People and Nature: Punitive Psychiatry Back in Vogue in Russia

Russia: punishment psychiatry back in vogue
People and Nature
February 17, 2016

The Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been sent to the notorious Serbsky Institute of Psychiatry, and his family and lawyers are worried about him.

On November 9, 2015, Pavlensky poured petrol over the doors of the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB) building at Lubyanka Square in central Moscow and set fire to them. He named the action Threat (Ugroza). Friends photographed and filmed him as the flames took hold. (Damage was done, but no one was hurt.) Pavlensky was arrested soon afterwards.

The FSB’s building was inherited directly from the Soviet KGB. Thousands of the regime’s political opponents were tortured and killed behind its austere façade.

Pavlensky has been charged with “vandalism motivated by ideological hatred,” whatever that means, and appeared at the Tagansky District Court several times. At his first appearance he compared his case to those of Crimean activists jailed on false “terrorism” charges – including Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov – and said he would not address the court further.

Oleksei Chirniy, who was charged along with Kolchenko and Sentsov, was also detained at the Serbsky Institute prior to his trial. His supporters alleged he had been mistreated with psychotropic drugs.

Pavlensky is also awaiting trial for charges arising from an earlier performance, Freedom (Svoboda). In February 2014, days after the removal  of Ukrainian president Viktor

Separation (Otdelenie). Pavel Pavlensky protesting against punishment psychiatry, October 2014. Photo courtesy of Calvert Journal

Yanukovich, he went with collaborators to the Maly Konyushenny Bridge in Saint Petersburg, setting light to car tires and banging dustbin lids, to recreate the atmosphere of the Maidan demonstrations in Kyiv.

Pavlensky was sent to the Serbsky State Scientific Centre for Social and Forensic Psychiatry last month (on January 27) to be observed by doctors. The centre was then closed due to an outbreak of a strong flu-like virus, and Pavlensky’s lawyers have been denied access to their client.

Human rights campaigners are focusing on Pavlensky’s case and Amnesty International have expressed concern about it.

On February 3, in Pavlensky’s absence, the Tagansky District Court extended his detention to March 5. His wife expressed fears for his health in a Facebook post: “We do not know if they are injecting him with drugs, trying to give him pills. We don’t know.”

Meanwhile, artists are protesting a decision by the National Centre for Contemporary Art to throw Pavlensky’s performance out of the contest for this year’s Innovation Prize.

His action at the Lubyanka was included after an online vote by critics. But on February 15, the organizers of the prize struck it off, on the grounds that it had involved an illegal act. Members of the expert committee that advised the organizers were angry; art critic Anna Tolstova quit the committee, saying: “I don’t consider myself obliged to agree with censorship and become part of the repressive machinery of the state.”

Clearly, the Innovation Prize organizing committee has taken a step backwards. In 2010, the prize was won by the Voina group for painting a large phallus on a bridge near FSB headquarters in Saint Petersburg.

Punitive psychiatry has been on the rise in Russia again since the 2011 demonstrations against government ballot-rigging.

In October 2013, Mikhail Kosenko, one of the defendants brought to trial after those demonstrations, was sentenced to indefinite psychiatric treatment after the Serbsky Instititue declared him insane. Psychiatric treatment was also used in the recent case of Crimean activists, three of whom are serving long jail sentences in Russia and are widely regarded as political prisoners.

Pavlensky has protested against punishment psychiatry. In October 2014, he sat on the wall of the Serbsky Institute and cut off his earlobe to make his point. He then wrote: “Armed with psychiatric diagnoses, the bureaucrat in a white lab coat cuts off from society those pieces that prevent him from establishing a monolithic dictate of a single, mandatory norm for everyone.”

But punitive psychiatry goes back much further. It was used in the Soviet Union from (at least) the 1940s, to deal with those who defied its tyrannical, misnamed “socialism”, and became widespread in the 1960s. It was the Serbsky Institute that developed the diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia” (vyalotekushchaya shizofreniya) which was widely applied to political dissidents.

Not only were internationally known oppositionists, such as the independent trade union organizer Vladimir Klebanov and the Second World War general Pyotr Grigorenko, confined to psychiatric institutions, but psychiatry was used against large numbers of less-well-known Soviet citizens. (Indeed two western writers who studied the phenomenon in Soviet times concluded that the abuse of psychiatry against prominent dissidents was “probably only the tip of an iceberg.” It had a wide-ranging function in dealing with “social deviants,” “suppressing individuality […] so that the state can maintain a stifling social as well as political control.” Sidney Bloch and Peter Reddaway, Russia’s Political Hospitals, Gollancz 1977, pp. 278-279.)

An early (and typical) case was that of Revolt Pimenov, a maths student who resigned from the Communist Party’s Youth League, was diagnosed as schizophrenic and consigned to a psychiatric hospital – the sentence being lifted when he agreed to rejoin the league! His story is recorded in the marvellous archive of the Chronicle of Current Events, a dissident journal. (Thanks to J. who drew that to my attention!)

Revolt Pimenov in his student days. Photo courtesy of the Chronicle of Current Events

Finally, a thought about Pavlensky’s art. I am pretty conservative in my artistic tastes, but it works wonders for me. What is an artist supposed to do when his government becomes increasingly repressive and supports military mayhem in a neighbouring state? Paint landscapes?

In my view, setting fire to the doors of the Lubyanka was a cry of sanity in an insane world. I’m not blind to the limitations of individual protest, but this protest tried seriously to deal with the state machine’s monstrous corrosion of humanity.

If you are a western leftie thinking “Well, this is hardly the worst example of state repression,” give me some credit. I know. I, too, see the sickening irony in the denunciation of Putin for ordering Syrian children’s deaths to gain diplomatic advantage by people who had little to say about Tony Blair and George Bush ordering Iraqi children’s deaths on a vastly greater scale. Well, you know what, it’s not a competition! Putin’s violence is part of the same process as Tony Blair’s, not some sort of answer to it.

For me, this is about the reality with which my friends, activists in social and labour movements in Russia and Ukraine, have to deal.

If you’re a psychiatrist, please get on to your professional association about that institute. If you’re an artist, please get on to that art centre about that competition. If you’re a letter writer, please follow Amnesty’s advice on protesting to the Russian prosecutor, and if you’re fighting for some other cause, big or small, please keep doing what you’re doing. How else can we deal with the inherent madness of the system under which we live? GL, February 17, 2016

Meaningful art: the Lubyanka ablazePeople & Nature, November 2015

■ For the latest on the Crimean political prisoners, read the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Editor’s Note. A huge thanks to Gabriel Levy for writing this timely and pointed essay and especially for his permission to republish it here.

Contemporary Art Killed My Dog

On a number of issues and events you have opposed Putin’s policies, and now you are at the Moscow Biennale [of Contemporary Art] at the VDNKh, a venue where the order of things is supposed to be questioned [sic]. Do you believe that here, in the current political situation, there can be a place for real criticism that is both anti-Putinist and anti-capitalist?

Yanis Varoufakis, anti-anti-Putinist
Yanis Varoufakis, anti-anti-Putinist

[Yanis Varoufakis:] Absolutely. But let me clarify something. I am not an anti-Putinist.  Anti-Putinism is too strong a word. I am very critical of Putin, but his demonization in the West is something I also resist. We should be smarter and think about what it means to be critical. I am extremely critical of what Putin did in Chechnya, and I have not forgiven him for it. But on the other hand, Putin was absolutely right about what happened in Georgia, and the West was absolutely wrong. I think that the West’s position on Crimea has also been inconsistent. Russia was surrounded [sic] by NATO when Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and other countries were included in the alliance. And for Russia it was an insult, as well as something close to violating the agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev [sic]. And Putin has been right about this, too. So I have never supported the policy of demonizing Putin. And I am afraid that Russians will have to suffer the awful consequences of this process, consequences which they do not deserve.

So I believe that spaces like this give us hope for the existence of another, rational, critical approach that does not take one side or the other and allows people from the West and Russia to get together and develop a more sophisticated optics for seeing the world and politics, for being critical without demonizing.

—Excerpted from Sergei Guskov, “Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Being critical without demonizing,’” Colta.Ru, October 2, 2015. Translated, from the Russian, by the Russian Reader

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There are only a few things I would add to Mr. Varoufakis’s remarks, above. First, he presumably made them in English, not Russian. Since he is an extremely persuasive speaker and conversationalist, it is quite possible some nuances in what he said at the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art were flattened or distorted when translated from English (?) into Russian, and these distortions have only been amplified further in my back translation.

But I doubt this is the case. The point of his remarks seems quite plain, so they are either a fabrication on the part of Colta.Ru or what Mr. Varoufakis more or less said in the event, minus the “static” of two consecutive translations.

If this is what he said, then Mr. Varoufakis is only another in a long line of Western leftist thinkers and activists who, seemingly, have found something “anti-hegemonic” or “anti-imperialist” or “productively” anti-American or, God forbid, “anti-capitalist” about Putin’s policies and actions, or have found it possible to hobnob with or shill for Putinists, on the Putinist dime, in the name of some kind of “criticality” or “third position” above the current fray, or just because they were bored and wanted an all-expenses-paid junket to Moscow or Petersburg or Rhodes.

A smarter person than me (and an actual Russian leftist activist to boot) has pointed out that Putin is nothing remotely like an anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist. On the contrary, my smart friend has argued, folks in the west should make an effort to find out about grassroots social and political activism and activists in today’s Russia and look for ways to make common cause with them. Or, at least, not stab them in the back by supporting Putin explicitly or implicitly.

Because Russia, like “the West,” is not a monolith. And that is the second way in which Mr. Varoufakis went wrong in his remarks in Moscow. “The West” is not a single entity, even among its political, intellectual, and media elites. It is not an organism singularly hellbent on “demonizing” Putin, whatever that means. It requires no effort at all to compile a very long league table of Putin’s wholehearted or partial supporters in “the West,” from Stephen Cohen to Donald Trump, from Silvio Berlusconi to Mary Dejevsky, from Nick Griffin to any number of leftist and centrist politicians in Europe. For reasons I haven’t been able to explain, that table has been growing fatter as Putin’s actions have become more aggressive and “demonic,” both at home and abroad.

Neither is Russian society nor the fabled (and utterly imaginary) “Russian people” monolithic, but over the past fifteen years the Russian state apparatus, the Russian mainstream media (especially television), and Russian mainstream political parties have become a monolith, one of whose primary goals, especially in the last two or three years, has been to demonize “the West” and the domestic opposition any way it can, no holds barred.

You would have to have been in the middle of this properly demonic media hysteria, moral panic, and “cold civil war” to appreciate just how thoroughgoing and thoroughly frightening it has been, and since I have been following Mr. Varoufakis’s own adventures over the past year or so, I can imagine he simply has no clue about what has really been happening in Russia since the blocks came off completely post Maidan, because he was very busy with more important matters.

One job this blog has taken on has been to provide little snapshots of that awfulness while also, more importantly, giving non-Russian speakers a chance to hear Russian voices other than Putin’s, however unimpressive or inaudible they might seem to big shots like Putin and Mr. Varoufakis.

Finally, I would like to address the question of why Mr. Varoufakis imagines, apparently, that big hoedowns like the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art are such perfect places for elaborating a “sophisticated optics for seeing the world and politics, for being critical without demonizing.”

Just a year ago, my hometown of Petrograd hosted Manifesta 10, another such prominent venue for “criticality.” In the midst of an occupation and invasion of a neighboring country by the host country, the host country and host city’s continuing legal demonization of LGBT, and a local election campaign, for the city’s governorship and district councils, that involved making sure the non-elected incumbent in the gubernatorial race would face no real opposition in his bid to legitimize his satrapy and, on election day, threatening independent election observers with murder, the Manifestashi did absolutely nothing that would really ruffle anyone’s feathers, least of all their sponsors from city hall and the State Hermitage Museum, and they barely reacted to the maelstrom of neo-imperialist hysteria and officially authorized criminality raging around them. Basically, they partied like it was 1999, while providing their fellow citizens with the welcome illusion that the shipwreck wrought by fifteen years of Putinism in politics, the economy, civil society, culture, education, medicine, science, industry and, most painfully, people’s minds could be conjured away or endured and understood a little better by taking a sip of contemporary art’s renowned and heady “criticality” and pretending Petersburg was Helsinki or Barcelona, if only for a summer.

10497395_10152669630307289_178016388250142251_o

What has got better on Russia’s broken social, political, and art scenes since last autumn to make it even more desirable to engage in “criticality” at a biennale in one of Russia’s capitals, this time with the Russian Federal Ministry of Culture footing the bill?

Latterly, a cynical lunatic named Dmitry Enteo has smashed up a bunch of sculptures by the late Soviet sculptor Vadim Sidur and gotten off almost scot-free for his crimes. On the other hand, the list of political prisoners in Russia has continued to grow, and it now includes Crimean activists Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko, sentenced to hard time in prison for no particular reason.

And then there is Alexei Gaskarov, who, if he lived in a more democratic country, would be running a party like Syriza or Podemos (minus the “criticality” and verbal cuddling up to other people’s dictators), but instead looks to be facing another two and half years in a penal colony, again, for no particular reason other than his own staunch opposition to Putin’s regime.

In the current dreadful “conjuncture,” a good day is a day that goes by without news of yet another anti-Putinist activist being arrested, an art exhibition’s being trashed by “Orthodox activists” or otherwise shut down because it might offend the sensibilities of someone’s grandmother, or a new law’s speeding down the State Duma assembly line so as to tighten up the screws on dissent and “treason” yet again.

In fact, I had a bit of such good news earlier today, when I learned that Andrei Marchenko, a Khabarovsk blogger whose case I have been following, was only fined 100,000 rubles (approx. 1,350 euros) instead of being sent down for two years to a work-release prison, as the prosecutor had demanded, for the horrible crime of writing one untoward sentence about Putin’s Ukrainian misadventure on his Facebook page in 2014.

Where does Mr. Varoufakis fit into this picture? Probably nowhere, which is probably where he should have stayed instead of playing to Moscow’s art and hipster crowd, always happy to let itself off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility for the ongoing disaster, and to the invisible figure up in the emperor’s box, especially at an opera with the almost deliberately ham-fisted and parodical title of Acting in a Center in a City in the Heart of the Island of Eurasia.

Thanks to Comrade AW for the heads-up. Images courtesy of BBC News and the Manifesta Biennial Facebook page

Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov Are Hostages

On Kolchenko and Sentsov’s Sentences
August 26, 2015
www.shiitman.ninja

179003Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov

It is important to realize that the sentences that Kolchenko and Sentsov received are a fiction.

No one actually takes the charges against them seriously.

Even the most loyal Putinists do not take the charges seriously. What terrorism? What does the Right Sector have to do with any of this?

Kolchenko and Sentsov are hostages. Their being held in a Russian prison is an act of intimidation directed at the Crimeans who stayed home but could have fought back. Their being held in prison is an act of intimidation directed against all the people of Ukraine and those Russian citizens who could have supported them.

The trial was a fiction. The verdict is a fiction. That is why I reacted without emotion to the sentences, although I understand the shock felt by many comrades, among whom there are close friends of both Kolchenko and Sentsov. Twenty years and ten years in prison? The Russian judges could have give them sentences of forty years and twenty-five years. Or given both of them life sentences. Or given them each six months in prison, then retried the case. Or they could have not announced the verdict at all, but just laughed and made faces. Or mannequins dressed in judicial robes could have replaced the judges. Nobody would have noticed the difference.

Kolchenko and Sentsov are in prison as long as the Russian Federation is ruled by Putin’s repressive, aggressive authoritarian regime. They cannot be freed using lawyer’s tricks. They cannot be freed via “diplomatic channels.” They can be freed only by defeating Putinist Russia. Or if it “defeats” itself by choking on its own rage and madness.

And when that happens, it will not matter a whit what numbers have been written in Kolchenko and Sentsov’s sentences. It doesn’t matter what the judges whip up in Savchenko’s sentence. The release of the hostages does not depend on the actions of lawyers. It depends on politicans and military men. And, in part, on the price of petroleum.

As soon as the “Russian bear,” who has turned out to be a rabid rat, finally kicks the bucket, all the regime’s hostages will be freed.

Translated by The Russian Reader. As is nearly always the case, my opinions might not coincide entirely with those expressed by the authors whose texts I translate and post here. But it has been strange to read the angry reactions of leftist progressive Russian comrades to this particular text given the almost total lack of any visible, public solidarity with Sentsov and Kolchenko on their part.

I won’t even go into the haziness they and many other “ordinary” “apolitical” Russian citizens experience when figuring out who to blame for the whole mess in Ukraine. But this is the privilege all imperialist, metropolitan peoples enjoy: pretending not to know or understand what is being done in their name somewhere else in the world.

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Russia’s Sentsov–Kolchenko case “an absolutely Stalinist trial”
Halya Coynash
August 21, 2015
khpg.org

The prosecutor has demanded 23 years for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, and 12 years for civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in a case with no crime and where all evidence was obtained through torture. Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova likens this to Stalinist repression, not a court trial.

Svetova has seen a huge number of trials over the last 15 years, but nothing like the “absolutely insane hearing” on Aug 19. She can’t remember a case where, with no elements of a crime, or criminal (terrorist) acts, the prosecutor should be seriously demanding 23-year and 12-year sentences. This, the fact that everybody expects the court on August 25 to convict two innocent men, and much more, she says, is reminiscent of Stalinist repressions where people were arrested for nothing.

Sentsov is charged with leading a ‘terrorist organization,’ Kolchenko of taking part in it and involvement in one specific firebomb attack on a pro-Russian organization active in helping Russia seize control of Crimea in 2014.  There is no evidence that an organization even existed, and the only specific charge against Kolchenko is one that has not previously been classified by any Russian court as ‘terrorism.’

“The prosecutor is demanding 23 and 12 years for people accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Today Sentsov and Kolchenko’s lawyers clearly demonstrated that there are no elements of a crime in this case, nor any criminal act. On August 19, 2015, I saw a totally Stalinist trial. Three judges were sitting there, a real ‘troika,’ with cold, virtually dead eyes who were listening to the prosecutor and the lawyers,” Svetova writes here.

Another of the disturbingly Stalinist features of this case has been the fixation on some demonized organization, in this case the far-right and nationalist Right Sector. Russia has constantly exaggerated this organization’s role in both Euromaidan and subsequent events in Ukraine.  There was even a Russian media attempt on the night of the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, 2014, to claim distortion of the election result after the Right Sector candidate gained a pitiful 0.9% of the votes. It was therefore no surprise that five days after those elections, the FSB should have claimed that it had uncovered a supposed Right Sector ‘terrorist plot.’  It has never produced any evidence at all, nor did any of the witnesses for the prosecution even demonstrate a clear understanding of what the Right Sector is, although they were all convinced it was dangerous, etc.  There is nothing to link Sentsov, the left-wing and anarchist Kolchenko or Gennady Afanasyev with the far-right organization. In court on Wednesday, the prosecutor Oleg Tkachenko changed their story, saying that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not accused of membership in Right Sector, but of having “taken on the ideology of this organization as a guide for action.” What this means remains a mystery since the court has not demonstrated any interest in seeking clarification on this subject or with respect to the numerous other discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.

At the final hearing on Wednesday, the defence demolished all of the charges against the two men, then Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, read out the account given by Gennady Afanasyev of how he had been tortured to get him to testify against Sentsov.

As reported, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy were arrested at the same time as Sentsov and Kolchenko.  Their ‘confessions’ and testimony are literally all that the charges against Sentsov are based on. It is therefore of critical importance that Afanasyev retracted his testimony on July 31, stating that it had been given under duress.  He then spoke for the first time to a lawyer not provided by the investigators and gave a detailed account of the torture applied immediately after his arrest, and also the pressure placed on him to repeat this testimony in court. As well as threats against him, a FSB officer who appeared at the prison warned him that his mother “could have an accident” if he didn’t cooperate.

All of this information was read to the court. The judges simply looked down and did not react in any way, and the prosecutor continued to demand 23 and 12 years.  It should be stressed that the details in Afanasyev’s account fully coincide with those given by Sentsov, and Chirniy is also known to have told the Ukrainian consul that he had been forced to ‘confess.’

Unlike the players in this modern-day show trial, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has taken Afanasyev’s account seriously.  On August 19, it issued a statement recognizing Afanasyev as a political prisoner and warning of the danger he is now in. This follows a similar statement and damning assessment of the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko.

Sentsov’s final statement was, as all previous statements, courageous and moving. So too was Kolchenko’s, who spoke of the fact that the court had heard about the use of threats and torture by the FSB against Sentsov and Afanasyev.

“It’s interesting that people using such methods to obtain testimony have no qualms about accusing us of terrorism.”

He called the charges against them fabricated and politically motivated, and said that this trial, like those against Nadiya Savchenko, the Bolotnaya Square protester, and others are aimed at extending the life of the current regime.

“Yet throwing us in prison, this regime speeds up its end, and those people who still yesterday believed in law and order, today, watching such trials, have lost that faith. And tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, those people who are part of the 86 percent [supposedly supporting President Vladimir Putin – HC] will overturn this authoritarian regime.”

Kolchenko noted that, in the letter read out to the court, Afanasyev said that the FSB officer had told him that the day he gave testimony in court would be the most important day in his life.

“Seemingly, Afanasyev took those words to heart and interpreted them in his own way. I was very taken with this great and powerful act of his.”

Gennady Afanasyev is in danger; Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing long sentences on preposterous charges.  And Russia is descending into a frightening Soviet tradition in which people are tortured for ‘confessions’ with neither the prosecutor nor the judges even batting an eyelid when this is demonstrated to the world.

Please write to all three men!

The website of the Solidarity Committee with the Crimean Hostages will try to get messages to them.

solidarityua.info

In the first box, write one of the following names one at a time:

Олег Сенцов (Oleg Sentsov)

Олександр Кольченко (Oleksandr Kolchenko)

Геннадий Афанасьев  (Gennady Afanasyev)

Then in the next box, write your name.

The next box asks for a telephone number if you wish to give it. An email address is, however, needed (the fourth box).

Finally, in the fifth box, write your message.

The key aim is to ensure that all three men know that they are not forgotten. The following would be quite sufficient (if you do write in Russian, please avoid anything controversial or overly political).

Мы восхищаемся Вашим мужеством и надеемся на Ваше скорое освобождение.

Спасибо, что нашли в себе силы остаться честным с самим собой.

Держитесь!

(We admire your courage and hope for your speedy release. Thank you for finding the strength to remain true to yourself. The last word is a word of support, like “take care!”)

The question under the last box asks whether you are on social networks: yes, no, in that order (or leave it blank)

Then hit SEND.

Thanks to Comrade SP for the heads-up. I have lightly edited the text to make it more readable.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina on the Sentsov-Kolchenko Verdict

Masha Alyokhina
August 25, 2015
Facebook

“I don’t know what is worth doing if you cannot die for it,” said Sentsov.

“We are discussing narrow questions,” said the judge, interrupting him.

Our “twofer” was piddly shit compared with this. Just imagine being locked up in a prison colony not for two autumns, but twenty, and for just as many winters. Sentsov is a single father who has been sentenced to twenty years in a maximum security prison by Russia.

His sister says, “We fear Oleg will be forgotten.”

If convicts in Russia can be forgotten by those on the outside, inside they can be killed. I hate this system under which it is so easy to kill.

The anarchist Kolchenko was sentenced by Russia to ten years hard time.

We must not forget them. They laugh at the verdict of a country that took them hostage.

Ten and twenty years in prison.

Hang in there, please, we are with you.

11889477_1182943075054229_5283665799208464809_nAlexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov

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Nadya Tolokonnikova
August 25, 2015
Facebook

“Well, what did you need to go and do that for? You’re a young, pretty girl, and what have you got yourself into? When you get out, who’s going to remember you? Who’s going to want you, silly goose? Why are you so stuck on politics?”

Coppers and screws always talk this way, because they don’t understand how someone could not break down and admit their guilt. After all, if you confess, they promise to reduce your sentence.

Oleg, you will get out earlier, of course. And whatever they say to you in there, we will not forget you.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Masha Alyokhina

Askold Kurov: The Importance of Solidarity

Askold Kurov, filmmaker:

I have been shooting the film Release Oleg Sentsov for over a year, since Oleg was brought to Lefortovo Remand Prison in Moscow, and the first hearings in his case were held. The case is an unbelievable absurdity, an absolutely Kafkaesque story. I hope that the film will draw attention to these terrible events. Unfortunately, however, hopes for a favorable outcome, for Sentsov and Kolchenko’s acquittal, are nil.

But this does not mean we should all keep quiet and give up on attempts to do something. It is clear that the lives of Sentsov, Kolchenko, and Afanasiev hinge on people who ignore appeals from cultural figures and people’s public expressions of support for the arrested men. Maybe the appeals and protests even anger and irritate them. But sooner or latter they will have an effect. The time will come when the regime will no longer be able to hold the men hostage. Due to the fact that directors, filmmakers, and the public showed their solidarity and constantly brought up the case, the men might be freed from prison.

Source: snob.ru

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Alexander Kolchenko: Closing Statement in Court

“By throwing us in prison, the regime is hastening its end”
Closing statement by anarchist Alexander Kolchenko, accused of terrorism
August 19, 2015
kasparov.ru

I deny the charges of terrorism. This criminal case was fabricated and politically motivated. This is borne out by the fact that a criminal arson case was filed only ten days after the arson itself under [Russian Federal Criminal Code] Article 167 (“Intentional damage and destruction of property by means of arson”) and was changed to a terrorism case only on May 13, after [Gennady] Afanasiev and [Alexei] Chirniy were detained, and the necessary testimony had been obtained from them.

1438171138-7230-sentsov-i-kolchenkoOleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko

As regards the wording used by the investigation and the prosecution [in their formal charges against Kolchenko], it is really remarkable: “[The accused] committed accessory to arson in order to destabilize the authorities of the Republic of Crimea with the aim of influencing the decisions of Russian Federation authorities on the withdrawal of the Republic of Crimea from [the Russian Federation].”

In keeping with the prosecution’s line of thinking, if you use contraceptives, your objective is destabilizing the demographic situation in the country and the country’s defensive capabilities as a whole. If you criticize an official, you do this in order to undermine your country’s image in the international arena.

The list of such assertions is potentially endless.

During the trial itself, we had the chance to hear about the use of threats and torture against [Oleg] Sentsov and Afanasiev by FSB officers.

Interestingly enough, the people who use such methods to obtain testimony do not hesitate to accuse us of terrorism.

The Bolotnaya Square trial in several acts, the trial of Alexei Sutuga, the trial of Ilya Romanov, our trial, and the trial of [Nadiya] Savchenko all have the aim of extending this regime’s time in power. But, by throwing us in prison, this regime hastens its end, and people who only yesterday believed in law and order, are today losing this faith as they observe such trials. And tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, these people, who are part of that selfsame eighty-six percent [of Russians, who, allegedly, according to Russian pollsters, support Putin] will demolish this authoritarian regime.

I also want to note that in Afanasiev’s affidavit [a letter that he wrote from Remand Prison No. 4 in Rostov-on-Don and which defense attorney Dmitry Dinze read aloud during closing arguments—Kasparov.ru], it says that an FSB officer told Afanasiev that the day when he testified in court would be the most important day of his life. Apparently, Afanasiev took these words to heart, and in his own way. I was amazed by this gutsy, strong deed of his.

I would also like to thank those who have supported Oleg and me.

I agree with the arguments of our attorney. I consider them reasonable and fair, and I will not ask the court for anything.

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On August 19, 2015, the Russian prosecutor asked a military court to sentence Alexander Kolchenko to twelve years in prison, and his co-defendant, filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, to twenty-three years in prison. The verdict is scheduled to be read out in Rostov-on-Don, where the trial has been taking place, on August 25.

Read more about the Sentsov-Kolchenko case:

Translated by The Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Unian.net

Alexander Kolchenko: The “Terrorist” from Simferopol

The “Terrorist” from Simferopol
On April 9, Moscow City Court Ordered Alexander Kolchenko’s Arrest Extended for a Month, until May 16
Dmitry Okrest
April 13, 2015
The New Times

According to the FSB, Alexander Kolchenko is a member of the anti-Russian underground in Crimea. Along with three other arrested residents of the peninsula, he has been accused of terrorism. The New Times has tried to find out what the charges are based on (it took nearly a year to gather the evidence), how the Russian security services took over Crimea, and what residents of Simferopol think about the relatives of the arrestees.

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Alexander Kolchenko

“Sasha is now accused of terrorism, but he is not a terrorist, and I am not the mother of a terrorist,” says Larisa Kolchenko. “My son literally grew up in front of my coworkers, and after his arrest they have continued to treat me well.”

Larisa Kolchenko works in a grocery store near the Simferopol railway station. She speaks softly and quickly.

“In fact, the arson of which they are accused basically, you could say, left no trace on the city. It popped up in the news once, and that was it. There was no discussion, no publicity.”

The arson at the Russian Community of Crimea building, on the night of April 14, 2014, damaged the front door, the stoop, and an awning above the door. A few days later, a Molotov cocktail flew through the window of the United Russian party’s local office. The fire damage caused to a five-meter-square kitchen in the office was estimated at 200,000 rubles. Doesn’t that sound more like disorderly conduct?

On March 31, 2015, however, Kolchenko was accused of involvement in a terrorist network and committing a terrorist attack. It was then that solidarity actions in support of Kolchenko were held, under the slogan “Send Tundra Back to Crimea,” in Berlin, Bremen, Kyiv, Minsk, Paris, Strasbourg, and Tunis. “Tundra” is Kolchenko’s nickname within the peninsula’s activist scene.

“Only those who cooperate are allowed visits”

According to the FSB, the leader of the Bandera underground in Crimea is filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who along with Alexei Chirniy, a lecturer in the military history department at the Crimean University of Culture, has been charged with violating Article 205 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Terrorist attacks”) and Article 205.4 Part 2 (“Organizing a terrorist network”). In early February, Sentsov was additionally charged under Article 222 Part 3 (“Arms trafficking”).

Before his arrest, Chirniy pursued the hobby of reconstructing medieval armor, considered himself a pagan, and posted Nazi propaganda posters on social networks. A court-appointed attorney is now defending him, and his case will be heard in the military district court in Rostov-on-Don by special procedure. [Translator’s Note: On April 21, 2014, after this article went to press, Chirniy was sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security facility.]

Besides damaging the two offices, the “Sentsov gang” has been accused of planning to blow up the Eternal Flame and a Lenin monument on May 9, 2014. According to the security services, the suspects were also planning to “destroy a number of vital infrastructure sites, railway bridges, and power lines.”

On May 8, 2014, Gennady Afanasiev, an employee of the Zheleznodorozhny District prosecutor’s office in Simferopol, made a deal with the investigation. Afanasiev was tried by special procedure—meaning, without court proceedings, which entitles the defendant to mitigation of punishment. On December 25, 2014, Afanasiev was sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security facility.

Sentsov has denied the charges against him. Kolchenko has admitted he was near the office but was not involved in the attack. He has refused to testify against the others. If Sentsov and Kolchenko are found guilty, they could be sent away for twenty years. Afanasiev and Chirniy will be main witnesses for the prosecution at their trial.

The prosecution alleges that Kolchenko met with Sentsov “at mass events of supporters of Crimea’s being a part of Ukraine,” at which the filmmaker allegedly suggested organizing a gang “for performing attacks in keeping with the Right Sector ideology.” According to the FSB, this gang was to destabilize the work of the newly created authorities “in order to encourage them to decide to withdraw the Republic of Crimea from the Russian Federation.”

Despite the gravity of the charges, nearly all of Kolchenko’s letters begin with the words, “I am still doing well.” He labels the arson a symbolic gesture of protest, rather than an attempt to “intimidate the population of Crimea,” and stresses that at midnight the building was empty.

“I was against the war, against violence. My actions were directed against the United Russia party, which voted for sending in troops,” Kolchenko writes.

In his letters, Kolchenko relates that he has been following the Bolotnaya Square case.

“Doing three and half years in prison for something like that is not really great. In that light, it is frightening to think about the sentence I can expect. I guess my prospects aren’t very bright.”

Larisa Kolchenko is worried that she has not been allowed to visit Alexander.

“They explain that since he refuses to cooperate, there is no reason for his family to talk with him. Visits are allowed to those who cooperate.”

“People in Simferopol won’t understand”

“At school, my son was a justice seeker,” says Larisa. “His heart bled for all of Crimea, and he was involved literally in everything.”

Kolchenko ended up in the radical left crowd because of hardcore music, which he became interested in while still at school. He went on archaeological digs, and marched under the red-and-black banners of the anarchists during demonstrations. He organized a protest campaign against construction of a transport terminal on the Black Sea, and was among the founders of the union Student Action, which fought against the monetization of education in Ukraine. (The nationwide rallies against monetization kicked off in Simferopol.) Later, he advised striking employees at Crimea Trolleybus.

“We literally supported him in everything,” says Kolchenko’s mother. “But when he was planning to go to Euromaidan, and was literally standing in the door with his backpack on, I rushed to him and tried to discourage him from going. I told him that people were being killed in the square [in Kyiv], and that people in Simferopol won’t understand.”

According to Kolchenko’s defense attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, as an activist, Kolchenko had long been in the works among the security services.

“He has never been afraid of voicing his dissatisfaction. He has always openly advertised his position,” says Larisa Kolchenko.

When the so-called Russian Spring began, Kolchenko opposed the annexation. His mother agreed with him: she refused to vote in the referendum. Not all of Larisa’s kith and kin abided by her stance. Several relatives have ceased communicating with Kolchenko’s family.

“Russia has come: we’re going to act tougher”

“Sasha is a committed antifascist. Every year, he would organize a picket in memory of the murdered lawyer Stanislav Markelov and murdered journalist Anastasia Baburova. She was a local girl, after all, from Sevastopol,” says Larisa Kolchenko. “But now my son has been accused of being a member of Right Sector.”

“The activists were not and are not members of the Right Sector political party,” the press service of the organization, which is banned in Russia, has said in response. “However, we demand their immediate release and an end to political terror in the occupied territory.”

Later, Kolchenko’s defense sent a formal request directly to Right Sector, and got the same answer.

“But it is doubtful whether this is enough for a Russian court,” says Larisa Kolchenko. “Thank God, this absurd accusation played no role for people in Crimea. When we were collecting character references for the court, the attitude to him at the university was still good. At the printing plant where he worked as a freight handler, which did not move to the mainland until after the referendum, his colleagues said the accusation was unfair.”

It is difficult to suspect Kolchenko of being sympathetic to nationalists. In 2012, thirty rightwing radicals assaulted Tundra and three comrades after a screening of a film about Baburova.

Since Kolchenko has been arrested, no Ukrainian officials have attempted to contact him. This worries his mother.

“They seemed to have forgotten about the detainees,” Larisa Kolchenko says.

The Ukrainian Consul in Moscow has not visited the suspects. Russia has declared the men its citizens, but on February 4, 2015, the Russian Prosecutor General suddenly determined that Sentsov had dual citizenship. However, a judge rejected Kolchenko’s lawsuit against the Russian Federal Migration Service after an FMS employee provided the court with a passport request form containing Kolchenko’s information and his alleged signature. The defense now plans to a have a handwriting analysis of the document performed.

“He was forcibly made the citizen of another country,” says Kolchenko’s mother. “He did not fill out any forms.”

In turn, the State Migration Service of Ukraine confirmed Kolchenko’s Ukrainian citizenship in February, and on March 27, 2015, the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office finally opened a case in the abduction of Ukrainian citizen Alexander Kolchenko. Svetlana Sidorkina said her client has sent a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights against Russian citizenship forcibly having been conferred on him.

When the new academic year began, many Crimean universities were missing students, who had left to complete their studies in Ukraine.

“Some people with whom I was friendly on the civic activism front have shoved off,” says Anton Trofimov, a lecturer in philosophy at the College of Taurida National University. “I even wondered: have all the problems ended? Is the environment no longer a matter of concern?”

Trofimov is an organizer of the carnivalesque Monstration marches, and he cofounded the student union with Kolchenko.

“In the end, a lot of friends have left, and for good reason,” says Trofimov. “FSB officers—former Ukrainian SBU security officers—have paid me a visit as well. They warned me, ‘Russia has come, and we’re going act differently, we’re going act tougher—in accordance with Russian laws.’”

“Sasha also wanted to leave,” says his mother. “But we tried to dissuade him. I didn’t want to let him go far away. We were all afraid—but of the wrong thing!”

A geography major, Kolchenko was deciding between Uzhgorod University and Lviv University, but on May 23, 2014, he was transferred to the Lefortovo remand prison in Moscow.

A friend of Kolchenko, who introduced himself as Roman, explains the cause of the crackdown.

“Throughout the spring, [pro-Russian forces] frightened the people with talk about the militants from Maidan. Except for the Tatars, no one stood up for themselves, and the authorities needed to show that the threat was still real.”

“After the arrest of the first four guys from the pro-Ukrainian movement, the FSB began conducting ‘preventive’ conversations with everyone else,” says Maxim Osadchuk, a history lecturer and buddy of Kolchenko from the leftist movement. “Almost all my friends who had anything to do with public life have left. The question of whether to emigrate or go underground and risk arrest became critical.”

Osadchuk himself left Crimea several days before the referendum and is now fighting as part of the Aydar Battalion.

Osadchuk believes the arrest of the four men was a warning to the remaining activists on the peninsula to curb their enthusiasm.

“Through threats and exhortations we were strongly advised either to leave Crimea or curtail all activism.”

“Luxury items like bouillon cubes and ketchup”

Kolchenko does not complain and is extremely laconic.

In a letter from the remand prison, he writes, “My cellmate and I have amassed so many goodies they will last us for a month. But the goodies are not as tasty as they would seem on the outside.”

In another letter, he writes, “My appetite has slumped here: the cafeteria food is quite enough for me.”

But he dreams of getting his hands on popular science magazines, and “luxury items like bouillon cubes and ketchup.”

Kolchenko has been studying Lenin, Marx, Fromm, and Ivan Franko, the last of whom he read in Ukrainian. He regrets that his familiarization with Russia has begun at a remand prison, and in one of his letters, he shares his impressions of Leo Tolstoy’s current affairs writings: “A typical extremist. Nowadays, they would probably charge him under Article 280.”*

In the letter, he quotes Tolstoy’s essay “The End of the Age”: “What will happen to Russia? Russia? Where is its beginning or its end? […] The Caucasus with all its nationalities? The Kazan Tatars? Ferghana Province? The Amur? […] The circumstance that all these nationalities are regarded as parts of Russia is an accidental and temporary one. […] whilst in the present this combination is maintained only by the power which spreads over these nationalities.”

* Article 280.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, “Public calls for action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.”

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Editor’s Note. For more information about Alexander Kolchenko’s plight and how you can support him, see the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign’s page on the case (in English) and Autonomous Action’s compilation of articles about the case (in Russian). You can also follow events in the case via the Free Aleksandr Kolchenko Facebook page (mostly in Russian) and read this article (in English) about the political context of the case. Image, above, courtesy of Libcom.org.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Anyone has permission to republish this and any other of the translations or original texts found on this blog, but please acknowledge the blog explicitly in your reposts, and provide a clearly indicated URL link back to the original publication.

Solidarity with Alexander Kolchenko!

JOIN THE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN FOR
ALEXANDER KOLCHENKO!

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Alexander Kolchenko is a Crimean anarchist, social activist, and antifascist who is being held by the Russian authorities. Along with other Crimean activists, he was kidnapped by the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) and is now detained as a political hostage in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. He has been charged with committing “acts of terrorism” and “belonging to a terrorist community.”

Why is Alexander Kolchenko in jail?

Alexander, who has proven his antifascist stance over many years, is facing preposterous accusations of belonging to Right Sector, the radical Ukrainian right-wing organization, whose real role in Ukrainian events has been blown out of proportion by Russian official propaganda.

In modern Russia, any activist — left wing, anarchist or liberal — can be slandered as a member or sympathizer of Right Sector. This situation is comparable to the hunt for nonexistent Trotskyists under Stalin, or the McCarthy witch hunt for communists in the US. Putin’s authoritarian and nationalist regime, which uses everything from religious prejudices and conspiracy theories to outright racism in its propaganda, shamelessly steals antifascist rhetoric. And yet anyone who is considered bothersome is called a fascist, even if he/she stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

The case against antifascist Alexander Kolchenko and civil activist and film director Oleg Sentsov (investigators enrolled them in the same “terrorist” group) is political. It is meant to intimidate the inhabitants of Crimea and prevent any resistance on the peninsula. The most authoritarian of methods are now used in annexed Crimea to repress all dissent. Many people have been forced to leave Crimea because their life and freedom were threatened: lawyers, left wing activists, student and trade union activists, anarchists, antifascists, and Crimean Tatar activists who have fallen victims of ethnic discrimination.

What does Alexander Kolchenko face?

Alexander Kolchenko is threatened with a terrible prison sentence of up to 20 years for a non-existent “terrorist attack” in which he was not involved. Kolchenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners have been detained only to demoralize the opposition through show trials. Their freedom is directly linked to the stability of the Putin regime. If we can shake Putin’s confidence in his impunity, the prisoners will be set free. There is no hope that Kolchenko, Sentsov, and others will be given fair trials. Their arrests were unlawful, and the charges against them are far-fetched. It was not a mistake: the regime knows what it is doing.

How can you help Alexander Kolchenko?

We are asking international left wing and libertarian forces for help. You can organize and lead actions of protest and solidarity, write letters to Kolchenko, and send donations to pay for lawyers, food parcels, and support for his family. It is also important to spread information about his case. Most of all, we need to dissociate ourselves from any forces that support the aggressive expansion of Russian nationalism, even if they cover it up with leftist and anti-imperialist rhetoric. Putin’s regime is doing just fine without your sympathy. You had better save it for those who are its victims.

When should you start?

You can start right now by helping us spread this appeal, translating it into other languages, and sending it to comrades. We also strongly encourage you to organize demonstrations from April 1 to 7, 2015, in support of Alexander Kolchenko and other political prisoners jailed in Russia. Sentsov’s and Kolchenko’s current terms in pretrial police custody end on April 11 and 16, respectively. In the first half of April, Lefortovo District Court in Moscow will decide whether they should await trial in jail, be placed under house arrest or be released on their own recognizance, Only strong, massive pressure on the Putin regime and protests around the world will make it possible to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate release and the dropping of charges against them.

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You can find more information below.

 

Contact us at freekolchenko@gmail.com