oD Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/3513/all en Russian authorities ramp up repression against anti-corruption protesters https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/freedom-of-assembly-in-russia-undesirable-or-just-inconvenient <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p style="font-size: 13px;" dir="ltr">The Russian authorities are pressuring protesters and protest organisers ahead of further anti-corruption protests.&nbsp;<em><strong><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/mailing/2017/04/28/nezhelatelnye">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/kulij-omon_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yuri Kuliy, pictured here, is charged with "attacking a police officer" for putting his hand on the shoulder of a riot policeman during anti-corruption protests on 26 March, Moscow. Source: OVD-Info. </span></span></span></p><p><strong><span>We continue our partnership with </span><a href="ovdinfo.org">OVD-Info</a><span>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we bring you the latest information on freedom of assembly in Russia.</span></strong></p><p dir="ltr">This week, Russia’s Investigative Committee <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/26/skr-zakonchil-sledstvennye-deystviya-v-otnoshenii-dvuh-figurantov-dela-26">finished its initial investigation into three of the four men</a> charged in the “26 March” case — Yuri Kuliy, actor, Aleksandr Shpakov, joiner, and Stanislav Zimovets, political activist. This case, which &nbsp;follows the country-wide anti-corruption protests last month, focuses on instances of violence against police officers, and now has 145 investigators working on it — some of whom previously worked on the Bolotnaya case. Indeed, Kuliy and Zimovets have been forced to agree to their cases being examined via “special procedure”, whereby they admit their guilt in full without examination of evidence. Find out how other participants of the 26 March protests are experiencing repressions in our survey <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/24/repressii-protiv-uchastnikov-antikorrupcionnoy-akcii-26-marta-2017-goda#criminal">here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In other news, it’s not just Bolotnaya investigators who are transferring to the “26 March” case, but aggrieved parties, too. It was initially reported that Evgeny Gavrilov, a Moscow riot police officer, suffered injuries during the 26 March protests — and he acted as a victim in the case against Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, one of the last defendants in Bolotnaya. Now it’s come to light that lieutenant Valery Gonikov, whom Aleksandr Shpakov is accused of beating up, also <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/24/eshche-odin-postradavshiy-26-marta-policeyskiy-okazalsya-poterpevshim-po">acted as a victim</a> in the 2012 Bolotnaya investigation into mass unrest.</p><p dir="ltr">Svetlana Sidorkina, a human rights lawyer, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/27/advokat-smogla-pobesedovat-s-figurantom-dela-26-marta-stanislavom-zimovcom">managed to visit Stanislav Zimovets</a>, who is accused of causing bodily harm to Vladimir Kotenev, a police lieutenant, on 26 March. According to Zimovets, he was trying to help some other protest participants, who were, in his opinion, being violently dispersed by the police, and threw a brick in the direction of Kotenev. A small piece of brick apparently hit Kotenev. Zimovets has been sent to a pre-trial detention block where prisoners on life sentence are held — Zimovets and his lawyer believe that this is one of the forms of pressuring him.</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/gxoycyzoa10.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="354" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Stanislav Zimovets, a political activist, is under particular pressure in the Moscow penitentiary system. Image: OVD-Info. </span></span></span><span>This investigation doesn’t only concern adults, but teenagers detained on 26 March, too. They, and their parents, </span><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/27/podrostkov-kotoryh-doprashivali-v-svyazi-s-26-marta-vnov-vyzyvayut-na">are being called in to the Investigative Committee</a><span> for questioning repeatedly. For teenagers, this questioning lasts no less than four hours, and for parents - an hour and a half. The questions are set from a larger survey, which Open Russia has published </span><a href="https://www.openrussia.org/notes/708689/">here</a><span>. Investigators ask, among other things, whether the teenagers were threatened in case they did not attend, whether they were promised compensation for legal fees or fines, as well as financial reward for participating or getting arrested at the demonstration.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/24/v-espch-podana-zhaloba-zaderzhannogo-na-antikorrupcionnom-mitinge">received the first complaint</a> from a protest participant arrested on 26 March, Vitaly Nebieridze. The complaint states that Article 10 (Freedom of Speech and Opinion), Article 11 (Freedom of Assembly) and Article 6 (Right to a Fair Trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms have been violated.</p><h2>The undesirables</h2><p dir="ltr">This week, Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, who was sentenced as part of the Bolotnaya case, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/24/osuzhdennyy-po-bolotnomu-delu-ivan-nepomnyashchih-byl-izbit-v-kolonii">was beaten up during a cell search</a> in Yaroslavl Prison Colony No. 1. Together with several other prisoners, he was then transferred to an isolation cell. The prison administration <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/25/v-koloniyu-k-ivanu-nepomnyashchih-ne-pustili-zashchitnika">refused Nepomyashchikh access to his lawyer</a>, and the Federal Penitentiary Service <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/26/fsin-otricaet-izbienie-figuranta-bolotnogo-dela-ivana-nepomnyashchih">denies that he was beaten</a>, stating that he only had his “arm forced behind his back”.</p><p dir="ltr">Dmitry Demushkin, a Russian nationalist activist, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/25/dmitriya-demushkina-prigovorili-k-dvum-s-polovinoy-godam-lisheniya-svobody">sentenced</a> to two and a half years in prison for, according to the prosecution, sharing two images on social networks with the aim of exciting hate towards a specific group of people.</p><p dir="ltr">Ruslan Zeitullayev, a resident of Sevastopol, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/26/obvinyaemogo-po-delu-hizb-ut-tahrir-osudili-na-12-let">sentenced</a> to 12 years of strict regime on charges of organising a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell in Crimea, which is recognised as a terrorist organisation in Russia. Previously the court considered him a participant of the cell, rather than the organiser, and sentenced him to seven years of general regime, but the prosecution appealed. This is the first sentence for “coordinating a terrorist organisation” given to a resident of Crimea. Other cases against Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea are still in process.</p><p dir="ltr">In Moscow, the city authorities <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/21/v-moskve-ne-soglasovali-akciyu-nadoel-iz-za-pomeh-dlya-posetiteley-priemnoy">refused</a> to sanction a demonstration by Open Russia (“We’ve had enough”) near the President’s public reception, and proposed to move it to another location. In several other cities, activists have had their proposals to hold public meetings refused — for instance, the Kazan authorities <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/25/v-kazani-otkazalis-soglasovat-30-piketov-otkrytoy-rossii">refused</a> to permit 30 pickets, and in Novosibirsk, organisers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/21/organizatory-akcii-nadoel-v-novosibirske-otozvali-zayavku-iz-za-ugroz-merii">withdrew</a> their application after threats from the mayor’s office. In Chuvashia, where a meeting had been permitted, activists came under pressure. And in Petersburg, Kazan and Pskov, people have been arrested for making calls to attend demonstrations — one of them has been arrested for five days.</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/lutin1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="452" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Lutin, a psychologist, shares his story of 26 March <a href=https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/04/26/tam-ya-byl-nuzhen-vsem-26-marta-ovd-bogorodskoe-i-petrovka-38> here</a>. Source: OVD-Info. </span></span></span><span>Activists from the Other Russia movement, detained in Krasnodar in connection with graffiting a local United Russia office, have been held at the police station for </span><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/27/zaderzhannyh-v-krasnodarskom-krae-aktivistov-drugoy-rossii-ne-otpuskayut-s">five days</a><span>. The last news of their whereabouts was received on 25 April.</span></p><p dir="ltr">And finally, of course, Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office has recognised Open Russia — both its actions and as an organisation — as <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/26/generalnaya-prokuratura-priznala-otkrytuyu-rossiyu-nezhelatelnoy">“undesirable”</a>. A <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/27/v-ofise-dvizheniya-otkrytaya-rossiya-prohodit-obysk">search</a> was carried out at its Moscow office the next day.</p><h2>What we’re reading</h2><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- The <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/04/26/tam-ya-byl-nuzhen-vsem-26-marta-ovd-bogorodskoe-i-petrovka-38">story of Oleg Lutin</a>, psychologist, about being beaten with a baton during arrest, panic at the police station and life inside the Petrovka administrative prison</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- MediaZona’s <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/26/04/iego">investigation</a> into what will happen to Jehovah’s Witnesses after their Supreme Court ba</p></li></ul><h2 dir="ltr">Thank you &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">Thanks to everyone who continues to support us. Find out how you can help <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://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/ksenia-novikova/it-s-deeply-personal-matter-interview-with-vadim-prokhorov-boris-nemtsov-s">“It’s a deeply personal matter”: An interview with Vadim Prokhorov, Boris Nemtsov’s lawyer</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church">Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/behind-russian-mirror">Behind the Russian mirror</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/young-people-in-russia-today-don-t-have-it-easy">“Young people in Russia today don’t have it easy”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">Russia’s prison service is keeping its abuses under lock and key</a> </div> <div class="field-item 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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Fri, 28 Apr 2017 10:42:54 +0000 OVD-Info 110485 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “It’s a deeply personal matter”: An interview with Vadim Prokhorov, Boris Nemtsov’s lawyer https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ksenia-novikova/it-s-deeply-personal-matter-interview-with-vadim-prokhorov-boris-nemtsov-s <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For Vadim Prokhorov, lawyer for murdered Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, finding justice is more than a matter of professionalism. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ksenia-novikova/lichnoe-delo">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02580699.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="350" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>27 February, 2015: Police officers stand guard near the crime scene. (с) Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Two years on from the murder of Boris Nemtsov outside the Kremlin’s wall, I spoke to Nemtsov’s lawyer to find out how the investigation is progressing.</span></p><p><span><strong>You’re the lawyer for Nemtsov’s family. What does that entail, and what is your, and the family’s, role in the trial?</strong></span></p><p dir="ltr">I was Nemtsov’s lawyer from 2001 until his death, and that’s the most important thing for me. I am now working with my colleague Olga Mikhailova, a well-known lawyer who specialises in work for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). We represent the interests of Zhanna Nemtsova, Boris’s daughter who, as is the case with other members of the family, is recognised as an injured party.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is this always the case – that if someone is murdered, their immediate family members are recognised as injured parties?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Nearly always, it’s the usual practice. There are a number of elements involved in representing the interests of injured parties. In some cases, for example, it’s a question of compensation for personal injury. </p><p dir="ltr">But in this case everybody, and Zhanna in particular, said that they didn’t want a penny in compensation from the bastards who murdered Boris. It’s a matter of principle. It’s a personal thing for us, me included. I don’t care if someone thinks it’s unprofessional.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-Boris_Nemtsov_(7174588884)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>10 May, 2012: Boris Nemtsov at a protest meeting at Chistye prudy, Moscow. Image: <a href=https://www.flickr.com/people/43257267@N08?rb=1>Evgeny Isaev</a>. </span></span></span><span>I wasn’t just Nemtsov’s lawyer for 14 years. I think of myself as his friend. Not his only or closest friend, but one of his friends and colleagues. And I’ve never once regretted that. So for me, as for Zhanna, whose interests I represent, it’s a deeply personal matter — we are helping to uncover the truth, so that those who not only perpetrated the crime, but those who aided and abetted them, are found and brought to justice. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Does that mean that you are conducting your own investigation, or are you just cooperating with the Russian investigators regarding the actions they are taking and the documentary evidence they are using?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Our opportunities for carrying out our own investigation are extremely limited. But we are trying to make the most of the ones we have: we forward requests, study documents; at the investigation stage we filed a lot of submissions, mostly about the need to reclassify the crime.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s completely clear that Article 105, Part 2 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which covers “murder committed by a group of persons for gain” (in other words, a contract killing) can be applied here only at a stretch. Killing anyone is wrong in principle. But many countries recognise murder motivated by the victim’s professional and public activity as a separately designated crime.</p><p dir="ltr">Russian law does in fact contain such a definition: Article 277 of the Criminal Code refers to “an attempt on the life of a government or public figure” — and this is the article we have been asking the court to use.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We cannot allow the murders of various kinds of oppositionists to be classified as attempts on the lives of government or public figures”</p><p dir="ltr">Our request has been refused. Why it was refused was explained by the counsel for the prosecution, prosecutor Antipov, during a preliminary court hearing in July 2016. I quote his words as closely as I can — they were, after all, most likely handed down from “the top”: “We cannot allow the murders of various kinds of oppositionists to be classified as attempts on the lives of government or public figures”. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Russian government is not ready to recognise “various kinds of oppositionists” as government or public figures.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But why does the crime need to be reclassified? What difference does it make which article the perpetrators are tried under?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Both crimes do indeed attract a custodial sentence of up to life imprisonment. Article 277, however, prescribes a longer minimum sentence than Article 105.</p><p dir="ltr">But that’s not the point. The main difference is that Article 277 has, in principle, no limitation period, the time allowed after the crime for an action to be brought. With Article 105, things are more complicated, and, without going into details, there could be a limitation period set in some cases. And, of course things need to be spelled out. If someone is killed for their political activity, you can’t treat the case as though it were an everyday murder. And Nemtsov was murdered, of course, for his political activity, what else? </p><p><span><strong>Are there still petitions that have not been responded to?</strong></span></p><p><span>As early as 22 April 2015, when the investigation was being led by Igor Krasnov, an experienced and sharp investigator who is now the deputy head of </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investigative_Committee_of_Russia">Russia’s Investigative Committee</a><span>, we made a request for the investigation and questioning of numerous senior officials, most of them, at that point, from Chechnya.</span></p><p dir="ltr">We began with Ruslan Geremeyev, a battalion commander in the “Sever” [North] regiment where Zaur Dadayev, one of those accused of Nemtsov’s murder, served, and Ruslan’s uncle Suleiman Geremeyev, a Chechen representative in Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. Then two of Ruslan’s cousins, the Delimkhanov brothers – Adam, Ramzan Kadyrov’s right hand man and official successor, and Alibek, CIC of the “Sever” regiment.</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/RIAN_02970560.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zaur Dadaev, Anzor and Shadid Gubashev, Temirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhaev in court. (с) Mikhail Voskresensky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>But now I realise that we should have paid attention to a third brother, Sharip Delimkhanov, one of whose underlings was Beslan Shavanov, a friend and colleague of Zaur Dadayev and another defendant in the trial. They were professional fighters and friends. Shavanov was killed at the beginning of March 2015. The official story is that he was </span><a href="http://www.interfax.ru/russia/428559">blown up by a hand grenade during his arrest in Grozny</a><span>.</span></p><p dir="ltr">During the court proceedings we did, however, manage to put Alibek Delimkhanov on the stand, although it then turned out that he suffered from severe amnesia and couldn’t remember anything that had taken place in the regiment two years earlier. He did nonetheless manage to remember Dadayev (“Yeah, he was there”) — and confirmed that he was related to Geremeyev, which we knew already, and he told the court that his unit of the “Sever” regiment were involved in Beslan Shavanov’s arrest.</p><p dir="ltr">I am in no doubt that Shavanov’s death was no accident, and that a decision had been taken not to hand over anyone from Chechnya connected to the case. Look at the guys who are in the dock now: the Gubashev brothers, Anzor and Shadid, who were arrested in Ingushetia, as was Zaur Dadayev; another defendant, Temirlan Eskerkhanov, was picked up at a Moscow flat supposedly belonging to Artur Geremeyev, but in fact to Ruslan, his uncle; and Khamzat Bakhayev was arrested somewhere in the Moscow region. I think all this tells you a lot.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/14485172_10209764564728357_2895296168912017361_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="367" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vadim Prokhorov at the <a href=http://nemtsovfund.org/en/>Boris Nemtsov Forum</a>, October 2016. Source: <a href=https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10209764564728357&set=t.1540539518&type=3&theater>Facebook</a>.</span></span></span><span>So, my colleague Olga Mikhailova and I requested the investigation and questioning of Ruslan and Suleiman Geremeyev, Adam and Alibek Delimkhanov, and Ramzan Kadyrov. After all, according to some sources, people were coming up to Adam Delimkhanov in the Duma soon after Nemtsov’s killing, shaking his hand and congratulating him on a successful operation — at least one parliamentary deputy told me this. I don’t, however, think that Adam instigated the assassination, though I’m sure he was one of the organisers.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Because the concepts “right hand” and “instigator” don't really match up? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Exactly, although the question of who was ultimately responsible is still open. There are a number of possibilities.</p><p dir="ltr">Take another look at the lower echelon fixers: during the court proceedings, it became very clear that — and I quote a key witness, Zarina Isoyeva, who worked as a maid or cleaner for the gang in Moscow — Ruslan Geremeyev was “the lad in charge”. Not Ruslan Mukhudinov, Geremeyev’s driver and foot soldier (not to say errand boy), whom the prosecution is trying to nail as the main man, and who supposedly hired Dadayev and the others for 15 million roubles [£208,000].</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So where is Geremeyev? Is there a search warrant out for him?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Not officially. According to my sources, there’s a tick next to his name, so he should have been detained when he came to the police’s attention, at least in Moscow, but there’s no official search warrant. And that is maddening and outrageous.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In other words, Geremeyev can happily live, free and easy, in Chechnya?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Nobody is denying that he travels freely around Chechnya. Perhaps he avoids appearing on TV, which he doesn’t need anyway, but he lives pretty peacefully.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>And Mukhudinov, is he still alive?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">No one knows. Mukhudinov isn’t part of an influential circle and no one is very interested in what happens to him, but it’s unlikely anyone would bother to get rid of him. We, of course, are interested in his whereabouts, we believe he is also complicit in the murder, but only as a very low-level organiser. &nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What has happened about all the petitions you made for these people to be summoned by the court?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Igor Krasnov, with all due respect to him, granted our request only for Ruslan Geremeyev to be questioned — and we have no idea of his whereabouts. The court documents include a snarky answer from either a local police officer or a member of the Chechen Investigative Committee, saying that he came to Geremeyev’s house, knocked on the gate, no one opened and he left.</p><p dir="ltr">After several months, as we collected information from both official and unofficial sources, we requested that Kadyrov’s closest “protector” and friend in Moscow be brought in for questioning. The man I’m referring to is Viktor Zolotov, the head of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Guard_of_Russia">National Guard of Russia</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-March_in_memory_of_Boris_Nemtsov_in_Moscow_-_20_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="256" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"I love Russia" reads a placard at a demonstration on the first anniversary of the murder of Nemtsov. Source: Klausvienresh / Wikipedia.</span></span></span><span>As I understand it, if Putin is ever displeased with one of Kadyrov’s exploits, Zolotov will always stand up for him before the president. He’s an interesting character: he stood beside Boris Yeltsin on the famous tank in 1991, with his then boss Korzhakov beside him: Korzhakov actually couldn’t stand Zolotov and would call him a scoundrel in public, although these days he avoids saying that anymore. Zolotov then became Moscow mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s chief bodyguard, and between 2000 and 2013 he headed Vladimir Putin’s personal guard and was simultaneously deputy head of Russia’s Federal Protective Service (</span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Protective_Service_(Russia)">FSO</a><span>). &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">As I understand it, Zolotov is still ensconced at the FSO, as well as the National Guard. And in my opinion, the National Guard itself is turning into a fully fledged intelligence agency that is able to carry out certain security operations — dealing with oppositionists, for example.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, our request for Zolotov to be questioned was also turned down, although formal grounds exist for investigating him as he is the head of the National Guard, in which Dadayev served. So he may not be Dadayev and Geremeyev’s immediate superior officer, but he is their commander. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did Krasnov explain these refusals to cooperate?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We never had any sensible explanation. The investigating officer is supposedly an independent &nbsp;operator… A week after our requests for the Geremeyevs, the Delimkhanovs and Kadyrov to be questioned, General Krasnov was removed from the case, in Byzantine style — kicked upstairs to be deputy Investigative Committee chief. It’s wasn’t that Krasnov was a dissident or a strong liberal sympathiser (heaven forbid), but he liked to get the bit between his teeth, and so stood out among his mediocre Committee colleagues.</p><p dir="ltr">Krasnov was replaced by Nikolay Tutevich. I’ve nothing against the man: he seems like an interesting, distinguished person, who was awarded a “For Bravery” medal for his service in Afghanistan (a proper military decoration not given to armchair generals). But his administrative weight and capabilities are not in the same class as Krasnov’s. But even Tutevich twice, in July and September 2015, prepared indictments against both Ruslan Geremeyev and Ruslan Mukhudinov. He was not formally obliged to agree this with Aleksandr Bastyrkin, the Investigative Committee’s head, but it was the done thing, and both times Bastyrkin turned him down.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I want to stress that we, as Zhanna Nemtsova’s lawyers, are not only, and not even so much interested in who is in the dock, as who ordered and organised the crime&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr">It was only on 30 October 2015 that Tutevich, who finally seemed to have gotten the hint, filed a charge in absentia against Mukhudinov alone (although it did read: “and other unknown persons”), which Bastyrkin approved. In other words, the links in the chain leading upwards were cut off at this stage.</p><p><span>I want to stress that we, as Zhanna Nemtsova’s lawyers, are not only, and not even so much interested in who is in the dock (although it’s essential, of course, to unravel the roles and degrees of guilt of all concerned), as who ordered and organised the crime and who has otherwise remained outside the frame. It’s totally obvious that the next link in the chain has to be Ruslan Geremeyev at the very minimum, and the court investigation has confirmed this. But it really needs to lead at least as far as Ramzan Kadyrov. Above that… is a different matter. &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do you rate the investigative team? Are they doing all they can, within the bounds imposed upon them, or are they involved in covering the traces?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We are not satisfied with the investigation, and I certainly don’t want to give them an easy ride. I don’t want to pre-empt the jury’s decision, but I believe that at least some of the accused were directly involved in the killing. The prosecution counsels in court (public prosecutor Maria Semenenko and others) are concentrating on these men.</p><p dir="ltr">Whereas we, not the prosecution, are asking all the questions about the organisers — the Geremeyevs and Delimkhanovs. We insisted on calling Alibek Delimkhanov, and it was perfectly clear that he was lying when he suddenly lost his memory. So yes, those above have ordered to cut the links leading to at least Kadyrov, and possibly higher.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>It doesn’t take much to build conspiracy theories around the actual murder, but there is certainly some scope for the imagination: the details of Nemtsov’s shooting are still unclear. The weapon, for example, has never been found; a snowplough very conveniently masked the scene of the crime and there is no CCTV footage from the Federal Protective Service. How significant are these gaps?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There are gaps, but they are not the ones the conspiracy theorists dwell on. There is ballistic evidence; there is forensic evidence. I agree that the snowplough is suspicious, but I hope we’ll be able to examine the driver in court (he has already been questioned during the investigation). If anyone thinks he was an accessory to the crime, let them prove it.</p><p dir="ltr">The conspiracy theorists also claim that nearby traffic was stopped at the moment of the crime. This is rubbish: it wasn’t busy at that time on a Friday evening, but it was flowing the whole time. This is clearly visible on at least two lots of footage shown in court, shot from different angles at the time of the killing.</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/RIAN_02622589.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>FSO officers stand guard near the Kremlin. (с) Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Of course, it’s a pity the weapon was never found, and I can’t believe there is no CCTV footage of the shooting. I think they are being kept out of the picture deliberately: Nemstov was obviously being tailed — not because his murder was being plotted, but because a mass protest was planned two days after. The court documents, of course, provide no trace of the surveillance and cannot do so, and no current government figure can ever confirm its presence. But I believe that the footage exists and can tell us who was tailing him.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do you think that Evgeny Molodykh, the first witness on the scene, might have been the person tailing Nemtsov?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I don’t think so. I think the tail was following a bit further behind. This witness hasn’t yet been called to testify in court, but I hope he will be. I’ve heard he is part of some rock scene, tattooed from head to toe, and, in general, looks nothing like a spook. Of course, the conspiracy theorists will tell you that that’s precisely how a spy or an undercover cop ought to dress, like a heavy rocker immersed in his headphones. But that’s conspiracy theorists for you – they can turn anything into proof of a plot. If a crow flies overhead, it’s definitely a drone in disguise.</p><p dir="ltr">There are still lots of questions, but not usually the ones being asked by amateur sleuths.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>So where do we look for answers?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The people who killed Nemtsov knew his home address — unlikely to be found just like that on the internet — and the address of his country house, which even his friends didn’t really know. So they were looking out for him. During the investigation we also got information that Jabrayil, one of the guys who hung out at the flats on Veyernaya Street [where the men accused lived prior to arrest], worked not even for the cops, but for the FSB or FSO.</p><p dir="ltr">The criminals obviously had their own channels of information, and equally obviously, the security services are now busy covering up the crime on the orders of the people at the top. Finally, bullets don’t fly on their own. The scenario they developed — a sudden, sharp and provocative murder, a few bullets in the back and a swift getaway — is a trademark style of people from Chechnya.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">The question isn’t whether the security services were involved, but what role they played — and which security services they were</span></p><p dir="ltr">The conspiracy theorists, of course, try to deny that this was the MO, insisting that Nemtsov was shot in the stomach, and adding, as though they were discovering America: “The security services were involved here!” Of course the security services were involved.</p><p dir="ltr">The case is being dealt with in Moscow’s district military court, rather than the city court system, precisely because at least one of the accused, Zaur Dadayev, worked in the security agencies and at the time of Nemtsov’s murder was a serving officer in the National Guard . As was Ruslan Geremeyev, who is unfortunately still missing from the dock. And General Viktor Zolotov, the head of this high-profile special service, is a close friend of Ramzan Kadyrov.</p><p dir="ltr">The question isn’t whether the security services were involved, but what role they played — and which security services they were.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The answer to that probably depends on the question of why Nemtsov was killed.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The wheels of this tragedy may have been set in motion in the spring of 2014, when Nemtsov, on a visit to Kyiv, answered a question from a girl with the words: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1mxmDYz6Kg">“Vladimir Putin is really fucked up”</a>, and she had nothing better to do than to post this answer on the internet, and the people in power in one republic, and in fact all over the country, and their close associates with criminal mindsets, decided that this remark required an equally strong response.</p><p dir="ltr">Evgenia Albats, editor-in-chief of the New Times, wrote a very interesting study of the story that was published in the summer of 2015 under the heading<a href="https://newtimes.ru/stati/temyi/0929e71836f5a363d494124e6b466770-fugyra-rechu.html"> “A Figure of Speech”</a> [link to Russian language site]. Albats wrote (partly on the basis of documents that I gave her) that one woman from Kadyrov’s outer circle submitted a motion to the courts, asking for Nemtsov to be criminally prosecuted &nbsp;his words.</p><p dir="ltr">The thing took off: the submission was passed to the authorities on the Yaroslavl region, where Nemtsov was a member of the regional parliament, and from there the Investigative Committee sent the documents to the magistrates’ court in his official place of residence, for a formal indictment, but where a magistrate had the good sense to reject it on the grounds that it should have been forwarded from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and not the Investigative Committee. And by the late summer of 2014 it was clear that Nemtsov was, as criminal slang has it, “off the hook”. A formal indictment might have cooled things down. But what’s clear is that, even according to official sources, planning for the murder began in September 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">In May 2014, Nemtsov had also sent an official inquiry to Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of the FSB, about video footage that had appeared on the internet: what were truckfuls of heavily armed men, obviously from the Caucasus, and calling themselves Kadyrovists, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZPueAN99kI">doing in the Donbas</a>? He received no response. In the course of 2014, Nemtsov published numerous posts on social media about the lawless situation in Chechnya, Kadyrov’s troops <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwZ1yWkhh_s">marching around football stadiums</a> and so on.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">The governments of OSCE &nbsp;and PACE countries should all be interested in an effective investigation. Putin has no answer to the question of how the combined forces of Russia’s special services have been unable to uncover the truth</span></p><p><span>Another important factor needs to be taken into account: the entire Russian elite was furious about the</span><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20626960"> Magnitsky Act</a><span>, passed in 2012 and intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian lawyer</span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Magnitsky"> Sergei Magnitsky</a><span> in a Moscow prison in 2009, by refusing them travel visas. As far as I know, there were three people in particular who lobbied for the act: Bill Browder, an American living mainly in London (Magnitsky worked for him as a lawyer), Boris Nemtsov and Nemtsov’s friend and associate</span><a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/russian-dissident-vladimir-kara-murza-poisoned-twice-democracy-campaigner-vladimir-putin-a7637421.html"> Vladimir Kara-Murza</a><span>.</span></p><p dir="ltr">In Browder’s case, the limit of murders in London seems to have been reached, for the time being, after<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/alexander-litvinenko"> the Aleksandr Litvinenko case</a>. But Nemtsov was assassinated, and Kara-Murza found himself in a coma and on life support twice in 18 months after being poisoned with an unknown substance.</p><p><span>So there were several reasons for Nemtsov’s death, but the trigger seems to have been his comment about “fucked up” Vladimir Putin.</span></p><p dir="ltr">I think that if Nemtsov had been driven home that night, further events might have turned out differently. But everything happened on the Kremlin’s doorstep, which I’m sure wasn’t in the government’s plan and probably explains why at least one of the perpetrators was hunted down. Unlike the conspiracy theorists, I don’t believe that they planned to kill Boris outside the Kremlin from the start. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, on 7 March 2015, Bortnikov announced that men accused of carrying out the murder had been arrested, and even hurriedly named some names. I believe this was done deliberately, prior to the selection of preventative measures against the suspect. This was to ensure Kadyrov and his people couldn’t use their channels to get to Putin and turn the tables where the accused were concerned, given that these guys at the bottom of the ladder were already behind bars.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The trial is in progress now. How long do you think it will last, and what will happen then?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I think it will go on for at least another one and a half or two months. There is also the separate case against Mukhudinov “and other unknown persons”, which assumes that there were several people organising the killing (I’m in total agreement on this last point). This case has been separated from the main trial, but there has been no progress on it, which is not good. It is, after all, more important to go for the organisers and instigators. So we’ve started thinking about what else we can do.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Well, yes — the court is hardly likely to subpoena Kadyrov to appear.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">And even if it does, he’ll have lost his memory, just like Alibek Delimkhanov. It’s so obvious that what is lacking is political will on the part of Russia’s leaders (which is now focussed on keeping a lid on the whole affair). We are, however, still going through all the legal routine — requests, complaints and so on, and will continue to do so.</p><p dir="ltr">But we also think it’s vitally important to put international pressure on the Russian authorities. Given their total control over the media, they can bullshit the Russian public by showing off the few guys who are now in the dock. But even from an official standpoint, the crime has not been solved and its organisers and instigators not found. Neither has any motive been discovered. Evidently they had been promised a load of cash – 15 million roubles (£208,000). I can well believe that, but does whoever promised it have 15 million roubles to spare? What’s his motive? For us, it’s obvious – the end of Boris Nemtsov’s political and public activity. And this is why we have started trying to find ways of monitoring the investigation at an international level.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How? &nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr">It’s understandable that no country, be it totalitarian, authoritarian or democratic, welcomes outside interference in its criminal justice system.</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, however, if a country’s rulers are incapable of, or have no interest in, investigating the assassination of an opposition leader for obviously political reasons, this can’t be regarded as a purely internal issue. It’s a question of human rights, which since the signing of the Helsinki Agreement in 1975 are no longer a sovereign internal matter, so we need to get international legal instruments involved. It’s also a matter of European and international security. Numerous enemies of Ramzan Kadyrov (and the Putin regime in general) have been assassinated, and not just in Qatar, the Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries, which is bad enough, but also in the centre of Europe, including Vienna and London.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I’m not playing the hero, but this has become a deeply personal matter for me. If it was someone I didn’t know, I might have thought twice about it</span></p><p dir="ltr">So the governments of OSCE &nbsp;and PACE countries should all be interested in an effective investigation. Putin has no answer to the question of how the combined forces of Russia’s special services have been unable to uncover the truth two years after the crime. We need to put him on the spot, make him find excuses; push him into naming someone at least. </p><p><span>I am absolutely sure that sooner or later the chain will be untangled: a crime like this can’t be just swept under the carpet for ever. The only question is when. &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do these international legal instruments exist? &nbsp; &nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes. At the end of January 2016 Kersten Lundgren, a highly respected member of the Swedish parliament who represents the<a href="http://alde.eu/en/"> Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe</a>, to which Nemtsov’s Parnas grouping belonged, launched an initiative that was supported by 60 PACE parliamentary deputies from various countries and factions on both the right and left and all positions in between. They signed the draft initiative of a report on the investigation into Nemtsov’s death under the umbrella of PACE.</p><p dir="ltr">This is a very serious matter that usually takes a long time, between a year and a year and a half. The draft was shelved in the office of PACE’s Spanish president Pedro Agramunt, who loves visiting Russia and took part in the<a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://www.blackseawine.ru/&amp;prev=search"> Black Sea Winemaking Forum</a> here a few months ago (and this forum’s main aim, as far as I can tell, is to support Russia’s position over the annexation of Crimea). Agramunt <a href="https://www.unian.info/world/1890981-pace-president-explains-his-visit-to-syria-with-russian-duma-delegation.html">has also met Assad</a>, and is generally an interesting character. But finally, on 10 March 2017, PACE’s office decided to launch the process of producing its report on the investigation of Boris Nemtsov’s assassination.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30992115546_b1c455e37a_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>November 2016: Nemtsov Forum in the European Parliament. CC BY-ND 2.0 ALDE Communications / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>This was triggered by the efforts of members of various parliaments, including Kersten Lundgren and Emanuelis Zingeris, a long term member of the Lithuanian parliament who was one of the signatories of his country’s Declaration of Independence in 1991 and a close friend of Nemtsov (he went out of his way to push for the report), and of Zhanna, who also put a lot of effort into it, even though she is not a PACE deputy.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is this a big step forwards?</strong></p><p><span>I think it is. And the further we go, the better our government will understand what a serious matter it is. They need to understand that they have no alternative; that they have to put their minds to establishing who ordered and organised the killing. We could, of course, say, “we’ll do it when Putin goes”, but we don’t know how long that will be. That &nbsp;might be another 30 years…</span></p><p dir="ltr">The conspiracy theorists have their own approach: “We can’t establish anything officially, so let’s just lay out the problem — that everything’s bad”. But although I recognise that we can’t know the complete story now, let’s find out what we can, and at least increase the chance of some progress in identifying the organisers, and perhaps even the instigators. The investigation is seriously flawed, but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are you personally safe in this situation? &nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Of course not. But I try not to think about it too much. I think the villains behind Boris Nemtsov’s assassination have gone as far as they can at the moment. We’ll wait and see what they’ll do next.</p><p dir="ltr">And in general, people who are involved in a real political fight know full well that it’s much more dangerous to challenge Ramzan Kadyrov or Viktor Zolotov in public than, say, Vladimir Putin.</p><p dir="ltr">I’ve never heard about anybody who criticised Putin in public apologising and taking back what they said – thank heavens! But people apologise to Kadyrov like their lives depended on it – and with good reason.</p><p dir="ltr">I’m not playing the hero, but this has become a deeply personal matter for me. If it was someone I didn’t know, I might have thought twice about it. But not in this case. If some people think we’re not doing things right, let them tell us how to do better. But there are certain objective factors that tell us that the approach we, and to some extent the investigation team, have taken — to look at the chain of command from the bottom upwards — is the right one. Unfortunately, the investigators stopped and dug themselves in at a certain point, but we think we need to dig deeper and will do so.</p><p dir="ltr">For the moment we’ve had no direct threats from either the Chechens or the Russian government. Admittedly, neither did Nemtsov; he was more afraid of being arrested. The situation in general is uneasy, not to say choppy. They are clearly winding up the pressure, and it has got worse over the last few weeks. Maybe it’s a fight between the various Kremlin Towers (or the security services around them), or maybe it’s something else. We can only wait and see.</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/mumin-shakirov/who-was-mister-putin-interview-with-boris-nemtsov">Who was Mister Putin? An Interview with Boris Nemtsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sean-guillory/who-killed-boris-nemtsov">Who killed Boris Nemtsov?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexandr-litoy/boris-nemtsov-murder-in-atmosphere-of-hate">Boris Nemtsov: murder in an atmosphere of hate</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mumin-shakirov/drowning-everyone-but-terrorists-interview-with-boris-nemtsov">Drowning everyone but the terrorists: an interview with Boris Nemtsov</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ksenia Novikova Russia Thu, 27 Apr 2017 08:31:54 +0000 Ksenia Novikova 110456 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Our city, our space: Ekaterinburg residents come out against plans to construct a new church https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/our-city-our-space-ekaterinburg-residents-come-out-against-plans-to-construct-new-church <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">In Ekaterinburg, city residents are speaking out against proposals to construct a new church in the centre of the city — proposals entirely out of sync with their interests. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/khram-na-vode">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Fuck_the_temple_028_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>8 April: More and more local residents are taking part in the campaign to defend Ekaterinburg's city pond. (c) Nikolai Lebedev. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>One and a half thousand people, all arm in arm, line the edge of Ekaterinburg’s city pond. At a recent flashmob called “Embrace the pond”, city residents came out against plans to build a new church dedicated to St Ekaterina directly in the pond’s waters. The flashmob’s organisers did not initially frame it as a political event akin to the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">anti-corruption protests held on 26 March</a> in cities across Russia, including Ekaterinburg. Rather, the event was more like a festival: it was all kids, smiles and mutual applause. And if a mere 200 protesters turned up to the first such event in February, the 1500-strong crowd that materialised on 8 April is, by Russian standards at least, a pretty solid turnout.</p><p dir="ltr">This isn’t the first time Ekaterinburg has had to resist attempts to develop city space without consulting residents’ opinions. Seven years ago, for example, a rally of 5,000 people helped to thwart plans — mooted by the Russian Orthodox Church and former governor Alexander Misharin — to rebuild St Ekaterina’s Cathedral, which had been blown up in the 1930s, on Labour Square, a stone’s throw from the pond. This protest in 2010 united both the public and an urban elite traditionally hostile to the regional authorities, and the project was curtailed. Two years later, Misharin himself was removed from his post and replaced by Evgeny Kuivashev, a Putin appointment.</p><p dir="ltr">The current situation, however, has proved more problematic. Active citizens are waging a lonely battle against an alliance of regional oligarchs, authorities and church officials. The city administration, having lost its town-planning powers last year, cannot impede the implementation of the church’s plan in any way. So it’s local residents alone who must shoulder the responsibility of protecting the only open space in the centre of Ekaterinburg, and the sole component of the urban fabric (along with the city dam) to have survived since the city was founded in 1723. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>Holy gifts</h2><p dir="ltr">The plan to construct a church in the city pond’s waters — and one executed in an old-Russian style far from common in the city — was announced on the popular online portal e1.ru. The initial plans were announced in February 2016, and a detailed overview of the project, complete with diagrammatic drawings and videos, was published in late March 2016.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9(2) (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A mock-up of the new St Ekaterina Church. Source: е1.ru.</span></span></span>The Ekaterinburg public, inured to the fact that the media landscape is constantly awash with all sorts of loopy ideas, didn’t treat the news as seriously as it should have done. According to Dmitry Moskvin, a political scientist and organiser of the “Embrace the Pond” campaign, the “influence of these bogus stories is such that most people have steered clear of this issue as if it were just a tall tale.”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The final version of the plans, presented in mid-October 2016 and featuring mock-ups by Mikhail Goloborodsky, an architect and a professor of the Ural State Architectural Academy, was soon approved by governor Kuivashev’s town-planning council. And, though there are no official documents published beyond this recommendation, opponents of the project are in no doubt that the plans will easily negotiate any bureaucratic hurdle, before being signed off by the governor. Why? Because it’s obviously being pushed through from above.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">The plan to build a church on an artificial island in the city centre’s only body of water has the air of a bad joke</p><p dir="ltr">In contrast to 2010, this new project is being spearheaded not by the Orthodox Church or the governor, but big business — oligarchs Igor Altushkin (owner of Russian Copper Company) and Andrei Kozitsyn (head of the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company). Altushkin and Kozitsyn have form when it comes to church construction. In the mid-2000s, the two businessmen rebuilt the city’s Great Zlatoust Church, destroyed in the 1930s. But while the logic of that gesture was more or less understandable — even if the reconstruction of the church may not have been strictly necessary — the plan to build a new church on an artificial island in the city centre’s only body of water has the air of a bad joke. A joke, however, that proved much to the liking of governor Kuivashev.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/znakcom-1103945-666x444.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'>November 2016: Igor Altushkin, head of Russian Copper Company, and Evgeny Kuivashev, governor of Sverdlovsk oblast. Source: <a href=https://www.znak.com/2016-11-18/kuyvashev_i_altushkin_smotreli_boi_v_divse_v_kompanii_televeduchego_soloveva>Vladislav Lonshakov / Znak</a>. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>So what’s going on, exactly? Several hypotheses exist, each with its own supporters. One of the most rational revolves around the entrepreneurial ambitions of Igor Altushkin. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Dmitry Moskvin, “Altushkin’s companies are all based in neighbouring Chelyabinsk oblast, so it’s odd that he’d be pushing the church project here. But he’s run into major problems vis-à-vis the <a href="http://m.activatica.org/blogs/view/id/3339/title/v-chelyabinske-idjot-mnogochislennyy-miting-protiv-tominskogo-goka">construction of a mining and refining facility</a> that could inflict immense damage on the environment. Everyone’s been up in arms for a long time in Chelyabinsk, and he needs to push the construction through from above. The Patriarch [Kirill] is the only source of top-down leverage available to Altkushin. The church would thus be a gift to the Patriarch, who’d then have words with all the right lobbyists in Moscow.”</p><p dir="ltr">This, Moskvin believes, is the only rational hypothesis as things currently stand. Although it doesn’t fully explain why the construction of the church should be a sine qua non for the governor.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">The city administration cannot impede the implementation of the plan in any way</p><p dir="ltr">Another hypothesis, according to Moskvin, is that “Kozitsyn and Altushkin are the principal bankrollers of Kuivashev’s election campaign, who is extremely unpopular, and that the church represents a gift of sorts from the latter. But it’s a strange gift to give in return for financial backing. A more typical gift would be an enterprise or even a single-industry town, yet here you’ve just got a church and a whole load of problems to boot.” With less than six months until Russia’s direct gubernatorial elections, scheduled for 10 September (the first such elections to be held in Sverdlovsk oblast in 14 years), the media are in no doubt that Kuivashev will run, even though the exact lineup of candidates is still unknown.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Ekaterinburg’s mayor Evgeny Roizman, who recently announced his own candidacy for regional governor, skated around the issue of the church when I talked to him. “It’s a cool project, but you’ve got to engage with people,” Roizman said, evasively. Roizman is convinced that there’s no political undercurrent to the two businessmen’s aims. In his opinion, the project was catalysed by “a heartfelt desire on the part of Altushkin, who was supported by Andrei Kozitsin” and is more likely motivated by Altushkin’s sincere faith in God than his business interests.</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/Fuck_the_temple_034 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>8 April: protesters ironicise over divine influence in this city-planning conflict. (c) Nikolai Lebedev. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This situation is also exacerbated by the impotence of the city administration. Last year saw the city and region authorities, which have been at loggerheads since the 1990s, come to a truce. This truce is connected to the move of Vladimir Tungusov, the city’s former vice-mayor, to become the governor’s chief of staff. In 2016, the city administration was also relieved of its town-planning powers, meaning that the final decision regarding the construction of the church lies with governor Kuivashev alone. </p><p dir="ltr">This, however, may potentially leave the governor in something of a quandary. According to Roizman, “everything is coming together in such a way that the church will be perceived as the governor’s project. The governor has found himself in a very difficult situation: he’s made certain promises and is committed to certain arrangements. "&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“If the church is built, that’ll end UNESCO’s interest in the site for good”</p><p dir="ltr">Although the local Orthodox Church didn’t instigate the project, it would be strange if it turned down a gift as magnificent as a church in the very heart of the city. But for the time being, Moskvin remarks, the church is keeping quiet and “refraining from any public prayers, as were used in 2010, or internal PR campaigns. This is evidenced by our interactions with Orthodox activists, some of whom are opposed to a project, which, they believe, is sowing discord and sullying the cause of the Orthodox Church.”</p><p>That there’s no Orthodox consensus on this issue is clear from the fact that the “Embrace the Pond" campaign has attracted more than a few former seminarians — to say nothing of ordinary believers. The church, in the opinion of both Moskvin and Roizman, has a secondary role to play in these events: it was simply presented with a fait accompli regarding the construction project.&nbsp;</p><h2>Pond Protection Committee</h2><p dir="ltr">An group campaigning against the church was formed in December 2016. Some 40 people — predominantly architects, designers, sociologists and philosophers — attended a roundtable discussion organised by the local branch of the Centre for Applied Urban Studies, an independent national network of urban experts and campaigners, resulting in the creation of the City Pond Committee. Committee members took care to stress at the outset that they were not opposed to a new church per se, nor, by extension, to the Church as an institution, but to the construction of anything directly in the pond’s waters.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The arguments raised by the committee and its supporters can be broadly divided into two categories — urbanistic and political. As regards the former, the committee has emphasised that the pond is the city’s most important symbol.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“This city is something to be treasured, but, as far as the oligarchs are concerned, it’s an asset or source of income.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The pond and the dam,” notes Moskvin, are the only infrastructural elements “to have survived since the city was first built. In our eyes, this is a whole complex — it has to be safeguarded, and it stands a chance of securing UNESCO protection. Construction of a 66-metre-high church in the water would effectively mean killing the pond, turning it into a puddle.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/8557933882_f91e63343f_z_2.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'>Ekaterinburg's Chekist Town, part of the city's constructivist heritage. СС BY-2.0 Anton Novoselov. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Furthermore, Ekaterinburg is one of the global centres of constructivism, and erecting a church on the proposed site would outright destroy the constructivist Dynamo stadium complex, the only one of the city’s constructivist monuments that might attract UNESCO’s interest. As a potential UNESCO site, the Dynamo complex would have to be protected by the state in accordance with international requirements, but “if the church is built nearby, that would end UNESCO’s interest for good,” Moskvin points out.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Equally weighty is the political argument, which holds that the church has been imposed on local residents from above without taking their opinions into account.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Roizman, this is the primary cause of residents’ disgruntlement. “Someone’s gone and decided something and hasn’t bothered to get anyone’s views of the matter,” he tells me. “The people have said: if you, the oligarchs, got together and came up with this whole thing all by yourselves, then what’s our place in our own city? It’s the done thing in Ekaterinburg to talk to people. If the public fails to come out in support of something, that’s got to be taken into account.” Roizman sees himself as a kind of civic intermediary between the public and the developers, emphasising that the project itself is “cool”, but noting that he has “never said that the proposed site is a particularly successful one.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/2539_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="337" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Construction of the Dynamo Sports Complex, on the edge of Ekaterinburg's city pond, began in 1929. Source: <a href=http://mugiso.midural.ru/region/okn/estateekt.php?ELEMENT_ID=592>Ministry of Administration of State Property, Sverdlovsk Oblast</a>.</span></span></span>Meanwhile, it’s clear that no dialogue is forthcoming from the developers as a matter of principle. They just limit themselves to slogans claiming church will be a gift to the city — and a draw for tourists to boot. “I’m always asking them to provide me with charts and tables demonstrating how tourist numbers will change, and how much money it’ll earn the city, but no such documents exist,” Moskvin tells me.&nbsp;</p><h2>God on earth</h2><p dir="ltr">So far, the church’s most zealous champion has proven to be architect Mikhail Goloborodsky, who provided the mock-ups for the project — and this is despite his having previously mingled with the project’s opponents on Labour Square.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Goloborodsky, the choice of site is motivated by the fact that the city’s main cathedral, “testifying as it does to God’s real presence on this earth, ought to be sited in an open space in the centre of the city, and that it must be maximally visible as well.” Although Orthodox churches in Russia have historically been constructed on raised ground, Goloborodsky believes that Ekaterinburg’s bowl-shaped terrain renders it an exception to that rule: “All the views here are from the top down. Which makes the pond the only good site,” he stresses in conversation with me.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Fuck_the_temple_021_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>8 April: 1,500 people come together to defend the city pond. (c) Nikolai Lebedev. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>For Goloborodsky, the absence of a church dedicated to St Yekaterina in Ekaterinburg is a paradox that needs to be corrected. Furthermore, the city lacks a main cathedral church, while the existing cathedral is too small. &nbsp;“When services are taken by the bishop,” he says, “a lot of people attend.” Indeed, “a lot of people” is nothing if not an example of vague wording.</p><p dir="ltr">According to police statistics, Palm Sunday, the day following the flashmob, saw an oblast-wide church attendance of no more than 30,000 people, and the population of Ekaterinburg alone is almost 1.5 million, with active churchgoers accounting for a mere 2-3% of its population. Protesting believers have drawn attention to precisely this fact. Church attendance in the centre of town is too low to warrant a new church, whereas some densely populated residential areas boast no churches whatsoever.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Active churchgoers account for a mere 2-3% of the city’s population</p><p dir="ltr">Goloborodsky denies the claim that the 66-metre-high church would tarnish the historical appearance of the pond and that of the Dynamo Stadium spit. The latter, he insists, has “already been hemmed in by skyscrapers,” so much so that it’s “now a dwarf you can scarcely see.” And the architect brushes aside concerns that the vista of the pond would be ruined, declaring that the church would only “occupy an inconsequential sliver of backwater,” and that the height of the cathedral should be measured from the upper cornice of the main structure, in which case, he says, it would come to 22 metres. Goloborodsky fails to specify how exactly the additional 40-odd metres would vanish from the view. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When confronted with the assertion that the project has been instigated from the top down without even the semblance of ongoing dialogue with ordinary residents, Goloborodsky parries with a quote from the Gospel: “Many are called, but few are chosen. The city is constantly changing. Churches are allegedly being imposed on the populace, but no one comes out to protest against office developments.”</p><p dir="ltr">In his opinion, the real cause of local people’s indignation is not so much the choice of site for the cathedral as their desire “that it not be built at all.” But, though anti-clerical motives on the part of certain protestors cannot be ruled out, their primary objective would nonetheless appear to be the preservation of the pond’s historical appearance.</p><h2>“Something to be treasured”</h2><p dir="ltr">The disputes over the church are demonstrative of two incompatible approaches to history and historical memory.</p><p dir="ltr">The proposed external appearance of the church has raised a great many questions: like the Church of the Saviour on Blood in St Petersburg, it is to be executed in a pseudo-Russian style that apes the ornamentation of St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square. According to Roizman, it “will be the third cathedral of this kind, and the challenge facing those who’ve concocted this idea is to demonstrate that Ekaterinburg is the country’s third capital.”</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/9TSGgOw8yrk" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>Ekaterinburg's eparchy call the new church "the best present to mark the city's 300th anniversary for residents".Source: e1.ru.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Goloborodsky, for his part, goes so far as to argue that, despite the fact that Ekaterinburg was founded under Peter the Great in 1723, the church oughtn’t to be constructed in the Petrine style. “The church’s relationship with Peter,” he stresses, “were complicated. Peter abolished the position of patriarch and subordinated the church to a secularly administered synod. He humiliated the church, therefore there can be no reference to the Petrine era in this new church’s architecture.” It was the seventeenth century, according to Goloborodsky, that witnessed the “crystallisation of Russia’s national self-identity,” with its architecture “evincing the joyful character of the era that saw the Romanov dynasty accede to the throne.”</p><p dir="ltr">The proposed church, with its architectural allusions to the pre-Petrine period, would thus be used to propagate an artificially enforced myth of the nation, while the real history of the city — its industrial past, its role in the development of Soviet constructivism — would be destroyed.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Until recently, Ekaterinburg’s constructivist legacy was scarcely even perceived <em>as a legacy </em>in the popular consciousness</p><p dir="ltr">Until recently, Ekaterinburg’s constructivist legacy was scarcely even perceived<em> as a legacy</em> in the popular consciousness. The situation, however, has begun to change over the last couple of years, in large part thanks to the endeavours of a particular group of researchers. Larissa Piskunova, Igor Yankov and Lyudmila Starostova — all members of the City Pond Committee — are anthropologists who have been studying the architectural past of their city through the prism of its inhabitants’ histories.</p><p dir="ltr">With the help of excursions, exhibitions and lectures, this group seeks to explain constructivism’s aesthetic codes to as many citizens of Ekaterinburg as possible, and to draw their attention to the uniqueness of the city’s buildings. Ekaterinburg, notes Piskunova, is remarkable for the fact that entire constructivist complexes have been erected here, and not simply individual buildings, as in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the main “casualty” of the proposed project — the Dynamo sports complex — is described by Piskunova as “a unique architectural construction boasting features which in the 1930s were no less unique: the city’s first indoor pool, diving towers and an ice-skating rink. The complex provided children and athletes with the opportunity to train at Union level.”</p><p dir="ltr">What Piskunova, Yankov and Starostova have embarked upon represents an attempt to explore the questions of historical legacy and urban identity crystallisation “from below”. Their project, then, is diametrically opposed to that of Goloborodsky and the oligarchs.</p><p dir="ltr">As Yankov makes clear, “one of the objectives of our work on constructivism is to engage with the Soviet experience and lay bare the multidimensional potential of the city. At the moment, we’re still only just beginning to grow into an awareness of our past, and the battle for the survival of the pond is very much an emblematic one — we haven’t yet fully realised its significance. This city is something to be treasured, but, as far as the oligarchs are concerned, it’s an asset or source of income.”</p><h2>The battle continues</h2><p dir="ltr">For the time being, both sides are busy with their own affairs. Goloborodsky is working on the composition and engineering issues — he recently announced that the area of the pond intended for construction will have to be drained after all. The primary strategy of the City Pond Committee, meanwhile, involves keeping the greatest possible number of locals up to date with the situation, while also conducting further public campaigns.</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/Fuck_the_temple_006 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protesters against the new church are, it seems, ready to move from flashmobs to pickets and rallies. (с) Nikolai Lebedev. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Despite the success of the latest flashmob, the biggest battles are yet to come. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Roizman, “the developers have sufficient resources to get 25,000 people out on the streets,” which, in some degree, is what happened at Easter, when the procession of the cross, led by governor Kuivashev and the metropolitan bishop, was diverted from its usual route and ended up at the proposed construction site. Moskvin, for his part, has made clear his willingness to switch to rallies and pickets if the project is given a final green light. Furthermore, high-profile regional protest campaigns often appeal to the presidential administration, which could potentially clip the wings of a high-handed governor (as was the case with the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity">transfer of St Isaac's Cathedral in St Petersburg to the Orthodox Church</a>).</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“We’re just trying to get as many people as possible involved in the campaign while saying to the authorities: Guys, come to your senses”</p><p dir="ltr">As is the case in Russia generally, the main factor that permits the abuse of power by the authorities is the passivity of a disunited population, who are preoccupied with their daily lives and pay little attention to the environment around them. This, predictably, is something the developers are keen to exploit to their own advantage. “So many people don’t care about this affair at all,” Goloborodsky openly asserts. “They’re living their own lives — it makes no difference to them what happens here.” Which means that the challenge facing Goloborodsky’s opponents is to saturate the media space and mobilise all available resources so that eventually the authorities will be forced to pull the plug on the project.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Moskvin, “construction is unlikely to begin until the end of summer 2018 on account of the Football World Cup. Time is on our side. So for the moment we’re just trying to get as many people as possible involved in the campaign while saying to the authorities: Guys, come to your senses.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translation by Leo Shtutin.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity">St Petersburg: in search of solidarity</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Who will make Russia “great again”? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20">Bolotnaya 2.0?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Lebedev Cities in motion Wed, 26 Apr 2017 10:16:57 +0000 Dmitry Lebedev 110420 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Behind the Russian mirror https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/behind-russian-mirror <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">For Russia’s media, social inequality has never been a hot topic. Meet the people behind a new media organisation trying put injustice on Russia’s political agenda. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edvards/za-rossiyskim-zerkalom" target="_blank">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_TIM2926.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Read the latest in our ongoing Unlikely Media series. As part of this series, oDR profiles new independent (and independently-minded) publications from across the post-Soviet space, and we interview editors who are trying to make spaces for alternative journalism, political commentary and reporting.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Here, Maxim Edwards talks to Alexander Zamyatin and Marina Runovich, who run&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rusmirror.ru/">Zerkalo</a>. Zerkalo (“Mirror) is a non-commercial platform dedicated to social injustice in Russia, a relevant topic in a country where 22 million people are living below the poverty line, and where the social guarantees older generations grew up with are becoming a privilege. We also translate and publish one of Zerkalo's recent articles — on the residents of Kuznetsk, who are fighting one of the world's largest pipeline operators.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How did it occur to you to found the website, and why did you choose the name Zerkalo (“Mirror”)?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> The project’s initial idea seems so straightforward to me that I believe in its success regardless of our limited resources: by any estimates, there’s a very high level of social inequality in Russia — but if you take a peek into Russia’s media landscape, you’d think that the problem simply doesn’t exist.</p><p dir="ltr">We decided not to bury ourselves in reflections as to why this might be, why nobody has tried to popularise the issue, and preferred to get down to business ourselves. There are no party-affiliated think tanks in Russia, as there are no parties nor funds which are prepared to sponsor anything more than academic research. This meant we had to take a more creative approach — we decided to found our own small media project, focusing on Russia’s social realities.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“By any estimates, there’s a very high level of social inequality in Russia — but if you take a peek into Russia’s media landscape, you’d think that the problem simply doesn’t exist”</p><p dir="ltr">The editorial board was formed more spontaneously than functionally — we simply couldn’t afford to recruit professionals and offer them a steady salary, so instead tried to others to work with, on the basis of their enthusiasm and capability. But such arrangements rarely last long, and the editorial team has already changed. There are now just two of us.</p><p dir="ltr">The very name “Zerkalo” was the product of a chaotic period of brainstorming, starting with the intention that the project should be perceived as widely as possible by the readers. Everybody should easily be able to interpret the name in their own way.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How has your project been received by those whom you write about? Do they find their reflections in the “mirror”?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> I’ll say straight away that we have no intention of gathering some new “dangerous class” from among the downtrodden, and propagandising ideas of equality to them. That would be naive and stupid. Russia has a high level of internet penetration, so we’re able to hold discussions about inequality with people from all walks of life, ideally without resorting to stereotypes about “beggars”. In fact, our goal is to fight stigmatisation.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We try and debunk stereotypes by examining everyday examples of our social reality. To my mind, that’s how Zerkalo can speak to a lot of people — our subject is close to them, so it’s no surprise”</p><p dir="ltr">Before we launched, we had several hypotheses about who our audience would turn out to be. After all, the materials on our site link up radically different social groups. We now know that our readers are generally over 45 years old, or to a lesser extent, between 25 and 35. But the hardest thing to figure out is which people featured in our stories will become our readers.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Marina: </strong>I didn’t participate in the launch of the project, but I arrived with the same question — who’s our target audience? It’s a strange and scary feeling to do this blind, supposing that everyone needs this kind of initiative but not actually knowing who they are. But my own work as an editor and photographer taught me that we should count on progressive young people (as in all media projects with a social focus), as well as people close to middle age who have experienced serious inequality but may not always understand its origins.</p><p dir="ltr">Many of them hold opinions like “if you’ve fallen on hard times, then that’s your fault. We shouldn’t pity anyone.” And sure, maybe feeling sorry for people isn’t always the way forward, but it’d be great if we could at least try to sort out the problems and help them at the same time.</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/-2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>We try and debunk stereotypes by examining everyday examples of our social reality. To my mind, that’s how Zerkalo can speak to a lot of people — our subject is close to them, so it’s no surprise.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>According to your site, there’s not a single professional journalist among your team. Do you have any regular authors, and who are they?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander: </strong>Most of our texts are produced by third-party authors who for one reason or another are not able to work with us all the time, but can occasionally provide a good text or photo-essay. We’d like our authors to stay on board, but we of course appreciate that we can’t offer them all the opportunities they’d like.</p><p dir="ltr">Marina: It’s great when talented people are ready to do something on a well-known platform simply for the sake of an idea. But we’re not so big — at least, not yet. Usually authors approach us to suggest relevant topics; we don’t commission articles. If somebody suggests a topic which is close to them, then usually the resulting article is very strong. For example, the last article we published (<a href="https://www.rusmirror.ru/kuzneck">“To demolish a house with your own hands”</a> by Vadim Skvortsov) was about residents of Kuznetsk [a town in Penza region] who were to be evicted by a firm building a new pipeline. I really liked it — it was a very personal piece, but also took a broad and objective view of the situation.<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSC_0464.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>The frequent authors are, really, just Aleksandr and me. I hope that there’ll be more of us. It’s not quite true that there are no professional journalists in our ranks — I’m trying to work in that direction myself. But sure, you could say we don’t yet have a 100% professional journalist on our team.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How is your project financed?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> Zerkalo survives off crowdfunding — although the start-up costs came from our own pockets. They’re miserly amounts; we can’t really do much for the moment. Over the next six month, we plan to expand our project in several new directions, for which we’ll need significant funds. Whether that’ll happen or not is entirely up to our donors. We can only try and convince them that the funds will be effectively spent, on a project which covers an extremely important social issue.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Marina: </strong>I’m not so enthusiastic about crowdfunding, but grants or other financial assistance like that, for such a controversial topic as ours, are also not an option. We’d no longer be independent.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You note that every sixth Russian citizen lives below the poverty line. Last year alone, 41% of Russians admitted that they didn’t have enough money to buy food or clothes. What’s the situation at the start of 2017 — is there any chance it can change for the better?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> Yes, we’ve witnessed an astonishing growth of the number of Russians living below the poverty line — from 16m in 2013 to 19m in 2015. Last year, the number grew to 21.4m. Even accounting for the fact that there may have been technical changes in defining the poverty line, that’s a very significant rise. Today, the median monthly salary in Russia is 25,000 roubles [£350] — that is, every second working Russian receives not more than that sum.</p><p dir="ltr">Public opinion polls and official statistics regularly demonstrate that there’s been a decline in production, an economic crisis, and a fall in the average paycheque. But at the same time, these are speculative, lending themselves to at least three distinct political convictions and interpretations — the neoliberal, which concerns the limits of an economic model for growth, the state-conservative, which calls for re-industrialisation, and the pro-government, which calls for reforming sluggish sectors of the economy, frantically searching for points of growth in the economy, the better to enter global production chains more effectively.</p><p dir="ltr">But what’s interesting is that this mishmash of data still has no direct relationship to inequality per se. Firstly, there is no strong correlation between levels of inequality and GDP growth. During the wild economic growth of the 2000s, there was a decrease in the number of Russians living below the poverty line; from 42.3m in 2000 to 17.7m by 2010. But 80 billionaires also appeared over the same period. In Russia in 2000, there hadn’t been a single one! However, throughout that period, Russia’s <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI?end=2012&amp;locations=RU&amp;start=1995">Gini Coefficient</a> fell below 40 on just one occasion — during the economic crisis in 2009. Secondly, income inequality isn’t the same thing as inequality in accumulated capital. The yachts of Russia’s wealthy, assembled in German shipyards and bought for offshore legal entities, inject funds into foreign countries’ GDPs, while widening the property ownership gap at home, in Russia.<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_TIM2891.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>To put it very simply, an economic “crisis” is about absolute indicators — social inequality is established with relative indicators. And social inequality is encumbered with its own very unique range of effects, several of which we experience on a day-to-day basis. People’s relative positions on the income scale are as relevant when talking about, say, availability of pharmaceuticals as when discussing who owns which yacht.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How do Russian media approach the subject of social inequality?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> With inertia. The subtleties of the topic, like we just discussed, such as the structural origins of inequality and its effects are simply seen as too complex for mass media consumption. And by the indicators mentioned above, Russia finds itself somewhere between Mali and Trinidad &amp; Tobago.</p><p dir="ltr">This doesn’t surprise me at all. On the contrary, given what I’ve witnessed in my life, such figures can only be understood in the context of social inequality. As such, the topic has the most powerful explanatory potential for the state of our society — but there’s not yet an institution in Russia which has developed and popularised the subject for a wider audience. And in the long term, that’s something we’d like to organise.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Marina: </strong>Materials similar to the texts we publish appear perhaps once a month, maybe even less frequently, on the major federal media outlets. There are of course popular informal projects, but they often poeticise these stories [of inequality] in Russian daily life, presenting them as a sad burden our country has to bear. In my view, it’s not sufficient to just deal with these topics “from the heart” — there has to be a level-headed, analytical approach.</p><p dir="ltr">We also plan to regularly invite sociologists and economists to help us produce and publish the texts on our site, giving readers a thorough look at familiar topics through the prism of social inequality.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Miners in Rostov recently declared a hunger strike, and construction workers at a cosmodrome in the Amur region downed tools. Over the past year and a half, there’s been a strong growth in protests due to unpaid wages and violations of labour rights. But even <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">Russia’s protesting truckers</a>, in one of the most significant examples of labour unrest, appealed to Putin to solve their problems. Could this lead to the emergence of a nationwide, independent movement for workers’ rights, and what role does labour protest play in today’s political agenda?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> Practically none. It’s something of a pipe dream for Russian leftists — this idea that, due to deteriorating material circumstances, working people will become more politically self-aware and become a political force (and, of course, along correct, wholesome Marxist lines).</p><p dir="ltr">I also suffered from this misconception, as though the history of advanced western democracies had played out just like that. But at the same time, labour protests in Russia do become politicised very quickly — the call “oh, our provider and leader, please help us!” can easily evolve into “enough!” or “step down!”</p><p>Yet more often than not, these protests run out of steam at an early stage. The most recent, most memorable example was the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-bolotnikova/pitchforks-are-coming-russia-protests">farmers’ march on Moscow</a> on their tractors. It ended as quickly as it began, at the borders of the Moscow region, and in the office of the head of Russia’ Investigative Committee. More passive labour protests are not enough on their own — they need to be combined with an active political struggle, with its own structures and leaders able to contest elections and engage with actual public opinion and actual public demands (not just with our conceptions of what they are). They need to be able to intensify demands for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. But nowadays, only Russia’s right-liberal opposition has been able to play that role, and labour protests are the very last thing to appear on their political agenda.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite everything I’ve just said, I still look towards our political future with great hope — a hint of progress glimmers in public discourse.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria:</strong> “Workers’ protests” begin, naturally, at the workplace. But while some people take to the streets in protest, others continue their everyday work, spending a good chunk of their free time fighting for rights within their organisation. I addressed this in <a href="https://www.rusmirror.ru/protiv-sveta">my own article about the employees of St Petersburg’s Pulkovo observatory</a>, who are fighting against construction work taking place on their institution’s grounds, which are a protected area. </p><p dir="ltr">In terms of Russia’s current political agenda, labour protest plays quite a small role, but for the purposes of our discussion, the story of the Pulkovo observatory is very revealing. Nobody is hanging protest banners over telescopes, but their success in achieving their goals and defending their workplace is enviable.</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/_TIM2836.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Under better circumstances, a scholar should be able to concentrate on their research, rather than spend their time buying office furniture and organising campaigns to defend their workplace. That said, their persistence is inspiring, inflaming the spirit of unity between protesters.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You’ve used the term “social racism” on the website — what does it mean to you?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> It’s a useful term that can be taken as read — simply, it means intolerance on the basis of wealth inequality. Say that a guy walks down Kamergersky lane [a fashionable street in central Moscow], and suddenly feels ashamed of his dishevelled clothes and worn-out boots. Say he notices catches scornful looks and sneers, and begins embarrassed — by his family, by himself, by his very way of life. That’s an ordinary form of social racism.</p><p dir="ltr">I must admit that my fight against social inequality isn’t entirely based on rational argument, but also the result of personally experiencing this discrimination at a certain period in my life. Since then, I’ve noticed the terrible power of privilege, everywhere and every day. The dominance of social racism in Russia motivates me, but also drives me to take action in a good way.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Marina:</strong> For me, social racism isn’t simply when you’re looked down on for what trainers you wear, the model of phone in your pocket, or privileges (or lack thereof) of property at all. It’s also psychological — it even manifests itself in not being able, for example, to allow yourself to appear stupid. It’s when you can’t afford to drop out of higher education, as some people can, because you’ll have even fewer options without a diploma. And then they’ll measure and value you all by IQ anyway.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Lev Gudkov recently noted a tendency of Russian citizens towards <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/files/ProetContra_51_20-42_all.pdf">“passive adaptation”</a>. What are your thoughts — do Russians really live by the principle “there’s no money, but we’ll hang on,” to paraphrase Dmitry Medvedev?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander:</strong> I wouldn’t want to argue with a sociologist on his home turf, but to deduce some general tendencies in attitude, and then arbitrarily assign them a “national” characteristic is not a method appropriate for sociological study. National “mentalities” don’t exist — after all, remember the example of Nogales in Acemoğlu and Robinson’s famous book. We shouldn’t speak of any innate attitude on the part of Russians to their challenging socioeconomic situation.</p><p dir="ltr">Clearly, you’re wonder when we’ll get fed up with it all and pick up our pitchforks. But it’s been obvious for a long time now that things don’t work like that. I remember how one resident of a decrepit old communal building in Tver (whose story we covered in our article <a href="https://www.rusmirror.ru/proletarka">“The most famous barracks in Russia”</a>) pleaded with us to inform Putin about her sorry living conditions: “He just doesn’t know what’s going on here.” And then she badmouthed the recently-arrested minister of economics, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/big-game-ulyukaev-sechin-and-russias-neopatrimonial-privatisation">Alexey Ulyukayev</a>. These kind of statements aren’t unusual to hear from the people featured in our articles.</p><p dir="ltr">So, can this woman’s attitude be described as “passive adaptation”? I think the root of the issue lies elsewhere. For example, everybody understands that children have to attend school, because school is an institution which functions. But elections and local government clearly aren’t — because this woman is helpless in defending her rights. That means we have to ensure these institutions do their job — maybe even run them ourselves — not simply wait until the state permits us to. All institutions in our society which actually work, including the school, do so only with partial involvement from the government. By the way, all broader institutions of social support in Russia are deeply inadequate in this respect.</p><p dir="ltr">Any progressive political initiative has to be preceded by an infrastructure — a whole array of organisations fighting for economic and political rights, for education, for the free flow of information, for local government and so on. Whether poverty and inequality become pressing issues on the political agenda depends on whether we can make them key issues in public discourse. And we can.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Your topic is becoming ever more relevant. What’s planned for the future of Zerkalo?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Alexander: </strong>Yes, it’s an ongoing tendency, as inequality has always been with us, but we’ve only just started to measure, to get to grips with it. Our task is to move away from this purely empirical, descriptive form of analysis to a more explanatory presentation of social problems, through the prism of inequality. There’s already a massive amount of research on the topic worldwide, which aid NGOs and government institutions in their reforms and development programmes.</p><p dir="ltr">We import the most interesting findings from international research. We’ll organise lectures, publish translations and bring in experts who can deal with specific cases of inequality and decide on programmes to address them. We need to gather together professionals who are interested in the subject — at the moment, they’re dispersed throughout the country. Whether through government departments, partnership programmes or even by getting involved in the formation of future social institutions, we can work out real and concrete schemes to fight against inequality and poverty in Russia — but for that, we need a structure.</p><p dir="ltr"><span>Want to know more about Mirror's work? We've translated one of their recent articles. Find it&nbsp;</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vadim-skvortsov/destroy-your-house-with-your-own-hands">here</a><span>.&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Photographs from a dormitory in Moscow and villages in Ivanovo Oblast by Marina Runovich and Timofei Izotov. All rights reserved.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/crimea-international-law-opposition">Death by Crimea</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-andrei-urodov/russia-without-whom">Russia without whom?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-thomas-rowley/why-we-don-t-publish-articles-about-putin">Why we don’t publish articles about Putin</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Edwards Unlikely Media Tue, 25 Apr 2017 14:07:20 +0000 Maxim Edwards 110360 at https://www.opendemocracy.net ​Destroy your house with your own hands https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vadim-skvortsov/destroy-your-house-with-your-own-hands <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Meet the residents of Kuznetsk, Russia, who are defending their homes from the world's largest pipeline company. <em><strong><a href="https://www.rusmirror.ru/kuzneck">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSCF3504_1.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kuznetsk, Penza. Image: Anastasiya Grinzovskaya. </span></span></span><strong><em>This week, we profile <a href="https://www.rusmirror.ru/">Mirror</a>, a&nbsp;non-commercial platform dedicated to social injustice in Russia. As part of this profile, we publish this article by Vadim Skvortsov with images&nbsp;</em><em>by Anastasia Grinzovskaya, and&nbsp;</em><em>interview the magazine's editors <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/behind-russian-mirror">here</a>. Translation by <a href="http://www.seansrussiablog.org">Sean Guillory</a>.&nbsp;</em></strong></p> <p>On the outskirts of Kuznetsk, a small town in central Russia, roughly 100 families are facing threats to have their homes demolished. More than 100 houses located in the restricted area near the Druzhba-2 pipeline, which delivers oil to Central Europe, are facing possible demolition. Transneft-Druzhba, the corporation which operates the pipeline, has filed 26 lawsuits demanding the buildings’ demolition at the tenants’ cost.</p> <p>These Kuznetsk residents, who live in a privately built area on the edge of the city, learned that their homes were “illegality” some 44 years after the pipeline’s construction. The <a href="https://kuznetsky--pnz.sudrf.ru/modules.php?name=sud_delo&amp;srv_num=1&amp;name_op=doc&amp;number=22816657&amp;delo_id=1540005&amp;new=0&amp;text_number=1&amp;case_id=20141681">first lawsuits were filed</a> in October 2016.</p> <p>There are ten streets, 117 houses and one mosque in the pipeline’s restricted area — and all of them can be ordered to be demolished “for citizens’ safety”. More than 500 people, including pensioners and families with young children, are afraid they’ll be thrown out onto the street. Some of the tenants purchased these houses with mortgage loans and maternity subsidies.</p> <p>These people have become hostage to strange maps, rules and proceedings — an entire system that is ready to fire up the excavator and demolish buildings like houses of cards.</p> <h2><strong>City at risk?</strong></h2> <p>Kuznetsk is considered one of the most “dangerous” cities in the Penza region: it often ranks first in regional statistics for crime, HIV and drug addiction. Near the train station, as I was eating a pasty, a polite old man came up me and asked: “What kind of minerals are you eating?”</p> <p>I washed it down with a yoghurt drink and laughed. On the train, a man had told me that he’d been saving up for seven years to buy a warm blanket, and before that he’d been sleeping in a cold and uncomfortable one. It seemed to me that I’d found myself in a place where people talk in their own kind of gentle way, and are satisfied by the little things.</p><p>​There was a wind blowing from a nearby field, but around 15 locals had gathered at the end of 2nd Sportivnaya Street for the sake of one windblown journalist. Someone from the crowd handed me mittens as I shivered from the cold, a dictaphone and a notepad in my reddened hands.</p> <h2><strong>The restricted zone</strong></h2> <p>In the 1970s, Druzhba, the Soviet Union’s largest oil pipeline network, was built throughout the country. In 1973, in Kuznetsk, the Druzhba-2 oil pipeline was put into operation at 321 km — a pipe with a diameter of 1220 mm, which is considered a hazardous production site. </p> <p>According to <a href="http://gostrf.com/normadata/1/4293847/4293847313.pdf">the construction norms and rules (SNiP II-D.10-62)</a> at that time, the pipe’s restricted area was 100 metres (or 150, the information varies). Building major construction was prohibited at such a distance from the pipe’s axis. Builders retreated to the determined distance and confidently went on to the bright future and fulfilling the Five-Year Plan.</p> <p>​The pipe forms a thin line around the residential area. The first houses here were constructed in 1964 and continued to be built after the completion of Druzhba-2. Most of the homeowners received an official building permit from the Kuznetsk city administration or through court rulings.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Older residents simply can’t understand why, after so many years, they’re suddenly in someone’s way</p> <p>In 1976, new regulations were adopted (<a href="http://files.stroyinf.ru/Data1/1/1989/">SNiP II-47-75</a>). These increased the restricted area to 200 metres, thereby encompassing already built buildings. But at the time, neither the mayor’s office (the city executive committee in the Soviet period), the prosecutor, nor the pipeline company took any action. In response to an official request, Sergei Lomakov, the acting head of public relations for Transneft-Druzhba, said: “Employees of the Kuibyshev district administration of MN Druzhba (today Transneft-Druzhba) have sent official letters to the local government since 1989.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSCF3566.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'>Image: Anastasiya Grinzovskaya. </span></span></span>​In this situation, it’s the elderly who are the most vulnerable, and they’re in the majority in this neighbourhood. Older residents simply can’t understand why, after so many years, they’re suddenly in someone’s way. A local resident, Marya Ivanovna, is afraid of a lawsuit, pulls out documents about her house from her cabinet, takes them to a lawyer, and cries. “But how, see here, that’s all I have. It’s written in the Constitution… I didn’t do anything wrong, I live honestly, why do they need to tear down my house?” The old woman shakes the paper in her hands, and large teardrops dissolve on its faded sheets.</p> <h2>We’ll see you in court</h2> <p>Transneft’s position is simultaneously both explicit and unclear.</p> <p>The company’s representatives have made it clear that they will continue to file lawsuits in batches. Twenty-six suits have been submitted so far, and after landowners are identified, 20 more will be sent in.</p> <p>“The only way to objectively determine who owns the property, on what grounds and who issued the land and construction permits dangerously close to the pipeline on the outskirts of Kuznetsk is an open and transparent trial,” Sergei Lomakov, acting head of public relations for Transneft-Druzhba, said in a letter.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSCF3545.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'>A 1994 document from Kuznetsk city administration granting permission to the Ponomaryov family to continue living in their home on 2nd Sportivnaya Street. Image: Anastasiya Grinzovskaya. </span></span></span>On 7 February, <a href="http://www.pnzreg.ru/main_news/2017/02/7/13120941">Transneft vice-president Mikhail Margelov came</a> to Penza to meet with Ivan Belozertsev, the governor of Penza. The meeting occurred behind closed doors. Journalists crowded into the Governor’s house, sighed heavily in anticipation of at least some solution to the problem. After 30 minutes, someone threw up his hands and left, grabbing his camera. After an hour of waiting, Margelov and Belozertsev came out to talk to the press.</p> <p>“It’s important for us that people live in safety around the pipeline. We are going to meet in the near future with residents who are living in dangerous areas and with the leadership of Kuznetsk. We want to find a peaceful, pragmatic solution to the problem,” said the vice-president of Transneft.</p> <p>​The governor said they came to a single solution at the meeting, a technical one. But what that “technical” solution is remains unclear.</p> <p>After representatives from Transneft talked with the Kuznetsk residents, they assured them that they weren’t going to demolish anyone’s house, but they also wouldn’t withdraw their lawsuits. Residents asked a direct question: “Why?” All they received was an unclear silence in response.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>“They go to court to defend their rights and interests. The Transneft representatives clearly stated that their rights were violated by the presence of houses in the stated territory and indicated a way of restoring that right: by their demolition. But if they say they won’t destroy the houses and subsequent court rulings won’t be implemented, then they have different goals, and the trial actually becomes a farce,” says Olga Alexandrova, a lawyer for the defendants.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">For now, the houses of locals under suit have been seized — a formality to prevent the trial being artificially dragged out or the houses from being resold</p><p>The possibility of moving the pipeline is also not an option. According to preliminary estimates, its reconstruction would cost 1.5 billion rubles (£21m), a huge amount, especially considering it’s much easier to sue residents and get them to resettle at their own expense.</p> <p>For now, the houses of locals under suit have been seized — a formality to prevent the trial being artificially dragged out or the houses from being resold.</p> <p>According to one representative of the defendants, the court sessions themselves are painful. Lawyers of Transneft behave confidently and sarcastically. A young couple with two underage children were the defendants in one such session. They bought a house in 2014 with their maternity subsidy. During the recess, a representative of the defendants went up the lawyer and asked: “You could at least not laugh in people’s faces. Don’t you understand that you’re going to throw them and their children out on the street?” Then the pale mother stood up: “I hope to God you someday find yourself in our shoes.” </p> <p>The lawyer just shrugged.</p> <h2>“I'll go the distance”</h2> <p>​There’s a stack of papers on lawyer Olga Alexandrova’s desk. Some are dry answers from various courts about “reviewing” the decision, about “taking the situation under control” and other useless paper. Others are petitions signed by Kuznetsk residents. There are more than two and a half thousand (which doesn’t count <a href="https://www.change.org/p/%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%BB%D1%8C%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%BE-%D1%80%D1%84-%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%84%D1%82%D1%8C-%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%88%D0%BB%D0%BE-%D0%B4%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B9%25D">the signatures on a change.org petition</a>). The lawyer moves them and slumps into a chair: “You know, guys, I can’t stay quiet any longer.”</p> <p>Olga Aleksandrova's opinion:</p> <p>​<em>What is a right? Ultimately as a social regulator, it should properly regulate the life of citizens, including from the point of view of justice, philanthropy. It’s clear that in the current situation it’s impossible to properly protect the rights of citizens. Accordingly, the law as it now exists is unable to fulfill its function. Therefore, it’s necessary to either change the law, or to take some special action that will at least find some temporary compromise.</em></p> <p><em>But how is this supposed to happen? Let's say, Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov broke the law 40 years ago and started building a house in an area at the minimum permissible distance according to his permits. The offices responsible for the operation of this pipeline immediately came to the city executive committee, and said: “You illegally issued a building permit.” They then wrote to the prosecutor. They immediately went to the guy and administratively ordered to dismantle the construction. And they gave him land in another place – and done. No one was seriously harmed, no one will build there anymore.</em></p> <p><em>If a similar situation happened today, then we would do the same things but with a slight difference. After the order, a person will assess the monetary damages caused by the actions of the local government, and will take them to court. Next, a settlement is determined to his satisfaction and he moves somewhere else.</em></p> <p>​<em>In our case, thanks to everyone’s prolonged inaction, compensating for damages becomes the hardest part, and the legal system simply stops working. A small town’s budget can’t afford to pay for the damages for more than a hundred illegally constructed houses. And if the legal system doesn’t work, then we have to look at the government for another way out, and not lobby the oil transit companies. And not just for Kuznetsk’s sake. There are dozens of regions of Russia have similar problems.</em></p> <p>Olga is clearly tired of the endless court proceedings — her voice trembles a little during our conversation. But at the same time, she’s completely confident. She sincerely hopes to help the “old folks”: “Sometimes it’s easier to just throw up your hands, but who is going to take care of them?”</p> <p>She shows me articles about similar situations in other cities. In one clip from Moscow, where Kazan residents had organised a rally against the demolition of their houses, an older woman looks directly into a camera and cries. The lawyer covers her eyes and almost bursts into tears.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“There’s only one question: it’s about money, and who will pay for this ‘pleasure’ — the municipality, the region or the oil company”</p> <p><em>&nbsp;</em>“I'll show you one more very interesting thing.” Olga flips through the tabs on her computer, and opens the page of the regional newspaper and reads a passage aloud:</p> <p>​“You haven’t lost your lawsuits yet,” says the head of the city administration. “There’s only one question: it’s about money, and who will pay for this ‘pleasure’ — the municipality, the region or the oil company.”</p> <p>“That is, the fate of people depends on agreements that will be made in an extrajudicial process?” asked Olga Alexandrova.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSCF3568.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Anastasiya Grinzovskaya. </span></span></span>​“Don’t act like we live in some kind of super-democratic country where the Dolphin Defense League can defeat the US navy,” Sergei Zlatogorsky replied.</p> <p>The lawyer laughs at Zlatogorsky’s statement, sighs heavily, and adds: “But after all, he's right.”</p> <h2>Stumbling blocks</h2> <p>The Kuznetsk administration is trying to keep people calm and not draw too much attention to the conflict. At the same time, it totally understands the risks of the situation. </p> <p>The head of the administration, Sergey Zlatogorsky, asserts that it’s a question of the city budget being liable for hundreds of millions of rubles in the event of a Transneft legal victory. The administration of a small city simply cannot afford such an amount. The mayor’s office has presently appealed to the governor of Penza and the government of the Russian Federation.</p> <p>“<em>We see the following options to solve the problem. First: move the main oil pipeline outside the city of Kuznetsk. Second: develop and implement technical measures to reduce the restricted area to the axis of the pipeline. Third: the joint participation of every budgetary level and Transneft-Druzhba in the construction of comparable housing for citizens whose houses are to be demolished or the payment of adequate compensation</em>,” said Sergey Zlatogorsky in an official response to my request.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSCF3542 (1).JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Anastasiya Grinzovskaya. </span></span></span>By suggesting that the pipeline be moved, the Kuznetsk administration is guided by the fact that it lies within the city: “This production facility is a first class danger. The total length of the main oil pipeline within the city’s boundaries is more than four kilometres. The specified object is located in direct proximity to residential areas, industrial enterprises and other infrastructure.”</p> <p>Article 66 of Russian Federal Law N 123-FZ “<a href="http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_78699/f082e530b5f293d72f253a3ad296b5d58d2f343e/">Technical Regulations on Fire Safety Requirements</a>” from July 2008, states that oil and gas pipelines must be located outside the borders of settlements and urban districts. According to point five in this law, in the event that it’s impossible to eliminate the danger of fire and explosive facilities to people and residential buildings located within the residential area, then a reduction in capacity, the repurposing of facilities, the separation of production, or the relocation of the facilities outside the residential area should be provided.</p> <p>No one can explain why the pipeline was built within Kuznetsk, why there are no technical inventory documents for the oil pipeline, or why the boundaries of the Druzhby-2 security area haven’t to this day been surveyed.</p> <p>​Elena Rogova, Penza’s commissioner for human rights, said that she would turn to the government for help, and the prosecutor has begun an investigation into this effect. Someone promised something again and said something somewhere, but all these actions on behalf of citizens already seem useless. Every day they try to at least get someone’s attention, but only get the “runaround" and shrug of the shoulders: “And what we can do?”</p> <h2>The pipe is like a ticking timebomb</h2> <p>Kuznetsk is not an isolated case. Similar conflicts began three years ago across Russia. Transneft and Gazprom filed lawsuits for the demolition of houses against residents of various regions: the Moscow Region (in Ruza, Sergiev Posad, Podolsky, Serpukhov, Vidnovsky, Chekhov districts), the Perm Territory, Kazan, the Republic of Dagestan, Syktyvkar (Komi) and others.</p> <p>So why is the issue of citizens’ “safety” now so urgent?</p> <p>Almost 40% of Russia’s main pipelines were built during the Soviet Union. <a href="http://www.transport-nefti.com/blog/2424/">According to</a> Anna Annenkova, an independent expert of the fuel and energy industry, a significant number of the pipelines are 20 to 35 years old. The maximum lifespan of such a pipeline is 50 years. In Kuznetsk, the pipe has been there for 44 years. It really does pose a danger to the city's residents and could result in a man-made catastrophe. In 2003, near Kuznetsk, <a href="http://econbez.ru/news/cat/22060">one of the largest oil spills occurred in Russia</a>: one person was killed and three were injured. In all, 10,000 tons of raw materials poured out of the pipeline. However, there’s almost no information on this accident in public sources.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The government often tries not to interfere in these kind of conflicts — oil and gas companies fill a significant part of the federal budget</p> <p>Why are house demolitions done at the residents’ own expense and why it is impossible to reduce the delivery output of the oil?</p> <p>Here, too, it’s all very simple. No one wants to spend extra money. Especially giants such as Transneft and Gazprom. Also, this kind of scheme appears as the most transparent for the oil industry: it doesn’t raise any suspicion and casts a shadow on the residents themselves. After all, they built houses on prohibited territory (although they didn’t know about the prohibition).</p> <p>The government often tries not to interfere in these kind of conflicts — oil and gas companies fill a significant part of the federal budget.</p> <p>“The industry is the driver of economic development, and many departments are hostage to this situation. They’re afraid to put pressure on oil industry executives, which bring in almost half of budget revenues,” the business weekly Kompania <a href="http://ko.ru/glavnoe/item/132269-po-lokti-v-nefti">quotes</a> Alexei Knizhnikov, the head of the program on environmental policy of the oil and gas industry for the Global Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Russia.</p> <p>The courts already work by a certain logic: in most of these cases, the large company wins in court. This is why houses are demolished, holes on worn out pipes are fixed and the oil keeps on flowing.</p> <h2>Until death</h2> <p>Since Transneft’s notification about the demolition of their houses, three residents of the restricted area have died from heart disease, and a fourth has a pre-coronary condition.</p> <p>The locals are completely confused and don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Most of those living in this residential area are pensioners. The dissatisfied chatter of those gathered is pierced by the expression: “It's inhumane to take away old people’s homes.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/DSCF3567.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'>Image: Anastasiya Grinzovskaya. </span></span></span>Svetlana Alexandrovna takes my hand and says: “Come inside with me. You’re so cold.” Her house is number 43, the closest to the pipeline. A dog barks behind a high fence. Svetlana opens the door while hiding from the wind behind a gate. Her husband was one of the three that died. He had a heart attack in December.</p> <p>At home, she pours me tea with a pastry. It’s called the “poor student” for its characteristic brownish gingerbread color and made from tea leaves, dough and jam. The hostess offers to dilute the hot tea with cold water: “My husband always diluted his tea” She serves butter and cheese “while it’s still possible”.</p> <p>Svetlana lives alone. Her only son is now serving in the army. She carefully picks up a stack of papers, shows me documents about the house, and stands near the window: “They send me these documents every day. It makes no sense whatsoever. The only thing I feel is fear.”</p> <p>As a farewell, she offers me a sweater, mittens or scarf left by her son. “They'll tear us down, and you'll get sick again.” I refuse. </p> <p>On the way back in the taxi driver’s car, two black dolphin figurines swing from the rearview mirror. They hit the windshield when we go over a bump. They look like those unfortunate people trying to save their homes, but realise it’s impossible to destroy the navy.</p><p><em>Want to know more about the mission behind Mirror? Read <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/behind-russian-mirror">this interview</a> with the magazine's editors.</em></p><p><em>Translation by <a href="http://www.seansrussiablog.org">Sean Guillory</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-andrei-urodov/russia-without-whom">Russia without whom?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/behind-russian-mirror">Behind the Russian mirror</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">Russia, Inc.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/at-bottom-of-power-vertical">At the bottom of the power vertical</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vadim Skvortsov Unlikely Media Tue, 25 Apr 2017 10:36:29 +0000 Vadim Skvortsov 110385 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Education in Belarus: between the Bologna process and the USSR https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alena-spasyuk/education-in-belarus-between-bologna-process-and-ussr <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Paragraph">Over the last few decades, Belarus’s higher education system has pursued modernisation. At its heart, however, it remains Soviet, with strong centralising tendencies and a significant ideological component. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alena-spasjuk/belarus-mejdu-bolonskim-processom-sssr">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Paragraph"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/3257716055_eca4e6934f_o_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"No to the Bologna process!" - a slogan (and policy) Alexander Lukashenka would agree with. CC-BY-2.0: CJCS / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In mid-February, Minsk <a href="http://bel.biz/afisha/sobytiya/studencheskij-karernyj-forum">hosted</a> the very well-attended Republican Student Careers Forum. The large number of attendees even forced the organisers to close registration for the event ahead of the deadline — more than 1,500 people came to the forum. Some attended talks by business owners, others participated in workshops. But the largest crowds were at the exhibitors’ tables. Students and recent graduates were trying to find out how to get an internship or a full-time job.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">“I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a job,” says Olga, who is about to graduate with an economics degree. “There are a lot of graduates. There is demand for people with a background in economics, but typically employers are looking for experienced hires.” Olga’s concerns are well-founded: students’ fears of remaining unemployed stems from the fact that there will be twice as many people graduating in 2017 than before. This is the result of the transition of Belarusian universities from five-year courses to courses lasting four or four and a half years. Current graduates will have entered university in 2012 and 2013, a total of 140,000 students.</p> <p class="Paragraph">Shorter university courses were the first step towards joining the Bologna process, the pan-European higher education area (EHEA) based on a tri-level system of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Yet the modernisation of higher education in Belarus has yet to take place.&nbsp;</p> <h3>Getting universities and employers to work together</h3> <p class="Paragraph">Data from the largest job search website in Belarus, <a href="http://jobs.tut.by">RABOTA.TUT.BY</a>, suggest that in 2016, there were, on average, 44 applicants for every entry-level vacancy in Belarus, as opposed to 10.5 applicants per opening for the job market as a whole. The website’s chief executive, Svetlana Shaporova, notes that recent graduates face the most difficulty in finding a job — especially if they have not had any internships.</p> <p class="Paragraph">Even now, the most demand on the job market is for salespeople. There are around 3,000 new vacancies posted each day. However, Belarusian universities are not producing sales managers, notes Olga Nadtochaeva from the <a href="http://www.zis.by/">Here and Now</a> consulting agency. “It would be good if they did prepare people for the most-sought after jobs. Often enough, a degree in economics does not prepare students for that role. As a result, both graduates and employers experience their fair share of disappointment,” Nadtochaeva tells me.</p><p class="Paragraph"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/4747048774_f0c1319c9c_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gomel State University. CC BY-NC 2.0 rethought / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Sales aren’t the only area ignored by state universities. Almost every company in Belarus needs HR specialists. The universities do not provide this kind of training. To fill these vacancies, companies end up retraining economists, lawyers, and psychologists.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">“Essentially, the Belarusian educational system is focused on school leavers, who are given the choice of new university courses in order to recruit as many students as possible. For example, a young man may get a diploma in ‘intercultural communication’ and have no idea what job he will end up getting. Universities are not interested in whether a degree would be in demand in the future or the employers’ needs in terms of expertise, know-how, and skills,” suggests Andrey Melikhov, head of HR at <a href="http://www.alutech-group.com/">Alutech</a>, a manufacturing business.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">The effects of the gap between student training and business needs are equally bad for both sides, Melikhov believes: “Until recently, there was a lot of demand in the labour market, so graduates could always find a job. Now, the situation has changed completely. Universities will have to shift their focus from school leavers to employer needs if they want to give students a competitive education.” As a matter of fact, labour demand has been <a href="http://belapan.com/archive/2016/01/08/824556/">trending sharply downwards</a> since late 2015 and reached its lowest level in a decade in 2016. Employers are demanding a lot more from job applicants.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Universities are not interested in whether a degree would be in demand in the future or the employers’ needs in terms of expertise, know-how, and skills”</p> <p class="Paragraph">This mismatch between universities and employers is something that can be addressed, suggests Vladimir Dunaev, a member of the Belarusian <a href="http://bolognaby.org/index.php/en/">Independent Bologna Committee</a>. In his view, Belarus lacks a national framework of qualifications and professional standards. Both are on the <a href="http://bolognaby.org/images/uploads/2015/05/Roadmap-Belarus-eng.pdf">roadmap for higher education reform in Belarus</a>, which the country committed itself to when it became a member of the EHEA in 2015.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">So far, professional standards have been developed for four occupations in two sectors of Belarus’ economy: IT and management. For the sake of comparison, it is worth noting that there are hundreds of such standards in Russia.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <h3>Held hostage by the Ministry of Education</h3> <p class="Paragraph">Recipients of government scholarships are sometimes not even given the right to choose where to work. Belarus still operates an allocation system, according to which a young graduate must take a specified job for two years. For degrees listed on a shortage occupation list, this compulsory employment is extended to five years.</p> <p class="Paragraph">Each year, during the allocation period, students face a lot of pressure, says Krystyna Murasheva, director of the <a href="https://aboss.by/en">BOSS student association</a>. Graduates are being offered jobs they have no training for or forced to find their first job out of university on their own and then “allocated” to it and denied their “free diplomas” that would let them work elsewhere.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">Tatiana, a graduate of the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts, was allocated to a job at a community club in a village 150km away from Minsk. She lives in a dormitory in the local regional centre and receives a wage of around $150 a month. Tatiana’s plan is to remain there until the end of the allocation period and move to Minsk or Gomel, where her parents live. She agrees that the job is important for the local rural population (the club hosts classes and concerts), but doesn’t want to stay in the region.</p><p class="Paragraph"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/16039199867_c8270465ba_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A village club. CC-BY-2.0: CJCS / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“I did not end up here voluntarily,” Tatiana tells me. “If I had been given my free diploma, I would have stayed in Minsk. In my last year of university, I was working with an events planner there, who wanted to offer me a full-time job, but the university denied them. Their rationale was that my studies were paid for by the state and the country’s cultural institutions needed more staff.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">“I was astonished at the university’s position: if you didn’t want to fall under the allocation, you should have paid tuition fees. It feels like we have two countries here: one that has free enterprise and another that doesn’t. Why can’t I choose a job for myself after university? Yes, my fees were paid out of the state budget, but that itself had been funded out of my parents’ pockets for decades.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">For Belarusian universities, it’s important that they allocate their students. The allocation success rate determines the number of scholarships offered by the faculty for the following year, which directly affects funding and staff salary levels. Graduates say that universities give priority to state organisations and enterprises. University representatives refuse to officially confirm this.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Allocation becomes an easy way to fill jobs no-one wants because of low salaries</p> <p class="Paragraph">The allocation system contradicts the commitments made in the roadmap, Dunaev notes. “The recommendation was to cut the number of graduates subject to allocation to the absolute minimum. The only exceptions can be students training for jobs on the shortage occupation list. And if allocation is such a great thing as the authorities claim then it must be open to all graduates on a voluntary basis: those who paid tuition fees and those who had state scholarships.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">The country’s economy, however, is not in the best shape and labour demand is falling. In the circumstances, allocation becomes an easy way to fill jobs no-one wants because of low salaries.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <h3>A fortunate exception&nbsp;</h3> <p class="Paragraph">So far, the luckiest people in Belarus are IT specialists. They are sought after and paid well. Although the average monthly salary in December 2016 for the country as a whole was 801.6 roubles ($421), IT workers were, on average, paid 3,502.8 roubles ($1,843) a month.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">Aleksandra, a student at the Belarus State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, already has a job though she is yet to finish her final year. At Aleksandra's university, there are labs set up by leading IT companies, where students can get work experience that makes it much easier to find a job afterwards.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">At Aleksandra's university, there are labs set up by leading IT companies, where students can get work experience that makes it much easier to find a job afterwards</p> <p class="Paragraph">“We get to work with <a href="https://www.epam.com">EPAM Systems</a>, <a href="http://www.soversys.by">SoverSys</a>, and other major companies,” Aleksandra says. “Thanks to this, my peers and I learn a lot and then find jobs. Many of us also attend various vocational courses, there are many of these in Minsk. The most expensive course in Java development, which takes 132 hours, costs $600–650. <a href="http://www.park.by/?lng=en">Hi-Tech Park Belarus</a> has free classes for developers, but there is a competitive selection process. The combination of the two — university study and vocational courses — produces good results. In the end, it is cheaper to study IT in Minsk than abroad.”</p> <p class="Paragraph">Belarus is home to many well-known developers. Victor Kislyi, the founder of <a href="http://eu.wargaming.net">Wargaming</a>, which produced the massively multiplayer online game <a href="http://worldoftanks.eu">World of Tanks</a>, was born and educated in Belarus, where he continues to live. He graduated from the physics faculty of the Belarus State University (BSU). <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=me.msqrd.android">MSQRD</a>, the popular app bought by Facebook in 2016, was the brainchild of Belarusian developers.&nbsp;</p><p class="Paragraph"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33050482626_3d993fe61e_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A still from World of Tanks, a popular online game developed by Belarusian IT workers. CC-BY-2.0: CJCS / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>One of the app’s developers, Eugene Nevgen, studied at the Yanka Kupala State University of Grodno; his partner, Sergey Gonchar, is yet to complete his higher education. The president and chairman of the board of <a href="https://www.epam.com">EPAM Systems</a> Arkadiy Dobkin grew up in Minsk, graduated from the Belarusian National Technical University, and has lived in the US since 1993. The company was incorporated there and later became a resident at the Hi-Tech Park Belarus.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <h3>A start in life</h3> <p class="Paragraph">Students on courses other than IT are not always satisfied with the quality of Belarusian education, which is reflected in the large numbers of people studying abroad. Russia is the main destination: 30,000 Belarusian citizens study there, according to UNESCO data cited by professor Pavel Tereshkovich, an expert with the <a href="http://bolognaby.org/index.php/en/">Independent Bologna Committee</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">By his estimate, between 2001 and 2015 the number of Belarusians studying abroad rose more than fivefold. For each 10,000 Belarusians, there are 37 students at foreign universities. To put that into perspective, the same figure is 3.4 for Russia, 9.3 for Ukraine, 38 for Moldova, 42 for Lithuania, and 52 for Turkmenistan.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">Student mobility within the framework of the Bologna process contributes very little to student migration recorded in these statistics — few universities here partner with other higher education institutions (HEIs). This has a lot to do with the fact that Belarusian universities lack the funds to sponsor study abroad programmes and there are no foundations that provide financial support for student mobility.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">Those students who find exchange or study abroad programmes funded by the receiving institution face a number of difficulties. Firstly, any study abroad for a period of more than ten days requires permission from the Ministry of Education. Secondly, returning students need to retake every exam they would have missed at their home university while abroad. The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), which makes it possible for courses taken at partner institutions to count towards one’s degree, does not fully operate in Belarus.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“I remember how much noise they made when Belarus joined the Bologna process, but in reality, nothing has changed”</p> <p class="Paragraph">Alesya Pisarchik has been studying at the <a href="http://uniba.sk/en/">Comenius University in Bratislava</a> since the second term of this year. Before, she was a student at the <a href="http://www.bseu.by">Belarus State Economics University</a> and the modern languages faculty at BSU.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">“I remember how much noise they made when Belarus joined the Bologna process, but in reality, nothing has changed: what I have seen is a pale imitation of the European credit transfer system,” Alesya says. “I went to a summer school in Bratislava and then returned for a one-term study abroad programme. When I came back, I had to take every exam I’d missed: there were few equivalent courses at the Belarusian university, so the only exam they did not make me sit was Slovakian oral practice.” By contrast, the university in Bratislava took into account her studies in Belarus and let her transfer straight into the third year of the course without retaking the second one.</p> <p class="Paragraph">Pisarchik notes that a Slovakian university diploma is recognised in European countries and the US, whereas a Belarusian one would raise questions for potential employers: “At the Bratislava university, the only obligation a student has is to accumulate the number of credits in their study plan. You can create your own schedule, there are few subjects where there is only one class you can attend during the whole week, so it’s always possible to move things around. Moreover, you can take courses designed for other degree programmes. If you have an interest in French literature, you can sign up for that, pass the exam, and get extra credits.”&nbsp;</p><p class="Paragraph"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ehu_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>European Humanities University, Vilnius. Wikimedia Commons.</span></span></span>Since 2005, many of those who want a relatively cheap education in the humanities have travelled down the well-trodden path to the neighbouring city of Vilnius, where the <a href="http://www.ehu.lt/en/">European Humanities University</a> (EHU) currently has nine hundred students from Belarus. The level of financial support provided by the university varies according to the student’s academic performance; tuition fees are between 800 and 2,000 euros a year. Bachelor’s courses are free for students from Belarus as long as they keep getting the highest marks. Students from other countries pay 2,500 euros a year and do not have access to performance-based scholarships.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">EHU was founded in Minsk in 1992; the Belarusian authorities closed it in 2004 for reasons of ideology. A year later the school reopened in Vilnius and is now seen as a Belarusian university in exile, although formally it is a Lithuanian HEI. Since reopening, it has awarded degrees to over 2,500 Belarusians.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <h3>Too outspoken for their own good</h3> <p class="Paragraph">Another destination for student migrants is Poland, whose authorities have set up programmes specifically for the benefit of Belarusians expelled from university on political grounds. The <a href="http://english.studium.uw.edu.pl/k-kalinowski-scholarship-program/">Konstanty Kalinowski Programme</a> alone has provided scholarships from the Polish government to over 900 students. The first wave of expulsions came in 2006, when the October Square in Minsk was the site of weeks-long protests against presidential elections results involving several thousand people. Many of the students who had taken part in the protests were forced to continue their studies abroad.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">New repressions against students began in 2010, after the presidential election. Students were charged with protesting without a permit and then punished by their universities, which issued reprimands and expelled them. University administrators denied there had been politically motivated expulsions; however, the European Union imposed sanctions on six university rectors, forbidding them entry in the EU. The two universities with the most expulsions were the Belarusian State Pedagogic University and BSU.&nbsp;</p><p class="Paragraph"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/CVN2B3QUwAAyrW2.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'>December 2015: "Students against!" protest in Minsk. Image: <a href=pic.twitter.com/Zrafhjpnzx> Twitter</a>.</span></span></span>Gleb Vaykul is among those who plan to continue their studies abroad. The student activist was expelled from the modern languages faculty of BSU in his second year, on paper — for poor academic performance. He took part in the <a href="http://naviny.by/rubrics/society/2015/12/02/ic_articles_116_190393">Students’ March</a> held in Minsk on 2 December 2015 and believes this was the reason for his expulsion. BSU students organized a <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/%D1%81%D1%82%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8B%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%B2?src=hash">#studentsagainst</a> movement on social media and gathered more than 2,500 signatures against the introduction of fees for exam resits. Other campaign aims included stopping universities from exerting pressure on students, the dissolution of the BSU Assembly, and the creation of a new autonomous student union.</p> <p class="Paragraph">“We were protesting the fact that universities ignored us and did not take our opinions into account no matter what. I was charged with unlawful picketing and the Moscow District court in Minsk fined me the equivalent of 18 base units ($160 or about six monthly stipends) for participating in an illegal protest. All student demands were ignored. Since then, almost every Belarusian university has started charging fees for exam resits,” Vaykul says. In total, there had been about 60 participants at the Students’ March, making it one of the largest student protests in recent years. Apart from Vaykul, two other students were expelled and another ten were issued reprimands.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">“We were protesting the fact that universities ignored us and did not take our opinions into account no matter what”</p><p class="Paragraph">By the time Vaykul was expelled, Belarus had already joined the Bologna process, which means that the country must preserve academic freedoms, Vladimir Dunaev says. However, academic autonomy remains a pipe dream: students play no role in university administration while rectors are appointed directly by the president on the basis of recommendations made by the Council of Ministers. </p><p class="Paragraph">The only high-profile student organisation is the <a href="http://brsm.by/">Belarusian Republican Youth Union</a> (BRSM), where future functionaries get their starts. BRSM’s former head Igor Buzovsky, for example, rapidly worked his way up to become deputy chief of staff to the president, responsible, until recently, for ideology. The Union is funded by the state and supports the authorities on every issue.&nbsp;</p><p class="Paragraph"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/studenty_za_evropu.gif" alt="" title="" width="400" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Students for Europe!" a slogan from a student protest. Source: Flying University.</span></span></span>University staff are leaving the country as well. According to a recent <a href="https://cet.eurobelarus.info/files/File/Berufsverbot-Belarus%281%29.pdf">study</a> titled “Professional bans in Belarus: the diversity of forms, aims, and methods”, more than 500 teaching staff in Belarus have been dismissed on ideological and political grounds. Many of them now work at EHU and other European universities, including the Centre for Belarusian Studies at the <a href="http://en.uw.edu.pl">University of Warsaw</a>.</p> <p class="Paragraph">After being fired from his teaching post at BSU, Andrey Lavrukhin worked at EHU in Lithuania and then became a senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in St Petersburg. “I genuinely struggle to understand,” Lavrukhin says, “why my knowledge, skills, and expertise are not required in Belarus, why the authorities have the right to deny me the opportunity to make my contribution to social development. In 2014, when I left EHU, I had offers from five faculty heads [in Belarus] to work at their universities. Every time, their rectors would turn me down, the people who had made offers to me would make a thousand apologies and say: ‘Well, you understand how it is...’ But I don’t understand! Later, I was given a more straightforward explanation that I should not have been so outspoken in public about certain issues.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <h3>Searching for an alternative</h3> <p class="Paragraph">Teaching staff who have been barred from state universities in Belarus but decided to stay in the country are exploring informal education, setting up alternatives to the state system. Among these is the <a href="http://fly-uni.org/">Flying University</a>, founded in 2011.</p> <p class="Paragraph">Almost every evening, a crowd gathers in a private home not far from the Minsk city centre. In one or sometimes several rooms at a time, seminars are held with a great deal of noise: spirited defence of one’s views is the order of the day. The Flying University is named after the first independent Polish universities, which migrated from place to place to avoid persecution by the authorities.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“My dream is a university with an atmosphere of freedom. I would very much like for it to be the place where students assemble and where their personalities take shape.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">The man behind the university, the philosopher Vladimir Matskevich, was de facto stripped of the right at teach at Belarusian public universities in 2004 for criticising Lukashenko. Since then, he has been working on the concept of a civic university and the “Think Belarus” programme that has crystallised into the Flying University. Describing the concept, Matskevich says: “I am an idealist, I believe that ideas rule the world and define human life and activity. My dream is a university with an atmosphere of freedom. I would very much like for it to be the place where students assemble and where their personalities take shape.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">Among the university’s acclaimed lecturers are the theologian and Bible scholar Irina Dubenetskaya, who teaches Bible school courses, and the artist and poet Mikhal Anempodistov, who leads the school of design. The university looks to attract engaging speakers and there are currently more than twenty intellectuals amongst its teaching staff.</p> <p class="Paragraph">Vyacheslav Bobrovich, a senior lecturer at the Minsk State Linguistic University who also leads the Flying University’s school of democracy, explains his motivation for getting involved with a non-state university: “Those who teach at the Flying University and at Belarussian HEIs live in two seemingly unconnected worlds. I would like for these worlds to intersect. I believe that democracy is the most important thing for Belarus. And learning about democracy is far from easy, but it is very relevant to society.”</p> <p class="Paragraph">The university does not charge fees for its busy programme, which includes regular seminars, course offerings, and the <a href="http://fly-uni.org/urbi-et-orbi">Urbi et Orbi public lecture series</a> that have been attended by more than 800 people.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The tone of teaching is different from what is possible in the classroom of a state university&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">The Flying University’s foray into alternative education is not, however, without precedent. The <a href="http://belcollegium.org/">Belarusian Collegium</a>, founded in 1997, was the first independent platform of this kind. Its curriculum targets university graduates and students in their final years. It has four “departments”: modern history; philosophy and literature; European politics, society, and culture; and journalism. It is difficult to imagine some of these courses being taught at other Belarusian universities. The tone of teaching is different from what is possible in the classroom of a state university — for the most part, the pro-state point of view does not fully recognise the repression of the Belarusian people in the Soviet Union.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">Minsk is also home to the <a href="http://eclab.by/">European College of Liberal Arts in Belarus</a> (ECLAB), an informal educational programme for students in the humanities. Unlike other educational venues, ECLAB charges fees, but these do not exceed $360 a year.</p> <h3>Dashed hopes&nbsp;</h3> <p class="Paragraph">Despite the high level of interest enjoyed by informal educational programmes, they cannot fully replace universities.</p> <p class="Paragraph">From that point of view, fulfilling the commitments made in the Bologna process roadmap is a topical and urgent issue. In the past, the academic community had high hopes for amendments to the law on education. However, the <a href="http://edu.gov.by/page-1061">proposals</a> for reform published on 1 February were disappointing: the provisions they contained made no concessions to demands for more autonomy in education. For example, Belarus is supposed to set up an independent agency to oversee quality in education in accordance with European standards as well as introduce elections of rectors, but the document makes no mention of this. The proposals do not abolish the practice of compulsory allocation and the overall direction of educational policy will continue to be set by the president.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph">“God forbid! We began to race after you (Russia) in the pursuit of some kind of Bologna process, but thankfully we have stopped. Otherwise we’ll run straight into a situation where we lose our education to please the west. They come here and are jealous of us: we have a good system of education. Then, we rush headlong into this Bologna process... Thank God, we have figured out we are running in the wrong direction and we have stopped,” Lukashenko <a href="http://belapan.com/archive/2016/11/17/875033/">said</a> during a press conference in November 2016.</p> <p class="Paragraph">The roadmap mandates that most of the changes, including changes to legislation, must be made by the end of 2017. The issue of Belarus will be raised again at the EHEA ministerial conference in 2018. Judging by official statements, however, it seems like the conservative forces have already won, Vladimir Dunaev believes: “The paradox is that there is no mechanism to hold Belarus accountable for failing to act on its commitments. In the short term, this unfortunately means that education in Belarus is more likely to remain Soviet than to become European.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="Paragraph"><em>Translation by Alexander Iosad.</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/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/how-to-make-whole-generation-apolitical-interview-with-bel">How to make an entire generation apolitical: an interview with Belarusian anarchist Mikola Dedok</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests">We are not parasites: understanding Belarus’s protests</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">Cuts, cuts, cuts: the life and times of Russia’s university teachers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alena Spasyuk Education Tue, 25 Apr 2017 08:48:27 +0000 Alena Spasyuk 110383 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is the anti-corruption agenda all that it’s cracked up to be? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/is-anti-corruption-agenda-all-that-it-s-cracked-up-to-be <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">The fight against corruption is often sold as the pill to end all postsocialist ills. Activists and researchers in Poland, Russia and Ukraine give their views on why we need to challenge it.&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/555493/11160261435_e211a8b44d_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>St Michael's Church, Kyiv, November 2013. CC BY 2.0 Ivan Bandura / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Recent years have seen a rise in anti-corruption protest movements across postsocialist states. In January, thousands took to the streets of Bucharest in the largest such demonstration since the fall of Ceaucescu. From Russia to Ukraine, Moldova, Poland and Romania, these protest cycles see citizens come together — whether on the square or in activist groups — to demand that public officials do not steal or abuse their positions. These movements are frequently framed in patriotic terms, and, in certain conditions, express anti-oligarchic, anti-communist and anti-authoritarian sentiments.</p><p dir="ltr">But is the anti-corruption agenda as we know it stifling other kinds of politics from emerging? There is a common sense hypothesis, found in the rhetoric of prominent opposition figures and the analysis of external commentators, that anti-corruption is the only agenda that can unite otherwise disparate groups of people — disparate by ethnicity, profession, class, education or gender. We cannot morally stomach the deception involved in public theft, it goes, that surely we can all come together to stop it. Likewise, the sense of morality that underpins the populist language against “corrupt people in power” is this agenda’s main ingredient (mass indignation and outrage), rather than any substantive discussion of what kind of polity the people involved actually wish to live in. In this sense, to be against corruption is to be “anti-political” (all politics, after all, is corrupt), and to whitewash other interests and divisions in favour of national salvation. </p><p>We ask Marta Tycner (<a href="http://partiarazem.pl/">Razem</a>, Poland), Oleg Zhuralev (<a href="http://ps-lab.ru/">Public Sociology Laboratory</a>, Russia) and Aliona Lyasheva (<a href="http://commons.com.ua">Commons</a>, Ukraine) for their thoughts on how to make the anti-corruption agenda truly transformative.</p><h2>How have anti-corruption agenda(s) evolved in your country? Who do you see as the main groups or actors behind it?</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Aliona Liasheva:</strong> The anti-corruption agenda has been an important part of Ukrainian politics for years. For instance, during the “Without Kuchma” mass protests at the beginning of the 2000s, one of the main questions that brought people onto the street was the president’s corruption as exposed by the “cassette scandal” — a leak of recordings of the president’s conversations with top bureaucrats of the country.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-Ukraine_Without_Kuchma_6_February.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2001: protesters against president Leonid Kuchma take to the centre of Kyiv. Source: Maidan-Inform. GNU Free Documentation License. </span></span></span>Later during the Orange Revolution in 2004, anti-corruption policies became one of the main ways the Ukrainian state was to be transformed. Terms such as “lustration” became really popular in political debates. Hundreds of bureaucrats were fired, hundreds of enterprises investigated.</p><p dir="ltr">Since 2014, and Ukraine’s deeper involvement in relationships with the EU, the fight for transparency is also being pushed on the international level. But for some reason all this just doesn’t work. Just last week, <a href="http://www.unz.com/akarlin/ernst-young-ukraine-tops-corruption/">Ernst and Young rated Ukraine</a> as the most corrupt country across 41 states with developed or developing markets in Europe, Middle East.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Micro-corruption and macro-corruption are not being distinguished, even though the reasons behind these phenomena are quite different</p><p dir="ltr">Why don’t the state’s anti-corruption strategy and numerous civil society anti-corruption initiatives work? I believe the dominant discourse on corruption in Ukraine fails to explain (and consequently change) the social roots of corruption. It fails to recognise that a top state official who is lobbying for policies profitable for her family business is not the same as a doctor who is earning a bit more than $100 and takes bribes just to feed her family.</p><p dir="ltr">Micro-corruption and macro-corruption are not being distinguished, even though the reasons behind these phenomena are quite different. Corruption on the macro level, namely the interconnection between big capital and the state, is being equaled to corruption on the micro level, presenting chocolates or wine to your doctor, teacher or low-level official. If the first is the way the oligarchs protect their business by state power, the second is a survival strategy of the oppressed that is often an act of perverse solidarity.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Marta Tycner: </strong>In Poland, the communist era, with all its dreadful economic failures and other problems, was a time when great effort was expended towards ending the role of eastern and central Europe in the international division of labour (not the first, but probably the most successful). Connections to the west were cut and a huge industrialisation programme was introduced.</p><p dir="ltr">With the transition to capitalism, this territory’s semi-peripheral dependency returned again in 1989-1991. Recent struggles against corruption trace their roots to this time of transition. The unclear ways in which public property was transferred to private hands, both local elites/ oligarchs and foreign predatory investors, resulted in justified accusations towards certain groups of people of gaining wealth and power in a suspicious way. One could argue that what happened in the early 1990s in post-communist states was an extremely rapid process of primary accumulation of capital, and it was only rarely linked to “personal merits” of the new local capitalists, rather than friends and connections in the right places.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Here, corruption scandals are not seen as isolated affairs, as is the case in developed countries, but as an inherent part of the organisation of the state</p><p dir="ltr">This obviously differed from country to country. In Poland, the group of people who “achieved everything with their hard work and entrepreneurship only” is larger than in, say, Ukraine or Russia. Oligarchy never existed in Poland as the true and only system of government. Yet in terms of the general picture, the differences are not that important: the key is that a large part of the society felt betrayed by those who benefited from the transformation.</p><p dir="ltr">What is interesting in the Polish case is that the Polish political class went through one round of cleansing of the system, which didn’t change much in terms of political logics. In 2002, the post-communist government fell after a huge corruption scandal was made public. The post-communists were chased by liberal and right-wing politicians who acted hand in hand, and who promised to clean the system once in power and persecute the “fake social democrats”. But the promised coalition was never founded. PiS, the party which governs Poland now, formed a government with two smaller partners and began the “fight against the corrupt system” on its own. It resulted in founding a special anti-corruption agency (CBA), which, with its huge powers, attempted to run spectacular arrests of corrupt figures. PiS clearly overdid it when they chose their own coalition partners as targets in their anti-corruption crusade and when Barbara Blida, one of the arrested former post-communist MPs, <a href=http://www2.polskieradio.pl/eo/dokument.aspx?iid=108409>took her own life in 2007 during arrest procedures at her home</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Since 2002, Poland’s political scene has been divided between two parties of “people of clean hands” originating from the pre-1989 anti-communist opposition. Did it make the preoccupation with corruption disappear? God no! The two groupings, PiS and PO, like in a toxic family where some roles need to be played even if the ones who staged them first are long dead, enact exactly the same deadly fight characteristic of peripheral capitalism.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">PiS, both in opposition and now in power, still accuses Polish liberals of the same old sins of the post-communists — betraying the nation, being influenced by the malign propaganda of the west, and, of course, corruption</p><p dir="ltr">With the absence of the post-communists, the liberals very quickly took over the role of the provincial elites and have seen themselves as saviours of the land, bringing the light of the west to the poor and uneducated. For them, the Right is the stubborn and deplorable brakemen of their efforts. In the eyes of their opponents, however, they are acting against morality and betraying the country for the sake of their filthy profit. On the other hand, for those who feel excluded from the gains of capitalism, only the anti-systemic right, PiS, can save the country by turning towards traditions, religion, hierarchical society and isolationism on the international scene.</p><p dir="ltr">PiS, both in opposition and now in power, still accuses Polish liberals of the same old sins of the post-communists — betraying the nation, being influenced by the malign propaganda of the west, and, of course, corruption. Out of habit, and to the amusement of foreign observers, they also accuse the liberals of communism and being “left-wing”, thus trying to identify them fully with their original enemy. “Komuniści i złodzieje” (“communists and thieves”) is probably the most common political offense directed towards the liberals.</p><p dir="ltr">What has changed are the proportions: national values and anti-leftism are much more in fashion now. Corruption is present, but much less exploited since the last elections, mostly because the roles have shifted — Poland’s “elites" are now in opposition, while the government is formed by “representatives of the common people”.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Oleg Zhuravlev:</strong> It’s a paradox, but it’s true: one of the sources of Russia’s anti-corruption agenda is state discourse. Putin at the beginning of the 2000s, with his rhetoric of the dictatorship of law and fighting against the oligarchs, was similar to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Alexei Navalny today</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In Russia’s opposition discourse, the discourse of fighting against corruption became particular prominent at the beginning of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">“for fair elections” movement in 2011</a>. Indeed, this rhetoric was universal: it united liberal speakers at the protest, ordinary protesters and sympathetic journalists who were defining the agenda. However, what was the cost of unifying these different people? And can we say that the rhetoric of fighting corruption united different social groups?</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/6817212429_a9173f8a56_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2012: a sign reading "Putin is alive" puns on a common term for "thieves and criminals" and the cult of Russian rockstar Viktor Tsoi. Antony Dovgal / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In my view, in the Russian context, anti-corruption discourse didn’t unite different social groups, but rather many individuals, and hindered the articulation of group interests. The universal quality of this rhetoric wasn’t based on the reconciliation between the interests of different social groups, but, rather, in their levelling out for the sake of an abstract general interest. Why was this rhetoric so attractive if it didn’t represent the “real” interests of social groups?</p><p dir="ltr">To my mind, this rhetoric was attractive because it was an effective “justification” for the central conflict between “citizens” and the “authorities”. My colleague Ilya Matveev and I called this means of justification the <a href="http://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/from-presence-to-belonging-eventful-identity-of-euromaidan">“politics of authenticity”</a>, whereby the basis for the justice of a struggle against a political regime is not the articulation of conflicting interests, but the reality, the truth of events witnessed. “I saw them stuffing the ballot box,” this phrase was often heard on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow in 2011 during the fair elections protests. The documents and amateur videos that showed the reality of corruption, the clips on YouTube that demonstrated all too clearly the falsifications during the vote counts — these documents endowed the “angry city dwellers” from different social groups with moral legitimacy in their fight against the dishonest regime.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EItl7SIL6Kc" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>December 2011: Footage from a polling station in Khamovniki, Moscow.</em></p> <p dir="ltr">In conditions of depoliticisation, when you have to justify yourself not just for participating in a protest but for being involved in politics at all, the ability to clearly demonstrate the criminality of the authorities becomes an important mechanism of mobilisation. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>What role do you think anti-corruption has played in civic mobilisation in recent years? What other concerns or issues has it connected with?</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Oleg Zhuravlev: </strong>Despite the fact that, as I stated previously, in the Russian context anti-corruption rhetoric has impeded the articulation of social problems (both in the sense of the problems of social groups and problems of social inequality) from the very beginning, nevertheless, the long-term effect of this rhetoric’s “growth” is that the social agenda in the end became more prominent in the Russian opposition public sphere.</p><p dir="ltr">The issue is that the problem of corruption touches on the economy and social inequality, and it was precisely the socio-economic agenda that was “washed out” of the discourse of the White Ribbon movement (i.e. the free and fair elections movement of 2011-2012) in favour of the more abstract and moralising themes of rights and freedoms, honesty, truth and lies. The subject of fighting against corruption allowed the opposition to make a move from dishonesty towards socio-economic injustice.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-12313946_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian protesters with white ribbons, a symbol of protest, gather together during a rally against alleged vote rigging at Bolotnaya Square. (c) Alexander Zemlianichenko AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>I’ll give you an example. For a long time, the Russian liberal opposition discourse was based on the opposition between the Yeltsin and Putin eras. The first was declared a time of freedom and democracy, and the second - the period that witnessed Russia’s authoritarian turn. Only in exceptional cases were Yeltsin’s attack on the White House in 1993 or the dishonest elections of 1996 interpreted as annoying mistakes which already in the 1990s strengthened Russia’s “power vertical”.</p><p dir="ltr">Watch director Valery Balayan’s recent film <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aITvb4qtXU8"><em>Who is Mr Putin?</em></a>, produced in the style of one of Alexei Navalny’s investigations. The film tells the story of how Vladimir Putin and his old boss, the mayor of St Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak, used their powers to drain budgets and illegally sell natural resources overseas — and they did this under the aegis of Egor Gaidar, Yeltsin’s former prime minister and finance minister. This scheme was depicted as the model that formed the foundation of Putin’s state.</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, in Balayan’s film, Putin and Yeltsin don’t appear as opposites. Instead, the film asserts the hereditary connection between the Yeltsin and Putin’s corrupt authoritarian regimes. This is why, in my opinion, at a moment when Russia is experiencing <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">harsh neoliberal reforms</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression">repressions</a>, the emerging realisation that the Russian population is being economically exploited by the country’s elites could foster the growth of left-wing, socialist moods.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Marta Tycner:</strong> What’s important here is the deep conviction that corruption is built into the very decision-making process in business and politics, be it because of the elite’s moral flaws or because the political system has been designed and governed by them.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, corruption scandals are not seen as isolated affairs, as is the case in developed countries, but as an inherent part of the organisation of the state. This conviction is so common that not only anti-system politicians, but also mainstream figures or corrupt oligarchs try to use the declared fight against corruption as a measure to please the public. Still, this should not blur the primary role corruption plays as one of the key reproaches of “common people” against their provincial elites.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">This situation makes the political debate in peripheral countries develop around very specific divisions. The part of society that benefits from the peripheral situation supports general openness of the country, chooses to assimilate to the culture of the comprador elites, and so on. They identify their own welfare with the welfare of the society as a whole, and are blind to how the close and unrestricted bonds between centre and periphery create disadvantages to the general population.</p><p dir="ltr">In response, the part of society that is disadvantaged by this situation turns towards ideas like social closeness, locality, traditional values, common sense, honesty of simple people and so on. If we take a look at the political movements in periphery countries, the most striking dividing line is the answer to the following question: should we as a country (blindly) follow the example of the centre, or rather isolate and seek remedy in "homegrown values" (tradition, religion, etc.)? We can see this as a specific form of class struggle oriented around the real interests of people, even though it’s articulated in cultural rather than economic terms.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Aliona Liasheva: </strong>Macro-level corruption isn’t going anywhere in Ukraine — this would mean a complete change of the socio-economic structure established in the 1990s. </p><p dir="ltr">I will give an example from the sphere that I research, Kyiv real estate. We have two major state, and several private development companies operating on the city’s real estate market. Having different status, these companies represent the merger between private and public spheres, which results in an absence of any democratic dialogue about how the city is going to be developed.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/13926925022_996b9b9979_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kyiv real estate. CC BY-ND 2.0 eltpics / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>State companies serve the private interests of their top management. Being part of the state, they have power to decide where, what and how to build. </p><p dir="ltr">As a consequence, highly profitable urban spaces are occupied by highrise blocks that ordinary residents of Kyiv are not able to afford, and just a part of the profits from this urban development is going to city budget, everything else often settles down in offshore companies. The private development companies, even the really small ones, have connections with the state institutions, otherwise they would not be able to do business, as the bureaucratic procedures to legalise privatisation of land or housing development of are extremely complicated.</p><p dir="ltr">So if one wants to develop property, she has to overcome the bureaucracy by paying bribes or doing some favours for public officials. Often heads of the real estate companies hold positions in state institutions. Such a configuration of private and public actors helps the Ukrainian elite to protect their business, both from smaller local and international players, which are unable to invest, privatise or win a tender as they do not have the necessary connections and are not connected to the right circles. Ukraine’s real estate sphere is one of the most extreme examples of micro-level corruption, but similar process are going on in various other spheres.</p><p>Moreover often corruption of the elites is being covered by nationalistic rhetorics. Especially the conflict in the East has contributed to this. Companies connected to Igor Kolomoysky from the very beginning of ATO are winning tenders of the Ukrainian army, supplying them with petrol, ammunition, etc. But any criticism of this corruption would be considered as pro-Russian propaganda — this creates just perfect conditions for such a business to flourish.&nbsp;</p><p>Contrary to this interconnection of the state and big capital, micro-level corruption is an outcome of the hidden or grey neoliberalisation of the state institutions. Healthcare might be the best example. Cuts on state spendings for health care system combined with performance of free healthcare system leads for complete corruption of these services. On the one hand, as doctors, teachers, small-level public servants do not have a chance to earn a decent salary legally, the only thing left to do is to take bribes. On the other, those who are unable to pay the bribe or use the private services that public hospitals can not provide find themselves excluded. In order to include those not having access to healthcare the state investments are to be raised up, of course, together with rising up of the quality of the services. The opposite is done now - the healthcare system is being privatised. This might fight the microlevel corruption, but will make access to the medical services even worse than now. This leads to a question: is the microlevel corruption to fight by making it legal?&nbsp;</p><p>Apart from the anti-corruption agenda failing to distinguish between corruption on the macro and micro level, it is also takes away the focus from questions of equality to questions of legality, which might intersect, but not always. For example, President Poroshenko became the “star” of Panama Papers scandal — together with other Ukrainian oligarchs, he completely legally evades paying taxes. No need to explain why this is damaging well-being of Ukrainians, being absolutely legal practice.</p><h2>Anti-corruption agendas can be co-opted by state agencies and oligarchic and/or moribund opposition platforms. What dangers of this kind do you see in your country? How can these be resisted?</h2><h2>There is the sense that anti-corruption is a universal agenda, one that can attract many people — regardless of their differences — on the basis of morality, inequality and patriotism. What sticking points do you see for movement-building and politics in general in connection with anti-corruption?</h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Oleg Zhuravlev:</strong> We should note that corruption is perceived differently across the post-Soviet space. </p><p dir="ltr">Comparative research between Bolotnaya and Maidan, carried out by PS Lab, showed that, while Russian protesters in 2011-2012 perceived corruption as a certain “systemic problem”, which, if removed, would lead to the appearance of courts, the rule of law, social guarantees and democracy all by themselves, in Ukraine in 2013-2014, corruption was seen as the means by which the Yanukovych elite subjugated a powerless and economically unprivileged population.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18576948-1_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>January 2014: a pro-European Union crowd hold lights while singing the Ukrainian national anthem as they celebrate New Year. (c) Efrem Lukatsky / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In other words, for the Maidan public sphere, corruption was viewed more in a class-oriented frame. This fostered the formation of a poor and powerless “people”, similar to that in the “We are the 99%” protests in America. (Later this image, much like the anti-corruption rhetoric, was taken up by nationalists, who now predominate in the public sphere in Ukraine.)</p><p dir="ltr">I think the examples of Ukraine and Russia show that the politics of anti-corruption has two sides to it —it can be seen within the framework of liberal discourse, but it can also be seen in class-oriented rhetoric. I hope the future favours the latter. </p><p><strong>Aliona Liasheva: </strong>In Ukraine, the anti-corruption discourse has been completely taken over by ruling elite and the cluster of society that supports neoliberal reforms. On the one hand, fighting corruption successfully helps the country’s leadership to simulate reforms in front of the EU and IMF in order to continue receiving credits. On the other, it helps them to strengthen the power vertical — any state governor is corrupt (as she is a businesswoman at the same time), but if she does something non-acceptable for the leaders of the country, she might be blamed publicly for being corrupt and thus lose her position.</p><p dir="ltr">Still, as it is becomes more and more obvious that the Poroshenko government is not even slightly less corrupt than the previous one, and the anti-corruption agenda is broadly popular among Ukrainians, there might be a chance to redevelop the understanding of corruption from below. Examples of this are rare, but they do exist, such as what’s happening with the trade union activists at Kyiv’s public transport company “Kyivpastrans” who weren’t paid their salary for several months. In this labour conflict, they demonstrated <a href="http://socportal.info/2016/11/03/kiyivpastrans-stvoryuye-nesterpni-umovi-chlenam-nezalezhnoyih-profspilki.html">the bureaucratic machinations</a> of the company officials which lead to violations of the employees’ labour rights.</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/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach/that-obscure-object-of-desire-reforms-labour-code-and-progressive-agenda-in-">#DontFuckWithUs: labour reforms and the progressive agenda in Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">Dissecting Russia’s winter of protest, five years on</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mischa-gabowitsch/putin-s-regimes">Putin’s regimes</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-zubarevich/four-russias-new-political-reality">Four Russias: the new political reality </a> </div> <div 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="/can-europe-make-it/tom-junes/why-polands-black-protest-could-be-potential-game-changer">Why Poland&#039;s &#039;Black Protest&#039; could be a potential game changer</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">Russia, Inc.</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia openMovements Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Politics of Plunder Russia Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:33:05 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia 110267 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Russian authorities’ clampdown on activism and freedom of assembly continues https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/russian-authorities-clampdown-on-activism-and-freedom-of-assembly-continues <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Use of force against a police officer, insulting religious believers' feelings, taking a selfie with an Easter egg — these are just some of the pretexts used against active citizens in Russia. <em><strong><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/mailing/2017/04/21/za-moskvu-i-za-yayca">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/omon_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>26 March: Riot police in Moscow. Image: Boris Pospelov. </span></span></span><strong>We continue our partnership with <a href="https://ovdinfo.org">OVD-Info</a>,&nbsp;</strong><strong>a Russian NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we bring you the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/ovd-info">latest information on freedom of assembly</a> in Russia.&nbsp;</strong></p><p dir="ltr">After we reported last week that Russia’s Investigative Committee has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20">opened a criminal case into Moscow’s anti-corruption protests</a> on 26 March, we now have details of the charges against one of the four detainees, Yuri Kuliy. He is being charged on the basis of <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/14/na-uchastnika-antidimona-zaveli-delo-za-chto-polozhil-ruku-na-plecho">putting his hand on the shoulder of a riot policeman</a>. Another detainee, Alexander Shpakov, who apparently hit a police lieutenant, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/20/arestovannyy-po-delu-26-marta-rasskazal-o-svoem-izbienii">reveals how he was beaten during arrest</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">There’s signs that local authorities in Petrozavodsk, Karelia will <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/14/v-petrozavodske-na-uchastnika-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii-hotyat-zavesti">open a criminal case against one of the participants</a> in the anti-corruption protests. And we <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/04/17/kakie-lyudi-v-kostyumah-policeyskih">publish the story of Alexei Minyailo</a>, who was detained on 26 March, but managed to avoid administrative arrest.</p><p dir="ltr">Vyacheslav Maltsev, the Russian nationalist politician <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20">who suffered a heart attack during transit last week</a>, and Konstantin Zelenin, his aide, have now been detained for a further 15 days on administrative arrest.</p><p dir="ltr">In several regions, the authorities have increased restrictions on freedom of assembly. In Tomsk, for example, the authorities <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/vlasti-v-tomske-posle-26-marta-perenesli-gayd-park-iz-centra-v">moved</a> a space for meetings from the centre into an industrial zone; and in Samara, the authorities <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/v-samare-iz-spiska-gayd-parkov-isklyuchili-mesto-gde-prohodil-miting-protiv">excluded</a> a meeting space which had previously hosted anti-corruption protests. In Tatarstan, the rules governing the holding of demonstrations have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/vlasti-tatarstana-uslozhnili-pravila-podachi-zayavki-na-miting">made more complicated</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The organisers of the countrywide “I’ve had enough” demonstration, set for 29 April, have come under pressure. In Novosibirsk, the organiser of a local protest (otherwise permitted by the authorities) has been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/20/v-novosibirske-organizatoru-akcii-nadoel-grozyat-ugolovnym-delom-ob">threatened</a> with a criminal case for extremism.</p><h2>Insulting the believers</h2><p dir="ltr">On 20 April, Russia’s Supreme Court <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/20/verhovnyy-sud-priznal-svideteley-iegovy-ekstremistskoy-organizaciey">declared</a> the Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist organisation and liquidated it. During the legal process, Ministry of Justice representatives <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/20/minyust-prosit-likvidirovat-vse-mestnye-organizacii-svideteley-iegovy">requested</a> that all local Jehovah’s Witness organisations also be liquidated.</p><p dir="ltr">We publish the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/04/16/vse-tolko-nachinaetsya">story of Igor Martynenko</a>, an Irkutsk anarchist activist detained as part of an investigation into insulting religious believers’ feelings. This week, Martynenko was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/17/irkutskiy-sud-povtorno-prinyal-reshenie-ob-areste-anarhista-martynenko">sent to administrative detention once again</a> for not carrying out a police officer’s orders. You can also watch the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/16/ya-sposoben-odobrit-religioznuyu-deyatelnost">video of the interrogation of Ruslan Sokolovsky</a>, the Ekaterinburg blogger who also accused of offending religious believers’ feelings, as well as spreading hate and possession of a “spy pen”.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, it turns out you’re not allowed to take selfies with Easter eggs. Pavel Lobkov, an employee of Dozhd TV, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/14/sotrudnika-dozhdya-zaderzhali-v-centre-moskvy-v-kostyume-penisa">detained</a> (and later fined) in Moscow this week for photographing himself in a penis outfit next to a Easter-themed egg. </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/C9sgiv0XcAAVckn.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Activists spell out "Freedom for Maltsev" with easter eggs before they are detained in Cheboskary. Source: <a href=https://twitter.com/Okunev64/status/854312348676485120>Sergei Okunev</a>. </span></span></span>In Chuvashia, activists were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/v-cheboksarah-policiya-zaderzhivaet-lyudey-za-fotografiyu-s-yaycami">detained</a> for photographing themselves with easter eggs that spelled out the phrase “Freedom to [Vyacheslav] Maltsev”.</p><h2>Freedom of assembly</h2><p dir="ltr">This week, the Petersburg police have been busy: they’ve detained <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/15/v-sankt-peterburge-zaderzhany-vosem-dalnoboyshchikov-za-nesankcionirovannyy">long-distance truck drivers</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/15/v-sankt-peterburge-zaderzhany-aktivisty-drugoy-rossii-za-akciyu-vzyatie">Other Russia activists</a> for their demonstration “Taking the Smolny” (they were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/17/aktivistov-drugoy-rossii-v-peterburge-otpustili-iz-policii">kept</a> at the police station for two days) and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/16/v-peterburge-zaderzhany-uchastniki-progulki-novoy-oppozicii">people</a> participating in walks of the “New opposition” (who also <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/zaderzhannyh-16-aprelya-aktivistov-novoy-oppozicii-otpustili-iz-suda">spent two days in the police station</a>).</p><p dir="ltr">In Sochi, participants of an anti-corruption protest were also <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/16/v-sochi-zaderzhany-uchastniki-antikorrupcionnoy-akcii">detained</a> and later <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/17/v-sochi-arestovany-uchastniki-akcii-v-gayd-parke">sentenced to administrative detention</a>. In Moscow, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/17/v-moskve-siloviki-pytayutsya-razognat-stoyanku-dalnoboyshchikov">tried to disperse the truck drivers’ camp</a>, and in Zabaikalye, a man standing with a picket against the Platon system was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/v-zabaykale-sud-arestoval-muzhchinu-na-5-sutok-za-piket-protiv-sistemy">arrested</a> for five days.</p><h2>Criminal cases</h2><p dir="ltr">In <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/17/na-zaklyuchennogo-zayavivshego-o-pytkah-v-segezhskoy-ik-7-zaveli-delo-o">Karelia</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/na-zaklyuchennogo-zayavivshego-o-pytkah-v-ik-6-zaveli-delo-o-lozhnom-donose">Kirov</a>, prison authorities are opening fresh cases against inmates who complain of torture.</p><p dir="ltr">Darya Polyudova, the Kuban left-wing activist who received a two-year sentence on separatism charges for posts on social media, has had <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/19/sud-otkazalsya-uslovno-dosrochno-osvobodit-iz-kolonii-kubanskuyu-aktivistku">her request for early release refused</a>. Another “online separatist” Vladimir Khagdaev, from Buryatia, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/18/buryatskogo-aktivista-prigovorili-k-trem-godam-uslovno">received a three-year suspended sentence</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/polyudova_arrest_main_2_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="302" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In December 2015, Darya Polyudova was sentenced to two years in a Krasnodar court for "inciting extremism and separatism". Source: personal page on VKontakte.</span></span></span>Alexander Belov, co-chairman of the “Russians” ethnopolitical association, had his sentence <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/14/sopredsedatelyu-epo-russkie-snizili-srok-nakazaniya">reduced</a> from 7.5 years to 3.5 years. Belov was sentenced on financial manipulation charges, spreading hate, creating an extremist organisation and calls for extremism.</p><h2>What we’re reading</h2><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Meduza’s story on how demonstrations against utilities tariff hikes in Novosibirsk <a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/04/19/v-novosibirske-proshlo-sem-mitingov-protiv-rosta-tarifov-na-zhkh-posle-etogo-gubernator-peredumal-ih-povyshat">worked</a>.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- “Are you Semyon?”: the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/04/19/ty-semen">story</a> of Semyon Simonov, a Sochi rights defender, about his detention in Volgograd.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">- Snob <a href="https://snob.ru/selected/entry/123474">shows</a> how people are going to prison for “use of force against police officers”.</p></li></ul><h2>What’s next</h2><p dir="ltr">On 25 April, Moscow city court will <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/10/moskovskogo-matematika-obvinennogo-v-prizyvah-k-terrorizmu-arestovali-na-dva">examine</a> a petition against the arrest of Dmitry Bogatov, who’s charged with preparing mass unrest in connection with anonymous calls to demonstrate on Red Square on 2 April. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Thank you &nbsp;&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">Thanks to everyone who continues to support us. Find out how you can OVD-Info&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/rostov-red-army-faction">Rostov’s Red Army Faction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20">Bolotnaya 2.0?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/in-russia-26-march-continues">In Russia, 26 March continues</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daria-bashkirova/bolotnaya-that-spark-in-their-eyes">Bolotnaya: that spark in their eyes</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">Got tagged? Get fined! Russia’s battle against “digital extremism”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Fri, 21 Apr 2017 10:34:42 +0000 OVD-Info 110282 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Зеленый протест. Как борьба за лес может стать борьбой против коррупции https://www.opendemocracy.net/odr-editors/krugliy-stol-eco-aktivism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Почему в России почти любая форма гражданской активности рано или поздно упирается в проблему коррупции.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/enviromental activism 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/enviromental activism 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Пикет в защиту экологов-активистов, Москва, 2012 год. Источник: Экологическая Вахта по Северному Кавказу.</span></span></span>По всей стране жители самых разных городов - от Калининграда до Махачкалы - выходят на улицы, чтобы сохранить парки, исторические здания и водоемы. Жители многоэтажек по собственной инициативе разгребают мусор. Матери семейств высаживают цветы на детских площадках и борются за право заходить в кафе с колясками. Мы все чаще смотрим на город как на место, которое принадлежит нам, а не условному муниципалитету. При этом нередко даже самые, казалось бы, невинные инициативы по уборке мусора или защите зеленых насаждений вызывают у местных властей одну реакцию - запретить. Урбанисты наталкиваются на сопротивление местных администраций и на угрозы со стороны предпринимательских структур: их действия нередко противоречат чьим-то краткосрочным политическим или коммерческим интересам.&nbsp;</p><p>Как выглядит защита окружающей среды в разных регионах России? С какими проблемами сталкиваются активисты? И какую роль их деятельность играет в антикоррупционных протестах, прокатившихся в последние несколько недель по России? При содействии <a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org/ru/home/" target="_blank">Гражданского форума ЕС-Россия</a> редакторы oDR поговорили на эти темы с представителями некоммерческих организаций в экологическом секторе.</p><p>Участники дискуссии:</p><p>Анна Фадеева, "<a href="http://www.grany-center.org" target="_blank">ГРАНИ", Пермь</a>: Центр гражданского анализа и независимых исследований осуществляет поддержку НКО по реализации общественных интересов, в т.ч. во взаимодействии с органами власти. Природоохранные вопросы являются одним из аспектов деятельности организации. В числе проектов Центра - анализ последствий ядерных испытаний в Пермском крае.</p><p>Дмитрий Шевченко, "<a href="http://www.ewnc.org/" target="_blank">Экологическая Вахта по Северному Кавказу</a>": занимается широким спектром природоохранных вопросов в шести регионах Северного Кавказа, такими как “Наследие Западный Кавказ”, “Рамсарские угодья в дельте Кубани”, а также локальными проектами – в том числе отслеживает вырубки, свалки и токсичные выбросы. В момент проведения круглого стола Вахта была привлечена к очередному судебному разбирательству по поводу включения в реестр “иностранных агентов”.</p><p>Елена Бобровская, "<a href="https://interrasibir.com/" target="_blank">Интерра", Красноярск</a>: НКО в сфере гражданского образования. В числе проектов организации - Международная Школа Городских Изменений: практикум по изменению общественных пространств и серия публичных мероприятий. Цель Школы - познакомить слушателей с основами устройства общественного пространства современных городов, с технологиями его организации, использования и развития.</p><p>&nbsp;Сергей Терешенков, "<a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org/ru/home/" target="_blank">Гражданский Форум ЕС-Россия</a>". Гражданский форум ЕС-Россия основан в 2011 году неправительственными организациями в качестве постоянно действующей совместной платформы. В настоящее время членами Форума являются 153 организации из России и стран Европейского союза. Цели Форума – развитие сотрудничества неправительственных организаций России и ЕС и более активное участие НКО в диалоге между ЕС и Россией. В рамках своей деятельности Форум активно занимается такими вопросами как облегчение визового режима, развитие гражданского участия, защита окружающей среды и прав человека, вопросы исторической памяти и гражданского образования. Секретариат Форума расположен в DRA / Немецко-Русский обмен..</p><p><strong>В прошедшие несколько недель по России прокатились массовые выступления против коррупции. Как вам кажется, насколько в этой волне протеста выражены интересы ваших организаций, выражены интересы урбанистических, экологических инициатив? Чувствуете ли вы, что вы как то там представлены, что это имеет к вам отношение? </strong></p><p>Дмитрий Шевченко: Безусловно, наша деятельность абсолютно созвучна с фильмом "Он вам не Димон", поскольку в 2008-2010 годах мы занимались защитой природной территории "Утриш" на черноморском побережье, где фонд "Дар" по той же самой схеме, про которую рассказывал Алексей Навальный, планировал построить в Анапе очередную резиденцию для Дмитрия Анатольевича под видом строительства физкультурно-оздоровительного комплекса.</p><p>Когда мы говорим о том, что мы защищаем природные территории, мы защищаем права граждан на благоприятную среду обитания. В 99% случаев все эти факты, связанные с нарушением прав или с нарушением закона, так или иначе связаны с коррупцией. То есть, по большому счету, чем бы мы здесь не занимались, мы так или иначе сталкиваемся с коррупцией. Это абсолютная данность, с которой нам приходится иметь дело. И когда мы защищали "Утриш", то мы не столько защищали саму природную территорию, сколько не позволяли осуществить крупнейший в истории России коррупционный акт.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Чем бы мы здесь не занимались, мы так или иначе сталкиваемся с коррупцией</p><p>Анна Фадеева: Конечно, коррупция очень связана со всей нашей деятельностью, это непосредственно нас касается. Например, история с нефтяными разливами. “Лукойл” создает дочерние организации, которые в результате становятся владельцами различных хранилищ опасных отходов, а “Лукойл” оказывается чистой экологической организацией. При этом понятно, что невозможно такие схемы проворачивать законным способом. И таких примеров довольно много в различных сферах, связанных с экологией, с отходами.</p><p>Но я не вижу, как выход на митинги действительно решает эти проблемы. Я понимаю, что это здорово, чтобы почувствовать, что нас много, что у нас есть поддержка и что мы не одиноки в своих безумных мыслях. Встретиться, посмотреть друг другу в глаза, больше я не вижу, как это может влиять на ситуацию.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/2016-11-03_Roza-hutor_DSC08859.preview.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/2016-11-03_Roza-hutor_DSC08859.preview.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Хребет Аибга. Вековые дубы и каштаны незаконно пошли под нож при строительстве горнолыжного курорта Роза Хутор. Фото: Экологическая Вахта по Северному Кавказу.</span></span></span></p><p>Елена Бобровская: Напрямую мы не работаем по борьбе с коррупцией. Но демонстрация в Красноярске “Против черного неба” – такой митинг с экологической повесткой, который собрал столько же людей, сколько потом митинг в минувшее воскресенье. В наших образовательных проектах, когда обсуждается тема экологии, мы, конечно, стремимся сделать так, чтобы молодежь, которая к нам приходит, понимала коррупционную составляющую в экологических проблемах.</p><p><strong>Что изменилось в плане экологического активизма в вашем регионе, в ваших городах за последние лет 10, скажем? И какие сообщества сейчас наиболее активны?</strong></p><p>ДШ: В нашем регионе ситуация с гражданским обществом на общероссийском фоне отличается в худшую сторону. Последние 20 лет в Краснодарском крае выстраивалась политическая система, при которой краевое руководство попыталось поставить под контроль абсолютно все общественные сферы, в частности, конечно же, была задавлена политическая оппозиция.</p><p>В Краснодаре нет достаточной инфраструктуры для низового активизма, для работы некоммерческих организаций, потому что нет политической оппозиции вообще. Работать, по большему счету, не с кем, учитывая, что в законодательном собрании представлена одна “Единая Россия” и несколько коммунистов. При этом у нас в крае живет 5,5 млн человек.</p><p>Долгое время некоммерческие организации были у нас в регионе последней отдушиной для гражданского общества, потому что это та сфера, которую власть долго не могла поставить под свой контроль. Тем не менее, за последние годы они продвинулись в этом своем начинании, особенно после того, как у нас было разгромлена такая организация как "<a href="http://kommersant.ru/doc/2617329">Южный региональный ресурсный центр</a>" и случилось дело профессора Саввы, который был вынужден уехать из страны.</p><p>Сегодня у нас нет ни одного ресурсного центра для НКО и низовых активистов, нет ни одной сильной региональной правозащитной организации, нет ни одного независимого электронного СМИ. В результате, мы очень стеснены в возможности донести свою позицию до населения.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Основным инициатором протестов является сама власть, своими идиотскими действиями</p><p>Сейчас у нас в городе протестная активность нарастает, в особенности, в связи с последним митингом, который был 26 марта. У нас в городе было задержано около 100 человек, сейчас около 20 из них получили различные сроки, от 3 до 15 суток. В том числе, среди задержанных там несколько членов нашей организации, и на самом митинге было много людей, которые занимаются, к примеру, защитой городских зеленых насаждений, вещами, связанными с урбанистикой, отходами и так далее.</p><p>При этом в нашем регионе, как ни странно, основным инициатором протестов является сама власть, своими идиотскими действиями. У нас, например, Сочи был абсолютно мертвый город в плане активизма. Но после того, как там была проведена Олимпиада, после того, как совершенно все там было построено колоссальной ценой для окружающей среды, с колоссальным нарушением прав граждан, там возник местный городской активизм. И это произошло не благодаря каким-то НКО или еще кому-то, а благодаря действиям самой власти. То же самое - Краснодар, самый большой город региона. Здесь проживает более миллиона человек. Город был тоже мертвый. Я помню, как здесь пытались раскручивать кампанию "Хватит распиливать Краснодар" еще в 2010-2011 гг. Мы пытались провести общегородской митинг, и на него пришло около 20-25 человек. Абсолютно нулевая активность была.</p><p>Рост уже такой серьезный, взрывной произошел в 2014 году, когда власть совершила еще один ляп, совершенно неаккуратный. Они взяли и заявили, что на главной улице города, Красной, на протяжении нескольких километров они выпилят все до единого деревья и высадят какие-то итальянские карликовые саженцы по 40 тысяч рублей за штуку. Более того, они уже приступили к этим действиям. И народ, который до этого не был замечен в протестных действиях, - офисные сотрудники, домохозяйки, вышли на улицы - и случился стихийный флэшмоб. Люди добились того, что мэрия отказалась от этих планов. Они выпилили один квартал и остановились на этом. Это была большая победа гражданского общества у нас в городе. И, собственно, вот с того года у нас очень ощутимый рывок произошел в плане активизма.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/2014-05-24_Vstrecha-po-vyrubke-na-Krasnoy_00002.preview.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/2014-05-24_Vstrecha-po-vyrubke-na-Krasnoy_00002.preview.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'>Встреча общественности с главой г. Краснодара по поводу вырубки деревьев на ул. Красной. Май 2014 года. Фото: Экологическая Вахта по Северному Кавказу.</span></span></span>ЕБ: В Красноярске сейчас очень активно набирает обороты все, что касается родительской тематики, и все, что связано с темой инклюзии. Тут и родительские организации, и неродительские организации, они тоже как бы достаточно серьезную работу ведут. Мне кажется, что Красноярский край в этом плане занимает неплохие позиции. Другое дело, что инклюзия понимается как-то достаточно странно, на мой взгляд. Есть программы, нацеленные конкретно на людей с инвалидностью, но при этом программ, нацеленных на включенность, на какое-то равное участие в других проектах и программах для таких молодых или немолодых людей, самых разных, их фактически нет.</p><p>Большая тема - это градопланирование вообще. Мы прошли через большие скандалы вокруг генпланов. Тут надо сказать, что была довольно большая активность у общественности в обсуждении, в критике. Другое дело, что сейчас особо никто не верит тому, что генплан как инструмент сработает. Однако отдельные группы, к примеру, велосипедисты, они у нас очень активны, сумели добиться внесения дорожек в генплан. Работали очень хорошо со сбором подписей, с профессиональным сообществом. Сейчас намечается реконструкция набережной в Красноярске, и там готовится тоже проект общественных зон. Туда архитектурное сообщество и общественники, экологи очень активно привлекаются. Я считаю, что у нас хорошая экологическая палата.</p><p>Очень большие движения и обсуждения происходят по теме общественного транспорта. Это очень больная тема, потому что город, занимая первое место по количеству автомобилей на душу населения, стоит в пробках. Общественный транспорт совершенно не развит.</p><p>Еще один серьезный момент – это проведение зимней универсиады. Как известно, у нас любят универсиаду проводить почти что на уровне олимпиады. В связи с тем, что в городе универсиада, у нас было большое общественное движение по вырубке лесов, отведению земель из категории городского леса, по поводу того, правильно или не правильно прокладывают лыжную трассу. Это были серьезные волнения. Включались и спортивные сообщества, что порадовало, на самом деле. Лыжные сообщества защищали свои интересы, в данном случае – сохранение природы, они хотели свои привычные трассы, а не огромные объекты, в рентабельности которых народ очень сильно сомневается. С другой стороны, универсиада – это единственное ,что немного благоприятнее как-то складывается. Город хочет себя позиционировать как достаточно открытый, поэтому к допущению всяких иностранных проектов смотрят довольно благосклонно сейчас.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Экологический активизм из досуга становится более профессиональным занятием</p><p>АФ: У меня такое ощущение, что в последнее время отсеиваются те, кто занимался экологическим активизмом просто в качестве досуга в выходные дни. А те, кто остаются, двигаются в сторону большей профессионализации, начинают, наконец-то, обращать внимание на свою эффективность. То есть это &nbsp;из досуга потихоньку становится более профессиональным занятием.</p><p>У нас на повестке все еще стоит тема обустройства долин малых рек. Пермь стоит на таких оврагах, сквозь нее текут множество малых рек, которые частично на поверхности, частично загнаны в трубы. Обычно эти овраги являются местами свалки. И там уже много лет разные активисты очищают эти берега, превращают их в места парковые, общественные. Буквально, например, завтра мы вместе с ними открываем смотровые точки на склонах долин малых рек, куда может прийти любой желающий и почувствовать, насколько это красиво. Такое место освоения этих берегов. И есть идеи и проекты касательно того, как эти берега дальше будут осваиваться общественностью с помощью арт-объектов или с помощью фестивалей.</p><p>Что касается зоозащитных организаций и тех, кто помогает детям, люди не занимаются уже конкретно, к примеру, помощью животным, но они ищут какие-нибудь интересные стыки. У нас появилось сообщество мам, которые хорошо относятся к животным. Они обучают других мам, что делать, если в семье появился ребенок и при этом у вас есть животные, как не избавится от него. Или в экологической сфере: не просто отказ от пластиковых пакетов и раздельный сбор отходов, но, например, проект сумки-бумеранга, когда они договариваются с крупными сетями, где висят многоразовые сумки, люди могут их брать, использовать, возвращать на место. То есть такие уже креативные, хитрые штучки.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_03040289.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/RIAN_03040289.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1 марта 2017. Президент РФ Владимир Путин во время осмотра макетов объектов, строящихся к проведению XXIX Всемирной зимней универсиады в 2019 году в Красноярске. Слева направо - ректор ФГАОУ ВПО "Сибирский федеральный университет" Евгений Ваганов, вице-премьер РФ Виталий Мутко и губернатор Красноярского края Виктор Толоконский. Фото: Алексий Никольский, РИА Новости. Все права защищены.</span></span></span>ДШ: У нас специфика такова, что все позитивные движения власть пытается сразу же брать под свой контроль, как то же движение велосипедистов. Власти очень необходимо создать свою карманную общественность. Эта данность, с которой приходится иметь дело. И иной раз приходится оппонировать не столько самой власти, а сколько той общественности, которая пляшет под дудку власти. Это тоже проблема, потому что все, что связано с такими вещами как, например, утверждение нового городского генплана... У нас это тоже довольно скандальный процесс - и власть, естественно, хочет продавить свой вариант, который не очень хорош с точки зрения обеспечения комфортной жизни и обеспечения зелеными зонами горожан. И, чтобы оставаться на плаву, власть наплодила огромное количество общественных советов, где сидят люди, которые непосредственно связаны с администрацией. Это общественники, которые занимаются бизнесом, и зачастую бизнес этот связан с муниципальными подрядами.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Власти очень необходимо создать свою карманную общественность</p><p>Например, общественная организация "Кубанское казачье войско" получает напрямую субсидии из бюджета без всяких конкурсов и грантовых программ. Там прямо строка в бюджете есть на финансирование таких организаций. И зачастую казачество тоже используется в роли такой подставной общественности. Или, когда к нам приезжали коллеги из-за рубежа и мы показывали им проекты, которыми мы занимаемся, казачество выходило и говорило, что мы не хотим, чтобы к нам приезжали иностранцы. Есть также общественность псевдоправославная, например. Когда это необходимо власти, они также выходят и говорят, что вы совершаете вещи, которые вредят православию, и так далее.</p><p>Для нас это проблема – доносить голос простых людей, которые не заседают в советах и сталкиваются с тем, что, к примеру, на берегу озера, где они привыкли гулять и отдыхать, закладывают многоэтажку. Вот таких горожан власть пытается затыкать с помощью карманной общественности. Приходит общественность и говорит, что тут все нормально, все хорошо, давайте мы в другом месте парк создадим, а тут пусть строят многоэтажку. Условно говоря, так, хотя я сейчас упрощаю. В целом, схема такая.</p><p>Еще хочу акцентировать внимание, что городской активизм не всегда бывает со знаком плюс. Бывает активизм, который точно имеет негативный характер. У нас есть и догхантеры, на которых власти тоже смотрят сквозь пальцы. Люди стреляют в собак, они же, вроде, из благих целей это делают, хотя они не понимают, что это преступление, это неэтично, это аморально и, более того, это опасно для окружающих. </p><p><strong>СТ: 2017 год – Год экологии в России. Как вы вообще наблюдаете, что происходит по этой теме в ваших городах? И как-то дают вам участвовать в годе экологии, если вы в этом заинтересованы?</strong></p><p>&nbsp;ДШ: Что касается меня, то я могу совершенно четко сказать по нашему региону: все мероприятия в рамках года экологии носят исключительно формальный характер. Например, что могли бы сделать власти? Реализовать крупный хороший экологический проект, создать новую природо-охранную территорию большую и сказать, что, мол, вот это в рамках года экологии, дорогие жители, пользуйтесь. Но этого нет. Год экологии проходит в рамках каких-то полузакрытых конференций. Последний пример: на прошлой неделе проходил экологический форум под председательством депутата Николая Валуева. Туда попыталась прийти член нашей организации София Русова. Она хотела туда попасть с единственной целью: распространить буклеты о том, что надо защищать объект всемирного природного наследия “Западный Кавказ”, куда входит Кавказский заповедник, который мы защищаем. Она туда не попала и развернула на входе плакат. В результате, вышла охрана этого форума, порвала плакат и вызвала полицию. Вот, собственно, весь год экологии в одном маленьком эпизоде.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Год экологии проходит в рамках каких-то полузакрытых конференций</p><p>АФ: У нас тоже у органов власти есть план мероприятий на год экологии. Но ничего замечательного и впечатляющего там, увы, нет: утренники в школах и так далее.</p><p>Но есть ощущение, что из-за того, что есть такой вот маркер, разного рода учреждения, организации более восприимчивы к экологическому контенту. Например, в рамках каких-то других задач я работаю с библиотеками, они меня спрашивают, руководители библиотек: "Что-то у вас есть по экологической тематике?". Я отвечаю: "Ну вот мы сейчас делаем проект про экологически неблагоприятные территории Пермского края, у нас будет выставка". Они говорят: "Да, без проблем, мы готовы ее выставить". Просто потому, что есть вот такой вот маркер, который в этом году основной. И это как возможность есть, да, такая штука.</p><p><strong>&nbsp;Чего удалось добиться вашим организациям в последнее время?</strong></p><p>ДШ: Каждый год мы подводим итоги, и сами удивляемся, как много нам удается сделать. В частности, в прошлом году нам удалось заставить отказаться власть от совершенно безумного проекта по расширению ростовского шоссе. Дорогу хотели провести прямо под окнами у людей, вырубить все деревья. А там очень хорошая зеленая зона, люди сажали деревья своими руками на протяжении пяти километров. Все это предполагалось снести, закатать в асфальт и сделать там дополнительную полосу. Колоссальных усилий стоила эта кампания, когда приходилось дежурить, с участием жителей останавливать дорожную технику, которая уже частично выпилила зеленую зону. Приходилось вести массовую информационную кампанию. Проект был остановлен, лично губернатор распорядился это сделать и найти какие-то другие варианты обеспечения пропускной способности этой магистрали.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Каждый год мы подводим итоги, и сами удивляемся как много нам удается сделать</p><p>Также в прошлом году удалось благодаря жителям города и нашему участию остановить застройку Карасунских озер. В одном случае там уже построили высотный жилой дом, вырыли эту коробку, и она сейчас стоит на берегу, плещется вода под ней буквально. Две недели назад суд поставил окончательно точку в этом деле, строительство было признано незаконным, суд признал изъять участок у застройщика и вернуть городу. Большая победа жителей, такая нетривиальная. Потому что у нас часто не удается остановить даже инициативы, которые начинаются. А тут уже дом выстроен, большие деньги вложены. И таких побед достаточно много.</p><p>Сейчас нарастает активность самих жителей по каким-то локальным точкам - и это очень хорошо, что люди часто сами добиваются каких-то результатов. Наша задача как НКО - заниматься такими вещами, какими простой человек не будет заниматься. Например, в Краснодаре мы сейчас занимаемся участком лесного фонда, который попал в черту города. Город сейчас хочет в рамках нового генплана включить его в черту населенного пункта и, собственно, сделать это так называемыми городскими лесами, то есть заниматься их дальнейшим выпиливанием и так далее. Это большая проблема потому, что там 800 га территории, здесь именно нужна экспертная работа, работа с лесным законодательством, знание всех этих процедур перевода земель из одной категории в другую. Конечно, простому горожанину сложно разбираться в этих вещах. </p><p>АФ: У нас есть большой лесопарк в центре города - Чернявский лес - и туда планировали перенести зоопарк. И совместными усилиями горожан, некоммерческих организаций, в том числе, нашей, удалось сохранить этот лес. Все равно это является постоянной точкой тревожности, и на фоне этого в городе появилась зеленая коалиция - объединение разных общественных организаций, граждан, которым не безразлична окружающая среда, экологическая составляющая в городе. И это тоже мне кажется важно.</p><p>ЕБ: Поскольку мы занимаемся образованием, у нас всегда отложенный эффект. Можно, конечно, по пальцам пересчитать инициативы, которые наши участники реализовали. Опять-таки это, скорее, их заслуга. Я вижу, что люди, которые проходят через наши проекты, они начинают по-другому думать и в других категориях измерять и окружающую среду, и городскую среду.</p><p><strong>Что для вас означает участие в Гражданском форуме, для ваших экологических, урбанистических, образовательных программ? Что дает вам участие в Форуме?</strong></p><p>ДШ: Участие в Форуме, безусловно, большая честь и большая ценность для нашей организации. Мы, на самом деле, не так много имеем площадок, даже внутри России, чтобы встречаться с коллегами, обсуждать какие-то совместные вещи, совместные проекты и вообще ситуацию, в которой мы оказываемся и которая с каждым годом становится все сложнее и хуже. Гражданский форум ЕС-Россия – это одна из тех немногих уникальных площадок, где возможно встретится не только с российскими коллегами, но и с коллегами из Европы, с коллегам не только из экологических организаций, но и правозащитных, и социальных.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/csf_europe lab.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/csf_europe lab.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'>Школа сотрудников НКО Europe Lab, Вуковар, Хорватия, 2016. Фото: Гражданский Форум ЕС-Россия.</span></span></span>Есть возможность участвовать не только в своей тематической группе. Ценность в том, что есть возможность аккумулировать возможности разных организаций. Я могу внести свою экологическую часть, а есть организации, которые занимаются профессионально расследованиями фактов коррупции и лоббистской деятельностью у себя в странах ЕС. Получается такой хороший кумулятивный эффект, как, в частности, доклад группы по трансграничной коррупцией, который был презентован в структурах Европейской комиссии в Брюсселе. Связано это было с тем, что европейские деньги вкладываются в проекты, социально и экологически безответственные на территории России. И это проблема не только России, но и стран ЕС.</p><p>АФ: Форум - это связующее звено между представителями разных городов и разных стран. Я участвовала в “<a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org/en/home/projects/europe-lab/">Лаборатории Европа</a>” - форуме для молодых профессионалов - пару лет назад. Мне кажется, это очень важно – возможность сделать проект с ребятами из других городов и посмотреть, как вообще мыслят представители некоммерческих организаций, отличается ли это от того, что мы имеем.</p><p>ЕБ: Я скажу о проекте, который сейчас идет - "Школы-НПО: мосты сотрудничества". Это как раз про взаимодействие в сфере неформального, гражданского образования, некоммерческого сектора и официальных образовательных структур. Для нас это большой такой скачок по развитию сети, по созданию более плотного сообщества и по запуску пилотных проектов. Самое важное, наверное, для меня в этом проекте - это как раз межсекторное взаимодействие, потому что часто НКО, даже в сфере образования, делает свою работу, а школа свою, выдвигаются взаимные обвинения. Важно найти точки соприкосновения и выискивать энергичных, хороших учителей. </p><p>&nbsp;oDR благодарит <a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org/ru/home/" target="_blank">Гражданский форум ЕС-Россия</a> за содействие в подготовке этого материала. В ближайшее время читайте материалы нашего следующего совместного круглого стола о коррупции в России.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org/"><img src="http://eu-russia-csf.org/fileadmin/templates/img/EU-Russia-CSF-Logo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p><a href="http://eu-russia-csf.org/ru">Гражданский форум ЕС-Россия</a> основан в 2011 году неправительственными организациями в качестве постоянно действующей совместной платформы. Цели Форума – развитие сотрудничества неправительственных организаций России и ЕС и более активное участие НКО в диалоге между ЕС и Россией.</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/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-kak-gorozhane-stali-grazhdanami">Махачкала: как горожане стали гражданами</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov/amulsar-ru">Армения: в преддверии золотой лихорадки</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/zhizn-posle-kirienko">Атомная энергетика: жизнь после Кириенко</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia редакторская группа oDR oDR Русский Tue, 18 Apr 2017 13:35:27 +0000 редакторская группа oDR 110196 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fighting back, in the back of beyond https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Across Russia, active citizens are fighting for their neighbourhoods, livelihoods and against systemic corruption. The moment when these agendas meet will be an important one.</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/559247/Nsk_antiplaton.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/Nsk_antiplaton.jpg" alt="lead lead 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'>April 2017. Truck drivers protest on the central square of Novosibirsk. (c) Kirill Kanin/Tayga.info</span></span></span>Judging by the press, protests are back in Russia, and they are more diverse than ever before. "New people" have come out onto the street, or, at least, Russian society has recognised these unfamiliar protesters. The "sudden" eruption of people, a prominent section of them young or previously uninvolved in traditional activism, onto Moscow streets on 26 March provoked discussions of new political subjects and the start of a new protest cycle. Sections of the western press reported this as a surprising resurgence of the Russian opposition. "Russia's opposition, often written off by critics as a small and irrelevant coterie of privileged urbanites, put on an impressive nationwide show of strength Sunday with dozens of protest across the vast country,"&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/03/26/world/europe/ap-eu-russia-protests.html">wrote</a> the Associated Press for the New York Times.</p><p dir="ltr">The next day saw Russia’s long-distance truck drivers <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">start a nationwide strike in protest against the ill-famed Platon system</a>, which collects an additional road tax from the country’s truckers. And the media in both Russia and the west noticed it. But the "sudden" nature of this protest wave, the talk of Alexei Navalny’s growing support and the generalisation of a common protest agenda across Russia reflects the media’s myopia and exposes the hierarchies of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">what counts as "real protest" or, indeed, "protest that deserves coverage"</a>.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><i><b>Want to know more about protest scenes in Russia? Read <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mischa-gabowitsch/putin-s-regimes">this extract</a> from Mischa Gabowitsch's new book, Protest in Putin's Russia.&nbsp;</b></i></p><p><em><strong><i><b><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mischa-gabowitsch/putin-s-regimesRead"></a></b></i></strong></em></p><p dir="ltr">It’s worth noting that the current anti-corruption wave is preceded by and overlaps with regional agendas across Russia. The idea that you can unite protest agendas between, say, Moscow and Vladivostok (as was implicit in this Guardian <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/26/opposition-leader-alexei-navalny-arrested-amid-protests-across-russia">article</a>), or even St Petersburg, is misleading. Many Russian cities have their own networks of active citizens who organise around local issues, such as infrastructure projects, public services or invasive property development, and these agendas predate the federal-level anti-corruption protest. Here, people display fierce attachments to their hometowns and what goes on in them but are often (though not always) less forthcoming when it comes to abuses of power or poor services in nearby cities that are, by local standards, their neighbours.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Many Russian cities have their own networks of active citizens who&nbsp;organise&nbsp;around local issues</p><p>We say this not to question Russia’s anti-corruption protest, but to suggest that, if we are to understand what is going on, we should consider how outrage at corruption is contending and overlapping with other, localised concerns. And the one theme that cuts through Russia’s current protest cycle, the one that most likely enjoys some common ground across urban centres, concerns the role of the state — citizens want federal and municipal institutions that protect them and look out for their interests, rather than those that prey on them, the cities and neighbourhoods they are attached to.</p><p>The Siberian city of Novosibirsk, which is home to 1.6 million people, is home to several strands of civic protest — mostly recently in response to tariff hikes. In December 2016, the governor of Novosibirsk Vladimir Gorodetsky announced that the city authorities would raise utilities<span style="font-size: 13px; font-weight: normal;"> tariffs by 15% from July 2017. In response, an initiative group (</span><a href="http://tayga.info/133025" style="font-size: 13px; font-weight: normal;">made up of former public officials</a><span style="font-size: 13px; font-weight: normal;">, including a vice governor) was formed to combat this move. They have conducted a number of protest actions in the city since the New Year, including bringing 300 people out into -30 frost on 24 December. At stake here, clearly, is people’s distaste for tariff hikes for services that are already expensive, and are, at best, unpleasant to use.</span></p><p>The initiative group’s actions have been mirrored by another movement in the city — Novosibirsk’s pensioners, who were prominent during Russia’s 2011-2012 protests. Their actions largely centre around the protection of existing benefits (and thus recognition of status), such as the planned removal of free unlimited public transport in 2011, which inspired them to protest every two weeks in the city centre. Novosibirsk pensioner groups have also protested the tariff rise. And now that regional legislators (including United Russia deputies) <a href="http://tayga.info/133647">want to reconsider the tariff hike</a>, it looks like protests do matter.</p><p>At the same time, city residents <a href="http://kommersant.ru/doc/3260593">have also come out against plans to build a waste incinerator near a local river </a>and several dacha complexes. For years, local ecological activists tried to clean up the river. A waste incinerator would clearly impact this idyll directly, challenging people’s sense of ownership and attachment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If we are to understand what is going on, we should consider how outrage at corruption is contending and overlapping with other, localised concerns</p><p>The way these different agendas overlap was seen clearly on 2 April, where, in the morning, an action was held by ecological activists, the liberal opposition party Yabloko, members of the local Communist party and dacha owners on Lenin Square (a space frequently used for protest) <a href="http://tayga.info/133463">against the plans to construct a new waste incinerator</a>, and, in the afternoon, people <a href="http://sib.fm/news/2017/04/02/zhiteli-novosibirska-vyshli-na-piket-v-podderzhku-zaderzhannykh">gathered in the same location</a> in support of those arrested on 26 March.</p><p>In Omsk, another major centre of southwest Siberia, local residents are concerned with air pollution that has hung over the city in recent weeks. Omsk already enjoys a (well-earned) reputation for pollution — the city is close to metals and petrochemical factories. And since the beginning of March, a local, albeit unidentified factory is thought to be expelling ethanethiol (natural gas) and potentially other substances into the atmosphere, which are then drifting into the city. On 2 April, two groups organised to address both the chemical leak and local government’s apparent lack of response. As Natalia Yakovleva, an Omsk journalist who has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/natalya-yakovleva">written for openDemocracy</a> in the past, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1844200645821081&amp;id=100006934906456">writes</a>:</p><p>"The meetings triggered by the so-called ‘chemical attack on Omsk’ were organised by two initiative groups, who for the past two weeks have been unable to agree on cooperation. One of them was organised by activists from Yabloko, in the traditional place for public events in Omsk, Theatre Square. The second was organised by a group of citizens who emphasise their negative attitudes to [political] parties and ‘politics’. The agenda for both meetings, apart from ecological themes, proposed discussion on a wide range of the city’s problems, including poor roads, poor quality of life, inaction of public officials and so on."</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/Open Omsk.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>26 March: 2,000 protesters come out for anti-corruption protests in central Omsk. Image still via YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The important point here is the potential for conflict or non-cooperation between local actors, and how these kinds of specific movements do not necessarily tie into support for federal-level agendas. Yakovleva finished by saying: "Navalny is nowhere near this, it’s a general civic action”.</p><p>Similar concerns dominate the big cities along the Volga. In Samara, for instance, the city’s pensioners are protesting the local authorities’ removal of unlimited free public transport and the municipality's attempt at compensation in the form of new benefits in public utilities payments (which are difficult to use). 2 April saw 4,000 people (numbers aren’t everything, but twice the number that came out on 26 March) join a public meeting organised by the local Communist Party, where people aligned with the local Liberal Democratic Party (Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing nationalist party) and a local anti-corruption group spoke to the crowd.</p><p>This is only the latest in a series of pensioner protests, and the city’s cancellation of benefits has catalysed public sentiment against governor Nikolai Merkushkin, who, as the former governor of neighboring Mordovia, is a relative "foreigner" here. In recent years,&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-lawrence/samara-three-what-we-know">local corruption scandals</a>, as well as the governor’s "flamboyant"&nbsp;behaviour, have only damaged his standing further.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">"Navalny is nowhere near this, it’s a general civic action"</p><p>But even this brief digest of recent events doesn’t do the breadth of people’s concerns justice. Check out this <a href="https://takiedela.ru/2017/04/nas-prinimayut-za-baranov/">report</a> by Evgenia Volunkova for Takie Dela, who asked a dozen people on 2 April why they were out on the square. Here’s Irina Olegovna, 60:</p><p class="blockquote-new">"My pension is 7,700 roubles [£110], and I had some veteran pension payments too. I worked as an educator my whole life. He [Merkushkin] took those 621 roubles [£8.80] of veteran pension. I don’t have a husband, no support. I have to work to survive, and I have a bunch of health conditions. I should approve his actions? Let him go back to his Mordovia! And he lies, lies, lies, without a conscience, that he gives us our pensions! I wrote to him for help with work, do you think he helped? He didn’t help one bit!”</p><p>As other protest participants state, this demonstration in defense of pensioner benefits in Samara actualises other concerns around the region’s leadership. These largely revolve around the disconnect between the top and the bottom, such as the amount of money spent on the <a href="http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/destination/cities/city=1772/index.html">city’s stadium for the 2018 football World Cup</a> or the lavish Moscow houses built for the governor’s clan (as <a href="http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/destination/cities/city=1772/index.html">exposed</a> by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in 2016). Earlier this week, the Kremlin leaked a rumour about Merkushkin’s <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/politics/12/04/2017/58ee0aa89a7947c46b40f18a?from=main">possible retirement</a>: locals don’t trust him, and, for the Kremlin, this spells bad news for voter turnout at the upcoming presidential elections in 2018.</p><p>Further up the Volga, in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan is <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-03/russia-finds-trail-of-fraud-behind-biggest-bank-failure-in-year">talking about the collapse of Tatfondbank</a>, Russia’s 42nd largest bank, which has not only led to criminal cases against senior executives, but also the <a href="https://www.business-gazeta.ru/article/341776">resignation of the republic’s prime minister</a>, who also served as chairman of the bank’s board of directors. The suspected fraud inside Tatfondbank, which has resulted in its banking license being removed, has left shareholders and account holders in the lurch, and since late December, a union of creditors has been trying to put pressure on republic authorities and the bank to get their money back.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In the current climate, the Kremlin’s political technologists will have to change the narrative dramatically if they are going to manage their way out of this one</p><p>They have conducted a <a href="https://www.business-gazeta.ru/razdel/577">steady stream of meetings and protests</a>, including, for example, a <a href="https://www.business-gazeta.ru/article/340277">public protest on 18 March</a>, which also brought out people fighting the construction of a new waste incinerator in Kazan and home-owners whose houses are set to be demolished <a href="https://www.business-gazeta.ru/article/330396">due to their proximity to Gazprom’s Kazan-Yoshkar-Ola pipeline</a>. The creditors’ leader Alexandra Yumanova <a href="https://www.business-gazeta.ru/article/340277">summed up</a> their demands thus:</p><p>"We’ve found ourselves left behind… We work, we don’t want anything from the state here. We have children, families, employees. And our state has just thrown us aside, it doesn’t intend to protect us".</p><p>This list of "problem cities" can be continued — whether it’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity">protecting the education or cultural institutions of Petersburg</a> or <a href="http://m.e1.ru/news/457051">fighting plans to build a new Orthodox church in Ekaterinburg</a> — but it’s difficult to give these protests a single holistic description or be sure that city activist communities view these concerns as shared. Clearly, with Navalny <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">building a populist platform</a> that appeals to protectionist and anti-elite sentiments on the left, the right and the local level, it seems likely there will be some unification of protest agendas across Russia. If implemented, the Kremlin’s recent anti-social policy proposals, which suggest <a href="http://www.ng.ru/economics/2016-12-19/4_6889_pensii.html">cutting the basic state pension</a>, all but emergency access to state healthcare and enforce additional taxes for people unemployed or involved in the informal economy, will only add further fuel to this fire.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ekJTYHH1LZw" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>15 April: Alexei Navalny speaks at a meeting against plans to build a new copper refinement plant outside Chelyabinsk.</em></p> <p dir="ltr">The Russian public’s discontent with an ineffective and predatory state has in the past been rerouted into "<a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/files/ProetContra_51_20-42_all.pdf">passive adaptation</a>"&nbsp;in conditions of patriotic hysteria. And it seems that, in the current climate, the Kremlin’s political technologists will have to change the narrative dramatically if they are going to manage their way out of this one.</p><p>If Russia’s opposition is going to counter this, they will need to figure out how to incorporate, and work with, local agendas; and if the west is going to judge this “latest” wave of protest properly, it will have to work harder to understand Russian citizens’ political priorities.</p><p><em>In the coming months, we’re going to be looking closely at movements on the ground in Russia to see how local concerns link up with broader anti-corruption sentiment. Watch this space for more.</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/mischa-gabowitsch/putin-s-regimes">Putin’s regimes</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20">Bolotnaya 2.0?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">Dissecting Russia’s winter of protest, five years on</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/dagestan-s-truckers-are-out-to-fight-russia-s-predatory-state">Dagestan&#039;s long-distance truckers are fighting for their rights </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">In St Petersburg, long-distance truck drivers are holding out for victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression">Don&#039;t call him Dima: Russia’s anti-corruption protesters face repression</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia openMovements Mikhail Kaluzhsky Thomas Rowley Cities in motion Russia Regions Politics Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:10:38 +0000 Thomas Rowley and Mikhail Kaluzhsky 110176 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Bolotnaya 2.0? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/bolotnaya-20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Russia, fresh criminal investigations into anti-corruption protests are designed to intimidate activists and protesters from taking further action. <em><strong><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/mailing/2017/04/14/bolotnaya-20">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 12.08.07.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>UN human rights experts are <a href=http://freeassembly.net/news/russia-protests-2017/>calling for the immediate release</a> of everyone detained in connection with anti-corruption protests on 26 March. Still from RFE/RL.</span></span></span><strong>We continue our partnership with OVD-Info, </strong><strong>an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we bring you the latest information on freedom of assembly.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>This week, Russia’s Investigative Committee <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/chetverym-zaderzhannym-26-marta-v-moskve-predyavili-obvineniya-v-napadenii">announced</a> that four people have been arrested in connection with the events of 26 March, when anti-corruption protests were held across the country. Alexander Shapkov, Stanislav Zimovets, Yuri Kuliy and Andrei Kosykh are all accused of assaulting police officers.</p> <p>Dmitry Bogatov, a maths teacher from Moscow, has also been arrested in connection with an investigation into calls for mass unrest on 2 April, when unknown people called for a demonstration on Red Square. To keep Bogatov under arrest, the investigators have added more serious charges, including preparing to organise mass unrest and justifying terrorism. You can read more about criminal and administrative investigations, as well as informal pressure, against people in connection with 26 March protests <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/12/vokrug-26-marta-novaya-volna-politicheskih-presledovaniy">here</a>.</p> <p>These investigations are reminiscent of the 2012 Bolotnaya Case, which, with over 30 people arrested and imprisoned in connection with protests on 6 May 2012, continues to intimidate activist networks and potential protesters to this day.</p> <h2><strong>Don’t comply</strong></h2> <p>Friday 13 April saw <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/v-moskve-zaderzhali-nacionalistov-ivana-beleckogo-i-yuriya-gorskogo">house searches and arrests</a> against nationalist activists in Moscow and Saratov. Ivan Beletsky and Yuri Gorsky, organisers of the annual “Russian March”, had their apartments searched in Moscow, and Beletsky was later <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/beleckogo-doprosili-po-ugolovnomu-delu-v-svyazi-s-mitingom-26-marta-i">questioned</a> (and released) in connection with the criminal case against 26 March participants. That same morning, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/v-saratove-zaderzhali-vyacheslava-malceva">searched the home of Vyacheslav Maltsev</a>, a popular blogger and self-described “national democrat” politician. Maltsev was then <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/vyacheslava-malceva-etapiruyut-v-moskvu-ego-soratnikov-prodolzhayut">transferred</a> from Saratov to Moscow, but <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/u-zaderzhannogo-politika-vyacheslava-malceva-sluchilsya-serdechnyy-pristup">suffered a heart attack</a> en route. Upon arrival in Moscow, Maltsev was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/14/na-malceva-sostavlyayut-protokol-po-state-o-nepovinovenii-policii-na-akcii">charged</a> with not complying with a legal order given by a police officer in connection with 26 March.</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cyIq0E_ruM4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>13 April: Vyacheslav Maltsev suffers from a heart attack before boarding a plane for Moscow while under arrest.</em> <p>Another criminal case in connection with 26 March was opened in Irkutsk. On 8 April, local police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/08/iz-irkutska-postupayut-soobshcheniya-ob-obyskah-i-zaderzhaniyah-aktivistov">arrested</a> several people who had participated in the anti-corruption protests. They had planned to hold a meeting on 9 April in connection with 26 March. Later it turned out that one of them, Dmitry Litvin, is <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/08/na-odnogo-iz-zaderzhannyh-v-irkutske-zavedeno-delo-ob-oskorblenii-chuvstv">facing charges of insulting believers’ feelings</a> for a publication on social media, and the other individuals will act as witnesses. However, at the Center for Combatting Terrorism, they were questioned about the protests and calls to terrorism. The police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/10/zaderzhannogo-v-irkutske-anarhista-ne-mogut-nayti">had trouble finding one of them</a>, Igor Martynenko, a prominent Irtkutsk activist, before realizing that he’d <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/10/zaderzhannogo-v-irkutske-anarhista-arestovali-na-10-sutok">already been arrested for 10 days</a> on “non-compliance” charges. Martynenko’s case was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/sud-v-irkutske-vernul-na-novoe-rassmotrenie-delo-arestovannogo-na-10-sutok">later sent for further examination</a> by the court, but the activist remains under arrest.</p> <p>Meanwhile, across Russia, courts continue to process cases against people who participated in anti-corruption demonstrations. Check out our <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/11/sudy-nad-moskovskimi-antidimonami">survey text on how these courts are organised in Moscow</a>. There’s violations a-plenty, of course — in Petersburg, judges are <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/11/peterburgskie-sudy-vozvrashchayut-protokoly-o-zaderzhaniyah-iz-za-dokumentov">sending people’s cases back to investigators en masse</a>; and in Chelyabinsk, police officers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/07/policeyskie-v-chelyabinske-perepisali-sostavlennyy-s-oshibkami-protokol-v">rewrote a report full of mistakes in the courtroom corridor</a>. The directors of Moscow schools <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/08/direktorov-moskovskih-shkol-vyzyvayut-v-sledstvennyy-komitet-v-svyazi-s">have started being summoned to the Investigative Committee</a>.</p> <h2><strong>Closed Russia</strong></h2> <p>The authorities are conducting searches not only against Russian citizens involved in 26 March. For instance, activists with Open Russia are experiencing pressure in various regions — in Irkutsk, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/12/v-kvartire-koordinatora-otkrytoy-rossii-v-irkutske-proshel-obysk">carried out a search at the home of an Open Russia coordinator</a>; and in Izhevsk, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/13/u-izhevskogo-aktivista-mihaila-nazarova-proshel-obysk-u-nego-otobrali">searched the home of Mikhail Nazarov</a>, an Open Russia activist who was preparing to join a congress in Tallin. Police removed Nazarov’s foreign passport, and then opened a criminal case against him.</p> <p>Russia’s long-distance truckers are still striking across the country, and police are <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/08/v-engelse-na-dalnoboyshchika-za-odinochnyy-piket-sostavili-protokol">drawing up reports against them for solitary pickets</a>, even if people are <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/08/policiya-v-chite-zaderzhala-aktivista-gotovyashchegosya-k-odinochnomu-piketu">only preparing to hold them</a>. The police are not only pressuring the truck drivers, but <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/08/v-sankt-peterburge-na-akcii-solidarnosti-s-dalnoboyshchikami-zaderzhany">people who are supporting them</a>. In Yeisk, for example, two National Bolshevik activists were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/08/v-eyske-na-15-sutok-arestovany-dva-nacbola">given 15 days of administrative detention</a> — the party connects this to their active support for the strike.</p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/c9of-anwaaespsu.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>12 April: seven people are detained on Moscow's Red Square for reading out the Russian Constitution. Source: OVD-Info. </span></span></span>Detentions against other actions continue — for instance, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/12/na-krasnoy-ploshchadi-nachalis-zaderzhaniya-uchastnikov-chteniya-konstitucii">for reading out the Russian Constitution (which protects freedom of assembly) on Red Square</a>.</p><h2><span style="font-weight: bold; font-size: 17px;">What we’re reading</span></h2><ul><li>- MediaZona <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/10/04/irkutskie-chuvstva">speaks to Irkutsk activists about detentions</a> in the investigation into “insulting believers’ feelings”</li></ul> <p>- We look at two cases of people detained on 26 March. The first, who was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/04/13/svernutyy-plakat-i-intelligentnaya-kompaniya">arrested for 10 days for a folded-up placard</a>; the second <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/stories/2017/04/10/oni-chto-zabirayut-tolko-parney-s-hipsterskimi-ryukzachkami">fined for 20,000 roubles</a> for “shouting slogans” and “blocking the road” on 26 March</p><p>- Meduza explains in detail <a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/04/13/chto-ne-tak-s-delom-dmitriya-bogatova-ob-yasnyaem-tehnicheskuyu-storonu-prostym-yazykom">what’s wrong with the case against Moscow maths teacher Dmitry Bogatov</a><a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/04/13/chto-ne-tak-s-delom-dmitriya-bogatova-ob-yasnyaem-tehnicheskuyu-storonu-prostym-yazykom">&nbsp;</a></p> <h2>Thank you&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </h2> <p>Thanks to everyone who continues to support us.&nbsp;<strong>Find out how you can help</strong><strong>&nbsp;</strong><strong><a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</strong></p> <p><em>For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould</em><em>&nbsp;</em><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</em></p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/in-russia-26-march-continues">In Russia, 26 March continues</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">In St Petersburg, long-distance truck drivers are holding out for victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression">Don&#039;t call him Dima: Russia’s anti-corruption protesters face repression</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/young-people-in-russia-today-don-t-have-it-easy">“Young people in Russia today don’t have it easy”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Fri, 14 Apr 2017 12:00:15 +0000 OVD-Info 110147 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russifying revolutionary art at the Royal Academy https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/uilleam-blacker/imperialism-at-royal-academy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This year, many institutions are marking 100 years of the Russian Revolution. A recent exhibition about Russia's revolutionary art reminds us of the academy's cultural blindspots. &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Artwork_by_El_Lissitzky_1919.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="364" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919), by El Lissitzsky. Wikipedia / Public Domain.</span></span></span>The Royal Academy’s new blockbuster show <a href="https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/revolution-russian-art">“Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932”</a> is a disorienting experience. Caught between bombastic propaganda — albeit made with irresistible avant-garde panache — and the works of great modernist painters like Chagall, Kandinsky or Malevich, one is never quite sure what the exhibition’s purpose is. Is it to showcase early Soviet art? Or to speak more broadly about modernist and avant-garde art in Russia in the years after the Revolution?&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, for some of the artists presented, this distinction is meaningless. Russia’s avant-garde and the October Revolution went hand in hand. Yet the label we use to describe this art is a matter that goes beyond an artist’s ideological affiliation with the Soviet state. It may also be worth interrogating the use of the term “Russian”.&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the Royal Academy’s main attractions is a room full of paintings by Kazimir Malevich, an artist who made his name in Russia, but who was born to a Polish family in Ukraine — his parents would have known him as Kazimierz. </p><p>Beyond the Black Square for which he’s famous, Malevich’s striking images of blank-faced peasants (1930-1932) depict, as the exhibition suggests, a class of people drained of their identity by ill-conceived and brutal Soviet agricultural policies. Malevich’s origins in Ukraine, which suffered the brunt of Soviet agricultural terror, culminating in millions dead in the Holodomor of 1932-33, is surely significant for understanding his preoccupation with the fate of Soviet peasants.<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Malevich142.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="220" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mower (1930) by Kazimir Malevich. Wikipedia / Public Domain.</span></span></span></p><p>Yet Malevich’s origins are not mentioned in the exhibition. In the room devoted to peasants, the mass casualties of Soviet policy are mentioned in a rather vague account of collectivisation, but Ukraine, the epicentre of this tragedy, is not. By way of explanation, the exhibition catalogue’s timeline euphemistically mentions a “famine crisis in Ukraine”.</p> <p>Peasants come up again in a later room, which pauses the revolutionary fervour to account for artists who expressed nostalgia for “eternal Russia”. </p><p>This room is filled with paintings of domed churches and scenes from traditional rural life. The undoubted star attraction here is Marc Chagall’s <em>Promenade</em> (1917-1918). The painter, holding the hand of his floating wife Bella, stands in front of a small-town landscape: not “eternal Russia”, but Vitebsk in Belarus. And it comes from a time when Chagall was rediscovering the Jewish culture of his origins in the Pale of Settlement — hence the return to his native Vitebsk. The Jewish and Belarusian dimensions here are subsumed under a general longing for “eternal Russia”.</p><p>Chagall’s Jewish identity and Belarusian connections are relatively well known. But there are many less famous artists here who are not straightforwardly Russian, and whose origins are entirely ignored. One of the most striking images of all is Kliment (or Klyment) Redko’s 1925 “Insurrection”, a startling geometric composition showing all the leading Bolsheviks alongside their foot soldiers in a fiery urban landscape. The image owes as much to the avant-garde as it does to Redko’s training as an icon painter in his native Ukraine (he was, in fact, born in what is now Poland).&nbsp;</p> <p>A case analogous with Chagall is that of Dziga Vertov, whose films are shown in the first room of the exhibition. Vertov was born David Kaufman to a Jewish family in Bialystok, and did some of his most important work in Ukraine. Vertov’s <em>Man with a Movie Camera </em>(1929), shot largely in Odessa, Kharkiv and Kyiv (and also in Moscow), and shown here, is one of the most influential in world cinema. His <em>Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbas</em>, which depicts the industrialisation of that region, is displayed here alongside a remarkable poster by Aleksandr Deineka (a Russian artist who was trained in Ukraine and features prominently throughout the exhibition) on the same topic. These works have powerful resonances for events in that region today, providing insight into the Donbas’s still-powerful sense of proletarian identity. But once again, the Ukrainian context is largely ignored.</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vUInm2dC6Ug" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Dziga Vertov's Enthusiasm, or Symphony of the Donbas (1931).</em> <p>There is one point in the exhibition where a non-Russian artist is identified. The Ukrainian film director Oleskandr Dovzhenko is described as “Ukrainian-born”. Why Dovzhenko, who was not only born in Ukraine, but thought of himself as Ukrainian, made films about Ukraine, and worked extensively in Ukraine, should not be described simply a “Ukrainian” is unclear. It reminds one of the traditional Russian (and also western) view of Dovzhenko’s countryman, Nikolai Gogol: Gogol’s early works (which are all about Ukraine) are seen as juvenilia, a prelude to his proper, more serious work (which is about Russia).&nbsp;</p> <p>The most concerning instance of nationalisation of the non-Russian as Russian, however, comes at the end of the exhibition, and is not related directly to art. Until this point in the show, the fact that the Soviet Union put extreme pressure on, and eventually murdered its artists on a mass scale, is barely hinted at. But as you exit the show a small, dark “room of memory” displays prison photographs of ordinary people and cultural figures who ended up in prison or were executed by the Soviet regime. On the wall outside we are told that “millions of Russians died at the hands of Stalin’s brutal regime”.&nbsp;</p> <p>This statement is true: Soviet Russian citizens suffered terribly under Stalin. But it is only part of the story. The Soviet Union was a vast, multinational empire, and the victims of its crimes were not only Russian. Of course, Russians made up the largest group numerically, but they were proportionally less likely to fall victim to Soviet oppression than some other national groups: for Stalin, after all, there was little distinction between the class category of kulak — the main target of his devastating collectivisation policies ‘ and the national category of Ukrainian, while others, like Chechens or Crimean Tatars, were also specifically targeted.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Being able to claim a great artist as the heritage of your nation, and thus of your state, is no trivial matter. It affords great soft-power possibilities</p> <p>It may seem that accuracy over the identities of war dead or the victims of Soviet executions is different from accuracy over the identities of artists, and that these issues should not be conflated. Unfortunately, many of those artists <em>became</em> the victims of executions. And often precisely because of their nationality. Ukraine’s own avant-garde movement (which could do with its own exhibition in the RA some day) was completely devastated by Stalin in the 1930s to a large extent because it was a self-consciously Ukrainian movement.</p> <p>There is more to this question, then, than nitpicking over the arguably inconsequential factors of national identity or place of birth. But this is not only a question of historical importance. Being able to claim a great artist as the heritage of your nation, and thus of your state, is no trivial matter. It affords great soft-power possibilities. The Russian state is acutely aware of this, and it has consistently used it as a counterbalance to its aggressive foreign policies and oppressive domestic ones. (One need only think of the enormous lengths taken to arrange the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/boris-filanovsky/bach-among-palmyra-s-ruins">spectacle of Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky orchestra at Palmyra</a> as evidence). Allowing the Russian Federation to claim as many great artists and writers as possible simply helps it build up its ammunition stocks in the soft-power war.&nbsp;</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z5E_Fr8ccQo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>May 2016: Valery Gergiev leads the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in Palmyra, Syria. Source: RT.</em> <p>It is not only in the field of art, or culture, that this question matters. More important is the misuse of the term Russian in other historical contexts, and most notably that of the Second World War. It is common to hear western journalists, academics and politicians speak of “Russia” defeating Hitler, of the huge numbers of Russians who died in the war. Russians did sacrifice a great deal in the war. As did Ukrainians, Belarusians and many others as part of the Soviet war effort. There were millions of non-Russians in the Soviet armed forces, while non-Russian civilians, in Ukraine and Belarus, which were both entirely occupied by the Nazis, suffered proportionally more heavily.</p> <p>This latter question matters because misdesignating millions of soviet war dead as Russian not only annuls the wartime experience of other groups. It also allows the contemporary Russian state to stack up its tally of sacrifices, bolstering its claim to the international moral high ground as heir to the Soviet Union’s title as defeater of fascism in Europe. This is crucial because this very myth, of the great Russian victory over (European!) fascism is at the heart of Putin’s rhetoric of rebuilding a Greater Russia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">You’d be forgiven for thinking that in Britain today we would be able to deal with a bit of post-imperial nuance</p> <p>The nationalising frame of the Royal Academy exhibition is symptomatic of the fact that in the UK, and throughout the west, Russia and the Soviet Union are still, for many, synonymous. Why this simplification should be so common and even find its way into the work of major cultural institutions is puzzling. Perhaps it is the inherently imperial orientation of the British worldview: the agents of history are the great powers, and those small, peculiar nations “of whom we know nothing”, as one British statesman once put it, fall between the geopolitical and geocultural cracks. You’d be forgiven for thinking that in Britain today we would be able to deal with a bit of post-imperial nuance.</p> <p>If we transfer the dynamics of the presentation of “Russian art” in the RA’s exhibition to our own context, its problematic nature becomes clearer. Let’s imagine a major exhibition of modernist art form the British Isles that encompassed artists not only from England, but also from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, perhaps even some from the distant colonies (after all, many artists from the “peripheral” states made their way to London to further their careers). And let’s imagine, for a moment, that the Irish Potato Famine had occurred not in the mid-19<sup>th</sup> century, but in the early 1930s. Then let’s imagine that Ireland is not mentioned in a room containing art that dealt with the fate of the peasantry in the British Isles, and neither is the background of the most prominent artist in the room, who is an Ulster Scot. And finally, let’s imagine that the exhibition is called “English Modernist Art”.&nbsp;</p> <p>It would never happen. If it did, this kind of oversight would no doubt ruffle some feathers in political debates, though they would remain largely a question for cultural critics and academics to quarrel over. It would not be a matter of life and death.</p> <p>In the case of Russia today, which wastes no expense or effort in mobilising cultural resources for soft-power purposes, and capitalises on simplified, nationalised interpretations of complex, multinational histories to justify very real wars, the question of accuracy becomes slightly more urgent.</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/ksenia-polouektova-krimer/unearthing-russia-s-dead-over-and-over-again">Unearthing Russia’s war dead, over and over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/dance-me-to-end-of-history">Dance me to the end of history</a> </div> <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/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/boris-filanovsky/bach-among-palmyra-s-ruins">Bach among Palmyra’s ruins</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Uilleam Blacker Culture Fri, 14 Apr 2017 09:30:37 +0000 Uilleam Blacker 110144 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Dagestan's long-distance truckers are fighting for their rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/dagestan-s-truckers-are-out-to-fight-russia-s-predatory-state <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Hundreds of truck drivers in Dagestan have joined Russia’s countrywide strike against additional taxation. I spoke to them to find out their demands. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/daghestan-dalnoboi" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/0073.JPG" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="289" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Striking truck drivers at Manas Circle, Dagestan. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span><span style="font-size: 13px;">Dagestan is home to some 600 kilometres of highway, the most extensive of Russia’s North Caucasus. And since 27 March, when Russia’s Association of Hauliers </span><a style="font-size: 13px;" href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">started a countrywide non-stop strike against an electronic taxation system</a><span style="font-size: 13px;">, Dagestan’s long-distance truck drivers have parked themselves in protest up and down the republic. They’re protesting against the so-called “Platon” system, which collects an additional tax to compensate for damage done by heavy goods vehicles to Russia’s roads. But the strikers’ demands also </span><a style="font-size: 13px;" href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">include the resignation of the Russian government</a><span style="font-size: 13px;">.</span></p> <p>More than <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-4oSNBNZfw">300 trucks are parked at the Manas Circle</a>, 30km south of the republic’s capital Makhachkala. And they’re facing their fair share of challenges. National Guard troops have been deployed to contain the truckers, and a former public official called for them to be <a href="https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/300759/">“cut up into pieces”</a>, adding further fuel to a heated situation. After videos of the truckers went viral on Dagestan social media, regional authorities have started talking of attempts to <a href="https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/300759/">“destabilise the situation”</a> in the republic. And the organiser of Dagestan’s Truckers Union was recently <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/zaderzhannyy-rustam-mallamagomedov-otpushchen-iz-policii">arrested in Moscow and then released the same day</a>.</p> <p>I went to Manas to find out why the drivers are protesting, and what challenges they’re facing from the authorities. </p> <h2>“The state robs you”</h2> <p>Umar Garisov, 43, has been driving heavy goods vehicles for 23 years. Garisov’s truck is the only source of income for his family two adults and four children). If deliveries go well, Umar can make 60,000-70,000 roubles (£840-£980) a month, about twice the national average. But if they don’t, he makes a loss.</p><p> “I don’t drive any more in the winter,” Garisov tells me. “I froze three times, I’ve ruined my health. In the winter I either park the truck or hire someone to drive it for me, who of course I have to pay. This is fine if I have the cash, but if anything happens to the truck on the road then I have unforeseen extra costs. It’s complicated, keeping an truck on the road. You’re forever spending a heap of money on it, and then the state robs you too.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/0070.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest slogan in the cab of a striking driver. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span><span style="font-size: 13px;">“Let’s say you get paid 70,000 roubles for the trip. Out of this you have to pour a tonne of diesel in the tank, which comes to at least 32,000-33,000,” says striking trucker Zainalabit Bagavov. “Plus the unexpected costs: a blown tyre or some problem with the engine. Then you have to eat on the road. So how much is left? These days, as long as I get back safe and sound, even with a small loss, I give thanks to Allah. But now we have Rotenberg [Igor Rotenberg, the co-owner of Platon] around our necks as well. Even if you sell the truck, you have to pay the tax. And none of your problems — you’ve gone bust, you’re riding empty — are of any interest to anyone.”</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">“They want to take the last kopecks we bring for our kids away from us”</p><p>When they put forward their demands, the truckers I speak to at Manas don’t just talk about getting rid of Platon. They also have plenty of complaints about other taxes and the behaviour of staff at control points along the motorway.</p><p>In particular, the strikers are demanding a reduction in the rate of transport tax in Dagestan to the average for the North Caucasus Federal District. Drivers of vehicles registered in the North Caucasus Federal District pay 15-20 roubles (£0.21-0.28) per horsepower per annum, while those registered in Dagestan pay 50 Roubles (£0.70). They are also requesting that the number of State Transport Inspectorate control points is reduced in Dagestan, that the conditions for receiving permission to transport goods across borders are revised, and that measures are taken to combat variances in readings at different weight control points.</p><p>In addition, the truckers are demanding that “the public be told what the money raised in fuel excise duty, transport taxes and Platon was used for in 2016.”</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xUfzL2dAVDA" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>7 April: Trucker leader Andrei Bazhutin visits striking leaders in Dagestan. Source: <a href=kavkaz-uzel.ru>Caucasian Knot</a>.</em> <p><span style="font-size: 13px;">“They want us to believe that Rotenberg will build roads for us,” says one of the protesters. “But the money we used to pay, seven roubles and 50 kopecks per litre of fuel, where did that go? If this was a matter of state funds, that’d be one thing. But now they want to sell us into slavery for the sake of a private businessman who’s close to Putin.”</span></p><p>Other truckers interrupt him: “We’re striking out of desperation. We’re living very close to the edge. We can’t go on doing this work. They want to take the last kopecks we bring for our kids away from us.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The drivers find it strange that they are the only people to protest — the consequences of these problems affect the whole population.</p><p>“We didn’t get together here to wage war. We got together to make our opinions known, our protest, our demands. When the government shuts up like a clam, they just say nothing. ‘There’s no problem.’ But these problems affect everybody, wherever they live — in Dagestan, in Russia — it’s not just truckers that are affected. Our problem is that we’re on the road, and we’re the ones who pay through the nose, but ordinary people will have to pay for the goods we bring them. Anybody buying anything in a shop, be it an elderly woman or a child, will have to pay.” </p> <p>All the protesting truck drivers I speak to talk about the frequent and heavy taxes on their income — the inevitable spot fines on the road, a goods transport licence, official taxes and now Platon (the system’s name comes from the Russian for “payment per tonne”), which was introduced in late 2015, as well. It’s about 2,000 kilometres from Makhachkala to Moscow, and the rise in Platon’s rates comes to an extra 14,000 roubles (£196) one way. </p> <h2>How much Platon costs &nbsp;&nbsp;</h2> <p>Platon <em>is a toll system</em> for large trucks (anything over 12 tonnes) using the motorways. The <a href="http://platon.ru/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/1662-p.pdf">official justification</a> the Russian government gives for the toll is to pay for the damage to the roads supposedly caused by heavy trucks.<em> </em>The system was introduced in November 2015, and all HGVs were required to register for it from April 2016. </p><p>In that same government directive, it was stated that the Russian Ministries of Transport, Economic Development and Finance would need to conclude a concessionary agreement with RT-Invest Transport Systems, a company half owned by Igor Rotenberg (the son of oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, a close friend of Vladimir Putin) and a quarter-owned by Rostec, which is controlled by Sergei Chemezov, another Putin ally.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 12.07.53.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="256" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>6 April: trucker protest, Dagestan. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span><span style="font-size: 13px;">Igor Rotenberg is the creator and developer of Platon, and the Russian state will pay his company 10.6 billion roubles (£149 million) a year for 13 years for the privilege of using it. Over that period, two million Platon systems will be installed in trucks and 481 control points put in place, as well as an additional 100 mobile units. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The first protest against the introduction of the system took place in many Russian cities in November 2015, before it was even rolled out. Initially, the idea was that truckers should pay 3.73 roubles per kilometre. The truckers decided to organise a mass protest rally to Moscow. But many of them never made it: the traffic cops around the regions organised road blocks, found excuses to stop drivers and either fined them or confiscated their licences.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Platon has been in operation for a year and a half now. Let them show me even one kilometre of road that has been built or repaired with this money”</p><p>After the bureaucrats saw the scale of the protests, they did in fact cut the tariff from 3.73 roubles to 1.53 per kilometre. On 23 March this year, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev had a meeting with truckers’ representatives, the outcome of which was to extend the discount period for the system: instead of being doubled, as initially planned, it would be increased from 15 April by just 25%, to 1.90 roubles a kilometre. </p> <p>Platon’s official website <a href="http://platon.ru/ru/about/">states</a> that “the funds raised are transferred to Russia’s Federal Exchequer on a daily basis and allocated to the maintenance of motorways, the financing of road building and repairs and improvements in road transport infrastructure.” The truckers, however, have no faith in the government’s good intentions and believe the money will disappear into officials’ pockets. </p> <p>“Platon has been in operation for a year and a half now,” says striker Zainalabit Bagavov with anger in his voice. “Let them show me even one kilometre of road that has been built or repaired with this money. When you drive along the river Don, there are 10-15 stretches with tolls of 500, 400 or 300 roubles (£4-£7). They come along every 30-40 kilometres. The display panels read Rosavtodor [state road agency], but in small letters underneath is the name of a private company, Horns and Hoofs, so none of it goes into the public purse. </p> <p>“If the government increased the price of diesel by a rouble a litre, people wouldn’t be so angry. It would be expensive, but you’d at least be getting your tank filled up. But here, we’re supposedly paying for something, somewhere, but no one has a clue where the money goes, or on what, and why they’re fleecing us”.</p> <h2>The National Guard v. the truckers </h2> <p>Dagestan’s striking truckers began to move towards the Manas Circle on 26 March. They tell me that as soon as other protesters started joining them, several army trucks full of National Guard troops appeared from nowhere.</p><p><span style="font-size: 13px;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.58.13.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="256" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1 April: National Guard troops deploy at Manas. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T6uHEuudQo>Youtube</a>.</span></span></span>“And they’re still here, standing around waiting for the order to attack,” Umar Garisov tells me. “They can’t stop the protest, but sometimes they start bugging our guys. They ask people with cars to move them from the verge, saying they were blocking the road. Look, the cars are on the hard shoulder – the road’s over there. How are they blocking it?”</span></p> <p>But the strikers did get into a standoff with National Guard troops. On the first day of the strike, the truckers at Manas stopped trucks coming from Azerbaijan, asking them to show solidarity with them and “stop for a day, at least” or reschedule their drive along the road. </p> <p>“We didn’t like the fact that they were working while we were protesting,” Bagavov tells me. “We’re hoping to bring our problems to Putin’s notice, and they’re driving past as though nothing’s happening. We stopped one guy and said, ‘park your truck, stop for a day at least. And tell your mates that are on their way from Azerbaijan to support us too’. That’s how the trouble started: one of our lads threw some stones at one of their trucks and there was a fight. The troops started firing into the air to scare the crowd and arrested four of our guys. They fined them and let them go. There was a strike in Italy ten days before ours and they paralysed the roads completely. But we weren’t blocking the traffic, just asking for a bit of solidarity.”</p> <p>The strikers were expecting some reaction to their protest from the local authorities and the media. On the first day of the strike, Yakub Khudzhayev, Dagestan’s Deputy Minister of Transport, visited to them. He listened to their demands and left. That was when they decided to attract some public attention with a mass truck rally. </p> <p>The action took place the next day, 28 March, with around 300 vehicles. The initial idea was to drive in convoy from Manas to the village of Shamkhal, 15km northwest of Makhachkala. But the truckers turned back half way. The motorway goes through a control point at the city limits, and the drivers were not allowed any further. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/0101.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>National Guard deployment in Manas. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span><span style="font-size: 13px;">“We drove in such a way so as not to block any other traffic,” the truckers say. “We had one wheel on the verge and kept quite a distance between the trucks, so that car drivers could overtake us. The front of the column was probably at the edge of Makhachkala while the back was still here. But at the control point on the southern side of the city we were stopped and sent back.” The protesters drove just 30 kilometres in all. And again, apart from drivers of other vehicles on the road, no one noticed them. So the strikers decided to try again on Friday, 31 March.</span></p> <p>In February 2016, however, Russia’s State Duma passed a law equating car rallies to public demonstrations: in other words, they needed permission from the authorities. The Dagestan authorities were told about the protest in advance, but not about the rally. The truckers could have been landed with a fine of up to 300,000 roubles (£4,226), but managed to avoid it. </p> <p>On the evening of 31 March, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Om_Scs_q5UU">video footage recorded on mobile phones</a> started appearing on social media. On one clip, a representative of Moscow’s truckers’ trade union says that troops were massed around the Manas Circle, trying to disperse the truckers by force, but that Dagestani media had been ordered not to report this. </p> <p>According to the truckers, the National Guard forces at Manas knew about the planned mass action and in the early afternoon around 25 trucks full of troops arrived and started surrounding the site. Other truckers also arrived and soon there were about 1,000 trucks. </p> <p>“We got together after Friday prayers and decided to go for it,” Garisov tells me. “We switched on our engines and started moving off 10-20 minutes later, when they had warmed up. But we couldn’t get out, they’d blocked the road. In fact they’d used the Ural trucks to block the Kayakent roundabout, the Izerbash, all the car parks, the slip roads on and off the motorway – everything. They didn’t allow a single truck along that stretch of road. Only cars were allowed along it – trucks were diverted into parking areas. One that was laden was also sent into a truck park, but later managed to leave”.&nbsp; </p> <p>On the same day, the republic’s Vice-Premier Shamil Isayev arrived at the protest camp, and after hearing the truckers’ demands he suggested creating a joint working party that would include one person from each district and each transport company, as well as representatives of community organisations and the relevant administrative bodies and authorities. And as for the transport tax, Isayev said that once Russia’s Federal Tax Service and Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate databases were updated, it should only take two or three months to sort the matter out. </p> <p>On 2 April, Gazel delivery vans turned up at the roundabout to support the truckers. About 100 drivers drove round the roundabout and then left their vans in the covered market area, where the trucks are now parked. The van drivers stood around all day with the truckers; most of them left as night fell but some stayed for a second day. And on 6 April, local&nbsp;<a href="http://www.kavkazr.com/a/v-dagestane-dalnoboyshikov-podderjali-naselenie/28414431.html">car drivers supported the striking truckers</a> by holding their own Makhachkala-Manas protest rally.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/0061.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Parked-up trucks at Manas. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span><span style="font-size: 13px;">The truck drivers have the general support of the Dagestan public. Innumerable messages about “why truckers’ work should be respected” and requests to support the protesters with a car rally have been posted on WhatsApp.</span></p> <h2>“No problems!”&nbsp; </h2> <p>On 3 April, Ministry of Transport officials and Platon’s Dagestan office held a press conference. A few truckers also attended it, but none of them was from the Manas camp.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Yakub Khudzayev, the republic’s Deputy Minister of Transport, remarked that the strikers were constantly moaning about the infringement of their constitutional rights, but forgetting that they were themselves infringing the rights of those whose cars were having stones thrown at them as they drove along the motorway. Khudzayev mentioned several such incidents in the first week of the strike. But when asked by a journalist whether the stone throwers had any connection with the strikers, he admitted that he didn’t know. </p> <p>Rostransnadzor’s head in Dagestan, Murtuzali Murtuzaliyev, believed that the truck drivers’ complaints about frequent checks on the republic’s motorways were unfounded, and insisted that traffic was only subject to checking in daytime and only at one control point in Dzhemikent, in Derbent. “What we have decided is this,” he said. “If a vehicle has been checked in one location, it will not be checked by Rostransnadzor anywhere else in Dagestan. Its papers will be stamped ‘check passed’ and there’ll be no further problems.”</p> <p>The representatives from Platon’s Dagestan office were also asked the most important question, about money: how much does the system raise from drivers on Dagestan’s motorways and how much of it goes on improving its roads? Platon’s representatives could not, however, answer the question, saying that they didn’t have that information, and suggested that the question be put to the Federal Ministry of Transport. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Many road users are complaining about paying money to Platon and not seeing any improvement in any roads,” added Lidiya Abdullayeva, a leading specialist providing information support to users of the system in Makhachkala. And Bashir Dzhankhuvatov, CEO of the YugTrans logistics company, pointed out that HGVs don’t go into city centres and therefore don’t damage city streets. The businessman asked why alternative, toll free roads can’t be built in Russia. As things are, truckers have no choice but to pay to use the only existing roads.&nbsp; </p> <p>Dzhankhuvatov also complained that with the introduction of transport licences, taxes and now the Platon system, companies can no longer make ends meet, and he is faced with having to shut down his business: “15 years ago we had 160 trucks, now we’re down to 17 or 18.”</p> <p>Ilyans Mazanov, Deputy Head of Taxation at Dagestan’s Federal Property Tax Service office, reminded the press conference that in 2015 Russia introduced new rules that specifically exempted owners of trucks weighing over 12 tonnes from transport tax. According to the official, truck drivers pay no tax if the amount they pay through the Platon system is higher than or equal to the tax, or the trucker pays only the difference between the tax and what they owe Platon.</p> <p>Several times, officials at the press conference called on the truckers to disperse, insisting that all the problems that could be solved at regional level were already sorted out or would be soon. But getting rid of Platon is another matter: that will need local Duma Deputies to take the truckers demands to the State Duma. But the strikers are in no hurry to disperse. They say they’re ready to stay where they are until their demands are met.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">In St Petersburg, long-distance truck drivers are holding out for victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/big-government-is-back-in-dagestan">Big government is back in Dagestan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/gubden-dagestan-where-radicals-police-themselves">Gubden, Dagestan: where ‘radicals’ police themselves</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Aida Mirmaksumova Russia Dagestan Thu, 13 Apr 2017 10:51:35 +0000 Aida Mirmaksumova 110121 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Young people in Russia today don’t have it easy” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/young-people-in-russia-today-don-t-have-it-easy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After young people and students took to the streets, education is firmly on the agenda in Russia. An interview with Mikhail Sokolov on the threats to academic freedom and whether one of Russia's leading universities will survive. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatiana-dvornikova/mikhail-sokolov-nelegko" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-30706717.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'>They’ve been dismissed as a “teenage rebellion”, but the protests that took place on 26 March suggest <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play> the country’s youth is slipping through the state’s fingers</a>. (c) Xinhua/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Education is high on Russia’s political agenda right now. While teachers <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">fight for pay and conditions</a>, the European University at St Petersburg, one of Russia’s best independent universities, is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/polina-aronson-tatyana-dvornikova/european-university-at-st-petersburg-no-license-to-learn">currently fighting to retain its licence</a>, and many state universities have been putting pressure on students <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">who have taken part in the recent wave of anti-corruption protests</a>.</p> <p>I talked to Mikhail Sokolov, Professor of Political Science and Sociology at EUSPb, about the effectiveness of state propaganda, the contradictions in Russia’s education system and licensing that the university has encountered and whether demonstrations of support might increase its chances of retaining its status.</p> <p><strong>Tatyana: How come the European University at St Petersburg, which is always ranked highly in university league tables, is failing to satisfy Rosobnadzor, Russia’s education watchdog. What complaints are being levelled against it?</strong></p> <p><strong>Mikhail:</strong> Every governing body has an ideal type of university in mind, and these perceptions are not only unrelated to one another, but may be almost mutually exclusive.</p> <p>Rosobnadzor wants to be given concrete evidence of a university’s credentials, to confirm that it’s not some Mickey Mouse venture that hands out degrees right, left and centre. In other words, proof that it can teach. The problem, however, is a tacit assumption that there is one specific type of university that offers a specific combination of courses and provides specific modes of education. And all other universities appear inferior because they offer a different combination and teach in a different way.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-EUSPBuildingFacadeProject1859_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="244" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A new facade for the mansion of A.G.Kushelev-Bezborodko by architect E.Schmidt (1859), now the site of EUSPb. Credit: European University at St Petersburg. Free Art License.</span></span></span>For many universities, Rosobnadzor’s requirements are irrelevant. What need is there for a gym in a university where there are no courses in Physical Education — who is going to use it and for what? Or take an assumption that courses will be textbook based and that the library should contain as many textbooks as there are students. And that they must, of course, be in Russian. So if a university bases its courses on primary sources— works by the German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, for example, rather than books about him — it gets into trouble. For people studying the humanities, primary sources are more important than secondary ones. But try telling that to Rosobnadzor.</p> <p>In terms of how universities’ effectiveness is monitored, as laid down by the Ministry of Education and Science, EUSPb, and especially its scientific research, looks very good. This is partly because teaching staff have a lot of free time in which to pursue their research. They have few contact hours and spend hardly any time on tedious paperwork. But the university’s main attractions for staff aren’t even its salary levels, which are pretty good for Russia, but the comfortable, unbureaucratic environment and research facilities. However, if a university decides to be a high quality research centre, it evolves in a direction that doesn’t sit well with the requirements of Rosobnadzor. And that body has decided to look at our paperwork and the formal qualifications of our teaching staff. It turns out, for example, that many of our lecturers and professors are not Doctors of Science. I, for example, am a mere PhD, and that is unusual in our system. There is no formal national requirement for professors to be Doctors of Science, but there are established traditions and qualification requirements that come to much the same thing. </p> <p>At the same time, quite a number of people who would have been perfectly capable of gaining a Doctorate of Social Sciences quite early in their careers, decided against it for one simple reason: it has not been obligatory and the process of gaining it takes up a large amount of time. At a certain point a young researcher has to decide between two options: to write a Doctorate of Science thesis or a book and five articles. Our university has tended to choose people who went for the book and articles option, and so became famous in their chosen field. Other universities (the ones Rosobnadzor considers exemplary) chose people who preferred a doctoral thesis. So the EUSPb has had no problems with publications and citations, and the others had none with qualification demands. Unfortunately, these clashes are very common.</p> <p><strong>Tatyana: What are the university’s prospects if it loses its licence?&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong></p> <p><strong>Mikhail:</strong> Classes are still taking place at the<strong> </strong>EUSPb. We are hoping for the best, but<strong> </strong>it could go either way. And a negative outcome would mean halting our educational work. Nothing will happen while our appeal is being considered. If it is turned down, we shall have to stop teaching. In Russian law, research work doesn’t require a licence, so we can’t be stopped from continuing that. Losing our licence would be unpleasant, but not fatal for the university, because we can apply for a new one. If it comes to that, we should get one, because by the time we apply all our supposed contraventions will be out of date. </p> <p>The problem with this scenario is that we probably won’t get a new licence before the new academic year, and we’ll have to transfer the end of this academic year to the autumn term, which means that our Masters students won’t get their degree in this academic year. Also, those who would like to do Russian graduate studies and only have a Bachelor’s degree will probably lose a year, and this includes a lot of students. Those who are going to do a PhD abroad won’t have this problem (or haven’t had it) because the academic year begins at different times in Russia and Europe. We also won’t be able to run our selection process for higher degree candidates this summer.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/jpeg.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="282" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mikhail Sokolov, courtesy of the author. </span></span></span>So losing our licence is a big nuisance for the university, but not fatal. But that’s not our only problem — they’re trying to throw us out of our building. And the two things are linked: to get a licence you have to have an appropriate amount of floor space.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Tatyana: Could the letters of support for the EUSPb coming in from all over the world help it? &nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>Mikhail:</strong> I’ll be honest. We don’t know what’s going on, and we don’t know what might influence any decision. Everyone has their own theory, but there’s little clarity. If it’s just a question of various bureaucratic processes becoming entangled, then yes, letters might help. Officials don’t like it when their decisions draw attention to them. Nor do they like admitting their mistakes in public, and if there’s a row they’ll try to sort it out as quickly as possible by giving the university its licence, so people get off their backs. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If it’s a bit of private enterprise on the part of our neighbours, then the publicity could also help, as the palace will become a pretty toxic asset if the university is thrown out of it. The city won’t easily forget how the new owners acquired the building and will remember the story for decades. So the support campaign is lowering its value to potential raiders.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/jpg_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A placard in support of EUSPb reads: "Did you become the best in Russia? Lose your license!" Image: Elena Tokalova. </span></span></span>If, however, this is a political campaign aimed at eradicating the university as a haven for free thinking (as another conspiracy theory has it) then letters will make no difference. The events of 26 March will have much more influence — in one direction in the short term, and another in the medium term. In the short term, there will be attempts to dampen other smouldering issues: they’ll change their minds about handing over the cathedral and merging the libraries, just in case these issues acquire links with the anti-corruption protests. So here they are going back on their plans. </p><p>But in the medium term, I fear that there might be a reaction and a mass propaganda campaign aimed at young people. This campaign will probably be completely counterproductive, but places with a liberal reputation will suffer. Anyway, we’ll soon find out which of these possible scenarios is the right one. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Tatyana: What are the options now for Russian students who want to get a high quality education in the humanities and go on to do research in some area of social sciences?</strong></p> <p><strong>Mikhail:</strong> The humanities and social sciences are certainly not a priority for our government today, and not an area that receives a lot of funding. Science and technology are considered much more important: these are fields where Russia can compete internationally, and the development of a high tech industrial sector is a must for cracking the global market and making us technologically self sufficient. This is an official position that makes perfect sense within a particular frame of reference.</p> <p>As a result, the situation with Humanities and social sciences is rather patchy. There are centres of excellence with a global reputation, especially Russian history, politics and culture. It’s difficult to say whether you could call any of them “leading” outside their specific geographical frame of reference — it’s certainly not the case in my field, sociology. But I can’t speak about linguistics, for example, which traditionally has had a higher profile. </p> <p>To get back to the students: they’ll need to look for faculties with high reputations at other universities, and if there are none, and there is nowhere to transfer to, then they’ll have to wait to do their Masters studies in either a Russian university or elsewhere. You can theoretically stay at a strong faculty all your life, but it depends on your own research interests. The main thing with choosing where to do Masters or Doctoral studies is finding yourself the right supervisor. </p> <p>More often than not, this involves going to a university abroad, since there are great gaps in Russian research fields – there are many in sociology, for a start. To do research at an international level and get known in the world means going to where there is research going on in your chosen field. Not much has changed there since the great Russian polymath Mikhail <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mikhail-Vasilyevich-Lomonosov">Lomonosov</a> studied in St Petersburg in the 1730’s. The gaps are, however, shrinking, often thanks to people who study in the west and then return to Russia. </p> <p>Those who have managed to complete their Bachelors degree can immediately enrol on a Masters course at one of the world’s leading universities, and often do so. But there’s a major language problem here –- another reason for the relative lack of Russian specialists in global science and scholarship. It’s easy, of course, to boast that the Soviet education system was the best in the world, and it was exemplary in some respects, especially mathematics and science. But students were not taught foreign languages — they had a reading knowledge at best. Today less than 10% of Russians say that they know any language other than those of the peoples of the former USSR –the 2010 Census recorded 5.5% saying that they spoke English, 1.5% that they spoke German and 0.5%, French, and there was also a large overlap within this group.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/-декабрь акция в поддержку ЕУСПб.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'>December 2016: Action in support of EUSPb in Paris. Image: Elena Tokalova. </span></span></span>For those who can’t study abroad because they don’t speak another European language, the only possible springboards to higher studies in the humanities and social sciences are the EUSPb, Moscow’s Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences and its Higher School of Economics. These all select talented students via various summer schools. Afterwards, if students can join one of the research groups within the university, they stay with us. Otherwise they move on. Some have returned to their original universities or to another regional university.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Tatyana: How long will it take for Russia to catch up with other countries in the humanities and social sciences? Or is that impossible? &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>Mikhail:</strong> Experience shows that educational breakthroughs can take place. Estonia, for example, has made a giant leap — it’s considered a global success story. Having started in the same situation as other post-Soviet countries, it has now shot ahead. The last <a href="http://www.oecd.org/PISA/">PISA</a> rankings showed Estonian students achieving some of the highest results in the world, and the highest in Europe, in science and mathematics — a long way ahead of Russia, despite its strong Soviet traditions. Political will and parental enthusiasm were major factors in this development. </p> <p>In Russia, too, the situation is evidently improving. The statistics show that three times as many younger than older people say that they know a foreign language. Despite complaints about the Unified State Examination taken by school leavers, post-Soviet schools and general cultural environment have provided students with at least some minimal knowledge. We can’t write Russian science and scholarship off as incapable of improvement, even if it’s not so hot at present. Changes can happen very quickly.</p> <p><strong>Tatyana: School and lower university years’ students took a pretty active part in the recent protests in nearly 100 Russian cities. Why do you think this happened and what has united them?</strong></p> <p><strong>Mikhail:</strong> I don’t feel I can talk about this subject, not for political reasons, but because I have colleagues who until <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">26 March</a> were telling me about how apolitical young people were, and the next morning started going on about why they were so politicised using the same explanations on both occasions. </p> <p>We don’t even know whether there were more young people involved than there were in the 2011-2012 protests. Experiments by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments">Solomon Asch</a> and other social psychologists have shown that we all tend towards conformism in our view of the world, and if the received wisdom is that protesters are young people, then everybody will see, or remember seeing young people and not notice older people — even if statistically their relative numbers mirrored those of the general population. Groups of people are capable of convincing themselves that they see much stranger things . You only have to think about spiritualist séances. </p> <p>In other words, we need hard facts and figures. In 2011-2012 there were surveys and head counts, but there were none on 26 March. We could look at the number of people arrested, but the police may have deliberately avoided detaining children. And we could analyse video footage or locations on social media — in any case, we need to do some work before talking about the protesters’ age.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Protest_Russia_Party.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"It doesn’t matter what party you’re for – you’re certainly against thieves!” reads this placard at a protest in Moscow, 26 March. Image still via Radio Svoboda / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>If, however, we do find reliable evidence of more young people protesting, it won’t be hard to explain. Young people in Russia today don’t have it easy. They have less chance of upward social mobility than previous generations, even if you discount the fact that today’s elite will pass their jobs at the top of state corporations to their children. In any rapid economic shift it is relatively young people who occupy the new niches. The older generation gets left behind in depressed sectors of the economy; the young don’t. So the group that benefitted from the fall of the planned economy and privatisation was those who were born in the 60s.</p> <p>EUSPb graduates Yuri Agafonov and Vladislav Lepele analysed lists of several hundred of Russia’s richest business men and women and discovered that the children of the 1960s make up the majority. The 70s and 80s generations were too late but occupied those positions that were left. But think of the 80s and 90s generations: their potential places on the rungs high above them on the career ladder have been filled by relatively young people who will remain in their posts for another 20 odd years. There are sectors of the economy- new ones connected with innovation - which will provide jobs in the future, but don’t exist yet. All in all, you can’t envy the young people at the bottom of the pyramid. And don’t forget that over the next 15 years the number of economically active people will fall, and the number of pensioners rise, and you will see that the younger generation has good reason to be discontented.</p> <p>The fact that one day there will be a reaction against government attempts at ideological indoctrination might also be relevant. It has always amazed me that most public officials believe that someone knows how to brainwash people. In fact, humans can no more control public opinion than they can predict the weather – and its longer term variables even less. Sometimes, for example, you just get sick and tired of overused symbols or whipped up passions, and a call that enflamed the masses yesterday now sounds like something out of last year’s pop charts. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>OK, there are recipes for propaganda. But their chances of success are 50/50. 50% that they’ll work; 50% that they’ll be totally counterproductive. The USSR built the most grandiose, centralised propaganda machine in history (well, or the second after the Roman Catholic Church – take your choice) and spent a considerable proportion of its GDP on it. It held a complete monopoly on propaganda. But did many people rise in protest against the Belovezh Agreement of 1991,<strong> </strong>which dissolved the USSR and set up the Commonwealth of Independent States? Did many people born in the Soviet Union believe in Communism? Or class warfare? Or the inevitable withering away of the state? Were many people ready to unite with the workers of the world? Or turn an imperialist war into a civil one? What evidence do we have to suggest that today anyone will rule Russia better than the CPSU?</p> <p>The gigantic Soviet machine seems to have completely devalued the values it was set up to inculcate in the public. And it turned a large number of people, who didn’t like having stuff forcibly drummed into their heads, into stalwart anticommunists. Revolutions in general usually produce the very people who have tried the hardest to stop them — fiery counter revolutionaries breed fiery revolutionaries. And it seems to me that if the 26 March protests will engender more awareness raising work with young people, the results, in the medium term, will be completely unexpected by those who were involved in that work. </p> <p>But you should ask me now: if it’s all so obvious, why did young people not start protesting (if they have started) earlier? Because, alas, it’s not yet at all obvious, and we need to be prepared for surprises, even when we find some intuitively alluring explanation for it.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">Cuts, cuts, cuts: the life and times of Russia’s university teachers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/polina-aronson-tatyana-dvornikova/european-university-at-st-petersburg-no-license-to-learn">The European University at St Petersburg: no license to learn? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-platonova/in-russia-propaganda-starts-in-preschool">In Russia, propaganda starts in preschool</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression">Don&#039;t call him Dima: Russia’s anti-corruption protesters face repression</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mikhail Sokolov Tatyana Dvornikova Russia Education Wed, 12 Apr 2017 14:47:23 +0000 Tatyana Dvornikova and Mikhail Sokolov 110090 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Putin's nation-building project offers reconciliation without truth https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-lipman/putins-nation-building-project-reconciliation-without-truth <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Kremlin has resorted to obfuscating the past in the name of national reconciliation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 11.41.25.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>December 2016: Vladimir Putin delivers the Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. Source: Kremlin.ru.</span></span></span>Late last year when Russian president Vladimir Putin was about to deliver his State of the Nation address, commentators expected he would devote a large part of it to the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Yet Putin limited himself to just a few sentences. “We need history’s lessons primarily for reconciliation and for strengthening the social, political and civil concord that we have managed to achieve,” he <a href="http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53379">said</a>. “It is unacceptable,” Putin added, “to drag the grudges, anger and bitterness of the past into our life today, and in pursuit of one’s own political and other interests to speculate on tragedies… Let us remember that we are a single people, a united people, and we have only one Russia.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Reducing the meaning of the Bolshevik Revolution — a series of events that had enormous impact on Russia and the world — to its significance for national unity is well suited to Putin’s nation-building project. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia’s territory shrunk, its sphere of influence was gone; its economy was in permanent downfall, and its politics torn by fierce rivalry that led twice to state coup attempts. When Putin became Russia’s acting president in 2000, he saw his mission in consolidating political power and improving economic development.&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia needed to build <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marlene-laruelle/putinism-as-gaullism">a new state identity after its imperial statehood was lost</a>. It is hardly surprising that concern about national reconciliation and unity has been fairly high on Putin’s list of priorities since very early in his presidency.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Civil war in mass consciousness</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p>In his programmatic <a href="http://www.ng.ru/politics/1999-12-30/4_millenium.html%20">Millenium article</a>, published in late December 1999 when Putin was preparing to act as Russia’s president, he wrote that “fruitful, creative work” for the benefit of the fatherland “is impossible in a society that finds itself in a condition of division, internally separated.” In order to “make the new, market mechanisms work to full capacity”, Putin wrote, Russia needs to “overcome the still deep ideological and political split in society”.</p> <p>Putin would return to this theme repeatedly in later years. In 2012, for instance, when he was about to start his third presidential term, he referred to “a civil war… &nbsp;ongoing in the consciousness of many people”, and emphasized the need for “subtle cultural therapy”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Back in the late 1980s and the early period following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it was common to trace Russia's national trauma to the Communist terror</p> <p>Putin’s “civil war” metaphor evoked the memory of the bloody fratricidal war that followed the Bolshevik revolution. But in his pursuit of national reconciliation, Putin apparently seeks to overcome the “grudges, anger and bitterness” caused by another major upheaval of the 20th century — the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he, rightly, sees as a national trauma.</p> <p>Back in the late 1980s and the early period following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it was common to trace Russia's national trauma to the Communist terror. The remedy to Soviet society’s ills was to be found in the exposure of dark truths about the Communist regime, and Russia was inundated with evidence of Communist crimes.</p> <p>Truth, however, failed to bring reconciliation. Disclosures about Communist crimes increasingly left people indifferent or resentful. And since very early in his presidency, Putin has resorted to another remedy — that of obfuscation and oblivion, a reconciliation without truth.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Reverting the river to its authoritarian course</strong></h2> <p>In 1999, the dominant popular sentiment in Russia was profound disillusionment with market reforms and deep distrust of all government institutions. Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin saw his popularity drop to single-digit numbers; he narrowly escaped impeachment, stepped down and anointed Putin as his successor.&nbsp;</p> <p>Inheriting Russia in a state of misery and political turmoil, Putin responded to public frustration by re-instating Russia’s “traditional order” — he re-established centralised political controls and eviscerated the nominally existing checks and balances. In the words of Russia’s leading pollster Aleksandr Oslon, Putin “let the river revert to its authoritarian course.” “You can't go against the tide for too long,” he added.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/f16_337_020_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Boris Yeltsin on a visit to Novozybkov, Bryansk Region, in January 1992. Photo: <a href=www.yeltsin.ru>Yeltsin Center</a>. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Putin saw the societal divisions and confrontational politics as hurdles that had to be removed, but he was not an ideological leader. He sought to calm the passions unleashed by the political and ideological turmoil of the 1990s — yet his reconciliation policy was not about offering a unifying idea. Instead, the Russian president marginalised discussions of divisive and disquieting subjects, such as Stalin’s crimes, or the revision of the USSR policies in Europe before and after the Second World War, or excessive criticism of his government’s performance.&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin capitalised on the Russian people’s yearning for stability after the turbulence of the 1990s. And his immense stroke of luck in the form of the steadily growing price of oil greatly facilitated his task of taking politics under control, muffling the existing differences and keeping people acquiescent and demobilised.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Putin’s nation-building project gained new urgency after the Ukraine crisis and the annexation of Crimea</p><p>National television thus shaped the image of Putin as the country’s leader to whom there was no alternative, and put a strong emphasis on World War Two; national celebrations of the 9 May Victory Day <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ksenia-polouektova-krimer/unearthing-russia-s-dead-over-and-over-again">got grander by the year</a>. But beyond that the Kremlin paid little attention to nation-building.</p> <p>7 November, the day of the Bolshevik Revolution that for seven decades had been the Soviet Union’s ”origin myth”, remained a holiday. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation still celebrated it as the day of the revolution. Officially, however, it had been renamed back in the nineties the Day of Reconciliation and Accord, but there was no publicly shared narrative of a “reconciliation” associated with that date.</p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-29029832_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In Russia, the place of Lenin's interment remains a political football. (c) Alexander Zemlianichenko AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In order to strip the Russian Communist party of the “monopoly” on the November holiday, a new one, (4 November) was introduced in mid-2000s. It concerned events in the early 17th century and was titled the Day of National Unity, but no clear narrative was offered this time either. Nor did the Kremlin care to explain why after celebrating “national unity” on 4 November, the Russian people should be celebrating “accord and reconciliation” three days later.</p> <h2><strong>The Kremlin turns ideological</strong></h2> <p>In late 2011, the public’s general quiescence gave way to mass anti-Putin protests in Moscow and other large urban centers. The government switched to a more repressive and “ideological” gear, condemning the protesters as immoral and unpatriotic and pitting the more conservative majority against them. Besides, the economic slowdown meant that the government could no longer afford generous social spending, and “ideological” tools came in useful as a substitute source of legitimacy.</p> <p>Putin’s nation-building project gained new urgency after the Ukraine crisis and the annexation of Crimea. Russia became a ”fortress under siege” surrounded by the western enemy. Rallying round the leader was not just a matter of loyalty, but of national security and even national identity. To be a true Russian was to support Putin and celebrate the return of Crimea to the Russian fold. To feel otherwise was to be un-Russian, unpatriotic, maybe even a traitor. The rallying effect remained in place even after the propaganda campaign grew less intense.</p> <p>The nation-building effort assumed a more peaceful course. The unified concept of teaching history that in the 2000s had been often talked about, but not implemented, was commissioned by Putin and soon approved under his watch. The first school books based on this new concept have been published in time for the current academic year.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Putin’s reluctance to discuss the causes and meaning of the Bolshevik Revolution is part of his nation-building strategy, which condemns opposition to the existing political order and keeps “difficult” historical issues blurred or unheeded.</p> <p>Central to the school history discourse is the anti-revolution message that echoes Putin’s <span>earlier statement</span>: “Too often in the national history instead of an opposition to the government, we face opposition to Russia itself. And we know how it ends: with the destruction of the state itself.”&nbsp;</p> <p>This counter-revolutionary discourse has it that autonomous public action can only lead to bloody tragedies and should be avoided at any cost<strong>. </strong>Indeed in recent years the government has waged a campaign against autonomous non-government organisations, and demonstrated intolerance toward public activism deemed even remotely “political”. Over three dozen participants&nbsp;of a 2012 peaceful mass rally were prosecuted; about twenty were convicted, some from 2.5 to 4.5 years in jail. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The schoolbooks are not fully silent on the dark pages of the Russian history, but they are thoroughly counterbalanced by brighter developments, lest they undermine the government’s legitimacy.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 11.50.50.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An advert for Russia. My History exhibition at Moscow's Exhibition Centre. Source: <a href=http://vdnh.ru/events/vystavki/obrazovatelno-vystavochnyy-kompleks-rossiya-moya-istoriya-/>VDNKh</a>. </span></span></span>Putin’s aforementioned warning against opposing the government looms large in the history park called Russia. My History, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/mark-galeotti/education-in-putin-s-russia-isn-t-about-history-but-scripture">recently opened in Moscow</a>. The infallibility of the ruler is the exhibition’s main theme: pre-revolutionary Russian history is presented as an unabashed eulogy of all Russian czars and princes.</p> <p>Those who ever rose up against the monarchy — from peasant rebels of the 18th century to the members of the aristocratic Decembrists uprising in the early 19th century or<strong> </strong>the members of the People’s Will revolutionaries in the 1870s — are unequivocally condemned as subversive, and their causes are disregarded. The exhibition was organised by the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Ministry of Education has <a href="https://ria.ru/religion/20161110/1481121365.html">recently recommended that school teachers use its material in class</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><strong><em>Read: how residents of Makhachkala, Dagestan are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">resisting plans to build a patriotic history park in the city centre</a>.&nbsp;</em></strong></p> <p>Putin’s reluctance to discuss the causes and meaning of the Bolshevik Revolution is part of his nation-building strategy, which condemns opposition to the existing political order and keeps “difficult” historical issues blurred or unheeded.&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin’s stance is readily picked by the political establishment and a broad range of loyalists. The Russian Orthodox Church, which seeks to assert itself as the government's ideological arm, devoted its annual public conference to “1917-2017: Lessons of the century”. The resolution of the conference <a href="http://kubanpokrov.ru/itogovaya-rezolyuciya-uchastnikov-xxv-mezhdunarodnyx-rozhdestvenskix-obrazovatelnyx-chtenij-1917-2017-uroki-stoletiya/">mentions</a> “the widespread apostasy, the loss of spiritual foundations and Christian moral guidelines, and the deliberate persecution of the Orthodox Church… in the period after 1917.” But, in the reconciliation vein, the focus is not on what actually transpired in 1917, but on the providential forces that enabled the nation to get over those unnamed misfortunes, come together and rebuild.</p> <h2><strong>Ideological uncertainty: an asset and a problem</strong></h2> <p>As part of the commemoration of the revolution anniversary, the Orthodox Church plans to carry around Russia a reliquary with the relics of the “new martyrs” — the church hierarchs and priests executed by the Communists and canonised after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet, the Church keeps silent on the perpetrators, let alone the Communist regime, which systematically exterminated the Russian clergy.</p> <p>In March this year, a high-ranking Church official <a href="http://www.interfax.ru/russia/553918">spoke against removing Lenin’s body from the mausoleum.</a> Lenin was the mastermind of the mass killings of clergymen, but he is still venerated by the Russian Communist party whose leaders, while remaining Putin’s loyalists provide an outlet for aggrieved Soviet-minded constituencies and thus contribute to national reconciliation.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-22952391-1_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'>May 2015: members of an excavation team searching for the remains of Soviet soldiers killed during WWII uncover remains of Soviet soldiers in a swamp east of St Petersburg. (c) Dmitry Lovetsky / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>While Putin’s Kremlin draws on the Orthodox Church as the pillar of Russian statehood, it would not upset the Communist party either. And neither would the Russian Orthodox Church. Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church dismiss their past differences as minor and cordially greet each other.</p> <p>There’s barely anything unusual about re-interpreting the past for nation-building purposes. And national reconciliation is, of course, a worthy goal.&nbsp;</p> <p>A peculiar feature of Putin reinterpretation of the Russian history is its uncertainty. His “reconciliation without truth” project is based on avoiding facts and names and reducing the role of people to either unquestioning supporters of the powers that be or dangerous troublemakers. Except for the genuinely shared pride in the victory of World War Two, Russia still has no consensual historical narrative or nationally recognised heroes.&nbsp;</p> <p>This uncertainty may be seen as an asset as it provides the regime with elasticity and a freedom of ideological maneuver. One can glorify Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, or Russian monarchs and princes, worship the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II and celebrate the early Soviet secret police who executed him and his family. As long as the message remains anti-western, anti-liberal and implies full allegiance to the Russian state, the regime can keep all these dissonant voices as its supporters, not opponents.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The obfuscation and evasions of the official discourse every now and then provoke historical initiatives that offer a distinct vision where the official discourse remains blurred</p> <p>And yet, the absence of a shared pantheon of national heroes has engendered bizarre ideas. For instance, the governor of Oryol had a statue of Ivan the Terrible erected in his capital. The commemoration of the 16th century Tsar notorious for his brutality had been hardly endorsed by the Kremlin and led to public protests in Oryol — directly counter to Putin’s policy of reconciliation.&nbsp;</p> <p>While the government undertakes to inculcate a single vision of history through school books, history parks, legal constraints and zealous loyalists, professional historians created the Free Historical Society which, in the words of its member Ivan Kurilla “wages counter-attacks to defend their professional integrity”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-28915326_0_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russia’s first monument to Ivan the Terrible was recently unveiled in the town of Oryol. (с) Howard Amos AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The obfuscation and evasions of the official discourse every now and then provoke historical initiatives that offer a distinct vision where the official discourse remains blurred. Such initiatives range from new Stalin statues erected locally by his staunch admirers to “The Last Address” activists <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35626990">who install memorial plaques on the buildings</a> from which Stalin’s victims were taken away to be executed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin is evasive on Stalin, but the Communist dictator is still buried next to the Kremlin wall, and Zyuganov routinely lays flowers on his grave. The Federal Security Service (FSB), the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/pavel-chikov/russia-s-security-services-are-reforming-their-way-out-of-shadows">most powerful agency in today’s Russia</a>, prides itself on being the successor of the Soviet secret police that conducted mass executions of Soviet citizens.&nbsp;</p><p>In a recent public opinion poll, <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/russia/2016/03/160325_stalin_poll_analysis%20">almost half of Russian citizens surveyed</a> (more than ever in the post-Soviet years) said they had a positive, rather than negative view of Stalin — arguably, the result of the emphasis on the victory in World War Two and Russia’s reinstated greatness.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Putin has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/russia%E2%80%99s-repressive-monument-to-victims-of-political-repression">ordered a memorial to victims of mass repressions to be built on Moscow’s Andrei Sakharov avenue</a>. Sakharov, a renowned designer of thermonuclear weapons who became an uncompromising opponent of the Soviet government, is a name that is hard to accommodate with the current discourse of unity and reconciliation. Although Moscow has a street named after him, for the Russian public, he is not regarded as a hero and is barely mentioned at all.</p> <p>The “social, political and civil concord” that Putin claims to have achieved draws, first and foremost, on his own uncontested power and overwhelming public support. He is the only undisputed inhabitant of Russia’s post-Communist pantheon. “If there’s no Putin, there’s no Russia,” a senior Kremlin official said in 2014. Which is tantamount to admitting that Russia’s post-Communist identity is still blurred and new, yet unknown turns in nation-building lie ahead.</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/ksenia-polouektova-krimer/unearthing-russia-s-dead-over-and-over-again">Unearthing Russia’s war dead, over and over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/kremlinphobia-russophobia-and-other-states-of-paranoia">Kremlinphobia, russophobia and other states of paranoia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/russia%E2%80%99s-repressive-monument-to-victims-of-political-repression">Russia’s repressive monument to victims of political repression </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/mark-galeotti/education-in-putin-s-russia-isn-t-about-history-but-scripture">Education in Putin’s Russia isn’t about history, but scripture</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-kobrin/welcome-to-post-post-soviet-era">Welcome to the post-post-Soviet era</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maria Lipman Russia History Culture Wed, 12 Apr 2017 10:42:25 +0000 Maria Lipman 110077 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In St Petersburg, long-distance truck drivers are holding out for victory https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia’s long-distance truck drivers have started a nationwide strike. But without support from political parties or other groups, how far can they go? <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/kto-s-platonom" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_2987 (1).JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Petersburg's trucker protest is part of a Russia-wide strike against the Platon system, which collects additional taxes from HGV operators. (c) Natalia Shkurenok. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 27 March, Russia’s Association of Hauliers started a non-stop strike. From Russia’s Far East to the northwest, thousands of long-distance drivers have parked their trucks and vans along federal highways and local roads in protest. The main trigger for this protest, the second action of this scale in two years, is the Platon system, which collects an additional tax to compensate for damage done by heavy goods vehicles to Russia’s roads. It doesn’t help that Platon is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasiya-ovsyannikova/moscow-s-authoritarian-future">operated by Igor Rotenberg</a>, son of Arkady Rotenberg, a close ally of the Russian president, and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anastasiya-ovsyannikova/moscow-s-authoritarian-future">inflicts heavy fines</a> on those who don’t pay.&nbsp;</p> <p>But the strikers’ demands, which include canceling the Platon system of collecting road fees, and transport tax, as well as corrections to legal norms governing work and leisure, fuel tax, are not only economic. They’re also political. The truckers are calling for the resignation of the Russian government.</p> <p>The drivers say this strike, which is supported by other organisations and drivers’ trade unions, is countrywide — truckers from 84 of Russia’s regions are participating. But if you watch national television, you’d have no idea there was such a large-scale protest going on. State television is keeping quiet, and the country is only aware of the issue thanks to opposition media, the internet and social networks. None of Russia’s officially registered political parties has officially supported the strikers yet. Only Solidarity, an opposition political movement, has so far offered help.&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past two weeks, several regional protest leaders have been arrested. But the strikers’ trucks remain parked, and the strike organisers intend to keep on protesting until they get what they want.</p> <p>A few days ago, I went to visit the truckers on the outskirts of St Petersburg. Here’s what they said.</p> <h2><strong>Are you going my way?</strong></h2> <p>“You’re looking for the truckers, right?” a fellow passenger asks me as she glances at my map of how to find the main group of truckers on the Petersburg-Moscow highway. “It’s not far, you’ll see it for yourself.”</p> <p>“You know about the truckers’ strike?” I ask the friendly woman.</p> <p>“Of course, everyone know about it round here. We drive past every day, they’re standing there with their flags and the police.”</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">“The truckers will hold out for victory, whatever happens next.”</p><p>The truckers’ strike is about 10 minutes from Petersburg’s southeast Kupchino metro station along the Moscow highway which leads out of the city. You see it instantly – two columns of heavy goods vehicles that clearly are not going anywhere. The trucks are parked close to one another on the hard shoulder. Practically every rig has a light blue flag with the letters “OPR” (the acronym for the Association of Hauliers of Russia) in the centre. Many trucks are covered in slogans: “I’m taking part in the All-Russia Strike on 27 March. Are you?”, “Who allowed [Igor] Rotenberg to rob us on the roads?”, “Platon – get out!”</p> <p>The trucks have been here since 27 March. It’s usually quiet and empty in between the trucks. The highway here is quite narrow and usually rammed with traffic going from Petersburg to Novgorod, Moscow or back again, so there’s not much space for walking around or gathering people together. To find the drivers on duty, you can either ask a police officer (the police are parked here 24 hours a day) or look up at the drivers’ cabins — one of the trailers has been turned into a strike headquarters.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Solidarity city</h2> <p>“Would you like some tea?” Sergei Vladimirov asks me as he sets a plate of sweets before me. He’s driver from Petersburg, and an OPR leader. “Don’t be modest, we’ve got lots of tea and sugar. Petersburgers are helping us out!”&nbsp;</p> <p>On my first visit to the truckers, on 1 April, Andrei Bazhutin, OPR’s main leader, is just being released from detention, so I meet his fellow team members instead. We’re drinking tea and talking amongst ourselves when the polythene sheet that covers the entrance is brushed back to reveal a large, middle-aged man. “Have my comrades already been to see you?” he asks, looking around. “I am a communist, a member of the party’s city committee, I work as a taxi driver, my name is Valera. If you need any help from us, from the communists, then I’ll ring them and bring whatever you need.”</p> <p>The truckers invite Valera to sit down.</p> <p>“It’s good that you’ve got both economic and political demands,” Valera starts. “There’s no economics without politics!”</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_2989_Fotor.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Valera, KPRF activist and taxi driver, talks to the truckers. (c) Natalia Shkurenok. </span></span></span>“Help from you?” Yuri Yashkov, a driver from Novgorod, asks uncertainly. “And where were you and your help when we were parked up in Khimki [a district on the edge of Moscow] for five months? We asked your MP Valery Rashkin for help, he promised us so much, and then just took a photo with us and disappeared! And when we needed support in Nizhny Novgorod, when the police were arresting our lads, we asked the communists for help — they told us to go to hell!”&nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s all sorts in the party,” Valera responds, trying to calm Yuri down. “It’s not about [Gennady] Zyuganov or Rashkin. We, the communists, are together with the proletariat, and we have common goals — restoring the country! Anyway, I brought you something…”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Lots of people had their picture taken with us when we were in Khimki! But it was ordinary Muscovites who really helped us, ordinary Russians who felt sympathy for us”</p> <p>Valera roots about in his bag and pulls out a… Communist Party flag. The truckers just laugh in response: “Now you’ll start taking photographs with our arms round one another and the flag in the background, and then where will you go? Take your banner back!” Valera quickly retreats.</p> <p>“We’re not refusing your help, but we have to be careful now,” Sergei explains. “Lots of people had their picture taken with us when we were in Khimki! But it was ordinary Muscovites who really helped us, ordinary Russians who felt sympathy for us. We’re ready to join a protest march or another action, but no one’s proposed it so far, and there’s no parties, nor rights defenders together with us supporting our demands. Our main aim is to get our industry’s problems sorted out, unify all the private hauliers together for this — after all, the Russian government’s shut off their oxygen in recent years.”&nbsp;</p> <h2>Postponed revolution&nbsp;</h2> <p>Russia’s first trucker protests started back in November 2015, a few days before a new payment system (Platon) was due to start. The system’s name comes from the Russian for “payment per tonne”, and Platon was designed to collect an additional tax from long-distance truckers who carry loads bigger than 12 tonnes. The idea was that the money collected would go towards compensating the damage caused by trucks to Russia’s national highway network.</p> <p>Platon is operated by RT-Invest Transport Systems, 50% of which belongs to <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-capitalism-sons-idUSKCN0SZ1DP20151110">Igor Rotenberg</a>. The other half belongs to RT-Invest, which in turn is 25% owned by the powerful state corporation Rostec (itself controlled by another Putin ally, Sergei Chemezov). In effect, then, the Russian state owns only a quarter of the company’s shares.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">A year on, Russia’s political parties, movements and civic organisations are just beginning to look closer at what’s going on roads across the country</p><p>RT-Invest Transport Systems receives 10.6 billion roubles (£149m) from Russia’ federal budget for operating this system, and that’s on top of a forecasted 20-40 billion rouble (£280m-£560m) annual income. Part of the money collected by the Platon system, according to the original concept, should be transferred to the Russia’s federal Road Fund for repair works.</p> <p>But Russia’s long-distance truckers have done their own maths and decided that they’re already paying too much for repairs to federal highways when they pay for fuel (the price of which includes a road repair tax) and paying their transport tax. This is why the day before Platon came online, hundreds of trucks were parked alongside Russia’s highways, slowing down traffic in the process.</p> <p>In November 2015, a 600-strong column of trucks set off for Smolny in Petersburg, where the city administration is located. Highway police managed to partially change the trucks’ route, and the truckers and officials didn’t meet as a result. On the same day, truckers across Russia also tried to organise marches on Moscow, but they were blocked by local highway police.</p><p><strong><em>Read: a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-ovchinnikov/voice-from-russias-truckers-protest">personal account of Russia's 2015 trucker protest</a>.&nbsp;</em></strong></p> <p>At the beginning of December 2015, Andrei Bazhutin, a driver from St Petersburg, was elected the truckers’ official representative. After his election, Bazhutin set off with a dozen other drivers for Moscow to try and meet with the Russian leadership and hand over the strikers’ demands to Dmitry Medvedev and transport minister Maxim Sokolov. Konstantin Selin, a young film director, went with them, and later made the film <em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0ViM8Kq2KA">Chronicle of the revolution that didn’t happen</a></em>.&nbsp;</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z0ViM8Kq2KA" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Trailer for Konstantin Selin's film on the 2015 trucker protests. Source: Youtube.</em> <p>A 15-strong truck column stopped in Khimki back then, and the drivers organised a picket outside the Russian Presidential Administration. They didn’t manage to get a meeting with government representatives, and they decided to continue protesting in Khimki instead — until 12 May 2016. The Communist Party, Yabloko and Alexei Navalny all supported the truckers publicly, but in the end no one joined them. &nbsp;</p> <p>A year on, Russia’s political parties, movements and civic organisations are just beginning to look closer at what’s going on roads across the country. When you ask OPR leaders why they didn’t ask political parties for help and sipport, they just answer: if they offer real help, we won’t turn it down, and if a mass movement emerges against the actions of the government, we’ll join it. But there’s no sign of any movement in kind.</p> <h2>“Our government is just trying to calm the people down”</h2> <p>Just before the March 2017 strike, the Russian government <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/business/24/03/2017/58d4c0719a7947a6202d02a1">raised</a> Platon tariffs by 25% — which means that drivers pay 1.91 roubles per kilometre instead of the planned 3.06.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our government is just trying to calm the people down. They say, look, Platon doesn’t affect the prices of goods,” Igor Veresov, a Novgorod driver, explains. “And I explain to everyone: there’s at least six journeys locked into every litre of milk, and you need to pay for every one. A guy with a restaurant business came to me, I told him: in order to bring you a litre of milk, you need to first get the feed to the cows, and before that fertilizer, and then after packaging, and you need cardboard for that. We’re not striking because they’ve tried to cut us down to size, but because when we climb out of our cabins, we’re going to the same shops, and we see for ourselves how prices are rising. We’re also consumers!”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Many drivers are tearing up their contracts with Platon across the country,&nbsp;just so they can make some money&nbsp;</p> <p>The truckers tell me the kind of advice public officials give them: “you include the Platon fees into the haulage price, let the client pay for it.” But that means middlemen, and everyone will start including their own margins into the price of goods.&nbsp;</p><p>“Sokolov, the minister of transport, told us in 2015 that the price of bread would stay the same,” Igor tells me. “But bread isn’t transported around, but what do you think happens, we make bread in the trucks ourselves? You have to get fertilisers for the fields, oil for cars, seeds for fields, grain, and then flour.”</p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_2970_Fotor.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="369" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A truck with the protest slogan: "Who allowed Rotenberg to rob us on the road?" (c) Natalia Shkurenok. </span></span></span>Many drivers are tearing up their contracts with Platon across the country, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLborlE1xVwT2i741PpLf3tpR39aSGfR1T&amp;v=ME4qf89HUrk">just so they can make some money</a>. And some of the strike participants, including Andrei Bazhutin, have sold their trucks just to survive while the head of the family is striking. </p> <h2><br />Signs of pressure</h2> <p>This year, the truckers’ strikes have begun with pressure and arrests against participants. On 27 March, Andrei Bazhutin was arrested for allegedly driving without a license. Apparently, the highway police had removed his license without telling him a while back. And though Bazhutin’s lawyer Dinar Idrisov managed to prove that no one had informed his client that his license had been removed, the authorities still kept Bazhutin under lock and key, albeit for 10 days less than originally planned.</p> <p>“This didn’t stop the strike, we don’t have a power vertical in OPR,” Sergei Vladimirov tells me. “We have a horizontal. We can all replace one another. The authorities didn’t count on this. They arrest one person, another will take his place.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_3128 (1).JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Drivers from across Russia are taking part in the strike. (c) Natalia Shkurenok. </span></span></span>Vladimirov tells me how more than 250 people have been fined and arrested across Russia since the strike started. In six regions there have been attacks on OPR leaders — local authorities have tried to scare them, their families, and strike coordinators have asked to have their names removed from the list of leaders.</p> <p>“In Lipetsk, <a href=http://ati.su/Media/News.aspx?ID=124383&HeadingID=114>some gangsters came to see the OPR leader</a>, then some public officials,” Sergei Ovchinnikov tells me. “They told him: you just think, you’ve got kids at school, your wife goes the shops. And in Krasnodar, a warrant was put out for Sergei Gritsenko, because the district detective put out an order for his arrest. There’s pictures of Gritsenko all over town, he’s had to go into hiding. Since the start of the strike, all the Petersburg leaders have had their phones blocked. Then there’s been constant calls from some companies offering services.”</p> <h2><span style="font-weight: bold;">United we stand</span></h2> <p>Two days later, I meet the truckers on Petersburg’s Moscow highway once again.</p> <p>When I get there, Andrei Bazhutin is outside talking to some drivers from Dagestan. They have just arrived to join the strike: these men live and work in Petersburg, but they travel back regularly, transporting fruits and vegetables from home. These drivers are in regular contact with their relatives, among whom there’s quite a few long-distance drivers. According to them, and the videos doing the rounds on the internet, Dagestan’s good transport network is practically paralysed. Almost 90% of Dagestan’s goods carriers are individual entrepreneurs, and practically all these private car owners have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/daghestan-dalnoboi">supported the protest</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“The government has to pay attention to our industry, what’s happening in it, how it affects the country’s whole economy, the life of every citizen”</p> <p>“Over the past year since the last strike, we’ve united, we have an organisation,” Andrei Bazhutin joins in. “We’ve driven all over the country, met with all the local leaders, agreed all of our demands and a programme of action. We’ve decided there’s no point in barricading the roads, that leads to a criminal charge. And if someone is convicted on a criminal charge, then that could disrupt our unity. Right now a lot of people are parked up across Petersburg, there’s almost 500 trucks, and we’re considering what to do next. Platon isn’t buckling, and we’re not going to give in.” As Bazhutin <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/07/72058">tells a press conference a few days later</a>, there’s almost a million trucks taking part in this strike. &nbsp;</p> <p>The strikers also plan to stop goods traffic on the majority of Russia’s federal roads. As Bazhutin states, they’ve been informed that budget food products — grains, conserves, fruit, vegetables, vodka — in certain supermarkets have gone up in price.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_3098 (1)_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="321" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andrei Bazhutin, OPR and strike leader. (c) Natalia Shkurenok. </span></span></span>“This is one of our goals — to get people to pay attention to us,” Bazhutin tells me. “And if indignant citizens come with their concerns to us, and not the authorities, then we’ll talk to them. We’ll explain how we’re not just trying to solve our own problems, but theirs too. The government has to pay attention to our industry, what’s happening in it, how it affects the country’s whole economy, the life of every citizen. And we won’t stop striking until the federal authorities come to the negotiating table with us and start fixing our problems.”</p> <p>3 April witnessed tragic events in St Petersburg. As a result of a bomb attack on the metro, 14 people died, and many more were injured. The truckers’ strike has thus taken on a different meaning in the current climate. There’s already calls to increase penalties for terrorism, to ban all protest actions and mass meetings in the country. It’s clear that any clampdown will take its toll on the truckers’ movement, perhaps in the form of repressive methods.</p> <p>A few days after the metro attack, I ring Andrei Bazhutin. He tells me that there’s no signs that law enforcement agencies are changing their behaviour. “I think the authorities have enough common sense and reserve not to use force against us. But the truckers will hold out for victory, whatever happens next.”&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-ovsyannikova/moscow-s-authoritarian-future">Moscow’s authoritarian future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity">St Petersburg: in search of solidarity</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-ovchinnikov/voice-from-russias-truckers-protest">A voice from Russia&#039;s truckers&#039; protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression">Don&#039;t call him Dima: Russia’s anti-corruption protesters face repression</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mischa-gabowitsch/putin-s-regimes">Putin’s regimes</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/pavel-chikov/russia-s-managed-thaw">Russia’s “managed thaw”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/dagestan-s-truckers-are-out-to-fight-russia-s-predatory-state">Dagestan&#039;s long-distance truckers are fighting for their rights </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Natalia Shkurenok Russia Politics Tue, 11 Apr 2017 17:35:54 +0000 Natalia Shkurenok 110068 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Seven moments from the life of Almazbek Atambayev https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/fergana-news/seven-moments-from-life-of-almazbek-atambayev <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The rise of Kyrgyzstan’s increasingly authoritarian president is an unusual story. Fergana News recalls some of its stranger chapters.</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/Meeting_of_CIS_Council_of_Heads_of_State_(2016-09-16)_05_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev at September 2016 Meeting of CIS Council of Heads of State. Source: Kremlin.ru.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>We repost this <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9327">article</a> in translation with permission from <a href="www.fergana.ru">Fergana News</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr">In civilised states, the president’s health, whether mental or physical, is not considered a state secret. Everywhere, the press and the opposition are needed to keep madmen from coming to power. A sad example is the election of Donald Trump — a man who many, to put it mildly, don’t consider to be presidential material. And how could one not compare him with Kyrgyzstan’s president Almazbek Atambayev?</p><p dir="ltr">It’s not for nothing that both have declared the press as their main enemy. With Trump, it’s more or less clear why. But as Kyrgyzstan’s crackdown on journalists intensifies, one wonders what they did to so displease Atambayev? Perhaps they paid a little too much attention to the oddities of his behaviour?</p><h2>Episode One</h2><p dir="ltr">On 31 August 2016, as Kyrgyzstan celebrated its 25th anniversary of independence, president Almazbek Atambayev gave a speech, shown live on air, which was judged by the whole country. A sense of gloom overshadowed the festivities on Bishkek’s main square. Online, social media networks were abuzz as a video live-stream showed a silent ex-president Roza Otunbayeva leaving the stage as Atambayev, during what was supposed to be a celebratory speech, began to insult his advisers, such as Otunbayeva, from the days of the acting government after the 2010 revolution, who were standing nearby.</p><p> <iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/CmsegY_Z8rM" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>Ex-president Roza Otunbayeva leaves the stage as President Atambayev begins to insult her publicly. Source: Radio Azattyk.</em></p> <p dir="ltr">Otunbayeva had been acting president during this transitional period. Six years ago, she supported Atambayev’s candidacy in elections and oversaw the transfer of power to him with almost motherly care and devotion. Atambayev declared her a usurper, whom the people had not supported, and compared the Kyrgyz people to a herd of goats, in a play on words with the surname of opposition politician Omurbek Tekebayev, who is considered the father of Kyrgyzstan’s current constitution.</p><p dir="ltr">This odd behaviour by the head of state didn’t go unnoticed, and surprised even his most ardent supporters. There was a gap between what should have been said by the country’s leader, and what he actually ended up saying, was simply too wide for people to react any other way.</p><h2>Episode Two</h2><p dir="ltr">On 19 September 2016, the aeroplane of Kyrgyzstan’s leader stopped over in Istanbul en route to New York, where the president was to attend the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations. Turkish media showed how Atambayev, lying on a stretcher, was <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wKfrLDN_S4">taken in an ambulance to a hospital on the Aegean Sea to be treated for heart problems</a>. A little later, however, the internet portal Haberler stated that Atambayev had not been hospitalised at all, but was living it up in the luxurious Sheraton Hotel in Çeşme, western Turkey.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/photo_195304.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="253" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>September 2016: Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev is hospitalised in Turkey. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wKfrLDN_S4>YouTube</a>.</span></span></span>Kyrgyzstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Abdyldaev stood in for Atambayev at the UN’s assembly. After a slight delay, the Kyrgyz presidential press service admitted that the president had taken a short break from his duties due to deteriorating health, but didn’t give details. Just two days prior, Almazbek Atambayev had been happy and healthy, having just celebrated his 60th birthday on a grand scale.</p><p dir="ltr">But the public’s concern for the president soon gave way to more banal gossip. His fondness for a drink is the subject of many tales and rumours. Azimbek Beknazarov, the country’s former chief prosecutor and member of the transitional government (ed. after the ousting of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev following the revolution of 2010), described in some detail in his book how Atambayev’s presidential campaign in 2009 was ruined by it. Kyrgyzstan’s television channels repeatedly rolled footage (the video is now available on YouTube) of a public speech in which Atambayev was visibly intoxicated.</p><h2>Episode Three</h2><p dir="ltr">Let’s go back ten years. In 2007, barely after protests had begun to settle down, another “information bombshell” hit Bishkek. Almazbek Atambayev, who had just been appointed prime minister, came to a parliament session and declared that somebody had tried to poison him right within the walls of the White House [ed. Kyrgyzstan’s presidential seat]. In his words, he was in his office on 11 May and drank a glass of water, after which he lost consciousness for two days.</p><p>“I was unconscious for two days. I know that it was an attempt to poison me,” said Atambayev, adding that he underwent blood transfusions over two weeks. He never specified exactly gave him the glass of water, and who he suspected of the crime — but simply said “this won’t intimidate me. Now I certainly won’t resign.”</p><p dir="ltr">No doctor confirmed the fact of the prime minister’s poisoning, nor did Atambayev ever offer any medical evidence to prove it. Sources from the state guard told journalists in secret that Atambayev didn’t drink any water that day, but another transparent liquid — and on the way home, he had to endure the same iniquities as he later would during his layover in Istanbul.</p><h2>Episode Four</h2><p dir="ltr">Much can be said about the Kyrgyz president’s inimitable speeches — but here, a few illustrative examples will have to suffice.</p><p dir="ltr">In December 2016 during a visit to India, Almazbek Atambayev <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDDaMXQej0M&amp;feature=youtu.be">suddenly started to teach Indian businessmen how to make money</a>. “I started up my own business in 1989,” he began. “I was the wealthiest of them all, and drove around in the latest Mercedes model, while our president [Askar] Akayev had to make do with a Swedish Volvo. I also know a Turk who made millions by selling Indian tea in Kyrgyzstan — he headed to Moscow in 1993 with no money to his name, and in Turkey he’s become a respected figure.”</p> <p dir="ltr"> <iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FDDaMXQej0M" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>December 2016: President Atambayev starts lecturing on business strategies in India. Source: ELTR TV.</em> </p><p dir="ltr">“This means that you’re still slumbering — your business hasn’t worked up!” intoned Atambayev, leader of a small and obscure state, in conversation with the businessmen of a country whose population is one-sixth of the world’s total, the home of world-ranking billionaires such as Lakshmi Mittal and Anil and Mukesh Ambani. “Kyrgyzstan is God’s summerhouse!” Atambayev added, before an audience of bewildered Indian businessmen.</p><h2>Episode Five</h2><p dir="ltr">At the end of February 2017, Vladimir Putin visited Bishkek. The Russian leader felt rather uncomfortable on several occasions, when Atambayev invaded his personal space, embraced him, then took Putin by the arm and began to speak to him in an inappropriately casual, even cheeky, way. Atambayev’s behaviour was <a href="http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3229308">sarcastically described</a> in a Kommersant article by a regular journalist on the Kremlin’s beat, Andrey Kolesnikov. Putin’s discomfort was only to increase during a joint press conference, when Atambayev’s abrupt, “tough guy” demeanour made the Russian president appear somewhat modest in comparison.</p><p dir="ltr">“I want to remind you all that the leader of both of the last two revolutions was Atambayev,” said the Kyrgyz leader, in the third person. “And there won’t be a third revolution, since I won’t be behind it… when Atambayev was a multi-millionaire, Salymbekov had just started out, and Babanov was still studying at the agricultural institute,” he concluded, comparing himself to two wealthy local businessmen.</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 2017-04-11 at 10.44.44.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2017: Vladimir Putin and Almazbek Atambayev meet in Bishkek for talks. Source: Kremlin.ru.</span></span></span>Putin kept his cool and behaved diplomatically, but nonetheless flew out of Bishkek without even spending the night. Kyrgyzstan’s citizens began to speak about their multimillionaire president with even more concern — and even more sarcasm.</p><h2>Episode Six</h2><p>A few days later on 6 March, Atambayev was presenting a batch of state awards to distinguished citizens. It soon became clear that he preferred to talk about something other than the recipients: he declared that he’d like to dissolve parliament. In Atambayev’s opinion, all its deputies did was sit around and gossip — and one of the parties represented in it was “stinking.” On 9 May, the party in question, Ata-Meken, <a href="http://zanoza.kg/doc/353813_palata_6._tekebaev_hodataystvyet_o_psihiatricheskoy_ekspertize_atambaeva.html">appealed</a> to the general prosecutor to make a legal assessment of Atambayev’s statements, and conduct a psychiatric examination of the president.</p><p dir="ltr">“The latest statements made by Almazbek Atambayev give serious cause to question whether he is &nbsp;fit to rule. We demand the formation of a medical commission of independent specialists to assess the condition of the head of state’s health” read the declaration, written by recently arrested party leader Omurbek Tekebayev from his jail cell.</p><h2>Episode Seven</h2><p dir="ltr">While accepting the diplomatic credentials of newly-appointed foreign ambassadors on 15 March, Almazbek Atambayev complained to his guests about the behaviour of “his journalists”, though chose less than diplomatic language. He once again used the world “stinking”, for which he had already been brought before court — but now, he used it six times in just five sentences.</p><p dir="ltr">“How can you believe such stinking politicians?” he began. “Of course, tomorrow they and the leaders of one stinking party, will appear before court — having called us ‘stinking’ again! I’ll have to explain everything to these mankurts, who don’t even know their own native language. They’re strangled by the stench and spirit of fancy perfume — Chanel and Dior — but are involved in very dirty deals. Those politicians are called ‘stinking’ by the Kyrgyz people. Naturally, if a stinking politician leads a political party, then what else can you call him but ‘stinking’?”</p><p dir="ltr">In addition, Atambayev insulted a large number of representatives of local and Russian media, naming names and wondering aloud whether they owned several foreign passports. When it came to the Russian journalists, he forgot all about his embrace of Putin and criticised their country’s lack of democracy. “We’ve had enough of the games of the US state department and Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty,” declared the Kyrgyz president before several foreign ambassadors, also calling out a number of “slanderers” within the media.</p><p dir="ltr">“Slanderers are monsters, without morals. They’re cannibals, who eat their relatives’ cold, dead bodies,” said Atambayev, giving substance to the libel lawsuits which Zanoza, Radio Azattyk [ed. RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz-language service] are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press">currently facing</a>, and Omurbek Tekebayev’s lawyers, which were filed recently by Kyrgyzstan’s general prosecutor. The following day, property of the Ata Meken party’s lawyer and a Zanoza journalist was seized by the authorities.</p><h2>Afterword</h2><p dir="ltr">The odd and peculiar behaviour of countries’ leaders is its own subject — and one for the specialists to research. Across the world, hundreds of articles and many academic papers have been written on the topic, alongside artistic and documentary films.</p><p dir="ltr">Unfortunately, crazed rulers are far from the stuff of ancient history — they’re with us today, too. And the most widespread malaise among them is paranoia.</p><p dir="ltr">The word “paranoia” is an ancient Greek word, which roughly translates as “madness of thought” or “closeness of thought.” There is the medical diagnosis of chronic psychosis, one characteristic of which is the gradual formation of systematic and logically-constructed delusions. Those suffering from paranoia are distinguished by their tendency to see enemies and conspiracies against them in the most accidental and coincidental events. But some sufferers retain their ability for logical thought and a healthy approach to reasoning. Paranoiacs differ from many other sufferers of mental illnesses due to their purposeful, consistent, and to some extent predictable behaviour.</p><p dir="ltr">The patient’s pathological conclusions include many elements of reality, formally believable on the basis of his paranoid delusions. Like other chronic ailments, paranoia has its own ups and downs — and alcoholism is one factor which intensifies it.</p><p>Megalomaniac paranoia is one form of this illness, known as the “madness of Caesars”. An illustrative example of this is the Roman emperor Caligula, who named his horse as Incitatus of the Roman senate. Since then, the word “Incitatus” has become a common byword for the excesses of absolute power — bizarre edicts which, no matter how strange, are enforced, along with the appointment of wholly unsuitable people to powerful positions.</p><p dir="ltr">Atambayev’s opponents, too, accuse him of this behaviour — of the rule of an “Incitatus”. After all, the president has appointed his driver Ikram Ilmiyanov as deputy head of the presidential administration, and his former bodyguard Ulan Israilov as minister of the interior. Another of Atambayev’s former bodyguards, Bolot Suyumbayev, recently became deputy head of the state committee for national security. Meanwhile, the new chairman of this intelligence service — a role previously filled by former generals — is now Abdil Segizbayev, a graduate of an agricultural institute, a former employee of the Soros Foundation and former press secretary to president Askar Akayev.</p><p dir="ltr">Caesar’s word, after all, is law.</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/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/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> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Fergana News Kyrgyzstan Tue, 11 Apr 2017 09:37:20 +0000 Fergana News 110048 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Russia, 26 March continues https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/in-russia-26-march-continues <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Two weeks after Russia’s anti-corruption protests, activists and participants are still being tried, arrested and intimidated across the country. <em><strong><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/mailing/2017/04/07/26-marta-prodolzhaetsya">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 11.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="261" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andrei Osipov, who took part in 26 March protests in Cheboksary, is detained during an orchestral recital on 31 March. Source: Sergei Zakharov / Youtube. </span></span></span><strong>We continue our partnership with <a href=ovdinfo.org>OVD-Info</a>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we’ll bring you the latest information on freedom of assembly.</strong></p><p> The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">events of 26 March across Russia</a> are going to continue to be felt for a while. People are being <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/tverskoy-sud-prodolzhaet-vynosit-resheniya-po-zaderzhannym-na-mitinge-protiv">taken to court</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/tverskoy-sud-prodolzhaet-shtrafovat-uchastnikov-akcii-26-marta">fined</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-kazani-koordinatoru-otkrytoy-rossii-naznachili-30-chasov-obyazatelnyh">sent to carry out community service works</a> for their participation in unsanctioned demonstrations, and in cities like Blagoveshchensk, the police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-blagoveshchenske-organizator-antikorrupcionnogo-shestviya-poluchil-10">are still arresting the demonstration organisers</a>. Meanwhile, Russia’s Investigative Committee has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/sledstvennyy-komitet-vozbudil-ugolovnoe-delo-za-prizyv-k-massovym">opened a new criminal case</a> into calls for mass unrest after announcements that another protest was to be held on Red Square on 2 April were made online (Russia’s General Prosecutor Office later <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/genprokuratura-potrebovala-zablokirovat-stranicy-s-prizyvami-k-akciyam-2">ordered these announcements to be blocked</a>.)</p><p dir="ltr">On the same day, there were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/02/zaderzhaniya-v-moskve-2-aprelya-2017-goda">further arrests</a> in Moscow in connection with five different events, and practically everybody who was arrested was questioned (and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/02/odnogo-iz-zaderzhannyh-v-ovd-tverskoy-derzhali-v-otdelnom-pomeshchenii-emu">threatened</a>) by investigators working on this new case. That said, all the investigators’ questions concerned 26 March. And on 6 April, the Investigative Committee had already <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/sledstvennyy-komitet-zayavil-o-zaderzhanii-podozrevaemogo-v-prizyvah-k">announced</a> that a suspect was in custody.</p><h2>Courts, arrests, intimidation</h2><p dir="ltr">The authorities have not limited their response to administrative prosecution of people involved in protests against corruption, whether they’ve been arrested or not. For example, in Chita, FSB officers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/materi-organizatora-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii-v-chite-zvonili-iz-fsb">called the mother of the protest organisers</a> and asked her to “sort her son out”. In Rostov, local police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/k-nezaderzhannomu-uchastniku-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii-v-rostove-prishla">came to the home of a protest participant with a summons</a>. In Saratov, police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/v-saratove-policiya-prishla-v-institut-k-odnomu-iz-uchastnikov">visited a protest participant at their institute</a>, and in this same town, where there were no arrests on 26 March, the police have <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/saratovskoe-mvd-sobiraetsya-zavesti-dela-na-sotnyu-uchastnikov-akcii-protiv">promised to act against one hundred protesters</a>, and even <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-saratove-uchastniku-akcii-protiv-korrupcii-pozvonili-s-nomera-materi-i">summoned one activist to a police station</a> from his mother’s telephone.</p><p dir="ltr">In Chelyabinsk, police officers <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/02/v-chelyabinske-policeyckie-dezhuryat-vozle-doma-uchastnika-akcii-protiv">kept watch outside the home of one activist</a> to make sure he didn’t attend the action on 2 April. In Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, people have been called up by the police and questioned about corruption and Alexei Navalny (including people who <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-krasnoyarske-vtoromu-cheloveku-pozvonili-iz-policii-s-voprosami-o-navalnom">didn’t even attend the protest</a>). In Orsk, detectives <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/k-uchastniku-antikorrupcionnoy-akcii-v-orske-prihodili-sotrudniki-policii">visited one activist</a> at home. In Cheboksary, one protest participant was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/policiya-v-cheboksarah-zaderzhala-muzykanta-uchastnika-antidimona-na">detained during the middle of an orchestra rehearsal</a>. And here, protest participants have lost their jobs and places at university. In Russia’s Far East, school principals are being asked <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-primore-direktorov-shkol-prizyvayut-zapreshchat-uchenikam-uchastvovat-v">to ban pupils from attending opposition meetings</a>.</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l4LgAz2-DLQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Andrei Ospiov, who took part in anti-corruption protests on 26 March, is arrested during an orchestral rehearsal.</em> <p dir="ltr">Given this response, it’s a relief to report that some cases have been stopped. In Arkhangelsk, the police have <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/v-arhangelske-prekratili-delo-protiv-pensionerki-uchastvovavshey-v-akcii">stopped their case against activist Marina Venchikova</a>, who began to feel ill after being arrested — she was taken to hospital, and then <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-arhangelske-pozhiluyu-zhenshchinu-zabrali-iz-bolnicy-v-zal-suda">sent to court</a>. In Nizhny Tagil, the police have stopped their case against Andrei Batorin, who livestreamed the event via Periscope. And in Khabarovsk, protest participants have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/v-habarovske-sud-opravdal-uchastnikov-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii">vindicated</a> after it turned out that a notice informing the mayor’s office of the upcoming protest was, indeed, sent. &nbsp;</p><h2>Keep on’ trucking</h2><p dir="ltr">The truckers’ protest has annoyed the authorities no less than anti-corruption protests (perhaps even more). In Dagestan, interior ministry and national guard troops have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-dagestane-protestuyushchih-dalnoboyshchikov-zablokirovali-voyska-i">surrounding the truckers’ demonstration</a>. Across the country, truckers have been detained for holding <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/v-novosibirske-pyateryh-dalnoboyshchikov-zaderzhali-obviniv-v-narushenii">pickets</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/neskolko-dalnoboyshchikov-zaderzhali-vozle-voronezha">as witnesses into criminal cases</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-tatarstane-protestuyushchih-protiv-platona-dalnoboyshchikov-nachali">summoned to police stations</a>, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-dagestane-povrezhdeny-chetyre-fury-bastuyushchih-dalnoboyshchikov">fined for demonstrating</a>, and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-dagestane-povrezhdeny-chetyre-fury-bastuyushchih-dalnoboyshchikov">have had their trucks tampered with</a>. &nbsp;</p><h2>Not amused</h2><p dir="ltr">Other demonstrations have also left the authorities unimpressed. Police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/02/v-moskovskom-metro-molodogo-cheloveka-zaderzhali-za-razdachu-doklada-putin">detained</a> Albert Goncharov, a Belarusian citizen, on the Moscow metro for handing out brochures “Putin.War”, the report prepared by Boris Nemtsov into Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Participants in a protest demanding that Putin should be sent to an international tribuna outside the Dutch Embassy in Moscow were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/v-moskve-byli-zaderzhany-uchastniki-akcii-u-posolstva-niderlandov-v-moskve">arrested</a>l. In Kurgan, businessman Igor Putin (no relation) was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/v-kurgane-oshtrafovali-organizatora-mitinga-protiv-svalki">fined</a> for organising a meeting outside a district administration building against plans to place a landfill site nearby. And one Moscow activist, Pavel Kuznetsov, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/za-banner-putin-eto-voyna-vyneseny-shtrafy-v-15-i-150-tysyach-rubley">fined</a> 150,000 roubles (£2,100) for hanging out a banner saying “Putin is war”.</p><p dir="ltr">The day before the mysterious protest on Red Square (which in the end didn’t happen), Mark Galperin, one of the organisers of the opposition walks, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/01/v-podmoskove-zaderzhan-aktivist-mark-galperin">detained</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/aktivista-marka-galperina-arestovali-na-15-sutok">placed under arrest for 15 days</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In Moscow, it seems that a “26 March case” is coming, and meanwhile, in Crimea, the&nbsp;“26 February case”&nbsp;continues</p><p dir="ltr">Ildar Dadin, a recently released political prisoner, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/ildaru-dadinu-otkazali-v-vydache-zagranpasporta-iz-za-zanyatiy-politikoy">refused an international passport</a> for his involvement in “unsanctioned politics”.</p><p dir="ltr">Politicians’ meetings with voters can also be declared “unsanctioned” now — at least, that’s what the Duma believes after <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/duma-podderzhala-priravnivanie-vstrech-deputatov-s-izbiratelyami-k-mitingam">passing the first reading of a new bill</a> that would make it compulsory to receive permission for such events. The next day, Alexander Andreev, a member of Moscow’s municipal assembly, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/municipalnogo-deputata-zaderzhali-na-vstreche-s-zhitelyami-po-povodu-zakona">detained</a> at a meeting about the demolition of apartment blocks. And in Voronezh, city authorities have used the Petersburg metro attack <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/05/v-voronezhe-ogranichili-provedenie-akciy-po-rasporyazheniyu">to introduce limits on holding any demonstrations in the city</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Ruslan Zeitullaev, a resident of Sevastopol who’s on trial for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir for the second time, has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/04/obvinyaemyy-po-delu-hizb-ut-tahrir-obyavil-golodovku">gone on hunger strike</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In Moscow, it seems that a “26 March case” is coming, and meanwhile, in Crimea, the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/uncertain-future-of-crimean-tatars">“26 February case”</a> continues. Mustafa Degermendzhi and Ali Asanov, two of the men charged with mass unrest in February 2014, have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/06/obvinyaemym-po-delu-26-fevralya-izmenili-meru-presecheniya-na-domashniy">transferred under house arrest</a>.</p><h2>What we're watching and reading</h2><p dir="ltr">We analysed the work of the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/04/moskovskaya-policiya-na-antidimone-rabota-na-otlichno">Moscow police on 26 March</a> and <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/04/06/ovd-info-iznutri-26-marta-dalee-vezde">our own work</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">The events of 26 March were discussed in depth at two seminars held at the Memorial Human Rights Center. At one, arrestees were given <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/02/onlayn-translyaciya-seminara-kak-zashchishchat-sebya-v-sude">recommendations</a> on how to defend themselves in court, and at the other, lawyers discussed <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/04/05/seminar-svoboda-slova-i-svoboda-sobraniy-v-rossiyskih-sudah-i-v-espch-6-7-aprelya">their experiences</a> of handling cases on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights.</p><p dir="ltr">Here’s some useful information for teenagers who have fallen under the authorities’ gaze after 26 March, and their parents, on what the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/documents/2017/04/02/kak-snyatsya-s-profilakticheskogo-ucheta-pamyatka-dlya-podrostkov-i-ih">“prophylactic register” is and how to get off it</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">A tool called <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/04/03/sud-v-nizhnem-tagile-prekratil-delo-protiv-uchastnika-akcii-protiv-korrupcii">Legal Navigator</a> has now been released. This is a resource where you can find extracts from key legal decisions concerning freedom of assembly.</p><p dir="ltr">Novaya Gazeta has published a <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/04/72023-zabastovki-protiv-sistemy-platon-na-yuge-rossii">photo-reportage from the truckers’ strike</a> in southern Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">Online resource Batenka has <a href="https://batenka.ru/protection/apology/">talked to Ramazan Dzhalaldinov</a>, the Chechen &nbsp;man whose house was burnt down, sent for compulsory public works after he criticised local authorities. He was also forced to apologise to Ramzan Kadyrov.</p><h2>Thank you</h2><p>Thanks to everyone who continues to support us. <strong>Find out how you can help <a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</strong></p><p><em>For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/"><img src="https://ovdinfo.org/sites/all/themes/ovdinfo/img/logo-ovdinfo.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p><p>OVD-Info is a crowdfunded organisation. Find out how you can help them&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/en">here</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression">Don&#039;t call him Dima: Russia’s anti-corruption protesters face repression</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key">Russia’s prison service is keeping its abuses under lock and key</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity">St Petersburg: in search of solidarity</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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Russia NGOs Justice Human rights Fri, 07 Apr 2017 10:36:36 +0000 OVD-Info 109957 at https://www.opendemocracy.net For Moldova’s journalists, surveillance is the new norm https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-soloviev/for-moldova-s-journalists-surveillance-is-new-norm <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Digital and personal surveillance has become a fact of life for Moldova’s journalists. My story is the tip of the iceberg. <em><strong><a href="http://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/popali-pod-nablyudenie-kak-v-moldove-sledyat-za-zhurnalistami-30708">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_4784_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>4 April: Surveillance against the author in Chișinău. Image: Vladimir Soloviev / Newsmaker.</span></span></span>“You’re paranoid,” I told Vadim Pistrinchuk, an MP from Moldova’s Liberal Democratic Party. We’d met late on the evening of 3 April, at a pizzeria in Chișinău’s Telecenter. Pistrinchuk had just remarked: “It’s strange that no one’s following us.” And here’s where I called him paranoid.</p> <p>We talked for about an hour that evening. I asked him why another group of MPs had just left his party, and Pistrinchuk shared his thoughts on the matter. As we were leaving, we noticed a Kia Sportage car (registration GBR 757) parking up next to the pizzeria. Two people got out of the car — and we nearly bumped into them on the way out. But they changed their minds about the pizzeria, returned to the car and stood near it as I bid goodbye to the MP.&nbsp;</p> <p>The next morning, the same car was parked outside the offices of <a href="www.newsmaker.md">Newsmaker</a>, the online platform I run, on Schusyev Street. I counted four men in dark coats and sunglasses standing in places with good views of the office’s front entrance. They didn’t really try to conceal themselves, perhaps, they actually wanted me to notice them. </p> <p class="mag-quote-center">In Moldova, surveillance in person and over the telephone has become the norm&nbsp;</p> <p>I saw these same four men every time I went out onto the street to smoke. I went to get a coffee — the Kia appeared next to the café. I went back to the office — the Kia went back too. They followed me until evening.&nbsp;</p> <p>I decided to take the trolleybus to see my friend and lawyer Stefan Gligor. Two of the four joined me on the bus — one sat facing, the other had his back to me, and out the back of the trolleybus I could still see that same Kia car.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_4781.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>4 April: the Kia car following the author through town. Image: Vladimir Soloviev / Newsmaker.</span></span></span>When I got to the café on Jerusalem Street where I was supposed to meet Stefan and decide what to do about this surveillance, the Kia parked close by. Initially, the men hung around next to the car, and then decided to spread out along the street.&nbsp;</p> <p>Stefan and I decided the correct thing to do was call the police. I rang 902, the emergency services number, and describe the situation to the officer on the other end. The district policeman arrived a short while later, at which point I repeated my story to him, pointed out the Kia and the people that had been following me all day.&nbsp;</p> <p>What happened next happened rather quickly. The Kia’s driver jumped behind the wheel and started the car. I tried to open the front passenger door, but it was already locked. While I walked round to get to the driver’s door, the Kia backed up very quickly — I barely had time to jump out of its way, and the car screeched off into the evening.&nbsp;</p><p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/e9mku9lICsI" frameborder="0"></iframe><em>The author's encounter with the Kia on 4 April.</em></p> <p>About a hundred metres away I noticed one of the guys who’d been following me. I caught up with me and decided not to let him go until the policeman arrived. When we got to the station I wrote a statement, and Stefan, my lawyer, gave a supporting statement. The policemen asked the detainee for his version of events. It was short: he was a random passer-by, he hadn’t been following anyone, and he was seeing me for the first time. After that, he was released.&nbsp;</p> <p>The police identified the Kia’s owner. I hope to see him in court. His actions fall under Article 78 of Moldova’s Administrative Code: “the systematic persecution of an individual that causes anxiety, fear for personal safety or safety of close relatives, and which forces the individual to change their way of life.”</p> <p>This can be done either via “a) following the individual, or b) establishing contact or attempts to establish contact by any means or via another person” and carries “a fine or unpaid public work from 20 to 40 hours or arrest from 10-15 days.”</p> <p>Perhaps there won’t be any court. I had a similar experience in 2014, ahead of Moldova’s parliamentary elections. I was followed, and I turned to the police for help, showing them images of the car that appeared everywhere I had meetings. Back then, the police told me that they couldn’t help me at all. If the current situation turns out the same way and the law enforcement agencies can’t find out who organised surveillance against me and why, then this will answer the question of who needs me under surveillance.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Today, you can’t find an opposition politician in Moldova who wouldn’t complain about surveillance or informal pressure&nbsp;</p> <p>In Moldova, surveillance in person and over the telephone has become the norm. Politicians rarely talk to journalists over the phone, and ask them to use all sorts of messaging apps instead. Frequently they meet in secret, and try to avoid taking their mobile phones to meetings. If they give comments to journalists, then only on condition of anonymity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, you can’t find an opposition politician in Moldova who wouldn’t complain about surveillance (personal or digital) or informal pressure. Even those who have a relationship with the authorities — and the authorities in Moldova today are the Democratic Party and its leader <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">Vladimir Plahotniuc</a> — are scared. For example, I recently met someone close to the Democratic Party. He picked me up in the middle of the street and asked me to sit in the back, behind the blacked-out glass. During our hour-long conversation, he didn’t stop once, driving round Chișinău&nbsp;the whole time.</p> <p>Another example: I recently agreed to meet a western diplomat. We met in his office at the embassy and, just before we started, he placed his mobile in a special case. Noticing my look, he explained that he wasn’t just concerned that he was being tapped, he knew that he was being tapped. And he even knew who was doing it. He wasn’t even referring to the all-powerful Russian security services, no, but local specialists.</p> <p>An acquaintance in Moldova’s law enforcement agencies warned me a year ago that I should be more careful on the phone. “I’ve also got personal surveillance… Usually they follow in the day, when I meet someone from Transnistria or even middle-ranking businessmen,” this is what a colleague from an investigative outfit wrote to me just the other day.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Someone thinks it is important to know not only who Moldova’s journalists meet and speak on the phone to, but who they sleep with, too</p> <p>Two weeks ago, Evgeny Shopar, a journalist at <a href="www.newsmaker.md">Newsmaker</a>, was detained at Chișinău&nbsp;airport on his way back from Venice. He was asked to undergo a more serious search. “We’re looking for any notes, notebooks, documents, papers,” this is what the border police said to one another during the search. Furthermore, they mentioned a particular state agency that had “ordered” Evgeny to be carefully searched. They refused to name it. Having searched my colleague’s luggage and turned out his pockets, the border guards issued him a document stating that “no illegal documents” had been found.&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Natalia Morar, a Moldovan journalist, <a href="https://ava.md/2016/07/13/policiya-rassleduet-ugrozy-v-adres-natal/">revealed</a> that some people had tried to blackmail her with an intimate tape. That is, someone thinks it is important to know not only who Moldova’s journalists meet and speak on the phone to, but who they sleep with, too.</p> <p>I link my experience exclusively with my professional activities. I’m not involved in business, I don’t owe anybody money, and no one owes money to me. My personal surveillance, obviously, is a reflection of the work carried out by <i>NewsMaker</i> and <em>Kommersant</em> newspaper.&nbsp;</p><p> <em>This article was originally published in Russian in <a href="http://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/popali-pod-nablyudenie-kak-v-moldove-sledyat-za-zhurnalistami-30708">Newsmaker</a> and <a href="http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3262511">Kommersant</a>.</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/maxim-edwards/make-moldova-great-again">Make Moldova great again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eleanor-knott-mihai-popsoi/our-man-in-moldova-plahotniuc">Our man in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">Vlad Plahotniuc: Moldova’s man in the shadows</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nadine-gogu/who-really-rules-airwaves-in-moldova">Who really rules the airwaves in Moldova?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vladimir Soloviev Moldova Media Fri, 07 Apr 2017 08:40:07 +0000 Vladimir Soloviev 109954 at https://www.opendemocracy.net St Petersburg: in search of solidarity https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-solidarity <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Recent months have seen Petersburg residents mobilise themselves to control what happens in their town. This week’s bomb attack reminds us that the city’s solidarity is hard-fought.<strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-shkurenkok/st-petersburg-protests-2017-generation" target="_blank"> Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/shkurenok marsovo gorod poetov_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protester holding a poster reading "St Petersburg is a city of poets, philosophers and free-thinkers". 26 March, 2017. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span><span>The number and variety of mass rallies, individual pickets and other displays of popular discontent since the start of 2017 might lead you to believe that Russia’s northern capital is about to experience the kind of upheaval we witnessed there 100 years ago. Certainly, the city has been abuzz with the idea, with historians, sociologists, politicians, as well as protesters, filling the press with debates on the subject. But the truth is that the city’s protest movement remains the same beast it’s been for decades — one focused on preserving the city’s architectural heritage and historic cultural institutions. </span></p><p><span>The terrorist attack on the Petersburg metro on Monday, in which 14 people were killed, has brought concerns about public safety onto activists agendas. In the face of adversity, Petersburgers show an exceptional ability to come together — but it remains to be seen whether different oppositional movements in the city will achieve solidarity. </span></p><h2><span>Saving churches from the Church</span></h2><p><span>The first salvo in this fight concerned</span><a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2017/0223/Museum-or-church-St.-Isaac-s-becomes-bone-of-contention-in-Russia"><span> </span><span>St Isaac’s, the city’s largest Orthodox cathedral</span></a><span>. </span><span>Immediately after the New Year holidays, Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko announced that the cathedral, which currently has the status of a state-owned museum, was to be handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The first protests, both mass and individual, took place the next day. And a few days later, opposition members of the city’s legislative assembly held a rally in front of the cathedral.</span></p><p><span>This rally was a crucial moment in the campaign to protect St Isaac’s. Speakers demanded the initiation of the standard procedure established over the last few years for all campaigns to protect the city’s heritage — a protest march authorised by the city authorities and letters to the governor, the government (both city and national), the Minister of Culture, Prime Minister, President and the judicial apparatus.</span></p><p><span>This template has been developed over the last decades, and has sometimes been successful. In the last year and a half alone, for example, Petersburg residents have succeeded in saving the historic</span><a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25D0%259A%25D0%25BE%25D0%25BD%25D1%258E%25D1%2588%25D0%25B5%25D0%25BD%25D0%25BD%25D1%258B%25D0%25B9_%25D0%25B4%25D0%25B2%25D0%25BE%25D1%2580&amp;prev=search"><span> </span><span>Stable Courtyard</span></a><span> from demolition and even have the building restored. Сonservation activists also like to boast about how they forced former governor Valentina Matvienko’s administration to cancel the construction, by Gazprom, of an</span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakhta_Center"><span> </span><span>400-metre high skyscraper</span></a><span> on the outskirts of the city. Admittedly, they prefer not to mention that the tower is now going ahead in Lakhta, nine kilometres away, and will now be even taller. Their traditional tactics also failed to save two churches, the Sampson and Smolny cathedrals, as museums (they were both part of the St Isaac’s museum complex).</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/vishnevsky shkurenok.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/vishnevsky shkurenok.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Boris Vishnevsky, an oppositional deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly actively fighting against St. Isaac Cathedral being handed over to the ROC. Photo: Dinar Idrisov.</span></span></span><span>This time, legislative assembly member Maksim Reznik, of the opposition Party of Growth, told the rally that “saving St. Isaac in its’ museum status a question of human dignity”. Reznik was supported by Boris Vishnevsky, from the liberal Yabloko party, Aleksey Kovalyov from Just Russia and another Petersburg opposition figure, Andrey Pivovarov. Their position was shared by the crowd that had gathered to defend St Isaac’s museum status — most of them university-educated professionals.</span></span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">There would be no Petersburg without its museums, libraries, universities and scientific centres, and our country couldn’t exist without them either</p><p><span>Ekaterina Bogach, a foreign languages teacher, tells me that St Isaac’s defenders are people who know exactly what they want. “We are fighting for our city’s cultural foundations,” she tells me. “There would be no Petersburg without its museums, libraries, universities and scientific centres, and our country couldn’t exist without them either.”</span></p><p><span>Thousands of people took a united stand to defend their city’s culture — this was the largest mass action in Petersburg since the protests over the Gazprom tower in 2006-2009. But at the same time, it was always more or less the same faces — like-minded people who had come together through social media, conservation activists and people from the arts and culture world.</span></p><p><span>It took until 18 March for a slightly larger protest to take place, a city-wide rally sanctioned by the authorities. This higher than usual number of protesters at this demo was due, on the one hand, to the fact that it was officially authorised, and on the other, to its broader agenda — here, the organisers called for the protection of not only St Isaacs, but of other important institutions, such as the Pulkovo Observatory, the National Library (commonly known as the “Publichka”) and the European University, which is under threat of closure, thus uniting several factions among the public. </span></p><p><span>This unity was, however, short-lived. On the eve of the first protest meeting at the end of January, Alexei Kovalev, one of the city’s most active conservation campaigners, unexpectedly announced that mass protests against handing St Isaac’ over to the ROC were ill-judged, and that what was needed was talks with the Church. He called for the full weight of the law to be invoked to punish protests inside the cathedral itself, prompting debate on social networks.</span></p><h2><span>Lobbying for the libraries</span></h2><p><span>The St Isaac’s affair has been paralleled by a wave of protests over the proposed merger of Russia’s two most important libraries — the Russian National Library (the “Publichka”) in St Petersburg and the State Lenin Library (the “Leninka”) in Moscow. Publichka staff announced their own protest, but the library’s chief librarian Tatyana Shumilova was fired after she voiced her colleagues’ concerns.</span></p><p><span>Shumilova’s dismissal was followed almost immediately by pickets and flashmobs outside the library building. The distinctive feature of these actions was their creativity: people read books aloud, launched balloons bearing the image of the library’s director and organised “tableaux vivants”. And the first people to appear with placards at the Publichka’s doors were its users, Petersburg’s scholars and writers. </span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Petersburg residents are a separate nation, with their own national interests — everything connected with culture and scholarship</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>“I studied how and why people emigrate from Russia, and couldn’t understand why they did it,” says Viktor Voronkov, sociologist and director of St Petersburg’s Centre for Independent Social Research. “Until one person said, ‘I’m sick and tired of all this!’ And there it was: the reason for emigration. And it’s also the reason for our protests: we’re sick and tired and want to show our solidarity with one another.”</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/shkurenok publichka.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/shkurenok publichka.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'>Street protest in support of the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span><span>According to Daniil Kotsubinsky, a historian and writer, Petersburg’s cultural world is key to its identity: “It’s like defending the interest of some nation or another,” Kotsiubinsky explains. “Petersburgers are a separate nation, with their own national interests — everything connected with culture and scholarship.”</span></span></p><p><span>Nataliya Sokolovskaya, an author and member of the St Petersburg PEN Club, can no longer tolerate the flagrant disregard shown by Moscow for its northern cousin’s rules and customs. “There’s an inner sense of justice, what Kant called a ‘categorical imperative’,” Sokolovskaya believes. “If you look at what is going on in our country and our city from that angle, you can see that it is wrong. For me personally, it has reached such a stage of critical mass that I can’t not take part in protests.”</span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">We are hostages: we can be fired at any moment, so I don’t go on protests and don’t advise my colleagues to do so</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>But none of the library staff have taken part in any protest activity. A few turned up at the public rally, but they stood without placards, trying not to advertise their presence.</span></p><p><span>“That doesn’t surprise me,” Kotsubinsky tells me. “They aren’t free to protest. One member of staff has been fired already, and they’re scared.” &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>“It’s not fear,” Sokolovskaya tells me. “It’s a mixture of contempt and offended dignity. It’s performance review time. Members of staff who have been there for decades are sitting and waiting to find out who will face the chop from the director, a man with no experience of libraries whatsoever.” </span></p><p><span>Nikita Eliseyev, a writer and translator and the leading bibliographer of the Publichka’s Social and Economic Studies Department, gives me a blunt answer when I ask why he hasn’t taken part in picketing: “I’m grateful to everybody who is defending us, but we are hostages: we can be fired at any moment, so I don’t go on protests and advise my colleagues not to do so either.”</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>It’s the same story as the St Isaac’s business: museum employees have also steered clear of public protests. They have, however, asked President Putin to stop the proposed handover to the ROC and halt any further handovers of property to religious bodies. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><h2><span>European diplomacy</span></h2><p><span>The</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/polina-aronson-tatyana-dvornikova/european-university-at-st-petersburg-no-license-to-learn"><span> </span><span>fact that the European University at St Petersburg is under threat</span></a><span> has been known since December 2016, when Russia’s education watchdog Rosobnadzor</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/polina-aronson/european-university-in-st-petersburg-survival-guide"><span> </span><span>suspended the university’s teaching licence</span></a><span> and St Petersburg’s property management department unilaterally severed its rental contract on a former palace on Gagarinskaya Street. The university took the city administration to court, but lost its case in the lowest court and found itself threatened with closure.</span></p><p><span>The university, despite its near stalemate situation, nevertheless avoided public protest actions until the authorised march on 18 March. Instead, it adopted a different tactic, developed and agreed by its faculty and graduate students — reputation management. The</span><span> </span><span>European University has had the support of its board of trustees, led by Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, as well as dozens of scientific and educational establishments in Russia, Europe and the US. Dozens of letters have been written to the Russian Government and Ministry of Education and Science, President Putin and PM Medvedev in defence of this renowned university, internationally recognised as one of the best in Russia.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/EU 3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/EU 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'>Rally in support of the European University. Source: Anna Klepikova. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Its teachers and students, however, only took to the streets with placards and slogans and support from the wider scientific and academic community on 18 March, at the rally authorised by the city government. Asked by the media why they had waited so long, they replied that they were waiting for the court’s decision; they didn’t think things would go so far; they thought that the Board of Trustees’ authority would be sufficient to stop the process. European University</span><span> </span><span>alumni all over the world also voiced their support at the same time as the rally. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Karina Chupina is a graduate of the EU who is now living in Berlin, writing her PhD thesis on the inclusion of disabled people in society in Russia and Germany. Until June 2016, Karina was Chair of the European Association of EU Alumni and campaigned for the development of a more coherent student body. She also coordinated a flash mob in Berlin in support of the university.</span></p><p><span>“It’s simply outrageous that they are trying to get rid of one of the best universities in Russia, on some ridiculous pretext,” she tells me. “I am grateful to the EU for the depth of the education I received there, and so I try to support other alumni in various ways. I have no idea why the university has still not held protest meetings, but I would also want the EU to run a stronger campaign to highlight the situation, on social media, for instance.”</span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Even if a protest action ‘won’t change anything’, it will increase solidarity and a feeling of togetherness. Otherwise, nothing will ever change</span></p><p><span>Anna Zhelnina, another EU graduate who took part in the flash mob, believes that pickets and other protest actions give people a sense of their own worth and faith in their ability to do something.</span></p><p><span>“The main thing about the endless moaning around ‘there’s nothing we can do, it won’t change anything’ is that demotivates people and robs them of the ability to act,” says Anna. “Even if a protest action ‘won’t change anything’, it will increase solidarity and a feeling of togetherness. Otherwise, nothing will ever change.”</span></p><p><span>Dmitry Dubrovsky, one of the EU’s first graduate students, now works in the USA and was one of the organisers of a picket in New York.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>“The university was like a home to me, and you need to defend your home,” he tells me. “And for me the EU was also a haven of academic freedom, perhaps the only one left in Russia, and these attempts to close it are hitting not just me, or the academic community in St Petersburg: it’s a blow to Russian freedom, science, scholarship and education. There’s not a lot we can do to help: writing letters is pretty useless, but taking to the streets is a form of intellectual resistance. It’s a pity the university itself didn’t get involved in this earlier, instead of trying to work ‘behind the scenes’ and send letters ‘upstairs’ – that sort of thing is irrelevant now.”</span></p><h2><span>The kids are alright</span></h2><p><span>The campaigns for the conservation of the built environment and culture are a mainstay of Petersburg politics. All the opposition deputies in the legislative assembly have won their political authority and capital by campaigning for the preservation of the city’s historical and cultural heritage — the terms “heritage” and “opposition” are almost synonyms.</span></p><p><span>However, the events of 26 March, which</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play"><span> </span><span>saw mass protests against government corruption across Russia</span></a><span>, showed a new kind of opposition — young, fearless and politically savvy. Thousands of young people (</span><a href="http://www.fontanka.ru/2017/03/26/059/"><span>10,000, according to some accounts</span></a><span>) most of them under 25, ignored the official ban on protests and the appalling weather to occupy the Field of Mars square in the city centre. Thousands of young voices joined in chanting “Putin’s a thief!”, “Put Dimon [a disparaging nickname for PM Medvedev] on trial!”, “Down with the Tsar!” “Let’s change government!” No one mentioned St Isaac’s or the Publichka, and there very few of those who had waited three months for permission to hold a rally, written letters and lost court cases — the traditional members of the city’s cultural protest movement.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/shkurenok marsovo massovka.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/shkurenok marsovo massovka.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'>Protests on the Fields of Mars, St. Petersburg, March 26, 2017. Image courtesy of the author.</span></span></span><span>Legislative assembly member Boris Vishnevsky, one of the organisers of that movement, in fact wrote on his Facebook page on the previous day that he wouldn’t go on a rally for supporters of prominent opposition figure Aleksey Navalny and advised other people against it as well:</span></span></p><p><span>“The Petersburg ‘Navalnyites’ are planning to hold a rally on the Fields of Mars, where they will join with thugs from the ultra-right</span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandr-litoy/ultimate-conspiracy-theory"><span> </span><span>National Liberation Movement (NLM)</span></a><span> to call for Medvedev’s dismissal and an end to corruption — to protect our ‘traditional values’. We can’t join a rally of those who attack our comrades, insult us and talk about ‘American Occupation’. These same ‘Navalnyites’, by the way, sabotaged the March for the defence of St Petersburg by deleting information about the march from their group sites and blocking those who were sending it.”</span></p><p><span>The respected assembly member has his wires crossed. In the first place, the ‘‘Navalnyites” were not protesting with the NLM, but alongside it – the anti-corruption rally was banned by the authorities precisely because NLM had already occupied the space. In the second, in February, Vishnevsky held a meeting of assembly members with the NLM and other ultra-patriots on the same Fields of Mars for the same reason. And this childish moaning about who blocked whom is nonsense. But all this evidently had an effect on some people, and there were very few members of the cultural “old guard” among the young people on 26 March. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">So can the traditional champions of St Petersburg’s culture enter an entente cordiale with the new generation of protesters? There is still time. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Assembly deputy Maksim Reznik, whose day job is teaching history at a school, came to the rally with some former pupils, now university students. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>“They came to the 18 March rally, but said that they felt out of place – most of the protesters were older”, Reznik tells me. “But on 26 March, they were surrounded by people of their own age. These kids are really aware of what’s going on in the country and in their city; they talked about official thievery and corruption, and said they weren’t afraid and that ‘we’re in charge here’. And they know what kind of country they want to live in: when they chanted ‘Ukraine is not our enemy!’, that was a big statement to make.”</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>This lack of fear, maximalism, openness and directness are the features that distinguish this new “unbeaten” generation from their parents and teachers. If traditional “save our heritage” rallies involve placards with diffident slogans such as “Down with Putin”, the kids shout “Putin’s a thief!” in their thousands on Palace Square. The older generation asks permission to protest and tries to avoid confrontation with the police, having been taught to “stay behind the barriers”, but the new generation protests without asking for permission, knowing full well that it might end in arrest.</span></p><h2><span><span>Blast pressure: the terror attack and its consequences </span></span></h2><p><span><span>Monday’s bomb attack on the Petersburg metro is the first terrorist attack on the city's subway system. The improvised explosive device, which hit a train as it made its way from Technological Institute to Sennaya Square, killed ten people at the scene, and another four people died from their wounds in the course of the day. &nbsp;In total, 50 people were wounded, and there’s still </span><a href="http://nac.gov.ru/hronika-sobytiy/v-metro-sankt-peterburga-proizoshel-podryv-neustanovlennogo.html"><span>49 people recovering in city hospitals</span></a><span>. </span></span></p><p><span>It probably would have been natural to expect panic from city residents. But instead Petersburgers demonstrated their best qualities — reserve, understanding and self-organisation. Given that all metro stations were closed a result of the attack, the city began to experience a transport meltdown. Thousands of drivers started taking people across the city for free. According to Ksenia Chapkevich, who coordinates the </span><a href="https://city4people.ru/"><span>City Projects </span></a><span>foundation, her organisation managed to mobilise more than 4,000 car owners to transport people around the city. These people spent almost an entire day constantly driving people who’d been left on the street to where they had to get to. </span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/cb2472796aeac93e8d3c95a56e0b49dd.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/cb2472796aeac93e8d3c95a56e0b49dd.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="348" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>With the full collapse of public transport system resulting from the terrorist attack on Petersburg subway, carsharing initiatives sprung immediately on social media. Drivers all over the city were offering free seats to anyone who got stuck away from home. Source: vk.com/spb_today.</span></span></span><span>“We created a Google spreadsheet, and we asked drivers to update it with where they were headed and how many people they can take with them,” Ksenia tells me. “Then we made a separate website, and then later joined forces with Telegram, who made a chat, and a general site that people could use easily. A few businessmen got involved — our volunteer drivers were fed and were fuelled up for free at a few petrol stations. I’m really proud to see how Petersburgers responded, some drivers continued helping the next day, too, when the metro was already back up and running, because many people were afraid to travel underground, they were scared.”</span></span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The tragedy on the Petersburg metro this week shows that the city is capable of solidarity</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>But what will happen to the city’s protest movement? Won’t the authorities begin to tighten the screws in response to Monday’s tragic events, and city residents, scared of further attacks, stop taking part in mass protest actions? Members of </span><a href="https://ria.ru/society/20170405/1491536262.html"><span>Petersburg’s Legislative Assembly</span></a><span> and the </span><a href="http://www.rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/56f4fdec9a79478aeca64cae"><span>State Duma </span></a><span>have already come out with calls to introduce the death penalty for acts of terrorism, and Andrei Anokhin, a member of the city legislature, believes that the state </span><a href="https://russian.rt.com/russia/news/375177-uzhestochenie-vezd-grazhdan-sng"><span>should add further restrictions</span></a><span> to procedures governing entry of citizens from CIS countries into Russia. Moreover, the State Duma has </span><a href="http://www.rbc.ru/politics/05/04/2017/58e518209a79473f3caaf4ce?from=main"><span>supported</span></a><span> an initiative from Petersburg deputies to qualify meetings with voters as public demonstrations. </span></p><p><span>Will the metro attack bring city residents together? Or will they force them to keep away from continuing the struggle? “I’m afraid that it’s impossible to forecast anything right now, but people will definitely come together against international terrorism,” says Maksim Reznik from Party of Growth. “But we need to unite around the safety of our citizens, not our leaders, that’s something that everyone can participate in. The city has demonstrated that its ready to come together as individuals, to help one another, and I hope that the authorities are smart enough not to ‘tighten the screws’. We’re planning to hold another March in Defence of Petersburg on 1 May, and if by that time the authorities haven’t carried out an investigation into the causes of the terrorist attack on the metro, then we’ll include public safety in our agenda.”</span></p><p><span>The tragedy on the Petersburg metro this week shows that the city is capable of solidarity. And now both the authorities and politicians — especially those who see themselves as part of the opposition — need to find common ground with the new generation, to ensure this protest energy becomes a constructive force rather than a destructive one. So that the values held dear by our city’s cultural opposition are adopted by young people as well. So that these spontaneous protests can grow into a conscious political movement — one that could actually lead to fundamental change. </span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/polina-aronson-tatyana-dvornikova/european-university-at-st-petersburg-no-license-to-learn">The European University at St Petersburg: no license to learn? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Who will make Russia “great again”? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Natalia Shkurenok Cities in motion Russia Thu, 06 Apr 2017 11:52:49 +0000 Natalia Shkurenok 109931 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “It all comes down to the fact that I’m wearing the hijab” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova/it-all-comes-down-to-fact-that-i-m-wearing-hijab <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The realities of political administration in Russia’s North Caucasus are leaving their mark on the education system. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova/obrazovanie-na-kavkaze">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Fathers_Grandsons_Dagestan_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grandfathers and grandsons in a mountain village, Dagestan. CC-BY-NC-2.0: Dagestan Mountains and People Partnership / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russia’s North Caucasus region faces many of the same challenges in education as the rest of the country — a lack of nursery places, school classes bursting at the seams, low-quality university education.</p><p dir="ltr">There are, however, also specifically local issues at play: preschools are overseen by the Russia’s Center for Combatting Extremism, special schools are set up for children of both militants and security officials, and university graduates go on to continue their studies in Saudi Arabia.</p><h3 dir="ltr">“Extremism” at the nursery</h3><p dir="ltr">On 10 January, four cars drove up to the Happy Child private children’s centre in Makhachkala, Dagestan. The occupants, men wearing civilian clothes, climbed over the gate and entered the building. There were 23 children and six members of staff inside. When the nursery’s founder, alerted by a call from one of the teachers, arrived, they were all gone.</p><p dir="ltr">“The staff members were taken to the local police station and the parents, when they came to collect their children, were told that I am an extremist and a Wahhabi,” says Sofia Sultanbekova, the centre’s director. One door down from the nursery is the city’s Salafist Tangim mosque. The mosque’s popular preacher Nadir Medetov, also known as Nadir abu Khalid, <a href="https://jamestown.org/program/popular-north-caucasian-islamic-preacher-turns-up-in-the-middle-east-and-joins-islamic-state-2/">left to join so-called Islamic State in 2015</a>. His fate remains unknown. And since 2015, many of the mosque’s clerics have been placed under criminal investigation.</p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rHGpvXNP23U" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Members of Dagestan's Center for Combatting Extremism visit Makhachkala's Happy Child nursery.</em> <p dir="ltr">The police made a similar visit to another branch of this nursery on the same day. A little later, the police explained to Sultanbekova why she was under such close scrutiny: she had been entered on a prophylactic register of those suspected of extremism (read more <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/gubden-dagestan-where-radicals-police-themselves">here</a>). The police assured her that the children’s centre will never operate again.</p><p dir="ltr">The system of prophylactic registers in Dagestan is based on an order issued by the regional Ministry of the Interior. The<a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2016/06/28/69085-shvatit-ekstremista-za-borodu"> document</a> states that the police must “take every measure to identify persons adhering to extremist ideology”. There is no mention of what criteria might be used for this.</p><p dir="ltr">Sultanbekova says that the police are trying to convince her that she will now have to abandon the business enterprise she started in 2014. “It all comes down to the fact that I’m wearing the hijab and most of my staff wear the hijab. The police told me not to employ those who wear headscarves and not to give nursery places to children whose mothers wear the hijab,” Sultanbekova explains. She believes the headscarf is the only reason that she is on the register.</p><h3 dir="ltr">Teaching patriotism to orphans</h3><p dir="ltr">Prophylactic registers are not the only means of surveillance employed by the region’s authorities. Another peculiar education initiative is the Dagestan muftiate’s plan to set up a boarding school for children of militants who have been killed by the security forces. The idea is that they would study together with the children of security officials.</p><p dir="ltr">So far, the new school is in the process of securing its property — no work has been done on its future curriculum. Enrolment will be open to orphans and children of single mothers, while the school’s focus will be on addressing psychological issues.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9598298812_5a3fe713b4_z_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2013: the house of the third wife of underground leader Magomed Suleimanov is destroyed by Russian security forces. CС Varvara Pakhomenko/International Crisis Group/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, criticises the Dagestan authorities’ plan to set up a separate boarding school because an attempt to segregate the children of militants, even in good faith, may have a negative effect. Teenagers, Sokiryanskaya says, will ask why they have ended up there. Moreover, the traditional clerics who will work with them at the school have little authority in the eyes of their families and will struggle to win their trust. Contrary to the project’s aims, this will only force children to shut themselves off from the world.</p><p dir="ltr">“The absolute majority of women whose husbands have been killed in raids by special forces will not send their children to this school voluntarily,” Sokiryanskaya suggests. “Several of them have called me already – they see this initiative as an attempt to separate them from their children. Moreover, the plan was to put this boarding school in a village far from Makhachkala. Few would want to send their children there.”</p><p dir="ltr">A similar school for orphans from the families of militants and members of security forces has been proposed in Ingushetia. In February, news broke that the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Evkurov, <a href="http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3220286?stamp=636228632350230261">will set up a community council to oversee organisations that work with children</a>. Its members will include civic leaders and widows of militants.</p><p dir="ltr">Pupils whose parents died in conflicts with the security forces will go on museum visits together and attend events organised by the patriotic club Turpalkho (“Hero” in Ingush). Civil servants are also promising to provide psychological support and help with employment. Ingushetia’s administration believes that the project will help to eradicate extremism.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the Caucasus, mentioning that a family member had been a militant is taboo — an even bigger taboo is telling children about it</p><p dir="ltr">Magomed Mugoltsev, head of the <a href="http://eng.mashr.org/">Ingush human rights organisation MASHR</a>, says that the project is doomed to failure— in the Caucasus, mentioning that a member of a family had been a militant is taboo, and an even bigger taboo is telling children about it. “The republic already has social services that are in charge of education. With this plan, children will be constantly confronted with their family history. It’s like telling children they have a disability. I can see nothing but populism in this initiative. There was nothing to prevent social services organising pastimes for children in the past, without reminding them who their mother or father killed or who killed them,” Mugoltsev notes.</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/RIAN_02306045.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="360" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yunus-bek Evkurov, head of Ingushetia. (с) Andrei Stenin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Mugoltsev also suggests that the initiative has different aims in mind: “When the children grow up, the authorities will start to harass them constantly. If you do that, any adaptation efforts will be in vain. They need this to legitimise arrests in the future, to keep the children and relatives of militants under control.”</p><p dir="ltr">Between 2010 and 2015, there had been almost no mention of any events organised for children from the families of militants in online reports published by local authorities. Most tours, excursions, and gift-giving ceremonies had been for children of deceased members of security forces, sometimes together with children from “socially vulnerable groups”. Whether this included children of militants was never pointed out. Since 2016, events for orphans from the families of militants have been featured prominently.</p><p dir="ltr">Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya thinks that the change in rhetoric has to do with the war in Syria: “The situation as it stands is more conducive to prevention: in the last three years, after many Russians went to the Middle East, things have been quiet in the North Caucasus. In 2016, the number of terrorist attacks grew, but not by much, about 10%. Everyone is very clear that this is just a quiet period rather than some sign that the problem had been solved in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics. There has been a directive from the federal authorities to focus more on prevention. Such measures receive significant funding from relevant ministries.”</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/RIAN_02773035.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children let off steam between lessons in Guli, Ingushetia. (c) Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Sokiriyanskaya believes that the project in Ingushetia is more promising than the one in Dagestan, because children will not removed from society. </p><p dir="ltr">However, the analyst says that the best practices in helping children of militants adjust are found in Kabardino-Balkaria: “In February, I spoke to families whose relatives had been implicated in the 2005 terrorist attack on Nalchik and they told me that there is no bias against their children at school, they do not stand out. One girl, a school monitor whose father had been sentenced to a very long prison term, was gently asked by the teacher not to skip classes without a reason to avoid questions from the administration. It seems that lists of children from the families of militants are sent to schools, but they are subtle about it.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“A woman told me that after her husband was killed she lost her job, was stripped of public benefits, and her four-year-old was barred from the nursery”</p><p dir="ltr">In Dagestan, it’s the opposite situation: a local police inspector can visit a nursery or a school and tell teachers that a child’s parent was a militant.</p><p dir="ltr">In Chechnya, children from the families of armed rebels may even be expelled from an educational establishment. Sokiryanskaya is aware of one such case: “One woman told me that after her husband was killed she lost her job, she was stripped of welfare benefits, and her four-year-old was barred from the nursery. These days, the relatives of militants in Chechnya are evicted from villages; their houses are set on fire.”</p><h3 dir="ltr">Outdated textbooks and nonsense assignments</h3><p dir="ltr">Another area where the school curriculum in the North Caucasus differs from the rest of Russia is additional subjects such as local languages and history, which are included in the curriculum’s so-called “national-regional component”.</p><p dir="ltr">Sergey Manyshev, a history teacher from Makhachkala, says that the quality of these subjects tends to be fairly poor: “Before I started working at the school, I used to think that the Caucasian War [of the 19th century] was something significant for the Caucasian establishment, that everyone knew something about it. As it turned out, schoolchildren and university students know, at best, who Imam Shamil was and that there was a war.”</p><p dir="ltr">Manyshev believes that the problem isn’t just the students — the textbook that deals with the Caucasian War was published in 1992. Moreover, schools struggle to provide textbooks used for the nationwide curriculum, too: there are, on average, two copies for a classroom of 20 pupils. As a result, the teachers’ personal views determine many of the things the pupils end up learning.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9595512045_bde4e4cc2c_z_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Portraits of imams hang in Gimri school museum, Dagestan. СС BY-NC-ND 2.0 Varvara Pakhomenko / CRISIS GROUP. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Of course, children are often told as a matter of creed that Imam Shamil was ‘our hero’, even if in private some might express a very different view. This is shaped by political games with history. Take, for example, the memorial complex at<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city"> Akhulgo</a>, which opened earlier this year as a monument to peace and accord. It is absurd: after all, it marks the events of 1839 – that was at the height of the Caucasian War, which lasted another 20 years,” Manyshev confides.</p><p dir="ltr">There is no unified approach to teaching local languages in the region, either. In North Ossetia, Ossetian is taught at school in every grade, with two or three lessons a week. “There had been times when we had as many hours of Ossetian in the timetable as Russian and Russian literature. That’s a lot,” says Natalya, a graduate of a school in the village of Arkhonskaya. “They usually divide classes up into speakers and non-speakers. However, in my class there were only four Ossetians out of twenty-three pupils, so they just split us 50-50.”</p><p dir="ltr">Natalya says that teaching had been of a high quality in the early years, but later the curriculum was reduced to “short texts by Kosta Khetagurov, the best-known Ossetian poet”. Now, she only knows a few phrases in Ossetian.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Most of the time, we would just go for a walk rather than write down nonsense from dictation”</p><p dir="ltr">In Karachay-Cherkessia, there are separate lessons for Karachay students, who study the language, and Russians, who have “ethnography” classes instead. In the curriculum, both are treated as a single subject.</p><p dir="ltr">“Karachay kids were studying their native language. However, no-one knew what to do with us,” recalls Viktoriya, who studied at a school in Ust-Dzhegut. “We would write some strange nonsense from dictation and fill entire notebooks with tiny handwriting without ever thinking of what the texts were. As a rule, ethnography was not taught by the most intelligent of teachers, so most of the time we would just go for a walk rather than write down nonsense from dictation.”</p><p dir="ltr">The expertise level of school teachers is a separate issue. According to Manyshev, the history teacher, it is very rare for members of staff at educational establishments to be fired. “I cannot recall a single instance. If someone gets a job, most likely they will hold on to it until they die. Many give bribes to be hired. A few years ago, the going price for a job at an urban school in Makhachkala was up to 250,000 roubles, even though in the region as a whole there is a shortage of teachers. Teachers believe that if they spend that money now, they will eventually get it back,” Manyshev says. He adds that the way they “get it back” is not in salaries, which average 10,000 roubles a month (£140), but in subsequent bribes.</p><h3 dir="ltr">Nursery bribes</h3><p dir="ltr">Corruption is rife in other kinds of educational establishments in the North Caucasus, too, including pre-schools. According to data from Rosstat, the federal government office for national statistics, the region has the longest waiting lists for nurseries in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">In Chechnya, for example, there are 146 children per 100 nursery places. In 2016, just four new nurseries opened in Ingushetia, where, as official data suggest, nursery places are available for just over half of the republic’s children. To fully match demand, the regional Ministry for Education<a href="http://tass.ru/obschestvo/3451548"> calculates</a>, the republic needs another fifty-five nurseries and over 12,000 nursery places.</p><p dir="ltr">To get around the problem of getting their child into a nursery, parents often have to pay. “It does happen, sometimes they ask for a contribution towards the cost of lockers or cleaning supplies, although not always. Unofficially, they ask for around ten thousand [roubles] to secure a place for a child. This is strictly voluntary, each person according to their means,” says a pre-schooler’s mother from Nalchik. According to her, you don’t have to pay, but if you don’t, your children may miss out on a place because of the massive waiting lists. The same is true of almost every republic in the region.</p><p dir="ltr">In these circumstances, state schools are supplemented by private educational establishments. However, not every family can afford them. For example, tuition at Prioritet, a private gymnasium in Chechnya founded by war veteran Khalid Islamov, is 120,000 roubles a year (£1,700). In addition to the main curriculum, pupils study creative arts and have individual development sessions; they can also stay the night at the school.</p><h3 dir="ltr">Student immobility</h3><p dir="ltr">Although the education system in some North Caucasian republics is in deep crisis, school graduates can get into universities outside the region. Sometimes, a lack of preparation is offset by other means.</p><p dir="ltr">“When I was sitting the final exams at my school, most kids wanted to follow the rules; unfortunately, however, corruption has permeated education alongside other spheres of life. Many in Dagestan rely too much on shortcuts, money, and connections,” says Zarema, who graduated from one of Makhachkala best schools, Lyceum 39. She followed the official application procedure and now studies at the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University.</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/RIAN_02813639.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2016: students check participant lists before the single state exam on Russian language in Grozny, Chechnya. (с) Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Natalya Chuprunova, head of the Foundation of the Association of Educators in Conflict Resolution (FARN), says that corruption has become widespread at universities, as well. Students pay upwards of 20,000 (£280) to pass their mid-term exams. She believes the main problem is the quality of universities themselves: “In the 1990s, there were about 20 new satellite campuses of Russian universities in Ossetia, which charged students fees for courses in law, economics, and management. However, the course content was of very low quality and they did not provide any internships.”</p><p dir="ltr">Many school graduates from the Caucasus go to universities elsewhere through a programme of targeted admissions. This allows students to compete for places only with peers from the same region; in exchange, they must return home after getting their degree and work in the local government or at state-owned enterprises for several years.</p><p dir="ltr">In Chechnya, this route is not limited to Russian universities. In 2008, Ramzan Kadyrov signed off on the International Cooperation in Education programme; many Chechens call it “the leader’s scholarship’. The selection process is managed by private businesses: London’s<a href="http://www.intostudy.com/en-gb/"> INTO World Education Centre</a> and<a href="http://www.studygroup.com"> StudyGroup</a>. An agreement is also in place with the German academic exchange service<a href="https://www.daad.ru/en/"> DAAD</a>. Universities in Saudi Arabia, such as the<a href="http://www.iu.edu.sa/en/"> Islamic University in Medina</a>, are another popular destination. Most applicants are under 30.</p><p dir="ltr">Ibragim Isyanov, a representative for the<a href="http://iuksa.ru/"> Saudi Arabia Universities website</a> that helps with applications to Saudi HE institutions, stresses that the number of students from the North Caucasus is stable but not, by any means, the largest in Russia. To be accepted, applicants need to speak Arabic and “must be Muslims of high moral standing”.</p><h3 dir="ltr">The Chechen dress code</h3><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20091204101512636">According to University World News</a>, about 90 students from Chechnya take part in such study-abroad programmes each year, but fewer than ten of them are women.</p><p dir="ltr">Karina Kotova, a member of the human rights organisation Civil Assistance, notes that women in the region face challenges not only with student mobility, but with employment as well. The organisation’s representatives regularly organise seminars across the North Caucasus, where they have the chance to meet and talk with students from different republics. Kotova says that young people try to steer away from the topic of gender equality: “Everyone is on the same page when it comes to corruption, various checks, or the fact that in the middle of a lecture we may get strange visitors who want to know who is in attendance. However, gender issues are always contentious. Young men, for the most part, object to women raising these issues. In practice, even after young women graduate from universities, they are often precluded from working.”</p><p dir="ltr">The human rights advocate brings up the case of one seminar attendee: a young woman who had studied architecture but could not find a job — a Chechen architecture firm told her that she could not work with men.</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/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chechen women near the Berkat market, Grozny. (c) Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Within universities, women are also treated differently from men. In Chechnya, the entire public sector is subject to a dress code policy for women: long skirts, long sleeves, and headscarves. This is not typical of the region. Even a few years back, other republics tended towards banning headscarves and the hijab rather than making them compulsory for female students. Sokiryanskaya notes that people are starting to understand that banning the hijab is not the right thing to do, although there is still some confusion over this in Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Banning the hijab is dangerous because in this scenario, when a girl from a religious family reaches puberty, the family stops sending her to school”</p><p dir="ltr">“Banning the hijab is dangerous because in this scenario, when a girl from a religious family reaches puberty, the family stops sending her to school. We know what awaits her then: an early marriage, no education, no ability to defend herself or to lead an independent life in the future,” Sokiryanskaya says. </p><p>At the same time, the analyst believes that whether parents want to give their children an education mostly depends on their income, not religiosity. Education is expensive, but if you a marry a girl off, the husband becomes responsible for providing for the family: “In many Salafi families, women work, have their own businesses – there is no incontrovertible assumption that they must stay at home.”</p><p dir="ltr">For young people in the North Caucasus, a university diploma is a sign of prestige, although just 10% of graduates pursue further studies at better universities in Russia’s capital cities or abroad, says Natalya Chuprunova, the head of FARN. The choice of institution largely depends on the will of the family. “This is also linked to additional financial support from the parents. Traditionally, parents in the Caucasus continue to support their children for a fairly long time, even after they have established families of their own,” she explains.</p><h3 dir="ltr">The threat of cohesion</h3><p dir="ltr">There are few learning opportunities outside the state education system in the North Caucasus and awareness campaigns are the preserve of human rights organisations. Often, this leads to friction with local university executives.</p><p dir="ltr">Civil Assistance’s Karina Kotova says that some students who had attended their seminars were later called into the rector’s office to explain why they went to these events. “This has nothing to do with the issue of human rights or with our group in particular. They are concerned about any activity outside the university. This kind of cohesion always worries local authorities,” the human rights advocate says.</p><p dir="ltr">Not every local expert I interviewed agreed to openly discuss the challenges facing education in the North Caucasus. “If I told you how everything is, I will not get a pat on the back. I can only speak in vague generalities. I doubt that anyone would answer your question truthfully, especially in our republic [Chechnya]. In the past, we knew how to stand our ground. Not anymore,” says a member of one of the republic’s NGOs. Most of the schoolchildren and students I spoke to also insisted on anonymity.</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/convert-and-love-russia-s-muslim-wives">Convert and love: Russia’s Muslim wives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/gubden-dagestan-where-radicals-police-themselves">Gubden, Dagestan: where ‘radicals’ police themselves</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-kosterina/love-north-caucasus-style">Love, North Caucasus style</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/karena-avedissian/book-review-veiled-and-unveiled-in-chechnya-and-dagestan">Book review: Veiled and unveiled in Chechnya and Dagestan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Selivanova Tue, 04 Apr 2017 09:04:31 +0000 Ekaterina Selivanova 109847 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya: when filing “official complaints” isn’t an option https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/anti-lgbt-violence-in-chechnya-when-filing-official-complaints-isn-t-option <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Chechen authorities are conducting a vicious operation against men suspected of being gay. The Kremlin should not only condemn these actions, but the culture of impunity that accompanies them.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 08.59.26.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anti-LGBT demonstration, 1 April. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qA_6WrpAPo>Youtube</a>.</span></span></span>For several weeks now, a brutal campaign against LGBT people has been sweeping through Chechnya. Law enforcement and security agency officials under control of the ruthless head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, have rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, torturing and humiliating the victims. Some of the men have forcibly disappeared. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men apparently have died since this brutal campaign began.</p> <p>This chilling information was first publicised by Novaya Gazeta, a leading independent Russian paper. Their <a href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/04/01/71983-ubiystvo-chesti">report</a> came out on 1 April, prompting the spokesperson for Chechnya’s Interior Ministry to <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/society/01/04/2017/58df94279a79477bb9a8a23e">dismiss</a> it as an “April fools’ joke.” Kadyrov’s press secretary immediately <a href="http://www.interfax.ru/russia/556385">described</a> the report as “absolute lies and disinformation,” contending that there were no gay people in Chechnya and then adding cynically, “If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.” </p> <p>Chechnya’s official news agency, Grozny Info, quoted numerous local commentators <a href="http://www.grozny-inform.ru/news/society/83453/">bashing</a> Novaya Gazeta and other “enemies” of Chechnya and Russia for supposed attempts to discredit the Chechen people, “foster sodomy,” and undermine “traditional values.”</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant</span></p> <p>The information published by Novaya Gazeta is consistent with the reports Human Rights Watch recently received from numerous trusted sources, including&nbsp; sources on the ground. The number of sources and the consistency of the stories leaves us with no doubt that these devastating developments have indeed occurred. LGBT Network in Russia opened a special hotline to provide <a href="https://lgbtnet.org/en/content/statement-russian-lgbt-networks-board-regarding-information-kidnappings-and-murders-lgbt">emergency support</a> to those who find themselves in immediate danger.</p> <p>In light of brutal repression in Chechnya, we cannot reveal our sources for fear of compromising their security. The fear of devastating reprisal is so intense that we cannot even provide detail on specific cases as the victims could suffer even more as a result of the exposure. </p> <p>On Monday, 3 April President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, <a href="http://www.interfax.ru/russia/556565">stated</a> that the Kremlin was previously not aware of the situation, but that law enforcement authorities would look into these media reports. On the one hand, this seems like good news, a signal to investigative officials to run a check promptly. On the other hand, Peskov also suggested that people who supposedly suffered from abuses by law enforcement officials should “file official complaints” and “go to court” without indicating what, if anything, Russian authorities are planning to do to protect them. </p> <p>These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the <a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/08/30/walking-minefield/vicious-crackdown-critics-russias-chechen-republic">climate of fear</a> is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence. Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Without solid security guarantees, victims and witnesses cannot possibly come forward, and there is no chance that an effective investigation could take place</p> <p>Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in recent years <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/12/tyranny-versus-village-man-chechnya">showing</a> just what fate awaits people in Chechnya who do what Peskov has suggested. For this reason, with very few exceptions, victims of torture and other horrific abuses refrain from seeking justice or withdraw their complaints as a result of threats, including death threats and threats of retaliation against family members.</p> <p>It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant. LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to “honour killings” by their own relatives for tarnishing family honor. </p> <p>So it is particularly disappointing that the Kremlin spokesman should tell the victims to use official channels to complain, without saying a word about any security guarantees. Without solid security guarantees, victims and witnesses cannot possibly come forward, and there is no chance that an effective investigation could take place.</p> <p>Surely Russian authorities can do better than that. At the highest level, they should resolutely condemn attacks against LGBT people in Chechnya and ensure safety and justice for the victims.</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/tanya-lokshina/tyranny-versus-village-man-in-chechnya">Tyranny versus a village man in Chechnya</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/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denis-sokolov/can-north-caucasus-adapt-to-political-change">Can the North Caucasus adapt to political change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova/it-all-comes-down-to-fact-that-i-m-wearing-hijab">“It all comes down to the fact that I’m wearing the hijab”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Russia Human rights Tue, 04 Apr 2017 05:54:52 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 109874 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ukraine: sex work in times of war https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/ukraine-sex-work-in-times-of-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s military conflict and economic crisis are affecting the country’s sex workers. Read how these women’s lives and concerns are changing, in their own words.&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/DSC_0724.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="323" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The red umbrella is the international symbol of sex workers. Source: <a href=https://humanrights.org.ua/en/materials/article>Human Rights Information Centre</a>. </span></span></span>Ukraine used to be depicted as a paradise for sex tourists. The news that the country would co-host the European Football Championship in 2012 was followed by alarmist predictions that more local women would be drawn into sex work, conveying a moral panic and a desire to titillate all at once. When Femen were just starting out in Ukraine, the feminist activist group <a href="http://observers.france24.com/en/20090828-how-they-protest-prostitution-ukraine-femen-sex-tourism">campaigned against sex work</a>, which was seen as being part of the systematic exploitation of Ukrainian women. A documentary on Femen’s early activism is called <a href="http://variety.com/2013/film/global/ukraine-is-not-a-brothel-review-venice-1200608905/">Ukraine is not a brothel</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Western men who visit Ukraine for sex tourism have been known to document their adventures online. Graham Phillips, a pro-separatist British blogger, wrote about his encounters with young Ukrainian women, including <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20140627060619/http://grahamwphillips.com/2014/01/07/prostitutes-and-me-part-1-of-2/">sex workers</a>, before his interests turned to geopolitics. Western journalists have explored the topic in stories that often focus on the seediness of sex work and the beauty of Ukrainian women — stories where sex workers' perspectives or voices are often absent, like<a href="http://www.politico.eu/article/sex-tourists-ukraine-staying-away-turks-human-rights/"> this Politico article</a> by a male journalist on the decline of sex tourism after conflict broke out in the Donbass.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began, the topic has taken on a new dimension — supporters of the pro-Russian side occasionally compare Ukraine to a prostitute, a lost woman who has forgotten her ancient and deep connection with Russia in order to sleep with the EU and the US for money. But what of the actual people doing sex work in Ukraine? What do they have to tell us? And has the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine changed the realities of sex work in the country?</p><h2>Tales of police violence in Kropyvnytsky</h2><p dir="ltr">If one is to speak with sex workers, the city of Kropyvnytsky, in central Ukraine, is a good place to start. “We're not going to Kropyvnytsky. There's no such place as Kropyvnytsky,” the bus drivers joke as I try to find a ride from a Kyiv bus station. “We're only going to Kirovohrad,” they say, using the city’s old name before it was renamed under decommunisation in 2016.</p><p dir="ltr">The provincial city that appears after a five-hour drive through the snow is home to <a href="http://legalife.com.ua/">Legalife</a>, Ukraine's leading sex workers' organisation. When I arrive, the head of the organisation, Natalia Isaeva, is taking a cigarette break with some of her colleagues — the stairs of their office are filled with smoke and laughter. Their organisation got its start following an episode of police abuse in 2009, when Isaeva, a former sex worker who conducted outreach work with sex workers,<a href="http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CAT/Shared%20Documents/UKR/INT_CAT_NGO_UKR_18681_R.pdf"> was unlawfully detained</a> by an anti-trafficking police unit. They threatened to charge her with pimping, and when Isaeva tried to file a complaint the next day, there was no trace of her detention. She did, however, obtain an apology. The head of the anti-trafficking unit was transferred and the officers' bonuses slashed.</p><p dir="ltr">This incident prompted the women to stand for sex workers' rights, attracting the attention of international donors such as Open Society who have funded Legalife ever since.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_6551S.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>3 March: sex workers and supporters mark International Sex Worker Rights Day, and call for decriminalisation of sex work. Source: <a href=http://ukraine.politicalcritique.org/2017/03/marsh-seks-pratsivnits-ta-pratsivnikiv-mayemo-pravo-na-svoyu-robotu/>Political Critique</a>. </span></span></span>The women tell me Ukraine’s economic crisis and the hryvnia’s devaluation after Maidan have seen more women resort to sex work. “When [ex-president] Yanukovych left, he left an empty budget,” Isaeva says. “Lots of benefits were cut or became more difficult to access, including benefits for single mothers.” It became really hard to survive on a salary of 2,000 hrvynia (£58) a month, one of the co-founders explained.</p><p dir="ltr">Isaeva is aware of sex workers traveling to the Donbass, to both sides of the frontline, to work for soldiers on both sides. “The violence that they face there is not much different from the violence that they face elsewhere in Ukraine,” she tells me. Violence is so common that, when we start talking about mistreatment at the hands of the police, all the women in the room start listing and miming what they have experienced in detention.</p><p dir="ltr">“They beat you on the sole of your foot so as not to leave traces,” one woman tells me. “They beat you with electric cables so as to not to leave marks,” another explains. “That's called Motorola!”, they all chime. “They handcuff you to the heaters!” “They handcuff you with your arms behind your back and make you hang on a pole like that,” another woman tells me, miming the action by lifting her hands behind her back. “It makes your shoulders hurt so much.”</p><p>Sex work is criminalised in Ukraine. A woman (or a man) waiting for a client in the street can be apprehended by the police and given a small administrative fine up to 255 hryvnia (£7.50). A conviction for pimping is a criminal offence and carries a prison term.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 10.07.47.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="327" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Legalife's newspaper <a href=http://legalife.com.ua/gazeta-lilit/>Lilit</a> covers health and human rights issues for sex workers. Source: Legalife. </span></span></span>If this is the theory, Isaeva and her colleagues have experienced how the law is applied in practice — and how stigma constantly threatens to ruin their life. </p><p>In Kropyvnytsky, for instance, the women say the police keep apprehending sex workers who wait for clients on the highway and make them fill out a police report. “No one pays the fine, but the police keep doing [it for the] numbers. It proves they are doing their job. Then they send the letter saying the woman has to pay a fine in the small town where she lives.” This happened to one of the women sitting with us. “It was sent to the head of the district where she lives,” Isaeva says. “The secretaries found out, everybody found out. Her kids got bullied at school by kids who teased them by saying 'Your mum is a prostitute!'”