Sergey Abashin: “Aliens” on Red Square

echo

A screenshot of the Ekho Moskvy website, showing the results of an online survey conducted on January 3, 2020. When asked “Does the abundance of migrants on Red Square on New Year’s bother you?” 68% of those who voted said yes, 26% said no, and 6% were undecided.

Will the Topic of Immigration Return to Russian Politics in 2020? “Aliens on Red Square” as a Factor in the 2021 Elections
Sergey Abashin
Liberal Mission Foundation
January 6, 2020

On January 3, the website of radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) asked its audience, allegedly liberal, whether it was bothered by the abundance of migrants on Red Square during New Year’s celebrations. Almost 4,000 people voted over the next twenty-four hours, with seventy percent of them answering “Yes.”  Although the survey lacks sociological representativity and is a purely rhetorical device, it does enable us to raise the question of whether immigration could be an important item on the social and political agenda in Russia in 2020. In my short comment, I will first analyze the wording of Ekho Moskvy’s question and show how it was manipulative before trying to link this story to recent trends in the debate on immigration and, finally, forecasting how the topic could evolve in the coming year.

The question (“Does the abundance of migrants on Red Square on New Year’s bother you?”) already sends a specific message that would have been decipherable by everyone who decided to take part in the survey. Instead of the neutral “How do you feel about…” the people who phrased the question immediately introduced the negative assessment implied by “bother,” inviting readers not to voice their opinions, but to agree or disagree with a stated stance in the absence of alternatives. The vagueness of the word “abundance”—how can it be quantified? what number or percentage is enough to render a verdict?—leaves a lot to the respondent’s imagination.

The notion of “migrants” is typically manipulative, of course. Who did the people who phrased the question have in mind? People who had come to Moscow from other parts of Russia, such as the Moscow Region and the Caucasus? Tourists from China and Italy? Migrant laborers from Ukraine and Central Asia? Formally speaking, all of them are migrants, and each of these groups could irritate the average Muscovite for some reason. In other words, “migrants” is a term that is already chockablock with stereotypes and laden with negativity.

Finally, the phrase “on Red Square on New Year’s” connotes a symbolic, even sacred time and space in which “migrants” are a priori contrasted as something alien, even if “migrants” also enjoy celebrating New Year’s and regard Red Square as a landmark in their own biographies, for example, as immigrants from the former Soviet hinterlands. Muscovites themselves might not even go to Red Square but, in keeping with the conceptual framework suggested by Ekho Moskvy’s survey, they should protect it from imaginary others.

Why, then, did Ekho Moskvy have to ask its listeners and readers a question about immigration in such a manipulative and negative form, putting it on a par with the current dramatic events in the Middle East? I am least inclined to imagine it was a deliberate conspiracy in service of a hidden agenda. It was, rather, a spontaneous reaction, a playing along with sentiments popular among listeners that encourage them to visit the radio station’s website.  And indeed we have seen signs in the past year that the topic of immigration has returned to the public agenda. After a surge in interest in immigration in 2013, during the Moscow mayoral election, and the highest recorded levels of antipathy to migrants, the topic of immigration gradually faded from the public eye, overshadowed by the economic crisis and the war in Ukraine.

According to polls conducted in the summer of 2019 by Levada Center, these numbers started to increase again after a twofold decline in previous years. A similar trend (among far-right groups and ideologues) has been noted by analysts at the SOVA Center, who write that the summer and autumn of 2019 saw a “partial revival of the traditional anti-immigrant discourse.”

Will the topic of immigration continue to be raised in various opinion polls, widening the debate to include, besides nationalists, liberals, leftists, and conservatives? The image of so-called aliens and others has always been an important constituent of self-identification, a building block of how we define ourselves, an obligatory component of the most varied ideologies. Given the recent warming (albeit not full normalization) in relations between Russia and Ukraine, the resulting vacancy for the role of aliens has to be filled by someone else, and “migrants” (less real than imaginary) are a strong and familiar irritant and a convenient tool for skewing public opinion.

Provided that a greater number of parties and new political figures are allowed to participate, the upcoming electoral cycle, which should end with elections to the State Duma in autumn of 2021, also creates conditions for both the opposition and pro-Kremlin groups to ratchet up the topic of immigration. The example of politicians in Europe and America who parlayed criticism of immigration policies into success at the ballot box is fresh in everyone’s mind.

Such conditions and examples are not sufficient, however, to revive the debate on immigration in the Russian political arena. The “reconciliation” with Ukraine and western countries may prove unstable and temporary. The Kremlin might choose to keep a tight rein on the elections and thus find it disadvantageous to let its opponents have a go at the topic of immigration. Despite the growth in anti-immigration rhetoric noted by pollsters and analysts in 2019, I would nevertheless cautiously suggest that immigration won’t dominate the political and public agenda in the new year.  Nor will it fade away, however. It will continue to fester, with parties as various as the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda and the radio station Ekho Moskvy fanning the embers. It will thus remain a political backup weapon that could go off at any moment.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Happy New Year!

 

“Avtozak is coming, avtozak is coming…”*

On New Year’s Night Moscow Police Carry Out Operation to “Clear Non-Residents from Places of Mass Celebration”
MBKh Media
January 1, 2019

Baza reports that on the night of January 1 Moscow police carried out an operation to “clear Central Asian non-residents from places of mass celebration.”

Baza writes that Moscow police chief Oleg Baranov issued the orders for the operation. Police officers were instructed to deliver all “non-residents” to precincts and check each of them in the databases. In addition, employees of subcontractors involved in staging the celebrations were checked separately.

According to the publication, although the results of the operation have not yet been tallied, there are reports that police detained several hundred people. Most of them were released soon after their arrests.

*Avtozak = paddy wagon.

znakcom-765441-580x436Young Moscow activists on their way to the hoosegow in Troitsk

30 People Detained in Moscow on Tverskaya for Picketing in Support of Political Prisoners
Znak.com
December 31, 2019

Police in Moscow detained over thirty people after they held solo pickets demanding freedom for jailed and imprisoned political activists. OVD Info writes that the first picketer, activist Temuuzhin Sambuudavaagiin, held up a placard that read, “While you’re chopping up your Olivier salad, innocent people are in prison. Free political prisoners!” He was released after police checked his papers, but then police detained a female picketer and several students who approached their paddy wagon.

The Telegram channel Freedom for Russia reports that the young people are being taken to the police precinct in the town of Troitsk in Moscow Region. Mansur Gilmanov, a lawyer with the organization Apologia for Protest, is traveling to meet the detainees.

Update. Apologia for Protest reports that all the detainees were released without charge in Troitsk later in the evening (TRR).

Video courtesy of Notes of an Old Cynic via Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko. Thanks to Alexei Zverev and Sergey Abashin for the heads-up on the articles. Photo courtesy of Znak.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Prosecutor Asks for Life in Prison for Four Defendants in Petersburg Show Trial

KMO_158163_00033_1Shohista Karimova. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Court Asked to Sentence Some Defendants in Petersburg Subway Bombing Case to Life in Prison
Mediazona
November 18, 2019

The prosecutor has asked the court to sentence some of the defendants in the 2017 Petersburg subway bombing case to life in prison, our correspondent has reported from the courtroom.

The prosecutor [Nadezhda Tikhonova] asked the court to sentence Akram Azimov, Abror Azimov, Ibrahimjon Ermatov, and Muhamadusup Ermatov to life imprisonment in a high-security penal colony and fines of one million rubles [approximately 14,000 euros] each. She asked the court to sentence Sodik Ortikov to 28 years in a maximum-security penal colony and a fine of one million rubles. She requested sentences of 27 years in a maxium-security penal colony and fines of one million rubles each for Mahamadusuf Mirzaalimov, Azamjon Mahmudov, Seifulla Hakimov, Bahrom Ergashev, and Dilmurod Muidinov.

Defendant Shohista Karimova had a nervous breakdown during the hearing, which led to a thirty-minute recess. After the recess, Karimova refused to return to the courtroom, screaming and resisting attempts to make her move. Consequently, the hearing was postponed until tomorrow.

Convening in Petersburg, the Moscow District Military Court began hearing the case on April 2, 2019. All the defendants pleaded not guilty, and four of them said they had been brutally tortured. On April 17, 2017, an explosion occurred on a subway train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut. Sixteen people were killed, and another fifty [sic] people were injured.

_______________________________________

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
November 18, 2019

Today, the state prosecutor announced her wishes in the Petersburg subway bombing case: life imprisonment for four of the defendants (the Azimov brothers and the Ermatov brothers), and between 27 and 28 years in prison for all the other defendants, except Shohista Karimova. (The prosecutor will request a sentence for her tomorrow.)

And she asked that all the defendants be fined a million rubles each.

Most likely, the sentences handed down by the court will not differ greatly from the prosecution’s wishes. (Maybe the more uproar there is now, the greater the difference will be.)

Most likely, the verdict will be upheld on appeal.

Most likely, someday this case (like hundreds of others) will be reviewed, and the convicted defendants exonerated.

I’d like to live to see the day when that happens. And for the accused and their loved ones to live to see it, too.

http://3apr2017.tilda.ws/#court

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the thirteen defendants in the case:

Zhilkomservis No. 3: The Central Asian Janitors of Petersburg’s Central District

Central District for a Comfortable Environment
PB Films, 2019
vk.com/pb_films

On National Unity Day, after much deliberation, ordinary janitors agreed to tell us their stories of corruption, slave-like exploitation, “dead souls,” meager salaries, and problems with housing and working conditions.

Everything you see in our film is true.

Join the group Central District for a Comfortable Environment.

Ibrahimjon Ermatov: “The FSB Let the Terrorist Slip, and a Terrible Tragedy Happened”

ermatovIbrahimjon Ermatov. Photo courtesy of The Insider

“The FSB Let the Terrorist Slip, and a Terrible Tragedy Happened”: Man Accused of Planning Terrorist Attack in Petersburg Subway Calls Case Frame-Up
Yevgenia Tamarchenko
The Insider
November 2, 2019

Ibrahimjon Ermatov, accused of planning a terrorist attack in the St. Petersburg subway, declared his innocence and called the case a frame-up in a letter that has been made available to The Insider.

“Unfortunately, our case is a frame-up. The FSB let the terrorist slip, and a terrible tragedy happened. To vindicate themselves somehow, they ‘exposed a gang of terrorists,” that is, us,” Ermatov writes.

“We are ordinary people, just like you. And we did not come here […] for the fun of it. There is no work at home, no way to feed our families. We are hardworking, we don’t drink or smoke, we don’t break the laws, we only work and work,” he writes. “I’m now twenty-six. I could be sentenced to ten years, at least, for something I didn’t do. That is, I will spend half my life in prison.”

“We simply have no rights here and can be easily manipulated. The FSB has taken advantage of this,” Ermatov notes.

letter-1

letter-2Ibrahimjon Ermatov’s letter. Courtesy of The Insider. “Hello, Yevgenia! Thanks, guys, that you have not forgotten me. I am very touched. Unfortunately, our case is a frame-up. The FSB let the terrorist slip, and a terrible tragedy happened. To vindicate themselves somehow, they ‘exposed a gang of terrorists,’ that is, us. We are ordinary people, just like you. And we did not come here to the big common motherland of the USSR for the fun of it. There is no work at home, no way to feed our families. We are hardworking, we don’t drink or smoke, we don’t break the laws, we only work and work. I’m now twenty-six. I could be sentenced to ten years, at least, for something I didn’t do. That is, I will spend half my life in prison. Unfortunately, there is the opinion in Russia that we immigrants from Central Asias are like the characters Ravshan and Jamshut in [the Russian TV comedy show] Our Russia. This is wrong, and ordinary Russians understand this. We simply have no rights here and can be easily manipulated. The FSB has taken advantage of this. [They think] Who would believe them (that is, us)? I would again like to thank you and all the people who care about our situation. I would have perished with you. May Allah be with you.”

On April 17, 2017, an explosion occurred on a subway train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut. Sixteen people were killed, and over a hundred people were injured. According to investigators, the bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber, 22-year-old Akbarjon Jalilov. Eleven people were arrested and charged with planning the attack. The FSB abducted three of the defendants before formally arresting them. They tortured the men in an attempt to force them to confess. One of these men was Ermatov’s brother Muhamadusup. None of the defendants pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors have claimed the terrorist group Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad was behind the attack. However, there is no corraborated evidence that the group claimed responsibility for the blast or made demands.

You can read more about the case in the following articles [in Russian]:

“‘I Could Hear My Brother’s Screams from the Next Cell’: Torture, Secret FSB Prisons, and Falsified Evidence in the Case of the Terrorist Attack in the Petersburg Subway”

“Copy Pasters Are Running the Investigation: Thirteen Glaring Inconsistencies in the Official Charges in the Case of the Terrorist Attack in the Petersburg Subway

You can also find more information on the website created by a pressure group that has been publicizing the case.

Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the terrorist attack, the case against its alleged planners, its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of international solidarity with Ermatov and the other twelve defendants in the case:

“Binoculars,” a sketch featuring the fictional Central Asian migrant workers Ravshan and Jamshut on the Russian TV comedy show Our Russia

Did the FSB “Recruit” for Islamic State in Nizhny Novgorod?

imgbin-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-the-levant-black-standard-boko-haram-syria-others-XD0ZwSqRYuFuazPa6K3kJy23rThe Islamic State’s Black Standard was used by Russian state prosecutors as evidence that three Uzbek nationals resident in the Nizhny Novgorod area were involved with the terrorist organization. In fact, the flag that was entered into evidence in the case probably belonged to an FSB provocateur. Image courtesy of IMGBIN

Video Published Showing Nizhny Novgorod FSB Provocateur Recruiting for ISIL
Irina Slavina
Koza Press
August 25, 2019

On August 22, the Russian Supreme Court’s Judicial Board on Military Cases considered an appeal of the sentences handed down to three Uzbek nationals whom the FSB’s Nizhny Novgorod Regional Office had accused of involvement in ISIL, a terrorist organization banned in Russia. The charges against Azamatjon Urinov (b. 1988), Adishun Husanov (b. 1990), and Dilshodbek Yuldoshov (b. 1996) were based on the testimony of another Uzbek, identified as “Ulugbek,” as well as videos shot with a hidden camera in an apartment, allegedly rented by “Ulugbek” in the Bor Urban District. The videos are posted below.

When it heard the case in February of this year, the Moscow Military District Court, chaired by Judge Albert Trishkin, refused to examine the videos during its hearings. Nevertheless, State Prosecutor Vsevolod Korolyov asked the court to sentence each of the defendants to sixteen years in maximum-security penal colonies for the actions captured in the videos.

urinovaDefendant Azamatjon Urinov’s wife fainted when she heard the prosecutor ask the court to sentence her husband to sixteen years in prison. Photo courtesy of Koza Press

The court demonstrated how much the evidence gathered by state investigators and the arguments made by the persecution weighed by adding Russian Criminal Code Article 30.1 (“preparations for the commission of a crime”) to the charges against the three defendants. This enabled the court to sentence them to shorter terms in prison than were stipulated by Criminal Code Article 205.5.2 (“involvement in the work of a terrorist organization”). Consequently, Husanov was sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security penal colony, while the other two defendants were sentenced to six years each.

It took the court four days to try the case.

In the video below, shot by a hidden camera in the afternoon, “Ulugbek” puts on a black [New York Yankees] cap at the 7:35 mark, gets up out of bed, goes to the closet, and takes a piece of black fabric emblazoned with Arabic script and the ISIL logo [the so-called Black Standard of the Islamic State], which he then hangs on the wall. This flag would later be entered into the physical evidence in the case against Urinov, Husanov, and Yuldoshov. “Ulugbek” would then persuade his countrymen to swear an oath of allegiance to an Islamic state emir. He then, allegedly, went to confess to law enforcement authorities, who classified his identity, exempted him from criminal charges, and sent him back to Uzbekistan.

He did not attend the trial, even as a witness.

In the second video, recorded in the evening, it is “Ulugbek” who talks about the war in Syria and his plans to travel there to help his fellow Muslims. This was established by Husan’s defense counsel, Shuhrat Hamrakulov, who speaks Uzbek.

“Ulugbek” thus entrapped Urinov, Husanov, and Yuldoshov into committing a crime while avoiding criminal prosecution himself; no charges were filed against him. Accordingly, there is good reason to believe he was a provocateur working for the FSB’s Nizhny Novogorod Regional Office.

The Russian Supreme Court’s Judicial Board on Military Cases rejected the appeal of the sentences handed down to Urinov, Husanov, and Yuldoshov, but it reduced their sentences by six months each, their defense lawyers told Koza Press. Their sentences have thus come into force.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Zaitsev gave Nizhny Novgorod prosecutors a dressing-down for the fact that they had not uncovered a single piece of evidence concerning the financing of terrorism in their region.

Thanks to Two Hundred Fives for the heads-up. In her comment to their reposting of this article, Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission member Yana Teplitskaya noted that all three defendants in the Nizhny Novgorod “Islamic State” case were, allegedly, tortured in custody. Translated by the Russian Reader 

It’s Official

It’s official: the British political establishment, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jay-Z, “Moscow” Mitch McConnell, and Greyhound totally suck.

But you knew that, right?

thevoima

The Brexit process has already claimed victims: communities such as Scunthorpe, which are suffering job losses and hardship due to Brexit-related industrial closures; migrant workers from EU countries who find their lives thrown into uncertainty and themselves and their families vilified. Their anger is more than justified. But, in addition to this, the Brexit process has produced a gloom, a feeling of powerlessness, of fear, of uncertainty, that is obviously affecting millions of people. I think this feeling is the product of an illusion that our enemies are powerful enough to decide our fate above our heads. It’s another version of the illusions of power that have engendered fear, obedience and subservience to elites for centuries. It’s an illusion, because they, too, are tormented by crisis. It makes them more ruthless, it throws up the zealots – but it doesn’t necessarily make them stronger. We – social movements, communities, workplace organisations, movements about climate change – can find, and are finding, ways to challenge these enemies. (The FcK Boris demonstration when the new government took office was a reminder of this.) This is not a plea for false hope. It’s a suggestion that we evaluate our enemies’ strengths and weaknesses carefully. And be prepared for surprises.
—Gabriel Levy, “Zealots and Ditherers,” People and Nature, 15 August 2019

Tlaib and Omar aren’t the first critics of Israel penalized by the 2017 law, but they are the most prominent. The law targets those who “actively, consistently and continuously” promote boycotts of Israel. It applies to those who hold senior-level positions in pro-boycott organizations, are key activists in the boycott movements, or are prominent public figures (members of Congress, for instance) who support a boycott. More than 20 groups have been blacklisted, including the Nobel Peace Prize–winning American Friends Services Committee. One notable case was the banning of Lara Alqasem, an American college student of Palestinian descent who received a visa to study human rights at Hebrew University but was ordered deported and detained for two weeks on suspicion of being a boycott supporter. Her deportation was later overturned.
—Joshua Keating, “Israel Banned Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar Because They’re Anti-Trump, Not Anti-Israel,” Slate, 15 August 2019

In Mazur’s photo, Jay-Z’s right arm is pointed like an arrow. Goodell looks in the same direction, as does everyone else in the frame. It’s irresistible that way. What is Jay talking about, and why is everyone so rapt? Here’s a Brooklyn-born kid who made good, raised himself up from the projects, became one of the most recognizable names in pop music, and can now claim status as a self-made billionaire. It’s the kind of story you want to believe in. But then you stare a beat longer, holding your gaze, and the mirage begins to wither.

Illusion works both ways: It’s as much about who is in the photo as who isn’t. You ask yourself, Where is Kaepernick or Reid, the two players who sparked the protest? Why are other players who’ve since scrutinized the league, especially those who comprise the Players Coalition, absent from the meeting? That’s the danger in illusion, especially one cast by the NFL. Even though one might see through its hollow spectacle, there’s little to be done to break its spell. Jay-Z commands attention and everyone looks on, ghostly captivated. His arm stretches into an unknowable future. There are those who will follow, and others, who will rightly wonder: Is this the right direction?
—Jason Parham, “Depth of Field: Where Is Jay-Z Taking the NFL?” Wired, 15 August 2019

In January, as the Senate debated whether to permit the Trump administration to lift sanctions on Russia’s largest aluminum producer, two men with millions of dollars riding on the outcome met for dinner at a restaurant in Zurich.

On one side of the table sat the head of sales for Rusal, the Russian aluminum producer that would benefit most immediately from a favorable Senate vote. The U.S. government had imposed sanctions on Rusal as part of a campaign to punish Russia for “malign activity around the globe,” including attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election.

On the other side sat Craig Bouchard, an American entrepreneur who had gained favor with officials in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Bouchard was trying to build the first new aluminum-rolling mill in the United States in nearly four decades, in a corner of northeastern Kentucky ravaged by job losses and the opioid epidemic — a project that stood to benefit enormously if Rusal were able to get involved.

The men did not discuss the Senate debate that night at dinner, Bouchard said in an interview, describing it as an amicable introductory chat.

But the timing of their meeting shows how much a major venture in McConnell’s home state had riding on the Democratic-backed effort in January to keep sanctions in place.

By the next day, McConnell had successfully blocked the bill, despite the defection of 11 Republicans.

Within weeks, the U.S. government had formally lifted sanctions on Rusal, citing a deal with the company that reduced the ownership interest of its Kremlin-linked founder, Oleg Deripaska. And three months later, Rusal announced plans for an extraordinary partnership with Bouchard’s company, providing $200 million in capital to buy a 40 percent stake in the new aluminum plant in Ashland, Ky. — a project Gov. Matt Bevin (R) boasted was “as significant as any economic deal ever made in the history of Kentucky.”

A spokesman for McConnell said the majority leader did not know that Bouchard had hopes of a deal with Rusal at the time McConnell led the Senate effort to end the sanctions, citing the recommendation of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

McConnell “was not aware of any potential Russian investor before the vote,” spokesman David Popp said.

Bouchard said no one from his company, Braidy Industries, told anyone in the U.S. government that lifting sanctions could help advance the project. Rusal’s parent company, EN+, said in a statement that the Kentucky project played no role in the company’s vigorous lobbying campaign to persuade U.S. officials to do away with sanctions.

But critics said the timing is disturbing.

“It is shocking how blatantly transactional this arrangement looks,” said Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration and now teaches at Stanford University.

Democratic senators have called for a government review of the deal, prompting a Rusal executive in Moscow last week to threaten to pull out of the investment.
—Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman, “How a McConnell-Backed Effort to Lift Russian Sanctions Boosted a Kentucky Project,” Washington Post, 14 August 2019

Throughout the country, people rely on Greyhound to get to work, visit family, or to simply travel freely. But Greyhound has been letting Border Patrol board its buses to question and arrest passengers without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing. The company is throwing its loyal customers under the bus.

For more than a year, we’ve been urging Greyhound to stop letting Border Patrol board its buses, but the company is refusing to issue a policy protecting its customers. So now we’re taking our fight to the next level.

Greyhound is owned by FirstGroup plc, a multi-national transport group based in the UK, whose own Code of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility contradicts what its subsidiary has been doing to passengers.

“We are committed to recognising human rights on a global basis. We have a zero-tolerance approach to any violations within our company or by business partners.”

Greyhound’s complicity in the Trump deportation machine is a clear violation of the human rights values that FirstGroup professes to uphold. We must raise our voices: Sign the petition to demand that FirstGroup direct Greyhound to comply with its code of ethics. Greyhound must stop throwing customers under the bus.
—ACLU: Buses Are No Place for Border Patrol

Image courtesy of The Voima