Valery Rashkin: A Rebel in the Russian Communist Party

Communist MP Valery Rashkin (holding white placard) and comrades protesting the persecution of communists and rank-and-file protesters outside the Presidential Administration building in downtown Moscow, 10 June 2021. Photo: Vadim Kantor/Activatica

And now – against crackdowns!

In 2021, only three forms of street activism have been possible in Moscow: “navalnings” (such as in January and April), “putings” (such as in March) and “rashkings,” named in honor of Communist MP Valery Rashkin, who does not get tired of defying the de facto ban on rallies by holding “meetings with an MP” (that is, with himself), since by law such meetings do not require prior authorization. This spring alone, Volja has written several times about progressive “rashkings” (against infill construction in Kuntsevo; against the planned demolition of the Palace of Young Pioneers; and, no less than four times, against the law banning educational outreach activities; in particular, I published an overall report and a separate remark about provocateurs).

Kuntsevo residents voting against the construction mafia, 6 March 2021. Photo: Vlad Tupikin

Rashkin’s progressive work to ensure freedom of assembly in Moscow, it seems, has not gone unnoticed by the Communist Party leadership and the Presidential Administration. Open Media today published a short article in which, citing sources in the party leadership, they claimed that it was possible that Rashkin would be moved from a surefire first place on the regional party list for the State Duma elections in the autumn to a (second?) place that would make it impossible for him to win re-election. And this, it seems, is exactly what the Presidential Administration, who have soured on Rashkin over his open sympathy for the winter-spring protest rallies (the “navalnings”), wants from the Communist Party leadership.

In the spring, Rashkin, who heads the party’s Moscow city committee, was removed from the presidium of the party’s central committee and now, at the pre-election congress in late June, he could lose his place on the party list.

But Rashkin is not giving up without a fight. At two o’clock in afternoon on Thursday, June 10, he has scheduled another meeting with MPs (that is, he will probably not be alone) outside the reception area of the Presidential Administration building on Ilinka, 23, to protest recent political crackdowns. Mikhail Lobanov, in particular, has written about the meeting, apparently disappointed by today’s confirmation of the sentence meted out to his colleague Azat Miftakhov (six years in prison for breaking the glass in the door at a United Russia party office on the outskirts of Moscow; Miftakhov claims he is innocent).

Valery Rashkin. Photo: Pyotr Kassin/Kommersant, courtesy of Open Media

It is clear that the Communist Party as a whole does not arouse much interest among political observers, but it seems that Rashkin is something special. He’ll probably show us all his stuff once again — to begin with, at two o’clock on the afternoon on June 10.

With greetings from Moscow,

Vlad Tupikin

Source: Volja, 9 June 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

______________________________

Against political crackdowns: a meeting with State Duma MPs

State Duma MPs from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation went to the Presidential Administration building to speak out against the political crackdowns taking place in Russia. They opposed the encroachment of security forces on freedom of thought. First of all, they spoke about the persecution of party members in the regions, who have been prevented from standing in the [autumn 2021] elections in every possible way, and the criminal cases initiated against them. In particular, they voiced their support for Azat Miftakhov and Nikolay Platoshkin.

Yesterday, the Moscow City Court, considering an appeal against the verdict of Moscow State University graduate student Azat Miftakhov, did not overturn the six-year prison sentence handed down to him, although it excluded a couple of incidents from the case. Yesterday, the Basmanny District Court left the four editors of the student magazine DOXA — Armen Aramyan, Natalya Tyshkevich, Alla Gutnikova, and Vladimir Metyolkin under virtual house arrest (they are allowed to leave the house for two hours, from 8 to 10 am, and are forbidden from using the Internet and receiving mail) until September 14.

Vadim Kantor

Source: Activatica, 10 June 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

Communist MP Valery Rashkin and others protesting outside the Presidential Administration building in downtown Moscow, 10 June 2021

Grigorii Golosov: Dissecting Dead Elections

What to Expect from Dead Elections
Grigorii Golosov
Proekt
June 7, 2021

In journalism, there is the well-worn cliché of “dissecting elections.” This is when experts explain to the general public how the electoral system works, how election campaigns are run, and how votes are tallied. In a democracy, this knowledge is ordinarily not in high demand, because voters, as a rule, don’t care about such subtleties. People who go to the polling stations have preferences and emotions that they express by voting. The fine points matter a narrow stratum of politicized intellectuals. Rank-and-file voters regard elections respectfully, as one of the foundations of the democratic state, which they value, but they are not keen about its anatomical details.

Under authoritarianism, it would seem that elections merit no interest at all. After all, they don’t make it possible to change the government, let alone influence it in any tangible way. Their impact on the make-up of representative political bodies is insignificant, and on politics, negligible.

They are dead elections. And yet they are anything but inconspicuous.

On the contrary, the most high-profile events of recent months in Russia have been related to elections indirectly (like the crackdown on opposition organizations and activists) or directly (like United Russia’s so-called primaries). They have gone unremarked only by people who have completely isolated themselves from the daily grind of the Russian state and the propaganda servicing it. This is, of course, quite a healthy thing to do, but not everyone has the luxury of doing it.

Naturally, the hype will only increase over the summer, because presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has already promised us a literally red-hot campaign. Indeed, elections — and just such dead elections — are vital to modern authoritarian regimes. Elections perform many useful functions for autocracies. I could list all of them, but it suffices to point out their main function: unless the regime triumphs at the ballot box, it is difficult to explain why the people in government occupy the high-ranking posts they do.

Their power is not warranted by the right of succession, nor by their outstanding personal qualities, nor by their crystal clear vision of the prospects for social development. Naturally, there are other contenders for power, ready to take it simply because they want to. So the common idea that elections will be canceled as unnecessary is mistaken. This means that there is some point in dissecting dead elections, just as there is a point in dissecting dead bodies.

The basic principle of election pathology is simple: dead elections should look like the real thing, but still keep those who already hold power in power, allowing only a minimal rotation of minor figures. In keeping with this principle, authoritarian elections involve four main areas of tampering: (1) voting systems; (2) voter behavior; (3) voter choice; (4) vote counting. Let’s examine each of these areas separately.

In Russia, messing with the electoral system in the narrow sense of the term is a thing of the past. Readers may remember that for a time we had a purely proportional electoral system, in which we could vote only for party lists, not for single candidates. Its introduction was no accident and no matter of good intentions: it was meant to facilitate the emergence of the United Russia party and eradicate independent MPs. However, the 2011 State Duma elections, in which United Russia nearly lost its parliamentary majority, showed that a mixed system was more convenient, so they went back to it.

There is nothing particularly innovative about this. If we do the numbers we see that that mixed systems are more popular among autocracies than among democratic countries. And we know from experience why: even if United Russia fails to gain a parliamentary majority via its party list, it will make it up for it by winning in the single-member districts. It was the single-member districts that gave United Russia a constitutional majority in the current State Duma. We know what the consequences for the Russian Constitution have been. But, admittedly, room for further tweaking of the pathological particulars has mostly been exhausted. Going any further would involve embracing electoral systems in which all semblance of democracy is forfeited.

But there is still room for creativity when it comes to manipulating voters. Take, for example, United Russia’s “primaries.” Many people ask why the powers that be must play this expensive game at all, if it is known in advance and has been repeatedly borne out by experience that, ultimately, only those candidates approved by the Kremlin end up on the party lists. I will answer this question with a question of my own. Is there a better way to test the ability of the regional authorities to get voters to an event that is not even an election, whose meaninglessness is obvious to everyone involved? Primaries are an ideal vehicle for turning out the segment of populace dependent on the authorities and thus doing a practice run before the parliamentary campaign kicks off in earnest.

Turning the dependent populace out to vote has been the primary tool of the authorities in recent years. I should stress that we are talking about a mobilization of voters that can be carried out regardless of a campaign’s particular circumstances and definitely produce the expected result. It’s a myth that people who vote under duress can give the authorities the finger behind their back. These people are forced to go to the polls in order to vote for United Russia and that’s exactly what they do.

Sometimes op-ed writers wonder why, since the authorities are so interested in voter turnout, they don’t introduce mandatory voting, which exists in many (mostly democratic) countries. The electoral forensic pathologist answers this question as follows: because the authorities are not interested in turning out all voters, only those who can be expected to vote “correctly.”

If you drive everyone to the polls, it will irritate the populace. Then, perhaps, the “giving them the finger” scenario could come to pass. No, the authorities have to facilitate the turnout only of the most reliable voters, and these are the voters who are forced to vote a certain way.

When such innovations of recent years as multi-day and electronic voting are discussed, attention is often paid to their role in falsifying the results. However, another thing is equally important. It is much easier to administratively enforce turnout and control the behavior of voters if the vote is held over several days. And we have heard a lot about the effectiveness of using screenshots in electronic voting following the results of United Russia’s “primaries.” Perhaps new tricks will also arrive in time for the September elections. The scope for creativity, I repeat, is still wide.

Manipulating voter choice, of course, mainly involves limiting the number of parties and candidates allowed to stand in elections. The conditions for this were created at the dawn of Russian electoral authoritarianism, in 2004–2006, and have been continuously perfected since then. At first, as you know, the authorities tightened the screws to such an extent that the remaining parties could literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. The 2011 campaign, in which the opposition pursued the “vote for any other party” strategy, showed that this was not the optimal path for the authorities.

There are a lot of registered parties this time round. Among them, there are no truly oppositional parties, completely independent of the authorities, nor can there be. However, careful work is being done to generation the illusion of choice, as exemplified by the comic rebranding of the Communist Party of Social Justice as the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice.

Of course, the “big three” parties (i.e., the LDPR, the CPRF, and a Just Russia) remain the favorites among the “legal opposition.” Even the half-forgotten Just Russia has been patched up for the elections: it has been renamed and strengthened with valuable new personnel. The calculation of the authorities is simple: United Russia’s administrative advantage + propaganda + the scattering of votes among “projects” and spoilers + the refusal of opposition-minded voters to go to the polls = a United Russia majority even on the party-list votes alone.

The problem has come from unexpected quarters: from the single-member districts. Again, the mixed electoral system does generally benefit the authorities. However, it generated an opportunity for so-called smart voting – that is, for strategically choosing to vote for candidates who have a chance of defeating United Russia candidates, rather than trying to elect candidates preferred by opposition voters.

Smart voting is bane to the authorities not only because it can achieve its immediate goal, but also because it encourages opposition voters to turn out for elections. And if they show up, they definitely won’t vote for United Russia on the party list ballots.

Crackdowns have been the main way of solving the problem this year. They enable the authorities to remove potentially strong and at the same time genuinely oppositional candidates from the elections. The efforts of the authorities on this front have been striking and attracted wide attention, but the principal target, in my opinion, is different. Smart voting is a complex strategy that requires organizational infrastructure and systematic guidance. The politicians who are currently targeted by crackdowns are vital not so much as potential candidates — the authorities could have prevented them from running using any number of tried and true methods — but as crucial figures in this infrastructure. The same applies to independent media, as well as (and especially) the few remaining opposition organizations in the political arena. Over the last year, they have been literally torn up by the roots.

Of course, the authorities cannot completely eliminate the threat posed by smart voting. It is a flexible strategy that relies on unconventional methods of political mobilization. Moreover, the impact made by the current scale of crackdowns on public sentiment and on the behavior of voters may go against expectations. In my opinion, hysteria about “foreign agents,” “undesirable organizations,” and other horrors is counterproductive in terms of the regime’s survival, since it erodes its claims to adhere to the democratic principles, driving it into the trap in which Alexander Lukashenko now finds himself. However, the authorities are trying their darndest to do just that, and if they break their own skulls in the process, you cannot blame them for their lack of diligence.

This zeal is fueled not so much by fears of losing, but rather by the well-founded notion that the desired outcome can be achieved only through fraud.

Let’s not harbor any illusions: the outcome will not be honest in any case.

Given the direct disciplinary responsibility of regional governors for getting the “correct” percentages at the ballot box (percentages that are known in advance), Russian elections generate irresistibly strong incentives for skewing the vote count. The federal authorities, in principle, have a stake in ensuring that the scale of the fraud is not off the charts and is not particularly conspicuous. But I don’t think that this is a matter of serious concern to them. Unlike in 2011, there is simply no one capable of recording violations due to the lack of independent monitoring.

The pathology of authoritarian elections is universal. Nothing special is happening in Russia compared to other regimes of this type, from Chad to Singapore. And yet, the current events, especially in terms of pre-election crackdowns, seem a bit too much. However, the cause of the overkill is clear. The parliamentary elections are quite important, but they would hardly be worth the effort if there were not a much more important event happening in 2024. The presidential election will complete the “reset” operation, extending Vladimir Putin’s term in office for at least six (and most likely twelve) years. The authorities must prepare for this in such a way as to completely rule out surprises.Grigorii Golosov is a political scientist, dean of the political science department at the European University in St. Petersburg, and author of the book Autocracy, or the Loneliness of Power. Photo courtesy of Proekt. Translated by the Russian Reader

Five Time’s the Charm

yashinIlya Yashin is not the only unregistered candidate for the Moscow City Duma against whom the tactic of consecutive arrests has been used. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Yashin Breaks Record for Numbers of Arrests: Moscow Test Drives New Method of Combating Activists
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
August 30, 2019

On Thursday, Ilya Yashin, head of the Krasnoselsky Municipal District Council in Moscow, was sentenced to his fifth consecutive jail sentence of ten days for an administrative violation. The Tverskaya District Court found him guilty of calling on the public to attend an August 3 “unauthorized” protest rally in support of the independent candidates barred from running in the September 8 elections to the Moscow City Duma.

Yashin has been in police custody since July 29. He has been detained every time he left the special detention center after serving his latest sentence. Police have taken him to court, where he has faced fresh charges of holding an “unauthorized” protest or calling on the public to attend one and then been sentenced to jail again. The municipal district councilman has thus been in detention almost continuously for thirty-two days, while the total time he has spent in jail this summer is forty-one days. This considerably exceeds the maximum allowable sentence of thirty days, as stipulated by the Criminal Procedures Code.

Yashin is scheduled to be released on September 7, but there is no guarantee he will not go to jail again.

Yashin’s lawyer Vadim Prokhorov told the court that the prosecution of the councilman was tantamount to a political reprisal. Formally, he noted, one arrest can follow another without violating the law. The problem was that the courts could make one wrongful ruling after another. Prokhorov saw no point in amending the laws, which are quite logical on this point.

“It would be like treating cancer with aspirin,” he said. “We have to change the whole judicial system.”

Ilya Yashin is not the only unregistered candidate for the Moscow City Duma against whom the tactic of consecutive arrests has been used. Former MP Dmitry Gudkov was sentenced to thirty days in jail on July 30, but several days before his scheduled release he was sentenced to another ten days in jail for calling on people to attend the July 27 protest rally. Yulia Galyamina has been convicted of three administrative offenses and sentenced to ten days in jail twice and fifteen days once; she is still in police custody. Konstantin Yankauskas has been arrested and sentenced to seven, ten, and nine days in jail, respectively; like Yashin, he was detained by police after leaving the special detention center. Oleg Stepanov has been sentenced consecutively to eight and fifteen days in jail; Ivan Zhdanov, to ten and fifteen days in jail.

The authorities are unwilling to charge the protest leaders with felonies and remand them in custody, but they clearly do not want to see them at large, said Alexei Glukhov, head of the project Defense of Protest. He noted that the current tactic of arresting opposition leaders multiple times is something novel: in the entire history of the protest movement [sic], no one had ever been arrested more than two times in a row.

Glukhov warned that the tactic was quite dangerous. Courtesy of the Russian Supreme Court, which in the recent past has ruled that violating the deadline for filing charges (legally, the authorities have two days to do this) did not preclude filing charges later, any person who attends a protest rally has the sword of Damocles hanging over their head for a year after the rally.  The authorities can arrest them at any time, for example, by claiming they had only just established their identities.

Glukhov pointed out that, in its review of the government’s draft project for a new Criminal Procedures Code, the Presidential Council on Human Rights had drawn attention to the fact that the one-year statute of limitations in such cases was not justified and could be misused.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergei Krivov: “It Is Not Recommended to Live in This Country”

The other day, a friend of mine who works with kids complained to me that kids in Russia had no real heroes. Like kids most everywhere, they are in love with the wretched, hyper-commercialized Spider-Man and Harry Potter, not with homegrown heroes.

It might be a bit of a reach (because how do you explain this stuff to kids?), but from where I sit there are lots of heroes in modern Russia. Prominent among them are all the people convicted as part of the shameful sham known as the Bolotnaya Square case.

One of those heroes is Sergei Krivov, recently released after serving over four years in prison for the nonexistent crimes of being beaten over the head with a truncheon by a policeman and attempting nonviolently to prevent policemen from doing the same to other peaceable demonstrators in Moscow on May 6, 2012.

In the country I would like to live in, I would go outside and see dozens of people wearing t-shirts with Krivov’s totally ordinary but heroic face emblazoned on them. Krivov’s birthday would be a minor holiday, celebrated with a rousing march down every town’s main thoroughfare, followed by hearty little picnics, to celebrate the fact that Krivov undertook two hunger strikes, nearly dying in the attempt, in order to defend the freedom of speech and assembly in Russia.

Needless to say, Krivov’s would be a household name. Kids would read comics about the adventures of Sergei Krivov, where the hard facts would be mixed with a light helping of fantasy to make them more palatable to childish fancy.

If you have never heard of Sergei Krivov or don’t understand why he is a modern-day Russian hero, you need to read this interview with him. TRR

Sergei Krivov, Nikulinsky District Court, Moscow, December 23, 2013
Sergei Krivov, Nikulinsky District Court, Moscow, December 23, 2013. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda and TASS

“It Is Not Recommended to Live in This Country”
Natalia Dzhanpoladova and Nikita Tatarsky
Radio Svoboda
July 26, 2016

Yet another person convicted in the so-called Bolotnaya Square case, Sergei Krivov, a 54-year-old with a Ph.D. in physics and mathematics, has been released. Krivov was released from a prison colony in Bryansk Region, having served his sentence in full. In 2014, a court found him guilty of involvement in rioting and using force against police officers during a May 6, 2012, opposition rally on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

Krivov received one of the harshest sentences in the case, three years and nine months imprisonment.

His allies explained this was because the authorities avenged Krivov for the uncompromising stand he had taken throughout the trial. Krivov went on two lengthy hunger strikes. The first, to protest his arrest, lasted over forty days. During the second, he did not eat for sixty days in order to secure transcripts of the court proceedings. Krivov suffered two heart attacks during the second hunger strike.

Krivov was arrested as part of the Bolotnaya Square investigation several months after the events, in October 2012. According to police investigators, on May 6, 2012, when the crowd broke through police lines, Krivov seized a rubber truncheon from a policeman and used it to deliver several blows to police officers. Krivov himself repeatedly claimed he had been beaten by police on Bolotnaya Square, but the Investigative Committee refused to investigate his complaint.

Krivov served his sentence in two penal colonies in Bryansk Region, first at a correctional facility in Starodub. He was then transferred to a penal colony in Klintsy. The wardens put him in solitary, because they felt his life was in danger.

In an interview with Radio Svoboda, Kriov admitted his sentence might have been shorter had he “kept [his] mouth shut.” He spoke in detail about the reasons for his uncompromising stance, what happened on Bolotnaya Square, and how much Russia has changed since 2012.

The changes have been quite huge, and for the worse, although I still cannot say I have figured out what is what. I had been gradually following these changes by watching TV and reading Novaya Gazeta newspaper and New Times magazine, so they did not happen all at once for me and were not news. Nevertheless, I am perfectly aware the country as it was in 2012 and the country as it is in 2016 are two fundamentally different countries. There are far fewer freedoms, naturally, and It is nearly impossible to do anything within this framework.

Do you feel you have changed over these years?

In fact, after I got out, changed my clothes, and bathed, I had the feeling everything was as it had been. Although I did have big problems during the middle of my sentence: lots of things happened. But when it is all behind me, when I have come back to the “free” world, I cannot say I have changed. I think I am the same person I was.

Have you managed to meet with friends and relatives since your release? What are your impressions from these meetings and conversations?

Of course I have managed to meet with them. Let me put it is this way: almost no has chewed me out, except my wife, of course. In general, the feelings have been positive, because everyone has been friendly. They all congratulate me and wish me the best.

Naturally, anyone would find this pleasant. I want to say thank you to all the people who wrote me letters, held pickets, and collected money through the Internet, and to the leaders of the PARNAS Party, who paid my lawyers and sent me care packages: Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Ilya Yashin. In addition, Lyudmila Alexeyeva was involved. Despite her age, she attended the court hearings. A big thank-you to everyone for their support.

Last Wednesday, you also met with activists in Sokolniki Park. You mentioned you had no hope of being paroled. [In March, the court turned down Krivov’s parole application — Radio Svoboda.] Did you pin any hopes on the court in this case, that is, the trial court that heard the Bolotnaya Square case?

No. We had no chance from the get-go. What would have been the point of cooking all this up and then releasing us later? Obviously, the authorities conceived a quite definite plan, and they have been carrying it out. From my point of view, there was no reason to change anything, and nothing changed. I had been detained on misdemeanor charges several times., and I knew perfectly well how such matters were decided. There were no doubts in this case.

And yet your tactics in court were quite different from those of the other fellows. You were one of the most active participants in all the court proceedings.

Yes, I was, because I felt it could not make things any worse. That is how it happened, if you look at the sentences handed down. Naturally, my sentence would have been shorter if I had kept my mouth shut. But here, you know, six months more, six months less do not matter.  Naturally, we had to defend ourselves to the hilt. After all, we did not take to the streets only to snitch on the protest movement, to put it crudely. We did not do what we did to make the court rule in our favor. It was a continuation of the protest. Pavlensky said it: court is a continuation of my protest action. For me, it was simply a continuation of the opposition’s fight. It can happen anywhere: in court, outside of court, on Bolotnaya, away from Bolotnaya. It is like a way of thinking. It is as Solzhenitsyn put it: “Not living a lie.” Every single moment you do what you think is right. The situation changes, but the individual does not change in the situation.

Were your fairly long, serious hunger strikes also a continuation of this same story?

Basically, yes.

What prompted you to do it? Do you remember what you felt when you decided there were no other methods left?

During both hunger strikes, I was perfectly aware my demands would not be met. I got carried away with the second hunger strike: let’s put it that way. But retreating? Chapayev never retreated. So the only way was forward. The main objective was to attract attention, to shake up the situation somehow. Because getting results, especially in the first case, when it was a matter of custody measures, was totally unrealistic. All I was charged with (not what I did, but what I was charged with) was causing the bruise on the back of the hand of a policeman who in fact assaulted me. The policeman’s name is Alexander Ivanovich Algunov. He completely flagrantly hit me over the head with a truncheon. I had three lumps on my head, one of which clearly visible on my temple. It was both videotaped and photographed. And there were eyewitnesses who saw everything.

Sergei Krivov during a hunger strike, Nikulinsky District Court, Moscow, November 2013. Photo courtesy of TASS and Radio Svoboda
Sergei Krivov during a hunger strike, Nikulinsky District Court, Moscow, November 2013. Photo courtesy of TASS and Radio Svoboda

But when it was matter of conducting a judicial review or investigatining this conflict… The bruise I allegedly caused the policeman was investigated by the Investigative Committee of Russia, meaning the country’s top investigative body. But what he did to me (and they believe that these actions took place at the same time) has been investigated by another committee. When I filed a written complaint against the officer, the case was not just dropped down to the municipal level, but to a neighborhood precinct, where an investigator wrote there was nothing to investigate. The bruise on the policeman’s hand was investigated by the Investigative Committee of Russia, while beating a person with a truncheon was investigated by a completely different division, the lowest on the totem pole, and it said there was nothing to investigate. I am simply a victim in the Bolotnaya Square case. But I was really visible in the video footage. I was in a confrontation with a policeman who was assaulting me. I grabbed the truncheon with which he was beating me, because at one point I nearly fainted. He hit me so hard on the head it felt like I had been hit with a sharp nail, not a truncheon.

You were not the only victim on Bolotnaya Square, and yet the authorities investigated these incidents so unfairly. How do you explain this?

In the trial documents, for example, there is this bit of evidence. There were two ambulance crews on duty on Bolotnaya Square. They kept a record of injuries in which they wrote down the names and addresses of everyone whom they examined. As far as I remember, there are forty-eight civilians in this list, who suffered something like seventeen concussions and thirteen head injuries and injuries to the soft part of the skull, meaning they had mainly been beaten on the head. There were three policemen who sought medical attention on the square. Of the forty-eight civilians, only two people were deemed injured parties by the authorities. One was hit in the back with a stone, while the other person’s trousers caught fire, and he suffered burns on his leg from a Molotov cocktail. We do not know who threw the bottle or the stone. The authorities assume it was the protesters, so only two individuals were deemed victims. The rest were not recognized as victims, because these forty-six individuals were victims of the police. Who the heck is going to investigate injuries caused by the police? That is not how things are done.

The public commission who investigated the events on Bolotnaya Square came to the conclusion it was the Moscow authorities and police who provoked the confrontation? Do you share this point of view?

I also came to the same conclusion. Only I think it was not the Moscow authorities, but the federal authorities [who provoked the conflict]. Moscow, in this case, did not have the authority to decide these questions. There were provocateurs there. I saw a man in a mask step forward, chunks of asphalt in both hands. At the time, I wondered what was so black, because I was looking into the light. At first, I thought he was throwing black earth, because the asphalt everywhere was so clean. This guy stepped forward and tossed one stone. Then he shifted a second stone [to his throwing hand] and threw the second stone. A policeman was standing there. I was standing there looking back and forth between the two. Either I should have said, “Why are you tossing stones?” or I should have gone up to the policeman and said, “Why are you just standing and watching?” The policeman saw what he did, and then turned around and walked away. The police were completely uninterested in the people who were actually throwing stones, just as the people throwing the stones knew the police were not going to do anything to them.

Yes, and the most interesting thing is the authorities alleged the protesters shouted things about attacking the Kremlin and Red Square, and overthrowing someone. I was there. I heard no such cries. There are twenty-six hours of video footage in the case file. There are no such appeals in that footage. When the police cordon fell apart, people did not run to the bridge. This is clearly visible in the footage. People who were squeezed out of the crowd ran ten or fifteen meters away, because there was a crowd behind them and the danger of being crushed. Then, at a leisurely place, these people fixed their clothes or tied their shoelaces or something, and headed towards the square. This, too, is visible in the footage. Yet the investigators continue to claim, and the courts have not refuted it, but take it as a proven fact, that people were shouting to run across the bridge somewhere and were, allegedly, trying to escape.

So it transpires the whole thing was a planned provocation. How do you explain it? What goals was the regime pursuing via this case? Has it achieved them?

It was the first [opposition] rally after the elections. All the major protest rallies had taken place between the December [parliamentary] elections and the March [presidential] election. May 6, 2012, was the eve of the presidential inauguration: the regime no longer had anything to fear. If they had used force before the elections, naturally, it could have turned against them. But there was nothing to fear after the elections, so they were going to put the heat on people and arrest them. This was followed by the adoption of a series of repressive laws and amendments to the laws on elections, and pickets and demonstrations, not to mention the fact they introduced Criminal Code Article 212.1, which they used to put away [Ildar] Dadin.

You were not detained immediately after the events of May, but around five months later. Did you follow what was happening to the guys who were arrested first? Were you afraid you might become a defendant in the case?

Of course, I followed what was happening. I went and picketed outside the Investigative Committee building. I had this routine: one evening at home with the family, the next evening I would go picketing, and so on. At first, I did not take it very seriously. Why did they take so long to arrest me? First, they checked out everyone who had been detained on Bolotnaya. Despite the fact I had been detained, there was no arrest sheet on me; I had refused to sign some of the pages. They tossed out my arrest documents, and so it turned out I had not been detained. So, apparently, this was the reason it took so long to track me down. But the problem was that I was all over the footage. Despite the fact I inflicted no blows—I would like to emphasize I inflicted no blows, and I am absolutely certain I caused no physical pain to any policeman—I did try and prevent them from assaulting other people. I used my hands to restrain the police. Afterwards, when I found footage of myself on the Internet, I thought to myself: yeah, that was me in action.  My emotional sense was that I had prevented beatings without resorting to violence. But when I watched the videos, I did think I had reasons to be worried. But I decided what was the point of worrying now? I should have thought about it then.

Sergei Krivov picketing the Investigative Committee, Moscow, Summer 2012. His placard read, "Prisoners of May 6: Russia will be free!" Photo courtesy of Natalia Dzhanopoladova (RFE/RL)
Sergei Krivov picketing the Investigative Committee, Moscow, summer 2012. His placard reads, “Prisoners of May 6: Russia will be free!” Photo courtesy of Natalia Dzhanopoladova (RFE/RL)

Four years have passed, but the authorities are still prosecuting people [as part of the Bolotnaya Square case], people whose cases have not even gone to trial, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov and Maxim Panfilov. Do you think this will go on for a long time?

No, I don’t think it will go on for long. They are just running on momentum. The case is not so interesting nowadays. There are many new, interesting articles [that have been added to the Criminal Code]. The authorities can charge people to their heart’s content: for slander, for incitement to hatred. The amended laws have now given them such possibilities they can put away any person who says anything the least bit negative or critical.

The latest cycle of elections has kicked off. Considering all the new legislation and the overall climate in the country, what should we expect from these elections?

Basically, the alternatives are this: either just one opposition party will be seated in the parliament or it won’t. There are also the single-mandate districts, which also helps. A party might not get its list into parliament, but someone can get into the Duma by winning a single-mandate district. I have read that [Alexei] Navalny is inclined to boycott the elections. I understand his resentment: his party was not registered, and he himself was not admitted as a candidate. But there are other parties besides his, and they are also opposition parties. I think all fourteen percent [of Russians who, according to the country’s extremely problematic opinion polls, disapprove of President Putin’s performance] definitely have to go and vote. Anyone who can do it should be an election observer, because it is not enough just to go and vote; we also have to monitor the vote. In the current circumstances, the authorities just cannot do without electoral fraud. Maybe we have few opportunities to stop the fraud, but we have to record the incidents and talk about them. Of course, it is very unpleasant the Democratic Coalition was not able to pull it together, but the law is such that for this to happen, people would have had to join another party. Unforunately, the majority was unwilling to do this. I think they should have come to an agreement whatever the conditions, but they didn’t.

As I understand it, this is part of the old conversation about attempts to unite democratic forces, which have been going on since the 1990s.

First, the law is wrong, because it does not allow electoral coalitions. Second, in my opinion, there should be no minimum barrier [for being seated in the Duma] at all. Democracy is a regime in which decisions are taken by the majority, but the problem is the majority is quite often mistaken. For example, on the stock exchange, the majority always lets the big money get away. The minority turns out to be on the money. The majority differs from minorities in the sense that there is one majority, but there can be two, three, four, five minorities, and so on. The minority has to be allowed to speak its mind, and then, perhaps, the majority will reorient itself. So there should be no barriers. The only barrier should be each physical person. The current laws, naturally, are designed to monopolize power, which is convenient to those currently in power. So they have no need of any competitors. Competitors are harassed, persecuted, and forced off the road.

As far as I know, you were educated as a physicist and worked in science for a long time. How did it happen that you switched from science to grassroots activism and began following political events? What prompted you to do this?

A profession is a profession, but one’s own opinion is something else. I first served as an elections observer in 1989.  I was still working at MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) then. One thing did not interfere with the other, and it even helped. I left science, because salaries in the field had completely dried up, and I completely lost interest in what I was working on at the time. There was no future in it. In 1989, I was a member of an election commission for the first time. I went and found the election commission myself. It was perestroika. People had serious doubts and asked what perestroika was all about. They said perestroika would rearrange everything, but everything would be the same, [the Soviet Communist Party] would again get 99.9% of the vote, and so on. Those were the first actual elections, when Sakharov was elected [to the All-Union Congress of People’s Deputies].

What pleasantly surprised me was that there was no electoral fraud at all. In the evening, MEPhI’s Communist Party organizer came to check out the polling station, to see how we were doing. I tensed up, thinking that now they would come up with something. Nothing of the sort! I kept my eyes peeled. Everything was clean. But in 2011, when I also worked as an observer, everything was dirty, beyond dirty. It so dirty that, for example, there was an old woman, an observer from United Russia, working at our polling station. She did not get up to any tricks herself, but she would come up to us and say, “What is she doing?! Imagine the insolence!” She was referring to the woman who chaired our election commission. The old woman was indignant, her blood was boiling, but it did not go beyond that. She was already quite old, but [the electoral fraud] itself was too much for her. I was very glad a United Russia party member was outraged by our chairwoman’s behavior.

During the four years you spent in custody, how hard was it to get information about what was happening in Russia? How did you find out about events?  What events during this time amazed you the most?

I was given subscriptions to Novaya Gazeta and New Times, although they only started to come regularly when I was in the penal colony. I would read these periodicals and try and watch the news. In some places, this was easier; in some places, harder. For example, the last three months, I was basically without TV, because the guys did not want to watch any news. They would turn on MUZ-TV, which would be spinning a popular music video for the hundredth time. I could not stand to listen to it. But the TV, as you know, is a biased source of information. As for events, of course, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. Incidentally, there were lots of Ukrainians in the penal colony, because the border is nearby. There was a guy in there who was himself from Russia, but his wife was from over there: he had got married in Ukraine. There was fighting in Kramatorsk. I asked him, “When were you there last?” He said, “Five years ago. Everything there was fine.” “Are Russians harassed there?” I asked. “Are you kidding?” he said, “Everyone lived in perfect peace. There were no problems at all.” Meaning no one discriminated against anyone, neither Russians nor Ukrainians. Where did this all come from? Why does the TV tell us that certain people are in danger there, that there is hostility? Russian TV has been kindling hostility between two sister nations. You cannot just go to war for their “bright future,” if everything in their country is okay. They have to say that everything there is bad.

You served your sentence in two penal colonies. Is it true that there are totally different rules depending on the colony?

The rules are different. That is why they say there are “red” colonies and “black” colonies. But those are the extremes, as it were, because the spectrum is continuous. The penal code is one thing, the laws are another, and if they were all obeyed, then it would make no difference where you did your time, but in reality the differences are fundamental. There is constant trench warfare between the convicts and the wardens over wrestling themselves more rights or forbidding more things. Figuratively speaking, for example, in one colony, the convicts march in formation, while in another they don’t. Even on this primitive level, marching in formation or not, there is constant conflict. The convicts try not to march in formation, while the wardens try to force them to march. It turns out different in every colony. And that applies to everything else.

Considering you were convicted as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, how were you treated in these colonies? Was there any talk about the fact you were basically a political prisoner?

The majority could care less. But some talked about it, especially in the pretrial detention facility, where I would come across sensible people. We would talk about who had been convicted and was doing time for no reason at all. When I was in the pretrial detention facility, it seemed there were many such prisoners. First, this was Moscow. Second, I was told, roughly speaking, that the accountants were on that floor, members of some other profession were on some other floor, and so on. Seemingly around thirty percent of the prisoners were in there for nothing. But when I got to Bryansk Region, this figure was no longer thirty percent, but much lower, somewhere between five and ten percent. A lot of guys were in for petty theft and drugs. Over a third were doing time for drugs. Realistically, a maximum of ten percent were doing time for nothing, or even five percent. As for how I was treated, well, I was repeatedly on the verge of a conflict. There were conflicts.

With the convicts or the wardens?

With both the wardens and the convicts. It is just that the wardens foist their rules on you, and the convicts foist theirs. You are a free man, and you realize you cannot abide by either set of rule.s So you don’t want to carry out either set of orders, and you start weaving and dodging. I was involved in several conflicts of that sort. My age was my salvation. Basically, there are all sorts of kids in there, and they could not bring themselves to hurt old people. Or rather, they could: I saw sixty-year-olds get beaten up in there, but it was still much more complicated. They also look at what you have been sent down for, although I cannot say it is so meaningful. But in this case it was a factor that worked in my favor; it was meaningful. I did not conceal the fact I had not assaulted any policemen, but a conviction is a conviction.

Now you are free and in Moscow. What are your plans? Do you see a future for yourself in Russia? Have you had thoughts of leaving the country?

By and large, I realize it is not recommended to live in this country. If a person has the opportunity and the desire, it is in his or interests to emigrate. But I somehow feel inherently Russian. I am afraid in any other country I would feel like an immigrant, an alien, if not like a guest worker. I cannot imagine living somewhere else. I feel it is okay to emigrate, and some people should emigrate, but I am afraid I am incapable of it.

Sergei Krivov is the twelfth person convicted in the Bolotnaya Square case to have been released from prison. A total of thirty-five people were prosecuted as part of the case. Thirteen of them were amnestied. Eight people remain in prison or under investigation.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexander Kolchenko: The “Terrorist” from Simferopol

The “Terrorist” from Simferopol
On April 9, Moscow City Court Ordered Alexander Kolchenko’s Arrest Extended for a Month, until May 16
Dmitry Okrest
April 13, 2015
The New Times

According to the FSB, Alexander Kolchenko is a member of the anti-Russian underground in Crimea. Along with three other arrested residents of the peninsula, he has been accused of terrorism. The New Times has tried to find out what the charges are based on (it took nearly a year to gather the evidence), how the Russian security services took over Crimea, and what residents of Simferopol think about the relatives of the arrestees.

kolchenko3_1

Alexander Kolchenko

“Sasha is now accused of terrorism, but he is not a terrorist, and I am not the mother of a terrorist,” says Larisa Kolchenko. “My son literally grew up in front of my coworkers, and after his arrest they have continued to treat me well.”

Larisa Kolchenko works in a grocery store near the Simferopol railway station. She speaks softly and quickly.

“In fact, the arson of which they are accused basically, you could say, left no trace on the city. It popped up in the news once, and that was it. There was no discussion, no publicity.”

The arson at the Russian Community of Crimea building, on the night of April 14, 2014, damaged the front door, the stoop, and an awning above the door. A few days later, a Molotov cocktail flew through the window of the United Russian party’s local office. The fire damage caused to a five-meter-square kitchen in the office was estimated at 200,000 rubles. Doesn’t that sound more like disorderly conduct?

On March 31, 2015, however, Kolchenko was accused of involvement in a terrorist network and committing a terrorist attack. It was then that solidarity actions in support of Kolchenko were held, under the slogan “Send Tundra Back to Crimea,” in Berlin, Bremen, Kyiv, Minsk, Paris, Strasbourg, and Tunis. “Tundra” is Kolchenko’s nickname within the peninsula’s activist scene.

“Only those who cooperate are allowed visits”

According to the FSB, the leader of the Bandera underground in Crimea is filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who along with Alexei Chirniy, a lecturer in the military history department at the Crimean University of Culture, has been charged with violating Article 205 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Terrorist attacks”) and Article 205.4 Part 2 (“Organizing a terrorist network”). In early February, Sentsov was additionally charged under Article 222 Part 3 (“Arms trafficking”).

Before his arrest, Chirniy pursued the hobby of reconstructing medieval armor, considered himself a pagan, and posted Nazi propaganda posters on social networks. A court-appointed attorney is now defending him, and his case will be heard in the military district court in Rostov-on-Don by special procedure. [Translator’s Note: On April 21, 2014, after this article went to press, Chirniy was sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security facility.]

Besides damaging the two offices, the “Sentsov gang” has been accused of planning to blow up the Eternal Flame and a Lenin monument on May 9, 2014. According to the security services, the suspects were also planning to “destroy a number of vital infrastructure sites, railway bridges, and power lines.”

On May 8, 2014, Gennady Afanasiev, an employee of the Zheleznodorozhny District prosecutor’s office in Simferopol, made a deal with the investigation. Afanasiev was tried by special procedure—meaning, without court proceedings, which entitles the defendant to mitigation of punishment. On December 25, 2014, Afanasiev was sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security facility.

Sentsov has denied the charges against him. Kolchenko has admitted he was near the office but was not involved in the attack. He has refused to testify against the others. If Sentsov and Kolchenko are found guilty, they could be sent away for twenty years. Afanasiev and Chirniy will be main witnesses for the prosecution at their trial.

The prosecution alleges that Kolchenko met with Sentsov “at mass events of supporters of Crimea’s being a part of Ukraine,” at which the filmmaker allegedly suggested organizing a gang “for performing attacks in keeping with the Right Sector ideology.” According to the FSB, this gang was to destabilize the work of the newly created authorities “in order to encourage them to decide to withdraw the Republic of Crimea from the Russian Federation.”

Despite the gravity of the charges, nearly all of Kolchenko’s letters begin with the words, “I am still doing well.” He labels the arson a symbolic gesture of protest, rather than an attempt to “intimidate the population of Crimea,” and stresses that at midnight the building was empty.

“I was against the war, against violence. My actions were directed against the United Russia party, which voted for sending in troops,” Kolchenko writes.

In his letters, Kolchenko relates that he has been following the Bolotnaya Square case.

“Doing three and half years in prison for something like that is not really great. In that light, it is frightening to think about the sentence I can expect. I guess my prospects aren’t very bright.”

Larisa Kolchenko is worried that she has not been allowed to visit Alexander.

“They explain that since he refuses to cooperate, there is no reason for his family to talk with him. Visits are allowed to those who cooperate.”

“People in Simferopol won’t understand”

“At school, my son was a justice seeker,” says Larisa. “His heart bled for all of Crimea, and he was involved literally in everything.”

Kolchenko ended up in the radical left crowd because of hardcore music, which he became interested in while still at school. He went on archaeological digs, and marched under the red-and-black banners of the anarchists during demonstrations. He organized a protest campaign against construction of a transport terminal on the Black Sea, and was among the founders of the union Student Action, which fought against the monetization of education in Ukraine. (The nationwide rallies against monetization kicked off in Simferopol.) Later, he advised striking employees at Crimea Trolleybus.

“We literally supported him in everything,” says Kolchenko’s mother. “But when he was planning to go to Euromaidan, and was literally standing in the door with his backpack on, I rushed to him and tried to discourage him from going. I told him that people were being killed in the square [in Kyiv], and that people in Simferopol won’t understand.”

According to Kolchenko’s defense attorney, Svetlana Sidorkina, as an activist, Kolchenko had long been in the works among the security services.

“He has never been afraid of voicing his dissatisfaction. He has always openly advertised his position,” says Larisa Kolchenko.

When the so-called Russian Spring began, Kolchenko opposed the annexation. His mother agreed with him: she refused to vote in the referendum. Not all of Larisa’s kith and kin abided by her stance. Several relatives have ceased communicating with Kolchenko’s family.

“Russia has come: we’re going to act tougher”

“Sasha is a committed antifascist. Every year, he would organize a picket in memory of the murdered lawyer Stanislav Markelov and murdered journalist Anastasia Baburova. She was a local girl, after all, from Sevastopol,” says Larisa Kolchenko. “But now my son has been accused of being a member of Right Sector.”

“The activists were not and are not members of the Right Sector political party,” the press service of the organization, which is banned in Russia, has said in response. “However, we demand their immediate release and an end to political terror in the occupied territory.”

Later, Kolchenko’s defense sent a formal request directly to Right Sector, and got the same answer.

“But it is doubtful whether this is enough for a Russian court,” says Larisa Kolchenko. “Thank God, this absurd accusation played no role for people in Crimea. When we were collecting character references for the court, the attitude to him at the university was still good. At the printing plant where he worked as a freight handler, which did not move to the mainland until after the referendum, his colleagues said the accusation was unfair.”

It is difficult to suspect Kolchenko of being sympathetic to nationalists. In 2012, thirty rightwing radicals assaulted Tundra and three comrades after a screening of a film about Baburova.

Since Kolchenko has been arrested, no Ukrainian officials have attempted to contact him. This worries his mother.

“They seemed to have forgotten about the detainees,” Larisa Kolchenko says.

The Ukrainian Consul in Moscow has not visited the suspects. Russia has declared the men its citizens, but on February 4, 2015, the Russian Prosecutor General suddenly determined that Sentsov had dual citizenship. However, a judge rejected Kolchenko’s lawsuit against the Russian Federal Migration Service after an FMS employee provided the court with a passport request form containing Kolchenko’s information and his alleged signature. The defense now plans to a have a handwriting analysis of the document performed.

“He was forcibly made the citizen of another country,” says Kolchenko’s mother. “He did not fill out any forms.”

In turn, the State Migration Service of Ukraine confirmed Kolchenko’s Ukrainian citizenship in February, and on March 27, 2015, the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office finally opened a case in the abduction of Ukrainian citizen Alexander Kolchenko. Svetlana Sidorkina said her client has sent a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights against Russian citizenship forcibly having been conferred on him.

When the new academic year began, many Crimean universities were missing students, who had left to complete their studies in Ukraine.

“Some people with whom I was friendly on the civic activism front have shoved off,” says Anton Trofimov, a lecturer in philosophy at the College of Taurida National University. “I even wondered: have all the problems ended? Is the environment no longer a matter of concern?”

Trofimov is an organizer of the carnivalesque Monstration marches, and he cofounded the student union with Kolchenko.

“In the end, a lot of friends have left, and for good reason,” says Trofimov. “FSB officers—former Ukrainian SBU security officers—have paid me a visit as well. They warned me, ‘Russia has come, and we’re going act differently, we’re going act tougher—in accordance with Russian laws.’”

“Sasha also wanted to leave,” says his mother. “But we tried to dissuade him. I didn’t want to let him go far away. We were all afraid—but of the wrong thing!”

A geography major, Kolchenko was deciding between Uzhgorod University and Lviv University, but on May 23, 2014, he was transferred to the Lefortovo remand prison in Moscow.

A friend of Kolchenko, who introduced himself as Roman, explains the cause of the crackdown.

“Throughout the spring, [pro-Russian forces] frightened the people with talk about the militants from Maidan. Except for the Tatars, no one stood up for themselves, and the authorities needed to show that the threat was still real.”

“After the arrest of the first four guys from the pro-Ukrainian movement, the FSB began conducting ‘preventive’ conversations with everyone else,” says Maxim Osadchuk, a history lecturer and buddy of Kolchenko from the leftist movement. “Almost all my friends who had anything to do with public life have left. The question of whether to emigrate or go underground and risk arrest became critical.”

Osadchuk himself left Crimea several days before the referendum and is now fighting as part of the Aydar Battalion.

Osadchuk believes the arrest of the four men was a warning to the remaining activists on the peninsula to curb their enthusiasm.

“Through threats and exhortations we were strongly advised either to leave Crimea or curtail all activism.”

“Luxury items like bouillon cubes and ketchup”

Kolchenko does not complain and is extremely laconic.

In a letter from the remand prison, he writes, “My cellmate and I have amassed so many goodies they will last us for a month. But the goodies are not as tasty as they would seem on the outside.”

In another letter, he writes, “My appetite has slumped here: the cafeteria food is quite enough for me.”

But he dreams of getting his hands on popular science magazines, and “luxury items like bouillon cubes and ketchup.”

Kolchenko has been studying Lenin, Marx, Fromm, and Ivan Franko, the last of whom he read in Ukrainian. He regrets that his familiarization with Russia has begun at a remand prison, and in one of his letters, he shares his impressions of Leo Tolstoy’s current affairs writings: “A typical extremist. Nowadays, they would probably charge him under Article 280.”*

In the letter, he quotes Tolstoy’s essay “The End of the Age”: “What will happen to Russia? Russia? Where is its beginning or its end? […] The Caucasus with all its nationalities? The Kazan Tatars? Ferghana Province? The Amur? […] The circumstance that all these nationalities are regarded as parts of Russia is an accidental and temporary one. […] whilst in the present this combination is maintained only by the power which spreads over these nationalities.”

* Article 280.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, “Public calls for action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.”

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Editor’s Note. For more information about Alexander Kolchenko’s plight and how you can support him, see the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign’s page on the case (in English) and Autonomous Action’s compilation of articles about the case (in Russian). You can also follow events in the case via the Free Aleksandr Kolchenko Facebook page (mostly in Russian) and read this article (in English) about the political context of the case. Image, above, courtesy of Libcom.org.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Anyone has permission to republish this and any other of the translations or original texts found on this blog, but please acknowledge the blog explicitly in your reposts, and provide a clearly indicated URL link back to the original publication.