Ivan Davydov: A Poor Excuse for a Belarus

800px-Europe-Belarus.svgHow many Belaruses would fit into Mother Russia? Eighty-three! And yet, as Ivan Davydov argues, the current Russian regime is a “failed police state,” unlike the Belarusian regime. Neither fish nor fowl (although most certainly foul), Putin and his vassals have tanked their country’s economy while also signally failing to save people’s lives, nor have they been able to conjure away the coronavirus pandemic (rhetorically, if not in reality) as successfully as their frenemy the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

A Poor Excuse for a Belarus: The Collapse of Vladimir Putin’s Police State
Ivan Davydov
Republic
May 14, 2020

My apartment looks onto the Yauza River and the park on the shore. In peacetime, there are crowds of people strolling there when the weather is good. And lots of shishkebabers, who are famously to blame for all our troubles.

For more than a month now, I have been locked up like all law–abiding Russians, making only occasional trips out of the house on urgent business. I watch the world mostly from my balcony, and my world has narrowed to the size of this selfsame park.

Going to parks has been prohibited in Moscow by a special decree of the city’s all-powerful mayor. In parks, the coronavirus is particularly brutal, tracking down rare passersby, lonely morning jogging enthusiasts, and mothers with children, attacking and devouring them. On construction sites, on the contrary, the virus is weak and cowardly: it is afraid of construction workers, whom it does not touch.

Parks are a different matter.

The irresponsible residents of my neighborhood would still go to the park. Not in droves, as was the case before, no. They would go in small groups, as families, apparently. Joggers occasionally popped up, and bicyclists flashed by. Children made their way to the playgrounds (which were also closed, of course). In other words, they violated the mayor’s wise orders.

To put a stop to this unbridled lawlessness, police patrols would come to the park. The guardians of law and order would park their car on a hillock and stand around smoking and watching people walking. Once, when it was particularly cold, wet snow was pouring down, and only a lone madman was sitting on a bench, they went up to the madman and forced him to sign some papers.

And once they went down to the park and fed the ducks, pointedly ignoring the people walking around, before returning to their car. Oh yes, and a couple of times they shouted into a megaphone about the fact that going to parks was temporarily prohibited, and that citizens should look out for themselves and their loved ones.

I will explain later what this pastoral sketch was all about, but in the meantime let us look through the window at our neighbor to the west. It is a fascinating story.

A Wonderful Neighbor
While the rest of the world has been in quarantine, Alexander Lukashenko has gained fame as a maestro of fiery speeches and colorful aphorisms. He has suggested treating the coronavirus with vodka, a bath, and field work. He has advised Belarusians who have lost their jobs to find a job and get to work. (It’s brilliant, really, and simple, like all brilliant solutions.) He advised overly light-minded men to be patient and not to mix with other men’s women for a while. Lukashenko is a president with real gusto, not a president who talks about ancient battles with the Polovtsy from his bunker.

To the frenzied delight of Russian jingoists, Lukashenko held a parade on May 9 [Victory Day], attracting crowds of people, including the elderly. And the very elderly—veterans, in fact. But that was only half the trouble. He also said that after the parade, the statistics on the incidence of pneumonia had gone down. He confessed (he’s an honest man) that he had feared an increase in the incidence of pneumonia, but it didn’t happen. “Well, what did we end up with? There has been a significant reduction in pneumonia in Minsk: it dropped by half yesterday. And I made the sign of the cross yesterday: God grant that we will continue giving hell to pneumonia like this.” Fresh air, he said, helps a lot.

And if Lukashenko had wanted, he could have said that people who died from the coronavirus had begun resurrecting after the parade. (As of May 12, according to the official statistics, 142 people in Belarus had died from the coronavirus.) Why? Because he can, that’s why. He can stamp out any protest. He can ignore the reports from the doctors.

It’s not even the Swedish model. The Swedish model, whose success is a matter of debate (a debate we will have later) stipulates that big public events not be held, and citizens behave responsibly. The Belarusian model assumes that there are no citizens. There is a populace that absolutely obeys the decisions of the supreme leader. Happily for us, the new virus is not the medieval black death: clearly, the country will not die off if you purposely avoid imposing a quarantine in order to save the economy. The Belarusian president made his choice by deliberately deciding to sacrifice a certain (non-essential) number of inhabitants, who cannot be saved by vodka or field work.

And after Vladimir Putin announced a “phased exit” from the semi-imposed non-quarantine, Lukashenko condescendingly praised his junior comrade, saying that Russia had followed the Belarusian path.

The Russian Miracle
But in fact, Russia has its own special path. The “non-working weeks” battered the economy considerably, but it is questionable whether they were able to protect residents. When the quarantine was imposed, there were very few cases. When the government started lifting the quarantine, Russia shot up to second place worldwide in the number of infected people.

Discussing the reliability of Russian statistics is a risky business: nowadays, the prosecutor’s office does not see much difference between well-founded criticism and “spreading fake news” about the coronavirus. But we will not make any arguments, we will just note what respected officials and politicians have been saying.

On May 12, Anna Popova, the head of [Russian federal consumer watchdog] Rospotrebnadzor, said that 28.4% of people identified in Russia as infected with the coronavirus were hospitalized. At the time, the total number of people identified as infected was around 230,000; a simple mathematical calculation gives us approximately 65,000 people in hospitals. (In fact, the real figure is another ten thousand less, since we are not taking into account the people who have recovered). But the next day, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said at a cabinet meeting that there were more than 100,000 Russians hospitalized with the coronavirus. You would agree that all this makes it seem that our government is surprisingly footless and fancy-free with statistics, even with their own official statistics, with statistics intended for the public.

On May 13, the Moscow Health Department reported that 60% of those who died with a diagnosed coronavirus had not been included in the coronavirus fatality statistics for capital, because they had died from “obvious alternative causes.” The governor of Petersburg also reported that there had been a spike in the incidence of pneumonia in the city: the indicators were “five and a half times higher than the average.” Since the first of March, 694 residents of Petersburg have died from pneumonia, and 63 from the coronavirus.

Perhaps this is the reason for the Russian miracle of rather low mortality rates from the coronavirus infection. Especially if you remember that Russia is not only made up of capital districts and metropolitan areas, that in the regions, as a rule, all or almost all media outlets are controlled by the local administrations, and it is even easier for them to turn statistics from an enemy into an ally.

And why did the head honcho announce the end of the “non-working weeks”? Well, it’s not so hard to turn a terrible virus into a non-scary one. It’s like with elections: what matters is not what really happened, but who counts the votes and how they count them.

Amulets for MPs
But what’s really going on? In fact, our high officials are afraid, and they are trying to protect themselves by turning the nightmare into a joke and not standing on ceremony with the public. Saving your own life is more important than standing on ceremony.

On May 13, Igor Molyakov, an MP from A Just Russia, asked State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin why some of their colleagues were coming to sessions of parliament not wearing their MP pins, as required by law, but wearing quite different pins featuring a white cross on a black background. Molyakov added that he was a dog breeder himself and would like to know whether it would be possible for him to wear the pin of his kennel club instead of the Russian tricolor on his lapel.

Volodin’s answer, I hope, will go down in the annals: “Let’s ask the people who are wearing these pins, but as far as my colleagues have told me, they are special devices for repelling the virus.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if, one day soon, MPs ran naked around the State Duma building on Okhotny Ryad banging on pots: this method of fighting pestilence has been described by anthropologists. And we can only pray that no one tells them that fresh human flesh, for example, staves off the virus. They would believe them.

Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press Secretary, has fallen ill. And now he remembers regretfully the “virus blocker” that he wore and then stopped wearing after he was mocked in the press.

Here it is important to understand that the people wearing the miracle badges and warding off the virus with life-giving white crosses are the same people who explain why “phasing out restrictions” at the peak of the epidemic is justified, and make decisions that affect our lives.

Of course, they themselves get sick and get infected, but let’s not forget that we will be treated in slightly different hospitals, if push comes to shove.

It’s hard to stop. For dessert we have another intellectual delicacy, this time from Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov. He has explained why masks cannot be distributed for free in the city during the mandatory mask regime: “Yesterday, we adopted a resolution not to give out free masks, but to hand out money. There are a lot of people in our city, both visitors and non-visitors, and people from other regions. How should we should distribute these masks? We should make you show your passport and ask where you are registered.”

The virus, you understand, asks to see people’s residence permits and attacks only native Petersburgers. It presents no danger to out-of-towners and migrant workers, nor can they themselves infect anyone. Governor Beglov is in charge of Russia’s second largest city, the home to millions of people and a “pneumonia outbreak” that, of course, has nothing to do with the coronavirus.

By the way, Beglov’s “money” amounts to 800 rubles [approx. 10 euros] for pensioners and members of large families to buy masks.

A Failed Police State
But let’s go back to my park. I started with it to illustrate the fact that the police state in Russia has failed. There has been a lot of overkill, and people all over Russia have been pretty annoyed, but the police have been unable to ensure compliance with the imposed restrictions. They are good at breaking up peaceful protest rallies, but bad at everything else.

The government had a choice. It could have engaged the citizenry in dialogue, rejected intimidation in favor of education, sought compromises where possible, and, of course, provided direct financial assistance to those forced to stay at home. It could have made Russia’s citizens its allies instead of making them the targets of an incoherent police dragnet. To do this, however, it would have had to see the populace as citizens, but we have a big problem with this sort of thing in Russia.

The government could have done it, but it was impossible—forbidden—for the government to do it.

It would have been possible to issue endless prohibitions of varying degrees of savagery and to force the population to comply with them using an old and proven argument—the police billy club. But that didn’t work out either. It turns out that there is no police state in these parts. There is a useless system of governance that starts to crumble at the first serious test. Ensconced in his bunker, the head honcho denounces the immorality of the Spartans, while his subordinates are decked out in life-saving amulets, expecting that by summer everything will have somehow worked itself out.

The reason they terminated the “non-working weeks” is that they simply could not enforce the lockdown measures. And they decided to rescue the economy since they had been unable to save people. But there was a tiny twist: they did this only after after the economy had been dealt a serious blow.

The Russian state makes war on Russian citizens as if they were the main threat when, in fact, there are no real threats to it, but it simply vanishes when there is a real threat. This is exactly what Putin has built over the last twenty years. This is the whole “Russian federal system”—terrifying, unsinkable, tending to totalitarianism. It’s a poor excuse for a Belarus. It’s a slightly rotten Belarus.

Take care of yourselves and help each other. No one else is going to help us.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia’s Most Dangerous Shaman

shamanAlexander Gabyshev. Photo by Andrei Zatirko. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Riot Police Storm House of Alexander Gabyshev, Yakut Shaman Who Promised to Exorcise Putin
Radio Svoboda
May 12, 2020

Riot police have detained Alexander Gabyshev, the Yakut shaman who last year promised to exorcise Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin, and taken him to a mental hospital, according to MBKh Media, citing Alexei Pryanishnikov, the coordinator of Pravozashchita Otkrytki [Open Russia’s human rights program].

According to the human rights activist, at least twenty special forces officers had stormed the shaman’s house in Yakutsk. The reason for his arrest is unknown. Earlier in the day, Gabyshev had been visited several times by people who presented themselves as medical professionals, and asked to test him for the coronavirus. Two of Gabyshev’s supporters were detained along with him for violating self-isolation rules.

Gabyshev gained notoriety in the spring of 2019, when he set off on foot to Moscow to perform an exorcism ritual to force Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin.

___________________________________

 

A Shaman for Putin: What Siberians Are Telling Gabyshev on His Way to Moscow, Radio Svoboda, September 12, 2019. Yakut shaman Alexander Gabyshev believes that Vladimir Putin is the “spawn of dark forces,” so he set off on foot to Moscow to “exorcise” him. The shaman began the journey alone, but soon followers began to join him. In Chita, he spoke to a large rally. Buryatia was the next region on Gabyshev’s journey: mass protests started in Ulan-Ude after his supporters were arrested. Gabyshev planned to take two years to get to Moscow so he could unhurriedly converse with the people along the way. The shaman and his followers moved along the roads, covering an average of twenty kilometers a day, stopping for the night in tents, sometimes at roadside motels. Local residents and passing people went to talk to Gabyshev, taking pictures, and helping with food and money.

___________________________________

On September 19 of last year, Gabyshev was detained at the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk Region during an operation involving special forces. He was identified as a suspect in a criminal investigation into alleged instances of “incitement to extremism” and released on his own recognizance. A psychological and psychiatric examination ordered by police investigators found that Gabyshev was mentally incompetent.

Gabyshev subsequently tried to resume his campaign, promising to make another march on Moscow in June.

The criminal case against Gabyshev was suspended for the duration of the epidemic. International human rights organization Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

“‘What sounds like a tale from Russian folklore has become, in today’s Russia, just another act of brutal suppression of human rights,” the organization noted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

BBC Russian Service, From Yakutia to Moscow: A Shaman’s Journey Against Putin, September 24, 2019

Presumption of Guilt

beglovPetersburg Governor Alexander Beglov (in mask, on right) visited the city’s Maternity Hospital No. 9 on May 3. Photo courtesy of Sever.Realii

Beglov Explains Outbreak at Vreden Center Through Failure of Employee to Self-Isolate After Returning from Turkey
Bumaga
May 1, 2020

Speaking on TV channel 78, Governor Alexander Beglov claimed that the source of the coronavirus outbreak at the Vreden Traumatology and Orthopedics Institute in Petersburg was an employee who had returned from Turkey and failed to self-isolate.

“Again, we’re talking about conscientiousness, about people’s other qualities . . . One employee at the Vreden Institute came back from Turkey. By law, he should have stayed home fourteen days in self-isolation. He went out on the fourth day, engaged in certain activities and, consequently, brought the infection into the hospital. And a large number of people were infected, on the order of 150 people. Naturally, the hospital had to be closed,” Beglov said.

Beglov noted that during this time, a large number of patients were discharged and released to other regions of the country, thus “spreading” the coronavirus.

The governor did not directly respond to a question about whether any measures would be taken against the employee who did not self-isolate. “The law stipulates criminal liability. We have already opened five criminal cases. This is no a joke, ” Beglov said. The governor also cited the closure of three maternity hospitals where women in labor “forgot to warn” staff about their recent trips.

The Vreden Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedics has been closed for quarantine since April 9 due to the coronavirus. Doctors reported a lack of personal protective equipment. There is no official information about the number of cases, but according to media reports, sixty out of 260 employees tested positive. TASS reports that 300 people at the hospital have been infected.

[. . .]

fontankaPhoto by Mikhail Ognev. Courtesy of Fontanka

Presumption of Guilt: Petersburg Doctors Warned They Should Die from the Coronavirus Correctly
Alexander Yermakov
Fontanka
May 1, 2020

Not all doctors infected with COVID-19 will receive financial compensation from the city. The municipal public health committee has made it possible to shift responsibility to health workers and thus save the municipal government money.

The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] has given head physicians at the city’s hospitals the right to decide whether health professionals were “correctly” infected with the coronavirus or took ill due to their own negligence. Occupation health and safety experts see this as an acute conflict of interests and predict a wave of refusals to make cash payments to people whom President Putin has compared to soldiers fighting on the front line.

The Smolny decided two weeks ago on the amount of lump-sum payments to health professionals who have suffered while treating patients with COVID-19. The death of a hospital or ambulance employee has been valued at one million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros]; disability, at 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,000 euros]; and infection with no particular health consequences, at 300,000 rubles [approx. 3,700 euros]. Thirty million rubles [approx. 368,000 euros] have been allocated for this purpose. The small matter of outlining the procedure for determining whether a health professional was a victim of the virus remained. The task was assigned to the city’s public health committee.

While the committee has been designing this procedure, Petersburg health professionals began contracting the coronavirus in large numbers and dying. As of April 30, around 250 cases of COVID-19 had been registered among the city’s doctors, paramedics, and orderlies.  If each of these cases had resulted in compensation, Smolny’s thirty-million-ruble limit would now have been surpassed: eight million rubles would have been paid to the families of the dead, and 75 million rubles to infected health professionals [for a total of approx. 981,000 euros].

A few days ago, a draft order appeared on the public health committee’s website, establishing the procedure for recognizing a medical worker as a victim. The document indicated that the families of those who died with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 would automatically receive payments.

On Friday, April 30, the final version of the document was published on the Smolny’s website. A significant addition has been made to it. The death certificate must cite the novel coronavirus infection as the cause of the medical worker’s death. If the medical worker died of concomitant diseases, their family cannot claim compensation. As cynical as it might sound, the family of Sergei Beloshitsky, an emergency room anesthesiologist at the Alexander Hospital, would not have received the million rubles promised by Governor Beglov had Beloshitsky died after April 30. The death certificate lists pneumonia-induced cardiopulmonary failure as his cause of death.

“This item [on the exact cause of death] was added at the approval stage of the draft municipal government decree ‘On the procedure and conditions for providing lump-sum payments to injured medical workers’; it is a clarification,” Fontanka was informed by the public health committee.

According to the committee’s order, payment to infected health professionals is almost entirely contingent on the opinion of the head physician at the institution where the person works.

Medical workers must append a whole stack of documents to the compensation application, including—and this will be the main obstacle to receiving money—a “certification of injury caused by rendering assistance to sick patients.”

For a medical worker to obtain this certification, he or she will be subjected to an investigation carried out by a commission convened at the hospital where the infected person works. The commission will include the hospital’s deputy head physician, the worker’s immediate supervisor (for example, a department head), someone from the hospital’s occupational health and safety office, and a trade union member.

The hospital’s head physician will have to approve (or deny) the certification of injury.

The investigation must not merely confirm or deny that the health worker contracted the coronavirus in the line of duty (and not in the subway), but also name a specific factor, for example, violation of sanitary regulations, working conditions, failure of ventilation systems, or lack of personal protective equipment. In addition, the commission has the power to determine in percentages the degree of the medical worker’s own liability.

For example, on April 30, Sergei Sayapin, an emergency room anesthesiologist at the Pokrovskaya Hospital, filed an application to be certified injured as a result of having treated a patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Sayapin was infected and underwent treatment at the Botkin Infectious Disease Hospital.

The Pokrovskaya Hospital will investigate this claim. The investigation’s findings will be approved (or denied) by the head physician, Marina Bakholdina. Sayapin claims that he was infected due to a lack of personal protective equipment, which was allegedly not provided by Bakholdina. In order for Sayapin to be entitled to compensation in the amount of 300,000 rubles, his hospital’s head physician must declare herself guilty.

“No hospital director in their right mind will take responsibility and sign a certificate recognizing their employee as a victim,” said Oleg Shvalev, an occupational therapist and associate professor of occupational medicine at the Mechnikov Northwestern State Medical University. “Under the usual procedure for certifying occupational illnesses and injuries, an independent commission headed by an official from Rospotrebnadzor runs the investigation.”

It is obvious that head physicians are not interested in recognizing medical workers as victims. Rostrud (the Russian Federal Labor and Employment Service) has already proposed deeming each case of coronavirus infection an acute occupational illness, running an investigation (involving Rospotrebnadzor), and holding the management of medical institutions accountable. It is entirely possible that while a hospital’s own commission could deem individual medical workers guilty of their own infections (thus depriving them of the right to compensation from the Smolny), the social security disability assessment board would find the hospital liable.

A source at city hall told Fontanka that the city had already clearly decided on its method for counting COVID-19 cases and did not plan to change it.

“Our statistics include people who died from covid, not with covid,” the official said. “There are dozens of instances when patients with confirmed cases of the coronavirus have had cancer, heart failure, or pneumonia listed as their cause of death. The same method will be applied to medical professionals.”

The Petersburg public health committee confirmed that the death of every medical worker would be investigated by the commission for the analysis of deaths from influenza and severe forms of other SARS, including COVID-19. Only if the death certificate lists the cause of death as infection from the novel coronavirus will families of the deceased be eligible for compensation.”

Fontanka asked the Moscow health department how they keep their statistics. All patients with a positive test result for the novel coronavirus infection and a confirmed diagnosis of pneumonia are counted in Moscow. “The cause of death could be another concomitant disease, but it does not matter for our statistics,” an official at the department added.

According to the head of the working group on combating the coronavirus, Yevgeny Shlyakhto, director of the Almazov Medical Center, only half of the healthcare professionals in Petersburg who have fallen ill with COVID-19 contracted it directly through their work. Most likely, infected doctors working in non-specialized hospitals will not automatically be covered under the Smolny’s compensation order.

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

Hard to Be a God

Moscow City Duma Deputy Besedina Ruled Out of Order for Proposing Putin Officially Be Called “God” and “Bright Star”
Mediazona
March 12, 2020

Darya Besedina, a deputy of the Moscow City Duma from the Yabloko faction, was ruled out of order after proposing fifty amendments to a draft resolution on amendments to the Russian Constitution. The session was broadcast on the Moscow City Duma’s YouTube channel.

 

Footage of Darya Besedina addressing the Moscow City Duma, followed by a brief interview with Besedina on Radio Svoboda’s  Current Time program.

“I believe that the text of the submitted amendments contains deliberately false information,” said Moscow City Duma Speaker Alexey Shaposhnikov, without specifying what information he had in mind.

Besedina’s fifty amendments included suggestions to insert the words “given that Putin is the apostle of national unity” and “noting that in future it will be necessary to add to the Constitution that a family is a sacred union between a man and a woman and Putin” before the phrase “the Moscow City Duma resolves.” Besedina also suggested inserting the phrases “faith in the God Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin” and “V.V. Putin is a Bright Star.”

 

Besedina posted the text of her proposed amendments on Twitter

The deputies decided to vote on the entire set of amendments rather than considering each one separately. Besedina’s proposed amendments were thus rejected since only three deputies voted for them, including Besedina herself. Soon thereafter the Moscow City Duma approved the amendments to the Russian Constitution itself.

obnulis

Besedina came to the session wearing a t-shirt embossed with the slogan “Zero Out (Fuсked in the Head)”* and harshly criticized the new amendments to the Russian Constitution. Moscow City Duma Deputy Chair Stepan Orlov said her speech was an “assault” and asked the regulations committee to analyze it for possible slander. Deputy Elena Nikolayeva called on Besedina to resign her seat.

The previous day, the Russian State Duma approved an amendment to the Constitution that would give Vladimir Putin the right to seek two more presidential terms.

* The umlauted ö on Besedina’s shirt suggests that obnulis’ (“zero out”) should also be read as ëbnulis’ (“they’re fucked in the head,” “they hit themselves hard on the head”).

Photo courtesy of Medialeaks. Translated by the Russian Reader

Don’t Protest Here

miting
Petersburg historic preservationists gathering for a “sanctioned” protest near the Sports and Concert Complex (SKK), a late-Soviet era landmark in southern Petersburg that recently collapsed while being illegally dismantled, killing one worker. Photo by Sergei Yermokhin. Courtesy of Delovoi Peterburg

Don’t Rally Here: It Will Be More Difficult for Petersburg’s Historic Preservationists to Protest
Svyatoslav Afonkin
Delovoi Peterburg
March 11, 2020

The Petersburg Legislative Assembly is amending the city’s law on protest rallies. The rules for holding protests have become more complicated, especially for historic preservationists.

The city parliament passed in the second reading a new redaction of the law on protest rallies. Thanks to amendments introduced by the parliamentary majority, the minimum number of “Hyde Parks” [locations where it is legal to have public protests] has been reduced from eight, as stipulated in the first redaction of the draft law, to four. Moreover, the parliament’s legislative committee added another restriction: a ban on public events outside dilapidated buildings in danger of collapsing.

Several sites designated as “dangerous” have inflamed the passions of historic preservationists in recent months. The roof on the Petersburg Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) was deemed dangerous. The Basevich tenement building on the Petrograd Side, which has been threatened with demolition, is also considered dangerous. Protest rallies have recently taken place on more than one occasion at both sites. The resettled houses on Telezhnaya Street, which the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] wants to sell, have also been the focus of public attention once again.

Drone footage of the collapse of the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg in January 2020. Courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Alexei Kovalyov, leader of the Just Russia faction in the legislative assembly and deputy chair of its commission on municipal facilities, urban planning, and land issues, argues that new language in the bill appeared for a reason.

“Of course this will be an obstacle for historic preservationists. Our faction opposed these cretinous amendments. There is no doubt that this is why the new norm was introduced. It was done deliberately,” Kovalyov told DP.

Anna Kapitonova, a member of the presidium of the Petersburg branch of VOOPIiK [Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Landmarks], noted that the amendments could make life more difficult for protest organizers: small protest rallies, such as a series of solo pickets, sometimes take place right on the sidewalks, after all. According to Kapitonova, the authorities were also able earlier to prevent even solo pickets on the pretext that scheduled maintenance or construction work was taking place nearby.

“Last year, I held a solo picket at the entrance to the Smolny. After a while, an official with the law enforcement committee came out of the building. Although the Smolny is hardly a dangerous site, scheduled maintenance of the facade was underway over fifty meters from my picket. But the official told me it was dangerous for me to be there, and asked me to move away,” Kapitonova said.

Denis Chetyrbok, head of the legislative assembly’s legislative committee, told DP that the amendments were introduced in connection with a Constitutional Court ruling, and parliamentarians had no other motives.

“If there is a dangerous building that might collapse located next to the place indicated in the [protest rally] application, then it will be difficult to secure approval for a public event,” Chetyrbok confirmed.

Translated by the Russian Reader

They Got Crazy Prophylactics

Petersburg Schools Required to Do “Prophylactic Work” to Prevent Pupils from Attending Nemtsov Memorial Rallies
Mediazona
February 28, 2020

The St. Petersburg Education Committee has ordered schools to do “prophylactic work” to prevent pupils from participating in “unauthorized” rallies on February 29. The letter sent to school administrators was published on the Telegram channel Yabloko Human Rights in Petersburg.

The letter was marked “Urgent!” Yelena Spasskaya, the committee’s deputy head, pointed out that the request to schools was prompted by a letter they had received from Viktor Borisenko, deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s Petersburg and Leningrad Region office.

On February 29, as in previous years, events in memory of slain politician Boris Nemtsov will take place in a number of Russian cities.

On February 25, Petersburg authorities refused to authorize a memorial march, citing as one of the reasons its supposed ignorance of the abbreviation “RF” (“Russian Federation”).

Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed on February 27, 2015, on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin in Moscow. After a jury rendered its verdict, the alleged killer, Zaur Dadayev, was sentenced to twenty years in a maximum security prison. The remaining defendants received sentences ranging from eleven to nineteen years in prison. The people who ordered the killing have not yet been found.

87952337_10207112861577322_8619842742794584064_o“Schools and Hospitals Instead of Bombs and Missiles. No to War with Ukraine and Syria.” A protester at the Boris Nemtsov memorial march in Moscow, February 29, 2020. Photo by Anatrr Ra

Petersburg Authorities Claim Ignorance of Abbreviation “RF” as Reason for Refusing to Authorize Nemtsov Memorial March
Mediazona
February 25, 2020

Petersburg city hall has claimed that the “ambiguity” of the event’s aims was one of the reasons it refused to authorize a memorial march for slain politician Boris Nemtsov, according to Denis Mikhailov, a member of the march’s organizing committee.

As stated in a letter sent to the committee, the organizers had listed “condemnation of political crackdowns [and] violation of human rights and freedoms” and “demanding the rotation of authorities in the RF” among the aims of the planned march.

“It is not clear what crackdowns and violations of human rights and freedoms are meant; where and how they have been carried out, and by whom,” wrote city officials, adding “There is no such abbreviation [as “RF”] in the current legislation and Constitution of the Russian Federation.”

Earlier, march organizers reported that the city’s committee for law and order had not agreed any of the march routes they proposed. The committee suggested that the opposition activists hold the march not in the city center, but in Udelny Park, located in the city’s north. The opposition activists turned down the suggestion, calling it “unacceptable.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Nine Activists Detained in Petersburg at Picket Against Amendments to Constitution

con-1“Our motto: The constitution is forever, while the president and government [should serve] only 1 (one) term.” Photo by Maksim Klyagin for RFE/RL

Nine Activists Detained in Petersburg at Picket Against Amendments to Constitution
Maksim Klyagin
Radio Svoboda
February 1, 2020

Our correspondent reports that several activists picketing against proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution have been detained on Senate Square in Petersburg.

Several people were detained without explanation. Police pointed at them, after which they were escorted to paddy wagons, one of which has left the scene.

According to OVD Info, the detainees include Vadim Kazak, Yevgeny Musin, and Marina Ken. Kazak was put in a paddy wagon for refusing to sign a warning about [violating] the rules for holding a public event. He has been taken to Police Precinct No. 77. Musin was detained for holding up a placard that read, “Say no to Putin’s amendments to the Constitution!”

con-2Riot police detain picketer on Senate Square in Petersburg. Photo by Maksim Klyagin for RFE/RL

Our correspondent reports that police have also detained activist Alexander Tonkonogov, who was holding a handmade placard on an A4-sized sheet of paper. Yegor Stroyev has also been escorted to a paddy wagon.

One of the picketers, Vladimir Shipitsyn, was detained brutally by police.

“They’re carrying him by the arms and legs, they can’t lift him up. He hit his hand on the ground. They’ve put him on a bench,” our correspondent reported. An ambulance has been called for Shipitsyn, but it has not yet arrived. He has been loaded into a paddy wagon.

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Riot police drag protester Vladimir Shipitsyn by the arms. Photo by Maksim Klyagin for RFE/RL

A total of eight activists were detained. The police stopped arresting people, and the riot squad soon left the scene. The picketers were standing in groups but had no placards.

Update, 3:39 p.m. MBKh Media has reported that activist Andrei Makashov was later detained on Nevsky Prospect. Although he had no placard, he had been among the picketers on Senate Square.

What Happened at the Rally Before the Arrests Began
Indefinite Protest, the movement which organized the rally, had labeled it a “people’s gathering” in defense of constitutional government. People took turns holding up placards and picketing. Around fifty people took part in the event. There were arrests at a similar picket on January 26.

“Even in a concentration camp, you can’t go too far. People rebelled in Stalin’s camps. But we’re not in a concentration camp, and you can’t do like things like that [with the Constitution]. I don’t think we’re active enough, because all those scoundrels and crook have a stranglehold over the country,” said Asan Mumji, one of the picketers.

“We have lived for a very long time in a country not governed by laws. First, there were the monarchs, then some bandits and general secretaries. The first attempt to make Russia a law-based country was in March 2017, when people wanted to create the Constituent Assembly. The second attempt was in the early nineties when the current Constitution was adopted. This doesn’t mean that I fully approve of it, but it works—it protects human rights and ensures the rule of law. It is completely wrong to destroy it, especially given the fact that we have had one man in power for twenty years. The state is not someone’s personal property, it belongs to everyone. It’s the managers who should be changed: they should not be allowed to get comfortable in their posts,” noted picketer Vladimir Shipitsyn.

One of the activists argued that there should be solid grounds for every amendment.

“But there have not been good arguments for any of them: they’re like surprise gifts. The only thing Putin cited was the growing public demand for radical reform. But, in fact, this was nothing other than demagoguery,” she said.

Vladimir Putin announced plans to amend the Russian Constitution during his address to the Federal Assembly on January 15. The president proposed giving the Russian Constitution precedence over international law and enshrining the status and role of the State Council, which Putin has revived. The opposition fears that Putin wants the constitution amended in this way so that when his current term as president runs out in 2024, he can head the State Council and thus remain in power.

Putin has appointed a working group of seventy-five people to draft amendments to the constitution. The group has already proposed one hundred changes to the country’s basic law. A law bill on amending the constitution was unanimously approved by the Russian State Duma in its first reading. The second reading has been scheduled for February 11, but it could be postponed to a later date.

According to a poll conducted by the Levada Center, forty-seven percent of Russians believe that the constitution is being amended to advance Putin’s interests by expanding his powers and allowing him to remain in power beyond 2024.

Thanks to Yevgenia Litvinova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader