The Injustice Ministry

rainbowWhile rainbows do occasionally appear in the skies above Russia, the Putin regime has pursued a consistent course of official homophobia and avoidance of the country’s out-of-control HIV epidemic. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russian Justice Ministry Proposes Tightening Oversight of Foreign HIV Prevention Programs
Mediazona
September 3, 2018

The Justice Ministry has drafted a law bill that would introduce a new procedure for running foreign programs in Russia for preventing the spread of HIV. The text of the draft law has been published for public discussion.

The ministry proposes introducing a mandatory notification procedure for all noncommercial organizations planning to combat HIV in Russia, but which receive foreign funding, whether from other countries, international organizations, foreign nationals, stateless persons, their representatives, and Russia legal entities and individuals receiving money and other property from these sources.

After receipt of such a notification, the Justice Ministry will have a month to review it. It will then either have to issue permission to operate in Russia or a substantiated rejection. If a noncommercial organization continues to work on preventing HIV after receiving a rejection notice, it will be abolished.

As the BBC has noted, four foundations preventing the spread of HIV in Russia have been registered as “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry.

Approximately a million Russians are infected with HIV. In July, RBC reported a spike of infections in Moscow. The Russian Health Ministry responded to the report by claiming the situation was stable. It urged journalists to focus only on official statistics.

Translated by the Russian Reader

LGBT Pride in Petersburg: Thirty Activists Detained

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Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
August 4, 2018

A LGBT pride event was scheduled today, but the authorities refused to permit it, and it was decided we should limit ourselves to solo pickets on Palace Square. The protest was scheduled for 12:34 p.m. It looks pretty (1,2,3,4), but the time is horribly early for me.

But I remembered the words of Alexei Sergeyev and forced myself to get up.

“I hope solidarity is not an empty phrase for you. Maybe we have been together at architectural preservation marches and the Marches for Peace. Or we came out to support the striking truckers and women’s reproductive rights, protested against the destruction of confiscated produce, against corruption, against torture by the FSB, and mourned the murdered Boris Nemtsov. Maybe this is your first picket holding a flag or card. Or you are coming just to support us, to be with us. All of it matters. Every person counts.”

Alexei and I wound up on the same bus. We were running a bit late.

38301108_1907384719314324_5175463354348601344_n

On Palace Square, we saw crowds of patriotically minded Petersburgers. Many had dressed in camouflage and adorned themselves with St. George’s Ribbons. It transpirted that today was a party for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their owners.

Palace Square was completely cordoned off and chockablock with cops.

I got held up, and when I got to the square, Alexei Sergeyev had already been detained. Then Alek Naza (Alexei Nazarov) was detained: he had no placard, only a rainbow flag. Before that 28 more people had been detained. That is a total of 30 people detained for trying to hold solo pickets [which, according to Russian law, can be held without permission and without notifying authorities in advance]. There are minors among them. Some have been taken to the 74th Police Precinct (in particular, Alexander Khmelyov), while a third group is still being held in a paddy wagon, as far as I know.

Information from witnesses: “Six of the people detained on Palace Square were dropped off at the 69th Police Precinct at 30/3 Marshal Zhukov Avenue, including Yuri Gavrikov, Alexei Sergeyev, and Tanya (Era) Sichkaryova. One of the detainees is an underaged girl. We have refused to be fingerprinted and photographed.”

I was taking pictures with Yelena Grigorieva’s camera. I don’t have those photos yet. I’m using ones that have already been published on group pages and the social media pages of the protesters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE. Please do not credit the accounts of this incident published by Gay Star News, Gay Tourism, and True Media. I sent the following letter to them a few minutes ago.

Your websites published a very sketchy summary of a post I published on my blog The Russian Reader earlier this evening.

Namely, you characterized the source of my post, Yevgenia Litvinova, as a “LGBTI activist.” She is no such thing. She is a well-known opposition journalist and pro-democracy (anti-Putin) activist, whose organization, Democratic Russia, feels it important to show solidarity with the LGBTI movement in Petersburg. 

Please correct or delete this baseless speculation on your part or I’ll expose your bad journalistic practices on social media and my blog.

My blog is a copyleft website, but no one has the right to rip what I translate and write out of context—a context I know well because I’ve lived in Petersburg for 25 years—and fit it into a fake context that makes more sense to your readers, who, apparently, cannot imagine a non-LGBTI person would or could show solidarity with the LGBTI movement.

The Cabbies Left While the Cossacks Stayed: Rostov-on-Don on the Eve of the World Cup

rostov arena-2Rostov Arena. Photo courtesy of ftbl.ru

The Cabbies Left, The Cossacks Stayed
Gleb Golod
Takie Dela
June 8, 2018

The banks of the Don River in Rostov were always quite different. The right bank was landscaped, featuring bars and restaurants suited to every taste, singing fountains, and amusements. The left bank featured a wild beach chockablock with sand and trees. It was a favorite spot for picnickers and outdoor shish kebab cookouts. People used to swim there until the Don was completely polluted.

The new Rostov Arena has been built on the the left bank. Nine months and 913 million rubles [approx. 123 million euros] turned the wild beach into a landscaped park and river embankment. All that is left of the levberdon, as Rostovians call it, is a pier that extends nearly to the middle of the mighty river.  Over the long years it has been there, it has rusted, and there are holes in its covering here and there. The locals loved it, however. In the evenings, you would always find a couple in love, a photographer and his model, a small group of friends, and an old fisherman who had good luck catching herring in the middle of the Don.

Since May 1, when the park on the left bank officially opened, it has been standing room only on the pier. Locals stroll there with their children, joined by the foreigners who have arrived earlier in Rostov-on-Don. Someone worried about safety decided to limit the number of people on the pier and welded an iron grille to the entrance, but this has not stopped the flood of visitors. Cyclists toss their bikes over it, men help their female companions climb over it, and parents ferry their children from one side of the grille to the other.

Every half hour, an improvised river taxi docks alongside the pier. It charges adults 500 rubles for a ride. Children sail for free.

“Business? What business? The main thing we sell are emotions. River cruises are soothing. Adults can relax while the kids doze,” a man in a sailor’s hat and striped shirt advertises a short cruise on the Don while docking at the pier.

“Business has been good, of course, since so many people started coming here,” he admits. “I would give the embankment a ‘C’ for now. There is not much in the way of infrastructure or development. We’ll see how it looks a year from now.”

The boat pilot does not waste any time. He has struck up a conversation with a young boy, whom he has given a tennis ball. The boy persuades his parents to go for a ride on the boat. They quickly give in. The vessel weighs anchor and speeds off toward the other shore.

The Stadium and the Park
The boat pilot gave the new park a “C,” but the locals like the new sports facilities and playgrounds, and the fact the park is well maintained. But it lacks trees, many of which were cut down during the beautification.

“There is a lot of exercise equipment, and the air is fresh, but I probably won’t be coming here in the summer. There are few trees and little shade. But you know what the heat is like here in July. You could kick the bucket,” says a young woman in workout gear.

The local are not imagining things. There really are many fewer trees. The park was built without consideration of the place’s specific features. Consequently, the “city’s green shield” was left with huge gaps in it, says Alexander Vodyanik, environmentalist and assistant secretary of the Russian Public Chamber.

The “wild” green area on the left bank, which stretched all the way to Bataysk, a suburb of Rostov-on-Don, moistened the winds sweeping in from the Kalmyk steppes, winds that are especially palpable in the spring. It was the primary source of fresh air, supplying it just as ably as a forest, says Vodyanik. The place had to be beautified, but a completely different park should have been built, a wetlands park.

“Historically, this place functioned as a city beach, and it should have been turned into a city beach. People swim at a beach, but the Don has been so badly polluted for so long that swimming was definitely off limits in this part. In that case, swimming pools could have been set up while simultaneously purifying the water. This has been done in Germany on the Rhine, which is much dirtier than the Don, and the project has been a success,” says Vodyankik. “But a park was built here instead. An instant lawn, which has already gone bad, was rolled out. Eighty percent of the poplars were cut down. We had problems with our woodlands as it was, but they were damaged even further.”

The so-called Tourist Police are identified as such on the armbands they wear. A female student from Namibia leads a tour for her friends, who have arrived to enroll at the Don State Technical University. A young man named Aman hopes to get a ticket to the match between Brazil and Switzerland. If it does not work out, however, he will just go for a stroll around the city.

“I really like it here. The city is pretty and has an interesting history. Things are good, the park is good. Everything is terrific and cozy,” he says in English. “By the way, could you tell me where the stadium is? All the signs are in Russian, which I don’t actually understand.”

Rostov Arena was built at a distance from residential areas, so loud fans will not bother locals even on match days. The stadium is accessible by bus and taxi. True, fans will have to walk the last 500 meters to the turnstiles. This decision was made for security reasons.

Cabbies Leave the Fan Zone
Specially accredited taxi drivers will ferry fans from the left bank to the right bank and the fan zone on Theater Square. The most popular taxi services in Rostov-on-Don, Uber and Leader, accessible on the Rutaxi app, will not be working during the World Cup because they are not officially registered as commercial transport services.

Among the major cab companies, Yandex Taxi and Taxi 306 have been accredited to work during the World Cup. Roman Glushchenko, executive director of Taxi 306, told us  a total of 500 cars had been accredited in Rostov-on-Don, but he refused to discuss whether that would be enough cars to handle all comers.

According to gypsy cab driver Leonid, around 150 drivers of the ten thousand drivers affiliated with the company 2-306-306 have been accredited. Cabbies like Leonid mainly work for themselves rather than licensed carriers, which are practically nonexistent in the city, he explains. The gypsy cabbies use Yandex, Uber, Gett, and Leader as dispatchers, either directly or through small intermediary firms. So, when the issue of accreditation for the World Cup arose, it was a problem for drivers, who had to obtain permits, sign a contract with a licensed carrier, and paint their cars yellow or white. The Rostov Regional Transport Ministry issued the full list of requirements for accreditation.

“I’m not going to lift a finger to get accreditation,” Leonid admits. “Why should I give myself a headache by getting permits that would mean I would start making a loss? Licensed cars must be stickered with the taxi company’s ID tag. I don’t want to have this for a number of reasons. I would also have to register as an independent entrepreneur, get a license from the Transport Ministry, which was free until this year, and insure my cab, although premiums are higher than usual. And that’s over and above the 25% cut I give to Yandex. I know lots of gypsy cabbies. Not a single one of them has bothered to get accreditation. It’s just bad business for them.”

To prevent the few accredited taxis from jacking up rates for Rostovians and fans, the Transport Ministry has established a single rate for the entire World Cup.

Leonid plans to spend the World Cup in Sochi. He says the transport system there is better, applying for a license is easier, and the city is generally better prepared after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Who wants to sit in traffic jams driving back and forth to the stadium?” he grumbles.

Although the World Cup lasts only four weeks, Theater Square, which will house a fan zone that can accommodate 22,000 fans, was closed to car traffic and public transport on May 13 and will remain closed until July 21. In the mornings and evenings, buses are already stuck in traffic on Sholokhov Avenue. When the World Cup kicks off, share taxis (marshrutki) will be removed from Red Army Street. Officials have promised they will be replaced with new buses.

There are plans to show all the matches on giant screens, organize entertainment for fans, and open food courts on Theater Square. The fan zone is a few hundred meters from the ruins of an entire residential neighborhood, destroyed by fire last year.

The square itself is home of the Gorky Drama Theater, hence the square’s name. It is one of two Russian buildings whose models are exhibited in the Museum of Architecture in London. (The other is St. Basil’s Cathedral.) The late constructivist landmark resembles a stylized caterpillar tractor. Corbusier called it a “gem of Soviet architecture.” Unfortunately, the fan will not be able to see it. The theater could not be cleaned up in time for the World Cup and has been draped with several banners.

Rostov-on-Don-Maxim-Gorky-Drama-TheatreThe Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don. Postcard image courtesy of Colnect

Painted Residents Greet Cossacks
The authorities promised to repair and reconstruct many historic buildings and entire streets in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, but with a few weeks left before the championship, it was clear they would run out time.

Residents of Stanislavsky Street, in the downtown, recount how workers have been laboring outside their houses round the clock, trying to finish their work not by June 1, as city officials had promised, but at least by June 14, when the World Cup kicks off. When you are in a hurry, mistakes are inevitable: a female pensioner was unable to exit her building because the door was blocked by paving slabs. Other houses wound up a meter lower than the newly beautified street, and residents have had to jury-rig stairways to the pavements.

Around fifty buildings in Rostov-on-Don’s historic center have been hung with giant photographs of the buildings or World Cup banners because they could not be repaired in time. Among them is the famous house of Baron Wrangel, where the leader of the Whites during the Russian Civil War spent his childhood and youth. The house is a neoclassical architectural landmark. The mansion was nationalized during the Soviet period and turned into a kindergarten. The kindergarten shut down in the nineties, and the building was abandoned. Over the years, it has become quite dilapidated and has been repeatedly vandalized, so it looks hideous.

But when only a few months remained until the World Cup, no one had any brighter idea than to drape the landmark with a picture.

2010_04_24_domvrangelyaThe Wrangel House in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of RostovNews.Net

The Rostov branch of the Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK) tried to persuade city officials a dilapidated Wrangel House would look better than a picture emblazoned on a tarp. They circulated a petition and sent a letter to Governor Vasily Golubev, all to no avail.

“We got a reply less than half a page long. It acknowledged receipt of our letter, but there had been an onsite meeting of a commission chaired by Deputy Governor Sergei Sidash. On the basis of arguments made by commission members, they had decided to drape it in banners,” says Alexander Kozhin, head of VOOPIK’s Rostov branch.

800px-Гостиница__Московская_The Moscow Hotel, in downtown Rostov-on-Don, before the 2007 fire. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same plight befell the Moscow Hotel, a nineteenth-century eclecticist building. In 2007, it was badly damaged in a fire and has been awaiting reconstruction ever since. The dilapidated Gorky Library (originally the Sagiyev Family Tenement House, an Art Nouveau landmark) is covered in scaffolding. It has been decided to demolish the Pavlenkova Tenement House, on long-suffering Stanislavsky Street, altogether.

sar-htosThe Sagiyev Family Tenement House aka the Gorky Library, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of voopiik-don.ru

 

1526621588_pavlenkovoyThe ruins of the Pavlenkova Tenement House, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Rostov.ru

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, images of a building on Sholokhov Avenue appeared in the news and social media. Happy residents peered from the windows: a fiddler holding his instrument, an artist at an easel, a girl blowing soap bubbles, a football fan wearing a Spartak FC scarf, and patriots with the Russian tricolor draped on their backs. The balconies are adorned with balloons and potted plants.

All of them were painted images on yet another banner covering up unfinished repairs.

The upcoming championship has not changed the life of Rostov-on-Don’s real residents all that much. Schoolchildren and university students started and finished their final exams earlier, so schools and universities would be closed when the World Cup kicked off. The old airport was shut down, replaced by the new Platov Airport outside the city. All political rallies and marches have been prohibited during the World Cup.

The police will not be alone in enforcing this and other prohibitions. In early May, Don Cossacks in Rostov announced that three hundred Cossacks, included mounted Cossacks, would be keeping the peace on the streets as “volunteers.” They have assured the public that, at their own behest, they would not engage in violence and would leave their whips at home. If the police, however, are breaking up a fight, the Cossacks will back them up. The volunteers in papakha hats will pay particular attention to LGBT fans.

TASS_1044980_673“Cossacks.” Photo courtesy of Russia Beyond

“If two men kiss at the World Cup, we will tell the police to check them out,” they said.

The first World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don kicks off on June 17. A total of five matches will be played on the left bank of the Don: four matches in the group stage and one match in the round of sixteen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Roskomnadzor Blocks Gay.Ru

gay.ruScreenshot of Gay.Ru courtesy of Russian LGBT Network

Roskomnadzor Blocks Major LGBT Website Gay.Ru
Russian LGBT Network
Facebook
March 30, 2018

The website Gay.Ru has been notified the information published on it has been included in the Unified Register of Prohibited Websites by decision of the Altai District Court in the village of Belyi Yar, Republic of Khakassia.

The website now contains the following warning.

“The basis for blocking [the website] was the posting of information promoting nontraditional sexual relations, which has been prohibited in the Russian Federation.”

The ruling was made by Judge Olga Kvasova. As is customary in cases concocted by the authorities, it is impossible to comprehend what exactly the court deemed promotion of homosexuality.

The plaintiffs in the case were the Altai District Prosecutor’s Office and the Yenisei branch office of Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal media and communications watchdog. The court’s verdict came into force on December 22, 2017.

Yesterday, the website received the standard letter from Roskomnadzor about needing to immediately delete information whose dissemination is forbidden in the Russian Federation.

gay.ru

A screenshot of the homepage of Gay.Ru, taken on March 31, 2018. There is a reason why everyone in their right mind uses VPNs to surf the web in Russia. And no, Veronica, it is not against Russian law for individuals to use them.

“In order to ensure the rights of citizens and in compliance with current legislation, the information indicated above must be banned from dissemination in the Russian Federation, since unhindered access to the specified internet resource and the information posted on the website has been classified as prohibited information, meant to be disseminated amongst underaged children, to be capable of provoking in them an interest in nontraditional sexual relations, to distort notions of the social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, and to induce them to engage in nontraditional sexual relations, which poses a real threat to their health. In addition, dissemination of this information has a negative impact on the moral, spiritual, mental and physical development, on the health and safety of minors, and diminishes the value of family relations,” the court’s ruling reads.*

For twenty years, Gay.Ru has not only covered LGBT community news in Russia and the world but has also published articles on the cultural and social life of LGBT people, articles on health and HIV prevention, and studies of gender and sexuality.

* The original Russian ruling is rendered in such illiterate, ungrammatical Russian I wonder whether the judge or court clerk who wrote it went to school. TRR

Thanks to Igor Kochetkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

What Is Their Point?

6f987ab74c72f0c50b19b05ea775bc4033c57706A Tribe Called Quest. Photo courtesy of Spotify

First, a musical prelude, by the world’s best hip hop group of all time, A Tribe Called Quest.

Check The Rhime
Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden,
We used to kick routines and presence was fittin’
It was I the Abstract
And me the five footer
I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter
Yo, Phife, you remember that routine
That we used to make spiffy like Mister Clean?
Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen
I don’t get the message so you gots to run the pigeon
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point, Phife?
All the time, Tip
You on point Phife?
All the time, Tip
Well, then grab the microphone and let your words rip
Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram
I’m like an Energizer ’cause, you see, I last long
My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong
Now if you say my style is wack that’s where you’re dead wrong
I slayed that body in El Segundo then push it along
You’d be a fool to reply that Phife is not the man
Cause you know and I know that you know who I am
A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see
And a middle finger goes for all you punk MC’s
Cause I love it when you wack MC’s despise me
They get vexed, I roll next, can’t none contest me
I’m just a fly MC who’s five foot three and very brave
On job remaining, no I’m chaining cause I misbehave
I come correct in full effect have all my hoes in check
And before I get the butt the jim must be erect
You see, my aura’s positive I don’t promote no junk
See, I’m far from a bully and I ain’t a punk
Extremity in rhythm, yeah that’s what you heard
So just clean out your ears and just check the word
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Check the rhyme y’all
Play tapes y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check the rhyme y’all
Check it out
Check it out
Back in days on the boulevard of Linden
We used to kick routines and the presence was fittin’
It was I the Phifer
And me, the abstract
The rhymes were so rumpin’ that the brothers rode the ‘zack
Yo, Tip, you recall when we used to rock
Those fly routines on your cousin’s block
Um, let me see, damn I can’t remember
I receive the message and you will play the sender
You on point, Tip?
All the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yeah, all the time, Phife
You on point, Tip?
Yo, all the time, Phife
So play the resurrector and give the dead some life
Okay, if knowledge is the key then just show me the lock
Got the scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock
With speed I’m agile plus I’m worth your while
One hundred percent intelligent black child
My optic presentation sizzles the retina
How far must I go to gain respect? Um
Well, it’s kind of simple, just remain your own
Or you’ll be crazy sad and alone
Industry rule number four thousand and eighty
Record company people are shady
So kids watch your back ’cause I think they smoke crack
I don’t doubt it, look at how they act
Off to better things like a hip-hop forum
Pass me the rock and I’ll storm with the crew and
proper. What you say Hammer? Proper.
Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop
NC, y’all check the rhyme y’all
SC, y’all check it out y’all
Virginia, check the rhyme y’all
Check it out, out
In London, check the rhyme, y’all
______________________________________________

The Tribe were always on point, although Phife, sadly, died in March 2016.

I am happy to say I saw the group perform at a club in Seattle in 1991 or 1992, and it was the most positive, funkiest show I have ever seen anywhere.

______________________________________________

Meanwhile, the unhappy, far-flung, unfunky human shards of the collapsing new building once known as the Soviet Union are almost never on point, because the ones among them who clearly think they are the smartest, cleverest, and most cosmopolitan have been in semi-permanent national self-defense mode after it transpired the Kremlin tried its flat-out best to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.

Two cases in point are ace reporters Julia Ioffe and Masha Gessen,* who seem to go back and forth all over the place on the “Russia question,” depending on the venue and the day. Here, they are, today, in full “Russophile” mode.

on point

Here is the interview itself, broadcast earlier today on NPR.

“The bottom line is that Americans elected Trump,” claims Gessen in the interview.*

No, the bottom line is that reporters like Masha Gessen and Julia Ioffe, for whatever reason, want to control the public discourse on Russia in the US, so they have to reach over and over again for the bag of tricks, perfected in their worst incarnations by pseudo-intellectual mags like the New Republic and Atlantic Monthly in the nineties, that counter-intuitive reporting gets you, the reporter, the most attention, even if your counter-intuitive argument is utterly worthless when examined on the merits.

I could see no point whatsoever to NPR’s interview with Ms. Gessen and Mr. Chen, just as I can see no point flapping one’s lips about Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election until Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed.

It is not at all a straighforward question of dual loyalties or having been “flipped,” of course, but the genuine discomfort many Russians and Russian émigrés feel about the dire direction Russia has taken under Vladimir Putin. At the same time, parts of the Russian national and Russian émigré chattering class feel so utterly flummoxed by the way events have been unfolding in the last four or five years that they have gone, almost reflexively, into heavy spin mode while also trying to install themselves, in the west, as the go-to people when it comes to all matters Russian.

It would probably surprise NPR’s listeners to learn that Ms. Gessen, for example, did not exactly “flee” Russia, but chose to leave because she felt her non-traditional family would be safer in the US, where she emigrated with her own birth family when she was fourteen. She had every right and reason to do this, and if I were in her position I might have done the same thing.

It is nonsense, however, to say she “fled” because she was “persecuted” personally. The nonsensicality of this claim would be apparent only to people like me and my Russian reporter friend Sergey, who watched as Ms. Gessen “fled” Russia over the course of two or three years, generating an endless series of interviews and op-ed pieces about her “escape” as she was slowly packing her bags or whatever she was doing during her seemingly endless, slow-motion “flight to freedom.”

When you witness a journalist working so hard to make themselves the story, you start wondering what matters most to them—the truth out there in the world that needs to be investigated and reported or keeping the limelight fixed firmly on themselves.

I also happen to know that Ms. Gessen makes frequent trips to Russia on business. What sort of persecution-and-flight story is this, when you can fly back and forth between your “safe haven” and the “country you fled” at will, whenever you like, with no untoward consequences to your health and safety?

In fact, under Putin’s reign, there have been plenty of Russians who really have been persecuted in the most unambiguous sense of the word and have had to flee the country or face certain imprisonment, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov, the final defendant in the horrendous (and horrendously underreported) Bolotnaya Square case and its accompanying show trials.

Because both Ms. Ioffe and Ms. Gessen are terrific reporters and writers when they want to be, I wish they would spend more time telling us about the real Russia of unsung heroes like Dmitry Buchenkov, Yuri Dmitriev, Valery Brinikh, and the Penza and Petersburg antifascists tortured by the FSB on the fabricated pretense they belonged to a “terrorist” organization, and much less time making what really amounts to a half-assed quasi-defense of a very bad game (the Kremlin’s meddling in the internal affairs of countries the world over), seemingly only just to keep their charming mugs in front of the TV cameras and radio station microphones as much as possible.

Especially in the last instance, Ms. Gessen and Ms. Ioffe could use the mighty media soapboxes they have at their disposal to help eight innocent young men put through hell on earth so the FSB can tighten its grip on Russian grassroots society. But they don’t, probably because they have never even heard of the case, despite being the foremost go-to reporters on Russia in the US. TRR

* I have posted in the recent past about instances when Ms. Ioffe’s and Ms. Gessen’s alleged total omniscience regarding the Motherland has been seriously lacking. See “Does Vladimir Putin Have a Niece?” (11 November 2017), and “Ace Reporter Julia Ioffe Joins the Russian World” (5 October 2017).

** After I posted this last night, I thought about what Ms. Gessen’s reaction would be if, during a similar non-obligatory discussion on NPR (whose presenters, almost without exception, have no clue how to interview anyone, because their idea of interviewing involves lobbing slow softballs for their guests to slam out of the park) someone had said, “The bottom line is that Russians voted for Putin.”

It is easy to imagine how she would react, because she writes at length in her latest book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, about the 2011–2012 fair elections movement in Russia, sparked by a widespread (and accurate) perception amongst Russians that the December 2011 parliamentary and regional elections and the March 2012 presidential election had been anything but free and fair, to wit:

Even though the protesters belonged to different age groups, Putin had now been in power long enough that a majority of them had spent all or most of their adult lives in the era of supposed “stability.” Some of them had expected the Putin era to be like the Soviet past they remembered or imagined, the object of national nostalgia. According to these memories, that time was slow, predictable, and essentially unchanging. But in Putin’s era of “stability,” things refused to stay the same. The markets crashed because Putin said or did something. Innocent, randomly chosen people went to prison just because the government had declared a witch hunt against pedophiles. The spectacle of the Putin-Medvedev handoff and the experience of the farcical election served as reminders of how powerless Russian citizens were to affect any aspect of life. The protests were an attempt to renegotiate, to reclaim a little bit of space from the ever-expanding party-state— and it so happened that the party was the one of crooks and thieves. (Gessen, Masha. The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p. 349)

Yet, in the US, the “bottom line” is that “Americans” “elected Trump.” In point of fact, Mr. Trump was elected by the Electoral College. The popular vote was won handily by Hillary Clinton, who garned 48.2% of all votes counted, as opposed to 46.1% for Mr. Trump.

In the world’s third-largest country by population, that translates into 2,868,691 voters whose clearly voiced preference for Mrs. Clinton was utterly negated, as it were. Since Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory came down to razor-tight wins in a few key districts in a few key states, any extraneous or criminal factor that could have pushed voters in his direction has to be thoroughly investigated. This would have to be the case even had Mr. Trump won the popular vote. Given that the election campaign, the election, and its aftermath have been unprecedented in US history in such a myriad of ways, it stands to reason that Americans would be more than a little curious about what happened and why.

In Russia, where, as some “Russia experts” would say (although I would not say it myself), Mr. Putin is so popular he could win an election without cheating, Ms. Gessen thinks people have every right to protest the machinations of “crooks and thieves.” In her adopted country, the US, however, she thinks people should calm down, shut up, and accept the “bottom line” that they did this to themselves.

I doubt very much that Ms. Gessen, judging by her numerous books and articles on the subjects, would argue that Russians did Putin to themselves, although to someone like me who has been on the ground in Russia during most of his eighteen-year-reign, that does indeed seem partly to be the case.

Evgeny Shtorn: How the FSB Tried to Recruit Me

“I Had a Night to Say Goodbye to My Whole Life”
Sociologist Evgeny Shtorn Left Russia Because the FSB Tried to Recruit Him
Elena Racheva
Novaya Gazeta
January 20, 2018

On January 5, sociologist Evgeny Shtorn, an employee at the Centre for Independent Sociological Research (CISR) in St. Petersburg, left Russia for Ireland. In December, his application for Russian citizenship was rejected, and immediately afterwards he was summoned to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), according to Shtorn, where he was interrogated about CISR’s financing and the foreign organizations it collaborates with. (Since 2015, the CISR has been classified as a “foreign agent.”) According to CISR director Viktor Voronkov, Shtorn is at least the fourth CISR employee whom the FSB has attempted to recruit.

Shtorn was born in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, but in 2000 he left the country to study in Petersburg. In 2004, he was granted Russian citizenship at a Russian consulate in Kazakhstan. He lived for eight years on his Russian passport, but in 2011 he was told by authorities the passport had been issued groundlessly, and he was not a Russian citizen.

Shtorn’s Kazakhstani citizenship had been annulled long before, but he found himself a stateless person after living in Russia for eleven years. The only paper the authorities would issue him was a residence permit for a stateless person, which allowed him to live and work in Russia. After five years, one can apply for Russian citizenship on this basis. This was what Shtorn did in July 2017, after passing the obligatory Russian language exam, assembling a whole dossier of paperwork, and standing in endless queues.

During this time, Shtorn, who is thirty-five, enrolled in the Higher School of Economics MA program and continued working as manager for development at CISR, one of the oldest and most respected independent sociological research institutes in Russia.

“I went to the local Federal Migration Service (FMS) office in late November to pick up my passport,” Shtorn recounts. “I was told my citizenship application had been rejected because I had provided false information about myself. The FMS had decided I did not lived at my registered address, because they had come checking in the afternoon, when I was not home, and I had not listed all the addresses where I had lived in Russia, although in the application I filled out there was a footnote saying I was not obliged to list all of them.”

The rejection meant Shtorn could resubmit his application for citizenship only in a year. Two weeks after his application was rejected, Shtorn was telephoned by a person who identified himself as an FMS employee. He said he was handling Shtorn’s application and asked him to stop by their office.

On December 7, Shtorn went to the FMS office that handles the registration of statelesss persons.

“I was met by a person my age. We went up to the second floor and walked into an office with no plaque on the door,” Shtorn recounts. “I caught sight of a picture of Andropov on the wall, an old-fashioned, insipid, Soviet-era portrait. I immediately understood everything.”

The man showed Shtorn a FSB officer’s ID. Shtorn did not remember his rank, but he did memorize his name and surname, but he is afraid of identifying him publicly.

“He quickly got down to business,” recalls Shtorn. “He said when the FSB reviewed my application, they were quite surprised I worked for a ‘foreign agent’ and at the Higher School of Economics, although I am actually a student there. He asked me what I did at CISR. He was polite, but his vocabulary was bizarre. ‘Who is your patron?’ he asked. I explained we did not have patrons, that researchers operate differently. There are things a person wants to research, and he or she tries to research them. To have something to say, I told him about Max Weber, and the difference between quantitative and qualitative sociology.”

Evgeny Shtorn. Photo from his personal archives

Then, according to Shtorn, the FSB officer asked him where the “foreign agent” got its money and what western foundations CISR worked with.

“I said, ‘What, do foreign agents have money? The American foundations you declared undesirables are gone, and we have big problems with financing.’

“‘So people transport cash from abroad, right?’ he asked.

“I explained I didn’t have a passport, I hadn’t been abroad for many years, and I didn’t have access to those realms, but I didn’t think anyone was transporting cash in their underwear. Then he asked whether I had met with foreign intelligence officers as part of my job.”

According to Shtorn, the FSB officer was well informed about the work of Shtorn, CISR, and related organizations. He knew about academic conferences and listed the surnames of foreign foundation directors, asking whether Shtorn was acquainted with them. He asked what Shtorn was researching at the Higher School of Economics, although he clearly knew Shtorn was researching hate crimes against LGBT. He asked what foreign languages Shtorn spoke.

“Is English your working language?” he asked.

According to Shtorn, the FSB officer was not aggressive, but twice during their ninety-minute conversation he quoted the articles in the Russian Criminal Code covering espionage and treason, commenting they applied to everyone who flirted with foreign special services and foreign organizations.

In the middle of the conversation, the FSB officer asked him whether he had read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book The Grand Chessboard.

“He said that, way back in the nineties, Brzezinki had written Ukraine would go over to the US in 2012, and this was what had happened. He advised me to read the book.

“At the end of the conversation, he said, ‘How unlucky you were with your citizenship application.’ He explained he was unable to help me in any way. ‘Many believe we are an all-seeing eye, but it’s not like that at all. We also have a tough time obtaining information.’

“He insisted I tell no one about our conversation. When I was getting ready to leave, he said, ‘If I call you again, you won’t be scared? Because some people get scared and change their telephone numbers.’ I said, ‘Of course not. You’re a polite person. What do I have be afraid of?’

“‘And you are such an interesting person, and educated. It’s interesting to chat with you. Thank you for your time,’ he said.

“We left the office, and that was when I caught sight of a bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky behind the coat rack, a life-sized bust.

“‘And here is Felix,’ the FSB officer said.

“I left.”

The FSB officer telephoned Shtorn the very next day. According to him, the FSB officer suggested meeting for coffee.

“I realized that was that. They were going to try and recruit me,” says Shtorn.

He believes if he had refused to work for the FSB, as a stateless person he would have been sent to the Temporary Detention Center for Migrants.

“I felt paranoid,” says Shtorn. “I imagined the FSB had access to all my channels of communication, that they could see all my emails. They realized I had nowhere to go, that without papers I was caged. I realized I had to make a run for it, so I turned to Team 29, LGBT Network, and Civic Control. I got a lot of help from human rights activist Jennifer Gaspar. In 2014, she was also invited to have a chat with the FSB, who stripped her of her residence permit and expelled her from Russia. Jennifer put me in touch with Front Line Defenders, who asked the German, Lithuanian, French, and US governments to issue me a visa. They all turned us down, saying they could not put a visa in a residence permit.”

On the evening of December 21, Front Line Defenders informed Shtorn Ireland was willing to issue him a visa. The next morning he had to fly to Moscow, apply for the visa at the Irish Embassy, and fly to Ireland without any hope of ever returning to Russia.

“I had a night to say goodbye to my whole life,” recalls Shtorn. “It felt like I was standing on the edge of an abyss and jumped off.”

In Moscow, it transpired that, due to the short working day, the Irish consular officials would not have time to draw up his visa, and he flew back to Petersburg. He obtained the visa only on January 4. The next day, he tried to board a Lufthansa flight to Dublin, but the airline refused to let him board the plane. The German Federal Police had informed the airline it would refuse to let a person with a residence permit enter the transit zone. It was clear Shtorn would not be allowed to fly via any of the EU countries. The next flight from Domodedovo Airport to Dublin had a stopover in Moldova.

“I went to the check-in counter,” recounts Shtorn. “The folks there were reasonable. They realized a person with an Irish visa would not want to stay in Chișinău. I bought a ticket. There was 45 minutes until boarding, and the whole time I sat waiting for them to come for me. When the plane took off, I started shaking.”

Shtorn is now in Dublin on a three-month short-term visa.

“Thanks to Front Line Defenders I have a place to live and money for food,” he says. “I don’t know what will happen next. I cannot go back to Russia. If my situation was bad, now I have made it worse. Initially, I wanted to keep mum, but I decided I had to warn the employees of other NGOs. When the law on ‘foreign agents’ was enacted, it stated the penalties did not apply to people who worked for such organizations. My story shows this is not the case.”

•••••

Фото: «Новая газета»

Viktor Voronkov, director, Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), Petersburg 

Of course, the FSB is interested in CISR. Four of our employees have approached me and said, “They’re trying to recruit me. What should I do?” I think they have tried to recruit nearly everyone at CISR. Some have told me, others have turned them down and not told me, and still others, perhaps, did not turn them down. In conversation with the people they were trying to recruit, FSB officers have mentioned numerous facts they could have learned only from our employees.

It is normal. I know the practice well from the Soviet Union. When they tried to recruit me in 1981, they also asked questions that came out of left field. “Maybe you could describe your critical view of things at the institute? Maybe we could work together? You want to help the Motherland, don’t you?” They always associate themselves with the Motherland. They offered me help traveling abroad via the Soviet-East German Friendship Society. They blackmailed me.

I met with them three or four times. One time, a KGB officer tried to take me into a cubbyhole under the stairs at the institute to work me over. He looked in there, said, “Excuse me,” and closed the door. Another officer was already working someone over in the cubbyhole.

You can get rid of them. They have the right to recruit, and we have the right to turn them down. When they tried to recruit a pal of mine, he simply opened the door of his officer and shouted, “Get the hell outta here!” The KGB guy left. But I do not advise anyone to start talking with them. You cannot win against them. Nowadays, I advise my employees to give FSB guys the bum’s rush.

They tried to blackmail our other employees over trifles, but they were not as vulnerable as Evgeny was. I told him him to pay no mind to the blackmail, but it was not worth taking risks in his position. When a person is guided by fear, it is better to give into that fear.

I think we have to talk about such stories publicly. We could do a flash mob hashtagged #HowTheyTriedToRecruitMe. If there is no public oversight of the KGB, it means the KGB oversees society.

I realize this story could affect CISR, but we have been taking different measures to soften the blow. CISR is currently split. The majority of our employees argues we should disband the center and establish a new one. The minority argues we should not surrender. I have taken the most radical position. Everyone wants to find the means to survive. I want to show there is way to fight we can fight to the end. I hope to their end, not ours.

Translated by the Russian Reader

A Rainbow May Day in Petersburg vs. The Dead in Chechnya

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 1, 2017

I don’t know what else to on May 1 when LGBT people in Chechnya are facing flagrant genocide, so today this was how it went down. Now we have been detained and taken to the 43rd police precinct. A man who came out bearing a placard that read, “Putin, go away. Putin is evil” was detained with us. It’s forbidden to say that now, too.

Chechen Mothers Mourned Their Bloodied Children on Nevsky

On May 1, 2017, activists staged a performed on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main boulevard, during which Chechen mothers mourned and sprinkled their children with earth. Prone on the ground, the bodies of the LGBT people were covered with rainbow and Chechen flags. The performance was meant to express solidarity with the people of the Republic of Chechnya as well as draw attention to the horrifying events occurring there now.

Since the beginning of the year in Chechnya, which is part of Russia, there have been numerous illegal detentions, torture, and executions of homosexual men, including men deemed homosexual. We know of hundred of victims, dozens of them murdered. Even as they deny the occurrence of genocide, local officials have publicly justified these atrocities by citing medieval “ethnic traditions” and “Muslim values.”

The persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is nothing new. The region has long been plagued by rampant corruption, violence, and murder, affecting everyone who lives there. However, targeted mass killings are a new phenomenon. Both local and federal authorities are to blame for the state terror. On the one hand, they have vigorously popularized “traditional religious values.” On the other, they have proved incapable of opposing the spread of radical Islam and ensuring the enforcement of the Russian Constitution and human rights. Impunity on the ground encourages terrorism and radicalization, leading to the deaths of civilians not only in Chechnya but outside it. Consequently, terrorists  exploded a bomb in the St. Petersburg subway for the first time in the city’s history.*

“Cruelty is a severe infection that is prone to pandemic. It is not a one-off event. They started with the people of Chechnya and, although many imagined that would be the end  of it, they continued with ‘their own kind,’ as is now the ‘patriotic’ expression,” wrote Anna Politkovskaya.

The escalation of terror is a vivid example of how the violation of human rights and violence against a particular group can quickly balloon into violence against everyone.

We demand the strict observance of Russian federal laws in Chechnya and preservation of the Russian state’s secular nature. We demand that religious fanatics who are calling for violence be punished according to the law. We demand an investigation of allegations of widespread torture and executions of gays in Chechnya and severe punishment for the guilty parties, including government officials.

#MayDay #Chechnya #MayDayLGBT  #RainbowMayday #LGBT

Photographs by David Frenkel, Alexandra Polukeyeva, and Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

* NB. I have translated and posted the above out of a sense of solidarity and friendship with the people who staged this action during today’s May Day marches on the Nevsky in Petersburg.

However, I would be remiss not to note the striking Alexei Navalny-like anti-Caucasus/anti-Muslim rhetoric in the protesters’ communique, which, of course, is not unique to the otherwise admirable anti-corruption fighter, but is a commonplace in the non-thinking of many “ethnic” Russians. As thoroughly deplorable and despicable as the persecution of gay men in Chechnya and anywhere else is (what, are gay men not persecuted in “Russia proper”?), the activists quote the slain journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya while seemingly forgetting why she was assassinated: because she wrote truthfully about what Russian federal armed forces and police were doing in Chechnya. Moscow’s successive bloody invasions of Chechnya in the 1990s and the 2000s, involving the torture and rape of non-combatants, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, and mass displacement of the local population might seem to be more appropriately qualified by the word “genocide” than what has been happening recently to the republic’s gay men, however horrifying. Not to put too fine a point on it, “Russians proper,” with the notable exception of Politkovskaya and a brave but tiny minority of others, have never been able to assign the responsibility for what happened in Chechnya where it belongs, and they have been aided and abetted by the other “world powers” (i.e., the “former” colonial and imperial powers), who were only too happy to turn a blind eye to what first Yeltsin and then Putin were up to in their own backyard, so to speak. If Chechnya is now an out-of-control autocracy, run by an “Islamist” strongman-cum-madman, Russians have only to look in the mirror to find out who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs.

Nor, finally, is it a given that the recent bombing in the Petersburg subway (which wasn’t even the first such bombing, in fact) was the work of “radicalized Islamists.” Of course, that is one possibility. But there are other possibilities, as any “Russian proper” who hasn’t had his or her memory erased would realize.

When the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed its infamous homophobic law several years ago, there was no popular outcry against the law on the part of Petersburgers, the vast majority of whom are not Muslim and thus cannot be suspected of adhering to “medieval Muslim values.” Nobody but a handful of people “rioted” in the streets, and as far as I can tell, Petersburgers still, inexplicably, regard themselves proudly as “Europeans,” although they have this disgusting “medieval” law on the books, and many of the same local Petersburg riot cops (OMON) who wearily drag them into paddy wagons and kettle them when they occasionally want to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly were, as is well known, on active combat duty in Chechnya during the First and Second Chechen Wars and are, possibly, guilty of God knows what war crimes against the “uncivilized” Chechens, whose tiny, beautiful corner of the world has been ravaged at least three times in living memory by their Great Russian rulers. TRR