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

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“If I Shot Four of Them, the Rest Would Calm Down”

olonets-golosinfo.org-runaWelcome to Olonets. Photo courtesy of Infogolos.org and Runa

“If I Shot Four People, the Rest Would Calm Down”: Official in Karelia Suggests Shooting People Who Complain About Problems
Ksenia Ufimtseva
Znak
November 8, 2019

In Karelia, Sergei Prokopiev, head of the Olonets Municipal District, suggested shooting people who complain to the authorities about unresolved problems. In his opinion, such shootings would help “calm” the populace.

Citing eyewitnesses, the Karelian news website Chernika reports that tempers flared during a meeting of the Olonets Town Council. It all kicked off when the local veterans association asked Prokopiev to clean up a mass grave. Raising his voice, Prokopiev said that people in other districts formed local public councils and solicited additional funds, whereas there were no such precedents in Olonets. According to Chernika, Prokopiev said that “social parasites” had become “entrenched” in the town.

The council then went on to discuss problems the authorities had not resolved for many years. In Olonets, the public bathhouse is shut down, and the town’s water drainage system does not work. The issues prompted a stormy discussion.

“If I had a license, I would shot four people, and the rest would calm down,” Prokopiev said at the end of the meeting.

One of the town council members present at the meeting politely inquired about the names of the four people Prokopiev would like to shoot as an example to others. Prokopiev assured the council member that no council members were among the group. Prokopiev then said, allegedly, that his remarks had been a joke.

Olonets residents have taken offense, however. Town council member Nina Shcherbakova sent a complaint about Prokopiev’s behavior to Karelian Governor Arthur Parfenchikov. Local grassroots activist Natalya Antonov also filed a complaint against the district head with the prosecutor’s office. She considered Prokopiev’s remarks a threat aimed at her. According to local news website Runa, she had previously criticized Prokopiev for his poor performance.

Roine Izyumov, head of the Karelian branch of the party A Just Russia, said there witnesses who had heard Prokopiev’s remarks.

“It appears Mr. Prokopiev has forgotten who pays his bills, whose taxes pay his salary. He has decided to shoot his breadwinners,” said Izyumov, as quoted by the news website KarelInform.

Izyumov argues that Prokopiev should be fired and subsequently banned from senior political posts.

According to MK Karelia, however, media reports of the incident are misleading. A town council member who was at the meeting but whose names is not mentioned in other reports said journalists did not interview her.

Thanks to Andrey Pivovarov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburgers Picket in Support of Ingush Political Prisoners

ingush picket-1“We are with Ingushetia for rights and against the lawlessness of the authorities! Crackdowns won’t stop us.”

“Putin Has Not Retreated, But Nor Have the People”: Petersburgers Picket in Support of Ingush Political Prisoners
Anastasia Belyayeva
Gorod 812
October 24, 2019

In Petersburg, a series of solo pickets was held in support of Ingush activists, who were jailed after rallies protest the redrawing Ingushetia’s border with Chechnya. The picketers consider the situation in the republic critical, dubbing the arrests in the wake of the protest rallies the “Ingush Bolotnya Square case.”

The protests in Ingushetia kicked off in the autumn of 2018 after Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, then-head of Ingushetia, and Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Chechnya, signed an agreement ceding large parts of Ingushetia to Chechnya, including land on which Ingush ancestral towers are located. Outraged by this secret deal, the Ingush populace launched a series of well-attended protest rallies in Magas, the Ingush capital.  Activists and elders argued the decision was illegal and appealed to Vladimir Putin. The matter made it to the Russian Constitutional Court, which sided with Kadyrov and Yevkurov. The protests in the Ingush capital continued, eventually leading the authorities to arrest and charge activists.

ingush picket-2“Free the political prisoners! #Ingushetia #TheIngushAreNotAlone.”

On October 23, each of the picketers on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg raised the Ingush flag and help up placards demanding the release of the jailed activists and a reconsideration of the decision to redraw the republic’s borders with neighboring Chechnya.

“We have come out today in downtown Petersburg to draw attention to a problem that the government has tried to hush up,” activist Marina Ken told Gorod 812. “We want to give people the chance to find out what has been happening in Ingushetia. The decision to redraw the borders was not made by ordinary people but by the authorities, and many dissenters are now in jail. People must understand that the problem concerns each of us as citizens of one country.”

None of the picketers was detained, although police checked their papers and photographed their placards.

ingush picket-4“Free Musa Masalgov, co-chair of the Ingush National Unity Committee!”

Currently, over thirty people who opposed the redrawing of the Ingush-Chechen border have been jailed in remand prisons in different parts of the North Caucasus. They have been charged with calling for riots (as punishable by Article 212.3 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and engaging in life- and health-threatening violence against law enforcement officers (punishable under Article 318.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code). At the same time, a hundred people have been convicted on administrative charges. Many of the jailed activists have complained of poor conditions in prison and torture at the hands of the authorities. According to other activists and relatives of those who have been jailed, many of them have not been allowed to see their lawyers, while hearings in their cases have been held without them.

ingush picket-3“Free Bagaudin Hautiyev, lawyer and chair of the Ingushetia Youth Organization Coordinating Committee!”

One of the most high-profile cases is that of political activist Zarifa Sautiyeva, who has been charged with violence against police officers. She has been jailed since July, and recently a court extended her term in custody until December 11, 2019. Activist Hava Hazbiyeva, who took part in the picket, believes many of the arrests are unlawful.

“Zarifa, for example, was just doing her job by broadcasting from the protest rallies. The charges against her have nothing to do with the truth. Besides, she has been constantly moved from place to place without explanation. Among the jailed activists are two elderly men, Ahmed Barakhoyev, an Ingush elder, and Malsag Uzhakhov, chairman of the Council of Teips of the Ingush People. Malsag has severe asthma and diabetes, so being in jail is real torture for him. He constantly suffers from elevated blood pressure and nausea, and he cannot breathe when he is transferred from one remand prison to another. However, we don’t observe any signs of an active investigation. The authorities are seemingly just playing dirty tricks,” she said.

Today’s crisis actually has deep roots, according to picketer Asan Mumji.

In the twentieth century, the Ingush were subjected to severe repression, something that is remembered in nearly every Ingush family. People were then murdered by the thousands, but the current actions of the authorities are also a real crackdown. The Ingush people do not want to give up their land for any reason. Putin has not retreated, but nor have the people. By the way, the rumors that the Ingush want to join Georgia are a wild provocation. People have been acting within the law, wanting to right the wrong that has been done to them.”

All photos courtesy of Gorod 812. Translated by the Russian Reader

Two Babushkas

yemelyanovValentina Fyodorovna and Tamara Andreyevna, the great-grandmother and grandmother of Vladimir Yemelyanov, recently charged in the so-called Moscow case. Photo courtesy of Current Time

The Two Grandmothers of a Prisoner in the Moscow Case: How Vladimir Yemelyanov’s Family Gets On
Yevgenia Kotlyar
Current Time
October 18, 2019

Tamara Andreyevna, the grandmother of a new defendant in the so-called Moscow case, Vladimir Yemelyanov, comes home from the hospital.  She shows me her grandson’s room, which police searched on October 14. They arrived early, at 5:30 in the morning.

The woman cries.

“We just didn’t expect any of this. It would be another if he had behaved like a hooligan or something,” she says.

Tamara Andreyevna shows me her grandson’s desk, books, and game console. She says the security forces were looking for leaflets but only confiscated his personal diary.

“They came in here. The guards stood out there, while those guys turned this entire desk upside down. They rifled through everything. They were looking for leaflets or something else but found nothing. They wanted to confiscate the computer, but then changed their minds,” she recounts.

Vladimir was taken away after the search. On October 16, a court remanded him in custody for, allegedly, grabbing a Russian National Guardsman. In this footage, Yemelyanov, who is wearing a pink t-shirt, tries to pull a Russian National Guardsman away from the people at whom he is swinging his baton.

Vladimir lived in a modest apartment in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi with his grandmother, Tamara Andreyevna, aged 74, and his great-grandmother, Valentina Fyodorovna, aged 92. The women say Vova helped them around the house by buying groceries and peeling potatoes. In his free time, he played computer games.

“He’s very secretive. He’s shy about telling you things. Other people tell you everything, but not him. He’s quiet, he kept everything to himself. He worked every day. I don’t know about his work, I didn’t ask him where he worked. He gave us money for the bills and food, he wasn’t a dependant,” says Tamara Andreyevna.

According to her, she raised her grandson from birth because his mother abandoned him in the maternity hospital. They didn’t know the father.

She shows me old photographs.

“Here’s Vovka when he was little,” she says. “She had him out of wedlock. He’s a half-breed, a Turk.”

Vova was a quiet young man. He finished eleven grades at school, then went to a vocational college, but then dropped out of university, she says. Tamara Andreyevna knew nothing about his going to protest rallies, although they occasionally spoke about politics.

“I didn’t even know there was a rally. I don’t watch the news, I’m not interested, but he went looking for the truth. I told him, ‘Vova, you won’t prove anything to anyone.’ He always upset about how people lived. On that count he was fair. Only no one has any use for this,’ says Tamara Andreyevna.

The family is uneasy with Vladimir at home: his great-grandmother is deaf, has poor eyesight, and has a hard time walking. When Tamara Andreyevna was in the hospital, she lost her medicine.

“Tamara, my eye medicine fell in there. I pulled everything out, but I can’t get in there,” the old woman complains.

Vladimir Yemelyanov faces up to five years in prison. He has been charging with assaulting a police officer. He pleaded not guilty.

“I think I cheered Grandma up. I said, ‘Mom, they said he’ll be in there until December 14, for two months.’ She said, ‘Oh, yeah? I’ll probably live to see the day.’ I bawled the whole way home,” Tamara Andreyevna says.

Vova’s great-grandmother, Valentina Fyodorovna, is certain her great-grandson will come home on December 14 when his two months in remand prison is over.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Free Everyone!”: Five More Men Arrested and Charged in Moscow Case

What We Know About the New Defendants in the Moscow Case: Basmanny District Court Remands Four of Them in Custody for Two Months
Vedomosti
October 16, 2019

mosdelo-1Andrei Barshay, 21 years old, a student at Moscow Aviation Institute. Volunteer teacher at the institute’s physics and math magnet school. Pleaded not guilty to charges of using force against a police officer. Investigators claim Barshay ran at a Russian National Guardsman and pushed him in the back, causing him pain, during the July 27 protest rally in Moscow. Photo by Yevgeny Feldman. Courtesy of Vedomosti. 

mosdelo-2Vladimir Yemelyanov, 27 years old. Lives in Mytishchi and works as a store merchandiser. Pleaded not guilty to charges of using force against a police officer. Until his arrest, he took care of his 74-year-old grandmother and 91-year-old great-grandmother. Investigators claim he grabbed a Russian National Guardsman by the uniform and pulled him over, making it impossible for him to move and causing him physical pain. Photo by Andrei Vasiliev. Courtesy of TASS and Vedomosti

mosdelo-3Maxim Martintsov, 27 years old, laboratory worker. Pleaded not guilty to charges of using force against a police officer. Lives in Moscow but family lives in Bryansk Region. Until his arrest, he financially supported his elderly grandmother and grandfather. Investigators claim that, during the July 27 protest rally, he was on Rozhdestvenka Street, where he and Yegor Lesnykh attacked a Russian National Guardsman and threw him on the pavement. Photo by Andrei Vasiliev. Courtesy of TASS and Vedomosti

mosdelo=4Yegor Lesnykh, 34 years old, native of Volzhsky, lives in Moscow. Works as a self-employed renovator. Pleaded not guilty to charges of using force against a police officer. Investigators claim that, during the July 27 protest rally, he and Maxim Martintsov threw a Russian National Guardsman on the pavement. In addition, Lesnykh, allegedly, kicked another law enforcement officer in the lower right part of his back. Photo by Andrei Vasiliev. Courtesy of TASS and Vedomosti

mosdelo-5Alexander Mylnikov, 34 years old. Lives in the South Butovo district of Moscow, and is employed as a courier. Pleaded not guilty. Investigators asked the court to put Mylnikov under house arrest. The father of three young children, he supports them and his spouse. Investigators claim that, during the July 27 protest rally, he, Yegor Lesnykh, and Maxim Martintsov threw a riot policeman on the ground. Photo by Andrei Vasiliev. Courtesy of TASS and Vedomosti

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the 2019 Russian regional elections and the fallout from them, including the ongoing crackdowns against opposition politicians and rank-and-file protesters.

 

Yegor Galkin: “You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”

“You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”: How a Barnaul Resident Took Charge of the City’s Grassroots Urban Activist Group
Alexandra Romantsova
Takie Dela
October 17, 2019

In a series of monologues entitled “Close to the Heart,” Takie Dela hands the microphone to residents of Russia’s regions whose personal involvement and willingness to act are gradually changing their local communities. The star of our second installment is Barnaul resident Yegor Galkin, head of Spire, a local grassroots group.

How do I want my city to look? How can I change the space in which I live? Five years ago, a schoolboy from Barnaul sought answers to these questions, learned about the work of Spire, and became interested in urban planning.

galkinYegor Galkin. Photo courtesy of Mr. Galkin and Takie Dela

Spire, a grassroots group, emerged in 2013 amid the popularization of urban planning in Russia. Its founder, Sergei Ustinov, is a well-known big data expert: he created a nation-wide map of road accidents in Russia. In 2013, the group established its presence on social networks and started doing walks in the city and making photographs. I joined the project in 2014, which was when we launched a map of grassroots proposals in Barnaul. This has been our group’s main focus.

We developed a large interactive map of Barnaul where any resident could leave his or her proposal for beautifying and improving the city. Any user could vote these proposals up or down. Based on the results of the voting, we would send requests to the authorities. We wanted to interact directly with Barnaul city hall and the government of the Altai Territory, but we were ignored. We had over 500 proposals, for which 3,000 votes were cast on our website. Those were huge numbers for Barnaul. After a while, some of the proposals were implemented. This was due to our written requests, but also because some of them were too obvious to ignore.

We still are not in a direct dialogue with officials. Instead, we have learned how to work through the media: they hear us and react. If we have found an irregularity, they try to fix it. For example, the city had a contract for erecting fences, but they were not erected, although they existed on paper. After we wrote about this, the fences went up the next day. I am against fences, but an irregularity is an irregularity.

Our work can be divided into several categories: planning (like the map of grassroots proposals), fighting for green areas, work on the city’s master plan, and daily work by experts, including environmentalists and urban activists. They find irregularities in the city’s improvement and road repair projects, check them against the official paperwork, and publish their findings. This is all done for free: we have no funding. Our desire to change the city and our initiative drive everything we do.

When urbanism first came to Russia,  people didn’t know what it was and how it could improve their lives. When they went to Europe, people sensed things could be different in Russia. We quickly found a common language with people like this. We would tell them what we could do in Barnaul to make life more comfortable, such as introducing dedicated bus and bike lanes and improving public transport.

At first, many people had a hostile reaction to these ideas. They said we needed to expand roads to accommodate more cars. Every group that tackles urban problems is confronted with this reaction. When we started talking about public spaces, however, we found lots of new allies.

Everything always begins with the individual: how would I like to see the city? Personal comfort is important. That was why it captivated me. I began studying the subject, reading a lot and looking at different proposals and projects. Now it is a scholarly interest because I am studying political science. Urban planning and urban reform are impossible without politics. I am curious about the evolution of cities, demographic processes, and gentrification’s impact on urban development. I’m a grassroots urban activist and I want the city to be better.

We have been fighting for Barnaul’s green areas. In 2015, we did our first big project about city parks, which dealt with their current state. While everyone in Moscow knew what was happening in the city’s parks, people in Barnaul didn’t know anything. In 2016, we did the project again, this time in cooperation with a local news website and professional photographers. We made a video using quadcopters. And we spelled out the problem: nobody was taking care of the parks. Some of them had been subjected to deforestation, while others were so badly neglected it was dangerous to go there.

Barnaul has a population of 700,000, and there used to be six city parks. Now there is one official park that is still open. The other parks lost their official status and no one has been managing them. This is a big problem for Barnaul. We are surrounded by old-growth forests, but there are few green spaces in the city itself.

The bulk of the people who subscribe to our group’s social media pages signed on when we raised these issues. People voiced their support and willingness to engage in joint action. Half of Emerald Park was logged, sparking a lively protest over the fact that the city’s green areas were neglected. Whereas there had been no reaction from the authorities in 2015–2016, the issue has finally been raised at the regional level in 2019. Recently, we had a round table at the Altai Territory Legislative Assembly on the topic of green areas in the city.

We raise the hot-button issues in Barnaul. If they are written about, people know about them, and city officials have to react. Our experts are so good that when city hall officials hear their names they freak out. All of the publications posted on our social media pages are read by the prosecutor’s office and the investigative agencies. If there are irregularities, they conduct inquiries.

We have now been trying to establish relations with the district councils. We are getting ready to present our draft project for a park area, a project we did in keeping with all the canons of urban planning. We did surveys of the area in summer, autumn, winter, and spring, as well as research on how people navigate parks. The project for this park will soon be open to feedback from any and all residents of Barnaul. I think it will be interesting and beneficial. I don’t recall that a grassroots undertaking like this has ever been implemented in the regions.

Judging by polls, people want to see quality. The canons of urbanism and notions of proper improvements to amenities can be captured in the phrase “quality infrastructure,” meaning infrastructure that is sound, convenient, comfortable, and safe. People have the same idea: they want to live in a safe and pleasant green space. There is popular demand for quality urban improvements.

An important thought for all grassroots groups is that you need to do what you do and do it well. If you see a problem you need to make sense of it and talk about it. You have to recruit experts and not be afraid of communicating with the authorities, of building a dialogue with regional parliamentarians, city councilors, and district councilors so everyone has a stake in solving the problem. You have to voice your proposals and, most importantly, spark the interest of groups that can impact decision-making. Merchants, authorities, city councilors, political parties: you need to interact with everyone. An urban activist is a person who thrives on interaction and dialogue.

Translated by the Russian Reader