Russia, Great and Beautiful

 

velikaa-prekrasnaa-rossia_med_hrExhibition view of Vasya Lozhkin, Russia, Great and Beautiful (2010). Photo courtesy of Ekho Moskvy

The Case of the Repost Following a Picket: The Story of an Activist Who Has Sought Asylum in the US
OVD Info
August 28, 2018

Vladimir resident Victoria Lobova was involved in two events in the Don’t Call Him Dimon campaign, and now she has been forced to ask for political asylum in the US. The placard the activist took to the events caught the eye of law enforcement. Lobova faces criminal charges for posting images of it on the social media website VK. OVD Info asked Lobova to tell her own story.

I was involved in an anti-corruption rally on March 26, 2017. I was not punished in any way at the time. Then, on June 12, 2017, the country was swept by a wave of anti-corruption rallies, and I held a solo picket. I was approached by two policemen who asked me to identify myself. I told them my name, and they said I had to go with them. I refused, since I had not violated any laws. They telephoned somebody, asked him what to do, and read him the text of my placard over the phone.

I stood with the placard in downtown Vladimir. The slogan on the placard read, “I’m a young woman. I don’t want to decide anything. I want lace panties, and I want [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev to respond to the country about yachts, vineyards, nonsense, malarkey, and hodgepodge.”

In the evening, I had a visit from the security services, who said I had to report to the police. When I arrived there I was written up for committing an administrative offense: violating the rules for public rallies. I won the court case. Later, in July, a policeman came to my home and said “extremist” matter had been spotted on my VK page.

I had told the police my address and my name during my solo picket. Subsequently, they staked out my social media page. That was how it all kicked off. If I had not carried out a solo picket and mixed with the crowd at the protest rally instead, othing would have come of it. Before I was involved in protest rally, I had a page on VK where I covered political news, but the authorities paid me no mind.

I was cited for a picture that drew a parallel between Putin’s politics and Hitler’s politics. There were Nazi symbols in the photo. Two weeks later, four police officers came and drove me to a temporary detention facility.

I didn’t know till the last minute I would be spending the night there. They took my fingerprints, catalogued the entire contents of my bag, and photographed me. I was told that an ethnic Russian would never publicly display Nazi symbols and that children could have seen them. I replied that the picture had a completely different message. If you read the text, you would easily conclude Nazism was condemned by the authors. I also said that children hardly became Nazis the second they saw a swastika somewhere. Then I was taken to a cell and locked up till morning.

Lozhkin-1Detail of Vasya Lozhkin’s Russia, Great and Beautiful. Russia is shown as surrounded by countries inhabited by “slant-eyed monkeys,” “wogs,” and other peoples identified by equally offensive terms for non-Russian peoples and ethnic groups. Image courtesy of New Chronicle of Current Events

There was a court hearing in the morning. I was sentenced to three days in jail. Then, in January 2018, the FSB filed criminal charges against me under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity”) for Vasya Lozhkin’s picture Russia, Great and Beautiful, which they had also found reposted on my VK page. (In August 2018, a court ruled the picture could not be considered “extremist.”)

The FSB investigator was unable to get me to confess, and the case seemingly died down. But then the police again paid visits to my house. I would not open the door, which they photographed, probably by way of reporting to their superiors. When they left they would first make the rounds of the neighbors. That was when I realized they would not leave me alone and would send me to prison come what may.

I left Russia in May. I just bought tickets and flew away. There are opportunities for obtaining political asylum. In this sense, I think everything will be fine. I have lots of evidence that I was persecuted.

VK handed over all the information needed to the FSB, so my case was no exception to established practice. I continue to use VK, but now I am somewhere safe. I advise people in Russia to be more careful.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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“Young People Gathered to Voice a Silent Reproach”: Dmitry Borisov’s Closing Statement in Court

“Young People Gathered to Voice a Silent Reproach”: Dmitry Borisov’s Closing Statement in Court
OVD Info
February 21, 2018

Dmitry Borisov. Photo by Irina Yatsenko. Courtesy of OVD Info

Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court is scheduled to pass sentence on Dmitry Borisov at twelve noon on February 22. Borisov is a defendant in the so-called March 26 Case, involving various “forceful actions,” allegedly taken by protesters against policemen and Russian National Guardsmen on Pushkin Square during a March 26, 2017, rally inspired by Don’t Call Him Dimon, a video exposé posted on YouTube on March 2, 2017, by anti-corruption activist and would-be presidential candidate Alexei Navalny. The video accused Russian prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev of wide-ranging corruption. The prosecution has asked the judge to sentence Borisov to three years in prison.

The court heard the defense’s and prosecution’s closing arguments, as well as Borisov’s closing statement on February 20. According to our count, forty-six people came to the hearing to support Borisov, many of them wearing t-shirts emblazoned with his picture. Prosecutor Larisa Sergunyayeva rattled off her closing argument, a printed text that she read out to the court. During her speech, activist Ildar Dadin called her a few rude names. Dadin was removed from the courtroom, but Sergunyayeva did not slow down her rapid-fire delivery.

According to Sergunyayeva, the testimony given by policemen was believable, while the testimony of protesters could not be trusted because they had a stake in the case’s outcome. Borisov’s malicious intent was allegedly proven by the discovery of a chat session on Telegram chat on his elephone in which he had written about planning to go to the rally with friends. Many positive character references were made on Borisov’s behalf, and he had no criminal record, but if the prosecutor has her way, he will spend three years behind bars for violating Article 318 Part 1 of the Russian Criminal Code, which stipulates a maximum punishment of five years in prison.*

Borisov’s attorneys, Ilya Novikov and Nikolai Fomin, spoke for about an hour and a half. They explained Borisov had been standing calmly at the rally when, for no apparent reason, police seized his friend and dragged him to the paddy wagon. Borisov grabbed his friend. The police knocked Borisov to the ground and beat him. Four of them dragged him to the paddy wagon. The lawyers explained the prosecution’s claim Borisov had wrested a leg free from one of the policemen carrying him and kicked him in the helmet was untenable, since the policeman who had testified he had seen this was located somewhere where he could not have seen the incident. They also argued the policemen who were witnesses in the case had perjured themselves when discussing the administrative charges also filed in connection with the events of March 26, 2017. They argued that if Borisov really had kicked the policeman’s helmet, he probably would have broken his visor, because Moscow police are currently outfitted with extremely poor-quality helmets. Finally, the defense pointed out the alleged victim did not immediately file charges. He did so two months later, apparently under pressure from Investigative Committee detectives Alexander Uranov and Rustam Gabdulin, notorious for their involvement in the Bolotnaya Square case. They handled the investigation of the March 26, 2017, case in exactly the same manner.

The defense attorneys predicted the court would hand down the worst sentence possible.

OVD Info has published Dmitry Borisov’s closing statement in court, below. The transcript may contain a few mistakes, because the accused spoke softly.

Dmitry Borisov: Closing Statement in Court
Your honor, the lawyers spoke very professionally, for which I am quite grateful. I did not use violence against police officers, nor did I intend to do so, because, at very least, it would have been senseless to do so. I had been captured by four policemen and was in a vertical position. All I could see was the sky.

I honestly do not understand why for nine months running I have been traveling to interrogations and court hearings not from home, but in trucks in which fifteen people sit in a three meter square cage. After sitting in this cage for seven hours, they faint and have to urinate in bottles, because the truck is parked in the garage of the Moscow City Court.

