Motherlandish

5568220a-c275-4d49-b6df-c8de6ceeee3aDenis Shtroo. Photo courtesy of Daily Storm

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
March 15, 2019

Climate change demonstrations took place in many cities around the world today.

Schoolchildren and adults took to the streets to demand implementation of the Paris Agreement, which primarily aims to counter global warming.

Maybe you have heard of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl who organized the movement #fridaysforfuture by skipping classes at school every Friday and picketing the Swedish parliament instead.

It makes sense. What is the point of going to school if the future is threatened? Humankind has killed off 70% of wild animals in the past four years. The oceans contain more discarded plastic than fish. And the list goes on.

But what about Russia? In Russia, environmental activist Denis Shtroo has been murdered in Kaluga. He campaigned against the construction of new waste landfills.

Earlier today, an excavator ran over a trailer containing an activist, who, along with other activists, had been trying to stop garbage trucks shipping Moscow’s garbage to Arkhangelsk Region.

I really want there to be a future, but this is what it looks like.

Like no future at all.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Advertisements

By Hook or by Crook

0C302673-B7CF-4406-A4DA-E3052D4D5125_cx0_cy4_cw0_w1023_r1_stThe courtyard of the Communist Party Regional Committee headquarters in Novosibirsk, where the monument to Stalin will be erected. Photo courtesy of Anton Barsukov and RFE/RL

Monument to Stalin to Be Unveiled in Novosibirsk by May 9
Anton Barsukov
sibreal.org
March 13, 2019

Novosibirsk’s Artistic Expertise Board [Khudsovet] has finally approved installation of a monument to Stalin in the city’s downtown. Our correspondent reports that eleven of the sixteen experts present at the board meeting where the issue was decided voted in favor of the proposal.

The monument is slated for erection on the premises of the regional Communist Party headquarters on the eve of May 9 [Victory Day] of this year. According to the board’s chair, architect Alexander Lozhkin, the board’s decision was a compromise that would satisfy people who wanted to lay flowers at the monument while not insulting people who considered Stalin a tyrant.

Lozhkin implored his fellow board members not to engage in political debates, but to evaluate only the bust’s artistic merits. According to Lozhkin, there was no archival evidence that Stalin was involved in any crimes, and this was the official stance of the Russian government.

“We chose the least of two evils, but that doesn’t mean any good came of it. We are proud of the fact that we will not be putting it in a public place, but just now we voted for a tyrant,” Konstantin Golodyayev, a board member and local historian, told our correspondent.

8E9E67FA-8D62-415D-BDDD-A87E2960C812_cx0_cy1_cw91_w1023_n_r1_stThe Novosibirsk Artistic Expertise Board in session. Photo courtesy of Anton Barsukov and RFE/RL

The bust of Stalin has already been produced: an action committee raised 500,000 rubles to pay for its manufacture. The city will pay for readying and beautifying the site where the bust is supposed to be installed. Novosibirsk Mayor Anatoly Lokot, who heads the regional committee of the Communist Party, said around one million rubles would be needed for this purpose.

In November of last year, the Artistic Expertise Board turned down the action committee’s request to install the monument in a public place, arguing it could cause distress to people who blamed Joseph Stalin for large-scale crackdowns and the deaths of millions of people.

Earlier, Novosibirsk city hall held a discussion on its official website of the best place for the monument. There were 155 positive reactions to the proposal to erect a bust of Stalin in the city, and 97 of them were worded completely identically. The proposal received a total of 243 reactions. Aside from the positive reactions, there were 85 negative reactions and three blank comments. Over 11,000 people signed a petition on Change.org opposing the monument.*

*When checked at 10:34 a.m. Central European Standard Time on March 14, 2019, the anti-Stalinist petition could not be accessed.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Article 318: Criminalizing Protest in Russia

wehatecops

Criminalizing Protest Has Become a Tool for Combating Rallies
Experts Studied Use of Law Criminalizing Violence Against Authorities
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
February 28, 2019

Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), an organization that provides assistance to people detained at protest rallies, has analyzed the use of Russian Criminal Code Article 318 against people involved in protest events. Article 318 makes violence against authorities a criminal offense. Between 2009 and 2017, a total of 65,046 people were convicted on this charge. Typically, the charge has been filed against people involved in drunken brawls broken up by police units or people involved in roadside altercations with traffic police. But Article 318 has also become the primary tool for charging activists with using violence against the security forces.

Demonstrative Cruelty
There are no separate figures for protesters charged with violating Article 318, but between 2013 and 2015 the number of people convicted on such charges rose annually by 600 to 800 people before decreasing slightly. The authors of Defending Protest’s report argue this increase stemmed from a rise in the number of protests and protesters in 2012: it was on May 6, 2012, that the March of the Millions took place, leading to the show trials of the Bolotnaya Square Case. After the protests peaked in 2015, there was a cooling off period, and the number of convictions nearly returned to their 2009 levels. However, there has been a growing tendency to sentence people convicted under Article 318 to actual prison time.

The experts note that when defendants confess their guilt and are tried in special expedited trials, it should theoretically mitigate their punishments, but in reality it does not increase chances they will be sentenced to probation or other non-carceral penalties. Besides, courts in Moscow have made a point of not invoking the option, stipulated by law, of dismissing cases because the parties have been reconciled or defendants have sincerely apologized for their crimes, since, in the opinion of Moscow judges, cases cannot be dismissed in so-called double-ended crimes, crimes committed not only against the victim as such but also against law and order.

The report notes that customary Russian methods of criminal investigation and judicial procedure have now been applied to the cases of grassroots activists, including double standards in weighing evidence, the presumption that law enforcement officers tell the truth, and giving priority to testimony made by suspects prior to their trials. The experts note the charges in such cases can be trumped up easily. The key evidence in these cases is the testimony of the victim and witnesses, all of them police officers. If necessary, their statements can be coordinated and entered into the court record in literally identical form.

Nonpunishable Violence
The flip side of the process is the inability to hold police officers criminally liable for using violence against demonstrators, says Alexei Glukhov, head of Defending Protest. If justice is served, this happens only if and when the European Court of Human Rights rules on a case, although Russian policemen and security services officers have been dispersing peaceful demonstrations and detaining grassroots activists and random bystanders with ever-greater ferocity. But nearly the only well-known case in which a Russian police officer was held criminally liable for violence against protesters was the case of Vadim Boyko, the so-called Pearl Sergeant, who hit a man over the head with a rubber truncheon at a demonstration in Petersburg in July 2010. In 2011, Sergeant Boyko was sentenced to three and half years of probation.

It is common practice to reject complaints filed by victims of police violence by claiming they are means of self-defense against the counter charges faced by the complainants. Thus, in the formal refusal to open a criminal case based on the complaint filed by lawyer Mikhail Benyash, the police investigator wrote, “M.M. Benyash’s testimony should be treated skeptically because he is thus attempting to build his own defense against criminal charges and thereby avoid prosecution.” In turn, the police officers who denied they had beaten Benyash testified he had beaten his own head against the window, door, and other parts of the car in which they abducted him, and when they dragged him out of the car, he beat his head against the pavement.

No less noteworthy were the reasons police investigators gave for refusing to open a criminal case based on a complaint filed by Danil Bolshakov and Daniil Markelov of Krasnoyarsk. Their testimony was not corroborated since Markelov was a supporter of Alexei Navalny, “who is a well-known opponent of the leadership of the Russian Federation, as headed by President V.V. Putin.”

Crackdown
Generally, the police crackdown has been intensifying. Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky agreed Article 318 has been used to intimidate people.

“I would encourage everyone to compare the verdicts in the Bolotnaya Square Case, in which a demonstrator brushed away a policeman’s arm and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, with the sentences handed down in the wake of the recent unrest in France, in which protesters have been fined or sentenced to a few months in jail at most,” he said.

In fact, Agranovsky explained, any physical contact with Russian police would result in the “offender” being charged under Article 318. Ultimately, people have become wary of attending protest rallies, although, formally speaking, Russia has signed all the relevant international conventions encouraging  peaceful protest.

Agranovsky recalled that ex-Russian MP Vladimir Bessonov was stripped of the right to engage in politics after he was charged with using violence against police officers at a protest rally.

Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov agreed the police crackdown has intensified.

“There is a desire to extinguish protests, and that is something you can only do with a stick. The powers that be have run out of carrots,” he said.

Gudkov argued all the available tools have been brought into play in order to artificially criminalize protest. For example, the so-called Ildar Dadin article in the criminal code had been revived after it was all but outlawed by the Russian Constitutional Court. The article criminalizes repeated involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Alexander Morozov: The Price Russia Has Paid for Crimea

krym nashGraffiti and counter-graffiti on the parapet of a bridge over the River Spree in downtown Berlin, March 8, 2019. By changing a single letter in the spelling of “Crimea,” “Polina, Lera, German, Roma, Arina, and Vlad” reasserted that “Crimea is ours,” i.e., it belongs to Україна (“Ukraine” in Ukrainian, not Russian), on January 28, 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Price Russia Has Paid for Crimea
Alexander Morozov
New Times
March 11, 2019

The five years that have followed the events of 2014, regardless of whether you refer to those events as annexation, the Russian spring, a Putinist coup, reunification, a homecoming, an historic choice and so on, have emerged as a whole set of consequences powerful in terms of determining history, having a lasting influence, and shaping Russia as a whole, that is, impacting Russian domestic politics, the Russian economy, and the self-awareness of large segments of the Russian populace. These consequences have generated “another Russia,” a country different from the one that existed in reality and people’s minds throughout the previous stages of its post-Soviet progress.

Destroying Eurasianism
Early Putinism was drive by the integration of so-called Eurasia, i.e., the former Soviet republics. Nursultan Nazarbayev, president for life of Kazakhstan, was the man behind political Eurasianism, as we know. During the Yeltsin administration, Moscow was indifferent to the concept. Later, however, the idea that Russia was Eurasia’s leader was made basic Kremlin doctrine.

Moscow’s actions in this respect were alternately gentle and crude, but generally its policies were seen as rational, as attuned to the region’s economic growth and security.

The Crimean adventure completely gutted the Eurasianist policy. It managed to frighten such stalwarts of Eurasian integration as Belarus and Kazakhstan. At the same time, it put paid to notions of “Slavic unity” and inevitably provoked an assault on the so-called canonical geographical domain of the Russian Orthodox Church.

As long as the logbook contained only one point, the war with Georgia, we could say it had been an extravagance. But the occupation of Crimea was the second point, which could be joined in a straight line with the first.  The Kremlin abandoned its policy of cultural and economic expansion, pursuing instead a police of aggression, bullying, and crude displays of superiority.

Not a single neighboring country has recognized Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. Consequently, Russia has symbolically transitioned from Eurasia to solitude. Putin abandoned Eurasia, going over its head to engage in various unilateral actions in the far abroad. Although Russian university lecturers habitually still rattle on about Eurasianism, the occupation of Crimea has meant that Kremlin, like Zarathustra, has climbed to the top of an imaginary mountain peak, whence it transmits its rhetorical messages, addressed to the void.

Warring with the West
The occupation of Crimea has meant that, since 2014, the perpetual cold war with the west has taken on a more heated, hysterical tone than under the communists in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. During one of his last interviews, in 2014, the late former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, an imperialist politician if there ever was one, said, “Television has been laying it on thick. The propaganda [on Russian TV] suggests we are preparing the populace for war.”

Before the occupation of Crimea, between 2007 and 2014, the period following Putin’s Munich speech, the Kremlin made numerous demands on the west, reacted harshly to any criticism of its polices and actions by international institutions, and sometimes made rather abrupt diplomatic moves. But the word “rivalry” still described all these things. The occupation of Crimea shifted relations with the west into another stage of aggregation known as hybrid war.

The term is quite obviously inaccurate, like any other term containing the adjective “hybrid.” But the key word in the phrase is “war.” It does not matter whether we believe the Kremlin has been conducting a well-conceived and well-coordinated war based more on the power of networks and the internet than brute force or whether we think the degree of coordination has been exaggerated. All observers have argued that the numerous discrete incidents paint a picture of a networked war against liberal democracy, the preparatory stages of a major war to redraw the world’s geopolitical spheres of influence or an attempt to provoke the United States. The occupation of Crimea put Moscow’s relations with the west on a different conflictual footing.

Transparency
The occupation of Crimea has made everything the Kremlin does automatically malicious, so that between 2014 and 2019 the notion of what the Russian presence means has changed completely. Nowadays, everyone looks for Russian fingerprints everywhere. This means that, as in the recent Troika Dialog money laundering scandal, very old deals and transactions are reviewed as well. Russia’s communications with the rest of the world have come under a spotlight, they have been run through an x-ray machine. Things previously regarded as dubious but acceptable have suddenly gone toxic. The Kremlin has gone from being a partner, albeit a problematic one, to a keeper of rat holes and catacombs. Foreign intelligence agencies, financial monitoring bodies, and reporters are now busy, as they once were with the Islamic presence in Europe, segregating what used to be considered the harmless Russian presence as something automatically toxic. However, the hot zone, meaning the people and entities found to have connections with the Kremlin and its malignant plans, has been expanding continuously for the last five years. Clearly, this investigatory work has not reached the midway point. The exposure of the Kremlin will continue for a long time to come.

Sanctions and Consolidating the Elite
The main outcome of international sanctions has been that the truly powerful segment of the Putinist elite has been professionally recounted. Before Crimea was occupied, people also had notions of who was a member of Putin’s inner circle, and they traced the orbits of his clients. But these speculations were a matter for experts and were thus open to debate. Everything has now fallen into place, which is quite important symbolically. The key personal positions of the players who vigorously went on the hybrid warpath are not just represented in political consultant Yevgeny Minchenko’s periodic “Politburo” reports or some murky media rating of the “100 Most Influential Politicians in Russia,” in which actual stakeholders are confused with officials who have no access to real resources. All of them have now been posted on the world’s bulletin board.

The sanctions have also caused the Russian elite to consolidate. Putin’s dependence on the elite has increased, and the so-called collective Putin has stopped being a metaphor, becoming a specific list of people. Of course, Russia’s history is not predetermined: history consists of twists and turns. But the actual collective Putin’s moves are predetermined, of course. The occupation of Crimea made it impossible for it to change course. At each new fork in the road, the collective Putin must turn towards further escalation, while Putin himself can no longer pull the emergency brake.

Novorossiya
Through the post-Soviet period, Moscow relied on the basic notion that there were two Ukraines, left-bank Ukraine and right-bank Ukraine. It was simply regarded as a fact that, in particular, gave rise to various “cultural” and “humanitarian” undertakings, for example, the long involvement in Crimea of ex-Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and his people.

The occupation of Crimea, however, produced a monstrous historical about-face. In order to pull off its seizure of Crimea, the Kremlin had to support the so-called Novorossiya campaign to divide Ukraine, which has now gone down in Eastern European history. There is no argument that would make these events look any less inglorious than the partition of Poland and the occupation of the Baltic countries. Whatever history holds in story for Crimea, the Kremlin’s outright malevolence towards a neighboring people in the twenty-first century has been recorded in big black letters. The Novorossiya campaign has meant that all elements of the Kremlin’s earlier policies towards Ukraine have inevitably been reexamined. In the light of latter events, they now appear to be only parts of a plan to invade Ukraine.

Intellectual Perversion
Crimea is the poison that for five years has been continuously injected in small doses into the entire system of education and culture in Russia, as well as the mundane ways the country argues about its national identity. The media constantly have to devise, spread, and discuss on talk shows different fallacious grounds for occupying Crimea. This lie has had to be incorporated into school textbooks, movie plots, the system of legal training for civil servants, and all the pores and crevices of public space.

Russian society cannot live with the thought it unjustly annexed part of another country, and it has an even harder time admitting that it has been complicit in the attempt to partition Ukraine.

It has thus been necessary to engage in nonstop production of the rhetorical glue that kept the textbook The History of the Soviet Communist Party from falling to shreds during the late-Soviet period, i.e., the solid, ornate lie that was meant to show the rightness of the party line despite the endless mistakes and violence.

This intellectual perversion itself turns into a huge machine that latter cannot be extracted from the state apparatus without damaging the entire system. The lie machine and the state come to be equated, meaning Crimea has been inflating like a bubble inside the system. It cannot be localized. Every day it dispatches cancer cells in all directions within the tissue of state and society.

What is next? The five post-Crimean years have been much to short a historic period to make generalizations. It is clear, however, that if Putin had not seized Crimea and then organized the Novorossiya campaign, it is scary to imagine the wonderful chances he and his gang of stakeholders would have had at increasing their influence unchecked in a world encumbered by Trumpism and a Europe weakened by Brexit. But now Putinism is not merely a cowboy, but a horse rustler.

Therefore, international crises and growing uncertainty do not work in favor of the Putinists, although they do fool themselves when it comes to uncertainty, trying every which way to manufacture it themselves. The Putin gang will never try and play nice again. Any way you slice it, Russia will ultimately have to show the world another gang, because the current gang has proven incapable of accommodating itself to Russia’s long-term place in the world.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Alexander Etkind for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Podrabinek: We Are Different

podrabinek-ssylkaAlexander Podrabinek in exile in Yakutia in 1979. Courtesy of Institute of Modern Russia

We Are Different
Alexander Podrabinek
Grani.ru
March 8, 2019

Nor are we in this together. I did not want to draw a dividing line between people and put them in different camps, but I have no choice: there are tough times on the way. If we are not lucky, things could go back to the way they were. You all will go back to your kitchens. Your tongues will be firmly in your cheeks again, and the jokes made by stage and TV performers will be cautious and carefully calibrated to register the authorized quantity of discontent. We will go back to our labor camps and prisons, our psychiatric hospitals and places of forced exile, to our intransigence and contempt for violence. By “we” I do not mean only those of us who have already spent time in those places. There will be new generations of stubborn, improvident, free-spirited Russians. We were different back then, and we are just as different now. Once upon a time, Solzhenitsyn quite accurately identified you as “smatterers.”*

You always knew what was permitted and what was forbidden. You had the Soviet individual’s sixth sense for knowing where the line ran. Few of you ever crossed the line, and the few who did left ordinary life behind forever, some going to the west, while others were sent east. When communism collapsed and freedom dawned, you immediately felt brave. You spoke loudly, angrily, and righteously. It was a sight to see. We were glad our ranks had swelled. We were glad we were stronger and could change our country.

The fresh breeze of change has subsided, however, and the familiar smell of Soviet rot is in the air. Censorship, political prisoners, extrajudicial killings, and wars of aggression have reemerged. Where are you now, masters of reincarnation? What side are you on? How many of you are still on our side? You now go regularly to the Kremlin to receive decorations, medals, state prizes, and honorary titles. You heed the demands of censorship and edit out anything that could cause Roskomnadzor to blow a fuse. You have a keenly honed sense of what can be said and what cannot be said, of what plays can be staged, movies made, and concerts held, and which it would be better not stage, make, and hold. You serve on a variety of presidential and ministerial councils. Pretending to be in opposition, you seek permission for your protests from the authorities, but as soon as the Kremlin calls, you rush there to explain yourselves and prove your personal indispensability.

As before, you sing the same old song about the value of small deeds, because you are afraid to be free. You were also afraid back then, when we were imprisoned. You carried the regime’s water in silence or grumbled under the watchful eye of art critics in plain clothes. You pretended to be fearless freethinkers and the movers and shakers behind imaginary reforms. On the stage, you cracked witty jokes approved by the censors. You published your censored stories and novels in the thick literary magazines. Commissioned by the State Committee for Cinema (Goskino), you made cheeky movies whose cheekiness was carefully calibrated. But you never crossed the line lest you lose your place on the gravy train.

You might wonder whom I am addressing. Who is the target of my reproaches and accusations? That is an easy question. Take an honest look at your past and your present. What did you do under socialism? What did you after it collapsed? Who made you bend your back in the old days? How straight do you stand up nowadays?

To be honest, the recent scandal involving humorist Mikhail Zhvanetsky compelled me to write this. Public outrage over the latest instance of a celebrity pandering to the Russian powers that be was countered by a chorus of defenders of spinal flexibility. How dare you? they asked. Who are you compared to him? He joked his whole life while you were silent. He is a genius, but you are nobodies. One defender dubbed the storm of criticism a “stink,” while another advised Zhvanetsky not to pay any mind to the “scum.” Yet another defender reminded everyone that Zhvanetsky was permitted to do what lesser people were forbidden.

It is amazing. Do you really regard yourselves as a magnificent, exceptional cultural elite? During the hardest times, you skillfully kowtowed to the Soviet regime. You were caricatured reflections of evil. You were witty, resourceful, and even gifted, but you were the regime’s shadow. You looked good amid a scorched desert where everyone was forbidden to do anything, but where you were allowed certain indulgences by royal decree. Is this what makes you so perpetually proud? Does it forgive you your past and future sins?

You are good at forgiving and vindicating yourselves. It is the meaning of your lives and the key to your survival. You have forgiven yourself for your cowardice during Soviet times, because the times were dangerous. You forgive yourself for selling out nowadays, because it is good for your wallet. You will always find a way to vindicate yourself. Proud, unperturbed, a noble air about you, you will walk the streets again.

Good luck at your old jobs!

* “The Smatterers” was the unhappy English coinage for the title and subject of Solzhenitsyn’s 1974 essay “Obrazovanshchina,” as published in the bilingual anthology From Under the Rubble.

Translated by the Russian Reader

How Petersburg Celebrated International Women’s Day 2019

Feminists Explain
YouTube
March 9, 2019

March 8, 2019, was probably the most well-attended feminist rally of the twenty-first century in St. Petersburg.

The rally was attended by a variety of feminists, including socialists, Marxists, liberals, lesbian separatists, and queer feminists.

We made a montage of the speeches, chants, and songs for everyone who lives in other cities or could not attend the rally, as well as those who were with us on Lenin Square and want to remember the day’s highlights.

Shot and edited by Varya Mikhaylova. Thanks to her for the heads-up. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Verkhovsky: Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism”

yaltinskoe_delo_hizb_ut_tahrir_1.jpgRussia has used its official ban on the Muslim movement Hizb ut-Tahrir to go after Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea, such as these six men, charged in the so-called Yalta Case. The fact that the defendants are neither terrorists nor members of Hizb ut-Tahrir has not stopped Russian authorities from prosecuting them for these imaginary crimes. Courtesy of Crimean Tatar Resource Center

Russia’s Campaign Against “Religious Extremism” Has Been Expanding: It Should Be Reined In
Alexander Verkhovsky
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
March 5, 2019

The dramatic events of recent weeks surrounding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the harsh prison sentence handed down to Dennis Christensen, and the torture of detained believers in Surgut, make us wonder how unique what has been happening to them has been.

First, we should recall the bare facts. The Russian authorities have banned numerous texts published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, including their translation of the Bible into Russian. All their local branches have been banned and their property confiscated. More than forty criminal cases are underway, cases in which 120 people, aged 23 to 84, have been charged. Twenty-five of those charged have been remanded in custody. All of them have been charged with going on with the work of a banned “extremist” organization (punishable under Article 282.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), although this amounted only to holding prayer meetings and group discussions

The Russian Supreme Court decided to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses completely on April 20, 2017. Criminal cases based on the ban were launched a year later, that is, over a hundred suspects were charged in a matter of ten months, and yet not a single case has gone to court yet.

In fact, Christensen was convicted on the basis of an earlier ban of a local Jehovah’s Witness branch. There were eight such bans of local branches. Unlike his co-religionists, convicted earlier under the same ban, Christensen was sentenced to actual prison time. After the so-called Yarovaya package was adopted by the Russian parliament, he had to be sentenced to no less than six years in prison, and this was what happened. It should make us extremely concerned about what will happen to current and future suspects, especially the ones now jailed in remand prisons.

But what has happened to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is not unique. In exactly the same way, the peaceable followers of the fundamentalist movement Tablighi Jamaat and the peaceable followers of the quite moderate Turkish theologian Said Nursi have been banned in Russia and persecuted under the same law in the Russian Criminal Code.

The pattern was the same. First, the texts published by the groups were banned because, allegedly, they claimed the superiority of their religious doctrines to others and contained hostile descriptions of non-believers. Then, the organizations themselves were banned for the same reasons, including using the banned texts in their worship services. Finally, the Russian authorities prosecuted believers for “going on with the work” of their now-banned organizations. Moreover, the courts usually gave defendants probation sentences at first. Subsequently, however, people convicted on the same charges were sent to prison and the sentences handed down were harsher.

The Muslim activists were also tortured by Russian law enforcement. The current shock over events in Surgut can be put down to the fact that Russian society is in some sense inured to the torture of Muslims suspected of “radicalism.”

The Russian Supreme Court banned all three groups: the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the followers of Said Nusri, and Tablighi Jamaat. For some reason, it paid no mind to the fuzzy definition of “extremism” to which it resorted in all three rulings. It is true that all three religious doctrines claim only their way is the true way and that all other ways are false, and their texts occasionally contain rather harsh descriptions of non-believers. The current Russian legal definition of “extremism” is such that these things can be considered evidence of “extremism,” but you could find more or less the same things in nearly all religious doctrines. Such claims are typical of confessions of faith, and, as such, they are protected by the Russian Constitution.

With regard to criminal cases of incitement to hatred, including religious hatred, in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that criticism of religious convictions, religious rituals, and religious groups is not a criminal offense. For some reason, however, this ruling has not been applied in civil cases banning religious literature and organizations, although the conflict between the procedure for banning religious “extremism” and Russia’s constitutionally enshrined freedom of conscience is striking. Perhaps unraveling this conflict is a job for the Russian Constitutional Court?

Returning to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we should again pay attention to the scale of their persecution. The number of accused Jehovah’s Witnesses in terms of one calendar year has been much greater than the numbers of the two Muslim groups mentioned. It is more comparable to the persecution of the radical movement Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islaami.

Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned in 2003 as a terrorist group, although it has not been implicated in terrorism. The Russian authorities were clearly in a hurry to ban it, so the actual danger it posed or did not pose to the constitution was not even at issue. Members of the movement have been charged under the anti-terrorist laws in the criminal code, and so their prison sentences have been even harsher. But there are similarities with the other religious groups we have been discussing: participating in group gatherings and reading the same texts were offered as evidence of their criminal deeds.

Another serious conflict emerges in this case between the Russian Constitution and the articles in the Russian Criminal Code dealing with “extremist” (Article 282.2) and “terrorist” (Article 205.5) groups. Let us assume for simplicity’s sake that a group has been banned altogether legitimately. When this happens, the group’s formal and informal members are obliged to honor the court’s ban. But they have not changed their views, and they still associate with the same group of people. It is likely they would want to discuss what to do in the circumstances: perhaps, for example, establishing a new group based on slightly different principles. If we are dealing with a dangerous group that has been rightfully outlawed, such discussions and meetings could not help but interest the police and security services, but they are hardly criminal in their own right, for these people have not been deprived of their basic civic rights, including the right to assemble. Besides, not only active members could take part in these meetings but also outsiders, and yet law enforcement does not especially distinguish between the two groups of people in practice.

These problems are more apparent when we speak of religious communities. The Russian Constitution enshrines the right to practice one’s religion both alone and in the company of others. The work of any religious organization mainly consists in praying together and other joint activities, such as confessing and preaching as part of religious services. If a religious association has been banned, its members are in effect barred from exercising their constitutional right. If Russia’s current anti-“extremist” laws are meant to enact such severe restrictions of a fundamental human right, this have never been explicitly stated. So, again, one would like the Russian Constitutional Court to issue a clarification. It is, after all, a matter of tens of thousands of Russian nationals potentially facing criminal charges.

Since there have not been any clarifications, and the current crackdown has only been picking up steam, many have wondered how it happened. There is hardly a single, simple answer to this question. We might say that in their campaign against potentially dangerous movements, the Russian authorities have gone much too far and made a considerable number of mistakes. One of the reasons is that they listened to politically and religiously biased “experts,” and they continue to heed their advice, judging by the way the anti-“extremist” campaign has progressed in the religious realm. Our many years of experience with these cases have shown that counterarguments by religious studies scholars and legal experts rarely reverse the current tendency. They prove useful only when the authorities are willing to listen to them for reasons of their own.

The growing campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been horrifying, but there is also the chance that this time someone in the elite will finally come to their senses and change their mind. The Jehovah’s Witnesses clearly pose no threat whatsoever to Russian national security. Moreover, it is clearly just as impossible to eradicate their religion in Russia, since it would be wrong to jail or force over 100,000 people to emigrate, especially since Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses did not give up their faith in the worst of times.

The problem, however, is whether the officials who make key decisions about large-scale crackdowns could find acceptable means for reconsidering their earlier decisions. If this does happen, it matters, given the constitutional conflicts described above, whether anti-“extremist” policies will be reconsidered, if only in the religious realm.

Alexander Verkhovsky is director of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center. Thanks to Nikolay Mitrokhin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader