Vocalese (The Network Trials)

DSCN0045Viktor Filinkov (left) and Yuli Boyarshinov (right) in the dock at the Network trial in Petersburg, discussing matters with their defense lawyers. Photo courtesy of Zaks.ru

Petersburg Defendants in Network Case Remanded in Custody till September 11
Zaks.ru
June 4, 2019

On Tuesday, June 4, a panel of judges from the Moscow Military District Court, presiding at a circuit hearing in Petersburg, extended the remand in custody of anarchists Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov, defendants in the trial of the so-called Network terrorist community, until September 11.

The defendants’ previous remand in custody would have expired on June 11. The prosecution insisted it be extended. The defendants asked to release them on house arrest. Filinkov and Boyarshinov have been imprisoned for nearly a year and a half.

Earlier in the hearing, the court granted a motion, made by Filinkov’s defense counsel, Vitaly Cherkasov, to order a phonoscopic forensic examination of an audio recording in the case files containing, allegedly, a conversation between the Petersburg defendants.

As part of the forensic examination, FSB Captain Maxim Volkov recorded their voices in the courtroom. They were told to say anything they liked in the microphone.

Filinkov spoke for around eleven minutes about what happened during the early days after he was detained by the FSB, including  the electrical shock torture to which he had previously accused the FSB officers who detained him of subjecting him.

Boyarshinov recounted the time he had spent in remand prison, his loved ones, and his passion for traveling.

The trials of the Network defendants have been taking place simultaneously in Petersburg and Penza.

There are nine defendants in the dock. They have been charged with establishing a terrorist organization that, allegedly, wanted to carry out terrorist attacks against officials and security services officers. They also, allegedly, planned to overthrow the government.

On the contrary, the defendants claim they practiced airsoft together and discussed anarchist ideas, but had no plans to commit any crimes whatsoever.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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They took a dynamo out of a bag and put it on the table. All the agents were wearing balaclavas and medical gloves.

They strapped my hands behind my back, I was only in my underpants, they strapped my legs to the bench with tape. One agent, Alexander, stripped the wires with a craft knife and attached them to my toes. They didn’t ask any questions, they simply started cranking the dynamo.

I felt electric currents in my legs up to the knees. It feels like you are being skinned alive, but when it stops, it’s as if nothing happened at all. There’s no pain when the electricity stops.

Well, it’s impossible to endure this. They hit me [with electric shocks] maybe about five times without asking any questions, probably, to stun me or something like that. Then they told me: if you haven’t figured it out, you are in the hands of the FSB, we are not going to play games, you will have to answer our questions now. The answers “no”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember” are wrong answers.

Excerpt from Network defendant Dmitry Pchelintsev’s testimony at the Penza Network trial, as published by People and Nature on June 4, 2019. Read the rest of Pchelintsev’s nearly unbearable story there.

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raidPetersburg police muster at five in the morning on May 29 in the parking lot of the Soviet-era Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in the southern part of the city before heading off to raid the homes and workplaces of Central Asian migrant workers. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Petersburg Police Raid Migrant Workers After Diaspora Refuses to Help Find People Involved in Brawl
Mediazona
May 29, 2019

The press service of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Leningrad Directorate informed Interfax that Petersburg police began raiding places migrant workers lived. The raids kicked off when two diasporas [sic] refused to help security forces find people implicated in a large brawl involving knives.

Roman Plugin, head of the Interior Ministry’s regional directorate, gave the order for the raids. He ordered that people involved in a large brawl that took place on Salov Street on May 20 be found. Four people were stabbed during the brawl.

According to police, natives of the North Caucasus and people from a country of the near abroad, who are hiding in Petersburg [sic], were involved in the brawl.

Fontanka.ru writes that three hundred police officers are involved in the raids. 78.ru adds that the police officers, in particular, raided the wholesale vegetable market on Sofia Street and a wholesale warehouse on Salov Street. They were supposed to find people involved in the brawl, which occurred after a “group of Uzbekistanis refused to share turf with Russian nationals from the North Caucasus” [sic].

According to the news website’s source in the police, the security forces had attempted to negotiate the issue with prominent figures who had a say in circumstances at the major wholesale vegetable markets. They, however, had pretended not to know who was involved in the brawl.

Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Sex Beat

Two Petersburg Activists Remanded in Custody on Suspicion of Sexual Relations with 14-Year-Old Girl 
Bumaga
February 21, 2019

This afternoon, a court in Petersburg remanded in custody two 18-year-old political activists: Vladimir Kazachenko, of the Vesna (Spring) Movement, and Vadim Tishkin, who attended opposition protests.

Police investigators suspect them of sexual relations with a female juvenile.

On the eve of their arrests, Kazachenko was visited at home by policemen who asked him questions about bomb threats. In early February, he had been involved in a protest on Nevsky Prospect. Tishkin claims police planted drugs in his house.

Civil rights activists argue the case bears all the hallmarks of political persecution.

Bumaga has summarized everything known about the case.

Kazachenko is an activist in the Vesna (Spring) Movement. After he was detained on Nevsky on February 9 while carrying a placard that read, “Open Russia Instead of Putin,” in support of arrested Open Russia activist Anastasia Shevchenko, he was charged with two administrative offenses, disorderly conduct and involvement in an unauthorized protest.

On February 19, Kazachenko was scheduled to appear in Petersburg’s Kuibyshev District Court at a hearing on both counts.

Kazachenko claimed that, a day earlier, at approximately eight o’clock in the evening, two plain clothes police officers knocked on his door and asked to be let in.

“They said through the door they needed to question us about the bomb threats of the last several days,” said Kazachenko.

As of today, February 21, there have been bomb threats leading to evacuations of public buildings in Petersburg for six consecutive days.

Our sources in Vesna informed us that officers at a neighborhood police station corroborated Kazachenko’s story about being visited by police due to the bomb threats. The police explained they needed him to make a statement.

Fontanka.ru writes that the police officers left around one in the morning. Kazachenko claims, on the contrary, the officers spent around an hour outside his door, but he did not let them in.

According to his lawyer, the next day, Kazachenko went missing an hour before his scheduled court hearing. By evening, activists from the Aid for Detainees Group discovered Kazachenko was being held in the criminal investigative department at the 15th Police Precinct. Another activist, Vadim Tishkin, was with him.

It is not known when and how they were detained.

sb1Vladimir Kazachenko in court on February 21. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

The media wrote the activists had been detained on sex-related charges. This was corroborated, allegedly, by photographs posted on Telegram channels. Citing sources in law enforcement, Fontanka.ru wrote that Kazachenko and Tishkin had been detained, allegedly, for sexual relations with a 14-year-old female Vesna activist. 78.ru also noted  police had found a beige-colored powder-like substance among Tishkin’s personal effects.

Several anonymous Telegram channels published similar reports. The posts featured photos from the so-called orgy, which took place under a Navalny campaign poster and involved the two activists and two young women. According to the Telegram channels, police found the photos when they were interrogating one of the female minors and confiscated her telephone. The faces of the alleged orgiasts were blurred in the published photos. Vesna argues the photos were deliberately leaked to the Telegram channels to make the case public.

According to an article published on the website Moika 78, the parents of the two female juveniles pictured in the photos filed criminal complaints against Kazachenko.

Later, the Aid to Detainees Group reported that Kazechenko and Tishkin were suspected of violating Article 135 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Commission of indecent acts without violence by a person who has reached the age of eighteen against a person who has not reached the age of sixteen”).

Fontanka.ru wrote that the activists confessed their guilt, but the Aid to Detainees Group denies this. According to the civil rights activists, Tishkin admitted a narcotic substance was found among his personal effects, but he claims it was planted there.

sb2Vadim Tishkin in court on February 21. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

On February 20, the Petersburg office of the Russian Investigative Committee reported that two local residents, born in 2000, had been detained on suspicion of committing indecent acts.

“The evidence gives us grounds to believe that, on February 18, 2019, the suspects committed indecent acts against a female juvenile, born in 2004, in an apartment on Grazhdansky Prospect,” wrote the agency.

The Investigative Committee stressed, however, it had “conclusive evidence” of the arrested men’s involvement in the crime: photos and videos found on the mobile telephones of the suspects and victims.

“The involvement of the suspects in political organizations of whatever kind has nothing to do with the current criminal case,” the Investigative Committee underscored.

According to the Aid for Detainees Group, the arrested activists initially received legal assistance from Russia Behind Bars and Memorial since, according to the civil rights activists, the case bore the hallmarks of political persecution.

Varya Mikhaylova, a spokesperson for the Aid for Detainees Group, explained to Bumaga that civil rights activists had made this assumption because Kazachenko had been involved in Vesna’s protests, while Tishkin had been detained during a protest against the pension reform on September 9, 2018. According to Mikhaylova, the two female minors were also involved in political activism.

sb3Vladimir Kazachenko in the cage. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga  

The Vesna Movement also believe the case is politically motivated.

“I doubt whether they would put so much pressure on [Kazachenko] and make such a big deal of the case if he weren’t an activist. Besides, it would appear that he was missing for several hours before police investigators went public with their suspicions. None of the police precincts told us he was in their custody,” said Anzhelika Petrovskaya, the Vesna Movement’s press secretary.

Vesna commented on news of Kazachenko’s arrest on the evening of February 19. It said it believing meddling in the personal lives of activists was wrong.

Subsequently, Vesna has commented on the case on its Telegram channel.

“We hope people realize this is a victimless crime. Vladimir did nothing bad from an personal viewpoint. There was no violence involved. The movement believes we should help and support him,” wrote Petrovskaya.

Vesna has no intention of expelling Kazachenko from the movement. On the contrary, its activists are planning a crowdfunding campaign to support him in remand prison.

Two days after the activists were detained police, a court remanded them in custody. Their hearings took place in closed chambers.

Kazachenko was charged with having sexual relations with a minor in collusion with other individuals, a violation under Article 135 Part 4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, which stipulates a maximum punishment of fifteen years in prison.

Petrovskaya said Kazachenko had been sent to Remand Prison No. 1 for two months.

sb4Vadim Tishkin in the cage. Photo by Georgy Markov. Courtesy of Bumaga

Tishkin was also jailed for two months. The Petersburg judicial system’s joint press service did not mention the drugs charge, only that Tishkin was suspected of having sexual relations with a minor as part of a group.

Fontanka.ru writes that Tishkin is also suspected of attempting to steal a mug from a Starbucks on Nevsky Prospect.

____________________________

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
February 27, 2019

[…]

We spoke with Vadim Tishkin. He looked like a teenager, confused and completely ignorant of what a remand prison was. We spoke with him on Monday. He was delivered to the remand prison in the early hours of Friday morning. He had been without bed linens and other necessities the entire time. When police searched his house, they had let him take some things with him, but he had not chosen the best things to take. The remand prison should have issued him bed linens, of course, but apparently you have to insist on it for it to happen.

Concerning the criminal case, he said the police had not beaten him. They only insisted he take part in a drug sting, promising to plant drug in his home or on his person if he refused to cooperated. He refused to cooperate, and the police planted lots of drugs on him.

They knew right away the types and quantities of drugs they “found.” No forensic examination was needed.

The sting would have targeted his friend the political activist Vladimir Kazachenko.

(I wrote the first sentence of this story because I think it is terribly important that the first and second paragraphs are about the same person. A confused adult, who was a juvenile until recently, was made to choose between a prison term and a sting operation. Since he has a state-appointed defense lawyer, he will probably get a long prison sentence.)

We asked about telephones, because the Telegram channels who had sources in the police said the girl had voluntarily surrendered her telephone to police officers. In fact, as Vadim told us, she had not surrendered it voluntarily. It was forcibly confiscated, and the police had guessed the password since it was simple.

[…]

Thanks to Comrade K. for the heads-up.

____________________________

Former Sandarmokh Caretaker Sergei Koltyrin Sentenced to Nine Years in Pedophilia Case
Sergei Markelov
Novaya Gazeta
May 27, 2019

The Medvezhyegorsk District Court in Karelia has sentenced Sergei Koltyrin, former director of the district’s museum, to nine years in a medium-security prison camp and forbidden him to engage in teaching for ten years. The other defendant in the case, Severomorsk resident Yevgeny Nosov, was sentenced to eleven years in a prison camp.

Koltyrin was charged with indecent acts against a juvenile male in collusion with other individuals (Russian Criminal Code Article 135, Parts 2 and 4), sodomy against a juvenile male in collusion with other individuals (Article 134, Parts 3 and 5), and illegal possession of a weapon (Article 222, Part 1).

Nosov was indicted on the same charges, except the weapon possession charge. Both defendants refused to comment on the verdict.

The prosecution had asked the court to sentence Koltyrin to sixteen years, and Nosov to eighteen years, in a maximum-security prison camp. Prosecutor Andrei Golubenko told reporters the prosecution was satisfied with the verdict, but it would first have to read the text of the court’s ruling to decide whether to appeal it.

When asked how many victims there had been and whether the defendants had confessed their guilt, Golubenko refused to answer, citing the fact he could not divulge the particulars of the trial, since the evidence in the case had been presented in closed chambers.

Koltyrin’s defense lawyer, Konstantin Kibizov, was not present for the reading of the verdict, but he said his proxy would probably appeal the verdict.

Koltyrin and Nosov were arrested on October 3, 2018. According to police investigators, the men had repeatedly raped Nosov’s distant relative, who was twelve at the time. Both defendants partially admitted their guilt [sic]. The men were subsequently accused of having sexual intercourse with a juvenile male.

In August 2018, Koltyrin was appointed curator of the excavations in the forested area of Sandarmokh, as conducted by the Russian Military History Society. He had spoken negatively about the hypothesis that the site contained the graves of victims of the Finnish occupation of Soviet Karelia during 1941–1944. Koltyrin insisted the memorial site contained the remains of Soviet citizens executed during the Stalinist purges.

The mass graves of Stalin’s victims at Sandarmokh were discovered by a group led by Memorial Society historian Yuri Dmitriev, who was arrested in 2016 and charged with producing pornography depicting his juvenile foster daughter.

In April 2018, the Petrozavodsk City Court acquitted Dmitriev on the charges. However, the prosecutor’s office appealed the verdict, after which the case was sent to the Karelian Supreme Court for review.

In the summer of 2018, Dmitriev was indicted on new criminal charges. In addition to producing pornography, he was charged with committing violent sexual acts against his foster daughter.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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This post deals with four criminal cases against two very young opposition political activists in Petersburg and two middle-aged opposition historians in Russian Karelia who have played prominent roles in researching and publicizing the extent of the Great Terror in their part of the world.

What the cases have in common is that the men have all been accused and, in one case convicted, of sexual offenses against minors.

In the first case, two very young political activists in Petersburg stand accused of having sex with women only a few years younger.

In the cases in Karelia, the charges seem more serious—sexual acts against minors on the part of middle-aged men—but the article in the Russian Criminal Code is the same. If the activists and researchers caught up in the machinery of the Russian police state are found guilty (as one of them has been, only yesterday), they can be sentenced to long terms in prison.

I get the sense that most of the Russian civil rights community, the Russian press, the Russian opposition, and their supporters in the west do not want to touch these cases with a ten-foot pole, lest the taint of “sexual assault” and “pedophilia” touch them as well.

In fact, I would not have heard of the first two cases if I had not met another young Russian political activist who had the good sense to flee Russia when it was obvious the Prigozhin-controlled local press and social media set them up for the same charges as the ones now faced by Vladimir Kazachenko and Vadim Tishkin.

The whole world should know Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev by now and understand the Putin regime simply cannot let its absurd frame-up, quashed once by the Petrozavodsk City Court, fall to pieces, so it upped the ante by accusing him of sexually assaulting his juvenile stepdaughter.

I know of at least one very large Russian civil rights organization that was so impressed by this obvious trickery they avoided sending a representative to Petrozavodsk for Dmitriev’s new trial.

They were scared to be seen there, apparently.

Maybe it has occurred to a lot of people who are determined not to open their mouths, but the police and security services in Russia have demonstrated in recent years they will stop at nothing to get their man or woman.

People who care about solidarity and glasnost have to be able to get over their squeamishness and see these cases for what they really are—a convenient means of sending the Russian opposition the message that no holds are barred in the regime’s war against them. At least, we have to presume innocence and admit the possibility the regime has no qualms about accusing anyone of any crime, no matter how heinous or, as in the case of the “teen sex orgy” in Petersburg, allegedly involving political activists, how banal.

It thus should go without saying that, when they are indicted on statutory rape or sexual assault charges, jailed in one of Russia’s harsh remand prisons, and abandoned by their former friends and political allies to the tender mercies of prison wardens, police investigators, and prosecutors, some people despair and let themselves be railroaded, knowing that the conviction rate of Russia’s courts is over 99%. {THE RUSSIAN READER}

The Network Trials: Pinning the “Code” on the Defendants

filinkov-boyarshinovPetersburg Network Trial Defendants Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov. Photo by Alexander Koryakov. Courtesy of Kommersant

Prosecution Tries to Pin “Code” on Network Defendants
Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
May 21, 2019

The Volga District Military Court rejected the defense’s motion to send the Penza segment of the so-called Network case back to prosecutors. The prosecution has alleged the defendants established the Network (an organization now officially banned in the Russian Federation), a “terrorist community” of anarchists, in order to overthrow the regime.

Today in Penza the prosecution will begin presenting its case against the seven defendants.

This stage of the trial has been completed in Petersburg, where Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov are on trial for their alleged involvement in the community. Their defense attorneys have moved to disallow key pieces of evidence in the prosecution’s case and summon Penza FSB investigator Valery Tokarev and Petersburg FSB field officer Konstantin Bondarev to the stand. The two FSB officers have been accused by the defendants of torturing them with electrical shocks. The Moscow District Military Court, which is hearing the case in Petersburg, postponed its consideration of these motions until June 4.

The trial in Penza began later than the trial in Petersburg. During the second hearing in Penza, on May 15, after the indictment was read aloud, the defense moved to send the case back to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation. It argued the case had been carelessly patched together, and some of the evidence had been obtained under pain of torture. It was nearly impossible to mount a coherent defense against such an “absurd, vague, and inconsistent” indictment, they said.

Prosecutor Sergei Semerenko argued the trial should proceed, although he refused to rule out the possibility the indictment would ultimately be withdrawn and resubmitted on less serious charges.

The judges reacted to this turn of event unexpectedly. They withdrew to chambers and never returned to the courtroom. A court clerk eventually told the lawyers, waiting for a ruling on their motion, the hearing was adjourned, after which armed guards led the defendants away.

The next day it transpired the trial would resume on May 21.

In the Penza trial, Dmitry Pchelintsev and Ilya Shakursky have been charged with running the Network terrorist community. They face twenty years in prison if convicted. Arman Sagynbayev, Vasily Kuksov, Andrei Chernov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maxim Ivankin have been charged with involvement in the alleged community. They face ten years in prison if convicted.

A number of the defendants have also been indicted on other charges, including weapons possession and drug trafficking.

In Petersburg, Viktor Filinkov and Yuli Boyarshinov also face charges of involvement in the alleged community. Boyarshinov has also been charged with possession of gunpowder.

Filinkov has claimed he was tortured and denies his guilt. Boyarshinov has complained of torture-like conditions in remand prison but has confessed his guilt.

The subject of torture also came during when a witness in the trial, Igor Shishkin, was questioned. Mr. Shishkin has already been convicted on charges of involvement with the alleged Network as part of a plea agreement with investigators. Members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission found the most serious injuries on his body after he was initially detained and questioned by the FSB in January 2018.

When Mr. Shishkin was asked whether unacceptably violent methods had been used on him and whether had testified voluntarily, he smiled and replied, “The military investigator carried out a brilliant investigation: nothing of the sort was found.”

The Moscow Military District Court finished its examination of the evidence in Petersburg on May 17 after holding a video conference with witnesses in Penza, including the defendants on trial there. All the witnesses testified they had not seen Viktor Filinkov at training sessions in the woods.

However, Mr. Pchelinitsev and Mr. Sagynbayev testified they had not been questioned about the Petersburg case. The transcript of this interrogation had been copied from testimony they gave to FSB investigator Valery Tokarev in Penza while they were tortured. They later withdrew their testimony.

Mr. Filinkov, who worked as a programmer before his arrest, also claimed investigators had falsely interpreted physical evidence seized during searches and reached the wrong conclusions during their investigation.

In particular, he claimed he had not “zigzagged” around Petersburg on the day before his arrest before discarding the hard drives FSB field agents later found in a trash bin. The images and photos on the drives, which had been entered into evidence, were of the kind one would find in the possession of any punk. They had been produced by his wife Alexandra Askyonova as a teenager.

Ms. Aksyonova was granted political asylum in Finland last week.

Mr. Filinkov made a point of noting that Petersburg field officer Konstantin Bondarev, who had compiled the case file on him, should be charged with torture.

Ultimately, the court agreed to summon Mr. Tokarev and Mr. Bondarev to the witness stand, but so far they have failed to appear at the hearings.

The key evidence of the alleged anarchist community’s terrorist inclinations are two documents, seized from two of the Penza defendants: the so-called Code, which outlines the Network’s alleged goals and organizational structure, and the minutes of an interregional “congress” held in a Petersburg flat in 2017, featuring responses from the movement’s alleged cells to socio-political issues.

The FSB has claimed the cells were armed units. The minutes contain neither the names nor the pseudonyms of the respondents.

When Vladimir Putin discussed the Network case with the Presidential Human Rights Council, he referred to a report drafted for him; the report claimed that “founding and programmatic documents had been seized from the terrorist community.”

However, the defendants and witnesses have denied the existence of the documents, claiming they only held discussions during their meetings but did not ratify or sign documents.

Mr. Shishkin, who made a plea agreement with investigators, corroborated this.

Prosecutor Ekaterina Kachurina asked him, “Why did you become interested in anarchist ideology?”

“And why did you become a prosecutor?” he replied, explaining anarchism was interesting to him.

Mr. Pchelintsev said there had been no “congress,” only “a seminar by consensus.”

Vitaly Cherkasov, Mr. Filinikov’s defense attorney, said in court there was every reason to believe “an unlimited number of Petersburg and Penza FSB officials had illegal access over a lengthy period of time” to the hard drive and laptop on which the files containing the “Code” and the “Minutes” had, allegedly, been discovered, due to improprieties in the secure storage and unsealing of the physical evidence.

Mr. Boyarshinov’s assistant defense attorney, Olga Krivonos, moved to have the court declare the documents inadmissible as evidence, along with the FSB’s linguistic forensic investigation, which concluded the “Code” was a “set of instructions outlining the basic organizational principles of a network of combat units capable of resisting the current powers that be.”

The court has adjourned until June 4.

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can read more about the Network case and stories related to the case here.

No One to Call Them on the Carpet

karlshorst tankA WWII-era Soviet tank, its muzzle pointed toward downtown Berlin, in the yard of the so-called German Russian Museum in the city’s Karlshorst neighborhood. Until 1994, it was known as the Capitulation Museum, since German high command formally surrendered to the Soviet high command in the building that houses the museum. Photo by the Russian Reader

At this point in their downward spiral towards worldwide moral and intellectual superiority, it is sometimes as hard to compliment Russians as it to make common cause with them or, on the contrary, argue with them.

I was thinking about this in a different connection when my attention was drawn to this column by Masha Gessen, published two days ago by the New Yorker.

The column is an odd beast.

First, Ms. Gessen makes a sound argument, based on hard, easily verifiable facts, but then she does an about-face and acts as her argument’s own resentful, miserably uninformed whataboutist, drawing false parallels between commemorations of the Second World War in Russia and the US, and the roles played by Putin and Trump in tarnishing these memorial events with their own sinister political agendas.

She is thus able to set readers up for the column’s takeaway message: “[T]he Trumpian spin on [the Second World War] is all maga, which makes it essentially the same as Putin’s.”

Ms. Gessen once was one of my favorite reporters, especially back in the days when she wrote for the weekly Russian news magazine Itogi.  Later, I adored her poignant, richly rendered dual portrait of her grandmothers and the turbulent times of their younger years. I would still urge anyone curious about what the Soviet Union was really like under Stalin and after his death to put the book, Ester and Ruzya, at the top of their reading lists.

Nowadays, however, Ms. Gessen finds herself in what should be the unenviable position of having no one willing to call her on the carpet . Whatever she writes and says is regarded as the gospel truth, apparently, by her editors, readers, and listeners. In any case, I have never come upon any criticism of her work, at least in Anglophonia.

Her editor at the New Yorker, David Remnick, himself a Russia expert of sorts, has gone missing in action when it comes to editing critically what she writes about the country of her birth, and so has everyone else who could be bothered to notice the sleights of hand and sophistry in which she now indulges all too often.

In this case, it is simple. In the United States, there has been nothing like the overbearing politicization of victory in the Second World War as there has been in Russia since Putin took power twenty years ago.

The US does not even have a public holiday commemorating victory in the war, whether on the European front or the Pacific front. I think this says something. Maybe what it says is bad, but the importance of the “victory” for US society, especially now that nearly seventy-five years have passed since the victory was declared, has been waning with every passing day.

More to the point, whatever deplorable uses Trump may have made of the war, he has had a mere two years in office to do his damage, while “decisive victory” in the Great Fatherland War (as the war is called in Russian) has long played a central role in Putin’s eclectic, opportunist but extraordinarily reactionary ideology.

It is an rather odd stance, since the Kremlin regularly speaks and acts almost as if the Putin regime and the current Russian Armed Forces achieved victory over the Nazis in 1945, rather than the Stalin regime and the Red Army.

Victory in the war has been used as much to bludgeon the regime’s “traitors” and “enemies” into submission as it has been used to brainwash the Russian people into a false sense of national unity and international moral superiority.

Of course, there have been periods since 1945 when victory in the war was politicized by the US establishment, too. We need only think of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” and, years before that last gasp, the ways movies and TV shows about the war functioned as surrogates for reinforcing western capitalist ideology during the Cold War.

As should naturally be the case, however, since the war ended a long time ago, and most of the people who witnessed it and fought in it have died, it has meant less to the rising generations in the US than it did to the generations of my grandparents (who fought in the war, if only on the home front) and my parents (who were born just before or during the war), and even to my own generation (who grew up in a vernacular culture still permeated by memories of the war, sometimes embodied in our own grandparents and their age mates, and a popular culture still awash in books, comic books, TV serials, movies, toys, and other consumerist junk inspired by the war).

A gradual waning of interest in the war should have happened in Russia as well,  albeit in a manner that acknowledged and honored the war’s much greater impact on the country and all the other former Soviet republics.

In the nineties, under the “villainous” Yeltsin, this was on the verge of happening.

I remember going to the Victory Day parade on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg in 1995. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the war’s end in Europe, but the main event consisted only of columns of real war veterans, some in uniform, some in civilian dress, all of them wearing their medals, marching down the Nevsky accompanied by a few marching bands and a military honor guard, if memory serves me.

Tens of thousands of Petersburgers lined the pavements, cheering the veterans, crying, and occasionally running out into the parade to hand them flowers, kiss their cheeks, and thank them personally for their courage.

It was simple, dignified, and moving.

But then a new mob took over Russia. The new mob wanted to rob the country blind and install themselves in power for as long as they could, so they had to convince their victims, the Russian people, of a number of contradictory things.

One, the highway robbery, as committed by the new mob, was for their own good. Two, the highway robbery was making them better and their country great again; it would bring “stability.” Three, the highway robbery was spiritually underwritten by the former country’s former greatness, as demonstrated, in part, by its victory over the Nazis in the Great Fatherland War.

It is not true that all or even most Russians have swallowed all or even most of this dangerous nonsense.

Putinism, however, has destroyed politics in Russia not only by demolishing all democratic institutions and persecuting grassroots activists and opposition politicians in ever-increasing numbers.

It has also disappeared most real political issues and replaced them with non-issues, such as nonexistent “threats” to the glory of Russia’s victory in WWII, as posed by “traitors” and hostile foreign powers, the completely astroturfed “upsurge” in “love for Stalin,” and several other fake zeitgeist events that have been designed purposely to set the country’s dubious troika of official pollsters polling like never before and take up oodles of space in the real media, the social media, and ordinary people’s minds and their bar-stool and dinner-table conversations with strangers, friends, relatives, and coworkers.

I am much too fond of French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s distinction between “politics”—what happens in the public space around real sources of political and social conflict in democratic societies or societies striving towards freedom and equity) and “police”—the opposite of “politics,” the utter control of public space and a monopoly on decision-making by a tiny anti-democratic elite.

“Police” as a concept, however, encompasses not only real policemen kicking down the doors of “extremists” and “terrorists,” and casing and tailing everyone suspicious and “unreliable” every which way they can.

In Russia under Putin, it has also involved tarring and feathering all real political discourse and political thinking, while promoting sophistry, scuttlebutt, moral panics, two minutes hate, and intense nationwide “debates” about non-issues such as “the people’s love of Stalin” and “victory in the war.”

The point of substituting artificial “police” discourses for wide-open political debate has been to prevent Russia from talking about bread-and-butter issues like pensions, the economy, healthcare, housing, the environment, war and peace, and increasingly violent crackdowns against political dissenters, businessmen, migrant workers, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities.

Russians are capable of talking about these things and do talk about them, of course, but a steady diet of nothing, that is, immersion in a topsy-turvy world in which the state, mainstream media, and many of your own friend will try, often and persistently, to engage you in “serious” conversations about chimeras and phantoms, has had an innervating effect on serious political discourse generally.

Try and talk to Russians about politics and, often as not, you will soon find yourself talking “police” instead.

If Ms. Gessen had decided to write a substantive article about the Putin regime’s use and abuse of the “victory,” popular acquiescence to its campaign, and grassroots pushbacks against, it would have familiarized Ms. Gessen’s readers with a story about which they know either nothing or almost nothing.

I cannot imagine anyone better qualified to tell the story than Ms. Gessen herself.

But, as is the case with many other Russians, the straight talk in Ms. Gessen’s recent printed work and media appearances about what has been happening in Russia under Putin has been veering off, sooner or later, into whataboutism and a series of well-worn memes whose hysterical repetition passes for political argument these days.

There is a different but curiously overlapping set for every political tribe in Putinist Russia, from nominal nationalists to nominal liberals and leftists.

What is my own takeaway message?

There can be no politics in Russia in the Rancierean sense or any other sense until the Russian liberal intelligentsia (with whom Ms. Gessen has explicitly identified herself on several occasions, obviously considering them vastly superior intellectually and morally to the American mooks with whom she has been condemned to spend too much time, Russiansplaining everything under the sun to them as best she can, mostly to no avail) and all the other intelligentsias and political tribes in Russia give up their pet sets of non-issues and non-solutions and revive the deadly serious politics and political discourses of the pre-Revolutionary period, if only in spirit.

However, the efficacy of “police” under Putin has been borne out by the way in which nearly everyone has united, time and again, around the very non-issues the regime and state media has encouraged them to discuss.

On the contrary, several painfully real issues, for example, Russia’s ruinous, murderous military involvement in Syria, have never been vetted by “police” for public hand-wringing of any kind.

As if obeying an unwritten rule or a tape reeling in their heads, nobody ever talks about them, not even the great Masha Gessen. {TRR}

Thanks to Comrade GF for bring Ms. Gessen’s column to my attention.

My Generation

frenkel-subway trialThe defendants in the Petersburg subway bombing trial. Photo by David Frenkel

After a terrific, well-attended solidarity talk in support of the defendants in the Network case, held here in Berlin the other night, I spoke to a lovely young Russian activist.

I said to them that there were, of course, many more instances of wild injustice in Putinist Russia with which an engaged foreign audience could be regaled, such as the ongoing trial of several Central Asians, accused of complicity in the alleged terrorist suicide bombing in the Petersburg subway on April 3, 2017.

Like the Network case, the Petersburg subway bombing case has all the hallmarks of a frame-up. As in the Network case, there have been numerous allegations the defendants have been tortured by investigators.

“But the difference,” the young person interrupted me, “is racism.”

They meant that, since all the defendants hailed from Central Asia, there was no way to mount the successful solidarity campaign that has shown a harsh light on the Network case and garnered it widespread notoriety, especially within Russia.

The young person went on to tell me that a friend of theirs had been attending the subway bombing trial. She had told them it was horrific. The defendants had been assigned state-appointed lawyers who did nothing to defend them. The trial was such a flagrant frame-up the interpreters working it had banded together to try and do anything they could to help the young people, who in all likelihood have been accused of terrible crimes they did not commit.

It goes without saying that all of them will be found guilty and sentenced to long terms in prison.

The case has been covered spottily by Petersburg and Russian media outlets, but I have seen very little outrage or even mild concern about it from my acquaintances on Russophone social media, most of whom live in Petersburg.

Many of these same people are now visibly bent out shape about the goings-on in Israel-Palestine. In the past few days, they have been treating virtual friends like me to generous helpings of unsubstantiated hasbara.

Are they unconcerned about the miscarriage of justice perpetrated on nearly a dozen young Central Asians because they think all Muslims are terrorists and, by definition, guilty of every charge of terrorism laid at their door?

It has been a commonplace of Russian quasi-liberal thinking that Stalinism affected Russians so deeply it infected their collective DNA. The Stalinist bug, so this spurious argument contends, has been passed on to the new generation as well, even though the Soviet Union collapsed almost thirty years ago, before my interlocutor and huge numbers of other terrific young Russian social and political activists I know were born.

Supposedly, several generations must pass before the Stalinist bug will finally be expunged from the national genetic code and Russians can build a more democratic polity in their country.

In reality, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence pointing to the new generation’s eagerness and readiness to live that way right now.

On the contrary, it is my own age mates, the so-called last Soviet generation, who were born after Stalin died, who seem most afflicted by a kind of cognitive and emotional Stalinism that, often as not, emerges in their thoughts and deeds not as nostalgia or admiration for the real Stalin, but as dogmatic worldview that makes events in, say, Israel more real and important than most events in their own country and cities.

Given recent oddities around the Network trial and the unwonted negative publicity the case has generated for the FSB, I think there is a slight chance the powers that be might have decided to ratchet things down a bit. I could be wrong, but I would not be surprised if, when the trials in Penza and Petersburg resume after a long, unexplained recess, the defendants were indicted on lesser charges and then immediately released on probation, taking into account the long time all of them have spent in remand prisons since their arrests in late 2017 and early 2018.

There is no chance this will happen in the subway bombing trial for the simple reason that almost no one in Petersburg can be bothered to go to bat for a group of non-Russian Muslims or even bat an eye when they are tortured and framed exactly like their non-Muslim contemporaries. {TRR}

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