People and Nature: Ukrainians Face Deportation and Conscription by Russian Forces

Ukrainian activists in the Eastern Human Rights Group are using social media to build up a register of people forcibly deported from Russian-occupied areas.

A bot has been launched on Telegram (@come_back_to_ukraine_bot) to contact citizens removed to Russia.

Deporting people against their will is a war crime. International and local human rights organisations, and the Ukrainian government, say there is mounting evidence that Russia is doing so on a large scale.

The Russian defence ministry said on 18 June that more than 1.9 million people, including 307,000 children, had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the full-scale invasion on 24 February. Ukrainian activists deny Russian claims that all evacuees have left Ukraine voluntarily.

“If we don’t find how to help them, Russia will erase the Ukrainian identity of these children,” Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties responded.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in April protested against a scheme to resettle residents of Mariupol in the most inhospitable and distant areas of Russia.

Halya Coynash reported that the Mariupol council had drawn attention to a leaflet distributed to Mariupol residents “inviting” them to the Russian Far East. She commented:

First, they destroy a successful and warm city on the Sea of Azov, and then they drive its residents to Siberia or Sakhalin to work as cheap labour.

Mariupol’s mayor, Vadim Boichenko, said that he has a list of 33,500 residents forcibly deported either to Russia or to the Donbass “republics,” and is coordinating rescue efforts.

Coynash also published details of the “filtration” of residents in the occupied areas by Russian forces, with those considered “unreliable” being sent to detention camps in the Donbass “republics.”

Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said last month that 210,000 children, and more than 1 million other Ukrainians, had been deported against their will. Reuters reported these numbers, saying they could not independently verify them, and that the Kremlin had not responded to a request for comment.

Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said earlier this month that a war crimes case was being built up relating to the deportation of children to Russia.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in its report on human rights violations in Ukraine between 24 February and 12 April, said that its Mission had received “numerous consistent reports” on forced deportations from the occupied territories to Russia. It said that Russia had denied these accusations, but added:

If (some of) these deportations were forcible (including because Russia created a coercive environment in which those civilians had no other choice than to leave for Russia) and as they necessarily concerned civilians who had fallen into the power of Russia as an occupying power, this violates in each case International Humanitarian Law and constitutes a war crime.

Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland, said on a visit to Kyiv this month that deportations – which recalled Poles’ experience under the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union – are “an exceptional crime, about which there is almost complete silence in western Europe.”

The Eastern Human Rights Group, set up in 2014 by labour activists in Donbass and now operating from Kyiv, decided to work on a register of deported citizens after appealing unsuccessfully for the Ukrainian government to take action.

“Our team lobbied repeatedly for setting up a state structure to deal with repatriation, but, as happens quite often, the government did not listen,” the group stated on 13 June. “We decided to take action on the issue ourselves, and at a non-government level we are working on the issue of repatriating Ukrainians.”

□ Two all-European public zoom calls about the Russian-occupied areas are being held on Monday 4 July and Thursday 14 July, on which Ukrainian activists will report on what can be done to support civil society there. The initiative is supported by the European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine. You need to register in advance to participate.

□ The Eastern Human Rights Group has also reported on forcible military mobilisation in the Donbass “republics,” and use of the death penalty there. Here are three recent Facebook posts. With thanks to Anna Yegorova for the translations.


Forced mobilisation on the rise again (15 June)

For the last three weeks, forced mobilisation in the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions has slowed down, due to active protests by mothers, sisters, and spouses of the forcibly mobilized.

However, the Ministry of National Security in the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” swiftly suppressed women’s protests, as we recorded the detention of several women in Yenakievo and Rovenky.

Since last Saturday, military patrols searching for men of conscription age in the cities of occupied Donbas have become more active with men being detained in the streets again. (The detentions are not as massive as in March, but that is understandable: there are simply not as many men as there were in March.)

This new stage of forced mobilisation is associated with the need to send new manpower to fight in Donbass.

Forced mobilisation has again affected workers at enterprises, and enterprise managers have spoken out against it. The administrations of the “Luhansk people’s republic” and “Donetsk people’s republic” said that “construction brigades” [a term dating back to the Soviet times, usually designating student groups as “volunteers” to work on farms and plants] from the Russian Federation would soon arrive to replace the workers [so that the latter could be send to the battlefield].


“People’s republic” soldiers defecting to Ukraine (23 June)

Over the past three weeks, the so-called “people’s militia” of the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” has increased military patrols in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, due to the increasing number of defections from AK-1 and AK-2 units. Forcibly mobilised people, even after they have been dressed in uniform, seek opportunities to escape from the Russian convoy escorting them to the front line.

Frequent defections became public thanks to women in [the occupied territories of] Donetsk and Luhansk reporting to Vera Yastrebova, the head of the Eastern Human Rights group.

One woman said that her brother escaped with a group of mobilised men on the way to the front line, and now they are wanted by the local “authorities.” There are also cases when mobilised residents of the two “people’s republics” jump off trains that take them to the front line, following a brief training in the Russian Federation.

Over the past three weeks, there have been more than 100 cases of defections from the “LPR” and “DPR,” a source from the DPR told us.


Luhansk “people’s republic” is about to introduce death penalty (24 June)

By Vera Yastrebova. A working group is preparing to change the criminal “law” of the Luhansk “people’s republic” to introduce a new type of punishment – the death penalty, I have been told by sources there.

A decision was first made back in 2021, when the Kremlin decided to create unitary “legislation” for the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” and essentially rewrite the laws in Luhansk to match those of Donetsk. But they haven’t had time to do that.

Now the principle has been agreed, and changes are being developed very quickly. The haste is due to the fact that the Luhansk “people’s republic” will be able to apply the death penalty to Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The issue of the “death penalty” will be further pushed by the Kremlin, in order to force Western countries to engage in direct negotiations with the leaders of the “LPR” and “DPR,” my sources say.

□ Why is Ukrainian resistance invisible to you? An appeal to supporters of the Stop the War Coalition

□ ‘We are surviving, but not living’ under Russian occupation – People & Nature, 13 June

There will be all-European public zoom calls, on Monday 4 July and Thursday 14 July, with Ukrainian activists supporting people in the occupied areas. Details and link to registration here.


Source: Simon Pirani, “Ukrainians face forcible deportation and conscription by Russian forces,” People and Nature, 27 June 2022. Reprinted here with the author’s kind permission

The Problem with Bothsidesism

Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides?

An open letter in response to the Manifesto Against the War

Dear comrades,

I write in anger and sorrow about your Manifesto Against the War, to which I turned in the hope of learning from you about how we can situate the anti-war movement in the wider struggle against capital.

Enumerating the causes of military conflict, you refer, first, to “the growing rivalry between the greatest imperialist powers”. Third is “Islamic fundamentalism”. But before that, second, comes that “the US government has positioned its military alliance system, NATO, against the Russian Federation to prevent the integration of the defunct Soviet empire’s successor into an enlarged, stable and peaceful European order with mutual security guarantees”.