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Legalife members, Ukraine’s criminal legislation against pimping, which carries a prison term, is seldom applied to pimps themselves, and more often used to punish sex workers.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">For these women, the reluctance of the police to accept complaints from sex workers creates a climate of impunity for pimps or clients mistreating them</span></p><p dir="ltr">“No one is trying to apprehend pimps, they always go after the girls,” Isaeva tells me. “It’s the same with drugs. The police go after drug users, not drug traffickers. They go after sick people, common people, where it’s easy because they don’t have to use force, or put much effort into it.” Alongside Amnesty International, Legalife members <a href="http://ukraine.politicalcritique.org/2017/03/marsh-seks-pratsivnits-ta-pratsivnikiv-mayemo-pravo-na-svoyu-robotu/">have taken part in several protests where they carried red umbrellas</a> (the worldwide symbol of the sex workers’ rights movement) and demanded the decriminalisation of sex work.</p><p dir="ltr">For these women, the reluctance of the police to accept complaints from sex workers creates a climate of impunity for pimps or clients mistreating them. As one woman puts it: “The police often say: ‘Stop being a prostitute and that won't happen’, so the victim is blamed for the violence she has experienced.”</p><h2>By the highway in Kyiv</h2><p dir="ltr">Sex work is everywhere in Kyiv. Everyone seems to know someone who has either worked as a translator or a copy editor creating ads that advertise women's sexual services (a good part time job for a broke literature student), a dispatcher juggling between her different mobile phones to match clients and sex workers, an administrator running a brothel, a male or female exotic dancer who occasionally sells more than dances.</p><p dir="ltr">Iulia Tsarevska, who works for <a href="http://aph.org.ua/en/home/">Alliance for Public Health</a>, an organisation that provides walk-in consultations for sex workers and conducts weekly outreach work in brothels or on the highway, tells me that in the eleven years working with sex workers in Ukraine, she’s found the last two years the hardest after the country experienced a significant drop in living standards. The organisation has been helping sex workers working in brothels that were moved, very suddenly, from Donetsk to Kyiv, and who didn't know where the basic services were located in the capital.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">All the women I meet there are over 30 and come from the provinces. Most are single mothers who have to support their children alone</p><p dir="ltr">That same night, I climb aboard a van providing free HIV tests, condoms as well as lubricant or syringes for sex workers who need them. They pick me up at the end of a tube line and we drive past huge discount shops, typical of the city’s periphery, then a small wood. It’s cold tonight (minus 12), and the sex workers are waiting by a highway joining Kyiv and another city. All the women I meet there are over 30 and come from the provinces. Most are single mothers who have to support their children alone.</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/555493/image6.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/image6.JPG" alt="" title="" width="160" height="220" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>On the outskirts of Kyiv. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span>On a cold night like this, they tell me, there aren't many clients. Whenever they set off in a client's car they either conduct business in the car or are driven to a sauna nearby. The social worker has some of them take a quick HIV test, and repeats essential information about HIV transmission.</p><p dir="ltr">I meet Masha (the name she uses for work), 35, who learnt French while working as a dancer in Switzerland for two years — she’s happy to practice it while walking in the snow towards a nearby petrol station. “Today I saw in the news that Ukraine's received a loan from the IMF,” she remarks. “Where does that money go? I'd be curious to know. Are they ripping us off?”</p><p dir="ltr">She seems different, a bit lost and sadder, when I visit her in her flat a couple of evenings later. I expected to see her teenage daughter there, but there’s only a small dog for company. While frying eggs and brewing coffee, Masha explains she lost custody of her daughter after the police intervened during an argument between the two of them in that same kitchen. Masha’s daughter is now in an orphanage, and she is doing more sex work to pay for legal fees to try to get her back.</p><p dir="ltr">The conflict in the Donbas has affected Masha’s life in ways that seem impossible to fix. She tells me she lost her savings when she paid for her mother and her daughter to move from Donetsk to Mariupol. She then ended up living with her daughter in Mariupol when the city was surrounded by separatist forces in May-June 2014. Masha’s mother still lives near Donetsk. She shows me souvenirs from Switzerland and says she dreams of going back there, or at least of paying her debts and making enough money to move to the western bank of the Dnipro, in a neighbourhood “where there are fewer people from Donbass and where people don't know me”.</p><p dir="ltr">We smoke cigarettes, and Masha tells me she has some amphetamines left if I want any. Then we get into a cab that takes us to the metro station&nbsp;— she’s heading to work by the highway. I’m traveling to the east. “Be careful out there,” Masha tells me.</p><h2>Survival sex and sexual violence in the grey zone</h2><p dir="ltr">Many people refuse to speak about sex work taking place near the conflict zone. They say the topic is sensitive, and that talking might displease soldiers or put sex workers at risk from the police. Doors are closed, organisations never return calls. I’m told people are probably concerned I will use the information obtained against the Ukrainian side.</p><p dir="ltr">In Kharkiv, Evgeny Kaplin, who has spent two years providing humanitarian help in what he calls the “grey zone”, behind the eastern frontline, via an organisation funded by the UN Refugee Agency, agrees to talk about what he’s seen. We meet in Kaplin’s office, which is full of donations to be taken to the frontline, and also contains big pieces of shrapnel, on display on a table, strangely.</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/RIAN_02685714.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Checkpoint in Maryinka, Donetsk region. (c) Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Cities further from the frontline where there is still infrastructure, such as Bakhmut, Pokrovsk or Volnovokha, are places full of soldiers where women, who sometimes come from closeby towns, provide sexual services,” he tells me. “Closer to the frontline, it's generally about trading. In Maryinka or Svitlodarsk, women don't provide sexual services for money but for food or if soldiers help them set up a house. It's for survival,” he continues. In Krovpyvnytsky, Natalia Isaeva had told me the same.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Kaplin, survival sex with soldiers occurs in places where soldiers are stationed for a long time. Women don't talk about it unless something goes wrong and they need help. “We had a case in Vodina, a village near Donetsk, where a woman admitted she had sex with soldiers for food. She got pregnant and gave birth to a child. She didn't come back to the village as she thought she wouldn't be accepted under those circumstances. We helped her settle in a more peaceful part of Ukraine, in the Poltava region. And another woman, also from Vodina, called us on the last week of her pregnancy because the ambulance wouldn't go where she lived and she needed to go through a checkpoint to go to the nearest hospital. She also needed money to buy nappies and food for the kid.”</p><p dir="ltr">Reports of sexual violence, although indirect, have also multiplied. “If we were to ask women, if they have been raped by soldiers, they wouldn't tell us. And they won't speak out as long as soldiers are stationed where they live,” Kaplin explains.</p><p dir="ltr">Katya Shutalova, who works as a psychologist for an NGO called <a href="http://rubezhi.org.ua/">Ukrainian Frontiers</a> which provides assistance to people living near the frontline, hears many first hand reports on survival sex, often with very young women. Shutalova’s office is also packed with donations for the frontline.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In times of war people do stuff in order not to go crazy and to feel alive. Have you ever been to the frontline? Do you know what it's like?”</p><p dir="ltr">“We go to places where life was very hard before the conflict and has gotten even worse since,” Shutalova tells me. “Alcoholism is much worse. Women have sex with soldiers to feed their kids or even their parents. Everything around them appears feels like a nightmare and soldiers appear to be a potential protection. These girls can be 13 or 15. They tell you about what happens in confidence, but they are scared of any kind of institution — schools, hospitals, social services — finding out because they could suffer the consequences. Victims of sexual violence are stigmatised. It’s very hard to talk about that violence. If you speak up, people see it as an assault on patriotism.”</p><p dir="ltr">Shutalova herself refuses to blame soldiers: “In times of war people do stuff in order not to go crazy and to feel alive. Have you ever been to the frontline? Do you know what it's like?” I say that no, I’ve never been and I don't know what it’s like.</p><h2>In Mariupol</h2><p dir="ltr">“Here women sell themselves for a bottle or for 100 hryvnia,” this is how the female presenter of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN0VX_WNLUU">Revizor</a>, a well-known Ukrainian reality show, described Mariupol, an industrial city near the frontline, in December 2016. “Can you believe this is how they presented Mariupol?” Julia Romanova, a journalist who has recently moved here from Donetsk, tells me. “Can you believe the level of misogyny?”</p><p dir="ltr">As I arrive in Mariupol on a night bus from Kharkiv, shelling can still be heard from the eastern part of the city. Mariupol, a big port town and transit hub, has traditionally been attractive to sex workers, and Albina, a sex worker I met in Kropyvnytsky, is supposed to meet me at the bus station, but when I call her at nine in the morning she’s still with a client.</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/image3.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mariupol Metallurgical Factory. Image courtesy of the author. </span></span></span>For sex workers as well as women involved in survival sex, one of the greatest dangers is the absence of condoms in areas close to the frontline, and soldiers’ reluctance to use protection.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Donetsk region was a leader in terms of HIV infection,” Kaplin tells me. “And what’s bad is that the infection will travel further than where the soldiers are located. Sooner or later there will be a spike. The soldiers are given a kit with food and medicine, without condoms. If they distributed condoms, then maybe we'd see fewer cases of women getting pregnant and people getting sick. As for buying condoms, yes, they can be found in place that are more stable, maybe 20km from the frontline, but closer to the frontline prices are high. In Artemovsk, for instance, if a soldier sees a pack of condoms for 40 or 50 hryvnia [£1.20-1.50], he's unlikely to buy them.” In separatist territory, the situation is believed to be even worse, as NGOs have left and harm reduction programmes are illegal, as in Russia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I am not doing this for you, I am doing this to show we are human beings”</p><p dir="ltr">In Mariupol, I meet Uliana Tokareva, who has been involved in harm reduction programmes for over a decade. Tokareva’s organisation conducts outreach with women working in the streets of the city. They have successfully distributed condoms to sex workers for years, but they have only met refusal when trying to distribute condoms to soldiers through official channels. “I think they [the army] still live in the Soviet Union, where there was <a href="http://rbth.com/amp/500001">‘no sex’</a>. This could end badly,” Tokarieva tells me.</p><p dir="ltr">But there is sex, as always, and lots of sex work. Abina tells me it was financially profitable to travel here for a sex working stint, as there are lots of clients. That night, she calls and agrees to meet around midnight. She also apologises for being drunk, asking if I could pay for a cab that will take her to the centre. I say that yes, of course, I would pay, as she was doing this for me. Abina replies: “I am not doing this for you, I am doing this to show we are human beings.”</p><p dir="ltr">The cab takes her to a hipster café she’d never been to before, where she explains that none of her fellow sex workers talk about their experiences: “They are all scared, when they hear the word journalist they get scared, and fear the police will do something to them. I am the only one who is open about what I do, but that's because I don't have a family. I have a son, but I am not raising him.” Albina is enthusiastic about the Legalife organisation, very grateful for the help they have provided, and the solidarity she has felt there.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“They are all scared, when they hear the word journalist they get scared, and fear the police will do something to them”</p><p dir="ltr">A few hours before, in the same café, Julia Romanova had told me: “We don't talk about abuse in Ukraine. We are told not to kick the dirt outside the house, and this is, in fact, the story of my family too. My grandfather beat my grandmother, but she didn't leave him. She said, and I think is a good summary: ‘How can you raise children without a man?’”</p><p dir="ltr">In a country where <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">domestic violence is normalised</a>, violence against sex workers and violence against women and girls at the hands of soldiers is not <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/danielle-johnson/speaking-on-sexual-violence">receiving the attention it deserves</a>. And while stigma against sex workers is extremely high in Ukraine, and might seem peripheral, I suspect it is a reflection of stigma against all women, who can always be called “sluts”, always be blamed for the violence they suffer at the hands of men.<a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1468280236"> </a>This can translate into attitudes among law enforcement. In June 2016, a Ukrainian soldier was <a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1468280236">given a suspended sentence for raping a 16-year-old girl</a> — the fact he had been serving in Donbass was considered as an extenuating circumstance. A system of impunity, which assigns the blame to the victim, prevails.</p><p dir="ltr">Tonight, Albina is so drunk that the conversation keeps returning to her desire to leave for another country, to be with a pimp she’s fallen in love with. “I’ve never felt this in my life,” she tells me. “In 33 years, I have never felt love. What do you think, does he love me or not?”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic">Meet the women at the centre of Ukraine’s resurgent HIV epidemic</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-antonova/we-have-lift-off-on-speaking-out-on-sexual-violence">We have lift-off on speaking out on sexual violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/danielle-johnson/speaking-on-sexual-violence">As Ukraine&#039;s women speak up on sexual violence, we must not ignore those affected by conflict</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Valeria Costa-Kostritsky Mon, 03 Apr 2017 07:06:02 +0000 Valeria Costa-Kostritsky 109846 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Don't call him Dima: Russia’s anti-corruption protesters face repression https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/don-t-call-him-dima-russia-s-anti-corruption-protesters-face-repression <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Last Sunday's protests and a nationwide truckers' strike have led to detentions and trials across Russia. Read about them here. <em><strong><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/mailing/2017/03/31/posle-antidimona">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/img_20170328_104343.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="289" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>On 28 March, 34 people detained during Sunday's protests were sent to administrative detention. Image: <a href=https://ovdinfo.org/>OVD-Info</a>. </span></span></span><strong><span>Today, we start a new partnership with </span><a href="https://ovdinfo.org/">OVD-Info</a><span>, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia. Every Friday, we’ll bring you the latest information on freedom of assembly.&nbsp;</span></strong></p><p dir="ltr">The past week’s main event has been, of course, the <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/26/zaderzhaniya-na-antidimone">mass arrests across Russia</a> in connection with Sunday’s anti-corruption protests. Moscow is leading the numbers. According to our monitoring, the city has seen an <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/26/zaderzhaniya-na-antidimone-v-moskve">unprecedented number of detentions </a>— 1,043 people at 53 police stations in the Russian capital.</p><h2>How it happened</h2><p dir="ltr">In several cities, protest participants and organisers weren’t detained out of nowhere, but, for example, on the suspicion that they <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/26/v-yuzhno-sahalinske-po-orientirovke-zaderzhany-devyat-chelovek-posle-akcii">“were about to commit an offence”</a> (Sakhalin) or were arrested as such <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/26/v-saratove-zaderzhali-zayaviteley-akcii-i-chlena-onk">after the protest</a> (Saratov). Reporters Without Borders has <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/29/reportery-bez-granic-soobshchili-o-zaderzhanii-14-zhurnalistov-26-marta-po">found</a> that 14 journalists were arrested in four cities across Russia, and in the fifth, a journalist was attacked.</p><p dir="ltr">In Moscow, a separate operation was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/26/v-ofis-fbk-v-moskve-ne-puskayut-advokata">carried out against Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation</a> (which released the <a href="https://fbk.info/english/english/post/304/">video</a> that catalysed the protests), whereby the foundation’s employees and volunteers were detained, as well as the media team that were broadcasting the protests from the office. Nikolai Lyaskin, an adviser to Navalny, was beaten after being detained in Moscow, and he had to be <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/26/nikolay-lyaskin-gospitalizirovan-iz-op-luzhniki">hospitalised</a> as a result. And the OVD-Info team’s website, which had been monitoring detentions across Russia throughout the day and coordinating legal help for those arrested, was subject to a DDoS attack for many hours.</p><p dir="ltr">Towards evening on 26 March it became known that Russia’s Investigative Committee had <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/26/sk-vozbudil-ugolovnoe-delo-po-faktu-napadeniya-na-policeyskogo-vo-vremya">opened a criminal case</a> in connection with an attack on a riot policeman in Moscow. Investigators <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/26/v-neskolkih-ovd-moskvy-ozhidayut-sotrudnikov-sledstvennogo-komiteta">visited police stations</a> in the capital where detainees remained in order to question them. Later, the Investigative Committee <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/27/skr-zayavil-o-nachale-proverki-o-vyplatah-uchastnikam-antikorrupcionnogo">announced</a> that it had begun an investigation into alleged evidence that protesters had been promised money for participation. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/57420_original.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="352" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Administrative Detention Centre No 2, Mnevniki Street, Moscow. Image: <a href=http://tsarkov-peter.livejournal.com/>Peter Tsarkov / Livejournal</a>.</span></span></span>Monday saw Moscow courts begin their work with the cases coming out of the capital's police stations — the result was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/27/27-marta-sudy-nad-zaderzhannymi-na-antidimone-v-moskve">27 administrative arrests</a> (the majority received seven days detention and above; Nikolai Lyaskin received 25 days). Indeed, the arrests continued on 28 March, too, with 34 people <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/28/28-marta-sudy-nad-zaderzhannymi-na-antidimone-v-moskve">sent to administrative detention centres</a> (an updated list of names and locations can be found <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/28/spisok-dostavlennyh-v-specpriemniki-moskvy-posle-akcii-antidimon">here</a>). As a result, rights defenders discovered a previously unknown detention centre in central Moscow (Petrovka 38), where <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/31/na-petrovke-siloviki-v-shtatskom-ugrozhayut-arestovannym-i-trebuyut-ot-nih">detainees are being threatened and interrogated</a>.</p><p>Arrests and trials have also <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/27/zaderzhannyh-na-akciyah-protiv-korrupcii-nachali-sudit-po-vsey-rossii">begun outside Moscow</a>. Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, is the only city where the court, despite the number of protesters, &nbsp;<a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/27/zaderzhannyh-na-akciyah-protiv-korrupcii-nachali-sudit-po-vsey-rossii">decided to let detainees off with a verbal warning</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">There’ve been other forms of response, too. In Nizhny Novgorod, parents of teenagers detained during the protests are <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/27/v-nizhnem-novgorode-na-roditeley-podrostkov-sostavili-protokol-za-plohoe">facing charges of “improper care”</a>; teachers have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/27/v-nizhnem-novgorode-na-roditeley-podrostkov-sostavili-protokol-za-plohoe">looking for children</a> who took part in the protest; in Volgograd, schoolchildren have been <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/28/v-volgograde-shkolnikov-vyzvali-v-sledstvennyy-komitet">summoned to the Investigative Committee</a>, and the police <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/30/v-volgograde-policiya-hodit-po-universitetam-i-ishchet-uchastnikov">detained students in higher education institutions</a>; in Cheboskary, witnesses <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/29/v-cheboksarah-svideteley-po-delu-uchastnika-mitinga-protiv-korrupcii">have been detained in court</a> and then faced <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/30/v-cheboksarah-oshtrafovali-treh-svideteley-zaderzhannyh-na-sude-o-mitinge">trial</a>; in Rostov-on-the-Don, there was an attempt to <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/29/uchastnika-antidimona-v-rostove-na-donu-otpravili-na-psihiatricheskuyu">send one person for psychiatric tests</a>. Meanwhile, the police have asked for some organisations <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/29/policiya-poprosila-u-memoriala-zapisi-s-kamer-videonablyudeniya-26-marta">to hand over their CCTV records</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">If you want to know how to behave in court, OVD-Info has prepared some useful instructions <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/help-yourself">here</a>. There is also information, prepared with legal assistance in mind, on <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2017/03/27/edyat-li-medvedi-detey">what consequences under-18s can expect after being detained</a>.</p><h2>Elsewhere</h2><p dir="ltr">Several protest groups have their own plans for what comes next. The authorities, as it turns out, do too. On 27 March, long-distance truck drivers prepared to hold a country-wide strike against the Platon system of road taxation, although trucker association leaders <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/27/organizatoram-akciy-dalnoboyshchikov-v-raznyh-regionah-chinyat-prepyatstviya">faced difficulties prior to starting</a>. Andrei Bazhutin, director of the Association of Goods Transporters of Russia, was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/27/predsedatelya-obedineniya-perevozchikov-rossii-andreya-bazhutina-arestovali">arrested for 14 days on charges of driving without a license</a> (later the sentence was <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/29/lideru-obedineniya-perevozchikov-rossii-sokratili-srok-aresta-do-pyati-sutok">reduced</a>), and there was also an attempt <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/28/policiya-pytalas-zabrat-detey-arestovannogo-predsedatelya-obedineniya">to take his children away from him</a>. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">On 28 March, farmers in the Kuban prepared another “Tractor March” to Moscow, but participants were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/28/v-tihorecke-zaderzhany-uchastniki-traktornogo-marsha">arrested beforehand</a>. One of the participants, Oleg Petrov, was accused of extortion, and he announced a hunger strike in response. Meanwhile, unknown assailants <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/28/v-krasnodarskom-krae-napali-na-zhurnalistov-osveshchayushchih-traktornyy">attacked a Radio Liberty TV crew</a> who had traveled to film a segment about the march.</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/c72aa_cxwaae5yo.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="262" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>26 March: Riot police in central Moscow. Image: <a href=grani.ru>Grani</a>. </span></span></span>Meanwhile, a Moscow court <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/29/figuranta-bolotnogo-dela-maksima-panfilova-otpravili-na-prinuditelnoe">decided to transfer Maxim Panfilov</a>, who stands accused as part of the Bolotnaya Case, to forced psychiatric treatment. (By the way, there’s <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/27/ranennyy-na-mitinge-omonovec-byl-poterpevshim-po-bolotnomu-delu">information</a> that the riot policeman who was attacked on 26 March acted as an aggrieved party during Bolotnaya.)</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, Russia’s Supreme Court has left the 30-month prison sentence against Alexey Kungurov, a blogger from Tyumen who wrote an “inflammatory” post about Syria online, <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2017/03/28/verhovnyy-sud-priznal-zakonnym-prigovor-tyumenskomu-blogeru-za-post-o-sirii">in force</a>.</p><h2>What’s happening this week</h2><p dir="ltr">On 2 April, Memorial Human Rights Association will hold a <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/news/2017/03/29/v-moskve-proydet-pravovoy-seminar-dlya-zaderzhannyh-26-marta">legal seminar </a>for those who were detained at protest actions together with Russia Behind Bars, OVD-Info, Civic Verdict, Progressive Right and independent legal experts.</p><h2>How you can help</h2><p dir="ltr">We’ve received a lot of money for our monitoring work this week, and we’re unbelievably thankful for this trust to everyone who supports us. <strong>Find out how you can help&nbsp;<a href="https://donate.ovdinfo.org/">here</a>. </strong></p><p><span>For more information on OVD-Info, read this article from the organisation's founder on how OVD is breaking the civil society mould&nbsp;</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">here</a><span>.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://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/">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="/openglobalrights/grigory-okhotin/crowdfunding-to-bypass-russia-s-civil-society-crackdown">Crowdfunding to bypass Russia’s civil society crackdown</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/pavel-chikov/russia-s-managed-thaw">Russia’s “managed thaw”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mischa-gabowitsch/putin-s-regimes">Putin’s regimes</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia OVD-Info Russia Human rights Fri, 31 Mar 2017 09:45:23 +0000 OVD-Info 109805 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How to make an entire generation apolitical: an interview with Belarusian anarchist Mikola Dedok https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/how-to-make-whole-generation-apolitical-interview-with-bel <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">In Belarus, anarchists have made a name for themselves during the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests">recent wave of protests</a> which have rocked the country. We speak to Mikola Dedok, an anarchist activist, on apathy, politicisation and the failures of opposition politics. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikola-dzyadok-interview-belarus">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Marš_aburanych_bielarusaŭ,_Miensk_02.17.2017_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="341" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>17 February: protest against "parasite law" in Minsk. CC A-SA 4.0 / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>After Belarus’ opposition and the movement against the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests">“parasite law”</a> held demonstrations last weekend, dozens of people are in prison in Belarus. The majority of them, including journalists and rights activists, will remain behind bars for another 10-15 days. One of them is Mikola Dedok, an anarchist activist, former political prisoner and author of a <a href="http://spring96.org/ru/news/86034">new book</a> that describes his experiences inside Belarus’ prison system.</p><p dir="ltr">We spoke to Dedok about youth politics, apathy and the relationship between new movements and Belarus’s formal opposition several days prior to the demonstration on 25 March in Minsk, where he was <a href="http://spring96.org/be/news/86542">detained and beaten by police</a>, and later transported to hospital with head trauma. A Minsk court sentenced him to 10 days in prison.</p><p dir="ltr">Seven years after being sentenced to five years for participation in direct actions, for Dedok, nothing much has changed in Belarus. The economic situation of most citizens has only deteriorated, and the attempts at “liberalisation” have, judging by recent arrests, failed.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>The criminal case against you and several other political activists in 2010 was designed to scare people off from activism. Can we call the apathy we saw today among Belarusian young people a direct result of these trials? What measures are taken against anarchists who are actively fighting against the anti-parasite law?</em></p><p dir="ltr">I don’t think our trial had such a big influence on Belarusian society. It stirred up activist circles, no more. Repressive measures have been applied to anarchists everywhere, and this will continue.</p><p dir="ltr">But in Belarus, anarchists face particular challenges. They’ll try to crush us, limit us, place us under control. But the state doesn’t have that many means of influencing us — we’re talking about detentions, beatings and prison sentences. What happened on 15 March, where around <a href="https://www.intex-press.by/2017/03/15/video-kak-v-minske-i-mogileve-zaderzhivali-uchastnikov-aktsij-protestov/">40 anarchists were arrested</a> (and received 12-15 days of detention the next day), just confirms this. I think this will continue. In Belarus, anarchists are arrested not because they break a window or get into fights with the police, but simply because they’re anarchists.</p><p dir="ltr">After the recent protests, many people are discussing the possibility of a revolution in Belarus, often referring to Ukraine’s Maidan. But Belarusian society, after all, has been living under a dictatorship for a while. What do you think, can people overcome their fear of instability, which is typical of so many citizens?</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/545035_373308466039176_1758798492_n_0.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'>2012: graffiti in support of Dedok. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>After years of being fed ideas of Belarus as a “social state” and “stability”, the values of consumerism have won out over everything else in the minds of ordinary people. “The state and public life is one thing, and we’re another,” - this narrative dominates many Belarusian families, and this is how children are brought up.</p><p dir="ltr">The result is the atomisation of society. An individual’s life becomes like a bubble, which reduces their contacts with other people around them to a minimum. I’ve read so many times how opposition journalists or politicians try to speak to people working at a factory - perhaps they’ve had their wages cut or the conditions have deteriorated. And very often, however paradoxical it might seem, the workers just refuse to speak to them and respond with cliches such as “We’re small people”, “We don’t go in for politics” and so on. Despite the fact that this is an opportunity to articulate their problems. And the reason isn’t just fear of repression, but the example set by their parents that the state is a mighty force, and you should avoid saying anything that could upset it out loud. </p><p><em>In your opinion, how effective are these “soft” and “hard” forms of repression?</em></p><p dir="ltr">The state’s efforts, even without using direct repression, are producing results. Ten years ago, I was studying in the Law Faculty of the Belarus State University. And there were four people from my group (25 people) who regularly went to opposition actions or cultural events. And that’s in a situation where you could be kicked out of university for being detained at a protest. Many of my friends from Minsk went to all the opposition meetings. </p><p>Today, when the repression for participating in a street action is a lot less fierce, there’s usually 200-300 people at them, in comparison to several thousand a few years ago, when the climate was more repressive.</p><p>An unexpectedly large amount of people turned up on 15 March to protest the “parasite” law. And this in a climate where it’s clear the formal opposition is under significant pressure. Given the large numbers of workers in the public sector and state-owned enterprises, is it not time for Belarus’ opposition to change its message? What opportunities are there for other groups to enter the field here?</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/17200978_439750193042678_7794819244392793563_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2017: Mikola Dedok presents his new book in Tver, Russia. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>For Belarusian society, which is mired in the past and requires change, it is critically important to know the answer to the following question: why is it that, with an apparently beneficial turn of circumstances, the opposition and civil society can’t motivate the population, in particular, young people, to fighting the regime and defending their rights?</p><p dir="ltr">On the one hand, you can blame the opposition and the issues it concentrates on. Belarus is in a state of permanent economic crisis. Wages are falling, prices are rising. Some enterprises have been transferred to working half the week. Unemployment is rising. And the state is only spending more on its security services, to put down protest movements. The president and the government respond to this situation by introducing a tax on “parasitism”, whereby every citizen who is not officially registered as employed has to pay an annual tax under penalty of fine or a 15-day prison sentence.</p><p dir="ltr">The opposition, in its attempt to mobilise people who are dissatisfied with this into fighting for their social and labour rights, could absolutely have had some success. But practically all of the dozens of actions carried out over the past two years have focused exclusively on historical, cultural-ethnic and statist thematics.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The “national” agenda has completely pushed out the social, thereby alienating the significant number of people who aren’t at all interested in fighting for national values</p><p dir="ltr">In Belarus, where the level of national identity is low, the opposition — with envious persistence — calls people out to demonstrations in memory of the soldiers who staged the Slutsk Uprising in 1921, a march in memory of the dispersal of the Supreme Council in 1996, and other actions around new ideas for a national flag.</p><p dir="ltr">The “national” agenda has completely pushed out the social, thereby alienating the significant number of people who aren’t at all interested in fighting for national values. A typical example of these tactics: the Belarusian National Front, the most recognisable of the opposition parties, at the start of March <a href="http://narodny.org/?p=13829">called on people to mark a day in honour of the Belarusian crest</a> — the country was already experiencing week three of protests against the parasite laws. Such a move clearly talks about their priorities, their level of understanding of the problems the population is facing.</p><p dir="ltr">As a result, the opposition and, indeed, all political parties, were represented minimally at the February protests. The only youth group that really made itself known at the protests were the anarchists, who had no organisational structure, nor the support of the big civic organisations. You could call this a failure of Belarus’ traditional opposition — they couldn’t mobilise youth at the one moment it was needed more than ever before.</p><p dir="ltr">The result of all this was that opposition groups and all political parties were only minimally represented in February’s protests against the “law on parasitism”. The only youth group which openly declared its official presence at the protest were the anarchists, who have neither an organisational structure, nor the support of large public organisations. This is a clear indicator that the traditional opposition has failed to mobilise young people just when they are most needed.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Nevertheless, even this civic unrest is meeting a kind of “symbolic resistance” from the authorities. For example, not long ago the TV stations broadcast the propaganda film <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QufX-iCP8A">“Call to a Friend”</a>, which raises suspicions that protesters, including the anarchists, are funded from abroad. How effective do you think this propaganda is? And how can it be resisted?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Not very. Firstly, much fewer people than get their news from the TV today then, say, 10 years ago. And in general, they’re from the older generation. Television propaganda looks backward, not forward. The youth has passed it by. As for “Call to a Friend”, the film was made very poorly, and clearly in a hurry. It’s just weak and unconvincing; even in comparison to Russian propaganda. Thirdly, the level of trust in the authorities and what they say has hit an all-time low. That’s why these broadcasts will convince nobody — actually, they may do the exact opposite and enrage people with their flagrant lies.</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 2017-03-30 at 13.07.15_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A still from the propaganda film "Call to a friend". Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>On the other hand, the now-infamous video of the president’s statements which caused so much fear were actually publicised by independent media. The authorities could reach their desired audience without resorting to TV propaganda. And due to this particular hysteria, opposition leaders decided to hold their march on 15 March in accordance with the authorities’ demands — instead of marching down Minsk’s central streets, they dutifully followed the route set out for them by the police.</p><p dir="ltr">But here it’s worth mentioning that the border between “soft power”, which forms public values directed against the opposition and in favour of the government, and direct propaganda is quite thin.</p><p dir="ltr">Many evening newscasts on state TV tell the stories of happy families who’ve found good jobs in state-owned enterprises, bought property with a preferential loan as well as furniture and household appliances, and are now busy raising their children. This discourse is constantly reproduced by president Lukashenka: “democracy is when the state guarantees you a stable and decent standard of living”. Or, when speaking about the opposition: “all they want is to riot! Riot in the parliament, riot on the squares, get into fights, beat each other with sticks, batter down the windows with wood, stab, crush, kill…”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In every news broadcast, in every “expert commentary”, in every presidential speech, the point is made loud and clear: “Not happy with the authorities? Do you want things to end up like in Ukraine?”</p><p dir="ltr">Belarusian media report daily on events around the world, as long as they can be used to portray the Belarusian government favourably. Belarus Segodnya — a newspaper with a circulation of 400,000 in a country of 9.5 million, is nearly entirely full of non-political news. Any outrage or any protest in any part of the world is given an entirely negative connotation. It paints a negative picture of the EU’s migration crisis, with a very xenophobic tone — mocking “western tolerance” and waxing lyrical on the collapse of multiculturalism and dangers of the “Islamic threat”. All these negative connotations are meticulously tied into understandings of democracy and liberalism.</p><p dir="ltr">Of particular importance here is the truly immense propaganda effort by the Belarusian authorities around the time of the events in Ukraine and EuroMaidan. As the revolution in Ukraine did witness many casualties, television channels did all they could to show that spilt blood and civil war were the logical and inevitable results of any attempts to overthrow the powers that be — that any social instability is tantamount to bloody chaos, and that preserving the status quo is always and better than risking change. In every news broadcast, in every “expert commentary”, in every presidential speech, the point is made loud and clear: “Not happy with the authorities? Do you want things to end up like in Ukraine?”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18576948-1_1_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>January 2014: a pro-European Union crowd hold lights while singing the Ukrainian national anthem as they celebrate New Year. (c) Efrem Lukatsky / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>As a result, Belarusians have developed a steady fear of revolutions, which are associated with bombings, shootings and massacres. These days, many average Belarusians, on reflection, would rather suffer new humiliations by the authorities than rise up against them in a Belarusian Maidan.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Does the government ever resort to more open repression?</em></p><p dir="ltr">The government’s arsenal in this area is quite predictable. Young people are threatened with expulsion from university if they’re detained at opposition protests. Older people fear being fired from their jobs. If somebody works for a state enterprise (and there are many of them, for the state controls most of the economy in Belarus), that means there’s been a direct order to her boss from the KGB. If she works in the private sector, then there are other methods of putting pressure on the firm’s director — such as the threat of a thorough tax inspection.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The battle against authoritarianism in Europe is far from over. For the effective treatment of any disease, you need to recognise its symptoms early on — such as those which have flourished in Belarus for the past 23 years</p><p>Fines and prison sentences of up to 25 days are actively applied. Activists who “cross the red line” face criminal charges and face prison sentences. While the authorities have many years of experience in dealing with the organised political opposition, they have had to be proactive in learning how to confront politicised youth groups such as antifascists and football hooligans.</p><p dir="ltr">As a result of falsified charges or changing administrative cases to criminal ones, dozens of football fans of various Belarusian clubs are <a href="http://gomel.today/rus/news/belarus-3078/">now behind bars</a>. Chief among them, of course, are fans whose clubs voiced an explicitly pro-Ukrainian position during Maidan and start of the war in the Donbas.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Belarus is frequently referred to as the “last dictatorship in Europe” — the country is relatively isolated politically and is often seen as an anomaly, cut off from wider European processes. How do you think Belarus fits into the broader global picture?</em></p><p>Today’s triumph of populist, far-right and nationalist forces in several European countries, as well as the election of Donald Trump as US president, all indicate that the danger of losing hard-won freedoms is alive and well. Therefore, dissecting the experience of life under the dictatorship built by Lukashenka, another populist, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-lind-guzik/grab-him-by-wallet">could be a useful exercise for those living in western countries</a>, long considered bulwarks of democracy.</p><p dir="ltr">Among the chatter of politicians and noise of electioneering today, you can already hear the alarm bells ringing, especially in the EU’s eastern member states. Take, for example, the Polish government’s interference with the constitutional court.</p><p dir="ltr">The battle against authoritarianism in Europe is far from over. For the effective treatment of any disease, you need to recognise its symptoms early on — such as those which have flourished in Belarus for the past 23 years.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>It’s interesting to note that students across the post-Soviet space, who are traditionally catalysts of social change, appear to be suffering from apathy. What’s their situation in Belarus? What are the obstacles to their political activism?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, apathy is typical for the student environment. I’ve heard from student activists that Belarusian students do not fight for their rights for the simple reason that they simply don’t know that they have any to defend.</p><p dir="ltr">The desire to get an education and find a good job prevails over all others, and there is no connection in students’ minds between civic activity and a better standard of living. Across higher education, the study of the humanities, which are easily connected to politics, is being reduced. The study and even the mention of political ideologies are cautiously avoided. The higher education system in Belarus strives against the politicisation of students wherever possible, and the emergence of critical thought among the youth.</p><p dir="ltr">The pro-government Belarusian Republican Youth Union, which openly declares itself a successor to the Leninist Komsomol, is quite active. They organise events which hail the ruling authorities and the many “achievements” of Lukashenka, as well as massive trolling attacks online. The movement intensifies its work before elections, when it is active in peddling the pro-government media’s line and advertising the president’s speeches.</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/DSC_2392_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>5 March: BRSM tidies up Kuropaty mass grave site, where thousands of people were shot under Stalin's purges. Source: BRSM.</span></span></span>At the same time, the Youth Union tries to dissuade young people from getting involved in protest — by both the carrot and the stick. For example, when the opposition announces a big demonstration, they’ll organise free concerts and discos that same day. Students are often forced to attend such events, on threat of facing problems at university.</p><p dir="ltr">The apathy and political passivity of the Belarusian youth are especially visible when compared to students in other eastern European countries, who readily — and successfully — locked horns with both Soviet and post-Soviet dictatorships. For its part, Belarus survived a large-scale political “cleansing” in the 1930s — practically the entire intelligentsia, including critically-minded communists, was annihilated. Nowadays, the Belarusian youth has no positive example of political struggle to look back to — with the exception of “our grandfathers, who won the war.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The absence of successful examples from the past suppresses the will to resist, and makes it very difficult for opposition movements to attract new supporters.</p><p dir="ltr">During the Khrushchev-era thaw in Belarus, there were neither strong dissident movements nor a nationalist underground of any note. Supporters of independence and an anti-Soviet intelligentsia only appeared with perestroika, but even towards the end of the 1990s they were incapable of forming a mass movement along the lines of Poland’s Solidarność or Lithuania’s Sajūdis. Yes, Belarus did have its own “National Front”, but it never gained the same mass support as similar movements in other Soviet republics. </p><p>The absence of successful examples from the past suppresses the will to resist, and makes it very difficult for opposition movements to attract new supporters.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>At the same time, there are some signs that Belarus’s youth are still trying to find a way into politics. How will they accomplish that?</em></p><p>Of course, it wouldn’t be right to say that the youth has entirely dropped out of civic life, or that it has no desire to change anything in Belarus.</p><p dir="ltr">But many young people in Belarus have changed the form of their engagement with political life. Alongside their dwindling participation in street protests over the past few years, there’s been a marked trend towards Belarusification [i.e. actions in support of the Belarusian language], which has political overtones — after all, the language issue in Belarus is very politicised. At first glance, the youth subcultures and public initiatives which are becoming popular have no directly political agenda. One example might be cultural events such as “Vyshyvanka Day” [an embroidered traditional Belarusian shirt] or performances by bands who sing in Belarusian, which attract much larger crowds than in years past.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, of course, a key point is that these kind of events are much less likely to face state repression than public protests, pickets and demonstrations — with Lukashenka’s endorsement of a “soft Belarusification” of public life, the nationalist paradigm is in higher demand by the authorities.</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/Qjmx2Fgl6HY_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>20 March: a freemarket at 210 METROV, Minsk. Source: VK.</span></span></span>Furthermore, social initiatives continue to develop on a number of agendas — whether ecological, charitable, or even anti-capitalist. The Food not Bombs group, for example, distributes free food to the poor and homeless. Freemarket is an attempt to exchange goods and services on a wholly non-commercial basis. Another example is the Critical Mass movement which began in Minsk, and stands for environmentally-friendly public transport. Yet despite these groups’ formally non-political stance, the state nonetheless keeps a watchful eye on their events.</p><p dir="ltr">Whether this primarily cultural struggle is actually effective in resisting a dictatorship is a very controversial question. Still, during perestroika it was exactly these cultural circles of dissidents which laid the foundations of mass political movements. And while opposition political parties, due to their legal status, can easily simply be taken over by the government, it’s more of a headache to exercise control over these informal youth movements. Who knows? Perhaps, one day, their unpredictability, decentralised structures and engagement with the public could even become, under certain conditions, an instrument of change.</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards and Tom Rowley.</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/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests">We are not parasites: understanding Belarus’s protests</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play">Russia&#039;s latest protests are no child’s play</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arkady-moshes-ryhor-nizhnikau/is-europe-ready-for-belarus-crisis">Is Europe ready for the Belarus crisis?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yuri-drakakhrust/mind-gap-between-belarus-and-russia">Mind the gap between Belarus and Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Belarus Fri, 31 Mar 2017 06:22:40 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia 109801 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s prison service is keeping its abuses under lock and key https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/russia-s-prison-service-is-keeping-its-abuses-under-lock-and-key <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Despite signs of early change, the cover-up of torture inside Russia’s prison service demands reform. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-muhamedzhanov/pytki-ne-prekrashayutsa">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 11.58.17_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="241" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An image from inside the Belorechensk youth colony. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>Right now, 17 prison officers are on trial in the southern Russian regions of Krasnodar and Kalmykia — they’re accused of meting out severe beatings to their charges, two of whom died as a result of their injuries. According to the prosecution, the guards at two correctional facilities used torture to force inmates into submission and carry out their orders. But were these just isolated cases, or do they form part of a deliberate policy inside Russia’s prison service? &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>On an individual basis</h2><p dir="ltr">In November 2015, according to police investigators, a duty officer in the Belorechensk juvenile correction colony in Kuban, a region in the North Caucasus, broke official regulations by allowing security guards and plain clothes investigators onto the colony site. The two teams had different aims in mind: the security team were to beat up and intimidate newly arrived underage offenders, in order to break their morale, while the investigators planned to conduct “individual chats” with them.</p><p dir="ltr">This “special operation” even involved a “mentor”, a member of the facility’s educational work department who, like his colleagues, in the interests of secrecy and more effective intimidation, donned a balaclava before “chatting” to his charges.</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 2017-03-30 at 17.27.03.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="280" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Youth offenders learn how to march in Belorechensk colony. Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>One of the accused officers later confirmed that the offenders had behaved calmly and obeyed the prison officers’ orders. All the same, seven of the young men were taken off to the colony’s isolation wing, where guards started beating and kicking them for no reason. Then the educational officer began shouting at them, ordering them to do squats and press-ups — anyone who flagged was beaten again. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Seven lads were taken off to the colony’s isolation wing, where guards started beating them</p><p dir="ltr">This still didn’t satisfy the police and security guys. They ordered the teenagers to undress and urinate on each other, and pushed their heads into toilet bowls. Then they were made to crawl on all fours into the toilet block one by one and clean the building with a dishcloth. Vitaly Pop, a 16-year-old prisoner from Ukraine, refused to allow himself to humiliated (consequences for those <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/everyday-violence-in-russia-s-prison-system-has-to-stop">who fall down the prison hierarchy are severe</a>), whereupon the guards beat him hard and pushed his head into toilet. One of his fellow offenders hosed him down, to try to bring him round.</p><p dir="ltr">After Pop died of a closed cranio-cerebral injury with cerebral contusion, the acting director of the Belorechensk colony told his staff that they’d “overdone it”, and ordered a report stating that Pop had attacked a guard and fallen down some steps while trying to escape. The prison staff didn’t even try to account for the beatings of the new arrivals who survived.</p><h2>60 blows and a video camera turned towards the ceiling</h2><p dir="ltr">In Elista, the capital of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/kalmykia-s-long-goodbye">Kalmykia</a>, the register of crimes inside the republic’s Correctional Colony No 1 goes back to September 2012.</p><p dir="ltr">Back then, an investigator and a security officer, along with the deputy head of Kalmykia’s prison service special operations unit (who <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/299503/">recently admitted his guilt in court</a>), beat up inmates in the facility’s body search room in order “to make them follow rules and regulations”. This incident was, however, recorded on a CCTV camera, and came to public attention only three years later, after the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/badma-biurchiev/no-rules-in-russia-system-turns-on-defenceless">death of prisoner Dmitry Batyrev in 2015</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Batyrev was convicted of striking the former deputy head of Kalmykia’s Prison Service (read Badma Biurchiev’s investigation into this incident <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/badma-biurchiev/no-rules-in-russia-system-turns-on-defenceless">here</a>), which probably played a crucial role in what happened to him afterwards. Arriving, handcuffed, at Correctional Colony No 1, Batyrev was dealt 60 blows by three prison officers, some of them with a rubber truncheon.</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/-1_copy_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kalmykia's Prison Colony No.1, where prisoner Dmitry Batyrev <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/badma-biurchiev/no-rules-in-russia-system-turns-on-defenceless>died in November 2015</a>. Image: Badma Biurchiev. </span></span></span>To avoid the CCTV, the colony’s deputy governor ordered the camera to be turned towards the ceiling. Batyrev’s beating took place under the eyes of the prison doctor, who, despite the prisoner losing consciousness several times, did nothing to stop his colleagues.</p><p dir="ltr">When Batyrev died of his injuries, the deputy governor called a staff meeting in his office, where they came up with a story about the dead man’s aggressive behaviour and a supposed knife attack he had made on prison officers. To lend some credence to the tale, the officers were ordered to cut themselves and slash their uniforms.</p><h2>The Prison Service: beatings have gone down by 40%</h2><p dir="ltr">Russia’s Federal Prison Service (FSIN) has adopted Soviet (effectively Gulag) methods of prisoner pacification. In 2016, according to FSIN deputy director Valery Maksimenko, prison service employees used physical force and other special measures against prisoners <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/social/news/2017/03/09/n_9775577.shtml">almost 2,000 times</a>. He also noted, with a certain satisfaction, that thanks to CCTV, this figure had fallen by 40% since 2012.</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/RIAN_02209791.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Officers at Vladimir Central prison. (c) Alexey Kudenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Clearly, Maksimenko was only referring to those cases where the Prosecutor General’s Office and Investigative Committee had considered the use of such measures justified, ignoring the actions of his subordinates that fell outside the law. And there have been enough of them recently. Here are just a few of the most egregious cases that ended in guilty verdicts. The times, in other words, when the prison officers “overdid it”. The interests of these victims are all represented by my organisation,<a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://zonaprava.com/&amp;prev=search"> </a><a href="http://zonaprava.com/en/">Zona prava</a>, which provides legal and informational support to prisoners and criminal defendants. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, a judge in the Zabaykalsky Krai <a href="https://openrussia.org/post/view/19163/">convicted eight officers from Correctional Colony No10 of abuse of power</a>. They had driven 30 inmates out onto the prison exercise ground, beating them with truncheons as they went, and, once out, had continued to subject them to physical and psychological abuse. All eight officers received suspended sentences.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Prison regulations dating back to the Gulag are still in force. All humanity and kindness in dealings with inmates is strictly forbidden</p><p dir="ltr">In Bashkortostan, a prison officer at Correctional Colony No 3 hit a prisoner six times with a rubber truncheon. The man died. The officer was <a href="http://www.gorobzor.ru/newsline/pravo/v-ufe-byvshiy-sotrudnik-kolonii-ik-3-poluchil-3-goda-za-smert-osuzhdennogo-08-08-2016">sentenced to 27 months in prison</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">In Tatarstan, the head of a colony’s educational work department was given a suspended sentence for torturing an inmate. The crime was revealed thanks to video footage posted on the internet.</p><p>In 2017, in Chuvashia, a prison officer was found guilty of beating a prisoner and using a chokehold on him. He got a four year suspended sentence. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>The bosses know all about the torture &nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">What makes the “investigators” and “security officers” torture prisoners? Vladimir Rubashny, the FSIN’s former chief psychologist for Tatarstan, &nbsp;believes that it is the penal system itself that creates torturers.</p><p dir="ltr">Prison regulations dating back to the Gulag are still in force. All humanity and kindness in dealings with inmates is strictly forbidden. There is a general feeling that an officer who is too lenient in his behaviour will lack respect from both the prisoners and his colleagues. Someone like this will simply never survive in the system and will chose to leave.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/8A189E30-A67D-4B54-B572-44068A814FEF_w1023_r1_s_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Rubashny. Source: <a href=www.idelreal.org>Idel.Реалии</a>.</span></span></span>A prison officer’s belief in his superiority over the faceless mass of prisoners gradually grows until he crosses a line, breaks the law and turns from a human being into an animal. It’s evolution in reverse. The prisoner can’t hit back: if he does, the prison officer’s injuries will be recorded on the spot and details passed to the Investigative Committee for a criminal charge to be drawn up against the prisoner.</p><p dir="ltr">Prison management is well aware of the physical abuse directed at inmates, and as we see, frequently encourages it. Their position is that it’s better to have submissive slaves than to have to deal with riots and other aggressive actions by prisoners, such as you get in so-called “black” colonies where it’s the inmates who have the upper hand. In quiet, so-called “red” colonies, peace is only achieved by the use of torture, controlled by the administration. When the staff “overdo it”, the prison governor has to decide how to clean up the mess, and, like a loving father, tries to save his subordinates (and most importantly, himself) from the consequences of their actions.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Federal Prison Service is effectively the only major government body not to have undergone reform</p><p dir="ltr">This situation recalls Russia’s age-old question: “What is to be done?” Rubashny believes that the initiative needs to come from the government. The FSIN is, after all, effectively Russia’s only major state body not to have undergone reform in recent years. A new generation of prison administrators needs to be created. For instance, a pilot project with respected people from “civilian” life, such as civil activists, who would of course need to be trained for the job, could be designed.</p><p dir="ltr">As for rank and file prison staff, future “investigators” and “security officers” need much longer training. Training currently lasts just a few months, at the end of which the trainee has neither any communications or people skills, nor any idea of the various models of behaviour needed for interaction with offenders. In Tsarist times, prison officers were men in their thirties and older, people with some life experience, a family. Now a young lad who has just finished his military service can become an investigator, but what authority can he have in a colony?</p><p dir="ltr">Rubashny would like training of prison officers to last several years, with a guaranteed salary and social security benefits during their probationary period. And if in the course of officer training someone decides that he’s not up to the job or it’s just not for him, he should be able to leave the service without delay.</p><p dir="ltr">For the moment, the FSIN’s leadership is not about to release its grip on the penal system to public control. Russia’s regional public monitoring committees are packed with former FSIN employees and the Prosecutor General’s Office, as well as members of veterans’ organisations. And the FSIN still denies that prisoners are tortured, despite all the obvious evidence to the contrary.</p><p dir="ltr">It must be said that Anatoly Rudy, FSIN first deputy director, has admitted that staff at Belorechensk juvenile correction colony overstepped the mark: “This is a horrendous case and whatever went on there, our officers had no right to resort to such measures”. An exception, of course, that only proves the rule.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/inside-russia-s-new-gulag">Inside Russia’s new Gulag</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/this-is-karelia-tortured-voices-from-russia-s-prison-system">This is Karelia: tortured voices from Russia’s prison system</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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 even"> <a href="/badma-biurchiev/no-rules-in-russia-system-turns-on-defenceless">The red zone</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/working-in-gulag">Working in the Gulag</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Bulat Mukhamedzhanov Russia Human rights Fri, 31 Mar 2017 05:24:12 +0000 Bulat Mukhamedzhanov 109795 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Down and out in Crimea https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anton-korolyov/down-and-out-in-crimea <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Three years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, social inequality is on the rise across the peninsula – and it seems that honest work doesn’t pay. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anton-korolev/komu-v-krymu">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03055271.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03055271.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A model of the Tsementnaya Slobodka settlement at the “Crimean Bridge: a fantastic reality” museum exhibition in the gallery of the East Crimean Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve in Kerch. (c) Vladislav Sergienko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This month, Russia <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/crimea-international-law-opposition">marked the third anniversary of its seizure and annexation of the Crimean peninsula</a>,&nbsp;but the years since haven’t gone entirely smoothly. State employees such as teachers and medical workers have taken to the streets to demand job security and decent wages. Social inequality blights Crimea – what will the occupying authorities do about it?</p><h2>Hungry young minds and their hungrier teachers</h2><p>“Give teachers their salaries”, “How long can this go on?”, “Hungry teachers can’t teach” – read the slogans on the placards held by a couple of dozen teachers at a <a href="http://primechaniya.ru/home/news/fevral-2017/v_simferopole_uchitelya_mitinguyut_pedagogi_iz-za_kopeechnoj_zarplaty/">recent demonstration</a> in the centre of Simferopol, the administrative capital of Crimea. At Crimea’s only Cossack Military Academy, staff were demanding decent pay for their labours. </p><p>Ilya Bolshedvorov, head of Crimea’s anti-corruption committee and one of the protesters, told me what had brought them to these extremes. The academy’s staff are forced to live off the cadets’ families: although tuition is formally free, parents continually have to pay the teachers out of their own pockets. The Crimean Ministry of Education refuses to provide the Academy’s statutory funding or approve its accounts. It has also made several attempts to have the Academy’s licence revoked, but these have been rejected by the courts.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Student grants in Crimea today are lower than they were in Ukraine three years ago</span></p><p>The teachers at a nursery school in the village of Vasilyevka, in the Belogor District, are in an even worse situation. According to the official figures revealed by Bolshedvorov, their monthly salary comes to a mere 4000 - 5000 roubles (£55-70). The village recently had a visit from Crimea’s head Sergei Aksyonov, but the local education authority threatened teachers with dismissal if they complained to him about their pay. </p><p>According to <a href="http://crimea.gks.ru/wps/wcm/connect/rosstat_ts/crimea/ru/statistics/employment/">official figures</a>, the average school teacher in Crimea earned 31,000 roubles (£432) a month in the first half of 2016, while university teachers earned 49,600 roubles (£691). Doctors and other medical workers earned a monthly average of 39,100 roubles (£545) over the same period.</p><p>On a recent visit to the peninsula, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets <a href="http://crimea.ria.ru/society/20170309/1109431915.html">announced</a> that by the end of 2016 average pay in Crimea had risen to 25,254 roubles (£352) a month, 68.7% of the average for Russia as a whole. For comparison, the <a href="http://rk.gov.ru//file/File/PM_2016.pdf">official minimum monthly subsistence level per head of population</a> in Crimea for the same year was 9,502 roubles (£132), broken down into 10,174 roubles (£142) for the working age population; 7,850 roubles (£109) for pensioners and 9,913 roubles (£138) for children.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 12.13.00.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 12.13.00.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>20 February, Simferopol: teachers from the Belogor region of Crimea and staff from the Cossack Military Academy hold a picket in front of Crimea’s regional ministry of education to demand living wages. Image still via YouTube.</span></span></span>According to Bolshedvorov, however, these statistics bear little relationship to reality. “I have no idea where they get these figures from”, he tells me. “Officially, the average monthly salary of a pre-school teacher in the Belogor District is 22,000-23,000 roubles (£306-320). But in fact the local education authority hands out incentive bonuses of up to 50% of salary on a completely irrational basis. Each pre-school facility receives the same amount, but one may have 60 members of staff who each get a mere 500 rouble (£7) bonus, while another has just 10 members of staff and so get six times as much”.</p><p>The grants received by students at Crimean universities are also ridiculously low: only a third of what they got when Crimea was part of Ukraine. At the beginning of 2016 grants were standardised at the statutory Russian level. Students receiving free tuition at Sevastopol State University, for example, saw their grants cut from 4,500 roubles (£63) a month to 1300 (£18), with enhanced grants for outstanding students fixed at 2,600 roubles (£36). Now the minimum grant has been raised to 1,500 roubles (£21). By comparison, in Ukraine, where the official minimum monthly subsistence level per head of population is 1600 Hryvnya (£47), students receive grants of 1,100-1,600 hryvnya (£32-47). </p><p>“Grants are lower than they were in Ukraine three years ago”, a student at one of Crimea’s universities tells me. “They weren’t great then, but it’s worse now, too little to lead a normal life. If someone comes to study in Simferopol from another city, they need accommodation. The monthly rent for a small one-roomed flat is around 15,000 roubles (£209), and about 5000 (£70) for a room, although you can save some money by sharing a room in a student hostel. But you also need to factor in expenses for food, transport, clothes and at least some social life. </p><p>This student earns some money doing design projects in his spare time, which gives him a basic standard of living. But his parents also help him financially. </p><h2>A piece of your pay cheque</h2><p>Crimeans are angry about how government money is allocated, says Bolshedvorov: “Take nursery teachers’ pay: in the Simferopol District they earn about 25,000–30,000 roubles (£353-423) a month, but elsewhere it’s only 16,000-20,000 (£225-282). And teaching assistants and ancillary staff don’t even get the minimum wage”. As a result, he says, Crimeans are unhappy with their local authorities. </p><p>There are also dozens of cases where people have been paid more than they should. When Crimea came under Russian control, the payroll accounting system was overhauled, and a Simferopol school teacher admitted to me that he and his colleagues suddenly started earning several times more than they had under Ukraine: “They translated our previous Hryvnya salaries into Russian roubles and then multiplied them by two or three. So given the rouble-dollar exchange rate, we all earned between US$500 and US$1000, depending on our age, seniority and place of work”. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">“We started earning a completely different level of pay, although as the value of the rouble fell by half compared to the dollar, our income fell with it” </p><p>By the spring of 2015, however, salary conditions changed. The base unit of account for salaries in the education sector became 5000 roubles. And this year has seen a change in the way extra payments (premiums, increments, bonuses and other financial incentives) are to be funded, which assumes they will be lower than before. </p><p>“We started earning a completely different level of pay”, the teacher tells me, “although as the value of the rouble fell by half compared to the dollar, our income fell with it. Now the average teacher earns 18-20,000 roubles (£250-280) a month”. He adds that information about management salaries where he works is a secret, but “the assumption is that they earn fabulous money. What with various bonuses and pay rises, they might be earning 50,000-60,000 roubles (£696-835) or more a month”. </p><h2>“We live like beggars”</h2><p>This enormous gap in salaries doesn’t just apply to education. In October 2016, for example, there was a high profile scandal in Crimea’s health sector. The Chief Accountant at the Semashko Central Republican Hospital in Simferopol awarded herself a monthly salary of half a million roubles (£6962), and the Deputy Medical Directors 300-350,000 roubles (£4178-4874). </p><p>According to Crimea’s prosecutor’s department, senior hospital staff were <a href="http://rkproc.ru/ru/news/po-iniciative-prokuratury-vozbuzhdeno-ugolovnoe-delo-o-narushenii-poryadka-naznacheniya">paid an extra 17.7 million roubles</a> (£264,486) in bonuses in less than six months. But the average medic’s pay in Crimea is a tiny fraction by comparison. After widespread media coverage and intervention from Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, the hospital’s Medical Director was fired, but it is still unclear how these indecently high salaries came to be paid, and continued to be paid for several months.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 12.19.29.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 12.19.29.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="237" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A meeting about wages at Kerch City Hospital. Image still via Kerch.com.ru </span></span></span>Another explosive medical story took place in Kerch in June 2016, when an internal conflict in a city hospital <a href="http://kerch.com.ru/articleview.aspx?id=58198">went public thanks to media reporting</a>. Medical staff, angry with their low pay rates and a lack of incentive bonuses, organised a meeting with the hospital’s chief accountant, financial director, medical director and journalists. “We want our voices heard and help in solving this issue”, said Olga Taranenko, a nurse at the hospital. “Perhaps we should ask the Russian Ministry of Health for help”.</p><p>Middle management and medical staff say that from January 2016 there was a gradual fall in incentive bonuses, and in May they stopped completely. “In May the porters received a 10% bonus, and the cleaning staff 40%, but medical staff didn’t get a penny”, trade union organiser Elena Ivashenko told the meeting.</p><p>At the same time, the amount of work has increased and salaries effectively fallen. The essential technical and utility infrastructure is also collapsing: “we have to ask for everything: dressing gowns, slippers, sheets, paper. We live like beggars,” complained charge nurse Marina Yakimenko. Meanwhile nurses’ pay has fallen to 10-11,000 roubles (£140-153) a month, 7000 (£97) if bonuses are not taken into account. And after the initial fuss, the whole thing was swept under the carpet and there was no public airing of any conflicts over pay.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The tax returns of senior officials in the regional administration show that their annual salaries can reach a million roubles a year</span></p><p>Yet another factor worth mentioning is the differing pay levels in different economic sectors. Compared with public sector employees, specialists working in the financial sector, government and the production and distribution of electricity, gas and water have pretty high salaries, and are in fact, as Crimea’s Minister For Labour and Social Welfare <a href="http://mtrud.rk.gov.ru/rus/index.htm/news/353939.htm">has pointed out</a>, the highest paid workers in the republic. This category also includes military and law enforcement officers, as well as officials working in the republic’s highest organs of power. </p><p>The average monthly pay of a regular soldier, for example, is between 30,000 and 60,000 roubles (£418 – 835), depending on rank. A rank and file police officer also earns about 30,000 roubles a month. The tax returns of senior officials in the regional administration <a href="http://rk.gov.ru/rus/file/pub/pub_295077.pdf">show that their annual salaries reach a million roubles or more a year</a>, which indicates a monthly figure of 90–150,000 roubles (£1253 -2089). </p><h2>A troubled region </h2><p>Ilya Bolshedvorov stresses that Crimea’s problems are being swept under the carpet. People’s inability to express their opinions, he adds, “will lead to apathy, lost hope and, possibly, real rebellion”. </p><p>Bolshedvorov’s words are indirectly corroborated by the experts of the Russian Committee for Civil Initiatives, set up by ex-finance minister Aleksey Kudrin. In early March, the committee <a href="https://komitetgi.ru/analytics/3154/">published a report on Russia’s most politically-troubled regions</a>, which for the first time included Crimea and Sevastopol. </p><p>As the authors of the report explained, their reason for creating an index of socio-economic and political tension boiled down to the need for an accurate and comprehensive report on the (mainly negative) changes in the regional government system. This was triggered by both the national and regional elections held in September 2016 and the continuing dismantlement of the existing local government system. The report also analysed the dynamics of protest activity in the second half of 2016. </p><p>The experts described Crimea and Sevastopol as a risk zone for two main reasons: its ineffective system of government and the large number of public protests that had taken place there. Crimea has also lost its de jure status as a priority region: in 2016 the level of subsidies it received from the centre fell by half, and Sevastopol’s share by a quarter.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/maxresdefault_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/maxresdefault_1.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'>“There’s no money, but you hang in there”. The fateful moment from Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Crimea. Image still via YouTube.</span></span></span>According to the official statistics, <a href="https://goo.gl/LcftPp">unemployment in Crimea at the end of this January stood at 0.7%</a> - a very low figure. But some observers <a href="http://ru.krymr.com/a/news/28174537.html">believe that the real figure is very different</a> – 35-40%. Real work has recently appeared thanks to the construction of a massive 4.5 kilometre bridge across the Kerch Strait, to provide a direct road and rail link between Crimea and Russia’s Taman Peninsula to its east – but most of the jobs have gone to construction teams from other Russian regions.</p><p>Leonid Grach, a communist politician, former speaker of the Crimean parliament and ex-member of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament), believes that the main reason for Crimea’s socio-economic and protest unrest is its high level of corruption. “As they say, fish rot from the head down, and what that means is that government subsidies have turned into a honey pot for the few, a money laundering exercise”, he tells me. “It’s all going on under the noses of the Crimean public: the endless road mending, the extremely fragile housing and utilities sector, the rise in prices and charges, the corruption in hospitals”.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Government subsidies have turned into a honey pot for the few, a money laundering exercise</span></p><p>According to Grach, the tipping point for the Crimean public, which had “voiced clear support for Russia’s president after the 2014 referendum” was PM Dmitry Medvedev’s “Crimean road show”. In a now notorious gaffe, Medvev made a fatal remark during a visit to museums in Feodosia: “There’s no money,” he <a href="https://youtu.be/WSq7oxM_fyo">said to a crowd of pensioners</a>, “but you hang in there.” With these words, says Grach, Medvedev “practically ordered people to start protesting”. The former MP believes that unless drastic measures are taken to return order to the peninsula, there is real danger of social upheaval and an embarassingly negative result from Crimea at the next presidential election in March 2018.</p><p>Observers remark that the euphoria around Crimea’s “reunification” with Russia has long since disappeared. Three years ago, their vote in favour of Russia was a pivotal moment, but Crimeans today are more concerned about day-to-day problems, especially their pay slips, at a time when food prices are rising, as are the costs of other essentials and housing and utility bills. “Crimea is ours” goes the now familiar refrain – but at what cost?</p><p><em>Translated from Russian by Liz Barnes.</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/arkady-babchenko/one-facebook-post-which-shook-russia">One Facebook post which shook Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/crimea-international-law-opposition">Death by Crimea</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/crimea-s-unfreedom-of-speech">Crimea: freedom of speech turns to freedom of silence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Who will make Russia “great again”? </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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anton Korolyov Ukraine Thu, 30 Mar 2017 21:29:55 +0000 Anton Korolyov 109772 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Inciters, deceivers, slaves”: Kyrgyzstan’s president takes aim at the press https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Naryn_Ayip_OpED_0.jpg" alt="" width="80" />New moves against opposition politicians and the press are meant to scare the last bastion of Kyrgyzstan’s civil society into submission. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naryn-ayip/kyrgyzstan-novoe-napadeniya-svobodu-slova" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/_СМИ_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="269" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>15 March: president Almazbek Atambayev makes a speech in Bishkek, accuses journalists of slander. Image: Aslanbek Pazyl / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Compared to neighbouring states in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan looks like a democratic country. Our relative freedom of the press remains the clearest sign that democracy exists in some form here. But over the past 25 years of independence, Kyrgyzstan’s authorities have learnt all too well how to manipulate the system. Today, the principles of parliamentarism, free elections and the separation of powers exist in name only – the task of defending democracy now rests largely on the shoulders of Kyrgyzstan’s journalists.&nbsp;</p><p>But the wide-ranging attack on our independent media and the opposition, which began after president Almazbek Atambayev returned from Brussels in February, shows that the Kyrgyz leadership intends to destroy those who can restrain the authorities – they don’t seem worried about the results of upcoming presidential elections, which are set for November 2017. Indeed, Atambayev often focuses on praise from European Union officials regarding Kyrgyzstan’s progress towards democracy, indirectly invalidating criticism from local journalists.</p><h2>The onslaught begins&nbsp;</h2><p>On 24 February, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), which Atambayev calls the “presidential” party (although Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution forbids the president from political party activity), filed a suit against the <a href="http://24.kg/" target="_blank">24.kg news agency</a>, its journalist Tatyana Kudryavtseva and Rita Karasartova, director of the <a href="http://www.koom.kg/" target="_blank">Institute of Civic Analysis</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>In an article (“<a href="http://24.kg/vlast/44643_regionyi_kyirgyizstana_pokazali_zubyi_partii_vlasti/" target="_blank">The regions of Kyrgyzstan bear their teeth to the party of power</a>”) published on 8 February, Kudryavtseva quoted Karasartova on the behaviour of the SDPK ahead of Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election this November: “They’ve got carried away in politics, they’re selling positions left and right.” The party is now demanding one million soms (£11,500) in compensation from 24.kg and Karasartova. The first court hearing took place on 10 March in Bishkek, with the next held on 23 March.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">President Atambayev often focuses on praise from EU officials on Kyrgyzstan’s progress towards democracy, indirectly invalidating criticism from local journalists</p><p>Ten days after the SDPK filed its suit, Indira Dzholdubayeva, Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor, filed defamation suits in defence of president Atambayev against two media outlets — <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/" target="_blank"><em>Azattyk</em></a>&nbsp;(RFE/RL’s Bishkek bureau) and ProMedia, the foundation behind <em><a href="http://zanoza.kg" target="_blank">Zanoza</a></em>, a leading source of news and investigation in the country.</p><p>The first suit accuses <em>Radio Azattyk</em> and ProMedia of “tendentious and biased coverage of unchecked, false information, which directly concern the honour and dignity of the head of state,” and that these organisations failed to take “steps to check to ensure that [Omurbek] Tekebayev’s personal opinion conformed to reality”. Omurbek Tekebayev, the “uncontrollable” leader of the Ata-Meken political party, was <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again" target="_blank">arrested on 26 February on bribery charges</a>. In November 2016, Tekebayev, leader of Kyrgyzstan’s Ata-Meken party, announced that he was collecting materials in order to open impeachment proceedings against president Atambayev for March 2017.&nbsp;</p><p>The second accusation concerns articles that <em>Radio Azattyk</em> and <em>Zanoza</em> published on 13 February. These materials reported, on the basis of an interview with Omurbek Tekebayev, that the Ata-Meken leader had “found information regarding Atambayev’s property in offshore structures in Cyprus.” Other media reported this news too, and <em>Azattyk</em> and <em>Zanoza </em>published the reaction of the presidential press office on the very same day.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Kyrgyzstan’s independent journalists and opposition politicians are experiencing unprecedented pressure from the authorities</span></p><p>Dzholdubayeva is asking the court to make <em>Radio Azattyk</em> pay 10m soms (£116,000), and ProMedia – three million soms (£34,000) compensation to president Atambayev. The parties concerned first met in Bishkek’s Lenin district court on 15 March. In the General Prosecutor’s second suit, the main defendants are Tekebayev’s legal team — Taalaikul Toktakunova and Kanatbek Aziz, with <em>Azattyk</em> and ProMedia as co-defendants.&nbsp;</p><p>Toktakunova and Aziz, Tekebayev’s solicitors, held a press conference on 1 March, where they reported that the alleged contraband cargo on board the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38633526" target="_blank">Turkish cargo jet that crashed near Bishkek in January 2017</a> in fact belongs to president Atambayev. According to Aziz and Toktakunova, the Kyrgyz authorities detained Tekebayev on the suspicion that he possessed documents relating to this allegation. Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor accuses <em>Azattyk </em>and <em>Zanoza</em> of “distributing false information” from Tekebayev’s solicitors “without fact-checking the information presented at the press conference”, and giving this information a “political flavour”.&nbsp;</p><p>Almost all Kyrgyz media covered this press conference. What’s more, despite the fact that you can still watch the <a href="http://presscenter.akipress.org/news:26711" target="_blank">full video</a> on <em>AKIPress</em>, only <em>Azattyk</em> and<em> Zanoza</em> are facing legal action — and these media published the Turkish ambassador’s response the same day.&nbsp;</p><h2>Who really paid for the banquet?&nbsp;</h2><p>Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor filed her third suit on 13 March — this time, specifically against ProMedia and me, its co-founder, as the author of an article called “The President’s Millions: Who Really Paid For The Banquet?”, published on <em>Zanoza</em> on 22 October, 2015. The claims are based on two sentences in my article.&nbsp;</p><p>The General Prosecutor considers that the sentences in question “unambiguously lead the reader to believe that president Atambayev has committed a crime, in particular, theft.” As mentioned before, Dzholdubayeva is requesting three million soms compensation, and on 15 March, Oktyabrsky district court decided to put my apartment under arrest as a precaution. Dzholdubayeva also states, in her suit against Aziz and Toktakunova, that by holding their press conference, they were trying to put pressure on the investigation into Omurbek Tekebayev.</p><p>Tekebayev was arrested on 26 February on return from Vienna, where he had participated in the winter session of the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly. He is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again" target="_blank">accused of accepting a one million dollar bribe</a> from Leonid Maevsky, a Russian businessman, former Duma deputy and business partner of Atambayev, in 2010. The accusations were made following new testimony from Maevsky, but no documents have yet been published.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Field_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Field_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="264" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Onto the battlefield. Ala-Too Square, Bishkek. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: Dan Lundberg / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>However, the Kyrgyz authorities themselves are in fact pressuring the court and investigation in a far more open and serious manner. Public television broadcasts biased materials against Tekebayev practically every day, and, after meeting with Vladimir Putin on 28 February, president Atambayev commented on Tekebayev’s case that a “thief should be in prison”.&nbsp;</p><p>Atambayev also stated during his meeting with the Russian leader that “This will be a lesson for the future… We need to teach all the marauders a lesson forever, to those people who protected them, the raiders, the corrupt officials, it will be merciless.” Atambayev also referred to himself in the third person: “The country is different now, the security services are different, the president, who the people support, is different, and we won’t accept any chaos in the country.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">“This will be a lesson for the future… We need to teach all the marauders a lesson forever, to those people who protected them, the raiders, the corrupt officials, it will be merciless” - Almazbek Atambayev</span></p><p>A week after Atambayev’s meeting with Putin, on 6 March, the same day that the General Prosecutor filed a defamation suit against the media, the president stated during a medal ceremony that “for the past two-three months people have been constantly creating parliamentary committees in parliament… Day by day, parliament is turning from a legislative institution into an institute that generates lies.” He then stated that Ata-Meken, Tekebayev’s party, “stinks”.&nbsp;</p><p>The president also stated his opinion that <em>Radio Azattyk</em>, which is financed by the US Congress, is “trying to spread rumours under the holy name of ‘Azzatyk’. They don’t have to account for the funds they receive. I know perfectly well what grudges the US has against me. This isn’t about democracy or truth, but because Atambayev removed the US military base” from Kyrgyzstan.&nbsp;</p><p>Later, the day before the first court hearing on the suit against independent media, Farid Niyazov, a presidential advisor, called the norm that prevents the authorities from suing the press, “an old stereotype”. For Niyazov, the “world has changed and the information age has now arrived”, and the General Prosecutor’s lawsuits are “one of the stages of developing and strengthening freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan.” According to Niyazov, “Atambayev is coming out to defend the principles of freedom of speech”, and it was only the “slander” that forced the General Prosecutor to file these suits.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This crackdown prior to the beginning of the election campaign has met with resistance from Kyrgyz civil society&nbsp;</p><p>Niyazov also stated that Tekebayev’s legal counsel had presented “a clearly false document”. This is why the authorities have been “forced to get a court decision to confirm that this is a lie”. After all, Kyrgyzstan is now “dealing with a choice: either freedom of speech or the chaos of slander”. Niyazov added: “We could have chosen less tense relations with any media, even the most biased, and just worked out our last months [before presidential elections in November]. But someone had to start this work!”&nbsp;</p><p>The same day, Atambayev stated that “people are worried how false information, open slander, is being deliberately distributed in social networks and the media. As the head of state elected by all the people, I cannot calmly stand by and watch how the people becomes a hostage to falsehoods and rumours.”</p><p>According to the president, the “rotten politicians and journalists — Zamira Sydykova, Begaly Nargozyev, Narynbek Idinov [that is, me] — created a special organisation allegedly in defence of freedom of speech, to defend Kyrgyz journalists, but are, in fact, mocking our country in front of the whole world.” This is why, it seems, “we cannot be deceived by their words and once again give away our priceless Homeland into the hands of these inciters, deceivers and unthinking slaves [<em><a href="https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Mankurt" target="_blank">mankurty</a></em>], we cannot trust the rumours they are spreading.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Don’t put your pens down yet</h2><p>This crackdown prior to the election campaign has met with resistance from Kyrgyz civil society. On 13 March, around 150 activists, journalists and civic figures have <a href="https://www.change.org/p/%D0%BE%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BA-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BC%D1%83-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BA%D1%83%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%83-%D0%BA%D1%8B%D1%80%D0%B3%D1%8B%D0%B7%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BF%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%B6%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B4%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%B0%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D0%B8-%D1%8B-%D0%BE%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BA-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BC%D1%83-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BA%D1%83%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%83-%D0%BA%D1%8B%D1%80%D0%B3%D1%8B%D0%B7%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BF%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%B6%D0%BE%D0%BB?utm_content=petition&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=48373&amp;utm_campaign=campaigns_digest&amp;sfmc_tk=cTB9nRLt0N5bc775DLcu2TibsshiBFvP6jdnlFBSWCDNk1xv88j%2fmURDBSeevzlL" target="_blank">signed a petition addressed to the General Prosecutor</a> to “stop its anti-people and anti-constitutional activities” and recall new lawsuits against two media outlets.&nbsp;</p><p>Five days later, a <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82906" target="_blank">peace march was held in Bishkek in support of freedom of speech</a> — hundreds of citizens took part, including parliamentary deputies, journalists, media experts, who demonstrated their solidarity with Kyrgyzstan’s media and journalists who are facing defamation suits from the General Prosecutor. Five people were detained during the march. Later that day, these people were sentenced to five days imprisonment.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Rights_Speech_KYG_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Rights_Speech_KYG_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Peace march in defence of freedom of speech, Bishkek, 16 March. Photo: K-News / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Kyrgyzstan’s Independent Union of Journalists and the Committee in Defence of Freedom of Expression have also held forums, where media experts, journalists and civic activists have condemned the lawsuits against the media and journalists, and demanded that these cases end, characterising them as limits on freedom of speech. The participants noted in a resolution that Kyrgyzstan’s legislation frees the media from legal responsibility when quoting public events.&nbsp;</p><p>Civic activists are now collecting signatures to hold parliamentary hearings on this issue, and Tekebayev’s legal team have appealed to the Constitutional Chamber, as Kyrgyzstan's 2003 Law on Guaranteeing the Actions of the President (which forms the basis of the General Prosecutor’s suits against <em>Azattyk</em> and <em>ProMedia</em>) contradicts the country’s new constitution, passed after the <a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-constitutional-referendum-whats-at-stake/28164053.html" target="_blank">December 2016 referendum</a>.</p><h2>Saving the Fourth Estate&nbsp;</h2><p>Kyrgyzstan’s independent journalists and opposition politicians are experiencing unprecedented pressure from the presidential administration and law enforcement agencies. On 24 March, the president once again touched on the <a href="http://kg.akipress.org/news:1372037" target="_blank">lawsuits against the media</a>: “These aren’t lawsuits against journalists, but slanderers. It’s so you don’t believe that propaganda that’s appeared recently… It’s been going on for years… The most open slander… The Fourth Estate is also an authority, and it’s been blackmailing everybody. But… the Fourth Estate should understand its responsibilities.”&nbsp;</p><p>The authorities’ targeting of these media for punishment shows that they’re trying to clear Kyrgyzstan’s media environment before the elections later this year. The main television channels, including the public broadcaster, have long broadcast only what the authorities allow.&nbsp;</p><p>President Atambayev considers these latest developments democratic. Referring back to Europe, Atambayev stated on 6 March: “I was amazed how our delegation was met in Brussels: it was the leaders of the European Union, not us, who talked about the grandiose reforms and achievements we’ve made in Kyrgyzstan.”</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/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/amirzhan-kosanov/kazakhstan-s-thin-red-line">Kazakhstan’s thin red line</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anne-rennschmid/is-election-observing-in-central-asia-lost-cause">Is election observing in Central Asia a lost cause?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Naryn Aiyp Beyond propaganda Media Kyrgyzstan Central Asia Thu, 30 Mar 2017 10:26:56 +0000 Naryn Aiyp 109785 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia's latest protests are no child’s play https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/russia-s-latest-protests-are-no-child-s-play <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Davydov_Ivan_opED_0.jpg" alt="" width="80" />They’ve been dismissed as a “teenage rebellion”, but the protests that shook Russia recently reveal how the country’s youth is slipping through the state’s fingers. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ivan-davydov/novye-deti" target="_blank"><em><strong>Русский</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 11.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 11.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>During a protest in Tomsk on 26 March, the fifth-grader Gleb Tokmakov publicly proposed reforms to Russia’s political system. Image still via YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russia's <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/26/world/europe/moscow-protests-aleksei-navalny.html">anti-corruption demonstrations on 26 March</a>, which took place in over 80 towns across the country, have already been described as a <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/03/russia-protest-generation-170329113346416.html">“teenage protest”</a>. This was the polite option, by the way: some referred to it as the “zit revolution”. Russian officialdom is still maintaining its stunned silence, pretending as if nothing happened last Sunday — or at least, nothing more than the Break in Spring festival, an initiative of the Moscow Mayor’s Office. Meanwhile, the most sophisticated of Russia’s state propagandists have already (and happily) taken up this simplistic image of events.&nbsp;</p><p>For the propagandists, the focus on teenagers is an exceptionally convenient interpretation. It allows them to develop a wealth of possible “correct” interpretations for what happened on Sunday. The image of a crowd of unintelligent, gullible children can solve many problems. From discrediting <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again" target="_blank">protest leader Alexei Navalny</a> (a popular Russian tabloid has already <a href="http://www.kp.ru/daily/26657/3678849/" target="_blank">compared him to Father Gapon</a>, a leader of the ill-fated Russian revolution of 1905; and he’s been called a paedophile live on state radio station) to distorting the essence of the protests themselves.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russia’s public officials have reason to be concerned about another “lost generation”. Russia’s schoolchildren really are slipping through the state’s fingers<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>“They’re just kids!” so it goes. Just kids who are fed up with the dull monotony of life, and who have no business being interested neither in politics nor corruption. It’s just that no one’s “working” with them — this is why they head out onto the streets and squares, yielding to the call of “provocateurs”. It’s almost a latter-day Pied Piper.</p><p>Concerns about “not working properly with children” or the “absence of a proper youth policy” have al been raised anew. This is understandable, there’s an opportunity to carve out budgets for “proper youth policy”. And there’s a wide spectrum of participants in the race for a slice of that hypothetical pie — from pro-Kremlin political scientist Sergey Markov to Kristina Potupchik, former press secretary of the Nashi patriotic youth movement and member of Russia’s Civic Chamber. Indeed, Potupchik <a href="https://www.facebook.com/krispotupchik/posts/1253576008045116?pnref=story" target="_blank">exhibits a desperate liberalism</a>, lashing out at radical conservatives like Vitaly Milonov, Yelena Mizulina and online crusaders against “<a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/russia-teen-suicide-blue-whale-internet-social-media-game/28322884.html" target="_blank">teenage suicide groups</a>”, whom she blames for the fact that young people and teenagers attended protests. All the while, she recalls the good old days of the mid-2000s, when Nashi was at its prime.</p><p>“Whether it’s members of Nashi, or those teenagers who walked down [Moscow’s] Tverskaya Street, all these young people stood up for their futures and a comfortable life, lived by clear, understandable rules. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Navalny or [pro-Kremlin youth leader] Yakemenko who calls them out on the street. Because nobody else is, right? There’s no point criticising them. We need to listen to them and work with them, and not simply sweep the problem under the carpet,” <a href="https://thequestion.ru/questions/242067/uznayut-li-chleny-dvizheniya-nashi-sebya-v-sovremennykh-detyakh-poshedshikh-na-mitingi" target="_blank">writes</a> Potupchik on <em>The Question</em>. Potupchik thus suggests (simply and without trying to force her opinion) that there was no difference between members of a <a href="http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-nashi-movement-russian-youth-and-the-putin-cult-a-514891.html" target="_blank">youth organisation founded by the Kremlin</a> to oppose the “unnatural alliance of liberals and fascists, united by their personal hatred of Vladimir Putin” and whose protests were sponsored by the Russian state budget, and people who took a deliberate risk in publicly protesting <a href="https://fbk.info/english/english/post/304/" target="_blank">corruption at the highest echelons of Russia’s government</a>.</p><h2>Growing up, rising up</h2><p>But let’s try to deal with the intricacies of the protests. First, the “teenage rebellion” is a myth. Yes, Sunday’s protesters were on average much younger — that’s especially clear if you compare the events of 26 March to last month’s march in honour of assassinated opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, the last major opposition protest in Moscow. Schoolchildren were also present at the Nemtsov march, but they were by no means in the majority. Of the 1,500 people detained then by the police in Moscow on Sunday, there were only a little over 40 protesters under the age of 18 — approximately four percent of the total. Based on my personal recollections of last weekend’s events, I’d risk guessing that the proportion was roughly the same. The majority of the protesters in Moscow were young people of student age, hardly schoolchildren. Those who witnessed the demonstrations in St Petersburg, Tomsk and other large cities say much the same.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">You can’t get away with calling the people who came out on Sunday “easily led”. They understood perfectly well what they were opposing&nbsp;</span></p><p>This point is important, because it destroys the entire chain of reasoning which has already begun to form around the “new protest generation”. You can’t get away with calling the people who came out on Sunday “easily led”. The slogans they chanted show that the attendees understood perfectly well what they were opposing, and who they’d come up against. “Today Dimon [Medvedev], tomorrow Vova [Putin]!” What more evidence do you need?&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Protest_Russia_Party.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Protest_Russia_Party.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“It doesn’t matter what party you’re for – you’re certainly against thieves!” reads this placard at a protest in Moscow, 26 March. Image still via Radio Svoboda / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Nevertheless, Russia’s public officials have reason to be concerned about another “lost generation”. Russia’s schoolchildren really are slipping through the state’s fingers. The state is trying to monopolise everything. It’s desperate to control people’s thoughts. It imprisons citizens for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism" target="_blank">reposts on social networks</a>, and beats them over the head with television propaganda with no less zeal than a police baton charge. It comes out with absurd bans on activity on the internet. It comes into schools with “<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-platonova/in-russia-propaganda-starts-in-preschool" target="_blank">lessons on patriotism</a>”, the Ministry of Defence’s Youth Army movement and plans to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/22/russian-replica-to-give-children-chance-to-storm-the-reichstag" target="_blank">storm an exact copy of the Reichstag</a>. The last one isn’t a joke. This idea belongs to Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defence. An exact replica of the Reichstag is already under construction.</p><p>The state is trying to instill <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/mark-galeotti/education-in-putin-s-russia-isn-t-about-history-but-scripture" target="_blank">a perfumed image of Russia’s past</a>, to enforce a ban on criticising any figures of authority and it only wants to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-platonova/in-russia-propaganda-starts-in-preschool" target="_blank">penetrate childrens’ minds even further</a>. Olga Vasilyeva, the new Minister of Education, has already given several interviews about how the state needs to expand its range of instruments for educating children about patriotism and morality.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This generation has their own celebrities — video-bloggers with a million subscribers, whom even our intellectuals can’t figure out&nbsp;</p><p>But all these measures will miss their target. The television, with its endless propaganda shows, just sails straight past children — they simply don’t watch it. Propaganda works, it’s effective, the president is, in fact, popular, and foreign policy adventures are met with unexplainable adoration, but all of this is for adults only. In the world of, let’s be honest, Soviet people, practices of information consumption have remained at the level of the early 1990s, if not the late 1970s. But the attempt to inculcate Soviet methods of education into Russian everyday life is, all the same, destined to fail. All this officious, jingoistic patriotism, forced on people by the state, together with militarisation of public consciousness can only (and seemingly does) provoke hatred and disgust.</p><h2>The kids are alright &nbsp;</h2><p>The new generation — the generation that’s grown up under Putin — has their own world. They’ve never lived without the internet. They’re reprimanded for never having experienced or seen real problems — the end of perestroika and the early 1990s. This generation’s peers in their 40s rebuke them for this, without even noticing that this is the discourse of the old women who sit outside apartment blocks, ready to see a “prostitute” in every girl who walks past in a short skirt. Sure, this generation didn’t experience the 1990s. But they shouldn’t have to take a terrible past as their landmark, they want a normal future.</p><p>This generation has their own celebrities — video-bloggers with a million subscribers, whom even our intellectuals can’t figure out. They have their own groups on VKontakte, the Russian social networking site. They have their own humour, their own language. I don’t want to appear as if I understand this strange world (I’m more at home on Facebook for the semi-retired), I’m just stating a fact. Sometimes adults, who are concerned with patriotic education and saving kids who “stray off track”, try to enter this world, and they do so with all the grace of a bull in a china shop. Recent <a href="https://advox.globalvoices.org/2017/02/20/whale-themed-suicide-groups-present-opportunity-for-internet-crackdown-in-central-asia/" target="_blank">hysteria over online “suicide groups”</a> is evidence enough of this. But at the same time, by entering this teenage world, adults just make the gap between these respective universes even greater. Clearly, Russia’s adults have gone astray in trying to remake their children’s mysterious world according to their ideas of how it should be.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Medvedev_Playground.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Medvedev_Playground.jpg" 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'>A school playground named after Dmitry Medvedev in Vladivostok. Alexey Navalny’s investigation into the wealth amassed by Russia’s prime minister was a major catalyst for the recent protests. Photo CC-by-2.0: cea+ / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Of course, those people who assert that the state has scared the younger generation off with radical conservative initiatives from MPs such as Vitaly Milonov and Elena Mizulina are right. The problem is, however, that <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/couple-protest-against-vitaly-milonov-the-architect-of-russias-anti-gay-laws-with-lesbian-kiss-10019893.html" target="_blank">Milonov</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/egor-mostovshikov/yelena-mizulina-creation-of-conservative" target="_blank">Mizulina</a> are not from Mars, and nor are they agents of the US State Department, but the very essence of the Russian state — the state itself. And this is a state that, in consciously choosing to step back into the past, has nothing to offer its youth apart from a patriotism limited to loyal applause and militarised youth groups, which are busy preparing “invalids and veterans of future overseas wars”. That said, they don’t all have to serve overseas.&nbsp;</p><p>This is a consciously chosen ideology, and one that all state institutions are diligently working on. The all-too prominent Mizulina and Milonov are just slightly more radical in their public statements than the rest, that’s all. The state’s ideological field is bare but for a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kirill-kobrin/eternally-wonderful-present-or-russia-s-need-for-new-culture" target="_blank">picture of Soviet man that’s been painted in the red, white and blue of the Russian tricolour</a>. And this ideology is doubly false, because it’s not the idealists who are asking people to love this country and, if needs be, die for it, but corrupt officials and thieves with their yachts, collections of trainers, palaces and villas. To force children to consume all of this is far from easy, no matter how much money you assign to “proper youth policy”.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">This is a state that has nothing to offer its youth apart from a patriotism limited to loyal applause and militarised youth groups&nbsp;</span></p><p>The biggest surprise, though, is that children aren’t meeting the propagandists’ hopes. It seems they aren’t idiots to be manipulated. Take the <a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2017/03/18/to-est-patriotov-v-vashem-klasse-net" target="_blank">now infamous conversation in a rural school in Bryansk between pupils and the principal</a>, the <a href="https://tjournal.ru/42198-gde-preiskurant-gde-kvitanciya-ucheniki-iz-samarskoi-oblasti-otkazalis-platit-za-uborku-klassa" target="_blank">rebellion of 10th graders in Samara region</a> after they refused to give their teachers money for school repairs without a receipt (this is how the fight against corruption really looks), and, of course, those teenagers who came out into the streets on Sunday — they came out against lies and against injustice. Sure, they’re not yet the majority of the protesters. But they’ll come out on the streets again.</p><p>One practical thought to finish: Russian intellectuals love to hold surprisingly long debates on matters that aren’t worth debating. One of their time-honoured classics (which can start discussions that last for up to two weeks) is whether it’s right to beat your children. Just so it’s clear, it’s not. And the Russian state, which <a href="https://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/29/03/2017/Russian-filmmaker-Alexander-Sokurov-slams-crackdown-on-young-protesters">sent riot police to deal with Moscow teenagers on Sunday</a> without a second thought, will have another opportunity to confirm this principle for itself. Grudges are felt more keenly at that age, and it’s hard to forget them. And they won’t, you’ll see.</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-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Who will make Russia “great again”? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-platonova/in-russia-propaganda-starts-in-preschool">In Russia, propaganda starts in preschool</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/crimea-international-law-opposition">Death by Crimea</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/polina-aronson/you-re-better-than-you-think">You’re better than you think</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-zavadsky/we-re-all-strangers-here">We’re all strangers here</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksandra-kudryavtseva/what-maksim-did-on-his-holidays">What Maksim did on his holidays</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/serghei-golunov/what-russian-students-learn-about-russia%E2%80%99s-enemies">What Russian students learn about Russia’s enemies</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ivan Davydov Uncivil society Russia Wed, 29 Mar 2017 13:59:53 +0000 Ivan Davydov 109760 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Running for Tsar: Armenia’s Gagik Tsarukyan https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/running-for-tsar-armenia-s-gagik-tsarukyan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>One of Armenia’s most colourful public figures has returned to politics in time for parliamentary elections. What does the oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan stand for – apart from himself? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/gagik-vozvrashaetsya-armenii" target="_blank"><strong><em>на русском языке</em></strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tsarukyan_Speech.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tsarukyan_Speech.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="270" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gagik Tsarukyan gives a speech for the Prosperous Armenia party in 2014. Image still via: Hamlet Kirakosi / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>He’s one of the richest men in Armenia, and isn’t shy about flaunting it with his gaudy mansions and a gold-plated phone. As a <a href="https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06YEREVAN661_a.html" target="_blank">US State Department cable</a>, made available by Wikileaks, quipped, he “has a personal style which would make Donald Trump look like an ascetic.”</p><p>He is Gagik Tsarukyan. After more than two decades of incumbent victories and associated claims of fraud and protests, for many Armenians, Tsarukyan is the “change” candidate in parliamentary elections on 2 April, and his party is currently leading in polls.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">As a US State Department cable quipped, Tsarukyan “has a personal style which would make Donald Trump look like an ascetic”</p><p>Tsarukyan is running on the universal populist promises of jobs, lower taxes and patriotism — none of the high-brow ideological rhetoric. Tsarukyan speaks in short, simple bursts, often referring to himself in the third person. His trademark wear is white suits with bright-coloured turtlenecks, as favoured by the post-Soviet gangsters of the 1990s. He also has a natural charisma that many people can connect with.</p><p>“I am from a working family,” Tsarukyan, who has a passing resemblance to the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, <a href="https://news.am/rus/news/377264.html" target="_blank">reminded</a> everyone at a recent campaign rally, where he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDWkEVj5qZk" target="_blank">basked in public affection</a>. “I am no Harvard graduate. My life has been my university. I can’t stand lies. I am for justice.” </p><p>Tsarukyan’s popular appeal seems odd in a country where powers that be — the government and business elite — are typically loathed. While Tsarukyan’s popularity is real, is he in fact an alternative to Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party? Or is Tsarukyan’s campaign a charade intended to shield the elite’s vested interests? </p><h2>The university of hard knocks </h2><p>Now 60 years old and long a household name in Armenia, Tsarukyan was already a prominent businessman when he was first elected to parliament in 2003. Although the family business was named the “Armenia” Closed Joint Stock Company, its beginnings were humble. Living, as they still do, in Arinj, a community of about 6,000 residents between Yerevan and nearby town of Abovyan, the Tsarukyan family have run several small businesses since the 1980s, growing flowers, producing dairy products and clothing. </p><p>In 1989, Gagik Tsarukyan is said to have received a college degree from the Yerevan Sports Institute. It is unclear if he attended classes or just bought the diploma, what is certain is that he was already 33 years old and a competitive arm-wrestler. Around that time, Tsarukyan married a local girl, Javahir, and they now have four daughters and two sons. Tsarukyan’s official biography makes no mention of what he was up to between finishing high school and starting a family – a full decade later.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/800px-Gagik_Tsarukyan_villa.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/800px-Gagik_Tsarukyan_villa.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'>Gagik Tsarukyan’s villa, on a hill overlooking the village of Arinj, Kotayk Province, Armenia. Photo CC-by-1.0: Arshavir / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><a href="http://ru.1in.am/22427.html" target="_blank">One persistent claim</a> is that while working as a traffic cop back in Soviet days, Tsarukyan was charged with a serious crime and did time in a prison for former law-enforcement personnel in Nizhny Tagil, Russia. Tsarukyan is said to have earned an early release and later had his criminal record expunged by the Supreme Court of already independent Armenia. Armenian media claimed that the authorities have <a href="http://www.panarmenian.net/rus/news/126987/" target="_blank">used this past conviction to blackmail Tsarukyan</a>, forcing him to moderate his anti-government rhetoric and stay out of the 2013 presidential elections.</p><h2>A finger in every pie</h2><p>By the mid-1990s, as Armenia’s economy was in virtual free fall, the Tsarukyans launched the first commercially successful Armenian beer brand, Kotayk, having bought a production line from France’s Castel Group. With those initial profits, they began to buy up state assets slated for privatisation, anything from furniture to pharmaceuticals.</p><p>But the real turning point came in 1998, after Robert Kocharyan’s election to the presidency in Armenia. Since that year, Tsarukyan began picking up key state contracts, such as servicing the national airline and the military, and a greater slice of key business deals including sales of gasoline and natural gas. It likely helped that Tsarukyan was friends and business partners with Kocharyan’s brother Valery, who, after becoming disabled during the Karabakh war lived in Balahovit, a community near Arinj. Valery died in a hang-gliding accident in 1999, but his daughter Irina continued to work for Tsarukyan’s businesses. </p><p>As the Armenian economy recovered throughout the 2000s, Tsarukyan was one of the main beneficiaries. His holding (now known as <a href="http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:_wGW3in53XIJ:old.express.am/21_03/interview.html+&amp;cd=9&amp;hl=en&amp;ct=clnk&amp;gl=us" target="_blank">Multi Group</a>) bought the Ararat cement plant, the Ararat brandy plant (not to be confused with the Pernod Ricard-owned plant that produces Armenia’s famous Ararat brandy), and built hotels and casinos. Since Tsarukyan gifted shares in some of these businesses to relatives of Kocharyan and president-to-be Serzh Sargsyan, they were unhindered by tax inspections. Tsarukyan also expanded beyond Armenia, investing in Bulgaria and Belarus (he’s a <a href="https://news.am/rus/news/217149.html" target="_blank">good friend of Aleksandr Lukashenka</a>), and selling his construction products as far as the United States. </p><p>He also established family ties to key figures in Armenia’s business and political elite. One of his daughters married the son of Hovik Abrahamyan, one of Armenia’s most powerful officials of the last decade and a half. (Earlier this year, Abrahamyan left the ruling Republican Party and his son is running on Tsarukyan’s ticket.) Another daughter married the son of Andranik Manukyan, one-time leading car importer, transportation minister and in recent years Armenia’s ambassador to Ukraine.</p><p>But Tsarukyan also occasionally exhibited an independent streak. In 2008, he refused to buy a mineral water plant that the government stripped from Khachatur Sukiasyan, the richest Armenian businessman of the 1990s. Officials cited unpaid taxes in what was a clear case of retribution for Sukiasyan’s support of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian’s election campaign. Tsarukyan made clear at the time that he would not be raiding the assets of a fellow oligarch while he was down.</p><h2>Spreading the wealth</h2><p>Tsarukyan began to spend generously on charitable projects well before others from Armenia’s newly rich oligarchic class. He began local, <a href="http://archive.aravot.am/2001/aravot_rus/September/12/aravot_index.htm" target="_blank">renovating the Arinj school he attended</a>, paying tuition for Abovyan area students and for medical procedures for those who could not afford them.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">To accusations of tax evasion, Tsarukyan’s mum&nbsp;Rosa retorted: “If we can avoid paying, more power to us. Why should we pay money to officials who’ll waste it at casinos?”</span></p><p>Amid the embarrassment of the 2004 Summer Olympics, when Armenia failed to win any medals, Tsarukyan became the head of the National Olympic Committee and its chief sponsor. Soon, the country’s traditionally strong wrestlers and weightlifters began to win medals again, and Tsarukyan was there to share the national limelight. Adding to publicity were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gegham-vardanyan/unsteady-ground-for-armenia-s-media" target="_blank">media companies controlled or funded by Tsarukyan</a>, including Kentron TV and Aravot daily.</p><p>Armenian media soon noted that Tsarukyan’s businesses were systematically underpaying taxes. When confronted, Tsarukyan’s mum <a href="http://www.tert.am/ru/news/2013/10/07/tigran-urikhanyan/884558" target="_blank">Rosa retorted</a>: “If we can [avoid paying taxes], more power to us. Why should we pay taxes to [government officials], who’ll just waste the money at casinos?”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abovyan_Church.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abovyan_Church.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="280" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The monumental St. John the Baptist Church in Abovyan, Kotayk Province, Armenia. Consecrated in 2013, its construction was funded by Gagik Tsarukyan. Photo CC-by-2.0: Vahe Martirosyan / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The untaxed income pouring into charity soon began to pay off, when Tsarukyan launched his own political party, Prosperous Armenia. He won about 15% of the vote in the 2007 elections and about 30% in 2012. The party was seen as a political vehicle for Kocharyan and many observers pointed out that its success was thanks to outright electoral bribes. Tsarukyan remains faithful to his electoral strategies. Campaigning in one Armenian province last week, he was approached by dozens of potential voters seeking financial assistance, and promised to help them all.</p><p>Between 2007 and 2012, Prosperous Armenia was part of the Republican-led coalition, but as Kocharyan’s relations with Sargsyan soured, Tsarukyan refused to re-enter the coalition after the 2012 election. Seating out the 2013 presidential vote, Tsarukyan announced plans to oust Sargsyan through street rallies. In early 2015, he abruptly cancelled the campaign after Sargsyan launched very personal verbal attacks against him. Mediation from influential Russian-Armenian businessmen, including billionaire Samvel Karapetyan, reportedly helped put an end to the confrontation.</p><h2>Nostalgia for the “daddy state”</h2><p>Through all this Tsarukyan remained the single most popular political figure in Armenia, as polls consistently confirmed. This strength has been recognized by other political groups. In recent years, leading opposition candidates in the last three presidential elections — Raffi Hovannisian, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Stepan Demirchyan — have all sought alliances with Tsarukyan. </p><p>Arman Musinyan, a spokesman for Ter-Petrosyan’s party, declined to discuss Tsarukyan when reached for comment. Vahe Enfiajyan, a member of parliament from Tsarukyan’s party, also declined to respond to questions for this article.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Tsarukyan’s appeal reflects a public thirst not for democracy and rule of law, but for a caring “daddy state” and charismatic leader that Armenia has lacked since independence</p><p>What is clear is that Tsarukyan’s popular appeal reflects the public’s thirst not for democracy and rule of law, but for a caring, paternalistic “daddy state” and “one of us” charismatic leadership that has been absent in Armenia since independence. While Russia has its Vladimir Putin, Turkey – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Azerbaijan – <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">the Aliyev dynasty</a>, and now Georgia – <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams" target="_blank">Bidzina Ivanishvili</a>, none of the three presidents of Armenia have projected a similar mix of authority or enjoyed similar levels of public support.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tsarukyan_People.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tsarukyan_People.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="278" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A man of the people. Gagik Tsarukyan gives a speech before his supporters on 16 March 2017. Image still: a1plusnews / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Beginning with the former Soviet Armenian leader Karen Demirchyan in 1998, the disaffected segments of the Armenian public repeatedly turned to past strongmen to run against unpopular incumbents. Tsarukyan is the latest, and perhaps the most extreme example of a substantial part of the public disappointed in the political process and seeking to install a Tsar who is powerful and fair, rather than an accountable elected leader. (In Armenian “Tsaruk” means a little tree rather anything to do with royalty, as in the Russian.)</p><p>What is also clear, however, is that Tsarukyan’s appeal has its limits and that he is viewed as an embarrassment by more educated Armenians. In preparation for the elections, president Sargsyan moved to rebrand his Republican Party, bringing in a popular former Yerevan mayor Karen Karapetyan as prime minister and appointing his long-time chief of staff Vigen Sargsyan (not related) to the key post of defense minister. These moves have given the ruling party some boost ahead of April elections.</p><h2>Towards a two-party system?</h2><p>Seven other parties and blocs are running in this election. The journalist-turned-politician Nikol Pashinyan has been a popular opposition figure and his bloc is third in pre-election polls. There is the bloc built around former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan that includes Raffi Hovannisyan and another former foreign minister Vartan Oskanian, as well as the <a href="http://hetq.am/eng/news/77066/samvel-babayan-sentenced-to-two-months-detention-on-weapons-smuggling-charge.html" target="_blank">recently jailed</a> former Karabakh army commander Samvel Babayan; the bloc is widely seen as enjoying the backing of ex-president Robert Kocharyan. Then there are the mainstay “junior coalition partners” of the Republicans, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Dashnaktsutyun and the former Country of Law party, renamed Armenian Revival. </p><p>But none appear to have the resources to compete with the Republicans and Tsarukyan and will struggle to cross the minimum thresholds to enter parliament, set at five percent for individual parties and at seven percent for blocs.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Armenia’s political tradition calls for the main runner-up in elections to denounce them as fraudulent. That’ll be the real test for whether Tsarukyan is really opposed to the ruling Republican Party</p><p>Under the new electoral rules, if a majority coalition is not formed, a second round of voting would be called between the two top parties. This diminishes the ability of smaller parties to play kingmaker.</p><p>Armenia’s political tradition calls for the main runner-up in elections to denounce them as fraudulent (there is usually just enough evidence for that) and call for street rallies to oust the “illegitimate government”. That is likely to serve as the main test for whether Tsarukyan is really opposed to the Republicans and so far it is unclear if he would follow that path. </p><p>Emil Danielyan, a veteran Yerevan-based analyst of Armenian politics, believes that Tsarukyan has a tacit understanding with Sargsyan and may return into the government after the election or play the role of “constructive opposition” as in past years. Indeed, in recent days, Tsarukyan has hinted that a <a href="https://www.azatutyun.am/a/28384900.html" target="_blank">new coalition with Sargsyan</a> would be possible under certain conditions.</p><p>“It's so obvious. Tsarukyan is very vulnerable to government pressure because of his businesses paying insignificant amounts of taxes,” Danielyan tells me. “He was easily forced into submission two years ago, and Sargsyan could have kept him out of the current race just as easily.”</p><p>But Tsarukyan’s successful electoral performance may yet challenge this analysis. Armenians will then see who he stands for.</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-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush">Armenia: before the goldrush</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">“Karabakh rules Armenia”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Emil Sanamyan Armenia Tue, 28 Mar 2017 13:12:22 +0000 Emil Sanamyan 109695 at https://www.opendemocracy.net River defenders gather forces in Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kate-horner-igor-vejnovic/river-defenders-gather-forces-in-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This week, activists from across the world are meeting in Tbilisi to share their experiences of resisting hydropower projects and the money that supports them.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="PreformattedText"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-ენგურის_ჰიდროელექტროსადგური.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Inguri Dam, Georgia. Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Free-flowing rivers are often the unsung heroes of the natural world. They support immense biodiversity, as in Macedonia, where the Mala Reka nourishes the scenic Mavrovo National Park, the country’s largest. The park is home to fifty animal species, 129 species of birds, and over a thousand invertebrate species – <a href="http://npmavrovo.org.mk/en/%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D1%84%D0%B0%D1%83%D0%BD%D0%B0/">many of which are strictly protected</a>. Despite the park’s incredibly diverse and fragile ecosystem, its river has been threatened by the planned Boškov Most dam.</p> <p class="PreformattedText">For years, Bankwatch and environmental groups in Macedonia campaigned against the 68-megawatt project, which would have been built inside Mavrovo. Local activists and international experts alike repeatedly <a href="http://bankwatch.org/bwmail/62/pressure-mounts-ebrd-quit-macedonian-dam-folly">warned</a> that the project would be detrimental both to the park’s fragile ecosystems and the dwindling population of the critically endangered Balkan lynx.</p> <p class="PreformattedText">Then, in January, the campaign met with success. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the only financier of the controversial hydropower dam, officially announced it had <a href="http://bankwatch.org/news-media/for-journalists/press-releases/destructive-hydropower-project-macedonia-loses-its-only-so">cancelled</a> its EUR 65 million loan to the project. Ecologists and many others cheered the decision.</p> <p class="PreformattedText">The example of Boškov Most and other equally inspiring examples of people power will be on display this week in Tbilisi, where <a href="http://bankwatch.org/events/river-gathering-georgia-2017">an extraordinary meeting of river defenders from around the globe</a> is being held. Activists from 40 countries battling harmful hydropower and promoting the multiple benefits of rivers are gathering in the Georgian capital to share experiences and discuss potential responses to this complex problem. </p><p class="PreformattedText">It’s no coincidence that the meeting is being held in the former Soviet republic, as the small country has big ambitions to be a major hydro player.</p><h2>Stories of resistance</h2> <p class="PreformattedText">Mountainous Georgia is endowed with rich biodiversity and a plethora of wild rivers, upon which the government is looking to build <a href="http://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/hydropower-development-georgia">at least 34 new dams</a> in the country’s northwest to become an electricity exporter. One such project is the 280 megawatt Nenskra dam, which, at one billion dollars, is an attractive investment for the government and foreign firms, but which is exacting a toll on the indigenous Svan communities and the primeval nature of the Upper Svaneti region. Having been sidelined from decision making over the project, local residents <a href="http://stories.bankwatch.org/georgia-dam-protests">have mobilised to protest the Nenskra dam and other planned hydropower projects in the region</a>, which they fear could <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-landrights-dam-idUSKBN15Z1FD">strip them of their traditional livelihoods and ancestral lands</a>.</p> <p class="PreformattedText">Residents from Svaneti will be in Tbilisi to share their stories of resistance and hear messages of solidarity from others like those involved in the successful Boškov Most case. They will also be there to learn from activists fighting for their rivers all over the planet.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">All too often, when local residents mobilise to protest, governments respond violently to cull dissent</p> <p class="PreformattedText">Activists are fighting for rivers because, despite wins like Boškov Most, rivers and freshwater are facing unprecedented global threats. Chief among these threats is a tsunami of dam(n)ing hydropower plants. According to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00027-014-0377-0#/page-1">a 2015 study</a>, “at least 3,700 major dams, each with a capacity of more than 1 MW, are either planned or under construction, primarily in countries with emerging economies.” If all these plans materialise, the capacity of global hydropower would expand by 73%.</p> <p class="PreformattedText">Large hydropower has already had a devastating impact on freshwater species: Since 1970, freshwater species have lost 81% of their populations, due in large part to dams. In the most heavily-dammed basins, fish runs have already — in many cases — collapsed: California’s historic salmon runs, for instance, are nearly gone. Further hydropower expansion would decimating the world’s remaining freshwater fisheries, which feed up to 550m people globally. </p> <p class="PreformattedText">Now developers are targeting the Amazon, the Mekong, and the Congo basins, which together contain 18% of the world’s freshwater fish species. In the Balkans, where <a href="http://bankwatch.org/publications/financing-hydropower-protected-areas-southeast-europe">estimates about the number of planned hydroelectric facilities range from 944</a> to as many as <a href="http://balkanrivers.net/sites/default/files/pictures/HPP_2015.jpg">2700 hydroelectric facilities</a>, some of Europe’s <a href="http://balkanrivers.net/sites/default/files/Hydropower%20dams%20in%20the%20Balkan230915_FINAL_EdUS.pdf">most pristine river ecosystems</a> face irreversible damage.</p> <p class="PreformattedText">The expansion would exact a human toll as well. Near these planned projects, the communities that reside there —&nbsp;many of whom are indigenous and maintain distinct cultural practices — face the threat of displacement. All too often, when local residents mobilise to protest, governments respond violently to cull dissent and keep the flow of international investments into their coffers. </p> <p class="PreformattedText"><a href="https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/dangerous-ground/">A Global Witness</a> study concludes that no less than 15 activists campaigning against harmful hydropower projects were killed in 2015, mainly in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. In other cases, hydropower opponents, who often point to the absence of any meaningful public consultations with affected communities, are threatened, harassed or tortured. Berta Caceres, who had led a local campaign against the Agua Zarca Dam in Honduras and was assassinated a year ago, is <a href="https://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/734/blood-in-the-water-why-we-must-defend-water-protectors">but one example</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Civil society plays a crucial role in helping to amplify the voices of local communities standing together against governments and hydropower multinationals</p> <p class="PreformattedText">Advocates for expanding hydropower claim that dams can help mitigate climate change, offsetting the social and environmental price tag. Unfortunately, studies have revealed that dams are a false solution for meeting both the challenges of rising energy demand and the worsening of the climate crisis.</p><p class="PreformattedText"> <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/66/11/949/2754271/Greenhouse-Gas-Emissions-from-Reservoir-Water">One recent study</a> has found that dam reservoirs have a greater short-term contribution to climate change than earlier thought, specifically due to methane emissions. The researchers found that dams are responsible for more methane (a potent greenhouse gas) than lakes and rivers, and are comparable to emissions from rice plantations and biomass burning. If the global hydropower development continues unabated, this problem will get even worse — in no small part because much of the hydropower expansion will take place in tropical countries where vast amounts of methane-producing vegetation will be flooded.</p> <p class="PreformattedText">Civil society plays a crucial role in helping to amplify the voices of local communities standing together against governments and hydropower multinationals to protect their rivers. In Congo, Burma and other places across the world, protests against destructive hydropower projects have already forced decision-makers to change course. </p> <p class="PreformattedText">National governments and international bodies are beginning to recognise that protecting freshwater is a top concern. 22 March marked <a href="http://www.worldwaterday.org/">World Water Day</a>, a UN-sponsored recognition of the substance of life, and two recent court rulings, in <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being?CMP=share_btn_tw">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/21/ganges-and-yamuna-rivers-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-beings">India</a>, extended the protections afforded by human rights to rivers. These milestones suggest that the numerous benefits provided by rivers (economic, environmental, social and cultural) are finally being given their due. </p> <p class="PreformattedText">But protecting rivers requires a concerted global effort. And that, perhaps, is a silver lining in the renewed onslaught of hydropower: Water activists from diverse global movements will be forming connections in Tbilisi this week, uniting to take on the key drivers of the hydropower boom and protect our rivers as a vital source of life.</p> <p class="PreformattedText"><em>&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/iryna-holovko-dana-marekova/new-life-for-ukraine-s-aging-nuclear-power-plants">New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jan-haverkamp-iryna-holovko/towards-post-nuclear-ukraine">Towards a post-nuclear Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vladlena-martsynkevych/hatching-discontent-in-ukraine">Hatching discontent in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Igor Vejnovic Kate Horner Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:38:57 +0000 Kate Horner and Igor Vejnovic 109719 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The European University at St Petersburg: no license to learn? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/polina-aronson-tatyana-dvornikova/european-university-at-st-petersburg-no-license-to-learn <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The European University at St Petersburg has had its education license revoked. What’s next for one of Russia’s top higher education institutions? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aronson-dvornikova/bes-licenzii">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/EU 1 .jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/EU 1 .jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A demonstration in St. Petersburg in support of the European University. Photo courtesy of Anna Klepikova. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>On 21 March, St Petersburg’s court of arbitration </span><a href="https://eu.spb.ru/en/news/17471-court-revokes-license-of-one-of-russia-s-best-private-universities" target="_blank">deprived</a><span> the European University of its educational license. This follows a </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/polina-aronson/european-university-in-st-petersburg-survival-guide" target="_blank">suspension</a><span> in December of all activities at the university.</span></p><p><em>oDR’s roundtable discussion on the future of <a href="https://eu.spb.ru/en/" target="_blank">one of Russia’s best institutes of higher education</a>, featuring gender studies professor <strong>Anna Temkina</strong>, professor <strong>Ilya Utekhin</strong> and graduate student <strong>Rustem Fakhretdinov,</strong> both from the department of anthropology.
</em></p><p><strong>What’s the current mood of the EUSP’s staff and student body?
</strong></p><p><strong>Anna Temkina: </strong>There’s no lock on the door, the university is open, and all classes continue as usual. The revocation of the license will only take effect in a month’s time — and until then, we’ll probably have time to appeal. Therefore, we’re still working as we always have.</p><p>The current mood is calm, there’s no sense of panic. The anniversary of the first attempt to close us down is approaching, and we’ll soon celebrate our University Day. There’ll be a buffet table, a festival… and everybody will come along and enjoy themselves.

</p><p>How exactly does the revocation of the EUSP’s teaching license threaten the university? What will the consequences be for its students, graduate students and lecturers?

</p><p><strong>Rustem Fakhretdinov: </strong>It’ll be worst of all for the masters’ students, as they’ll have to decide pretty quickly whether to transfer somewhere or not. There’s now a legislative requirement, according to which students from the EUSP can their studies at other universities — but only if they agree to do so. They can refuse, and await the restoration of the EUSP’s license, as is their right. This year already saw threats made to revoke it, but even then, no students applied for a transfer.</p><p>It’s also unclear how exactly this law is to work, as there may not be lecturers for the same subjects in other universities. Where, for example, should our master’s students go if they want to take another course in anthropology? What’s taught at the EUSP simply can’t be found in the study programmes of other universities.</p><p>How will the revocation of the license affect your fields of study? First and foremost, this is a question for Anna Temkina, who represents that very same “malicious feminism” which St Petersburg deputy (and nationalist firebrand) Evgeny Milonov denounced in his declaration about the EUSP’s activities.

</p><p><strong>Anna Temkina: </strong>It’s a very difficult situation. On the one hand, the revocation of the license doesn’t necessarily mean the closure of the university. In the very best scenario, we’d apply for a new license, which might take a couple of months. Still, the suspension of lectures can’t be anything but a loss for students — although it’s less dramatic for the teaching staff themselves. We have a multitude of research projects to work on. To be sarcastic about it, you could even thank God that you don’t have to teach anymore, and be happy that you can finally deal with your own academic goals. But that, of course, is gallows humour.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Academic studies of gender can only be done in a handful of places in Russia today — one could even say that it’s only possible at the EUSP</p><p>Formally, there’s no threat to lecturers. But without the intellectual community of the EUSP, the academic surroundings, the unique organisation it provides, and of course without wages — their situation is still very unclear — life will be different. I’ll put all my strength into saving our university, rather than think too much about how things will be without it. I’ve worked at the EUSP for twenty years; it’s where Elena Zdravomyslova and I founded the <em>Gender Studies</em> journal — one could even say the school of gender studies.</p><p>I don’t want to think about what I’d do if I worked anywhere else. Academic studies of gender can only be done in a handful of places in Russia today — one could even say that it’s only possible at the EUSP. But this whole episode with Milonov, who said that we allegedly make gender studies compulsory for our students, doesn’t have a bearing on this situation, or so it seems to me.

</p><p><strong>Ilya Utekhin:</strong> The license relates to educational activities. Its revocation means that we don’t have the right to teach, but it doesn’t regulate research in any way. Students can’t study any more, but the license won’t impede their taking part in research projects and help develop them further. But of course, that’ll be a lot harder to organise, since the status of their scholarships will be unclear.</p><p><strong>Rustem Fakhretdinov: </strong>As a final-year graduate student, the revocation of the license doesn’t threaten me whatsoever. I’ve just been working on my dissertation, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.</p><p>Furthermore, as our faculty doesn’t have an examination board for dissertations, I won’t defend it at the EUSPB, but probably at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Pushkin House.</p><p>My research topic, on songs of the Russian civil war, is also fairly uncontroversial. Everybody who sang the songs died a century ago. 
But still, the EUSPB has its own school of folklore, and it’ll be a real shame to lose it. We’ve already become used to living and working in an unstable situation, but not everybody can bear it forever. If it continues for much longer, then more and more graduates will opt for universities abroad.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/EU 3_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/EU 3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'> demonstration in St. Petersburg in support of the European University. Photo courtesy of Anna Klepikova. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>We published an article not long ago on a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alena-spasjuk/belarus-mejdu-bolonskim-processom-sssr" target="_blank">similar situation in Belarus,</a> where both students and lecturers were compelled to leave. Are we seeing something similar in St Petersburg?

</strong></p><p><strong>Rustem Fakhretdinov:</strong> The situation is different here. Unlike the <a href="http://www.ehu.lt/en" target="_blank">European Humanities University</a>, which moved from Minsk to Vilnius, our European University can’t not be in St Petersburg. It’s linked to the Kunstkamera, to Pushkin House, and with other scientific centres based in the city. EUSPB can’t simply pack its bags and relocate across the border — it’ll become a different university. </p><p>The university’s presence here must be defended, while it’s still possible.</p><p><strong>In this situation, what can each of us personally do to defend the university?

</strong></p><p><strong>Anna Temkina: </strong>Firstly, It’s not about what we personally can do as individuals, but what we can achieve together, as a community.</p><p>For example, this conversation with <em>openDemocracy </em>wouldn’t have been possible had you not invited us to share our thoughts. Many journalists and members of the academic community are interested and support us.</p><p>Secondly, I believe that I should try my utmost to continue my routine and work as normal, not giving an inch or letting myself deviate from it. My work should not suffer as a result of this chaos. All lessons should happen on time, all deadlines must be met, everything must go on in its own way.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Our opponents can set out to destroy the infrastructure of the EUSPB, but a community can’t be destroyed so easily</p><p>We’ll try and attract more interest to the university. For example, I really don’t like to answer questions about 8 March (International Women’s Day), but this year I answered them all. These days, I’m all over the place. As an expert, whenever I can do something in public, I’ll do it.

</p><p><strong>Ilya Utekhin:</strong> I can’t officially answer on behalf of the university — only the rector Oleg Kharkhordin can do that. But I can share my personal opinion, which is that we don’t need to make any arguments — it’s obvious that the EUSPB is a real asset to the country, and that there’s nothing else like it. We also have a responsibility before our students, whom we must teach, and our lecturers.</p><p>The fact that our license is being annulled or our building will be taken away from us (which, by the way, automatically cancels the license) doesn’t mean that our university will be destroyed. A university isn’t just a paper with a stamp, but a living organism: a community of scholars, students and lecturers — and their loyalty to the EUSPB is very strong.</p><p>Our opponents can set out to destroy the infrastructure of the EUSPB, but a community can’t be destroyed so easily. You can put us all on a steamship and banish us [ed. <a href="http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/philosophers-ships-soviet-intellectual-ussr-russia" target="_blank">as the Soviets did in 1922</a>], but the university won’t disappear.
We’ll fight for a new license. We would’ve had to apply for a new one anyway — although not as a matter of urgency. The problem is that if they annul our license right now, that we’ll have to stop teaching before the end of the school year, which will harm the students.

&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A university isn’t just a paper with a stamp, but a living organism: a community of scholars, students and lecturers&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Do you ever get the impression that many of the recent disputes in St Petersburg — whether with St. Isaac’s Cathedral or with the Pulkovo Observatory — proceed in line with some kind of plan?</strong></p><p><strong>Rustem Fakhretdinov:</strong> Mikhail Piotrovsky has already said that this is a general attempt to wear down and provincialise St Petersburg. The people responsible vary, but the scenario is much the same — the city is to return to the swamp from which it rose.

&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Anna Temkina:</strong> I have a few doubts here. It seems to me that the origins of these stories may be very different. And probably, each of these stories tells us something about entirely distinct processes, their initiators, and their reasons. The similarities could be partly coincidental. But now they have united into one pattern — or at least, that’s how we interpret them, regardless of how they originally were.&nbsp;</p><p>And now they’re all referred to under one very simple slogan, as Rustem said: that these conflicts are a protest against the provincialisation of St Petersburg and threats against sections of the intelligentsia — whether the cultural or technical and scientific. Their interests have clearly become secondary to those of more resourceful and powerful groups within the local authorities — and this conflict has entered a new phase in the life of the city.

</p><p><strong>Is the fact that Vladimir Putin stood up for the EUSPB a sign that things can still turn out favourably?

&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Anna Temkina: </strong>Of course, Putin’s statement gave some cause for hope. But as my colleagues have already argued, there’s a contradiction here. If, as the power vertical would mandate, the words of the leader can solve any problem — then why does this situation with the EUSPB still continue? One of the explanations is that not every command from the leader is realised in practice.</p><p>There’s also a mass of other conflicting interests that get in the way and impede the solution of certain problems, unless there’s specific pressure put on them from above. Probably, in our case, they face no such pressure from their superiors — the EUSPB’s case is tied up in the strategies and schemes of any number of people who do not wish us well, and compounded by bureaucratic inertia.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Ilya Utekhin:</strong> Actually, Putin’s statement wasn’t so decisive. He simply resolved to “avoid a break in the educational process” — a formula which can be interpreted in different ways. Anyway, the institutional environment is such that when such a mechanism is launched, even the highest-ranking bureaucrat with the best intentions can’t stop it. The state mechanism is designed to soldier on, not slacken. If the officials don’t find any shortcomings [in the EUSPB], then that means they’re not doing their job. That’s why they’ll always find something — the instructions are specifically created so that somebody can always get stung.&nbsp;</p><p>If they’re told to stop bothering the EUSP, they’ll answer “How? We have a procedure and if we break it, they’ll fire and prosecute us!” The Tsar might want justice, he might be interested to ensure that his kingdom’s wealth isn’t squandered away, but he doesn’t always have the means to do so! Of course, we know that if there really is a real political will, then the absence of a formal basis for taking certain decisions never gets in the way. But that’s a another situation, and our story is quite different.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>There is a parallel here with other universities that were closed under pressure from Rosobrnadzor or the ministries. The websites of leading newspapers published articles on the “ineffectiveness” of this or that university. Have there been any such negative campaigns against the EUSPB?&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Anna Temkina:</strong> No. And next to nobody publicly makes statements against the European University. Milonov may say that gender is a disgrace, but on the whole he doesn’t play a role here — but there was a group of citizens who did make a fuss.&nbsp;</p><p>During the very first judgements on the matter, some marginal websites published very negative reviews of the EUSPB and its activities, but they didn’t lead to anything. And on one of those days, two guys appeared before the university, holding some kind of banners. But they quickly disappeared.
Actually, nobody takes the responsibility of publicly stating why this is all happening to the EUSPB.</p><p>One could conclude that there simply are no concrete reasons that could be legally and publicly formulated. The most coherent one would be that our papers aren’t in order — and to an extent, that’s true, as filling out all the required documents is practically impossible. The level of bureaucracy in the ministry of education and Rosobrnadzor is the stuff of legends. All that paperwork is of no relevance to our daily practice, but it numbers thousands of pages. But we’re incriminated by incorrectly filling out some of them. But nobody else makes open declarations against the EUSPB. There’s nothing to really accuse us of, even though somebody probably wants us closed very badly.

&nbsp;</p><p><strong>How can the university resist such an unseen enemy?

&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Anna Temkina: </strong>With great difficulty. But historically, we’ve shown great solidarity with one another, and that’s a great resource — perhaps because there simply is no other way out, so we have to stand side by side, and fight back little by little. As we don’t know who we’re coming up against, establishing such a large scale, forward-thinking strategy is nigh on impossible.</p><p>We will try and meet all the bureaucratic requirements imaginable, but one day somebody could still inspect us and declare that the plumbing isn’t working properly.

&nbsp;</p><p><strong>According to Rosobrnadzor’s scheme for education, the EUSPB is “inefficient”. Nevertheless, it occupies a leading rating among universities according to the ministry of education. It seems that Rosobrnadzor’s data and criteria no longer meet reality. Maybe it’s worth not only talking about fighting for a particular university, but for a change in evaluation criteria?</strong></p><p><strong>Rustem Fakhretdinov: </strong>Rosobrnadzor isn’t subject to the ministry of education, so its ratings are irrelevant. It has its own criteria for evaluation. 
</p><p><strong>Anna Temkina:</strong> Lots of different discourses and different understandings of the current state of affairs converge here. For example, there’s a certain legalistic and bureaucratic language which we cannot understand and cannot emulate unless we live within in — it’s not our professional language. It’s hermetic, and is based on rules which have a certain logic within themselves, but have no relationship to practical activities.
</p><p>There’s one more aspect too — I’ll call it the “war of elites”. In this context, Alexei Kudrin [ed. former minister of finance] often appears as a person who embodies our university. That’s partially correct, since he is a member of our board of trustees, and we’re also talking about some elite-level relationships about which we know nothing. And of course, in this context there is the [symbolic or practical] scenario of “redistributing property” — and that reaches an absurd point.&nbsp;</p><p>After all, in the last court judgement, Rosobrnadzor said that it had withdrawn its claims against the EUSPB. But the license was revoked anyway. This is a blatant violation of common sense, in full compliance with legal norms.

&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Ilya Utekhin:</strong> As far as the court is concerned, it doesn’t always listen to reason and frequently adheres to the interests of the state inspection services. If somebody ever wins a court case against Rosobrnadzor, then that’s quite an exception to the rule. Therefore in our case, we don’t speak about substantive arguments, but bureaucratic ones. Rosobrnadzor is absolutely uninterested in substance — it cannot assess the quality of education, and is only interested in matching one paper to another.&nbsp;</p><p>My personal opinion is that Rosobrnadzor needs to be abolished on the grounds of incompetence and this entire corrupt structure replaced with mechanisms of reputation — so that a university’s reputation decides its fate.

</p><p><strong>How would things ideally develop for you personally, and for the university in the near future?

&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Anna Temkina</strong>: The best thing would be if the court appeal succeeds after a couple of months — then everything will be in order.</p><p>But nonetheless, we’d still remain in this situation whereby we know neither the causes nor the consequences of what has just happened, and we understand that any cultural or educational institution in St Petersburg may await the same fate for absolutely incomprehensible reasons.</p><p>That is to say, even the most ideal result for us would still not set a positive precedent for society, culture, education — nor for the city as a whole.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards.</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/tatyana-dvornikova/cuts-cuts-cuts-life-and-times-of-russia-s-university-teachers">Cuts, cuts, cuts: the life and times of Russia’s university teachers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/polina-aronson/european-university-in-st-petersburg-survival-guide">European University at St Petersburg: a survival guide</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikita-pidgora/ukraine-s-displaced-universities">Ukraine’s displaced universities</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia World Forum for Democracy 2016 Tatyana Dvornikova Polina Aronson Russia Education Fri, 24 Mar 2017 16:18:04 +0000 Polina Aronson and Tatyana Dvornikova 109668 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We are not parasites: understanding Belarus’s protests https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/devin-ackles/understanding-belarus-s-protests <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Thousands have taken to the streets across Belarus to protest a law penalising the unemployed. But there’s every chance that the Lukashenka government is playing the long game.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03031546.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03031546.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protesters in Minsk during the “March of the Angry Belarusians”, 17 February 2017. Photo (c): Viktor Tolochko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The recent mass protests in Belarus over a tax on the unemployed, known colloquially as either the “parasite tax”, has captured the interest of many western observers. The political opposition, while still fractured, has found a meaningful issue to rally around that belies deeper systemic issues and, from afar, appears to be gaining some significance among Belarusians that it has not had in some time.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>At this point, Belarus has been undergoing several years of a gradual rapprochement with the West and has played an important role as a mediator to help establish the Minsk I &amp; II agreements, aimed at quelling violence and providing a path forward to a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Donbas. Lukashenka’s warming relations with the West have led some to believe that the gradual liberalisation of his policies are also underway.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Whereas some of the portrayals in the western media have sensationalised this apparent awakening of civil society, it is far too early to assess whether this movement will give rise to a popular political opposition or a genuine movement that would unshackle the Belarusian popular psyche from its dependency on an authoritarian state with a semi-managed, foreign-subsidised economy as the model of prosperity. If there is one thing that the current protests can provide the outside world, it is a glimpse into some deep-seated issues that are uniquely Belarusian.</p><h2>A Morality Tax</h2><p>Employing the language and pathos of a power now long extinct, Lukashenka signed Presidential No. 3 “<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/‘parasite-law’-in-belarus" target="_blank">On the Prevention of Social Dependency</a>” on 2 April, 2015. The logic behind this decree, summed up in a well-known Soviet phrase (enshrined in Article 12 of the 1936 Constitution of the USSR), “He who does not work, does not eat”, a phrase, which has been updated in the Russian-language press to reflect the sheer dourness of the policy, to “He who does not work, will pay (taxes)!”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Dont_Work_Dont_Eat.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Dont_Work_Dont_Eat.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="164" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The old adage. “He who doesn’t work won’t eat”, reads this Soviet-era poster. Photo: sovietposters.ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Implicit in Minsk’s idea of forcing a tax upon the unemployed is its understanding of the social contract it has with its citizens. If one is unemployed, partially employed, or covertly employed, you are stealing resources from the state and should be held accountable for your theft. In other words, an individual must be compelled to be a productive member of the economy in the name of the state.</p><p>It is unfair to blame Lukashenka alone for his preoccupation with Soviet-era slogans, legal code and social guarantees. Since he was elected president in 1994, his politics and economics have largely been that of promoting a nostalgic edifice of the bygone Soviet era, including promises of full employment and a comfortable, though never lavish, life for hardworking Belarusian citizens.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Minsk has predicated much of its message of “stability”, that old bastion of post-Soviet autocrat sloganeering, on its ability to keep people employed</span></p><p>While full employment, however desirable, is unachievable, Minsk has predicated much of its message of “stability”, that old bastion of post-Soviet autocrat sloganeering, on its ability to keep people employed and gradually raise their wages. While real wages, <a href="https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2014/cr14227.pdf" target="_blank">according to the IMF,</a> grew from an average of roughly $100 per month in 2002 to around $600 in 2014 (with a dip, following the global economic crisis in 2008), its real GDP growth declined from +6% to 1.7% over the same period. Meanwhile, the amount the Russia Federation has been giving to Belarus, has been slowly dwindling. In 2005, Russia’s overall net support accounted for around 23% of Belarus’ GDP. In 2015, this figure had dropped to around 11%.</p><p>Minsk’s potential for securing a good bargain with Moscow to extract rents or favorable terms and prices on oil or gas for its own usage or re-export for sale abroad in order to bolster its own economy will likely continue to dwindle. Propping up the Belarusian economy is simply no longer one of Moscow’s priorities.</p><h2>The parasites unmasked&nbsp;</h2><p>With the ability of the Belarusian state to artificially raise living standards and bolster employment, the state is seeking new ways to cut back on spending. While official state statistics have the level of unemployment at 0.9% as of January 2016, but include only those individuals who have registered as unemployed. The state’s ideologically driven rationale, as it were, is to show that virtually everyone is employed. The <a href="http://www.dw.com/ru/почему-в-беларуси-вдруг-резко-выросла-официальная-безработица/a-37797740" target="_blank">real level of unemployment</a>&nbsp;[Russian link]&nbsp;is believed to be around 5.8%.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Darmayedi.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Darmayedi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="271" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“We are not parasites!” reads this protest banner in Minsk, 2017. Photo: Naviny.by. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Few register for unemployment because the benefits are so poor (24 Belarusian rubles or around $12.70 per month) and the menial community work that officials require of you. Many others are employed, though make only minimal or no contribution in the from of taxes because they receive their pay under the table – a common practice throughout much of the former Soviet Union.</p><p>The “parasite tax” had its first official deadline for collections on February 20th 2017. State news agencies reported that 51,600 Belarusians had paid the $250 tax, with the tax authorities sending out a total of 470,000 notices. While it is not unclear if these notices were sent to 470,000 individuals, if they were, this would mean that nearly 5.0% of the population was considered unemployed, able-bodied and not working – and a departure from the official 0.9% unemployment rate.</p><h2>Protest erupts</h2><p>The first protests against the parasite tax unfolded in Minsk on 17 February, where an estimated 2,000-2,500 protestors took to the streets in central Minsk to call for the tax’s repeal. This was followed by protests on February 19th that took place throughout several oblast capitals. In Gomel, 2,000 people came out to protest. In Vitebsk, 200-250 demonstrators showed up in protest to the tax, and Mogilev an estimated 400 people attended, while another 100 protestors were seen in Brest and Grodno.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Belarus_Protests2.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Belarus_Protests2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="342" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Estimated number of protesters by date and geographical spread, Feb-Mar 2017. Graph by Devin Ackles, data via tut.by. (Click to enlarge)</span></span></span></p><p>Regional protests followed regularly from the 26 February to 15 March, when the largest nation-wide protests registered roughly 3,250 total protesters. It is important to point out the sheer number of towns and cities involved, as well as their distribution throughout much of the country.</p><p>Yet, there are other, perhaps more important considerations to keep in mind. When compared to the 19 December protests in Minsk which erupted after Lukashenka’s 2010 re-election, whose range of total estimated participants being somewhere between the “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/20/belarus-protest-alleged-vote-rigging" target="_blank">tens of thousands</a>” reported by the <em>Guardian</em> or the 40,000 <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/belarus-election-ends-with-violent-protests-1.916848" target="_blank">cited by the CBC</a>, the total number demonstrators who have so far taken part in the latest protests are rather minor.</p><p>While some of the protests, like that which took place in Rogachev on March 12th, reported having either a minor or virtually no political opposition leadership present, leaders and members of the opposition parties the United Civic Party of Belarus, For Freedom, Belarusian Christian Democrats, among others, have participated and were arrested for their participation, or detained while reportedly in transit to, many of the other protest sites.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Despite the rising popularity in the press of the protests, they are still a long way from creating a deep and widespread transformation within Belarus</span></p><p>It is naïve to think that all of these protests have spontaneously occurred throughout the country, just as it is misguided to believe that average Belarusians are rising up en masse against the government given the available evidence. By paying closer attention, not only do the rather small size of the crowds become evident, but as does the regular appearance of the names and faces of notable opposition politicians and activists.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Welcome_to_Belarus.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Welcome_to_Belarus.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'>Welcome to Belarus. Prison van souvenirs in Minsk.</span></span></span></p><p>This is not to discount the genuine concerns of those who come out motivated simply by their civic consciousness in an effort to stand up against the absurd unemployment tax. Rather, it is an observation that despite the rising popularity in the press of the protests, they are still a long way from creating a deep and widespread transformation within Belarus. Their only success may well be Lukashenka’s decision to postpone enforcement of the tax until next year, which he announced on 9 March, or perhaps even its abolishment altogether – but the political opposition, civil society and the Belarusian public are nowhere near united at present.</p><h2>Forward thinking, with no vision</h2><p>Unlike the brutal 2010 crackdown on the opposition and protestors, Lukashenka appears to be taking a more measured approach. The authorities are briefly detaining and fining local activists for organizing unsanctioned demonstrations, well aware that the EU is watching their reaction. Three opposition leaders, Yuri Gubarevich, Anatoly Lebedko, Vitaly Rymashevsky were sentenced to remain under arrest for 15 days for violating public order.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Lukashenka can always enact the decree again, and if protests really gain momentum, he can deflect responsibility towards the puppet MPs who revised it</p><p>The human rights group Viasna reported over 100 individuals detained in March in relation to the protests, not an insignificant number when only a few thousand Belarusians have participated in the protests. There have also been some disturbing reports of law enforcement officers conducting searches of activists homes and also one instance in which a young activist from Brest, Natalia Papkova, was sent to a “psychoneurological dispensary” (a psychiatric ward) over the course of a weekend after her neighbor allegedly called the authorities and said she was suicidal. While the authorities have thus far been restrained, there is no telling when their calculus may change.&nbsp;</p><p>Minsk is exhibiting some tactical thinking in other ways as well. By delaying the tax’s enforcement by a year and having the House of Representatives work on a series of amendments to exclude certain types of unemployed individuals (e.g. people in psychiatrist care, all individuals who own land), Lukashenka can always enact the decree again, and if the protests really gain momentum, he can deflect responsibility towards the puppet MPs who revised it. It remains to be seen what other types of leverage, and with whom, he will devise if the protests grow and do not dissipate in the weeks ahead.</p><p>And yet, if the constant stream of anti-protestor sentiment emanating from state media or the messaging coming out of many quarters of the opposition are any indication what awaits Belarus ahead, it seems clear that the needs of the silent Belarusian masses will continue to be brushed aside in the name of ideology.</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/ekaterina-loushnikova/%E2%80%98parasite-law%E2%80%99-in-belarus">The ‘parasite law’ in Belarus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <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 NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Devin Ackles Uncivil society Belarus Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:58:34 +0000 Devin Ackles 109622 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the women at the centre of Ukraine’s resurgent HIV epidemic https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/michael-colborne/women-at-centre-of-ukraine-s-resurgent-hiv-epidemic <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Living with HIV in Ukraine is fraught with stigma and discrimination. It’s even harder if you’re a woman.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 18.05.58.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="257" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>One of the protagonists of <a href=https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/publications/balka-women-hiv-and-drug-use-ukraine>Balka</a>, a film which follows the lives of women struggling with drug use and HIV in Ukraine. Source: Open Society Foundations. </span></span></span>On International Women’s Day in early March, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) published a<a href="http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2017/march/international-womens-day"> report</a> stating there is an “urgent need” to increase HIV treatment and prevention for women and girls around the world. “Girls and women are still bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic,” Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, <a href="http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/when-women-lead-change-happens_en.pdf">laments in the report’s introduction</a>, pointing to stigma, discrimination and violence as factors that make women more vulnerable to HIV than men.</p><p dir="ltr">None of this is news to Svitlana Moroz, who heads up<a href="https://www.women-union.org.ua/"> Positive Women</a>, a Ukrainian NGO that advocates for the rights of women living with HIV across the country. Last month, Moroz and other activists filed a<a href="https://humanrights.org.ua/en/material/v_oon_upershe_poskarzhilisja_na_porushennja_prav_vilpozitivni_zhinki_ta_spozhivachki_narkotikiv"> report</a> to the UN, alleging violations of human rights of HIV-positive women in Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">Moroz and other activists have collected disturbing stories from women with HIV across Ukraine. Natalia, a pregnant HIV-positive woman in western Ukraine, was turned away from a maternity ward, being told there was no place for “people like her”. Another pregnant HIV-positive woman managed to get into the hospital, but was placed in a room with broken windows in winter — she was told they couldn’t put her with other women. &nbsp;Other women have been accused of being drug addicts, denied health care and had their children take from them — all because of their HIV-positive status.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Vera, unfortunately, isn’t alone. She is one of many HIV-positive women in Ukraine who have had to deal with institutional discrimination</p><p dir="ltr">Some women have lost even more. Vera, an HIV-positive sex worker, gave birth by caesarean section in hospital. When she awoke to ask the doctor, a woman, how the surgery had gone, the doctor replied by saying she’d performed a tubal ligation without Vera’s consent: “You have no right to build a family and have children.”</p><p dir="ltr">Vera, unfortunately, isn’t alone. She is one of many HIV-positive women in Ukraine who have had to deal with institutional discrimination.</p><h2>HIV back on the upswing in Ukraine</h2><p dir="ltr">Prior to 2014, Ukraine was putting up a<a href="http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0103657"> strong fight</a> against one of the worst HIV epidemics in Europe. Thanks to concerted efforts from government, civil society and international donors to provide treatment and prevention programmes to at-risk populations, by 2012 Ukraine had actually reported a decline in new HIV cases for the<a href="http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2013/november/20131120report"> first time</a>. It looked as though the country was about to turn a corner.</p><p dir="ltr">That’s all changed, following the outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and the country’s turbulent political and economic situation. Ukraine’s Ministry of Health <a href="http://ucdc.gov.ua/uploads/documents/83da57/582407606b6036307d75611eb87a32e2.pdf">estimates</a> that at the beginning of 2016 there were 220,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine — a prevalence rate of 0.9%, with almost equal numbers of men and women testing positive.</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 2017-03-20 at 18.11.27.png" alt="" title="" width="455" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>How infection is transmitted — from the brochure "If you're positive" produced by Positive Women NGO. Source: <a href=https://media.wix.com/ugd/23686c_956ee5a796444fdfae8d21fce8588e3a.pdf>Positive Women</a>.</span></span></span>The trends over the last year are worrying. According to the most recent<a href="http://ucdc.gov.ua/uploads/documents/83da57/582407606b6036307d75611eb87a32e2.pdf"> statistics</a> from Ukraine’s Public Health Center, part of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, the number of new officially registered people with HIV/AIDS rose by almost eight percent in 2016; most (62%) of new infections came from sexual intercourse, while 22% from intravenous drug use. While deaths from HIV-related causes have been on a <a href="http://www.who.int/gho/hiv/epidemic_status/deaths_text/en/">decline </a>worldwide, the mortality rate from HIV-related causes increased in Ukraine by seven percent in 2016 - the majority (52%) caused by tuberculosis.</p><p dir="ltr">These official Ukrainian government statistics don’t include Crimea or the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts not controlled by Ukraine (the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”). This means these figures could actually be an underestimate, especially since Donetsk, says UNAIDS Ukraine country director Jacek Tymszko, has long been an epicentre of Ukraine’s HIV epidemic. More than half of all officially registered Ukrainians living with HIV live in Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk oblasts as well as in Kyiv.</p><h2>Stigma “is still very strong”</h2><p dir="ltr">Ilona, a social worker in Kyiv who works with people who have HIV/AIDS, knows how tough it is to be a woman living with HIV in Ukraine — she tested positive herself for HIV ten years ago.</p><p dir="ltr">Ilona tells me about a time when, before she’d disclosed her status to many people, she and her husband had a group of friends over, including her mother-in-law. Some of these friends, Ilona says, were HIV-positive, and her mother-in-law (“a good, accepting person,” she made pains to stress to me) knew about the HIV status of some of these friends and had no problem with it.</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/HIV-ukraine-unicef.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"28% of young people know how HIV is transmitted and how they can protect themselves." Unicef promotional poster in Ukrainian, 2013. CC Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>“But when they left,” she tells me, “my mother-in-law asked me to help disinfect everything they touched,” all despite the fact HIV<a href="https://www.avert.org/hiv-transmission-prevention/myths"> can’t be spread</a> by touching shared objects like toilets or cutlery. With her mother-in-law at that time unaware of her HIV-positive status, Ilona helped her disinfect and scrub everything her HIV-positive friends had laid a hand on.</p><p dir="ltr">She’s able to laugh about it now, but it still hurt. “It was quite humiliating for me,” Ilona says.</p><p dir="ltr">That said, there has been some progress in reducing stigma against people with HIV in Ukraine. A Democratic Initiatives poll from 2016 showed that 21% of people surveyed believed that people living with AIDS should be<a href="http://dif.org.ua/article/ukraini-25-dosyagnennya-ta-porazki-gromadska-dumka"> isolated</a> from society, down from 36% in 2006 and 50% in 1991. “It’s moving in the right direction,” says Dmytro Sherembey from the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS, “but it’s still very strong.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This type of attitude — that HIV is a disease just for “those at the bottom” — can manifest itself in violence against women with HIV</p><p dir="ltr">Aside from her own experiences, Ilona’s worked with women of all ages and backgrounds who’ve tested positive for HIV. She’s seen how women of all backgrounds — particularly older women, she says — have a difficult time accepting their diagnosis. “They see [HIV] as a disease for those at the bottom,” Ilona says.</p><p dir="ltr">This type of attitude — that HIV is a disease just for “those at the bottom” — can manifest itself in violence against women with HIV. Violence against women is<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-antonova-maria-dmytrieva/shut-up-woman-your-day-is-march-8"> bad</a><a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/07/ukraine-conflict-spike-domestic-violence-150722094335117.html"> enough</a> in Ukraine, but according to a November 2016 <a href="https://www.women-union.org.ua/kopiya-podiyi-2016">survey </a>Positive Women conducted with 1,000 HIV-positive women across the country, more than a third (35%) of women living with HIV reported that they’d been the victim of violence from either their partner or husband, and almost half (47%) said they’d had no support afterwards. Worse still, the findings from the survey suggest the likelihood of being the victim of violence increases after testing positive for HIV.</p><p dir="ltr">Violence against women with HIV can even extend to their children, especially if they also have HIV. Olga Rudneva, Executive Director of the Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation in Kyiv, tells me about an incident in a small town in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, where a social worker started trying to raise money for a family with an HIV-positive child. The family, including the children, had stones thrown at them and were eventually forced to flee the town.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s 2017, in the middle of Europe,” Rudneva sighs.</p><h2>“For people like you, we have no place”</h2><p dir="ltr">Outright discrimination against women with HIV in healthcare environments is a problem in Ukraine. The<a href="https://humanrights.org.ua/en/material/v_oon_upershe_poskarzhilisja_na_porushennja_prav_vilpozitivni_zhinki_ta_spozhivachki_narkotikiv"> report</a> Positive Women and other activists filed with the UN last month has several stories of HIV-positive women being denied access to health care because of their HIV status.</p><p dir="ltr">“In 2016, when it was time for delivery, I came to the perinatal center, but the administration refused to admit me, saying that ‘for people like you, we have no place,’” Natalia, a HIV-positive woman, is quoted as saying in the report.</p><p dir="ltr">Likewise, a social worker recounts how an HIV-positive client of theirs was placed in a hospital room with broken windows during the winter, on the grounds that there weren’t any other rooms available, and another spoke of how a client of hers was denied in vitro fertilisation (IVF) because of her HIV-positive status.</p><p dir="ltr">At her office in Kyiv, Svitlana Moroz walks me through the findings of the survey. The numbers tell a story of how health care providers can discriminate against HIV-positive women across Ukraine, and how many of these women don’t know where to turn for help. One-third (33%) of women, when asked whether they believed healthcare providers would keep their HIV status private, said they didn’t believe they would. Almost one-third (31%) don’t know their rights and don’t know who to talk to if they feel their rights have been violated.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It’s very important to mobilise and empower women living with HIV”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In Positive Women’s survey report, one woman’s account stands out as an example of the discrimination women living with HIV can face at an institutional level.</p><p dir="ltr">Marina, a then-pregnant HIV-positive woman, recounted to the researchers at Positive Women that, at a gynecological clinic, “…the doctor started screaming at me and accused me of not telling her about my [HIV] diagnosis. She said she’d sue me because I could infect her, and added a few humiliating epithets… ‘So you’re a drug addict, right?’”</p><p dir="ltr">“I was afraid to go to the doctor for a long time because they’d judge me,” Marina says in the report. “Talking about my status was still humiliating. So I never asked for help, even when I felt pain that was getting stronger by the day. I was taken to the gynecological department bleeding, unconscious.</p><p dir="ltr">“It turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy. My life was saved but, sadly, I’ll never be able to have children.”</p><p dir="ltr">Women living with HIV aren’t always able to access the healthcare services they need. According to Positive Women’s survey, only 36% of HIV-positive women reported receiving regular cervical screening and only 32% had regular consultations with a doctor about breast cancer — even though women living with HIV have a greater risk of developing cancer.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-25101731.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'>December 2015: A rally of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis patients demanding budget funds for treatment. (c) Serg Glovny/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Part of the issue, Natalia Ruda from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) tells me, is that many HIV-positive women don’t know enough about their own health to know what they could be asking for. She says that her organisation, which provides HIV testing services and treatment across Ukraine, has seen more and more women over 40 coming in and getting tested for HIV — and testing positive.</p><p dir="ltr">“No one’s telling them about their health,” Natalia says, “about risks, about safe sex.”</p><h2>“When you feel that coldness, indifference… you feel despised”</h2><p dir="ltr">“It’s something I’ll never forget,” this is how Ilona, the social worker living with HIV, describes her treatment at a Kyiv maternity hospital several years ago. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Ilona was in a special unit of the hospital for women with pregnancy difficulties. There were a few other HIV-positive women on the unit with her and, because of her personal and professional background, she met up with the chief doctor to offer some help.</p><p dir="ltr">“He screamed at me,” Ilona says. “He said: ‘You sleep around, get infected! It’s a headache to deal with you, to treat you!’”</p><p dir="ltr">“I learned later this was his manner with all patients with HIV during first contact, basically telling them off,” Ilona says. She tells me that this story is “quite typical,” that an HIV-positive woman’s first experience with a doctor is often aggressive and accusatory.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We say: ‘nothing for us without us’”</p><p dir="ltr">Ironically, Ilona laughs, she’s now friends with the doctor, but the memory of this incident still bothers her. “When you feel that coldness, indifference,” Ilona tells me, “you feel despised. You feel they’re not ready to pay to attention to you, not ready to give any time for you.”</p><h2>“This is our last window of opportunity”</h2><p dir="ltr">The<a href="http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/"> Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria</a>, by far the largest international donor to the HIV/AIDS fight in Ukraine, had originally planned to significantly cut funding in<a href="http://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/eastern-europe-central-asia"> 2017</a> to Ukraine. Activists were concerned that the situation in Ukraine could be a larger-scale rerun of what happened in<a href="http://kff.org/news-summary/global-fund-withdrawal-from-romania-negatively-impacting-hivaids-epidemic/"> Romania</a>, when a cut in Global Fund money contributed to a<a href="http://www.icaso.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Romania-case-study.pdf"> sharp increase</a> in HIV infection rates among at-risk populations.</p><p dir="ltr">Fortunately, as several activists and officials were keen to point out, the Global Fund has since stepped up with more than $120m in continued and emergency funding over the next three years. More funding has come from other sources — the Ukrainian state is<a href="http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2016/november/20161103_ukraine"> fully funding</a> opioid substitution therapy in 2017 for the first time ever and the US government recently<a href="http://www.aids.ua/enews/us-to-provide-375-mln-to-ukraine-for-hivaids-relief-in-2017-12013.html"> announced</a> it will providing almost $40m in emergency funding.</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/AIDS-2016-Sveta-Moroz.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="354" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Svitlana Moroz from <a href=https://www.women-union.org.ua>Positive Women</a> at AIDS 2016, Durban, South Africa. Source: <a href=http://www.club-svitanok.org.ua/aids2016-nashe-uchastye/>Club Svitanok</a>. </span></span></span>But, as Dr Natalia Nizova from Ukraine’s Public Health Center tells me, “for us it’s absolutely clear that the situation of huge donor support will not last forever,” given that Global Fund is expected to withdraw most of its funding from the country in 2020. Effectively tackling and turning around Ukraine’s HIV epidemic will require transition planning and cooperation with advocacy groups like Positive Women.</p><p dir="ltr">Above all, it will require working closely with Ukraine’s politicians and the country’s cash-strapped state to ensure HIV remains high on the agenda so that Ukraine, in just a few years, can take over and effectively fund its HIV treatment and prevention programmes. “This is our last window of opportunity,” says Dr Nizova.</p><p dir="ltr">But Svitlana Moroz says women with HIV are still struggling to have their voices heard. Ukraine’s current national AIDS council and other committees have no HIV-positive women on them, she says.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s very important to mobilise and empower women living with HIV,” Moroz tells me. More women living with HIV, she says, need to be invited into policy and programme discussions across Ukraine, at all levels of government.</p><p dir="ltr">Moroz, for her part, sounds determined to be part of the conversation, whether HIV-positive women like her are invited to the table or not.</p><p dir="ltr">“We say: ‘nothing for us without us.’”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-tucker/ukraine-s-unwanted-orphans">What does the future hold for Ukraine&#039;s children in care? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vitalii-atanasov/faded-glory-ukraines-miners">Undermined: how the state is selling out Ukraine’s coal workers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Michael Colborne Ukraine Human rights Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:30:58 +0000 Michael Colborne 109551 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Behind Azerbaijan’s facades https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Azerbaijan, power is strictly a family business. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/azerbaijan-strana-vysokikh-zaborov" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Presidential_Palace_AZ_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Presidential_Palace_AZ_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A member of the presidential guard at Azerbaijan’s presidential palace in Baku, 2017. Photo CC-by-2.0: CJCS / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The inventiveness of Baku’s urban planners when it comes to designing fences is inexhaustible. These barriers, designed to keep guests away from the less elegant side of life in Azerbaijan’s capital city, will make an impression on even the most demanding visitor. Fences block the view on the road connecting Baku’s Heydar Aliyev airport (named after the country’s former president) to the city centre, which Heydar’s son, the current president, is feverishly trying to turn into a second Dubai. In downtown Baku, which is lavishly decorated with tonnes of expensive marble and granite, pseudo-neoclassical facades take on the role of these fences in order to hide the ugly old Soviet-era apartment blocks.</p><p>The regime is persistent in trying to hide anything that might complicate its image of Azerbaijan as a developed and prospering country — from locals, tourists and probably themselves. “If you tore down all the fences, you’d have enough metal to build two more cities,” I once heard a Baku resident remark. This sentiment reminded me that Azerbaijan’s facades are not merely built from stone, but from discourses, ideologies and institutions too. These ornamentations are also designed to conjure up the image of a modern democratic society.</p><p>Every authoritarian regime has its riddles and enigmas. What kind of Azerbaijan will be revealed to us once we remove these facades and fences, so carefully designed to keep up pretences?</p><h2>A presidential dynasty
</h2><p>Reflecting on the specifics of Azerbaijan’s political field reminded me of an <a href="https://philpapers.org/rec/BOUFTK" target="_blank">article by Pierre Bourdieu.</a> It’s a rather free association, but attempting to describe the specifics of how the political field is constructed in Azerbaijan takes me back to his image of the “King’s house”, or most importantly, politics-as-inheritance.</p><p>Of course, the country’s leadership is technically elected. In accordance with the constitution, regular parliamentary and presidential elections are held. But it’s also inherited. According to the rules of the “household”, members of the same family — who possess social and symbolic capital — inevitably keep their places at the helm of state. And this has allowed the Aliyev family to keep control of Azerbaijan for over two decades.</p><p>Not long ago, a new government position was created, which entrenched the system of inheriting power even more. If Ramiz Mekhtiyev, head of Azerbaijan’s presidential administration and chief ideologue of the regime, is to be believed, “the Azerbaijani people, following the spirit of globalisation and changes across the civilised world, will not forget their great history.” It was probably in this spirit that the great event of 21 February came to pass — namely, the appointment of the first lady as Azerbaijan’s first vice-president.

The post itself was only created in September 2016 after a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">nationwide referendum on constitutional amendments</a>. For the first time in history, Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of president Ilham Aliyev, received this cushy job. Should some unforeseen tragedy befall Azerbaijan’s fit and cheerful head of state, his ambitious wife will lead the country.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The regime’s style of rule is largely personal, and is guaranteed by a reliable and loyal group of courtiers close to the family on whom the president depends</span></p><p>In this case, Azerbaijan will see its third transfer of power within the Aliyev family. Or to be more precise, the Aliyev-Pashayev family (Mehriban’s maiden name). Following the death in 2003 of Heydar Aliyev, patriarch and founder of the ruling dynasty, Mehriban’s family members strengthened their positions. They held several high-ranking posts at the time, and in the years since the Pashayev family has become seen as an independent political force. Mehriban’s appointment is not simply a sign that they are growing stronger, but an acknowledgement from on high of the Pashayevs’ influential and lasting status.

<br /><br />Most probably, and according to the rules of the “King’s house”, Heydar Aliyev the second, son of the current president and grandson of the former president, is being prepared for high office. For the moment, any predictions as to how that situation could develop remain speculative. But one thing is clear — after the next pale imitation of parliamentary elections is held in 2020, the young Aliyev could find himself in a deputy’s seat in the country’s parliament. That will probably be the first step in his official nomination as successor to Ilham.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aliyev_Elder_Carpet_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aliyev_Elder_Carpet_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'>A carpet with an image of Heydar Aliyev, father of the ruling president of Azerbaijan. Photo CC-by-NC-2.0: Esther Dyson / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Of course, Azerbaijan’s constitution states this country is a democracy, with the president as its head. All the institutions necessary for a modern administrative state exist in the country — ministries, parliament, constitutional and other courts, municipal government. But the real practices of how power is executed, how positions in the bureaucratic apparatus are assigned, and, most importantly, the principles of transferring the state’s highest post from one set of hands to the next, suggest many parallels, and, it should be said, points of contrasts, with a dynastic state. 

<br /><br />With this in mind, it’s worth looking at these strategies of inheritance that further the ruling family’s prosperity — the aim to which the state and its functions have been reduced. The regime’s style of rule is largely personal, and is guaranteed by a reliable and loyal group of courtiers close to the family whom the president depends on. But even this style of rule has its risks and its rules. Can the head of state ever sacrifice his own interests in order to guarantee his material and symbolic legacy? Will the family try to manage this legacy within the household to help its own assets prosper?</p><h2>An uncivil society</h2><p>Upon returning to power in 1993, Azerbaijan’s former Soviet-era strongman Heydar Aliyev started reconstructing the country’s political landscape and established an authoritarian regime that outlived its creator. He was also able to found a dynasty, which has successfully monopolised power over the country and dominates the political field.</p><p>How was Aliyev able to ensure a successful transition from Soviet bureaucratic state to Azerbaijani presidential dynasty? Stephen Kotkin suggests that totalitarian states or states with totalitarian tendencies don’t simply destroy society — they create their own anew. The result could be called an “uncivil society”, or “those formidable bonds and forms of social organisation that accompanied an illiberal state, particularly an illiberal state without private property.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Regardless of its presidents’ clear sympathies for such a style of rule, neither in its early years in the 1990s nor today can the Azerbaijani regime be described as “totalitarian”</p><p>When Aliyev senior created Azerbaijan’s uncivil society, he also instituted the right to private property. Nowadays, this right isn’t so much regulated by the law as by the appetites and interests of members of the ruling family or inner circle. But regardless of its presidents’ clear sympathies for such a style of rule, neither in its early years in the 1990s nor today can the Azerbaijani regime be described as “totalitarian”.</p><p>Yet it still makes sense to use Kotkin’s term to understand the practices and processes taking place in Azerbaijan, as well as in civil society. We can then identify from where the regime draws the resources for its legitimisation and how it’s able to attract significant support from among the population, thereby securing a dynasty.</p><h2>How the people were tempered: founding a multiparty system</h2><p>In the early years of Azerbaijan’s independence, Heydar Aliyev didn’t waste his time riding the wave of reform and radical political social change. He chose what he knew. In November 1992, he became chairman of the Yeni Azərbaycan (New Azerbaijan) Party. In its design and pre-eminent position in the political field, the YAP brings to mind up all kinds of parallels with the old Communist Party — or even with United Russia, founded several years later. Soviet ideology was replaced with the slogans of populist nationalism. The Politburo may have gone, but the practice of nominating the permanent chairman of the country’s largest party as head of state remained. For a couple of years before becoming president, Ilham Aliyev acted as the first deputy to the party chairman (i.e. to his father, Heydar).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Vote_1924_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Baku_Vote_1924_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="177" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In Baku, the practice of imitating elections has a long and ignoble history. A Soviet-era poster urging citizens to vote in Baku municipal elections, 1924. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Kitchener.lord / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Throughout the long years of his rule, which began in 2003 after Heyday Aliyev’s death, Ilham has also acted as permanent party chairman. Mehriban is one of his deputies, and in her first interview as vice-president, she claimed that the YAP counted some 700,000 party members. Officially, Azerbaijan has a population of 10 million, but given mass emigration, the real number is almost certainly lower. In any case, the number of YAP party members as a proportion of the Azerbaijan’s population is the same as Communist Party members across the Soviet Union in 1989.<br /><br />

It’s not unusual to hear stories about how a random public official discovers that they’re a member of the YAP by chance. But undoubtedly, a significant number of those who joined did so voluntarily, in order to gain social capital. Among them are more than a few eager young people, who dream of a career in government service. Since 2005, they’ve had their own mass movement: “Ireli” (“forward” in Azeri), which has lately been reformed into a civic organisation under the slogan “Ilhamla Ireli” (“Forward with Ilham!”)

It’s customary to believe there are over 50 political parties in Azerbaijan today, though far from all of them are really active. There are dozens of pro-government parties orbiting Yeni Azərbaycan, and they’re generally rightwing (such as the Civic Solidarity Party, the Motherland Party, and the Alliance for Azerbaijan). Their members are recruited to parliament, along with independent deputies, in order to keep up the image of a democratic, multiparty system. There have been no genuine opposition politicians in Azerbaijan’s last two parliaments.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">At the beginning of 2017, there is next to no space left for opposition parties in the battle for resources</p><p>In December 2014, Ramiz Mekhtiyev outlined a new approach towards the opposition in a book entitled “The World Order of Double Standards and Modern Azerbaijan”. Writing on the country’s “Fifth Column”, a term which has become increasingly popular across the post-Soviet space, he denounced as its members all active human rights defenders, critically-minded journalists and well-known opposition political parties. All these figures and organisations, in Mekhtiyev’s opinion, receive direct support from “the west” and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby" target="_blank">historical enemy in the form of “the Armenian lobby”</a>, and are preparing to launch a colour revolution in Azerbaijan.

<br /><br />At the beginning of 2017, there is next to no space left for opposition parties in the battle for resources. This affects all genuine oppositionists, whether in the Azerbaijani Popular Front, Musavat (the country’s oldest political party), or the National Independence Party. With every year, the opposition has less and less access to the public sphere and are even more marginalised as their support melts away.

<br /><br />To a great extent, these parties came out of the Popular Front, founded in 1988 to unite Azerbaijan’s opposition parties in the last years of Soviet rule. Their political sympathies mostly lie between the centre-right and the far right; their leaders and activists declare support for “western-style democracy”. 

<br /><br />In 2009, the authorities held a referendum to remove limits on presidential terms (two had previously been the maximum). That very same year, a fascinating new political movement came into being: the “Republican Alternative” (REAL). Its leader was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president" target="_blank">Ilgar Mammadov, sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in 2013</a> for his political activities. The group mostly comprises young intellectuals, and over the last couple of years, repression against the movement has grown to such an extent that it’s hard to say if REAL can survive.

</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Parliament_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Parliament_0.jpg" alt="" 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'>Government House in Baku. Photo CC-by-2.0: Andreas Kontokanis / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br /><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey/nardaran-affair" target="_blank">Azerbaijan’s fractious Islamic opposition</a> should also be mentioned, in all its complexity. In Autumn 1991, a Shi’ite Islamist party was founded with its electoral base in the town of Nardaran, not far from Baku. As its members were sympathetic to Iran, the “collective West” (in particular Israel and the USA) made its discomfort quite clear. In May 1996, five of its leaders and activists were arrested. Following its public criticism of the regime, party suffered further repression in 2011, and seven of its members were arrested along with their relatives.</p><p>Nardaran hit the news again in late autumn 2015. In the course of a police raid against members of the Muslim Unity Movement, two policemen and four members of the Islamist group were killed. Following these events, a special operation was held to restore order to the village where the Islamists had established control. The criminal case against the movement’s leaders continues to this day.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Ilham Aliyev’s reign has seen the end of any concerted political battle against the government (or even imitations of it), and the intensification of repression against all and any opponents

</span>For the most part, political Islam in the first post-Soviet years was connected with disparate groups, based around certain mosques and the religious leaders who preached in them. Among the more prominent Shi’ite groupings was that of the Juma Mosque in Baku, led by Haji Ilgar Ibrahimoğlu. Several Sunni Salafist circles also emerged, centred around the Şehitler and Abu-Bakr mosques, among others — although these were most closed to visitors in the 2000s. 

<br /><br />However, Heydar Aliyev did prove himself able to make small compromises with all these groups if came to improving the regime’s image. By contrast, Ilham Aliyev’s reign has seen the end of any concerted political battle against the government (or even imitations of it), and the intensification of repression against all and any opponents and their marginalisation from the public space. The current president’s rule will be remembered by the arrests of political opponents, the destruction of human rights organisations and severe pressure against independent and critically-minded media outlets, bloggers and journalists.

</p><h2>The importance of family friends

</h2><p>Amid such repression, the regime is nonetheless able to increase the ranks of its supporters. In the Milli Mejlis, the parliament which is strongly reminiscent of the Supreme Council of Soviet Azerbaijan, deputies are not selected, but appointed. A place in the parliament has long since served as nothing more than a reward for loyalty. And ever since the opposition has stopped getting its requisite five or six meaningless seats in parliament, the Mejlis has been able to rubber-stamp all the president’s decrees and laws without wasting any time on pointlessly debating them. </p><p>Cities and regions are not ruled by elected mayors or governors, but by rulers appointed from on high. Once they’re handed control of some district or city, they can rule it with impunity, and the most important factor on their governance is how close they are (or wish they were) to the president and his entourage.
Azerbaijan’s high-ranking officials are those who have proved their loyalty to Aliyev over many years. That said, there has been some discord — such as the important arrest in 2005 of Ali Insanov, minister of health, along with several other senior officials. On this level, preference is given to long-term relationships. Alongside the irreplaceable president, many of the most hardworking ministers even began their careers in the late Soviet period.

For example, let’s take the no less irreplaceable head of the presidential administration, Ramiz Mekhtiyev, who was once secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Azerbaijan. Since 1996, he’s worked with the irreplaceable prime minister Artur Rasizade, who was first deputy chairman of the council of ministers in Soviet Azerbaijan. Ramil Usubov, irreplaceable minister of the interior, also spent most of his professional life working in Soviet Azerbaijan’s interior ministry.

</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02621064.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02621064.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="274" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev arrives in Moscow to attend 70th anniversary celebrations of the USSR’s victory in the Second World War. To his right sits Mehriban Aliyeva. Photo (c): Evgeny Biyatov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Getting a government position depends on family and regional ties and, in the final instance, on the possibility of keeping ties with the Aliyev family. The shorter the distance, the greater and more immediate the reward. This principle of rule by the “King’s house” operates at every level of government. The pyramid of power in Azerbaijan starts with closely connected families, with fierce loyalties to each other, and above all with their crowning loyalty to the president. The latter distributes posts in state institutions and departments as awards for loyalty and as payment for enduring devotion. This practice not only helps these lucky few control the country and support themselves and their families, but embeds the state and its employees in the financial wellbeing and corrupt schemes of the Aliyev family and their entourage.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This presidential dynasty has monopolised all resources in the country and distributes them as though they were personal property&nbsp;</p><p>The most sought-after positions are with the <em>siloviki</em> (security services, interior ministry or military), or in the local authorities. Lower down the ladder, jobs as high-school teachers or doctors in clinics are in great demand. The overwhelming majority of this immense army of state employees and bureaucrats unquestioningly obey the rules of loyalty to the system. They vote as they’re told. Their fear of losing their position, and with it the symbolic capital and the sources of income (albeit often insignificant), outweighs their desire to show discontent. </p><p>
This presidential dynasty has monopolised all resources in the country and distributes them as though they were personal property. After the death of Heydar Aliyev, when Azerbaijan’s financial fortunes were on the rise due to oil and gas dollars, the “King’s house” stopped playing at politics altogether. The Aliyevs felt that everything was running like clockwork, and neither the EU nor the US would bother to sanction them. Yet the crisis of 2014 proved a blow to their growing ambitions, and a big one. It became clear that the ruling family does not know how to deal with economic hardship — and no matter how hard the president tries to play the role of the caring, patriarchal leader who tries to keep low prices for his people’s bread and bus tickets, the prestige of the dynasty is still fading.&nbsp;</p><p>For the moment, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-s-2016-sink-or-swim" target="_blank">social unrest has been limited to local outbreaks of protest</a>, which are quickly extinguished by the authorities. However, the problem remains: there are simply fewer resources with which to buy loyalty.

</p><h2>Where next for the “King’s house”?&nbsp;</h2><p>Throughout their rule, the Aliyev family has purged the political field so thoroughly that, <a href="https://www.perlentaucher.de/buch/joerg-baberowski/der-feind-ist-ueberall.html" target="_blank">as Jörg Baberowski would have put it</a>, revolution is now only possible through riots and chaos. The powers that be never thought it necessary to educate their subjects in political culture. Their demand was simply that the people learn how to obey, and how to demonstrate that undying obedience. Consequently, the population are unable to demonstrate en masse and achieve changes within the legal limits of public political protest — for the simple reason that they were never allowed to in the first place.</p><p>

For now, the crisis may pass and the Aliyevs will hold on to power. But economic hardships will return eventually — or there’ll come a day when the oil and gas run out. After 25 years of independence, the Aliyev dynasty have shown that they are incapable promoting a sustainable prosperity for the country they have inherited. The current system is excellent at using the institutions of state to siphon away Azerbaijan’s resources, creating little in return. It’s only possible to convince the majority of Azerbaijanis that they live in a blossoming country full of hope when the economy peaks — and it’s unlikely that those moments will return soon.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Aliyev family has purged the political field so thoroughly that&nbsp;revolution is now only possible through riots and chaos</p><p>This situation can only be remedied through radical economic reform (not to speak of political changes). In such a scenario, the Aliyevs would likely lose the support of the army of bureaucrats and state employees on whose loyalty they depend. The Aliyev dynasty will be rudely interrupted, and perhaps that’s what fate has in store. But it won’t be the opposition’s political protests that sweep them away, but bread-and-butter economic and social unrest.&nbsp;</p><p>The very design of the current system suggests that it doesn’t have a long-term future. Returning again to the idea of a “presidential dynasty,” it’s clear that despite its best efforts, a real “King’s house” cannot take root in Azerbaijan. No matter how close the Aliyevs come to their ideal, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that one day, Azerbaijanis are told that Ilham has become president for life, or has declared himself a Sultan. The family can win election after election, but the president (whether the second or the third) will never achieve the legitimacy of the regime’s founding father. Attempts to convince Azerbaijan and the world that there’s substance behind the democratic facade frequently come to nothing.&nbsp;</p><p>In today’s realities, when Azerbaijan must play a part in the European political arena, the Aliyev family will only ever be regarded as authoritarian usurpers — and their system of a presidential dynasty as a political oxymoron.

<br /><br /><em>Translated from Russian by Maxim Edwards</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergey Rumyantsev Caucasus Azerbaijan Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:33:23 +0000 Sergey Rumyantsev 109569 at https://www.opendemocracy.net