Courage

COURAGE
In the course of the presidential elections in Belarus in the summer of 2020, three actors from an underground theatre, Belarus Free Theatre in Minsk, get caught up in the maelstrom of mass protests. They are drawn to the wide streets of Minsk to protest vociferously for freedom of speech and the long-awaited change of power. But the people‘s voice is brutally crushed by the regime‘s security apparatus. Members of the theatre group and many other people get arrested. The country is on the brink of civil war. COURAGE accompanies the courageous and peaceful resistance of Maryna, Pavel and Denis before and during the protests. The film takes a very personal look at the events and thus provides a close and gripping insight into the lives of people in today‘s Belarus who are fighting for their freedom and the right to democracy.

Director: Aliaksei Paluyan
Producer: Jörn Möllenkamp
Writer: Aliaksei Paluyan
Cast: Maryna Yakubovich, Pavel Haradnizky, Denis Tarasenka

Running through Thursday, November 18, at Laemmle Glendale in Glendale, California. Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up. ||| TRR

Five Years Ago Today

This is one of the pleasantest pictures I’ve seen in a long time: former Russian political prisoner Alexei Gaskarov walking in the woods.

Gaskarov was released from prison this past Thursday after serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for being involved in a peaceful opposition march that was attacked by police and provocateurs, for being truncheoned and kicked while lying on the ground by a policeman who never paid for his crimes, and for being Alexei Gaskarov.

That sounds absurd, but it’s the truth.

Why was the opposition march attacked by police and provocateurs?

Because it took place the day before Putin reinstalled himself as president, this time, apparently, for life. The protesters were ruining his party by showing the country and the world that not all Russian were happy about this semi-legal coup d’etat.

So three dozen people, some more or less famous, like Alexei Gaskarov, some complete strangers to grassroots politics, had to be taught a lesson about what happens to the nominally powerless when they spoil the festivities for the most powerful man in the country.

This is only one of the reasons why those of us know who really know what has been going on in Russia the past seventeen years feel bemused, at best, and furious, at worst, when the snake oil salesman known as Donald Trump praises Putin for his leadership.

In reality, Putin has brought the country to the brink of moral, political and economic ruin. ||| TRR, 29 October 2016. Photo courtesy of Alexei Gaskarov’s Facebook page

Anti-Coders (#SegregationInAction)

This Instagram post by Roebuck Cafe in Petersburg, explaining that it would be serving only customers with QR codes showing they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus or recovered from covid-19, and urging people to telephone 122 and sign up for a jab, elicited the ire of user Izarets, for example, who said they wouldn’t be darkening the cafe’s door anymore, even if they did have a “peekaboo code.”

______________

Opponents of QR codes stage flash mob on social networks, tagging the posts of companies #WeDon’tPatronizeThem. Etazhi in Petersburg has been targeted ||| Bumaga ||| October 27, 2021 ||| Translated by the Russian Reader

Opponents of the QR code system have launched a flash mob on social media, commenting on the posts of shopping malls, cafes and cultural clusters with the hashtags #WeDon’tPatronizeThem and #SegregationInAction.

The flash mobsters dub the QR codes “peekaboo codes” and “cuckoo codes,” criticizing businesses that have agreed to check whether their customers and patrons have them. The action has touched different cities in Russia, from Noyabrsk, located in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, to St. Petersburg.

For example, the flash mobsters commented a post on Instagram by the Petersburg cultural center Etazhi, announcing that it would be open during the lockdown, but people would be admitted to its exhibitions and observation deck only by presenting a QR code. “It is a pity that you support segregating the population too. We won’t be patronizing you anymore,” wrote one female user. Similar messages appeared under posts by Roebuck Cafe, the Youth Theater on the Fontanka, and other establishments.

Bumaga has explained in detail how the QR code system in St. Petersburg will work.

Read more about it:

  • Why do Russians not get vaccinated? How does the anti-vaxxer community operate? How do you argue with an opponent of vaccines? An anti-pseudoscience campaigner and a scholar who researches fakes answer these questions.

OVD Info Named “Foreign Agent”

The amazing and indispensable OVD Info has been placed by the Russian Justice Ministry on its list of “foreign agents.” OVD Info broke the news in this email to its supporters, sent an hour or so ago, as translated by me.

“This message (content) was created and (or) distributed by non-commercial organizations and/or mass media outlets demanding the total repeal of the law on foreign agents.”

We have disturbing news. Today, the Russian Justice Ministry has placed OVD Info on its “register of unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

There’s nothing terrible about this, but there’s nothing good about it either.

The attack on our project hasn’t taken us by surprise: for almost ten years we have been writing about politically motivated persecution every day, and it is difficult to surprise us, especially this year. We have seen what the weather is like outside the window: independent media and journalists have been labeled “foreign agents” one after another, and there are few human rights projects in Russia that have not yet received the status of “foreign agent.”

“Foreign agent” status does not impose any additional risks on you. Nothing changes for you: it is safe to support us and other initiatives identified as “foreign agents.”

Are we really someone’s agents?

OVD Info has been and always will be an independent project. This means that we do not depend on any other organizations, be they political movements or international foundations. We do not have major donors either: we are supported by thousands and tens of thousands of small donations, most of which do not exceed 500 rubles [less than six euros].

We are not agents: we don’t do anyone else’s work or do anyone else’s bidding, especially those in foreign countries. We are not foreigners. On the contrary, we are probably the most popular human rights project in Russia. The only thing that OVD Info depends on are the hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens who support us with donations, reposts, volunteering and kind words.

OVD Info appeared on the map in December 2011 as a personal initiative and a response to what was happening in police departments to people detained at protest rallies, and it operated exclusively on a volunteer basis for several years. To this day, OVD Info has remained an initiative powered a huge community of caring people.

To label us “foreign agents” means devaluing ten years of work by a huge number of people — the readers, volunteers, donors, and lawyers who have created this project along with us.

Why is this happening?

The Russian authorities apparently consider our project hostile to them, but we are not fighting the authorities or fighting to take power. We protect the right of Russian citizens to assemble freely, and we assist everyone whose right to assemble freely has been violated. The reasons for protest rallies and the political views of their participants don’t matter to us. We defend everyone who faces a violation of their right to public protest, regardless of the issues they raise and the demands they make. We defend environmental activists, defenders of squares and parks, opponents of the residential housing renovation program and the Plato road tolls system, leftists and rightists, opposition activists and pro-government activists, Navalny supporters and Communist Party supporters, independent journalists and journalists from Russia Today. There are no shades of gray when it comes to human rights protection, there are no good and bad people: there are only people whose rights have been violated.

And we are certain that no country is capable of stable growth if it does not protect the rights of its citizens. The campaign launched by the authorities against civic groups and the media is disastrous not only for Russian civil society, but also for the country itself.

What happens next?

1. We will go on working as we always have. Perhaps, due to the new circumstances, things will be more difficult for us, but society’s need for what we do has not gone away: freedom of information still must be protected, and individuals must still not be left to face the system alone. In order for us to do this, we will have to put a banner on the top of our website notifying readers that we have been placed on the register of “foreign agents.”

2. We will legally challenge our project’s inclusion on the register of “foreign agents.” We have little hope of a quick victory in the Russian courts, but we believe that sooner or later justice will prevail in the European Court of Human Rights.

3. We call for solidarity with all the initiatives, media outlets and journalists who have been subjected to this same attack in recent months. We are not asking you to support us: thanks to you, we have sufficiently robust resources. But projects that don’t have your support are in particularly dire need of it.

Therefore, we ask you to support with a donation any of the projects that work with us side by side, and that you not be afraid to do it.

We will more and more zealously demand the repeal of the law on “foreign agents” and urge you to join this campaign as well: to begin with, please sign our petition. It is also important to support those who face government pressure. On the website Solidarity.Support, you can choose who you want to support with your rubles: so far, “foreign agent” status does not entail any additional risks for donors and beneficiaries.

Despite the fact that there is no direct threat to us right now, we take what is happening as seriously as possible. The “foreign agent” law enables the authorities to first throw a lasso around any objectionable initiative, and then arbitrarily tighten it. Since 2012, when the first version of the “foreign agent” law was adopted, the requirements for organizations placed on this register have been constantly expanding, while their opportunities for doing their work have been narrowing. In fact, any “foreign agent” can be forcibly liquidated at any time, and its leaders can be arrested.

“Foreign agent” status is not a “seal of approval.” It is a black mark. It not only complicates the life of the “foreign agent,” but divides everyone into “friends” and “strangers” via the most opaque decision-making process. By forcing us to identify ourselves as a “foreign agent,” we are forced to deceive everyone who trusts us, and you are forced to divide the world into black and white. But there are no “friends” or “strangers.”

Don’t forget this, don’t be afraid of anything and stay on our side! You and your trust are the most valuable thing we have.

We are always on your side,
The OVD Info team

Source: OVD Info email newsletter, 29 September 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

Ilya Pershin: The Ice Under the Major’s Feet

Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page

The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
Kseniia Sonnaya
OVD Info
September 2, 2021

Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.

On January 31,  2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.

“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.

She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St.  Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.

“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.

According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.

According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”

Investigative Ballet
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.

When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.

At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”

There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.

When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.

In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”

Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.

Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.

Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.

In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.

On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”

Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.

“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”

At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.

Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”

Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.

25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.

26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.

27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.

28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.

29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.

30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.

31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD

1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.

2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.

3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.

5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.

10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!

You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:

Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994

You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.

All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Situation in the Country

The enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro and the Littoral will still take place in Cetinje on September 5, despite the flare-up of the situation in the country, Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia told the Tanyug news agency. [TASS, 4.09.2021; translated by the Russian Reader]

Ethnic tensions flare up in Montenegro over church ceremony
Predrag Milic
Associated Press
September 4, 2021

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Protesters clashed with hundreds of riot police in the old capital of Montenegro on Saturday, setting up blockades of tires and large rocks ahead of the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the small Balkan nation.

The ceremony planned for Sunday in Cetinje has angered opponents of the Serbian church in Montenegro, which declared independence from neighboring Serbia in 2006.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters confronted the police in Cetinje and briefly removed some of the protective metal fences around the monastery where the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije is supposed to take place. Montenegrin state RTCG TV said the protesters broke through a police blockade at the entrance to Cetinje and threw stones at them, shouting “This is Montenegro!” and “This is not Serbia!”

Waving red Montenegrin flags with a double-headed eagle, protesters then set up road barriers with trash containers, car tires and large rocks to prevent church and state dignitaries from coming to the inauguration on Sunday.

Montenegrins remain deeply divided over their country’s ties with neighboring Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is the nation’s dominant religious institution. Around 30% of Montenegro’s 620,000 people consider themselves Serb.

Thousands protested last month in Cetinje, demanding that the inauguration be held somewhere else. The church has refused to change its plans.

Since Montenegro split from Serbia, pro-independence Montenegrins have advocated for a recognized Orthodox Christian church that is separate from the Serbian one.

Montenegrin authorities have urged calm during the weekend ceremonies, which start with the arrival Saturday evening of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital.

Porfirije is set to attend Sunday’s inauguration of Joanikije, whose predecessor as the church’s leader in Montenegro, Amfilohije, died in October after contracting COVID-19.

Illustrating the deep ethnic divide, thousands of people waving Serbian flags gathered in front of the main Serbian Orthodox church in Podgorica on Saturday to welcome the patriarch. Many were bused to the capital from Serbia.

The Serbian Orthodox Church played a key role in demonstrations last year that helped topple a long-ruling pro-Western government in Montenegro. The new government now includes staunchly pro-Serb and pro-Russian parties.

Montenegro’s previous authorities led the country to independence from Serbia and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. Montenegro also is seeking to become a European Union member.

The emphasis is mine. ||| TRR

New Montenegrin Gov’t Maintains Russia Sanctions, Deferring to EU
Samir Kajosevic
BalkanInsight
December 14, 2020

Disappointing pro-Russian parties in the new government, Foreign Minister Djordje Radulovic says Montenegro won’t lift sanctions on Russia, as the country must respect European Union rules if it wants to join the Union.

Montenegro’s new Foreign Minister, Djordje Radulovic, said the country will continue with sanctions against Russia despite the demands of some parties in the new majority to lift them.

On Monday Radulovic said the government won’t lift sanctions on Russia because Montenegro must respect European Union rules if it wants to join the Union.

“I believe that sanctions against Russia hurt the sentiments of a certain number of people to whom Russia is close, rather than Russia itself. I fully understand those people, but they must know that by imposing sanctions, we are not declaring war on Russia,” Radulovic told the daily newspaper Vijesti.

“We are not enemies of Russia. I informed the Russian ambassador that the sanctions remain in force, but we will seek cooperation in all areas that do not violate our European strategic priorities,” Radulovic added.

In parliamentary elections held on August 30, three opposition blocs won a slender majority of 41 of the 81 seats in parliament, ousting President Milo Djukanovic’s long ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS.

Montenegro has long had close ties to Russia, dating back to the reign of Tsar Peter the Great when Russia agreed to take the small Orthodox principality under its protective wing.

But these have faded since Djukanovic steered Montenegro towards the West. In March 2014, the government backed US and EU sanctions on Moscow for its perceived intervention in Ukraine and for its annexation of Crimea.

This sparked criticism, especially from the Serbian Orthodox Church, SPC, and pro-Serbian political parties who cherish ties to Russia. In August 2015, Russia added Montenegro to the list of countries from which it was banning food imports in retaliation to the Western sanctions imposed on it.

On September 13, an MP from the ruling majority, Marko Milacic, said that lifting sanctions must be the first move of the new government.

The new Prime Minister, and leader of the pro-Serbian For the Future of Montenegro coalition, Zdravko Krivokapic, on September 16 vowed to rebuild bridges with Russia.

“The current situation is absurd. Imagine that, as a small country, you impose sanctions on a large country like Russia. We will establish good relations with all countries of the world, including, of course, Russia,” he told the Russian Telegram channel Nazigar.

According to the new Montenegrin governing constitution, the government has the power to simply lift the sanctions, even if the EU was not impressed.

Candidates for membership are expected to align their foreign policy with that of the EU, but there is no legal obligation. Serbia, for example, has refused to join the sanctions despite negotiating to join the EU.

The emphasis is mine. ||| TRR

Opposition Activist Couple in Pskov Gets 22 Years in Prison for “Drug Dealing”

Liya and Artyom Milushkin in 2019. Courtesy of Open Russia

In January 2019, I posted a brief report about a Pskov couple, Liya and Artyom Milushkin, opposition political activists who had been charged with drug dealing. In fact, the local police had threatened that they would plant drugs on the couple and frame them after they attempted to stage a protest on Putin’s birthday. The cops made good on their threat.

Today, August 12, 2021, the court sentenced Artyom to 11 years in a maximum-security prison, and Liya to 10 years and 6 months in a penal colony. Liya will begin serving her sentence only after their children turn fourteen.

During the reading of the verdict, Artyom had a nervous breakdown and smashed the bench in his cage in the courtroom.

Source: “Woman, Prison, Society” Facebook page

Compulsory Psychiatric Treatment for Yakut Shaman Alexander Gabyshev

 

Alexander Gabyshev. Archive photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Yakutsk Court Orders Compulsory Medical Treatment for Shaman Gabyshev
Deutsche Welle
July 26, 2021

Alexander Gabyshev has been sent to a specialized medical facility as part of the case against him following accusations of violence against a Russian National Guard officer. The court issued an obiter dictum against Gabyshev’s lawyer, Olga Timofeyeva.

The court in Yakutsk ordered Gabyshev, known as the “Yakut shaman,” to undergo compulsory medical treatment “at a specialized medical facility with intensive care.” Alexei Pryanishnikov, coordinator of Open Russia Human Rights and a defense attorney for Gabyshev, informed MBKh Media of this on Monday, July 26.

According to Pryanishnikov, his defendant will remain in custody until the court order takes effect. Furthermore, the court issued an obiter dictum against Gabyshev’s lawyer Olga Timofeyeva, who stated that she “was ashamed to be taking part in this trial.”

The Gabyshev Case
It was reported in June that Gabyshev—held at the time in the Yakutsk Psycho-Neurological Treatment Clinic—had taken a turn for the worse: he reported feeling weak, dizzy and drowsy.

The shaman’s trial began on April 30. Gabyshev stood accused of using force against a Russian National Guardsman. Gabyshev had been sentenced to six months in the psychiatric clinic, a term that expired on July 27. This is precisely why the Yakutsk court was in such a hurry to review his case, according to Pryanishnikov.

Marching to Moscow
In March 2019, Gabyshev, a resident of Yakutsk, announced that he was walking to the Kremlin to “drive out Putin.” He was detained in September following six months and 3,000 kilometers of travel. The FSB opened a case into publicly calling for extremism, but did not officially accuse the shaman of anything. He was placed in the psycho-neurological clinic and declared mentally incompetent on October 3, but was later released.

In December 2019, Gabyshev again set out for Moscow, but he was detained again, and this time accused of failure to obey the police. In 2020, he underwent compulsory medical treatment in the Yakutsk Republic Psychiatric Clinic, at which point Memorial recognized Gabyshev as a political prisoner.

In January 2021 Gabyshev announced that he was preparing for a new march to Moscow, after which he was again detained and subsequently transferred to the psychiatric clinic.

Translated by the Fabulous AM

Roman Pichuzhin: “Did you swear to serve Signor Tomato or to fight against him?”

Signor Tomato and Cipollino on a 1992 Russian stamp. Courtesy of Wikipedia

OVD Info | Telegram | June 29, 2021

Today at 3:00 p.m. a verdict will be announced in the trial of Roman Pichuzhin, an elections commission member targeted in the so-called Palace Case. Pichuzhin is represented by OVD Info lawyer Dmitri Zakhvatov.

Yesterday the prosecutor requested three years in prison [for Pichuzhin]. The court took only a day to examine the case.

We publish Roman Pichuzhin’s closing statement here.

Photographs and trial transcript provided by RP’s lawyer.

When I read [Gianni Rodari’s] Cippolino as a kid, I swore an oath that if I ever encountered Signor Tomato in my life, I would fight against him.

And you, esteemed prosecutor, esteemed riot policeman: when you read Cippolino, did you swear to serve Signor Tomato or to fight against him?

And when I watched the old Soviet movie about Cinderella, there was the last line, where the king says, “Connections are connections, of course, but when all’s said and done one must listen to one’s conscience. When they ask you, ‘And what exactly can you say for yourself?’ no connections in the world can help make a foot smaller, a soul bigger, or a heart more just.”

Why do we forget our childhood oaths? Why are you doing this?

Personally I can’t understand it. I don’t think you understand it either.

If, in order to remain free, I have to forget my childhood oaths, then I don’t want that kind of freedom. If keeping these oaths means I have to go to prison, well, fine, I’ll have to go.

In conclusion I want to recite some [Vladimir] Vysotsky.

If you’ve never in your life
Eaten meat with a knife
If with arms folded you just
Looked down on other folks
And you didn’t join the fight
Against the butchers and the scum —
Well, that means that in this life
You are just beside the point, you are nothing!

That’s all I have to say.

Translated by the Fabulous AM, with many thanks from me.

Roman Pichuzhin. Courtesy of OVD Info and Activatica

Elections commission member Roman Pichuzhin sentenced to two years in prison
Activatica
June 30, 2021

A court has sentenced Roman Pichuzhin, a defendant in the so-called Palace Affair and a member of a precinct election commission, to two years in a medium-security penal colony, reports OVD Info attorney Dmitry Zakhvatov.

On June 29, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow found Pichuzhin guilty of using violence against authorities (punishable under Article 318.1 of the Criminal Code) at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny on January 31. The prosecution asked the court to sentence Pichuzhin three years in a medium-security penal colony. According to investigators, Pichuzhin struck a riot police officer in the torso with his fist on Komsomolskaya Square in Moscow. The court took only a day to examine the case.

[…]

Pichuzhin was detained on March 2 as he was leaving Special Detention Center No. 2, where he had served a thirty-day administrative sentence after being detained at a rally in support of Alexei Navalny on January 31.

Roman Pichuzhin is 44 years old and has an 11-year-old child. According to OVD Info, Pichuzhin suffers from epilepsy.

In January and February, large-scale protests took place, the first of which was advertised in Alexei Navalny’s film Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Biggest Bribe. More than 11 thousand people were detained at the protest rallies. 134 people have been named as suspects and defendants in criminal cases: this is more than in the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case and the Moscow Case combined. Forty-nine criminal cases involve charges of using violence against the authorities (punishable under parts 1 and 2 of Article 318 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code), while twenty-three cases involve charges of obstructing roads (punishable under Article 267.1 of the Criminal Code). Some cases include charges of violating health and epidemic regulations, threatening the lives, health and safety of citizens, and involving minors in the commission of illegal actions.

Translated by the Russian Reader