Vladislav Barabanov: Anarchism and Center “E”

e9efc978d793898ae4de6e727570e6caVladislav Barabanov during a rally on September 29, 2019, on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow in support of suspects and defendants in the Moscow case, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) case, and Russia’s political prisoners. Photo by Sergei Bobylev. Courtesy of TASS and Republic

Police Detectives Created YouTube Channel Where They Uploaded Video of “Rioting”: Vladislav Barabanov, Former Suspect in Moscow Case, on Center “E” and Anarchism
Margarita Zhuravlyova
Republic
October 17, 2019

The Russian Investigative Committee has stepped up the investigation of the so-called Moscow case: five people were detained on October 14 and 15 and charged with assaulting police officers. In total, twenty-six people have been investigated as part of the case, which was launched in the wake of protests this past summer in Moscow; only six of them have gone free. One of them is Vladislav Barabanov, an anarchist from Nizhny Novgorod. He made a special trip to Moscow for the July 27 protest rally, was arrested on August 3 and charged with involvement in rioting, and was released from remand prison in early September. In an interview with Republic, he recounted how a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government” found its way into the evidence against him, how his jailers hinted he might be tortured, and what he talked about with Center “E” officers.

Prosecution
The wording of the charges against me was vague: “group of individuals,” “sprayed tear gas,” “destroyed property,” and so on. In my case file, however, there were two screenshots from a video that was uploaded, I am certain, by the very same police detectives who were involved in cooking up the criminal case against me. They created a channel on YouTube, calling it “Yegor Zhukov” [Yegor Zhukov, who has been charged in the Moscow Case and is currently under house arrest, is a student at the Higher School of Economics—Republic] and uploading a video entitled “Our Attempt to Overthrow the Government.” That was how this recording and two screenshots, in which I am seen marching in front of a crowd and waving my hand, were entered into the evidence. But I did not “coordinate” any riots.

The first alarm bell was at the detention center: someone from the Investigative Committee came there, wanting to interrogate me as a witness. Then I was detained as I was leaving the detention center, making it clear they would try to pin criminal charges on me. But I couldn’t imagine what would happen next and that so many people would be charged. I thought I would be the only one to face these charges.

Given the psychological pressure they applied in the investigative department, it was hard at first. There were these guards there, for example, who talked on the phone with someone and asked, “Where do we keep the gas masks?” I understand perfectly well how gas masks are used during interrogations. They are put on people’s heads as a way of forcing them to testify. Cigarette smoke can be blown into them or the air can be turned off so a person loses consciousness.

I had the support of family members and my comrades, who met me at the detention center after I did time there for administrative offenses. When they saw me being put into a police cruiser and driven away, they blocked the road and tried not to let it get through. They formed a human chain, but the police pushed them aside. Right at that moment, an officer from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) was sitting next to me in the car and videotaping everything. He wouldn’t let me contact anyone or take out my mobile phone, threatening to confiscate it.

Center “E”
Center “E” was intensely interested me back in Nizhny Novgorod, too. On September 9, 2018, we held an “unauthorized” protest march against the government’s raising the retirement age. Afterward, there was a wave of arrests, with the police detaining some people in their homes, and others at work. I was detained at a presentation of the almanac moloko plus. I think they knew me, because I was politically active in Nizhny Novgorod, doing solo pickets and helping organize events.

I didn’t say anything to Center “E” officers without a lawyer present. I was detained along with a comrade. He was released, but I was charged with involvement in an “unauthorized” event that had caused disruption to public transport and impeded pedestrians. They had a file with my name on it in which they rifled through papers. One of the Center “E” officers was really curious about what anarchists had in common with Navalny’s supporters. They were worried opposition forces were consolidating.

Anarchists
Since I was young, I guess, I have had a yearning for justice. I followed the Bolotnaya Square Case and all the events of 2011–2013. I was between fourteen and sixteen then. The first protest rally I ever attended was in Nizhny Novgorod on March 26, 2017, my birthday. Due to my age, I was not involved in the events of 2011–2013, but comrades say that rally, which took place after Alexei Navalny published his investigation of the corruption schemes in which Dmitry Medvedev was involved, drew a much bigger crowd. It was a really cool, very significant event: there had never been anything like it in Nizhny.

I didn’t go to protest rallies before that, although I was interested in politics. This was due to my personal rethinking of effective methods of struggle. First, there was the ideological aspect: perhaps I didn’t see any points of contact among the opposition. Second, I rejected public activism.

If we talk about the anarchist milieu and why I now call myself a libertarian socialist [libertarian socialism is a political philosophy focused on resisting authoritarian coercion and social hierarchy—Republic] the fact of the matter is that there are lots of stereotypes around the notion of anarchists, who are either imagined as subculture types with as subculture types with mohawk haircuts and the letter A on their backs, screaming “Anarchy is the mother of order,” or people in masks whose only thought is torching, blowing up, smashing, and destroying things, meaning anarchists are equated with terrorists.

As for methods, some anarchists consider it more effective to put up leaflets and stickers, do graffiti, and hang banners on the street—as long as no one sees them. Their public activism begins and ends there. But when they are confronted with crackdowns, they take to the public arena all the same, because only a huge public outcry can defend people from persecution.

I think that, if you want to promote your political ideas you have to be as public about it as possible. This will help you get around the stereotypes attached to the notion of anarchism and recruit people to your side.

I see anarchism as the endpoint in society’s evolution. It is what happens when people realize they are capable of solving their problems without recourse to any representatives whatsoever, when they realize they can organize themselves and their own lives. When the concept of centralization goes away, people won’t need power over each other.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Moscow: Where Waving Your Arms Energetically Is a Felony

barabanov.jpgVladislav Barabanov in the dock at the Presna District Court in Moscow earlier today. Photo by Elizaveta Pestova. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

Yegor Skovoroda
Facebook
August 5, 2019

The Presna District Court has remanded three more people in custody as part of the Moscow “riot” case. It became clear during the hearings how they had warranted being charged with involvement in rioting, punishable by up to eight years in prison under Article 212.2 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Daniil Konon, 22, a student at the Bauman School, waved his arms energetically and showed people on the streets where other protesters had gone. (Ren TV has posted a video denunciation of Konon.) Thus, the Investigative Committee argued in court, Konon “coordinated” the riot, a riot that, in fact, never took place.

67517382_2194384337353952_1659775525830262784_oDaniil Konon in the dock at the Presna District Court today. Photo by Anna Kozkina. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

Vladislav Barabanov, 22, an anarchist from Nizhny Novgorod, also, allegedly, “coordinated” the pogrom that wasn’t. However, field agents from Center “E” cited a video in which Barabanov can be seen merely standing in the midst of other demonstrators. He is not even waving his arms.

Sergei Abanichev, 25, is a manager. His girlfriend says he enjoys helping homeless animals. What was his crime? He tossed an empty paper cup from Burger King towards the cops, who were coming at the protesters from all sides. That was it.

67903104_2194384357353950_7558604397521928192_oSergei Abanichev in the dock at the Presna District Court. Photo by Dmitry Shvets. Courtesy of Yegor Skovoroda and Mediazona

I overheard a conversation in the court building. A case investigator exited the courtroom.

“It’s fine. He’ll have to suffer for a month, that’s all,” he said to the mother of one of the men who had been remanded in custody.

“Aren’t you ashamed?” a young woman from the support group asked him.

“What, me? No. Are you?” he replied.

I really do not like high-sounding words like “captives” and “hostages,” but all these people, seized at random by the police, are, in fact, hostages. The security forces took them captive only to frighten all of us.

Don’t be afraid.

Free all political prisoners!

Today, we again covered the hearings simultaneously online, meaning we had several reporters working in the court building, and several working at the office. Covering events online is a lot of work and only your donations and support make it possible. This is going to be a big case, so do not forget to donate to Mediazona.

Yegor Skovoroda is a journalist at Mediazona. Translated by the Russian Reader

Guided Tour of a Torture Chamber

torture-1Darya Apahonchich, just one big torture chamber, 2019. Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
July 8, 2019

Here’s a little about torture chamber.

My Words Have Been Recorded Correctly, an art exhibition in solidarity with imprisoned anarchists and antifascists, took place July 5–7, 2019, at Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center in Petersburg.

The show was sad and daring. During the three days it was up, it was visited by both regular cops and the “anti-extremism” police from Center “E” [known in Russia as eshniki or “eeniks”].

Our group {rodina} [“motherland“] did a performance, and there were concerts and discussions as well. I also had a piece in the show, entitled just one big torture chamber.

I really liked how Jenya [Kulakova] talked about it simply and calmly during her guided tours of the show.

“According to the latest surveys by Levada Center, ten percent of Russians have been tortured.”

True, it’s a really simple figure, but when I hear it I want to hear more figures. What percentage of Russians have tortured someone? What percentage of Russians have ordered someone tortured? What percentage of Russians said nothing although they knew someone was being tortured? What percentage of Russians share a home with people who torture other people at work? Do torturers beat their wives, children, and elderly parents?

At first, I wanted to fashion Russia from a single piece of cardboard, but then I realized I had no sense of how I could unify the country except with borders, frontier guards, and barbed wire. I know tons of different Russias. I know academic Russia and literary Russia. I know the Russia of forests and mushrooms. I know the Russia of poor people and factories. I know the elegant Russia of rich people. All of these Russias have one thing in common: the violence of torture and the fear of torture. So, I assembled the map from scraps of cardboard.

torture-2Ms. Apahoncich writing the names of Ukrainian and Crimean political prisoners imprisoned in Russian jails and prisons on the wall below a hand-drawn map of occupied Crimea. Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich

I didn’t know what to do with Crimea. I couldn’t include it since I don’t consider its presence on a map of Russia legal, but I also had no choice but to include it because people are tortured there as well, and the people doing the torturing have Russian passports. So, I drew Crimea on the wall in pencil and wrote a list of Ukrainian political prisoners under it. The list was terrifyingly long.

I spelled the word “torture chamber” as it is pronounced in received Moscow standard [pytoshnaya instead of pytochnaya], although maybe no one speaks that way anymore. I would imagine I don’t need to explain why.

It’s a sad piece. If it were carnival now, I would burn it instead of a straw puppet.

Thanks to Alina for the photographs.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Ms. Apahonchich for her permission to translate and publish her post here. Thanks to Nastia Nek for the link to the article on the Levada Center study.

______________________________________________________

[…]

Policemen visited the exhibition at the end of its first day. Witnesses said it was the coolest performance in the show. The soloist was Senior Lieutenant Ruslan Sentemov aka Mister Policeman. According to people who took part in the protest action Immortal Gulag, Sentemov insisted this was how the president obliged them to address him when he was detaining them.

The phrase turned into a meme, and Sentemov became the target of parodies and epigrams. It is rare when people are detained at protest rallies in Petersburg and he is not involved. In 2017, 561 people were detained during a protest against corruption. All of them were charged with disobeying the lawful demands of a police officer, and in all 561 cases, that officer was Lieutenant Sentemov. Petersburg civil rights activist Dinar Idrisov claimed each of the ensuing 561 court case files contained a copy of Sentemov’s police ID and his handwritten, signed testimony.

words-1Ruslan Sentemov (right) and another police officer at My Words Have Been Recorded Correctly, July 7, 2019, Pushinskaya 10 Art Center, Petersburg. Photo by Elena Murganova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

In interviews with the press and when he is on camera, Sentemov likes to maintain the image of a “good cop.” He was true to this image at Pushkinskaya 10 as well, upsetting activists, who surrounded him and peppered him with questions about why he had come to the exhibition.

“This is Russia’s cultural capital. But you, young lady, have a very nasty habit of interrupting people and horning in on the conversation,” he said to one of them.

Reassuring activists he was in no hurry, Sentemov set about perusing the show. The police officer who was with him photographed each exhibit in turn.

Jenya Kulakova volunteered to give Sentemov a guided tour.

“These are drawings made by Dmitry Pchelintsev in the Penza Remand Prison. He was tortured with electricity. Here is a banner with the slogan ‘The ice under the major’s feet.’ Perhaps you are familiar with the music of Yegor Letov and Civil Defense?”

“Perhaps.”

Yegor Letov and Civil Defense (Grazhdanskaya oborona) performing the song “We Are the Ice under the Major’s Feet” at a concert at the Gorbunov Culture Center in Moscow in November 2004. Courtesy of YouTube

“Here is Viktor Filinkov’s account of being tortured, handwritten by a female artist. This is a postcard made by Yuli Boyarshinov. Did you know that, in prison, defendants are prohibited from using colored pencils and pens?”

“No, I didn’t know that, unfortunately. I will probably have to study up on the topic.”

spinach“We have no money and machine guns, but we do have a herbarium of spinach leaves.” Photo by Jenya Kulakov. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

“These are drawings from the trials in the Network case. We have an artist who attends the hearings and draws them. This next piece also draws on the case files.”

“I got it. Let’s speed things up.”

“No, you should read a bit of it. Here’s a passage about how someone was hit on the legs and the back of the head. And this is what the tortures said to Viktor Filinkov as they were torturing him. After that, they gave him a Snickers bar to eat. That was probably humane of them, don’t you think?”

“I’ve already read it.”

After strolling around the room containing works by the [Network defendants], Sentemov admitted what interested him most of all was whether the art had been forensically examined for possible “extremism.”

“Look,” said Ms. Kulakova, “all of this was sent to us from remand prisons. By law, all correspondence going in and going out is vetted by a censor. Do you see this stamp here? Have you ever sent a letter to a remand prison?”

“Unfortunately, I haven’t. Or maybe I should say, fortunately. If you say all of this was vetted by the censor, we will definitely have to verify your claim.”

“You seriously want to verify whether remand prison censors working for the FSB have been doing their jobs?”

“At very least, I’d like to send them an inquiry.”

“Here is an installation entitled just one big torture chamber. You may have heard that Levada Center recently did a survey on torture. One in ten people reported they had experienced torture in their lives.”

jenyaJenya Kulakova (center) gives Lieutenant Sentemov and his colleague a guided tour of My Words Have Been Recorded Correctly, July 7, 2019, Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center, Petersburg. Photo by Elena Murganova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta 

“Have you been tortured by chance?” Sentemov suddenly asked Ms. Kulakova, staring unpleasantly at her.

“My friends have been tortured,” she replied.

“I was asking about you.”

“Why would ask me about that?”

“You just talk about it so enthusiastically.”

Sentemov appreciated the interest among exhibition goers aroused by his appearance and laughed smugly.

“I think I’m getting more attention than all these pictures,” he said.

He brushed aside questions about what had brought the police officers to the exhibition and how they had heard about it.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he said.

“We gave you a whole guided tour, but you’re just one big mystery,” said Ms. Kulakova disappointedly, fishing for an answer.

“Thank you for such a comprehensive tour. I am quite pleased with the attentiveness of you and your gadgets. Nevertheless, I must leave this wonderful event. I am very pleased you welcomed us so warmly,” Sentemov said in conclusion, turning towards the exit.

“See you soon,” he said as he left.

Source: Tatyana Likhanova, “A Guided Tour of a Torture Chamber,” Novaya Gazeta, July 8, 2019. Translated by the Russian Reader

Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks

“He Threatened to Kill Us for Perverting Children”
A Feminist Staged a Children’s Play. She Has Been Accused of Extremism and Interrogated by Police
Larisa Zhukova
Lenta.ru
March 15, 2019

The police department in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has been investigating the work of feminist Yulia Tsvetkova, producer of the activist comedy theater Merak. The ostensible cause of the investigation is her production of a children’s play about gender stereotypes, Blues and Pinks, which the people who denounced Tsvetkova to the police regarded as promotion of homosexual relations among minors. The suspicions of the authorities have also been piqued by the anti-militarist dance productions Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and Prague Spring, and the VK community page Komsomolka. Lenta.ru recorded Tsvetkova’s account of why regional activists have grown accustomed to threats of real violence and how the local extremism prevention center (Center “E”) inspects children’s dances and drawings.

“Are You Against the Soviet Union?”
Everyone who has known us for a long time agrees that something completely insane has been happening. We have pupils who have been working with us for almost sixteen years, starting with my mom’s early development workshop.

Our theater is me, the actors, and my mom, our manager. We are a tiny theater company in a really small city and the only young people’s theater of its kind. We are not a classic theater company, but a horizontal (egalitarian) and activist theater. We highlight societal problems and look for ways of solving them. We established the theater a year ago. We decided to call it Merak, with the stress on the first syllable. In Serbian, mérak means a buzz, a high, life’s little pleasures.

The actors are twenty-one children aged six and up. They write poems, contribute to the scripts, build scenery, and choreograph the dance numbers. As director, I supply the overall outline, but then I leave the creativity to them. How do you feel in this scene? I ask them. What should it be like? How should the dialogue sound? What words would  you use to say that? How would you dance it? Some find it odd I deal with children as equals, but I believe it has to be this way. We use improvisation, forum theater, gags, and free dance.

Everything was fine until February, until we decided to stage four danced-based plays, which we had been rehearsing for six months. Two plays are staged one day, while the other two plays are staged the next day. We came up with the idea of calling them a festival by way of combining them. It would have been the first activist art festival in the region. A week before the first performance we got a phone call from city hall. The next day, the Youth Center, a venue we had already confirmed, told us they were booked up on the dates we needed, and there were no openings for the next six months.

The telephone conversation with city hall lasted over an our. City officials went over our poster point by point. Why was our play called Blues and Pinks? We wrote, “We can do it again”: were we against the Soviet Union or something? We were asked what we meant by the word “individual.” Obviously, there was something about what we were doing they didn’t like. We also suddenly got the cold shoulder at other venues.

pic_08ab34d1a9a5f76eb7ff4c96411bec73Detail of a poster for The Color of Saffron Festival of Activist Art. The inscription reads “We can do it again. We can ban it!” 

After the news that the festival had been shut down was published, city hall called us and said we had misunderstood them. Actually, they supported our undertaking. They invited us to a meeting at which they made it understood that if we denied the news reports, they would help us find a venue. Since I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong by talking about the connection between their first phone call and the sudden refusals to give us a venue, I was not about to refute any of the reports. That was when they interrogated the kids.

“The Kids Are Feared like Terrible Dissidents”
To be honest, I thought we would be called on the carpet for our anti-militarist production Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. It is a translation of a song by Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down. He often voices his opposition to war and the arms industry. The big dance number in the play is set to his song. It’s an urgent problem for us, because all the boys who attend our workshop, which has been functioning for over twenty years, try to smuggle in toy pistols at first. But we have a ban on weapons, even toy weapons. Why? We are trying to make sense of things. During the big dance number, one dancer acquires a “pistol.” Then another gets one, too, as a means of defense. A third dance gets hold of a machine gun, and the atmosphere heats up. It is satirical and exaggerated, of course, but it is a quite dramatic play as well.

pic_dc844038f81c1c5c70e0d764a49c0a98

Merak Theater’s poster for its four-play, two-day festival, The Color of Saffron. Originally scheduled for March 16 and 17, it was to have featured (in descending order) Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Spring [sic], Untouchables, and Blues and Pinks

But when we came up with the play, the shooting at the college in Kerch occurred. The kids were scared: the shooting affected them greatly. We talked a lot about what they thought about the incident and how it could have been avoided. No one at school discussed the incident with the children at all, although it should be said adults generally avoid discussing really important things with teenagers. The kids came up with the play’s finale on their own: it showed how the situation could have been avoided.

Prague Spring is a production based on Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We pay homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography and Maurice Béjart’s 1955 choreography, using music by John Cage. Coincidentally, I got the idea during the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops: the two “springs” came together in my mind around the subject of human rights and resisting oppression. It’s a simple, obvious subject, but when you grow up in a small city like Komsomolsk, it can seem quite remote and forbidden. But this is just what I read into it, inner thoughts not meant for viewers. The kids simply dance spring. That’s it. Six-year-olds hop up and down and run around in circles, making up half of it as they go along.

Our fifteen-minute play Untouchables focuses on bullying at school and kindergarten. A lot of what the kids told us themselves about their own experiences went into the play. The more we talk things through, the easier it is for them to deal with them.

pic_eda40eabbbb3ba6a6ff95708693a0148Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

Blues and Pinks is a play that illustrates stereotypes about girls and boys. According to the script, we run through the list of clichés: girls like pink, boys like blue; boys are messy, girls clean up after them; boy are defenders and warriors and shouldn’t cry, while girls are future mothers who dream only of getting married; girls and boys can never understand each other. This is presented on stage as a lighthearted dance. We try and show the notion that if a boy pulls your pigtail, it means he likes you is a step away from the idea that if a man beats a woman he must love her.

We continue by suggesting a solution. One of the boys dances, releasing his pent-up feelings as it were. The other boys follow his example, realizing that, whether they dance or not, it does not make any more or less guys. The girls share their dreams. One of them wants to be a businesswoman, while another wants to be a director. They recite the names of great women: the first woman to climb Everest, the first woman to win an Oscar, and so on.

Sophisticated audiences in the western half of Russia would probably find it quite naive, but in our city it is timely and relevant. For example, the other day, a local radio presenter, Tatyana Zhemerenetskaya, announced she planned to run for mayor. She was fired: her bosses were outraged by her excessively “unfeminine ambitions.” Women are supposed to stay home and make soup. In the final scene of our play, the kids say they are individuals. They have dreams and passions.

The funny thing is I didn’t even think about the connotation of the play’s title, which the police caught. One of our pupils came up with it. I have hung out with female LGBT activists, and none of them ever call themselves “blues” or “pinks.” They are just colors to me. Honestly, if I had had doubts, I would not have bothered using the words in the title.

Our actors are between six and seventeen, but the authorities fear us as if we were terrible dissidents. Miraculously, we found a woman interested in contemporary young people’s theater who was not afraid to provide us with a venue. We intend to hold the festival there as planned, on March 16 and 17. But we have nowhere to seat viewers: we cannot find people who will give us chairs. One person said yes, but later he was scared off, apparently.

“She Drew the Rainbow of Her Own Free Will”
The policewoman who came to my office could not say out loud the reason for the investigation. The complaint read that we were promoting homosexuality among minors. She showed me the complaint and blushed.

During my interrogation, I was told I was at the local department for extremism and terrorism prevention (Center “E”). Three complaints had been filed against me: for promoting homosexual relations among minors, for inciting hatred towards men, and for “extremism,” I think.

The interrogation lasted nearly four hours.

First, the officers gave me screenshots of various posts and photos from my personal social media page and the community page Dandelion Field, where I write about really simple things like contraception, HIV, and condoms, things that, unfortunately, not all teenagers know about. There was also stuff from Komsomolka, which deals with feminism. By the way, there I don’t write at all about men: it’s a community page about women.

One of the screenshots showed a workshop from last year at which a girl had drawn a picture, and there was a rainbow in her picture. I was forced to write two paragraphs explains that my underage female pupil had drawn the rainbow of her own free will. No one had pressured and coerced her to draw it.

Next, we got hung up on the phrase “gender stereotypes.” The police officer thought gender had something to do with transgenders. I explained to him what gender stereotypes were, what I meant by the term, and gave examples of stereotypes, as if I were sitting for an exam at school.

Then I was shown a screenshot of a post in which I had negatively assessed the “gay propaganda law,” and I had described the persecution of the lesbians in Chechnya and the “corrective” rapes to which they had been subjected.

The detective asked whether I engaged in propaganda. He asked was sex education was, and who needed it and why. He asked what feminism was. He asked what intersectional feminism was. Ultimately, I had to describe to him how I imagined traditional family values, what I thought about families. I wrote that I wasn’t against traditional family values like love, acceptance, and warmth. This ridiculous testimony took up four pages.

This was followed by the persecution of our children and personal attacks on them. There is no other way of putting it.

“The Police Have Come for You. Let’s Go”
The police officers running the investigation are clueless about the questions they have been asking, and this incompetence has only exacerbated the circumstances.

On March 10, they came for one of boys and one of our girls. It is not clear why they were chosen. There are seventeen teenagers in our theater, and they attend different schools. The police did not pick on our oldest and youngest pupils.

The 15-year-old girl was summoned after school from her house and grilled for two hours by five adults: two police officers and three female school employees. They put the screws on her and descended into semi-insults. They quizzed her about LGBT. Did she know what it meant? they asked. How had she found out? Was I promoting homosexuality? Did I encourage girls to sleep with girls, and boys with boys? The subjects they discussed were such that they would have earned an 18+ rating, but the interrogation took place without the girl’s parents present.

pic_7bc908930662b55a0cdbabb1976b5037Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

The 13-year-old boy was kept after school. He was summoned to the headmaster’s office. “The police have come for you. Let’s go,” he was told. No one had the presence of mind to call his parents. The police officers showed him the likes I had awarded a post I no longer remembered, but they were showing this to a child! The absurdity was off the charts. They asked the boy and the girl about each other. Maybe they had picked the through the list of  numbers in their telephones.

When, the next day, they came for another of our boys, we warned him to call his parents immediately. He called his dad, who works as a beat cop, so he was not grilled for two hours, but twenty minutes, and the conversation was more polite and less biased.

Everyone is scared. Naturally, it is frightening when you’re interrogated for two hours. For now, no one wants to quit the theater, because everyone is aware of my work. They know I am opposed to violence, and I treat boys and girls equally. But, first of all, the subject itself scares the kids, because they are still kids and not tuned into all these issues. Second, they feel the pressure: they are afraid to say something wrong and inadvertently throw me under the bus.

Their parents and I have now been trying to understand the legal grounds of why we have been persecuted. We have been poring over the laws.

“Rewind to Fifty Years Ago”
Until recently, everyone really loved our theater and told us how cool we were. We did two productions wholly in English about the history of the English language, which were unprecedented in our city. At the Drama Theater, we did a dance performance about the problems of teenagers entitled Evolution. It was about how society puts pressure on carefree kids, but ultimately their friends help them and their problems are solved. This was all performed to poems written by one of the girls involved in the production. The show was a benefit for disabled children and the local organization Lighthouse of Hope. Not a bad track record for a single year!

Children grow up, and the problems they face get more complicated. First of all, they deal with domestic violence. I have had whole black months when it was one story after another, and I cried because I felt so helpless. It’s really scary: dad’s beating mom, dad’s beating me, dad’s beating my brother. Gender stereotypes are also something our kids deal with up close and personal. My fifteen-year-old female pupils are already pestered now with questions of when they are getting married and having kids, and why they should bother with careers. Homophobia is also a force. I know there are LGBT teenagers out there, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to cope alone. The streets in Komsomolsk are a really dangerous place, just as in most typical provincial towns, I would guess.

Komsomolsk is one half a factory town, and one half a gangster town. When you hear about us, rewind to fifty years ago. It is not the twenty-first century here, but the twentieth century. I think what really spooked the police was that I had been talking about activism and feminism. These words scare people.

Our local feminist community consists of two volunteers and me. I have an audience of a thousand some subscribers on our community page, but between two and twenty people in Komsomolsk itself. That is the number of people who come to our events. Unfortunately, that is our audience for the time being. It is a infantile scale.

But there have always been plenty of haters. When I decided to do a lecture on abuse, there were threats: we will come and show you what real violence is like, I was warned. Instead, a group of women showed up who sabotaged the lecture by insisting victims had only themselves to blame or something of the sort.

Even our women’s tea party was disrupted. We wanted to make it women-only, without men, so we could talk about our problems. Men wrote to us that they would come and show us what feminism was. There were so many threats that even the young women themselves got scared, along with the venue where we had scheduled the tea party. They asked us not to come.

I have stopped responding to death threats. Now, as we have been chatting, I have received three messages from a young man. The only word in the messages you can print is the word “you.” Yesterday, a man wrote on the community page of our theater workshop threatening to kill us for “perverting children.” This the general background.

After I was interrogated for four hours by the police about feminism and sex education, I felt I had a claim to the hashtag #FeminismIsNotExtremism. Six months ago, I would insert in posts in connection with the case of Lyubov Kalugina, when I was not even remotely in harm’s way. It is one thing to read about persecuted activists, but it is another thing to become one of them. People keep asking why I do it. What is the point?  My run-in with the police makes me think hard about the kind of country we live in. But I can name at least twenty-one people for whom what I do is not pointless. I can name even more people, actually.

pic_55145f4a6ff0238f1689b54bfaa9dccbPhoto from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

What scares me most is the kids think they did something wrong. I ask them, You believe in what we do? Yes, they reply. Do you see anything bad about it? No, they answer. But the whole situation puts them under psychological pressure. It is a really terrible precedent, because the kids have been rapped on the knuckles as it were. They really work their butts off staging our plays. They invest a tremendous amount of energy in them. They are sincerely looking for ways to change the world for the better. These kids are really delicate and sensitive, and they are close to each other as group. They volunteer their time, they visit orphanages, they support other social projects. They are totally maxed out: they try and get straight A’s at school, and they are involved in academic competitions. In the midst of all their activities, they manage to come to four-hour-long, physically draining rehearsals.

But then adults tell them activism is bad, activism is evil, without even fully understand what activism is. And when these adults show up a week before our festival and tell us to get lost, both the kids and I are stressed out. They are really worried.

I have not slept or eaten for three days. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been summoned again to the extremism prevention department. The phone is tapped, and calls with my lawyer are cut off. But I dream of opening a women’s crisis center in our city and an alternative independent school where the children would be not be bullied and hounded, and continuing to move the theater forward. In late spring, we are doing a production based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses, about children during the Second World War, and in the summer we are staging a new English-language production.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader.

UPDATE. DVHab.ru reports that, despite the fact the local authorities ostensibly canceled Merak Theater’s Color of Saffron Festival, the festival went ahead way anyway at “closed” venues. DVHab.ru included a full video of Merak’s performance of Blues and Pinks in its article. I have reproduced it below.

Moscow Anarchist Azat Miftakhov: Arrested, Tortured and Missing

azatMoscow anarchist Azat Miftakhov at the center of a selfie taken, apparently, by the Center “E” officers who tortured him. Screenshot courtesy of Jenya Kulakova

Jenya Kulakova
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February 2, 2019

For a day and a half, lawyers have been unable to see Azat Miftakhov, an anarchist and Moscow State University graduate student who was detained yesterday. Yesterday evening, Miftakhov was taken from the Balashikha police station as a defense counselor looked on and taken to parts unknown. Miftakhov was bruised and surrounded by eight cop. It has been twenty-four hours since he was last seen. No one knows his whereabouts, his condition, and the charges against him.

On the other hand, Ren TV and Rossiya 24 have broadcast photos and videos from the Miftakhov’s search and interrogation. In one of them, an investigator mocks Miftakhov, who is handcuffed, when he claims he is afraid of being tortured. The Center “E” officers take a selfie with their prisoner. (I was unable to find any other photo, so that’s why it illustrates this post.)

The folks who were detained along with Miftakhov, but released yesterday, report they were beaten and tortured with electric shocks. The torture was so bad that yesterday Miftakhov “didn’t look like a human being.” He attempted to slash his wrists to keep from being tortured again. Today, lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina heard an investigator in court talking to someone about it.

The authorities did not produce Miftakhov in court today for his own custody hearing.

Like a year ago in Petersburg, torture is happening practically in broad daylight, but we don’t know what to do.  Yesterday, when I left a message on the Moscow police’s hotline, the operator almost laughed at me. Just as Putin claimed [at a recent meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights] that FSB officers don’t torture people in vehicles, she doubted what I was saying.

“He’s being tortured right in an Interior Ministry building? Right now? Give me a break,” she said to me.

A missing person report on Miftakhov has been filed, and lawyers have been trying since yesterday to get access to him. But what’s the point?

I hope this hell ends for him as soon as possible.

Here are a few links to articles [in Russian] about what has transpired about the searches and arrests in Moscow since yesterday.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburgers Protest Torture and Crackdowns

trofimov-january 19-petersburgPetersburgers marching along the former Robespierre Embankment towards Mikhail Shemyakin’s Monument to Victims of Political Repression, January 19, 2019. Photo by Anatoly Trofimov. Courtesy of the Russian Socialist Movement

Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)
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January 19, 2019

Petersburg Stands Against Torture and Crackdowns

A  rally against torture and crackdowns took place on the day the murdered antifascists Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, a journalist, are commemorated. Around 300 people gathered on the boulevard near Chernyshevskaya subway station. Their ranks included Sergei Mokhnatkin, the recently released political prisoner, activists from the leftist and democratic movements, and human rights defenders. The marchers held red carnations, and many of them had put sticker denouncing torture, crackdown, and fascism on their clothes. The January 19 march had not been authorized by Petersburg city hall, and so numerous policemen and plainclothes officers from Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”) joined the marchers at the gathering point. At two o’clock, the marchers set out for the Monument to Victims of Political Repression on the Voskresenskaya Embankment. The police refrained from obstructing the march. The protesters laid flowers at the base of Mikhail Shemyakin’s sculptures of two sphinxes, situated directly opposite the old Crosses Prison. Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) activist Ivan Ovsyannikov spoke about the frame-up known as the Network case, the torture employed by officers of the Russian Interior Ministry and the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, and Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, and other victims of neo-Nazi terrorism in Russia. The march ended without arrests.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Cupcakes

DSCN1728“Cupcakes. Considerably cheaper when you take away. 45% off.”

This post is dedicated to the armchair fascist who recently asked on the readers’ forum of the anti-Semitic, pro-Putin website The Saker whether George Soros financed the Russian Reader.

I will answer the fascist’s oh-so-pertinent question by quoting from the weekly news wrap-up emailed to readers and supporters on Fridays by the folks at OVD Info. I would gather OVD Info is not financed by Soros, either. In fact, I know they are financed by donations from not very well off people like me, people who work for a living and are not financed by anyone but the sweat of their brows.

More than 600 people were detained in Petersburg on September 9. A week later, another unauthorized protest against the pension reform took place in the city. This time, however, only three people were detained during the protest itself. But the police went on a real manhunt for local activist Shakhnaz Shitik. After she photographed a police officer at the protest, the police tried to detain her. They maimed her and sprayed tear gas in her face. Afterwards, Shitik was taken to hospital, but police tried to detain her there as well. Ultimately, her husband was taken to a police precinct, but offiers remained on duty in her hospital ward. Subsequently, Shitik was taken back and forth from the hospital to the precinct several times until she was finally left to spend the night at the precinct. A court ordered her jailed for twenty days, ostensibly for her involvement in a theatrical performance that depicted Putin being chased away by pensioners. In addition, the police made Shitik provide them with a written statement on suspicion she had violated the law against insulting the authorities. A female Center “E” officer who had passed herself off as a reporter at the hospital had taken offense at something Shitik said.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia. It is not financed by anyone nor has it ever solicited donations. All work on the website is done for free, nor do I pay fees for the Russian-language articles I translate into English and publish. Everything that appears on the Russian Reader can be reposted and republished as long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source and a link back to my original post has been included.