Demonstrations in Ukrainian cities occupied by the Russian armed forces are part of a people’s war

You don’t explain why you think that, in this age of the deep crisis of the capitalist system – which in your words “unleashes ever more violent struggles for geostrategic zones of influence” – such a “peaceful European order” could ever have been possible.

That hope, embraced by Mikhail Gorbachev and many social democrats in the 1990s, was surely dashed as the economic crises of neoliberalism (1997-98, 2008-09, etc) multiplied, as the Russian bourgeoisie emerged in its 21st-century form on one hand, and the alliance of western powers pursued their murderous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on the other.

Download this letter as a pdf.

You don’t explain why you name the US government and NATO, and Islamic fundamentalism, as causes of the current war … but not the Russian elite, which actually started it.

You turn causes into effects, and effects into causes, in order to justify this focus on the US and NATO. So, immediately following your point about the US using NATO to prevent Russia’s integration into a stable European order, you continue: “The sabotage of Nord Stream 2 shows that economic pressure is just as important here as it is in the positioning against China.”

This just doesn’t fit with the facts. Nord Stream 2 was a major point of dispute between the German ruling class and its US counterpart. For years, the US sought to sanction the pipeline, and the German government resisted. In July 2021, the Biden administration struck a deal with chancellor Merkel under which the pipeline would be completed. The German desire to integrate Russia, at least as a trading partner, prevailed.

The pipeline was finally frozen by the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, on 22 February, the day after Russian president Putin recognised the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” – a clear indication that the Minsk peace process was finished and that Russia was preparing for some sort of war. Russia acted; Germany reversed its long-standing policy.

The freezing of Nord Stream 2 put no discernible economic pressure on Russia, anyway. The point of the pipeline was to enable Russia to pipe gas to European destinations without taking it across Ukraine. It was designed to reduce Russian dependence on Ukraine for pipeline transit, that is, to produce a geopolitical benefit rather than any significant economic benefit. The western powers have imposed heavy economic sanctions on Russia – after it invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

The reason you mix up causes and effects is clear. Your narrative description of the post-Soviet period mentions the collapse of the Soviet empire, the loss of those (to my mind illusory) “quite favourable” chances of Russia “democratising” – and then the failure of that option due to NATO expansion. The arrogance inherent in that expansion “created the external conditions in Russia for the implementation of a strategy of imperialist revisionism” under Putin, you say.

I would dispute the prevalence of NATO expansion as an “external condition”. I think the broader crises of capital, and of its neoliberal management strategy, were far more important. But what about the internal conditions? You don’t mention those. What about the reconstruction of the Russian bourgeoisie in the post-Soviet period, and its relationship with the post-Soviet repressive apparatus represented by Putin? Where does that fit into your analysis?

Your focus on the “external condition” means that your account of Russian militarism is one-sided. The Georgian war in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea were “warning signals” that were “disregarded” by NATO, which, according to you, built “infrastructure” in Ukraine. What “infrastructure”? (NATO was always divided about admitting Ukraine as a member, and until last month’s invasion kept its military relationship with Ukraine at a low level.)

Your account of Russian militarism starts in 2008. What about the murderous assault on Chechnya in 2000-02, which first cemented Putin’s position as president, and was supported by NATO? What about the Russian assault on eastern Ukraine in 2014, which you incorrectly describe as a “civil war with indirect Russian involvement”? What was “indirect” about a war in which Russian mothers lost their sons on the front line, fighting in Russian army uniforms? What is “indirect” about the massive logistical, financial and political support given by the Russian government to the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics”?

Most telling of all, you don’t mention Syria. The drowning of the Syrian uprising in blood in 2015-16, surely the greatest defeat of a revolutionary movement in this century, was accomplished by the Assad regime with powerful Russian military support.

The NATO powers stood back and allowed this to continue (while they themselves fought their own wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan) for the same reason that they acquiesced in Putin’s actions against Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine: because for all their disavowals of “spheres of influence”, they were content that Russia should act as a gendarme for international capital in certain geographical areas. As indeed they were content to see Russian troops intervene against the Belarussian uprising in 2020, and in Kazakhstan in 2022.

You write: “this catastrophic war of aggression was also preceded by imperialist acts of aggression on the part of the West, which provoked in Putin’s Russia a geostrategic logic common to all imperialist power elites”. Sure! The Russian empire, with its rich history of suppression of its colonies and its own people, needed to be provoked by the western powers, in order to make war on the oldest of those colonies. Just like the British ever needed provoking, before making war on Ireland. (I hope my sarcasm comes through OK in a written text.)

Your policy proposals reflect your skewed view that this is a war between two equal sides. You make serious points, and I hope they are discussed. But first we have to be clear. Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides? Only one side is shelling and terrorising civilians, and arresting and murdering those who defy its occupying forces. (Remember Putin’s declaration on the first day? “We don’t intend to occupy”? Tell them that in Mariupol.)

Do you really believe this is an inter-imperialist conflict, with no element of a people’s war? Why else did you neglect to mention those thousands of Ukrainians fighting outside the state framework to defend their own communities, with arms in hand or in other ways? Because they didn’t fit your preconceived interpretation?

I write with anger because I have had such great respect for some of the signatories of the manifesto, and the contribution they have made to the development of socialist thinking. In the 1990s – when studying both the Russian revolution and modern-day Russia showed me that Trotskyism, the framework I had accepted before then, was wanting – autonomism was one of the trends that I began to study and learn from. Including what some of you have written.

Your statement looks as though you decided the conclusion – that this is fundamentally an inter-imperialist conflict, and nothing more – and worked back from there to interpret the facts. Comrades, that’s the wrong way round. The younger generation deserves better, from all of us.

In solidarity,

Simon Pirani. (21 March 2022.)

PS. I have written about my own view here, if it’s of interest.

Source: People and Nature, 21 March 2022. Reprinted here with the author’s permission. ||| TRR

Ukraine: “Condemn Russia’s Imperialist Threat”

Ukraine: ‘condemn Russia’s imperialist threat’ • People and Nature • 24 January 2022

Ukrainian socialists are urging international unity against the Russian government’s imperialist policies that threaten a new war.

The Social Movement, a group of mainly labour activists in Ukraine, calls in a statement for “solidarity with people who have suffered from the war that has lasted almost eight years, and who may suffer from a new one”.

The statement expresses “gratitude and solidarity to Russian left-wing activists who oppose the imperialist policies of the Kremlin and are fighting for democratic and social transformations in their country”.

“Our house was stolen by war”: one of Ukraine’s 1.5 million internally displaced people. Photo from commons.com.ua

The Social Movement denounces the “myth, popular among some Western leftists”, that the Russian-supported “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk are “the result of popular will”. Their statement says:

The heads of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” are integrated into the ranks of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation and have become the mouthpiece of the Kremlin’s most aggressive predatory sentiments. In the “republics” themselves, any opposition political activity, even the most loyal to the Russian government, is suppressed.

In my view, this statement would be a good place to start discussion about how to build solidarity in the face of war, with working-class communities in Ukraine, and with labour and social movements there. So would the principled statement of opposition to Putin’s war drive by the Russian Socialist Movement, which I posted just before the new year.

The (Ukrainian) Social Movement statement concludes with a call for “complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Donbas”. It says that “one of the best means of pressure on the leaders of the Russian Federation would be the seizure of the property and assets of Russian oligarchs and officials in London and other places”.

It calls for “revision of the socio-economic course proposed to Ukraine by the West: instead of destructive neoliberal reforms under the pressure of the IMF – the cancellation of Ukraine’s external debt”. And it urges “more inclusive and progressive humanitarian policies in Ukraine, ending impunity for the Ukrainian far right, and abolition of the ‘de-communisation’ laws”.

One thing many Ukrainians find grotesque is the sight of their country’s fate being discussed by the US and Russia, as though the Ukrainian state did not exist. This is the focus of an article, “Moscow and Washington should not determine Ukraine’s future”, by socialist activist Taras Bilous.

Bilous’s earlier analysis of the breakdown of the Minsk accords is also worth reading.

So is a facebook post written on 20 January by Marko Bojcun, the socialist historian of Ukraine, which I reproduce here with his permission:

Though Putin, the artful player, has several options in his hand, his ultimate objective has been to get the US to join an expanded Normandy format and the Minsk negotiations, and there to help force Ukraine to accept further limitations to its state sovereignty. Basically, that means Kyiv would accept the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” as internationally recognised autonomous state institutions within Ukraine, but in reality bodies that continue to be run by Russian state ministries – as they already are in a concealed manner. Russia would use them to lever Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policies.

Putin recognises that he can achieve his main goal only with US endorsement. He needs the US to join him in twisting the arms of the stubborn Ukrainians. That has been the point of all these Russian troop movements to Ukraine’s current borders: to get the Americans to weigh in, to keep Ukraine out of any direct talks and to conclude a deal over their heads.

Ukraine is critical to Russia’s long term project of economic, military and diplomatic recovery, its resumption as a Great Power. That means Russia will not stop its drive until it achieves much more. The present conjuncture resembles in some way another historical moment, in 1938, when Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, met Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Nazi Germany’s foreign minister, over the Czechoslovak crisis. Chamberlain came out of that meeting, waved a scrap of paper in his hand and declared peace in their time. I wonder what US foreign secretary Anthony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will have to say after their meeting tomorrow?

The answer to that last question turned out to be: nothing much. Blinken offered Lavrov the carrot of a meeting between the US and Russian presidents, something Putin has long craved in his efforts to claim Russia’s “great power” status.

For a substantial analysis from a Marxist standpoint, Bojcun’s 2016 article on “The causes of the Ukrainian crisis” is essential reading.

More things to read in English

Friends are asking where they can find alternative, radical analyses, and views, of the war danger in English. Here are some more suggestions.

□ The Russian sociologist Greg Yudin’s view of “why Putin’s Russia is threatening Ukraine” is on Open Democracy Russia, which features a range of alternative viewpoints from across the former Soviet Union.

□ A recent comment article by the journalist James Meek is on the London Review of Books web site, on open access. Meek and Paul Mason are among the panelists appearing at an event organised by the Ukrainian Institute in London about the war danger, on Wednesday 16 February. (The Institute, run in the distant past by cold-warrior right wingers, is now managed by liberal, post-Soviet Ukrainians. Its educational and informational events are well worth looking out for.)

□ The London-based, official-labour-movement-focused Ukraine Solidarity Campaign regularly publishes information.

□ The biggest gap in English-language coverage is about what is going on in eastern Ukraine. I have occasionally translated and published stuff on this blog (see e.g. a recent post here, and, from further back, herehere and here).

□ The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group web site has excellent, and accurate, coverage of an appalling range of repressive state and military activities – see, e.g., their tags on Crimea and “terrorism” (which includes those “people’s republics”), but note, too, their more general reporting on human rights abuses in Ukraine and Russia.

□ It is a job of work to counter the stream of deceit and misinformation from Putin-ists in the UK labour movement. I summed up the arguments in a recent blog post here. I even wrote to the Morning Star, about one of its more grotesque lies – that “hundreds of trade union leaders” were killed by the post-2014 Ukrainian government. Accuracy about dead bodies is not their big thing, it seems. My letter is reproduced below. SP, 24 January 2022.

False reporting of “hundreds” of trades unionists’ deaths

I I sent this letter to the Morning Star newspaper, which claims its favours “peace and socialism”. It was published, in the print & pdf edition only, on 17 January

Dear Editor,

In the article “Opinion: US and NATO play with fire in their latest anti-Russia campaign”, 9 December, John Wojcik stated: “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government shortly after it came to power [in 2014].”

This is incorrect. The two major Ukrainian union federations reported no such deaths of union leaders. Nor did the detailed reports by the UN High Commission for Human Rights on civil rights in Ukraine. Some activists were killed in this period, during numerous civil disturbances, but there is no evidence that the government was responsible. (Many people were killed, by Ukrainian, Russian and separatist forces, in the military conflict that began in the summer of 2014. This is not what Wojcik is referring to.)

Many of your readers will have mourned the death of friends and comrades killed for their trade union activity. It would be disrespectful to them to leave uncorrected the statement that hundreds of union leaders were killed.

The article also states that the new Ukrainian government “banned the use of the Russian language”. This is incorrect. A law making Ukrainian the single state language was adopted in 2019. It requires Ukrainian to be used – but not exclusively, i.e. it can be used together with other languages – in certain public spaces. It will be applied to educational institutions and the media, but not to private or religious life. Many Ukrainian socialists are opposed to it. But exaggerating its effect can only help to exacerbate differences between working people on grounds of nationality and language, that historically the labour movement has endeavoured to overcome.

Simon Pirani, London. 

Correction. This article has been corrected on 4 February, to reflect the fact that this letter was published in the Morning Star’s print & pdf editions. It was not published in the on-line edition.

Revolt and Repression in Kazahstan

Revolt and repression in Kazakhstan • People and Nature • January 9, 2022

The Kazakh government has unleashed ferocious repression against the uprising that exploded last week.

Security forces opened fire on demonstrators. “Dozens” died, according to media reports, but on 7 January president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev let slip that “hundreds” had been killed. Tokayev also said he gave the order to “shoot to kill without warning” to suppress protests.

There are no accurate figures, because the government has cut off internet access for almost the whole country and imposed an information blockade.

The internal affairs ministry has said that more than 4400 people have been arrested, and warned that sentences of between eight years and life will be imposed. The Kazakh regime has used torture against worker activists before: its forces may be emboldened by the 3000 Russian and other troops flown in to support them.

From social media via The Insider. The security services facing demonstrators in Almaty

It’s difficult, in the midst of this nightmare, to try to analyse the wave of protest and its consequences. Anyway, here are four points, based on what I can see from a distance.

Continue reading “Revolt and Repression in Kazahstan”

The Zhanaozen Massacre: Ten Years Later

Kazakhstan, ten years after the Zhanaozen massacre: oil workers’ fight to organise goes on • People and Nature • 15 December 2021

Ten years after police massacred striking oil workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, human rights organisations and trades unionists are demanding an international inquiry into the killings.

Even now, the number of victims is unknown. State officials admit that 16 were killed and 64 injured on 16 December 2011 – but campaigners say there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, more.

The initial killings, by police who fired into a peaceful, unarmed crowd, were followed by a three-day reign of terror in Zhanaozen, in the oil-rich Mangistau province in western Kazakhstan, and nearby villages.

Defendants at the 2012 trial of Zhanaozen protesters

The torture and sexual violence used against detainees should also be investigated by an independent international commission, campaigners say.

Although a handful of police officers were tried for “exceeding their powers”, and a detention centre boss was briefly jailed, the Kazakh government has refused to say who ordered the shootings.

The Zhanaozen shootings ended an eight-month strike by the town’s oil workers, one of the largest industrial actions ever in the post-Soviet countries.

Oil workers and their families had demanded better pay and conditions, and the right to organise independent trade unions, at Ozenmunaigaz, a production subsidiary of the national oil company Kazmunaigaz, and contracting firms.

On Saturday 11 December this year, oil workers gathered in Zhanaozen, amidst a heavy police presence, to commemorate the victims. Tomorrow, ten years to the day after the tragedy, activists plan film screenings and other gatherings in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.

Zhanaozen has become a crucial strand in Kazakh working people’s collective memory. On the day of the killings, local residents risked arrest and worse to smuggle out of the locked-down city video clips showing how demonstrators were executed in cold blood. Today, some of the fear has faded, activists say: whole films – such as this one, made in 2013 (commentary in Russian) – are shared on social media.

https://www.facebook.com/daryn.ibraeff/videos/1302525450187459

An international investigation is needed, because, even now, the Kazakh authorities are desperate to cover up the truth, human rights activists who have pursued the truth about Zhanaozen said in interviews with People & Nature.

Evgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said “three questions have never been answered” about the events on Alan Square, where the initial shootings took place:

□ Who were the provocateurs who caused trouble on the square?

□ Who exactly gave the order to send in armed interior ministry forces against an unarmed crowd? 

□ Who fired the shots? The authorities have admitted to 15 killings on the square. In each case, [under Kazakh law] an investigation should show either that the officer responsible had opened fire unlawfully, or that he opened fire because his life was threatened.  

Zhovtis said: “The UN commissioner for human rights, Niva Pillay, visited Kazakhstan in 2012 and called for an independent international commission to be set up, to investigate these events. Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, also called for such a commission. This has not happened.”

Human rights defenders in Kazakhstan reject the justice ministry’s claim that an adequate investigation had been carried out, Zhovtis said.

Police in Zhanaozen, 16 December 2011. A still from a video smuggled out by residents to make sure the truth reached the outside world

“The leading western governments are largely indifferent to what happens in central Asia. Look at their response both to the Zhanaozen tragedy and the Andijan massacre [of hundreds of protesters in Uzbekistan in May 2005].

“Nevertheless, we simply have to keep demanding justice.”   

Galym Ageleuov of Liberty, the human rights organisation, who has travelled regularly to Zhanaozen since the massacre to gather evidence, said that, in addition to the events on Alan Square, any investigation should cover:

□ The use of torture against oil workers and their supporters detained during the three-day crackdown. Detailed evidence of this had already been made public, especially at a trial of 37 Zhanaozen residents in 2012.

□ Sexual violence against women detainees, including Roza Tuletaeva, an oil workers’ trade union organiser (about her release, see here and here); Zhansaule Karabalaeva, daughter of a trade union activist; Asem Kenzhebaeva, daughter of another activist (the family’s story here, her evidence of sexual violence here); and others. “There is evidence that women and men prisoners were detained naked [in winter], were beaten, and had freezing water poured on them”, Ageleuov said.

□ The total number of killings in Zhanaozen and nearby villages on 16, 17 and 18 December 2011. Of the 16 admitted by officials, 15 were killed on Alan Square with revolvers, bullets from which usually remain lodged in the body. The authorities have denied responsibility for those killed by automatic gunfire and long-distance sniper fire, including bystanders. Ageleuov said: “There are numerous cases in which bodies were only released to the families of those killed if they accepted death certificates that registered the cause of death as, for example, a heart attack.”

Asem Kenzhebaeva

□ The killing of Torebek Tolegenov in Shetpe, and the wounding of young people who blocked a railroad to protest at the Zhanaozen massacre, needs to be investigated.

□ Multiple reports of bodies being loaded into unmarked graves – including by Yelena Kostiuchenko of Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s prime opposition newspaper, one of the first journalists to get into Zhanaozen after the massacre – have never been followed up. “Any international commission should insist on the exhumation of these bodies”, Ageleuov said.

□ A fire that broke out, inexplicably, at the Ozenmunaigaz offices on the day of the massacre.

The Kazakh labour movement will this week commemorate the Zhanaozen tragedy – at a time when the right to form independent trade unions, a key principle in the 2011 oil workers’ strike, is again at issue in many workplace struggles.

In June, the national oil company Kazmunaigaz tried to scrap an agreement on wages and conditions with the independent Oil Construction Company Workers Union, seeking instead a sweetheart deal with a “union” it had created. That followed an attempt by the authorities to deregister, and effectively put beyond the law, the independent Sectoral Union of Fuel and Energy Workers, a national-level umbrella of which the Oil Construction Company Workers Union is part.

Markhaba Khalmurzaeva, coordinator of the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission, said: “There have been several strikes in which workers demanded the right to independent organisation, and in some cases, once the pay dispute was settled, employers even helped to register unions.”

But there is also a constant campaign of repression. “Quite often a strike will be settled, some demands are met, but activists who played a part in organising it are dismissed, and blacklisted.”

These battles for the right to independent organisation flared up earlier this year amidst a wave of strikes over pay and conditions. There were more strikes in the first half of 2021 than in the three years 2018-2020 put together. And this summer, the wave hit the western Kazakhstan oilfield, including Zhanaozen, where 11 firms were on strike simultaneously in July.

In September the Central Asia Labour Rights Monitoring Mission reported:

Most of the strikes are in the rich oil region of Mangistau in western Kazakhstan, although it is not only oil workers who are walking out. The most widespread demand is for wage increases. Some groups of workers demand a 13th wage [i.e. to be paid an extra month’s money each year]; partial or complete funding of sanatorium breaks for those working with toxic chemicals; compensation for Covid-19 tests; and … [a supply of] milk [at work].

In Zhanaozen, in the years after the massacre, the Ozenmunaigaz oil company was reorganised into 14 separate divisions. Many of the strikers were employed in the drilling services division, where pay was raised substantially and today is at more than twice the level of ten years ago.

In an attempt to smother the social discontent that exploded in 2011, the government invested in the town’s infrastructure, providing among other things round-the-clock water supply, where previously water only reached people’s homes for short periods twice a day.

Zhanaozen’s population has also expanded … but not everyone benefits. Unemployment has grown rapidly, and in 2019 young people began to demonstrate at the local authorities’ offices, demanding work at Ozenmunaigaz.

A mass meeting in July this year at KMG Security, one of 11 workplaces on strike in Zhanaozen. Photo: Manas Kalyrtai RFE/RL

Erzhan Elshibayev, who helped to organise these peaceful gatherings, was arrested and jailed for five years. Galym Ageleuov said: “Elshibayev is a victim of political repression. In 2019, he was charged with an offence arising from a fight he was involved in, when he was attacked by four men in 2017 while on his way to work – an incident that gave rise to no charges at the time.

“Elshibayev has been in detention for two years. For the last three months he has been in solitary confinement and no-one has heard from him.” Trade unionists gathered at Bishkek last week at a conference called on the Kazakh authorities to release him immediately.

Ten years after the massacre, labour’s battles against capital continue in the oilfield – for better pay and living conditions, for the right to organise independently at work, for ways to live decently. Exposing the truth about the state repression in 2011, about the chain of command, about the barbaric use of murder and torture in the service of capital, is a part of this wider struggle. SP, 15 December 2021.

■ Statement by human rights organisations in Kazakhstan, 15 December 2021

■ Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression, by Simon Pirani (Gabriel Levy)

■ Zhanaozen: some lessons by Evgeny Zhovtis

■ They shot to kill. Interview with Galym Ageleuov

■ Kazakh oil workers: index of articles

“Freedom of association is a workers’ right! Free Erzhan Elshibayev! Stop victimising people for being active citizens!”

Originally posted on People & Nature on 15 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for allowing me to repost his article here. ||| TRR

Remembering Aron Atabek

Aron Atabek: poet, rebel, Kazakh samurai (People & Nature, 6 December 2021)

The dissident poet Aron Atabek has died in Kazakhstan, weeks after being released from 15 years as a political prisoner.

Atabek, 68, died in hospital on 24 November, where he was being treated for Covid-19. Years in prison, beatings by guards, and long stretches of solitary confinement had taken their toll on his health.

Aron Atabek after his release from prison. Photo from bureau-kz

In the weeks prior to his death, Atabek’s family had released photos of the poet, weighing 50 kilos and emaciated – down from a healthy 85 kilos when he was jailed in 2006.

Atabek had been arrested for his part in defending the Shanyrak shanty town, set up by homeless people outside Almaty – a key chapter in the history of resistance to the authoritarian regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Friends of Aron Atabek, members of his family and participants in opposition movements gathered on 28 November at the statue of the poet Abai Kunanbaev in Almaty. They read poems, and demanded that the Shanyrak case be reviewed.

The human rights campaign group Oyan, Qazaqstan issued a statement, saying:

We believe that the responsibility for the death of the poet Aron Atabek lies entirely with the [Kazakh] authorities. They passed an illegal sentence on Aron when they imprisoned him. The deterioration of Abatek’s health, and his death, is on their conscience. Aron Atabek stayed true to his principles to the end of his life. He did not agree to an amnesty, he did not once beg for forgiveness from Nazarbayev, and he never became disillusioned with what he himself did. For us he remains the same, unbending, a Kazakh samurai.

Atabek had been politically active in democratic and nationalist circles since late Soviet times (the 1980s). In the 2000s, the price of oil, Kazakhstan’s main export, rose, the elite accumulated vast wealth, the gap between rich and poor yawned still wider – and Atabek paid the price for defending the dispossessed.

The Shanyrak shanty-town was a sanctuary for those who suffered most in the oil boom, and the construction frenzy that it financed, when developers grabbed land with scant regard for the law. It is estimated that, when it was destroyed by a violent, illegal police operation, it comprised more than 2000 dwellings with up to 10,000 residents.

The notorious police clearance of Shanyrak took place shortly after the promulgation on 5 July 2006 of the law “On Amnesty and Legalisation of Property”.

The city authorities, citing shanty-town dwellers’ failure to register their properties correctly, ordered them to leave. Atabek and other oppositionists argued that the real reason was that the authorities wanted to make more land available to developers.

Atabek lobbied parliamentarians, wrote articles, organised petitions and reminded the shanty-town dwellers of constitutional rights that protected them. But pleas by Atabek and other activists went unheeded.

Remembering Aron Atabek in Almaty, 28 November. Photo from the-village-kz

The police tried to clear the shanty-town forcibly, and a violent clash ensued in which a police officer died. A round-up of activists followed.

Atabek was tried and convicted in October 2007 of “orchestrating mass disorder” – despite there being no evidence that he was nearby when the clashes occurred. Atabek was offered a pardon in exchange for admitting guilt, but he vehemently refused.

Atabek continued to write in prison, detailing illegal and inhumane prison conditions on his website. An international campaign in his defence was supported by PEN Internationalthe International Times, and others.

In 2011, a six-month strike by Kazakh oil workers was brought to an end by a police massacre at Zhanaozen that left at least 16 dead and 64 wounded. Campaigners linked Atabek’s case to the wider clampdown on labour and opposition groups that followed.

In an obituary of Atabek in The Diplomat, Paolo Sorbello wrote:

At his core, Atabek was a nationalist. He was on the square in December 1986 when students and activists in Almaty protested the appointment of Gennady Kolbin, an ethnic Russian, to head the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The police repression of the riots turned the events into a dark page in the country’s history. During “Jeltoqsan” (December in Kazakh), the authorities ordered a violent repression of the demonstrations, which resulted in several dead. The Soviet establishment never allowed for a transparent investigation and trial over the violence.

Aron Atabek at his trial in 2007

On the eve of independence in 1991, Atabek was instrumental in the creation of the Alash National Independence Party. In the 1990s, fearing repercussions for his political positions, he continued his activism from Russia and Azerbaijan. He returned to Kazakhstan in the early 2000s and founded the public association “Kazakh Ulty” (Kazakh Nation), through which he criticised Nazarbayev, at a period of heightened political struggle.

In the mid-2000s Kazakhstan’s most important oil contracts were finally drawing financial windfalls, while Nazarbayev was consolidating his power in the face of growing opposition movements. Furthermore, the economy’s reliance on the US dollar and the housing boom in Almaty were a foreboding tale of the long-lasting effects of the global financial crisis of 2007. The Shanyrak events were essentially an explosive cocktail, the product of the unstable situation in the country.

The repression of opposition movements, the arrest of Atabek, and later on the violent reaction to the strikes in the oil town of Zhanaozen were stepping stones in the consolidation of Nazarbayev’s grip on power and the insurance policy on a season of political stability.

Remembering Aron Atabek in Almaty, 28 November. Photo from the-village-kz

Follow People & Nature on twitter … instagram … telegram … or whatsapp. Or email peoplenature[at]protonmail.com, and I’ll send you updates.

Originally posted on People & Nature on 6 December 2021. Thanks to its editor, Simon Pirani, for encouraging me to repost his obituary here. ||| TRR

Ilya Shakursky: “Now and Then the Flame Dies Down, but Solidarity Is a Stream of Sparks”

ILYA SHAKURSKY, an antifascist political prisoner in Russia, appeals to you in this interview to write to him, and to others imprisoned in the infamous Network case. Please see a note at the end about where to send messages.

Tomorrow, Tuesday 19 January, is the anniversary of the assassination of antifascists Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov, who were shot dead in broad daylight in central Moscow in 2009. People will gather – in Moscow, to lay flowers at the place where they were killed, elsewhere online – and we publish this article on several web sites simultaneously, to express solidarity.

The Network case began in Penza and St Petersburg in October 2017, when the Federal Security Service (FSB) started detaining young anarchists and antifascists, who had supposedly participated in a terrorist group. The security services claimed that the young detainees were preparing terrorist acts, aimed at the presidential elections and the football World Cup in 2018 [which was staged in Russia].

It soon became clear that this “Network” had been dreamed up by the FSB, and the confessions extracted from the alleged participants with the use of the most barbaric tortures. Details of the methods used, including electric shock batons, were published widely before the defendants were tried.

Nevertheless, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced – in January 2019 in Petersburg, Igor Shishkin, to three and a half years in prison; in February 2020, seven defendants in Penza, including Ilya Shakursky, to sentences ranging from six and 18 years in prison; and in June 2020 in Petersburg, Viktor Filinkov to seven years, and Yuli Boyarshinov to five and a half years.

In October 2020, an appeal by the Penza defendants was heard and rejected. An appeal by Viktor Filinkov is in progress.

All ten defendants are included in a list of 61 political prisoners compiled by Memorial, Russia’s largest human rights defence group.  

This interview with Ilya Shakursky, who is serving a 16-year sentence, is by Dmitry Semenov. It was published by Free Russia House, an “alternative embassy for Russian civil society” based in Kyiv, and by the Rupression collective that supports the Network case prisoners. (The questions were sent via Elena Shakurskaya, Ilya’s mother, and answers received, via Elena, in written form.)

Ilya Shakursky, speaking at Anticapitalism 2013

Question: Do you feel the support from outside the prison system, and how important is it? Could you say something briefly to our readers and to people who support you?

Ilya Shakursky: It feels good to realise, every morning when they call out my surname and hand over letters I have received, that people remember me and continue to support me. At those moments, the grey monotony of imprisonment is broken up by different colours. It doesn’t matter whether the letter is a couple of lines or goes on like a whole essay. Just getting some news gives me strength and happiness. When I see photos of solidarity actions all over the world; when I read interviews with well-known people who speak about the absurdity of the criminal case against us; when I hear the drums and voices of friends [demonstrating] on the other side of the [prison] wall; when I think of the concert, at which the whole hall sang “This Will Pass” [“Vse proidet”] (a song about the Network case by the Russian punk group Pornofilmy), or of the rap-battle, where verses were read in support of our case, or of the street artist who used graffiti to speak out about repression in Russia today – I feel like it wasn’t all in vain.

Continue reading “Ilya Shakursky: “Now and Then the Flame Dies Down, but Solidarity Is a Stream of Sparks””

People and Nature: Labour Protests in Belarus (Rage Against the Machines)

Belarus: labour protest as part of political revolt
People and Nature
November 12, 2020

The popular revolt against the autocratic regime in Belarus and its thuggish security forces is now going into its fourth month. On Sunday, mass anti-government demonstrations were staged for the 13th week in a row – and more than 1000 people were arrested.

A first-class analysis of the relationship between the street demonstrations and the Belarusian workers’ movement was published last week in English, on the Rosa Luxemburg foundation site.

The article, by two researchers of labour movements, Volodymyr Artiukh and Denys Gorbach, compares the labour protests against the Belarussian regime, which they call “state capitalist”, with those in Ukraine, where private capital dominates.

In Belarus, the falsification of results in the presidential election in August first gave rise

Medical students demonstration in Vitebsk on 20 September. Polina Nitchenko is carrying the sign, which reads: “You can’t just wash away blood like that, I can tell you”. Photo: Ales Piletsky, TUT.By

to monster street demonstrations, and then to a wave of strikes, mass meetings and other workplace actions. (I published what information I could find herehere and here.)

This was not only “the most numerous, geographically diverse, and most sustained labour unrest” since 1991, Artiukh and Gorbach write, but also “the first large-scale labour protest to happen within the context of a broader political mobilisation”.

Three months on, the unrest has “gained a more individualised, sporadic and invisible form”, they argue. The workers’ acts of defiance “have been effective, but more on the symbolic level than in material terms”.

Workers “became an inspiration for the broader protesting masses” and were greeted on the streets with banners and chants – “a significant exception in the region, for in no other Eastern European country including Ukraine, have workers gained such symbolic prestige among society at large”.

Workers, Artiukh and Gorbach argue, derive their confidence from the streets, not from their workplaces where they suffer atomisation and strict management control.

Belarusian workers protest as citizens rather than workers. This is, however, an ambivalent process: the very experience of uniting and standing up to the bosses is vital for workers to overcome atomisation and gain organisational experience, but at the same time they have not yet learned to articulate politically their demands within a broader social agenda.

In fact work-related demands have been “only sporadically articulated”. Artiukh and Gorbach see a parallel with Poland and the Soviet Union in the 1980s: “political demands take precedence over bread-and-butter grievances”.

They discuss at length the post-Soviet history of “bureaucratic despotism in the workplace” that is now being challenged. Official unions act as an arm of state control; free and independent unions are small and weak.

In the near future, they expect that the opening-up of Belarus to Russian capital will impact workers.

On the one hand, it will increase the precariousness of workers’ living conditions: wages will not rise, enterprises will slowly be sold off to Russian capitalists, ‘optimised’ or closed. On the other hand, bureaucratic control over workplaces will also increase, while the state-affiliated trade unions will prove incapable of channelling workers’ discontent. This combination of workers’ newly gained politicisation and organisational experience, combined with a deteriorating economic situation, may spark new waves of labour unrest, perhaps more autonomous from larger political protests.

I hope readers will look at the whole article.

Now that Belarus has gone out of mainstream media headlines, it is hard to find insightful reports from the protest movement.

Judging by the Belarussian news site TUT.By, the focus of much anger this week are the Minsk police officers who on Sunday forced detainees to stand for several hours facing a wall in a police station courtyard.

Residents in flats overlooking the courtyard filmed the detainees in the afternoon, and again several hours later as night fell. The videos circulated on line, provoking outrage.

The police tactic of mass arrests and detention has led to a procession of court appearances against demonstrators. One that hit the news this week was Polina

Video, circulated on line, of detainees in a police station courtyard. They were forced to stand in this position for several hours

Nitchenko, who participated in a picket of the state medical university at Vitebsk singing protest songs. She was found guilty of participation in an unsanctioned demonstration and fined; she intends to appeal.

Medical staff and students played a prominent role in the early weeks of the movement by speaking out against the savage injuries inflicted by police thugs on demonstrators. And they have not gone quiet.

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Natalya Kochanova, said last week that there would be “no dialogue on the streets” with protesting medical staff.

Nikita Solovei, a doctor and adviser to the Minsk health authorities, shot back in a facebook post that health workers had finished with being treated like “slaves” by officials. He denounced the “unlimited violence of the security forces against peaceful citizens”, the “imitation elections”, official “lying” about the coronavirus epidemic and repressive measures against medical staff and students alike.

As for there being no dialogue on the streets, he concluded, the dialogue “would be where the people of Belarus want it to be”.

The political strike at the Belaruskalii potash fertiliser plant, which People & Nature reported in August, led to the detention of strike committee members.

Anatoly Bokun, the committee chairman, was released last month after 55 days’ imprisonment. Sergei Cherkasov, a strike committee member and vice president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, was released last week along with Yuri Korzun and Pavel Puchenya: they all served 45 days. The union reported that they are all at home and in good spirits.

The federation is hoping to expand its international contacts: if you are in a union, please get in touch. Another support network, Bysol, set up by Belarusians working outside the country, conveys financial support to victims of repression. GL, 12 November 2020.

Belaruskalii strike committee members Yuri Korzun, Sergei Cherkasov and Pavel Puchenya after their release. Photo: BITU

________________________________________________________________________________________

Gabriel Levy
Facebook
November 11, 2020

Rage against the machines

Plenty of lies on facebook. Donald Trump’s lying page is working fine. And Breitbart News’s. And Fox news presenter Tucker Carlson’s. And Trump’s former press secretary’s Kayleigh McEnany’s. And Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon’s (although, to be fair, facebook has stopped him adding posts, after he called for the execution of Anthony Fauci, the White House medical science adviser).

But facebook has blocked anyone from posting links to peoplenature[dot]org, my humble web site where I write about socialism, ecology, the labour movement in eastern European countries and stuff like that.

It’s certainly a computer that decided to block me (for “breaching community standards”. As if). I’ve complained to the computer. And the computer may eventually notice its mistake. Or not …

So if you usually follow peoplenature[dot]org on facebook – as many of you lovely people do – please let’s use alternatives:

■ Join the whatsapp group to get updates. https://chat.whatsapp.com/FLJtISmn1ew9Bg2ZcR5fDl

■ Follow @peoplenature on twitter. https://twitter.com/peoplenature

■ Drop an email to peoplenature[at]yahoo.com, and get updates that way.

And please circulate this message to friends. Thanks for your support.

Keep raging against the machines!

Belarus: “Without Organisation, Without Struggle, the Oppressive Unfreedom Will Never Disappear” (People and Nature)

Belarus: ‘Without organisation, without struggle, the oppressive unfreedom will never disappear’
People and Nature
August 14, 2020

The revolt against the authoritarian regime in Belarus has spread from the city streets, where thousands of protesters have been battling with police, to the workplaces. On Thursday 13 August workers at large enterprises – including chemical and food factories, and construction and transport companies – downed tools in protest at the monstrous surge of police violence and arrests. People are quitting the state-supported trade unions. Films and photographs of workers’ meetings, at which participants denounced police violence and the fraudulent election results, are spreading like wildfire across social media. Womens’ organisations are taking to the streets – against a president whose fury was provoked, especially, by the support for Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, the woman who dared to stand against him for election. Here are two appeals by independent trade union organisations that were published yesterday. Please share and re-post. GL.

Open Appeal by the Belarusian Independent Trade Union to workers

Dear Belarusians,

The authorities’ actions – in falsifying the election results, breaching human rights, instigating mass arrests and beatings of peaceful protesters and passers-by across the whole country – could all lead to irreversible consequences for Belarus. We are hearing ever-louder announcements from the European Union and the United States, that they are ready to impose various sanctions, including economic ones, on Belarus as a state that is trampling cynically on the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

a-factory-meetingA factory meeting in Minsk earlier this week

Closure of the western markets for our products and services would be a catastrophe for our enterprises. The impact of this would be borne first of all by ordinary workers, who are in a bad enough situation already.

To defend ourselves and our freedom of action at the workplace, we propose the following pattern of simple collective actions:

1. Quit the state’s social organisations, such as the [government-supported] Federation of Belarusian Trade Unions, [the pro-presidential civic-political association] Belaya Rus and the Belarusian Republican Union of Youth. If you remain in these organisations, you are actually confirming your support for [president] Aleksandr Lukashenko.

2. Join the independent trade unions at your workplace, and if there is not one, organise it yourself.

3. Organise a mass meeting, declare “no confidence” in the results of the elections, and send it to the Central Electoral Commission. Collect the signatures of those who did not vote for Lukashenko.

4. Present demands to the management of your workplace, and the local authorities, for the cessation of aggression and violence on the part of the security services; for guarantees of safety for the enterprises’ workers and their families; of a guarantee that no-one will be dismissed on account of being seized [by the police] on the streets.

5. Record any mass meetings and demands in minutes; record videos; take photos and send this material to independent media.

In unity there is strength!

In solidarity, Maksim Poznyakov, president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union.

This statement was published here on 13 August.

The Belarusian Independent Trade Union English-language page is here.

Belarusian Independent Trade Union contact details: Telephone.+375 17 424 18 80. Fax. +375 17 424 18 90. E-mail: bnpsoligorsk@gmail.com

===

An appeal by the recently-established Telegram channel ZabastovkaBY (Strike Belarus)

Belarus is in the grip of a protest movement … and now many people are demanding that the factories be stopped, in order to stop police violence. But that is just the start.

We don’t just need a one-off strike for free elections. We need an organisation, that will rouse workers every time that the manager or boss “loses the plot”. All of us spend most of the day at our workplaces, and it is from the situation there, from the fear of losing our jobs, that the most oppressive unfreedom grows among us.

We need effective organisations of working people, constantly active, and independent of the authorities and the owners of companies.

Furthermore, such organisations are needed not only at the gigantic state-controlled industrial enterprises. Today the majority of Belarusians already work in the private sector, and the situation there is often no better than at the state-owned workplaces. And those private bosses, no less than the state enterprises, are “sponsors of the system”.

We hear about these issues less often, because there is not a single businessman who would want an organisation in his enterprise that could stop him feeding his appetites. But without organisation by working people, and without struggle in the private sector, that feeling of oppressive unfreedom that is suffered by most Belarusians will never disappear.

What we are fighting for:

►The democratisation of the political system;

►The immediate release of those who have been detained without cause at demonstrations;

►A ban on the privatisation of enterprises;

►No job losses;

►Abolition of Decree no. 3 “on the prevention of social parasitism”;

►A ban on fines and the cancellation of bonuses [in workplaces];

►Abolition of the contract [labour] system;

►Expansion of social welfare provision;

►No to the pension reform;

►For trade unions that stand up for our rights.

What to do:

Meet up with your colleagues outside of work time. Organise chats on social media and messaging networks. Work out which departments could most effectively stop production or the provision of services by striking. Join up with our resources, and at the right moment be ready to go on strike. (14 August 2020.)

■ Londoners! There’s a picket at the Belarusian embassy tomorrow (Saturday).

■ Belarusian workers support protesters, by Maxim Edwards on Global Voices – a first-class survey of actions

■ And here is some analysis by Volodymyr Artiukh, published on Open Democracy just before the election.

Some social media clips

■ Redfish film of security forces clashing with demonstrators in the centre of Minsk.

■ Film of a mass meeting at Grodnozhilstroya, a construction company. The chair asks who has voted for Lukashenko, “don’t be shy”, a handful raise their hands. He asks who voted against, an overwhelming cheer goes up. Posted on Facebook.

■ Film of a mass meeting at the huge Minsk automobile factory (MAZ). The crowd shouts “[Lukashenko] Go!” and “honest elections!”. Posted on Facebook by Boris Kravchenko, a Russian trade union official.

■ Medical staff demonstrating in Minsk, as reported by Current Time TV. Those interviewed say they are protesting at the appalling character of the wounds inflicted on patients by the security forces.

■ A film circulating widely on Russian social media. A police officer, completely unprovoked and without warning, smashes the windscreen of a passing car. The elderly driver gets up to complain and is beaten by five officers, in broad daylight, and arrested. Those filming the incident are exclaiming “bandits! fascists!”.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for sending this to me and graciously permitting me to repost it here. // TRR

Lugansk Miners Occupy Pit to Protest Wage Arrears and Closures

lugansk-1From Saturday’s motorcade: “Employers, corporations and chain stores: we will not allow you to insult people”

Lugansk miners occupy pit and defy security forces
People and Nature
June 9, 2020

Mineworkers are staging an underground occupation in defiance of the authorities in the Lugansk separatist “republic” in eastern Ukraine, who have responded with a campaign of intimidation and arrests.

There were 123 mineworkers underground at the Komsomolskaya pit, in the mining town of Antratsit, for the third day running on Sunday (7 June), the News.ru site reported yesterday. One who had fallen ill was brought to the surface.

The protesters are demanding that their wages for March and April be paid in full. A similar underground protest on 21 April resulted in some money being handed over by Vostok Ugol, a new company set up in the “republic” and charged with closing pits and cutting the labour force.

lugansk-3

An earlier protest, in Zorinsk in the Lugansk “republic”, on 4 May, against the closure of the local pit. Photo from Dialog.ua

The Lugansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” were set up by separatist military forces, supported by the Russian government, who clashed with the Ukrainian army in the military conflict of 2014.

The militarised regimes have clamped down on labour and social movement activists, and made independent journalism impossible in the “republics”—meaning that protest has been rare, and news of it does not travel easily. But this week mineworkers and their supporters have taken action nonetheless.

On Sunday the Lugansk “republic” police blockaded the Komsomolskaya mine and stopped food and drink being passed in to the occupiers. Galina Dmitrieva, a local trade union activist, received a a message saying that state security ministry (MGB) officials were on their way to the mine.

After that, mobile phone reception was blocked and the popular Vkontakte social media (similar to Facebook) was blocked. News.ru published text exchanges with local residents who said that the internet could only be accessed with Virtual Private Network (encrypted anti-spying) technology.

Transport in Antratsit was shut down, and on Sunday evening the authorities announced that this was because a medical quarantine was in place.

Aleksandr Vaskovsky, co-chairman of the Independent Union of Mineworkers of Donbass, said in a statement to News.ru:

A quarantine was announced in Antratsit on the evening of 7 June and the whole town closed down. The intention was to deprive the striking miners of subsistence. A curfew was declared and a military force assembled. This force was assembled at Rovenki, and they completely surrounded the Frunze pit, where miners had also tried to strike. […]

In Antratsit on 7 June, from the evening, they started arresting people who had given informational and organisational support to the miners, and organised the strike movement at other pits. They sought out activists at other pits and in other towns. There were arrests in Krasnodon, Rovenki, Krasnyi Luch and Belorechensk. State security ministry officials just came and, without any documents, were taking people with all their computers and mobile phones to an unknown destination.

We were able to find out where some of these arrestees were, in the MGB’s buildings. During the course of the day they had been tortured, with the aim of identifying other activists. At 8:00 another seven people were kidnapped, including two women, one of whom is pregnant.

Vaskovsky told News.ru that workers at Belorechenskaya mine tried to stage an occupation on Monday, but were prevented from going underground by managers.

Since the separatist “republic” was established in 2014, out of 32 pits, 10 have been closed. The mines now employ 44,800 people, less than half of the workforce before the military conflict began.

The Eastern Human Rights Group said on its Facebook page yesterday (8 June) that MGB officials had been in the Dubovsky quarter of Antratsit, where the Komsomolskaya pit is, since Friday, “questioning workers about the instigators of the protest”. Two miners had been arrested and sent for questioning to Antratsit; their whereabouts were unknown. The union president at the mine, Georgii Chernetsov, had been questioned but not detained. The statement continued:

Now a road block has been set up in Dubovsky, and MGB officers have gone to the families of the protesting mineworkers, to put pressure on the protesters through their families. Mobile phone signals have been cut off throughout Antratsit district, although WhatsApp and Viber are working.

This activity by the security forces of the Lugansk “republic” is directed at intimidating workers and suppressing the protest movement in the occupied part of Lugansk district.

Pavel Lisyansky of the Eastern Human Rights Group, based nearby in Lisichansk, in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, wrote in a Facebook post:

The Russian Federation’s occupying administration in [the Lugansk “republic”] is disturbed by the systematic protests by the labour collectives at the mining enterprises, which are related to the restructuring of the industry, in other words the threat of mass closures.

In the course of these protests new leaders of public opinion have emerged, who have the support of the local population and do not fear the repressive actions by the occupying administration’s special forces.

For the last month, the mood of protest has grown stronger in Perevalsky, Antratsit and Lutuginsk districts in the occupied part of Lugansk region. The leaders of the worker protests have the support and solidarity of other labour collectives in the coal mining enterprises.

It is for this reason that the Russian Federation’s occupation administration has decided to take measures to counter the protests.

On the Ukrainian side of the front line, the Eastern Human Rights Group on Saturday staged a motorcade “to draw attention to the problem of the breaches of labour and social-economic rights of workers during the pandemic and quarantine measures”.

lugansk-2The Eastern Human Rights Group’s motorcade

The group said: “We are concerned about the situation in which the state labour inspection does nothing; about the pressure and bribery practiced by criminal groups against trade union leaders, to try to influence workers and employers (there has been a case at Toretsk that we will report on); the unlawful dismissal of workers; and so on.”

Thanks to People and Nature for permission to republish this article here.