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

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Andrei Barabanov: The Bolotnaya Square Case Destroyed Everything I Had

Andrei Barabanov: The Bolotnaya Square Case Destroyed Everything I Had
Sobesednik.ru
January 5, 2016

Sobesednik.ru spoke with Andrei Barabanov, a prisoner in the Bolotnaya Square case who was released before the New Year. The 22-year-old Barabanov was handed one of the longest sentences in the case, three years and seven months. On December 25, he was released and answered our correspondent’s questions.

What plans do you have for your first days of freedom?

I plan to get my health back in order and rest. Before I was arrested I had just finished college. Now I plan to get a higher education and, in the future, if it works out, start my own business.

Do you have any desire to continue your involvement in politics or public life?

I wasn’t involved in them as it was. I went to the rally on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, as an ordinary citizen. It was the second rally I had attended. I didn’t know the organizers or anyone else there. I was there with my girlfriend. Later, another friend of mine joined us. Of course, I could not imagine it would end that way.

The riot policeman who were you accused of assaulting had no beef with you. Why, then, were you put away for three and a half years?

There was a video that, allegedly, showed me kicking the riot policeman from behind. In fact, I didn’t kick him. On May 6, the police roughly detained people, grabbing them and throwing them, and we ended up at the very heart of the action. I don’t understand myself why I acted that way: it was a spontaneous reaction in a thorny situation. When I was in the remand prison I wrote a letter of apology to the riot policeman. He even wrote me back, saying he accepted my apology. At the trial he did not make any demands. He had not suffered any injuries, and had not sought medical attention. But none of that mitigated the sentence.

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Andrei Barabanov in the courtroom. Photo courtesy of RosUznik

I think the authorities wanted a criminal case to emerge from the Bolotnaya Square incident, a case with tangible prison sentences. So in my case there was a striking video showing me “kicking” a riot policeman.

On May 6, I was jailed for twenty-four hours, and then let go. I was rearrested three weeks later. Ultimately, I was convicted of rioting and violence against a law enforcement officer at a show trial. It transpired that I was, as it were, a malicious bully and instigator, which personally I had a hard time getting my head around. I had always been considered a pacifist, and I was opposed to violence against anyone else. I think I was sentenced not for violence but so that people would think ten times before taking to the streets and protesting.

Has the sentence greatly changed your life?

You could say it has destroyed what I had. Before May 6, I had a girlfriend with whom I lived, a hobby I loved, aerography, which I dreamed of turning into a business. Then all of it was gone. All that was left was the support of my closest loved ones, my mom and my friends. By the way, several complete strangers wrote me letters and sent me care packages, and this was also a huge moral support.

What health problems have you had?

The standard problems after several years in prison: the effects of inactivity, an eye injury I got in the remand prison, and problems with my stomach and teeth.

Would you now take part in protest rallies if they were to happen in Moscow?

Not now. I am not planning on going to protests. I also do not believe that elections are the way. Now I need to recover, relax, and learn to live again on the outside.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexei Polikhovich: “I Had Begun to Feel I Was Born in Prison”

“I had begun to feel I was born in prison and just had been released for a short time”
Alexei Polikhovich talks about spending three years behind bars for the right to think freely 
Ekaterina Fomina
November 5, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

Alexei Polikhovich after his release from prison. Photo: Ekaterina Fomina/Novaya Gazeta

Alexei Polikhovich, one of the few defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case who had actually been politically active before the ill-fated protest rally of May 6, 2012, has been released from prison. (We now understand this was the reason people were jailed: on suspicion of having vigorous civic stances.) Before Bolotnaya Square, Polikhovich, for example, had defended the Tsagovsky Forest and been involved in the antifascist movement. Some of those now spending their fourth year in prison after being convicted in the case had ended up on Bolotnaya Square by accident, but Polikhovich had chosen this way of life, a life of open struggle, consciously. It is a dangerous way of life to lead in our country, even if the way you fight your cause is ten times within the law. But Polikhovich consciously chose this way of thinking, and marched to Bolotnaya Square in the antifascist column.

However, on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, Polikhovich caught hell just as randomly as other protesters. Police pulled them from the crowd in the heat of the moment without looking .

Polikhovich insisted on his innocence at his court hearings. He knew he was being tried for his convictions.

Three years in prison were supposed to reform what? Polikhovich’s beliefs? He remained, however, true to his beliefs throughout his imprisonment. If reform meant betraying them, then Polikhovich has not been reformed, as he himself says. But he still learned something.

After his release, Polikhovich talked about the lessons he learned in prison.

__________

I have not seen people in color for three years. I have forgotten what it was like to have women and children around. Simple things seem new right now. After being in the penal colony, I think Moscow is quite beautiful.

When I got to Petrovka [38, Moscow police HQ], I did not understand how serious things were. I took everything as an excursion, a rough excursion, but an excursion nonetheless.

The wording “actively involved in destructive youth organizations” was included in my arrest sheet. The Center “E” officers [“anti-extremist” police] did not have a clear opinion about me, whether I was a rightist or leftist. What group should they assign me to? What mattered was that it should sound terrible.

The police investigators found us interesting. They had been used to dealing with Islamists and neo-Nazis. But leftists, social democrats, and liberals, everyone who had been arrested on trumped-up political charges, were something unfamiliar to them. The investigators enjoyed chatting with us. I remember one such conversation. A crowd of investigators was standing before me, and I was telling them why I was in jail. I explained I had not wanted to hit anyone, that had not been the objective. Well, I expressed it simply.

They immediately tensed.

“What was the objective? Who set the objective?” they asked. They think crudely.

Other inmates knew about our case, and I never encountered flagrantly negative attitudes towards us in this connection. On the contrary, sometimes they would see articles about us and come running with the newspaper: “Oh, it’s about our rock star.” I also encountered not very well-educated people who thought that since I had been jailed for a protest rally that meant I was a nationalist. Several times, I quite seriously cussed people out for saying this: it offended me.

I had expected remand prison would involve total isolation, but it was like a rural village in there: everyone was connected with everyone else. It was its own society. In Butyrka remand prison, they explained to me how to “spur the horses.” In prison, “the horses” is the rope that connects cells and works like an intercom. Books were soaked with narcotics and passed on to those who needed them. Because of this, by the way, the flow of regular books into the prison slowed down. According to the internal code of inmates, formal channels for getting groceries and cigarettes into the prison should not be compromised.

The penal colony, where you are not locked up in eight square meters, seems like the regular world compared to the remand prison. You can see the sky. You can spot newcomers to the colony immediately: we all arrived looking pale. We had almost turned into mushrooms after two years of hearings and trials. I drank up the sunshine with my skin. I got a dark tan right away.

At one point, I even thought I had been born in prison. It was just that I had been let out. I had quickly found myself friends, a wife, and parents. I had screwed up somehow and gone back to prison.

Alexei Polikhovich and his parents. Photo from family archive

In the colony, you can learn to be a tailor, a lathe operator, an electrician or an auto mechanic. The phrase “Labor liberates” is written on the gates of the manufacturing zone. I studied sewing for six months, then I studied to be a lathe operator while also working as a sewing machine operator. Convicts sew sheets, pillowcases, suits, blankets, and bags.  In anticipation of my release, I sewed a rucksack for myself and Tanya, my wife. I had also sent her an apron and some bags.

In prison, people have no way of filtering incoming information. They mainly read bad newspapers. They also would take out the [philosophical and] literary journal Logos, which has no pictures, have a gander at it and be amazed. If you put convicts on a diet of [the national newspapers] Novaya Gazeta, Vedomosti and even Moskovsky Komsomolets for a month, they would catch on to something. But they would watch TV constantly, then would come to me and dump on me about how bad things were in Ukraine and what a trooper Putin was. They particularly liked all the trash on REN TV about reptilians and conspiracy theories.

Few people read good books in prison. They mainly read fluffy stuff, detective novels and bad sci-fi. Books from the outside are rarely “reeled in.” Falanster bookstore and I organized a book fair of sorts: beginning with my time in the remand prison, they sent me an endless stream of books. They sent so many books I would have had to serve another sentence just to finish reading them! When I was released, I took only a single rucksack with me, containing only books and letters. When you leave prison, you have to leave as much behind as possible. Not everyone in there has two pairs of warm socks. I took the books I was certain would interest no one: William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and [Ditmar] Rosenthal’s Russian language textbook. I thought I should finally learn Russian properly, so I would not be ashamed to print what I wrote. I also brought out an anthology of lectures from the Priamukhino Readings.

These three years have happened. I cannot cut them off or cross them out. I probably would not have wanted to spend them in prison, but I spent them there. This foundation, this experience on which I now stand, I cannot push it out from under my own feet. Not because I would fall, but because I just cannot do it physically. It is difficult. It is a rock.

Am I angry at anyone? I did not suffer catastrophically over these three years. I can be angry at the system on behalf of my loved ones. They certainly did not deserve it and are not guilty of anything.

I probably have become angrier over the last three years. And a little weary.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the suggestion

Anna Gaskarova: What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind

What the Bolotnaya Square Case Will Leave Behind
Anna Gaskarova
May 26, 2015
Snob.ru

My husband, who has been behind bars for over two years as a suspect, defendant, and convict in the Bolotnaya Square case, and I have long had a tradition of giving theater tickets to our parents on birthdays, New Year’s, and other holidays, nearly always to productions by Teatr.doc. Our favorite, by the way, is Two in Your House, about the house arrest of Belarusian opposition leader Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu. It is one of the theater’s rare productions in which there are more laughter-inducing scenes than frustrating ones.

Six months ago I was contacted by the playwright Polina Borodina and asked to help collect material for a production about the Bolotnaya Square case for the theater that I loved so much. All that was required of me was to give an interview. At the time I thought that Polina would find it hard to write the play: there was nothing impressive about being the relative of a prisoner. It is very boring. I didn’t think she could manage to put together a story about the Bolotnaya Square case that would be interesting to anyone besides those involved in it.

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The premiere took place on the anniversay of the events on Bolotnaya. Policemen gathered outside the theater, and plainclothes officers sat in the audience. I saw the third performance of the production, and police were again standing on duty outside. It was raining, and Elena Gremina, the theater’s director, asked the officers to come inside.

“It is warm in here, and the play is quite good,” she told them.

They would not come in.

I fidgeted, giggled, and fretted, because I could not remember a thing I had said to Polina in the interview. It was scary to hear myself. And every time I recognized my own words in the lines of the actors, I cringed, buried my face in the shoulder of my sister, who was sitting next to me, and thought to myself with relief that it was a good thing I had not put my foot in my mouth.

The boring trials, the red tape of the remand prisons, the monotony of putting together food parcels, and the terrible anguish of the relatives in the Bolotnaya Square case has been turned into a very interesting story told by four actors in the words of the mothers, fathers, wives, fiancées, and friends of the arrestees. There are no exaggerations and distortions; only quotations from interviews with loved ones. They talk about how visits go, how to get married in a remand prison, how the defendants entertained themselves during the boring trials—and how to inform a defendant that his mother has died.

I had always wondered whether anything except shame, three and a half lost years, and painful memories would remain after the the Bolotnaya Square trial, something decent and instructive—not for us relatives but for those were there with us on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and for those who were not.

I think this question has stopped vexing me. Stalin’s purges have left us Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales. The Bolotnaya Square case will leave behind Teatr.doc’s The Bolotnaya Square Case.

ee61b2c98d7567978852636630bb38f2Many thanks to Polina Borodina, Elena Gremina, Konstantin Kozhevnikov, Anastasia Patlay, Varvara Faer, and Marina Boyko.

Photos courtesy of Snob.ru

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Alexei Gaskarov: The Robin Hood of Zhukovsky

Three years have passed since the opposition March of the Millions on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow ended in a physical confrontation with riot police, hundreds of arrests, and, later, dozens of criminal cases brought against protesters, who had engaged, allegedly, in “rioting” and “violence” against the police.

Although more than thirty defendants have been tried as part of the Bolotnaya Square Case, police investigators and prosecutors continue to unearth new suspects to this day.

This is the story of leftist social activist and antifascist Alexei Gaskarov, a 29-year-old economist from the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky, as told by his family and close friends. Gaskarov, who is also an elected member of the Opposition Coordinating Council, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on August 18, 2014.

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Alexei Gaskarov. Photo courtesy of avtonom.org

The Bolotnaya Square Case: The Third Anniversary

Here are a few photographs, from a longer, excellent photo reportage by David Frenkel, of pickets in Petersburg held this past Wednesday, May 6, in support of the political prisoners now serving time in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case.

Three years ago, on May 6, 2012, a peaceful, permitted anti-Putin demonstration in Moscow was blocked and partly kettled by police, resulting in a scuffle between some marchers and police, hundreds of arrests and, in the years after the “riot,” dozens of convictions of people who were there that day.

Some of the defendants have been recognized by prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, and many observers have argued that the police attack on the peaceful march was Putin’s deliberate revenge on those freethinking Russians who had the temerity to protest his “electoral victory” on the eve of his re-inauguration.

Bizarrely, three years later, the investigation and the arrests continue. Less than a month ago, for example, civil rights activist Natalya Pelevina was questioned as a suspect in the case and had her apartment searched.

frenkel-2“Renat Fatkhutdinov was a [Kazan] policeman who threatened to rape and torture arrestees. He got a three-year suspended sentence. Denis Lutskevich was a student who was beaten by the riot police for trying to defend a young woman. He got three years and six months in prison.”

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“Ten people are still serving prison terms for the fact that on May 6,  2012, they went to a peaceful demonstration that had been permitted by the authorities.”

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Anatoly Serdyukov, the defense minister, embezzled 3 billion rubles and was amnestied. Maxim Luzyanin, an businessman, scratched the enamel on a policeman’s tooth an was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Release the Bolotnaya Square prisoners!”

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Igor Aranson, head of the local council of deputies [in the Moscow Region town of Uvarovka] [and member of the ruling United Russia party] severally beat up two men he did not know [because they had crossed in front of his car on a crosswalk], but the court declared that Aranson had been the victim of the crime. Sergei Krivov, a Ph.D. in Mathematics and Physics, grabbed a police officer’s truncheon. He was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. Release the prisoners of May 6!”

Thanks to David Frenkel for permission to reproduce these photographs here.

“Decent People Rub Prince Lemon the Wrong Way”: Sasha Dukhanina’s Closing Statement at the Bolotnaya Square Trial

Alexandra Naumova (née Dukhanina, usually referred to as Sasha Dukhanina), born 1993, was the first person to be arrested in the Bolotnaya Square case, launched by the Russian authorities after a sanctioned opposition march in downtown Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before President Putin’s re-inauguration, ended in clashes with police. Dukhanina-Naumova was detained at the Occupy Arbat protest camp in Moscow in late May 2012 and has been under house arrest since that time.

Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants Sergei Krivov, Alexei Polikhovich, Artyom Savyolov, Denis Lutskevich, Andrei Barabanov, Stepan Zimin and Yaroslav Belousov are charged with involvement in mass riots and assaulting police officers. At the January 22, 2014, hearing in the case, prosecutors asked the presiding judge, Natalya Nikishina, to sentence each of them to between five and six years in prison.

Dukhanina-Naumova is specifically accused of throwing chunks of asphalt, one of which, allegedly, struck a police officer, slightly bruising him, and splashing a soft drink (kvass) from a liter-size bottle.

A photograph of a riot cop dragging Dukhanina-Naumova away by the neck on May 6, 2012, taken by famed opposition blogger and photographer Rustem Adagamov (aka Drugoi), himself now in exile, has become, perhaps, the most famous image of the “riots” that took place in Moscow that day. Many opposition activists and independent observers have claimed that what happened was in fact a provocation on the part of the authorities aimed at demoralizing the opposition and selectively punishing those who had tried to spoil Putin’s repeat “coronation” by publicly protesting.

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Before her arrest, Dukhanina-Naumova was a student at Moscow State University, where she majored in translation and interpretation. An anarchist, she had been involved in such causes as the defense of the Tsagovsky Forest, near Moscow, and Food Not Bombs.

On December 19, 2013, four other defendants in the case, Maria Baronova, Vladimir Akimenkov, Nikolai Kavkazsky and Leonid Kovyazin, were released under an “amnesty” that has been regarded by many as a gesture meant to defuse domestic and foreign criticism of the Putin regime’s concerted attacks on human and civil rights, NGOs, gays and lesbians, migrant workers, and opposition activists.

In any case, this amnesty did not fool the several thousand people who marched in Moscow on February 2, 2014, demanding the release of Dukhanina-Naumova and the other Bolotnaya Square defendants.

 

Dukhanina-Naumova made the closing statement, below, during the final hearing in the trial, on February 5, 2014, in Moscow.

After Dukhanina-Naumova and her co-defendants had finished making their closing statements, Judge Nikishina announced she would read out the verdict in the trial on February 21, 2014. This is two days before the end of the Sochi Olympics, President Putin’s wildly expensive showcase of his personal triumph over man, nature, and budgetary common sense.

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Closing Statement by Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova at the Bolotnaya Square Trial, Zamoskovoretsky District Court, Moscow, February 5, 2014

At first I thought that this whole trial was a crazy mistake, the result of some mix-up. Now, after hearing the prosecutor’s speeches, and considering the length of the prison terms they are asking for us [Bolotnaya Square defendants], I’m starting to see that what the authorities want is revenge. They want revenge because we were there and saw how things really were. We witnessed who instigated the stampede, how people were beaten, and the unjustified violence. They are getting revenge on us for not bowing down to them and repenting for our nonexistent crimes, neither during interrogations nor here, in the courtroom. They are also avenging me for not helping them further their lies, for refusing to answer their questions.

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These are serious crimes that carry a penalty of six years in a penal colony. There is no one else who has earned such a severe punishment, just us. They’re afraid of the real criminals—they imprison the strangers who get in their way while they wouldn’t lift a finger against their own. It is up to you, Your Honor, to decide whether to pay for furthering their happiness—promotions, stars, and medals—with our lives.

Why six years? What are these “no fewer than eight targeted throws” I supposedly dealt? Where did they come from? Whom was I aiming at and whom did I hit? Eight different police officers? Or did I hit the two men they’ve painted as the victims eight times? If so, how many times did I hit each of them? Where are the answers to these questions? Isn’t it up to them to describe the attack in detail and prove their case before putting me in prison? After all, this isn’t fun and games; it’s six years of my life at stake. Otherwise, it isn’t even lies, but mendacious demagoguery unsupported by facts, a game played with a human life in the balance. And if they had 188 videos and not eight, would they allege that there were 188 throws?

You’ve seen the two riot police officers who were my so-called victims. Each one of them is two or three times my size, and on top of that, they were in body armor. One of them felt nothing, and the second one was not injured by me at all and has no grievances. Is this the “rioting” and “violence” that have earned me six years of incarceration?

I almost forgot about the kvass. The bottle alone gets me five years, and the eight targeted blows get me the last one. At least let them say so, that way at least I’ll know the price of kvass. They should also tell me where my “mass rioting” ends and my “violence toward the authorities” begins. What’s the difference between the two? I still haven’t understood the charges against me: what did I burn? What pogroms? What destruction of public property? What does any of this have to do with me? What did I blow up? What did I set on fire? What did I destroy? Whom did I conspire with? What’s the evidence? Am I getting four years in accordance with Article 212 just for being there? Is my mere presence at what began as a peaceful demonstration the “rioting” that I was involved in? All I did was show up.

Take a look at these people. They’re not murderers, thieves or con artists. Putting us all in prison is not only unjust, it’s criminal.

Many people have given me the opportunity to repent, apologize, say what the investigators want me to say, but you know, I don’t find it necessary to repent, let alone apologize, to these people. In our country, it’s widely accepted that they are absolutely untouchable despite the well-known cases of their involvement in drug trafficking, prostitution, and rape. Just a few days ago, that happened in the Lipetsk Region.

The narrative of the charges pinned on us isn’t just funny; it is absurd and based solely on the testimony of the riot police officers. What does this mean, that if a person has epaulettes they’re a priori honest and holy?

Your Honor, in the course of the past eight months of this trial, you’ve received such substantial evidence of our innocence that if you send us all to the camps, you will be ruining our lives and futures for nothing.

Is the government really so determined to make an example of us that it is willing to take this step? Letting a pencil pusher, rapist or policeman off for [inaudible] is a matter of course: they’re untouchable, one of your own. We, on the other hand, can handle a prison term. Who are we, after all, we’re not even rich? For some reason, I am convinced that even in prison I will still be more free than any of them because my conscience will be clear, while those who remain on the outside continuing their so-called protection of law, order, and freedom will live in an unbreakable cage with their accomplices.

I can admit to making a mistake. If I were truthfully presented with facts and it were demonstrated to me that I had done something illegal, I would confess to it. However, no one has done any such thing: all I’ve witnessed are lies and brute force. You can suffocate someone with force, drag them [inaudible] and all of this has already been done to me. But lies and violence can’t prove anything. Thus, no one has proven my guilt. I am sure that I am right and that I am innocent.

I’d like to close with a quotation from Gianni Rodari’s Cipollino:

 “My poor father! They’ve thrown you in the pen with thieves and bandits.”

“Hey now, son,” his father tenderly interrupted him. “Prison is chock full of honest people!”

“Why are they in prison? What have they done wrong?”

“Absolutely nothing, son. That’s why they’re in here. Decent people rub Prince Lemon the wrong way.”

“So getting in prison is a great honor?” he asked.

“That’s how it seems. Prisons are built for people who steal and kill, but in Prince Lemon’s kingdom, it’s all topsy-turvy. The thieves and murderers are in his palace, while honest citizens fill the prisons.”

Translated by Bela Shayevich. Originally published, in Russian, on Grani.RuPhotograph of Alexandra Dukhanina-Naumova courtesy of Dmitry Bortko