Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with other any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them.
—Constitution of the Russian Federation, Chapter 2, Article 28
Police Search Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls in Smolensk and Sochi, Disrupting Services in Both Cases SOVA Center
December 19, 2016
On December 17 in Sochi, police officers and Cossacks came to the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, blocked all the doors, drove all the worshippers from the auditorium except two people, and conducted a search. During the search, a publication included in the Federal List of Extremist Literature was confiscated.
According to the worshippers, one of the official witnesses accompanying the police helped them knock down the gate.
On December 18 in Smolensk, police and prosecutors, accompanied by armed riot police, arrived at the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, where about sixty people were assembled. A search was also conducted. During the search, an extremist pamphlet was discovered in the toilet.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the extremist literature was planted by those conducting the searches in both cases. In both cases, the worship services were disrupted.
In addition, on December 18, a search was carried out in a private home in Smolensk where Jehovah’s Witnesses live. According to them, the police officers were rude and used force against women. When one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses felt sick, the law enforcement officers kept them from summoning medics for a long time.
FSB Detains Schoolboy on Extremism Charges in Perm Territory OVD Info
December 19, 2016
16-year-old Mark R. was detained by FSB officers right in the middle of classes in the village of Uralsky, located in Perm Territory’s Nytva District. The teenager has been charged with calling for extremist actions (Criminal Code 280.2). The local news agency Periskop reported the incident, citing its own sources.
The schoolboy was interrogated at the regional FSB office. Mark has now been released on his recognizance and is attending school.
The charges were filed in connection with a entry made last spring on the social network Vkontakte. During a discussion with Christian friends, the schoolboy had written to them that “churches should be burned down.” Experts from the Interior Ministry office for the Republic of Udmurtia conducted a linguistic forensic examination and concluded the “statement was hortatory in nature and encouraged hostile action.”
Kaluga Resident Faces Criminal Charges for Two-Year-Old Repost OVD Info
December 19, 2016
On November 17, FSB officers came to Kaluga resident’s Roman Grishin workplace and took him away to an investigator. After being interrogated on camera, Grishin was informed he stood accused of inciting enmity and hatred (Criminal Code Article 282.1) for reposting a video in 2014. Grishin wrote about the incident on Facebook on December 18. He was released on his own recognizance as a suspect in a criminal case.
“A group of FSB officers in balaclavas and special kit showed up in the morning at my work, plunging my coworkers into a considerable stupor,” writes Grishin.
The video is entitled “New Hit from Kharkov! This Is Russism, Baby.” Acccording to Grishin, it is freely accessible on YouTube.
As Grishin told OVD Info by telephone, the main topic of his interrogation by FSB officers was his regular trips to Ukraine. They asked why he had his picture taken on the Maidan. Grishin visits the country as a tourist, stays with friends, and stresses that he does not collaborate with any organizations in Ukraine.
Grishin lives in Kaluga. Educated as a philologist, he works as a proofreader. The FSB’s scrutiny has been a real shock to him.
“I never voiced any appeals [for enmity or hatred]. You could say I’m a couch activist,” he said.
Female Workers at Urals Emerald Plant Complain of Abuse during Strip Searches URA.Ru
December 5, 2016
Employees of a well-known emerald extraction enterprise in Sverdlovsk Region believe they have been abused during strip searches. The women are forced to freeze while standing on a concrete floor and answer intimate questions, and in the future they have been threatened with searches in gynecological exam chairs.
Employees at the Malyshevskoye Field Emerald Extraction Plant, a separate division of Kaliningrad Amber Factory JSC, have complained of outrages on the part of security guards. Having failed to get justice from various authorities, the workforce has turned to journalists for help.
“We are prohibited from being in the toilet for more than ten minutes. When we ‘violate the rules,’ the security guards demand explanations for things about which we are sometimes ashamed and embarrassed to talk, given that we are women, and anything can happen,” female plant employees told URA.Ru.
For obvious reasons, they were afraid to give their names.
“We get the impression that the security guards, who are mostly men, are really interested in the juicy details,” they said.
However, the female employees consider so-called selective strip searches the most agonizing procedure, despite the fact they are conducted by female security guards. Female employees can be subjected to the procedure repeatedly over a single shift.
“Without giving any reason, the guards can remove any of us from our workplace and take us away for a strip search,” the women continued. “They happen in a shabby room with a concrete floor and a broken window that opens onto a room where male security guards are on duty. The guards force the women to strip naked and pat down their clothes for a long time without wearing gloves. The whole time we arestanding barefoot on a rag on the icy floor. The temperature in the room cannot be higher than fifteen degrees Celsius. Any questions and objections on our part are met with blatant rudeness. They say straight to our faces, “Shut up! You’re all potential thieves and recidivists, and an emerald buyer is waiting for each of you outside the plant.’ The guards make dirty hints about where we might hide the stones. They have promised that, from the new year, we will be examined daily in a gynecological chair. Allegedly, the chair has been ordered. After this humiliating procedure, one of the gals felt sick and had to be taken away in an ambulance.”
The harassment has mainly affected mineworkers on the picking belt, where only women are employed. The guards behave respectfully towards the male mineworkers, although they too are subjected to frequent strip searches and blatant remarks about where they might be hiding emeralds. This happens despite the fact that all employees at the plant work under the watchful eye of numerous surveillance cameras and security guards, and wear special uniforms whose pockets have been sewn shut.
“Not all the guards are like this. There are also guards who are tactful and treat us politely,” the women continued. “But then there are those who come to work with one thing in mind: to choose a victim and bully her all day. The security company [that provides the guards] is supervised by the plant’s security department. They give the orders to the guards. Their attitude towards us is like that of the Gestapo.”
According to employees, the bullying and humiliation at the emerald field started late last year, when a new director, Yevgeny Vasilyevsky, took over. It was Vasilyevsky who established the security department, which signed a contract with the security firm Rostec Protection. Over the following year, the plant stopped providing workers with gloves and soap, but surveillance was beefed up. The mineworkers were subjected to strip searches for scratching their nose or adjusting their kerchiefs. Curiously, for no apparent reason, the security personnel themselves sometimes approach the conveyor belt on which the emeralds are washed. The female workers managed to capture one such incident on video.
“We have conducted strip searches since 2006, and it goes without saying that everything has been approved by various official organizations,” explained Sergei Babushkin, head of custodial services and economic security at the plant. “The strip search is the same for everyone. Even the plant director goes through it after he has been down in the mineshaft, and no one has complained except for one shift. Three female employees on that shift were detained while attempting to take crystals out of the plant. The employees on that shift ometimes violate the rules. After they have taken a stone from the conveyor belt and put it in a cup, they are obliged to raise their hands and show the camera they are empty. They fail to do this sometimes, and after several verbal warnings we are forced to take them to the search room. Before the new management was installed, private security firms worked at the plant for a long time. Guards and employees mixed, and raw gems were taken from the plant. Now we have put an end to the thefts and hired inhouse security. The business about the gynecological chair is not true. We are a state enterprise, and we have more serious needs.”
Specialists will have to put the complicated matter to a rest. The woman have sent written appeals to the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner and the State Labor Inspectorate for Sverdlovsk Region. Both agencies confirmed they have received the complaints, and assured us that measures would be taken to arbitrate the conflict.
Russia Today and the Post-Truth Virus
Idrees Ahmad Pulse
December 15, 2016
A video is circulating of a woman revealing “the truth” on Syria that is being withheld from us by “the mainstream media”. The woman is introduced as an “independent Canadian journalist”. She is said to be speaking “at the UN”. The date is December 9, 2016. The video has become viral.
Eva Bartlett, the woman in the video, writes for various conspiracy sites including SOTT.net, The Duran, MintPress and Globalresearch.ca. But more recently she has emerged as a contributor to Russia Today. And though her wordpress blog is called “In Gaza”, and though she has a past in Palestine solidarity work, unlike the people of Gaza, she is a strong supporter of Assad and she uses language to describe Assad’s opponents that is a virtual echo of the language Israeli propagandists use against Gazans.
Bartlett was recently a guest of the Assad regime, attending a regime sponsored PR conference and going on a tour of regime-controlled areas herded no doubt by the ubiquitous minders (the regime only issues visas to trusted journalists and no visitor is allowed to travel without a regime minder). On her return, the regime mission at the UN organised a press conference for her and three members of the pro-regime US “Peace Council” (The organisation has the same relationship to peace as Kentucky Fried Chicken has to chicken). In the press conference they all repeated the claims usually made by the regime’s official media SANA and by Russia Today: all rebels are terrorists; there is no siege; civilians are being held hostage; the regime is a “liberator” etc.
So a conspiracy theorist with a blog who briefly visited Syria as a guest of the regime is declaring that everything you know about Syria is wrong. That you have been misled by everyone in the “MSM” from the New York Times to Der Spiegel, from the Guardian to the Telegraph, from CNN to Channel 4, from ABC to BBC, from CBS to CBC; that human rights organisations like Physicians for Human Rights, Medicins Sans Frontiers, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch; that international agencies like the UN and ICRC—they are all part of a vast conspiracy to malign Bashar al Assad. And the truth is only revealed on “alternative” media like the Kremlin’s own Russia Today! (watched by 70 million people a week according to its own claims)
In normal times something like this would provoke derision and dismay—or at least the person would be asked to provide verifiable facts instead of anecdotes (virtually everything she said is verifiably false). But these are not normal times. Supporters of the regime, admirers of Putin, and sectarian propagandists have latched on to this video. Kremlin broadcaster Russia Today has promoted the video heavily. And, in the game of Chinese whispers, the story has morphed into “a UN press conference”.
There is of course a deep racism at play here. Besides great international journalists like Christoph Reuter, Janine di Giovanni, and Martin Chulov, there are also many excellent Syrian reporters on the ground. But we are supposed to dismiss them because the truths that eluded all of them were vouchsafed to a Canadian blogger with a column on Russia Today!
What is happening in Syria is not a mystery. The facts are crystal clear. They are corroborated by multiple independent organisations. People who deny these facts only do so because of a will to disbelieve. It’s willed ignorance in the service of an ideology. This ignorance has been reinforced by Kremlin’s premier disinformation service: Russia Today. The broadcaster has rebranded itself “RT” to conceal its origins and agenda. It has even spawned a neutral-sounding viral video outlet like “In the Now.” Their aim is to sow doubt, feed cynicism, and confound knowledge. They are pressing a narrative—Kremlin’s narrative. And as the major perpetrator of violence in Syria, Kremlin has every intention to muddy the waters. (And no Russia Today is not “just like the BBC”. Have you ever seen a Russian government official questioned on Russia Today the way Tony Blair is questioned on the BBC by Jeremy Paxman; let alone the way Jon Snow on Channel 4 questions David Cameron?)
So next time someone shares a stupid video like this, hit them with facts. If they want to challenge them, then they should bring something more substantial than rambling nonsense from a conspiracy nut.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on the war in Syria has indicted the regime for “the crimes against humanity of extermination; murder; rape or other forms of sexual violence; torture; imprisonment; enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts”.
But even before the regime’s August 2013 chemical attack, which killed more than 1,400 civilians, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council, had found the regime responsible for eight of the nine massacres perpetrated until then; a year later, even after the rise of IS, the equation remained unchanged. Despite IS’s extreme violence, Pineheiro noted, the regime “remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily”.
There is an old joke. A wife returns home to find her husband in bed with another woman.
“What are you doing in bed with another woman?” she screams.
“What woman?” the husband replies.
“The woman I just saw in bed with you,” says the wife.
“Who are you going to believe,” the husband replies, “Me or your lying eyes?”
There is no doubt that the Western media has often failed in its coverage. Its reporting on Gaza and the journalism leading up to the Iraq war was abysmal. But western media isn’t devoted to obfuscating truth with the kind of single-minded determination that Russia Today is. It is deeply ironic that many people’s often justified disdain for western journalists has led the into the embrace of a channel that has no commitment to truth at all. And it becomes most pernicious when pro-Kremlin propaganda is dressed up as criticism of “the mainstream media”, “the establishment”, or “Washington”. As I wrote elsewhere:
“There are few things more commonplace than an Oedipal disdain for one’s own government. In this solipsistic worldview, one need not have to understand the dynamics of a foreign crisis; they can be deduced remotely. If you hate your own government then, by virtue of being in its bad books, a Putin or an Assad becomes an ally.
“Conversely, if people elsewhere are rising up against their far more repressive states, their cause is tainted because of a sympathetic word they might have received from your government. And all the images of agony do not add up to a tear of sorrow as long as they are relayed by a hated “mainstream media”. Indeed, victims are reproached for eroding ideological certainties by intruding into our consciousness through their spectacular suffering.”
My heartfelt thanks to Idrees Ahmad for his kind permission to let me reprint his essay here. TRR
Thinker and revolutionary, founder of Russian social democracy, and major theorist of the Russian labor movement, Georgi Plekhanov (1856–1918) occupies a prominent place in Russia’s political history. Occasioned by the 160th anniversary of his birth, the exhibition focuses on the political biography of this talented propagandist and popularizer of Marxism, showing how his views evolved as the Russian revolutionary movement (1870–1917) progressed from the Populists to the Marxists. Avoiding both apologetics for an “outstanding Russian Marxist thinker” and Soviet-era accusations of Menshevism and opportunism, the exhibition shows the socio-economic and political conditions that shaped the revolutionary’s worldview.
In 1876, Plekhanov was an organizer of the clandestine organization Land and Liberty, taking part in rallies and strikes, and penning proclamations. During the first political demonstration in Russia, which took place outside Kazan Cathedral in Petersburg on December 6, 1876, Plekhanov delivered a diatribe against the autocracy. He rejected terrorism as a means of struggle, and when Land and Will split in 1879, he headed the underground Populist organization Black Repartition. Fleeing from police persecution, Plekhanov went into exile abroad, spending a total of thirty-seven years in Switzerland, Italy, France, and other European countries.
In 1883 in Geneva, Plekhanov founded Emancipation of Labor, the first Russian Marxist group, which published the works of Marx and Engels and popularized Marxism. Plekhanov became a prominent Marxist theorist and a leader of the international socialist movement, participating in the congresses of the Second International, and producing numerous works of journalism, philosophy, and literary criticism. In 1900, Plekhanov and Lenin launched the underground newspaper Iskra. Plekhanov was also involved in founding the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, but after the party split into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions in 1903, he was at odds with Lenin.
The exhibition deals at great length with Plekhanov and Lenin’s relationship, which evolved from cooperation to confrontation. Plekhanov emerged as a political antagonist of Bolshevism and a critic of Lenin and the October Revolution. (He dubbed Lenin’s “April Theses” “nonsense.”) The exhibition has also captured the fierce polemics about Marxism that Plekhanov conducted with the Populists Nikolay Mikhaylovsky and Lev Tikhomirov, the revisionist Eduard Bernstain, the Legal Marxist Pyotr Struve, and Yekaterina Kuskova, ideologist of the so-called Economists.
The exhibition features documents, photographs, and works of Georgi Plekhanov, as well as numerous exhibits on the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, including Land and Liberty’s first leaflets from the 1870s. Paintings and drawings illustrate the events to which Plekhanov responded.
Plekhanov’s death mask and a documentary film about his funeral (provided by the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive) witness the end of his life. On June 9, 1918, Plekhanov’s coffin was escorted by students, clerks, teachers, journalists, lawyers, and workers—by no fewer than ten thousand Petrograders who refused to obey the instructions of Bolshevik leaders. People of different political views and convictions marched should to shoulder in the funeral procession, including Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, Constitutional Democrats and ardent monarchists. Only the official Bolshevik authorities demonstratively refused to be involved in the funeral. One of the greatest men of his time was thus laid to rest.
On Friday, Vladimir Putin met with artists and cultural figures at a joint session of the Council for Culture and Art and the Council for the Russian Language in St. Petersburg. He added in his response to entreaties for filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s freedom that Sentsov, one of the subjects of The Voice Project’s “Imprisoned for Art” campaign, was “convicted not for art, but for taking other functions, as investigative and court bodies say, and particularly in fact he devoted his life to terrorist activity,” that “no one convicted him for his views or his position.”
He went on to say, “We should rely on that we live in a state governed by the rule of law and such issues should be of course decided by the court system,” but that “officials who interpret works of arts may take action” because “we don’t want what happened in Paris [at Charlie Hebdo] to be repeated here.” He speculated that “maybe the artists didn’t intend to offend anybody, but they did,” and that “we must bear that in mind, and not allow that, not split the society.”
President Vladimir Putin
23, Ilyinka Street,
Moscow, 103132, Russia
Dear President Putin:
Authoritarians around the globe almost always use the same playbook—the same tactics to stifle dissent, the same type excuses to imprison those who speak out against them, even the same words. It is not original and it is quite predictable when you see enough of it, as we do in our work.
A common play is that outspoken dissidents, especially known figures such as artists, are arrested on spurious charges and imprisoned following show trials. The tactic is to make an example of the individual dissident in order to stifle dissent more widely, and it is most easily efficacious when applied to those already in the public eye, well known for their art or activism or leadership in another field. Notoriety of the target, though, is not a sine qua non, as the act of persecution and the proceedings of prosecution can themselves be heavily publicized, especially with the aid of a compliant state controlled media. The pretense for prosecution is often laughable, but the absurdity as well sends a message: that the authoritarian and the authoritarian system are not bound by rule of law, but rather rule through systemic power, and that one’s safety and well-being within the society depend on compliance, conformity and loyalty to the ruling power.
We see these tactics employed the world over and throughout history, and often now in Russia under your leadership. Pussy Riot were imprisoned not for singing a song that called you and your cronies “shit”, but rather for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”; Maria Baronova was arrested not for yelling at Bolotnaya Square, but for “inciting mass riots”; Sergei Magnitsky was arrested, tortured and killed not for exposing the pervasive corruption of a kleptocracy, but for “colluding with a tax evader.” And Journalist Kieron Bryan of the “Arctic 30” evidently ran afoul of your piracy laws? No, of course not, and likewise, as Heather McGill at Amnesty International has noted, the “fatally flawed” trial of filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, a figure well known because of his art, “was designed to send a message. It played into Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents.”
As Ms. McGill alludes to, you are far from the first to use this tactic on dissidents. Arseny Roginsky was arrested for forgery, Gunārs Astra for spying, Andrei Amalrik for pornography, Nikolay Gumilyov for conspiracy, Ephraim Kholmyansky for possession of ammunition, and Alexander Lavut for possession of a book. The tactic is not new and it is not region specific. Mussolini had Gramsci arrested in Italy not for his writings, but for supposed involvement in an assassination plot. Muhammadu Buhari imprisoned Fela Kuti in Nigeria not for being a singer of truths, but for being a smuggler of currency. As the biblical saying goes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Oleg Sentsov’s views and activism made him a target; the notoriety from his art made him a good one.
In regard to your comments that you have not the power to free Oleg, you are right, in ways you don’t understand. You so graciously let Pussy Riot out just two months before the completion of their two-year term, but Nadya’s right here and says, “You can shove your amnesty up your ass.” Similarly, Oleg does not want us to beg for your clemency, but would rather we parade your glib hypocrisy. You misunderstand us if you think we ask for his freedom through your benevolence, rather, we demand it from your discreditation. That is what we mean by #FreeOlegSentsov.
In regard to your comment that freedom of expression requires the responsibility not to offend, you pretend to not understand that freedom requires the ability to do so. We hear this from your kind all the time, it is an old song to a bad tune—the authoritarian pretending to be a champion of freedom that is not freedom.
Your doublespeak attempts to engender doublethink. You are not the first and you are not alone in this either. You have your political technologists, your state media, and your embarrassing troll factories, the US has its think tanks, corporate media and its own embarrassing trolls, sometimes disguised as clowny demagogues who spray tan on ephemeral ideologies and syllogistic hyperbole of various offensive hues. Orwell predicted that the very concept of objective truth would fade from the world, and your kind seem hard at work to make it so, but many of us believe that in the end the truth does out because it is existentially, ontologically superior to lies. You’ve heard this before, but it doesn’t sink in. You think that imprisoning artists silences them, but each speaks more loudly because of it, loud enough for the world to hear. You think repression and brutality invoke fear, but they inspire courage and embolden action. Russia has one of the greatest traditions of dissidents of any nation on earth, you and your predecessors did that. These lessons your kind seldom learns.
As for those of us here in the States, we’ll likely have our own taste of authoritarianism before long, but we are not afraid. We have many warriors here. They are standing right now in the snow, unbroken, on the Great Plains of North Dakota. And luckily, we have learned the lessons from those like you, so we’ll act accordingly. In the meantime, we’ll abide by, and learn from the words of Oleg himself:
There is no need to pull us out of here at all costs. This wouldn’t bring victory any closer. Yet using us as a weapon against the enemy will. You must know: we are not your weak point. If we’re supposed to become the nails in the coffin of a tyrant, I’d like to become one of those nails. Just know that this particular one will not bend.
Hunter Mora Heaney
The Voice Project
My thanks to Mr. Heaney for his kind permission to republish this letter here. TRR
Public Hearings in Tomilino Snowball into Makeshift Protest Rally Outside School On December 7, public hearings in the village of Tomilino on its incorporation into the Lyubertsy Urban District focused not on the announced topic, but on a confrontation between law enforcement and locals Zhukovskie Vesti
December 7, 2016
Administrative reform in Moscow Region has come to Zhukovsky’s neighbor the Lyubertsy District, which the governor wants to transform into the Lyubertsy Urban District. The regional government and the governor believe this step will help decrease and optimize expenditures. Opponents argue that centralizing authority will simply leave the rural settlements without people to represent their own interests, which will lead to budget cuts and infrastructure collapse. Many experts argue that administrative reform of this kind is against the law. This, for example, was the conclusion reached by the State Duma’s Committee on Federal Organization and Local Self-Government. A similar stance has been adopted by members of the Presidential Human Rights Council. This, however, has not slowed down the determination of the governor and his team. However, others have not resigned themselves to this approach, and the residents of the village of Tomilino are a striking example.
On November 29, Vadim Lapitsky, head of the Tomilino village administration, resigned, and the independent website vtomilino.ru, which had served as a venue for expressing viewpoints opposed to the regional authorities, was shut down. Grassroots activists believe this was the response of authorities to resistance by locals to their top-down decisions. Indeed, discussion of the planned reforms has been the main topic of conversation recently.
The Tomilino town council decided to hold a referendum in which villagers would vote the reforms up or down, but this was met with objections from the Lyubertsy prosecutor’s office, which claimed that holding a referendum on an issue like this would be illegal. According to the prosecutor’s office, public hearings, which are advisory in nature, were sufficient to resolve the issue. A pressure group collected 2,800 signatures in favor of the referendum, but the authorities simply ignored the petition.
Ultimately, the villagers came to the public hearing, the only official event at which authorities had decided to listen to the voice of the people. However, the police, led by the police chief of Lyubertsy, were waiting for Tomilino residents at Prep School No. 18, where the hearings had been scheduled. The school’s large auditorium was unable to accommodate all comers. (According to the pressure group, around a thousand people came.) People stood in the hallways, and around a hundred people were left outside, since the police had barricaded the door. As a result, the people outside the school held a spontaneous protest rally at which they chanted slogans against unification with Lyubertsy.
Meanwhile, in the auditorium, Vladimir Ruzhitsky, head of the city of Lyubertsy, initially tried to explain the benefits of enlargement to the audience, but in the heat of ensuing discussion he got personal. The locals also expressed their opinions emotionally, without mincing their words. In the end, a detailed discussion proved impossible. The majority told the authorities exactly what they thought, while the authorities demonstrated the were indifferent to these opinions and that public hearings were conducted merely to comply with procedure.
“What Can We Learn from the Plough and the Ax?”
Alexandra Koksharova Takie Dela
December 13, 2016
Parents of pupils at a Moscow school have complained to the Prosecutor General’s Office that their children are being indoctrinated with a religious ideology. Takie Dela spoke with Inna Gerasimova, who was behind the complaint.
After coming home from school at the start of the school year, Inna’s 11-year-old son Yegor asked, “Mom, do we really have to have icons at home?”
“No, where did you get that idea?”
Yegor took the textbook Roots (Istoki), which he had just been issued, from his backpack.
The textbook’s author addresses schoolchildren as follows.
“You do know, of course, that icons guide the Russian individual on weekdays and holidays, on long journeys and in times of war. People turn to them in joy and in sorrow, and miraculous icons are especially revered.”
“I can’t remember our ever having taken icons on a journey,” chuckled Yegor.
Inna is an atheist, and there were no icons in their home. She tried to explain to Yegor that all this was not obligatory, of course, although he was well aware of it himself.
Yegor Gerasimov is a fifth former at School No. 2065 in New Moscow. Nearly half of his classmates are from Muslim families, and there are also children from Jewish and Catholic families. In September 2015, a subject entitled “Fundamentals of the Spiritual and Moral Culture of the Peoples of Russia” (abbreviated ODNKNR in Russian) was introduced to the mandatory school curriculum. The Roots textbook is used in sixty-two Russian regions. According to Hieromonk Gennady (Voitishko), head of the information service of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Synodal Department for Religious Education and Catechesis, the Roots program is “a kind of prototype of secular ethics that takes regional specifics and traditions into account.” Officials argue that ODNKNR is not an attempt to indoctrinate children religiously, but the parents at School No. 2065 have formed a quite different impression.
It was at a parents’ assembly in August that Inna found out her son would have a new subject at school beginning this year. The head teacher was then unable to explain what exactly fifth formers would be learning during this class, but the subject’s name, Roots, did not arouse suspicion amongst the parents. They were amazed only when they saw the textbook for the subject. Initially, they tried to find out from the head teacher how such a thing could have got into the school. The head teacher promised to get to the bottom of it. Then they sent letters to the school’s headmaster, complaining about religious indoctrination and asking that the textbook be changed. The headmaster responded to all of the letters by explaining that there had been no choice: the education department had issued the program, and there was nothing to be done. The school could not switch textbooks.
Inna decided that her complaint that the textbook was not secular had be to well founded, and so she undertook a painstaking analysis of Roots. She collated its content with laws and regulations. She counted the number of times such words and phrases as “God” (60), “miracles” (66), “evil spirits,” and so on were mentioned in the book. Among other things, although the textbook has a total of 126 pages, a third of those pages are taken up by illustrations.
The parents’ main complaint against Roots is that the textbook lacks any academic component whatsoever. Alexander Kamkin, the book’s author, does not cite specific sources, and historical events and cultural landmarks are described by evoking either infernal or divine forces. For example, in a chapter dealing with Solovki, the construction of the Solovki Special Purpose Camp (SLON) and the destruction of the monastery are characterized as the advent of a “great evil.”
“Disaster struck in 1920. […] The monastery was closed, its shrines were descecrated and destroyed, and its churches were defiled.”
Kamkin does not specify who exactly desecrated and defiled the shrines. The only historical personage in this chapter is Moscow Patriarch Alexy II, who visited Solovki in 1992.
If that were not enough, Kamkin suggests that fifth formers take a new look at the Moscow Kremlin.
“Look carefully, not only with your eyes but also feel with your heart, with your soul. Don’t you think that the Kremlin’s Cathedral Square resembles a gigantic all-Russian candleholder?”
The textbook opens with the topic of “The Plough and the Ax,” which takes up five lessons.
“The children took a quiz on the topic ‘What can we learn from the plough and the ax?’ After lessons in programming, chemistry, and biology, how can you talk for five lessons in a row about the plough and the ax? Every other sentence in the textbook says that only God makes all things possible, only with his help do things get done, that ‘prayer and effort make all things right.’ This ‘proverb’ is quoted in the textbook,” says Inna.
At the next parents’ assembly, the head teacher suggested that disgruntled parents turn in the textbooks, but the remaining children could continue using Roots in class. It was then that the parents of all twenty-four children in the class wrote formal requests, addressed to the school’s headmaster, asking that the class be exempted from studying the subject. The textbooks were then confiscated from the fifth formers, but they kept studying the subject all the same. This incident took place in only one class of fifth formers, but the other four fifth-form classes at the school kept using the textbook. There was no difference, however. Inna knows the course curriculum by heart and says that the assignments the teacher now gives her son are the same as in the textbook.
“The instructor cannot do nothing about it. He is 100% dependent on the system, on the education department, like everyone else,” says Inna.
Inna sent a complaint, signed by all the parents whose children are in the class, to the prosecutor’s office. There was no response for one and a half months. Then the complaint was first sent down to the education department before being sent back to the headmaster.
“We don’t mind our children learning something new about Orthodoxy,” explains Inna, “but not from this textbook, because one cannot speak only of Orthodoxy while saying nothing about the fact that paganism once existed, and that nowadays Islam exists alongside Christianity, and that basically we live in a multi-ethnic country. It’s wrong to present one religion so onesidedly while engaging in manipulation when it comes to a textbook for children. We aren’t against religion. We’re against pitching the subject matter in this way, in which Orthodoxy is discussed as the only possible religion.”
Lavender Toilet Water 15 g. Verbena 15 g. Herbal Lotion 30 g. Nail Polish 2 g. Mouthwash 150 g. Lemon Soda 150 g.
—Venedikt Erofeev, Moscow to the End of the Line, trans. H.W. Tjalsma (New York: Taplinger, 1980), pp. 69–70
Government to Introduce Excise Taxes on Medicinal Tinctures to Combat Alcoholism
Polina Zvezdina RBC
December 13, 2016
The government has proposed imposing excise taxes on medicinal tinctures, household chemicals, and cosmetics containing alcohol. The reason is that the populace consumes them instead of the expensive liquour sold in shops. As RBC has previously reported, approximately 10% of Russians suffer from drugstore alcoholism.
Prescribe and Report
The Finance Ministry has drafted amendments to existing laws and the Tax Code that would impose excise taxes on alcohol-based pharmaceutical products, except for vital and essential drugs (VEDs). The ministry was ordered to do this by Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin, who oversees the alcohol market. In late October, he reported on the matter to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. RBC has a copy of his letter. A spokesperson for Khloponin refused to comment on the document’s authenticity or its contents.
Due to a drop in incomes and an increase in prices for strong alcoholic beverages, Russians have been increasingly been drinking alcohol-based liquids not intended for consumption, Khloponin argues in his proposal. Among such liquids, he lists Cucumber Lotion, Boyara (a tincture of hawthorn and rose hips), and Bread and Wheat, two alcohol-based additives. The sales of such products have recently increased in Tatarstan, Ufa, Samara, Cheboksary, Saransk, and Kaluga, according to the document.
If the deputy prime minister’s undertaking is implemented, it will affect drugs used by the public for their intended purpose, such as Corvalol and Valocordin.
Currently, the Tax Code does not deem alcohol-based medicines, veterinary drugs, food products, and cosmetics sold in packages containing 100 milliliters or less as excisable products.
Vadim Drobiz, former head of the Research Center for the Federal and Regional Alchohol Markets (TsIFFRA), told RBC that between twelve and fifteen million [i.e., approximately 10% of the Russian population] regularly consumes medical tinctures and cosmetic lotions not intended for consumption. The “parallel” alcohol market’s capacity already accounts for around 20% of the official market’s turnover, as RBC reported in an investigation published on November 24.
Khloponin has proposed labeling all alcohol-based non-food products as excisable and abolishing the zero-rate excise tax for certain brands of cosmetics and household chemicals. The rate of the excise duty should be the same as that imposed on strong alcoholic beverages. Currently, the excise rate on strong spirits is 500 rubles per one liter of pure alcohol.
The excise taxes should be extended to all alcohol-based medicines, except for medicines included in the VEDs list, writes Khloponin. In addition, the pharmaceutical market should apply the Unified State Automated Information System (EGAIS) for accounting for the production and turnover of alcohol to the distribution of ethanol intended for the production of medicines. According to current laws, the EGAIS will be introduced to the pharmaceutical market from 2017, but it will record only ethanol production.
Khloponin argues that retail sales of the flavor additives Bread and Wheat should be banned altogether. The regions also need to have the authority to independently monitor sales of alcohol-based non-food products.
The Finance Ministry did not respond to RBC’s inquiry. The Health Ministry informed us that as part of the fight against “drugstore alcoholism,” the ministry had drafted a federal law bill banning the sale of alcoholic pharmaceutical products from vending machines [see article, below].
Hospital Budgets and Pensions
If the Finance Ministry finalizes its undertaking, the public will suffer, Elena Nevolina, executive director of the National Pharmaceutical Chamber, noted in an interview with RBC. Many popular tinctures, such as valerian, Corvalol, Valocordin, and Votchal drops, are not included in the VEDs list. After excise taxes are imposed, their prices will skyrocket or they will simply vanish from the market, she argues. This might indirectly impact the work of ambulance brigades, since pensioners, accustomed to consuming certain medicines, will be more likely to summon ambulance crews if the medicines are unavailable, Nevolina believes.
Another alcohol-based medication not included in the VEDs list is Aseptol, a topical solution widely used by medical personnel to disinfect their hands. The retail price for 100 ml of the solution is currently around 35 rubles. After the excise duty is imposed, its price could double, believes Nevolina.
Although hospitals purchase Aseptol in large quantities, it amounts to less than 1% of all sales. According to research by the DSM Group, purchases of Aseptol amounted to 179 million rubles in 2014, 195 million rubles in 2015, and 171 million rubles in the first nine months of 2016. The public procurement market for Aseptol accounted only for 549,000 rubles, 820,000 bules, and 936,000 rubles of these total sales, respectively.
Based on an excise tax rate of 500 rubles per 1 liter of pure alcohol, the price of Corvalol would increase by one and half times, and the price of Carniland (Votchal’s drops) and Valocardin, by a few percent.
The measures proposed by the government will enable better monitoring of the pharmaceutical alcohol market, said Dmitry Dobrov, board chair of the Union of Alcohol Producers.
“EGAIS and excise taxes have proven effective in the alcohol market. Sales and tax revenue have been growing, and illegal production has practically disappeared,” he said.
Major Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of Alcohol-Based Drugs
The Industry and Trade Ministry supplied RBC with a list of the major manufacturers of alcohol-based medicinal products. The leaders in terms of sales and production are Gippokrat from Samara (whose 2015 revenue was 980 million rubles and overall production, 51.8 million units); Flora Kavkaza from Karachay-Cherkessia (230.9 million rubles; 13.4 million units); Begrif from Novosibirsk Region (211.7 million rubles; 10.9 million units), the Tula Pharmaceutical Factory (251.5 million rubles; 9.6 million units); and the Ivanovo Pharmaceutical Factory (138.1 million rubles; 7.5 million units).
The market for alcohol-based drugs has been growing from year to year. According to DSM Group, it amounted to 3 billion rubles in 2014, almost 4 billion rubles in 2015, and 3.1 billions rubles in the first nine months of 2016.
Yet another dispenser for selling the alcohol-based Hawthorn (Boyaryshnik) liquid has been installed in Izhevsk. As Susanin News Agency reports, the 24-hour sales point, where even a child could shop, has been installed on January 9th Street.
For 20 rubles, the Boyara 24 machine dispenses a bottle of liquid containing 75% ethyl alcohol. Hawthorn Lotion for Oily Skin, as indicated on the label, is designed to cleanse and tone the skin.
But few locals used the alcohol-based liquid as it was intended. The dispenser’s target market is society’s drunken stratum. To obtain a bottle of Hawthorn, you merely have to drop money into a coin slot and turn a handle. The dispenser imposes no limits on the times when the liquid is sold or the age of purchasers. It does not even need electricity to run round the clock.
During an experiment conducted by a Susanin News Agency film crew and concerned citizens, it transpired that the alcodispenser did not work properly. Four attempts were made to purchase Hawthorn Lotion, but the machine dispensed bottles only in two instances. Empirically, therefore, we established that the dispenser sells the alcohol-based liquid for 40 rubles rather than 20.
The first such dispenser showed up in Mechanical Engineers Village approximately two weeks ago. It was successfully dismantled, most likely by penniless alcohol enthusiasts.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo of lavender toilet water courtesy of knigi-janzen.de