Svetlana Reiter https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/8520/all cached version 09/02/2019 00:00:59 en Kill or cure? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-reiter-vladimir-shakhidzhanian/kill-or-cure <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 16.18.48.jpg" alt="" width="160" />In Russia, homophobia is not just an attitude, but government policy, with new legislation reinforcing traditional hostility to sexual minorities and violence against gay people as common as ever. Svetlana Reiter discussed the situation with psychologist Vladimir Shakhidzhanian. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The theme of violence against sexual minorities in Russia took another turn in early May with the vicious murder in Volgograd of 23-year old Vladislav Tornovoy. He was killed in a playground where he was drinking beer with old school friends.&nbsp; According to evidence presented by the investigating officer, Tornovoy was beaten up, his genitals slashed and his clothes set on fire, and he was also raped with beer bottles (two went in completely and a third half way). Then he had paving stones weighing up to 20kg dropped on his head anything up to 10 times.</p> <p>During a crime reconstruction, which was done with the participation of the suspects as part of the investigation (a transcript of which appeared online), one of those arrested for the horrific murder confirmed that the motive was homophobia.&nbsp; When the investigator asked about the motive for the sexual violence, the suspect answered &lsquo;Because he said he was gay.&rsquo; Tornovoy&rsquo;s parents and close friends deny that he was homosexual, but the matter was already completely out of hand.</p><p class="image-caption"><img src="http://publicpost.ru/public/userfiles/topic/big/x_d29c2d01_copyill.jpg" alt="" width="460" />23-year old Vladislav Tornovoy &mdash; horrifically murdered 'because he said he was gay' Photo<span>: vkontakte.com</span></p> <p>There is little room for tolerance in today&rsquo;s Russia: St Petersburg Legislative Assembly member <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/fry-milonov-antigay-legislation-meeting/24928715.html">Vitaly Milonov</a> is trying to put a stop to &lsquo;gay filth&rsquo;; Parliament is debating a draft law which would prevent gay parents adopting Russian orphans; fanatical members of the Orthodox church have taken to beating up gay activists on an almost daily basis.</p> <p>Last year, the case of 16-year old Ivan Kharchenko came to light. Ivan&rsquo;s parents had sent him to a closed clinic for drug addicts, with the aim of &lsquo;curing&rsquo; him of his homosexuality. The case was widely reported in the press, but surprised no one. People are no longer imprisoned for homosexuality, but parents regularly present their children to be cured from the &lsquo;gay infection&rsquo; to doctors of every kind, from practitioners of traditional medicine to quacks. </p><p>Vladimir Shakhidzhanian is one of the few LGBT experts able to explain the nature and development of Russia&rsquo;s gay culture.&nbsp; A journalist and psychologist, he was for many years a research scholar in the laboratory of Dr <a href="http://aronbelkin.narod.ru/enbelkin.html">Aron Isaakovich Belkin</a> [1927-2003], the Russian psychiatrist who studied transsexuality and was president of the Russian Psychoanalytical Society. Among other things, Shakhidzhanian has studied issues surrounding homo- and transsexuality, prepared people for sex change operations and helped with their post-op psychological rehabilitation.</p> <h2>Violence and social attitudes</h2> <p><strong>SR: </strong>During the course of your practice have you encountered examples of extreme violence against gays?&nbsp; In the light of the vicious murder of Vlad Tornovoy in Volgograd, can one now say that this has become the norm?</p> <p><strong>VS: </strong>A philosopher, I forget which, once said that<strong> </strong>everything is relative. Has the situation deteriorated? In relation to what? When? Why?&nbsp; In the Soviet Union gays were put in prison.</p> <p><strong>SR: </strong>And now they&rsquo;re murdered.</p> <p><strong>VS: </strong>That happened in Soviet times too and then, moreover, the infringement of homosexuals&rsquo; human rights was enshrined in the Criminal Code. I think it was Stalin who said &lsquo;Find me the man and I&rsquo;ll find you the charge against him&rsquo;.&nbsp; Apparently it was Stalin who put Article 121 (on homosexuality) back in the Criminal Code. They say he did so at the request of Maxim Gorky after someone had tried to seduce his son, though that might be a myth &ndash; who knows? Lenin repealed the original Tsarist law, Stalin brought it back and then Yeltsin removed it once and for all.</p> <p><strong>SR: </strong>Could we perhaps see a kind of continuity with the Soviet Union in contemporary society&rsquo;s attitudes to homosexuality? Newspapers were initially extremely unwilling to write about the murder of Vlad Tornovoy in Volgograd, but when they were criticised for this, one of them printed an editorial explaining that there isn&rsquo;t much interest in this kind of topic because there&rsquo;s nothing particularly special about it. Half the country has been in prison, as it were, so everyone is governed by the prison code.&nbsp; </p> <p><strong>VS: </strong>The Leningrad siege robbed me of my childhood, both physically and psychologically, so I was pretty hopeless at school. But I remember well, how we were taught that everything bad was down to the Tsar. The fact that there were rich and poor, honest and dishonest &ndash; this was all a hangover from Tsarist times, and I grew up believing it. And until 1953 I was also convinced that Comrade Stalin was thinking of me as he smoked his pipe by the window on the poster that hung in every school. What kind of mentality was that? </p> <blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;It was Stalin who put Article 121 (on homosexuality) back in the Criminal Code. They say he did so at the request of Maxim Gorky after someone had tried to seduce his son, though that might be a myth &ndash; who knows?&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>Then when I was 14 I met my friend Seryozha Mechik, who later became famous as the writer <a href="http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/tag/sergei-dovlatov/">Sergei Dovlatov</a>, and he told me this joke: Two men meet up after a long gap, and one asks the other where he&rsquo;s been. &lsquo;I&rsquo;ve been in prison for 10 years.&rsquo; &lsquo;What for?&rsquo; &lsquo;For nothing&rsquo;. &lsquo;You&rsquo;re lying &ndash; for nothing you get 25 years.&rsquo; </p> <p>I didn&rsquo;t understand the joke, and Seryozha said I was an idiot. Yes, people spent 25 years in the Gulag for nothing, and it made everyone, young and old, terrified. It also made us even more slave-like: &lsquo;Better not think; better not speak&rsquo;. But I do remember the rumours around at the time that <a href="http://www.last.fm/music/Vadim+Kozin/+wiki">Kozin</a>, the singer, had been imprisoned for being a homosexual, and there was the infamous <a href="http://www.answers.com/topic/leningrad-affair">Leningrad Affair</a>, including even artists from the Mariinsky, Alexandrinsky, Pushkin and other theatres.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Vladimir_Shahidzhanyan_RuNet-2009-2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Psychologist Vladimir Shakhidzhanian: 'the fact that homophobia has become routine is almost as terrible as the homophobia itself'</p><p class="image-caption"><span><span><strong>SR: </strong></span></span><span>Current anti-gay propaganda is often presented as protection of our children.&nbsp; What do you think about that?</span></p> <p><strong>VS: </strong>There has always been, and there always will be, homosexuality, but it&rsquo;s very important to understand that it&rsquo;s not the same as paedophilia. Any exploitation of children is always wrong.&nbsp; I advocate sex education in schools and think that homosexuality should be talked about from as early as year 4 [ages 9-10], as well as being discussed in a calm, intelligent way at home, warning of possible approaches by men.&nbsp; But some predators have a taste for 12-year old girls as well and this could well ruin a child&rsquo;s life.</p> <p><strong>SR: </strong>Do doctors often try to cure homosexuality?</p> <p><strong>VS: </strong>Of course, though requests for a &lsquo;cure&rsquo; are often not simple or straightforward. A young man might come to a doctor and say, for instance, that he is slightly attracted and aroused by women, but a male friend had come to see him the evening before, they had got very drunk and something had happened.&nbsp; This can knock a person for six if it&rsquo;s the first time he has had sex. He might feel that what has happened is terrible and homosexuals should be cast out of society, or, on the contrary, it might have been so wonderful that there seems no point in him trying to be any other way. In this case he has to be helped to sort himself out and to start thinking reflexively, rather than trying to &lsquo;cure&rsquo; him.</p> <p>It has been established that approximately 17% of women and 30% of men under 40 have had experience of relations with members of the same sex. The reasons are varied: adjoining beds in a hospital ward, too much to drink at a birthday party, watching porn in a closed circle of friends. But only 8-9% of exclusively gay people have tried heterosexual relations.</p> <h2>History</h2><p><strong>SR: </strong>Is the gay issue more controversial now than it was in the 90s?</p> <p><strong>VS: </strong>The &lsquo;wild 90s&rsquo; were definitely easier and simpler in this respect, but only by comparison with the 60s, 70s and 80s, not with today. In Soviet times there was nothing ever written about homosexuality. Then the USSR collapsed and newspapers or magazines sometimes published articles about the problems of same sex relationships, and then of course there were the small ads where you could look for potential partners. In the last 20 years, about 10 specialised magazines have appeared: <em>Theme, One Tenth, Queer [Rn Kvir]</em>&hellip;but unfortunately they&rsquo;ve all died for lack of cash &ndash; no one wants to be seen sponsoring a gay mag. The last to go was the print edition of <em>Queer</em>. Classified ads for homosexual partners are also a thing of the past and there&rsquo;s no longer any need to go to the public baths or hang around in toilets to pick someone up. You can find anything you want in the internet, on sites like gay.ru or lovegay.ru, to name but two. </p> <blockquote><p><em>'In the 90s the first gay club in Moscow opened, and several papers wrote about that. In the last 20 years, about 10 specialised magazines have appeared&hellip;but unfortunately they&rsquo;ve all died for lack of cash &ndash; no one wants to be seen sponsoring a gay mag.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>But if you think that gays had an easier life in the 90s, then you don&rsquo;t know your history very well. In Moscow there was a homophobic death every week (as there still is, by the way). There was an Orthodox priest, Abbot Lazar (&lsquo;Solnyshko&rsquo;) who&nbsp; was killed in 1990, for example. He met two young men in Moscow&rsquo;s Sretenka street and invited them home with him, where they subjected him to a ferocious attack and killed him. What is behind such murders? Are people on the lookout for homosexuals or is it just that they invite people back who can make money by killing them?&nbsp; Usually everything goes according to plan, but it can suddenly all go wrong </p> <p>On our site 'Solotyping' [<span class="s1"><a href="http://solotyping.com/">http://solotyping.com</a></span><span class="s2">&nbsp;</span><span>] we carried out a survey of attitudes to gays. 72% of our respondents were cool about them, 6.9% were aggressively anti, and 13% considered that they should just be ignored. I can assure you that the figures would have been considerably worse 10 years ago, even on our site: everyone would have been voting for them to be castrated and/or killed.</span></p> <p>So the situation is improving and there&rsquo;s more respect for the individual.</p> <h2>Current problems</h2> <p><strong>SR:<em> </em></strong>What are the main problems facing homosexuals in Russia?</p> <p><strong>VS: </strong>Lack of understanding on the part of their parents &ndash; that&rsquo;s the chief problem. Another terrible one is being refused a job because you&rsquo;re gay, or living in a state of constant stress, afraid equally of being outed and of coming out. </p> <p>People mainly come to see me for help with coming to terms with their sexuality: how to sort out your relationship with your family, who don&rsquo;t understand how you are different. The saddest are the suicides, people who take their own lives because they feel rejected by society.&nbsp; The most successful cases I see are people who accept themselves for what they are, are unafraid of exposure and making good progress at work, and generally living happy lives. </p> <blockquote><p><em>'On our site we did a survey of attitudes to gays. 72% of respondents were cool about them, 6.9% were aggressively anti, and 13% thought they should just be ignored. The figures would have been considerably worse 10 years ago, even on our site: everyone would have been voting for them to be castrated and/or killed.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>I&rsquo;ve spent more than 20 years studying this area and can tell you there has been some progress: people living in the big cities are increasingly accepting of homosexuality, although I know people who are openly gay can&rsquo;t get a job in a school or in higher education and don&rsquo;t always get jobs in medical practices. And they are still ostracized during their military service and, of course, humiliated (sodomised and otherwise abused) in prisons.</p> <p>There are gays in every walk of life: in education, art, the army, the civil service - but as a rule they conceal their sexuality, afraid of the bosses finding out and making life complicated.</p> <p>Russians are brought up to believe that a man should be attracted to a woman, should become a father and live in a &lsquo;normal&rsquo; family, as their fathers and grandfathers did before them. If you are &lsquo;different&rsquo;, you&rsquo;ll be found out by the homophobes and have your face smashed in. Neighbours will start whispering behind your back, you&rsquo;ll be ostracised by your colleagues at work and the management will want to get rid of you.</p> <p>Pansy, faggot, queer, homo&hellip;in a word, animal. You can be beaten up and left for dead by people calling you these names.&nbsp; </p> <p>These were the words that were chanted while a well-known theatre director was beaten up, a young engineer from a town on the Volga was murdered and, finally, during the brutal murder of the 23-year old man in Volgograd. It&rsquo;s ubiquitous, no one is surprised &ndash; they&rsquo;re even used to it and there&rsquo;s nothing particularly interesting about such events. The fact that homophobia has become routine is almost as terrible as the homophobia itself.</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/sergey-khazov/rainbow-russia">Rainbow Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kathryn-dovey/russia-enshrining-homophobia">Russia: enshrining homophobia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-kochetkov/pride-prejudice-%E2%80%94-just-%E2%80%98don%E2%80%99t-say-gay%E2%80%99-in-russia">Pride, prejudice — just ‘don’t say gay’ in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society Conflict Culture LGBT Vladimir Shakhidzhanian Svetlana Reiter Queer Russia Wed, 19 Jun 2013 15:27:25 +0000 Svetlana Reiter and Vladimir Shakhidzhanian 73442 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Going on empty: interviews with Astrakhan’s hunger protesters https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-reiter/going-on-empty-interviews-with-astrakhan%E2%80%99s-hunger-protesters <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="p1"><img style="float: right;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/sheinrally_0.jpeg" alt="" width="160" />A month ago today, more than twenty people joined ex-candidate Oleg Shein in a hunger strike against disputed mayoral elections in the regional capital&nbsp;city of Astrakhan, south Russia. As the health of those still protesting continues to decline, Svetlana Reiter spoke to two of the strikers to discover what propelled them to such a radical form of protest.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <blockquote><p><strong><em><br />Note from oDR editors</em></strong>&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">That Astrakhan would become the central focus of Russian politics could hardly have been anticipated a month ago. A small, sleepy provincial town situated at the Volga delta some 800 miles SE of Moscow, the city had scarcely registered on the radar of national Russian politics before. Local politics was uninterestingly typical of the Russian regions, symbolised by the rule of thuggish business interests, a wearied and placid electorate and regular, reliable returns for the ruling party.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">The decision by local politician Oleg Shein and two dozen close comrades to begin a hunger strike on March 16 has transformed Astrakhan's profile. In the weeks since, the city has seen an unprecedented influx of influential visitors: from international journalists to the leaders of Moscow&rsquo;s protest movement, who are understandably keen to rekindle the momentum of a faltering campaign. </p><p class="p1">Initially, these Moscow emissaries &mdash; who included blogger politician Aleksey Navalny, activist Ilya Yashin and journalist Kseniya Sobchak &mdash; seemed to have litt<span>le impact on the local mood. That remained largely one of indifference. Yet a rally held two days ago in support of the strikers attracted several thousand people, which indicated public sentiment was turning.&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p1">Shein continues to demand a rerun of the March 4 elections, which he claims were fixed against him. The video footage from polling stations, not all of which has been released by the Central Election Committee, indicates he may well have a point.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">As the ex-candidate enters a critical stage in his protest, there are some signs that the authorities may already be listening. Shein is, for example, due in Moscow today for talks Chair of the Central Election Commission, the infamous Vladimir Churov. Any announcement that overturns the results of the election would, of course, be nothing short of sensational. On the other hand, a concession of some sort might be considered necessary to check growing sympathy for the strikers. Whichever way the authorities respond, Oleg Shein and his supporters&rsquo; radical stand has already acheived something &mdash; that is, quite unexpectedly, to have pushed the pendulum of expectation away from the oppostion and back towards the Kremlin.&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>&nbsp;</p><h2>'You have to see where I'm coming from'</h2> <p class="p1"><strong>Dmitry Volkov, 45<br /></strong><strong>Lawyer</strong></p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/volkov.png%20" alt="" width="160" /></p><p class="p1">I&rsquo;m chair of the local branch of the &lsquo;Just Russia&rsquo; regional political committee in Astrakhan. I went on hunger strike on 16 March, but was obliged to stop a week ago for health reasons.