Gunda

gundaGunda and piglet. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“I Ask Animals for Forgiveness”: The Life of a Remarkable Pig
Dmitry Volchek
Radio Svoboda
March 4, 2020

Not a single human being appears on screen. We see only animals whose lives are run by people: a one-legged chicken, bulls, cows, and, as the main character, a sow named Gunda (more accurately, Günda, as her name is spelled in Norway, where she lives).

“The Russian-born director Victor Kossakovsky offers us not simply a film, but a stunning experience of life.” “A simple yet absolutely astonishing documentary picture.” “An unusual film, and a captivating poetic work of art.” That is how American and European film critics rated Victor Kossakovsky’s documentary film Gunda, which premiered at the 70th Berlin Film Festival.

One of the film’s producers was Joaquin Phoenix, who dedicated his acceptance speech at the Oscars, where he won the Best Actor prize for his role in the film Joker, to animal rights. Like Victor Kossakovsky, Phoenix sticks to a vegan diet. But Gunda isn’t simply activist cinema, urging that slaughtering animals and consuming their corpses is disgusting. Just like Kossakovsky’s previous work, Aquarela, Gunda is an innovative and impeccably made film: every frame resembles a Dürer etching.

After the film’s Berlin premiere, Victor Kossakovsky answered Radio Svoboda’s questions.

Is Gunda still alive?

— I know that art cannot save the world, unfortunately, but we did manage to save one pig.  She has become famous, and her owner said, “Now, of course, I won’t be able to kill her. Let her live as long as she’s supposed to.” Piglets live, on average, four to six months, while sows live two to three years. But now Gunda will live twenty-five to thirty years. My film saved one pig.

How did you meet her?

— That was very simple. We’d planned on about half a year for casting the animals, but I found her on the very first day, in the first minute. I arrived in Norway, dropped by my first farm, opened the door, and caught sight of Gunda. I said to the producer, “We’ve found our Meryl Streep — there she is!” The producer was in shock: “You’re probably joking. No doubt she is just a candidate.” I said, “No, we’ve found her. End of story.” It had dawned on me that I could look at her endlessly: she really was like Meryl Streep. I should say that for twenty years I could not find money for this film. In 1997, I showed my film Wednesday at the Berlinale. When I was awarded the International Federation of Film Critics Prize, a small press conference was organized for me. I was asked, “What will your next film be? What film do you dream of making?” I said, “I’d like to make a film about a pig, a cow, and a chicken.” From that time on, however, I was unable to find anyone who would agree to produce it, neither in Russia nor in any other country, until I found a Norwegian woman who took the risk. I lucked out: at last I’ve made the film that I’d wanted to make my whole life.

You mentioned Meryl Streep, but it seemed to me that, at the end, Gunda was transformed into Anna Magnani in the film Mamma Roma.

— Oh, how brilliant you are! That’s really the case. There is, of course, a turnaround at the end of the film, where she is Anna Magnani, an allusion to the film Mamma Roma. Thank you for noticing. Of course, in every film there’s a first plane, second plane, thirteenth plane — there are things that not everyone sees.

You filmed not only in Norway, but in England as well. Am I right that the cows live in different places?

— Yes, we filmed the cows in two places. The episode when they stand head to tail and help one another swat away flies with their tails we filmed in Spain, on the border with France. We filmed the main episode with cows in England, and the chickens were filmed in Wales. In England and Spain, compassionate people buy cows, chickens, and pigs from farmers who are taking the animals to the slaughterhouse and give them a second chance. Ordinary private citizens living in country homes buy cows and say, “There’s grass all around, live here as long as you like.” For that reason, those animals are so friendly: they weren’t afraid of the camera. A huge two-meter-high bull allowed us to walk right up to him. The chickens had never been outside: they’d been born and had stood, twenty to a cage, their whole lives. We found people who bought those cages and let out the chickens. It turned out that when the door was opened, the chickens would not come out for an entire hour. They didn’t know that it was possible to go out: they’d lived their whole lives in a cage, cramped, never once in their lives spreading their wings, never once in their lives catching sight of the sky. When they came out, they were even afraid of stepping on the grass, as if it were boiling water. They lifted their feet off the grass as if they’d been scalded. And those cows had never been outdoors. They didn’t even know that they should eat the grass: they went out and just sniffed it The bull walked up to a tree and only sniffed the leaves. How intoxicatingly beautiful it was when those cows began to dance and jump! Those chickens were shocked by their freedom: they looked around, not understanding where they were, and reacting to every sound. They opened their wings for the first time in their lives and then looked at themselves: how could this be?

I know that cinema won’t change the world, but I made a movie in order to say to animals, “Forgive me for not being able to do anything.” At least we saved one sow from being consumed. In my movie, for example, there’s a cow who is twenty-two years old. Have you ever seen a twenty-two-year-old cow? Cows are killed as soon as they stop producing enough milk. But in my film the cow lives. You look at her face, and you can see fate in her eyes. She’s a grandmother of sorts, even a great-grandmother. We permit ourselves not to think about the fact that we’re murderers. We allow ourselves to forget it.

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Victor Kossakovsky

The filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky was born in Leningrad in 1961. He lives in Berlin. His documentary films include Losev (1989), Wednesday 7/19/61 (1997), Quiet! (2002), and Long Live the Antipodes! (2011). He is a winner of the Triumph (1997) and Nika (1998) Russian film prizes, and of numerous international film festival awards. In 2019, his film Aquarela was shortlisted along with fourteen other films for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

“As a documentary filmmaker, I probably bear some responsibility for not shooting something about Russia, but it seems to me that there are more problems on earth. Because the very fact that there is Putin, the very fact that there is war, speaks to the point that something about us as biological creatures is not right. If Russians are fighting Ukrainians, something about us, not about Russians and Ukrainians, but about humankind, is wrong. So, I want to understand what this creature — man — is, and what his place on earth is.”

Source: Interview with Radio Liberty (2018)

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The festival catalogue said that everyone who saw your film would stop eating meat.

— Even the smartest people, even the most distinguished artists who’ve seen the picture, hugged me afterward while ordering hamburgers and citing the notion that, all the same, everything in nature is founded on the struggle for survival. We’ve been living for several centuries in the era of humanism. Many things helped us get rid of slavery, racism, and cannibalism. Now we’re starting to recognize the rights of people with untraditional sexual orientations.

It wasn’t so long ago, after all, that suffragettes were thrown in prison for demanding that women be given the right to vote.

— In my country, there was serfdom 150 years ago. Seventy years ago here, in Germany, and in my country, millions of people were murdered. We are unbelievably aggressive, we have to admit that. Our awareness lags behind our intellect. We’re capable of inventing cars, computers, cinema, rockets, Novichok, and atom bombs, and yet we’re incapable of understanding that killing is wrong. Killing not only people, but killing per se is wrong. But we’ve learned to block that out. Every one of us knows that at dinner, breakfast and supper, we’re consuming the meat of murdered creatures, but we allow ourselves not to think about that, we simply block it out. We know that murder exists, but we’ve come to an agreement that is doesn’t exist. Basically, murder is bad, but in the given instance, as far as dinner goes, it’s okay. That is, we split our intellect and our awareness. So, I wanted to title this film “My Apology.” I’m making an apology to animals for not being able to change the world. I can’t even convince my closest friends that this is crazy. Even the most distinguished cultural figures say to me, “It’s the law of nature.” Even they live with blinders on. They don’t really know the laws of nature: they’ve been told that predators are aggressive. They don’t know that animals are capable of self-sacrifice, love, and mutual aid. They don’t know that, but I do know it. I’ve seen it.

People live inside myths and justify their own ugliness and irrationality. Their hardheartedness is justified by the claim that supposed laws of nature exist allowing the strongest to kill the weak. They don’t exist — it’s a myth. In nature, there’s so much beauty that we’ve never even dreamed of. Every animal is capable of decency. It’s time for us, too, to remember it. Everyone knows that dogs and cats are intelligent animals. Everyone knows that your dog loves you. Everyone knows that it shares your emotions with you, that it’s ready to help you when you’re feeling bad. The same is true of cows, chickens, and pigs. They also have feelings, they are also intelligent, and they also have compassion. They’re ready to sacrifice themselves. But here we have the British Parliament, under pressure from farmers, passing a law that it’s supposedly okay to kill animals because they don’t feel pain. It’s not only our government of imbeciles. No, the willfully unseeing are everywhere.

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Joaquin Phoenix on Gunda:

“Gunda is a mesmerizing perspective on sentience within animal species, normally — and perhaps purposely — hidden from our view. Displays of pride and reverence, amusement and bliss at a pig’s inquisitive young; her panic, despair and utter defeat in the face of cruel trickery, are validations of just how similarly all species react and cope with events in our respective lives. Victor Kossakovsky has crafted a visceral meditation on existence that transcends the normal barriers that separate species. It is a film of profound importance and artistry.”

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— At a meeting with young filmmakers, you spoke about the fact that you’re outraged by Putin’s decision to sign the law on hunting captive animals.

— Yes, he has legalized the very basest thing that man can do. I would recommend that all of our women living with men who go and hunt captive animals refuse to have sex with them. They’ll come home from hunting animals in captivity and show photographs of how they killed a bear, and their wives will say to them, “Pardon me, dear, go live with the bears.” That’s the most shameful thing one can do — chase animals into an enclosure and shoot them dead point-blank using a carbine with an optical sight. Leonardo da Vinci said five hundred years ago that killing a human and killing an animal were one and the same thing. A hundred years ago, Tolstoy urged us to come to our senses, but we sign a law on hunting captive animals! Where are we headed, friends, where is our country being dragged? It’s being dragged into an ignorant, loathsome past, a vulgarian past armed with a carbine.

— In your movie there’s not a single human word, but the grunting of Gunda and her piglets seems like speech, music even.

— We recorded several times more quickly than usual, and then we looked at the diagram. We laid out these sounds and found that the cows have approximately 270 words, while the pigs have about 300 different words. They pronounce 300 words! That’s only what we managed to do with our technology. That’s not just one “moo”: our ears can’t perceive them in any other way, but these are various “moos.” An animal’s children react differently to her voice. We are blind and deaf. We simply don’t want to know that they suffer. Think for yourself. We live on this planet together. There are now twenty billion chickens on earth. We kill fifty billion animals a year.

— Then the other half are discarded because they weren’t eaten.

— There are one billion pigs on the planet right now, and we will kill them. They can live up to twenty years. There are one and a half billion cows, and we will kill one third of them this year. We’ll kill all of them, freeze them, and transport them on ships from Argentina, from Brazil. On average, each person eats 100 kilograms of meat [a year] – in Europe slightly less, in America slightly more. Look at what’s happening: there are seven billion of us, and each of us eats 100 kilograms of meat [a year]. Just think about the kinds of numbers I’m talking about. It’s a killing machine. You also have to have slaughterhouses and processing plants. You have to get rid of the waste. You have to freeze, transport, saw up, chop up, freeze, pack up, and sell the meat.

— Industrial animal husbandry is the same kind of system as the Gulag.

— And it’s causing huge pollution to the planet. Why do we think that they’re made differently from us, that we’re so privileged? To save our hearts we use pig organs. And yet we think that we suffer more than they do.

— There’s not a single human being in your film. Only in the final shot do humans appear, in the shape of a beastly iron machine.  Why did you exclude all people from the picture?

— Many films have been made on this topic. Many attempts have been made to capture the slaughterhouse, the blood. It doesn’t work. There’s a good documentary film on the subject, Our Daily Bread. There have been several artistically serious films, but they changed nothing about people’s lives. I thought that I needed to come at it from another direction completely. I tried to do it in such a way that people would see animals as they are, and not as we perceive them. I filmed them at such a distance in order to give them full freedom. And it’s not me who approached Gunda, but she who approached me. That’s a very important point. When they took her children away from her, she came up to me and looked right into my eyes, because there was no one else for her to talk to. She was left alone, suffered for fifteen minutes, and in the end came up to me. Basically, she said to me, “What are you all doing to me?” Then she turned away, glancing at me from afar: “What’s the point in talking to you?” And she walked away. That’s how empty we people are — even a pig could say that to us.

— How did you arrive at veganism?

— It was simple. At the age of four years, I found myself by chance in a small village where there was a pig. It was a cold winter. The pig was left alone, but its two-week-old piglet was brought into the house, and a little pen was made for him. When everyone left for work, he and I ran would run around the house, and afterward we would put things back together: I took the floor rug by one end, and he took the other with his teeth, and we straightened it out. He was the dearest creature to me: he loved me, and I loved him. He understood me and didn’t just run after me. He played with me, and I played with him. I worried about him, and he worried about me. When they slaughtered him, it was the end of the world for me. I couldn’t understand how my relatives could kill my best friend.

My mother later said, “Where does all this come from in you? What is this nonsense in your head? That’s the way the world is made, that one eats another.” I said, “Mama, you taught me this yourself.” One of my earliest memories from childhood was the two us walking down the street. It was a beautiful summer, and I tore a leaf off a bush. I looked at the light, at the setting sun. And I said to my mother, “Look, what a beautiful leaf.” She said, “Tear out one of your own tiny hairs. Does it hurt?” – “It hurts.” – “That’s how the bush hurt, too, when you tore off this leaf.” My mom had given me this immunity. Remember what Dostoevsky said: “I cannot understand how it’s possible to pass by a tree, see it, and not be happy, not feel happiness.” How is it possible not to be happy, seeing this improbably beautiful world? How is it possible to build bombs and frighten other people, instead of thanking your lucky stars that you were born? How is it possible to cut down trees instead of planting them? How is it possible to kill animals instead of giving them freedom and leaving them alone? We should just forget about them, leave them alone and not kill them. After all, they don’t take our children from us. They don’t put us in cages. Look, my pig spends most of its time digging in the dirt. But in point of fact, ninety-nine percent of pigs are born in small cages set on cement floors, and are never able, during their short lives, to root around in the dirt.

What do we do? We only yell: hey, people, what about human rights? Fine, human rights we’ve already grasped. What’s next? There’s no slavery. What’s next? We’re not murdering millions. What’s next? We recognize [the rights of] gays. What’s next? The next step is recognizing that animals have the same rights as we do to live in this world. The next step is admitting that we can choose not to kill.

— And we can get by perfectly well without meat.

— Look at the horse: it’s stronger than you are.

— Look at the elephant!

— The elephant is a hundred times stronger than you are, and it’s a vegetarian. My friends, what are these idiotic ideas you tell me, that, in order for me to work in a slaughterhouse, I need to eat a pig? You don’t need to eat a pig. I can only repeat what Tolstoy said: “Killing a human or killing an animal: it’s the same act of murder.” We live as creatures who allow themselves to kill — that’s the main thing. And we won’t budge forward an inch until we understand that.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin and Alexander Markov for the heads-up. Translated by Mary Rees

Kira Yarmysh: People Usually Avoid the Word “Dying”

Kira Yarmysh

Kira Yarmysh
Facebook
April 17, 2021

When Alexei [Navalny] came to after the coma, and everything began to gradually improve, I thought that I would not soon have to endure minutes worse than I had in the plane from Tomsk as it was landing in Omsk. Things didn’t happen like that. It was a law of life, or something. Such powerful emotional experiences didn’t happen one after another.

But now eight months have passed, and I’m back on that plane, only this time it is landing very slowly.

People usually avoid the word “dying.” Some avoid it out of superstition. I personally avoid it because loud words like that shouldn’t be used lightly.

But Alexei is now dying. In his condition, it’s a matter of days. The lawyers just can’t get into [the prison] to see him at the weekend, yet no one knows what will happen on Monday.

We witnessed tremendous support in Omsk. Alexei himself later said many times in interviews that Putin had let him to be taken abroad for treatment because he realized it would do him no good to have Navalny die “live on the air.”

Now he is dying in exactly the same way, in plain view of everyone, only this time more slowly, and access to Alexei is much more difficult. Apparently, that’s why it seems to everyone that nothing terrible is happening. The hunger strike has lasted for eighteen days, Navalny has been gradually losing the feeling in his arms and legs, and some tests have been done. All this has been blurred in time, and people don’t have the sense that they are again witnessing a murder.

In 2015, we were organizing a big spring protest rally and heavily promoting it. Alexei himself handed out leaflets in the subway, which landed him in jail for fifteen days. But then [Boris] Nemtsov was murdered. In the end, the rally did take place, and it was huge, only the occasion for the rally had changed altogether.

Now, too, a rally is being organized to demand Alexei’s release, and it will be huge as well. But I don’t want it to happen for any other reason.

Putin reacts only to mass street protests. Even the threat of them scares him. The Kremlin has also been looking at the counter of people [who have pledged to attend the protest] on the Free Navalny website and thinking, Aha, the pace has slowed down, there is no reason to be worried, we can keep going. Navalny is dying: let him die. We won’t let a doctor see him. We won’t allow him to be treated. We should push even harder: we’ll declare his supporters extremists to keep them quiet.

This rally is no longer Navalny’s chance for freedom. It is a condition of keeping him alive. And every new day could be the last.

Register now. We need to reach 500,000 people as soon as possible.

https://free.navalny.com/

Kira Yarmysh is Alexei Navalny’s press secretary. As of today (April 17, 2021), nearly 453,000 Russians had pledged to attend protests demanding Navalny’s release (see the screenshot, below). Photo of Yarmysh courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

Slugfest

I usually like what Kirill Martynov writes, but the screed, below, is overdoing it. DOXA are just four nice smart, brave kids, not the Red Army Faction. They shouldn’t have to bring down the Putin regime on their own. This is not to mention the fact that Russia has been an “ordinary dictatorship” since 2012, if not much earlier. || TRR

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Kirill Martynov
Facebook
April 16, 2021

At work, I have to constantly write about the “socio-political situation.”

My thoughts are now as transparent as Patrushev’s tear: we have arrived at an ordinary dictatorship with a president for life, prisons and a ban on practicing their professions for dissenters, and the subsequent collapse of the state—after this patriotic feast ends with some pathetic and shameful event, as usually happens to dictatorships.

Accordingly, there is practically nothing to write, except for specific stories—for example, about when they try to block YouTube or how they will simulate elections under the new circumstances.

The DOXA case should be read in this light: this is not about random “siloviki going after a student magazine,” but about the dictatorship purging education and the media. It is impossible to win a trial against the dictatorship, so further bets will hinge on whether everyone remains free or not.

The advantage in this case is that “DOXA’s criminal video” says nothing except the that students also have the right to take a civic stance, and university administrations should not try to persecute them for this. It looks like the kind of case that should end in a suspended sentence, which, by Russian standards, is tantamount to an acquittal.

However, so far the state has imposed special pre-trial restraining measures on DOXA. All four editors can leave their homes for one minute a day, from 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. (so as to avoid putting them under house arrest for some reason).* All four of them have already been issued summonses for more than twenty interrogations, scheduled for every working day between now and late May.


In a better world, Summit Brewing Co.’s fabulous Slugfest IPA would be my new sponsor. Instead, it only dulls the pain I feel when contemplating the one-sided slugfest happening in the world’s biggest country. Image courtesy of Summit Brewing Co., St. Paul, Minn.

Armen Aramyan wrote his honor’s thesis in epistemology with me as his academic advisor. I hope that the investigator will have time to talk with him about this interesting subject. (“Why so many books?” the police asked when they searched his apartment.)

So from an epistemological point of view, the situation looks something like this. The authorities are now able to kill DOXA’s entire support line in a matter of days: the state will simply devour a few lives and go on, thus maintaining “stability.” But the state’s weakness is that it has no idea what phenomenon it is facing.

It has no idea how these people think, what they want, and what to use to “break” them. When the Americans were at war with Japan, they commissioned anthropologists to study Japanese culture. Our state is waging a war on young people blindly, like a drunken gangster in a dark alley.

I have no idea at all what DOXA—a horizontal student editorial board that writes about modern philosophy and harassment—looks like to police investigators.

And while the state is trying to figure out this unknown quantity, to unravel how it can be bought off or destroyed, many more interesting things will happen.

* As reader Pavel Kudyukin pointed out to me, house arrest was not imposed in this case so that its duration could not later be subtracted (as “time served”) from a sentence of imprisonment or probation imposed after a trial and guilty verdict. This suggests, he argued, that the powers that be have already decided to convict the four DOXA editors and send them to prison. || TRR

April 16, 2021

Covid is raging in Russia: over the past twelve months, there have been about 500,000 unexplained excess deaths. Putin is killing Navalny in prison, right now, literally. And this is the scene today, Friday, at 11:15 p.m., on Pyatnitskaya Street in downtown Moscow. How is this possible?!

Translated by the Russian Reader

What You Have to Do to Be a “Foreign Agent” in Russia

Darya Apahonchich. The inscription reads: “Not only a body, but also a person.” Courtesy of Kommersant via Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page

Аn “agent” due to wages: foreign agent status threatens teachers
Oleg Dilimbetov and Marina Litvinova
Kommersant
April 7, 2021

A job at a foreign institute of higher education or a salary from a foreign employer can be grounds for obtaining the status of a so-called foreign agent. This transpired during the the hearing of a lawsuit brought against the Justice Ministry by Petersburg teacher and activist Darya Apahonchich. She had requested that the ministry specify the reasons it had forcibly registered her as a “private individual acting as a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent.” The ministry provided the court with written proof of her employment at a French college [in Petersburg] and the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The ministry confirmed that the “foreign funding” received by a potential “foreign agent” does not necessarily have to have anything to do with subsequent “dissemination of information” or “political activity.”

Ms. Apahonchich was placed on the register of so-called individual media foreign agents on December 28, 2020, along with three journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. At the time, the Justice Ministry did not explain what specific reasons had caused them to assign her this status. In March, Ms. Apahonchich filed a lawsuit in Petersburg’s Lenin District Court, claiming that the obligations imposed on her by the Justice Ministry due to the new status violated her rights under the Russian Constitution and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On April 5, during a preliminary hearing of the lawsuit, Ms. Apahonchich was informed of the Justice Ministry’s objections to her claims and finally learned the reasons she had been entered into the register.

The ministry told the court that the woman [sic] had received foreign money transfers from Sweden, Germany, France and Finland. As Ms. Apahonchich explained, these were official fees for participation in festivals and exhibitions and her work as a teacher.

Thus, she was paid 35 thousand rubles by the Finnish Museum of Photography.  She received Another 112 thousand rubles from the French college [in Petersburg], where she taught Russian. She received about 60 thousand rubles from friends via the PayPal transfer system, and these transfers were expedited by Deutsche Bank (Germany). [That is, Ms. Apahonchich had received the fantastic sum of approximately 2,220 euros at current exchange rates — TRR.] In addition, Ms. Apahonchich was imputed with having received bank transfers from her employer, the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The Justice Ministry stated that the source of these funds was Norway, and the intermediary was Sweden. The activist herself claims that she performed work at the Red Cross under a [Russian] presidential grant.

As for “dissemination of information,” the Justice Ministry pointed out that Ms. Apahonchich had reposted on social networks the article “Feminist Fairy Tales: Princesses Fighting the Patriarchy,” published by Radio Liberty (which has been deemed a so-called foreign agent media outlet by the Russian authorities). The ministry also told the court about the YouTube channel “Feminists Explain,” where Ms. Apahonchich has discussed the topic of gender equality, and her article about domestic violence, published on the website Colta.ru. In addition, the woman [sic] had appealed on social networks for solidarity with the defendants in the case of the Network (deemed a terrorist organization in the Russian Federation and banned) and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova.

“The list of my sins is long but honorable: I taught Russian as a foreign language, participated in international festivals, and voiced solidarity with  the regime’s victims. Yes, I also accepted financial assistance from friends from abroad,” Ms. Apahonchich said when asked to comment on the Justice Ministry’s position. “It is clear that they brought the house down on me for solidarity: for solidarity pickets, for public discussions with friends. The situation was not what it is now: everyone seems to have gone off the rails. We’re in trouble, we need help.”

Her lawyer Alexander Peredruk noted that the Justice Ministry had not even tried to prove to the court that there was a connection between the foreign funds received by his client and her activism.

“Based on the Justice Ministry’s position, if you publish something on social networks, it does not matter whether you receive foreign funds directly or indirectly. And it is very difficult to independently monitor the matter: when collaborating with an LLC, you cannot know for certain whether it receives foreign money,” the lawyer said. “The Justice Ministry argues that the separately existing evidence of receiving funds from abroad and publishing on social networks is enough. They have not tried to establish a direct connection between them.”

The Justice Ministry told Kommersant that the law sets quite clear criteria for inclusion in the register. In the case of “individual media foreign agents,” it is sufficient to “distribute news reports and materials intended for an unlimited number of persons,” as well as to receive “money and (or) other property” from foreign states, organizations and nationals, or “from Russian legal entities receiving money from these sources.” To obtain the status of an “individual foreign agent,” it is enough to receive “foreign” money and “distribute news reports and materials” created by a “foreign agent media outlet” or “participate in the creation” of such “news reports and materials.”

“The legislation specifies neither the need for an obligatory link between the receipt of foreign funds and the dissemination of news reports and materials, nor evidence of the individual’s political activity,” the Justice Ministry confirmed to Kommersant.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Stopping His Torture Is Our Common Cause”

OVD Info
Facebook
April 6, 2021

Grassroots activist Anna Margolis has been detained near the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. In her solo picket, she called for an end to the persecution and torture of [Alexei] Navalny.

Margolis has been taken to the police department in the Meshchansky District.

https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2021/04/06/u-zdaniya-fsb-na-lubyanke-zaderzhali-piketchicu-s-plakatom-protiv

Poster: Anna Margolis. Photo: Maria Kokovkina

“Navalny’s views are his business. Your opinion of him is your business. Stopping his torture is our common cause! ‘There are countries in which corporeal punishment has been abolished whereas in our country the question of a whether a man should be flogged or not is still a matter of dispute. […] You would be perfectly justified in showing your compassion for the victims, then why don’t you?’ A[lexander] Herzen, [‘Letters to an Opponent’], 1864.”

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Syrian Revolution 10 Years On

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami, Banah Ghadbian, Shireen Akram-Boshar, Sara Abbas, Zaher Sahloul, Wafa Mustafa
Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi, Shiyam Galyon

Watch here:
https://www.facebook.com/147353662105485/posts/1790854954422006/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Y7h4N_uHQ

Syria had been the focus of much regional and global attention following the massive eruption of popular revolt in mid-March 2011. The Syrian revolution gradually developed into a war involving multiple local, regional and international actors. As a result, the revolution and its massive protest movement, as well as the resistance from below that have sustained them, has been mostly ignored or silenced. Hegemonic narratives centered around geopolitical rivalries and sectarian conflicts have dominated much of international and Western discourse stripping the Syrian popular classes of any social, political or revolutionary agency.

To push back against these narratives, we had organized a series of an Online Summer Institute titled “The Syrian Revolution: A History from Below” that included presentations from activists, organizers, academics, and writers, who discussed an array of topics ranging from grassroots movements, imperialism and anti-imperialism, political economy, international solidarity, feminist struggles, the prison system, healthcare weaponization, Palestinian solidarity, Kurdish self-determination, refugees, revolutionary art, and the future of the Syrian and regional uprisings (2011 and today). To view the series on Syria’s past and present, go here: https://syrianrevolt159610334.wordpress.com/

Now, we shall turn our gaze to the future.

Marking more than a decade since uprisings erupted in Syria and elsewhere in the region and the world; there is an urgent need to start planning, preparing, and coordinating. Resistance against imperialism and dictatorships of all types is a long and grueling process. It will be painful, frustrating, depressing, and at times heartbreaking, yet to survive and prevail in this long, long war, it will require creative, passionate, patient, self-reflective and stubborn optimism.

In this spirit, we announce an event called “Syria, the Region, & the World 10 Years from Now”. This event will include revolutionary songs, footage from the revolutionary archives, and short interventions from activists, intellectuals, and organizers, and will not only commemorate the Syrian uprising, and other social movements for self-determination and dignity, but also revisit the past with a critical mindset to better prepare for the future. The webinar will examine, discuss, and outline practical steps that we could take to make the Syrian struggle and beyond more visible to people outside Syria. The webinar will also explore the connections between the different struggles in the region. The webinar will cover topics such as the effect of the pandemic on resistance and population, reflect on how to achieve accountability and justice for crimes committed against people, and examine how to develop transnational solidarity between communities struggling for peace and dignity.

This event will challenge the mainstream, orientalist, and Manichean perspectives, as well as push back against the pessimistic and compromising fatalism that have come to dominate narratives surrounding solutions and justice for Syria and others communities.

The future is ours, not theirs.

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami is a British-Syrian who has been involved in human rights and social justice struggles in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since 2000. She is the co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War with Robin Yassin-Kassab, and a contributor to Khiyana-Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution. She blogs at leilashami.wordpress.com.

Banah Ghadbian is a Syrian woman poet, jewelry maker, and activist. She has a B.A. in comparative women’s studies and sociology from Spelman College and an M.A. from University of California-San Diego, where she is a doctoral student in ethnic studies. Her research focuses on how Syrian women use creative resistance including poetry and theatre to survive multiple layers of violence. Her work is published in The Feminist Wire (finalist in their 2015 poetry competition), and the print anthology Passage & Place.

Shireen Akram-Boshar is a socialist activist and alum of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). She has organized around the question of the Syrian uprising and the relationship between Syrian and Palestinian struggles for liberation, as well as on anti-imperialism and solidarity with the revolts of the Middle East/North Africa region. Her writing has covered the repression of Palestine solidarity activists in the US, revolution and counterrevolution in the Middle East, Trump’s war on immigrants, and the fight against the far right.

Sara Abbas is a Sudanese Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Freie Unversität Berlin. Her doctoral research focuses on the discourses and practices of women members of the Islamist Movement and al-Bashir’s formerly ruling party in Sudan. Most recently, she has been researching Sudan’s resistance committees which emerged out of the 2018 revolution. She is a member of SudanUprising Germany and the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists.

Zaher Sahloul is a critical care specialist at Christ Advocate Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Sahloul is the immediate past president of and a senior advisor to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a humanitarian and advocacy organization that provides medical relief to Syrians and Syrian refugees.

Wafa Mustafa is a survivor from detention, and an activist and journalist from Masyaf, a city in the Hama Governorate, western Syria. Mustafa left the country on 9 July 2013, exactly a week after her father was arrested by the authorities in Damascus. Mustafa moved to Turkey and began reporting on Syria for various media outlets. In 2016, she moved to Germany and continued her interrupted studies in Berlin where she studies Arts and Aesthetics at Bard College. In her advocacy, Mustafa covers the impact of detention on young girls and women and families.

Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi is a comic writer, communications specialist, journalist, and freelance researcher based between Kuwait and Lebanon. He holds a Bachelor’s (Honors) degree in Economics and Development Studies from Queen’s University, Canada, and a Masters of Arts in Law, Development, and Globalization from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He often dreams of electronic sheep.

Shiyam Galyon is a U.S. based Syrian writer and communications coordinator at War Resisters League. Previously she worked on Books Not Bombs, a campaign to create scholarships for Syrian students displaced from war, and is currently a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.

Visit our website: syrianrevolt.org

Thanks to Yasser Munif for the heads-up. || TRR

Ildar Ibragimov: 16 Years in Prison for Nothing

Defendant from Kazan Sentenced to 16 Years in Maximum Security Prison in Hizb ut-Tahrir Case 
OVD Info
March 6, 2021

Ildar Ibragimov in court. Photo: Parents Solidarity 

Parents Solidarity reports that a court in Yekaterinburg has sentenced Ildar Ibragimov, a defendant in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case, to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony.

The ruling on March 5 was rendered by the Central District Military Court. Ibragimov was accused of organizing the activities of a terrorist organization [sic], punishable under Article 205.5.1 of the Criminal Code.

Ibragimov lived in Kazan, where he was detained on December 18, 2019. After the preliminary investigation, the man was taken to Yekaterinburg for trial. No weapons or explosives were found in his possession during a search of his home. According to Parents Solidarity, the case materials also do not indicate any violent actions on Ibragimov’s part or calls for violent actions.

The Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir has been declared a terrorist organization by the Russian Supreme Court. However, a number of experts of human rights organizations argue that there is no reason for this, since members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have not been seen to be involved in the commission or preparation of terrorist attacks. Members of the party are accused of terrorism solely on the basis of party activities, i.e., meetings and reading literature.

According to the Memorial Human Rights, as of February 18, 2021, at least 322 people have been under prosecution for alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. 208 of them have already been convicted. More than 140 of those convicted were sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 10 years.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Masha Gessen recently admitted, in the New Yorker, that the (fabricated) charges against Karelian historian and human rights activists Yuri Dmitriev were so “heinous” that she had never written about the case. Last year, a rising wave of support for the young men charged in the Network Case was reduced to nought when the Riga-based online newspaper Meduza published an utterly rickety “investigative report” dubiously suggesting that some of the defendants had been involved in a murder.

But at least fairly substantial numbers of people, both in Russia and outside of it, still agitate on behalf of Dmitriev and the Network boys, no matter the harsh verdict of Masha Gessen and wildly fickle Russian public opinion.

If, on the other hand, you’re a Crimean Tatar (in Russian-occupied Crimea) or a plain old Tatar or Bashkir or a member of any of Russia’s several dozen Muslim minorities, all the powers that be have to do to make you “heinous” is say the words “Muslim” and “terrorism,” and you’re toast. There will be no massive domestic or international solidarity campaigns to support you, nor will people take to the streets in their tens of thousands demanding your release. Much worse, none of these democratically minded folks will even hear about what happened to you.

So the news that Ildar Ibragimov, a resident of Kazan, was sentenced on Friday by a court in Yekaterinburg to 16 years in a maximum security prison for “organizing the activities of a terrorist organization” will not ignite a storm of indignation in Ibragimov’s own country.

The recent furore over Alexei Navalny’s alleged “racist nationalism” was misplaced. If anything, Navalny gave that tack up as a political dead end several years ago. But millions of his countrymen live and breathe “racist nationalism” every single day, if only by omission, and no one is losing sleep over it. Blatant Islamophobia can never be a crime in a country where so many people believe that “political correctness” is the world’s biggest problem. || TRR

Over the Transom

From a friend in Leningrad:

“L. and I got our second covid shot today. There are no queues here. The majority of the population, as you know, is afraid and has no plans to be vaccinated, and no public awareness campaign is underway. L. telephoned the clinic, and they signed us up for the next day!”

Meanwhile, according to the Moscow Times, the pollocracy rolls on, scientifically confirming all our worse fears about the deplorable Russisch hoi polloi (some of which may be true if only in the sense that “independent polling” in Russia is meant to reinforce the authoritarian “mindset” it pretends to unmask by asking “ordinary people” whether they’ve stopped beating their wife):

Nearly two out of three Russians believe the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a bioweapon created by humans, a survey by the independent Levada Center polling agency said Monday.

According to Levada’s results, 64% of Russian respondents said Covid-19 was artificially created as a new form of biological weapon. That compares with 23% who said the virus emerged naturally and 13% who couldn’t answer.

[…]

Vaccine hesitancy is also on the rise, with 62% of respondents saying they don’t want to get Russia’s Sputnik V jab compared with 30% who do. Younger Russians were more skeptical of the domestically manufactured vaccine than their older counterparts by a 74-to-56 margin.

Among the most cited reasons for declining interest in Sputnik V are fears of side effects, incomplete clinical trials and the sense that “there’s no point” in a vaccine, Levada said.

Still, four out of five Russians said they or someone they know had already gotten sick with Covid-19, while 28% said they have not come across anyone who got sick.

Levada conducted the survey among 1,601 respondents from 50 regions between Feb. 18-24.

Completing this depressing picture, Masha Gessen finally admits to what I’ve long thought was the reason that she and lots of other “liberal” Russians had nothing to say about the Yuri Dmitriev case and other sketchy frame-ups of Russia’s undesirables (e.g., the Network Case defendants and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) perpetrated by the country’s insecurity services: because when the Kremlin and its info cronies “heinous” political prisoners and dissidents, it work. Proper people like Gessen don’t want to have anything to do with their solidarity campaigns. To wit:

The Russian regime has used both its vast media infrastructure and its judicial system to vilify its opponents. An army of Kremlin trolls appears to be working to keep Navalny’s old xenophobic statements in circulation, and on occasion it seems to have manufactured new ones (I am not repeating the fake here). Perhaps the most egregious example of smearing a political opponent is the case of the memory activist Yuri Dmitriev, who has been convicted of sexually abusing his adopted daughter. There is little doubt that the persecution of Dmitriev is political, but the charge is so heinous that I, for one, have refrained from writing about the case. Amnesty hasn’t named Dmitriev a prisoner of conscience, either. As the Kremlin continues to crack down on the opposition, I would expect many more opposition activists to be revealed to be indefensible, as though only morally impeccable people had the right to be free of political persecution.

Special Detention Center Days

Special Detention Center Days: How the Security Forces Have Tried to Intimidate Protesters
Sonya Groysman
Proekt
February 15, 2021

After three “unauthorized” protest actions in support of Alexei Navalny (January 23 and 31, and February 2), more than a thousand people were sentenced to serve time in jail: this is a record for [post-Soviet] Russia. In this video, protesters who have already been released tell us how their days in police departments and special detention centers went. Do they now regret having been involved in the protests? Most importantly, were the authorities able to intimidate them?

24 mins, 19 seconds. In Russian, with Russian subtitles

At the 21:00 mark, an unidentified young man, just released from a special detention center, says the following on camera:

“Russia is definitely going to be free. […] They didn’t intimidate anyone in the slightest [by arresting and jailing them]. On the contrary, folks banded together even more. [The authorities] only incited more hatred. […] We are young, after all, and time is on our side. It’s only a question of time. We’ll even the score.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Photo of the Year

Photographer Dmitry Markov with his viral photograph. Courtesy of his Facebook page

Dmitry Markov Is Auctioning Off His Photo from a Moscow Police Precinct in Support of OVD Info and Apologia for Protest
Takie Dela
February 6, 2021

Photographer Dmitry Markov has announced a charity auction on his Facebook page. He is selling a print of the photograph that he posted on February 2 from a police precinct in Moscow. Markov will divide the proceeds equally and send them to the civil rights organizations OVD Info and Apologia for Protest.

The photographer set the starting price for the snapshot at 10 thousand rubles. Bids of 100 and 200 thousand rubles were made in comments to his post. The auction ends on at 12:00 p.m. Moscow time [GMT +3] on February 7. [As of 9:15 p.m. Moscow time on February 6, the highest bid for the print was 850,000 rubles, which is approximately 9,500 euros.]

In the photo, a uniformed security forces officer sits with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the wall behind him. It has been dubbed a symbol of early 2021 and generated numerous memes. Markov told Takie Dela that he “would like there to be other symbols.”

On February 2, Markov was detained at a rally protesting the trial of the politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow. The photographer said that he did not take his press credentials along because he had gone to the rally “of [his] own accord.” Markov was released from the police precinct on the evening of the same day, charged with involvement in an unauthorized rally.

Over a thousand people were detained at the February 2 protest rally in Moscow. Takie Dela covered the rally live online.

UPDATE. Markov sold the only authorized print of his iconic snapshot for 2 million rubles (a little over 22,000 euros). This money will be of tremendous help to OVD Info and Apologia for Protest as they continue to fight the good fight in these dark times.

Translated by the Russian Reader