The Case of Sasha Skochilenko

The case of Sasha Skochilenko is a striking example of the absurdity of today’s Russia. She faces ten years in prison for her anti-war protest at a supermarket.

Bumaga has discovered that Sasha’s protest was reported to the police by an elderly woman. The security services organized a special operation to capture Skochilenko. Today the young woman is in a pretrial detention center. She will remain there for a month and a half even though she has serious health problems.

Read the story of Sasha Skochilenko, an artist and musician from Petersburg, a former Bumaga staffer, and a person with a conscience.

Sasha Skochilenko. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

The security services mounted a special operation to capture Sasha Skochilenko. An elderly woman informed on her.

On the evening of March 31, anti-war messages were inserted into the shelf slots for price tags in the Perekrestok supermarket on the second floor of the Skipersky Mall on Vasilievsky Island.

According to two of Bumaga’s sources who are close to the investigation, the protest attracted the attention of a 75-year-old retired female shopper. According to one source, the woman went to the prosecutor’s office “to seek justice.” The second source says that she immediately went to the police.

Bumaga has learned that for over ten days, law enforcement officers, allegedly, interrogated Perekrestok employees and viewed security camera footage to determine who had replaced the price tags with the anti-war messages and where this person had gone after leaving the store.

On Monday morning, April 11, law enforcement officers conducted a special operation. They went to the apartment of the alleged suspect. His home is 900 meters away from Perekrestok. What exactly happened in the apartment is unknown. The man living there turned out to be a friend of 31-year-old Sasha Skochilenko.

That morning Sasha received a message from this friend saying that they were “looking for a body” in his apartment and asking her to come over. When she was already on her way, the friend texted her that “everything was okay.” Skochilenko’s friends believe that the security forces could have texted Sasha from her friend’s phone.

When Skochilenko arrived at the apartment, she was detained. It was around 11 a.m. Bumaga learned about her arrest at about 2 p.m. There was no news from Sasha for more than four hours, and law enforcement officials would not comment on the situation to Bumaga.

Later, Dmitry Gerasimov, Skochilenko’s lawyer, who is affiliated with the Net Freedoms Project, found out that Sasha’s apartment was being searched in her presence. She was then taken for questioning and kept in police custody until 12:30 a.m.

That same evening, Gerasimov told Bumaga that Sasha was the subject of a criminal investigation into disseminating “fake news about the Russian army” over the anti-war stickers with which she had switched the price tags at Perekrestok. According to investigators, the young woman had “publicly disseminated knowingly false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

Skochilenko was charged under the second part of Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 207.3, which means that she faces up to ten years in prison. Investigators argue that she was “motivated by political hatred” when she distributed the flyers.

How the information on the anti-war flyers could be “knowingly false” and how Skochilenko came to be “motivated by political hatred” is not mentioned in the documents provided by the investigation.

The criminal case could have been opened due to a mention of those killed in Mariupol. But the contents of the stickers are unknown.

Sasha had been actively speaking out against the war in Ukraine since its very beginning. Along with the same friend whose apartment law enforcement officers raided, she had performed at intimate “Peace Jams” and also produced pacifist postcards. For this reason, the young woman’s acquaintances thought that she could have been charged with violating the recently popular article in the administrative offenses code for “discrediting” the Russian army. But that was not what happened.

Gerasimov tried to explain to Bumaga the rationale behind the investigation.

“[An administrative charge was not filed in Skochilenko’s case], because in those price tags [for which administrative proceedings had initiated] there were only statements against the war itself, while in Sasha’s case there was information about the alleged actions of the Russian Armed Forces,” he said.

At the same time, the part of the case file that the lawyer has reviewed does not mention the specific flyers for which Sasha was charged.

The Net Freedoms Project wrote that her case file contains price tags with information about the shelling of the theater in Mariupol and the deaths of civilians. Gerasimov told Bumaga that he could neither confirm nor deny this information, since “Sasha does not remember now what the price tags were and what was written on them.”

Earlier, Sasha had drawn anti-war stickers with such messages as “Don’t be discouraged, we’ll live in peacetime one day!” and “Human life has no price.”

“There are still so many people who do not know (do not remember?) what a miracle human life is, how beautiful and precious it is, and that violence is not the solution to problems,” Sasha said in explanation of her stance.

A sampling of Sasha Skochilenko’s handmade anti-war stickers. Photo courtesy of Bumaga

Currently, Sasha’s defense is based on her admission that she did plant anti-war flyers with information about Russia’s use of military force in Ukraine and its consequences in the store. But the young woman does not think that the information in the flyers was “false,” as the criminal code article that she was charged with stipulates, her lawyer said to Bumaga.

The judge sent Sasha Skochilenko to a pretrial detention center. She has celiac disease (gluten intolerance).   

Sasha Skochilenko spent the night of April 12 in a temporary detention facility. As she later said in court, she managed to get some sleep there, but the guards did not give her water and did not bring her the food that friends had collected for her. Ultimately, the first hearing in Sasha’s case was postponed to the next day, and the young woman spent another twenty-four hours in the temporary detention facility.

Sasha’s bail hearing began at the Vasileostrovsky District Court at 9 a.m. on April 13. More than forty people had gathered at the court (where a Bumaga correspondent was present), including friends, journalists from both independent and pro-regime publications, activists, and human rights defenders. 

Skochilenko was brought into court in handcuffs and placed in a cage. The young woman looked exhausted, and she asked for something to drink. There was no water in the courtroom, however, so the visitors looked for a water bottle among themselves. Despite her subdued spirits, Sasha thanked everyone who came.

“I did not anticipate so much support, that so many people would come [to the hearing],” Skochilenko said to Bumaga before the hearing began. “Everyone here tells me that you are doing something bad if you call for peace, but people’s support for me shows this is not the case. That is the most important thing.”

The judge in Sasha’s case was Elena Vladimirovna Leonova. Appointed to the Vasileostrovsky District Court by President Boris Yeltsin in 1998, she has held this post for over twenty years.

The media has mostly mentioned Judge Leonova in a positive light, and she was given high marks from the Petersburg qualification board of judges in the past. In particular, Leonova has often declined requests by prosecutors to jail activists and protestors, unlike her colleagues. There are also some ambiguous cases and decisions in her case history, however. 

In the case of Sasha Skochilenko, the judge sided with the prosecution. Leonova began the trial by forbidding the taking of photographs in court. She then granted the prosecutor’s request to close the proceedings to the public because, allegedly, the state’s case was based on the interview records of witnesses. When members of the public were still present, the defense lawyer only managed to request the judge to release Skochilenko on bail, or prohibit her from certain actions, or at most, place her under house arrest.

The hearing, which took place behind closed doors, lasted almost five hours. When she delivered her ruling, Judge Leonova permitted several journalists, including the correspondent from Bumaga, to enter the courtroom. She began as follows: “It has been established that Skochilenko, acting deliberately, placed fragments of paper containing deliberately false information [about the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation] in the premises of a trading hall.”

The judge read out the verdict quickly, not distinguishing between the arguments of investigators and her own words. “Misleading citizens about the actions carried out by the armed forces of the Russian Federation creates tension in society [and] conducts subversive activities [sic],” she said.

Among the arguments for Sasha’s being remanded in custody, Judge Leonova mentioned that Sasha:

  • had been accused of committing a serious breach of public safety.
  • “could exert pressure” (on investigators).
  • refused to reveal the password to her telephone.
  • “might destroy evidence” if she were at large.
  • “has a sister in France.”
  • “has friends in Ukraine.”
  • “has the ability to hinder the collection of evidence and hide in Ukraine.”
  • Is registered to reside in Petersburg but resides with a female acquaintance in a rented apartment, and the female friend does not have documents proving the residence’s lawfulness for serving as a place of house arrest, and the landlady might change her mind.

The judge emphasized that Skochilenko had “visited acquaintances in Ukraine.” In fact, a friend of hers told Bumaga, Sasha had gone to Ukraine in 2020 for work at a children’s camp, where she taught animation to the children.

Sasha Skachilenko being led out of the courtroom. Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

Furthermore, Leonova brought up as an argument the fact that Skochilenko had “an administrative arrest for organizing a mass gathering of citizens during the pandemic.” Indeed, Sasha had been detained at an anti-war protest on March 3, her friend told Bumaga. Skochilenko was released after a night in the police station, and a court sentenced her to a fine of ten thousand rubles. Sasha had challenged the decision, but on appeal the court upheld the verdict.

The judge did not consider the fact that the artist had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder and celiac disease, a genetic gluten intolerance requiring a strict diet, to be a valid reason for declining to send Sasha to a pretrial detention center.

Leonova noted separately that Skochilenko had not been diagnosed with serious illnesses and that there was no evidence that she needed emergency medical care. When the defense lawyer provided the court with a doctor’s note about Sasha’s health, the judge stated that the document could not be accepted because it did not mention the source of the information.

Judge Leonova ultimately decided to remand Sasha in custody to Pretrial Detention Center No. 5 until May 31. In response, the people in the courtroom cried and told Sasha that everything would be okay, while people in the hallway shouted, “Shame on you!” to the judge. As people left the courtroom, Skochilenko smiled and waved to her friends.

“The war will end, and I will be amnestied,” Sasha managed to tell a friend before the bailiffs forced him to leave the courtroom.

Sasha is an artist and a musician. She wrote A Book on Depression and filmed protest rallies for Bumaga. Many people support her, but they are pessimistic.

“Sasha is one of my most talented acquaintances,” journalist Arseniy Vesnin, a friend of Skochilenko’s, told Bumaga. “We met around fifteen years ago. We used to play Mind Games—it was this project on Channel 5 where schoolchildren would debate. Sasha was always—or rather she is (we’re almost talking like obituaries now)—very smart, talented, and well-read.”

Sasha was born on September 13, 1990, in Leningrad. At the age of seventeen she enrolled at the Theater Academy to study directing but withdrew during her final year, transferring to St. Petersburg State University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences where she studied anthropology and graduated with honors.

From 2013-2015, Sasha made video reports of rallies and protests for Bumaga.

“Sasha is the ‘good person’ from Andrei Platonov’s works,” says Kirill Artemenko, general director of Bumaga. “Platonov’s heroes do good without fully realizing that they are good, without expecting kindness from anyone and without being offended by evil. They are hardworking, patient people. They might look weak, but in reality, they are very strong. Their strength is in their principles and natural, effortless kindness.”

When Sasha fell ill with cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar affective disorder, she wrote A Book on Depression to support people with similar health problems. The book has been translated into English and Ukrainian. The story of Sasha’s struggle with her illness can be read in this text, published by Bumaga.

Lately, Sasha had been filming and editing lectures for the feminist space Eve’s Ribs and helping to renovate the homes of women who did not want to hire a handyman to do the work, a friend tells Bumaga. She also worked as an administrator at a children’s center on Vasilievsky Island. “She communicates well with children, unlike with the cops,” explains the interviewee.

According to the friend, Skochilenko never had the goal of building a career. It was important to her to do good while also being able to live on the money she earned. 

“I don’t have any kind of particular profession. In different interviews they have called me an artist from Petersburg, a cartoonist, and an actress, and many other things,” Sasha, who at that moment was working as a nanny, said in 2020. “I don’t want to have a particular profession. And in fact, I don’t have one.”

Sasha’s passion has always been music, her friends say. Sasha views it as “an instrument of freedom,” said Skochilenko’s friend Alexei Belozerov. “She wants to create a free space with the help of music—without the hierarchies that inevitably arise within a musical collective, without the division between performers and listeners,” says Alexei. 

“War is hell.” Sasha Skochilenko’s supporters in the hallway at Vasileoostrovsky District Court in Petersburg.
Photo by Andrei Bok for Bumaga

A friend of Sasha who has been involved with her in musical events on many occasions said that the main idea of her music is free improvisation, so that “people who don’t have a musical education but very much want to play won’t be afraid to grab an instrument and play together.” For example, the friend said, Sasha held music jams at psychoneurological resident treatment facilities as a form of art therapy. 

Sasha vigorously advocated the idea of ​​freedom even after February 24. “I do not support the war in Ukraine! I went on the streets today to say it out loud!” she wrote from a rally on the first day of the war. “Two years ago, I taught children in Ukraine at a children’s camp to film videos. I remember each of their faces. They are no different from Russian children.”

Sasha decided not to emigrate, despite the risks. “Sasha said that she would not leave, because she has her social capital here, Petersburg is her city, and Russian is her language,” Sasha’s friend Arseny tells Bumaga. “She is not someone who made it her goal to fight the regime. She is a person with a conscience, and as a person with a conscience, she could not help but react to this shameless situation that is now happening in Russia”.

Guarantees for Skochilenko were signed by St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputies Boris Vishnevsky and Mikhail Amosov, [Pskov] politician Lev Schlosberg, and municipal deputy Sergei Troshin. The court also received a positive character reference from Bumaga general director Kirill Artemenko. There are hundreds of posts on social networks about her case, which has been dubbed absurd. The case has also been covered by Russia’s remaining independent media. And Bumaga has learned that protests in support of Sasha have been organized in London.

The main source of public indignation is not even that Sasha is being prosecuted for an anti-war position, but, rather, the possible sentence (up to ten years in a penal colony) and the fact that she was sent to a pretrial detention center despite her illness.

“I remind you that no one was punished for threats to ‘cut off heads,’” wrote Vishnevsky. “And there was no response to two attempts to kill my friend Vladimir Kara-Murza. But for anti-war speeches, [people get sent to] a pre-trial detention center, and then to a penal colony for ten years. Feel the difference.”

Many of those who spoke with Bumaga and who advocate for Sasha’s release are pessimistic. For example, Vishnevsky himself told Bumaga that he would be glad to be proved wrong if the outcome of the case were positive after all. Journalist Arseny Vesnin recalls that it was clear to him that Sasha would be sent to a pretrial detention center, although he did not want to believe it.

“We must pray that not only the war ends, but also that something in our country changes. This would be a good outcome. But realistically I don’t see any good outcomes,” Vesnin concludes.

Sasha’s friend, who vigorously advocates for her release, tells Bumaga that he cannot express his opinion about what is happening, including in this case, without breaking the law.

“This is terror,” he says anonymously. “It has been unleashed in the original sense of the word— as ‘fear’ and ‘horror.’ They are maintaining an atmosphere of terror. This is the only way to explain why, for replacing one piece of paper in a store with another, a bunch of people in uniform write up interrogation reports and put them into case files, conduct searches, and arrange an ambush using the person’s friend. In this sense, the possible outcome of this case is the same as that of everything that is happening here. The terror will grow, the terror will intensify. They will be trying to frighten us and to break us more and more.”

Sasha’s case is not an exception. The security forces are persecuting many people who have protested the war by replacing price tags.

As of April 7, four days before Sasha Skochilenko’s arrest, twenty-one criminal cases had been launched nationwide on suspicions of spreading “fake news about the Russian army,” wrote human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov. Almost all of the cases involve publishing “knowingly false information” on the internet—with the exception of five cases, and only one of those cases also involves distributing flyers in a store.

Despite increased pressure, Russians continue to replace price tags with anti-war messages. This “quiet protest” is considered an easy way to convey the truth about what is happening in Ukraine to people living in a different “information bubble.”

Replacing price tags in stores became a popular form of protest after the campaign was announced by Feminist Anti-War Resistance, a movement of Russian feminists that came to life in February 2022 in response to the war. But the movement recognizes that protesting can be dangerous.

A sampling of anti-war “price tags” from Feminist Anti-War Resistance’s Telegram channel.
Courtesy of Kholod. This image was not included in the original article, in Russian, on Bumaga.

“The police have increasingly been tracking down people involved in various types of anti-war protest,” a spokeswoman for Feminist Anti-War Resistance told Bumaga. “To date, we know that one of our participants, who put anti-war slogans on price tags, was tracked down through the card she used to pay in the store.”

The movement says that they have not been in contact with Skochilenko—or, perhaps, do not know that they have had contact with her, since they communicate with many members of the movement anonymously. But they expressed their support for the artist: “We believe that Sasha should be released immediately, and the case against her should be closed and all charges dropped.”

“Today, anti-war price tags are one of the most common forms of protest, along with posting stickers and flyers in public places,” the spokeswoman said. “Unfortunately, no forms of anti-war protest are absolutely safe in Russia today. We believe it is important to emphasize this regularly and encourage everyone to pay special attention to safety rules and to take potential risks into account.”

Two days after the hearing, Sasha Skochilenko is still in the temporary detention facility. In the evening, she is supposed to be taken to the pretrial detention center. She delivered a message through her lawyer, saying that she was doing well and was grateful for people’s support.

The wardens at the temporary detention facility promised to provide Sasha with a gluten-free diet and, according to her lawyer, they have kept their promise. A request to meet her dietary needs has also been sent to the pretrial detention center. At the same time, Sasha’s girlfriend has been summoned to the Investigative Committee for questioning.

Bumaga will continue covering the case of Sasha Skochilenko. For the latest news, subscribe to our Telegram channel and the Free Sasha Skochilenko support group channel on Telegram.  You can also sign a petition calling for Sasha’s release.

Source: Bumaga, 15 April 2022. Translated by Christopher Damon, Zhenia Dubrova, Savannah Eller, Emily Hester, Marta Hulievska, Kirill Lanski, Jasmine Li, Milla McCaghren, and Andres Meraz. Thanks to Victoria Somoff for her assistance and the Fabulous AM for her abiding support of this project. ||| TRR

“It’s Terrifying to Be Here Amidst This Hell”

I’m a translator, an academic, and a US citizen. Over the past week I have received many dozens of emails from people all over Russia who are desperate to leave and looking for any way out of Russia and into a stable academic or arts-related position.

The one I’ve translated here (with permission from the author, whose personal information has been removed) is both characteristic and particularly exhaustive, and reveals a lot about the situation in Russia now. Just as the prospect of a “war in Europe” and “World War III” has activated memories of the Second World War, in Russia the new crackdown on free media and civic protest has dredged up a lot of cultural trauma around Stalin-era repressions, particularly among the intelligentsia. Postmodern apocalypse rules, with totalitarian concentration camps and 1984 rubbing shoulders (see also Nadia Plungian’s piece analyzing the 20th-century’s death-grip on the modern-day cultural imagination in Russia).

The specters of the twentieth century are additionally deleterious in the way they constantly bring back and elevate specifically Russian suffering. While this suffering is linked to real, undeniable and still largely unprocessed trauma, it feeds into the self-absorption and political passivity that underpins the state of things in Russia today (I don’t have to point out certain parallels with the US and mainstream American culture). It’s not my place to blame Russian citizens for what their insane government is fomenting in Ukraine; there is just clearly much work to be done to build civic consciousness and a functioning society.

Hello.

Although I was born and have spent my whole life in Russia, I am, ethnically speaking, half Russian and half Ukrainian: my grandparents are from Ukraine, and even quite recently I was thinking about applying for Ukrainian citizenship in order to move to a normal, free country, all the more so since I have roots there, but I took too long to decide and now the war has canceled all of those plans. What’s happening right now in Ukraine puts me literally into a state of shock, and what’s happening in Russia makes my hair stand up on end from horror and the realization that this is not a bad dream or nightmare that one might at least eventually wake up from.

This inhumane and senseless war that Putin is waging against Ukraine, which the Russian governmental media insist on calling a “special operation” (while using the word “war” carries the threat of criminal charges), this is only half of the hell, the other half is happening inside Russia. In downtown [city’s name redacted; it is not a capital city], I witnessed the police arresting he small number of people protesting the war. The police used truncheons to shove a grandma holding a “NO WAR!” sign into a paddy wagon. I can’t get my head around the fact that being pro-peace is a crime now. But there are very few protests, the people capable of thinking, the ones who understand how absurd what’s happening is, they’re spooked and scared of protesting lest they end up crippled or have fabricated criminal charges pinned on them.

But the worst thing is that many people, including my former colleagues from the theater, absolutely support this hell that Putin is creating right now in Ukraine, this totally unprovoked and unjustifiable, senseless and bloody slaughter. A huge majority of people has been zombified by the propaganda on TV and are openly welcoming this war, thoughtlessly reproducing the TV propagandists’ fascist, misanthropic slogans. And it’s impossible to convince them otherwise, they brand any rational argument a “fake” and hate the people who argue with them. Today, near my building, I saw that my neighbors had painted the “Z” symbol on their cars, this new swastika that marks the Russian military equipment going to attack Ukraine. They’re all in favor of the hellishness, the blood and death, the war. It’s so scary.

The most absolute insane and absurd madness is being fomented, madness that has no sense and virtually no grounds. Besides this bloody war, besides the sanctions that the entire civilized world has imposed on Russia, here inside the country right now the most severe censorship is being implemented, the last free media outlets that covered the last alternative points of view are shutting down. This is the end. They have been destroyed simply because they called the war a war. There are new laws being passed that threaten fifteen years in prison for telling the truth, and who knows how long it will take before they bring back the firing squad for any kind of freethinking. The prime minister already voiced his support for [restoring] the death penalty. Every day things get worse and worse, and the end is nowhere in sight.

This is a surreal nightmare! Reality just all of the sudden lost its mind. In the blink of an eye everything turned from a vague sort of dictatorship into a totalitarian concentration camp along the lines of Orwell’s 1984, and this is no exaggeration. Soon nothing will be left here besides crowds of insane, poverty-stricken people, completely turned to morons by fascist propaganda, their last bit of reason lost, roaring bloodthirsty slogans, and they will simply destroy anyone who allows themselves to think differently.

I just don’t know how to go on living in this concentration camp that Putin is building here in Russia. Before the start of the war, one could at least try to live one’s life, to be free, to make a living through one’s art and not engage with the universal vector of militarization and dumbing down, to have some kind of hope and plans for the future, but now that’s over, there is no hope left. Navalny is in prison, the opposition has been totally crushed, and the state media, radio and TV, all without exception just repeat one and the same lies, lies, lies and nothing but lies, while the non-governmental sources of information are either already closed or are being destroyed and persecuted. The state is mercilessly rooting out even the weakest rudiments of free speech and of rational thinking in general. It’s terrifying to be here amidst this hell.

While I was writing this I got the news that PayPal and Payoneer announced that they would not be doing business in Russia anymore, and that means I will literally be left without any source of income for my creative projects, while working as an actor in this country involves propaganda in one way or another, because free creative activity has not been possible here for a long time. I became convinced of this myself when I left a theater whose management literally threatened the acting troupe to get us to vote for the candidate they wanted.

I’d like to just live peacefully, make art, learn new things, create beauty, and work to build a bright and joyful future. But now wanting peace will just get you beaten up and thrown in prison. I don’t know what to do and how to go on living.

Translated and prefaced by the Fabulous AM. Photo by the Russian Reader

Night over Chile

Poster for the 1977 Soviet film Night Over Chile

George Losev
Facebook
March 13, 2021

I watched the old Soviet movie Night over Chile on the TV at work. Despite a certain theatricality that was slightly inappropriate for a Soviet mockumentary (yes, yes), it does a very good job of conveying the atmosphere of fear and hopelessness that we are experiencing now, when faced with the Russian state.

And perhaps that was why the film didn’t cause the average Soviet person to feel anything. They knew what it was about, but they didn’t feel it.

Night over Chile is a film by Chilean film director Sebastián Alarcón and Soviet film director Alexander Kosarev, shot at Mosfilm Studios (USSR) in 1977. The historical drama recounts realistic accuracy the 1973 military coup in Chile and the subsequent crackdown, as seen through the eyes of the young architect Manuel, who is at the center of the events. The 10th Moscow Film Festival celebrated the work of the directors by awarding them a special prize for their directorial debut.

Young architect Manuel’s (Grigore Grigoriu) life purpose is to construct new beautiful houses. He is not interested in politics, showing everyone around him complete neutrality. However the events of 11 September 1973 shatter his perfect little world. The murder of lawful President Allende, arrests without charges and court decisions fundamentally change Manuel’s outlook on what is happening. Because a leftist activist escaped from a raid through his apartment, the architect gets thrown into jail, goes through torture and abuse, and witnesses mass executions (at the infamous National Stadium). Manuel understands that the only way for an honest man is the path of the political struggle, the national resistance.

The film was shot on location in Baku, but the recreation of the events at the National Stadium was filmed at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Cast:
Grigore Gregoriu — Manuel Valdiva
Baadur Tsuladze — Maria’s Husband
Giuli Chokhonelidze — Juan Gonzalez
Islam Kaziyev – Junta Officer
Sadykh Huseynov — Rolando Machuc
Vytautas Kancleris — Don Carlos
Roman Khomyatov — Junta Officer
Victor Soțchi-Voinicescu — Domingo
Mircea Soțchi-Voinicescu — Roberto
Vsevolod Gavrilov — Padre
Nartai Begalin — Soldier
Maria Sagaidak — Esperanza
Bakhrom Akramov
Leon Kukulyan — Orlando
Oleg Fedorov — Reporter
Sebastián Alarcón
Mayak Kerimov
Nina Pushkova — Pamela

Source: articles on the film published in the Russian and English versions of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sway

When the Night Lanterns Sway: It’s Useless to Try and Beat the State on Its Own “Legal Turf”
Alexander Skobov
Kasparov.ru
February 13, 2021

On February 9, Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s network of local teams, announced a flash mob for February 14, Valentine’s Day: residents of large cities should go into their courtyards at 8 p.m. and turn on their mobile phone flashlights. This is an attempt to adopt Belarusian know-how [see the article, below]. The idea is that residents of the same yard who are sympathetic to the protest movement but don’t know each other can get acquainted and create a grassroots network for rapid notification and mobilization.

Putin’s occupation army has reacted hysterically to the undertaking. A yahoo from the Assembly for Approving the Cutie Pie Slutsky’s Sexual Harassment (colloquially known as the State Skank) compared the flashlights in the courtyards with the signals of saboteurs guiding German bombers to their targets. The Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor General’s Office declared it a call for “mass rioting” and threatened potential flash mob participants with criminal charges. Roskomnadzor has been chasing down internet media officially operating in Russian Federation and forcing them to delete reports about the planned event.

The point here is not a “shutdown of law in Russia,” which, according to Vladimir Pastukhov, occurred after Navalny’s return. A completely anti-legal, multi-level system for cracking down on street activism has long been erected in Russia. It consists of three elements: 1) laws aimed at restricting the right to public expression of opinion; 2) a dishonest and broad interpretation of these laws by the police and the courts; 3) and pure lawlessness, as when the police engage directly in frame-ups and fakery, and the obedient courts pretend not to see it.

Those who tried to defend the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution [“Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”] focused mainly on the third element and sluggishly butted heads with the authorities over the second element, while almost ignoring the first element. Meanwhile, it was all about the first element. The second and third elements were just an appendix to it.

The Code of Administrative Offenses contains an article that punishes involvement in unauthorized events. The shapes and features of this involvement are not described. They are listed in Federal Law No. 54 (“On Mass Events”). In particular, it says that at a mass public event, participants express their attitude to current socio-political problems by chanting slogans and holding up placards.

For many years, opposition activists have been looking for an “unauthorized” way to publicly voice their opinions that would not get them detained. For a long time, they unsuccessfully tried to prove in the courts that if they did not chant slogans and did not hold up placards, there was no protest rally as such. However, the list of ways of participating in a rally, as enumerated in Federal Law No. 54, is not exhaustive. That is, any way of voicing one’s stance is considered an indication of having participated in a public event. That is, expression of a position as such is considered “participation.”

The phrase “expressed [his/her] attitude to current socio-political problems” is often found in police reports on the arrest of people involved in unauthorized public events. The phrase sounds crazy and comical when it comes to legally justifying arresting people and charging them with administrative offenses. It was not invented by the police goons, however. It was borrowed from the definition of a protest rally contained in Federal Law No. 54.

In fact, this coinage, found in police reports and “court” rulings, expresses the collective unconscious of the bureaucratic police regime—its dream, its loftiest ideal. Ordinary citizens should not publicly voice their opinions on current socio-political issues. It is better for them not to have such opinions at all. Voicing opinions is the prerogative of the authorities.

Hence, the very fact that an ordinary citizen voices their socio-political position is considered an anomaly, a deviation from the norm, a violation of public order. And when you start arguing with the authorities at the police station or in “court,” asking them what socially dangerous or simply harmful actions were committed by a citizen who was detained for publicly expressing their position by attending an outdoor rally, they sincerely don’t understand what you are talking about. It is clear to them that publicly voicing a position itself is a socially harmful action if ever there was one.

Since (they say) the greatest geopolitical catastrophe happened, and we are now forced to temporarily recognize a citizen’s right to voice their position at least formally, we’ll load your opportunity to exercise this right with so many conditions that you’ll rue the day you tried to do it. And they really have been doing just this—purposefully, consistently, for the entire length of Putin’s rule.

The lawless authorities refuse to authorize opposition rallies at central and iconic locations under completely far-fetched and false pretexts, and our “managed” injustice system almost always takes the side of the authorities. On the other hand, the “legislators” in the State Skank seek to block any chance people have to publicly voice their stance without prior approval. As soon as the opposition finds a new way of protesting, enabling it to circumvent previously imposed bans, a new amendment or a new law immediately follows, sealing this loophole as well.

It is useless to try to win against the state on its own “legal turf” as long as it has the will and power to shut society up. The state’s will can be opposed only by society’s will not to obey anti-legal prohibitions. The point of unauthorized public events is that they demonstratively violate prohibitions on “unauthorized” expressions of one’s opinion.

I have already had occasion to write that prohibiting people from publicly expressing their attitude to current socio-political issues without permission is an important part of the system for manipulating the admission of players to the “political market.” The entire social and political system that has taken shape in Russia is based on this system of manipulation. In order to reliably guarantee citizens their constitutional right to freely express their attitude to socio-political issues peacefully and unarmed, we have to replace the entire socio-political system.

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sing

When the night lanterns swing,
And it’s dangerous for you to walk the dark streets,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I can’t love anyone anymore.

The girls kissed my feet like they were crazy,
A widow and I drank through my father’s  house.
And my cheeky laugh
Was always a success,
And my youth has cracked like a nut!

I sit on a bunk like a king at a birthday party,
And I dream of getting a drab ration.
I look out the window like an owl:
Now I don’t care!
I’m ready to put out my torch before anyone else.

When the night lanterns swing,
And the black cat runs down the street like the devil,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I’ve broken my lifetime record forever!

Lyrics by Gleb Gorbovsky. Source: a-pesni. Performance by Beseder and Lyonchik. Translated by the Russian Reader

A protest in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Belarusian Courtyard Protests Model for Latest Navalny Tactic
Window on Eurasia
February 13, 2021

Staunton, February 11 — The Navalny organization’s decision to shift at least for a time from mass public protests to smaller but perhaps even more numerous demonstrations in the courtyards of Russian apartment blocks is not a unique Russian innovation. Instead, it has its roots in what Belarusian protesters have been doing since last fall.

In Belarusian cities, MBKh journalist Arina Kochemarova says, this shift has led to the emergence of whole areas devoted to protests and to the first flowering of what many people there hope will result in the formation of local self-administration, yet another way they hope to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.

In these Belarusian courtyards, she points out, places that people have christened “squares of change,” people fly the white-red-white Belarusian flag, organize concerns and flash mobs, and in many cases get to know their neighbors better than they ever have in the past, something that by itself promotes solidarity against the government.

Yegor Martinovich, editor of Belarusian Nasha Niva newspaper, says that Belarusians made the shift because of the rising tide of repression and arrests of those taking part in major demonstrations. Fewer people are taking part in the courtyard protests, but at the same time, he suggests, courtyard meetings are forming a sense of solidarity for the future.

Courtyard protests are not only harder for the authorities to counter, but they also can take a variety of formats ranging from flash mobs to the emergence of genuinely independent community organization. “Civil society has begun to flourish everywhere which in general is a good thing. People have begun to unite,” the editor says.

The biggest problem with this shift, Martinovich says, is that the media pays a great deal more attention to one big demonstration than it does to many smaller ones, even if the smaller ones collectively include more people and have a greater impact. Moreover, Lukashenka is learning how to react, cutting off utilities where there are white-red-white flags.

Now, this Belarusian tactic is coming to Russia, intensifying fears among the authorities that the Navalny movement could develop the way in which the Belarusian one has. Russian officials have already made clear that they will crack down hard early on lest the shift from the streets to the courtyards takes off.

Five Years in Prison for a Tweet

sinitsa in dockVladislav Sinitsa in the cage during his custody hearing on August 5. Photo courtesy of Mediazona

Court Sentences Vladislav Sinitsa to Five Years in Prison for Tweet about Children of Security Forces Officers
Mediazona
September 3, 2019

Moscow’s Presna District Court has sentenced Vladislav Sinitsa, a financial manager from the Moscow Region, to five years in a medium-security penal colony for a tweet about the children of security forces officers, reports the Moscow News Agency.

Judge Elena Abramova found Sinitsa guilty of inciting hatred with the threat of violence (punishable under Article 282.2.a of the Russian Criminal Code). The prosecutor had asked her to sentence Sinitsa to six years in prison.

The court handed down the verdict on the second day of the trial per se.

The court questioned two witnesses: Russian National Guardsmen Alexander Andreyev and Artyom Tarasov, who, allegedly, saw Sinitsa’s tweet.

Andreyev said he regarded the tweet as a call to “kidnap the children of National Guardsmen and slaughter them.” However, he was unable to tell the court his own username on Twitter. He claimed he saw the tweet after searching for “Max Steklov,” which is Sinitsa’s username.

Tarasov also said he took the tweet as a threat.

After the witnesses were questioned, the prosecutor summarized the two volumes of the case file, including the findings of forensic experts from the Center for Socio-Cultural Forensic Testing [sic]. They found evidence in the tweet of calls for violent action against the security forces, and signs of threats and incitement of hatred towards them.

It has transpired that the people who performed the forensic examination for the prosecution had no specialized education in the field.

In turn, the defense questioned forensic experts who had examined Sinitsa’s tweets at its request: Elena Novozhilova, a linguist from the nonprofit Independent Forensic Testing Center, and Maria Kulikova, an analyst with the Center for Forensic Examination and Research.

Kulikova harshly criticized the forensic examination commissioned by the prosecution. Both experts spoke of its poor quality.

Mediazona has written at length abut the criminal case against Sinitsa.

On July 31, Sinitsa supplied his own answer to the question of whether it was a good idea to publish the identities of security forces officers in a tweet published under the username “Max Steklov.”

The tweet was quoted on national TV channels.

Later, on August 3, the Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation. Two days later, the Presna District Court remanded Sinitsa in custody.

Sinitsa has insisted he was not calling on anyone to do anything but had implied popular unrest could arise if the security forces continued beating protesters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Two Years Hard Time for Grabbing a Policeman by the Arm

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Prisoners of the Article 212 Case
Facebook
September 3, 2019

Yet another guilty verdict and yet another hefty prison sentence.

A court has found Danila Beglets guilty and sentenced him to two years in a medium-security penal colony. Beglets was accused of grabbing a policeman by the arm when the latter was detaining protesters.

Beglets has two small children. He is a businessman and the only breadwinner in his family.

Photo of Danila Beglets and his family courtesy of Prisons of the Article 212 Case. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. Ivan Podkopayev, another defendant in the Article 2012 case, was found guilty earlier today. He was sentenced to three years in a penal colony for, allegedly, spraying pepper spray in the direction of police officers.

P.P.S. Not all the news from the Article 212 Case was bad. Criminal charges against defendants Daniil Konon, Sergei Abanichev, Vladislav Barabanov, and Valery Kostenok were dropped today.

Mari Davtyan: Thinking about the Police

ivan krasnov-takedown
Photo by Ivan Krasnov. Courtesy of RTVI and Mari Davtyan

Mari Davtyan
Facebook
May 6, 2018

Today I am thinking about police officers.

Some time ago I was in a police station in downtown Moscow, one of the police stations where detained protesters are routinely taken. On the bulletin board there was a photograph of a child, accompanied by a request to help the family of someone who worked at the station, someone whose son was seriously ill.

They were trying to raise around three million rubles [approx. 40,000 euros] to take the baby abroad for treatment.

But I look at these other photographs, and there is something I can never understand.

The men in the helmets have no yachts, private jets or hefty accounts in banks. Interior Ministry clinics will not even treat their children, and ambulances will refuse to pick up their elders and take them to hospital, because, “What do you want? He (or she) is seventy years old?!” They themselves will endure systematic violatons of their rights as employees, and when they are dismissed for reasons of health or due to budget cuts, they will have to sue the courts for years to be paid their pensions and other benefits. But if they die in the line of duty—no, not while detaining those awful protesters, but while trying to arrest actual criminals—their families will be paid kopecks in compensation and forgotten within six months.

They know quite well that if a conflict arises—say, an FSB officer hits them with his car—the Interior Ministry will throw them under the bus without batting an eye. They know better than we do how dangerous it is for their children and wives to walk outside in Russia, how easy it is to buy narcotics in Russian schools, and what their commanding officer’s summer cottage is like. They know perfectly well how senseless, illogical, and merciless the “system” is. They talk about it all the time.

But I look at them and I just cannot get my head around one thing. What is it they defend so vehemently?

Thanks to Varya Mikhailova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader