In the queue outside the centre, there is little sympathy for Greenpeace among relatives of other detainees, as they wait to deliver packages. “We have a saying in Russia: you shouldn’t go into someone else’s house and try to live by your own rules,” said one middle-aged woman who had bought a parcel of food for her 33-year-old daughter, who had been inside for five months on charges she did not want to reveal. She had been waiting in freezing temperatures since 4am to ensure she was among the lucky few who got to deliver her package.
Another man, waiting to deliver a package to his brother, suggested the Greenpeace activists were paid by western oil corporations to undermine Russia and should be “shot, or at least sent to a camp”. The opinions reflect surveys which show that the majority of Russians support the piracy charges.
For some reason, as the country sinks deeper into the Putinist fascist night, this “saying” becomes more and more popular. I’ve personally heard and read it something like six hundred thousand times over the past few years, but it’s hard to remember anyone ever saying such a thing in the nineties. It’s just remarkable how people participate so willingly in their own enslavement and extinction, and with the help of such “sayings.” Yes, “folk wisdom” really does consist in repeating over and over again what some fat cats with soccer teams in England, kids in Swiss schools, and mansions on the Riviera want you to think.
On the other hand, reporters like Shaun Walker wouldn’t have to look that hard for Russians who don’t think this way, even in Murmansk. And it’s pointless, as he does here, and as avid Russian watchers both inside and outside the country love to do, to cite a “public opinion” poll that, allegedly, shows the majority of Russians don’t support the arrested Greenpeace activists. Aside from any other number of methodological and philosophical issues with such polls more generally, not only in Russia, “public opinion” is a nearly meaningless concept in a country lacking all the things that make it a somewhat more meaningful concept in other countries, things like free elections, broadly based political parties, non-astroturfed grassroots groups, much stronger and more militant independent trade unions and, most important, freedom from constant terrorization and brainwashing, in the not-so-distant past and now again, over the past fourteen years, by officialdom, whether in the form of bureaucrats, police or state media.
Why does “the majority” not support the arrested Greenpeace activists? Because they (or, rather, a good number of the people who answered this dubious poll) thought that this was the response expected from them. Why did they think that? Because state and loyalist media have portrayed Greenpeace as the second coming of Al Qaeda, willing dupes of the CIA, and any other baleful thing you can think of. You don’t even have to believe this stuff. You just know that if some “polling organization” calls you up out of the blue, there are strong cues out there in the big media world to which you have access telling you how to respond to such questions. So what’s the point of thinking something different out loud? But then Shaun Walker, hundreds of other reporters, “political analysts,” “sociologists” and so on cite this “public opinion” as if it weren’t obtained under duress. It’s a vicious circle.
Today, October 11, is celebrated as National Coming Out Day in many countries around the world. Unfortunately, as respected Russian journalist and blogger Andrei Malgin reminded readers of his LiveJournal blog a few days ago, the Russian State Duma will, allegedly, soon be considering a bill that would make “non-traditional sexual relations” grounds for stripping Russian gays and lesbians of their parental rights.
A Mere Four Words
The State Duma has given the green light to Draft Bill No. 338740-6, “On Amending Article 69 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation (On Expanding the List of Grounds for Terminating Parental Rights).” A single line will be added to the list—a mere four words, but what weighty words they are.
Article 69 of the Family Code now reads as follows:
Parents (one of them) may be deprived of parental rights, if they:
shirk the discharge of parental duties, including the willful refusal to pay child support;
refuse without good reason to take their child home from a maternity hospital (department) or other medical facility, educational establishment or social welfare institution, or other similar institutions;
abuse their parental rights;
treat their children cruelly, including exercising physical or mental violence against them, and infringing on their sexual inviolability;
suffer from chronic alcoholism or drug addiction;
have committed a premeditated crime against the life or the health of their children, or against the life or the health of their spouse.*
It all began with this. The draft bill itself looks like this. The draft bill was reviewed by the State Duma’s legal department, which issued a positive opinion. The relevant committee reviewed and approved it. All that remains is to schedule the date of the vote.
Full documentation of the bill is on the State Duma’s web site.
Thus, after the bill is passed into law, the Family Code of the Russian Federation will contain the following provision:
Parents (one of them) may be deprived of parental rights, if they:
have non-traditional sexual relations.
So, one divorced spouse wants to deprive the other of parental rights. She or he just has to inform the court that their ex-spouse once had non-traditional sexual relations. To make the charge stick, they can produce “witnesses” or get an affidavit from the neighborhood police inspector.
Or even better. Police raid a gay club and check people’s internal passports. Do any of them have children listed in their passports? That’s that: we’ll deprive them of their parental and send the children to an orphanage, where things will be better for them.
And so on.
And what scope for grassroots activism, for endless denunciations on the part of vigilant neighbors, disgruntled relatives, veterans committees, and so on.
Especially because, unless I’m mistaken, there is still no definition anywhere of what is considered traditional and what isn’t. If spouses have had oral sex, what is that? Traditional?
In an “Explanatory Note to the Bill,” the State Duma Committee on Families, Women and Children justifies the need to amend the Family Code thus:
In accordance with Article 63, Part 1 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation (hereinafter, “the Code”), parents are responsible for the upbringing and development of their children. They are obliged to take care of the health and the physical, mental, spiritual and moral development of their children […] Through life lessons and sometimes by their own example [they are obliged] to instill in the child traditional family values, loyalty to the Fatherland, respect for the older generation, and many other universal values.**
Unfortunately, experience shows that parents often do not completely fulfill their responsibilities for raising children, thus depriving them of a moral compass. […] In the final analysis, this is the cause of poor development, the degradation of a child’s personality and deviant behavior. Timely government assistance to such a child makes it possible to adjust their upbringing by transferring them to a foster family or putting them in the care of relatives or relevant institution. Implementing this assistance is only possible after the termination of parental rights, thus insulating the child from the immoral lifestyle of the parents or one of the parents.
On this basis, it appears that when one of a child’s parents has sexual contacts with persons of the same sex, the harm that may be caused to the psyche of this child is huge and cannot be measured by the Administrative Offenses Code, as the mother or father is a role model for their child. […] According to experts, the number of people in Russia with a non-traditional sexual orientation is around 5-7% (for large cities, the percentage is slightly higher), of which at least a third have children.
Based on this fact and the above-mentioned reasons, this bill proposes supplementing Article 69 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation with a new paragraph, according to which the grounds for terminating parental rights would be non-traditional sexual orientation on the part of one or both parents.
The adult population of Russia is 119 million people. Five percent (we’ll use the lower figure) is six million people. One third of them have a child, meaning there are two million such children. And what if they have two or more children? This is difficult to take into account, so let’s stick to the one-child minimum as the basis of our calculations. What do we end up with? It turns out that the State Duma is planning, in the spring of 2014, to add two million children to the ranks of the country’s orphans.
* In his original post, Mr. Malgin does not quote the current wording of Article 69 in full. We have cited it here for convenience’s sake. The translation is our own.
** Actually, Article 63 of the Family Code does not stipulate that parents are obliged to inculcate “traditional family values, loyalty to the Fatherland, respect for the older generation,” etc., in their children.
UPDATE. The draft bill has, reportedly, been withdrawn by its author, MP Alexei Zhuravlyov, but a spokesperson for him said that it would be revised and resubmitted to the State Duma. The news prompted journalist Masha Gessen to write this comment.
Forget about Mikhail Kosenko, the “prisoners of May 6,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and other inmates in the country’s wretched penitentiary system, the demolition of the country’s welfare system, the devastating floods in the Far East, the destruction of Russia’s cultural and research institutes, the gutting of labor rights, the demonization of migrant workers, and all that. What really matters to the country’s most progressive class and the handsomely remunerated foreign observers who keenly catalogue its whimsical traipsings atop the corpses and prone bodies of fellow countrymen is the meatball wrap.
On Tuesday, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow convicted Mikhail Kosenko, recently declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, of involvement in “mass riots” and use of force against police officers during clashes between police and protesters after a sanctioned opposition march was prevented by police from reaching its end point, on Bolotnaya Square, in Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before President Putin’s inauguration for his third presidential term. At the request of prosecutors, Kosenko, who suffers from a post-traumatic mental illness that previously required no hospitalization, had been declared mentally incompetent by the court, which has now sentenced him to compulsory psychiatric treatment, thus apparently reviving the state’s punitive use of “psychiatry” against dissidents during the late Soviet period.
During Tuesday’s court hearing, Mr. Kosenko made the following statement, which was recorded by Novaya Gazeta reporter Yulia Polukhina and published in the original Russian on the newspaper’s web site. My translation is illustrated with sketches by artist Victoria Lomasko, who was also present at the hearing. I thank her for permission to reproduce them here.
The most valuable thing in the country is freedom. This is what the majority of our population is deprived of to one degree or another. This applies in particular to prisoners. A huge number of people are in prisons and camps for no reason, and no one will help them. And those who are there for crimes they have committed do not deserve the conditions [in which they are imprisoned]. As the prisoners themselves say, no one [is] able to recover after imprisonment. The plight of the mentally ill in incarceration is hard; the most difficult thing for them is haloperidol, a banned substance. There are side effects from it and many fatalities. It causes muscle cramps, rigidity, and pain.
Our people are used to suffering. An eastern model of society is being built in Russia—lack of freedom in exchange for a sated life. The authorities base their propaganda on material measures—money spent and its results. That happiness doesn’t lie in money is an ancient idea, although one now challenged. Happiness lies in people’s freedom. There are many countries where the material standards are lower than in Russia but the level of satisfaction with life is much greater. Our people are used to living in poverty, and they imagine that a little prosperity is a big achievement.
Freedom is freedom from evil. Real opportunities… Our country has great potential, and different kinds of freedom are needed to realize it, but they either do not exist or are restricted. Freedom of the media… The most important medium is television, but there is censorship on [Russian television], which is prohibited [by law].
The authorities impose their strategy on television reporters. That is why pickets, rallies and marches are so important for the opposition. It was on this ground that the authorities decided to tussle with the opposition. Rallies and marches organized by the authorities are underwhelming, so they took the routе of creating all kinds of obstacles [for the opposition]. The authorities decided it was they who determined the location of rallies, even though the law says otherwise. The opposition wants to hold a rally on one square, and the authorities force a different square on them. Our society, accustomed to laws being violated, was not much bothered by this. Then the authorities have used obstacles, nuisances and coercion to make rallies ineffective and to limit the area where they are held, as happened on May 6, 2012.
While drastically limiting the area of the rally, as opposed to what had been agreed, the authorities considered its illegal demands the law. Because the authorities think they are the law. When, amidst the crush [on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square], dozens of people broke through police lines, the authorities decided they now had the right to disperse the tens of thousands of people who had come to the rally. With their tactics and politically motivated actions, the authorities constantly irritated people, who stood up to these illegal actions. The authorities break the law, but when they are rebuffed, they pretend to be legalists themselves, what with their Article 318 [use of violence against authorities – Editor] Riot policemen perceived the demonstrators as their enemies, meaning that they had been coached ahead of time to act so harshly, to react so harshly. The riot police on Bolotnaya Square obviously were not the law. Their superiors had politically encouraged the actions of the riot police on Bolotnaya Square. It was a political confrontation. The demonstrators were protesting against unfair elections. The demand for fair elections is the most just demand. The authorities oppose fair elections, because [if fair elections are held], they will have to resign. The regime consists largely of incompetent people, of the people who break the law. What we need is rotating governments, not the everlasting tenure of a single regime. With the current regime, Russian will be unable to deal the major challenges that will be inevitable in the future.
Combined with low efficiency, the huge exertions the authorities sometimes display lead to significantly poorer results than could be otherwise. In our country’s history, power has never passed to the opposition legally. The current regime has set many anti-records: the highest consumption of heroin in the world, and it is the same thing with alcohol. And such a regime is competent? And should remain in power forever? The people protesting against it are wrong?
Supporters of the government say there is no one else to run the country. This is doubtful. Russia has huge numbers of talented and strong-willed people, and they can get into power only through honest and fair elections. I want to thank everyone who has supported me—my lawyers, my sister, and everyone who has come to these hearings. As for my sanity, I ask the court to consider me sane.
“One Must Serve the Motherland, I Say!”
Basmanny District Court Extends the Arrest of Bolotnaya Case Suspect and Anti-Fascist Alexei Gaskarov
October 3, 2013
On Tuesday, October 1, Moscow’s Basmanny District Court extended until February 6, 2014, the arrest of Alexei Gaskarov, whom police investigators suspect of involvement in the “mass riots” on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012. Gaskarov has been charged with violating Article 212, Section 2 (participation in mass riots) and Article 318, Section 1 (use of violence against authorities) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
February 6, 2014, is the date to which the investigation of the events on Bolotnaya Square has now been officially extended. Earlier this week, the court extended the arrests of the other defendants whose cases have not yet been submitted to the court. Ilya Gushchin, Alexander Margolin, Dmitry Rukavishnikov, Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev will also remain in pre-trial custody until February 6.
Another defendant, pensioner Elena Kokhtareva, has been released under her own recognizance. The case of Udaltsov and Razvozzhayev, whom investigators have accused of organizing the “mass riots” (a violation of Article 212, Section 1 of the Criminal Code), has been separated from that of the other defendants.
Investigator Alexei Chistyakov asked the Basmanny District Court to extend Gaskarov’s arrest for another four months, as the investigators have established that Gaskarov “used violence” against Igor Ibatulin, an officer with the Second Tactical Regiment of the Moscow Police, and a soldier by the name of Bulychev.
“In defiance of society’s moral norms, Gaskarov committed the crime in the presence of a significant number of people, taking advantage of numerical and physical superiority, and showing a clear disregard for the authorities. Moreover, his role in this case was particularly active and most aggressive,” Chistyakov read aloud to the court.
According to Chistyakov, Gaskarov presented a flight risk, since before his arrest “he did not live at his registered domicile, led a secretive lifestyle, spent the night at different locations and used various conspiratorial techniques.” Gaskarov should, therefore, be kept in a pre-trial detention facility.
During the hearing, Svetlana Sidorkina, Gaskarov’s lawyer, asked the court to enter character references submitted by the newspaper Zhukovskie Vesti and the Zhukovsky People’s Council into the record, as well as screenshots of a video recording from the case file. These stills show a police officer kicking Gaskarov in the face as Gaskarov lies on the ground.
Chistyakov and the prosecutor, Karasev, did not object to the character references being entered into the record, but they strongly objected to the shot breakdown of the video.
“The actions of law enforcement officers are not at issue in this hearing,” said Chistyakov.
Judge Artur Karpov, a man with a bald skull, agreed with their arguments and refused to enter the images into the record.
“And why is that you were found only partly fit for military service?” Judge Karpov asked, suddenly digressing from the tedious review of the case file.
“For medical reasons, but I can’t remember what exactly,” Gaskarov replied.
“How is it you don’t remember? Everyone remembers the reason they didn’t go into the army, but you don’t?”
“It was ten years ago. It had something to do with my eyesight, with intracranial pressure and something else. But now I just—“
“You just got over all those things? When did that happen? Before you turned twenty-eight?”*
“I wasn’t keeping track.”
“You weren’t keeping track. . . You should have served the Motherland,” the judge muttered.
“I wouldn’t object to serving in the army in exchange for being released from jail,” the defendant laughed.
“In exchange for working as a journalist?” After reading the character reference from the Zhukovskie Vesti newspaper, Judge Karpov had for some reason decided that Gaskarov works there. “One needs to serve in the army. Anyone can be a journalist, but probably not just everyone can serve the Motherland. Why this ‘in exchange for’ right off the bat? One must serve the Motherland, I say!”
Judge Karpov was unrelenting.
“Down in Dagestan, there is a waiting list to get into the army. Being a journalist is easy. You get up when you like, go to sleep when you like, go to work when you like.”
After this emotional outburst, lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina moved that the court change Gaskarov’s measure of restraint to one not involving deprivation of liberty—to house arrest or release on bail.
“Yes, I think this would be possible,” Gaskarov replied, smiling, to the judge’s question about what he thought about the motion.
Karasev and Chistyakov categorically stated that only if Gaskarov were in a pre-trial detention facility could the investigation proceed unhindered. Judge Karpov agreed with the prosecution on this point as well and, after a recess, ordered Gaskarov’s arrest extended until February 6.
When Gaskarov spoke to the court arguing against his arrest, Chistyakov sat motionless, his hands folded in front of him, like a sphinx.
Alexei Gaskarov’s argument in the Basmanny District Court:
I do not agree with the extension of my arrest and wanted to draw attention to the following things. First, I am being charged with violating Articles 212 and 318. Article 318 belongs to the category of moderately severe crimes for which the period of pre-trial detention may not exceed six months. Article 212, which criminalizes “involvement in mass riots,” stipulates more stringent sanctions, up to a year in pre-trial detention. I have a copy of my indictment, dated April 28. As of today, there has been no other indictment. According to this indictment, all the [criminal] actions that the investigator has just listed were then deemed violations of Article 318 by him.
Since the extension the investigator is now requesting means that I will have spent nine months in detention, that is, more than the statutory period of six months, I do not agree with this extension.
With regard to Article 212, I would like to return to the question of the grounds for charging me with violating it. Because even if you go by my indictment in the case file, it turns out I am accused of participation in mass riots. However, if you look at Article 212 itself, it covers mass riots “attended by violence, pogroms, arson, the destruction of property, the use of firearms, explosives, or explosive devices, and also armed resistance to government representatives.”
There is also Article 8 of the Criminal Code, which clearly states that a deed can be deemed criminal if it is fully consistent with “all the elements” of a crime, as described in one or another article in the Code. Accordingly, not all the elements of the crime, as indicated in Article 212, are included in my indictment. The article does not say that only one element or half the elements are enough. “All the elements” must be present.
Furthermore, the investigation finds that there was violence, arsons, and pogroms there [on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012], but I have not been charged with arson and pogroms. I have been charged only with violence against police officers. But Article 318 already covers these actions, and it is unclear how one and the same action can be deemed to constitute now one crime, now another.
On the other hand, if you look at the article dealing with mass riots, it does indeed say that resisting police officers is a constituent element of the crime, but there it stipulates that this must be armed resistance. But there is nothing in the charges brought against me indicating that I used a weapon or objects that could be used as a weapon.
I ask the court to take note of this indictment, because it serves as the grounds for the decision to extend or change the measures of restraint.
There are different sorts of evidence in the indictment and the criminal case file, but they only touch on Article 318, not Article 212. There is no clear indication there which of my actions could be deemed a violation of Article 212.
Moreover, why did we want to enter these photographs [of Gaskarov being beaten by riot police on May 6, 2012 — Russkaya Planeta] into the record? They simply indicate that the situation was quite complicated. The way the indictment is worded implies that if you see a uniformed police officer, he is absolutely within the law and cannot do anything illegal. By entering these photographs into the record, we want to show that the situation was complicated.
As for the actions committed there, I don’t even deny that I pulled one officer by the leg, and another by the arm. But only Article 318 covers all these actions. And so I ask the court not to extend [my arrest] for more than six months.
That is all I have to say.
* In Russia, men are subject to military conscription between the ages of eighteen and twenty-seven —Translator.
The trade unions of the flood-stricken Russian Far East ask for your help
29 September 2013: The Association of Regional Trade Union Federations of the Far East has issued an appeal to trade unions around the world
Dear sisters and brothers!
Enormous floods continue in the Far East of Russia for the second month. The Khabarovsk Region, Amur Region and the Jewish Autonomous Region have been hit hardest. Several hundred thousand hectares of cultivated land are submerged; tens of thousands of houses are submerged or damaged. Communications and roads have been damaged as well. Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and other belongings. Thousands of people are living in temporary shelters, including elderly people and children. The flood still threatens many communities along the lower reaches of the Amur River. Winter will begin here in the coming weeks, and in November we will face the usual temperatures in Siberia for this time of year—between -25 ºC and -40ºC.
Inhabitants of the flooded areas are doing their best to overcome the disaster: they are building dikes, draining water, and repairing houses. But they need urgent help. They lack the money to buy food, warm clothes and shoes, personal hygiene items, and other staples.
That is why we are asking the international trade union movement to show their solidarity and provide financial assistance to flood victims.
We ask you to send your donations to the bank account of the regional trade union federation of Khabarovsk Region:
Postal Address: 18, Amursky Boulevard, Khabarovsk, Russia 680000
SWIFT: REGK RU 8K
KHABAROVSK KRAI CONSOCIATION OF TRADE UNIONS
Account Number: 40703840108011000004
Khabarovsk, Russia 680000
[NB. Russian banks do not use IBAN numbers.]
For information in Khabarovsk, you may contact Galina Kononenko by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Yulia Ryzhenkova