You’ve Lost Control Again

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Black Lists and Total Monitoring: Agora’s New Report on the Surveillance of Russians
A person’s life is utterly transparent to the secret services
Damir Gainutdinov
Republic
August 22, 2017

The Agora International Human Rights Group has released a report entitled “Russia under Surveillance 2017: How the Authorities Are Setting Up a Total System for Monitoring Citizens.” Damir Gainutdinov, the report’s co-author, discusses its key points. The Russian state has been harvesting an unprecedented amount of information about its citizens and wants to collect other kinds of information. It maintains a system of black lists that categorize different types of citizens and has been engaged in a relentless assault on internet anonymity. (You can read the full report in Russian.)

In recent years, Russia has been assembling a complex system for monitoring grassroots activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, a system that encompasses at least several thousand people. Under the pretext of public safety, and fighting extremism and terrorism, the security forces have been monitoring people’s movements around the country and when they cross national borders, wiretapping their phone conversations, intercepting their SMS and email messages, staking them out and surveilling them with audio and video equipment, and analyzing and systematizing biometric information. They have made vigorous use of illegal methods, for example, hacking internet accounts.

The key problem is the absolute lack of control over the state’s invasion of our private lives. The courts rubber stamp decisions taken by the security services. There is almost no chance of successfully challenging the decisions in court. Hence, over the past ten years, the courts have on average approved 98.35% of motions by the state to limit a person’s privacy of correspondence. The upshot is that any law-abiding resident of Russia is now constantly exposed to the risk of arbitrary access to her private life through the internet, mobile telephones, video surveillance, random contacts with the police, when using money, pubic transportation, and driving her car, and applying for a job at a number of workplaces, as well as traveling abroad, carrying weapons, and exercising her other rights.

Privacy and the presumption of innocence are meaningless, and the intensity of the interference has been constantly increasing. The number of requests to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and intercept correspondence have alone more than tripled since 2007.  A person is faced with a choice: either accept total surveillance as a given or look for ways of guarding her privacy. The state, however, regards the latter as illegal, the attempt to hide something criminal.

Complusory Biometrics
The Russian authorities have been vigorously engaged in gathering biometric information: fingerprints, DNA samples, and photographs. By law, this can be done without the individual’s consent if it is a matter of national security, for example. Aside from voluntary fingerprinting (anyone can go to a police and submit his fingerprints), the procedure is obligatory for a large number of people ranging from security services officers to people applying to work as private detectives, from suspects in criminal cases to people who have only committed administrative offenses if there is no other way to identify them, from large numbers of foreigners to stateless persons. Since 2015, anyone over the age of twelve who applies for a biometric foreign travel passport must also submit prints of two fingers. Meaning that, currently, we are talking about at least 25 million people. [Russia’s current population is approximately 143 million.]

Despite the clear list of grounds for compulsory biometric registration, there are regular reports of patently illegal attempts to fingerprint, photograph, and do saliva swipes for DNA tests. Participants of public events such as protest rallies, political activists, and reporters have been the victims of these attempts.

For example, on March 23, 2017, in Moscow, police detained supporters of Alexei Navalny who were handing out stickers in support of his campaign to be allowed to run in the 2018 presidential elections. The detainees were all taken to the Arbat Police Precinct for “preventive” discussions, during which the information in their internal passports was copied and they were fingerprinted. In another incident, which took place on April 6, 2017, at a market in Simferopol, around fifty people of “non-Slavic appearance” were detained, allegedly, because they were mixed up with Crimean Tatar activists in Crimea. Lawyer Edem Semedlyaev said all the detainees were forcibly fingerprinted, photographed, and swabbed for DNA samples.

Video Surveillance
As of 2015, the so-called Secure City complex has begun to be installed in all regions. Secure City is an extensive system of video surveillance and facial recognition. In Moscow alone, 184.6 billion rubles [approx. 2.6 billion euros] have been allocated on implementating the program until 2019. As of 2016, 86.3% of residential neighborhoods in Moscow were covered by CCTV systems. 128,590 cameras had been installed, 98,000 of them in stairwells. The Secure City video archive is stored for five days, and direct access to the recordings is enjoyed not only by the Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] but also by other state agencies.

Under the pretext of getting ready for international sports events, the authorities have improved their surveillance capacities. Sports complexes are equipped with CCTV systems featuring facial recognition functions, even in towns not hosting sporting events. Moscow’s railway stations have been expanding the areas covered by cameras that identify faces and record car license numbers. The Russian government has issued a decree ordering local authorities to draw up lists of places where more than fifty people can gather. They all must be equipped with CCTV systems. The recordings will be stored for thirty days.

Special systems for identifying people have been used at authorized public events [i.e., permitted protest rallies]. For example, officials have admitted they could have identified absolutely everyone who passed through the inspection line on June 12 on Sakharov Avenue.

Tracking Movements
When you buy a ticket, stay at a hotel or use public-access Wi-Fi in Russia, you are informing the regime about your whereabouts.

When you have anything to with with almost any form of long-distance public transportation, the authorities will at very least learn your name, date of birth, type and number of identity card, sex, nationality, departure and destination points, route, and other information using a round-the-clock interactive system.

The practice of scanning passports is widespread in hotels, since management is obliged to inform the Interior Ministry about the registration of guests within twenty-four hours.

The information obtained is sufficient to determine the whereabouts of a person of interest at any moment. The information is used, among other things, to track the movements of activists and human rights workers, and exert pressure on them. This was how Agora lawyer Alexander Popkov was followed when he arrived in one of the regional centers of Krasnodar Territory to take part in the trial of a police officer accused of rape and murder. Arrivign at the train station, Popkov was swiftly met by police investigators, who immediately informed him he was listed in a Russian Interior Ministry database, and so they wanted to know his purpose for visiting the city. The policemen knew his route and means of transportation, his place of residence, and the particulars of his documents.

Eight Years of Administrative Supervision
In May 2017, the use of administrative supervision for persons released from imprisonment increased. A court has ordered that an acknowledged political prisoner, Tatar activist Rafis Kashapov, will be placed under administrative supervision for eight years after being released from prison. In 2015, Kashapov was sentenced to three years in a prison colony for publishing texts critical of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Now, after he is released, Kashapov must register with the police within three days, inform them of all his travel plans and changes of places of residence and work, and report to a police station to give testimony when required by the police. Police officers can conduct individual preventive work with him, ask his employer about his behavior, freely enter his house, and forbid him from making short trips even, for example, when a relative dies.

In addition to administration supervision, which is on the record, there is also clandestine surveillance. Formally, putting someone on preventive registration is part of the beat cop’s routine work. In practice, it has turned into a means for surveilling “suspicious” people, which includes not only ex-cons and registered drug addicts but also people who have committed crimes against public safety at mass events [i.e., committed minor or wholly fictitious infractions at protest rallies], as well as members of “informal youth organizations.”

Lists of the Disloyal
Aside from putting people on preventive registration, the Russian authorities maintain a number of different lists and databases, chockablock with “unreliable” people and organizations. If you end up on one of these lists, you are guaranteed increased attention from law enforcement, including constant checks, detentions, and inspections. Here are only a few of these lists.

Rosfinmonitoring (Federal Financial Monitoring Service) publishes a list of organizations and peoples involved, allegedly, in extremism or terrorism. The list includes the names, dates and places of the birth of the people, and the relevant information about the organizations. A court order banning an organization or sentencing someone for a crime is not required for inclusion on the list. The list features not only people convicted of terrorism but also people suspected of terrorism. It suffices that a prosecutor or the Justice Ministry has suspended an organization’s work or brought charges or declared someone a suspect in the commission of one or more of twenty-two crimes listed in the Criminal Code, including the most “popular” anti-“extremist” crimes. Currently, the list includes 7,558 Russian citizens, 411 foreign nationals, and 182 organizations.

Inclusion in the list means the state has total control of your financial transactions and disposal of your property. All transactions to which a person on Rosfinmonitoring’s list is a party are subject to mandatory control by banks. If they fail to exercise this control, they will be punished by the Russian Central Bank. By default, all transactions are frozen, but you can spend 10,000 rubles per month per family member [approx. 143 euros]  from the wages you earn, and you can also spend the welfare payments you receive. It often happens that people placed on the list discover it after the fact, when they call the bank to find out why a transaction has not been completed.

