Ivan Davydov: Extremely Knowledgeable Russians

KMO_173017_00047_1“Release political prisoners! They should not be in prison!” Muscovites rally in support of political prisoners on Sakharov Avenue on September 29, 2019. Photo by Pyotr Kassin for Kommersant. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Extremely Knowledgeable Russians
Ivan Davydov
MBKh Media
January 21, 2020

While you more or less grasp the sheer abnormality of the current Russian regime and even are aware of the nitty-gritty when it comes to certain things, you gradually learn to put up with a lot. You get used to it, you develop defensive skills. Constantly experiencing righteous anger is hard on the psyche. Nor does it happen on schedule, three times a day for twenty minutes, after meals, by way of clearing your conscience.

For example, you’re walking in downtown Moscow and you think, What the hell, it really has become nicer. Of course, you recall the savage corruption of the powers that be, and the trick they pulled with the elections last summer, and their persecution of ordinary people, but it has become prettier. There are the cozy shops and cafes, the lovely food courts, the new subway stations, and the Moscow Central Circle. Comfort and convenience trump righteous anger, and you catch yourself thinking, Well, they steal, naturally (I’m curious, by the way: is the word “naturally” accidental here or not? Probably not anymore), but they could just steal outright. Instead, they make improvements, and those improvements benefit more people than just them.

And it’s not that you forgive them for theft, election fraud, and last summer’s police dragnet against random passersby, but all of it recedes to the edge of consciousness, turning into cute, almost ordinary naughtiness.

But there are things you can’t put up with at all. It is impossible, for example, to forget that people are regularly tortured in Russia, including people who were allegedly planning a coup d’état, people who believe in God the wrong way (per our current laws), and the occasional lowlife whom the aces at the local police station have decided to frame for all the unsolved cases in the last couple of months.

I walk down the street, noting that Moscow has become prettier by any reckoning, and now, maybe, I’ll go into a cozy little cafe and have a cup of coffee. And almost certainly at the same time somewhere agents of the state will be torturing an ordinary person. This awareness pierces the brain like a nail—there’s no escaping it, it is painful and shameful. It’s a strange thing: I am not torturing anyone myself, but I’m ashamed for some reason. Or, rather, for some reason it’s me who is ashamed.

The same goes for awareness of the existence of political prisoners in Russia. More than two hundred people are in prison only because they allowed themselves to think something about the current Russian government that the current Russian government didn’t like. This is according to Memorial, which has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can believe its figures. More than two hundred people are being punished for incorrect thoughts, and it’s impossible to reconcile yourself with this fact in any way.

Neither the prettified streets of the big cities, nor the funky art exhibitions, nor the generous handouts the president has promised the disadvantaged and veterans can absolve the state of its guilt. This just should not be happening, but that’s the way it is.

A recent survey by the Levada Center provides some comfort. I am not the only one in Russia who is so knowledgeable: there are a fair number of us. By the way, the Levada Center has been designated a “foreign agent,” so you can trust their findings. “Foreign agent,” after all, is something like a mark of quality, a certificate of non-complicity in the state’s lies.

When asked whether there were currently political prisoners in Russia, 23% of respondents answered yes, while another 40% answered that yes, there probably were political prisoners. Thus, a sizeable majority of people (63%) either know for certain or are reasonably sure that people are jailed in this country for thinking the wrong thoughts. The number of informed Russians has been growing. The poll was conducted in December 2019; in December 2018, 50% of those polled were aware of political prisoners. Analysts attribute this growth to the efforts of Moscow city hall, the noisy scandal over last autumn’s elections, and the protests ignited by the so-called Moscow Case.

I saw a happy tweet on Twitter from an opposition activist: “Hooray! Two thirds of Russians are aware of political prisoners! This is the result of our work! But we need more people to know.” I saw the tweet, but I immediately lost the link and forgot who wrote it. I wondered, however, whether there was much reason for celebration.

Two thirds of Russians are aware there are political prisoners in Russia, but this has not generated much of a furor. Even when the Moscow Case was in full swing, only a few hundred people in Moscow—a drop in the ocean—came out to picket in support of political prisoners. Thirty thousand people or so attended an “authorized” protest rally: this is nothing in a city of twelve million people. And in comparison with the number of people who are supposedly aware, it’s also nothing.

This means, apparently, that the vast majority of Russians consider the presence of political prisoners in the country to be the norm. I hope that, at least, they consider it an abnormal norm—that is, more or less the way I view corruption in Moscow. They see it as something unpleasant, of course, but not particularly terrible, as something they can live with.

Speaking of which, last summer the Levada Center published the results of a survey on the use of torture by the security forces. The numbers were absolutely terrible: 10% of Russians had experienced torture. This is not two hundred some people we’re talking about, but millions of people. 60% of those polled considered torture unacceptable, which is also seemingly a cause for joy. But that means that 40% either think torture is justified or haven’t formed an opinion on the subject: they are not moved by this sad, literally painful topic.

What’s the point in guessing, though? 30% of respondents stated outright that they considered torture justified in “exceptional cases.” I’ve never understood where the instinct for self-preservation goes in such cases. How can you be sure it won’t be you who turns out to be such an “exceptional case” for a tipsy policeman one day?

I don’t like it when folks chew out the “Russian people.” People in Russia are normal, on the whole, no worse than other people. Especially since I’m one of those people. There is no excuse for looking down on “the people.” It’s stupid and silly.

However, I see no particular cause for optimism when it comes to the polling data on awareness of political prisoners in our country. It points to a serious societal disease, and most important, it is completely unclear what the cure for it is.

But for starters, of course, all political prisoners must be released.

Thanks to Julia Murashova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Svetlana Bulatova: The Levashovo Barrens

The Barrens of Memory: Place of Burial Unknown
Svetlana Bulatova
Republic
October 30, 2019

The Levashovo Barrens is one of the largest cemeteries in Petersburg. It is the burial place of men and women who died or were killed in Leningrad’s prisons between  1937 and 1954. According to the Petersburg office of the FSB, 19,450 people were buried in the Levashovo Barrens. Their names are unknown, and there are no lists of the people buried there.

Until 1989, the cemetery was a secret site of the Soviet KGB. It was in 1989 that relatives and friends of people killed during the Great Terror began spontaneously beautifying the place by installing memorial plaques and symbolic tombstones. Many of the photographs were nailed right to the trees and have thus been covered by resin over the years, while others have faded in the sun.

Using the inscriptions still preserved on some of the photographs, I found the names of the people depicted in them in the Open List, the largest database of victims of political repression in the USSR. The Open List was compiled by International Memorial.

bulatova-1Name unknown. The need to combat “enemies of the people” was based on the notion that, as the class struggle intensified, new “class enemies” emerged, including so-called counter-revolutionaries, wreckers, spies, and saboteurs. They were punished under Article 58 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The term “enemy of the people” was not only a cliché of political rhetoric but was also used in official documents.

bulatova-2Karl Davidovich Ozol, died at the age of 42. Born in Wenden (Cēsis) in Livonia Province, Ozol was an ethnic Latvian and a non-member of the Communist Party. He worked as a fireman at the heat and power station in Pskov, where he lived. He was arrested on December 25, 1937. On January 12, 1938, Ozol was found guilty of violating Articles 17.58.8 and 58.6-9, 10-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 18, 1938. His wife, Minna Yakovlevna, and their daughter were expelled from Pskov. His place of burial is unknown. Ozol was exonerated by the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court on September 29, 1956.

bulatova-3Names unknown

bulatova-4Anna Alexandrovna Kolupayeva, died at the age of 33. An ethnic Russian, she was born and lived in Petersburg, and was a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) from 1929 to 1937. She worked as an accountant for Eksportles (All-Union Association for Timber Exports). Her home address was 19 Borovaya Street, Apartment 30, Leningrad. Kolupayeva was arrested on September 28, 1937. On December 2, 1937, she was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Kolupayeva was executed in Leningrad on December 8, 1937. Her place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-5Veniamin Ilyich Baraden, died at the age of 46. An ethnic Russian born in Petersburg, he was a non-Party member. He worked as a legal consultant at the Ilyich Plant, and resided at 18 Skorokhodov Street (Bolshaya Monetnaya Street), Apartment 16. Baraden was arrested on October 26, 1937. On November 25, 1937, a special troika of the Leningrad Regional Directorate of the NKVD found him guilty of violating Article 58.10 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Baraden was executed in Leningrad on December 3, 1937. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-6Nikolai Mikhailovich Makarov, died at the age of 44. Born in the village of Ivakino in the Rostov District of Yaroslavl Province, he was an ethnic Russian, a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and secretary of the Party committee at the Institute of the Arctic. He resided at 44 Krasnaya Street (Galernaya Street), Apartment 46, in Leningrad. He was arrested on July 16, 1937, on charges of espionage. On January 10, 1938, an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office found him guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code and sentenced him to death. Makarov was executed in Leningrad on January 15, 1938. His place of burial is unknown.

bulatova-7Name unknown

bulatova-8Name unknown

bulatova-9Name unknown

bulatova-10Herbert Karlovich Hesse, died at the age of 40. A native and resident of Petersburg, Hesse was an ethnic German who received his higher education at Tomsk University. In 1919, while still a university student, he was drafted into the army of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. He had a non-combat position in an artillery brigade in Tomsk. After returning to Leningrad, he resided at 9 Serpukhovskaya Street, Apartment 2. He worked as an electrical engineer at the Elektrosila Plant and an assistant at the Сommunications Research Institute. In March 1935, Hesse was expelled from Leningrad as a former White Army officer. Arrested on February 25, 1938, he was found guilty of violating Article 58.6-11 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. Hesse was executed in Leningrad on June 28, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Hesse’s brother Friedrich was executed on September 6, 1938.

bulatova-11August Ernestovich Egleskaln, died at the age of 34. Born in the Berezovo Rural Society (Atheist Collective Farm), Valdai District, Novgorod Province, Egleskaln was an ethnic Latvian who was expelled from the Bolshevik Party in 1935. He worked as head of the cable recovery united of the 2nd Communications Regiment of the Leningrad Military District. Arrested on November 5, 1937, Egleskaln was found guilty of violating Article 58.6 of the RSFSR Criminal Code by an NKVD commission and the Soviet Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced to death. He was executed in Leningrad on January 5, 1938. His place of burial is unknown. Egleskaln was exonerated in 1957.

Today, October 30, is the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression in Russia. See the Ioffe Foundation’s website Map of Memory: Levashovo Barrens (in Russian) for more detailed information on the Levashovo Cemetery. See also my posts on the Last Address project. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sandarmokh: Rewriting History with Shovels

content_IMG_9455“Alternative” excavations at Sandarmokh. Photo by Irina Tumakova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Sifting through History: The “Alternative” Excavations at Sandarmokh Are Meant to Shift the Public’s Attention from Great Terror Victims to WWII Casualties
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
August 20, 2019

The ongoing excavations by the Russian Military History Society (RVIO) at the Sandarmokh site in [Russian] Karelia, where political prisoners were shot during the Great Terror, reflects the desire of Russian officials to switch the public’s attention to the Second World War.

In August, RVIO employees and a Defense Ministry search battalion resumed digging at Sandarmokh. Karelian Culture Minister Alexei Lesonen said the objective was to “separate artifacts having to do with different layers of history and different circumstances.”

It is a matter of words matching deeds. In 1997, local historian Yuri Dmitriev discovered the mass graves of people shot by the NKVD in 1937–1938. Thanks to Dmitriev’s efforts, Sandarmokh became a symbol of the Great Terror.

International Memorial Society board member Sergei Krivenko puts a number on it: archival documents have confirmed that over 6,100 people were shot and buried at Sandarmokh during the Great Terror.

In keeping with the Kremlin’s policy of “inculcating pride in the past,” the authorities have attempted, in recent years, to diminish Sandarmokh’s status as a memorial site. The authorities have tried to discredit Dmitriev and, by his extension, his work by charging him in a notorious “pedophilia” case [in which two men have already been convicted and sentenced, including Sergei Koltyrin, former director of the Medvezhyegorsk Museum and an ally of Dmitriev’s]. They have claimed Memorial’s figures for the number of victims are inflated. They have pushed an alternate account that the Finnish Army shot and buried Soviet POWS at Sandarmokh between 1941 and 1944.

The RVIO’s August–September 2018 expedition turned up the remains of five people. Historian Sergei Verigin said they corroborated the hypothesis about Soviet POWS because the executed people had not been stripped before they were shot and foreign-made shell casings were found next to them. This proves nothing, however. The NKVD used foreign-made weapons when it executed its prisoners [22,000 Polish officers and members of the Polish intelligentsia] at Katyn, nor have the RVIO established when exactly the people whose remains they found were killed.

The Karelian Culture Ministry has asked the RVIO to keep digging. Officials there are convinced that “speculation about events in Sandarmokh […] reinforces in the public’s mind a baseless sense of guilt towards the alleged [Great Terror] victims […] becoming a consolidating factor for anti-government forces in Russia.”

The RVIO did not respond to our request to comment on the claim that the people shot and buried at Sandarmokh were “alleged victims.” They keep digging In early August, the remains of five more people were found.

Memorial has demanded an end to the excavations, fearing the mass graves will be disturbed. Archaeologists have also sounded a warning because the traces of dwelling sites used by prehistoric people have been found at Sandarmokh as well and they could be damaged.

The problem, however, is not that artifacts could get mixed up. The problem is there is no comparison between the maximum possible number of Soviet POWs executed and buried at Sandarmokh, as estimated by the Karelian Culture Ministry, and the confirmed numbers of victims of Stalin’s terror campaign who are buried there: 500 versus over 6,100.

The digs at Sandarmokh are a clumsy attempt by Russian officials to alter the meaning of the memorial site and rewrite the past with shovels. More importantly, officials want to juggle the numbers of victims and thus gaslight the Russian public.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Without Fathers, a video made by Anna Artemieva and Gleb Limansky, and published by Novaya Gazeta on August 7, 2017. The annotation reads, “The orphans of Sandarmokh remember their executed relatives. Historian Yuri Dmitriev did not attend memorial day ceremonies there for the first time in twenty years. He is on trial, charged with ‘manufacturing child pornography.'” 

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Long as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don

800px-Flag_of_the_Crimean_Tatar_people.svgThe Crimean Tatar national flag. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Many as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don
Anton Naumlyuk
Radio Svoboda
June 18, 2019

The North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don has rendered a verdict in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial.

Five Crimean Tatars were detained after searches of their homes in October 2016. They were charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that has been banned in Russia. One of the five defendants, Teimur Abdullayev, was also charged with organizing cells for the organization in Simferopol.

During closing arguments, the prosecution has asked the court to sentence the defendants to between 11 and 17 years in prison. However, except for Abdullayev, who was sentenced to 17 years in a maximum-security prison camp, the other four defendants were given longer sentences than the prosecutor had requested. Uzeir Abdullayev was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Emil Jemandenov and Ayder Saledinov were sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Rustem Ismailov was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The convicted men had pleaded innocent to the charges. Their defense team plans to appeal the verdict.

“We are not terrorists. We have not committed any crimes,” Uzeir Abdullayev said in his closing statement. “I would also like to say that the criminal case [against us] was a frame-up, a fabrication. The secret witness alone was proof of that—and he was proof of our innocence. […] I thus want to show that human rights are violated in Russia and you violate your own Constitution.”

Nearly 70 individuals have been arrested in Crimea, occupied by Russia since 2014, as part of the criminal investigation into Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that is not illegal in Ukraine and most European countries. Most of the suspects and defendants in the case, include the Crimean Muslims convicted today, have been declared political prisoners by the International Memorial Society, an alliance of human rights organizations headquartered in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Squealing on Victims of the Great Terror: Who Wants to Tear Down Petersburg’s Last Address Plaques?

досто 25-табличкиThree Last Address plaques on the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street, in downtown Petersburg

Squealing on the Executed: Who Wants to Remove the Last Address Plaques?
Tatyana Voltskaya
Radio Svoboda
December 6, 2018

Alexander Mokhnatkin, a former aide to Russian MP Vitaly Milonov, filed a complaint with the Petersburg authorities, claiming the plaques mounted on houses throughout the city by Last Address had been erected illegally.

досто 25-улица и домThe plaques are barely visible from only ten meters away.

Andrei Pivovarov, co-chair of the Petersburg branch of Open Russia, wrote about the complaint on his Facebook page.

The city’s urban planning and architecture committee has already reacted to the complaint. It said the plaques, which bear the names of victims of Stalin’s Great Terror and have been placed on the walls of the houses where they lived just before their arrests and executions, were illegal.

досто 27-подворотняThere are two more plaques right next door, in the gateway of the house at 27 Dostoevsky Street.

“The informer decided the plaques were illegal advertisements? I wonder what for. The Stalinist Terror? He thinks they should be taken down. The Smolny responds to the snitch by indicating there were no legal grounds for putting the plaques up, and special city services would deal with them. It is difficult to guess when the wheel of the bureaucratic machine will turn, but, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, the country should know its snitches. I introduce you to Alexander Mokhnatkin, a man who has denounced people long ago victimized by the state and executed, and who has denounced the memory of those people,” Pivovarov wrote.

нев 111:полтав 3-3Unaware of the Last Address plaque on the wall next to her, a woman walks down Poltava Street, just off Old Nevsky, on a sunny day in October.

MP Milonov argues his former aide’s opinion is his personal opinion. Milonov, on the contrary, welcomes memorial plaques, but he does not like the fact that, currently, ordinary citizens have taken the lead in putting them up. He believes it would be better to let officials take the lead.

“I don’t think it would be good if there were lot of plaques on every house, as in a cemetery. The right thing to do, probably, would be to adopt a government program. The plaques would be hung according to the rules of the program, and protected by the law and the state,” argues Milonov.

нев 111:полтав 3-5When you step back ten or fifteen meters, the same plaque is nearly invisible to the naked eye.

He argues what matters most is “remembering the grandfathers of the people who now call themselves liberals squealed on our grandfathers and shot our grandfathers. Our grandfathers did not squeal on anyone. They died on the Solovki Islands. They were shot in the Gulag and various other places.”

Milonov admits different people wrote denunciations, but he believes the International Memorial Society has deliberately politicized the topic, using the memory of those shot during the Terror for their own ends. The MP argues that erecting memorial plaques should not be a “political mom-and-pop store.” Milonov fears chaos: that today one group of people will put up plaques, while tomorrow it will be another group of people. To avoid this, he proposes adopting official standards.

разъезжая 36-подъезд.jpgA Last Address plaque in the doorway of the house at 36 Razyezhaya Street, in Petersburg’s Central District.

​On the contrary, Evgeniya Kulakova, an employee of Memorial’s Research and Information Centre in Petersburg, stresses that Last Address is a grassroots undertaking. An important part of Last Address is the fact that the installation of each new plaque is done at the behest of private individuals, who order the plaques, pay for their manufacture, and take part in mounting them. Kulakova regards Milonov’s idea as completely unfeasible, since the municipal authorities have their own program in any case. The program has its own concept for commemorating victims of political terror, and the authorities have the means at their disposals to implement it. Last Address, however, is hugely popular among ordinary people who feel they can make their own contribution to the cause of preserving the memory of the people who perished during the Terror.

соц 6-улицаA Last Address plaque in the archway of the house at 6 Socialist Street, in central Petersburg.

Kulakov thinks it no coincidence Mokhnatkin has brought attention to the Last Address plaques, since previously he had taken an interest in the Solovetsky Stone in Trinity Square. Apparently, his actions are part of a campaign against remembering Soviet state terror and the campaign against Memorial.

Many Memorial branches in Russia have been having lots of trouble lately. In particular, Memorial’s large annual Returning the Names ceremony in Moscow was nearly canceled this autumn, while the Petersburg branch has been informed that the lease on its premises has been terminated. It has been threatened with eviction as of January 6, 2019.

черняховского 69-домThree Last Address plaques, barely visible from the middle of the street, on the house at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street, near the Moscow Station in Petersburg.

Historian Anatoly Razumov, head of the Returned Names Center, supports the concept of memorial plaques. He stressed they are installed only with the consent of building residents and apartment owners, and ordinary people welcome the undertaking. Moreover, people often put up the plaques not only to commemorate their own relatives but also to honor complete strangers whose lives have touched them. Razumov says people often find someone’s name in the Leningrad Martyrology. They then get written confirmation the person lived in a particular house. Only after collecting information about the person and obtaining the consent of the building’s residents do they erect a plaque.

“In Europe, such things are always under the protection of municipal authorities. I think we should also be going in the other direction: local district councils should do more to protect the plaques instead of saying they don’t meet the standards and they’re going to tear them down,” the historian argues.

Razumov argues that inquiries like the inquiry about the legality of the memorial plaques are served up under various attractive pretexts, but they are always based on the same thing: the fight against remembering the Terror. Some people want to preserve this memory forever, while others do everything they can to eradicate it by concocting hybrid or counter memories.

черняховского-все таблички.jpgThe plaques at 69 Chernyakhovsky Street commemorate Vasily Lagun, an electrician; Solomon Mayzel, a historian of the Arab world; and Irma Barsh. They were executed in 1937–1938 and exonerated of all charges in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, argues that Last Address and Immortal Regiment are the most important popular undertakings of recent years. He is outraged by attempts of officials to encroach on them. He says he has written an appeal to the city’s urban planning and architecture committee.

Translation and photos by the Russian Reader

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Ali Feruz, a gay Moscow-based journalist threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan, where he faces possible torture and death. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch 

Memes of Solidarity
Silly and Serious Acts of Civic Solidarity Will Be Needed for a Long Time to Come
Maria Eismont
Vedomosti
January 25, 2018

The Satisfaction Challenge, a internet flash mob in support of cadets at the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute, who filmed and uploaded a parody of Benny Benassi’s music video “Satisfaction,” has entered its second week. The institute’s administrators accused the cadets, who are shown dancing in briefs and pilot caps, of “mocking the sacred” and “humiliating the industry,” declaring they had no place in aviation.

Since then, scores of videos supporting the cadets have been posted daily. The latest was filmed by the Novosibirsk hockey club Sibir. Before an auditorium packed to the gills with fans, the club’s mascot, Snowman, dances to “Satisfaction” along with security guards and cleaners. Before Snowman, there were videos by female pensioners in a Petersburg communal flat, costumed theater students in the Russian Far East, horsemen, swimmers, cadets at the Academy of the Emergency Situations Ministry, construction workers, doctors, students at an agriculture college, schoolchildren, housewives, and the presenters of the TV show Evening Urgant. Consequently, a talk show on the TV channel Rossiya 1 and US magazine The New Yorker have identified the Satisfaction Challenge flash mob as a significant event in Russia public life.

“Welders from the Urals Filmed a Satisfaction Challenge Video.” Published January 24, 2018

Obviously, the flash mob has touched some important strings. It is not so much a matter of discussing the boundaries of free self-expression, the clash of different views on what is permitted and appropriate, which, judging by the varying degrees of frankness on the part of the flash mobbers, are also quite different. The key here is solidarity, which has proven the best weapon against bureaucratic stupidity and official hypocrisy. Solidarity with the persecuted is a vital tool for upholding freedom and withstanding crackdowns, for maintaining and reinforcing social connections in an atomized society.

The flash mob in support of the Ulyanovsk cadets is probably the most vivid and funny solidarity campaign in today’s Russia, but it is hardly the only or most important solidarity campaign. The cadets were threatened with explusion, but Novaya Gazeta journalist Hudoberdi Nurmatov aka Ali Feruz, who has already spent five months in a temporary detention center for foreigners awaiting a review of his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, is threatened with torture and even death in connection with false charges of cooperating with terrorists if he is deported to Uzbekistan, say his relatives, colleagues, and human rights activists.

The solidarity campaign in support of Ali Feruz kicked off this past August, when the Moscow City Court decided to deport him. His colleagues rightly believe that the longer they bring up the case and the more loudly they discuss it, the better are the chances for a positive outcome. So, last week, Theater.doc held another reading of Feruz’s diary, written in the temporary detention center for foreigners. The first reading, entitled “My Friend Ali Feruz,” was held as a sign of solidarity by journalists in late October. During last week’s antifacist march in memory of attorney Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, slain by neo-Nazis nine years ago in downtown Moscow, some of the marchers bore placards demanding Ali Feruz’s release. On Wednesday came the news the Russian Supreme Court had overturned the Moscow City Court’s decision to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan and remanded the matter for a new hearing.

The solidarity campaign in support of Karelian historian Yuri Dmitriev, which has ranged from petitions and videos in his defense to organized trips to his trial in Petrozavodsk, has been underway since society learned of his arrest on charges of taking pornographic photographs, charges that carry no weight with anyone who knows him well. If it had not been for the public outcry, there might not have been a second forensic examination, which ruled the photographs in question were not pornographic, nor would there have been a court decision to release Dmitriev from police custody, where he has spent the last year, on his own recognizance.

Currently, Oyub Titiev, head of the Grozny branch of Memorial, is in bad need of solidarity and support. Arrested on drugs possession charges, Titiev managed to warn society any confession he made would only mean he had been tortured into giving it.

“We regard Oyub Titiev’s circumstances as extremely dangerous,” the board of the International Memorial Society said in an appeal to Russian society and the international community. “The only thing we can do under the circumstances is ask Russian society and the international community to monitor Titiev’s case with the same acute interest as has occured in the Dmitriev case.”

Solidarity is one of the few effective tools left in Russian civil society’s arsenal for confronting official coercion. We will have recourse to it again and again for a long time to come. It’s a good thing that sometimes, as in the case of the cadets, it’s also fun.

Translated by the Russian Reader

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union in Russia

How to Shut Down an Independent Trade Union
The reason for the rapid dissolution of Alexei Etmanov’s union was a complaint about what it does: defending the rights of workers 
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
January 12, 2018

The St. Petersburg City Court’s decision to dissolve the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (MPRA) at the request of the prosecutor’s office has not yet come into force. But the case itself clearly illustrates the current regime’s suspicious attitude towards independent trade unions that do not restrict their activities to handing out discounted holiday packages and tickets to children’s New Year’s celebrations.

MPRA was registered in February 2007. Its core consisted of the trade union of autoworkers at the Ford plant in the Petersburg suburb of Vsevolozhsk, famous for its pay rise demands and defense of workers’ rights. The emergence of a trade union that vigorously and effectively defended workers at foreign-owned plants was no accident. There is no legacy at such plants of servile, Soviet-era trade unions, which were once part of the management machine. Foreign companies have been forced to deal with the right of workers to go on strike and other means of self-defense against overtime and layoffs.

According to MPRA chair Alexei Etmanov, his career as a trade union activist kicked off randomly, in part. In 2001, soon after the Ford plant went on line, as one of the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR) local at the plant, Etmanov was invited to a congress of Ford trade union workers in North and South America. According to Etmanov, it was then he realized a real trade union not only handed out benefits and formally coordinated management’s decisions but also consistently defended the rights of employees from groundless redundancies, unpaid overtime, and other forms of managerial tyranny.

MPRA never concealed its membership in the IndustriALL Global Union, which has fifty million members in 140 countries worldwide, nor did its activities previously trouble the Russian authorities. MPRA’s troubles began after a pro-regime blogger, who saw signs of political activity in the trade union’s work and accused it of hiding its status as a “foreign agent,” filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. The complaint led to an audit, and later, in December 2017, the prosecutor’s office filed suit with the court, asking it to dissolve MPRA.

The prosecutor’s key claim against MPRA (Vedomosti has obtained a copy of the lawsuit) was that it received financing from abroad and had not registered as a “foreign agent.” MPRA’s crusade to amend labor laws and its solidarity with protests by Russian truckers against the introduction of the Plato road tolls system in 2015—the ordinary work of a normal trade union in a country with a market economy—have been depicted as “political activity” by the prosecutor’s office. The lawsuit also includes claims that appear to be pettifogging, in particular, that MPRA incorrectly listed its official address, that it originally registered in a manner not stipulated by law, and so on.

Yet the lawsuit does not contain any mention of demands by the prosecutor’s office to eliminate the shortcomings it has, allegedly, identified. For example, in 2015, after such demands were voiced and corresponding changes made, the Supreme Court dismissed the Justice Ministry’s suit asking that Memorial be dissolved. In Petersburg, the prosecutor petitioned the court to dissolve the trade union, no more, no less. According to Yulia Ostrovskaya, a lawyer at the Center for Social and Labor Rights, this is excessive punishment. The judgment for the plaintiff is tantamount to calling into question Russia’s observance of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, signed by the Soviet Union in 1956. The convention’s third article guarantees the right of workers and employers to draw up their own constitutions and rules, freely elect their representatives, and formulate their own programs, while the fourth article states that professional organizations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.

The circumstances reflect the regime’s growing suspicion toward independent trade unions that have not joined the Russian People’s Front (the FNPR joined the Front in 2011, for example) and insist on defending the rights of workers, notes Pavel Kudyukin, a council member at the Confederation of Labor of Russia. Authorities in some regions have accused the MPRA that they scare away investors, while courts have ruled that IndustriALL’s brochures are “extremist.” If, however, the Petersburg court’s decision is upheld by the Russian Supreme Court, it would be a terrible precedent, argues Kudyukin. All trade unions could declared “foreign agents,” include pro-regime trade unions, since many of them of belong to international trade union associations, from which they receive funding for training activists and making trips abroad.

Labor protests in Russia in terms of percentages of those involved, 2008–first half of 2017. Red = spontaneous; pink = trade union locals; dark blue = national trade unions; gray = workers’ committees; light blue = political parties and grassroots organizations; pale blue = other. The percentage may exceed 100% if several actors were involved in the same protest. Courtesy of the Center for Social and Labor Rights