“He’s Lost Fifteen Kilos on the Hunger Strike”: Oleg Sentsov’s Cousin Visits Filmmaker in Prison

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“Oleg has been on hunger strike for 52 days and 20 hours.”

“He Has Lost Fifteen Kilos during the Hunger Strike”: Oleg Sentsov’s Cousin Visits Filmmaker in Prison
Novaya Gazeta
July 5, 2018

Natalya Kaplan, cousin of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, has visited him at the Polar Bear Penal Colony in Labytnangi, reports Gromadskoe.

“I met with Oleg. We chatted for two hours. It was a short visit. Oleg, who is 190 centimeters tall, now weighs 75 kilos. He has lost 15 kilos during the hunger strike,” said Ms. Kaplan.

According to her, Mr. Sentsov’s health is currently listed as satisfactory. His lab results are not good, but “there is nothing critical.”

“Yesterday, he felt quite sick. Today, he was fine. He came to the meeting on his own. He feels worse in the evenings. He says he now has a much easier time of it. The first three weeks of the hunger strike were the most agonizing period. He has been getting IVs now. He would not survive without them. He has no plans of ending the hunger strike. His outlook is optimistic. He believes what he is doing has a purpose. And he believes he will win,” said the filmmaker’s cousin.

Kaplan added that Sentsov has asked the public not to visit him in prison, but to visit the other political prisoners for whom he has been fighting.

Mr. Sentsov was convicted in Russia on charges of planning terrorist attacks in Crimea. He has been on hunger strike since May 14, demanding the Russian authorities release all Ukrainian political prisoners in their custody except him. Many Russian and international cultural figures and human rights activists have voiced their support for him.

In recent weeks, the Russian and Ukrainian sides have been trying to agree on a prisoner exchange and iron out a schedule of visits to penal colonies. Lyudmila Denisova, the Verkhovna Rada’s human rights ombudsman, has voiced Ukraine’s willingness to implement an exchange of twenty-three prisoners from each side.

Thanks to Dmitry Dinze and Askold Kurov for the heads-up.

___________________________________________________________________

Here is what Novaya Gazeta omitted from the original article as published on the Gromadskoye website.

[…]

Natalya Kaplan told Oleg that Emir Hussein Kuku had joined his hunger strike and about the demonstrations supporting him.

“He is really grateful there have been so many rallies in his support, that people have not given up and keep on fighting. At the same time, however, he is quite disappointed very little attention has been paid to the other political prisoners. He thinks that if he alone were released, it would be a complete failure,” she said.

[…]

“In particular, he asked Ombudsman Denisova, Father Kliment, the independent doctors, and consular officials who have tried to visit him to go visit the other political prisoners, so that no one forgets them,” said Ms. Kaplan.

[…]

According to her, he has television for entertainment, and he has also been writing and editing his old diary entries. He asks that no more books be sent to him. He has lots of books as it is.

It has transpired the former so-called prosecutor of Russia-annexed Crimea, Natalia Poklonskaya, was involved in Mr. Sentsov’s illegal trial in the Russian Federation, during which he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

On June 29, Mr. Sentsov’s attorney, Dmitry Dinze, reported Mr. Sentsov was in the prison infirmary, but his condition was stable.

Mr. Dinze also reported Russia had received two requests to pardon Mr. Sentsov.

On June 15, Ms. Denisova was not allowed to see Mr. Sentsov. Subsequently, Ms. Denisova was also not allowed to see Ukrainian political prisoner Mykola Karpyuk, imprisoned in the Russian city of Vladimir.

On June 21, the Ukrainian Embassy in Russia demanded Ms. Denisova be granted priority access to the prisons where political prisoners Oleg Sentsov, Stanislav Klykh, Alexander Kolchenko, and Vladimir Balukh have been incarcerated.

On June 21, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko again talked on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to release the Ukrainian political prisoners.

The ambassadors of the G7 countries have expressed deep concern about the circumstances of Mr. Sentsov and the other Ukrainian political prisoners incarcerated in Russia.

On June 14, the European Parliament passed a resolution demanding the immediate release of Mr. Sentsov and the Kremlin’s other Ukrainian political prisoners.

On June 19, President Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin’s position on Mr. Sentsov had not changed after an appeal to release him was made by prominent Russian cultural figures.

Sixty-four Ukrainian political prisoners are currently being held in Russia and annexed Crimea, twenty-seven of them in Russia proper. Fifty-eight of them were either arrested in Crimea or arrested on charges involving Crimea. These numbers do not take into account the currently held in the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of Gromadskoye

 

Grigorii Golosov: An Anti-American Dictatorship

An Anti-American Dictatorship: The Russian Concept of Sovereignty
The regime is sovereign, not the people, and only if it does not seek to benefit from cooperating with the US
Grigorii Golosov
Republic
November 9, 2017

4f1d12efea4954e40cedcc6cf03e3d2bVladislav Surkov. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Azarov/Kommersant

Recently, after a long silence, Vladislav Surkov made another public appearance in print. The article itself, entitled “A Crisis of Hypocrisy” and written in a style typical of intellectually pretentious picture magazines, is not very interesting. It is not that Surkov rebukes the west for insincerity. That would be like the pot calling the kettle black. He does claim, however, that the effectiveness of hypocrisy as a means of control has been forfeited in modern democracies. Surkov thus finds himself agreeing with “prophetic comics” and other authoritative sources that a king of the west might appear to forcibly lead the world out of chaos. A good example, perhaps, of how such a king might act is Surkov’s own work in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic.

As many of you will remember, until his forced immersion in the affairs of a neighboring country, Surkov laid claim, albeit not very successfully, to the role of the current Russian regime’s ideologue. It was Surkov who back in the day coined the controversial term “sovereign democracy,” which was supposed to be either an alternative to western democracy or a variation on it. In this case, Surkov messed up royally, as was pointed out to him with appropriate severity by his more senior comrades. The point of Russian electoral authoritarianism, like electoral authoritarianism anywhere else, is to feign being a democracy without actually being a democracy. Since everyone realizes there really is true democracy in the west, any juxtaposition is invidious. Russia has democracy, and that is that. It is no worse than other democracies. It is just like them. There is thus no need to qualify it with any adjectives.

Now Surkov, being a person who is, on the one hand, quick on the uptake and, on the other, not averse to particular flights of fancy, has adopted the politically correct stance while creatively elaborating on it in the sense that democracy in the west is on its last legs, even as Russia still cherishes the ideal of people power. Naturally, there is no point in debating the nature of democracy when the issue is put this way, and sovereignty comes to the fore as in Surkov’s original take on the matter. Sovereignty is the central concept of modern Russian ideology.

Sovereignty is now the talk of the talk of the town, the favorite topic not only of the media but even of those people who speak from the highest bully pulpits. The Russian concept of sovereignty includes two axioms that we should examine thoroughly. I should note in advance that neither of these aspects is unique. Each of them is ordinarily found in any logically consistent concept of sovereignty. The whole trick is how they are applied specifically to modern day-to-day circumstances.

The first axiom states that all decisions about power in a given country are taken at a purely national level.  The point is incontestable. It suffices to have a look at how acutely the Americans react to any outward attempts to shape their own politics to be convinced that they, too, operate in full accordance with the axiom. The specific nature of the Russian interpretation, however, is nevertheless apparent. To detach it from its basic content we should look at the events in Syria.

The cause of the events was the crisis generated by the extremely brutal, truly barbarous dictatorship established in Syria by the Assad family. Only an intellectually unscrupulous person could publicly state the Assad regime had been the choice of the Syrian people, at least at some point in time. The Assads came to power in a military coup and were elected to the country’s presidency solely on an uncontested basis, under circumstances in which all opposition was quashed. An uprising took place in 2011. The regime survived it, but was unable to crush it completely. A civil war broke out. It is characteristic of modern civil wars in more or less important countries that they involve outside actors.

The last point has been at the heart of the Russian concept of sovereignty. Frightened out of their wits at one time by the specter of “color” revolutions, the Russian authorities, first, regard any regime in any country, except Ukraine, as legitimate, and any attempt to overthrow it, however bloody and tyrannical it may be, as solely the result of outside interference. I would again underscore that outside interference is a perpetual occurrence, but nor does Russia miss its own chance to catch fish in troubled waters. This aspect is always secondary, however. Western political thought has traditionally argued the people’s sovereignty consists, in particular, in its ability to put down tyrannies. Since elections in such circumstances are not a tool for doing this, all that remains is civil disobedience and insurrection. If we approach the matter differently, the notion of sovereignty has been replaced by the notion of the regime’s sovereignty. This is exactly how sovereignty is treated in modern Russian ideology.

Second, the Russian concept of sovereignty consists in the notion that all decisions on foreign policy must be taken at the national level. When expressed in such concise form, the claim is also indisputable. However, when it is applied in Russian public discourse, the claim is more controversial: since most national governments take the interests of the US (or, alternately, the EU) into account when making foreign policy decisions, their sovereignty is limited.

The problem with this interpretation is that it is advantageous to pay attention to the interests of the United States or the European Union, or both. This coincides with the preferences of most governments. They themselves limit their freedom to maneuver when it comes to foreign policy. Take one of Russia’s biggest grievances against the west: Nato’s eastward expansion. It is true that when the Eastern European countries joined Nato, they limited their freedom to operate, but they did this not merely voluntarily, but with colossal enthusiasm. They applied to join Nato and celebrated their joining the alliance as if it were a national holiday. Ask Donald Trump why they wanted to get in. He would tell you what percentage of the alliance’s expenditures are footed by American taxpayers. It is not even worth enlarging on the fact that the new European Union members received certain perks. Actually, back in the old days, even Vladimir Putin was given to saying it would not be a bad idea for Russia to join the western alliances. It follows that he saw the benefits.

For it would be wrong to say no one takes Russia’s interests into account. Even some of the Eastern European countries, which the Russian media arrogantly disparages as satellites of the western powers, occasionally express a dissenting opinion on issues sensitive to Russia, such as sanctions. When they do this, are they limiting their own sovereignty in favor of our country? No, they are just taking care of their own business. The general rule, however, is that most countries regard the interests of the US as more important than Russia’s interests. There are exceptions: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and five or six other countries. By a coincidence that is hardly strange there is not a single democracy amongst them. All of these countries are small or medium sized. It is naive to believe China is one of these countries. China regards the US as more important.

We no longer speak of sovereign democracy. The idea has not vanished, however, but has merely acquired a more appropriate guise as an anti-American dictatorship. It is this guise that has become Russia’s own political pole star. And why not? It is a matter of choice. We should be aware, however, that how you define yourself defines how people treat you, taking this into account when assessing the prospects for improving relations with the rest of the world.

Grigorii Golosov is a professor of political science at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader 

A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists

Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman's ID, Art of Foto Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery
Promo flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass, ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Saint Petersburg, January 15-February 3, 2016. Courtesy of the gallery

This morning I got an urgent message from a friend, alerting me to the fact a funny sounding exhibition of photographs was underway at a downtown photo gallery I had never heard of.

It was true, as my friend pointed out, that the announcement for the show, an exhibition of portraits of Eastern Ukrainian pro-Russian separatist fighters (opolchentsy), taken by Petersburg photographer Mikhail Domozhilov, sounded quite dicey politically, as posted on the website of the exhibiting gallery, ARTOFFOTO.

It sounded a little less outwardly partisan when translated into English and printed on the flyers I would later find lying on a windowsill in the gallery:

“The self-proclaimed and still unrecognized state [of the] Donetsk People’s Republic appeared as a result of a civil war in Ukraine in April, 2014. The Donbass People’s Militia became the driving force of the new republic. In the year that passed after the declaration of the DPR, its militia transformed from an anarchic group of super activists [sic] divided into small groups and willing to go weaponless and die for an idea into a regular army with all its necessary attributes—[a] code [of military conduct], subdivisions [sic] and their chiefs, headquarters and machinery.

“This episode is about transition and transformation, about a shaky equilibrium between belonging to one country and to another, utopic in its essence. And also about the self-identification of the participants throughout the conflict. In several months former miners, builders, mechanics have become professional warriors, and a new, extreme reality has replaced the ordinary one. With major destruction[], artillery shelling and [a] non-continuous front, these people suddenly found themselves in the middle of historical events and news reports.

“This episode includes several close-up portraits of militia members in mobile studios at military and training bases, as well as on [the] frontlines.”

(English-language flyer for the exhibition Mikhail Domozhilov, Militiaman’s Pass [Opolchenskii Bilet], ARTOFFOTO Gallery, Bolshaya Konyushennaya, 1, Saint Petersburg, January 15–February 3, 2016)

It was also true that the photographer, Mr. Domozhilov, had shown a penchant in his career for subjects that might be characterized as rightist, such as this fascinating series on the ultras for Petersburg’s Russian Premier League side, FC Zenit.

The ultras series featured virtuosic albeit historically and aesthetically coded works such as this.

domozhilov-terrace
Mikhail Domozhilov, From the series Ultras, 2010. Courtesy of the photographer’s website

On the other hand, Mr. Domozhilov’s tearsheets included portraits, just as compelling, of pro-Ukrainian fighters on the Maidan in Kyiv.

But I did not think it fair to pronounce judgement on the work on the basis of a couple of websites, so I set off into the winter wonderland that Petrograd has become in the last week to see the show for myself.

Continue reading “A Snowy Sunday in Petrograd with Donbas Separatists”

Conspiracy Theories


Russian humorist and occasional liberal opposition activist Viktor Shenderovich sums up the topsy turvy “explanations” of the MH17 crash now being fed to the Russian public via mainstream media outlets and social networks:

So. On Washington’s instructions, to discredit the Donetsk Republic, a plane filled ahead of time with corpses was specially sent through an area occupied by militants and, as witnessed by a Spanish man, was shot down by two Ukrainian fighter planes, who took it for the Russian president’s plane. Have I forgotten anything?

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