Extremists (The Serial)

Extremists (The Serial)
Grani.Ru
December 29, 2017

92073Extremists

Hundreds of people throughout Russia are being prosecuted or have already been convicted for voicing their own thoughts, which the current regime does not like. The campaign against dissent has been masked as a campaign against “extremism.” Our video project’s goal is to acquaint you more closely with several so-called extremists. The FSB and the Interor Ministry have spared neither time nor effort in combating them.

Propaganda represents extremists as dangerous people, ready at the drop of a hat to segue to terrorism. Posters hung on billboards in Moscow call on citizens to identify “extremists” on grounds such as the desire to manipulate, megalomania, identification with a hero, a low level of education and culture, and a tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others.

92070

Extremists are people ¶ who call for destruction of the country’s integrity, ¶ try and seize power, ¶ organize illegal armed bands, ¶ engaged in terrorist activity, ¶ finance or facilitate terrorist activity, ¶ besmirch the flag, seal, and anthem; ¶ call for the introduction of Russian troops [sic], ¶ spread lies and slander, ¶ incite mutual hatred, ¶ call for violent, sow fear and panic. Psychological portrait of an extremist: aggressive, cruel, radical, many prejudices, stereotypical thinking, irration behavior; low level of education and culture. How to identify an extremist: megalomania, fanaticism, desire to manipulate, tendency to risky behavior and devaluing the lives of others, the search for enemies, self-identification with a hero.” The poster also includes local telephone numbers for the FSB, police, and Emergency Situations Ministry.

Do the subjects of our video project fit the propaganda portrait?

Krasnoyarsk resident Semyon Negretskulov really likes Scandinavia. His blog on the social network VK mainly dealt with Finnish history and modern life in Finland. When he posted a few texts about the Greater Finland project and historical photographs of Vybog (Viipuri) that was enough for the FSB to charge him with promoting Finnish greatness. His call to help political prisoners was also deemed extremism.

Danila Buzanov had to spend a year and a half in prison for an ordinary brawl at the VDNKh in Moscow. “Anti-extremism” police officers from Center “E” turned a fight with a vendor selling Donetsk People’s Republic paraphernalia into charges under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code: inciting hatred and enmity towards the social group “ethnic Russians/Russian citizens who support the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic.”

Boris Yakovlev, a musician from the town of Dno, believes that sooner or later a revolution will happen in Russia. People are poor, the authorities are thieves. When Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia had exhausted its limit of revolutions, Yakovlev reacted like this, “Hey,  Medevedev, who exhausted it? You, the Rotenbergs, the Putins, the Chaykas? We haven’t exhausted our limit, Medvedev. He doesn’t want revolutions. Kiss my ass, Medvedev! He doesn’t want revolutions. But we want them to get rid of you Medvedevs and all the rest. What part of his body does this guy think with, huh?”

The FSB regarded this and similar posts as calls to extremism. Yakovlev would have been sentenced to five years in prison, but he did not wait around to hear the verdict and requested asylum in Finland.

Darya Polyudova decided to troll the authorities, who in 2014 demanded the federalization of Ukraine. Polyudova organized a March for the Federalization of the Krasnodar Region. As a result, she was the first person in the Russian Federation to be convicted of calling for federalism.

Alexander Byvshev, a teacher of German in the village of Kroma in Oryol Region has gone to court to face a third set of charges for poems he wrote in support of Ukraine, and a fourth criminal case is in the works. More frightening than the revenge of law enforcement agencies has been the reaction of his fellow villagers.

These are just a few of the many hundreds of cases of Russians who have been prosecuted for words, opinions, and reposts. You can find a collection of banned “extremist” content at  zapretno.info.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union in Russia

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union
The reason for the rapid dissolution of Alexei Etmanov’s union was a complaint about what it does: defending the rights of workers 
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
January 12, 2018

The St. Petersburg City Court’s decision to dissolve the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (MPRA) at the request of the prosecutor’s office has not yet come into force. But the case itself clearly illustrates the current regime’s suspicious attitude towards independent trade unions that do not restrict their activities to handing out discounted holiday packages and tickets to children’s New Year’s celebrations.

MPRA was registered in February 2007. Its core consisted of the trade union of autoworkers at the Ford plant in the Petersburg suburb of Vsevolozhsk, famous for its pay rise demands and defense of workers’ rights. The emergence of a trade union that vigorously and effectively defended workers at foreign-owned plants was no accident. There is no legacy at such plants of servile, Soviet-era trade unions, which were once part of the management machine. Foreign companies have been forced to deal with the right of workers to go on strike and other means of self-defense against overtime and layoffs.

According to MPRA chair Alexei Etmanov, his career as a trade union activist kicked off randomly, in part. In 2001, soon after the Ford plant went on line, as one of the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) local at the plant, Etmanov was invited to a congress of Ford trade union workers in North and South America. According to Etmanov, it was then he realized a real trade union not only handed out benefits and formally coordinated management’s decisions but also consistently defended the rights of employees from groundless redundancies, unpaid overtime, and other forms of managerial tyranny.

MPRA never concealed its membership in the IndustriALL Global Union, which has fifty million members in 140 countries worldwide, nor did its activities previously trouble the Russian authorities. MPRA’s troubles began after a pro-regime blogger, who saw signs of political activity in the trade union’s work and accused it of hiding its status as a “foreign agent,” filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. The complaint led to an audit, and later, in December 2017, the prosecutor’s office filed suit with the court, asking it to dissolve MPRA.

The prosecutor’s key claim against MPRA (Vedomosti has obtained a copy of the lawsuit) was that it received financing from abroad and had not registered as a “foreign agent.” MPRA’s crusade to amend labor laws and its solidarity with protests by Russian truckers against the introduction of the Plato road tolls system in 2015—the ordinary work of a normal trade union in a country with a market economy—have been depicted as “political activity” by the prosecutor’s office. The lawsuit also includes claims that appear to be pettifogging, in particular, that MPRA incorrectly listed its official address, that it originally registered in a manner not stipulated by law, and so on.

Yet the lawsuit does not contain any mention of demands by the prosecutor’s office to eliminate the shortcomings it has, allegedly, identified. For example, in 2015, after such demands were voiced and corresponding changes made, the Supreme Court dismissed the Justice Ministry’s suit asking that Memorial be dissolved. In Petersburg, the prosecutor petitioned the court to dissolve the trade union, no more, no less. According to Yulia Ostrovskaya, a lawyer at the Center for Social and Labor Rights, this is excessive punishment. The judgment for the plaintiff is tantamount to calling into question Russia’s observance of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, signed by the Soviet Union in 1956. The convention’s third article guarantees the right of workers and employers to draw up their own constitutions and rules, freely elect their representatives, and formulate their own programs, while the fourth article states that professional organizations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.

The circumstances reflect the regime’s growing suspicion toward independent trade unions that have not joined the Russian People’s Front (the FNPR joined the Front in 2011, for example) and insist on defending the rights of workers, notes Pavel Kudyukin, a council member at the Confederation of Labor of Russia. Authorities in some regions have accused the MPRA that they scare away investors, while courts have ruled that IndustriALL’s brochures are “extremist.” If, however, the Petersburg court’s decision is upheld by the Russian Supreme Court, it would be a terrible precedent, argues Kudyukin. All trade unions could declared “foreign agents,” include pro-regime trade unions, since many of them of belong to international trade union associations, from which they receive funding for training activists and making trips abroad.

Labor protests in Russia in terms of percentages of those involved, 2008–first half of 2017. Red = spontaneous; pink = trade union locals; dark blue = national trade unions; gray = workers’ committees; light blue = political parties and grassroots organizations; pale blue = other. The percentage may exceed 100% if several actors were involved in the same protest. Courtesy of the Center for Social and Labor Rights

Valery Dymshits: What Boycotting the Presidential Election Would Mean

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Valery Dymshits
Facebook
January 7, 2018

Recently, discussions whether it makes sense to boycott the presidential election or, on the contrary, whether you should vigorously exercise your right to vote have been flaring up on the web ever more emphatically. I was involved in one such discrete discussion. Its instigator, Alexei Kouprianov, recommended I publish my comments as a separate post.

There are currently no presidential elections in our country, neither elections with alternative candidates nor elections with a single candidate, neither competitive elections nor non-competitive elections. There are no presidential elections at all. For the time being, there are regions in Russia that are electoral anomalies, while all other regions do the right thing, so to speak. In those regions, you need not worry how long ballot stuffing has been going on, and it is no problem to rewrite the final official vote tally reports. So, for all intents and purposes, elections have been abolished. What matters, therefore, is not Putin’s apparent impending victory. The procedure could not even be passed off as a sound sociopolitical survey, answering the question of how many folks in Russia are for the Reds, how many are for the Whites, how many are for apples, and how many are for pears.

Since no election will take place, this should tone down the debate to a certain extent. This is my call for peace and a peaceable tone among those debating involvement and non-involvement in the election. Those who will go to the polls and those who do not are in the same straits. Neither the former nor the latter will be taking part or not taking part in an election, whatever they imagine they are doing, because objectively, that is, regardless of subjective impressions, you cannot take part in something that does not exist.

You cannot take part in it, not in the sense it is forbidden to take part, but in the sense it is impossible to take part.

The only thing that remains to be seen is what behavior is preferable given the circumstances.

The people currently involved in the electoral process have never been able to get back the significant numbers of votes stolen from them nor have they been able to make this highway robbery the subject of a serious public debate. This is possibly not their fault, since the Russian judicial system is dysfunctional, but that is not my point. The existing parties and candidates will try and raise the turnout by campaigning for themselves. In this wise, the candidates and the Kremlin are pursuing the same end. Later, a final vote tally will be whipped up for them in keeping with deals made before the elections or, on the contrary, they will be conned. This is no concern of ours. That is, the well-known scenario, implemented many times before, will be reprised. In short, we have been through this before.

What we have not been through before is a serious, well-organized boycott, although they were some calls for boycotts in the past. At least there is chance to find out on the ground whether we have a chance of organizing an election boycott or not, whether it has an effect on anything or not. This, at least, would expand our experimental knowledge of the subject.

Simple mathematical calculations have shown a decreased turnout increases the percentage of votes cast for Putin. But do we care what percentage of votes are cast for him, whether it is 65% or 75%, if the final figures are knowingly false and dictated by the top bosses? In the extreme case, if only solid Putin supporters turned out to vote, he would take home 100% of the vote, and that would be utterly unacceptable, because a European leader cannot win 100% of the vote, and Putin is well aware of it.

A noticeable decrease in the turnout, one that was clearly distinguishable from the statistical margin of error, would be tantamount to saying a considerable segment of the Russian populace had concluded that elections in Russia were wanting, to say the least. This would be an important political outcome.

For the time being I leave aside additional moral perks, say, deliberate non-participation in a fictitious process, non-participation in events approved by the Kremlin, etc.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. Every reporter or “Russia expert” who has written or been tempted to write something like, “With an 80% approval rating, Putin should easily cruise to victory in March,” should be made to read multi-talented Valery Dymshits’s short but sweet piece on why there are no such beasts as elections in Russia and the possible political benefits of a more or less massive non-turnout to the non-election scheduled for March.

I would like to add that every such reporter and “Russia expert” should be made to read this short primer on what amounts to common knowledge in Russia right before they are fired and drummed out of the profession, but the angel in me reminds me that some people cannot help liking and supporting tyrants and imagining that lots of other people like them, especially in “inferior” countries.

That it’s accredited journalists and academics involved in this baseless condescension should not surprise you. It’s always easier to get along in life if you say and do what the majority of your so-called peers and colleagues are doing, especially if you’re mansplaining a place where you don’t actually live and about which you are really quite clueless, and you get paid to do this more or less harmful work.

I thought the attack on the Russian pollocracy that was mounted by me and several other people several years ago had begun to make a dent, that some journalists and “Russian experts” were coming to see the light that polls and elections are nearly always rigged in Putinist Russia and thus provide us with nearly zero knowledge of what “Russians really think.” But I had forgotten that most reporters are lazy and many academics are dazzled by tyrants and numbers as “scientific facts.” With Putin’s self re-election just around the bend, push has come to shove, and the unprovability of his actually nonexistent popularity has been shoved back under the rug. TRR

Persian Rugs

russian_carpet_on_the_wall

Antrr Ra
Facebook
January 2, 2018

For several days, Iranians have been openly protesting the corrupt system in their country. They have been protesting not only in the capital Tehran but also in at least fifty other cities. They had been promised more freedom and openness in terms of how the country’s budget is spent, and prices for food have been skyrocketing.

In Russia, the authorities have not promised anyone anything for a long time, and people have been staying at home, looking forward to the upcoming presidential elections.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Anatrr Ra for their kind permission to reproduce their remarks on my website. Photo courtesy of correctlydesign.com

The Poster Maker

“I’ll Go All Out to Ensure Putin Loses”
Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Radio Svoboda
December 5, 2017

“Citizen Putin! If there is a clampdown on public liberties under the pretext of terrorists attacks, it will be clear to everyone who is behind them!”

“Putin is war. Say no to war!”

“Dimon got what was coming to him. Let’s go after Vovan.”

“We live the way we vote.”

Dmitry Skurikhin, owner of a store in the village of Russko-Vysotskoye, near Petersburg, reacts immediately and visually to every political event in Russia.

Skurikhin immediately hangs each new poster on the front of the store, a small, two-storey building, so it is readily visible from the nearby bus stop. They usually do not stay up for long, however. The record is held by the slogan “Peace to Ukraine,” which stayed up for two weeks.

На митинге Навального

Skurikhin at a pro-Navalvy rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg

43-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin is a local businessman, whose family owns three village shops. By local standards, he is well off. His family owns several cars, and they have everything they need. However, Skurikhin says the incomes of villagers have taken a nosedive in the past year: “They buy almost nothing, because they barely have enough for food.” Around six thousand people live in Russko-Vysotskoye. Very few of them are holiday cottage dwellers. The majority commute to work in Petersburg. Skirukhin was the first businessman in the village to open self-service stores, but “then the Pyatyorochka and Magnit chains moved in, and we croaked, of course.” He now sells toys, newspapers, clothings, and sundries.

He has been hanging political posters on his store, situated along a road, for almost four years. Before that, he pasted homemade bumper stickers on his car. Skirukhin recalls that the first bumper sticker read, “No new taxes!” The year was 2005.

Skurikhin: They had decided to raise taxes on us local businessmen then. It was one of those taxes you couldn’t avoid paying. Either you worked and paid the tax or you didn’t work and didn’t pay the tax. We businessmen realized they were clamping down on us. We joined forces and beat back the tax. It made such an impression on me that since then I haven’t been able to stop going. There are at least some improvements in our lives, specifically in our village. I’m a local grassroots activist, not even a region-wide activist, but a village-level activist. I was born here, and I live and work here. My kids go to school and kindergarten here. I think I have helped improve life in our village.

Radio Svoboda: How exactly have you improved life in the village?

Skurikhin: As they call it now, I was a municipal district council member from 2009 to 2014. At the time, our district authorities were running this interesting scam. They were “milking” the villages. They would buy heat from the producer and sell it to residents. They marked up the price one hundred percent. When the situation had reached a deadlock, it transpired they were charging residents, but not paying the producer anything. They were getting heat for free. The chair of the district council was mixed up in the scam. Thanks in part to my efforts, the gentleman was conveyed directly from the district chairman’s office to prison. That was in May 2012. Since then we haven’t had any disasters with our supply of heat and water.

We still have problems sometimes, but we are now longer in that disastrous state when a group of people affiliated with district officials were just robbing people by latching onto the flow of payments for housing and utilities. Then we had problems with the road. I organized a decent protest rally. A lot of folks turned out for it: 165 people, which is a huge number for our village. We demanded the road be repaired. The road was repaired. So, by starting with small changes like that, stirring people up, I have been trying to bring them round to the idea that fair elections, free speech, and democracy mean improving the welfare of society. On May 1, we had a rally that wasn’t about the roads (we’ve had the roads fixed), but was about healthcare, fair elections, and responsible authorities. Those were the topics of our rally. 45 people showed up. The rally was authorized. I always try and authorize events with the authorities, but we rallied at the skating rink on the edge of the forest.

Кто будет следующим

“Dimon got run over. Let’s go after Vovan.” This is a reference to Alexei Navalny’s film documentary exposé of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his untold riches, Don’t Call Him Dimon. “Vovan” is a humorous reference to Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, my time as district council member ended for a simple reason: our team doesn’t pay for votes. If you don’t buy yourself votes, meaning if you don’t pay off the right people during early voting, then you’re out of the race, because your opponents do pay for votes. United Russia paid 1,500 rubles per vote! All the other candidates lost.

Radio Svoboda: Did you prove in court they paid for votes?

Skurikhin: It’s impossible to prove in court, because the scam is quite competently organized. They don’t buy votes, but pay for the services of fake campaign workers, meaning they contract out their campaign. United Russia has a team of between ten and fifteen people, depending on the number of seats that are up for grabs in a specific municipal district, and they hire canvassers. But the canvassers don’t have to canvass. They just need to show up and vote ahead of time, for which they are paid 1,500 rubles a pop. That’s it. It’s perfectly legal. All the evidence is circumstantial. When I tried to get hired as a canvasser in a neighboring village, I was told I would not do, because I wasn’t registered in that precinct.

“How’s that?!” I said. “I’m a local resident. I have a store here. I know everyone in the village, and they all know me. I’ll canvass for you like nobody’s business.”

“No, no, you don’t fit us.”

“What’s the deal?”

“You’re registered somewhere else.”

It’s all clear, guys! You don’t need canvassers: you need voters, whom you buy off for 1,500 rubles apiece. I dubbed the technique “bribing a voter under the guise of paying a canvasser.” It works like a charm in all the villages, where the populace is not too savvy. The populace in general is not very savvy, but in the countryside it’s just unbelievable. The salary in these places is commonly 1,000 rubles a day [approx. 14 euros a day]. People who get a 1,000 rubles a day don’t suffer. I ran a counter-campaign against this.

When the villagers were going to vote, I would say to them, “Guys, are you really unaware that when they get seats on the council, they’ll shake a hundred times more out of your pockets?”

“I toss manure on a farm with a pitchfork for a 1,000 rubles a day. But here I’m getting 1,500 rubles for five minutes of my time. Maybe you’d like to go and pitch manure for me?” one guy told me.

That’s their whole rationale! There’s nothing more to say.

Radio Svoboda: When did you hang the first political banner on your store? How long did it stay up?

Skurikhin: It was the spring of 2014. My fifth daugther was born then. I decided to give my wife a present by building a politicized bus stop opposite the store. I fashioned the frame and the foundation. We didn’t have a stop there. People would always stand outside there, and the buses would stop to pick them up. I built a bus stop and draped it with posters. This was when the annexation of Crimea was happening. We had a couple of posters about Crimea: I demanded an end to the disgrace. Then there were posters demaning pay rises for ordinary doctors and school teachers. I was still a council member. I gathered information on how much doctors were paid in Russia. President Putin had literally just claimed that there were no doctors in Russia who were paid less than the average monthly salary in their regions. That was an outright lie. I wrote it on my poster, because I knew how much our doctors were paid. I had gathered the information in my capacity as a municipal district council member.

Radio Svoboda: How much did doctors really make then?

Skurikhin: The ophthalmologist in our village was paid 14,000 rubles, while the average monthly wage in Leningrad Region was 35,000 rubles. I think this as an absolutely proven lie. I hung it up on the bus stop. The local authorities were completely shocked by it. The stop had been turned into a shelter and was hung with banners and pasted with posters. They didn’t know what to do, so the posters stayed up for three weeks or so, I think. Then a major from Center “E” [the so-called anti-extremism police] in Petersburg came and had a long chat with me. That was April 1, 2014. I remembered the date, because it was the day the Russian State Duma issued a resolution condemning restrictions on freedom of speech in Ukraine. And I was sitting there chatting with this little vampire who was directly threatening me and my business.

“We will shut you down if you don’t stop it!” he told me.

The bus stop stood for a month, and then it had to be demolished. All that’s left is the concrete slab, where locals still wait to catch the bus.

Radio Svoboda: Who demolished it?

Skurikhin: I did, on orders from the local authorities. They told me either I had to demolish it and haul it away or they would do it themselves. Since then I have been hanging posters on the store.

I hung up the poster “I congratulate you on the 61st anniversary of the Dragon’s death. The Dragon is dead, but his cause lives on. // Russian citizens, stop being slaves. Become citizens. Kill the dragon inside you.” The poster, which showed Stalin in his casket, used to be coupled with the second part, about citizens, which was swiped by the polizei. The poster “Peace to Ukraine” broke all the records: it hung for two weeks.

Вторую часть плаката

The second part of this poster, featuring a dead Stalin and a call to “kill the dragon inside you” and “become citizens” was “swiped by the polizei.”

The local authorities, by the way, didn’t know how to react. The poster was hanging on my building. It’s my property and my land, and the poster belongs to me. It hung there for quite a long time. Other events took place, for example, the 2014 elections. I hung my campaign posters there. As a municipal district council member, I was competing for votes. I would hang up a poster. It would become stale, and I would hang up a new one. And then, when I clearly campaigned against Putin. . . For example, I had posted a banner reading, “Putin should resign.” It was 9.4 meters by 2 meters. The banner caught everyone’s eye: my store stands next to the road. Well, they just came and swiped the banner. I decided to hang up another banner. Since it was forbidden to demand Putin’s resignation, I demanded Putin be freed. Since he considered himself a galley slave, I wrote, “Free Vladimir Putin! Let’s free this galley slave. Otherwise, he and his pals will row [rake in] too much.” This banner was also 9.4 meters by 2 meters.

Radio Svoboda: It was probably removed immediately, no? 

Skurikhin: I don’t know why, but it stayed up for nearly two weeks. I saw policemen come and look at it. Maybe they didn’t get it? I can’t say how the authorities make decisions. But then they removed it anyway. I have been doing this on purpose. My goal is to ensure President Putin loses this election. During the last election, in 2012, I printed flyers and ensured that Putin got the least number of votes in our district in our precincts, although he won anyway, of course. Our precinct was among the ten worst precincts in Leningrad Region. Numbers decide everything in a democracy. I worked on the electorate the best I could.

Radio Svoboda: Do the security services often summon your for talks and try to reason with you?

Skurikhin: Earlier they did, but recently they have left me alone for some reason. I think they just realized, probably, that they should be talking to me in handcuffs, whereas talking to me just for the heck of it, what’s the point? Besides my chat with the major from Center “E,” a major from the FSB, a colonel from the FSO (Federal Protective Service), and the Investigative Committee summoned me. Each of my posters has been sent off for a forensic examination. Policemen photograph them, and the photos are sent to Center “E” and Saint Petersburg State University for analysis: they have this forensics examination center there. Their forensics experts study my posters and render their findings. If the findings are neutral, the posters are returned to me, accompanied by an official ruling refusing to file criminal charges against me. I’ve had around a hundred such posters. Each one is also accompanied by a description. The police also try to do everything by the book. In Nazi Germany, they incinerated Jews by the book. Here in Russia, they have been trying to shut me up by the book, to put it crudely.

Radio Svoboda: What grounds do the police have for removing posters from private property? How does it usually happen?

Skurikhin: First, they get a complaint either from the local council or from a resident: someone is unhappy with the poster hanging on my store. The police arrive and write me up for violating the regional law that all posters must be vetted with the local council. This little law was invented in Leningrad Region. I disagree with it, so I simply say it wasn’t so. They write me up, then they bring a slave from the local housing authority, whom they force to climb up and remove my poster. Then they leave. After which the situation proceeds as I’ve described it. Unfortunately, the forensics experts have concluded that two of my posters insulted the honor and dignity of the president and incited social discord. I try not to insult anyone. I think through all my posters and make sure that they are worded as properly as possible, because you don’t help things by insulting people. I want to persuade people to vote against Putin, persuade them we need democratic values, freedom, and liberalism. Yet two of my posters have been deemed insulting to Putin. They were the reason I was summoned to the Investigative Committee to talk with an investigator.

Radio Svoboda: Have criminal charges been filed in connection with the two posters?

Skurikhin: You know, I haven’t asked the police about it. But they did get me summoned to the Investigative Committee, where I was asked for an explanation. I was shown the findings of the forensics experts. The poster in question was “Putin is war. Say no to war.” As you remember, it was Anna Politkovskaya who said, “Putin is war.” The slogan was written with bloody smudges, so there was nothing in particular to interpret. It was clear as clear could be. The poster was deemed to have insulted Putin’s honor and dignity. I don’t think I insulted him, but the Investigative Committee does.

Radio Svoboda: What war did you have in mind when when you wrote the slogan?

Skurikhin: Any war. Because Putin is, in fact, war. We were flattening Ukraine at the time.

Radio Svoboda: Have they threatened to close your business?

Skurikhin: The major from Center “E” threatened me, but no one else has. It’s just I’ve been in business for twenty-one years, and all the agencies they could sick on me, I’ve been working with them for a long time. I have a good relationship with them. Most important, all of them are on my side. As they’re tearing down the posters, the policemen say to me, “Damn, what you write is true.” But they’ve taken an oath, they have their orders, they would immediately get hell from their commander, so they can’t say it that way. I can because I don’t have a commander. Firefighters, the guys at Health Inspection Services, they all understand what is happening in Russia. Most of them are smart people.

Против кого на самом деле надо сакции вводить

“Americans, don’t sanction all of Russia. Our head vampires got their jobs dishonestly and run things dishonestly. Sanction them!”

Radio Svoboda: Does your family support you?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. Sure, they worry about me. The situation in Russia is such that the most active dissenters are shot down. My kids are aged nineteen, fourteen, seven, and four. All of them are girls: I live in a flower garden. If I’m arrested, my wife will feed the family: she’ll be like Vassa Zheleznova. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ve talked it all throgh, of course. So that’s why I try and write slogans that are legal. I have studied a ton of material on the subject. What is an insult? It’s when you compare someone with an animal. The rest can be offensive and unpleasant, but it is not insulting in the criminal sense. You can say, “Skurikhin, you’re an idiot.” Yes, it’s possible for you to have this opinion. But I think differently. But if you say, “Skurikhin, you’re a jackass,” that is an insult.

Radio Svoboda: Have other businessmen put up similar posters?

Skurikhin: There were elections to the State Duma in 2016. As a member of Parnas (People’s Freedom Party), I ran in them in my own electoral district, the southwest  district of Leningrad Region. Sergey Naryshkin, now our top spy, ran in the same district. I made the rounds of all my businessmen friends and asked them to support me. I made banners that read, “Skurikhin and Parnas are your only worthy choice.” In our part of the world, most of the shops are village shops, and they are on private property, so I was able to hang them up for free. No other candidate got that kind of support. The rest had to pay for billboards. I spent 150,000 rubles on my election campaign. My wife later gave me a piece of her mind about that. I took second place in the elections in my own village. Only Naryshkin got more votes. I got support for my posters and ideas, for saying “Putin should resign.” My fellow villagers gave me the number two spot. In my native Lomonosov District, I took sixth place, and I took eighth place in the entire electoral district, which has a population of 500,000. What does that tell you? I would argue the outcome shows that liberal and democratic ideas are popular in society, but they simply never get conveyed to the voters, since the media are totally blocked. I have no other way of telling people Putin should have been dismissed from the Kremlin long ago. I only have my posters. But, generally speaking, it’s very hard for a Parnas member to get around United Russia on the first try.

Radio Svoboda: Do you attend all protest rallies?

Skurikhin: Yes, I try to go to all of them. At the last pro-Navalny rally, in June, I was wearing a “Sick of Him” t-shirt and carrying a flag. I was taken to a police station, but I escaped. This year there were also primary elections—Naryshkin gave up his seat in the Duma when he was appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) in October 2016—and this year there were reelections. We also held events that, in my opinion, were meaningful to our district. I couldn’t let my people down, so I had to hightail it from the police station.

Radio Svoboda: Are you following the presidential campaign?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. I’ll go all out to ensure Mr. Putin loses the election, at least in my precinct. I support Navalny’s registration as a candidate and Ksenia Sobchak’s candidacy, because we need as many candidates as possible in the first round just to take votes away from Putin and get a second round. If there is a second round, that will be a significant victory in itself.

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

Two Last Addresses

I have written about the Last Address project on a few occasions in the past. Put simply, its goal is to commemorate the victims of Stalin’s Great Terror by mounting simple metal plaques on the façades of the buildings where they lived before they were arrested, taken away, and, in the majority of cases, shot by the NKVD’s killing machine, usually fairly soon after their arrests on trumped-up charges.

The plaques, designed by architect and sculptor Alexander Brodsky, are ordered and paid for either by residents of the buildings or relatives of the victims.

As far I understand it, the other residents of the building should have, at very least, no objections to the idea of mounting the plaques. If they do, the plaques are not mounted.

I know only of a few cases in Petersburg in which this has happened, and they usually involved privately owned buildings in which the sole proprietors or property management companies running the buildings nixed the idea, rather than ordinary apartment dwellers.

Otherwise, the city has begun to slowly fill up with these silent but eloquent witnesses to the unspeakable injustice visited upon thousands of its residents in the 1930s by the Stalin regime.

When I was walking home this evening along Marat Street, in central Petersburg, I came upon four plaques I had not noticed before. I was able to retrace their exact locations using the map on the Last Address website.

DSCN1423“Here lived Vasily Alexeyevich Lvov, welder. Born 1892. Arrested 1 February 1937. Died in a labor camp in Kolyma, 12 December 1937. Rehabilitated 1938.” Mr. Lvov lived in flat no. 29 at 75 Marat Street, Leningrad.

DSCN1427“Here lived Pyotr Alexandrovich Petrov, engineer. Born 1879. Arrested 2 October 1937. Shot 24 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1963.” Mr. Petrov lived in flat no. 36 at 65 Marat Street, Leningrad.

DSCN1428“Here lived Leonid Petrovich Petrov, bookkeeper. Born 1915. Arrested 19 October 1937. Shot 24 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1963.” Mr. Petrov also lived in flat no. 36 at 65 Marat Street, Leningrad. Judging by his patronymic and the difference in their ages, he was probably Pyotr Petrov’s son. As fate or the NKVD would have it, they were shot on the same day.

DSCN1429“Here lived Yuri Yevgenyevich Gezekhus, technologist. Born 1900. Arrested 23 October 1937. Shot 24 November 1937. Rehabilitated 1963.” Mr. Gezekhus also lived in flat no. 36 at 65 Marat Street, Leningrad. Most likely, this was a communal flat, because the information in Memorial’s database does not indicate that Mr. Gezekhus was related to the Petrovs nor did any of the three men share a workplace. And yet, given the fact that they shared a flat and were all shot on the same day, the NKVD probably fabricated a story about the men’s involvement in the same ring of wreckers, spies or saboteurs in order to justify their arrest and quick executions.

Memorial’s Last Address database currently contains 341,582 addresses. When three plaques were mounted on the building where I live, I used the database to locate the names and addresses of all the people who had once lived on our street and were arrested and shot during the Great Terror.

Even though our street consists only of two longish blocks and twenty tenement houses, I discovered that fifty-four (54) of its residents had fallen victim to Stalin’s Great Terror.

Extrapolate those numbers onto the entire country, where, as we know now, the NKVD was working to meet arbitrarily established quotas for the numbers of people to be arrested and shot in each region, town, and neighborhood, and you conjure up an utterly horrifying picture. It is a picture that becomes ever more palpable as the Last Address team slowly installs its tiny memorials to the dead all over Petersburg. TRR

Maria Eismont: Rules for a Rotten Life

asphalt i'm not match for you“I’m no match for you, pavement. If you ride a bike, wear a helmet.” Public service advertisement in central Petersburg, 13 October 2017. Photo by the Russian Reader 

Rules for a Rotten Life
Any of Us Can Be Detained by the Police and Should Be Prepared for It
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
November 8, 2017

Last weekend, Pavel Yarilin, a member of Moscow’s Airport District Municipal Council, and his colleagues spent several hours at a police station trying to secure the release of young auditors of the Higher School of Economics lecture program. The students had been taken to the police station after exiting their classes and finding themselves in the midst of a massive police crackdown on supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev, fugitive leader of the Artpodgovotka (Artillery Bombardment) movement, banned in Russia by a court order. Police were detaining people who had shown up for the “revolution” Maltsev announced for November 5, 2017. The total number of detainees exceeded 300 people.

Yarilin enunciated the impressions of what he witnessed and his conclusions in a detailed text he posted on the local community’s Facebook page, which he provocatively entitled “Be Ready, or, What It’s Time to Think about If Your Child Is between 13 and 25.”

“This applies to any person walk downing the street. Any person, including your son and you yourself. It is a random inevitability, so you shouldn’t be afraid. You should prepare yourself for the eventuality that, if you are arrested, you must behave the right way,” warns the councilman.

His second conclusion: “You can be named a witness in a criminal case due to an event about which you heard nothing at all.”

His third conclusion follows from the first two. It is addressed to parents of young adults.

“Your child does not necessarily have to be guilty to end up where he or she has ended up,” he writes.

The number of grateful comments under Yarilin’s account and the number of reposts nicely illustrate the relevance of such texts, which explain the unwritten rules of life in Russia to those people who have only just become adults, as well as to those people who for whatever reason have never thought hard about how things really work or were confused about them.

“One is a bit horrified by the fact this affects all of us, and yet there are no absolute rules for defending ourselves from it, nothing that says, ‘Do such and such, and everything will definitely be fine,'” writes Yarilin.

Today there is no simple and clear recipe for counteracting the total vulnerability of individuals before the state. But if we still cannot change the circumstances, we can describe them completely accurately, calling things by their real names and using words in their original sense.

Proceedings for authorizing an illegal, groundless arrest cannot be called a court hearing, just as you cannot call it an illegal event when citizens take to the streets unarmed and peaceably. You cannot speak of defending the country while attacking another country. You cannot call five minutes of hate a lesson in patriotism, and real patriots “foreign agents.” Parliamentary parties from the “systemic opposition” who blindly adopt cannibalistic, absurd laws dropped in their laps by the powers that be cannot be called opposition parties, and the work they do cannot be identified as politics.

The only thing today that could be called an election campaign in the sense that elections involve a real struggle for power, a contest of platforms and ideas, is the campaign Alexei Navalny has been running in the regions. But the authorities have been hassling Navalny’s campaign every which way they can, sometimes using methods that are absolutely unacceptable and illegal: banning peaceable rallies, arresting activists for no reason, firing the relatives of activists from their jobs, and forcing school administrators to threaten schoolchildren. So, the number of people who can benefit from Yarilin’s advice is bound to grow.

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