Screenshot of Gay.Ru courtesy of Russian LGBT Network
Roskomnadzor Blocks Major LGBT Website Gay.Ru
Russian LGBT Network Facebook
March 30, 2018
The website Gay.Ru has been notified the information published on it has been included in the Unified Register of Prohibited Websites by decision of the Altai District Court in the village of Belyi Yar, Republic of Khakassia.
The website now contains the following warning.
“The basis for blocking [the website] was the posting of information promoting nontraditional sexual relations, which has been prohibited in the Russian Federation.”
The ruling was made by Judge Olga Kvasova. As is customary in cases concocted by the authorities, it is impossible to comprehend what exactly the court deemed promotion of homosexuality.
The plaintiffs in the case were the Altai District Prosecutor’s Office and the Yenisei branch office of Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal media and communications watchdog. The court’s verdict came into force on December 22, 2017.
Yesterday, the website received the standard letter from Roskomnadzor about needing to immediately delete information whose dissemination is forbidden in the Russian Federation.
“In order to ensure the rights of citizens and in compliance with current legislation, the information indicated above must be banned from dissemination in the Russian Federation, since unhindered access to the specified internet resource and the information posted on the website has been classified as prohibited information, meant to be disseminated amongst underaged children, to be capable of provoking in them an interest in nontraditional sexual relations, to distort notions of the social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, and to induce them to engage in nontraditional sexual relations, which poses a real threat to their health. In addition, dissemination of this information has a negative impact on the moral, spiritual, mental and physical development, on the health and safety of minors, and diminishes the value of family relations,” the court’s ruling reads.*
For twenty years, Gay.Ru has not only covered LGBT community news in Russia and the world but has also published articles on the cultural and social life of LGBT people, articles on health and HIV prevention, and studies of gender and sexuality.
* The original Russian ruling is rendered in such illiterate, ungrammatical Russian I wonder whether the judge or court clerk who wrote it went to school. TRR
Thanks to Igor Kochetkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Members of the previously unknown New Greatness movement were detained and then remanded in custody in mid March in Moscow, accused of organizing an “extremist community.” OVD Info has examined the case file. Apparently, the movement was led by undercover law enforcement officers.
Police searched the homes of members of the opposition New Greatness (Novoye velichiye) movement on March 15 in Moscow, as reported by the Telegram channel Kremlin Washerwoman (here and here).
The grounds for the searches were not reported. As witnesses confirmed, a list containing the names of ten of the movement’s members was confiscated during one of the searches. According to unconfirmed reports, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers were present at the search.
A bit later, a video of the movement’s leader, Ruslan Kostylenkov, confessing his guilt during an interrogation, was posted on the internet.
According to Kostylenkov, the organization’s objectives were “establishing order in the Russian Federation, organizing a tribunal for members of the ruling elite, and abolishing repressive laws and the Constitution.” When asked how the movement’s members intended to accomplish this, Kostylenkov replied they planned to organize rallies and carry out [militant] “actions” [aktsiyi] against law enforcers.
After the searches, Kostylenkov, an underage female, and seven other people were detained and sent to the Russian Investigative Committee’s Western Administrative District office in Moscow.
The next day, March 16, Dorogomilovo District Court in Moscow remanded seven members of New Greatness, including the underage girl, in police custody for two months. Two other members were placed under house arrest. All of them were charged under Article 282.1 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“organization of an extremist community”). Kostylenkov was among those remanded in police custody.
On March 20, the Moscow News Agency reported that a criminal case had been opened on March 13, that is, two days before the searches and arrests.
Citing a source in law enforcement, Moscow News Agency also claimed that the organization’s objective had been the commission of crimes motivated by political hatred [sic] of the current Russian federal constitutional system. In addition, members of New Greatness had repeatedly organized sessions in Moscow and Moscow Region at which they had received training on how to participate in protest rallies. The agency’s source noted the training sessions involved the use of firearms and explosives.
The Criminal Code defines an “extremist community” as a group of people organized for the planning and commission of “extremist crimes.” People found guilty of organizing an “extremist community” can be sentenced to a maximum of ten years in prison, while people found guilty of being members of the group (as covered by Article 282.1 Part 2) face maximum sentences of six years in prison. The Russian Supreme Court has ruled that criminal liability for violating the law begins at the age of sixteen.
The official commentary to Criminal Code Article 282.1 states that the group in question must be “stable,” meaning the people in the group had got together beforehand in order to plan and commit the crimes. The group must have an organizer and a stable membership, and the actions of the group’s members must be coordinated.
Judging by the case file, the members of New Greatness stand accused of planning to overthrow the government. Apparently, in keeping with the wording of Article 282.1, these actions should be interpreted as “crimes motivated by political hatred.”
OVD Info has been able to examine the case file, which we received from the lawyer of one of the accused men. These documents let us take a slightly broader look at the members of New Greatness, their activities, and the roles they were assigned. The case file contains the following information about some of those in police custody and the members who avoided arrest.
Maxim Roshchin, a 38-year-old unemployed man from Khimki, Moscow Region. Roshchin was not involved in shooting practice, and knows nothing about any other training sessions.
Pyotr Karamzin, 40 years old. He knows nothing about protest rallies timed to coincide with the presidential election and was not involved in discussing them. Karamzin tried to take part in the first training camp, but the group “got stuck in the snow.” Like all the other members, he gave money to Ruslan D (see below), with whom he once went to a protest rally. When Karamzin realized the rally had not been authorized by the authorities, he left.
Pavel Rebrovsky, a 31-year-old unemployed Muscovite. Rebrovsky was head of the so-called militant actions department. He treated his duties as a joke and ignored them. He did not engage in any serious discussions, since he realized it would be impossible for ten people to overthrow the government. He gave cash to Ruslan D.
Ruslan Kostylenkov aka Ruslan Center, 25 years old, previously convicted of robbery. The group’s leader, as he himself recounts in the interrogation video published by Kremlin Washerwoman.
The following members of the New Greatness community were interrogated on March 13. The same day witnessed the opening of the criminal case on whose basis nine people were detained and then remanded in custody on March 15. The testimony provided Konstantinov, Rostorguyev, and Kashapov was the basis for the charges filed against all members of the group remanded to custody. Moreover, their testimony has been excised from the case file, as handed over to the defense attorneys of the arrested members. Konstantinov, Rastorguyev, and Kashapov were not arrested themselves.
Alexander Konstantinov aka Ruslan D aka Spaniard (not to be confused with Ruslan “Center” Kostylenkov). Konstantinov’s profile in the interrogation protocol is blank. He admits he was involved in New Greatness “in order to subsquently identify the members,” inspect documents, and gather important information to pass on to law enforcement. Konstantinov identifies himself as head of the financial department. However, as follows from the testimony of other members, as cited above, there was only one member who located and rented rooms for group meetings: Ruslan D aka Konstantinov. According to the group’s leader, Kostylenkov, it was Ruslan D who drafted the group’s charter.
Rustam Kashapov is a 28-year-old military engineer. According to the testimony of one of the arrested members, it was Kapashov who brought weapons and ammunition to one of the group’s training sessions.
The case file makes it clear that:
Three members of New Greatness were interrogated three days before the searches and arrests: Konstantinov, Rastorguyev, and Kashapov.
The criminal case was opened after the three men were interrogated.
According to the case file, all three men were involved in organizing the group and arranging the training sessions, drafting the charter, collecting dues, and renting space. According to the charges, these actions were, in fact, the grounds for detaining members of the New Greatness movement and remanding them in custody.
Konstantin, Rastorguyev, and Kashapov avoided arrest.
One of the three men—Rastorguyev—has testified he was assigned to infiltrate the group. The testimony of all three men has almost been entirely excised from the case file that was handed over to the arrested men’s defense lawyers.
Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. It should be obvious by now the Russian security services were tasked with inventing domestic “terrorist” and “extremist” groups from scratch in the run-up to the March 18 presidential election and this summer’s FIFA World Cup, which Russia will host, and then unmasking, apprehending, and prosecuting the fruits of their own sadistic fantasies. To my mind, this should be a huge scoop just waiting for an ace reporter at a big-name western newspaper or magazine if only he or she would take the time to look over the ample Russian press coverage of the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, the strange investigation of the real “terrorist” bombing that occurred in the Petersburg subway in April 2017, and the curious case of the the New Greatness movement, which, as the article above suggests, was conjured into existence by Russian undercover police themselves. The question is why, when this website and other activist websites have been at pains to give “real” reporters one and one and one, they cannot add them up and get three? Or they are simply too afraid of the collective Putin and its wrath to cover these flagrant miscarriages of justice?
Who will believe my verse in time to come, If it were fill’d with your most high deserts? Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb Which hides your life and shows not half your parts. If I could write the beauty of your eyes And in fresh numbers number all your graces, The age to come would say ‘This poet lies: Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.’ So should my papers yellow’d with their age Be scorn’d like old men of less truth than tongue, And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage And stretched metre of an antique song: But were some child of yours alive that time, You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.
“Court approval of search warrant requests, 2007–first quarter of 2017. Red=number of warrant requests; gray=warrants issues. || In the past 11 years, Russian courts have approved, on average, 96.3% of search warrant requests. 67% of the requests concerned searches of private premises as part of surveillance operations, while 33% of searches were part of specific criminal investigations. ||Numbers and kinds of intimidation during so-called political searches (based on an analysis of 600 searches conducted in the homes of grassroots activists and members of persecuted organizations): violence, threats – 97; breaking down doors, forced entry through windows – 70; search performed at early hour of the day – 63; search conducted at homes of relatives – 47. Sources: International Agora and Russian Supreme Court Judicial Department.” Courtesy of Vedomosti
How Police Searches Have Become Tools of Political Intimidation Agora International Says Privacy in Russia Has Nearly Vanished
Anastasiya Kornya Vedomosti
March 29, 2018
Over the past ten and a half years, Russia courts have issued law enforcement agencies 1,976,201 warrants to search or investigate private premises. This number constitutes 96.32% of all such requests, according to calculations made by analysts at the Agora International Human Rights Group, which on Thursday will release a report entitled “Politically Motivated Police Searches: The Specter of Inviolability.” Often police investigators manage to obtain search warrants after the fact. During the period, the number of requests for search warrants has increased by nearly fifty percent. With respect to Russia’s 54 million households, this means that, over the last ten years, every twenty-seventh home in Russia has been searched.
The report’s authors note this is only the tip of the iceberg. Searches and inspections of non-residential premises, such as offices, warehouses, etc., do not require court warrants, and data on the number of such incursions has not been published by anyone.
The exception to this rule are law offices. Since April 2017, they have enjoyed greater formal protection than the residences of ordinary citizens. Law offices cannot be searched without a court order, and a representative of the regional bar association must be present during the search. Andrei Suchkov, vice-president of the Federal Bar Association, says they have not specially kept track of the statistics, but his sense is the number of searches in law offices has decreased during this time. There have been cases when police investigators tried to carry out searches without permission, but the courts have nevertheless mainly sided with lawyers, he notes.
Agora’s report reminds its readers that, in the early 1990s, the term “mask show,” meaning a police search carried out with backup from masked and armed special forces soldiers, came into common usage. Such searches were an effective means of coercing business partners and business rivals alike. Subsequently, the tool came to be used against the regime’s political opponents.
Recently, the practice of “serial” searches has been widespread. Thus, according to Leonid Volkov, head of Alexei Navalny’s presidential election campaign, police have raided the offices of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Navalny’s regional campaign offices no less than 150 times. Police have raided the offices of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia around fifty times over three years. Agrora’s analysts note the most frequent targets of large-scale, systematic searches have been members of opposition organizations and Crimean Tatars.
Another goal of police searches is the confiscation of electronic devices and subsequent unauthorized access to personal data, correspondence, and social media accounts. For example, during a June 2012 search of Alexei Navalny’s home, police seized a laptop, tablet computers, and mobile phone. Two weeks later, Navalny’s email and Twitter account were hacked.
Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, says they took an interest in the numbers of police searches after analyzing the state of privacy of correspondence and telephone conversations. If we recall that, on average, the courts have approved 98.35% of wiretapping warrants, we must admit judicial oversight in this area is illusory, and there is no privacy in Russia, claims Chikov.
Expanding the remit of law enforcement agencies to ever broader areas of daily life has transformed searches from investigative tools to signals broadcast by the regime and received by everyone involved in politics, government, and business, concurs political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov.
“What matters nowadays is not the outcome, but the search per se. We have been seeing an increased number of searches whose point is just that,” says Vinogradov.
What should you look for in terms of fire safety at a shopping center? I decided to call the Emergencies Ministry and find out everything firsthand.
“What, I’m supposed to reread you the whole booklet?”
The man on the other end of the line, whom I had reached after a couple of transfers, was not very happy to hear from me.
“What’s your district? You need to talk to your own fire inspector.”
I waited again to be transferred.
“You realize we now have these temporary reprieves for small businesses. It’s now impossible for us to carry out a normal fire inspection. We need a court order. We can, of, course, call a facility and find out what’s happening there. But beyond that . . .”
The fire inspector told me it was absolutely normal and legal to ask a shopping mall’s security guards and employees about their fire safety system. If doors are locked, why is that? How do they work? What would happen during a fire? If shopping mall staff and, especially, security guards had the least bit of training, they would easily be able to answer any and all questions.
The guys and I headed to Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall in Moscow. We immediately located the evacuation plan, which made it easier to find the emergency exits. The funny thing about the emergency exits at Okhotny Ryad is the plan says they exist, but in reality the doors are marked “Staff Entrance” and “Keycard Access Only.” Naturally, all of these doors are locked. All of them.
“We don’t have any exits,” said a guard, “only entrances from the outside.”
“I don’t know anything. Go ask that policeman over yonder,” replied another guard.
“What have I got to do with it?” the policeman wondered, laughing.
“Look, we have emergency exits in every shop. Got it?” replied a third guard, who had a mustache.
“Can we go and take a look at them?”
“No, you can’t. You know what? If something happens, we’ll save you. Got it?”
We could not understand how we would be rescued by guards who still did not know how the emergeny exits in their shopping mall worked. We went to pull on the other doors on the upper floors. We found ourselves outside the restrooms. A female cashier explained she did not know what exactly was beyond the door, but you could only get through it with a magnetic key. If there were a fire, she would exit the shopping mall via the regular entrance to the mall.
“What’s the big deal? You grab your stuff quickly and take off.”
Wherever we went, a mustached guy in a gray blazer would come running. He sweated and was out of breath. He had obviously hurried. He would stand off to one side and stare at us.
“Did you forget something? Well, what? What do you want?”
After asking his questions, the man would turn around and slowly walk away from us.
“Everything works here. Everything. The doors operate on magnetic keys, but in a fire they open automatically.”
“How does that happen?”
We were nearly chasing him in an attempt to continue the conversation.
“The guards line up in the corridors, and the emergency . . . begins.”
The dude swallowed half his words.
“Who the heck are you guys? Should I really be talking to you?”
Irriated, the mustached Mr. Suit vanished. Now we were certain the guards would save us.
So, what conclusions can we draw?
1. Shopping mall staff and security are obliged to know how the emergency exits function, and how the fire safety system is organized. It is our right to ask them about it. The staff at Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall are completely ignorant about the building’s layout, where the exits are, and how they work. Meaning that the guards, who are supposed to save us, have had no training whatsoever and have not even bothered to take a glance at how the building is laid out. Can we trust such people in an emergency? No.
2. The doors in the shopping mall are kept firmly locked. Neither staff nor security know how they work. Can we trust a safety system like this? No.
3. The evacuation plan does not always synch with reality. Where the plan says there are exits, there are always signs saying, “Staff only.” The signs pointing to the emergency exits are confusing and could lead you into a dead end. This is scary. Given a system of signage like this, would you be able to escape if a fire slightly less ferocious than the one in Kemerovo broke out? No.
The Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall is a prime candidate for the #InsecurePlacesList. In addition, we encountered another problem: a total ignorance of fire safety rules on the part of mall employees. Therefore, I demand employees fix the problem. I will no longer be patronizing the Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall. Sure, it’s a local fix, but I will #boycott the mall. I also plan to relate our adventures to the Emergencies Ministry.
Do you go to Okhotny Ryad often? How do things stand in terms of fire safety at the shopping mall you frequent?
I am still proposing we do inspections of shopping centers right away. Sure, we are not professionals, but it’s enough to reach out to to mall employees and find out whether they know the rules. If they don’t, it is a clear violation of the law.
1. Go to your local shopping malls. Look and see what is going on with the emergency exits. Study the evacuation plan. Ask security guards and mall management about their arrangements. Record your findings by snapping pictures and making videos.
2. Write up the results of your spot checks and post them on social media. Identify and tag the shopping malls in your posts and tag the posts with the hashtags #KemerovoIsNotAlone, #InsecurePlacesList, and anything else you can think of.
3. Don’t hesitate to call the Emergencies Ministry and report violations, rude behavior, etc. It all helps.
After launching spot checks like this and expanding the list, we can think about filing class-action complaints against the shopping malls and continuing to publicize the issue on social media.
I regard posts about insecure places, like shopping malls, in which fire safety rules do not function, as an elementary tool of self-defense and a means of protecting my friends and loved ones.
Currently, any and all information and all spot checks are truly important. Unfortunately, no one else will do this work for us. So join us!
The fire in Kemerovo. The official death toll is currently thirty-seven people. It is a two minutes’ walk from my old school. Maybe my acquaintances, people with whom I went to school or grew up, were there. The authorities have been lying about the number of dead, because the golden rule in Kuzbass is bad news must be kept to a minimum. The authorities will now play for time, but they are not about to tell the whole truth about what happened. The governor, who has become fused to his post, holding power longer than Putin, did not even put in an appearance at the emergency command center.
I scroll through my news feed and all I can feel is horror and anger. Children, adults, and animals from the petting zoo perished because someone permitted such a dangerous building to be erected, become someone permitted it to be operated without a proper firefighting system, because “It’ll do as it is,” because someone wanted to skimp on teaching employees what to do in an emergency, because, because, because.
Ten years ago or so, I worked at a kindergarten. Smoke appeared in the building during nap time. We evacuated two hundred sleepy children. It was winter. We donned their winter clothes over their pajamas and made a run for it. No one was injured, and the building was quickly aired out.
It transpired it was not the first time the kindergarten had problems with smokiness, because the Russian government had obliged all kindergartens to install new defective fuse boxes, due to the system of kickbacks prevailing in public procurements. The fuse boxes smoked like dragons, but everyone kept mum, because there was nothing one could do about it.
So now I read about Kemerovo and recognize my homeland, where human life has no worth, and anger leaves us speechless.
An advertisement for hard drugs in downtown Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader
“I very often hear from smart and even progressive colleagues, not only so-called conservatives, that we should not exaggerate. The regime, they say, has not cracked down on millions of people, and you can criticize it, albeit on the internet. There are protest rallies from time to time. Intelligent books are published, not burned, and monuments to Stalinism’s victims are erected. The west has many of its own faults, too, and generally speaking, the regime is not all that oppressive.
“What I do not like about this rationale, however, is the constant desire to normalize current Russian reality, turn a blind eye to the crimes and mean tricks that actually do occur, muffle criticism and, ultimately, justify the regime, if only unconsiously. It is somehow especially offensive to hear and read such things when they are said and written by people who have left Russia.”
“When the Russian Federation occupied Crimea, Russians celebrated. When Donetsk and Lugansk were shelled and captured, they encouraged the vampire and cursed the Ukrainians. When the Russian Federation bombs Syria, our vast country’s deaf inhabitants are out of the loop.
“But why do they got upset when their own children are poisoned? Are the children of the Crimean Tatars, made orphans, and the murdered children of Ukraine and Syria worse than the children of Moscow and Voronezh?
“As long as you agree to kill others, don’t expect happiness. Your actions will catch up with you, sooner or later.
“Some would call it fate, others karma, still others, divine punishment. What’s the difference? Everything in this world is connected.”
Front page of official municipal council district newspaper, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader
“‘My name is Mikhail Safronov. I’m a tenth-grade student and I’m against the decision by the Russian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs to close the British Council in Russia.’
“According to Mikhail, closing the British Council would deprive Russians of the opportunity to learn about British culture, study English, and attend lectures, seminars, and other interesting events.
“’I think that political squabbles should not affect educational and cultural activities, for when we look at the historical past, we shall see that culture has always been an important element in any situation,’” believes Mikhail.”
Source: Email message from Change.org
Screenshot from the video for “Skujaa” by Helsinki hip-hop group SMC Lähiärotat
The really hilarious and sad thing is the number of Russians who are convinced that, because they are “victims” of their own regime, the so-called west (the EU, US, etc.) owes them something, everything.
I don’t mean asylum. Under international law, countries are obliged to provide safe haven to people who flee their own countries “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
Unfortunately, there have been a good number of Russians who have fled Russia for just these reasons in recent years, and many of them have been granted asylum, as they should have been.
But there have been many more Russians who have simply left the country for a better life somewhere else.
That’s cool, too.
Or it would be cool if more or most Russians extended the same right to live the good life to other peoples. But even as they either live happily in the west or think hard about relocating there, which they regard as an entitlement and a birthright, many of them are horrified that Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, etc., have been “overrun” by Muslims, Mexicans, Africans, Indonesians, etc.
The entitlement to a good life does not extend to these people, even if some of then, namely, Syrians, have been fleeing their homeland because the Russian government has allied itself with the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to crush all opposition to his tyrannical dynasty and been bombing the last opposition strongholds to smithereens with its superior air force and firepower.
I don’t need to tell you how many refugees, displaced people, and asylum seekers the Assadist massacres in Syria have generated, but Russia itself has taken in only a handful, at most, of these refugees, and caused them a lot of problems in the process.
Meanwhile, wherever they are in the rest of the world, at home or abroad, a good number of Russians would deny refuge and asylum to these same people because, in their mind, they are all potential “Islamic terrorists” or otherwise incompatible with “western civilization,” whatever that is and as if Russia were indubitably a part of it, an imaginary construct.
This same sense of entitlement extends to the mostly jejune “battle with the regime” at home. Of course, there are lots of Russian grassroots activists and opposition politicians who fight the good fight without even once thinking about “the west” and what it can or should do for them in their uneven struggle with the Putinist tyranny.
But there are just as many Russians who take it as a given that “the west” should be ready and willing to provide them with whatever they require when they need it: funding for their endless “projects,” junkets to conferences, research fellowships, lectureships, etc.
You might wonder why a grassroots activists or an opposition politician would need a research fellowship. Most real activists and politicans don’t need them, in fact. But the “struggle” in Russia has generated a rather large academic cottage industry of researchers and “activist researchers,” supposedly engaged in studying the “struggle,” the country’s “social movements,” and so on.
By all means, whenever possible, “the west” should fund this research, too. Russian intellectuals—unlike Syrian intellectuals, Iraqi intellectuals, etc., (do “Islamic terrorists” even have intellectuals?)—are entitled to this support because, in mysterious ways I cannot even fathom at this point, they “share the same values” as “westerners,” whoever they are.
Here’s the kicker. While western leftists and other assorted kooks have imagined “the west” has been doing Satan’s work and trying its darnedest to dismantle the once-mighty socialist utopia, the real story has been that the west actually has been flooding the former Soviet Union and Russia in particular with all manner of aid to civil society, academia, and even governments.
This extends even to the US State Department, rightly condemned as the source of all evil in the known universe. There is probably not a single person in the current Russian government and parliament who has not been the beneficiary, at some time in the surprisingly recent past, of an all-expenses-paid fact-finding junket to the US and/or the EU. A rather large number of Russian law enforcement officers and judges have also been on such trips to the Great Satan, as I know for a fact.
You might argue this kind of aid is ultimately self-serving, and you would be right. It was and has been mostly premised on the crazy notion that Russia was a democracy, and the west just needed to give it a little help and practical advice to get it all the way to the premier league of democracy, so to speak.
In the historiography of the Soviet Union, an important breakthrough was made when a new tribe of then-young historians started doing something that subsequently became known as “revisionist” history. That is, they dared to look at the Soviet Union as something other than a nonstop Stalinist totalitarian nightmare, meaning they tried to examine how ordinary Soviet citizens perceived their society or periodized the country’s history to show how very different the Stalin era was from the Thaw, and so on.
We are in desperate need of a revisionist history of the recent past, meaning the 1990s to the present. I realize no serious historian believes in “histories of the present,” but it’s good to attempt such things anyway, if only to preserve parts of the present or the near past that will not be so obvious to the people who come after us.
What I have in mind most of all is the very successful attempt to hypnotize the whole world into believing what I call the standard narrative about the collapse of the Soviet Union, its aftermath, and the rise of Putinism. Remarkably, the standard narrative is shared by Putinists, anti-Putinists (especially leftist anti-Putinists,) and lazy western academics and journalists alike, that is, by people who would seem otherwise to be at odds in the present when it comes to interpreting Russia’s current morass or, alternately, “resurgence.
I don’t want to rehearse the standard narrative here, partly because at this point it bores me to tears, and partly because I don’t want to give yet another platform to a story that the remarkable US president would call “fake news.”
The upshot is that everyone has forgotten that, during the “savage nineties,” Russian politicians, Russian society, Russian media, and ordinary Russians were not all reflexively anti-American and anti-western. Nor were they necessarily pro-American and pro-western.
Whatever they were, then, and whatever they were doing, it was this that was crucial to what happened in Russia at the time, for good and for ill. Meaning that no amount of American and western aid, advice, and other interventions (including the interventions of capitalist wheeler dealers and carpetbaggers) made a critical difference to the polity or the unbearable chaos, depending on your point of view, that Russians produced collectively at that extraordinarily interesting time
To know that, it helps a great deal to have actually been here to witness it, as I was.
This is not to say that nothing the west and the US did at the time (I’ll leave it you to make up your own lists of those things) had any impact on life in Russia. What I do mean to say is that impact was never so critical as to make inevitable the period that followed, meaning the Putinist period, in which the country’s ruling elite has been engaged, from day one of the post-Yeltsin, in an all-out “cold civil war” (a term coined by a friend of mine) against ever more numerous and ever larger segments of Russian society.
However, throught both periods, western governments, including the US, and western organizations of all kinds have been keen to promote democracy, civil society, academic research, and culture in Russia, and have spent a good deal of time, energy, and money on that mission, premised, mistakenly or not, on the notion that Russia was a society not so different from our own societies.
I realize I am deliberately emphasizing the positive side of this relationship and practically ignoring the darker, negative sides of this effort. I am doing so for two reasons. One, I really do believe the positive has outweighed the negative. Two, I think the real challenge for serious “new revisionist” historians of the recent post-Soviet past would be to not take the standard narrative as a given, because once you do that, I would argue, you are a short slippery slope away from full-blown Putinism, which in Russian hipster leftist discourse usually has been camouflaged by a rather dubious take on post-colonialism, namely, that “the west” has attempted to “colonize” post-Soviet Russia, that would make all the pioneers of post-colonialist theory turn over in their graves, that is, if they are not still alive and happily theorizing among us.
The flipside of this wholesale sellout to the Putinist standard narrative, paradoxically, is the widespread belief that “the west” owes each and every Russian a personal debt either for screwing up their country so badly or, conversely, for not doing enough to make it a full-fledged democracy.
So, having spent millions and billions of dollars and euros, and thousands and hundred of thousands of manhours doing our best to help our wartime ally take what we all thought would be a tiny, natural, easy step in the right direction, we are now universally reviled (and revile ourselves) either for attempting to divert Russia from its unique historical trajectory or not doing enough to divert Russia from its uniquely catastrophic historical trajectory.
Concomitant to this “porridge on the brain” (kasha v golove) is the equally widespread and equally false notion that “we” (as if “the west” were a real thing, a monolith centrally governed by me or the Rockefeller family or my Uncle Duane) have not been paying enough attention to “victimized,” “colonized” or “resurgent” Russia (cross out the words that do not apply) both in terms of journalistic coverage and academic research.
In fact, Russia has had so much attention of all kinds lavished on it in the last thirty years, I would wager that, in terms of character counts, minutes of airtime, column inches, and so forth, it would easily outdo all other parts of the so-called non-western world, China included.
Yet I am constantly encountering people, Russians and “Russophiles” alike, who argue that if “the west” would spend more time (and money) listening to this group of Russian or that group of Russians, it would finally get the “real picture.”
In reality, nearly all those groups of Russians with big messages for the imaginary Big Brother have been furiously shuttling back and forth across the frontier for a long time now, wearing a large furrow in the carpet.
This brings me to my non-intuitive and unforeseen conclusion, which would seem to be at odds with everything I have professed and done over the last nearly thirty years.
What if “we” (although “we” know don’t really exist, but “they” don’t know that, even though “they” don’t really exist, either) just gave up altogether on our nonexistent collective project to befriend Russia or bring it to its knees by begging it fecklessly not to turn into a tinpot kleptocracy.
With all the time, money, and manhours freed up, “we” could engage with other parts of the world or take up other worthy pursuits.
What does this have to do with Russia? Absolutely nothing at all. And that’s my point. I think it would have a tremendously invigorating effect if “we” (who don’t really exist) disengaged from Russia altogether, if only because we need to deal with our own ailing countries or other traumas, joys, and dreams pestering our souls.
And also because solidarity, as I have been harping on for years, is a two-way street.
There was a time, in the nineties, when I thought I could see that two-way street being built. It has long ago turned into a one-way street, however, and whatever “we” do do and whatever “we” do not do, “we” are damned and condemned and reviled and told “we” are not doing enough. That is, “we” are in what Margaret Mead’s less-famous but equally distinguished husband Gregory Bateson called a double bind.
I suggest “we” either just give up and get on with our lives or we take seriously the idea that, for the last two decades, we have been feeding ourselves a load of crap about our relationship with Russia and what has really been going on here, and we have let ourselves be fed a load of crap. TRR
Defense in Dmitriev Case Asks for Acquittal of Historian on All Charges
Valery Potashov Chernika
March 22, 2018
Yuri Dmitriev’s defense attorney Viktor Anufriev. Photo by Valery Potashov. Courtesy of Chernika
On March 22, defense attorney Viktor Anufriev made his closing arguments in Petrozavodsk City Court, where the criminal case against Yuri Dmitriev, the famous researcher of Stalin’s Great Terror, has been heard in closed chambers. Mr. Anufriev asked the court to acquit Mr. Dmitriev on all counts, including the main charge, production of child pornography using his foster daughter.
“I was given the time to make a closing argument, which is what I did. I asked that Yuri Alexeyevich be acquitted on all counts and explained to the court why it should do this,” Mr. Anufriev told reporters after the hearing.
Defendant Yuri Dmitriev and his eldest daughter Katya in the courthouse hallway. Photo by Valery Potashov. Courtesy of Chernika
He noted that Mr. Dmitriev had indeed taken photographs of his foster daughter when she was naked, but that these actions were not evidence of the crime of which the historian had been accused.
“There was no sexual motive. He is not a pedophile. He is mentally fit, and he made the photographs in order to monitor the child’s health. His objectives were medical. This was the conclusion of the last two forensic examinations, which were trustworthy, I would say,” Mr. Anufriev emphasized.
Commenting on the closing argument of Prosecutor Yelena Askerova, who two days earlier had asked the court to sentence Mr. Dmitriev to nine years in a maximum security penal colony, Mr. Anufriev noted that the criminal charges against the researcher had been filed unlawfully.
Petrozavodsk Prosecutor Yelena Askerova. Photo courtesy of Guberniya Daily and Chernika
“He was arrested without sufficient cause, and the foster daughter was removed from his custody and taken out of the city. This what was caused mental harm to the child, not Yuri Alexeyevich’s actions.”
Mr. Anufriev also voiced the opinion that Petrozavodsk Prosecutor Yelena Askerova’s decision to ask the court to find Mr. Dmitriev guilty on all counts of the original charges was made by the Karelian Prosecutor’s Office.
“The prosecutor’s office is an agency where everyone wears a uniform and has a rank. There is a chain of command. The law says prosecutor’s offices are independent. But they are not independent when it comes to stating their position today. They have vetted their position with the prosecutor’s office that oversees them, so it follows that the overseeing prosecutor gave the command to press for a guilty verdict,” Mr. Anufriev told reporters.
Judge Marina Nosova asked the bailiffs not to let people into the courtroom. Photo by Valery Potashov. Courtesy of Chernika
According to Mr. Anufriev, on March 27, the parties to the trial will be given time to make counterarguments, and then the judge will allow Mr. Dmitriev to make a closing statement before retiring to chambers to deliberate her decision. It is noteworthy that even before today’s hearing in the Dmitriev case, Judge Marina Nosova asked the court bailiffs not to let people who had come to support Mr. Dmitriev get near the courtroom doors.
Mr. Dmitriev’s trial in Petrozavodsk City Court began in June 2017. He was remanded in police custody for over a year and was only released from the remand prison after undergoing an inpatient forensic examination at the Serbsky National Medical Research Center for Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine in Moscow. The examining physicians concluded the defendant had no pedophilic propensities whatsoever.
Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Viktor Filinkov, Petersburg antifascist, torture victim and political prisoner
Solidarity? No, They Haven’t Heard about It The Security Services Are Using the Case of the Antifascists to Test Society: If We Keep Silent, the Torture and Arrests Will Continue
Yan Shenkman Novaya Gazeta
March 22, 2018
On Election Day, March 18, which was simultaneously Paris Commune Day and Political Prisoner Day, Theater.Doc in Moscow staged a performance entitled Torture 2018, a reading of the interrogation transcripts and diaries from the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.
The case has disappeared amid the flood of political and election campaign news, so I should briefly summarize it.
In October 2017, a group of young antifascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.
Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg antifascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.
The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honor their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring every year since then.
Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on antifascists by the Russian state.
The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.
We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass, but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.
The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over thirty (the oldest is twenty-nine) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.
Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced the performance at Theater.Doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues. What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.
“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head. When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”
“It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia,” Polikhovich told me after the performance. “But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”
“But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?” I asked.
“Location is vital in this case,” replied Polikhovich. “There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference. The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.”
“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”
While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza antifascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)
“They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,” Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognizance, told Novaya Gazeta.
The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and antifascists have been doing the protesting. Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and antifascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.
A concert in support of the arrested antifascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.
In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.
“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”
Pickets in support of the antifascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between Sobchak and Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.
This case is not about anarchism or antifascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.
The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the antifascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.
There is a group page on Facebook entitled Project No. 117, named for the article in the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. It is a clearinghouse for news about the Penza case and other anti-antifascist cases. It also features six videtaped messages in support of the arrested men, as recorded by the well-known Russian cultural figures Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Makarevich, Dmitry Shagin, Kirill Medvedev, Artyom Loskutov, and Artemy Troitsky.
I would like to believe that, in the very near future, there will be six thousand such messages, not six. Otherwise, we will be crushed one by one.
Dmitry Bykov (writer)
“Absolutely Gulag-like scenes of strangulation, beating, and abduction. Stories like this have become frighteningly more frequent. The return to the practice of torture is a relapse into the roughest, darkest period of Russian history.”
Andrei Makarevich (musician)
“If the authorities are trying to pass young antifascists off as terrorists, it begs the question of who the authorities are themselves. Have you lost your minds, guys?”
Dmitry Shagin (artist)
“I experience this as torture myself. By torturing these young men, they are torturing all of us.”
Kirill Medvedev (poet, political activist, musician)
“The Russian authorities have been posing as the most antifascist regime in the world for several years now, and yet they are cracking down on antifascists. Is this not hypocrisy?”
Artyom Loskutov (artist, political activist)
“If you arrested me and tortured me with an electric shocker, I would confession to terrorism, satansim, and anything whatsoever. And if the FSB officers were tortured, they would also confess to anything. Antifascism is not a crime, nor is anarchism a crime. But torture is a crime, a very serious crime indeed.”
Artemy Troitsky (writer, music critic and promoter)
“Torture is a sure sign the case doesn’t hold water. If they have evidence, they wouldn’t torture the suspects.”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Autonomous Action. Videos courtesy of Project No. 117 and Novaya Gazeta. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you can read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.
This strange slide is posted on the Russian Federal Archive Agency’s official website in a section [containing the text of a report delivered by the agency’s director, A.N. Artizov, to an extended intra-agency meeting on March 20, 2018].
The bottom rung of the pyramid contains the words in the headline of my post, while the upper rungs contain information about the number of people accessing and visiting Russia’s federal archives. The people who made the slide were probably in a hurry and did not tidy up the pyramid before publishing it.
My attention was drawn to the fact that the number of visits to the reading rooms of federal archives has dropped considerably, from 108,700 visits, in 2014, to 103,800 visits, in 2017.