Trucker Andrei Bazhutin: “We Want to Change the System”

OPR Leader Andrei Bazhutin Picketing in Yoshkar-Ola: “Until 2015, I Also Sat and Watched TV”
Dmitry Lyubimov
7X7
August 1, 2017

The Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) picketed Nikonov Square in Yoshkar-Ola on July 31. The picket was part of a cross-country road rally, led by OPR chair and trucker Andrei Bazhutin. On June 14, he announced his candidacy for the Russian presidency. A 7X7 correspondent attended the picket.

Several picketers arrived on Nikonov Square at 7 p.m., bearing placards. Local OPR members held banners that were more informational, while road rally participants held up smaller banners sporting slogans such as “Plato Won’t Save the Roads, It’s Only for Oligarchs,” and “Stop Lying, Stealing, and Fighting Wars.”

Picketer bearing a t-shirt that reads, “Popular Movement for Housing. Together We’ll Take Back Our Abode. #ForHousing. ndza.ru.”

Several members of the Popular Movement for Housing (NDZA) joined the road rally. Andrei Svistunov, civic activist and founder of an independent trade union, came out to support the truckers with colleagues and friends from the local Alexei Navalny campaign headquarters.

“We have never been in government, and we have no ties with any oligarchs. We’re ordinary people,” said Andrei Bazhutin. “We want to change the system. We don’t have rose-tinted glasses. We realize our road is a hard road. We’ll see what obstacles they throw in our path. Until 2015, I also sat and watched TV. I went on trucking runs and watched TV. Nowadays, I don’t watch it at all. I trust the internet, but only partly. Here we are, outside, among people. Everywhere the doors have been slammed shut in our face. Our association has tried to make contact with the government and the president’s staff. The people in our association are grown men, and they’ve been through their share of hot spots. We own our own big rigs. People know who we are, and that’s a good thing.”

Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (ORP)

The road rally has taken place in an abbreviated form. Previously, big rigs were involved in it, but now the convoy consists of only two cars and a minibus. Residents of Murmansk, Vologda, Tver, Moscow, and St. Petersburg have been involved in the rally. It has been paid for by participants themselves and private donors. During their meetings with the people in the towns where they stop, the truckers talk about different problems, including housing and hoodwinked investors in cooperative residential buildings.

“Initially, the Communists actively supported us. I met with Vladimir Rodin and Valery Rashkin, CPRF MPs in the State Duma. But they probably will not keep supporting us in the future, since we talk about the fact that Russia’s current party-based political system is rotten to the core. We are categorically opposed to the structure that has now been established in Russia. We believe the future lies with social movements, who must nominate grassroots candidates. That is probably the most positive know-how from the late-period Soviet Union that we can borrow. Power must rotate,” argues Bazhutin.

According to Bazhutin, the interests of the OPR and Alexei Navalny intersect, and the truckers are involved in his protest rallies. At pickets in Moscow, the drivers pasted placards with images of rubber duckies on their trucks. (The rubber ducky is a symbol of the “Don’t Call Him Dimon” campaign, whose supporters demand that authorities respond to the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s video exposé of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.)

Anti-Corruption Foundation, Don’t Call Him Dimon: Palaces, Yachts, and Vineyards—Dmitry Medvedev’s Secret Empire. YouTube video, with subtitles in English. Posted March 2, 2017, by Alexei Navalny

“2015 was the year of our camp in Khimki: our entire movement was launched there. Navalny filed a petition in the Commercial Court to reveal the terms of the public-private partnership agreement [establishing the Plato road tolls system], and many of our guys attended the hearing. Navalny wanted to visit our camp. But our goal was to keep the camp up and running, and if Navalny had shown up, we didn’t know whether it would have a positive or negative impact. So we turned him down. It led to a slight misunderstanding. Nowadays, we don’t say that Navalny has been going about things the wrong way. We see circumstances slightly differently. This concerns, for example, a united candidate from the opposition. He might not make it to the election. Those comrades over there [Bazhutin points to the law enforcement officers keeping an eye on the picket] might not allow it. If there is no such candidate, then what is left? We need candidates representing movements and grassroots organizations. Let ordinary folk nominate their own candidates. We shall see. Let them get themselves registered, and then we’ll decide whom to support,” said Bazhutin.

The truckers of the OPR have been on an indefinite strike since March 27. They have made six demands, including sacking the current government and expressing no confidence in the Russian president, to abolishing the Plato road tolls system and recalculating the excise tax on fuel.

The next stop on OPR’s road rally is Nizhny Novgorod.

All photos by Anna Pyatak and courtesy of 7X7. See the rest of her photos from the picket by clicking on the link to the original article, above. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Let’s Cancel the Party and Call It a Night

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Car parked in central Petersburg, 8 July 2017. Photo by The Russian Reader

Given the sheer numbers of reactionary/counter-revolutionary events and incidents happening in Russia every day, and the equally astronomical quantities of reactionary/counter-revolutionary statements and actions committed by Russian officials high and low (e.g. East Aleppo) over the past couple of decades, it seems a nasty farce to commemorate, much less celebrate, the centennial of the Russian revolution(s) this year.

Present-day Russia and Russians have no copyright on revolution, and this stricture applies equally to self-identified “revolutionary” or leftist Russians, who have nothing to teach or say to anyone about revolution.

Clear the current Russian built and symbolic landscape of all the post-revolutionary tat and kitsch (nearly all of it reactionary, because what could be more anti-revolutionary than a cult of personality like the one generated around the dead Lenin) that clutters its physically and nominally (e.g., Insurrection Square in Petersburg), and you would find the wildly reactionary country that actually occupies the vast expanse between the Gdansk Bay and the Chukchi Peninsula.

It’s another matter that there are lots of Russians who, pluckily and smartly, individually and collectively, have been trying to overcome to this black reaction in bigger and smaller ways over the “miraculous” years of the Putin regimes. Unfortunately, however, their voices have mostly been muffled by the din of counter-revolution issuing from the Kremlin, the State Duma, and the post-Soviet Russian state’s ever-proliferating set of security forces and regulatory watchdogs, and by their own would-be allies among the brand-name liberals and leftists, most of whom have been concerned with promoting their own social and cultural capital, not making common cause with boring math instructors like “mass disorder stoker” Dmitry Bogatov or, more surprisingly, with the country’s endlessly resourceful independent truckers and other inspiring grassroots freedom fighters, none of whom have the time or the inclination to commemorate the famous revolution that, arguably, went counter-revolutionary more quickly than you can say Jack Robinson. TRR

Center for Economic and Political Reform: Protests on Rise in Russia

Analysts Claim Number of Protests Sharply on the Rise in Russia
Yevgenia Kuznetsova
RBC
July 10, 2017

The number of social and political protests in Russia has risen in the second quarter by 33% compared to the beginning of the year. Experts attribute the rise to seasonal activeness and the growth of social tension.

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Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

Protest Factors
During the second quarter of 2017, the number of protests in Russia rose by a third compared to the start of the year. There were 284 protests in the first quarter of the year, while 378 protest events were recorded in the second quarter, the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CERP) reported in its paper “Russia in 2017: The Number of Protests Grows.” RBC has a copy of the paper.

The CERP’s analysts divide protests into political protests and social protests. The latter include protests over the violation of social rights, declines in living standards, loss of work, and nonpayment of back wages. Over the second quarter, the number of both types of protest grew. The paper’s authors recorded 148 political protests from April to July, compared to 96 in the first three months of the year, while the number of protests provoked by social injustices rose from 167 to 205. The analysts collected their information about protests from the media, social networks, regional analysts, and workforces, who recorded the protests on the ground.

The paper claims the level of protests was high both in 2016 and early 2017. Last year, however, the majority of protests touched on specific issues—wage arrears, the demands of defrauded investors and residential building stakeholders, increases in utility rates, the launch of the Plato system of road tolls for truckers, etc. The authorities did not solve these problems, and so protests have been politicized this year. People involved in them have taken to the streets with more general slogans, for example, anti-corruption slogans, the paper’s authors note. In their opinion, this is the cause of the increase in political protests. ​​

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Protests recorded in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2017. [Green] Protests caused by socio-economic issues: 372. [Violet] Political protests: 244. [Light blue] Labor protests: 46. 1st quarter: 167 social protests, 96 political protests, 21 labor protests = 284 protests. 2nd quarter: 205 social protests, 148 political protests, 25 labor protests = 378 protests. Source: Center for Political and Economic Reform, “Russia in 2017: The Number of Protests Grow.” Copyright 2017, RBC

The growth of protests is explained by another factor: seasonality, CERP director Nikolay Mironov told RBC. People protest less at the start of the year than in the spring months. According to Mironov, the regime uses the seasonality of protests to decide when to schedule elections. In 2012, analysts at the Central Electoral Commission determined the populace was politically most active, including in terms of turnout, during two seasons: late March, April, and May, and late October, November, and December. Therefore, the regime moved the nationwide parliamentary and local legislative assemblies election day to September to lower the turnout while announcing the presidential election for March 2018 to raise the turnout

Other eventful factors in the second quarter of this year were the adoption of the law on residential housing renovation and the large-scale protests by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. But the main factor, according to Mironov, was the overall increase in tension due to the fact that the problems that have given rise to protests have not been solved or have been solved on a case-by-case basis.

“This is the Kremlin’s election strategy: solve problems on an ad hoc basis, because it is impossible to solve them as a whole. But you can go to a region and resolve a specific problem in a flashy way for the TV cameras,” Mironov explained.

Mironov argues that the federal authorities also expect that, after a public flogging during the president’s televised call-in show and his trips to the regions, local authorities will start solving problems on their own.

“But it doesn’t work. For example, after the televised call-in show, the workers in Nizhny Tagil got their back wages paid, but the strike by miners in Gukovo, in Rostov Region, was hushed up and will continue to be hushed up,” said Mironov.

The increase in the number of political protests partly has to do with how the media covers the protests, Mironov argues. According to him, journalists usually pay more attention to political protests than to social protests, and this has a dampening effect on protests. People about whom reporters don’t write are “a priori less protected.”

Localization
The CEPR’s conclusions about the growth of protests have been indirectly confirmed by research carried out by the Levada Center. According to one of its surveys, the number of people who agree that political protests are possible in their town has risen from 14% in February to 23% in June, Levada Center sociologist Stepan Goncharov told RBC. The number of people willing to take part in political protests has increased from eight to twelve percent. An even greater number of people predicted social protests would break out in their towns. When asked, “Are protests against decreased living standards possible in your town right now?” 28% of respondents in June said they were, as opposed to only 19% in February.

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Protests in the 1st quarter of 2017 by federal district. [Green] Social protests: 472. [Violet] Political protests: 244. [Light blue] Labor protests: 46. Volga Federal District: 160 protests. Central Federal District: 132 protests. Siberian Federal District: 86 protests. Northwest Federal District: 82 protests. Southern Federal District: 66 protests. Far Eastern Federal District: 47 protests. Ural Federal District: 62 protests. North Caucasus Federal District: 27 protests. Source: Center for Political and Economic Reform, “Russian in 2017: The Number of Protests Grow.” Copyright RBC, 2017

It would be wrong to say there have been considerably more social protests in recent months, argues Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, based on the results of his own research. According to Vinogradov, the number of political protests has increased mainly due to protests by Navalny’s supporters, but the number of social protests has remained at the same level. It would also be wrong to say the number of social protests depends directly on how the authorities resolve the issues that provoke them, says Vinogradov. According to him, the authorities do not have an overall algorithm. In some locales, they resolve issues immediately, fearing protests, while in other places they ignore problems or get bogged down in talking about them. The problem is that the authorities are not always able to determine the real cause of protests and react correctly to it.

Discontent is growing, but the majority of protests remain local for the time being, argues political scientist Konstantin Kalachev.

“The regime is fairly good at solving problems by nipping them in the bud,” argues Kalachev.

Although we cannot be sure social protests will not segue into political protests.

“For the time being it all comes down to demands to dismiss one governor or another, nothing more,” says Kalachev.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ekaterina Prokopovich: Independence Day

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Vadim F. Lurie, from the series “Russia Day in Petersburg,” June 12, 2017

Ekaterina Prokopovich
July 4, 2017
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Facebook

I finally must tell you about the events of June 12. Otherwise, I will lose their thread altogether.

Navalny announced another round of anti-corruption rallies nationwide. The first rallies were on March 26. I wrote about it. I was detained at the rally [in Petersburg]. I was also detained during a rally on April 29. I wrote about that as well. You all know I have a ton of gripes against Navalny, but I think it’s important to demonstrate publicly.

On June 12, my son and I arrived at the Field of Mars. We walked several meters. There were a lot fewer people than in March. Somewhere, people were shouting, “Russia will be free!” and stuff like that. I saw the Russian National Guard lining up. I said to my son, “Let’s get the heck out of here.” I really did not want to get arrested again. We turned around and were leaving. I suddenly saw that the Russian National Guard had kettled us. That was all she wrote.

People next to me asked what was happening. I told them I’d been through it before. I said we would be taken to different police precincts, charged with violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code (“violating the rules for holding a public event”), and go home late in the evening. I said that, by law, the police had three hours to do this, but they violate the law. What I didn’t realize then was that our arrest would last not three hours, but several days.

Now I understand we should have broken out of the kettle and left. We cannot let them treat us like sheep and illegally detain us. I had already talked to people who had managed to break through another kettle and with a man who had given the slip to a Russian National Guardsman who had grabbed him. That’s the way to do it.

Skipping ahead, I’ll say that a young man who interrogated me about what would happen to us, a young man who had come to the Field of Mars simply to hang out, was sentenced to fourteen days in jail. Everyone got the same sentence, no matter why they were there.

We were thrown onto buses and taken to police precincts. Once there, we were initially charged with violating Article 20.2, but in the evening, the police got orders to charge us with violating Article 19.3 (“disobeying a police officer’s lawful request”) as well. We know this, because the police dicussed it in front of us. One female officer was even outraged. “Why charge them with 19.3?” she wondered. The precinct deputy commander replied, “Do I need to explain why? Let’s go and I’ll explain it to you!” So we spent the night in a cell. We were taken to court only in the evening of the next day. Personally, I was convicted and sentenced in the dead of the night, around two in the morning. The women generally got five days in the slammer. For some reason, I got seven. On the other hand, I’m a recidivist. My son got a lighter sentence: his defender, Yevgeny Pirozhkov, argued his case for several hours, trying to get him off. In short, the district courts were operating round the clock. Around six hundred people were detained. Around two hundred or so were sent to the slammer. The temporary detention center could not have handled any more. Everyone’s charge sheets were identical down to the last comma. The police faked the charge sheets, and the judges had gotten word from up top that people should be sent to jail for several days based on the trumped-up charge sheets.

We were taken to the temporary detention center twice. The first time was on June 14 at six in the morning. We waited, but they had run out of mattresses. We were shipped back to the precinct. They brought us back in the afternoon and put us in our cells in the evening.

In short, they tormented us for two days, but everything was decent at the detention center, both in terms of the staff and the conditions. I have no gripes against the detention center. I’ll write about it separately, because this text is too long as it is.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Alexei Kouprianov for the heads-up. Please read my other postings on the events of June 12 and their horrendous (il)legal aftermath:

 

Jenya Kulakova: My First Time as a Social Defender

russian courtroom

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
June 27, 2017

Today, for the first time in my life, I was a social defender [obshchestvennaya zashchitnitsa] in court. I wanted to record my experience here at least: six months ago (or fewer), it would have been hard for me to imagine doing such a thing. The hearing was perfect for starters: an appeal against charges filed in connection with the events of June 12. It was impossible to lose. However, it was just as impossible to win.

I was a bit worried yesterday evening: my first hearing was just round the corner. Lovely Alina told me that, first, I should treat it like having to deal with the housing management authorities, and second, she wished me success. When I asked her what success would look like, she said, “If you get a judge who isn’t too strident.” That was exactly the kind of judge we got: not too strident. The judge listened attentively to my babbling about the principle that forbids punishing someone twice for the same offense. She looked straight into my eyes and nodded. Finally, she asked whether we had anything else to say. And then she rejected our appeal. As usual, there is nothing interesting about any of this.

The human factor is much more interesting. Suddenly, you seemingly find yourself in the same boat as a complete stranger. There was no one besides us in the large courtroom, and the huge wooden table really resembled the deck of a ship. The “perpetrator” was a middle-aged man. As he put it, there had been only two “geezers” among the June 12 detainees in the police precinct where he had been taken. A few years ago, he was happy when Crimea was occupied, but later he changed his mind. June 12 was the first protest rally in his life, and, right off the bat, he was detained. He says he has no regrets. His colleagues at the small firm where he works concealed from management where he was while he served his jail sentence. The fact he travels a lot for a work made that possible.

On the way back from the hearing, I told him about the solidarity of the Crimean Tatars, and he told me about his wedding to a Georgian national, which almost didn’t come off, because the war suddenly broke out, and the embassy closed. His wife is now a Russian national and quite patriotic. After he was arrested, they even had a falling out, but they have made up. They have four small children. The judge was almost affectionate when she agreed to add a certificate to this effect to the case file.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Kulakova for her kind permission to translate and publish her remarks on this website. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Coming Out: A Lesson in Solidarity from Petersburg

“The Regime Is Making New Enemies with These Arrests”
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
June 22, 2017

The arrestees who served ten days in jail after Russia Day shared their plans for the future. They once again included the Field of Mars, and Navalny, and the special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street they had just left. 

«Этими арестами власть готовит себе врагов»
Ksenia Morozova, holding a placard that reads, “Freedom is within.” Photo courtesy of Sergei Mikhailechenko/Fontanka.ru

A new group of prisoners, who had finished serving the jail sentences they were given after Russia Day, was released on Thursday, June 22, from the Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya Street in central Petersburg. They had been sentenced to ten days in police custody, meaning they had committed violations of “moderate severity.” The die-hard violators, who were sentenced to fifteen days in jail, will not be released until next week. The least malicious violators, who had already been released, greeted their recent cellmates with soda pop, flowers, and rounds of applause. The former prisoners were cheerful and praised the prison food. They came out of jail with the same clear conscience they had when they left the Field of Mars in paddy wagons.

The Interior Ministry’s special detention center on Zakharyevskaya is a historical landmark. Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and Felix Dzerzhinsky had done time there prior to 1917. In June 2017, people who attended an anti-corruption rally on Russian Independence Day were jailed there.

Around 10,000 people had gone to the Field of Mars on the national holiday. Some people celebrated, while others were arrested. Nearly six hundred hundred left the celebrations in paddy wagons, headed to police precincts round the city. From June 13 on, the city’s district courts worked like a conveyor belt for meting out punishment. The arrestees were sentenced for going to the anti-corruption rally and for failing to obey police orders to leave the rally, i.e., they had violated two articles in the Administrative Offenses Code. The majority of those detained at the event got off with 10,500-ruble fines [approx. 158 euros], but a hundred and fifty people were sent to jail, sentenced to terms of three to fifteen days.

The release of the prisoners whose time in jail ended on June 22 was due to start at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the lunch break ends on Zakharyevskaya. At the very same time, as recorded in their arrest records, exactly 240 hours had passed since the first of the “ten-dayers” had been detained. In fact, they had been detained and hauled to the courts wholesale. But the law enforcement machine was carefully counting off the minutes. One prisoner could be released at 2:30 p.m., but another had to be released at 4:00 p.m.

The Support Group
At a quarter to two, people holding plastic bags form a semi-circle at the exit from the detention center. Two vehicles are cruising nearby. One, emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo, is ready to give the released detainees a lift to the courts, where lawyers are waiting to appeal their fines. The other, emblazoned with the police’s logo, is also ready to take them somewhere.

“I’m going to detain you for jaywalking,” a policeman standing on the sidewalk warns me.

“Please arrest me for jaywalking,” I smile back at him, standing on the same sidewalk. The policeman goes back to his car.

The bags of the people waiting outside the detention center are stuffed with bottles of soda pop. There is also a bunch of pink chrysanthemums. Later, the chrysanthemums will be divided and given to the liberated comrades. Everybody knows who nice it is when people are waiting for you with chrysanthemums when you get out of jail. And you are also really thirsty when you get out. The greeters know all of this from personal experience.

“I was in for five days and got out last week,” says a man standing near the gates of the detention center.  “And today the guy I shared a cell with is getting out.”

The man’s name is Oleg Maksakov. He is forty-three. He doesn’t know why he was sentenced to five days, while his young cellmate got ten days. They didn’t know each other before they were jailed, but they made friends in the cell.

“The propaganda has no effect on the people aged eighteen to twenty-five who came to the Field of Mars,” Maksakov says of his “accomplice.” “What matters even more is that they’re not afraid. They’re not downtrodden. They have no experience of the Soviet repression machine. I mean, now they are finding out, of course. But it doesn’t scare them. It only makes them mad.”

Another person who celebrated Russia Day at the Field of Mars approaches us. In terms of age, Pavel Ilatovsky is one of the “non-downtrodden.” You could say he lucked out. He got off with a 10,500-ruble fine and spent two days at police precinct while he waited for his court hearing.

“Yeah, I was lucky,” Ilatovsky agrees. “I had my hearing at the Krasnoye Selo District Court, and the judges were okay. They said right off the bat there was no room in the cells, and so they were going fine us.”

The figures assembled by volunteers back up what Ilatovsky says. The Krasnoye Selo District Court heard 59 cases, and no one was sentenced to time in jail. The Kalinin District Court proved to be the most cruel and greediest. Among the 44 cases it heard, around three fourths (the volunteers don’t know for certain) resulted in fines alone, while the rest resulted in fines and jail time. The same court handed down the harshest sentence: fifteen days in jail plus a 20,000-ruble fine.

Ilatovsky volunteers with the detainees assistance group. The group brought care packages to Zakharyevskaya all ten days and raised money to pay the fines. And now they have brought a vehicle, soda pop, and chrysanthemums. This system of assistance improves with every series of arrests. It has started working like a well-oiled machine.

“There are lots of us,” says Ilatovsky. “And we know that if someone wasn’t detained this time round, he or she could be detained next time. When I was at the police precinct, they brought us water and helped out with food. They even brought us shawarmas.”

We are chatting next to the prison’s entrance. Everyone’s mood is upbeat, even joyful. Finally, the iron door opens and a young man exits holding his passport. He is carrying a backpack, and a container of liquid soap pokes out from the pocket. A yellow-and-blue ribbon is pinned to his jacket.

“Oh!” says Oleg Maksakov, rushing towards him. “I spent five days in a cell with that guy!”

“I Hung Out with Interesting People”
Denis Uvarov went to the Field of Mars with a purpose. He wasn’t celebrating the holiday, but combating corruption.

“This dude was walking around with a bullhorn and ordering everyone to disperse, but no one dispersed. Therefore, they did not obey [the police’s orders],” he says by way of explaining why he was convicted of disobeying the police.

Besides, Uvarov chanted slogans offensive to our president, and what is worse, waved the flag of Ukraine, with which he sympathizes. He caught flak for it: ten days in the slammer. He admits it could have been worse. He twice received care packages of food from complete strangers, and that amazed him most of all.

“Of course, we didn’t really need anything in the cell, but it’s nice knowing that you’re in there, and somebody cares,” says Uvarov.

In the two-person cells in which the June 12 arrestees were held, they really did not need anything. Uvarov compared it to a hospital, adding, only, that he couldn’t go into the hallway. But they were taken out for walks every day.

“The biggest problem was not being able to wash up,” he says. “They let us take a shower only once over the ten days. Well and, excuse me for mentioning it, but going to the toilet when you’re not alone in the cell, is, you know . . . Otherwise, it was okay. There was nothing to do, so I read a pile of books, slept in, studied English a bit, and hung out with interesting people.”

The interesting people were other prisoners sentenced to jail for June 12. Uvarov says it was the first protest many of them had attended. Some of them ended up there by accident and were not interested in politics.

“Now they say they’re going to be more active and angrier,” Uvarov continues. “So the regime is deliberately making new enemies with these arrests, as it were. You can do fifteen days in jail, after all. As long as there is a point.”

“What about twenty?” I ask. “That’s nearly a month.”

“Twenty?” says the young man thoughtfully. “Yes, I could probably do it.”

Then I remind him that, in Russia, it is a criminal offense to attend unauthorized rallies repeatedly.

“Yeah, but don’t you need to be arrested twice in six months,” Uvarov asks uncertainly. “I’ll probably need to take that into account. I’ll think it over.”

“I’ll Go to Jail Again”
Ivan Gerasimyuk is one of the young people who collided head on with politics at the special detention center. He looks about twenty years old.

“I was just hanging out on the Field of Mars,” says the young man. “There was a celebration of four eras taking place there. I looked at pre-revolutionary tanks, and then I went to eat kasha in the field kitchen. That’s where the police grabbed me. In court, I said I wasn’t interested in politics, but the judge didn’t believe me and gave me ten days in jail. It turns out you cannot attend celebrations in our country.”

Gerasimyuk thought jail was awful, especially the fact the prisoners were fed not according to schedule, but whenever. And his cell was very dirty.

“I don’t want to go back there,” Gerasimyuk frowns. “But I’ll definitely go to a protest rally now. We have to combat this lawlessness. Well, so I’ll go to jail again. But then other people won’t have to go.”

Alexander, who refuses to tell me his surname, works in a school. He won’t say what he does there, but he deals with young people like Gerasimyuk, only a bit younger.

He shakes his head.

“I don’t talk with the kids about politics at all. I don’t need to. They know it all anyway. They read about Navalny and Putin in the internet. Although what gets them hot and bothered is memes and all, not politics. But their teachers propagandize them, and they see it doesn’t synch with what is happening around them. That generates distrust in them.”

Alexander went to the Field of Mars knowing a rally was supposed to take place there, but he had no plans of taking part in the protest. He only wanted to watch.

“The numbers of true believers who were arrested were small, in fact,” he grins. “It was the rubberneckers like me who got caught. After doing time in jail, some of them are now true believers. But I’ve also spoken with other people, who say they would never do it again. As for me, I’m definitely going next time.”

Vladimir Drofa, who is released right after Alexander, has become a true believer. Or, at least, he says so.

“Until my arrest I was a sympathizer,” he says, looking at my dictaphone. “But now I’m a convinced revolutionary. I will devote the rest of my life to making sure I change places with the people who put me in here.”

“You want to sentence them to ten days in jail?” I ask.

“I’d start with ten at least.”

Drofa knows that, before him, his namesake Vladimir Ulyanov was imprisoned in a nearby cell.

“I need to read ‘The April Theses,’” he adds.

“Let Them Bust Me!”
The convicts opened the iron door one after another. The young women who were released were mobbed by other young women, who gave them bouquets and squealed in delight, as if they were greeting movie stars. The female arrestees who were the last to be released wearily thanked the public and refused to talk to the press, because they wanted to go home. Ksenia Morozova, a social media marketing manager for Sobaka.ru who had become famous over the last ten days, set her bags on the pavement. She held up a placard reading, “Freedom is within.” She did not hold it up very high, only as high as her own neck

“This is my first picket on the outside!” she yelled. “Let them bust me if they want!”

She was not busted. Her girlfriend grabbed her bags, and the flock of young women ran off towards the subway.

The young people were applauded as they left the jail. They were also given flowers, the very same pink chrysanthemums, until the entire bunch had been divvied up and was gone. The press drifted away. The bus emblazoned with Open Russia’s logo left, taking with it those who wanted to appeal their sentences to meet with lawyers. The last of the dozen and a half “ten-dayers” emerged from the jail after four o’clock, saying almost exactly the same things their special detention center cellmates said. None of them broke their toothbrushes at the doors of the prison.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up

Petersburg’s Kangaroo Courts

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Court bailiff posting a notice outside courthouse in downtown Petersburg. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Petersburg Observers
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June 20, 2017

On June 13 and 14, 2017, emergency courts, expressly forbidden by the Russian Constitution, were set in motion in St. Petersburg.

What were the peculiarities of the court hearings that took place on June 13–14, 2017, in St. Petersburg?

The unprecedented scale. On June 13 and 14, 2017, 943 administrative cases were heard by 123 judges in sixteen of St. Petersburg’s twenty-two district courts. The defendants had been charged with violating Article 19.3, Part 1 (“Disobeying the lawful order or demand of a policeman, military serviceman, penal system officer or Russian National Guard member in connection with the performance of their duties to protect public order and ensure public safety, as well as obstructing the performance of their official duties”) and Article 20.2, Part 5 (“Violation, by a participant of a public event, of the established procedure for holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, procession or picket”) of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code (KoAP). The overwhelming majority of those detained on the Field of Mars on June 12, 2017, were simultaneously charged with both offenses, regardless of the circumstances of their arrests.

The unprecedented speed with which cases were heard: zero minutes (eleven district courts), one minute (seven district courts),  etc.

The unprecedented numbers of cases heard by individual courts in a single twenty-four-hour period: 95 (Kalinin District Court), 106 (Krasnoye Selo District Court), 110 (Frunze District Court).

Violation of territorial jurisdiction. All the administrative cases should have been heard by the Dzerzhinsky District Court, in whose jurisdiction the Field of Mars is located. At the request of the persons charged with administrative offenses, their cases could also have been transferred to the courts in the districts where they are registered as residebts. In the event, the detainees were bused from police precincts to sixteen district courts. Their cases were assigned to judges regardless of territorial jurisdiction.

Violation of the right to a defense. No more than a quarter of the defendants enjoyed the services of a lawyer or public defender. Some judges rejected appeals for adjournment so that defendants would be able to secure defense counsel. Some judges gave defendants a ridiculously short amount of time to secure defense counsel. Defense attorneys and public defenders were physically unable to get into the majority of the courthouses, especially after six o’clock in the evening.

Violation of the right to a public trial. Information about the court hearings on June 13–14, 2017, was posted on the courts’ official websites only several days after the hearings themselves.  People who might have wanted to attend the hearings had no way of finding out what cases were being heard, nor when or where they were being heard. Judges’ rulings have not been published in full. Currently, only 26 of the 943 rulings, which have already taken force, have been published on the courts’ websites.

Violation of the principle of adversarial proceedings. There were no prosecutors or police officers present at any of the hearings, and the judges essentially acted as prosecutors.

Night courts are forbidden. But even on official court websites the starting times of hearings are listed well past midnight, e.g., 12:23 a.m. (Krasnoye Selo District Court), 12:45 a.m. (Kalinin District Court), 5:00 a.m. (Kolpino District Court), 5:20 a.m. (Frunze District Court).

Despite the violations, listed above, the St. Petersburg City Court has rejected all appeals filed, moreover, in the very same fashion as the district courts. This means the people who organized and launched the conveyor belt of emergency justice in St. Petersburg have direct control not only of the police and the Russian National Guard but also the of district and city courts.

P.S. The mass trials that occurred on June 13–14, 2017, in St. Petersburg, differed from extreme justice only in the sense that they were executed by regular judicial entities, rather than by specially instituted extraordinary courts with distinct powers.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Are you wondering how you might react to this nastiness, especially if you live far from Petersburg? Here’s one simple suggestion. FIFA’s Confederations Cup is currently underway at four venues in Russia (Kazan, Moscow, Sochi, and St. Petersburg). Take a gander at the match schedule and the list of corporate sponsors (which includes Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonalds, and Bud). Give them a call or send them an email saying that, because of the way the Russian leadership treats its own people when it comes to the freedoms of speech and assembly, and the right to a fair trial, you won’t be buying their products anymore, since they make common cause with flagrant tyrants.

You can also get in touch with the TV channels broadcasting the Confederations Cup matches in your city or country and tell them you won’t be watching the matches and why you won’t be watching them.

These are simple ways to show your solidarity with the six hundred and sixty some people who were arrested on Petersburg’s Field of Mars for no good reason on Russia Day, a national holiday celebrating the country’s independence from the Sovet Union, and then put through the kangaroo courts, as described above and elsewhere.

These are also effective ways of showing the Russian leadership, who set great store by their power to win bids to host major global sporting events like the Winter Olympics and the Football World Cup that we are not impressed by their prowess, especially when our Russian sisters and brothers live in conditions of such rampant unfreedom and poverty. TRR