The New Serfs

kozyrev-muscovitesPhoto by Yuri Kozyrev for the project Muscovites. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The New Serfs
On July 9, Millions of Migrant Workers and Foreign Students Will Be Stripped of the Right to Freedom of Movement in Russia in a Single Bound. What Has Happened?
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Tatyana Vasilchuk
Novaya Gazeta
July 6, 2018

On June 28, Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 163-FZ, which clarifies the guidelines for immigration registration in Russia. According to the amended law, such notions as a foreign national’s place of residence and the party hosting the foreign national have been defined more precisely. The majority of media outlets have described the new law as making the lives of migrant workers less burdensome, since the new law says foreign workers can be registered as dwelling in construction site trailers. This has provoked grumbling among “tolerant” Russians, who have complained migrant workers will arrive in even greater numbers and occupy all the country’s trailers.

In fact, the situation is quite different. The new rules are a blow to all law-abiding migrant workers and nearly all foreign students. Any legal entity that attempts to hire foreign nationals to work or study in Russia could find itself in violation of the law.

Even people who have all the papers and permissions for staying in Russia could be deemed lawbreakers.

The July Eighth Law
When a foreign national arrives in Russia, she is obliged to present herself to the immigration authorities and register her place of residence. However, she cannot register herself: the people or entities who invited her are obliged to do this. If she has come on a private visit, this would be the owner of the flat she has rented or the hotel where she is staying. If she has come to Russia to study, the university where she will be studying is obliged to register her. If she has come to Russia to work, the company in which she is employed must register her. (The last instance is more flexible, because her company is obliged to register her with the immigration authorities, but they may or may not register her place of residence as they wish, apparently.) Private landlords are a separate topic, but legal entities would take the easy way out. The law used to permit them to register the university or the company’s main address as a student’s or employee’s domicile. However, the foreign national could actually live somewhere else. It was understood, however, that if the police or other competent authorities were looking for her, they could do so at the address where she was officially registered.

The old system had its advantages and its shortcomings.

“There are companies that have five or six thousand foreign nationals on staff. It is convenient for them to register people at their business address to oversee whether their employees are paying for work permits and extending their residence permits on time,” says migration expert Svetlana Salamova.

The other side of the coin has to do with the poor living conditions of some foreign workers. This is most often the case among migrant workers from Central Asia.

“Employers would sometimes accommodate fifteen people at a time in trailers, in which the living conditions were rough. Besides, finding people via their legally registered domicile was often quite complicated,” explains human rights defender Andrei Babushkin.

To solve these problems, the definitions of key notions in the immigration laws have been amended. Actually, however the circumstances of migrant workers and their Russian employers have been considerably worsened, not improved. The amendments signed into law on June 28 stipulate that the place where the foreign national stays cannot be a normal domicile, but it can be other premises where the foreign national or stateless person actually resides, i.e., regularly uses for sleep and relaxation. If she is registered by a Russian organization, the foreigner must live for all intents and purposes in premises belonging to the organization. However, the premises must be equipped as a dwelling space.

In other words, if a foreign worker wants her company to register her with the authorities, she is obliged to reside full time in the company’s living accommodations.

The catch is that most legal entities simply do not having living accommodations. Construction companies will have the easiest time of it. They will now actually be able to register workers as legally residing in trailers and makeshift barracks at construction sites. All other companies have nowhere to accommodate their employees from other countries. A sofa and a microwave are not sufficient conditions for turning a room into a legal residence.

“Legally speaking, a domicile is a place that has been registered as such,” says Salamova. “An office with a sofa in it is not a domicile, but if your company lets you keep your suitcases there and install a stove and refrigerator, theoretically you could be registered as dwelling there. In this case, however, the employee from the personnel department who registers you with the Russian Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] will have to supply the immigration authorities with paperwork showing the room has been registered as a domicile.”

Will Russian companies be willing to turn their offices into bedrooms? The answer is obviously no.

Large auditing and consulting agencies, a field in which many foreign nationals are employed in Russia (not only expatriates but also graduates of Russian universities who are nationals of the former Soviet republics) have started to warn their employees about the need to look for a place where they can be registered as residing. Victoria Plotinskaya, marketing and public relations director at AT Consulting, told us that foreign employees at her company must register at their actual addresses before July 9. Previously, AT Consulting registered them at its business address, but now it is willing to provide them with legal assistance. Plotinskaya assumes their employees will have no difficulties, since registering oneself as residing in a rented flat is not a problem,  she claims.

We, however, have learned that several employees of major companies have been thinking about quitting their jobs or transferring to their home countries because their landlords have no intention of registering them.

“Companies will lose the ability to keep track of the immigration registration of their foreign national employees, while  foreign nationals who live in rented flats will have to negotiate with their landlords about registering them,” says Roman Gusev, director of Ernst & Young’s taxation and legal services department. The company does not plan to lay off any employees.

“In practice,” Gusev continues, “we see that many landlords refuse to deal with this procedure, because they don’t want the added administrative burden. In such cases, foreign nationals will have to urgently look for new accommodations. On the other hand, landlords who agree to meet the new requirements will have to keep close watch over their foreign tenants’ arrivals in the Russian Federation, since they have to be registered with immigration authorities after each such arrival.

“There are also risks for conscientious landlords. If their foreign national tenants arrive in the Russian Federation and fail to inform them, the landlords will be breaking the law without knowing it. On the other hand, foreign nationals could also find themselves in a pickle if their landlords suddenly refuse to register them with the immigration authorities or are simply unable to do what the law requires of them because they happen to be out of town,” concludes Gusev.

Unfortunately, the new rules are also retroactive, apparently, meaning everyone who is registered as residing at a business beyond July 8 will be in violation of the law come this Monday—unless, of course, they are unable to swiftly persuade their landlords to register them. In this case, however, no one can vouch that landlord will supply this service for free. Rental agreements presume that landlords pay taxes on the rent they charge. Verbal agreements to rent someone a flat and register them while not paying taxes could lead to a rise in the price of flats let to foreign nationals in Russia.

Formally, nothing has been said about the retroactive force of the amendments to the law, as signed by Putin. However, human rights activists have already been getting reports of attempts to deport migrant workers for dwelling in places where they are not registered to reside. In fact, the Interior Ministry already has the power to deport a non-Russian national if an inspector discovers him somewhere other than his registered domicile, say, at another flat in the evening.

This was what happened to Uzbek nationals in Omsk Region, says human rights activist Valentina Chupik. The Uzbeks went to a immigration center with registration papers obtained from a middleman, and they were sent off to be deported, allegedly because they did not live at their registered domicile.

In other words, under the new law, migrant workers no longer have the right to spend the night somewhere other than their legally registered, actual residence.

Under Article 54 of the Russian Constitution, laws cannot be applied retroactively. This was underscored by the specialists at Alliance Legal Migration, a firm based in Petersburg. In theory, then, all registrations issued before July 8 should be valid for their full terms. This can be proven only in court, however. Yet Russian courts rarely side with migrant workers.

Dormitory Hostages
Foreign nationals employed by Russian companies are only half of the problem. If push comes to shove, they can pay landlords extra money to register them. All foreign students in Russia are now at risk as well. Previously, universities would register their main buildings as the legal domiciles of their foreign students, but now they will be obliged to register all of them in university dormitories. However, the number of rooms in the dorms does not match the number of foreign students, and out-of-town Russian students have to live in dorms as well. Besides, there are students who do not want to live in dorms and can rent flats, students who have children, for example. Previously, they could count on their universities registering them, but now they will have to take care of their own registration.

The new law also applies to students who left for summer holidays not knowing they would return to Russia in the autumn on new terms. In addition, students who are registered in dorms are virtually their hostages.

Any violation of university regulations or, for example, attendance at an opposition rally gives university deans the chance to opportunity to revoke the registration of “troublesome” foreign students, which automatically means they are in violation of immigration laws and can be deported. Considering the fact that many international students have never experienced serfdom, they behave like free women and men. Their freedom will now be harshly restricted by the hours when the dorm’s main entrance closes.

Universities themselves seemingly have not yet figured out yet what they are going to do. The new rules have been a big surprise to most of them. The main issue they face is how they will now enroll international students if registering all of them legally has become impossible.

The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) refused to comment on the amended rules. We were told by a spokesperson at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) that they were in the process of working out a way of dealing with the new rules. However, we have in our possession correspondence between students and the HSE’s immigration department, who categorically informed the students they could be registered only at their actual places of residence.

At Moscow State University (MGU), we were told, “The issues of timely migration registration and visa extensions for foreign students residing in rented flats is currently being examined by university management in order to find the optimal solution.”

“The university has not contemplated any limitations to enrolling foreign students due to the adoption of Federal Law No. 163-FZ, dated June 27, 2018,” a MGU spokesperson added.

Other universities failed to respond to our inquiries before this issue of the newspaper was sent to the presses.

“If a university does not have a dormitory or does not have enough room in its dormitories, students can ask for a written request from the university to landlords, asking them to register the students at their actual domiciles. And then the landlords can register them if they want to do so,” explains Salamova.

Closely Watched Flats
You should not imagine that all of the above is a headache for foreigners, but has nothing to do with you.

According to the new rules, Russian nationals who let flats to foreign nationals are automatically regarded as “hosts,” meaning they are obliged to register them as residing in their dwellings and are responsible for them.

“There will also be increased check-ups and fines in the case of noncompliance with the laws for people who let flats to foreigners,” predicts Salamova.

In all fairness, such fines also existed earlier, but they were almost never issued. We have been informed that as soon as the World Cup ends, the police will make an extra effort to inspect all residential buildings and search for unregistered foreigners living in them.

Moreover, Russians are currently responsible for foreign nationals, even if they have left the country but their immigration registration is still valid. A law bill, sponsored by Irina Yarovaya and on the verge of its second reading, has been tabled in the State Duma. If passed, it would make it possible to remove foreigners from the immigration registry instantly and on one’s own via the web. This means landlords would also be able to remove tenants from the registry whenever they wanted, claiming, for example, that they had lost touch with the migrant workers in question. Foreign tenants would thus be subject to the whims of landlords, who could raise their rent at the drop of a hat, threatening to remove them from the immigration registry if they failed to pay. Besides, if a migrant worker does not live in the flat where she is officially registered, she can find herself without papers at any minute because, according to yet another amendment, she can be stricken from the rolls as residing in a particular flat without her knowledge. This means that beat cops can stop her on the street and automatically fine and deport her.

In mid June, the State Duma approved yet another law bill in its second reading. If passed, it would make organizations that invite foreigners to Russia wholly responsible for their actions. For example, if a foreign national works somewhere else than the organization that invited him or “is up to no good,” as MP Viktor Karamyshev has put it, the authorities will pay a call to the foreigner’s primary host organization. In addition, companies would have to make sure that when an employment contract ends, the migrant worker leaves the country instantly. Otherwise, the companies would be fined.

At the same time, the State Duma approved a new list of fines for noncompliance with all these rules on the part of organizations and ordinary Russians.

Under the new regulations in the Administrative Offenses Code, individuals will pay fines of up to 4,000 rubles for violations involving migrant workers, while officials will pays up to 50,000 rubles, and legal entities will pay up to 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,700 euros].

Beneficiaries  
By and large, the batch of laws that have been adopted or are still under consideration (the Interior Ministry, for example, has launched an expert group to draft a Migration Code) should at least be sent back to the relevant committee for revision, since, as Babushkin says, “The harm they do outweighs the good.” But the way the new rules have been drafted and adopted behind the scenes—they did not warrant a single public hearing nor, as far we have ascertained, did their authors consult with independent migration lawyers—suggests their oppressiveness is advantageous as they currently stand.

Who stands to gain, however? MP Irina Yarovaya, for example, argues that certain changes, such as the ability to remove migrant workers from the registration rolls on one’s own, are in the interests of ordinary Russians. She states her case in a clarification to the law bill that the MP’s aides sent to us in reply to a request for comments. On the contrary, human rights activists argue the Interior Ministry, which now has complete oversight over immigration, has received yet another tool for extorting bribes. Any migrant worker can be stopped on the street by the police and threatened with deportation: he will find it easier to pay them off. Any landlord can be intimidated with fines.

The threat of deportation is a convenient tool for dealing with troublesome individuals.

Our newspaper published the story of Gulchekhra Aliyeva and her family. She and her son were locked up for five days without food and water at the Ramenki District Police Station in Moscow. They were let out of their cells twice a day to go to the toilet. According to the Aliyevs and human rights advocates, the police tried to extort them, promising to deport them if they did not pay up. The ostensible cause was the tightening of security on the eve of the World Cup. After human right defenders intervened, the Aliyevs were released, and a criminal investigation into allegations of torture was launched.

“However, when the Aliyevs were summoned for questioning, it transpired  the police planned to deport them for being registered at their place of work rather than where they actually lived,” says Chupik.

Moreover, this happened before the new law had taken effect.

“We basically saved them by escaping the police station,” recalls Chupik.

The special services also stand to benefit from the new law. As we have learned from a source with ties to the academic world, special services officers have connections to the immigration departments in several Russian universities.

This is tantamount to reviving the Soviet system of “working” with international students at universities. Given that they inevitably violate the rules, they can be inclined to “friendship” and “cooperation” when necessary.

Besides, foreigners per se will now be unable to take the slightest step in Russia without official registration. Nationals of our allies Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan will also be punished, but that is collateral damage.

Finally, fly-by-night fake migration registrars stand to gain from the law, since their entire business will disappear into the shadow economy. Even now, migrant workers who travel to the Multi-Purpose Migration Center (MMTs) in Sakharovo, in the far southern outskirts of Moscow, cannot have their domiciles registered while other papers are being processed, including their work permits. Human rights activists say the MMTs has lost this right due to the new law.

“Everyone mobs Kazan Station, getting registered by people who give them counterfeit papers,” claims Chupik.

As far as we know, the neighborhood around the Kazan Railway Station, in central Moscow, has the largest number of people offering such dubious services. Moreover, these deals are made more or less in plain view of law enforcement officers, who do nothing about them: maybe they know something important we do not know or know more thane we. The price of counterfeit registration papers is between seven and eight thousand rubles [approx. 95 to 110 euros], a hefty sum of money for migrant workers.

The Interior Ministry stubbornly persists in saying nothing about how the new law will be enforced: it has not published any official clarifications. We have sent the ministry a request to comment, but when this newspaper went to the print, the ministry had not yet responded.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Denis Lebedev’s Suicide Note

lebedev-1.jpgThe first page of Denis Lebedev’s suicide note. Courtesy of Ivan N. Ivanov

Ivan N. Ivanov
Facebook
26 April 2018

The suicide note of the boy who jumped from a window after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) intimidated him has been posted on the net.

Denis Lebedev was seventeen years old. He was a brilliant pupil and an Academic Olympics winner in chemistry. Chemistry was his passion in life. He did experiments in a small laboratory at home and dreamed of attending university.

Neighbors complained to the FSB about “explosions” in Lebedev’s flat, and one day the secret services forced their way in Believing Lebedev was either a terrorist or revolutionary, they turned the flat upside down, stole his telephone, computer, and lab equipments, scared him and his parents half to death, and made them sign a nondisclosure agreement.

On April 23, the day of his birthday, Denis was found dead on the ground outside his high-rise apartment building.

lebedev-2The second page of Denis Lebedev’s suicide note. Courtesy of Ivan N. Ivanov

This is addressed to the police, FSB, and other law enforcement agencies.

I’m just completely fucking exhausted. I don’t need anything fucking more from this life. No one induced me [to commit suicide], it was my personal decision.

The only thing I would like to say in the end is that I really fuck hate you motherfuckers.

You took from me the only passion that gave me joy and distracted me from my problems. I really fucking hate your entire government, whose only impulse is to ban the shit out of everything. Well, then you should fucking ban water, because you can use electrolysis to turn water in a canister into a bomb.

And fuck this system, in which my goddamn life depends on a single exam that has been compiled in such a way you cannot make fucking heads or tails of it. It is total shit, tailored to everyone identically.

You don’t need a people. You need a mob of fucking zombies who follow your orders. A separate portion of shit for Yarovaya.

Also, I apologize in advance to everyone to whom I meant something. That is it. I have nothing else to say. The people will say the rest.

To make it easier to identify the pancake on the cement: I am Denis Lebedev.

You can all go fuck yourselves!

Reports on Mr. Lebedev’s suicide in the Russian media:

Thanks to Evgeny Shtorn for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Fighting the Package, Wrapping It Tighter

Muscovites rally against the Yarovaya package on August 9, 2016, in Sokolniki Park. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC
Muscovites rallying against the Yarovaya package on August 9, 2016, in Sokolniki Park. Photo courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC

Petition to Repeal “Yarovaya Amendments” Musters Necessary Number of Votes
Maria Bondarenko
RBC
August 14, 2016

A petition calling for the repeal of the so-called Yarovaya anti-terrorism amendments has garnered over 100,000 signatures on the Russian Public Initiative website. It has now been sent to a federal expert working group for consideration.

As of ten minutes past midnight on Sunday, 100,098 people had voted in support of the initiative, while [1,439] people had voted against it. Voting has now been completed, and the initiative has been forwarded for further consideration.

According to the website, the deadline for deciding on the initiative is no more than two months from the date it was submitted for consideration.

According to the petition’s authors, the law “contradicts the Russian Federal Constitution and is absolutely useless from a technical point of view.”

“We ask Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev to repeal the law, since it requires enormous amounts of money, which could lead many Internet companies to bankruptcy and reduce the revenue the state receives from their taxes,” states the petition.

Tabled by MP Irina Yarovaya and Federation Council member Viktor Ozerov, the amendments to anti-terrorism laws were approved by the State Duma on June 24, and signed into law by the Russian president [sic] on July 7. The original law bill contained provisions for stripping people convicted of terrorism and extremism of their Russian citizenship, as well as those who had gone to work in foreign law enforcement agencies and courts or enlisted in [foreign] armies.

Many of the headline-making provisions concerning the IT sector were left in the legislation that was adopted, including those requiring telecom operators and Internet companies to save the text messages and conversations of users. Internet companies complained that the law [sic] would force a rise in prices for telecommunication services and requested that it be redrafted or postponed.

Rallies against the so-called Yarovaya package were held in Moscow and other Russian cities this past week.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Proposed Russian Law Could “End Online Anonymity”
Moscow Times
August 12, 2016

New Russian legislation could force messaging service providers to identify their users and delete messages containing illegal content, Vedomosti newspaper reported Friday.

Such a law would effectively end the rights of users to online anonymity.

The legislation has been draftedd by Russia’s Media Communications Union (MKS), which represents Russia’s biggest service providers, three of which confirmed to Vedomosti that the project is currently under discussion.

Messaging services will have to “rapidly block messages or publications which contain information banned by Russian law,” Vedomosti reported. If they do not comply, Russia’s media watchdog maintains the right to limit access to the service.

The law bill may be presented in the fall to a parliamentary group headed by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, a MKS source told Vedomosti.

A spokesperson for Rostelecom, a mobile operator working on the legislation, told Vedomosti that the precise details are still being discussed and that mobile operators previously had no such legal obligation to monitor the content of users’ messages.

Users will no longer be able to write anonymously online, which is an infringement of their constitutional rights, according to a spokesman at Russian Internet giant Yandex. He also said the law could force Internet companies to leave the Russian market and could lead to a drop-off in competition and an overall weakening of the sector.

Some believe the new legislation is unnecessary as all provisions for regulating messenger services are contained in anti-terrorism legislation approved this summer by President Vladimir Putin.

The anti-terrorism laws, authored by ultra-conservative Duma Deputy Irina Yarovaya, require messaging companies to monitor the content of phone calls and messages and store them for six months. All messaging apps that use encryption will also be required to add additional code and allow access to Russia’s security services.

NB. The preceding article was lightly edited to make it sound less like a hasty translation or summary of the article that originally appeared in Vedomosti.

The People versus the Package

"I think therefore I'm a terrorist." Solo picket on Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, July 22, 2016
“I think therefore I’m a terrorist.” Solo picket on Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, July 22, 2016

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
July 23, 2016

It doesn’t matter whether you come to the people’s assembly against the so-called Yarovaya package at 7 p.m. on July 26 in front of the arch of the General Staff Building on Bolshaya Morskaya or not. There is already enough evidence to put you away.

***

On July 7, 2016, President Putin signed the so-called Yarovaya package, a series of flagrantly repressive amendments to the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The official objective of the amendments is to combat terrorism.

IF YOU DON’T INFORM YOU’LL GO TO JAIL
An article on non-informing has been added to the Criminal Code. “Failure to report a crime” will entail a sentence of up to one year in prison. This law applies to such crimes as terrorism, seizure of power, and attempts on the life of a public official.

ALL YOUR COMMUNICATIONS WILL BE SAVED AND READ
Monitoring of correspondence has been toughened. Records of all your telephone calls, SMS messages, and emails will be saved for six months, and the security forces will be provided with the means to decode encrypted communications.

"Words don't make me a criminal." Solo picket on Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, July 22, 2016
“Words don’t make me a criminal.” Solo picket on Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, July 22, 2016

YOUR PACKAGES WILL BE VETTED
Postal workers will now be obliged to search vigorously for prohibited items in our packages: money, narcotics, weapons, explosives, and “other devices that pose a threat to human life and health.”

YOU INVITED A FRIEND TO A PROTEST RALLY, YOU GO TO JAIL
The Criminal Code will now include an article on “inducing, recruiting or otherwise involving” someone in organizing a “riot.” The law stipulates a penalty of 300,000 to 700,000 rubles or a prison sentence of five to ten years.

YOU REPOST THE “WRONG” THING, YOU GO TO JAIL
The punishments for “extremist” entries, reposts, and comments on the web have been toughened. Despite the fact that freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, you can now be fined from 300,000 to 500,000 rubles or sent to prison for two to five years for making certain statements. By the way, 369 people were convicted of “enciting hatred by means of the Internet” in 2015.

YOU’RE STILL A KID? YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL ANYWAY
14-year-olds will now be tried as adults not only for serious crimes but also for involvement in riots and non-informing.

At 7 p.m. on July 26, a people’s assembly on behalf of liberty and against the Yarovaya package will be held on Bolshaya Morskaya in the pedestrian area near the arch of the General Staff Building. The people’s assembly format does not permit the use of political symbols and placards. But no one can forbid us from going outside, talking about the Yarovaya package, and hoping the voice of peaceful protest will be heard.