Of course, there is also the list of NGOs declared “foreign agents,” which the Justice Ministry requires to submit additional reporting on property, expenditures, and management. The Justice Ministry also keeps lists of “undesirable” and “extremist” organizations (currently, there are 11 and 61 of these organizations, respectively). When they are accorded this status, the authorities are obliged to identify their rank-and-file members. When it is a matter of large organizations, thousands and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of people find themselves targets of surveillance. Thus, in the wake of the banning and forced closure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia in 2017, up to 150,000 of its followers in Russia face the prospect of criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions.

Groups that used to be on the periphery of public life, for example, football fans, have also faced increased attention from the authorities. After a law was amended in 2016, the Interior Ministry began publishing lists of people banned from attending sporting events. The listed included 319 names at the the end of July.

Schoolchildren are yet another group that has faced increased police surveillance. Thus, in the Education Ministry’s recommendations on criminal subcultures [sic], schoolteachers are practically delegated the role of police investigators vis-à-vis minors. They are obliged to divulge information to the police about the private lives of their pupils and their families. This means that the children are entered into the record and put in various police databases.

The Attack on Anonymity
In 2016, the authorities launched a vigorous campaign against anonymity on the internet. The so-called Yarovaya anti-terrorist package of amendments to existing laws could have supplied the secret services with unsupervised access to all communication among users if it were not for the resistance of some providers and standard end-to-end encryption. The Yarovaya package continued the policy of nationalizing and deanonymizing the Runet, which could provide full control over the information flows inside Russia.

The next steps were the laws on messengers and anonymizers, signed by the president on July 30, 2017. The first law, in particular, stipulates the obligatory identification of users by mobile telephone numbers. The second law is essentially an attempt to establish total control over anonymizers and VPNs.

In August 2017, the Communications Ministry published draft requirements for internet providers, as listed in the register of information distribution companies. The draft includes a list of information that must be accessible to the FSB (Federal Security Service): the date and time the user was registered, and the latest update of the registration form; nickname, date of birth, address, full name, passport particulars, other identity documents, languages spoken, information about relatives, and accounts with other providers; the receipt, sending, and processing of messages, images, and sounds; recipients of messenges; financial transactions, including payees, amounts paid, currency, goods and services paid for; and client programs and geolocation information, among other things. Providers are required to store and transmit to the security services not only sent and received messages, but draft messages as well.

And yet public opinion polls show the majority of Russians are not terribbly worried about maintaining privacy for the time being. [Russian opinion polls are worthless as measures of real opinion—TRR.] For activists, reporters, and members of the opposition, however, the refusal of internet companies to cooperate with the authorities and the capacity to withstand hacking are the only guarantees of their security.

Without access to encrypted correspondence, the Russian state, apparently has had to resort to the services of hackers. Thus, on October 11, 2016, Google and Yandex warned several dozen activists, reporters, and NGO employees about an attempt by “pro-government hackers” to hack their accounts.

The Burden of Information
Despite establishing legal grounds for harvesting information about nearly everyone in Russia, there is a huge amount of evidence the regime is technologically and financially incapable of gathering, storing, and qualitatively processing it.

The most obvious example of this is, perhaps, the Yarovaya package itself. During an economic crisis, the authorities are clearly not willing to incur the huge expenses required to implement the entire range of e-surveillance of the populace, which, according to various estimates, could cost from 130 billion rubles [approx. 1.86 billion euros] to 10 trillion rubles [approx. 143 billion euros]. Consequently, the duties of collecting and saving traffic have been sloughed off onto the telecoms and internet providers, who are likewise not at all happy about such a “gift” and have already begun to raise their rates. Meaning that the surveilled themselves have been asked to pay for the ability of the secret services to read their correspondence and view their personal photographs, to pay a kind of “shadowing” tax. Meanwhile, since more than half the world’s internet traffic is already transmitted in encrypted form, the regime, even though it has access to exabytes of user correspondence, has been forced to demand that providers supply them with encryption keys.

Aware of its limited resources, the Russian state has focused on more diligent work with specific groups. Hence, the enthusiasm over different types of black lists, as well as the delegation of surveillance duties to telecoms, internet providers, banks, and transportation companies. On the one hand, they have access to the information; on the other hand, they depend on the state, make their money from government contracts or receive their licenses and permits from the state.

The authorities are willing to chuck the black lists, which have proved ineffective, just as they gave up on the bloggers register. This would enable them to focus resources on various risk groups. When necessary, they could include people of special interest in the groups while surveilling the populace as a whole.

Consequently, the security departments of many commercial organizations have been ratting on their clients to the security forces, headmasters have been forced to gather dirt on schoolchildren, and internet providers to monitor the traffic of users. Even as it stores this growing mountain of information on Russians, the authorities care little for their safety. Increasingly, user data has become publicly accessible, often deliberately.

Damir Gainutdinov is a legal analyst at Agora. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Dust in Our Eyes

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“A third country hostile to the United States may have been involved.”

You don’t say? And what country might that have been?

Meanwhile, some of the most respected political pundits I know in this country have adopted as an article of faith that Putinist Russia is an “ordinary authoritarian regime.”

Why have they adopted this article of faith? Did the Archangel Gabriel appear to them in a dream and tell them the good news?

No. They’ve persuaded themselves this is the case so they don’t have to think about things such as why their country’s operatives tried to cause permanent hearing damage to US diplomats at the US embassy in Havana; why their country has invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine; why an unidentified agent of their country’s security forces went to the grassroots memorial to Boris Nemtsov in downtown Moscow the other day and broke the nose of the activist standing vigil there, thus eventually killing him; why their country’s armed forces have aided the bloody dictator Bashar Assad in crushing the massive popular rebellion against his tyrannical regime, a war that has killed, according to some estimates, at least half a million people, not to mention the millions of people it has forced to leave the country; why the country’s most famous theater director, Kirill Serebrennikov, has been arrested on manifestly absurd trumped-up charges; why their country has tried, valiantly it has to be said, to mess with elections in several other countries, including the US; and so on.

My catalogue of ships could have been a hundred times longer. It could have spanned as many of the past eighteen years as I would have liked or been limited to the last week or two. But what’s the point? Do all or any of these behaviors strike you as typical of an “ordinary authoritarian regime”?

They strike me, at very least, as the actions of an extraordinarily aggressive regime, hellbent on pushing its way back to the top (of what?) on the cheap, risking all-out war in the process, and long engaged in a “cold civil war” with its own people.

And so, some of Russia’s hepcat political pundits have adopted this new article of faith so that, no matter what new hellish stupidity the Putin regime commits at home or abroad today or tomorrow (it does something of the sort almost literally every day; sometimes, ten times a day) they can remark dryly to their concerned foreign colleagues, “Don’t look so worried. It’s just an ordinary authoritarian regime.” TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

Capital Flight for Your Right to Party

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Petersburgers queue at a money exchange point in the downtown as the euro again rises in value against the ruble, August 22, 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader

Half the Kingdom for an Offshore
Since the early 1990s, Russians have exported as much money as is left in the country 
Arnold Khachaturov
Novaya Gazeta
August 24, 2017

Research into the scale of the transfer of money from Russia to preferential tax jurisdictions has confirmed the darkest fears of economists and politicians. The offshore capital of Russian companies amounts to 62 trillion rubles [approx. 888 billion euros], which is comparable to 72% of Russia’s annual GDP and three times larger than the country’s gold and foreign exchange reserves. A handful of hyper-wealthy Russians and major companies have deposited in accounts in Panama (read our special investigation “Offshores: An Autopsy”), Cyprus, and other offshore zones about the same amount of money as the rest of Russia’s populace has left at home. Or, to invoke another comparison, the elites have exported the monetary equivalent of the entire Russian economy during the mid-2000s.

You won’t find this information in the official statistics, of course. These are the calculations reached by three of the world’s leading specialists on inequality—Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, and Filip Novokmet. (Piketty and Novokmet work at the Paris School of Economics, while Zucman works at UC Berkeley and the National Bureau of Economic Research.) The economists have authored a report entitled From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia, 1905–2016. The report has been published by the NBER, a private research organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Piketty and his colleagues most often assemble and analyze globe-spanning data sets, but this time they have written a detailed article on a single country. It deals with a particular trajectory in Russia’s progress after the Soviet Union’s collapse: the economy has been sent offshore, and the income gap between the wealthy and the poor has reached critical levels not typical either of the developed countries nor of other post-communist regimes. The report’s authors see this as an example of an extreme form of oligarchic capitalism, which confirms their central hypothesis that a high level of inequality is incompatible a country’s sustainable development.

Although Piketty’s methodology has been constantly criticized due to the insufficient reliability of his data (the use of official Soviet statistics provokes the biggest questions in this instance), the conclusions reached by the world’s biggest star in academic economics and author of the international bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century cannot be ignored.

In any country in the world, the major capitalists are engaged in devising different ways to minimize tax payments: economic incentives function the same everywhere. In his previous works, Zucman calculated there is $7.6 trillion tucked away in the world’s offshore zones. In 2014, according to Oxfam, the fifty biggest US companies kept $1.4 trillion in tax havens.

In relative terms, however, this is only 8% of the US economy. The European elites keep approximately the same percentage of their wealth abroad. Returning these assets to their original jurisdictions and adding them to the tax base would certainly be a powerful impetus in the fight against inequality, but the quality of life of the average American or European would probably not change too drastically.

Can the same be said of Russia? Offshores have played a fundamentally different role here.

Due to corruption and the lack of legal protections for business, the Russian economy has been deprived not just of a small part of corporate super-profits, but of almost half of its potential assets. The failure of the deoffshorization campaign has shown the problem in Russia lies much deeper than in western countries. Russian businessmen are trying not so much to evade the practically preferential income tax rate of 13%; on the contrary, in other jurisdictions they are willing to pay twice as much so as not face the Russian tax inspectorate and the Russian courts.

Even if we ignore the origins of the offshore fortunes of the Russian rich, the possible public gain from returning these funds to Russia appears extremely significant. The most conservative estimates predict 400 to 500 billion rubles in additional tax revenues for the budget annually. This was the same amount the federal government spent on healthcare in 2016.

If at least part of this money were invested in the Russian economy, the effect could be much stronger. For example, the Stolypin Club’s strategy argues that, in order to grow, the Russian economy lacks 1.5 trillion rubles annually in the form of business loans. Economist Mikhail Dmitriev proposes allocating the same amount to finance infrastructure projects.

These are conversations in a vacuum, however. Having made their fortunes both in the private sector and government service, wealthy Russians imagine Russia’s “national interests” quite differently.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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This paper combines national accounts, survey, wealth and fiscal data (including recently released tax data on high-income taxpayers) in order to provide consistent series on the accumulation and distribution of income and wealth in Russia from the Soviet period until the present day. We find that official survey-based measures vastly underestimate the rise of inequality since 1990. According to our benchmark estimates, top income shares are now similar to (or higher than) the levels observed in the United States. We also find that inequality has increased substantially more in Russia than in China and other ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe. We relate this finding to the specific transition strategy followed in Russia. According to our benchmark estimates, the wealth held offshore by rich Russians is about three times larger than official net foreign reserves, and is comparable in magnitude to total household financial assets held in Russia.
Abstract to Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty & Gabriel Zucman, From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia, 1905-2016, NBER Working Paper No. 23712, August 2017

Fruits and Vegetables

“Fruits Vegetables”

Anyone who blames the US Foreign Service and its 755 staffers, most of them Russian nationals, who even as I write this are either being removed from their posts and sent back to the States, or (the vast majority) summarily fired without cause from their jobs at the US embassy in Moscow and the US consulates in Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok, for the earth-crushing “visa crisis” now “unfairly affecting ordinary Russians,” should actually try and figure out what is going on and who is to blame for the so-called crisis before writing yet another wildly misinformed Facebook or Telegram post about how it’s all the fault of Donald Trump, the State Department, and the obtuse staffers in the visa departments at the US embassy and consulates in Russia.

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, is to blame for the “crisis,” because it was he who ordered the summary dismissal or removal of 755 embassy and consulate personnel by September 1, 2017.

He knew quite well his order would, among other things, make it difficult for the US embassies and consulates to process visa requests at the pace required by all those “ordinary Russians” and to do this in the big cities where they either live or live near.

But I have seen hardly any mention of Putin’s role in the affair, especially in the tumultuous fountain of collective wisdom known as Facebook, where yet another festival of free-floating anti-Americanism has erupted.

President Putin, if he actually read Facebook, would be pleased to see what some of his countrymen have been writing, because he would be witnessing the wild flowering of the anti-Americanism he has been carefully planting in place of communism as the country’s ruling ideology over the last eighteen years.

I admit he has been going about it in a way that sometimes suggested he was, instead, “fostering better relations” with the US, but nobody who has actually been following the vicissitudes of his regime and his actual moves and key policy statements would have been fooled by that transparent ruse.

But enough of Putin. He’s a super villain and can thus be excused for doing mean, hurtful things to hundreds of people he has never met. That’s his job.

What about his virtual countrymen, who for the last several days have been writing lots of mean, hurtful, and stupid things about hundreds of people, most of whom they have never met, most of them on the verge of losing jobs some of them have held for one or two decades (the Russians) or being uprooted again and sent to another posting after getting settled in Russia (the actual US diplomats)?

What have they done to deserve your wrath?

Nothing.

Which means, at least, that the minimum of solidarity you could have shown them as they go through something that will cause many of them and their family members a great deal of anguish, to put it mildly, was to think harder for a few minutes, find out what was really going on, and figure out who was really to blame for the problem, instead of once again taking an absolutely useless but “emotionally satisfying” punch at the Great Satan, as if you were taking your cues from Putin himself or the late Ayatollah Khomeini, Allah bless his soul.

I realize what I’ve written will be nearly inscrutable to people who have reacted this way. They just want their visas—and they want them now.

So I’ll leave it at this. Now matter how many times you may have been to the US and how much time you’ve spent there, you’ve demonstrated to me you’re not exactly friends of my country.

At the same time, you’ve shown you feel no solidarity for your own real countrymen, who are losing their jobs because a whimsical tyrant and his clique of friends have decided to rule Russia for as long as they can or until they drain it dry, whichever comes first.

Is the US State Department and its Russian national employees to blame for that state of affairs, too?

No.

So, at very least, you also have a very odd, contemptuous attitude toward your own countrymen and your own country.

Hence your signal inability to blame the man who actually caused the “crisis” for causing it.

Not to mention he scares you to death, so it’s always wiser to blame someone else for his regime’s excesses. It’s a lot safer to verbally roast the State Department, Kirill Serebrennikov, Kirill Serebrennikov’s accountant, and so on, for the “stupid mistakes” they made.

Anyone smarter than they are wouldn’t have done the stupid things they did, and we know you’re all much smarter than the State Department, Kirill Serebrennikov, his accountant, and all the other, now nearly countless victims of the eighteen-year-old Putinist tyranny. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

“Das Ordnung”

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Putinism has triumphed not because the majority of Russians have become convinced “Putinists,” whatever that would mean, or have been persuaded by the man’s notorious “power vertical” system of governance, which in reality is an inefficient, irresponsible literal disaster waiting to happen somewhere nearly every single day (witness the fires in Rostov-on-Don).

It has triumphed because people have, seemingly, lost the will to eject, by whatever means would work best under the circumstances, the entire noxious, corrupt, incredibly expensive, and utterly futureless non-system that Putin and his clique have erected over eighteen long years of conspicuous consumption in a few happy oases, mixed with criminal wars, “legal nihilism,” an incredible gap between the super wealthy and the super poor, the destruction of all the things the Soviet Union did right or, at least, not terribly badly, in terms of education, social provision, healthcare, and housing, and the most inconsistent, frighteningly hilarious “national ideology” ever devised anywhere, which pretends to be “conservative” and “authentically Russian,” but mostly looks as if it had been dreamed up one night by three or four Kremlin spin doctors on a bender, as a bad-spirited practical joke.

At worst, people either pretend, especially in the two capitals, to be incredibly busy and content with their lives. At best, they argue about the particulars—say, about the details of the trumped-up case against director Kirill Serebrennikov, arrested in Petersburg yesterday, and temporarily sentenced to house arrest pending trial on embezzlement charges today in Moscow—as if the system didn’t have the power to turn literally anyone except the members of Putin’s inside circle (and maybe even them) into a “vicious criminal” literally overnight, as if Serebrennikov has made some particular fatal mistake that nearly everyone else would never be so stupid to make. Or that they would never be so stupid to get close to so much money or power and end up in the pickle the feckless Serebrennikov got himself into.

The idea that the country could go on being itself, that is, being mostly messed up and weird and not like any other country, because you cannot be like any other country when you’re the biggest country in the world, but a billion times more productive and easier to live in simply by ditching the crappy, greedy junta that will certainly kill it off in the next few years is a thought that either literally everyone is thinking right now or everyone has forbidden themselves to think at all.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid it’s the latter.

So it doesn’t matter whether you call the reactionary regime currently in power authoritarian, post-authoritarian, fascist, post-fascist, post-truth or pre-truth, because eventually it will go down in flames, taking with it, alas, the magnificent country that has had the misfortune to engender it. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

Who Makes the Nazis?

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Scuplture on the Albert Speer-inspired Galeriya shopping center in downtown Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

“In 2015, for instance, St. Petersburg hosted one of the most outspoken gatherings of far-right ideologues Europe has seen in years. With speakers rotating across the dais, a pair of Americans—Jared Taylor and Sam Dickson—railed against Washington’s turn toward civil rights and racial equality. Taylor, a man Spencer himself has cited as inspiration for his political baptism into white nationalism, and a man who recorded robocalls on behalf of Trump during the campaign, joined Dickson, erstwhile lawyer for the Ku Klux Klan, as the latter praised Putin for encouraging high birthrates among white Russians. The organization pulling the Americans to the conference was itself an outgrowth of a Russian party founded by Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow’s deputy prime minister.”

—Casey Michel, “America’s neo-Nazis don’t look to Germany for inspiration. They look to Russia,” August 22, 2017, Washington Post

Report to UN on Racial Discrimination in Russia Banned

Report to UN on Racial Discrimination in Russia Banned
Takie Dela
August 17, 2017

Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor has placed a report to the UN on racial discrimation in Russia on its list of banned information, reports the SOVA Center.

The alternative report in question is entitled “The Russian Federation’s Observance of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” and covers the period 1996–2001. The report has been published on several websites, including the Kharkov-based human rights website Human Rights in Ukraine.

doklad screen shotScreenshot from Roskomnadzor website

In June 2015, the Yelniki District Court in Mordovia ruled the report information prohibited for dissemination. On August 11, the page on the Human Rights in Ukraine website containing the report was registered on Roskomnadzor’s list of banned materials, reports SOVA.

“The ruling itself has not been published, and we are unaware of the court’s arguments. In order for a court to rule information prohibited for dissemination in Russia, it must contain matter previously deemed extremist by a court.  Of course, the report on racial discrimination contained no such matter, so it is completely unclear in this case what triggered the lawsuit and the court’s ruling,” SOVA’s press service commented.

The report was compiled by the Memorial Human Rights Center with the assistance of twenty-five Russian NGOs involved in counteracting racism and discrimination. It was submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The report discusses the discrimination or promotion of discrimination against Meskhetian Turks, Chechens, and Romani. It also criticizes Russian authorities for insufficient efforts to counteract discrimination and creating appropriate mechanisms for counteracting discrimination.

In 2016, the Russian Federal Justice Ministry declared SOVA Center a “foreign agent.” SOVA Center staff do not consider their work political, the alleged determining criterion for ruling a Russian NGO receiving foreign funding a “foreign agent.”

Thanks to Maria Turovets and Mari Davtyan for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader