When the Night Lanterns Sway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready

Nikolai Podosokorsky
Facebook
February 12, 2021

Most recently, the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, flaunted the fact that Russia was ready to disconnect from the global internet, and today Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was ready to break off relations with the European Union. What else is Putin’s Russia ready for? A ban on free travel from the country? Recriminalizing possession of foreign currency? Introducing a national ideology? Lifting the moratorium on the death penalty? Starving? A great terror? World War Three?

Why is Russia always “ready” only for such things, but absolutely not ready for the rotation of elected authorities, respect for human rights, economic and scientific growth, equality of all before the law, federalism, fair trials, freedom of speech, etc.? Maybe, for a change, we should start getting ready not for total confrontation and civil war, but for building a democratic state and a strong civil society?

Thanks to Ksenia Astafieva for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Halfway to Ashgabat

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

Kirill Martynov
Facebook
February 12, 2021

Here are two news items from the last few days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by the Russian Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authorities have criticized Volkov’s call for flashlight protests.

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

Kill the Bill (That Will Kill Independent Culture and Education and Introduce Total Censorship in Russia)

“This is direct censorship. Withdraw the bill—don’t disgrace yourselves!”
Nikolai Nelyubin
Fontanka.ru
February 8, 2021

Vladimir Putin has received a letter from the progressive intelligentsia. The masters of culture, science and education have asked the guarantor not to touch the law on education by introducing “licenses for educational outreach.” For the depths are lower, and Gorky has nothing to do with it.

Professionals in culture, education and research involved in educational outreach work in our country, are concerned about the future of culture, education, and research. The reason is the draft law “On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation,'” adopted by the State Duma in its first reading, which, in particular, would make official vetting of “educational outreach programs” mandatory.

On February 8, more than a thousand Russian professionals in the field of educational outreach published an open letter to the authorities demanding that they reject the amendments, since they  would “open the door to repressive regulation and censorship.” [See my translation of the open letter, below—TRR.]

On February 9, the details of the legislative initiative are slated for consideration by the State Duma Committee on Education and Science, chaired by Vyacheslav Molotov’s grandson Vyacheslav Nikonov. The bill could pass its second reading as early as February 10.

A co-author of the legislation, Dmitry Alshevskikh, a United Russia MP representing Sverdlovsk Region, earlier shared with Fontanka.ru his arguments for adopting the new norms, which would destroy “anti-Russian propaganda” disguised as “educational outreach.”

“Certain forces are trying to introduce Bandera,” the people’s deputy explained.

The authors of the open letter to President Putin, Prime Minister Mishustin, State Duma Speaker Volodin, and all the co-sponsors of the sensational bill are no strangers to post-postmodernism in art, but in this case they are unanimous. There is nothing to be quibble about: we are getting closer to obscurantism and pathological tendencies that are better to nip in the bud.

It will be more difficult to work
Supporters of the independent cultural scene are convinced that the regulations governing educational outreach would complicate the work of people who organize exhibitions, lectures, discussions, and other public events.

“There are currently no requirements for vetting exhibition projects and the educational programs that accompany them (lectures, seminars, and meetings) except for cases when the project is funded by state grants,” says Tatiana Pinchuk, director of Petersburg’s Street Art Museum, about the current state of affairs.

Natalia Karasyova and Elizaveta Zinovieva, co-founders of the Big City Art project, which holds “art breakfasts” featuring lectures and excursions, are afraid of the vagueness of the mechanisms for obtaining a license, the lack of a list of documents for making such application, and, importantly, the cost of the entire procedure.

“It will be virtually impossible to obtain a license due to the cost and bureaucratic hurdles. So, we will be operating outside of the law,” they say.

Moreover, players on the independent education market cannot understand what exactly they would have to license.

“It is not clear from the bill what exactly ‘educational outreach’ includes,” wonder the women at Big City Art. “It is one thing to get a license for an educational center, and another thing to get one for small-scale meetings and blogging.”

Art scholar Anastasia Pronina also argues that the bill is vaguely worded.

“Officials would have additional levers for pressuring and regulating us, while those engaged in educational outreach work would find themselves in a tough spot,” says the curator. “If the bill is passed into law, it will be a problem to vet the topics announced by our speakers, and we will be obliged to draw up contracts for all our lectures and public events. The lectures at Benoit 1890 Cultural Center are educational in nature and free to attend. During the pandemic, we have introduced a nominal entry fee to regulate attendance. Our project promotes contemporary art in a bedroom community in Petersburg. I think it is clear that this is not an easy job, and we are grateful to all the lecturers who speak to our audiences for free.”

Curator Lizaveta Matveeva notes that a separate item in the draft law would require organizations that partner with and hire foreign specialists to obtain special permits.

“This is another go-round in our government’s maniacal desire to rid us of the presence of foreign colleagues and stop the dissemination of their ‘values and information,'” Matveeva argues. “My field cannot function without interaction with foreign colleagues, without a bilateral exchange of know-how. Culture and art cannot survive in isolation. Our country has already been through this experience, and it led to nothing good.”

Where have the censors been rummaging?
“The more vague a law is, the more repressive it is,” Matveeva argues. “Currently, oversight is implemented correctively, but there are concerns that this draft law and subsequent secondary laws may introduce preventive regulation that would require vetting educational materials before they are published, and this is real censorship.”

“It could reach the point that talking about Andy Warhol’s paintings would be considered promotion of the western way of life,” say Karasyova and Zinovieva. “It is absurd, but it is possible.”

According to the organizers of informal cultural events, censorship can manifest itself even more easily in the field of contemporary art. The young women give examples.

“This could concern projects that criticize the government by artistic means, or projects produced in cooperation with foreign colleagues,” they say.

“If cultural institutions are required to clear every exhibition project involving a cultural program with the state, then implementing any project would turn into a bureaucratic hell,” argues Pinchuk. “Also, it is not clear how broad the powers of the supervisory authorities would be. If they don’t like the theme of an exhibition or the subject of a lecture, would they simply ban it?”

Historian Lev Lurie is horrified.

“Educators also tell us about Ohm’s law, after all,” he says. “The question arises: aren’t they hyping the achievements of foreign scientists? Maybe they underestimate the successes of the virologists from the Vector Center in Novosibirsk? We need balance in the natural sciences, too! So, now we need to expand the training of these facilitators. Retired officers—political workers—can handle it. If, God forbid, [Vyacheslav] Makarov is not re-elected to the [Petersburg] Legislative Assembly, he could well attend such events, because he has a sense of who has the “Siege of Leningrad gene” and who doesn’t. He could run such events himself, but monitoring them is more important.”

Who would be affected by the law?
No one has actually counted how many independent educational platforms there are in Russia today. It is clear that this sector was growing quite dynamically until quite recently. There are professional educational platforms and schools, and there are hobby clubs.

“Meetings and lectures are also held in bookstores, libraries, cafes, independent galleries, and other places,” Matveeva explains.

“Based on the blanket statements [in the draft law] we can surmise that a project dealing with the oeuvre of a single artist and a show of his works would be defined as educational outreach since an analysis of the artist’s career constitutes, in one way or another, dissemination of information about the artist’s know-how and expertise,” argues Pinchuk. “Along with doing exhibition projects, museums, including the Street Art Museum, also do cultural and educational projects, and various events—meetings, seminars, and lectures—are held as part of these projects. During these events, knowledge about art is disseminated, and members of the cultural scene share their know-how and competence. That is, the activities of museums fall under the definition of educational outreach as provided in the draft law.”

It comes down to money
“Russian citizens, including vulnerable segments of the populace, would thus also lose the opportunity to gain knowledge from highly qualified specialists on a regular, often pro bono basis,” it says in the open letter to Russian officials.

Matveeva answers the question “why.”

“If organizers and lecturers have to produce and reproduce paperwork to get permission to hold each of their one-off lectures in a library or a cafe, it would be easier not to organize anything at all and wait for better times to arrive in Russia,” she says. “Many events are organized by enthusiasts, by professionals passionate about their work. Events are often held for free or for a nominal fee. They are attended by people who don’t have the opportunity to pay for an expensive course or time to study, but they can periodically go to lectures to learn something new, and maybe meet and hobnob with other people. Educational events are also popular among the elderly: for them it is a form of leisure.”

Karasyova and Zinovieva agree.

“If commercial educational events simply increase in price and part of the audience peels off, then non-profit organizers are likely to fall by the wayside, as they will not be able to carry the costs,” they say.

Lurie is categorical.

“People will show up and say that you are not telling the right story about hedgehogs. ‘You can’t talk about hedgehogs like that,******!” they will tell you. ‘And if I give you fifty thousand, will I be telling the right story about hedgehogs?’ you will ask. ‘Well, for fifty it would be better, but for sixty it would definitely be a good story about hedgehogs.’ That’s all you need to know about this law,” he says.

What history teaches us
“Increasing the amount of paperwork has never helped the cause of popular education,” Pinchuk argues.

There are also examples in history of how to introduce state control.

“The Cultural Revolution in the USSR at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s,” recalls Lurie. “Then all private NEP outfits were put under control. They became state-owned. They were made part of the overall structure. In particular, the Knowledge Society (Obshchestvo “Znanie”) emerged from this arrangement. Or there were the times of [Konstantin] Pobedonostsev, when a bailiff came to every event and could shut it down.”

“We are being dragged into the Middle Ages. Or into the USSR,” says Marina Rudina, an employee of the Russian Museum who specializes in its educational and research work. “This know-how was perfectly tested back then. There is a persistent sense of obscurantism. And, from my point of view, strange information is flowing from every corner, including from federal and state TV channels. We need protection from extremist influences? There is already a law for this. I don’t understand why we have this business about ‘combating extremism’ in the new law again. Apparently, this is a clear formula: there are only enemies everywhere, and we must defend ourselves from them. Are we going to sacrifice everything?”

Lurie recalls other specific examples.

“We feel great about the valiant deeds of Alexander Matrosov and Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Valentina Tereshkova and Dmitry Donskoy. We don’t expect anything bad. The problem is that there is imperfect censorship in Russia. There are no firm guidelines, for example, on whether Pobedonostsev and [Georgy] Malenkov are positive characters, and so we don’t know what to expect. There is uncertainty. We are afraid to talk positively about Malenkov. What if suddenly it turns out that he was working against the Motherland?”

To avoid this, says Lurie (who even at the start of Putin’s constitutional reforms spoke about the inevitability of total censorship), there must be “special people” who attend excursions and other events, lectures, and quests, either openly or undercover.

The historian sketches a new dystopian novel on the go.

“They will write a note to their superiors. They will have to record everything with surveillance devices so that it won’t be their word against [their opponents]. Then it will transpire that someone berated Matrosov. This means that a regulation stating that Matrosov cannot be derided will be needed. After all, such thoughts about Matrosov could be whispered by the enemy, while an educator might not have known it was forbidden. We must protect educators!”

“Why are they doing this?”
“The bill will drive another nail in the coffin of private cultural institutions in Russia. It seems that the current policy is aimed at ensuring that there are fewer and fewer educated people with a broad outlook, and that knowledge outside of the school curriculum can only be obtained abroad,” Pinchuk argues.

“The censorship and repressive laws already adopted by our government have greatly changed the climate and environment, and have complicated the already extremely difficult lives of cultural professionals,” says Matveeva. “We can no longer publicly and openly touch on certain topics, we cannot work with certain organizations, and it is better for us not to receive grants from international organizations and foundations. Given that the government provides no support to artists, art historians, and other producers of culture and art, it is not quite clear how officialdom expects people to work and support themselves.”

“Why are they doing this?” Rudina asks, immediately answering her own question.

“To completely obliterate education, to make it impossible for there to be flights of thought and broad spaces to think. There should be many opinions, many sources of knowledge and trends. When everything is regulated, is approved by people at the top, this is direct censorship, the exclusion of any opinions other than those ‘approved by the government line.’ Just withdraw the bill—don’t disgrace yourselves!”

Late last year, Petersburg MP Elena Drapeko told Fontanka.ru that voters had asked the State Duma to introduce censorship in Russia.

As of February 9, over 210,00 people had signed a petition against the proposed amendments.

__________

This session of Petersburg’s Street University, held on Elf Square in the city center circa 2008-2009, would have been impossible under the proposed amendments to the Law on Education. 

__________

February 8, 2021

Open Letter

To:

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin

Chairman of the Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin

Russian Federation Council Members A.A. Klimov, E.V. Afanasyeva, A.V. Vainberg, L.N. Glebova, and O.V. Melnichenko

Russian State Duma Members V.I. Piskarev, A.G. Alshevskikh, N.I. Ryzhak, A.K. Isaev, R.D. Kurbanov, I.V. Belykh, N.V. Poklonskaya, D.I. Savelyev, A.V. Chep, A.L. Shkhagoshev, E.A. Yampolskaya, V.V. Bortko, S.M. Boyarsky, O.M. Kazakova, E.G. Drapenko, A.M. Sholokhov, O.L. Lavrov, S.A. Shargunov, O.M. Germanova, V.Yu. Maksimov, N.N. Pilus, and S.B. Savchenko

Russian Federal Minister of Culture O.B. Lyubimova

Russian Federal First Deputy Minister of Culture S.G. Obryvalin

We, the undersigned, are cultural, educational, and academic professionals engaged in educational outreach work in Russia, as well as Russian citizens concerned about the future of culture, education, and research in our country. We write to you in connection with Draft Law No. 1057895-7 “On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation’” (hereinafter referred to as “the Draft Law”), which was passed by the State Duma in its first reading. If the Draft Law becomes law, it will, in our opinion, open the door to repressive regulation and censorship. In its current form, it threatens the constitutional rights of Russian citizens and the growth of our country’s educational and cultural fields due to its vague wording and rawness.

The Explanatory Note to the Draft Law states, “The federal draft law is aimed at improving the legal regulation of educational activities in the Russian Federation,” and “the draft law […] would generate additional conditions for developing human culture, encouraging individual socialization, and motivating individuals to form an active civic stance.” However, it contains no detailed comparative risk-benefit analysis proving that the stated goal would be pursued, rather than its opposite.

At the same time, the rules and regulations that would be issued if the Draft Law were passed, as well as the content of the Draft Law itself, have rightly caused fears among professionals that administrative barriers to educational outreach work would be raised that infringe on constitutionally protected rights and freedoms, including:

  • the right to education (per Article 43, Paragraph 1 of the Russian Federal Constitution)
  • the right to seek out, receive, transmit, produce and disseminate information (per Article 29, Paragraph 4 of the Russian Federal Constitution)
  • and freedom of literary, artistic, scientific, technical and other types of creativity, as well as freedom of instruction (per Article 44, Paragraph 1 of the Russian Federal Constitution).

The Draft Law is extremely restrictive

According to Article 43, Paragraph 5 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, “The Russian Federation establishes federal educational standards, [and] supports various forms of education and self-education.” In its current version, however, the Draft Law and the accompanying regulations adopted if it is implemented (as suggested by the public statements of its authors) are aimed not at supporting but at limiting educational outreach as sponsored by federal cultural and educational organizations, as well as by independent platforms, private organizations, and grassroots groups.

The text of the Draft Law defines educational outreach work as “activities, implemented outside the framework of educational programs, that are aimed at disseminating knowledge, skills, values, know-how and competence in order to develop individuals intellectually, spiritually, morally, creatively, physically and (or) professionally, and meet their educational needs and interests, and that touch on relations regulated by this federal law and other legislative acts of the Russian Federation.” The vagueness of the wording means that educational outreach work can be defined as any public activity in which knowledge and competencies are disseminated. Hence, we can conclude that educational outreach work could include not only individual lectures and workshops organized by licensed educational institutions, but also exhibitions, festivals, conferences, the work of popularizers of science and art, openly accessible blogs and vlogs, and much more.

The Draft Law introduces redundant regulations and opens the door to censoring educational outreach work

The Draft Law prohibits incitement to social, racial, ethnic or religious strife, and incitement to actions contrary to the Russian Federal Constitution. At the same time, the dissemination of information for these purposes is already prohibited by current Russian federal legislation, whose norms are also applicable to educational outreach work (per Article 10 of the Federal Law “On Information,” Article 13 of the Federal Law “On Countering Extremism,” and the corresponding provisions in the Administrative Offenses Code and the Criminal Code).

Currently, oversight is implemented correctively (ex post). We are concerned that the secondary legislation could introduce preventive (ex ante) regulation requiring that educational materials be approved before they are published, thus restricting freedom of opinion, as well as significantly complicating the work of law-abiding educators while not affecting the activities of banned extremist organizations.

The Draft Law is isolationist

The Draft Law obliges educational organizations to obtain the approval of the executive authorities when negotiating educational agreements with foreign organizations and foreign nationals involving expenditures. The provision would cover not only financial contracts involving state educational institutions (to which the laws on public procurement apply), but also other agreements, including non-financial cooperation agreements, which are signed in large numbers by all major educational institutions, as well as contracts made by non-governmental educational organizations.

The introduction of additional restrictions and controls on international exchanges and the engagement of foreign nationals by educational organizations inevitably entails an additional bureaucratic burden that most non-profit independent organizations would not be able to handle because they lack the necessary resources. Consequently, international exchanges would face the threat of significant cuts, leading to the stagnation of culture and research in Russia: growth in these fields is impossible without a constant exchange of know-how and ideas with colleagues from other countries. The lack of an opportunity to build stable, permanent relations with the international professional community would inevitably lead to a lag in the growth of culture, research and education in our country.

Educational outreach is carried out not only by large state institutions, but also by independent non-profit organizations, as well as by grassroots groups who find it difficult to secure the minimal resources needed for engaging foreign colleagues and implementing international projects. In this regard, introducing requirements for obtaining additional permits to engage foreign nationals in educational outreach projects would make it impossible to implement grassroots and non-profit undertakings. Russian citizens, including vulnerable segments of the populace, would thus also lose the opportunity to gain knowledge from highly qualified specialists on a regular, often pro bono basis.

The Draft Law delegates unregulated oversight to the Government

The Draft Law adopted by the State Duma in the first reading is extremely vague: it does not specify procedures and boundaries for overseeing educational outreach work, does not delimit regulatory entities, and does not define the types of international cooperation pursued by educational organizations that would require official approval. Essentially, the State Duma (a legislative body) has wholly delegated policymaking in the educational outreach field to the Government of the Russian Federation (an executive body) without setting any criteria and restrictions. This makes it possible, when adopting secondary legislation, to interpret the will of the legislators quite broadly, in a variety of directions. The vagueness of the wording, as well as the delegation of further rule-making to the Government of the Russian Federation, raises concerns in the professional community that the regulation would be repressive and involve censorship, thus considerably complicating the implementation of educational outreach work.

Oversight and restriction of educational outreach based on extremely vague reasons, thus allowing for varying interpretations “on the ground,” are contrary to the constitutional rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. In this regard, we, cultural, educational, and academic professionals engaged in educational outreach work in Russia, call on you to reject Draft Law No. 1057895-7 “On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation,’” as its adoption, in our opinion, would open the door to repressive regulation and censorship due to its vague wording and rawness.

[Signed, in the original, by Lizaveta Matveeva (St. Petersburg), curator of the Main Project of the Seventh International Moscow Youth Biennale, the Art Prospect International Public Art Fair, and the DYI Fair, and 1,002 other signatories]

Thanks to Susan Katz for asking me to translate the open letter and sending me the link to the article from Fontanka.ru. Both texts were translated by the Russian Reader

Evil vs. the People

Khabarovsk, January 31, 2021. Photo: Yevgeny Pereverzev. Courtesy of Vitaliy Blazhevich

Vitaliy Blazhevich
Facebook
February 5, 2021

The most important observation of the last few weeks is that there were more than enough riot police for all the cities: each detainee was dragged away by five or six riot policemen. They have enough batons, shields, and paddy wagons, they have stun guns, rubber-bullets pistols, and even combat firearms. Evil was prepared for the new wave of protests. Evil did not sit idly by all this time: it built up its strength and increased its forces. Evil has stolen enough from the people to maintain and equip this vast army.

Well, never mind, we’ll see who comes out on top. After all, it is quite obvious that this time Putin is not opposed by a particular social stratum, by a particular political force, or by one region. The entire country and the entire people have risen up, and Putin’s “power vertical,” including the riot police, cannot be regarded as part of the people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Empire Strikes Back

. . . in the heart of the old imperial capital, Saint Petersburg.

We can thank Vladislav Ivanov for the “footage.” (And I thank Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for sharing it with me.) In keeping with the message of this video, if not its jocular tone, a friend in Petersburg just wrote to me, “Tomorrow we are going for a ‘walk’ on the Nevsky. It was already flooded with police and National Guardsman on Saturday. It’s scary. But we try and overcome our fear, taking our cue from the younger generation.” \\ TRR

 

Putin’s Base

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
January 30, 2021

A random interlocutor told me about their friend, a Russian National Guardsman. Last Saturday, he worked the protests in St. Petersburg from 9 am to 10 pm without a single lunch break. After the elections in Belarus, his unit was taken to Pskov, where they removed all their insignia: if necessary, they could be shipped to Belarus to beat up the protesters. For a week, two hundred of them lived in a school, sleeping on mattresses tossed on the floor: “It was great way to get covid! But nobody gives a shit.”

They weren’t exported to Belarus, so they went home. The friend makes 40 grand a month. [40,000 rubles is approximately 435 euros at the current exchange rate.] “Do you think he loves Putin? No. But he took out a mortgage, and he has to pay it back.”

I wonder: do they really do what they do for forty thousand rubles a month and humiliating “working conditions”? Or do they do it out of conviction?

But they are now being forcibly vaccinated, and so the friend is thinking about quitting. Not because he has to harass peaceful fellow citizens, mind you.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
January 30, 2021

All day I was planning to write about the awful things that the regime has done, but every time it seemed that they couldn’t do more and go lower, it turned out that no, they could, and then some. So, now I will summarize what were probably the most egregious things that happened during the day to remind you once again that we are not dealing with “police,” “judges,” and “prosecutors,” but with people (?) who are ready to commit any crime in order to preserve their power, salaries, and AMP license plates.

In Tver, the security forces came for the deputy coordinator of Navalny’s local HQ, Pavel Kuzmin. When he refused to come out, they cut off his electricity and internet, and then grabbed his fiancee. He surrendered.

In Yakutsk, the security forces came for Sergei Tikhy and Viktoria Postnikova, a couple who support the shaman [Alexander] Gabyshev and have a large family. The security forces shined a laser in their windows (apparently they had the family in their sights), and it seems that they still have not left.

In Moscow, the security forces came for the editor-in-chief of Mediazona Sergei Smirnov when he was out walking with his young child. Now he is in the holding cage at the Tverskaya police precinct, a place I know well. He is accused of participating in the demonstration on January 23, although at the time he was at home coordinating his website’s news coverage of the event.

In Nizhny Novgorod, the security forces came to the special detention center to visit the coordinator of Navalny’s local HQ, Roman Tregubov. They threatened him into reading on camera a text renouncing the protests (which he has now disavowed). I should explain that Roman had every reason to take the threats seriously: Nizhny, which is only three and a half hours from Moscow by train, is known for the insane torture that the local “anti-extremism” police practice. They made one guy sit naked on an anthill, and then for a long time publicly mocked him on “anonymous Telegram channels.”

The security forces in Nizhny also came for my friend Mikhail Iosilevich, who had already been charged with two felonies for cooperating with Open Russia and for not informing the authorities about his dual citizenship. Terrible crimes! Today, a court changed his pre-trial restrictions and remanded him in custody to a pre-trial detention center, and in this case too they hastened to mockingly report this fact on an “anonymous Telegram channel.”

It was after her apartment was searched as part of the case against Ioselevich that Irina Slavina set herself on fire and died.

This story is very personal to me. I know Ioselevich and knew Slavina, and I like visiting Nizhny. Mikhail was always willing to help me and local activists, and he had fun founding the local branch of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Church. But only cops—angry, offended, and embittered—can “have fun” in Russia nowadays.

I used to appeal to the reason of the “other side,” but now I understand that it’s like admonishing a mad wolf to go vegetarian. It’s useless. The conversation is over, and the wolf, no longer a man, has pounced.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

All in a Day’s Work

TV Rain has made the following list of people and places in Moscow raided and searched today (January 27, 2020) by the Putinist security forces. Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. \\ TRR

We made a list of all police searches today. As of now, we know that the security services have raided the following:

    • Navalny’s apartment in the Maryino district of Moscow
    • An apartment rented by Navalny near the Avtozavodskaya subway station
    • The Navalny LIVE studio
    • The Anti-Corruption Foundation’s offices
    • Lyubov Sobol’s apartment
    • Moscow Navalny HQ coordinator Oleg Stepanov
    • The apartment of Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh, who has been transported home from a special detention center for the search
    • The apartment of Anti-Corruption Foundation employee Georgy Alburov, who has also been transported home from a special detention center for the search
    • The apartment of Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina
    • The apartment of municipal district councilor Lusya Stein
    • The apartment of Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Alliance of Doctors: she has been detained and taken there for the search
    • The apartment of Nikolai Kasyan, aide to municipal district councilor Yulia Galyamina
    • The apartment of Yegor Yefremov, a member of the Libertarian Party of Russia (LPR) and Civil Society
    • The apartment of the mother of Sergei Smirnov, editor-in-chief of Mediazona

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Helmets Come Off

The Helmets Come Off
Alexander Skobov
Grani.ru
January 24, 2021

Alexander Skobov. Photo: Anna Plitman/Grani.ru

Ksenia Sobchak has equated the cruelty and violence against a woman who was kicked in the stomach by a riot policeman with the violence and cruelty against a riot policeman’s helmet, which was kicked around [during Saturday’s anti-Putin rallies] by “radicals.”

“This is all, or almost all, that you need to know about Ksenia Sobchak’s mental makeup,” writes Igor Yakovenko. It’s almost everything, because Sobchak’s short text contains another interesting tidbit. She also argues that resistance to tyranny is not only futile, but also harmful, because it pushes tyranny to get tougher. The “unbroken generation” will simply have to be “broken.” The bloodthirsty lady recommends relaxing and having fun.

In some ways, however, it is worth heeding Sobchak. We should not, indeed, hope for a “thaw,” for concessions from the authorities. The Putin regime is organically incapable of this, for the whole thing is built on criminal grandstanding. The very flesh and blood of the “new Putin elite,” Sobchak knows what she is talking about.

The criminal grandstanding is just a shell. The bottom line is that Putin’s regime  carried the germ of fascism from the get-go, and now this “alien” is finally hatching from the egg. The ruling class abhors liberal democracy, with its rule of law and its prioritization of human rights. It hates everything that limits its power over the serfs, and now it is trying to finally tear off the “hybrid” liberal-democratic bunting.

A riot policeman in Petersburg kicks a woman in the stomach when she attempts to ask why they have detained the young man they are escorting, January 23, 2021. Video: Fontanka.ru. Courtesy of Mediazona

Of course, the regime will respond to the protests with a further tightening of the screws—with new criminal cases, with new pogroms of opposition organizations, with new repressive and prohibitive laws. It will try and break the unbroken generation broken. I’m afraid that the new generation will not manage to avoid having this life experience. It must firmly understand that the current regime is an enemy with which compromise is impossible, and so everyone is faced with an extremely simple and tough choice of what way to choose in life.

One way is to capitulate, relax, have fun, and eventually become an accomplice of riot policemen who kick women in the stomach. The other way is to stand up for your own dignity, despite the price you have to pay for it, to resist by all available means, and ultimately to overthrow Putin’s fascist regime. And not worry about the fact that, meanwhile, some people are kicking a riot policeman’s helmet around.

The prospect of such a tough choice scares those who are used to living according to the principle voiced by a character in the epoch-making TV series Gangster Petersburg, a corrupt cop who was fond of saying, “I’m mean, but in moderation.” The fascist system increasingly and imperiously demands that they go beyond the moderate meanness that they are used to deeming permissible for themselves. And they feel uncomfortable about it.

Hence Sobchak’s long-standing complaints about escalating confrontation and mutual bitterness, about black-and-white thinking that admits no shades of gray. She now has to solve a truly existential question: who is she? A woman, or a riot police helmet?

Sobchak has not said anything fundamentally new. She has consistently defended the Putin regime from revolution. After all, revolution is worse than when a woman is kicked in the stomach. Revolution is when a riot policeman’s helmet is kicked around.

Protesters snowballing riot police on Tsvetnoy Boulevard in Moscow yesterday, January 23, 2021. Courtesy of Ksenia Larina’s Facebook page

The power of today’s protest was far from enough for revolution. Its reserves of strengths are unknown. In any case, it proved much more powerful than those who believed Fukuyama had expected. No one can predict when and why Putin’s autocratic fascist regime will be overthrown, and who will overthrow it. We must be prepared for a long period of resistance under a repressive dictatorship.

To avoid coming apart during this period, we must nurture in ourselves not only faith in the beautiful Russia of the future, but also a hatred of lies, meanness, and violence—a hatred for the powerful scoundrels who have trampled law and justice to death, a hatred for riot police who kick a woman in stomach, and a hatred for their helmets.

Five days ago, Alexander Skobov reported on his Facebook page that he had been summoned by the FSB for questioning at 2 p.m., January 27, 2021, at its Petersburg headquarters. Translated by the Russian Reader

Don’t Let Strangers Wreck Their Minds (Putin’s Palace)

“Protect your children. Don’t let strangers wreck their minds and their lives.” Screenshot of a social media post by the Udelnaya Library of the Vyborg District Centralized Library System in Petersburg. Courtesy of dp.ru

“Protect your children”: Smolny launches mass posting before rally
Delovoi Peterburg
January 21, 2021

On January 21, the social network pages of Petersburg’s district administrations, as well as of municipal schools, libraries, and educational organization, published the same message, appealing to parents not to let their children attend the rally urging the release of politician Alexei Navalny.

“Protect your children from being dragged into destructive actions that can lead to psychological problems in the future, but also to unpredictable consequences in their lives today,” the text of the mass posting says. It stresses that the upcoming rally is a “blatant provocation.”

A search for the phrase “protect your children from being dragged into destructive actions” yielded around a hundred hits on the social media pages of municipal organizations. At the time of writing, the post had been published on the VK pages of the Kolpino and Vyborg districts, as well as the press services of the Shuvalovo-Ozerki, Posadsky, Kronverk, and Sampsonievsky municipal districts, and dozens of schools.

Earlier today, First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Gorovoy said that the Russian Interior Ministry has “all legal grounds” to charge with misdemeanors those who “in person, on the internet, [or] by sending written appeals” call on people to attend the rally [sic]. The Prosecutor General’s Office ordered the blocking of websites containing posts with calls to attend the [rallies].

Alexey Navalny recently published a large-scale investigation dealing with the construction of a grand residence on the Black Sea. The Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK) founder claims that the palace was built for Vladimir Putin. Navalny and his FBK team have called on their supporters to come out to protest on January 23. He has been supported by bloggers on Instagram and TikTok who have over a million followers.

________________________

Alexei Navalny, Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Largest Bribe, January 19, 2021. [There were over 51 million views as of 1:00 a.m. Moscow time, January 22, 2021]

The printed text of the investigation, including all relevant documents, is here: https://palace.navalny.com/

Navalny recorded this video before his return to Russia, but we immediately agreed that we would release it after he returned: Alexei did not want the protagonist of this investigation—Vladimir Putin—to think that we were afraid of him and that we were telling his biggest secret from abroad.

Today, you will see something that is considered impossible to see up close. Along with us, you will go where no one is allowed. We will go for a visit to Putin’s house. With our own eyes, we will see that, in his craving for luxury and wealth, Putin has completely lost his mind. We will find out whose money has financed this luxury and how it was done. And we will learn how, over the past fifteen years, the biggest bribe in history was paid and the most expensive palace in the world was built.

Alexey was detained at the airport [in Moscow], where he arrived after five months of medical treatment in Germany. He went to Germany after Putin tried to kill him. On January 18, Navalny was illegally arrested and placed in a pre-trial detention center.

Alexei has always fought for our rights, and now we have to fight for his. Vladimir Putin must answer for all his crimes.

At 2:00 p.m. on January 23, go to the central streets of your cities. Don’t stand on the sidelines.

Here is a link to information about the rallies in different cities (this post will be updated): https://navalny.com/p/6454/

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Free Navalny! 2:00 p.m., January 23.” Image courtesy of navalny.com