Ivan Davydov: Extremely Knowledgeable Russians

KMO_173017_00047_1“Release political prisoners! They should not be in prison!” Muscovites rally in support of political prisoners on Sakharov Avenue on September 29, 2019. Photo by Pyotr Kassin for Kommersant. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Extremely Knowledgeable Russians
Ivan Davydov
MBKh Media
January 21, 2020

While you more or less grasp the sheer abnormality of the current Russian regime and even are aware of the nitty-gritty when it comes to certain things, you gradually learn to put up with a lot. You get used to it, you develop defensive skills. Constantly experiencing righteous anger is hard on the psyche. Nor does it happen on schedule, three times a day for twenty minutes, after meals, by way of clearing your conscience.

For example, you’re walking in downtown Moscow and you think, What the hell, it really has become nicer. Of course, you recall the savage corruption of the powers that be, and the trick they pulled with the elections last summer, and their persecution of ordinary people, but it has become prettier. There are the cozy shops and cafes, the lovely food courts, the new subway stations, and the Moscow Central Circle. Comfort and convenience trump righteous anger, and you catch yourself thinking, Well, they steal, naturally (I’m curious, by the way: is the word “naturally” accidental here or not? Probably not anymore), but they could just steal outright. Instead, they make improvements, and those improvements benefit more people than just them.

And it’s not that you forgive them for theft, election fraud, and last summer’s police dragnet against random passersby, but all of it recedes to the edge of consciousness, turning into cute, almost ordinary naughtiness.

But there are things you can’t put up with at all. It is impossible, for example, to forget that people are regularly tortured in Russia, including people who were allegedly planning a coup d’état, people who believe in God the wrong way (per our current laws), and the occasional lowlife whom the aces at the local police station have decided to frame for all the unsolved cases in the last couple of months.

I walk down the street, noting that Moscow has become prettier by any reckoning, and now, maybe, I’ll go into a cozy little cafe and have a cup of coffee. And almost certainly at the same time somewhere agents of the state will be torturing an ordinary person. This awareness pierces the brain like a nail—there’s no escaping it, it is painful and shameful. It’s a strange thing: I am not torturing anyone myself, but I’m ashamed for some reason. Or, rather, for some reason it’s me who is ashamed.

The same goes for awareness of the existence of political prisoners in Russia. More than two hundred people are in prison only because they allowed themselves to think something about the current Russian government that the current Russian government didn’t like. This is according to Memorial, which has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can believe its figures. More than two hundred people are being punished for incorrect thoughts, and it’s impossible to reconcile yourself with this fact in any way.

Neither the prettified streets of the big cities, nor the funky art exhibitions, nor the generous handouts the president has promised the disadvantaged and veterans can absolve the state of its guilt. This just should not be happening, but that’s the way it is.

A recent survey by the Levada Center provides some comfort. I am not the only one in Russia who is so knowledgeable: there are a fair number of us. By the way, the Levada Center has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can trust their findings. “Foreign agent,” after all, is something like a mark of quality, a certificate of non-complicity in the state’s lies.

When asked whether there were currently political prisoners in Russia, 23% of respondents answered yes, while another 40% answered that yes, there probably were political prisoners. Thus, a sizeable majority of people (63%) either know for certain or are reasonably sure that people are jailed in this country for thinking the wrong thoughts. The number of informed Russians has been growing. The poll was conducted in December 2019; in December 2018, 50% of those polled were aware of political prisoners. Analysts attribute this growth to the efforts of Moscow city hall, the noisy scandal over last autumn’s elections, and the protests ignited by the so-called Moscow Case.

I saw a happy tweet on Twitter from an opposition activist: “Hooray! Two thirds of Russians are aware of political prisoners! This is the result of our work! But we need more people to know.” I saw the tweet, but I immediately lost the link and forgot who wrote it. I wondered, however, whether there was much reason for celebration.

Two thirds of Russians are aware there are political prisoners in Russia, but this has not generated much of a furor. Even when the Moscow Case was in full swing, only a few hundred people in Moscow—a drop in the ocean—came out to picket in support of political prisoners. Thirty thousand people or so attended an “authorized” protest rally: this is nothing in a city of twelve million people. And in comparison with the number of people who are supposedly aware, it’s also nothing.

This means, apparently, that the vast majority of Russians consider the presence of political prisoners in the country to be the norm. I hope that, at least, they consider it an abnormal norm—that is, more or less the way I view corruption in Moscow. They see it as something unpleasant, of course, but not particularly terrible, as something they can live with.

Speaking of which, last summer the Levada Center published the results of a survey on the use of torture by the security forces. The numbers were absolutely terrible: 10% of Russians had experienced torture. This is not two hundred some people we’re talking about, but millions of people. 60% of those polled considered torture unacceptable, which is also seemingly a cause for joy. But that means that 40% either think torture is justified or haven’t formed an opinion on the subject: they are not moved by this sad, literally painful topic.

What’s the point in guessing, though? 30% of respondents stated outright that they considered torture justified in “exceptional cases.” I’ve never understood where the instinct for self-preservation goes in such cases. How can you be sure it won’t be you who turns out to be such an “exceptional case” for a tipsy policeman one day?

I don’t like it when folks chew out the “Russian people.” People in Russia are normal, on the whole, no worse than other people. Especially since I’m one of those people. There is no excuse for looking down on “the people.” It’s stupid and silly.

However, I see no particular cause for optimism when it comes to the polling data on awareness of political prisoners in our country. It points to a serious societal disease, and most important, it is completely unclear what the cure for it is.

But for starters, of course, all political prisoners must be released.

Thanks to Julia Murashova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergey Abashin: “Aliens” on Red Square

echo

A screenshot of the Ekho Moskvy website, showing the results of an online survey conducted on January 3, 2020. When asked “Does the abundance of migrants on Red Square on New Year’s bother you?” 68% of those who voted said yes, 26% said no, and 6% were undecided.

Will the Topic of Immigration Return to Russian Politics in 2020? “Aliens on Red Square” as a Factor in the 2021 Elections
Sergey Abashin
Liberal Mission Foundation
January 6, 2020

On January 3, the website of radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) asked its audience, allegedly liberal, whether it was bothered by the abundance of migrants on Red Square during New Year’s celebrations. Almost 4,000 people voted over the next twenty-four hours, with seventy percent of them answering “Yes.”  Although the survey lacks sociological representativity and is a purely rhetorical device, it does enable us to raise the question of whether immigration could be an important item on the social and political agenda in Russia in 2020. In my short comment, I will first analyze the wording of Ekho Moskvy’s question and show how it was manipulative before trying to link this story to recent trends in the debate on immigration and, finally, forecasting how the topic could evolve in the coming year.

The question (“Does the abundance of migrants on Red Square on New Year’s bother you?”) already sends a specific message that would have been decipherable by everyone who decided to take part in the survey. Instead of the neutral “How do you feel about…” the people who phrased the question immediately introduced the negative assessment implied by “bother,” inviting readers not to voice their opinions, but to agree or disagree with a stated stance in the absence of alternatives. The vagueness of the word “abundance”—how can it be quantified? what number or percentage is enough to render a verdict?—leaves a lot to the respondent’s imagination.

The notion of “migrants” is typically manipulative, of course. Who did the people who phrased the question have in mind? People who had come to Moscow from other parts of Russia, such as the Moscow Region and the Caucasus? Tourists from China and Italy? Migrant laborers from Ukraine and Central Asia? Formally speaking, all of them are migrants, and each of these groups could irritate the average Muscovite for some reason. In other words, “migrants” is a term that is already chockablock with stereotypes and laden with negativity.

Finally, the phrase “on Red Square on New Year’s” connotes a symbolic, even sacred time and space in which “migrants” are a priori contrasted as something alien, even if “migrants” also enjoy celebrating New Year’s and regard Red Square as a landmark in their own biographies, for example, as immigrants from the former Soviet hinterlands. Muscovites themselves might not even go to Red Square but, in keeping with the conceptual framework suggested by Ekho Moskvy’s survey, they should protect it from imaginary others.

Why, then, did Ekho Moskvy have to ask its listeners and readers a question about immigration in such a manipulative and negative form, putting it on a par with the current dramatic events in the Middle East? I am least inclined to imagine it was a deliberate conspiracy in service of a hidden agenda. It was, rather, a spontaneous reaction, a playing along with sentiments popular among listeners that encourage them to visit the radio station’s website.  And indeed we have seen signs in the past year that the topic of immigration has returned to the public agenda. After a surge in interest in immigration in 2013, during the Moscow mayoral election, and the highest recorded levels of antipathy to migrants, the topic of immigration gradually faded from the public eye, overshadowed by the economic crisis and the war in Ukraine.

According to polls conducted in the summer of 2019 by Levada Center, these numbers started to increase again after a twofold decline in previous years. A similar trend (among far-right groups and ideologues) has been noted by analysts at the SOVA Center, who write that the summer and autumn of 2019 saw a “partial revival of the traditional anti-immigrant discourse.”

Will the topic of immigration continue to be raised in various opinion polls, widening the debate to include, besides nationalists, liberals, leftists, and conservatives? The image of so-called aliens and others has always been an important constituent of self-identification, a building block of how we define ourselves, an obligatory component of the most varied ideologies. Given the recent warming (albeit not full normalization) in relations between Russia and Ukraine, the resulting vacancy for the role of aliens has to be filled by someone else, and “migrants” (less real than imaginary) are a strong and familiar irritant and a convenient tool for skewing public opinion.

Provided that a greater number of parties and new political figures are allowed to participate, the upcoming electoral cycle, which should end with elections to the State Duma in autumn of 2021, also creates conditions for both the opposition and pro-Kremlin groups to ratchet up the topic of immigration. The example of politicians in Europe and America who parlayed criticism of immigration policies into success at the ballot box is fresh in everyone’s mind.

Such conditions and examples are not sufficient, however, to revive the debate on immigration in the Russian political arena. The “reconciliation” with Ukraine and western countries may prove unstable and temporary. The Kremlin might choose to keep a tight rein on the elections and thus find it disadvantageous to let its opponents have a go at the topic of immigration. Despite the growth in anti-immigration rhetoric noted by pollsters and analysts in 2019, I would nevertheless cautiously suggest that immigration won’t dominate the political and public agenda in the new year.  Nor will it fade away, however. It will continue to fester, with parties as various as the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda and the radio station Ekho Moskvy fanning the embers. It will thus remain a political backup weapon that could go off at any moment.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Coffee Klatch Averted in Makhachkala

Six Activists and Journalists Detained After Refusing to Drink Coffee with Makhachkala’s Deputy Mayor
Novoye Delo
January 4, 2019

On January 4, OurCity (GorodNash) activists went to inspect Makhachkala’s main square, Effendi Kapiyev Square, after its reconstruction.

They were met by Makhachkala Deputy Mayor Effendi Khaydakov and a spokesman for the contractor, as well as city hall staffers.

After an exchange of opinions about the quality of the renovation and the completion date, the deputy minister invited the activists to go have a coffee, but they declined his offer and went on inspecting the square.

When the deputy mayor left to drink coffee, two police patrol squads arrived, detaining six people, including Svetlana Anokhina, Arsen Magomedov, Caucasian Knot journalist Musa Musayev, and two cameramen, one of them from city hall’s press service.

Magomedov told Novoye Delo by telephone that they were being taken to the Soviet District Police Department in Makhachkala.

After the square was cleared of activists, Makhachkala Mayor Salman Dadayev came out to chat with the remaining city hall staffers and townspeople.

P.S. Magomedov reported by telephone that all the detainees were released immediately after being delivered to the police department, and they have returned to the square to continue their inspection. Contractors recently handed the square over to the city.

makhachkala our cityOurCity activists in Makhachkala. Photo courtesy of RIA Derbent

What Does Makhachkala Have in Common with Yekaterinburg?
RIA Derbent
May 21, 2019

In Makhachkala, activists from the movement OurCity (Gorodnash) held a picket in support of Yekaterinburg residents protesting construction of a church in a city park.

The people who gathered on Saturday, May 18, also recorded a video message in which they voiced support for Yekaterinburg residents and proclaimed their solidarity with them against construction in park areas. Lawyer Arsen Magomedov said in the video that the Makhachkala activists had likewise been fighting plans to construct a church in the city’s Ak Gel Park.

Local activists have opposed construction of a church in the park since 2017. In September of that year, a memorial cross was dedicated on the site of planned construction in a religious service involving the Russian ethnic communities of Makhachkala, Kizlyar, and the Kizlyar District, as well as the Terek Cossacks of Dagestan. The Lenin District Court was already then considering a suit filed by activists challenging the legality of leasing land in the park for construction of a cathedral, a suit the activists won in December 2017. In April 2018, however, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the ruling by the Lenin District Court.

[…]

[T]he planned cathedral in Ak Gel Park was not the first or last target of Makhachkala urban activists opposed to redevelopment of the city’s green oases. Activists united to form the grassroots movement OurCity in January 2017 after Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Dagestan, spearheaded a campaign to build an interactive museum, Russia Is My History, in Lenin Komsomol Park. After residents of Makhachkala protested, and thousands of people signed a petition opposing the plan, Abdulatipov announced that construction had been postponed in the wake of a “wide-ranging public discussion.” The same year, the now-united urban activists campaigned against plans to redevelop the square opposite the monument to Effendi Kapiyev. In both cases, activists managed to persuade courts to annul decisions by city hall to lease the land.

In December 2017, lawyer and urban activist Arsen Magomedov filed a complaint with the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service about the Makhachkala City Property Committee’s  tendering of a lease to a 520-square-meter plot in 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution Park (aka the Dog Park), a complaint that was upheld. Magomedov used a similar method to annul bidding to construct a residential building in the green belt on Ali Aliyev Street.

Comparing the situation in Yekaterinburg and Makhachkala, Magomedov complained that, over two years of grassroots confrontation and court proceedings, neither the Russian Orthodox diocese nor the municipal or republican governments had engaged in dialogue with activists to resolve the dispute. According to Magomedov, people in Yekaterinburg were able to attract the attention of the federal authorities and win concessions “because the issue turned into a shooting war, with clashes, confrontations, arrests, and fights.”

The protesters in Makhachkala and Yekaterinburg say they are not opposed to building churches, but to the redevelopment of parks. Activists in Makhachkala have suggested moving the construction site one hundred meters away from the park to wasteland near the lake.

We talked to human rights defender and OurCity activist Svetlana Anokhina about what the protests in Yekaterinburg have shown us and how we should think about them.

Svetlana, do you think what has happened in Yekaterinburg will become an example for the entire country?

I’m surprised that what happened here in Makhachkala hasn’t become an example for the entire country. After all, we were able to organize a pressure group of ethnic Russians to file a lawsuit and write a letter to Patriarch Kirill in order to protect the city’s Muslim activists from possible attacks. The authorities tried to politicize outrage over plans to build a church in Ak Gel Park, because everyone understands that if the subject were raised by Muslim activists, they would immediately be accused of extremism and belonging to a nonexistent pro-Islamic sleeper cell, of course.

It doesn’t occur to the authorities that people just want to live a normal city with parks and trees. They don’t notice how they’re destroying the city.

But to make themselves heard, people in Yekaterinburg had to tear down fences and battle the police.

I don’t believe the folks in Yekaterinburg are wrong, or that their actions have been too radical, but such risks are impossible for us. This shouldn’t become an example for the whole country, because it was a spontaneous protest by desperate people, driven to despair by the authorities themselves, who sicked riot cops and martial arts club fighters on them. In my opinion, the protest itself was spontaneous, something you cannot say about the crackdown against the protest, which involved oligarchs and fighters from a martial arts club owned by an oligarch, and the Orthodox Church, which is structured like a military organization, and the police and the authorities. In this light, it is total nonsense to say that the grassroots protests were organized by outside forces, and that the protesters were too radical.

So this is the price for getting the president’s attention and his suggestion to conduct a survey?

You did hear what Yekaterinburg’s mayor said, didn’t you? That there wouldn’t be a referendum on the issue because it required a lot of preparation (a year!), but there would be some kind of public opinion poll. Someone countered him by pointing out that the referendum in Crimea was organized in two weeks.

I don’t like the fact that residents need to get through to the president to solve local problems. Issues like this should be decided at the local level, and if local officials cannot come to an agreement with ordinary people, it means they are not doing their jobs and should be replaced.

Thanks to Marina Ken for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Foreign Agents”: Official Fearmongering Runs Amok in Russia

foreign agents piechartA pie chart, using information from November 2017, showing the numbers and kinds of NGOS designated as “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry. Moving clockwise, the chart shows that 24 Russian human rights organizations have been registered as “foreign agents,” along with 4 NGOs working on healthcare issues, 2 trade union associations, 6 analytical and social research organizations, 3 women’s organizations, 10 civic education organizations, 9 media support organizations, 3 ethnic minority organizations, 7 NGOs involved in defending democracy and democratic principles, 11 humanitarian and social welfare organizations, and 8 environmental organizations. Courtesy of Deutsche Welle. As of November 15, 2019, there were ten media outlets listed as “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry, including Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and eight RFE/RL affiliates.

Russian Duma Adopts Law on Designating Individuals “Foreign Agents”
Olga Demidova
Deutsche Welle
November 21, 2019

The Russian Duma has passed a law bill on designating private persons as “foreign agents” in its third and final reading. On Thursday, November 21, the bill was supported by 311 of the 315 MPs who voted. No one opposed the bill, although four MPs abstained.

Two days earlier, the Duma’s committee on information policy approved amendments to the bill in its second reading. The amendments make it possible to designate individuals as “performing the functions of a foreign agent” and thus on a par with legal entities. They can be deemed “foreign agents” if they create content for media outlets that have been designated “foreign agents” or distribute their content while receiving foreign funding.

Media outlets already registered as “foreign agents” will have to establish Russian legal entities in order to operate in the Russian Federation. In addition, they must mark their content as having been produced by a “foreign agent.” Leonid Levin, chair of the Duma’s information policy committee, promised the law would not been used against bloggers and current affairs commentators. Individuals would be designated “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry, which Levin argued would prevent “unreasonable” rulings.

In July 2012, the Duma amended several laws regulating the work of NGOs. The amendments obliged NGOs that engaged in political activities and received foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” The NGOs were to indicate this designation on their websites, for example, and provide regular financial reports. There are currently over seventy organizations in Russia registered as “foreign agents.”

Thanks to Marina Bobrik for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

_________________________________

Grigorii Golosov
Facebook
November 24, 2019

The law on individual foreign agents is innovative in the sense that the people who drafted it and pushed it have not disguised the fact it is meant to be enforced selectively. Certain critics have even remarked that this is a good thing: only a few people will be affected. I think they are wrong, but I wanted to talk about something else. It is no secret that laws are enforced selectively in Russia, but so far none of the laws that have caused a public stir has been meant to be enforced selectively. Now that has changed. A law that is selectively enforced is clearly no law at all, but a specimen of lawlessness, and so the new law is anti-constitutional. Unfortunately, it is pointless to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court, and not only due to the court’s peculiarities. After all, the authorities have not hidden their intentions and motives, but nor have they admitted them aloud. It is their usual M.O., the old “you just try and prove it” gambit. In fact, a good response would be a barrage of lawsuits petitioning the authorities to designate as “foreign agents” public loyalists they would have no wish to hurt, but who are 100% guilty if the letter of this law were obeyed. However, the human rights movement, which could take up this cause, has been defeated, in particular, by the previous laws on “foreign agents.” The way to lawlessness is thus open.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Are Homeless People in Moscow “Foreign Agents”?

nochlezhkaNochlezhka staff outside their shelter on Borovaya Street in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Nochlezhka

“It’s Unpleasant, But It Won’t Affect Our Plans”: Nochlezhka on Calls from Begovoy Residents to Declare the Charity a “Foreign Agent”
Lida Timofeyeva
Takie Dela
November 21, 2019

Zoya Andrianova, a member of Begovoy Municipal District Council in Moscow, has requested that authorities check whether the charity Nochlezhka should be declared a “foreign agent.” She pointed out the organization received foreign funding and had “access to a socially vulnerable, dependent and manipulable segment of the population.”

“We must use all methods of fighting the enemy. Nochlezhka should now lose its appetite for Moscow. It will have to spend a long time explaining itself to Center ‘E.’ If it is closed as a result, that will teach it a lesson,” wrote Alexandra Andreyeva, a member of the Lefortovo Municipal District Council.

Takie Dela asked Nochlezhka’s directors to comment on the actions of the activists who oppose the opening of a shelter and a counseling service for homeless people in Begovoy.

______________________________

Grigory Sverdlin, director of the charity organization Nochlezhka

“Nochlezhka has been receiving foreign funding for many years: it makes up around 15% of our overall budget. The aid mainly comes from religious organizations. We appreciate this and have never hidden these donations: people can check the annual reports on our website. Nochlezhka has never been involved in politics, so the ‘foreign agent’ label does not apply to us. We are not afraid of audits: like all other charitable organizations in Russia, Nochlezhka has been audited repeatedly.

“Andrianova and the group of activists recently sent eleven complaints to federal consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, asking them to check a homeless shelter that does not exist yet. Their attempts to kick Nochlezhka out of their neighborhood, as they put it, have continued, although district councilors from Lefortovo and activists from Savelovo are part of the effort for some reason. It’s unpleasant, of course, but it will not affect our plans in any way.”

______________________________

Darya Baybakova, director of Nochlezhka’s Moscow branch

“The opponents [of the future shelter] are few in number, but they are quite active. There are several municipal district councilors in their ranks, in particular, Alexandra Andreyeva and Zoya Andrianova. Andreyeva believes homeless people should not be helped at all, but instead should be transported beyond the 101st kilometer. Andrianova had said the campaign against Nochlezhka’s project is a personal matter for her. In her opinion, such places should not be opened in the Begovoy district.

“Last week, I was at the prosecutor’s office, answering the questions posed by the same municipal district councilors in their complaints. We also received a warning from Rospotrebnadzor [about the inadmissibility of violating health regulations] after they inspected the building where the shelter will be opened. Andrianova has now sent a complaint to the presidential administration. We have not received any letters from them yet, but we are ready to answer any and all questions when they do arrive.”

______________________________

In September, Nochlezhka announced it was planning to open a consulting service and shelter for homeless people in Moscow’s Begovoy district. The charity looked for a space for a year and a half: it needed to be within walking distance of subway and train stations, but at a distance from residential buildings. Nochlezhka conducted a survey of the district’s residents and held a meeting with them. They were unable to stave off a conflict, however: some of the people who came to the meeting refused to listen to Nochlezhka’s arguments and walked out.

In the aftermath of this wave of discontent, Nochlezhka invited the Muscovites to tour its Petersburg facilities. Petersburg officials reported to the Muscovites that no one had ever complained about Nochlezhka’s clients. Nochlezhka launched an online flash mob to support its Moscow branch: people were asked to post messages with the hashtag #ISupportNochlezhkaInMoscow. The Moscow mayor’s office turned down Nochlezhka’s request to provide it with a space for a homeless shelter.

In 2018, Nochlezhka and the Second Breath Foundation announced plans to open a laundry for homeless people in Moscow. They chose a space near the Dynamo subway station in the Savelovo district for the laundry, but were forced to give up the project after local residents protested. The residents threatened to file complaints with all the relevant authorities and set the laundry on fire.

Translated by the Russian Reader

People “Hug” Park in Surgut to Save It from Developers

Surgut Residents “Hug” Park to Protect It from Redevelopment
Activatica
November 18, 2019

Residents of Surgut who oppose construction of a bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange carried out a flash mob in which they tried to “hug” a forest park slated to be cut down to make way for the construction site. Over three hundred people took part in the protest, reports Nakanune.ru. Residents literally formed an makeshift human shield to protect the green zone.

surgut-1

Residents of the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st districts joined hands and formed a circle around the forest park, where a bus station is scheduled to be built.

“Surgut residents have protested against construction of the new facility. Many of them are certain it will lead to gridlock on that section of the highway, as well as destroying trees,” said one of the protesters.

On November 11, the Surgut Investment Council approved construction of a new bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange. The investor is Nizhnevartovsk Passenger Transport Company No. 1, which has committed itself to building the new station, investing over 200 million rubles into it.

As Federal Press reports, residents of the neighborhoods near the interchange met with Surgut Deputy Mayor Alexei Zherdiyev on November 15. During the meeting, residents voiced their fears about the new facility. They argued tat the planned construction would make traffic in the area even worse. They also said that the forest slated to be cut down is a place where many of them go to walk and relax. Zherdiyev assured them that, since two roads were now being built in the area, and funds for another three roads were being raised, this would reduce traffic at the existing interchanges. He also announced the creation of the Quantorium Technology Park and reconstruction of a local park. However, he gave no exact or approximate deadlines for the projects.

surgut-2

Mayor Vadim Shuvalov reacted to the protest.

“The flash mob against construction of a bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange has shown me two things. First, the residents of Surgut are strong, tight-knit people who love their city. I deeply respect you for that. Second, we have not talked enough about the project itself, so there has been a lot of speculation and rumors. We are going to be more proactive in informing the populace about plans to develop Surgut’s infrastructure. We are often rightly criticized for the quality of roads and some new decisions. But all changes require thoroughness, dialogue, and sometimes compromise. I invite you to discuss the issue of the bus station together. I have ordered my aides to schedule a meeting with residents,” Shuvalov wrote on social media.

Photos courtesy of Agit Rossiya and Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader

#STOP212 (Flash Mob)

mg_2082.jpg“The Moscow Case must be dropped.”

Prisoners of the Article 212 Case
Facebook
October 27, 2019

We are launching a flash mob, #STOP212.

Oaks are trees. Sparrows are birds. Russia is our fatherland. The Moscow Case must be dropped.

Recent successful grassroots campaigns have shown that large-scale solidarity actions are an effective weapon against the tyranny of the state.

Let us once again stand together against lawlessness and injustice by filling the streets with demands to stop persecuting the prisoners.

It’s easy to take part. Grab one of the three image files stored here and print it out. Or you can pick up a sticker from one of our friends in downtown Moscow: Chernyi Cooperative, Khodasevich Bookstore, Barking Store, and Delai Kulturu / DK.

Stick it on your smartphone or backpack and then hit the streets. Don’t be afraid of anything.

#стоп212_стикер 5х5cm

The Article 212 Case is our common cause.

Join us. It’s legal, and it’s beautiful.

delo212.ru/stop212

Thanks to Andrey Silvestrov for the heads-up. Images courtesy of delo21.2ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Two Babushkas

yemelyanovValentina Fyodorovna and Tamara Andreyevna, the great-grandmother and grandmother of Vladimir Yemelyanov, recently charged in the so-called Moscow case. Photo courtesy of Current Time

The Two Grandmothers of a Prisoner in the Moscow Case: How Vladimir Yemelyanov’s Family Gets On
Yevgenia Kotlyar
Current Time
October 18, 2019

Tamara Andreyevna, the grandmother of a new defendant in the so-called Moscow case, Vladimir Yemelyanov, comes home from the hospital.  She shows me her grandson’s room, which police searched on October 14. They arrived early, at 5:30 in the morning.

The woman cries.

“We just didn’t expect any of this. It would be another if he had behaved like a hooligan or something,” she says.

Tamara Andreyevna shows me her grandson’s desk, books, and game console. She says the security forces were looking for leaflets but only confiscated his personal diary.

“They came in here. The guards stood out there, while those guys turned this entire desk upside down. They rifled through everything. They were looking for leaflets or something else but found nothing. They wanted to confiscate the computer, but then changed their minds,” she recounts.

Vladimir was taken away after the search. On October 16, a court remanded him in custody for, allegedly, grabbing a Russian National Guardsman. In this footage, Yemelyanov, who is wearing a pink t-shirt, tries to pull a Russian National Guardsman away from the people at whom he is swinging his baton.

Vladimir lived in a modest apartment in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi with his grandmother, Tamara Andreyevna, aged 74, and his great-grandmother, Valentina Fyodorovna, aged 92. The women say Vova helped them around the house by buying groceries and peeling potatoes. In his free time, he played computer games.

“He’s very secretive. He’s shy about telling you things. Other people tell you everything, but not him. He’s quiet, he kept everything to himself. He worked every day. I don’t know about his work, I didn’t ask him where he worked. He gave us money for the bills and food, he wasn’t a dependant,” says Tamara Andreyevna.

According to her, she raised her grandson from birth because his mother abandoned him in the maternity hospital. They didn’t know the father.

She shows me old photographs.

“Here’s Vovka when he was little,” she says. “She had him out of wedlock. He’s a half-breed, a Turk.”

Vova was a quiet young man. He finished eleven grades at school, then went to a vocational college, but then dropped out of university, she says. Tamara Andreyevna knew nothing about his going to protest rallies, although they occasionally spoke about politics.

“I didn’t even know there was a rally. I don’t watch the news, I’m not interested, but he went looking for the truth. I told him, ‘Vova, you won’t prove anything to anyone.’ He always upset about how people lived. On that count he was fair. Only no one has any use for this,’ says Tamara Andreyevna.

The family is uneasy with Vladimir at home: his great-grandmother is deaf, has poor eyesight, and has a hard time walking. When Tamara Andreyevna was in the hospital, she lost her medicine.

“Tamara, my eye medicine fell in there. I pulled everything out, but I can’t get in there,” the old woman complains.

Vladimir Yemelyanov faces up to five years in prison. He has been charging with assaulting a police officer. He pleaded not guilty.

“I think I cheered Grandma up. I said, ‘Mom, they said he’ll be in there until December 14, for two months.’ She said, ‘Oh, yeah? I’ll probably live to see the day.’ I bawled the whole way home,” Tamara Andreyevna says.

Vova’s great-grandmother, Valentina Fyodorovna, is certain her great-grandson will come home on December 14 when his two months in remand prison is over.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yegor Galkin: “You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”

“You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”: How a Barnaul Resident Took Charge of the City’s Grassroots Urban Activist Group
Alexandra Romantsova
Takie Dela
October 17, 2019

In a series of monologues entitled “Close to the Heart,” Takie Dela hands the microphone to residents of Russia’s regions whose personal involvement and willingness to act are gradually changing their local communities. The star of our second installment is Barnaul resident Yegor Galkin, head of Spire, a local grassroots group.

How do I want my city to look? How can I change the space in which I live? Five years ago, a schoolboy from Barnaul sought answers to these questions, learned about the work of Spire, and became interested in urban planning.

galkinYegor Galkin. Photo courtesy of Mr. Galkin and Takie Dela

Spire, a grassroots group, emerged in 2013 amid the popularization of urban planning in Russia. Its founder, Sergei Ustinov, is a well-known big data expert: he created a nation-wide map of road accidents in Russia. In 2013, the group established its presence on social networks and started doing walks in the city and making photographs. I joined the project in 2014, which was when we launched a map of grassroots proposals in Barnaul. This has been our group’s main focus.

We developed a large interactive map of Barnaul where any resident could leave his or her proposal for beautifying and improving the city. Any user could vote these proposals up or down. Based on the results of the voting, we would send requests to the authorities. We wanted to interact directly with Barnaul city hall and the government of the Altai Territory, but we were ignored. We had over 500 proposals, for which 3,000 votes were cast on our website. Those were huge numbers for Barnaul. After a while, some of the proposals were implemented. This was due to our written requests, but also because some of them were too obvious to ignore.

We still are not in a direct dialogue with officials. Instead, we have learned how to work through the media: they hear us and react. If we have found an irregularity, they try to fix it. For example, the city had a contract for erecting fences, but they were not erected, although they existed on paper. After we wrote about this, the fences went up the next day. I am against fences, but an irregularity is an irregularity.

Our work can be divided into several categories: planning (like the map of grassroots proposals), fighting for green areas, work on the city’s master plan, and daily work by experts, including environmentalists and urban activists. They find irregularities in the city’s improvement and road repair projects, check them against the official paperwork, and publish their findings. This is all done for free: we have no funding. Our desire to change the city and our initiative drive everything we do.

When urbanism first came to Russia,  people didn’t know what it was and how it could improve their lives. When they went to Europe, people sensed things could be different in Russia. We quickly found a common language with people like this. We would tell them what we could do in Barnaul to make life more comfortable, such as introducing dedicated bus and bike lanes and improving public transport.

At first, many people had a hostile reaction to these ideas. They said we needed to expand roads to accommodate more cars. Every group that tackles urban problems is confronted with this reaction. When we started talking about public spaces, however, we found lots of new allies.

Everything always begins with the individual: how would I like to see the city? Personal comfort is important. That was why it captivated me. I began studying the subject, reading a lot and looking at different proposals and projects. Now it is a scholarly interest because I am studying political science. Urban planning and urban reform are impossible without politics. I am curious about the evolution of cities, demographic processes, and gentrification’s impact on urban development. I’m a grassroots urban activist and I want the city to be better.

We have been fighting for Barnaul’s green areas. In 2015, we did our first big project about city parks, which dealt with their current state. While everyone in Moscow knew what was happening in the city’s parks, people in Barnaul didn’t know anything. In 2016, we did the project again, this time in cooperation with a local news website and professional photographers. We made a video using quadcopters. And we spelled out the problem: nobody was taking care of the parks. Some of them had been subjected to deforestation, while others were so badly neglected it was dangerous to go there.

Barnaul has a population of 700,000, and there used to be six city parks. Now there is one official park that is still open. The other parks lost their official status and no one has been managing them. This is a big problem for Barnaul. We are surrounded by old-growth forests, but there are few green spaces in the city itself.

The bulk of the people who subscribe to our group’s social media pages signed on when we raised these issues. People voiced their support and willingness to engage in joint action. Half of Emerald Park was logged, sparking a lively protest over the fact that the city’s green areas were neglected. Whereas there had been no reaction from the authorities in 2015–2016, the issue has finally been raised at the regional level in 2019. Recently, we had a round table at the Altai Territory Legislative Assembly on the topic of green areas in the city.

We raise the hot-button issues in Barnaul. If they are written about, people know about them, and city officials have to react. Our experts are so good that when city hall officials hear their names they freak out. All of the publications posted on our social media pages are read by the prosecutor’s office and the investigative agencies. If there are irregularities, they conduct inquiries.

We have now been trying to establish relations with the district councils. We are getting ready to present our draft project for a park area, a project we did in keeping with all the canons of urban planning. We did surveys of the area in summer, autumn, winter, and spring, as well as research on how people navigate parks. The project for this park will soon be open to feedback from any and all residents of Barnaul. I think it will be interesting and beneficial. I don’t recall that a grassroots undertaking like this has ever been implemented in the regions.

Judging by polls, people want to see quality. The canons of urbanism and notions of proper improvements to amenities can be captured in the phrase “quality infrastructure,” meaning infrastructure that is sound, convenient, comfortable, and safe. People have the same idea: they want to live in a safe and pleasant green space. There is popular demand for quality urban improvements.

An important thought for all grassroots groups is that you need to do what you do and do it well. If you see a problem you need to make sense of it and talk about it. You have to recruit experts and not be afraid of communicating with the authorities, of building a dialogue with regional parliamentarians, city councilors, and district councilors so everyone has a stake in solving the problem. You have to voice your proposals and, most importantly, spark the interest of groups that can impact decision-making. Merchants, authorities, city councilors, political parties: you need to interact with everyone. An urban activist is a person who thrives on interaction and dialogue.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Leokadia Frenkel: How to Defeat Russia’s Ruling Party in Your Own Neighborhood

lika-1.jpgLeokadia Frenkel talks to local residents protesting vote rigging. Photo by David Frenkel

“I Realized They Were Getting Ready to Throw the Election”: A Petersburg Woman Talks About How She Fought Three Days to Have the Real Vote Tally Confirmed
Leokadia Frenkel is a member of the election commission in Petersburg’s Vladimirsky Municipal District, where not a single United Russia candidate was elected
Sofia Volyanova
TJournal
September 12, 2019

Three days after Russia’s nationwide election day on September 8, the results of the municipal district council races in Petersburg had not been officially announced. In four districts where ruling United Russia party candidates did not win a majority of seats on the councils, the election commissions postponed their final meetings. In the Vladimirsky Municipal District, all the ruling party’s candidates had lost, according to preliminary vote tallies. The Yabloko Party had won twelve seats, while five seats had gone to independent candidates, and three seats to A Just Russia.

At some of the polling stations where opposition candidates were leading, election officials decided to recount the votes. As a consequence, United Russia candidates suddenly took the lead, while independent candidates were robbed of critical votes.

Leokadia Frenkel, a voting member of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Election Commission, told TJournal how she and the winning candidates prevented such vote rigging in her own district. She was forced to sleep in the district council building and was assaulted by the election commission’s deputy chairwoman, who attempted to lock Frenkel in an office.

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On election day, I arrived at the Central District administration building, where our municipal district election commission is located, at seven in the morning. We invalidated ballots, then I got the papers I had to take to the different polling stations and I delivered them. I communicated with the polling station election commissions and monitored what was happening. At eight in the evening, I returned to the Central District building, where we invalidated the rest of the ballots that needed invalidating.

We did not receive a single complaint during the voting and the vote counts. Everything was completely fair and square. I had no complaints with the commission chair.

“The polling station election commission chairs will go with me, and we will enter the results into GAS [automated state elections system],” she said.

But then, during the night, someone told us all the election commission chairs had been sent home and no one had entered their vote tallies into GAS because it was down. We learned this completely by accident. I asked the secretary of the municipal district election commission what had happened, why the vote tallies had not been entered into GAS, and why the commission chairs had been sent home. She said something was broken, but we checked and nothing was broken. They were playing for time: they needed an excuse to do a recount. That was when we realized the fix was in and we spent the night in the administration building.

Why did I stay there? I was afraid they would convene the municipal district election commission without me. I wanted to be there and register my dissenting opinion if there was a recount.

The winning candidates slept there, too, because the ballots had been packed up and stored in the basement. They were making sure the ballots were not stolen. There were advisory and voting members of the polling station commissions who had done their jobs honestly and wanted to prevent electoral fraud.

The commission had left in the wee hours of September 9, saying it would reconvene at four in the afternoon. But it did not show up at four in the afternoon. We kept waiting, finally filing complaints with the Territorial Election Commission and the Central Election Commission.

We spent the whole day in the building. The very nice, hospital head of the Central District talked to us and gave us chairs so we would not have to lie on the floor. Our friends supplied us with food and water.

We spent over twenty fours in that building.

The head of the district communicated the City Election Commission’s decision to us and said all the chairs of the polling station election commissions would be gathering and all the final vote tallies would be entered into GAS.

When the chair of the commission showed up, she summoned all the polling station chairs. At nine in the evening, they started entering the vote tallies into GAS. The results were entered correctly: there was no vote rigging.

But the fact is that the chair of our municipal district election commission did not come and pick up the results. First, she said they were not ready, although they were ready. She was supposed to collect them and hold a final meeting of the commission to confirm the vote tally and the list of winning candidates. Many independent candidates and new people won seats on the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council. No one from United Russia was among the victors, so maybe they were angry or somehow affiliated with the municipal district council.

Leokadia Frenkel sleeping outside the office of the deputy head of the Central District

After the vote tallies were entered into the GAS, I went home and the next day I was busy with my own affairs. But the final sitting of the commission had not been held nor had the documents been collected. I telephoned the chair and asked what the matter was. So I would not worry, she said the meeting would be held and everything would be fair and square.

At nine in the morning on September 11, the candidates telephoned me and said that certain polling station commission chairs had shown up at the municipal council for some unknown purpose. So I also went to the municipal district election commission, once again asking when our final session would be held and why the paperwork, which had long been ready, had not been picked up.

The deputy chair was the only one in the office, so I asked her. I saw a paper on her desk with no date or registry number. It was a complaint, filed by United Russia candidate Igor Kartsev, who requested a recount.  I realized they were getting ready to throw the election. Instead of getting ready for the final meeting, they were grooming people affiliated with them to file complaints requesting a recount, as was happening in other municipal districts, in order to steal the victory from the independent candidates.

I took the complaint in order to photograph it when the deputy chair attacked me from behind. She tried to snatch the letter from me and destroy it.  There were many people present, including the candidates and voting members of our commission. One of them grabbed the complaint, which the deputy chair tried to snatch from me, in order to save it from destruction. He photographed it and posted it on social media.

Vladimirsky Municipal District Election Commission deputy chair attacked @likafrenk, a voting member of the commission from Yabloko, to stop her from seeing documents and complaints that would trigger a recount. The voting member managed to escape despite the fact that the deputy chair tried not to let her out, but now the deputy chair claims it was she who was attacked. She was taken away in an ambulance.

The deputy chair tried to lock me in the office and prevent from getting out by holding the door shut. There was a slight tussle: I wedged my foot in the doorway, but she tried to hit me with the door so I could not get out. When she let go of the door, I escaped. I filed a complaint with the City Election Commission, explaining that I had found a strange document. I also wrote that I was afraid, since the final commission meeting had not been held, that they were planning to throw the election.

I filed a complaint with the police about the attack and the fact that the municipal district election commission had tried to destroy the documents I had turned up. And I went to the emergency room and had the doctors there document the injury I suffered when the deputy chair hit me with the door to keep me looked in her office. I ended up with a bruise on my leg, of course.

The commission is located in the building where the municipal council has its offices. The police and an ambulance were summoned. Allegedly, either someone hit someone else or I hit someone. But I could not have hit anyone because I was on the other side of the door, in an office where there was nowhere else. Complaints were filed to the effect that I had, allegedly, absconded with certain documents, but I had not stolen them. I was in the commission office and the deputy chair would not let me out. I could not have stolen the documents.

Also, the deputy chairwoman filed a complaint that someone had hit her in the hallway or something to that effect. She also had her alleged injuries documented at the emergency room, and she was taken to hospital.

I don’t know what is going on here, but it all began when the incumbent council members got a look at the vote tallies. When they realized they had lost in all the districts, they postponed the final commission meetings and the announcements of the results. First, they put off entering the results into GAS, but when the actual, correct results were entered into the system, they tried to put off holding the final commission meetings.

Holding a recount is one way of switching out ballots and substituting them with fake ballots. But they still have to be signed by two commission members, at least. They want to switch the ballots and recount the votes. What are they fighting for? They want a majority on the council. They want to prevent the independent candidates for gaining a majority on the council and then electing their own chair.

Tomorrow is the last day when they can hold the final, wrap-up session, and now social media are reporting that, allegedly, the municipal district election commissions are going to be meeting at the Central District administration building and, allegedly, the election results will be confirmed in keeping with the vote tallies that the polling station election commissions arrived at fair and square.

lika-3.jpg
Leokadia Frenkel. Photo by David Frenkel

It is now the evening of September 11, and a rather large number of people have gathered outside the offices of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council, including the winning independent candidates, commission members outraged by the fact that the authorities have been trying to throw the election. These people have said they will not go home because the authorities are trying to throw the election.

The winning candidates spent the whole day picketing the municipal district election commission and demanding the immediate confirmation of the results. But just now the police detained someone here. [It later transpired that a young woman conducting a solo picket protesting vote rigging had been detained. She did not have a local residence permit, so she was put into a police car, but she was released after the police checked her return tickets — TJournal.]

I came here to see what was going on. Everything is closed, but people have gathered here all the same. The candidates called local residents who signed petitions to get them on the ballot and told them the authorities were trying to steal their votes, and so these residents have also come.

The candidates are going to stand guard at the Central District administration building. As soon as they see that the chair has shown up, I will also run over there. If a recount is demanded, a report will be issued. I will send a dissenting opinion to the City Election Commission and the Central Election Commission and tell them there was vote rigging and a recount.

All the rough stuff lies ahead of us. Now, however, I don’t see anything rough happening. I see lots of young people who are determined to fight. They are proactive and positive. Of course, it would be a blow to me if everything into which we have put so much effort is declared null and void, if there is a recount and they steal the victory. But we plan to fight.

I have only positive thoughts. I did not expect the opposition to win, but win they did in all the districts. This is the first time when people who deserve to win have won. In this sense, it was fair and square. There was nothing like this in past elections. Nobody wanted to vote. Suddenly young people the candidates, their friends and their aidesappeared on the scene, and it’s great. I have seen another world, a world of young people.

Translated by the Russian Reader