Andrei Barabanov: The Bolotnaya Square Case Destroyed Everything I Had
January 5, 2016
Sobesednik.ru spoke with Andrei Barabanov, a prisoner in the Bolotnaya Square case who was released before the New Year. The 22-year-old Barabanov was handed one of the longest sentences in the case, three years and seven months. On December 25, he was released and answered our correspondent’s questions.
What plans do you have for your first days of freedom?
I plan to get my health back in order and rest. Before I was arrested I had just finished college. Now I plan to get a higher education and, in the future, if it works out, start my own business.
Do you have any desire to continue your involvement in politics or public life?
I wasn’t involved in them as it was. I went to the rally on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, as an ordinary citizen. It was the second rally I had attended. I didn’t know the organizers or anyone else there. I was there with my girlfriend. Later, another friend of mine joined us. Of course, I could not imagine it would end that way.
The riot policeman who were you accused of assaulting had no beef with you. Why, then, were you put away for three and a half years?
There was a video that, allegedly, showed me kicking the riot policeman from behind. In fact, I didn’t kick him. On May 6, the police roughly detained people, grabbing them and throwing them, and we ended up at the very heart of the action. I don’t understand myself why I acted that way: it was a spontaneous reaction in a thorny situation. When I was in the remand prison I wrote a letter of apology to the riot policeman. He even wrote me back, saying he accepted my apology. At the trial he did not make any demands. He had not suffered any injuries, and had not sought medical attention. But none of that mitigated the sentence.
I think the authorities wanted a criminal case to emerge from the Bolotnaya Square incident, a case with tangible prison sentences. So in my case there was a striking video showing me “kicking” a riot policeman.
On May 6, I was jailed for twenty-four hours, and then let go. I was rearrested three weeks later. Ultimately, I was convicted of rioting and violence against a law enforcement officer at a show trial. It transpired that I was, as it were, a malicious bully and instigator, which personally I had a hard time getting my head around. I had always been considered a pacifist, and I was opposed to violence against anyone else. I think I was sentenced not for violence but so that people would think ten times before taking to the streets and protesting.
Has the sentence greatly changed your life?
You could say it has destroyed what I had. Before May 6, I had a girlfriend with whom I lived, a hobby I loved, aerography, which I dreamed of turning into a business. Then all of it was gone. All that was left was the support of my closest loved ones, my mom and my friends. By the way, several complete strangers wrote me letters and sent me care packages, and this was also a huge moral support.
What health problems have you had?
The standard problems after several years in prison: the effects of inactivity, an eye injury I got in the remand prison, and problems with my stomach and teeth.
Would you now take part in protest rallies if they were to happen in Moscow?
Not now. I am not planning on going to protests. I also do not believe that elections are the way. Now I need to recover, relax, and learn to live again on the outside.
Translated by the Russian Reader