Pavel Chikov: A Managed Thaw

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Is a new thaw on the way?

A Managed Thaw: What the Reversal of Verdicts in the Dadin and Chudnovets Cases Means
Pavel Chikov
RBC
March 6, 2017

The Kurgan Regional Court quashed the verdict against Yevgenia Chudnovets and released her from a penal colony, where she had served four months of a five-month sentence for, allegedly, disseminating child pornography on the web. The Russian Deputy Prosecutor General almost literally copied the arguments made in the appeal by Chudnovets’s attoreny. Previously, during its consideration of the appeal, the selfsame Kurgan Regional Court had refused to release Chudnovets at the request of both the prosecutor and defense attorneys. The same court then denied the appeal against the verdict. The verdict was reversed only after the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Supreme Court intervened. Now Chudnovets will have the right to compensation for the harm caused her by illegal criminal prosecution.

The Chudnovets story unfolded at the same time as the even more high-profile case of Ildar Dadin. Dadin’s case was the first criminal case filed under the newly minted law on violating the law on public rallies, the first guilty verdict handed down under the new law. Dadin was taken into custody in the courtroom. Then came the shocking sentence of three years in a medium-security penal colony for a first offense, a moderately severe offense whose underlying cause was purely political, in a case tried in Moscow under the glare of all the media. During the appeals phase, the verdict was altered slightly, and the sentence reduced a bit. But then there was the drama of Dadin’s transfer to the penal colony, his arrival in a Karelian prison camp infamous for its severe conditions, the immense scandal that erupted after he claimed he had been tortured, and the harsh reaction to these revelations by the Federal Penitentiary Service. Then Dadin was secretly transferred to a remote penal colony in Altai over a demonstratively long period, after which the Constitutional Court, in open session, ruled that the relevant article of the Criminal Code had been wrongly interpreted in Dadin’s case. After this, the Supreme Court jumped quickly into the fray, granting a writ of certiorari, aquitting Dadin, and freeing him from the penal colony.

Politically Motivated Releases
The judicial system acted with phenomenal alacrity in both the Chudnovets and Dadin cases. Chudnovets’s criminal case was literally flown round trip from Kurgan to Moscow and back. Given current realities, this could only have been possible under the so-called manual mode of governance and with authorization at the highest level.

It calls to mind the instantaneous release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky from the same Karelian prison colony in December 2013, and the same sudden early releases, under amnesty, of the Greenpeace activists, convicted in the Arctic Sunrise case, and Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, two months before their sentences were up. Of course, the record holder in this sense is the Kirov Regional Court, which in the summer of 2013 quashed Alexei Navalny’s five-year sentence in the Kirovles case.

In all these previous cases, the causes of the system’s sudden softness were self-explanatory. The thaw of December 2013 was due to the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Navalny’s pardon was clearly connected with his being able to run in the Moscow mayoral elections. It was hard not to doubt the narrowly political, tactical objectives of these targeted releases.

The latest indulgences—the sudden releases of Dadin and Chudnovets, the transfer of the last defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case, Dmitry Buchenkov, and the Yekaterinburg Pokémon catcher, Ruslan Sokolovsky, from custody in pretrial detention facilities to house arrest—have been greeted with a roar of approval from the progressive public. The liberal genie would have burst out of its bottle altogether were it not for the eleven-hour police search of the home of human rights activist Zoya Svetova in connection with the ancient Yukos case. The search was as sudden and hard to explain as the releases described above.

Federal officials have not tried to dampen the talk of a thaw. On the contrary, they have encouraged it. The president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, Supreme Court Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev, federal human right’s ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova, and Justice Ministry spokespeople have publicly supported decriminalizing the Criminal Code article under which Dadin was convicted.

Putting the Brakes On
Even earlier we had noticed that the number of politically motivated criminal cases had stopped increasing. Twelve years of defending grassroots activists, human rights activists, journalists, and heads of local NGOs mean we are sensitive to changes in which way the wind blows. It would be wrong to speak of an improvement. Rather, the brakes have been put on the slide into deterioration. There are still dozens of political prisoners doing time in Russia’s prisons.

Political scientists have spoken of an unloosening of the screws; lawyers, of necessary legal reforms. One way or another, it is clear these events did not began in February, and the changes have been implemented from the top, quite deliberately, but without any explanation.

Given the tactial objectives pursued in previous reversals of high-profile cases, there are serious grounds for assuming recent events are due to next year’s main political event, the presidential election.

Preparations for the election began last spring with a shakeup of the law enforcement agencies. The superfluous Migration Service and Gosnarkokontrol (Federal Agency for Drug Trafficking Control) were eliminated. A new political special forces unit, the National Guard of Russia, was established. The influence of the Investigative Committee has been sharply reduced, although from 2012 to 2016 it had been the Investigative Committee that served as the main vehicle for domestic political crackdowns.

The old framework has gradually ceased functioning. The effectiveness of show trials has waned. Leading opposition figures have grown accustomed to working with the permanent risk of criminal prosecution hanging over them. Some have left the country and thus are beyond the reach of the security forces, but they have exited politics as well. Protest rallies have not attracted big numbers for a long time, and NGOs have been demoralized by the law on “foreign agents.” The stats for cases of “extremism” are mainly padded by the online statements of web users in the provinces and “non-traditional” Muslims.

In recent years, the state has delegated its function of intimidation and targeted crackdowns to pro-regime para-public organizations. Navalny is no longer pursued by Alexander Bastrykin, but by organizations like NOD (National Liberation Movement) and Anti-Maidan.

Under a Watchful Eye
The foreground is no longer occcupied by the need to intimidate and crack down on dissidents, but by information gathering and protest prevention, and that is the competence of different government bodies altogether. It is the FSB that has recently concentrated the main function of monitoring domestic politics in its hands. FSB officers have been arresting governors, generals, and heavyweight businesmen, destroying the reputations of companies and government agencies, and defending the internet from the west’s baleful influence.

Nothing adds to the work of the FSB’s units like a managed thaw. Bold public statements, new leaders and pressure groups, and planned and envisioned protest rallies immediately attract attention. The upcoming presidential election, the rollout of the campaign, and good news from the courts as spring arrives cannot help but awaken dormant civic protest. Its gradual rise will continue until its apogee in March of next year [when the presidential election is scheduled]. Information will be collected, analyzed, and sent to the relevant decision makers by the summer of 2018. And by the autumn of 2018 lawyers will again have more work than they can handle. This scenario needs to be taken into account.

There is, of course, another option: the Kremlin’s liberal signals may be addressed not to the domestic audience, but to a foreign one. Foreign policy, which has remained the president’s focus, is in a state of turbulence. Vladimir Putin is viewed by the western liberal public as a dark force threatening the world order. Sudden moves toward democratization can only add to the uncertainty and, consequently, the Kremlin can gain a tactical advantage in the game of diplomacy. Considering the fact there are lots of politicians in the world who are happy to be fooled, the ranks of the Russian president’s supporters will only swell.

Pavel Chikov is head of Agora, an international human rights group. Thanks to Comrade AK for the heads-up. Translation and photograph by the Russian Reader

“Combating Terrorism” in Petersburg

Metal detectors in the vestibule of a Petersburg subway station. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru
Passengers walking through metal dectors in the lobby of a Petersburg subway station. Photo courtesy of Fontanka.ru

“The pair discussed combating terrorism[.]”
Christi Parsons and Tracy Wilkinson, “Trump and Putin have first official phone conversation amid European anxiety about future relations,” Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2017

From April You’ll Need a Doctor’s Certificate to Get through Metal Detectors in Petersburg Subway
Fontanka.ru
January 25, 2017

Starting March 30, the Petersburg subway will be equipped with special barriers to stop people, including those whose medical conditions prevent them from walking through metal detectors.

The Petersburg subway’s press service told Fontanka.ru the special barriers had begun to be installed last year as part of the Federal Law on Transportation Security. They were tested at the Tekhnologichesky Institut station, and during the entire time they were in service, no conflicts with passengers arose, subway management insists.

Since the new year, the barriers have been installed at several more stations. Passengers with pacemakers and metal implants should proceed as follows at these stations: they should press a special button on the barrier to summon a trained staff member. The staff member is obliged to check the relevant doctor’s certificate and, if there are any more questions for the passenger, send him to have his personal belongings inspected. Passengers without doctor’s certificates will not be allowed to enter the subway, warns subway management.

Not all passengers are aware of the changes, and they have had trouble getting through the turnstiles. A Fontanka.ru reader has told us that, on the morning of January 25, he had been unable to bypass the metal detector at the Grazhdansky Prospekt subway station, as he had been able to do on previously. The man, who had metal implants installed in his head during an operation, claims he waited ten minutes for a subway staffer to personally inspect his belongings. When the subway employee arrived, he told the man that, according to regulations, he would not let him into the subway without a doctor’s certificate.

“No warnings had been posted in advance,” writes the reader, angry at having wasted so much time.

Subway management could not confirm additional efforts would be made to inform passengers, noting the necessary signage had already been posted in station lobbies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Noma Is an Island

A typical street scene in central Petersburg, 27 January 2017. Photo by TRR

Culinary Nomalism has finally blazed a trail to lowly Petersburg, ex-capital of All the Russias.

EM is a unique modernist [sic] cuisine restaurant where everything from the bread to the coffee is prepared on an AGA cooker in the open-kitchen dining room.

December — January

I

Spinach brioche with black caviar and edamame cream

II

Shrimps with cauliflower and red tea sauce

III

Neat’s tongue with baked portobello and blue tea chips

IV

Walnut with prunes mousse and powdered porcini

V

Sterlet with grey cheesecake and raspberry sauce

Stewed lamb with yellow tomatoes in different textures

VI

Sea buckthorn souffle with coconut

kukuruza

Source: EM

Since just about everyone in Petersburg is (not) rolling in money, Nomalism’s advent in the city, which has just been celebrating the latest anniversary of the lifting of the 900-day Nazi Siege that killed off half its population in living memory, could not be timelier. At this eatery, the bimonthly non-vegan set menu (“Classic Set”), as listed above, will cost you 3,500 rubles (approx. 55 euros), sans wine.

That would be a steal for the actual Noma crowd, of course, but not so cheap for the vast majority of the city’s population. The average monthly old age pension in Petersburg is, supposedly, around 12,000 rubles (approx. 188 euros), while the average monthly salary is around 31,000 rubles (approx. 485 euros).

Who, then, are the clientele for this haute bourgeois splurgery?

These middle-aged women, picking their way across pavements caked with sand and dotted with islets of ice, hard-trodden snow, and frozen slush, because the city government is too poor or too feeble to remove them the good old-fashioned way?

Another typical street scene in central Petersburg, 27 January 2017. Photo by TRR
Another typical street scene in central Petersburg, 27 January 2017. Photo by TRR

A Word from Our Sponsor

And now, a word from our sponsor, the common cause.

english-girls

Constructing life, however, is undoubtedly tantamount to producing culture. The life that man constructs consciously is, in fact, culture. Culture is the totality of man’s advances in transfiguring the world. Culture is the world, altered by man according to his mind’s ideals.

But culture, in this case, includes not only theoretical and symbolic endeavors, as encapsulated in science and art. A significant and essential part of culture are those modes of work that really change the world around us, not merely in thought and imagination. They include economics, production, agriculture, engineering, medicine, eugenics, practical biology, education, and so on. Indeed, an overview of all the current research and trends makes plain that culture’s contents are revealed as the things people actually to change reality using these means. Culture is not only pure science and pure art, but definitely consists in applying them to production, the mining and processing industry, labor, and technology. Hence, we can say that culture’s ultimate meaning and goal are actually to improve and transform the world through nature’s rational management.

The new culture of the future involves nothing other than identifying this universal culture, revealing it as the work of transfiguring the world.

It follows that the first task, which precedes all construction and organization, is expanding the common notion of culture and including in it the modes of human endeavor that have previously been regarded as outside its scope. In other words, what must vanish are the current disjunction between culture and life, and the consequent separation of theoretical and symbolic work, which generates expressions of knowledge and ideal patterns, from work that really, by means of action, changes our environment.

To this end, we must first clearly understand the source of this pernicious disjunction. Its roots undoubtedly lie in the ancient division of the world into the supernatural world, accessible only to the mind and imagination, and the earthly, material world where human action takes place.

Due to the limitations of his outlook and the feebleness of his power over nature, man was unable to effect a real, comprehensive transformation of the environment, and so he marked off a special field of endeavor where he found it relatively easier to enact the kingdom of his reason and his moral and aesthetic ideals. This was the realm of pure knowledge and the similar realm of pure art. Here, in a special world generated by the mind and imagination, man produced the ideas and images he wanted while passively contemplating external reality and acting on it only in his own inner world by enriching his intellect and furthering his aesthetic powers. In this segregated realm, he scored victories over unreasoning, vicious nature, but what these successes lacked was the fact they led to no changes in real life except for producing generations of especially sophisticated, accomplished people who were quite remote from the mass of humanity, who continued to languish in the grip of a life that was impoverished, meaningless, and misshapen. Thus did passive contemplation and abstract philosophizing evolve. They were joined by pure science and pure art. Scientists have engaged in pure theory, forgetting their work makes sense only insofar as it really transfigures the world, and that they, accordingly, are not a self-sufficient corporation, but merely a committee of sorts, designated by humanity for a particular goal: drafting a project for the world’s transfiguration. For their part, artists have surrendered to the symbolism of images and forgotten they only make sense insofar as they are linked to reality, and that art’s purpose is to provide people with an ideal of a better world and assist in actually converting the present into such a future. Consequently, culture has become detached from life and enclosed in the narrow confines of pure creativity, remote from reality.

The outcome of the disjunction between symbolic and theoretical endeavors and real cultural work has been equally detrimental to both. Without thought, action is meaningless; thought without movement is ineffective; while knowledge, since it is applied to nothing, degenerates into abstract intellectualizing; science that has no practical end ultimately turns into an exposition of methods that have no purpose; and art that produces only dead likenesses turns into a harmful amusement. On the other hand, lawmaking and economics, as endeavors that change the material world; medicine and eugenics, which change the nature of living beings; and education, which changes their mental nature, are likewise bereft of a particular purpose and come to serve private and individual interests instead of pursuing the task of transfiguring the world.

The outcome is humanity’s atomization into a number of warring centers. Culture is no longer produced as the common cause of human efforts, while the latter develop, each in its own field, as self-contained strivings. Hence the birth of the destructive particularism we find at the heart of cultural liberalism, which was proclaimed during the Renaissance and has evolved into modern cultural chaos. In this state, the common conscious action of people, instead of blazing a course for itself through history as a single, powerful stream, has trickled away into a thousand rivulets, which have mostly ended up as standing puddles of fetid water. Each man lives only for his selfish purposes. A number of dead ends arise, discrete lives fenced off from the rest. An idol in the guise of personal prejudice or passion is erected in each such dead end. Mutual bloody war erupts in the name of the idols, tearing humanity apart with strife. However, at the same time, people are united by irrational factors, but this unity is usually based on narrow-mindedness and passivity, and crumbles when it encounters consciousness, even in its primary selfish, individual form.

These phenomena have caused the crisis now experienced by European culture. It is clear it cannot stay in a state of modern individual atomization, and just as clear that the way to past attempts at unification, based on extinguishing consciousness, is forbidden to it due to its hypertrophied modern evolution. The only way left is to produce a culture in which consciousness would not be removed from life but would projectively manage it, moreover, manage it not in the sense of separating people from each other, but, on the contrary, in the sense of uniting them as completely as possible on the basis of a common cause.

That was an excerpt from Valerian Muravyov, “A Universal Productive Mathematics” (1923), in Boris Groys, ed., Russkii kozmism (Moscow: Ad Marginem Press,  2015), 180–184

Translated by the Russian Reader

God Is Great

Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat.

 

[At Kuzyna House on New Holland] Asian, European, Mediterranean, and even South Americans are combined in the simple food [sic] tradition. For example, starters include burrata with honey, persimmon, and truffle oil (780 rubles), and the main courses include poached salmon with a champagne and caviar cream sauce (990 rubles), marinated Korean barbecue ribs (750 rubles), and grilled chicken with green salsa (620 rubles).

[…]

The intellectual cluster [sic] A Beautiful Mind was conceived by psychotherapist Andrei Kurpatov, famous for his TV show on Channel One. Alexei Yermakov (El Copitas) is in charge of the kitchen.

Source: “December’s 22 Cafes, Bars, and Restaurants (Petersburg),” The Village, 28 December 2016

"10 Serials for the New Year's Holidays: Fontanka.ru's Choice."
“10 Serials for the New Year’s Holidays: Fontanka.ru’s Choice.”

Source: Fontanka.ru

Needless to say, all ten serials in question are either British or US serials.

Photo by the Russian Reader

Turn off the News

"Maximus Paintball Club. Pirate Village Facility: Children's Parties, Birthdays, Office Parties," Petrovsky Island, Petersburg, 26 April 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader
“Maximus Paintball Club. Pirate Village Facility: Children’s Parties, Birthdays, Office Parties,” Petrovsky Island, Petersburg, 26 April 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Here is a snapshot of Rosbalt news agency’s Petersburg regional news wire for yesterday, 28 December 2016. TRR

Source: Rosbalt

Thanks to Lola Preobrazhenskaya for the heads-up. Headlines translated by the Russian Reader

Miru Mir (We Don’t Care)

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“Peace to the world.” Central Petrograd, December 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Andrey Loshak
Facebook
December 25, 2016

I will perform my familiar role as Captain Obvious. The Alexandrov Ensemble, Doctor Liza, the ambassador to Ankara, and the two hundred and seventeen people flying back to Petersburg from Egypt over a year ago would still be alive if President Putin had not personally ordered our troops into combat in Syria.

It is impossible to calculate how many Syrian women and children were killed by Russian bombs, but nobody in Russia gives a shit about it. The Vesti TV news program said they were smearing their faces with tomato juice instead of blood, and everyone believed it, because it is easier that way. But it is odd that over the past year no one has bothered to ask Putin what higher purpose was served by the death of the twenty-five Russian children flying in the plane from Egypt that was blown up by Islamic State. It was possible to explain the Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow by invoking the battle for Russia’s so-called territorial integrity. The hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine had something to do with Ukraine’s being our nearest neighbor and the so-called Russian world. (Although that would be cold comfort to the families of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, blown to smithereens by a Russian rocket.) But no one in Russia has any clue why our army has put itself in the middle of the latest bloodbath in the Middle East. Ask anyone on the street. They won’t know what to say: I have checked. No one believes in the fairy tale about fighting Islamic State.

People believe more in the spiel about supporting the vampire Assad, but it doesn’t come across as persuasive either. After all, Assad is not Yanukovych, who, at least, was right next door and bought natural gas from us. More people believe we are involved in a tactical war with America. We have supposedly shown the Yanks we know a few tricks ourselves. That was the explanation given to me by a guy in Michurinsk. Yet he felt no indignation whatsoever, by the way. Hundreds of Russians have been killed in this war, a war the country is fighting the fuck knows where and the fuck knows why. You have to be utterly brainless, of course, to know everything we know about Afghanistan and get bogged down in the same deal again. But that is the saddest part: no one could give a flying fuck.

On television, they ramble on about GEOPOLITICS. It is now the magic spell, the national idea, the new Russian god that has replaced hydrocarbons, which have proved unreliable. It works like a charm, because any crap on either side of the border can be explained in terms of geopolitical interests. The majority of Russians still imagine that geopolitics is something remote and boring, something Pyotr Tolstoy would discuss on his talk shows, but in fact it has now made itself at home in nearly every Russian household in the shape of incipient poverty, inflation, unemployment, deteriorating medical care and education, rising utilities rates, and, more and more often, the violent deaths of loved ones.

The most surprising thing, however, is that Russia’s so-called geopolitical interests, to which so many victims have been sacrificed, is a myth, a fiction, the latest of Putin’s simulacra. You and I have no interests in Syria, and neither does Russia. All of Russia’s major foreign policy decisions, from the annexation of Crimea to the war in Syria, have initially been made by one man on grounds known only to him. Were rank-and-file Russians terribly worried about whether Crimea was part of Russia or Ukraine until the president took care of the problem? This is not to mention Syria, whose existence was a mystery to many Russians until we launched military operations there.

There is no separating Putin from geopolitics. Putin is geopolitics, and Russia’s so-called geopolitical interests are mainly the interests of Putin, who is guided by a rationale known only to him. God knows what is going on in his brain, but after sixteen years of individual rule, anyone’s brains would warp. This is a typical problem of authoritarian regimes: the illusory reality in the dictator’s overindulged, fevered brain becomes everyone else’s reality, and real people die.

A dictator thinks a thought, and it immediately becomes the national idea. We know that our dictator has long been uninterested in anything except self-assertion in the international arena. At home, he has everything sorted out (he even erected a monument to Prince Vladimir recently), but when it comes to authority on the world stage everything has been totally fucked. He has played the big shot every which way to Sunday, but it has only made those sordid faggots in other countries frown even harder. They have got Putin stuck on the fourth rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the need for reverence and respect. He cannot move on to the highest stage, the stage of spiritual development, where a lonely Gandhi and the coveted Nobel Peace Prize have long been waiting for him.

Putin sees geopolitics as a gamble in which he has been trying to beat the West by desperately conning it. He sees us as bargaining chips. It is clear he will continue to solve his profoundly personal problems using the entire country as a hammer. Of course he claims to be acting in Russia’s interests, but the trouble is that after so many years of unchecked power it is hard to separate national interests from personal interests. Putin has so fused with the system, he has short-circuited so many public institutions, that you pull him out of politics now and Russia really would crumble. Putin does in fact now equate with Russia, and if you oppose Putin, you oppose Russia—in the shape in which it now exists.

So you won’t get any optimistic pre-New Year’s predictions from me. The Napoleonic tricorn, propped on the head of Little Zaches, will grow so large it will soon completely obscure his view. The quantity of insanity and victims will thus naturally increase.

Andrey Loshak is a well-known Russian journalist. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to a number of friends for the heads-up

******

UPDATE

Andrey Loshak:

“I wrote a post in which I said Putin was responsible for the crash of the Defense Ministry plane.  There was no malice or disrespect for the memory of the dead in what I wrote, just a take on well-known facts. A hour later, a hellish orgy kicked off in the comments section in which wishes for my immediate death were expressed. Who the heck knows whether they were trolls or not. Some of them were definitely real people. I think that if I had been tied up and handed over to them at that moment, they would have skinned me alive, ripped out my heart, and stomped on it. Such orgies had occurred before, as soon I would write something critical about Putin. You cannot imagine how many insults I have had to read, written by aggressive assholes who had never met me in real life but who nevertheless called me all the names in the book and dispensed idiotic jokes about my surname and my loved ones. I used to take such things ironically, but after my son was born, I have felt like personally smacking everyone in this pack upside the head. My ‘liberasty’ lasted for a long while. For almost eight years, my Facebook page was as open and pluralistic as the Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. I thought it was vital to maintain the possibility of interacting with people who held different views. Unfortunately, however, the absolute majority of them proved capable only of insults. This audience is, probably, what is pejoratively dubbed the vata: an aggressive, mentally limited pack, willing blindly to follow the alpha male anywhere, whether to the edge of the precipice or over the edge. Today I couldn’t stand it and acted liked Putin. I changed the comments settings: now only Facebook friends can leave comments. I must admit my little sociological experiment in establishing a dialogue with society has failed.”

Source: Facebook