Denis Sokolov: Police Feudalism in Russia

medievalA scene from a protest against the government’s raising the pension age, September 9, 2018, Saint Petersburg. Photo by Anton Vaganov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic

Police Feudalism
Denis Sokolov
Republic
July 15, 2019

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, former head of Ingushetia, was “upmoted” to the Defense Ministry, but Russia’s police machine has continued to persecute protesters in Ingushetia. On July 12, Rashid Maysigov, a correspondent with the website Fortanga, was arrested. When police searched his house, they found, allegedly, the now-obligatory “package containing a white substance” and—apparently, to make the image of Maysigov as a troublemaker complete—leaflets calling for Ingushetia’s annexation by Georgia lying on a coffee table. In the wee hours of July 13, Zarifa Sautiyeva, deputy director of the Memorial for the Victims of Repressions in Nazran, was arrested. Sautiyeva has risen to prominence as one of the female leaders at the protest rallies in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, in 2018–2019. Sautiyeva was charged with complicity in violence against the authorities. This is the first case when a woman has been sent to the remand prison in Nalchik, in neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, as part of the continuing investigation of the Ingushetian protests. On July 14, Russia’s federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor blocked Fortanga, the main source of news about the protests.

zarifa sautiyevaZarifa Sautiyeva. Courtesy of Caucasian Knot

What’s Good for Jupiter
There is one thing the arrests of Ingush and Circassian activists, the searches in the homes of people who protested construction of a church in a Yekaterinburg park, the fines meted out to people who marched in solidarity with Ivan Golunov on June 12, the New Greatness case, the arrests for “extremist” posts on the VK social network, and the harsh arrests of protesters outside the Moscow City Elections Committee on Sunday have in common.

None of them have anything to do with keeping the peace and administering justice. They are rituals meant to mark the territory of a class. Equipped with firearms and badges, Russia’s new service aristocracy enthusiastically shows unarmed civilians without badges their place.  The statistics for “ritual” criminal charges—drugs charges, “extremism” charges, and weapons possession charges—speak for themselves. The willingness of law enforcement officers to beat up arrestees harks back to hazing in army barracks and the prison practice of “registering” new inmates by ritually humiliating them.

Russia’s political elite—the siloviki, the officials who control financial flows, organized criminals, and insider businessmen—live by other rules. They are governed by other articles in the Russian criminal code and have other means of resolving conflicts. The fight against corruption and economic crimes is the political weapon that has replaced elections up and down Putin’s “power vertical.” The number of criminal cases against high-ranking officials and officers of the Interior Ministry, the FSB, and the GRU has risen exponentially.

Particularly touching are several cases that are interrelated, according to reporters who covered them. The first case involves the arrests of FSB Colonel Kirill Cherkalin and two of his accomplices on April 25, 2019. They were charged with fraud, i.e., they forced a businessman to hand over a share, worth 490 million rubles [approx. $7.8 million], in a company. Cherkalin was also charged with taking an $820,000 bribe for “protection.” The second case is the flight abroad of Valery Miroshnikov, deputy head of the Deposit Insurance Agency (ASV). Allegedly, he and Cherkalin had cooked up a scheme for making money from the restructuring of banks. Finally, there is the arrest of an entire gang of FSB special forces officers and K Directorate officers: they robbed a bank while on duty, so to speak. Several officers from Alpha, the FSB’s special forces unit, decided not to return from an assignment in the North Caucasus, going to ground instead.

Now that is the sporting life, the life of a medieval knight. A jail sentence for posting the “wrong” thing on social media or attending a peaceable protest rally cannot compare. What is good for Jupiter is bad for the bull. The new division of Russia into quasi-medieval estates is borne out by the fact that, unlike their victims, police officers get suspended sentences for cooking up “drugs” cases, not actual prison time.

The number of businessmen who have been “skimmed” by being charged with economic crimes has skyrocketed. In a report entitled “The Fortress Subsides,” Kirill Rogov recently cited data on the sharp increase in the number of economic crimes investigated by the FSB. We do not need statistics, however, to understand the implications of the attack on Sergei Petrov, the arrest of Michael Calvey, and similar cases.

The Siloviki Revolution
What we are talking about is not the ruling regime’s collapse but its logical evolution, the emergence of a new Russian state. The runaway growth of cases in which criminal prosecution has been used to combat competitors and extract feudal rent from various social groups, including grassroots activists, businessmen, and other siloviki and officials, could point to a qualitative transformation of the social order in Russia. Eliminating competitors for fiefs can, however, be regarded as a form of political competition, while squeezing rents from vanquished regions and sectors is something akin to the victor tasting the fruits of victory. This is borne out by Vladimir Vasilyev’s administration of Dagestan, where the new order entailed a complete purge of the regional bureaucracy and an invasion of officials from more advanced Tatarstan. In other regions, on the contrary, the siloviki revolution has come off more quietly.

The actions of the special services in Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other regions of Russia enables us to make certain generalizations about the new political reality.

First, Russian law enforcement’s apparatus of violence has gradually turned into a ritual apparatus of violence. Planting drugs, “extremist” pamphlets, ammunition or (when a system insider has been targeted for arrest) marked bills on victims has nothing to do with real criminal investigations. They are parts of the arrest ritual, informal parts of the processual code. All that remains is for the State Duma to draft the relevant amendments and vote them into law. Aside from the main program, the arrest ritual contains supplementary messages for the civilian populace: “We will arrest your women,” “We will beat your children and send them to jail,” “All resistance to the punitive machine will be punished disproportionately,” “When a regional head is dismissed or a journalist is released, it does not mean protesters have won,” and so on.

Second, in recent years, the Russian state has been reduced to a police apparatus of violence. All other branches of government are its appendages and palace retinue. At the same time, the state has devised a completely modern media policy. Field officers arrest the regime’s undesirables, and the press services of the security forces voice the “official position” while anonymous Telegram channels, social media forums, and dubious websites leak the “real” reasons for the arrests to the hoi polloi.

For example, the Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko was arrested for possession of marijuana. The police who detained him rubbed his hands in the weed just in case, while the Telegram channels that get their information from law enforcement authorities told readers about Kochesoko’s links with foreign foundations and his dangerous love for federalism.

Third, the police machine is hierarchical, and it is organized on the principle of feudal vassalage. Each police unit has its own turf, its own sectors, its own fief, whether it is a bank, an oil company, the Deposit Insurance Agency, the war in Donbas or the Chinese markets in Moscow. This fief should automatically become a hereditary or corporate fiefdom. Ingush law enforcement officers cannot operate in Moscow or neighboring republics without getting special permission. Zarifa Sautieyva was arrested only when she showed up in her home region. Moscow avoids meddling in the affairs of vassals for no good reason. Ramzan Kadyrov wants jurisdiction over all Chechens, including Chechens in exile, and he gets it.

Fourth, Moscow can recall regional governors and replace one viceroy with another, but the Kremlin has no intention of stopping the punitive machine because there is nothing else left of the state. The inert, corrupt, and hierarchical police machine has become the caste of security forces (siloviki), a parody of medieval knights. Initially, it saw itself as owning all of Russia; later, it has divided the country into fiefdoms according to unwritten rules. It is not only the Kremlin that wants it this way. Russia’s punitive machine has an “on” switch, but no “off” switch. The only recent exception to this rule is the Ivan Golunov case. This case had many idiosyncrasies, however. His supporters were able to free the arrest reporter partly by following the special rules for the regime’s insiders.

Finally, police feudalism and the Russian state are the same things. When protesters appeal to the Russian constitution and the rule of law, the state regards this as an attack on its sovereignty. The constitution, the courts, and the laws belong to the state. The state or, rather, its beneficiaries will do as they like with these privatized institutions. This machine can be employed for private commercial ends or political goals, but it is forbidden to change the regime and disband the service aristocracy.

Feudal Zombies
If these generalizations are valid, we must thoroughly reexamine the strategies of ethnic and grassroots movements. It is naive and pointless to seek justice from the Leviathan.

Ethnic movements can never find support in the current system because a police state is unable to negotiate. It simply does not have the option of negotiating with unarmed people who are not endowed with the proper authority in the shape of badges. Therefore, the most reasonable demand made by the Ingush activists so far is the demand to release political prisoners. They must be freed from the punitive system’s jurisdiction.

We can say the same thing about grassroots movements, authentic local government, and democratic elections. They are possible only in the absence of police feudalism. Tackling Russia’s new service aristocracy is a separate, thorny issue that neither Putin nor the person who succeeds him can solve even if they wanted to solve it. The system is not amenable to reform. It can only shrink, gradually devouring itself.

Police feudalism is so obsolete, however, it is hard to imagine it will be able to maintain itself for long. We need to think about how to organize public life without these time travelers from the past; we must know what to do when this army of skeletons vanishes into thin air. As soon as we have a notion of what institutions and public organizations are needed, how much it would cost to build them, and who would be ready to invest in new political projects, this will happen spontaneously and inevitably.

Translated by Thomas Campbell

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Vladimir Akimenkov: Spring 2019 Fundraising Campaign for Russian Political Prisoners

akimenkovVladimir Akimenkov collecting money for Russian political prisoners. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Akimenkov

Vladimir Akimenkov: Spring 2019 Fundraising Campaign for Russian Political Prisoners

We are once again raising money to support Russian political prisoners and their families. Since I was released from prison, we have raised around 12.7 million rubles for political prisoners. This is not a lot of money, but it has supported over a hundred political prisoners, who range from people who posted something “seditious” on the internet to those who stood up against the machine of oppression and gave it everything they could.

When you donate money to us, you’re supporting the sending of care packages to the prisoners, helping their loved ones go on extended visits to the prison camps on the far side of the country where they are doing time, and paying for lawyers to visit particularly rough prisons, and generally supporting the expenses their families while their loved ones are locked up.

These expenses are exhausting for families and friends, especially if the political prisoners were breadwinners, and especially in Russia’s regions, where people are generally poorer than in the two capitals.

The children of political prisoners should not cry themselves to sleep at night because they are hungry. This is not a figure of speech, but something that really happens.

The political crackdown in Russia has become more intense, and the current regime has targeted an ever-expanding list of political and social groups. In particular, the Putin regime has unleashed its full fury against anarchists in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Russian state’s propaganda machine has taken pains to stigmatize political prisoners, depicting good men and women as threats to society. The Russian state would like to deprive those people it victimizes of support.

Let’s show them our solidarity. It’s so easy.

You can send donations via:
1. PayPal https://paypal.me/vladimirakimenkov (vladimir.akimenkov@gmail.com). UPDATE: On April 11, 2019, Mr. Akimenkov informed his supporters on Facebook that PayPal had blocked his account, unjustly accusing him of engaging in “commercial” activity. This is not his first unpleasant encounter with PayPal, but he was able on previous occasions to persuade the money transfer company that he was using the account only for charitable purposes. Some of his supporters responded by writing that PayPal had made various promises to the Russian federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor in order to keep doing business in Russia. Those promises, allegedly, included shutting down customers who used their PayPal accounts to fund raise for opposition causes. If, like me, you find PayPal’s behavior towards Vladimir Akimenkov, a former political prisoner himself, despicable, please write them a letter. You may cite this blog post. For my part, I can say that Mr. Akimenkov is that rare thing: the real thing. Completely on his own, he has raised a considerable amount of money for Russia’s growing army of political prisoners and their loved ones. In short, Vladimir is one of the good guys. PayPal should not be trying to trip him up. {TRR}
2. Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410012642526680
3. Sberbank Visa Card: 4276 3801 0623 4433 Vladimir Georgievich Akimenkov (Владимир Георгиевич Акименков)
4. Bank Transfers in Foreign Currencies: SWIFT: SABRRUMM, Account: 40817810238050715588, Recipient: Akimenkov Vladimir Georgievich (Акименков Владимир Георгиевич)

Be sure to note you are making a “charitable donation” when you transfer funds by any of these means.

After the fundraising campaign wraps up, I will send a complete accounting of how much money was raised and how it was disbursed to everyone who donated and whose names and addresses are known to me.

If you are unable to make a donation, please repost this appeal. Make sure to disseminate this appeal on every platform you can think of, including Facebook, Telegram, etc.

Thanks!

P.S. There have been reports of glitches with Sberbank Online. Make sure the money you sent has been deducted from your accounts.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Bugger

victimA photo showing evidence of the outrageous crime against the Russian state and Russian society committed in Yaroslavl the other day. Fortunately, nearly all mentions of it have been forcibly deleted from local media. However, some traces of the sickening crime are still faintly visible in the photo, alas. Courtesy of Kirill Poputnikov and Yarkub 

Russian Law on Offending Authorities Enforced for First Time
Ksenia Boletskaya, Elizaveta Yefimovich and Alexei Nikolsky
Vedomosti
April 2, 2019

Over the past several days, officials of Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor and the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Yaroslavl have ordered local media outlets and Telegram channels to delete news about a inscription concerning Putin that was written on the local Interior Ministry headquarters building, 76.ru editor Olga Prokhorova wrote on Facebook and Yarkub wrote on its Telegram channel. Prokhorova claims other Yaroslavl media outlets have been contacted by officials about the report, and many of them have deleted it.

Yarkub reported on the morning of April 1 that police were looking for the person who scrawled “Putin ****r” [presumably, “Putin is a bugger”] on the columns of the local police headquarters building. The inscription consisted of exactly two words, so one could not conclude definitively that it was directed at the Russian president, who has the same surname. 76.ru did not quote the graffiti even in partially concealed form, but both media outlets published photographs of it. The second word in the inscription [i.e., “bugger”] was blanked out in the photos.

Vedomosti examined a copy of Roskomnadzor’s letter to Yarkub. Roskomnadzor did not explain why the news report should be deleted. Roskomnadzor wrote to other Yaroslavl media outlets that the news report violated the new law on offending the authorities. (The website TJournal has published an excerpt from the letter.)

The amendments restricting the dissemination of published matter that voices blatant disrespect for society and the state went  into effect on Friday, March 29. According to the amended law, websites are obliged to delete such matter at Roskomnadzor’s orders or face blockage. They can also be forced to pay fines starting at 30,000 rubles.

According to the new law, only the prosecutor general and his deputies can decide whether a piece of published matter offends the authorities and society, and Roskomndazor can send websites orders to remove the matter only when instructed by the prosecutor general’s office.

Roskomnadzor’s only telephone in Yaroslavl, as listed on its website, was turned off today.

A source at the prosecutor general’s office told Vedomosti the office had not sent Roskomnadzor any instructions concerning news of the inscription in Yaroslavl.

“We have had nothing to do with this,” he said.

Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky categorically refused to discuss the actions of the agency’s officials in Yaroslavl. After the new law went into force, Roskomnadzor’s local offices had been carrying out preventive work with media outlets, he said. Roskomnadzor officials had thus been trying to quickly stop the dissemination of illegal information without charging media outlets with violating the new law.

When asked whether Roskomnadzor had received instructions from the prosecutor general and his deputies about news of the inscription in Yaroslavl, Ampelonsky avoided answering the question directly.

“We can neither confirm nor deny it,” he said.

Prokhorova argues incredible pressure has been put on local Yaroslavl media.

“Our nerves are frazzled, and we have been left with a nasty taste in our mouths,” she wrote.

Yarkub’s editors claim the incident was an attempt at censorship.

In the letters they sent, Roskomnadzor’s local Yaroslavl officers did not threaten to block media outlets that did not delete the news report. But the letters and telephone calls did their work, and many local media outlets, including newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets in Yaroslavl, the website of radio station Echo of Moscow in Yaroslavl, the website of Yaroslavl TV Channel One, deleted the news report. Our source at Moskovsky Komsomolets in Yaroslavl initially told us the report about the inscription had not been deleted. Subsequently, he explained the report had been deleted at the behest of the newspaper’s Moscow editors. However, the Moscow editors claimed to know nothing about the news report’s removal.

Editors at Echo of Moscow in Yaroslavl radio station told us the news report had been deleted after several conversations with Roskomnadzor officials, but refused to say more. The official requests were recommendations, we were told by a source at the radio station who asked not to be named. Initially, Roskomnadzor asked the radio station to soften the news due to the fact that the main surname [sic] was in it. After some discussion, the editors decided to remove the report from the station’s website altogether, because “an act of hooliganism had ruffled feathers where it counted,” our source told us.

Georgy Ivanov, Kommersant Publishing House’s principal attorney, said the offensive remarks must be voiced in a blatant manner. In the news reports, the inscription has been blurred or blotted out, however. Legally, only the prosecutor general’s office can decide whether published matter is offensive or not, while Roskomnadzor’s function in these cases is more technical, he said. Roskomnadzor has been engaged in constant discussion with the media on implementing laws, but editors are not always able to interpret the agency’s communications with them, to decide whether they are recommendations or orders, and it is thus no wonder regional media perceive their interventions as coercion. Ivanov argues the Russian media had numerous worries about the new regulations on offending the authorities and fake news, and these fears had come true.

“We criticized the proposed regulations primarily because of how law enforcers and regulators act in the regions,” said Vladimir Sungorkin, director general of the popular national newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. “In Moscow, we can still foster the illusion laws are enforced as written, but out in the sticks the security forces cannot be bothered with the fine points. They often get carried away.”

Sungorkin is certain that incidents in which local officials use the law about offending the authorities and fake news to twist the media’s arm will proliferate.

“It is a birthday gift to the security services in the regions,” he said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Ovsyannikov: How Russia’s New Laws on Disrespecting the Authorities and Fake News Will Play Out

markischer bunny

Russia: How Will the Laws on Disrespecting the Authorities and Fake News Play Out?
Ivan Ovsyannikov
Eurasianet
March 26, 2019

Six months after easing punishments for speaking out on the internet, Vladimir Putin has signed laws that would restrict freedom of speech in Russia, argue civil rights activists.

People who are deemed to have disrespectfully criticized the Russian authorities and disseminated fake news face blocked websites and stiff fines.

The new laws do not explain how to distinguish ordinary criticism of the authorities from disrespectful criticism, and fake news from honest mistakes or the truth, in cases in which the authorities have decided to declare it fake. Defining disrespect and unreliable information has been left to the discretion of the authorities.

How the New Laws Are Worded
According to Russian Federal Law No. FZ-30 and Russian Federal Law No. FZ-31, which have amended the previous law “On Information, Information Technology, and Information Security” (Russian Federal Law No. FZ-149, dated July 27, 2006), people who disseminate “unreliable socially significant information in the guise of reliable news” could be fined, under the corresponding amendments to the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code, between 30,000 rubles and one million rubles, while people who voice their “flagrant disrespect” for society, the state, its authorities, and its symbols “improperly” could be fined between 30,000 rubles and 300,000 rubles.

On March 18, 2019, Putin signed the corresponding law bills, as previously passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council, into law.

Russia’s federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor now has the power to restrict access to a website that has published “false” or “disrespectful” claims, according to law enforcement agencies, without a court’s sanction.

Both law bills were tabled in the Russian parliament by Andrei Klishas, who formally represents Krasnoyarsk Territory in the Federation Council, the parliament’s nominal upper house. Klishas had previously coauthored law bills on making the Runet autonomous, on stiffening punishments for advocating separatism, on breaking rules for holding political rallies, on desecrating the national anthem, and on declaring media outlets “foreign agents.”

klishasAndrei Klishas, a member of the Russian Federation Council for Krasnoyarsk Territory. Photo courtesy of Ilya Pitalev/RIA Novosti and RBC

The Russian Government Will Be Able to Pinpoint and Block Bad News
Despite the prohibitive bent of MP Klishas’s lawmaking, he heads United Russia’s “liberal platform,” stressing that his law bills are not attempted crackdowns. When discussing the law criminalizing disrespect for the state and society, Klishas pointed to European precedents.

“The rules existing in Europe say you can criticize the authorities as much as you like and demand their resignation. […] But when you communicate with the authorities, you should show respect, because they did not appear out of the blue. They are the outcome of people’s choices,” Klishas told Znak.com in an interview published in February 2019.*

As for the law on so-called fake news, MP Klishas stressed only people who distributed knowingly false information that engendered panic and endangered society had to fear prosecution, not reporters and bloggers who made honest mistakes, he told the website.

Klishas’s stance is not shared by the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, which described his law bills as unacceptable, anti-constitutional, and a threat to the public.

“The way in which these innumerable, insane law bills are tabled reveals a simple desire to curry favor with the regime. They generate a sense of legal uncertainty. First, swearing was criminalized. Then ‘extremism’ and ‘foreign agents’ were targeted. Now fake news and ‘disrespect for the authorities’ have been added to the list. Give the well-known practice of selectively charging and convicting people for these crimes, no one knows what might get them in trouble,” says journalist and presidential human rights council member Leonid Nikitinsky.

The law on fake news does not stipulate how real news should be differentiated from counterfeits, which makes the law a bogeyman, argues Nikitinsky. The authorities can use it to trip up undesirable journalists and silence unwanted news.

Nikitinsky notes that, while Russian state propaganda is chockablock with fake news, it is is independent media that are primarily at risk of being penalized for violating the new law.

New Prohibitions Make Up for Easing of Old Bans
Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group, argues the penalties for disrespecting the authorities and fake news are meant to compensate for the partial decriminalization, in November of last year, of “extremist” statements published on the internet.

After first-time convictions for public incitement to hatred or enmity (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) were reclassified as administrative offenses, Russian police lost part of their workload. Under the so-called quota system, in which law enforcers are evaluated according to the number of crimes they have solved, the introduction of new offenses in the Administrative Offenses Code can generate new possibilities for fudging the statistics on cleared cases and conviction rates.

On the other hand, the amended law appears “liberal” only when compared with its earlier redaction, which stipulated a maximum of five years in prison for careless statements on the internet.

Improper Does Not Mean “Obscene”
If the law against fake news would probably be applied selectively, administrative charges of disrespect for the authorities and society could be a large-scale phenomenon within a few years, argues Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center.

“People are punished five times more often under the ‘anti-extremism’ articles in the Administrative Offenses Code than under the corresponding articles in the Criminal Code. The partial decriminalization of Criminal Code Article 282 shifts the proportion even more heavily toward administrative punishments. The introduction of new articles in the Administrative Offenses Code means there will be fewer criminal prosecutions and many more administrative prosecutions,” Verkhovsky predicts.

Last year’s easing of anti-extremist laws was justified by the fact that the mechanical application of Article 282 had produced a proliferation of inmates who had no relation to extremist groups. The administrative prosecution of “disrespect for the authorities” could also balloon into a crackdown against rank-and-file Russians.

“It is difficult to predict the extent to which such cases will be politically motivated,” says Verkhovsky.

Prosecuting people of disrespect for the authorities is complicated by the lack of clarity over what can be said and what cannot. According to Roskomnadzor’s official clarification, which was not issued in connection with the new law, “four well-known words (kh.., p…., e…., and b….), as well as the words and expressions derived from them,” are considered obscene.**

Verkhovsky stresses, however, that improper does not mean obscene. The new law does not define what it means by “improperly.”

Nikitinsky agrees.

“You can arbitrarily call anything improper,” he says.

The Authorities Are More Sensitive to Criticism 
According to Chikov, the passage of Klishas’s law bills is the regime’s knee-jerk reaction to its dwindling popularity. After the pension reform of summer and autumn 2018, the ratings of Russia’s supreme executive and legislative authorities took a severe hit. Also, according to a poll done by VTsIOM, a year after the last presidential election, in March 2018, Putin is trusted by 33.4% of Russians, a drop of 21.9% from March 2018.

For example, in March 2018, a court in Naberezhnye Chelny sentenced activist Karim Yamadayev to twenty-eight days in jail for erecting a fake headstone for President Putin by way protesting the law bill that would create a “sovereign” Runet, if passed into law.

putin doa“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, 1952–2019.” Image courtesy of BBC Russian Service

In summer of 2018, Petersburg activist Varya Mikhaylova was fined 160,000 rubles for publicly displaying the picture 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition, which also depicts Putin, during the city’s annual May Day march. Despite the fact the march itself was legal, the picture had not been vetted by the police. As Mikhaylova admits, she was completely surprised when she was detained, since she has a poor sense of the line between what is acceptable and what is forbidden.

The Kremlin is likely to use the new laws to crack down on its most audacious critics.

varyaVarya Mikhaylova (center, with megaphone), carrying {rodina}’s 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition as she marched with the Party of the Dead bloc in last year’s May Day demo in Petersburg. Photo by Elena Lukyanova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

_________________________

* Members of the Federation Council are not “chosen by people” in the sense of free and fair elections, but appointed by President Putin via highly stage-managed “elections” in the legislatures and parliaments of the Russian regions they only nominally represent. Aided and abetted by lazy journalists and political spin doctors, the thoroughly non-elected members of the Federation Council, whose only function is to rubber-stamp destructive law bills like the two described in the article, have taken to calling themselves “senators” in recent years, although Russia has no senate or senators. TRR

** I.e., khui (“dick”), pizda (“cunt”), ebat‘ (“fuck”), bliad‘ (“bitch”), all of which are indeed incredibly productive roots in colloquial Russian. TRR

Ivan Ovsyannikov is a member of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) and a trade union organizer. Lead photo and translation by the Russian Reader. All other photos featured in the translation were selected by me and were not included in the original article, as published on Eurasianet.

Alexander Podrabinek: We Are Different

podrabinek-ssylkaAlexander Podrabinek in exile in Yakutia in 1979. Courtesy of Institute of Modern Russia

We Are Different
Alexander Podrabinek
Grani.ru
March 8, 2019

Nor are we in this together. I did not want to draw a dividing line between people and put them in different camps, but I have no choice: there are tough times on the way. If we are not lucky, things could go back to the way they were. You all will go back to your kitchens. Your tongues will be firmly in your cheeks again, and the jokes made by stage and TV performers will be cautious and carefully calibrated to register the authorized quantity of discontent. We will go back to our labor camps and prisons, our psychiatric hospitals and places of forced exile, to our intransigence and contempt for violence. By “we” I do not mean only those of us who have already spent time in those places. There will be new generations of stubborn, improvident, free-spirited Russians. We were different back then, and we are just as different now. Once upon a time, Solzhenitsyn quite accurately identified you as “smatterers.”*

You always knew what was permitted and what was forbidden. You had the Soviet individual’s sixth sense for knowing where the line ran. Few of you ever crossed the line, and the few who did left ordinary life behind forever, some going to the west, while others were sent east. When communism collapsed and freedom dawned, you immediately felt brave. You spoke loudly, angrily, and righteously. It was a sight to see. We were glad our ranks had swelled. We were glad we were stronger and could change our country.

The fresh breeze of change has subsided, however, and the familiar smell of Soviet rot is in the air. Censorship, political prisoners, extrajudicial killings, and wars of aggression have reemerged. Where are you now, masters of reincarnation? What side are you on? How many of you are still on our side? You now go regularly to the Kremlin to receive decorations, medals, state prizes, and honorary titles. You heed the demands of censorship and edit out anything that could cause Roskomnadzor to blow a fuse. You have a keenly honed sense of what can be said and what cannot be said, of what plays can be staged, movies made, and concerts held, and which it would be better not stage, make, and hold. You serve on a variety of presidential and ministerial councils. Pretending to be in opposition, you seek permission for your protests from the authorities, but as soon as the Kremlin calls, you rush there to explain yourselves and prove your personal indispensability.

As before, you sing the same old song about the value of small deeds, because you are afraid to be free. You were also afraid back then, when we were imprisoned. You carried the regime’s water in silence or grumbled under the watchful eye of art critics in plain clothes. You pretended to be fearless freethinkers and the movers and shakers behind imaginary reforms. On the stage, you cracked witty jokes approved by the censors. You published your censored stories and novels in the thick literary magazines. Commissioned by the State Committee for Cinema (Goskino), you made cheeky movies whose cheekiness was carefully calibrated. But you never crossed the line lest you lose your place on the gravy train.

You might wonder whom I am addressing. Who is the target of my reproaches and accusations? That is an easy question. Take an honest look at your past and your present. What did you do under socialism? What did you after it collapsed? Who made you bend your back in the old days? How straight do you stand up nowadays?

To be honest, the recent scandal involving humorist Mikhail Zhvanetsky compelled me to write this. Public outrage over the latest instance of a celebrity pandering to the Russian powers that be was countered by a chorus of defenders of spinal flexibility. How dare you? they asked. Who are you compared to him? He joked his whole life while you were silent. He is a genius, but you are nobodies. One defender dubbed the storm of criticism a “stink,” while another advised Zhvanetsky not to pay any mind to the “scum.” Yet another defender reminded everyone that Zhvanetsky was permitted to do what lesser people were forbidden.

It is amazing. Do you really regard yourselves as a magnificent, exceptional cultural elite? During the hardest times, you skillfully kowtowed to the Soviet regime. You were caricatured reflections of evil. You were witty, resourceful, and even gifted, but you were the regime’s shadow. You looked good amid a scorched desert where everyone was forbidden to do anything, but where you were allowed certain indulgences by royal decree. Is this what makes you so perpetually proud? Does it forgive you your past and future sins?

You are good at forgiving and vindicating yourselves. It is the meaning of your lives and the key to your survival. You have forgiven yourself for your cowardice during Soviet times, because the times were dangerous. You forgive yourself for selling out nowadays, because it is good for your wallet. You will always find a way to vindicate yourself. Proud, unperturbed, a noble air about you, you will walk the streets again.

Good luck at your old jobs!

* “The Smatterers” was the unhappy English coinage for the title and subject of Solzhenitsyn’s 1974 essay “Obrazovanshchina,” as published in the bilingual anthology From Under the Rubble.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Pskov Rallies in Solidarity with Reporter Svetlana Prokopieva

prokopievaSvetlana Prokopieva. Courtesy of Article 19

“People Haven’t Found Another Way to Voice Their Opinions and Make Themselves Heard” 
moloko plus
February 16, 2019

In early February, the home of journalist Svetlana Prokopieva was searched by the security forces, who suspect her of “vindicating terrorism.” If charged and convicted, she could face seven years in prison. In November 2018, Prokopieva shared her thoughts about the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk live on the radio station Echo of Moscow in Pskov. In December, Roskomnadzor, the Russian media watchdog, claimed the journalist’s statement could be interpreted as “vindication of terrorism.”

What do the people in Prokopieva’s hometown of Pskov think? We spoke with people who attended a rally there in support of her on February 10 and wrote down what they told us.

Nikita, 24, woodworker
I came to this rally to support someone whom the authorities are attempting to punish unjustly simply because she analyzed certain things on her radio program. And for that her home was surrounded by a SWAT team.

First, it’s a shame this is happening in Pskov. I’d always had the sense Pskov was a democratic city, a city of free speech. But things have a changed a bit, apparently.

I don’t think Russia has passed the point of no return yet, but, judging by such cases, it is trying to get there whatever the cost.

Rallies like this also give a boost to the people who attend them. You get the sense you’re not alone, that there are quite a few other people who think like you. Maybe this will also help Svetlana.

Maria, 40, homemaker
I came to this rally to support Svetlana, who back in the day wrote about us and really helped us. She got the attention of our region’s governor, who was then Andrei Turchak, because it was really hard to get to him. But Svetlana helped us with that.

The authorities just took our property. Rosimushchestvo [the Federal Agency for State Property Management] used photocopies of documents to register our house in their name, and so we lost everything. Then our daughter Serafima was born. The doctors diagnosed her with Down Syndrome. We were immediately faced with a whole slew of trials. But Svetlana wrote about us from the very beginning of this business. She found our family when we were still building the house. It was then we had given a gift to the city by restoring a fourteenth-century wall. My husband was given an award for that. They gave him an award, but then they confiscated our house.

Around the same time, there was the “Direct Line” TV program with Vladimir Putin. I think Svetlana is the sort of person who should be on the president’s team, who should work with governors and officials.

Svetlana did an investigative report and helped us. Turchak himself took charge of the matter of our house and an inspection team (sent by President Putin, I think) came to have a look. I would like our rulers to have incorruptible and honest people like Svetlana Prokopieva on their teams.

We don’t want revolutions. We just want there to be good people close to our president and our governors. Now we have a new governor. [Instead of persecuting Prokopieva], they should make her part of his team, and then everything would be terrific in our city.

Guslyana, 40, works in agriculture and handicrafts
I have read the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya for fifteen years. It’s an excellent newspaper, one of the few independent newspapers in Pskov Region and Russia.

So, I think it’s quite important to defend a reporter from the newspaper, just like any independent reporter who tells the truth.

I think [the charges against Prokopieva] are fabricated and far-fetched. Lots of people say similar things publicly and privately. The lack of opportunities for peaceful protest cause certain people to become radicals, terrorists, and so on. I don’t consider what Prokopieva said a call for terrorism or vindication of terrorism.

It’s just getting at the root of the problem.

I would argue that when the authorities persecute journalists they are just trying to crack down on the independent press and intimidate activists and freethinkers.

God forbid the case should end with Prokopieva’s actual imprisonment. Whether it does or doesn’t happen primarily depends on us.

I would like to quote another of my favorite op-ed writers and journalists [sic], Yekaterina Schulman. She says the only effective thing is public scrutiny and grassroots protest. When they don’t work, nothing else will work at all.

Natalya, 65, pensioner, village councilwoman
I came to this rally because I had to come. That’s all there is to it. There was no way I would not come.

I think it’s a disgrace when a person is punished for her honesty and integrity.

When I heard about the case on Echo of Moscow radio station, the word “lawlessness” [bespredel] came to mind, since this is state-sponsored lawlessness.

I listened to the program on the radio and I wanted to find the article on the internet, but couldn’t find it. I recall, though, that what Svetlana had said was quoted verbatim on the radio program, as far as I understood. There was nothing criminal about it. Moreover, I agreed with her.

I believe we should value, respect, and help such people, not run them into the ground by filing criminal charges like that against them. If it weren’t for such people, the government would simply rot due to a lack of criticism. Maybe the government doesn’t want to be criticized, of course, but if wants to progress and see its mistakes, it has to have people like this. And help them.

Anya, 38, businesswoman
We came to Svetlana’s rally carrying placards about free speech. This illustration of a pencil clenched in a fest was used at the peace march in Paris in 2015 after the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. I was part of that demo in France four years ago, and now I am here. Of course, there are fewer of us in Pskov, but Pskov is not Paris.

All of us are in the media and on the social networks. We all voice our opinions. None of us is immune to this terror directed against us, actually. We want the right to speak our minds.

Svetlana, 38, content manager
I know Svetlana personally: my previous job had to do with the mass media. Personally, I want to live in a free country where I have the right to speak out, where I can voice my thoughts freely. It’s due to all these things that I’m here.

I read the article for which they are trying to bring Svetlana up on criminal charges. I didn’t find any vindication of terrorism in it. She was simply making an argument. She said nothing radical and made no calls for terrorism.

She merely discussed the situation and why it happened.

First, one of the speakers [at the rally] was right. I don’t consider it a terrorist attack. The individual could find no other way to voice his opinion so it would be heard. After all, he left a note, a message on a Telegram chat channel that he was opposed to the FSB’s use of torture.

How could he make himself heard? It turns out he couldn’t.

Pavel, 21, vigilante, guarding the rally
The people’s militia here in Pskov sent me to the rally to maintain order.

I gather [the authorities] are prosecuting a journalist for a critical article. I didn’t read the article, but I don’t think anyone has abolished freedom of speech [in Russia]. It’s another matter altogether that it falls under our country’s laws.

From the ethical point of view, however, she did nothing wrong, of course.

I believe that peaceful rallies like this one, only publicity and dissemination of information, can help individuals avoid criminal prosecution in Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Roskomnadzor Blocks Gay.Ru

gay.ruScreenshot of Gay.Ru courtesy of Russian LGBT Network

Roskomnadzor Blocks Major LGBT Website Gay.Ru
Russian LGBT Network
Facebook
March 30, 2018

The website Gay.Ru has been notified the information published on it has been included in the Unified Register of Prohibited Websites by decision of the Altai District Court in the village of Belyi Yar, Republic of Khakassia.

The website now contains the following warning.

“The basis for blocking [the website] was the posting of information promoting nontraditional sexual relations, which has been prohibited in the Russian Federation.”

The ruling was made by Judge Olga Kvasova. As is customary in cases concocted by the authorities, it is impossible to comprehend what exactly the court deemed promotion of homosexuality.

The plaintiffs in the case were the Altai District Prosecutor’s Office and the Yenisei branch office of Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal media and communications watchdog. The court’s verdict came into force on December 22, 2017.

Yesterday, the website received the standard letter from Roskomnadzor about needing to immediately delete information whose dissemination is forbidden in the Russian Federation.

gay.ru

A screenshot of the homepage of Gay.Ru, taken on March 31, 2018. There is a reason why everyone in their right mind uses VPNs to surf the web in Russia. And no, Veronica, it is not against Russian law for individuals to use them.

“In order to ensure the rights of citizens and in compliance with current legislation, the information indicated above must be banned from dissemination in the Russian Federation, since unhindered access to the specified internet resource and the information posted on the website has been classified as prohibited information, meant to be disseminated amongst underaged children, to be capable of provoking in them an interest in nontraditional sexual relations, to distort notions of the social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, and to induce them to engage in nontraditional sexual relations, which poses a real threat to their health. In addition, dissemination of this information has a negative impact on the moral, spiritual, mental and physical development, on the health and safety of minors, and diminishes the value of family relations,” the court’s ruling reads.*

For twenty years, Gay.Ru has not only covered LGBT community news in Russia and the world but has also published articles on the cultural and social life of LGBT people, articles on health and HIV prevention, and studies of gender and sexuality.

* The original Russian ruling is rendered in such illiterate, ungrammatical Russian I wonder whether the judge or court clerk who wrote it went to school. TRR

Thanks to Igor Kochetkov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader