Be Kind, Don’t Repost 2: Blessed Are the Ice Hole Bathers

Epiphany ice hole bathing on Lake Shartash in Yekaterinburg, January 2012
Epiphany ice hole bathing on Lake Shartash in Yekaterinburg, January 2012. Officers from the Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) stand watch.

Berdsk Resident Sentenced to One Year, Three Months in Work-Release Penal Colony for Commenting on Ice Hole Bathing
Mediazona
May 31, 2016

The Berdsk City Court in Novosibirsk Region has sentenced local resident Maxim Kormelitsky, charged with extremism, to one year and three months in a work-release penal colony, reports Radio Svoboda.

Maxim Kormelitsky was accused of posting a captioned pictured on his personal page in the Vkontakte social network. According to police investigators, in January 2016, the young man published a photograph of wintertime Epiphany bathing and in the comments insulted people involved in the religious ritual. According to Kormelitsky, he “simply evaluated the mental state of people who sacrifice their health for the sake of religion.”

Maxim Kormelitsky in court
Maxim Kormelitsky in court

During the hearing, the prosecutor argued that Kormelitsky had insulted people who took part in the bathing, since he “is an atheist and feels hatred towards people who profess Christianity.”

“I copied it from another community. Besides me, something like seventy people reposted it. I think it odd that ultimately I am the only one on trial because an Orthodox activist saw my page. There were no calls for violence; there was only the insult. I have acknowledged my wrongdoing, I am sorry for what I did, and I ask the court to sentence me to a punishment not involving deprivation of liberty,” Kormelitsky said in court.

The court found Kormelitsky guilty under Criminal Code Article 282.1 (incitement to hatred on religious grounds) and sentenced him to a year in a work-release penal colony, adding three months to his sentence for a previous conviction.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of Yuri Vershinin/Panoramio and Tatiana Shtabel (RFE/RL)

Police Officers Are a “Social Group” in Russia

Activist Tsvetkova Sentenced to Year of Corrective Labor for Leaflet about Police 
Grani.ru
May 31, 2016

Elizaveta Tsvetkova. Photo on her personal page on Vkontakte
Elizaveta Tsvetkova. Photo from her personal page on Vkontakte

Taganrog City Court Judge Georgy Serebryanikov sentenced 31-year-old local resident Elizaveta Tsvetkova to a year of corrective labor for disseminating leaflets criticizing the police, reports Caucasian Knot. As published on the court’s website, the verdict stipulates that fifteen percent of Tsvetkova’s wages will be docked by the state for a year. The activist has also been charged 6,000 rubles in court costs.

Serebryanikov found the defendant guilty under Criminal Code Article 281.2 (incitement of hatred or enmity toward the social group “police officers”), which stipulates a maximum punishment of four years in a penal colony.

During closing arguments on May 16, Taganrog Deputy Chief Prosecutor Vadim Dikaryov asked that Tsetkova be sentenced to one year in a work-release colony. Serebryanikov thus imposed a lighter sentence than was requested by the prosecution.

The activist, however, pleaded not guilty. During her closing statement, on May 27, she stressed she had protested the illegal actions of law enforcement officers. She reminded Judge Serebryanikov of high-profile criminal cases against policemen, including the cases of Major Denis Yevsyukov and the Dalny police station in Kazan.

Lawyer Yuri Chupilkin had also asked the court to acquit his client.

Initially, the reading of the verdict in Tsvetkova’s trial had been scheduled for May 30. However, an hour before the scheduled hearing, the activist was called and informed it would be postponed. The reasons for the delay were not explained to the defendant.

It is unclear whether Tsvetkova would appeal the verdict.

Charges were filed against the activist in January 2015. According to investigators, Tsvetkova downloaded a leaflet criticizing the police from the Vkontakte social network, printed it out, and the day before Law Enforcement Officers Day, in November 2014, posted it at public transport stops and on street lamps.

The investigation was completed in August 2015. However, in September, the acting Taganrog city prosecutor uncovered numerous legal violations in the investigation, refused to confirm the indictment, and sent the case back to the Russian Investigative Committee. The indictment was confirmed the second time round, in November.

However, investigators ignored a sociological forensic study, carried out by Professor Vladimir Kozyrkov at Nizhny Novgorod University. Professor Kozyrkov rejected claims that police officers constitute a social group.

At preliminary hearings in December, Chupilkin insisted on striking a number of pieces of evidence from consideration, in particular, studies done by the regional interior ministry. Judge Serebryanikov, however, rejected the defense’s motions.

The hearing on the merits began on January 15, 2016. During the April 20 hearing, Viktor Chernous, a sociology professor at Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, subpoenaed as an expert witness, also testified that police officers were not a social group, and consequently there had been nothing criminally culpable in the actions imputed to the defendant.

In turn, Elizaveta Koltunova, an assistant professor of linguistics at Nizhny Novgorod University, who was subpoenaed as an expert witness, noted that she could find nothing extremist about the leaflet that had led to the charges filed against Tsvetkova.

Rosfinmonitoring has included Tsvetkova in its list of terrorists and extremists and blocked her bank account.

* * *

An excerpt from the closing statement of activist Elizaveta Tsvetkova (Taganrog) at her trial on charges of extremism, May 27, 2016:

I still think that escapades like my own, the case in Stavropol involving the [alleged] offense to the feelings of religious believers, and other cases, have caused no real harm, but the outcome is that our law enforcement system acquires the image of a satrap for some reason. In addition, people are distracted from real dangers such as identifying terrorists. Perhaps I am an overly sensitive person, but it seems to me that one cannot remain indifferent after such high-profile cases as that of Major Yevsyukov, who gunned down civilians in a supermarket, and the case of torture at the Dalny police station, where a man died. These cases would cause anyone to have a negative attitude towards the illegal actions of police officers. I remain convinced that cases of bribery, torture, and murder must be stopped. People should not be afraid of police officers who break the law and engage in rough justice, but should put a stop to their actions, report their illegal activists, and publicly criticize police officers. Only then we will live in a country under the rule of law and be able to improve life in Russia. Cliquishness and special privileges are always abnormal and generally unfair, especially when it comes to such questions. A divided society cannot function normally. We must realize that if people are be unable to stand up for their rights in any area, if they are forced to put up with lawlessness in policing, housing, and health care, we will never live in a civilized, well-developed country.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander (Winter of the Patriarch)

Masha Alyokhina
Masha Alyokhina. The inscription on her t-shirt reads, “Tell everyone that Jesus lives.”

Masha [Alyokhina]
Facebook
May 29, 2016

A month ago, an acquaintance invited me to his house.

“I want to tell you a story,” he wrote.

We met. We left the kitchen, where there were a lot of people, and went to an empty room. He stood by the window and told his story.

“Recently, I met a guy at this party. We had some drinks, and he tells me he used to work in the security organs. So, in February 2012, they were called to an emergency meeting. Meetings like this are rare thing. They have them when there is a terrorist attack or something like that. So they called them to the meeting and said that some girls had danced in a church, and the patriarch was furious and had rung up Kolokoltsev, who was then the [Moscow Police Commissioner], and demanded to find them.”

To find us.

 “‘And I found the blonde,’ he told me.”

“‘Alyokhina?’”

“‘Yeah. When I realized it was her, that it was her IP address, I thought for a moment about what to do next.’”

“‘Did you know she had a kid?’”

“‘I knew. But I did my job.’”

“And then he tells me,” my acquaintance went on, “that during the trial, they got them together and showed them a special speech that the patriarch had videotaped for them in gratitude. Like, you guys are doing important work.”

“How did he decide to resign?” I asked.

“That was how he decided to resign,” my acquaintance replied.

“Does he have a name?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s Alexander.”

That was the story.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Walk

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Walk, May 29, 2016, Saint Petersburg, Russia. The city’s famous Church on Spilled Blood is in the background. Photo by David Frenkel

Varya Mikhaylova
Vkontakte
May 29, 2016

Petersburg female activists have staged the performance Walk to call for a humane attitude towards women involved in the sex industry, the prosecution of pimps, and the decriminalization of prostitutes themselves.

Wearing dresses pasted over with advertising flyers for brothels, and sporting painted bruises and black eyes, the five female performers were marched by a “pimp” through downtown Petersburg.

The young women bore placards on their backs featuring such quotations from real interviews with prostitutes as “I have always been raped, now I’m getting raped for money,” and “We are not human beings to them.”

"My rate is 1,300 rubles an hour. I get paid a 100 rubles." // "We are not human beings to them."
“My rate is 1,300 rubles an hour. I get paid a 100 rubles.” // “We are not human beings to them.” Photo by David Frenkel

On Arts Square, the young women slipped away from the supervision of their “pimp.” They turned their placards arounds, revealing the inscriptions “Not a commodity,” “Not a thing,” “Not a criminal,” “Not a slave,” and “Human being.”

At this point, the other performers, depicting prosperous citizens who have a contemptuous attitude towards prostitutes and their problems, shouted angrily at the young women and pelted them with dirt.

Rapes, beatings, fear, constant threats to their lives, no protection from law enforcement, a lack of medical care, and endless public scorn: these are the real lives hidden by brightly colored flyers advertising “Masha,” “Sevinch,” “Girls,” “Relaxation,” and “Massages.”

Prostitutes lead closed and stigmatized lives. Our prosperous society is irritated more by the flyers and ads that disfigure our beautiful city than by the slavery and human trafficking occurring behind its disfigured façades.

The recent raid by “defender of morals” Vyacheslav Datsik has returned the subject of sexual slavery, which society and the media persist in calling “sex work” to the public discourse and underscored the fact that society has no sympathy for these women. It only feels contempt for them. If Datsik had forced any other women to walk naked down the street, everyone would have been up in arms. But prostitutes are not people. No one cares about their misfortunes.

Datsik has even seemed like a savior to many people, because he liberated the residents of a building from a brothel. And indeed, although brothels operate outside the law, politicians and policemen are also involved in the profitable business of selling women. So complaints against brothels filed by ordinary people are ignored and drown in bureaucratic rigmarole. However, a new brothel will open to replace the one Datsik, allegedly, shut down. And it will be that way until there is the political will to denounce and prosecute the people who trick and force women into slavery and sell their customers the right to violence. People should realize that the last thing they should do is blame the prostitutes themselves. They should stop seeing these women as criminals.

Pay attention to the slaves who live invisibly in our midst. And don’t call them “workers.” But do call them human beings.

Walking past St. Catherine’s Catholic Church on Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main drag. Photo by David Frenkel
Walking past the Chamber Concert Hall of the Petersburgh Philharmonic (right) and a poster advertising a “gala concert” celebrating the 140th anniversary of the translation of the Russian Synodal Version of the Bible by the Russian Orthodox Church. Oddly, the concert was held on May 26 at nearby St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Photo by David Frenkel
Walking past the entrance to the city’s premier hotel, the Grand Hotel Europe. Photo by David Frenkel
Enraged “citizens” pelt the “prostitutes” with dirt.
“Human being.” // “Not a criminal.” // “Not a thing.” Photo by David Frenkel
“Not a commodity.” // “Not a slave.” Photo by David Frenkel
“Igor is married but goes to prostitutes because his wife is not willing to give him the humiliating, painful sex he likes, which one can only endure out of fear or for money.” // “Yulduz does not speak Russian and does not understand how to escape from the brothel. Human trafficking is a global problem.” // “Round-the-clock rape for money. Using another person’s body to masturbate while ignoring their needs is rape.” Flyers handed out to passersby during the performance Walk. Photo by Ksenia Chapkevich

Translated by the Russian Reader. For more on this subject, see my post “Let’s (Not) Talk about Sex,” from December 2014.

Russia Year Zero

Cat eating scraps from pizza box. May 24, 2016, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader
Cat eating scraps from pizza box on May 24, 2016, in Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Zero Sum
When nothing is produced, all power belongs to the man who divides and distributes
Maxim Trudolyubov
Vedomosti
May 27, 2016

It is probably already clear to everyone that the implicit “social contract,” about whose existence it was customary to natter in the fat years, was a hoax. Rejecting political subjectivity, ordinary folks and not-so-ordinary folks, big business, and regional elites were able to enrich themselves and, in the consumerist sense, converge with Europe.

It was not, however, a one-off deal with a perpetually fixed rate of profit, but a protracted process. We voluntarily became political zeroes. We gave up free speech, the right to elect and be elected, and the right to demand accountability from our politicians, and part of the population gave up the right to funded pensions. But the unit of prosperity we got in return was given to us not as property but was lent to us. Now the government has collected the debt. The zeroes remain, but the unit will soon run out. The government has no other sources for funding projects, but unpredictable and expensive projects—military campaigns as in Syria, for example, and infrastructural projects like the Kerch Strait Bridge—are the whole point of Russian politics.

The authorities supported the population during the crisis of 2008, but by 2011, dissatisfaction with government policy and the Putin-Medvedev castling move had sparked protests. The Kremlin learned its lesson, and it is ordinary people who are now primarily bearing the burden of the crisis, not the state. Having surrendered their rights to the Kremlin, people will now have to surrender not only their pension savings but also their savings accounts and, so to speak, the fat they have saved up on their bodies if they do not decide to take back their political rights. People’s well-being is, in fact, the “source of growth” that President Putin has asked his economic advisers to find. Actually, he was kidding: the source has never been lost.

When the president, in May 2016, summons his economic council, having forgotten about its existence for two years or so, and says the country needs new sources of growth, how are we to understand this? How were we supposed to understand his proposal to reduce economic dependence on the oil price, which he voiced in the autumn of 2015? It is like offering to grow oneself a new liver after sixteen years of binge drinking.

The Kremlin has created the current situation by consistently rejecting any measures that could have, long ago, reduced dependence on oil and generated stable sources of growth beyond the extractive and defense industries. It is impossible to fix in a month what has been done over sixteen years. Moreover, the very same people have been summoned to do the fixing, people still divided by irreconcilable contradictions. What joint effort at seeking ways out of the crisis are Alexei Kudrin and Sergei Glazyev capable of mounting? The sum of their efforts will inevitably be zero.

It would appear this zero quite suits the Kremlin, as economist Konstantin Sonin argued in a recent interview with Slon.ru. Incidentally, efforts are also needed to maintain zero growth, and those efforts are being made. Certain malcontents might not like the “zero” economy, but the Kremlin really likes it, because it strengthens the power of the front office, where decisions about redistribution are made. When nothing is produced, all power belongs to the man who divides and distributes.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The 501st: Russian Death

russian death
“Russian Death”

‘Sociologist Denis Volkov from Moscow’s independent Levada Center pollster, on the other hand, says the bill is unlikely to make Russians more wary about what they post on the Internet. “Most people are not aware of these laws,” he says.’

Ha-ha. It’s good that reporters are forced to turn to “sociologists” and “pollsters” for quotable quotes, and that the Putinist state decided at some point long ago it would pollocratize everyone and their cousin into submission, because otherwise the “independent” Levada Center would have had to pull up stakes long ago and move to Nevada to start calling odds on the trifecta at Santa Anita racetrack.

I have already seen the chilling effect that the bill and the generally malignant, soul-destroying climate of the last year or so have had on what people talk about politically (or not) in daily life, much more dare to post on the Internet, e.g., Russia’s role in Syria, which absolutely no one I know has discussed, publicly or otherwise, under any circumstances for a very, very long time now. And that is just the top of the list.

A fair number of Russians, young and old, know very well how to read signals coming from on high and when to keep their mouths shut. Or how to substitute abstract, self-important chatter or furious trivial pursuits for meaningful conversations about what is happening in their country and what to do about it. Now is one of those times, and it is absolutely depressing.

All it will take is a few more “light touches,” and the country will essentially be dead, that is, waiting for its Supreme Leader to kick the bucket (when? twenty years from now?) so it can rejoin the rest of the world and resume building “democracy,” “capitalism” or whatever it has been pretending to do the last twenty-five years.

Photo courtesy of the Facebook page of Russkaia smert’ (Russian Death)

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Oleg Derispaska
Oleg Deripaska. Photo courtesy of deripaska.com

“I believe that it takes just 100 people to change a country for the better provided that these people are driven professionals capable of creating something new. I am sure that in Russia there are far more than 100 such people, so let’s join forces and work together.”
Oleg Deripaska

_________

Deripaska’s Company Releases Sales Figures for “Olympic” Apartments
Natalya Derbysheva
RBC
May 27, 2016

sochi-olympic village marina
Mockup of the Sochi Olympic Village’s Coastal Cluster. Photo: Andrei Golovanov and Sergei Kivrin/TASS

Oleg Deripaska’s company RogSibAl has sold 20% of the luxury apartments it built on the Black Sea coast in Sochi for the Winter Olympics. The company believes this is a good result. 

RogSibAl, a subsidiary of Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element, built 2,700 luxury  apartments on the Black Sea coast for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Athletes lived in the apartments during the competition. According to Vnesheconombank, the project’s budget was 25.3 billion rubles, 22.3 billion rubles of which RogSibAl borrowed from Vnesheconombank.

The coastal Olympic Village is now known as the Imereti Resort District. It consists of four quarters, the Coastal Quarter, the Maritime Quarter, the Park Quarter, and the Reserve Quarter. Apartments are available for purchase in all four quarters. The price per square meter ranges from 152,000 rubles to 195,00 rubles [approx. 2,070 euro to 2,650 euros per square meter—TRR].

Since the apartments went on sale in 2013, 20% of them have been sold, a Basic Element spokesman told RBC, meaning that over 500 apartments in all have been sold. Basic Element’s spokesman added that the company had sold 118 apartments from January to May 2016.  The company plans to have sold 350 apartments for a total area of 25,000 square meters on the year.

Basic Element has been renting out the unsold apartments. According to the company’s spokesperson, the rental demand for the 2016 summer season is 97–100%.

The sales figures are worse than what Basic Element had planned in 2011. Igor Yevtushevsky, RogSibAl’s general director, had then told Vedomosti that the company was planning to sell 50% of the apartments before the start of the Olympics, and the other half in 2014–2015.

Basic Element’s spokesman said it would be unfair to compare current sales figures with projections made in 2011.

“The project has undergone big changes,” he explained.

The company cites data from the MACON Realty Group, according to which 387 business- and luxury-class real estate transactions were concluded in Sochi from January to May 2016, meaning that the Imereti District’s share of this business was 23%.

The government has discussed the conditions of restructuring the loans issued by Vnesheconombank for building Olympic sites, RBC’s sources told it earlier this week. A federal official explained that Deripaska’s companies were in the most complicated circumstances in terms of loans, since the demand for apartments was not great.

Sochi Olympic Village. Photo courtesy of Nikita Kulachenkov
Sochi Olympic Village. Photo courtesy of Nikita Kulachenkov

Basic Element has not disclosed the figures of the income from its sales of the properties. Its spokesman did say, however, that all the proceeds were being wholly turned over to Vnesheconombank in repayment of the loan and that RogSibAl had been fulfilling all its obligations to the bank.

Given that sales usually begin at the design and construction stage of a property, 20% sales in the second year after a property has been operation is hardly satisfactory, argues Marina Udachina, director of the Institute for Innovations, Infrastructure and Investments. According to her, the situation is partly due to a slowdown in economic growth and a reduction in the demand for luxury properties.

__________

Nikita Kulachenkov
Facebook
May 27, 2016

Only 20% of the apartments in the Olympic Village have been sold in two years.

Here is what we wrote about this a month before the Games:

“The site is being built by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, one of the few private investors in the Olympics. Only he is building with public money. Twenty-two of the twenty-five billion rubles in the project’s budget has been secured with a loan from state-owned Vnesheconombank. Derispaska’s company is planning to pay back this money by selling the village as a residential complex after the Games. It will be hard for them to find buyers. A single bed in the village costs as much as a two-room flat in Moscow.”

Of course, the crisis, sanctions, and being “surrounded by enemies” have inevitably led to a drop in demand for fairly pricey holiday apartments. On the other hand, this was offset by the fact that demand was supposed to shift to the domestic market from Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and other countries where housing had become almost twice as expensive for Russians.

As a result, sales did not take off, which is a pity. I know that after the Games a good person, familiar to a lot of my people on my wall, worked on the project.

We can also add to this news the latest about Sberbank, which after agonizing for a long time has today finally sold the Mountain Carousel ski resort on the installment plan to the former governor and current minister Tkachyov* and his young but quite talented son-in-law. The joke there is that Sberbank invested 25 billion rubles into Mountain Carousel, while Vnesheconombank loaned it 55 billion rubles. Vnesheconombank fiercely resisted the sale, because it is one thing when Sberbank is in hock to you to the tune of 55 billion rubles, and quite another when it is Tkachyov and family. Apparently, Gref is tougher and stronger than the moribund Vnesheconombank, although it does not make our lives any easier.

Since for some reason business has not been booming at nearly all the former Olympic sites, the government has authorized the repayment of Olympic loans over a period of 25 years at a reduced 5% interest rate. And to keep Vnesheconombank from kicking the bucket altogether, the Finance Ministry will give it another 150 billion rubles straight from our pockets.

I probably do not need to remind you of the total amount that we, the taxpayers of the Russian Federation, paid for the construction of all these “great power” bells and whistles.

P.S. I’m going to do a little populism practice. Anyone in Russia want a twenty-five-year mortgage at five-percent interest? Ask Tkachyov, Potanin, Deripaska, and Vekselberg “how.” )))

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Navalny for the heads-up. This post should be read in tandem with my post for May 25, 2016, “The Decline Has Gone Uphill.”

* On August 2, 2012, Tkachyov announced plans to deploy a paramilitary force of Cossacks in Krasnodar Krai, beginning September 2012, as vigilantes to discourage internal immigration by Muslim Russians. In a speech to police, he stated, “What you can’t do, the Cossacks can. We have no other way—we shall stamp it out, instill order; we shall demand paperwork and enforce migration policies.”

Source: Wikipedia, New York Times