I also do not understand why I have spent many hours in the so-called assembly cells at the remand prison, that is, halfway between my cell and the trip to court. These cells are sixteen meters square, and fifty men, all of them smoking, are crammed into them. That is more than three persons per square meter. Try and imagine three men smoking in a one square meter space. Try and imagine how they feel. These cells are so filthy many people would not believe such a thing was possible in the capital of our mighty country. I do not want that to sound too sarcastic. I love my country, and that is a partial explanation of why I was in Pushkin Square on March 26. There are people who say you can judge a city by the cleanliness of its toilets. If you saw the toilet in the assembly cell you would think you were in a village on the outskirts of a godforsaken banana republic.

As for the cells in Butyrka Prison, they are scruffy, filthy dungeons with a view, for example, of an unimaginably dirty brick wall. That is the view in my cell. There is no heat. We have a single radiator in our cell, but it does not work. The ventilation consists of nine tiny holes, although the cell houses twenty-eight smokers.

My lawyers have spoken about how the case was politically motivated from the get-go. The actions of the investigators and their assistants were aimed from the very outset at proving my guilt. Although Ilya Novikov has spoken about it, I would like to mention the photograph of eight defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case that proudly hangs above Investigator Uranov’s desk, with the sentences they received written below each defendant in increasing order. If I am not mistaken, the longest sentence was four years. Apparently, Mr. Uranov is especially proud of this picture. I personally witnessed him getting on the internet and searching for news about how he had apprehended “enemies of the people.” He was upset when he discovered his name spelled incorrectly in one article. I cannot remember whether his first name is Alexei or Alexander, but it was written incorrectly in the internet. He was quite adamant on this point.

As for the case itself, my guilt consists only in the fact I tried to prevent my friend from being abducted. In the opinion of some people, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on March 26 in Pushkin Square. I am convinced it is wrong to grab people in the center of our country’s capital as if they were animals and drag them to a paddy wagon without identifying yourself and explaining the charges, even if you are wearing a security services uniform.

And that day more than a thousand people were detained.

They were detained not for holding an unauthorized rally, but for making a silent reproach. It took me a long time to find the right word to express what happened there. Young people gathered there to voice a silent reproach, to force the authorities to think a little.

We did not gather to engage in bloody revolution, but to remind the authorities it is worth giving things some thought. Otherwise, their actions really will lead to hungry bloody riots. Therefore, I ask you to exonerate me. I am not guilty of anything. I have been in jail for nearly eight and a half months for no reason at all.

*Use of violence that does not endanger human life or health, or threats to use violence against a representative of the authorit[ies], or his relatives, in connection with the discharge [of] his official duties, shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of 200 to 500 minimum wages, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of two to five months, or by arrest for a term of three to six months, or by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to five years.” Source: The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation

••••••••••

OVD Info reported that on February 22, 2018, the Tverskoy District Court found Dmitry Borisov guilty as charged and sentenced him to one year in a medium-security penal colony.

Translated by the Russian Reader

It Was a Good Week in the Supah Powah, or, The Return of the Green Lanterns (OVD Info)

‘In 2016, Donald Trump rode a wave of popular discontent to the White House on the promise that he would “make America great again.” As Russia’s presidential election, scheduled for March 2018, draws nearer, President Vladimir Putin may try a similar tactic — by contending that he has already restored Russia’s greatness.’

Blogger Norwegian Forester

The authorities have been using every trick in the book to counteract the plans of Alexei Navalny’s supporters to hold events against corruption on March 26 in scores of cities. Authorities have been refusing to authorize the protests under different pretexts. Rally organizers in different regions have been arrested on trumped-up changes, summoned to the police, fined for inviting people to rallies on the social networks, and written up for holding meetings with activists. Volunteers have been detained for handing out stickers.

More Navalny

At the same time as he has been getting ready for the anti-corruption protests, Navalny has been opening election campaign headquarters in different cities. These events have also been subject violent attacks. In Barnaul, Navalny was doused with Brilliant Green antiseptic (zelyonka). In Petersburg, the door of his headquarters was set on fire. In Volgograd, Navalny was dragged by his feet and nearly beaten.

Alexei Navalny

In Bryansk Region, a schoolboy was sent to the police for setting up Navalny support groups on the social networks: the police demanded he delete the accounts. In Krasnoyarsk University, a lecturer was fired for showing Navalny’s exposé of PM Dmitry Medvedev, Don’t Call Him Dimon. In Orenburg, a coordinator of the Spring youth movement was summoned to the rector, who asked him questions about Navalny. In Moscow, famous blogger Norwegian Forester was detained for going onto Red Square, his face painted green, in support of Navalny.

Not Only Navalny: Crackdowns on Freedom of Assembly

Long-haul truckers have planned a nationwide strike for March 27. Around twelve people were detained during a meeting of truckers in Vladivostok. Police claimed they had received intelligence on a meeting of mafia leaders. In Krasnodar Territory, an activist got three days of arrest in jail for handing out leaflets about the upcoming strike.

Krasnodar farmers have planned a tractor convoy for March 28. However, organizer Alexei Volchenko was arrested for twelve days for, allegedly, not making alimony payments. Another tractor convoy participant, Oleg Petrov, had his internal passport confiscated by police.

Judge Vladimir Vasyukov

In Petersburg, Dzherzhinsky District Court Judge Vladimir Vasyukov during the past week imposed fines of 10,000 rubles [approx. 160 euros] each on three women, involved in a feminist protest on International Women’s Day, March 8, 10,000 rubles [approx. 160 euros], elderly activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, accused of walking along a building during a solo picket, and activist Varvara Mikhaylova for picketing outside the Segezha Men’s Penal Colony in Russian Karelia in support of civic activist Ildar Dadin, who was recently released.

Varvara Mikhaylova. Photo courtesy of David Frenkel

In Murmansk, the authorities refused to authorize three marches against inflated utilities rates, food prices, and public transportation costs, while Moscow authorities refused to authorize a protest rally against the planned massive demolition of five-storey Soviet-era apartment buildings. In addition, Moscow police demanded a party at Teatr.doc be cancelled.

Moscow City Court ruled that meetings of lawmakers with their constituents should be regarded as the equivalent of protest rallies.

The Constitutional Court ruled the police can detain a solo picketer only if it is impossible to ensure security. The very next day, two solo picketers bearing placards on which Vyacheslav Makarov, speaker of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, was depicted as a demon were detained by police.

Criminal Prosecutions and Other Forms of Coercion

Sergei Mokhnatkin, whose spine was broken in prison, was sentenced to two years in a maximum security penal colony for, allegedly, striking a Federal Penitentiary Service officer.

Sergei Mokhnatkin

As for talk of a new Thaw, two Ufa residents, accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, had their suspended sentences changed to four years in a penal colony.

In Stavropol, Kirill Bobro, head of the local branch of Youth Yabloko, was jailed for two months, accused of narcotics possession. Bobro himself claims police planted the drugs on him.

Kirill Bobro

A graduate student at Moscow State University was detained and beaten for flying a Ukrainian flag from the window of his dormitory. In addition, he was forced to sign a paper stating he agreed to be an FSB informant. Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbalyuk was detained while trying to interview the graduate student.

What to Read

LGBT activist Dmitry Samoilenko describes how he has been persecuted in Kamchatka for a brochure about the history of gender identity in the Far North. Activist Rafis Kashapov, an activist with the Tatar Social Center, who was convicted for posts on the social networks, sent us a letter about life in a prison hospital.

Rafis Kashapov

The Week Ahead (March 26—April 1)

Closing arguments are scheduled for March 27 in the trial of Bolotnaya Square defendant Maxim Panfilov, who has been declared mentally incompetent. Prosecutors will apparently ask the judge to sentence him to compulsory hospitalization.

On March 29, an appeals court is expected to hear the appeal against the verdict of Alexander Belov (Potkin), co-chair of the Russians Ethnopolitical Movement.

Thanks for Your Attention

We continue to raise money for our monitoring group, which collects information on political persecution and takes calls about detentions at protest rallies. Thanks to all of you who have already supported us. You can now make monthly donations to OVD Info here.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia Isn’t a Basket Case?

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Villanova University basketball team in action. Photo courtesy of Forbes.com

“Russia is neither the juggernaut nor basket case it is varyingly made out to be. A well-reasoned Russia policy begins by quelling one’s hysteria long enough to recognize this and then engaging it accordingly.”
—Mark Lawrence Schrad, “Vladimir Putin Isn’t a Supervillain,” Foreign Policy, March 2, 2017

Try telling a great many people in Russia that the country isn’t a basket case, or that Putin and his regime aren’t a total menace, especially to Russians themselves, as Mark Lawrence Schrad argues in the article I’ve quoted above. They would laugh in your smug face.

I wonder if this useful idiot and assistant professor in political science at Villanova has ever lived in the country long enough to figure this home truth out. Probably not.

Villanova has a great basketball team this year, however. Maybe I should focus on them.

Somehow, I have to stay positive in the midst of the dawning awareness that lots of Anglo-American Slavists would, seemingly, like to work for the KGB if they could. Or are simply too clueless to do their jobs.

At very least, Professor Schrad’s article would have been accepted for publication in Russian Insider as is. TRR

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17016781_10154597941078402_1412973065814591476_o
“For Rent.” Photo by TRR

Exhibit One: Downtown Petersburg’s Commercial Property Glut

This is what a “non-basket case” looks like in real life, not from one’s office in Philadelphia.

“Arenda” (“For Rent”) is definitely the most popular shop sign in the neighborhood around Voznesensky and Izmailovsky Prospect when I went there the other day to do a couple of errands, and it is complemented by lots of shops that aren’t flying the “Arenda” banner just yet, but which are definitely closed for business forever, like this Chinese restaurant, now known as “Khui” (if you read the fine print on the plasterboard that has replaced the broken glass in the door).

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“Fuck.” Photo by TRR

Except for a few parts of central Petersburg where commercial spaces never stay empty for long, even in bad times, this is the visual-economic landscape you would see all over town. It is a landscape of “mixed and uneven development,” to put it charitably.

I don’t see how any self-respecting scholar wouldn’t start with this grassroots reality when analyzing Russia’s current state, rather than with a grab bag of rank speculations, half truths, and outright falsehoods he or she has read in English-language newspapers, magazines, and websites.

But that’s mostly how the new, actually quite fairly hysterical “anti-hysteria”/”anti-Russophobia” school of half-baked journalism and “Russia hands” scholarship operates. Its adepts sit far from Russia and tells Russians how good they’ve got it. TRR

__________________

Exhibit Two: How the Russian Countryside Is Dying

How the Russian countryside is dying.

A sad name for a reportage. But first of all one feels for the people in the reportage, who have worked the land for many years.

I visited the hinterland just yesterday at the request of the workers at the Vegetable Integrated Agricultural Production Company in Tonshalovo, Cherepovets District, Vologda Region. The fact is that everything there has been frozen, and the company has been put on the road to bankruptcy. The prosecutor’s office is looking for the guilty parties, but instead of reading thousands of words, I suggest you watch the video. The inhabitants of our country utter many wonderful, sincere words in the video. What is happening with agriculture nowadays all over Russia is quite sad.

#VO35 #VologdaRegion #Tonshalovo #Vegetable #Prosecutor #Authorities #Bankruptcy #Unemployment #Agriculture

Source: vk.com/vologda_net

Nettle Info, How the Russian Countryside Is Dying. YouTube video, in Russian. Posted January 23, 2017, by Nettle Info

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

__________________

Exhibit Three: Russia’s Wildly Corrupt Prime Minister

Russian opposition politician Navalny links PM Medvedev to billion euro property empire
Deutsche Welle
March 2, 2017

Navalny alleges Medvedev took bribes from key Russian oligarchs under the guise of donations to charities. In a 49-minute exposé, Navalny even flies drones over lavish properties he alleges were bought with corrupt money.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny accused Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of massive corruption in a report accompanied by a Youtube video he posted on Thursday.

The anti-corruption activist alleged Medvedev controls a property empire including mansions, yachts and vineyards financed by bribes from oligarchs to a network of non-profit organisations.

“Based on the documentation disclosed, we can confirm that at least 70 billion rubles (1.3 billion euros or US$1.19 billion) have been transferred in cash and assets to Medvedev’s foundations,” said Navalny, who heads the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Medvedev “practically openly created a corrupt network of charitable foundations through which he receives bribes from oligarchs and frantically builds himself palaces and vacation homes across the whole country,” the report alleged.

The report was welcomed by Transparency International Russia, a non-profit organization that targets corruption, though it questioned some of its conclusions.

Findings met with skepticism

Navalny has sworn that he will be a candidate in upcoming elections despite being dogged by legal problems

“There are certain doubts in the story of Ilia Yeliseyev, the deputy chairman of the Gazprombank. It is doubtful that Yeliseyev is just a scarecrow. Despite the fact he was a classmate of Medvedev, he is an important figure. He could have earned that fortune himself,” spokesman Gleb Gawrisch told DW.

Gawrisch also said although it looked suspicious it wasn’t actually illegal for Medvedev to use real estate owned by non-profit organizations

“Corrupt officials often use non-profit organizations to hide financial flows and property,” he conceded in a statement to Deutsche Welle.

“The problem is finding out who the ultimate beneficiary is, and we are delighted that the Anti-Corruption Foundation has succeeded in presenting such an extraordinary investigation.”

Medvedev, a lawyer from Saint Petersburg, was president from 2008 to 2012 while Vladimir Putin served as premier between presidential terms. Medvedev intended to run in the 2018 presidential election.

Navalny, also a lawyer, garnered notoriety for his denunciations against corruption and was sentenced to five years in prison with a suspended sentence for embezzlement, which forbid him from being a candidate in the elections.

His [49]-minute video amassed several hundred thousand views in a few hours on YouTube.

Anti-Corruption Foundation, Don’t Call Him Dimon: Palaces, Yachts, and Vineyards—Dmitry Medvedev’s Secret Empire. YouTube video, with subtitles in English. Posted March 2, 2017, by Alexei Navalny

 

Navalny said that the foundations receive “donations” from oligarchs and companies, which are then used to purchase lavish properties for Medvedev, who is never registered as the owner.

“The prime minister and his trusted friends have created a criminal scheme, not with companies registered in tax havens as usual, but with non-profit foundations, which makes it virtually impossible to determine the owner of the assets,” he said.

“Medvedev can steal so much and so openly because Putin does the same, only on a bigger scale,” he wrote, presenting his team’s online report.

Navalny said he was able to establish the links to Medvedev by tracing the purchases online.

Medvedev’s spokeswoman dismissed the allegations as promotion for Navalny’s presidential bid.

“Navalny’s material is clearly electioneering in nature,” Natalya Timakova told RIA Novosti state news agency. “It’s pointless to comment on the propagandistic attacks of an oppositional convict,” she added.

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P.S. An acquaintance just told me the average monthly salary at the world-renowned St. Petersburg Conservatory is 11,000 rubles a month (approx. 178 euros), but employees there have not been paid since the end of last year.

And you would still say Russia is not a “basket case,” Mark Lawrence Schrad, assistant professor in political science at Villanova? Could you live on 178 euros a month while also not being sure you would actually be paid that measly sum on time every month?

I imagine that Professor Schrad was paid more than a paltry 178 euros for his wildly misleading article in Foreign Policy.

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St. Petersburg Conservatory. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia