Valery Rashkin: A Rebel in the Russian Communist Party

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

And now – against crackdowns!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With greetings from Moscow,

Vlad Tupikin

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

______________________________

Against political crackdowns: a meeting with State Duma MPs

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

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

Vadim Kantor

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

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

And Then They Came for the Gastroenterologists

Dr. Alexey Golovenko on April 20, 2021. Photo: Daria Neschekina

Security forces detain gastroenterologist Alexey Golovenko in the capital
Novaya Gazeta
April 25, 2021

Law enforcement officers have detained Moscow gastroenterologist Alexey Golovenko. This was reported on Facebook by Mikhail Genin, the head of the project Find Your Doctor!

Golovenko has been taken to the police department in the Koptevo district. The exact reason for the doctor’s arrest is unknown: Genin says it may be connected with the fact that Golovenko gave an interview to the BBC on April 21.

Alexey Golovenko is a well-known Moscow gastroenterologist and popularizer of scientific medicine. In 2019, he was detained at a rally for fair elections to the Moscow City Duma. The doctor has also collaborated with Meduza* on a guide to intestinal health problems.

UPDATE, 6:28 p.m. Meduza reports that Dr. Golovenko has been left to stay overnight in the police department. His court hearing will be held on April 26. Genin has clarified that the doctor has been charged with violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code (violating the established procedure for organizing or holding a rally).

* Meduza has been entered by the Russian Federal Justice Ministry in the register of mass media functioning as foreign agents.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE, 27 April 2021. Yesterday, Dr. Golovenko reported on his Facebook page that the court dismissed the charges against him for lack of evidence. || TRR

Kira Yarmysh: People Usually Avoid the Word “Dying”

Kira Yarmysh

Kira Yarmysh
Facebook
April 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://free.navalny.com/

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

What You Have to Do to Be a “Foreign Agent” in Russia

Darya Apahonchich. The inscription reads: “Not only a body, but also a person.” Courtesy of Kommersant via Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page

Аn “agent” due to wages: foreign agent status threatens teachers
Oleg Dilimbetov and Marina Litvinova
Kommersant
April 7, 2021

A job at a foreign institute of higher education or a salary from a foreign employer can be grounds for obtaining the status of a so-called foreign agent. This transpired during the the hearing of a lawsuit brought against the Justice Ministry by Petersburg teacher and activist Darya Apahonchich. She had requested that the ministry specify the reasons it had forcibly registered her as a “private individual acting as a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent.” The ministry provided the court with written proof of her employment at a French college [in Petersburg] and the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The ministry confirmed that the “foreign funding” received by a potential “foreign agent” does not necessarily have to have anything to do with subsequent “dissemination of information” or “political activity.”

Ms. Apahonchich was placed on the register of so-called individual media foreign agents on December 28, 2020, along with three journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. At the time, the Justice Ministry did not explain what specific reasons had caused them to assign her this status. In March, Ms. Apahonchich filed a lawsuit in Petersburg’s Lenin District Court, claiming that the obligations imposed on her by the Justice Ministry due to the new status violated her rights under the Russian Constitution and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On April 5, during a preliminary hearing of the lawsuit, Ms. Apahonchich was informed of the Justice Ministry’s objections to her claims and finally learned the reasons she had been entered into the register.

The ministry told the court that the woman [sic] had received foreign money transfers from Sweden, Germany, France and Finland. As Ms. Apahonchich explained, these were official fees for participation in festivals and exhibitions and her work as a teacher.

Thus, she was paid 35 thousand rubles by the Finnish Museum of Photography.  She received Another 112 thousand rubles from the French college [in Petersburg], where she taught Russian. She received about 60 thousand rubles from friends via the PayPal transfer system, and these transfers were expedited by Deutsche Bank (Germany). [That is, Ms. Apahonchich had received the fantastic sum of approximately 2,220 euros at current exchange rates — TRR.] In addition, Ms. Apahonchich was imputed with having received bank transfers from her employer, the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The Justice Ministry stated that the source of these funds was Norway, and the intermediary was Sweden. The activist herself claims that she performed work at the Red Cross under a [Russian] presidential grant.

As for “dissemination of information,” the Justice Ministry pointed out that Ms. Apahonchich had reposted on social networks the article “Feminist Fairy Tales: Princesses Fighting the Patriarchy,” published by Radio Liberty (which has been deemed a so-called foreign agent media outlet by the Russian authorities). The ministry also told the court about the YouTube channel “Feminists Explain,” where Ms. Apahonchich has discussed the topic of gender equality, and her article about domestic violence, published on the website Colta.ru. In addition, the woman [sic] had appealed on social networks for solidarity with the defendants in the case of the Network (deemed a terrorist organization in the Russian Federation and banned) and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova.

“The list of my sins is long but honorable: I taught Russian as a foreign language, participated in international festivals, and voiced solidarity with  the regime’s victims. Yes, I also accepted financial assistance from friends from abroad,” Ms. Apahonchich said when asked to comment on the Justice Ministry’s position. “It is clear that they brought the house down on me for solidarity: for solidarity pickets, for public discussions with friends. The situation was not what it is now: everyone seems to have gone off the rails. We’re in trouble, we need help.”

Her lawyer Alexander Peredruk noted that the Justice Ministry had not even tried to prove to the court that there was a connection between the foreign funds received by his client and her activism.

“Based on the Justice Ministry’s position, if you publish something on social networks, it does not matter whether you receive foreign funds directly or indirectly. And it is very difficult to independently monitor the matter: when collaborating with an LLC, you cannot know for certain whether it receives foreign money,” the lawyer said. “The Justice Ministry argues that the separately existing evidence of receiving funds from abroad and publishing on social networks is enough. They have not tried to establish a direct connection between them.”

The Justice Ministry told Kommersant that the law sets quite clear criteria for inclusion in the register. In the case of “individual media foreign agents,” it is sufficient to “distribute news reports and materials intended for an unlimited number of persons,” as well as to receive “money and (or) other property” from foreign states, organizations and nationals, or “from Russian legal entities receiving money from these sources.” To obtain the status of an “individual foreign agent,” it is enough to receive “foreign” money and “distribute news reports and materials” created by a “foreign agent media outlet” or “participate in the creation” of such “news reports and materials.”

“The legislation specifies neither the need for an obligatory link between the receipt of foreign funds and the dissemination of news reports and materials, nor evidence of the individual’s political activity,” the Justice Ministry confirmed to Kommersant.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Our Thaw

Sergei Yolkin, “Thaw.” Courtesy of RFE/RL via Radikal.ru

Our Thaw: a fair court decision as evidence of a catastrophe
The cautionary tale of an “extremist” comment
Ivan Davydov
Republic
April 11, 2021

Let’s start with the good news: “The Kalinin District Court of St. Petersburg refused to grant investigators their request to place under house arrest a local resident accused of exonerating terrorism. This was reported on Friday by the joint press service of the city’s courts. The court imposed a preventive measure against the defendant, Alexander Ovchinnikov, by forbidding him from doing certain things until June 6. In particular, Ovchinnikov is not allowed to leave his apartment between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, to be in places where mass public events are held and to use the internet.”

We should make it clear that we are talking about a terrible state criminal: “The 48-year-old Ovchinnikov was detained on April 7. Law enforcement agencies believe that in August 2020 he posted ‘comments justifying terrorism’ on the RT News in Russian community page on VKontakte.”

First, let us note the uncharacteristic humanity exhibited by the investigators in the case. They could have tried to get Ovchinnikov remanded in custody for such actions, but no, they reined themselves in and only sought house arrest for the perp. Second, this really is good news. The court refused to put Citizen Ovchinnikov under house arrest, deigning instead only to slightly complicate his life. Staying at home at night is much better than staying at home all the time. And sitting around with no internet is incomparably better than sitting in jail.

The court did not make a cannibalistic ruling at all – another reason to rejoice!

When hearing such news, it is customary to joke, “It’s the Thaw all over again.” And also to say (just as jocularly), “Another victory for civil society!” But in this particular case, the second joke is not particularly appropriate. Civil society was not interested in Ovchinnikov’s plight, and no one made any effort to fight for his freedom.

This does not mean that the criminal will escape punishment: the investigators are working, and the court is waiting. There is a good possibility that for his terrible acts (“committed using the media or electronic or information and telecommunications networks, including the internet”), Ovchinnikov could face a heavy fine measuring in the millions of rubles (it’s the going thing nowadays: the big bosses would do not agree to less — times are difficult, the state coffers are empty, people are the new petroleum) or even a stint in prison.

The price of meekness
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of comment Citizen Ovchinnikov left on “RT’s official page.” It is quite possible that it was something stupid. And this is a telling aspect of the story: as part of my job, I have to keep track of trending news via feeds from the wire services. A few years ago, Ovchinnikov would have been a star. All the sane outlets would have written indignantly that a person was being tried for a social media comment. The insane outlets would have written something like, “A dangerous accomplice of terrorists was neutralized by valiant law enforcement officers in the president’s hometown.” We would know, perhaps, not only what exactly Alexander Ovchinnikov did to upset Margarita Simonyan’s underlings, but also all the details of his biography.

Nowadays, however, Ovchinnikov’s case is routine. There are dozens of such cases underway, and you can’t keep track of all of them. A story like this would only arouse interest if a more or less well-known person was under attack. Or the context would matter. We shouldn’t forget that among the criminal cases opened in the wake of January’s pro-Navalny protests, there are two that directly involve social network posts – the so-called Sanitary Case* and the “Involving Minors in Unauthorized Protests” Case. People will be put on trial, and they will be sentenced to prison, fines or probation.

The lack of public interest is understandable and even, perhaps, excusable. But it says a lot about how the Russian state and Russian society have mutated. Everyone regards cases like Ovchinnikov’s as commonplace. Meanwhile, the powers that be have usurped the right to punish people for their words, including words that are obviously insignificant. (Terrorism, of course, is a disgusting thing, but it is unlikely that a comment, even on the page of a propaganda TV channel, will somehow contribute particularly strongly to the success of world terrorism, and I assure you that those who are eager to jail people for social media comments also get this.) The authorities have come up with a lot of different reasons to punish people for their words. Thousands of specialists are busy searching for the wrong words, lives are broken, and careers are made.

But for us civilians it has also become commonplace. We have got used to it, recognized the right of the authorities to do as they like, and stopped being particularly indignant.

When the state is focused on lawlessness, norms are shaped not by deliberately repressive laws, but by our willingness to put up with how they are applied.

Norms and savagery
Fining or jailing people for the comments they make on social networks is savage, after all. Savage but normal. In a short while we’ll be telling ourselves that it’s always been like this. For the time being, however, searching the homes of opposition activists’ parents who have nothing to do with their children’s activism, interrogating journalists and political activists in the middle of the night, and torturing detainees after peaceful protests do not seem to be the norm. But it’s a matter of time — that is, a matter of habit. None of these things have sparked outsized outrage, so they too will become the norm.

But I have a sense that harsh crackdowns on peaceful protests have almost become the norm. What is surprising is when the security forces behave like human beings, as was the case during the Khabarovsk protests, for example. You mean the police didn’t break up the demo? What do you mean, they didn’t beat you? Was something the matter?

I remember how I was struck by a news item reported by state-controlled wire services after the first rally in support of Sergei Furgal: a little girl was lost in the crowd, and the National Guard helped her find her parents. The cops did their jobs, for a change, and that was amazing. The normal performance of their duties by the security forces looked like something completely crazy. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, we are now surprised when a court makes an utterly meaningless ruling that is not at all cannibalistic. It’s the Thaw all over again!

The norm looks wild, and wildness is the norm. So, perhaps, it is possible to describe where the Putinist state has arrived in its political devolution over the past few years. This is its supreme accomplishment.

If we follow the dictionary definitions, we should conclude there has been no state in Russia for some time. This is a different, new growth, and it is most likely malignant.

But this only works in one case – if society capitulates. A creepy monster like ours can only flourish in the ruins of society.

P.S. A trenchant critic might object: as if “they” do not have such a thing — putting people on trial for their words, and persecute for comments. Yes, it happens, of course, it happens. The most democratic of the democratic countries are not averse to biting off a little piece of their people’s freedoms, while grassroots activists, militants guided by the loftiest ideals, are happy to trample on other people’s freedom, and new centers of power, like the social networks, do not want to lag behind.

Recently, Facebook blocked a page run by a group of Moscow amateur historians who posted a text about the capital’s Khokhlovka district for a month for “hate speech.” Try to guess why. [Because “Khokhlovka” sounds similar to “khokhly,” a derogatory term for Ukrainians — TRR.]

Yes, in some sense, the Motherland, having made it a matter of policy to distance itself from the wider world, is following a global trend, however strange that may sound. Well, so much the worse for “them.” And for us. It is thus all the more important to remember how valuable freedom is.

* “The Sanitary Case is a series of criminal cases initiated for alleged violations sanitary and epidemiological norms during the January 23, 2021, protests in Moscow. It has been recognized by human rights defenders as part of the ongoing political crackdown in the Russian Federation. The defendants in the case are FBK (Anti-Corruption Foundation) employees Lyubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov and Kira Yarmysh, municipal deputies Lyudmila Stein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Dmitry Baranovsky, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, Alexei Navalny’s brother Oleg, head of the trade union Alliance of Doctors Anastasia Vasilyeva, and former FBK employee Nikolai Lyaskin.”

Image courtesy of Radikal.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Stopping His Torture Is Our Common Cause”

OVD Info
Facebook
April 6, 2021

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

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

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

Poster: Anna Margolis. Photo: Maria Kokovkina

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

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

OK Narusova

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

Sofiko Arifdzhanova
Facebook
March 4, 2021

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

Is this OK, Narusova?

Photo: Dasha Trofimova

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

Special Detention Center Days

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halfway to Ashgabat

Blue dogs have been spotted on the road near the city of Dzerzhinsk. Photo: Twitter/Moscow Times

Kirill Martynov
Facebook
February 12, 2021

Here are two news items from the last few days.

Security forces officers were sent to the home of [Anastasia Proskurina], a Novosibirsk research institute employee who had told Putin [on February 8] about the low salaries she and her colleagues received to find out who had “coached” her.

[Natalia Yolgina], a schoolteacher who teaches in the class attended by the Sevastopol governor’s son complained about her salary: she was fired and questioned by “anti-extremism” police.

The ridiculous desire of officials and members of parliament to smash the “flashlight protests” on February 14 obscures much more important processes underway in the country.

After federal authorities outright declared Navalny a foreign spy and, without hesitation, tried him for thought crimes, local authorities were given carte blanche to search for spies throughout the country.

If you think that your salary is low and you dare to state your unfounded suspicions in public, then it is quite obvious that you work for NATO. Basically, any problem in the country is directly explained by foreign interference and requires intervention of the competent authorities. For example, if, from your point of view, there is a pothole in the road near your house, then this is cause for a GRU operation to unmask you.

This is the most ambitious project for ultra-politicizing garden-variety discontent in Russia’s modern history. Now it won’t be possible even to sneeze without provoking suspicious of “foreign interference” and triggering an expensive criminal investigation.

They say that similar things happen in Turkmenistan and North Korea, where if you wipe your butt with a piece of newspaper containing an image of the great leader, you are declared a traitor to the state, despite the fact that there is no toilet paper at all, just as there are no newspapers not emblazoned with the great leader’s face.

For now, however, it seems to me that we will end up halfway to Ashgabat. It is impossible to bamboozle a large country utterly and at length. If a small salary makes you a foreign spy, then all the “spies” should become friends.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Media Ordered To Delete Reports On Planned ‘Flashlight’ Protest
RFE/RL Russian Service
February 12, 2021

MOSCOW — Russia’s federal media regulator has ordered media outlets, including RFE/RL’s Russian Service and Current Time TV, to delete all reports about a planned mobile-phone “flashlight” protest against the jailing of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

The official order from Roskomnadzor was received by media groups on February 12. It says Russian authorities consider any reporting about the planned flashlight protest to be a call for people to take part in an unsanctioned public demonstration and mass disorder.

Roskomnadzor’s order also was sent to online newspapers Meduza and Open Media, and the TV-2 news agency in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Navalny’s team in Tomsk said they also were warned by the city prosecutor’s office on February 12 that they could be held liable for staging an unsanctioned protest.

Navalny’s team has called on people across Russia to switch on their mobile-phone flashlights for 15 minutes beginning at 8 p.m. on February 14 — shining the light into the sky from courtyards and posting pictures of the protest on social media.

Leonid Volkov, director of Navalny’s network of teams across Russia, announced the change of tactics on February 9 in response to police crackdowns against mass street demonstrations that have led to tens of thousands of arrests across Russia.

The “flashlight” protest is a tactic similar to what demonstrators have been doing in neighboring Belarus following brutal police crackdowns targeting rallies against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Volkov says it is a nonviolent way for Russians to show the extent of outrage across the country over Navalny’s treatment without subjecting themselves to arrests and police abuse.

The 44-year-old Navalny, a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany where he had been treated for a nerve-agent poisoning he says was ordered by Putin. The Kremlin denies it had any role in the poison attack against Navalny.

Navalny’s detention sparked outrage across the country and much of the West, with tens of thousands of Russians taking part in street rallies on January 23 and 31.

Police cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny’s political allies behind bars and detaining thousands more — sometimes violently — as they gathered on the streets.

A Russian court on February 2 ruled Navalny was guilty of violating the terms of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case that he has called politically motivated.

The court converted the sentence to 3 1/2 years in prison. Given credit for time already spent in detention, the court said Navalny must serve another 2 years and 8 months behind bars.

That prompted fresh street protests across the country. But Volkov called for a pause in street rallies until the spring — saying weekly demonstrations would only result in more mass arrests.

Authorities have criticized Volkov’s call for flashlight protests.

Kremlin-friendly political observer Aleksei Martynov accused Navalny’s team of stealing the idea from commemorations of Soviet war veterans.