They Jump on Anything That Moves, Part 2: The Arrest of Dmitry Trubitsyn

Alyona Rydannykh
Facebook
June 9, 2017

The Trial and the 1990s have arrived in Akademgorodok. It’s awful and dishonest and scary. All of Akademgorodok, including the polite employees at the courthouse, are on the side of common sense and Dima’s side. Everyone knows everyone else in our town, and if people in a place like that say someone has a perfect reputation, they really mean perfect.

How awful.

Image may contain: 1 person
Dmitry Trubitsyn

Mikhail Amelkin
Facebook
June 9, 2017

The police searched Tion yesterday. They detained Dima Trubitsyn, the company’s founder and inspiration.

This is a continuation of the hullabaloo over registering medical equipment. All the recommendations were implemented, but now the case has shifted to different plane, and Dima is personally at risk.

I’ve known Dima since school. He’s a fine honest man with a crystal clean reputation. He has done a lot not only for the company’s employees but also for education, for schoolchildren and university students, for the consumers of our products, and for the economy as a whole.  He has always said he would prove it was possible and necessary to run a successful tech company in Russia, to support the country and the economy with actions, not words. He has never been involved in politics, believing one shouldn’t whinge and complain, but get up and do it.

I realize the law enforcement agencies play the game by their own rules. Professional lawyers are now working on the defense. I would be flummoxed if Dima were remanded into police custody during the investigation. From my point of view, that would be overdoing it. Dima is not a villain: I believe that with all my heart. Jail is too severe a measure of restraint for such an honest man, a man willing to prove his case with his visor open and standing up straight.

How can you help? By reposting this message and voicing your support for Dima in the comments to the repost. Tell us about Dima as you know him. Show that you care, that you are concerned about the situation and are keeping an eye on it.

What WON’T help is screaming, chewing out the authorities, and guessing and surmising why what happened has happened. I would ask you not to do this out of respect for Dima, who never engaged in such jawboning himself.

What is it stake is not the company, but a specific man’s life, a man who has not wronged anyone. I just ask you to support him on the personal level. He’s a good man. He’s never lived for himself, and, even as he has been locked up in the pretrial detention facility, he has been planning to make the world a better place.

Tion Smart Microclimate
Faceboook
June 9, 2017

We wish to inform you that on June 8, Tion’s offices in Novosibirsk, Berdsk, and Moscow were searched by law enforcement in connection with a case involving the sale of medical products that, allegedly, do not meet safety requirements.

Tion works in strict compliance with the laws of the Russian Federation. We regard the present circumstances as unjustified pressure on a transparent, law-abiding company, since all the equipment we sell has the necessary permits.

The current grievances are rooted in the past, when there were inaccuracies in registration certificates due to imperfections in legislation. The inaccuracies were corrected on a routine basis and in close cooperation with the relevant government agencies. The selectivity of the investigative bodies raises obvious suspicions that this is a deliberate campaign against a market leader.

The decision to take the company’s director general into police custody is unjustified and aimed at hindering the company’s work. Such actions were typical in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, it is business as usual at Tion. We have been fulfilling our obligations to our employees, contractors, and clients. The company’s non-medical businesses have not be affected.

We will defend our position in accordance with established procedure and are confident of success.

Ilya Beterov

Facebook
June 10, 2017

Briefly about Dima for those who don’t know about him and the whole situation. We studied at university together. Then he went into business, and I stayed in science and became a lecturer. Our paths almost never crossed for several years. Then I started taking my students to see his company, to show them a beautiful, modern production facility, built from scratch by an ordinary man. Basically, it was a paradigm of success in the innovative economy, which was all the rage back then. The atmosphere of enthusiasm, youth, and dynamism was also impressive. Later, more and more new educational projects sprang up around Dima, and the company built its own lab for researching aerosols, expanded its ties with the physics department, and established a foundation for supporting students at physics and maths magnet schools. Accordingly, Dima has a rare reputation in our day and age, and because of it I am taking his side without knowing all the particulars of the present case. He and I diverged in terms of political views. I believed that doing business in Russia without protection from the criminal world or the authorities was madness, but Dima was an optimist. Actually, this optimism has two sides. On the one hand, a production facility like that would have been impossible without it. On the other hand, I can easily imagine the carelessness with paperwork that is common in Russia did not bypass the company and served as the peg on which to hang the present case. At the same time, I’m confident Dima was never involved in falsifying descriptions of equipment. Despite my thoroughgoing skepticism, I didn’t anticipate he would be the first of us to come under attack. I learned about the attack against him a year ago, and I believe it is coming from fairly serious criminal and oligarchic organizations. The name and surname of the person who ordered the attack can be easily found. But then a simple question arises. Maybe we should stop hypocritically arguing that Russia needs a competitive economy, technological clusters, innovation, financing from the business world, and other nonsense? There are people with influence. If the production of something has to be set up, give them the assignment, and they will hire specialists and get the job done. But the chatter about innovation and competitiveness has to be stopped once and for all.

Novosibirsk Entrepreneur Detained over Bacteria
RBC
June 9, 2017

The head of one of the oldest residents of Akademgorodok Technopark, Aeroservis LLC’s Dmitry Trubitsyn, has been detained by investigating authorities over charges he sold defective air purifiers.

According to police investigators, Aeroservis (Tion Group of Companies) received permission in 2011 to manufacture the TION-A and TION-V air purifiers, which eliminate bacteria and viruses.

Later, investigators claim that Trubitsyn “had the idea of producing and selling the air purifiers in violation of established standards in order to reduce production costs and maximize profits from their sale.”

They allege that the suspect built and sold air purifiers lacking the necessary components for air purification.

“As a result, during the specified period, the rigged equipment was delivered to clinics in over one hundred cities and towns in Russia. Yet the proceeds from the sale of each air purifier ranged from 45,000 to 98,000 rubles,” the investigators write in their statement to the press.

Tion has said it regards the situation as “unjustified pressure on a transparent, law-abiding company, since all the equipment we sell has the necessary permits.”

According to the company, the charges made by the investigative authorities have to do with the past, “when there were inaccuracies in registration certificates due to imperfections in legislation.”

They say the inaccuracies were corrected when they were brought to light, but “the selectivity of the investigative bodies raises obvious suspicions this is a deliberate campaign against a market leader.”

“The decision to take the company’s director general into police custody is unjustified and aimed at hindering the company’s work. Such actions were typical in the 1990s.”

The company likewise said it was conducting business as usual.

Charges have been filed under Article 238.1, Part 2, Paragraph a, of the Russian Federal Criminal Code: the production and sale of unregistered medical devices on a large scale. The crime is punishable by a prison sentence of five to eight years and a fine of one million to three million rubles.

Dmitry Trubitsyn, a 35-year-old Novosibirsk entrepreneur, founded the Tion Group of Companies.

Founded in Novosibirsk, Tion designs, produces, and sells modern air purifiers. Production takes place at the Berdsk Electromechanical Plant and in China, while design is done at the Akademgorodok Technopark.

Alexei Okunev
Facebook
June 9, 2017

The company that custom-ordered the criminal investigation, Potok (“Stream) does not use “UV, ozone, HEPA filters, and photocatalysis” in its air purifiers. They don’t even use “chemical substances.” This is called “space-age technology” and will be delivered to hospitals and maternity hospitals.

Oksana Trubitsyna
Facebook
June 11, 2017

Friends, thank you so much for your support.

The criminal case against Dmitry Trubitsyn and the police searches at the company are unprecedented coercion against a successful, law-abiding business.

Unfortunately, it is not only we who are under attack but also the very possibility of establishing successful tech companies in Russia. This cannot be tolerated.

Tion is a transparent company. Tion’s equipment is effective and safe. Dmitry Trubitsyn has not broken the law.

We will prove it in court.

We are not entirely certain of the reasons for what has been happening to us. We assume the law enforcement agencies are being used as a tool by competitors. Alas, market competition in Russia can assume such ugly shapes.

What is happening now with Tion?
– Dmitry Trubitsyn and his lawyers are deciding what steps to take next to defend themselves.
– We have appealed to the ombudsman for the defense of entrepreneurs’ rights.
– Tion’s management seeks to ensure the company’s smooth operation. After the weekend, everyone will come to work and keep working on projects.
– Tion has been closely interacting with the media. We are preparing answers to the flood of negativity that has washed over us and defending our reputation.

What can you do?
– Pass all your ideas, thoughts, and useful contacts on to the Tion employees you know. We will review everything and contact you if necessary.
– Write a letter to the President of the Russian Federation via the official website letters.kremlin.ru. Unlike the well-known website Change.org, the Kremlin is required by law to reply to your letters. A large number of letters could raise the issue to the very highest level.

What can do harm to the cause?
– Uncoordinated communication with the media and, especially, with television can misshape perceptions of the situation badly. It will be harder and harder for us to fight back.
– Involving various politicians and public figures. The situation facing Tion is a matter of (harsh and unacceptable) relations within the market. Interacting with political forces automatically strips us of part of our support and forces us to deal with irrelevant issues. It will complicate our lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the accusations against Tion?

Law enforcement is attempting to accuse us of manufacturing low-quality medical equipment by citing the outcomes of a study allegedly done by one of Rosdravnadzor’s expert review centers. [Rozdravnadzor is the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Public Health and Social Development—TRR.] The substantive part of the expert review is lacking: technical tests were not conducted by any experts.

Special attention should be paid to the fact we were able to receive the findings of the “expert review” only two months after our competitors had been using them with a vengeance.

Is it true that Tion’s products are dangerous to your health?

Our products are safe, as confirmed by dozens of independent examinations. Many of these examinations can be be easily accessed on our official website.

Why, then, have investigators concluded your equipment is dangerous?

Conclusions on the danger of using the equipment are based on a mismatch between the mass of the air purifier, as indicated in the instruction manual, and the mass, as indicated in the registration file.

The accusation is without substance. It is bureaucratic and very far from the truth.

Is it true that Tion’s products were initially equipped with photocatalytic filters, but at some point the company stopped using them?

Yes, it is true. Photocatalytic filters facilitate the removal of molecular pollutants (i.e., those in a gaseous state, unlike dust and microorganisms). In Tion’s products, this function is still performed by a catalytic adsorption filter, which handles molecular pollutants just as well as photocatalytic filters.

Is it true that Tion got rid of the photocatalytic filter covertly?

No, it’s not true. Tion’s website describes its air purification technology in detail. It doesn’t involve photocatalysis.

Police investigators claim that, after the photocatalytic filters were removed, Tion’s products ceased to eliminate viruses and bacteria. Is this true?

No, it’s not true. Viruses and bacteria are eliminated by HEPA filtration. Moreover, the captured microorganisms are additionally deactivated by ozone, which is subsequently destroyed by the catalytic adsorption filter.

Tion’s photocatalytic filter-less products passed all the necessary certifications and were registered for medical use. Roszdravnadzor had no complaints.

Moreover, certain competitors never used photocatalysis in their equipment, which in no way kept them from obtaining permits.

Is it true that Tion specifically removed the photocatalytic filter in order to save money and increase its profits?

Yes, it’s true, and it’s a good thing. Only perverted logic can lead one to the conclusions which police investigators have reached.

Photocatalytic filters are not obligatory for effective purification. Tion’s design makes it possible to achieve the necessary level of decontamination without resorting to photocatalysis, which has been proven by multiple independent studies.

Business should make a profit. Reducing costs is an absolutely legal and reasonable means of increasing profits. Introducing new, more effective, and cheaper technologies is one way to reduce costs without reducing the quality of products. Designing, popularizing, and making new, more efficient technologies cheaper is the Tion way.

Tion’s profits are spent on designing new products and on charity and social projects that you all know about. This is not to mention the fact we pay taxes and salaries.

Is it true that Tion founder Dmitry Trubitsyn made a front man director instead of him?

No, it is not true. As the company grew and new investors came on board, its structure became more complicated. At the moment of his arrest, Dmitry Trubitsyn was the director general of Tion Holding Company JSC, to which the other legal entities in the Tion Group of Companies belong as subsidiaries, for example, Aeroservis LLC, which is the subject of the criminal investigation.

_____________________________

A huge thanks to Alyonna Rydannykh for the heads-up and supplying me with all the Facebook posts and articles used in this collage reportage. Translated by the Russian Reader. This is latest in an occasional series of posts on the regime’s apparent hostility toward medium and small businesses and traders. You can read the previous post in the series here. TRR

Maria Eismont: The Dmitriev Case Is the Most Important Thing Happening in Russia Right Now

1482844382
Yuri Dmitriev. Photo courtesy of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

The Yuri Dmitriev Case
The Accused Should Be Nominated for a State Prize
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
June 8, 2017

“A person cannot disappear without a trace. People differ from butterflies in the sense that people have memory,” the man with long grey hair and long grey beard said onscreen.

The presentation of books of remembrance for those shot during the Great Terror in Karelia packed the screening room at the Gulag History Museum in Moscow: people even sat on the stairways. The editor of the books, Karelian historian and search specialist Yuri Dmitriev, from Memorial, was the man talking onscreen. He has spent the last six months in a pretrial detention center, absurdly charged with the crime of producing pornography.

Dmitriev sent his greetings and gratitude from prison, not so much for the kind words said about him, as for acknowledgement of his life’s work. Memorial’s historians all concur it is unique. No other region in Russia has such a complete compendium of the names of those who were shot as Karelia does. As his colleagues argue, Dmitriev succeeded in turning the figures of those who perished during the Great Terror into memorial lists complete with names, biographies, and burial sites.

The speakers occasionally slipped into the past tense, but immediately corrected themselves. Dmitriev is still alive, and we must believe he will soon be released, find the execution site of the other two Solovki “quotas” [political prisoners at the Solovki concentration camp who were transported to three different sites outside the camp in 1937–1938 to be shot and buried in secret—TRR], and present the next book of remembrance. This powerlessness, these slips of the tongue, and the trembling voices fully convey the horror of a time when the days when people were shot are long past but people still fall victim to political repression.

The Yuri Dmitriev case is, perhaps, the most important thing happening in Russia right now, first of all, because a patriot who for decades had, bit by bit, resurrected thousands of names of this country’s citizens from official oblivion, citizens murdered cruelly and senselessly in the state’s name, has himself been subjected to persecution. “The introduction to the list of terror victims will be brief: may they live in our memories forever,” writes Dmitriev in the foreword to one of his compendiums, The Motherland Remembers Them, a book in which the names are listed not in alphabetical order, but under the names of the villages where the victims lived before their arrests. “The moral of the story is also brief: remember! As is my advice: take care of each other.” Now there is a Russian national idea for you. The author of these books of remembrance should be nominated for a state prize and a government grant to keep on with his work.

There is another important thing about the Dmitriev case: the charge his persecutors chose for him. He was not charged with “extremism” or “separatism,” which have been commonplace in politically motivated cases, but with child pornography and depraved actions towards a minor. The charges not only guarantee a long sentence and promise the accused problems in prison but also challenge the public to support him. “What if something really did happen?” Dmitriev’s friends and relatives acknowledge that while those who doubt Dmitriev or are willing to countenance the charges are an overwhelming minority, such people do exist, and some of them are “decent” people.

The number of “pedophilia” cases, based on controversial, contradictory, clearly flimsy evidence and flagrantly unprofessional forensic examinations, has been growing for several years. Recently, I attended a similar event in Naro-Fominsk, seventy kilometers southwest of Moscow. It was also a memorial evening for a living person who had been incarcerated on charges of depravity against a child, actions the man could not have committed, according to witnesses who were nearby when the crime was alleged to have occurred. Dozens of people had come to remember what a good male nurse Zhenya had been. Then they corrected themselves: not had been, but is and will continue to be. Then they cried.

“Pedophilia” cases have long been custom-ordered to rid oneself of rivals and used to pad police conviction statistics, but now they have been put to use in political cases.

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

Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

Lyubov Moseyeva-Helier
A Korean Adventure in Kaluga
7X7
April 28, 2017

Whew!

Now, after a ten-hour marathon, I can sum up the results.

My son, a member of Kaluga Prisons Public Monitoring Commission No. 3, found a North Korean national in Correctional Colony No. 5 in Sukhinichi in late March 2017.

My son tried to speak with Kim in Russian and English, but Kim understood neither. According to the assistant director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office, who was present during the meeting, Kim “only shook his head like a Chinese bobblehead.”

The North Korean is the first such inmate who, after he is returned to his country of origin, faces life in a work camp or the death penalty.

In North Korea, inmates are rehabilitated through starvation. They are given one cup of rice daily.

First, I consulted with human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina. She replied that, in her opinion, Kim faced threats to his life and health in North Korea.

Then I contacted the UNHCR. I informed them that Kim, a North Korean national, had never once been provided with an interpreter during his two and a half years at the Kaluga Correctional Colony. The state of his health was thus unclear, nor was it clear what he wanted himself: to return to his country or move to a safe place.

I posted information about the case on Facebook, asking for a heads-up from Kaluga human rights activists. Kaluga attorney Elvira Davydova read my plea to help the North Korean and decided to help, working the case pro bono.

I signed a contract with Elvira Davydova, a young, vigorous attorney, to defend Kim’s interests for a purely nominal sum of money (I couldn’t afford to spend any more money on the North Korean out of my old-age pension), and the lawyer went to work.

The UNHCR assigned Kim a Korean interpreter.

The lawyer and I made a deal with the assistant director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office that when the Korean was released, Kaluga prison officials would help Kim get in contact with the UNHCR interpreter.

Unfortunately, this did not happen, although this was to be expected from the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office.

At twelve noon, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office handed Kim over to the Kaluga police and the Migration Authority.

I thought Kim would be transferred to the regional center and formally charged with violating Article 18.8 of the Russian Federal Code of Administrative Offenses. (“Violation by a foreign citizen or stateless person of the rules of entry into the Russian Federation or of residence in the Russian Federation.”)

From noon to three p.m., the attorney looked for her client at the Migration Authority’s building, which is way outside the city.

But Kim had been moved to an “alternative jurisdiction.” He was transported to another district, which has a prison for foreigners, a so-called temporary detention center for foreign citizens. The lawyer was unable to go there.

But the lawyer phoned the Dzerzhinsky District Court and found out the name of the federal judge. She asked to speak to him, but was turned down. Moreover, she was told that “Kim already [had] a representative.” Is a Migration Authority official acting as his representative?

The lawyer will make a request to the district court to find out whether a ruling to deport Kim has been issued, and whether Kim had an interpreter with him in court.

The lawyer talked with the guards who escorted Kim, but the Migration Authority officer refused to let Kim talk on the phone with the UNHCR interpreter.

Moreover, someone called the UNHCR and said that he (that someone) would now be handling all contacts with Kim. Apparently, our opponents from the security forces haven’t been dozing, either.

16465267_1265080213580436_242739289438289920_n
This is what the prison for foreigners in the Dzerzhinsky District looks like nowadays. It used to be a village school. Photo courtesy of Lyubov Moseyeva-Helier/7X7

Today, the lawyer filed complaints against the Migration Authority for preventing her from meeting with her client, although they knew Ms. Davydova was Kim’s attorney, and against the on-duty prosecutor.

Ms. Davydova also filed a request with the police to meet with Kim at the temporary detention center for foreign citizens on May 3, 2017.

In the future, we’ll have to go through the same business with the court bailiffs in Kaluga.

Today’s human rights marathon has identified several pressure points, showing that, when it comes to human rights, something is rotten in the state of Denmark known as Kaluga Region.

1. It is impossible to file a complaint in the chancellery at the Migration Authority, whose building is located in the distant outskirts of the regional center. They simply do not accept complaints. To file a complaint, migrants must travel to the Russian Federal Interior Ministry’s Kaluga Region office, which is ten kilometers away, in downtown Kaluga.

2. It is difficult to find anything in the Migration Authority’s building. There is no one to ask for information. Not all the doors have signs on them, and there are no listed working hours for the departments.

3. The lawyer had to wait a long time in the Russian Federal Interior Ministry’s Kaluga Region office for her complaint to be registered and to be issued a receipt.

4. In the Kaluga District Court, it is impossible for a lawyer to learn the name of the on-duty judge who handles administrative violation alleged to have been committed by foreigners.

5. A violation of Article 9, Part 6 of the Russian Advocate’s Professional Code of Ethics was committed in the temporary detention center for foreigner. (“Imposing one’s assistance on individuals and retaining them as clients through the use of personal connections with judicial and law enforcement officers, by promising a favorable resolution of a case, and through other underhanded methods.”)

40436_profileLyubov Moseyeva-Helier is a legal adviser for the Kaluga regional grassroots movement For Human Rights, an expert for the Russian grassroots movement For Human Rights, a lead expert for the project Russian Public Monitoring Commissions: A New Generation, and a voting member of Kaluga Polling Station Commission No. 1139.

Originally published at helier59.livejournal.com on April 28, 2017. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

Terror in the Life of Yuri Dmitriev

Terror in the Life of Yuri Dmitriev
Tatiana Kosinova
Cogita.ru
June 1, 2017

On May 28, 2017, the Anna Akhmatova Museum in Fountain House in Petersburg hosted a presentation of books of remembrance, edited by Yuri Dmitriev, chair of the Memorial Society’s Petrozavodsk branch, who was arrested on trumped-up charges in December 2016.

The presentation was organized and emceed by Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Center at the Russian National Library and editor of the Leningrad Martyrology.

image_preview

Agreeing to Razumov’s request to host the event, the Akhmatova Museum decided not to mention Dmitriev’s name in the event’s poster, on its website, and its mailing lists, as if it were already clear to everyone anyway what and who would be discussed. The event’s ostensible occasion was the eightieth anniversary of the Great Terror. Until the late spring of 2017, this had seemed possible in a museum dedicated to the life of the woman who wrote, “I would like to name all of them by name.” Unnoticed by the majority, however, a new wave of state terror has touched not only Yuri Dmitriev but also Petersburg, far from Petrozavodsk. A public museum risks providing a venue for an event in support of a man persecuted by the state, while making this man a figure of silence.

When the Petersburg Memorial Society found about this approach to Dmitriev, it was too late to find a new venue. It managed only to send out its own mailing list.  The newspaper Moi Rayon mentioned the editor of the Karelian memorial books in its notice of the presentation, and the radio station Echo of Moscow in Petersburg mentioned the presentation as well. Unlike Petrozavodsk, where the presentation was poorly attended, the small hall at Fountain House was nearly packed, and reporters were present.

Dmitriev’s daughter Ekaterina Klodt came from Petrozavodsk for the event, joined by Dmitriev’s defense attorney Viktor Anufriev from Moscow, and Dmitriev’s colleague Nikolai Olshansky, director of the Novgorod Regional Society of Rehabilitated Political Prisoners and editor-in-chief of the Book of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression of Novgorod Region. Irina Flige, director of the Memorial Research Center, was also involved. TV editor Bella Kurkova, who was scheduled to attend, did not come. In the early 2000s, she had filmed Dmitriev for a program, and Razumov showed an excerpt of this program to the audience.

Razumov has been friends with Dmitriev for fifteen years and considers him an astonishing man not only in terms of Karelia but also nationally. Razumov was involved with Dmitriev in searching for the prison camp cemetery on Sekirnaya Hill on the Solovki Islands. He continues to hope that Dmitriev will find the burial sites of the so-called second and third Solovki quotas of 1937–1938. Razumov still considers his friend’s most surprising find the cemetery of the tortured Belomorkanal construction workers at Lock No. 8.

“When he found himself in his present circumstances, he was accorded incredible support, and I haven’t met a man who would doubt his honest, kindness, and personal qualities,” Razumov said when opening the evening.

Razumov brought two books previously published by Dmitriev to the presentation and displayed them as historical artifacts. The first of these was the Memorial Lists of Karelia, 1937–1938, edited by Dmitriev and Ivan Chukhin, chair of the Karelian branch of Memorial. Dmitriev was Chukhin’s search expert and right-hand man, and after Chukin’s premature death in a car accident in May 1997, Dmitriev also had to master the skill of searching the archives. The book was published only in 2002 and is now rightly regarded as one of the best of its kind.

The second of Dmitriev’s main books, The Sandarmokh Execution Site, originally published in 1999 and long a bibliographic rarity, will be republished. Dmitriev has approved aplan to republish the book under a new title, The Sandarmokh Memorial Site. The new book will be a revised and expanded version of the first book about the memorial cemetery.

“I don’t know what else we can do. But we have managed to do something. We have turned some of the execution sites into memorial sites. May they remain memorial sites forever. That was Yuri’s dream,” said Razumov.

Anatoly Razumov

Razumov discussed two new books by Dmitriev, completed through the efforts of colleagues and friends: The Krasny Bor Memorial Site, which lists people executed at the site, and The Motherland Remembers Them: A Book of Remembrance of the Karelian People. Dmitriev had compiled both books before his arrest, and his friends and colleagues finished editing them and hastily published them in May of this year, before the start of his court trial. The books were presented in Petrozavodsk on May 24. The book will be available in Moscow in a week’s time both as DVDs and paper books. Roman Romanov, director of the Gulag Museum, has found the means to publish them. Five hundred copies will be printed in Moscow for the presentation, which takes place at the museum on June 6, 2017. It took Dmitriev many years to write these books. Krasny Bor was discovered twenty years ago, like Sandarmokh, in 1997. The site of mass executions in 1937–1938, it is located in a forest four kilometers from the village of Derevyannoye in the Prionezhsky District of the Republic of Karelia and nineteen kilometers from its capital city, Petrozavodsk.

According to the website of the Virtual Gulag Museum, Dmitriev conducted a detailed survey of the burials there. On the basis of typical depressions in the topsoil, he discovered around forty burial pits, each of them approximately eight meters in diameter and two and a half meters in depth. The Prionezhsky District Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that the Soviet NKVD had carried out mass executions at the site. According to prosecutors, the executions had been carried out during two periods: August 9–October 15, 1937, and September 26–October 11, 1938. During the digs, Dmitriev ascertained the number of people who had been shot (1,193) and most of their names, which are now included in the book Krasny Bor Memorial Site.  After Dmitriev’s arrest on December 13, 2016, Jan Rachinsky, co-chair of Moscow Memorial, and Anatoly Razumov worked on the book. Dmitriev was able to carry out the final corrections in the Petrozavodsk Pretrial Detention Facility.

Razumov also presented The Book of Remembrance of the Karelian People. Dmitriev favors a geographical principle when drawing up lists of the executed, rather than alphabetical order. In his opinion, it is easier for people to find loved ones this way: the book is thus literally localized and bound up with Karelian history. The Motherland Remembers Them contains lists of Karelians who perished during the Great Terror.

The discs were available at the presentation, and they can also be obtained at the Returned Names Center and Memorial in Petersburg. Razumov reminded the audience that Dmitriev had always handed out all his remembrance books for free, but only to people who could say something about their perished loved ones and who had thus preserved their memory.

Sandarmokh Memorial Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Virtual Gulag Museum

Special Settlers in Karelia is Dmitriev’s latest massive work, on which he has been working for years. It deals with all those who were exiled to Karelia during the Soviet period: dekulakized peasants, deportees, and forced settlers—tens of thousands of people. Dmitriev launched his work on the book in the 1990s, but a great deal remains to be done.

Yuri Dmitriev’s house in Petrozavodsk “has been turned from a workplace into ruins. The police came, stomped about in their boots, and confiscated his computer, which contained his old and new remembrance book, on which work was still underway. But we shall continue the work,” Razumov said as he concluded his opening remarks.



Eldest Daughter

Ekaterina Klodt, Yuri Dmitriev’s eldest daughter

Ekaterina Klodt, Dmitriev’s eldest daugther, is very proud of her dad.

She and her friends were always struck by her father’s deep, penetrating eyes. Outwardly harsh and headstrong, Klodt’s father is a very kind and caring man on the inside.

“He’s a friend, a friend to everyone: colleagues, children, and grandchildren. He puts himself in everyone’s shoes. You can talk to him about anything.”

Klodt is the only person allowed to visit Dmitriev at the pretrial detention facility.

“I’m used to seeing him with his hair grown out and a long beard, like a lumberjack. But in there, his beard has been shaven and his hair cut short. He looks fifteen years younger. He’s had time off from sitting at the computer. At first, of course, I burst into tears,  and he burst into tears. It is very difficult to talk through the tiny window.

“But his spirit, as always, is determined and militant. Father has always been someone we can all look up to, a paragon of strength and self-confidence.”

Klodst visits her father along with her own children.

“When his grandson and then this granddaughter followed me into the room, his eyes lit up. I had never seen Dad cry. He was genuinely happy.”

Klodt said prison was not a place where grandchildren should see their grandfather.

“That’s the reality. The children know where their grandfather is. They come with me to see him and will keep coming with me.”

The last time Klodt saw her father was in mid April.

Klodt said she has been communicating with her younger sister. Adopted by Dmitriev, she loves her dad very much, misses him a lot, and is worried about him. The girl hopes this ridiculous story will soon end, and she will again live with her dad.

“We lived side by side for so many years, as a single family. My children are her age. She and my son are the same age, and my daughter is a year younger. I treat her like one of my children, although she regards me as her sister. She is great friends with my children.”

Klodt cannot see her sister.

“She writes,” Razumov added.

Klodt feels sorriest of all for the confiscated computer. Day after day, she saw her father working, and his work was everything to him.

“The man spent a huge number of hours at the computer. His entire life was working on the computer and the digs. Knowing how much time he worked on the computer, I was constantly worried how he would get along in the pretrial detention facility without his dead ones.”

Klodt was twelve years old when Sandormokh was discovered twenty years ago. Her father took her along on the expedition to the area near Medvezhyegorsk. Klodt’s eldest son, Danya, had recently been traveling into “that huge forest, teeming with gadflies.” Danya is as old now as she was in 1997. This year, whatever the court decides, Klodt and her children will travel to Sandormokh on August 5 for the International Day of Remembrance.

Two Searches

Irina Flige (left)

Irina Flige and Yuri Dmitriev met exactly twenty years ago, in the spring of 1997 at the FSB archives in Petrozavodsk, “a normal place to meet if you’re people working on the memory of the Gulag.”

“That meeting was a point where two searches converged.”

“Such a narrow circle of people has gathered here today that I want to use the familiar mode of address, so I will refer to Yura rather than to Yuri Alexeyevich. At this time, Yura and Ivan Chukhin had located the main sites where executions and burials had taken place in Karelia during the Great Terror. Karelia is the only region or one of two or three regions where the documents stipulate the places where the sentences were carried out, that is, they indicate they occurred in the vicinity of a village or town. By this time, they had managed to compile a complete list of these places. And by 1997, many of the actual locations had been ascertained. For its part, the Memorial Research Center moved from the Solovki in search of the place where the so-called 1937 Solovki quota was executed. This was where our searches converged. We planned a joint expedition of the Petersburg and Petrozavodsk branches of Memorial to an area near Medvezhyegorsk on July 1, 1997. There were four of us who traveled there, not counting Yura’s dog. The expedition was led by Veniamin Iofe, who had done all the preliminary research before we traveled to the site. He had pinpointed the search area to within a kilometer. We set out on the expedition, thinking we would be working there all summer,” Flige recounted, continuing Klodt’s story of the search for Sandarmokh.

Anatoly Razumov took the opportunity to note that all the particulars of the expedition are extremely important, because “Yura was arrested due to Sandarmokh, to put it crudely, due to the fact that the place had become such an irritant.”

Flige illustrated her account with images from the website Sandormokh [sic], which was launched with Dmitriev’s involvement in November 2016. One of the long articles on the website describes the search for Sandarmokh.

Screenshot from the website Sandormokh

“Yura is a restless, active person. At some point, he grabbed the dog and ran off round the forest. Yura has a fantastic intuition. He was running in circles around a place where we had marked out a grid and started systematically digging meter by meter. He ran up to us at some point. ‘Come on, I think I’ve found it.’ Indeed, the place was quite striking. Common grave pits subside in a way that resembles saucers. Yura had seen there many such places there,” recalled Flige.

Sandarmokh was found on the very first day of the expedition, July 1, 1997. The shooting pits, marked by lathe fence, its pales numbered in red lacquer by Flige and Klodt, still constitute the basis of the memorial cemetery.

The lathe fence has given way to poles topped with dovecote-shaped wooden monuments, resembling Orthodox crosses in northern cemeteries.

In 1997, memory was quite alive all over Russia and functioned instantaneously, argues Flige.

“Knowledge and memory were closely related processes. One process immediately followed the other,” she said.

Sandarmokh was officially opened on October 27, 1997. In the four short months since its discovery, road builders had built a paved road to the site in record time, a log chapel had been erected, and the dovecote-shaped memorial markers were all in place. The Republic of Karelia hastily enacted a decree declaring the memorial cemetery open to the public.

“I ran around with the forest managers to mark off the border. I would add space all the time, because what if we had missed a pit? But they would add another thirty meters. It was a breakthrough in common, a breakthrough of knowledge, respect, and memory all at the same time.”

Sandarmokh is the only place in Russia where the August Fifth International Day of Remembrance is held. It has been held since 1998. The people who were shot there were not immediately sentenced to be shot after their arrests, but had spent time in the camps on Solovki and the Beltbaltlag. They had come to the camps from different parts of the Soviet Union. For the last twenty years, delegations from different countries and different parts of Russia have come to Sandarmokh on August 5. It has become the “only venue where people of different ethnic groups and faiths can meet and still speak the same same language, the language of memory.”

The website about the memorial cemetery includes a separate section, “Killed in Sandarmokh,” created by Yuri Dmitriev. It features biographical information about the residents of Karelia executed on this spot in 1937–1938.

It is also telling that Kurkova filmed her program on Sandarmokh with Yuri Dmitriev’s involvement.

A Colleague from Novgorod

Nikolai Olshansky

In Novgorod the Great, The Book of Remembrance has been published since 1993. Late 2015 saw the publication of its fourteenth volume, and there are plans to publish a comprehensive index to the previous volumes that would include information about residents of Novgorod Region subjected to state terror from 1917 to 1970. Nikolai Olshansky, the editor of these volumes, met Dmitriev eight years ago.

Olshansky also continues to pin his hopes on the genius of his Karelian colleague for finding burial sites in his own region. In Novgorod Region, the internment site of fifteen hundred Novgorodians shot during the Great Terror in Novgorod itself has not been ascertained (five thousand Novgorod residents were taken to Leningrad to be shot), nor has the execution site of five hundred residents of Borovichi been located.

Olshansky believes that he once “prophesied” his colleague’s misfortune.

“Yura, your directness and harshness are going to get you put in jail someday,” he told Dmitriev.

During the event at the Akhmatova Museum, Olshansky wished Dmitriev the will to withstand all the trials of detenition. Olshansky does not believe the prosecution’s charges. Under the Soviet regime, he himself was sentenced to four and half years of compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital on the basis of a denunciation, an experience from which he has never fully recovered.

The Defense Lawyer

Attorney Viktor Anufriev appeared at the event, answering the audience’s questions. He argued that the law in Russia still exists autonomously from law enforcement. Dmitriev’s rights as someone who has been accused of a crime are observed to the extent they permit the authorities to keep him under arrest by constantly extending the term of his detention. Anufriev is certain of his client’s innocence. There is no evidence of a crime in Dmitriev’s actions.

The case began with one charge, but now there are four, said Anufriev. The case file now consists of five volumes. The indictment now includes an illegal firearms possession charge: the firearm in question is a piece of a hunting rifle, which had been lying around Dmitriev’s house for twenty years and which the prosecution itself does not consider capable of firing. Once upon a time, Dmitriev had confiscated it from the lads in the yard, to keep it out of harm’s way. Why has he been charged with its possession? Anufriev argued that there are two hypotheses. In Soviet times, this article of the criminal code was brought into play if the main charge had been dropped to justify the arrest and pretrial detention.  In our times, on the contrary, the court can find a defendant not guilty on this charge, to make a show of his objectivity.

“But the entire machine of repression is rigged against Dmitriev in such a way that there are very good chances he will remain in custody,” said Anufriev.

Anufriev argued that his job was to prove his client’s innocence on the basis of the law. Analyzing the circumstances with which Dmitriev’s persecution were fraught is not part of that job. But those who follow the trials underway in Russia see that, nationwide, similar things have been happening to people whose work the regime considers unnecessary and harmful.

The upcoming trial will be closed to the public. The first hearing on the merits of the case will take place in Petrozavodsk tomorrow, June 1, 2017, at 2:30 p.m.

Anufriev believes that no one’s testimony would help Dmitriev in making his case. His adopted daughter has said nothing bad about her father. The situation was such that Dmitriev adopted her when she was in a very poor physical state. It was hard for Dmitriev to adopt her: to become her foster father, he had to attend a number of court hearings. Until his own adoption, Dmitriev himself had been raised in an orphanage. Having raised his own children, Dmitriev felt obliged to raise another child. The authorities, who gave him custody of the child through the courts, initially tried to take her away. Three or four months after Dmitriev adopted, “bruises” from “beatings” were suddenly discovered on the girl’s body. They proved to be traces left by a newspaper through which her foster parents had applied mustard plasters to her body. Having gone through this experience, Dmitriev periodically photographed the girl from all four sides, storing the photographs in a file in his computer according to month and year. He did this in case children’s protective services made any complaints about his treatment of the girl. He showed the photos to no one. Over the years, he made fewer and fewer photographers. It would not occur to a normal person that these snapshots could be interpreted as pornographic. According to police investigators, there are 144 photographs, only nine of which investigators have interpreted as “pornographic.” This is the basis of the trumped-up charges that he committed perverse actions by clicking his camera. He clicked it three times a year, and has been charged with violating three articles of the criminal code that could send him to prison for up to fifteen years. The case kicked off with anonymous letter (a denunciation, as we say in Russia) that so-and-so, allegedly, has naked snapshots of his foster daughter stored on his computer.

“As someone who has lived a fairly long life and as the father of several children, I can say there is nothing pornographic about those photos,” said Anufriev.

“Yuri Alexeyevich feels well, as well as he can feel in the place where he is and given his age. He has not lost his optimism and perseverance, either. He understands the situation soberly. As a scholar of the Terror, he has seen and read his fill and could understand that it might affect him as well. Such is our country’s history. I could joke about it and say that the one good thing is people are no longer executed in Russia. But the practice is such that if someone was in custody before his trial, his complete acquittal would be someone else’s complete punishment. That is why it happens so rarely. We would be glad if the case were allowed to fade away.”

You can exchange letters with Yuri Dmitriev. Send your letters to: Respublika Kareliya, Petrozavodsk, ul. Gertsena, 47, SIZO No. 1.

Hyphotheses
Ekaterina Klodt cannot explain who would want to file charges against her father. She doesn’t know the answer to that question, but, according to her, “what he does might not suit everyone.” She regards the criminal prosecution of her father as “completely absurd.”

“It’s frightening, very frightening,” she said.

She said she knows nothing about the search for those did the killing (according to one hypothesis, the charges against Dmitriev were occasioned by his work on drawing up lists of executioners, of the people who implemented the Terror in Karelia).

“We never discussed it, and I don’t think he searched for the executioners. They were not so interesting to him. He always searched for the victims, the people who had been shot. They were the dead who interested him. He wanted to preserve their memory and believed everyone of them should have a grave. He was very concerned for the living, for the descendants, so they would be able to come to a cemetery, to a burial site, pay tribute to their ancestors and remember their loved ones,” said Klodt.

“In Russia, the truth usually becomes obvious after several decades. We can only guess whose toes Yuri Alexeyevich stepped on, and with what upcoming events it is connected. We can analyze our regime’s level of thinking and focus in terms of this case, as well as the direction in which it is headed, and the measures it takes to preserve itself. Yuri Dmitriev was not a member of the opposition in the Republic of Karelia. He did his work in the sincere certainty that it was of use to people and to his country. But it turns that at one point the state says that this work is necessary, that we have to establish what happened, that we have to publish books of remembrance of the victims of the Terror, but time passes and all of this becomes inconvenient to the state. The shadow of the past hinders the current regime. And Yuri Alexeyevich’s work has become not very popular, not so vital, and seemingly unnecessary. By looking for execution sites, Yuri Alexeyevich discredited the previous regime. The time has come when someone has deemed his work unnecessary and even harmful,” argued Viktor Anufriev. “The people who cooked up this case for their own purposes should have long ago understood that the case is so crazy that public opinion has been aroused. I have worked for a long time and know how easy it is to put someone away by planting a bullet or narcotics on him, but trampling a man like this…”

Anufriev argued that the best outcome in the case would be complete acquittal on the pornography charges. Despite the fact that cases involving depraved actions with respect to minors go badly against teachers and priests, this case stands apart.

Anatoly Razumov noted that Karelian children’s protective services had no complaints against Dmitriev during all the years he had custody of his foster daughter. This transpired during a special session of the Presidential Human Rights Council in Petrozavodsk in February of this years, a session in which Razumov, Flige, and Anufriev were involved as invited experts. According to Razumov, Sandarmokh had become the “main sore spot and irritant in the region.” But the authorities were mistaken. Dmitriev had proven to be a man with a man with a strong spirit who loved his children and grandchildren, and almost nobody has believed the accusations.

If Razumov was sure that Dmitriev was arrested over Sandarmokh, whose annual fuss bothered the authorities, Flige argued that closing Sandarmokh by putting Dmitriev in prison was unrealistic. On the contrary, the case had led to a renewed interest in the place, an interest only deepened by speculation as to the reasons for Dmitriev’s persecution. This year, the authorities have createda prisoner of conscience for the memorial cemetery. According to Flige, Dmitriev became a political prisoner the day the TV channel Rossiya 24 broadcast a made-to-order news segment entitled “What Is Memorial Hiding?”

Event photos courtesy of Nadezhda Kiselyova and Cogita.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Rainbow May Day in Petersburg vs. The Dead in Chechnya

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
May 1, 2017

I don’t know what else to on May 1 when LGBT people in Chechnya are facing flagrant genocide, so today this was how it went down. Now we have been detained and taken to the 43rd police precinct. A man who came out bearing a placard that read, “Putin, go away. Putin is evil” was detained with us. It’s forbidden to say that now, too.

Chechen Mothers Mourned Their Bloodied Children on Nevsky

On May 1, 2017, activists staged a performed on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s main boulevard, during which Chechen mothers mourned and sprinkled their children with earth. Prone on the ground, the bodies of the LGBT people were covered with rainbow and Chechen flags. The performance was meant to express solidarity with the people of the Republic of Chechnya as well as draw attention to the horrifying events occurring there now.

Since the beginning of the year in Chechnya, which is part of Russia, there have been numerous illegal detentions, torture, and executions of homosexual men, including men deemed homosexual. We know of hundred of victims, dozens of them murdered. Even as they deny the occurrence of genocide, local officials have publicly justified these atrocities by citing medieval “ethnic traditions” and “Muslim values.”

The persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and the North Caucasus is nothing new. The region has long been plagued by rampant corruption, violence, and murder, affecting everyone who lives there. However, targeted mass killings are a new phenomenon. Both local and federal authorities are to blame for the state terror. On the one hand, they have vigorously popularized “traditional religious values.” On the other, they have proved incapable of opposing the spread of radical Islam and ensuring the enforcement of the Russian Constitution and human rights. Impunity on the ground encourages terrorism and radicalization, leading to the deaths of civilians not only in Chechnya but outside it. Consequently, terrorists  exploded a bomb in the St. Petersburg subway for the first time in the city’s history.*

“Cruelty is a severe infection that is prone to pandemic. It is not a one-off event. They started with the people of Chechnya and, although many imagined that would be the end  of it, they continued with ‘their own kind,’ as is now the ‘patriotic’ expression,” wrote Anna Politkovskaya.

The escalation of terror is a vivid example of how the violation of human rights and violence against a particular group can quickly balloon into violence against everyone.

We demand the strict observance of Russian federal laws in Chechnya and preservation of the Russian state’s secular nature. We demand that religious fanatics who are calling for violence be punished according to the law. We demand an investigation of allegations of widespread torture and executions of gays in Chechnya and severe punishment for the guilty parties, including government officials.

#MayDay #Chechnya #MayDayLGBT  #RainbowMayday #LGBT

Photographs by David Frenkel, Alexandra Polukeyeva, and Fontanka.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

* NB. I have translated and posted the above out of a sense of solidarity and friendship with the people who staged this action during today’s May Day marches on the Nevsky in Petersburg.

However, I would be remiss not to note the striking Alexei Navalny-like anti-Caucasus/anti-Muslim rhetoric in the protesters’ communique, which, of course, is not unique to the otherwise admirable anti-corruption fighter, but is a commonplace in the non-thinking of many “ethnic” Russians. As thoroughly deplorable and despicable as the persecution of gay men in Chechnya and anywhere else is (what, are gay men not persecuted in “Russia proper”?), the activists quote the slain journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya while seemingly forgetting why she was assassinated: because she wrote truthfully about what Russian federal armed forces and police were doing in Chechnya. Moscow’s successive bloody invasions of Chechnya in the 1990s and the 2000s, involving the torture and rape of non-combatants, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, and mass displacement of the local population might seem to be more appropriately qualified by the word “genocide” than what has been happening recently to the republic’s gay men, however horrifying. Not to put too fine a point on it, “Russians proper,” with the notable exception of Politkovskaya and a brave but tiny minority of others, have never been able to assign the responsibility for what happened in Chechnya where it belongs, and they have been aided and abetted by the other “world powers” (i.e., the “former” colonial and imperial powers), who were only too happy to turn a blind eye to what first Yeltsin and then Putin were up to in their own backyard, so to speak. If Chechnya is now an out-of-control autocracy, run by an “Islamist” strongman-cum-madman, Russians have only to look in the mirror to find out who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs.

Nor, finally, is it a given that the recent bombing in the Petersburg subway (which wasn’t even the first such bombing, in fact) was the work of “radicalized Islamists.” Of course, that is one possibility. But there are other possibilities, as any “Russian proper” who hasn’t had his or her memory erased would realize.

When the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed its infamous homophobic law several years ago, there was no popular outcry against the law on the part of Petersburgers, the vast majority of whom are not Muslim and thus cannot be suspected of adhering to “medieval Muslim values.” Nobody but a handful of people “rioted” in the streets, and as far as I can tell, Petersburgers still, inexplicably, regard themselves proudly as “Europeans,” although they have this disgusting “medieval” law on the books, and many of the same local Petersburg riot cops (OMON) who wearily drag them into paddy wagons and kettle them when they occasionally want to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly were, as is well known, on active combat duty in Chechnya during the First and Second Chechen Wars and are, possibly, guilty of God knows what war crimes against the “uncivilized” Chechens, whose tiny, beautiful corner of the world has been ravaged at least three times in living memory by their Great Russian rulers. TRR

Nikolay Mitrokhin: God-Given “Extremists”

God-Given “Extremists”
Nikolay Mitrokhin
Takie Dela
April 26, 2017

I met Jehovah’s Witnesses in the mid 1990s in the former Soviet Central Asian republics. I was researching the region’s religious life. When I arrived at each regional capital, I would survey all the prominent communities in turn. The Witnesses were different in one respect from other western-inspired Christian communities. There were lots of them and they were everywhere.

Like now, many were certain back then the Witnesses were a product of the perestroika era’s freedoms. This, however, was not the case. The Witnesses were a legacy of the Soviet Union.

An American Salesman’s Religion

The Witnesses are a typical American eschatological religious group. Put crudely, they believe the world will end soon, during their lifetimes. They believe in one God, Jehovah, a name used during Christianity’s first century. On Judgment Day, Jehovah will destroy sinners and save the elect. The Witnesses reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit). They do not consider Christ God, but they revere him. The day of his death is the only holiday they celebrate.

“A History of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” a display in the museum at the Administrative Center of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, located in Solnechnoye, a suburb of St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

A completely and regularly revised theology has produced a set of permissions and prohibitions aimed at maintaining the way of life and behavior of a decent traveling salesman from the lower middle classes.

The Witnesses are allowed the moderate use of alcohol (immoderate use is cause for expulsion) and the use of contraceptives. Premarital sex and smoking are forbidden. The Witnesses must not “rend to Caesar what is Caesar’s”: they are forbidden from being involved in elections, engaging in politics, honoring state symbols, and serving in the army. They are most roundly criticized by outsiders for forbidding blood transfusions and organ transplants. The Witnesses suddenly had something to say when the AIDS epidemic kicked off. They support blood substitutes.

Something like family monasteries—”administrative centers”—have been organized for the most ardent followers. The schedule in the centers is strict, but the conditions are relatively comfortable. The Witnesses can live and work in them, practically for free, for as little as a year or as along as their entire lives.

Waiting for the world’s imminent end is an occupation common to many religious groups, from Russian Old Believers to the Mayan Indians. Such groups isolate themselves from a sinful world, some by retreating into the wilderness, others, by restricting their contact with outsiders.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The cover of a 1928 Russian-language edition of The Watchtower. When the Russian edition was founded in 1925, it was originally entitled The Guard Tower, but in 1964 the name was changed to The Watchtower. Photo courtesy of Boris Alexeyevich/Wikipedia

The Witnesses differ from similar movements in terms of how they disseminate and maintain their doctrine. The method is based on the commercial practice of distributing magazines in the nineteenth century. Essentially, the entire organization meets twice weekly to read its main journal, The Watchtower, which is produced by church elders in Brooklyn and then translated and disseminated in dozens of languages. Members pay a nominal fee for subscribing to and reading the journal, fees that are scrupulously collected and sent along the chain: from local groups to the regional office, then to the national headquarter and, finally, to the head office in Brooklyn. Free distribution of the magazine and going door to door asking people whether they want to talk about God are aimed at the same thing: increasing the audience who subscribes to and collectively reads the magazine.

Ninety-five percent of today’s public find these religious activities strange and ridiculous, although from a sociological viewpoint they barely differ from going to political party meetings, networked sales of cosmetics, visiting sports clubs, getting a tattoo, the Russian Healthy Lifestyle Movement (ZOZh) or stamp collecting.

If you believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own figures, they operate in 240 countries, which is more than belong to the UN.  At the same time, the organization is numerically quite compact, albeit growing rapidly. It has a total of 8.3 million members.

A Religion for Soviet Individuals

The story of how the Witnesses took root in the Soviet Union has been well told in a book published three years ago by Emily Baran, Dissent on the Margins: How Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It. Polish and Romanian peasants and market traders adopted the doctrine of the Witnesses at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s, and before the war they unexpectedly were made Soviet citizens when the Soviet Union occupied parts of Poland and Romania.

The Soviet authorities did not tolerate large groups who maintained constant links with foreign countries, so it decided to send the core group of Witnesses, five thousand people, to Siberia. A considerable number were sent to the camps, while the rest were exiled. The crackdown was a misfortune for the victims, but it was a godsend for the exotic doctrine.

The Moscow Jehovah’s Witness community worshiping at the velodrome in the city’s Krylatskoye District, 2000. Photo courtesy of Alexander Fomin/PhotoXPress.ru

As early as the 1950s, the largest communities of Witnesses had emerged in the main place of exile, Irkutsk Region. In the 2000s, the official websites of Irkutsk Region and the neighboring Republic of Buryatia claimed the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a traditional religious community in the region. Irkipedia provides the following figures for 2011: “Around 5,500 people in Irkutsk Region are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization. Around 50 of their assemblies operate in Irkutsk Region, each of them featuring 80 to 150 members. The assemblies are united into three districts: Usolye-Sibirskoye, Irkutsk, and Bratsk.”

The camps proved a suitable place for proselytizing, the radically minded youth, especially Ukrainian speakers, eager listeners, and the half-baked amnesty of political prisoners, an excellent means of disseminating the doctrine nationwide. As early as the late 1950s, all over northern Kazakhstan, former members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), who were banned from returning home, and former Russian criminals, who had taken jobs as farm machinery operators and welders, were digging dugouts in the steppes to hide DIY printing presses for printing The Watchtower.

Why did peasants, traders, brawny lads from the working classes, graduates of provincial technical schools, mothers of large families, and pensioners need to become Jehovah’s Witnesses? I have the same explanation as the preachers do: to radically change their selves and their lifestyles. The everyday frustrations of ordinary people, their perpetually predetermined lives, and their uselessness to anyone outside their narrow family circle (in which there is so often so little happiness) are things that torment many people. Prescriptions for effectively transfiguring oneself are always popular. However, they usually don’t work, because it is hard to stick to the program.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Minsk, 2015. Photo courtesy of Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters/Pixstream

Like other religious groups, the Witnesses offer their members a disciplinary model for joint action. You can sit at home, chewing through your miserly pension, and watching TV, or you can feel like a “pioneer” again (the title given to missionaries who proselytize on the streets and door to door), do the right thing, hang out with other enthusiastic people like yourself, and make friends with young people. You are a young bricklayer. You are facing a lifetime of laying bricks, but your soul yearns for change and career growth. After spending six months in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, our bricklayer might be leading a grassroots group, and two years later he might have made a decent career in the organization. His wife is satisfied. Her husband doesn’t drink, their circle of friends has expanded, and during holidays the whole family can go visit other Witnesses in other parts of Russia. The children grown up in a circle of fellow believers with a sense of their own uniqueness. Free evenings are spent on the work of the organization, but that is better than drunken quarrels, and better than what most “ordinary” Soviet and post-Soviet folks are up to in the evenings.

Wholehearted Atheists

In 2006, I interviewed Vladimir Saprykin, a former employee of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee’s Propaganda Department. His career had kicked off with a vigorous campaign against the Witnesses in Karaganda Region. I was able to get a glimpse into a period when the Party was on the warpath against the Witnesses. In the early 1960s, literally hundreds of people were sent to the camps as part of the campaign against religion per se.

Âèäû Ñàíêò-Ïåòåðáóðãà
The Jehovah’s Witness Congress Hall in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of PhotoXPress

Saprykin had campaigned against the Witnesses wholeheartedly and passionately, and that passion still burned in him fifty years after the events in question. He had dreamed of making them “completely free,” of “returning them to their essence.” He was backed up then by a whole group of provincial demiurges from among the local intelligentsia. They had collectively tried to re-educate the local group of Witnesses through debate, and then they had intimated them and pressured their relatives. Subsequently, they had tried to buy them off before finally sending the group’s core to prison with the KGB’s backing.

Their rhetoric is surprisingly similar to the declarations made by the Witnesses’ current antagonists.

“We stand for individual freedom of choice in all domains, including religion. […] So read, compare, think, disagree, and argue! Critical thinking is in inalienable sign of a person’s freedom. Let’s not abandon our freedom so easily.”

This is not an excerpt from a statement by a libertarian group, but an excerpt from a declaration published by a group of Russian Orthodox clergymen attached to the Holy Martyr Irenaeus of Lyons Center for Religious Studies. It was these clergymen who have now got the Jehovah’s Witnesses banned.

In the early 1960s, the KGB and such local enthusiasts managed to deliver several serious blows to the infrastructure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union. Successive leaders of the organization and hundreds of grassroots leaders and activists were arrested and convicted, and archives, correspondence, and printing presses were seized.

“Is there an end to your suffering? Take a copy for free in your own language.” Tuchkovo, Moscow Region. Photo courtesy of Alexander Artemenkov/TASS

This, however, did not lead to the eradication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Besides the three regions where they had constantly been active—Western Ukraine, Moldova, and Irkutsk Region—groups and organizations emerged in the sixties and seventies throughout nearly the entire Soviet Union from Arkhangelsk Region to the Maritime Territory, and from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan.

The movement was spread by ex-camp convicts, labor migrants from regions where the doctrine was strongly espoused, and missionaries.

Soviet construction sites, new cities, and workers’ dorms were propitious environments for the spread of new religious doctrines. The young people who arrived to work there were cut off from their usual lifestyles, family ties, and interests. They wanted something new, including self-education and self-transfiguration—to gad about in suits and have their heads in the clouds. Most of these cadres were promoted through the ranks by the Communist Youth League and other authorities, but there were plenty of pickings for the religious organizations.

By the way, in 1962, Saprykin campaigned to get not just anyone to leave the Witnesses, but Maria Dosukova, a chevalier of the Order of Lenin, a longtime Party member, a plasterer, and an ethnic Kazakh. During an assembly at her construction company, Dosukova had refused to support a resolution condemning the religious organization in which several people in her work team were members.

Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sochi, 2007. Photo courtesy of Natalya Kolesnikova/PhotoXPress

After Krushchev’s resignation, the systematic arrests of the Witnesses stopped, although some were sent to prison as a warning to the others.  Everyone else was subject to the decree, issued by the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, on March 18, 1966, “On Administrative Responsibility for Violating the Legislation on Religious Cults.” You could be fined fifty rubles—a week’s pay for a skilled worker—for holding a religious circle meeting in your home. In his book About People Who Never Part with the Bible, religious studies scholar Sergei Ivanenko records that, during the seventies and eighties, attempts to combat the Witnesses by fining them and tongue-lashing them at assemblies were just as useless. 

Wholehearted Anticultists

Perestroika legalized the Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the post-Soviet space. This freedom did not last for long, however. The new states of Central Asia and the Transcaucasia followed the Soviet Union’s path in their treatment of the Witnesses, achieving similar outcomes.

In Russia, the Witnesses were officially registered in March 1991 and had no serious problems for a long time. They built their central headquarters, Bethel, in the village of Solnechnoye near St. Petersburg, as well as several dozen buildings for prayer meetings.  Of course, due to their activity, relative openness, and American connections, the Witnesses (along with the Hare Krishna, the Mormons, the Scientologists, and the Pentecostals) were targeted by the various hate organizations that emerged in Russia in the late 1990s, including the Cossacks, neo-Nazis, and professional anticultists.

Protest rally against the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, 1997. Photo courtesy of TASS

Anticultism was imported to Russia by the ex-Moscow hippie Alexander Dvorkin, who emigrated to the US in the 1970s and got mixed up in Orthodox émigré circles there. In the early 1990s, he left his job at Radio Liberty and returned to Russia, where he made a successful career at the point where the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian law enforcement agencies intersect. The above-mentioned Irenaeus of Lyons Center is, basically, Dvorkin himself.

Professor Dvorkin has worked for several years at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University of the Humanities. Until 2012, he was head of the department of sectology. In 2009, he headed the council for religious studies forensic expertise at the Russian Federal Justice Ministry. (He now holds the post of deputy chair). It is curious that Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov is also a St. Tikhon’s alumnus and is quite proud of that fact.

005-5.jpg
Professor Alexander Dvorkin. Photo courtesy of Yevgeny Mukhtarov/Wikipedia

By supporting the Justice Ministry’s campaign to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian Supreme Court has not only put the “sectarians” in a difficult position but also the Russian authorities. In Russia, the Witnesses have over 400 local organizations and around 168,000 registered members. Only full-fledged members are counted during registration, but a fair number of sympathizers are also usually involved in Bible readings, The Watchtower, and other religious events. We can confidently say the ban will affect at least 300,000 to 400,000 Russian citizens. Labeling them “extremists” does not simply insult them and provoke conflicts with their relatives, loved ones, and acquaintances. In fact, this means abruptly increasing the workload of the entire “anti-extremism” system the Russian authorities have been setting up the past twenty years.  The soldiers of the Russian National Guard will find it easy to raid prayer meetings and spread-eagle these “extremists” on the floor. However, given the scale of the organization, they will have to do this a lot and often. And, as experience shows,  there won’t be much point to what they are doing.

Not a single country in the world has forcibly dissolved the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it is hard to imagine that these 400,000 people will all emigrate or otherwise disappear. Even now, as news of the ban has spread, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have received completely unexpected support from all manner media and numerous public figures, including Russian Orthodox priests. Given these circumstances, the successful state campaign to discredit, dissolve, and brush a major religious community under the rug is doomed to failure.

Marquee being taken down from the Surgut office of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in connection with their ban in Russia, April 24, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexei Andronov/Ura.Ru/TASS

The authorities will have to decide. Either they will sanction the mass arrests of the organizations leaders and activists and send hundreds and thousands of people to the camps, which ultimately will facilitate the growth of the movement’s reputation and dissemination, as in Soviet times, or they will pinpoint those who, according to the Interior Ministry and the FSB, are “especially dangerous” while turning a blind eye to the actual continuation of the organization’s work.

I would like the country’s leadership to have second thoughts and find a legal way of rescinding the Supreme Court’s decision. There is little hope of that, however.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Singer Not the Song

Yakovlev
Boris Yakovlev. Screenshot from YouTube video

Pskov Region Singer-Songwriter Boris Yakovlev Charged with Calls for Extremism
Grani.ru
April 20, 2017

The FSB’s Pskov Region office has charged Boris Yakovlev, a 44-year-old resident of Dno, under Article 280.2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (public calls for extremism using the internet). Grani.ru was informed about the case by lawyer Dmitry Dinze, who is representing the musician.

Yakovlev is known for his original songs, which he posts on his YouTube channel.

“Yakovlev has denied his guilt and refused to testify, since the defense needs to analyze the evidence on which the charges are based,” said Dinze. “In addition, a forensic examination of the digital media seized from Yakovlev’s home has now been ordered, and in the near future, the court will order and perform a linguistic forensic examination. The forensic experts are being chosen. The defendant has been released on his own recognizance.”

Besides the recorded songs posted on YouTube, the FSB alleges that between June 20 and June 29, 2016, Yakovlev posted on his personal page on the social network Vkontakte five pieces of writing in which he outlined his ideas about the situation and events in Russia. The texts in question begin with the words “About elections,” “We have already gone over our limit on revolutions,” “Above the dwarf’s head,” “I find it curious,” and “Reading the newswire.”

On March 20, 2017, Senior Lieutenant A. Filippov, a detective in the First Branch of the Department for Protecting the Constitutional Order and Combating Terrorism in the FSB’s Pskov Region office, filed a crime report. He claimed there was evidence of a crime in Yakovlev’s published texts: public calls for extremism on the internet.

In a specially conducted study, Andrei Pominov, an associate professor in education and psychology at Bashkir State University’s Sibai Institute, wrote that Yakovlev’s texts “contain psychological and linguistic means aimed at inducing an unspecified group of persons to carry out extremist actions aimed at forcibly changing the existing state system or seizing power.”

Consequently, Captain of Justice I. Karpenkov, senior investigator in the Investigative Department of the FSB’s Pskov Region office, filed criminal charges against Yakovlev.

Boris Yakovlev, “Confession of an Enemy of the People”

On March 16, Judge Yevgeny Naydenov of Moscow’s Presna District Court fined rapper David Nuriyev (aka Ptakha) 200,000 rubles [approx. 3,300 euros] in an extremism case. Ptakha was found guilty of violating Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code  (inciting hatred or enmity toward a group of people united on the grounds that they “assisted law enforcement agencies in locating and apprehending criminals”). The “social group” in the case was the Anti-Dealer Movement, founded by Dmitry Nosov, an ex-LDPR MP and former professional judoka.

The prosecutor had asked the defendant be given a suspended sentence of one and a half years. The musician fully acknowledged his guilt and apologized to Anti-Dealer. The case was tried under a special procedure. The trial consisted of a single hearing.

_______________________________

Boris Yakovlev, “I Want to Be There at the Hour”

I want to be there at the hour
When the millions of nationalist riffraff
Howl as one:
We were opposed! We knew everything!

We pretended deliberately.
You understand: work and kids.
But deep down we resisted.
We don’t want Crimea, please note.

We realized he was a murderer.
We don’t want war and death.
We really love Ukrainians.
We’re innocent, believe us!

We don’t want Lugansk and Donbass.
It’s the first we’ve heard about the “Russian world.”
Standing in line for rotten meat,
That’s what the mouse people will whisper.

I want to look in the eyes of the followers,
Those Pharisees of the mob,
In whom honor and conscience are vestiges,
And who have an ass instead of a head.

Translated by the Russian Reader. A huge thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up