More on the Yarovaya Package:

"Inform on me and maybe  you won't go to jail." Solo picket on Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg,  July 22, 2016
“Inform on me and maybe you won’t go to jail.” Solo picket on Nevsky Prospect, Petersburg, July 22, 2016

Shredding the Russian Constitution in Broad Daylight

"Irina Yarovaya" tears up Russian Constitution, Petersburg, July 4, 2016. Photo: David Frenkel
Russian MP “Irina Yarovaya” shreds Russian Constitution. Downtown Petersburg, July 3, 2016. Photo: David Frenkel

“Irina Yarovaya” Shreds Russian Constitution in Downtown Petersburg
Spring Movement (Dvizhenie “Vesna”)
July 4, 2016

This past Sunday, “Irina Yarovaya” shred the Russian Constitution on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg. The people’s deputy was joined by characters from her package of “anti-terrorist” laws, who had come to life for the occasion: a postal worker vetting packages, a secret policeman wiretapping a light-minded young lady’s telephone conversations, and an involved ordinary citizen encouraging passersby to write denunciations on their friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

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“Postal worker” vets suspicious parcels. Downtown Petersburg, July 3, 2016. Photo: David Frenkel

The activists of the Spring Movement thus attempted to draw the attention of their fellow Petersburgers to the flagrantly repressive amendments to the Russian Criminal Code, tabled by a group of MPs led by Irina Yarovaya and now approved by both houses of the Russian parliament, the State Duma and the Federation Council.

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Passerby fills out “denunciation” form. Downtown Petersburg, July 3, 2016. Photo: David Frenkel

The package of amendments will not only deal a blow to our country’s constitutional foundations but will also require huge financial subsidies during tough economic times. The screws will be tightened at our expense, at the price of impassable roads, hospitals and kindergartens that will never be built, and pension savings that the state has been confiscating once again. No scientific progress, no innovations, and no quality education are in the cards for our country: only Yarovaya and her hardcore approach to lawmaking.

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“Secret policeman” wiretaps an unsuspecting young lady’s phone conversation. Downtown Petersburg, July 3, 2016. Photo: David Frenkel

If the president signs the Yarovaya package into law, “non-informing” will be criminalized, “inducing, recruiting or otherwise involving” others in the “organization of mass disturbances” will be punishable by prison terms, punishment for “extremist” posts on the web and monitoring of personal correspondence will become harsher, and postal workers will be obliged to vigorously vet parcels for prohibited items.

Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos by David Frenkel

The Package

"My grandfather was imprisoned for a joke, while I'll go to jail for a repost."
“My grandfather was imprisoned for a joke, while I’ll be going to jail for a repost.”

Varya Mikhaylova
Facebook
June 24, 2016

As you know, the so-called Yarovaya package, a series of flagrantly repressive amendments to the Russian Federal Criminal Code, whose official aim is combating terrorism, was passed today by the State Duma in its third and final reading.

You can read here why this is bad:


Aleksandra Ermilova and I summarized the worst things about these amendments and went to Nevsky Prospect to hand out leaflets. Or rather, I handed out the leaflets, while Sasha stood holding a remarkable autobiographical placard [pictured, above].

This is what we wrote in the leaflets:

IF YOU DON’T INFORM YOU’LL GO TO JAIL
An article on non-informing has been added to the Criminal Code. “Failure to report a crime” will entail a sentence of up to one year in prison. This law applies to such crimes as terrorism, seizure of power, and attempts on the life of a public official.

ALL YOUR COMMUNICATIONS WILL BE SAVED AND READ
Monitoring of correspondence has been toughened. Records of all your telephone calls, SMS messages, and emails will be saved for six months, and the security forces will be provided with the means to decode encrypted communications.

YOUR PACKAGES WILL BE VETTED
Postal workers will now be obliged to search vigorously for prohibited items in our packages: money, narcotics, weapons, explosives, and “other devices that pose a threat to human life and health.”

YOU INVITED A FRIEND TO A PROTEST RALLY, YOU GO TO JAIL
The Criminal Code will now include an article on “inducing, recruiting or otherwise involving” someone in organizing a “riot.” The law stipulates a penalty of 300,000 to 700,000 rubles or a prison sentence of five to ten years.

YOU REPOST THE “WRONG” THING, YOU GO TO JAIL
The punishments for “extremist” entries, reposts, and comments on the web have been toughened. Despite the fact that freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, you can now be fined from 300,000 to 500,000 rubles or sent to prison for two to five years for making certain statements. By the way, 369 people were convicted of “enciting hatred by means of the Internet” in 2015.

YOU’RE STILL A KID? YOU’RE GOING TO JAIL ANYWAY
14-year-olds will now be tried as adults not only for serious crimes but also for involvement in riots and non-informing.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Pavlov: Ripping Up the Russian Constitution

Vladimir_Putin_with_Boris_Yeltsin-Russian-Constitution
“Before leaving the Kremlin, the first Russian president handed over a copy of the Russian constitution, used to swear in the head of state, and the Presidential Emblem to Mr Putin as a symbolic gesture.” “Boris Yeltsin handed over power to Acting President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin,” December 31, 1999, kremlin.ru

Article 6

1. The citizenship of the Russian Federation shall be acquired and terminated according to federal law; it shall be one and equal, irrespective of the grounds of acquisition.

2. Every citizen of the Russian Federation shall enjoy in its territory all the rights and freedoms and bear equal duties provided for by the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

3. A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deprived of his or her citizenship or of the right to change it.
—The Constitution of the Russian Federation, “Chapter 1: The Fundamentals of the Constitutional System”

_________

The Constitution Does Not Count: How the Duma Has Planned to Strip Russians of Citizenship
Ivan Pavlov
RBC
June 22, 2016

Anti-terrorism legislation is a legal grey zone in any country. The balance between protecting public security and preserving civil rights is elusive and unsteady. However, Russian MPs, already inclined to shoot from the hip, have surpassed themselves this time by having a go at no less than the foundations of the Russian Federation’s constitutional system.

One of the measures included in the packet of “anti-terrorist” amendments tabled by a group of MPs led by Irina Yarovaya (which should be adopted in its second reading on June 24) would strip Russians of their citizenship. This punishment would be meted out for terrorist and extremist crimes, joining the civil service in other countries, and working with international organizations in which Russia is not involved.

This list, I am sure, will expand as a matter of political necessity.

Previously, a person could waive his or her citizenship only on their own behest by making a written statement. Now the actions listed above have been made equivalent to this personal initiative. The relevant amendments, if adopted, would be incorporated into the law “On Citizenship.”

Depriving a person of his or her citizenship is banned by Chapter 1, Article 6 of the Russian Constitution. Chapter 1 is entitled “The Fundamentals of the Constitutional System,” meaning the ban is among our country’s most basic laws. A Constitutional Convention would have to be called to amend them. Trying to push through a initiative like this via ordinary legislative procedure looks surprisingly brazen even amid the Sixth Duma’s other legislative feats.

The wording of the bill merits special attention.

“Citizenship of the Russian Federation is terminated on the basis […] of the person’s freely declared intent, as expressed in the commission of acts stipulated by this Federal Law.”

The rationale of legislators is extremely farfetched in this case. The point is not to comply with the Basic Law but to come up with a way of bypassing the mandatory prohibition established by the Constitution.

To get a sense of how crooked this end-around would be, imagine similar wording for bypassing the moratorium on the death penalty: “The person’s voluntary departure from life on the basis of his freely declared intent, as expressed in the commission of certain acts.” This is a case when Lenin’s adage (“technically correct, but basically mockery”) applies.

Against this backdrop, the possibilities for interpreting the proposed rule broadly do not appear so dramatic, but they do exist, and they are dangerous.

“Renunciation of Russian Federation citizenship, as expressed in the commission of acts, is not allowed if the Russian Federation citizen has no other citizenship and no guarantees of obtaining it.”

What would be meant by these guarantees in practice? Anything whatsoever: relatives or even just contacts abroad, employment in foreign organizations, etc. We end up with yet another legal cudgel against “foreign agents” and the “fifth column.”

“Work in international organizations (associations) in whose activities the Russian Federation is not involved, without the consent of the authorities, unless otherwise stipulated by an international treaty of the Russian Federation”: this language provides unprecedented scope for stripping undesirables of Russian citizenship.

It is not just a matter of NGOs, although employees of Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and similar organizations risk being the first to be run over by this steamroller. Any commercial company can be construed as an international organization: all that matters is that its operations extend to several countries.

The new legislative initiative is another step toward isolating Russia from the rest of the world.

Ivan Pavlov is an attorney at law and director of Team 29. Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Masks Come Off

800px-Red_Guards

Alexander Skobov
Don’t Underestimate the Enemy
Grani.ru
May 14, 2015

Igor Yakovenko has questioned the sanity of those MPs who supported Red Guardist Irina Yarovaya’s latest amendments to the anti-extremism laws. At issue is a ban on travel abroad for people whom the FSB has issued a warning about the inadmissibility of activities that, in the FSB’s opinion, are potentially fraught with terrorism, war, and genocide. Under the current rules for issuing warnings, no formal grounds are needed except the opinion of the agency issuing the warning. Meaning that if it wishes, the FSB can crank out warnings to anyone whose activities the authorities simply do not countenance.

Yakovenko asks, why not let the undesirables leave the country if you cannot stand them? Let them leave and thus reduce the ranks of the so-called fifth column. These measures will not stop an increase in protests, and if protests do kick off, they will only add fuel to the fire. Yakovenko’s conclusion is that the folks on the other side of politics are completely off their rockers. But I would not underestimate the enemy’s intellectual capacities. Yes, they suffer from an acute totalitarian itch to ban and restrict. But they know what they are doing.

In my opinion, Yarovaya’s notorious amendment to ban travel for “warnees” is absolutely rational and quite precisely calculated. It is targeted at the segment of Russian society that,  according to Yakovenko himself, suffers from pathological anemia and dystrophia of the will. These are successful and well-off people who still believe that if they have done nothing unauthorized, they will get off scot-free for their not entirely loyalist public activism. They have become accustomed to the fact that one can be involved in not entirely loyalist but quite respectable and moderate media, cultural, and human rights projects without especially risking one’s own comfort. Our stunted civil society largely rests on such lovers of performing  “small deeds” in their spare time.

And now take a guess at what percentage of these outstanding people would be willing to sacrifice travel abroad for the sake of continuing their outstanding social activism, who would be willing to sacrifice the principal attribute of the post-Soviet lifestyle, without which life would be unthinkable? Anyone like Yarovaya would realize that the majority of them will choose either to give up their activism or leave the country before receiving a warning. To predict these people’s future behavior it suffices to recall Ksenia Sobchak’s recent philosophical musings about the lives of frogs.

And where will all these popular newsmakers find themselves if they are banned from leaving the country for the piquant statements they occasionally permit themselves in public? This is not to mention the fact that many civic initiatives will simply be paralyzed if the people involved in them cannot take numerous business trips and attend various international clambakes.  The current regime is quite consistently pushing for the complete suffocation of not only the independent but even the semi-independent civic organizations that have managed to stay afloat. The period when Putin’s clique had a stake in maintaining a legal oppositional ghetto on the margins of public life, thus imparting a certain seemliness to its own image, has come to an end. In recent years, this image has become so disfigured the Kremlin has lost interest in touching it up. It has realized it no longer has anything to lose.

And so there will no longer be any legal bounds vouchsafing the opposition from crackdowns. Any public organization that violates the informal ban on discussing issues the regime finds touchy will be crushed. All the Kremlin’s recent significant steps, beginning with Moskalkova’s appointment and ending with the latest round of purges of semi-independent media, have been focused on this. In this long series of steps, however, the ability to ban any undesirable from traveling abroad is a symbolic step. It finally undermines the social milieu whose entire life strategy was built on the proposition that however disgusting Putinist authoritarianism was, it was better than Soviet totalitarianism because the freedom to travel abroad existed. That meant one could live with it, adapt to it, and come to terms with it. By obeying certain rules imposed by the regime, one could maintain a minimal amount of freedom.

This slightly dissatisfied milieu has become used to living high on the hog. Our consumptive civil society must come to its natural biological end. It must be replaced by professional revolutionaries who will have no such problems since their activism conforms with the law as interpreted by people who have arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to interpret it. For them, Yarovaya’s fascist laws will be neither more nor less than a profound insult to their moral sensibilities.

Alexander Skobov, a left-liberal writer and activist, is a former Soviet dissident and a political prisoner. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Invitation to the Voyage

border guards-1
Action figure of a Russian border guard and seal of the Russian Border Guard Service

Boris Vishnevsky
Facebook
May 13, 2016

I have sent this to the Echo website. I hope they will post it soon.

I ask you to repost it.

Friday the thirteenth is a black day in the calendar.

It is no coincidence that on the same day the editorial staff of RBC, one of the best and most professional Russian media outlets, was gutted, the latest paranoid law bill authored by Irina Yarovaya was passed by the Duma.

First, if the bill is passed into law, the Federal Security Service (FSB) will have the right, after issuing a so-called official warning, to ban any citizen from traveling abroad for five years.

For your information, according to FSB Order No. 544, dated November 2, 2010, this “warning” can be given “to an individual in the absence of grounds for criminal prosecution in order to prevent the commission of crimes.” Only “pre-confirmed information” about the “outwardly (verbally, written or otherwise) manifested intent to commit a specific offense in the absence of signs of preparation to commit a crime or an attempt to commit a crime” has to exist.

Let’s translate this from legalese into Russian. There are no signs a crime is being prepped, there are no signs of an attempt to commit a crime, and there are no grounds for criminal prosecution. There is only “information” about the “intent to commit a crime,” information that has appeared out of nowhere and has been obtained god knows how.

Under such rules any undesirable or dissenter can be subject to a “warning,” including people shopped by informers to our beloved secret police for “verbally” or “otherwise” (say, by the look on their face) expressing the intention to commit a crime.

Second, criminal liability will be introduced for “failing to report a crime,” meaning for failing to shop someone to the secret police. As Igor Yakovenko has aptly put it, this will turn “squealing into a civic duty.”

Third, revocation of citizenship would be stipulated for crimes of a “terrorist and extremist tenor,” despite the fact that opposing the authorities is easily classifiable as “extremism.”

All three provisions are blatantly unconstitutional, but they were confidently passed in the first reading, with opposition from an overwhelming minority consisting of Dmitry Gudkov, Sergei Petrov, and Ilya Ponomaryov’s voting card.

You can bet your boots there will be a second and third reading, and the president will sign the bill into law.

I would like to say the Constitutional Court would be bound to quash the law, but considering how it has behaved in recent years there are no grounds for such political optimism.

The darkness is deepening.

However, that always happens before the dawn.

Boris Vishnevsky (Yabloko Party) is a member of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Nastya for the heads-up.

Border Guard Service veterans celebrating their professional holiday, May 28
Border Guard Service veterans celebrating their professional holiday, May 28

L’invitation au voyage

Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre;
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l’ambre,
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
Tout y parlerait
À l’âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Vois sur ces canaux
Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l’humeur est vagabonde;
C’est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde.
— Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D’hyacinthe et d’or;
Le monde s’endort
Dans une chaude lumière.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

Source

A special day for border guards was established by presidential decree in 1994
The special holiday for Russian border guards was established by presidential decree in 1994

Invitation to the Voyage

Let us leave this tiresome clime
And quit cities made of stone,
Where you are cold and bored,
And sometimes even scared.

The flowers are softer and stars brighter
In the land where the Southern Cross shines,
In the land rich as the dowry chest
Bestowed on enchanted brides.

We’ll build a house taller than a fir,
And face its corners with stone,
Mahogany will panel its walls,
And we’ll put down rosewood floors.

And among the scattered paths
In the vast rose garden
The speckled beetles’ backs
Shall flicker like the stars.

Let’s leave! Unless you do not need
In that hour when the sun has risen
To hear the terrible ballads,
The tales of Abyssinian roses.

Of ancient fairy queens,
Of lions in crowns of flowers,
Of black angels, and of birds
What weave their nests amid the clouds.

We shall find an ancient Arab,
Chanting in a singsong drone
A verse about Rostam and Sohrab
Or the virgins of Zanzibar.

And when we tire of fables,
Twelve slender little Negroes
Shall dance round us in a whirl
And never want to rest.

And magnificent chieftains,
Decked out in ivory gear,
Shall come to visit us
When in spring the rains begin.

In the mountains merry, where the winds
Cry and shout, I shall chop the trees,
Cedars, redolent of resin,
Plane trees spanning to the skies.

I will alter the streams
Of rivers flowing down the hills,
Teaching them now to please
Me according to my will.

And you, you shall have flowers,
And I will give you a gazelle
With such gentle eyes
That it seems as if a flute trills.

Or a bird of paradise, prettier
Than roses and summer lightning flares,
To flutter over your miraculous
Dark blond bonnet of hair.

And when Death comes, slightly sad,
Sliding along the fateful line,
To stand at our threshold,
We shall say to Death, “What, it’s time?”

And, neither longing nor dreaming,
We shall go to God’s highest paradise,
Clear smiles on our faces, recognizing
Everywhere familiar climes.

Original

The Border Guard Service, created in the 18th century, was a separate ministry until 2003, when it became a branch of Russia's Federal Security Service
The Border Guard Service, created in the 18th century, was a separate ministry until 2003, when it became a branch of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)

Invitation to the Voyage

Start by taking a brick and shattering the glass.
Go from the kitchen (mind the steps!) to the dining room.
Sweep Peter Ilyich and Beethoven from the baby grand,
Unscrew the third leg. That is where you’ll find the loot.

Don’t traipse into the bedroom, don’t rifle the chest of drawers,
Lest you start to masturbate. The bedroom and the wardrobe
Smell of perfume, but except for rags from Dior,
There’s nothing you can hustle in the Old World.

Two hours later, when they announce the flight,
Don’t bolt for the gate. Stretch your legs and feign boredom.
In any crowd of passengers you will usually spy
A Jew with forelocks, kiddies in tow. Join their hora.

The next morning, when Zizi pulls up the venetian blinds
And tells you the Louvre is closed, grab hold of her wet curls,
Bury her stupid mug in the pillow and, snarling, “Bite!”
Do to her the thing that deprives the soprano of her trills.

Original

border guards-5
Action figures of a modern Russian border guard (with dog) and an NKVD border guard

Images courtesy of the Telegraph (“Vodka and swimming at Russian Border Guards’ Day celebrations”) and One Sixth Warriors

The War as Holy Writ

Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 9, 2016
Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 9, 2016

Communists Propose Equating Feelings of War Veterans with Feelings of Religious Believers
Grani.ru
May 8, 2016

A group of Communist Party MPs plans to submit a law bill to the State Duma that would criminalize insulting the feelings of war veterans and stipulate a punishment of up to three years of forced labor. As Gazeta.ru writes, if the draft law is adopted, Article 148 of the Criminal Code (violating the right to freedom of conscience and religion) would be amended.

The newly amended article, 148.1, is entitled “Insulting the feelings of Great Patriotic War [Second World War] veterans.” The Communists will send the bill to the government and the Supreme Court for review on May 10, immediately after the holidays.

There are three paragraphs in the new law. The first paragraph stipulates punishment for “public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent of insulting the feelings of Great Patriotic War veterans by deliberately distorting information about the Great Patriot War, or humiliating or belittling the heroism of the Armed Forces of the USSR.”

Violation of the law would be punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 rubles, or up to 240 hours of community service, or up to one year of forced labor.

The second paragraph stipulates criminal liability for “dismantling, moving, destroying or damaging Great Patriotic War monuments,” even if they are not listed as Great Patriotic War cultural heritage sites. In this case, a violation would be punishable by a fine of up to one million rubles, or up to 360 hours of community service, or up to one year of forced labor.

The maximum penalties are prescribed in paragraph three and cover the same actions, as listed above, if they are performed on May 9, or involve the abuse of office, or are committed by someone who has already been convicted of the same violation. In this case, the offender faces a fine of up to four million rubles, or up to 480 hours of community service, or up to three years of forced labor, and a ban on holding certain positions during the period in question.

Communist Sergei Obukhov, who is spearheading the initiative, coauthored the law on “insulting the feelings of religious believers,” adopted by the Duma in 2013 in the wake of the Pussy Riot trial.

In the explanatory note to the new law, Obukhov defends the need to protect the feelings of war veterans, drawing parallels with the adoption of law on insulting the feelings of religious believers. According to him, that law “does not extend to the belief in goodness and justice, the ideals for which the veterans of the Great Patriotic War fought.”

According to Obukhov, he and his colleagues have tried to draft the most non-repressive law possible, so the punishments stipulated do not include imprisonment. Obukhov calls the bill a “full-fledged legal mechanism for defending their truth about that terrible war as well as criminal protection of their honor and dignity.”

In November 2013, A Just Russia MP Oleg Mikheyev proposed punishing those who insulted the memory of the Great Patriotic War with up to seven years in prison or a fine of one million rubles. Mikheyev submitted a draft of amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedural Code to the State Duma.

Mikheyev proposed adding an article entitled “Insulting the memory of the Great Patriotic War” to the Criminal Code. The offense was described as follows: “Actions expressing clear disrespect for society and insulting the memory of the events, participants, veterans, and victims of the Great Patriotic War, and committed at the sites of Great Patriotic War monuments and the burial grounds of those involved in the Great Patriotic War.”

The draft law stipulated a fine of between 500,000 and one million rubles or the amount of the convicted offender’s income for a period of three to four years, or a prison term of up to seven years. Mikheyev explained this choice by analogy with Criminal Code Article 148 (insulting the feeling of religious believers), “insofar as both articles deal with the spiritual realm of human life, the realm of values.” As an example of “insulting the memory” of the war, he cited the articles of journalist Alexander Podrabinek.

In April 2014, Irina Yarovaya, head of the Duma’s security and anti-corruption committee, proposed criminalizing “desecration of days of Russian military glory and memorable dates” connected with the Great Patriotic War. The United Russia MP said the relevant amendments would be inserted into a draft law on “rehabilitating Nazism” during its second reading.

“We will propose equating liability for this crime with the liability for desecrating burial sites dedicated to the fight against fascism [sic] or victims of Nazism,” said Yarovaya.

Individuals accused of “desecrating days of military glory” were to face up to three years in prison, forced labor of up to five years, arrest for a period of three to six months, or five years in a penal colony.

Yarovaya said she had found a post on a social network containing a negative assessment of the May 9 holiday.

“I think such statements should be assessed not just morally or ethically, but from the viewpoint of criminal law,” Yarovaya said in this connection. “Because it is a deliberate crime aimed at desecrating the memory of the Great Patriotic War.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo, above, courtesy of Oleg Yakovlev/RBC