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.

Ilya Budraitskis: “Trial”

“Trial”
Ilya Budraitskis
July 24, 2014
OpenLeft.Ru

Udaltsov: four and a half years in prison. Razvozzhayev: four and a half years in prison.

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“You were paid to come here, right?” the girl in uniform at the entrance to Moscow City Court asked out of habit. Then came the long hours of standing with sympathizers, acquaintances, and strangers listening as the sentence in the trial of Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev was read out. The Bolotnaya Square case is only two years old, but it seems a whole lifetime has passed.

Slurring the words, Judge Alexander Zamashnyuk and his henchmen took turns reading out the full version of the idiotic detective story, a puzzle whose pieces have finally fallen into place: long-cherished dreams of violent revolution, the heady atmosphere of the Movement for Fair Elections, the connection with Georgian intelligence and clandestine seminars on how Maidan was organized (then it was still the previous Maidan), the columns of “anarchists and nationalists” on May 6, 2012, in Moscow, the “riots,” with all their participants and “hallmarks.”

The absurd picture of a conspiracy, which just recently provoked laughter, now finds support and understanding in the eyes of the frightened and brutalized “new Putin majority,” who seemingly think it is nice everything ended on May 6, 2012, and that the prison sentences and frame-ups are the price that must be paid for perpetual Russian stability.

Like the other Bolotnaya Square prisoners, Sergei Udaltsov is no longer a symbol of a movement that served its purpose but something much more than that. He is a reminder that resisting, dissenting, and undermining the false unity of the people and the state continue to be historical possibilities.

Free Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev!

Ivan Ovsyannikov: Friends of the Imaginary People

anticapitalist.ru

Friends of the Imaginary People

There is one point on which there is striking agreement among liberals, Putinists, and the “populist” segment of the Russian left. This is the idea that the majority of the Russian population adheres to leftist values, as opposed to the narrow strata of the middle class and intelligentsia in the big cities.

This simplified representation of societal processes, typical of both semi-official and opposition propaganda, is based on a juxtaposition of the so-called creative class with the notional workers of the Uralvagonzavod tank and railway car manufacturing plant, supposed wearers of quilted jackets with alleged hipsters. Discussion of such complicated topics as the Bolotnaya Square protests, Maidan, and Anti-Maidan revolves around this juxtaposition. The various ideological camps differ only in terms of where their likes and dislikes are directed.

V. I. Lenin, What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats (1894)
V. I. Lenin, What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats (1894)

Leaving aside left-nationalist figures like Sergei Kurginyan and Eduard Limonov, the most prominent proponent of the “populist” trend within the leftist movement is Boris Kagarlitsky. The whole thrust of his current affairs writing is to exalt the silent majority (the working people), who are organically hostile to the parasitic petty bourgeoisie that, allegedly, constituted the core of the anti-government protests in Russia in 2011–2012, and in Ukraine in 2013–2014.

Ukraine in the Mirror of Russian “Populism”
In an editorial published on the web site Rabkor.ru, entitled “Anti-Maidan and the Future of Protests,” Kagarlitsky (or his alter ego: unfortunately, the article has no byline) describes the events in Ukraine as follows: “Nothing testifies to the class character of the confrontation that has unfolded in Ukraine like the two crowds that gathered on April 7 in Kharkov. At one end of the square, the well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class, the intelligentsia, and students stood under yellow-and-blue Ukrainian national flags. Across the square from them had gathered poorly and badly dressed people, workers and youth from the city’s outskirts, bearing red banners, Russian tricolors, and St. George’s Ribbons.” According to Kagarlitsky, this is nothing more or less than a vision of the future of Russia, where only the “state apparatus despised by liberal intellectuals defends them from direct confrontation with those same masses they dub ‘white trash.’”

The fact that the venerable sociologist has been forced to resort to such demagogic methods as assessing the class makeup of protesters by reversing the proverb “It’s not the gay coat that makes the gentleman” indicates the conjectural nature of his scheme. (I wonder how much time Kagarlitsky spent poring over photos from Donetsk with a magnifying glass.) When discussing the social aspect of Maidan, most analysts have noted the dramatic changes that occurred as the protests were radicalized. “At the Euromaidan that existed before November 30–December 1,” notes political analyst Vasily Stoyakin, “it was Kyivans who dominated, and in many ways the ‘face’ of Maidan was made up by young people and the intelligentsia, albeit with a slight admixture of political activists. Many students, people with higher educations, and creative people attended it. […] After November 30, when the clashes began, […] a lot of blue-collar workers without higher educations arrived, in large part from the western regions.”

According to Vadim Karasev, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, as quoted in late January, “[T]he backbone of Euromaidan is men between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five, ‘angry young men,’ often unemployed. […] In my opinion, it would be mistaken to call Maidan a lower-class protest, just as it would be to call it a middle-class protest. It is a Maidan of all disaffected people who are able to get to Kyiv.” According to a study carried out in mid-December 2013 by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, every fifth activist at Maidan was a resident of Lviv, around a third had arrived from Ukraine’s central regions, every tenth activist was from the Kyiv region, and around twenty percent were from the country’s southeast.

Sixty-one (two thirds!) of the protesters killed at Maidan were from villages and small towns in Central and Western Ukraine. As political analyst Rinat Pateyev and Nikolai Protsenko, deputy editor of Ekspert Iug magazine, noted, “Among the victims, we see a large number of villagers, including young subproletarians. […] On the other hand, occupations favored by the intelligentsia are fairly well represented [in the list of the slain]: there is a programmer, a journalist, an artist, several school teachers and university lecturers, several theater people, as well as a number of students.” By “subproletarians” Pateyev and Protsenko primarily have in mind seasonal workers “who live on the money they earn abroad.” Isn’t this all fairly remote from the portrait of the “well-dressed, well-groomed and prosperous middle class” painted by Rabkor.ru’s leader writer? We should speak, rather, of the classical picture observed during revolutionary periods, when peaceful protests by students and the intelligentsia escalate into uprisings of the working class’s most disadvantaged members (who for some reason were not prevented from fighting by either liberals or hipsters).

As evidence of Anti-Maidan’s class character, Rabkor.ru’s editorialist adduces no other arguments except to point out the “short text of the declaration of the Donetsk Republic,” which “contains language about collective ownership, equality, and the public interest.” However, many observers have also noted the growth of anti-government and anti-oligarchic sentiments at Maidan. Journalist and leftist activist Igor Dmitriev quotes a manifesto issued by Maidan Self-Defense Force activists: “The new government of Ukraine, which came into office on Maidan’s shoulders, pretends it does not exist. We were not fighting for seats for Tymoshenko, Kolomoisky, Parubiy, Avakov, and their ilk. We fought so that all the country’s citizens would be its masters—each of us, not a few dozen ‘representatives.’ Maidan does not believe it has achieved the goal for which our brothers perished.”

Maidan and Anti-Maidan, which have a similar social makeup, employ the same methods, and suffer from identical nationalist diseases, look like twin brothers who have been divided and turned against each other by feuding elite clans and the intellectuals who serve them. There is absolutely no reason to force the facts, cramming them into a preconceived scheme drawn up on the basis of completely different events that have occurred in another country.

Is Russian Society Leftist?
But let’s return to Russia and see whether the “populist” scheme works here. Can we speak of a “leftist majority” that deliberately ignores protests by the petty bourgeoisie, who are protected from popular wrath by the authorities?

This belief is common within a certain section of the left, but there is no evidence at all to support this view. Poor Kagarlitsky is constantly forced to appeal to absences. For example, commenting on the outcome of the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, he declared a “victory” for the “boycott party” (that is, people who did not vote in the election), which by default is considered proof the electorate is leftist. It logically follows from this that the absence, say, of mass protests against fee-for-services medicine must testify to the triumph of neoliberal ideas within the broad masses of working people.

Sure, in today’s Russia statues of Lenin are not knocked down so often, and Kremlin mouthpieces eagerly borrow motifs from Soviet mythology. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is still the largest opposition party (but is it leftist?), and many people see the Soviet Union as the touchstone of state and economic power. But are all these things indicators of leftism in the sense the editorialist, who considers himself a Marxist, understands it?

