Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki

Victoria Lomasko
Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki: Grassroots Protests in Russia, 2015–2016

In late February 2015, politician Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Russian opposition, was gunned down near the Kremlin.

Grassroots activists immediately set up a people’s memorial, made up of bouquets, photos, drawings, and candles, at the scene of the crime, on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. For over a year, they have been taking shifts guarding the memorial from members of various nationalist movements and bridge maintenance workers, who routinely haul away the flowers and photos as if they were trash.

Slogan on man’s t-shirt: “Navalny didn’t steal the timber.” May 24, 2016

“The assaults on the memorial occur like pogroms in a Jewish shtetl: it’s the luck of the draw,” these two people on vigil at the memorial told me. “They pick a time when the people on duty have let down their guard, like three or four in the morning.”

Woman: “People will take to the barricades only when food runs out in the stores.” Slogan on her shirt: “The ‘Russian world’ has no use for science and education.’” Rally in defense of science and education, June 6, 2015

Headed by opposition leaders and attended by thousands of people, the 2012 rallies and marches for fair elections and a “Russia without Putin!” ended with the show trials of 2013 and 2014 against opposition leaders (Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov) and rank-and-file protesters (the so-called prisoners of May 6).

In 2015 and 2016, the Marches of the Millions have given way to small-scale rallies and protests. People far removed from politics have tried to defend their own concrete rights.

I made these drawings at a rally in defense of the Dynasty Foundation. An NGO founded to support scientific research and science education in Russia, it had been declared a “foreign agent” by the Justice Ministry.

“Today, they killed Nemtsov. Tomorrow, they’ll kill a nationalist leader.” Rally in defense of science and education

Torfyanka

In June 2015, residents of Moscow’s Losiny Ostrov (Moose Island) District came together to stop construction of a church in their local park, Torfyanka. The building had been planned as part of the Russian Orthodox Church’s 200 Churches Program.

“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015
“People need hospitals and kindergartens more than another church on the site of our park.” Torfyanka Park, July 1, 2015

Residents set up a tent camp in the park and stood watch in shifts to keep construction equipment from entering the site. They also filed a lawsuit, asking the court to declare the public impact hearing on the construction project null and void. The hearing had been held without their involvement. Continue reading “Victoria Lomasko: Truckers, Torfyanka, and Dubki”

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Nous sommes tous la cinquième colonne

They Got Out of Their Tractors
Why the so-called common people are increasingly joining the ranks of the so-called fifth column
Gazeta.ru
August 29, 2016

A fifth column of tractors? Photo courtesy of @melnichenko_va/Twitter

The arrest of the people involved in the tractor convoy, as well as new protest rallies in Togliatti after Nikolai Merkushin, governor of Samara Region announced wage arrears would “never” be paid off, are vivid examples of the top brass’s new style of communicating with people. After flirting only four or five years ago with the common people, as opposed to the creacles from the so-called fifth column, the authorities have, in the midst of a crisis, been less and less likely to pretend they care about the needs of rank-and-file Russians. Moreover, any reminders of problems at the bottom provokes irritation and an increasingly repressive reaction at the top.

Previously, top officials, especially in the run-up to elections, preferred to mollify discontent at the local level by promising people something, and from year to year, the president would even personally solve people’s specific problems, both during his televised town hall meetings (during which, for example, he dealt with problems ranging from the water supply in a Stavropol village to the payment of wages to workers at a fish factory on Shikotan) and during personal visits, as was the case in Pikalyovo, where chemical plant workers also blocked a federal highway. Nowadays, on the contrary, the authorities have seemingly stopped pretending that helping the common people is a priority for them.

It is telling that the alleged charging of the tractor convoy’s leader with extremism and the Samara governor’s disdainful interaction with ordinary workers (who responded by blocking a federal highway on Monday) has nothing to do with political opposition.

The people have made no political demands in these cases. Moreover, the main players in these stories almost certainly belong to the hypothetical loyal majority.

The people who took part in the tractor convoy against forcible land seizures even adopted the name Polite Farmers, apparently by analogy with the patriotic meme “polite people,” which gained popularity in Russia after the annexation of Crimea.

In 2011–2012, the authorities used approximately the same people to intimidate street protesters sporting political slogans. That was when the whole country heard of Uralvagonzavod, a tank manufacturer whose workers promised to travel to Moscow to teach the creacles a lesson. Subsequently, the company’s head engineer, Igor Kholmanskih, was unexpectedly appointed presidential envoy to the Urals Federal Distrtict.

Back then, the cultivation of a political standoff between working people from the provinces and slackers, “State Department agents,” and self-indulgent intellectuals from the capitals seemed pivotal, but in the aftermath of Crimea and a protracted crisis, it has almost been nullified.

The people are still important for generating good ratings [via wildly dubious opinion polls — TRR], but it would seem that even rhetorically they have ceased to be an object of unconditional concern on the part of the government.

Nowadays, the authorities regard the requests and especially the demands of the so-called common people nearly as harshly as they once treated the Bolotnaya Square protests.

The government does not have the money to placate the common people, so people have to be forced to love the leadership unselfishly, in the name of stability and the supreme interests of the state. Since politics has finally defeated the economy in Russia, instead of getting down to brass tacks and solving problems with employment and wage arrears, the regime generously feeds people stories about war with the West. During a war, it quite unpatriotic to demand payment of back wages or ask for pension increase. Only internal enemies would behave this way.

“We are not slaves!” Coal Miners on Hunger Strike in Gukovo. Published on August 25, 2016, by Novaya Gazeta. Miners in Gukovo have refused a “handout” from the governor of Rostov Region and continued their hunger strike over unpaid wages. Video by Elena Kostyuchenko. Edited by Gleb Limansky.

 

So the coal miners in Rostov, who have continued their hunger strike under the slogan “We are not slaves,” have suddenly proven to be enemies, along with the farmers of Krasnodar, who wanted to tell the president about forcible land seizures, and the activists defending Torfyanka Park in Moscow, who were detained in the early hours of Monday morning for, allegedly, attempting to break Orthodox crosses, and the people defending the capital’s Dubki Park, slated for redevelopment despite the opinion of local residents, and the people who protested against the extortionate Plato system for calculating the mileage tolls paid by truckers, and just about anyone who is unhappy with something and plans to make the authorities aware of their dissatisfaction.

Grassroots initiatives, especially if they involve protests against the actions or inaction of the authorities, are not only unwelcome now, but are regarded as downright dangerous, almost as actions against the state. This hypothesis is borne out by the silence of the parliamentary opposition parties. In the midst of an election campaign, they have not even attempted to channel popular discontent in certain regions and make it work to their advantage at the ballot box.

The distinction between the so-called fifth column and the other four has blurred.

Nowadays, the fifth column can be a woman who asks a governor about back wages. Someone who defends a city park. Farmers. Coal miners. Even the workers of Uralvagonzavod, which in recent years has been on the verge of bankruptcy. The contracts the state had been throwing the company’s way have not helped, apparently.

If the authorities, especially local authorities simply afraid to show federal authorities they are incapable of coping with problems, continue to operate only through a policy of intimidation, they might soon be the fifth column themselves, if only because, sooner or later, they will find themselves in the minority.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sean Guillory for the heads-up

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A surprisingly frank and dead-on editorial from Gazeta.ru, who usually have not struck me as wild-eyed radicals, about how the Russian authorities have increasingly come to behave as if nearly the entire Russian population, including the so-called common people, is a gigantic fifth column arrayed against them.

The reason they have sunk into this black pit of reaction is that the current regime is simply incapable of solving the country’s numerous political, social, and economic crises, because it has directly or indirectly generated nearly all of them, including the utter lawlessness in Krasnodar Territory that was finally too much for a group of farmers who climbed into their tractors and set out for Moscow several days ago. But because even allegedly simple farmers can become a fifth column as soon as they draw attention to their sorry plight and the role of the authorities in it, they got only as far the neighboring Rostov Region on their tractors before the police shut them down.

This editorial is also valuable for its catalogue of similar conflicts, most of which you probably have never heard of because they are not well covered or covered at all by the western press and only marginally better by Russian print and online media. Russian mainstream TV outlets mainly avoid them altogether, as do most of the opposition parties currently contending for seats in the Russian State Duma and regional legislatures, as the editorialists point out.

So the hunger-striking miners in Gukov and their wives are left to their own devices when dealing with their creepy regional governor, no doubt a KGB vet, who all but accuses them of acting on behalf of the CIA, although they just want to get paid for their hard, thankless work.

The only grain of salt one should chew while reading this editorial is the fact that these local grassroots campaigns have been going in rather large numbers across Russia throughout Putin’s 17-year reign. And in many cases the altogether uncommon common people who fought these battles were fifth-columnized (through beatings, murders, and jail time) as badly as the current grassroots campaigners mentioned by the editorialists. During the fat years of the noughties, however, times were much better economically in the Russian capitals for a lot of people than they had been just a few years earlier, so they preferred not to notice too hard what was going on in their midst, much less some part of their country they would never dream of visiting even.

The Putinist state has been waging a cold civil war against the people of Russia for seventeen years whether the media has noticed it or not. But a lot of the common people have noticed. TRR

It’s Been a Quiet Week in the Motherland (The News from OVD Info)

Maxim Panfilov
Maxim Panfilov

Hello! One of the main events of the past week for us was not Putin’s “Direct Line,” but the arrest of a man who spoke with Putin a year ago. Anton Tyurishev, a construction worker at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East, complained to the president that he and his mates were not being paid their wages.  Putin promised to get to the bottom of it, but a year on nothing had changed. Tyurishev promised that in response protests would kick off. Later, he was summoned to the police station, where the “Law on Rallies” was read out to him. The day before the “Direct Line” broadcast, he was detained and sent to jail for five days, allegedly, for swearing in public.

Criminal Prosecution

The new defendant in the Bolotnaya Square Case, Maxim Panfilov, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome and yet was taken into police custody, is not getting the medicines he needs. Instead, he is being administered substitutes that do not alleviate his condition. Panfilov has been appointed an outpatient psychiatric examination. The investigator has agreed to let defense attorneys attend it.

Ildar Dadin, convicted of “multiple violations of the rules for holding public events,” was convoyed from Moscow to Petersburg right on his birthday, which means he will serve his sentence in Leningrad Region.

Ildar Dadin
Ildar Dadin

Last week, it transpired that Magomednabi Magomedov, imam of the Eastern Mosque in Khasavyurt, had been arrested, accused of incitement to terrorism and inciting religious and ethnic hatred. Magomedov, who was transported from one place of confinement to another over several days, complained he had been tortured. Pretrial detention facility officers had beaten him and forced him to kneel, demanding that he confess to the charges.

Euromaidan participant Alexander Kostenko, convicted of harming a Berkut riot police officer, was transferred to solitary confinement shortly before a hearing where his request for parole was to be examined. Naturally, Kostenko’s parole request was rejected.

Alexander Kostenko
Alexander Kostenko

It seems soon Alexei Navalny will have no allies who are not undergoing criminal prosecution. Ivan Zhdanov, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s legal service, and a candidate for the council of deputies in the Moscow suburb of Barvikha, has been charged with evading conscription.

Freedom of Assembly

In Ulyanovsk, police diligently searched for activists who had blocked a road in connection with construction of a residential complex. They visited one activist at work, and telephone another and asked him to report for questioning. When he demanded an official summons, they threatened him with criminal charges. Administrative charges have been filed against three people.

In Volgograd, the leader of the regional Union of Entrepreneurs and Freight Haulers has been slapped with three administrative charges for calling people to a protest rally before the rally was authorized. The court threw out two of the three charges, while the third resulted in a fine.

The confrontation continues in Moscow’s Dubki Park. Defenders of the park, who oppose construction there, are fined for disobeying the police. A female journalist’s arm was injured when an assembly of defenders was dispersed. When he was detained, one of the activists, Dmitry Boinov, was beaten so badly that he has been in hospital for a week recovering from fractures.

Beatings

In Podolsk, three men attacked Maxim Chekanov, a past participant of protest rallies. The incident began when they called Chekanov by name, asked him questions about the “Kiev junta,” called him a “Banderite scumbag,” and then invited him to go round the corner. During the ensuing fight they smashed Chekhanov’s face.

Popular Chechen singer Hussein Betelgeriev, who disappeared in late March, has returned home beaten. It is unknown where he was all this time. Relatives and friends suggest he was abducted, and connect the abduction with his comments on social networks and the fact he ignored the call to attend a pro-Kadyrov rally on March 23.

Reading

Olga Sutuga, mother of anti-fascist Alexei Sutuga, currently serving time at a penal colony in Irkutsk Region, talks about the international aid project Political Prisoners University.

Thanks for your attention!

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OVD Info is an independent human rights media project dedicated to political persecution in Russia. We are engaged in daily monitoring of detentions at public events, and publish information about other kinds of political persecution. We believe that information liberates and protects, and analyzing the data we collect can help change the situation for the better in the future.

Editor’s Note. OVD Info sends out a weekly email news roundup, in Russian, to its supporters. I thought that, despite its brevity, this week’s roundup provided a fairly eloquent picture of the state of affairs in this country at present and not just this particular week. You can sign up to the mailing list by going to the bottom of any page n the OVD Info website and entering your email address where you see the phrase ПОДПИСАТЬСЯ НА РАССЫЛКУ.