Marrying the Mob

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On Facebook, I regularly push stories about Syria and, especially, Russia’s criminally disastrous involvement there. Unfortunately, it has had no visible effect on any of my Russian Facebook friends with one exception.

I should thank Allah for that many “converts.”

In international politics, marriages of convenience among dictators and wannabe dictators always lead to mayhem and unintended fallout for the innocent bystanders in their immediate vicinity.

Let us pretend, for the sake of argument, that Trump and his campaign really did not collude with Putin and other Russian government officials to sway the 2016 US presidential election.

Even if that were the case, Trump’s overweening admiration for Putin’s style of bad governance has still had catastrophic effects on the country he is supposed to be leading

For someone like me who is all too familiar with the bag of tricks known, maybe somewhat inaccurately, as Putinism, it has been obvious Trump wants to steer the US in a quasi-Putinist direction.

While the republic, its states, and the other branches of government can mount a mighty resistance by virtue of the power vested in them, Trump can still cause lots of damage as an “imperial” president, even if he is booted out of the White House two years from now.

Likewise, Russians can imagine there is a far cry between living in a country whose cities are besieged and bombed by the country’s dictator, and what Putin has been doing in Syria. What he has been doing, they might imagine, mostly stays in Syria, except for Russian servicemen killed in action there, whose names and numbers are kept secret from the Russian public.

In reality, it is clear that the Kremlin’s neo-imperialist turn in Ukraine, Syria, etc., has made the regime far more belligerent to dissidents, outliers, weirdos, “extremists,” and “terrorists” at home.

Over the last five years, more and more Russians have fallen prey to their homegrown police and security services either for what amount to thought crimes (e.g., reposting an anti-Putinist meme on the social network VK or organizing nonexistent “terrorist communities”) or what the Russian constitution does not recognize as a crime at all, such as practicing one’s religion (e.g., Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses do)

Putin has adopted an Assadist mindset, therefore. He, his cronies, and the ever-expanding Russian security services, whose mission is making the paranoia of their superiors come true by meeting quotas of harassed, interrogated, arrested, tortured, jailed and convicted “extremists” per quarter, have come to imagine the only way to avoid the mess in which Assad found himself is to hammer anyone in Russia who sticks their necks out too far, whether intentionally or not, that everyone else will get the clue dissent and even plain difference come with a heavy price tag and reduce theirs to an invisible minimum.

Things were not exactly peachy during the first years of the Putin regime, but they became a hell of a lot worse after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine and went flying off to Syria to save Assad’s bacon from the fire of popular revolution.

As long as Russia remains entrenched in those places, there can be no question of progress on the home front, especially when the vast majority of Russians pretend very hard not to know anything about Syria and their country’s involvement there, and have grown accustomed to the Ukrainian muddle, meaning they mostly avoid thinking about what has really been happening in Eastern Ukraine, too. {TRR}

Thanks to the fabulous Sheen Gleeson for the first link. Photo by the Russian Reader

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#MONSTERS

monsters-nonretirement“I could have failed to live until retirement.”

MONSTERS
Facebook
September 18, 2018

A powerful anti-anti-abortion protest took place today in Petersburg, but you will not hear about it in any of the mass media.

monsters-wagner“I could have worked for the Wagner Group.”

Until we fail to put a halt to abortions, which, fortunately, annually do away with enough people to populate the city the size of Petersburg, there is no point in discussing or contemplating anything serious.

monsters-repost“I could have been sent to prison for reposting.”

Russia is not only the land of the dead, which has been said more than once, but it is also the land of the unborn.

monsters-election rigger“I could have rigged elections.”

The Russian Federation not only has a past that never was. It also has a future that will never be.

monsters-kitchen boxer“I could have engaged in domestic violence.”

Russia is a failed state. Russia is a fake state.

monsters-sexually harassed“I could have been an object of sexual harassment.”

All Russians, men and women, are in some respect dead men and dead women, but they are also embryos.

monsters-omon“I could have been a riot cop and assaulted people at protest rallies.”

No wonder the stage of (para)political theater has recently been occupied by such figures: aborted embryos telling us they could have been soldiers, for example, and dead women and men, who worked to the grave, but did not live to see a single kopeck of their pensions.

monsters-channel one“I could have worked for Channel One and hoodwinked people every day.”

Bringing together the dead and the unborn was long overdue. This is just what we have done in our protest. We are MONSTERS, a new group of militants in the field of political art in Petersburg.

monsters-torturer“I could have tortured people in prison with a taser.”

We staged our protest in response to the latest move by the pro-lifers, who played heavy on people’s heart strings.

monsters-15000 a month“I could have earned 15,000 rubles a month my whole life.”

We profess and practice monstrous political art. We thus decided to do something even more sentimental.

monsters-syria“I could have gone to Syria to fight.”

You thus see before you dead embryos. They might not have lived until retirement, but in any case they did not survive until retirement.

monsters-died in orphanage“I could have died in an orphanage.”

#MONSTERS

monsters-installation viewA view of the silent protest on Pioneer Square in Petersburg’s Central District

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia, Great and Beautiful

 

velikaa-prekrasnaa-rossia_med_hrExhibition view of Vasya Lozhkin, Russia, Great and Beautiful (2010). Photo courtesy of Ekho Moskvy

The Case of the Repost Following a Picket: The Story of an Activist Who Has Sought Asylum in the US
OVD Info
August 28, 2018

Vladimir resident Victoria Lobova was involved in two events in the Don’t Call Him Dimon campaign, and now she has been forced to ask for political asylum in the US. The placard the activist took to the events caught the eye of law enforcement. Lobova faces criminal charges for posting images of it on the social media website VK. OVD Info asked Lobova to tell her own story.

I was involved in an anti-corruption rally on March 26, 2017. I was not punished in any way at the time. Then, on June 12, 2017, the country was swept by a wave of anti-corruption rallies, and I held a solo picket. I was approached by two policemen who asked me to identify myself. I told them my name, and they said I had to go with them. I refused, since I had not violated any laws. They telephoned somebody, asked him what to do, and read him the text of my placard over the phone.

I stood with the placard in downtown Vladimir. The slogan on the placard read, “I’m a young woman. I don’t want to decide anything. I want lace panties, and I want [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev to respond to the country about yachts, vineyards, nonsense, malarkey, and hodgepodge.”

In the evening, I had a visit from the security services, who said I had to report to the police. When I arrived there I was written up for committing an administrative offense: violating the rules for public rallies. I won the court case. Later, in July, a policeman came to my home and said “extremist” matter had been spotted on my VK page.

I had told the police my address and my name during my solo picket. Subsequently, they staked out my social media page. That was how it all kicked off. If I had not carried out a solo picket and mixed with the crowd at the protest rally instead, othing would have come of it. Before I was involved in protest rally, I had a page on VK where I covered political news, but the authorities paid me no mind.

I was cited for a picture that drew a parallel between Putin’s politics and Hitler’s politics. There were Nazi symbols in the photo. Two weeks later, four police officers came and drove me to a temporary detention facility.

I didn’t know till the last minute I would be spending the night there. They took my fingerprints, catalogued the entire contents of my bag, and photographed me. I was told that an ethnic Russian would never publicly display Nazi symbols and that children could have seen them. I replied that the picture had a completely different message. If you read the text, you would easily conclude Nazism was condemned by the authors. I also said that children hardly became Nazis the second they saw a swastika somewhere. Then I was taken to a cell and locked up till morning.

Lozhkin-1Detail of Vasya Lozhkin’s Russia, Great and Beautiful. Russia is shown as surrounded by countries inhabited by “slant-eyed monkeys,” “wogs,” and other peoples identified by equally offensive terms for non-Russian peoples and ethnic groups. Image courtesy of New Chronicle of Current Events

There was a court hearing in the morning. I was sentenced to three days in jail. Then, in January 2018, the FSB filed criminal charges against me under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity”) for Vasya Lozhkin’s picture Russia, Great and Beautiful, which they had also found reposted on my VK page. (In August 2018, a court ruled the picture could not be considered “extremist.”)

The FSB investigator was unable to get me to confess, and the case seemingly died down. But then the police again paid visits to my house. I would not open the door, which they photographed, probably by way of reporting to their superiors. When they left they would first make the rounds of the neighbors. That was when I realized they would not leave me alone and would send me to prison come what may.

I left Russia in May. I just bought tickets and flew away. There are opportunities for obtaining political asylum. In this sense, I think everything will be fine. I have lots of evidence that I was persecuted.

VK handed over all the information needed to the FSB, so my case was no exception to established practice. I continue to use VK, but now I am somewhere safe. I advise people in Russia to be more careful.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Extremist Proofreader from Kaluga

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“Extremism is no joke, even virtual extremism. You can easily go down for it, and get a harsh sentece. Russian Federal Criminal Code, Articles 282 and 280.” Public service billboard, Lesnoy Prospekt, Petersburg, August 7, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Kaluga Resident Faces Criminal Charges for Two-Year-Old Repost
OVD Info
December 19, 2016

On November 17, FSB officers came to Kaluga resident’s Roman Grishin workplace and took him away to an investigator. After being interrogated on camera, Grishin was informed he stood accused of inciting enmity and hatred (Criminal Code Article 282.1) for reposting a video in 2014. Grishin wrote about the incident on Facebook on December 18. He was released on his own recognizance as a suspect in a criminal case.

“A group of FSB officers in balaclavas and special kit showed up in the morning at my work, plunging my coworkers into a considerable stupor,” writes Grishin.

The video is entitled “New Hit from Kharkov! This Is Russism, Baby.” Acccording to Grishin, it is freely accessible on YouTube.

As Grishin told OVD Info by telephone, the main topic of his interrogation by FSB officers was his regular trips to Ukraine. They asked why he had his picture taken on the Maidan. Grishin visits the country as a tourist, stays with friends, and stresses that he does not collaborate with any organizations in Ukraine.

Grishin lives in Kaluga. Educated as a philologist, he works as a proofreader. The FSB’s scrutiny has been a real shock to him.

“I never voiced any appeals [for enmity or hatred]. You could say I’m a couch activist,” he said.

This is not the first case of persecution for publishing the video to Boris Sevastyanov’s song “This Is Russism, Baby.” Previously, however, its posting was the occasion for filing misdemeanor charges of disseminating extremism matter (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.29). In April 2016, Krasnodar LGBT activist Nina Solovyova was convicted of commmitting a misdemeanor for posting the video and sentenced to ten days in jail. Solovyova told her story to OVD Info in April of this year.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Orthodoxy or Death

Russian MP Vitaly Milonov. Photo courtesy of @Fake_MIDRF
Russian MP Vitaly Milonov. Photo courtesy of @Fake_MIDRF

Chuvashia Resident Fined for Reposting Photo of Milonov
Maria Leiva
RBC
November 16, 2016

A member of the board of Open Russia from Chuvashia has been fined 1,000 rubles for reposting a photograph of Russian MP Vitaly Milonov in which he is posed in a t-shirt brandishing a slogan deemed extremist in Russia

A court in Chuvashia has fined Dmitry Semyonov, a member of Open Russia‘s board in the region, 1,000 rubles for reposting a photo of MP Vitaly Milonov in a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death” on the social media network VKontakte. The slogan has been ruled an incitement to sectarian strife and placed on the federal list of extremist matter. Semyonov’s lawyer, Alexei Glukhov, reported the news on his Facebook page.

In another post, he added that the court had reject the defense’s motion to order a forensic examination and summon specialists to confirm the date when the Internet had been monitored.

Last week, Semyonov was summoned by the police over the repost of Milonov’s photograph. As the activist told RBC himself, he was charged in writing with violating Article 20.29 of the Administrative Offense Codes (producing and disseminating extremist matter).

“The charge sheets say that, on November 3, FSB officers suddenly felt like monitoring social media networks and chanced upon my post,” said Semyonov.

He linked the incident to his work as a social and political activist with Open Russia. Semyonov is the organization’s regional coordinator in eight Russian regioins.

In turn, Glukhov told RBC that police in Chuvashia constantly haul in activists for reposts on social media.

In conversation with RBC, Milonov said that last Wednesday he had sent a letter to the Justice Ministry asking them to remove the slogan from the register of extremist matter, but had not yet received a reply.

“As one brother to another, I’ll tell the justice minister, ‘Do you really imagine living outside the faith? So it’s a normal Orthodox slogan, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bastard,” said the MP.

He was confident the slogan would soon be removed from the list of extremist matter, but promised to study Semyonov’s case more closely, “although membership in Khodorkovsky’s organization deserves attention itself.”

Earlier, Milonov told RBC that he did not consider displaying a photograph in which he posed with the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death” a crime. However, the MP doubted that Semyonov was being prosecuted solely over the photograph.


Translated by
A Loaf of Bread

Be Kind, Don’t Repost 2: Blessed Are the Ice Hole Bathers

Epiphany ice hole bathing on Lake Shartash in Yekaterinburg, January 2012
Epiphany ice hole bathing on Lake Shartash in Yekaterinburg, January 2012. Officers from the Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) stand watch.

Berdsk Resident Sentenced to One Year, Three Months in Work-Release Penal Colony for Commenting on Ice Hole Bathing
Mediazona
May 31, 2016

The Berdsk City Court in Novosibirsk Region has sentenced local resident Maxim Kormelitsky, charged with extremism, to one year and three months in a work-release penal colony, reports Radio Svoboda.

Maxim Kormelitsky was accused of posting a captioned pictured on his personal page in the Vkontakte social network. According to police investigators, in January 2016, the young man published a photograph of wintertime Epiphany bathing and in the comments insulted people involved in the religious ritual. According to Kormelitsky, he “simply evaluated the mental state of people who sacrifice their health for the sake of religion.”

Maxim Kormelitsky in court
Maxim Kormelitsky in court

During the hearing, the prosecutor argued that Kormelitsky had insulted people who took part in the bathing, since he “is an atheist and feels hatred towards people who profess Christianity.”

“I copied it from another community. Besides me, something like seventy people reposted it. I think it odd that ultimately I am the only one on trial because an Orthodox activist saw my page. There were no calls for violence; there was only the insult. I have acknowledged my wrongdoing, I am sorry for what I did, and I ask the court to sentence me to a punishment not involving deprivation of liberty,” Kormelitsky said in court.

The court found Kormelitsky guilty under Criminal Code Article 282.1 (incitement to hatred on religious grounds) and sentenced him to a year in a work-release penal colony, adding three months to his sentence for a previous conviction.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy of Yuri Vershinin/Panoramio and Tatiana Shtabel (RFE/RL)