To get closer to answering this question, we need to ask other questions, for example, about the prevalence of self-organization and collective action in the workplace. The statistics on labor disputes in Russia, regularly published by the Center for Social and Labor Rights, are not impressive. Even less impressive are the statistics for strikes. Independent trade union organizations are negligible in terms of their numbers and their resilience, and the rare instances of successful trade union growth are more common at enterprises owned by transnational corporations, where industrial relations approximate western standards. Activists in such trade unions as the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (which rejects the paternalist ideology of the country’s traditional trade union associations) are forced to resort to translated textbooks on organizing and the know-how of foreign colleagues, not to native grassroots collectivism or the remnants of the Soviet mentality.

The above applies to all other forms of voluntary associations, which currently encompass a scant number of Russians. Whereas Russian Populists of the late nineteenth century could appeal to the peasant commune and to the cooperative trade and craft associations (artels) and fellow-countrymen networks (zemliachestva) that were common among the people, the “populists” of the early twenty-first century attempt to claim that a society united by nothing except state power and the nuclear family adheres to leftist values.

The standard explanation for the failure of the Bolotnaya Square protests is that they did not feature “social demands,” meaning slogans dealing with support for the poor, availability of public services, lower prices and utility rates, and increased pensions and salaries. But such demands are part of the standard fare offered by nearly all Russian political parties and politicians, from United Russia to Prokhorov and Navalny. These demands sounded at Bolotnaya Square as well. Successfully employed by the authorities and mainstream opposition parties, this social rhetoric has, however, absolutely no effect on the masses when voiced by radical leftists, strange as it might seem. We are constantly faced with a paradox: opinion polls show that the public is permanently concerned about poverty, economic equality, unemployment, high prices, and so on, but we do not see either significant protests or the growing influence of leftist forces and trade unions. Apparently, the explanation for this phenomenon is that a significant part of the population pins its hopes not on strategies of solidarity and collective action, but on the support of strong, fatherly state power. The Kremlin links implementation of its “obligations to society” with manifestations of loyalty: this is the essence of its policy of stability.

Leftists in a Right-Wing Society
Finally, should we consider ordinary people’s nostalgic memories of the Soviet Union during the stagnation period a manifestation of “leftism,” and rejection of western lifestyles and indifference to democratic freedoms indicators of an anti-bourgeois worldview? According to the twisted logic of the “populists,” who have declared most democratic demands irrelevant to the class struggle and therefore not worthy of attention, that is the way it is. Instead of accepting the obvious fact that proletarians need more democracy and more radical democracy than the middle class, and that protests by students and the intelligentsia can pave the way to revolt by the lower classes, theorists like Kagarlitsky try to paint ordinary conservatism red.

They tacitly or openly postulate that workers can somehow acquire class consciousness under a reactionary regime without breaking with its paternalist ideology and without supporting the fight for those basic political rights that workers in the west won at the cost of a long and bloody struggle.

It is time to recognize that we live in a society far more rightist than any of the Western European countries and even the United States. What European and American right-wing radicals can imagine only in their wildest fantasies has been realized in post-Soviet Russia in an unprecedentedly brief span of time and with extraordinary completeness. The Soviet legacy (or, rather, the reactionary aspects of the Soviet social model) proved not to be an antidote to bourgeois-mindedness, but rather an extremely favorable breeding ground for a strange capitalist society that is simultaneously atomized and anti-individualist, cynical and easily manipulated, traditionalist and bereft of genuine roots. And we leftists must learn to be revolutionaries in this society, rather than its willing or unwitting apologists.

Ivan Ovsyannikov, Russian Socialist Movement
April 20, 2014

“Decent People Rub Prince Lemon the Wrong Way”: Sasha Dukhanina’s Closing Statement at the Bolotnaya Square Trial

Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina, usually referred to as Sasha Dukhanina), born 1993, was the first person to be arrested in the Bolotnaya Square case, launched by the Russian authorities after a sanctioned opposition march in downtown Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before President Putin’s re-inauguration, ended in clashes with police. Dukhanina-Naumova was detained at the Occupy Arbat protest camp in Moscow in late May 2012 and has been under house arrest since that time.

Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants Sergei Krivov, Alexei Polikhovich, Artyom Savyolov, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov, Stepan Zimin and Yaroslav Belousov are charged with involvement in mass riots and assaulting police officers. At the January 22, 2014, hearing in the case, prosecutors asked the presiding judge, Natalya Nikishina, to sentence each of them to between five and six years in prison.

Dukhanina-Naumova is specifically accused of throwing chunks of asphalt, one of which, allegedly, struck a police officer, slightly bruising him, and splashing a soft drink (kvass) from a liter-size bottle.

A photograph of a riot cop dragging Dukhanina-Naumova away by the neck on May 6, 2012, taken by famed opposition blogger and photographer Rustem Adagamov (aka Drugoi), himself now in exile, has become, perhaps, the most famous image of the “riots” that took place in Moscow that day. Many opposition activists and independent observers have claimed that what happened was in fact a provocation on the part of the authorities aimed at demoralizing the opposition and selectively punishing those who had tried to spoil Putin’s repeat “coronation” by publicly protesting.

adagamov-dukhanina drag

Before her arrest, Dukhanina-Naumova was a student at Moscow State University, where she majored in translation and interpretation. An anarchist, she had been involved in such causes as the defense of the Tsagovsky Forest, near Moscow, and Food Not Bombs.

On December 19, 2013, four other defendants in the case, Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin, were released under an “amnesty” that has been regarded by many as a gesture meant to defuse domestic and foreign criticism of the Putin regime’s concerted attacks on human and civil rights, NGOs, gays and lesbians, migrant workers, and opposition activists.

In any case, this amnesty did not fool the several thousand people who marched in Moscow on February 2, 2014, demanding the release of Dukhanina-Naumova and the other Bolotnaya Square defendants.

 

Dukhanina-Naumova made the closing statement, below, during the final hearing in the trial, on February 5, 2014, in Moscow.

After Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants had finished making their closing statements, Judge Nikishina announced she would read out the verdict in the trial on February 21, 2014. This is two days before the end of the Sochi Olympics, President Putin’s wildly expensive showcase of his personal triumph over man, nature, and budgetary common sense.

__________

Closing Statement by Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova at the Bolotnaya Square Trial, Zamoskovoretsky District Court, Moscow, February 5, 2014

At first I thought that this whole trial was a crazy mistake, the result of some mix-up. Now, after hearing the prosecutor’s speeches, and considering the length of the prison terms they are asking for us [Bolotnaya Square defendants], I’m starting to see that what the authorities want is revenge. They want revenge because we were there and saw how things really were. We witnessed who instigated the stampede, how people were beaten, and the unjustified violence. They are getting revenge on us for not bowing down to them and repenting for our nonexistent crimes, neither during interrogations nor here, in the courtroom. They are also avenging me for not helping them further their lies, for refusing to answer their questions.

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These are serious crimes that carry a penalty of six years in a penal colony. There is no one else who has earned such a severe punishment, just us. They’re afraid of the real criminals—they imprison the strangers who get in their way while they wouldn’t lift a finger against their own. It is up to you, Your Honor, to decide whether to pay for furthering their happiness—promotions, stars, and medals—with our lives.

Why six years? What are these “no fewer than eight targeted throws” I supposedly dealt? Where did they come from? Whom was I aiming at and whom did I hit? Eight different police officers? Or did I hit the two men they’ve painted as the victims eight times? If so, how many times did I hit each of them? Where are the answers to these questions? Isn’t it up to them to describe the attack in detail and prove their case before putting me in prison? After all, this isn’t fun and games; it’s six years of my life at stake. Otherwise, it isn’t even lies, but mendacious demagoguery unsupported by facts, a game played with a human life in the balance. And if they had 188 videos and not eight, would they allege that there were 188 throws?

You’ve seen the two riot police officers who were my so-called victims. Each one of them is two or three times my size, and on top of that, they were in body armor. One of them felt nothing, and the second one was not injured by me at all and has no grievances. Is this the “rioting” and “violence” that have earned me six years of incarceration?

I almost forgot about the kvass. The bottle alone gets me five years, and the eight targeted blows get me the last one. At least let them say so, that way at least I’ll know the price of kvass. They should also tell me where my “mass rioting” ends and my “violence toward the authorities” begins. What’s the difference between the two? I still haven’t understood the charges against me: what did I burn? What pogroms? What destruction of public property? What does any of this have to do with me? What did I blow up? What did I set on fire? What did I destroy? Whom did I conspire with? What’s the evidence? Am I getting four years in accordance with Article 212 just for being there? Is my mere presence at what began as a peaceful demonstration the “rioting” that I was involved in? All I did was show up.

Take a look at these people. They’re not murderers, thieves or con artists. Putting us all in prison is not only unjust, it’s criminal.

Many people have given me the opportunity to repent, apologize, say what the investigators want me to say, but you know, I don’t find it necessary to repent, let alone apologize, to these people. In our country, it’s widely accepted that they are absolutely untouchable despite the well-known cases of their involvement in drug trafficking, prostitution, and rape. Just a few days ago, that happened in the Lipetsk Region.

The narrative of the charges pinned on us isn’t just funny; it is absurd and based solely on the testimony of the riot police officers. What does this mean, that if a person has epaulettes they’re a priori honest and holy?

Your Honor, in the course of the past eight months of this trial, you’ve received such substantial evidence of our innocence that if you send us all to the camps, you will be ruining our lives and futures for nothing.

Is the government really so determined to make an example of us that it is willing to take this step? Letting a pencil pusher, rapist or policeman off for [inaudible] is a matter of course: they’re untouchable, one of your own. We, on the other hand, can handle a prison term. Who are we, after all, we’re not even rich? For some reason, I am convinced that even in prison I will still be more free than any of them because my conscience will be clear, while those who remain on the outside continuing their so-called protection of law, order, and freedom will live in an unbreakable cage with their accomplices.

I can admit to making a mistake. If I were truthfully presented with facts and it were demonstrated to me that I had done something illegal, I would confess to it. However, no one has done any such thing: all I’ve witnessed are lies and brute force. You can suffocate someone with force, drag them [inaudible] and all of this has already been done to me. But lies and violence can’t prove anything. Thus, no one has proven my guilt. I am sure that I am right and that I am innocent.

I’d like to close with a quotation from Gianni Rodari’s Cipollino:

 “My poor father! They’ve thrown you in the pen with thieves and bandits.”

“Hey now, son,” his father tenderly interrupted him. “Prison is chock full of honest people!”

“Why are they in prison? What have they done wrong?”

“Absolutely nothing, son. That’s why they’re in here. Decent people rub Prince Lemon the wrong way.”

“So getting in prison is a great honor?” he asked.

“That’s how it seems. Prisons are built for people who steal and kill, but in Prince Lemon’s kingdom, it’s all topsy-turvy. The thieves and murderers are in his palace, while honest citizens fill the prisons.”

Translated by Bela Shayevich. Originally published, in Russian, on Grani.RuPhotograph of Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova courtesy of Dmitry Bortko

A Muted Joy: Who Got Left Out of Putin’s Amnesty

Lenta.Ru
December 19, 2013
A Muted Joy
Four Defendants in the Bolotnaya Square Case Amnestied

The amnesty passed yesterday by the State Duma has enabled charges against four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case to be dropped. Today, December 19, opposition activist Vladimir Akimenkov and journalist Leonid Kovyazin, who had been held in a remand prison for over a year, were released. Human rights activist Nikolai Kavkazsky was released from house arrest, and charges were likewise dropped against Maria Baronova, who had been under travel restrictions. Our correspondent went to the hearing at the Nikulinsky District Court in Moscow to see how the “prisoners of Bolotnaya” were freed.

Lawyers and journalists waited for the hearing to begin in a small, five-table cafe on the first floor of the Nikulinsky District Court. It had been known since yesterday evening that motions to amnesty four defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case—Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin—would be filed today. The four had been charged under sections 2 and 3 of Article 212 of the Criminal Code (participating in rioting and incitement to riot). Yesterday, the State Duma amended the president’s amnesty bill, extending it not only those convicted of such crimes but also to suspects and defendants charged under this article. However, the hearing had already been delayed by two hours and the people in the cafe were nervous.

Someone suggested the motions would not be accepted until Vladimir Putin’s press conference was over, because Judge Natalya Nikishina was waiting for a go-ahead from the Kremlin. Someone else claimed that traffic jams were to blame: because of them, the defendants had not been delivered to the court on time.

“In our difficult times, any delay gives rise to conspiracy theories,” lawyer Sergei Badamshin said by way of summing up.

When asked whether the four defendants would be released, lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant answered quite cautiously.

