Valery Rashkin: A Rebel in the Russian Communist Party

Communist MP Valery Rashkin (holding white placard) and comrades protesting the persecution of communists and rank-and-file protesters outside the Presidential Administration building in downtown Moscow, 10 June 2021. Photo: Vadim Kantor/Activatica

And now – against crackdowns!

In 2021, only three forms of street activism have been possible in Moscow: “navalnings” (such as in January and April), “putings” (such as in March) and “rashkings,” named in honor of Communist MP Valery Rashkin, who does not get tired of defying the de facto ban on rallies by holding “meetings with an MP” (that is, with himself), since by law such meetings do not require prior authorization. This spring alone, Volja has written several times about progressive “rashkings” (against infill construction in Kuntsevo; against the planned demolition of the Palace of Young Pioneers; and, no less than four times, against the law banning educational outreach activities; in particular, I published an overall report and a separate remark about provocateurs).

Kuntsevo residents voting against the construction mafia, 6 March 2021. Photo: Vlad Tupikin

Rashkin’s progressive work to ensure freedom of assembly in Moscow, it seems, has not gone unnoticed by the Communist Party leadership and the Presidential Administration. Open Media today published a short article in which, citing sources in the party leadership, they claimed that it was possible that Rashkin would be moved from a surefire first place on the regional party list for the State Duma elections in the autumn to a (second?) place that would make it impossible for him to win re-election. And this, it seems, is exactly what the Presidential Administration, who have soured on Rashkin over his open sympathy for the winter-spring protest rallies (the “navalnings”), wants from the Communist Party leadership.

In the spring, Rashkin, who heads the party’s Moscow city committee, was removed from the presidium of the party’s central committee and now, at the pre-election congress in late June, he could lose his place on the party list.

But Rashkin is not giving up without a fight. At two o’clock in afternoon on Thursday, June 10, he has scheduled another meeting with MPs (that is, he will probably not be alone) outside the reception area of the Presidential Administration building on Ilinka, 23, to protest recent political crackdowns. Mikhail Lobanov, in particular, has written about the meeting, apparently disappointed by today’s confirmation of the sentence meted out to his colleague Azat Miftakhov (six years in prison for breaking the glass in the door at a United Russia party office on the outskirts of Moscow; Miftakhov claims he is innocent).

Valery Rashkin. Photo: Pyotr Kassin/Kommersant, courtesy of Open Media

It is clear that the Communist Party as a whole does not arouse much interest among political observers, but it seems that Rashkin is something special. He’ll probably show us all his stuff once again — to begin with, at two o’clock on the afternoon on June 10.

With greetings from Moscow,

Vlad Tupikin

Source: Volja, 9 June 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

______________________________

Against political crackdowns: a meeting with State Duma MPs

State Duma MPs from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation went to the Presidential Administration building to speak out against the political crackdowns taking place in Russia. They opposed the encroachment of security forces on freedom of thought. First of all, they spoke about the persecution of party members in the regions, who have been prevented from standing in the [autumn 2021] elections in every possible way, and the criminal cases initiated against them. In particular, they voiced their support for Azat Miftakhov and Nikolay Platoshkin.

Yesterday, the Moscow City Court, considering an appeal against the verdict of Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov, did not overturn the six-year prison sentence handed down to him, although it excluded a couple of incidents from the case. Yesterday, the Basmanny District Court left the four editors of the student magazine DOXA — Armen Aramyan, Natalya Tyshkevich, Alla Gutnikova, and Vladimir Metyolkin under virtual house arrest (they are allowed to leave the house for two hours, from 8 to 10 am, and are forbidden from using the Internet and receiving mail) until September 14.

Vadim Kantor

Source: Activatica, 10 June 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

Communist MP Valery Rashkin and others protesting outside the Presidential Administration building in downtown Moscow, 10 June 2021

Grigorii Golosov: Dissecting Dead Elections

What to Expect from Dead Elections
Grigorii Golosov
Proekt
June 7, 2021

In journalism, there is the well-worn cliché of “dissecting elections.” This is when experts explain to the general public how the electoral system works, how election campaigns are run, and how votes are tallied. In a democracy, this knowledge is ordinarily not in high demand, because voters, as a rule, don’t care about such subtleties. People who go to the polling stations have preferences and emotions that they express by voting. The fine points matter a narrow stratum of politicized intellectuals. Rank-and-file voters regard elections respectfully, as one of the foundations of the democratic state, which they value, but they are not keen about its anatomical details.

Under authoritarianism, it would seem that elections merit no interest at all. After all, they don’t make it possible to change the government, let alone influence it in any tangible way. Their impact on the make-up of representative political bodies is insignificant, and on politics, negligible.

They are dead elections. And yet they are anything but inconspicuous.

On the contrary, the most high-profile events of recent months in Russia have been related to elections indirectly (like the crackdown on opposition organizations and activists) or directly (like United Russia’s so-called primaries). They have gone unremarked only by people who have completely isolated themselves from the daily grind of the Russian state and the propaganda servicing it. This is, of course, quite a healthy thing to do, but not everyone has the luxury of doing it.

Naturally, the hype will only increase over the summer, because presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has already promised us a literally red-hot campaign. Indeed, elections — and just such dead elections — are vital to modern authoritarian regimes. Elections perform many useful functions for autocracies. I could list all of them, but it suffices to point out their main function: unless the regime triumphs at the ballot box, it is difficult to explain why the people in government occupy the high-ranking posts they do.

Their power is not warranted by the right of succession, nor by their outstanding personal qualities, nor by their crystal clear vision of the prospects for social development. Naturally, there are other contenders for power, ready to take it simply because they want to. So the common idea that elections will be canceled as unnecessary is mistaken. This means that there is some point in dissecting dead elections, just as there is a point in dissecting dead bodies.

The basic principle of election pathology is simple: dead elections should look like the real thing, but still keep those who already hold power in power, allowing only a minimal rotation of minor figures. In keeping with this principle, authoritarian elections involve four main areas of tampering: (1) voting systems; (2) voter behavior; (3) voter choice; (4) vote counting. Let’s examine each of these areas separately.

In Russia, messing with the electoral system in the narrow sense of the term is a thing of the past. Readers may remember that for a time we had a purely proportional electoral system, in which we could vote only for party lists, not for single candidates. Its introduction was no accident and no matter of good intentions: it was meant to facilitate the emergence of the United Russia party and eradicate independent MPs. However, the 2011 State Duma elections, in which United Russia nearly lost its parliamentary majority, showed that a mixed system was more convenient, so they went back to it.

There is nothing particularly innovative about this. If we do the numbers we see that that mixed systems are more popular among autocracies than among democratic countries. And we know from experience why: even if United Russia fails to gain a parliamentary majority via its party list, it will make it up for it by winning in the single-member districts. It was the single-member districts that gave United Russia a constitutional majority in the current State Duma. We know what the consequences for the Russian Constitution have been. But, admittedly, room for further tweaking of the pathological particulars has mostly been exhausted. Going any further would involve embracing electoral systems in which all semblance of democracy is forfeited.

But there is still room for creativity when it comes to manipulating voters. Take, for example, United Russia’s “primaries.” Many people ask why the powers that be must play this expensive game at all, if it is known in advance and has been repeatedly borne out by experience that, ultimately, only those candidates approved by the Kremlin end up on the party lists. I will answer this question with a question of my own. Is there a better way to test the ability of the regional authorities to get voters to an event that is not even an election, whose meaninglessness is obvious to everyone involved? Primaries are an ideal vehicle for turning out the segment of populace dependent on the authorities and thus doing a practice run before the parliamentary campaign kicks off in earnest.

Turning the dependent populace out to vote has been the primary tool of the authorities in recent years. I should stress that we are talking about a mobilization of voters that can be carried out regardless of a campaign’s particular circumstances and definitely produce the expected result. It’s a myth that people who vote under duress can give the authorities the finger behind their back. These people are forced to go to the polls in order to vote for United Russia and that’s exactly what they do.

Sometimes op-ed writers wonder why, since the authorities are so interested in voter turnout, they don’t introduce mandatory voting, which exists in many (mostly democratic) countries. The electoral forensic pathologist answers this question as follows: because the authorities are not interested in turning out all voters, only those who can be expected to vote “correctly.”

If you drive everyone to the polls, it will irritate the populace. Then, perhaps, the “giving them the finger” scenario could come to pass. No, the authorities have to facilitate the turnout only of the most reliable voters, and these are the voters who are forced to vote a certain way.

When such innovations of recent years as multi-day and electronic voting are discussed, attention is often paid to their role in falsifying the results. However, another thing is equally important. It is much easier to administratively enforce turnout and control the behavior of voters if the vote is held over several days. And we have heard a lot about the effectiveness of using screenshots in electronic voting following the results of United Russia’s “primaries.” Perhaps new tricks will also arrive in time for the September elections. The scope for creativity, I repeat, is still wide.

Manipulating voter choice, of course, mainly involves limiting the number of parties and candidates allowed to stand in elections. The conditions for this were created at the dawn of Russian electoral authoritarianism, in 2004–2006, and have been continuously perfected since then. At first, as you know, the authorities tightened the screws to such an extent that the remaining parties could literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. The 2011 campaign, in which the opposition pursued the “vote for any other party” strategy, showed that this was not the optimal path for the authorities.

There are a lot of registered parties this time round. Among them, there are no truly oppositional parties, completely independent of the authorities, nor can there be. However, careful work is being done to generation the illusion of choice, as exemplified by the comic rebranding of the Communist Party of Social Justice as the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice.

Of course, the “big three” parties (i.e., the LDPR, the CPRF, and a Just Russia) remain the favorites among the “legal opposition.” Even the half-forgotten Just Russia has been patched up for the elections: it has been renamed and strengthened with valuable new personnel. The calculation of the authorities is simple: United Russia’s administrative advantage + propaganda + the scattering of votes among “projects” and spoilers + the refusal of opposition-minded voters to go to the polls = a United Russia majority even on the party-list votes alone.

The problem has come from unexpected quarters: from the single-member districts. Again, the mixed electoral system does generally benefit the authorities. However, it generated an opportunity for so-called smart voting – that is, for strategically choosing to vote for candidates who have a chance of defeating United Russia candidates, rather than trying to elect candidates preferred by opposition voters.

Smart voting is bane to the authorities not only because it can achieve its immediate goal, but also because it encourages opposition voters to turn out for elections. And if they show up, they definitely won’t vote for United Russia on the party list ballots.

Crackdowns have been the main way of solving the problem this year. They enable the authorities to remove potentially strong and at the same time genuinely oppositional candidates from the elections. The efforts of the authorities on this front have been striking and attracted wide attention, but the principal target, in my opinion, is different. Smart voting is a complex strategy that requires organizational infrastructure and systematic guidance. The politicians who are currently targeted by crackdowns are vital not so much as potential candidates — the authorities could have prevented them from running using any number of tried and true methods — but as crucial figures in this infrastructure. The same applies to independent media, as well as (and especially) the few remaining opposition organizations in the political arena. Over the last year, they have been literally torn up by the roots.

Of course, the authorities cannot completely eliminate the threat posed by smart voting. It is a flexible strategy that relies on unconventional methods of political mobilization. Moreover, the impact made by the current scale of crackdowns on public sentiment and on the behavior of voters may go against expectations. In my opinion, hysteria about “foreign agents,” “undesirable organizations,” and other horrors is counterproductive in terms of the regime’s survival, since it erodes its claims to adhere to the democratic principles, driving it into the trap in which Alexander Lukashenko now finds himself. However, the authorities are trying their darndest to do just that, and if they break their own skulls in the process, you cannot blame them for their lack of diligence.

This zeal is fueled not so much by fears of losing, but rather by the well-founded notion that the desired outcome can be achieved only through fraud.

Let’s not harbor any illusions: the outcome will not be honest in any case.

Given the direct disciplinary responsibility of regional governors for getting the “correct” percentages at the ballot box (percentages that are known in advance), Russian elections generate irresistibly strong incentives for skewing the vote count. The federal authorities, in principle, have a stake in ensuring that the scale of the fraud is not off the charts and is not particularly conspicuous. But I don’t think that this is a matter of serious concern to them. Unlike in 2011, there is simply no one capable of recording violations due to the lack of independent monitoring.

The pathology of authoritarian elections is universal. Nothing special is happening in Russia compared to other regimes of this type, from Chad to Singapore. And yet, the current events, especially in terms of pre-election crackdowns, seem a bit too much. However, the cause of the overkill is clear. The parliamentary elections are quite important, but they would hardly be worth the effort if there were not a much more important event happening in 2024. The presidential election will complete the “reset” operation, extending Vladimir Putin’s term in office for at least six (and most likely twelve) years. The authorities must prepare for this in such a way as to completely rule out surprises.Grigorii Golosov is a political scientist, dean of the political science department at the European University in St. Petersburg, and author of the book Autocracy, or the Loneliness of Power. Photo courtesy of Proekt. Translated by the Russian Reader

Kira Yarmysh: People Usually Avoid the Word “Dying”

Kira Yarmysh

Kira Yarmysh
Facebook
April 17, 2021

When Alexei [Navalny] came to after the coma, and everything began to gradually improve, I thought that I would not soon have to endure minutes worse than I had in the plane from Tomsk as it was landing in Omsk. Things didn’t happen like that. It was a law of life, or something. Such powerful emotional experiences didn’t happen one after another.

But now eight months have passed, and I’m back on that plane, only this time it is landing very slowly.

People usually avoid the word “dying.” Some avoid it out of superstition. I personally avoid it because loud words like that shouldn’t be used lightly.

But Alexei is now dying. In his condition, it’s a matter of days. The lawyers just can’t get into [the prison] to see him at the weekend, yet no one knows what will happen on Monday.

We witnessed tremendous support in Omsk. Alexei himself later said many times in interviews that Putin had let him to be taken abroad for treatment because he realized it would do him no good to have Navalny die “live on the air.”

Now he is dying in exactly the same way, in plain view of everyone, only this time more slowly, and access to Alexei is much more difficult. Apparently, that’s why it seems to everyone that nothing terrible is happening. The hunger strike has lasted for eighteen days, Navalny has been gradually losing the feeling in his arms and legs, and some tests have been done. All this has been blurred in time, and people don’t have the sense that they are again witnessing a murder.

In 2015, we were organizing a big spring protest rally and heavily promoting it. Alexei himself handed out leaflets in the subway, which landed him in jail for fifteen days. But then [Boris] Nemtsov was murdered. In the end, the rally did take place, and it was huge, only the occasion for the rally had changed altogether.

Now, too, a rally is being organized to demand Alexei’s release, and it will be huge as well. But I don’t want it to happen for any other reason.

Putin reacts only to mass street protests. Even the threat of them scares him. The Kremlin has also been looking at the counter of people [who have pledged to attend the protest] on the Free Navalny website and thinking, Aha, the pace has slowed down, there is no reason to be worried, we can keep going. Navalny is dying: let him die. We won’t let a doctor see him. We won’t allow him to be treated. We should push even harder: we’ll declare his supporters extremists to keep them quiet.

This rally is no longer Navalny’s chance for freedom. It is a condition of keeping him alive. And every new day could be the last.

Register now. We need to reach 500,000 people as soon as possible.

https://free.navalny.com/

Kira Yarmysh is Alexei Navalny’s press secretary. As of today (April 17, 2021), nearly 453,000 Russians had pledged to attend protests demanding Navalny’s release (see the screenshot, below). Photo of Yarmysh courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Stopping His Torture Is Our Common Cause”

OVD Info
Facebook
April 6, 2021

Grassroots activist Anna Margolis has been detained near the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. In her solo picket, she called for an end to the persecution and torture of [Alexei] Navalny.

Margolis has been taken to the police department in the Meshchansky District.

https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2021/04/06/u-zdaniya-fsb-na-lubyanke-zaderzhali-piketchicu-s-plakatom-protiv

Poster: Anna Margolis. Photo: Maria Kokovkina

“Navalny’s views are his business. Your opinion of him is your business. Stopping his torture is our common cause! ‘There are countries in which corporeal punishment has been abolished whereas in our country the question of a whether a man should be flogged or not is still a matter of dispute. […] You would be perfectly justified in showing your compassion for the victims, then why don’t you?’ A[lexander] Herzen, [‘Letters to an Opponent’], 1864.”

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Family Values

State Duma Asked to Ban Promotion of Sex Change
RIA Novosti
March 4, 2021

Parliamentarians and public figures have adopted a draft resolution in which they ask the State Duma, in particular, to legislate a ban on the promotion of sex change and transgenderism, as well as to introduce the concept of “human fetus” and the concept of “criminal (illegal) abortion” in the Russian Federal Criminal Code and establish criminal liability for abortions.

The draft resolution was adopted during the conference “Legal and Legislative Aspects of Support for Families and Family Values in the Russian Federation,” which was held in Moscow on Thursday as part of the United Russia party’s Strong Family project.

In particular, the resolution (which RIA Novosti has obtained a copy of) proposes amending the law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” by instituting a ban on the promotion of sex change, bisexuality, transgenderism (transsexualism), and polyamory (civil marriages with multiple partners). In addition, the conference participants insist on tougher administrative responsibility for promoting non-traditional relationships, as well as instituting a ban on LGBT symbols in public institutions.

In addition, the resolution proposes banning information that promotes abortion, calls for abortion, and promotes the safety of abortions.

At the same time, the resolution contains a proposal to introduce a “ban on information that insults family values, motherhood, having many children [mnogodetnost’] and childhood.”

In order to prevent infertility and reduce abortions, the conference participants propose amending the Russian Federal Criminal Code by introducing the concept of “human fetus” and the concept of “criminal (illegal) abortion,” establishing criminal liability for the performance of abortions. Legislative initiatives are also proposed that would remove abortions from coverage by the mandatory health insurance system, as well as stopping payment of abortions by regional health insurance funds. The resolution also includes a proposal to “change the routing of patients who terminate pregnancy and those who maintain pregnancy.”

The resolution also contains a set of proposals to amend the law “On Biological Safety in the Russian Federation.” It is proposed that the law should be amended “to regulate issues of vaccination, determine the status of ’embryo’ and ‘human fetus,’ and institute a ban on euthanasia.” In addition, it is proposed to “establish state control over experiments on genomic technologies, including human genetic editing.” The signatories to the resolution also consider it necessary to “establish a procedure for regulating the circulation of biomaterial and the transactions of biobanks.”

Photo courtesy of Vechernii Bobruysk. Translated by the Russian Reader

OK Narusova

Sofiko Arifdzhanova, standing in front of the Federation Council building in Moscow, holding a placard that reads, “Is this OK, Narusova?” Photo by Dasha Trofimova

Sofiko Arifdzhanova
Facebook
March 4, 2021

Senator [sic] Lyudmila Narusova is outraged that solo pickets have still not been outlawed: “When I see marginal people near the Federation Council with incomprehensible demands that do not fit into any framework at all, it is unpleasant. You see, there are homeless-looking people with demands standing right on the steps of the Federation Council.”

Is this OK, Narusova?

Photo: Dasha Trofimova

The widow of Petersburg’s first democratically elected mayor, Lyudmila Narusova is not really a “senator,” but an appointed member of the Federation Council, representing (hilariously) Tuva. Federation Council members took to calling themselves “senators” several years ago and, unfortunately, their vain little trick has worked, because that is what the Russian press and chattering class now call them, unaccountably. Translated by the Russian Reader

Special Detention Center Days

Special Detention Center Days: How the Security Forces Have Tried to Intimidate Protesters
Sonya Groysman
Proekt
February 15, 2021

After three “unauthorized” protest actions in support of Alexei Navalny (January 23 and 31, and February 2), more than a thousand people were sentenced to serve time in jail: this is a record for [post-Soviet] Russia. In this video, protesters who have already been released tell us how their days in police departments and special detention centers went. Do they now regret having been involved in the protests? Most importantly, were the authorities able to intimidate them?

24 mins, 19 seconds. In Russian, with Russian subtitles

At the 21:00 mark, an unidentified young man, just released from a special detention center, says the following on camera:

“Russia is definitely going to be free. […] They didn’t intimidate anyone in the slightest [by arresting and jailing them]. On the contrary, folks banded together even more. [The authorities] only incited more hatred. […] We are young, after all, and time is on our side. It’s only a question of time. We’ll even the score.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sway

When the Night Lanterns Sway: It’s Useless to Try and Beat the State on Its Own “Legal Turf”
Alexander Skobov
Kasparov.ru
February 13, 2021

On February 9, Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s network of local teams, announced a flash mob for February 14, Valentine’s Day: residents of large cities should go into their courtyards at 8 p.m. and turn on their mobile phone flashlights. This is an attempt to adopt Belarusian know-how [see the article, below]. The idea is that residents of the same yard who are sympathetic to the protest movement but don’t know each other can get acquainted and create a grassroots network for rapid notification and mobilization.

Putin’s occupation army has reacted hysterically to the undertaking. A yahoo from the Assembly for Approving the Cutie Pie Slutsky’s Sexual Harassment (colloquially known as the State Skank) compared the flashlights in the courtyards with the signals of saboteurs guiding German bombers to their targets. The Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor General’s Office declared it a call for “mass rioting” and threatened potential flash mob participants with criminal charges. Roskomnadzor has been chasing down internet media officially operating in Russian Federation and forcing them to delete reports about the planned event.

The point here is not a “shutdown of law in Russia,” which, according to Vladimir Pastukhov, occurred after Navalny’s return. A completely anti-legal, multi-level system for cracking down on street activism has long been erected in Russia. It consists of three elements: 1) laws aimed at restricting the right to public expression of opinion; 2) a dishonest and broad interpretation of these laws by the police and the courts; 3) and pure lawlessness, as when the police engage directly in frame-ups and fakery, and the obedient courts pretend not to see it.

Those who tried to defend the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution [“Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”] focused mainly on the third element and sluggishly butted heads with the authorities over the second element, while almost ignoring the first element. Meanwhile, it was all about the first element. The second and third elements were just an appendix to it.

The Code of Administrative Offenses contains an article that punishes involvement in unauthorized events. The shapes and features of this involvement are not described. They are listed in Federal Law No. 54 (“On Mass Events”). In particular, it says that at a mass public event, participants express their attitude to current socio-political problems by chanting slogans and holding up placards.

For many years, opposition activists have been looking for an “unauthorized” way to publicly voice their opinions that would not get them detained. For a long time, they unsuccessfully tried to prove in the courts that if they did not chant slogans and did not hold up placards, there was no protest rally as such. However, the list of ways of participating in a rally, as enumerated in Federal Law No. 54, is not exhaustive. That is, any way of voicing one’s stance is considered an indication of having participated in a public event. That is, expression of a position as such is considered “participation.”

The phrase “expressed [his/her] attitude to current socio-political problems” is often found in police reports on the arrest of people involved in unauthorized public events. The phrase sounds crazy and comical when it comes to legally justifying arresting people and charging them with administrative offenses. It was not invented by the police goons, however. It was borrowed from the definition of a protest rally contained in Federal Law No. 54.

In fact, this coinage, found in police reports and “court” rulings, expresses the collective unconscious of the bureaucratic police regime—its dream, its loftiest ideal. Ordinary citizens should not publicly voice their opinions on current socio-political issues. It is better for them not to have such opinions at all. Voicing opinions is the prerogative of the authorities.

Hence, the very fact that an ordinary citizen voices their socio-political position is considered an anomaly, a deviation from the norm, a violation of public order. And when you start arguing with the authorities at the police station or in “court,” asking them what socially dangerous or simply harmful actions were committed by a citizen who was detained for publicly expressing their position by attending an outdoor rally, they sincerely don’t understand what you are talking about. It is clear to them that publicly voicing a position itself is a socially harmful action if ever there was one.

Since (they say) the greatest geopolitical catastrophe happened, and we are now forced to temporarily recognize a citizen’s right to voice their position at least formally, we’ll load your opportunity to exercise this right with so many conditions that you’ll rue the day you tried to do it. And they really have been doing just this—purposefully, consistently, for the entire length of Putin’s rule.

The lawless authorities refuse to authorize opposition rallies at central and iconic locations under completely far-fetched and false pretexts, and our “managed” injustice system almost always takes the side of the authorities. On the other hand, the “legislators” in the State Skank seek to block any chance people have to publicly voice their stance without prior approval. As soon as the opposition finds a new way of protesting, enabling it to circumvent previously imposed bans, a new amendment or a new law immediately follows, sealing this loophole as well.

It is useless to try to win against the state on its own “legal turf” as long as it has the will and power to shut society up. The state’s will can be opposed only by society’s will not to obey anti-legal prohibitions. The point of unauthorized public events is that they demonstratively violate prohibitions on “unauthorized” expressions of one’s opinion.

I have already had occasion to write that prohibiting people from publicly expressing their attitude to current socio-political issues without permission is an important part of the system for manipulating the admission of players to the “political market.” The entire social and political system that has taken shape in Russia is based on this system of manipulation. In order to reliably guarantee citizens their constitutional right to freely express their attitude to socio-political issues peacefully and unarmed, we have to replace the entire socio-political system.

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sing

When the night lanterns swing,
And it’s dangerous for you to walk the dark streets,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I can’t love anyone anymore.

The girls kissed my feet like they were crazy,
A widow and I drank through my father’s  house.
And my cheeky laugh
Was always a success,
And my youth has cracked like a nut!

I sit on a bunk like a king at a birthday party,
And I dream of getting a drab ration.
I look out the window like an owl:
Now I don’t care!
I’m ready to put out my torch before anyone else.

When the night lanterns swing,
And the black cat runs down the street like the devil,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I’ve broken my lifetime record forever!

Lyrics by Gleb Gorbovsky. Source: a-pesni. Performance by Beseder and Lyonchik. Translated by the Russian Reader

A protest in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Belarusian Courtyard Protests Model for Latest Navalny Tactic
Window on Eurasia
February 13, 2021

Staunton, February 11 — The Navalny organization’s decision to shift at least for a time from mass public protests to smaller but perhaps even more numerous demonstrations in the courtyards of Russian apartment blocks is not a unique Russian innovation. Instead, it has its roots in what Belarusian protesters have been doing since last fall.

In Belarusian cities, MBKh journalist Arina Kochemarova says, this shift has led to the emergence of whole areas devoted to protests and to the first flowering of what many people there hope will result in the formation of local self-administration, yet another way they hope to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.

In these Belarusian courtyards, she points out, places that people have christened “squares of change,” people fly the white-red-white Belarusian flag, organize concerns and flash mobs, and in many cases get to know their neighbors better than they ever have in the past, something that by itself promotes solidarity against the government.

Yegor Martinovich, editor of Belarusian Nasha Niva newspaper, says that Belarusians made the shift because of the rising tide of repression and arrests of those taking part in major demonstrations. Fewer people are taking part in the courtyard protests, but at the same time, he suggests, courtyard meetings are forming a sense of solidarity for the future.

Courtyard protests are not only harder for the authorities to counter, but they also can take a variety of formats ranging from flash mobs to the emergence of genuinely independent community organization. “Civil society has begun to flourish everywhere which in general is a good thing. People have begun to unite,” the editor says.

The biggest problem with this shift, Martinovich says, is that the media pays a great deal more attention to one big demonstration than it does to many smaller ones, even if the smaller ones collectively include more people and have a greater impact. Moreover, Lukashenka is learning how to react, cutting off utilities where there are white-red-white flags.

Now, this Belarusian tactic is coming to Russia, intensifying fears among the authorities that the Navalny movement could develop the way in which the Belarusian one has. Russian officials have already made clear that they will crack down hard early on lest the shift from the streets to the courtyards takes off.

Evil vs. the People

Khabarovsk, January 31, 2021. Photo: Yevgeny Pereverzev. Courtesy of Vitaliy Blazhevich

Vitaliy Blazhevich
Facebook
February 5, 2021

The most important observation of the last few weeks is that there were more than enough riot police for all the cities: each detainee was dragged away by five or six riot policemen. They have enough batons, shields, and paddy wagons, they have stun guns, rubber-bullets pistols, and even combat firearms. Evil was prepared for the new wave of protests. Evil did not sit idly by all this time: it built up its strength and increased its forces. Evil has stolen enough from the people to maintain and equip this vast army.

Well, never mind, we’ll see who comes out on top. After all, it is quite obvious that this time Putin is not opposed by a particular social stratum, by a particular political force, or by one region. The entire country and the entire people have risen up, and Putin’s “power vertical,” including the riot police, cannot be regarded as part of the people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

There Are No Exceptions to the State of Exception

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
February 2, 2021

I have always said that many practices that are later transferred to Russian citizens are first tested out on “migrants.” Mechanisms for securing human rights and ordinary social rights and living conditions first stop functioning for migrants. They were the first to get what amounted to criminal punishments for administrative violations. They were the first to be stripped of their rights as workers. They were the first to be subjected to a universal system of total electronic surveillance. It is hard not to notice, for example, the link between the concept of “illegals” and the concept of “foreign agents.” It is symbolic that people illegally detained in Moscow for coming out to protest an anti-constitutional regime are now being transported to Sakharovo, a place where foreign nationals are imprisoned, often illegally. It’s very simple: there can be no human rights and rule of law if even one group is (initially with the public’s general consent) excluded from the protection of these laws and rights. Sooner or later, the exceptions will apply to everyone else.

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
February 1, 2021

Re: the police search

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

While have never been a neat freak, I have never let things get like this. I had collected the posters for the Museum of Political History, and now I am sorting them out. Thank you for your words of support and anger: they help a lot. The children are still with relatives: I want to clean the place up before they come back. In the meantime, I have restored our SIM cards and bought new phones for myself and my daughter.

You ask how you can help? Stop by if you’re going to be near Vladimirskaya subway station today or tomorrow: we’ll drink coffee and rummage through my things. I’ve also been asked whether I need money to buy computers. [The police confiscated all the electronic devices in Apahonchich’s flat.] Of course, they’re obliged to return them, but in practice they often take their time doing it. They might turn them over in six months or give them back broken.

And I want to say a huge thank you to the advocates who were on duty in the help groups. Yesterday I watched how these wonderful, brave people work, and I was filled with admiration for them.

I am very worried about all the victims [of the mass arrests on Sunday, January 31].

I’m writing my [Sberbank] card number down here. If I get more money than I need for new computers, I will transfer the surplus to Mediazona and OVD Info.

4276 5500 7321 7849

Although I look rumpled (I didn’t sleep for almost two days), I’m in good spirits.

Svetlana Prokopyeva
Facebook
February 1, 2021

More than two years ago, I wrote a column about how the law enforcement system in our country had turned into a system of repression, and the state’s monopoly on violence had been turned against ordinary citizens who had grievances with the regime. As an example, I cited the arrest of Artyom Milushkin, the organizer of an authorized rally against corruption. On his way to the rally, he was thrown face-first into the mud by two men, who didn’t identify themselves. It later transpired that they were police officers.

It seems like such a minor thing today, doesn’t it?

And it is not surprising, given that the official response to my opinion piece was a criminal case against me, not an attempt to explain or discuss anything.

Of course, I was not the first to catch this trend, but it seems that I was the first to get such a clear and abrupt response. It was my text, the ideas I expressed, and my individual judgment that were declared the corpus delicti. My criminal case seems to have marked a watershed: we can no longer have our own opinions. People are tried for their opinions. Don’t ask questions.

What is happening on the streets today shows how cohesively the state repressive machine has crystallized. I don’t know what kind of orders those dashing fellows in helmets receive before going to disperse the guys and gals, but it is clear from the confident swings of their billy clubs that they see the enemy before them. The regime they serve has declared war on those who accuse it of theft and murder, although it seems that they already constitute a majority.

This is the death certificate for public politics in Russia, which was the point of my column “Crackdowns for the State.” For publishing it, I was found guilty of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code) and fined 500,000 rubles. I have an appeals hearing tomorrow at 10 a.m., but I don’t think we’ll be able to overturn the verdict, especially at a time like now.

I wrote that column in the belief that dialogue was possible, that it was not only necessary, but a real possibility, that it was still possible to prevent and stop what was happening, to force the authorities to think hard. Unfortunately, I no longer have that feeling.

(The photo, above, shows me halfway to the paddy wagon, but I never made it there because “Sorry, we didn’t figure out right away [that you were a journalist].”)

Translated by the Russian Reader