Nadya Tolokonnikova: The Year in Review

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Nadya Tolokonnikova
The Year in Review, or, An Eternal Russian Winter in Solitary Confinement
December 29, 2015
Facebook

We rang in 2015 seeing Oleg Navalny sent off to a penal colony for three and a half years for the fact his brother was involved in politics.

Pyotr Pavlensky rang in 2015 by starting a bonfire on a Moscow quay.

“You spend the year the way you ring it in,” said Pavlensky as he left the Guelman Gallery, where we were seeing in 2015, and went off to an icy quay on the River Yauza to start a fire.

In November 2015, Petya pulled off the biggest art action of the year by torching the doors of the FSB. Pavlensky will greet the New Year in a cell at Butyrka remand prison.

In 2015 we found out you cannot only be imprisoned for political activism but also gunned down for it in the center of Moscow.

As 2015 ended, arrests in the Bolotnaya Square case continued. Anarchist Dmitry Buchenkov was arrested on December 3. The defense claims he was not at Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012.

Gallerist Guelman held a charity auction at his gallery in support of the Bolotnaya Square prisoners. The result was that the Guelman Gallery was no longer Guelman’s gallery. He was not forgiven by the powers that be for the auction, and the gallery was wrested away from him.

But the government also made humane decisions in 2015. After sentencing Vasilyeva to five years in prison, the court let her out on parole two months later.

In 2015, the government also destroyed embargoed produce, because they had no fucking clue what to do about falling oil prices. Russians were weaned off the notion of stability and tightened their belts as the Russian economic crisis made $400 a month a serious, substantial salary, as in the early noughties. In a number of Russian cities, the critical debts owed by municipal governments to fuel suppliers have led to stoppages of public transport, and electric companies have turned off the lights in the stairwells of apartment blocks.

The myth of stability has been destroyed, the state is the new punk, a rifle is a party, and everything is going to fucking hell in a hand basket. The New Year’s meal, by the way, will cost on average 5,790 rubles this year, which is 28% more than a year ago. So it is better to save money on December 31 and take a nap.

And, while you are sleeping, to dream of Pyotr Pavlensky, Oleg Navalny, and Bolotnaya Square political prisoner Alexei Gaskarov celebrating the New Year in their prison cells and pouring Duchesse, a domestic carbonated beverage, into recycled plastic instant mashed potato cups.

Amen.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image of Duchesse soda bottles courtesy of Frutto

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.

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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

Anna Gaskarova: What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind

What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind
Anna Gaskarova
May 26, 2015
Snob.ru

My husband, who has been behind bars for over two years as a suspect, defendant, and convict in the Bolotnaya Square case, and I have long had a tradition of giving theater tickets to our parents on birthdays, New Year’s, and other holidays, nearly always to productions by Teatr.doc. Our favorite, by the way, is Two in Your House, about the house arrest of Belarusian opposition leader Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu. It is one of the theater’s rare productions in which there are more laughter-inducing scenes than frustrating ones.

Six months ago I was contacted by the playwright Polina Borodina and asked to help collect material for a production about the Bolotnaya Square case for the theater that I loved so much. All that was required of me was to give an interview. At the time I thought that Polina would find it hard to write the play: there was nothing impressive about being the relative of a prisoner. It is very boring. I didn’t think she could manage to put together a story about the Bolotnaya Square case that would be interesting to anyone besides those involved in it.

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The premiere took place on the anniversay of the events on Bolotnaya. Policemen gathered outside the theater, and plainclothes officers sat in the audience. I saw the third performance of the production, and police were again standing on duty outside. It was raining, and Elena Gremina, the theater’s director, asked the officers to come inside.

“It is warm in here, and the play is quite good,” she told them.

They would not come in.

I fidgeted, giggled, and fretted, because I could not remember a thing I had said to Polina in the interview. It was scary to hear myself. And every time I recognized my own words in the lines of the actors, I cringed, buried my face in the shoulder of my sister, who was sitting next to me, and thought to myself with relief that it was a good thing I had not put my foot in my mouth.

The boring trials, the red tape of the remand prisons, the monotony of putting together food parcels, and the terrible anguish of the relatives in the Bolotnaya Square case has been turned into a very interesting story told by four actors in the words of the mothers, fathers, wives, fiancées, and friends of the arrestees. There are no exaggerations and distortions; only quotations from interviews with loved ones. They talk about how visits go, how to get married in a remand prison, how the defendants entertained themselves during the boring trials—and how to inform a defendant that his mother has died.

I had always wondered whether anything except shame, three and a half lost years, and painful memories would remain after the the Bolotnaya Square trial, something decent and instructive—not for us relatives but for those were there with us on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and for those who were not.

I think this question has stopped vexing me. Stalin’s purges have left us Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales. The Bolotnaya Square case will leave behind Teatr.doc’s The Bolotnaya Square Case.

ee61b2c98d7567978852636630bb38f2Many thanks to Polina Borodina, Elena Gremina, Konstantin Kozhevnikov, Anastasia Patlay, Varvara Faer, and Marina Boyko.

Photos courtesy of Snob.ru

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Three years have passed since the opposition March of the Millions on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow ended in a physical confrontation with riot police, hundreds of arrests, and, later, dozens of criminal cases brought against protesters, who had engaged, allegedly, in “rioting” and “violence” against the police.

Although more than thirty defendants have been tried as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case, police investigators and prosecutors continue to unearth new suspects to this day.

This is the story of leftist social activist and antifascist Alexei Gaskarov, a 29-year-old economist from the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky, as told by his family and close friends. Gaskarov, who is also an elected member of the Opposition Coordinating Council, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on August 18, 2014.

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Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of avtonom.org

Alexei Gaskarov: When Process Is More Vital than Outcome

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When Process Is More Vital than Outcome
Alexei Gaskarov
December 29, 2014
Zhukovskie Vesti

At six o’clock in the morning on 28 December 2014, Alexei Gaskarov, a defendant in the Bolotnaya Square Case, was transferred out of Butyrka remand prison in Moscow. Gaskarov will ring in the New Year while in transit to a medium security prison where he will serve his three-and-half-year sentence. In August, Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow sentenced four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case—Gaskarov, Alexander Margolin, Ilya Gushchin, and Elena Kohtareva—finding them guilty of involvement in rioting and using violence against authorities. The recent decision of the appellate court was adamant: it upheld the lower court’s verdict. On the eve of the New Year’s holiday, Gaskarov summed up this difficult year, spent away from loved ones, and speculated on what is happening in the country.

Here is Gaskarov’s letter to the readers of Zhukovskie Vesti, written a few days before his transfer:

In December, the Laboratory of Public Sociology (a project based at the Centre for Independent Social Research in Petersburg) published the results of its study of civic movements in the wake of the 2011–2012 protests. The main conclusion was that the critical attitude to the regime had not faded, but had been forced to transform into different local initiatives and “small deeds.” The mass mobilization for fair elections and the experience of joint action had made public politics an integral part of life and an essential element of self-realization on a par with caring for loved ones and professional success.

Perhaps one of the key case studies in the research project was the evolution of civic initiatives in our own city, with the caveat that, by Russian standards, we have always had an active civil society and, as far as I know, Zhukovsky has to some extent been an example to all other Russian cities. The internal logic of the observed transformation is quite obvious and is reflected in the well-known dissident argument that those who give up freedom for sausage (stability) ultimately lose everything. The more strongly public space is constricted, the more noticeable are the crises in all other areas of public life, and not giving into pressure is a very rational choice in terms of the common good, even if one has to retreat at some points.

With its demands for democratic reform, the tentative Bolotnaya Square movement cannot lose separately from the rest of society, even if for the majority it remains a case of protest for its own sake. For the right question to ask in the current crisis is not why oil prices have fallen, but why nothing has been done over the past fifteen years to overcome our country’s economic dependence on the vagaries of foreign markets.

We cannot know the reasons for certain decisions, and I am far from saying that all those in power are “crooks and thieves,” but there is no doubt a society that has chosen an authoritarian model of governance is incapable of building an effective economy. Consequently, the harder the screws are tightened, the closer the denouement.

The lack of political competition leads only to an increase of incompetence in decision-making. For the sake of mythical manageability, the system is deprived of a complex but effective system of checks and balances, turning into a primitive vertical, which functions in an improvisatory mode.

A simple example from recent days is the Central Bank’s independence. The president’s friend needed 625 billion rubles,* and they up and printed them no questions asked, instantly causing the currency market to collapse and transferring all the costs to the entire population. On television, of course, they explained that “the West” and a “fifth column” were to blame for everything. This would not be possible in any democratic country. In Russia, however, absolute power goes on corrupting absolutely.

Despite the fact that there was more talk of dignity, freedom, and intolerance of hypocrisy and lies at the opposition rallies on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue in 2011–2012, the regime faced a fairly simple choice: either dialogue and reforms, or crisis and stagnation, which still means change, ultimately, but at a completely different price. It is almost an axiom, so people should not get upset if they were unsuccessful, for example, in defending a forest, challenging vote rigging in court or changing urban planning policies. The experience of collective action, rather than short-term outcomes, is vital in its own right.

In Argentina in 2001, the economic crisis produced such contradictions between society and authorities that the people’s only demand was Que se vayan todos! (“Out with them all!”). And the world witnessed one of the largest societal reconstruction projects based on self-organization and local government, something that had seemed unreal, as it does now in Russia. Who could have predicted the shameful flight of the once-strong Yanukovych in 2013? It is possible that if there is no liberalization and political thaw, at some point those who now appear important and confident will just disappear, and no one except we ourselves will be able to make decisions for us. And it will be right at such a moment that we will need the know-how of collective action and a vision for the future of both our city and the country as a whole.

* In the original, Gaskarov writes that “the president’s friend”—an obvious reference to Rosneft chairman and Putin insider Igor Sechin—needed “25 billion rubles.” I have corrected this to the figure of 625 billion rubles cited in the press as the amount of Rosneft’s recent bond issue, especially because before his arrest, Gaskarov worked as an economist and would not otherwise be prone to such mistakes. The figure of 25 billion rubles is thus either a typo or reflects his restricted access to information.

Editor’s Note. This translation was previously published, with an introduction and afterword by Gabriel Levy, on People and Nature. Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of personalsuccesstoday.com

Alexei Gaskarov: “The Desire for Justice Has Not Faded”

“The Desire for Justice Has Not Faded”
Alexei Gaskarov (as reported by Maria Klimova)
29 December 2014
MediaZona

On August 18, 2014, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow sentenced four defendants—Alexei Gaskarov, Ilya Gushchin, Alexander Margolin, and Elena Kokhtareva—in the so-called second wave of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Judge Natalya Susina found each of them guilty of involvement in rioting (Article 212, Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and using violence against authorities (Article 318, Part 1). Gaskarov was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. On November 27, the Moscow City Court dismissed an appeal against the sentence filed by all four defendants.

Antifa: “We Were Able to Tell Good from Evil”
There are different people in prison. The majority are not the same people we are used to interacting with on the outside. There are different sorts: junkies, criminals, and outright riffraff. But I still find myself thinking I had seen a number of these characters in the yard of my building back in the day. I have flashbacks when I encounter these people. So when you ask why my friends and I became antifascists, you have to imagine the environment we come from.

Photo_Gaskarov_behind_barsAlexei Gaskarov

I remember well what was happening on the streets in 1998–1999. The first skinheads and football hooligans had appeared, ethnically motivated killings were becoming more frequent, and rabidly fascist ideas were gaining popularity. A reality emerged that was invisible to the majority of people. With each passing year, the situation worsened, and the violence increased. We wanted to oppose it. We were able to tell good from evil. The neo-Nazi scene, on the contrary, attracted people not blessed with intellect, frankly. Most of them were up to nothing more than wasting their time on inciting racism and making fake videos of racist attacks. People like Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, the White Wolves, and other asinine teenagers bought into this.

Society has paid no mind to the killings of migrants, because it is quite xenophobic itself. Its attention has been drawn when Russians square off against Russians, when neo-Nazis murder antifascists in stairwells. But, in fact, at least one hundred ethnically motivated murders occurred in 2008–2009, and this should have been cause for concern.

BORN and Donbas: “They Have Been Hoodwinked”
I have tried as much as possible to follow the trial in the BORN case. It is complete nonsense that the accused are now pretending their actions were motivated by concern for the Russian people. This crazy fascism has nothing to do with defending ethnic Russians.

The boneheads (neo-Nazi and white power skinheads) were a product of society as it existed then. Maybe if Russia had been a democratic country, as it is on paper, the right-wingers would have had the chance to realize themselves in the political arena. In fact, all they had was street politics. The question is whether all those murders would have been committed had they been able to register their own political parties officially.

As we see from the testimony given at the trial by Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, the neo-Nazis tried to get their own political party, but to create it they needed a combat organization. By creating BORN (Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists), they were hoping to force the regime’s hand, to show they were capable of violence, but that there would be no violence if they had legal means of pursuing their ends.

The antifascists never had the goal of killing anyone. It was the neo-Nazis who first embarked on the path of violence, but this was because there was a certain political will for this. It is important to realize that, despite the street battles, until the mid 2000s the ultra-rightists did not see the antifascists as people whom they needed to shoot first. However, after Maidan 2004, the regime clearly tried to find support within society, including among potentially loyal young people. The nationalists were regarded as just such young people. There were lots of them, and they could be organized around football. This was when the first Russian Marches took place, and nationalists were allowed to set up semi-militarized training camps.

The neo-Nazis were supposed to oppose the so-called threat of orange revolution, the people dissatisfied with the current regime. Antifascists and anarchists were then considered part of this threat. This was when the turning point occurred: it was now considered a priority to destroy us.

Ilya Goryachev and Nikita Tikhonov, BORN’s ideologues, were apparently able to get the message to the presidential administration that they could confront left-liberals on the streets. And they would tell rank-and-file members of their gang that, for example, Pavel Skachevsky’s sister had been attacked by antifascists. This is complete nonsense: I know for a fact that antifascists Ilya Dzhaparidze and Koba Avalishvili didn’t do it. I don’t know whether Skachevsky’s sister was actually attacked at all. At the time, the website of DPNI (Movement against Illegal Immigration) was active, and it would publish information that was untrue, and simply meant to incite people. The fact remains that Dzhaparidze, who was murdered by the neo-Nazis, had nothing to do with this business. But the morons from BORN just believed it and did not even bother to verify the information. The same goes for why Ivan Khutorskoi was killed. It is, of course, complete rubbish that he broke the arms of underage nationalists. He might have talked to them and given them a slap upside the head, but no more than that.

The people from the far-right groups are no nationalists, of course. We know that many of them have gone off to Kiev to fight with the Azov Battalion, for example. This is not the same segment of nationalists that protested on Bolotnaya Square, but the marginal part of the movement, which took advantage of the fact that young people often go into denial when they see society’s existing problems.

I have the feeling that the BORN case, the case of neo-Nazis who sincerely believed they were defending the Russian people, has not taught anyone anything. We now see how this anti-Ukrainian hysteria has been whipped up. It is largely due to this hysteria that Russian citizens have been going off to Donbas to fight. They sincerely imagine they are going there to defend the interests of the Russian people. But in fact they have been hoodwinked. Like Vyacheslav Isayev and Mikhail Volkov, two of the defendants in the BORN trial.

Ukraine and Television: “Discrediting the Very Idea of Protesting”
Many people are too susceptible to television, to what they hear said on it. We have returned to 2004, when Maidan was a threat to the Russian regime. As then, our country’s authorities are trying to discredit the very idea of protesting against an existing regime.

We all remember the invasion of Crimea by “polite people.” It is clear that Ukraine has the right to resist—not their own populace, of course, but the armed men who entered their country and occupied government buildings. They entered the country, occupied cities, cut off access to information from the outside world, and pumped people full of propaganda.

Russia has done much to ignite chauvinist attitudes in eastern Ukraine, but neither have the Ukrainian authorities used all the means they have for negotiating. They should have introduced institutions of political competition and made their arguments with words. It would have been much better if they had tried to use democratic levers.

I know what European integration is fraught with. In Ukraine, all the political forces got behind integration with Europe. And then Russia suddenly adopted an antiglobalist stance. Yet it was obvious that being in a customs union with Russia would not have brought Ukraine any benefits. It needed reforms: hence the decision to unite with Europe. I do not agree with this decision, but I understand the arguments in its favor. At any rate, the choice for European integration was democratic. It is also telling that Maidan did not go massive when integration was being discussed, but only after the police forcibly dispersed a student demonstration.

I have much less access to information than people on the outside, but I believe the referendum in Crimea was held in such a way that it is impossible to say whether it was conducted properly or not. It is not possible to determine this right now, because even the current mood is largely shaped by propaganda that is broadcast in the absence of an alternative viewpoint. I cannot imagine holding a fair referendum at the moment, unless, perhaps, Ukrainian TV channels were allowed on the air there.

The question is who, exactly, will bear responsibility for its having happened this way.

Outcomes and Know-How: Why Be Involved in Russian Politics Today?
The verdict in our case, the closure of independent media, and all the hypocrisy around events in eastern Ukraine point to the fact the Kremlin has adopted a policy of self-preservation. This entire authoritarian system has begun to rot, but there are things allowing it to remain afloat. That is why it has to nurture the oligarchic elite, cops, and FSB officers.

This year has shown that banking on a majority consolidated at Ukraine’s expense and shutting out the twenty per cent who are dissatisfied with current policies is impossible without the loss of economic prosperity. Everyone has now been talking about restructuring our country’s resource-based economy. But why was this impossible to do over the past fifteen years?

You cannot constantly tighten the screws without the public welfare’s deteriorating. I have no illusions about violent revolution: however many people take to the streets and whatever it is they might oppose, there will always be more people from the security forces. So people have two ways of making an impact now: the first is going out and voicing their concerns, while is the second is quiet sabotage—leaving the country, not investing in anything. I know there are many people in business who are leaving because they cannot breathe here. The authorities can, of course, use the same scheme as they did on Bolotnaya Square, but that will trigger another outflow of people and capital; even more money will be taken out of the country. There will be fewer and fewer resources, but the salaries of the cops will still have to be paid. This, in turn, will lead to a split within the elite.

The current power structure is similar, in some sense, to the structure of BORN: it is just as completely opaque. Because of this, complete morons can be wind up at any point in the decision-making chain.

My sense is that the authorities will soon be forced to liberalize, to back off a bit. There will be breaks for businesses. For some, this will be enough to continue developing them. We will return to the old, slow path of growth. Maybe in some ways this is better than this crackdown and gradual slide into hell. They might stop dispersing opposition rallies or not jail Alexei Navalny, for example. The regime has many ways of avoiding a deplorable sequence of events.

Ukraine has shown that this pro-government crowd, who occupy niche positions, can just up and disappear one fine day. A year ago, no one knew that there would be tours of Yanukovych’s residence. When this happens, the old system has to be replaced with something.

The difference between federal and local politics in Russia is still not very great. This was shown well by the recent elections in my hometown of Zhukovsky, where local activists ran for city council and got half the votes, but in the end only two of them won seats.* This is not a good outcome. It has been impossible for activists to have an impact on anything. It did not work out when they wanted to defend a forest. The authorities shut down all such grassroots pressure campaigns.

It is not the outcome that matters nowadays, however, but the process of being involved, because what remains is a community with experience of solving problems. That community is not going away. And if certain changes suddenly begin in the country, then it is certainly a good thing such communities will already be there at the local level and can be the basis of new institutions. Yes, many people are now demoralized, but the desire to get justice and resist thievery has not faded.

Jail, Bolotnaya Square, and Me
I am certain that nothing would have changed had I not gone to the May 6, 2012, opposition protest on Bolotnaya Square, for example. No matter what I did, strange criminal charges would have been filed against me anyway. This is evident even from the news, where everything is presented in such a way that even popular TV presenters Tatyana Lazareva and Mikhail Shats, who were on the Opposition Coordinating Council [along with Gaskarov], are depicted as criminals.

The point is not Bolotnaya specifically, but the fact that if you are involved in activism, criminal investigations will be opened against you. That rubbish with Navalny and the stolen picture is a specific story stemming from Bolotnaya Square. I did foresee that this might happen.

I have no particular hopes for another amnesty. I have the sense the authorities might go for an amnesty for people convicted of economic crimes, because there is a theory that they could help improve the current economy, that the businessmen will one way or another add a fraction of a per cent to economic growth. The authorities could decide to do this. As for us, I have huge doubts. In prison, though, people always pin great hopes on amnesties. In reality, all the prisons are overcrowded: in violation of all European standards, there are two and half meters of living space per prisoner. And when Putin said, recently, that amnesties need not happen too often, he cannot but have known that practically no one got out under the first prisoner amnesty.

You can survive in the pre-trial detention facility, of course. There are no rats running around in the cell or moldy walls in here. And they take us out for a walk every day. True, the courtyard here is bare, and you cannot even see the trees. It is hard to keep track of the seasons: time flows differently on the inside. In short, they do not let you forget you are not at a health spa.

In terms of building relationships, the experience I gained while jailed for two months in the case of the attack on the Khimki town hall has come in handy here. I am used to the fact that people come and go at the pre-trial detention facility. You come across different characters. Recently, there was a guy in here who had lived in the woods for two months. He had been working in construction when he got screwed out of his pay. He didn’t know what to do and went into the woods. He drank hawthorn berry tincture there and had become something like a vagrant. He was nicked for stealing a bike.

I really want all political prisoners released as quickly as possible. And not only released, but released into a free country. I would like the space in which we all have to live to be freed up, to be less gloomy. This is my wish. That a thaw finally comes.

* City council elections took place in Zhukovsky, a town of 105,000 residents forty kilometers southeast of Moscow, on September 14, 2014, Russian general election day. Observers reported massive vote rigging, ballot box stuffing, and tampering with vote tally reports by polling station officials. A month later, members of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights brought the matter to the attention of Vladimir Putin. The president promised to order the prosecutor’s office to investigate the election violations in Zhukovsky, but the outcome of the election has still not been officially challenged or amended.

Editor’s Note. This translation was previously published, with an excellent introduction and afterword by Gabriel Levy, on People and Nature. Translated by The Russian Reader.

Anna Karpova: My Wedding Night

My Wedding Night
Anna Karpova
August 7, 2014
Snob.ru

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“And now, the newlyweds can seal their union with a kiss.”

Lyosha and I had long ago stopped listening to the young woman from the registry office and were already sealing our union.

I reluctantly let go of Lyosha’s hands so he could hug my parents and his parents. Our mothers were hiding faces moist with tears behind bouquets.

“Let’s leave the young people alone for a few minutes.”

Everyone left, closing the transparent door of the room where prisoners meet with lawyers. The guard peeked shyly through the glass, and the smell of fresh bread wafted in from the corridor: there is bakery on the first floor of Butyrka prison.

“You’re so cool when I touch you, so . . . real.”

“I love you very much.”

“I love you more.”

We didn’t talk much. We cuddled each other and winced at every rustle, afraid the guard would come in to take my husband away.

I clung to Lyosha as if it would slow down time.

“What should I do tonight when I leave and you stay here? How should I finish this day?”

I had been tormented by this question since we had set the date for the wedding.

“Go out with someone, but if you’re tired, go home to the cat.”

“And what will you do?”

Lyosha laughed.

“You all ordered me a festive meal, so I’m going to eat.”

There was a guilty knock at the door. A prison officer informed us our time was running out.

“When we get out of prison—I mean, when I get out—I will hold you for days on end.”

I cried and buried my head in Lyosha’s shoulder. My husband had been calm all this time.

“My heart is going to leap from chest now,” he suddenly said.

We embraced our parents and the staff from the Public Oversight Commission who had come to the jail to congratulate us. Thanks to them we have photos of the wedding ceremony. Lyosha was being led away—without handcuffs, but under guard.

Now I was going to leave the place, but Lyosha was staying here. A chill emanated from the walls, and behind me countless doors slammed shut. The sound was like the sound of a guillotine’s blade falling.

Now I was going to get out of there and bawl. I would not go out with anyone. I would not go home to the cat. I would sit down on the steps of the remand prison. Better yet, I would lie down on the steps, and I would wallow there until they let Lyosha go. The leaves would fall from the trees, then it would snow, then it would melt, and the branches on the trees would bud, but I would still be lying there, because my life was over.

Everything turned out exactly the opposite. Rather than lying down and dying, I came to life. Despite the period of mourning I had declared, the people who came were so sincerely happy for me that I started to feel happy for myself. I went out, and then I went home to the cat, and I wasn’t left alone for a minute, because everyone knew and understood I was horrified by the fact I didn’t know to how end this day.

At home, the first thing I did was hug Jean-Paul, the huge teddy bear that Lyosha had given me for my twenty-third birthday. If you pinch his paw, he says clever things. On the day of my wedding, he said, “Love means conceding the person you love is right when he’s wrong.”

I had imagined my wedding night differently. Anya, one of my future bridesmaids at my future, real wedding on the outside, was falling asleep on a nearby couch.

“Hey, what do I do with my ‘wedding’ dress? I was wearing it when the guard led my husband away down the corridors of Butyrka prison.”

“Nothing terrible happened today. I haven’t seen you so happy in a long time. Put that dress on more often.”

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Anna Karpova married antifascist activist Alexei (“Lyosha”) Gaskarov on August 6 in the Butyrka remand prison in Moscow. Tomorrow, August 18, Gaskarov is scheduled to be sentenced with the second group of defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case. Read his closing statement at their trial here. Images courtesy of Snob.ru and Gaskarov.info.

UPDATE. On August 18, Alexei Gaskarov was sentenced to three and half years in prison.

Alexei Gaskarov: “If the Way to Freedom in This Country Runs through Prison, We Are Ready to Go”

The verdicts on the second group of defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case will be announced in Zamoskvoretsky Court in Moscow on August 18. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Alexander Margolin and Alexei Gaskarov to four years in prison; Ilya Gushchin, to three years and three months in prison; and Elena Kokhtareva, to three years and three months suspended, with four years of probation. All four defendants have been accused under Article 212 Part 2 (involvement in rioting) and Article 318 Part 1 (use of non-threatening violence against a public official) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

On August 4, 28-year-old antifascist Alexei Gaskarov made his closing statement in court. This is the complete text of his speech.

gaskarov-Feldman-3-600x400Alexei Gaskarov

The so-called Bolotnaya Square case has been symbolic in the sense that through it the public sees how the authorities interact with the opposition, with those people whose viewpoint differs from the general line.

The first thing I wanted to talk about is something that was not addressed in the trial, but which I think is important: why on May 6, [2012,] despite everything, so many people decided to be involved in certain events, rather than simply stand another two or three hours in queues, and ultimately did not permit themselves to be beaten with impunity.

The May 6 demonstration was the seventh major event staged by the opposition [during the 2011–2012 fair elections protest movement]. Whereas earlier, before December 2011, a few thousand people attended protest rallies I had witnessed, when you-know-who said the idea of rotating governments was not the best thing for Russia, the core group of protesters increased significantly. And these people did not go organize riots, but went to observe elections in order to understand and record the way the political processes that occur in our country are legitimated.

kohtareva-11-600x400Elena Kohtareva

Everything fell into place on December 4[, 2011, when parliamentary elections were held in Russia]. Despite the fact that the institution of elections had been destroyed much earlier, the large group of people who went to the polls as observers saw how the legitimacy of the current government was shaped. I myself was an observer at those elections, and what we saw was quite straightforward. Indeed, it is a strange situation when you are trying to find at least one person among your acquaintances who would say they voted for United Russia. In fact, such people did not exist: there was no mass support for the government. When they tried to counter the Bolotnaya Square protests with an event on Poklonnaya Hill in support of the current government, they could not gather more than a thousand people.

This subject itself was extremely important, but unfortunately it was not sufficiently popular with the authorities. Fair elections are still the only legal way of changing the political system, and once it has been changed, you can solve social and economic problems. A huge number of people took to the streets. There was almost no reaction on the part of the authorities. The protests were peaceful, the protesters were numerous, and it was obvious the demands they made and the problems they talked about were real, but instead we saw only a reluctance to engage in dialogue and, at some point, flagrant mockery.

A lot of people now do not like what thuggish characters in Ukraine are calling people from Southeast Ukraine. But here in Russia the same thing happened: when people came out on Bolotnaya Square, the country’s president called them Bandar-log and made many other unflattering comparisons. We were told we amounted to only one percent, that only one hundred thousand people in a city of ten million came out to protest, that it meant nothing at all. But later, when they actually allowed a fair poll, as happened during the [September 2013] mayoral election in Moscow, it turned out it was not one percent, but forty percent, a significant segment of society. And I would like to say that we should be glad on the whole that the events on Bolotnaya Square happened as they did.

In all developed democratic countries, protest rallies, the opportunity to express points of view that differ from that of the authorities, generate political competition, which enables countries to find the best way of developing. By the way, certain problems in the Russian economy began precisely in the third quarter of 2012, because it is impossible to build a stable economic and social system when you completely demotivate and exclude such an essential part of society. And it was obvious that this part of society was essential.

The first signal that comes from our case: does the right to protest, which exists in all developed countries, exist at all in Russia? As we see now, Russia has been deprived of this right.

And the second signal, which it is impossible to ignore: has the rule of law survived in Russia? Individuals must be protected from the actions of the authorities not only by a system of checks and balances but also by the possibility of appealing directly to the law in the way in which it is worded. I think this can be seen in our case. There is Article 212 of the Criminal Code: it may be poorly worded, but it is worded the way it is. And it is wrong, I think, to raise such obvious questions at the trial stage, because the law is worded quite clearly. We read a lot of commentaries to the Criminal Code and nowhere did we find that the corpus delicti of “rioting” could be defined alternatively, based on the evidence listed in the charges. Nevertheless, this has been consistently ignored. Even in those decisions entered into the case file, this subject was roundly rejected.

In and of itself, the rule of law is the most important of the institutions that protect the rights of individuals from the state. And, of course, we cannot ignore the selective application of the law to citizens. I realize that Russian law is not based on precedent, but it is impossible not to notice that if, for example, you are a nationalist, block roads, and set fire to shops, but refrain from speaking out against the actions of the authorities, you are only guilty of disorderly conduct. If you go to protest rallies where people shout, “Putin is a thief!” you are, accordingly, liable to serious criminal charges.

guschin-Feldman-3-600x400Ilya Gushchin

There is one last point following from our case to which I would also like to draw attention. I think a signal is being sent: if you are loyal to the authorities, you will enjoy the most favorable conditions; if you are disloyal, you will go to jail. This concerns the evaluation of the actions of demonstrators and the actions of police. It is too obvious that not all the police behaved as they should have behaved. I understand this was not specifically the matter in dispute in our case, but not a single criminal case has been opened against the police. Practically speaking, they have tried to turn the police into a caste of untouchables as part of our case. When there was a public debate on the Bolotnaya Square case, the same phrase always came up: “You cannot hit police.” Even in our group of thirty people charged in the Bolotnaya Square case, only three people actually struck police officers. And yet the whole complexity of this situation was primitivized through a single phrase: “You cannot hit police.”

margolin-svoboda.org-3-600x400Alexander Margolin

But it seems to me this way of posing the question dismisses and completely destroys any criticism of the government. We cannot forget that many terrible things have happened in our country (for example, during the Great Terror [under Stalin in 1937-38]), that people in uniform committed all these crimes, and everything they did was legal for all intents and purposes. But now they tell us there should be no critical rethinking of this situation, that it is necessary to stupidly obey the thesis that was endlessly repeated during discussion of our case.

The main thing I would like say, your honor, is that I really would not want it to happen that, after our trial, speaking of the law as an expression of the principle of justice became a sign of bad taste. I would hope that our trial did not pursue any other political objectives that have been imposed on it, that have been set for it—and all that is in the case files—but that we be judged for the things we really did. But if, in this country, the way to freedom runs through prison, we are ready to go. That is all.

Originally published, in Russian, at Grani.ruPhotos courtesy of Bolotnoedelo.info.

Afterword (copied from People and Nature‘s first publication of this translation)

On July 24, two other defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case, the left-wing activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev, were each sentenced to four and a half years in prison on charges arising from the May 6 demonstration. Supporters of Alexei Gaskarov and the other three defendants being sentenced this month fear similarly harsh penalties on August 18.

Solidarity makes a difference in such cases. While the Russian government claims to be championing “antifascism” in Ukraine, it is sending antifascists and other oppositionists in Russia to jail for long periods. The more support for these activists from antifascists internationally, the better.

Please copy and republish this article; demonstrate or protest however you can; write to the Russian embassy; and look on the Free Alexei Gaskarov site and the May 6 Committee site.

Update. On August 18, Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin were sentenced to three and half years in prison; Ilya Gushchin, to two and a half years; and Elena Kokhtareva, to a suspended sentence of three years and three months including three years’ probation.

“One Must Serve the Motherland, I Say!”: Court Extends Alexei Gaskarov’s Arrest in Bolotnaya Square Case

“One Must Serve the Motherland, I Say!”
Basmanny District Court Extends the Arrest of Bolotnaya Case Suspect and Anti-Fascist Alexei Gaskarov
October 3, 2013
Yegor Skovoroda
Russkaya Planeta

 

gaskarov_sud_main_640Alexei Gaskarov in court, June 26, 2013. Photo: Ilya Pitalyov / RIA Novosti

 On Tuesday, October 1, Moscow’s Basmanny District Court extended until February 6, 2014, the arrest of Alexei Gaskarov, whom police investigators suspect of involvement in the “mass riots” on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012. Gaskarov has been charged with violating Article 212, Section 2 (participation in mass riots) and Article 318, Section 1 (use of violence against authorities) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

February 6, 2014, is the date to which the investigation of the events on Bolotnaya Square has now been officially extended. Earlier this week, the court extended the arrests of the other defendants whose cases have not yet been submitted to the court. Ilya Gushchin, Alexander Margolin, Dmitry Rukavishnikov, Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev will also remain in pre-trial custody until February 6.

Another defendant, pensioner Elena Kokhtareva, has been released under her own recognizance. The case of Udaltsov and Razvozzhayev, whom investigators have accused of organizing the “mass riots” (a violation of Article 212, Section 1 of the Criminal Code), has been separated from that of the other defendants.

Investigator Alexei Chistyakov asked the Basmanny District Court to extend Gaskarov’s arrest for another four months, as the investigators have established that Gaskarov “used violence” against Igor Ibatulin, an officer with the Second Tactical Regiment of the Moscow Police, and a soldier by the name of Bulychev.

“In defiance of society’s moral norms, Gaskarov committed the crime in the presence of a significant number of people, taking advantage of numerical and physical superiority, and showing a clear disregard for the authorities. Moreover, his role in this case was particularly active and most aggressive,” Chistyakov read aloud to the court.

According to Chistyakov, Gaskarov presented a flight risk, since before his arrest “he did not live at his registered domicile, led a secretive lifestyle, spent the night at different locations and used various conspiratorial techniques.” Gaskarov should, therefore, be kept in a pre-trial detention facility.

During the hearing, Svetlana Sidorkina, Gaskarov’s lawyer, asked the court to enter character references submitted by the newspaper Zhukovskie Vesti and the Zhukovsky People’s Council into the record, as well as screenshots of a video recording from the case file. These stills show a police officer kicking Gaskarov in the face as Gaskarov lies on the ground.

Chistyakov and the prosecutor, Karasev, did not object to the character references being entered into the record, but they strongly objected to the shot breakdown of the video.

“The actions of law enforcement officers are not at issue in this hearing,” said Chistyakov.

Judge Artur Karpov, a man with a bald skull, agreed with their arguments and refused to enter the images into the record.

“And why is that you were found only partly fit for military service?” Judge Karpov asked, suddenly digressing from the tedious review of the case file.

“For medical reasons, but I can’t remember what exactly,” Gaskarov replied.

“How is it you don’t remember? Everyone remembers the reason they didn’t go into the army, but you don’t?”

“It was ten years ago. It had something to do with my eyesight, with intracranial pressure and something else. But now I just—“

“You just got over all those things? When did that happen? Before you turned twenty-eight?”*

“I wasn’t keeping track.”

“You weren’t keeping track. . . You should have served the Motherland,” the judge muttered.

“I wouldn’t object to serving in the army in exchange for being released from jail,” the defendant laughed.

“In exchange for working as a journalist?” After reading the character reference from the Zhukovskie Vesti newspaper, Judge Karpov had for some reason decided that Gaskarov works there. “One needs to serve in the army. Anyone can be a journalist, but probably not just everyone can serve the Motherland. Why this ‘in exchange for’ right off the bat? One must serve the Motherland, I say!”

Judge Karpov was unrelenting.

“Down in Dagestan, there is a waiting list to get into the army. Being a journalist is easy. You get up when you like, go to sleep when you like, go to work when you like.”

After this emotional outburst, lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina moved that the court change Gaskarov’s measure of restraint to one not involving deprivation of liberty—to house arrest or release on bail.

“Yes, I think this would be possible,” Gaskarov replied, smiling, to the judge’s question about what he thought about the motion.

Karasev and Chistyakov categorically stated that only if Gaskarov were in a pre-trial detention facility could the investigation proceed unhindered. Judge Karpov agreed with the prosecution on this point as well and, after a recess, ordered Gaskarov’s arrest extended until February 6.

When Gaskarov spoke to the court arguing against his arrest, Chistyakov sat motionless, his hands folded in front of him, like a sphinx.

_____

Alexei Gaskarov’s argument in the Basmanny District Court:

I do not agree with the extension of my arrest and wanted to draw attention to the following things. First, I am being charged with violating Articles 212 and 318. Article 318 belongs to the category of moderately severe crimes for which the period of pre-trial detention may not exceed six months. Article 212, which criminalizes “involvement in mass riots,” stipulates more stringent sanctions, up to a year in pre-trial detention. I have a copy of my indictment, dated April 28. As of today, there has been no other indictment. According to this indictment, all the [criminal] actions that the investigator has just listed were then deemed violations of Article 318 by him.

Since the extension the investigator is now requesting means that I will have spent nine months in detention, that is, more than the statutory period of six months, I do not agree with this extension.

With regard to Article 212, I would like to return to the question of the grounds for charging me with violating it. Because even if you go by my indictment in the case file, it turns out I am accused of participation in mass riots. However, if you look at Article 212 itself, it covers mass riots “attended by violence, pogroms, arson, the destruction of property, the use of firearms, explosives, or explosive devices, and also armed resistance to government representatives.”

There is also Article 8 of the Criminal Code, which clearly states that a deed can be deemed criminal if it is fully consistent with “all the elements” of a crime, as described in one or another article in the Code. Accordingly, not all the elements of the crime, as indicated in Article 212, are included in my indictment. The article does not say that only one element or half the elements are enough. “All the elements” must be present.

Furthermore, the investigation finds that there was violence, arsons, and pogroms there [on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012], but I have not been charged with arson and pogroms. I have been charged only with violence against police officers. But Article 318 already covers these actions, and it is unclear how one and the same action can be deemed to constitute now one crime, now another.

On the other hand, if you look at the article dealing with mass riots, it does indeed say that resisting police officers is a constituent element of the crime, but there it stipulates that this must be armed resistance. But there is nothing in the charges brought against me indicating that I used a weapon or objects that could be used as a weapon.

I ask the court to take note of this indictment, because it serves as the grounds for the decision to extend or change the measures of restraint.

There are different sorts of evidence in the indictment and the criminal case file, but they only touch on Article 318, not Article 212. There is no clear indication there which of my actions could be deemed a violation of Article 212.

Moreover, why did we want to enter these photographs [of Gaskarov being beaten by riot police on May 6, 2012 — Russkaya Planeta] into the record? They simply indicate that the situation was quite complicated. The way the indictment is worded implies that if you see a uniformed police officer, he is absolutely within the law and cannot do anything illegal. By entering these photographs into the record, we want to show that the situation was complicated.

As for the actions committed there, I don’t even deny that I pulled one officer by the leg, and another by the arm. But only Article 318 covers all these actions. And so I ask the court not to extend [my arrest] for more than six months.

That is all I have to say.

* In Russia, men are subject to military conscription between the ages of eighteen and twenty-seven —Translator.

A Fiancee’s Diary: At the Bolotnaya Square Trial

Originally published (in Russian) at:
http://www.snob.ru/profile/27375/blog/64533
http://gaskarov.info/post/59772586016

subscriber_454431

Anna Karpova
A Fiancée’s Diary: “The defense’s question is disallowed since it is irrelevant to the case”
August 30, 2013

I already find it trying either to write or read about the Bolotnaya Square case. The trial began in early June. The court hearings are held three times a week, Tuesday through Thursday, from eleven-thirty in the morning to six or seven in the evening, but each new hearing is a repeat of the previous ones, the same combination of utterances by the judge and state prosecutor, except in a different order. “The defense’s question is disallowed a) as stated; b) since it is irrelevant to the case; c) as repetitive.”

I would not be following these events so closely myself did they not concern me personally. But my fiancé, Alexei Gaskarov, is under investigation and in police custody, and I have no choice but to monitor the “Trial of the Twelve” carefully in order to gauge my chances of seeing Alexei freed as soon as possible.

All this time I have deliberately avoided going into the courtroom at the Moscow City Court where the Bolotnaya Square case is being heard, preferring to watch the live broadcast in the court hallway or observe the circus from the press balcony. If I had the chance not to go to the court hearings in Alexei’s case, I would skip those as well. It is one thing to talk with the emotional parents of the prisoners outside the courthouse and see photos of the defendants in the press, but quite another thing to see relatives and loved ones silently communicating through the glass of the “aquarium” in which the defendants are caged during the hearings, and realize they have had no other means of supporting each other for over a year now.

Yesterday, August 29, I went to the trial to keep Tanya Polikhovich company. It was the birthday of her husband, Alexei Polikhovich, one of the twelve defendants. Alexei’s dad, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., happily greeted us in the hallway of the court.

“Alexei already celebrated his birthday with the guys in the cell as best he could. They drank soda pop from the pretrial detention facility store, and he blew out three lit matches. Why three? Because he has turned twenty-three!”

A bailiff opened the door and ushered relatives into the courtroom. Although Alexei Gaskarov is not among the first twelve defendants, Alexei Polikhovich, Sr., put his arm around my shoulders and led me to the seats near the dock. The guys in the dock pressed themselves against the glass and waved to their loved ones, smiling. Stepan Zimin was particularly glad to see his girlfriend Sasha. She had come to the trial for the first time: she was no longer considered an official witness in the case, something that had prevented her from attending the hearings. Sasha and Stepan made eye contact and kept their eyes on each other until the very end of the hearing, which would be disrupted by people in the gallery. (But more on that later.)

Yaroslav Belousov, Andrei Barabanov and Denis Lutskevich were seated in the dock closest to where I was sitting. Alexei Polikhovich sat in the farthest section of the dock. Tanya attracted his attention by waving to him. Then she unfolded a t-shirt with Dandy the Elephant emblazoned on it. Polikhovich gave a two thumbs-up sign: the t-shirt was a birthday present for him. Lutskevich kept his eyes glued on his lovely mother, Stella. Throughout the hearing they would surprise me with their amazing ability to hold a conversation merely by glancing at each other. Andrei Barabanov was looking at other people in the gallery, because his girlfriend, Katya, is unable to attend the hearings: she is an official witness in the case.

a6f62022c6ef135f3dd63c3831be8f39While I was examining the animated faces of the guys in the dock, Judge Natalya Nikishina entered the courtroom. As always, defendant Sergei Krivov addressed her.

“I have a motion I haven’t been allowed to enter for two days running!”

“Shut up, Krivov,” the judge cut him off.

“No, listen, you have to hear my motion!”

“I am cautioning you for causing a disruption in the courtroom, Krivov!”

“And I’m cautioning you for not hearing my motion!”

Then the testimony of the sixth “victim” in the case, riot police officer Alexander Algunov, began: the case file contains a medical certificate stating that his right hand was injured during the alleged “riots” on May 6, 2012, in Moscow, during a sanctioned opposition march. I stopped listening to Algunov’s monotonous, muddled testimony and looked back to the dock, making eye contact with Lutskevich. Denis smiled broadly, and I wrote the phrase “Gaskarov says hi!” in big, block letters in my notebook. I tried to quietly raise my postcard so the guys would see it, but the bailiffs noticed it as well. “Well, now they’ll kick me out of the courtroom,” I thought, and a bailiff, dressed in black, moved towards me. I put the notebook away and got a warning. The bailiff took up a spot next to the glass cage, blocking my view of the guys, but they leaned forward and, peering from behind him, waved at me and smiled.

While this was going on, the state prosecutor was asking to hold a police lineup right in the courtroom, despite the fact it violated court rules.

“Do you see the person or persons who assaulted police officers among those present in the dock?”

The lawyers jumped up from their seats. Defense attorneys referred to the sections of the law under which the procedure could not be carried out in court. Chin propped on her hand and smiling, Judge Nikishina slowly said, “Algunov, answer the prosecutor’s question.”

Algunov “recognized,” as he put it, “the man in the t-shirt,” nodding towards Krivov, then he also pointed out the two female defendants, Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina) and Maria Baronova. After which he told the court how protesters had, allegedly, shouted “Let’s go to Red Square!” and “Let’s take the Kremlin!”

As always, Makarov, who is defending Krivov, was completely prepared to cross-examine the victim, but as the hearing entered its sixth hour, people in the court gallery interrupted his cross-examination. Two young women jumped up on their seats and began singing “Bella Ciao,” the Italian Anti-Fascist Resistance song. But they did not succeed in unfurling a small banner congratulating Alexei Polikhovich on his birthday: six men in plain clothes grabbed them and removed them from the courtroom, along with everyone else in the gallery, including the relatives. Artyom Naumov, husband of Alexandra Naumova, recognized two of the men as people who had carried out a search at Alexandra’s apartment.

Everyone was now standing in the hallway, and the parents were upset. It would have been better to stage the unsuccessful performance after the hearing was over. Alexandra Naumova left the courtroom, and the judge announced a recess until next Tuesday.

Before leaving, Judge Nikishina remarked, disgruntled, that come September, hearings should be held five days a week to get this over quickly.

From left to right: Sasha (Stepan Zimin’s girlfriend), Tanya Polikhovich, Anna Karpova