Darya Apahonchich: “What’s a Vulva?”

Hello, my name is Darya Apahonchich, and the Russian Justice Ministry obliges me to start any video and story that I publish online with the phrase:

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT.

Since I have become not just a foreign agent, but a foreign agent media outlet, I decided to take advantage of this unexpected status and record a trial internet video, as if I had my own TV channel. So, this is my first video, and it deals with the case of Yulia Tsvetkova and issues surrounding the female body.

This program is about what the vulva is. I’ll explain why I’ve chosen this topic. The fact is that my apartment was searched by the police. During the search, one of the officers found a lot of posters protesting the Yulia Tsvetkova case. At some point he asked me, “What’s a vulva?”

At that moment, the search had been going on for a long time. I didn’t feel like talking and said that, in keeping with Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, I wished to exercise my right not to incriminate myself. I wouldn’t be telling the officer what a vulva was.

Almost three months have passed since then, and I thought it was unfair that there was a cop walking around who didn’t know what a vulva was, so I decided to record this video so that he and others could fill in this gap in their knowledge.

Now I shall fantasize what I would have said at that moment in reply to the officer’s question.

So, the policeman would ask me, “And what is a vulva?”

And I would answer him, “Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question quickly. I can only answer by resorting to a fairy tale.”

And he would say, “Well, you have so much junk in your home that we’ll be searching it for a long time. Let’s hear your story.”

And I would say, “Good, because your question reminded me of a question that a dinosaur asked a sea cow. The fact is that this tyrannosaur ran out of friends suspiciously often. He would invite them to dinner, and by the end of the dinner they would all be gone. So, he asked the sea cow for advice.

“‘Listen, sea cow, you have so many friends. How do you manage to be an equal among equals? I’d like to do the same.’

“‘Yes, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s my advice: start reading about the world and its problems, about injustices, have a look at theory, and make friends who are also interested in these things. And yes: you need to completely abandon meat and eating living creatures,’ the sea cow answered.

“The dinosaur took this advice, and when he and the sea cow met a year later, he was quite different.

“‘Listen, I did everything as you taught me. Now I read books with other former predators. We get together to discuss the global cold snap and the violence that we generate. But I’m very sad, and so are all my friends – we are really grieving. It seems that this isn’t what I wanted,’ he said to the sea cow.

“‘Yes, but you wanted to be an equal among equals, didn’t you?’ the sea cow asked.

“‘Yes, but not like this. I’ve achieved my goal, but not in the way I thought.”

“‘You know, tyrannosaurus, this happens quite often. For example, I recall the story of a jellyfish who quarreled with everyone.’

“‘What’s the story? Tell me!’

“So, the sea cow told the dinosaur the story.

“‘Once upon a time there was a scyphozoan jellyfish who quarreled with everyone. She couldn’t help it when she heard something about motherhood or the rights of females:

“Well,” she would grumble, “They used to give birth to jellyfishlets in the sea, and there were no female rights, and everything was normal.” But no one wanted to be friends with her, and so she asked a moon jellyfish for advice.

‘“How do you not quarrel with anyone? What’s your secret?”

‘“You know, I have a magic spring in the sea, and as soon as I want to say something about the rights of females, I swim to it, take in a mouthful of water and count to a thousand, and then let it out. And that’s it. I don’t quarrel with anyone.”

‘The scyphozoan took the advice and began doing the same. It helped her, and then she asked the moon jellyfish another question.

‘“Look, it’s a great method: I’ve made up with family. But magic water isn’t scientific, is it?”

‘“Well, yes, but you had to learn a new way of interacting with your loved ones, so you did it. You’ll change your mindset later on.”

‘“That’s great, of course, but I still prefer knowing what I’m doing, not just doing it. This story reminds me of the story of the doubting bee.”

‘“What’s the story? Tell me!”

‘And the scyphozoan told her the story of the bee.’

‘“Well, there was once a little bee who doubted whether she really needed to spend the whole summer gathering nectar.”’

And that’s when the policeman would have interrupted me.

“Look, I already got the point about the sea cow, the jellyfish, and the dinosaur, but what does that have to do with the vulva?”

