Letters from the Russian provinces https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/9212/all cached version 18/01/2019 13:25:14 en The one that didn’t get away https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marc-bennetts/one-that-didn%E2%80%99t-get-away <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Taisiya%20Spasem.org_.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>President Putin’s amnesty which has seen Pussy Riot’s Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova released, as well, perhaps, as the Greenpeace 30, is by no means extended to everyone. Young activist Taisiya Osipova also has a young child, but she remains locked up with no apparent chance of release, says Marc Bennetts</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>When Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova emerge into the glare of the media spotlight after their expected release this month<strong>&nbsp;</strong>from the penal colonies where they have been serving two-year sentences, another young anti-Putin activist will remain locked up in central Russia, far away from the cameras.</p> <p>Taisiya Osipova, 29, is set to see in her fourth New Year behind bars after being arrested in November 2010 on charges she and her supporters say were &lsquo;revenge&rsquo; for her refusal to help police frame her husband, a senior activist in writer and opposition politican Eduard Limonov&rsquo;s &lsquo;Other Russia&rsquo; party.</p><h2>The sentence</h2> <p>Osipova, a diabetic and the mother of a young daughter, was detained after police claimed to have found some four grammes of heroin at her apartment in the west Russian city of Smolensk. She spent over a year in a pre-trial detention facility before being jailed for ten years in late 2011. That ruling was widely criticised as unnecessarily harsh, including by then President Dmitry Medvedev, who called for a new probe into the charges. The authorities refused, however, to free Osipova on bail.</p> <p>At her retrial in August 2012, Osipova&rsquo;s claim that police had planted the drugs on her was corroborated by a witness, who passed a lie-detector test. Based on this new evidence, the judge threw out the charges stemming from the search of her apartment. However, despite acknowledging that the police had acted illegally, the court ruled to uphold two other drug-related charges. The prosecutor asked for a four-year sentence. For Osipova, who had already been in custody for almost two years at this point, freedom was suddenly looking a lot closer.&nbsp;</p> <p>Her optimism was misplaced.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Taisiya%20Spasem.org_.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Osipova is visited by her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov and 7-year-old daughter, Katrina at the colony where she is serving an eight-year prison sentence. Photo via Fomchenkov's facebook.</span></p><p>In a ruling that came just months after Putin&rsquo;s presidency and sent shock waves through Russia&rsquo;s opposition activists, the judge sentenced Osipova to eight years behind bars, twice the amount the prosecution had asked for. Just two years were cut from the original sentence. Osipova, sitting in a steel cage as the judge read the verdict, was clearly stunned. Limonov called the ruling &lsquo;terrifying revenge.&rsquo; Leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov, in court that day to show his support for Osipova, said the sentence was a &lsquo;spit in the face&rsquo; of Medvedev and his ultimately unsuccessful attempts to eradicate &lsquo;Russia&rsquo;s legal nihilism.&rsquo;</p><p>As 2013 came to an end, Osipova&rsquo;s supporters entertained hopes that she would be included in an amnesty for certain categories of prisoners, including mothers of young children. But while Pussy Riot&rsquo;s Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina &nbsp;- who both also have young children waiting at home for them - are set to benefit from this month&rsquo;s amnesty, Osipova&lsquo;s case is not covered. The reason? The amnesty only covers those mothers who have been sentenced to less than five years in jail.</p><p class="pullquote-right">The judge sentenced Osipova to eight years behind bars, twice the amount the prosecution had asked for.</p> <p>&lsquo;She&rsquo;s being doubly punished,&rsquo; sighed Osipova&rsquo;s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina. &lsquo;If she had been jailed for four years, as the prosecutor originally requested, she would be eligible to be included in the amnesty.&rsquo;</p> <p>Other prisoners covered by the amnesty include the 'Arctic 30' Greenpeace activists, whose prosecution was widely covered both in Russia and abroad. In a separate development from the amnesty, Putin also pardoned this month Mikhail Khordokovsky, once Russia&rsquo;s richest man, who had been behind bars since 2003 on fraud charges that were brought after his funding of opposition parties.</p> <p>&lsquo;This is a very cynical move by Putin,&rsquo; added Sidorkina. &lsquo;He just wants to make sure that the most high-profile prisoners are out of jail before the Olympics, so as to avoid any unpleasant questions at the Games. There are plenty of people left behind in jail who shouldn&rsquo;t be there.&rsquo;</p><p class="pullquote-right">Putin just wants to make sure that the most high-profile prisoners are out of jail before the Olympics, so as to avoid any unpleasant questions at the Games.</p> <h2>The background</h2> <p>Osipova had first made headlines in her hometown of Smolensk in April 2003, when she strode on stage at a public meeting chaired by the city&rsquo;s governor, Viktor Maslov, a former FSB chief, and slapped him in the face with a bouquet of red carnations. &lsquo;You are getting fat at the expense of ordinary people!&rsquo; she yelled, before she was ushered out by security. Maslov had been accused by activists in Smolensk of enriching himself as governor at the expense of local infrastructure, as well as darker crimes, including involvement in a series of brutal murders. He denied the charges.</p> <p>Earlier this year, I met up with Osipova&rsquo;s husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, and the couple&rsquo;s now seven-year-old daughter Katrina. Like many of Russia&rsquo;s radical underground activists, Fomchenkov sported a buzz cut and was dressed all in black. He refused my offer to buy him and his daughter lunch. &lsquo;It wouldn&rsquo;t feel right,&rsquo; he mumbled. His daughter was a typical, bubbly seven-year-old, named after the devastating hurricane that had hit New Orleans as she tossed and turned in her mother&rsquo;s stomach in the summer of 2005.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Fomcheko%3F.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Sergei Fomchenkov at a protest calling for his wife's release. She is inelligible for the amnesty for mothers that freed Pussy Riot.&nbsp; Photo via Facebook.</span></p> <p>After the attack on Maslov, which saw Osipova handed an unexpectedly light one-year suspended sentence, the couple continued to organise and take part in protests in both Moscow and Smolensk. They soon became targets for the authorities, including &lsquo;Centre E&rsquo; &ndash; the anti-extremism department.</p> <p>&lsquo;When Taisiya was seven months pregnant, she came home after a walk to find all four gas rings on the oven had been turned on, but not lit,&rsquo; Fomchenkov said, still clearly shocked by the attempt on the lives of his wife and unborn daughter. &lsquo;It was clear someone had done it. I mean, you might forget to turn off one ring, but all four?&rsquo;</p><p class="pullquote-right">This is a conveyer belt of injustice&hellip;these people have no conscience.</p> <p>&lsquo;As far as we are aware, it was an unprecedented ruling,&rsquo; Fomchenkov told me as we sat in a crowded Moscow cafe a short walk from the Kremlin. &lsquo;Our lawyer has been unable to find another example in Russian legal history of a judge jailing someone for twice the number of years the prosecutor requested. It was obviously an order from above.&rsquo;</p> <p>We turned back to the details of Osipova&rsquo;s arrest, Fomchenkov leaning forward to make himself heard above the chatter of the cafe. &lsquo;They wanted to set me up, to prove that I was running drugs between Moscow and Smolensk to raise funds for &lsquo;Other Russia&rsquo;,&rsquo; he said. &lsquo;But Taisiya wouldn&rsquo;t play along. So they framed her. The witnesses the police cited were members of pro-Kremlin youth movements that had been specifically sought out by the police.</p> <p>&lsquo;This is a conveyer belt of injustice,&rsquo; he went on. &lsquo;These people have no conscience; they set up and put away women with kids younger than Katrina for eight, nine, ten years. They are all in cahoots with the real drug dealers, but, because they have to make it look as though they are fighting the trade in heroin, they bust small-time users or plant drugs on people. In my wife&rsquo;s case, they simply adapted these methods for political ends. They don&rsquo;t care that she is innocent. Anti-extremism agents and FSB (Federal Security Service) officers are taught not to think of us as people.&rsquo;</p> <p>The &lsquo;Other Russia&rsquo; party had stayed aloof from the demonstrations that rocked Moscow in 2011/2012, enraged by what its leader, Limonov, called the &lsquo;cowardice&rsquo; of the protest leaders and their unwillingness to seek head-on confrontation with Putin&rsquo;s system. Fomchenkov, the right side of his face heavily scarred with what looked like a knife wound, was unconvinced by &lsquo;Left Front&rsquo; leader Udaltsov&rsquo;s suggestion that the ruling had been in some way a signal to society that Medvedev&rsquo;s liberal stance was a thing of the past.&nbsp;</p> <p>&lsquo;The white-ribbon protesters like to make out there was some battle among the political elite, and that if Medvedev were still in power he would help them,&rsquo; he said, slowly shaking his head. &lsquo;But we don&rsquo;t buy this &ndash; they are all part of the same team. Medvedev&rsquo;s weakness sparked&nbsp;<span>the protests. If he&rsquo;d been tougher, Putin might not have felt the need to return.&rsquo;&nbsp;</span></p> <h2>Fighting injustice</h2> <p>Unlike the prosecution of Pussy Riot, which captivated Western media for months, Osipova&rsquo;s jailing failed to attract anything like the same attention. Was this simply due to the photogenic Pussy Riot members making for better copy than the less glamorous Osipova? Or was it down to &lsquo;Other Russia&rsquo; leader Limonov&rsquo;s past as a nationalist, anti-Western firebrand &ndash; a stance he has since admitted was an act designed to shock and provoke? It also helped Pussy Riot, of course, that their spokesman, the ever-smiling Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova&rsquo;s husband, is a fluent English speaker able to argue the group&rsquo;s case on CNN and other international news channels.</p> <p>Fomchenkov shrugged. &lsquo;There have been some good reports about the case in both Russian and Western media. But no one is going to fight for us in the way they fought for Pussy Riot.&rsquo;</p><p class="pullquote-right">The Pussy Riot spokesman, the ever-smiling Pyotr Verzilov, Tolokonnikova&rsquo;s husband, is a fluent English speaker able to argue the group&rsquo;s case on international news channels.</p> <p>I was unsure of exactly how much we could discuss in front of Katrina &ndash; while she seemed to be paying no attention to our conversation, we were, after all, discussing her mother, who was likely to remain behind bars for the remainder of her childhood years. &lsquo;It&rsquo;s OK,&rsquo; said Fomchenkov. &lsquo;She knows everything. Some of her relatives tried to make up some story at first, but there&rsquo;s no point.</p> <p>&lsquo;I try not to politicise her, but she said recently, &ldquo;Dad, I hate the police.&rdquo; If she asks what &lsquo;Other Russia&rsquo; are about, I tell her we are fighting against injustice, and she says, &ldquo;Ah, like in that cartoon I saw the other day.&rsquo;&rsquo;&rsquo; He smiled. Katrina cadged some cash off him and went to buy a cake.</p> <h2>One law for them, another for us</h2> <p>Under Russian law, mothers of children under the age of fourteen convicted of non-violent crimes can apply for a stay of sentence. Osipova&rsquo;s application was turned down without explanation shortly after her initial conviction. The ruling compared starkly with the 2010 decision by a court in east Siberia&rsquo;s Irkutsk to grant a stay of imprisonment to a young woman named Anna Shavenkova, who killed one pedestrian and crippled another for life when her vehicle went off the road. Video footage of the crash showed Shavenkova get out of her car and check it for damage, without so much as a glance in the direction of the two women who lay crumpled like rag dolls just metres from her. She did not even call an ambulance. Shavenkova was sentenced to three years behind bars, but, because she became pregnant shortly after the crash, she will not begin to serve her sentence until 2024. Lawyers suggest an appeal at a later date could see her avoid a custodial sentence altogether.</p> <p>It is as depressing as it is predictable that Shavenkova is the daughter of a local influential member of the ruling &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; party.</p> <p>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s almost too obvious even to say out loud, you know?&rsquo; Fomchenkov grimaced. &lsquo;But there&rsquo;s one rule for people like us, and one rule for the elite. They will never allow my wife a stay of imprisonment.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>&lsquo;The Russian authorities have the mentality of wolves,&rsquo; Fomchenkov told me, before I left him and his daughter. &lsquo;If you attack, you have to be sure to take your target down. If not, expect to be eaten alive.&rsquo;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/prisoner-of-bolotnaya-square">Prisoner of Bolotnaya square</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-reiter/russias-dead-end-prison-system">Russia&#039;s dead end prison system</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-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Marc Bennetts Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Justice Internal Human rights Mon, 23 Dec 2013 14:08:58 +0000 Marc Bennetts 78047 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The lower depths in Russia today https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/lower-depths-in-russia-today <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: right;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Homeless%20on%20curb.jpeg" alt="" width="160" />Over a century after Maksim Gorky’s famous play about homeless people – ‘The Lower Depths' – Ekaterina Loushnikova has been looking around her home city of Kirov to see if anything has changed.</p> </div> </div> </div> <h2>The church porch</h2> <p class="Body">I stood in the porch of Kirov&rsquo;s St Serafim&rsquo;s church, a traditional place for beggars to congregate. I wasn&rsquo;t asking for anything, but someone handed me two roubles (about 4p). Ordinary Russians are kindhearted and I didn&rsquo;t turn it down. I passed it on to my new acquaintance, an elderly woman in a flower-patterned headscarf sitting on a wooden box that once contained fruit. Lyudmila Petrovna is eighty years old, and begs for alms outside the church during morning and evening services. She doesn&rsquo;t get a lot &ndash; it&rsquo;s a rare day that she collects one hundred roubles (just less than two pounds sterling) &ndash; but people also bring her food: bread, toffees, biscuits, pea soup in a glass jar. Lyudmila Petrovna is cheered by their offerings, and asks each of them if there&rsquo;s someone they&rsquo;d like her to pray for.</p><p class="Body"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Homeless%20on%20curb.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Lyudmila Petrovna on the church porch. Cast out of her apartment by her own family, Lyudmila is now forced to supliment her pension with begging.. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova.</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">Lyudmila Petrovna rarely collects as much as 100 roubles (just less than &pound;2), but people also bring her food&hellip; and she offers to pray for them in return.</p> <p class="Body">The elderly woman has a monthly pension of 6000 roubles (&pound;110); the average Russian earns about 30,000 roubles (&pound;550) a month. A third of Lyudmila Petrovna&rsquo;s money goes on the rent for a room in a communal flat in a nearby jerry-built block; the rest has to meet all her needs for the month. In Kirov, bread costs 20 roubles, potatoes 30, milk also 30, tea 40, and sugar 50 roubles. You can survive, of course, but you can forget about buying meat, sausage, fish, eggs and other non-essentials, and you buy any clothes you need in the second-hand shop. Here, amongst a heap of clothing from Europe and the US, Lyudmila Petrovna finds a frilled linen skirt &lsquo;made in Germany&rsquo;, a Dutch-made jacket and American shoes, which are two sizes too big but will be fine if she wears three pairs of socks with them. She can buy the socks here too, and the whole lot sets her back about 500 roubles. The old lady is as pleased as punch at finding such cheap stuff from European countries she has never seen.</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Lyudmila Petrovna,&rsquo; I ask, &lsquo;do you know where Holland is?&rsquo; </p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;I couldn&rsquo;t tell you exactly&rsquo;, she replies, &lsquo;but I know it&rsquo;s in Europe. I used to get good marks for geography! I was a good learner; I had ten years of school.&rsquo;</p><h2>Down and out</h2> <p class="Body">Before she retired, Lyudmila Petrovna was a postwoman, but she&rsquo;s not keen on talking about the years when she worked and had her own flat &ndash; or about her children and grandchildren either. &lsquo;They said, &ldquo;Go and stay with relatives or somebody, Ma&hellip; or we&rsquo;ll put you in a care home. You&rsquo;re in the way here, you get on our nerves with your preachifying.&rdquo; I&rsquo;d already transferred the flat to their names. I went to stay with my sister but it didn&rsquo;t work out, so I came back, and was homeless. Sometimes I&rsquo;d sleep in an attic, sometimes in a cellar, sometimes right on the street under a tree. People would beat me up, boys would throw stones at me, the police would pick me up and throw me in a cell, then they&rsquo;d let me go &ndash; this happened over and over again. But what could they do with me? The children had taken my name off the register for the flat, but if I wasn&rsquo;t registered anywhere I couldn&rsquo;t get my pension. I was living off bread and holy water from St Tryphon&rsquo;s well.&rsquo; </p> <p class="pullquote-right">&lsquo;They said, &ldquo;Go and stay with relatives or somebody, Ma... or we&rsquo;ll put you in a care home. You&rsquo;re in the way here, you get on our nerves with your preachifying.&rdquo;&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">Lyudmila Petrovna didn&rsquo;t go to the social services. She was too embarrassed about her tattered clothes, her hands black with dirt, and the rumbling in her hungry stomach, and even more about her inconsolable grief. Sorrow doesn&rsquo;t like company: it prefers solitude, wrapped in a cocoon of tears that have dried to a crust around the heart. Many people find consolation in a bottle of wine, but you don&rsquo;t get much wine or vodka in a church porch. What they drink here is hawthorn berries and hot peppers infused in spirit from a chemist&rsquo;s shop or hardware store &ndash; cheap and cheerful at thirty roubles a bottle. It&rsquo;s not something you can drink for long: after a couple of years your skin turns yellow and becomes ulcerated, you lose your feet, then your memory, and finally your right to be called human. If a living corpse like this is lucky, they get picked up and taken to a drug dependency unit or a psychiatric clinic; if not, it&rsquo;s straight to the cemetery for burial at government expense. While homeless people are alive they survive whatever way they can. They try to avoid contact with social services and charities, thinking that instead of help they&rsquo;ll end up with servitude. </p> <h2>A saviour appears</h2> <p class="Body">Lyudmila Petrovna was lucky &ndash; she was saved by a happy marriage. &lsquo;I got married when I was eighty. My suitor lived in the block of flats next to the church, and would come and sit in the porch with us for a chat. The old fellow was lonely &ndash; all his family had died or moved away. But he was nearly ninety, and one day he said, &ldquo;If only someone would come and help me a bit at home. I haven&rsquo;t washed the dishes for three years; my porridge is full of grubs; I put my laundry to soak last year and never got round to washing it, and the neighbours are cursing me day and night because of the smell.&rdquo; So I went round and did a bit of washing and cleaning for him. Then one day I said, &ldquo;Well, you might give me a bit of floor and a coat to sleep on, it&rsquo;ll be warmer than the street&rdquo;. And he said, &ldquo;You may as well come and live with me. I&rsquo;m fond of you.&rdquo;</p><p class="pullquote-right">Off we went to the registry office, all dressed up &ndash; him in a jacket with all his war medals on, and me in a nice flowery dress and I even put lipstick on, believe it or not!</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;He registered me at the flat, so I could claim my pension. But our happy life together didn&rsquo;t last long. My old man&rsquo;s health started going &ndash; if it wasn&rsquo;t his heart it was his blood pressure; and I&rsquo;d be phoning for the ambulance every day. One day he proposed to me: &ldquo;Let&rsquo;s get married, love. You never know when I&rsquo;ll die.&rdquo; So off we went to the registry office, all dressed up &ndash; him in a jacket with all his war medals on, and me in a nice flowery dress and I even put lipstick on, believe it or not! We arrived and they said they couldn&rsquo;t marry us straight away: &ldquo;You might change your minds, just wait for a month to be sure of your feelings for each other&rdquo;. So we waited a month and went back, and this time we got married. We didn&rsquo;t have what you&rsquo;d call a proper wedding; we had tea and sweets and I baked a cake. I don&rsquo;t drink wine, but I gave some to the winos to warm the cockles of their hearts on our special day. Everyone drank to us and wished us a long and happy life together, but my old fellow died not long afterwards. The drunks in the porch didn&rsquo;t even have time to dry out &ndash; one day they were drinking to his health, the next to his eternal rest.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p class="Body">Lyudmila Petrovna has a photo album to remind her of her husband, as well as his jacket with the medals, and, most importantly, a roof over her head. She&rsquo;s also adopted a stray dog called Naida, and the two of them live happily together.</p><h2>People of No Permanent Abode</h2> <p class="Body">Splavnaya Street still has wooden pavements from the time of the Second World War, and is lined with cheap one-storey wooden housing blocks of the same era, probably built by German prisoners of war. The only stone building in the area is the rather grandly named Centre for the Rehabilitation of People of No Permanent Abode or Occupation. Here the social services give homeless people a warm bed with clean sheets, a hot shower and a packed lunch consisting of pasta, vegetable oil, sugar, tea and instant Chinese noodles. There&rsquo;s no meat for the homeless. It&rsquo;s also not supposed to become a permanent place of residence: the rules state that you can spend the night there but in the morning you have to go to work. However, many of the people there are unemployed, and some are disabled as well. Aleksei, who was brought up in a children&rsquo;s home, lost his toes to frostbite when he lived in an unheated hut. The 37-year-old, who looks 20 years younger, has nothing: no father or mother, no place to live, no work, no money - just a younger sister who has a bed in the next room. This is their home; they have nowhere else to go. And there are many like them. The centre has fifty permanent residents and no room for any more.</p><p class="Body"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Former%20KGB%20colonol%20homless.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Former Lieutenant-Colonol Nicolas took to drinking while&nbsp;serving in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Chechnya. His wife has left him and he now spends his days in the rehabilitation centre. Photo (c)&nbsp;Ekaterina Loushnikova.</span></p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Don&rsquo;t take my photo!&rsquo; warns Valera, a thin man of indeterminate age with a swarthy impassive face. It&rsquo;s not hard to tell that he&rsquo;s spent a lot of his life behind bars; and indeed he recently left prison after serving a 20-year sentence. What for? Robbery, burglary &ndash; all sorts, but no, he&rsquo;d never killed anyone. </p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Do you have a family, any relatives?&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Not a soul&rsquo;, he tells me, &lsquo;no relatives, no friends, no home. Just me. So I&rsquo;m living here for the time being.&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">It feels as though the ex-con is finding it difficult to get used to freedom. He needs to start a new life, but how do you do that if you&rsquo;ve spent 20 years behind bars? After struggling on the outside for a few months or a couple of years, former prisoners usually revert to crime just to get back home &ndash; to jail. </p> <p class="Body">Some have a bit of luck. One of Valera&rsquo;s roommates, another ex-con, has found a job in the north. His name is Alexander and he did time for murder.</p><p class="pullquote-right">If only I can stay off the bottle!&rsquo; he says in the tone of a man who is doomed to suffering or some other unavoidable disaster.</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Yeah, I stabbed one of my colleagues with a knife. I&rsquo;d had too much to drink. They gave me 15 years, and I served every day. But now I&rsquo;m out I&rsquo;m starting a new life. My mother&rsquo;s in a care home and I have two sons. I have no contact with one of them &ndash; his mother has a new family now and she doesn&rsquo;t want to see me. But my elder son, from an earlier marriage, is doing his military service, and when he finishes he might join me. My mother can come and live with us too. If only I can stay off the bottle!&rsquo; he says in the tone of a man who is doomed to suffering or some other unavoidable disaster.</p><h2>A retired KGB Lieutenant-Colonel</h2> <p class="Body">In the next room I meet a man who is in such a state of chronic insobriety that it&rsquo;s impossible to tell when he last drank &ndash; this morning, yesterday, the day before &ndash; or whether his breath just permanently reeks of alcohol. He unexpectedly introduces himself as Nicolas, in the French manner, and he turns out to be a retired KGB Lieutenant-Colonel. &lsquo;I served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Chechnya&rsquo;, he tells me. &lsquo;Carried out government instructions. I have medals to show for it &ndash; and wounds. I started drinking on active service &ndash; war drives you to all sorts of things. But that&rsquo;s it &ndash; I&rsquo;m quitting. I&rsquo;ve made my mind up.&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Do you get any visitors here?&rsquo; </p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Yes, my wife came to see me yesterday, but she&rsquo;s found someone else, she&rsquo;s left me. Are you married? I&rsquo;m still a young man, after all;&rsquo; and the retired colonel winks at me provocatively.</p><p class="Body"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/second%20yuri%20fleg%20reszide.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">One-time murderer and career criminal, Yury Flegontovich now works as a religious activist. Photo (c)&nbsp;Ekaterina Loushnikova</span></p> <p class="Body">I&rsquo;ve never had so many conversations about marriage as in this homeless centre and the prisons I&rsquo;ve visited. It&rsquo;s like a dream of paradise for them. &lsquo;I long to meet someone and have a family. There&rsquo;s nothing worse than loneliness,&rsquo; says a talkative, plumpish man as he gets up from his bed, introducing himself as Yury Flegontovich. &lsquo;Wait a minute while I get dressed and I&rsquo;ll tell you everything about my life. I have such a tale to tell you!&rsquo;</p><p class="pullquote-right">&lsquo;Wait a minute while I get dressed and I&rsquo;ll tell you everything about my life. I have such a tale to tell you!&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">I hear his &lsquo;tale&rsquo; in the centre&rsquo;s library. Its shelves are full of books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Durrenmatt and Cort&aacute;zar, as well as contemporary detective fiction, but my new acquaintance&rsquo;s life beats them all. He arrives for his appointment with a journalist in an expensive suit, a silk shirt and a colourful tie complete with tiepin. </p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;I now work for the Church of the New Testament [an evangelical protestant church] but I used to be a professional criminal&rsquo;, he begins. &lsquo;When I was young I messed about a fair bit &ndash; thieved, murdered, beat people up, went to prison once or twice. The first time I got sent down I was 18 &ndash; I roughed up a cop and got two years for it. When I came out I got my own gang together, and we stole cars, took the windscreens off. Did good business! Then I got sent down again, this time to a high security place. Came out of there, and started thieving and murdering again. I don&rsquo;t know how many people I killed. Our boss was a guy known as &ldquo;Cheburashka&rdquo; [after a children&rsquo;s TV cartoon character], but then I set up my own business dealing in stolen precious metal goods. I had loads of money, a car, a flat &ndash; but I lost it all playing the machines in casinos. They tried to kill me and they buried me alive, but I managed to scrabble my way out.</p><p class="pullquote-right">I set up my own business dealing in stolen precious metal goods. I had loads of money, a car, a flat &ndash; but I lost it all playing the machines in casinos.</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;I repented of my sins and became a pilgrim &ndash; I walked 7,000 kilometres around holy places, churches and monasteries. The one that made a particular impression on me was the Holy Trinity monastery in Perm, where I walked into a cell to find one monk had pulled up another monk&rsquo;s habit and was buggering him like there was no tomorrow! And he didn&rsquo;t even stop when I came in &ndash; he just said, &ldquo;Brother, you should knock before you come in.&rdquo; I left the next day and went off the Orthodox Church. We have people living here in the Centre that were buggered in prison [and so considered the lowest of the low in the prison hierarchy], and you need to be careful around them. You can help them, but don&rsquo;t shake their hands!&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;I&rsquo;ve been shaking everyone&rsquo;s hand!!!&rsquo; I cried in horror. Yury Flegontovich gave me a look of sympathy. &lsquo;You&rsquo;d better wash your hands with household soap then. Of course you&rsquo;re a woman, not a bloke, but wash them anyway. You could catch some kind of itch or heaven knows what &ndash; they&rsquo;re all tramps here, after all. In Perm I used to crash out in a shaft at a district heating plant, and I&rsquo;d wake up in the morning on top of a thick black pile of cockroaches, all crawling around under me. Men and women would be sitting around eating and drinking, and there&rsquo;d be a stinking corpse lying in the corner. No one had even thought about burying it! </p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;And listen to what I saw here yesterday. There was a fight between an amputee and his girlfriend, who&rsquo;s completely off her head. She had epilepsy and it&rsquo;s turned into schizophrenia. She bashed him over the head with his own crutch, and he broke a stool over her. When the manager found out he threw them both out. He&rsquo;s a strict man, but fair.&rsquo;</p><h2>Managing - just...</h2> <p class="Body">The Centre&rsquo;s manager is Vladimir Zmeyev, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of police from Soviet times. He began his career as a police officer attached to the women&rsquo;s department of a sexual health clinic, and later was in charge of detention centres and sobering-up stations for arrestees and alcoholics. Now he runs a homeless centre. Such is life. There&rsquo;s never a dull moment.</p><p class="pullquote-right">&lsquo;My predecessor here was a woman, who sometimes had to hide under her desk when inmates got rough.... &rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;My predecessor here was a woman, who sometimes had to hide under her desk when inmates got rough,&rsquo; he tells me. &lsquo;One of our employees even got murdered by a homeless guy. The member of staff made some critical remark to him, and he grabbed a knife and stabbed him. The blade pierced his lung and he died instantly...&rsquo; </p> <p class="Body">The dead man&rsquo;s wife still works at the Centre. She is coming up to retirement age so it&rsquo;s not easy to find another job. Not that it&rsquo;s easy here &ndash; staff salaries are sometimes lower than the wages of some residents. A construction worker, even if he&rsquo;s a former tramp, can earn up to thirty thousand roubles a month, while an administrative worker at the Centre can&rsquo;t earn more than five thousand, and there&rsquo;s nothing they can do about it, that&rsquo;s the rate for the job. Staff usually have two jobs, just to survive. After the murder, CCTV cameras were installed everywhere &ndash; a mouse would find it difficult to avoid them, but experienced ex-cons can and do.</p><p class="Body"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Homeless%20injured%20resize.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">A new arrival to the centre. Having fallen on hard times, he had taken to</span><span class="image-caption">&nbsp;drinking fufyrika, a&nbsp;</span><span class="image-caption">chemist-grade pepper lotion. Kirov, a city of 473,000 people, has about 2,000 homeless residents. Photo (c)&nbsp;Ekaterina Loushnikova</span></p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;They still bring in drink and food, from who knows where,&rsquo; laments Vladimir Zmeyev. &lsquo;We can&rsquo;t feed them properly here. We have an annual budget of just 150,000 roubles (&pound;3,000) for food and drink. But we do get donations and residents who are earning well help the rest out. We&rsquo;ve had businessmen, bureaucrats, intellectuals; all kinds of military people living here. I remember one police officer that spent a long time working in Chechnya and came home to find his wife had left him for someone else. He did the right thing by her &ndash; didn&rsquo;t take her to court over the flat, left her everything and went to live in a vault in the cemetery. Started to drink of course &ndash; his friends brought him here.&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;And do people really get back on their feet after coming here?&rsquo; I asked.</p> <p class="Body">&lsquo;Unfortunately, most of them go back to where they came from &ndash; cellars, doorways, heating plant shafts. They stay here for the winter, but as soon as it gets warmer they&rsquo;re off. What can you do, it&rsquo;s their decision.&rsquo;</p> <p class="Body">As I&rsquo;m leaving I see one more sight. They&rsquo;ve just signed in a new resident. His face is covered in bruises and ulcers, he has the watery blue eyes of a habitual drunkard, and the look of someone who no longer expects anything out of life... </p> <p class="Body">The Centre staff fuss around the newcomer; they will wash him, give him medical treatment, delouse his clothes, establish his identity and renew his papers, but how can they re-establish his life, half of which is already lost? </p> <p class="Body">Back at home, I spend a long time washing my hands with household soap, and wipe them with disinfectant, just in case. <em>After all, you can&rsquo;t avoid yourself...</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>According to official figures, 13 million Russians (out of 143 million) live below the poverty line, and 11 million earn less than 9000 roubles (£180) a month. According to the Swiss bank Credit Suisse’s research institute, 35% of Russia’s entire natural resources and property is owned by 110 oligarchic families.</p><p>Different studies put the number of homeless people in Russia at between 2 and 5 million. Moscow has the largest number – 75,000 people, with St Petersburg following at 50,000. In Kirov there are about 2,000. Their main sources of income are begging and scavenging (collecting glass bottles, aluminium cans, food and clothing from rubbish bins). A few have deliberately chosen this way of life, but most have ended up on the streets through a variety of difficult social and personal circumstances.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/snap-goes-crocodile">Snap goes the Crocodile</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/russia%E2%80%99s-drinking-habits-today-%E2%80%93-still-hooked-on-vodka-or-do-they-prefer-v">Russia’s drinking habits today – still hooked on vodka, or do they prefer vino?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/russians-be-horrified-at-yourselves">Russians, be horrified at yourselves!</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-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Ekaterina Loushnikova Letters from the Russian provinces Russia in depth Internal Sat, 14 Dec 2013 10:00:29 +0000 Ekaterina Loushnikova 77816 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Has Siberia had enough of Russia? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksei-tarasov/has-siberia-had-enough-of-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: right;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Siberia_oil_pipes.JPG" alt="" width="160" />With Siberia’s enormous natural resources being mercilessly exploited by Russia, and now China as well, Aleksei Tarasov wonders if the region might some day amount to more than someone else’s colony.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The value of Siberia is measured in barrels, tonnes and cubic metres. Since its colonial conquest by Tsarist Russia in the seventeenth century, this vast area has long been seen not as a place with a life of its own - a separate, autonomous entity - but merely as somewhere to be plundered and exploited for profit. So the flooding, burning, felling and selling off chunks of it is seen as something to be inordinately proud of, rather than a cause for shame. It&rsquo;s just virgin territory that needs to be tamed and turned into contracts and cash. A means rather than an end. Today it is still the object of crude and inhuman economic and environmental management on a massive scale. For the Russian government it is more important to lay a pipeline from the Vankor oilfield and build a massive hydroelectric scheme at Boguchany on the Angara river than to consider how these grandiose projects destroy people&rsquo;s homes and environment.</p><p>Siberia is a vanity project for the Kremlin: Look what we can do! Here are holes in the ground that oil comes out of! Here&rsquo;s a good location for dirty and dangerous industries! Here&rsquo;s space to get rid of all kinds of toxic trash, whether it be radioactive waste or criminals and terrorists.</p><blockquote><p><span>Siberia is a vanity project for the Kremlin: look what we can do!</span></p></blockquote><p><span>It is because of this attitude that the subject of Siberian regionalism, most recently quashed at the beginning of the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union, won&rsquo;t go away. The pressure is building up and there is no outlet for it. Siberia has to be decolonised, but there isn&rsquo;t a single parliamentary party that supports this demand. There&rsquo;s a lot of talk about the need for a Siberian Party to represent the interests of Asiatic Russia in the national parliament, but the Russian Constitution doesn&rsquo;t allow regional parties.</span></p><p><span>How long is this problem going to be swept under the carpet; how long can the elephant in the room be ignored?</span></p><h2><span>Mutiny</span></h2><p><span>Krasnoyarsk, Siberia&rsquo;s third largest city, came into my life in autumn 1991. As we drove from the airport, we were told by the taxi driver that the talk in the town was that this would be the day that &lsquo;they&rsquo; stormed &lsquo;the Sixth&rsquo;. IK-6 is a high security prison camp just inside the city limits, and had for over a month been in the hands of its inmates, who had pulled down internal fences and chased the prison administration off the site. Intimidating the warders and burning official documents in the administration offices, they discovered letters, photos of their families, news of the deaths of mothers and fathers, all posted to them six months or a year earlier but never delivered, and they roared like wild animals. People would throw them vodka over the fence in hot water bottles or plastic shampoo bottles, some for money, others in the hope that they would get drunk and riotous, so that the army could claim more justification for storming the camp - and meet less resistance. Vodka was cheaper inside than outside.</span></p><p><span>We raced round there without even dropping off our things at our hotel. When we arrived on the scene, soldiers were sorting out shields that had been dumped on the pavement. There were internal troops, riot squads, police cadets in snowy white woollen masks under helmets with equally bright index numbers. The freezing air was thick with cigarette smoke. A line of 2000 bayonets stretched towards the boundary fence: some of the forces were preparing to enter the camp, where everyone believed a stand off was inevitable; others took up positions around the fence to prevent any attempted breakouts</span><span>.</span></p><p><span>The inmates were ready for them; they had seized three trucks and armed one of them in ten millimetre sheet iron. The camp held 2240 prisoners, all convicted of murder or crimes of violence. Almost all were repeat offenders: some serving their seventh or eighth stretch; most armed with axes, swords, metal rods and pegs, pikes and other sharpened metal implements. They had also somehow got hold of explosives and firearms, and set barrels full of petrol at intervals along the fence and around the two watch towers. Now they were standing on the barrack and workshop roofs, all in black, their faces gaunt and their hands in their pockets, and oxygen cylinders and explosives at their feet.</span></p><p><span>The deadline passed for the ultimatum the mutineers had been given. Trucks that had been blocking the gates moved away, and two bulldozers pulled up to lead the storming of the camp. The adjoining residential blocks were evacuated, along with the children from the nearby school and nurseries. The buildings&rsquo; gas and electricity cut off.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Then, the leaders of the mutiny lined up in single file to surrender. They came out of the administrative buildings and got into two prison vans. When these roared off and quickly disappeared, a red rocket flew up into the air and as it burned a single cry went up from an old woman in the crowd &ndash; she had a son in the camp. The riot squads got ready to lead the troops into the leaderless camp, clutching their submachine guns and taking off the safety catches. A bulldozer broke through the concrete wall, and was followed inside by a fire engine. I suddenly understood why people use armies to settle their differences. It&rsquo;s a combination of herd instinct and cowardice: in a charging herd it&rsquo;s impossible to concentrate on a single victim; you&rsquo;re safer in a crowd. It&rsquo;s just an illusion, of course, but it&rsquo;s hard-wired, just like fear. The riot police were followed in by the conscripts and cadets, with an armoured vehicle bringing up the rear. The firing was over quickly, the oxygen cylinders were bled and thrown off the roofs by soldiers and undercover police moving among the mutineers.</span></p><p><span>The mutiny had, it seemed, been suppressed. But as I got to know the city it seemed to me that with the wall breached, the bandits with all their happiness and villainy had simply been let loose. Or was it always like that here?</span></p><h2><span>High hopes in the '90s</span></h2><blockquote><p><span>The town&rsquo;s inhabitants whipped their governor - sent by Moscow to rule them - and sent him off down the Yenisei River in a boat.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>The next day I visited the headquarters of the regional authorities. In those - still just Soviet - days they were called the district Soviet of Workers&rsquo; Deputies and the Communist Party Executive Committee. In the entrance hall, I saw a painting which seemed to show in oils on canvas the same mutinous behaviour I had seen at camp IK-6. The same mannered poses, wide-open mouths and staring eyes. Only the time and the clothes were different, and the fortress walls were made of wood. It was explained to me that this was the Krasnoyarsk Rebellion of 1695, three centuries before the mutiny at IK-6. It was the first ever Russian revolution, it was also a protest against the repressive policies of Siberia&rsquo;s foreign conquerors and it lasted three years. The town&rsquo;s inhabitants, themselves European settlers in this imperial border post, expelled three successive governors sent by Moscow to rule them. The last one, Semyon Durnovo, was whipped and sent off down the Yenisei River in a boat. The rebels also turned away the investigators sent by the Tsar from Moscow. The town and surrounding district were governed by &lsquo;judges&rsquo;, elected by public meetings, who were also responsible for legal proceedings and the collection of taxes from the townspeople and fur tributes due to the Tsar by the local indigenous population.</span></p><p><span><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Krasnoyarsk_rebellion_1695_Vasily_Surikov.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">The Krasnoyarsk rebellion of 1695 was the first Russian revolution. It lasted three years and was a protest against the repressive policies of Siberia&rsquo;s foreign conquerors. In many eyes, Siberia is still being pillaged by outside powers.</span></span></p><p><span>The painting emanated a powerful energy and its message was clear. The faces of the rebels glowed with aggression and the will to win &ndash; none of them showed the slightest shadow of the weak-mindedness and indecision so common in Russian history. Krasnoyarsk was from the beginning a fort and army base; you didn&rsquo;t come here to live, but to serve, and only the strongest and most warlike survived and thrived.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>The painting of the 1695 rebellion was taken down before the arrival of officials from the capital, and put up again when they left.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>Back then in 1991 there was already talk about turning the Krasnoyarsk Region into an independent Yenisei (Central Siberian) Republic &ndash; and the talk was happening in &nbsp;the regional government building, not just on the streets and in people&rsquo;s kitchens. Later, in 1993, the head of the regional governing council Vyacheslav Novikov (now a senator) suggested uniting with the Irkutsk Region to form an Eastern Siberian Republic. &nbsp;But by then the Region had already lost part of its territory to two new Autonomous Okrugs (districts), the Taymyr and Evenk, with larger indigenous Siberian populations, and Nationalists among the majority ethnic Russian population were proposing that what remained become a Russian Autonomous Okrug. Ideas about general devolution and fragmentation were flying in all directions.</span></p><p><span>Later, when Moscow took back the reins of power and decentralisation gave way to centralisation, the painting of the 1695 rebellion was taken down before the arrival of officials from the capital (especially the ones from the Finance Ministry, who had to be kept sweet). After they left it reappeared on the wall, but it came down for good in the 2000s, when Krasnoyarsk had a new invasion from Moscow. This time it wasn&rsquo;t bureaucrats, but young guys with silver, not to mention gold and platinum, spoons in their mouths &ndash; businessmen and financiers who had made their millions from the privatisation of the Norilsk Mining Combine, the world's leading producer of nickel and palladium, in the far north of the Region. Our first regional governor was Aleksandr Khloponin, now Presidential envoy to the region and a deputy Prime Minister of Russia, and he was succeeded by his right hand man Lev Kuznetsov.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>In the closing months of 1991, ideas about Siberian independence were the main topic of conversation in political circles.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>But back then, in the closing months of 1991, ideas about Siberian independence hadn&rsquo;t yet been abandoned, and were indeed the main topic of conversation in political circles. At the start of 1992 local representatives at all levels, from all over Siberia, met in Krasnoyarsk. You could hear all kinds of statements like &lsquo;we could survive without Moscow, but Moscow probably couldn&rsquo;t survive without us&rsquo;. Radicals proposed that the conference agree a declaration of Siberian independence, the abolition of all existing organs of the Russian colonial regime and the creation of a Siberian Republic.</span></p><p><span>By the summer of 1992 all this was no longer just hot air: there was even a plan for the introduction of a local currency, with banknotes printed in Novosibirsk. Their official name was &lsquo;internal financial transaction units&rsquo;, but the locals called them &lsquo;augrams&rsquo;. The notes looked very much like US dollars, but with the regional coat of arms - a lion carrying a spade and a sickle - replacing a portrait of the president. Above the labouring beast was the name of the financial company responsible for their issue: a four man business called &lsquo;The House of Aquarius&rsquo;. The augram was designed by a young man called Oleg L., and while the currency was being printed he became the leading regional specialist in anti-monopoly policy and the development of new economic structures.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>By the summer of 1992 there was a plan for the introduction of a local Siberian currency &ndash; the &lsquo;augram&rsquo;.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>The plan was that the augram would work in parallel to the rouble, except that the new money was guaranteed against inflation by its creators, whose chain of shops would accept only the local currency. The value of augram was to be set at 20-30 roubles, making it the equivalent of the rouble at the end of the golden age of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Moreover, the value of the new money in &lsquo;House of Aquarius&rsquo; outlets would constantly rise against the rouble, given that currency&rsquo;s inflation rate. It was planned that businesses would also move to trading in local money, which would solve their cash flow problems and relieve them of a load of regional taxes. In other words, we would have our private currency, free from government budget deficits and the burden of taxation, its value guaranteed by the word of honour of four local businessmen supported by local government. Of course, these people could have sold their banknotes to the public and disappeared with the rouble proceeds, but somehow that didn&rsquo;t worry anyone &ndash; that&rsquo;s life.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>The first consignment of regional currency &ndash; 2.5 million augrams of various denominations &ndash; arrived in Krasnoyarsk. But central government, even of the 1992 variety, hadn&rsquo;t lost its sensitivity to this kind of financial free enterprise, and the security forces put an end to our plans. In fact Siberia wasn&rsquo;t the only region to take such an initiative: in Yekaterinburg, where there was talk of setting up a Republic of the Urals, an attempt to introduce &lsquo;Ural francs&rsquo; ended in a similar debacle.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>With the start of the First Chechen War at the end of 1994 regional hopes of breaking free or at least negotiating some degree of independence faded, and when Putin came to power in 2000 the subject was no longer even mentioned. &nbsp;But it didn&rsquo;t disappear: the problems, after all, hadn&rsquo;t disappeared and some had become worse.</span></p><h2><span>Life in a colony</span></h2><p><span>In 1992, when we didn&rsquo;t know what country we would wake up in the next morning, my eldest son was born. Like all his generation in Krasnoyarsk he had a deprived childhood: he grew up, for example, without ever visiting our wonderful regional history museum - one of the oldest in Siberia, recognised as the best provincial cultural institution in the whole of Russia and a European Museum of the Year in 2004. This relatively small building was closed for refurbishment for 14(!) years. And remember, we are talking about a region with more natural resources than the whole of Europe.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>Like all his generation in Krasnoyarsk my son had a deprived childhood from the start.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>My son then grew up in the &lsquo;noughties&rsquo;, when a flight from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow cost more than one from Moscow to New York. There was just no question of him going to study at Moscow University. And in Krasnoyarsk itself it has been impossible to get a decent humanities education for some time. The city&rsquo;s state university has always specialised in applied science and technology, although in the last years of the Soviet Union it did begin to develop into something more like a traditional, academically orientated institution. But in the Putin years, having gobbled up all the local polytechnics and become the Federal University of Siberia, it has quickly dumped all its rudimentary humanities courses and reverted to what it was before, a training facility for the mineral industry. Its students are taught the best ways to dig up, drown and extract profit from their local landscape. In the old days this was &lsquo;for the good of the Party and the People&rsquo;; now the beneficiaries are billionaire oligarchs such as Deripaska, Abramovich and Potanin. It all makes sense: a commodity based colonial economy has no need of people with arts degrees; in fact, they are more of a hindrance than a help. Our country needs specialists in extracting minerals from the earth and servicing pipelines. Anyone else is surplus to requirements and we&rsquo;d be better off without them. My eldest son is now a student at the local medical university.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>Krasnoyarsk&rsquo;s university is just a training facility for the mineral industry.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>At the age of six my middle son was really keen on ice hockey, and I wanted to enrol him in the local club. But I wasn&rsquo;t impressed with the one and only indoor skating rink (in a city of a million inhabitants!) And I was right: a few months later the roof collapsed and the whole thing was demolished. Krasnoyarsk, the birthplace of, among others, the ice hockey star Aleksandr Semin (who managed to get away in time and now plays professionally in the USA), was left without any indoor ice. And don&rsquo;t talk about outdoor rinks &ndash; our winter lasts eight months and the temperature often falls to minus 50 Centigrade.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Lev Kuznetsov, our present governor, used to play hockey in the now demolished indoor rink, and obviously doesn&rsquo;t want to fly home to Moscow every time he wants a game. So before the last elections they suddenly started building and opening new indoor rinks. Too late for my son: he&rsquo;s got into other stuff, and in any case he&rsquo;s now ten, which is a bit old to start.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>My youngest son still has all his problems ahead; he&rsquo;s only eighteen months old. The first hurdle will be getting into a nursery (Krasnoyrsk has the distinction of having the longest waiting lists for nursery places in Russia).&nbsp;</span></p><blockquote><p><span></span><span>The gas extracted in Siberia is pumped to central Russia and beyond, while we rely for our heating on brown coal.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>This is what life in a colony is like. The gas extracted in Siberia is pumped to central Russia and beyond, while we rely for our heating on brown coal, which is harmful to both the environment and to us who have to breathe in its fumes. And that&rsquo;s the way things are in Krasnoyarsk and hundreds of other cities beyond the Urals. Colonies exist so that other people can have oil, aluminium and gold, but there&rsquo;s little money to spend on such luxuries as indoor ice rinks, museums, theatres, universities and nursery schools for the people who live there.</span></p><p><span>The internationally famous conductor Valery Gergiev recently said in an interview for an Irkutsk newspaper: &lsquo;I&rsquo;ve just been in Krasnoyarsk and tried to get across to the governor what a terrible state the theatre building was in, and this in a region with more mineral wealth than the whole of Europe.&rsquo; And the celebrated pianist Denis Matsuyev, who was with him, added: &lsquo;That&rsquo;s right. And there isn&rsquo;t a single grand piano worth playing on in the whole of Krasnoyarsk.&rsquo;</span></p><h2><span>A long history</span></h2><p><span>The idea of Siberian independence goes back a long way. In 1721 the governor of the time, Matvey Gagarin, was hanged in St Petersburg - ostensibly for embezzlement and nepotism, but both the Swedish geographer and cartographer Philip Johann von Strahlenberg (who lived in Siberia for 13 years after being taken prisoner at the Battle of Poltava in 1709) and the Siberian historian Peter Slovtsov (1767-1843) wrote that &lsquo;Gagarin had the evil intent to separate from Russia&rsquo;. By the second half of the 19th century the idea had spread among the population: students published a proclamation on the need for separation &lsquo;for the good of the people&rsquo;, and in 1865 the young writer and campaigner Grigory Potanin, the founder of the &lsquo;Society for the Independence of Siberia&rsquo; who is considered the father of Siberian separatism, was arrested and sentenced to forced labour, as were many of his fellow campaigners.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>The Siberian separatists looked towards the federal structure of the USA as a possible model for development, and indeed there were historical parallels between them: the European conquest of North America and Siberia; the appearance of the first towns; the eastern Siberian and Californian &nbsp;&lsquo;gold rushes&rsquo; &ndash; all of these happened at much the same time on both continents. But in fact these similarities were purely external &ndash; the fact is that European expansion in the New World was mainly a question of private enterprise by free individuals, whereas Russians went to Siberia on behalf of, and in the interests of, the Russian state.&nbsp;</span></p><blockquote><p><span>In July 1918 Siberia gained independence - it lasted a mere 122 days.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>Unrest and revolution in European Russia a century ago triggered, unsurprisingly, a new wave of Siberian separatism: more proclamations, more news about an independence party. Just before the October 1917 Revolution, a conference in Tomsk agreed on &lsquo;an Autonomous Structure for Siberia&rsquo;, as well as a Siberian national flag and crest; a provisional government was set up soon afterwards. This was followed in July 1918 by the publishing of a Declaration of Siberian National Sovereignty &ndash; essentially, a declaration of independence. But this vast region&rsquo;s independence lasted a mere 122 days. Siberia became caught up in Russia&rsquo;s raging civil war and ended up as just another region of the new Soviet Union. The idea didn&rsquo;t die, but it lay dormant, waiting for a new time of upheaval.</span></p><p><span>Meanwhile the Bolsheviks pursued the same colonial policies as the Tsars. The Second World War in particular brought great change &ndash; as heavy industry was evacuated from the European part of the USSR, Siberia underwent a period of rapid and forced industrialisation. In the final decades of Communist rule, manufacturing marched on, into the taiga, our coniferous forest belt. To give the Communists their due, this was also mitigated by campaigns to &lsquo;turn Siberia into a centre for cultural life&rsquo;. Theatres and art galleries were built, and our living standards began to rise&hellip; but it didn&rsquo;t stop their predatory destruction of our wide open spaces in the name of progress. In our list of colonial exports, fur was replaced by oil, gas and heavy metals. Or to be more precise, our sable and Arctic fox skins were now listed alongside these new sectors.&nbsp;</span></p><p>The extraction of mineral wealth meant the devastation of our countryside; climate change; the disappearance of local ecosystems; the flooding of whole areas, including some of the most fertile; the depletion of our biodiversity &ndash; both the fish in our rivers and the animals and birds in our forests; in short, the general impoverishment of our lives. They have built the largest hydroelectric schemes in the world, which provide the power for the largest aluminium smelting plants. All the stuff of our lives that the rivers provided was dematerialised and turned into an invisible electric current which was then re-materialised as aluminium ingots. Then these were loaded on trains and taken away.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>The mineral wealth extracted here is for businesses thousands of miles away .&hellip; All we get is smoke and soot.</p></blockquote><p>Russia&rsquo;s Asiatic territory was always there to be an exporter of raw materials, but the lands beyond the Urals have acquired their final functional contours only now, as Siberia, as a resource-extraction colony, has entered the global market more rapidly and smoothly than Russia as a whole. We recently celebrated our region&rsquo;s birthday and the life of one of its greatest sons, the writer Viktor Astafyev, and decided to christen our region &lsquo;King Region&rsquo;, by analogy with his most famous novel, King Fish, whose subject is the threat of ecological catastrophe in Siberia. But the people who thought up the name little realised how accurate it was, because a commodity export colony is a real king fish, a sturgeon that flings its caviar across the oceans. The mineral wealth extracted here is only of use to businesses thousands of miles away, apart from a small amount needed by our bosses for domestic use. All we get out of it is smoke and soot, poisoned rivers and a devastated landscape. A raw materials colony can&rsquo;t feed any &lsquo;extra mouths&rsquo;, so Siberia&rsquo;s population is haemorrhaging at a record level; it doesn&rsquo;t need agriculture, so the land lies fallow and choked with weeds; it also doesn&rsquo;t need hi-tech industries, and there are few left. &nbsp;</p><p>Traditional villages with features unique to the local culture, many of them 300, even 350 years old, stood in the way of the Rusala (aluminium smelting) and Rusgidro (hydroelectric) companies, and so have been demolished and burned, and the remains cleared by gangs of prisoners supervised by the local cops. We&rsquo;re not talking the Gulag here &ndash; in those days the inmates&rsquo; labour shored up the might of the USSR. Now they slave to enhance Deripaska&rsquo;s rating in the Forbes billionaires list. People&rsquo;s hearths and homes have vanished beneath the waters of the Angara river for the sake of the brave new world promised by Russia&rsquo;s largest investment project, the &lsquo;Combined Power and Water Development Plan for the Lower Angara Area&rsquo;. At the heart of this project is the Boguchany Hydroelectric Power Plant (BoGES), which is already in operation, although the aluminium smelting plant it was designed to feed has been put on the back burner for the present. Nothing has changed: villages, forests, harvests, churches, human lives have all been changed into electricity which will then be conserved in metal &ndash; and of course profit for Deripaska.</p><h2>&nbsp;&hellip; revived today</h2><blockquote><p>In our Putinist times protest against the Kremlin&rsquo;s colonial politics has found a home online.</p></blockquote><p>It&rsquo;s no surprise that these decisions taken in Moscow now and then revive the phantoms of Siberian separatism &ndash; phantoms that can have no real power today but which refuse to go away. In our Putinist times, which have coincided with the mass computerisation and internetisation of Russia beyond the Urals, protest against the Kremlin&rsquo;s colonial politics has found a home online. The 2000s saw the Siberian separatist movement with a wide presence on the internet, and Wikipedia even opened a section in the Siberian language that by 2007 was the 66th largest in the world (it was later removed). In 2010, before a national Census, posts appeared on the Web asking Siberians to declare their nationality as &lsquo;Siberian&rsquo;, rather than Russian, Tatar or German, although it must be said that not many people followed this advice.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Konstantin%20Eryomenko.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Konstantin Eryomenko &mdash; one of the leading figures behind a movement calling for people to declare their nationality as &lsquo;Siberian&rsquo;. Note the black and green flag of Siberia in the background. Photo (c) Yoshinori Toyomane</span></p><p>Sometimes passions break out onto the streets. In the autumn of 2011, when in European Russia people were marching under the slogan &lsquo;Stop Feeding the Caucasus!&rsquo;, protesters in Novosibirsk turned it round to read &lsquo;Stop Feeding Moscow!&rsquo; Now and then local politicians and other public figures join in: recently Aleksandr Lyulko, a Novosibirsk city councilor, called for an end to &lsquo;harmful socialist elements&rsquo; such as the equal distribution of government funds around the regions, so as to stop money earned in Siberia from disappearing into the federal pot. And this summer two members of the Novosibirsk Regional Civic Chamber, Aleksandr Bakayev and Yevgeny Mitrofanov, well known as the founders of the Siberian National-Cultural Autonomy organisation, sent an open letter to the Siberian presidential envoy Viktor Tolokonsky. In it, Tolokonsky was asked to &lsquo;initiate at the highest level a process of unifying existing Siberian regions into a super-region with enhanced powers of taxation, governance and legislation.&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p>In 2011, as people in European Russia were marching under the slogan &lsquo;Stop Feeding the Caucasus!&rsquo;, protesters in Novosibirsk turned it round to read &lsquo;Stop Feeding Moscow!&rsquo;</p></blockquote><p>Bakayev and Mitrofanov argued that the centralised allocation of tax revenue between the Centre and the regions was restricting Siberia&rsquo;s growth. To take just one example: in 2012 the Tomsk region of Siberia delivered 130 billion roubles of tax revenue to Russia&rsquo;s exchequer, but got back a mere 10,3 billion, the remaining 92 billion disappearing into the common pot. As a result the region had to borrow from commercial banks and float a bond issue on the stock exchange to cover its financial obligations. As they wrote: &lsquo;In a situation where people living in the regions are becoming increasingly aware of the unfairness of the present system of &nbsp;distribution of tax revenue, their total dependence on central government decisions and the absence of any real power at regional level, we will inevitably see the rise not only of discontent with the status quo and rumblings of protest, but the emergence of separatist tendencies (already visible in many regions to the east of the Urals) which will present a serious threat to the unity of Russia.&rsquo;</p><p>Siberian National-Cultural Autonomy is an organisation created to bring together people concerned about the future of the region. The word &lsquo;autonomy&rsquo; is most often used to refer to the rights of ethnic minorities, and the 2010 census showed that people who considered themselves &lsquo;Siberians&rsquo; were indeed a minority. Presidential envoy Tolokonsky announced publicly that he was one of them, and referred to those who had made the same choice as &lsquo;patriots&rsquo;. We, he said, have never separated each other as Belarusians, Tatars or Germans; we have all worked together to develop our region.</p><blockquote><p>The recent resurgence of the provincial initiative owes its existence to Vladimir Putin.</p></blockquote><p>The recent resurgence of provincial initiative in fact owes its existence to Vladimir Putin himself: there is simply not enough cash in the public purse to fund the pre-election promises he made to the regions last May. The regional authorities in Krasnoyarsk were clear on this; the president&rsquo;s package of decrees, which prioritised areas such as public sector pay, social benefits and regional development, would bring the region to the brink of bankruptcy. This year they are simply not implementing it: experts calculate that to raise public sector salaries to the level promised by Putin, for example, they would need to find an extra 114 billion roubles over the next three years. This would only be possible if they cut or eliminated other areas of expenditure and took on a crippling level of debt. And there is no help from central government on the horizon. The region is building up a colossal deficit (&lsquo;if not critical&rsquo;, according to the regional Finance Ministry head, who handed in his resignation soon after the announcement of the area&rsquo;s imminent &lsquo;financial tragedy&rsquo;). His replacement announced just the other day that in 2013 the Krasnoyarsk region received 136 billion roubles of government allocation, but has spent 181 billion, a deficit of 45 billion, which for a regional budget is a very large sum. Vsevolod Sevastianov, deputy speaker of the regional legislative assembly, predicts that by 2016, with a budget of 162 billion roubles the debt will stand at 88 billion.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>The problem isn&rsquo;t Putin&rsquo;s decrees as such &ndash; public sector salaries need to be increased &ndash; but the government&rsquo;s tax policies, which deprive the regions of so much of the revenue they raise.</p></blockquote><p>Krasnoyarsk is only one of many regions experiencing these problems. Tyumen, for example, which provides Russia with two thirds of its oil and 90% of its gas, is also likely to turn from a donor region into a subsidised one, with this year&rsquo;s expenditure 36.6 billion roubles higher than its income from central government. And the Omsk region&rsquo;s governor has just announced that next year its debt will be equivalent to 70% of its income. Meanwhile in Novosibirsk Putin&rsquo;s promises have led to a cut in its social welfare budget and will cost the region 35% of its annual expenditure.</p><p>The problem isn&rsquo;t of course Putin&rsquo;s decrees as such &ndash; public sector salaries need to be increased &ndash; but the government&rsquo;s tax policies, which deprive the regions of so much of the revenue they raise. Russia isn&rsquo;t the USA: Krasnoyarsk isn&rsquo;t going to file for bankruptcy, like Detroit did in July, and Moscow isn&rsquo;t going to send an emergency manager to try to sort it out &ndash; although it might make sense to do so. &nbsp;In any case, no one is coming up with sensible ideas about how to avoid financial collapse. There are no regional leaders capable of asking Putin to change the system.</p><p>That of course doesn&rsquo;t stop Siberian politicians from complaining about the shortcomings in Moscow&rsquo;s policies towards its Asiatic regions. Especially just before elections. Party spin doctors&rsquo; suggestions about wheeling out the regional patriotism bandwagon are always popular with candidates, since it&rsquo;s what appeals to the voters. Until, that is, they get absorbed into the Kremlin power vertical and immediately change their tune.&nbsp;</p><h2>The future &ndash; more of the same</h2><blockquote><p>For Russia&rsquo;s present government the lands east of the Urals don&rsquo;t exist.</p></blockquote><p>There are any number of official plans for the future of Siberia at every level (district, regional, national). But what is blindingly obvious from all these strategy papers is that for Russia&rsquo;s present government the lands east of the Urals don&rsquo;t exist. Yes, there are resources to be tapped, but there are no real people with ordinary human relationships and needs.</p><p>Bureaucrats in Moscow and Siberia produce mountains of documents which never fail to quote the great 18th century Russian scientist and writer Mikhail Lomonosov&rsquo;s phrase about the benefit to Russia&rsquo;s might of Siberia with its frozen seas. And on the clapboard barracks where the people live who mine this might, hang banners with the slogan, &lsquo;Siberia&rsquo;s riches - for Russia!&rsquo; Our politicians love to quote Lomonosov&rsquo;s archaic and rather ridiculous-sounding words. Maybe they feel that it excuses their colonial policies in their eastern regions. But what it shows is that their attitudes are stuck in the distant past.</p><p>In the government&rsquo;s &lsquo;Strategy for Siberian Development &nbsp;to 2020&rsquo;, as indeed in many other policy documents, the region is described as &lsquo;our country&rsquo;s resource centre&rsquo;. Once again, just as in Soviet times, our region is to be tamed and developed, a territory marked out for grandiose construction projects and multi-trillion investment. There will be many more hydro schemes, a huge number of mining and timber complexes, initial processing plants, metallurgical works still using old technology whose towers will belch out toxic gases to kill every living thing for miles around... It would be more accurate to describe all this not as a strategy for Siberian development , but a strategy for development at Siberia&rsquo;s expense. And who gets to develop? Russian big business and the Chinese state. Many of the planned schemes are mainly of benefit to China.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>For the government&rsquo;s &lsquo;Strategy for Siberian Development&rsquo; read &lsquo;a strategy for development at Siberia&rsquo;s expense&rsquo;.</p></blockquote><p>The list also includes projects rejected as unrealistic in the Brezhnev era (1964-1982) and projects that Stalin couldn&rsquo;t complete even with a many million-strong workforce from the Gulag. There are plans, for instance, to resurrect a number of railway lines, including the unfinished &lsquo;Transpolar Main Line&rsquo; better known as the &lsquo;Road of Death&rsquo;, although even in Brezhnev&rsquo;s time they couldn&rsquo;t work out what goods to transport on them and why.&nbsp;</p><p>One small consolation: Gazprom planned to build a 2,700 kilometre gas pipeline from Siberia to north-west China through the remote Altai republic, but in October the scheme was put on hold after protest from local and international campaigners, since it would threaten local ecosystems and sacred sites (UNESCO has designated the area as a World Heritage Site).</p><p>Meanwhile the city of Krasnoyarsk is gasping for (and still without) a metro system. It has no shortage of fountains but hardly any public toilets. You don&rsquo;t want to go near its hospitals. There are prisons and prison camps in the city centre and dormitory suburbs, and filthy metallurgical and chemical works within the city limits. But none of this is mentioned in the Strategy. The region will continue to block its rivers, fell its forests and build new aluminium smelting plants, but aren&rsquo;t toilets and hospitals also part of strategic development?</p><p>It&rsquo;s interesting that the Strategy does include (as it always does) an intention to &lsquo;eliminate discontinuity in gravel roads&rsquo; and connect eastern with western Russia by means of an asphalted highway. Putin has already officially opened this road several times, but it still isn&rsquo;t ready. In spring and autumn it is flooded by streams breaking their banks. There are no other roads connecting eastern and western Russia, and the whole project is an eloquent illustration of Russia&rsquo;s attitude to us Siberians. After all, there are no such problems with the pipelines carrying the oil and gas out of Siberia.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Siberia_oil_pipes.JPG" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">The highway connecting eastern and western Russia is infamously poor and every spring and autumn it is flooded by streams breaking their banks. There are no such problems with the pipes that carry the precious black stuff; they are designed to endure the very harshest of conditions. Photo (c) wikimedia</span></p><p>The grand hydroelectric and railways projects included in the Strategy not only do not fit into any concepts of modernisation, they actually cancel them out. Trying to carry them through would be the most effective way of finishing Russia off. It would be the end of Putin&rsquo;s plan to switch the economy from a commodity export base to high-tech, innovation-based development. It would also be the end of any dreams people might have had about freedom and democracy. Colonies, especially those rich in energy sources, need democracy as little as they need innovation.</p><h2>Why Russia needs Siberia and the Caucasus</h2><p>Individualism and the decentralisation of life don&rsquo;t really go with a commodity export economy &ndash; they are superfluous to its needs. In the Krasnoyarsk region small and medium business account for just 1.5% of GDP, whereas in European Russia the figure is more like 17-20%, and in some places higher. In the developed world these businesses account for 60-70% of GDP, and are the main consumers of innovative products and services. And at Krasnoyarsk&rsquo;s economic forum in February there was a proposal to create the post of business ombudsman &ndash; there are 300,000 people in Russia in prison for financial crimes.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Putin_hunting.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Siberia - a commodity used to prop up the Kremlin, whether that be through its oil or providing the perfect nature backdrop to a photo op. Photo (c) wikimedia</span></p><p>It&rsquo;s a medical fact that life on a commodity-derived income pollutes people&rsquo;s minds and leads to stagnation, laziness, corruption and stupidity. It&rsquo;s a dubious pleasure to own a hole in the ground with oil flowing out of it. Unearned income from the export of oil and gas doesn&rsquo;t only strangle our real economy, but creates a careless attitude to its core values: the institution of private property, the principles of decentralisation of life and individualism. And here I&rsquo;m not just talking about Siberia, but about the whole of Russia. Its reliance on the colonial exploitation of the larger part of its territory objectively leads to a general suspension of freedoms and the expansion of police power. And the resulting explosions in the metro, buses and stadiums equally objectively lead to a tightening of the screws.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>It&rsquo;s a medical fact that life on a commodity-derived income pollutes people&rsquo;s minds and leads to stagnation, laziness, corruption and stupidity.</p></blockquote><p>This colonial attitude to the regions, and the explosions in the centre, form part of a universal centralised organism based on cause and effect, with incompatible hormones to maintain an equilibrium. The regime produces policies that have horrific consequences, which in their turn justify the existence of the regime. It&rsquo;s a vicious circle. Perceptions of Siberia or the Caucasus as wastelands that have to be tamed and exploited, whether by flooding or bombing, are unbelievably strong in Russia&rsquo;s rulers. We only have to look at the appointment of Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr Khloponin, a glaring example of someone with a colonial mindset, to the post of presidential envoy to the Caucasus in 2010. This former &lsquo;good oligarch&rsquo; (his own description of himself standing for governor, when he declared his monthly income to be 1.4 million dollars), is a member of the central committee of United Russia, a non-Petersburger [Putin comes from St Petersburg has tended to surround himself with others from that city], non-silovik and biker. And they sent him to the Caucasus. Of course his post is not a crucial one in that restless region, but its importance is difficult to overestimate. In any case Khloponin, despite his lack of FSB background, can match any Stalinist manager for toughness, lack of principles and a coldblooded ability to achieve his ends by all available means.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>The regime produces policies that have horrific consequences, which in their turn justify the existence of the regime.</p></blockquote><p>My mention of Stalin was no accident: Khloponin, a former liberal who then slipped easily into United Russia&rsquo;s clutches, always used phraseology harking back to the Stalin era when talking about the harnessing of eastern Siberia and its wealth of natural resources.&nbsp;</p><p>Terrorist acts in Moscow and other Russian cities give Putin and his cronies no sleepless nights. Explosions are a natural element of this organism. If politics is the concentrated expression of economics, terror is the concentrated expression of politics. This country full of forests to fell, which lives not off its brainpower but the sale of its mineral deposits, requires someone on top tightening the screws. And a blown up train or bus is just something that triggers the process of screw-tightening, the evil that it protects and saves us from. The system is in equilibrium, and the all-powerful conservative camp, growing bloated on its natural revenue, its Siberian resources, is wedded to the status-quo.&nbsp;</p><p>Siberian separatism will never go away, but it will exist as no more than a phantom and with no prospects for development. Siberia, which only extracts and exports raw or semi-processed materials, is in no state to be independent either economically or politically &ndash; it is dependent on the corporations that process its production further, on the parasitic regime in Moscow that exploits its resources, on the people living off the profits, on the players in commodity exchanges around the globe. It is to its Siberian milch-cow, the basis of Russia&rsquo;s prosperity, and the explosive Caucasus, which confirms the need for authoritarian government, that the present regime owes its very existence, and it will stop at nothing to prevent any change this.&nbsp;</p><p>In this situation, Siberia&rsquo;s colonial economy functions if not with the Russian public&rsquo;s approval, at least with its tacit agreement. Moscow&rsquo;s middle classes, organising their wave of civic protest against the regime, are indifferent to the fact that they owe their comfortable existence to Siberian oil, gas and metals. Or at any rate it&rsquo;s not their most pressing concern. The public is shocked about money being &lsquo;siphoned off&rsquo; or people taking &lsquo;kickbacks&rsquo;. But theft is an important element of the major Siberian construction projects, just as the Gulag was in the past. These Putin era mega schemes are after all not actually designed to pollute Lake Baikal and the Angara or to spit on the souls of the people of the Altai by running a gas pipeline through their sacred sites. These projects were all dreamed up in the &lsquo;noughties&rsquo;, when the regime had spare cash from its oil profits, and needed to spread it around a bit among the lads. These &lsquo;constructions of the century&rsquo; seemed the best way to do it.&nbsp;</p><h2>Why fools have no need for Baikal</h2><p>A skinny lad with glasses used to spend several hours each day standing in front of the Irkutsk city hall with a placard reading &lsquo;Fools have no need for Baikal&rsquo;. This lonely picket was the tail end of a long running battle over the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill - and the quintessence of disillusionment, loss of hope, a line being drawn underneath fruitless attempts to convince the powers that be that there is more to life than money.&nbsp;</p><p>The mill, which opened in 1966, has been a contentious issue ever since: Lake Baikal is the world's deepest freshwater lake and a UN world heritage site, and its unique ecosystem is under threat from the pollution caused by effluent &nbsp;from the mill. It was opposition to its construction, and also to a scheme, later abandoned, to divert the flow of Russia&rsquo;s northern rivers southwards, that more or less formed what civil society existed in Russia at that time. Books were written and films made about protecting Baikal, and for a time there were large, high profile protest rallies. Production was eventually halted in 2008 but then in 2010 Putin reversed the ban, citing concerns about local unemployment. This year, however, thanks in part to the efforts of deputy Prime Ministers Dvorkovich and Shuvalov, the mill has closed for good.</p><p>The boy with the placard is right; this is a story about a fool who won the jackpot. This happens often enough: the Lord likes to spin the wheel of fortune (there&rsquo;s even a popular saying, &lsquo;Fortune favours fools&rsquo;). And here you have one of them who gets lucky, and deliberately and systematically blows it. It&rsquo;s as though he&rsquo;s handed this enormous sum just so that he can show what a fool he is. He drinks it, fritters it away on bits and pieces that might even be useful and needed, but which inexplicably sprout a layer of mould, sticky mud and grease. He buys a flat and it suddenly burns down; he ruins the suspension of his nice shiny Ferrari by driving it along dirt roads; the expensive prostitutes he bathes in champagne give him a nasty disease and so on. The Lord gives the wheel another spin.</p><p>When mice are let loose in a pantry, they just crap all over it. They hardly eat a bite, but everything is spoiled. Baikal, the reservoir for the purest water on our planet, is Russia&rsquo;s jackpot. For many people it more than compensates for all the terrible things that have happened to our environment. When you take your child to its shore for the first time and he burbles in delight, &lsquo;Daddy, is so booful&rsquo;, you realise you will never leave, no matter what happens.</p><blockquote><p>Russia was given the earth&rsquo;s most important &lsquo;resource&rsquo;; if only a fool hadn&rsquo;t got his hands on it.</p></blockquote><p>Russia was given the earth&rsquo;s most important &lsquo;resource&rsquo;, as the bureaucrats call it. And as the triumphal march of progress and consumerism progressed, the &lsquo;resource&rsquo; would have only gained in value. If only a fool hadn&rsquo;t got his hands on it.&nbsp;</p><p>Of course it wasn&rsquo;t Putin and Deripaska who started squandering the jackpot. It started with Khrushchev, in 1966. But it&rsquo;s no good pointing the finger at him &ndash; he&rsquo;s dead and gone. And those were different times; clean water wasn&rsquo;t such a problem, and people still believed in progress and science. Khrushchev&rsquo;s mind was on rockets and space flights, and he was assured that Baikal&rsquo;s superpure water would provide him with the best cord pulp. They probably imagined that if we messed our earth up, we could always fly to Mars. Now the scientists are talking about water wars in the near future. The quality of our freshwater is in steep decline, and many sources are poisoned or exhausted. Baikal is the earth&rsquo;s well shaft, containing about 20% of the planet's freshwater reserves.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Lake_Baikal_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">For many in and outside of Siberia Lake Baikal is a sacred place &ndash; a fact Moscow has consistently ignored since the time of Khrushchev. Photo (c) Sergey Gabdurakhmanov</span></p><p>But apart from all the objective reasons for protecting it, for us Siberians Baikal is sacred. And not just for us: visitors from Japan have told me that for them, you haven&rsquo;t lived if you haven&rsquo;t seen Baikal. Many of them come on an annual pilgrimage, travelling thousands of miles from their homes.</p><p>People go into its water, or in winter onto its ice, to pray. Its shores are lined with pyramidal stone towers and altars, and poles tightly wound round with ribbons, with notes in many languages expressing gratitude and love to Baikal. In Siberia, at Baikal, everyone becomes bit of a pagan, a nature worshipper.</p><blockquote><p>At Baikal, everyone becomes a pagan, a nature worshipper.</p></blockquote><p>So three young women are in prison for dancing in front of a Christian altar, but what about our holy place &ndash; were Dvorkovich, Shuvalov and Putin to be allowed to destroy it?</p><p>If that question seems a bit extreme, let me just repeat: this is not about a prime minister (as Putin was at the time) disregarding the clear and understandable will of the people of the Baikal region, and insulting and injuring their sense of worth as human beings and citizens. It&rsquo;s about his invasion of a religious space. So all sorts of people with diametrically opposed beliefs, or people with none at all who have previously shied away from any public activism, have been uniting for the sake of the future of Baikal. So the protest has a deep, religious basis to it.&nbsp;</p><p>The poet Levitansky, who lived and worked in Irkutsk after the war, wrote a poem about it that begins, &lsquo;A fool spat in the sea/ Closer, further, laughed &ldquo;hee hee!&rdquo;/ Everyone likes a spit in the water/ And he enjoyed it more than he oughter&hellip;&rsquo; The poem ends: &lsquo;Playing lotto with himself/Loses, wins, plays it cool/ Plays his harmonica, he&rsquo;ll lose the sea/But what good is the sea to a fool?&rsquo;</p><p>Levitansky wasn&rsquo;t writing specifically about Baikal &ndash; it&rsquo;s about Siberia as a whole. If Russia has a global mission today, it&rsquo;s to protect this land of taiga &ndash; it is still alive and its contribution to the preservation of the earth&rsquo;s ecological equilibrium can&rsquo;t be overestimated. It is a guarantee of our planet&rsquo;s future.&nbsp;</p><h2>Now a colony of China as well?</h2><blockquote><p>In the 90s all the local mafia bosses were shot or expelled from the region, but new ones have appeared from European Russia<span>.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>Twenty years ago romantic supporters of Siberian independence felt it was time to change our region&rsquo;s image as the home of the Gulag and advocated the deportation of all prisoners from the other side of the Urals. They also argued for the return to European Russia and Ukraine of all the radioactive waste and spent fuel from nuclear power stations that had been dumped here &ndash; they were tired of being &lsquo;Russia&rsquo;s dustbin&rsquo;. Now we are faced with huge schemes to bring nuclear waste to the Krasnoyarsk region for storage from the whole world, not just former parts of the Soviet Union. And our 42 prisons and prison camps are filling up with people convicted of terrorist offences in the Caucasus and European Russia. In the 90s all the local mafia bosses were shot or expelled from the region, but new ones have appeared from European Russia and we have seven of them in our camps and prisons.&nbsp;</span></p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/RIAN_00814687.LR_.en%20%281%29.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Residential block at maximum security Penitentiary No.17, Krasnoyarsk. Siberia has been assigned a service role by Moscow - to provide resources, absorb pollution and house prisoners. Photo (c) RIA Novosti / Alexander Kryazhev</span></p><p><span>But things like toxic waste and human dregs, the various kinds of filth &lsquo;exiled&rsquo; to the far side of the Urals, are far from the minds of people here today &ndash; they seem insignificant beside the scenario for Siberia&rsquo;s future proposed by the Kremlin. We are to become the source of electricity, timber and minerals for our eastern neighbour.&nbsp;</span><span>China is being sold chunks of land cut from the body of Russia; Siberia itself is to be exported by the cubic metre, tonne, trainload. Siberia is being burned, felled and flooded so that the resulting products can be sold to the Chinese. Siberia&rsquo;s cities are already surrounded by Chinese greenhouses, whose vast area can best be appreciated from the air. And after the growers go they leave behind dead soil. These polythene settlements are everywhere: north, south, east and west, even in the most remote mountain valleys. And where felling has been going on, the forests have bald spots &ndash; put a few together and you get a desert &ndash; again the work of Asian work gangs.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>China is being sold chunks of land cut from the body of Russia.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>Since Putin has been in power volumes of documents have been written and signed about the best thing to do with Siberia. There are agreement between United Russia and the Chinese Communist Party; schemes to set up state-owned corporations to &lsquo;develop Siberia&rsquo; &ndash; strategies and plans of all kinds. In fact Russia&rsquo;s far East and eastern Siberia are already being developed by China, which is reorganising and shaping local infrastructures to serve its own purposes. And the Kremlin is aiding and abetting this process, assenting to enormous tracts of Russian territory becoming a back yard, donor, milch cow for China in its battle for the prosperity of its people and its dominance in the world. Moscow is apparently happy for Siberia to bring benefit to China as well.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>But none of this is new either. Deripaska&rsquo;s EuroSibEnergo, Russia&rsquo;s largest independent power company, and the Chinese Yangtse Power may have announced that they are creating a joint enterprise, YES Energo, to build up to ten gigawatts of capacity (mostly in hydro form) in Asiatic Russia. Rosneft, Russia&rsquo;s top oil firm, may have concluded agreements with China&rsquo;s National Petroleum Corporation and its Sinopec petrochemical group about oil extraction in eastern Siberia. And Putin has ordered the creation and signing off before the end of the year of a programme of construction of new hydro schemes on tributaries of the river Amur. But they all just confirm and consolidate a trend. Siberia is coming under the joint ownership of Moscow and Beijing.</span></p><blockquote><p><span>80% of people polled recently in Irkutsk named the present Russian regime in one shape or form as their enemy, and only 2% named China.&nbsp;</span></p></blockquote><p><span>It can&rsquo;t be said that this prospect worries Siberians. An Irkutsk online news site recently ran a poll in which over 41,000 people took part. To the question of who was Siberia&rsquo;s greatest enemy, 41.5% of respondents answered &lsquo;Putin&rsquo;, 13.8%, Deripaska, and 13.6 %, United Russia. And, going down the figures, the locals&rsquo; attitude to Moscow became even clearer: 7.8 % answered &lsquo;Muscovites&rsquo;, 4.7%, the power vertical, and Dmitry Medvedev and the national parliament got 1% each. Altogether 80% of respondents named the present Russian regime in one shape or form as their enemy, and only 2% named China (the bogeyman that Moscow political analysts love to scare them with).</span></p><p><span>Siberians will soon be asking to visit China, if only to see how local corrupt officials are shot for theft. The Chinese also love our Christian God &ndash; many of those who have settled here have joined the Russian Orthodox Church and are the most exemplary members of some Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk parishes. And the Chinese have fallen in love with Lake Baikal, which is after all so stunningly beautiful that your heart leaps with happiness and your lips spontaneously whisper a prayer.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Recently the Chinese flew in, for free, planeloads of the filtering substance activated carbon to clean the Angara of oil spilling into it from Baikal. This product is unavailable anywhere in Russia. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ben-judah/why-russia-is-not-losing-siberia">Why Russia is not losing Siberia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ben-judah/russia-china-relations-fantasies-and-reality">Russia-China relations: fantasies and reality </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/russia-china-axis-of-convenience">Russia-China: Axis of Convenience</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> oD Russia oD Russia Aleksei Tarasov Letters from the Russian provinces Green Eurasia Siberia Politics History Cultural politics Thu, 21 Nov 2013 12:14:49 +0000 Aleksei Tarasov 77170 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ring out new bells! https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-mozhayev/ring-out-new-bells <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Nimenga Aug 13 (small).jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>While lightning and neglect are taking their toll on Russia's wooden churches, a growing volunteer movement is making its mark in saving this precious cultural heritage. Architectural restoration expert Alexander Mozhayev reports.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>You might think that there is nothing new to be said about Russia&rsquo;s wooden churches: there they stand, eternal and unchanging - a cultural clich&eacute;, especially if viewed against a backdrop of birches. But their very familiarity, combined with a lack of scholarship devoted to wooden architecture, has meant that their importance is often not appreciated. To quote the eminent architectural restorer Boris Lurie, &lsquo;This northern wooden heritage of ours is the only genuinely national architecture of Russia, as opposed to stone buildings, which show a strong European influence. There&rsquo;s nothing like it anywhere in the world. We&rsquo;re so used to it that we don&rsquo;t even notice, but visitors from other countries are always struck by it.&rsquo;</p><p><span class="pullquote-right">An endless flat landscape, suddenly broken by a 50 metre high wooden tower, makes an indelible impression.</span></p> <p>There is, of course, another clich&eacute; &ndash; that foreign visitors used to traipsing round an inexhaustible supply of classical ruins and gothic cathedrals are unlikely to be impressed by rural Russia. An 18th century wooden house here, another one 100 kilometres further on. But Europeans I&rsquo;ve travelled around Russia with tell me the opposite: &lsquo;A gothic church around every corner &ndash; you&rsquo;ve no idea how exhausting it gets. But here you can go for 100 kilometres and not see a soul, and then, in the middle of nowhere, there&rsquo;s a wooden house!&rsquo; And besides, each house is different, and when the endless flat landscape is suddenly broken by a 50 metre high wooden tower, that makes an indelible impression.&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Turchasovo%20Aug13(small).jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Two villagers take a break from restoration work to admire the view from the&nbsp;Church of the Transfiguration in the village of Turchasovo. (c) Richard Davies</span></p> <p>One such visitor was the London architectural photographer Richard Davies, who was so struck by the beauty of the Russian north that he spent the last ten years studying it. The resulting <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-mozhayev/tragedy-of-russias-abandoned-wooden-churches">book</a>, &lsquo;Wooden Churches &ndash; Travelling in the Russian North&rsquo;, came out last year; it looked at the architecture itself, its tragic destruction and neglect in the Soviet period and its critical state today, for this wooden heritage is now as much an endangered species as the Russian village itself. The London launch, however, did more than just sell the book &ndash; lovers of wooden architecture were moved to try to save interesting buildings at risk. So this year Richard has been busy sorting out the technical issues: if any organisation is to be involved, British supporters always need to be sure of its probity and that any money raised will be wisely spent. So the first task has been to find a suitable building, in need of restoration, that is in safe hands.</p><h2>Fire from heaven&hellip;</h2> <p>Alas, no wooden church can be said to be totally safe. As Lurie says, &lsquo;we mustn&rsquo;t forget that all these churches are expertly constructed and bone dry giant bonfires.&rsquo; Churches inside officially protected areas can burn, as can churches looked after by committed guardians. Only this Easter, the Church of St Blaise and the Intercession at Lyadiny, near Kargopol, (Arkhangel Region) was <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/matilda-moreton/easter-fire-descends-on-lyadiny">struck</a> by lightning. Dating from 1761, it was a well-maintained building, with a lightning conductor, in a large village full of people, but it burned from top to bottom because the district has no up to date fire-fighting equipment and the firefighters were powerless against the forty metre high flames.</p><p class="pullquote-right">&lsquo;We mustn&rsquo;t forget that all these churches are expertly constructed and bone dry giant bonfires&rsquo; (Boris Lurie, architectural restorer)</p> <p>The building&rsquo;s warden Lyubov Vikulova told Richard and me that &lsquo;it was a dry thunderstorm, without rain, and two lightning bolts hit the cross on the roof at the same time, one on either side. If there had been rain it would have put out the fire in seconds, but as it was we could only stand and watch it burn. We did manage to rescue the icons inside, though. There are three churches on the site: when the flames reached the bell tower and looked as though they were about to leap across to the second church, a fireman shouted at me to take an icon and circle the church with it. So I got between the second church and the flames and the fire didn&rsquo;t touch it.&rsquo;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/St%20Blaise%20Liadiny%206th%20Aug%2013%20(small).jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Lyubov Vikulova stands in front of the scorched remains of the&nbsp;Church of St Blaise and the Intercession at Lyadiny. Though well-maintained, the church burned down in a freak lightening strike. (c) Richard Davies</span></p> <p>The fact that such an unusual fire happened at Easter has been universally interpreted as a sign from on high, although nobody is sure what it means. I feel it is deeply illogical for Orthodox Christians to see it as the wrath of God. Pagan gods may punish people for their sins and backsliding, but Russians would do better to regard it as a warning. Vikulova has her own theory: &lsquo;There used to be a lake opposite; it was small but very deep &ndash; in the mornings it would be covered in mist &ndash; and on the other side the ground was blue with berries. But then one day the water just disappeared underground, leaving a marsh behind. And I&rsquo;m just thinking &ndash; if we rebuild the church, maybe the lake will come back.&rsquo;</p><h2>...and human neglect</h2> <p>The fire at Lyadiny is certainly a warning to the whole of Russia. But more often churches are victims not of fire from heaven, but of simple inadvertent neglect. In the course of the last year Richard Davies and I visited northern Russia three times and saw all sorts of things. In general the position of a church in relation to human occupation has little bearing on its condition: the church belonging to the former Muyezersky Monastery, which has stood on an island among remote Karelian lakes since 1625, looks well-maintained despite only having a lone volunteer warden from the nearby village and the occasional band of pilgrims to look after it, whereas the St Nicholas church (also 17th century) in the large village of Volosov lies in ruins under overgrown brambles and nettles despite standing in a functioning cemetery. When we forced our way inside, with great difficulty, we found beams carrying 17th century inscriptions and a visitors&rsquo; book with a touching little entry: &lsquo;We, 21st century teenagers, were having a walk and called in the church. We would really like it if the church in our beloved village could be restored, that traditions could live on&hellip;&rsquo; and so on. But there&rsquo;s no one to cut back the nettles.</p><p class="pullquote-right">The 17th century St Nicholas church in the large village of Volosov lies in ruins under overgrown brambles and nettles, despite standing in a functioning cemetery.</p> <p>We then visited the very remote village of Nimenga, travelling first by ferry across the White Sea, then by boat and finally through the forest. Eventually the most idyllic scene opened before us: fields, a herd of cattle, horses grazing the banks of a stony little stream and a five-domed church with a separate bell tower. We skirted the stream and circled the church, but with each step the idyll faded: the bell tower had a dangerous tilt that we had not been able to see as we approached. While Richard took out his neat little folding tripod and started snapping, his travelling companion Daryl Ann Hardman said to me, &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t understand. There are cattle and horses, a tractor, a satellite dish. There are people living here &ndash; why don&rsquo;t they do something to fix the church? It could collapse at any moment.&rsquo; Well, I answered, it&rsquo;s not something that just anyone can do. It needs more than a couple of nails banged in; it needs professionals, and where do you start looking for them?</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Volosovo27th%20Apl%2008(smal).jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Despite lying in a functioning cemetery near a large village, St Nicholas Church in Volosov is in a state of serious disrepair. (c) Richard Davies</span></p><h2>A common cause</h2> <p>But the nearby coastal village of Vorzogory presents a completely different picture. The village itself is magic &ndash; it stands on an outcrop, washed on three sides by the waves of the White Sea. At its centre stands a magnificent complex of two wooden churches, built in the style of of urban and monastic stone churches, and a bell tower. We just happened to arrive on the day when the bells would ring out for the first time in 80 years and were able to meet Father Aleksei Yakovlev, whose efforts have brought these ancient sacred buildings back to life. Father Aleksei is based in Moscow, but comes here each summer, and is well known as one of the founders of the <em>Obscheye Delo</em> [Common Cause] movement, which has set itself the task of saving the wooden churches of northern Russia. Its members patch leaky roofs, prop up walls, clear undergrowth and dig trenches to act as firebreaks. In just a few years this project, started by just a handful of people, has become a mass movement and its volunteers look after dozens of sites.</p> <p>And it all started here in Vorzogory. &lsquo;The first time we came here&rsquo;, Father Aleksei tells us, &lsquo;we suddenly caught the sound of an axe splitting wood. That was Old Sasha, who&rsquo;d been repairing the bell tower day after day for years &ndash; he simply couldn&rsquo;t &nbsp;bear the thought of it collapsing one day before his eyes. We were so inspired by his example that we started helping him, then we set our sights higher and now we have several teams of volunteers busy every summer.&rsquo;</p> <p>Unfortunately - or from our point of view, thankfully - Russians have lost all hope of getting any help from government. They are beginning to take responsibility themselves, and this includes responsibility for their cultural heritage. Most recent government restoration projects have been either controversial in their methods (the work on the famous Kizhi complex was particularly divisive) or simply disastrous, such as what happened with important churches at <a href="http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/45448.htm">Kimzha</a> and Belozersk. These were dismantled for restoration, and now no one knows how to fit them back together. This year&rsquo;s success story, on the other hand, was the restoration of a 19th century wooden palace on the outskirts of Chukhloma, in the Kostroma region. It was carried out by professional architects on the initiative of Muscovite Andrei Pavlichenkov, and a building that three years ago seemed a lost cause is now habitable again.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Turchasovo%201st%20March%2006(small).jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">The Church of the Transfiguration in Turchasovo, rebuilt with the help of&nbsp;Father Aleksei Yakovlev's organisation,&nbsp;Common Cause.(c) Richard Davies</span></p><p class="pullquote-right">Russians have lost all hope of getting any help from government. They are beginning to take responsibility themselves, and this includes responsibility for their cultural heritage.</p><p><span>The Common Cause movement has also helped rebuild the Church of the Transfiguration in the village of Turchasovo on the Onega River in the Archangelsk region. Turchasovo was our main destination this summer &ndash; British donors are discussing the purchase of new bells for its tower. Richard suggested this site because one of the locals is keen to take part in the restoration. His name is Aleksei Sutin, he&rsquo;s young and bearded, and we find him 20 metres above us, repairing the church roof with two other villagers. Sutin speaks good English, which is pretty rare in a northern village. &lsquo;I actually live in a city&rsquo;, he told us, &lsquo;but I grew up here and I always come back for the summer. Everybody in the village contributed to a restoration fund so we could hire some carpenters, and we&rsquo;ve already finished the roof over the altar, where the worst leaks were.&rsquo; And was he being paid anything, I asked - it&rsquo;s hard work. &lsquo;No, I&rsquo;m doing it for the glory of God. I&rsquo;m a physicist and I work mostly in Norway, so I&rsquo;m not badly off.&rsquo;</span></p> <p>We arrange to come back in the winter with the new bells and the Russian north&rsquo;s new overseas friends. In the first place because Richard assures me that Turchasovo is at its most stunning in winter, when the temperature falls to minus twenty or lower. But also because there is no direct road here, and it will be easier to transport the load along the frozen river. And we are sure our British guests will love our wide Russian spaces, thousands of miles from the nearest Gothic cathedral.</p><p><em>Enjoyed this article? Follow&nbsp;</em><em>oDRussia</em><em>&nbsp;by subscribing to our&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/opendemocracyru">Twitter</a>&nbsp;feed and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/openDemocracyRussia">Facebook</a>&nbsp;page.</em><span>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-mozhayev/tragedy-of-russias-abandoned-wooden-churches">The tragedy of Russia&#039;s abandoned wooden churches</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/matilda-moreton/death-of-russian-village">The death of the Russian village </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ola-cichowlas/zone">The Zone</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-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Alexander Mozhayev Letters from the Russian provinces Religion NGOs Cultural politics Mon, 11 Nov 2013 15:41:12 +0000 Alexander Mozhayev 76778 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Zone https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ola-cichowlas/zone <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;"><img style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/zone_0.jpg" alt="" width="160" />The northern territory of the Perm region is known as 'the Zone' – &nbsp;a remote region of prison camps and correctional facilities. Ola Cichowlas came to know it quite well….</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Russia&rsquo;s prison camps are the stuff of legend and whispers &nbsp;Activists create Facebook groups to forlornly ask for their closure. Inside giant ministries, these little dots on the Russian map are allocated resources &ndash; petrol drums, timber saws, processed chicken quotas; sometimes, even a new boiler.&nbsp;</p><p><span>That last item is how I came to know about prison camps. For two years, I worked with a small company installing Italian boilers into institutional buildings across Russia&rsquo;s vast Perm region . For a territory that borders Siberia, nothing should be more crucial than its boilers, but these are breaking down: festering Soviet tanks, horrific nineteenth century hunks &ndash; things unspeakably defunct.&nbsp;</span></p><blockquote><p>Russians living in this territory call the south 'our land'; the north they call 'the Zone.'</p></blockquote><p>We installed boilers in Tatar villages where only broken Russian was spoken, in Komi settlements during wild Pagan festivals, in the schools of potash colonies each with their own swimming-pool-sized nuclear bunker; and in the north of the Perm region. Russians living in this territory, larger than England, call the south 'our land'; the north they call 'the Zone'; this is because the north is a map covered in prison camps.&nbsp;</p><p>We had an order to install a boiler in Nyrob. We drove for hours. Along the road we met the locals; unnerved by our destination they all cracked the same joke: 'Wherever you commit your crime, you will be punished in Nyrob.' &nbsp;Outside the window, barbed wire began to border the road; we began to see watchtowers &ndash; the beginning of the Zone.<br /><span></span></p><blockquote><p><span>Wherever you commit your crime, you will be punished in Nyrob.</span></p></blockquote><p><span>Nobody in the boiler team I was working with seemed particularly fazed:'The Zone is the Zone,' they said. Forced labour is no historical memory in the Perm region, for the north is still an archipelago of camps and correctional centres. Officials hide this reality under the name AM-244, a network of five 'correctional colonies of the strictest regime,' dotted along the banks of the cold rivers Vishera, Kolva and Berezovaya. There are 18 other 'correctional colonies' in the Perm region, including a colony for prisoners isolated with TB, one for juvenile delinquent prisoners and a psychiatric prison.</span></p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Nyrob%20by%20Prokudin-Gorskii_0.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Nyrob by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Prokudin-Gorskii was a photographer known for his pioneering work in colour photography in early 20th-century Russia</span></p><p>The Zone has created its own legend &ndash; from the economy to the mentality. Russia&rsquo;s second gulag (after the Belomor Canal) was opened here: the gigantic industrial pits in Berezniki. Today, the mines that were dug by forced labour are part of the world&rsquo;s largest potash producer; it still has the name of Uralkali.&nbsp;</p><p>At last, we arrived in Nyrob &ndash; a 'forest labour correctional colony.' Nyrob is as remote as it gets; and being here is like walking into a Zamyatin society. Almost everyone is in uniform: the black jumpsuit for prisoners, and the blue camouflage jacket for guards. You see the navy-blue army-style suit with a matching hat for higher ranks, and the white hats for the kitchen staff; not to mention the black cassock worn by the Orthodox priest. Everything seems organized. Everything seems fixed.</p><p>This is not the case. Wearing a prisoner&rsquo;s jumpsuit does not mean that you will never wear a guard&rsquo;s blue camouflage jacket; nor does it mean that you will wear civilian jeans ever again. &nbsp;The distant prison colonies are different from the urban lock-ups: unlike the penitentiaries, places like Nyrob are characterized by a deep integration of the lives of prisoners and the lives of villagers. &nbsp;</p><p>Nyrob is classed as a 'prison settlement'; what this means is that the inmates become quasi-villagers. They are not confined to the high-security prison. Within very prescribed hours, &nbsp;prisoners are allowed to wander around the village, a place so remote and inaccessible, the authorities have concluded there is nowhere to run.</p><blockquote><p>There is a twisted dependence of the village on the prison.</p></blockquote><p>This situation encourages a twisted dependence of the village on the prison; and &nbsp; twisted family lives. While the trickier bolts of the boiler were being installed into the base of the prison building, I wandered around Nyrob.&nbsp;</p><p>I met a crippled inmate in a wheelchair. He sighed: 'Life is hard&hellip;. My girlfriend is here but my wife lives in the South.' While talking about his wife he watched over his girlfriend. She was a small, pale girl in her early twenties. Her over-sized coat was covering her heavy pregnancy.&nbsp;</p><p>This is the type of separation which those in Russia&rsquo;s prison colonies have always endured. The Internet, however, gives this historical familial pain a contemporary resonance: if you want to understand, read the forums for prisoners&rsquo; wives. &nbsp;The most popular site for the wives and mothers of men locked up in the prison colonies is named Dekabristki.ru a reference to the wives of the Decembrist rebels sent to Siberia, whose stoicism became a byword both for their steadfastness, and Tsarist cruelty.</p><p>The main forum topics are how to reach the remote destinations (local residents often offer their taxi services to make money); what to bring with you ('Don&rsquo;t forget to bring bottled water for the whole duration of your stay, as there is no clean water there'); and comments on how the prisoners are treated (with details on which guards are 'nice' or not).&nbsp;</p><p><span>Rusty gas pipes run along collapsing wooden houses through a sand-covered road. I met a guard in a hurry. He snapped at me when I asked if prisoners live badly in Nyrob? &ldquo;You think they live badly? What about us? I don&rsquo;t eat differently to them.&rdquo;&nbsp;</span></p><p>He pointed to a yellow-painted trailer at the end of the road. 'That&rsquo;s where she is, where else would she be?' A second later, I realized that 'she' was his wife, and that the trailer was in fact a beauty salon. He was rushing to the trailer to pay for his wife&rsquo;s manicure, which cost a meagre fifty roubles (about one pound sterling); and was still a struggle.</p><blockquote><p>Either you work in the prison or you drink. The Zone is our life-line.</p></blockquote><p>The manicure paid for, the guard talked about the colonies: 'Look, it&rsquo;s like this: either you work in the prison or you drink. The Zone is our life-line.' He is not wrong; with the collapse of the forestry industry in the 1990s, the locals now have no choice but to depend on the prisons for employment.</p><p>Having signed the boiler contracts, and paid in cash for its installation, local officials explained how, outside of Nyrob, the villages are dying; in 2013, several communities that had once been several hundred strong, died a death.&nbsp;</p><p>These ghost villages of rotting wooden huts encircle Nyrob. Places where Russians simply shut their front doors and left. Little children in this dying land, play guessing games on how long houses have been deserted. I asked them how they could tell? 'Three months is when the gate collapse; five months is when the stench spreads; and eight months is when the roof caves in.'</p><blockquote><p>Everyone living here fears that one day Moscow will close the prison.</p></blockquote><p>The dead villages have spooked Nyrob. Everyone living here fears that one day Moscow will close the prison, thereby killing the village. Like the arrival of Gogol&rsquo;s Inspector, rumours spread annually that officials are on their way to close up the colony. Irony of ironies, but the locals want nothing more than to remain a prison colony.</p><p>Nyrob is not alone: huge areas of Russia&rsquo;s north are dependent on the colonies. Contrary to what the Moscow opposition might think, these villages constantly beg the Kremlin and its ministries to keep the colonies going. Across the Zone, local officials and the camp administration have allied in defence of the camps. You can instantly see this by picking up one of the local newspapers: 'Without the Zone we cannot live'; then another: 'They live badly but happily.'&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/&#039;Old%20Church%20of%20Saint%20Nicholas%20the%20Wonder%20Worker,&#039;%20Nyrob,%201910%20(Prokudin-Gorskii.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">'Old Church of Saint Nicholas the Wonder Worker' , Nyrob, 1910 by Prokudin-Gorskii</span></p><p>Nyrob prays nightly for the salvation of the prison. The priest leads them in prayer that the prison colony will always be full. Fear, perhaps, is why the Orthodox Church has become ever more central to life in Nyrob. A beautiful 18th century baroque church rises up alongside the watchtowers; the most beautiful church in the Urals; and the only one with a congregation for miles around.&nbsp;</p><p>I push open the Church door. Inside, the priest is hectoring an old woman to sweep dry wax off the floor, the wax from holy candles. The priest is proud of the fact that everything in the church was made by prisoners&rsquo; hands: 'All of the Church benches are made in the Zone. In fact, everything in Nyrob comes from the Zone.'</p><p>That such a beautiful church should exist in such a place is no accident. In 1601, &nbsp;Boris Godunov &ndash; he of Mussorgsky&rsquo;s opera,&ndash; sent his principal rival Mikhail Nikitich Romanov, to exile in Nyrob, where he was thrown in an uncovered deep hole. He survived for almost a year thanks to the piety of local residents who threw him scraps and water. He was eventually buried here, but not to rest for long; as soon as his nephew became the first Romanov Tsar of Russia, his body was triumphantly restored to Moscow. In return, Nyrob received this beautiful church as a gift for protecting the Romanov family.&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Shackles%20with%20Which%20Mikhail%20Nikitich%20Romanov%20Was%20Bound.%20The%20Village%20of%20Nyrob.%20Ural%20(Prokudin-Gorskii%20circa%201909-14)_0.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">The shackles with which Mikhail Nikitich Romanov was bound in 1601: Prokudin-Gorskii</span></p><p>I came to Nyrob to install two boilers. The first time, in 2010, that deep hole was still left bare to the open sky exactly as it was when 'Uncle Nikitich' was freezing to death in it; the local authorities must have cleaned it of the crushed stones that covered the hole during the Soviet era, when it was transformed into a dance floor for prisoners and villagers. When I returned with a second boiler in 2013, a chapel had been built over the hole; and an uneven gate, decorated with the Romanov insignia.&nbsp;</p><p>Prisoners and villagers are encouraged to pray directly to this dead Romanov. The priest and the prison authorities encourage the belief that he answers the prayers of Nyrob. Murmuring with devotion, the priest asserts that, 'Mikhail Nikitich is watching over us as we speak. Everyone in Nyrob knows this.'&nbsp;</p><p>I follow him down to the underground chapel. Here, where a forgotten Muscovite boyar probably went insane four centuries ago, the priest at least is happy: 'Now that the chapel is finally built, he can rest happily.' When we surface, &nbsp;the sight of the watchtowers is almost comforting.</p><blockquote><p>Nyrob has always had a hold on the Russian imagination.</p></blockquote><p><span>Nyrob has always had a hold on the Russian imagination &ndash; look at those photographs taken by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, before the 1917 revolution; the surprising colour only highlighting the desolateness.</span></p><p>I knock on the door of the local museum dedicated to Nyrob&rsquo;s saviour. Its middle-aged female guardian is nervous about my entering: 'Are you alone? I have to keep the door locked otherwise the drunks come in and sleep here. They&rsquo;ve already taken over the house next door.'</p><p>I step inside. She shows me the replica exhibits, and proudly asks me to sign a photo album of British Romanov descendents visiting Nyrob in the 1990s. We talk about the future; she sounds desperate: 'The Tsar is our only hope&hellip;. We expect hundreds of tourists in the summer.'</p><p>I have my doubts: 400 kilometres of endless forest road separates Nyrob from Perm; drunks sleep in doorways; watchtowers loom over the village; most houses have no running water.&nbsp;</p><p>Russians, however, believe in miracles&hellip;. &nbsp;In late August, a group of fifty people from Kostroma, settled in an abandoned village near Nyrob, awaiting the resurrection of Uncle Nikitch. On the 8th of October, Perm&rsquo;s administration tabled a meeting on what to do with these unexpected arrivals; and what can you do with people who say that they are waiting for the resurrection of the man who was meant to be the first Romanov Tsar? That he will restore Russia to glory.</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/valery-abramkin-mary-mcauley/in-memoriam-valery-abramkin-russias-prison-reformer">In memoriam Valery Abramkin, Russia&#039;s prison reformer</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> oD Russia oD Russia Ola Cichowlas Letters from the Russian provinces Prison Religion Politics Justice Human rights History Sat, 09 Nov 2013 12:44:52 +0000 Ola Cichowlas 76667 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Wizard of Omsk https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valeria-kalashnikova/wizard-of-omsk <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Dyachuk Filming.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>Omsk, in south-western Siberia, is known throughout Russia for its theatre, but has never developed a film industry. As Valeria Kalashnikova reports, things are changing, thanks mostly to the efforts of a director whose stock in trade is schlock sci-fi beloved of viewers of Japanese cable channels.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>While Omsk&rsquo;s cultural bureaucrats ponder how best to develop a local film industry; whether it should have its own studio; and how the populace of this city famed for its theatrical life can be turned on to the cinema, director Maksim Dyachuk is busy shooting films enjoyed by cable TV audiences in the US, the UK and Japan. But in Russia there is no question of his work appearing on the big screen &ndash; it can be viewed only by initiates at private showings. </p><p>It is only two years since Maksim Dyachuk shot his first feature film, &lsquo;Spores&rsquo;, and his second sci-fi feature &lsquo;The Silence of Space&rsquo; is at present in post production, being enhanced by digital special effects and a musical score. Meanwhile he&rsquo;s already working on a new project, &lsquo;The Snow Queen&rsquo;, a fairytale for adults in the &lsquo;steampunk&rsquo; style - a sci-fi sub-genre, often set in a post-apocalyptic future where steam is once more the chief source of power. So the Queen, in gothic guise, and Kay, here a hard-boiled engineer, function in a surreal landscape of hot air balloons, steam engines and other machinery that has little to do with Andersen but is none the worse for that.</p><p><span class="pullquote-right">Maksim Dyachuk is busy shooting films enjoyed by cable TV audiences in the US, the UK and Japan. But in Russia there is no question of his work appearing on the big screen.</span></p><p><span>As you will have guessed, his subjects are reminiscent of classic Hollywood B-movies &ndash; fantastic tales with no intellectual pretentions (there&rsquo;s no shortage of other directors if you want art house films). &lsquo;</span><a href="http://www.orbitfilms.com/portfolio/133-spores-movie-trailer-eng/">Spores</a><span>&rsquo;, for example, is about an invasion of alien monsters that have grown somewhere in space from the eponymous spores. His second film, as you will also have guessed, is about space as well, but it is a more complex work with an intricate plot incorporating a thriller element (though it does have monsters too). And given the technical resources needed to create convincingly scary aliens, it&rsquo;s fortunate that Dyachuk is a whiz with the CGI. There are also people in the films, of course, but they have an uncanny tendency to mutate into heaven knows what.</span>The young director&rsquo;s head is full of ideas like this, and many of them could be filmed right here in Omsk, but somehow the city fathers show no sign of wanting to support his work. </p><p>Dyachuk doesn&rsquo;t call himself a director, preferring to use the more inclusive term &lsquo;filmmaker&rsquo;. In other words, he&rsquo;s a one-man band &ndash; writing the screenplay; directing; designing; doing the CGI &ndash; you name it, he does it. He has his own studio, Orbit Films, which relies on commercial shorts, trailers and corporate presentations to bring in the cash that subsidises his creative work. His production team consists of himself, his wife Dina (general assistant and makeup artist) and Igor Faust, a well-known local musician, and his casts are actors moonlighting from local theatre companies.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Dyachuk%20FIlming%20Two.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Filmmaker Maksim Dyachuk operates with a small production team that consists of himself, his wife Dina, and local musician Igor Faust. (c) Orbit Films.</span></p><h2>Russian film lovers will have to wait for the pirate DVD</h2><p>Foreign audiences, it turns out, love this stuff, whereas at home Dyachuks&rsquo;s attempts to interest people who have any clout in the industry have fallen on deaf ears. With no star names and faces on screen, no one is interested. He has, however, managed to find Canadian distributors who have helped him bring &lsquo;Spores&rsquo; to global audiences. The film has been shown at several American festivals, is a great hit on local cable channels, and has even come out on DVD in Japan, with the UK and Germany next on the list. But for wide distribution you need a thriving market and no pirating. Perhaps &lsquo;Spores&rsquo; might become available in Russia in a year or two, but only on pirate DVDs. Maksim is amused at the thought: &lsquo;I&rsquo;d like to see that &ndash; a Russian film coming to its own country thanks to pirates, and presented as an American product&hellip; still, at least people might finally get to watch it.&rsquo; </p><p>Dyachuk naturally has no financial backing &ndash; he pays for everything out of his own pocket and hopes that one day his work will reach its audience. &lsquo;With &ldquo;Spores&rdquo; we managed to pay people a small fee, but &ldquo;The Silence of Space&rdquo; cost us 200,000 roubles (&pound;4000) to make and we couldn&rsquo;t even do that. The contracts we give our actors provide for a fee in the future if we can sell the film, but not everybody realises that and many of them refuse to work with us.&rsquo;</p><p class="pullquote-right">&lsquo;I&rsquo;d like to see that - a Russian film coming to its own country thanks to pirates, and presented as an American product&hellip; still, at least people might finally get to watch it.&rsquo;</p><p>There are many potential filmmakers in Omsk, but with no local film studio they have to go elsewhere to develop their craft (and then if they do well nobody remembers where they came from). The nearest studios and other facilities are in Novosibirsk (about 700 km away), and Yekaterinburg (about 1000 km away) also has a strong filmmaking tradition. In Russian terms, that makes us neighbours, but the situation for filmmakers is very different. Omsk has a long and illustrious theatrical history: nine professional theatres &ndash; not counting fringe venues &ndash; for a city of a million inhabitants isn&rsquo;t bad, and people are used to visiting them. But it lacks a cinematic tradition. </p><h2>Some hope for the future?</h2><p>This summer, however, Omsk hosted the <a href="http://dvijenie.org/">First Dvizheniye National Festival</a> for debut films, headed by the famous actor, director and screenwriter Artyom Mikhalkov. The festival is designed to support young directors who want to make independent, art house films. In an age of frenetic production line cinema this is rather a niche market, but Mikhalkov has hopes for the younger generation (as both makers and audiences) and for getting distributors involved with the festival, judging the work on show and providing start up cash for the best new filmmakers: &lsquo;We are also hoping to develop the festival as a film market, where distributors can meet directors, and this might pave the way for the opening of a film studio here in Omsk, where we can finally grow our own young directors and other specialists.&rsquo;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Post%20Production.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Although Omsk lacks the filmmaking tradition of towns like Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg, Dyachuk's brand of Russian B-movies has found fans in Japan and America. (c) Orbit Films</span></p><p>For the moment this is still just a pipe dream, since it all depends on a large investment of cash, as well as a change of local and regional development priorities, of which there is no sign yet. Mikhalkov&rsquo;s grandiose plans may look attractive, but they are unrealistic if they are reliant on government funding.</p><p class="pullquote-right">&lsquo;We are all still learning here. We are getting better all the time - developing more sophisticated screenplays and more convincing characters.'</p><p>In the meantime, private enterprise is doing its best. About a month ago Maksim Dyachuk opened a film school at his studio. With his head full of ideas, the director is keen to expand production, and for that he needs a larger team. He is offering his students training in a wide range of skills: directing, cinematography, production, CGI, acting, set design and make up. Not to mention lots of work experience, as the studio increases its activity. &lsquo;We are all still learning here&rsquo;, he explains. &lsquo;We are getting better all the time - developing more sophisticated screenplays and more convincing characters, finding new locations in Siberia to shoot, improving our directing skills, enhancing our special effects and composing more effective music. And we are also learning about international requirements in terms of the documentation a film needs for distribution.'</p><p><span>In general, the film scene in Omsk has recently been displaying a number of signs of life. Several festivals are happening, and a couple of cinemas are prepared to show films by new directors. The work may not be of the best quality, but given the lack of any official support, it&rsquo;s a start. There is even talk of opening a branch of the filmmakers&rsquo; union in the city &ndash; the first branch anywhere in Siberia - and if other cities support the idea it might be set up at regional level. We might soon be looking at a new, long awaited dawn in Omsk&rsquo;s cultural life.</span>The school will award diplomas which will of course lack the cachet of a film degree from a respected university, but will probably give its young graduates moral support and confidence in their own abilities. Also, of all the attempts to create some opportunity for training in filmmaking in Omsk, this is the only one to get off the ground, so even though its main focus is the development of Dyachuk&rsquo;s own career rather than any broader aim, it just might be successful enough to kick start something bigger. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</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="/arts-institutions_government/russian_film_3726.jsp">Kinoeye: Russia&#039;s reviving film industry</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mumin-shakirov/gastarbeiters-and-kino-russias-invisible-class-gets-its-big-break">Gastarbeiters in kino: Russia&#039;s invisible class gets its big break</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/the-vertical-of-power-grabs-russian-cinema">The ‘vertical of power’ grabs Russian cinema</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"> Omsk </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Omsk Russia Valeria Kalashnikova Letters from the Russian provinces Beyond propaganda Cultural politics Mon, 28 Oct 2013 17:00:13 +0000 Valeria Kalashnikova 76335 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Taken from Chita, Made in China https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/taken-from-chita-made-in-china-0 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6126/5930917931_47f0f21da5_z.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake on the planet, is part of Russia’s DNA, and many romantic ballads sing of its size and beauty. Beyond the lake is a different story. Do Trans-Baikal Territory and its capital Chita have a future or is this a godforsaken backwater? Mikhail Loginov investigates</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">Chita is the capital of Siberia&rsquo;s <a href="https://www.usrbc.org/russianregions/russian_regions_list/73">Trans-Baikal Territory</a> or Transbaikalia, the land to the east of, and beyond, Lake Baikal.&nbsp; Early in the morning, men drinking beer are to be seen in sporting cafes.&nbsp; This is not necessarily because they are the stereotypical hardcore Siberian blokes drinking alcohol instead of water, simply that, in this time zone, European football matches, both club and national, are broadcast live between five and six in the morning.&nbsp; On the days, or rather nights, of these matches, the owner of one such caf&eacute;, himself a football fanatic, extends the &lsquo;working day&rsquo; for his staff until eight a.m. Today, for instance, he is making his sleepy waitresses serve customers who are watching the final of the UEFA Champions League.</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/02/Russia_-_Chita_Oblast_%282008-01%29.svg/800px-Russia_-_Chita_Oblast_%282008-01%29.svg.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Chita oblast. Image (cc) Ezhiki</p> <p class="p1">The men watching football have no time for conversation, though they sometimes argue in the evenings. Their main topic of discussions is whether they should leave Chita, or if there is&nbsp; any future for them in the Trans-Baikal Territory?</p> <h2><strong>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s gold in them there hills&rdquo;</strong></h2> <p class="p1">The colonisation of Siberia was very simply accomplished: the Cossacks &ndash; usually adventurers who had been hired by a merchant &ndash; sailed along a river. When they came to a hamlet, they asked the local tribe, &lsquo;to whom they paid their tribute?&rsquo;. They then killed the local ruler, who was collecting the tribute, and told the locals that from now on they would have to send to the Tsar in Moscow three or four sable furs a year. In payment for this &lsquo;service&rsquo; they appropriated several furs themselves. Having made tribute arrangements with one tribe, they then sailed on, up or down the river, in search of the next village. Finally, they arrived at the <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/21990/Amur-River">Amur River</a>, the border between Russia and China, and the Pacific Ocean. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Transbaikalia was an exception: the colonisers were chiefly attracted by furs; and they moved around by sailing the full-flowing rivers, but this region was covered by relatively sparse forests with a minimum of fur animals, and the mountain rivers were shallow, so sailing along them was very difficult.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Then, deposits of silver ore were discovered.&nbsp; In the seventeenth century, Russia had no silver of its own, acquiring it only as a result of trading furs, hides, timber and other natural products. But foreign mercenaries and engineers would only accept payment in silver coins. So, when Moscow learned it could produce silver from ore mined near the <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/34022/Argun-River">Argun River</a>, it immediately sent specialists to its distant province to dig mines, extract the metal and produce the silver.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/dianov.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption"><span>Gold mine in Chita region. With reserves largely exhausted, only a few private mining companies remain. Picture (c) RIA Novosti / Dianov</span></p><p class="p1">There was a shortage of workers for hire, but for the government of Peter the Great that was a problem easily solved: they began commuting death sentences to forced labour.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Silver was mined in Transbaikalia until the beginning of the 19th century, when the silver deposits were exhausted, and gold mines were being opened up, still using forced labour.&nbsp; In the 20th century the gold deposits were in turn largely exhausted; today, only a few private companies are mining it. Then, deposits of uranium were discovered, not far from the town of <a href="http://www.motherearth.org/nuke/uranium/kras.htm">Krasnokamensk</a> near the Russo-Chinese border.&nbsp; It was in one of the numerous prison camps near this town that Mikhail Khodorkovsky served his first term of imprisonment. He wasn't mining uranium, however, but sewing gloves.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1">Chita became a city full of retired officers</p></blockquote> <h2><strong>The land of civil servants and generals</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Three centuries ago the capital of Transbaikalia was not called Chita, it was Nerchinsk, a wooden stockaded town built to withstand the raiding nomads. Most of the four hundred inhabitants received their wages from the state &ndash; Cossacks, officials, priests, executioner... For many years Transbaikalia was literally the back of beyond. Then, with the arrival of the Trans-Siberian railway, built at the end of the nineteenth century, Chita developed into an important railway hub, and the biggest town in Transbaikalia.</p> <p class="p2">The local Buryat tribes served in the border cavalry regiments, hunting down fugitives from forced labour. In the middle of the ninetheenth century even the local peasants were reclassified as Cossacks, meaning all the men were obliged to serve in the army.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">In addition to its Cossacks, Transbaikalia has a long Red Army history: Chita was one of the main Siberian military centres, where the Trans-Baikal Command troops were stationed. Only under Putin was the Trans-Baikal Command disbanded, when war with neighbouring China seemed less likely. Thousands of officers and non-military personnel were made redundant. This mass unemployment coincided with the reform of the Penitentiary Service when thousands of prison warders were also pensioned off.</p> <p class="p1">Chita became a city full of retired officers. In the local 'United Russia' office the standard greeting is military rather than civilian. Chita, however, cannot shake off its military past. Almost a third of land in the city belongs to the Defence Ministry, though the barracks and training grounds have gone, and housing is now being built on the land.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>A region in crisis</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Transbaikalia has many economic problems: when the old Soviet planned economy collapsed, many local agricultural and food industry enterprises went bankrupt. The difficult climate has always meant that agricultural is difficult to sustain here; and this is why the 200,000 inhabitants in Chita live mainly off imported food products.</p> <p class="p1">The Trans-Siberian Railway is still a major employer, as is the Defence Ministry, and then there is uranium extraction, timber exports and the subsidies from central government. New high-rise buildings, commercial centres and markets are under construction, but, in general, the region cannot compete with other Russian regions and its mighty Chinese neighbour, so many small towns are in a state of economic depression.</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><em>Anyone wishing to prove that Chita is a region in crisis will not find it difficult to adduce evidence..</em></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Anyone wishing to prove that Chita is a region in crisis will not find it difficult to adduce evidence: Transbaikalia has the third highest number of murders in Russia.&nbsp; Of any five news items going out on TV channels, four will be related to a murder or other crime.</p> <p class="p1">Many of the prisoners who have done time in the Territory&rsquo;s many prison camps are not able to leave Chita for other regions in Russia. Some of them beg in the streets and drink adulterated spirits, while others steal and sometimes kill. In most small Russian supermarkets there is a guard on duty; in Chita there are always two.&nbsp; Petty theft from shops is common.</p> <h2><strong>Taken from Chita, Made in China</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Chita residents have their urban legends. One of these has it that when Krushchev quarrelled with Mao Tse Tung, Moscow developed a secret plan to drop an atom bomb on the Chinese forces when they invaded Transbaikalia. In view of the impending total destruction and irradiation, there was little capital construction in Soviet Chita.</p> <p class="p1">In fact, there are quite a few major buildings from the time of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, but the legend lives on because it chimes with the mood of the locals: &lsquo;The land where we live was to be handed over to the enemy, so we were forgotten.&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">Now that sense of doom has been updated; today, Chita residents have a new saying: &lsquo;We were expecting a war, but the Chinese came without weapons and took everything.&rsquo; Currently, thousands of Chinese are living in Chita. They sell goods in the markets, two or three times cheaper than in the Russian commercial centres &ndash; clothing, counterfeit watches, and iPhones which cost thirty euro and break down in a month.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Squads of Chinese construction workers get paid very little on building sites, and refurbishing apartments, but they are prepared to work day and night. Foreign-language advertisements with no Russian translation may be banned, but Chita has several Chinese caf&eacute;s and shops whose signs are only in Chinese.</p> <p class="p1">In the criminal business world, the Chinese export herbs and the meat of wild animals.&nbsp; Chinese customs officers have caught smugglers with hundreds of frozen bear paws; Chinese medicine holds that bear paws contain miraculous properties, so they are fifty times more expensive in China than in Transbaikalia.</p> <p class="p1">Not every Chinese person in Chita trades in the markets or works in construction. Other Chinese often buy up property in the towns and villages, so while some locals fear that Chinese workers will do a bad job on their apartment, others dread turning up at work to find that their organisation now belongs to a citizen of the Chinese National Republic.</p> <h2><strong>Buryats</strong></h2> <p class="p1">The <a href="http://www.minorityrights.org/?lid=2496">Buryat</a> people are the aborigines of these parts. They are proud of their past, remembered as the best warriors in the army of Genghiz Khan, though they were subjugated by the Russians without any particular resistance. By the time of the 1917 Revolution, the Buryats were already a settled people.</p> <p class="p1">The Bolsheviks arrested Buryat elders, collectivising their lands and herds. Nevertheless, the Buryats kept their traditions better than the Russians themselves.&nbsp; They held on to their religion &ndash; Buddhism &ndash; and celebrated their national holidays, when they remember their heroic ancestors.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Villages with a majority of Buryat inhabitants are socially stable; there is minimal alcoholism or crime, and politically there is fairly strong support for the ruling party of &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; in elections at all levels.&nbsp; Chita itself has many Buryat students trying to better themselves.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The political game</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Not everyone in Russia knows exactly where the Trans-Baikal Territory is. Everyone knows Lake Baikal, the biggest freshwater lake on the planet. They know the Far East for its tigers, but Chita, its mountains and steppe are known to very few. This very remoteness has allowed the Moscow authorities to act with impunity.</p> <p class="p1">For seventeen years,&nbsp; <a href="http://russiaprofile.org/bg_people/resources_whoiswho_alphabet_g_geniatulin.html">Ravil Geniatulin</a> was governor of the Chita Oblast and then the Trans-Baikal Territory.&nbsp; A soft-spoken official, he supported &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo;, though he never joined the party.</p> <p class="p1">In March 2013, Geniatulin was removed from his post by Vladimir Putin who <a href="http://eng.special.kremlin.ru/news/5056">appointed</a> Konstantin Ilkovsky (a Duma Deputy from the &lsquo;Just Russia&rsquo; party) as Acting Governor.&nbsp; On 8 September an election will be held, a<span>nd Ilkovsky will either become Governor proper or fail, which is not impossible.&nbsp;</span></p><p class="p1"><img src="http://archive.premier.gov.ru/media/2010/8/30/34260/doc_photo.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Ex-governor of Trans-Baikal Territory Ravil Geniatulin, meeting with Vladimir Putin. The election for Geniatulin's successor on 8 September may not be as simple as Kremlin strategists first hoped. Picture: premier.gov.ru</p> <p class="p1">Some people think that Putin is running an experiment in the region to see if an unpopular governor, a Kremlin shoe-in, can win an election.&nbsp; Mikhail Prokhorov, however, the leader of the &lsquo;Civic Platform&rsquo; <a href="http://valdaiclub.com/politics/51420.html">party</a>&nbsp; has already promised to beat &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; in the Territory. He is relying on one of the ministers of the former governor. The election for the Legislative Assembly of the territory will also be held on 8 September and here too &lsquo;Civic Platform&rsquo; is hoping to triumph, or at least to corner 25% of the vote.</p> <p class="p1">Other Russian politicians have also shown interest in the Trans-Baikal elections.&nbsp; The LDPR leader <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/656945/Vladimir-Zhirinovsky">Vladimir Zhirinovsky</a> is personally heading his party list.&nbsp; With all these heavyweight contenders, the outcome is not at all certain for Putin.</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><em>Transbaikalia is yet another pawn in the endless game of Russian political chess</em></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">What is clear is that Transbaikalia is yet another pawn in the endless game of Russian political chess; unable to escape its past, unable to build a functioning economy, unable to prevent its natural resources being sold off to the Chinese. In such a situation, watching football at six in the morning seems understandable.</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/grigory-tumanov/russia-land-of-slaves">Russia, land of slaves</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/khodorkovsky-and-lebedev-on-trial-again">Khodorkovsky and Lebedev on trial - again</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> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Mikhail Loginov Letters from the Russian provinces Green Eurasia Internal Economy Sat, 24 Aug 2013 14:21:21 +0000 Mikhail Loginov 74953 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Brokeback in Belarus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus <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/tractor.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Valery Sidorenko and Sergei Ostapchuk, both tractor drivers, live together happily in a remote village in the Grodinsky region of Belarus. Alyona Soiko travelled there to meet them and hear their story.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This story may seem unlikely (and I initially doubted it myself) but it is completely true. I have used their real names, and only the name of their village is disguised under its first letter. A.S.</em></p> <p><em>This story may seem unlikely (and I initially doubted it myself) but it is completely true. I have used their real names, and only the name of their village is disguised under its first letter. A.S.</em></p> <p><strong>Valery/Valera (V)</strong> <strong>aged 35</strong>. &nbsp;I was born in B., the village that I still live in. I didn’t do very well at school and went to work in the local collective farm and went on with my education at evening classes at the technical school. Sergei came to live in the village when I was in the ninth class, I think, and he was two years below me – just a kid. </p> <p><strong>Sergei/Seryoga (S)</strong> <strong>aged 33</strong>. Before that we lived in the next village, then my parents were given a house here so we moved.</p> <p><strong>V</strong> Anyway, we met at school, and knew each other of course. But we had different friends. Even when I was in my last year we didn’t have much to do with each other. Everybody went to the disco, of course, but my friends and I didn’t hang out with the younger crowd.</p> <p><strong>S</strong> We became mates when we started working together at the farm, but we also happened to live opposite one another – those were the houses we were given – so we got friendly as neighbours. He had a wife and kids, so did I. He seemed like a good bloke, our wives were friends as well, our children went to the same nursery. We did birthdays together, all that sort of stuff that neighbours do.</p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/red_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption"><span>Photo: Flickr/Kuba Luchtaj. Some rights reserved.</span></p><p><strong>V</strong> I started dating Yana after we left school. I wasn’t that keen on her. She was a nice girl but I wasn’t interested in getting married. But then she got pregnant. ‘It’s yours!’ she said. My mum hit the roof: ‘you’ve got to marry her’. So we got married, and two years later another baby came along. We didn’t do a lot of the lovey-dovey stuff – the sex was good at the start, but then we started having problems. Apart from that she was okay – did the cooking and washing, looked after the kids, didn’t nag me too much, let me have a drink as long as I didn’t overdo it. </p> <blockquote><p><em>'How can I put it? I was just never attracted to girls. I got so scared when I was about thirteen and we were all changing for PE, and I realised that I really liked looking at other boys’ bodies.'</em></p></blockquote><p>Not like Seryoga’s hell-cat – she’d have hysterics if he had a few too many. She was a real pain in the arse, that one. Sorry, Seryoga, I know you don’t like me saying it, but you picked yourself a really fucked-up bitch. My wife didn’t like me having a night out with the lads, which I liked doing, and, yea, she got cross about that. But she was okay about everything else, understanding. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>S</strong> Yea, but what do you want – there she is, getting on with her life, then one day she opens the bathhouse door, and there we are! Your Yana found out about it all later, but she didn’t see that, it’s easier for her. My Katya went ballistic, yea, but you can understand it. Though she was the nervous type, that’s true. But she could have locked us in there and set fire to the place. So don’t you go slagging her off like that. I don’t swear a lot, but I don’t like it when he starts in on Katya...</p> <p><strong>V</strong> He’s a big pussy.&nbsp; </p> <p><strong>S</strong> Fuck off.</p> <p><strong>V</strong> Anyway, It’s not easy to explain how it all started. You know what it’s like for blokes – you get a boner, that’s it, end of. You can’t say it’s an illness – not very logical, is it? It’s what cocks do. Like I said, sex with Yana was fine at the start, but then I started having problems getting it up. I always had lots of other girlfriends as well, but then that started going wrong too. Also, I had always wanted to try anal sex, but all the girls were, like, ‘that’s disgusting’. Yana as well. Seriously, they all called me a pervert. I often tried to do get my wife to do it, and she’d joke – ‘what are you, some kind of gay?’ But what’s the problem? Sex is sex. If she’d been up for it I might not have left her. But Seryoga muddied the whole situation – one night when we were drinking he pressed himself against me in the yard. At the time I didn’t push him away. Then afterwards I thought, what was that about? I was totally gobsmacked, but then I thought, what the hell, it was ok, I didn’t mind, there were all these feelings and thoughts going through my head and I actually quite enjoyed them. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> I always preferred men’s bodies. I think now that if I’d grown up in a city, where there’d be other people like that, it would have come to the surface earlier. But who could I talk to about it here? My mother wouldn’t get it, and even if I’d had a more understanding wife she wouldn’t have either. And my father is a typical rough country bloke. But I’m different. I know I’m an uneducated tractor driver, but I’m not stupid. I was just too lazy to learn. How can I put it? I was just never attracted to girls. I got so scared when I was about thirteen and we were all changing for PE, and I realised that I really liked looking at other boys’ bodies. I didn’t think about sex at all, but when, you know, we were at the disco and all the boys were joking, like, that girl’s got nice tits or a nice bum, I realised that turned them on, but I didn’t get it myself. And that did scare me, but I thought, well, that’s life.&nbsp; </p> <p>It was Katya who came on to me. She came to work at the farm, as a bookkeeper, and we got together. She was nice but I didn’t feel anything in particular. I don’t want to talk about having sex with her – we have kids, that’s all. It’s like, I could get it up okay, but there was something missing. Plus the feeling that I actually preferred men’s bodies just kept getting stronger. But I didn’t fancy anyone here in the village. The boys at school were one thing, but I wasn’t attracted to any of the men. Except maybe Valera – I liked him. But otherwise, well, I’d be watching a film and there’d be lots of good looking men in it, and I liked them better. I could think of a lot I’d like to do with them. And I wasn’t having a lot of sex with my wife, and she didn’t even ask why. She probably thought I was too tired after work, and that suited me fine. The thing was I was always looking at men, although what could I do about it in the village? So I just pretended everything was okay. </p> <p><strong>V</strong> Stop wittering on and tell her how you made me gay. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> I didn’t do a thing to you. You didn’t beat me up after I hugged you, did you? Anyway, I noticed Valera as soon as we started work, and he was my big fantasy figure all those years. My first and last. Look at him; he’s tall, he had a good body and he was a cheery kind of guy. Every time I saw him I realised what was happening to me. In the summer when he took off his shirt, I could feel myself getting aroused. I really fancied him. I was never really attracted to Katya, but now I knew exactly what I was after. I controlled myself, but it was getting more fucking terrible every day. I don’t swear much, but how else could you say it? I got more and more worked up, couldn’t control myself any longer. That’s basically why I got so drunk that night. But as Valera said, what can you do if you’ve got a stiffy? &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the day of the Nepochilovichs’ daughter’s wedding. The whole village was having a party. I got really hammered and the thought came to me: what the hell – if he beats me up can always hang myself. That’s genuinely what was going through my head. I realised that bloody hell, here I was, I was 31 and there’s finally someone who I want. It was the first time understood what it was to want somebody. I’d listened to blokes talking before and never knew what they were on about. But here was a man. And if something had gone wrong, I really would have topped myself, because how could I go on living after that? So I called him out of their house, there’s a garden behind it and I took him there. He was drunk as well and didn’t seem to care where I was taking him. Then I pulled him towards me, and he didn’t push me away. </p> <p><strong>V</strong> Well, we clung to each other, then I broke away, shouted that he was really fucked-up, or something like that, and ran away. Shit, it sounds pretty funny – a grown bloke running away, but that’s what I did. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> But at that point I really relaxed. I realised that he had totally tensed up and that he was aroused as well. I thought, I don’t give a damn what happens now. At least I didn’t have to hang myself. </p> <p><strong>V</strong> Yea, I was totally gobsmacked by it. Okay, so I was drunk, but I knew exactly what&nbsp; was happening and I was fine with it. Of course after that we stopped talking. We’d say hello, but without even looking at each other. That went on for six weeks or so, but I’d keep remembering it and how good it had been. And the scary thing was that whenever I had sex with Yana it was him I was thinking about. And I kept worrying about why he’d done it then and had been avoiding my eyes since. It was him, after all, that had come on to me. Then I would think, well he was pretty plastered as well, though not enough to go and hit on another bloke. He had to have done it on purpose, the filthy queer. But I was also fantasising about him big time. We didn’t hold back for long. I went and asked him to help me fix the boiler in my bathhouse the next Sunday, when my wife and kids would be away visiting her mother. Okay, I thought, let’s see what happens. And that’s when everything did happen. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> Afterwards we were lying there and talked a bit about it all. I told him about my feelings, just like I’ve told you just now, and he told me about his fantasies. You certainly couldn’t call it a case of love at first sight – we didn’t go off and buy rings, at work we carried on as usual – and we met now and then in his bathhouse. It was so good to be together, but we had no ideas about living together. Then Katya caught us in the bathhouse; she was highly strung at the best of times and now she completely lost it. We were totally fucked. She told Valera’s wife and went around telling the whole village about how we were perverts. Then she took the kids and went off to live with her mother, and Valera’s wife followed suit. In fact we don’t even know where his children are now, or where Yana is. My wife won’t let me come near her mother’s house. I’ve tried to visit, but all I get is tears and hysterics. </p> <blockquote><p><em>'So it turns out we abandoned our kids for a bit of cock. And I suppose we did. But nobody wanted to abandon anybody. There are enough families where the husband has a girlfriend. Only this time it’s a boyfriend. If Katya had found me with some Masha or other, do you think there’d have been a problem?'</em></p></blockquote> <p><strong>V</strong> I think Yana had a boyfriend anyway, I’m sure of it. We just don’t know where she went, and even if we did, the situation would be the same as Seryoga’s. Anyway, given that they had fucked off, we thought we may as well live together. Everybody knows about us, we’ve got nothing to hide. And we only have each other now. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> So it turns out we abandoned our kids for a bit of cock. I suppose we did. But the point is that nobody wanted to abandon anybody. We could have gone on just as before, if they hadn’t made such a fuss. There are enough families where the husband has a girlfriend. Only this time it’s a boyfriend. If Katya had found me with some Masha or other, do you think there’d have been a problem? But now we have a melodrama. But it’s not for me to judge – I’ve no idea how I would have reacted if I’d seen my wife with another woman. But once it all came out, there was no option but to split up, and we’ve been left all alone together. </p> <p><strong>V</strong> We should probably have all lived together, instead of which we’re all living apart. Everything just blew up in our faces. We were too scared – how can you live here with another man, and all that sort of stuff. Are we gay or not – who knows? I used to enjoy sex with a woman, though he says he never did – but I’m different, supposedly straight. Although it’s true I don’t fancy women any more. So if liking sex with another bloke makes you gay, then I’m gay. And we get on well, living together, we were always mates, after all. It’s no big deal: we work, we know how to cook, we’ve just done some decorating. We’ve been together now like this for two years, and everything’s fine.</p> <blockquote><p><em>'Are we gay or not – who knows? I used to enjoy sex with women, though he says he never did – but I’m different, supposedly straight. Although it’s true I don’t fancy women any more. So if liking sex with another bloke makes you gay, then I’m gay.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>It’s a pity about the children – that’s the only thing. And we don’t know what we can do about it. We never meant to abandon them, it’s just that everything came out and that was it – they were gone. It’s not even as though we’re, like, in love, romantically. Yes, we want to sleep together. But we didn’t want to abandon our kids and break up our families, and that’s what happened. You can see for yourself. I don’t want to even talk about the scenes our wives made, how everyone was crying, and my wife stood there with the children and told them their dad was a pervert and described in detail why that was the case. I was ready to kill the bitch, and not even because she was lying to them, but did she have to traumatise them like that? And Seryoga’s wife kept shouting that he had more or less dreamed all his life about raping his son. So we had that shit to deal with as well. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> But now, I’m closer to Valera than to anyone. We’re not all sop<span>py and romantic about each other – we’re too old for that sort of thing. But I love him. What’s not to love? He’s my family. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><strong><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/farm.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></strong></p><p class="image-caption">Photo: Flickr / Alexander Kuznetsov</p><p><strong>V</strong> You know, if anyone had told me this would happen, I’d have beaten his fucking face in. But here we are. And the village? The village has accepted it. Well, when I say that... If you mean, does anybody say nasty things about us – there hasn’t been anything like that. But then, this is a dead village, there’s nobody here but pensioners. The old dears found it a bit weird, of course: they huffed and puffed and wagged their fingers at us, ‘What’s going on, Valerka, it seems you’re living together as husband and wife?’ But they soon go used to it – ‘well, what’s the harm, you’ve had your kids, that’s what matters for us women – children, grandchildren and so on.’ In other words, we’d done our duty, so we could be forgiven for our fucking. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> At the time, in the heat of the moment, it was hell on wheels, with my wife running round the village in hysterics. But then it all died down. People here have enough problems – a sick cow, kids not coming to visit, pensions not paid, everything’s getting dearer. They can’t spend their lives huffing and puffing at us. </p> <blockquote><p><em>'The old dears found it a bit weird, of course: they huffed and puffed and wagged their fingers at us. But they soon go used to it...' </em></p></blockquote> <p><strong>V </strong>Basically, no one gives a fuck now. We can handle the other blokes at work. They asked, of course, ‘What the fuck have you been up to, lads?’ But we said we weren’t going to discuss it with anybody –it was none of their damned business. And if there’s any trouble, we can give as good as we get. No one’s been hanging around in doorways waiting to beat us up. And if they did – well, look at us, we’re not exactly wimps. </p> <p><strong>S</strong> We weren’t even worried about stuff at work. Our boss has his own problems. There’s one tractor for the whole collective farm; it’s autumn, but there’s no digger to dig up the potatoes. And the guys at district headquarters are doing his head in. So he doesn’t give a shit about anything anymore. My wife, when she was rushing around, she went to see him as well, asked him to do something – scare us, make us see sense. But what was it to him? It’s not my Katya who’ll get into trouble over the tractor. He’s a practical bloke, in other words. </p> <p><strong>V</strong> There was one other crazy old girl – whenever she saw us she’d cross herself and start yelling some prayer or other to the whole street. And it’s like any village here, the old dears all sit on their benches watching the world go by. And there she was screaming at the top of her voice, making an exhibition of herself. She’d always been a bit touched. She’s passed on now. We even dug her grave. No point in getting offended by her – she was a sick woman. But the best bit was that a priest came from town, to bless the house, he said. And you, he said, looking at us, need to go to church. God, he said, had left us, and started going on about Satan. I didn’t want to curse at him, but he was really pissing me off. Seryoga here is more laid back, but he got on my tits and I told him to fuck off. And I said that if he ever came back I would beat his face in. I don’t believe in God, and neither does Seryoga.&nbsp; </p> <p>I never had anything against gays – I would never slag them off or anything. Basically I don’t care who sleeps with who. If there’s violence involved, or people try to do it with children who are too young to understand, that’s different - I’d line them up and shoot them. And anyway, I don’t think I ever saw anybody gay. Sometimes kids come here to visit their grannies and you wouldn’t know from the back whether it’s a boy or a girl. They all look the same, all these tight jeans and weird colours. So now gays look more like girls, is that it? I can’t say I like it if a lad looks like a lass – that’s some kind of bollocks. But sex is about two people, right? What we get up to in the bedroom is my own business and nobody else’s.&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/gays-in-belarus-face-repr_0_n_2697873.html">'Gays in Belarus Face Reprisals for Activism'</a> by Yuras Karmanau, <span class="bold color_1A1A1A">February 15, 2013, Associated Press. </span></p><p><a href="http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/03/26/russia_gay_cruising_moscow_fiks">'Gay in the USSR'</a> by Nora FitzGerald, May 26, 2013, <em>Foreign Policy</em>. </p><p><span class="bold color_1A1A1A"><br /></span></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-fanailova/sexually-liberated-or-just-badly-brought-up">Sexually liberated, or just badly brought up?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kathryn-dovey/russia-enshrining-homophobia">Russia: enshrining homophobia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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 class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/valerie-hopkins/lgbt-violence-in-balkans">LGBT violence in the Balkans</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"> Belarus </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Belarus Alyona Soiko Queer Russia Letters from the Russian provinces Colta.ru Human rights Mon, 17 Jun 2013 15:26:19 +0000 Alyona Soiko 73273 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Prison or presidency for 'Russia’s Kennedy'? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/prison-or-presidency-for-russia%E2%80%99s-kennedy <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/demotix:anton belitsky.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Charismatic opposition leader Aleksey Navalny is on trial in the provincial capital of Kirov, 900km from Moscow. He is controversially accused of stealing timber worth 16 million roubles in 2009; if found guilty, he will spend his next few years behind bars. Local journalist Ekaterina Loushnikova met some of his supporters and opponents.</p> </div> </div> </div> <h2><strong>Dictates of the heart</strong></h2> <p class="p1">‘Putin — thief!’</p> <p class="p2">As deafening as the first thunder in May, the simple chant carries from a crowd gathered by the old courthouse. Back in the 19<sup>th</sup> century, this was the residence of the Kirov governors, and Tsar Alexander II stayed here. Now the building is the venue for the controversial trial of Aleksey Navalny, who very recently announced his intention of becoming president of Russia.</p> <p class="p1">Kirov has for the last few weeks witnessed an unfamiliar parade, with journalists from across the whole world — 200 TV, radio, internet and print media companies — descending on the city. To get into the court on the first day, they had to start queuing the night before, writing their number in the queue on scraps of paper or their own palms. The court has only 60 places, so it was the fortunate few that actually managed to get in, using their bodies, tripods and TV camera equipment to push their way through to the door. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The rest had to content themselves with interviewing supporters and opponents of the accused. The demonstrators had set up a noisy, brightly coloured camp along both sides of Spasskaya street, the banners of the opposing groups making it look like two armies about to go into battle. Everyone, indeed, was ‘armed’ with whatever he/she could find – posters, placards and other kinds of propaganda. Opponents of Navalny from the little known organization ‘Right Track’ even brought a log and a saw, a colourful demonstration of the supposed <a href="http://en.rian.ru/russia/20130416/180673423.html">Kirovles</a> carve-up.</p> <p class="p1">‘Do you really believe that Navalny stole the timber?’ I asked a young man with a tattoo on his left hand, a possible hint that he had recently been in prison.</p> <p class="p1">‘Of course!’ said the young man without hesitation. ‘For the money he stole you could have repaired 5 km of road and built 30 hockey pitches. He didn’t only steal the timber, he betrayed his country. Navalny is an American spy, trying to impose American values on Russian people, but we are a spiritual people and for us money is not the most important thing.’</p> <p class="p1">‘How much were you paid to come here, if it’s not a secret?’</p> <p class="p1">‘Nothing at all!&nbsp; I am following the dictates of my heart!’ The young man was deeply offended by my suggestion and hurried back to his mates in ‘Right Track.’ There weren’t many more like him: a little man with a flag, a broad-shouldered lad with a poster, a fair boy lazily sawing the log and a few other unimpressive characters.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <iframe style="border:none" src="http://files.photosnack.com/iframejs/embed.html?hash=pdcm0ph1&t=1369471895" width="460" height="252" allowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" webkitallowfullscreen="true" ></iframe><h2><strong>Ivan – a son of Russia</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Navalny’s supporters outnumbered his opponents, and were much more active. Over 100 people had come from Moscow, Petersburg, the Urals and the Volga region to support him on the first day of his trial, though their ranks rather thinned out after that, leaving only the most devoted and hardy. I noticed an elderly man with a poster declaring ‘Kirov is not Golgotha — we won’t allow the crucifixion of mind, honour and conscience!’ He stood in the street opposite the courthouse on every day of the trial, from early morning until the evening, like a sentry on guard.</p> <p class="p1">‘Ivan, a son of Russia,’ he introduced himself. ‘I’ve come from Moscow: I was born here but have lived in Moscow for many years.’</p> <p class="p1">‘So Ivan, son of Russia, has come to stand up for Aleksey, son of Russia?’</p> <p class="p1">‘That’s it, for our Alyosha [Rn affectionate diminutive] who is honest and incorruptible.’</p> <p class="p1">‘Don’t you get tired standing here all day?’</p> <p class="p1">‘I’ll stand for a month if I have to.&nbsp; Many people come to talk to me and I tell them that an innocent man is on trial for political reasons.’</p> <h2><strong>‘Navalny — is he a writer?’ &nbsp;</strong></h2> <p class="p2">On the first day not everyone in Kirov knew who Navalny was.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">‘I’m not interested in politics.&nbsp; I’m a student and I’m late for a lecture,’ said a young girl with pigtails, obviously taken aback by my question.</p> <p class="p2">‘He’s probably a writer, perhaps a poet, but I don’t know…’ an educated man in glasses was frowning as he tried to remember.&nbsp; ‘What did he write?&nbsp; A thriller?’</p> <p class="p2">‘He’s a sportsman, a boxer,’ said a young athletic-looking man confidently, his biceps and triceps bulging, ‘a world sports star.’</p> <p class="p1">‘I did hear something on the TV,’ mumbled a toothless old lady with a shopping bag containing a white loaf, kefir, potatoes and a packet of toffees. ‘I think he stole some timber. If that’s so, then he’ll go to prison.&nbsp; I’ve been alive 80 years and never stolen anything.&nbsp; In our day the punishments were much stricter: a handful of grain would get you 15 years and if you were late for work, you’d get 10.&nbsp; The rules should be strict – Stalin was right.’</p> <p class="p2">The old woman’s voice shook with admiration and indignation.</p> <h2><strong>Stalin’s gone to Denmark</strong></h2> <p class="p2">As it happens, I spent some time in the office of the Kirov communists with a Danish journalist.&nbsp; He was genuinely amazed at the local communists’ ardent love for Stalin: there was a portrait of him on the front of the Communist Party building, portraits on the wall, calendars, postcards and teeshirts.</p> <p class="p2">‘How can you love Stalin so much?&nbsp; He did away with millions of people during the Great Terror.’</p> <p class="p1">An elderly communist with a bald patch decides to answer the journalist’s question condescendingly, as if he was sharing basic truths with a child. ‘Well, for one thing that was state policy, and it was necessary so Russia could be transformed from a peasant country into an industrial power. It was to neutralise the socially dangerous elements in society – the bourgeoisie, the rich peasants, the nobility, officer class and others.&nbsp; And anyway it was nothing like 50 million people, that figure was simply fabricated by the corrupt liberals like Governor Belykh and his adviser Aleksey Navalny. It was only 3 million, and this is backed up by NKVD [secret police] documents.’</p> <p class="p1">‘Did Navalny really steal the timber?’ asked the Danish journalist, anxious to steer the conversation into slightly calmer waters.</p> <p class="p1">‘They’re all crooks,’ offered Aleksey Votinsev, a young communist leader, in support of his elderly comrade. ‘Two of Nikita Belykh’s advisers are already in prison for crimes relating to Kirovles and Arzamastsev, the head of the property department, is on the Interpol wanted list, so Navalny is the fourth adviser to be accused of criminal activity.&nbsp; The liberals are no better than “United Russia” – they’re all crooks and thieves and we’re against them all, because the communists are for the people!&nbsp; Navalny will go to jail if he’s guilty – so what?&nbsp; He’ll be nearer the people that way.’</p> <p class="p1">The Danish journalist was given a volume of Comrade Stalin’s writings as a farewell present. It was a gift he couldn’t refuse and now Stalin has gone to Denmark.</p> <h2><strong>An ineffectual manager</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Other views were expressed in the office of the socialist party, ‘Just Russia’.&nbsp; Here portraits of the party leader <a href="http://www.geopolitical-info.com/en/article/russia-presidential-election-sergei-mironov-an-independent-who-once-managed-putin">Sergei Mironov</a> graced the walls: he is surrounded by the people and the leader of the local regional division of the party Duma deputy Sergei Doronin, both in white overalls at a pig farm.&nbsp; The socialist deputy owned a large agro-holding called ‘Absolute-agro.’</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>‘You can’t imagine how easy it is in Russia to get rid of someone who becomes inconvenient.&nbsp; Prosecutors, the police, civil servants and “United Russia” party officials - they’re all in it together’ Sergei Doronin, Just Russia party</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">‘I know Navalny.&nbsp; He visited our pig farm complex.&nbsp; He’s a good lad. Nikita Belykh entrusted him with the modernisation of the Kirovles enterprise.&nbsp; He was to put the sales in order so that the revenue went into the regional budget, rather than people’s pockets.&nbsp; But the forestry managers effectively refused to cooperate with the new working conditions and the reform failed. Navalny is probably not a good manager and he didn’t take account of the local conditions or the way people work, but he’s no thief.&nbsp; You can’t imagine how easy it is in Russia to get rid of someone who becomes inconvenient.&nbsp; Prosecutors, the police, civil servants and “United Russia” party officials - they’re all in it together. The real judge in this trial is not Sergey Blinov, but someone quite different….You know who I mean?’ The deputy looked meaningfully at the portrait of Vladimir Putin.</p> <p class="p2"><strong>The case of the minced meat</strong></p> <p class="p2">Judge Sergey Blinov conducts the case calmly and in a businesslike manner, as if trying a presidential candidate was as commonplace for him as washing his hands before a meal. But until recently Judge Blinov was dealing with cases of a very different kind. In the local town of Kumena, for example, a man had stolen 5 kgs of mince, 1 kg of herring and 8 eggs out of his neighbour’s fridge. Judge Blinov convicted the offender, but he was given a suspended sentence as he had pleaded guilty and cooperated with the investigating officer. What will happen to Navalny who didn’t want to cooperate or to plead guilty to stealing timber?&nbsp; Will the judicial meat grinder not make mincemeat of him?</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>‘36 forestry managers have been called as witnesses for the prosecution.&nbsp; By some strange coincidence they all seem to have suffered from partial or total amnesia.’</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">36 forestry managers from far-distant districts of the Kirov oblast have been called as witnesses for the prosecution.&nbsp; By some strange coincidence they all seem to have suffered from partial or total amnesia.</p> <p class="p1">‘Winess, do you remember what prices you were offered for the timber when you worked with the Kirov Timber Company?’ asks Judge Blinov.</p> <p class="p1">‘No, your honour, I’ve forgotten!’ the witness smiles nervously, rubbing his huge hands together. The forester had clearly never been in a courtroom before and, in his embarrassment, had no idea how to behave. People in gowns or the blue uniform of the prosecutors made him uncomfortable, because he’s much more used to dealing with logs and planks.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">‘Your honour, the prosecution requests permission to read the witness his statement, as he has partially forgotten what he said.’</p> <p class="p1">Each time the judge allows the request, despite protests from the defence.</p> <h2><strong>Two comrades</strong></h2> <p class="p1">On the 9<sup>th</sup> day of the trial Governor Nikita Belykh is called as a witness. He has recently returned from an official visit to China to attend the trial of his former adviser and comrade in opposition. Judge Blinov is obviously uncomfortable at having to interrogate the head of the Kirov oblast.</p> <p class="p1">‘You may refuse to give evidence against yourself or close relatives and you are entitled to ask for an interpreter.’</p> <p class="p1">A smile plays on the govenor’s lips – the smile of an experienced spectator who knows exactly what the outcome of this comedy will be.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">‘What was Aleksey Navalny’s official position in the government of the Kirov oblast?’ the prosecutor asks.</p> <p class="p1">‘He had no official position: he acted as my adviser on a <em>pro bono</em> basis.&nbsp; He was offered a position, but refused it.’</p> <p class="p1">‘Could he give orders to civil servants?’</p> <p class="p1">‘No, this was not in his remit.’</p> <p class="p1">‘Tell us about the state of Kirovles in 2009, please.’</p> <p class="p1">‘It was a loss-making enterprise with very considerable debts and in need of restructuring. The reforms were not Mr Navalny’s idea, because everyone knew how things stood.’</p> <p class="p1">Mr Navalny himself intervenes. ‘Did the director of Kirovles or any of its employees every complain to you that I was forcing them to sell timber at less than market value?’</p> <p class="p1">‘I received no such complaints.’</p> <p class="p1">‘But they could have complained?&nbsp; By requesting a meeting with you, for instance.’</p> <p class="p1">‘Of course they could.’</p> <p class="p1">The lawyer then asks ‘Do you consider that Navalny’s actions damaged the economy of the Kirov oblast?’</p> <p class="p1">‘I have no such information. I know that the Property Department is considered an injured party in this case, but I don’t know what expert analysis has been carried out or why this conclusion was reached. To do that I would have to read the case files and this is not one of my hobbies.’</p> <p class="p1">After the interrogation, Nikita Belykh hurriedly left the courtroom.&nbsp; The journalists followed him like hunters after game, but failed to catch up with him. He obviously had no wish to speak to the press. He got into his car and was driven away. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The prisoner</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Governor Belykh’s former adviser, Andrei Votinov, was brought to the courthouse in special prison transport and with a police escort. He looked shrunken and downhearted. The badge on his prison uniform gave the number of his brigade in the open prison at Omutninsk.&nbsp; Votinov was charged with crimes in the Kirovles case and found guilty a year ago.&nbsp; He was accused of extorting 10 million roubles from the Kirovles director, Vyacheslav Opalev.</p> <p class="p1">Opalev is a man of unremarkable appearance, simple and not very articulate, but in the Kirov forests he became a figure that only be described as demonic. To judge by the Kirovles case files, all the governor’s advisers extorted money from him, bribed him and induced him to take part in their criminal plots.</p> <p class="p1">‘Your honour, Vyacheslav Opalev is dishonest and disreputable,’ says prisoner Votinov, a touch nervously.&nbsp; He looks scared inside the ‘cage’ he inhabits in the courtroom. ‘Opalev supported the reforms in the timber industry in word only. All the time he would do his best to put a stop to them, as they represented for him the threat of losing both his job and his income. He knew of the plan to sack him and appoint me in his place.&nbsp; And, by the way, the charge sheet in my case was based solely on Opalev’s evidence, but his evidence was false. I consider that if Opalev is called as a witness for the prosecution in this case, he could mislead the court. I respectfully request permission to read out a statement.’</p> <p class="p1">The respectful request was refused on the grounds that it had no direct bearing on the Navalny case.&nbsp; The former adviser didn’t argue.&nbsp; A few months of prison had wraught very considerable changes in him: the formerly cheerful and confident young man has become a haunted, obedient prisoner, used to answering ‘Yes, sir!’&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>‘Are you afraid of a Russian prison?’</em></strong></p><p class="p1"><strong><em>‘Good question!&nbsp; Next!’</em></strong></p><p class="p1"><strong><em>‘Do you really want to become president?’</em></strong></p><p class="p2"><strong><em>Navalny gives me a look which is difficult to describe in words.</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Could this possibly be the future for the opposition leader Aleksey Navalny?</p> <p class="p1">‘I have no doubt that I shall be found guilty,’ said Navalny to the journalists in the lobby of the courthouse during a break in proceedings. ‘What will be interesting is whether I get a suspended sentence or not.’</p> <p class="p1">‘Are you afraid of a Russian prison?’</p> <p class="p2">‘Good question!&nbsp; Next!’</p> <p class="p1">‘Do you really want to become president?’</p> <p class="p1">Navalny gives me a look which is difficult to describe in words.</p> <h2><strong>The Russian Kennedy</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Every day, after many exhausting hours in the courtroom, Navalny has unplanned meetings with people who have been waiting for him in the square outside.&nbsp; There was a rumour that Navalny would be able to help and some of them have brought him their problems from thousands of kilometres away.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">‘I’ve come from Saratov,’ an elderly man in a hat talks quickly and nervously.&nbsp; ‘My son has been put in prison, but I know he hasn’t done anything.&nbsp; The police beat him up, so he pleaded guilty to a crime he didn’t commit. I hope Aleksey will be able to help.&nbsp; After all, he’s in a similar situation.’</p> <p class="p2">‘God help Alyosha,’ sighs an old lady in a headscarf.&nbsp; ‘What can I do?&nbsp; I’m no one.’</p> <p class="p1">‘Now, now, granny, you mustn’t talk like that.&nbsp; You’re a Russian citizen!’ Navalny supporters chide the old lady.</p> <p class="p1">I think Aleksey Navalny would look very good as president of Russia.&nbsp; He’s tall, clever, clear-eyed and clearly a hit with the ladies.&nbsp; He could be the Russian Kennedy.&nbsp; Let’s just hope he doesn’t get himself killed.</p> <p class="p2">But can the reform of the Russian state be entrusted to someone who couldn’t reform the Kirovles company?&nbsp; That question is harder to answer.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2">&nbsp;</p><p class="p2">THUMBNAIL PHOTO: DEMOTIX/ANTON BELITSKIY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED</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/mikhail-loginov/navalny-effect">The Navalny effect</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexei-navalny-boris-akunin/akunin-navalny-interviews-part-i">The Akunin-Navalny interviews (part I)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniil-kotsyubinsky/is-alexei-navalny-sent-to-spoil-democratic-party">Is Alexei Navalny sent to spoil the democratic party?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nicu-popescu/elixir-of-life-or-toxic-poison-russias-liberal-nationalist-cocktail">Russia&#039;s liberal-nationalist cocktail: elixir of life or toxic poison? </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> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Ekaterina Loushnikova Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Navalny Justice Internal Human rights Sat, 25 May 2013 08:50:16 +0000 Ekaterina Loushnikova 72901 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ulyanovsk: no homes for heroes, but plenty of money for an art prize https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergei-gogin/ulyanovsk-no-homes-for-heroes-but-plenty-of-money-for-art-prize <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/medv veteran 2.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Many aging Russian WWII veterans live in appalling conditions, and some die before they can cash a government rehousing grant. By law, families should inherit the money, but some regions deny them it. In Sergei Gogin’s native Ulyanovsk, authorities seem to prefer spending the money on vanity projects abroad.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Back in 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the Russian government spared a thought for war veterans and their widows, and they were promised comfortable homes or money to buy them. Immediately, suspicions arose that officials would drag their heels and sabotage this programme; given that more old soldiers die off every year, delays could mean budget savings. TV reports showed veterans living in semi-derelict shacks that the local authorities claimed were perfectly habitable. </p> <h2><strong>Homes fit for heroes?</strong></h2> <p>In 2011, just before the 9th May <a href="http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/russia/victory-day">Victory Day</a> celebrations, the story of Vasily Zasorin from the Voronezh region hit the screens. The almost blind, 87 year old veteran had lived for 50 years in a crumbling house without running water, plumbing, gas or central heating. A committee from the district council had inspected his leaking ceiling and broken stove and declared it fit for habitation. Before Victory Day, the local authority decided to award Zasorin 1000 roubles (&pound;20). He threw out the officials who brought him the money, packed up his military decorations (two orders of merit and 15 medals) and posted them to Vladimir Putin in Moscow along with a letter in which he had written, &lsquo;We defeated the Fascists, but we haven&rsquo;t been able to defeat our own bureaucrats, who treat veterans worse than our enemies&rsquo;.&nbsp; </p> <p><em>Vasily Zasorin, an almost blind 87 year old veteran, had lived for 50 years in a crumbling house without running water, plumbing, gas or central heating. A committee from the district council had inspected his leaking ceiling and broken stove and declared it fit for habitation.</em></p> <p>Many war veterans are still waiting for their promised housing, and many others have died waiting. In some regions local officials and judges also refuse to recognise a housing certificate, entitling the holder to a flat or a cash grant, as part of a dead person&rsquo;s estate, and this has developed into a separate problem. Certain austerity minded local councils even recall grants from the deceased&rsquo;s bank account, on the basis of &lsquo;no person - no problem&rsquo;. Take for instance this story from the city of Ulyanovsk, 900km from Moscow in the central Volga area. </p> <p>Anna Zabavnina, the widow of a WW2 veteran, died in July 2010 at the age of 83, four days before she was due to receive a certificate entitling her to 806,000 roubles (&pound;16,000) to buy herself a flat. And even had she lived, she would not have been able to collect it herself, since she had been bedridden for three years, cared for by her son Yury, with whom she lived in a 9 m2 bedsitter without hot water. </p> <p>After a presidential directive in 2008, designed to speed up the provision of improved accommodation for war veterans, Anna was recognised as eligible for a housing grant. The local social services department then started hassling the Zabavnins to find somewhere to buy, since the money could only be released after a property had been bought. They found a one roomed flat that would be affordable if they sold their room, and meanwhile borrowed 100,000 roubles for the deposit. Yury, under power of attorney, looked after all the paperwork, and also collected the certificate after his mother&rsquo;s death, convinced that he was entitled to it as her legal heir. But he was mistaken. </p> <p>In the Ulyanovsk region there are two or three cases like this each year, where a WW2 veteran or his widow dies before their money comes through, and their heirs find they are not entitled to it (even though the law permits the inheritance of property rights). &lsquo;I&rsquo;ve found so many people like us on the internet&rsquo;, says Yury&rsquo;s wife Galina. &lsquo;Here&rsquo;s someone writing, &ldquo;The old lady&rsquo;s lying in her coffin, and the social services are at the door, asking for the certificate back&rdquo;.&rsquo;</p> <h2><strong>So what does the law say?</strong></h2> <p>By making this ruling, the Ulyanovsk regional council may well be exceeding its powers. At any rate, several central ministries (Regional Development, Justice and Health and Social Development) have come out in favour of allowing such housing grants to be inherited. Even former president Dmitry Medvedev says that this penny pinching attitude isn&rsquo;t right. At a press conference in May 2011 he spoke about his decision to provide housing for the old soldiers: &lsquo;People warned me off, saying &ldquo;Why are you doing this? There aren&rsquo;t many WW2 veterans left anyway, and it won&rsquo;t be them that benefit. They&rsquo;ll all be dead soon, and then their families will get it.&rdquo; To me these comments are wrong, they&rsquo;re immoral. In the first place, the government needs to recognise what these people who fought in the war did for us, and in the second, even if they don&rsquo;t live long enough to enjoy a new home themselves, they will be happy that they have something to leave their children and grandchildren.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><p class="image-caption"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/medv%20veteran%202.jpg" alt="" width="460" />Dmitry Medvedev might support the idea of WWII veterans' families inheriting state grants, but his warm words do not always chime with local practice. Photo: (cc) Wikimedia/Mikhail Klimentyev </p> <p><em>&lsquo;I&rsquo;ve found so many people like us on the internet&rsquo;, says Yury&rsquo;s wife Galina. &lsquo;Here&rsquo;s someone writing, &ldquo;The old lady&rsquo;s lying in her coffin, and the social services are at the door, asking for the certificate back&rdquo;.&rsquo;</em></p> <p>Galina, Yury Zabavnin&rsquo;s wife, points out that the decision to award her mother-in-law a housing grant was taken on 10th June 2010, and by law they should have received the official certificate within 10 days. But it was delayed for six weeks because the local authority wanted to put on a show for the TV cameras, where a whole group of veterans and widows would be presented with their certificates. &lsquo;Meanwhile, she passed away. If it had all been done in time she might have lived longer. It was a hot summer; it was stifling in her room. When we went to social services we were treated like dirt: &ldquo;Who are you? What right did you have to collect the certificate? You should have told us she&rsquo;d died. The old girl&rsquo;s dead and now you want something more.&rdquo; We turned round and left.&rsquo; </p> <p class="pullquote-right"><em>&lsquo;In the first place, The government needs to recognise what these people who fought in the war did for us, and in the second, even if they don&rsquo;t live long enough to enjoy a new home themselves, they will be happy that they have something to leave their children and grandchildren.&rsquo;&nbsp; </em><em>Dmitry Medvedev&nbsp; </em></p> <p>Yury Zabavnin took the matter to his local court, but lost his case on the grounds that the certificate was made out to a named person and couldn&rsquo;t be transferred to someone else. He appealed to the regional court, which upheld the decision, as did the Supreme Court later. Legal rights consultant Georgy Chabanov has however advised Yury and Galina to continue to pursue their case through the courts on the grounds that the Ulyanovsk authority&rsquo;s ruling is unlawful. </p> <p>Judicial practice on the question of inheritance of social welfare grants does indeed vary across Russia. A regional court in Kostroma, in a similar appeal case, ruled that &lsquo;the right of the deceased to receive and use a grant arose while he or she was alive.&rsquo; This is a much more logical interpretation of the law. Courts in the Krasnodar and Samara regions have also ruled in favour of families. In Krasnodar the money is first deposited in the recipient&rsquo;s bank account and then inherited by his or her heirs, but in Samara the ruling states plainly that &lsquo;In the case of the recipient&rsquo;s decease, the grant is transferred to his or her family in accordance with the Civil Code&rsquo;. Regional bureaucracies, in other words, vary in their generosity or miserliness when dispensing funds from the federal budget. Why Ulyanovsk is so stingy is unclear, especially since the money has been ring fenced by central government, but perhaps it wants to win brownie points from Moscow for its thriftiness. </p> <h2><strong>Money for art, but not for housing</strong></h2> <p>Apart from the legal question here, there is also an ethical one. Last year there were 3.4 million people alive in Russia who had fought in WW2. 2011 saw the death of 136,000 veterans, and in the coming years the number will go on dropping by hundreds of thousands annually. According to the regional Ministry of Social Development, in 2012 all Ulyanovsk veterans and widows identified as needing re-housing had been awarded, and presumably received, it. It has now been announced, however, that in 2013 the city will receive another 480m roubles, to house yet another 480 old soldiers. Which makes it even more inexplicable why its council is meaner than those in other regions. </p> <p>Certainly it doesn&rsquo;t skimp on cash when it comes to its own image. For example, on 22nd January the London gallery of MacDougall&rsquo;s auction house launched the <a href="http://www.macdougallauction.com/exhibitions.asp">International Arkady Plastov Fine Art Award</a>, named in honour of the renowned Soviet realist artist who was born in the Ulyanovsk region 120 years ago. The 20m rouble (&pound;400,000) award, the richest art prize in the world, is intended to promote and support figurative art and artists. At least half the prize money will come from the regional government, which has angered its critics, who feel that a region in receipt of central government subsidies shouldn&rsquo;t be squandering cash on this kind of thing, especially without even seeking the agreement of the local parliament.&nbsp; </p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p>Thumbnail: (cc) Flickr/alubavin</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oksana-zagrebnyeva/volgograd-what%E2%80%99s-in-name">Volgograd: what’s in a name?</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 human rights russia veterans housing Sergei Gogin Letters from the Russian provinces Justice Internal Thu, 21 Feb 2013 16:11:41 +0000 Sergei Gogin 71105 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Winter in Russia: cold indoors as well as out https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/winter-in-russia-cold-indoors-as-well-as-out <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/khrushevka.jpeg" alt="" width="160" />Most radiators in urban Russian homes are fed by hot water transported from heating plants miles away. Ageing pipes frequently burst, causing hardship and even fatalities. Could a return to an older form of heating be the answer? Mikhail Loginov reports from one small town in the provinces.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">Each year, as winter brings frost and snow to Russia, the same thing happens. At every crossroads columns of steam rise, rather like those in photos of volcanoes in Iceland or Kamchatka. But this pretty picture, caused by leaks in pipelines carrying hot water from centralised power stations, is the sign of a real problem. Ten, twenty, perhaps even two hundred flats have been left without heating and their occupants are going to bed in their outdoor clothes to avoid freezing during the night.&nbsp; Sometimes a problem turns into a tragedy: boiling water escaping from a pipe washes away the road and a car or pedestrian falls into the hole.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The emergency services rush to the spot. Officials assure local residents that they will have their heating back in an hour (in fact it will be a day, or possibly two or three). The officials also promise their bosses that none of this will happen next winter. But come the next heating season, clouds of steam will once more rise and a number of Russian citizens will fall to their deaths in holes full of boiling water.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Two thermometers</strong></h3> <p class="p1">Tatyana Serova is looking at two thermometers: one hangs outside the window and shows the exterior temperature, the other is on a wall in her flat. At the moment they show the same figure: outside, it is -12% centigrade, inside it is +12%. Tatyana touches the cold radiator in her kitchen and realises that the reading on the outside thermometer is not going to change, but the one on the inside will soon fall.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><em>'The hot water pipeline was laid almost half a century ago. It was supposed to be replaced back in the 80s, but wasn&rsquo;t. It bursts once a month, and each time five or ten residential blocks are left without heating.' &nbsp;&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p1">Tatyana lives in Pervomaisk, an industrial town of some 10,000 inhabitants. She has the bad luck to live in a district dominated by a machine-tool plant that barely survived the 90s and finally went bust in the middle of the next decade. She used to work at the plant, but is now retired. Apart from memories of working there, she is still connected to the plant by the fact that her block, along with 150 others in the district, gets its heating from the machine plant&rsquo;s boiler house. This was handed over to the town administration after the plant shut, but the management company still charges more for its heating services than those in other districts.</p> <p class="p1">And this is not the only problem. The hot water pipeline was laid almost half a century ago. It was supposed to be replaced back in the 80s, but wasn&rsquo;t. It bursts once a month, and each time five or ten residential blocks are left without heating. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/map_9.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="p1">Tatyana&rsquo;s flat is draught proofed: all the gaps in the old wooden window frames have been taped up. But after two days the temperature has nonetheless fallen to 7- 8%. Tatyana and her daughter Yelena will cope with the cold, but Yelena&rsquo;s six year old son Kolya also lives here, and his grandmother slips a bottle filled with hot water into his bed from time to time. The women prefer to stay in the kitchen; there&rsquo;s a gas cooker so it&rsquo;s warmer.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Suddenly the lights go out. There has been a power cut on their whole staircase because people in three of the flats have electric fires on at the same time.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>From the stove to the boiler house</strong></h3> <p class="p1">For many centuries Russian towns were heated by wood. Peasant houses had one large stove, and the many-roomed houses of the rich a number of European-style stoves, supposedly built on the Dutch model. Village houses had a single chimney; town houses, several.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/khrushevka.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Post-war Khruschevki are a common feature of the Russian urban landscape. Put up in a short space of time, the five-storey blocks solved an acute housing shortage, but they were not always particularly well insulated.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Russians have never skimped on fuel: foreign visitors always remarked on how hot Russian homes were compared to European and English ones. The vast forests of Northern Russia meant cheap firewood. Even in the second half of the 19th century, when both Moscow and St Petersburg had populations of over a million, the price of firewood was still relatively low, thanks to the railways.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><em>'Russians have two main complaints about central heating. One: the heating season starts too late in the autumn. Two: it ends too late in the spring. But if a hot flat in April is still bearable, a cold one in autumn and winter is another matter entirely.'&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p1">The post-revolutionary Socialist government accelerated the urbanisation of Russia. Many villages became industrial towns, their populations expanding ten or fifteen-fold, or more. The population of existing towns also grew rapidly. In Stalin&rsquo;s time, people moving from the countryside to town usually lived hugger-mugger in wooden barracks heated by ten or so stoves, but the 60s saw the beginning of a new type of housing, the five story blocks of flats that were popularly known as &lsquo;Khrushchevki&rsquo; (a play on the name of the Soviet leader of the time). The new housing estates and entire districts that sprang up in towns and cities all over the country were no longer heated by stoves, but by radiators, usually steam-heated. In some places an industrial heating plant would heat a whole district or even an entire small town.&nbsp; If there was no suitable industry a giant municipal heating plant would be built, capable of heating several districts.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Thermal insulation was not great. Pipes burst even in Soviet times, and people complained that the radiators weren&rsquo;t hot enough. But in the 60s natural gas from Siberia began to replace other fuels in heating plants in the European part of Russia, and the problem of heat loss over long distances remained sidelined.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Russians have two main complaints about central heating. One: the heating season starts too late in the autumn. Two: it ends too late in the spring. But if a hot flat in April is still bearable, a cold one in autumn and winter is another matter entirely.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Heroes and reforms</strong></h3> <p class="p1">The economic reforms that began in the 1990s didn&rsquo;t immediately impact on housing services and utilities. Prices for heating and hot water rose more slowly than those for electricity. And even if now and then electricity suppliers would cut off individual flats or even whole blocks, and even if over half the occupants of a staircase hadn&rsquo;t paid their electricity bills, at least you were still warm. There was just the odd problem with heating, and the Law was always on the side of the punters. Between November and the end of March the temperature in many Russian towns and cities drops to -25%C or even -35%C for a week or more at a time, so a week without heating would mean literally freezing flats and deaths among their residents.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><em>'Current Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu shot to fame in the 90s when, as Minister for Emergency Situations, he saved the inhabitants of several northern towns by flying in diesel powered iron stoves and emergency generators.'</em></p> <p class="p1">The infrastructure for transporting the heated water was, however, practically never repaired, and pipes frequently burst. And even if no one fell to their death in a hole full of boiling water, an incident like this could potentially be as dangerous as an earthquake or typhoon in other parts of the world. The Ministry for Emergency Situations (MChS) would airfreight diesel powered iron stoves and emergency generators into small towns, and current Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu shot to fame in the 90s when, as head of the MChS he saved the inhabitants of several northern towns. Such was his popularity that when the interregional &lsquo;Unity&rsquo; movement was created in the mid 90s, his name was top of its electoral candidates&rsquo; list.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Shoigu is not the only politician to have gained support by saving voters from the big freeze. In the run up to local elections, the Mayor&rsquo;s staff in many a northern Russian town would regale the populace with the dramatic tale of how just before New Year, with the temperature at -40%, a heating water pipe had burst. The hero of the hour, the Mayor, had literally dragged the maintenance team from their festive dinner tables and already opened vodka bottles. He then spent days and nights at the incident site and did not leave until the repair work was completed.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">In fact people living in the far north of Russia suffer less from freezing flats than those in the central or southern zone. Up near the Arctic Circle the cold is taken seriously; the heating season starts early, the pipes are checked beforehand and leaks are repaired pretty speedily.</p> <h3><strong>It&rsquo;s a pity there are no elections coming up! &nbsp;</strong></h3> <p class="p1">Tatyana and her neighbours are less lucky. They don&rsquo;t live in the north, so the period when the main form of heating is a bottle filled with hot water can last several days.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">There is an impromptu demonstration happening on the landing. First a small crowd of older women like Tatyana knock on the door of a flat where they all suspect several electric heaters are in operation. The occupant swears at them through the door, but agrees to switch off the heaters for a while. The lights go back on.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Having sorted out their immediate problem, the women switch to slagging off the council. In December, prices for utilities went up by 5%, after an earlier increase of 4% in the summer. But the heating was turned on later than usual and many had really felt the cold. And now, with a real frost, what do they get? A pipe burst.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><em>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s a pity there are no elections coming up! There were three bursts in one block on Plekhanov Street. The residents wrote a letter to Putin&rsquo;s regional office threatening to vote for another party if it wasn&rsquo;t fixed. They got new pipes and new radiators as well.&rsquo;</em></p> <p class="p1">The residents have been phoning the management company offices for two days now, and have been assured that &lsquo;repair work is ongoing around the clock&rsquo;. But last night they went out to look at the site of the burst and saw no signs of work in progress, apart from a wooden fence around the hole.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;It&rsquo;s a pity there are no elections coming up!&rsquo; somebody says. &lsquo;There were three pipe bursts at one block of flats on Plekhanov Street. The residents wrote a collective letter to Putin&rsquo;s regional office (run by the &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; party regional organisation), threatening to vote for another party if it wasn&rsquo;t fixed. They got new pipes and new radiators as well, and now their flats are nice and warm.&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">The women decide to go to see the head of the district administration, but it turns out it&rsquo;s not one of his reception days. &lsquo;Maybe we could block off the street&rsquo;, someone suggests. &lsquo;That way we might get noticed.&rsquo; But another resident comes in off the street and says that the long-awaited repair work has finally begun, and the women go back to their cold flats, in the hope that they will soon be warm again.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Gazprom&rsquo;s scrap</strong></h3> <p class="p2"><span>The reason for these endless heating problems is not just the use of aging pipes that should have been replaced long ago, but also flagrant fraud. November 2012 saw the opening of the so-called &lsquo;pipe case&rsquo; in St Petersburg &ndash; the most serious criminal case to be brought in the housing services and utilities area. The former chair of the Energy Committee Oleg Trishkin is under arrest, and his predecessor is also on the wanted list. Three officials in all have been arrested and immediately sent to Moscow for further investigation, a very rare turn of events in regional corruption cases.&nbsp; The accusation against them is that over five years they installed low quality hot water pipes in St Petersburg. Instead of laying specialised pipes strengthened and insulated to avoid leaks and heat loss, they bought scrap pipes previously used by Gazprom for their gas pipelines, washed them, added some basic insulation and recycled them for central heating purposes. More than 600 kilometres of these substandard pipes were laid in the city.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p1">The swindlers were &lsquo;outed&rsquo; by their own shoddy structures. At the start of the 2012 heating season several pipes burst one after another. The criminals were arrested, but the pipes are still there, and their replacement would require several years of work and a lot of money which St Petersburg simply doesn&rsquo;t have.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>How about a nice iron stove?</strong></h3> <p class="p1">Aleksandr is the manager of a large business in St Petersburg. He is following the &lsquo;pipe case&rsquo; with interest, but has no worries about freezing if there is a burst. Last year he sold his three roomed flat in town and now lives in a private house in the suburbs. His new home is twice as large as the old one, but he has installed his own gas boiler and is spending less on heating than he did in St Petersburg. &lsquo;I can decide when to turn on the heating&rsquo;, he says, &lsquo;and I can regulate the temperature. I&rsquo;m not stealing fuel from myself.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><em>'Tatyana thinks it would be simpler to install a little stove, take the flue pipe out through the window and burn wood in it to heat her flat. Her neighbours point out that you can&rsquo;t just opt out of the central heating system. Even if you turn it off, the bills will keep coming.' &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p1">Not many Russians are keen to head out of town, but a lot would like to control their own heating, partly because of the high and unfair cost of utilities, not to mention the frequent pipe bursts. For Tatyana and her neighbours in their small town, where only the boiler house of the local factory is still in operation, a house like Aleksandr&rsquo;s is like something out of a fairy tale, not even to be dreamed of. But she has her own dream. She remembers her mother talking about a &lsquo;burzhuika&rsquo; - a small cast iron stove that heats up very quickly, although it cools down quickly too. Stoves like this were common in Russia before the advent of central heating and are still widely used in out of town dachas. Tatyana thinks that if heating prices keep going up and pipes go on bursting, it would be simpler to install a little stove, take the flue pipe out through the window and burn wood in it to heat her flat. Her neighbours and relatives are trying to put her off the idea, pointing out that you can&rsquo;t just opt out of the central heating system. Even if you turn it off, the bills will keep coming. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Burzhuika.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Before the advent of central heating, indivdual&nbsp;<span>Burzhuika iron stoves were a fixture in many Russian homes. Now people are once more electing to have some sort of heating device in their homes</span></p><p class="p1">Over the last few years new large housing complexes have started to be built with their own heating plants, and mini-plants serving just a few buildings are also appearing. The aim is to cut heat loss between boiler and consumer and to be independent of the energy monopolies. The electrical systems in new buildings also have a higher capacity, and in theory flats could be kept warm by electric heaters. In some flats it is already possible to adjust heating temperatures, which are generally very high by Western European standards.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">But such flats are still few and far between in Russia. Every spring town dwellers wilt in their overheated rooms, and every autumn they shiver with cold and carefully avoid places on the streets where clouds of steam can be seen rising.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3">&nbsp;</p><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> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Mikhail Loginov Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Health Wed, 16 Jan 2013 18:33:52 +0000 Mikhail Loginov 70409 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Orenburg 2013: ring out the old, ring in the new! https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-strelnikova/orenburg-2013-ring-out-old-ring-in-new <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 15.13.53.png" alt="" width="160" />Regional journalist Elena Strelnikova takes a wry look at some of the events of the departing year.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&lsquo;When I was a child, I remember waking up in the morning and smelling the pancakes my mother would make in the kitchen. The smell seemed to drift around for ever&hellip;and so did the time. No hurry to wake up, but Mum gets you up, you sit at the table and have breakfast. You&rsquo;re in no hurry and time creeps by. You&rsquo;re on your way to school, in no hurry because you&rsquo;d like it to be over as soon as possible, but time creeps by and the lessons drag on&hellip; 40, 30, 10 minutes. The only thing that goes by in a flash is the lunch break. You go slowly home, where homework drags on&hellip; </p><p>But when you&rsquo;re grown up, things are different. You go to bed, get up and it&rsquo;s New Year again. You do the same routine&hellip; and it&rsquo;s another New Year!&rsquo; </p><p> I heard this incredibly precise comparison of childhood and adulthood from the lips of the actor and director <a href="http://visualrian.ru/en/site/lightbox/2140/">Vladimir Grammatikov</a> and have to agree: that&rsquo;s just how it is!</p> <h3>Just don&rsquo;t mention politics!</h3> <p>This last year has been eventful for me. Last January I moved to a different editorial post, adding creative work to my administrative workload, and we&rsquo;re already drawing up lists of topics for the next year.</p> <p>The topics are fairly standard, because the interests of our provincial audience don&rsquo;t change much: family, health, education, and more family, then prices (which have reached the level of psychological absurdity for the average consumer), the housing system, and, finally, sport as a means to a healthy lifestyle. Not much politics; or what there is has to be moderate and in measured doses, because people are heartily sick of the subject. In Soviet times it was the main topic of conversation round the kitchen table, but today people prefer talking about social matters: what they&rsquo;ve bought, how much for, where they bought it, where they are intending to work/study and where they&rsquo;re going on holiday.</p><p>My husband is known to lose his rag over politics. I have actually begged him not to watch TV or read the clever newspapers before supper, and to give the news websites only a cursory glance. Nerve cells don&rsquo;t renew themselves, after all! He managed this for a while, but then we were off again: how much longer are they going to on lying to us? Dealing with corruption is a gala performance put on for the people. The authorities punish the thieves? Not likely!</p> <p>Family political debates are enlivened by the participation of our grandfather and aunt: &lsquo;That we should live to see this! People steal from the state budget, from the PRESIDENT for heavens&rsquo; sake, and all that happens is that they&rsquo;re not allowed to leave the country. Millions of roubles are leaking away and no one gives a damn. And yet there&rsquo;s no money left to pay our doctors and teachers.&rsquo; </p> <p>On the subject of doctors... this year our region has introduced a new programme called &lsquo;Country doctor&rsquo;. A doctor is given a million roubles [&pound;20,000, US$30,000] to buy somewhere to live as long as he takes up a post in the country, because there&rsquo;s a terrible shortage of rural doctors there. 183 candidates put their names forward for this programme: half of them simply moved from one district to another and the other half are graduates of the Orenburg Medical Academy. This means that of the 400 or so graduates, the number of people choosing to work as specialists can be counted in single figures. There weren&rsquo;t enough doctors in either the towns or the country, and there still aren&rsquo;t. </p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/big.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Orenburg local authorities have offered incentives to encourage doctors to work in under-served rural populations, but the low salaries available for doctors working in there continue to be a major obstacle (Photo: Georgii Milyanenko).</p> <p>Officials declare that doctors in country hospitals earn up to 40,000 roubles a month [&pound;800, US$1200]. That is, they can earn &ndash; but in such a case, they&rsquo;d have to be working in a district hospital and the doctor would probably have to do 3 jobs concurrently, i.e. being at work round the clock. Not long ago I got to know a young therapist who works in the country. She&rsquo;s a single mother with two children and she earns 7,000-8,000 roubles a month [&pound;140-&pound;160]. She bought her house with a loan of 1m roubles &ndash; in the city you can&rsquo;t buy a flat for that, but the salaries are still 7,000-8,000.</p> <h3>Elections, corruption, explosions and football</h3> <p>What else has happened in the past year? Well, we elected a president. In our region the election passed by almost imperceptibly: we all knew what the result would be, so it can&rsquo;t really be called an event of the year. On the other hand, no one expected that the battle with corruption would go as far as the Defence Ministry&rsquo;s golden toilets and the uniform our army wears. Then again, everyone realizes that this is simply another round of lies aimed at calming the people. Orenburgers are more concerned with the military testing grounds dotted around the oblast. </p> <p>In October the city was rocked by 3 explosions. Children were hurriedly evacuated from schools and kindergartens and the telephone at work was red hot. The authorities kept shtumm, but you couldn&rsquo;t get through to the Emergency Ministry on the phone and for half an hour the whole city of Orenburg was in a state of shock. We thought a gas pipeline had exploded, but it turned out to be a freight train carrying shells to their point of use. It was 40km from the city and there were national servicemen on board. There were no fatalities, or at least the army only reported the heroic feat of one lieutenant who managed to evacuate the young conscripts in time. We&rsquo;re a city with a population of 500,000 and both it and the areas around it were rocked by the explosion. But that&rsquo;s not all. Earlier this year there were explosions in some military warehouses in Buzuluk National Park and there are still shells lying around there. From time to time the local inhabitants &lsquo;use&rsquo; them, sometimes paying for it with their lives.</p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/poepbrurpj2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The area surrounding Orenburg is full of military testing grounds; uncontrolled and unexpected explosions are unfortunately not rare. (Photo: <a href="http://oreninform.ru/upload/iblock/bdf/poepbrurpj%20%202.jpg">oreninform.ru</a>).</p> <p>2012 also saw the European Football Championship and the Olympic Games. One of the physics teachers at school used to say to us &lsquo;Always remember, girls, that men are kids all their lives. Just observe your fathers watching football on TV: they shout, clap, stamp their feet and jump up and down, though no one on the other side of the screen can see or hear them.&rsquo; I would watch my father in the evening, all by himself and just like the teacher said. Mercifully, my husband is uninterested in football, so the championship passed by uneventfully&hellip; almost, because we could hear the fans in the street shouting, hooting their car horns at night and chanting slogans.</p> <p>I watched the Olympics alone with my younger sister, who&rsquo;s mad about sporting events. She also has a daughter, who&rsquo;s a future Olympic champion, as we like to joke in the family. She&rsquo;s only 4, but she goes to figure skating 5 times a week, though for reasons of health, rather than sporting success.</p> <p>Orenburgers have become quite keen on sport recently. Some go skating, some skiing, others to the pool, the gym, running, or on long evening bike rides with the whole family. My sister enthuses about bikes, which she says she&rsquo;s just discovered, and I actually cycle to work from spring into the late autumn. It&rsquo;s very good to see that every year there are more and more people who think as I do.</p> <h3>Families</h3> <p>What&rsquo;s going on in Russia is not very clear, but we&rsquo;ve started producing more babies. 2012 was for Orenburg the first time that the birthrate outstripped the death rate. I have 3 pregnant friends and 3 who have just had babies.</p> <p>Our children are great too. They&rsquo;re so kind and affectionate. My husband was helping our youngest reach something from a high shelf and she thanked him by saying &lsquo;Well done, Daddy. You&rsquo;ll make a gallant knight!&rsquo; Our middle daughter listens to the talking-to I&rsquo;m giving her and says &lsquo;D&rsquo;you know what, mum? I really like listening to your little sermons: they&rsquo;re interesting and informative&hellip; and you have such a lovely voice.&rsquo; The oldest has done well in her state exams and got a university place all by herself. She adores student life and is currently in love for the first time. &lsquo;Can we stand downstairs in the entrance for a few minutes?&rsquo; This was her asking permission at half past midnight. Of course you can. At half past one my patience ran out, but I tactfully didn&rsquo;t stick my head out of the window. I sent her a text message and she was home in 10 minutes.</p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/Baby.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">For all the negative developments in Orenburg over 2012, the unprecedented rise in the region's birthrate is a welcome positive shift&nbsp;</p> <p>Summer was seriously stressful because my parents were in a car crash. They are both alive, I&rsquo;m happy to say, though the number of deaths on the roads every year is truly shocking. I would raise both hands in support of tightening all the rules, though my husband hisses angrily that all drivers have to suffer for the idiocy of a few. My parents are on holiday in Egypt. My father said that he didn&rsquo;t want to go to a sanatorium because he wanted to relax and activity programmes in sanatoria are too energetic by half; he wouldn&rsquo;t go to Israel, because there&rsquo;s a war on there. In Egypt you can&rsquo;t leave the hotel grounds because there&rsquo;s a revolution going on and he wouldn&rsquo;t bathe in the sea because of the sharks. He wouldn&rsquo;t be ringing home, we could check the news on the internet. So they&rsquo;re lying by the pool and soaking up the sun.</p> <h3>Next year?</h3> <p>&lsquo;The end of the world is some rubbish dreamed up by politicians and those around them, so as to distract us from the chaos in the country,&rsquo; was the verdict of my friends on the (supposed) <a href="http://www.december212012.com/">events</a> of 21 December according to the Mayan prophecy. True, the daughter of one of them was almost in tears when she read about the prospects for this date on the social media sites.</p> <p>But no! Russians are an optimistic lot. &lsquo;It always feels as though the new year will be better than the one before and we&rsquo;ll get lots done. Forget the old year &ndash; it&rsquo;s gone and so what? Everything is going to get better. We&rsquo;ll deal with corruption, there&rsquo;ll be a new generation of people in TV who are less interested in sacrificing the manners of the younger generation in favour of their own advancement and prosperity. Teachers will teach and doctors will heal; we&rsquo;ll build factories, bring back the state farms and lock up all today&rsquo;s farmers, because they don&rsquo;t pay their workers, the swine. New Year is a time for dreaming of doing everything that failed to get done this year.'</p> <p>We are stronger and calmer than we were a year ago. We&rsquo;ve grown up, got older, wiser and more experienced. What would be really good at New Year, when we hear the chimes of the Kremlin clock, would be for everyone to remember the intoxicating aroma of mother&rsquo;s crumpets and the endless expanse of time stretching before one. We could smile to ourselves, our neighbour and passers-by, hanging on to the moment of kindness for as long as possible. At least until the next New Year.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/vyatlag-gulag-then-and-now">Vyatlag: the Gulag then and now</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/dummy-candidates-disillusioned-voters-%E2%80%98united-russia%E2%80%99-in-tight-corner">Dummy candidates, disillusioned voters: ‘United Russia’ in a tight corner</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/gulag-doctor">The Gulag doctor </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-strelnikova/on-river-russian-holiday-diary">On the river: a Russian holiday diary </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksei-tarasov/siberia%E2%80%99s-crying-cannibal-when-business-became-war">Siberia’s crying cannibal: when business became war </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/snap-goes-crocodile">Snap goes the Crocodile</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/tatarstan-restoration-of-history-religion-and-national-feeling">Tatarstan: the restoration of history, religion and national feeling</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/we%E2%80%99ve-war-on-here">&#039;We’ve a war on here!&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/zalina-magomadova/unprotected">Unprotected</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitri-trenin/russia-and-west-need-to-rediscover-each-other-in-2013">Russia and the West need to rediscover each other in 2013</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"> Orenburg </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Orenburg Russia Elena Strelnikova New year 2012-13 Letters from the Russian provinces Wed, 26 Dec 2012 17:34:02 +0000 Elena Strelnikova 70139 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Vyatlag: the Gulag then and now https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/vyatlag-gulag-then-and-now <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/Crosses.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>Many of the Soviet Gulag camps are now deserted, but Vyatlag is still in operation, though now most of the prisoners are there for criminal rather than political offences. But as Ekaterina Loushnikova has found, memories of the cruelty and hardship of those terrible years remain.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>In 1938 a special order from the USSR People&rsquo;s Commissariat of Internal Affairs established Vyatlag, one of the biggest concentrations of forced labour camps in the Gulag system, in the north of the Kirov Oblast, 1000 km north east of Moscow.&nbsp; Its 75th anniversary falls in 2013. During the period 1938-56 more than 100,000 prisoners from 20 countries and of 80 different nationalities were sent here to serve their sentence. 18,000 of them were destined never to see their homes again.</p> <h3><strong>The settlement in the marsh</strong></h3> <p>There are two ways of reaching the settlement of Lesnoy [literally, forest], the capital of Vyatlag, called after the Vyatka region where it is situated: prisoners come here by prisoner transport, in a special train; civilians hitch a lift if a car is going their way. Regular buses have not served this place for many years and there is no rail connection either. A few &lsquo;Stolypin&rsquo; carriages [prisoner trains] rust in the sidings of the deserted station, one of them still bearing the words &lsquo;All power to the Soviets!&rsquo; Perhaps it was one of these carriages that brought my grandfather, Andrei Konstantinovich, here. He was an academic, a mathematician who had volunteered for front line service in the war with Nazi Germany, been taken prisoner and managed to escape, only to be accused by the NKVD of betraying his country. I still don&rsquo;t know what became of him&hellip;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Village_name.jpg" alt="Lesnoy_Name" width="448" height="252" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Welcome to Lesnoy, a village in the Kirov oblast. Generations of prisoners, both political and criminal, worked logging wood in the local forest.</p><p>Inside one of the carriages I find a rotting quilted jacket that prisoners used to wear and some winter footwear, which were called &lsquo;chuni&rsquo; and were worn by prisoners in Stalin&rsquo;s time. The first prisoner transport arrived here in 1938. Initially the prisoners were generally peasants from the dispossessed &lsquo;kulak&rsquo;[rich peasant] class, but then they were joined by actors, artists, poets, writers, academics and politicians. Anyone, in other words, who had been convicted of offences under the notorious Article 58, 'anti-Soviet agitation' and 'counterrevolution'. Inside the camp they were described succinctly as 'blabbermouths.'&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1940 special prisoner transports started arriving from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, occupied by Soviet troops during the time of the <a title="Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov%E2%80%93Ribbentrop_Pact">Molotov&ndash;Ribbentrop Pact</a>. After 1945 there were captured German soldiers, Hungarians, Italians and other nationalities who had served in Hitler's armies, as well as people who had been deported from conquered parts of Europe. The prisoners were set to work logging, building roads and the settlement itself by spreading earth over the marshland. Even today, when walking about the village, you feel as though you're either in the forest or on marshland: one false step and you can be up to your knees in bog or falling over a tree stump sticking out of the marsh.</p> <blockquote><p><em>&nbsp;'You might ask who someone was and what he or she was here for, and you would hear they were &ldquo;enemies of the people&rdquo;. And of course we believed it at the time&rsquo;.</em></p></blockquote> <p>Uprooting tree stumps was one of the forms of work done by prisoners in the past; they included actress Tatyana Okunevskaya, the star of many Soviet films, while Japanese film star Yoshiko Okada lopped off branches and the composer Paul Marcel (Pavel Rusakov) worked on tree felling. All three of them took part in camp amateur dramatics, appearing alongside visiting professional actors on the stage of the village House of Culture. One of the members of the camp's artistic circle at that time was Nadya Voshchenko, the daughter of one of the guards, who had a keen interest in choreography.&nbsp; She may be 86 now but she can remember everything that happened then, thrilling to the memory of 'the whole of the Bolshoi Theatre being among the prisoners here' and the operettas, oratorios and even scenes from Swan Lake that they performed &ndash; &lsquo;the whole village came to see them!&rsquo;</p> <p>I asked if it hadn't bothered her that most of the performers were prisoners, but she assured me that they didn't think about it. 'You might ask who someone was and what he/she was here for, and you would hear they were &ldquo;enemies of the people&rdquo; and of course we believed it. There were even people with an indefinite sentence, who didn't even know that they would be released. Men and women were put together in one camp and of course they got together. It was forbidden, but you can't keep tabs on everyone! There was even a special hut for the mums, where women lived when they were pregnant and with their babies for the first year. Then the babies were taken to the children's home; Vyatlag had three of those.'</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Rusty_wagons.jpg" alt="Wagons" width="448" height="300" /></p> <p class="image-caption">In the past Lesnoy was connected to the outside world by rail and prisoners were brought here in trains. But now there is no public transport and wagons from Soviet times lie rusting on a siding at the old station.&nbsp;</p><h3><strong>Blue bread</strong></h3> <p>Construction engineer Yury Yurkevich, a scion of an ancient branch of a Polish noble family, was arrested as a counterrevolutionary. He remembers:</p> <p>'The bread was always bad. The dough was so watery that if you added one more drop it would have been impossible to bake. The flour contained all sorts of additives, like bran and barley. When they added in buckwheat flour it made the bread bluish. But whatever they added, it had no nutrition in it at all. We were supposed to have hot food three times a day and it was always either flour or cereal-based, with barely detectible traces of vegetable oil &ndash; and not always even that. Sometimes the gruel had rotting salted tomatoes or cabbage in it. Fish or meat was a rare luxury. The food always tasted foul, but that was unimportant as it was rated only by its thickness and quantity. Behind the huts there were long rows of privies. There was a rule about going there during the night: in the summer you could go in your underwear, but in winter you had to wear a coat - not, of course, out of concern for the inmates, but so that the sentry in the watchtower could make out who it was. If you were inappropriately dressed, he could shoot you. That was how things were&hellip;'</p> <h3><strong>Emergency rations: not just tins of sprats</strong></h3> <p>In Vyatlag it was always raining or a blizzard was howling. Meteorological statistics show that there are no more than 40 good days a year in the settlement of Lesnoy and its surroundings. The air itself lies like impenetrable smoke over the marshes, as if saturated with evil and disaster. In the Stalin years the streets there were paved with boards, but now they have rotted and the filth has risen to the surface, running viscously between the houses. To keep upright, anyone trying to get to the settlement's shop has to wear rubber boots and carry a torch, because the street lighting hasn't worked for ages. There aren't many inhabitants left, because anyone who could has got away from this miserable place by acquiring a 'certificate' enabling them to buy somewhere to live elsewhere. The only people remaining either work in the camp or are former prisoners who don't have anywhere else to go. Prisoners whose crimes are not too serious and don't have to be under guard all the time also work in the village. Many of them run away. Some do it in style, using their mobiles to order a taxi to their home town; others take their chances and try to escape through the taiga, though few of them get far... 'Where is there to go round here? It's all forest and marshes and you'll probably get eaten by bears,' says Irina Movshovich, who's been a nurse at Vyatlag for a good 50 years. She lives with a variety of cats in a small flat in the middle of Lesnoy.</p> <blockquote><p><em>'Emergency rations&hellip;.when one man takes another with him, so that he can eat him, a convict tradition. It still happens.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>'Only one political prisoner escaped successfully that I can remember, a Polish musician, after the war. It was some festival or other and he disappeared immediately after the performance. He obviously had a car waiting for him because they never found him.&nbsp; Criminals escaped more often, usually taking &lsquo;emergency rations&rsquo; with them so as to survive in the taiga.'</p> <p>'Emergency rations?'</p> <p>'Not what you think &ndash; I&rsquo;m not talking about tins of sprats. It's when one man takes another with him, so that he can eat him, a convict tradition.&nbsp; It still happens. And don't look so amazed!'</p> <p>'Irina Moiseyevna, what does &ldquo;living by the code&rdquo; mean?'</p> <p>'Well, to give you an example, I was watching TV yesterday. A man had raped a girl. He was caught and put in solitary. He hanged himself and he did the right thing, because if he'd been put straight into the camp he'd have been raped so many times he'd have been a total wreck. Anyone who's sent down for that crime is simply passed from one man to another. That's the code of the underworld.'</p> <p>'Did medical staff like you ever get taken hostage?'</p> <p>'Of course, it happened many times. One time there was even a revolt in the &ldquo;zone&rdquo; [penal camp] and Alpha Special Branch officers were flown in. But for some reason that wasn't as frightening as when Stalin died and there was a revolt in the camp in another settlement called Kommendant. I was just a child but I remember it very well because the revolt was put down with extreme cruelty. Convicts were taken out on to the ice of the lake and hosed down with icy water. Others were shot. It was almost 40&deg;C below freezing, so cold you couldn't breathe; the sky was red, as if bloodshot, and the corpses lay about on the shore. The ringleaders were then put on trial in the House of Culture, those that were still alive, that is. And we children all came running to have a look&hellip;'</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Village_house.jpg" alt="Village_House" width="448" height="300" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Even when they have served their sentence, some prisoners stay in Lesnoy for ever. After years inside they have nowhere else to go.&nbsp;</p><p>There are no traces on the shore of the lake of the tragedy that happened there so many years ago, just some rusty wire and logs rotting in the water. There is still a penal colony nearby, but the prisoners these days are in for criminal, not political, offences.</p> <blockquote><p><em>'The only monument to Vyatlag prisoners stands three kilometres away: a cross commemorating the Latvians who perished there, 'victims of Stalin's terror'. If you ask why there are no monuments in the settlement itself, the locals ask you why enemies of the people need a memorial.'&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote> <p>There's no memorial to all those political prisoners, tormented and dying of hunger in Vyatlag and the Lesnoy settlement. The main space in front of the central prison administration building is still embellished by a statue of Lenin with his hand raised in greeting, and Dzerhzhinsky smiling craftily into his moustache. No changes there then.</p> <p>The only monument to Vyatlag prisoners stands three kilometres from the settlement: a cross commemorating the Latvians who perished there, 'victims of Stalin's terror'. It stands on its own across the road from the old Russian cemetery, a symbol of different national attitudes to the past; the Russian graves on one side and the Latvian cross on the other are separated by more than just the road between them. And if you ask why there are no monuments in the settlement itself, the locals ask you why enemies of the people need a memorial.</p> <h3><strong>The common fate &ndash; the pit</strong></h3> <p>Vladimir Veremeyev has written several research papers on the subject of Vyatlag. He tells me that many years ago he collected money for a memorial to all political prisoners, but the money was stolen and there's still no memorial. Officially there are 34 burial sites for Vyatlag convicts, but no one has any idea of how many unofficial sites there are. Prisoners who died were buried in pits, just beside the barracks where people were living. And in the winter no one wanted to hack away at the frozen earth, so the corpses were piled up on top of each other until the spring and then thrown into a common grave. Their clothes were removed because they could be worn by others, so the corpses were bare, save only for a number tag on their ankle.</p> <blockquote><p><em>'It was a way of killing people off by just dragging the torment out for months.&nbsp; Death from a bullet can in no way be compared to what many millions of people had to survive while they were dying of hunger.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>I asked Vladimir what the inmates died of.</p> <p>'Many things &ndash; cold, hunger, frost, pellagra, scurvy, dysentery and other diseases, cruel treatment and back-breaking labour.'</p> <h3><strong>And by the way&hellip;</strong></h3> <p>The philosopher Dmitry Panin, formerly a Vyatlag prisoner, remembers:</p> <p>'In Vyatlag a man could be a goner in as little as two weeks. There may not have been gas chambers, but there was cold, hunger, disease and forced labour. Instead of gas there were:</p> <ul><li>negligible food rations </li><li>a lack of proper camp clothing</li><li>absolutely impossible work quotas</li><li>an 8-9 km walk across the snowy taiga to the work area</li><li>terrible frosts of -35&deg;C</li><li>a 7-day working week</li><li>regiments of bedbugs and lice</li><li>the cold in the living huts</li></ul><p>'Between two weeks and a month was enough to make a man unfit for work. After that a convict would lose his remaining strength and be so weak that he couldn't reach the logging site or even manage to stand throughout roll-call. Beyond that it was a slow death. It was a way of killing people off by just dragging their suffering out for months.&nbsp; Death from a bullet can in no way be compared to what many millions of people had to go through when they were dying of hunger. This kind of death sentence is the height of sadism, cannibalism and hypocrisy.'</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Watch_tower.jpg" alt="Watch_tower" width="448" height="310" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Day and night the guards in the watch tower monitor the camp and surrounding area.&nbsp;</p><p>'I compared the death rates for Vyatlag and Buchenwald for the years 1938-45,' says Vladimir Veremeyev. 'And I discovered that during this period about 90,000 were put on the special register at Vyatlag and 21,000 of them died, which is 24%. If we compare the same period in Buchenwald, 236,000 were on the register, of whom 33,000 died, in other words just over 14%. So the figure for Vyatlag is almost two to one!</p><blockquote><p>'I compared the death rates for Vyatlag and Buchenwald for the years 1938-45. In Buchenwald the rate was just over 14%, in Vyatlag 24% - almost two to one!&rsquo;&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>'On top of that, the Germans usually sent the relatives of someone who had died an official letter requesting them to collect the ashes (for a fee of 5 marks). I'm not saying this was humane, but people did at least know that their relative had died. In Russia the relatives of some people who were in the camps still don't know what happened to them.&nbsp; Several millions people who died there are still officially registered as alive.</p><p>I told Vladimir Veremeyev that I still don&rsquo;t know what happened to my grandfather. He spent some time searching his card index, looking for my grandfather Andrei Konstantinovich in the list of the dead, but he didn't find him&hellip;So it's like the song by one of our Russian singer-songwriters: 'no trace, no cross, no family star&hellip;' Just bones rotting in the forests and souls crying out to hear the prayers for the dead.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Gulag Archipelago, by Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, Random House, 2003 (last edition), 496 pages</p> <p>Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps, by Robert Conquest, Viking, 1978, 254 pages</p> <p>Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum, Doubleday, 2003 (first edition), 720 pages</p> <p>Kolyma Tales, by Varlam Shalamov, Penguin Classics, 1995, 528 pages</p> <p>Journey into the Whirlwind, by Eugenia Ginzburg, Mariner Books, 2002, 432 pages</p> <p><a href="http://www.gulag.eu/">Kolyma: The white Crematorium</a>, web site by Jens Alstrup</p> <p><a href="http://www.memo.ru/eng/index.htm">Memorial</a>, Historical, Educational, Human Rights and Charitable Society. Website</p> <p><a href="http://gulaghistory.org/nps/">Gulag</a>, Soviet Forced Labor Camps and Struggle for Freedom, website</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><strong>Also by Ekaterina Loushnikova on oD Russia:</strong></p> <p><a title="2555 words, 0 comments" href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/gulag-doctor">The Gulag doctor </a></p> <p><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/we%E2%80%99ve-war-on-here" target="_blank">We’ve a war on here!</a></p> <p><a title="4221 words, 0 comments" href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/last-prisoner">The last prisoner</a></p> <p><a title="4659 words, 9 comments" href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/outcasts-%E2%80%94-inmates-of-black-eagle">Outcasts — inmates of the Black Eagle</a></p> <p><a title="The Vyatlag Archipelago" href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/the-vyatlag-archipelago">The Vyatlag Archipelago</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/susanne-sternthal/let-history-be-judged-lesson-of-perm-36">Let history be judged: the lesson of Perm-36</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/the-embrace-of-stalinism">The Embrace of Stalinism </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/russia-s-history-wars">Russia&#039;s history wars</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexei-levinson/great-terror%E2%80%99s-long-shadow">The Great Terror’s long shadow</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/eleven-hard-disks">Eleven hard disks</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/catriona-bass/memory-incompatible-archangelsk-affair">Memory incompatible: the Archangelsk affair continues</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lyubov-borusyak-talks-to-ludmila-alexeyeva/how-russia%E2%80%99s-human-rights-movement-began">How Russia’s human rights movement began</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/catriona-bass/national-museum-to-victims-of-stalinist-repression-words-not-deeds">A national museum to the victims of Stalinist repression: words not deeds?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/battle-for-russia-s-past">Battle for Russia’s past</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/russia-theme/memorial-remembers-alexander-solzhenitsyn">‘Memorial’ remembers Alexander Solzhenitsyn </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-koposov/does-russia-need-memory-law">Does Russia need a memory law?</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> oD Russia oD Russia Russia human rights russia & eurasia russia Ekaterina Loushnikova Letters from the Russian provinces Human rights History Fri, 09 Nov 2012 10:49:12 +0000 Ekaterina Loushnikova 69269 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Dummy candidates, disillusioned voters: ‘United Russia’ in a tight corner https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/dummy-candidates-disillusioned-voters-%E2%80%98united-russia%E2%80%99-in-tight-corner <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/Pushkino_station_0.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />A small city near Moscow is electing a mayor. Not the most startling news, perhaps, but the ruling party seems to have changed places with the opposition. Things are more topsy-turvey than usual and the voters have lost all faith with President and candidates alike, says Mikhail Loginov (photo: Ridus Agency)</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; party activists are holding an unsanctioned protest meeting. The mayor of the city sacks local authority employees who are campaigning for the &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; candidate. Bikers are calling for the abolition of military service and the dissolution of one of the houses of parliament. They are doing what they can for &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo;, but they are being persecuted by the police.</p> <p>This is not science fiction, but reality in a small town near Moscow &ndash; Pushkino, which is electing a mayor. The election storyline proves that even if the opposition is not taking part in an election, the struggle for power continues.</p> <h3><strong>The battlefield</strong></h3> <p>Pushkino is a typical city of the Moscow region, about 30km from the capital, with about 100,000 inhabitants. </p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Bikers.jpg" alt="Bikers" width="448" height="251" /></p><p><em>Some of Mayor Lisin&rsquo;s opponents make regular use of bikers in the election campaign: young people ride through the city yelling unpleasant slogans about him <br /></em></p><p>The election makes its presence felt even in the train from Moscow, because the compartments are all decked out with posters of the candidates. As the train approaches the town, campaigners suddenly appear, offering travellers newspapers and leaflets. Moscow Prospekt, the city&rsquo;s main road, is strewn with abandoned newspapers, which lie around like fallen leaves.</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;Pushkino is a typical city of the Moscow region, about 30km from the capital, with about 100,000 inhabitants. The election makes its presence felt even in the train from Moscow, because the compartments are all decked out with posters of the candidates.&rsquo;</em></p><p><em>.</em></p></blockquote> <p>In the 90s and the 00s Pushkino&rsquo;s destiny was no different from that of any other city or district in the area around Moscow. Enterprises dating from Soviet times have either reduced productivity or closed down completely; new food industry enterprises and vodka distilleries have opened up and at the same time Moscow construction companies have started building residential buildings in the town and selling flats to Muscovites. Currently, approximately 85% of the population works in the capital.</p> <p>Contributions from industry and grants from the region succeeded in doubling the city budget in the 00s, which meant the Pushkino administration could build fountains and monuments and modernise the local health service. But then the city&rsquo;s top brass were prosecuted for contravening financial legislation and Mayor Bashkirtsev received a suspended sentence. The case against his deputy responsible for the economy, Margarita Smailovskaya, was dismissed: her supporters said that this was because she was innocent.&nbsp; Her opponents maintain she was acquitted because she returned money to the city budget.</p> <p>Whatever the case, 2008 saw the advent of a new mayor to Pushkino, Viktor Lisin. Like Smailovskaya, he is a &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; party member. He had no doubt that in 4 years&rsquo; time there would be no problem in extending his term of office, as he would have the support of both his party and city administration staff.</p> <h3><strong>The rape of party democracy</strong></h3> <p>In the summer of 2011 the supreme council of &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; laid on the party grassroots the obligation of running primaries. The victor of the intra-party election would become the &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; candidate. The primaries were mainly won by incumbent deputies, or city mayors. The result was then approved by the regional branch of the party and the candidate elected.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Lisin_0.jpg" alt="Lisin" width="460" height="350" /></p> <p><em>Viktor Lisin, the present city mayor, believed he had a second term in his pocket. The local branch of 'United Russia' surprised him by nominating another local politician as its official candidate in the municipal election. But Lisin is not ready to surrender...</em></p><p>This was how it was to be with the Pushkino mayor, Mr Lisin. He quickly set up the primaries and received the majority vote. Smailovskaya was in second place, but with considerably fewer votes. Lisin sent off the documents for approval, but&hellip;.sensation! The regional branch of &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; supported Smailovskaya&rsquo;s candidature.</p> <p>She had a strong support group, the Militant Brotherhood, which is composed of officers who had served in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The leaders of this organisation are wealthy and more than capable of organising the pressuring of their opponents. Smailovskaya is assistant to Dmitry Sablin, a State Duma deputy and one of the Brotherhood leaders. Sablin had convinced the regional branch of &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; to put none other than Smailovskaya forward as candidate.</p> <p>A year ago Lisin would probably not have contested the party decision, but last year&rsquo;s State Duma elections resulted in a considerable falling-off of&nbsp; &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; authority and anyway the new Moscow Region governor, Sergei Shoigu, had said that the elections must be fair.</p><blockquote><p><em>'Viktor Lisin... had no doubt that in 4 years&rsquo; time there would be no problem in extending his term of office, as he would have the support of both his party and city administration staff.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>So Lisin decided not to kowtow to his party comrades and announced the &lsquo;rape of party democracy&rsquo;; he then registered as an independent candidate, and started campaigning against the &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; candidate, Margarita Smailovskaya.</p> <h3><strong>Electric saw or truncheon?</strong></h3> <p>The Pushkino situation was unique in the Moscow region. In Russia any opponent of a candidate who is also city mayor is considered the opposition. But the Pushkino &lsquo;opposition candidate&rsquo; is actually standing for the ruling party, &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo;.</p> <p>This considerably restricted Lisin&rsquo;s chances in his battle with Smailovskaya. He was even embarrassed to remind voters of the criminal case against his opponent, because this would have meant allying himself with [Aleksey] <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16057045">Navalny</a> who regularly described &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; as the party of thieves and swindlers.</p> <p>Similarly, Lisin could not employ the usual methods to derail Smailovskaya&rsquo;s campaign.&nbsp; He decided, for instance, not to use the police to break up her unsanctioned rally. But he did all he could to sabotage it.</p> <p>Firstly he refused to make any of the city squares available for his opponent, so Smailovskaya announced that she would hold the meeting in a park. Staff at her headquarters joked that this was the first &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; unsanctioned rally in Russia&rsquo;s history.</p> <p>Lisin arranged for lorries with mobile platform lifts to go to the site of the rally. When Smailovskaya had only just started speaking, the lifts were erected and workers started sawing dead branches of the trees with electric saws.</p> <p>&lsquo;If anyone doubted that Lisin is sawing [Rn play on words &ndash; also means siphoning off] the city budget, then there&rsquo;s the proof,&rsquo; said Smailovskaya.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Smailovskaya(1)_0.jpg" alt="Smailovskaia" width="448" height="298" /></p> <p><span class="image-caption">Margarita Smailovskaya, former Pushkino deputy mayor, has seized the lead in regional backstage politics. She may have won the official 'United Russia' nomination for the forthcoming mayoral election, but she is not particularly keen to flaunt her party affiliation. Russia's ruling party seems to have lost its voter appeal <span class="image-caption">for good</span></span><em>. Photo: <a href="http://www.smailovskaya.ru">www.smailovskaya.ru</a>)</em></p><p>Lisin didn&rsquo;t risk breaking up the rally, but he is fairly tough in his suppression of any opposition. A Pushkino inhabitant asked him at a meeting why kiosks selling bread also sold smoking blends, which addiction experts consider a drug. Lisin issued instructions to discover where this young man worked and, when it emerged that he was an electrician working for the city administration, sacked him.</p> <h3>&lsquo;A Just Russia&rsquo; raider, a communist-capitalist and network bikers</h3> <p>There were 20 candidates registered to stand in the Pushkino election, but apart from Smailovskaya and Lisin only 2 have any hope of winning. One of them is Sergey Gulin, the director of a big enterprise called Iskozh. In his 10 years of running the factory the number of employees has gone from 1500 to 200 and productivity has fallen by 80%, but he is still hoping for support. In Pushkino he is regarded as the representative of large financial groupings specialising in hostile takeovers. To avoid being removed from the election, Gulin is standing under the &lsquo;A Just Russia&rsquo; banner.</p><p>The other picturesque character is Sergey Zaburniagin, the CPRF [Communist Party] candidate. Although communists are considered to be engaged in a struggle with capitalists, he owns several companies; a year before the election he proposed removing the monument to Lenin on the square outside the railway station and putting up in its place a statue of St <a href="http://www.pravmir.com/article_386.html">Sergey of Radonezh</a>. But the communists turned a blind eye to this and allowed him to go forward as their candidate.</p> <blockquote><p><em>'The Pushkino situation was unique in the Moscow region. In Russia any opponent of a candidate who is also city mayor is considered the opposition. But the Pushkino &lsquo;opposition candidate&rsquo; is actually standing for the ruling party, &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo;.</em></p></blockquote><p>The other candidates all registered at the suggestion of either Smailovskaya or Lisin. At Russian elections they are known as dummy candidates: their main task is not to increase their own popularity, but to dent the popularity of the opponents.</p> <p>Smailovskaya&rsquo;s most original dummy candidate is Serkov, representing the Social Networking Party (SNP). This is a classic fake-party, which understands it will never get a candidate into the State Duma, the city parliament or even a village council. But their efforts turn elections into a show.</p> <p>This happened in Pushkino too: the SNP set up the &lsquo;Pushkino Patrol&rsquo;, essentially a political game with prizes, open to anyone resident in the city. Participants take photographs of potholes, broken benches or practically invisible road-markings and upload them to the Patrol website. The weekly prize is an iPhone and there is no shortage of willing participants.</p> <p>Serkov himself is a biker, whose biker friends regularly tear through the city streets with banners screaming &lsquo;Pushkino Patrol&rsquo; and yelling &lsquo;Lisin is a thief, Lisin &ndash; scram!&rsquo; from time to time.</p> <h3><strong>&lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; underground</strong></h3> <p>In any Russian town or city the strength of the &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; position can be gauged by studying its office. If the party is strong, it&rsquo;ll be a two- or three-storey detached house, or a floor of a modern office building.</p> <p>The Pushkino &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; headquarters are located in the semi-basement of an apartment block: a narrow corridor and 4 rooms, the sort of accommodation where there would normally be a fairly modest shop, serving the needs of a limited number of customers. But a shop would have a sign to lure customers in, whereas the party office only has a small plaque. The leadership of the party doesn&rsquo;t, apparently, want Pushkino people to express any interest in it at all.</p> <p>As always, there are several people in the office. They come in late in the day, drink tea (or vodka, with salads brought from home, if it&rsquo;s anyone&rsquo;s birthday). The members are elderly ladies, who will usually do anything to avoid party work, but before an election they have to knuckle down.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Election_meeting_0.jpg" alt="Election_PUshkino" width="448" height="298" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Mayor Lisin makes it difficult for his rivals to organize election meetings. But Moscow regional governor Shoigu has promised that elections on his watch will be fair... </p><p>&lsquo;The Moscow leadership maintains that the party is as respected throughout Russia as it always was,&rsquo; says Larisa Osipova, the chair of the local branch. &lsquo;But in actual fact the &ldquo;thieves and swindlers&rdquo; label has stuck and the heads of local branches in residential areas are afraid to publicise their membership of the party.&rsquo;</p> <p>The members come to a meeting in support of Smailovskaya. They only campaign for her, though they don&rsquo;t use the party logo and certainly don&rsquo;t mention Putin&rsquo;s name. Faith in the President has fallen away to a considerable extent and he is anyway no longer associated in people&rsquo;s minds with &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo;.</p> <h3><strong>We don&rsquo;t believe in anyone</strong></h3> <p>The biggest street protest in Pushkino had nothing to do with the election. People from 2 of the low-rise villages on the edge of the city &ndash; Zavety Ilyicha [the Testament of (Vladimir) Ilyich (Lenin), often popularly called simply Ilyich] and Novaya Derevnya [New Village] &ndash; suddenly discovered that a whole block of high-rise apartment blocks was to be built on the wasteland between them. They were very anxious about the increased use of the existing infrastructure, chiefly the roads, and about 1000 of them turned out for the so-called 'public discussion'. The outcome of this discussion is only a recommendation and has no bearing on the final decision as to whether the blocks should be built or not.</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;The Moscow leadership maintains that the party is as respected throughout Russia as it always was,&rsquo; says Larisa Osipova, the chair of the local branch. &lsquo;But in actual fact the &ldquo;thieves and swindlers&rdquo; label has stuck and the heads of local branches in residential areas are afraid to publicise their membership of the party.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>'We are against the construction of high-rise buildings near us,' says Pyotr, a young computer programmer. 'But when did the authorities ever seek the opinion of ordinary folk?'</p> <p>Pyotr is glad that these discussions coincided with the election. Smailovskaya had a meeting with the residents and declared that the project was Lisin's and would certainly be cancelled. But the residents are very afraid that, though she may listen to them before the election, she'll only talk to the constructors when she has been elected.</p> <p>Pushkino residents have no faith in the mayor, the candidates, or even Putin. Large-scale vote rigging is also not very likely, because the Electoral Committee is afraid of taking votes away from 'United Russia.' But it doesn't want to make trouble for the existing mayor.&nbsp; The winner will be the one who can give the voters an original show.</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/julia-chegodaikina/russia-independent-observer%E2%80%99s-view-of-non-election">The weapon of truth: an independent observer’s view of a non-election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/rustem-adagamov-drugoi/moscow-on-eve-of-presidential-election">Moscow on the eve of the presidential election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrew-wilson/political-technology-why-is-it-alive-and-flourishing-in-former-ussr">&quot;Political technology&quot;: why is it alive and flourishing in the former USSR? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexei-levinson/russian-elections-who-needs-them">Russian elections: who needs them?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-petrov/political-dialects-why-russias-regional-elections-matter">Political dialects: why Russia&#039;s regional elections matter </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/sprinting-for-votes-russia-prepares-for-year-of-elections">Sprinting for votes: Russia prepares for a year of elections</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/mikhail-loginov/fixing-russian-elections-manipulation-voters-and-massage-results">Fixing Russian elections: manipulation (voters) and massage (results)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-godlevskaya/dark-blue-thread-resisting-sewn-up-election">Dark blue thread: resisting a sewn-up election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-godlevskaya/russian-regional-elections-oryols-two-horse-race">Russian regional elections: Oryol&#039;s two-horse race</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/russia%E2%80%99s-regional-spring">Russia’s Regional Spring</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/kazan%E2%80%99s-white-revolution">Kazan’s white revolution</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"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Democracy and government Mikhail Loginov Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Thu, 11 Oct 2012 21:41:48 +0000 Mikhail Loginov 68817 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The shepherds of Sevukh https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/shepherds-of-sevukh <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/Sheep_farming_dagestan.jpg" alt="" width="160" />The Avars are an ancient people living in the mountains of Dagestan (North Caucasus). Many of them are shepherds. The blandishments of modern life are encroaching on their centuries-old way of life, but they have no chance of doing anything else, even military service. Marina Akhmedova spent some time with them and tells their stories</p> </div> </div> </div> <h3><strong>Alimirza and Khochbar</strong></h3> <p>The sun is not yet up, but from somewhere behind the pyramid shaped peak, three low hills away from the mountain where the sheep pen stands, it is already spreading its warmth, and its reflection lightens the lake hidden in the hollow below. The sheep are awake and bleating. Alimirza, the shepherd, is smoking in the doorway of his hut. </p> <p>Khochbar, Alimirza&rsquo;s nineteen year old son, drives the sheep out of the pen &ndash; 1200 head of them. They slowly make their way up the slope, urged on by his crook and hoarse cries. By the time the sun rises twenty minutes later, the flock is far away, a scattering of white tussocks on the slopes. But the bleats and the shepherd&rsquo;s cries carry, bell-clear &ndash; in the mountains ears are better than eyes.</p> <p>Alimirza looks at the sky. It is cloudless. He needn&rsquo;t have sent Khochbar up with the sheep. In good weather the three gentle hills are like the palms of three hands. You can sit at the door of the hut, puff contentedly on a cigarette and look at the sheep grazing safely in the three palms, hemmed in by the mountains. Alimirza has two sons, and has chosen to hand his crook to Khochbar. So he can work.</p> <p>The slopes where the sheep are grazing now are &lsquo;the easiest place&rsquo; out of all the land owned by the Avar village of Sevukh, in the mountainous region of Dagestan in the north Caucasus. But where there is an easy place there is always a hard place as well, and it is behind us, where the mountains are more rugged. There, the sheep are hidden by rocky outcrops and a shepherd can&rsquo;t just leave them and sit by his hut smoking. Alimirza grazed his flock on just such a patch last year, but that gave him first choice of Sevukh&rsquo;s pastures for the next year. He picked the easiest slopes and is now enjoying life, keeping an eye on the thin sunburnt figure of Khochbar in the distance.</p> <p>The three palms have fallen silent &ndash; the sheep are busy grazing. The only sounds are the creaking of Alimirza&rsquo;s low wooden stool and his wheezing. In the silence you feel you can even hear his cigarette burning down. Shepherds spend a lot of their lives in silence. Here, in the mountains, the fewer words spoken, the less chance of offending someone. But when offence is caused, it is remembered for a long time.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Dagestan_highland_village_Somov_RIA.jpg" alt="Dagestan_Village_Somov" width="460" height="300" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Dagestan means the&nbsp; 'land of the mountains'. Over 30 of its peaks are higher than 4000 metres.&nbsp; The Avars are the largest ethnic group and account for about a fifth of the population. Photo Yuri Somov, Ria Novosti Agency, all rights reserved)</p><p>The next village, for example, is called Telekli. Several centuries ago some lads offended a Sevukh girl. The details have long since been forgotten, but the fact of the offence has not &ndash; what are a few centuries in the mountains? The boys were expelled from the village, and set up their own, Telekli. They had no pasture of their own, and their descendents would have lived in poverty till the end of time, had Stalin not deported the Chechens to Kazakhstan in 1944 and moved the inhabitants of Sevukh to their lands, giving the people of Telekli the chance to occupy their pastures in their turn.</p><blockquote><p><em>'Shepherds spend a lot of their lives in silence. Here, in the mountains, the fewer words spoken, the less chance of offending someone. But when offence is caused, it is remembered for a long time.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>In 1956, after Stalin&rsquo;s death, bowed old Sevukh residents trailed back from Chechnya, determined to die on their own land. And die they all did, in the next few years, as though the vow they had kept to return had dragged death along with it. Their younger relatives pestered the authorities for the return of their land, and were eventually given half. Alimirza might have increased his herds, but there is a general shortage of pasture all over Dagestan. </p> <h3><strong>No help from the government</strong></h3> <p>The time passes slowly. The day lies motionless on the three hills, like a film paused on a screen. Occasionally the sheepdogs move around. Fanned out at intervals around the flock, in the distance they look like low stone posts. </p> <p>&lsquo;Do you have a dream?&rsquo; I ask Alimirza.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s as though he expecting this question. The change in his face scares me. &lsquo;I dream that <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NTV_(Russia)">NTV</a> will come here and show people what&rsquo;s going on!&rsquo; He spits the words out.</p> <p>I turn my head to look around, trying to catch anything that might be happening. And I imagine the frozen NTV screen. &lsquo;So what is going on?&rsquo;&nbsp; </p> <p>&lsquo;What do you mean? It&rsquo;s outrageous!&rsquo; Alimirza explodes. &lsquo;Why does the government not help people like me?! This year I took the sheep to the Khasaviurt veterinary station to be dipped for mites and ticks and they asked me to pay a rouble a head. But I refused to pay. &ldquo;Put me in prison if you like,&rdquo; I told them, &ldquo;but I won&rsquo;t pay!&rdquo; &hellip;And now I don&rsquo;t know what I&rsquo;m going to do when I bring them down in the autumn. They wouldn&rsquo;t let them through, they said&hellip;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Every year in October the Sevukh flocks are driven down to winter outside Khasaviurt, the local administrative centre. It&rsquo;s a six-day journey on foot, with the shepherds&rsquo; numerous brothers and cousins surrounding the flock in their cars and accompanying them part of the way. And each year it gets more difficult, as the town expands and they meet an ever-growing stream of cars travelling in the opposite direction. </p> <p>&lsquo;Sometimes an ewe goes lame and you have to carry her&rsquo;, he says, touching his shoulders. &lsquo;Why do I have to pay them a rouble a head? Was it their fathers who built the dipping troughs? The Soviet Union built them! But if don&rsquo;t get my sheep dipped and they get itch mites, then I&rsquo;ll infect all the other flocks during the autumn drive. NTV needs to come and hear about it.&rsquo; Alimirza throws his knife on the tray in despair and goes into the hut.</p><blockquote><p><em>'The subsidy for each ewe is between 105 and 180 roubles a year. Alimirza has 300 ewes. From the money he receives he has to make a pension fund contribution of 12,000-15,000 roubles. More money goes on tax, and all that will be left of the subsidy is his memories of running around collecting bits of paper.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;I don&rsquo;t get any subsidy for them either.&rsquo; He&rsquo;s back out again, remembering something else that &lsquo;itches&rsquo;. &lsquo;They say you have to get yourself registered as a farmer. That costs money too, you have to get a signature here, a signature there&hellip; you&rsquo;re running around from pillar to post, and it all mounts up!&rsquo;</p> <p>The subsidy for each ewe is between 105 and 180 roubles a year. Alimirza has 300 ewes. From the money he receives he has to make a pension fund contribution of 12,000-15,000 roubles. More money goes on tax, and all that will be left of the subsidy is his memories of running around collecting bits of paper. I promise to write really nasty things about the head of the veterinary station, and he calms down again. </p> <h3><strong>Evening</strong></h3> <p>It&rsquo;s not yet sunset, but a foretaste of evening is settling on the mountains. Khochbar is driving the sheep back from their pasture. Taking Alimirza&rsquo;s crook, I climb up slowly to meet them. In fifteen minutes I&rsquo;m amongst the flock. The wolf-like sheepdogs growl and bare their teeth at the stranger. &lsquo;Kha! Kha!&rsquo; Khochbar takes off his shirt and shakes it at the sheep. The flock fragments, like a disturbed drop of mercury:&nbsp; one part runs uphill, another downhill, a third to the side. We try to drive them back together, shouting at them and prodding them with our sticks. </p> <p>&lsquo;Kha! You need to make the noise really ugly, to scare them&rsquo;, Khochbar instructs me. &lsquo;Wherever the ones in front go, the rest follow.&rsquo;</p> <p>The sheep freeze, quaking in fear, but as soon as the leader takes a step the others fall in behind. The hard bit is to ensure that this first step is in the right direction. </p> <p>&lsquo;Idiot sheep!&rsquo; Khochbar and I yell, our voices clashing.&nbsp; </p> <p>&lsquo;Have you done your national service?&rsquo; I ask him.</p> <p>&lsquo;I&rsquo;d love to, but they won&rsquo;t take me!&rsquo; he shouts, shaking his shirt at the sheep again. His last words echo round the mountains - &lsquo;take me!&rsquo; &lsquo;My father went to the army people and asked them to take me, but they wanted money for it - 30,000 or 40,000 roubles.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;But why did you want to go in the army?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Who&rsquo;s going to defend our country? Bloody hell! I&rsquo;m a Dagestani!&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;But what if it&rsquo;s just Russia that&rsquo;s attacked, not Dagestan?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It doesn&rsquo;t make any difference to me whether it&rsquo;s Russia or Dagestan. It&rsquo;s just all my family are in Dagestan. But if there&rsquo;s no Russia, there&rsquo;s no Dagestan either.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Do you ever go into town?</p> <p>&lsquo;Sometimes&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;And do you tell them you&rsquo;re a shepherd?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You think I&rsquo;m an idiot? They&rsquo;d laugh at me.&rsquo;</p> <p>They say that there are not enough shepherds in Dagestan, the Russian Federation&rsquo;s main sheep farming region, and most of them are already old men. On the other hand, some say that the larger sheep farmers claim their flocks are much bigger than they really are, to get a higher subsidy from the government. And it&rsquo;s true that nobody here counts sheep &ndash; not even to help them fall asleep.</p><blockquote><p>&lsquo;And do you tell them you&rsquo;re a shepherd?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You think I&rsquo;m an idiot? They&rsquo;d laugh at me.&rsquo;</p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;I know every individual sheep&rsquo;, says Alimirza when we eventually arrive at the hut an hour later. &lsquo;If a father has ten children, he knows them all, doesn&rsquo;t he? It&rsquo;s like that for me and my sheep&rsquo;. His eyes sweep across the flock. &lsquo;If there&rsquo;s a mist, I think&nbsp; &ldquo;Uhuh&hellip; there&rsquo;s the black faced one, the ones that are always in front are here, there&rsquo;s the lame one, and the dawdlers are here as well.&rdquo;&nbsp; If I can see those ones, I know that all the others are there as well.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <h3><strong>Night time</strong></h3> <p>There&rsquo;s a candle burning in the hut. It&rsquo;s night already. In the mountains the days drag on forever, but the nights fall without warning, as though someone has thrown a black cloak over your head. Gradually stars appear, enormous and close.</p> <p>&lsquo;Lots of wolves here&rsquo;, says Alimirza, slurping tea out of a mug. &lsquo;We didn&rsquo;t use to have so many, but after the bombing in Chechnya they all came this way. When they hang out together, they have no fear of us. If a sheep gets left behind on the mountain, that&rsquo;s it &ndash; she&rsquo;s a goner. When we find her in the morning, her tail will be torn off, or her flank gaping. . That&rsquo;s wolves for you &ndash; a wolf can choke thirty sheep in a minute. And they&rsquo;re crafty beggars.&nbsp; He&rsquo;ll choose a spot beside a stream, so you can&rsquo;t hear him for the noise of the water. He&rsquo;ll sneak out of the bushes, keeping his eye on the dogs.&rsquo; Alimirza half rises and peers out of an imaginary bush. &lsquo;And the dogs get tired towards morning, they doze off&rsquo;, he goes on, returning to his bench. &lsquo;They&rsquo;re a clever bunch, my dogs; they keep a steady watch in a ring round the sheep.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>In the middle of the hut a pole has been driven into the earth floor, and from it hangs half a dried sheep carcass, which gives off a sticky-salty smell. In the corner behind the bench are piled bags of salt and coarse meal. The meal is for making a feed for the dogs, the salt is strewn on the ground for the sheep &ndash; they need salt in the mountains.&nbsp; Behind the hut there is darkness and the ringing silence of the night. Khochbar washes the dishes. If he doesn&rsquo;t manage to join the army, he will try to get casual work on the roads. If that doesn&rsquo;t work out either, he will become a shepherd. In Dagestan you can&rsquo;t sink lower than that. </p> <p>&lsquo;I&rsquo;m going to sell the sheep and buy him a car&rsquo;, says Alimirza, looking sadly at his son drying a saucepan. &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t want him to be a shepherd.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>'&lsquo;Lots of wolves here&rsquo;, says Alimirza, slurping tea out of a mug. &lsquo;We didn&rsquo;t use to have so many, but after the bombing in Chechnya they all came this way.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>Lying on the ground in my sleeping bag covered with Alimirza&rsquo;s black cloak, I look up at the sky, regretting that in Moscow the stars are so far away. I fall asleep quickly in this mountain air. </p> <h3><strong>Vashalav</strong></h3> <p>In the early morning Khochbar drives the flock to a neighbour&rsquo;s pen, where Alimirza will separate out the stud rams. There are two months to go before the drive to Khasaviurt. The sheep need to be washed down in their winter quarters, otherwise the lambs will not survive the drive. While Khochbar is driving the sheep, Alimirza and I cross a couple of small hills and come to a stone cabin. Two sheepdogs begin to bark and a young shepherd comes out to greet us. The cabin was built by &lsquo;Gazprom&rsquo; employees especially for the shepherds.&nbsp; Vashalav is tall and ungainly, and his Russian is poor. </p> <p>&lsquo;If I have a thousand ewes&rsquo;, muses Vashalav, &lsquo;I&rsquo;ll have 500 lambs to sell. Last year I got a thousand roubles a head for them; this year I&rsquo;ll get more. I&rsquo;ll end up with a million, and I&rsquo;ll buy pasture, hay, wheat, vaccinations&hellip;&rsquo; Vashalav&rsquo;s thousand ewes are only in his head &ndash; he has only eighty, but then he&rsquo;s only been a shepherd for six years. A shepherd working on his own will have the first grey hairs in his beard by the time he has several hundred ewes. But if at night shepherds talk about wolves, during the day they talk about how to build up their flocks. </p> <p>&lsquo;Say you want to buy ewes now&rsquo;, says Alimirza in a tone that suggests that Vashalav has never been near a sheep, &rsquo;and one ewe costs 3500 roubles, then for 1000 you&rsquo;ll have to pay three and a half million! And where are you going to find that? If you get a loan from the government, the interest will ruin you! Last winter was a cold one; we lost a lot of lambs and ewes. But the year before was a good one. In a good spring, you can get a lot for your ewes.&nbsp; A shepherd can only earn money from his ewes. The young ones bring in the most.&rsquo; Alimirza turns to me. &lsquo;Before I let the rams in, I have a good look at the ewes&rsquo; teeth.&rsquo; He shows his own teeth. They are sharp and white, and although he is talking about sheep, I&rsquo;m reminded of a wolf. &lsquo;If the teeth are weak, we take her out.&rsquo; &lsquo;There&rsquo;s no money in keeping sheep&rsquo;, says Vashalav, making a gesture of hopelessness with his arms. They are so clumsy, it looks as though they have been torn off his body and then sewn on again.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Shepherd_Dagestan_Somov_ria.jpg" alt="Shepherd_Dagestan" width="460" height="300" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Sheep-farming is one of the main occupations in the mountainous areas of Dagestan. All shepherding tasks are usually performed by men, including shearing, milking, and preparing dairy products (Photo: Yuri Somov, Ria Novosti Agency, all rights reserved)</p><p>&lsquo;We get nothing for the wool&rsquo; &ndash; Alimirza butts in. &lsquo;A kilogramme of wool is worth fifteen roubles, and you get two kilogrammes off a sheep in a year. Plus you need to pay the shearer thirty roubles a head, so you end up with nothing.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;What about the meat?&rsquo; I ask.</p> <p>&lsquo;Meat is the only thing that&rsquo;s worth selling. In St Petersburg and Moscow they&rsquo;ll pay 150 roubles a kilo for young meat.&rsquo;</p> <p>According to local figures, the cost of keeping one sheep for a year is about 1700 roubles and the net profit about 1000. </p> <p>&lsquo;Why do you keep sheep then, if you can&rsquo;t live off them?&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>&nbsp;&lsquo;What&rsquo;s the alternative?&rsquo; Alimirza shrugs his shoulders. &lsquo;Be unemployed?&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;We get nothing for the wool&rsquo; &ndash; Alimirza butts in. &lsquo;A kilogramme of wool is worth fifteen roubles, and you get two kilogrammes off a sheep in a year. Plus you need to pay the shearer thirty roubles a head, so you end up with nothing.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;I wasn&rsquo;t always a shepherd&rsquo;, says Vashalav. &lsquo;I used to be a market trader. I sold cucumbers to wholesalers and they retailed them at the same price, but using doctored scales. That&rsquo;s so dishonest &ndash; I couldn&rsquo;t stand it and became a shepherd instead. There isn&rsquo;t any other work here.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <h3><strong>Slaughter</strong></h3> <p>Khochbar has arrived with the sheep. Alimirza catches one of them, clamps it between his knees, takes hold of a front hoof and trims off a slice with his knife. The animal twitches. A mixture of blood and pus flows from the hoof. &lsquo;Foot rot&rsquo;, he says with a sigh, and trims the other hoof. The sheep staggers off into a corner of the pen.</p> <p>Alimirza stands up and starts looking under the sheep&rsquo;s tails. He grabs one by the back leg and hoicks it out of the pen; he has begun to separate out the stud rams. Khochbar, bare to the waist, catches two rams at a time and drags them by the back legs to the gate of the pen, which I open and close for him. By the fiftieth ram Khochbar is out of breath. As he pushes the animals through the gate he gives them a kick under the tail, and each time the kick is harder, as though he&rsquo;s taking out on the rams all his resentment against his father, who has forced him to be a shepherd, the government, which won&rsquo;t let him serve in the army, and the sun, which beats down mercilessly on his back.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Alimirza rolls one sheep on to its back and drags it out by its two back legs. Something tells me it won&rsquo;t be returning to the pen. I follow Alimirza. &lsquo;Have you found your vocation in life?&rsquo; I ask him. &lsquo;Of course I haven&rsquo;t&rsquo; he says, turning to face me. But the times have made me a shepherd. Sometimes I sing a bit.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Sing me something&hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Naaa&hellip; I only know a few words of each song..&rsquo;</p> <p>Alimirza puts the animal on its side and kneels in front of it. The sheep squints at him. He has a knife with a coloured plastic handle hidden in his hand. I sit beside him and bury my hands in the animal&rsquo; curly coat. It&rsquo;s shaking, I can feel its heart beating. Alimirza brings the knife closer to its throat.</p> <p>&lsquo;In Moscow, they call Dagestanis idiot sheep&rsquo;, I say, putting my two arms round the animal. </p> <p>&lsquo;I don&rsquo;t agree with that &rsquo; &ndash; Alimirza draws the knife across the sheep&rsquo;s throat; it shudders under my hands but doesn&rsquo;t resist. &lsquo;I think everybody&rsquo;s the same, only we speak different languages.&rsquo;</p> <p>The animal&rsquo;s throat spurts thick bright blood that soaks the yellowing grass. The sheep makes a wheezing sound. The edges of the cut look like a mouth trying to gulp some air. </p> <p>&lsquo;Are there people like us in America?&rsquo; asks Alimirza.</p> <p>&lsquo;I shouldn&rsquo;t think so&hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p>Alimirza kneels on the dying animal and lights a cigarette. </p> <p>&lsquo;We have cosmonauts in Dagestan too, and other educated people&rsquo;, he says. The sheep&rsquo;s heart stops beating. Alimirza walks away. </p> <p>Vashalav also has a knife with a coloured handle. He sits in front of the sheep and starts to skin it expertly &ndash; from the knee to the chest, the chest to the throat, then along the belly to the tail. </p> <p>A dog wanders over and settles down to wait. &lsquo;We don&rsquo;t eat meat every day. We only kill one or two sheep a month for ourselves.&rsquo; </p> <p>He takes a small board out of his pocket, pushes it under the skin and works it backwards and forwards to separate it from the flesh. He removes the spleen, spits on it three times, each time saying &lsquo;Bismillah&rsquo; (&lsquo;In the name of God&rsquo;) each time, and throws it in the direction of the lake. </p> <p>&lsquo;But some people can&rsquo;t say &lsquo;Allah Akbar &lsquo;(&lsquo;God is Great&rsquo;) on their deathbeds&rsquo;, he continues, breaking the animal&rsquo;s backbone. &lsquo;People go to hell if they have disobeyed their parents, stolen or killed someone.&rsquo; Vashalav doesn&rsquo;t steal and doesn&rsquo;t kill people. But he doesn&rsquo;t believe he will go to Paradise. He throws away the spleen and says his &lsquo;Bismillah&rsquo; three times because that&rsquo;s what he was taught by his father. He has no idea why he does it. He knows a bit of Russian poetry. Sometimes he sings, up in the mountains. Sometimes he sets traps for the wolves. Sometimes, when he is lying asleep, wrapped up in his cloak, the sheep come up and lick his face. He dreams incessantly, but never about sheep. He dreams about being in the army or walking in a park in Makhachkala, Dagestan&rsquo;s capital, with his friends, watching people. When he is in the mountains he misses other people.</p> <h3><strong>Vashalav&rsquo;s military service</strong></h3> <p>After an hour Vashalav goes off to graze his flock. I run after him, using the crook to keep my balance among the tussocks and scrambling up the steep slope. Seeing me from a farther peak, he stops and waits. </p> <p>&lsquo;Do you like your work?&rsquo; I shout from another hilltop. </p> <p>&lsquo;You have to like your work!&rsquo; he replies. &lsquo;Otherwise, what&rsquo;s there to live for?&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;What did you want to be?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;A bookkeeper.&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;But it didn&rsquo;t work out&rsquo;, says Vashalav when I catch up with him, out of breath. &lsquo;They didn&rsquo;t want me in the army, I signed up myself. But it was falling apart in front of our eyes. Lads were deserting - they wanted out. It pissed me off.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Why?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It was an insult to our country. They were totally shameless about it. They wanted to invalid me out, but I refused it. In our village the most shameful thing you could do was not finish your national service. But I saw life; I saw the world, thanks to the army.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>&lsquo;What world did you see?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Leningrad, Petrozavodsk &ndash; lots of places&hellip;&rsquo; </p> <p>&nbsp;We arrive at the pyramid shaped peak. It is white on one side &ndash; the earth has been washed away, leaving the bare rock. </p> <p>&lsquo;Vashalav, do you believe that mountains also eventually turn grey and die?&rsquo; I ask as we climb higher and higher, keeping an eye on the sheep.</p> <p>&lsquo;This one will be destroyed. It&rsquo;ll die soon. But we won&rsquo;t live to see it.&rsquo; The wind catches his words and carries them off. It flies silently here. The sun still beats down.</p> <p>&lsquo;You see those mountains?&rsquo; He points into the distance. I can&rsquo;t see &ndash; there are mountains all around &ndash; but I nod my head. &lsquo;There&rsquo;s a stone village there. Everything has turned to stone &ndash; people, animals, the lot. Once upon a time a woman looked up at the stars and made a wish, and a magic star made the wish come true. The woman&rsquo;s wish was for flour to fall in the winter instead of snow. Anyway, one winter evening a traveller arrived in the village and saw how wasteful the people were with their flour, and left without even staying the night. As he left, he said, &ldquo;I wish it would all turn to stone&rdquo;, and the star gave him his wish. The village has been stone ever since.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;But how is it bad when people have plenty to eat?&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s bad. People stop working. That&rsquo;s bad for the land. And this land&hellip; it&rsquo;s&hellip; it&rsquo;s ours. And <a title="Imam Shamil" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imam_Shamil">Imam Shamil</a> pastured his horses on this mountain. And if a horse hadn&rsquo;t grazed here in the summer, he wouldn&rsquo;t saddle it in the winter.&rsquo;&nbsp; </p> <p>Vashalav goes off to pray and I sit down on a hummock.&nbsp; Around me are lush green hills and soft rolling mountains, their slopes so gentle that they may have been formed by the earth breathing out. Soon she will draw breath once more, but we won&rsquo;t be around to see it. The birds are singing, the clouds hang motionless, as though they too are gazing at the Sevukh pastures. I&rsquo;m thirsty, but the spring is a long way off.</p><blockquote><p><em>'While Vashalav is praying, I keep an eye on his sheep. They are huddled together, heads down, moving like a rustling stream as they crop the grass. As though their one aim in life is to eat as much as they can before being sacrificed.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>While Vashalav is praying, I keep an eye on his sheep. They are huddled together, heads down, moving like a rustling stream as they crop the grass. As though their one aim in life is to eat as much as they can before being sacrificed. Here in the mountains time seems to be holding its breath, your mind comes to a halt, you are no longer troubled by strong emotions or dreams, you are free from thought, from the city, from civilisation. You are simply free. But suddenly, through the still silence, I hear the thin bleat of a lamb that has strayed from its mother, and the piercing answering bleat of the ewe, and I find myself thinking about sheep. Perhaps the Almighty created them so that people might at some point reach the peak of humanity by voluntarily giving up eating meat. Sheep should be the objects of humans&rsquo; proof of their humanity &ndash; a sheep, after all, is practically the only creature that leaves life without a protest. And they are most like humans in their dying moments. </p> <h3><strong>Stone giants</strong></h3> <p>Behind me is the great wall of rock that divides Dagestan from Chechnya. Its face is heavily fractured, and in each segment I see the face of a stone giant. I gradually begin to make out their features: <a title="Shamil Basayev" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamil_Basayev">Shamil Basayev</a> in the Panama hat in which he captured nearby <a title="Budyonnovsk" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budyonnovsk">Budyonnovsk</a> during the First Chechen War; Imam Shamil&nbsp; in his sheepskin hat; <a title="Nader Shah" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nader_Shah">Nader Shah</a> with his long beard. Do they watch over this region, or have they been turned into stone for all eternity by the magic star, for preferring war to honest work&hellip;?</p> <p>The lake sparkles in the distance. Vashalav comes back and sits on the grass, his clumsy hands motionless, his crook by his side. He sits for hours without a thought in his head. Nothing seems to be happening, but his soul is constantly at work &ndash; its chief need is, after all, freedom. And that is what makes him different from me. I have education, undemanding work, and the opportunity to travel and not have to pass the time by kicking sheep&rsquo;s backsides. All these advantages cover me like a shell, preventing my soul from working. Take away my shell and I would be like Vashalav, a person whose only vivid memory is, and will remain, his time in the Soviet Army.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Sunset_Dagestan_Somov_Ria.jpg" alt="Sunset_DAgestan" width="460" height="300" /></p> <p class="image-caption">The magic of the mountains of Dagestan is overwhelming, especially when the sun goes down and the sky is full of stars. (Photo: Yuri Somov, Ria Novosti Agency, all rights reserved)</p><p>Towards evening, unable to escape from my shell, I go down the mountain to fetch my mobile phone. I make my way down cautiously, leaning on the crook, anchoring my feet between the tussocks so as not to slip, afraid I might dislodge a rock and that it will tumble down the slope, taking me with it, and I can think of nothing but getting down the hill. In the mountains we all become the same. </p> <h3><strong>Happiness</strong></h3> <p>&lsquo;Hey, Vashalav!&rsquo; I call from below. The shepherd in his cap appears on an outcrop above me. &lsquo;What makes you happy?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Tomorrow!&rsquo; he calls back.&nbsp; </p> <p>&lsquo;What do you mean &ndash; tomorrow?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;That tomorrow is another day!&rsquo;</p> <p>When I reach the cabin, the faces of the stone giants are veiled in thick dark fog. Then the sky blackens and they disappear from view. Heavy drops start to fall, and the downpour begins. A cold wind blows. Khochbar drives the sheep out of the pen. The rams have been separated out, and it&rsquo;s time to take them home, but the sheep aren&rsquo;t ready to move. </p> <p>&lsquo;Idiot sheep!&rsquo; shouts Alimirza.</p> <p>Khochbar takes off his shoes and throws them at the sheep. They stand rooted to the spot. The rain falls in large, cold drops. Alimirza counts his sheep, lightly touching each one with his crook. We run to our hut through the teeming rain. </p> <p>Alimirza draws on his cigarette and looks out of the window at the dark sky. In the distance Khochbar is still driving the sheep. </p> <p>&lsquo;I like sitting here in the hut, smoking and looking out at the rain&rsquo;, says Alimirza. &lsquo;Those are my happiest moments&hellip;I&rsquo;m going to sell these sheep tomorrow, I&rsquo;m fed up with all this&rsquo; - his mood changes faster than the weather in the mountains. &lsquo;I can&rsquo;t spend my whole life as a shepherd&rsquo;, he says gloomily.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>&lsquo;And then what will you do?&rsquo; I ask through chattering teeth. </p> <p>&lsquo;What will I do?&rsquo; He turns round, holding out his cloak to me. &lsquo;Why, I&rsquo;ll buy new sheep!&rsquo;</p> <p>The rains stops and the sun beats down once more, drying the grass in no time. That&rsquo;s what it&rsquo;s like up here all the time &ndash; one minute it&rsquo;s cold, the next it&rsquo;s baking. Then it rains, and then the mist comes down. Khochbar makes us some <em>khinkal</em>, the local stew of stewed meat and dumplings, and tells us a story about a wolf that got caught in a trap and gnawed off its own leg to escape. I look at them, father and son, and wonder what keeps them in this hard life when you can&rsquo;t make any money as a farmer in Russia. What makes them go on working, them and Vashalav and the other people I&rsquo;ve met in Russian villages? After all, none of them believe that after death they will go to heaven and there find a reward for their honest hard labour. </p> <p>That night, lying under the sky and wrapped up in a cloak, I look at the stars, hoping to find the magic one that will give me an answer. We city dwellers, dusted with flour and consuming more meat than the shepherds, rarely ask ourselves what compels the tillers of the soil to work, and they themselves, speaking our language badly or not at all, can&rsquo;t explain why. So the question goes unanswered.</p><blockquote><p><em>'I look at them, father and son, and wonder what keeps them in this hard life when you can&rsquo;t make any money as a farmer in Russia. What makes them go on working, them and Vashalav and the other people I&rsquo;ve met in Russian villages?'</em></p></blockquote> <p>The stars hang above me like lamps. But I don&rsquo;t feel like a minute grain of sand before the mighty universe, although I should. On the contrary, I look along the cloak, and it seems enormous. The sheep are bleating, the dogs barking. A voice from inside the hut says, &lsquo;those wolves are getting much too cocky!&rsquo;. Then Alimirza says something to Khochbar in Avar. The only thing that divides people is language, and apart from our last covering we take nothing with us out of this world. </p><p> The mountain air is making me drowsy, and the last thought I have before falling asleep comes to me perhaps from the magic star. Divided by language, people are united by the habit of work. Free workers go on toiling to repay their debt to the land for those long centuries that she fed them, when if you didn&rsquo;t grow your food you didn&rsquo;t eat. Alimirza&rsquo;s voice wavers; he sounds resigned. I don&rsquo;t know what he is talking about. But he doesn&rsquo;t know how free he is. Neither he nor Vashalav know that the stars come out each night just for them.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Cultures of the world: Dagestan, by Edward Beliaev,Oksana Buranbaeva, Marshall Cavendish, 2006</p> <p><a href="http://rbth.ru/articles/2012/08/15/lonely_shepherds_of_dagestan_17381.html">Lonely shepherds of Dagestan</a>, Slide Show, Russia Beyond The Headlines&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><strong>Also by Marina Akhmedova on oD Russia:</strong></p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/hijab-wars">Hijab Wars</a></strong></p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/snap-goes-crocodile">Snap goes the Crocodile</a></strong><strong></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/dagestan-curse-of-the-sixth-department">Dagestan: curse of the sixth department</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/wahhabi-village-in-dagestan">‘Wahhabi’ village in Dagestan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/dagestan-and-the-art-of-government">Dagestan and the art of government</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> oD Russia oD Russia Russia caucasus: regional fractures russia & eurasia russia Marina Akhmedova Letters from the Russian provinces Thu, 13 Sep 2012 21:00:07 +0000 Marina Akhmedova 68051 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Gulag doctor https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/gulag-doctor <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/vyshka.jpg " alt="" width="160" />Doctor Leonid Atlashkin spent almost 20 years in the Soviet prison camps. Unlike many, he went there of his own accord as a young doctor in 1953, and just stayed on. He retired a long time ago, but he has his memories, as Ekaterina Loushnikova discovered when she went to see him.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&lsquo;We&rsquo;re abnormal&hellip; our entire lives spent in the <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/the-vyatlag-archipelago">Vyatlag</a>!&rsquo;, says Anna Atlashkina as she greets me. She won&rsquo;t say any more: &lsquo;Good heavens, me give an interview? You must be joking!&nbsp; I&rsquo;m even late for staff meetings because I&rsquo;m afraid to go into the classroom.&rsquo; Now a dark-haired elderly lady walking with a stick, Atlashkina was for ten years a teacher of Russian literature to prisoners of Institution K-231 (otherwise known as Vyatlag). She leaves the talking to her husband Leonid, who was the head doctor at the camp&rsquo;s health centre. Leonid began his career as the &lsquo;prison doctor&rsquo; at the age of just 24.&nbsp;</p> <p>&lsquo;I came to Vyatlag entirely by chance. Around the time I graduated, they only gave out degrees once you had been assigned a job [as per the Soviet system of distributing students from big cities to other places around the USSR]. I didn&rsquo;t want to leave Kazan, so I dragged the whole thing out until the very last moment, but by then all the best places were already taken.&nbsp; So I was given a choice between Magadan or Vyatlag.&nbsp; I looked at the map and saw that Magadan was the other end of the world, whereas Vyatlag was kind of next door. And that&rsquo;s where I went.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/vyatlag%20map.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p>Vyatlag was one of the largest prison camps in the GULAG system.&nbsp; It was spread out over 12,000 sq.km, and took in the Verkhnekamsk district of the Kirov oblast, the Komi-Perm National Area and the Komi Republic. The first camps were built in the late autumn of 1937, and by early 1940 there were more than 20,000 prisoners. Political prisoners were sent there for counter-revolutionary or other subversive activities, treason, spying or terrorism, and there were the criminals. The work they did was building a railway and logging.</p> <h3>The life and fate of a prison doctor&nbsp;</h3> <p>Leonid Atlashkin is now 82, but it's hard to see him as an old man. Marathon runner would be a more suitable description, and that's not only because he runs many kilometres every day and in any weather. His whole life has been a marathon: from the 20th into the 21st century, Stalin's camps into the age of computer technology.&nbsp; His running has taken him through life and fate, where the beginning of the run was a camp hut for civilian employees in the dense Vyatka forest.</p> <p>Dr Atlashkin talks of his life there energetically and with pleasure, as if in a hurry to tell me some of the things that happened to him.&nbsp; I listen without interrupting.&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/building.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Building of a stadium inside Vyatlag, 1940. The first camps were opened in 1937; by 1940 they accommodated more than 20,000 prisoners</p> <p>'I was assigned to settlement no 11 in the very north, nearer to <a href="http://www.themoscowtimes.com/beyond_moscow/syktyvkar.html">Syktyvkar</a>, capital of the Komi Republic.&nbsp; The train was only a few coaches.&nbsp; I was met at the station and driven another 8kms by car. It was night-time when we arrived, but there was light shining all around and I thought to myself that, thank heavens, the village didn't look too bad. &nbsp;</p> <p>'I was taken into a wooden hut with 4 trestle beds in it, on one of which a woman in a red coat was asleep.&nbsp; I said &ldquo;There must be some mistake here &ndash; surely men and women live separately?&rdquo; but was told that, no, everyone lives together here!&nbsp; The woman, it turned out, had come to see her husband, a prisoner. I lay down and put my little plywood suitcase under the bed, but didn't get a wink all night, tossing and turning.&nbsp;</p> <p>&lsquo;I got up in the morning&hellip;.what a shock, what a nightmare!&nbsp; What I had taken for quite an acceptable village during the night now turned out to be a prison camp with its watchtowers, earth dugouts and huts.&nbsp; All around lay huge piles of felled trees.&nbsp; Convicts were marching along four deep, guarded by soldiers and dogs, as they went to work in the forest&rsquo;</p> <h2>More than a life at stake</h2> <p>'A soldier came to take me to the medical department. We went into the &lsquo;zone&rsquo; and I was shocked by what I saw, just dumbfounded: white barrack huts, a wide avenue covered with white sand and people walking up and down it arm in arm.&nbsp; They were in tails, top hats, patent leather shoes and carrying canes. I was a simple boy from a peasant family and had only ever seen anything like this in the films.&rsquo; &nbsp;</p> <p>'These people were, I was told, the 'godfathers' or authorities of the criminal world.&nbsp; Subsequently they came to meet me in the medical department to establish how we were going to work together in the future.&nbsp; I told them &ldquo;I have nothing particular to boast about.&nbsp; You know I have only just graduated, but I will have assistants who are highly-qualified specialists.&nbsp; We will treat you, we will help, but apart from that I shall have nothing to do with you and there will be no question of friendship!&rdquo;&nbsp; Strangely enough, they seemed to like that.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/DrGulag.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Leonid Atlashkin was just 24 when he became the camp's head doctor. A professional, non-judgemental approach earned respect even among the prison 'authorities'&nbsp;</p><p>'And that was my life. I lived in an earth dugout for a year, before being given a room in a hut. I had an orderly called Schweik, a old man of exceptional kindness who used to keep the stove alight for me. He had been sentenced for anti-Soviet propaganda, so he'd probably said more than he should have&hellip;&nbsp;</p> <p>'I was given a telephone and was called out day and night. I had to pull teeth, assist at births and even do operations. Not surprising, given that a man could bleed to death while waiting for the railcar.&nbsp; I had to learn to do everything. The convicts treated me very well. No one could go into the &lsquo;zone&rsquo; at night time, not the supervisors or even the camp commandant, but I could go anywhere I liked, including the third hut, which is where the godfathers lived.&nbsp; They were well set up there, of course: pillows, sheets, blankets and all kinds of food.&nbsp; Very different from the ordinary workers or the &ldquo;enemies of the people&rdquo;.</p> <blockquote><p><strong><em>&lsquo;I ask if it the stories about thieves playing cards for a man&rsquo;s life were true.&nbsp;</em></strong></p><p><strong><em>'Not only for a life, but for organs too.' Dr Atlashkin said calmly, as if talking about something completely natural. &lsquo;The last bet is the genitals: first one testicle, then the other, the penis itself and that's it.&nbsp; I sometimes had to sew people up, but what I could I do? I'm a doctor and must give assistance!'</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p>'There were international thieves doing time too, people who had occupied positions of importance in their own countries.&nbsp; In the camp they were in charge of brigades and responsible for productivity, which, it must be said, was excellent. Huge sums of money were in circulation: every worker who earned 100 roubles had to pay 30 into the general fund.&nbsp; If he didn't, he'd be knifed. &nbsp;</p> <p>'There was a very strict discipline in the camp.&nbsp; One night I was on duty and couldn't sleep, so I went for a walk. I could see that there was a meeting going on in hut no 3.&nbsp; These were like Communist Party meetings, with a presidium and everyone behaving properly.&nbsp; The man on guard said &ldquo;Leonid Petrovich, you can't go in there!&rdquo; I told him to go to hell &ndash; I would go in whether he liked it or not. Inside, once the authorities heard my voice, they immediately broke up the meeting, pretending they were just having an ordinary conversation. &nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;OK, OK! Don't mind me, I know you're having a meeting.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p> <p>'An &lsquo;authority&rsquo; who went by the name of Pistol said &ldquo;It's you we're worrying about, because later on they'll say that Dr Atlashkin was taking part in a thieves' gathering . You'll get into trouble!&rdquo; &nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;Put a sock in it, Pistol!&rdquo;</p> <p>'We had a good laugh and I left the hut, only to discover my watch had gone.&nbsp; When had Pistol managed to nick it off me, I wondered?&nbsp; I went back in and told him to give it back because I couldn't manage without it. &ldquo;What are you saying, Doctor? Rob? You? Never!&rdquo;&nbsp; At that moment someone came in from outside and handed me my watch, which he said I must have dropped.&nbsp; But he was clearly grinning&hellip;'</p> <p>I ask if it the stories about thieves playing cards for a man&rsquo;s life were true.&nbsp;</p> <p>'Not only for a life, but for organs too.' Dr Atlashkin said calmly, as if talking about something completely natural. 'A game of chance where debts incurred are sacred.&nbsp; First they lose all their money, then their clothes and after that they play for their own life.&nbsp; The last bet is the genitals: first one testicle, then the other, the penis itself and that's it.&nbsp; There were some really skilled players.&nbsp; I sometimes had to sew people up, but what I could I do? I'm a doctor and must give assistance!'</p> <h2><span>Doctor Bryuks</span></h2> <p>'The doctors in the Vyatlag hospital were outstanding.&nbsp; At that time prisoners were allowed to work in their area of expertise. I remember one day well:&nbsp; I was in the infirmary and a tall man came in to meet me, his new boss. He introduced himself as Bruno Bryuks, a political prisoner, sentenced to 25 years for Article 58-1a (treason).&nbsp; He had been a major in the SS and was a general practitioner.&nbsp; He became my first mentor in the profession and a great friend.'</p> <p>Noticing my surprise that he could befriend an SS major, Dr Atlashkin explained calmly:</p> <p>'It's all quite simple.&nbsp; He joined the SS against his will.&nbsp; He worked in an ordinary hospital, but when the Germans occupied Riga they announced mobilisation. Doctors were called up and forced to work in hospitals for German military men; then they were given a title and a black uniform to wear.&nbsp; There was no alternative, so he couldn't refuse, but he never shot at anyone and only ever held a needle in his hand.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/lessons.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Lessons inside the 'zone'. All GULAG camps had a functioning school system, at least up to middle-school level.&nbsp;</p> <p>'He was a marvellous doctor. When the Soviet Army arrived, he was arrested and sent to Vyatlag. His wife, a beautiful Latvian woman, came to visit him, but he told her she should marry someone else and not wait for him, because he wouldn't ever get back to her.&nbsp; She left in floods of tears.</p> <p>'Later on another doctor was sent to join us in our work at the hospital.&nbsp; He was Mikhail Yevseyev, a surgeon from the front, with the same Article and the same sentence as Dr Bryuks.&nbsp; Neither of them believed they would ever be released and there were many others like them, actors, journalists, footballers, writers, artists, people of all nationalities &ndash; Germans, Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Italians, Hungarians and Poles, to name but a few. They had all been accused of spying, treason or anti-Soviet propaganda, which basically means saying too much.&nbsp; Blabbermouths usually got 10 years.&nbsp; I had no idea who was guilty or not: I didn't read their files, I just treated them.&nbsp; I was, after all, the doctor.'</p> <h2><strong>The inmates of Vyatlag</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p>In the 18 years between 1938 and 1956 the traffic through Vyatlag amounted to some 100,000 people, imprisoned for political or national reasons and including subjects from some 20 foreign states and 80 nationalities.&nbsp; More than 18,000 prisoners were fated never to leave the camp and are buried in the graveyards of Vyatlag.</p> <p>'Among the famous people I knew was <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2006/dec/14/sport.comment">Eduard Streltsev</a>, a world-class footballer sent to the camp for rape. He never admitted his crime and claimed that he had been framed.</p><p class="image-caption"><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Streltsov_Eduard_2.jpg" alt="" width="220" height="346" align="right" />One of the camp's most famous prisoners was the Soviet footballing hero, Eduard Strelstev, who was sent to the camp for rape (a charge he strenuously denied)</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p><p class="image-caption">&nbsp;</p> <p>'He was capricious, stuck-up and overbearing and at one point the prisoners actually beat him up, but when he was going to play football, everyone wanted to watch &ndash; prisoners, soldiers, officers, even the camp commandant. Everyone was shouting &ldquo;Come on, Edik, come on!&rdquo; and his team always won.&nbsp; There were other masters of sport [Soviet award denoting excellence] in other camps too.&nbsp;</p> <p>'I remember the Estonian Rikho Pyats, who was a composer, music professor and winner of the Stalin Prize. He was in charge of the music-making at Vyatlag, where the concerts were so outstanding that people came from all over the camp to listen to them.&nbsp; The camp commandant brought his wife and children!'</p> <p>'Were there women in Vyatlag too?'</p> <p>'Of course there were, but only criminals, no political prisoners. They were very cocky and everyone was afraid of them.&nbsp; If a woman goes to prison more than once she becomes completely dehumanised. Even I took an iron bar with me when I went to see the women, just in case. If a supervisor went in to see them, for instance, he would find them stark naked and lying on their bunks with their legs in the air.&nbsp; What can one do in that situation?</p> <p>'We had a children's home too with about 250 babies in it of all colours - black, white and yellow.&nbsp; They had all been born in Vyatlag, but then they were sent on to other children's homes.'</p> <p>'Do you remember the death of Stalin?'</p> <p>'Of course!&nbsp; I actually saw him in the flesh once, on the stand at a parade in Moscow.&nbsp; Now it's fashionable to be critical of him, but I respect him.&nbsp; He was Someone, a loved and trusted Figure.&nbsp; Those were the times when&hellip;.there were excesses, of course, but there was discipline in the country.&nbsp; When Stalin died, everyone was very upset and even the prisoners cried. But in about a year the release orders started coming through.</p><blockquote><p><strong><em>&lsquo;The women were very cocky and everyone was afraid of them.&nbsp; If a woman goes to prison more than once she becomes completely dehumanised. Even I took an iron bar with me when I went to see the women, just in case.&rsquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p>'I remember the telephone call telling me that my colleague Doctor Bryuks was to be released the next day.&nbsp; I called him in and asked him what he would do if he were to discover that he was going home the next day. He looked at me disapprovingly and said &ldquo;Oh, please don't joke about things like that, it's too painful!&rdquo;&nbsp; I told him that I had received his release papers and, to my amazement, he banged his head against the wall with all the force he could muster. &ldquo;There is justice in this world after all!&nbsp; There really is!&rdquo;&nbsp; Before he left he called in with his wife and brought me a little bottle of pure spirit.&nbsp; We drank to his health, then he left and I never saw him again.'</p> <p>Dr Atlashkin couldn't restrain his tears as he thought of his old friend.&nbsp; He very much wanted to find his former colleague and had sent enquiries to Latvia, but they all remained unanswered.</p> <p>'Doctor, perhaps he doesn't want to respond, because he wants to forget the awful dream that was Vyatlag?'</p> <p>'Perhaps you're right. But that dream took away my youth and I'll never get it back again&hellip;'</p> <p>Dr Atlashkin said goodbye to me, then set off for his usual run.&nbsp; I stood looking at his receding figure, as if time itself were running away from me&hellip;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/outcasts-%E2%80%94-inmates-of-black-eagle">Outcasts — inmates of the Black Eagle</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/the-vyatlag-archipelago">The Vyatlag Archipelago</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/susanne-sternthal/let-history-be-judged-lesson-of-perm-36">Let history be judged: the lesson of Perm-36</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/last-prisoner">The last prisoner</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/the-embrace-of-stalinism">The Embrace of Stalinism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/russia-s-history-wars">Russia&#039;s history wars</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexei-levinson/great-terror%E2%80%99s-long-shadow">The Great Terror’s long shadow</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/eleven-hard-disks">Eleven hard disks</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/catriona-bass/memory-incompatible-archangelsk-affair">Memory incompatible: the Archangelsk affair continues</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lyubov-borusyak-talks-to-ludmila-alexeyeva/how-russia%E2%80%99s-human-rights-movement-began">How Russia’s human rights movement began</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 Ekaterina Loushnikova Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Internal Human rights History Fri, 07 Sep 2012 17:26:34 +0000 Ekaterina Loushnikova 67953 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On the river: a Russian holiday diary https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elena-strelnikova/on-river-russian-holiday-diary <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/river_0.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Holidays by the sea in Turkey or Egypt are beginning to lose their appeal to ordinary Russians, and they’re no longer that cheap either. This summer, Elena Strelnikova joined many of her compatriots in looking nearer to home for rest and relaxation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">&lsquo;I should&rsquo;ve brought my laptop,&rsquo; I say to my husband as we board the train to Nizhny Tagil. He asked me why (men don&rsquo;t always understand female logic straightaway). I could have been working on an article, I explained. &lsquo;Well, you&rsquo;d have worked for 2 hours and then we&rsquo;d have had to lug the laptop with us, worrying that something might happen to it!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">Lugging. This is an essential part of a holidaymaker&rsquo;s vocabulary. First you schlepp a long way, be it by train, bus or by water, then there you have to <em>lug</em> your backpack (which gets strangely heavier by the day, even though it should be getting lighter as you eat your way through the provisions).&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">We once did an expedition in the <a href="http://www.living-zen.co.uk/altai.html">Altai</a> and the <a href="http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/altai_sayan_mountain/">Sayan</a> mountains, where we walked about 60km uphill to the pass, before travelling a further 100km by water.&nbsp; The men in the party had to lug backpacks weighing 30kg; we lugged 20kg. So you can imagine our surprise when, at the end of the walk, some <em>tinfoil, </em>wrapped in clean socks, fell out of one of our friend's backpack.&nbsp; What did he need it for? For baking fish, apparently. Not that we caught much at all in those two weeks...&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I agonise over every gramme I pack, but one thing I do always include is a pad and a pen.&nbsp; Essential items for the holiday chronicler.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Take your litter with you!&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Our destination is the <a href="http://welcome-ural.ru/add/102/">Chusovaya</a> river, which is where we are to board a catamaran.&nbsp; The first moments are the most interesting because everything is new and interesting, though sometimes shocking too.&nbsp; We embark at Ust-Utka, a small village which we had approached on a surprisingly good asphalt road (thanks, apparently, to a local oligarch). All the houses that matter to us have green fences in front of them: this is where the old ladies live who will always sell us tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and milk with smetana.&nbsp; There's a modern well (press the button and hold it for 20 seconds to get delicious well water); there are crowds of children running around, but the school is about to be closed because it has only 17 pupils.</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Esenin_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" height="345" /></p><p class="image-caption">A stone outside the Sergei Yesenin museum in Ust-Utka, complete with an engraving of the poet's work: 'Oh, accordion, poision death / know thenceforth for while you play / not one single daring conquest / has, in vain, disappeared away'</p><p class="p1">At the end of the village there are two surprises that await tourists.&nbsp; The first is not indicated in any of the guidebooks, but is especially significant for the holidaymaker.&nbsp; It's a <em>cri de coeur</em> from the villagers of Ust-Utka (and perhaps everyone living near water):&nbsp; on the fence, painted in big letters, is written:&nbsp; 'Don't leave your litter &ndash; take it with you!'&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The second surprise was nicer: a <a href="http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSyesenin.htm">Yesenin</a> museum set up by a local craftsman, Timofey Kozhevnikov. He has carved excerpts from the works of the great poet on stones, some of them poems about village life in far-away parts of Russia.&nbsp; There are about 10 or 15 stones and Timofey has clearly worked hard: they are dated 2003, 2004 and 2008, so he spent several years carving away just so that we holidaymakers could stop, read, quote the poet and recognise the work he, Timofey, had put into his work.</p> <h2><strong>Independent tourism in the Urals</strong></h2> <p class="p1">The smell of fir trees is wonderful and we inhale it as we sail through the frequent wide stretches of the Chusovaya river. We row slowly and fall into a reverie.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Holidays involving tents, campfires and backpacks are become more and more popular in Russia these days.&nbsp; Lyudmila, with us in the boat, told us that at one point things had gone a bit quiet, but 'during the last 2 years we've seen more people who want to sail or canoe, even along our steppe rivers, such as the Ural and the Sakmara. People have had enough of&nbsp; the sea in Turkey and Egypt, and European holidays are expensive.&nbsp; My niece has plenty of money: she goes to ski resorts, but when I asked her what ski-ing was like, she said she herself had never skied.&nbsp; She only goes to these places because it was the thing to do!&nbsp; But tastes are changing and people want some variety.'</p> <p class="p1">We like so-called 'extreme tourism' and always have.&nbsp; It's a pity that there aren't more rivers in Orenburg, so we have to go further afield.&nbsp; The Chusovaya is in the northern Urals and is both easy to navigate and beautiful to look at. Some people think it very odd that we are content to manage without home comforts for a week or two, but we love it.</p> <p class="p1">Travelling with us are Anya and her husband Rustam. He's the helmsman and Anya reads to us from the guidebook about local points of interest. 'There's a church up there in the forest,' says Anya. 'You can't see it from the water, but shall we go and have a look?'&nbsp; We didn't actually find the church, but we found a village called Khoryonki, where the quay was paved and there was a notice saying 'No mooring!'&nbsp; This obviously doesn't apply to everyone, because it's a kind of estate, cottages for the Sverdlovsk elite including, apparently, the former regional governor,&nbsp; Eduard Rossel.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">On the island opposite the quay stands a monument to the well-known industrialist Afanasy Demidov (though for some reason it actually looks more like Rossel)&nbsp; with the inscription 'From your grateful heirs.'&nbsp; That would the local fat cats and the officials, we are told by Valentina, one of the group.&nbsp; 'Here,' she points to the cottages, 'everything is clean and orderly.&nbsp; Who wouldn't want to spend his retirement by a beautiful river with a view of his own monument?&nbsp; But over there, ' pointing to the area outside the cottages, which is under the care of the aforementioned officials, 'everything's a mess.'&nbsp; There's a footbridge to the monument, but it's closed. You wouldn't want the voters coming anywhere near.&nbsp; The less fancy houses belong to the deputies &ndash; no one from Khoryonki could afford a house here. We conclude that the idea of patronage has disappeared in Russia, so the rich don't know what to do with their money.</p> <p class="p1">To be on holiday is to relax. You're far from home, without any responsibilities, though you do have to remember to pay attention when you're in a boat. But this doesn't interfere with one's thought processes.&nbsp; There's much laughter and story-telling.&nbsp; We see herons and sometimes eagles, soaring majestically above us and looking down on us holidaymakers below.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Rules of the water</strong></h2> <p class="p1">We sail on down the river, looking for somewhere to stop, but we can't find anywhere because here holidaymakers have left their rubbish all over the banks.&nbsp; On the whole, though, the Chusovaya river is quite clean and there are people who make sure it stays that way. We started our journey in the Sverdlovsk oblast, then went through the Perm krai [territory], before making a loop and coming back into the Sverdlovsk oblast.&nbsp; The banks are all clean: no bottles, plastic bags or tins, and this is thanks to the forest wardens, the tour companies and the tourists themselves. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">At one of our stops we talk to Nikolai, a forest warden.&nbsp; He tells us that things have got better over the last 2 years; this year there has even been money allocated from the regional budget to improve the moorings. Little tables and sunshades have been put up and the places look better than they have done for many years. When we were sailing along, we had noticed people tidying up before they set up their tents.&nbsp; We thought they were volunteers, but they were actually people from the nearby town of <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/353217/Lysva">Lysva</a> some 80kms to the east of Perm. They wanted to ensure that the close encounters between river and people should not be disadvantageous to either.</p> <p class="p1">Not far from Lysva we spent a night in a very clean and tidy place by the river. That evening, Anya and the other girls in the group sang for us.&nbsp; She is the lead singer of Aquarelle, the Orenburg amateur singing group, so there was a singsong every evening.&nbsp; The next morning the locals listened to our expressions of gratitude for our night-time camping place, then they asked if we would sing for them.&nbsp; The girls were delighted to do so and even earned themselves a glass of wine each and 2 tins of meat.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/boat_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" height="345" /></p><p class="image-caption">River holidays are becoming increasingly attractive for tourists from both Russia and further afield. The country's rivers, lakes and forests are also popular among moneyed elites, who frequently, illegally cordon off&nbsp;public land for their own private use.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">What do holidaymakers eat when they're on the move? When they stop for the night, they eat tinned meat, condensed milk with porridge, packet soups and crackers.&nbsp; On the boat they chew seeds (an old Russian habit) and sweets. Now people drink pure spirit (diluted, of course). In deference to the old traditions, we all had a drink from the bottle when we tied up for the evening, then had a little more round the campfire.&nbsp; We don't have too much, because we&rsquo;re looking after ourselves.&nbsp; We also made stewed fruit compote from dried fruits and drank amazing herb teas: mint, marjoram, thyme and even ground ivy, which is very good for one in small quantities. We even got used to drinking spirit and I found myself wondering how I would emerge from my spirit-induced coma when I get home!</p> <blockquote><p class="p1"><strong><em>&lsquo;The children are cheerfully splashing about in the water nearby.&nbsp; 'I've caught some weeds!' 'I've got some mud, ' and 'I've got both!'&rsquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p1">There are plenty of tourists on the Chusovaya, making their way on all sorts of vessels: catamarans, canoes, inflatable boats, rafts, and sometimes a mixture of several types. People come from all over Russia to do this, and from abroad too.&nbsp; There's a big campsite nearby.&nbsp; 'Where are you from?' a lad calls to us from the bank. We tell him we're from Orenburg.&nbsp; 'We've just had Australians here. They only left a day or two ago and they were delighted with their holiday.'</p> <p class="p1">There's no age limit.&nbsp; We didn't bring our children, because the journey to get here was too long, but we saw a family in catamarans with 4 children aged between 3 and 5. We asked them if the children were playing up.&nbsp; 'Not at all, they're used to it. The main thing is not to forget the lifejackets and to make sure to put them on, because when they fall into the water they're scared and flail about. We fish them out, but they fall in again.&nbsp; We're having a ball!'&nbsp; A couple of kilometres further on, they set up camp on the bank; the children still have their lifejackets on and are cheerfully splashing about in the water nearby.&nbsp; 'I've caught some weeds!' 'I've got some mud, ' and 'I've got both!' &nbsp; That's childhood for you &ndash; no question of dropping the muddy weeds in disgust, just bodies browned by the sun and the pleasure of draping oneself in weeds!</p> <p class="p1">We encountered two teeshirted ladies of 50+ in a catamaran. They rowed fast and well, made campfires and caught fish. But they had so many things!&nbsp; We were 7 in our catamaran; there was only two of them, but there wasn't a centimetre of free space and at the end they had to have a minibus to get home. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><strong>No fish in this river...&nbsp;</strong></p> <p class="p1">I mentioned fish earlier on and I must say a bit more on this wondrous subject.&nbsp; Wondrous because there are hardly fish in the Chusovaya.&nbsp; Plenty of fishermen along the banks, but no fish, or only very little. However, there are plenty of flies of various sizes and all of us made great efforts to catch them along the way so that we could use them for fishing.&nbsp; We even caught a couple of grasshoppers.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The funniest thing was that my husband had actually brought worms with him all the way from home!&nbsp; He gave them fresh air, put them in the shade, fed them, and then tried to use them to lure the Chusovaya fish.&nbsp; Almost no result. He did catch 4 chub, so we cooked them on the fire. We ate them almost without noticing.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">We finished our holiday in a village called Nizhnyaya Oslanka, which had 100 houses and 3 shops. All had the same goods, but at difference prices. However, that's not the point.&nbsp; We were in a shop and witnessed the following exchange:</p> <p class="p1">Shopper (lady, about 55): Do you have any fish?</p> <p class="p1">Shop assistant: We do. Hake, plaice and pollock.</p> <p class="p1">Me (unable to contain myself): But they're all sea fish.&nbsp; Why do you have to buy fish if you live on a river?</p> <p class="p1">The shopper and the assistant answered in unison: 'There's no fish in the Chusovaya, especially in this heat.&nbsp; It's been 30&deg; for a month now. The river is shallower with each year.&nbsp; In Demidov's time the barges would sail up and down, now it's just the tourists who are the main source of income.</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Home again</strong></p> <p class="p1">We returned from the Chusovaya rested and inspired, with our faith in nature restored and our minds a bit less dissatisfied with city life. In the train we fantasised about soft beds and deliciously unhealthy food.&nbsp; Our bodies had de-toxed over the week and were now demanding chemicals: ketchup, mayonnaise, crisps and even Coca Cola!&nbsp; 'To independent tourism!' was the first toast, as we sat down to our pelmeni [<a href="http://tasterussian.com/russian-pelmeni-recipe.html">dumplings</a>] and a glass of vodka. 'And to more of them!' &ndash; the toasts went on all evening&hellip;&hellip;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-strelnikova/summer-days-at-dacha">Summer days at the dacha</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/summer-in-saratov">Summer in Saratov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/roman-yushkov/in-land-of-forests-dispatch-from-perm">In the land of the forests: dispatch from Perm</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> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Elena Strelnikova Letters from the Russian provinces Fri, 31 Aug 2012 16:29:08 +0000 Elena Strelnikova 67832 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why I fled Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-yefimov/why-i-fled-russia <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/Yefimov(youtube).jpg" alt="" width="160" align="le" /></p><p>Maxim Yefimov was an activist working in the field of human rights in Karelia, in the Russian Far North. Following criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church, authorities attempted to incarcerate him in a mental institution. He was kept sane by the conviction he was doing right, but eventually the threat led to flee the country. Here is his story.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>For almost three months now I have been living in Estonia, a small country that can be traversed from south to north in about two hours. Most people here speak Estonian, a language I don&rsquo;t understand at all. It&rsquo;s the only place in the planet where this language is spoken and they make full use of that. Otherwise everything here is the same as in Russia, though the roads are better, the air and the streets are cleaner. And no one would dream of putting a sane man into a mental hospital and prosecuting him for expressing his views. </p> <p>However, I am still in touch with my longsuffering homeland &ndash; how could I lose such an intimate link, when the criminal investigators there can&rsquo;t live without me and are preparing to search for me not only in Russia, but throughout the world?&nbsp;</p> <p>They are demanding that I go to prison for my criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church.</p> <h3><strong>Early life</strong></h3> <p>My own homeland is the republic of Karelia. Even Russians confuse it with Korea, so not much hope for foreigners, who know only one Karel, the Czech popular singer Karel Gott. Karelia is next to Finland and it is so big that it could easily accommodate several European states. Nature there is very beautiful, which is why it was so often painted by Russian painter and philosopher <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Roerich">Nikolai Roerich</a>; the government, however, is not &ndash; and is doing its best to destroy the flora and fauna. The population is shrinking because people don&rsquo;t want to live in Karelia, where there is unemployment, the environment is polluted, there is poverty and frustration.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>'They are demanding that I go to prison for my criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>I was born in the capital, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrozavodsk">Petrozavodsk</a>, and grew up there. My favourite place in the world is the shore of <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/429114/Lake-Onega">Lake Onega</a>, a breathtakingly beautiful place. I have a one-room flat is in a street named in honour of <a href="http://visualrian.ru/en/site/gallery/#758610/context%5Bmode%5D=simple&amp;context%5Bq%5D=wind&amp;context%5Bfield%5D=keyword">Gustav Rovio</a>, the Finnish revolutionary who at one time sheltered Lenin. Petrozavodsk was founded more than 300 years ago (in 1703, the same year as St Petersburg), but it is a typical Soviet city with its huge blocks of apartments. Most people in the city work in the public sector: there used to be industry there, factories and plants, but now there are just a great many ministries and other departments.</p> <p>I was a student in the humanities at the university, graduating with a degree in Russian language. I became a teacher of the mighty Russian language and its literature from time immemorial to the present day, but didn&rsquo;t devote myself to a life in school. The rampant injustice in Karelia led me to become a journalist and human rights campaigner.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Fascism_Yefimov.jpg" alt="Fascism_cake_yefimov" width="460" height="320" /></p> <p class="image-caption">&ldquo;Fascism will fail&rdquo; reads the message on the cake. Maxim Yefimov was seriously concerned about the rise in nationalist and pro fascist radical tendencies in Russia.&nbsp;</p><h3><strong>The calling of human rights</strong></h3> <p>I began working in the field of human rights in 1998, when my right to refuse military service was trampled on by the Army Recruiting Bureau, who wanted to put me in prison for turning down this honourable obligation.</p> <p>I was only 15 when, like hundreds of thousands of other Russian boys, I received my call-up papers. I decided I would not serve in the army: I didn&rsquo;t want to kill people and lose precious time from my life, doing 2 years of square-bashing and pointless labour.&nbsp; The officers at the Recruitment Bureau talked to me, they even offered me the possibility of studying in the school for lieutenants, but I turned down even that flattering proposal. At the time I was very taken up with the works of Herman Hesse, various ethical and religious ideas and the works of Lev Tolstoy, who was against war. So in spite of all the intimidation and threats to put me in prison, I stood my ground, rather like the Tin Soldier.</p><p>Armed with the crass decision of the call-up committee and jolly memories of encounters with the general and his colonels, I went to court, where I spent a year arguing my right not to serve in the Russian army. In 1999 I became the first person in Karelia to succeed in defending this right in court, although few people actually believed I&rsquo;d done it, including many Karelian human rights campaigners.</p> <p>My work in this field started with this obvious and improbable event. I started helping young men in the same position as myself. In 2000 I set up the <a href="http://right.karelia.ru/eng/">Youth Human Rights</a> group and became its head. We offered everyone free legal advice and help.</p> <p>In the 2000s, Karelia, as indeed the whole of the rest of Russia, witnessed the rise of nationalist tendencies. Organisations like Russian National Unity and other boneheads became very popular, enjoying the covert support of the Church as well. We considered them a threat to human rights: astoundingly, antifascists are to this day prosecuted for incitement to hatred of a social group, the &lsquo;nationalists&rsquo;. I began publishing an anti-fascist and human rights newspaper called &lsquo;Zero Hour&rsquo;. In the first issue, I published a small excerpt from <a href="http://www.sgipt.org/gesch/kronf/kronf_e.htm">Arthur Kronfeld&rsquo;s</a> pamphlet; I called it &lsquo;Imbeciles in power.&rsquo; The director of the printing house saw the title and advised me to go carefully in criticising the Karelian authorities, but the article was about the politicians of the Third Reich.&nbsp;</p> <p>We wrote about the history of the Holocaust and Soviet political repressions, which had been carried out on a huge scale in Karelia. We used this historical material to promote the values of human rights and democracy. I was warned, told I was playing with fire, and that it was very dangerous. But I was sure what I was doing was both right and essential for Russian society.</p><blockquote><p>'I began working in the field of human rights in 1998, when my right to refuse military service was trampled on by the Army Recruiting Bureau, who wanted to put me in prison for turning down this honourable obligation.'&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>Our publications (newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, books, CDs) targeted the racism, xenophobia, intolerance, authoritarianism of today and promoted democracy, human rights, personal freedom, and tolerance. Overall, our circulation was approximately 20 20 20 000, not including individual publications in the media and on our internet websites.&nbsp; For a small organisation it was pretty impressive. It goes without saying that the work required total dedication, but everything succeeded because I was surrounded by people who thought as I did.</p> <h3><strong>Our programme</strong></h3> <p>The Youth Human Rights group engaged in many forms of activity. We organised pickets against abuse and forcible call-up to the army, during one of which I was detained by the police and fined by the magistrate for using a defective megaphone. I sat in the police station, which smelt horrible, for three hours. Taking part in this protest were activists from our group, my friends, and also complete strangers. We were calling for the Minister of Defence to give the soldier <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/world/europe/13hazing.html?pagewanted=all">Andrey Sychov</a> his legs back [which had to be amputated following grotesque abuse during his military service, ed]; actually we were demanding Ivanov&rsquo;s resignation (some time later he was indeed removed from his post). When I went into the street with a megaphone, I wanted to reach people and to appeal to them. It is, after all, our silent consent that allows the continued perpetration of so many crimes and murders of young people in the army.</p> <p>My group organised the Human Rights March, an unheard of event for our region. All Karelia knew were military parades and the obligatory communist demonstrations with slogans such as &lsquo;People and Party are One&rsquo; (in the same way as wolves and sheep, as the underground joke went at the time) and &lsquo;Lenin Lives.&rsquo; Nothing that would count as free expression of opinions ever happened. During our march people were calling for transparency in government, freedom of speech and convictions for crimes committed during the Chechen war etc.</p> <p>Much of what we did was a first for Karelia. In 2008, for instance, we published an information pamphlet against homophobia; we wrote articles and made video clips about the phenomenon of homosexuality. I saw that the LGBT communities in big cities were fighting for their rights, against defamation and decided to support Karelian gays and lesbians, who were intimidated and very wary. These quite ordinary people were the victims of squalid political spin and my whole being protested against this.</p> <h3><strong>Upping the ante</strong></h3> <p>I was becoming louder with my verbal attacks because no one would listen, while the outrageous and systematic crimes committed by the authorities remained unpunished. We made video clips, which brought the issues to the attention of ordinary Karelians, and subsequently the whole country. We were the only people courageous enough to highlight the forcible takeover of the plant in Kondopoga and how its woman owner was not only robbed, when they took away her factory, but viciously beaten up on two occasions. The thugs knew they would get away with it because they had connections in the higher echelons of power in Karelia.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Demo_Yefimov.jpg" alt="Demo_Yefimov" width="460" height="240" /></p> <p><span class="image-caption">Yefimov's Youth Human Rights Group in Karelia protest against hazing in the Russian army. Far away from federal media and foreign diplomats, regional activism requires a great deal of courage.&nbsp;</span></p><p>Another case, which we alone published, was the murder by bailiffs of a sick man.&nbsp; Despite his mothers&rsquo; protests and her warnings that he was very ill and in need of regular medication, he was taken to court without the medication. He had an epileptic fit, fell on the stone floor and died. Not one of the bailiffs was prosecuted; the prosecutor&rsquo;s office stated that there had been no crime, as the bailiffs had been carrying out a legal court decision.</p> <p>The Youth Human Rights group and I personally were the thorn in the sides of the Karelian government. But they got their own back. I was dropped from the post-graduate programme I was on. Then, on 5 April 2012, a case was brought against me for an article called &lsquo;Karelia is sick of priests&rsquo;, which highlighted the omnipotence of the secret services, the rampant corruption, the oligarchy and the fusion of church and state. The investigating officers considered that this piece was designed to offend a social group, Orthodox people, who they say were described as &lsquo;bearded mummers,&rsquo; &lsquo;secretaries for ideology&rsquo; and &lsquo;brats.&rsquo; But the piece was about priests! Naturally, I did not call for any violence or infringement of citizens&rsquo; rights.</p> <h3><strong>Raid and arrest</strong></h3> <p>The authorities obtained a warrant for a night-time search of my flat. When the officials from the Ministry of Emergencies started breaking down the iron doors of my flat, I rather took fright at the terrible noise which would have alerted everyone up and down the staircase. I had to open the door, or they would have wrecked it. I rang friends, who came immediately to witness the unlawful goings-on. The investigating officer even went so far as to look in the toilet for extremist material. In the end they seized my computer. I filmed everything on a video camera because I was afraid they might plant drugs on me. The FSB man in charge even looked into the handbag of one of the witnesses. Fear was replaced by outrage at the high-handedness of the special forces. I was very distressed by their actions and couldn&rsquo;t sleep for several nights. I had to get some counselling.</p> <p>Then I was sent to see the psychiatrists who were to examine me and give their opinion.&nbsp; There were 4 people in the room, all regarding me with complete indifference. The tone used by the man in charge was inquisitorial. It was perfectly clear that the examination was no more than a formality. </p><blockquote><p><em>'One of the psychiatrists said with ill-concealed disgust &lsquo;You probably consider yourself a dissident. We know about dissidents like you. We&rsquo;ve seen plenty of them!&rsquo; I replied that it was psychiatrists like them that put sane people into mental hospitals and that they were the disgrace of Soviet punitive psychiatry.'</em></p></blockquote><p>They asked all sorts of questions, including why I had not done military service. I replied that I had refused to do it on principle. &lsquo;So you&rsquo;re a conchie!&rsquo; they squealed. I suggested they read the Constitution rather than making judgements about things they knew nothing about. They asked about my sexual orientation and I joked that I was a lesbian. One of the psychiatrists said with ill-concealed disgust &lsquo;You probably consider yourself a dissident. We know about dissidents like you. We&rsquo;ve seen plenty of them!&rsquo; I replied that it was psychiatrists like them that put sane people into mental hospitals and that they were the disgrace of Soviet punitive psychiatry. At the insistence of the FSB these psychiatrists concluded that I should be forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital to investigate how far developed my personality disorders were, though in-patient forensic psychiatric examinations are only carried out in the case of madmen, paedophiles and serial killers. We suspect that the plan was simply to inject me full of drugs in the hospital.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Flight</strong></h3> <p>The judge overseeing my case was well known for her perversions of justice, so it was no problem for her to follow the psychiatrists&rsquo; lead. Had it not been for the outcry in the federal media, the FSB would have taken me to the psychiatric hospital &ndash; they were waiting at the exit from the court. I realised that there was no point in relying on a law, which, in Karelia, would not work for me, so decided to go abroad. After I left Karelia, the investigators put me on the federal wanted list. When the investigating committee heard that I had asked for political asylum in Estonia, they wanted to put me on the international wanted list. Perhaps Russia will now start demanding my extradition. </p><blockquote><p><em>'After I left Karelia, the investigators put me on the federal wanted list. '</em></p></blockquote><p>The Karelian Supreme Court threw out the decision of the city court and sent the case for further examination. At the new session, the investigating officer withdrew his call to have me forcibly hospitalised, but some time later went back to the court with the same request. It seems to me that it would quite a good idea to question the competence of the investigator himself !</p> <p>This was the first case of punitive psychiatry in post-Soviet Karelia. Apparently the investigators and FSB officers regard the defence of human rights and criticism of the authorities as a serious deviation, for which treatment is necessary.</p> <p>It was alone the threat of imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital that compelled me to leave Russia and seek political asylum in democratic Estonia.&nbsp;</p><p>--------------</p><p><strong>Maxim Yefimov`s sites:</strong></p> <p><a href="http://right.karelia.ru">http://right.karelia.ru</a></p> <p><a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/YHRGKarelia">http://www.youtube.com/user/YHRGKarelia</a></p> <p><a href="http://maxim-efimov.livejournal.com">http://maxim-efimov.livejournal.com</a></p> <p><a href="http://mpgkareliya.rutube.ru">http://mpgkareliya.rutube.ru</a></p> <p><a href="http://video.yandex.ru/users/yhrgkarelia">http://video.yandex.ru/users/yhrgkarelia</a></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A Karelian blogger charged with inciting hatred for criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church has been put on the international wanted list, the Karelian branch of the Investigation Committee said on Tuesday.</p><p>Maxim Yefimov, the head of Youth Human Rights Group Karelia, published an article titled Karelia Tired of Priests online in December 2011, slamming the church over its alleged interest in real estate in the northern republic.</p><p>This earned him a criminal case for fostering hate, punishable by up to two years in prison.</p><p>On May 12 a court ordered Yefimov to be put into a clinic for psychiatric testing from May 23, however the blogger went missing.</p><p>RIA Novosti Agency, July 31st</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergei-lukashevsky/how-god-came-to-vote-for-putin-background-to-pussy-riot">How God came to vote for Putin: the background to Pussy Riot </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tikhon-dzyadko/russian-orthodox-church-from-farce-to-tragedy">The Russian Orthodox Church: from farce to tragedy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <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 class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yury-dzhibladze/russian-government-declares-%E2%80%98cold-war%E2%80%99-on-civil-society">Russian government declares ‘cold war’ on civil society</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nicu-popescu/updating-russia%E2%80%99s-repressive-software-and-why-genie-will-say-%E2%80%98no%E2%80%99">Updating Russia’s repressive software (and why the genie will say ‘no’)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-turchak-alexander-koltsov/little-strangers-%E2%80%98get-me-out-of-here%E2%80%99">Little Strangers. ‘Get me out of here!’ </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bill-browder/turning-tables-on-russia%E2%80%99s-power-elite-%E2%80%94-story-behind-magnitsky-act">Turning the tables on Russia’s power elite — the story behind the Magnitsky Act</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina-alexander-cherkasov-igor-kalyapin/natalya-estemirova-%E2%80%93-murdered-not-forgott">Natalya Estemirova – murdered, not forgotten</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tikhon-dzyadko/how-moscow-protesters-turned-from-angry-urbanites-into-enraged-citizens">How Moscow protesters turned from angry urbanites into enraged citizens</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-reiter/going-on-empty-interviews-with-astrakhan%E2%80%99s-hunger-protesters">Going on empty: interviews with Astrakhan’s hunger protesters </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexandra-krylenkova/fear-is-over-demonstrator%E2%80%99s-diary">The fear is over: a demonstrator’s diary</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yelena-milashina/anna-five-years-on">Anna: five years on</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 human rights Maxim Yefimov Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Human rights Wed, 29 Aug 2012 14:04:42 +0000 Maxim Yefimov 67790 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Siberia’s crying cannibal: when business became war https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksei-tarasov/siberia%E2%80%99s-crying-cannibal-when-business-became-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/SergeyChernyh.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Last month, a Siberian gang leader accused of dozens of murders was unexpectedly given a prison sentence. Could it be that Russia is finally getting to grips with organised criminality? There is more to this case than meets the eye, says Aleksei Tarasov&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">At the same as two Siberian oligarchs were fighting an expensive <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18741905">battle</a> in London&rsquo;s High Court, sharing out some of their ill-gotten gains with the British legal establishment, a parallel court drama was unfolding back home, in Krasnoyarsk. On trial was a man who might easily have become as rich or famous as Oleg Deripaska or Mikhail Chernoy, had he only had a bit more luck in the bitter and bloody Aluminium Wars played out in the 1990s.</p> <p class="p2"><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/map_7.png%20" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="p2">In a strange verdict that turned heads for differing reasons, the Krasnoyarsk Court eventually sentenced Vladimir Tatarenkov, a 58-year old recidivist known as &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; [&lsquo;the Tatar&rsquo;], to thirteen and a half years imprisonment in a penal colony. Putting it a different way, they gave one of Russia&rsquo;s most cynical and ruthless gangsters &mdash; a man suspected of being behind dozens of murders &mdash; a sentence roughly equivalent to punishment for repeat burglary. Throughout the entire trial, there was no mention of the bloody massacres that so traumatised the region during the 1990s. With one exception: the double murder that &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was eventually sent down for.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">This all seemed somewhat strange to the assembled observers, who recalled how the General Procurator&rsquo;s office had publicly stated that they had clear evidence of Tatarenkov's involvement in a criminal group, his mob activities and role in seven murders. The observers had been told to expect nothing short of a life sentence.&nbsp;</p> <h3>Business is war</h3> <p class="p4">Tatarenkov is a figure of almost legendary renown in Krasnoyarsk Krai.&nbsp; In the 1990s, he headed up a team of assassins, who worked across the regions of Krasnoyarsk, Khakassia and Moscow, tirelessly removing his own personal enemies and those of his good friend, the influential politician and businessman Anatoly Bykov. Bykov in those days enjoyed the informal title of &lsquo;Shadow mayor of Krasnoyarsk&rsquo;; today, his influence has been legalised, and he enjoys the more sanitised title of MP in the regional parliament.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p4"><strong><em>&lsquo;Tatarenkov&rsquo;s assassins usually worked for free. No one, it seems, made money on the contract killings. Daily life was generally wretched, spent in cheap hostels, with the only perks being free grub in the cafe and prostitutes. They also each got a gun and a motor.&rsquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p4">The phrase &lsquo;business is war&rsquo; may have become trite from overuse, but this phrase is certainly the most appropriate cover note to Tatarenkov&rsquo;s life story. Tatarenkov, who had set his sights on profits from the Sayanogorsk Aluminium Smelter (SAZ), did not flinch from sending killers out to do his work. His people often worked in broad daylight, showering victims with bullets, filling the streets with blood and terrorising passers by (&lsquo;Look what a big machine gun the man has&rsquo;, one case note records a young girl saying to her mother, as they returned from play-school). There was an atmosphere of fear and panic among ordinary people; when questioned by police, witnesses would keep a deathly silence.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">All Tatarenkov&rsquo;s assassins were residents of either Sayanogorsk or Minusinsk, born in either 1970 or 1971 (the one exception being a officer-paratrooper, born in 1966). The killers would often practise boxing and body-building together. Those who lived in Minusinsk would mess around in the city&rsquo;s markets, issuing permits to traders and generally getting involved in petty commerce. From what we know, the men were from ordinary families and the majority of them had served in the army. Two had previous convictions, though for trivial offences. What is particularly interesting, however, is that they usually worked as Tatarenkov&rsquo;s executioners for free. No one, it seems, made money on the contract killings. Daily life was generally wretched, spent in cheap hostels, with the only perks being free grub in the cafe and prostitutes. They also each got a gun and a motor.&nbsp;</p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/301face04d2e482788487e10a23d7c67.jpeg%20" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Sayanogorsk Aluminium Smelter (SAZ).&nbsp;By the end of 1994, Tatarenkov had lost control of the plant to structures owned by the Chernoy Brothers. Photo: Rusal Press Centre</span></p><p class="p4">Ultimately, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was unable to follow in the footsteps of his friend and patron Bykov. As Bykov consolidated his position at the helm of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Smelter (KrAZ) in 1994, a series of events saw the godfather of Sayanogorsk forced to withdraw from his battle with the Chernoy brothers and Oleg Deripaska for control of the Sayanogorsk Aluminium Smelter (SAZ). During the summer and autumn of 1994, structures owned the Chernoy brothers obtained a controlling stake in the SAZ plant, and in November 1994 they implemented a change in management.&nbsp; 26-year old Oleg Deripaska become the chief executive of the plant, and Vladimir Lisin was made Chairman of the board. Both, of course, would later break free of the brothers&rsquo; control and become oligarchs in their own right.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p4"><strong><em>&lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was unable to follow in the footsteps of his friend and patron Bykov. As Bykov consolidated his position at the helm of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Smelter (KrAZ), the godfather of Sayanogorsk was forced to withdraw from his battle with the Chernoy brothers and Oleg Deripaska for control of the Sayanogorsk Aluminium Smelter (SAZ)&rsquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p4">Having lost SAZ, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was forced to join a number of his hit-men on the run. Some of these associates were eventually caught, others found dead and yet others are still on Interpol list. Occasionally, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; would make an attempt to crawl out from hiding, issuing thinly-veiled threats to Deripaska like &lsquo;have you chosen the colour of your tombstone yet, Oleg?&rsquo;, but to little effect. &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;s&rsquo; power had faded. As they said in the Godfather, &lsquo;your enemies always get strong on what you leave behind&rsquo;.</p> <p class="p4">In 1997, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;s&rsquo; &lsquo;Aluminium foot soldiers&rsquo; were one by one sentenced in Krasnoyarsk. Given a slightly different chain of events, some of them could easily have found themselves on the board of the Sayanogorsk Aluminium Smelter.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Skeletons in the cupboard</strong></h3> <p class="p4">That &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; would become a fugitive criminal while his associate Bykov became one of the richest and most influential people in Russia, is in large part explained by the fact that &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; came to be seen as a secret weapon to use against Bykov. If Bykov dug his heels in and refused to yield some business, or began exercising inappropriate political ambitions, he would be reminded of his former colleague, the master executioner, ready to plunge the proverbial knife into him at any minute.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">In reality, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; never said anything particularly intelligible or incriminating against his one-time friend. Indeed, he eventually refused to give any evidence against him.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">The first time &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was harassed was in 1999, which was when Bykov&rsquo;s competitors had tried to wrest some of his energy and metal holdings from him. These competitors first managed to get the police authorities to arrest Bykov; this led to the arrest of &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;, just a little while later, in August 1999 (as if there hadn&rsquo;t been a five year search for him previously). When &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was detained, he was wearing underpants and a tee-shirt, having been walking along a beach in Komotini, a city in northeastern Greece.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">Tatarenkov had just left a hotel he had purchased in March 1997 for 1.5 million dollars. Half of that sum was his own money, the other half came from Bykov and a comrade named Gennady Druzhinin. By 1999, Bykov had already removed Druzhinin from ownership, and had promised to transfer his own rights to &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;. However, three days before that deal (a meeting had already been arranged in Germany), &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was arrested. Greek authorities found an impressive stockpile of arms in the hotel, and imprisoned him for 14 years and 4 months. &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; had always had a weakness for anything that went &lsquo;bang&rsquo;.</p> <p class="p4">There was a twist. Literally on the eve of his arrest, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; had recorded a home video, accusing Bykov of ordering the killing of various criminal bosses and businessmen. He had been encouraged to do so by intermediaries, who had convinced him that Bykov was out to destroy his past, a plan which supposedly included him. The film was meant to act as a security.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">From prison in Patras, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; repeated his video message in written evidence to Russian security officials, and he also handed over his archive to investigators.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4"><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/VitaliyBezrukih.jpg%20" alt="" width="300" /></p><p class="image-caption">The powerful politician and businessman Anatoly Bykov was a<br />close associate of Tatarenkov. Photo (c) Ria Novosti/Vitaliy Bezrukih</p><p class="p4">&lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; wrote a letter addressed to Bykov: &lsquo;Dear Anatoly Petrovich. I have prepared a number of texts and videos which dish the dirt on how you&rsquo;ve lived the last few years, about how much blood has been spilt so you could get to where you are today. Have you forgotten how many people died &mdash; perhaps not by your own hand, but on your orders? You have forgotten? Let me remind you. There was Chistyakov, Lyapa, Siny, Tolmach and Sasha Petka. In Minusinsk, we had Terekhov and Loban. In Sayanogorsk - Shorin, in Moscow - Sergey Skorobogatov, the guy from Nazarov. In Nazarov itself we did away with Oleg Gubin. Skorobogatov and Gubin were well-known in Nazarov. Your voters might be surprised to learn who they had voted for. Murderers have never been received too kindly by people on the street. And you have an impeccable record in this respect &mdash; enough points on the board to warrant life imprisonment. I&rsquo;ve documented everything I write here, by the way. I&rsquo;ve checked my facts and the evidence is safe with reliable people.&rsquo;</p> <p class="p4">&lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; continued in another letter sent to a comrade: &lsquo;I want Bykov to know that if I am suddenly hit by lightning, documents will soon start flying out of fax machines at newspapers in Russia and outside Russia. I&rsquo;ve made many copies of the videos and they will be sent to TV companies, including foreign ones. There&rsquo;s no way of finding out who I&rsquo;ve entrusted with the information: I&rsquo;ve thought really carefully about this. I was a true friend to Bykov, but I don&rsquo;t like it when people betray me. I&rsquo;m not bluffing. [...] I can hold my tongue, but you shouldn&rsquo;t leave me without a choice. All I&rsquo;m asking is that you leave me alone&rsquo;</p> <p class="p4">The letter was made public by one of Bykov&rsquo;s adversaries, the then-governor of Krasnoyarsk Alexander Lebed&rsquo;. But the timing of the publication had all the hallmarks of a coordinated attack led by Oleg Deripaska. Around that time, Deripaska had acquired control over the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Smelter, yet Bykov held a blocking share. Never and nowhere has Deripaska tolerated dual power, so it could be assumed he was trying to force Bykov to retreat.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Poet in residence</strong></h3> <p class="p4">And so &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was brought back to his native lands to act as a witness in a criminal case against Bykov. As investigators collected their evidence, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was held in a tiny cell at Krasnoyarsk Detention Centre No. 1 with another five suspects. Beds were three tall constructions of metallic tubes and panels; the toilet was a corner of the room papered over with torn, coloured plastic bags. &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was for a little while placed in &lsquo;Cell 53&rsquo;, a cell known as &lsquo;The Bunker&rsquo;, which has no table because there is no room for it (meals are instead eaten sitting on the floor). He was escorted from the detention centre for interrogation in a bullet-proof vest.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p class="p4"><strong><em>&lsquo;In prison, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; began writing about his &lsquo;gnawing pain and anguish&rsquo;. A little balder and a little greyer, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; had turned into a nervous, insecure baby. He had become the crying cannibal.&rsquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p4">In prison, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; took a religious turn, and began to write poetry. He wrote about what seemed to be uppermost in his mind:</p> <p class="p4"><em>&lsquo;As I boy, I was fond of serious metalware,&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p4"><em>So growing up was razor-quick</em></p> <p class="p4"><em>And in place of a penknife blade,</em></p> <p class="p4"><em>Under my arm I carried Madam pistol&rsquo;&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p4">Tatarenkov&rsquo;s fascination with arms was an obsession (when the Sayanogorsk Aluminium Smelter &lsquo;opera&rsquo; achieved its conclusion, and &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;&rsquo;s gang was smashed,&nbsp; a stash of more than two tonnes of various firearms and ammunition was found in one of &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;&rsquo;s garages). His love for guns was matched only by his passion for money: he would make little houses from wads of cash, crawl into them and lie there for hours on end, thrilled by the smell of it all.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">But back in prison, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; began writing about his &lsquo;gnawing pain and anguish&rsquo;. A little balder and a little greyer, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; had turned into a nervous, insecure baby. He had become the crying cannibal.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">Whether by mistake or a deliberate &lsquo;blunder&rsquo;, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was held in the same prison as Bykov. Soon enough, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; began to retract his incriminating video testimonies. As there was little new in his &lsquo;revelations&rsquo;, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was able to say that he had used newspaper publications to construct a smear job on Bykov. &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; then wrote a letter to the district parliament. In it, he claimed he was being forced to give evidence against Bykov, and that he was being intimidated. He alleged that he had been offered offered two million dollars to provide incriminating evidence in court.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">And so &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was sent back to his Greek prison, and Bykov was allowed to continue his business and his political career.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">At various points during the intervening years people back in Siberia would remember about Tatarenkov&rsquo;s existence and begin talk about possible new extradition. This happened, coincidentally, every time &lsquo;Bykov&rsquo;s bloc&rsquo; (or however it was named at the time) threatened a victory at regional or municipal elections. The Kremlin&rsquo;s party &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; frequently ran worried: Bykov beat them every time by a margin of 3:1. Perhaps they shouldn&rsquo;t have worried too much, No matter what promises were made, Bykov and his team would be no different from the &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; team, once in office.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>The Russian process</strong></h3> <p class="p4">One day, out of the blue, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; telephoned through to Krasnoyarsk with an offer to testify against Bykov. &lsquo;Up until the very end they promised my wife and me freedom and that she would be allowed to stay in Greece. But she is being deported to Russia. She has been held in Komotini prison for three weeks now, sharing a prison cell with men. They rape women there. The only reason she hasn&rsquo;t been touched yet is because people have been warned that she is my wife.&rsquo;</p> <blockquote><p class="p4"><strong><em>&lsquo;Tatarenkov received a lesser sentence for dual murder than he had in Greece for the much less serious offences of holding firearms and forging documents. But perhaps the fact he was given even a lenient sentence was surprising in itself.&rsquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p class="p4">It would appear that it was indeed the circumstances of Tatarenkov&rsquo;s civil wife Galina Tselyak that&nbsp; compelled the Sayanogorsk godfather to start talking. He told prosecutors how &lsquo;Little Tolik&rsquo; had personally shot the boss of the <em>Red Ravine </em>casino in Krasnoyarsk in 1993. &lsquo;Little Tolik&rsquo; was the nickname of Bykov&rsquo;s then bodyguard Anatoly Koldev, who was later made a director of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Plant (and subsequently emigrated to the USA). This was sweet revenge for &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;.&nbsp; When Koledov heard about &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;&rsquo;s Greek sentence of 14 years and 4 months, he was reported to have shrugged and said to &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;&rsquo;s lawyer &lsquo;C&rsquo;est la vie&rsquo;. That is, as if no gentlemen's agreements had been made made.&nbsp; &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; promised to get in touch again in two to three weeks to give more details. Though this did not happen, The authorities had, it seemed, resolved outstanding issues they had with Bykov amicably, without need for recourse to their Greek anti-irritant medicine.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">Tatarenkov was transferred to Russia once he had served the majority of his sentence in Greece. On his return, and despite all the loud pronouncements of the law enforcement agencies, he was charged only with one double murder. He received a lesser sentence than he had in Greece for the much less serious offences of holding firearms and forging documents. But perhaps the fact he was given even a lenient sentence was surprising in itself. Many believed &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; would be released, and representatives of the authorities and law enforcement agencies did little to discourage this expectation.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">In the end, &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; was convicted of the 1994 murder of Alexander Naumov and Kirill Voitenko, but the judge threw out the charge of murder in relation to the Moscow criminal boss Vladmir Mustafin (Mustafy) because of procedural violations committed during his extradition from Greece (Russian prosecutors forgot to document the episode and submit a report). Charges of setting up a criminal gang and engaging in organised crime were also thrown out, owing to the time that had lapsed.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p class="p4"><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/SergeyChernyh.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Tatarenkov during the Krasnoyarsk trial. While many did not expect to see the former gang-master sentenced in Russia, the sentence left many questions unanswered. Photo (c) Ria Novosti /&nbsp;Sergey Chernyh</p><p class="p4">Tatarenkov himself received the verdict impassively and announced his intention to appeal.&nbsp; &lsquo;I am ready to contest any accusations I cannot accept&rsquo;, he said. &lsquo;Naumov was killed by a policeman, who was aiming for someone else, but missed and killed Naumov himself. And Bakurov has already been tried and sentenced to life for the crime. I&rsquo;m being framed for a murder I didn&rsquo;t commit&rsquo;</p> <p class="p4">Sergei Bakurov was indeed the first of &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo;s&rsquo; hitmen to be arrested by police after the shootout in central Krasnoyarsk. Bakurov could consider himself a little unfortunate to have been caught. A local private security firm reacted to the sound of gunfire, not knowing how influential the gunmen&rsquo;s patrons were. When the time came, it was already too late for these patrons to get involved: police investigators had long taken away the gang&rsquo;s bloody evidence.</p> <p class="p4">The court records of Bakurov&rsquo;s evidence in 1997 make interesting reading. I reproduce an edited excerpt, starting on page 155 of the judgment.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4"><em>&lsquo;Bakurov started work as a retailer in a firm called Gaiana [where Tatarenkov worked as a forwarding agent - A.T.] After returning from military service, his friend Yuri Kochurin also began to work there. Although Bakurov and Kochurin did not think of themselves as Tatarenkov&rsquo;s bodyguards, they did look after his security, accompanying him home. They took particularly special precautions after a grenade was thrown into Tatarenkov&rsquo;s apartment. Bakurov has stated that during his work in Gaiana, he got to know people from Bykov&rsquo;s gang, who were also known to Tatarenkov.&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p4"><em>Bakurov had meetings with Bykov himself, when he came to Sayanogorsk from Krasnoyarsk to meet Tatarenkov and when Bakurov himself travelled with Tatarenkov to Krasnoyarsk. People from Tatarenkov&rsquo;s team socialised with people from Bykov&rsquo;s team; relations were generally friendly. Bakurov discovered that an attempt had been made to kill Bykov in Krasnoyarsk. Bakurov, Tatarenkov and the rest of the gang found out almost immediately, since Tatarenkov received a phone call a few moments after the attack, describing how a mine had exploded under Bykov&rsquo;s car, that Bykov himself had not been hurt, and that there were two assailants. At about midday on either 17 or 18 August, Tatarenkov came to Sayanogorsk market, took Bakurov to one side and said that he&rsquo;d found out who carried out the attack, naming Kirill Voitenko and a Sasha who went by the nickname &lsquo;Petka&rsquo; (whose real name, it later transpired, was Alexander Naumov).&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p1"><em>Bykov had himself incorporated Voitenko and Naumov into his gang, and had included them in many aspects of his business. This meant they would not be easily identifiable as suspects, and could keep good relations with his people. Nobody expected Voitenko and Naumov to stoop to such a dirty trick, and for Tatarenkov this meant just one thing &mdash; they needed to be removed. So Tatarenkov turned to Bakurov. There were a number of reasons why Tatarenkov felt Bakurov was a good candidate to carry out the job. He knew Bakurov was friendly with Bykov and his gang. He knew Bakurov was vulnerable because of family problems &mdash; he had left his home to his wife and was forced to live and sleep wherever he could. He knew that Bakurov was also incensed by Voitenko and Naumov&rsquo;s treachery. Tatarenkov was also unable to ask Bykov&rsquo;s people to do the job, since Voitenko and Naumov had practically become part of their gang. Bakurov agreed easily enough. And Bakurov knew where Naumov lived, because it was the same block that many of Bykov&rsquo;s men also lived in.&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="p2">The judgment goes on to explain how Bakurov was taken to Krasnoyarsk and given a machine gun, how he followed his victims, and how he shot them. The judicial committee came to the conclusion that the murder was initiated and organised by Tatarenkov, who considered it necessary to avenge the assassination attempt on Bykov. It is curious, however, that Bykov wasn&rsquo;t asked about this episode or his role in it. Bakurov&rsquo;s accomplice Chuchkov is still officially a wanted man, although according to our information, he was killed near Novosibirsk.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">Some have come to view the current case as an possible indication that the authorities are beginning to get serious about punishing organised criminals, but this seems too fanciful. The current sentence is most probably of no great significance in its own right; it should instead be viewed as a signal aimed at Bykov. Just a month previously, Bykov had announced his intention to create a new party in Krasnoyarsk in preparation for next year&rsquo;s municipal elections. He said that he already had party lists 100 names long, many of whom were young people: &lsquo;We will put forward my candidature for governor&rsquo; he said (he often referred to himself using the royal &lsquo;we&rsquo;). &lsquo;I will keep my word. People ask me why I haven&rsquo;t put myself forward for the mayor&rsquo;s job? My answer is, will you support me for governor? In what way am I any worse than Abramovich?&nbsp; Why is it OK for him, but not for Bykov?!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p4">It is unlikely the Presidential Administration back in Moscow will have been too happy with the scenario that Bykov had painted for them.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p4">The current verdict was clearly the result of numerous backroom agreements. &lsquo;Tatarin&rsquo; did not get a life sentence, but he will do some time. The government wants to keep business and local politics under its own control. And it has in its box of tricks this unhappy man-eater-in-limbo to call on at any time it needs a bit of extra help.</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/mikhail-fridman/fridman-how-i-became-oligarch">Fridman: How I became an oligarch</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-gelman/russia%E2%80%99s-crony-capitalism-swing-of-pendulum">Russia’s crony capitalism: the swing of the pendulum</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bill-browder/turning-tables-on-russia%E2%80%99s-power-elite-%E2%80%94-story-behind-magnitsky-act">Turning the tables on Russia’s power elite — the story behind the Magnitsky Act</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> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Aleksei Tarasov Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Justice Fri, 17 Aug 2012 09:05:50 +0000 Aleksei Tarasov 67596 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Snap goes the Crocodile https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/snap-goes-crocodile <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/Injection(Akhmedova).jpg" alt="" width="160" />Marina Akhmedova spent four days in the company of drug users in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, and was met with a picture of desperation, punctured by love, humanity and misplaced hope. oDRussia is proud to reproduce Akhmedova’s harrowing piece of reportage journalism — perhaps unwisely, now banned in Russia.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em><strong>Preface from the author: </strong></em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em><strong>On 28 July, &lsquo;Crocodile&rsquo;, my reportage on life inside a drug den in provincial Russia, was published in the Russian magazine, Russky reporter. Three days later, Roskomdadzor, the Russian media regulator issued an official warning against the publisher for so-called promotion of narcotics, and demanded that my article be pulled from the magazine&rsquo;s website. The warning mentioned the fact that the piece contained information about how to prepare &lsquo;crocodile&rsquo;, i.e. desomorphine, a hard drug produced using everyday medicines and now increasingly popular within Russia. </strong></em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em><strong>All I can say is the following: if these same officials had undertaken some basic research, they would understand that preparing &lsquo;crocodile&rsquo; is, in fact, a very complicated process, and one that cannot be mastered from a few short sentences. Even after long periods of addiction, not every drug user is able to prepare it (indeed, those who can&rsquo;t are expected to buy all the ingredients and share the dose out among those present in the kitchen). I included such details in my article only as background in an attempt to create an atmosphere faithful to what I saw. </strong></em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em><strong>On 1 July, a new law came into force in our country that banned the over-the-counter sale of medicines containing codeine. I note that the Russian media dutifully reported the full list of medicines that can be used to make narcotics, and suggest that such vocalisation might also be called promotion or propaganda of drugs. </strong></em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em><strong>Not a single law enforcement officer has bothered to get in touch with me about my work. Not a single officer is, it seems, interested enough to ask about the pharmacists who are selling prescription medicines without a prescription. The same officials demanded that my publishers simply pull the article, having already threatened them with closure. No doubt, they did not bother enough to review readers&rsquo; comments; if they did, they might have read a view that &lsquo;no other article provokes such feelings of revulsion towards drugs&rsquo;. </strong></em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em><strong>Some believe the regulator&rsquo;s warning is a good advert for my article. I&rsquo;m not so sure. I think it&rsquo;s the beginning of something rather less pleasant. I do not want to have to choose my subject matter and write my articles with one eye on Roskomnadzor &mdash; the same agency that seems untroubled by the illegal sale of medicines in pharmacies or the drug users&rsquo; own claims that police have been rewarding them with heroin in exchange for information. Roskomnazor seems perturbed only by the fact of publication, and that is very sad. </strong></em></strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em><strong>Marina Akhmedova, 3 August 2012</strong></em></strong></p><p><strong><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Injection.jpg" alt="Injection" width="460" height="80" /></strong></p><p><strong>The<strong>&nbsp;</strong></strong>wood cabin&rsquo;s kitchen is dark and cramped. At the table sits Witch with a bowl in front of her. In her hand she holds a wet sponge with which she is wiping the phosphorus off matchboxes. Dark red droplets drip into the bowl. Witch&rsquo;s hands are red and bony, and she herself is as dark as an overdone roast potato. She has a mop of dark wiry hair. Outside the window are the sickly beds of the vegetable garden. The sky is leaden.</p> <p class="BodyA">At the gas cooker stands a thin man called Misha. His matchstick arms hold an enamel saucepan lid over the burner. On it are crushed tablets of Sedalgin, an analgesic rich in codeine.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;This is the way to wash matches,&rsquo; she says, turning to me. Witch can barely move her tongue. &lsquo;So you get one of the igre ... dients &hellip;&rsquo; Her half-dead tongue completes the verbal manoeuvre. Her eyes are fixed on one spot.</p> <blockquote><p class="BodyA"><em>'At the gas cooker stands a thin man called Misha. His matchstick arms hold an enamel saucepan lid over the burner. On it are crushed tablets of Sedalgin, an analgesic rich in codeine.'</em></p></blockquote><p class="BodyA">The whole kitchen squeals as Misha runs a blade over the lid, scraping off the reduced codeine. Witch rolls it into pellets as knobbly as a human brain. Misha starts bashing a plastic bottle on the tabletop and she explains, &lsquo;You&rsquo;ve got to pound it. He&rsquo;s mixed ecstasy and soda. In a minute he&rsquo;ll warm the petrol. You can only use ninety-two octane, low-grade. We run all over the place, asking them, begging them, but people are so greedy ... This is my sister, Sveta,&rsquo; she says, introducing a tall, thin, girl who has come in.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I feel sorry for her,&rsquo; Witch adds without much evidence of sympathy.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Nobody&rsquo;s forcing me,&rsquo; her sister responds lethargically. &lsquo;We live together and we inject together.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;We&rsquo;ll shoot up in a minute,&rsquo; Witch says as I&rsquo;m about to ask something. &lsquo;You&rsquo;ll find out everything about how we got like this, but right now isn&rsquo;t a good time.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Do you get high?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Not any more.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">The sisters watch Misha dully but without missing a single movement, and time passes. The three of them seem like a single organism.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Are you in pain?&rsquo; I ask Sveta, breaking the silence.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;A lot,&rsquo; she says quietly. &lsquo;All my insides hurt. So many of my friends have died. We know all about it but we still go on shooting up.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You need to stick it out and get clean,&rsquo; Witch says listlessly.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You need to find a job you like,&rsquo; Misha says without turning round, his words like part of the process of cooking up crocodile.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I had a good job, but I blew it,&rsquo; Witch says. &lsquo;I worked at a filling station. All at once I had money and friends, and straight away it was, gimme, gimme. I watched them cooking crocodile for ages, but then I got tired of carrying them all. You would come to a den and there would be eight of them in there. I&rsquo;d pay the money and the whole lot of them would shoot up. Then I started buying for them. Someone brought exit [ready made desomorphine or &lsquo;crocodile&rsquo;] to where I worked and the boss saw me. He fired me. I want to quit taking it too. I feel sorry for my ma. She was retired, but now she&rsquo;s taken a job just to feed us layabouts.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Does she know you inject?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;She can tell,&rsquo; Sveta replies. &lsquo;You can see from our eyes, and the way you talk changes. She was in hospital recently with heart trouble.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;At first we were just boozing,&rsquo; Witch says, &lsquo;but then some kind people gave us heroin to try. You get such a high. I really liked it. Getting pissed is nothing like it.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You&rsquo;re just alive, and everything is so great,&rsquo; Sveta chimes in. &lsquo;Everything is beautiful. You see it a different way. It&rsquo;s so great, not like anything else. Isn&rsquo;t that right, Witch? Not when you&rsquo;re hitting the bottle, or even &hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">A dog barks and everyone jumps. They look out the window. A stooped figure is crossing the yard past a rickety greenhouse. The Earth is already waking and has sent forth the first feathery onion leaves. They are growing chaotically here but sprout in neat rows in the neighbour&rsquo;s plot.</p> <p class="BodyA">The door opens and a small woman wearing tight jeans and a short jacket comes in. She looks girlish until she comes closer and you see her face is puffy and sallow.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Here&rsquo;s Annie. She&rsquo;s a hard-boiled junkie,&rsquo; Witch says by way of introduction, while straining the concentrated phosphorus through a nylon stocking. &lsquo;Annie may still be hoping for something, but I don&rsquo;t. Sveta here would like to find a man. She wants someone with the same diagnosis as her.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What is it that?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;HIV, like all of us. Misha has infectious tuberculosis, but don&rsquo;t let it worry you.&rsquo; Witch&rsquo;s raucousness makes her voice sound like that of an old prostitute, a tramp, and an alcoholic rolled into one, cackly and derisive.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I was in rehab,&rsquo; Annie starts in quickly. &lsquo;It&rsquo;s like, you know, lots of religion, the Bible and all that ... I started going to church, only a Protestant one, mind, but if you&rsquo;re hooked, you&rsquo;re hooked. Here we&rsquo;re hooked on dope, there it was God.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Which is more powerful?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Being hooked on God is more powerful,&rsquo; Annie replies. &lsquo;We&rsquo;d get up in the morning and start reading the Bible straight away, and they explained all about religion. It made your head spin, you know ... three hundred and sixty degrees.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;But you don&rsquo;t get high on the Bible,&rsquo; I suggest tentatively.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No,&rsquo; she quietly agrees, &lsquo;and it says, &lsquo;Don&rsquo;t have friends who do bad things&rsquo;, but I&rsquo;ve got a husband who&rsquo;s a junkie.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Like his wife,&rsquo; I am tempted to add, but don&rsquo;t. She takes a book of psalms out of a small leatherette bag.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I like the bit about that girl best. The one who got her husband to do what she wanted &hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What, Eve?&rsquo; Witch suggests.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No,&nbsp; She saved her whole nation.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Ark, then?&rsquo; Witch tries again.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No, and not Ruth, you know, that &hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Oh, for Christ&rsquo;s sake, talk sense will you!&rsquo; Witch yells at her.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;She got married to that, you know, that Sultan,&rsquo; Annie blurts out. &lsquo;To save her whole Jewish people. Esther! That&rsquo;s it, yes, Esther.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;So how do you imagine God, Annie?&rsquo; I ask her.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;It&rsquo;s like, you know, well it&rsquo;s like when you&rsquo;re a child and you&rsquo;re falling, but you know for sure that someone is going to catch you.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Oh &hellip;,&rsquo; Witch groans, throwing her head back. &lsquo;I wish I had a man who would just say, &lsquo;Okay, that&rsquo;s it! Stop injecting right now!&rsquo; I might quit. I might have a baby.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What crap,&rsquo; Misha comments almost unnoticeably, not looking round from the cooker. Every time he speaks it comes as a surprise. His minimal movements are so practised they seem automatic. You feel he isn&rsquo;t quite present in the kitchen, that you can see through him, that Misha is the invisible man.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;D&rsquo;you mind me asking you something?&rsquo; Sveta enquires. &lsquo;Why aren&rsquo;t you scared of us? People don&rsquo;t want to touch us. They&rsquo;re afraid to shake hands.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;We&rsquo;re HIV,&rsquo; Witch says challengingly. &lsquo;We might decide to infect you.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well, I&rsquo;m not planning to drink your blood,&rsquo; I joke, but they don&rsquo;t find that funny. Neither do I. Actually, I am very much afraid of them, especially of Misha&rsquo;s tuberculous breath.</p><blockquote><p class="BodyA"><em>'Witch pours me some tea and I drink it, my lips barely touching the smooth rim of the mug. I feel as if, gulp by gulp, I am drinking in their HIV and tuberculosis.'</em></p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">Witch pours me some tea and I drink it, my lips barely touching the smooth rim of the mug. I feel as if, gulp by gulp, I am drinking in their HIV and tuberculosis.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;We only have two options: prison or the next world,&rsquo; Misha mutters grimly. &lsquo;Nothing else. We&rsquo;re at a dead end.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;There are three,&rsquo; Witch wheezes. &lsquo;Cold turkey.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What&rsquo;s the point?&rsquo; Misha asks. &lsquo;You can&rsquo;t run away from yourself.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;He&rsquo;s right. He&rsquo;s right,&rsquo; Annie and Sveta chime in.</p> <p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">Witch slithers down the wall, turning her wrists out and, planting her two enormous feet on the floor, slides from one side of the windowsill to the other. She clutches at the handle on the window frame, puts her full weight on it and stops, collapsing to her knees. Opening her eyes and still hanging on to the handle, she stares at the pattern on the blue curtain. Her eyes come to life and she leans closer. What is she seeing there? Witch grimaces and her centre of gravity seems to shifts to her eyes. Her body falls forward but the point she is looking at on the curtain seems to hold her up.</p> <p class="BodyA">Sveta is lying on a narrow bed with her hands behind her head. Misha is probing her armpit and a vein swells under his fingers. Sveta&rsquo;s face swells too and her eyes run over the blue wallpaper. Misha inserts the needle into the vein, pushes the plunger, and forces dark yellow liquid into her armpit.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You doing it?&rsquo; Sveta asks, frowning. Misha nods. Her face quickly relaxes and for a moment there is astonishment in her eyes. &lsquo;Oh, is that how it can be?&rsquo; Her eyes dim and stare glassily at the wallpaper.</p> <p class="BodyA">Misha is working through Annie&rsquo;s fingers one at time. &lsquo;This one&rsquo;s no good,&rsquo; he mutters. &lsquo;Not this one either.&rsquo; He sticks the needle into her ring finger and twists it. &lsquo;O-ow!&rsquo; Annie sucks in through clenched teeth.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;My fingers are useless,&rsquo; she says. &lsquo;Stick it in my hand.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No,&rsquo; Misha demurs colourlessly. &lsquo;You can do it there yourself.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Misha, what are you afraid of? It&rsquo;s just the same as fingers,&rsquo; Annie protests, but Misha lays the loaded syringe on the bed and moves away.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Oh, my God,&rsquo; Annie sighs, getting off the bed and pulling down her jeans. Standing there in check shorts, she puts her foot on a low stool. The skin from the calf to the knee is covered in gangrenous blotches and deep ulcers oozing pus and fluid. A loosely tied scarf from the church is round her ankle. Looking at Annie&rsquo;s legs, I imagine a fairy tale where Witch, after diving into the curtain, encounters the crocodile. He is angry at having to live in a fairy tale and all the people he bites turn into reptiles, their skin covered with scaly scars. He has bitten Annie&rsquo;s leg, but for the time being her holy scarf is protecting her. If it works loose, however ...</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;The needle is clogged with pus,&rsquo; I say, sitting on the floor a metre away from Annie&rsquo;s leg and observing the blunt needle gently sinking into her rotting flesh. &lsquo;Use a new one.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;A syringe costs six roubles,&rsquo; she says. &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t have that kind of money.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I&rsquo;ll give you money for syringes,&rsquo; I say, but at just this moment the handle on the window gives way. Clutching at the curtain, Witch falls to the floor and sits there with her veiny legs wide apart.</p> <p class="BodyA">Annie takes off her shorts and is now just in her panties. Her cheeks redden, her breathing becomes fitful. Her breath has that smell you get in metro carriages late at night, like a sweetish belch of canned energy fizz. That odour drowns out the other but, after sitting twenty minutes in front of her rotting leg, I begin to discern a smell of earthy mustiness, as thin and slippery as a live vein in the midst of decomposing flesh.</p><blockquote><p>'Standing there in check shorts, she puts her foot on a low stool. The skin from the calf to the knee is covered in gangrenous blotches and deep ulcers oozing pus and fluid. A loosely tied scarf from the church is round her ankle.'</p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Would you like to be like Esther?&rsquo; I ask her.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Me?&rsquo; She sits up. &lsquo;How could I be. She saved her nation.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Is there anyone you could save?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I couldn&rsquo;t even save my husband,&rsquo; she says and, without looking, sinks the needle in. The crocodile crawls into her leg.</p> <p class="BodyA">Witch gets off the floor, looks vacantly at the twisted window handle, and very articulately and threateningly says, &lsquo;Fuck! Who broke that handle?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">In the kitchen, second helpings are being cooked. Sveta is crushing pills between two sheets of paper with a rolling pin. An unfamiliar woman well past forty is sitting on a stool by the window.&nbsp; She pinches a vein in her inner elbow and it swells. After injecting, she throws back her head and a scabrous, mannish expression comes over her.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;The Old Woman has bunked off work to shoot up,&rsquo; Witch says. &lsquo;She&rsquo;s a plasterer.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">Witch warns everyone that her mother has phoned to say she will be here in an hour&rsquo;s time. &lsquo;If we haven&rsquo;t had time to shoot up, grab the gear and hide it.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">Annie emerges from the room wearing lipstick.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I feel like living,&rsquo; Misha says tremulously, shaking together with his bottle. &lsquo;You shoot up, and you&rsquo;ve got an instant incentive.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You tell yourself tomorrow&rsquo;s the last time,&rsquo; Witch adds, her tongue loosened. &lsquo;Tomorrow you&rsquo;re going to find a job, and not mind varnishing your nails or washing your face. But how could you understand?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You want to get out and about. You feel like a human being again,&rsquo; Misha says, and through his flat way of speaking you sense a chuckle and a lust for life. &lsquo;You start hoping.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">The Old Woman introduces herself. She is called Marina too, so that makes three of us: her, Witch and me. Kneeling down in front of Annie, her workmanlike fingers press an ulcer on Annie&rsquo;s leg. She squeezes and flesh appears in the pit, like a red eye.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;See what comes out?&rsquo; she sniffs.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;My leg&rsquo;ll be sore now,&rsquo; Annie moans. &lsquo;I won&rsquo;t be able to walk.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Look, look how it&rsquo;s gone. You need to take Cifran.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;My liver&rsquo;s wrecked already,&rsquo; Annie objects, and turns to me. &lsquo;D&rsquo;you know what does that? Carelessness. You get up in the morning and need a fix in a hurry. You look for a vein, can&rsquo;t find one, and just stick it in wherever.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;It can paralyze you if you don&rsquo;t get it in a vein,&rsquo; Sveta says, sitting down on a stool and showing me a yellow mark on her vest. &lsquo;It burns fabric if you spill some.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What do you feel like after injecting crocodile?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I feel like you,&rsquo; she says.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;How do you mean?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Nothing hurts. It hasn&rsquo;t given me a high for a long time. An hour later, everything starts hurting again, aching. You can&rsquo;t stand up. I inject to feel like you.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;We&rsquo;re all in the shit! We&rsquo;re all fucked!&rsquo; Witch explodes. &lsquo;Sveta, what are you sitting about there for? Ma will be here in an hour! Annie, stand by the window and keep an eye on the gate.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">Annie gets up and goes over to the window. Sveta looks daggers, but she gets up too, goes to the cupboard and pulls a satin ribbon off the shelf. She looks at it dozily.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Yast year I tied a gyeen yibbon on an appoo tyee and made a wish,&rsquo; she says, suddenly chewing up all her &lsquo;l&rsquo;s and &lsquo;r&rsquo;s, although before shooting up she was speaking normally. &lsquo;I pyanted it. I yuv it.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What did you wish for?&rsquo; I ask.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;To meet a man and fo him to yuv me. And have the same diagnosis as me.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;And did you?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Yes. He was cawd Oyeg. But when I saw we had nothing ess in common, I undid it and burned it. I bought a new one. I&rsquo;w tie that.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What will you wish for this time?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I don&rsquo;t know what I want.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well, everything I ask God for, he gives me,&rsquo; Witch says. &lsquo;I went to church and asked him to give me a job. I told him, &lsquo;You help me and I&rsquo;ll come back and settle up&rsquo;. I went back to that church later and put money in the box. You have to stand under the dome, right in the centre where God can hear you best. That&rsquo;s what my grandmother told me. Only you absolutely must give something in return.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I go to church, too,&rsquo; Sveta says. &lsquo;I have no money, but I pyomised dear God I would give up cards. I did, he gave me Oyeg, but now I have nothing to pay him with. I have nothing at aw.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You have the crocodile,&rsquo; I suggest.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I wiw give it up, but onyee when I get a boyfyend.&rsquo; Sveta shakes her head. The end of the ribbon slips out of her hand and encircles her feet. Witch and Sveta have been injecting crocodile since last July. They will die this year.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Why are we all talking? My Ma is going to be here in an hour!&rsquo; Witch shouts irately, and Misha&rsquo;s bottle starts knocking loudly. Sveta rolls the ribbon up in a ball. An hour and a quarter has passed since her mother phoned, but time too seems to live by its own laws in this kitchen. Perhaps, in the curtain, time crawls as slowly as a reptile and stretches like a pinched vein. Perhaps Witch is experiencing eternity in the curtain. Perhaps, outside, curtain time takes its revenge for being so merciless stretched and gobbles up hours, turning them into minutes. Who knows?</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Any moment now I&rsquo;m going to knock sense into the lot of you,&rsquo; Witch threatens and the kitchen empties. Only I am still at the table. &lsquo;I hope you at least are not afraid of me, Marina. I&rsquo;m a good person. In anyone else&rsquo;s patch you&rsquo;d have been screwed. You&rsquo;d have had your bag nicked, and your phone.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">I have a small bag on my shoulder with my phone and some money. If I took it off, Witch would steal it. I know that, and also that I have a serious guarantee of protection in this cookshop. My phone rings. It&rsquo;s a friend inviting me to go to the theatre. Witch eavesdrops on the conversation.</p><blockquote><p><em>'I have a small bag on my shoulder with my phone and some money. If I took it off, Witch would steal it.'</em></p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well, fuck a chicken!&rsquo; she yells. &lsquo;The theatre. How about that! I&rsquo;ve never in my life been to the fucking theatre! I&rsquo;ve really been screwed! Drugs are not my scene! I love going to the hairdresser&rsquo;s! And expensive handbags! It&rsquo;s only this HIV, it has ... and the fact that I&rsquo;m only going to live another &hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;It was your choice,&rsquo; I say unemotionally.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Don&rsquo;t worry, I know I&rsquo;m a goner,&rsquo; she says, turning down the volume. &lsquo;What do I care, anyway. While I&rsquo;m alive, I might as well have a good time,&rsquo; she adds harshly, and starts scraping the concentrated codeine off the lid. Her lacerated fingers keep slipping off the flat side on to the sharp blade.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;My friend is short and fat,&rsquo; I say, touching her fingers. She lets go of the blade.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;And ugly?&rsquo; she asks hopefully. &lsquo;Well, fine, Marina. I don&rsquo;t want to live. I really don&rsquo;t, Marina.&rsquo; She seems, being completely stuck with her unlovely nickname, to be taking pleasure in pronouncing mine, which, of course, is also hers.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Where have you all gone?&rsquo; she raises her raucous voice. &lsquo;&rsquo;Cos I love you all, fuck you! After all, I&rsquo;m nice, kind old Witch.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You fucking scared everyone away, doing your nut like that,&rsquo; the Old Woman&rsquo;s rasping voice comes from the room.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Old Woman, don&rsquo;t let me get on your tits, all right?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You haven&rsquo;t got on anyone&rsquo;s fucking tits.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Maybe I just raised my voice a couple of times. So fucking what? You&rsquo;re so fucking oversensitive.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Yes, we fucking are.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Oh, fuck off!&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Fuck you!&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Fuck you too!&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Misha, you motherfucker. Go fuck yourself, dickhead. You haven&rsquo;t tidied up a fucking thing. Ma will be here in an hour, you fucker. Mish-a, get Marina something to eat, fuck it. She&rsquo;s had fuck-all to eat since this morning, fuck it. Oh, what a fuck-up, Marina, what a fuck-up, eh?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">Her mother appears after two hours. She comes into the kitchen with a fixed look of apprehension. She is inscrutable as her weary eyes take in the bottle, the lid, the syringes, and the whole lot of them. She turns and, without a word, walks slowly out of the house, looking down at her feet. She walks past the rickety greenhouse and the first feathers of the chaotically growing onions.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Fuck! My ma came here,&rsquo; Witch says in astonishment.</p> <p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">In the morning we go out buying. Witch is wearing jeans, a jacket and rubber flip-flops. I find myself carrying a large plastic bag containing petrol, soda, hydrochloric acid, matches, iodine, and a nylon stocking. Witch looks around cautiously. In Yekaterinburg, as nowadays everywhere else in Russia, there is a ban on the sale of medicines containing codeine, but all the local drug addicts know pharmacies where they can buy unpackaged tablets under the counter by paying over the odds. The pharmacists keep the packaging so that crocodile addicts don&rsquo;t scatter it around the city. There are addicts who hang around these pharmacies ready to relieve anybody weaker than themselves of their purchases.</p> <p class="BodyA">We go upstairs and cautiously open the door. We look in. No customers. We enter. Behind the counter, separated from us by a glass screen, is a plump, rosy-cheeked woman in a white coat. She looks Witch over quickly and decides she is okay, but lingers on me. I put the bag on the counter.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Sedalgin,&rsquo; Witch says quietly. &lsquo;Ten packs. And iodine. Syringes. And Tropicamide, two packs.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;One thousand two hundred and seventy,&rsquo; the pharmacist says, also quietly, laying out the pills, iodine and syringes on the counter.</p> <p class="BodyA">I try persistently to catch her eye, but she seems to be making a point of avoiding eye contact.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;And Methanol lozenges, if you would be so kind,&rsquo; I say.</p> <p class="BodyA">The pharmacist finally looks up at me. She has pale blue eyes and there is something cold behind her overly obliging manner. The lozenges break her practised routine and for a moment she is nonplussed. I open the pack and put one in my mouth without taking my eyes off her. I say, &lsquo;Thank you,&rsquo; and count out the money. I am paying for the drugs, and this serves as my protection in our patch. Witch deftly sweeps the drugs into the bag.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What d&rsquo;you have to be so fucking polite for? &lsquo;If you would be so kind&rsquo;, &lsquo;thank you&rsquo;!&rsquo; she sets about me when we are running back through the still chilly streets of Yekaterinburg.</p> <p class="BodyA"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Injection_multiple.jpg" alt="Injection_multiple" width="460" height="75" /></p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;She doesn&rsquo;t inject, but she gives him the money to buy and pays for his clothes and shoes,&rsquo; the Old Woman is saying, &lsquo;but he treats her like shit.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">Today we are cooking up at Annie&rsquo;s while her parents are out at work. When we arrive from the pharmacist&rsquo;s we find Sveta, Annie and the Old Woman in a clean kitchen which has a hood over the cooker, PVC windows, and gladiolus bulbs spread out along the windowsill.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;It&rsquo;s because of how she looks. She&rsquo;s fat,&rsquo; Annie continues the conversation we have walked in on, &lsquo;and she is kind. She loves him. But then another woman turned up, thin, nice, and a junkie. He hitched up with her. The fat girl didn&rsquo;t see him for three months. He must have been sleeping rough in stairways. Then he turned up again and she took him back. I heard they don&rsquo;t, you now ... like they sleep together in the same bed but don&rsquo;t have sex.&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p class="BodyA"><em>'In Yekaterinburg, as nowadays everywhere else in Russia, there is a ban on the sale of medicines containing codeine, but all the local drug addicts know pharmacies where they can buy unpackaged tablets under the counter by paying over the odds. The pharmacists keep the packaging so that crocodile addicts don&rsquo;t scatter it around the city. There are addicts who hang around these pharmacies ready to relieve anybody weaker than themselves of their purchases.'</em></p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;He&rsquo;ll be impotent,&rsquo; Sveta advises.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Or perhaps she just wants someone&rsquo;s shoulder to put her head on,&rsquo; I suggest.</p> <p class="BodyA">Annie tears pages out of a crime novel by Tatiana Polyakova and pours the tablets out on to them.</p> <p class="BodyA">From the music centre comes the voice of Irina Allegrova singing &lsquo;Hopeless, Unrequited Love&rsquo;. Sveta looks out the window at a pink apartment building opposite with white curtained windows and tidy, recently turned over front gardens.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Is love more powerful than a high?&rsquo; I ask her.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Yes, I think it absolutely is,&rsquo; she says.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I wish I had cocaine to snort,&rsquo; Witch mutters, taking the petrol and acid out of the bag, &lsquo;rather than these pathetic pills.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">She is freaking out again. Misha hasn&rsquo;t come. He is cooking up for someone else. Misha is the best person in this patch at cooking and finding a vein, and for that he is rewarded with a free fix.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;The memories come flooding back. Oleg and I got together in the spring.&rsquo; Sveta turns to face me. In this unfamiliar kitchen flooded with clear light, her eyes under their plucked eyebrows seem naked. &lsquo;When I met Oleg, we weren&rsquo;t injecting. We just lay side by side for days at a time. I so want to go out for a walk,&rsquo; she adds, sounding like a terminally ill person.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Did he dump you?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No. I dumped him. He punched me in the face. He apologized and said, &lsquo;Let&rsquo;s start over again.&rsquo; I said, &lsquo;No. If you&rsquo;re leaving, just go.&rsquo; I can&rsquo;t allow someone to humiliate me like that.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I&rsquo;d never have known,&rsquo; I say, nodding at the tablets. Sveta blinks.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well, it&rsquo;s true, isn&rsquo;t it?&rsquo; Witch butts in. &lsquo;With crocodile you&rsquo;re never going to find a boyfriend. You need to go away somewhere.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;To &lsquo;go away somewhere&rsquo; you need to be saving up for something other than trips to the pharmacist&rsquo;s,&rsquo; Sveta snaps.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I&rsquo;ve never been that much in love,&rsquo; Witch muses as she sprinkles the crushed tablets over the saucepan lid. A ray of sunshine from the window falls on it too. &lsquo;One moment I feel like I love everyone. Another I feel like I&rsquo;ve never loved anybody. I don&rsquo;t think I even love my parents.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;How about the summer?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Obviously I love summer,&rsquo; Witch says, puffing up her cheeks and smiling. &lsquo;In summer it&rsquo;s not cold when you run to the pharmacy looking for pills.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">Annie runs in, a mobile ringing in her hand, which she quickly passes to Witch.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;It&rsquo;s, like, a call from where Alex works. Tell them he&rsquo;s out of town but he&rsquo;ll be in tomorrow,&rsquo; she whispers.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Ahem.&rsquo; Witch coughs into the phone. &lsquo;Oh ... you&rsquo;re phoning about Alex?&rsquo; she begins pompously.&nbsp; &lsquo;Well, the trouble is, he&rsquo;s out of town at present. He&rsquo;ll be back tomorrow.&rsquo; You can see how hard she&rsquo;s trying to sound educated, but only ends up accentuating the way she really sounds.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;He&rsquo;s been ordered to do community work, two hundred hours.&rsquo;&nbsp; This time Annie is whispering her explanation to me. &lsquo;Sweeping the hospital yard. He nicked the speakers out of a car.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;He&rsquo;ll be really fucked if he isn&rsquo;t here tomorrow,&rsquo; Witch says vindictively after hanging up.</p> <p class="BodyA">She glances out the window again in the hope of seeing Misha on his way.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Does Misha think after shooting up yesterday I didn&rsquo;t see him filching the ecstasy?&rsquo; she asks rhetorically. &lsquo;He ran straight off to Kolya. Vadik gives him money for buying too and he milks it. He&rsquo;s nicely set up. I would never do that kind of stuff. We bought two packs of eyedrops. I could have squirrelled one away, but I straight away showed everyone, look, two packs. Anyone who does that stuff is a shit junkie.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Misha is always on the make,&rsquo; the Old Woman grumbles. &lsquo;Always first in the queue; that&rsquo;s Misha for you.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Still, I wouldn&rsquo;t shoot up without him,&rsquo; Witch retorts, &lsquo;and neither would Annie.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;He didn&rsquo;t manage to inject me yesterday,&rsquo; Annie grunts, but then sees him through the window and exclaims exultantly, &lsquo;Misha&rsquo;s coming!&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">And indeed, a skinny, lurching male figure wearing sunglasses is approaching.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Fuck me, look at those shades ... He&rsquo;s gone all fucking fashionable,&rsquo; Witch murmurs.</p> <p class="BodyA">The intercom buzzes. He is greeted with smiles of joy, and in next to no time all five of them are clustered round the cooker, sucking the yellow drug out of the pan up into their syringes. Sitting at the table, I gaze at their backs, and their shoulder blades look broken. Like animals at a waterhole in a drought, each one knows their place in the queue. First, Witch fills her syringe because I made the buy and I belong to her. Next comes Misha, without whom Witch and Sveta can&rsquo;t find a vein. Then Sveta, because she is Witch&rsquo;s sister. After her, it&rsquo;s the Old Woman, because she is bigger than Annie. Annie, as provider of the apartment, could claim priority over the Old Woman but hasn&rsquo;t the neck.</p> <p class="BodyA">They check intently who is getting how much, and count out the eyedrops. If I ran right now into the middle of the kitchen and bellowed at the top of my voice, they would not turn round. Their world extends only a few metres and has the cooker and its hood at its centre. It is not a world within the world: it is their entire world, a world as narrow as a coffin, but all-encompassing for those who live in it, a world which follows its own laws. In it there are neither saints nor sinners, no thieves or benefactors, only the harsh laws of survival. There is no truth, no certainty about anything, not even that the sun will rise tomorrow. It is a world which arises when people are dicing with death. A supreme, inexorable law instantly appears, an axis around which their universe revolves: it is the right of those as yet still human to play a game they have chosen for themselves.</p> <p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Marina, come and sit beside me,&rsquo; Witch urges. She is lying in the large room on a couch, not wearing a sweater, only her bra. She has a dark-skinned and unexpectedly firm stomach and a young person&rsquo;s arms. The wind stirs a light curtain and wafts into the room the laughter of women and the cries of small children. &lsquo;Come here! I want to tell you something.&rsquo; Dark red blood is flowing from her armpit. She raises herself. &lsquo;Marina,&rsquo; she whispers quickly. &lsquo;I wished my ma would go to the bathhouse and die there. From a heart attack. I am so ashamed, Marina. My dad doesn&rsquo;t know we are HIV positive. We keep it from him because otherwise he really would drink himself to death. We didn&rsquo;t tell my mother, but she made a point of finding out. Then she just cried and cried, all the time. I shouted at her, and that&rsquo;s when I wished she would die.&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p><em>'Their world extends only a few metres and has the cooker and its hood at its centre. It is not a world within the world: it is their entire world, a world as narrow as a coffin, but all-encompassing for those who live in it, a world which follows its own laws.'</em></p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">The room is Russian middle class and trying desperately to be Russian upper class. It has a tall china cabinet, ample armchairs and a large plasma TV, but is let down by the shells from the Mediterranean, the cardboard trays of seedlings, the framed photographs, and particularly by the flat, peasant faces in them. Witch calls this a wicked pad. It is the epitome of all she aspires to. Misha has already injected her, having first retired to the larder to inject himself in the groin. Now, like a spectre, he is again at work in the kitchen. Crocodile is cooked days and nights at a time.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Do you know how much I have sinned?&rsquo; Witch continues groggily. &lsquo;You don&rsquo;t know the first thing about me. I have a criminal record. We used to go thieving from shops and warehouses. How many times the police caught me! How many times they beat me up, kicked me! One time we went into a shop. The guys were lifting bagfuls of martinis. I was covering for them. They ran for it, but I didn&rsquo;t get out in time and the cops got me. First, they sat me on a chair. One of them took a great swing and whacked my liver. I fell off the chair one time and they beat me on the kidneys. Three cops. Look at me! One would have been more than enough. If anyone just gave me a shove, I&rsquo;d fall over. They wanted me to go into a cell and grass up the pushers.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;And did you?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No. That&rsquo;s not me, Marina. I may be a thief, but I&rsquo;m not going to shop anyone. In Chkalov Prison they&rsquo;ll give you heroin in the office. They let you shoot up right there and then. The main thing is, you can&rsquo;t take it out with you. Then you shop someone. But everyone knows I don&rsquo;t do that.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I wanted to show you what I used to be like.&rsquo; Annie comes in and hands me a photograph album. In one photo she is wearing a lovely wedding dress, trimmed with little blue flowers. The bridegroom is blond, wearing a suit, and looks perfectly normal. The year is 2002.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Where is the dress now?&rsquo; I ask.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;There it is, hanging in the wardrobe. Alex is at home, over in their patch. I quarreled with him yesterday. Know how it happened? I got pregnant before the wedding, and I was already drinking a bit. He could have terminated it, but he, you know ... well, he didn&rsquo;t want to.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Where is your child?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I did it. I had an abortion. I did well at school and college. I had a job at an aircraft factory. When I got pregnant, there was nobody to tell me an abortion was a bad thing to do. D&rsquo;you know what I&rsquo;m like? Easily led. I went to the hospital and the gynaecologist said I shouldn&rsquo;t have the baby. &lsquo;You&rsquo;re young,&rsquo; he said. &lsquo;You can have a baby later. You are still hitting the bottle.&rsquo; I said, &lsquo;No, I want the baby.&rsquo; I came home and told my mother. She said the same. &lsquo;You do drink rather a lot, dear. Get some treatment first, and have a baby later.&rsquo; That was two of them. I went to Alex and he&rsquo;s such a special person. He said, &lsquo;You decide.&rsquo; So I did. The girls in the ward told that while you were drugged it was like you were flying on a swing and you felt well and happy, but for me it was dreadful. I felt I was imprisoned inside something squishy and being tossed from one wall to the other.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well, you were right to have an abortion,&rsquo; Witch says. &lsquo;Otherwise you&rsquo;d have lumbered your parents with a child to look after.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Why are you talking like that?&rsquo; Annie&rsquo;s faced twitches. &lsquo;Perhaps everything would have turned out different. Perhaps Alex wouldn&rsquo;t have ... He so wants a child. Only now I couldn&rsquo;t have one that was healthy.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Have you had an abortion?&rsquo; I ask Witch.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Don&rsquo;t be stupid,&rsquo; she says. &lsquo;It&rsquo;s a sin.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Did you ever want to get married?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;That was never my aim,&rsquo; she replies haughtily. &lsquo;So many men said they wanted to marry me &hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;And did you turn all of them down?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I said &lsquo;yes&rsquo; to all of them, but none of them did marry me. They&rsquo;re just randy goats.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I only know one thing,&rsquo; Annie says tremulously. &lsquo;No matter what kind of baby I had, I would never leave him.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">Sveta comes in and stops beside the boxes of seedlings. She touches the delicate tops of the shoots.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I had an abortion too,&rsquo; she says. &lsquo;They induced a miscarriage. In the women&rsquo;s clinic they said, &lsquo;Look, you are HIV positive!&rsquo; I was in shock. They never told me it might not be passed on to the baby. They just presented me with a fact.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Did you want the baby?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Whatever next!&rsquo; Witch yells from the sofa. &lsquo;He was HIV positive! Were you going to land something like that on our parents?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You are HIV positive too,&rsquo; I observe.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;So what? She&rsquo;s going to die soon and who&rsquo;s going to look after the child? I couldn&rsquo;t live like that!&rsquo; Witch shrieks, as if it had been her pregnancy rather than Sveta&rsquo;s.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I didn&rsquo;t have him by a man I loved,&rsquo; Sveta says calmly. &lsquo;When you&rsquo;re injecting, your periods stop and you can&rsquo;t tell if you are pregnant or not. I only noticed when my belly started swelling. I hadn&rsquo;t felt anything. The baby already had nails,&rsquo; she suddenly added.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;How was he born?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;The doctors were afraid I might infect them. They gave me an injection to kill the baby. I was walking around with him dead inside me for a whole day. I felt sorry for him, but I just wanted to get it over with and forget everything as quickly as possible.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Did you scream?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No. How could I? It was night time: people were sleeping in the wards. No doctors came near me. They didn&rsquo;t give me any painkillers, and I could feel it already starting to come out. I told the girls in the ward, &lsquo;Time&rsquo;s up.&rsquo; They ran and called the nurse. She asked me if I could stand. I said I could. &lsquo;Then get up. Here&rsquo;s a nappy. Give birth into that.&rsquo; I gave birth to him and caught him in a nappy. I don&rsquo;t remember who cut the umbilical cord. I wrapped him up and carried him to an empty ward myself.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Did you look at his face?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No. I just know it was a boy. He was blue, covered in blood, and he had nails. After that they put me in an examination chair and cleaned me up. The doctors were dressed like spacemen. I went back to the ward and thought I would fall asleep, but there was suddenly so much pain in my heart.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Have you ever talked to anyone about this?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;No. I chose not to.&rsquo; Sveta sounds like a tape snagging in an old cassette recorder.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Marina, I had a miscarriage too,&rsquo; Annie begins, and I&rsquo;m starting to feel they are all coming out to tell me their stories, the way they had stood round the cooker. &lsquo;My belly was so sore. I had such terrible contractions, and I hadn&rsquo;t even known I was pregnant. I went to the toilet and it fell out of me, &ndash; this embryo.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Describe it.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;It was a tiny little person, the size of a kitten. It seemed to get stuck here.&rsquo; She indicates between her legs. &lsquo;I held it and took some paper and tore it out. It already had little hands, but it didn&rsquo;t yet have a face.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What did you do with it?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well, like I ... flushed it down the toilet.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">The next morning, Witch forces me to put on Sveta&rsquo;s warm vest. We are going visiting, to the neighbouring patch where Witch is going to give them some eyedrops, bought with my money, as a present.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Fuck it, Marina, I&rsquo;m not taking you buying again,&rsquo; she swears as she is putting on her shoes. &lsquo;As soon as you open your mouth it&rsquo;s &lsquo;would you mind awfully&rsquo; and &lsquo;thank you&rsquo;. You&rsquo;ll scare the wits out of the pharmacists. They&rsquo;ll think the cops are going to be round any minute.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Thanks for the fix, Marina,&rsquo; Sveta says.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Ulterior motives make the world go round,&rsquo; I retort with a scowl. The petrol fumes have given me a headache.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Eh?&rsquo; Witch responds.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well, you think I&rsquo;ve helped you, but from where I stand I know I&rsquo;ve harmed you. Still, that was my choice.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;We would just have got it some other way,&rsquo; Sveta says.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;And that is your choice.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">With Witch, I leave our middle-class apartment. We pass several blocks and turn into the entrance of a high-rise.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;There isn&rsquo;t any wallpaper, but don&rsquo;t be scared,&rsquo; Witch cautions me. &lsquo;They used to wedge the door shut with an axe. The lock was broken. You just pushed and it opened There was a young child sitting there. They were all injecting, while he sat there staring. He&rsquo;s eight now. They say these fumes make you into a moron. Also, on the balcony there is an urn with the ashes of the owner&rsquo;s husband. He died two years ago. We&rsquo;ll just drop in for a moment, and you don&rsquo;t have to worry about anything. You&rsquo;re with me, I&rsquo;ll look after you. Our future is the cemetery, but you&rsquo;ve got your whole life ahead of you. You&rsquo;re educated. You&rsquo;re very different from us. Your life is different. You have people inviting you out to the theatre. We were all so jealous.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">We climb up to the fourth floor. There is a strong smell of petrol. The steel door is painted mental hospital blue. It is opened cautiously and, when we enter, we walk straight into a coarse blue woollen blanket covering the doorway. It is dank and smelly.</p> <blockquote><p><em>'In order to advance into this poisonous room, I have to make an effort of will to lift my foot from the floor and move forward.'</em></p></blockquote><p class="BodyA">The apartment&rsquo;s humid breath welcomes us. A synthetic rug smells of bedbugs. There is no wallpaper on the walls, but there are vomit patterns on the bare plaster. In the middle of a wall is a coloured children&rsquo;s ABC. It is dark and fetid in here, as if you are in the depths of a forest. Pale, dropsical men lie on a couch redolent of urine. They look like mushrooms which have sprouted in some poisonous grove. A swollen girl occupies the only chair. She lethargically opens her eyes, puffy slits in which I recognize the scabrous look I saw on the face of the Old Woman.</p> <p class="BodyA">In order to advance into this poisonous room, I have to make an effort of will to lift my foot from the floor and move forward. I am soon next to Witch, and the men on the couch lazily run their gluey eyes over me.</p> <p class="BodyA">I glance through the open door to the balcony and there, sure enough, is the urn with the ashes, looking ceramic and dusty. I wonder how he feels, resting there for the past two years in full view of what&rsquo;s happening to his wife and son. I also think it would be good to scatter his ashes.</p> <p class="BodyA">The owner of this pad is a dark-skinned, wiry blonde with liver spots. She is standing barefoot in short shorts in the middle of the room, telling us that&nbsp; yesterday Oleg nearly OD-ed. Witch gasps. Oleg is Sveta&rsquo;s ex.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Shee-it,&rsquo; Witch swears quietly, rummaging in her bag. No eyedrops. Someone has stolen them back at Annie&rsquo;s apartment. The Old Woman, Misha, Sveta, or Witch herself: it doesn&rsquo;t matter who did it. What matters is only that under the rules of the game, nobody gets blamed.</p> <p class="BodyA">Witch quickly retreats towards the door before the men lying on the couch wake up and demand something in compensation. My phone, for example. I hasten after her, trying to appear unhurried.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Come on,&rsquo; I whisper to Witch in the narrow hallway. &lsquo;Let&rsquo;s take that urn right now and scatter the ashes from the balcony. I&rsquo;ll do it myself.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Have you been fucking inhaling or what?&rsquo; Witch fails to get her foot into her flip-flops and grabs at the blanket. &lsquo;You ought to be ashamed of yourself? That&rsquo;s a human being in there!&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">She hobbles down the stairs, and you can see from her movements she wants to get out of here as quickly as possible.</p> <p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">Witch sinks down, waving her out-turned wrists about. She has a blood-stained napkin in her armpit and her face is red. Misha missed the vein and Witch could be paralyzed. She is cackling and beating her head against some invisible barrier.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;My precious, beloved, dear, special, saved daughter cleansed by the blood of Christ, blessed and whom I bless, you, my beloved child,&rsquo; Anna reads aloud, holding in her fingers, stained with blood, a yellow sheet of paper. &lsquo;For me, nothing is impossible. You have the right to receive your miracle! But I want to give you more. All the treasures of heaven belong to you as of right. I ask only one thing: live for me. I love you! Your Heavenly Father.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">I am about to ask Annie where she got hold of this high-falutin gobbledygook, but see she is crying. I take her piece of paper and re-read it aloud, expressively. When I get to the middle, Annie presses her hand to her mouth.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;You have no idea how much that letter means to me,&rsquo; she says through compressed lips. I realize that this letter, composed by some not very bright pastor, is just what is needed by Annie, Sveta, Misha and Witch. Its very simplicity means it can still get through to brains which have been eaten away by the crocodile.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Annie, do you believe you will not die because there will be a miracle?&rsquo; I ask, dreading the answer. She nods, and then I understand that in this game, where there is no room for subtlety and complications, it is not the crocodile which leads them on but primeval faith in a miracle. Their belief in a miracle is a hundred times stronger than my faith. They will believe in a miracle until the last, and that hope will not die with them. Some people fall, but the game continues.</p> <p class="BodyA">Everywhere in this apartment there are photos of Annie&rsquo;s parents and her sister, but none of Annie. Evidently there is no room, or it&rsquo;s as if they would be out of place; as if her parents have already begun to prepare for the time in the near future when she will no longer exist. In their own apartment they have every right to that. Perhaps their game doesn&rsquo;t allow for faith in miracles.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;A-aah,&rsquo; Witch groans. &lsquo;Marina, you have no idea how much I loved him. They put him in the hospital. Junkies call it &lsquo;the final resting-place&rsquo;. I said to him, &lsquo;Don&rsquo;t go there, they will kill you,&rsquo; but he said, &lsquo;No, they will help me there.&rsquo; No one comes out alive, though. He missed the vein in his groin. That&rsquo;s what started it all. When I went to visit him, I could see he was going to die.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;How could you tell?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Do you know how many times I have seen that? You can see it in their faces. Their features go all bony.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;And you can smell earth,&rsquo; Misha adds solemnly.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I was dying in the hospital, too,&rsquo; Witch goes on, &lsquo;only Sveta prayed and I recovered. Every day at six in the morning she got up. Never said a word to anyone. She went to the church and for three hours she crawled on her knees before God.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I gave away everything I had,&rsquo; Sveta confirms.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I went there. He was sitting on the bed. His legs were as swollen as two posts. He said, &lsquo;Please, I can&rsquo;t stand it any more. Bring me a fix. That is my last wish.&rsquo; I cooked him up some crocodile and took it to him, the fix and some cheesecake buns. He shot up, ate the buns and said, &lsquo;Witch, I so want to live &hellip;&rsquo;. And you talk about fucking motives.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Did you see him dead?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Yes, at the funeral service in church. He had that ribbon on his forehead. I went to the coffin and touched him. He was all soft, like jelly, and I had so upset him. Well, anyway, I didn&rsquo;t cry there.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;What was he upset about?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;He phoned me when I was busy. I said I would call back. I rang a few days later but he had already died.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Why didn&rsquo;t you phone earlier?&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;I was busy!&rsquo; she retorts rudely.</p> <p class="BodyA"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Rose.jpg" alt="Roses" width="460" height="55" /></p> <p class="BodyA">I say I have to go out, and go down to the yard. Witch tries to put Sveta&rsquo;s little coat on me, but I don&rsquo;t let her. There&rsquo;s a cold wind blowing. I walk past several houses and streets and finally find what I am looking for. I know that when I take her this I will lose Witch&rsquo;s friendship, but I still go up the stairs and open the door to the flower shop.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well fuck me! What is this for? Nobody has ever given me flowers before and now I didn&rsquo;t expect they ever would!&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Well fuck me! What is this for? Nobody has ever given me flowers before and now I didn&rsquo;t expect they ever would!&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">I hold out the rose to Witch. It is exactly what I was looking for, as dark red as her blood.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Just take it anyway,&rsquo; I say.'</p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">I hold out the rose to Witch. It is exactly what I was looking for, as dark red as her blood.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Just take it anyway,&rsquo; I say.</p> <p class="BodyA">Witch hesitates, then stretches out her big hand and carefully takes the rose. She goes to the kitchen, where Misha is already cooking up. Witch pours water in a bottle and puts the rose in it. She gets back to work with her matches and the sponge, concentrating intensely on what she is doing and&nbsp; seeming not to notice me. She says nothing, but after a while gets up, takes the rose and goes out of the kitchen, saying, &lsquo;She doesn&rsquo;t want to be breathing petrol fumes. She&rsquo;ll suffocate.&rsquo; Witch has transferred her caring for me to a rose, but somehow I am not hurt, because I knew it would happen.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;We need to prune the apple tree,&rsquo; Sveta, sitting on a stool at the table, suddenly remarks. &lsquo;Last year, our neighbour&rsquo;s tree was struck by lightning and split in half. I&rsquo;m worried about it &hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">I&rsquo;m standing in the hallway, already packed and holding the door handle. I feel I have been walking along the blade of a sharp knife and, if I stay another day, I may get cut. Annie runs out of the room without her jeans. The scarf is loose at her ankle and her hands are again covered in blood and pus. She falls on my neck. I stand there motionless and don&rsquo;t put my arms around her skinny back. She is going to collapse anyway; it is only a matter of time. She is already hanging in space, kept up by a yellow letter from her Heavenly Father. Soon she will go down the tubes. My game has no place for faith in miracles, which also means I am scared of Annie&rsquo;s blood.</p> <p class="BodyA">Witch doesn&rsquo;t come out. And then I go through the door, slowly walk down the stairs, and find the taxi waiting for me in the courtyard. I hear heavy footsteps behind and turn round hopefully. Witch is coming down. When she reaches me, she sways for a time, as if held by an invisible barrier, then lurches abruptly forward, raising her heavy arms and pressing me to her.</p> <p class="BodyA">&lsquo;Marina, don&rsquo;t forget me. Please don&rsquo;t forget me.&rsquo;</p> <p class="BodyA">The taxi drives out of the yard. I turn round and see Witch slowly, heavily walking after it, but I don&rsquo;t ask the driver to stop.</p><p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p> <p>Article translated by <strong><a href="http://www.russianwriting.com/arch.htm">Arch Tait</a></strong> </p> <p><strong>Marina Akhmedova</strong> is a Moscow-based professional reporter specializing in social and cultural issues.<strong> </strong>Republics of North Caucasian region of Russia is sphere of her special interest. Marina is an author of three books of fiction: <em>Woman at Chechen War</em> (AST, 2010), <em>House of Blind</em> (AST, 2011), and <em>Khadijah, Notes of a Death Girl</em> (aka <em>Dnevnik Smertnitzi, Diary of a female suicide-bomber,</em> AST, 2011).</p><p class="BodyA">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2078355,00.html">The Curse of the Crocodile: Russia's Deadly Designer Drug</a>, by Simon Schuster, Time Magazine, June 20, 2011</p> <p><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/03/opinion/russias-retrograde-stand-on-drug-abuse.html?pagewanted=all">Russia's Retrograde Stand on Drug Abuse</a>, by Bertrand Audoin and Chris Beyrer, The New York Times, March 2, 2012</p> <p><a href="http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/docs/CEF/Quarterly/February_2006/Louise_Shelley.pdf">The Drug Trade in Contemporary Russia</a>, by Louise Shelley, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 4, No. 1 (2006) p. 15-20</p> <p><a title="Rehabilitation Required" href="http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/11/07/rehabilitation-required-0">Rehabilitation Required</a>, Russia’s Human Rights Obligation to Provide Evidence-based Drug Dependence Treatment, Human Rights Watch Report. 2007</p> <p><a href="http://www.unodc.org/">UN Office on Drugs and Crime</a>, website</p> <p><a href="http://eudrugpolicy.org/about-us">European Drug Policy Initative</a>&nbsp;, website</p> <p><a href="http://en.rylkov-fond.org/">Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice</a>, website</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><strong>Krokodil (Crocodile)</strong></p> <p>The active component is codeine, a widely sold over-the-counter painkiller that is not toxic on its own. But to produce <em>krokodil</em>, whose medical name is desomorphine, addicts mix it with ingredients including gasoline, paint thinner, hydrochloric acid, iodine and red phosphorous, which they scrape from the striking pads on matchboxes. In 2010, between a few hundred thousand and a million people, according to various official estimates, were injecting the resulting substance into their veins in Russia, so far the only country in the world to see the drug grow into an epidemic.</p><p> <a href="http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2078355,00.html">The Curse of the Crocodile: Russia's Deadly Designer Drug</a>, by Simon Schuster, Time Magazine, June 20, 2011</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openrussia/susan-richards/russia%E2%80%99s-drugs-problem-blame-west">Russia&#039;s drugs problem: blame the West</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-teplinskaya/free-fall-russian-drug-addict-crashes-%E2%80%93-again">Free fall: a Russian drug addict crashes – again! </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/content/drug-addiction-not-quite-as-simple-as-russia-v-west">Drug addiction: not quite as simple as Russia v the West</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/herb-and-spices-drugs-in-tatarstan">Herb and Spices: Tatarstan&#039;s drug problems</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-godlevskaya/poppy-seed-and-mushrooms-oryols-drug-problems">Poppy seed and mushrooms: Oryol&#039;s drug problems</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-teplinskaya/human-rights-for-russian-drug-addicts-i-will-not-be-silenced">Human rights for Russian drug addicts: I will not be silenced!</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-strelnikova/drug-crisis-on-russia%E2%80%99s-borders">Drug crisis on Russia’s borders</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenya-semenova/diviners-sage-and-hawaiian-rose-sakhalins-drug-problems">Diviner&#039;s Sage and Hawaiian Rose: Sakhalin&#039;s drug problems</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mumin-shakirov/buzz-rattle-and-getting-clean-confessions-of-former-drug-addict">The buzz, the rattle and getting clean: confessions of a former drug addict</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"> Yekaterinburg </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Yekaterinburg Russia Marina Akhmedova Letters from the Russian provinces Health Fri, 03 Aug 2012 19:35:14 +0000 Marina Akhmedova 67386 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tatarstan: the restoration of history, religion and national feeling https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/tatarstan-restoration-of-history-religion-and-national-feeling <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/Mosque_faithful.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>The Republic of Tatarstan is spending some of its not inconsiderable oil and gas revenues on restoring the ruined capital of an 8th century civilisation. This project may play well to the sense of Tatar identity, but it has many critics, recounts Maxim Edwards</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Bolgar is a town on a dramatic plain above the left bank of the River Volga. Now in the republic of Tatarstan, it was the capital of the 8th century civilisation of the Volga <a href="http://www.kcn.ru/tat_en/history/capital.html">Bolgar</a>s [or Bulgars] and is a place that captures the Tatar imagination like no other.&nbsp; Its rolling hills are studded with minarets and domed mausoleums. One ancient minaret is said to have partly collapsed in the 19th century as the result of an overzealous local searching for treasure in its foundations, and Tatars believe that circling the ruins brings good fortune. </p> <p>It is, therefore, fitting that the treasure has finally come to Bolgar in the form of a massive government-sponsored restoration of the archaeological site and its environs. In the 18th century Peter the Great was so impressed at the extent of the ruined city that he issued an <em>ukase </em>(an executive order) to ensure their continuing maintenance. From the time of Peter the Great right down to the First President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev, power has always been drawn to Bolgar; its emotional and historical significance for the Tatar nation means that its restoration cannot be divorced from political realities.</p> <p>The approach from the main road along the Kama River reveals a pair of slender marble minarets crowning a row of trees to the north. This is an atypically Tatar style of architecture to greet the visitor at the archetypical Tatar event, the June pilgrimage to Bolgar.</p> <h3><strong>The pilgrimage</strong></h3> <p>There are sixteen of us, fourteen Tatars, a slightly bemused Russian bus driver and a Brit, in a bus organised via the Sheriq Club, a Tatar cultural organisation based in Kazan. Copious homemade chak-chak [Tatar sweet of doughballs fried and drenched with honey] fuels the four-hour journey. There have been a few brief windows of opportunity between the hymn-singing to ascertain exactly what the pilgrimage means, yet I am still not entirely certain.</p><blockquote><p><em>'From the time of Peter the Great right down to the First President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev, power has always been drawn to Bolgar; its emotional and historical significance for the Tatar nation means that its restoration cannot be divorced from political realities.'&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote> <p>My fellow travellers see little room for debate. &lsquo;This could be seen as more of a Tatar than a Muslim festival in what it commemorates,&rsquo; considers Nuria, a 52 year old Tatar from Kazan on her first trip to Bolgar, &lsquo;but I don&rsquo;t see why it&rsquo;s necessary to choose between the two.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolgar is, one could say, the Tatar &lsquo;half&rsquo; of former President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev&rsquo;s restoration project for two of the Republic&rsquo;s oldest historical sites: the ancient city of Bolgar and the island of <a href="http://gokazan.com/webcard/view/16/394.htm">Sviyazhsk</a> with its Russian Orthodox monastery. The road is choked with buses from across Tatarstan, the vast majority of their occupants ethnic Tatars. This is an auspicious day for the opening of the new Bolgar: only weeks before, the anniversary of the Volga Bolgars&rsquo; acceptance of Islam had been celebrated with pomp and ceremony, and some days later saw the beginning of <a href="http://www.ogoniok.com/archive/2002/4758-2/91-04-09/">Sabantuy</a>, the most popular of Tatar festivals.</p> <p>Over a sea of <em>t&uuml;beteikas </em>[green Tatar skull caps] the outlines of the first president of Tatarstan, Shaimiev, and the current incumbent, Minnikhanov, are visible beneath the white marble portico, flanked by two forty-six metre minarets and a more impressive number of muftis. The scene is broadcast live to the polka-dot circles of Tatar <em>babushki </em>[Rn. grannies] sitting on the grass lawns outside.</p> <p>It is 10 June, an auspicious day for Tatar Muslims who flock here to the ancient city of Bolgar (or what remains of it) to commemorate an eclectic mix of Tatar (national) and Muslim identities. The presence of Tatars from other regions of Russia - Astrakhan, Chelyabinsk and Penza -&nbsp; highlight this as an event of Tatar, rather than simply Tatarstani, significance. A paean of praise for the great new construction is read out, and the officials lead a procession which moves out through the faux-medieval stockade and across the windswept plain towards old Bolgar.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Mosque_pilgrimage.jpg" alt="Pilgrimage_mosque" width="460" height="330" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Pilgrims who visit Bolgar, the Tatar ancient capital, are not only from Tatarstan. Increasingly the pilgrims are Tatars from other Russian regions: Astrakhan, Chelyabinsk and Penza. Bulgar and Sviyazhsk are currently being considered as UNESCO world heritage sites.</p><p>Entering the mosque, the Sheriq club&rsquo;s organiser Gamil Nur admits sheepishly that &lsquo;at the moment, unfortunately, there is not much decoration.&rsquo; The interior is a pleasant surprise, a far cry from the gilded opulence of Kazan&rsquo;s grand Kul Sharif mosque. The cool marble interior of pure white is restrained. For now. The glaring exception in the summer sun is a gold plaque in English and Tatar thanking regional oil giant TatNeft and the Uzbek and Ukrainian oligarchs Alisher Usmanov and Rinat Akhmetov for their financial support.</p><blockquote><p><em>'The presence of Tatars from other regions of Russia - Astrakhan, Chelyabinsk and Penza -&nbsp; highlight this as an event of Tatar, rather than simply Tatarstani, significance.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>Chief Mufti of Russia Talgat Tazhuddin has not joined the procession and flits across the courtyard towards one of the mosque&rsquo;s new administrative offices. He is remarkably agile for his 64 years, especially when he is avoiding amateur journalists. I put it to him that the Mosque is a significant part of Shaimiev&rsquo;s plans for Bolgar as a tourist centre for Tatarstan. He is derisive. &lsquo;This is not simply some pearl to amuse tourists. This is for the next generation, so they don&rsquo;t forget their heritage&rsquo;.</p> <h3><strong>Tourism</strong></h3> <p>From a foreigner&rsquo;s perspective, Bolgar&rsquo;s ambitious restoration seems one of the Republic&rsquo;s most promising tourist projects. &lsquo;In 2008, the number of guests to Bolgar grew from 36 to 83,000, but this year we estimate around 120,000,&rsquo; predicted Tatarstan Tourism Minister Rafis Burganov. A wily, pragmatic understanding of the Republic&rsquo;s economic potential has led Tatarstan&rsquo;s leadership to adopt a &lsquo;no holds barred&rsquo; policy in capitalising on Tatarstan&rsquo;s historical wealth for financial gain. Kazan&rsquo;s <a href="http://kazanherald.com/2012/06/08/a-thousand-year-hoax/">millennium</a> captivated the city in 2005, oddly enough just some 28 years after it celebrated its 800th anniversary in 1977. The crane has joined the minaret and onion dome on the Kazan skyline as the city benefits from the renewed attention is its due as host of the 2013 Summer <a href="http://kazan2013.ru/en/">Universiade</a>, an event which appears to have the gravitas of something between the Great Rapture and the End of Days, albeit with a smart new metro and sports stadiums.</p> <p>Tatarstan is one of only a few Russian regions to contribute more to the federal budget than it receives, so it can manage its coffers very nicely indeed. Shaimiev sees very clearly that for tourists Bolgar could be the jewel in Tatarstan&rsquo;s crown. For this reason the redevelopment may prove to be real treasure, tacitly associating Tatarstan&rsquo;s historic wealth with manifestations of Tatar national identity.</p> <h3><strong>Islam and Tatar national feeling</strong></h3> <p>Shaimiev&rsquo;s position appears ambiguous: in one interview he decried attempts to &lsquo;politicise the issue,&rsquo; before asserting that Tatarstan&rsquo;s Islam could be used as a new face for Russian Islam to replace unfortunate associations with Chechnya. &lsquo;For many years we lived under the ethnic slur of <em>Tatar-Mongols</em>, but 90Ru years ago this faded out of fashion and our people&rsquo;s credibility increased in the eyes of Russian and world public opinion,&rsquo; explained the former President. &lsquo;That we can rise above historical grievances shows the maturity and quality of our people. Don&rsquo;t be Ivan the Terrible [Russian tsar, conqueror of Kazan in 1552], be different.&rsquo;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Muftis.jpg" alt="Muftis" width="460" height="345" /></p><p class="image-caption">The majority of the population of Tatarstan are Sunni Muslims. Maintaining peace in the republic and avoiding the growth of radical Islam, which could lead to an armed insurgency similar to the one in North Caucasus, is a top government priority.</p><p>It is statements of this kind (on his <a href="http://shaimiev.tatar.ru/pub/view/10162" target="_blank">website</a> in Russian)&nbsp; which prompt some of the Republic&rsquo;s newspapers to ask the question &lsquo;Why is Shaimiev restoring Bolgar?&rsquo; For many, his answer &lsquo;I&rsquo;m doing it for my soul&rsquo; may simply not do. Another timely question is &lsquo;why now?&rsquo; After all, Tatarstan has already had over twenty years of prosperity based on oil and gas revenues. Could Shaimiev, loudest defender of generous autonomy for Tatarstan, be sending a message to those who desire to unravel what remains of it?</p><blockquote><p><em>'From a foreigner&rsquo;s perspective, Bolgar&rsquo;s ambitious restoration seems one of the Republic&rsquo;s most promising tourist projects.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>The vast golden dome, housing the world&rsquo;s largest printed Qu&rsquo;ran, is now Bolgar&rsquo;s most visible landmark for those approaching its equally ostentatious new river port. The dome also holds the holy word of how Tatarstan has successfully employed compromise to steer a course through the murky waters of ethnic division, though the significance of the large new Tatarstan <a href="http://shaimiev.tatar.ru/eng/news/view/83674">Bread Museum</a> is somewhat more elusive. Its basement serves as a small museum displaying exhibits and art relating to the Volga Bolgars and the town of Bolgar. There are several modern paintings dedicated to Tatar-Russian understanding, reassuring the visitor of the Russian role in their shared history. The paint runs with treacle, yet the last exhibit is the immense Qu&rsquo;ran. Nearby stands Bolgar&rsquo;s most peculiar sight, and perhaps a microcosm of Tatarstan today: its 1732 <a href="http://xklsv.org/viewwiki.php?title=Bolghar">Russian Church</a> (now a museum of Bolgar&rsquo;s history) flanked by a Tatar minaret. Peculiar compromises for a unique place.</p> <h3>Criticism</h3> <p>Nevertheless, for some, the new Bolgar is truly vulgar, a textbook example of the other ostentatious displays of the Republic&rsquo;s wealth shown through the prism of Tatar Islamic identity. Criticism of Shaimiev&rsquo;s plans for Bolgar is partly centred on a controversial statue representing the Ak Bars (Snow Leopard- a Tatar national symbol) by Buryat artist Dashi Namdakov. Known as the <em>Guardian</em>, its announcement <a href="http://kazanherald.com/2012/04/05/bolgars-new-guardian/">caused outrage</a> in Tatar political and cultural circles, prompting an open letter with some 824 signatures urging Shaimiev not to &lsquo;desecrate&rsquo; Bolgar. Namdakov&rsquo;s statue did not feature on the pilgrimage. &lsquo;It could be,&rsquo; supposes Gamil, &lsquo;because of the Southern Tatars who have come here from the Caspian and the Caucasus. They have a more&hellip; heated temperament, so would probably not react well to it.&rsquo;</p> <p>The criticisms levelled against the White Mosque and Bolgar&rsquo;s other new developments are roughly similar to complaints about the two other projects of Tatar &lsquo;big Islam&rsquo;: the enormous printed Qu&rsquo;ran and the as yet incomplete plans for Kazan&rsquo;s enormous suburban Al Kabir Mosque. Their symbolism, point out detractors, vastly outweighs their actual practical use.</p> <h3><strong>A Muslim Disneyland</strong></h3> <p>Rimma Bikmukhametova, correspondent for Tatar-language newspaper <em>Irek M</em><em>aydani,</em> is concerned that the speed of the new development has not given archaeologists a chance to uncover new finds, and also that the unique atmosphere of the area for Tatars could be changed forever. &lsquo;The day when the mosque was opened, there was a huge police presence in Bolgar. Everything is done with the honoured guests in mind. They are the first to see these new mosques and museums, say their prayers. Only then may the ordinary people enter. That&rsquo;s not as it should be. There should be a sense of unity&hellip; a simplicity and modesty appropriate for the occasion.</p> <p>&lsquo;More and more, tourist guides in Bolgar are beginning to talk of its bright future as a major tourist site. Maybe that&rsquo;s a good thing. Yet let&rsquo;s not turn Bolgar into some kind of trough for collecting money, a private area where we have to buy tickets to sit and take in the uniqueness of the place.&rsquo;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Pilgrimage.jpg" alt="Pilgrimage" width="460" height="345" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Many Tatar activists are concerned about what they see as the commercialisation of Bolgar. In an open letter they urged the former Tatarstan president Mintimir Shaimiyev 'not to desecrate' their ancient capital.</p><p>For Tabriz Yarullin, head of the Tatar Youth Congress, the White Mosque clearly contains some shades of grey. &lsquo;It is, without a doubt, a very beautiful mosque. I haven&rsquo;t seen anything else like it in Tatarstan. But the issue is that it&rsquo;s near the woods, well outside the actual village of Bolgar. The students who study there will do so in isolation. What will the new Mufti do in his residence all the way over there?&nbsp; It all seems,&rsquo; concludes Yarullin, &lsquo;like some kind of Muslim Disneyland.&rsquo;</p> <h3><strong>Food &ndash; and history</strong></h3> <p>Appropriately, there is a sense of commercialism here during the pilgrimage, yet not a negative one. It seems that the thousands of Tatars descending on this small village provide a healthy injection of capital. There is a roaring trade in souvenirs and a sizzling one in <em>shashlyk</em> [form of shish kebab] and <em>plov</em> [pilaff]. There is no alcohol, and nearly every male is wearing, or has bought, a <em>t</em><em>&uuml;beteika</em>.</p><blockquote><p><em>'Nevertheless, for some, the new Bolgar is truly vulgar, a textbook example of the other ostentatious displays of the Republic&rsquo;s wealth shown through the prism of Tatar Islamic identity.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>Members of the Tatar nationalist organisation <em>Azatliq</em> are out in force selling badges of the Tatar flag to pilgrims. The organisation&rsquo;s leader, Nail Nabiullin, can be seen sporting a Tatar flag as a cape. Here in Bolgar such performances cause no problems and, despite the heavy police presence, they strangely do not seem out of place. Many believe that the Tatar nation was born here. Some believe that here it can also be reborn &ndash; if, that is, it ever died in the first place.</p> <p>Amidst this bustle stands a small wooden <em>izba</em> [Rn hut] on Nazarov Street, the grass verge in front of it lined with vendors&rsquo; tents selling <em>shashlyk</em> and fresh <em>kvass </em>[non-alcoholic drink made from rye bread]. Small groups of passers-by have stopped on the road to read what is written over the house&rsquo;s walls and garden fences in bright white paint.</p> <p>&lsquo;Powers that be, where is your concern for the elderly? I am A.F. Savinov, 70 years old, an invalid and veteran of labour. To insult the elderly is an insult to God. Remember your own parents, and think of the insult to them. Be aware that there is a heavenly court, and your evil will not go unnoticed. In God&rsquo;s name. God is one, one for all.&rsquo;</p> <p>Like the <em>shashlyk</em>, this is difficult to digest. For some, it no doubt casts a shadow on what should be a jolly day.</p> <p><em>From my cold and hungry childhood, I always learnt to utter that phrase &lsquo;thank you, my country, my motherland&rsquo;.</em></p> <p>The pilgrims sing Tatar-language prayers until we reach Kazan&rsquo;s Victory Prospect in the late evening. Tea is shared as the Tatars test each other on their nation&rsquo;s grand history with penetrating questions about Bolgar and the <a href="http://my.raex.com/~obsidian/russia.html#Kazan">Khans</a> of Kazan. Somehow, the thoughts of A.F. Savinov, whoever he may be, seem the most enduring, and the most consistent. To restore an ancient capital city is to stake a claim to a distant past, one whose owner is all too clear.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Nation, Language, Islam: Tatarstan's Sovereignty Movement, by Helen M. Faller, Central European University Press, 2012</p> <p>Russia’s Islamic Threat, by Gordon M. Hahn, Yale University Press, 2007</p> <p>Kazan and Moscow: five centuries of crippling coexistence under Russian imperialism, 1552-2002 : from Ivan, Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev, Shaimiev, Yeltsin to Putin, by Shafiga Daulet, Kase Prss, 2003, 826 pages</p> <p><a href="http://kazanherald.com/">The Kazan Herald</a>, English language newspaper in Tatarstan website</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/tatarstan%E2%80%99s-new-activists">Tatarstan’s new activists</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/tatarstan-religious-coexistence-too-important-to-fail">Tatarstan: religious coexistence too important to fail</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/walter-laqueur/russias-domestic-muslim-strategy-lurking-threat">Russia&#039;s domestic Muslim strategy - the lurking threat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/lesson-for-luzhkov-tatarstan%E2%80%99s-shaimiev-shows-how-to-cling-on-to-power">A lesson for Luzhkov? Tatarstan’s Shaimiev shows how to cling on to power</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/lesson-for-tatarstans-businessmen-go-elsewhere">A lesson for Tatarstan&#039;s businessmen: go elsewhere</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/voice-of-experience-mintimer-shaimiyev-in-conversation">The voice of experience: Mintimer Shaimiyev in conversation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/hijab-wars">Hijab Wars</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lisa-kazbekova/chechnya%E2%80%99s-fashion-dictator">Chechnya’s fashion dictator</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"> Bolgar </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> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Bolgar Russia Civil society Culture russia & eurasia russia Maxim Edwards Letters from the Russian provinces Religion Politics Mon, 30 Jul 2012 09:18:21 +0000 Maxim Edwards 67281 at https://www.opendemocracy.net 'We’ve a war on here!' https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/we%E2%80%99ve-war-on-here <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/thumb_0.png " alt="" width="160" /> </p><p class="p1"><span class="s1">Last month a small village in Kirov region became the unlikely location of serious interethnic violence.&nbsp;More than 100 people took part in a mass brawl,&nbsp;shots were fired and the governor of Kirov region, Nikita Belykh, was compelled to fly in by helicopter. Local correspondent Ekaterina Loushnikova, who made the&nbsp;350 mile trip by more modest means, uncovers the roots of the conflict.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">Stones and butterflies flew at the glass. A volley of little pebbles shot out from under the minibus wheels, which bounced along the dirt road between hills covered with pine forest. The crowns of pine trees seemed grey with clouds and, as if torn from them, a swarm of white butterflies fluttered above the dusty road. Breaking against the windows of the bus, they settled on the glass like yellow ash.</p><p> <img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/kirov.png%20" alt="" width="300" align="right" /></p><p class="p1">Our journey had already lasted more than six hours, and we still hadn&rsquo;t reached the end of the road, yet it seemed we&rsquo;d reached the end of civilisation.&nbsp; The rare villages which flickered past the window had become more reminiscent of cemeteries. Skeleton houses were fronted by black cavities for windows, a ruined church had become home for birds, in overgrown fields of cultivated plants only the poisonous giant hogweed grew... &nbsp;</p><p class="p1">After ten hours of travelling over ruts and potholes, the back is stiff, the legs refuse to move. One wants to sleep, eat, drink, cry, glug vodka and forget the entire world.</p> <p class="p1">But vodka wasn&rsquo;t for sale in Demyanovo. There&rsquo;s a curfew and an alcohol ban in place, while the streets are patrolled by the police. Although, it seems, this has not reduced drunkenness.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Telling the truth</h2> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Hey, journalists!&rsquo; a lurching man with a crimson face calls out to us. He is&nbsp; wearing something like military uniform. &lsquo;Come here and I&rsquo;ll tell you the truth! We&rsquo;ve a war on here!&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Who&rsquo;s fighting whom?&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Russians&rsquo; &ndash; the man thumped himself on the chest with his fist &ndash; &lsquo;against Dagestanis!&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The &lsquo;Dagis&rsquo; are pestering the girls, beating up the lads, they even knifed one. They&rsquo;ve paid off the police, the authorities, and do whatever they want! And this is our land! We were born here!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">To protect &lsquo;their land&rsquo;, the Russian inhabitants of Demyanovo had taken up stakes, cudgels, planks, bits of metal. The Dagestanis were armed with hunting rifles, sawn off shotguns and traumatic pistols [&lsquo;non-lethal&rsquo; guns firing rubber balls]. The locals undoubtedly outnumbered the incomers from the Caucasus by a hundred to twenty, but they didn&rsquo;t have the firepower.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/standoff_0.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Armed standoff between Dagestanis and locals at the Demyanovo sawmill. Photo: Nikolay Lipatnikov</span></p><p class="p1">Symbolically, the &lsquo;war&rsquo; in Demyanovo started on the same day as the Great Patriotic War, June 22. This time a sawmill owned by a Dagestani entrepreneur, Nukh Abdullevich Kuratmagomedov, became the battlefield. Nukh Abdullevich&rsquo;s name sounds unfamiliar to Russian ears, but he came to Demyanovo seven years ago, acquired an area of forest in the vicinity of a sawmill and set up a business. He established a new Russian family, a house and household, and invited a multitude of relatives and friends from the North Caucasus to make the northern Russian village their permanent residence. Thus a &lsquo;Dagestani diaspora&rsquo; appeared in Demyanovo. Dagestanis own four of the nineteen sawmills, and the local bar &lsquo;Crystal&rsquo; &ndash; a former collective farm club converted into an entertainment venue. Now only ruins remain of the club-bar, only smoke wreaths above the ashes.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p class="p1">'To protect &lsquo;their land&rsquo;, the Russian inhabitants of Demyanovo had taken up stakes, cudgels, planks, bits of metal. The Dagestanis were armed with hunting rifles, sawn off shotguns and traumatic pistols. The locals&nbsp;outnumbered the incomers from the Caucasus by a hundred to twenty, but they didn&rsquo;t have the firepower.'</p></blockquote> <p class="p1">The club burned down in &lsquo;unexplained circumstances&rsquo;, but even earlier here a quarrel ignited between the Dagestani proprietors and the Russian clientele. Demyanovans advance differing versions of what served as a reason for the quarrel. Some suggest they argued over a girl. Others say there wasn&rsquo;t enough vodka. The proprietor refused to pour out more, saying that the bar was closed &lsquo;for a private function&rsquo;. The nephew of the venue&rsquo;s proprietor was celebrating a meeting with friends and didn&rsquo;t want to let in customers.</p> <p class="p1">What sort of self-respecting Russian would tolerate such an insult? They beat up the nephew, and he called on his fellow nephews for help. A colonnade of vehicles moved in from the neighbouring republic of Komi; in the cars sat flushed young hotheads. Increasingly frightening rumours began to creep around the village: they said that warriors from Dagestan were coming and would stab everyone, down to the last inhabitant. Women were afraid to go out on the streets. Men gathered by the river and a crowd headed to the sawmill to sort out the situation with the men from the Caucasus. Many, evidently, drank to gain some &lsquo;Dutch courage&rsquo;. Local businessman Sergei Dolgopolov entertained the &lsquo;Russian home guard&rsquo;.</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;For a crowd of a hundred there was only one crate of vodka. Is that really drunkenness?&rsquo; a young worker, Vsevolod Bobrov, asked journalists. &lsquo;Personally I wasn&rsquo;t drinking.&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;And why go?&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;We&rsquo;re just fed up of them! They come here, set up their own rules, con people. I worked at Nukh&rsquo;s sawmill, and he underpaid me by two thousand rubles. One of our lads was stabbed with a knife in the caf&eacute;.&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;You wanted to take revenge?&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Well, simply to sort it. But in any case a crowd got together because we knew that eight carloads of Dagis had arrived. We came and they began to shoot&hellip; one had a hunting rifle, another a sawn-off shotgun, and many of them had cudgels, knives, traumatic pistols. They caught me too!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">Vsevolod&rsquo;s whole cheek was one enormous bruise, and there were traces of blood on his head. Traces, judging by the looks of them, left by the bullet from a traumatic pistol&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;I heard the shot, and something flew over my head. I lost consciousness, and they dragged me to one side. A police officer covered me with a shield, they broke his shield, and beat me with cudgels!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Do you consider the Dagestanis enemies?&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;After everything that&rsquo;s happened, can I really consider them my friends?!&rsquo; Vsevolod even laughs at such a suggestion. &lsquo;There will be no peace here &ndash; let them go back to their own mountain village!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">One of the brawl participants has uploaded his own <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhFaOIGF7jI">video</a> of the fight at the sawmill, entitled &lsquo;How Dagestanis shoot at Russians&rsquo;, to the internet. It&rsquo;s already been viewed more than 500,000 times.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2>Does everyone have their own truth?</h2> <p class="p1">&lsquo;The inhabitants of Demyanovo have never seen anything but kindness from me!&rsquo; Nukh Kuratmagomedov assured journalists. Kuratmagomedov is an imposing man of about fifty, with a fierce Caucasian exterior and a passionate temperament. Several years ago there was a court case against him for fighting with a bailiff. But the case ended well, Nukh got off with a suspended sentence and continued to work peaceably in the Demyanovo sawmill. Then judge Valentina Esaulova, having imposed such a light sentence, left unexpectedly for the south with a huge sum of money. Since then the police have tried in vain to return the judge to her little motherland on suspicion of corruption and other crimes. Nukh Kuratmagomedov came to his meeting with the journalists in a foreign car that was clearly not cheap.</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Nukh Abdullaevich, perhaps people simply envy you?&rsquo;</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/thumb_0.png" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">The locals outnumbered the incomers by a factor of five, but the latter had the arms.&nbsp;&nbsp;Photo: Nikolay Lipatnikov</span></p><p class="p1">&lsquo;What is there to envy? You just need to work, make an effort! How am I to blame if you drink the clock round? I didn&rsquo;t steal this sawmill, you know, they sold it to me themselves! Are we not one state &ndash; Russia? Why say to me &lsquo;go home to your motherland&rsquo;?! Am I an American? A foreigner? Well okay then, let us live like foreigners, let us live independently! And then what? Here&rsquo;s Chechnya, which wanted independence, and they bombed the whole of Chechnya.&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Is it true that your people resorted to weapons?&rsquo;</p> <blockquote><p class="p1">'In advance of the visit of the &lsquo;big boss&rsquo; to Demyanovo, bureaucrats had embarked on a flurry of activity, filling in potholes, straightening wonky fences, mowing the grass around the village administration and even playing rousing little songs by the popular group &lsquo;Hands Up&rsquo; (Rukhi vverkh) through loudspeakers in the town square'</p></blockquote><p class="p1">&lsquo;Yes, we fired! And what should we have done? A crowd of two hundred was marching on us. All armed with stakes, cudgels and whatnot. Many of them were drunk, shouting, swearing. How could we stop them? I phoned the chief of police! He said to me, I don&rsquo;t care what&rsquo;s happening to you there, I don&rsquo;t know how to stop a crowd. Well then, I said, I know! And we began to shoot in the air. And then the police came running&hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">Now criminal proceedings have been instituted against the Dagestanis for &lsquo;using hunting weapons outside hunting grounds&rsquo;. A few criminal cases have been initiated against Russian participants in the conflict &ndash; for hooliganism, battery, wilful damage to property, and insubordination to the authorities. Three young lads were held for 48 hours and their testimony was even checked on a lie detector. After such an examination the suspects were released after signing assurances that they would not leave the area. Eight criminal proceedings were instituted all told, including one in respect of &lsquo;mass disorders&rsquo;.</p> <p class="p2">Governor Nikita Belykh flew in on a Mi-2 helicopter to bring &lsquo;order&rsquo; to the mutinous village. In advance of the visit of the &lsquo;big boss&rsquo; to Demyanovo, bureaucrats had embarked on a flurry of activity, filling in potholes, straightening wonky fences, mowing the grass around the village administration and even playing rousing little songs by the popular group &lsquo;Hands Up&rsquo; (<em>Rukhi vverkh</em>) through loudspeakers in the town square: &lsquo;Capture me quickly, sweep me over a hundred seas! And kiss me all over, I&rsquo;m already grown up, you know!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;What a show, turning on the music and filling in the potholes!&rsquo; Ekaterina, a village resident, was infuriated. &lsquo;On ordinary days the village overflows with crap and no one does anything!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">Ekaterina&rsquo;s friends and neighbours concur.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;We only have two reasonable roads &ndash; Komsomolskaya and Borovaya &ndash; and you can&rsquo;t drive along the others, you won&rsquo;t make it!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;We freeze every winter; the temperature indoors is only just above that on the street! The children freeze in school!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p2">&lsquo;The ceiling is falling down in 22 Komsomolskaya Street, the floor collapsed and all round there they are swimming in sewage&hellip;&rsquo;</p> <h2><strong>Enter the Governor peacemaker...&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p class="p1">So against this backdrop the long awaited governor of Kirov region, Nikita Belykh, appeared, accompanied by a noisy delegation of bureaucrats and journalists with television cameras, lenses and microphones. As has been the case for the last few years of his appointment, the governor looks tired and anxious, like a person who has been unexpectedly woken up in the middle of the night and asked to calculate the square root of Pi.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">It seemed as if the whole of Demyanovo&rsquo;s population had come out to hear the governor speak. Grandmothers in white headscarves, handsome women in flowery dresses, men with the wrinkled, weathered faces of lumberjacks. The crowd listened as one.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/belykh.jpg" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Governor Nikita Belykh (second left) flew into Demyanovo by helicopter to reconcile the warring parties. He left having offered a number of sweetners to worried locals &mdash; from new train carriages to sport centres. Photo: Ekaterina Loushnikova</span></p><p class="p1">&lsquo;We are all citizens of the Russian Federation!&rsquo; Nikita Belykh said, &lsquo;The first inhabitants of this land were coast-dwellers. This is the Russian north! One way or another we are all guests in this land, and we all have an interest in living harmoniously and peacefully! This is the task facing the local authorities, and the law enforcement agencies, and if they don&rsquo;t get to grips with this task, they will be sacked! Those who have broken the law, no matter which ethnic group they belong to, will be punished! Do you agree?&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">Applause rang out, and a discordant choir of voices answered &lsquo;Yes!&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The police ushered Nukh Kuratmagomedov to the stage.&nbsp;Anxiety, unfortunately, gave Nukh Kuratmagomedov a strong Caucasian accent. &lsquo;I stand proud before you! I want to know the people&rsquo;s opinion! If all these people here tell me they want me to leave, I leave! Just tell me what harm those Dagestanis who live here with me have done to you!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">Cries of &lsquo;Kochkin, Kochkin!&rsquo; emerged from the crowd, to which a balding, older man with a cross in the open neck of his white shirt clambered onto the stage. This was Alexander Kochkin, a village duma deputy from Vladimir Zhirinovksy&rsquo;s far-right LDPR party.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Is it difficult for you to apologise to our people? To the people here who have nurtured you? For what? For bringing in lads with guns who shot at our children! For saying that you&rsquo;ll bring the village to its knees! Sweet ladies, my dears, if you are satisfied with everything today then you won&rsquo;t complain that you&rsquo;re afraid to go back to work. That a carload of Dagestanis curb crawls you and invites you to &lsquo;go for a spin&rsquo;! You&rsquo;ve learnt to whisper, but haven&rsquo;t learnt to tell the truth to someone&rsquo;s face. When the truth is told, then there will be some order too!!!&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">The crowd called out approvingly and burst into applause. The microphone was passed to an older, red-haired woman in a green jacket.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;Listen Nukh! I&rsquo;m the mother of two sons. If you are so all-powerful in our village, please turn the clock back! The lads fight, but no one saw any guns! Why did you bring warriors here? Frightening the whole village! Can you promise me that none of our children will be killed?! Mothers stand before you!!!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">The sky above the village turned dark lilac and rain fell, which did not, however, cool tempers. The women at the platform seemed ready to literally rip apart the isolated man from the Caucasus in his pale blue shirt.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/square_0.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">A mass meeting was held in the village square shortly after the events. Despite the governor's visit, Demyanovo remains frozen in anticipation as to what might happen next.&nbsp;Photo: Ekaterina Loushnikova</span></p> <p class="p1">&lsquo;I&rsquo;m not saying that we didn&rsquo;t shoot! We shot!&rsquo;, Nukh cried into the microphone. &lsquo;Because the police officers, instead of maintaining order, simply ran away! I phoned Petukhov, the prosecutor&rsquo;s aide. He said &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t know what&rsquo;s going on, come over to my work tomorrow at 8am! I&rsquo;m told to apologise for saying that I will bring the village to its knees &ndash; but I didn&rsquo;t say that! And since I didn&rsquo;t say that, I won&rsquo;t ask for anyone&rsquo;s forgiveness!!!&rsquo;</p> <p class="p1">The crowd yelled &lsquo;Leave! Leave!&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Governor Belykh took upon himself the role of peacemaker. &lsquo;It&rsquo;s possible that everyone has their own truth&rsquo;, he said. &lsquo;But as the governor, as the highest official in post in Kirov region, I must apologise to the inhabitants of Demyanovo for any improper actions, or inaction from the authorities. I promise that all of the guilty will be punished!&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p class="p1">'Nikita Belykh promised the Demyanovans to add another carriage to the train into the regional centre (trains run once every two days), to deal with the housing and utilities problems, to open a sports centre and even to buy toilet paper for the local playgroup. I was left with the impression that the best way to get the government to pay attention to your problems is to create some inter-ethnic strife.'</p></blockquote> <p class="p1">Nikita Belykh shook hands with both Nukh Kuratmagomedov and Duma deputy Alexander Kochkin, but he didn&rsquo;t manage to get these irreconcilable opponents to shake each other&rsquo;s hands. It seems both remained convinced of their own opinion.&nbsp; The sodden people nevertheless didn&rsquo;t want to disperse, gathering in bunches under umbrellas. The biggest bunch formed around the governor. They were discussing not only ethnic but social problems: housing and utilities problems, roads, schools, playgroups and hospitals. Nikita Belykh promised the Demyanovans to add another carriage to the train into the regional centre (trains run once every two days), to deal with the housing and utilities problems, to open a sports centre and even to buy toilet paper for the local playgroup. I was left with the impression that the best way to get the government to pay attention to your problems is to create some inter-ethnic strife.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The next day the governor flew back to Kirov in the helicopter. But more than a hundred police, including officers of the department for combatting extremism, remained in the village. The Demyanovo residents suspected of hooliganism and the arson attack on the Crystal club were summoned to the police station where they were interrogated with particular passion. One of the lads was even hit on the head, shoved in the stomach and told that he&rsquo;d be hung up by the legs if he didn&rsquo;t confess to organising &lsquo;mass disorders&rsquo;. The lad didn&rsquo;t confess &ndash; instead he complained to human rights defenders and the public prosecutors.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Village.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption">Local police were critcised by both sides for standing by and allowing disagreements to develop into armed conflict.&nbsp;Photo: Ekaterina Loushnikova</span></p><p class="p1"><em></em>It looks as if Demyanovo is now facing new criminal proceedings &ndash; on the illegal actions of the law enforcement officers. After all these dramatic events, Viktor Pogolov, the head of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs for Kirov region, and Aleksandr Kliushov, head of Podosinovsky region police, were dismissed. Andrei Tretyakov and Vladimir Rudakov, the heads of the village and regional administrations, also lost their jobs. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">Now Demyanovo is quiet and without governance. The town square is deserted, the music has fallen silent, there is no sound of voices, only the reddish village dogs doze peacefully on the stage, and the sellers of fresh meat call out for customers. Demyanovo seems frozen in expectation&hellip; as if the play isn&rsquo;t yet over but the main actors have left to change their costumes and reapply their greasepaint. The audience awaits the final act, in which no one knows what will happen &ndash; will it be a tragedy, or a comedy?&nbsp; Or perhaps, as is fashionable in contemporary theatre, it will be an open-ended drama?</p> <h2>Epilogue: history repeating?</h2> <p class="p1"><strong>Kondopoga</strong></p> <p class="p1">On 30 August 2006, the Karelian town of Kondopoga became the scene of a large confrontation between locals and incomers from Chechnya and Dagestan. According to the official version, one night Sergei Mozgalyov and Yury Pliev, customers at the &lsquo;Seagull&rsquo; (<em>Chaika</em>) restaurant, got into a row with a waiter, Mamedov, who was an illegal immigrant from Azerbaijan.&nbsp; The waiter ran away from his persecutors and told some Chechen acquaintances. Within half an hour, two carloads of Chechens arrived at the restaurant, armed with knives, clubs and bits of metal. Having missed the men who&rsquo;d offended the waiter, eyewitnesses claim the arrivals began to beat up and mutilate random passers-by who happened to be on the street near the restaurant. As a result, two people died on the spot from knife wounds and nine people were admitted to hospital.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">A mass meeting was held in Kondopoga&rsquo;s main square, at which residents demanded that the authorities evict all illegal immigrants within twenty four hours. Several hundred people set off for the Seagull restaurant. Demonstrators first threw stones and then, forcing their way in, set fire to the utility room. A set of military restrictions, codenamed &lsquo;Vulcan-1&rsquo;, was installed across Karelia, and a Ministry of the Interior base was set up in Kondopoga. The investigation and trial of the murderers from the Caucasus and their accomplices went on for more than three years. They were all sentenced to terms of imprisonment, from 22 to three years.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Sagra</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">On the night of 1 July 2011, a gun-battle broke out in the outskirts of a small village called Sagra in Sverdlovsk region. The battle was between locals and a group of gangsters who had moved in from Yekaterinburg. Most of the gansters belonged to the Azerbaijani diaspora. One of the attackers was killed. 23 participants in the gun-battle were accused of &lsquo;banditry&rsquo;, &lsquo;organisation and participation in mass disorders&rsquo;, &lsquo;falsification of documents&rsquo; and &lsquo;murder threats&rsquo;. The case of the attack against Sagra will be heard in Sverdlovsk regional court on 2 August 2012.</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/madeleine-reeves/%E2%80%9Cnelegaly%E2%80%9D-work-and-shelter-in-migrant-moscow">“Nelegaly”: work and shelter in migrant Moscow</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nick-megoran/osh-one-year-on">Osh: one year on</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/russia-s-undefended-migrant-workers">Undefended - Russia&#039;s migrant workers </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/opendemocracy-theme/migration-after-the-crunch">Migration beyond resentment</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mumin-shakirov/gastarbeiters-and-kino-russias-invisible-class-gets-its-big-break">Gastarbeiters in kino: Russia&#039;s invisible class gets its big break</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/diary-of-an-uzbek-gastarbeiter">Diary of an Uzbek Gastarbeiter</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/roman-yushkov/in-land-of-forests-dispatch-from-perm">In the land of the forests: dispatch from Perm</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 Ekaterina Loushnikova Letters from the Russian provinces Politics Internal Human rights History Cultural politics Conflict Thu, 26 Jul 2012 22:49:55 +0000 Ekaterina Loushnikova 67262 at https://www.opendemocracy.net ‘Appeal to all women: Don’t put up with it!’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ayshat/%E2%80%98appeal-to-all-women-don%E2%80%99t-put-up-with-it%E2%80%99 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/thumb.png" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Soon after the fall of communism, Ayshat (not her real name) was kidnapped by a stranger who wanted to marry her. Such kidnaps are not unusual in ultra-conservative Ingushetia, or in any of the North Caucasus republics. What is rare is Ayshat’s courage in speaking out. She tells the story of her violent marriage, breaking silence in the hope of persuading other women to resist abuse.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>Ayshat sits in the small basement office of a women&rsquo;s NGO in Ingushetia. Pale, determined, articulate, she looks older than her 40 years. With no relatives to support her, she is raising her son alone, on her small income, which is extremely unusual in Ingushetia. Her thick hair is cut fashionably short &ndash; also a rarity in Ingushetia, where women pride themselves on their long locks. It had to be cut when she was first treated for a brain tumour. Now she has learned at the hospital that the cancer has returned, and she needs an operation in Moscow which she cannot afford. When she broke down, a kind nurse referred her to this NGO. Ayshat is clear that her tumour is the result of her ex-husband&rsquo;s violence.</em></p> <p><strong>&nbsp;</strong>I&rsquo;d better start with how I met my - now ex - husband. I was a nurse, working in the resuscitation department. One day a colleague said to me &lsquo;this man&rsquo;s just back from Barnaul. He&rsquo;s a great guy, I&rsquo;d like to introduce you&rsquo;. I agreed. Next day he turned up, when I was on my shift. We talked. I didn&rsquo;t like him at all, didn&rsquo;t like the way he talked or behaved.&nbsp; I was quite clear &ndash; this was not my kind of man. I refused him, politely.&nbsp; I was about to take my entrance exam for medical school and I had a lot of revising to do. I wanted to study gynaecology.&nbsp; We only had that one conversation. He seemed to have got the point.</p><p> <img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/5th%20floor_side_0.jpg" alt="align=left" width="300" /></p><p>Next morning, I was on my way home after the night shift when he came up and asked if he could walk with me. I said I&rsquo;d rather he didn&rsquo;t, I thought I&rsquo;d made my position clear - I wasn&rsquo;t looking for a husband. Suddenly this car drives up, two men leap out, drag me in, drive me off to Nazran and lock me into this fifth floor flat! </p> <p>I resisted, of course. Said I&rsquo;d never agree to marry him. But he took no notice. I did try to escape. I found there was a balcony - the adjoining apartment had one too. I asked my kidnappers, who were keeping guard in the next room, if I could close the door for five minutes. Then I climbed onto the neighbour&rsquo;s balcony. I thought &lsquo;I&rsquo;ve done it, got away!&rsquo; Imagine - you realise you&rsquo;re going to have to live with a man you don&rsquo;t even like! I was in such a state, shaking from head to foot. I banged on the neighbours&rsquo; window. But there was no one there.</p> <p>That was when I understood - no one was going to rescue me. I was going to have to go back. For a moment, standing on that fifth floor balcony, I thought &lsquo;why not just throw myself off?&rsquo; I was distraught. I lay down again quickly in case they came to check up on me. When they did, I pretended I was alright. I lay there thinking how to escape. I&rsquo;d got to, somehow. But I never managed it. </p> <p>Then the men took me off into the depths of Chechnya, as my relations were all saying &lsquo;Give us back our girl&rsquo;. They told the elders I was fine with it. The elders said &lsquo;Bring her here, so we can ask her ourselves&rsquo;. So they thought up this wheeze. They took some other girl &ndash; none of my close relations were there, and our clan elders are so distantly connected to me that they wouldn&rsquo;t have known what I looked like. The elders asked the girl &lsquo;Have you agreed to this?&rsquo; She said yes.&nbsp; And the elders gave their blessing. So they - well, they married me off in my absence.</p> <p>But the old men suspected something wasn&rsquo;t right. They demanded the men produce the real bride. My kidnappers were very cunning. They decided to keep me overnight, in the hope they&rsquo;d be able to win me round. That night they piled on the pressure; stood over me, going on and on in this monotone: &lsquo;Come on, come on. It&rsquo;ll be fine. He&rsquo;s a great fellow..&rsquo;</p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/elders_side_0.jpg" alt="align=right" width="300" /></p> <p>In the end, next morning, I gave in. I guess I was just worn out. I felt I was offering myself as a sacrifice. I do that. I&rsquo;ve been like that since I was child. It&rsquo;s done me so much harm. This wanting to please everyone, whatever it costs me. </p> <p>So that&rsquo;s how it started, my married life, if that&rsquo;s what you can call it. </p> <p>Right away I knew he had problems. For a start, he drank a lot. After they stole me they sat in the next room and drank. The next day there they were again, getting drunk, and the day after. I hated it. But I thought maybe it would pass, that he was drinking because he was so happy.&nbsp; </p> <p>We were married a week later. This woman from Barnaul came to the wedding. They said she and my husband were old friends. I never suspected a thing. I was very trusting. I believed, still believe, that men and women can be friends. So I welcomed her. I was so young, so inexperienced! But the way she talked, the things she said, breathed jealousy. She hated me. She&rsquo;d say to my husband, sarcastically: &rsquo;Look what a beauty you&rsquo;ve chosen!&rsquo; She even tried undressing me! &lsquo;Let me see your breasts, your legs - my, what a girl!&rsquo; If I&rsquo;d been more experienced I&rsquo;d have realised she was his lover. I was surprised. But I didn&rsquo;t suspect a thing. ...</p> <p>A few days later we all went to Barnaul, this lover, my husband. Me. That&rsquo;s where my married life began. Awful it was. His lover wouldn&rsquo;t leave him alone. She was always picking fights &ndash; even when I was there. I was so naive - even then I didn&rsquo;t realise they were lovers. And because she was always on at him, he&rsquo;d lash out at me.</p> <p>She&rsquo;d be there every day, asking me these questions, about how things were in bed. I was so naive I&rsquo;d tell her. She was forever bringing me presents, cakes. When I ate them I&rsquo;d feel terrible. Yes, it sounds weird, but it&rsquo;s true. After eating anything she brought me I&rsquo;d feel bad. I couldn&rsquo;t understand it. Nor could he - I was so healthy. Maybe it was something to do with her jealousy. I lost 10 kilos in three months. I got so weak, though usually I was full of energy, racing round the house, cooking, never sitting down, trying to please my husband. That&rsquo;s how I was brought up. I wanted to be a perfect wife. </p> <p>Today, I wonder how I could have behaved like that.&nbsp; It goes back to my childhood, I suppose. I grew up in a very conservative family. Our father was very strict. Maybe &ndash; even despotic. Sometimes he was nice, of course, but he was always criticising us. Never praised us, however much we tried to please him. So my sisters and I grew up believing we had to please everyone. </p> <p>My husband soon clocked that, and made use of it. I was afraid of him right from the start. He&rsquo;d get this terrible look in his eyes, start shouting, throwing things at me. For no reason! Saucepans, ashtrays, watches, anything that was around. Once he threw a pan of hot fat. He&rsquo;d grab these big knives.&nbsp; I&rsquo;d burst into tears, I could see he was sick. I was scared. When the rage had died down he&rsquo;d be sorry: &lsquo;I&rsquo;m a fool, I don&rsquo;t know why I do these things. I love you more than anything in the world.&rsquo; Then I&rsquo;d forgive him. I pitied him - poor man, what must they have done to you to make you like this! </p> <p>Pity. My capacity for pity &ndash; it&rsquo;s a bad joke. It&rsquo;s played a fatal role in my life. I should have looked after myself better. </p> <p>I was a long way away from my parents. If they been there, maybe I&rsquo;d just have run away when he started beating me up. But I didn&rsquo;t know how to. For a start, he never gave me money. Maybe he was afraid I&rsquo;d... It wasn&rsquo;t that he was mean. But he never left money at home. And considering how he lived - the lovers, the restaurants - he must have felt he needed it, just in case. He&rsquo;d never let slip an opportunity. After spending the whole evening with one woman, on the way home he&rsquo;d manage one more bit of skirt. By the time he got home at two o&rsquo;clock in the morning I&rsquo;d be worn out. Then he&rsquo;d start on me. That&rsquo;s what he was like.&nbsp; Relentless. A compulsive womaniser.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>When he beat me I wouldn&rsquo;t say a word. Then he&rsquo;d beat me <em>because</em> I didn&rsquo;t say anything. He didn&rsquo;t know why he was doing it. He just beat me. Then he&rsquo;d be sorry. At other times he&rsquo;d yell: &lsquo;You&rsquo;re a nobody!&rsquo; He didn&rsquo;t mean it - he&rsquo;d say anything to make sure I didn&rsquo;t leave. He wanted me to feel dependent, vulnerable. As time when on, I got bolder - I&rsquo;d yell at him, try and stand up for myself. We&rsquo;d have huge rows. I had a temper too.&nbsp; </p> <p>After five or six years I got pregnant. Then he left. Made some excuse about having to earn money. Was gone for months, with his lover. &nbsp;I didn&rsquo;t hear a word from him. Then he turned up, when I was eight months gone. That same day he beat me up so badly I had to escape. I scrambled out of the window, barefoot. It was August. We were living in Alma-Ata [ed: now Almaty] then. It&rsquo;s a very big city. I kept walking and walking. I had no idea where I was going. Then I reached this wood. I never wanted to see that man again. I wanted to die. I&rsquo;d come to this wood to put an end to my life.&nbsp; I was furious. How could he beat me up, knowing that I was with child?</p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/Woman%20in%20woods_0.jpg" alt="align=left" width="300" /></p> <p>&nbsp;I didn&rsquo;t do it, obviously.&nbsp; I sat there for twenty minutes or so, thinking it through. And realised I was wrong - I didn&rsquo;t have the right to kill another life. I pulled myself together and set off in the direction of home. Barefoot. Finally a car stopped and gave me a lift. I had this neighbour, Aunt Katya. Russian. A very good woman. I went to her. She knew about my life. She was always telling me to leave. She put me to bed, prayed over me and went to bawl out my husband. He was all smiles, denied we&rsquo;d had a row, though it was obvious he&rsquo;d been really worried - I&rsquo;d been gone all day, it&nbsp; was dark. I refused to talk to him. I was hurting all over.</p> <p>A month later, when I was about to give birth, he left again. He had this very young lover in Barnaul. He went to her, left me without a ruble. Throughout my pregnancy I hadn&rsquo;t had enough money to feed myself properly, to buy nappies, pay the doctor. I&rsquo;d had to turn to his brothers for help. </p> <p>After the birth I came home. I had no milk. I spent these sleepless nights alone with the crying baby, who was very weak. I cried too. I was afraid for the baby. He was having convulsions - we were always calling the ambulance. The brothers would bring food. But then they&rsquo;d expect me to cook for them. They&rsquo;d be there every day with their friends and I&rsquo;d be cooking with one hand, holding the baby with the other. Round midnight Aunt Katya&rsquo;d come and take the child. And I&rsquo;d run out to the bathhouse and wash the nappies.&nbsp; The child was having diarrhoea. So I had to keep changing him. I was like a robot. I will forever be grateful to that woman. </p> <p>My husband turned up again when the child was two months old. To be honest I was very happy to see him. I took him into the child&rsquo;s room &lsquo;Here he is - our son!&rsquo;&nbsp; He&rsquo;d told me more than once that if I gave him a son he&rsquo;d cover me in gold. But now he took one look and said: &lsquo;He&rsquo;s not very like me!&rsquo; I was hurt. That he could say that, after everything I&rsquo;d been through during the pregnancy and after, when he was away! How ashamed I&rsquo;d been to have to leave the maternity ward without paying the doctors. Of course, I couldn&rsquo;t pay them back later, as I had no money for a long time. </p> <p>Something broke in me at that moment - this man couldn&rsquo;t even share our joy at having a child. It was as if he was saying the child wasn&rsquo;t his. Had his lover put the idea into his head? I don&rsquo;t know. Well, he spent two months at home and in all that time, though he could see how much the baby was suffering, from pain, from illness, how wretched I was, he never once came and helped.</p><p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/map1.png%20" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">In common with their Chechen neighbours, the Ingush population was accused by Stalin of colluding with the Nazi enemy during the Second World and deported to Kazazhstan. Although many returned under Khruschev, the links between Ingushetia and Kazakhstan remain strong to this day.&nbsp;</p> <p>When the child was four months old he got convulsions so badly we went to the hospital. He was at death&rsquo;s door. I rang my husband and asked him to talk to the doctor and pay him. I lost 7 kilos that night. The doctor managed to save him. But my husband went to his lover. Just ran away, leaving us to handle the crisis on our own. He didn&rsquo;t even leave me any money. I didn&rsquo;t see him again &lsquo;til the child was 10 months old. We&rsquo;d travelled home to Ingushetia for my husband&rsquo;s brother&rsquo;s wedding. The baby was more grown up - he stroked him, played with him. Then left again for Barnaul. </p> <p>Did I already say that my husband was an addict, as well as alcoholic? At first he only smoked weed, then he got onto prescription drugs. One of his lovers was a nurse - she got them for him. Then they did this check at her hospital and found that a lot of medicines with these drugs were missing. They suspected her. It was going to court. Well - she hung herself. My husband showed no regret at all. He didn&rsquo;t know what compassion was. It was the drugs, I suppose. I know addicts become cruel, and that that gets worse with time. </p> <p>At one point he&rsquo;d overdosed badly.&nbsp; A friend had brought heroin, they&rsquo;d both shot up and gone out like lights. I was too embarrassed to call the neighbours - they respected us, I didn&rsquo;t want them to know he was an addict. I was in such a panic I never thought of ringing his friends. At last his friend recovered and we dragged my husband onto the bed. He wouldn&rsquo;t let me call an ambulance, it wasn&rsquo;t the first time it had happened, he said. My husband lay there for days. I bought medicine - I&rsquo;m a medic, I knew what to get. When he came round he couldn&rsquo;t remember much. Forgot names. I nursed him through that. </p> <p>After two years away, he came back to Ingushetia, where we were now living. For a couple of months he didn&rsquo;t touch a drop &ndash; because of his parents. He&rsquo;d become all quiet, quite unlike himself. I was worried about him &ndash; now he was ill I couldn&rsquo;t just walk out him. </p> <p>We went back to Barnaul and for a while we lived quietly, no quarrels, no fights. Then one day a friend came by with drink and that was it. Over night my quiet husband lost it, started having hallucinations, saying these unbelievable things. I went to the doctors. They said he was past helping, that after such a heavy overdose the damage was usually irreparable. I begged them, said that I couldn&rsquo;t leave him in trouble, after 20 years together They looked at me as if I were mad. One of them took pity on me and prescribed some medicine. When I gave it to my husband he shouted at me, said it was me, not him, that was sick.</p> <p>Still, he was getting worse all the time. He was having hallucinations. He&rsquo;d tell his brothers -we were back in Ingushetia - that people had seen me sitting in a car late at night, that I was being unfaithful. His brothers laughed at him. But he was beating me up, tormenting me, mocking the child. It got so bad that his brothers had to take me to his parents. It got to the point where his brothers took my mobile, went to the police and went through all the calls and texts I&rsquo;d made. I knew he was ill, that it was pointless arguing with him. If I hadn&rsquo;t been a medic myself I&rsquo;d have left, but I knew he needed help, so I tried to tell his relations. But no one would listen. </p> <p>The last two months were a nightmare. I kept my phone in my pocket, my finger on the emergency button. His youngest brother and I agreed that I&rsquo;d call if he attacked me. So when he started I&rsquo;d press the button and in ten minutes the brother&rsquo;d be there and take me to his parents&rsquo;. After a few days, I&rsquo;d go back. I don&rsquo;t know why. I felt guilty, I couldn&rsquo;t leave him in that state. </p> <p>Once my husband outwitted me. I was asleep with the child late one night when he knocked at the door. He asked for my phone, said he had to make a call. Stupidly, I gave it to him. He looked at me with this mad smile and put the phone under the pillow. He took me out on the balcony and started hitting me, trying to make me confess - that I&rsquo;d been with someone. I tried to reason with him, but he kept hitting me harder and harder. I became so afraid he was going to kill me that I admitted everything. I shouted for help, but he just hit me harder. At some point passers-by heard my shouts, saw me standing by the window in my nightdress, being hit. They started whistling, so he left off. When they&rsquo;d gone he asked me where I&rsquo;d hidden my wig. When I said I&rsquo;d never had one, he punched me in the stomach. I doubled over from the pain and he started kicking my head. The first blow was so hard I thought he cracked my skull. I knew he&rsquo;d done something serious. He kicked me like a ball, so I bounced against the balcony door. He must have realised he&rsquo;d gone too far. He told me to go to sleep, that he&rsquo;d kill me if I breathed a word. </p> <p>Luckily, his brother rang in the morning. He took us to his relations. Then the elders decided we should get a divorce. They decided that I should stay in the flat with the child, and he would go to his parents. That&rsquo;s how our marriage ended. </p> <p>When I got back to the flat with the child, I found this huge kitchen knife wedged in the sofa when I was cleaning. My husband must have hidden it, in order to kill me. What if I&rsquo;d gone back to him one more time!</p> <p>After that, although the elders had agreed I should have the flat, his relations wouldn&rsquo;t let me live there. I agreed to leave. I just wanted to forget it all. I&rsquo;d been having these awful headaches. They found this tumour on my brain. Now I&rsquo;m facing a very serious operation. That&rsquo;s where the heedlessness of youth led me. Now I&rsquo;m the invalid, the one who needs help.</p> <p>I&rsquo;d like to make this appeal to all women. My dears! Don&rsquo;t put up with it. Run away from men like that! Least you end up like me.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>A local women&rsquo;s NGO is raising money for Ayshat&rsquo;s operation. <a href="mailto:russia@opendemocracy.net"> Contact</a> the editor of openDemocracy Russia if you want to contribute.&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong><em>Illustrations by <a href="http://www.jesswilson.co.uk/">Jess Wilson&nbsp;</a></em></strong></p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/karachay-cherkessiya-how-caucasus-is-feeding-itself">Real life: how the Caucasus is feeding itself</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-caucasus-a-region-in-pieces">The Caucasus: a region in pieces</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/olliver-bullough/why-are-chechens-so-angry">Why are Chechens so angry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-piontkovsky/north-caucasus-one-war-lost-another-one-begins">North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/stories-you-weren%E2%80%99t-meant-to-hear-women-tradition-and-powe">Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lisa-kazbekova/chechnya%E2%80%99s-fashion-dictator">Chechnya’s fashion dictator</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/tanya-lokshina/chechnya-choked-by-headscarves">Chechnya: choked by headscarves </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina-alexander-cherkasov-igor-kalyapin/natalya-estemirova-%E2%80%93-murdered-not-forgott">Natalya Estemirova – murdered, not forgotten</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/zura-khatueva/%E2%80%98-chechen-mentality%E2%80%99">‘The Chechen mentality’</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/zalina-magomadova/unprotected">Unprotected</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/taisa/%E2%80%98why-did-i-tell-you-all-this%E2%80%99">‘Why did I tell you all this!’</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/hijab-wars">Hijab Wars</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 50.50 oD Russia Russia Civil society 50.50 Gender Politics Religion Pathways of Women's Empowerment 'Ayshat' Stories you weren't meant to hear Letters from the Russian provinces Internal Fri, 20 Jul 2012 10:34:44 +0000 'Ayshat' 67120 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Unprotected https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zalina-magomadova/unprotected <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: right;" alt="" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/unprotected 2.jpg" width="160" />Chechnya’s women face fresh constraints, new rules and increased violence sanctioned from above. At home, they are subject to unwritten codes that systematically disenfranchise them. They must brave all this to enforce their rights under the Russian constitution. Beyond that, there is only the European Court of Human Rights.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Women in Chechnya find themselves in a complex and contradictory situation. On the one hand, living within the framework of the Russian constitution, as members of Russian society, they aspire to modern lives, on secular lines. They want to work outside the home and to play active roles in the community. On the other, they have to live within the context of a society which has relapsed in recent years into religiously-influenced attitudes towards women.&nbsp; </p> <p>Chechen government officials are forever announcing new rules and norms that constrain women. They demand compliance with rigid behavioural codes, of which the notorious dress code is not even the worst. So women are once again relegated to second-class status in society and the family. They are subject to constant psychological oppression.</p><p class="image-caption"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/unprotected%202.jpg" alt="" width="460" />Women of all ages still suffer under the rigid patriarchal traditions of North Caucasusisn society; they are often denied access to their children and even thrown out of their homes. Photo: RIA/Said Tarnayev</p> <p>The agenda of our political leaders for the moral and spiritual edification of the Chechen people begins and ends with the censure of women. From our TV screens and in our local papers &nbsp;they dictate rules for women: what we should look like and how we should conduct themselves.</p> <p>This extends to outright violence and the violation of women&rsquo;s basic human rights. The security cadres confiscate cell phones from women, to prevent potential illicit contact with men. They initiated a campaign of paintball shootings against women who were walking in the street without headscarves. They endorse so-called &lsquo;honour killings&rsquo; of supposedly immoral women, in order to &lsquo;set an example&rsquo;. When the government itself perpetrates and endorses violence against women, it is hardly surprising that this leads to a rise in violence against women in the family as well, at the hands of their husbands.</p><blockquote><p>'Chechen women are caught between three legal systems: Russian law, ancient, patriarchal Chechen and Sharia law. In reality, Russian law has little effect on the lives of Chechen women &ndash; their fate is decided according to adat.'</p></blockquote> <p>To give you a recent example: in 2011 a woman was brought to Grozny&rsquo;s maternity hospital, eight months pregnant and threatened with a miscarriage. Her face and body were covered in dark bruises. Her husband had beaten her because she hadn&rsquo;t managed to get him his tea fast enough (or maybe she didn&rsquo;t feel like serving his every whim, which would have been just as well). When the doctors took an ultrasound reading of her belly, they saw that the foetus also showed bruises from her father&rsquo;s beating. The woman had three other small children at home and could see no way out of her predicament. She had nowhere to go with her children, she had no work, no home, no close relatives. She just kept crying and saying that the best outcome for her and her unborn daughter would be if they both died in childbirth. Her only regret was that her remaining children would be left without a mother. In the end, she had no choice but to return home to her husband with her newborn daughter, for the sake of her children.</p> <p>There are many women like her, who cannot escape violent marriages because they would lose their children, or because they simply cannot put a roof over their children&rsquo;s head. We would like to see the government provide housing to single and divorced mothers, so they could obtain custody and walk out of violent marriages.</p> <p>Why should the government do this, people ask us? Even if a single mother cannot find work, isn&rsquo;t the father supposed to pay alimony to support his children? But these days in Chechnya, alimony simply never happens. Asking for alimony, in the rare cases where a mother does win custody of her children, would be considered scandalous, shameless. A Chechen man to lose his children <em>and</em> still pay for them? Inconceivable! Although our team has helped women with many custody cases, we never brought an alimony case. We routinely advise our clients to sue for alimony, but they always decline. If I asked for alimony,&rsquo; they say, &lsquo;That would only make everything worse. They would surely take my children away for that,&rsquo; or &lsquo;If I did that my children could never have a normal relationship with their father&rsquo;s side.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>During Soviet times, women would automatically get alimony in a divorce ruling. Gender equality was an official policy, after all. So here in Chechnya we have a situation where older women raised their daughters with the help of state-enforced alimony, but today their daughters could never get alimony from their ex-husbands.</p> <p>Our officials are always telling us how, according to Islam, women mustn&rsquo;t do this or that.&nbsp; But none of them seem to care about improving women&rsquo;s social welfare, creating jobs for them, or relieving women of the burden of hard physical labor. They don&rsquo;t seem to care, although in Islam women are meant to be protected from having to do hard labour, or from working in the crowded, exhausting conditions of open-air markets. How is a woman meant to work on a construction site or in a market stall in the full &lsquo;Islamic&rsquo; get-up that our government recommends? Clearly, they pick and choose only those rules of Islam that fit their agenda. That of bullying and oppressing women.</p> <p>That was the recent experience of one divorced young mother who was about to lose her baby to her ex-husband&rsquo;s family, a scenario only too common. Except that this young mother is a lawyer herself, who has brought many custody cases on behalf of her female clients. She and her husband divorced while she was pregnant with their first child. Soon after giving birth, her ex-husband tried to force her to give up her baby. He mobilised an Islamic judge, a <em>qadi</em> (who works for the government-controlled Muftiyat, or Islamic Spiritual Board). The <em>qadi</em> called &ndash; not the mother herself, but her older brother, who is considered his sister&rsquo;s guardian &ndash; and demanded that the child be handed over to the father. He started by saying that <em>adat </em>mandated it. But the brother refused. As an Islamic scholar, he said, the <em>qadi</em> ought to apply Sharia law, under which infants and small children stay with their mothers. Embarrassed, the <em>qadi</em> apologised and promised not to call again. But the young mother has no peace of mind. She knows that the father&rsquo;s family keep pushing her male relatives to hand over the baby. Her ex-husband&rsquo;s female relatives keep harassing her. They scold her mother for having such an ignorant daughter, who doesn&rsquo;t know how a proper Chechen woman ought to behave.&nbsp; They make her feel as if she had never been anything but a surrogate to them.</p> <blockquote><p><span style="font-style: italic; background-color: #ededed;">'The majority of Chechen women do not know their rights.They regard themselves as being unprotected and can see no way out, which</span><span style="font-style: italic; background-color: #ededed;">&nbsp;explains why Chechen women so rarely turn to law enforcement to protect their rights.'</span></p></blockquote><p>The surveys we have made among women show that some 90% of Chechen women, a very significant percentage, are aware of these contradictions in the government&rsquo;s propaganda and policies on women and Islam. But in our republic today the authorities are not interested in the opinions of women. They don&rsquo;t take them into account.</p> <p>Yet our surveys also show that a majority of Chechen women do not know their rights. They do not know how these rights are enshrined in the constitution of our country. They regard themselves as being unprotected and can see no way out. Likewise, they have no knowledge of Islamic law or our national customary laws, which we call <em>adat</em>. This ignorance of the law, and women&rsquo;s lack of access to legal institutions explain why Chechen women so rarely turn to law enforcement to protect their rights.</p> <p>Chechen women today are caught between three legal systems: Russian law, ancient Chechen <em>adat</em> and Sharia law. Of these three, regrettably, the Russian constitution, and the laws based on it have the least purchase on the life of a Chechen woman. In reality, all family and household matters (in short, the fate of women) are decided according to the patriarchal traditions of <em>adat. </em>&nbsp;Those in positions of power are all too keen to support this situation. Propaganda in support of these archaic traditions in the local, government-controlled media has led to increasing violations of women&rsquo;s rights, to women&rsquo;s suffering and sometimes to tragedy.</p> <p><em>Adat</em> holds that in case of divorce, Chechen women cannot keep their children. Often they cannot even visit them, or play any part in their upbringing. Nor, when the husband dies, can the woman inherit substantial property, such as land, housing, cars or money. At best, if she has a son (who will inherit his late father&rsquo;s property), the latter will provide her with a roof over her head.</p> <p>There has been <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4610396.stm">massive propaganda</a> for polygamy in recent years. This, plus the ostentatiously <a href="http://www.kp.ru/daily/24169/380743/">displayed</a> example of the republic&rsquo;s leadership has led to widespread growth of this &lsquo;custom&rsquo;. Faced by these situations, women have no say. They are forced to suffer insults and humiliation. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p> </p><p><iframe width="460" height="345" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/M-Wn_EG8eAQ?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p><p><span class="image-caption">Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the republic, has a penchant for marrying local teenage celebrity singers, one of whom, Tamila Sagaipova, recorded a song in May 2012 about being the favourite of his 11 wives. CDs of the song were sold in the market until the security forces confiscated and destroyed them.</span></p> <p>How does <em>adat</em> actually play out? Its rules are unwritten, and often quite vague. In the case of a conflict, the male relatives of both parties meet to discuss the case. Women never participate in these discussions, even if the case concerns them. They have no say in the decision, either. Women and children are simply subject to the decisions of men. If a woman&rsquo;s relatives feel sympathetic for her, they might support her interests. The woman&rsquo;s side has more chance of success if they are powerful people. Conversely, if one side is poor and lacks political clout, they&rsquo;re not likely to come away successful, whether or not <em>adat</em> is on their side.&nbsp; The parties are themselves judge, jury and executioner, with no impartial decisions or third-party enforcement.</p> <p>The Chechen government has now <a href="http://vestnikkavkaza.net/news/politics/12160.html">created</a> a Commission on Family Conflict. This is staffed by experts on <em>adat</em> who are tasked with resolving cases in which the two sides cannot come to an agreement. Its practice so far suggests that the Commission is merely part of the apparatus for implementing the government&rsquo;s overall policy of putting women in their place.</p> <p>Being psychologically, socially and materially dependent on their husbands, most Chechen women are denied recourse to the Russian legal system and the official law enforcement structures. Often they do not know their own rights, or how to defend them. However, when women do get expert support to access the official legal system, it can make a big difference.</p> <blockquote><p><span style="font-style: italic; background-color: #ededed;">'A worrying trend has emerged recently - court judges privately advise women to resolve their disputes according to&nbsp;</span><em>adat</em><span style="font-style: italic; background-color: #ededed;">, despite the fact that they are professionally bound to apply Russian law.'</span></p></blockquote><p>Recently, for example, a young woman walked into a local NGO&rsquo;s office with her mother. Tearfully, the women told their story. When she was pregnant, the young woman had been kicked out of her home by her husband and his relations, for some trifling reason. A few months later, while living with her mother, she gave birth to a daughter. After several months, her husband&rsquo;s relatives came to her. Or rather, they didn&rsquo;t actually come to her, but to her male relatives on her father&rsquo;s side. Citing Chechen <em>adat</em>, they demanded that the baby be handed over to them. Since the poor woman&rsquo;s relatives also favour strict observance of <em>adat</em>, they forced her to give away her baby. For a year, the stricken woman kept trying at least to see her daughter. But her ex-husband&rsquo;s aunts hid the baby from her, declaring &lsquo;You will never see that child again. It&rsquo;s not your baby, it&rsquo;s ours.&rsquo; The young mother turned to religious leaders, to the imam of the local mosque, but no one could help her. Everyone just sighed sympathetically and counseled her to forget about the child and find herself a new, better husband. Then someone directed her towards a women&rsquo;s rights organisation.&nbsp; A few days after her first visit, the organisation&rsquo;s lawyer pressed charges against her husband for kidnapping the child. The police soon located the child in a remote mountain village and returned her to her mother.</p> <p>Successful outcomes like this are very rare. More often, such cases drag on for years, blighting the lives of the children and their mother. Ironically, it was the father&rsquo;s own hostile conduct after the divorce that made this fast resolution possible. After giving birth, the mother asked her ex-husband for his ID, so she could register him as the father on the baby&rsquo;s birth certificate. He refused to cooperate, out of spite. Since he was not listed on the birth certificate, he had no right to the child, under the law. This made the kidnapping charges possible.</p> <p>Especially heartbreaking is the lot of elderly women who are childless, or at least who have no son and heir. Since <em>adat</em> holds that the woman cannot inherit substantial property when her husband dies, these women cannot enjoy, or otherwise dispose of, the wealth the couple have acquired in the course of their married lives. Worse still, they are obliged to move out of their own homes.Not that it always goes so smoothly when women do turn to the law for help. One of our cases last year illustrates a worrying trend in recent years. Our lawyer went to court with a client seeking custody of her children. In the privacy of his chambers, the judge told the woman that she should resolve the matter according to <em>adat</em>, meaning she should leave the children with their father and get married again. Our lawyer reminded him that he was professionally bound to apply Russian law, and that he had better do his job. In the court session that followed, the judge did award the woman custody of her children. But had she not been accompanied by a lawyer no one would have called the judge to account. Being a Chechen man himself, he might not have been all that motivated to grant a woman custody.&nbsp; If the matter were settled out of court, under <em>adat</em>, it would mean less paperwork for him.</p> <p>Over the past year, our lawyer has been working on just such a case. He managed to get a court decision in favour of the widow, Maryem. But the bailiffs were unable to evict the late husband&rsquo;s relatives from the house. For after his death they had occupied it, claiming <em>adat</em>.&nbsp; Maryem is not only forced to continue living in a rented apartment instead of the house she owns under the law. She lives in fear that they will &lsquo;punish&rsquo; her for going to a Russian court, for turning to the law, rather than submitting to Chechen <em>adat</em>.</p> <p>The Russian federal government ignores these systemic violations of their law.&nbsp; So women&rsquo;s organisations play a vital role. They are in a position to be able to help women who have decided to fight for their rights. They can also offer moral and psychological support to women who are not yet prepared to take legal steps.</p> <p>There is only one way forward open to us. We&rsquo;ve got to promote awareness of women&rsquo;s rights. We must demand recourse to the Russian constitution in order to protect those rights. The number of claims filed in the official courts has risen, as has the number of cases won by women.</p> <p>This is what inspires women, and their lawyers too.&nbsp; These precedents are crucially important. For in Chechnya, people are as cynical about the legal system as they are unaware of their rights. Successful precedents allow people to believe that the law can work for them. When a woman wins custody of her children or title to her late husband&rsquo;s house, word spreads. Other women are persuaded to give it a try. In the past two to three years, more women have been coming to us asking for help in the courts. And when they do, they specifically mention cases they&rsquo;ve heard about. The more cases we win, the more women will come to NGOs like ours, seeking justice and legal aid.&nbsp;</p> <p>What we need now is for a Chechen woman to defend her rights all the way to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. And we need her to win her case. Such cases take years, of course. And they put the applicant under great duress. But such a judgment is particularly important for Chechnya. For it would make our local judges think twice before making shoddy decisions that violate women&rsquo;s rights. It would strengthen the hand of the law over local prejudice and community pressure. Russian courts of appeal are reluctant to overrule lower court decisions. But the ECHR has no such qualms. A mere handful of cases won in Strasbourg will give us game-changing institutional support.</p> <p><em><strong>The author, a long-serving human rights defender from Chechnya, is not writing under her own name, so we cannot identify her organisation.&nbsp;</strong></em></p> <fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/karachay-cherkessiya-how-caucasus-is-feeding-itself">Real life: how the Caucasus is feeding itself</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-caucasus-a-region-in-pieces">The Caucasus: a region in pieces</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/olliver-bullough/why-are-chechens-so-angry">Why are Chechens so angry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-piontkovsky/north-caucasus-one-war-lost-another-one-begins">North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</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"> Equality </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Russia Equality 50.50 Gender Politics Religion Pathways of Women's Empowerment women's human rights violence against women Zalina Magomadova Stories you weren't meant to hear Letters from the Russian provinces Religion Justice Human rights Thu, 19 Jul 2012 14:45:17 +0000 Zalina Magomadova 67082 at https://www.opendemocracy.net ‘The Chechen mentality’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/zura-khatueva/%E2%80%98-chechen-mentality%E2%80%99 <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/domestic%20violence.jpg" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>Domestic violence is all too common in Chechnya. It is very rare for women to stand up for their rights, by recourse to the law. This is the story of one woman, Shoma Timagov, who did.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>It is widely believed in Chechnya that violence against women at the hands of their husbands has dramatically increased in recent decades. Thinking back to our youth during the late Soviet period, there seems to have been more respect for women. Back then, people used to say that a man who raises his hand against a woman is no man at all. If there was constant conflict in the family, the view was that it was better to get a divorce than to strike your wife.&nbsp; </p> <p>Violence against women happens right across our society, including to educated, well-off women. A woman prosecutor of my acquaintance confided in me that her husband beats her.</p> <p>So why has violence against women increased? Maybe because men feel powerless, now that women have the choice of leading public lives, making their own living. One thing is for sure: domestic violence is especially common in families where there is polygamy. Nor is it just the jilted, older first wife who becomes a victim. It can happen to the prized, new second wife as well. I remember one case in which even the children of the two wives could not get along, so entrenched was conflict in that family.</p><h3><strong>The appearance of a second wife</strong></h3> <p>The story that follows was provoked by the appearance of a second wife. It is quite typical; even the extreme brutality of the assault is not all that exceptional. What makes it unique is that the victim turned to the courts for justice.</p><blockquote><p>'During 30 years of marriage, Shoma and ElaTimagov raised two sons and a daughter. Then came the day when Ela told his family that they would all have to leave, as he was bringing a new wife home.'</p></blockquote> <p>During 30 years of marriage, Shoma and ElaTimagov raised two sons and a daughter. Then came the day when Ela told his family that they would all have to leave, as he was bringing a new wife home. When they dared to protest, he flew into a rage: “I don’t want you living in my house. I’m going to have a new family, a new wife”. He beat up his sons, threw them out into the street and hit his wife with a shovel.</p> <p>Shoma refused to be hospitalised, though it took her four months to recover at home. Like a dutiful wife, she hoped that by hushing it up she could keep the family together. She was also afraid that her brothers might create a scandal, since according to Chechen custom, blood relatives are obliged to seek revenge against the offender.</p> <p>The Timagovs’ house was large, with easily enough space for three or four families. Shoma pleaded with her husband to allow her to live in the house with their children, even if he insisted on bringing home a new wife. But Ela didn’t like that idea and kept on beating his wife and children.</p><h3><strong>Charges against husband</strong></h3> <p>What happened next was quite unheard of in Chechen society, where women do not usually own property, on their own or jointly with their husbands. Indeed, in Chechnya there is a saying that “a woman leaves her husband’s house with nothing but what she brought there as a bride”. That is to say with only clothes on her back. However, Shoma came to me for legal advice. I persuaded her to press charges against her husband, to get a divorce and sue for half of the property. The court convicted Ela of violence against his wife. He was ordered to pay a fine of 15,000 rubles (some $500) and to split the property between the spouses.</p> <p>This move only made Ela angrier, and more violent. One evening, for no apparent reason, he hit Shoma over the head with an axe. Covered in blood, her hand smashed, she was taken to the local hospital. We arranged for her to be flown to St. Petersburg for specialist surgery, or she would have died. In pain, threatened with the onset of epilepsy, Shoma was left permanently disabled, unable to look after herself. She was also obliged to give up her beloved teaching job.</p> <p>Even then, nobody laid a finger on ElaTimagov. It was the woman’s own fault, they all said. Only after he stabbed his younger son Islam in the head was he finally arrested and charged with attempted murder. He faced a ten year prison term.</p><blockquote><p>'The court convicted Ela of violence against his wife. He was ordered to pay a fine of 15,000 rubles (some $500) and to split the property between the spouses.'&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>Two months after his arrest Timagov started campaigning to clear his name. All of a sudden, he began claiming that he was innocent. He claimed he’d come home and found his wife covered in blood by the toilet. He kept repeating that phrase like a mantra. He had come up with an excuse for stabbing his son, too. He swore that he had punished the boy because he wanted to join the militant underground. He kept pointing out how he had gone on the Hadj three times. Presumably, this was intended to show what a good man he was, though it’s hard to imagine how a decent, pious man would be capable of behaving so monstrously to his own family.</p> <p>There still seemed no way that he could avoid prison. His psychological evaluation showed that he had been healthy and sane at the time of his crime. Then suddenly, this hum-drum case took a surprising turn.&nbsp;</p><h3><strong>A new defence team</strong></h3> <p>A new defence lawyer was brought in from Moscow. Zaur Tashtamirov found new witnesses who were prepared to swear that it was all the woman’s fault; that she had insulted her husband and driven him over the edge. “You’re our slave, we’ll make sure you rot in this house of yours. Your new wife’s a prostitute. We will outlive you.” Shoma would yell things like this at her husband, according to the witnesses. None of them had actually seen her do this, of course. They’d only heard voices.</p> <p>This new lawyer argued that Timagov, maddened, had grabbed the axe in a moment of “affect”. This legal concept describes a state of temporary emotional upheaval that results in much lighter punishment.&nbsp; He managed to book his client a fresh psychological evaluation.</p> <p>At this point yet another Moscow lawyer joined the defence team. Alaudi Musaev is a prominent, successful lawyer. He and his son Murad, also a famous lawyer (he takes on attention-grabbing cases, among them the trial of the alleged killers of Anna Politkovskaya), enjoy celebrity status in Chechnya. With Musaev senior aboard, things started to change dramatically. The second psychological evaluation was conducted in the presence of the accused’s lawyers, but I, as the victim’s representative, was not admitted. &nbsp;It took all of 15 minutes.</p> <p>The judge explained to me that Musaev had taken over and that he couldn’t ignore that fact. From that moment on, the defence’s argument centered on this so-called ‘Chechen mentality’, which supposedly had to be taken into account when the accused was a Chechen man.</p><blockquote><p><em>‘One evening, for no apparent reason, he hit Shoma over the head with an axe. Covered in blood, her hand smashed, she was taken to the local hospital.’</em></p></blockquote> <p>The trial, which took place in Chechnya, proceeded with a catalogue of brazen violations. Previous decisions of the court were annulled; motions by me and my colleagues were thrown out; documents were backdated, in the absence of the signatories. For example, on the day of the psychiatric evaluation, the chairman of the commission, who supposedly signed the conclusion, was actually on vacation. That dubious document declared that Timagov was acting in the condition of ‘affect’ when wielding that axe. The court denied a request for an independent evaluation in a neighbouring republic.</p> <p>Court sessions would take place on Fridays, the Muslim holy day, right after prayers.The mosque is located next to the court building, and after prayers, some forty men would all come to the court together. The court would be packed out with Timagov’s friends, who would express their support for him noisily. I started feeling this was a sharia court, where Russian law wasn’t in force. Timagov’s supporters would walk up to us, the victim’s legal team, and threaten us. They told us they would plant stories in the local media, stories that might be dangerous for us, that would attract the attention of the republic’s leadership. They said they were going to take legal action against Shoma’s entire legal team, that they would petition to me removed from the St. Petersburg bar (where I also practice law).</p> <p>The victim’s side had no supporters in the courtroom. We had actually advised against this, in order to prevent physical altercations between the two sides in the court room. Faced with Timagov’s swaggering crowd, we felt intimidated. During recess, Timagov’s supporters would discuss the case loudly. “Why would this woman insist on staying on in her ex-husband’s house?” they would say. “She got what she deserved. He did the right thing.” We would respond that our client was only claiming her entitlement under the law. Even under Chechen customary law or <em>adat</em>, we would argue, she was entitled to live in her ex-husband’s house, since her grown-up sons had the right to house their mother.</p> <p>Some of these supporters were always present. Some only came sometimes. Some were there as a favour, because of personal relationships. Some came out of interest, and some because they had been asked to, probably by family. During court proceedings, when it was our turn to speak, some of Timagov’s supporters would mutter incantations in hostile whispers.&nbsp; We had the strong impression that these were curses directed at us, intended to provoke us into getting confused and losing our train of thought.</p> <p>Now, I don’t necessarily believe in curses and things like that. But when you sit down after making your statement, you get paranoid, stressed out. You remember something important you forgot to say. You start thinking that you weren’t eloquent enough, that they’d managed to distract you. We started taking pills during the trial, to stay calm.</p><blockquote><p><em>‘I started feeling this was a sharia court, where Russian law wasn’t in force. Timagov’s supporters would walk up to us, the victim’s legal team, and threaten us.’</em></p></blockquote> <p>The Moscow celebrity lawyer Musaev ran the trial. It was as if the judge and prosecutor were not there at all. As if there was no criminal code for Chechens, no kind of law, nothing but the ‘Chechen mentality’. Those Russian laws, they don’t apply to our women. They’re convinced a woman is a cow, subject to her husband’s will, a slave who has no right to raise her voice against her husband. In their view, Shoma had been rightly punished for standing up to her husband.</p> <p>The accused’s lawyers, rather than talking about the case, kept making personal attacks on me. Right there in the court, they threatened me, said they’d finish me, that they’d find me wherever I went, even in St. Petersburg.</p> <p>Despairing of ever getting a fair hearing and fed up with all the talk about the ‘Chechen mentality’, I declared in court that I did not want to start believing the infamous verdict <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksey_Petrovich_Yermolov">General Yermolov</a> had passed on the Chechens in the course of&nbsp; Russia’s expansionary campaigns in the North Caucasus the 19thcentury : ‘You cannot subdue them, but you can buy them off. There is no people under the sun more vile and devious than the Chechens’.&nbsp; That was my response to that ‘Chechen mentality’ defense. After that they accused me of insulting the entire Chechen nation and wanted to bring me, a Chechen woman, to justice for it.</p> <p>The lawyers for the defendant and the judge kept hinting that Ramzan Kadyrov and Adam Delimkhanov had ordered that this trial be brought to an end fast. [ed: Adam Delimkhanov is a close advisor to Kadyrov and since 2011 a deputy in the federal Duma]. And that was supposedly why the Chairman of Chechnya’s Supreme Court got scared and intervened in the trial. Of course I personally never believe that Kadyrov and Delimkhanov were involved. But how could people hint at the involvement of such high-ranking officials?</p><h3><strong>Supreme Court of Chechnya</strong><strong></strong></h3> <p>Ela Timagov’s crime was duly downgraded from “attempted murder” to the much less serious charge of “inflicting an injury of medium seriousness while in a condition of insanity”. On October 7, 2011, the court sentenced him to nine months and three days in prison. By a strange coincidence, this was exactly the period he had spent under arrest. So right there in the courtroom they took his handcuffs off and he walked out a free man. “I am speechless,” Timagov declared. “Everything depends on Allah’s will.”</p> <p>Since Ela was freed, Shoma, her two sons and their wives have lived in hiding in a rented apartment in Grozny. “Ela didn’t even allow us to collect our things from our own home”, they report. “He simply burned everything.”</p> <p>But that is not quite the end of the story. Ela did get off lightly. But he did not altogether escape justice. The fact that there had been a long trial, and a conviction was significant. His supporters registered it. After it was all over we could hear them outside the court, joking to one another: “Boys, we need to watch out. This place is turning into Europe. You can’t just beat your wife and get away with it any more!”</p><blockquote><p><em>'Ela did get off lightly. But he did not altogether escape justice. The fact that there had been a long trial, and a conviction was significant.'</em>&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>Based on the many procedural violations, we appealed against the conviction, to the Supreme Court of Chechnya. Hardly surprisingly, this court upheld the earlier ruling. But there were small victories on the way. During the session, ElaTimagov’s star attorney Musaev put all the blame for the violent attack on Shoma on her lawyers, “who had advised her to claim her half of the property and stay in her ex-husband’s house after the divorce”. The judge ordered him to be silent. The Supreme Court also revoked as illegal the formal reprimand against me, issued by the first court for the supposed ethical violation of citing Yermolov’s notorious judgment.</p> <p>What’s more, that second ruling by Chechnya’s Supreme Court also means that Shoma has “exhausted domestic remedies”. This means that she can now apply to the <a href="http://en.rian.ru/valdai_op/20110310/162939542.html">European Court of Human Rights</a> in Strasbourg. We have already started that process.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Janet Elise Johnson, ‘Gender Violence in Russia: The Politics of Feminist Intervention’ [Paperback], Indiana University Press (February 18, 2009), 256 pages </p> <p><a href="http://www.chechnyaadvocacy.org/refugees/Gender%20roles%20among%20Chechen%20refugees%20-%20Szczepanikova.pdf">Gender and Family Relationships Among Chechens In The Chech Refugee Camp</a>, by Alice Szczepanikova, Central European University, Budapest, 2004</p> <p><a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/">Caucasian Knot</a> website</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/tanya-lokshina/chechnya-choked-by-headscarves">Chechnya: choked by headscarves </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lisa-kazbekova/chechnya%E2%80%99s-fashion-dictator">Chechnya’s fashion dictator</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/politkovskaya_3993.jsp">Putin, Chechnya, and Politkovskaya</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/natasha-estemirova-one-year-on">Natasha Estemirova: one year on</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/natalya-estemirova-kidnapped-and-murdered">Natalya Estemirova: kidnapped and murdered</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="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</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/email/chechnya-the-torchings">Chechnya: the torchings</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-piontkovsky/north-caucasus-one-war-lost-another-one-begins">North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins</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 50.50 oD Russia Russia Civil society russia Pathways of Women's Empowerment violence against women Zura Khatueva Stories you weren't meant to hear Letters from the Russian provinces Justice Thu, 19 Jul 2012 14:17:12 +0000 Zura Khatueva 67103 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Chechnya’s fashion dictator https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lisa-kazbekova/chechnya%E2%80%99s-fashion-dictator <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/police.png" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>In Chechnya, the warfare that rumbled on between 1994 and 2009 has been turned against the republic’s women. The most public aspect of this campaign is the progressive imposition of a so-called ‘Islamic’ dress code. Lisa Kazbekova charts its course, enquires why it is happening, and how Chechnya’s men and women are responding</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The imposition of a severe Islamic dress code is the visible front of an aggressive campaign against women being waged by Chechnya&rsquo;s government. Demoting the status of women has become a political priority for the republic&rsquo;s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. Back in 2006, when still only acting prime minister, Kadyrov was already exhorting women to show more &lsquo;modesty&rsquo;. After becoming leader, he declared that women were the <a href="http://www.kp.ru/daily/24169/380743/">property</a> of men and endorsed polygamy. Recently, he has <a href="///C:/Users/ZDZ/Dropbox/oDR%20server/7%29%20Articles%20for%20forthcoming%20series/dresscode/publicly%20condoned">publicly condoned</a> the spate of &lsquo;honour killings&rsquo; of women with &lsquo;loose morals&rsquo;, in the name of &lsquo;reviving Chechen traditions&rsquo;. Men up and down the republic have echoed their leader&rsquo;s views enthusiastically.</p> <p>It was six years ago that women in government departments, university students and schoolgirls were first instructed to wear traditional kerchiefs on their heads. &lsquo;Our boss simply called us in and informed us that the president had ordered all women to wear headscarves. Those who objected were told they could submit their resignation,&rsquo; recalls Malika, a pediatrician at the children&rsquo;s hospital in Grozny.</p> <blockquote><p>'The policy of gender discrimination is certainly popular with men. Many Chechen men maintain that women&rsquo;s real role is in the kitchen, looking after a husband and children.'</p></blockquote><p>The inherently violent character of these &lsquo;reforms&rsquo; became clear in the summer of 2010. Right in the middle of the capital Grozny, dozens of women who were not wearing headscarves were attacked by men armed with paintball guns and rubber bullets. In August, during Ramadan, &lsquo;representatives of the muftiyat&rsquo;, wearing the traditional loose-fitting Muslim garb started going up to women in central Grozny. They publicly shamed them for their &lsquo;immodesty&rsquo; and handed out brochures containing detailed descriptions of clothing deemed appropriate for a Muslim woman: sleeves and skirt should be long and the head should be completely covered. These men would be joined by aggressive youths who grabbed at women&rsquo;s sleeves or hems, their hair or bare arms, shouting obscenities.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramzan Kadyrov <a href="http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/caucas1/index.htm">made it clear</a> on television on 8 July 2010 that he approved of the paintball campaign, and wanted to &lsquo;show his gratitude&rsquo; to these anonymous fighters for the moral state of women. The victims, he said, only got what they deserved.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/RB%20yg%20woman%20+%20policeman.jpg" alt="Young_woman_policeman" width="460" height="335" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Human rights activists have repeatedly accused Chechen local law enforcement bodies of participating in crimes such as kidnapping and torturing. Now they are also responsible for enforcing Islam dress code among Chechen women.&nbsp;</p><p>Then in January 2011 a written order appeared in every government organization in the form of a letter from the <em>chef de cabinet</em> of the Head of the Chechen Republic stating that all employees must conform to a dress code appropriate to &ldquo;the norms of <a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/1887/">Vainakh</a> ethics&rdquo;. A scanned copy of this letter was published on the website<a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/wiki/%D0%94%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%81-%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B4%20%D0%B4%D0%BB%D1%8F%20%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BB%D1%83%D0%B6%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B8%D1%85"> Caucasian Knot</a>.</p> <p>In May last year came the turn of schoolgirls aged 13 plus to be dragooned into long skirts and full headscarves. A couple of months later women government employees were banned from entering government buildings unless every part of their body was covered except their face and hands.</p> <p>A barrage of propaganda has been deployed to drive the message of this campaign home. Giant posters of women in full <em>hijab</em>, with lowered gaze, adorn buildings and billboards. Even the mannequins in store windows are not &lsquo;allowed&rsquo; to flaunt their pale plastic bodies publicly: swathed in billowing clothes, their bald heads are wrapped in headscarves.</p> <p>These outlandish new rules are illegal. They contradict the Russian constitution. This is why they were for a long time only handed down by word of mouth, on the direct authority of the head of the republic. But the fact that they are illegal makes them no easier to resist.</p> <p>In Chechnya, Kadyrov&rsquo;s word is law. President Putin&rsquo;s total support for him, and the fact that the Russian constitution effectively doesn&rsquo;t extend to Chechnya means that Kadyrov behaves as if the republic belongs to him. Last summer, for instance, a (verbal) instruction was issued that female newsreaders should be removed from the nation&rsquo;s television screens. According to the head of the TV station, Kadyrov did not think that &lsquo;young women should be presenting the news&rsquo;. A month later, to the great relief of the women, word came down that they should once more be allowed to read the news. No one knows why Kadyrov changed his mind.&shy;</p><blockquote><p><em>'The inherently violent character of these &lsquo;reforms&rsquo; became clear in the summer of 2010. Right in the middle of the capital Grozny, dozens of women who were not wearing headscarves were attacked by men armed with paintball guns and rubber bullets.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>He treats Chechnya&rsquo;s inhabitants like rag dolls whom he can abuse to his heart&rsquo;s content. If he feels like dressing women up in Islamic dress, it will be done. If he doesn&rsquo;t like the women reading the news, he&rsquo;ll make a phone call and she&rsquo;ll be gone. A bit later, he feels like seeing women on the box again. Fine &ndash; that&rsquo;s no problem. This is one young politician who is prepared to <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMxXw29BhU8">declare</a> quite openly, without a twinge of embarrassment, at an official function: &lsquo;I&rsquo;m the boss here &ndash; you&rsquo;re just a bunch of nobodies&rsquo;.</p> <p>Homilies about women are read at Friday prayers in almost all mosques-government controlled, of course - as well as being broadcast on local TV. In their obligatory lessons at the university and all Chechen schools, representatives of the Centre for the Spiritual-Moral Edification of Youth (which operates under the republic&rsquo;s official &lsquo;muftiyat&rsquo;) pay particular attention to the moral instruction of girls:&rsquo; Usually, the mullah tells us that women who don&rsquo;t obey their husbands and brothers will burn in hell, along with those who display parts of their bodies in public&rsquo;, one woman student told me. She reports that clerics tell the boys that in order to allay Allah&rsquo;s wrath, they must control their sisters, monitor what they do, to whom they talk, and if possible accompany them everywhere.</p> <h3>What drives this campaign against women?</h3> <p>When he first came to power, Kadyrov claimed to be guided by a desire to &lsquo;revive the lost traditions of our forefathers&rsquo;. Before the Russian revolution, women in Chechen society were indeed mostly viewed as &lsquo;keepers of the hearth&rsquo;, mothers and obedient wives. But with the beginning of the Soviet era things changed. Chechen women began to be educated and to work outside the home &ndash; first in agricultural collectives and later on in factories and even in leadership positions.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Concert_0.jpg" alt="Concert_Grozny" width="460" height="320" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Ramzan Kadyrov&rsquo;s behaviour is often contradictory. While condemning 'non-Muslim' behavior of Chechen women, he evidently seems to enjoy regular Western stars&rsquo; guest appearances on Chechen national TV. Their dress code, it would appear, doesn't bother him at all.&nbsp;</p><p>However, men did manage to preserve their dominant role in some parts of Chechnya. This was particularly true in the eastern region bordering Dagestan, where the president&rsquo;s native village Tsentoroi is located. &lsquo;Ramzan Kadyrov probably wants to impose this way of life, the one he grew up with, on all women&rsquo; reasons Amina, a 32-year old woman lecturer in Russian history at the Chechen State University. Chechens are well aware that even during the Soviet period women in that eastern region remained under the rule of men and always wore full headscarves and long dresses. Few received an education, and they were taught from childhood to be obedient wives to their husbands.</p> <p>However, local human rights activists point out that Kadyrov&rsquo;s interest in conservative traditions of Islamic culture really began when he started travelling to those Arab countries with which he had friendly relations. There were regular journeys to Mecca, surrounded by large numbers of his relatives and clerics. There were meetings with members of Jordan&rsquo;s royal family and visits to exclusive racing stables in Dubai. All these trips, which were always extensively reported on in the Chechen media, seem to have exerted a growing influence on the young leader. &lsquo;Every time he comes back home, the president introduces &ldquo;something Arabic&rdquo; into our society&rsquo;, comments Zarema, a human rights&rsquo; activist with a special interest in women&rsquo;s rights. &nbsp;</p><p>Meanwhile, Kadyrov&rsquo;s own actions blatantly contradict his pronouncements on public morality. In the course of a typical night&rsquo;s viewing on Chechen television he will be seen condemning the non-Muslim conduct of Chechen women, while going on to revel in the performances of Russian and international starlets whom he has invited to sing in Chechnya. Absurdly, the performances of scantily clad guest stars alternate with Chechen singers in full &lsquo;Islamic&rsquo; dress. He barely attempts to reconcile these contradictions, beyond <a href="http://rt.com/politics/chechnya-russia-independence-kadyrov-897/">repeating</a> his mantra that &lsquo;We are a full and equal subject of the Russian Federation, but we must not forget that we are Chechens and Muslims&rsquo;. </p> <h3>Turning men against women</h3> <p>Whatever may have inspired Kadyrov&rsquo;s discriminatory policies against women, Zarema is clear that his main motivation has to do with power: &lsquo;It&rsquo;s an ideal method of controlling half of Chechnya&rsquo;s population while courting popularity with the other half&rsquo;.</p> <p>The policy of gender discrimination is certainly popular with men. Many Chechen men maintain that women&rsquo;s real role is in the kitchen, looking after a husband and children. They invoke Chechen tradition as well as Islam in support of this view. Even those who otherwise resent the Chechen leader&rsquo;s politics agree with their leader that women need to &lsquo;know their place&rsquo;.</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;Reasserting control over women was the easiest way of restoring the self-esteem of Chechen men, which has taken a battering in recent years.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>Umar, 25, and Adam 30 are typical. Good-looking and well-educated, they appear to be thoroughly modern young men. But touch on the issue of headscarves and that Western air evaporates: &lsquo;Women must obey men and dress modestly - that&rsquo;s how it&rsquo;s always been!&rsquo; Umar repeats a favourite maxim of his leader. &lsquo;Why doesn&rsquo;t anyone acknowledge all the good that Ramzan&rsquo;s done?&rsquo; Adam complains. They talk up Kadyrov&rsquo;s reconstruction of the republic. There are the huge entertainment complexes he has built and the gigantic new stadium, at whose opening stars of international football stars like Diego Maradona, Bortez and McManaman have played. &lsquo;Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that Maradona himself would play in Chechnya!&rsquo; Umar enthuses.</p> <p>&lsquo;Kadyrov has won the support of much of the male population thanks to football, headscarves and his promotion of polygamy,&rsquo; reflects Amina, a lecturer in Russian history. Reasserting control over women was the easiest way of restoring the self-esteem of Chechen men, which has taken a battering in recent years. &lsquo;Our men have a very short memory&rsquo; Amina goes on. In wartime the historic role of breadwinner switched from men to women. Women did not only have to take care of the domestic chores, they became the sole breadwinners of their families.</p> <p>They also, quite literally, became the protectors of the male population. &lsquo;During the war, I witnessed again and again how women lay down right under soldier&rsquo;s machine guns and protected their husbands, brothers, sons, neighbours with their own bodies. </p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Kadyrov_poster_0.jpg" alt="Kadyrov_Poster" width="460" height="200" /></p><p class="image-caption">Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has publicly condoned &lsquo;honour killings&rsquo; of women with &lsquo;loose morals&rsquo;</p><p>Often enough they did the same for men they didn&rsquo;t even know,&rsquo; Amina remembers. Women grew confident in the war, when many men opted to stay indoors because of the risk to their life as soon as they stepped outside. Women learned skills, pursued their education and their influence in the social and political life of the republic grew correspondingly.</p> <p>Much of the male population did not like that new-found female empowerment. And when he came to power &lsquo;Kadyrov got the support even of those men who had spent the entire war hiding behind women&rsquo;s skirts&rsquo; Amina comments.</p> <h3>The fearful regiment of women</h3> <p>How have Chechnya&rsquo;s women reacted to these developments? &lsquo;The atmosphere of fear has become so overwhelming that we don&rsquo;t even dare to express our dissatisfaction among our colleagues, because we&rsquo;re afraid of informers,&rsquo; admits Khadizha, a 54-year-old government worker. In her view it would be not just pointless, but dangerous to object to the draconian new dress code imposed on female government employees.</p><p>So what of the future? Things could well get even worse, in the view of local women&rsquo;s rights NGOs. Even activists see little they can do to stop it. &lsquo;The young president controls everyone and everything, and with complete conviction. He takes every opportunity to stress that &ldquo;He is everything and everyone else is nothing&rdquo;&rsquo; says Malika, 41, who works for a local women&rsquo;s NGO. To invoke the legal protection which the Russian constitution theoretically affords is virtually impossible: &lsquo;It&rsquo;s not just that there&rsquo;s nowhere to file a complaint,&rsquo; Malika goes on: &lsquo;These kinds of violations of people&rsquo;s rights have become the norm in our society.&rsquo; Many women have internalised the view that fighting for their rights and expressing their opinions would shame their family, she believes. They fear the judgment of their community, and the condemnation of their own relatives. &lsquo;They prefer to suffer in silence rather than to fight&rsquo; she concludes sadly.</p> <p>Others keep silent out of fear for their loved ones. Zarina is a young teacher who was shot by a paintball on her way home from work. She ended up hiding what had happened to her from her own family: &lsquo;My brother would have tried to find the perpetrators and punish them. And I don&rsquo;t want him getting involved with those thugs,&rsquo; she explains.</p> <p>When the schoolgirls heard about their new dress code, some refused to accept it. Aza, Zaira and Liana went to school in their usual short skirts, the little kerchiefs in their hair being their one sartorial concession. The school director sent them home: unless they came back dressed like &lsquo;proper Chechen young ladies&rsquo;, they&rsquo;d be expelled. Their parents&rsquo; objections fared no better:&nbsp; &lsquo;If you don&rsquo;t like it, go find another school,&rsquo; the director told Aza&rsquo;s mother Malika, a 42-year old paediatrician. &lsquo;The order had come from the top and there was nothing anyone could do about it&rsquo;, Malika realised. She and her fellow doctors at the children&rsquo;s hospital had long since had to succumb to headscarves: &lsquo;But I&rsquo;m over 40 &ndash; they&rsquo;re just children! To cover them up in those blankets robs them of their childhood!&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;Local human rights activists point out that Kadyrov&rsquo;s interest in conservative traditions of Islamic culture really began when he started travelling to those Arab countries with which he had friendly relations.&rsquo;&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote> <p>When I met up with the girls, they&rsquo;d only been wearing their new uniforms for a week. &lsquo;I hate those long skirts and big headscarves!&rsquo; ranted 15-year old Aza, pushing her unruly dark curls back under a blue scarf. &lsquo;They make me look like an old woman!&rsquo; 14-year-old Zaira agreed. &lsquo;I just want to leave this place, move abroad and dress like my Western peers.&rsquo; Zaira&rsquo;s parents have been seriously considering moving to another region of Russia, because they feel that the constraints are having a bad effect on their children. &lsquo;What if one day Kadyrov forbids girls to go to school altogether? Who can be sure that our society would resist it?&rsquo;</p> <p>The political climate on the dress code fluctuates constantly. By late May 2012 there was a renewed push to introduce an even stricter one at the universities, the government&rsquo;s preferred laboratory for its social experimentation. Floor-length skirts, long sleeves and fully covered hair are already <em>de rigueur</em>. Female teachers and staff are now being told that in the autumn they will have to wear a <em>hijab</em>, a headscarf that wraps around the front and covers their neck. By now the debate seemed to be about a few centimeters of fabric &ndash; would this newly mandated <em>hijab</em> have to cover their jawline as well, or could they tie it below the chin?</p> <p>There are glimmers of light in this gloom. Laila, a 4th-year student at Grozny State University, wears a short, close-cut dress and her hair loose on her way home from university, and she carries a large, bulging bag. In it is her uniform - floor-length skirt, standard-issue blazer and headscarf. Laughing, she pulls out the skirt and demonstrates how, sarong-style, it opens at the front and can be put on and taken off easily over her much skimpier outfit.&nbsp; She had the skirt specially sewn for this purpose, and so, she says, have many other students. &ldquo;We used to find some hidden place to change discreetly after leaving campus, but now we strip off our uniforms right in front of the guards at the entrance. Imagine how they stare at us!&rdquo; Despite Zalina&rsquo;s obvious glee at her and her classmates&rsquo; symbolic subversion of the dress code, she knows her actions are not without risk. There are stories going round about girls who were expelled from university for pulling off their long skirts while still on campus.</p> <p>Another such glimmer concerns the paintball attacks. These stopped as suddenly as they started, and there has been no recurrence. Many human rights activists believe this was a result of the international reaction they provoked. &lsquo;We can&rsquo;t prove that the attacks stopped because of pressure from abroad&rsquo; admits human rights activist Zarema. But the activists agree that the fact that the attacks stopped as soon as the world started paying attention is no coincidence. &lsquo;This gives us hope, at least. It encourages us not to give up fighting for our rights&rsquo;.</p> <p><em>The names of the author and women mentioned in this article have been changed for their protection.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><strong>The author is a journalist based in Chechnya.</strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://www.propagandistmag.com/2011/03/21/islamization-chechnya">The Islamization of Chechnya</a>, by Aymenn Jawad, The Propagandist, 21.03.2011</p> <p><a title="“You Dress According to Their Rules”" href="http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/03/10/you-dress-according-their-rules">“You Dress According to Their Rules”</a>, Enforcement of an Islamic Dress Code for Women in Chechnya Human Rights Watch Report, 10.03.2011</p> <p><a href="http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2012/04/young_women_in_chechnya.html">Young women in Chechnya</a>, by Diana Markosian, a photo story, <a href="http://www.boston.com">www.boston.com</a>, 30.04.2012</p> <p><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9S3RxdboC2g">Unknown men with paintball guns attacking women in Grozny</a> for not observing a compulsory Islamic dress code,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.youtube.com">www.youtube.com</a> (posted by Caucasian Knot website)</p> <p><a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/">Caucasian Knot</a> website</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia’s international partners should pay close attention to the dramatically deteriorating situation for women’s rights in Chechnya and advance the detailed recommendations for the Russian government contained in this report in multilateral forums and in their bilateral dialogues with the Russian government. They should urge the Russian authorities to take a resolute stand against the enforcement of a compulsory Islamic dress code by the Chechen authorities and other violations of women’s rights in Chechnya; to ensure that women and girls in Chechnya can fully exercise their rights to private life, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression by being able to choose whether to adhere to an Islamic dress code; and to ensure access to the region for international monitors.</p><p><strong><a href="http://www.hrw.org/node/97046/section/3">Human Rigths Watch</a>, 10.03.2011</strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/karachay-cherkessiya-how-caucasus-is-feeding-itself">Real life: how the Caucasus is feeding itself</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-piontkovsky/north-caucasus-one-war-lost-another-one-begins">North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-caucasus-a-region-in-pieces">The Caucasus: a region in pieces</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/olliver-bullough/why-are-chechens-so-angry">Why are Chechens so angry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/ingushetia-abandoned">Ingushetia abandoned</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy-caucasus/article_2080.jsp">The north Caucasus: politics or war?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/russia-theme/war-comes-to-ingushetia">War comes to Ingushetia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/dagestan-curse-of-the-sixth-department">Dagestan: curse of the sixth department</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 50.50 oD Russia Russia Civil society 50.50 Gender Politics Religion women's human rights violence against women secularism sexual identities patriarchy gender justice gender fundamentalisms bodily autonomy Lisa Kazbekova Letters from the Russian provinces Stories you weren't meant to hear Human rights Politics Wed, 18 Jul 2012 16:17:49 +0000 Lisa Kazbekova 67074 at https://www.opendemocracy.net ‘Why did I tell you all this!’ https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/taisa/%E2%80%98why-did-i-tell-you-all-this%E2%80%99 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="font-style: italic; float: right;" src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/floot.png" alt="" width="160" />Taisa wanted to be a singer, but ended up becoming a victim of one of Russia's most patriarchal and violent societies. oDRussia continues its series of 'stories you weren't meant to hear' with a harrowing narrative from Chechnya. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/Woman%20Cleaning.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" />In a quiet </em><em>residential </em><em>court yard in central Grozny, up one flight of stairs, there is a modest plaque </em><em>by the front</em><em> door</em><em>. It is</em><em> the only sign that this is not</em><em>, like the other apartments,</em><em> someone&rsquo;s home. </em><em>S</em><em>tep inside</em><em> and you see</em><em> a </em><em>heap of </em>tapochki<em> by the door, so that visitors can take off their shoes and </em><em>be</em><em> comfortable. It&rsquo;s </em><em>an apartment typical of the Soviet period, a bit</em><em> shabby and cramped, but warm and welcoming; its walls plastered with inspirational posters, scribbled flip-chart papers and </em><em>group </em><em>photographs of smiling women. In the kitchen, mismatched tea cups</em><em> are</em><em> stacked on open shelves and </em><em>there are </em><em>boxes of cakes and chocolate. Young volunteers </em><em>dart along </em><em>the narrow corridor with an air of working on something terribly important.</em></p> <p><em>This is the office of one of Chechnya&rsquo;s</em><em> remarkable</em><em> women&rsquo;s organizations. </em><em>In all of them you will see </em><em>gaggles of women and teenage girls gathered around a trainer who is teaching them hairstyling or baby care</em><em>. All of them are so short of </em><em>space</em><em> </em><em>that psychological consultations sometimes have to take place in the bathroom.</em></p> <p><em>This is a place where Chechen women can go when they need help with their tragic, complex problems, where someone will listen to them and tell them of options they never imagined before, where they can take some time out from their lives in a safe</em><em> </em><em>and friendly space. This </em><em>is where the following </em><em>story was recorded; the story of a woman</em><em>, let&rsquo;s call her Taisa,</em><em> who, like many, walked in one da</em><em>y, needing</em><em> to talk.</em><em> </em></p> <p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/Woman%20singing_side.jpg%20" alt="" align="left" height="347" width="300" />I was 16 when they forced me to get married. I really didn&rsquo;t want this marriage. I wanted to study, to play with my friends. I had a good voice, and I had this secret dream of singing on stage, becoming a famous star, who&rsquo;d wear gorgeous dresses and make people happy. But my stepmother didn&rsquo;t want to be bothered with me, because she had her own children, my two little sisters and my little brother.</p> <p>I keep remembering how I begged her not to give me away to this man. I said I&rsquo;d do everything around the house &ndash; clean up, do the laundry, watch the younger children. I&rsquo;d wash her feet and give her a massage - she loved massages. But her response was to keep promising me a &lsquo;life in paradise&rsquo;. &lsquo;He&rsquo;s from a good family&rsquo;, she&rsquo;d whisper to me. &lsquo;Your future husband is still a young man, only 34 years old. He&rsquo;s already got his own house &ndash; he&rsquo;s the oldest son, so you&rsquo;ll be the most honoured bride, the senior one.&rsquo; I didn&rsquo;t understand what that meant, being the senior bride, didn&rsquo;t understand what use that could be to me. But I remember having this gut feeling that it wouldn&rsquo;t be good for me, that my life would be ending before it had really begun.</p> <p>In my married life, they treated me like a work horse, though to outsiders they&rsquo;d always pretend I was the darling of the family, that they&rsquo;d move heaven and earth just to see me smile. At night, I&rsquo;d cry. My hands were sore from doing the laundry all the time. My legs ached because I was never allowed to sit down and rest. All day long I had to keep busy, and if my mother-in-law ever saw me sitting down, she&rsquo;d immediately say &lsquo;I&rsquo;d never have been allowed to sit down like that when I was a bride&rsquo;. They were always ordering me around, all of them, even my husband&rsquo;s nephew, a boy of twelve called Iriskhan.</p> <p>I lost my first child in a miscarriage. I didn&rsquo;t even know I was pregnant. But it turned out I was four months gone when, one day, I lifted a laundry tub full of linen onto the gas stove, to boil it. I started feeling sick and they took me to hospital. All the way there, my mother-in-law was bawling at me, complaining about having ended up with a sickly girl like me, who wasn&rsquo;t going to be able to have children. When they told us at the hospital that I was having a miscarriage, she got embarrassed and started complaining that they&rsquo;d got stuck with a fool. And I was a fool, a miserable, lonely little fool!</p> <p>The doctor told me to stay in bed. As soon as we got home from the hospital, my mother-in-law told me to go to my room and lie down, because next day we&rsquo;d be going to the village for harvesting. That night I lay awake for a long time, waiting for my husband. But he didn&rsquo;t come to me. I heard him coming home, heard my mother-in-law talking and him leaving again. But he didn&rsquo;t come to our bedroom and nothing more was said about what had happened to me.</p> <p>Two years later I gave birth to a boy. He was a healthy child. I went on living there because I&rsquo;d got nowhere else to go. I wasn&rsquo;t so bothered any more by the way everyone in the family totally humiliated me. Or if my husband beat me now and then.Because I had my boy. I lived for him&hellip;..</p> <p>When my son Isa was four, I got pregnant again. My mother-in-law made no secret of her disapproval when she saw my belly- I was five months pregnant: &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve just started building the house - what were you thinking of? Who&rsquo;s going to mix the mortar, lay the bricks?&rdquo; I went on doing all that &lsquo;til the 9th month.</p> <p>Then came the day - it was a warm autumn evening. I was standing at the stove, preparing our national dish &ndash; <a href="http://caspionet.kz/eng/nationalcuisine/archive/Chechen_Cuisine_1304057995.html">chepalgash.</a> My husband came home, in a bad mood as always after work, closed the door behind him and told me he was going to bring home a second wife. He started going on about how much he loved her, how he couldn&rsquo;t live a day without her. How she meant the world to him, and he wanted her to have his children. How he&rsquo;d married me only to please his mother and had never loved me.</p> <p>And you know, suddenly I felt so happy! I started eating <em>chepalgash </em>and I offered him some, too. He gave me this odd look. Said his mother had been right all along, I was a fool. And left the kitchen. But I didn&rsquo;t get up from the table. I just kept eating my <em>chepalgash</em>. I felt like dancing, singing, screaming out loud, celebrating.</p> <p><img src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/Money_side.jpg%20" alt="" align="right" height="129" width="300" />A week later, my husband brought the second wife home. And two weeks later I was in hospital - I&rsquo;d gone into labour. I was in labour for 13 hours, I just couldn&rsquo;t get it out. But my mother-in-law hadn&rsquo;t given permission to do a Caesarean. She said it was too expensive, that we didn&rsquo;t have that kind of money. And I kept silent, put up with it all. But I was screaming inside. What do you mean&ndash; we don&rsquo;t have the money! We&rsquo;ve got the money alright &ndash; you just don&rsquo;t want to spend it on me! But all this pain I bore without a word.</p> <p>My baby daughter died. She&rsquo;d suffocated, but they&rsquo;d operated on me anyway. I was lying in hospital, getting steadily worse and all I could think about was my son &ndash; my poor little one, who&rsquo;d be left on his own, suffer the same fate as me, growing up with a cruel stepmother. It turned out that they&rsquo;d left part of the placenta inside me. I was getting peritonitis, so they had to operate again and I was left barren &ndash; they&rsquo;d taken out all my reproductive organs.</p> <p>Of course, my mother-in-law was the first to learn this. And as she was coming into the ward she told me not to come back, but to go straight home, to my father&rsquo;s house, from the hospital. &lsquo;What about my boy?&rdquo; I asked. &ldquo;The boy isn&rsquo;t yours &ndash; he&rsquo;s ours&rdquo; my stepmother answered. </p> <p>I was one great gaping wound &ndash; I was in such pain emotionally that I didn&rsquo;t feel the physical pain &ndash; what had they done to me? They&rsquo;d killed me. Murdered me. I was surrounded by murderers! They all wanted me dead! Where am I? Mama, mamochka, can you hear me? Help! It&rsquo;s me, your daughter, help! They&rsquo;d tried to kill me, but I&rsquo;d survived. Now they were killing me again!</p> <p>If it hadn&rsquo;t been for a nurse, an older woman called Tamara, I really would have gone mad, killed myself. She took me to my father&rsquo;s house, helped me get the elders together, who then went to my husband&rsquo;s house and demanded that they give my child back, as according to Islam I&rsquo;ve got the right to bring him up until he&rsquo;s seven. And they brought my Isa to me. I was so happy! Once again, I ran around doing the housework, trying to please my stepmother &ndash; I did the laundry, I cleaned, I cooked. I tried to do it all, to make sure they wouldn&rsquo;t take it out on my son. But even that was not enough. My stepmother was implacable. And my father was so scared of losing his wife that he sided with her.</p> <p>It turned out that my husband&rsquo;s second wife couldn&rsquo;t have children. So they decided they were going to take Isa back. They came over, talked it over with my father, who called my stepmother and told her to get the boy and hand him over to his father. So they took away my boy. I don&rsquo;t want to remember how it all happened. Actually, I really don&rsquo;t remember.</p> <p>After a year I started working. I got a menial job, because after all, I&rsquo;d never finished my education. The head of my department, a middle-aged man, began pressuring me to have sex with him. He said it didn&rsquo;t matter anyway since I wasn&rsquo;t a virgin. No one would know. He&rsquo;d give me presents, find me another, better job, buy me pretty clothes. I didn&rsquo;t know what to do. I needed the job, because my stepmother was nagging me for not working, for not paying my way in the family. But I really didn&rsquo;t want a relationship with that man. I&rsquo;d made up my mind to quit &ndash; and now you&rsquo;ll laugh, because it was that very same day that he raped me. It all came back, the pain, the humiliation, the shame, the fury. I felt so guilty, so alone!</p> <p>I left my job. </p> <p>And now I&rsquo;ve come here, to you. Tamara said you&rsquo;d be able to help. And here I am, thinking &lsquo;Why did I tell you all this?&rsquo; </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Illustrations by <a href="http://www.jesswilson.co.uk/">Jess Wilson</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/karachay-cherkessiya-how-caucasus-is-feeding-itself">Real life: how the Caucasus is feeding itself</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-caucasus-a-region-in-pieces">The Caucasus: a region in pieces</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/olliver-bullough/why-are-chechens-so-angry">Why are Chechens so angry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-piontkovsky/north-caucasus-one-war-lost-another-one-begins">North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</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"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Russia Civil society Democracy and government Equality women's movements women's human rights women and power violence against women patriarchy gender justice gender 'Taisa' Stories you weren't meant to hear Letters from the Russian provinces Equality Justice Human rights Wed, 18 Jul 2012 13:33:09 +0000 'Taisa' 67073 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sex and Lies in Kabardino-Balkaria https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-marshenkulova/sex-and-lies-in-kabardino-balkaria <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/storiescouple.png" alt="" width="160" /></p><p>Young women in Kabardino-Balkaria must resort to lies and stratagems to navigate a society governed by man-made rules and double standards. In this excerpt from an unpublished novel, Marina Marshenkulova reveals through fiction the reality she cannot describe as a journalist.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Kabardino-Balkaria may be in Russia, but lots of Russians only have the vaguest idea where it is. Muscovites are clueless about anything beyond the Sadovoye Circle. They only get it if I say I live near Europe&rsquo;s highest mountain &ndash; Mount Elbrus. It was only when Elbrus was made a World Heritage Site that they realised there&rsquo;s more to the North Caucasus than terrorism and wars. </p> <p>Yes, it&rsquo;s about that too. Even people who&rsquo;ve never heard of Mount Elbrus know about Chechnya and Beslan. When they would ask me where I came from, I&rsquo;d be reluctant to say how close we were to those infamous places. But it turned out to be the only way they could locate Kabardino-Balkaria on their mind maps. Once, I even tried writing an article about my home, hoping that at least some of my readers would be embarrassed by their ignorance. Did I succeed? I don&rsquo;t know. Some people don&rsquo;t know what it&rsquo;s like to be embarrassed. Others, those of us who come from Kabardino-Balkaria for instance, understand it all too well.</p><p class="image-caption"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/couple.png" alt="" width="460" /> Old traditions are still very much alive in the North Caucasus, and when young women listen to their hearts instead of their parents it can lead to trouble. Photo: Yandex/Kozandrevna </p> <h3>It&rsquo;s a man&rsquo;s world </h3><p>It&rsquo;s a man&rsquo;s world in Kabardino-Balkaria. Girls are born with a deep sense of guilt. They feel guilty even if they haven&rsquo;t done anything to feel guilty about. They&rsquo;re born knowing that they were conceived in the dead of night and that the subject is one you can&rsquo;t even discuss with your mother. Did I say &ldquo;even&rdquo;? Especially with your mother.</p> <blockquote><p><em>'There is even a joke about it: what does an American woman say during sex? &ldquo;Oh, yes!&rdquo; What does a Russian woman say during sex? &ldquo;Oh, da!&rdquo; which means the same. What does a Kabardian woman say during sex? &ldquo;Please, don&rsquo;t tell anyone!&rdquo;</em></p></blockquote><p>Girls soon learn that sex is dirty unless it&rsquo;s done by married people. Even if they are married, it&rsquo;s not something you should be proud of. These girls learn that men rule the world, and you can only become a part of that world if you learn to obey. So they learn. They have to remember that virginity is the core virtue, even if it&rsquo;s fake, who cares. If you don&rsquo;t bleed on your wedding night, you&rsquo;re in trouble, and so is your whole family.</p> <p>Given this, what&rsquo;s funny is that even in my little hometown sex is our main entertainment. It&rsquo;s just a huge secret. There is even a joke about it: what does an American woman say during sex? &ldquo;Oh, yes!&rdquo; What does a Russian woman say during sex? &ldquo;Oh, da!&rdquo; which means the same. What does a Kabardian woman say during sex? &ldquo;Please, don&rsquo;t tell anyone!&rdquo;</p> <p>It&rsquo;s funny, but if you look more closely, it&rsquo;s not at all funny. It&rsquo;s scary and sick. Let me tell you one of the sick stories that has been going the rounds. It&rsquo;s about a girl &ndash; we&rsquo;ll call her N. She was dating a boy who we&rsquo;ll call D. It doesn&rsquo;t really matter any more what happened between them, or their feelings for each other. He broke it off and started spreading rumours about what he did with her, how they did it, in gory detail. The poor girl was disgraced, even if it was all lies. When the rumour reached her brother X he didn&rsquo;t go and punch D. in the face, though he could have. He went one better: he got to know D.&rsquo;s sister and started dating her. Let&rsquo;s call her J. And when they were having sex he videod her &ldquo;oral performance.&rdquo; Oddly enough, J. was well aware what he was doing. She just kept asking him how long he was going to keep filming. It wasn&rsquo;t that she minded. But she wasn&rsquo;t exactly happy about it either. What was she thinking about? Did she really think that he was taking a home video for the two of them? Had she forgotten where she came from? It seems so. That&rsquo;s not the end of the story, either.</p> <p>X. sent the video to D., saying &ldquo;Enjoy, brother.&rdquo; D. was furious. What happened behind the scenes no one knows. But the story goes that J. ran to the police station and reported that she&rsquo;d been raped by X. X responded by sending the video all over the place. He even put it on Youtube. But all things are possible if you&rsquo;ve got a good brother. D &ndash; whose family was very rich - &ldquo;bought&rdquo; some guy with a decent expensive car and made him marry his sister. Yes, the guests may have watched that famous &lsquo;oral&rsquo; video clip in secret, during the wedding ceremony. But who cares? Now that she was married, she was safe from their judgments.</p> <p>Some girls are different. <em>Circumstances</em> make them rebellious. I&rsquo;m going to write about those girls, the rebels. Some lost their virginity to men who said they loved them and wanted to marry them. Others lost it because they were living for the moment, because saving it just didn&rsquo;t seem important. There are girls who sleep all over the place, just like Samantha in the &ldquo;Sex and the City.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Samantha has the guts to admit that she does what she loves, while these girls go and sew themselves up so that they that they can play the virgin again. You see, even in this male&rsquo;s world, men can be fooled. There are many different kinds of girls in this rebel category. I want to share some of their stories. My own story is a bit different. My hope is that, by writing about others, I can mend myself.</p> <p>Kabardino-Balkaria is proud of its people. They are workers on one hand, but there&rsquo;s a whole side that&rsquo;s kept in the darkness. At the end of the day it comes down to this: somebody&rsquo;s going to get hurt, whether it&rsquo;s sex or love. If I knew what I know now, I&rsquo;d make things much easier for myself. I&rsquo;d spare myself the hundreds of mistakes I&rsquo;ve made on my way. But I was barely 19 when it happened.</p> <p>*</p> <p>When I heard the caf&eacute; door open, I turned round automatically to see who it was. Would anything have been different if I hadn&rsquo;t looked? No matter how far I had run to get away from my past, it was right there still, and it was not going away. </p> <blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;Some girls are different. Circumstances make them rebellious. There are girls who sleep all over the place, just like Samantha in the &ldquo;Sex and the City.&rdquo; But Samantha has the guts to admit that she does what she loves, while these girls go and sew themselves up so that they that they can play the virgin again.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>I have only seen the man who entered the coffee house twice in my life, but I would never forget his face. That was the man who almost became my husband seven years ago. The man who ruined my life.</p> <p>I don&rsquo;t remember how I took off, leaving Idar behind. But he followed me. Though I was running, he soon reached me. He grabbed me by the arm.</p> <p>&ldquo;Who was that?&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Nobody. I&rsquo;ve got to go.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Like hell you do. Who was that?&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Let me go, you&rsquo;re hurting me.&rdquo; He let go.</p> <p>&ldquo;I can help you.&rdquo; How could he?</p> <p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t need your help. You don&rsquo;t know&hellip; God, you don&rsquo;t know.&rdquo; I was close to tears. But how could I cry now? I ran on, knowing he was following me. Wanting him to follow me. After all I owed him a story, didn&rsquo;t I?</p> <p>*</p> <h3>It was so easy &ndash; to fall in love</h3><p>My name is Skai Karova. I was born on the 6th November in a tiny village hospital near Nalchik. My parents didn&rsquo;t dream of giving me a name. In our patriarchal society only my father&rsquo;s relatives could do that. My past is full of people who loved me &ndash; my parents, my sister, my friends and relatives. I was a normal kid, a pretty easy teenager, an obedient one. I didn&rsquo;t date anyone till I was 18. That&rsquo;s when I fell in love, or I thought I did. It was so easy &ndash; to fall in love. We met at university during the first week of school. Those were the crazy times; we couldn&rsquo;t be apart for one minute. We were addicted to love. Funnily, I don&rsquo;t remember much about him now. We were going to get married in a few years. Although he&rsquo;d never formally proposed to me, we used to talk about how we&rsquo;d bring up our children and even had fights over it. Then one day everything changed. </p> <p>I was walking home when a car stopped in front of me. A guy got out of the car and asked his way to a shop. I told him and that was the end of the conversation. Next day that car stopped again. But this time it didn&rsquo;t end so well. My kidnappers threw me into the car, although I bit at them and screamed my head off. I later found out that he&rsquo;d seen me at university and decided to have me as his wife. Unbeknown to me, he&rsquo;d been watching me for several days. One little detail he didn&rsquo;t find out was that I had a boyfriend. And that I wasn&rsquo;t a virgin.</p> <blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;When my kidnappers found out, I was returned home, branded as a non-virgin. It was a big scandal. My parents were not just disappointed in me - they could barely look at me. I was a stain on their spotless picture, and they did their best to get rid of it. Although in my society such stains stay forever.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote><p>You can guess the rest of the story. I was returned home, branded as a non-virgin. It was a big scandal. My parents were not just disappointed in me - they could barely look at me. I was a stain on their spotless picture, and they did their best to get rid of it. Although in my society such stains stay forever. So I did the only thing I could under the circumstances &ndash; I ran.</p> <p>When my monologue ended, Idar and I found ourselves in the park. I had talked and talked. I just couldn&rsquo;t stop. The day was dying. It was still sunny, but the sun was gentle. There were flies everywhere, but I didn&rsquo;t care. I was too engrossed.</p> <p>&ldquo;Did you ever talk to your parents after you ran way?&rdquo; he asked. We were walking down a dark alley towards the huge oak-tree. </p><p>&ldquo;Only once. I called my mom from Moscow the day after I escaped. I didn&rsquo;t want them to think I was dead or something. Though now I come to think of it they&rsquo;d rather I had been dead than&hellip;that.&rdquo;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/dagestan-and-the-art-of-government">Dagestan and the art of government</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergei-markedonov/yeltsin%E2%80%99s-complicated-legacy-in-caucasus">Yeltsin’s complicated legacy in the Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/ingushetia-abandoned">Ingushetia abandoned</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/north-caucasus-united-we-stand-divided-we-fall">North Caucasus: united we stand, divided we fall!</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"> Nalchik </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 50.50 oD Russia Nalchik Russia Civil society russia & eurasia russia gender Marina Marshenkulova Stories you weren't meant to hear Letters from the Russian provinces Internal Tue, 17 Jul 2012 15:16:49 +0000 Marina Marshenkulova 67053 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hijab Wars https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/hijab-wars <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/hijabwar.png" alt="" width="160" />In Dagestan, where government forces are pitched against insurgents, and the official priesthood against the Salafites, the third front concerns women. Marina Akhmedova reports from the region on the totemic role of the hijab in these events.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p> &lsquo;Slave of Allah, it&rsquo;s good to see you back!&rsquo; the girl in the dark <em>hijab </em>exclaims. Her modest face lights up with pleasure. She might have been greeting a long lost relative. A twitter goes up as I walk past the mannequins in the Islamic shop in downtown Makhachkala. One is decked out in a bright green <em>hijab</em>. The next in violet with a crescent-shaped diamante clip. The third <em>hijab</em> is brown and star-spangled. &lsquo;Would you like to try it on?&rsquo; the girl asks softly. &lsquo;It would suit you&rsquo;, she persists. &lsquo;Fine, sister,&rsquo; she chirrups as I head for the door. &lsquo;But you&rsquo;ll be back soon&rsquo;. </p> <p>Outside on the busy street I divide the women into those who did and those who didn&rsquo;t go back. Those who did fall into two categories. Some are wearing dark gloomy <em>hijabs</em>, others - bright ones fixed with spikey crescent moons. As thorny as the issue of the <em>hijab</em> in Dagestan. June saw the second murder of a school head who forbade his pupils to come to school with covered heads.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/RIAN_00734762.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="HIjabs" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">The republic of Dagestan continues to remain one of the most explosive areas of North Caucasian region of Russia. &nbsp;The hijab remains a particularly thorny issue in the republic (photo: Natalia Seliverstova, RIA Novosti agency)</p><p>Officially, the Society of Ahlus-sunnah Scholars [members of Sunni branch of Islam] declares that its supporters believe in one God, struggle for the purity of the faith and do not divide Muslims into traditional and non-traditional believers. Unofficially, especially in the federal press, they call it the &lsquo;Salafi Society&rsquo;, &lsquo;the radical wing of Islam&rsquo;. The presence of the beards appears to support the unofficial version, though its representatives point out that their beards are no longer than the patriarch&rsquo;s. </p> <p>The Society&rsquo;s press secretary Ziyaudin Uvaisov tells me that in some Dagestani schools you&rsquo;re punished for wearing the hijab, and in others not. &lsquo;There are schools where the head is even trying to stop the teachers from wearing the <em>hijab</em>. They&rsquo;re threatened with the sack,&rsquo; says Ziyaudin. &lsquo;The ministry of education may not have issued instructions to this effect, but it encourages it.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;In lots of religious villages the pupils all go around like that, in <em>hijabs</em>,&rsquo; someone interrupts. &lsquo;They teach the sexes in separate classes. As they should. Islam says boys and girls should be kept apart. They learn better that way too. If people want to..&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You don&rsquo;t approve of the present approach to teaching?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s not bad, except for a few things,&rsquo; Ziyaudin replies. &lsquo;Ideological matters &ndash; Darwin&rsquo;s theory, for instance. They ought to give the girls separate gym lessons, and let them wear headscarves. But when the head lays down the law in this reactionary way, when he&rsquo;s so disrespectful, it&rsquo;s hardly surprising that they hit back. It&rsquo;s inevitable..&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;I thought your mountain <em>adat</em> say you should respect teachers,&rsquo; I say. </p> <p>&lsquo;We do &ndash; we stand up when a teacher comes in,&rsquo; chips in yet another man, &lsquo;But if the teacher behaves improperly...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;They were educated under the communist system, that&rsquo;s why&rsquo; the press secretary interrupts. &lsquo;I&rsquo;m the head and you&rsquo;ve all got to obey me. He&rsquo;s used to being..&rsquo;</p> <p>The door opens, cutting him off. I expect to see yet another beard, but in walks Maxim Shevchenko. </p> <p>&lsquo;A woman&rsquo;s been killed in Dagestanskiye Ogni, they opened fire on six children,&rsquo; he says. &lsquo;Do you want to go there?&rsquo;</p> <h3><strong>A f*k up in Dagestanskiye Ogni</strong></h3> <p>Dagestanskiye Ogni is a small town in southern Dagestan. Not the sort of place you&rsquo;d expect to be a hotbed of Wahhabism and separatism, until recently. When we get there, the posse of men who came with Shevchenko go into the yard of a house. The residents come and tell us about the special operation, which happened at night, a few hours before our arrival. They point to the neighbouring yard.</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;Dagestanskiye Ogni is a small town in southern Dagestan &mdash; not the sort of place you&rsquo;d expect to be a hotbed of Wahhabism and separatism. Until recently.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>The house is shut up. There&rsquo;s not much sign of a shoot out having taken place there or in the yard. The men walk round looking at the bare walls. &lsquo;Hey,&rsquo; one of them whispers into a mobile. &lsquo;They said the house was a ruin, but it&rsquo;s untouched and we&rsquo;ve brought Shevchenko. ..There&rsquo;s been a f** up..&rsquo;</p> <p>A woman in a <em>hijab</em> comes and stands in the yard, hands clasped, back half turned away from us. </p> <p>&lsquo;Were you in the house with your children?&rsquo; asks Shevchenko loudly. </p> <p>&lsquo;I was asleep,&rsquo; she answers in a lifeless voice. </p> <p>&lsquo;Where did the firing come from?&rsquo; &lsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;I don&rsquo;t remember. There was so much noise,&rsquo; she turns even further away, tucking her chin, which is tightly bound by the <em>hijab</em>, into her shoulder. &lsquo;The children were yelling. Then a woman in the courtyard screamed. I was with another woman. There were two more here &ndash; one they killed, the other was wounded.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Where did they kill her? Was she in the house?&rsquo; asks Shevchenko. </p> <p>&lsquo;No..The wounded woman was lying here in the yard. We carried her into the house. Then I heard they&rsquo;d killed my younger brother.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Your younger brother?&rsquo; I ask her. </p> <p>&lsquo;Yes,&rsquo; she jerks her chin up off her shoulder. </p> <p>&lsquo;Have you seen him?&rsquo; Shevchenko goes on.</p> <p>&lsquo;No...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;They&rsquo;re all dead! Dead! And you&rsquo;re..!&rsquo; a bare-headed girl in the crowd burst out. </p> <p>&lsquo;I&rsquo;m a member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation,&rsquo; Shevchenko tells her. &lsquo;We must investigate, find out whether the operation was legal, whether there was an infringement of human rights.&rsquo;</p> <p>She identifies herself as the dead woman&rsquo;s sister and walks to the far side of the yard.</p> <p>&lsquo;They were unarmed,&rsquo; she begins, when I approach her. &lsquo;She&rsquo;d brought food to her husband. She only found out he was a fighter after they were married. When the shooting started they were frightened and ran in there,&rsquo; she points, wrenching her hand away from her face. &lsquo;She had a 3 month old baby. We don&rsquo;t know what&rsquo;s happened to him. She used to see her husband every 3 months when she brought him food. That&rsquo;s all...&rsquo;</p> <p>She looks round at the crowd of men. Her eyes are dry now. She is wearing heavy gold jewellery. Over there, where the hedge is broken down you can see how they&rsquo;d been trying to escape across the allotments. If the girl&rsquo;s body was found there, where her sister&rsquo;s pointing, then the other women must have run in the other direction. </p> <p>&lsquo;She was young, beautiful.&rsquo; her sister wails. &lsquo;No, she didn&rsquo;t want to die. She was always on a diet, she loved trinkets. She loved life. The bastards..bastards..&rsquo; She clenches her fists and her jewellery tinkles. &lsquo;They kill the young to line their pockets. She hadn&rsquo;t done anything. She only brought him food.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Remember what Medvedev said - even those who make soup for them..&rsquo; I start saying.</p> <p>&lsquo;But she was only 19!&rsquo; she interrupts. &lsquo;She longed to get out, she couldn&rsquo;t bear it, she wanted to give herself up, but her friends wouldn&rsquo;t let her. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ll mistreat you, hit your tummy, you&rsquo;ll lose the baby.&rdquo; It was fear that kept her there. She was worn out. She had nowhere to go...I ha...te...I hate the government!&rsquo; She closes her eyes and sits listening to the men. Then she suddenly jumps up and runs off.</p> <p>&lsquo;The people that brought them food were armed,&rsquo; says a tall, thick-set man who&rsquo;s just arrived. He&rsquo;s the head of the local ROVD (department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs). &lsquo;We&rsquo;d received information that these people were going to commit a diversionary terrorist act, or that they were planning one..&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Plan-ning one?!&rsquo; the dead woman&rsquo;s sister explodes. &lsquo;They&rsquo;ve been there all year, haven&rsquo;t they? Nothing&rsquo;s happened..I suppose you think it&rsquo;s funny!!!&rsquo; she yells. &lsquo;Funny! Where&rsquo;s the 3 month year old baby, then?!&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;What baby?&rsquo; asks the boss. &lsquo;So why couldn&rsquo;t you keep your sister under control?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Have you got children?&rsquo; she responds.</p> <p>&lsquo;Of course,&rsquo; he said, after a slight pause.</p> <p>&lsquo;Allah help you keep them under control!&rsquo; she screams. &lsquo;It&rsquo;s your fault these young people are going to the forest, because you&rsquo;re all thieves, you all take bribes!&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Calm down!&rsquo; the men say to her. </p> <p>&lsquo;I&rsquo;ll calm down when they kill your daughter! You say I didn&rsquo;t keep her under control. How sure are you that you&rsquo;ve got yours under control?! May Allah grant that your children go to the forest! She begged you, in the name of Allah. But you didn&rsquo;t give them a chance. If someone asks you in the name of Allah not to kill them, you don&rsquo;t!&rsquo;</p> <p>The visitors walk over to the place where the dead woman had lain. The blood is not yet dry, her <em>hijab</em> lies where the wind has blown it. Her mother hurries to it. A baby&rsquo;s dummy and diapers lie by a greasy spot.</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;The visitors walk over to the place where the dead woman had lain. The blood is not yet dry, her hijab lies where the wind has blown it. Her mother hurries to it. A baby&rsquo;s dummy and diapers lie by a greasy spot&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;Why didn&rsquo;t you arrest them?&rsquo; I ask the ROVD boss, who is gazing at the spot. &lsquo;That will be investigated in due course,&rsquo; he answered wearily. &lsquo;They returned fire. She was wearing fatigues, she was wearing a suicide bomber&rsquo;s belt. </p> <p>&lsquo;Why did you open fire, rather than arresting them?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Ask special operations,&rsquo; he replies, then adds resentfully: &lsquo;I serve my country. And they&rsquo;re killing us.&rsquo; </p> <h3><strong>Operation &lsquo;Cybersquad&rsquo;</strong></h3> <p>I&rsquo;m waiting in a cafe for Nadira Isaeva, formerly editor-in-chief of the local opposition paper <em>Chernovik [Rn. 'rough draft', <a href="http://www.chernovik.net/">link</a> in Rn.]</em>. The cafe&rsquo;s called &lsquo;Room&rsquo;. There&rsquo;s no music, but it&rsquo;s got wi-fi. The waitresses wear long skirts and hijabs. There&rsquo;s no alcohol on the menu either. </p> <p>As always in Dagestan, there are two versions of the story as to why the Editor-in Chief of <em>Chernovik</em> was fired. Officially, Isaeva resigned of her own accord. The unofficial version is that she was sacked after an operation calling itself &lsquo;Cybersquad&rsquo; published compromising material on the web about leading journalists and public figures in Dagestan. This included phone conversations between Nadira and her husband, who was in prison at the time. Unoffically, they say that &lsquo;Cybersquad&rsquo; is the work of the FSB. Officially, they say its authors are journalists unjustly sacked by Nadira.<em></em></p> <p>Isaeva arrives dressed in a dark <em>hijab</em>, looking depressed. I lose my nerve and decide not to ask her about &lsquo;Cybersquad.&rsquo; &lsquo;Dagestani society seems to me to be sick,&rsquo; I begin, &lsquo;And the first symptom of that sickness is that people don&rsquo;t value human life any longer...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Yes, it&rsquo;s an irrevocable process,&rsquo; agrees Nadira. &lsquo;The number of special operations always goes up when there&rsquo;s a new man at the helm in the security department. They find new <em>boeviki</em> (militants) when a new boss from Russia is appointed. They find the bodies of people who&rsquo;ve been kidnapped, bodies with gouged out eyes, broken arms, legs, fingers. Heads of schools become the puppets of the Sixth Department [the Extremism and Criminal Terrorism Department of Dagestan&rsquo;s Interior Ministry]. Who really controls the State Exam Board? The Fraud Squad. </p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;Right from the start of this long and very public conflict the men at the top have refused to say where they stand. They don&rsquo;t care that students are buying their way through exams. They don&rsquo;t mind about the low level of education, or grade inflation. All they care about is the hijab.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote><p>They say school heads are being forced to tell them which pupils are wearing the <em>hijab</em>. They&rsquo;ve co-opted our school heads. In Shamkhala, a suburb of Makhachkala, the head, a woman, was waging war on the <em>hijab</em>, citing school regulations. In September 2010 they shot her in her own home. The Dagestani Ministry of Education is to blame for her death. Right from the start of this long and very public conflict the men at the top have refused to say where they stand. No,&rsquo; laughs Nadira, &lsquo;they don&rsquo;t care that students are buying their way through exams. They don&rsquo;t mind about the low level of education, or grade inflation. All they care about is the<em> hijab</em>.&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;But our police don&rsquo;t come from the moon &ndash; they&rsquo;re part of the same society..&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Isn&rsquo;t that the problem &ndash; the fact that they need someone to fight against?&rsquo; she looks at me sardonically from under her <em>hijab</em>. &lsquo;If you want to get ahead here you&rsquo;ve got to be seen to be fighting extremism. The old tricks are the best. And people use them.</p> <p>&lsquo;So why do you wear the <em>hijab</em>?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;If you have to ask you wouldn&rsquo;t understand. If you understood, you wouldn&rsquo;t ask.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Fine, I don&rsquo;t understand..Tell me &ndash; why did they sack you?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You want to know about the Cybersquad... For me, that&rsquo;s like the <em>hijab</em> question. The whole poison pen letter saga was dreadful - the security services were obviously behind it. But I see it as a kind of tribute to my effectiveness. Almost all the human rights defenders and journalists who matter in the republic were mentioned in it &ndash; but I was the first. Nothing came of the criminal proceedings instigated against me and my four colleagues for extremism, Article 282. Plus I got to see how primitive our security services really are...You&rsquo;re right, things have got really bad in Dagestan..The trouble is that Dagestanis no longer feel that they&rsquo;re citizens of Russia &ndash; that Russia which is crushing their houses with its tanks. We are no longer part of that mad Russia. If Russia were a normal country, it wouldn&rsquo;t need to use force to maintain its borders..&rsquo; </p> <p>On the streets of Makhachkala, behind houses, garages and trees there are people wearing fatigues, carrying rifles. [Russian Interior Minister] Nurgaliev has flown in. No one&rsquo;s paying any attention. Parents are taking their girls out of the state schools. They&rsquo;re doing it because the girls aren&rsquo;t allowed to wear the <em>hijab</em>. They&rsquo;re enrolling them in <em>medrasas</em> instead. So the Islamisation goes on. Nadira says it&rsquo;s pointless fighting the <em>hijab</em>. Better to ignore it.<em> </em>But you can&rsquo;t just impose the<em> hijab </em>on the whole country, any more than you can stitch Dagestan into the body of Russia. Sooner or later the fabric will tear unless it&rsquo;s sewn carefully, with tiny stitches. </p> <h2>It began with the journalists!&nbsp;</h2><p>On my way to the village of Sovietskoye I fell into conversation with a woman. She&rsquo;s wearing a grey <em>hijab</em>. She&rsquo;s been wearing it for the last ten years. Two years ago, following the Moscow bomb attacks, she was compelled to tear off her <em>hijab </em>and trample on it. 'I was disgusted that a Muslim woman could do such a thing!&rsquo;, Firuza says to me.&nbsp;&lsquo;My sister was just going into the metro at Lubyanka when the explosion happened. She was in hysterics when she called me: &rdquo;I was almost blown up! I hate you and your <em>hijab</em>! Your &lsquo;sisters&rsquo; have blown up the metro!&rdquo; That&rsquo;s when I tore it off and trampled it...</p> <p>Firuza falls silent. She&rsquo;s going to the village of Sovietskoye too, but she doesn&rsquo;t say why.</p> <p>&lsquo;Are you a Salafi?&rsquo; I ask. </p> <p>&lsquo;Not yet, but I agree with them about lots of things,&rsquo; she replies, looking at me defiantly. </p> <p>People in Dagestan are no longer really afraid of admitting their Salafi sympathies. Even a year ago no one would have made such an admission to a stranger. What it will be like in a year&rsquo;s time I can only imagine. </p> <p>&lsquo;I was so ashamed,&rsquo; she goes on. &lsquo;I felt so dirty, like a fallen woman. It makes me cry, even now. It&rsquo;s hard to explain, but we <em>hijab</em> women all feel like that... Lots of women are wearing the <em>hijab</em> now. But there aren&rsquo;t many of them who understand the inner <em>hijab</em>.</p> <p>&lsquo;And what is it?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It means total submission to the will of Allah and observing Islamic custom. Islam does not approve of all these coloured <em>hijabs</em> with fancy decorations which attract attention,&rsquo; she shakes her head: &lsquo;You&rsquo;ve got to keep thinking about death. It is inescapable, but when you come before the Almighty you&rsquo;ve got to be without sin...Let me tell you a story,&rsquo; she fixes her eyes on me again. &lsquo;I was in a lift with a man and a woman the other day. She was wearing this gaudy, see-through lace dress, you could even see her underwear. And when we got out, the man came up to me and said: &ldquo;Sister, if you hadn&rsquo;t been in the lift, I wouldn&rsquo;t have been able to resist touching her&rdquo;&hellip;</p> <p>&lsquo;Because he was a pig.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;My dear,&rsquo; she covers my hand in hers. &lsquo;All men are pigs..Forgive me, brother,&rsquo; she apologises to the driver. &lsquo;That&rsquo;s just the way they are.&rsquo;</p> <p>I can&rsquo;t tell how old my travelling companion is. Thirty, perhaps, or forty. She is small and thin. Her face is small and sunburned and her hands are light. </p> <p>&lsquo;Society has declared war on people like us,&rsquo; she goes on. &lsquo;When I took off my <em>hijab </em>they said &ldquo;At last, you&rsquo;re a person again&rdquo;. But all that year I felt awful. When I fell asleep I&rsquo;d get these terrible dreams...You wouldn&rsquo;t understand. You&rsquo;ve got to be a practising Muslim woman to understand. So in the end I put it on again. And I pray Allah I&rsquo;ll never take it off again.&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;People in Dagestan are no longer really afraid of admitting their Salafi sympathies. Even a year ago no one would have made such an admission to a stranger.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>All I know about my travelling companion is that she wears a <em>hijab</em> and prays five times a day. But I bet that if I were to ask her if she would like to see Sharia law in Dagestan, she&rsquo;d say &lsquo;yes&rsquo;. If I were to say you can&rsquo;t have Sharia law in a secular state I expect she&rsquo;d say the Caucasus should leave the Russian Federation. &lsquo;Do you think we should have Sharia law?&rsquo; That is the question which moderate Muslims can&rsquo;t handle. They can&rsquo;t say &lsquo;yes&rsquo;, as they live in a secular state. And they can&rsquo;t say &lsquo;no&rsquo;. What kind of Muslim would that make them? Russian nationalists and the Salafis are the only people who aren&rsquo;t afraid to say &lsquo;yes&rsquo; to independence in our country. The difference is that the Salafis pay for it with their lives.</p> <p>The village of Sovietskoye. Shortly before the murder of the school director, in May, during Friday prayers men from the local ROVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) burst into the local mosque, which is considered Salafi, rounded up the congregation and, as the local press put it, beat them up for several hours. </p> <p>Firuza and I walk to the gate of the school director&rsquo;s house. They shot him one night, in bed, in his sleep. I knock. No one answers. I push the gate open and walk into the yard. The front door is wide open. A young woman carrying a baby comes out. Her eyes are deeply scored with lines. </p> <p>&lsquo;I&rsquo;m fed up with you journalists!&rsquo; she replies, after hearing me out. &lsquo;It&rsquo;s all your fault! Go away.&rsquo; A man with glassy eyes comes out of the house, followed by another one. &lsquo;You just don&rsquo;t get it, do you?&rsquo; they ask. &lsquo;Journalists aren&rsquo;t welcome here.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;So much for your famous Caucasian hospitality!&rsquo; Firuza exclaims in a thin voice. &lsquo;You ought to be ashamed of yourselves &ndash; call yourself Dagestanis!&rsquo;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Sovetskoye_Beating.jpg" alt="Sovetskoye_Beating" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">In May 2011 police raided a mosque in Sovetskoye village, Dagestan. &nbsp;The mosque itself was desecrated and a group of faithful seriously beaten.&nbsp;</p><p>The woman eyes the <em>hijab</em> and me up and down. &lsquo;She&rsquo;s Russian,&rsquo; she says &lsquo;We don&rsquo;t have to be hospitable to them.&lsquo; </p> <p>I walk down the village street, after asking Firuza to keep her distance. I knock on the teachers&rsquo; front doors. But when they hear I&rsquo;m a journalist they look frightened and ask me to go away. &lsquo;We&rsquo;ve got children. Have pity on us,&rsquo; they whisper. &lsquo;It was you journalists who started all this.&rsquo;</p> <p>However, at one teacher&rsquo;s house I am invited in. &lsquo;Forgive us, times are hard,&rsquo; whispers an elderly teacher with a grey moustache, glancing round to check that no one&rsquo;s seen me coming to him. &lsquo;Your opinion can cost you your life,&rsquo; he goes on. &lsquo;Maybe they were up to something&hellip;&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;They? Who &ndash; ?&rsquo; I ask him, also in a whisper. </p> <p>&lsquo;Oh,&rsquo; the teacher presses his palm to his lips. &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t know. Not many of our pupils wore the <em>hijab</em>. And I expect it was their parents who made that decision. But we don&rsquo;t have the right to impose our opinion on them. It all started that Friday when they rounded up the children. Then they summoned the head to ask why the students were at the mosque during school time. He gave an interview. It all began with the journalists. I respect religion. Everyone&rsquo;s got the right to their own belief. I&rsquo;ve got mine...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;And is it true that teachers tell on their pupils?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Absolute nonsense,&rsquo; he says, barely audible, glancing round at his daughter. </p> <p>I go to the mosque. There I am met by the <em>imam</em>. Young, tall and thin. </p> <p>&lsquo;Aren&rsquo;t you afraid they&rsquo;ll kill you?&rsquo; I ask him.</p> <p>The <em>imam</em> sits on the floor and looks at me with doe eyes. He is twenty four years old. A computer programmer. He had been looking for work in Dagestan for a long time. There was none. So he became an <em>imam</em>. </p> <p>&lsquo;Why?&rsquo; he says quietly. &lsquo;I&rsquo;ve done nothing wrong. They say we force them all to wear <em>hijabs</em>, that we threaten to take them to the Sharia court...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;And is that true?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;No-o-o,&rsquo; he says, laying his hand on his chest. &lsquo;So why should they want to kill me? Why did you say that?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You&rsquo;re proseletysing Islam.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Yes, we pray and here in the mosque we do preach Islam. Of course do&ndash; that&rsquo;s why we get together.</p> <p>&lsquo;What happened on the 13 May?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;That Friday the troops rushed into the mosque. They stood out there in the courtyard in two rows with their guns. They shouted &ldquo;Come on, Velikhanov, out you come.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s my surname. But I wasn&rsquo;t there that day, they were,&rsquo; he indicates the teenagers who are sitting beside him. They look about sixteen. </p> <p>&lsquo;And what did they do to you?&rsquo; I ask the boys. </p> <p>&lsquo;Well, they took us to the police station, beat us up, cut the sign of the cross into our hair, like this,&rsquo; one of them makes a cross on his head. &lsquo;The ones with beards, they chopped them half off. They swore at us &ldquo;Why did you come to the mosque?&rdquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Had the head teacher forbidden you to go to the mosque?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Yes, he said we had to do our lessons.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Well, that&rsquo;s right...Isn&rsquo;t it?&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;Forgive us, times are hard,&rsquo; whispers an elderly teacher with a grey moustache, glancing round to check that no one&rsquo;s seen me coming to him. &lsquo;Your opinion can cost you your life&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;Now they&rsquo;re saying on the internet that he was killed because of us,&rsquo; says the <em>imam</em>. &lsquo;But he started it. He told the pupils that if they came to school in the <em>hijab</em> again he&rsquo;d strip them naked &hellip; When I heard he&rsquo;d been murdered, I was really scared. I knew they&rsquo;d take it out on us.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You were at his school. Surely you must be sorry for him? </p> <p>&lsquo;But why was he against us going to the mosque?&rsquo; the pupils ask. &lsquo;So they&rsquo;re above the law and can humiliate us as much as they like, is it? They said such awful things. Why can&rsquo;t we have law and order, like in Russia? Why did they beat us up for six hours?</p> <p>&lsquo;The Prophet told us to abide by the law of the Koran,&rsquo; said the <em>imam</em> helplessly. &lsquo;We can&rsquo;t change that.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Do you support Dagestani independence?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;That&rsquo;s a complicated question, provocative-&lsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s a very simple question. Yes or no?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;We&rsquo;re part of Russia.&rsquo;</p> <h3><strong>A simple Muslim</strong></h3> <p>My next meeting is with someone whose name I don&rsquo;t know. He asks me to call him &lsquo;a simple Muslim&rsquo;. When I ask the people who set up our meeting who he is, they answer: &lsquo;You wanted a religious leader? You&rsquo;ve got one.&rsquo; The simple Muslim is not dressed in combat gear. He&rsquo;s wearing a loose shirt and flat white skullcap. He looks at me intently with his large dark eyes, as if he&rsquo;d like to swallow me up, wrap me up in a <em>hijab</em> and induct me into the secrets of the religious world which I can see blazing in his eyes. </p> <p>&lsquo;The head teacher was murdered,&rsquo; I venture.</p> <p>&lsquo;Alhamdulillah..&rsquo; he murmurs, interrupting.</p> <p>&lsquo;Allah be praised? Are you serious?&rsquo;</p> <p>&rsquo;He was an educated man, not one of those idiots,&rsquo; he replies. &lsquo;And he said something which insulted us. Look,&rsquo; he does not raise his voice. &lsquo;Do you understand our attitude to death? It&rsquo;s very different from yours. We know, as clearly as I know that you&rsquo;re sitting in front of me, that death comes when our time is up. That&rsquo;s the only reason.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You mean..&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Life has ended. That&rsquo;s the only reason for death,&rsquo; he stops me. &lsquo;When they kill me, those close to me will know that my time on earth was up, that I&rsquo;d have died anyway. You think your life depends on you, that if you keep out of the firing line you&rsquo;re less likely to die. &lsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Is it true that you rejoice where someone close to you dies?</p> <p>&lsquo;There are fathers and mothers who do celebrate when they hear that their son or daughter has been killed. &lsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;The other day I met some relatives in that position. They didn&rsquo;t seem to be feeling like that...&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;Yes..those women...Yesterday we buried our sister. The one they killed in Dagestanskiye Ogni,&rsquo; he says, and I realise we&rsquo;re talking about the same family. &lsquo;It made me so happy..&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Of course. You don&rsquo;t care about her...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;No, because of how she died...The women you&rsquo;re talking about, they&rsquo;re not proper Muslim women. Some parents reject their dead children, they don&rsquo;t come to their funerals, don&rsquo;t take their bodies from the morgue...Yesterday they were lamenting and shouting,&rsquo; his tone is smoothly censorious, &lsquo;tearing their hair and scratching their faces...&rsquo;</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Mosque(interior)_Sovetskoye_0.jpg" alt="Mosque_Sovetskoye_interior" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">According to a report by <a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru">Caucasian Knot</a>, a local mosque was closed following&nbsp;the murder of headteacher Sadikullah Akhmedov in Sovetskoye village. The mosque was considered by police to be a hotbed of radical Islam (photo: Caucasian Knot).</p><p>&lsquo;That&rsquo;s normal for someone who&rsquo;s grieving.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s blasphemy. Our life is a vale of tears...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;If that&rsquo;s what you tell the young, you&rsquo;re just pushing them into it, into killing themselves.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Of course..But not into death...You think like an ordinary person.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;I just think like a person.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;..like a person who considers that everything ends when life ends. We know life is transitory, that eternity is stretching before us.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;So why not let them live out this transitory life..&rsquo;</p> <p> &lsquo;We can&rsquo;t do that...You just don&rsquo;t understand... How long we live is preordained. I can die at the age of 35, after scratching a wretched living,&rsquo; he raises his voice, &lsquo;taking it out of the mouth of children, pensioners. Or I can achieve something holy, sacrifice myself for Allah&rsquo;s sake. Either way I&rsquo;ll die at 35. But when they come to weigh up my deeds, I will be rewarded.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Have many of your friends..fellow believers have died?</p> <p>&lsquo;Quite a few.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;So why are you still alive?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Because I have been called to fight on the ideological front.&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;But they died, and you&rsquo;re alive...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Again you&rsquo;re not listening to me. That&rsquo;s when they were preordained to die. The cops killed my own brother... He wasn&rsquo;t a rapist or a murderer... Do you think that didn&rsquo;t affect me?</p> <p>&lsquo;Why did you say &ldquo;Allah be praised&rdquo; when I mentioned the teacher&rsquo;s murder?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;When they punish that <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17752189">fool from Oslo</a> you&rsquo;ll be pleased. I&rsquo;m pleased too that a man like that isn&rsquo;t going to go round inciting the cops against our fellow believers any more.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Did you celebrate when the <a href="http://www.rt.com/news/domodedovo-investigation-complete-umarov-523/">Domodedovo explosion</a> happened?&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;If <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dokka_Umarov">Doku Umarov</a> had asked me, I&rsquo;d have said &ndash; it&rsquo;s <em>haram</em>, a sin. But he didn&rsquo;t. It&rsquo;s got nothing to do with me. </p> <p>&lsquo;But they&rsquo;re your sisters, surely - Mariyam Sharipova and Dzhanet Abdurakhmanova?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;They&rsquo;re still my sisters. They killed <em>kafirs</em>. There are Muslims, and there are non-Muslims.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;So to you it doesn&rsquo;t matter if they blow people up, as long as they&rsquo;re not Muslims?!&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;As I said, I think it&rsquo;s <em>haram</em>, a sin.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;But you still consider them to be sisters...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Of course.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Criminals.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;They&rsquo;re my sisters.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;To you we&rsquo;re just zombies, we Muscovites. Morning and evening we go into that metro, to work and back again. Back home, where our families are waiting for us. There&rsquo;s no need to blow us up.&rsquo;</p><blockquote><p><em>&lsquo;The simple Muslim is not dressed in combat gear. He&rsquo;s wearing a loose shirt and flat white skullcap. He looks at me intently with his large dark eyes, as if he&rsquo;d like to swallow me up, wrap me up in a hijab and induct me into the secrets of the religious world which I can see blazing in his eyes.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;No? You Muscovites didn&rsquo;t mind when they killed forty thousand in Chechnya. Have you read what they write about us <em>kavkaztsi</em> on the internet? People with computers, people who know how to write. City people. 90% of them hate us. Do they have no idea what&rsquo;s going on here?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;You feel joy when you&rsquo;re burying your fellow countrymen &ndash; you admit it. And you expect people in far-off Moscow to feel your pain.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It wasn&rsquo;t me who killed those Chechen children. I&rsquo;m not <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Budanov">Budanov</a>&rsquo;s brother. Blame his father and brother &ndash; they brought him up. The dregs of Russia have all passed through Chechnya.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;But it wasn&rsquo;t policeman they blew up in the metro, was it?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Every one of those policemen has a mother, father, aunt, grandmother. Who didn&rsquo;t repudiate them. You really are zombies. You must be zombies if you allow our children to be murdered... We <em>kavkaztsi</em> have got to get it into our heads that the Russians occupiers are our oppressors. That&rsquo;s what I tell my people. But they just don&rsquo;t get it.&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;That&rsquo;s hardly surprising. Think how much central government money they pour in here...</p> <p>&lsquo;That money doesn&rsquo;t reach us&rsquo;.</p> <p>&lsquo;Your Dagestani government is to blame for that&rsquo;.</p> <p>&lsquo;Your Russian government buys people&rsquo;s loyalty - that&rsquo;s the problem. Dagestanis have got to wake up, we&rsquo;ve got to liberate them&rsquo;. </p> <p>&lsquo;What&rsquo;s stopping you?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Nothing&rsquo;.</p> <p>&lsquo;You&rsquo;re a fanatic, you know&rsquo;.</p> <p>&lsquo;Does it make me a fanatic that I want independence?&rsquo; he smiles into his abundant black beard. &lsquo;How come you were all so crazy about the film Braveheart, where Mel Gibson shouts &ldquo;Freedom!&rdquo; You didn&rsquo;t call him a fanatic. You called him a brave heart&rsquo;.</p> <p>&lsquo;He was fighting for independence. You&rsquo;re fighting for an idea.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;When we read what you write about us in Russia we laugh. Do you think I had something to do with that girl&rsquo;s death, the one they buried yesterday? Well, I didn&rsquo;t. She was a fool, she came to show her husband the new baby. They don&rsquo;t understand that they&rsquo;re being watched. She led them to him. She got killed, but her husband knew how to look after himself.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Why do they go to the forest?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Because they&rsquo;ve decided it&rsquo;s the only way they can put things right. The surest, shortest path to paradise is to become a suicide bomber.</p> <p>&lsquo;Surely some of them must be in it for the money? To put the squeeze on businesses?&rsquo;</p> <p> &lsquo;Shame on you?!&rsquo; he comes back sharply. &lsquo;What makes you think they&rsquo;ve got money?!&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Well..they&rsquo;ve got to buy their weapons somehow...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Weapons cost nothing! They&rsquo;re everywhere! Everywhere! That&rsquo;s no problem! All you need is a few Snickers bars, somewhere to hide and local support. When Braveheart shouts &ldquo;freedom&rdquo; it&rsquo;s beautiful. But when we say &ldquo;freedom&rdquo; they destroy us.&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;Come to think of it, you must have gone to a Soviet school. And a Soviet college too. So what&rsquo;s it all about &ndash; this unbridled hatred of your country? </p> <p>&lsquo;We don&rsquo;t need Russian hand-outs. I don&rsquo;t need your mountains of gold. I just want my own plot of land, my independence. Your cartoon stereotypical images of us are a joke.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;How about just asking your brothers not to kill teachers...?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;He was no teacher. He was a functionary. He made these pronouncements &ndash; and we judged him by his words. The boys killed at Ogni belonged to the group who&rsquo;d gone there to kill him. They were good lads &ndash; they didn&rsquo;t wear masks because they wanted his wife to see that they weren&rsquo;t the boys from the local mosque.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Tell me this &ndash; as a neighbour, how would you rate me? Am I that bad?&rsquo;</p> <p> &lsquo;However much I hate what&rsquo;s bad about you, your actions, it&rsquo;s not the same as hating you. Unless you do something that harms me, I pity you. I&rsquo;d like to save you. If you&rsquo;d only listen to me, submit to Allah, your creator. </p> <p>&lsquo;Well, I...do believe in God...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Satan has got you in his grip. I&rsquo;m sorry for you - you&rsquo;ll go to hell.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Your problem is you&rsquo;re utterly intolerant of other people.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;We want our preachers to have a chance to tell the good news about the one God &ndash; that&rsquo;s what we ask of Putin.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;What if we don&rsquo;t want to listen?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;We&rsquo;ll keep talking, even if you throw stones at us. Even if you stop up your ears we&rsquo;ll keep talking. Others need it, even if you don&rsquo;t. Lots of Russians are coming over to Islam. You do not keep God&rsquo;s laws. Your democracy allows homosexuality. You&rsquo;ve embraced it - we say it&rsquo;s disgusting.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Well, no one&rsquo;s forcing homosexuality on anyone.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;We won&rsquo;t let you have anything to do with it either..What God do you believe in?&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;I thought we shared a God.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;Where did you learn about Him? Tell me. Perhaps I do believe in the same God as you.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It seems to me that...&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;It seems to you?! I can&rsquo;t accept that!</p> <p>&lsquo;How am I going to tell you about my God if you won&rsquo;t let me get a word in edgeways? ...Yes, it seems to me that he loves me and knows exactly who I am.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;What makes you think that? That he loves you?&rsquo; </p> <p> &lsquo;Well..that&rsquo;s how I feel. When I look at the night sky, for instance...And you know, that&rsquo;s really enough for me, to feel that. I don&rsquo;t need doctrine. Faith which is reinforced with doctrine is no longer faith.&rsquo;</p> <p>We are silent for a while. I expect he needs time to digest the blasphemies he&rsquo;s heard. &lsquo;These are fantasies. Yours is not a true faith. You&rsquo;re going to burn in hell. </p> <p>&lsquo;And I expect they&rsquo;ll kill you. &lsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;We understand that. I know I&rsquo;m going to die. But only Allah knows where and when the angel will come for me, the angel who has been told where to find my soul.&rsquo; </p> <p>&lsquo;You should have forgiven him &ndash; the head teacher.&rsquo;</p> <p>&lsquo;We can&rsquo;t know his heart, but we heard his words.&rsquo;</p> <p>So it comes full circle. The chain of events which began when they beat up the worshippers in that village mosque. Which ended in the murder of the head teacher. And led to the special operation in Dagestanskiye Ogni. Beyond the immediate framework of these events, there are the rewards, the decorations. On the day of his visit Nurgaliev asked for a list of those who&rsquo;d taken part in the special operation. So he could reward them. Beyond it too is another scenario: what if one of the guys who was beaten up was so offended that he went to the forest? And if the security forces do kill the <em>imam</em>, it will not be because of his preaching, no, but because he wasn&rsquo;t able to become a computer programmer. </p> <p>In the drama which has been playing itself out for some time in this little republic it no longer matters who is the hero and who &ndash; the villain. What matters is that it&rsquo;s become profitable for one lot of people to kill another. The people of Dagestan will tell you that Russia is the director of this drama. As long as the security services keep fighting the <em>boeviki,</em> as long as the Salafites keep fighting the official priesthood and the women in <em>hijabs</em> keep fighting those without, the country can rest easy &ndash; there&rsquo;s going to be no revolution. But if that day comes, the flag it flies will be the <em>hijab</em>.</p> <p><em>Since Hijab Wars, first published in Russian last summer in Russky Reporter, Akhmedova has stopped writing about Dagestan&rsquo;s insurgency. In December 2011, Khajimurad Kamalov, founder of Makhachkala&rsquo;s foremost opposition paper, Chernovik was murdered. The death of her friend and colleague affected Akhmedova deeply. When more than 20 insurgents were killed in the borderland between Dagestan and Chechnya in the spring, she was asked to write about it. It was a significant development, the first time government forces had killed so many insurgents in one operation. But she refused. With Kamalov&rsquo;s death something had changed for her. She found that she no longer recognised the distinction between the &lsquo;siloviki&rsquo;, fighting for the government and the &lsquo;boeviki&rsquo;, or insurgents. &lsquo;Now I just see them as people of one land, people with more in common than either can imagine, people crushed by the same catastrophe. So for me it no longer matters which side his murderer came from.&rsquo; Since then Akhmedova has written only about the peaceful life for which she longs, that of the shepherds grazing their flocks on the border between Dagestan and Chechnya. For more on the investigation into Kamalov's murder, click <a href="http://www.rightsinrussia.info/archive/blog/crowfoot/russia-since-kamalov">here</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p><strong> About the author: Marina Akhmedova is a novelist and journalist who lives in Moscow. The latest of her 3 novels, Diary of a female suicide-bomber, was published in Moscow in 2011</strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus, by Christoph Zurcher, NYU Press, 2009, 304 pages</p> <p>The Caucasus: An Introduction, by Tom de Waal, Oxford University Press, 2010, 272 pages</p> <p>State Building and Conflict Resolution in the Caucasus (Eurasian Studies Library), Charlotte Mathilde Louise Hille, BRILL, 2010, 344 pages</p> <p><a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=ZJUHC4FyZBMC&amp;pg=PA353&amp;dq=Chechnya+war&amp;hl=pl&amp;ei=KPtfTaDIHtH94AaZtr2-CQ&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=book_result&amp;ct=result&amp;resnum=10&amp;ved=0CF0Q6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&amp;q=Chechnya%20war&amp;f=false">War and Peace in the Caucasus: Russia’s Troubled Frontier</a>, by Vicken Cheterian, Columbia University Press, 2009, 288 pages</p> <p><a href="http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/">Caucasian Knot</a>, web site</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/dagestan-and-the-art-of-government">Dagestan and the art of government</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/wahhabi-village-in-dagestan">‘Wahhabi’ village in Dagestan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/dagestan-curse-of-the-sixth-department">Dagestan: curse of the sixth department</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergei-markedonov/yeltsin%E2%80%99s-complicated-legacy-in-caucasus">Yeltsin’s complicated legacy in the Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/ingushetia-abandoned">Ingushetia abandoned</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/north-caucasus-united-we-stand-divided-we-fall">North Caucasus: united we stand, divided we fall!</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"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Russia Conflict Marina Akhmedova Stories you weren't meant to hear Letters from the Russian provinces Conflict Mon, 16 Jul 2012 17:55:29 +0000 Marina Akhmedova 67041 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/stories-you-weren%E2%80%99t-meant-to-hear-women-tradition-and-powe <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/mon.png" alt="" hspace="5" width="145" />Why are the freedoms of women in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan so constrained? Is Islam to blame? Is it a consequence of war in the region, or of poverty? Or do the reasons lie elsewhere? These questions form the basis of a new series on&nbsp;openDemocracy Russia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Say &lsquo;North Caucasus&rsquo; and people tend to think of terrorism, or Chechnya&rsquo;s bloody, apocalyptic war. Or, more trivially, they recall Hilary Swank&rsquo;s regret at having attended Ramzan Kadyrov&rsquo;s birthday party, styled as a celebration of Chechnya&rsquo;s post-war &lsquo;renaissance&rsquo;.</p> <p>This series looks at the North Caucasus today from a different perspective &ndash; that of women. Its theme is the systemic, engrained, often brutal denial that women and girls are fully-fledged individuals, with equal rights. As you read these stories, it will become clear that it is no coincidence that the region where women&rsquo;s rights are most routinely violated, their freedom most limited, their potential most suppressed and their participation in government almost non-existent, is also Russia&rsquo;s poorest, its most violent and&nbsp; dysfunctional overall.</p><p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/caucases.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">Women in Grozny. Jens Olof Lasthein All Rights Reserved</span></p> <p>When gathering these stories, the question arises: why is the North Caucasus, especially its three easternmost republics of Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan, such a hostile place for women? Why is it that in contemporary Russia, disturbing practices like bride kidnapping, child marriage, honor killings, exist at all? How can they take place with virtually no consequences for perpetrators and no protection for victims?</p> <p>Is it a consequence of those wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, which left tens of thousands dead and caused untold suffering, mostly among civilians? If Chechnya&rsquo;s war really is to blame, why is it that women&rsquo;s lives are so little different in Ingushetia and Dagestan, which, though they suffered their own bouts of violent conflict, did not experience the massive military campaigns that devastated Chechen society?</p> <p>Is Islam the reason? Many of the region&rsquo;s inhabitants are convinced it is, perhaps more so than those of us who observe patriarchy all over the world. To outsiders, it may look as if Chechnya&rsquo;s initially separatist <em>casus belli</em> became conflated across the region with the broader cause of a radical Islam which has no time for the emancipation of women. But fundamentalist Islam gained a foothold quite by itself, far away from the wars and even before they ever broke out. These days, as our series will show, fundamentalist Islam is flourishing in the region, perhaps nowhere more so than in Dagestan. Nor is fundamentalist Islam limited to the militants hiding in the forest. It is becoming the way of life for a growing part of the region&rsquo;s population.</p> <p>The unwritten rules that bind the lives of women in the region are clearly much older than the Islamic revival of the past two decades. It is possibly older even than the very arrival of Islam, which in some parts of the region occurred not all that long ago. Indeed, many local women, especially among the young and educated, feel that Islam, at least in theory, would grant them more rights and freedoms than the rules that their communities actually live by. Most locals will simply say that their local traditions, the &lsquo;mentality&rsquo;, are the main constraining factor on the lives of women. </p> <p>If this is so, how does this sit with the modernising experience, the often revolutionary change for women, brought by seven decades of Soviet rule? One answer is that in this region, Soviet rule was a rather different , and much shorter, experience than in most parts of Russia. Here on the country&rsquo;s mountainous, rural southern border, Soviet education and industrialisation programmes had only just started to penetrate the region by the time World War 2 broke out.</p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/map_5.png%20" alt="" width="460" /></p><p>Then in 1944, the entire Chechen and Ingush peoples (along with several other ethnic groups from the North Caucasus) were deported to Central Asia by Stalin, accused of collaborating with the approaching German armies.&nbsp; Their punitive exile in Central Asia and Siberia was brutal and traumatic. It didn&rsquo;t end until after Stalin&rsquo;s death. For some, exile brought increased integration into the Soviet way of life. But for most, resentment and alienation dominated and never really went away during those last three decades of Soviet rule, after they returned home. </p> <h2><span>Chechnya</span></h2> <p>Even so, in the space of a couple of generations, the lives of women in Chechnya appeared to change radically. The communist party strongly discouraged practices like polygamy, bride kidnapping and honour killings. Violations of the law were investigated and punished. So for a time these practices faded away. Literacy, secondary and higher education were all gained for the first time, in just a few decades. Women were expected to join the workforce.&nbsp; Many worked on collective farms. But girls, the daughters of illiterate village women, also started leaving their homes and villages to work and study in Grozny or beyond their native region. </p> <p>Often this was thanks to pressure by the local communist party on their families, who might otherwise have resisted their daughters living away from the watchful eyes of their male kin. </p> <p>Some Chechens report that even during this late Soviet period there was discrimination against ethnic Chechens who wanted to enter university, especially elite schools outside of Chechnya. The reality was more complex. There were also quotas for minorities like the Chechens, affirmative action programmes which made it easier to get into university and careers in various fields. Going to university at home in Chechnya was much easier than it is today, when it has become a question of money. Thanks to oil, Grozny was an industrialised city with a large refinery complex and jobs in the energy sector to offer. Chechen women built impressive careers further afield too. &nbsp;There were female supersonic pilots, Olympic athletes and opera singers from the North Caucasus, as well women engineers, academics, doctors and government officials.</p> <p><img class="image-right" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Chechny.png%20" border="10" alt="" hspace="10" vspace="3" width="200" align="right" />However, at home women&rsquo;s lives changed little. They were still the &lsquo;eastern women&rsquo; of Soviet imagination. They might work on assembly lines, but also give birth to 12 children. They would not only cook the food for their large households, but grow it on the family plot. They might be sitting their doctorates. But at the same time they would be slaving from morning to night for their in-laws, in the customary Cinderella role of the newest bride in the house. The generation of women who benefited most from those Soviet opportunities and top-down liberalisation are now grandmothers in the &lsquo;60s. They recall that their husbands did not change as much as their womenfolk. Many women suffered emotional and physical violence at home.</p> <p>Just as the first generation or two of women had made these gains, when they were starting to enjoy a modicum of freedom, the Soviet regime ended. After that, women&rsquo;s opportunities and the state&rsquo;s protection of their rights unraveled with astonishing speed. As one former senior official in the separatist Chechen government of Djokhar Dudaev remembers, &ldquo;one day, I came to work at the ministry to learn that all my young unmarried female staff had been fired and the rest of us older women were ordered to wear a <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/tanya-lokshina/chechnya-choked-by-headscarves">headscarf</a>&rdquo;. This was only a couple of years after the end of the Soviet era. &ldquo;Isn&rsquo;t it strange?&rdquo; as the late <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/natalia-estemirova-champion-of-ordinary-chechens">Natasha Estemirova</a>&nbsp;put it in <a href="http://www.novayagazeta.ru/society/33592.html">an article</a> for Novaya Gazeta in 2007. &ldquo;As soon as men in Chechnya start talking about independence, they make women put on headscarves.&rdquo;</p> <p>Once communist party officials were no longer there to pursue parents for taking their girls out of school for an early marriage; once village policemen were prepared to turn a blind eye to an honour killing; once bride kidnapping would no longer land you in prison, these practices started to spread again. Negative attitudes towards women&rsquo;s education, economic independence and freedom had only hibernated for a generation or two. Below the surface they were alive and well. While state institutions were decaying and failing around them, people started falling back into the patterns of the past. Nowhere was this more true than in those communities which became engulfed in violent conflict.</p> <p>Meanwhile, those who had truly internalized those Soviet-era values of modernity, equality and education were increasingly inclined to leave the region for southern Russia, Moscow and abroad. While their attachment to their native region remains strong, it is exclusively sentimental. They know that they will never &ldquo;go back home&rdquo;. There is no place in the North Caucasus for their daughters, who wear jeans, have boyfriends and live independent lives. &nbsp;</p> <p>Demographics are another reason why the Soviet experience has less of a grip in this region. Much has been written about Russia&rsquo;s ageing population and declining birthrates (though the latter are hardly as catastrophic as they are often made out to be, and more like the European average). In this respect, too, the North Caucasus is an outlier, with total fertility rates of 4 children per woman in Ingushetia and 3.4 in Chechnya. As a result, these republics present a completely different demographic picture from the rest of Russia. With a median age of 22 or 23 (compare to Russia&rsquo;s overall 38.8), half of the population are children and young people whose entire lives have been post-Soviet. And how many more would only have been children when the Soviet era ended? To most of the region&rsquo;s residents, the Soviet way of life, with all its support systems are not even a distant memory.</p> <p>Then there was the war in Chechnya. Chechen women agree that the war changed their position radically. They had to work to support their families because it was too dangerous for the men to do so, they will tell you. Rather than just going to the office or factory, as they did in the Soviet period, now they had to create incomes out of thin air, by their own ingenuity. They became solely responsible for their families&rsquo; survival. During the war, women were also charged with chasing government benefits and compensation, as well as pressing for the release from prison of their detained sons and husbands, through protests. The grass-roots civil society that emerged in response to the persistent human rights violations was dominated by loud, strong, courageous women.</p> <p>When the fighting and the vicious mop-up operations were over, when men could show themselves in public again, their first instinct was to go back to &lsquo;normal&rsquo;, to shut up these noisy women and put them back in their place. In this they have had the enthusiastic, if not obsessive, assistance of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, who has made &lsquo;cultural revival&rsquo; &ndash; focusing, as it often does, on the bodies of women - his flagship policy. His rise to power may have resulted from a series of accidents, not least the assassination in 2004 of his father, Akhmed Kadyrov. But today his hold on power is unrivalled across Russia, and his unconstitutional and vigorously enforced policies on women face no challenge. Enforcement of this return to &lsquo;normality&rsquo; has been helped by the mass exodus of Grozny&rsquo;s non-Chechen population &ndash; Russians, Armenians, Jews, Azeris &ndash; triggered by war.</p> <h2>Ingushetia</h2> <p>Chechnya&rsquo;s tiny, rural, ethnically-related neighbour Ingushetia was engulfed by the backwash of <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/Russia/article/war-comes-to-Ingushetia">war</a>. Refugees poured in, at times almost doubling the population. They brought chaos, insurgents and with them the seeds of a local extremist underground. The displaced people&rsquo;s tent cities are gone. But for a while, in the late 2000s, Ingushetia became the most violent region of the North Caucasus.</p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/ingushetia.png" alt="" hspace="10" vspace="3" width="200" align="right" />However, Ingushetia is also a quiet, modest example of turn-around, one that perhaps isn&rsquo;t given enough credit. Under its president Yunus-bek Yevkurov, levels of violence have dropped. Deaths among both the security forces and the militants have fallen faster than anywhere else in the region. Corrupt officials have started losing their jobs and being put on trial. Even so, the radical underground is still there, and holds the lives of women in thrall: one of the bravest women&rsquo;s rights activists in Ingushetia (and an author in our series) reports that she picked a name for her organization that doesn&rsquo;t mention &lsquo;women&rsquo;, fearing that such a plaque on their door would expose her team to threats by the radicals.&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a time, pre-Kadyrov, when the consensus among Chechens and Ingush was that Chechen women had more freedom than Ingush, that Ingush society was the most conservative and patriarchal of the entire North Caucasus. We don&rsquo;t hear that much anymore. So in addition to the &lsquo;mentality, to religion, hardship and war, perhaps politics is as decisive a factor in the lives, freedom and rights of women in this region?</p> <h2>Kabardino-Balkaria</h2> <p>The beautiful republic of Kabardino-Balkaria is thriving by comparison with its dysfunctional neighbours further east. Home to the highest peak of the Caucasus range, Mount Elbrus, and to clusters of spas and resorts, its capital Nalchik boasts mineral springs, historic spa hotels and elegant parks.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it has not entirely escaped the violence and abuse that rumbles through the North Caucasus. There is a persistent drip of extremist violence and ruthless response by the police, though its people refuse to let panic rule their everyday life. Much of the trouble goes back to October 2005, when one of the worst terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus destroyed the tranquility.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/KB.png%20" border="5" alt="" hspace="10" vspace="3" width="200" align="right" />Seemingly out of nowhere, the city&rsquo;s government and security forces were attacked by hundreds of members of a local <em>jamaat</em>, leaving 142 dead. The aftermath of arrests and trials were blighted by problems. These ranged from systemic torture of the detainees, to the impossibility of finding willing local jury members, to defendants in the court room threatening further violence.</p> <p>The trial of 58 defendants has still not concluded.&nbsp;</p> <p>These traumatic events have left the region badly scarred. On the one hand, the fight against violent extremist groups has resorted to increasingly dirty methods. On the other, extremists have started targeting ordinary citizens and even tourists for their supposedly un-Islamic way of life.&nbsp;</p> <p>Kabardino-Balkaria takes its cumbersome name from its two constituent minorities, the Kabardins and the Balkars. The Kabardins are better known to us as the Circassians who populate 19th century Russian literature and&nbsp; captured the Western reading public&rsquo;s romantic imagination.&nbsp;</p> <p>The region feels altogether less &lsquo;eastern&rsquo; than Ingushetia, Chechnya or Dagestan, though these are only a few hours drive away. This is partly because the republic&rsquo;s ethnic diversity goes beyond the two dominant ethnic groups, with almost a third of the population being Russian and a mix of other Caucasians. As many as 40% of marriages here are mixed. The difference also extends to women&rsquo;s dress, traditional village architecture, social mores and the role religion plays in public life.&nbsp;</p> <p>When the locals talk about the republics further east, they tend to say things like &lsquo;three hours on the road, three hundred years back in time&rsquo;. People from Chechnya or Ingushetia see Nalchik as a playground, a place where they can let their hair down, where a young woman can spend the evening in a caf&eacute; shooting pool without anyone raising an eyebrow.&nbsp;</p> <p>The lives of women here are indeed far removed from the harsh social norms and crippling restrictions that prevail in the conservative eastern republics. Women from Kabardino-Balkaria enjoy careers across the board including in male-dominated spheres. They travel the world and enjoy physical sports, like jumping out of planes on their weekends.&nbsp;</p> <p>But just below this relaxed surface stringent gender roles persist, often reinforced by the guilt-trip of ethnic propriety (&lsquo;a good Kabardin girl does this&rsquo;, &lsquo;a proper Balkar woman does that&rsquo;) and characterised by vicious double standards. Women in Kabardino-Balkaria may spend years abroad to acquiring a PhD. But back home, they have to live with their parents until they get married. Bride kidnapping is common, and a victim&rsquo;s modernity and worldliness is no protection. The concept of honour, or premarital virginity, is still paramount, as our first author from the region reveals.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h3>Dagestan</h3> <p>Unlike its ethnically more homogenous neighbours, Dagestan&rsquo;s patchwork of linguistically diverse ethnicities underpins a lively press and culture.&nbsp;This is especially true in its urban centres, the only ones in the region which have the feel of real cities. In Dagestan&rsquo;s bustling if somewhat run-down sea-side capital Makhachkala, young women in skinny jeans and flowing hair share the streets, student caf&eacute;s and lecture halls with their peers in floor-length skirts and elaborately wrapped <em>hijabs</em>. Neither one gives the other a strange look &ndash; a strikingly different picture from the rigid conformism and judgmental attitudes in Chechnya and Ingushetia.&nbsp; For all its urban diversity, however, Dagestan also features the most remote villages of the entire North Caucasus. Precariously perched on the terraced sides of deep valleys, cut off from the rest of the world for months every year, they are home to communities so isolated that they speak their very own languages. The lives of women in these often desperately poor villages follow archaic patterns, constructed around the harshest gender roles. And yet, somehow, every year teenage girls from these far-away places still make it to the cities, go to university &ndash; and find themselves caught between two worlds.&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Dagestan.png%20" border="10" alt="" hspace="10" vspace="3" width="200" align="right" />In Dagestan, too, the fight between the fundamentalist militants and the security forces has built up to staggering levels of daily, <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/caucasian-prisoners-or-how-not-to-deal-with-militancy-in-dagestan">horrifying violence</a> and human rights abuse. The militants do not just target the police. They frequently attack <em>banyas</em> (or Russian saunas, a euphemism applied to brothels) and shops selling alcohol. In summer 2011, they <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/30/terror-attacks-escalate-against-women-in-bikinis-in-russia-s-dagestan.html">planted mines</a> under the women&rsquo;s volleyball field on the beach, and one woman had her leg blown off.</p> <p>Nowhere across the region is the fear of this invisible, unpredictable, &lsquo;they are hiding right among us&rsquo; underground more palpable than in Dagestan. It is felt most by those who still pointedly identify as secular &ndash; a term which few outside Dagestan&rsquo;s cities, in Chechnya or Ingushetia, would choose to describe themselves. As in Ingushetia, women&rsquo;s rights activists in Dagestan consider the fundamentalists the main threat to their work.</p> <p>Why are women&rsquo;s lives the way they are in the North Caucasus? We may not be able to answer this question in this series. But the stories we have to offer by and about women from the region will keep on exploring the issue.&nbsp; While some of our contributors write from the comparative security of exile, most live in the North Caucasus. For these women, the very act of contributing involves extreme risk.</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="/tanya-lokshina/chechnya-choked-by-headscarves">Chechnya: choked by headscarves </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-loginov/karachay-cherkessiya-how-caucasus-is-feeding-itself">Real life: how the Caucasus is feeding itself</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/the-caucasus-a-region-in-pieces">The Caucasus: a region in pieces</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/olliver-bullough/why-are-chechens-so-angry">Why are Chechens so angry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-piontkovsky/north-caucasus-one-war-lost-another-one-begins">North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/black-widows-of-dagestan-media-hype-and-genuine-harm">The Black Widows of Dagestan: Media Hype and Genuine Harm</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"> Equality </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Russia Equality Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia Stories you weren't meant to hear Letters from the Russian provinces Internal Mon, 16 Jul 2012 14:37:54 +0000 Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia 66994 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The death of the Russian village https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/matilda-moreton/death-of-russian-village <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/abandoned.jpg" alt="" width="160" />Traditionally Russia’s agricultural land was subdivided into a patchwork of villages and fields, interspersed by forest and marsh. Now the villages are deserted and crumbling: the state closes them down, often on a whim, and young people leave to find work elsewhere. Matilda Moreton tells the tragic story based on fieldwork in the Russian North. &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">During my five years of travelling in the Russian North (2006-2011), on the trail of its last remaining wooden churches, I heard stories describing the fate of the villages that became as familiar to me as they were tragic. The disappearance of churches throughout Russia is a tragedy of huge proportions in itself, but the surrounding tragedy is even greater: the demise of country villages far and wide has been taking place throughout the whole vastness of the former Soviet Union for decades.&nbsp; Sadly, in recent years the situation has deteriorated still further. My own travels opened my eyes to the problem of dying villages in Russia&rsquo;s northern regions of Vologda, Archangel and Murmansk,&nbsp; and the Republic of Karelia.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/map_4.png%20" alt="" width="256" align="right" /></p> <p class="p1">These are snippets of what I heard from villagers in four villages on the northern shores of Lake Onega in Karelia:</p><ul><li><em><em><strong>&lsquo;There used to be 23 houses here and another 13 across the field, now only two remain, with a few summer visitors. In winter there is no one here at all.&rsquo; </strong>(Natalia Mikhailovna, Ust&rsquo; Yandoma)</em></em></li></ul><p class="p1"><em><strong>&lsquo;There were thriving collective farms here, fields of barley and rye, cattle. There was a school, fishing and forestry collectives&hellip; They started herding people into towns in the 60s. There were still cows here into the 80s. But now everything has gone, even the fish. In the winter there is no one.&rsquo;</strong> (Larissa Leonidovna, Yandomozero)</em></p> <p class="p1"><em><strong>&lsquo;There were four villages here, working together in a thriving collective farm. Every kind of crop was grown: barley; rye; wheat; peas&hellip; and we grew potatoes for the soldiers in Murmansk. There were hundreds of animals: pigs; cows; horses. I left for the army in 1962 and when I returned there were only ten people left. Now it is only the two of us, me and my daughter.&rsquo; </strong>(Nikolai, Vegoruksa)</em></p> <p class="p1"><em><strong>&lsquo;Two years ago, people had 3 cows each. Now there are only nine in the entire village. No one brings hay for the winter any more, and we have no horses to go and fetch it. All the young have gone away, only the very oldest remain.&rsquo; </strong>(Klavdia Mikhailovna, Kosmozero.)</em></p> <h2><strong>D</strong><strong>estruction of churches and villages</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p class="p1">In so many places in the Russian North, village life has all but disappeared. It seems that farming is no longer a sustainable way of life and the young have left to find a living elsewhere. The land, once busy with cows and tractors, is now uncultivated, overgrown, reclaimed by bog and forest. Former &lsquo;millionaires&rsquo; (prize-winning) <a href="http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/collectivisation.htm">collective farms</a> stand empty, their vast granaries and cow sheds rotting away in the same state of neglect as the villages themselves &ndash; now ghostly, almost totally empty &ndash; beautiful houses, schools and exquisite churches all collapsed or collapsing.</p> <p class="image-caption"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/abandoned.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" />An abandoned dwelling. According to a 2010&nbsp;survey, there are a total of 36,700 villages in Russia with fewer than 10 inhabitants.</p><p class="p1">The demise of the villages and that of the churches are interlinked but stem from quite different Soviet government policies. While I was collecting the histories of the churches, I was constantly reminded of the depopulation and disintegration of the villages around them.</p> <p class="p1">The <strong>Church</strong> as an institution was outlawed by the Bolsheviks in one of their first steps to reinvent Russia. The ardent revolutionaries closed and destroyed churches with a vengeance during the 1920s and 1930s. Priests and clergy were shot, crosses thrown from the rooftops, icons and valuables ripped from within and burnt on public bonfires or simply chopped up for reuse as firewood. Persecution continued throughout Soviet times. Many churches were used as farm stores or clubs. They also collapsed through neglect: fire, whether arson, lightning strike or careless cigarette end, often contributed to the disappearance of wooden churches in particular.</p> <p class="p2">While the churches are casualties of the Soviet desire to stamp out religious life, the <strong>villages </strong>themselves, as an economic entity, are the casualties of an attempt by the State to increase agricultural output.</p> <p class="p1">The population of farming men was reduced by a third during the &lsquo;Great Patriotic&rsquo; War [WWII] and further decimated in some areas by famine. During the collectivisation and accompanying &lsquo;dekulakisation&rsquo; [Rn. kulak: rich peasant] programmes of the 1930s, the peasantry was decimated; millions of people were deported and shot.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Profit and loss</strong></h2> <p class="p1">From the 1930s to 1960s the collective farm dominated and shaped Russian villages. In the late fifties and early sixties, under Nikita Khrushchev, the principle of &lsquo;profit&rsquo; was applied to farming in an attempt to cover increased production costs. Villages were assessed in terms of profitability, and then pronounced either <em>perspektivnie </em>(with prospects) or <em>neperspektivnie </em>(without prospects) accordingly. If a village was unlucky enough to be deemed &lsquo;without prospects&rsquo;, the wheels of destruction began to roll.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="image-caption"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/woman.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" />Natalia Mikhailovna talks about the demise of the village of Ust' Yandoma (Zaonezh'e peninsular), Karelia</p><p class="p1">Firstly and most catastrophically, the collective farm would be closed. As a result of this closure, funds for improvements on local roads and to supply electricity and plumbing systems for the village, as well as for schools, shops, medical and cultural services would be diverted to the nominated &lsquo;villages with prospects for the future&rsquo;.</p> <p class="p1">With country roads unmaintained and vital infrastructure (gas, water, electricity) compromised, the village would gradually become less and less viable, the post-office, school and shops would be closed, until finally the electricity would be cut and the residents forced to leave. They would be resettled in so-called &lsquo;agrocentres&rsquo;, often in blocks of flats, in the larger <em>perspektivnie</em> villages or towns, leaving behind their family homes, many of their treasured possessions and their native farmland. It is no wonder they turned to alcohol.</p> <p class="p1">Although the aim of centralising collective farming (turning the so-called <em>kolkhoz</em>es or collective farms<em> </em>into the bigger <em>sovkhoz</em>es or state farms) was to maximise production,<em> </em>the result was in fact its loss &ndash; farming became less efficient and the land located beyond the easy reach of the new <em>sovkhoz</em>es was abandoned. Pockets of farmland between areas of swamp and forest, which had been cultivated and used as pasture for centuries, were now left to grow wild. The new system failed to take into account the patchwork nature of the Russian landscape.</p> <h2><strong>Villages with a future &ndash; or not?</strong>&nbsp;</h2><blockquote><p class="p1">For centuries Northern European Russia was a thriving and prosperous area, exporting furs, fish, dairy products and other local commodities. In 1963 Russia began to import bread, and between 1970-80 its import of grain multiplied 14 times and meat 5 times. While the historic northern pasturelands stayed empty, the import of butter increased no less than 184 times. &nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>The programme of &lsquo;Liquidation of Villages with no Prospects&rsquo; continued through the 1960s and 1970s, affecting hundreds of thousands of villages and its effects are still felt today. The statistics beggar belief. In the <em>Nechernozem&rsquo;ya</em> region of northern European Russia i.e. not the productive <em>Chernozem&rsquo;ya&nbsp;</em> or &lsquo;Black Earth Belt&rsquo; Region of Central and Southern Russia, during the 1960s alone, a total of 5,000 collective farms were closed, with the resulting disappearance of about 235,000 villages.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">In the north-western part of this area, approximately one third of villages have been lost. From 1930 to 2002, the population in the villages of Archangel Region has almost halved (from 24,000 to 13,000). Between 1939 and 1970, in Karelia alone, 1,904 villages were closed &ndash; nearly two thirds of the total. It is estimated that in 20 years over 60 million people have left their condemned villages. According to a survey in 2010, there were a total of 36,700 villages in Russia with fewer than 10 inhabitants.</p> <p class="p1">For centuries Northern European Russia was a thriving and prosperous area, with a crucial network of trading posts along its rivers, and exporting furs, fish, dairy products and other local commodities to other parts of Russia as well as to Europe. In 1963 Russia began to import bread, and between 1970-80 its import of grain multiplied 14 times and meat 5 times. While the historic northern pasturelands stayed empty, the import of butter increased no less than 184 times. &nbsp;</p> <h2>i. Virma</h2> <p class="p1">On my travels I visited Virma, on the White Sea coast of Archangel Region.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">In 1959 Virma&rsquo;s collective farm <em>Truzhenik</em> [Rn. labourer] surpassed its goals by 70% and yet in 1960 Virma was pronounced a &lsquo;village with no future prospects&rsquo; and <em>Truzhenik</em> was closed. Funds dried up and the population gradually shrank to one tenth of its heyday number. The church is locked. The school has been closed since 1972, and now there are no children permanently resident. The village shop, which opens irregularly and only for a few hours a day, often lacks such basic foodstuffs as bread and milk. Bread is brought to the village twice a week but not at all if there is deep snow. Over 90% of the inhabitants are pensioners. The population doubles in summer, mainly with children visiting their grandparents. Summer visitors usually stay from the time of potato planting in the spring, working hard growing vegetables until the potato harvest in September. There is no indoor plumbing or gas. Electricity has only been supplied to Virma since the 1970s. One woman told me that even in August she has to get up early and light the fire with wood to take the chill mist out of the air, and as there is no mains water supply, she has to go 4 km up river every day to collect fresh water, at the first waterfall.</p> <h2><strong>ii. Sholomya</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Two visits to the empty village of Sholomya near Krasnoborsk, in Archangel Region, gave cause for hope. Now living in Krasnoborsk, villagers shared their painful stories of evacuation and years of nostalgia but these were followed by the news of recent regeneration, led by the determined grandson of an original villager, with a team of old veterans. Sholomya was not just one village but a conglomeration of more than 20 hamlets spread along a fertile, sheltered valley, containing two big farms (<em>khutora</em>) and four collectives. It had its own mill, forge, school, shop and post office. As described by one former resident, Vitalii: &lsquo;the people suffered terribly during the dekulakisation of the &rsquo;30s of course - dozens of families were sent to labour camps, but <em>they lived well</em> &ndash; they had over 3,000 cows&rsquo;.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/village.jpg%20" alt="" width="460" /><span>A group of amateur restorers (original villagers) in the abandoned village of Sholomya, near Krasnoborsk, Archangel Region</span></p><p class="p1"><span>&nbsp;</span>Then in the 1970s, Sholomya fell foul of the &lsquo;State Programme for the Liquidation of Villages with no Prospects&rsquo;. First the post office was shut down, then the shop and the school. When the water and electricity were cut off, the entire community of some 1,200 people had no choice but to move into Krasnoborsk. Some people moved their houses into town, taking them apart, transporting them on lorries and then rebuilding them. Now Sholomya is deserted, the houses in ruins, the paths overgrown.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">But Misha and the old villagers are making regular trips back to the village to restore the churches in the valley. Not having received a grant of any sort, they collect materials and funds to carry out the work themselves in their spare time. We joined them one Sunday to see the restoration. Half way up the crumbling bell-tower, one of the amateur restorers,<em> </em>Sergei Vasilievich told the story of the man who agreed to saw the crosses off the church roof in exchange for six packets of cigarettes. A week later he was dead.<em> </em>As a postscript to his account, he added sadly: &lsquo;<em>It is easy to wipe things out</em>&hellip; <em>but not so easy to restore them.&rsquo;&nbsp;</em></p> <h2><strong>A ray of hope?</strong></h2> <p class="p1">Sadly the &lsquo;wiped out&rsquo; Russian villages have not been restored and are still dying out today. Their future looks bleak. In many parts of the far North, villages are still being threatened with closure. In Komi last year 250 villages were pronounced <em>neperspektivnie</em>, along with their populations, totalling about 8,000 people. But it is not only the remote areas of the North that are affected, villages are dying even within a few hundred miles of Moscow. During Putin&rsquo;s time in office, when Moscow has become home to more billionaires than any other city in the world, it is estimated that around 6,000 villages have died. According to official figures, over 3,000 of them became deserted in 2010 alone. In January this year a new law stipulated that a village may be closed only with the agreement of all the villagers.</p> <blockquote><p class="p1">Villages are dying even within a few hundred miles of Moscow. During Putin&rsquo;s time in office,it is estimated that around 6,000 villages have died. According to official figures, over 3,000 of them became deserted in 2010 alone.</p></blockquote><p class="p1">The post-<em>perestroika</em> period of the 1980 and 90s added pressure to life in rural communities, with the collapse of Communism leading to the collapse of many collective farms and a mass exodus of young people to towns. Sadly recent governments have done nothing to alleviate the situation, in fact government input seems to be dwindling, not growing. It is a small consolation perhaps, that new freedoms have encouraged some private initiatives, so that the dedicated old men of Sholomya are able to visit their childhood homes and rebuild their ruined churches without interference from the state. In 2007 the former residents of Sholomya celebrated the 250th anniversary of the village. A grand reunion took place, of original inhabitants of the village from all over Russia, from as far as Siberia, and even America. In this rare instance, a ghost village may be coming back to life.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&amp;q=cache:TjtBC89nUD0J:www.wider.unu.edu/publications/working-papers/previous/en_GB/wp-115/_files/82530840782509680/default/WP115.pdf+&amp;hl=en&amp;gl=uk&amp;pid=bl&amp;srcid=ADGEESiDIclAC4UsZZ2e7EiUZEwyvD-Jra5OveSrgQIOsyoqgNCvvJ8k5PbsfP1wiPqPCBBqEETbWIQ4HnoSelJIillE8rp364PNmMKiDpGRHXPECplhaJqsHGLFe5A-1YNh6sQy-IYV&amp;sig=AHIEtbTLAJP8u-FLXf7X0vdxttsDTIvqGw">Restructuring process of rural Karelia&nbsp;</a>- UN University&nbsp;</p><p><a href="http://kazanherald.com/2012/05/23/decapitated-churches-vanishing-villages/">Decapitated churches, vanishing villages</a>&nbsp;- Kazan Herald</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexander-mozhayev/tragedy-of-russias-abandoned-wooden-churches">The tragedy of Russia&#039;s abandoned wooden churches</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-zubarevich/four-russias-rethinking-post-soviet-map">Four Russias: rethinking the post-Soviet map</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/badly-ground-flour-of-russian-history">Protests and the badly ground flour of Russian history </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-strelnikova/russian-provincial-life-down-on-farm">Russian provincial life: down on the farm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-godlevskaya/life-with-heart-complaint">Life with a Heart Complaint</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/grigorii-golosov/kushchevskaya-crime-and-punishment-in-russian-village">Kushchevskaya: crime and punishment in a Russian village</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"> Culture </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Culture Matilda Moreton Letters from the Russian provinces Politics History Cultural politics Tue, 03 Jul 2012 19:12:19 +0000 Matilda Moreton 66801 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Voices from Abkhazia: Helmut’s Story https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/voices-from-abkhazia-helmut%E2%80%99s-story <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/Helmut_Standfirst(JPG).jpg" alt="Ukraine_Euro" width="160" /></p> <p>Born in Germany during the war, Helmut ended up in a Soviet internment camp. Later he moved to the region of Abkhazia on the Black Sea, where he settled. Now nearly 70, he recounts the fascinating story of his life so far away from his home country to Maxim Edwards</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Helmut Probst stands on his land outside the Abkhaz village of Lykhny with arms flailing in welcome.&nbsp;One of a rare breed, the German-Abkhaz, he has assimilated much of his surroundings- Abkhaz hospitality chief among them: &lsquo;chacha&rsquo; [strong Abkhaz grape-brandy] he says, as a statement rather than a question. He lives in the village with his Russian wife, son Oskar and grandchildren. &lsquo;I speak Abkhaz&rsquo; he points out &lsquo;but what a difficult language- fluency takes me a few glasses of wine!&rsquo; </p> <p>The ever-spreading branches of Helmut&rsquo;s family tree (the many saplings of which are chasing the chickens in the yard as we speak) are a continuation of that rare breed. Helmut is happy to speak the very highest of <em>Hochdeutsch </em>in this improbable setting. Snow-capped mountains crown the horizon and a stream runs through the fields to his garden. &lsquo;What fish!&rsquo; he exclaims, conjuring an invisible trout between his hands. </p> <blockquote> <p><em>'Abkhazia&rsquo;s first Germans arrived towards the end of the 19th century along with Estonians. They were &lsquo;civilised&rsquo; nations seen by the Tsarist authorities as ideal for settling this sub-tropical land. Three German<a href="http://www.radiosoma.com/germans/germans.htm"> settlements</a></em><em> existed not far from the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi: Gnadenburg, Neidorf, and Lindau.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>The vertigo-inducing pinnacles of Caucasian hospitality are in evidence on his table, which groans with home-made wine, meats, cheeses, <em>chacha</em> and the ubiquitous bowl of throat-searing <em>adjika </em>[hot sauce made of red peppers, garlic and herbs]. Abkhaz food. Yet Helmut is, as he freely admits, &lsquo;the village German,&rsquo; whatever that means. &lsquo;On Victory Day, people congratulate me, then joke that they probably shouldn&rsquo;t. I don&rsquo;t take it personally- it&rsquo;s all done in good humour,&rsquo; he adds. <br /><br />Abkhazia&rsquo;s first Germans arrived towards the end of the 19th century along with Estonians. They were &lsquo;civilised&rsquo; nations seen by the Tsarist authorities as ideal for settling this sub-tropical land. Three German<a href="http://www.radiosoma.com/germans/germans.htm"> settlements</a> existed not far from the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi: Gnadenburg, Neidorf, and Lindau.&nbsp; In Sukhumi there is a Protestant church, built in 1913, where Abkhaz-German pastor and part-time teacher of German at Sukhumi&rsquo;s University, Michael Schlegelmilch, holds services twice a week. Abkhazia&rsquo;s census in 2003 showed that the Estonians still constitute 0.2% of the country&rsquo;s population, but the Germans, as throughout the Soviet Union, were deported from Abkhazia in 1942, thrown from their Mountain of Mercy, their <em>Gnadenburg</em>, the majority of them never to return. </p> <h3><strong>The beginning of the story</strong></h3> <p>Abkhazia&rsquo;s Germans were getting used to their new arid homeland in Kazakhstan at the same time as Helmut&rsquo;s story was beginning in south Germany. He was born in 1943, son of Lili and Ludwig, a decorated German officer who had lost his feet whilst serving in Poland in 1940. His father had died of gangrene in 1942 and the economy was in ruins, so the prospects for Helmut, his mother, grandmother and sister were unpromising. </p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/HelmutProbst_colour(jpg).jpg" alt="Helmut" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Helmut Probst, born in Nazi Germany, now lives in Abkhazia. In his lifetime he has witnessed many of the 20th Century&rsquo;s key moments: the defeat of Nazi Germany, Stalin&rsquo;s death, Gagarin&rsquo;s space flight, the collapse of the USSR and the tragic Abkhaz Georgian war in which his son lost his life fighting on the Abkhaz side (photo: Maxim Edwards).</p> <p>They left their village, which was by then in the American Occupation Zone,&nbsp; and, at his grandmother&rsquo;s behest, headed east to visit the uncles who had moved to the Soviet Union during the interwar years. &lsquo;Germans and Russians are brothers,&rsquo; their grandmother assured them, but Helmut dismisses any ideological sympathies. &lsquo;There was work here, and there were Germans. Millions of Germans, all along the Volga.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote> <p><em>'Helmut started work at the age of seven, at the camp&rsquo;s lumber plant. His mother would compare Mari El with Bavaria&rsquo;s forests, to give Helmut an idea of his own homeland, thus forming an attachment to a place he would have few memories of, and would never return to.'</em></p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;My uncle Edmund&rsquo; he begins, counting the relatives down on the fingers of one hand, &lsquo;was one of the cleverest. He taught mathematics at Kharkhov University before the war, and by the age of 21 was commanding an Artillery Division in the Red Army. Stalin sent him to the Gulag. He survived, but barely. Probably only because of his specialist skills.&nbsp; </p> <p>&lsquo;Second Uncle Oskar - at this point the fingers form a fist and thump the table - &lsquo;was a writer. He wrote poems. It was either in Kiev or Moscow, but that swine, that pig Stalin had him shot.</p> <p>&lsquo;Uncle Artur,&rsquo; the fist here raises an index finger to the heavens, &lsquo;was my first link with Abkhazia. When war broke out, he was a teacher in Rostov. He was wily. He knew the NKVD would eventually get him for the crime of having German blood, so he fled to Abkhazia. Sure, there was Soviet power here but people weren&rsquo;t - how can you put it? -&nbsp; as <em>fanatical</em> about it as in Russia.&rsquo;&nbsp; On the journey through war-torn Soviet-occupied Germany towards Poland, the family was arrested and immediately sent to an internment camp in the forests of Mari El [at the time USSR autonomous region, situated on the Volga]. </p> <h3><strong>Life in the camp</strong></h3> <p>Thus began Helmut&rsquo;s post-war childhood, a subject his own grandchildren follow attentively. He gives them memorable lessons in conversational German, though the children remain mute - their grandfather does the talking. &lsquo;We lived in barracks. Latvians, Germans, a few Ukrainians and some Crimean Tatars &ndash; whichever nationality, we were called <em>fascists</em> by the camp guards. </p> <p>&lsquo;The first Russian word I remember was <em>obysk </em>[Rn. inspection], which was the codeword for the camp <em>Kommandant</em>,&rsquo; a term Helmut often uses, &lsquo;scattering our few possessions across the room and taking what he wished.&rsquo; Helmut started work at the age of seven, at the camp&rsquo;s lumber plant. His mother would compare Mari El with Bavaria&rsquo;s forests, to give Helmut an idea of his own homeland, thus forming an attachment to a place he would have few memories of, and would never return to. His descriptions of camp life are vivid and quietly menacing. We are no longer conversing, simply absorbing. &lsquo;Germans are a work-loving people. Always have been and always will. One day, a German can be a wealthy burgher, a <em>gorozhanin</em>, and the next the finest carpenter. Give him&hellip; that,&rsquo; he points at a mound of firewood, &lsquo;and you&rsquo;ll have a table, a sculpture&hellip; carved beautifully, in an instant&rsquo;. </p> <p>Helmut started rudimentary education in the camp&rsquo;s school after Stalin&rsquo;s death in 1953, but the atmosphere in the camp had begun to change. The aptly named camp commander, <em>Volkov</em> [Rn. wolf], had disappeared (Helmut elaborates with a string of multilingual expletives) and a wooden stage had been constructed in the camp&rsquo;s central yard. Apprehension stalked the barracks with military precision: the stage grew bigger every day and the fear of reprisals or collective punishment was overwhelming. One day, an assembly for several of the barracks was called and the lines of the dispossessed standing in the snow heard the announcement &lsquo;Comrade Germans, you are now equal citizens of the Soviet Union. You have the right to live where you please, save for your homeland.&rsquo;</p> <p>'Women cried. Many men stood there bolt upright in silence as tears gradually fell down their cheeks and into the snow.&rsquo; He shifts uncomfortably, and looks down, scratching his shoe on the concrete. &lsquo;We could have moved anywhere, they said. But how could we? There was no money, no future- we lived in Mari El and grew potatoes for two years. There were Mari people in the forests nearby, but none of the prisoners had met any.</p> <blockquote> <p><em>'One day, an assembly for several of the barracks was called and the lines of the dispossessed standing in the snow heard the announcement &lsquo;Comrade Germans, you are now equal citizens of the Soviet Union. You have the right to live where you please, save for your homeland.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>&lsquo;We lived only a matter of kilometres away from the camp but it was like a different world, yet on the whole no less hard&rsquo; he adds, ruefully. The full extent of Helmut&rsquo;s story is difficult to establish - this is memory, not chronology and his trains of thought rarely run out of steam. The narrative flows to and fro, sometimes shaking hands with chronology before curiously inspecting it and parting ways yet again. It is a form of interview for which even a mastery of shorthand may not suffice.</p> <p>&lsquo;My grandmother died during the camp years. Were she still with us I would ask my mother again how we did it, but eventually we managed to find a place on a train heading south to Abkhazia.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>&lsquo;I don&rsquo;t remember how many days we stayed on the train. It seemed like forever, but when the sun came through the carriage doors and it was time to disembark, I simply fell on to the platform and passed out. </p> <p>&lsquo;I have no idea how my mother came to choose Abkhazia. Did she have any contact with my uncle? Who knows? History sometimes doesn&rsquo;t make sense, and of course in this respect I&rsquo;m grateful&rsquo;. </p> <h3><strong>New life in Abkhazia</strong></h3> <p>At this point, Helmut leaves his grandfather&rsquo;s chair, whose cushion has a Helmut-shaped indent, evidence of much tale-telling. When he comes back, he opens his fist to produce a medal. On one side it bears a small swastika and the date 1939. On the reverse is the date 1918.&nbsp; When one holds it to one&rsquo;s ear and shakes it gently, there is a small rattle within. It is an Iron Cross, Second Class. His mother worked in a German military hospital during the war years. She brought from Mari El both the medal and a small photograph album including pictures of herself and her family with wounded German soldiers from the front. Helmut&rsquo;s theory is that she had concealed them somewhere in the forest surrounding the camp and retrieved them upon the family&rsquo;s release. Dangerous relics for enemies of the people. Helmut is quick to add that he does not lose sleep over the story of their journey: the fact of the matter is that they arrived. Perhaps in those years, the medals and album provided a link with an uncertain past for people faced with an even more uncertain and tenuous future. </p> <p><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Lykhny3(jpg).jpg" alt="Lykhny" width="460" /></p> <p><em>Lykhny is an important Abkhaz village in the Gudauta district. The gatherings of all the Abkhaz people in 1931 and 1989 took place in its square (photo: Maxim Edwards).</em></p> <p>Despite the anachronism of the family heirloom, their identity as Germans has risen above a history bloated with militarism. &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t mind being labelled a German,&rsquo; muses Helmut, &lsquo;but I don&rsquo;t want to be dismissed as one.&rsquo; There seems to be little danger of that. He is an &lsquo;Abkhaz patriot&rsquo;: his oldest son of five, also a Helmut (<em>Gelmut</em> in Russian), was lost to the war of 1993. Not far lies the meadow of <a href="http://www.abkhaziagov.org/en/news/detail.php?ID=2499">Lykhnashta</a>, one of the Seven Holy Shrines of the Abkhaz people and traditionally a place where the village elders would resolve political disputes. Helmut&rsquo;s son was, he points out, one of the first of the village boys there as war drew near. </p> <p>As the Iron Curtain fell, he travelled back to Germany for the first time since birth. He found his birth certificate (&lsquo;with a <em>Hitlerite</em> stamp&rsquo;) and, with the help of a Swiss visitor, embarked on the process of obtaining German citizenship. The reasons he gives are many, both emotional and historical. One is particularly practical: brandishing a German passport would give him greater freedom of movement. Yet he is connected to this land, because his mother, uncles, and two sons are buried here.</p> <h3><strong>War</strong></h3> <p>When he returned to Abkhazia, war broke out.&nbsp; &lsquo;I remember one day there was a meeting - a parade - in a regional town. Perhaps it was Gudauta. The commander, <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/vladislav-ardzinba-historian-who-became-the--first-president-of-abkhazia-1948231.html">Ardzinba</a>, was there, talking to the local people. All of a sudden a wounded soldier came into view and started to urinate behind a nearby tree whilst Ardzinba was talking. The boy was quite clearly badly wounded, he was urinating blood and bleeding heavily. Ardzinba was furious and screamed at the soldier to go and sit back in the jeep, as he was in disgrace,&rsquo; the fists clench again.&nbsp;&lsquo;I lost my temper and shouted at Ardzinba that it was <em>he</em> who should be sitting in a jeep in disgrace and that this was no way to talk to a wounded soldier who had returned from the front. I had a son fighting myself and when Ardzinba started to shout, I felt as though that wounded soldier was my own boy.&rsquo;</p> <blockquote> <p><em>'Despite the anachronism of the family heirloom, their identity as Germans has risen above a history bloated with militarism. &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t mind being labelled a German,&rsquo; muses Helmut, &lsquo;but I don&rsquo;t want to be dismissed as one.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>I enquire about the Georgians, and his view of what happened during the war. It is the question all Western visitors ask, but I feel compelled to ask it too.</p> <p>&lsquo;Oh, they were here, but I didn&rsquo;t see them.&rsquo;</p> <p>It is not entirely clear whether Helmut is referring to Georgian troops or the local Georgian civilians (the Gudauta Region, including Lykhny, was some 13% Georgian in 1989). Further discussion is dismissed with a wave of the hand.</p> <p>Personal stories in Abkhazia usually begin in 1992. Yet, as night draws in over the Black Sea, Helmut&rsquo;s story nears its end: the Soviet Union unravels and the war is a story for another evening, a story his eldest son&rsquo;s absence tells all too well. </p> <p>&lsquo;The Abkhaz had nothing. Those boys would fight against tanks with pistols and <em>limonkas</em>&rsquo; [Rn. little lemon &ndash; an F1 hand-grenade]. Helmut thumps the table and the home-made wine rattles dangerously. &lsquo;When the war began in earnest, my son came with the Chechens, with Dudayev&rsquo;s men, across the mountains. The mountains are like the sea - if you don&rsquo;t have a good navigator, you&rsquo;re done for. He steered them on course and got them here. The German.&rsquo; </p> <p>We pause and reflect, before slowly heading out into the Caucasian night.</p> <p>&lsquo;In retrospect,&rsquo; adds Helmut as we part, &lsquo;we should probably have headed for America.&rsquo;</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/oliver-bullough/arda%E2%80%99s-flags-postcard-from-abkhazia">Arda’s flags: a postcard from Abkhazia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_archive_4018.jsp">Abkhazia&#039;s archive: fire of war, ashes of history</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/magdalena-frichova-grono/georgians-from-abkhazia-beyond-limbo">Georgians from Abkhazia: beyond limbo</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"> Abkhazia </div> <div class="field-item even"> 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> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Abkhazia Civil society russia & eurasia russia Maxim Edwards Letters from the Russian provinces History Caucasus Mon, 18 Jun 2012 14:12:00 +0000 Maxim Edwards 66524 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Dispatch from Perm: hands off our healthcare! https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/roman-yushkov-and-vassily-moseyev/dispatch-from-perm-hands-off-our-healthcare <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P><IMG alt="" align=right src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Kojki.jpg" width=160 />Reforms to public health systems are always dictated by the need to cut costs. Russia is no exception, but the results are proving catastrophic. Access to state treatment is ever more limited and often unaffordable private health services are the only way of getting better or staying alive. Roman Yushkov and Vasily Moseyev consider the situation in Perm region and wonder if this is not part of a cunning freemarket plot.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Lina had the misfortune to fall ill at the height of <a href="http://www.kommersant.com/tree.asp?rubric=5&amp;node=406&amp;doc_id=-62">Perm&rsquo;s</a> health reforms. She felt unwell on Saturday. The next day she had sharp pains in her stomach, so her sister, Sofia, called an ambulance, and she was taken to hospital. Doctors examined her and felt her stomach. She complained constantly of pain and begged them not to touch. They could not find anything and told her there was 'no need for hospitalisation&rsquo;. Sofia took her sister home. Lina could no longer get up. On Monday, the doctor came to see her. She examined her, but did not take any blood tests.&nbsp; She said, &lsquo;You&rsquo;ll have to look after her yourself: we don&rsquo;t accept chronic cases at the hospital&rsquo;. She wrote a prescription for pain-killers and various injections. By Friday, Lina was in a semi-conscious state, not eating, only constantly asking for a drink. Sofia called an ambulance. It turned out that Lina had appendicitis. It was too late: her appendix had ruptured. The operation did no good, and Lina died.</p> <h3>Medical demand must be limited </h3> <p>There are many stories like this, some even more frightening, some less so. What is happening to Russia&rsquo;s health system and to health care in Perm in particular? The best answer we could find was in an article by the governor of Perm region, <a href="http://russiaprofile.org/bg_people/resources_whoiswho_alphabet_c_chirkunov.html">Oleg Chirkunov</a>, entitled: &lsquo;Health care: a competitive model&rsquo;. The article was published at the beginning of the reforms, in the summer of 2008, in the respectable Moscow-based newspaper &lsquo;Vedomosti&rsquo;. The logic went as follows. The amount of money allocated to medicine from the country&rsquo;s budget is constant, that is, it hardly changes. The variables are therefore &lsquo;the volume and quality of services&rsquo;.&nbsp; </p> <p>Logically, the next step should be to ask whether the country&rsquo;s health budget should not be increased. For years, Russia has allocated 3.2-3.5% of GDP to health care. In the G7 countries that figure is 7.1-7.9% and these countries have much bigger budgets than Russia.&nbsp; What is more, in terms of expenditure on healthcare, Russia has been significantly overtaken by Moldova, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Estonia.&nbsp; Even Belarus, which our government talks about with condescension, spends 4.2% of its GDP on healthcare.&nbsp;</p> <p class="image-left"><img alt="" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Putin_Chirkunov.jpg" width="275" /><span class="image-caption">Oleg Chirkunov, governor of Perm region, meets with <br />Vladimir Putin. Some believe he prioritises his reputation<br />in the Kremlin over the people he governs. Photo: <br />www.kremlin.ru</span></p> <p>The governor would not think to raise the problem of the sector&rsquo;s finances at government level, however. He has said several times that &lsquo;Perm region must become a test case&rsquo;. Here is one of the Chirkunov&rsquo;s key policy statements from the article: &lsquo;We must adopt the West&rsquo;s competitive model, which ensures the efficient use of budget resources, and retain our own system&rsquo;s way of limiting demand and expenditure.&rsquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>The governor of Perm is a Kremlin favourite and defender of modern Russia&rsquo;s free economic reforms. Times are starting to get tough for agriculture, education, the arts - and the health sector, but the governor can afford to let this happen because he is outside the democratic process. Essentially, all he needs to worry about is his image in Moscow, since the position of governor is no longer an elected post in Russia, and governors are appointed by the president. Nothing can stop this brave experimenter. He imposes his reforms from &lsquo;on high&rsquo;, without regard for the results or public opinion. The new freemarket framework is more important than human health and human lives. In this he is very like the Bolsheviks, who also sincerely wanted to build a brighter future by issuing directives. </p> <blockquote> <p>'For years, Russia has allocated 3.2-3.5% of GDP to health care. In the G7 countries that figure is 7.1-7.9% and these countries have much bigger budgets than Russia.'</p></blockquote> <p>Of course society cannot stand still. The authors of this article, however, argue that the basis for change should be the interests of the local population and the country as a whole, not the desire to please someone in the Kremlin, or senior bureaucrats on the so-called &lsquo;Reforms Committee&rsquo;. Russians shudder when they hear the word &lsquo;reform&rsquo;: they have had twenty years of chaos and disruption caused by badly thought out policies.</p> <h3>Sign up, don&rsquo;t fall ill, go quietly</h3> <p>So just what is the &lsquo;competitive model&rsquo; for our health care? It is a model created with one clear aim in mind: to limit access. It stems from the governor&rsquo;s belief that since there is a shortage of funds, the market system should include a mechanism for limiting &lsquo;unwarranted demand for services&rsquo;. First things first, however. </p> <p>Key to Perm&rsquo;s healthcare model is the system of fundholding. This is how a representative of the Perm Regional Foundation for Compulsory Medical Insurance, Irina Kosyakova, explained it to us: &lsquo;In our region the polyclinics have held the purse strings in our region since 2008 &ndash; they are the fundholders. The financial resources they receive are allocated according to the number of people registered for compulsory medical insurance. Polyclinics are in competition: the greater their number of registered patients, the higher the level of funding they receive. The polyclinics pay for patients to be treated in hospital and by external specialist consultants, who for one reason or another do not see patients at a given medical establishment. The system of fundholding is a way of making money. Medical establishments analyse their income and expenditure: they are learning to manage their affairs in the new economic conditions, without devaluing the terms &ldquo;doctor&rdquo; and &ldquo;medical assistance&rdquo;.&rsquo;</p> <blockquote> <p>'No patients &ndash; no funds. So we have a situation where a polyclinic&rsquo;s finances depend on a silly list of names, rather than on the work it does.' </p> <p><strong>Head doctor in Perm</strong></p></blockquote> <p>For another point of view, we decided to ask the opinion of someone who lives and breathes the system - the head doctor in one of Perm&rsquo;s polyclinics. We will not risk naming him &ndash; he could quite easily lose his job for saying too much. &lsquo;To start with, we had to organise the whole of the local population to sign up to each polyclinic: this was compulsory and the timeframe was very short. The more people you sign up, we were told, the better off you will be. No patients &ndash; no funds. So we have a situation where a polyclinic&rsquo;s finances depend on a silly list of names, rather than on the work it does. </p> <div class="description"><img alt="" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/800px-Rechnoy_Perm_0.jpg" width="250" /><img alt="" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/tram.jpg" width="250" /></div> <p><span class="image-caption">Perm hosts one of the best modern art galleries in Russia (photo: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Usama">Usama</a>) and trams in the city boast wi-fi (photo: www.duma.perm.ru). However, as can be seen from its healthcare system, the desire of local authorities to be at the forefront of reforms and modernisation does not always bring good results.</span></p> <p>In general, the system of signing patients up works like this: if there are lots of them it&rsquo;s good, but it&rsquo;s even better if they don&rsquo;t come to the polyclinic, because that&rsquo;s more cost effective! Of course, it&rsquo;s even less cost-effective if the clinic has to send them to hospital. But people continue to be ill despite the wishes of officials and the state of our health care remains as it was, in dire financial straits. Peeling walls, ripped sheets, the cheapest medicines, and food which would make a healthy person ill...The health system in our region would prefer that an ill person did not bother anyone and just quietly died.&rsquo;&nbsp; </p> <h3>Look after the finances!</h3> <p>Let us take a closer look at what is happening. The polyclinics now manage their finances: they pay the specialists, the laboratories, patients&rsquo; hospital stays and operations. After the cost of treatment has been covered, they can spend any remaining money on new equipment, material incentives for doctors, and other needs. They are extremely interested in &lsquo;signing up&rsquo; as many patients as possible; they are not in the least bit interested in treating them. Patients are not referred for hospital beds until a doctor sees that there is real threat to their lives. If he wants to see it, that is: he will get a significant top-up to his salary if he economises. Usually a doctor&rsquo;s greatest fear is of making a wrong decision and causing a patient to deteriorate, or even die (this has to be proved!). Now, he fears displeasing the management by hospitalising a patient unnecessarily. As they proudly told us at the Foundation for Compulsory Medical Insurance, some doctors are getting a handsome 70,000 roubles a month [&pound;1500] each under the new system! If only the next Sofia did not have to cry over a sister who has died because the doctor refused to send her to hospital.&nbsp; </p> <p>General practitioners have a special role to play in this system. Without a referral from them, a patient cannot see a specialist, go to hospital, or have tests done. It is primarily these doctors who feature in all the reform literature. They receive a relatively high salary for the locality: 15-16,000 roubles per month [&pound;320-&pound;330]. They are the key players in the fundholding system, acting as the main &lsquo;filters&rsquo; to limit the medical services provided to the population. The head doctors in the polyclinics ask them to economise in relation to each local area. As a result, one of the authors of this article was recently only able to see a specialist a month after he had urgent need to. But other doctors are unlikely to envy GPs. It is not easy to have to listen constantly to patients and recognise obvious problems, knowing how long and hard their path to real help will be...</p> <blockquote> <p>'Usually a doctor&rsquo;s greatest fear is of making a wrong decision and causing a patient to deteriorate, or even die (this has to be proved!). Now, he fears displeasing the management by hospitalising a patient unnecessarily.' </p></blockquote> <p>In these circumstances, people with compulsory medical insurance are forced to go to private polyclinics. Paying with their hard-earned money, and often a lot of it. Life is more precious than savings. Many of the patients we questioned about the quality of their medical care told us that it was only thanks to private treatment that they were still alive. One had had an inner ear infection, another a kidney infection. They had shown all the signs of needing an urgent diagnosis and, most likely, hospital treatment If a patient is relying simply on help from the local doctor, then he will either become an invalid or will simply not have much time left in this world. </p> <h3>Where did this come from?</h3> <p>The reformers of our health system assure us that they borrowed the &lsquo;particular model&rsquo; for fundholding from the United Kingdom. It is true that in 1997, England introduced a system of GP fundholding, that is, of funding primary health care groups according to local population figures. These groups also paid for patients to be treated in hospitals or by specialists. But in Britain it is categorically forbidden to pay staff with monies resulting from economies, so the two systems are entirely different. Medical staff there have no financial incentive to limit patient access to specialists or hospitals. Each of Her Majesty&rsquo;s subjects has access to any doctor within 48 hours. As far as we know, no one is planning to destroy the system of state healthcare which, although complicated, is one of the best in the world.&nbsp; </p> <p>In Russia, fundholding began in the 1980s during perestroika. It was introduced over a period of several years in the Leningrad, Kemerovo and Samara regions. Leningrad was the first to reject it, because of a sudden unexplained increase in the death rate. Kemerovo followed suit&nbsp; for the same reason. Only the Samara region continued with the system until 2005, when it was changed. Nevertheless, in 2006 it occurred to one of the reformers in Moscow to forcibly revive the system of fundholding, in spite of the results of the previous experiments. The decision was taken to change the financial and organisational structures in 19 of the country&rsquo;s regions. At the forefront was Perm region, one of the few in Russia to become a huge testing ground for health care experiments. </p> <h3>Closing down facilities</h3> <p class="image-right"><img alt="" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Kojki.jpg" width="270" /><span class="image-caption">Reduction of health care infrastructure is happening<br />all over Russia with patients often lying on beds waiting&nbsp; <br /></span><span class="image-caption"></span><span class="image-caption">for treatment in corridors. Photo: krasnoturinsk.info</span></p> <p>Limiting the population&rsquo;s access to specialists, complicated diagnostic procedures and hospital treatment is only part of today&rsquo;s health care experiment in Russia. Parallel with this, the physical infrastructure of health care at both the state and the municipal level is being destroyed. Between 2008 and 2009, the period of greatest activity in relation to health reforms, 20 hospitals in Perm region were closed, and the process is ongoing. The number of hospital beds has been reduced by 4,122. Over the same period, the number of polyclinics has been reduced by 34; 42 village first aid and obstetric stations in the region, and 200 beds for pregnant women and women in labour, have been closed down. </p> <p>To be fair, today&rsquo;s reforms continue a process started all over Russia even earlier &ndash; initially without any theoretical basis. Over the last 15 years, the number of polyclinics, hospitals, village first aid and obstetric stations in Perm region has halved, but when the new reforms were announced, the destruction of the health care infrastructure started to snowball.&nbsp; </p> <blockquote> <p>'Over the last 15 years, the number of polyclinics, hospitals, village first aid and obstetric stations in Perm region has halved, but when the new reforms were announced, the destruction of the health care infrastructure started to snowball.' </p></blockquote> <p>Apart from anything else, we are facing a serious staffing crisis. Our doctors are getting old, and in five years there will be no one to treat people. Medical graduates disappear to private polyclinics or leave medicine altogether, for business, for example. The average medical professional &ndash; nurses and health assistants &ndash; earn about 4-5,000 roubles per month. Try living on that! Specialist doctors, whose salaries are miserable compared with those of local doctors, work in several places at once. Patients have great difficulty in seeing them. </p> <h3>Orders to eliminate?</h3> <p>Those who are experimenting with the population&rsquo;s health wanted to find a way of using budgetary funds more efficiently. The result is a market system dreamed up far away from the realities of local Russian life, which is proving detrimental to the health of the population.&nbsp; It is telling that, as we know from the gossip columns, the architects of Russia&rsquo;s reforms, health and others, go abroad for medical treatment. That is where their wives and lovers give birth.&nbsp; </p> <p>More than 750,000 pensioners live in Perm region. The vast majority of them are poor.&nbsp; Almost the same number of non-pensioners in the region live below the &lsquo;poverty line&rsquo;. This means that 1.5 million people, the overwhelming majority, cannot afford to pay for treatment. With the vast reduction in the number of medical establishments, this is becoming a large-scale tragedy. And it is happening before our very eyes.&nbsp; </p> <p>The Ministry of Health and Social Development commission has published figures showing that:</p> <ul><li>the number of ambulance call-outs in the Perm region has increased dramatically &ndash; by about 10,000 a year;</li> <li>the number of patients who have died on their way to hospital has risen just as sharply - by hundreds of cases;</li> <li>62.6% of ambulance crews are staffed with medical personnel;&nbsp; </li> <li>in the Perm region, which is at the forefront of Russia&rsquo;s health reforms, the mortality rate for those of working age is 17% higher than on average throughout Russia;</li> <li>the number of those who leave work because they are disabled is 14% higher than the national average.&nbsp; </li></ul><p>In our view, this is all the result of bureaucrats trying to transfer to healthcare to a &lsquo;market-based system&rsquo;. But could it also be an experiment by freemarket economists to destroy a redundant and unproductive section of Russia&rsquo;s population? Terrible as it may seem, many in Perm are beginning to think that it might be. </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/roman-yushkov/perm-city-smashed-by-waves-of-globalisation">Perm: a city smashed by the waves of globalisation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/roman-yushkov-vassily-moseyev/flowers-on-dung-heap-markets-politicians-and-demise-of-russi">Flowers on a dung heap: markets, politicians and the demise of Russian rural life</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/susanne-sternthal/let-history-be-judged-lesson-of-perm-36">Let history be judged: the lesson of Perm-36</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/roman-yushkov/in-backyard-of-russia%E2%80%99s-oil-paradise">In the backyard of Russia’s oil paradise</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/roman-yushkov/at-war-with-little-red-men-contrarian-view">At war with the Little Red Men: a contrarian view</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yelena-fedotova/in-praise-of-little-red-men-cultural-revolution-in-perm">In praise of the Little Red Men: cultural revolution in Perm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/roman-yushkov/in-land-of-forests-dispatch-from-perm">In the land of the forests: dispatch from Perm</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"> Perm </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Perm Russia Roman Yushkov and Vassily Moseyev Letters from the Russian provinces Internal Tue, 24 Apr 2012 13:09:25 +0000 Roman Yushkov and Vassily Moseyev 65493 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tatarstan’s new activists https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/tatarstan%E2%80%99s-new-activists <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Kazan-4FebProtest-1.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Like many other Russian cities, Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, has seen public protests since December’s rigged parliamentary elections. A particularly striking feature is the youth of many of the protesters and their range of concerns. What they most seem to fear, however, is a government clampdown on the internet, says Oleg Pavlov.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>For most of the young people at the &lsquo;Fair Elections&rsquo; campaign rally, this was their first protest. With their drums beating and 18th-century three-cornered hats on their heads, they were unmissable. In the space of an hour Kazan&rsquo;s normal, boring city centre was transformed by this sudden burst of activity. At least, it looked sudden from the outside. New, informal groupings have been springing up and discontent with the status quo has moved from the internet out on to the streets. </p><p>The most prominent new group is the &lsquo;Civil Union&rsquo;. Boris Begayev, one of its leaders, put down his drum to talk about how people in Kazan had woken up. In the run up to the December parliamentary elections they wondered whether the guys at the top had noticed the public mood had changed. Or were they were deaf to the rumblings of discontent?</p> <p class="image-caption"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Kazan-4FebProtest-1.jpg" alt="" width="460" />Protesters in Kazan appear to be motivated by different factors &ndash; a dislike of being treated like fools by the authorities, a fear that Russia's internet freedoms will be be curtailed, and opportunistic nationalism. (Photo: Ilya Vyshnemirsky / vyshnemirsky.livejournal.com)</p> <p>On 4 December it turned out that the authorities simply couldn&rsquo;t care less. That was when people began gathering on Ploshchad Svobody [Freedom Square], said Boris. &lsquo;When you saw what was going on at polling stations, the extent of the rigging and the lack of response from the courts and the Central Election Committee, it was obvious there was nothing you could do to influence or challenge the results.&rsquo;&nbsp; </p><h3>Who are the protesters? </h3> <blockquote>'Aleksey Toporov, a Civil Union activist, is a journalist by trade, but his involvement in civil action has cost him dear: no one will employ him any more.</blockquote> <p>Boris is a typical member of the middle class. He is 36 and he had a promising future as a physicist, but poverty forced him into the private sector. He is new to politics, but was always active in local life: he ran tourist festivals and tried to campaign on local ecological issues, organising regular forays by volunteers to clean up the woods around Kazan.&nbsp; It was then, he says, that he first encountered the indifference, and on occasion active hostility, of city officials, who would make all the right noises but totally fail to support any grassroots initiatives. </p><p>Another &lsquo;Civil Union&rsquo; activist, Aleksey Toporov, is a journalist, but his involvement in civil action has cost him dear: no one will employ him any more. In Tatarstan all the media are under government control in one way or another, so he has little hope of finding work. Aleksey is outraged by the cynicism of the country&rsquo;s ruling elite, which decided the election results in advance and didn&rsquo;t even pretend to be interested in the views of the electorate. &lsquo;The outcome was clear from the start, and no one bothered to create even a semblance of an election process. It was so totally cynical and obvious that they saw the voters as some kind of rabble which would do as it was told.&rsquo;</p><p>Office workers, computer programmers, housewives even, had been quite happy with their lives and had never even thought of joining a protest movement. It all happened overnight, the night of 4-5 December, thanks, as people joke, to the &lsquo;sorcery&rsquo; of Vladimir Churov, Head of the Central Election Commission. Leysan Izmagilova didn&rsquo;t hesitate for a moment about going out to join in the protest. &lsquo;I was shocked that the fraud was so blatant&rsquo;, she says. &lsquo;I decided that it couldn&rsquo;t go unpunished and that something had to be done. So I went to the rally.&rsquo; Leysan is now one of the leaders of Kazan&rsquo;s protest movement, although a few months ago she couldn&rsquo;t even have imagined herself taking on such a role. She is the managing director of a fairly successful advertising company, likes travelling, outdoor activities and sport. For her, what people in Russia call &lsquo;stability&rsquo; looks more like stagnation.</p><h3>Government failures</h3><p>Many believe that the Russian government&rsquo;s big mistake was to take its fellow citizens for ignorant fools, and imagine that they would put up with anything and understand nothing.</p> <p>The main reason why people took to the streets, rather than attempting to put pressure on the government in some other way, was that there were no other realistic and legal means of influencing the outcome. As Boris Begayev says, &lsquo;influencing or challenging the results is not possible, because the Kremlin is just not prepared to listen.&nbsp; On the contrary, it makes it quite clear that any protest or attempt to take legal action will be futile. The whole situation was so outrageous that people felt they had no alternative but to protest&rsquo;. At the height of the protests, Boris&rsquo;s wife gave birth to a daughter. She grumbles now and then, he says, but understands why he has to be involved. </p><p>Many believe that the Russian government&rsquo;s big mistake was to take its fellow citizens for ignorant fools, imagining they would put up with anything and understand nothing. And calling them names like &lsquo;Bandar-log&rsquo; [foolish monkeys in Kipling&rsquo;s Jungle Book], as Vladimir Putin referred to the participants in Moscow rallies, or &lsquo;hamsters&rsquo;, as pro-Kremlin bloggers call Aleksey Navalny&rsquo;s online followers, has only added flames to the fire and set off a new wave of resentment. </p><p>The government&rsquo;s litanies about living standards improving reveal both its complete detachment from reality (and therefore the need to change it) or a total cynicism that allows it to lie shamelessly to its people. It should be thrown out. As journalist and civil activist Aleksey Toporov says, &lsquo;things are getting worse, but TV and the official press tell us that life is better than ever before. People see the contradiction, see the hopelessness of their situation, and sooner or later they come out on the streets. It&rsquo;s a natural process. The government is just covering its own back, it&rsquo;s not even thinking about ordinary people.&rsquo; </p><h3>'White' ideology</h3><p>In today&rsquo;s circumstances, says Dmitry, revolutionary activity is perfectly compatible with 'White' ideology. &lsquo;Look at our government: it&rsquo;s the same as it was 30 years ago &ndash; absolutely Soviet. The people in charge are different, but the form is the same.&rsquo;&nbsp; </p> <blockquote>'The young men of the "White Movement" think of their group as being primarily about education and history, but they have also taken part in all the recent protest actions, resisting the "Red" enemy of Soviet-style authoritarianism.'</blockquote> <p>The &lsquo;Civil Union&rsquo; is not the only group to have emerged in Kazan after the December protests. Various youth groupings have begun to appear, some of them from apparently unexpected quarters. I met Dmitry and Sergey, the founders of an organisation they call the &lsquo;White Movement&rsquo;, in a caf&eacute;. Over a cup of coffee the two young men, neither of them much over twenty, told me how the idea behind their movement seemed right for now. </p><p>Dmitry recently graduated from university with a degree in Administration and Economics, and is now trying to set up his own business. He is married, with a daughter of three months, and history has been his big passion since childhood. The organisation, he tells me, is still small but membership is growing steadily. His friend and colleague Sergey is still a student, and for him it all started with a keen interest in the history of the Civil War of 1917-1922, a period of revolution and upheaval in Russia when the country was split into Whites and Reds, a situation which he feels chimes with our own times. Dmitry adds that the White movement was not just generals like Denikin, Wrangel and Kolpak, but a distinctive section of Russian culture that was later to be found in concentrated form in emigration, and whose ideology and ethos he finds fascinating. The young men think of their own group as being primarily about education and history, but this doesn&rsquo;t stop them displaying some civic consciousness, and they have taken part in all the recent protest actions. </p><p>In today&rsquo;s circumstances, says Dmitry, revolutionary activity is perfectly compatible with White ideology. &lsquo;Look at our government: it&rsquo;s the same as it was 30 years ago &ndash; absolutely Soviet. The people in charge are different, but the form is the same.&rsquo;&nbsp; </p><h3>The end of ethnic harmony?</h3> <p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/zarodnoyyazyk-ruskline-ru.jpg" alt="kazan-nationalists" width="264" /><span class="image-caption">Ethnic conflict in post-Soviet Tatarstan has been rare<br />to date, but with few ethnic Russians able to gain jobs<br />in public life, it is not surprising that tensions are <br />beginning to rise. (Photo: rusline.net)<br /></span></p> <p>At all the Kazan rallies I was struck by the number of Russian nationalist flags -&nbsp; unexpected in Tatarstan, which has always prided itself on its multiracial harmony. I was even more struck by the fact that the people holding the nationalist flags and slogans were very young. They told me they don&rsquo;t feel at home here, that all the jobs they might want to do are closed to them. A young man with a nationalist flag, who said his name was Dmitry, was unwilling to talk about himself, but said that young people were under constant pressure not to get involved. &lsquo;Students at all the universities were warned not to take part in any protests, and were threatened with reprisals if they did. But if the government is openly breaking the law, ignoring the constitution and suppressing freedom of speech, then we need to fight for our rights.&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><p>The emergence of Russian nationalism in Tatarstan&rsquo;s public affairs is hardly surprising: although there are roughly as many Russians as Tatars living in the republic, all the key posts are held by ethnic Tatars, as are 80% of seats in the local parliament. The older generation may be prepared to tolerate this situation, remembering the discrimination against Tatars in Soviet times, but younger people have no such memories and feel a keen sense of injustice. Unless the republic&rsquo;s leaders tackle this problem, Tatarstan will soon be in danger of losing its status as a model of multi-ethnic coexistence, which will only further fan the flames of protest. For the moment, however, nationalists, of both the Russian and Tatar persuasion, are in a minority, and their speeches at rallies are met with jeers and chants of &lsquo;Shame!&rsquo;, which is probably why most of them hide their faces behind masks and scarves.&nbsp; </p><h3>Schoolchildren</h3><p>Interestingly, now it is not just university students who are out on the streets, but older schoolchildren as well. One of these, a boy called Bulat, told me he is regularly harassed at school for expressing his views. His teachers often take him aside for &lsquo;persuasive&rsquo; chats. This kind of harassment is very typical of Russian comprehensive schools: he is ignored in class, so he can&rsquo;t notch up marks for correct answers, or his work is marked down, or teachers are on his back for the slightest thing. </p><p>But Bulat says that nothing will stop him and that he has decided what to do with his life: what he means to fight for and with whom. His main interests are television and cinema, and after school he would like to study to become a film director. Now of course he is no longer sure of being able to do this in Russia, and is looking at the possibility of studying abroad.&nbsp; </p><h3>Defenders of the internet</h3><blockquote>'I asked the young people protesting on Ploshchad Svobody why they disliked the present government. To my surprise, many answered: "because they are going to close down the internet".&rsquo;</blockquote><p>Analysts of Russia&rsquo;s protest movement have been surprised by the large numbers of young people involved. People have started talking about a generation that has grown up with no memory of the terrors of the Soviet totalitarian system. They don&rsquo;t want &lsquo;freedom&rsquo; to be just a word you hear or read about: they want to live it.</p><p>This is true, but the government has made strategic mistakes too. At the rally on 10 December, the first time so many youngsters were out on Ploshchad Svobody, I asked them why they disliked the present government.&nbsp; To my surprise, many answered &lsquo;because they are going to close down the internet.&rsquo;&nbsp; Indeed, two days before the protest a particularly &lsquo;on the ball&rsquo; general from the Interior Ministry had suggested a ban on the use of made-up usernames on the internet. Before that there was an attempt to outlaw Skype. </p><p>Young people were not interested in listening to the details or the police chief&rsquo;s &lsquo;explanation&rsquo;;&nbsp; they got the message &ndash; their virtual living space was in danger and that drove many of them to join the protests. Once a young lad is out on the streets, and feels part of the crowd, there&rsquo;s no going back. That&rsquo;s what being young is all about. </p><p>Restricting the freedom of the internet is indeed the subject of serious discussion in government circles, since it is both the primary means of dissemination of alternative information and an invaluable organisational tool for the protest movement. If this were to happen, then millions of students and schoolchildren might exchange the internet for the streets and the course of Russian history might take a very different turn.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oleg-pavlov/tatarstan-religious-coexistence-too-important-to-fail">Tatarstan: religious coexistence too important to fail</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"> Kazan </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> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Kazan Russia Civil society Conflict Oleg Pavlov Letters from the Russian provinces Mon, 23 Apr 2012 16:49:21 +0000 Oleg Pavlov 65448 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