HIV Prevention Organization in Altai Territory Closes Due to Inability to Pay Court Fine Takie Dela
December 4, 2018
Choice (Vybor), a non-profit HIV service organization, has been forced to close its office in Biysk, Altai Territory, due to its inability to pay a court-imposed fine, reports Kommersant. The NGO had been found guilty of refusing to acknowledge it was a “foreign agent.”
The Altai Territorial Court upheld the ruling of the Biysk City Court, which had fined Choice 150,000 rubles [approx. €2,000] for failing to recognize itself as a “foreign agent” and voluntarily place itself on the registry of “foreign agents.”
According to Maxim Olenichev, a lawyer from Attorneys for Equal Rights who represented Choice in court, on November 30, the organization was forced to close its office and cancel its HIV prevention programs in the region, including programs for intravenous drug users and other risk groups.
“HIV-service NGOS have access to ‘closed’ groups of people who are unwilling to turn to state institutions for help,” Olenichev said in an interview with reporters. “Attacking such NGOS reflects a policy of ‘traditional values,’ a policy focused on criminalizing the actions of people who do not comply with these values or ignore them. By using the law on ‘foreign agents’ to destroy NGOs, the state promotes the growth of HIV-infected people, although by joining forces with NGOs the state could halt the epidemic’s growth.”
The court ruled that several of Choice’s campaigns, during which the NGO handed out HIV express tests (41 people tested positive — TD), over 100,000 clean syringes, and 20,000 condoms for free, were “political” in nature. Choice employees noted they worked with the primary vulnerable groups as defined by the Russian state, using the same methods as specified in the official rules for HIV prevention. The court chose to ignore these arguments.
The court also agreed with the Russian Justice Ministry’s claim that Choice had received foreign funding in 2014 and 2016. Choice received 147,000 rubles from ESVERO, a non-profit partnership, and 272,000 rubles from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Olenichev pointed out that ESVERO had been implementing a project of the Global Fund for Fighting AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which receives funding from the Russian government, in thirty-four Russian regions. The NGO was thus using grants to put the money back into the Russian economy. As for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored Choice with funding in rubles, Olenichev claimed there was no evidence in the case file that the organization was foreign. Nevertheless, the court refused to reverse the fine.
According to the latest data from the Russian Health Ministry, in 2017, 53.5% of new cases of HIV infection were caused by sexual intercourse, while 43.6% of new infections were caused by the use of intravenous drugs. According to official statistics, the number of HIV-infected people in Russia is 998,525. Eighty-one percent of them know they are infected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized Russia as leading Europe in new cases of HIV infections at 71.1 cases per every 100,000 people. The virus is primarily transmitted through heterosexual sex (59%) and intravenous drug use (30%). The Russian Health Ministry has called these figures “extremely inaccurate.”
In late October, the Saratov Regional Organization of Chronic Diabetes Sufferers announced its closure: a court had also fined it 300,000 rubles for violating the law on “foreign agents.” The expert employed by the prosecutor’s office to audit the organization concluded it had “shape[d] preconditions for discrediting the authorities” and “report[ed] about the region’s so-called sore points to [its] foreign partners.”
Thanks to Alexander Feldberg for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Petersburg’s Oldest Chain of Coffee Houses Closes
Olga Zarubina RBC
July 25, 2017
The Perfect Cup, Petersburg’s oldest coffee house chain, has closed its last outlet, on Kamennoostrovsky Avenue. According to the sign on the door, the premises are undergoing repairs.
RBC Petersburg has learned that a coffee house in the Coffeeshop Company chain will open in its place once renovations have been completed. A Coffeeshop Company spokesman told us the opening was scheduled for September 2017.
The Perfect Cup (Idealnaya Chashka) coffee house chain was founded in Petersburg and modeled after the US chain Starbucks. In 2005, Scandinavian investment fund Trigon Capital bought 85% of the shares of Idealnaya Chashka, Ltd., from company founder Anna Matveyeva, but in 2011 the shares were returned to their original owner. In 2012, the chained numbered twelve outlets, but later it was reduced to three.
RBC Petersburg had previously written that The Ideal Cup changed owners in the spring of 2016. The new owners were three private investors, including Yevgeny Mikhiyenko, manager of Travelers Coffee LLC.
According to Novosibirsk news agency NGS.Novosti, the purchase cost the investors between three and four million rubles, since one of the terms of the deal was an obligation to pay off The Perfect Cup’s debts within two years. The debts exceeded the amount paid for the company by several times.
However, The Perfect Cup’s problems did not end there. In 2016, Idealnaya Chashka, Ltd. was a defendant in eleven lawsuits, totaling 6.7 million rubles. In February 2017, a bankruptcy suit against The Perfect Cup chain was filed in commercial court. The suit was never heard.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Dmitri Evmenov for the heads-up
European University Faces Eviction for Plastic Windows
Maria Karpenko Kommersant
January 24, 2017
The European University in St. Petersburg, one of the leading non-public educational institutions in Russia, may lose its building. Petersburg city hall has unilaterally terminated the lease agreement for the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace, which has housed the university since 1995. The Smolny claims university management violated the conditions for using the historic building by making alterations and installing windows and air conditioners. Meanwhile, the university had been preparing to reconstruct the palace, investing 2.2 billion rubles in the project, 670 million rubles of which were to be spent on restoring the historic section of the building.
On December 27 of last year, the St. Petersburg City Committee for Property Relations (KIO) sent the European University notice it was unilaterally terminating the rental agreement. As a source at the committee told Kommersant, the European University hd not fulfilled its obligations to preserve the mansion of Count Kushelev-Bezborodko, built in the nineteenth century.
Officials discovered the violations last summer during an unscheduled inspection. (The Smolny could not explain yesterday why the inspection had been necessary.) As a source at the City Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP) informed Kommersant, university officials had made alterations to the premises and installed reinforced plastic windows and air conditioners without providing authorized documentation and obtaining permission for the repairs. The Dzerzhinsky District Court fined the European University 200,000 rubles in its capacity as user of a culture heritage site.
The Property Relations Committee then deemed it possible to terminate the lease agreement. The European University challenged the agreement’s termination in commercial court, arguing it was groundless. The court adopted interim measures, halting the university’s eviction from the premises until a decision has been made on the claim. The first hearing has been scheduled for March 15.
Meanwhile, the European University had planned in the near future to begin implementing an investment project for adapting the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace to modern educational needs. The university estimates its cost at 2.2 to 2.4 billion rubles, 670 million rubles of which should go to restoring the historic section of the palace. The project has been in the works since 2013. Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, designer of the Russian Cultural Center in Paris, won the competition to carry out the project. As European University Vice-Rector Vadim Volkov told Kommersant, the KGIOP had already partly authorized the reconstruction. (Our sources in the KGIOP confirmed that the methods for restoring the interiors of the palace that had artistic value had been approved.) Next week, the university had anticipated the KGIOP’s decision on the entire project.
“Given our intention to implement such an ambitious project, the KIO’s decision to evict us from the building on account of three windows, a plastic partition, and and extension that was erected under Brezhnev looks odd, at very least,” Mr. Volkov said.
The official statement on the university’s website stresses that none of the violations uncovered during the inspection “put the cultural heritage of the palace at risk. They would be automatically corrected during the adjustment project as mentioned above.”
The statement goes on to say “[t]here is a degree of incommensurability between the claims of the Committee and the consequences entailed by the latter’s tough stance.”
Vice-Rector Volkov likewise noted that the clause giving the city the right to terminate the lease agreement if the university violated its landmark protection obligations had been added to the agreement only in April 2015 at the behest of the KIO.
“First, the KIO inserted these conditions in the agreement, and then showed up to check just this, certain they would be able to turn up violations of some kind,” Mr. Volkov suggested.
Maxim Reznik, chair of the education, culture and science committee in the city’s legislative assembly, believes the claims are politically motivated.
“Apparently, the presence of such a university, when all the rest have long ago been marching in step, keeps someone awake at night. In my view, the situation can be resolved in the university’s favor only if if the head of state [i.e., Vladimir Putin] or people close to him intervene,” the city MP told Kommersant.
In December of last year, Rosobrnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science) suspended the university’s license. The European University appealed to President Putin, who asked Vice-Premier Olga Golodets to get to the bottom of the matter. As Kommersant wrote, officials who attended a closed meeting concluded the claims were unsubstantial and spoke out in the university’s favor. Three days later, its educational license had been restored.
The university first encountered problems with oversight authorities in 2008, when it was closed for a month and a half [allegedly] for fire safety violations. Last summer, the Prosecutor General’s Office inspected the European University at the behest of Petersburg MP Vitaly Milonov. Prosecutors then gave the university two months to eliminate violations.
Editor’s Note. The latest news from the front lines in the confrontation between the Russian Institute of Art History (Zubov Institute) in Petersburg and the Russian Federal Ministry of Culture is that Jamilya Kumukova, chair of the trade union committee at the Institute, has been threatened with firing in the run-up to a protest rally scheduled for July 9.
An Academic Treasure Trove Doesn’t Want to Be a Klondike for Bureaucrats
A fight has erupted in Petersburg over the Russian Institute of Art History [also known as the Zubov Institute and abbreviated “RIII” in Russian]. The Ministry of Culture has been carrying out a hostile takeover of the institute in an attempt to get its hands on the institute’s premises, [a nineteenth-century mansion in downtown Petersburg]. Researchers and graduate students have been trying to fight off the siege.
It all began in May 2012, when President Vladimir Putin signed a decree increasing salaries for scientists and scholars. The Ministry of Culture, which had just then been headed by Vladimir Medinsky, ordered the research institutes under its jurisdiction to increase salaries. But no funds for this increase were earmarked in the state budget. To fulfill the president’s decree, RIII director Tatyana Klyavina had to cut seventy-one positions. But that was only the beginning.
In 2013, the Ministry of Culture ordered yet another salary increase (of 28%), which would have meant dismissing a further fifteen employees. Klyavina refused to raise salaries through layoffs, for which she was subjected to a vigorous harassment campaign and eventually fired after leading the Institute impeccably for twenty-one years.
The Ministry of Culture got ready to celebrate. After all, by 2018, when salaries were slated to be increased to 200% of current levels, no one at all would have been left in the Institute. This meant it could already relocate the remaining miserable clutch of useless scholars to any old outbuilding, thus freeing the famous mansion with a view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral for more pressing needs, and merge the Institute itself with the first comer.
Today, the state has no use for research on Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, and Malevich. What it needs are people to carry out practical “monitoring” of Russian culture and compile exhibition booklets. It thus does not understand the essence and purpose of the research conducted at the institutes under its jurisdiction. Despite its incompetence, however, like a bull in a china shop it goes through the motions of “reform” and “modernization.” The main thing is not to deviate from the general line, and let the consequences be damned.
But whomever the Ministry sent to cajole the Institute’s indignant staff, it only aggravated the situation. After all, the RIII, which was founded in 1912 and in whose halls such renowned literary scholars, art historians, and musicologists as Yuri Tynyanov, Boris Eichenbaum, Boris Asafyev, Viktor Zhirmunsky, and Antonin Preobrazhensky worked, has experienced revolution, civil war, Stalin’s purges, and the Siege of Leningrad over its history. In the 1990s, it regained its autonomy and original name. The Institute’s staff has thus developed immunity to all manner of crackdowns and takeovers.
Today, news from the Zubov Institute resembles reports from the front lines. Here is a brief chronicle of recent events.
On June 31, Culture Minister Medinsky descended on the RIII without warning. Locking himself in the director’s office, Mr. Medinsky refused to talk to staff, leaving Andrei Karpov, acting director of the Ministry’s oversight and personnel department, to act as his “hellhound” in the waiting room. Mr. Karpov, who currently heads the ministerial committee auditing the Institute, took his role as guard so seriously that he struck cinema department grad student Olga Yevseyeva, who had come to give the minister a letter written by the Institute’s graduate students.
On July 2, an emergency meeting of RIII staff took place. In the middle of the meeting, the new director, Olga Koch, appeared in the hall, accompanied by private security guards. The guards said they had been hired by the Institute’s new management to protect historical valuables, although in the Institute’s hundred-year history not a single rare manuscript or musical score has ever disappeared from the building.
The art scholars unanimously stood up and turned their backs to Koch, stamping their feet and chanting, “Get out!” After the director ran out of the room as if she had been scalded, the assembly continued, adopting a strongly worded resolution. Here are its principal points:
1. We voice our lack of confidence in the ministerial commission headed by Andrei Karpov, who permitted himself to use force against a graduate student of the Institute.
2. We voice our indignation at Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky’s arbitrary decision to shift the work of the Ministry’s departments to the Institute.
3. We protest against the transformation of the Institute into a high-security facility in connection with the hiring of a private security firm to work at the Institute.
4. We demand that Minister Medinsky retract his statement that the apartments in the wing of the Institute are “handed out right and left.”
5. We voice our lack of confidence in acting director Olga Koch, who publicly threatened staff with a “crackdown,” and we demand that the decree appointing her, dated June 18, be rescinded.
6. We are sending a telegram to Russian President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev.
On July 3, graduate students from the RIII and the European University held a series of solo pickets in support of Institute staff and against the Ministry of Culture’s policies. The young people stood outside Petersburg city hall, the city’s legislative assembly, and the entrance to the Institute with placards reading, “Mr. Medinsky, research is a profession, not a hobby” (a play on Medinsky’s statement that the “government won’t be funding a hobby”), “Save the Zubov Institute!,” and “No to Mass Layoffs at the Zubov Institute.”
The graduate students handed out leaflets that read as follows:
For the second month running, we, researchers and graduate students at the Russian Institute of Art History, have been forced to defend our right to do research instead of doing that research. In May 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree ordering an increase in the wages of scientists and scholars to the average cost of living in their regions.
This good intention, however, was brought low by the total lack of additional funding. The new effective managers from the Ministry of Culture, led by Vladimir Medinsky, took the easy route and decide to fire everyone whose research was not sufficiently in demand. In their opinion, demand is nothing more than the amount of money earned. But the humanities cannot be reduced to a monetary equivalent.
By cutting back on basic research and firing specialists who are unique in their fields, Russia is rapidly turning into a peripheral power, capable only of supplying raw materials to more developed countries. What is more, it is forever losing access to the history of its art and culture, which means irrevocably losing its capacity for nurturing full-fledged individuals and citizens. So defending the Zubov Institute is for us today not just a matter of professional honor but also a civic duty.
The same evening an open street conference in support of the Zubov Institute took place. It took the form of a Street University—lectures and meetings of students and teachers held outdoors and open to all comers. Street University was established in 2008 during the campaign against attempts to close the European University in Petersburg under false pretexts.
In that case, the authorities backed down, and the European University continued to operate in its old mansion on Gagarinskaya. What will happen in this case?
Both RIII staff and graduate students attended the conference, along with colleagues from friendly institutes. Tamara Ismagulova talked about the history of the Zubov Mansion, how the institute was established, and how it survived during the hard years of the Stalinist Thermidor. Yevgenia Hazdan talked about the journal Annals of the Zubov Institute, which was first published in the 1920s, lasting all of four years. Who would have thought that the recently revived journal might repeat the fate of its predecessor?
Sociologist Oleg Zhuravlev from the European University Institute in Florence argued that what is happening to the Zubov Institute is consistent with the overall trend in Europe of cutting spending on science and education, a trend that reveals the contradiction between democracy and the market economy.
Dmitry Golynko, from the contemporary artistic culture department, shared his recollections of the department’s work during the nineties, when the Institute was a hotbed for cutting-edge research in art. Pavel Arseniev and Roman Osminkin read poems, and at the evening’s conclusion a researcher from the musicology department even played several songs on the accordion, including “If I Had Mountains of Gold.” It was a quite symbolic coda, because the whole point of the conflict between the Ministry of Culture and the Zubov Institute is the Ministry’s insatiable desire to turn art scholarship into a gold mine.
5 July 2013 — Roman Osminkin, Russian Socialist Movement
3 July 2013 The Language of Violence: Scholarship and Power in the Russian Federation
Literally overnight, the Russian Institute of Art History (also know as the Zubov Institute for its founder, Count Valentin Zubov) was transformed from a quiet academic oasis (as Petersburgers are used to seeing it) into the epicenter of a scandal, a tense standoff between the academic community and managers from the Ministry of Culture. At the Ministry’s behest, Tatyana Alexeevna Klyavina, who for over twenty years had skillfully and competently managed the Institute, preserving its pleasant working environment and atmosphere of unconditional mutual respect, was fired. Thanks to her efforts, both during the momentous nineties and the stable (and allegedly sated, but in reality very sparingly state-subsidized) noughties, the RIII’s team of researchers had been able to focus on basic academic research without personally worrying about urgent economic problems. In addition, her tenure was focused on making sure the Institute maintained a well-calibrated balance between classical, traditional art scholarship and experimental, innovative, future-oriented research. Tatyana Alexeevna was also the long-time chair of the contemporary artistic culture department, which I had the good fortune to join in 1995. In the nineties, the department was a unique place where cutting-edge research in postmodernist theory was combined with the direct involvement of researchers in shaping the new culture and new art of the legendary post-perestroika period.
The confrontation between Institute staff and the Ministry slowly but relentlessly escalated throughout the first six months of this year (after the newly appointed Minister Vladimir Medinsky had announced plans to reform the research institutes under his jurisdiction). The showdown between researchers and bureaucrats shifted into an active phase after Klyavina was fired, and Olga Koch, former rector of the Saint Petersburg University of Culture and Art, was named acting director. Institute staff was openly hostile to Koch’s top-down appointment and refused to cooperate with her on any issues related to academic planning. In addition, at meetings of the academic council and the staff union, which were open to the press, they passed toughly worded resolutions and proposed strategic methods for resolving the conflict (from shifting the Institute to the jurisdiction of the Russian Academy of Sciences to putting it under the care of the municipal government).
The conflict reached an obvious climax on Friday, June 28. As a result of a visit by Culture Minister Medinsky to the RIII that was deliberately kept secret from the Institute’s researchers, a monstrously absurd “brawl” took place in the waiting room of the director’s office, which was widely reported in print and online media. Unfortunately, I witnessed this shameful episode. Since the minister had locked himself in the director’s office and refused to meet with research staff, who were demanding an explanation, his aide, Andrei Karpov, acting head of the Ministry’s oversight and personnel department, began using brutal methods to pacify the researchers besieging the office—simply put, he started pushing them. In particular, this portly gentleman, intending to slam shut the door to the waiting room, pushed Olga Yevseyeva, a graduate student in the cinema department, and Anna Nekrylova, deputy director for research, who had come to Olga’s rescue, in front of numerous witnesses and the press. (Medical personnel at an emergency room attested the injuries they received.)
After the battle, Vladimir Medinsky “went out to the people” after all, reassuring staff that the Institute would be preserved, and Count Zubov’s mansion, a tasty morsel for developers, would not be expropriated. However, it was clear that a point of no return had been passed. The already difficult dialogue between scholars and culture bureaucrats had moved from the mild, evasive language of administrative accommodation, persuasion, and intimidation to the jargon of institutional violence (or “mythical violence,” to borrow Walter Benjamin’s term). Olga Serebryanaya has offered a curious analysis of this incident from the standpoint of Hannah Arendt’s theory of violence. She writes, “Medinsky does not explain his position or try to convince the researchers that he is right; [instead] he sets a limit on their involvement.” (It is telling that Medinsky pointedly refused to take a letter from the graduate student body delivered to him by Olga Yevseyeva.)
In addition to a painful emotional state, this protracted conflict has caused staff to have well-founded, troubling doubts about the Institute’s immediate future. These doubts have to do with both practical, administrative and financial, matters (whether salaries will be paid on time) and more abstract, theoretical questions — how the Institute’s academic and research policy will shape up, and what the scenario and trajectory for future fundamental changes is. In fact, the reorganization of the Zubov Institute, which has caused a flurry of discontent, is a consequence of the revamping of the entire system of the humanities in Russia, a painful revamping carried out by the authorities that, according to many experts and observers, seriously threatens to destabilize (if not destroy) this system. Against the backdrop of the massive public campaign currently unfolding in support of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the tense situation around the Zubov Institute is a vivid symptom of the communicative impasse and total absence of feedback between basic science and scholarship and the state agencies supervising it.
Over the past six months, the Ministry of Culture has changed directors in four of the five institutes under its jurisdiction. We have to assume that it is planning (and already eagerly implementing) a radical renovation of the entire infrastructure of academic art scholarship, its transition into the realm of the strictly practical and utilitarian. But what are the criteria and parameters of this renovation, aside from the rather vague demands for efficiency and optimization, regularly voiced by officials? In December 2012, the Ministry of Culture circulated a proposal for staff at its research institutes to include in their scholarly work the “creation of calculation methods, cumulative indices based on the use of expert assessments, for determining the effectiveness of institutions working in the field of the performing arts and folk art.” The Ministry of Culture envisions the future of art scholarship as part of a major government contract that would stipulate the specific cognitive services academic researchers provide to the state. The state commission launched by the Ministry of Culture suggests that a researcher’s routine work will range from calculating efficiency indices and optimization coefficients (thus equating the researcher to an economic consultant) to drafting concepts for the long-term development of the industry under the auspices of “national projects” (thus saddling the researcher with the role of manager).
Hardly anyone today would dispute the fact that the humanities in Russia are in need of an urgent and comprehensive transformation. But the direction of such reforms should still be determined by taking into account the interests, opinions, and wishes of the humanities scholars themselves, rather than by the impulsive decisions of state officials, which paradoxically combine neoliberal technocracy with elements of Soviet economic planning. Apparently, the only chance to settle the administrative conflict that has now broken out at the Zubov Institute is to organize a dialogue between researchers and the authorities not in the “brawling” mode, but as a conceptual and ideological debate. If the authorities nevertheless do not dare to listen respectfully to the academic community and sit down to constructive negotiations with it, then I am afraid the dark and dismal prospects now looming on the horizon will become quite inevitable realities. The research institutes, the cognitive factories where academic researchers, despite many years of precarity, have been diligently engaged in producing new meanings and promoting knowledge, will gradually and inevitably be dismantled. Fighting today to save the Zubov Institute and other research institutes under the Ministry of Culture’s jurisdiction also means fighting for (the seemingly long ago reclaimed) freedom and autonomy of the humanities.
Footage by Sergey Yugov of the Street University in defense of the Zubov Institute, held on July 3, 2013. More footage from the event can be found here, here, here, here, and here.