Dragnet (Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze)

Suspects in Vandalism Committed Outside of United Russia Office Sent to Temporary Detention Facility
OVD Info
February 14, 2018

Paddy wagon in which Gorban was taken away. Photo by Maxim Pashkov. Courtesy of OVD Info

Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze, suspects in the vandalism case (Russian Criminal Code Article 214) opened after a protest outside a United Russia party office on January 31, have been sent to Temporary Detention Facility No. 1 (Petrovka) in Moscow, as reported to OVD Info by their defense lawyers, Svetlana Sidorkina and Maxim Pashkov.

Gorban and Kobaidze have been jailed for 48 hours. On February 14, investigators plan to pursue their investigation, perhaps by confronting the detainees. According to the lawyers, Gorban has confessed to violating Article 214 Part 1 (vandalism) of the Criminal Code, while Kobaidze has refused to testifying, invoking his right not incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

Police arrived at Gorban’s home early in the morning. They searched the flat she shares with her parents, confiscated all electronic storage devices, and took the young woman to the Preliminary Investigation Office of the Interior Ministry’s Moscow Directorate. Gorban has problems with her eyesight, but was not allowed to take contact lenses or eyeglases with here. The activist was delivered to the Preliminary Investigation Office and interrogated as a witness. Her attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, was not admitted to see her client for four hours. When Sidorkina was finally allowed to see Gorban, she had had decided to confess her guilt and testify.

The police came for Kobaidze in the evening. He refused to open the door, and the police were unable to enter his flat for a long time. Kobaidze’s neighbor Alexei Markov was apprehended by police and taken to the Novogireevo precinct, because he had returned home and refused to opened the door to the flat with his own key. He was then taken to the police station on the premise that he could be inebriated. After testing Markov, the police took him back to the flat and, after showing him a search warrant, opened the door with his key. After the search, Kobaidze was also taken to the Interior Ministry’s Preliminary Investigation Department and interrogated as a suspect.

During the interrogations, police officers questioned Gorban and Kobaidze about an unauthorized march by Moscow anarchists on Myasnitskaya Street to protest the torture of anarchists and antifascists in Penza and Petersburg (see below).

Translated by the Russian Reader

••••••••••

I have previously posted the following translations of popular press articles on the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the FSB-led investigation of the April 2017 bombing in the Petersburg subway, which upon close examination seem eerily like carbon copies of each other.

Ilya Kapustin: “They Said They Could Break My Legs and Dump Me in the Woods”

“They Said They Could Break My Legs and Dump Me in the Woods.” Petersburger Ilya Kapustin Recounts How FSB Officers Tortured Him
Yegor Skovoroda
Mediazona
January 27, 2018

Traces of handcuffs on Ilya Kapustin’s hands. Photo courtesy of his attorney and Mediazona

This week, FSB officers searched the homes of several Petersburg antifascists and anarchists. The searches were authorized by order of a Penza court. In October 2017, six activists were detained in Penza. One of them, Arman Sagynbayev, had lived for a time in Petersburg. They were charged with involvement in a terrorist network (Russian Criminal Code Article 205.4).

On January 24, 23-year-old antifascist Viktor Filinkov was detained at Pulkovo Airport in Petersburg. The following day it transpired he had been remanded to police custody as the member of a terrorist network and had “confessed the suspicions about him.” Filinkov recounted that after he was detained he had been beaten and tortured with an electric cattle prod, presumably by FSB officers.

“Most of all I was shocked by the traces on the hips from the electric shocker (as Viktor assures me). During my long struggles against police lawlessness I have never seen such injuries, and I have over fifty torture and bullying convictions of police officers under my belt,” attorney Vitaly Cherkasov wrote on his Facebook page after visiting Filinkov in Petersburg’s Pretrial Detention Center No. 3.

On January 25, the security services searched at least two more flats. After one such visit, antifascist Igor Shiskin disappeared. Neither his loved ones nor his attorney have been able to find him. During her interrogation, Shishkin’s wife was asked about the movements or groups Network (Set) and November Fifth (5.11), and also asked whether she professed anarchist views. [Shiskin turned up at the same pretrial detention center on the evening of January 27TRR.]

Ilya Kapustin was seized by masked secret service officers on the evening of January 25. The young man says he was tortured with an electric cattle prod while being asked questions about an aquaintance of his in Petersburg who had recently been arrested, the anarchist movement, and Penza, a city Kapustin has never visted. Mediazona presents his firsthand account of torture, his interrogation as a witness, and the search conducted by officers from the FSB’s Petersburg and Leningrad Region Office.

••••••••••

It so happened I am acquainted with a person who was recently arrested in Petersburg. I am an industrial climber, and I knew him from work. I telephoned him with a job officer right when he was being detained, which definitely caused what happened.

When I was returning home in the evening and was quite close to my house, five or so men in black uniforms and masks attacked me from different directions. They pushed me on the ground and dragged me into a minivan while kicking me. I tried to call for help. I yelled, but to no avail. I was knocked down on the floor of the vehicle, and the men searched me while continuing to kick me. I was handcuffed me very tightly, so tightly I still have cuts on my hands.

The vehicle drove off, and I was interrogated. When I did not know the answer to a question, when I did not understand who or what they were talking about, they shocked me with an electric cattle prod near my groin or the side of my stomach. They shocked me so I would say some acquaintance of mine or another was planning to do something dangerous. There were questions about whether I was a member of certain organizations, where I had traveled, and whether I had been to Penza. They asked me to tell them details about the lives of my acquaintances.

So, from time to time they poked me with the shocker. At some point, one of them said they could dump me in the woods somewhere and break my legs. I was looking forward to this moment when it would all be over, because they had tortured me for such a long time it was quite unbearable. 

Traces of electric shock on Ilya Kapustin’s body. Photo courtesy of his attorney and Mediazona

I was in the vehicle from roughly nine-thirty in the evening to one-thirty in the morning, when we arrived, apparently at an FSB office. When they took me out, they pulled a hood over my head and forced me to look down, and I could not figure out where we were, but later, when they took me home to search my flat, I guessed that it was a corner on Shpalernaya Street of the FSB building [whose main entrance is on Liteiny Avenue in downtown Petersburg—TRR]. I saw just as many secret service people in the office, only they were not wearing and were dressed in plain clothes. An investigator questioned me for something like an hour. Other secret service guys would sometimes stop by. One of them told me that if I did not want a second round, I should answer all the questions.

Then we went to the flat where we live, and there they let us read a search warrant issued by a court in Penza. During the search, I refused to switch on my laptop and telephone. That made them act very stridently. They threatened to hide a grenade and come back in a couple of days and find it in a search. Ultimately, they confiscated my laptop, telephone, and hard drive.

When they left, I went to the emergency room and documented the fact I had been beaten. I was issued a certificate in which all my injuries are listed. I am now looking for a lawyer to file a complaint. I am not mixed up in anything, but out of the blue I was tortured for several hours.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Penza “Terrorism” Case

Airsoft: The Penza Terrorism Case
OVD Info
January 29, 2018

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Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 in Penza

On January 23, antifascist Viktor Filinkov disappeared in Petersburg. He was found two days later: the press service of the Petersburg court system related Filinkov had been remanded to police custody after confessing his involvement in a terrorist network whose members “profess[ed] the anarchist ideology.” Members of the Public Monitoring Commission were able to visit him in the pretrial detention center a day later. Filinkov told them he had been tortured.

On January 25, Petersburger Igor Shishkin disappeared after going out to walk the dog. The dog came home with security services officers, who conducted a search of Shiskin’s flat. Petersburg’s Dzerzhinsky District Court remanded Shishkin to police custody on the very same charges that had been imputed to Filinkov. Reporters were not admitted to the courtroom. The investigation and arrests in Petersburg were sanctioned by a municipal district court in Penza.

What is the connection between Penza, Petersburg, and antifascists?

On December 11, 2017, OVD Info published a long report on the manhunt mounted in the wake of the so-called Maltsev Revolution of November 5, 2017. In particular, the report mentioned a criminal investigation of an alleged terrorist network in Penza. We wrote at the time that five people had been charged in the case, and two of them were anarchists. This was not entirely true. Six people have been charged in the case, in fact, and at least some of them are antifascists. One of them, Arman Sagynbayev, lived in Petersburg before his arrest. According to Fontanka.ru, a transcript of Sagynbayev’s interrogation was included in the case file police investigators entered into evidence at Shishkin’s remand hearing.

On October 17 or October 18, 2017, the first suspect in the case, Yegor Zorin, was detained. Antifascist Ilya Shakursky and his friend Vasily Kuksov were detained shortly thereafter. Dmitry Pchelintsev was detained on October 27. Then, in early November, Andrei Chernov was detained in Penza, and Sagynbayev was detained in Petersburg, shipped to Penza, and remanded to the pretrial detention center. According to police investigators, all six men had been members of the terrorist group 5.11 (i.e., November Fifth), who were planning for unrest to kick off in Russia. Five of the men are still imprisoned in the pretrial detention center, while a sixth man has been placed under house arrest. The accused men said they have been tortured while in police custody, enduring psychological coercion, electrical shocks, and being hung upside down, and that FSB officers planted weapons on them.

In airsoft, unlike paintball, there are no ratings, because responsibility for following the rules lies with the players themselves. A player who has been shot is obliged to admit it and immediately don a clearly visible red armband, which denotes he or she has been killed or wounded in the game, and proceed to the place designated as the cemetery or infirmary. Consequently, the point of the game is not winning, but playing fair and having fun. Arguments about whether someone has been killed or not are not kosher, and people who get into rows with each other are sidelined until the game is over.

Players use airsoft guns, which shoot plastic pellets 6 mm or 8 mm in diameter. The projectiles are powered either by compressed air or a gas mixture. Airsoft guns come in four basic models: spring-powered, battery-powered, gas-powered, and hybrid.

“There is no doubt terrorism is a bad thing,” says Vasily Kuksov’s defense attorney Alexander Fedulov. “But you punish the people who are really involved in terrorism, not everyone without exception. I also used to play paintball just to give my head a rest. I also have an airsoft gun at home. You don’t need a permit of any kind for it. I also used to shoot at targets in the park in the evenings. Well, Vasily would go play war. He fired two times from an airshot gun. During the hearing to extend Vasily’s remand to police custody, I gave a twenty-minute speech, but not a word of it ended up in the judge’s ruling. The police investigator read out the prosecution’s appeal: ‘They engaged in the illegal mastery of survival skills in the woods and rendering first aid.’ Where is it written in the Russian legal codes these skills are illegal? And the judge sat there and nodded. ‘They planned to blow up offices of the United Russia party and post offices.’ Rubbish.”

When Kuksov’s wife Yelena came home from work on October 19, she realized Vasily was not there, although he should have been home earlier. She called him on his mobile. The call went through, but her husband did not pick up the phone. A few hours later, Yelena heard someone trying to unlock the door of their flat. When she looked through the peephole, she saw around ten strangers, one of whom was holding her husband by the neck. Vasily could barely stand up. The men claimed they were from the FSB.

Kuksov’s trousers and jacket were torn and blood-stained, and his forehead and nose were badly injured, as if he had been smashed against the pavement. According to Yelena, the search was superficial. The FSB officers then asked Vasily whether he had a car. They took Kuksov and his wife to the car and ordered him to open the door. When he approached the car, Kuksov exclaimed the door lock was broken, to which one of the FSB officers crudely replied, “What do you mean by that?” The men searched the car, allegedly finding a pistol in it. Kuksov, who had been calm until then, screamed the weapon had been planted.

Ilya Shakursky was detained the same day. At first, he was suspected of “organizing” the group, but later the charge against him was reduced to “involvement.” Shakursky had organized lectures and park cleanups as part of environmental campaigns, and animal rights events. He was a fairly prominent figure in the local leftist scene.

A female acquaintance relates how, when they were at school, Shakursky got his classmates together and they went off together to clean up the Moksha River. No one had thought of doing such a thing before, but the idea occurred to Shakursky. A while later, members of the Mokshan city government and policemen came to the school. They organized a special class for the schoolchildren during which they instructed them Ilya was a Nazi, and his peers should stop associating with him. Shakursky and his antifascist friends always laughed when they retold the story.

At the December 14 hearing to extend the accused men’s term in police custody, Shakursky sat in the courtroom, not in the cage with Sagynbayev and Pchelintsev. Perhaps the police investigator did not want Shakursky to speak with the other defendants, although the hearing was for all three of them. Shakursky appeared very depressed, and he sat with his hood pulled over his head. His mother sat next to him, hugging him the whole time. She would ask her son something, and he would give one-word replies. The longest thing he said to his mother was about the New Year: “Mom, be sure to decorate the tree.”

According to Fedulov, Shakursky has confessed. Actually, everyone except Kuksov has confessed. Invoking Article 51 of the Russian Constitution [“No one shall be obliged to give evidence incriminating themselves, a husband or wife or close relatives the range of whom is determined by federal law.”], he refused to answer questions. Some time ago, Shakursky and Pchelintsev were friends. They worked out and played sports together, including airsoft. But they have not seen each other for several months.

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

It is mean to treat people like this. You are suspected and accused of something, but until it is proven, you are not guilty. That is why I am living in such horrible conditions: because it it doubles the punishment for something I did not really do.

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

I could not care less about birthdays, New Year, and all the other celebrations, and all the difficulties that happen to me. You are the only thing that matters. If I could, I would be with you and go through all of it. But I know you would be against it, at least, and that it is impossible, at most. I will do everything I can to help you. Just don’t worry about me. Believe me, I will handle things.

Prior to his arrest, Pchelintsev worked as a shooting instructor. He learned his profession while doing his compulsory military service at the Penza Artillery Engineering Institute’s training center.

On October 27, Pchelintsev left home in the early morning to meet his grandmother. His wife, Angelina, was still asleep when her husband returned to the flat in handcuffs, escorted by FSB officers. According to Angelina, during the search, law enforcement officers turned the flat topsy-turvy, ultimately confiscating their personal telephones and other electronic devices, as well as their registered firearms: two hunting rifles and two trauma pistols. They went to look at Pchelintsev’s car. His car had broken down, and he had recently just barely driven it close to their building and parked it. As Pchelintsev recounts, the FSB officers got into the car to search it right when no one was looking at them, and they allegedly found two grenades under the back seat.

“A car without an alarm. You guys are champs,” Pchelintsev said, implying they had planted the grenades in his car.

The same day, Angelina got a call from the FSB. Her husband supposedly wanted her to be present during his interrogation. She was greeted by two secret service agents. According to Angelina, during their conversation, one of them, who was playing with an awl, threatened her husband would be sentenced to life in prison. The FSB officer said someone just needed to be shot in the foot so Pchelintsev stopped refusing to testify by invoking Article 51 of the Constitution.

“The stupidest thing is a terrorist organization that did not commit a single terrorist act and was not planning any,” says Angelina. “Meaning that in court no one can even say they were planning to do such-and-such a thing on such-and-such a day. One cannot say that because they were not planning to do anything at all. All they ever did was learn how to render first aid in field conditions and survive in the woods. Is that illegal?”

After several days in the pretrial detention center, Pchelintsev said he planned to confess his guilt. This shocked his relatives, who were certain of Dmitry’s innocence. To pay the services of an attorney, his relatives borrowed money from a bank: attorney Alexei Agafonov had asked them for an advance of 150,000 rubles [approx. 2,150 euros]. According to Dmitry’s family, despite the high fee, Agafonov was not particularly sensitive to the needs of his client. Aganofov regularly came to the pretrial detention center and showed Pchelintsev where to sign the papers the investigator had brought. As Pchelintsev recounts in his letters, the lawyer would agree to meet with Dmitry on Monday, before the investigator’s arrival, but then show up the same time as the FSB officer, on Tuesday. When Pchelintsev expressed his bewilderment, Agafonov would reply, “Well, I came.”

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

Unfair. Dishonest. Wrong. Pointless. All the roads in my life led only in one direction. You, Grandma, my sister, my parents, and lots of people know I’m a good person. But why does everything happening to me not care a whit about this? Not care about a whole, safe person with his joys and troubles, his thoughts and experiences? What will it bring to me and my relatives except trauma? It doesn’t even make me angry, but it upsets me like nothing. It is not an accident, not a coincidence. It is just someone’s unjust will. An utterly senseless Saturday. I took a shower and shaved off my beard, at least. I don’t want to look like the person they take me for. How am I wrong, Angelina?

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

I believe you, as do your entire family and your friends. Everyone is very worried about you and understands what is happening. It is obvious to us. The first month, I tried to understand what a person could have done to be treated this way, but then I gave up looking for meaning. It’s a pitiless steamroller that could not care less about the people it crushes.

Agafonov once met with Angelina and asked her whether husband suffered from “fantasies.” Angelina replied that the situation was probably not very conducive to fantasies. It transpired Dmitry had been telling the lawyer that FSB officers were coming to see him every day and taking him to different cells for interrogations. According to the lawyer, this simply could not be happening in the pretrial detention center, where it was prohibited.

At first, Angelina received no letters from her husband, although later he told her he had written to her practically every day. Later, she found a thick envelope in the mailbox: it was filled to overflowing with all her husband’s letters for a month. It was then she discovered Dmitry had been complaining about Agafonov from the outset. According to Angelina, the fact his own defense attorney did not believe him literally was “finishing off” her husband. Moreover, he was in solitary confinement, isolated as much as possible from everyone, and the lawyer was the only person in whom he could confide.

“Given the relationship between law enforcement and the courts in our city, they will be convicted with a minimal amount of evidence,” argues Alexander Fedulov. “Because this is the first such case in the region, and everyone is interested in it. It is this stick to whack everyone with. ‘What’s with you? Fancy that! They caught some terrorists.’ Who were running round the forest with wooden sticks and pine boughs. Vasily said to me, ‘You know, Alexander, what I was afraid of? That someone would really see me running in the woods playing war. I would have sunk through the ground in shame.’ Changing the constitutional order where? In the village of Shalusheyka? What, they could change the system there with their airsoft guns?”

Once, Angelina received a letter from Dmitry written on a piece of paper torn unevenly from a notebook. It began with a passage about how her husband was reading 800-page books and he loved his wife. But these lines had been crossed out, and at the bottom of the page Dmitry had written in a quite shaky hand, “Don’t write to me, don’t bring me anything, go away as far as possible, don’t ask about me, I’m a goner.” In the same letter, Pchelintsev informed Angelina he was being injected with tranquilizers and given tablets, and it was “worse than death.”

Angelina thought Dmitry was not himself and wrote back to him.

“I took a piece of paper and, my hands shaking, I wrote that everything would be fine. I realized that, although it seemed to us that not so much time had passed, it felt like a much longer time to him. Then his father told Agafonov to take from the advance we had already paid what he considered necessary and give us back the rest. We found a new lawyer.”

After Pchelintsev was formally charged on December 1, he and Angelina were able to see each other and chat. Dmitry said he had asked for a meeting with his wife “to say goodbye.” According to Pchelintsev, he had been tortured every day: he had been hung upside down, and various parts of his body had been hooked up to an electrical current. He was afraid they would kill him and make it look like a suicide. He said his body might not be able to withstand the torture.

“I’m afraid my heart will give out, and I won’t make it out of here alive. This is hell,” he said.

Pchelintsev asked his wife to tell the investigator he had said goodbye to her. Then, perhaps, they would not come and torture him that day.

According to Angelina, she made up her mind beforehand she would not cry in front of the FSB officers, so she kept her cool and tried to cheer up her husband. She tried to persuade him not to despair and wait for the new lawyer to come up with something.

When her husband was led away, the investigator asked Angelina what they had discussed.

“Stop killing Dima,” Angelina replied.

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

I wouldn’t refuse to colonize Mars. Something farther away would be better, so these earthlings could not reach us quickly. I probably don’t need anything in the next care package: no Cheetohs, no Snickers. So don’t come here for the time being. I’ll write if I need anything. Basically, I’m hanging in there. I’m thinking about how we’ll start life over.

Angelina Pchelintseva writing to her husband:

I’ll make arrangements with Elon Musk. We will fly away and never return to this planet. We’ll wait until the ship is built, okay?

Arman Sagynbayev, who was jailed after most of the other accused, has serious health problems and needs constant medical career. During the police custody extension hearing in mid December, he said he constantly felt sick and vomited.

Yegor Zorin and Ilya Shakursky were classmates at Penza State University, where they had studied to be physics teachers. Zorin was the first to be detained, and he was the first to testify. According to relatives of the other accused men, his testimony was “utterly savage.” Zorin rang in the new year in partial freedom: he was released from the pretrial detention center and placed under house arrest.

According to investigators, the so-called November Fifth Group was allegedly established with the aim of planning a revolutionary coup and overthrowing the government using terrorist methods. Other similar groups also allegedly operated in Russia, and they were all part of a single organization with the same goals and methods. Investigators argue the members of November Fifth used conspiratorial methods, and they had a clear division of roles. The group allegedly had a sapper and a signalman, for example. Given this context, according to investigators, the airsoft games were a means of preparing for terrorist attacks.

And yet, currently there is no visible connnection, procedural or actual, between the criminal cases launched in the aftermath of the so-called Maltsev Revolution and the case of the Penza antifascists, except the numbers five and eleven in the name of their so-called terrorist community.

Dmitry Pchelintsev writing to his wife:

The lights are on twenty-four hours a day. If I’m not released because I’m innocent, I’ll be released when I develop Alzheimer’s. The humidity is such I’ll be released when I contract tuberculosis, and it’s so filthy I’ll be released when I contract hepatitis. And I smoke so much I’ll be released when I get cancer. And you all send me too much chocolate, so I’ll be released when I get diabetes. I’m kidding, of course. No one will ever release me.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Horreur du Jour (The Obukhovo Defense)

This collectible caught my eye as I was walking home yesterday.

stalin magnet 1
J.V. Stalin, USSR. Workers of the World, Unite!

I mistakenly thought it was a pin. The women in the kiosk, directly opposite the exit from the Mayakovskaya subway station, who sold it to me for 49 rubles (approx. 70 euro cents), told me it was, in fact, a refrigerator magnet.

stalin magnet label

The label on the back of the magnet’s flimsy plastic package informs us its manufacturer and distributor is Bronze Horseman Trading House LLC, headquartered at 95/2 Obukhovskaya Oborona (The Obukhovo Defense) Avenue.

Located in the south of the city, the Nevskaya Zastava district, where refrigerator magnets bearing the bloody dictator Stalin’s image are stamped out like potato chips in the enlightened year of 2017, was historically chockablock with large, mainly armament factories before and after the October Revolution, and thus was a hotspot of labor organizing and political agitation in the period before the Three Revolutions.

In 1901, the neighborhood was the scene of a showdown between striking workers at several of its plants and the authorities. The center of events was the Obukhovo Rolled Steel Plant.

Members of several underground political circles, including Social Democrats and Populists, called a political strike for May 1 at the plant to protest deteriorating work conditions. Plant management fired seventy workers for their actions.

On May 7, the former strikers increased their list of demands. Aside from reinstating the fired workers, they now demanded a holiday on May 1, an eight-hour workday, cancellation of night shifts and overtime work, an elected workers’ council inside the plant, pay rises, and the dismissal of several managers.

When management failed to meet their demands, strike organizers convinced workers to down tools, leave the plant, and block the Schlisselburg Highway. They were joined by workers from the nearby Alexandrovsky Plant and the Imperial Playing Card Factory.

Obukhovo_defence_1901
Police and workers clash during the Defense of the Obukhovo Plant, May 7, 1991. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Mounted police were summoned to the scene. During the ensuing pitched battle, eight workers, including a 13-year-old boy, and several policemen were killed.

On May 12, the conflict between Obukhovo Plant workers and management was temporarily resolved when management agreed to satisfy most of the points on a new list of demands presented to them. For a month after the agreement was conclused, however, sympathy strikes continued to break out at plants in other districts of the city.

In September 1901, however, a number of strike organizers and former strikers were put on trial for insurrection against the authorities. Seven of the defendants were sentenced to prison; twenty, to army brigades for prisoners; and two to hard labor. Eight defendants were acquitted, but most of the 800 men arrested during the affair (whether they were involved in the standoff with police or not) were exiled from Petersburg.

In 1931, Alexandrovsky Village Avenue was renamed Memory of the Obukhovo Defense Avenue to commemorate the events of thirty years earlier. Later, several other streets were joined to it. Now known simply as Prospekt Obukhovskoi Oborony or The Obukhovo Defense Avenue, it runs along or near the left bank of the Neva River south from Alexander Nevsky Square in the central city to the far south, ending near Rybatskoye subway station. It is thus one of the longest streets in the city.

What does the inspiring but mostly forgotten story of the Obukhovo Defense of 1901 have to do with today’s feeble but persistent attempts at restalinizing Russia via symbolic and discursive incursions such as refrigerator magnets?

Nothing and everything.

It is nastily ironic that magnets bearing the image of one of the most thoroughgoing counter-revolutionaries and reactionaries who ever walked the earth are stamped out right down the street from where real revolutionaries and trade unionists once fought for workers’ rights and paid a heavy price for their fight.

Are the workers who make the Stalin magnets aware of this history? Do they see their work as contributing to some kind of “revolutionary” cause? Or, what is more likely, are they just trying to make ends meet? How much are they paid per month? Would they ever think about striking against their employers for better pay and working conditions? Or is life at Bronze Horseman Trading House LLC paradise on earth?

One final demonic irony. I bought the Stalin refrigerator magnet almost exactly opposite the spot, on Marat Street, where a few days earlier I had found a Last Address, commemorating Rudolf Furman, a victim of Stalin’s Great Terror. TRR

The Affirmative Action Lenin

DSCN1797

In my writings on the national question I have already said that an abstract presentation of the question of nationalism in general is of no use at all. A distinction must necessarily be made between the nationalism of an oppressor nation and that of an oppressed nation, the nationalism of a big nation and that of a small nation.

In respect of the second kind of nationalism we, nationals of a big nation, have nearly always been guilty, in historic practice, of an infinite number of cases of violence; furthermore, we commit violence and insult an infinite number of times without noticing it. It is sufficient to recall my Volga reminiscences of how non-Russians are treated; how the Poles are not called by any other name than Polyachiska, how the Tatar is nicknamed Prince, how the Ukrainians are always Khokhols and the Georgians and other Caucasian nationals always Kapkasians.

That is why internationalism on the part of oppressors or “great” nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question, he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.

— Vladimir Lenin, “The Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomisation'” (1922), Marxists Internet Archive

Thanks to Ivan Ovsyannikov for the heads-up. Photo by the Russian Reader

The October Revolution’s Other Party

spiridonovaLeft SR leader Maria Spiridonova (center, wearing glasses). Photo courtesy of Getty Images and Russia Beyond the Headlines

October’s Number Two Party: Who Helped the Bolsheviks Prevail?
Yaroslav Leontiev
Vedomosti
December 8, 2017

The First All-Russian Congress of the Party of Left Socialist Revolutionaries (Internationalists) took place a hundred years ago in St. Michael’s Castle in Petrograd. The Left SRs were the second largest force in the October Revolution, providing the Bolsheviks with support in rural areas and amongst rank-and-file soldiers. Sixty-eight SR organizations gathered in the building where writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, physiologist Ivan Sechenov, and engineer Pavel Yablochkov had once studied. [From 1823, St. Michael’s Castle housed the Russian Army’s Main Engineering School. Now a branch of the Russian Museum, the castle is thus still alternately referred to as Engineers’ Castle—TRR.]

“Our party’s first congress was, in effect, not a congress, but a hasty review, as it were, of representatives of a certain mindset,” Prosh Proshyan, a Left SR leader and congress attendee, recalled later.

“If I had not been in Petersburg in 1917, the October Revolution would have happened—if Lenin had been present and in charge. But if neither Lenin or I had been in Petersburg, there would have been no October Revolution. […] If Lenin had not been in Petersburg, I would hardly have managed. […] The revolution’s outcome would have been in doubt,” said Trotsky.

Yet if Maria Spiridonova, Boris Kamkov, and other Left SR leaders had not been in Petrograd at the time, it is by no means a fact the revolution’s victory would have been secured at the All-Russian Congresses of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies. And victory itself for the Bolsheviks would have been a dubious proposition without allies, if we have in mind the Russia beyond the two capitals and the major industrial cities.

After winning the majority of mandates at the Extraordinary All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies in November 1917 (Spiridonova was elected its chair), the Left SRs were heavily involved in the events leading up to the revolution. When the Military Revolutionary Committee was established in Petrograd on October 12, 1917, Pavel Lazimir, an army paramedic and Left SR, was elected its chair. The field headquarters of the Military Revolutionary Committee, headed by Bolshevik Nikolai Podvoisky, would be established later, right before the armed assault on October 25.

In many cities, Left SRs were heavily involved in coups and the armed seizure of power. This forced the SR Central Committee (which had not yet split into factions) to dissolve the Petrograd, Helsingfors (Helsinki), and Voronezh party organizations. In certain cases, Left SRs themselves headed revolutionary committees, in particular, in Kharkov and Pskov. The chair of the Astrakhan People’s Power Committee, which had taken over the region, was Ensign Alexander Perfiliev, a Left SR. In Smolensk, the Bolshevik-dominated revolutionary committee, which included two Left SRs and one anarchist, joined with the provincial congress of peasant deputies and elected Dr. Yevgeny Razumov, who had attended the founding congress of the Left SRs, head of the local Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars). The chief of staff of the revolutionary military units who took power in Tashkent was Pavel Domogatsky, a Left SR and private in the First Siberian Reserve Rifle Regiment. In Kazan, Left SRs organized and headed the revolutionary committee, which competed with the Bolshevik revolutionary HQ in the battle for the hearts and minds of the masses. During General Kornilov’s attempted putsch in September 1917, the Central Staff of the Red Guards in Moscow consisted of seven Bolsheviks, six Left SRs, six Left Mensheviks, and three independents. Ensign Yuri Sablin, a Left SR member of the Moscow Revolutionary Committtee HQ, commanded a special detachment that advanced from the Strastnoi Monastery to the Nikitsky Gates and captured the mayor’s building on Tverskoi Boulevard. Another famous Russian Civil War commander, Vasily Kikvidze, a Left SR and volunteer in a Hussar regiment, was deputy chair of the Military Revolutionary Committee on the Southwestern Front during the First World War.

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1970 Soviet four-kopeck postage stamp memorializing Left SR Vasily Kikvidze as a “hero of the Civil War.” Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Left SRs had a huge influence on the sailors of the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

“The only Mensheviks and SRs in our midst were left-wing and internationalist,” midshipman and Bolshevik Fyodor Raskolnikov described the circumstances.

Consequently, the Left SRs headed the Kronstadt Soviet. The main bulwark of revolutionary forces in Petrograd, the Kronstadt Soviet commanded the detachment sent to storm the Winter Palace and to the Pulkovo Heights against Krasnov’s troops. The commander of the Petrograd Military District at the time was the future rebel commander of the Eastern Front, Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Muravyov, and the city’s air defense was headed by NCO Konstantin Prokopovich. Both Muravyov and Prokopovich had joined the Left SRs.

Although the Left SRs did not immediately join the government (the first Left SR to be authorized by the peasant congress, on November 19, to join the government was Andrei Kolegayev, appointed People’s Commissar for Agriculture), they did share responsibility for the seizure of power with the Bolsheviks: there was one Bolshevik and one Left SR in each of the thirteen departments of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. At a plenary session of theCentral Executive Committee on November 6, seven Left SR leaders, including Spiridonova, Kamkov, and Mark Natanson, were elected to its presidium, and Grigory Smolyanksy, former chair of the Left SR committee in Kronstadt, was appointed one of the Central Executive Committee’s two secretaries. On December 12, another five prominent Left SRs were added to the Central Executive Committee’s presidium.

1920px-Совет_народных_комиссаров_(Ленин,_Штейнберг,_Комков,_Бонч-Бруевич,_Трутовский...),_1918A meeting of the Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars), circa December 1917–January 1918, featuring (from left to right) Isaac Steinberg, Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov, Boris Kamkov, Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich, Vladimir Trutovsky, Alexander Shlyapnikov, Prosh Proshyan, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Alexandra Kollontai, Pavel Dybenko, E.K. Kosharova, Nikolai Podvoisky, Nikolai Gorbunov, V.I. Nevsky, Alexander Shotman, and Georgy Chicherin. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The second non-Bolshevik member of the government, appointed by the Sovnarkom on November 25, was engineer Lev Kronik, who was made a member of staff at the People’s Commissariat for Posts and Telegraphs. During December 1917, the Sovnarkom and VTsIK appointed seven more Left SRs People’s Commissars. Prosh Proshyan, only son of the classic Armenian writer Pertch Proshyan, was named People’s Commissar for Posts and Telegraphs. Isaac Steinberg was named People’s Commissar of Justice. Vladimir Trutovsky was appointed People’s Commissar for Local Self-Government, and Vladimir Karelin, People’s Commissar for the Republic’s Property. Two more Left SRs were made people’s commissars without portfolios, working on the staffs of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs and the People’s Commissariat of Military and Naval Affairs, respectively. They had the right to vote at sessions of the Sovnarkom.

Later, in January and February 1918, the Left SRs increased their presence in the central government and local governments. They joined nearly all the regional governments (Moscow Region, the Ural Region, the Siberian Soviet Government, etc.). Alexander Malitsky, who headed the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Railway Union, was appointed to the staff of the People’s Commissariat of Railways. Other Left SRs joined the staff of the People’s Commissariat for Food and held key posts in the Red Army, having literally put their hand to the decree founding the Red Army. Left SR Vyacheslav Alexandrovich (Dmitriyevsky) was Felix Dzerzshinsky’s right-hand man in the Cheka, and would be one of the first Left SRs shot by his ex-colleagues in July 1918. The influential Left SR Anastasia Bitsenko was, practically speaking, the first female Soviet diplomat: she was an official member of the Soviet peace delegation at the negotiations in Brest. Meanwhile, Spiridonova was essentially Yakov Sverdlov’s deputy on the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets. She chaired its peasant section, which had its own staff and published the newspaper Voice of the Working Peasantry (Golos trudovogo krestyanstva). It was in the Voice and the party’s central newspaper, Banner of Labor (Znamya truda) that the whole of Russia read the revolutionary poetry of Alexander Blok and Sergei Yesenin, who supported the Left SRs.

But the Bolshevik-Left SR coalition proved fragile: it did not last long. In January 1918, when, at the behest of the Left SRs, the All-Russian Congresses of Workers’ and Soldier’s Deputies, and Peasants’ Deputies merged, and the Left SR “Basic Law on the Socialization of Land” was adopted, nothing foreshadowed the imminent break between the allies. Rejection of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsky and anti-peasant Bolshevik decrees would move the Left SRs to engage in peaceful and, later, armed struggle against the Bolsheviks. On July 6, 1918, after Left SR uprisings in Moscow and the cities of the Volga region, a full-fledged war broke out between the erstwhile allies. But this is another story.

Yaroslav Leontiev is a professor in the Faculty of State Management of Moscow State University. Translated by the Russian Reader

Another Last Address: Six Names

While I realize it was only two weeks ago when I wrote about finding four Last Address memorial plaques in my neighborhood I had not seen before, I would like to document another six plaques I found today, because I do not think it is enough to know they are out there somewhere. Instead, we should pause for a few minutes and read the bare facts on each plaque out loud or silently. It is also important, given the current frightening atmosphere in Russia, to show passersby that they, too, can stop and honor the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror in this way, as well as to share this witnessing and remembering with readers out in the big wide world, whoever and wherever you are.

Of course, Last Address will only be complete when there is a plaque or plaques on every one of the 341,582 addresses in Memorial’s database.

While that day seems far off, it is surprising how quickly Petersburg has filled up with Last Address plaques in a mere two or three years.

The plaques my companion and I found earlier this evening were attached to the streetside façade of the building at 146 Nevsky Avenue, the segment of Nevsky, east of Insurrection Square, known to locals as “Old” Nevsky.

The plaques have been placed on the building at eye level and are thus quite easy for passersby to notice, read, and photograph.

The building itself is a hybrid of two eras. First built in 1883 by Valery von Gekker to house the Menyaevsky Market, the building was rebuilt and expanded in the constructivist style by Iosif Baks in 1932–33, turning most of it into a block of flats.

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146 Nevsky Avenue, Petersburg. Photo courtesy of citywalls.ru

When the six people memorialized on the plaques lived in the building, Nevsky was still known as October 25 Avenue, the name it bore from 1918, after the Bolsheviks came to power, until January 1944, when residents asked the authorities to restore a number of old street names in the city center to mark the lifting of the Nazi Army’s 900-day siege of the city.

The address listed on the Last Address map is thus 146 October 25 Avenue, as it would have been listed in the NKVD case files of the victims at the time.

DSCN1846“Here lived Mikhail Pavlovich Kovalyov, welder. Born 1887. Arrested 30 October 1937. Shot 7 December 1937. Rehabilitated 1958.” Born in the village of Raivola, Finland, near the Russian/Soviet-Finnish border, Mr. Kovalyov worked at the Khalturin Factory and lived in flat no. 186.

DSCN1847.jpg“Here lived Vaclav Adamovich Zaikovsky, litographer. Born 1897. Arrested 31 August 1937. Shot 21 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1957.” Born in the Vilna Governorate of the Russian Empire, Mr. Zaikovsky was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1917 to 1937, and director of the First Art Lithography Works. He lived in flat no. 163.

DSCN1848.jpg“Here lived Dmitry Andreyevich Yeretsky, civil servant. Born 1900. Arrested 23 September 1937. Shot 21 September 1938. Rehabilitated 1957.” Mr. Yeretsky was born in Beredichev, Belarus. He was director of the State Institute for the Design of Wood Chemical Industry Enterprises (Giproleskhim) and lived in flat no. 164.

DSCN1849“Here lived Alexander Kirillovich Sirenko, civil servant. Born 1903. Arrested 10 February 1937. Shot 24 August 1937. Rehabilitated 1955.” Born in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region, Mr. Sirenko was director of the Nevsky Chemical Plant and lived in flat no. 146.  He was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1924 to 1937.

DSCN1850“Here lived Alexander Genrikhovich Kogan, theater manager. Born 1898. Arrested 26 August 1946. Shot 13 April 1938 in a work camp in Kolyma. Rehabilitated 1956.” A Jew from Nikolayev, Ukraine, Mr. Kogan was accused by the NKVD of involvement in a wholly fictitious “counterrevolutionary insurgent organization.” The number of the flat where he lived is not listed on the Last Address map or in Memorial’s Leningrad Martyrology database.

DSCN1851“Here lived Melania Ignatyevna Shoka, civil servant. Born 1908. Arrested 2 September 1937. Shot 1 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1989.” An ethnic Pole born in the Grodno Governorate of the Russian Empire, Ms. Shoka was a personnel instructor in the non-steamboat fleet of the Northwest River Shipping Company. She lived in flat no. 70 and was not a member of the Communist Party.

I am not an expert on the Great Terror, but I have noticed a preponderance of non-ethnic Russians and people born outside of Leningrad/Petersburg in the three hundred or so database case files I have perused. Given that the NVKD would also have had to fill its arrest and execution quotas in Central Russia, I am certain, of course, that ethnic Russians are also more than amply represented among the Terror’s myriad victims. It was just that Petersburg had been a cosmopolitan city almost from its foundation and twenty years previously had been the capital of a multi-ethnic empire. In its first two decades, the Soviet regime had also encouraged what historian Terry Martin has dubbed an “affirmative action empire.” But one of the signal victims of Stalin’s crackdown was  faith in a polity that was “socialist in content, nationalist in form.” So, Leningrad’s non-Russians were easy targets for Stalin’s newfound anti-cosmopolitan paranoia.