&nbsp; I have been active in politics for more than 15 years, the last eleven of which I&rsquo;ve also served as an official election observer. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">My moment of clarity came last year.&nbsp; I was hoping to be elected a municipality deputy for my party, &lsquo;Just Russia.&rsquo;&nbsp; My opponent from the official ruling party, &lsquo;United Russia,&rsquo; approached me and said: &lsquo;Dmitry Aleksandrovich, you would have a real chance if you were in our party.&rsquo; He told me that the issue was already settled and, unless I was standing for &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo;, I had no chance at all of being elected.</p> <p class="p1">Political machinations are well honed in the Astrakhan region, as could clearly be seen at the December parliamentary and March presidential elections.</p> <p class="p1">Until the end of February, I was an agent for Igor Bretter, who was standing as an independent for the post of chair of the rural council in the Staro-Kuchergan municipality. Our candidate wasn&rsquo;t registered, but the Communist Party candidate for the same rural council was a close friend of mine, Faik Sukhanberdiev. On election day I was at his headquarters. Perhaps the most memorable point was when at one of the polling stations the chairman and members of the electoral commission grabbed hold of all the ballot papers and official return, and disappeared into thin air. The returns as recorded by the observers had shown that Faik had won &mdash; Faik had copies of the signed reports on the voting results &mdash; but the District Electoral Commission went to court and got the results for that station declared invalid. The 'United Russia' candidate, Abdulov, had supposedly won the other polling stations winner with a very small majority, so he was declared the winner. There were only 18 votes between him and Sukhanberdiev.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>'I've got children and I want them to grow up with the rule of law, rather than the rules of the underworld'</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">It was the same story at most of the city's polling stations. I saw the documents and video clips: one woman had a wad of voting papers stuck down her trousers and during the count the members of the electoral commission were trying to edge her as near as possible to the table.&nbsp; Presidential votes were counted first and this was more or less transparent, but at the mayoral election the count was marvellous to behold. The commission members formed a tight circle around the table and the observers were pushed out of the way; voting papers were simply transferred from the pile for Oleg Shein to the 'United Russia' candidate, Stolyarov. It was as basic as that.&nbsp; As was to be expected, the police remained neutral, occasionally kicking out members of the Local Electoral Commission with attendance, or voting, rights. One of our observers was beaten and reports were 'rewritten' on a massive scale.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Six of the city's polling stations have electronic facilities for automated vote-counting and here Shein won convincingly: you can&rsquo;t falsify such a count, you understand. But where the counting was done manually, Stolyarov was supposedly 37% ahead, which isn&rsquo;t exactly consistent. On 15 March we submitted complaints to the Regional Electoral Commission, but they were not accepted. The chair of that commission is Igor Korovin, a former state prosecutor who taught the practical element of prosecution studies in my college. Until recently I regarded him as quite an honest man, but when we went to present him with our proof of election rigging, he called in the police and we were thrown out on our ear.</p> <p class="p1">This was the last straw. On 16 April we announced an indefinite political hunger strike.&nbsp; We didn't even demand a recount &ndash; if they could falsify the reports, then they could also destroy some of the papers recording votes for Shein.</p> <p class="p1">There were initially 10 people at Oleg Shein's headquarters on Sovetskaya street &ndash; some from 'Just Russia', some pensioners and young people.&nbsp; Then others turned up, all election observers who had seen the cynicism and travesties of justice for themselves. There are currently more than 20 people, with people coming and going all the time. I particularly remember Svetlana Lezhneva.&nbsp; She had been a sportswoman and I became friends with her, because I myself used to do judo &ndash; I even took part in a competition with Putin in 1980, though we were in different weight categories. Both Lezhneva and I were 'Dynamo' supporters. I wouldn't have expected such stamina and such calm from a woman.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I am well-built, so for me the 13kgs I lost over the 3 weeks were not a matter of life and death.&nbsp; The first 3 days were very difficult, because you think about food all the time and, in addition, Shein's headquarters are over a caf&eacute; and the aromas coming from the ventilation shaft all came our way.&nbsp; You inhale the smells and salivate all the time, but can do nothing about it.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Things got easier on the 4th day because of activated carbon and water. Initially I drank fizzy water, but it made my stomach swell, so I changed over to ordinary water. I actually tried to drink as little as possible to avoid water retention. After 2 weeks people started leaving, because the rapid weight loss was too difficult to bear. But those who remained began opening up and we all became closer.&nbsp; I worked for a long time on fishing boats with crews of 15-20 people and it was just the same: when you're all hugger-mugger and constantly together, you cannot but become closer. I became friends with Elena Grebenyuk, a correspondent for the website <a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/">'Caucasian Knot'</a>, who has been there from day 1.&nbsp; She has lost a lot of weight but remains cheerful.&nbsp; It was she who helped us break through the information blockade. A person of great stamina and very honourable, despite her being a journalist!</p> <p class="p1">By week 3 I started having stomach cramps.&nbsp; 3 days ago I felt really ill and told my friends that I would have to stop.&nbsp; Everyone understood &ndash; no one is held there against their will.&nbsp; I left the building on Sovetskaya street, got into a car, went home and lay down to sleep, but I wasn't able to break my fast. I tried to eat a piece of processed cheese, but the stomach cramps came back and appalling diarrhoea (apologies for mentioning this).&nbsp; I got scared and didn't eat any more.&nbsp; I plan to return to Sovetskaya in a couple of days.</p> <p class="p1">There is no other way of influencing the way things are. Only a blind person could fail to see that the city is in the grip of the mafia.&nbsp; The last mayor, Sergei Bozhenov, sold all the city property for virtually nothing.&nbsp; One of his deputies, Mr Sitnikov, was in a Swiss prison for manufacturing false passports and another, Didenko, did time for embezzling 4 million roubles.&nbsp; You have to see where I'm coming from &ndash; I've got children and I want them to grow up with the rule of law, rather than the rules of the underworld.</p><p class="p1">&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/sheinrally_0.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Ex-mayoral candidate Oleg Shein addresses crowds at Saturday's rally in Astrakhan. Shein has lost 12kg since he began his hunger strike with supporters one month ago. Picture: Maksim Korotchenko/maxik2k.livejournal.com</p> <h2><strong>'Radical measures are much more effective'</strong></h2> <p class="p1"><strong>Alexander Kirpichenko, 26<br /></strong><strong>Correspondent for the newspaper 'Astrakhan Pravda'</strong><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/aleks.png" alt="" width="160" /></p><p class="p1">At the presidential election on 4 March I was part of a mobile group of journalists checking for infringements. We started early, at 7 am. We had a driver who sat in the car all the time to stop people slashing the tyres &ndash; which has happened &ndash; while I and my colleague Sergei Kazanov went into polling stations.&nbsp; Sergei was a member of the Territorial Electoral Commission (TEC) with attendance rights, but no vote.</p> <p class="p1">Before voting started we went all round the polling stations and saw no evidence of incorrect behaviour. Later we only went to places which had signalled a need &ndash; an observer had been thrown out, journalists not allowed in.&nbsp; So the day passed by middling well.</p> <p class="p1">Kazanov and I split up around 7 in the evening: he went to his electoral commission and I went to polling station no 384, which is in a branch of the Volga Academy of Water Transport.&nbsp; The building was shut at 8pm and no one was allowed out, even to the toilet.&nbsp; People were checked off against lists and it all took a long time.&nbsp; Then, just before the vote count started, at the moment the boxes should have been emptied on to the table, the chair of the commission noticed that my friend, also an observer, had a video camera. It was turned off, but an argument developed and I realised that we were going to be thrown out of the station in the classic manner: just like we were on 4 December at the parliamentary election.&nbsp; As expected, Bazhanova (the chair) proposed that a vote be taken to exclude us.&nbsp; She herself wrote: 'The members of Polling Station 384 Electoral Commission voted to remove media representatives who had been making video recordings and taking photographs without permission, challenging audio and video recordings being carried out by Rostelekom.' My camera had also been off all the time and simply lying by my side.</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>&lsquo;Someone joining a hunger strike is highly motivated: even if pies were set out on a table by him, he wouldn't eat. If you're not motivated, then stay at home, eating in the kitchen and engaging in empty discussions.&rsquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">I went by car to the territorial commission, only to find that a new metallic fence had been thrown up around the building.&nbsp; When I stopped to remove the fence, a man came out of the building and said I couldn't film.&nbsp; I argued to be let in for a long time and did finally get in to meet Kazanov, who said that was was going on at the Commission was completely amazing. He himself had photographed several cars driving up to the back door of the building to deliver sacks of voting papers. Our colleagues requested that the floor above the TEC be checked, as they could hear footsteps (the final reports were probably being rewritten up there), but the police would not grant us access to that floor.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">OSCE observers were also present at the election. Later on I gave a lift to <a href="http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/AssemblyList/ALMemberDetails.asp?MemberID=3498">Andreas Gross</a>, Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly member, who was in shock.&nbsp; The only thing he could say was that the word 'democracy' had no place in Astrakhan.&nbsp; That night I managed to get 4 hours sleep. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I expected there would be demonstrations the next day, but there weren't. On 15 March we gathered up all our complaints, statements and film footage, and a group of 6 of us set off the Regional Electoral Commission.&nbsp; We had drawn up a document setting out our demands, which we handed to the chair of the commission, Korovin, in his office. After a minute's confusion, Korovin called the police and we moved to the conference hall, where we prepared ourselves for our hunger strike, but we were turned out by the head of the Public Security Police&nbsp; [locally-raised municipal police force, ed]. The next day, 16 March, we went to 'Just Russia' headquarters in Sovetskaya street, got out our laptops, spread out our mattresses, set up web-cameras and were away, as it were.</p> <p class="p1">There were initially 6 of us, but the numbers changed as people stopped fasting and were replaced by others. There are currently more than 20 people there.&nbsp; It soon emerged that my previous understanding of hunger fasts had been inaccurate.&nbsp; I was sure that by day 3 we would be lying flat out, exhausted, but it wasn't the case at all.&nbsp; By day 5 hunger pangs disappear, to be followed a bit later by waves of weakness. If I needed to run 30 metres along the corridor to catch someone up, I could do it, but then I had to lie down.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Of all the people fasting with us the most amazing was a retired lady, Mrs Kukushkina. She was there from the start, having been an observer at the election.&nbsp; She was very pleasant, well-mannered and well-educated and she was diabetic. She held out for 3 days, but was then taken away by ambulance. When she was carried out of the building, everyone in the street clapped.</p> <p class="p1">I live alone, because my parents live in Volgograd.&nbsp; I didn't tell them anything about the hunger strike until the last moment: after 16 days the doctors told me not to fast any more.&nbsp; I felt OK, but my state of health had deteriorated and the doctors' diagnosis was 'alimentary exhaustion, altered blood pressure and pulse.'</p> <p class="p1">It's hard to fast.&nbsp; I can't speak for everyone, but when people are in a building for a long time&hellip;I saw squabbles developing over nothing, mostly among the women.</p> <p class="p1">None of us were depressed because we were absolutely sure that what we were doing was right, which kept us going.&nbsp; Someone joining a hunger strike is highly motivated: even if pies were set out on a table by him, he wouldn't eat. If you're not motivated, then stay at home, eating in the kitchen and engaging in empty discussions. Tomorrow [interview recorded 9 April] we are organising a tent encampment next to the Kirov monument, 100 metres from the building where our friends are fasting.&nbsp; Today I went past and saw the the pro-Kremlin youth are already setting up their tents, so there's clearly going to be a confrontation.</p> <p class="p1">I'm not afraid and nothing scares me: Astrakhan will triumph and our success will inspire people to more radical protest.&nbsp; I took part because the 4 December parliamentary election showed very clearly that traditional ways of fighting will get us nowhere.&nbsp; I'm still getting standard brush-off responses to my protests of December and it's already April.&nbsp; Radical measures are much more effective.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><em>A version of these interviews was first published in Russian at <a href="http://esquire.ru/astrakhan">esquire.ru</a></em></p> oD Russia oD Russia Svetlana Reiter Whistles and tears: Russia's year of elections Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Beyond propaganda Internal Human rights Mon, 16 Apr 2012 21:29:30 +0000 Svetlana Reiter 65367 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Behind the scenes at the death squads of Chechnya https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-reiter-igor-kalyapin/behind-scenes-at-death-squads-of-chechnya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://lh3.ggpht.com/--IbIPXLzJnY/SWs8wKKv_1I/AAAAAAAASLM/OQUT9AdP1CM/0000362499-019.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Formal hostilities may have ceased in Chechnya, but civilians continue to be abducted, tortured and murdered by the authorities in the region. Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee Against Torture, talks to Svetlana Reiter about the remarkable and dangerous work being done to seek justice for the victims.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The <a href="http://www.pytkam.net/web/index.php?go=Content&amp;id=279">Committee Against Torture</a> works in five regions of the Russian Federation, including the republics of Bashkortostan and Chechnya. In all the regions our work consists of trying to compel the agencies of criminal investigation (previously called the Procurator&rsquo;s Office, now the &ldquo;<a href="http://en.sledcom.ru">Committee of Investigation</a>&rdquo;), to investigate properly crimes committed by the police and members of the other special services.</p><p>Investigators are mostly not interested in bringing these malefactors to justice and they&rsquo;re well versed in how to ensure a case brought to them will go no further. But at the Committee Against Torture we know the rules of the game too and, wherever we can, we prevent investigators from blocking cases. We have devised a series of legal procedures enabling NGOs to carry out their own investigations and insert the results into the criminal proceedings, even where investigators fight them all the way.</p> <p>In ordinary regions the work is never easy, but nevertheless we manage to drag a large proportion of the cases we take on to court. Our count to date is 75 cases of charges successfully brought against state employees (mostly policemen) for the illegal use of violence.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Chechnya too, we have had significant successes. Previously, when the work involved dealing with soldiers of the federal army, we saw many successfully prosecuted. However, these days, in the personal fiefdom of Chechen President <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/ramzan-kadyrov-the-warrior-king-of-chechnya-430738.html">Ramzan Kadyrov</a>, where federal agents have handed over to local police and special services, the work has become exponentially more difficult and the extraordinary impediments to justice are worth detailing at length.</p> <p><strong>The Feds</strong></p> <p>One of our cases in Chechnya concerned a gym teacher, Alaudi Sadykov, who had never been involved any trouble. An elderly man, he worked in a group sweeping the streets in the capital, Grozny. One day in 2000 he was sorting out rubbish heaps when an armoured personnel vehicle went past. It stopped and the driver asked the way to some street or other. Sadykov explained how to get there, but the people in the APV said &ldquo;No, you get in and show us the way.&rdquo; He was taken to the local multi-disciplinary police team station, where there were policemen from the distant, central Siberian town of Khantiy-Mansiisk who had been detailed to Grozny. They tied him to a radiator, cut off his ear, burnt the palm of his hand with a heated rod and knocked out all his teeth. After three months he was thrown out on the side of the road. Half dead, Sadykov managed to crawl as far as his house and the next day he submitted a statement to the office of the procurator.</p><blockquote>"We, the Russian taxpayers, are paying for men who are called policemen to cut off people's ears."</blockquote> <p>What they were trying to get out of him is unclear - they just wanted to torture him. He was held in an improvised concentration camp set up inside Grozny's Oktyabrsky district police station. This was sanctioned by the procurator's office and he was concealed from European diplomats who were visiting Chechnya.</p><p class="image-caption"><img src="http://lh3.ggpht.com/--IbIPXLzJnY/SWs8wKKv_1I/AAAAAAAASLM/OQUT9AdP1CM/0000362499-019.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-caption">"Violent disappearance" is a regular occurrence in Chechnya. The perpetrators are well known to all, but because they are protected by powerful patrons within the authorities, they are effectively untouchable and official investigators are too scared to take on the cases.</p> <p>The sadistic policemen were identified &ndash; both we and the official investigators have their personal details &ndash; but they've all been sent back to Khantiy-Mansiisk and are continuing to serve there in the police force. The investigation has ground to a halt: there is no official record of those policemen ever coming to Chechnya and when investigators went to Khantiy-Mansiisk to identify them, they were told &ldquo;Get out of here while the going's good. We don't hand our own people over. Those lads are heroes because they took part in an operation to deal with counter-revolutionaries.&rdquo; As a result, the case had to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights and Russia has had to compensate the victim, Sadykov, approximately 90,000 euros. So it's we, the Russian tax payer, who are paying for the "bold deeds" of the heroes from Khantiy-Mansiisk, while people who like chopping off ears are called policemen.</p> <p><strong>The local police: </strong><strong>Kadyrov's men</strong></p> <p>Large-scale hostilities in the valleys of the Republic of Chechnya have long since come to an end, but kidnapping continues in this apparently prosperous region. This used to be the domain of the federal police, who would paint over the numbers on their cars and wear masks to make identification difficult. Now identification is no problem: those who commit brutalities are usually local policemen and we know their names and which station they're from. They show their documents when they arrest someone and take him away from his home. And that's it &ndash; he disappears and in five years not a single one of these so-called &ldquo;Kadyrov policemen&rdquo; has been brought to court. The official description of this occurence is &ldquo;kidnapped by persons unknown&rdquo;, although everyone in the area will know exactly who these &ldquo;unknown persons&rdquo; are.&nbsp;</p><blockquote>"Russian law doesn't seem to describe this crime adequately. It's not kidnapping, because here things are done openly, even ostentatiously. Nor is it arrest, because are none of the appropriate legal measures are observed. International law has a more suitable term: 'violent disappearance'."</blockquote><p>I'm not even sure how this particular crime can be described in Russian law. &ldquo;Kidnapping?&rdquo; Not really, because people are kidnapped in secret, whereas in these cases everything is done openly, often ostentatiously. &ldquo;Arrest&rdquo;?&nbsp; Again, no, because arrest presupposes a whole series of legal measures: an indictment, confinement in a place stipulated by the law, access to a lawyer, etc.&nbsp; However, international law has the more suitable term, &ldquo;violent disappearance&rdquo;. Two years ago Russia signed the UN Convention which covers this kind of crime, but people are still disappearing in Chechnya, just as they always have, without trace. When relatives go to the Investigating Committee, criminal charges are brought, but the case is never investigated. In time cases such as these are archived: the charity <a href="http://www.memo.ru/eng/index.htm">Memorial</a> estimates the number of these cases at around 3,000.</p> <p><strong>Investigation Bureau no.2</strong></p> <p>One case concerning Kadyrov men was, however, successfully investigated. The trial was held in 2007 in the Supreme Court of the Republic of Chechnya, though the crimes were committed in 2005.</p> <p>Ruslan Asuyev, Islam Agayev and Aslan Dzhamulayev were three policemen who wanted to fast-track their careers by boosting their rate of terminating insurgents. Their <a href="http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13804730">method of operation</a> involved offering prestigious police jobs to people and inviting them for interview. There they would proceed to dress them in camouflage clothing, arm them and tell them to run, upon which they would shoot them dead. With the victims carrying weapons, they could be passed off as militants. In other cases, women were kidnapped in the street and murdered; the policemen then put suicide bomber's belts on them in order that they too were tagged as militants.</p><blockquote>"Three policemen who wanted to fast-track their careers employed a method of offering police jobs to people and inviting them for 'interview', where they would dress them up in camouflage, give them guns, tell them to run and then and then kill them, passing them off as militants. Their 'success rate', unsurprisingly, was extraordinary."</blockquote> <p>Their "success rate" was, unsurprisingly, extraordinary and their careers really took off. They also made raids into Dagestan and Ingushetia, where they kidnapped businessmen and demanded ransoms for them. And this was their undoing. The Investigation Bureau no.2 &ndash; whose officers themselves were no strangers to<a href="http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,HRW,,RUS,,4565e1fb4,0.html"> committing human rights abuses</a> &ndash; uncovered what the Asuyev gang was up to and, remarkably, the perpetrators were tried and convicted. At the time this Bureau answered to competitors of President Ramzan Kadyrov, and since then Kadyrov has used the Bureau's own poor public reputation to oust these competitors from positions of influence, consolidating his total control over the power vertical.</p> <p><strong>Estemirova</strong></p> <p>Midway through the 2000s the <em>carte blanche</em> for carrying out illegal violence was gradually transferred from the Feds to the representatives of local defence and law enforcement agencies, which were controlled by Kadyrov. As a consequence, four years ago we began to receive complaints about the new Kadyrov policemen, rather than the Feds. Each time the staff in our Chechen division told me that the suspects were people answering to one of three men: Deputy <a href="http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/4886">Adam Delimkhanov</a>, Deputy Chairman of the Government Magomed Daudov, or the head of OMON (special services), Alikhan Tsakayev. Each time they told me it had been made clear that if they took up these cases, they and their relatives would be intimidated, tortured and murdered. As director of the organisation, I therefore made the decision that we simply did not have the ability or the resources to take on these cases, and we had to explain this to victims' families who had approached us.</p><p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.rawinwar.org/images/stories/Estemirova.jpg" alt="Nataliya Estemirova" width="400" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">Without any special training or experience, Nataliya <br />Estemirova at the charity Memorial took on cases that<br />even the Committee Against Torture felt were too <br />dangerous, but this ended with her murder in 2009.<br />(Photo: rawinwar.org)<br /></span></p><p>So people went to Memorial, where <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/natalya-estemirova-kidnapped-and-murdered">Natasha Estemirova</a>, without any specialist knowledge or relevant experience, was brave enough to take the cases on. It was only after her murder that I discovered how she and colleagues were dealing with kidnapping cases. It was not only bold, but efficient too and could have worked. But it ended with her murder. I realise that she had being doing what we had refused to do and that our Committee either had to start taking on new disappearance cases or leave Chechnya. That at least would be honest: close the office and say that it was no longer possible to work here.</p> <p><strong>Joint flying squads</strong></p><p>But we decided this would not be the right way to proceed. Our lawyers who live in Chechnya cannot undertake this kind of work &ndash; they would end up with the same fate as befell Estemirova. So we started using joint mobile teams (a system which had already been trialled in other parts of Russia where there had been widespread human rights abuses). Our lawyers from other regions started coming to Chechnya, working on a shift basis. A shift consists of three people, who stay in Chechnya for a month and are then replaced by others. We rent a flat in the centre of Grozny to act as our office. In this we are copying the work of the official Investigating Committee: most of their staff memebers also come to Chechnya for a few months, work at their base and only leave the base in cases of extreme necessity &ndash; and never alone. When they travel to investigation meetings there are never less than three of them; at the base and in their cars they have recording equipment, so everything is recorded and written down, affording a modicum of protection. Each staff member has a personal dictaphone, which is in operation 24/7.&nbsp; We do everything we can to protect our members of staff. We have developed a reputation in Chechnya for employing high-tech methods and this itself acts as a deterrent. Yet the technology would, of course, be no protection against bullets if they were to start shooting at us.</p><blockquote>"The only way we can operate in Chechnya now is to use non-local staff, fly them in for short rotating shifts in Grozny, make sure they always travel in threes and ensure they have personal dictaphones that are switched on 24/7."</blockquote><p>The first shift arrived in Chechnya on 30 November 2009, with the simple objective of taking on a few of the new (2009) kidnapping cases, and trying to work out what goes on inside the Investigating Committee and why not a single case was actually being investigated.</p> <p>We took on nine cases and our lawyers became official participants in the criminal trials, representing the victims. In all the cases charges had been brought under Article 126 of the Criminal Code, which covers responsibility for kidnapping. This article subsequently turned into Article 105 (&ldquo;murder&rdquo;), because it's clear that if a person has not been found after a long period of time, he or she is probably no longer alive. Of these nine cases, two are no longer active: in one case we were able to establish that the disappearance was not for criminal reasons; in the other the victim&rsquo;s relatives decided against taking us on, which is understandable &ndash; by making a statement to us they&rsquo;d be endangering themselves. Here are some insights into two of the remaining seven cases we are currently working on:&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The oil regiment</strong></p> <p>Estemirova was working on the case of a young man called Apti Zainalov and we have taken it on. He came to Chechnya in 2009 from Saratov in southern Russia.&nbsp; He had a completely clean slate: for a short time he was involved in operations during the First Chechen War (1994-6) on the separatist side, but then who wasn't? He was <a href="http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/chechnya1-1.htm">amnestied</a> and spent several years in the Saratov region. He wanted to go and study in Egypt, but it didn't work out, so he decided to come home to his mother. He never made it.</p> <p>He flew into Chechnya on 26 June 2009 and got a taxi at Grozny Airport. He went as far as Pervomaisky street in the centre of town, where he was seized, dragged out of the car and put into another car belonging to the so-called &ldquo;oil regiment&rdquo; (officially known as the Special Regiment of the Patrol Guard Service of the Chechen Ministry of the Interior Extradepartmental Protection Service).&nbsp; This service is supposed to protect oil industry sites and pipelines, but the once-huge oil processing infrastructure was almost completely destroyed during the Chechen wars, so there is very little work to be done in this area. The divisions of the regiment therefore do whatever they like: it's a whole army, unlike any other, commanded by Sharip Delimkhanov, the brother of the Adam, the aforementioned parliamentary deputy. The Delimkhanov clan is extremely influential in Chechnya: Ramzan Kadyrov calls Adam his preferred successor, despite Adam&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.interpol.int/public/Data/Wanted/Notices/Data/2009/68/2009_11968.asp">presence</a> on the international wanted list.</p><p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/committee-staff.jpg" alt="Committee Against Torture staff in Chechnya" width="400" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Following Nataliya Estemirova's murder, the Committee Against Torture has employed a new tactic to <br />enable them to operate in Chechnya: rotating mobile teams of staff temporarily seconded to the region for a few months. (Photo: Committee Against Torture)<br /></span></p> <p>Apti Zainalov was detained and simply disappeared. His mother, Aima Makaeva, went to the Procurator's office and a case was opened under Article 126, but nothing was done to investigate. Aima went to Memorial and two weeks later staff members there discovered by chance that in one of the surgical wards of the central regional hospital there was a patient with gunshot wounds to his stomach being kept under guard in strict isolation &ndash; and this turned out to be Apti. Estemirova went to the inter-district procurator, who kept her waiting two hours. During that time Apti was whisked off elsewhere, in full view of his mother, who was trying in vain to get into the hospital.</p> <p>It later emerged that a week earlier, representatives of the Procurator's office had received information that Apti was being held in the hospital and had gone to check on the situation. The official document reads: &ldquo;In one of the wards a young man, 28-32 years old, 180-85 cms height, with a bandaged head, was being guarded by two unidentified military personnel in camouflage uniform. The guards prevented the procurator from entering the ward by shooting at him and threatening to kill him.&rdquo;&nbsp; This is the internal document recording the investigation which had been carried out at our request. Some people in camouflage uniform can say to the Procurator&rsquo;s officials &ldquo;one more step and you're a gonner&rdquo;, and the brave servants of Russian law obediently turn tail and flee.</p> <p>After that Zainalov was in the hospital for another week and nothing happened.&nbsp; The procurator, having found out where the kidnap victim was being held, didn't lift a finger to get him released. On receipt of a signal from somewhere, the victim was then hurriedly removed. It's logical to presume that Apti is no longer alive, but we are working on his case and his mother is, of course, very vulnerable. If well-trained procurators stand up on their hind legs for these people, knocking off an old Chechen woman will be no problem for them.</p> <p><strong>One who lived to tell the tale</strong></p> <p>There is one case I am quite hopeful about. Not because the investigation has been properly carried out &ndash; it hasn&rsquo;t &ndash; but &nbsp;because of all the seven cases we are working on, this is the only one in which the kidnapping victim has survived and can act as a first-hand witness. His name is Islam Umarpashaev.&nbsp;</p> <p>His parents told us that in December 2009 their 26-year-old son had been taken away from their home in Grozny and that he then disappeared. There was no formal reason for his arrest. He had visited an internet chat-room on his mobile phone and posted some unflattering remarks about Chechen policemen. This was picked up and he was arrested and held for four months, chained to a pipeline inside the OMON (special forces) base in Grozny. The plan was then to kill him and pass him off as a militant. When he was in the basement they made no secret of the fact that they were preparing him for the holiday on 9 May: &ldquo;We'll put a uniform on you, give you a machine gun and you'll die like a man!&rdquo;</p> <p>He was freed for several reasons. Firstly our flying squad was already operating in Chechnya, so we quickly made a commotion. We appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and they reacted very quickly, which coincided with our information campaign. This meant it would have been very difficult for his captives to pass Umarpashaev off as a militant.&nbsp; Secondly, we managed to get hold of his telephone bill and quickly establish where he had been taken.</p> <p>Four months later, on 2 April 2010 Police Investigator Anzor Dyshniyev from Grozny&rsquo;s Oktyabrsky police station personally took Islam out of the OMON basement. But to release him, Dynyshev had to know where he had been for these four months. He made Islam promise to write a statement to the effect that he had been in the Moscow region all that time.&nbsp; He then rang up the investigating officer, Isayev, who was dealing with Islam's case, to tell him to come and write this statement. But it turned out that the commotion we had raised had caused Umarpashaev case to be escalated to the attention of Prosecutor Gaiberkov, who looks after the most important cases. Islam was allowed home, but told that he would have to go to the Oktyabrsky police station and make a statement that he had been playing truant for four months and had no complaints against the police.</p> <p>Islam was shaved, as his beard had grown enormously, and handed over to his father and brother who had come to collect him, and perhaps he would actually have made the statement about being in the Moscow region, but his parents were terrified that further conspiracy was afoot and that the recent <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8592190.stm">Moscow metro explosion</a>, which had been blamed on Chechen militants, would then be &ldquo;pinned&rdquo; on him. They decided to ask our advice and we took the decision to get him out of Chechnya as quickly as possible. That night we put him on a plane for Moscow and from there by car (to confuse any trackers) to Nizhny Novgorod. On the way Islam told us that although he had been beaten at the beginning of his imprisonment, after that they only roughed him up. They treated him like a good farmer treats his cattle: the food wasn't bad, because a proper militant has to look in pretty good shape.</p> <p>When the Chechen OMON discovered that Islam had disappeared, they arrested his father and brother, saying that they would not be released until Islam was returned. I was telephoned in Nizhny Novgorod by Investigator Dyshniyev and told the same thing. I immediately rang the Chechen Minister of Internal Affairs, Alkhanov, who promised me they would be released. They weren't and it took another telephone call to tell him that the police were deceiving both us and him before they were actually allowed to go. Subsequently I learnt that one of the policemen had screamed at Islam's father and brother: &ldquo;I don't give a shit about Alkhanov &ndash; he's only a general and I am a relative of Ramzan [Kadyrov]. I have more clout than he does!&rdquo;</p> <p>After that I started getting official requests to produce Islam Umarpashaev.&nbsp; Relying on the amount of time needed for a letter to reach Chechnya, I answered truthfully in every case, but moved Islam on somewhere else, so they were never able to catch up with him. While the cat and mouse game was going on, we got Prosecutor Gairbekov to agree to countersign the evidence, as he is bound to do by law. Umarpashaev gave his evidence in Nizhny Novgorod and at our insistence his detailed explanation was included in the case files. To be doubly sure, we took Islam to meet the Russian Human Rights Ombudsman <a href="http://www.eng.yabloko.ru/People/Luk/lukin1.html">Vladimir Lukin</a>, where we wrote another explanation and sent a copy to Chechnya.</p> <p>The next stage required Islam to go to the OMON base and confirm exactly where he had been held, but it took us more than six months to get into the base.&nbsp; Gairbekov explained that they wouldn't let him in to the base and told us in confidence: &ldquo;I have to live here, and they'll kill me.&rdquo; He took no official steps: he just tried to convince us that we should bring Umarpashaev to him for questioning. We realised full well why he was asking for this and raised the question of state protection.</p> <p>At the end of September 2010 we brought Islam back to Grozny. There was a week&rsquo;s wait before Gairbekov could see him. Islam and his parents had an armed guard and one day this guard took Islam&rsquo;s father to the house of the OMON commander, Alikhan Tsakaev, who demanded that all the accusations be withdrawn within the space of 24 hours. In return Tsakaev promised that OMON would leave the family alone for ever.</p><p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/alikhan-tsakaev.jpg" alt="Alikhan Tsakaev" width="300" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Alikhan Tsakaev, head of the OMON <br />(special services) in Chechnya,&nbsp; <br />apparently thinks nothing of threatening<br />investigators with murder.<br /></span></p> <p>We realised that we had to get the whole family out to a safe place and hand the case over to a higher-level investigating officer, or another region. And the officer should not have any relatives in Chechnya. We petitioned the Investigation Committee at the Russian Prosecutor General's Office to take on the case. They refused, but following a political campaign on our part, which saw us send the petition to all EU embassies and consulates, and pressure from the EU Human Rights Commissioner <a href="http://www.coe.int/t/commissioner/about/biohammarberg_en.asp">Thomas Hammarberg</a>, the case was passed on to another agency, the Investigation Department for Especially Important Cases at the Chief Investigation Department for the North Caucasus and Southern Federal District. In mid-January 2011 Umarpashaev&rsquo;s case was taken on by Igor Sobol (head of the group investigating the murder of Natasha Estemirova) a good man and a good investigator. Success at last!</p> <p>Sobol&rsquo;s first step was to question Tsakaev, which until then no one had managed to do. It was obviously a formality and Tsakaev probably said he knew no one called Umarpashaev. Sobol told him that the next day he would be coming with Islam to the OMON base to check the victim&rsquo;s evidence at the scene of the crime. Tsakaev apparently started shouting that no one came on to his territory without his permission and that he would tell his men to open fire.&nbsp;</p> <p>The next day we went to the base with Islam. There was no shooting, thank heavens, and Islam was able to confirm his evidence.</p> <p>Sobol is doing all he can: if a report he has requested doesn&rsquo;t come in, he follows it up, taking it higher and higher up the chain of command. Worryingly, he told us that the Chechen Ministry of the Interior would no longer provide official protection &ndash; not that ever really had provided protection, and for the last month we have been living in a neighbouring republic, but I wanted the Ministry at least to be accountable, were anything to go wrong. I think that Sobol&rsquo;s activity has worried many people and someone high up is determined to silence Islam Umarpashaev. So now the family are living somewhere in Central Russia in a house in a forest, cut off from any communications and under heavy guard.</p> <p><strong>The Kremlin and Kadyrov&rsquo;s Chechnya</strong></p> <p>It&rsquo;s quite clear to me that the Russian Ministry of the Interior Temporary Task Force (VOGOiP) and the FSB have had strict instructions not to touch Kadyrov and his people, so as not to destabilise the situation in Chechnya. So, on personal instructions from Mr Putin (as I understand it) Kadyrov has absolute <em>carte blanche</em>.</p><blockquote>"If the people who are responsible for the policy of violence in the north Caucasus really think that with Kadyrov&rsquo;s help they can normalise the situation, then they&rsquo;re seriously mistaken."</blockquote><p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/ramzan-kadyrov.jpg" alt="Ramzan Kadyrov" width="400" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has carte<br />blanche from the Kremlin to run the region as a <br />personal fiefdom as long as he pursues a loyalist, anti-<br />separatist path. In practice this means the authorities <br />can kills anyone they like and pass them off as a militant.<br /></span></p><p>The Kremlin regards Kadyrov as the only alternative to war. He&rsquo;s a monster and an ogre, but he is holding the terrorists and <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/nov/22/chechnya.tomparfitt">Wahhabists</a> in check and if he were to be sent for trial, then there would be mayhem. I know for a fact that the threats from Kadyrov and his people, and the impossibility of getting justice anywhere nearer than Strasburg, have driven a lot of young people to take to the mountains. They&rsquo;re just sick of being afraid.</p> <p>If the people who are responsible for the policy of violence in the north Caucasus really think that with Kadyrov&rsquo;s help they can normalise the situation, then they&rsquo;re seriously mistaken. The situation is nowhere near normal &ndash; it&rsquo;s spreading, and not in a linear way, but exponentially.&nbsp; All the &ldquo;Chechen colonels&rdquo; in Kadyrov&rsquo;s inner circle have <em>carte blanche</em> to do what they want and are used to absolute power. Their professional warriors regard themselves as above Russian law and enjoy absolute impunity. They run protection rackets in neighbouring republics and along the &ldquo;Don Highway&rdquo; which goes as far as Moscow. They are busily acquiring land and real estate in the southern Russian cities of Stavropol and Krasnodar and have set up their own systems there.&nbsp; They have access to enormous sums of money &ndash; and not just from the state budget, though that is considerable (ten times the size of regional budgets in the rest of Russia per head of the population). And they are almost independent of Russia &ndash; its law, its regulatory bodies, prosecution system, <a href="http://www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk/articles-and-analysis/the-fsb-russias-not-so-secret-service">FSB</a> and Investigation Committee.</p> <p>By comparison with the current dynasty, the separatist government of <a href="Djokhar%20Dudaev">Djokhar Dudaev</a> in the early 1990s was a band of idle dreamers.</p><p><em>A version of this article was originally published in the Russian language edition of the magazine Esquire.</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="/article/email/natalia-estemirova-champion-of-ordinary-chechens">Natalia Estemirova, champion of ordinary Chechens</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/natalya-estemirova-kidnapped-and-murdered">Natalya Estemirova: kidnapped and murdered</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/natasha-estemirova-one-year-on">Natasha Estemirova: one year on</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oliver-bullough/loss-of-chechnya-case-for-defence">Loss of Chechnya: the case for the defence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/russia-theme/justice-chechen-style">Justice, Chechen style</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/politkovskaya_3993.jsp">Putin, Chechnya, and Politkovskaya</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> grozny </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia grozny Russia kidnapping torture murder Ramzan Kadyrov Chechnya Igor Kalyapin Svetlana Reiter The hydra of Russian justice Justice Internal Human rights Conflict Thu, 08 Sep 2011 15:00:38 +0000 Svetlana Reiter and Igor Kalyapin 61235 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia's dead end prison system https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-reiter/russias-dead-end-prison-system <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Flickr-still-burning-1.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Russia imprisons a proportion of its citizens higher than any other major country except the US. And with its sky-high rates of re-offending, the penal system serves as a stark reminder of what happens when a society prioritises punishment to the exclusion of rehabilitation. Svetlana Reiter investigates and finds small oases of hope for the future.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>In Russia there are a million people behind bars, 5,000 of whom are juvenile offenders. Some of them stole out of desperate need, others out of stupidity. Their families visit rarely, their friends even less. After serving their sentence, these children, the neglected products of impoverished families, are released into a world where no-one cares. The state locked them up and washed its hands of them. Other countries have rehabilitation services for young offenders, but not Russia. There are voluntary sector organisations trying to help, but their resources are limited. As a result, children turn into serial offenders. First you see them in juvenile detention centres, where they still resemble ordinary teenagers, then in adult facilities, where they turn into old men and women in front of your eyes. And it&rsquo;s the girls you pity most.</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Flickr-still-burning-1a.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Russia's penal system is striking for the lack of attention focused on rehabilitation.<br />Photo: Flickr / Still Burning</span></p> <p>The Novy Oskol Detention Centre for Girls occupies the whole centre of the town. At present it has about 120 inmates, out of a maximum potential capacity of 510. In black quilted coats and ugly berets, they walk everywhere in single file, to and from school and the factory where they sew everything from guards&rsquo; uniforms to soft toys. At work they wear blue jackets and skirts; at school the same but green. In a small attempt at individuality, the girls get up at six, pluck their eyebrows with thread, put sparkle on their eyelids, give each other asymmetrical fringes and weave ribbons and slides into their plaits.</p> <p>I went to Novy Oskol with Natalya Dzyadko, deputy director of the Criminal Justice Reform Centre, an NGO that has been helping offenders, both inside prison and after release, since 1988. Founded by former political prisoner Valery Abramkin, its simple message is that prisoners are people too. As Dzyadko told me: &ldquo;In Russia everyone thinks thieves should be locked up. I don&rsquo;t know how to deal with crime, but I do know that prison only makes things worse.&rdquo;</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.ng.ru/images/2007-08-10/81065.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">The few organisations who work with girl prisoners <br />find that prison "breaks" them, destroying their <br />prospects of returning to normal life after release.<br />Photo: NG Foto / Grigoria Tambulova</span></p> <p>Dzyadko brought two colleagues with her, Yelena Gordeeva and Valery Sergeev. As well as helping girls preparing for release, they distributed packs containing sanitary towels, shampoo and soap to all the inmates and medication for those who needed it. They also brought bags with clothes and shoes for the girls who were due to leave. Twenty or so girls had gathered in one room, all looking like figures from Manga comics with their heavily ringed eyes and sparkly eyelids. They kept asking to be photographed &ldquo;to send to Granny&rdquo;, and seemed ready to do anything to acquire two packs of multicoloured fairy stickers, rather than the regulation one. They attach stickers to everything: the more stickers you have, the higher your status.</p> <p>The girls use every chance to cling to adults - clustering around, hugging them. For many, it is the first time in their lives that they have slept in clean sheets and had three meals a day. It&rsquo;s rare to find children from stable families here. &ldquo;There is the odd exception, of course,&rdquo; says Gordeeva, &ldquo;but in general it is dire poverty that drives them to theft. Before release we need to prepare them for normal life.&rdquo; She contacts the girls&rsquo; families and tries to find school or college places for them. The girls themselves share their concerns: &ldquo;I&rsquo;m scared I&rsquo;ll have nowhere to live - my parents haven&rsquo;t paid their rent for a year&rdquo;; &ldquo;I&rsquo;m worried my mum will get drunk and beat my little sister.&rdquo;</p> <p class="image-right"><img src="http://de.acidcow.com/pics/20100428/russian_girls_in_prison_11.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">Girls sewing in in a detention centre factory in <br />Ryazan. In detention, girls get used to functioning<br />as part of a brigade, operating collectively. When<br />they are released, the find it difficult to return to a <br />world where they must fend for themselves.<br /></span></p> <p>In another room Natalya Dzyadko asks a group of girls to write an essay on &ldquo;What problems I might face after my release.&rdquo; &ldquo;The Soviet system still rules in detention centres&rdquo;, she tells me. &ldquo;Here you are not an individual and do not belong to yourself. Offenders get used to functioning as part of a brigade, and then they return to the real world, where it&rsquo;s everyone for himself.&rdquo;&nbsp; When paper and ballpoint pens are handed out (not gel pens, which can be used for tattooing), Yulia K, who is serving a sentence for petty theft, asks whether &ldquo;hostel&rdquo; is spelled with an &ldquo;e&rdquo; or an &ldquo;i&rdquo;. Irina M silently covers her sheet of paper with regular, legible writing and her essay is by far the best.</p> <p>Seventeen-year-old Irina is a special case here. She went to a good school, her spelling is perfect and she speaks reasonably good English. Until she was 14 she had no grades lower than &ldquo;B&rdquo;, but at 15 she was convicted of a particularly gruesome murder. She tells her story in a monotone: &ldquo;When I was 15, a new boy, a year older than me, joined my group of friends. He didn&rsquo;t like me at first, but I wanted him to be my boyfriend.&rdquo; They did get together, and then they murdered another boy in Irina&rsquo;s class: &ldquo;Neither of us liked him.&rdquo; They took four hours to kill him, in the forest: &ldquo;He was in pain for the first hour; after that he was in shock and didn&rsquo;t feel a thing.&rdquo; The boy&rsquo;s body was found in the forest with 165 knife wounds.&nbsp; Irina&rsquo;s co-accused - who called himself a Satanist &ndash; was sentenced to life imprisonment in a high-security psychiatric hospital, and she was given the maximum sentence for a minor &ndash; ten years in a youth detention centre. Before her trial she underwent two psychiatric assessments, and now considers herself sane. At first she had dreams about the murdered boy, but they stopped after a year, and now what worries her is that &ldquo;my mum is very ill; after the trial she lost the use of her legs.&rdquo; I ask her whether she was in love with her boyfriend and she answers firmly, &ldquo;No.&rdquo;&nbsp; But on her hand there is a small four-letter tattoo, made with a green gel pen, which when spelled out means &ldquo;I swear to love him forever.&rdquo;</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.bg.ru/pix/article/272/8746/osk3.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Girls walk in single file across the courtyard at <br />Novy Oskol detention centre for girls.<br />Photo: Ivan Mitin<br /></span></p> <p>In two years Irina will be transferred to an adult prison, but now she is in a brigade with Nastya from Perm, serving three years on a second count of mobile phone theft, and Olga from Cheliabinsk, here for two years after attempted theft of a Kawasaki motorcycle. The state obviously considers them just as dangerous as Irina, and they will serve their sentences together. &ldquo;At the trial they ignore the details and send everyone to prison indiscriminately, including those who have no real need to be locked up&rdquo;, says Dzyadko. Psychologist Dina Yoshpa, who also works at the Reform Centre, is more categorical. &ldquo;99% of offenders present no danger to society. Take one of the girls in Novy Oskol, for example. When she was 14, her aunt&rsquo;s boyfriend tried to rape her. By chance she had a kitchen knife in her hand and killed him with one thrust.&nbsp; Now she says, &lsquo;I can&rsquo;t sleep, I dream about killing him. It would have been better if he had raped or killed me.&rsquo; She&rsquo;s serving a ten year sentence. What danger is she to anyone?&rdquo;</p> <blockquote>&ldquo;At the trial they ignore the details and send everyone to prison indiscriminately, including those who have no real need to be locked up.&rdquo; &ldquo;99% of offenders present no danger to society.&rdquo;</blockquote> <p>Yoshpa considers this girl&rsquo;s life after prison. &ldquo;She will be locked away for ten years. Her sexual orientation will probably change. She won&rsquo;t have a husband or probably children either, she won&rsquo;t find a job, she&rsquo;ll be labelled a &lsquo;con&rsquo;, she&rsquo;ll have no kind of life. Mature, psychologically stable men in middle life are not damaged by prison. But it breaks women and girls, both psychologically and physically. I work with women who have just arrived in prison &ndash; they don&rsquo;t have a period for up to six months.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;You criminal, you&rsquo;ve ruined our whole lives!&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>It is not just psychological problems that ex-prisoners have to deal with after their release. For the last three years the Criminal Justice Reform Centre has been working with the Moscow Patriarchy, whose employees meet newly released juvenile offenders and help them to sort out their ID cards and deal with other representatives of authority whom the most law-abiding citizen tries to avoid like the plague. Patriarchy employee Natalya Kuznetsova recalls a typical case. &ldquo;He was a boy from an ordinary family. Then his mother died, his father took to the bottle, and the lad got sent down for robbery. He and his mate had been walking along a street and the other boy suggested they steal a man&rsquo;s mobile phone. They grabbed the phone but didn&rsquo;t touch the man, who was obviously tipsy. They moved off to examine the mobile, but the man came to his senses, ran after them, stumbled and fell. He called the police &ndash; he&rsquo;s bruised, the lads have the phone, but they haven&rsquo;t even run away; they didn&rsquo;t even realise it was a criminal offence. The boy who started it got off with a suspended sentence, but ours was given the full whack &ndash; five years. The other boy had a normal dad who sorted everything out: negotiated with the lawyers, paid the fines. Our lad was sent to the Mozhaisk Detention Centre with his fines unpaid and remained there until he became eligible for parole.&rdquo;</p> <p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.bg.ru/pix/article/272/8746/osk2.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">A touch of glamour: the statue by the entrance to <br />Novy Oskol's detention centre for girls is an <br />incongruous touch.<br />Photo: Ivan Mitin<br /></span></p> <p>Kuznetsova became involved with the case because the boy needed an ID card. &ldquo;He arrived in the detention centre without any papers &ndash; no identity card, no birth certificate. In this country you can be sent to prison on a simple witness identification, but you cannot be released without proper papers. The detention centre couldn&rsquo;t provide his birth certificate, and although we wrote several times to his local authority, they never replied. In the end I went to his family home on the outskirts of Moscow. I found out that his father had been killed in a drunken brawl, his grandfather had died, there was just his grandmother left, and she had dementia. I found his birth certificate in the sideboard, and we collected various documents for him and got him an ID card. In other words, we did what the statutory authorities should theoretically have done. The boy applied for parole &ndash; why not, he wasn&rsquo;t really a bad lad. He had behaved himself inside, he had an ID card, he had somewhere to go. However, at the hearing it came out that he had unpaid fines, so he could forget about parole. He actually had money in his bank account, earned as he served his time, but no one thought to tell him. We made up the shortfall, paid the fines, and he was given parole.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.prison.org/photo/4.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Boys at "school" at a detention centre in Mozhaisk. <br />Photo: prison.ru / Yaroslav Kuznetsov<br /></span></p> <p>Kuznetsova decided to escort the boy back to Moscow. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a critical moment. There are people who hang around detention centres, ready to &lsquo;celebrate&rsquo; a prisoner&rsquo;s release with him, and you can imagine the consequences. He gets out, he gets drunk, he breaks the law again, and he&rsquo;s back inside.&rdquo; Kuznetsova managed to get the lad back to Moscow and even to the door of the family flat, but no one answered the bell.&nbsp; &ldquo;We rang for twenty minutes, then the boy said, &lsquo;What if I just break in? The lock is useless, I installed it myself. I&rsquo;ll fix it again afterwards.&rsquo; I shouted, &lsquo;Don&rsquo;t even think about it! You&rsquo;re on parole! The neighbours will call the police.&rsquo; He&rsquo;s like all ex-prisoners, they are completely unstable.&nbsp; They have been in an institution where everything is decided for them, and lose the power to do anything for themselves, and usually the will, as well.&nbsp; That is the problem with our correctional system &ndash; our prisons never rehabilitate anyone, they just destroy them.&nbsp; The prisoner spends several years in a state of suspended animation, he loses contact with his family, meanwhile life on the outside changes, and he&rsquo;s lucky if he even has somewhere to come back to.&rdquo;</p> <p>Getting an ex-prisoner into work in Moscow is a separate problem. No employer wants to take them on, and no one can force them to do so. It&rsquo;s against the law to refuse someone work because they have a criminal record, but there is always an excuse: &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll phone you&rdquo;, or &ldquo;You won&rsquo;t pass our security check.&rdquo; Kuznetsova managed to get one young man a job as a garage mechanic on a self-employed basis, and another one as a cook on the same basis. But she had no luck with a third: &ldquo;No one would take him, he started drinking, got into a fight and is back inside.&rdquo; Sounding tired, she adds: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s always the same &ndash; there&rsquo;s no-one to go with them, there&rsquo;s no workplace quota, the social services won&rsquo;t work with the families, whose&nbsp; attitude is, &lsquo;You&rsquo;ve ruined our whole lives, you criminal!&rsquo; It&rsquo;s not pleasant to be labelled &lsquo;the family of a criminal&rsquo;.&nbsp; We need to establish some social intervention, take their neighbours, their local priests, to visit them, perhaps even their godparents. Although I&rsquo;ve known a detainee to say, &lsquo;My godmother was my partner in crime &ndash; she&rsquo;s in prison herself&rsquo;. &ldquo;</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;What idiots we were&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>Last September I met up with Yelena Gordeeva and Larissa Y, from Perm, newly released from the Novy Oskol detention centre, at a Moscow railway station. The seventeen year old was keen to be photographed everywhere: outside the Balchug Hotel, beside a Ford Escort, outside the station and inside the metro. Larissa was passing through Moscow on her way home, and it was her first visit to the capital. Boyish looking in a tracksuit, black and green trainers and a baseball cap, she told us how she was &ldquo;the best fighter&ldquo; in the whole detention centre, and showed us a ring she had bought to hide cuts on her index finger: &rdquo;I lost my temper one day, smashed my hand through a window.&rdquo;&nbsp; Larissa served two years for theft &ndash; &ldquo;What idiots we were, we robbed a grocery shop and stuck sanitary towels to the shelves.&rdquo;&nbsp; She was given a suspended sentence, but&nbsp; after a few more robberies it turned into a real one. She recalled her time in the detention centre warmly: &ldquo;The girls cried when I left.&rdquo; She was very polite to Yelena Gordeeva, and at lunch asked permission to take another slice of bread, another piece of butter, another glass of juice.&nbsp; She said that she planned to go to live with her sister and get a job, and in the evening she took the train to Perm.</p> <p>Later I heard how she was getting on from Lyubov Rozhneva, head of the Perm region youth department. &ldquo;We organised a place for her as an apprentice painter and plasterer at the school in the village of Bershet. She&rsquo;s learning well, she&rsquo;s a hard worker, but she likes a drink. At the school they have their work cut out for them, of course: they have five correctional classes, with children coming out of care and juvenile offenders. I&rsquo;m going there tomorrow with a drugs specialist and some people from the Prosecutor&rsquo;s office; we&rsquo;ll spend two lessons lecturing them on criminal responsibility.&rdquo; I ask whether these lectures might, for example, help keep Larissa out of prison, but Rozhheva answers: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s all down to the family &ndash; no-one is looking out for her. The mother drinks, the older sister is a decent woman, but can&rsquo;t be responsible for her. And the grandmother isn&rsquo;t well.&rdquo;</p> <p>In Soviet times difficult youngsters were the responsibility of the police children&rsquo;s department, who kept a register of juvenile offenders, and the Commission for Youth Affairs which examined their cases. This official structure still exists, but it has practically no input in the cases of young people who are given custodial sentences &ndash; on the contrary, their names are removed from the police register and they fall outside its remit. One of the few exceptions to this rule is Perm, where the local Commission for Youth Affairs runs a centre for &ldquo;the rehabilitation of families of children at social risk&rdquo;. While the young person serves his or her sentence, psychologists work with their family, and six months before their release the centre starts to liaise with all the necessary agencies. As the deputy director of the centre, Vera Terentyeva, explains, &ldquo;If the youngster is of school age, then he should go back into school. If he completed his school studies in the detention centre, then the job centre needs to find him work.&rdquo; In Terentyeva&rsquo;s experience, many families are unwilling to work with the Commission: &ldquo;They won&rsquo;t open the door, or they behave aggressively, but inside they are uneasy &ndash; they don&rsquo;t even want to accept what has happened to their children.&rdquo; Nevertheless many parents give staff at the centre their mobile phone numbers and stay in contact with them. Of six young people on the Commission&rsquo;s books at present, only one is back in a youth detention centre, although these figures may be misleading, since it&rsquo;s common for re-offending juveniles to serve their second term in an adult facility.</p> <p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Khabarovsk-prison-jurvetson.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">Inmates relaxing amongst obsolete Soviet machines<br />and a speedboat in the central yard of a prison in<br />Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East.<br />Photo: Flickr / Steve Jurvetson<br /></span></p> <p>This cycle of crime and punishment can be clearly seen in the case of M, currently serving a term for theft in Correction Facility no.2 in Mordova. She is 32 and this is her sixth stretch &ndash; judicial literature refers to such people as &ldquo;inveterate recidivists&rdquo;. Her first time was for robbery: she was 14. &ldquo;It was exciting, there was a gang of us, we broke into a shop and lifted some gold stuff.&rdquo; The second time was again for robbery, at 15.&nbsp; She got out when she was 17 and was back within a few months &ndash; &ldquo;Some friends and I took money from a restaurant, and four boxes of ice cream. We sold the ice cream at the market. One of the gang informed on us &ndash; he got caught for something else and decided to cooperate with the police.&rdquo; She was back in prison for the fourth time after another five years: &ldquo;A neighbour was spreading rumours about me around the flats. My friends and I beat him up, and he died. I got three years.&rdquo; The fifth time, &ldquo;I fell out with another neighbour, I threatened her and they gave me ten months for threat of murder.&rdquo; And her sixth stretch? &ldquo;I came out of prison, couldn&rsquo;t find a job, survived somehow for six months, then I met someone. I took his phone and said I&rsquo;d bring it back on Saturday, but on Friday he went to the police and told them I stole it. At the trial he said he just did it to scare me, but they sent me down for nine months. He&rsquo;s waiting for me, worries about me, sends me parcels and money.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <blockquote>Only one part of Russia, the Perm region, has a state funded follow-up service being piloted for ex-prisoners. Last year 726 people passed through the Perm support service. Only 26 re-offended.</blockquote> <p>M's parents are both dead. &rdquo;My mother died when I was 15. I was in the detention centre, I couldn&rsquo;t even go to the funeral. My dad was killed when I was twenty. For money &ndash; he was from Chernobyl, he&rsquo;d picked up his pension that day, it was a lot of money. He went to visit somebody, there was a fight and they killed him.&rdquo;&nbsp; M doesn&rsquo;t know where she&rsquo;ll go when she&rsquo;s released: &ldquo;I&rsquo;ll try to get work &ndash; any work. I&rsquo;m a trained seamstress and cook. Maybe I can get work as a cook.&rdquo; She has never heard of any centres that help ex-offenders.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;They are just released, and that&rsquo;s that&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>According to Russian government statistics, on 1st March 2011 the prison population numbered 814,100, in other words 607 prisoners per 100,000 Russians. That is almost five times as many as in the UK (148 per 100,000). Official figures also show that in 2010 &ldquo;530,000 crimes were committed by individuals with previous convictions.&rdquo;&nbsp; And according to other figures, 17,000 of Russian female prison inmates are re-offenders.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Western countries there are probation services which assess the risk of reoffending, work to rehabilitate prisoners and ex-prisoners and try to have custodial sentences replaced by alternative types of punishment. In Belgium, Austria, Italy, Malta and Scotland the main thrust of this policy is the community payback system, where offenders compensate their victims through, say, financial reimbursement combined with unpaid work in the community.&nbsp; In Austria, if an offender is given a custodial sentence, probation officers help him or her on release. This help comes in various forms: legal advice, for example, or referral for medical treatment, and social services also organise temporary accommodation for the offender. In some European countries the simplest form of probation, where a prison sentence is replaced by community service, has existed since the nineteenth century. In Finland, for example, private charities, funded by Christian philanthropists, began working in prisons in 1870, their volunteers helping inmates both during their sentence and on release.</p> <p>Finland was then part of Russia, but as soon as she gained her independence, all trace of an organised probation service in Russia disappeared. Viktor Brezgin, chair of the Public Council for the Investigation of the Workings of the Criminal Justice System in the Mordovan Republic, is clear that ex offenders are ignored by both government and society in general. &ldquo;There are a few human rights organisations, but that&rsquo;s it.&rdquo; Brezgin is also head of a job centre, and in five years in this post he cannot remember one instance of an ex-offender being successfully placed in work. A government probation service would, he thinks, be able to help them, but when one will be set up is anyone&rsquo;s guess. &ldquo;The most recent census of prisoners showed that 2.5 million people pass through the remand system every year&rdquo;, says Brezgin. &ldquo;Fifteen percent of prisoners had lost all social links with the outside - an increase of 6% on the previous census. They have nowhere to go; they are no one&rsquo;s concern. They are just released, and that&rsquo;s that.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;Sit quietly and breed pigs&rdquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </strong></p> <p>Only one part of Russia, the Perm region, has a state funded follow-up service for ex-prisoners. It was set up in 2008 as part of a pilot project initiated by the regional Governor with the aim of lowering the reoffending rate. The project began with two offices, and now works in nine areas. Oleg Elenov, project manager of the Krasnokamensk service told me about how it works. &ldquo;We support both released prisoners and offenders who have been given a suspended sentence. We sign a standard agreement with them, in which we undertake to help them find work and accommodation and sort out their papers. If necessary, we can offer them legal support if they need to go to court, and psychological counselling if they want it.&rdquo; The regional budget has allocated 12,000 roubles per client per year.</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1103/619138157_5c79f2071f_b.jpg" alt="Georgia map" width="255" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">A tower and church at Kungur 5 prison in Perm Krai.<br />The region has one of the highest concentrations of<br />prisons in Russia, and consequently some of the <br />most forward-thinking rehabilitation pilot schemes in<br />the country.<br />Photo: Flickr / Aleksandr Zykov </span></p> <p>It is no coincidence that Perm has pioneered this service: it is the capital of an area with a high density of prisons: there are 40 correctional facilities in its administrative region. About 2,000 of its inhabitants leave custody each year, and 300 of them return to Krasnokamensk. Elenov has 10 case managers: six months before a potential client&rsquo;s release they start checking whether he or she has a home, whether their family will take them back, whether there is some kind of work available. In 2009, twenty eight year old Natalya Strigunova, a former shop assistant and drug addict, was convicted on a charge of robbery and sent to a facility in the Krasnokamensk area. When she was released&nbsp; a year later she had lost her ID card and had no money to get a new one. The follow-up service helped her sort it out. Strigunova believes that she couldn&rsquo;t have managed&nbsp; without the help of her case manager Galina Sorgina: &ldquo;Who would have given me a job? Who would have cared? Even though I&rsquo;m clean now.&rdquo; With Galina&rsquo;s help, Natalya received a grant of 60,000 roubles from the Krasnokamensky job centre, and now she is living in a cottage in the village of Batury and breeding pigs. In the past year she has reared seven pigs; she slaughtered six of them at New Year and sold their meat at 250 roubles per kilogramme. The one remaining pig has recently farrowed. &ldquo;I also have a goat and some chickens. I sell eggs, but it is piglets that go best: I had about thirty of them at the end of the year and sold the lot.&rdquo;</p> <p>Natalya says she loves her pigs; as a child she wanted to become a vet. Instead she became a heroin addict. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t have a drug problem in Krasnokamensk, but people come from Perm to buy heroin. They start shooting up when they are still at school.&rdquo; She was clean in prison, not for want of supplies, but because she didn&rsquo;t want it: &ldquo;Everyone knew I was a junkie. And what choice did I have when I came out? I&rsquo;m 29, I need to eat. I need to clothe myself. I need to pay my rent. I&rsquo;m best off sitting quietly in the sticks, breeding my pigs.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Galina Sorgina, it is almost impossible for an ex-prisoner to find work on their own: &ldquo;When clients come to us, we give them a list of vacancies. They follow them up, but when employers hear that they&rsquo;ve been inside they won&rsquo;t look at them. Then we phone ourselves, explain that it&rsquo;s a pilot project set up by the governor, to reduce the risk of reoffending, etc., etc.&rdquo; Sorgina also helps clients with accommodation: &ldquo;Sometimes we find them jobs with accommodation attached - as caretakers, or in logging camps or gardening projects. Or, for instance, one client might have accommodation, another not. If I see that they get on well, I house them together.&rdquo;</p> <p>Officially, case managers visit their clients once a week for six months. But as Elenov tells me, they don&rsquo;t stop then: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s in our interests &ndash; the more effective we are, the more clients will sign agreements with us.&rdquo;</p> <p>Mikhail is one of Galina and Olga&rsquo;s regular clients. He has spent 14 out of his 32 years behind bars, for burglary and theft. He stole all over the Perm region, and served time all over it too. Last summer, at Elenev&rsquo;s request, Michael received a grant of 60,000 roubles from the Krasnokamensk job centre. Now he&rsquo;s a builder. His recent jobs include renewing the windows in Perm&rsquo;s children&rsquo;s hospital, renovating the adult hospital in Krasnokamensk, and building blocks of flats on a new housing project. He heads a team of five, all ex-prisoners. As Sorgina says, &ldquo;It turns out that our people can get back on their feet and help others to do so too.&rdquo; According to Mikhail, developers don&rsquo;t realise they are working with ex-cons. The only person who knows is the contractor, and he spent time inside himself, for a financial misdemeanour. &ldquo;Sometimes&rdquo;, says Elenev, &ldquo;you have to help a person and bring them down to earth at the same time. Recently I had a case where someone had served time in a place called Skalny. &ldquo;There are no funeral directors there&rdquo;, he said, &ldquo;nowhere to buy headstones. Give me a grant and I&rsquo;ll set up in business.&rdquo; I asked him whether there was a morgue there. No, he said, they take bodies to Chusovoy for post-mortems, so families go there. In that case, I told him, your business will go bust. So now he and I are thinking about what else he could do.&rdquo;</p> <p>Last year 726 people passed through the Perm support service. Only 26 reoffended.</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="/zoya-svetova/prison-as-death-sentence">Prison as a death sentence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mary-mcauley/children-in-prison">Children in prison</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/western-eye-on-russia-s-prisons">Western eye on Russia’s prisons</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/cover-up-in-russias-prisons">Cover-up in Russia&#039;s Prisons</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society russia Prison Svetlana Reiter Justice Internal Fri, 03 Jun 2011 13:40:52 +0000 Svetlana Reiter 59732 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Concealed lives: autism in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-golubovsky-svetlana-reiter/everyones-different-living-with-autism-in-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/aleksej_0.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />A diagnosis of autism is difficult for any family; in Russia, it can be shattering. With little hope of integrating into society, and a medical establishment unfit for purpose, a majority of autistic Russians are being condemned to a life in isolation. Dmitry Golubovsky and Svetlana Reiter present a series of personal stories.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t regard it as a tragedy that my life has turned out so differently from that of my contemporaries.&nbsp; I&rsquo;ve never had another kind of life and probably don&rsquo;t really know what that might be like.&nbsp; If it were suddenly to happen to me, I&rsquo;m not sure I&rsquo;d be able to adapt, because I&rsquo;m used to the boundaries I know and have learnt to find pleasure and joy within them.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">These are the words of Nikolai Diligensky, one of the first children diagnosed with autism in the USSR.&nbsp; He&rsquo;s now 41 years old.&nbsp; He&rsquo;s standing in front of the computer, swaying backwards and forwards, shouting loudly and hitting the keyboard. If Dagilensky were to go into the local food shop, for instance, perhaps the politest adjective that would be used to refer to him is &ldquo;deranged&rdquo;. But watching the lines that appear on the computer screen he is hitting so hard, you get the feeling that the word &ldquo;writer&rdquo; would be a more apt description. A good writer, just not quite like the others.</p><p class="FreeForm">No one knows how many autistic people there are in Russia. There are no official statistics, but if there were it would hardly be an objective picture, because it&rsquo;s a diagnosis people shy away from in institutions. Doctors often don&rsquo;t have the qualifications to detect autism at an early stage, but even when all symptoms are present, many try to put something a bit more comprehensible, such as schizophrenia or mental retardation.</p><p class="FreeForm"><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/diligentskij.jpg" alt="" height="350" /><em>&nbsp;</em></p><p class="FreeForm">&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm"><em>Nikolai Diligensky. In his childhood Nikolai's&nbsp;normal method of communication with the world was to trace letters on the back of his father's hand.&nbsp;Using this method Nikolai wrote his memoirs. Photo: Dmitry Golubovsky</em></p><p class="FreeForm">Irina Karvarsarskaya is the chief psychologist at the Petersburg organisation&nbsp;<a href="http://www.otsyideti.org.ru/">&ldquo;Fathers and Children&rdquo;</a>.&nbsp; She describes a typical diagnosis: &ldquo;When the child is 2, the mother starts noticing something strange in his behaviour. She takes him to doctor after doctor and is told &lsquo;He&rsquo;s still little, so wait a bit. He&rsquo;ll develop a bit more, then he&rsquo;ll start talking.&rsquo; The next stage is 6 months later: &lsquo;You&rsquo;re a nervy mother. It&rsquo;s you that needs the treatment.&rsquo;&nbsp; After that, it&rsquo;s &lsquo;Wait a bit&rsquo; and then (2 or 3 months later) straight into &ldquo;It&rsquo;s autism. Why didn&rsquo;t you come earlier?&rdquo;</p><p class="FreeForm">Even if the diagnosis were correct, there are other problems when the child grows up. &ldquo;After 18 the diagnosis changes, no more autism&rdquo;, says Karvarsarskaya. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s schizophrenia, psychosis or mentally retarded, depending on what level of development the person has attained. No such diagnosis means there&rsquo;s no need for targeted help. How can you do anything for people who don&rsquo;t exist?&rdquo;</p><p class="FreeForm">&ldquo;Fathers and Children&rdquo;, where Karvarsarskaya works, is the biggest organisation in Petersburg offering assistance to autistic people - irrespective of their age. In Moscow this is done by the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ccp.org.ru/en/">Centre for Remedial Education</a>&nbsp;(CRE). Their specialists point out that diagnosis skills may be better in Moscow than in other parts of Russia, but there&rsquo;s another problem. &ldquo;We need diagnostics,&rdquo; says Roman Dimenshtein, chair of the board and head of the Centre's legal department. &ldquo;But what does one do with the diagnosis when you've got it?&nbsp; It can be used to form a precise opinion as to how any assistance should be organised. But it can also be used to limit that person's rights. Typically, we know of a school or a kindergarten that won't take a child with this diagnosis, so we try to make sure that something else is written on his card. In the conditions we have here a diagnosis is more of a hindrance than a help.&rdquo;</p><h3><strong>Savants and followers</strong></h3><p class="FreeForm">On the ground floor of Moscow's Technological College no. 21 there are courses for drivers. On the first floor, young people with disabilities are taught to adapt to the outside world. The Centre for Training Young People with Disabilities has been in operation for 4 years and is a continuation of the workshops at CRE - the number of courses grew and the facilities were no longer fit for the purpose. After some years of appealing to the City Education Department, a meeting was set up and directors of all the Moscow Technical Colleges were invited. The only person who didn't just make empty promises was the director of College no. 21, Nikolai Razdobarov (and now other colleges are starting to follow suit). Currently there are 50 students in the college and half of them are autistic. The cost of running the college is partly funded by regular orders for corporate gifts, which are made by the students who receive a small sum for each object.</p><blockquote><p class="FreeForm"><strong>"Autism is a mysterious phenomenon; you can't really call it a disease, it's more as though the personality develops along its own path, and very unequally. Completely healthy parents can have an autistic child, who by the age of 7, is doing mental arithmetic, multiplying triple figures, but doesn't know how to wash himself"</strong></p><p class="image-caption">Nadezhda Morgun, Moscow Centre for Remedial Education</p></blockquote><p class="FreeForm">Nadezhda Morgun, a CRE member of staff working at the college, says that they have been trying for several years to open a craft centre so that each student can develop his or her particular talent. &ldquo;I've noticed that practically all autistic children are highly gifted in one or two areas,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Autism is a mysterious phenomenon; you can't really call it a disease, it's more as though the personality develops along its own path, and very unequally. Completely healthy parents can have an autistic child, who by the age of 7, is doing mental arithmetic, multiplying triple figures, but doesn't know how to wash himself.&rdquo;</p><p class="FreeForm">Autistic children's talents can develop very suddenly. A 10-year old boy, for instance, says he can hear beautiful music. He's shown a piano, sits down and plays a reasonably harmonious piece &ndash; without knowing a note, just from ear. Morgun remembers a 6-year old boy who knew which nurse would be on which shift, on a given day of the week, in 3 years' time.</p><p class="FreeForm"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/sonya.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-caption">Sonya with her mother. When she turned 8 Sonya started to&nbsp;write poetry. Her poem was first published in a magazine, and at the age of 13 a whole book of her poems was made public. Sonya does not speak. She communicates with her family with the help of a piece of paper or computer keyboard.&nbsp;Photo: Pavel Samokhvalov</p><p>This child probably had&nbsp;<a href="http://www.brainskills.co.uk/SavantSyndrome.html">Savant's syndrome</a>. 10% of autistic children do; people with this diagnosis, as yet unrecognised, demonstrate phenomenal gifts in a particular area. These talents are usually to the detriment of other intellectual and emotional aspects of development. Raymond Babbit, the best known autistic person in the world, played by Dustin Hoffman in the film&nbsp;<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095953/">"Rain Man"</a>, was a savant, and his brother, Charlie, was quite like him in many ways. Passions for objects, in his case cars, are a fairly common sign of autism. Charlie can't be described as autistic, but his quasi-autistic characteristics make him a powerful teacher. He learns quite quickly to understand what it is that Raymond wants and helps him to become part of his surroundings. The film "Rain Man" shows how a non-autistic specialist can work successfully with autism. &nbsp;</p><h3><strong>Artyom, Lena and music</strong></h3><p class="FreeForm">Lena realised that ordinary doctors would be no help to her son, Artyom, quite early on.&nbsp; Her local neurologist and speech therapist referred her to Moscow, where she and Artyom were to spend ten years in total.&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">In Moscow, Artyom was seen by Anna Bitova, the future president of CRE, who diagnosed the 3-year old as suffering from "early infant autism". When CRE opened in 1989, Artyom was one of the first patients. I first met him and his mother two years ago at CRE's 20th anniversary concert. Artyom was giving a spirited rendering of Scott Joplin on the piano. "At one point he went wrong, but instead of starting again, he managed to carry on playing," said Lena. "That must have cost him a huge effort".&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">Lena told me she had wanted to show Artyom "Rain Man". "He likes films, but quickly became very distressed, possibly recognising himself in the hero. He doesn't realise that he's different and his reaction was completely unexpected for me".</p><p class="FreeForm">When he was 12, Artyom had to leave CRE, and now he and his mother live in Tula. When she first went to see the neurologist there in 1990, he advised her not to tell anyone about Artyom's autism, as he was "the only one in the whole city". There are now 60 people registered with autism at the local alternative health centre, in a remedial education group, and even shoe shop assistants know the word.</p><h3><strong>Nikolai and history lessons</strong></h3><p class="FreeForm">"Nikolai's parents were successful and well-off.&nbsp; They did all they could to pretend that nothing was wrong: it must have been very stressful for them when they had guests and Nikolai was running around the room next door and screaming."&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">Tamara Eidelman has been a friend of Nikolai Diligensky's since childhood. She was scared of him when they were little: he was always twitching, his lack of physical coordination combined with total silence, except the odd howl, frightened her, but she didn't know what was wrong with him.</p><p class="FreeForm"><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/aleksej.jpg" alt="" height="350" /></p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">Aleksey&nbsp;Adyrkhaev. Contrary to what she was told by Russian doctors, Lyosha's mother Larissa has managed to teach him to read, write and make his own bed using a system of cards. Thanks to his mum, Lyosha can now orientate in time and use public transport.&nbsp;</p><p>When Nikolai was 15, he broke his leg. In hospital he was able to interact with people of his own age, which gave him enormous pleasure. Because of this, when he was well again, his parents arranged some history lessons for him. Tamara was the teacher, and there were 4 other boys of Nikolai's age. His normal method of communication was to trace letters on the back of his father's hand, so his father sat beside him for all the lessons and conveyed what his son wanted to say. Nikolai paid enormous attention to everything that was said; he later wrote in his memoirs that Tamara didn't condescend at all and taught them to think for themselves, rather than just passing on facts. Nikolai often managed to formulate a better and fuller answer than his classmates and realised that his theoretical intellect was no different from his friends', which helped him to understand his situation better.</p><p class="FreeForm"><a href="http://www.pedlib.ru/Books/4/0370/index.shtml">Nikolai's memoirs</a>&nbsp;were published in 2000. In the years 1992-7 a specialist teacher asked Nikolai questions, which, again, he answered by tracing letters on his father's hand. The book is his attempt to understand himself. He writes, for instance, of how he once saw a picture of a woman walking along talking to herself. He was very struck, because he had always thought talking could only come from interaction with someone else. "It's like if the river didn't have two banks," he explains, "then there wouldn't be a bridge. That bridge is speech. I started to understand that my dumbness stems not from a fear of communication, but because I'm afraid I can't talk to anyone".</p><h3>Lyosha and his cards</h3><p class="FreeForm">Autistic people often have strange fears: the noise of the wind or the clouds scudding across the sky can instill terror.</p><p class="FreeForm">Larissa Adyrkhaeva is one of those mothers who experience all the fears with their children. When her 17-year old son Lyosha was 8, she decided he should learn about public transport. He screamed so loudly that passers-by were pulling her away from him, saying that she had obviously kidnapped him. Now Lyosha travels to the workshops at College no. 21 quite happily.</p><blockquote><p><strong>"Larissa has managed to teach Lyosha to read, write and make his own bed.&nbsp; She used a system of cards: teeth-cleaning, for instance, was divided into 20 stages/cards, bed-making was only 5. She's been all round the local shops to explain that if a tall blonde boy comes to them with money and a card saying "bread", they shouldn't chase him away"</strong></p></blockquote><p class="FreeForm">When Lyosha was diagnosed, he was 3, and the family was living in the USA. Larissa feels that the humane and efficient approach to his disability saved them. When he was 4, they returned to Moscow, where things were very different. Contrary to what she was told by Russian doctors, Larissa has managed to teach Lyosha to read, write and make his own bed. She used a system of cards: teeth-cleaning, for instance, was divided into 20 stages/cards, bed-making was only 5. After 18 months of training the card system disappeared for ever, as Lyosha had no more need of them.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">If you ask Larissa what would happen to Lyosha if anything were to happen to her, she starts crying. Her only hope, she says, is that they have a lot of relatives. She's been all round the local shops to explain that if a tall blonde boy comes to them with money and a card saying "bread", they shouldn't chase him away.</p><h3><strong>Vasya and medication</strong></h3><p class="FreeForm">Russia has few of the Western autism therapies, such as&nbsp;<a href="http://www.autism.org.uk/living-with-autism/approaches-therapies-and-interventions/behavioural-interventions/applied-behavioural-analysis.aspx">Applied Behavioural Analysis</a>, or ABA. There simply aren't enough organisations or specialists (though, during its 20 years, CRE has helped some 10,000 children). Instead, autistic people usually have to cope with the medico-centric approach to illness in Russia. In the West 10% of autism is treated with medication; in Russia it's virtually 100%.</p><p class="FreeForm">Irina Karvasarskaya of St Petersburg's "Fathers and Children" tells the story of Vasya, a young autistic man who was studying in higher education. One day he lost his way and couldn't find the lecture hall. He ran to the office and, in great distress, started trying to explain what had happened. The people in the office were terrified and called an ambulance, which took him to a psychiatric hospital. His parents rushed there to get their son back, but were told he was danger to society and himself, so he'd have to stay there. By pulling strings they managed to get him finally to the Bekhterev Hospital, where they were told he had advanced schizophrenia and how come he'd never had any treatment. The parents managed to get a note from the doctor who'd been observing Vasya since he was 10: it said "Vasya G is not schizophrenic".</p><p class="FreeForm"><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/vasya.jpg" alt="" height="350" /></p><p class="image-caption">Vasya and his mother. Vasya, now 20, was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. He speaks only when he really needs to and cannot engage in a normal conversation. In his college Vasya is considered to be a great&nbsp;weaver. His works are being sold at college fairs.&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">The doctors in the Bekhterev listened to no one, declaring that they would cure him of his schizophrenia. He was given huge doses of a cocktail of drugs intravenously, but to no avail. They finally discharged him with a diagnosis of autism, but only after their professional pride was piqued.&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">Vasya was in the hospitals for 3 months. Considering how much medication had been pumped into him, he should have been drooling, but he wasn't. He was a bit scared and had definitely understood what not to do if a similar situation should arise.</p><h3><strong>Nikolai, Olga and Sun City</strong></h3><p class="FreeForm">Nikolai Diligensky had always worried about what would happen if his parents died. In 2002 they died within months of each other. Just as his father was being taken to hospital, he managed to ring Olga Konstantinovna, the widow of an old friend, and ask her to come and look after Nikolai.</p><p class="FreeForm">She treated his words as though they were his will. She needed professional help to get through the initial stages when Nikolai was trying to trace words on the back of her hand. She was lucky to find Igor Kostin, from the Institute of Special Education, who set up a computer with an enormous keyboard in the sitting room of Nikolai's flat. Nikolai had been having computer lessons since the mid 90s; by 2002 it had become his chief means of communication with the outside world. His fingers sometimes would get stuck, so there were invariably more letters in the word than necessary, but the message was always clear.</p><p class="FreeForm">In 2004, Olga Konstantinova applied for a visa to go and live in Israel. She was trying to find a place for Nikolai to live: language was a problem, because he knew no Hebrew. Fortunately, she was told about a house for French speaking autistic people that was due to open soon. This was ideal because Nikolai's father had close links with France and had taught his son French. Nikolai had twice been to Paris with his father.</p><p class="FreeForm">The house is in a small town called&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/History/Early%20History%20-%20Archaeology/Beit%20Shemesh%20-%20Biblical%20city%20on%20the%20border%20between">Beit-Shemesh</a>&nbsp;(Sun City), half-way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is run by Alex Aiis and has 25 inhabitants as well as the rabbits, guinea pigs and partridges they look after. There are Israelis, 5 French people, 3 Americans, some Spaniards, an Englishman, a Canadian and an Indian. Each person has a small room and access to the dining room at any time. There are no nurses; there is a doctor, but he lives off site, as does Alex Aiis himself. Aiis firmly believes that the only people who should be in the home all the time are the inhabitants.</p><p class="FreeForm">Many people were sceptical about his undertaking. The general view is that little progress can be expected from an autistic person after childhood, but Aaron, the only orthodox Jew in the community, is living proof of the opposite. When his parents brought him, he didn't speak. They left him there for two years with no home visits. Therapy taught Aaron to talk to his family and now he goes home for the Sabbath every week.</p><p class="FreeForm">The theory behind Beit Shemesh is that people with different needs live side by side: some are barely able to function, others appear not to need any help at all. Those with limited functionality work on site or nearby: they look after the grounds, work in the carpentry workshop or help with unloading lorries at local supermarkets. David, on the other hand, knows 8 languages and works in the Immigration Service, helping potential repatriates fill in forms; Isaac teaches English in the local school.</p><p class="FreeForm">Once a week the whole "kibbutz" goes on an excursion: perhaps to the desert, or to Eilat, where they might have a trip on a boat and go scrambling about the local caves. The more able take care of the less able and everyone has a good time.</p><p class="FreeForm"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/artem.jpg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="FreeForm"><span class="image-caption">Artyom and his mother Elena. Artyom plays the piano 2 hours a week. His mother Elena believes that children with autism should be never left to themselves. No matter how difficult the child seems one should try to teach him everything possible, be it reading, counting, speaking, drawing, music or physical excercise.</span></p><p class="FreeForm">The monthly upkeep for each inhabitant of Beit Shemesh is $3,000, so the annual budget is nearly $1million. The Social Services Ministry provides 80% and the rest is made up with donations. Inspectors visit periodically: they see a normal house and normal people. Aiis believes that people should be helped whether they are gifted or not. Talent and intellect are not connected, he maintains if someone can tell you how many matches there would be in 500 boxes, but can't clean his teeth, where's the benefit in that?</p><h3><strong>Artyom, Evgenia and the home</strong></h3><p class="FreeForm">Russia has nothing like Beit Shemesh and most autistic people have little hope of being able to integrate into society, living with their families. The fate that awaits them is isolation. Roman Dimenshtein of CRE explains that, as there is no proper infrastructure, the government allocates up to $1000 per month for each autistic person in a home, but this is done through its own organisations and there's nothing for people living with their families. No one inside the system wants to see the funds go outside their control.</p><p class="FreeForm">"For so many years we were a society moving towards a higher ideal&hellip;socialism, communism and so on. Everyone is involved in this progress onwards and upwards, so when a family has a child that is different, it clearly can't be the fault of the society intent on higher things. It must be the fault of the family, but we are a humane society, so we give them a chance to put things right. The practice of removing children from their families is quite popular in Russia, so we take the child, hide it and then the government pays for its upkeep. So different from the humane system in the West. Some Russian parents are embarrassed by their child, so they keep them at home. It's a feeling that is stronger than they are,".</p><blockquote><p class="FreeForm"><strong>"For so many years we were a society moving towards a higher ideal&hellip;socialism, communism and so on. Everyone is involved in this progress onwards and upwards, so when a family has a child that is different, it clearly can't be the fault of the society intent on higher things. It must be the fault of the family&rdquo;</strong></p><p class="image-caption">Roman Dimenshtein, Moscow Centre for Remedial Education</p></blockquote><p class="FreeForm">Evgenia M was 30 when she put her child Artyom in a home. He was 5. She had a good job, which she loved, and was earning well. The family needed her salary. She looked for a home near her flat and found one quite close, which had good reports. But, as she says, a home is a home: they might not beat the children, but could well give them a cuff round the ear. Artyom is the only autistic child, the others are schizophrenics and oligophrenics, so he finds it difficult to communicate with them. His needs are not understood or, therefore, considered. But if he starts reacting to this with demonstrations of auto-agression, then he'll be tied to his bed&hellip; a chain of events that's terrible to think about. It's very dangerous to be a misfit in a home.</p><p class="FreeForm">Evgenia spent two years trudging round department after department, trying to get some form of individual teaching for Artyom. She did finally manage to get him two 20 minute sessions with a speech pathologist. Artyom comes home at the weekends and spends his holidays with his parents. One time when he came home for the weekend, she was told he had run around a lot the day before and was tired. He was behaving very strangely and it finally emerged that he had been injected with too big a dose of Neuleptil - it took him 2 days to recover.&nbsp;</p><p class="FreeForm">When Artyom reaches 18, she will either have to bring him home or leave him in a home forever. She has heard about the projected house for adult autistic people, which the Centre for Remedial Education is planning to build. The land was a gift, and there is an architectural design, but when the house will be built, no one knows.</p><h3><strong>Nikolai, Olga and the book</strong></h3><p class="FreeForm">Every Friday Olga Konstantinovna takes Nikolai Diligensky home to her flat in Jerusalem. They watch a Russian film, drink tea and eat chocolate. Sometimes they go out for a walk. Twice a year they go on holiday &ndash; to Eilat or to Greece, for instance. Nikolai flatly refuses any offer to go back to Russia on a visit. When we start talking about his last years in Russia, he goes to his room.</p><p class="FreeForm">Olga is quite relaxed about Nikolai's father's night telephone call, though it changed her life. She didn't marry again, though she could have done, and she had to leave her job in the Russian State Humanitarian University publishing house. She also had to accept that not all her friends approved of her decision. Nikolai is clearly very fond of her. Sometimes he comes up to her and kisses the back of her neck. She says she has only recently realised that there is no one more devoted and loving in her life.</p><p class="FreeForm">They communicate by means of a board with the words Yes and No on it. Each time he comes to see her, she gets out the computer and asks him questions. The result is something like this (with plenty of superfluous letters):</p><p class="FreeForm">- You don't regret leaving Moscow?</p><p class="FreeForm">- Right.</p><p class="FreeForm">- Would you like to go back?</p><p class="FreeForm">- Yes, on holiday.</p><p class="FreeForm">- Would you like to write another book?</p><p class="FreeForm">- Yes.</p><p class="FreeForm">- What about?</p><p class="FreeForm">- The same thing.</p><p class="FreeForm">- Which is?</p><p class="FreeForm">- About my life</p><p class="FreeForm">- What have you learnt since you've been here?</p><p class="FreeForm">- I've realised that everyone's different.</p><p class="FreeForm">There will be hundreds more studies, which attempt to explain autism. A lot of water will have to run under the bridge before people in Russia start treating people with autism as people. Until that happens, everything we find out about them will come from them themselves, as we did with Nikolai Diligensky. For him, ordinary human kindness has meant he can live in two worlds.</p><p>&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="/article/email/state-power-versus-disability">State power versus disability</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/henry-marsh/cracking-heads-open-in-ukraine-neurosurgeon%E2%80%99s-story-part-1">Cracking heads open in Ukraine: a neurosurgeon’s story. Part 1</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Science </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society Culture Democracy and government Science Svetlana Reiter Dmitry Golubovsky Politics Internal Human rights Cultural politics Thu, 24 Feb 2011 10:01:34 +0000 Dmitry Golubovsky and Svetlana Reiter 58251 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Svetlana Reiter https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/svetlana-reiter-0 <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Svetlana Reiter </div> </div> </div> <p>Svetlana Reiter is a correspondent for the Moscow cultural magazine Bolshoi gorod&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Svetlana Reiter is a correspondent for the Moscow cultural magazine Bolshoi gorod </div> </div> </div> Svetlana Reiter Mon, 10 Jan 2011 20:36:14 +0000 Svetlana Reiter 57515 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Svetlana Reiter https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/svetlana-reiter <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Svetlana Reiter </div> </div> </div> <p>Svetlana Reiter is a journalist working in Moscow. She is correspondent for the Moscow cultural magazine <a href="http://www.bg.ru">Bolshoi gorod</a> and a special correspondent for <a href="http://www.esquire.ru">Esquire Russia</a></p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Svetlana Reiter is a special correspondent for Bolshoi Gorod and Esquire Russia </div> </div> </div> Svetlana Reiter Mon, 10 Jan 2011 20:35:44 +0000 Svetlana Reiter 57514 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Decency, hope, friendship: the real story from Moscow's race riots https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-loshak-svetlana-reiter/decency-hope-friendship-real-story-from-moscows-race-riots <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> On December 11, a group of 15-year-old schoolboys found themselves in the middle of a several thousand strong race riot in central Moscow. The boys, already badly beaten, were rescued by four unarmed OMON [special police force] officers. In contrast to their assailants, the boys and police officers demonstrated heartwarming values of togetherness and camaraderie. Theirs is the real Russia, argue Andrei Loshak and Svetlana Reiter. </div> </div> </div> <h3>This was not a "Russian" uprising </h3><p><em>Andrei Loshak in conversation with two of the schoolboys, Gagik and Sasha</em></p> <p class="p1">The mob attack on a group of &ldquo;non-Russian&rdquo; teenage boys, filmed ever-so-diligently by a dozen TV crews, was in many ways the defining symbol of the December <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/be3f9d12-0886-11e0-80d9-00144feabdc0.html%23axzz1AXUPZnwf">11th race riots</a>. Some in the media described the event as an ugly manifestation of &ldquo;popular democracy&rdquo;, others as an incomplete rout. Shamefully for a reality as hopeless as a pogrom, it was even suggested the the boys had in fact staged their own assault. From whimper to malevolence, the media froth hung an extremely depressing cloud over the entire week. But if you managed to escape the murky electronic torrent for a minute, and based yourself once again in the land of the living, you&rsquo;d have found there was much to feel warm about.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><strong><em><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/plastic%20bag.jpg%20" alt="" width="530" /></em></strong></p> <p class="image-caption">The story of six school friends attacked in last month's race riots presented two portraits of humanity. One is made from middle-aged failures, clutching their plastic shopping bags as they swing punches at schoolchildren. The other from the six friends who stuck together till the end, and four unarmed special policemen who bravely defended them against the thugs. The latter is the real Russia. Photo: Ilya Varlamov</p><p class="p1">The real story of December 11, you see, was one of not racial hatred, nor even the &ldquo;bloody Putin regime&rdquo;, but instead a story of camaraderie and friendship. Ironically, it was the army of pogromists who shouted out the Musketeers&rsquo; slogan &ldquo;one for all and all for one&rdquo;. For them I&rsquo;d suggest the modification &ldquo;one for all and all after one&rdquo; would be more accurate. But there can be no doubting the fraternity that binds the six boys the crowd attacked with their fists, legs, and knives.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The &ldquo;Caucasian&rdquo; schoolboys live and study in one of Moscow&rsquo;s less prestigious regions in South-East Moscow (of the six teenagers, two had no connection whatsoever with the Caucasus). One of them, Alexei Smirnoff (real name changed, though not by much), turned fifteen that day. Alexei had decided to celebrate his birthday along with his best friends Sasha, Timur, Sandro, Gagik and Ruben. The lads had never imagined friendship along strictly national lines. They kind of paid more attention to other qualities.</p> <p class="p1">Once they had finished school, the friends set off to a bowling alley, after which the leading man invited his friends to a Pizzeria on Manezh Square, near the Kremlin. At that point, no one imagined Alexei was about to become the lead protagonist in another, completely unexpected set of events. As I write this piece, Alexei remains at home, recovering from concussion. His mother does not allow journalists anywhere near him. She is frightened, and you can understand why.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Gagik, similarly, suffered concussion, serious lacerations and facial haematomas. His parents, having thought about it a bit, decided instead to invite a film crew to their home. It is not as if Gagik&rsquo;s parents are any less frightened, of course. They just had an arguably naive desire to show the world how wonderful their Gagik is (and how wrong those who beat him were). That desire, in the event, outweighed fear.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">We visit Gagik with Sasha, the second Russian boy in the group. He came off with least injuries of the group, which explains why he has already back in school. Sasha visits his recumbent friends after lessons are over. He has already once visited Timur, who is remains in hospital recovering from knife wounds, has on a few occasions been to see Alexei with his strict mother, and has visited Gagik almost every day. Over the two hours that we spent at Gagik&rsquo;s home, there was no shortage of guests in the house.&nbsp; The boy is evidently quite a personality in the area. You&rsquo;d be forgiven for thinking all the young people &ldquo;in the &lsquo;hood&rdquo; &mdash; and girls in particular &mdash;&nbsp; had at some point dropped by to offer their support and sympathy.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><em><strong>&ldquo;I asked Gagik whether he had had any problems with nationalists before. &ldquo;No&rdquo;, he answers, &ldquo;though you might say they had problems with me&rdquo;. It's little wonder why the family apartment is full of well-wishers</strong></em></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Remembering the events of that day, the boys say they knew things weren&rsquo;t looking good when they were still inside the pizzeria. There was already a large crowd of &ldquo;football fans&rdquo; in the thorough-way outside the cafe, throwing their provocative fascist salutes. Nonetheless, the friends decided their best bet was to try to attempt to reach the Metro by crossing the street. No sooner had they left the cafe, however, were they surrounded by a crowd of right-wing extremists. &ldquo;It was as if they were waiting for us&rdquo;, rues Gagik. The &ldquo;fans&rdquo; chanted out various slogans and ran around them, trying to swing kicks at the same time. One of them ran up behind Gagik and struck him on his legs. Gagik&rsquo;s instinctive reaction was to run after him to return the compliment. When he realised there were not a few, but thousands of aggressors surrounding him, it was already too late. The whole square was full of bloody-minded, drunk people, all after his blood. &ldquo;We offered to fight one-on-one, but they attacked as a crowd. I watched the video. They were only interested in kicking us. No-one used their fists&rdquo;.</p> <p class="p1">I ask Gagik whether he had had any problems with nationalists before. &ldquo;I had no problems&rdquo;, he answers, before adding with a wry smile: &ldquo;though you might say they had problems with me&rdquo;. The kids laugh, and I am starting to understand why Gagik&rsquo;s apartment is bursting at the seams with well-wishers.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">&nbsp;<object width="530" height="323"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/kkGxfTiiiHg?fs=1&amp;hl=en_US" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="530" height="323" src="http://www.youtube.com/v/kkGxfTiiiHg?fs=1&amp;hl=en_US" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object></p><p class="image-caption">The unarmed OMON officers who defended the "non-Russian" schoolboys from a crowd of thugs quite possibly saved their lives.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">Memory is a funny thing. Gagik says that it was as if it went blank from the moment of the assault onwards. He wants to remember, but can&rsquo;t. He says he was attacked more than any of the others because his face was the least &ldquo;Slavic-looking&rdquo; of the group. Sasha disagrees: the crowd went crazy because Gagik kept fighting. Timur was a boxer, so knew how to protect his face from blows. Gagik, on the other hand, was born into a family of sambo wrestlers (his uncle was a Soviet world-champion). Sambo is a different discipline, and does not place any emphasis on defending the face. This is why on every photograph of the assault, you will see Gagik&rsquo;s huge, blackened and bloodied eyes, flashing impotent anger at the maddened crowd.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Sasha likewise has difficulty remembering the perpetrators. &ldquo;You&rsquo;re lying there, trying to protect your face from blows. How are you meant to remember individual faces?&rdquo; I ask Sasha if he didn&rsquo;t think about scampering. As a blond and hazel-eyed member of the group, no one would have thought about touching him. &ldquo;Well yeah&rdquo;, says Sasha. &ldquo;Me and Alexei could probably have got away, but then our friends would have got it even worse. As it was we could at least divert their attention&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I ask him what he feels about nationalism. Sasha responds with obvious truths, though you get the impression that hadn&rsquo;t really thought about it before. Life&rsquo;s reality forced it on him, so to speak. He tells me how absurd it is to throw fascist salutes when Russians had paid with their lives fighting the nazi threat; that the WWII heroes would break the arms of these people if they found out what they were doing; that nations are all equal and God is the same for everyone, even if he is named in different ways. None of these things require further explanation. They are the default values of every normal, healthy family.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>&ldquo;Our friendship has always been strong, but now has only got stronger&rdquo;, says Gagik. &ldquo;We sure managed to swap blood there, didn&rsquo;t we? Like blood brothers now. Real close.&rdquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Needless to say, it is obvious language and thoughts of a child reflect in great degree the example of parents. A sign that things are not so healthy in that regard is when you hear children use words like <em>churka </em>[an offensive term that approximates to &ldquo;chink&rdquo;, used in relation to Asian and Caucasian non-Russians]. When you hear it coming from a teenager&rsquo;s lips it is obvious that this is the way adults in the family speak. It is likewise obvious that no such word exists in the lexicon of Sasha&rsquo;s or Alexei&rsquo;s parents. In this respect, the suggestion of Moscow&rsquo;s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, to bring together the parents of the arrested &ldquo;fans&rdquo; for an educative conversation seems to be an entirely fair one. Personally, I would go further and create a mutual support group, a kind of alcoholics&rsquo; anonymous, and I&rsquo;d make attendance by both parents and their neo-nazi offspring compulsory. If after similar sessions people renounce drinking and shooting up, who&rsquo;s to say that the same can&rsquo;t happen with extreme rightwing views?&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t care about religion or nationality&rdquo;, says Gagik. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve got a lot of Azeri friends, for example, even though we Armenians fought a war with them. Really close mates, mates you can depend on, Like Timur, who&rsquo;s no longer just a mate, but a brother. Saved my life&rdquo;. &ldquo;Gagik was hit more than anyone else&rdquo;, explains Sasha. &ldquo;Timur covered with his body as we tried to pull Gagik away.&rdquo;</p> <p class="p1">The boys are especially grateful to the OMON officers who protected them: if they were not there, they would have been finished. Sasha even went to visit the officers at their station to say &ldquo;thanks&rdquo; on behalf of everyone. &ldquo;Our friendship has only got stronger&rdquo;, says Gagik, with puffed-up and bruised eyes glinting through. &lsquo;Of course, it was very strong before this. We sure managed to swap blood there, didn&rsquo;t we Sash? Like blood brothers now. Real close.&rdquo;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>"What gathered in central Moscow on the evening of December 11 was not the Russian nation, but a damaging minority, prepared to blame their own woes on anyone and anything apart from their own laziness and stupidity."</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">The Russian media space has been poisoned with hatred, and against this backdrop such friendship begins to look like an act of heroism. Yet there is essentially nothing heroic in it at all. It is in fact what should be the norm. In the time we spent at Gagik&rsquo;s home, group after group of friends, classmates and neighbours passed through his bedroom. Representatives of the titular nationality, &ldquo;Russians&rdquo; in the main. I&rsquo;m convinced that this is the real Russian nation. Alexei and Sasha, who decided not to abandon their &ldquo;non-Russian&rdquo; friends. The loud girls &mdash; Gagik&rsquo;s girlfriends &mdash; who danced in Santa hats to cheer up their injured friend. The two Russian sambo heroes &mdash; Gagik&rsquo;s comrades in sport &mdash; who repeated one and the same phrase throughout the whole evening &ldquo;A shame we weren&rsquo;t there with you&rdquo;. The parents of Gagik&rsquo;s schoolmates who never ceased ringing with offers to help. The OMON officers who carried out their duties exactly how honest officers should. This is what a nation is all about.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">What gathered in central Moscow on the evening of December 11 was not the Russian nation, but a damaging minority, prepared to blame their own woes on anyone and anything apart from their own laziness and stupidity. A minority &ldquo;brave&rdquo; enough to wade into a group of six young teenage boys with fascist salutes and signals. Personally, the image stuck most in my head that of a middle-aged man in a grey jacket, who is captured putting all his strength into right-arm blows to the skulls of the schoolboys. With his left arm, he was clutching onto a plastic bag from a discount supermarket, evidently unprepared to part with his yoghurt and pelmeni dumplings. For me, this man&nbsp; embodies the shame of our nation. Only a committed Russophobe call such a collection of embittered failures a &ldquo;Russian uprising&rdquo;. After all, we did defeat fascism once. And if we need to do it again, we will. I&rsquo;m sure of it.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>"They begged us not to hand them over"</strong></h3> <em> <br />Svetlana Reiter spoke to the four OMON officers on duty that day</em><p class="p3">&ldquo;At 9.00 a.m. we were assigned to the back-up beat responsible for the cupola section of Manezhnaya Square. The four of us were supposed to patrol the surrounding area. Our task was to walk around the perimeter of the cupola, making sure nobody was disturbing the peace.</p> <p class="p3">We had information that some sort of a rally might take place, that the <a href="http://spartak.com/">Spartak</a> fans were preparing to come here to demonstrate against the death of <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11947753">Yegor Sviridov</a>. We aren't football fans ourselves, but we don't have anything against them and certainly weren't expecting anything unusual from them.</p><p class="p3"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/map.001_1.jpg%20" alt="" width="530" /></p> <p class="p3">Since we were the back-up officers that day, we stayed on the police bus until 1.00pm, awaiting orders. It was only then that we went out on the beat.&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 11.1111px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p3">When we came out, Manezhnaya Square was completely empty &mdash; not a soul around. As time went on, we noticed people with scarves and flags with the Spartak insignia visibly growing in numbers. By about 3.00 p.m, a huge crowd had gathered. They were lighting firecrackers and shouting, but there was nothing to be frightened about at that point. Those who had turned up were behaving quite normally to start with. But then, as more more and more arrived... well, we never thought there would be so many of them and that they would be quite so aggressive. We had no idea what would follow.<span style="font-size: 11.1111px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p3">They started coming out of the metro in groups of twenty, thirty people. Inconspicuous groups, which turned into a crowd. Closer to four o'clock, we saw the entire crowd running towards the railing around the square. They were all pushing to see something, pointing with their fingers. We ran that way and saw a fight.</p> <p class="p3">We could not see exactly how it all started, nor where exactly the fighting was going on. We just saw a fracas and some scuffling. It was obvious that someone was being beaten up but it was not clear who. We reported back to the station and then took the decision to intervene. &nbsp;</p><p class="p3"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/33-1.jpg%20" alt="" width="530" /></p> <p class="image-caption">The 15 year-old Sasha, Alexei, Ruben, Ksandro and Timur were lucky to escape Manezhnaya Square alive. Photo: Ilya Varlamov &nbsp;</p><p class="p3">From where we were, we could see through the crowd that someone was lying on the ground no longer offering any resistance. That is, the others were still trying to shield themselves against blows but this one guy was no longer moving or resisting. He was the Armenian boy &ndash; Gagik, as we found out later. The kids had come out of a restaurant to find themselves in the middle of a melee. We are all ethnic Russians ourselves &mdash; except perhaps for Maksim Maksimov, who has never known his father &mdash; but what difference does that make? As it happened, it was not just people from the Caucasus they were beating up: two of those boys were ethnically Russian. But the main thing is they were just children. Their bodies were simply not up to it physically. And the crowd really came down hard on them.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">To put it bluntly, it's lucky that no one was killed.</p> <p class="p3">We ran down the steps. The crowd had gathered on the left and we approached from the right. The people who had been beating up the children first started running away, probably thinking that a large OMON contingent was about to back us up. Part of the crowd was huddled in Okhotny Ryad and the rest around Zhukov&rsquo;s statue.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p3"><strong><em>&ldquo;We are all ethnic Russians ourselves, but what difference does that make? They were just children. Their bodies were simply not up to it physically.&rdquo;</em></strong><span style="color: #000000; font-style: normal; font-size: 11.1111px;">&nbsp;</span></p></blockquote> <p class="p3">The boys' faces were covered in blood. One was lying unconscious on the ground. We took him by the arms and seeing an ambulance parked near Manezh, we decided to drag him there, so we could put him in the car and have him taken to hospital.<span style="font-size: 11.1111px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p3">We had not brought our guns. We had just gone on the beat and never expected things to take such a turn. And to go out on the beat with a shield, in a helmet, with a truncheon and a Jetta is to provoke people. Even if we had had guns we would most probably not have used them. The crowd was huge and innocent people could have been hurt.<span style="font-size: 11.1111px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p3">We lifted the unconscious boy by the arms. We ran to the ambulance with his friends. When we reached the ambulance we found it locked. Perhaps the crew had been called to give first aid elsewhere. Most of the cars were parked near Zhukov's statue. And only one was near Manezh.&nbsp; The crowd came after us. There was nowhere else to run: the crowd was pushing from behind, pelting us with bottles and rubbish &ndash; basically, with anything they could lay their hands on, or find on the ground.</p> <p class="p3">We did not have time to get frightened. It only got scary later, when the crowd went mad and started grabbing at us and shouting: &ldquo;Who do you think you are protecting? Hand them over!&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">How could we have done such a thing? They were only kids, boys. If we had let the crowd have them, they would have just torn them to pieces.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">We told the boys to stand next to the ambulance, by the main door. We were positioned a little bit in front, trying to shield them, to stop them from being dragged away and finished off, killed. But the crowd kept pushing at us, kept growing and growing, blows rained down on us from all sides and the four of us found it quite hard to cope. We shouted to the kids to crawl under the car. By then the one who had been unconscious had come to, and they were all on their feet. And that's how we stood our ground until reinforcements arrived. We don't know how long it took. The boys were frightened. They were holding on to us. They were trying to hide. They begged us: &ldquo;Don't hand us over to them, don't leave us here!&rdquo; They did not cry but we have never in our lives seen such terrified people.&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 11.1111px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p3">People we still trying to strike them, to hit them over our heads. The crowd was getting ever closer, pushing: at first we were surrounded by ten people, then there were dozens of them, it seemed. And they were all pushing and shoving.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p3"><strong><em>The boys were frightened. They were holding on to us. They were trying to hide. They begged us: &ldquo;Don't hand us over to them, don't leave us here!&rdquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p3">There were not that many real football fans in this crowd &ndash; it was rather nationalists doing everything they could to provoke clashes.&nbsp; Just because someone is wearing a scarf or a hat with some insignia it does not mean he's a fan. He may never have even been to a match. There were also some people whose faces were masked, so we could have no idea who they were.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">You can understand why people felt the need to protest is understandable. The crime that provoked the unrest &mdash; the killing of Yegor Sviridov &mdash; needs to be properly punished. His killer must not be able to use his connections to get away. We sympathize with their loss. But all sorts of things happened in the square, and mob rule is no solution. Whatever you say about it, this really has nothing to do with children.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">When reinforcements arrived, the ambulance was still locked. There were no doctors around. They were busy elsewhere and apparently had left the car there. The unit commander took boys to an OMON bus and we continued in a &ldquo;chain&rdquo;, driving the crowd back.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">It was at that moment that the crowd began to riot and to dismantle the Christmas tree. First they tore off the decorations, then they started taking the fixtures apart and throwing them at us. They were also throwing flares &ndash; one of our comrades got burned in the face, and one of our group of four, Maksim Pilipkov, was hurt, his arm got bruised. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">The boys' parents came to say thank you to us. They said the boys are better now, that they are making a recovery. Still, this is not something they will easily forget: being beaten up for nothing, attacked by a crowd just for the way they looked. And of course, not only them, but their parents are also frightened. They told us they are scared to let their children out of the house. These are all big families with several children and the streets are not yet calm. People have become aggressive, there are clashes everywhere. Just try putting yourselves in these boys' shoes and you'll understand right away.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">The crowd in the square was at first just an ordinary crowd of young people. It was only later you saw masked people started shouting slogans, shooting flare pistols and unleashing a great deal of aggression. When the four of us were standing by the ambulance, we did shout out: &ldquo;what the hell are you doing?&rdquo;. They did not seem to hear us.</p> <p class="p3">To be honest, we felt no desire to hit out at the crowd. Those who were pushing us at the front, fans or no fans, they were generally just young people, minors. They were teenagers, and many were visibly under the influence of alcohol.&nbsp; Should we have hit the older ones? Making them even more aggressive? Our job was to defend those who had been beaten, and to hold our ground somehow. Decisions as to the general tactics to be used, on using guns and deploying reinforcements are taken by our superiors. Very little depends on us personally: when we're standing in a chain, our superiors take all the decisions.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p3">We would also like to be able to walk the streets without fear. When we get into our civvies to go home the same thing could easily happen to us, just like that, right there on the metro.&rdquo;</p><p class="p3">The four officers were:&nbsp;</p><p>Maksim Maksimov aged 25, from Kirov, staff sergeant, 4 years' service in OMON</p> <p>Maksim Pilipkov, aged 26, from Moscow, staff sergeant, 4 years in OMON</p> <p>Aleksandr Chernyshov aged 24, from Tver', sergeant, 3 years in OMON</p> <p>Aleksandr Vdovenko aged 25, from Voronezh Region, rank and file member, 3 years in OMON.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Thanks to <a href="http://www.bg.ru%20">Bolshoy Gorod</a>&nbsp;where this article first appeared</em></p> This article was amended on Wednesday 12 January <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="/andrei-loshak/parallel-worlds-how-connected-russians-now-live-without-state">Parallel worlds: how connected Russians now live without the state</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mumin-shakirov/sticks-and-stones-blogs-of-oleg-kashin">Sticks and stones: the blogs of Oleg Kashin</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-zakharov/oleg-kashin-words-that-cripple">Oleg Kashin: words that cripple</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/natalia-estemirova-champion-of-ordinary-chechens">Natalia Estemirova, champion of ordinary Chechens</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/i-ve-turned-25-uh-huh-wish-me-luck">I&#039;ve turned 25, uh-huh. 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