“It often happens that courts like to drag things out until the verdict. In Russia, the authorities don’t like letting people go. Today, I heard that some lady from the Federal Penitentiary Service said that for Nadya [Tolokonnikova] to be amnestied they would need a paper from child protection services saying that Nadya had not been deprived of her parental rights. Can you imagine? What grounds do they have for suspecting her of this? Her daughter has a birth certificate in which Nadya is identified as the mother. But in Russia, if they don’t want to let someone go, they always come up with an excuse.”

Dmitry Agranovsky, Vladimir Akimenkov’s lawyer, was categorical.

“I prepared the draft amendments to the amnesty bill along with MPs from the Communist Party. We ensured that the cases against people eligible for amnesty who have been charged under Article 212 would be dropped not after the verdict, but at the stage where they are currently are. From a legal perspective, Akimenkov should be released today, end of story. Since yesterday, there has no longer been any need for his detention. His complaint has already been filed with the European Court of Human Rights, and if he’s kept in the remand prison even for a day after the amnesty bill is published, that will be tantamount to a real abuse of power, since they are no legal grounds for detaining him. He should be released in the courtroom.”

Agranovsky recited [the final stanza of Pushkin’s poem “Deep in Siberian mines”] with expression.

“The heavy fetters will fall, / The jails will crumble. And freedom / Will joyfully hail you at the entrance, / And brothers will give you back your swords.”

Lawyer Alexei Vetrentsev, who was representing defendant Leonid Kovyazin, did not think his client would be released today.

“I think Leonid will be released from the remand prison only tomorrow. There’ll be paperwork at the prison, and he’ll have to gather his things.”

The expression on Vetrentsev’s face was extremely sad.

“For us, the amnesty is a good decision, but I feel embarrassed before the others. It is inhuman to carry out an amnesty this way, releasing some people while others are left in jail.”

Nine other people were to appear with his client in the cage for defendants at the Nikulinsky District Court. Only two of them, Kovyazin and Akimenkov, were supposed to be released. Baronova, the mother of a young child, had been under travel restrictions, while Kavkazsky had been under house arrest.

“I’m ashamed, but I’m glad, and that’s an objective feeling,” said Baronova. “You can feel as guilty as you like because the others aren’t being let out, but now for the first time in two years I can leave the country for at least a few days. I’m looking here at names of banks that give consumer loans for the New Year holidays, so I can go to Berlin.”

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(Left to right) Sergei Krivov, Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov and Artyom Savyolov. Photo: Gennady Gulyaev/Kommersant
Anatoly, grandfather of anarchist Alexei Polikhovich, another defendant, sat motionless not far from Baronova. Anatoly’s grandson was first charged under “amnestied” Article 212, for involvement in rioting. But after a press conference last year in which President Vladimir Putin spoke out strongly against people who had [allegedly] assaulted police officers, Article 318 (“use of violence that does not endanger human life or health […] against a representative of the authority”), the standard charge, was added to the charges against Polikhovich. Riot police officer Igor Tarasov had then suddenly remembered that at the May 6, 2012, rally, Polikhovich had “hit him in the wrist, causing severe pain.”
Immediately after the defendants were brought into the courtroom, the four lawyers moved to have their clients released in connection with the amnesty decree published yesterday in [official government newspaper] Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The appeals were wholly supported by the prosecution. Judge Natalya Nikishina then asked whether the appeals were supported by the remaining defendants not covered by the amnesty—that is, Polikhovich, Alexandra Dukhanina, Denis Lutskevich, Stepan Zimin, Sergei Krivov, Andrei Barabanov, Yaroslav Belousov and Artyom Savyolov.

Polikhovich replied by chuckling ironically a few times, but the other defendants unanimously seconded the appeals. Stella Anton, Denis Lutskevich’s mother, wept loudly. Twenty minutes later, Judge Nikishina returned to the courtroom and read out her decision: to grant the motions and dismiss the criminal charges.

The first to exit the courtroom was Leonid Kovyazin. His wife Yevgenia threw her arms around him.

“The guys aren’t getting out, and that’s bad,” said Kovyazin, now free. “My joy is severely muted for this reason.”

When asked what conditions had been like for him in the Butyrka remand prison, Kovyazin answered calmly.

“At first, I had conflicts in the remand prison. Then I got used to it: the only tough thing was the waiting. Other than that, the people in prison, who are mostly there on drugs charges, are often quite outstanding. Incidentally, I was surprised it wasn’t only young people who used drugs: there were fortysomething men in jail with me who told me how they had got hooked on heroin on their birthdays. Basically, I can’t say anything good about jail: any term of imprisonment means stress, unhappiness and a few years deducted from your life. For example, it is physically painful to ride in the paddy wagon: it is very cold in winter, and extremely hot in summer.”

Kovyazin had been accused of overturning portable toilets that had been set up in Bolotnaya Square during last year’s May 6 rally, which ended in massive clashes between protesters and police. Kovyazin was frank about his actions that day.

“I had gone to the square to shoot video for the Vyatsk Observer newspaper, but then I lost my cool. When I saw the case materials, the video shot from above, I noticed that at the moment [when police dispersed the rally] only around fifty people remained in the square, but the police were on both sides. I had shot scenes of people being beaten by the police, but then I had put away the camera and yet was unable to leave. Perhaps that was my mistake: the camera distances you from what’s happening, but when you’re involved in the events, it’s different.”

Kovyazin did not deny that he had pushed the toilet stalls.

“It was an emotional decision. After the fact you can discuss it at length and reflect on it, but when you see [people being beaten] . . . I was caught up in the action. Later, when the task force came to arrest me, I said to my brother, ‘See you in five years.’ Fortunately, that hasn’t come to pass.”

After a pause, Leonid continued.

“If I could play it back, I would do what I did, only I would have gone without the camera. As Vova [Vladimir Akimenkov] joked to me, ‘When you get out, the journalists are going to slap you first, then shake your hand.’ Because that kind of involvement is, of course, a violation of professional journalistic ethics. But I don’t believe I was involved in rioting.”

“There was no rioting in the square,” asserted Nikolai Kavkazsky, one of the amnestied defendants and a lawyer with the human rights organization Civil Assistance. “It is obvious to everyone that on May 6 there was a sanctioned march and rally that the authorities wanted to disrupt. People who went to that rally are now on trial, but not the policemen who actually violated the law, which prohibits dispersing rallies. What happened to me, for example? I saw a police officer hitting some unknown people with a truncheon. He was beating them severely, you might say. I went up to the police officer and wanted to say to him, ‘Why are you violating the law on police conduct? Why are you beating citizens?” But I didn’t manage to say anything. He raised his truncheon. I wanted to cover myself with hands, but the blow landed on my arm, and to protect myself from this police officer, I lifted my leg. That was it.”

Kavkazsky was arrested on July 25, 2012, when he left his home to buy new pants. (He never did buy those pants.) Later, in the remand prison, he found that the hardest thing to endure was being cut off from the familiar, everyday world.

“When you’re cut off from the phone and Internet, from interacting with your usual circle of people, you feel completely isolated. That’s the scariest thing. And there’s not knowing. Conditions in prisons are horrible: they’re not meant to observe human rights but to violate them. Everything is forbidden there. Why do they forbid you from listening to music you want to listen to? Why can’t you put duvets on your blankets? Why can’t you eat the food you like?”

Kavkazsky spent nearly a year in the remand prison. He was switched to house arrest only in August of this year because endocrine disorders he suffers from had flared up while he was in custody.

Vladimir Akimenkov, an activist with the now-routed Left Front, was also released from the remand prison on Thursday. At first, he had wanted to turn down the amnesty.

“It’s a Byzantine decision: they’re planning to release some and not others. I don’t understand how I’m better than the others, why guys who have become real comrades to me, people with serious health problems, including fathers and men separated from their other halves, have to be in prison.”

His lawyer convinced Akimenkov to sign the appeal. He did not consider himself guilty.

“I did none of the things I’ve been charged with. I was not involved in a riot that, incidentally, did not happen.”

Akimenkov looked out the window and rubbed his wrists.

“I find it strange to go outside, strange to feel my hands without handcuffs on them. But after I find a job, I’ll be going to the Bolotnaya Square trial, making care packages, giving money and doing everything possible to ensure there is not a single political prisoner in this country.”

In the very near future, Akimenkov plans to attend another trial, that of Left Front coordinator Sergei Udaltsov, accused of organizing the “riot” in downtown Moscow a year and a half ago. The court has yet to begin examining the charges against him.

Svetlana Reiter

NB. The original article features a four-minute video of the December 19 court hearing and its aftermath.