Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging

A Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging: The Russian National Referendum Through the Eyes of Observers of Petersburg 
July 16, 2020

This film by Observers of Petersburg shows how such how a high turnout (74.7%) and outcome (77.7% “yes” votes) were attained in Petersburg during the 2020 Russian national referendum.

Spoiler alert! All this was made possible by six days of early voting, which were impossible to monitor.

Time codes:
00:00 Opening
00:59 How will the 2020 vote be remembered?
02:44 Coronavirus: voting in a pandemic
06:12 Early voting
09:28 Voting at workplaces
13:20 Voting rolls
17:49 David Frenkel’s story: how a journalist’s arm was broken at a polling station
21:35 Observers from the Public Chamber
26:09 Vote counting
31:42 Honest polling station commissions
35:24 What will happen next? The Russian national referendum’s impact on future elections

Featuring:
Anastasia Romanova
Maria Moldavskaya
Dmitry Neuymin
Konstantin Korolyov
Olga Dmitrieva
Galina Kultiasova
Mikhail Molochnikov
Polina Kostyleva
Olga Khmelevskaya
Maria Chebykina
Natalia Yegorushkina
David Frenkel
Ivan Kvasov

The film was produced by Yulia and Yevgeny Selikhov.
Thanks to iz0 for doing the animation.

Sign a petition against multi-day voting.

Sign up to be a polling station commission member in Petersburg: https://airtable.com/shrHdcpxEuKq9f9o2

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the link. The video’s title is an allusion to the Soviet-era samizdat periodical Chronicle of Current Events. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

УИК 40 СПбCounting the votes at Polling Station No. 40 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Khabarovsk

My friend Vlad Tupikin just posted on his Facebook page this people-on-the-street video by Alexei Romanov about the continuing anti-regime protests in Khabarovsk, in Russia’s Far East. As Vlad wrote, watching this video will fill you with joy for the rest of the day. In the video, Romanov talks about his own overwhelmingly positive emotions as he joins the khabarovchane (residents of Khabarovsk) for a second day of spontaneous mass protests in the streets, as well as chatting with the protesters themselves. If you like what you see, consider donating money to Romanov’s PayPal account (ulgir2@gmail.com) in support of his YouTube channel

Romanov had already posted this much longer video reportage about the first day of the protests (July 11, 2020), which have stunned all of Russia.

______________________________________

Finally, here is some interesting commentary and background on the protests from the indefatigable and endlessly invaluable Paul Goble, one of my genuine blogging heroes.

Protesters in Khabarovsk Now Talking about Independent Far Eastern Republic of the 1920s
Paul Goble
Windows on Eurasia (New Series)
July 14, 2020

Staunton, July 12 – Despite the absence of coverage in government-controlled media, the protests in Khabarovsk continue, and they are being supported by demonstrators in other cities across the country, a sign that the issues the residents of that city raise are not restricted to that region but are finding an echo elsewhere.

After yesterday’s unprecedentedly large meeting, Khabarovsk residents went back into the street today twice, once in the early afternoon and then again in the evening, with even more radical slogans because they have not received any response to their demands (sibreal.org/a/30722202.html).

People in other cities in the Russian Far East and even in European Russia joined them, although there have not yet been any protests in the capitals (capost.media/news/politika/rallies-and-marches-in-support-of-sergey-furgala-were-held-in-the-cities-of-russia/). But perhaps the most striking development today has been the radicalization of opinion in Khabarovsk.

In Vedomosti, commentator Aleksey Sakhnin said the situation in the Far East was becoming “revolutionary,” with protesters shouting “This is our kray!” “Moscow, Get Out!” and some about restoring the Far Eastern Republic which existed between 1920 and 1922 (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2020/07/12/834416-dalnevostochnaya-revolyutsionnaya-situatsiya).

What began as protests against the removal of their governor, Khabarovsk residents have transformed into something more and attracted the attention of others across the Russian Far East (govoritmagadan.ru/protesty-v-habarovske-protiv-aresta-gubernatora-s-furgala-prodolzhajutsya-video/).

But by talking about a possible restoration of the Far Eastern Republic, they beyond doubt have attracted the attention or and possibly repressive actions by the Russian authorities in the capital who will see this not only as a violation of the law on the territorial integrity of the country but a threat to its existence.

That is especially true because it involves a predominantly ethnic Russian area and consequently Moscow can’t rely on Russian nationalism alone to provide support for any crackdown. Instead, if a crackdown does come, Russians will be divided; and that is something that people in the Kremlin are worried about as well.

(On the complicated and brief life of the Far Eastern Republic, which existed as a buffer state between the RSFSR and Japanese-backed groups further east, see Henry Kittredge, The Far Eastern Republic of Siberia (London, 1923), Canfield Smith, Vladivostok under Red and White Rule (Seattle, 1975), and Alan Wood, Russia’s Frozen Frontier (London, 2011) and Ivan Sablin, The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Far Eastern Republic (London, 2018).)

_113337458_khabarovskProtesters on the streets of Khabarovsk on July 11, 2020. Courtesy of BBC News

Two Fairytales

Alexander Skidan
Facebook
May 25, 2020

Yesterday, with my own eyes, I saw a crow escorting a hedgehog across the highway, pushing him along with his beak. I was so dumbstruck, the thought never even occurred to me to get out my phone. The most touching thing happened at the curbside. The hedgehog couldn’t overcome it right away, the crow was very upset, and she* jumped onto the curb and tried tried tried tried tried while the cars** were going going going going past, and then she jumped down and again tried tried tried, but the hedgehog found a spot a bit lower and all by himself himself himself himself himself jumped up, and off he went.***

________________

*The word for car in Russian, mashina, is equivalent to the word for “machines,” which I believe is significant for the allegorical reading of the tale.

**The word for crow in Russian, vorona, is grammatically gendered feminine. This does not necessarily mean the crow was anatomically female. Hedgehog, yozhik, is gendered masculine.

***I consulted with Skidan, and we translated the folkloric formula i byl takov as “and off he went.” However, another variant would be “and that was the last anyone ever saw of him.” The word-for-word rendition of the idiom is: “and he was such.”

Solidarity and mutualism are the only future we have. But hedgehogs need to let the crows get on with things, I reckon. They just need to lower their expectations and get up and go on their own.

hedgehog in fogA still from Yuri Nornstein’s animated film Hedgehog in the Fog (1975). Courtesy of Pikabu.ru

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
July 1, 2020

Once there was a certain dictator who had prepared everything for annulling himself: a new armchair, a festive cigar, a little cognac, and lots and lots of medals to sprinkle over his generals (he had also stored up some smackdowns for other people).

He sat down at his favorite desk, and, at exactly 11:59 PM, he closed his eyes tight and hit the main annulment button. And at that very second he turned into a newborn baby. He plopped down in the chair and started screaming (well, that’s what babies are supposed to do), and all his bodyguards rushed in to see who was screaming and then bang! They were also annulled and turned into babies. What horror!

It was a good thing that the carpet was soft and they didn’t hurt themselves when they fell. And, after them, the senators, the ministers, and all the members of the government were annulled back into babies. This would have been the end of all of them, but the cleaning lady came into the office and gasped: what a calamity! And she set all the little ones down carefully in a line and called for help. But curses! If any deputy ran into the office, he was immediately annulled, so they all ended up that way in one day. Only a few survived because they had skived off work that day, but now they said they were giving up their powers. Times were tough, and the succession of power all the more so—it was time to give up their seats in parliament to young people.

By evening the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady had taken all the deputies back to their families. These women weren’t very young, but they were strong and experienced. They remembered how to change a diaper, how to rock a baby, and after one day they were terribly tired. Then, in the morning, when they arrived at work, there were new babies in the office. Apparently, some other people had snuck in at night, hoping to become president, and they were also annulled.

The worker-women sighed and returned these little ones to their homes as well.

And so (not right away, of course!), all the remaining deputies and politicians decided they didn’t really want to be presidents, and, since someone still had to do this work, the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady shared it between themselves. They came to an agreement about the schedule and vacation days.

And life slowly went on. It was like the old life but better. No one waged war anymore or acted like a dictator. Of course! Who wanted to crank the old barrel organ of diapers, kindergarten, and school all over again? No, people were sick of being annulled. It was time to just live a quiet life.

________________

I don’t think this remarkable tale about the constitutional amendments and the annulment of Putin’s term limits needs any commentary.

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks. If you would like to support these authors’ work, please consider donating. Any amount helps. Please include “fairytales” in the memo line of your contribution.

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Operation Pigsty (“Condoning Terrorism”)

merkulov-pezhichAlexander Merkulov (aka Aleksandr Peĵiĉ), pictured here, is the sixteenth person in Russia to face prosecution for “condoning terrorism”—that is, for publicly mentioning in print (virtual or otherwise) Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s alleged suicide bombing of the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices on October 31, 2018, and trying to understand his motives. Photo from Merkulov’s VK page courtesy of Elena Popova

Elena Popova
Facebook
July 9, 2020

We had only just sighed in relief that Svetlana Prokopyeva had not been sentenced to six years in prison, but had been fined simply for trying to talk about the need to deal with the reasons that push people toward terrorism, when suddenly there is a report of a new criminal case on charges of “condoning terrorism.”

Aleksandr Peĵiĉ is opposed to [compulsory] military service and violence.

I know him online, I saw him once offline.

I’m very worried about him. I wish him strength, health, and a speedy release.

“Condoning terrorism” doesn’t mean publishing a little post on Vkontakte about the bombing at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk.

“Condoning terrorism” is when investigators refuse to open criminal investigations into allegations of torture, when judges ignore testimony by defendants that they have been tortured. The FSB is the main terrorist.

___________________

Petersburger Charged with “Condoning Terrorism” over Vkontakte Posts on Bombing of Arkhangelsk FSB Directorate 
Mediazona
July 8, 2020

According to the Russian Investigative Committee’s website, charges have been filed against a 23-year-old Petersburg man under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code (“condoning terrorism”) over posts on VKontakte about the bombing in the reception area of the FSB’s Arkangelsk Directorate [on October 31, 2018].

According to investigators, from November 2018 to October 2019, the Petersburg man published posts about the bombing on VKontakte that “acknowledged the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct and warranting support and emulation, with the aim of encouraging others to carry out terrorist acts.”

According to Interfax, the man in question is Alexander Merkulov, who works as a food delivery person for a Petersburg restaurant. Investigators say that Merkulov was registered on VKontakte under the nickname Aleksandr Peĵiĉ. Fontanka.ru has identified Merkulov as a member of the LGBT movement and moderator of a social media community page devoted to Eurovision contestant Bilal Hassani.

The Petersburg court system’s press service told Fontanka.ru that the October District Court had remanded Merkulov in custody until September 5. Allegedly, he has fully admitted his guilt.

A bombing occurred at the Arkhangelsk Regional Directorate of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) [on October 31, 2018]. The bomb was, allegedly, detonated by 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky. In the wake of the incident, people around Russia have been criminally charged with “condoning terrorism” for making statements about Zhlobitsky.

Alexander Merkulov is the sixteenth person in Russia who has been prosecuted for, charged with, or accused of “exonerating” or “condoning” the alleged suicide bombing in the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices by Mikhail Zhlobitsky on October 31, 2018. The others are Alexei Shibanov, Nadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopyevaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Thanks to Yana Teplitskaya for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

 __________________________

Operation “Pigsty”
Alexander Skobov
Grani.ru
July 6, 2020

Svetlana Prokopyeva did not even remotely “condone terrorism.” She merely tried to draw attention to its causes. I condone terrorism and, in some cases, I even approve of it. I condone the terrorism of the People’s Will. I approve of the terrorism of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs). I approve of the murder by Yegor Dulebov, a member of the SR’s Combat Organization, of Ufa governor-general Nikolai Bogdanovich, who had ordered soldiers to fire on workers protesting outside the home of a mining chief. (The so-called Zlatoust Massacre of 1903 left 69 people dead and 250 wounded.) I approve of the murder of Tambov provincial councillor Gavriil Luzhenovsky, who had distinguished himself in his crackdowns against revolutionary demonstrations, by Maria Spiridonova, future leader of the Left SRs.

The word “terrorism” refers to two very different concepts. One meaning is a politically motivated armed attack by people who are not representatives of the official state power on representatives of the official state power. In this sense, all partisans, insurgents, or mutineers (choose the word you like depending on your degree of sympathy for them) who are engaged in armed struggle with the government are “terrorists.” It is in this sense that the word “terrorists” is used by all governments facing armed resistance. For them, all insurgents are terrorists.

Another meaning of the word “terrorism” is a politically motivated attack by any group of armed people on any group of unarmed people. In this sense, the Russian National Guard troops who disperse a peaceful rally are just as much terrorists as a person who blows up subway passengers. This is not to mention the Russian occupation forces who bombed and shelled Chechen cities and the columns of refugees escaping them. They are the real terrorists. This is terrorism in the bad sense of the word. Terrorism in this sense cannot be condoned. Terrorism in the first sense of the word can be condoned and even approved.

On August 22, 1978, a group of Sandinista guerrillas fighting the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza clan took the dictator’s entire puppet “congress” hostage. Somoza had turned the “congress” into a sinecure for relatives and friends. Somoza was forced to back down. The Sandinista manifesto was read on the radio, and around a hundred guerrillas and political prisoners were released from prison. Well, and if we’re being honest, the “terrorists” were also given a little money on top for their muskets, which cost money, too. The guerrillas were provided transport to the airport. On the way, their convoy was greeted by enthusiastic crowds.

The whole thing was called Operation “Pigsty.” It was organized and led by Edén Pastora, whose subsequent career was a topsy-turvy affair. After Somoza was defeated, Pastora opposed his own recent comrades-in-arms when he saw signs that tyranny was re-emerging in Nicaragua. Then he made up with them, after which he fell out with them again and (again) reconciled with them.

Pastora was drawn, of course, to the comrades of his youth. But as an old man he sold out completely. In 2018, he supported violent crackdowns on mass protests against pension reforms. (Yes, there were “pension reforms” in Nicaragua, too!) Pastora organized squads of titushky. It was a sad ending to the guerrilla commander’s long life. But he will still go down in history as the organizer and leader of Operation “Pigsty.”

I condone, and sometimes approve of, terrorism. If the beings who cynically and viciously fabricated the case of Svetlana Prokopyeva turned into victims, I would feel no sympathy for them. I regret that Russia does not have its own Eden Pastora, someone who could carry out, say, Operation “Tereshkovnik” surgically and bloodlessly, even if he sold out later. So, to be clear: this text of mine amounts to “condoning terrorism,” not what Prokopyeva said. Feel the difference.

Blessed are those who take up arms against tyranny. And no criminal laws can prohibit people from expressing sympathy with them. The ancient Athenians revered the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton as national heroes, and composed poems about them. They were the first mortals to be honored with (paired) bronze statues on the Acropolis. In a Russia liberated from Putin’s evil spirits, there will be a monument to Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk headquarters. There will also be a monument to Khava Barayeva, who blew herself up along with Russian occupiers. The monument will be erected in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yavka

gub_exit_04The turnout (yavka) for last September’s gubernatorial election in Petersburg was a record low of thirty percent. Less than a year later (at the height of summer, in the midst of a pandemic), the turnout for a meaningless “referendum” on amendments to the Russian constitution (which had already been ratified by both houses of parliament and signed into law by Putin) drew a record high turnout of 74% in Petersburg, according to local political blog Rotunda. Graphic courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Rotunda 
Telegram
July 2, 2020

The turnout [yavka] in St. Petersburg for the December 2011 elections to the State Duma waos 55%.

For the presidential election in March 2012, it was 64% (Vladimir Putin took 62% of the vote.)

For the gubernatorial elections in September 2014, it was 39%. (Georgy Poltavchenko won 79% of the vote.)

For the parliamentary elections in September 2016, it was 32%.

Turnout in St. Petersburg for the presidential elections in March 2018 was 63%. (Vladimir Putin took 75%.)

The turnout for the Petersburg gubernatorial election in September 2019 was 30% (Alexander Beglov won with a result of 64%.)

The turnout for the poll on amendments to the Constitution in the summer of 2020 was 74%. (77.6% voted “Yes.”)

Rotunda is a Telegram channel on Petersburg politics run by journalists Maria Karpenko (@mkarpenka) and Ksenia Klochkova (@kklochkova). You can write to them at: rotondaa [at] protonmail.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

Election Observers

election observerArtist, activist and teacher Darya Apahonchich found this “polling place” in the courtyard of her building in downtown Petersburg, across the street from the city’s Dostoevsky Museum. Early voting is under way in a nationwide referendum on 206 proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution. Courtesy of Darya Apahonich’s Facebook page

approvalFilmmaker Andrey Silvestrov took this selfie with his ballot paper at his polling place in Moscow. The question reads, “Do you approve [the] changes to the Russian Constitution?” Silvestrov voted no, of course. Note the fact that none of the amendments in question is listed on the ballot paper. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

prizesFortunately, Silvestrov’s “no” vote will not, one hopes, disqualify him from entering the “Million Prizes” program, as outlined on a flyer he was given by polling place officials along with his ballot paper. Voters are asked to send a “unique code” in a text message to the number 7377. Winners are promised “gift certificates” redeemable for groceries, sporting goods, and household goods, and for unspecified goods at pharmacies, cafes, museums, theaters, and cinemas. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the “gift certificates” (if any Russian voters actually receive them) will prove worthless. Photo courtesy of Silvestrov’s Facebook page

lurie precinctPhotographer Vadim F. Lurie took a snapshot of the referendum polling place in the courtyard in a town in the Moscow Region. Courtesy of his Facebook page. While the purported reason for such bizarre ad hoc polling places is ensuring health of voters during the coronavirus pandemic, still raging in many parts of Russia, they provide the added benefit of making it much harder for election observers to ascertain whether the referendum was conducted freely and fairly. Needless to say, “free and fair” is a meaningless concept to the Putin regime.

dictatorship of zerosJournalist and political activist Ivan Ovsyannikov took this snapshot outside Polling Station No. 1641, located on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg. The placard reads, “Our country, our constitution, our decision.” Someone has pasted a sticker on the placard, which reads, “The solidarity of ones will end the dictatorship of zeroes.” This is reference to the fact that one of the proposed amendments, if ratified, will “zero out” Vladimir Putin’s previous terms as Russian president, thus allowing him to run for two more consecutive terms of six years. If this scenario comes to pass, Putin would be able to rule until 2036. His current presidential term ends in 2024.

Konstantin Yankauskas and Alexander Zamyatin, popularly elected municipal councilors in the Zyuzino District of Moscow, discuss what their constituents can do to oppose the referendum under near impossible circumstances (the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on public campaigning against the amendments, evidence that thousands of state sector employees are either being forced to vote yes or hand over their passwords for electronic voting to their supervisors, etc.) They also reflect on why the Russian opposition has been unable to run a nationwide “no” campaign despite the fact that formal and informal barometers of public opinion have shown that Putin’s popularity has been falling and that many Russians are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The discussion was broadcast live on YouTube on June 24, 2020.

Amending the Dead

On June 21, 2020, the Party of the Dead staged two actions, one at the Volkovskoye cemetery in Petersburg, and another, by “Corpse Corpsevich,” in a cemetery somewhere in the Baltics, subversively affirming the proposed amendments to the Russian constitution, which would “annul” President Putin’s four terms in office, allowing him to remain in power until 2036. On July 1, 2020, Russians will vote on the amendments in a nationwide referendum widely seen as meaningless, and whose (affirmative) outcome is a foregone conclusion. (For more information, see “Russia’s Constitutional Court Approves Amendments Allowing Putin to Rule Until 2036,” RFE/RL, March 16, 2020.)

01
Eternity smells of Putin.
We shall annul ourselves and begin to live! We shall annul ourselves and return to life!
Dead people, get well soon!
The amendments are like hot packs for the dead.
The grave will straighten everyone out.*
Yes to death! Yes to the amendments!

*(This slogan plays off the Russian saying: “only the grave will straighten out the hunchback,” referring to an irredeemably flawed or “incorrigible” person.)

02
To the Constitution without clinking glasses!

(When toasting the dead, Russians do not clink glasses.)

Source: Activatica

 03
Vote while sheltering in place.

04
Be on the mend, Russian citizen!

(The reflexive Russian verb popravliatsia means to get well, to be on the mend. The non-reflexive form popravliat means to amend.)

05
Our amendments. Our constitution. Our country.

06
The “absolute majority” of citizens support the amendments.

(During his first public appearance after weeks in lockdown, Putin claimed that an “absolute majority” of Russians back his plan to change the Russian Constitution.)

07
Two things are certain in life: death and amendments.
It’s all predetermined on high.
Don’t console yourself with fleeting hope,
Annulment is our fate.

10
We will amend our demographics.

09
Here lies Vladimir Putin’s social approval rating.

Source: Facebook

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks

Dreaming

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
June 20, 2020

(just dreaming a little)

I look at how everyone is tired after twenty years of putin’s rule—tired of cursing, tired of fighting, tired of resisting, tired even of taking toll of the damage.

the alleged referendum is a three-ring circus, but (speaking for myself) my lack of surprise and faith in the success of resistance are such that I listlessly repost things and make sarcastic jokes, but don’t think seriously at all about acts of resistance.

but i believe in acts of feminist resistance: they work, albeit slowly, albeit surgically. no, there is no law against domestic violence, but individual rapists have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs, new codes of ethics are being written, and so on. all of you are watching this happen. i see how women’s self-esteem has been growing, i see that what was the norm for my parents’ generation is no longer the norm for my generation. women have become more active, they are increasingly choosing not to be silent when they encounter injustice.

Vladimir_Putin_with_Lyudmila_Putin-1

and so i am thinking: what if we suddenly stopped tolerating a “home boxer” and tyrant as president?

we know that putin is an abuser. we know he beat his wife, that he tortured her. even lyudmila putina’s memoir, chockablock with self-accusation and meekness, makes it clear that he treated his loved ones terribly. his wife published a memoir, which was quickly withdrawn from sale. but it’s all on the internet.

just dreaming a little: what if we stopped putting up with this scoundrel? (yes, we are used to putting up with him, but what if it’s reversible?)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: Nadezhda Belova’s Journey from Grassroots Activism to “Exonerating Terrorism”

nb-1Nadezhda Belova. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

“Take Off Your Underpants and Squat Five Times”: A New “Terrorism Exoneration” Case
Svetlana Prokopieva
Radio Svoboda
June 2, 2020

Two years after the bombing in the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Arkhangelsk, law enforcement agencies continue to launch criminal cases against people who comment on the case on social media, claiming they have violated the law against “exonerating terrorism.” The story of Nadezhda Belova is more proof that the bombing carried out by 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobitsky, resulting only in his own death, has been turned into a tool for persecuting undesirable activists.

Nadezhda Belova is 36 years old. She was born and lived her whole life in Novaya Usman, the largest village in Russia, near Voronezh. She had never been involved in politics or protest movements. She first came to the attention of the authorities in 2019, when she organized and brought to a victorious conclusion two protest actions defending the interests of her fellow villagers. In 2020, a criminal case was opened against her for “exonerating terrorism.”

“You’re in Big Trouble”
Criminal Code Article 205.2 came into Nadezhda Belova’s life on March 31—”probably at around nine in the morning, under the guise of a search for coronavirus-infected Asians,” Belova says.

“First my husband opened the door. They told him they were doing a search. Naturally, they weren’t wearing masks. First, they asked who lived there. (We rent a flat in Voronezh.) My husband told them that no one lived there but us, the two of us and our son. I came out and asked them why they weren’t wearing masks. When they saw me, they said, ‘Nadezhda Belova, you’re coming with us for questioning.'”

Nadezhda, her 15-year-old son, and her husband were taken to the police station and questioned. On the advice of a lawyer friend, she invoked Article 51 [of the Russian Constitution, which gives people the right not to incriminate themselves].

“I expected to be punished for all my campaigns in Usman,” Belova says, but investigators showed her a comment she had posted on the VK community page Lentach under one of the very first reports about the bombing in Arkhangelsk. Nadezhda had forgotten all about it.​

“This circus lasted for an hour and a half,” she says of the first interrogation. “‘You’re in big trouble,’ they said. Of course, they threatened me—with five years in prison, and with sending my son to an orphanage if I didn’t confess. I asked them what I should confess to and told them I didn’t know what they were talking about. ‘Here,’ they asked, ‘did you write this comment in 2018?’ ‘Can you hear yourselves?’ I asked them, ‘A comment in 2018!’ The investigator says, ‘If I had written this, I would have remembered.’ I wouldn’t have remembered the comment even if they had tortured me, although the investigator said, ‘If we want you to confess to the Kennedy assassination, we have ways of making you talk.'”

Leaving her family at the police station, the investigators took Nadezhda with them to search the rented flat in Voronezh and her home in Novaya Usman. They confiscated all the gadgets they found, including four phones, a laptop, two hard drives, and a flash drive. They released Nadezhda only late in the evening, dumping her in the middle of the city without a phone and without a single kopeck.

“I walked three kilometers at night, bawling my eyes out and hungry,” she says.

The next day, Belova filed complaints with the prosecutor’s office, the Interior Ministry, and the Investigative Committee. (They, of course, would respond to the complaints by claiming that everything that had happened to her was “legal.”) At first, Belova was named as a witness in the “exonerating terrorism” case, but in May she was named a suspect.

“On May 13, they came up to me on the street, shoved a piece of paper in my face, and said, ‘If you don’t show up now, police will arrest you and bring you there,'” Belova says. “I told them I was going to hire a lawyer, that I wouldn’t come without a lawyer. But things turned out badly with the lawyer, too.”

Nadezhda had bad luck with her lawyer. The person she hired on a friend’s recommendation “turned out to be either a pro-Putinist from the get-go, or he changed his stripes along the way,” she says.

He tried to persuade Nadezhda to “tell the truth” and had no objections when the investigator decided to arrest his suspect right in the middle of questioning.

“You wouldn’t confess. Now you’re going to sit in jail, think things over, and see what lies in store for you,” Nadezhda recalls him saying. She spent twenty-four hours in a temporary detention facility.

“They were not locking me up just to teach me a lesson. They put me in a cold, smoky kennel crawling with bedbugs. There were streaks of blood on the walls: apparently, the people before had been crushing the bedbugs. I was given tea and a piece of dry bread in a metal bowl and a mug, like a dog. I called an ambulance. They just give me a shot of painkiller, that was it. I hung in there till morning. In the morning, they put an actress in my cell who immediately started chewing me out. Her performance lasted fifteen minutes. ‘What’s your name? What you in for? If you’re in here, there must be a reason. Clear the dishes. Act normal. I’m going to smoke, you mind?’ I told her I did, because I was a non-smoker. ‘I’ll do as I like.’ She stood next to the bed and lit up a cigarette. I turned toward the wall and thought, ‘If only she doesn’t strangle me.’ But I knew she was an actress, so she stopped talking, too. She had played her role. Then a policeman came in: ‘Hands behind your back. Against the wall.’ They took me to another room and did a complete body search. They told me to strip naked, and patted down all my things. I was told to take off my underpants and squat five times: the idea was that I had drugs stuffed in there,” Belova recounts.

“It’s going to be like this from now on. You’re suspected of committing a really terrible crime,” she was told.

When she left the detention center, the investigator met her, promising to send her back to her cell if she didn’t immediately sign a confession stating when, where, in whose presence, and on what brand of telephone she had posted the comment.

“I said, ‘You do understand that this is really a lie? It’s nonsense.’ Well, then the three of us—the lawyer, the investigator, and I—wrote an essay entitled ‘What I Wrote on October 31,'” Belova recounts. “‘You do understand that you could go to prison for forcing a confession and lying?’ But the investigator said, ‘In 1937, we would have tortured you for an hour, and you’d have confessed right away. We wouldn’t have had to drive you here and there, we wouldn’t have wasted time: we would have needed only an hour.’ They all laughed.”

__________________

[Prokopieva:] They have blood ties with 1937 . . .

[Belova:] I’ll say even more—they’re waiting for the go-ahead. Once they get permission, I don’t think they’ll even need to be persuaded. They’re too lazy to drive me here and there and waste time. They want to turn torture me quickly and get on with their lives. I said to them, “If you were ordered to shoot at children right now, you would shoot without flinching.” 

You later retracted the confession?

Yes, of course! On May 13, I was put in the lockup. On the 14th, I confessed to everything. On the 15th, I got a new lawyer and completely recanted my testimony. I wanted them to write that I had been coerced with the threat of prison, but the investigator categorically refused to do it. “Do you think I’m going to denounce myself?” he asked.

nb-2Screenshot of the social media post, dated October 31, 2018, under which Belova posted the comment that prompted the criminal case against her. The post reads, “There has been an explosion at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk. One person has been killed. The cause of the blast is under investigation.” Courtesy of RFE/RL

Belova was unable to recall the comment for which she was being prosecuted. But she did find the post on the social media community page and reread it. She called the slain man a “martyr” and wrote that he would “go to heaven.” Nadezhda now suggests that when she wrote it, she thought that an FSB employee was the victim since, at the time, there was no information about the identity and fate of the terrorist. Her comment also included the word “pushback.”

“Yeah, and there was also the phrase ‘Putin’s devils,'” Belova recalls.

Although her comment has been deleted, the responses to it are still there, including this one: “Nadezhda, they’re already coming to get you. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

“Many times I’d seen comments to many people on VK like ‘They’re coming to get you’ and ‘You’ve been reported to the FSB,’ but I’d always thought they were jokes. I’d been threatened many times in my life, after the campaigns for the parking lot and the jitneys, and people had filed ‘rioting’ complaints against me when I still lived in Usman. So I would have only laughed at such comments. I didn’t really believe people were jailed for the things they said. I didn’t realize that crackdowns like that were happening in Russia,” Belova says.

“There Was No Time to Choose Who to Be the Hero”
Belova has now been charged with violating Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code and released on her own recognizance. Her new lawyer, in whom she has confidence, is being paid by OVD Info.

The answer to the question of why it took the security forces almost two years to charge her with a “really terrible crime” is incredibly simple. In 2018, Nadezhda Belova was still of no interest to the regime’s watchdogs.

“I was born in Usman and had lived there all my life. My mother worked as a commercial freight forwarder, and my father was a mechanical engineer. I graduated from high school with a silver medal. I was a goody two-shoes, even a little bit of an outcast, you could say. I spent summers in the countryside reading books—Natasha Rostova, Chekhov, and Bunin,” Nadezhda says about herself.

nb-3Nadezhda Belova’s native village. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

She graduated from the Voronezh Technological Academy in 2005, giving birth to a child in her fifth year there.

“After that, as it happens, nobody hired me because I had a child and later nobody hired me because I had no experience,” Belova says.

An economics and information specialist by education, Belova worked at the post office, then as a clerk “punching out invoices.” She had a failed marriage, which she describes as “useless and unnecessary.” Finally, five years ago, she met Sergei, with whom she has started a real family and a family business. Sergei was teaching robotics and programming to children, their son had gradually begun helping out, and Nadezhda handled advertising and moderating group pages on social media. This year, to be closer to work, they moved to Voronezh.

“By the way, we had wanted to register as self-employed, but the coronavirus and the arrest have blindsided us,” Belova says.

Even before moving to Voronezh, Nadezhda had been in the public eye as a grassroots activist. She was motivated not by power, money or popularity, but by the sense that her “shoulders were pressed to the mat.”

“They have started taking away the last things we have. As it is, they haven’t been doing anything [for us], just skinning our hides,” she says by way of explaining the reasons for her activism. “That’s how I look at it. I took it as an occupation, a war, an attack by fascists. There was no time to choose who to be the hero, so I decided, ‘Who would do it if not me?'”

Belova was annoyed by the decision of the local authorities to let a parking lot next to the ospital be redeveloped as a store. She wrote posts on local community social media pages, invited journalists to Novaya Usman, and appeared on television herself. The protest campaign was successful: the construction site was moved, and a new “huge paved parking lot, four times larger” was built in place of the old one.

nb-4The parking lot that Nadezhda Belova and other people in Novaya Usman stopped from being redeveloped as a store. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Six months later, in June, Novaya Usman faced a more serious problem: the governor of Voronezh Region, Alexander Gusev, announced that the area’s public transport routes would be optimized. Jitneys from Usman would be forbidden from entering Voronezh. People would have to transfer to Voronezh municipal transport routes on the outskirts of the city.

“We realized it would be a disaster for us,” Belova says. “I told people we shouldn’t wait for them to cut us off. We just needed to make ourselves heard: we’d make a video and circulate a petition, letting them see we were opposed. Naturally, people said yes, that nothing good could come of [the governor’s plans]. I wrote a post on a community page, asking people to meet at the shopping center to collect signatures on a petition. All that was written there was that we opposed the cancellation of suburban transport routes and banning jitneys from entering the city. That was it! No posters, no rallies against Putin.”

Belova again wrote social media posts, made media appearances, and met personally with various officials. She and her fellow campaigners successfully defended the right of rural public transport to make stops in Voronezh. Her fellow villagers thanked Belova in the comments to reports on the campaign’s progress: “Such a fragile young woman has been dealing with three big, experienced men trying to defend the rights of all the inhabitants of New Usman! And she’s not afraid to tell the whole truth to their faces! Thank you, Nadezhda! You’re a smart cookie!”

“Everyone supported me at that moment. When I wrote on the community page that someone was denouncing me to the authorities, they told me not to fear, that they would defend me, that I was doing a great job, that I should run to become village head, that they supported me,” Nadezhda recalls. “A year goes by, and people have forgotten. Not only did they not support me, but some of them suggested I should think hard about what I’d said. Back then they told me I should run for head of the village, but now they’re telling me to think about what I’ve done. People have forgotten.”

__________________

2019 was much quieter in terms of public politics, unlike 2017–18, when there was Navaly’s presidential campaign and then the elections. Where were you during this time?

I have never voted for Putin. I realized back in 1999 that our country was coming to a gradual end. I was only 16 years old—my brother, who is four years older, said, “That’s it, this country is over. The monster has come!” His phrase summed it up for me. Then there was the Nord-Ost siege, the Beslan school siege, and the annexation of Crimea. I already looked at our country with sadness and pain. When would the people wake up? I asked myself. I realized it would never happen! Where was I? We have no elections in Usman. There are some local clowns who either shuffle papers around or aid and abet corrpution. Usman is the total pits in this regard. We have no politics: there is no opposition in Usman, just bottomless corruption, theft and nepotism.

So you weren’t involved in politics or activism of any kind?

Absolutely not! By the way, I once went to meet with officials about the jitneys. One of Gusev’s people asked me, “You probably want something for yourself, right? To be a village head or a council member? What do you want? Money? power?” I told him, “No matter how poor I am, I will never join your party or knuckle under.” No, I live a dignified life, and I won’t be ashamed to look my grandchildren in the eyes in the future. I’m not a vegetable. That matters most of all. In fact, that’s what I have been punished for.

You haven’t missed Usman after moving to Voronezh?

I loved that village and am still happy when something happens there. I don’t regret speaking out, I don’t regret being arrested, because I am a human being. I always wondered who I was. For example, I could say that I was a mother, that I was a daughter. I realized in 2019 that I was a human being and a citizen. I’m not a punching bag, I’m not a pushover—I’m a citizen. I can say this with absolute certainty, and it gives me strength and confidence. Even if I were alone, I would be a citizen. That is the highest calling I could have.

nb-5Nadezhda Belova on the limits of Novaya Usman. Photo by Vladimir Lavrov. Courtesy of RFE/RL

You’re not resentful that your home village has turned its back on you at a difficult moment?

In the house where I lived, a neighbor lady has knocked together a playground—there are some benches and chintzy swings. I recently went there to paint pictures on the walls. I paid for the paint with my own money. I breathed this paint and cleaned up dog poo and empty bottles. As a child, I saw puddles of sewage, drunks and drug addicts. Books were my only salvation, as I lived in utter poverty and was hungry all the time. May their children grow up amidst beauty. If at least one child doesn’t become a drug addict or go to prison thanks to this beauty, I will feel that I haven’t lived my life in vain. These are children, these are our children! After all, someone did not provide warmth, kindness and morality to the people who detained me and undressed me. They grew up to be monsters. This is a universal problem. It is sad that children escape into drug addiction, that they blow themselves up. I have tried to change this little world as much as I can. Everything I could do, I have done and will do. I won’t be made into a monster. I won’t retaliate, I won’t hate, and I’m not going to kill myself.

Nadezhda Belova is the latest in a growing list of Russians who have been prosecuted for allegedly publicly “exonerating” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. Belova has joined the ranks of Lyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinSvetlana ProkopievaAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

In the Year 2035

“Will You Choose This Russia?”: Federal News Agency Releases Pro-Constitutional Amendments Ad in Which Male Couple Adopt Child as Sad Music Plays 
Bumaga
June 2, 2020

The Petersburg-based news website Federal News Agency, affiliated with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the so-called troll factory, has posted a pro-constitutional amendments ad on social media that shows two gay men adopting a child, thus reminding viewers that one of the proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution would enshrine the concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

[. . .]

The action of the Federal News Agency video takes place in the year 2035. In the ad, a boy is collected from an orphanage by an adoptive father who is preparing to introduce him to his adoptive mother. “Mom” turns out to be another man, who is a recognizable caricature of a homosexual. As sad music plays, the boy gets upset, and a female employee of the orphanage spits on the ground and walks away. The video ends with the couple kissing and the phrase, “Will you choose this Russia? Decide the future of the country—vote for the amendments to the Constitution.”

The video has been heavily criticized on social networks for homophobia and its unrealistic portrayal of homosexuals. Many viewers did not understand the connection between the events in the video and the Constitution.

[. . .]

The video was created by the Patriot Media Group, which includes Federal News Agency and other media outlets associated with the troll factory. Patriot’s board of trustees is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin’s chef.”

Nikolai Stolyarchuk, the head of Patriot Media Group, said that the video was not aimed against the LGBT community, but defended “the institution of the family as a union of a man and a woman.” According to Stolyarchuk, homosexual couples should not adopt children. He added that this was only the first video in a large series of ads. The campaign, according to Stolyarchuk, was funded exclusively by Patriot, not by the Russian state.

The actor who played the role of “Mom”, told Coda that he was neutral towards homosexuals and did not think that the video would generate such a strong public response. He said that although he had never voted before, on July 1 he would vote against the amendments to the Constitution because he had been detained by police and fined for violating self-isolation rules.

photo_2020-06-02_15-14-34Actor Alexander Filimonenko plays “Mom” in the homophobic campaign ad. Photo courtesy of social media and Coda

The vote on the amendments to the Constitution has been scheduled for July 1, despite the ongoing coronavirus epidemic in Russia.

In Petersburg, activists demonstrating against the proposed constitutional amendments have been detained by police on several occasions. On March 15, activists laid carnations outside the doors of the Constitutional Court on Senate Square. They called their protest action a “funeral event.”

Translated by the Russian Reader