Ilya Budraitskis: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life (The 2016 Elections)

Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Nikolai Yaroshenko, Life Is Everywhere, 1888. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The 2016 Elections: Putrefaction as the Laboratory of Life
Ilya Budraitskis
OpenLeft
April 29, 2016

How do the upcoming Duma elections threaten the regime?

Today, it would seem that the upcoming September elections to the State Duma are a cause of growing concern only in the Kremlin. While polls continue to record a low level of public interest in the event, and the tiny number of parties allowed to run in the election wanly prepares to fulfill their usual roles, the president and his entourage are increasingly talking about possible threats.

The rationale of radicalization
At a recent meeting with activists of the Russian People’s Front, Putin noted that external enemies would preparing ever more provocations to coincide “with elections to the State Duma, and then with the presidential election. It’s a one hundred percent certainty, a safe bet, as they say.”

Regardless of their real value, the upcoming elections have been turning right before our eyes into a point of tension on which the state’s repressive apparatus has focused. Beginning with the establishment of the National Guard, the process has been mounting. Each security agency has now inaugurated its own advertising season, designed not only to remind the president and public of its existence but also to show off its unique capabilities, inaccessible to other competing agencies, for combating potential threats.

Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has uncovered a plot by the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, while in his programmatic article, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin essentially suggested canceling the elections since holding them could prove too dangerous. He made a direct appeal to stop “playing at pseudo-democracy” and provide a “tough, appropriate, and balanced response” to the country’s enemies “in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces.” With the appointment of Tatyana Moskalkova, even the previously neutral office of the human rights ombudsman has, apparently, been turned into yet another bastion of the fight against conspiracies.

This nervousness is certainly due to the fact that the growing economic and social crisis has had no visible political fallout for the time being. There have been no mass spontaneous revolts or sectoral strikes, although there has been an overall uptick in isolated labor disputes.  The political realm has long ago been securely purged of any uncontrollable opposition, while the president’s personal rating has remained phenomenally high. Nothing, it would seem, portends serious grounds for political destabilization this autumn. The absence, however, of real threats itself has become a threat to the internal stability of the state apparatus.

Where does the threat lie? In recent times, it has become obvious that decision-making at all levels and whatever the occasion has been subjected to a rationale of radicalization. Its principle can be described roughly as follows: no new decision can be less radical than the previous decision. Bureaucratic loyalty is measured only by the level of severity. MPs must propose more sweeping laws against latent traitors. Law enforcement agencies must expose more and more conspiracies, while the courts must hand down rulings that are harsher than the harshest proposals made by the security officials and MPs. Permanently mounting radicalism enables officials to increase budgets, expand powers, and prove their reliability, while any manifestation of moderation or leniency can cost them their careers. This radicalization, whose causes are rooted in the political psychology of the Russian elite (which suffers from an almost animal fear of uncontrollability), has set off an extremely dangerous bureaucratic momentum. Its main problem is the inability to stop. It is not only unclear where the bottom is, but who is ultimately interested in reaching that bottom and leaving it at that.

All this generates a strange situation vis-à-vis the elections, which have generally functioned primarily as a political balancing mechanism for the Putinist system, and even now function in this way. Elections have always been a reminder—not to voters, but to the elite itself—that varying opinions within a clearly defined framework have not only been possible but have also been encouraged. This reminder has been important not out of faithfulness to an abstract principle, but as confirmation that political bodies (first of all, the presidential administration) have had the monopoly on deciding domestic policy, not a military or police junta.

Fixing the broken mechanism?
For the Kremlin, the upcoming elections are overshadowed by the political trauma of 2011, when the smoothly functioning system of managed democracy suffered a serious breakdown. The current chief political strategist Vyacheslav Volodin has more or less consistently focused on making sure the failure of five years ago is not repeated. Volodin’s mission is to fix the broken mechanism with political methods, not by force.

It is worth remembering that, for the greater part of the Putin era, parliamentary and presidential elections were parts of a single political cycle, in which the same scenario was played out. The triumphal success of the ruling United Russia party was supposed to precede and ensure the even more resounding success of Vladimir Putin. In December 2011, however, the cycle’s unity backfired against the Kremlin’s plans. The interval between elections enabled the protest movement to maintain its grassroots energy for several months.

