Special Detention Center Days: How the Security Forces Have Tried to Intimidate Protesters
Sonya Groysman Proekt
February 15, 2021
After three “unauthorized” protest actions in support of Alexei Navalny (January 23 and 31, and February 2), more than a thousand people were sentenced to serve time in jail: this is a record for [post-Soviet] Russia. In this video, protesters who have already been released tell us how their days in police departments and special detention centers went. Do they now regret having been involved in the protests? Most importantly, were the authorities able to intimidate them?
24 mins, 19 seconds. In Russian, with Russian subtitles
At the 21:00 mark, an unidentified young man, just released from a special detention center, says the following on camera:
“Russia is definitely going to be free. […] They didn’t intimidate anyone in the slightest [by arresting and jailing them]. On the contrary, folks banded together even more. [The authorities] only incited more hatred. […] We are young, after all, and time is on our side. It’s only a question of time. We’ll even the score.”
We can thank Vladislav Ivanov for the “footage.” (And I thank Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for sharing it with me.) In keeping with the message of this video, if not its jocular tone, a friend in Petersburg just wrote to me, “Tomorrow we are going for a ‘walk’ on the Nevsky. It was already flooded with police and National Guardsman on Saturday. It’s scary. But we try and overcome our fear, taking our cue from the younger generation.” \\ TRR
Konstantin Selin is a born cameraman! He worked all Saturday in the epicenter of the largest protests in recent years in Petersburg, miraculously avoided getting shoved into a paddy wagon, and brought back the best video. I don’t know how he does it every time, but it looks like a seamless trailer for a documentary film, something for which Kostya deservedly gets awards the rest of the time. Only in his footage can you look into the eyes of a young man in the police cordon, hear what is being said in the crowd, and look at the faces. And what an ending! There is no need to read a dozen news stories and analysts, just set aside five minutes and watch this video once.
Thanks to my wonderful British “cousin” AC for bringing my attention to this lovely, sweet, humane and profoundly democratic 2019 BBC TV documentary about a now-defunct photo portrait studio in Bradford and its incredible archive of the city’s changing human face. It’s welcome tonic to my soul as the leading liberal lights in my adopted former “homeland” of Russia indulge in yet another orgy of Islamophobia over horrible crimes committed in completely different countries.
I wish they would watch this documentary and take its message to heart. It might surprise them to learn that not all “westerners” are rabid racists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. People can learn to live together, learn “conviviality” and unlearn “post-imperial melancholia,” as the great Paul Gilroy (a world-famous contemporary scholar whose works are totally absent in Russian translation, unsurprisingly) has called them. |||| TRR
Thirty years ago, thousands of portraits from a small studio in Bradford were saved from a skip. They form a unique collection of photographs that records the changing face of a British industrial city in the middle of the 20th century. Many of the people in the portraits were new arrivals from the Asian subcontinent, eastern Europe and the Caribbean, attracted by the offer of work in wool mills. The names of these people are a mystery – only their faces survive.
A small studio, Belle Vue, in the middle of Bradford, built a business on taking portraits of the newly-arrived migrants. Photographer Tony Walker used a battered Victorian camera to take images of his customers, which were often sent back to relatives in the countries they’d left behind.
Working alongside staff from museums in Bradford, presenter Shanaz Gulzar identifies and tracks down the people in the portraits, and uncovers dramatic social change and the hidden stories behind the portraits.
“First, Petrovka 38 got an anonymous call, and then the local police precinct was informed about the call. The precinct commander came to Flacon and said that things looked bad. We told him about the movie. He said that while he understood everything, he couldn’t help us because since Petrovka 38 had received the call, a detachment would be dispatched in any case and they would shut down the screening. The only solution, he said, was to give the local police a screening copy of the film so they could that could look at it and make sure it checked out, but he still could not promise anything. We said, Okay, we’ll give you a screening copy, and we’ll postpone the screening,” Parshikov said.
Subsequently, around twenty Russian National Guardsmen arrived at Flacon. They are patrolling the premises and making it impossible to screen the film.
UPDATE (8:24 p.m.)
The screening of the film has been canceled for today, curator Andrey Parshikov has informed MBKh Media. According to him, the Russian National Guardsmen are still at Flacon. Parshikov added that the film would be sent for a forensic examination tomorrow.
Yulia Tsvetkova is an activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In November 2019, she was charged with “distributing pornography”(under Article 242.3.b of the Russian Criminal Code) over body-positive drawings she published on Vagina Monologues, a social media group page that she moderated. Due to pressure and harassment, she had to close the Merak Children’s Theater [which she ran with her mother].
Law enforcement authorities began their criminal inquiry into Tsvetkova after two criminal complaints were filed against her by Timur Bulatov, who runs the homophobic social media group page Moral Jihad, which mostly publishes threats, insults, and Bulatov’s own derogatory monologues about gays. [Bulatov] informed the police that Tsvetkova was distributing pornography.
Moving along from street to street, the tram gains speed, brakes, stops and lets passengers out and on. They make for a seat or stay on their feet, leaning against the doors or hanging from the handles above. Then the tram gets underway, off to the next stop. The down-to-earth driver talks about her job and her life in St. Petersburg (still known as Leningrad when the film was made), the second biggest city in Russia. As she drives, she is filmed from above so we get to look her in the eye. The expressions of her passengers are also captured as they peer out the window, look at one another, read the paper, daydream or just stare off into space. This is all about observing and being observed, a game that Russian documentarian Lyudmila Stanukinas loves to play. She intercuts the microcosm of the tram with telling observations from outside: a statue filmed through the trees, and the rippling water of the Neva River, the bubbling heart of the city. Stanukinas develops a Russian variation on direct cinema, combining it with the visual poetry of city symphonies from the 1930s, made by countrymen such as Dziga Vertov. Though this is the Soviet Union of the 1970s, communism seems far away for the moment. For now, it’s all about the day-to-day goings on in the tram. (Kinoglaz)
[Voiceover] That’s how it goes. I drive myself around in the morning, the car is half-empty. Familiar places that I ran around as a child. Before the war, my mother also worked on the trams as a conductor out of the Leonov Depot.
That is where I went to kindergarten.
I love my tram, I love it more than any other job. If you do a good job of getting ready and get a good night’s sleep, it’s a joy to work. I’m rarely in a bad mood. Although one of our drivers says that going to work is like walking uphill. For me, it’s like walking downhill.
It’s always quiet in the car in the morning. My passengers are half asleep, half dozing. They’re not talkative now. That’s okay: by evening, they’ll be talking up a storm. It’s quiet. They’re reading newspapers.
My kids, Zhenka and Galya, also want to be tram drivers. Zhenka can oversleep and be late for school, but s/he will come to meet my tram, even at night.
[Newspaper headline] “A strategy for peaceful coexistence”
Oh, look how many people the subway has coughed up: it’s a throng.
Sometimes, a passenger is coming to getting on my tram, supposedly, but they move so lazily, in no hurry, flailing around trying to figure out what door to enter. I immediately get angry and close the doors. You have to decide right away whether you’re getting on or not. A passenger who is slow on the uptake. In the evening, I wait for all of them to get on: they have to make it home. It’s a long wait between trams.
Soon the commercial workers will go to work: their time is approaching.
What’s it going to be, old woman? Are you and I going to avoid a collision?
People are like pigeons. They don’t hurry and they don’t fly. And they walk on the tracks. I read them. I don’t take my eyes off them. They always run out onto the tram tracks, thinking it’s a safe area. So, I have to think for them in order to save their lives. You need to have a sense of pedestrians, of which ones will run out on the tracks, and which won’t.
I love the morning shift. At twelve o’clock that’s it: you have the whole day ahead of you. You still have time to cook lunch.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Nevsky Prospect. . . Transit tickets are available for sale.”
They keep traveling. Some have caught up on their sleep, while others are headed to the night shift. Why do they keep on traveling? Where are they going?
Our interactions with people are very limited. That’s why I suffer heart and soul over the fact I can’t chat with them. I watch them in silence: that is my only way of interacting and getting to know them.
Our work is not so nerve-wracking. It just requires maximum concentration. Basically, you have to like people. If you don’t like them you might jam them in the doors. You have to keep your eyes peeled the whole time. When I sneeze and my eyes close, I get scared. When I close my eyes, the car can travel eight meters in that instant, but there is no way I can sneeze with my eyes open. Soon the tram would be going sixty kilometers an hour, and then, I think, I could run someone over.
I remember the war, the Siege [of Leningrad]. I remember that Mom would lock me in our room. I was very afraid when the sky blazed red. The neighbor lady would be cooking wood glue [to eat], and it smelled really delicious.
[Title] Wednesday: shift from 1:06 p.m. to 5:41 p.m.
What weather today! It’s the most typical Leningrad weather.
Now there are more female passengers, including old women, wallets in hand, going to the market. They’re a cagey lot: potential nannies, who are in short supply.
Here, on the fifth floor, my child draws blueprints. It’s been a month since my daughter Galka became an adult.
Everybody bothers the elderly passengers. Why are you traveling during working hours? Are you having trouble sleeping? Once, this one old woman was standing next to the door. People kept asking whether she was getting off. She kept answering, “I’m thinking about whether this is my stop.” Finally, everyone lost their cool and told her to get off. She said, “I’ll get off, I’ll get off, dears, it’s a big day.” It was like a comedy.
I think I’m the first to see “natural phenomena”: how people dress, what the fashions are, what the trends in colors are. It all happens right before my eyes. I manage to see everything. If a housewife is drinking tea on the second floor, I see what she’s having with it.
Galka and I often talk about life and love. Galya keeps asking me, “How do you get to know a person?” Spend more time talking to them, I tell her. Their personality will come out, they’ll reveal themselves.
[Title] Friday: shift from 6:30 p.m. to 12:49 a.m.
My No. 40 tram sails through the city. People keep waiting and waiting. They keep putting their hands over their eyes to see whether the tram is coming.
When my children were little, I would tell them poetically, “When dusk descends on the city, the tram’s green eyes light up.” Yes, she’s a fashionable one, my No. 40. [Leningrad-Petersburg trams use a system of two lights and a combination of four colors—red, blue, green, and yellow—to indicate their numbers in the dark. The code for Tram No. 40 is two green lights.]
I tell Galka that, in my opinion, unofficially, behind the scenes, a matriarchy exists: you have to raise not only your kids, but your husband as well. You’ve got to plan the weekend. He’s not going to think about where to go, what to take along. You have to make all the preparations and discuss everything. Basically, the way the woman organizes life is how it’s going to be.
How marvelous! The cold is so palpable. When there are fireworks here, we travel slowly along this section, and even the passengers don’t want me to go faster. You can see how beautiful it is. Just imagine: our city stands on one hundred islands. And all the bridges: there are almost six hundred of them. Where else can you find a marvel like our city?
In the evening, there is light in the windows and you see what kind of furniture people have, how they’ve decorated their places in their own way, the way they feel it. On Science Prospect there is a small room whose walls are lined with bookcases. When I drive by in the evening, I always look at it.
We really love the opera, we go to the ballet and to hear music. When we go to a concert and take Zhenka with us, and I see on the program that there will be an evening of organ music, I manage to read the entire program, trying to calculate when Galka and I will have an evening off.
My Galka doesn’t use make-up or paint her face. That’s my influence. By the way, she doesn’t like perfume or cologne. She likes it when people don’t smell of anything, like clean dishes.
It happens that, when you’re returning to the depot in the evening or even late at night, some people feel like chatting, but usually acquaintances are not struck up then. Sometimes, though, you look in the mirror, to take a break for a second, and wink back. The drivers sometimes make eyes at each other, too. It’s okay—if they like each other’s looks, if they’re working the same route. Generally, though, I put on a strict, official face: when I’m driving I don’t give anyone cause to make eyes at me.
[Loudspeaker] “The next stop is Labor Square.”
Those two will be out all night. The wanderers and the strays ride the trams in the evening.
Transcribed and translated by the Russian Reader, with timely assistance from Comrade Koganzon. To help me continue translating and editing this website you can donate at your discretion at paypal.me/avvakum.
Lyudmila Stanukinas, the film’s director, died in Jerusalem on July 8, 2020, at the age of 89. Her distinguished career as a documentary filmmaker included a series of films about famous Soviet writers, actors, and musicians, as well as Moving Day (1970), which won a Silver Dragon at the 7th Krakow International Short Film Festival. Viktor Kossakovsky has made a film about Stanukinas and her husband the filmmaker Pavel Kogan, the award-winning Pavel and Lyalya (1998).
The 1973 Leningrad Public Transport Route Map. Although Lyudmila Grigorovich, the narrator and heroine of A Tram Runs Through the City, says that she is driving the No. 40 tram, its route, neither nowadays nor in 1973, has ever passed through all the stops she calls out in the film, which are located in very different parts of the city.
This film by Observers of Petersburg shows how such how a high turnout (74.7%) and outcome (77.7% “yes” votes) were attained in Petersburg during the 2020 Russian national referendum.
Spoiler alert! All this was made possible by six days of early voting, which were impossible to monitor.
00:59 How will the 2020 vote be remembered?
02:44 Coronavirus: voting in a pandemic
06:12 Early voting
09:28 Voting at workplaces
13:20 Voting rolls
17:49 David Frenkel’s story: how a journalist’s arm was broken at a polling station
21:35 Observers from the Public Chamber
26:09 Vote counting
31:42 Honest polling station commissions
35:24 What will happen next? The Russian national referendum’s impact on future elections
The film was produced by Yulia and Yevgeny Selikhov.
Thanks to iz0 for doing the animation.
this road leads straight to an ocean of blood the girls are driven down it by their father’s fists and his cries: stop! shut up! you’re going to suck me! here are the first steps, here are the mother’s screams, here is the father, licking his lips, calling them to the bedroom. we can already hear the ocean of blood, but whose is it? his or theirs? there is no turning off. three girls, please save yourselves from this terrible sea.
Russian Prosecutors Uphold Khachaturyan Sisters’ Murder Charges Moscow Times
July 13, 2020
Russian prosecutors have backtracked on their position to drop murder charges against three teenage sisters accused of killing their abusive father, lawyers told news agencies Sunday.
Prosecutors late last year ordered investigators to drop the charges against Krestina, Angelina and Maria Khachaturyan, who admitted to killing their father in July 2018 after he subjected them to years of physical, mental and sexual abuse. The sisters’ lawyers had hoped that investigators would downgrade the charges of premeditated murder, which carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years, to necessary defense charges.
“The Prosecutor General’s Office has approved the Khachaturyan sisters’ indictment,” their lawyer Alexei Liptser told the state-run TASS news agency.
Liptser said the same deputy prosecutor who refused to approve the sisters’ indictment in December has “obviously changed his position.” In May, Russian investigators rejected the prosecutors’ orders to drop the murder charges.
His colleague Mari Davtyan linked the prosecutors’ reversal to “a trend” of raids and arrests of activists and journalists since Russia adopted a slew of controversial constitutional changes on July 1.
In addition to adding socially conservative and economically populist promises to the Constitution, the amendments allow President Vladimir Putin to extend his 20-year rule into 2036 by resetting sitting or former presidents’ term limits.
The Khachaturyan sisters’ other lawyer Alexei Parshin told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that he expects a closed trial.
The sisters’ high-profile case has divided Russian society. Supporters blame Russia’s legal system — which critics say turns a blind eye to domestic abuse — for forcing the teenagers to defend themselves, while opponents view them as murderers.
Their case has also fueled calls for the repeal of a 2017 law that decriminalized first-time domestic abuse offenses.
Photo by Alexander Avilov for Moskva News Agency. Courtesy of the Moscow Times
Staunton, July 12 – Despite the absence of coverage in government-controlled media, the protests in Khabarovsk continue, and they are being supported by demonstrators in other cities across the country, a sign that the issues the residents of that city raise are not restricted to that region but are finding an echo elsewhere.
After yesterday’s unprecedentedly large meeting, Khabarovsk residents went back into the street today twice, once in the early afternoon and then again in the evening, with even more radical slogans because they have not received any response to their demands (sibreal.org/a/30722202.html).
But by talking about a possible restoration of the Far Eastern Republic, they beyond doubt have attracted the attention or and possibly repressive actions by the Russian authorities in the capital who will see this not only as a violation of the law on the territorial integrity of the country but a threat to its existence.
That is especially true because it involves a predominantly ethnic Russian area and consequently Moscow can’t rely on Russian nationalism alone to provide support for any crackdown. Instead, if a crackdown does come, Russians will be divided; and that is something that people in the Kremlin are worried about as well.
(On the complicated and brief life of the Far Eastern Republic, which existed as a buffer state between the RSFSR and Japanese-backed groups further east, see Henry Kittredge, The Far Eastern Republic of Siberia (London, 1923), Canfield Smith, Vladivostok under Red and White Rule (Seattle, 1975), and Alan Wood, Russia’s Frozen Frontier (London, 2011) and Ivan Sablin, The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Far Eastern Republic (London, 2018).)
Protesters on the streets of Khabarovsk on July 11, 2020. Courtesy of BBC News