not received any official violence complaints, and that the municipal guard had simply burnt some garbage left by the Roma. </p><p dir="ltr">A few days later, when a news website <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxjRkeJvdpk">published a video</a> of men chasing Roma families and attacking them with pepper spray and stones, the police said they had opened two criminal proceedings into hate crime and hooliganism. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Connecting the dots</h2><p dir="ltr">Can this intimidating but chaotic sequence of events be disentangled and regrouped into several distinct plots, each having its own main characters and dynamics even while intersecting with others? I will try to do so below.</p><p dir="ltr">The main character of the first thread to be found here, and indeed of the far-right political scene in Ukraine as a whole, is the extended network of various structures <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/rise-of-azov">known under the general Azov movement brand</a>. Unlike Right Sector, which tried and failed a strategy of violent confrontation with the post-Maidan government, Azov’s leadership has opted for a “long march through the institutions”, extending local patronage networks with criminals and politicians and building a wide network of organisations and side projects.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Azov’s network amounts to a far-right “state within a state” – a universe that aims to monopolise the nationalist sector of Ukraine’s political field</p><p dir="ltr">The creation of the Azov Civil Corps was the first step in this direction. This structure, formally divorced from the Azov National Guard regiment, decided on a more pronounced public political face. The Civil Corps served the double purpose of keeping Azov military regiment veterans busy while also spreading Azov’s hegemony among the far-right audience. This was followed by creating the National Corps political party, the network of Azovets children’s summer camps, the Sports Corps, the veterans organisation Zirka, the nation-wide vigilante network of <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-azov-right-wing-militia-to-patrol-kyiv/29008036.html">National Militias</a>&nbsp;and other outlets. Azov’s network thus amounts to a far-right “state within a state” – a universe that aims to monopolise the nationalist sector of Ukraine’s political field.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/8K6-tPNjI0o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/8K6-tPNjI0o.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'>Azov has become an important umbrella brand for Ukrainian far right organisations. Source: Azov. </span></span></span>On the national level, this makes Azov’s political patron, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, the second most powerful person in the country, effectively possessing a private army which once in a while makes ambiguous comments about the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach/coup-talk-in-ukraine">possibility of a coup</a>. However, the patronage networks and conflicts go much deeper on the local level. Some of them can be uncovered by analysing the events mentioned above.</p><p dir="ltr">For instance, the March 2018 incident at the ATEK factory in Kyiv. Here what’s at stake is the struggle for ownership rights to this factory, which currently hosts Azov’s headquarters. The factory previously belonged to Oleksandr Tretiakov, a politician and owner of a Ukrainian lottery operator which allegedly <a href="https://mind.ua/publications/20181036-biznes-yakogo-nibito-nemae-yak-rozvivayutsya-internet-kazino-v-ukrayini">benefits from the National Corps’ violent raids</a> directed against competing lottery outlets under the pretext of a campaign against illegal gambling. Tretiakov’s old political partner, Ukraine’s former justice minister Roman Zvarych, helped Azov establish itself at the factory’s premises in November 2014. </p><p dir="ltr">At the time, the factory was at the centre of a corporate conflict. As <a href="https://hromadske.ua/posts/shcho-azov-robyt-na-zavodi-atek">reported by Hromadske</a>, a former lawyer for one of the parties to the factory dispute, KVV Group, claimed he paid $195,000 to Sergey Korotkikh, Azov’s head of intelligence, to occupy the factory on KVV’s behalf. However, after Azov did this, they refused to permit KVV to enter. Instead, according to KVV's former lawyer, Azov advised KVV to discuss financial matters with Svitlana Zvarych, whose charity foundation demanded 45.5m UAH ($3m) in order for Azov to leave the premises. Svitlana Zvarych refutes this claim. Meanwhile, Azov started converting the factory to produce military equipment with an eye on attracting government orders, while Azov Civil Corps, headed at that time by Roman Zvarych, politicised the conflict by <a href="http://azov.press/ukr/miting-schodo-zavodu-atek">staging street protests “in defense of the factory”</a>.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Many of Azov’s public gestures, including incidents involving violence, are aimed at reinforcing the image of an independent movement, opposed to both Ukraine’s police leadership and corrupt elites</p><p dir="ltr">In October 2016, the co-owner of KVV Group, having spent two months in prison on charges of financing separatism, surrendered his ownership rights to Zvarych’s charitable foundation. However, in the same month, according to Svitlana Zvarych, she was kicked out of the factory by Azov’s forces after refusing to give a share in the company’s capital to Sergey Korotkikh and Vadym Troyan, Kyiv regional police chief and former Azov battalion commander.</p><p dir="ltr">This context allows us to better understand Azov’s apparent overreaction to the police visit in March 2018 in contrast to their official explanation, which stated that the “”unreformed” police wanted to plant weapons at Azov’s base and then disband them. Indeed, Azov’s official version helps them mute their ties with Avakov, posing for the nationalist audience as victims of the regime. </p><p dir="ltr">Many of Azov’s public gestures, including incidents involving violence, are aimed at reinforcing the image of an independent movement, opposed to both Ukraine’s police leadership and corrupt elites. Azov’s clash with Odessa mayor Gennady Trukhanov’s hired thugs and, more importantly, with the police, is one such publicity stunt which “cleanses” the image of National Squads from allegations of Avakov’s patronage. </p><p dir="ltr">Azov’s involvement in the incidents in Cherkasy and Mykolayiv, on the other hand, seems to be connected with its involvement in patronage networks. Cherkasy city council was <a href="https://strana.ua/articles/analysis/121660-chto-stoit-za-skandalnoj-sessiej-horsoveta-v-cherkassakh.html">torn by a conflict</a> between city mayor Anatoliy Bondarenko and city council secretary Oleksandr Radytsky. The latter, supported by the president’s Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the nationalist Svoboda party, commanded the majority of votes in the assembly and paralysed the budget confirmation process. The mayor asked the parliament to dissolve the city council and call a new election. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 12.58.29.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 12.58.29.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="286" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>29 January: the National Militia block Cherkassy city hall. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Here, the sudden intervention of Azov’s National Militia, sporting balaclavas and firearms cases, turned the tide in the mayor’s favour. The city council passed the budget and then voted for its own dissolution. Whether or not the claims about Avakov’s political interests in Cherkasy are true, this episode shows that the local configuration of power is often more important than broad political agreements on the national level. Azov played into the hands of the forces belonging to a different camp on the national scale, against fellow nationalists and formal partners from Svoboda.</p><p dir="ltr">In Mykolayiv, the official reason for the intervention of Azov’s National Militia were accusations against regional governor Oleksiy Savchenko, whose corrupt ways allegedly motivated the suicide of the local airport director, a war veteran. However, <a href="https://strana.ua/articles/analysis/132900-chto-proiskhodit-v-nikolaeve-i-pochemu-savchenko-hrozit-otstavka-.html">according to another interpretation</a>, this is an episode of a wider conflict between Azov’s patron Arsen Avakov and Ukraine’s former general attorney, police general Vitaliy Yarema. The latter is gaining influence on president Poroshenko, putting his trusted men, former policemen, to important positions in the regions – and Oleksiy Savchenko is one of Yarema’s protégés. For Avakov, who wants to monopolise influence on the Ukrainian police force, this situation is perceived as a threat. </p><p dir="ltr">Finally, the Mariupol episodes demonstrate the behaviour of Azov in their “base” city close to the front line. As any large industrial city, <a href="http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/dissimilar-politics-mariupol-kramatorsk-two-ukrainian-cities-eastern-front">Mariupol has a lot of powerful local and regional interests</a>, such as the important metallurgical assets belonging to the country’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov — these would normally dwarf the influence of the likes of Azov. But the war, given the city’s strategic importance and reasonable doubts about the political loyalty of its population, has made Azov a more influential player.</p><p dir="ltr"> Mariupol’s Azov movement feel enough at home to have installed a statue of medieval prince Sviatoslav (a central figure in post-Soviet anti-Semitic mythology) in the city centre, despite the lack of official permission from the city council, and to organise regular torchlight marches there. A soldier from Azov, who killed a man in the street after a political argument earlier this year, <a href="http://timer-odessa.net/news/uchastnik_ato_otdelalsya_shtrafom_za_ubiystvo_jitelya_mariupolya_857.html">was released by the local court</a>, which sentenced him to a fine. Even if they do not possess a complete monopoly on violence, Azov has certainly established political control of the streets in Mariupol. To maintain this control, they have to react violently, even if not officially, to any public event which diverges sufficiently from their political agenda.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The struggle for hegemony in Lviv</h2><p dir="ltr">The contested hegemony over street-level political activism is the common rationale behind the acts of far-right political violence in Lviv. This western city, Ukraine’s “national Piedmont”, has always been considered the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism. </p><p dir="ltr">As early as 2010, Svoboda gained an absolute majority in the city council and relative majority in the regional council. At that point, the party was in the control of an energetic militant movement, Autonomous Resistance (AO). Founded by the former Hitlerist leadership of the now defunct Ukrainian National Labour Party, it was <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE4wEeS4vpQ">headed</a> by Svoboda deputy Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, whose PhD thesis dealt with the history of NSDAP and Mussolini’s PNF. The militant movement, which followed <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasserism">Strasserism</a>, borrowed its political style from the German autonomists. After a bitter conflict with Mykhalchyshyn in 2013, Autonomous Resistance cut ties with Svoboda and gradually slided leftward politically. It played a prominent role during Maidan in Lviv, occupying the regional council and fighting Svoboda deputies. Coming from a right-wing background, AO paid attention to the development of combat skills of its membership. It created its own MMA training facility, which is the core of a social centre that hosts lectures and presentations. An online shop selling imported athletic clothing previously provided the organisation with an independent source of income. </p><p dir="ltr">The peculiar political face of AO – their eclectic left nationalist ideology, commitment to key nationalist symbols and figures, and active participation in the military conflict in the east – has allowed them to survive politically, unlike most other leftist organisations which have failed to find a winning strategy in the post-Maidan environment. A number of splits gave birth to several other organisations, less nationalist but very active, possessing street violence skills and maintaining partnerships with AO. This meant that the street politics of the most important city in western Ukraine was dominated by a leftist milieu. </p><p dir="ltr">The first far-right organisation that attempted to contest this situation was Right Sector. In 2015, its local cell <a href="https://zaxid.net/u_lvovi_praviy_sektor_zavadiv_gromadskim_aktivistam_provesti_marsh_za_sotsialni_prava_n1349988">forcibly blocked the 1 May “Social march”</a> organised by AO, in order to “prevent a neo-Bolshevik revanche”. However, after a series of splits, Right Sector lost its mobilising potential, as did Svoboda. Over 2016-2017, Lviv has seen a string of dramatic incidents of right-wing violence: a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">mobilisation against a Festival of Equality</a> which intended to tackle LGBT rights issues; a <a href="http://news24ua.com/v-citadeli-lvova-v-krovavom-poboishche-soshlis-pravye-i-levye-radikaly-est-postradavshie">brutal attack on an AO march</a> by several hundred Nazis; <a href="https://gordonua.com/ukr/news/society/-natsionalisti-obitsjajut-zirvati-prezentatsiju-knigi-na-lgbt-tematiku-pid-chas-forumu-vidavtsiv-u-lvovi-206685.html">attacks at a Publishers Forum</a> because of two books allegedly promoting LGBT and leftist politics. However, Right Sector did not figure prominently in these incidents. Most of these far-right mobilisations were to a large extent anonymous, featuring “patriotic youth” instead of specific political brands. </p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/36K3dSkfaWk" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>November 2016: Autonomous Resistance's social centre in Lviv is attacked by far-right. Source: YouTube / Kateryna Benjuk.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr">The same lack of clear authorship is also true of violent incidents in 2018. However, in personal communication to me, activists who were present on the ground clearly indicate the leading role of Azov’s National Corps in these attacks. According to them, Right Sector today constitutes an alternative to Azov only as a military unit in eastern Ukraine, but politically the latter “has swallowed up both Right Sector and Svoboda”. Most participants of the 2015 blockade have since then either joined National Corps, or military battalions allied to Right Sector or the police force. Having consolidated the local far-right scene, Azov is trying to clean the political field of its leftist competitors. The Lviv police rank-and-file, which is infiltrated by the far right according to local activists, do not prevent, or even choose to help them to achieve this aim. </p><p dir="ltr">Why then is the National Corps reluctant to lead the struggle in Lviv as openly as it does elsewhere? Several hypotheses can help answer this question. First, it cannot afford to lose publicly. In November 2016, a potent coalition of several hundred Nazis joined forces to physically destroy the organised left in Lviv – activists arrived from different regions, representing Azov’s Civic Corps, Right Sector and Karpatska Sich. Amazingly, they lost: failing to penetrate the gates of the office under attack, eventually they had to retreat. For political reasons, this kind of loss is unacceptable for an ambitious movement like Azov. Therefore, they will not lead the fight officially unless they are guaranteed to win. </p><p dir="ltr">The second hypothesis concerns competition between the agencies of state violence. Both 2016 and 2017 have seen attacks on the Lviv left scene <a href="http://opir.info/2017/10/26/sbu-proti-ao-dovidka-vid-maksima-osadchuka/">organised by the Security Service of Ukraine</a> (SBU). According to persons involved, these investigations seem to have been partially motivated by SBU’s own strategic aims, partially by the request of a local developer, and partially by the personal revenge of Yuri Mykhalchyshyn (who now works for the SBU as a consultant). Whatever the exact reasons in each specific case, Azov’s National Corps would hardly consider it expedient to be seen voluntarily helping the state institution which is traditionally hostile to their political patron Arsen Avakov – and to give other far right groups even more grounds to talk about their subservience to “the regime”. </p><p dir="ltr">Finally, Azov’s hegemony over the local extreme right may still not be quite consolidated yet. Their relations with Svoboda may be too complicated for open involvement in Lviv at a scale similar to other cities which have less competitive far-right scenes. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Challengers in Kyiv</h2><p dir="ltr">In Kyiv, open struggle against the (weaker) leftists and liberals is the preferred activity of C14 – an organisation headed by Yevgen Karas, a former Svoboda activist who split from the party to become an independent entrepreneur of political violence. Compared to the other far right organisations mentioned above, C14’s profile has less to do with quietly establishing informal domination and engaging in illicit activities for material gain, and more with mediatised activities oriented at a wider audience. </p><p dir="ltr">Aiming for Ukraine’s mainstream patriotic public, C14 positions itself as a group of young and resolute men ready to employ violence for the sake of (national) justice. Their enemies are usually represented as (latent) supporters of pro-Russian separatists, which automatically diminishes their worth in the eyes of the public and amplifies the attackers’ heroism. In effect, C14 is trying to take the niche that was occupied by Svoboda before Maidan: relatable and well-meaning troublemakers prepared to break the law for the greater good (by comparison, the agenda of National Corps stresses the values of order).</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">C14’s profile has less to do with quietly establishing informal domination and engaging in illicit activities for material gain, and more with mediatised activities oriented at a wider audience</p><p dir="ltr">This orientation is obvious from a Facebook poll in which C14 asked their audience which politician associated with the old regime they would like the group to beat up (so far they did not manage to target any of the persons mentioned in the poll). In line with this strategy, Karas <a href="http://news.liga.net/interview/politics/14852177-s14_kto_oni_i_pochemu_im_pozvoleno_bit_lyudey.htm">freely admitted</a> to a sympathetic journalist that he cooperates with Ukraine’s security services. Among Ukrainian far-right organisations, the activities of C14 are closest to those of Russian online vigilante movements such as “Occupy Pedophily” or “Lev Protiv”; their YouTube channel is consciously crafted to attract audiences (thus literally monetising their violence), and the most popular videos have between 50,000 and 300,000 views. </p><p dir="ltr">The recent wave of anti-Roma pogroms fits this strategy very well: it has produced immense positive feedback in the form of online comments from non-politicised “regular citizens”, enhancing brand recognition for C14. Roma can hardly pass as “separatists”, but their marginalised status makes them a perfect aim for this kind of strategically calculated violence. Notably, the first anti-Roma raid at Kyiv railway station was a reaction to swelling public demand (heated up by a moral panic in the media), rather than C14’s own ideologically dictated initiative. Meanwhile, the attack on the Kyiv antifascist rally in January 2018 is the continuation of C14’s more traditional political style – attacking easy targets that can be represented as the “fifth column”. </p><p dir="ltr">The 2018 feminist march in Kyiv also proves the selective approach of C14: it did not figure prominently among the counter-protesters on 8 March, but afterwards it seized the opportunity to inflate the hysteria around the feminist banner, claiming that the symbol of Azov’s National Militia on it looked too much like Ukraine’s national symbol, and was located too close to the woman’s anus. Characteristically, the National Militia ignored the story, but C14 did its best to mobilise its activists to attend the court hearings.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, though, there is a deeper calculation: consolidating Kyiv’s far-right scene behind C14. Just like Azov, C14 combine generic “healthy patriotic” message with subtler hints which can be easily deciphered by members of the subculture (such as the symbolic date of the Roma pogrom on Hitler’s birthday or indeed the very name of the organisation). Similarly, people belonging to politicised subcultures understand very well that the antifascists who were attacked in January 2018 were not Kremlin agents, but old political enemies who cannot be allowed to grow stronger. Having created a “municipal guard” <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukrainian-militia-behind-brutal-romany-attacks-getting-state-funds/29290844.html">officially financed</a> by Kyiv’s city council, C14 works towards realising both aims: it gives them a pretext to patrol streets and maximise the probability of violent encounters (which can be publicised), and at the same time provides a “second-best” opportunity to those who could or would not join the structures of Azov.</p><p dir="ltr">The desire to dominate the local far-right milieu is also apparent behind another series of violent acts by C14, not mentioned above because they were directed against the participants of the far-right scene. Dmitry Riznichenko, a prominent veteran of Ukraine’s far right scene and former member of C14, left the organisation after Maidan. After serving in the Donbas volunteer battalion, Riznichenko created his own organisation, more socially liberal than is custom among today’s far right. (Some have gone as far as declaring him a leftist.) Whatever Riznichenko’s actual political views, the important thing is that he, along with another “erring rightist” organisation ChorKom (Black Committee), maintains openly friendly relations with Lviv’s AO and openly challenges the hierarchy within the scene. Struggling to defend its authority, C14 launched an <a href="https://strana.ua/news/105615-s14-napali-na-ofis-reznichenko-izbili-eho-i-ohrabili.html">intensive campaign of brutal physical attacks</a> against Riznichenko.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Anti-gender” ideology as a universal mobiliser</h2><p dir="ltr">Even though neither Azov nor C14 explicitly mobilised for International Women’s Day on 8 March, the demonstration did encounter violent far-right counter-protesters, aided and abetted by some rank-and-file policemen belonging to the same political milieu. </p><p dir="ltr">The most prominent violent proponent of the “anti-gender” agenda in the post-Maidan years has been Right Sector. Its ideological face was always more “fascist” or “Francoist” than the white supremacist/Hitlerist Azov or LePen-like Svoboda. Inside the movement, Right Sector was the main engine behind violent mobilisations against LGBT events such as the Equality March in Kyiv. On the wider scale, it contributed to popularising and reinforcing the dichotomy between pro-EU, pro-Poroshenko liberals and revolutionary conservative nationalists. </p><p dir="ltr">Today, this dichotomy is a common-sense understanding. The “anti-gender” ideology has turned from an exclusive feature of Right Sector into a generic far-right set of ideas, which can be used by anyone. This is one reason behind the anonymity of some attacks and blockages: their authorship is known inside the relevant milieu, serving as one of the criteria for building subculture hierarchies. </p><p dir="ltr">It is also noticeable that Azov has never officially participated in any “gendered” violent actions. Even in their “home” town of Mariupol, attacks are not formally done on behalf of the movement. Partially, this can be explained by their special relationship with the state leadership, which was dying to hide all visible manifestations of xenophobia, homophobia and other signs of lack of social progress from the eyes of the EU, which could have reacted by backtracking on the visa-free regime, politically important for Ukrainian government. </p><p dir="ltr">However, this type of violence also generally does not fit Azov’s strategy of publicity. They like repeating that they fight “real and strong” enemies – Russians and separatists, but also corrupt officials and other powerful figures within the society, almost ignoring some classic rightist scapegoats. </p><p dir="ltr">Instead, the “anti-gender” violence scene has recently seen the rise of two new aspiring actors, which stand behind all recent “gendered” episodes in Kyiv. One of them, Katekhon, is a conservative Orthodox group, somewhat resembling the <a href="https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/russian-orthodox-nationalists-hope-for-tsars-return">Russian Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers</a> with their aggressive fundamentalist style. This group is headed by Yuriy Noyevyi, a politician from Svoboda. Not long ago, in 2012-2014, Noyevyi and his comrades were active in a different niche: their organisation Ukrainian Student attempted to become a far-right student union, competing for the influence with the anarcho-syndicalist union Priama Diya (Direct Action). When the latter ceased to be an important political contender, Noyevyi’s interests shifted from university syndicalism to religious fundamentalism. Effectively, Katekhon is the rebranded Ukrainian Student, serving the same technological purposes – promoting the interests of the party in the spheres which are considered the most promising at the moment. </p><p dir="ltr">The second ambitious newcomer at the market of gendered political violence is Tradition and Order (TiP). This party was created in the second half of 2016, and took Revanche, a group of admirers of Italian fascism, as its basis. The creation of the party was facilitated by <a href="http://reftlight.euromaidanpress.com/2016/10/31/revanche-opposition-nationalists-pledge-their-cooperation-with-the-authorities-part-1/">political technologists involved in the patronage circles</a> of the president’s political party, Petro Poroshenko Bloc. Today, the perception of TiP as “pro-Poroshenko” is widely shared in Kyiv’s marginal political subculture. Most likely, their task is to try and create an alternative centre of gravity among the far right that would balance the influence of Azov (whose political patron is not unconditionally loyal to Poroshenko) and the remaining authority of Svoboda and Right Sector. </p><p dir="ltr">Thus, people violently fighting against “gender propaganda” shoulder to shoulder were brought together in the same place by very different, and sometimes mutually exclusive, considerations. In March 2017, National Corps, Svoboda and Right Sector <a href="https://hromadske.ua/posts/lidery-natsionalistychnykh-partii-pidpysaly-manifest-pro-spilnu-diialnist">signed</a> a “National Manifesto”, pledging to coordinate their efforts in a joint struggle against the government; however, in reality this political field is full of conflicting interests as well as ambitious newcomers with powerful patrons.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The regional monopoly in Uzhgorod</h2><p dir="ltr">There is one more far right group actively and violently fighting against “gender ideology” in Ukraine – Karpatska Sich (KS), whose area of activity is mostly confined to Uzhgorod. Unlike Azov, they are not tied by the limitations imposed by high-status patrons and parliamentary political ambitions, and do not shy away from certain topics, catering to all possible audiences in the regional far-right milieu. </p><p dir="ltr">This group is a financially self-sufficient political and criminal unit, functioning in a border region where smuggling and similar petty criminal activities are an important source of income for a large part of the population. The leadership of KS are <a href="https://www.facebook.com/24CRU/videos/2005073486402769/?fref=mentions">founders of a charitable foundation</a> that receives goods confiscated at the customs for free, pledging to deliver them to soldiers at the eastern front. However, among the goods thus obtained there were <a href="https://www.facebook.com/peresolyak/posts/2066642420030536">two tonnes of marble and women’s lingerie</a>, which can be hardly considered a useful material aid but can be profitably sold. One of the founders also figures in cases of illicit land allocations by Uzhgorod city council.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/39132343_214772276052376_4881112426461790208_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/39132343_214772276052376_4881112426461790208_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="358" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of Karpatska Sich perform a "traditional" greeting in front of a fire, August 2018. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>Simultaneously, KS has successfully established its exclusive control over street-level violence in Uzhgorod. The publication of the information on their illicit activities by a local anti-corruption activist was followed by a string of attacks against him and his colleagues by KS. On the other hand, the nature of their relations with the police and local government is markedly different from the situation in Kyiv and Lviv. In this case, there is hardly an infiltration or benevolent attitude on the part of rank-and-file policemen; rather, the police and the state apparatus are too weak to persecute KS as severely as they perhaps would like to. In 2017, the leader of KS Taras Deyak was included in the list of 100 most influential people of the region – this is very unusual, and suggests the depth of the group’s involvement in local criminal networks.</p><p dir="ltr">This influence is used to expand the clout of KS among the far-right scene and reap benefits in high politics. The list of organisations which participated in the 79th anniversary march was telling. It did not include either National Corps or Svoboda. Instead, it featured C14 (whose sphere of influence is geographically divided from KS) and the Social-National Assembly. <a href="https://kharkov.dozor.ua/news/1195538.html">According to some rumours</a>, the leader of SNA Oleh Odnorozhenko (who was previously Azov’s main ideologue) is drifting closer to Oleh Lyashko and Igor Mosiychuk – people who left Azov in 2014. Lyashko’s Radical Party is an influential player in mainstream politics, and he personally enjoys high rankings in presidential polls, opposing both Avakov and Poroshenko. Odnorozhenko’s frequent visits to Uzhgorod and participation in joint events may be a prelude to the inclusion of SNA and KS into Lyashko’s electoral machine. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Hegemony toolkit: Dosing violence, choosing friends and victims </h2><p dir="ltr">The first and most important of the plots we have been able to discern above is the establishment of the Azov movement as dominant in Ukraine’s far-right scene on the national level – and as a significant political player in the mainstream political scene. </p><p dir="ltr">The key factors that have allowed Azov to rise to these positions are its strategic choices to maintain a reserved but not hostile public attitude towards the government and to maintain close patron-client relationships with certain factions both on the national level and in specific regional and local configurations. The third factor is Azov’s military background, which grants it access to the infrastructure of violence (arms, training facilities etc.) and ensures its legitimacy both in the eyes of the wider public and of the nationalist scene. This legitimacy hinges on the balanced demonstration of the resources of violence available to the movement and its discretion in using them.</p><p dir="ltr">This combination is unique among the major far-right structures in Ukraine. Right Sector has a strong military component, but its decision to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach/coup-talk-in-ukraine">choose an openly confrontational path</a> in its relations with the governing factions of the ruling class has prevented it from gaining access to important physical and symbolic resources. In this situation, Right Sector’s bet on their clientelist relations with an opposition faction of Ukraine’s haute bourgeoisie (Ihor Kolomoisky’s Privat Group) and revolutionary image did not pay off. Now this movement seems to be in decline. </p><p dir="ltr">Svoboda, meanwhile, was too compromised by its perceived proximity to power during and immediately after Maidan. The creation of Svoboda’s own volunteer war units appears to have failed to neutralise the lack of radicalism and militarism in its public image. Its advertised readiness to resort to violence was the key to Svoboda’s electoral success before Maidan, but this was overshadowed by the efforts of the competing entrepreneurs of political violence in the post-Maidan conjuncture, in which the level of and tolerance to violence has escalated. On the other hand, Svoboda keeps holding on to its hegemony in regional power settings in western Ukraine, even though its relations to nation-wide patronage networks is unclear. All in all, Azov/National Corps seems to be clearly the most successful partner in the big nationalist threesome, receiving the most from this alliance. </p><p dir="ltr">As mentioned above, Azov’s success hinges partly on the measured dosage of violence in the public space, which should project an image of a force conscious of its superiority in terms of violent resources – but still using it sparingly. This is why National Corps prefers semi-anonymity when acting in situations where its single-handed superiority is not guaranteed a priori, like in Kyiv and Lviv. Its interpenetration with the police forces helps it establish its hegemony in a covert manner. The efforts of National Corps to dominate street politics in Lviv are the second plot.</p><p dir="ltr">The third plot concerns the activities of C14 in Kyiv. This movement is closer to a classic vigilante group, generously using violence against commonly recognised “public enemies”, i.e. subjects of moral panic like the Roma or alleged pro-Russian fifth columnist. In their activity, they appeal to two audiences: the wider public with its patriotic and anti-Roma instincts and the far-right political subculture able to see more nuanced details. The first dimension makes C14 a structural analogue of Russian vigilante groups with their commercialised online platforms; the second dimension, oriented inside the far-right scene, has elevated C14 to the position of a co-organiser of the annual nationalist marches on 14 October, on a par with the much more powerful Azov, Svoboda and Right Sector. </p><p dir="ltr">The use of “anti-gender” ideology is the fourth theme. The cases analysed here show that this mobilising subject is used as a self-promotion arena by two competing groups: Katekhon, trying to restore Svoboda’s once leading positions in the scene; and TiP, aimed at creating there a separate gravitation pole embedded in Poroshenko’s patronage network. On the other hand, Azov/National Corps seems reluctant to invest too much effort in forcing the topic.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, a separate plot is unfolding in Uzhgorod, where the locally entrenched political and criminal structure Karpatska Sich is overtly competing with the state apparatus for influence on the regional level and is struggling to build alliances on the national scale. These alliances, if constructed successfully, will be able to undermine the dominance of Azov/National Corps by creating a patronage network of comparable capacity to compete with it politically and otherwise on all levels. </p><p dir="ltr">As I have argued above, Ukraine’s far right are taking the logic of “violent entrepreneurship” outside the purely commercial and apolitical realm – and employing it in the domain of political contestation, where illicit violence is a precious resource that can be bought and rented. Ukrainian Nazi movements thus exist on the intersection of several worlds (criminal, commercial, military, marginal-political, mainstream political) and are prepared to mobilise their violent resources for advancement of their own positions, up to and including displacing former patrons and stepping into their shoes. The skillful and measured management and use of these violent resources is the key to success in this strategy. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/rise-of-azov">The rise of Azov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">What are the real barriers to freedom of assembly in Ukraine?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Denys Gorbach Ukraine Tue, 16 Oct 2018 14:07:31 +0000 Denys Gorbach 120099 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Russia’s North Caucasus, an unprecedented, peaceful protest https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/ingushetia-land-protest-chechnya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Ingushetia, people have come out to protest land transfer to neighbouring Chechya. For now, the Kremlin is listening.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5880.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5880.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magas, Ingushetia. Image: Tanya Lokshina. </span></span></span>As the call to prayer rolls over of Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, Russia’s smallest North Caucasus republic, hundreds of men busily unroll plastic mats, turning the central square into an open-air prayer ground. “Allahu Akbar!” The men kneel, get up, and kneel again — a sea of kneeling men stretching out in front of me. Done with the prayer, they roll back the mats. Then they continue with the rally that has gathered them here out on the square. to call for the annulment of a recent agreement on the demarcation of Ingushetia’s administrative border with neighboring Chechnya that will see Ingushetia lose territory.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Estimates vary on how much territory would be lost to Chechnya. Official estimates <span><a href="https://echo.msk.ru/news/2293088-echo.html?utm_source=vk.com&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=pochti-7-territorii-ingushetii-perehodit">put it at five per cent</a> of</span> Ingushetia’s entire current territory, totaling 1,240 square miles. <span><a href="https://echo.msk.ru/news/2293088-echo.html?utm_source=vk.com&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=pochti-7-territorii-ingushetii-perehodit">Independent experts estimate seven per cent</a></span>, and some of the protest organisers say the loss is up to 10 percent. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> During the Soviet era, Chechnya and Ingushetia were one republic. An interim agreement on the border reached in the early 1990s, after Chechnya sought independence from Russia while Ingushetia chose in a referendum to remain in Russia, was revised on several occasions, but the demarcation was never finalised.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> As many as <span><a href="https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-45764266">10,000 people</a></span> have joined the rally on some days. This is unprecedented for Ingushetia, with its population of <span><a href="http://www.statdata.ru/naselenie/respubliki-ingushetiya">just over 450,000</a></span>.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Why such great numbers? People in Ingushetia generally <span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDyH9e8KaWI">view the land as sacred</a></span> and the loss of every square inch is painful. Particularly so because Ingushetia<span><a href="https://theins.ru/opinions/121410"> lost</a></span> land after the trauma of deportation of the Ingush during the Stalin era and the brief but fierce armed conflict with the neighbouring region of Ossetia in the early 1990s. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> However, Ingushetia’s leadership did not inform the public that the negotiations were taking place until the outcome was already a done deal. The protest, which has been on-going for close to two weeks, was largely triggered by this stark lack of transparency in decision-making on an issue of great public importance. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> As I walk through the protest site talking to people at random, this is precisely what I hear being repeated, passionately. “They decided on our behalf without even letting us know!” – “No one bothered asking our opinion!” – “It is as if we did not exist.” – “We are here to show them that our voices matter!” </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> The words I heard are strikingly similar to what I heard in Moscow in autumn 2011 when mass peaceful protests broke out after then-prime minister Vladimir Putin announced that he and then- president Dmitry Medvedev <span><a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/12/13/era-apathy-russia-post-election-protests">had decided “several years ago”</a></span> that they would swap places in the next presidential election. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Thousands of people have come together in Ingushetia to make their voices heard. While the older people, in full accordance with local traditions, are given the place of honour and priority at the microphone, the younger ones are handling all the logistics. The square is meticulously clean, a small field kitchen operates in the back, with food, water and hot drinks available to everyone. Local Red Cross volunteers are at the ready with medical assistance. With official media either ignoring the protest or attempting to smear the organizers, volunteer cameramen work around the clock, posting their videos online. Mobile internet was <span><a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2018/10/07/eto-ne-mozhet-ostatsya-beznakazannym">cut off in Magas</a></span> at the start of the protest, as the local authorities strove to limit social media coverage in real time, but the younger bloggers have long found ways to get around it.</p><p class="western" lang="ru-RU"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5875.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magas, Ingushetia. Image: Tanya Lokshina. </span></span></span>Students, academics, public servants, members of Ingushetia’s parliament, civic activists, opposition politicians, members of the council of the elders, and local religious leaders have united to make clear to federal authorities that the people of Ingushetia want the agreement suspended and expect to be part of the decision-making processes. Local police join the protesters for regular prayers and say quietly that they won’t use force against the demonstrators even if ordered to.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> On 6 October, the third day of the rally, with thousands of people already protesting, men who claimed they were security officials <span><a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/russia-amnesty-researcher-abducted-and-subjected-to-mock-executions-in-ingushetia/">kidnapped a researcher from Amnesty International</a></span> who was in Ingushetia to monitor the protest. They drove him to a deserted area, beat him, forced him to strip, subjected him to mock executions, and finally released him late at night, telling him “never come back, and don’t write filth about Ingushetia.” Most likely, the kidnappers intended to use his example to discourage other “outsiders” from traveling to Ingushetia and reporting on the rally, but their depraved intimidation tactics have not seemed to work. Interest in the dramatic developments in Magas is rising, and an increasing number of journalists and other observers are coming to report on the protest.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Whatever the outcome, the protesters clearly made federal authorities pay attention. This week, <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/326531/"><span>the organi</span><span>s</span><span>ers will have their second meeting</span></a> with President Putin’s emissary in the North Caucasus federal district. <span><a href="https://meduza.io/news/2018/10/14/s-lyudmi-nado-metodami-yazyka-demokratii-evkurov-rasskazal-o-rekomendatsiyah-putina-po-obscheniyu-s-protestuyuschimi">Putin also spoke to Ingushetia’s governor</a></span>, Yunusbek Evkurov, stressing that no force should be used against the protesters and the government should be talking to them. The protest now continues with official authorization. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> The scale of this protracted protest is unprecedented for Ingushetia, but also striking for contemporary Russia, where peaceful protests are routinely dispersed. In that context, Putin’s advice to Evkurov to “talk to people” and to use “methods… of democracy” comes across as quite ironic. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> One thing is clear. The Kremlin is surprised by this popular movement. It has taken a pause and for once, at least for now, it’s listening.</p><p class="western" lang="ru-RU">&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/yegor-skovoroda-sergei-smirnov/inside-ingushetia-anti-extremism-torture-extortion">Inside Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre: torture, extortion, murder</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-klimova-egor-skovoroda/how-ingushetia-got-rid-of-its-independent-media">How Ingushetia&#039;s independent media and opposition were harassed, exiled and murdered out of existence</a> </div> <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/denis-sokolov/will-the-war-in-russias-north-caucasus-ever-end">Will the war in Russia’s North Caucasus ever end?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-real-urban-planning-could-address-the-demographic-challenge">How real urban planning could address the demographic challenge in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Ingushetia Caucasus Tue, 16 Oct 2018 13:24:15 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 120123 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Militarised society: memory politics, history and gender in Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/olesya-khromeychuk/memory-politics-history-and-gender-in-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Ukraine, history could be used to help make sense of the brutal ongoing war, but it can also be instrumentalised for political gains.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.08.06.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.08.06.png" 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'>A Facebook post by the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory marking the reburial of soldiers who fought for the Ukrainian People's Republic, Ternopil region. </span></span></span>As I scroll down the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/uinp.gov.ua/">Facebook page</a> of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, I come across posts about vandalised graves of fighters in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_Insurgent_Army">Ukrainian Insurgent Army</a>. This is followed by posts from a regular rubric “The Fallen Heroes of the Russian-Ukrainian War” on the page, which, in turn, is followed by posts about rediscovered battle grounds and burial sites dating back to the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921. </p><p dir="ltr">But it’s not only my newsfeed where the bones of the historical dead are mixed with the dead of the ongoing war. In 2014, the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory made recommendations to create sections reserved for military burials in cemeteries. By March 2017, there were 450 of these sections across Ukraine. The Institute <a href="http://www.istpravda.com.ua/short/2017/04/24/149712">stated</a> that these sections should be “structured in such a way that, if necessary, they can become a space for holding appropriate commemorative events, such as commemorative worship, the laying of flowers, standing military guard or visits by official delegations.” It is not surprising that these sections are sometimes created as extensions to existing military burial grounds.</p><p dir="ltr">The Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv is a case in point. As well as containing one of the new military sectors, the military cemetery here houses the graves of Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fighters from the 1940s and 1950s, soldiers of the army of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_People%27s_Republic">Ukrainian People’s Republic</a> (UNR, 1917-1920), the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_Galician_Army">Ukrainian Galician Army</a> (UHA, 1918-1920) and a memorial to an unknown soldier of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14th_Waffen_Grenadier_Division_of_the_SS_(1st_Galician)">Waffen SS Galicia Division </a>(active in 1943-1945). In addition, the military pantheon of those presented as fighters for Ukrainian statehood is located close to the <a href="https://lia.lvivcenter.org/uk/objects/polish-orlat-cemetery">burial site of the “Defenders of Lwów”</a>, young Poles who fought for Polish control of Lviv/Lwów in 1918-1919. Turn around and you will see a field that <a href="https://lia.lvivcenter.org/uk/objects/tarlo-cemetery/">once contained the graves of Russian prisoners</a> captured during the First World War (the graves are no longer there). Another neighbouring field contains the remains of Polish insurgents who died in the <a href="https://www.britannica.com/event/January-Insurrection">“January Uprising”</a> of 1863-1864. A short walk away is the so-called “Field of Mars”, which contains graves of Red Army soldiers killed in the Second World War. </p><p dir="ltr">Here, these generations of one-time adversaries are ultimately reconciled in death. However, we, the living, who are tasked with the upkeep of their memory, tend not only to light candles on their graves, but also fan the flames of their wars by the way we construct memories of our war dead. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Eaglets_graves_next_to_UHA_memorial_Lychakiv.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Eaglets_graves_next_to_UHA_memorial_Lychakiv.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'>Bodies of the Lwów Eaglets and a UHA Memorial in Lychakiv cemetery, Lviv. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>One other <a href="https://lia.lvivcenter.org/uk/objects/polish-cemetery/">burial site</a> in the Lychakiv cemetery contains graves of fighters in the <a href="https://www.britannica.com/event/November-Insurrection">Polish November Uprising</a> of 1830-1831. Here, you can find memorial plates with an inscription from Virgil’s <em>The Aeneid</em>, “exoriāre aliquis nostrīs ex ossibus ultor” (“Out of my dust [bones], unknown Avenger, rise!”). Although this inscription is over one hundred years old, it seems to be relevant to the way military burials are perceived today: we are not content to let the dead’s ashes rest, but are continually exhorting those ashes to separate themselves and rise in order to serve our present needs.</p><p dir="ltr">But how many people in the wider public participate in this disturbing of the dead? This is questionable, and is a source of anxiety for those who are particularly invested in the politics of memory. In an <a href="https://youtu.be/BBfq_T06XT0?t=1009">interview</a> on national television, Volodymyr Viatrovych, the head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, expressed his concern that Ukrainians did not fully realise the importance of military burial sites and still preferred to bury their dead – the casualties of the ongoing conflict – in family graves. He said that, by creating military cemeteries, the most important thing that the UINP wanted to achieve was “to show that the struggle that is currently taking place is one of the links in the chain in the struggle of Ukrainians for independence; to weave it into wider process.” Judging by recent developments at Lychakiv cemetery, the UINP has been successful in their aim, at least in Lviv. </p><p dir="ltr">In November 2017, as part of the 99th anniversary of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Ukrainian_People%27s_Republic">Western Ukrainian People’s Republic</a>, local authorities in Lviv held a common commemoration of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_Sich_Riflemen">Sich Sharpshooters</a>, UHA soldiers and soldiers of the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO) in eastern Ukraine. [1] The Governor of Lviv region, Oleh Syniutka, <a href="http://loda.gov.ua/news?id=31498">stated</a> that: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">Today we pay tribute to the fallen fighters for the freedom of Ukraine […]. The great mission started by the Sich Riflemen 99 years ago will be accomplished, and in the 21st century, Ukraine will establish itself as a free and independent state with a powerful army and a strong people.</p><p dir="ltr">In Syniutka’s statement, the dead ATO soldiers truly look like the avengers who rose up from the dust of their military predecessors. Even their gravestones evoke a sense of continuity, as they resemble the gravestones of fighters from the 1940s Ukrainian Insurgent Army and Ukrainian Galician Army of 1918-1920.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Militarised society</h2><p dir="ltr">The establishment of continuity between historical wars and the present-day conflict in Ukraine makes more sense if we consider contemporary Ukrainian society as militarised. Defining Ukrainian society in this way will probably raise some readers’ eyebrows. When you find yourself away from the frontline, whether in Lviv, Kyiv or even Kharkiv, you have to be reminded that this country is at war. Among such reminders are political slogans that address the war directly or indirectly. For instance, President Petro Poroshenko’s electoral campaign emphasises the value applied to the armed forces. The three words stressed on the omnipresent posters are “Army! Language! Faith!” In his <a href="https://www.5.ua/polityka/pislia-toho-iak-my-povernemo-krym-rosiiskoi-bazy-v-sevastopoli-tochno-bilshe-ne-bude-poroshenko-177883.html">annual address to the Ukrainian Parliament</a>, Poroshenko stated that this wasn’t just a slogan. “It’s a formula for modern Ukrainian identity. The army protects our land. The language protects our hearts. The Church protects our souls.” Among other reminders that the war is ongoing are adverts for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who are desperate to find new recruits. One advertising board simply says: “I am the army” (<em>Ia armiia</em>). You might come across someone in a uniform claiming to be an ATO veteran and collecting money, or a café decorated with military insignia. Or you might spot a military funeral procession while walking through the centre of an otherwise peaceful Ukrainian town. Yet, for the most part, Ukraine does not look like a country at war. </p><p dir="ltr"><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0IpXxg3lqgo" height="259" width="460"></iframe><span style="font-style: italic;">Video from "I am the army" public campaign, June 2018.</span></p><p dir="ltr">However, it is important to remember that militarisation can take place far from the frontline. For the purposes of this essay, my understanding of militarisation is based on feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe’s <a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520220713/maneuvers">definition</a> of it as a “step-by-step process by which something becomes controlled by, dependent on, or derives its value from the military as an institution or militaristic criteria”. [6] In a country that still conscripts its soldiers, a significant percentage of Ukraine’s population – not only the recruits themselves, but their families too – is controlled by the military. The fact that the borders of the territory controlled by the Ukrainian state continue to shift even in the fifth year of the conflict serves as a reminder that Ukraine’s territorial integrity – and thus the degree to which people in Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, etc. can continue to live their ordinary lives – is dependent on the military. </p><p dir="ltr">One of the factors that fuels militarisation, <a href="http://www.theory-talks.org/2012/05/theory-talk-48.html">according to Enloe</a>, is a “diffusion of military ideas into popular culture and into social workings”. Referring to the US, Enloe states that an ex-army person would be a favoured candidate for a school principal. A similar situation can be observed in Ukraine. People who have been involved in the war in the Donbas region <a href="https://www.unian.info/society/2208681-ukrainians-trust-civil-volunteers-church-army-most-poll.html">enjoy a great deal of trust</a>. Political parties are <a href="https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/politics/2015/02/150223_mps_in_army_vs">keen to include war veterans on their party lists</a>, as this is likely to boost their ratings. These former combatants and now people’s deputies turn up to parliamentary sessions in army uniforms, displaying their association with the military. Other politicians also enjoy sporting camouflage (Poroshenko is frequently seen in uniform) or stylised military outfits (former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko). The choice of military or militarised clothing over civilian indicates that, in the view of these politicians, the military is valued highly by their voters.</p><p dir="ltr">In addition, there are paramilitary groups such as the <a href="http://ndrugua.org/">National Militia Units</a>&nbsp;whose declared aim is to “ensure order on the streets of the Ukrainian towns”, but they have also <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-44593995">taken part in anti-Roma pogroms</a>. Such groups position themselves as “former participants of combat operations, patriotic youth and concerned citizens”, and they are at least tolerated by the state and parts of Ukrainian society, if not supported or trusted. </p><p dir="ltr">Other indicators of a society that derives its value from the military include the huge volunteer movement that <a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/reytingijfojseojoej8567547">enjoys high levels of public trust</a>. It essentially replaced the state in the first years of the war, securing provisions for the army. Since the start of the war, state defence expenditure has increased significantly, but as it is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/world/europe/ukraine-corruption-military.html">eroded by corruption</a>, the <a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/reytingijfojseojoej8567547">volunteer movement</a> continues to address the needs of the army. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-38171532.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/PA-38171532.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>24 August 2018: Independence Day, Kyiv. Photo: Jaap Arriens / SIPA USA / PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Seeing militarisation as something that is related to the frontline only, and not to the rest of civilian society, is to understand only one fraction of it. To refer to Enloe again, militarisation happens on many levels and occurs away from the obvious places: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“It's happening at the individual level, when a woman who has a son is persuaded that the best way she can be a good mother is to allow the military recruiter to recruit her son so her son will get off the couch. When she is persuaded to let him go, even if reluctantly, she's being militarized. She's not as militarized as somebody who is a Special Forces soldier, but she's being militarized all the same.” </p><p dir="ltr">Focusing on soldiers and the frontline, and disregarding how militarisation affects the rest of the population, removes responsibility from society for facilitating or taking part in militarisation – and also from those who actively promote militarisation for their own ends. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Interpreting military history</h2><p dir="ltr">A particular state-endorsed interpretation of military history can also serve the purpose of militarisation – albeit in more indirect ways. In order to examine these official narratives of past wars, I will employ gender analysis, as it allows us to understand how the construction of war heroism in narratives of past wars facilitates militarisation of society. The way history has been written, as Enloe argues, has helped to create an assumption “that women should feel themselves protected and should act gratefully about being protected, whereas men, and even those who don't want to, should be encouraged – pressured – into thinking that their main role in the world, this dangerous world, is as a protector.” In a country that is engaged in a war, this becomes particularly relevant. War defines manhood, and soldiering is the ultimate expression of masculinity, especially in the imagination of a militarised society. </p><p dir="ltr">Anniversaries of famous battles provide excellent opportunities for using the past to explain the present. In January 1918, several hundred Ukrainian cadets met several thousand Bolshevik troops outside of Kyiv in a fight for the capital. Outnumbered, the cadets lost the battle. One hundred years on, what came to be known as the Battle of Kruty, is remembered in Ukraine as a glorious defeat and a valiant sacrifice, and the cadets are held up as role models for contemporary soldiers. In 2018, the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, together with the Ministry of Information Policy, <a href="https://mip.gov.ua/en/news/2218.html">produced posters</a> which called the Kruty cadets “the first cyborgs”, comparing them to the Ukrainian soldiers who fought for control of Donetsk Airport in 2014-2015 and were nicknamed “cyborgs” for their endurance. The symbol of the Battle of Kruty is a young man, a student, who was still a child only yesterday, but who entered his manhood by joining the battle and dying a hero’s death, and this image is being reactivated in the context of the present war. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Grushevskiy_parad.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Grushevskiy_parad.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mykhailo Hrushevskyi at a military parade in Kyiv, 1917. Source: Wikipedia. Public Domain. </span></span></span>Heroic death has been highly valued by Ukrainian state builders in the past. Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, a historian and the head of the Central Rada of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, began <a href="http://www.istpravda.com.ua/research/2012/01/29/70470/">his speech</a> at the reburial of the Kruty casualties in 1918 with the words: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!” This sentiment is also strong in contemporary Ukraine, where a hero’s death is often the highest reward soldiers can get in return for their services. If they died “correctly” (i.e. not from illness or in a drunken fight with their comrades, or somewhere in captivity with no reliable proof of their death, etc.), their families <a href="https://life.pravda.com.ua/columns/2017/05/10/224105/">will also receive monetary “compensation”</a>. But the main reward for the soldiers is living on in the myth about the self-sacrifice of heroic warriors. Official delegations can visit their graves, politicians <a href="http://loda.gov.ua/news?id=31498">can have their photos taken laying wreath by the memorials</a>, and families – who, as Viatrovych admits, do not always appreciate the importance of militarised funerals – can slowly learn to value the honourable position of their dead.</p><p dir="ltr">The image of the noble, heroic, correct death, however, is to a large extent the stuff of romantic mythology. In his short story <a href="https://pen-international.org/news/oleg-sentsov-testament">“Testament”</a>, Ukrainian political prisoner Oleh Sentsov compared the romantic view of a military hero’s death with a more realistic one: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">There was once a man who was asked how he would like to die, and he answered: “With a shout of ‘hurrah!’ on my lips, a gun slung over my shoulder and a mouth full of blood.” I’d also like that – it’s beautiful, it’s manly. But that’s not how it works. Heroes only die beautifully in movies and books. In real life, they piss blood into their pants, scream from pain and remember their mothers.</p><p dir="ltr">This kind of picture would not make a good poster, nor would it sell a movie. </p><p dir="ltr">Defeat on the battlefield or an expression of weakness (remembering your mother or wetting yourself) might merit sympathy but not respect. Accentuating bravery (or manliness, muzhnist’, a popular word in Ukrainian discourse around war specifically and patriotism more generally) rather than fear, the glory of a proper man’s death rather than the tragedy of a lost life, is more conducive to the creation of a palatable portrayal of war. The sort of war that, as Sentsov notes, exists in books and movies. </p><p dir="ltr">It is no coincidence that both the Donetsk Airport Battle and the Battle of Kruty have recently been turned into films. <em>Kiborhy</em> (<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ka5t9Zs_H88">Cyborgs</a>) was released in 2017. <em>Kruty 1918</em> (translated into English as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqulRcFPnH0">Winter of the Braves</a>) is to be released on 6 December 2018, the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The tagline for Cyborgs is “Heroes don’t die”, the one for <em>Kruty 1918</em> is “Bravery. Love. Freedom.” Both films tell heroic tales of male camaraderie, valour, and heroism. Both tell the story of a similar protagonist: a young man who is not a natural warrior, but who, in the course of a war, takes up arms and is ready to sacrifice his life for the country. <em>Cyborgs</em> has an almost entirely male cast with women appearing only in the background as volunteers or wives and daughters whose voices we hear when they call their men at the frontline. One of <em>Kruty 1918</em>’s main characters is a woman, but she is no less symbolic than the women of <em>Cyborgs</em>: she is the object of love of the two brothers (<a href="https://www.5.ua/kyiv/kruty-163375.html">one fighting among the Kruty cadets and the other for the Bolsheviks</a>). As such, she is an embodiment of Ukraine itself. </p><p dir="ltr"><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YgL0hN4Pn1s" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>This trailer for new film Kruty 1918 draws parallels between that battle and the contemporary conflict in Eastern Ukraine. </em></p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s Minister of Culture Ievhen Nyshchuk, a professional actor who has cameo parts in both films, <a href="http://www.istpravda.com.ua/short/2018/01/26/151956">said</a> of the Battle of Kruty that “a people, a nation and a country is built on this kind of heroism.” The heroic depiction of war helps society to stomach defeat and restores conventional masculinity that may be discredited by failure on the battlefield. Nyshchuk also stressed that the history of the Battle of Kruty is relevant to the events of the present. Talking about the leaders of the short-lived Ukrainian People’s Republic, he <a href="http://www.istpravda.com.ua/short/2018/01/26/151956/">stated</a>: “They didn’t manage to hold on to it [the Ukrainian state], but it is our task to hold on to it.” Like the Institute of National Memory’s depiction of the Kruty cadets as the “first cyborgs”, the parallels emphasised by Nyshchuk help create an impression of Ukraine being engaged continuously in a just war. </p><p dir="ltr">Kruty is one of many examples of historical war narratives playing a powerful part in state-endorsed initiatives to shape the image of the contemporary conflict in the Donbas region. The National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War in Kyiv has drawn parallels between the ATO soldiers and those of the Red Army who fought on the territory of Ukraine during the Second World War. </p><p dir="ltr">For instance, on the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in 2017, an ATO veteran, Volodymyr Lahuta, <a href="https://www.5.ua/suspilstvo/dvi-viiny-ale-odyn-boiovyi-shliakh-neimovirna-istoriia-desantnyka-zsu-160753.html">shared his story </a>of fighting for Lysychansk and Savur-mohyla in 2014 with the students of Ivan Bohun Military Lyceum. He told the young people that in 1944 his grandfather also fought for Lysychansk and Savur-mohyla as part of the Red Army. Also in 2017, a different exhibition opened in the same museum. It <a href="https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-culture/2319286-u-kievi-vidkrili-fotovistavku-pro-borotbu-upa-j-bijciv-ato.html">compared</a> photos of Ukrainian Insurgent Army fighters with those of contemporary fighters in the Donbas region, stressing the similarity and continuity between these two conflicts. The exhibition project (unambiguously entitled <a href="https://galinfo.com.ua/news/obiektyvna_istoriya__fotovystavka_voyakiv_upa_ta_zsu_271448.html">“Objective History”</a>) states that it “combined two generations: that of the UPA, which fought for the independence of Ukraine 75 years ago and that which is defending it now in ATO.” The 24 pairs of photos emphasise remarkable similarities between warfare then and now. The photographer and ATO veteran Iurii Velychko stated that when he looked at the archival photos of the UPA he realised that he had already seen all this at the frontline in the battalion where he served. </p><p dir="ltr">While the authors’ wish was to emphasise the continuity in the struggle for independence, what struck me in the parallels was that the frontline life of the guerrilla forces of the 1940s and a regular army in the 21st century in a country <a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/ukraines-defense-budget-28-percent-2018.html">that spends 5% of its GDP on defence</a> look so similar: poor equipment and weapons (in the early days of the war, ATO soldiers were even known to <a href="https://zik.ua/news/2014/11/05/ukrainskym_viyskovym_dovodytsya_protystoyaty_mayzhe_goliruch_proty_rosiyskyh_gradiv_537869">use weapons issued in the 1940s</a>), mismatched uniforms, makeshift trenches and living quarters, and graves in the middle of fields. Another striking resemblance was in the <a href="https://galinfo.com.ua/news/obiektyvna_istoriya__fotovystavka_voyakiv_upa_ta_zsu_271448.html">representation of gender roles</a>: men were armed and tough-looking; the few women that appeared in the photos were mostly civilian and unarmed, posing to look “feminine” and supportive. </p><h2 dir="ltr">War and gender</h2><p dir="ltr">Other parallels that link past wars with the current one can be found in gender relations within the military itself, which tend to reflect gender norms in society more widely. </p><p dir="ltr">In the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during the 1940s, gender roles prevalent in peacetime were exacerbated in the context of war. The place allocated to women both in the social and military hierarchy was unquestionably below that of men. [2] In this context, men, especially of a senior rank, often expected sexual favours from women, in particular those under their command. Marta Havryshko, who researches gender relations in the UPA, argues that this power structure facilitated coercive relationships, often leading to gender-based violence perpetrated by the nationalists against their own women. She <a href="https://journals.openedition.org/pipss/4214">states</a> that while “rape was considered a severe criminal offense, which was even punishable by death”, the outcomes of trials for these crimes “depended on the decision of the commander or the court” and could result in the punishment of the (female) victim rather than a (male) perpetrator.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/0067_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/0067_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>UPA fighters, 1940s. Source: Center for Studies of the Liberation Movement, Ukraine.</span></span></span>Havryshko describes a case from 1947 in which a member of the underground, Mykhailo Bodnarchuk, a leader in the Lutsk region in northwest Ukraine, was tried by his command for raping a woman, Anna Kovalchuk. The trial, however, concluded that it was Kovalchuk who was to be punished, not Bodnarchuk. Kovalchuk was executed as a result.</p><p dir="ltr">Similar attitudes can be observed today. A man who participates in war is perceived as a hero by default. His military or off-duty conduct might be less than immaculate – he might have taken part in activities that could be classified as war crimes, or he might have taken out his anger on his partner or children, adding to the already dangerously widespread domestic violence in Ukraine – but few will dare criticise his behaviour, because he defends his motherland. [3]</p><p dir="ltr">For instance, in 2016, an ATO veteran who raped an underage girl <a href="https://ua.censor.net.ua/news/396941/sud_na_kyyivschyni_zvilnyv_vid_pokarannya_z_vyprobuvalnym_terminom_viyiskovoslujbovtsyauchasnyka_ato">was allowed to walk free</a> from a Kyiv regional courtroom precisely because he was an ATO veteran. The judge <a href="https://espreso.tv/news/2016/07/22/viyskovyy_ato_zaplatyt_3_tys_grn_za_zgvaltuvannya_nepovnolitnoyi">stated</a> that “the mitigating circumstance in his case was that he was a participant in the military conflict in the Donbas region and that he had two children of his own.” His only punishment was a penalty of 3,000 hryvnias (around $120). In both this case and in the previous example, we see how militarism, masculinity and heroism are interlinked. Additionally, we see how an emphasis on the continuity of heroic struggle is transposed onto a continuity of perceptions about gender roles – and all the consequences they carry. </p><p dir="ltr">The case of Nadiia Morozova, a Ukrainian servicewoman killed at the frontline in 2017, is telling in this regard. As soon as the news of her killing in the ATO zone became public, the media <a href="https://znaj.ua/society/zagybel-geroyini-ato-opublikovani-bolisni-podrobyci">reported it as a “heroic death”</a>. Many outlets based their reports on a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1047233778747515&amp;id=698520933618803&amp;substory_index=0">Facebook post</a> by the regional administration of Morozova’s native town, which stated that: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">Our countrywoman, Nadiia Morozova, died heroically while executing her combat mission. [She] bravely [muzhn’o] and courageously defended our Fatherland from the terrorists in the ATO zone. Under enemy fire, she received fatal injuries. </p><p dir="ltr">Morozova was not a combatant. Indeed, because of the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/invisible-battalion-ukraine">legal restrictions that were in place until recently</a>, very few women could be officially registered for combat positions in Ukraine. Morozova worked as a chef, having joined the Armed Forces as a way of earning her living and supporting her young son. Soon after she was buried with full military honours, it turned out that Morozova had died not because she was “executing her combat mission”, but, as was <a href="https://24tv.ua/zyavilisya_ostanni_detali_rozsliduvannya_shhodo_smerti_voyina_ato_morozovoyi_n838407">later stated officially</a>, because one of her comrades, “having broken the rules of handling weapons, caused [her] death.” The media moved on to discuss the potential reasons behind her death/murder, and the tone filled with war pathos was replaced by one more suited to a detective story. Morozova’s mother, who was kept poorly notified by the authorities about the details of her daughter’s death, was left confused. Oleksii Bratushchak, one of the few journalists who tried to make sense of the story behind the sensationalist headlines, <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2017/08/3/7151267/">reported</a> Morozova’s mother’s words:</p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">Her child will grow up. I will tell him: your mother was a hero. And someone else will tell him, no, she was not a hero, she was murdered. How will I explain this to him? What will I say? That his mother was killed by one of her own soldiers?!</p><p dir="ltr">Bratushchak states that he tried to interview Morozova’s commanders, but the only person he managed to speak to, one of the deputy commanders of Morozova’s brigade, <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2017/08/3/7151267/">said</a>: “You’d be better off writing about other people; we have many combat losses here. She didn’t exactly distinguish herself here.” [4] In his view, the loss of a combatant was more newsworthy than that of a (female) chef killed by one of her own men. Others shared this view: once the details of her death started to be revealed, the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1047233778747515&amp;id=698520933618803&amp;substory_index=0">hailing of her as a heroine on social media</a> gave way to holding her responsible for her own death, because a woman, especially a mother, should not be at the frontline.</p><p dir="ltr">Society’s perception of what constitutes heroism is influenced by the popular portrayal of historic heroes. This historical portrayal is, in turn, influenced by other factors, of which gender is one. A servicewoman who joined the war as a combatant – even though this occupation receives more value in a militarised society than that of a chef – is unlikely to receive the same hero’s welcome upon her return as servicemen do. </p><p dir="ltr">Some servicewomen have <a href="https://hromadskeradio.org/en/programs/hromadska-hvylya/viyna-ce-i-zhinocha-sprava-v-nas-na-fronti-ye-zhinky-i-vony-voyuyut-dobre-avtorky-proektu-nevydymyy-batalyon">complained</a> that their male partners felt awkward and even ashamed to meet them off the train when they return from the warzone, because, placed in that situation, a man would risk having to openly admit that his masculinity, which militarisation equates with soldiering, has been undermined. In the meantime, men who return from the frontline are greeted with fanfare, regardless of their roles or conduct in the warzone. This type of behaviour has a long tradition: after the Second World War, Red Army men who came back from the frontline were not asked whether they engaged in any heroic acts or, indeed, in atrocities, such as mass rapes, because their very belonging to the military was sufficient to hail them as heroes. The women, however, even those who were decorated, rarely revealed their military experience: the medal for combat services (“za boevye zaslugi”), in the possession of a woman, was often mocked as a reward for sexual favours in a pun on the original phrase (“za polovye uslugi”).</p><p dir="ltr">Because women lack visibility in the context of war, other than as symbols representing motherhood or victimhood, stories like that of Anna Kovalchuk in 1947 or Nadiia Morozova in 2017, as well as many servicewomen who are currently suffering from gender-based violence in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, <a href="http://povaha.org.ua/henderne-nasylstvo-v-partnerstvah-vijskovyh-naratyv-zhinky-yaka-vyzhyla/">remain untold</a>. When Volodymyr Viatrovych of the Institute of National Memory was asked to comment on the fact that servicewomen who took an active part in the various armies remain underrepresented in official historical memory, he <a href="https://hromadskeradio.org/en/programs/hromadska-hvylya/viyna-ne-robyt-vynyatkiv-volodymyr-vyatrovych">objected</a> to the criticism: </p><p dir="ltr" class="blockquote-new">“It seems to me that the accusation that women are seemingly excluded from Ukrainian memory politics is artificial. I am running several projects related to national memory. All of these projects, without exception, contain women’s stories, although we include them not out of political correctness.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the same interview, Viatrovych gave the example of the Institute’s <a href="http://www.memory.gov.ua/news/viina-ne-robit-vinyatkiv-zhinochi-istorii-drugoi-svitovoi-informatsiini-materiali-dlya-zmi-do-v">project</a> “War makes no exceptions: Female history of the Second World War”. Given that war narratives so often exclude women’s stories, the Institute of National Memory can indeed be commended on dedicating an exhibition specifically to women’s experiences of war. However, what the Institute does not seem to realise is that simply including women’s stories into otherwise unchanged male-centric and mostly heroic narratives of war, without commenting on the gendered nature of these women’s experience of political violence, does not make the history of war truly inclusive. </p><p dir="ltr">The uncontextualised inclusion of women’s stories in war histories is sometimes more problematic than their total exclusion because it seems not only tokenistic, but also instrumentalised for the purposes of militarisation, which reinforces traditional gender roles. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_98470653_img_0122.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/_98470653_img_0122.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'>“Ukrainian Revolution 1917-1921" is a new board game produced by the Institute of National Memory. Source: Institute of National Memory. </span></span></span>One example of this dynamic is the board game <a href="https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/features-41748926">“Ukrainian Revolution 1917-1921”</a>, developed for young people by the Institute of National Memory. The cover of the game features photos of three people in uniform. One of them is a woman, Olha Pidvysotska, a lesser-known member of the Ukrainian Sich Sharpshooters (a formation that fought during the First World War on the side of Austria-Hungary and then in the fight for Ukrainian statehood). [5] Her face is on the cover, but her name and her story are not mentioned in the game. </p><p dir="ltr">A better-known woman from the same military formation, Olena Stepaniv, is the only military woman and one of the few women in general included in the content of the game. The game <a href="https://mega.nz/#F!BxQExKrQ!foBlDt0Rt9PlND6RKWXOfg">portrays</a> Stepaniv as “the first female officer, the commander of a platoon of the Ukrainian Sich Sharpshooters”. This depicts the Sich Sharpshooters as a military formation far ahead of its time: not only did it recruit women, it also gave them officer ranks. But this version of Stepaniv’s biography, as well as the history of the Sich Sharpshooters, is incomplete without mentioning that Stepaniv was repeatedly prevented by the authorities, including those in the Sich Sharpshooters, from joining the unit simply because she was a woman, and that in spite of her military achievements and a successful return from imprisonment, she was ultimately dismissed by her own leadership because she was a woman [6].</p><h2 dir="ltr">The uses of history</h2><p dir="ltr">History is used both to reinforce narratives aimed at mobilising the population to support the state, but can also challenge such narratives, and with them the wider official rhetoric. In both cases there is a danger of selectivity in pursuing a particular agenda. Ukrainian society is facing a conflict that was not expected by anyone in the country. The language of war has entered everyday speech, and frontline violence has become normalised. History can be useful in an attempt to make sense of these alarming, complex and confusing events. The method that ensures that history is not instrumentalised for a particular political agenda – whether in support of the state or against it – is simple: it has to be used with honesty. </p><p dir="ltr">An honest approach, however, is the hardest because it is unlikely to fit any established narrative neatly. If we talk about the patriotism of soldiers, we must also talk about war crimes in which they might have participated. If we hail the men for honourably defending their motherland, we must also see if they were as honourable in their attitude towards civilians. If we portray women as participating in warfare, we must reveal the gendered setting in which this was done and the discrimination and violence that this setting entailed. By the same token, when we seek to highlight crimes and abuses, we must also accept that those who committed these crimes and abuses, in other instances, may have acted honourably and bravely or may have been unwilling participants of violence. </p><p dir="ltr">The inclusion of difficult stories from the past and the present might undermine the image that is being created of the Ukrainian army as strong, honourable, progressive, and united. The image of a scared young soldier – in Kruty or at Donetsk airport – or that of a soldier “unheroically” killed by one of his/her own, would ruin the conventional image of a heroic defender of motherland. Yet it is the inclusion of stories such as these that help us understand the nature of war and the ambiguity of soldiering, which tends to include both the capacity for patriotic idealism and an ability to participate in atrocities. </p><p dir="ltr">To promote the Armed Forces of Ukraine and encourage recruitment, which is highly unpopular especially given the high level of casualties and the fact that the war has been dragging on for over four years with no end in sight, in 2017 the Ministry of Information produced a series of promotional videos. The series was called <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APRloDxI-CY">“Always Defending”</a> (Zavzhdy na zakhysti). The videos were released on 14 October to celebrate the “Day of the Defender” – a holiday with <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/olesya-khromeychuk/what-place-for-women-in-ukraine-s-memory-politics">complicated historical connotations</a>, which harks back not only to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army but also to the Cossacks. These videos are narrated by the children of veterans of the ATO, who describe their fathers as heroes. The videos emphasise the fact that these fathers do not like to talk about war, but this silence makes them even more heroic and manly. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_1rsz_pa-20602819.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_1rsz_pa-20602819.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'>Negative media coverage of Ukraine's veterans can take a toll. Photo: Sergii Kharchenko / ABACA / PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Staying silent is not unusual among veterans, especially given that many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which even to this day <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-colborne/ukraines-veterans-dont-need-sympathy">does not receive appropriate treatment</a> in Ukraine. It is mostly state-run institutions who tend to speak on behalf of soldiers, both current and historic, both dead and alive. They too leave many silences in their narratives. The slogans the Institute of National Memory and the Ministry of Information use in their campaigns (“We remember – we prevail”; “We remember the dead – we defend the living”) leave little room for fear, PTSD, war-related suicides, war crimes, non-combatant deaths, violence among fellow soldiers, gender-based violence and many other subjects on which veterans remain silent. Another slogan omnipresent not only in official memory narratives but also popular ones is “heroes don’t die” (heroi ne vmyraiut’). However, the very nature of war is such that both heroes and “non-heroes” do die. And their deaths are crucial for the official narrative, sometimes more important than their lives.</p><p dir="ltr">The Institute of National Memory’s website <a href="http://www.memory.gov.ua/page/tipovii-nadgrobok">states</a> that the reasoning behind its recommendations for standardised gravestones for ATO soldiers is to “demonstrate respect for the buried fighter not only on behalf of relatives and close friends, but also on behalf of his brothers-in-arms, the state and the entire society” and “to turn the sad field of a cemetery into a field of military victory, where even after death the fighters will remain in the ranks of their army”. Such a step, as well as mythologising the victories and glorious defeats of wars, also limits the identity of the ATO dead to that of soldiers. In a country where a large number of soldiers who risk their lives on a battlefield are conscripts or volunteers rather than contract soldiers or professional service personnel, the dead are militarised whether they want it or not. Indeed, they seem to be afforded more respect after death, in their heroicisation, than they were while serving in the army, which <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/04/ukraine-war-funded-people-donations-150405064356775.html">notoriously fails to provide for its troops’ basic needs</a>. The last line of the stated aims on the UINP’s website is to “encourage the patriotic education of young people”, in other words, to militarise the next generation of “avengers” who are to rise from the bones of their predecessors.</p><p dir="ltr">All of this raises questions that Ukrainians need to confront: are we as a society ready to take full responsibility for raising a militarised youth? And, in particular, do we realise the consequences of the perpetuation of gendered war roles (e.g. “manly warriors” and “supportive women”)? Are we prepared to face the costs of turning a blind eye to the many unheroic actions “heroes” are capable of just so that we can fit them into the category of the defenders of motherland? In the fifth year of a brutal undeclared war, we must ask ourselves if we want to write this war as yet another chapter of the fight of Ukrainians for their statehood without revealing the complexity of this conflict. Are we willing to ignore the oligarchic warlords and profiteering politicians? What about the erasure of men and women who join the army because in times of war it pays much better than many other industries? Who will tell the truth about women who perpetrate violence, and men who pay a fortune to avoid the draft, not to mention everything else that does not fit into the neat narrative of “another link in the chain in the struggle of Ukrainians for independence”? </p><p dir="ltr">Some may see the discussion of the problems outlined above as “untimely”, because the pro-Kremlin propaganda machine can use them to its advantage. But the most efficient weapon, to use a military term, against “fake news” and propaganda manipulations is precisely an ability to speak openly about these issues while the conflict is ongoing, and to act in order to ensure that we can speak honestly and without shame about them in the future. Indeed, an ability to recognise the complexity of this war could be the best way to honour the memory of those who perished in it, as it will signal that Ukrainian society is moving forward, and thus their deaths were not in vain. </p><p dir="ltr">History is an essential tool in our efforts to understand the events of today. If it is to provide any genuine insight, however, it cannot just be the sort of history that looks good on recruitment posters and in war movies. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Research for this article was made possible by the Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship. I am grateful to Molly Flynn, Iryna Sklokina, Uilleam Blacker and the editors for their comments on earlier versions of this article.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">[1] The military hostilities in the Donbas, which started in April 2014 and are ongoing at the time of writing, are referred to in everyday speech in Ukraine as a war. The official term used by the Ukrainian authorities and much of the media was Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) until October 2017, when it was replaced by "security operations for the reestablishment of sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the country". For further discussion see Nataliya Lebid’, <a href=" http://www.umoloda.kiev.ua/number/3221/180/116472/">"Vzhe ne ATO, ale shche ne viina"</a>, <i>Ukraina moloda</i>, 6 October 2017.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">[2] Cynthia Enloe, <i>Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives</i> (Berkley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 291. Emphasis in original.</p><p dir="ltr">[3] See Marta Havryshko, “Illegitimate Sexual Practices in the OUN Underground and UPA in Western Ukraine in the 1940s and 1950s,” The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies 17 (2016), and Marta Havryshko, ‘Love and Sex in Wartime. Controlling Women’s Sexuality in the Ukrainian Nationalist Underground’, Aspasia – Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History 12 (2018): 35-67. See also See Olesya Khromeychuk, ‘Militarizing Women in the Ukrainian Nationalist Movement from the 1930s to the 1950s’ Aspasia – Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History 12 (2018): 1-34.</p><p dir="ltr">[4] See Danielle Johnson, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/danielle-johnson/speaking- on-sexual-violence">"As Ukraine’s women speak up on sexual violence, we must not ignore those affected by conflict"</a>, <i>Open Democracy</i>, 25 July 2016. The Ukrainian Parliament refuses to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence because the wording of the document contains terms such as "gender".&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">[5] Non-combatant deaths are very widespread at the frontline. Although the estimates vary, even the average number of those who are killed outside of combat is very high. See Oleksii Bratushchak,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/articles/2017/02/28/7136689/">"Ne boiovi vtraty. Pro shcho movchat’ Henshtab ta Minoborony"</a>, <i>Ukrains’ka Pravda</i>, 28 February 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">[6] "Ukrains’ki Sichovi Stril’tsi" are usually translated from Ukrainian as Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. I choose to avoid the usage of the term which symbolically excludes women and use the term "sharpshooter" to translate the Ukrainian "strilets".</p><p>[7] See Olena Stepaniv, <i>Na peredodni velykykh podii. Vlasni perezhyvannia i dumky. 1912-1914 </i>(L’viv: Vydavnycha kooperatyva ‘Chervona kalyna’, 1930).</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/anna-kupinska-samuel-sokol/ukraines-little-known-memory-war">Ukraine’s little known memory war</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/svitlana-oslavska/the-gap-between-poland-and-ukraine">Can grassroots historical initiatives bridge the gap between Poland and Ukraine? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/olesya-khromeychuk/what-place-for-women-in-ukraine-s-memory-politics">What place for women in Ukraine’s memory politics?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-portnov/bandera-mythologies-and-their-traps-for-ukraine">Bandera mythologies and their traps for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/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 odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-fert/spiritual-capital-ukraine-orthodox-church">Spiritual capital: why Ukraine is breaking from Russia’s Orthodox Church</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Olesya Khromeychuk Ukraine Fri, 12 Oct 2018 07:49:42 +0000 Olesya Khromeychuk 120023 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Hungary and Ukraine fell out over a passport scandal https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksei-arunyan/how-kyiv-and-budapest-fell-out-over-zakarpattya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ukraine’s border region of Zakarpattya is home to the country’s Hungarian community – and is now the centre of a diplomatic row. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexey-arunyan/dva-pasporta-odni-problemy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0721_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0721_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'>In the school building in Palad-Komarovtsy. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>For several weeks now, Ukraine and Hungary have been <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-45753886">mired in a diplomatic row</a>. At its centre lies the region of Zakarpattya in western Ukraine, which was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. </p><p dir="ltr">The row has come after a video was leaked online, showing ethnic Hungarians pledging allegiance to Hungary in a consulate in Zakarpattya. In return, Kyiv accuses its neighbour of a lack of respect for its laws, while Budapest complains that Ukraine is infringing the rights of the ethnic Hungarian minority, who make up 12% of Zakarpattya’s population.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Secret citizenship </h2><p dir="ltr">“The first time I crossed the border with both ID cards, I got scared and hid my Hungarian one in my underpants,” admits Vasilii (not his real name), a builder from the village of Tisobiken. </p><p dir="ltr">This village is located in the Vinogradsk district of Ukraine’s Zakarpattya region, right on its border with Hungary. Vasilii was born there 35 years ago, and his family have lived in Tisobiken for generations. His father is an ethnic Hungarian, his mother a Ukrainian from the Odessa area. Vasilii looks older than his years: he has bald patches on his skull, the skin around his sad eyes is wrinkled and his beard is flecked with grey. </p><p dir="ltr">Vasilii hasn’t been back much to the village since he got Hungarian citizenship; he spends most of his time working in Hungary. Over the last few years he has become used to crossing back and forth across the border and no longer hides his ID going through the checkpoints – he keeps both cards in a shoulder bag. </p><p dir="ltr">“Yesterday, a Hungarian border guard opened my bag and saw I had two ID cards in it,” Vasilii tells me crossly. “He didn’t say a word. It’s perfectly legal over there. On our side of the border I keep my Ukrainian ID in my bag and the Hungarian one in my back pocket. Once it’s in my pocket they can’t ask to see it. I’ve nothing illegal on me, nothing needing customs clearance. I don’t have any cigarettes or palinka [a local fruit brandy – ed.] with me.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">The fateful video</h2><p dir="ltr">Hungary has been handing out ID cards to people living in Zakarpattya since 2011, after Viktor Orban came to power the second time and his Fides party initiated changes to the country’s citizenship legislation. Now, people whose families were born in areas historically part of Hungary can apply for Hungarian citizenship. It doesn’t matter where they live now: the main condition is that they speak Hungarian.</p><p dir="ltr">Around 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Zakarpattya fulfil this condition: the area only became part of Soviet Ukraine in 1945, and before 1920 it had been part of Hungary or Austro-Hungary for centuries. Budapest also ruled Zakarpattya between 1939 and 1944, during the Second World War.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2015, the Hungarian authorities announced that they had given citizenship to around 100,000 ethnic Hungarians living on Ukrainian territory, and over the last seven years the Kyiv government has been turning a blind eye to Hungarian passports being issued in Zakarpattya. Ukraine’s constitution states that “there is only one form of citizenship in our country”, but its legislation contains no reference to any potential consequences of acquiring citizenship of another country. The only people who are forbidden by law from acquiring dual citizenship are civil servants.</p><p dir="ltr">On 19 September this year, however, the Ukrainian government started making a series of sharp statements towards Hungary. This came after a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_k-KjJ6Mu4">hidden camera video</a> showing people receiving Hungarian ID cards in the Hungarian consulate in Berehove was leaked online. </p><p dir="ltr"><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/J_k-KjJ6Mu4?rel=0" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr">The video shows a group of people taking an oath of allegiance to Hungary and then singing its national anthem. Captions indicate that Hungarian diplomats were apparently instructing their new “citizens” and ordering them to “hide their acquisition of Hungarian citizenship from the authorities”. Who was saying this, and to whom, is unclear. </p><p dir="ltr">A few hours after the appearance of the video, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin <a href="https://twitter.com/PavloKlimkin/status/1042421637738627072">posted a tweet</a> stating that “the Berehove consul will have to go to Budapest if he wants to hand out Hungarian passports.” </p><p dir="ltr">“We will engage systematically with this issue,” said the minister in his <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pavloklimkin.ua/videos/2226598417576985/">video reply</a>. “There will be more Ukraine there, and more each year. Zakarpattya specifically, and we will definitely achieve that.” </p><p dir="ltr">The next day, Hungary’s Foreign Ministry described Klimkin’s intention to deport its consul as a “risky and unfriendly step which will not be left without a response.” </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0947_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0947_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Greek Catholic Church in the village of Tisobiken. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 26 September, the Foreign Ministers of both countries held a meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, but it did nothing to relieve the tension between them. After the meeting, Hungary’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that “the incitement to hatred against Hungarians in Ukraine will not cease, so long as the current president is in office”. The Hungarians also stressed that, as far as they were concerned, the issue of ID cards in Hungarian consulates in Ukraine was in line with international law. </p><p dir="ltr">The climax of the drama took place on 4 October: Kyiv <a href="https://www.unian.net/politics/10285833-mid-obyavil-konsula-vengrii-v-beregovo-personoy-non-grata.html">declared</a> the Hungarian consul in Berehove a persona non grata, and Budapest responded by deporting a Ukrainian diplomat of equal rank. </p><p dir="ltr">This is not the first conflict of this kind between Ukraine and Hungary. Relations between the two countries deteriorated in September 2017, when Kyiv’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/margarita-tulup/ukraines-new-education-law">adopted a new education law </a>requiring all secondary schools to use only Ukrainian in the classroom. Budapest declared that this would discriminate against Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian minority and deprive its members of the right to be taught in their own language. The law that has led to this row will come into force in September 2020. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A view from a regional council </h2><p dir="ltr">“What Hungary is doing is in line with its constitution. It is doing it legally, without hiding anything, and doing it with the aim of uniting its nation,” says Iosip Borto, deputy chair of the Zakarpattya regional council. “The unification of the nation isn’t happening in terms of territory. Revising borders is unrealistic in our day, and Hungary knows it. A nation can only be united politically, economically and legally.”</p><p dir="ltr">Borto is also deputy head of the Hungarian Cultural Society of Zakarpattya, known in the region by its acronym KMKSZ. This body has been acting as both a public organisation and a party representing the interests of Ukraine’s Hungarian minority since 1989. Its leader Vasilii Brenzovich is a member of the presidential Poroshenko Bloc of the Ukrainian parliament. In 2015, KMKS and the Democratic Party of Hungarians of Ukraine joined forces to fight local elections, and now have eight seats out of 64 in the regional council. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0470_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0470_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'>Iosip Borto, deputy chair of the Zakarpattya regional council. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Twelve percent of Zakarpattya’s population are ethnic Hungarians,” Vasilii Brenzovich tells me. “So we have proportional representation in the regional council. We are part of an informal majority and our proposals are taken into account at regional level. There is a similar situation at district and city level. There are ethnic Hungarians in regional and district councils and at local level as well.” </p><p dir="ltr">In Iosip Borto’s spacious office, two three-metre flags – the Ukrainian and local flag – hang to the left of his chair. On the wall behind his desk hangs a portrait of Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko. Borto says that he has only one ID card, a Ukrainian one. But he nonetheless approves of Hungary’s decision to offer citizenship to the descendents of its historical population, on the grounds that Budapest wishes to unite the millions of Hungarians who were scattered around the countries of the Carpathian Basin by two world wars.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“The text of the oath of allegiance was known and was heard and read in the media, so it’s a bit strange that there was such a fuss about it”</p><p dir="ltr">“When someone is in Ukraine,” says Borto, “their Hungarian citizenship doesn’t operate. It operates only in Hungary and the EU. That’s why most people want to have this citizenship, because you then become an EU citizen as well. It also gives you certain advantages in terms of movement and work.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Zakarpattya regional council shares its building with the regional administration. It also believes that there is no risk to Ukraine in giving people in the region Hungarian citizenship. </p><p dir="ltr">“There’s absolutely nothing new here,” regional administration deputy head Yaroslav Galas says of the scandalous video. “The text of the oath of allegiance was known and was heard and read in the media, so it’s a bit strange that there was such a fuss about it.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/IMG_0511_0.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/IMG_0511_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'>Yaroslav Galas, regional administration deputy head. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Galas’ office walls are hung with photos of regional governor Gennady Moskal in military uniform: before coming to Zakarpattya, Moskal headed the Luhansk regional administration during the height of the Donbas conflict, and Galas worked for him as his press officer. “We know, here in the administration, that the 100,000 people who received Hungarian citizenship did not become any less patriotic Ukrainians,” he says. “They did it for purely pragmatic reasons, to be able to live and work in Europe. And their Hungarian ID cards take them not just to Hungary, but to Britain, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Then they bring their earnings back home and spend them: building houses, giving their children an education and so on.” </p><p dir="ltr">In Galas’ opinion, the fuss around the Hungarian ID cards was mainly a result of the fact that the question of dual citizenship hasn’t yet been settled in Ukraine. To avoid the problems arising from this, he believes that the Ukrainian parliament should either introduce penalties for dual citizenship or legalise it. </p><h2 dir="ltr">One village, two national anthems </h2><p dir="ltr">The hall in the cultural centre of Palad-Komarovtsy is ringing with song. A group of women in snowy white blouses, aprons and blue skirts have taken the stage in this village near the border with Slovakia. They are the local Nefelejcs (“Forget-me-not”) vocal ensemble, and are the opening act in the 28th Festival of Hungarian Folk Art. </p><p dir="ltr">In the front row, special guests – the Hungarian consul, officials from the regional and district administrations and Laslo Zubanich, leader of the Democratic Party of Hungarians of Ukraine – have been following the performance. Now everyone stands for the Ukrainian national anthem. The audience is silent, although a few participants of the ensemble mouth the words. Then comes the Hungarian anthem, and nearly everyone in the front row sings along, including the village head and the head of the Regional Board for Ethnic Affairs. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0499_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0499_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'>Former building of the Society of the Hungarian Culture of Transcarpathia, injured by an explosion in February 2018. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Two MCs are on the platform: one introduces the Ukrainian acts, the other the Hungarian ones. Iosip Rezesh, a regional administration official, makes a speech in both languages; everyone else, including the village head, sticks to Hungarian. </p><p dir="ltr">“Our first festival took place in 1989 in the town of Chop, and many of its organisers are no longer with us,” says Yuri Dupko, the head of the Zakarpattya Hungarian Intellectuals’ Society. “That was when we said that while there are ethnic Hungarians living in Zakarpattya, we will run an event like this annually.” </p><p dir="ltr">Palad-Komarovtsy, where the festival is taking place this year, is a small village on the border with Slovakia. It has about 1,000 inhabitants, 80% of them ethnic Hungarians. Dozens of Zakarpattya villages have a Hungarian-speaking majority, especially in the Berehove district where, according to the 2001 census, 75% of the population is ethnic Hungarian. And there are sizeable Hungarian settlements in the Vinogradov and Uzhgorod districts, where Palad-Komarovtsy is situated.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“Let there be more of Ukraine here. Let there be more roads, more finance. Let people have higher wages. Then there really will be more of Ukraine”</p><p dir="ltr">While the concert continues in the cultural centre, preparations for a banquet are going on in the village school next door. Ukrainian and Hungarian flags hang over the entrance and the facade is covered in colourful placards relating the history of the village. One of them carries a statement reading: “This school was built as a gift to the children by the ‘Road to Communism’ kolkhoz in honour of the XXV Congress of the CPSU, 1976”. Another placard tells us, in both Ukrainian and Hungarian, that “the modernisation of this building was carried out in 2013-2014, with financial assistance from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry and the Zakarpattya Regional Administration.”</p><p dir="ltr">Iosip Rezesh, who heads the regional administration’s Department of Ethnic Affairs, heads out of the cultural centre for a smoke. I ask him:</p><p dir="ltr">“Here at the festival we’ve heard the Hungarian national anthem and there are Hungarian flags all over the place. Pavlo Klimkin, head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, recently expressed concerns about this situation, and said that there should be ‘more Ukraine’ in Zakarpattya. What do you think about this?”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0579_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0579_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'>Iosip Rezesh. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“There’s no question,” he answers, a crafty look on his face. “Let there be more of Ukraine. Let there be more roads, more finance. Let people have higher wages. Then there really will be more of Ukraine. But what did Klimkin mean? More of what? Everybody being forced to speak Ukrainian? That’s wrong as well.” </p><p dir="ltr">Rezesh himself, unlike many officials of Hungarian descent, speaks absolutely fluent Ukrainian with a barely noticeable accent. He says he doesn’t have Hungarian citizenship, since civil servants don’t have the right to this. But in his opinion, there is no ban on any other Ukrainian citizens acquiring citizenship of another country. </p><p dir="ltr">“There can only be a final resolution of the citizenship question if changes are made to the Constitution and the laws that regulate it,” he says. “But now everyone interprets it whatever way they like. I’m a specialist in international law by profession, and after the row with the video I read every law in the book. And, to be honest, I didn’t find a single one that regulated or banned dual citizenship.”</p><p dir="ltr">A day before the festival in Palad-Komarovtsy it was announced that the Zakarpattya prosecutor’s office had launched criminal proceedings of “state treason” over the matter of Hungarian citizenship. The law prescribes a prison sentence of 10-15 years on conviction under the article, but so far no one has been charged. </p><p dir="ltr">I ask Iosip Rezesh to comment on the prosecutor’s decision and a serious and concentrated look replaces his usual slight smile: “It’s a terrible mistake, I believe. It’s just wrong. It reminds me of the days when anyone could be charged with anything.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">Forints for separatism and cucumbers </h2><p dir="ltr">On the edge of the Uzhgorod district, near the village of Bobrintsy stands a memorial sign to the memory of Edmund Egan (Egan Ede in Hungarian), the Hungarian economist, philanthropist and agricultural specialist who initiated land reform to improve the lives of Ruthenian villagers in the late 19th century. </p><p dir="ltr">This memorial to Egan was built in 2002, with money raised by local residents. A few years later the people of the village of Baranovtsy, where it stood, placed two large boulders underneath it, and as a sign of friendship between Hungarians and Ukrainians, one of them was painted in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag and the other in the red, green and white of the Hungarian one. Recently, however, unknown people repainted the “Hungarian” boulder in the black and red of the Ukrainian nationalist banner, and some time later it was repainted yet again, in Hungary’s national colours. I am shown the memorial by Adreana Fuks, the deputy head of the Hungarian intellectuals association which had organised the festival in Palad-Komarovtsy. She tells me that the boulder has been painted and repainted at least six times. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0731-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0731-1.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'>The memorial sign to the memory of Edmund Egan. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Egan Ede brought Ukrainians and Hungarians together. Who has this mania for driving to the edge of the village just to paint the stone red and black?” Adreana says, irritation in her voice. “There’s no point in going to the police, because the boulders weren’t included in the original village plan. They were placed there after the memorial.”</p><p dir="ltr">There is now a foundation named after Egan Ede, used by the Hungarian authorities to fund Hungarian business owners in Zakarpattya. Budapest has allocated almost 104 million euros to this fund over the last two years. In May this year, the Egan Ede Zakarpattya Centre for Economic Development, headed by KMKS leader Vasilii Brenzovich, provided grants of between two and three million Forints (£5,500-8,000) to 1214 businesses. </p><p dir="ltr">In June, Ukraine’s Security Services (SBU) launched a criminal case against the Centre, accusing it of “separatism”. The police suspect the foundation of providing 30 million hryvnya (£1.65 million) to finance “illegal movements linked to encroachment on Ukraine’s territorial integrity”. The SBU didn’t name any of these movements, and the foundation itself rejected the charge, calling it “just another attack against the Hungarian community in the region”.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, the Egan Ede Foundation held a competition to provide grants to 1,444 agricultural businesses, to buy equipment. One of the grant recipients, farmer Istvan Pavo from the village of Tisobiken, is a smiling man with a grey moustache. His family owns a small business growing cucumbers, which are then sold to a processing plant. And thanks to the grant from the Hungarian foundation, the farm now has a refrigerated chamber to store the vegetables and a sorting machine. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0996_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0996_0.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Farmer Istvan Pavo. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“We didn’t have the money for this kind of equipment,” Istvan tells me as he opens the door to the chamber, a room-sized fridge. “A lot of the cucumbers used to spoil in the hot weather, so we’d get just maybe 200kg to sell out of a tonne. But now we can store them for a week or more.”</p><p dir="ltr">The refrigerated chamber can hold 20 tonnes of cucumbers, but so far the small business hasn’t had more than 12 tonnes in it at one time. Istvan has a team of 5 to 8 people working for him, and says that if the business closed he would probably have to look for work on the other side of the border, in Hungary. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The big issue </h2><p dir="ltr">You won’t often hear Ukrainian or Russian spoken on the streets of Tisobiken: according to the 2001 census, 97% of the local population are ethnic Hungarians. The village isn’t, however, so monolithic in religious terms; it has four churches: Reformed, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic. </p><p dir="ltr">Vera Udut has come to the Sunday morning service in the Roman Catholic church. She and her husband have crossed over from the Hungarian village of Tisobech, next to the border with Ukraine. They have been living there for four years, and before that Vera taught Ukrainian at a school in the Zakarpattya town of Khust. She has no regrets about their move: “Life is fine, people treat us as though we’d been born and bred there.”</p><p dir="ltr">After taking Hungarian citizenship, Vera and her husband renounced their Ukrainian citizenship, although they still have a house in Khust and continue to look after it. Vera’s main reason for changing her citizenship was the fact that pensions were higher in Hungary. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0886_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_0886_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'>Vera Udut with her husband. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Hungarian, Ukrainian – it makes no difference to me. I’m fluent and can read in both languages,” she tells me. “But my sister comes on a visit and says, ‘I couldn’t live here, not for the world’. I say: ‘Hang on, but why shouldn’t I live here?’ Back in Ukraine I had to count the kopecks towards the end of the month.’” </p><p dir="ltr">Since 2001, 14,000 ethnic Hungarians have left Zakarpattya, and according to figures from the Summa-2017 demographic survey by sociologists from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Zakarpattya Hungarian University, the emigration rate is increasing. Twenty eight thousand ethnic Hungarians have also spent more than a month abroad and 19,000 – more than three months. All of them for work and study. Just over half of them visited Hungary; another third, the Czech Republic; 7% Germany, 2.3% the UK and 8.5% – other countries.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“It’s no kind of life: a month here, a week there. My wife works at a school, and she went abroad for work during the school holidays as well”</p><p dir="ltr">“I came back from a stint working abroad the day before yesterday,” Vasilii, the builder from Tisobiken tells me. “It’s no kind of life: a month here, a week there. My wife works at a school, and she went abroad for work during the school holidays as well. She went to the Czech Republic, I went to Hungary; the children stayed at home. What a way to live!” he says with desperation in his voice. </p><p dir="ltr">Vasilii and his friend Laslo (not his real name) are cooking bograch, the local version of goulash, in the yard of the Catholic church, for the parishioners to eat after mass. Meat and vegetables are stewing in a large cast iron cauldron over a crackling fire, and the air is full of smoke and spices. </p><p dir="ltr">“In Hungary I can buy meat for 90 hryvnya, but here it’s 120-130 hryvnya, and 150 for the lean stuff,” grumbles Vasilii as he throws pork fat into the mix. </p><p dir="ltr">“And do you earn a good living there?” I ask. </p><p dir="ltr">“Of course, I wouldn’t go otherwise. I can earn as much there in a week as my wife earns here in a month. I get around 1400 forints an hour”. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_1064_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_img_1064_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'>In the Hungarian village of Transcarpathia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“That’s 140 hryvnya (£3.80) an hour,” Laslo translates. His financial situation is a little better than Vasilii’s. Vasilii may want to take his family to live in Hungary, but Laslo wants to stay in Zakarpattya, despite all its problems. He is concerned, however, about the international row over citizenship that has erupted now. Almost everyone in his village got their dual citizenship long ago, he says. </p><p dir="ltr">“I think,” says Laslo, “that this is all just a political strategy to divert attention from the main issue.” </p><p dir="ltr">“So what’s the main issue?” I ask.</p><p dir="ltr">“The fact that more and more people are leaving Ukraine,” he tells me. “The second most important issue is that when this government came to power, it promised the earth – but it hasn’t done anything. The war continues, prices keep rising and the hryvnya keeps losing in value,” says Laslo as he tests the bograch with a large wooden spoon.</p><p dir="ltr">Vasilii, hearing this, nods in agreement. The reasons for the present conflict cited by Laslo can be heard from ethnic Hungarians everywhere in Zakarpattya.</p><p dir="ltr">“You probably&nbsp;know that the prosecutor’s office has launched a criminal case over the issue of Hungarian passports. Aren’t you afraid of any consequences for yourselves?” I ask the two men.</p><p dir="ltr">“We’ll get out of this situation”, says Vasilii confidently.</p><p dir="ltr">“People have come out worse than this”, adds Laslo.</p><p dir="ltr">They have reason to be concerned. For the moment, neither the SBU nor the prosecutor’s office has presented any suspicions relating to this criminal investigation, and they are unlikely to do it in the future. Ukrainian legislation contains no reference to any potential penalties for acquiring citizenship of another country, and certainly doesn’t regard having a passport of another country as tantamount to treason. </p><p dir="ltr">Everyone&nbsp;– the ethnic Hungarian community itself, the regional authorities and even Foreign Minister Klimkin in his recent article – is clear that the issue requires additional legislative regulation. But while no one has found an answer to the problem, how many more tens of thousands of Hungarian Ukrainians in Zakarpattya will go on living with uncertainty? </p><p dir="ltr"><i>Update, 12/10/2018: the wording to describe the diplomatic tension between Hungary and Ukraine has been changed in the second paragraph.&nbsp;</i></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/margarita-tulup/ukraines-new-education-law">Beyond the scandal: what is Ukraine’s new education law really about?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-zavadski/photographing-the-20th-century">Photographing the 20th century </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Aleksei Arunyan Ukraine Thu, 11 Oct 2018 07:33:16 +0000 Aleksei Arunyan 120043 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the Ukrainian mothers battling for their sons held in Russian prison https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/meet-the-ukrainian-mothers-battling-for-their-sons-held-in-russian-prison <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Families of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian jails are fighting for their release – and this struggle is changing them. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatiana-kozak/v-boy-idut-odni-mamy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_1img_0435_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_1img_0435_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'>Rally in support of Oleg Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, June 2018. Photo from the editorial archive.</span></span></span>Lyudmila Sentsova and Larisa Kolchenko hug one another silently, both with tears in their eyes. This is their first meeting in the four years since their sons, Oleg and Alexander, were arrested in 2014. Lyudmila is askin g Larisa to tell her son to call off the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">hunger strike he began on 14 May</a>, while her own son is three weeks into a hunger strike himself. Then the mothers call on Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko to do all that he can to have Alexander and Oleg released from Russian prison.</p><p dir="ltr">Film director Oleg Sentsov and anti-fascist activist Alexander Kolchenko were arrested in May 2014 in Russian-annexed Crimea, and were charged with planning a terrorist act. In August 2015, a court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in prison, 10 for Kolchenko. On hearing their sentences, they sang the Ukrainian national anthem in the courtroom.</p><p dir="ltr">Larisa Kolchenko was in the courtroom that day in Rostov. The four years since have turned her into another woman. Before, she was a quiet person who avoided contact with the press, but observed the court proceedings silently and attentively, trying to work out what she could do and how she could help her son. Now she openly campaigns for the release of not just her Sasha, but other political prisoners as well.</p><p dir="ltr">“I need to stay strong. I keep going, of course,” Larisa tells me when we meet in Kyiv. She is here for a meeting with the presidential administration, organised by families of Ukrainian political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">“I never thought I would meet the president, but it happened today,” she says, tired out from the meeting and the press conference afterwards. Only the day before, she learned that Alexander had called his hunger strike off, for health reasons.</p><p dir="ltr">“It was a real ordeal for both him and for me as his mother,” she says. “I was really worried. When I heard about it through the media, I went into shock.” Larisa was under a lot of pressure from the public prison watchdog in Chelyabinsk, where Alexander is serving his sentence. They kept phoning and trying to get her to force Sasha to stop.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s Sasha’s own decision, all I can do is support him in it,” Larisa tells me categorically on the phone. But she cheers up when she hears later that he has called his hunger strike off.</p><p dir="ltr">After her trip to Kyiv, Larissa is traveling to Crimea to get ready for her visit to her son in prison in Chelyabinsk, almost 3,000km away.</p><p dir="ltr">“Three days is usual for a long visit,” she tells me about her rare visits to her son. “We’ll be together all that time. There’s hotel-style accommodation for visitors, with a kitchen for every ten rooms, a communal bathroom and separate bedrooms. When I come to visit, I bring food for three days and try to cook something tasty for him.” She hasn’t seen him for eight months, and her next scheduled visit has been postponed because of the hunger strike.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Sometimes you just lose hope, but then you start to calm yourself down and find some hope for the future”</p><p dir="ltr">When I ask what has happened to her in the last four years, she says cautiously: “Life has brought me various experiences. It’s really hard when your family is so far away, you don’t know what’s going on there and his sentence is so long. Sometimes you just lose hope, but then you start to calm yourself down and find some hope for the future.”</p><p dir="ltr">After Larisa’s son was arrested, many of her relations dropped all contact with her. And at work, “they just put up with me”.</p><p dir="ltr">“They understand what I’m going through as a mother, but they don’t support me. I’ve worked in the same place for a long time; they know me and they know Sasha,” she says. “They may not share my opinions, but they know that something awful has happened to me. I’m so sad that Sasha is spending his youth there. I’d obviously like him to finish his studies, to have a different kind of life. But…I’m still hoping for the best. Things have to change. Not yet – but soon.”</p><p dir="ltr">On Oleg Sentsov’s birthday, Larisa holds a picket in Crimea. She stands, dressed in a traditional embroidered shirt, beside the bust of Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko in Simferopol (where pro-Ukraine rallies took place during the annexation) and unfurls a banner in Ukrainian, addressed to Oleg and her Sasha, with the words: “Happy birthday! It’s time to come home.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">“It all seemed like a terrible dream”</h2><p dir="ltr">“It all began with young Ukrainians in Crimea becoming politically active – going to protest rallies, supporting Ukrainian soldiers who were locked up in military bases. They fed them, collected money to buy uniforms and other necessities,” Olga Afanasyeva tells me, remembering the events that turned her son Gennady’s life, and her own, upside down. “I was worried, of course, tried, as his mother, to stop him, although I was proud of him at the same time.” Olga was then a successful businesswoman, the owner of a travel agency living in Crimea’s capital Simferopol. She learned of her son’s arrest on the evening of 9 May 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">“I had a phone call from the FSB, telling me he had been arrested. I was in such a state of shock – you don’t know where to run, who to phone, who to turn to – there had just been a change of government, after all.”</p><p dir="ltr">At that point, Olga was alone in a completely new situation. Her son, along with Alexey Chirny, Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko had been accused of membership of a terrorist guerrilla group that was supposedly planning terrorist acts in Crimea. Afanasyev and Chirny were beaten into making statements that formed the basis for the charges against Sentsov and Kolchenko. In return, they were given “mild” sentences of seven years.</p><p dir="ltr">Later, Gennady Afanasyev showed his courage by reneging on his statements and telling the court that they had been made under torture. He also described the torture. It didn’t help Oleg or Sasha, though – their sentences weren’t reduced.</p><p dir="ltr">In June 2016, Gennady Afanasyev was able to return to Ukraine, thanks to an amnesty from Vladimir Putin, also received by another political prisoner, Yuri Soloshenko. Two others, journalists Elena Glischinskaya and Vitaly Didenko, who had been charged with separatism and treason in Ukraine, were released the same day and deported to Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-19 um 15.11.21_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-19 um 15.11.21_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yuri Soloshenko. Source: YouTube.</span></span></span>“It all seemed like a terrible dream. I couldn’t imagine that a 23-year-old lad would be behind bars for such a length of time for no reason,” Olga says.</p><p dir="ltr">She remembers sending Gena his first parcel, when he was still in pre-trial detention in Simferopol. She remembers how the lawyer appointed by the court tried to get a bribe out of her. She remembers her FSB interrogation and the search at her flat in her absence. Then Lefortovo prison and the trial.</p><p dir="ltr">Olga also remembers her son’s letters: “Don’t worry, Mum, I didn’t do anything, you don’t have to be ashamed of me – things happen. I didn’t kill anybody.” She says that the letters are a big help in keeping her strong.</p><p dir="ltr">“We were all – Gena and the other lads –we were all completely alone. There wasn’t a single reporter at Gena’s trial, nobody who could give me any support,” Olga reminisces about that terrible time. “There was Gena sitting in a cage, with dogs outside it and people armed to the teeth, and three judges and me.”</p><p dir="ltr">The day that Gena withdrew his statements was like “a second Victory Day” from Olga: “I was in shock all over again: I didn’t know where to turn, what to do, who to phone. I had no connections, after all. But I had to get my act together, to go on with my life. And my next task was to ensure that the name ‘Afanasyev’ became known. I realised that was the only way I could get him back.” So Olga made a plan: she would come to Kyiv every six weeks, hit the airwaves, do the rounds of every Ukrainian ministry and write to the ombudspersons of both Ukraine and Russia. Human rights activists started helping her and she got to know other political prisoners’ mothers.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“There was Gena sitting in a cage, with dogs outside it and people armed to the teeth, and three judges and me”</p><p dir="ltr">Then she had the idea of organising an exhibition of Gena’s work in Kyiv: he was a keen photographer. Holding back her tears, Olga would talk to everyone who visited the exhibition about her son and what had happened to him.</p><p dir="ltr">She lived like this for over two years. Talking about Gena’s release, she says, “I had a lot of luck” but also talks about “teamwork”.</p><p dir="ltr">“At that time Syktyvkar, in the Komi Republic, had very good human rights activists who were really engaged with establishing truth and justice. They went to the prison colony and worked on its director.</p><p dir="ltr">“And here the teamwork paid off: Ukraine provided informational support to Gena and we had a brilliant lawyer, Alexander Popov. The human rights campaigner Ernest Mezak also worked on the case, and still represents our interests at the European Court of Human Rights.”</p><p dir="ltr">After Gena was released, he and Olga began a new life, in Kyiv. They couldn’t return to Simferopol, where Olga was under open surveillance by the FSB.</p><p dir="ltr">“We had nowhere to go. We hadn’t a fork or spoon to our name. You realise that as a mature woman with a sick kid on your hands you have to heal him, organise his life, get yourself organised and get used to a new life, a new reality. But we were in such a state of euphoria, a high, that this was pure happiness after what we’d been through.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“You realise that as a mature woman with a sick kid on your hands you have to heal him, organise his life, get yourself organised and get used to a new life, a new reality”</p><p dir="ltr">Olga is still engaged with issues around political prisoners. She supports other families in the same situation as she was in and goes to rallies in the defence of Ukrainians who are in Russian prisons for political reasons.</p><p dir="ltr">“I learned how to hand over parcels, how to behave, how to write appeals and letters and where to send them,” she says. “That’s how I help. I talk to someone’s mother or family member every day, and they cry. It’s not easy. I have been in their situation and know how hard it is.”</p><p dir="ltr">Olga is thinking about leading a “peaceful life”: she feels she’s starting to burn out and realises she can’t go on as before.</p><p dir="ltr">“Gena and I have been discussing this. It’s impossible to forget. It’s like a stamp, a brand on your whole life,” says Olga, who is still supporting her son though his difficult process of rehabilitation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Her son is here, mine is there”</h2><p dir="ltr">A trial of two other Ukrainians, Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, took place in Chechnya in March 2016. According to the the Russian police, the two were members of the ultra-nationalist UNA-UNCO (Ukrainian People’s Assembly – Ukrainian National Solidarity Organisation) and fought against Russian forces in 1994-1995. </p><p dir="ltr">Both men were tortured to make confessions and Stanislav’s health was affected. This was very obvious at the trial – his speech was often disconnected. His mother, Tamara sat through the whole thing at the age of 70.</p><p dir="ltr">“No, it wasn’t a difficult decision to go to Chechnya. I love him so much, it was as simple as that,” she says. She spent 10 days in Grozny at the time.</p><p dir="ltr">“I turned up at the office of the guy in charge of the pre-trial detention centre; there are portraits of the Kadyrovs, father and son, on the wall, with one of Putin below. I naively asked him why they were hung like that: ‘Putin’s the main man, why is he underneath?’ ‘Is there anything else you’d like to know?’ he asked in reply. That was it, I shut up. I thought I was among friends, but I wasn’t,” Tamara recalls.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/bc79b1d51723e08b0297dcd57e4810daa33b62e7309d17ae95bbdf0211325828.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/bc79b1d51723e08b0297dcd57e4810daa33b62e7309d17ae95bbdf0211325828.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="213" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Larisa Kolchenko speaks out in defense of her son and other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>In July 2017, Tamara Klykh met the mother of Russian soldier Viktor Ageyev, who was detained by Ukrainian forces in a Kyiv-controlled sector. A Ukrainian district court found him guilty of involvement in a terrorist organisation and illegal militant group and possession of firearms. The expectation was that after sentencing, Ageyev would be exchanged for a Ukrainian political prisoner.</p><p dir="ltr">The two mothers, Klykh and Ageyeva, produced a joint video appeal to Poroshenko and Putin, asking them to return their children, pardon them and put a stop to the war.</p><p dir="ltr">“I brought a box of ‘Evening in Kyiv’ chocolates with me, and we immediately hugged one another,” says Tamara. “Her son was here, mine was there. We chatted, got on well together.” But the emotional appeal they made together didn’t please everyone and they attracted some criticism.</p><p dir="ltr">“I asked, and I’ll ask again if I need to. I’ll ask for my son’s release ten times,” insists Tamara. “I wept buckets when they read me some of the responses. I thought that it would make things worse for Stas, that people didn’t all take what I was saying in the same way that I did. And the way any mother would. Dear god, what pain! But how would the people who were criticising me have behaved in my place?”</p><p dir="ltr">Tamara and her son were very close, she tells me. So the worst time for her was when she couldn’t find him for ten months after he was arrested in Oryol in August 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">“I didn’t know whether he was alive or not. We knew that they were being transported to Yessentuki, in Stavropol Krai, but that was it.” Tamara phoned the Ukrainian Consulate in Rostov-on-Don every day, to find out at least some news about Stas. In those days there were no human rights NGOs to help, and Tamara was taken in several times by conmen promising to bring her son home.</p><p dir="ltr">“I walked everywhere, looking for him. And I was on TV everywhere”, she says. “And I still wore high heels, at 70! I couldn’t imagine myself without my heels. I was such a trendy girl, as my husband says.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I asked, and I’ll ask again if I need to. I’ll ask for my son’s release ten times”</p><p dir="ltr">“But I can’t do it now. My feet get so sore!” Tamara complains. She also has headaches and heart pain. The doctors can’t help, they say it’s all nerves.</p><p dir="ltr">Tamara was still working a few years ago, when she was 72 – she was works manager at a children’s hospital in Kyiv. She tells me that she was highly regarded and serious about her work. After Stas was arrested, work had to take second place, but the hospital didn’t make her retire.</p><p dir="ltr">“The medical director pleaded with me to go on working. She didn’t want to let me go, but I didn’t feel right, just turning up. I came to work in pain and left work in pain,” says Tamara, gratitude in her voice. The hospital staff have supported her throughout, keeping her spirits up and collecting money for her when she needed it.</p><p dir="ltr">“If only I was ten years younger. I was always young for my age, but these last four years have aged me a lot. And used to feel very good about myself, I looked good. But the years have passed. I want to see Stas released before I die, who else will help him?” she says, barely holding back the tears. Her health is not so good now, so she increasingly tends to talk to journalists over the phone rather than going to protests and meetings.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A matter of life and death</h2><p dir="ltr">Only nine Ukrainian political prisoners have been released since the start of the Donbas conflict. There are 71 still behind bars. They are Gennady Afanasyev and Yuri Soloshenko, as well as Nadiya Savchenko (she was exchanged for two Russian military intelligence officers, Alexander Alexandrov and Evgeny Erofeyev, captured in Donbas). Akhtem Chiigoz and Ilmi Umerov, members of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (national assembly) were freed thanks to intervention from Turkey, while Yuri Ilchenko managed to escape from house arrest in Crimea. Yuri Yatsenko and Alexander Kostenko returned to Ukraine when they finished their sentence and Khaiser Dzhemilev, the younger son of the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, has also been freed.</p><p dir="ltr">The families of the political prisoners are doing all they can to affect the situation using all the legal tools at their disposal, and they are also creating new ones. They have set up their own organisation, and also succeeded in creating a Presidential council which will address issues around the release of political prisoners in Russian jails. They have in addition been working with human rights campaigners to produce a new draft law on political prisoners and will be pursuing it through parliament. And Igor Grib, the father of Pavlo Grib, who is being tried in Rostov-on-Don on a charge of planning a terrorist act in Sochi, has applied for and been appointed head of the department dealing with issues around prisoners at Ukraine’s Ministry for Temporary Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons.</p><p dir="ltr">In August, Ukraine brought an action before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the infringement of the rights of Ukrainian political prisoners, listing 71 cases and the names of the Russian officials dealing with them. The Ukrainian Ministry of Justice believes this will help convince its international partners to use additional personal sanctions against the Russian government.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/20792161770_79f05f5057_z_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/20792161770_79f05f5057_z_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Freedom to Oleg Sentsov”. Graffiti on the wall in St. Petersburg. Photo CC BY-SA 2.0: Oleg Kuznetsov / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But meanwhile, all the prisoners’ families can do is protest and publicise the issue. The exchange process is not in their hands, and it has already been on hold for nearly a year.</p><p dir="ltr">The longer the Kremlin stays silent and refuses to release the Ukrainian political prisoners, the more desperate the measures taken by their friends and relatives. In June, Raime, the mother of the Crimean Muslim Nuri Primov, who has been convicted of involvement in a terrorist organisation, went on hunger strike, demanding her son be included in an exchange list (she called the strike off in July because of a serious risk to her health).</p><p dir="ltr">The prisoners themselves have also resorted to extreme measures, the only way, they feel, they can assert their rights. On 16 May, not long before Russia hosted FIFA 2018, Oleg Sentsov began an indefinite hunger strike which has been supported by other political prisoners and activists and arts figures from around the world and was a subject of discussion at a recent meeting between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. </p><p dir="ltr">Sentsov was forced to end his hunger strike on 6 October under threats from the Russian penitentiary service. His health is still in great danger, and there has been no answer to the question: when will Ukrainian political prisoners be released?</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/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Human rights Wed, 10 Oct 2018 06:29:13 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 120019 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “We really need you, Anna!”: Svetlana Alexievich, Binalakshmi Nepram write to Anna Politkovskaya https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/binalakshmi-nepram-svetlana-alexievich/we-really-need-you-anna-svetlana-alexievich-binalak <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">To mark the 12 years since Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s murder, two laureates of an award for women human rights defenders write letters to her.</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/_мемориал_у_дома_Анны_Политковской.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_мемориал_у_дома_Анны_Политковской.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Outside Anna Politkovskaya's apartment block, 2006. John Martens / Wikipedia. Public Domain. </span></span></span>Twelve years ago this week, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment block. Politkovskaya reported extensively on Russia’s war in Chechnya, criticising the policies of Vladimir Putin’s government. The people behind Politkovskaya’s killing have never really been found.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.rawinwar.org/">RAW in WAR</a> (Reach All Women in WAR), an international human rights NGO, commemorates Politkovskaya’s work every year, presenting awards to leading women human rights defenders from across the world.</p><p dir="ltr">This year, RAW in WAR is giving the Politkovskaya Award to Binalakshmi Nepram and Svetlana Alexievich “for their bravery in speaking out and in defying injustice, violence and extremism in the context of ‘forgotten’ armed conflict in their regions”. Binalakshmi Nepram, a human rights defender from Manipur, northeast India, had to flee the country in 2017 following threats in connection with her activities. Her work has included documenting the sources of arms fuelling the <a href="https://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/india0908/2.htm">conflict in Manipur</a>, and assisting female survivors of gun violence. Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian journalist, has sought to document the cataclysmic and tragic stories affecting the Soviet Union and its successor states. She has repeatedly criticised the Russian annexation of Crimea and the human rights violations in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, as well as the growing nationalism and the oligarchy in Ukraine, which brought threats against her from both Russian and Ukrainian nationalists. In 2015, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.</p><p>Here, we publish the recipients’ letters to Anna Politkovskaya.</p><h2>Svetlana Alexievich: We really need you, Anna! [Need] your belief that it is not hatred, but love for humanity, that will save us</h2><p>Dear Anna,</p><p dir="ltr">I want to tell you about our lives without you. Where are we now? At what point in history? One thing is clear: not where we ever wanted to be. In the more than 10 years you have not been with us, we could have already been living in another country, turned from the GULAG Empire into a normal European state, as many of our neighbours have done. But as Stolypin famously put it: “In Russia, every ten years everything changes, and nothing changes in 200 years.” I am sick and tired of this quote, but it contains so much despair that is so familiar to us, that I want to repeat it.</p><p dir="ltr">Do you remember the 1990s — “wild”, bloody, holy... Do you remember what romantics we were, criminally romantic we were and we must admit it today. It was naive of us to believe that if books by Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, Grossman appeared in our bookshops, books that had previously meant a prison sentence for those who read them, if we had free newspapers and different parties — not just the Communist Party, this would be the beginning of a normal life. We would be like everyone else. We would join the rest of the world, stop scaring everyone with our Iskander rockets. Rallies, hundred thousand strong, gathered in the squares, we walked about and chanted: “Freedom! Freedom!” It seemed to us that this eternal Russian dream, this wonderful creature so lovingly nurtured in our kitchens, where we used to gather and dream, was about to become reality, that literally tomorrow we will be free. No one at the time could possibly know that a former convict, who spent his whole life in a prison camp, cannot just come out of the camp gates and become free overnight. He cannot be free because all he knows is his prison camp, all he can do is live inside his prison camp.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/34092551_1920218681335840_3650381821146824704_n.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/34092551_1920218681335840_3650381821146824704_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Svetlana Alexievich. Source: RAW in WAR. </span></span></span>How many illusions we had then! We naively believed that as soon as we remove that henchman <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Dzerzhinsky">Dzerzhinsky</a> from his granite pedestal, that would be enough, and the whole country would breathe free. And so they published Solzhenitsyn and <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-anatoli-rybakov-1044925.html">Rybakov</a> and everyone read everything. My friends and I, any intelligentsia household did not often own a decent coat but we all had large libraries. Now our children and grandchildren do not know what to do with all these books and thick magazines, they do not need them — they put them in the rubbish.</p><p>Yes, we ran around the squares and shouted: “Freedom! Freedom!” Yet no one knew what it meant. And then it began... Plants, factories, research facilities, enterprises were closing down — and what could we do with all that freedom? No one had imagined that we would be free but destitute. Everyone wanted to be a master, not a servant. Even today, if you walk into an expensive shop and ask for a little extra attention it is taken as an offence, a sign of condescension. Yet everyone has only recently emerged from socialism, where everyone was poor, but equal in their poverty.</p><p dir="ltr">I think, Anna, you must have already seen those TV images: “new Russians” eating black caviar, boasting gold urinals in personal jets, largest yachts in the world, while people somewhere in Ryazan or on Sakhalin, without any work or money, looked on with hungry eyes. No one thought about the people. Ideas were cherished, not people. Now we are surprised that our people’s heads are a real mish-mash of red-and-white, right-wing and left-wing ideas. Because no-one had ever talked to them, no one on TV took pains to explain anything to them from TV screens. Now it is Putin who talks to them, he has learned from our mistakes. But it is not about Putin alone, Putin says what the people want to hear; I would say that every Russian is a little Putin. I am talking about the collective Putin: we thought that it was the Soviet power that was the problem, but it was all about the people. The “Sovok”, the Soviet mode of thinking, lives on in our minds and our genes. How quickly has the Stalinist machine set to work again... With what knowledge and excitement everyone is once again denouncing each other, catching spies, beating people up for being different, unlike everyone else... Stalin has risen... Throughout Russia they are building monuments to Stalin, putting up Stalin’s portraits, open museums in Stalin’s memory…</p><p dir="ltr">You passed away, Anna, with the belief that we had beat the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Soviet_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat_attempt">coup</a>. Yet the years that we have lived without you have clearly shown that the coup had only hidden for a while, taken other forms, only to come back victorious. If anyone were to put on a T-shirt with Stalin’s picture or with the words “USSR” in the 1990s, they would be made fun of. Now it is considered OK. There are dozens of books about Stalin lining our bookshops: books about Stalin’s women, about the great generalissimo during the war, about the wine he loved, about the cigarettes he liked to smoke. It is quite incomprehensible how people at the same time grieve for their innocent loved ones murdered by Stalin and express their love for Stalin. Nostalgia for everything Soviet. Russians want to have a Schengen visa, a foreign car, even if a second hand one, and hold on to their faith in Stalin.</p><p dir="ltr">The hardest thing you would find to accept is that Russians have learned to kill their brothers, they have learnt to hate. I could tell you how a Moscow taxi driver kicked me out of the car when he found out that I was from Western Ukraine, that my mother was Ukrainian, and that I loved Ukrainians. “Crimea is ours!” he yelled at me. “No, it is not yours, it is Ukrainian.” “Donbass is ours!”. “No, it is Ukrainian.” I am not sure if your heart, Anna, could endure this pain as well. Undoubtedly, you would have gone to the front line in Ukraine, undoubtedly you would have written your honest reports from there... If in the past bodies of soldiers in zinc coffins were brought back from Afghanistan and were buried secretly at night, today they bring back the so-called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_200_(film)">“Cargo 200”</a> from Ukraine and Syria. But there is also a terrible difference: when I wrote my book <a href="http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Zinky-Boys/">Zinky Boys</a> about the war in Afghanistan and would go to meet a mother waiting for a coffin with her son’s remains, she would greet me with the words: “I shall tell you everything! Write the truth.” Today, mothers are silent, they talk in whispers. Only one of them admitted to the newspaper reporter: “I shan’t tell you anything, because they will not pay me compensation for my dead son. I want this money to buy an apartment for my daughter.”</p><p dir="ltr">Where did this happen? When? When did we turn back, sink back into the darkness of madness, fear and hatred of the Stalin years. We are still afraid to openly admit it to ourselves. But it is so. There is a war on... In the former Soviet Union, dozens of journalists have been killed, every year new names appear on this blacklist. Life in Russia is still in limbo between chaos and a prison barrack. It is not an accident that I often hear people in my circle talk about reading books on the 1930s Germany or the final years of the Russian Empire, on the eve of the Russian revolution. Ask yourself: why? Well, there are so many terrifying similarities with our life today. Some talk about the Third World War, others about the return of fascism.</p><p dir="ltr">Freedom is a long road... This is what we have learnt since your departure. We really need you, Anna! We have learnt from you that there can be no compromises in a war; even the smallest compromise makes you an accomplice. It would be much harder for all of us without everything you had managed to say and do. Without your belief, that it is not hatred, but love for humanity that will save us. Thank you for having been here and still being here.</p><h2>Binalakshmi Nepram: Not violence but truth, peace and justice will win in the end&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">I vividly remember hearing the news, on 7 October 2006, of the gunning down of brave woman journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. Even though Manipur, my homeland, is far away from Moscow, when the news of her assassination came, we felt the pain and the immeasurable loss her family and friends may have felt. We knew the killing was so wrong. In wars, true fighters do not do this. Anna was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a fearless journalist, a seeker of truth. Her killing was an extreme act of cowardice. And violence can never win in the end.</p><p dir="ltr">Many more have been felled like Anna since 2006. Seven years later, in 2013, the United Nations passed a historic resolution to protect women human rights defenders. However, this did not stop the killings. To date, most of the efforts to protect women human rights defenders remain mostly on paper. We need to work hard to ensure that we have proper systems in place to make certain that protection and support is there at hand. In 2017, over 312 human rights defenders from 27 countries were killed. We will need to work harder together to ensure that proper support is given whenever anyone is threatened for their vital work.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Bina Nepram AFI 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Bina Nepram AFI 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Binalakshmi Nepram. Source: RAW in WAR.</span></span></span>Manipur is in the Northeast Region of India, home to 45 million people, belonging to 272 indigenous communities and home also to South Asia’s longest-running armed conflict, where since 1958 &nbsp;many have been living under martial law, called the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), sanctioned by the Indian Parliament. For many of us, our world of seven decades of war was something India and its policy makers hid away from the rest of the world.</p><p dir="ltr">The day I was born in Manipur was a day of military curfew. And to date, violence continues unabated each day. My niece died in a bomb blast at the age of 14 and my parents were nearly shot. It was not just my family alone. 20,000 women have been widowed in Manipur due to the ongoing conflict, in India’s Northeast region due to the seven decades long entrenched conflict. Yet, the terrible news of what is happening is not reported by news agencies around the world, as foreign journalists are not allowed to come to our area and there are severe restrictions on access. Even many UN agencies are not allowed to operate and international organisations have been asked not to operate in our region, in spite of a huge humanitarian crisis.</p><p dir="ltr">It is not just the violence in our lives. It is the violence in policies and politics that have defined our lives for years. Just think for a moment, how the history of the 45 million people who live in Manipur and Northeast India is blotted out of India’s textbooks. That means, if we all are wiped out, no one in the world will ever know we existed as peoples and as nations. And that our women and girls are subjected to trafficking, abuse and sexual assault every day of their lives.</p><p>The violence in our lives and our bodies has been going on for over 70 long years. Our mothers in Manipur, known as the legendary Meira Pabis (Women Torch Bearers), have fought long and bravely for peace and the rule of law. However, the so-called political leaders of our nations, who rule our lives, have risen to power by corrupt practices and by purchasing the votes of innocent citizens. We are ruled by men who have committed human rights violations, who are arms dealers, drug-traffickers and criminals, sanctioned and supported by "powers" in New Delhi.</p><p dir="ltr">If there are 300,000 members of the Indian armed forces in Northeast India, there are 72 armed groups that also operate in the region. We, as citizens, have been sandwiched between the guns of state and non-state actors for all these years. In short, it is the sanction of violence that has become the norm in our home states.</p><p dir="ltr">It is under these extremely difficult conditions that we set up the <a href="http://www.womensurvivorsnetwork.org/">Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network</a> in 2007 and later, the <a href="http://www.cafi-online.org/">Control Arms Foundation of India</a> and the <a href="http://neiwip.blogspot.com/">Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace</a>. When one is pushed back against a wall, two things can happen: either you cower there or you fight back. We decided to fight back, to claim our rights to peace and justice. We started by getting together women widowed due to the armed conflict and then ensuring that we supported them to carry on with their lives. We help them to open bank accounts, get a livelihood and ensure that their children are sent to school. We help them access government schemes that are meant for them. And sometimes we help the survivor families file court cases for the wrongful death of their loved ones.</p><p dir="ltr">And for this humanitarian work in Manipur and Northeast India, we have been repeatedly threatened. As early as 2002, as I started my research and writing, I was called to the Indian Mission in Colombo and warned not to speak about the Northeast Region of India outside the four corners of the country. Later in 2014, I was told by a current politician, who claimed to have links with a rebel group, that it would take 30,000 Indian Rupees ($450) to sanction someone to kill me. That is the cost of killing a woman human rights defender in India. Rumours were also spread by men, heading NGOs, who, instead of supporting our work, told rebel groups that our group is working with Indian intelligence to disarm rebels. Later, over social media, I continued receiving threats for standing up for the rights of families who have lost loved ones in this entrenched conflict. In some cases where the families we have helped to fight for justice have lost their relatives due to acts committed by state politicians, rumours have been spread that what we have been doing is attempting to sabotage the ruling government. The ultimate threat came when heavily armed Manipur police commandos, sent by corrupt politicians, came to my house in Manipur, looking for me. That was the time I decided, I will not be a statistic. I will live to fight with others for our peace, our justice and our rights.</p><p dir="ltr">In the brave and courageous lives of Anna Politkovskaya herself, Natalia Estemirova, Berta Caceres, Gauri Lankesh, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and countless and nameless others who were felled by the bullet, the awarding each year of the Anna Politkovskaya Award for Women Human Rights Defenders is a fitting reminder that our fight for justice, against militarisation, weaponisation, corporatisation and authoritarianism in our lives will continue strongly each day, every day.</p><p dir="ltr">Not violence but truth, peace and justice will win in the end.</p><p>A life of seeking truth and activism is not an easy life. We have to strain our bodies and souls. We have to fight a thousand struggles. Our efforts are humanitarian, in order to deepen democracy and to ensure the rule of law. This award is a recognition that we will not be silenced anymore by what we stand for.</p><p dir="ltr">I thank the organisation, Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR) and the distinguished jury for choosing to give me this honour, along with the noted writer and journalist, Svetlana Alexievich, from Belarus, who was also the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize winner for literature. I receive this honour wholeheartedly, on behalf of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, Control Arms Foundation of India and the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace.</p><p dir="ltr">I dedicate the Anna Politkovskaya Award 2018 to all women survivors of Manipur and the world, to my family and to all whose resilience, strength and belief in our work and courage made us rise, speak up, advocate and take action to bring the change we wish to see in this world.</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/anna-shadrina/svetlana-alexievich-pain-and-dignity-of-life-in-soviet-experiment">Svetlana Alexievich: the pain and dignity of life in the Soviet experiment</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-volosomoeva/valentina-cherevatenko-i-am-convinced-that-war-will-affect-us-all">Valentina Cherevatenko: “I am convinced that the war will affect us all”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/gunning_for_control">The shadow of the gun</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/arts-institutions_government/chechnya_3980.jsp">Chechnya: Russia&#039;s shame</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-shmaraeva/who-really-killed-anna-politkovskaya">Politkovskaya killers sentenced, but who hired them?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Svetlana Alexievich Binalakshmi Nepram Tue, 09 Oct 2018 14:31:20 +0000 Binalakshmi Nepram and Svetlana Alexievich 119965 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The democratic future of Uzbekistan doesn’t depend on the politicians, but whether workers can mobilise https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kirill-buketov/the-democratic-future-of-uzbekistan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Uzbekistan’s transition to a market economy will require further worker suppression. But signs of worker mobilisation in the Karimov era can give us hope.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kirill-buketov/menyaushiysya-uzbekistan" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.22.48_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.22.48_0.png" alt="" title="" width="450" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sending students and state employees to the cotton fields, 2010. Source: Ahrca.org</span></span></span>Uzbekistan’s sharp swing towards democratic values in the post-Karimov era is unprecedented. After the death of Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov, who had ruled the country since 1989, the prison system’s doors have been flung open. International human rights organisations and monitoring missions are now visiting the country. The openness and diplomatic vigour of new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s administration has led to many people to believe that the changes are genuine and long term. But the discussion of what is behind the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/luca-anceschi/modernising-authoritarianism-in-uzbekistan">Uzbek “perestroika”</a> and how to react to it has divided opponents of the regime. </p><p dir="ltr">The change has been dramatic, but certainly not complete: people who have suffered for their beliefs have not been rehabilitated, and their torturers remain unpunished; people who were exiled and forced to leave the country have received no guarantee of their safety should they return; there are still no independent media; and the use of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/umida-niyazova/uzbekistan-s-new-leader-fails-his-first-test">forced labour</a> and the <a href="https://cpj.org/2018/09/uzbekistan-arrests-at-least-four-bloggers-over-pos.php">persecution of bloggers</a> continues. Before we start declaring a “new Uzbekistan” and calling for an end to the boycott of Uzbek goods, we need to take a critical look at how deep the reforms go in a country where civil society has been viciously repressed and fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, assembly and trade unions, banned. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The wake-up </h2><p dir="ltr">About a year has passed since that autumn night when a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-uzbekistan-labour/uzbekistan-pulls-students-teachers-nurses-from-cotton-fields-sources-idUKKCN1BX1UU">sudden order</a> was given to return all students to the classroom from the cotton fields. The confused and drowsy students (and their equally confused tutors) were roused from their mattresses and pushed into emergency transport to be returned to their homes. The order was given at night because it came from another hemisphere – from Washington, where it was still daylight and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was in negotiations with the World Bank. The stakes were high: the World Bank doesn’t offer a billion dollars to just any old country. The offer came, of course, with strict conditions attached, including massive reform, starting with a ban on <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jessica-evans/in-uzbekistan-world-bank-is-masking-labour-abuses">slave labour in the cotton fields</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If workers can unite, they can ensure that no one has the power to send millions of people from the cities to the cotton fields and back on a whim</p><p dir="ltr">That night was a turning point. It gives us an idea of the motives behind, and essence of, Uzbekistan’s reforms. The previous administration, led by Soviet partocrat Islam Karimov, was founded on feudal fear and basically reproduced the Soviet model of government of the late 1940s, with the portraits of Stalin just replaced with those of the first president of independent Uzbekistan. But Mirziyoyev has no desire to govern a mega-barracks, an outcast state whose very name on a clothes label makes customers all over the world shun its produce. He would rather rule on the basis of market principles, where power is based on the capital it controls. The extent of this control has not yet been established, but what is essential at this point is a transformation of this command-penal-economy into an economy open to investment and technology. </p><p dir="ltr">Uzbekistan is once more open for direct investment, accompanied by multinational companies and their managers. These managers will not be the romantically-minded pioneers who swamped the post-soviet world in the early 1990s. International business has changed a lot since then, accumulating the most unsavoury of practices and breeding a new generation of managers – in Russia and its neighbouring countries – who are interested only in numerical indicators. They are the people who will lead the way to creating a new economy and strict labour relations system in Uzbekistan. They will be supported by the existing state infrastructure, including the state trade unions. And this is all bad news, because there will be no one to challenge this process: there are no real, independent trade unions in Uzbekistan. The last time an attempt was made to create one was <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/news/19491">five years ago</a>. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.24.30_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.24.30_0.png" alt="" title="" width="448" height="217" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fakhridden Tillayev (on the left). Source: Uzxalqharakati.com</span></span></span>On 22 September 2013, Fakhriddin Tillayev and Nuriddin Dzhumaniyazov were picked up by the police at one of the impromptu “labour exchanges” in Tashkent’s Kuilyuk housing estate. They had caught the attention of the cops when they were giving some help to casual labourers, explaining their rights and handing out application forms for them to join an independent trade union. After their arrest, Tillayev and Dzhumaniyazov told human rights campaigners that they had been <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-frees-jailed-activist-ahead-of-president-s-meeting-with-trump/29223176.html">badly tortured during the police investigation</a>. In March 2014, they were each sentenced to eight years and three months in prison on trumped-up charges. There were no more free people left to create independent trade unions. And in June 2017, the administration of the penal colony where the two men had been imprisoned informed Dzhumaniyazov’s family that he had died on 31 December 2016 (six months earlier!), supposedly of TB.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The drive belt </h2><p dir="ltr">Like the All Union Central Soviet of Trade Unions in the Soviet period, the only trade union structure in Uzbekistan is the Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan (FPU). This body is part of the country's social security system. It spends its time providing workers with healthcare and running 17 sanitorium and health resorts. The FPU also exercises ideological control over workers’ wellbeing and has propaganda functions designed to assist the public in expressing its support for the regime. And the FPU has a <a href="http://www.cottoncampaign.org/uploads/3/9/4/7/39474145/ftuu_full_reformatted_report.pdf">particularly important role</a> in organising transport for public sector workers to take part in forced labour – harvesting cotton and keeping city streets clean and tidy.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, for many years, FPU functionaries, and in particular its leader Tanzila Marbayeva (who is now First Deputy Prime Minister), spoke at international forums and symposiums in the name of Uzbek workers, denying the mass use of forced child labour in the cotton fields.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The shift of Uzbekistan’s economy to market-led practices will inevitably mean mass redundancies, an “optimisation” of the social security system and a rise in prices for transport and utilities</p><p dir="ltr">The FPU’s higher echelons are dominated by state officials and the directors of large companies. The federation’s chair himself was appointed to his post on 20 December 2016 at an extraordinary plenary session of its ruling council chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister. The PM himself <a href="https://kasaba.uz/ru/izbran-novyj-predsedatel-federatsii-profsoyuzov-uzbekistana/">attended the plenary session</a>, as did the president’s state councillor, and Kudratilla Rafikov, until then the director-general of the Djizaksk Accumulator Plant and a leading member of an entrepreneurs association’, was appointed as new head of the FPU. After talking to FPU members at various levels in February-March 2018, the International Federation of Trade Unions’ Mission <a href="https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/17gc_e_05_-_affiliation_annex_v.ii_annex_a_secretariat_report_uzbekistan.pdf">came to the clear conclusion</a> that the FPU could not be considered an independent organisation. </p><p dir="ltr">The shift of Uzbekistan’s economy to market-led practices will inevitably mean mass redundancies, an “optimisation” of the social security system and a rise in prices for transport and utilities. Tensions will also inevitably rise, and the appointment of Rafikov as head of the FPU is a clear signal that, in a period of economic transition, the federation will continue to carry out policing functions at workplaces and its main job will be to nip any autonomous workers’ organisation in the bud, suppressing any protest initiatives. It’s the same in Kazakhstan, where state trade unions ideologically “covered up” for the shooting of striking oil workers at <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-kostyuchenko/what-i-didnt-write-about-zhanaozen">Zhanaozen in 2011</a>, initiating the elimination of independent workers’ organisations and hardening of labour laws in the interests of foreign investors. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Freedom of association </h2><p dir="ltr">However, if global public pressure remains firm, Uzbekistan’s new direction will still require liberalisation of legislation and law enforcement practice. In 2016, under pressure from an international campaign to root out child and forced labour in the country’s cotton production, Uzbekistan ratified the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention on freedom of association and the right to unite in trade unions. </p><p dir="ltr">This convention allows workers to create their own organisations, independent of governments and employers, for the collective protection of their labour rights. Fakhridden Tillayev was given an early release from prison in the spring of 2018, thanks to a visit by a delegation from the international cotton coalition’s Cotton Campaign to Tashkent, and it took place on the eve of a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alisher-ilkhamov/a-new-era-in-us-uzbekistan-relations">visit by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the US</a> for another round of talks in the USA. The human rights campaigners are now calling for Tillayev’s complete rehabilitation and posthumous rehabilitation for Djumaniyazov.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.25.38_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.25.38_0.png" alt="" title="" width="450" height="289" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Donald Trump at a meeting in the USA. Source: Press service of the President of Uzbekistan.</span></span></span>Despite the serious blow dealt to Uzbek civil society under Karimov’s harsh dictatorship, the country’s civic networks were not completely eliminated. A dissident movement and human rights campaigners continued to fight injustice and, in the absence of freedom for trade union activity, took the monitoring of working practices on themselves and worked for the protection of the individual labour rights of individual workers.</p><p dir="ltr">Many Uzbeks also still remember the collective action taken by schoolteachers in the Fergana and Samarkand provinces in the 2000s; the meeting where over 500 workers in the Akdaryinsk district in Samarkand demanded their back pay; the 12-day rally of workers at the Mashyal cooperative farm (a former collective farm) in Markhamat, Andijan, to demand higher purchase prices for&nbsp; cotton, as well as the strikes by workers at the cotton processing works in Zarbdorsk, Jizzakh province, Tashkent’s Chkalov aviation works and the Angren rubber factory; the rally by thousands of workers at the Fergana oil and chemical processing works. All these actions show a high degree of mobilising ability on the part of Uzbek workers. They were, however, spontaneous and had only a short term economic effect. In general, the repressive system of labour relations had at its core a lack of workers’ rights and the power of the employers — such as the Uzbek government, which showed no scruples in sending children, students, teachers and doctors in their millions to forced labour like serfs.</p><p dir="ltr">Uzbekistan’s workers now have a new chance to create trade unions and collectively make changes, not only in their working conditions but in a reassessment of the entire system of labour relations. If workers can unite, they can ensure that no one has the power to send millions of people from the cities to the cotton fields and back on a whim, or imprison those who dare to demand better wages and working conditions and assert their human dignity. </p><p dir="ltr">What will come next? For the Uzbek working class, it depends on their readiness and ability to fight for their rights. </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/jessica-evans/in-uzbekistan-world-bank-is-masking-labour-abuses">In Uzbekistan, the World Bank is masking labour abuses</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nate-schenkkan/what-would-open-uzbekistan-look-like">What would an open Uzbekistan look like?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alisher-ilkhamov/how-to-return-one-billion-dollars-stolen-from-the-people-of-uzbekistan%20">How to return one billion dollars stolen from the people of Uzbekistan </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/luca-anceschi/modernising-authoritarianism-in-uzbekistan">Modernising authoritarianism in Uzbekistan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/umida-niyazova/uzbekistan-s-new-leader-fails-his-first-test">Uzbekistan’s new leader fails his first test</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Kirill Buketov Workers in Eurasia Uzbekistan Tue, 09 Oct 2018 06:29:23 +0000 Kirill Buketov 119980 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Russia should not enjoy impunity in the Council of Europe https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oleksandra-matviychuk-volodymyr-yermolenko/why-russia-should-not-enjoy-impunity-in-council <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Without fulfilling conditions set out in the Parliamentary Assembly’s resolutions, why should Russia be allowed return to the Council?</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/Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 20.38.56.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 20.38.56.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Still from CCTV footage of the abduction of Ervin Ibragimov, 25 May 2016, in Bakchisarai, Crimea. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioPojea38AA>Youtube</a>. </span></span></span>In a recent interview, France’s former president Francois Hollande <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1ZkWDhOTss&amp;t=178s">described Putin’s foreign strategy as follows</a>: Russia will try to get away with whatever it can, and will only negotiate when it encounters resistance.</p><p dir="ltr">This logic is evident not only on the battlefield, but also in the diplomatic arena. This is what makes Russia so different from its European counterparts: while Europe negotiates first and acts second, Russia acts first and only then negotiates.</p><p dir="ltr">Militarily and diplomatically, this strategy can be seen in contemporary Eastern Ukraine and Syria — as well as Georgia in 2008 or Moldova in 1992. Less visibly, but crucially, it has also emerged in Russia’s hidden diplomatic games. One of the recent ones is related to the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest democratic institution.</p><h2>When authoritarianism tries to change democracy</h2><p dir="ltr">In 2014, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) imposed sanctions on Russia for illegally annexing Crimea and military aggression in Eastern Ukraine. PACE deprived Moscow of its voting rights and representation in PACE’s key bodies.</p><p dir="ltr">In response, Russia left PACE’s meetings (it stopped submitting credentials for PACE sessions) and even ended its financial contributions to the Council of Europe altogether.</p><p dir="ltr">At first, this blackmail had little influence. In 2016, PACE was especially strong on Russia: it adopted several resolutions, in particular <a href="http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-DocDetails-EN.asp?FileID=23166&amp;lang=EN">Resolution 2132 (2016)</a>, in which the Assembly demanded that Russia “reverse the illegal annexation of Crimea and allow Ukraine to regain control of the peninsula” and “withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine and stop providing the separatists with military supplies”. In response, Moscow repeatedly stated that it would not fulfil any of PACE’s conditions, leaving the situation in a deadlock.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">We should remember what PACE’s own resolution says about Russia: it should “reverse the illegal annexation of Crimea” and “withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine”</span></p><p dir="ltr">But since last year, Russia has tried to restore its rights, despite refusing to meet the requirements. Moreover, instead of implementing PACE rules, it now aims to change them.</p><p dir="ltr">This is what is going on today: Russia is trying to undo PACE’s sanctions by changing PACE’s rules themselves, making it difficult for this organisation to sanction any violation at all. We explained the <a href="https://ukraineworld.org/articles/russian-aggression/why-russias-return-europes-key-body-dangerous-10-questions-and-answers">technical details of the situation</a>; many prominent European politicians and intellectuals <a href="https://ukraineworld.org/articles/russian-aggression/meps-politicians-and-intellectuals-call-save-council-europe">signed an open letter</a> against this development. But the battle is still ahead. </p><h2>Impunity as a problem</h2><p dir="ltr">The key problem in this story has been Russian impunity. If someone has the right to violate Europe’s fundamental values with little to no sanctions, or with sanctions that are later revoked, this bodes ill for European democracy.</p><p dir="ltr">For the Council of Europe it is important to remember that Russia’s military presence in Eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea have not only led to violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. They have also led to a significant worsening of human rights in territories that Russia occupied. </p><p dir="ltr">In Crimea, for example, Russia is bringing back old Soviet practices, turning the region into a powerful military base, a threat to both Ukraine and NATO members. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-19329932_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-19329932_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2014: Crimean Tatar community mourns death of tortured activist Reshat Ametov. (c) Yaghobzadeh Rafael/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Crimea has also become a testing ground for integrating occupied territories into Russia. The most active citizens who did not welcome Russian annexation were forced out of the peninsula. They have been<a href="https://www.mfaua.org/en/publications/russian-policy-in-crimea-is-a-colonization"> replaced</a>, through controlled migration, by Russian citizens coming from different regions. Those who stayed have been<a href="http://precedent.crimea.ua/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Crimea_beyond_rules_3_en.pdf"> forced</a> to take Russian citizenship.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s occupation of Crimea resulted in <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">massive human rights violations</a>, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists">discrimination against Crimean Tatars</a>, the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/crimea-s-unfreedom-of-speech">elimination of independent media</a> and the establishment of a political persecution system.</p><p dir="ltr">Representatives of Russia’s occupational authorities have been involved in 37 out of<a href="http://krymsos.com/ru/reports/analitichni-zviti-po-krimu/infografika-po-zniknennyam-v-okupovanomu-krimu/"> 44 violent disappearances</a> of residents in Crimea. Some of these cases are well documented: when Ervin Ibrahimov, a Crimean Tatar activist, was abducted in 2016 by law enforcement officers, this was recorded on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioPojea38AA">video</a>. It is still unknown where Ibrahimov is now. His parents have been waiting in hope to meet their son again for the last two years.</p><p dir="ltr">The forceful implementation of Russian law provides enough space for arbitrary restrictions. For instance, it allows to punish “missionary activities” if taken beyond specified places. People in Crimea are now being<a href="http://ccl.org.ua/en/statements/open-address-to-sam-brownback/"> persecuted</a> even for “reading the Bible and prayer”, “distributing leaflets with an invitation to a house of prayer”, “religious songs”, and so on. As of September 2017, the number of religious communities fell by 63% compared to the beginning of 2014 (see a <a href="https://mhg.ru/sites/default/files/inline/files/prekratit_sistematicheskie_narusheniya_prav_cheloveka_v_krymu.pdf">statement by Russian human rights council</a>, p. 2).</p><p dir="ltr">Instead, the number of political prisoners is constantly growing. At least<a href="http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1524485779"> 70 people</a>, mostly Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, have ended up behind bars based on fabricated charges. This number includes filmmaker <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Oleh Sentsov</a>, human rights activist <a href="https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/emir-usein-kuku">Emir-Usein Kuku</a>, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/volodymyr-balukh-crimea-fabricated-case">Crimean farmer Volodymyr Baluh</a> and many others. Russian occupational authorities have even started arresting lawyers of political prisoners. </p><p dir="ltr">Things are worse in the eastern Ukrainian territories that have been occupied by Russia since 2014. Roughly three million people <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">live in the “grey zone”</a> in Donbas where no legal authority exist. Their freedom and lives depend exclusively on the will of pro-Russian paramilitary groups.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-20390761_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leaving Donetsk, July 2014. (c) Dmitry Lovetsky / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>From the very beginning of the conflict, these paramilitary groups have terrorised civilians in order to gain control of the region. Physical aggression, kidnapping, torture and expropriation have become regular occurrences.</p><p dir="ltr">The so-called “People’s Republics” controlled by Russia established an <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oksana-trufanova/prisoners-of-the-donbas">entire network of illegal prisons</a> known as “basements”. Hundreds of people still remain in captivity. There are many civilians among them, including journalist Stanislav Aseev, who had been writing under a pen name in occupied Donetsk. All of them should have been immediately released if Russia took the Minsk peace agreements seriously. Instead, some of them have been kept in prisons for four years. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Even international organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross do not have access to them. This is the reason why we don’t even know the exact numbers of captives.</p><p dir="ltr">However, judging by the<a href="http://ccl.org.ua/en/reports/surviving-hell-testimonies-of-victims-on-places-of-illegal-detention-in-donbas/"> testimonies</a> of former detainees, we do know that they suffer from torture irrespective of age and gender.</p><p dir="ltr">“I begged them not to beat me and told them that I was pregnant,” one of the former detainees said. “They said in response that it is very good that an Ukrop [derogatory term used to designate Ukrainians] child will die. They beat us with everything they had: clubs, legs, even the bulletproof vests that they recovered from us. They beat us all over. They stubbed out their cigarettes on me. They blindfolded me with tape because I watched and yelled when others were beaten. I was in my third month of pregnancy and I began to bleed because of being beaten…”</p><p dir="ltr">Numerous other testimonies are included in a 2015 <a href="http://ccl.org.ua/en/reports/surviving-hell-testimonies-of-victims-on-places-of-illegal-detention-in-donbas/">report by a coalition of human rights organisations</a>. Read this report to understand how miserable life can be in the Russian-occupied “People’s Republics” in eastern Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Russia remains an important country for the world today, and every nation can choose how it will proceed with its dialogue with Moscow. But this dialogue should not accept Russian impunity</span></p><p dir="ltr">Russia denies its involvement, saying this conflict is entirely a matter of Ukraine’s “internal affairs” during a “civil war”. However, it is well known that these paramilitary groups persist exclusively due to Kremlin’s financial, political and military support. Russia bears the entire responsibility for human rights violations here.</p><p dir="ltr">An important thing to understand is that the Kremlin repeats its practices in different countries and regions. A large group of Russian citizens that has committed war crimes in Crimea and Donbas have been previously active in Chechnya and Transnistria. One of them, Igor Girkin (Strelkov), tortured people in the occupied town of Sloviansk — and there are many others.</p><h2>The Council of Europe should not be compromised</h2><p dir="ltr">If we do not end the cycle of Russian impunity, then it will recur in other post-Soviet states, and beyond.</p><p dir="ltr">Obviously, Russia remains an important country for the world today, and every nation can choose how it will proceed with its dialogue with Moscow. But this dialogue should not accept Russian impunity. It should not ignore Russia’s assault on human rights. It should not open the door for an authoritarian country to change democratic institutions. </p><p dir="ltr">Organisations such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe must remain what they have been designed for: institutions that ensure strengthening and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law on the continent. No violator can restore its rights unless it fulfills the conditions PACE has set. No fundamental value should be compromised, not even in tiny detail. </p><p dir="ltr">We should remember what PACE’s own resolution says about Russia: it should “reverse the illegal annexation of Crimea” and “withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine”. There should be no return of Russia to PACE until this happens.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oksana-trufanova/prisoners-of-the-donbas">How prisoners in Ukraine’s occupied territories live, work and survive</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alona-savchuk/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists">How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/volodymyr-balukh-crimea-fabricated-case">How the Russian authorities fabricated criminal charges against Crimean farmer Volodymyr Balukh</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ruslan-minich/the-story-of-pavlo-hryb">Abducted and illegally detained: the story of Pavlo Hryb, another Ukrainian prisoner of the Kremlin</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Volodymyr Yermolenko Oleksandra Matviychuk Ukraine Mon, 08 Oct 2018 05:37:09 +0000 Oleksandra Matviychuk and Volodymyr Yermolenko 119949 at https://www.opendemocracy.net 'Sexual liberation, socialist style': an overlooked women's rights story? https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/brittney-ferreira/sexual-liberation-socialist-style-overlooked-womens-rights-story <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>New research by Kateřina Lišková places eastern bloc countries at forefront of twentieth century push for gender equality.</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/563303/BF1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Women in Prague, 1956."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/BF1.png" alt="Women in Prague, 1956." title="Women in Prague, 1956." width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Women in Prague, 1956. Photo: FORTEPAN / Nagy Gyula / Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.</span></span></span>In the early 1950s, communist Czechoslovakia embarked on pioneering, nationwide research into the female orgasm. In 1961, it decriminalised homosexuality. These are just two examples of an overlooked history of sexual liberation in eastern Europe’s socialist states, according to the author of a groundbreaking new book on the topic.</p><p>Kateřina Lišková, author of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/sexual-liberation-socialist-style/ECEFAB809A019B2F7D63267B9D95CEAD">Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style</a>, is associate professor in gender studies and sociology at Masaryk University in Brno. We must learn from the past to better understand the present, she told me in a recent interview. She described a “collective memory” of communism as a “horrible, gruesome, dark” time when “everything just went wrong” but warned against dismissing it entirely. Instead, her book tells a lesser-known story in which socialist states were pioneers of sexual freedom.</p><p>Amid Czechoslovakia’s show trials and judicial murders of political opponents, “there was also this incredible equalisation of gender within marriage,” she told me, “and also these new advances in sexuality, this new understanding of people and their lives and their happiness in sexual, intimate terms.”</p><p>The months that Lišková spent trawling through archival materials, from expert analyses and state-issued policies to divorce court arguments, revealed important changes that unfolded in Czechoslovakia’s “long 1950s” – the period from 1948, when the communists came into power, until the early 1960s.</p><p dir="ltr">Prague’s sexological research around fertility and the female orgasm, for instance, led doctors to conclude that the absence of love underpinned women’s lack of orgasms&nbsp;and brought experts to view gender equality as a necessary precondition for marital and sexual satisfaction. </p><p dir="ltr">“It’s a very socialist idea that people should marry for love and that love is the only reason for marriage,” Lišková told me. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">“It’s a very socialist idea that people should marry for love and that love is the only reason for marriage.”</p><p dir="ltr">But it wasn’t just Czechoslovak women who relished this new interest in gender equality; women’s rights were universally enshrined in constitutions across the eastern bloc.</p><p>Governments throughout the region also invested in public services, such as kindergartens and laundries, seeking to make women’s lives easier. Women enjoyed newly held property and parental rights, improved access to education and greater labour force participation that brought unprecedented financial independence. Abortion access was liberalised in all socialist countries over the course of the 1950s, with social and economic hardship instituted as valid grounds for terminating a pregnancy.</p><p>That the eastern bloc was a forerunner in legalising abortion may come as a surprise to readers, given the <a href="https://euobserver.com/health/140158">contemporary backlash</a> against women’s reproductive freedoms in a handful of formerly socialist countries, including Poland. The country <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/world/europe/poland-abortion-women-protest.html">once had some of the region’s most progressive abortion laws</a>; now it has some of the most conservative, restricting access to just a few circumstances: in cases of serious foetal anomaly; when the woman’s life or health is at risk; or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.</p><p>A proposal for a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/23/polish-lawmakers-anti-abortion-bill">near-total ban on abortion in Poland, tabled in 2016</a>, is just one example of efforts to even further restrict these rights. Another is a (rejected) 2018 bill to outlaw abortions where the foetus has a congenital disorder, such as Down syndrome, a permission that currently accounts for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/11/polish-mps-reject-liberalised-abortion-laws-but-back-new-restrictions">about 95% of Poland’s reported abortions</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/BF2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Polish women protest a proposed near-total ban on abortion in 2016."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/BF2.png" alt="Polish women protest a proposed near-total ban on abortion in 2016." title="Polish women protest a proposed near-total ban on abortion in 2016." width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Polish women protest a proposed near-total ban on abortion in 2016. Photo: Zorro2212 / Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.</span></span></span>Such a backlash in the wake of relative progressivity seems jarring. When I asked Lišková about this, she described a series of regressive turns across the region close to or after the end of communism. Her research refutes ideas that increased sexual and reproductive freedoms unfold linearly. Instead, she recounts ebbs and flows of progress. </p><p dir="ltr">As people grew increasingly disenchanted with what decades of socialism had delivered, “there was this push against communism,” Lišková told me. “Everything communist was bad and it meant different things in different countries. And we can see this on abortion, on access to abortion. In Poland, it was deemed ‘bad communist’ that women had access; in Romania, it was deemed ‘bad communist’ that women didn’t.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Everything communist was bad and it meant different things in different countries... In Poland, it was deemed ‘bad communist’ that women had access [to abortion]; in Romania, it was deemed ‘bad communist’ that women didn’t.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Poland, opponents of communism sought to reverse so-called ‘imposed Soviet practices,’ including access to abortion.</p><p dir="ltr">Amid an overwhelmingly Catholic population, this access came to signify communists’ resistance to the church. In her book, Lišková writes that Poland underwent “a powerful reclaiming of pre-communist notions of private life,” characterised by a backlash against women’s reproductive freedoms and a re-traditionalisation of gender relations.</p><p dir="ltr">Conversely, Romania liberalised abortion after socialism ended. Then-leader Nicolae Ceaușescu had tightened abortion regulations in 1966 and women’s “non-access” became “emblematic of the state socialism they wanted to do away with,” Lišková said.</p><p>In the case of Czechoslovakia, Lišková describes a period of “normalisation” after the Soviet Union defeated the 1968 Prague Spring reforms. The 1970s saw a return to more conservative gender relations and another rolling back of women’s reproductive rights.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/BF3.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/BF3.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protestors in Prague during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Photo: The Central Intelligence Agency / Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.</span></span></span>But, Lišková stresses, the progressive changes of 1950s Czechoslovakia were not entirely erased. The decade’s egalitarian social practices outlasted its policies, she explains; women’s independence had become the norm.</p><p dir="ltr">Lišková’s book describes these important and enduring steps towards gender equality in Czechoslovakia as a kind of “liberation from above.” Contrasting these with grassroots mobilisations for sexual liberation in the West in the 1960s, she challenges a common narrative that progress in this area is invariably achieved “from below.”</p><p>Lišková told me she does not dismiss the importance of social movements but rather seeks to show that, historically, “there are other modes of liberalising sexuality, that are not bottom-up… They just look different and occur at a different time and the dynamics are just rather different. And I think that we need to understand that also.”</p><p dir="ltr">But she was also careful not to romanticise what happened in communist Czechoslovakia. Even as equality became the new norm, she writes, “the reality of patriarchy coloured everyday lives” and there was a “necessary lag” between changes implemented by the regime and changes in social practices.</p><p dir="ltr">“I think it is generally very difficult to change people’s practices overnight the way you can change the regime overnight,” she told me. </p><p dir="ltr">“You cannot decree from above that men should treat women equally at home, that they should take up their fair share of household duties, that they should love and cherish their wives.”</p><p dir="ltr">“In the case of Czechoslovakia and other state socialist countries,” she added, “many of these rights were first instituted from above. But, of course, you need people… to adhere to those rights, to want to keep them, to practice them, to exercise them. And, of course, you need people to shout if these rights should be taken away.”</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/katerina-liskova/socialist-love-from-utopia-to-pragmatism">Socialist love: from utopia to pragmatism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/polina-aronson-julia-lerner/cold-war-hot-love">Cold war, hot love</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Czech Republic </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 oD Russia Czech Republic Culture Equality International politics Tracking the backlash women and power gender Brittney Ferreira Romantic regimes Wed, 03 Oct 2018 08:00:54 +0000 Brittney Ferreira 119783 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Decentralising Ukraine: the view from Khmelnytsky https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yulia-abibok/decentralising-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Three years of Ukraine’s most successful reform have produced results that are, at times, unexpected and ambiguous.&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yulia-abibok/decentralizaciya-v-ukraine" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/8731656351_63c8360863_b.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/8731656351_63c8360863_b.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>For villages in the Khmelnytskyi region, it is more profitable to unite in communities with each other than to be attached to the city. Photo CC BY 2.0: Serge Bystro / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The minibus that has been quietly rocking its full load of passengers, drowsy from the heat, to sleep, suddenly starts juddering.</p><p dir="ltr">“This isn’t our road,” Inna Abdulkadyrova, head of the Humentsi unified territorial community (OTO), hastens to announce, to deflect any questions about the state of the road. “It’s the responsibility of another council. The roads in Humentsi itself are excellent.”</p><p dir="ltr">The village of Humentsi, in western Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi oblast, became the centre of a new “unified territorial community” in 2015. Before its creation, Abdulkadyrova had already been elected four times as village head. After snap nationwide local elections in 2015, Abdulkadyrova’s remit widened: she is now responsible for an extra 18 villages, 245 square kilometres and 9,500 of her fellow citizens.</p><p dir="ltr">Humentsi has long been a prosperous village, one of the richest in the region. It has four medium sized companies providing tax revenue and jobs for the locals, as well as a couple of dozen small businesses. And the tourist centre of Kamianets-Podilskyi (with a well-preserved old town and a medieval fortress among it attractions) is only a few kilometres away.</p><p dir="ltr">Thanks to the local government reforms that began in 2015 and allocated serious money to the newly-created OTOs (including funds for infrastructure development), Humentsi also has an excellently rebuilt school, new nursery schools, a health centre, an administrative service centre and, yes, good roads.</p><p dir="ltr">The only fly in the ointment is the handful of poor villages that have been attached to Humentsi, to ensure that it has all the requisite elements of a model unified territorial community.</p><p dir="ltr">“I still don’t understand,” I say to Abdulkadyrova, “why you took these poor villages under your wing and now have to share your resources with them.”</p><p dir="ltr">“To avoid becoming part of the town,” she replies, referring to Kamianets-Podilsky. “The town doesn’t make profits.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Waiting for change</h2><p dir="ltr">The Khmelnytskyi region now has 41 OTOs, 22 of which were created in 2015, at the start of the local government reform. Ukraine as a whole has<a href="https://www.drv.gov.ua/portal/!cm_core.cm_index?option=ext_gromada&amp;prejim=2"> 705</a>. They unite more than 8,800 population centres, and 8,200 of them are villages, making up around <a href="https://www.drv.gov.ua/portal/!cm_core.cm_index?option=ext_gromada&amp;prejim=1&amp;pmn_id=145">30% of the country’s territory</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Anatoliy Tkachuk, a former deputy minister for regional development, is now a Council of Europe specialist and head of Ukraine’s <a href="https://www.csi.org.ua">Institute of Civil Society</a>. He is one of the key operators in the sphere of local government reform, as well as one of the “fathers” of the current decentralisation process. Tkachuk comes from Khmelnytskyi oblast himself, so he tests all new developments on his own patch first.</p><p dir="ltr">“Back in 2005 we initiated pilot projects on remodelling communities in the Khmelnytskyi and Ternopil oblasts,” he tells me. “It was these communities that we got to unite first. In 2015, when the reforms were just starting, their opponents hadn’t yet realised how serious they were and didn’t bother fighting them. So in 2015 we were able to set up the most appropriate structures – large communities with a prominent centre.”</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, the decentralisation reform has been in the works for at least a decade. The first time it was seriously discussed was in 2005, just after Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. The country gained a Vice-Prime Minister for administrative and territorial reform – but he didn’t last long, and neither did the position. The impulse behind this reform, which today also has many opponents, quickly came to nothing. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_2-3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_2-3.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'>Sports ground in Humentsi. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The second serious attempt at reform began after EuroMaidan, partly as a reaction to the demand for “federalisation” that was issuing from Moscow and being repeated by those involved in the so-called “Russian Spring” in Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s response to this was decentralisation.</p><p dir="ltr">Reform was essential for several reasons. First, Ukraine was still a rigidly centralised state and, despite all the talk about the development of local government structures, all Kyiv did was <a href="https://www.ostro.org/general/politics/articles/109205/">limit the powers of the regions</a>. Municipal heads were dependent on Kyiv because the allocation of central budget funding worked on an individual basis and was dependent on personal loyalties. Mayors often found themselves forced to choose or alter their political colour in line with whatever party was in power in the capital. Local elections were often tainted by <a href="https://www.ostro.org/general/society/articles/366205/">political thuggery</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Second, the population of villages and small towns was continuing to decrease. In many of these places, the only jobs were in the public sector, which took up the entire local budget. Some classes in local schools had only between three and seven pupils, and the crumbling infrastructure hadn’t seen any repairs for decades. The overwhelming mass of local expenditure was made up of subsidies, but even they were only enough to tinker round the edges.</p><p dir="ltr">Even in the early 2010s, progressive local community leaders had <a href="http://www.dsnews.ua/economics/gde-dengi-zaryty-18012013130100">developed detailed amalgamation projects</a> to simplify the social infrastructure networks they had inherited from the kolkhoz system, but the existing legislation didn’t provide any mechanisms for implementing them. Small communities were continuing to die out, and life in villages and small towns was often becoming unbearable. Many didn’t even have gas or running water.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A jump start</h2><p dir="ltr">The Ukrainian government eventually launched its local government reform in 2015. The key element of decentralisation was that local communities would no longer be under the control of district level government and would instead have direct inter-budget relations with Kyiv. Towns previously governed by regional authorities and OTOs, which at the start of the year still only existed on paper, would receive new financial resources, while oblast and, in the first place, district authorities would lose many of their powers.</p><p dir="ltr">The rules governing the “levelling” of local government finances, where Kyiv stripped relatively rich towns and villages of some of their “surpluses” in order to subsidise and cover the funding deficits of poorer communities, were overturned immediately. Communities’ prosperity levels were to be defined according to a special formula, and part of any “surplus” was to remain in the hands of the villages and towns that had generated it. Communities would also retain a large proportion of taxes and levies, and local medical and educational facilities would be financed directly by special subsidies from the public purse.</p><p dir="ltr">But, as usually happens, there were hitches in the process. The reform took away the portion of individuals’ income tax that previously went towards funding their local communities, and which had provided the bulk of their finances. This step should have stimulated the amalgamation of small communities, which in had in the past taken place on a sort of voluntary basis. But the law permitting the creation of OTOs hadn’t yet been passed when the reform began to be implemented.</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, the reform gave villages and towns the right to keep the excise duties levied on their lands. Thanks to this, small settlements with petrol stations acquired a source of finance that they had never had before, but on the other hand they lost whatever impetus they might have had to amalgamate with their neighbours. In Kyiv oblast, for example, where proximity to the capital has spawned a large network of petrol stations whilst the cost of land has soared to unimaginable heights, there are only nine OTOs – as many as in the front-line and only partly Kyiv controlled Luhansk Oblast.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_14.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_14.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'>Inna Abdulkadyrova, head of the Humentsi unified territorial community with the leader of the Khmelnytskyi regional council, Mykhaylo Zahorodny. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Finally, the reform sparked conflict between town and countryside. The amalgamation process launched in 2015 is supposedly voluntary, but it is usually subject to certain rules. Amalgamation should take place according to so-called “high-potential” plans, adopted for each region by its regional council and Cabinet. The plan determines the number and composition of OTOs to be created in a given oblast, as well as their centres. The centre has to be more or less in the middle of the community and dominate it in economic terms compared to other centres of population; otherwise, conflicts will arise in the OTO. “Because when five or six paupers unite, they remain paupers,” says Mykhaylo Zahorodny, leader of the Khmelnitskyi oblast council.</p><p dir="ltr">However, a seemingly excellent project to create an OTO often turns out to be incompatible with relationships and interests in the proposed area. If an amalgamation is to take place without a “high-potential plan”, the communities that need to come to an agreement must also receive permission from the oblast and central authorities, and this does sometimes happen. But if the authorities then refuse to make amendments to an agreed plan, the local initiative is penalised: these OTOs can’t enter into direct inter-budget relations with Kyiv, but have to remain under their district’s control. In other words, it you are not happy with a “high-potential” plan, don’t even think about suggesting an alternative project: the supposed voluntary nature of amalgamation only allows you to amalgamate the way they want you to – or give up the idea completely. And joining an OTO is a one-way ticket – there’s no legal provision for leaving.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Joining an OTO is a one-way ticket – there’s no legal provision for leaving</p><p dir="ltr">The creation of an OTO assumes the abolition of existing local authorities: instead, “elders” (with purely representative powers) will be elected. This will take place at snap elections, after which a local council and executive committee will be formed. Many rural communities, mainly rich ones such as Humentsi, have been strongly opposed to amalgamating with towns, fearing that they might just melt into urban life and lose the right to manage their own resources and any influence they may have had on their local area. But while Humentsi has managed to attract another seven village councils and 18 villages into amalgamation with it, some rebellious OTOs end up with just two or three.</p><p dir="ltr">“Now, everyone is happy to break the rules, waiting for ‘zero hour’ when the local government reform bill becomes law. After the law is passed, weak, artificially created OTOs will be sucked into normal, large communities and that will be the end of it,” says Anatoliy Tkachuk. “I tell them: it’s your choice, if you’ve decided to be weak but proud. If the Humentsi OTO wasn’t big, its future would already be decided: it would be part of Kamianets-Podilskyi.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">A difficult divorce</h2><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s first OTO elections took place in the autumn of 2015. In the nearly three years since then, it’s hard to say what the reform has achieved. <a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/gromadska-dumka-naselennya-shchodo-reformi-detsentralizatsii">Social surveys</a> tell us that, despite the fact that there are many more supporters of decentralisation than opponents, more than half the population, including OTO residents, say that nothing has changed since. After 2015-2016, the subject was pretty much dropped by the Ukrainian media. Now it only hits the headlines when there’s some kind of scandal.</p><p dir="ltr">The reform still has powerful opponents. Its progress is being blocked by politicians close to ethnic minorities and by the Fatherland party led by ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko, a consistent opponent of the reform. There is, however, a less sophisticated and more logical conflict going on at regional level, where the OTOs are, as the joke goes, at the stage of divorce and division of property. Even at public events to discuss reform, there are endless clashes between district and OTO heads.</p><p dir="ltr">The other issue here is that powers have still not been divided between districts and OTOs. Ukraine’s National Audit Office, for example, has pointed out that many OTOs still haven’t opened primary medical care facilities, and have handed the funding they were given for this to the districts. So some local medical services are still run by districts, while others are now being managed by conscientious OTOs. Perhaps that’s why Ukrainian pollsters are finding that the public believes medical services have deteriorated since the reform.</p><p dir="ltr">In some regions, a somewhat comic situation arises whereby OTOs occupy an entire district while traditional district authorities remain in place. “Ideally, the district structure should be abolished,” says Tkachuk, “but that level of local government is written into Ukraine’s constitution and parliament will never produce the number of votes needed for that to change. So all the reform’s authors are hoping for is to at least amalgamate districts, as well as local communities in the near future.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Provisional results</h2><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/reytingijfojseojoej8567547">Trust and mistrust ratings</a> in Ukraine suggest that local government is much more stable than central governmental structures, so the success of the reform can only be judged in individual communities, where community leaders have enormous influence. In Humentsi’s village council, for example, in 2015, before there was an OTO, each member of the community was worth no more than an average of 2,700 hryvnya (£78), while in 2018 each member of the OTO should be worth almost twice that amount. For comparison, in Kamianets-Podilskyi, the figure is only 3,700 hryvnya (£107), whilst in the regional centre, Khmelnitskiy, it is 6,200 hryvnya (£179) per head of population.</p><p dir="ltr">These figures are easily explained: the reform has changed people’s mindset. New or newly re-elected community leaders have begun to scrupulously create order in local finances, feeling themselves to be, for the first time, “owners of their own land” – a phrase I have often heard from OTO officials in different parts of Ukraine.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Community leaders have begun to scrupulously create order in local finances, feeling themselves to be, for the first time, “owners of their own land”</p><p dir="ltr">Local small and medium business owners have, finally, under the authorities’ watchful eye, had to legalise their staff’s status and pay them a proper salary (with income tax deducted). Many communities have also conducted a full-scale inventory of their parcels of land for the first time. There is serious competition for investors. Realising the impact of responsible “landowners”, foreign capital has started flowing into regions away from the fighting – mostly in the western part of the country.</p><p dir="ltr">But there is another side to the coin. Having at last earned enormous sums of money by local standards, OTO chiefs don’t always spend it rationally. Anatoliy Tkachuk says that there have been several cases where money has been “buried” – either because of traditional corrupt practices or out of misunderstanding – in, for example, projects to rebuild half-derelict kolkhoz structures such as schools and hospitals where there is no longer anyone to either need them or staff them. An equally sad situation is a bloated management apparatus with unrealistically high salaries that eat up the lion’s share of the community resources released by the reform. Fortunately the present stage is a kind of pilot project for the new admin structures that appeared in 2015-207 as a result of snap elections.</p><p dir="ltr">Many of the imbalances will probably be ironed out by Ukraine’s local elections in 2020. But the future of the actual reform will depend on the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2019. It’s unlikely that the Ukrainian government and parliament will want, or be able to spend the intervening year completing the process and compulsorily amalgamating all the remaining communities as part of high-potential plans. And there is no guarantee that a new central government, in whoever’s hands it may be, will want to continue the reform process. The peculiar, ever captivating attraction of Ukraine is that the election results will be unpredictable – just like the politics of those they bring to 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/brian-milakovsky/dont-forget-ukraines-rural-donbas">Don’t forget Ukraine’s rural Donbas </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-movchan/what-are-ukraines-train-drivers-fighting-for">What are Ukraine’s train drivers fighting for?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/margarita-tulup/invisible-people">Invisible people: why Ukraine needs to take palliative care seriously</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/where-is-ukraines-new-police-force">Where is Ukraine’s new police force?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Yulia Abibok Ukraine Wed, 03 Oct 2018 07:11:13 +0000 Yulia Abibok 119912 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ways to end the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas: an interview with Serhiy Kudelia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-lipman-serhiy-kudelia/ways-to-end-the-conflict-in-ukraines-donbas <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The conflict in eastern Ukraine is at a stalemate. How do we break through it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_pa-33469904.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_pa-33469904.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'>Pisky, Donetsk, October 2017. Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart / Zuma Press / PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Political scientist <a href="http://www.ponarseurasia.org/members/sergiy-kudelia">Serhiy Kudelia</a> has studied the conflict in Donbas since its very early stages. In a recently published academic article, <a href="https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/kennan-cable-no-35-institutional-paths-to-ending-the-donbas-conflict">“Institutional Paths to Ending the Donbas Conflict”</a>, he discussed the possible approaches to ending the war. Maria Lipman talks to Kudelia about the current state of the conflict, as well as the prospects for, and impediments to, its resolution.</p><p dir="ltr">This interview originally appeared on <a href="http://www.ponarseurasia.org/point-counter/ways-to-end-donbas-conflict-interview-serhiy-kudelia">Point &amp; Counterpoint</a>, PONARS Eurasia. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria Lipman: In your article, you describe various elements of conflict resolution that can be applied to Donbas. You point out, however, that what you describe is not a policy nor policy recommendations, but rather guidelines for a possible policy drawn from empirical studies of other conflicts. So my first question is: on which empirical studies did you base these guidelines – on which countries and conflicts – and how applicable might those experiences be to the Donbas case?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Serhiy Kudelia:</strong> Most of the studies that I examined were quantitative studies based on the large sample of armed conflicts since World War II. They look at a broad range of variables that may affect post-conflict stability, from the terms of the negotiated agreements to the strategies for ex-combatant reintegration and civilian reconciliation. </p><p dir="ltr">When we think about conflict resolution, we have to conceptualize it as a multi-stage process. The first stage is about finding a suitable compromise to which both parties would agree and taking steps to increase the probability of reaching such a compromise. A number of studies looked at the role of the balance of powers between the different parties that are involved in the conflict and how that balance of power affects the type of compromise that can be reached. </p><p dir="ltr">The second phase is about ensuring post-conflict stability and improving the parties’ capacity to prevent conflict from recurring. The relevant variables for thinking about this phase are the type of autonomy guarantees a region receives or the types of power-sharing mechanisms designed for a particular group, the roles of ex-rebel parties and their position in the post-conflict setting, and the extent to which individual insurgents are reintegrated into civilian life and receive guarantees that they will not be prosecuted after the settlement. </p><p dir="ltr">Finally, the third phase is about reaching a longer-term reconciliation on the societal and individual levels. It requires finding a way to allow remembrance and ensure some accountability for the crimes committed by both sides during the conflict without triggering renewed hostility and confrontation within the society.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Lipman: One of your premises is that the conflict in Donbas has reached a stalemate. What do you mean by that?</strong><br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>Kudelia:</strong> There exists in the conflict resolution literature the concept of a “mutually hurting stalemate,” which means that the costs of continued conflict – either in terms of lost lives or material losses – continue to rise for all parties involved, while the prospects of winning, and hence the gains associated with victory, are increasingly dim in the perceptions of all sides. </p><p dir="ltr">This is one of the conditions for jumpstarting talks to end the conflict. We are clearly seeing a stalemate in Donbas, since the contact line has not moved significantly since February 2015. For some time now, there has also been a realization on all sides – in Kyiv, Donetsk, and Moscow – that the conflict is not going to go their preferred way.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/celestino arce - demotix - shelling in donetsk suburbs.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/celestino arce - demotix - shelling in donetsk suburbs.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Summer 2015: shelling continues in Donetsk suburbs. Photo: Celestino Arce / Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ukrainian troops will not be able to retake separatist-controlled areas with a military push; Western sanctions will not be sufficient to crush Russia or change its policy; the rebels will not take back Sloviansk and Severodonetsk; and the rest of southeastern Ukraine will not rise up in solidarity with the Donbas separatists. None of these outcomes, which many envisioned as likely at the start of the conflict, now seem remotely realistic. </p><p dir="ltr">It is less clear whether this stalemate is equally and sufficiently costly for all sides. It certainly imposes tremendous costs on the civilians in the region. However, Ukrainian ruling elites seem to have found ways to benefit personally from increased military spending and restrictions on trade with separatists, so the costs for them are primarily political. Poroshenko’s failure to achieve progress in finding a resolution to the conflict is a major liability in the presidential campaign set to begin later this year (the election is scheduled for March 2019). Similarly, the costs of conflict for the leaderships of the two separatist republics, which are completely isolated from public opinion, are minimal. Finally, continued economic sanctions against Russia are certainly taking their toll, but they are no longer linked only to Donbas. Thus, Moscow’s concessions on Donbas would not guarantee the immediate lifting of sanctions.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />In my view, this lack of a sense of urgency on all sides is one of the main obstacles to starting serious talks right now. This may change if, let’s say, the new Ukrainian leadership realizes that without ending the Donbas conflict they may lose power very quickly. Similarly, if separatist leaders realize that an ongoing conflict increases the risk to their lives, it may change their calculations. (At least a dozen leaders have been killed or died unexpectedly since the beginning of the conflict.) Finally, in the case of Russia, if Putin realizes that, without credible progress in Donbas, the sanctions will only increase and there will be no possibility of a breakthrough in Russia’s relationship with the West, he may be more open to intermediate solutions. But we are not there yet, as I certainly realized when writing this paper. </p><p dir="ltr">However, the availability of an alternative to stalemate is also critically important for policy-makers in starting serious negotiations – and academics should be the ones generating new ideas about such alternatives.<br class="kix-line-break" /><strong><br class="kix-line-break" />Lipman: As you are looking at possible approaches to conflict resolution in Donbas from a political science standpoint, you offer four key insights that apply to the Donbas crisis. Would you talk about those four insights and the challenges to each of them in the Donbas case specifically?</strong><br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>Kudelia:</strong> In the case of a secessionist conflict, conflict resolution requires answering a number of central questions. One question is what the distribution of power and areas of responsibility between the central and regional governments will be once the conflict is over: how will government structures be organized locally? </p><p dir="ltr">The second question is what the future of those who participated in the conflict on the rebel side will be – not only the insurgents who were fighting the Ukrainian army, but also the people who participated in separatist governance, people who handled local administration or provided public services (doctors, schoolteachers, etc.) How can they be reassured that their livelihoods will remain intact? </p><p dir="ltr">And the third question has to do with a long-term guarantee that the negotiated agreement will remain in place and that the Ukrainian authorities will not unilaterally revise the terms of this agreement by reneging on the promises that they made to the people of the region. So these are three very important questions that I think need to be addressed when we discuss the specific terms of the compromise.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />As far as the first question is concerned, there are two types of power-sharing agreements. The first, on the national level, provides a region with certain guarantees of representation in the executive and legislative branches. The second offers expanded powers on the local level, giving regional government additional areas of responsibility. In my view, the first type of power-sharing would be very destructive for the future of the Ukrainian state. There is no question that if Donbas receives certain representation quotas on the national level, then this will be used to subvert state policies, sow discord, and paralyze decision-making. An alternative compromise arrangement offering the region de facto or de jure autonomy would not be as destabilizing. It would not mean turning Ukraine into a federal state – remember that Crimea has autonomous status according to the Ukrainian constitution, yet Ukraine has always been a unitary state. And broader regional powers would certainly address some of the key concerns of people in Donbas regarding their cultural rights: the right to receive education in Russian, the right to maintain their own historical memory policies, or even the right to maintain regional cross-border ties with Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">One of the key problems with the creation of this kind of autonomy, again drawing on the political science literature, is that these autonomous entities tend to create what some scholars call “segment states.” Reliance on their own exclusive institutions solidifies a sense of regional identity, and these institutions may later be used by local elites as instruments for separatist mobilization. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/ мины_Луганская оласть_апрель_2017JPG_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/ мины_Луганская оласть_апрель_2017JPG_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'>Luhansk landscape, 2017. Photo: Tetiana Goncharuk. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Another problem with this autonomy arrangement is that it may perpetuate the master cleavages that produced the conflict in the first place. I therefore suggest that we need to create a larger autonomy for each of the two Donbas provinces, rather than only for the separatist-controlled territories, as the Ukrainian authorities currently advocate. In so doing, we would dilute separatist sentiment in Donbas as a whole, since such an arrangement would include a significant share of people who, according to many recent polls, already identify themselves primarily with Ukraine. </p><p dir="ltr">The second thing that I propose is to encourage the emergence in the region of what political scientists call “cross-cutting majorities.” That is, instead of creating a centralized regional structure with vast powers given to the executive leaders of the two provinces, we should envisage empowering local mayors or the heads of local village councils, for example, and allowing them to elevate the issues of people in each of these smaller regional units. These problems would certainly differ between different parts of Donbas, such that the master cleavage of Kyiv vs. Donetsk or Luhansk would no longer be relevant. This would produce fragmentation of Donbas along multiple issue dimensions and might help prevent regional collective mobilization in the future.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>Lipman: If I remember correctly, other key factors include converting rebels into legitimate actors, transitional justice, and also the issue of elections – you suggest in your article that elections should not be held straight away.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Kudelia:</strong> The issue of guarantees to former rebels is the second most important question that we have to answer. Why? Because if separatist leaders and their subordinates feel that their livelihoods will be threatened by reaching an agreement, they will certainly act as spoilers – they will try to subvert the agreement by any means possible. </p><p dir="ltr">One of the most common reassurance mechanisms is to allow these rebel groups to convert themselves into political parties, which would then be integrated in the political process on the local level. This means that they will be allowed to participate in local elections. Of course, they need to denounce violence, they need to give up arms, they need to completely demilitarize themselves, but if they feel that they have a future through the political process and will be guaranteed representation if they manage to win local elections, they will develop a stake in the agreement. It will give them a reason to both accept the agreement and participate in its enforcement. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">One of the most common reassurance mechanisms is to allow these rebel groups to convert themselves into political parties</p><p dir="ltr">This is certainly a very difficult proposition for many Ukrainians today, because it means that separatist organizations that have long been characterized as terrorist groups in the national media and by Ukrainian officials would basically be recognized as legitimate actors. But since the start of the conflict, these organizations have developed genuine relationships with local residents through the provision of various social services, humanitarian assistance, and protection. As such, if they are banned or excluded, it will be very hard for Ukraine to create a stable and legitimate local government.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Another proposal that I make in this paper is delayed elections. Only after a transitional authority has been in place for two or three years, has provided access to information for the residents of the region, and has ensured a reasonably level playing field for various political parties on the ground can we actually hold elections that will be meaningful and produce results that will genuinely reflect local preferences.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />The fourth and final issue is that of transitional justice. Over the course of the conflict, many members of the separatist government and of rebel groups may have committed various crimes, from embezzlement and extortion to war crimes. But in the majority of similar conflicts in the past, rebels received both comprehensive and unconditional amnesty. Again, this is a very difficult bargain for the rest of the society to accept. But the primary reason that most conflicts have ended with this type of bargain is because any attempts to investigate and prosecute individuals have inevitably led to selective justice (especially if only the rebel side is targeted), thereby undermining the peace process. </p><p dir="ltr">Thus, the solution that many countries, including Guatemala and El Salvador, chose was to investigate and publicize the human rights violations committed by both sides during the conflict, but to hold their perpetrators responsible in the court of public opinion rather than in the court of law.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>Lipman: Such as truth commissions?<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Kudelia:</strong> Yes, truth commissions collect evidence and expose individual participation in crimes, but are not empowered to put these individuals in jail. It is a sub-optimal solution for many victims of these crimes or their families. But as far as achieving sustainable peace is concerned, this has been shown to be the most effective method. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Truth commissions collect evidence and expose individual participation in crimes, but are not empowered to put these individuals in jail</p><p dir="ltr">The recent peace agreement in Colombia created a novel accountability instrument – a special tribunal charged with investigating the gravest crimes, such as the kidnapping, killing, or torturing of civilians or prisoners of war. However, depending on the willingness of the accused to admit guilt and show contrition, this tribunal can issue sentences other than jail time, such as community service. This allows restorative justice to be achieved without threatening the stability of the peace. The effectiveness of this instrument has yet to be tested, since it has only recently begun to operate. Importantly, the Colombian tribunal can indict and investigate members of both pro-government and anti-government forces. Ukrainian society should be ready to accept the principle of blind justice in the event that a similar tribunal is created as part of the Donbas peace process.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Lipman: My final question has to do with today: what do you think about the recent assassination of the head of the so-called Donetsk republic, Alexander Zakharchenko? How important a factor is it and, especially since you are looking at an indefinite future, do you think this assassination will affect the course of the conflict?<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Kudelia:</strong> This assassination matters for a number of reasons. First of all, we have seen that in the four years since the beginning of this conflict, most of the insurgent leaders in Luhansk and Donetsk have been either assassinated or exiled to Russia, where they later died under suspicious circumstances. Valeriy Bolotov was exiled to Russia in August 2014 and died there under suspicious circumstances in January 2017. His successor, Igor Plotnitsky, was similarly exiled to Russia last year and we have not heard from him since. Many of the local commanders – Alexei Mozgovoy, Pavel Dremov, Batman, Givi, Motorola, and others – have been assassinated over the past three years. Their killings were never investigated. In Donetsk we have seen greater continuity in the case of Zakharchenko, and the fact that a figure of Zakharchenko’s standing has been assassinated shows that his successor will also become a potential target for assassination.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 10.49.26.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 10.49.26.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alexander Zakharchenko. Source: YouTube.</span></span></span>This strategy, which may be characterized as a decapitation strategy, serves a number of purposes. First, it is used to send a signal to the leaders of these separatist organizations that they will never be safe as long as the conflict continues. The second goal of this strategy is to produce chaos in the rebel ranks, because the killing of a longstanding leader such as Zakharchenko triggers in-fighting over his replacement. Since there are no formal, open mechanisms through which for that succession to take place, it leads to fractionalization of the rebels themselves. And the more fractionalized they are, the weaker they are. So of course it is in the interests of the other party – in this case the Ukrainian government – to stick to decapitation; it actually works in the interests of Ukraine.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />But there is also a more strategic consideration. In the paper, I mentioned that one of the key difficulties with converting the rebels into political parties is the fact that some separatist leaders (like Zakharchenko) participated in the armed struggle, and this makes it very difficult for the Ukrainian side to accept them as negotiating partners or as future regional leaders. If you think about the Irish peace process, for example, it was Sinn Féin – the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which was never involved in direct armed struggle – that represented the interests of Irish separatists in the talks with the British government. The fact that Zakharchenko was a soldier and military commander who fought the Ukrainian military on the battlefield of course made him completely illegitimate from the Ukrainian standpoint. His elimination therefore re-opens the path for civilian leaders to emerge, leaders who can be drivers of rebel conversion and therefore more acceptable to the Ukrainian side as counterparts in talks.</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/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/brian-milakovsky/dont-forget-ukraines-rural-donbas">Don’t forget Ukraine’s rural Donbas </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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 even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">Donbas: “We’re used to the shelling”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Serhiy Kudelia Maria Lipman Ukraine Wed, 03 Oct 2018 06:54:04 +0000 Maria Lipman and Serhiy Kudelia 119895 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Everyone is trying to get me to stop”: Russian student Vyacheslav Kryukov writes diary of his prison hunger-strike https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/vyachelsav-kryukov-hunger-strike-new-greatness-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">10 people were arrested in Moscow earlier this year on fabricated extremism charges. Vyacheslav Kryukov is one of them — and is now on Day 16 of a hunger strike.</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/Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 12.50.23.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 12.50.23.png" alt="" title="" width="456" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vyacheslav Kryukov (centre). Source: Dozhd. </span></span></span>Vyacheslav Kryukov, a 20-year-old student at the Russian Academy of Justice, is on hunger strike. In March 2018, Kryukov was arrested on extremism charges along with nine other people as part of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/interview-anna-pavlikova-new-greatness-case">“New Greatness” case</a> — a previously unknown political organisation based in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">According to OVD-Info, which monitors politically motivated arrests in Russia, FSB officers <a href="https://therussianreader.com/2018/03/30/extremism-inside-out/">organised </a>“New Greatness” from the inside — providing funds, stimulus, direction, a meeting space and even training several participants how to use Molotov cocktails. The Russian security services subsequently declared “New Greatness” an extremist organisation, and detained 10 members in a special operation. </p><p>Kryukov has been held in Moscow Pre-Trial Detention Centre No.3 since March. On 11 September, a Moscow court extended Kryukov’s arrest once again, and he decided to announce a hunger strike as a result. This diary was passed to OVD-Info by Kryukov’s solicitor, Dmitry Ivanov.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>11 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">After I announced the strike, I came back, didn’t eat anything and went to sleep.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>12 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I woke up, a prison officer summoned me at the morning inspection. We spoke for a long time, he tried to convince me to stop the hunger strike, but in the end we came to a compromise and I wrote him an official statement addressed to the director of the prison. It was quiet for the rest of the day, I was worried about whether they might start applying unlawful methods to me, but thankfully everything turned out OK. I was transferred to a single cell, after a personal conversation with the prison management. The conditions in this cell are actually quite good. I unpacked my things and went to sleep.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>13 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I had practically no appetite in the morning. At the inspection, I confirmed when they asked me whether I was continuing down this road. My head hurt a little, but they refused to issue me painkillers, because I might get an ulcer as a result. Every time I got up, my head started spinning and my eyes went dark. By evening I felt nauseous, my mouth and throat felt sour.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>14 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">A general feeling of weakness in my whole body. Every time I get out of bed it’s difficult, my legs hurt, and there’s a strange sense that there’s just some kind of spirit-like liquid in my mouth and stomach. Members of the Public Monitoring Commission [an official prison watchdog] came to visit, they asked about my well-being, whether I was drinking water, what day I started the hunger strike on and so on. On the whole, they suggested that I stop what I’d started, that it was pointless continuing, that I’d already attracted attention, that I will only harm my health, that I should, instead, eat and gain strength so I can write various statements. I replied that I no longer wish to put up with all of this, this is why I was forced to do this, that I will inform society about my health and everything that happens to me constantly, that I will write to various institutions, doing everything possible. It’s very cold, I have constant heartburn now.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>15 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There’s constant and unremitting pain in my legs, my throat feels like it’s being pressed. When I breath out through my nose, there’s a some sort of specific smell of liquid spirit. There’s a constant pulsing around my stomach, it’s hard to stand up and I constantly want to sleep.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>16 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">At the morning medical inspection, after measuring my blood pressure and pulse, they said that I had tachycardia, my weight is 57 kilogrammes. I have very strong heartburn. For a long time I couldn’t go to sleep because of the pain in my stomach and how strong my heart was beating.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>17 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In the morning it was slightly better, if you don’t count the constant and painful heartburn at times, as well as the difficult in standing up. After midday, they tortured me with trips around the detention centre, although every step is difficult, and I bent over at times, I really wanted to drink. First, they took me downstairs to see my lawyer, then they took me to the doctor, where they weighed me, measured my blood pressure and pulse. Then they took me to see members of the Public Monitoring Commission who wanted to know about my condition, then there was a body search, and only then they took me back up to the single cell, where I fell powerless onto the bench.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>18 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I feel better, especially if I don’t have to get up from bed for nothing. On the advice of the Public Monitoring Commission members who visited me yesterday, I decided to drink some tea, but the tea they brought in the morning was so strong, it was impossible to drink. They refused to give me any sugar. One of the guards even said that if I’m not coming off the hunger strike, water is the only thing I can drink. The whole day was quiet, there wasn’t even an evening inspection, and I slept with the bright overhead light on.</p><p><strong>19 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I’m feeling slightly worse today, sometimes I get pains in my chest, it’s hard to breath in deeply. The prison guards are trying to convince me to stop in all sorts of stupid and ridiculous ways, it seems they think I’m an idiot. They refused to give me a newspaper that the Public Monitoring Commission had left me, saying that it was categorically forbidden, and I have the right to newspapers through the detention centre. My blood pressure is 90/60, with a quickened heart rate.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>20 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">My throat really hurts today, it’s hard to drink water. It’s becoming harder to think, my mind is becoming more scattered and less coherent. It feels like something is really pressing on my chest. My teeth hurt.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>21 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">An unusual burst of energy and strength this morning. I woke up several times overnight for unknown reasons and I couldn’t go back to sleep for a long time. My dreams aren’t the most hopeful. Something hurts between my ribs, my throat is very painful. I get chills from the cold from time to time. I’ve been told I can drink tea with sugar and other drinks without coming off the hunger strike, but I haven’t tried this yet. On the whole, everyone is trying to get me to stop.</p><p><strong>22 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">A strong sense of hunger, my teeth hurt. My head spins if I stand up too fast. I was a bit worried the whole day, they’d been trying to scare me before that today (after 10 days) I would undergo a terrible force-feeding procedure or they’d give me a drip. But in the end nothing happened. There was no evening inspection for some reason, and so the bright light was left on all night.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>23 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This morning they brought me tea, which was cold and very strong, and which was impossible to drink. It seems like my teeth are going weak on the inside. My appetite has almost completely gone, there’s a dry feeling in my throat and mouth the whole time.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>24 September</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This morning they gave cold and unbearably strong tea, which I drank at once. It’s getting colder and colder in the cell every day, and I don’t have so many warm things. I feel fatigued, every hour I want to sleep. This evening they brought a big bunch of papers, which turned out to be dozens of letters – I couldn’t believe they were all for me. Thank you to all the people across the country for the support. All your messages are touching and give me strength in this difficult time.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.</p><p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/interview-anna-pavlikova-new-greatness-case">“I wanted to wail, to scream at them: ‘What in the world are you doing to my daughter? Are you human or not?’”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 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/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Russia Thu, 27 Sep 2018 11:55:21 +0000 OVD-Info 119851 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kazakhstan’s invisible children https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bogatoz-seydakhmetova/kazakhstans-invisible-children <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Kazakhstan, children with special educational needs and disabilities are kept out of sight and out of mind. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/botagoz-seidahmetova/deti-kotoryh-nikto-ne-vidit" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/40325460_10215001184437538_2277902344282701824_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/40325460_10215001184437538_2277902344282701824_n_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'>Photo: Aida Kolpakova / Facebook. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>For most Kazakh citizens, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) <a href="https://informburo.kz/stati/pochemu-v-kazahstane-stigmatiziruyut-lyudey-s-psihicheskimi-rasstroystvami.html">exist in a parallel universe</a>, a non–existent world where “normal” people will never have to tread – or at least don’t think they ever will, even today. A quarter century after the demise of the USSR, many people who were brought up and educated in the Soviet period are still <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/a/autizm_child_karatai_ersarina_doman_/24539623.html">naively convinced</a> that in Kazakhstan there are no people with either physical or learning disabilities.</p><p dir="ltr">You never see these people anywhere. The infrastructure of Kazakhstan’s towns and villages makes no allowance for the needs of their disabled residents. Wheelchair users are not only unable to access public transport independently – they can’t even leave their homes. Even the country’s large cities, such as the capital Astana, Almaty and Shymkent have only <a href="http://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=31273426#pos=26;-57">recently begun to think about the needs of people with disabilities</a>, and even then are making slow progress. The relevant laws and declarations still <a href="http://adilet.zan.kz/rus/docs/V1600013913">only exist on paper</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In Kazakhstan, the only people who need SEND children are their families. The state’s child protection services lack any concept of unconditional love towards them. Parents worry about their children’s future: what will happen to them when they, their main guardians, are gone and their care will be in the hands of the state? Parents, for their part, do everything they can to ensure that their children are educated and socialised. Most of the organisations and rehabilitation and therapeutic services for people with learning disabilities have been set up by parents themselves, often with <a href="https://tengrinews.kz/article/523/">active support from people with other disabilities</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In children’s facilities, secondary schools and universities you will never see a child or adult with anything other than typical development. Visually impaired or blind children, hearing impaired or deaf children, children with autism, cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome – these are all beyond the comprehension of Kazakh society.</p><p dir="ltr">In practice, all these “special” children go to “special” boarding schools and for most of them, their future choices are limited to a small range of options dictated by the state – shoemaking, key cutting and minor repairs. And that’s <a href="https://primeminister.kz/kz/news/13/v-kazahstane-lish-12-invalidov-trudosposobnogo-vozrasta-obespecheny-rabochimi-mestami-mintruda-rk-">if they’re lucky</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">For a considerable number of SEND children, the world stops at the door of their flat and their social circle consists of their parents (often just their mother) and other family members. Some parents of such children don’t even go outside with them, fearing their child may behave inappropriately in public – and <a href="https://informburo.kz/stati/pochemu-v-kazahstane-stigmatiziruyut-lyudey-s-psihicheskimi-rasstroystvami.html">people’s reaction to them</a>.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Down’s syndrome: the children who won’t survive without their parents</h2><p dir="ltr">One typical example is children with Down’s syndrome, who are accepted by other children, but <a href="https://informburo.kz/novosti/o-tyazhyolom-polozhenii-detey-s-umstvennymi-rasstroystvami-zayavila-deputat.html">not by adults</a>. What is the incidence of this condition in Kazakhstan? There are <a href="http://www.zakon.kz/4701402-za-12-let-chislo-detejj-s-autizmom-v.html">no official figures</a> on the subject, but according to the World Health Organisation it is a fairly common condition: one in 700 children are born with the syndrome across the globe.</p><p dir="ltr">The mother of Naziya, 10, tells me how her daughter tried to play outside with the other kids, but that their parents wouldn’t let them play with this “strange” child. And according to her mother, a worker at Naziya’s nursery school deliberately burned her daughter’s arm with an iron, after which she became shy, nervous and aggressive. Nadiya’s mother says that children with Down’s syndrome become submissive to people they are scared of. She had to take her child away from nursery school and was also afraid to send her to school.</p><p dir="ltr">“She was just beginning to come out of herself, starting to smile”, her mother tells me. “Now she won’t leave our flat, and her social worker and teacher [<a href="http://lgotyinfo.ru/lgoty/lgoty-dlya-invalidov-v-kazaxstane-v-2017-godu.html">paid for by the state</a>] visit her at home. Like most children with this syndrome, she has bad eyesight and a weak heart.”</p><p dir="ltr">Naziya’s mother herself has a hearing impairment, and has had a hard life. Her own mother handed her over to her grandmother to bring her up – abandoned her, in other words. She was embarrassed about her deafness, and didn’t even finish secondary school. She moved to Almaty in pursuit of happiness and had her daughter when she was 43, but her husband didn’t give her any support and they divorced, so now she is bringing Naziya up on her own.</p><p dir="ltr">She also tells me that she wants to have a long life, so that she can look after her daughter, and says that having Naziya changed her life. She gained confidence in herself, became strong and happy and was no longer lonely – all thanks to Naziya. But the question of her daughter’s future floors her completely. Naziya can’t live independently. Her speech is not good, and she can’t fit into either a mainstream school or a special boarding school. So her mother hopes to be with her throughout her life, and her main wishes are strength, a roof over her head and some financial stability.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“We have to try to live as long as possible”</h2><p dir="ltr">This phrase was repeated in every interview I had with parents of learning–disabled children. Their worst fear, after all, is what will happen to their “special” child after their death.</p><p dir="ltr">The mother of Sasha, 23, who has severe learning disabilities and is still, cognitively speaking, a child, says that her son’s brain died when he was less than a year old. Sasha can barely speak and he has spent many years in a city flat with his mother and grandmother; his future is very uncertain. He can neither read nor write, nor cope with simple activities of daily life. He also has a number of chronic physical conditions, including a heart defect.</p><p dir="ltr">Sasha’s mother believes that there will be only one route for Sasha after her death – into a <a href="https://informburo.kz/stati/pochemu-v-kazahstane-stigmatiziruyut-lyudey-s-psihicheskimi-rasstroystvami.html">care home for children with disabilities</a>, where he won’t survive – they’ll just put him on psychotropic drugs. Her fears are well founded. Prosecutorial inspections have revealed a <a href="http://www.zakon.kz/4585192-v-kazakhstane-trudoustrojjstvo.html">huge number of infringements</a> of the rights and interests of people with disabilities, including corruption and theft and embezzlement from residents by care facilities’ management.</p><p dir="ltr">She also dreams of living a long life: “And what if I live to be a hundred?” she muses.</p><p dir="ltr">The most surprising thing is that the parents of these children don’t complain and don’t ask for support from the state. They haven’t become inured to the situation and they don’t see themselves as victims. Rather than relying on help from the state, they find ways of socialising and developing their children themselves. And the fact is that for an SEND child to be accepted by a public rehabilitation and development centre, they need to undergo an assessment by a state clinic and get a referral.</p><p dir="ltr">All the parents I spoke to about their children’s future told me that this was a big problem. But at the same time they all talked about how the birth of their “special” child had changed their outlook on life. They had begun to appreciate and love life as never before – to reassess their system of values. They all talked about the happiness this little person had brought them. This unexpectedly positive message simply amazed me.</p><p dir="ltr">The parents of 11–year old Islam, who has an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), blame their son’s condition on the doctors who gave him a diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (DTaP) vaccination despite his having a cold at the time. They lived and worked in the UK at the time, where the quality of medical treatment and early diagnosis of autism seemed better than in the countries of the former USSR. They discovered, however, that British doctors don’t believe in the theory that vaccination can be one of the reasons for ASD. The subject of vaccinations for newborn babies is, however, a sensitive one, and there is no direct proof of a link between DTaP vaccination and autism.</p><p dir="ltr">Back in Kazakhstan, Islam’s parents set up an organisation to help families living with ASD in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is the only country in the region where the issue is openly discussed, and there are organisations that provide financial, psychological, educational and other support to families with a child with autism. There are no such organisations in either Uzbekistan or Tajikistan: in these countries parents are on their own.</p><p dir="ltr">The subjects of autism and Down’s syndrome are hushed up in Central Asia, regarded as shameful. Where Down’s syndrome is concerned, the old Soviet practice of advising a new mother to reject her “sick” child and leave it behind in the maternity hospital is still in force. When this happens, the children are sent to specialised children’s homes where their care is strictly formal. As for children with ASD, they need particular love and attention, as their socialisation depends on their psychological well–being and the fulfilment of their needs. There has recently been a <a href="http://www.toptj.com/News/2018/06/13/v-kazakhstane-posle-skandala-s-iznasilovaniem-malchika-uvolili-detskogo-ombudsmena">series of scandalous stories</a> around children’s homes, although the idea of a <a href="https://camonitor.kz/26604-kto-i-zachem-lobbiruet-likvidaciyu-detskih-domov-v-kazahstane.html">move towards a foster care system is controversial</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">One in a hundred inhabitants of our planet is on the autistic spectrum. In Kazakhstan, figures on the subject vary, because the issue falls within the remit of two different ministries. A specialist tells me that the two ministries have different agendas: for the Ministry of Education, the important thing is to have a timely medical assessment of children in mainstream schools, while the Ministry of Health only receives information about ASD children if their parents ask for help.</p><p dir="ltr">The official ASD figures and the unofficial data differ widely. According to the official figures, in 2003 there were only 77 children with autism, whereas in 2017 that number had ballooned to 3820, and the numbers have been rising year on year.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Inclusive education: the latest trend in Kazakhstan</h2><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s government is <a href="http://www.exclusive.kz/expertiza/obshhestvo/114431/?dt=mp">attempting to introduce inclusive education</a> into its mainstream secondary schools, although its attempts feel more like empty promises: there is as yet no concrete basis for their implementation. And the foreign term “inclusive” is only just entering the Kazakh lexicon.</p><p dir="ltr">The government’s educational development plan for 2011–2020 includes a stipulation for 70% of schools to become inclusive by 2020. But in fact, neither the school buildings, nor the <a href="http://www.exclusive.kz/expertiza/obshhestvo/114431/?dt=mp">teaching staff themselves are ready for the change</a>. Neither older teachers whose careers started under the Soviet system, nor new graduates of pedagogical universities, have any idea of what the new approach will entail. Schools have as yet no specially trained tutors for students with learning difficulties, and the necessary infrastructure for those with a physical impairment (lifts, ramps, specialised desks and other items of furniture, as well as equipment and classrooms themselves) is not ready either.</p><p dir="ltr">The plan can only be implemented in Kazakhstan’s large cities at best. But the provinces are still living in the past anyway. Many village schools still have outdoor toilets, with no hot water.</p><p dir="ltr">The plan’s critics are already lending their professional weight to the matter of why it is still too early to introduce inclusive education to Kazakhstan. According to Aida Dadybayeva, who heads Almaty’s Centre for Speech and Language Therapy, the idea is still shapeless and in an embryonic state. She believes that inclusivity can’t just be copied from Europe and the USA, because it’s essential to take the peculiar qualities of Kazakhstan’s special education into account, not to mention the peculiar qualities of the Kazakh mentality.</p><p dir="ltr">It will also be necessary to train tutors in the specifics of SEND education before they take a child into a classful of typically developing youngsters. Dadybayeva feels that an inclusive class should have 15–18 students, not the usual 30. She also believes that there are many more problems still to be solved in legal, professional and material terms. There are also children whose specific issues will not allow them to become part of an inclusive class.</p><p dir="ltr">Dadybayeva has identified one more thing that will cause problems with inclusivity. The Kazakh public isn’t yet ready to accept these children: “We don‘t do acceptance in our society: even adults point their fingers at them and say ‘what a rude child’, without understanding the reasons for their behaviour.”</p><p dir="ltr">Irina Smirnova, a member of Kazakhstan’s Majilis (lower house of parliament) and former biology teacher and head teacher, also feels that it’s still early to introduce an inclusive education system. The reasons are obvious. In the first place, school buildings in Kazakhstan, whether from the Soviet period or of more recent construction, have nothing to help SEND pupils access their specific needs. Mainstream schools have no lifts for less mobile children; there have never been any adaptations for blind students (no Braille materials) or sign language provision for deaf ones.</p><p dir="ltr">“When parents started bringing their SEND children for inclusive education, all this seemed pretty complicated to us old–school teachers. There was a lot we didn’t know and we were even scared of these new trends,” Smirnova <a href="http://www.exclusive.kz/expertiza/obshhestvo/114431/">says</a>. “And as for children with full–blown autism or on the autistic spectrum [ASD], we had no idea what it was all about. So when an apparently normal child suddenly burst into tears or showed signs of aggression, we didn’t know how to react. We had no special training for this. And I can’t say that older teachers have learned to adapt their methods either. Even young teachers just out of university have little training in how to behave with these children.”</p><p dir="ltr">Kazakhstan’s press publishes general information about inclusion and popular–science articles on the subject of inclusion on educational websites. But the parents of children with learning disabilities are still isolated – other parents don’t want to know about their problems. So the central task facing both education officials and public campaigners is to educate Kazakhstanis in the acceptance of people who are different from them.</p><p dir="ltr">This task is much more difficult than introducing an inclusive education system. Stigmatisation of children with learning disabilities is still widespread in Kazakhstan. And acceptance is only talked about in relation to ethnic and religious tolerance, as though Kazakh society is homogeneous in every other way.</p><p dir="ltr">The most obvious example of a lack of acceptance of children with disabilities is a <a href="http://www.uralskweek.kz/2013/12/10/dariga-nazarbaeva-nazvala-detej-invalidov-urodam/">statement</a> made five years ago by Dariga Nazarbayeva, daughter of Kazakhstan’s president and an MP herself. At a parliamentary committee meeting, she called the wrath of the internet community down on her head by referring to these children as “freaks”.</p><p dir="ltr">As I was putting this article together, preparations were going on for a big event in Astana – Constitution Day. Children were rehearsing a concert for the president and the Astana Mayor’s office, and some of them were wheelchair users. These children and their parents were really happy about this opportunity to be like everybody. But at the last moment, the disabled children were banned from appearing in front of the president and parliamentary leaders. </p><p dir="ltr">One mother wrote on her Facebook page: “Our children were hidden away in the university building. While other children and adults performed, we sat in the dining hall and awaited our turn. But we weren’t called, the only reason being that the president and parliament don’t like seeing wheelchair users.”</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/inclusive-education-exists-in-russia-but-only-in-theory">Inclusive education exists in Russia, but only in theory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalya-yakovleva/finding-place-for-zhenya">Finding a place for Zhenya</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/zhanna-baitelova/why-does-kazakhstan-turn-a-blind-eye-to-alzheimers">Why does Kazakhstan turn a blind eye to Alzheimer’s?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-re-right-here">We’re right here</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Botagoz Seydakhmetova Kazakhstan Thu, 27 Sep 2018 07:46:17 +0000 Botagoz Seydakhmetova 119841 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why does Kazakhstan turn a blind eye to Alzheimer’s? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zhanna-baitelova/why-does-kazakhstan-turn-a-blind-eye-to-alzheimers <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the developed world, Alzheimer’s disease is a major issue. But the situation in developing countries such as Kazakhstan is less satisfactory. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zhanna-baitelova/pochemu-v-kazakhstane-ne-zanimautsya-voprosom-bolezni-alzheimer" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/17862277_1985484465018211_1204476863462673170_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/17862277_1985484465018211_1204476863462673170_n_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'>Private boarding house in Kazakhstan. Photo: Sayya Asanova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In Kazakhstan, people with Alzheimer’s are officially declared legally incompetent, and deprived of their civil and political rights. There are, moreover, no specialised facilities for people with dementia – they can only be placed in psychiatric care homes. There is, or course, another option – aged parents can be looked after at home, by their family. But this affects not only the finances of the family, but the mental health of its other members. Families living with someone with dementia are prone to codependency and emotional burnout. </p><p dir="ltr">In other words, in Kazakhstan – like other countries – Alzheimer’s has a serious effect not only on the person who has the condition, but on the people around them: members of the able-bodied population, taxpayers. But this isn’t taken into account when issues around Alzheimer’s are discussed. Why does Kazakhstan, a rich country thanks to its mineral resources, pay so little attention to this condition?</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.dementiastatistics.org/statistics/global-prevalence/">International figures</a> show that in rich countries, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s will rise by 116% between 2015 and 2050, whereas the increase in states with a medium-to-low income level will be 264%. Kazakhstan falls into the second category and the forecast looks critical. Figures published by the Ministry of Health for 2017 state, however, that there are only 187 people with dementia in the country. So, given a population of 18 million, only 0.001% of them have Alzheimer’s. This would seem like an excellent situation, were it not for one big “but”. People in Kazakhstan are given no information about the condition, so they don’t seek diagnosis. In post-Soviet countries, signs of dementia are traditionally put down to simple senility.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Figures published by the Ministry of Health for 2017 state, however, that there are only 187 people with dementia in the country</p><p dir="ltr">“What? Do we really have Alzheimer’s in Kazakhstan? They only have that in the west. It’s not a diagnosis you’ll find here,” says Anna. She has been forced to leave work to look after her mother, whose condition was diagnosed by a private sector psychiatrist. Anna didn’t visit a state psychiatric health centre, as she had been informed that Alzheimer’s can’t be diagnosed in Kazakhstan. After two years of looking after her mother, Anna was on the brink of divorce. Her husband was tired of his mother-in-law chasing him out of his own home, taking him for a stranger. “She even attacked him a couple of times, thinking a thief had got into the house,” Anna tells me with tears in her eyes. Anna’s mother often doesn’t recognise Anna herself, and chases her out of their apartment as well.</p><p dir="ltr">I had a similar problem with my aunt. She would also throw me out of the door, threatening me with a knife. She also ate constantly, not knowing when she was full and complaining to the neighbours that we weren’t feeding her. She would stand on the balcony and ask passers-by for bread. But the worst part was that she had an obsession with moving house. Every evening she would turn the flat upside-down and pack things into boxes, and stop my son and me from sleeping. She would wear winter clothes in the summer and run out into the street in a summer dress in the winter. And all this had a serious effect on my emotional health. I fell into a deep depression and even had thoughts of suicide. </p><p dir="ltr">It took a year and a half to sort the situation out, starting with getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and ending with a search for private residential homes where they would take people with dementia. In September 2017, I wrote an <a href="https://esquire.kz/kakovo-to-v-zabolety-psihitcheski-v-kazahstane/">article</a> about my experience for Kazakhstan’s Esquire magazine, and received a huge amount of feedback from readers, including colleagues and friends. It turned out that they were all hiding family members’ dementia, out of embarrassment: “I’m afraid of what people might say”; “I’m afraid that they’ll think I have bad heredity”; I have problems with the neighbours because of my mother, so I hide her away”; “people won’t usually admit to things like that” – these were the most common reasons they gave.</p><p dir="ltr">Alzheimer’s disease is stigmatised in Kazakh society, and all because of public ignorance.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Alzheimer’s is wrongly classified</h2><p dir="ltr">Here’s the first problem in a nutshell. The state makes no effort to inform people about Alzheimer’s, and so, firstly, they think that the condition doesn’t exist here and secondly, they are embarrassed about it, thinking that they are the only ones in the whole country to be affected by it.</p><p dir="ltr">The second problem is that there is no system for providing care for people with Alzheimer’s. It’s classified as a psychiatric illness, and by law, people with psychiatric illnesses are not accepted by residential homes for the elderly: they can only be cared for in hospitals for people with chronic psychiatric conditions. But those are closed facilities and it is impossible to monitor the conditions in which their residents live. Monitoring carried out by human rights organisations suggests that they are generally badly treated.</p><p dir="ltr">“I hired a carer, but she left after two days: she’d already had enough of my father,” Maral tells me. “Then a neighbour agreed to help, for money, but she didn’t last more than a year either. I don’t know what to do with my dad.” She can’t look after her father herself, as she’s the main breadwinner in the family.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/14907250_1897152700518055_1663027129400671974_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/14907250_1897152700518055_1663027129400671974_n_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'>Private boarding house in Kazakhstan. Photo: Sayya Asanova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The third problem is that the health system doesn’t require district health centres to carry out early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Diagnosis takes place in psychiatric health centres, usually when the condition is already well established. And family members consult a doctor only when the symptoms have become obvious – that was certainly the case with my aunt.</p><p dir="ltr">People with Alzheimer’s in Kazakhstan are eligible for social support from the state – a social worker and cash benefit. But the home help only comes for a few hours a week, and to receive the cash benefit (about €100 a month) you have to give up your pension, which is twice as much. And even then, the person with dementia has to be declared legally incompetent and registered as incapable. The result is that they are deprived of their civil and political rights and all decisions are taken for them by a guardian appointed by the courts.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Any initiative is coming from families, not from the state</h2><p dir="ltr">The state also provides a number of free medications to alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but once again, as there are officially fewer than 200 people affected by the condition, it’s not something that receives a lot of attention.</p><p dir="ltr">“I’m ashamed to admit that I sometimes think, ‘When will she die?’,” Sergey tells me. “It’s so hard being with her. I don’t know what’s worse – having a terminal illness but being all there, or being physically well but losing your wits. I came to the conclusion that the first option would be preferable.” Sergey cares for his elderly mother, who is in an advanced state of dementia.</p><p dir="ltr">Given this situation, a group of relatives of people with dementia in Kazakhstan’s former capital Almaty have got together and rented a house for their family members and employed a carer. Others, like me, have found accommodation for their relatives in private residential homes. But there’s still a problem: you can’t find places like these everywhere. In any case, it’s ordinary citizens who are looking for solutions to the problems connected with Alzheimer’s, in whatever way they can. The main problem is that here in Kazakhstan there are no NGOs, initiative groups or experts specialising in dementia. So there is no one to promote the rights and defend the interests of people with the condition. Not to mention, which is equally important, the rights of the people caring for them.</p><p dir="ltr">At the same time, human rights campaigner Bakhyt Tumenova stresses the fact that the initiative behind any attempt to resolve issues around Alzheimer’s and dementia has to come from the patient’s relatives themselves. Bakhyt heads Aman Saulyk (“Well-being”), an organisation that promotes the right to health.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/13335623_1825148747718451_2625008841972966636_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/13335623_1825148747718451_2625008841972966636_n_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'>Private boarding house in Kazakhstan. Photo: Sayya Asanova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“There’s a good saying: ‘If the child doesn’t cry, the mother won’t understand’. So the state ignores conditions like Alzheimer’”s, says Tumenova. “People who have this condition or another form of dementia are no longer part of the active population and can’t stand up for themselves.” And the second problem, as she sees it, is connected with the fact that the condition is incurable (unlike cancer, which can be cured), so the public aren’t being informed about it.</p><p dir="ltr">“The third problem is that our society sees Alzheimer’s and dementia as unavoidable age-related changes, like wrinkles, that accompany physical aging,” Tumenova tells me. “Not everyone will ‘catch’ them, but they are as inevitable as aging itself and so you have to accept them – that’s our attitude.”</p><p dir="ltr">Tumenova believes that both medics and the public really need to talk about the condition. She refers to the WHO forecasts telling us that by 2050 the prevalence of Alzheimer’s will have gone up fourfold. “But you have to bear in mind that the proportion of elderly people on the earth is also growing. Why are there more people with Alzheimer’s in the developed world? Because diagnosis is better, so people live longer. But Kazakhstan is catching up in terms of life expectancy. Our Deputy Minister of Health recently announced that average life expectancy will reach 70 years of age within the next three or four years. So that will inevitably mean an increase in Alzheimer’s cases.”</p><p dir="ltr">Tumenova sees the government’s first priority as informing the population on the issues. And, banal as it sounds, the first recommendation for minimising the development of Alzheimer’s is a healthy lifestyle.</p><p dir="ltr">“Those approaching their 60th birthday need to keep developing their cognitive functions – this can slow down the development of the condition. The government also has to provide more social support for people’s families, because caring for someone with Alzheimer’s usually means losing your own social contacts,” concludes Tumenova.</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/tetiana-goncharuk/the-pains-and-perils-of-childbirth-in-ukraine">The pains and perils of childbirth in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/womens-rights-in-the-north-caucasus">Women’s rights in Russia&#039;s North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” murders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Zhanna Baitelova Kazakhstan Thu, 27 Sep 2018 07:01:35 +0000 Zhanna Baitelova 119839 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fair but boring? An overview of Yerevan’s city council elections https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zara-harutiunian-samson-martirosyan/fair-but-boring-overview-of-yerevan-city-council-elections <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">This week’s elections to Yerevan city council have been markedly fairer than previous years — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t intrigue.</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 2018-09-24 at 14.04.56 (1).png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hayk Marutyan, the new mayor of Yerevan, on the campaign trail. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>In order to understand election-related processes in Armenia, it is important to put several pins on the political map.</p><p dir="ltr">First, we have witnessed tough policy from Armenia’s revolutionary government — mass anti-corruption cases, shocking revelations of fraud, criminal cases against former officials and cleanup of state personnel. Second, the <a href="https://armenpress.am/eng/news/946833.html">“1 March Case”</a>, the <a href="https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29394672.html">arrest</a> and further release of Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan, his <a href="https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29437964.html">comeback</a> to politics as the main opponent of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. And amidst all of this, extraordinary municipal elections in Yerevan, which transformed into a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zhanna-andreasyan/yerevan-city-elections-2018">referendum of trust toward the new government</a>.</p><h2>Between dark and light</h2><p>On Sunday, Yerevan residents <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zhanna-andreasyan/yerevan-city-elections-2018">cast their votes and elected a new Council of Elders</a>. Four political alliances and eight parties ran to be included in this body — with My Step (the revolutionary alliance lead by Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party), Luys Alliance and Prosperous Armenia (PAP) under the spotlight.</p><p dir="ltr">From the beginning of the campaign, the party programmes did not receive much attention — some parties didn’t even have a programme and many had similarities. Discussions on whether the programmes were realistic, or what mechanisms could be used to implement them, remained on the margins of public debate. In effect, they were merely a formality. Generally, all programmes reflected the logic of “we are for everything good and against everything bad”.</p><p dir="ltr">But a national-level political intrigue was soon to dominate the campaign. A week before the campaign kicked off, Hayk Marutyan, a comedy actor and number one in the candidate list for My Step, <a href="https://www.aravot-en.am/2018/09/03/218177/">declared</a>: “The situation in Armenia is quite clear — there are white forces and there are black forces, that’s it.” Marutyan’s division of the political scene into “the whites” and “the blacks” was widely criticised, Marutyan and his teammates had to give clarifications. Prime Minister <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">Nikol Pashinyan</a> also expressed his concern, saying that “maybe Marutyan accepted that some statements were not correct… Every political announcement should fit into the logic of the revolution of love and solidarity. We should talk about brighter colours than black and white.”</p><p dir="ltr">The next day after the campaign kicked off, Armenian media reported a <a href="https://eurasianet.org/leaked-phone-calls-scandal-poses-new-challenge-for-pashinyan">leaked</a> recording of phone conversation between the Chief of National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan, and the Chief of Special Investigation Service, Sasun Khachatryan. This leak played a key role in further developments. And the figure of Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s second president, loomed behind this leak.</p><p dir="ltr">During a meeting with voters after the conversation was posted, Pashinyan gave an emotional speech. Addressing the wiretapping, he lashed out at those behind the “counter revolution” and reinforced Marutyan’s rhetoric of “light” and “dark” forces, with the My Step alliance representing the revolution and the rest representing counter revolution. As a result, elections to Yerevan city administration turned into a referendum of trust in Armenia’s revolution.</p><p dir="ltr">It was here that Prosperous Armenia, lead by oligarch <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/running-for-tsar-armenia-s-gagik-tsarukyan">Gagik Tsarukyan</a> and widely known for their record of affection towards the former authorities, stepped forward and tried to catch the wave of new developments.</p><p dir="ltr">First, Prosperous Armenia accused My Step of starting an “information terror” and denied any connection with Robert Kocharyan. They also claimed that My Step is doing Kocharyan’s “political PR” more than Kocharyan himself. Naira Zohrabyan, the lead Prosperous Armenia candidate, went on to challenge Hayk Marutyan to debate her publicly (“If you are a real man come to debates without Nikol [Pashinyan]”), emphasising that political rivalry should revolve around the political programmes. PAP itself has never held a convincing discussion on its programme or its implementation.</p><p dir="ltr">Second, PAP, which has been loyal towards Pashinyan’s government since the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/revolution-of-values-freedom-responsibility-and-courage-in-armenias-velve">events of April and May 2018</a>, had to visibly position themselves as opposition. But still PAP didn’t manage to get rid of their image as a sideshow party of the former Republican Party authorities.</p><p dir="ltr">Luys Alliance, with Armenia’s Minister of Justice Artak Zeynalyan topping its list, showed a reserved attitude. Being a part of the Yelq Block, which also included Pashinyan’s Civil Contract, Luys Alliance presented themselves as part of the revolution, criticising the division between “light” and “dark” forces as an unfriendly act towards them.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">During the campaign it was obvious that these three political actors had the best chances of being elected to the Council of Elders.</p><h2>Fair but boring</h2><p dir="ltr">Organising clean and fair elections was the promise that the new government talked about the most. Moreover, the municipal elections in Yerevan were seen as a testing ground for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Both sides of the “barricades” seemed to agree that the upcoming elections should be the first — in a long time — which would raise no procedural concerns.</p><p dir="ltr">Two of the main promises of the revolutionary government — to change Armenia’s Electoral Code and legislation on political parties — have had to be postponed indefinitely due to a lack of time and possible sabotage by the Republican Party majority in parliament. A new expert committee working on electoral reforms was established. Besides, some crucial amendments were made to the Criminal Code, <a href="https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29475415.html">making the punishment for electoral offences stricter</a>. The main restraining factor preventing possible electoral fraud turned out to be the “new” police, which has been under the aegis of the revolutionary government and had political will and resources for the suppression of offenses.</p><p dir="ltr">Allegedly, there were reports that PAP started using its resources for vote buying and intimidation from the very beginning of the campaign. A day before the elections, “Independent Observer Public Alliance”, which deploys hundreds of people to work as observers for local elections, <a href="https://youtu.be/pR1YHH1pniI?t=30m1s">stated</a> at a press conference that there were enough trustworthy sources to claim that PAP issued bribes to people to attend Naira Zohrabyan’s meetings. An MP from PAP and supporters <a href="http://forrights.am/2018/09/22/%D5%A2%D5%B0%D5%AF-%D5%A1%D5%AF%D5%A1%D5%B6-%D5%BA%D5%A1%D5%BF%D5%A3%D5%A1%D5%B4%D5%A1%D5%BE%D5%B8%D6%80%D5%B6-%D5%B8%D6%82-%D5%AF%D5%B8%D5%B2%D5%B4%D5%B6%D5%A1%D5%AF%D5%AB%D6%81%D5%B6%D5%A5%D6%80/">tried to stop</a> the press conference.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The same day, police <a href="https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29503992.html">raided</a> the campaign offices of PAP, which seemed to confirm the circulating information. Police found enough proof of fraud, and as a result criminal cases were opened. It served as a preventive <a href="https://news.am/eng/news/472444.html">signal</a> to PAP that they could not repeat the same electoral behaviour which <a href="https://eurasianet.org/armenia-political-campaigns-failing-inspire-voters-offer-cash">worked impeccably during all past elections</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Predictably, the elections went ahead without any major violations. All eight local observer organisations confirmed this, mentioning the day was very calm and somewhat “boring”. Previously, election observers had to face the abuse of “administrative resources” — local electoral committees, proxies, police and district gangs. For the first time in many years, observers didn’t have to physically stop frauds, but did what they were supposed to do — observe, register and evaluate.</p><p dir="ltr">The turnout of 43% was the only thing that allowed the former ruling Republican Party to speculate about the elections. In fact, this turnout was higher than previous elections, when the numbers were falsified through abuse of administrative resources, vote buying and bringing people to polling stations by hundreds, when many who did not live in Armenia any more were still included in the voting lists and when even the dead voted too.</p><h2>The revolution enters new spaces</h2><p dir="ltr">As a result, My Step received 81%, PAP - 7%, Luys Alliance - 5%. Hayk Marutyan automatically became the new mayor of Yerevan.</p><p dir="ltr">At first sight, the alarming polarity of the seresults testifies to the fact that the course and results of these elections can not be considered outside the general context of the revolution.</p><p>Of course, people didn’t cast their votes solely for Hayk Marutyan: their choice wasn’t guided by political programmes; conceptual differences over Yerevan’s issues were secondary. People went to elections to reaffirm their support for the revolutionary government, to ensure the revolution is continuous and enters all state institutions, to defend the revolution from the peril looming in the distance. Clearly, the revolution in Armenia is not finished and is entering new spaces, gradually overcoming rising barriers. It is hard to imagine political processes outside of the revolution any time soon.</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/zhanna-andreasyan/yerevan-city-elections-2018">The struggle for Yerevan: how city elections became a referendum on Armenia’s revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">Saint Nick of Armenia: how protest leader Nikol Pashinyan “rescued” Armenia and made it merry</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/karena-avedissian/real-revolution-protest-leader-armen-grigoryan-on-what-s-happening-in-ar">A real revolution? Protest leader Armen Grigoryan on what’s happening in Armenia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Samson Martirosyan Zara Harutiunian Cities in motion Armenia Wed, 26 Sep 2018 13:31:27 +0000 Zara Harutiunian and Samson Martirosyan 119833 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The struggle for Yerevan: how city elections became a referendum on Armenia’s revolution https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zhanna-andreasyan/yerevan-city-elections-2018 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For the first time since Armenia's revolution, citizens have been to the ballot box. But Sunday's vote is less about the problems facing the country's capital, and more about the legitimacy of the revolutionary agenda.&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-36379734.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'>Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia. (c) Gevorg Ghazaryan/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When Nikol Pashinyan applied to run in the Yerevan city council elections in May 2017, nobody in Armenia could have predicted that he <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">would be prime minister a year later</a> — and that a few months later Yerevan would undergo snap elections for its city council.</p><p dir="ltr">But while realities are conditioned by public perceptions, they still aren’t necessarily in agreement with them.</p><h2>Yerevan in the context of revolution</h2><p dir="ltr">Yerevan city council elections have become an important touchstone for Nikol Pashinyan’s revolutionary team. The “struggle for Yerevan” started on 16 May, a week after Pashinyan’s appointment as Prime Minister. That day, photos showing that trees had been felled in a park outside City Hall as part of a beautification project <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/88956/activists-protest-felling-of-healthy-trees-in-park-renewal-project-demand-yerevan-mayors-resignation.html">went viral</a>. As a result, civic activists first occupied the park and then the municipality building as they demanded that Taron Margaryan, the mayor of Yerevan and member of former ruling Republican Party, resign.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, Pashinyan indirectly defended the park’s reconstruction, stating that new trees would be planted to replace the old ones. On the resignation of Taron Margaryan, Pashinyan <a href="https://168.am/2018/05/17/952458.html">stated</a>: “If we start demanding the resignation of all officials at once, it will not be a right approach, we should solve the issues stage by stage and we should understand: whose resignation is being demanded and why.”</p><p dir="ltr">The background for these events was the intensification of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/karena-avedissian/real-revolution-protest-leader-armen-grigoryan-on-what-s-happening-in-ar">decentralised public protests across Armenia</a>. On that same day (16 May), roughly 20 protests on very diverse issues were taking place in different parts of Armenia. The revolution, it seemed, was being disseminated and localised. At the same time, these decentralised protests questioned the capacity of Pashinyan’s government to control the situation. This concern was <a href="https://mediamax.am/en/news/politics/28493/">raised</a> by Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first president of Armenia and a former ally of Pashinyan’s against the Republican Party regime. “Pashinyan is the Prime Minister now, the head of the state whose most important duty is to secure the normal workflow of government bodies,” said Ter-Petrosyan. “Consequently, although these spontaneous protests, seizure of buildings and blocking of roads are done with good and sincere intentions, they actually work against Pashinyan.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/42187834544_a09c140798_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>2 May, Yerevan. CC BY-NC 2.0 Sona Manukyan / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This message seemed to be well-received by the protest groups in question. For a moment, decentralised protests faded away, including the demand for Taron Margaryan’s resignation. But by the time these appeals had stopped and the summer vacation mood arrived in Yerevan, on 9 July, Margaryan <a href="http://oc-media.org/yerevan-mayor-has-resigned-over-corruption-allegations/">resigned</a>. This is how the snap city council elections became part of the short-term political agenda. Armenia’s political forces, which had not yet recovered from the transformations in the spring, now had to reposition and decide on their participation. Revolution cancelled the vacation.</p><p dir="ltr">The results of repositioning and rethinking participation among political forces showed the first outputs of revolution. <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/elections/yerevan-city-elections-2018-everything-you-need-to-know">Twelve political forces</a>, including eight parties and four alliances, submitted the necessary documents to participate in the Yerevan City Council snap elections. This is unprecedented for local government elections in Armenia, which have never been a priority in Armenia’s national political agenda. Rather, they were a site of local struggle and local interests even during the tense political situation in the country. In Yerevan, the situation sometimes differed given the participation of the ruling party and/or most visible opposition forces, but not significantly. </p><h2>Who’s who </h2><p dir="ltr">There’s a nuance to Yerevan city council elections that’s worth pointing out: if only three parties decide to participate, all three forces enter the city council. This was the case at the last elections, in May 2017, when only three groups campaigned for office: the (now ex-) ruling Republican party, Yelq (Way Out) Alliance which united Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party and two other parties - Bright Armenia (Lusavor Hayastan) and Republic (Hanrapetutytun), as well Yerkir Tsirani Party. </p><p dir="ltr">Out of the three groups that ran in the 2017 elections, the Republican Party decided not to participate this year. They chose to retreat after losing executive power in the spring. Yerkir Tsirani, which took advantage of the fact that only three participants at the previous elections and became a faction in the city council, decided to run again. This time, Yelq Alliance is represented by two different blocs. One of them includes two allies of the Civil Contract Party in parliament — the Bright Armenia and Republic parties. The other one unites Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, Araqelutyun (Mission) party and some other groups, civic initiative members and simply active people under the name “My Step”. This group was led by the comedy actor <a href="https://armenianweekly.com/2018/08/01/comedian-in-good-standing-to-become-mayor-of-yerevan/">Hayk Marutyan</a>, who was been engaged in civic activism in recent years and also actively participated in the revolutionary 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/Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 14.04.56.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hayk Marutyan on the campaign trail. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>While Pashinyan’s party didn’t participate in the elections separately, its alliance does not include forces which are still considered allies in parliament. This time, the alliance, according to its declared rationale, positioned itself as being in step with the Armenian public. Indeed, the name of the alliance (My Step) recalls <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">Pashinyan’s march across the country</a> earlier this year, which became the start of the revolution. The name thus signifies continuity between the revolution and the city council elections. The alliance’s rationale, therefore, is an attempt to solve the issue that the author of revolution was not a single party: participating in elections as part of the Civil Contract party would probably raise questions on its inclusiveness towards revolutionary forces.</p><p dir="ltr">Under this rationale, members of Armenian civil society participating in the My Step alliance represent not so much the revolutionary masses, but civil society itself. Indeed, this move symbolises civil society’s new “political responsibility” after they assisted Pashinyan, who was left without support by all political forces during the revolution in April-May. At the same time, the participation of civic groups indirectly suggests the possible reason for the absence of two other parties from Yelq alliance: the de facto non-participation of these parties in the revolutionary process.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The range of candidates reveals how the space for politics — which enables political activity and makes it meaningful — has opened</p><p dir="ltr">Other forces <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/elections/yerevan-city-elections-2018-everything-you-need-to-know">have also come to the arena</a>: political parties represented in the Armenian parliament such as Prosperous Armenia and Armenian Revolutionary Party Dashnaktsutyun, which are also members of Pashinyan’s coalition government. Among participants are some forces that lost the opportunity to enter the National Assembly in 2017 such as the Heritage Party and Orinats Yerkir party. Others are newly formed or almost unknown to the wider public — the Reformists party, Yerevan Community Alliance, Hayq Party, Democratic Way Party, Yerevantsi Alliance.</p><p dir="ltr">The range of candidates reveals how the space for politics — which enables political activity and makes it meaningful — has opened. Besides, the revolutionary authorities have received a good opportunity to implement one of the main tasks defined in the government’s <a href="http://www.gov.am/files/docs/2782.pdf">new programme</a> from 1 June: provision of truly participatory, free and publicly trusted elections. The fact that the vote was scheduled for 23 September inspired hope that, two days after celebrating Armenia’s 27th Independence Day on 21 September, Armenian citizens could count on the possibility of forming local authorities by their own free election in the list of achievements since independence.</p><h2>Yerevan: the city agenda</h2><p>Despite the diversity of candidates, their articulation of the problems facing Yerevan as a city has been largely the same. The candidates have accepted that all of them more or less define the existing issues correctly. The differences, then, are in their proposed solutions.</p><p dir="ltr">Yerevan is too big a city for Armenia, with its population of three million. More than a third of them live in Yerevan. All governmental and administrative agencies, institutions are centralised here. While looking at the economics, more than 60% of Armenia’s GDP, 74% of retail, 61% of construction, and 80.6% of services are <a href="http://armstat.am/file/Map/MARZ_01.pdf">produced</a> in Yerevan. In other words, Armenia looks like a man whose head is far bigger than his body — and to find its balance, this man has remain upside down, causing disproportionate distribution of everything among the country’s other regions. </p><p dir="ltr">Yerevan is currently preparing to celebrate its 2800th anniversary. At the same time, the evidence of ancient Yerevan and its traditions remain mostly invisible — and this is one of the main issues of the city. Civic initiative groups and organisations have <a href="http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/54755/1/Ishkanian_Civil_Society_Development_Enviromental_Activism_America_2013.pdf">raised the issue of systematic attacks on city architecture and environment</a> in recent years, more often without visible results, but accumulating experience of resistance in this struggle.</p><p dir="ltr">Public transportation is another important point in the city agenda. The former authorities were trying to reform this sphere, according to which fares for public transportation by bus or minibus were scheduled to increase from 100 to 150 dram. And in summer 2013, this provoked a <a href="https://armenianweekly.com/2013/07/29/yerevans-bus-fare-protests-a-timeline">huge civic response</a>. Hayk Muratyan, who is now set to become mayor, was one of the celebrities actively engaged in that process. Indeed, that time civic activists and the city’s wider public won: the bus fares remained the same, but the issues remained. It was clear that public transport would be on the agenda for all 12 candidates. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/6794619198_075922905c_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>CC BY ND 2.0 Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>In general, Yerevan is not unique in its problems. According to the National League of Cities’s 2018 <a href="https://www.nlc.org/resource/state-of-the-cities-2018">“State of the Cities” report</a>, economic development, infrastructure, budgets, housing and public safety are the issues that worry most large cities. If you look at Yerevan in this context, you can see almost all of these issues here in a more or less localised way: economic development, infrastructure (waste management, transportation, parking, etc.), budget (distribution of budget among city communities, the country government budgeting policy towards Yerevan), housing (including affordable housing and seismic resistance of buildings), also environment (air pollution, need for more green areas), healthcare and human services (lack of affordable and high-quality medical services, lack of adequate and sufficient kindergarten services).</p><p dir="ltr">What differs in Yerevan, though, is a lower concern with public safety issues in comparison with other cities. Yerevan is a city where public safety and high level of crime are not in the list of high risks. At the same time, topics such as demographics, diversity and inclusiveness, as well technology and data (“smart city”) are quite new for Yerevan and were even included in the programmes of political parties. (Though they still sound too declarative and abstract to become real.) The political forces more or less mapped the issues and constructed their programmes following the logic of solving these problems separately.</p><p dir="ltr">However, the reason that all 12 candidates put forward the same list of problems facing the city could be that these issues are on the surface, and have been previously defined. Instead what is missing here is a conceptual and political presentation of Yerevan as a complicated social system — one that has to be understood, described and redefined. This presentation should include the city’s relationships with Armenia’s other regions, the national government, tourists, business, its own inhabitants, local authorities, and so on. And what is most important: this conceptualisation should be based on the real social map of Yerevan, where the processes of gentrification and new urbanisation, social inclusion and exclusion are marked and politically defined. </p><p dir="ltr">It seems that this “agenda saturation” pushed participants to find diverse solutions: one of the forces promised to open a direct flight from Yerevan to Los Angeles, (most likely to connect with the Armenian community in California); Yerevan inhabitants were also promised 70,000 new jobs as part of a plan to make the city a new Silicon Valley, turning Yerevan from desert to forest. To ensure participation of citizens in city governance, Pashinyan’s “My Step” block promised to open a separate office for referendums in the city municipality to ensure participation of citizens in city governance. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>Yerevan: the political agenda</h2><p dir="ltr">Ultimately, the campaign didn’t enable the electorate to learn further details of the electoral programmes. On the very first day of campaigning, Pashinyan &nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93lzKvc6bps">drew a revolutionary line through the candidates</a>, dividing them into two types — revolutionary (Pashinyan’s “My Step”) and anti-revolutionary (all other political forces) </p><p dir="ltr">This statement was made by Pashinyan on the heels of a <a href="https://eurasianet.org/leaked-phone-calls-scandal-poses-new-challenge-for-pashinyan">leaked recording of a phone conversation</a> between Armenian security officials. Pashinyan <a href="https://www.civilnet.am/news/2018/09/11/Pashinyan-Responds-to-Wiretapping-of-Top-Security-Officials/344599">describes</a> this event as a continuation in the <a href="https://carnegie.ru/commentary/76985">battle between him and Robert Kocharyan</a>, Armenia’s second president, which started in July 2018. Given Pashinyan’s high public legitimacy, his statement significantly changed the logic of the campaign. Candidates started identifying counter revolutionaries and showing their own devotion to the revolution, accusing others and offering excuses. Pashinyan continued be actively engaged in the campaign, using the pre-electoral platform almost every day to make declarations on the national political agenda, rather than the problems facing the city.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Pashinyan’s further success depends how he will answer the question: who are the groups that Pashinyan doesn’t know in Armenian society?&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Thus, on different city squares, Pashinyan made appeals to the former authorities, <a href="https://www.lragir.am/2018/09/11/378014/">oligarchs and their security personnel</a>, the <a href="https://www.tert.am/am/news/2018/09/16/pashinyan/2793081">President of Azerbaijan</a>, the security agencies, and so on. Pashinyan’s <a href="https://www.lragir.am/2018/09/17/379367/">speeches</a> were mostly combative, or if we consider it a speech made by the country’s highest official, even aggressive. The manner of Pashinyan’s speech provoked &nbsp;some declarations from other participants of the process in parliament on the possibility not to support Pashinyan’s initiative for dissolution of parliament with further extraordinary elections of the National Assembly. In turn, Pashinyan declared on 20 September that by doing so, those forces will go against the public. Moreover, he stated that the city council elections <a href="https://www.azatutyun.am/a/29501785.html">should be a mandate</a> for him to call extraordinary elections to the National Assembly. The elections were, in effect, irrevocably transformed into a referendum on public trust in Pashinyan. </p><p dir="ltr">These attempts to transform the elections into a referendum narrowed the political space which had been opened, ironically, mostly by Pashinyan’s previous efforts. But while the presence of Pashinyan does not cancel out the fact of holding city council elections with 12 participating forces, it should be noted that his strategy requires only two political subjects — himself and the public. No other political subjects are envisaged under this logic. From the one side, this strategy clears the political arena, but from the other it devastates it. Any other subject finds itself in a love triangle — where the third person is superfluous. Moreover, to bring sense to his own active participation and therefore replacing the city council agenda with the revolutionary agenda, Pashinyan targeted people in his speeches who weren’t candidates for the city council or even represented via any of the forces. In this sense, the city council elections became impossible: voters could not elect the <a href="https://news.am/eng/news/470545.html">“light” and “dark” forces as described by Pashinyan</a> per se, but could give their votes to the My Step bloc in approval of the April-May events. These kind of post-revolutionary elections are always approximate.</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 2018-09-24 at 14.25.05.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Candidate debate on Armenian Public Television. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>In fact, the revolution happened, in part, due to the critically low level of public trust towards Armenia’s former authorities. Making trust the cornerstone for the relationship between government and society, Pashinyan expresses this trust only towards the public — via his own active engagement in the city council elections campaign. He thus showed his lack of trust towards his own team members participating in the elections and their ability to receive sufficient public support without him. Does Pashinyan understand that this strategy puts the achievement of one of the most important goals of his government — restoring elections as a mechanism for forming authorities — at risk?</p><p dir="ltr">In this context, the opportunity for a real debate, which would inform the voters and assist them in making informed and meaningful decisions, was missed. The candidate <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ArmPublicTV/videos/507994849610979/?hc_location=ufi">debate</a> organised by Armenian Public Television on the last day of the campaign was broadcast right before midnight. It lasted only 50 minutes, and was supposed to give enough time for eight participants to present their programmes. Moreover, the debate was not broadcast live, but was pre-recorded. This is why four participants out of 12 refused to participate. </p><h2><span>Yerevan: where will the election results lead?</span></h2><p dir="ltr">According to the initial results announced by the Central Election Commission, Armenia’s revolution has won once again: <a href="https://www.tert.am/en/news/2018/09/24/elections-final/2800037">roughly &nbsp;81% of voters chose Pashinyan’s “My Step” bloc</a>. Moreover, according to the results and electoral legislation, there is no need for the new mayor to be selected by the newly elected council: when a party receives more than 50% of votes, the party’s first choice becomes mayor. </p><p dir="ltr">Two other forces entered the city council — Prosperous Armenia (7%) and Luys Alliance (5%). The latter did not pass the threshold for the alliance (8%) and will enter the council simply because the law states that at least three forces should be represented on the city council. Pashinyan’s strategy of declaring a “referendum” on revolution rather than elections per se has worked out, it seems. </p><p dir="ltr">Looking more closely, however, at voter turnout (43.65%) poses new questions — questions that are more important than the expected second round victory of the revolution. If the revolutionary agenda proposed a mobilisation in Armenian civic life, why didn’t this happen five months later? Why did more than half of registered voters choose not to vote? Who are these people? Where were they in April-May 2018 and where will they be when the upcoming snap elections to parliament are announced? </p><p dir="ltr">It seems that Pashinyan was already well aware who would vote for him in Yerevan: they <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/revolution-of-values-freedom-responsibility-and-courage-in-armenias-velve">were on the squares and streets during the revolution</a>. Pashinyan’s further success depends how he will answer the question: who are the groups that Pashinyan doesn’t know in Armenian society? After all, calling these people “counter revolutionaries” may not be enough to secure victory the next time Armenia goes to the ballot box. </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/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry">Saint Nick of Armenia: how protest leader Nikol Pashinyan “rescued” Armenia and made it merry</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov-knar-khudoyan/citizens-battling-a-controversial-gold-mining-project-amulsar-armenia">How citizens battling a controversial gold mining project are testing Armenia’s new democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ashot-gazazyan/on-border">On the edge: how rural Armenia is responding to the country&#039;s &quot;Velvet Revolution&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/karena-avedissian/real-revolution-protest-leader-armen-grigoryan-on-what-s-happening-in-ar">A real revolution? Protest leader Armen Grigoryan on what’s happening in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/armine-ishkanian/revolution-of-values-freedom-responsibility-and-courage-in-armenias-velve">A revolution of values: freedom, responsibility and courage in Armenia&#039;s Velvet Revolution</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Zhanna Andreasyan Cities in motion Armenia Mon, 24 Sep 2018 12:06:08 +0000 Zhanna Andreasyan 119794 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kafka comes to life in Kaliningrad https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/paulina-siegie/kaliningrad-kafka-orwell-forum-disrupted <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">After police and pro-government media disrupt a public event in Kaliningrad, it’s time to examine the forms of pressure on Russian civil society.</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/555493/41822478_1889582324451557_2677107232184729600_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'>Evgeny Roizman, former mayor of Ekaterinburg, at the Kafka and Orwell Forum, Kaliningrad. Source: Gleb Fedotov / Facebook. </span></span></span>This year, it seemed like the <a href="http://kafkaorwell.ru/">Kafka and Orwell intellectual forum</a> — now in its sixth year — was going to come off without a hitch. There would be no incidents, and its participants could make their way home safely. Alas, this wasn’t the case.</p><p dir="ltr">The methods the Russian authorities use to defend their monopoly on public discussion of society and politics are acquiring harsher and harsher forms. The latest forum, which ran from 14-16 September in Svetlogorsk, Kaliningrad, turned into a testing ground for a new genre of police intervention — “police raid on camera”. Here, Russian riot and armed police played the role of “masked men”; and the cameras recording the proceedings were provided by Evgeny Prigozhin’s “media factory”.</p><p dir="ltr">Since 2012, forum participants have travelled to the Kaliningrad region to discuss the fate of Russia and the wider world. Members of the Kaliningrad branch of Transparency International – Russia have been the driving force, although the organisation itself isn’t officially involved. (Indeed, TI-R was recognised as a “foreign agent” in Russia in 2015.) This year, the forum was organised together with the <a href="https://komitetgi.ru/">Committee of Civic Initiatives</a> and the Kaliningrad businessman Igor Pleshkov, who is also the chairman of the regional branch of liberal political party Yabloko.</p><p dir="ltr">After the formal part of the forum ended, police special forces burst into the hotel where the forum was being held, together with a media team. Three participants were detained during this show raid: Artyom Pronyushkin, Konstantin Sarvanidi and Andrey Veselyuk, who were all attending from Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">For 20 hours, Pronyushkin, Sarvanidi and Veselyuk were unable to contact their families, nor their lawyers. Before the Kaliningrad police issued a statement on the special operation in Svetlogorsk, several media outlets reported that the participants had been detained on suspicion of drug-dealing. The RIAFAN news agency, which belongs to Kremlin oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin, <a href="https://riafan.ru/1100121-predpolagaemykh-narkotorgovcev-zaderzhali-v-khode-foruma-organizovannogo-dvizheniem-transparency-international">published a video showing the raid</a>. The headlines in the articles that were published immediately after the detentions underlined the connection between the Forum’s organisers and “drug dealers”. Many outlets emphasised the fact that Evgeny Roizman, the former mayor of Ekaterinburg known for his tough position on drugs, had attended the forum as a speaker.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/41833330_298990644211970_7764388005934006272_o.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Riot police leave the hotel where forum participants were staying, 16 September. Source: Andrei Kuznestov / Facebook. </span></span></span>This information quickly made its way through Russian national and regional media, and a segment was also <a href="https://www.vesti.ru/videos/show/vid/768558/cid/1/">broadcast on state news programme Vesti 24</a>. The fact that law enforcement’s suspicions were not confirmed, and that the whole operation turned out to be a failure in terms of results, was not reported. Not a single outlet has published a correction regarding the alleged link of the forum’s organisers with drug dealing.</p><p>Pronyushkin, Sarvanidi and Veselyuk were released the following day and returned to Moscow. None of them were charged with drug offences. Instead, they were charged with the administrative offence of refusing to undergo forensic examination — i.e. the only “crime” happened during the raid itself.</p><p dir="ltr">Artyom Pronyushkin, one of the men detained, is a Moscow political consultant, and previously worked as an advisor to a parliamentary deputy. Apart from the shock of being detained, these events will likely harm his reputation. “From the very start, we had no doubt that this investigation was political,” he tells me. “From the start, the masked police were talking about the forum, Transparency International, some sort of revolutionaries and so on.”</p><p dir="ltr">“A camera team from Moscow was also present with the police. The next day, on 17 September, we saw how this brigade went back to Moscow. This raid was prepared in advance, it wasn’t part of a real investigation — it was just a show for the cameras. According to Russian law, and I think elsewhere, you need to have a warrant for the police to break into a residence, there should be a real suspicion and some kind of initial evidence, approved by a judge. It was clear that this was all being done for the show of it, we were handcuffed and placed on the floor, they beat us with truncheons, one of us was hit over the head with a pistol. And then everything ended in an administrative offence, as if we’d crossed the road in the wrong place.”</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 2018-09-24 at 09.18.25.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="382" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Police raid the three forum participants. Source: RIAFAN. </span></span></span>Artyom, Konstantin and Andrey were interrogated separately, but they all understood the seriousness of the situation and refused to talk to interrogators without their lawyers being present. As a result, they refused to undergo forensic examination. And this refusal led to the administrative charge, which will be examined in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">The Forum’s organisers hope that this is the end of the investigation, although the risks associated with this event seem to increase every year.</p><p dir="ltr">“Practically every year there’s some sort of incident, which can be explained via external reasons, and which threatens our ability to carry out the forum itself,” says Ilya Shumanov, one of the organisers of the Kafka and Orwell Forum, and the deputy director of Transparency International – Russia. “Only the first forum came off without incident, we organised that event together with representatives of the authorities. The last forum, 2017, was also uneventful. Prior to that, we’ve lost electricity, the owners of the venue have received calls asking them not to rent us the space. And then in 2015, there were some Cossacks <a href="https://www.svoboda.org/a/27191430.html">who attacked the forum</a>. This year, though, was unprecedented in terms of the scale of provocation.”</p><p dir="ltr">“This complicates the understanding of how to work with Russia, how to build dialogue, given that Russia has a big problem with dialogue towards external actors right now. As it turns out, the country can’t build a dialogue with internal actors either,” says Shumanov. “Dialogue is held with the help of police special forces, truncheons, TV cameras and discrediting representatives of civil society. And this a cycle, not just one event. This is a whole cycle [of events] and the tension is rising.”</p><p dir="ltr">The problems facing the Kafka and Orwell Forum are far from unique in Russia. Attempts to curtail free discussion in public have long become part of Russia’s civic landscape. Pressure on owners and managers of venues where civic events are held is an everyday occurrence. But now Russian law enforcement are increasingly involved in trying to control public discourse.</p><p dir="ltr">Take the situation facing the Russian counter-culture zine <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-rowley/diy-magazine-taboo-topics-russia-moloko-plus">moloko plus</a>. In July, the police stopped a presentation of a new issue of the zine in Krasnodar, and its founder Pavel Nikulin was detained in the process. This situation was <a href="https://zona.media/online/2018/09/18/nikulin_sud">repeated in Nizhny Novgorod on 16 September</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, who grew up in Kaliningrad, spoke at the Kafka and Orwell Forum in 2015. Indeed, the Cossack troupe attacked the forum during his presentation.</p><p dir="ltr">“I’m sure that the order to target the forum comes from Moscow, the federal level,” Kashin comments. “For Kaliningrad, this is an event of local politician Igor Pleshkov, a businessman connected to Yabloko. He has political ambitions, he’s had a conflict with the regional authorities, and the forum and Pleskhov personally have been attacked before on the local level — he’s had his windows smashed at home, a pig’s head and a grenade have been left. Cossacks visited the forum when I spoke there. All this has the mark of provincial political technologists. But when there’s police officers in balaclavas, this is a federal-level job. For Moscow, this forum is a Transparency International event. And Transparency International is a ‘foreign agent’ and potentially hostile organisation.”</p><p dir="ltr">By contrast, quite a different atmosphere could be felt at another forum held in Kaliningrad last week. The <a href="http://xn--90aci0ajbadllemfl7f.xn--p1ai/">“Community” forum</a> was organised by Russia’s <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_Chamber_of_the_Russian_Federation">Civic Chamber</a>, and included the governor of Kaliningrad among its participants. Discussions at both events may have touched on similar themes, but the “official” event did not attract the attention of Russian law enforcement, and pro-government media <a href="https://vesti-kaliningrad.ru/v-kaliningrade-startoval-forum-soobshhestvo/">covered it in a positive light</a>. It’s fine to talk publicly about civic activism and engaging citizens in governing the country, it’s just not everyone is allowed — e.g. Russia’s liberal community, and definitely not “foreign agents”. Even if their conclusions overlap.</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/thomas-rowley/diy-magazine-taboo-topics-russia-moloko-plus">How this DIY magazine is making space for taboo topics in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">What are the real barriers to freedom of assembly in Ukraine?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fyodor-krasheninnikov/defeat-disappointment-and-glimmer-of-dictatorship-in-russia-far-east-primorye">Defeat, disappointment and the glimmer of dictatorship in Russia’s Far East</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/evgenij-shtorn/the-future-of-russias-one-and-only-lgbt-film-festival%20">The future of Russia’s one and only LGBT film festival </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Paulina Siegień Mon, 24 Sep 2018 08:22:11 +0000 Paulina Siegień 119787 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Poland vs. Azamat Baiduyev: how an EU member state deported a Chechen refugee back to face the Kadyrov regime https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marcin-wyrwal-malgorzata-zmudka/poland-azamat-baiduyev-deportation-kadyrov <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Azamat Baiduyev is the latest person to be deported from Poland on the basis of “secret materials”.</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-32199834.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'>Akhmad Kadyrov's move to support Russian forces paved the way for a new "hard" peace in Chechnya. (c) Bai Xueqi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was originally published in Polish on <a href="https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/tylko-w-onecie/azamat-bajdujew-wydalony-z-polski-w-czeczeni-groza-mu-tortury-a-nawet-smierc/xhxpebt">Onet</a>. We publish a translation here.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>On the last day of August, Poland <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/chechen-refugee-forcibly-disappears-after-unlawful-deportation/29469009.html">deported</a> Azamat Baiduyev, a member of a family deeply involved in the struggle for Chechen independence. The next day in Chechnya, operatives of Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime detained him. Why did our country deport Baiduyev, knowing that, in the best case, his family history risked him facing torture in his homeland, and in the worst case, execution?</em></p><p dir="ltr">On the morning of 31 August, Polish Border Guard officers visited a detention centre in Przemyśl to collect Azamat Baiduyev. The officers put Baiduyev, 33, in a car and took him to Warsaw. In the car, it was unclear to Azamat what was happening — at first, he probably did not realise where he was being taken.</p><p dir="ltr">According to several sources, when Azamat realised that he was going to be deported to Chechnya, he tried to open his veins in the car. According to others, this happened at the airport. Wherever the attempted suicide took place, it is known that Azamat was taken to a hospital in central Warsaw, where his injuries were attended to.</p><p dir="ltr">That same day, Baiduyev was flown to Moscow. He then flew to Grozny, capital of Chechnya. Soon after, according to contacts of Akhmed Gisayev, head of the Human Rights Analysis Center, reported that “roughly a hundred people with weapons, portable radios and police vehicles” surrounded a house belonging to Baiduyev’s uncle.</p><p dir="ltr">According to witnesses, some of these men spoke Russian without a Chechen accent and had a Russian appearance, which indicates that the Russian FSB was involved in the operation alongside the Chechen Interior Ministry. Azamat was abducted by force. It is not known where he is currently located.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>1.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The Polish authorities must have been aware that they were deporting a man who would be immediately threatened with torture and death in Russia. In 2008, Azamat received <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/content/subsidiary-protection_en">subsidiary protection</a> in Poland. The family required this kind of special protection because of Azamat’s father.</p><p dir="ltr">Ali Baiduyev, whose work today allows his family to barely make ends meet, is a serious figure in the struggle for Chechen independence. In the 1990s, Ali Baiduyev belonged to the personal protection team of Dzhokhar Dudayev, first president of independent Chechnya. As the First Chechen War went on, and Dudayev refused to submit to the Kremlin, he became number one on the list of Russian targets. He avoided assassination on at least two occasions in the 1990s.</p><p dir="ltr">As a bodyguard, Azamat's father was particularly fond of Dudayev. He was related to him, and blood ties are the strongest guarantee of trust in Chechnya. The Chechen president often hid in the Baiduyev family home.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Djokhar_Douda_C3_AFev.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="197" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dzhokhar Dudayev. CC BY-SA 4.0 Dmitry Borko / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">After 1996, the hunt for Dudayev became a priority for the Russians. And on 21 April 1996, Dudayev received a phone call from a Russian politicians. What he didn’t know was that a reconnaissance plane was tracking the phone's satellite signal. A laser-guided rocket killed Dudayev a few minutes later.</p><p dir="ltr">Six months later, Russian armed forces occupied Grozny, ending the First Chechen War. In 1999, the Second Chechen War began, only to be lost later. In 2003, when Russia finally took control of Chechnya, Ali Baiduyev became an enemy of the new regime, and had to flee with the whole family.</p><p dir="ltr">The security services of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s new leader, soon began the hunt for Chechens involved in the struggle for independence. In 2016, Kadyrov addressed Chechens living abroad with a clear message on social media: sooner or later, the regime would get to each of them. “One day, maybe in ten or five years, when you’re smarter or when your parents tell you to come home or when they chase you out of Europe, you will not have anywhere to go. And then I will settle with you for all your words.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>2.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">After a few years of wandering, the Baiduyev family arrived in Poland. Fighters against Russian aggression, the Chechens were well received in our country. Since 2007, Azamat had a <a href="http://www.fmreview.org/young-and-out-of-place/pestana">tolerated stay</a> in Poland, and in 2008 he received subsidiary protection, granted to persons who may be in danger even on Polish territory.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Azamat’s mother, he was still under threat from Russian and Chechen security services which had penetrated Poland: “I was afraid of their cars that came to the centre during the day and at night,” Makka Baiduyeva. “Our family took part in the fight for independence. Now, for this reason, they take revenge on us, persecute us, want to destroy us. I asked Azamat to go to a safe place.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>3.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">This safe place turned out to be Belgium. “My son requested residency in Belgium 13 times and 13 times he was refused, which in our opinion was based on the lack of sufficient information,” says Makka Baiduyeva.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017, the Belgian police detained Azamat on the basis of reports from France about “his possible involvement in the preparation of terrorist attacks in Belgium.” Although, according to Radio Svoboda, this information was not confirmed, Belgium deported Baiduyev to Poland.</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/w92ktkpTURBXy9lMjJiMWRkZDMxMDAwMDU1YWE2Zjk4YmFlNGI4MzBmNy5qcGeSlQLNBOwAwsOVAgDNAvjCww.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In 2008, Azamat Baiduyev received "subsidiary protection" from Poland. </span></span></span>There were no charges against Baiduyev in Poland. However, in April he was placed in the closed deportation centre in Przemyśl. On 29 August 2018, the Office for Foreigners removed Azamat’s subsidiary protection.</p><p dir="ltr">This decision was issued by the Polish Ministry of the Interior and Administration at the request of the Internal Security Agency. When questioned by Onet about the reason, the Ministry of Interior and Administration answered that Minister Joachim Brudzinski “issued a decision on the obligation to return to the country of origin of a foreigner who posed a threat to public safety and order in our country. The decision was issued on the basis of Article 329a of the Act on Foreigners. This provision was introduced by the <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR3742632016ENGLISH.pdf">2016 Anti-Terrorist Activities Act</a>.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>4.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In conversation with Onet, Azamat’s mother confirms that the family has not received any information about the reasons for his deportation. “Why did the Polish authorities not provide him with any evidence of a crime? Why was not he brought before the court in Poland and have his guilt proved? Let the Polish authorities prove him guilty and he will go to prison for up to 50 years to answer for his actions if he is guilty. Why did the Polish authorities send him back to Chechnya?” asks Makka Baiduyeva.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />This final question is important because, according to Jacek Białas, a lawyer from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, regardless of the fault of the individual, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights indicates that the decision to deport to a country where they are threatened with torture or death is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the Polish Law on Foreigners.</p><p dir="ltr">“I did not find any in-depth analysis of the potential threat to this gentleman after deportation in the decision on expulsion,” adds Jacek Białas. “There is no history there, no indication of whether there is a risk of torture or not. We do not know if such analysis was ever carried out. In the light of international standards, which are also in force in Poland, a man can not be deported to face torture, even if he is terrorist and criminal.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Another issue here is Baiduyev’s lack of access to evidence of the alleged crime. Azamat Baiduyev thus becomes the latest in a growing group of people expelled from Poland on the basis of secret materials. The most prominent instance of this kind of deportation involves Ludmiła Kozłowska, the head of the Open Dialog Foundation who was <a href="https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/polands-deportation-of-human-rights-activist-the-back-story/">deported from Poland</a> in August.</p><p dir="ltr">Białas has no doubt that Polish law does not meet the requirements of European Union law in this matter. “It follows from the case law of the European Union Court of Justice that a foreign national who is subject to proceedings on the basis of secret evidence should be informed about the essential reasons which motivate the decision and receive a summary of this evidence. They are thus given a chance to respond to the charges. Polish national law does not offer this opportunity.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Polish Commissioner for Citizens' Rights contacted Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland’s Minister of Interior and Administration, regarding this situation in August 2016. To no effect. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>5.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In the decision to deprive Azamat Baiduyev of international protection, Dr Andrzej Karpiak, the director of the department of refugee proceedings at Poland’s Office for Foreigners, refers to “a definite improvement in the general security situation in Chechnya in recent years”.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Karpiak’s opinion radically contrasts with the latest OSCE document on Chechnya. On the day before Azamat was deported, 15 OSCE countries <a href="https://osce.usmission.gov/human-rights-abuses-in-chechnya-15-osce-countries-invoke-vienna-mechanism/">implemented the so-called “Vienna Mechanism”</a>, expressing “deep concern over serious violations and violations of human rights in Chechnya”. Listing measures taken by the Chechen authorities against citizens, the document mentions “harassment and persecution, arbitrary or unlawful arrest or detention, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.” Under the Vienna Mechanism, the OSCE has requested explanations from the Russian Federation regarding a number of abuses in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, experts confirm the deteriorating human rights situation in Chechnya. “The conflict in Chechnya is intensifying,” says Ahmed Gisayev from the Human Rights Analysis Center. “Many people have been kidnapped and lost, completely disappeared. Criminal cases are made against others. For example, in January 2017, Russian authorities seized 200 civilians as hostages, of whom 27 were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">shot dead</a>. Russian state terror has suppressed Chechnya and the entire North Caucasus. And all this in recent years.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“In Chechnya, even activists and human rights defenders are the object of fabricated accusations against which the world is powerless,” says Maria Książak, co-founder of the Polish Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and expert in the National Prevention Mechanism of Torture. “Oyub Titiyev, the director of Memorial’s Chechnya branch, has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya">been imprisoned on drugs charges for nine months</a>. Earlier, Ruslan Kutayev was <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/08/russia-chechen-activist-leader-arrested-beaten">sentenced to three years and 10 months</a> in a similarly fabricated drug accusation. Despite the Chechen president’s ban, he dared to commemorate the 1944 Chechen deportation. Kutayev was subject to torture by electric shock, his ribs were broken. I think that only the publicity in this case has led to Azamat being found successfully in custody in Urus Martan.”</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/Kutaev_colour_20[from_20YouTube].png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In 2014, Ruslan Kutayev was sentenced to four years in prison on drugs charges. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Anti-government blogger <a href="http://oc-media.org/fleeing-chechen-blogger-detained-in-poland/">Tumso Abdurakhmanov</a> has also experienced first-hand the dramatic situation in Chechnya today. He is currently hiding in Poland from people connected to Ramzan Kadyrov. “I would rather be killed in Poland by a killer paid by Kadyrov than wind up in their hands,” he says. “In one of the reports of Human Rights Watch there is a statement of a Chechen woman: ‘There used to be war, but there was no fear. Now there is no war, but there is fear.’ The regime’s people bring the body of a dead child to the family and make them bury it. The family buries the body and says nothing to anyone. This is what it’s like in Chechnya today.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>6.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">When Onet asked Poland’s Office for Foreigners what exactly motivated the statement concerning the “general improvement of the security situation in Chechnya”, spokesman Jakub Dudziak replied: “As for the situation in Chechnya, it should be remembered that the foreigner was covered by temporary protection in the form of consent for tolerated stay, which was issued only in connection with the ongoing armed conflict in Chechnya at that time — currently this premise does not exist. A foreigner was not covered by international protection in connection with, for example, the threat of persecution.”</p><p dir="ltr">Maria Książak believes that this response proves that the Office for Foreigners spokesman have no knowledge about the actual situation in Chechnya. “If anyone should be aware of the current situation in the Caucasus and threats to individual foreigners who were covered by the refugee procedure or international protection in Poland, it is the Department of Refugee Proceedings of the Office for Foreigners, whose director is Mr &nbsp;Karpiak. It’s his name on the decision depriving Azamat of protection. An office paid from taxpayer money should serve the persecuted and not act against them. Denying the facts, which include the persecution and torture happening in Chechnya today, does not change the situation in the Caucasus, it is only a manifestation of incompetence.”</p><p dir="ltr">We also sent several questions to the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration: Did the Ministry of Interior and Administration know that Baiduyev was persecuted by the Russian authorities, who suspected him of participating in the Chechen resistance movement, as well as by the Chechen authorities? Did the Ministry of Interior and Administration know that Baiduyev’s life is in danger in Russia and Chechnya? How does the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration view the kidnapping or arrest of Baiduyev by Chechen security services the day after the deportation?<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />We have not received any answers from the ministry.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>7.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Although it has already been known for several days that Azamat tried to open his veins when he learned of the coming deportation to Chechnya, Jakub Dudziak, spokesperson of Poland’s Office for Foreigners, suggested in an email to Onet on 10 September that Azamat was not afraid of returning to Chechnya — moreover, he wanted to return to the country.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“The foreigner has a biometric foreign passport issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,” Dudziak wrote. “If the foreigner decided to contact the Russian authorities knowing that his personal data will be subject to thorough verification after submitting the application, it means that he was not afraid of the authorities of the country of origin and decided to return to its protection.”</p><p dir="ltr">“This is a quote from the decision that revoked Azamat’s protection,” explains Maria Książak. “It seems that Azamat applied for a new passport at the Russian embassy. If a person who has protection or a tolerated stay in a given country and wants to travel to another country, he must have another travel document, that is, a current foreign passport. Perhaps Azamat wanted to visit his two children who had stayed behind in Belgium. This does not mean, however, that there was no threat to him in the Caucasus.”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>8.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Onet also asked the Ministry of Interior and Administration whether the ministry had obtained security guarantees from the Russian side for the expelled Azamat Baiduyev. We did not get the answer to this question either.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Akhmet Gisayev, who specialises in these issues, explains: “This is a common practice for deported political refugees. Otherwise, I do not understand how Poland could deport Azamat Baiduyev. International law establishes the direct responsibility of the state that deports a person threatened by torture or other degrading treatment. I also know that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Poland and the domestic courts had enough evidence that Azamat Baiduyev was in danger of torture.”</p><p dir="ltr">If the Polish authorities did not ask Russia to guarantee the security of Azamat Baiduyev, this is a serious charge in light of international law. If they did, it shows the kind of importance Russia attaches to these guarantees.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>9.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">When human rights activists and the media began to disseminate information about Baiduyev’s kidnapping in Chechnya, the Chechen Interior Ministry stated that Azamat had not been abducted but detained in connection with a terrorism investigation. This is how we found out that he is still alive.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Apparently, Azamat pleaded guilty to terrorism offences while in detention. “I am not surprised that Azamat pleaded guilty before anybody knew where he was or on which grounds he was being kept there,” Maria Książak comments. “It is hard to believe that this confession was honest and not preceded by torture, blackmail, threats.” Baiduyev is now located in a state prison in Grozny.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>10.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">On 14 September, when I finished writing this article, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights filed a formal complaint with the European Commission regarding the expulsion of foreigners from Poland on the basis of secret materials. One of the things the complaint referred to was the case of Azamat Baiduyev.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><strong>11.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">“My husband’s brother and his sister met him,” Makka Baiduyeva says “They brought a lawyer with them, but the authorities said that this lawyer is from the family, so they will not talk to him. A lawyer from the office was assigned to Azamat instead.”</p><p dir="ltr">“We want to assert our rights,” Makka Baiduyeva declares. “Poland gave us shelter, a permanent residence card. We were hoping for a bright future, we wanted to a good life for our children, take them to the first day of school. All this seemed to be in vain. Who will take care of Azamat’s eight children now? Who will care for them, take them to school, provide for them? What shall we do? Go back to Russia, Chechnya? We do not have anything to do here anymore. Poland deported him.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya">No defence in Chechnya: Oyub Titiyev and the grim future of human rights in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/karena-avedissian/like-me-im-autocrat">Like me, I&#039;m an autocrat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/the-second-chechen-war">The Second Chechen War: Testimony of an Eyewitness</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Małgorzata Żmudka Marcin Wyrwał Migration matters Chechnya Fri, 21 Sep 2018 08:10:33 +0000 Marcin Wyrwał and Małgorzata Żmudka 119767 at https://www.opendemocracy.net