The political rationale of Putin’s third term is now aimed not only at technically but also at conceptually disrupting this cycle. Amidst a sharp drop in confidence in the government, the Kremlin decided last summer to move parliamentary elections up from December 2017 to September 2016, and, on the contrary, postpone the presidential election from March 2017 to March 2018. The point of the maneuver is obvious. The presidential and parliamentary elections must now represent not two parts of the same script but two completely different scripts. In the first script, a limited number of parties, which make up the symphony of the Crimean consensus, will criticize the government and each other, thus competing for the sympathies of the dissatisfied populace. In the second script, the natural patriotic instinct of voters should leave no doubt as to the need to support Putin unconditionally.

The new ideological content was embodied by Volodin’s famous statement: “There is no Russia today if there is no Putin.” This personification virtually means that, as a symbolic father, Putin transcends everyday politics. You can be a liberal or a nationalist, a proponent of greater intervention in the economy or a fan of the free market. You can choose not to like the government or government officials. But the nexus Putin-Crimea-Russia is beyond any doubt. Those who fundamentally disagree with it are simply removed from the Russian political spectrum and branded “national traitors.”

In keeping with this rationale, responsibility for the sharp drop in living standards and the consequences of the neoliberal “anti-crisis” measures has been borne by ministers, MPs, and governors, by anyone except the president. Even now, when the propaganda effect of the “reunification” of Crimea has obviously begun to fade, the president’s personal rating remains high. Thus, according to the latest opinion polls, 81% of respondents trust Putin, while 41% do not trust Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and 47% do not trust his government overall.

Within the new-model Crimean consensus, United Russia will no longer play the role of the backbone it played in the noughties. Untethered from the non-partisan figure of the president, it will take on the burden of unpopularity borne by its formal leader, Dmitry Medvedev, and his government. The mixed electoral system will enable candidates from local “parties of power” in single-member districts to dissociate themselves from United Russia, presenting themselves as “non-partisan Putinists” criticizing the soulless federal authorities. Volodin’s scheme involves loosening United Russia’s grip on power and slightly increasing the value of the pseudo-opposition as represented by the Communist Party and A Just Russia.

It is worth noting that the very existence of a bureaucratic mega-party previously played a stabilizing role by dampening intra-elite conflicts. Now they will inevitably come out into the open, including in the shape of inter-party struggles. Of course, the presidential administration counts on being able to effectively ensure compliance with the clear rules of this competition, but there are no guarantees. The managed multi-party system with the “father of the nation” towering over it consummates the new architecture of the Putin regime as a personalistic regime, and becomes more and more vulnerable.

In the new reality of the crisis, Putin’s depoliticization also facilitates a more intensive “natural selection” among bureaucrats at all levels by culling those who have not mastered the art of maintaining the conservative sympathies of the populace while simultaneously implementing what amount to aggressively anti-social policies. The September campaign is supposed to go off without a hitch, culminating in a predictable outcome. Having given a human face to the Central Elections Commission, which was seriously discredited by the previous leadership, Ella Pamfilova is meant to increase this manageability and predictability. It turns out that the upcoming elections are the primary pressure test of the new, post-Bolotnaya Square design of managed democracy. The future of Vyacheslav Volodin and his team, as well as Putin’s willingness to trust them with the extremely important 2018 presidential campaign, probably depends on how smoothly they come off.

From the foregoing it is clear that the objective of reestablishing the rules of managed democracy is directly at odds with the above-mentioned rationale of radicalization, whose standard-bearers are the competing law enforcement agencies. Their individual success in the internal struggle is vouchsafed by the failure of the political scenario, which would give rise to the need for a vigorous intervention by force. After all, the National Guard’s value would be incomparably increased if it put down real riots instead of sham riots, and Bastrykin’s loyalty would all the dearer if, instead of the endless absurdity of the Bolotnaya Square Case, he would uncover real extremists. To scare someone seriously, the ghosts have to take on flesh and blood.

Life is everywhere
Marx said that putrefaction is the laboratory of life. Now we see how Putinist capitalism has embarked on a process of gradual self-destruction. The upcoming elections provide a clear picture of how this has been facilitated by two opposing rationales, the political rationale (Volodin and the presidential administration) and the law enforcement rationale. Thus, the first rationale, in order to generate the necessary momentum and expand the range of opinions, must respond to social discontent by providing United Russia’s managed opponents with greater freedom to criticize. Restoring the internal political balance will inevitably lead to the fact that topics related to the crisis and the government’s anti-social policies will become the centerpiece of the entire election campaign. On the other hand, the security forces will destabilize the situation outside parliament. Together, they will do much more to undermine an already-flawed system than the long-term, deliberate efforts of any western intelligence agency.

Of course, Russian leftists should in no way count on events following an automatic course. But it is absolutely necessary to take into account the conflicts of interest within the elite and understand their decisive influence on the shape of the upcoming elections. These elections have nothing to do with the real struggle for power or traditional parliamentarianism in any shape or form. But they are directly related to the internal decomposition of an authoritarian, anti-labor, and anti-social regime. So our policy vis-à-vis these elections should be flexible and remote from all general conclusions. That means we can and should support certain leftist candidates in single-member districts. We must use all the opportunities provided by the leftist, socialist critique of the Medvedev government’s so-called anti-crisis policies. We must be ready to go to the polls. Or we must be ready to reject them, taking to the streets when the time comes.

Ilya Budraitskis is a writer, researcher, and editor at OpenLeft. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov Are Hostages

On Kolchenko and Sentsov’s Sentences
August 26, 2015
www.shiitman.ninja

179003Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov

It is important to realize that the sentences that Kolchenko and Sentsov received are a fiction.

No one actually takes the charges against them seriously.

Even the most loyal Putinists do not take the charges seriously. What terrorism? What does the Right Sector have to do with any of this?

Kolchenko and Sentsov are hostages. Their being held in a Russian prison is an act of intimidation directed at the Crimeans who stayed home but could have fought back. Their being held in prison is an act of intimidation directed against all the people of Ukraine and those Russian citizens who could have supported them.

The trial was a fiction. The verdict is a fiction. That is why I reacted without emotion to the sentences, although I understand the shock felt by many comrades, among whom there are close friends of both Kolchenko and Sentsov. Twenty years and ten years in prison? The Russian judges could have give them sentences of forty years and twenty-five years. Or given both of them life sentences. Or given them each six months in prison, then retried the case. Or they could have not announced the verdict at all, but just laughed and made faces. Or mannequins dressed in judicial robes could have replaced the judges. Nobody would have noticed the difference.

Kolchenko and Sentsov are in prison as long as the Russian Federation is ruled by Putin’s repressive, aggressive authoritarian regime. They cannot be freed using lawyer’s tricks. They cannot be freed via “diplomatic channels.” They can be freed only by defeating Putinist Russia. Or if it “defeats” itself by choking on its own rage and madness.

And when that happens, it will not matter a whit what numbers have been written in Kolchenko and Sentsov’s sentences. It doesn’t matter what the judges whip up in Savchenko’s sentence. The release of the hostages does not depend on the actions of lawyers. It depends on politicans and military men. And, in part, on the price of petroleum.

As soon as the “Russian bear,” who has turned out to be a rabid rat, finally kicks the bucket, all the regime’s hostages will be freed.

Translated by The Russian Reader. As is nearly always the case, my opinions might not coincide entirely with those expressed by the authors whose texts I translate and post here. But it has been strange to read the angry reactions of leftist progressive Russian comrades to this particular text given the almost total lack of any visible, public solidarity with Sentsov and Kolchenko on their part.

I won’t even go into the haziness they and many other “ordinary” “apolitical” Russian citizens experience when figuring out who to blame for the whole mess in Ukraine. But this is the privilege all imperialist, metropolitan peoples enjoy: pretending not to know or understand what is being done in their name somewhere else in the world.

_________

Russia’s Sentsov–Kolchenko case “an absolutely Stalinist trial”
Halya Coynash
August 21, 2015
khpg.org

The prosecutor has demanded 23 years for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, and 12 years for civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in a case with no crime and where all evidence was obtained through torture. Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova likens this to Stalinist repression, not a court trial.

Svetova has seen a huge number of trials over the last 15 years, but nothing like the “absolutely insane hearing” on Aug 19. She can’t remember a case where, with no elements of a crime, or criminal (terrorist) acts, the prosecutor should be seriously demanding 23-year and 12-year sentences. This, the fact that everybody expects the court on August 25 to convict two innocent men, and much more, she says, is reminiscent of Stalinist repressions where people were arrested for nothing.

Sentsov is charged with leading a ‘terrorist organization,’ Kolchenko of taking part in it and involvement in one specific firebomb attack on a pro-Russian organization active in helping Russia seize control of Crimea in 2014.  There is no evidence that an organization even existed, and the only specific charge against Kolchenko is one that has not previously been classified by any Russian court as ‘terrorism.’

“The prosecutor is demanding 23 and 12 years for people accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Today Sentsov and Kolchenko’s lawyers clearly demonstrated that there are no elements of a crime in this case, nor any criminal act. On August 19, 2015, I saw a totally Stalinist trial. Three judges were sitting there, a real ‘troika,’ with cold, virtually dead eyes who were listening to the prosecutor and the lawyers,” Svetova writes here.

Another of the disturbingly Stalinist features of this case has been the fixation on some demonized organization, in this case the far-right and nationalist Right Sector. Russia has constantly exaggerated this organization’s role in both Euromaidan and subsequent events in Ukraine.  There was even a Russian media attempt on the night of the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, 2014, to claim distortion of the election result after the Right Sector candidate gained a pitiful 0.9% of the votes. It was therefore no surprise that five days after those elections, the FSB should have claimed that it had uncovered a supposed Right Sector ‘terrorist plot.’  It has never produced any evidence at all, nor did any of the witnesses for the prosecution even demonstrate a clear understanding of what the Right Sector is, although they were all convinced it was dangerous, etc.  There is nothing to link Sentsov, the left-wing and anarchist Kolchenko or Gennady Afanasyev with the far-right organization. In court on Wednesday, the prosecutor Oleg Tkachenko changed their story, saying that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not accused of membership in Right Sector, but of having “taken on the ideology of this organization as a guide for action.” What this means remains a mystery since the court has not demonstrated any interest in seeking clarification on this subject or with respect to the numerous other discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.

At the final hearing on Wednesday, the defence demolished all of the charges against the two men, then Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, read out the account given by Gennady Afanasyev of how he had been tortured to get him to testify against Sentsov.

As reported, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy were arrested at the same time as Sentsov and Kolchenko.  Their ‘confessions’ and testimony are literally all that the charges against Sentsov are based on. It is therefore of critical importance that Afanasyev retracted his testimony on July 31, stating that it had been given under duress.  He then spoke for the first time to a lawyer not provided by the investigators and gave a detailed account of the torture applied immediately after his arrest, and also the pressure placed on him to repeat this testimony in court. As well as threats against him, a FSB officer who appeared at the prison warned him that his mother “could have an accident” if he didn’t cooperate.

All of this information was read to the court. The judges simply looked down and did not react in any way, and the prosecutor continued to demand 23 and 12 years.  It should be stressed that the details in Afanasyev’s account fully coincide with those given by Sentsov, and Chirniy is also known to have told the Ukrainian consul that he had been forced to ‘confess.’

Unlike the players in this modern-day show trial, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has taken Afanasyev’s account seriously.  On August 19, it issued a statement recognizing Afanasyev as a political prisoner and warning of the danger he is now in. This follows a similar statement and damning assessment of the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko.

Sentsov’s final statement was, as all previous statements, courageous and moving. So too was Kolchenko’s, who spoke of the fact that the court had heard about the use of threats and torture by the FSB against Sentsov and Afanasyev.

“It’s interesting that people using such methods to obtain testimony have no qualms about accusing us of terrorism.”

He called the charges against them fabricated and politically motivated, and said that this trial, like those against Nadiya Savchenko, the Bolotnaya Square protester, and others are aimed at extending the life of the current regime.

“Yet throwing us in prison, this regime speeds up its end, and those people who still yesterday believed in law and order, today, watching such trials, have lost that faith. And tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, those people who are part of the 86 percent [supposedly supporting President Vladimir Putin – HC] will overturn this authoritarian regime.”

Kolchenko noted that, in the letter read out to the court, Afanasyev said that the FSB officer had told him that the day he gave testimony in court would be the most important day in his life.

“Seemingly, Afanasyev took those words to heart and interpreted them in his own way. I was very taken with this great and powerful act of his.”

Gennady Afanasyev is in danger; Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing long sentences on preposterous charges.  And Russia is descending into a frightening Soviet tradition in which people are tortured for ‘confessions’ with neither the prosecutor nor the judges even batting an eyelid when this is demonstrated to the world.

Please write to all three men!

The website of the Solidarity Committee with the Crimean Hostages will try to get messages to them.

solidarityua.info

In the first box, write one of the following names one at a time:

Олег Сенцов (Oleg Sentsov)

Олександр Кольченко (Oleksandr Kolchenko)

Геннадий Афанасьев  (Gennady Afanasyev)

Then in the next box, write your name.

The next box asks for a telephone number if you wish to give it. An email address is, however, needed (the fourth box).

Finally, in the fifth box, write your message.

The key aim is to ensure that all three men know that they are not forgotten. The following would be quite sufficient (if you do write in Russian, please avoid anything controversial or overly political).

Мы восхищаемся Вашим мужеством и надеемся на Ваше скорое освобождение.

Спасибо, что нашли в себе силы остаться честным с самим собой.

Держитесь!

(We admire your courage and hope for your speedy release. Thank you for finding the strength to remain true to yourself. The last word is a word of support, like “take care!”)

The question under the last box asks whether you are on social networks: yes, no, in that order (or leave it blank)

Then hit SEND.

Thanks to Comrade SP for the heads-up. I have lightly edited the text to make it more readable.

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.

Solidarity with Alexander Kolchenko!

JOIN THE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN FOR
ALEXANDER KOLCHENKO!

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Alexander Kolchenko is a Crimean anarchist, social activist, and antifascist who is being held by the Russian authorities. Along with other Crimean activists, he was kidnapped by the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) and is now detained as a political hostage in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. He has been charged with committing “acts of terrorism” and “belonging to a terrorist community.”

Why is Alexander Kolchenko in jail?

Alexander, who has proven his antifascist stance over many years, is facing preposterous accusations of belonging to Right Sector, the radical Ukrainian right-wing organization, whose real role in Ukrainian events has been blown out of proportion by Russian official propaganda.

In modern Russia, any activist — left wing, anarchist or liberal — can be slandered as a member or sympathizer of Right Sector. This situation is comparable to the hunt for nonexistent Trotskyists under Stalin, or the McCarthy witch hunt for communists in the US. Putin’s authoritarian and nationalist regime, which uses everything from religious prejudices and conspiracy theories to outright racism in its propaganda, shamelessly steals antifascist rhetoric. And yet anyone who is considered bothersome is called a fascist, even if he/she stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

The case against antifascist Alexander Kolchenko and civil activist and film director Oleg Sentsov (investigators enrolled them in the same “terrorist” group) is political. It is meant to intimidate the inhabitants of Crimea and prevent any resistance on the peninsula. The most authoritarian of methods are now used in annexed Crimea to repress all dissent. Many people have been forced to leave Crimea because their life and freedom were threatened: lawyers, left wing activists, student and trade union activists, anarchists, antifascists, and Crimean Tatar activists who have fallen victims of ethnic discrimination.

What does Alexander Kolchenko face?

Alexander Kolchenko is threatened with a terrible prison sentence of up to 20 years for a non-existent “terrorist attack” in which he was not involved. Kolchenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners have been detained only to demoralize the opposition through show trials. Their freedom is directly linked to the stability of the Putin regime. If we can shake Putin’s confidence in his impunity, the prisoners will be set free. There is no hope that Kolchenko, Sentsov, and others will be given fair trials. Their arrests were unlawful, and the charges against them are far-fetched. It was not a mistake: the regime knows what it is doing.

How can you help Alexander Kolchenko?

We are asking international left wing and libertarian forces for help. You can organize and lead actions of protest and solidarity, write letters to Kolchenko, and send donations to pay for lawyers, food parcels, and support for his family. It is also important to spread information about his case. Most of all, we need to dissociate ourselves from any forces that support the aggressive expansion of Russian nationalism, even if they cover it up with leftist and anti-imperialist rhetoric. Putin’s regime is doing just fine without your sympathy. You had better save it for those who are its victims.

When should you start?

You can start right now by helping us spread this appeal, translating it into other languages, and sending it to comrades. We also strongly encourage you to organize demonstrations from April 1 to 7, 2015, in support of Alexander Kolchenko and other political prisoners jailed in Russia. Sentsov’s and Kolchenko’s current terms in pretrial police custody end on April 11 and 16, respectively. In the first half of April, Lefortovo District Court in Moscow will decide whether they should await trial in jail, be placed under house arrest or be released on their own recognizance, Only strong, massive pressure on the Putin regime and protests around the world will make it possible to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate release and the dropping of charges against them.

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You can find more information below.

 

Contact us at freekolchenko@gmail.com

Gabriel Levy: What’s Really Going on in Ukraine?

Not all western leftists are mindless Putinist running dogs, reflexively yapping “Fascist! Fascist!” at every Ukrainian they see dashing across their computer screens or imagining that the frenzied dashing is caused by wads of CIA-donated dollars stuffed in neo-Nazi pockets.

Here is Gabriel Levy’s absolutely essential two-part analysis of recent events in Ukraine. It is based on actual thinking, real facts, on-the-ground observation, and a solid, thorough knowledge of the country and its history.

Part One: “Ukraine 1. Yanukovich’s end is a beginning”

Part Two: “Ukraine 2. A political earthquake for Europe and Russia”