Russia’s regions grow increasingly hostile to Mr. Navalny. Alexey Navalny’s campaign coordinator in Barnaul was stabbed by two men when trying to enter the local city hall building to apply for a demonstration permit. Artem Kosaretsky told reporters that he sewed up the wound himself and didn’t need to be hospitalized. Police have detained the attackers, though security guards at city hall reportedly refused to believe that Kosaretsky had been stabbed, attributing his wound to a scratch or even a mosquito bite. Hours earlier, unknown persons in Barnaul reportedly tried to set fire to Navalny’s local campaign headquarters.
(Source: Meduza‘s daily “The Real Russia. Today” e-mail newsletter, June 26, 2017)
How do these incidents, no doubt arranged by the local security forces, prove that “Russia’s regions have grown increasingly hostile” to Navalny?
Everyone needs to make the Supreme Leader happy once in a while, even Russian media “exiled” to Latvia.
P.S. Or is the guy who writes Meduza‘s English summaries increasingly hostile to Navalny? I can easily imagine that’s the case. Just as I can easily imagine that he doesn’t live in Russia, Latvia or anywhere in the vicinity. These days, you can just phone it in, so to speak, while living the good life in Albuquerque or Austin.
“The Regime Is Making New Enemies with These Arrests”
Irina Tumakova Fontanka.ru
June 22, 2017
The arrestees who served ten days in jail after Russia Day shared their plans for the future. They once again included the Field of Mars, and Navalny, and the special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street they had just left.
A new group of prisoners, who had finished serving the jail sentences they were given after Russia Day, was released on Thursday, June 22, from the Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street in central Petersburg. They had been sentenced to ten days in police custody, meaning they had committed violations of “moderate severity.” The die-hard violators, who were sentenced to fifteen days in jail, will not be released until next week. The least malicious violators, who had already been released, greeted their recent cellmates with soda pop, flowers, and rounds of applause. The former prisoners were cheerful and praised the prison food. They came out of jail with the same clear conscience they had when they left the Field of Mars in paddy wagons.
The Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya is a historical landmark. Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and Felix Dzerzhinsky had done time there prior to 1917. In June 2017, people who attended an anti-corruption rally on Russian Independence Day were jailed there.
Around 10,000 people had gone to the Field of Mars on the national holiday. Some people celebrated, while others were arrested. Nearly six hundred hundred left the celebrations in paddy wagons, headed to police precincts round the city. From June 13 on, the city’s district courts worked like a conveyor belt for meting out punishment. The arrestees were sentenced for going to the anti-corruption rally and for failing to obey police orders to leave the rally, i.e., they had violated two articles in the Administrative Offenses Code. The majority of those detained at the event got off with 10,500-ruble fines [approx. 158 euros], but a hundred and fifty people were sent to jail, sentenced to terms of three to fifteen days.
The release of the prisoners whose time in jail ended on June 22 was due to start at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the lunch break ends on Zakharyevskaya. At the very same time, as recorded in their arrest records, exactly 240 hours had passed since the first of the “ten-dayers” had been detained. In fact, they had been detained and hauled to the courts wholesale. But the law enforcement machine was carefully counting off the minutes. One prisoner could be released at 2:30 p.m., but another had to be released at 4:00 p.m.
The Support Group
At a quarter to two, people holding plastic bags form a semi-circle at the exit from the detention center. Two vehicles are cruising nearby. One, emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo, is ready to give the released detainees a lift to the courts, where lawyers are waiting to appeal their fines. The other, emblazoned with the police’s logo, is also ready to take them somewhere.
“I’m going to detain you for jaywalking,” a policeman standing on the sidewalk warns me.
“Please arrest me for jaywalking,” I smile back at him, standing on the same sidewalk. The policeman goes back to his car.
The bags of the people waiting outside the detention center are stuffed with bottles of soda pop. There is also a bunch of pink chrysanthemums. Later, the chrysanthemums will be divided and given to the liberated comrades. Everybody knows who nice it is when people are waiting for you with chrysanthemums when you get out of jail. And you are also really thirsty when you get out. The greeters know all of this from personal experience.
“I was in for five days and got out last week,” says a man standing near the gates of the detention center. “And today the guy I shared a cell with is getting out.”
The man’s name is Oleg Maksakov. He is forty-three. He doesn’t know why he was sentenced to five days, while his young cellmate got ten days. They didn’t know each other before they were jailed, but they made friends in the cell.
“The propaganda has no effect on the people aged eighteen to twenty-five who came to the Field of Mars,” Maksakov says of his “accomplice.” “What matters even more is that they’re not afraid. They’re not downtrodden. They have no experience of the Soviet repression machine. I mean, now they are finding out, of course. But it doesn’t scare them. It only makes them mad.”
Another person who celebrated Russia Day at the Field of Mars approaches us. In terms of age, Pavel Ilatovsky is one of the “non-downtrodden.” You could say he lucked out. He got off with a 10,500-ruble fine and spent two days at police precinct while he waited for his court hearing.
“Yeah, I was lucky,” Ilatovsky agrees. “I had my hearing at the Krasnoye Selo District Court, and the judges were okay. They said right off the bat there was no room in the cells, and so they were going fine us.”
The figures assembled by volunteers back up what Ilatovsky says. The Krasnoye Selo District Court heard 59 cases, and no one was sentenced to time in jail. The Kalinin District Court proved to be the most cruel and greediest. Among the 44 cases it heard, around three fourths (the volunteers don’t know for certain) resulted in fines alone, while the rest resulted in fines and jail time. The same court handed down the harshest sentence: fifteen days in jail plus a 20,000-ruble fine.
Ilatovsky volunteers with the detainees assistance group. The group brought care packages to Zakharyevskaya all ten days and raised money to pay the fines. And now they have brought a vehicle, soda pop, and chrysanthemums. This system of assistance improves with every series of arrests. It has started working like a well-oiled machine.
“There are lots of us,” says Ilatovsky. “And we know that if someone wasn’t detained this time round, he or she could be detained next time. When I was at the police precinct, they brought us water and helped out with food. They even brought us shawarmas.”
We are chatting next to the prison’s entrance. Everyone’s mood is upbeat, even joyful. Finally, the iron door opens and a young man exits holding his passport. He is carrying a backpack, and a container of liquid soap pokes out from the pocket. A yellow-and-blue ribbon is pinned to his jacket.
“Oh!” says Oleg Maksakov, rushing towards him. “I spent five days in a cell with that guy!”
“I Hung Out with Interesting People”
Denis Uvarov went to the Field of Mars with a purpose. He wasn’t celebrating the holiday, but combating corruption.
“This dude was walking around with a bullhorn and ordering everyone to disperse, but no one dispersed. Therefore, they did not obey [the police’s orders],” he says by way of explaining why he was convicted of disobeying the police.
Besides, Uvarov chanted slogans offensive to our president, and what is worse, waved the flag of Ukraine, with which he sympathizes. He caught flak for it: ten days in the slammer. He admits it could have been worse. He twice received care packages of food from complete strangers, and that amazed him most of all.
“Of course, we didn’t really need anything in the cell, but it’s nice knowing that you’re in there, and somebody cares,” says Uvarov.
In the two-person cells in which the June 12 arrestees were held, they really did not need anything. Uvarov compared it to a hospital, adding, only, that he couldn’t go into the hallway. But they were taken out for walks every day.
“The biggest problem was not being able to wash up,” he says. “They let us take a shower only once over the ten days. Well and, excuse me for mentioning it, but going to the toilet when you’re not alone in the cell, is, you know . . . Otherwise, it was okay. There was nothing to do, so I read a pile of books, slept in, studied English a bit, and hung out with interesting people.”
The interesting people were other prisoners sentenced to jail for June 12. Uvarov says it was the first protest many of them had attended. Some of them ended up there by accident and were not interested in politics.
“Now they say they’re going to be more active and angrier,” Uvarov continues. “So the regime is deliberately making new enemies with these arrests, as it were. You can do fifteen days in jail, after all. As long as there is a point.”
“What about twenty?” I ask. “That’s nearly a month.”
“Twenty?” says the young man thoughtfully. “Yes, I could probably do it.”
“Yeah, but don’t you need to be arrested twice in six months,” Uvarov asks uncertainly. “I’ll probably need to take that into account. I’ll think it over.”
“I’ll Go to Jail Again”
Ivan Gerasimyuk is one of the young people who collided head on with politics at the special detention center. He looks about twenty years old.
“I was just hanging out on the Field of Mars,” says the young man. “There was a celebration of four eras taking place there. I looked at pre-revolutionary tanks, and then I went to eat kasha in the field kitchen. That’s where the police grabbed me. In court, I said I wasn’t interested in politics, but the judge didn’t believe me and gave me ten days in jail. It turns out you cannot attend celebrations in our country.”
Gerasimyuk thought jail was awful, especially the fact the prisoners were fed not according to schedule, but whenever. And his cell was very dirty.
“I don’t want to go back there,” Gerasimyuk frowns. “But I’ll definitely go to a protest rally now. We have to combat this lawlessness. Well, so I’ll go to jail again. But then other people won’t have to go.”
Alexander, who refuses to tell me his surname, works in a school. He won’t say what he does there, but he deals with young people like Gerasimyuk, only a bit younger.
He shakes his head.
“I don’t talk with the kids about politics at all. I don’t need to. They know it all anyway. They read about Navalny and Putin in the internet. Although what gets them hot and bothered is memes and all, not politics. But their teachers propagandize them, and they see it doesn’t synch with what is happening around them. That generates distrust in them.”
Alexander went to the Field of Mars knowing a rally was supposed to take place there, but he had no plans of taking part in the protest. He only wanted to watch.
“The numbers of true believers who were arrested were small, in fact,” he grins. “It was the rubberneckers like me who got caught. After doing time in jail, some of them are now true believers. But I’ve also spoken with other people, who say they would never do it again. As for me, I’m definitely going next time.”
Vladimir Drofa, who is released right after Alexander, has become a true believer. Or, at least, he says so.
“Until my arrest I was a sympathizer,” he says, looking at my dictaphone. “But now I’m a convinced revolutionary. I will devote the rest of my life to making sure I change places with the people who put me in here.”
“You want to sentence them to ten days in jail?” I ask.
“I’d start with ten at least.”
Drofa knows that, before him, his namesake Vladimir Ulyanov was imprisoned in a nearby cell.
“Let Them Bust Me!”
The convicts opened the iron door one after another. The young women who were released were mobbed by other young women, who gave them bouquets and squealed in delight, as if they were greeting movie stars. The female arrestees who were the last to be released wearily thanked the public and refused to talk to the press, because they wanted to go home. Ksenia Morozova, a social media marketing manager for Sobaka.ruwho had become famous over the last ten days, set her bags on the pavement. She held up a placard reading, “Freedom is within.” She did not hold it up very high, only as high as her own neck
“This is my first picket on the outside!” she yelled. “Let them bust me if they want!”
She was not busted. Her girlfriend grabbed her bags, and the flock of young women ran off towards the subway.
The young people were applauded as they left the jail. They were also given flowers, the very same pink chrysanthemums, until the entire bunch had been divvied up and was gone. The press drifted away. The bus emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo left, taking with it those who wanted to appeal their sentences to meet with lawyers. The last of the dozen and a half “ten-dayers” emerged from the jail after four o’clock, saying almost exactly the same things their special detention center cellmates said. None of them broke their toothbrushes at the doors of the prison.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up
Sergey Yermakov Protest Duckies and the Actionism of Fact
The final performances by Voina’s so-called Petersburg faction could be termed “actionism of fact” by analogy with “literature of fact,” a project the LEF mob tried and failed to realize in the 1920s.
Voina took ordinary actions from the repertoire of protest and resistance, actions requiring no special skills—turning over a police car, torching a paddy wagon, dousing policemen with urine—and simply did them in their performances.
What happened to the performances due to their actions?
Second, the actions were glorified by the very fact they were performed by the actionists. They were bathed in an aura of glory, but note that this aura was totally colorless. It had no density whatsoever, and it produced no distortions in the albedo. This was because the actions were as commonplace as could be, actions available to everyone, actions to which nothing was added except their execution. (Well, yes, and the group’s signature.)
The actionist readymade (or “readydone”) and actionism of fact, unlike the classic artistic readymade, have no need of a special aesthetic space, such as a museum. Unlike literature of fact (if this literary project had actually been implemented in the twenties), actionism may well avoid the traps of language and representation.
Voina thus directly took on the issue of politically effective action. There is a certain actionist Platonism to it, but if we bypass Plato (no matter how we regard the violence of his gesture) we cannot ask ourselves about art’s attitude and access to politics.
In the Republic, Plato does not suggest banishing all poets for fobbing off the phantom of excellence (εἰδώλων ἀρετῆς) on citizens instead of virtue (i.e., the thought of action). He would let the non-mimetic poets, who glorify the gods and sing the praises of good men (ἐγκώμια τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς), stay in the city. Voina’s Petersburg faction non-mimetically sang the praises not of citizens themselves, but certain actions as such, simply by performing them. Their implicit message was something like: Look, this is up for grabs for everyone, and yet if you carry out this glorious deed, you will not be unoriginal and overshadowed by us, because this is basically something anyone could do. This is a kind of democratic and non-hierarchical political Platonism.
Voina did these performances before the May 6, 2012, clashes between protesters and police on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. They seemingly had offered the demos who took to the streets a possible repertoire of elementary actions. (Of course, the total number of such actions is much greater, and not all of them are either criminal or so primitive. What matters in this case is only the dimension itself.) But the demos did not heed their call, preferring to play at making witty posters, from the December 2011 rally on Sakharov Avenue to this day, and exchanging anti-regime memes in the social networks. (That is, the circumstances are in some way symmetrical to the exile of the poets. In this case, however, the demos itself has turned its back on genuinely political artists, immersing itself in the carnivalesque mimesis of the meme.) By rejecting the dimension of the glorious deed, however, the demos has refused to be itself, because it is eventful, rather than substantial, in contrast to the phantasm of the ethnos.
It took Pyotr Pavlensky half a dozen performances to get close to the place where Voina had arrived in the spring of 2011, that is, in order to torch the front door at FSB headquarters in Moscow. In many ways, the performance was a step backwards, for example, when it came to the question of withdrawal. The guerillas of Voina insisted on retreating in a well-conceived way and unexpectedly returning to strike again. (This is the only worthwhile “We’ll be back!” It is a far cry from Navalny and Co.) But Pavlensky, in many respects by way of accommodating an aesthetic impulse, stood his ground to the bitter end. He has thus proven to be a more direct follower of the National Bolsheviks than Voina when it comes to this issue.
So Voina is still waiting for its demos and valiant citizens back in the spring of 2011, scornfully gazing at rubber duckies, meme politics, and witty anti-Kremlin t-shirts.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Sergey Yermakov is a professional translator who was involved in several of Pyotr Pavlensky’s performances. My thanks to Mr. Yermakov for his kind permission to publish this essay here.
Almost everyone in our precinct has had their court hearing and been convicted. Nearly everyone who tried to file appeals and not plead guilty was given the maximum sentence: up to fourteen days in jail + fines of 10,000 rubles and greater. Those who plead guilty and make no attempt to defend themselves get off easier: one of them got three days in jail. The only person in our precinct who got off without a jail term was the husband of a pregnant woman.
In this regard, everyone’s mood is dominated by legal nihilism. They have been chewing out the human rights activists, who they say have only made things worse. Apparently, that is the real objective of all these hearings.
By the by, there are truly random people among the detainees in our precinct, but they are more aggressive towards people like me than to the authorities. They give the protesters and human rights activists hell, and ask why we’re dissatisfied. (After thirty hours in police custody, there in other word for this than Stockholm syndrome.) [One person who commented on the original post, in Russian, suggested that these “random people” were, in fact, police provocateurs and spies. Planting them in the cells of political prisoners and dissidents had been a common practice under the Soviets—TRR.]
One of these random detainees is a lawyer. He came down on everyone harder than anyone else, saying we should withdraw our appeals and refuse legal assistance. What irony: he has a master’s degree in law.
Before they are sent to the detention center, the police forcibly take everyone’s fingerprints, although this is against the law.
We are in a decent precinct. The conditions are terribly unsanitary and crowded, but the staff treat us like human beings. They let us charge our telephones, let us have smoke breakes, and sometimes even take us to the can, where there is an actual toilet, not a stinky hole in the floor. On the other hand, among themselves they talk about how everyone who protested on the Field of Mars did it because they had been promised 5,000 rubles.
Yesterday, we spent the night in the cells. There were sixteen bodies and six beds, but we had mattresses, pillows, and bed linens even. Today, non-political prisoners were brought to the cells. (When one of them refused to remove his crucifix, four officers threw him on the floor, cuffed him, and forcibly removed the crucifix. Another of these prisoners is obviously in a bad way. He beats the walls, scratches the window until he bleeds, and screams. He wet himself in his cell, but no one has any intention of taking him to hospital.) So we spend the night sitting in the corridor.
Me and one other young man have still not been taken to court for our hearings.
Andrey Kalikh Facebook
Saint Petersburg, Russia
June 14, 2017
St. Petersburg’s Frunzensky District Court is the apotheosis of evil. The hearings began at eleven p.m. One, apparently very angry judge is handling the cases. Everyone is being sentenced to ten to fifteen days in jail, plus they are fined ten thousand to fifteen thousand rubles. We fearfully await the sentence he will give our friend the father with four children.
People are kept on the bus before the hearings. They are exhausted, the conditions are tortuous, and something has to be done about this court. It is monstrous.
UPDATE. Our dad with four children emerged from the courthouse at two in the morning. He had been fined 10,700 rubles [approx. 167 euros]. He said that of the 106 people who had been sentenced at that point, only six had got off with fines. Everyone else had been sentenced to five to fifteen days in jail, plus had been fined ten thousand to fifteen thousand rubles.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SK and Andrey Kalikh for the heads-up
June 12 is a public holiday, Russian Sovereignty Day [sic]. Certain people have been trying to use our national holiday to destabilize the situation in the country. Alexei Navalny has called for Russians to take to the streets of their cities in protest against the current regime.
The administration of Saint Petersburg State University of Film and Television asks you to approach the question of involvement in such events responsibly, not to yield to such calls and other provocative proposals whose objective is inveigle young people in unauthorized mass actions and marches aimed at destabilizing public order, calls and proposals that are transmitted via social networks and other sources of information. We cannot let these people achieve their political ambitions illegally.
So, 658 people were detained [in Petersburg]. Minors whose parents were able to come and get them and people with disabilities have been released. Nearly everyone else will spend the night in jail.
There will be court hearings tomorrow. Everyone who can make it should come. The hearings will take place at the Dzerzhinsky District Court [in downtown Petersburg]. The first detainees are scheduled to arrive at the court at 9:30 a.m. Considering the number of detainees, we will probably be there into the night.
I was invited to speak at the rally on Sakharov Avenue. I planned to talk about why it was important to support the anti-corruption campaign despite our political differences. In short, in order to put a stop to reaction, dissenters need to be represented on a massive scale, so the elites would not even think about just trampling them or not noticing them. Everyone has the same goal right now: resurrecting political freedoms. The contradictions among people are secondary. Considering the scale of protests nationwide, things turned out quite well. You can see that people have stopped fearing crackdowns, and that intimidation no longer works. In Moscow, switching the rally to a stroll down Tverskaya was an absolutely apt response to the Kremlin’s behavior. Everyone who wanted to avoid arrest had the chance to do that. There were downsides as well, but given the colossal confrontation, they don’t seem important.
Of course, one cannot help but welcome today’s protests on a nationwide scale. We are witnessing the continuing rise of a new protest movement that emerged on March 26. This movement is indivisible from Alexei Navalny’s presidential campaign and owes both its virtues and weaker aspects to that campaign. Despite the fact that Navalny’s campaign could have launched a broad grassroots movement, on the contrary, it has been built like a personalistic, vertical political machine in which decisions made by a narrow group of experts and approved by the leader are mandatory for the rank-and-file. This raises the majority’s political consciousness to the degree necessary at each specific moment of the campaign. The leader’s political strategy, his objectives, and the meaning of decisions are not up for discussion. Navalny must be believed like a charismatic CEO. What matters is that he is personally honest and “he has a plan.” On the eve of the protest rally, authorized for June 12 in Moscow, the rank-and-file found out a new particular in the plan: everyone had to go to an unauthorized protest march, which would predictably end in arrests and criminal charges along the lines of the March 26 protests. The rationale of the organizers is understandable. They have to pull out all the stops to keep the campaign moving at a fever pitch, keep it in the public eye, and use the threat of riots to pressure the Kremlin. Moreover, this radicalization in the media reduces the complicated picture presented by Russian society to a simple confrontation: the thieves in the Kremlin versus the honest leader who has united the nation. This set-up renders all forms of public self-organization and all social movements secondary and insignificant, and their real interest ultimately boils down to making Navalny president. However, even Navalny’s most dedicated supporters should pause to think today, the day after June 12. Would his campaign be weakened if it were opened up to internal criticism, if horizontal discussions of his political program and strategy were made possible, and the political machine, now steered by a few people, turned into a real coalition, where differences did not get in people’s way but helped them agree on common goals?
“Sakharov Avenue is out,” Navalny said in his morning video message.
Navalny’s adviser Leonid Volkov put it more democratically.
“The hypocritical scum who dreamed up the ‘opposition rally on Sakharov’ will fry on a separate frying pan.”
The rally on Sakharov happened anyway. It was mainly attended by opponents of Moscow’s new law on the large-scale renovation of residential buildings: urban activists and residents of the buildings slated for demolition, as well as defrauded investors in residential building projects, foreign currency mortgage holders, and other victims of the construction sector. Many fewer of them came out, however, than on May 14, even considering that some of the outraged Muscovite anti-renovation protesters followed Navalny over to Tverskaya. Protests rise and ebb like the sea, and this time round the excitement was muted. These people—old women, families with children, old men—were not suitable for getting arrested at an unauthorized protest. Although they realize that Moscow’s problems are merely one logical outcome of the Russian political system, they are in no hurry to support Navalny and other inveterate oppositionists, for what is at stake are their housing and property, not supreme civil liberties.
Meanwhile, on Tverskaya, young folks realized that A.C.A.B. Around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and the social networks were flooded with even more photographs of derring-do amidst the so-called cosmonauts [riot cops]. The ultimate damage from the protest might be acknowledged only over time, when we know whether there will be new criminal cases, and if there are, what charges are laid against the protesters. But everyone loves looking at riot porn (and being involved in it), although this hobby devastates and dulls the senses as much as watching ordinary porn. This is the danger of protests “for all things good,” of protests focused on a certain political agenda or figure: neither fat nor thin, neither old nor young, neither socialist nor nationalist, but generally sweet and better than the old protest rallies. In this case, protest risks degenerating into a social order in which everything is decided by Sturm und Drang. Not the worse prospect, some would argue, but others would argue it would be a disaster. But whether you like it or not, “Russia has thousands of young people dreaming of revolution,” for the time abstractly encapsulated in the slogan “Dimon must answer for his actions,” and they have been taking to the streets.
Two worlds did not in fact meet in Moscow today. One world is the world of people who are mostly old, people whose property is threatened with eminent domain and who imagine politics as a way of building an urban environment. The second world is the world of bold young people (and their slightly older idols), who are hellbent on regime change. It would not be a bad thing if these worlds met and acted in concert. This is the only way for a democratic politics to emerge from this.
Notes from the field (the Field of Mars). Putting aside emotions:
1. It’s true there were lots of young people. And they are not afraid of anything.
2. There were many young families, who are likewise not afraid for their children.
3. “We’re fed up” is the key phrase.
4. There were slogans about healthcare, infrastructure, and pension. Well, and about corruption, too.
5. The out-of-town students came out because “it is wrong to drive the regions into a pit like this.”
6. There was a sense of support and public acceptance.
7) The people who came out were true patriots genuinely worried about the country’s future.
8) A spirit of freedom . . .
P.S. On the Six O’Clocks News last night, BBC Radio 4’s Moscow correspondent had the temerity to refer to yesterday’s protest march on Tverskaya as “illegal.” Is this the new tariff for keeping one’s press accreditation under Putin’s perpetual reign? TRR
The Yuri Dmitriev Case The Accused Should Be Nominated for a State Prize
Maria Eismont Vedomosti
June 8, 2017
“A person cannot disappear without a trace. People differ from butterflies in the sense that people have memory,” the man with long grey hair and long grey beard said onscreen.
The presentation of books of remembrance for those shot during the Great Terror in Karelia packed the screening room at the Gulag History Museum in Moscow: people even sat on the stairways. The editor of the books, Karelian historian and search specialist Yuri Dmitriev, from Memorial, was the man talking onscreen. He has spent the last six months in a pretrial detention center, absurdly charged with the crime of producing pornography.
Dmitriev sent his greetings and gratitude from prison, not so much for the kind words said about him, as for acknowledgement of his life’s work. Memorial’s historians all concur it is unique. No other region in Russia has such a complete compendium of the names of those who were shot as Karelia does. As his colleagues argue, Dmitriev succeeded in turning the figures of those who perished during the Great Terror into memorial lists complete with names, biographies, and burial sites.
The speakers occasionally slipped into the past tense, but immediately corrected themselves. Dmitriev is still alive, and we must believe he will soon be released, find the execution site of the other two Solovki “quotas” [political prisoners at the Solovki concentration camp who were transported to three different sites outside the camp in 1937–1938 to be shot and buried in secret—TRR], and present the next book of remembrance. This powerlessness, these slips of the tongue, and the trembling voices fully convey the horror of a time when the days when people were shot are long past but people still fall victim to political repression.
The Yuri Dmitriev case is, perhaps, the most important thing happening in Russia right now, first of all, because a patriot who for decades had, bit by bit, resurrected thousands of names of this country’s citizens from official oblivion, citizens murdered cruelly and senselessly in the state’s name, has himself been subjected to persecution. “The introduction to the list of terror victims will be brief: may they live in our memories forever,” writes Dmitriev in the foreword to one of his compendiums, The Motherland Remembers Them, a book in which the names are listed not in alphabetical order, but under the names of the villages where the victims lived before their arrests. “The moral of the story is also brief: remember! As is my advice: take care of each other.” Now there is a Russian national idea for you. The author of these books of remembrance should be nominated for a state prize and a government grant to keep on with his work.
There is another important thing about the Dmitriev case: the charge his persecutors chose for him. He was not charged with “extremism” or “separatism,” which have been commonplace in politically motivated cases, but with child pornography and depraved actions towards a minor. The charges not only guarantee a long sentence and promise the accused problems in prison but also challenge the public to support him. “What if something really did happen?” Dmitriev’s friends and relatives acknowledge that while those who doubt Dmitriev or are willing to countenance the charges are an overwhelming minority, such people do exist, and some of them are “decent” people.
The number of “pedophilia” cases, based on controversial, contradictory, clearly flimsy evidence and flagrantly unprofessional forensic examinations, has been growing for several years. Recently, I attended a similar event in Naro-Fominsk, seventy kilometers southwest of Moscow. It was also a memorial evening for a living person who had been incarcerated on charges of depravity against a child, actions the man could not have committed, according to witnesses who were nearby when the crime was alleged to have occurred. Dozens of people had come to remember what a good male nurse Zhenya had been. Then they corrected themselves: not had been, but is and will continue to be. Then they cried.
“Pedophilia” cases have long been custom-ordered to rid oneself of rivals and used to pad police conviction statistics, but now they have been put to use in political cases.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up
Since none of what follows, which I’ve excerpted from RBC‘s Facebook newsfeed just seconds ago, makes any sense in Russian, I’m translating it by way of beefing up my “transsense” (Zaum) chops. You never know when they’ll come in handy. Truth be told, they come in handy way too often. TRR