“Look, you’ve come to search my home because I might have seen someone jaywalking,” I would have told him, “but you’ve been looking at my vulva posters for the past six hours. What’s the connection there?”

“All right, go ahead,” he would say.

And I would go on.

“So, the bee doubted that she really needed to collect nectar, flying from flower to flower every day: the work made her tired. She shared her thoughts with a stick caterpillar, and the stick caterpillar decided to play a nasty joke on the bee.

“‘Listen, honey bee,’ she said, ‘there is a magic flower called the elecampane. It is difficult to find, but as soon as you find it, you bring the pollen from it home, and you shall always have food for all your brothers and sisters.’

“And the bee flew off to look for this flower. When she met the stick caterpillar in the autumn, she was reproachful.

“‘Caterpillar, did you deceive me?” I spent the whole summer looking for the elecampane, but I couldn’t find it.’

“‘Yes, I deceived you because I wanted you to keep pollinating the flowers while thinking that you were looking for elecampane. Because your work is very important: without you, the flowers would not be able to reproduce, and the whole green world would die, and we would die with it. That’s why I lied to you.’

“‘Look, maybe your method worked,’ the bee said, ‘and I have been pollinating flowers all summer, but it’s wrong. I’m a rational being and I understand how important my work is, but it’s better to have a theory than not having one, to know what I’m doing than not knowing.’”

“Yes, I understand,” the policeman would then say. “So you mean that in all these stories, the characters achieved their goal, thinking that they were doing something different, but they were disappointed because it is better to have a theory than not having one?”

“Yes, you’ve got it quite right, comrade policeman,” I would say, “and that brings you closer to the question of what the vulva is. The vulva is a sexual organ, and many organisms have one. But feeling shame over the vulva is the starting point of our misogynous culture, while the movement towards respect, towards understanding that the vulva is an organ of a living person who has the right to know about their anatomy is a process. Therefore, the vulva is the path from shame to respect.”

And now I will draw a picture of how I told this story.

First, I told you about my conversation with the policeman. This was the first narrative frame. Inside it was the second frame, about the dinosaur and the sea cow, followed by the story about the jellyfish, and, at the very center, the story about the bee. The structure of my story will also help you to think about what the vulva is.

I want to finish this story with two conclusions.

First, please support Yulia Tsvetkova, whose trial begins soon.

Second, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the female body. It is very important, even for young women.

Thanks for listening!

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for providing me with a slightly abridged Russian text of the story she tells in her video, above. Images courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader

What You Have to Do to Be a “Foreign Agent” in Russia

Darya Apahonchich. The inscription reads: “Not only a body, but also a person.” Courtesy of Kommersant via Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page

Аn “agent” due to wages: foreign agent status threatens teachers
Oleg Dilimbetov and Marina Litvinova
Kommersant
April 7, 2021

A job at a foreign institute of higher education or a salary from a foreign employer can be grounds for obtaining the status of a so-called foreign agent. This transpired during the the hearing of a lawsuit brought against the Justice Ministry by Petersburg teacher and activist Darya Apahonchich. She had requested that the ministry specify the reasons it had forcibly registered her as a “private individual acting as a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent.” The ministry provided the court with written proof of her employment at a French college [in Petersburg] and the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The ministry confirmed that the “foreign funding” received by a potential “foreign agent” does not necessarily have to have anything to do with subsequent “dissemination of information” or “political activity.”

Ms. Apahonchich was placed on the register of so-called individual media foreign agents on December 28, 2020, along with three journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. At the time, the Justice Ministry did not explain what specific reasons had caused them to assign her this status. In March, Ms. Apahonchich filed a lawsuit in Petersburg’s Lenin District Court, claiming that the obligations imposed on her by the Justice Ministry due to the new status violated her rights under the Russian Constitution and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On April 5, during a preliminary hearing of the lawsuit, Ms. Apahonchich was informed of the Justice Ministry’s objections to her claims and finally learned the reasons she had been entered into the register.

The ministry told the court that the woman [sic] had received foreign money transfers from Sweden, Germany, France and Finland. As Ms. Apahonchich explained, these were official fees for participation in festivals and exhibitions and her work as a teacher.

Thus, she was paid 35 thousand rubles by the Finnish Museum of Photography.  She received Another 112 thousand rubles from the French college [in Petersburg], where she taught Russian. She received about 60 thousand rubles from friends via the PayPal transfer system, and these transfers were expedited by Deutsche Bank (Germany). [That is, Ms. Apahonchich had received the fantastic sum of approximately 2,220 euros at current exchange rates — TRR.] In addition, Ms. Apahonchich was imputed with having received bank transfers from her employer, the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The Justice Ministry stated that the source of these funds was Norway, and the intermediary was Sweden. The activist herself claims that she performed work at the Red Cross under a [Russian] presidential grant.

As for “dissemination of information,” the Justice Ministry pointed out that Ms. Apahonchich had reposted on social networks the article “Feminist Fairy Tales: Princesses Fighting the Patriarchy,” published by Radio Liberty (which has been deemed a so-called foreign agent media outlet by the Russian authorities). The ministry also told the court about the YouTube channel “Feminists Explain,” where Ms. Apahonchich has discussed the topic of gender equality, and her article about domestic violence, published on the website Colta.ru. In addition, the woman [sic] had appealed on social networks for solidarity with the defendants in the case of the Network (deemed a terrorist organization in the Russian Federation and banned) and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova.

“The list of my sins is long but honorable: I taught Russian as a foreign language, participated in international festivals, and voiced solidarity with  the regime’s victims. Yes, I also accepted financial assistance from friends from abroad,” Ms. Apahonchich said when asked to comment on the Justice Ministry’s position. “It is clear that they brought the house down on me for solidarity: for solidarity pickets, for public discussions with friends. The situation was not what it is now: everyone seems to have gone off the rails. We’re in trouble, we need help.”

Her lawyer Alexander Peredruk noted that the Justice Ministry had not even tried to prove to the court that there was a connection between the foreign funds received by his client and her activism.

“Based on the Justice Ministry’s position, if you publish something on social networks, it does not matter whether you receive foreign funds directly or indirectly. And it is very difficult to independently monitor the matter: when collaborating with an LLC, you cannot know for certain whether it receives foreign money,” the lawyer said. “The Justice Ministry argues that the separately existing evidence of receiving funds from abroad and publishing on social networks is enough. They have not tried to establish a direct connection between them.”

The Justice Ministry told Kommersant that the law sets quite clear criteria for inclusion in the register. In the case of “individual media foreign agents,” it is sufficient to “distribute news reports and materials intended for an unlimited number of persons,” as well as to receive “money and (or) other property” from foreign states, organizations and nationals, or “from Russian legal entities receiving money from these sources.” To obtain the status of an “individual foreign agent,” it is enough to receive “foreign” money and “distribute news reports and materials” created by a “foreign agent media outlet” or “participate in the creation” of such “news reports and materials.”

“The legislation specifies neither the need for an obligatory link between the receipt of foreign funds and the dissemination of news reports and materials, nor evidence of the individual’s political activity,” the Justice Ministry confirmed to Kommersant.

Translated by the Russian Reader

There Are No Exceptions to the State of Exception

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
February 2, 2021

I have always said that many practices that are later transferred to Russian citizens are first tested out on “migrants.” Mechanisms for securing human rights and ordinary social rights and living conditions first stop functioning for migrants. They were the first to get what amounted to criminal punishments for administrative violations. They were the first to be stripped of their rights as workers. They were the first to be subjected to a universal system of total electronic surveillance. It is hard not to notice, for example, the link between the concept of “illegals” and the concept of “foreign agents.” It is symbolic that people illegally detained in Moscow for coming out to protest an anti-constitutional regime are now being transported to Sakharovo, a place where foreign nationals are imprisoned, often illegally. It’s very simple: there can be no human rights and rule of law if even one group is (initially with the public’s general consent) excluded from the protection of these laws and rights. Sooner or later, the exceptions will apply to everyone else.

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
February 1, 2021

Re: the police search

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

While have never been a neat freak, I have never let things get like this. I had collected the posters for the Museum of Political History, and now I am sorting them out. Thank you for your words of support and anger: they help a lot. The children are still with relatives: I want to clean the place up before they come back. In the meantime, I have restored our SIM cards and bought new phones for myself and my daughter.

You ask how you can help? Stop by if you’re going to be near Vladimirskaya subway station today or tomorrow: we’ll drink coffee and rummage through my things. I’ve also been asked whether I need money to buy computers. [The police confiscated all the electronic devices in Apahonchich’s flat.] Of course, they’re obliged to return them, but in practice they often take their time doing it. They might turn them over in six months or give them back broken.

And I want to say a huge thank you to the advocates who were on duty in the help groups. Yesterday I watched how these wonderful, brave people work, and I was filled with admiration for them.

I am very worried about all the victims [of the mass arrests on Sunday, January 31].

I’m writing my [Sberbank] card number down here. If I get more money than I need for new computers, I will transfer the surplus to Mediazona and OVD Info.

4276 5500 7321 7849

Although I look rumpled (I didn’t sleep for almost two days), I’m in good spirits.

Svetlana Prokopyeva
Facebook
February 1, 2021

More than two years ago, I wrote a column about how the law enforcement system in our country had turned into a system of repression, and the state’s monopoly on violence had been turned against ordinary citizens who had grievances with the regime. As an example, I cited the arrest of Artyom Milushkin, the organizer of an authorized rally against corruption. On his way to the rally, he was thrown face-first into the mud by two men, who didn’t identify themselves. It later transpired that they were police officers.

It seems like such a minor thing today, doesn’t it?

And it is not surprising, given that the official response to my opinion piece was a criminal case against me, not an attempt to explain or discuss anything.

Of course, I was not the first to catch this trend, but it seems that I was the first to get such a clear and abrupt response. It was my text, the ideas I expressed, and my individual judgment that were declared the corpus delicti. My criminal case seems to have marked a watershed: we can no longer have our own opinions. People are tried for their opinions. Don’t ask questions.

What is happening on the streets today shows how cohesively the state repressive machine has crystallized. I don’t know what kind of orders those dashing fellows in helmets receive before going to disperse the guys and gals, but it is clear from the confident swings of their billy clubs that they see the enemy before them. The regime they serve has declared war on those who accuse it of theft and murder, although it seems that they already constitute a majority.

This is the death certificate for public politics in Russia, which was the point of my column “Crackdowns for the State.” For publishing it, I was found guilty of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code) and fined 500,000 rubles. I have an appeals hearing tomorrow at 10 a.m., but I don’t think we’ll be able to overturn the verdict, especially at a time like now.

I wrote that column in the belief that dialogue was possible, that it was not only necessary, but a real possibility, that it was still possible to prevent and stop what was happening, to force the authorities to think hard. Unfortunately, I no longer have that feeling.

(The photo, above, shows me halfway to the paddy wagon, but I never made it there because “Sorry, we didn’t figure out right away [that you were a journalist].”)

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Justice Ministry Adds Five New “Foreign Agents” to Its List

“The register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent has been updated. On December 28, 2020, in compliance with the requirements of the current legislation of the Russian Federation, Darya Apahonchich, Denis Kamalyagin, Sergey Markelov, Lev Ponomarev, and Lyudmila Savitskaya were included in the register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.” Screenshot of Russian Justice Ministry website, 28 December 2020

Human Rights Activists Lev Ponomaryov and Four Other People Added to List of “Foreign Agents”
OVD Info
December 28, 2020

For the first time, the Russian Ministry of Justice has placed individuals, including journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, on its registry of “[foreign] mass media acting as foreign agents,” as reflected on the ministry’s website.

Lev Ponomaryov, head of the movement For Human Rights, Radio Svoboda and MBKh Media journalist Lyudmila Savitskaya, 7×7 journalist Sergei Markelov, Pskovskaya Guberniya editor-in-chief Denis Kamalyagin, and grassroots activist and performance artist Darya Apahonchich.

Savitskaya, Markelov and Kamalyagin were probably placed on the registry of “foreign agents” due to their work with Radio Svoboda, which was placed on the registry of “foreign agents” in 2017.

In late December, the State Duma introduced and partly considered bills that would tighten the law on “foreign agents.” Thus, repeated violations of accountability under the law can now result in five years in prison. According to the new clarifications, the status of “foreign agent” can be granted to individuals engaged in political activities and receiving money for this work from abroad. Another bill would prohibit the dissemination of information in the media produced by foreign agents unless it is specially labelled.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: Did The Police Have Nothing More Important to Do?

apaDarya Apahonchich is greeted by supporters outside the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
August 5, 2020

So, here is a more detailed account of my arrest and trial.

Yesterday, I was stopped by police officers on the street near work. They would not let me pass, grabbing my scooter and saying that I should go with them, because they had “material” on me. I said I wasn’t going anywhere, so they just forced me into a vehicle.

In the vehicle, they refused to tell me what the reason was for detaining me. We drove to the first police precinct for a very long time, and the car broke down along the way. All the way, I scolded them, appealing to their conscience and reason. There were four of them and a vehicle, they had spent the whole day on me (probably more than one): did they have nothing more important to do? Later, I found out that they had been waiting for me since 5:30 in the morning, but I had left the house only at 2:00 in the afternoon. (So many resources wasted on me! Whatever for?) By the way, it’s funny that they were waiting for me near my house, but they only arrested me near my work, because I when I left the house I immediately jumped on my scooter, so they probably didn’t have time to grab me there. I can imagine how annoyed they were.

Varya Mikhailova, a community public defender, came and found me at the precinct, where I was handed charge sheets, concocted on the spot, for two street performances: the vulva ballet in support of Yulia Tsvetkova, and the road to the ocean of blood in support of the Khachaturyan sisters. There were a lot of mistakes in the charge sheets, which Varya had better tell you about, and I just refused to testify against myself.

vardarVarya Mikhailova and Darya Apahonchich waiting for her hearing at the October District Court in Petersburg, August 4, 2020. Photo courtesy of Ms. Mikhailova’s Facebook page

Around six o’clock, I was taken to court and tried on the two charges at once. It was there that I had a gander at my case files. They were quite hilarious. There was a touching insert from Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police] where you could see the photos from all my old [internal] passports, in which I was fifteen, twenty-one, and so on. Then there were screenshots of videos, and disks containing these same videos. In short, it was a cool folder, better than my pathetic portfolio. Another funny thing was that all the performances had been taken from a page on the MBKh Media Northwest website. They also wrote in my file how many likes and comments there were. There were very few likes.

The judge’s assistant showed the video and read aloud the text of the performance “this road leads to an ocean of blood.” She read very well, after which everyone fell silent. I really liked it, I would also add it to my portfolio.

I was found guilty (under Article 20.2, Part 5 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation [“violation by a participant of a public event of the established procedure for holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket”] and was sentenced to pay two fines of 10,000 rubles each [approx. 230 euros]. We will appeal the fines, of course, and I think we will also file a complaint against police officers for unlawful arrest.

***

I am upset, of course. (My “joking” program clicks on in such situations, but then when I get home, the “get scared” program turns on.) I don’t like living in a world where people in uniform grab you on the street and shove you into a paddy wagon. (I told them, “Don’t touch my scooter!” They said, “We’re not touching it!”—and then they grabbed the scooter.) I’m also sorry, of course, that I said I worked at the Red Cross. In the past, I usually didn’t tell them where I worked, but I didn’t get picked up on the street like this in the past. It’s an important lesson for everyone who has a “civilian” job: don’t tell the police about it.

I’m also upset that I have to constantly be ready for violence from all directions. Today, I have again been getting messages containing insults from strangers. Thank you for only sending messages. I categorically don’t like that, in this world, I constantly have to prove I have the right to voice my opinion. You see, the system thinks that if you are a teacher, a mother, then okay, that is a normal job, a normal life, you have the right to be (a little) dissatisfied, to engage in a little activism. (Moms cannot be held overnight at police stations on administrative charges.) But employers rarely like it when you are an activist. This system is very complicated and stifling.)

But I cannot help doing what I do. My support for Yulia Tsvetkova, for Angelina, Maria, and Krestina Khachaturyan is a very important part of my life. It is my freedom, my fight for the safety of all women, and my contribution to my children’s future. (I am really, really worried that my daughter is growing up in an unsafe world, that my son is growing up in an unsafe world, that society imposes places on them in the hierarchical meat grinder.) I am still going to be involved in activism: I cannot do it any other way.

(I had a year in my life when I worked at a college and was quite afraid that my name would be googled at work and I would be fired. Consequently, I tried not to do performances, and then I was fired anyway, because the college was shuttered, and my students were deported to boot.)

I want to say a huge thank you for your support. Yesterday, I got calls and emails, and my wonderful friends came to the courthouse. (No one was allowed inside, but we met outside when it was all over.) I am very glad for this a world of solidarity, thank you.

***

My  public defender suggested that I should immediately announce that I was soliciting donations to pay the fines. I decided this was probably reasonable. There is hope that we will be able to get the fines reversed. In this case, I will transfer all money donated to Yulia Tsvetkova and Mediazona.

So here’s my card number. 4276 5500 7321 7849.

(This photo was taken near the courthouse. I found it on the Telegram channel  https://t.me/armageddonna.)

Photo courtesy of Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page. Translated by the Russian Reader

What the Flowers Would Say

Urodiny
Facebook
July 29, 2020

Protest Botany

What would the flowers say if they could? They would demand the release of Yulia Tsvetkova, of course! The reproductive organs of all living beings are important and worthy of respect, and disseminating information about them is not a crime. This is clear to everyone, from the youngest begonia tubers to the huge redwoods. The time has come for people to understand this. And if, instead of persecuting female activists, the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation would take up gardening, how pretty the world would be! Elect a Scotch marigold president and begonias to parliament! Grow your own gardens! Leave others alone! Free Yulia Tsvetkova!

ur-1Caution! Your children could see the sexual organs of these French marigolds!

ur-2These daisies demand an end to the persecution of Yulia Tsvetkova!

ur-3These nettles support sex education for children, adults, and police officers.

ur-4You can use the stamens and pistils of these lilies explain to children where they came from and not go to prison for it.

ur-5These smart violets know that a schematic drawing of a vulva is not pornography.

ur-6These Scotch marigolds insist that you should plant flowers, not jail female artists.

ur-7These petunias permit you to seek and disseminate information about the female reproductive system.

Yulia Tsvetkova’s surname is based on the Russian word for “flower,” tsvet. You can read more about the Putinist state’s case against her and join the international solidarity campaign that has arisen in her defense at Free Yulia Tsvetkova. Thanks to Darya Apahonchich. Translated by the Russian Reader 

Three Sisters

this road leads straight to an ocean of blood
the girls are driven down it by their father’s fists and his cries: stop! shut up! you’re going to suck me!
here are the first steps, here are the mother’s screams, here is the father, licking his lips, calling them to the bedroom. we can already hear the ocean of blood, but whose is it? his or theirs? there is no turning off.
three girls, please save yourselves from this terrible sea.

Source: Darya Apahonchich

khachaturyan

Russian Prosecutors Uphold Khachaturyan Sisters’ Murder Charges
Moscow Times
July 13, 2020

Russian prosecutors have backtracked on their position to drop murder charges against three teenage sisters accused of killing their abusive father, lawyers told news agencies Sunday.

Prosecutors late last year ordered investigators to drop the charges against Krestina, Angelina and Maria Khachaturyan, who admitted to killing their father in July 2018 after he subjected them to years of physical, mental and sexual abuse. The sisters’ lawyers had hoped that investigators would downgrade the charges of premeditated murder, which carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years, to necessary defense charges.

“The Prosecutor General’s Office has approved the Khachaturyan sisters’ indictment,” their lawyer Alexei Liptser told the state-run TASS news agency.

Liptser said the same deputy prosecutor who refused to approve the sisters’ indictment in December has “obviously changed his position.” In May, Russian investigators rejected the prosecutors’ orders to drop the murder charges.

His colleague Mari Davtyan linked the prosecutors’ reversal to “a trend” of raids and arrests of activists and journalists since Russia adopted a slew of controversial constitutional changes on July 1.

In addition to adding socially conservative and economically populist promises to the Constitution, the amendments allow President Vladimir Putin to extend his 20-year rule into 2036 by resetting sitting or former presidents’ term limits.

The Khachaturyan sisters’ other lawyer Alexei Parshin told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that he expects a closed trial.

The sisters’ high-profile case has divided Russian society. Supporters blame Russia’s legal system — which critics say turns a blind eye to domestic abuse — for forcing the teenagers to defend themselves, while opponents view them as murderers.

Their case has also fueled calls for the repeal of a 2017 law that decriminalized first-time domestic abuse offenses.

Photo by Alexander Avilov for Moskva News Agency. Courtesy of the Moscow Times

Two Fairytales

Alexander Skidan
Facebook
May 25, 2020

Yesterday, with my own eyes, I saw a crow escorting a hedgehog across the highway, pushing him along with his beak. I was so dumbstruck, the thought never even occurred to me to get out my phone. The most touching thing happened at the curbside. The hedgehog couldn’t overcome it right away, the crow was very upset, and she* jumped onto the curb and tried tried tried tried tried while the cars** were going going going going past, and then she jumped down and again tried tried tried, but the hedgehog found a spot a bit lower and all by himself himself himself himself himself jumped up, and off he went.***

________________

*The word for car in Russian, mashina, is equivalent to the word for “machines,” which I believe is significant for the allegorical reading of the tale.

**The word for crow in Russian, vorona, is grammatically gendered feminine. This does not necessarily mean the crow was anatomically female. Hedgehog, yozhik, is gendered masculine.

***I consulted with Skidan, and we translated the folkloric formula i byl takov as “and off he went.” However, another variant would be “and that was the last anyone ever saw of him.” The word-for-word rendition of the idiom is: “and he was such.”

Solidarity and mutualism are the only future we have. But hedgehogs need to let the crows get on with things, I reckon. They just need to lower their expectations and get up and go on their own.

hedgehog in fogA still from Yuri Nornstein’s animated film Hedgehog in the Fog (1975). Courtesy of Pikabu.ru

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
July 1, 2020

Once there was a certain dictator who had prepared everything for annulling himself: a new armchair, a festive cigar, a little cognac, and lots and lots of medals to sprinkle over his generals (he had also stored up some smackdowns for other people).

He sat down at his favorite desk, and, at exactly 11:59 PM, he closed his eyes tight and hit the main annulment button. And at that very second he turned into a newborn baby. He plopped down in the chair and started screaming (well, that’s what babies are supposed to do), and all his bodyguards rushed in to see who was screaming and then bang! They were also annulled and turned into babies. What horror!

It was a good thing that the carpet was soft and they didn’t hurt themselves when they fell. And, after them, the senators, the ministers, and all the members of the government were annulled back into babies. This would have been the end of all of them, but the cleaning lady came into the office and gasped: what a calamity! And she set all the little ones down carefully in a line and called for help. But curses! If any deputy ran into the office, he was immediately annulled, so they all ended up that way in one day. Only a few survived because they had skived off work that day, but now they said they were giving up their powers. Times were tough, and the succession of power all the more so—it was time to give up their seats in parliament to young people.

By evening the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady had taken all the deputies back to their families. These women weren’t very young, but they were strong and experienced. They remembered how to change a diaper, how to rock a baby, and after one day they were terribly tired. Then, in the morning, when they arrived at work, there were new babies in the office. Apparently, some other people had snuck in at night, hoping to become president, and they were also annulled.

The worker-women sighed and returned these little ones to their homes as well.

And so (not right away, of course!), all the remaining deputies and politicians decided they didn’t really want to be presidents, and, since someone still had to do this work, the cleaning lady and the cafeteria lady shared it between themselves. They came to an agreement about the schedule and vacation days.

And life slowly went on. It was like the old life but better. No one waged war anymore or acted like a dictator. Of course! Who wanted to crank the old barrel organ of diapers, kindergarten, and school all over again? No, people were sick of being annulled. It was time to just live a quiet life.

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I don’t think this remarkable tale about the constitutional amendments and the annulment of Putin’s term limits needs any commentary.

Translation and commentary by Joan Brooks. If you would like to support these authors’ work, please consider donating. Any amount helps. Please include “fairytales” in the memo line of your contribution.

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Election Observers

election observerArtist, activist and teacher Darya Apahonchich found this “polling place” in the courtyard of her building in downtown Petersburg, across the street from the city’s Dostoevsky Museum. Early voting is under way in a nationwide referendum on 206 proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution. Courtesy of Darya Apahonich’s Facebook page

approvalFilmmaker Andrey Silvestrov took this selfie with his ballot paper at his polling place in Moscow. The question reads, “Do you approve [the] changes to the Russian Constitution?” Silvestrov voted no, of course. Note the fact that none of the amendments in question is listed on the ballot paper. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

prizesFortunately, Silvestrov’s “no” vote will not, one hopes, disqualify him from entering the “Million Prizes” program, as outlined on a flyer he was given by polling place officials along with his ballot paper. Voters are asked to send a “unique code” in a text message to the number 7377. Winners are promised “gift certificates” redeemable for groceries, sporting goods, and household goods, and for unspecified goods at pharmacies, cafes, museums, theaters, and cinemas. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the “gift certificates” (if any Russian voters actually receive them) will prove worthless. Photo courtesy of Silvestrov’s Facebook page

lurie precinctPhotographer Vadim F. Lurie took a snapshot of the referendum polling place in the courtyard in a town in the Moscow Region. Courtesy of his Facebook page. While the purported reason for such bizarre ad hoc polling places is ensuring health of voters during the coronavirus pandemic, still raging in many parts of Russia, they provide the added benefit of making it much harder for election observers to ascertain whether the referendum was conducted freely and fairly. Needless to say, “free and fair” is a meaningless concept to the Putin regime.

dictatorship of zerosJournalist and political activist Ivan Ovsyannikov took this snapshot outside Polling Station No. 1641, located on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg. The placard reads, “Our country, our constitution, our decision.” Someone has pasted a sticker on the placard, which reads, “The solidarity of ones will end the dictatorship of zeroes.” This is reference to the fact that one of the proposed amendments, if ratified, will “zero out” Vladimir Putin’s previous terms as Russian president, thus allowing him to run for two more consecutive terms of six years. If this scenario comes to pass, Putin would be able to rule until 2036. His current presidential term ends in 2024.

Konstantin Yankauskas and Alexander Zamyatin, popularly elected municipal councilors in the Zyuzino District of Moscow, discuss what their constituents can do to oppose the referendum under near impossible circumstances (the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on public campaigning against the amendments, evidence that thousands of state sector employees are either being forced to vote yes or hand over their passwords for electronic voting to their supervisors, etc.) They also reflect on why the Russian opposition has been unable to run a nationwide “no” campaign despite the fact that formal and informal barometers of public opinion have shown that Putin’s popularity has been falling and that many Russians are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The discussion was broadcast live on YouTube on June 24, 2020.

Dreaming

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
June 20, 2020

(just dreaming a little)

I look at how everyone is tired after twenty years of putin’s rule—tired of cursing, tired of fighting, tired of resisting, tired even of taking toll of the damage.

the alleged referendum is a three-ring circus, but (speaking for myself) my lack of surprise and faith in the success of resistance are such that I listlessly repost things and make sarcastic jokes, but don’t think seriously at all about acts of resistance.

but i believe in acts of feminist resistance: they work, albeit slowly, albeit surgically. no, there is no law against domestic violence, but individual rapists have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs, new codes of ethics are being written, and so on. all of you are watching this happen. i see how women’s self-esteem has been growing, i see that what was the norm for my parents’ generation is no longer the norm for my generation. women have become more active, they are increasingly choosing not to be silent when they encounter injustice.

Vladimir_Putin_with_Lyudmila_Putin-1

and so i am thinking: what if we suddenly stopped tolerating a “home boxer” and tyrant as president?

we know that putin is an abuser. we know he beat his wife, that he tortured her. even lyudmila putina’s memoir, chockablock with self-accusation and meekness, makes it clear that he treated his loved ones terribly. his wife published a memoir, which was quickly withdrawn from sale. but it’s all on the internet.

just dreaming a little: what if we stopped putting up with this scoundrel? (yes, we are used to putting up with him, but what if it’s reversible?)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader