A “Political Hit Job” in Petersburg

vishnevskyBoris Vishnevsky. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Petersburg City Councilman Boris Vishnevsky Accuses Prigozhin Media of Slander
Deutsche Welle
November 14, 2019

On Friday, November 14, Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko Party deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, filed a complaint with the Primorsky District Internal Affairs Department, requesting it open a criminal slander investigation into articles published by Patriot media holding company, whose board of trustees is headed by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, as reported by Vishnevsky himself on his Facebook page.

Novaya Gazeta has reported that, beginning on November 7, Patriot’s media outlets have been running stories claiming that, in his capacity as a professor at the Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University (RGPU), Vishnevsky had sexually harassed first-year female students.

The basis of the charges is, allegedly, an email from a young woman named Kristina, who identified herself as an RGPU alumna and claimed Vishensky harassed her and other female first-year students in 2014.

On November 12, the national TV channel Rossiya 24 told viewers there had been “widespread complaints” against Vishnevsky, and students had been holding solo pickets against him outside the Legislative Assembly.

Meanwhile, RGPU has issued a press release. It stated there were no first-year students named Kristina enrolled at the university in 2014, Vishnevsky had never taught courses to first-year students there, and no allegations of sexual harassment had ever been made against him.

Vishnevsky has called the scandal an obvious “political hit job.”

“This is the regime’s revenge for my political activities and political stance, for exposing fraud involving the city budget and utilities rates, for fighting to save the city, for defending political prisoners, and for Yabloko’s victories in the municipal district council elections in the Central District,” he wrote.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Side by Side 2019: International LGBT Solidarity vs. Bomb Threats

IMG_9987The crowd at the opening of the Twelfth Side by Side International LGBT Film Festival in Petersburg, 14 November 2019. Photo courtesy of Side by Side

Press Release, 15 November 2019

The Twelfth Side by Side International LGBT Film Festival opened in Petersburg on November 14 despite stubborn attempts by ill-wishers to disrupt it. At 7:00 p.m. on the dot, right at the moment when the festival’s opening ceremony was set to begin, the festival venue, the Sokos Hotel on Birzhevoy Pereulok, received an anonymous phone call about a bomb or other explosive device that had, allegedly, been planted in the building. The numerous people who had come to the festival were evacuated from the building along with the hotel’s guests. For nearly two hours, police and Emergency Ministry officers checked the hotel. Of course, the “warning” proved to be deliberately false.

Despite these criminal attempts to disrupt it, the Twelfth Side by Side Festival began with a necessarily brief but emotionally charged opening ceremony during which the audience was addressed by the festival’s partners and jury, as well as a guest of the festival, Belgian filmmaker Marianne Lambert, whose documentary film I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman will be shown on November 15.

“What I have seen has reaffirmed for me that this is the place where we need to fight for our rights,” Lambert said.

The opening film was the Brazilian drama Hard Paint, which won the Teddy Award as the best LGBTQ-themed feature film at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival. Before the screening, film critic Ksenia Reutova said many interesting things about the film’s co-directors, Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon, as well as filling in this stunning picture’s context for the audience, telling them about the special, unenviable position of Porto Alegre, the setting of the film and the filmmakers’ hometown, and the recent conservative turn in Brazilian politics, which is very similar to what has been happening in our country.

The first day of the Twelfth Side by Side Festival was marked by a fighting spirit and an atmosphere of solidarity. The festival will run for another seven days, featuring a wide-ranging program of documentaries, features, and short films, as well as appearances by special guests from Russia and abroad, and discussions about transgender people, transgender parents, LGBT in big-time sports, non-binary people, and the victories and shortcomings of the LGBT movement in Russia and worldwide.

The opening day of the festival

Festival Schedule

Side by Side on Social Media:

VK Facebook Instagram Telegram YouTube

Translated by Thomas Campbell. Thanks to Gulya Sultanova and Side by Side for the press release, photograph, and their indomitable spirit.

Feminists vs. Police in Petersburg

2019-06-05-russia03-01-3

Police Show Up at Eve’s Ribs Feminist Festival in Petersburg
Mediazona
November 10, 2019

Police have shown up at the Eve’s Ribs Feminist Festival in Petersburg, human rights defender Varya Mikhaylova has informed Mediazona.

Mikhaylova reported that a uniformed male officer and a female plainclothes officer were in the festival space, and a police cruiser was parked next to the entrance. The male officer had asked festival organizer Leda Garina to show them the rental agreement and had inquired about the festival’s repertoire.

Mikhaylova added that the police visit had been triggered by a complaint filed by anti-gay activist Timur Bulatov.

“A performance of the play ’10 Scenes of Sexual Violence’ is scheduled for today,” Mikhaylova said. “[The police officers] want to stay and watch.”

garina policeEve’s Ribs Festival organizer Leda Garina and a police officer. This photo was posted yesterday on the festival’s VK page

Police Promise to Show Up Every Day of Feminist Festival Eve’s Ribs
Fontanka.ru
November 11, 2019

Police officers have visited the Skorokhod theater space, where the Eve’s Ribs international feminist art festival has been taking place. Festival co-founder Leda Garina told Fontanka.ru about the incident on November 11.

“The police officers told us they would monitoring the presence of minors at the festival,” Garina said. “They’re going to inspect the bar at the Skorokhod. And if we summon human rights defenders, the police will call in the guys in the masks, who will line us up against the wall, and then find a way to shut us down.”

As Garina noted, police had already been at the festival the previous day in response to a complaint by activist [sic] Timur Bulatov and had demanded Garina show them the lease agreement for the festival space.

“The police summoned the site’s managers, issued them an order to check the documents of visitors, and warned that they would come to the festival every day,” said Garina. “We’re afraid of provocations and really will be checking everyone’s IDs at the door. This is quite sad, however, because children face sexual abuse and lack of financial support from their fathers much earlier than the age of eighteen, but we cannot talk to them about it.”

Eve’s Ribs, an international festival of feminist theater, cinema, and performance art, runs from November 10 to November 17 in Petersburg. The main venues are the Skorokhod and the space run by the organizers, the social and artistic project Eve’s Ribs.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. First photo courtesy of The World. Translated by the Russian Reader

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After decades in the shadows, Russia’s feminists grab their spotlight
Indra Ekmanis
The World
June 5, 2019

Russian feminists paraded a 13-foot-tall model vagina down the streets of St. Petersburg on May 1, 2018, without getting arrested. It was a big win.

“[Police] arrested only those who they have orders to arrest,” says Leda Garina, director of the Eve’s Ribs, a social, artistic, documentary and communication project devoted to the subject of gender discrimination. “But there were no vagina orders, so they didn’t know how to react.”

The giant vagina didn’t spark police action in 2018, but participants were not so lucky in 2019. Six Eve’s Ribs activists were detained.

In a country where the concept of feminism remains at best socially neutral and at worst a “mortal sin,” activists fighting for gender equality under the banner of feminism have to take success where they can get it. And it’s often fleeting.

“This year, one of the girls wore a vagina costume, and they made her take it off so right there in the middle of the May 1 parade, so she was walking basically naked in the middle of the parade and she was just showing everyone the finger,” says Garina, 37.

Activists like Garina and other women at Eve’s Ribs are working to unite people interested in feminism by bringing them together in a physical space. To that end, they opened Cafe Simona — a women-only workspace by day and event space by night.

“The idea was that here you can feel at ease, because in public spaces in Russia, men always bother you,” Garina says. “Men will always come up and ask, ‘What are you writing, what are you eating, what does it say on your shirt?’ It’s terrible.”

There’s a generational shift happening when it comes to feminism in Russia. Millennials and Gen Zers are online — many read English and have been exposed to the fundamental reasoning behind the concept of men and women being born equal. And after decades of repression under the Soviet Union, feminist activism is reemerging in today’s Russia.

“Officially, after the [1917 Russian] Revolution, all women’s rights were achieved, so therefore according to the Soviet system, feminism as a movement had no need to exist,” Garina says.

But the ideal of gender equality as espoused in Marxist doctrine was far from reality. Though equality was touted in principle after the Communist revolution and women’s education and literacy rates rose, in practice, it looked quite different. Female participation in the labor force was not free of gender gaps and didn’t translate into equality in domestic duties. Despite some strides (the Soviet space program had a woman cosmonaut decades before the US did), women were still largely expected to take on work in the home, care for children, and stand in long lines for food in addition to their “equal work” outside the home.

As the USSR was crumbling, feminism began to resurface as a more active movement. But when the Soviet Union did collapse in 1991, women faced new challenges.

“The next problem that women encountered was capitalism. Suddenly there was this new pressure where women became objectified,” Garina says. “This was not the case during the Soviet Union. This meant that women needed to look like super sexualized models in addition to doing all the housework.”

In the post-Soviet years, the main achievements of feminist activists has been “gradual conscious-raising,” pointing to issues that had rarely been in the public discourse previously, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and discrimination against women and sexual minorities.

But these gains have sustained major blows. In 2017, the Russian State Duma, or lower house of parliament, eased penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence.

“The 2017 amendments symbolized a green light for domestic violence by reducing penalties for perpetrators, made it harder for women to seek prosecution of their abusers, and weakened protections for victims,” according to Human Rights Watch.

Studies suggest that at least one in five women face domestic violence, largely from partner abuse. The vast majority of such incidents go unreported — only about 3% make it to court. The 2017 law — sometimes dubbed the “slapping law” — allows first-time offenders against a partner or a child to be subject to a fine, rather than a criminal charge. It was also supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which touts “traditional family values.”

The church has been vocally opposed to feminist groups. The band Pussy Riot was famously detained for a rebellious performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, then found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” — directly linked, by the judge, to feminism.

Garina of Eve’s Ribs has been arrested more than once for her feminist work. But she says it won’t deter her.

“My personal goal, as a creative person and as a director, is spread the word about feminism,” she says. “Therefore it needs to be funny, controversial, sexualized, but we can’t just complain. We can always complain about domestic abuse and sexual abuse, but I think that if we don’t show that we can be aggressive, none of our complaints will be heard.”

Another prominent feminist activist, Zalina Marshenkulova, 30, has taken to social media to talk directly to people. Marshenkulova runs “Woman Power” — a channel on Telegram, a popular messaging app in Russia.

Her goal is to explain feminism to a mainstream Russian audience, but Marshenkulova is also known for a Russian Reebok ad campaign that sparked outrage with this slogan on Instagram:

“Don’t sit around hooked on male approval — sit on a man’s face.”

Reebok deleted the campaign, but later put the images back up, except for the controversial one.

Internet users shared screen grabs of the deleted ad.

“I think this ad was good for the Russian audience because if this ad were to run in this light, vanilla, Western style, which I don’t like — something like, ‘be strong, women are great’ — you know, the stuff you see in European ads, this doesn’t work at all here,” Marshenkulova says. “Basically whining and saying ‘let’s respect women’ — this doesn’t work here. This is not Europe, it’s not America.”

Still, Marshenkulova’s frank attitude toward Russian feminism has won her a lot of fans online — including men.

“Yes, I have very many male supporters,” she says. “They understand what I want and they understand the patriarchy kills men too, not only women.”

Marshenkulova, who grew up in a small town in Russia’s far north, says she was raised to “be modest, be quiet,” but it didn’t suit her personality.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been rowdy,” she says. “I have a strong personality, you can’t shut me up, you can’t tell me my place. My place is wherever I want it to be, so I try to pass this idea along to other women.”

As in politics, going against the status quo in Russia means taking on some risk. “Opinion makers in this country are always in danger,” Marshenkulova says. But change is happening — slowly.

“I think that one of the big victories for feminism happened just in the past two years,” she says. “Now feminists sometimes appear on television, and not too long ago we were completely invisible. It’s a big accomplishment for us that some channels started talking about feminism in a neutral tone as opposed to highly negative tone. In the past, it was all negative.”

Marshenkulova and Garina take different approaches to feminist activities in Russia, but they agree most activists are largely working toward the same goal.

“Some of them are radical and separatist — they want to work with women exclusively. Others are more liberal,” Garina says. “I believe that all of these movements are important and are moving in one direction because they all influence society. I am willing to work with everyone, women, men, animals, plants, as long as we actually cause some change.”

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

Svetlana Bulatova: The Levashovo Barrens

The Barrens of Memory: Place of Burial Unknown
Svetlana Bulatova
Republic
October 30, 2019

The Levashovo Barrens is one of the largest cemeteries in Petersburg. It is the burial place of men and women who died or were killed in Leningrad’s prisons between  1937 and 1954. According to the Petersburg office of the FSB, 19,450 people were buried in the Levashovo Barrens. Their names are unknown, and there are no lists of the people buried there.

Until 1989, the cemetery was a secret site of the Soviet KGB. It was in 1989 that relatives and friends of people killed during the Great Terror began spontaneously beautifying the place by installing memorial plaques and symbolic tombstones. Many of the photographs were nailed right to the trees and have thus been covered by resin over the years, while others have faded in the sun.

Using the inscriptions still preserved on some of the photographs, I found the names of the people depicted in them in the Open List, the largest database of victims of political repression in the USSR. The Open List was compiled by International Memorial.

bulatova-1Name unknown. The need to combat “enemies of the people” was based on the notion that, as the class struggle intensified, new “class enemies” emerged, including so-called counter-revolutionaries, wreckers, spies, and saboteurs. They were punished under Article 58 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The term “enemy of the people” was not only a cliché of political rhetoric but was also used in official documents.

bulatova-2Karl Davidovich Ozol, died at the age of 42. Born in Wenden (Cēsis) in Livonia Province, Ozol was an ethnic Latvian and a non-member of the Communist Party. He worked as a fireman at the heat and power station in Pskov, where he lived. He was arrested on December 25, 1937. On January 12, 1938, Ozol was found guilty of violating Articles 17.58.8 and 58.6-9, 10-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 18, 1938. His wife, Minna Yakovlevna, and their daughter were expelled from Pskov. His place of burial is unknown. Ozol was exonerated by the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court on September 29, 1956.

bulatova-3Names unknown

bulatova-4Anna Alexandrovna Kolupayeva, died at the age of 33. An ethnic Russian, she was born and lived in Petersburg, and was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1929 to 1937. She worked as an accountant for Eksportles (All-Union Association for Timber Exports). Her home address was 19 Borovaya Street, Apartment 30, Leningrad. Kolupayeva was arrested on September 28, 1937. On December 2, 1937, she was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Kolupayeva was executed in Leningrad on December 8, 1937. Her place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-5Veniamin Ilyich Baraden, died at the age of 46. An ethnic Russian born in Petersburg, he was a non-Party member. He worked as a legal consultant at the Ilyich Plant, and resided at 18 Skorokhodov Street (Bolshaya Monetnaya Street), Apartment 16. Baraden was arrested on October 26, 1937. On November 25, 1937, a special troika of the Leningrad Regional Directorate of the NKVD found him guilty of violating Article 58.10 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Baraden was executed in Leningrad on December 3, 1937. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-6Nikolai Mikhailovich Makarov, died at the age of 44. Born in the village of Ivakino in the Rostov District of Yaroslavl Province, he was an ethnic Russian, a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and secretary of the Party committee at the Institute of the Arctic. He resided at 44 Krasnaya Street (Galernaya Street), Apartment 46, in Leningrad. He was arrested on July 16, 1937, on charges of espionage. On January 10, 1938, an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office found him guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Makarov was executed in Leningrad on January 15, 1938. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-7Name unknown

bulatova-8Name unknown

bulatova-9Name unknown

bulatova-10Herbert Karlovich Hesse, died at the age of 40. A native and resident of Petersburg, Hesse was an ethnic German who received his higher education at Tomsk University. In 1919, while still a university student, he was drafted into the army of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. He had a non-combat position in an artillery brigade in Tomsk. After returning to Leningrad, he resided at 9 Serpukhovskaya Street, Apartment 2. He worked as an electrical engineer at the Elektrosila Plant and an assistant at the Сommunications Research Institute. In March 1935, Hesse was expelled from Leningrad as a former White Army officer. Arrested on February 25, 1938, he was found guilty of violating Article 58.6-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Hesse was executed in Leningrad on June 28, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Hesse’s brother Friedrich was executed on September 6, 1938.

bulatova-11August Ernestovich Egleskaln, died at the age of 34. Born in the Berezovo Rural Society (Atheist Collective Farm), Valdai District, Novgorod Province, Egleskaln was an ethnic Latvian who was expelled from the Bolshevik Party in 1935. He worked as head of the cable recovery united of the 2nd Communications Regiment of the Leningrad Military District. Arrested on November 5, 1937, Egleskaln was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 5, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Egleskaln was exonerated in 1957.

Today, October 30, is the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression in Russia. See the Ioffe Foundation’s website Map of Memory: Levashovo Barrens (in Russian) for more detailed information on the Levashovo Cemetery. See also my posts on the Last Address project. Translated by the Russian Reader