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

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

Happy New Year!

 

“Avtozak is coming, avtozak is coming…”*

On New Year’s Night Moscow Police Carry Out Operation to “Clear Non-Residents from Places of Mass Celebration”
MBKh Media
January 1, 2019

Baza reports that on the night of January 1 Moscow police carried out an operation to “clear Central Asian non-residents from places of mass celebration.”

Baza writes that Moscow police chief Oleg Baranov issued the orders for the operation. Police officers were instructed to deliver all “non-residents” to precincts and check each of them in the databases. In addition, employees of subcontractors involved in staging the celebrations were checked separately.

According to the publication, although the results of the operation have not yet been tallied, there are reports that police detained several hundred people. Most of them were released soon after their arrests.

*Avtozak = paddy wagon.

znakcom-765441-580x436Young Moscow activists on their way to the hoosegow in Troitsk

30 People Detained in Moscow on Tverskaya for Picketing in Support of Political Prisoners
Znak.com
December 31, 2019

Police in Moscow detained over thirty people after they held solo pickets demanding freedom for jailed and imprisoned political activists. OVD Info writes that the first picketer, activist Temuuzhin Sambuudavaagiin, held up a placard that read, “While you’re chopping up your Olivier salad, innocent people are in prison. Free political prisoners!” He was released after police checked his papers, but then police detained a female picketer and several students who approached their paddy wagon.

The Telegram channel Freedom for Russia reports that the young people are being taken to the police precinct in the town of Troitsk in Moscow Region. Mansur Gilmanov, a lawyer with the organization Apologia for Protest, is traveling to meet the detainees.

Update. Apologia for Protest reports that all the detainees were released without charge in Troitsk later in the evening (TRR).

Video courtesy of Notes of an Old Cynic via Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko. Thanks to Alexei Zverev and Sergey Abashin for the heads-up on the articles. Photo courtesy of Znak.com. 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

Keep Calm and Carry On

klebanov-flyer

My friend Vadim Klebanov found this flyer posted in a hospital in Petersburg’s Admiralty District the other day. It reads:

Dear Residents of the Admiralty District!

Due the tense socio-political situation in the world we ask you to

  • pay more attention to the entryways and surroundings of your buildings.
  • pay special attention to abandoned things and items (sacks, plastic bags, boxes, etc.)

as well as immediately informing us of

  • empty premises and rented premises
  • suspicious persons
  • the addresses of buildings where there are unlocked attics and basements
  • abandoned cars parked next to residential buildings, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, and other public buildings

Maintain vigilance, stamina and calm.

Contact telephone numbers (24/7):
Admiralty District Internal Affairs Office     316-0202
1st Police Precinct     573-0210
2nd Police Precinct    314-0202
38th Police Precinct    573-0283
77th Police Precinct    573-0304

Admiralty District Council Hotline     316-0500

____________________________

Thanks to Vadim Klebanov for spotting the flyer, posting it on Facebook, and permitting me to reproduce it here. Translated by the Russian Reader