A Letter from Socrates in Prison

A Letter from Socrates

You can imprison us but you can never break us. We are not neo-Nazis who when they find themselves in prison try to slash their wrists, hang themselves, and swallow razor blades right off the bat. And who in the camps  quickly join the “goats” (kozlyatnya), the prison household work brigades. We can be part of the general prison population. We don’t have to fear that our fingers will be beaten off with a hammer or we will be whacked upside the head with a slipper, because we haven’t done anything “gross.” We don’t judge people by ethnicity, color, and creed. Here in prison we are all “wogs” and “bandits” in the eyes of the law, because we valued honor and truth  more than liberty. We are not Moscow chumps who imagined they were Aryan Vikings, but who as soon they went into the system realized they were not fascists but were like everyone else here. No, in Russia there will never be an Aryan Brotherhood like in the US. In our prisons there is a friendship of peoples.

sokrat_bwAlexei Sutuga

Moscow Babylon has seduced, hoodwinked, and punished all the poor fellows from all over the Soviet Union. Now we all hate those greasy pushers in suits flashing IDs, the stupid cops who have involuntarily become polizei, and we laugh at each other when we tell the stories of how we ended up here. Now, as in the years of the Soviet-era Great Terror, there are entire social groups getting run through the system for the same crimes. This is no fight against crime. It is a war with competitors for control of business and against their own (potential) poverty. The law enforcement agencies are doing business when they jail businessmen and officials for fraud (Article 159 of the Criminal Code). They nick their businesses from them and get rid of competitors who got caught with their hands in the till and did not cut them in on the action. Since the entire Russian business world is built on financial scams and fraudulent schemes, there is no shortage of new criminal cases.

The same is true in drugs trafficking. The terrible Criminal Code Article 228, Parts 3 and 4 (drug dealing), introduced by the president, has made it possible to populate the prisons and camps with Central Asian nationals, which has done nothing at all to disrupt the well-regulated flow of drugs, but justifies the work of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service and the entire Russian Federal Penitentiary Service. And such a time-honored crime among  prisoners as theft (Article 158) gives police investigators wide berth for padding solved cases stats and packing the penitentiaries with mobs of working stiffs and poor folk, who bust their humps in the prison colonies, thus directly lining the pockets of the wardens.

Our entire penitentiary system is a post-Soviet Gulag that has not fully embarked on the capitalist path. Formally, all the system’s rules and regulations have remained as they were in Soviet times, but the current Federal Penitentiary Service employees has no clue how to rehabilitate us. On the other hand, they have learned how to make money off us, from embezzling allocated funds to the personal deals made by criminal investigators at the local level. Russia now has commercial prisons. If you have money, you can forget about the unwritten “understandings” that once reigned. Watch TV and tuck into groceries ordered from the cops’ online store at inflated prices. Almost anything can be bought.  Just don’t rock the system.

Prison is a mirror of our society. But the atomization of the individual is not as forceful as it is on the outside. It is harder to survive alone. That is why it is better to live in “families” than to go crazy alone between four walls. For a long time there has been no doubt that the regime plans to combat and jail us anarchists and anti-fascists. For the time being they are only jailing us. Though now we are not such a big threat to the state, we justifiy the existence of the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), which does everything it can to defend its beloved regime. Although in most cases this amounts to combating seditious posts on the Internet.

sokrat_pismoManuscript of Sutuga’s letter

Our country is big, and things like the riots on Bolotnaya Square or the capture of ruthless antifa hooligan do not happen every months. So for the time we are the smallest group in the prison community. And yet the anti-extremism police eat their government-issued bread for nothing. They are unscrupulous. Although they are clumsy at fabricating cases,  they are doing quite well for themselves. And so every criminal case against a comrade of ours must be turned into a campaign to defend the individual from the state’s power over him or her. All the punitive institutions of the state should be subjected to attack. We and the people are on one side, and this leviathan with legs and dressed in a uniform is on the other.

Alexei “Socrates” Sutuga

*****

This letter was originally written as an article, entitled “Alexei Sutuga’s Letter from Behind Bars,” and published on July 19, 2015, in Avtonom 36 (2015).

Images, above, courtesy of Autonomous Action

Thanks to Vladimir Akimenkov for the heads-up. If you follow this last link you will find information, in Russian, about Sutuga’s address at the prison colony in Angarsk where he is currently serving his sentence, where and how to send letters to him, and how you can help him and his family financially.

OVDInfo.org has published the following summary of Sutuga’s case:

Alexei Sutuga is an anti-fascist and member of the Autonomous Action anarchist movement. In April 2012, he was arrested on suspicion that on December 4, 2011, he and a group of anti-fascists had assaulted a group of young nationalists, and that on December 17, 2011, he and his friend the anti-fascist Alexei Olesinov had assaulted security guards at the Vozdukh Club in Moscow. The accused and people who had been attending a concert at the club testified that the security guards had themselves provoked the fight and used weapons. In 2013, police investigators admitted that Sutuga had had nothing to do with the incident on December 4, 2011. In  the summer of 2013, he was released on bail from remand prison, and in January 2014 the case against him was closed as part of an amnesty. Afterwards, according to Sutuga, Center “E” officers threatened him with “problems.”

In April 2014, Sutuga was detained  by Center “E” operatives after an anti-fascist concert in Moscow’s Izmailovo district. According to a report by the For Human Rights Movement, ten other people were detained besides Sutuga. The pretext was a crime committed by a person unknown in the vicinity of the concert, but according to the human rights activists, there were no grounds for suspecting the anti-fascists. Sutuga was asked about a trip to Maidan as he was being detained. All the other detainees were soon released, but a disorderly conduct report was filed against Sutuga and he was kept at the police station.  He was later charged with having delivered multiple blows with a chair, his feet, and an improvised hammer to several people during a fight at a Sbarro chain restaurant outlet on January 2, 2014. Sutuga himself claimed that he had been trying to separate the people involved in the fight, which, according to him, had taken place between a group of right-wing youth and another group of young people, and that in the process of pulling them apart he had struck someone once. On October 1, 2014, Sutuga was sentenced to three years and one month in a medium-security penal colony. On December  17, 2014, an appeals court upheld the judgment.

In April of this year, Antti Rautiainen reported the following to Infoshop News (which I have summarized).

Sutuga has been transferred to the Irkutsk Region. He has refused to do household work in prison (which could reduce his sentence), unlike neo-Nazis Maxim Martsinkevich and Roman Zheleznov, as this form of collaborating with prison wardens is impossible for an anarchist.

Sutuga is twenty-nine years old. His sentence will end in May 2017.

On March 17, Sutuga went on hunger strike, demanding that his confiscated letters and books be returned to him and that he be transferred from the remand prison in Irkutsk, where he was incarcerated, to a prison colony.

On March 22, Sutuga was transferred to Prison Colony No.14 in Angarsk.

The Memorial Human Rights Center declared Sutuga a political prisoner on March 20.

Sutuga has a wife and child who live in Ukraine. His spouse is studying for a PhD and raising their child.

The cost of a two-way flight to Angarsk for his wife and son is about 60,000 rubles (approx. 1,200 euros). Only one long-term conjugal/family visit is permitted every three months. Alexei’s family needs money for sending parcels of food and other necessities to the prison colony.

Alexei Gaskarov: “The Desire for Justice Has Not Faded”

“The Desire for Justice Has Not Faded”
Alexei Gaskarov (as reported by Maria Klimova)
29 December 2014
MediaZona

On August 18, 2014, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow sentenced four defendants—Alexei Gaskarov, Ilya Gushchin, Alexander Margolin, and Elena Kokhtareva—in the so-called second wave of the Bolotnaya Square Case. Judge Natalya Susina found each of them guilty of involvement in rioting (Article 212, Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code) and using violence against authorities (Article 318, Part 1). Gaskarov was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. On November 27, the Moscow City Court dismissed an appeal against the sentence filed by all four defendants.

Antifa: “We Were Able to Tell Good from Evil”
There are different people in prison. The majority are not the same people we are used to interacting with on the outside. There are different sorts: junkies, criminals, and outright riffraff. But I still find myself thinking I had seen a number of these characters in the yard of my building back in the day. I have flashbacks when I encounter these people. So when you ask why my friends and I became antifascists, you have to imagine the environment we come from.

Photo_Gaskarov_behind_barsAlexei Gaskarov

I remember well what was happening on the streets in 1998–1999. The first skinheads and football hooligans had appeared, ethnically motivated killings were becoming more frequent, and rabidly fascist ideas were gaining popularity. A reality emerged that was invisible to the majority of people. With each passing year, the situation worsened, and the violence increased. We wanted to oppose it. We were able to tell good from evil. The neo-Nazi scene, on the contrary, attracted people not blessed with intellect, frankly. Most of them were up to nothing more than wasting their time on inciting racism and making fake videos of racist attacks. People like Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, the White Wolves, and other asinine teenagers bought into this.

Society has paid no mind to the killings of migrants, because it is quite xenophobic itself. Its attention has been drawn when Russians square off against Russians, when neo-Nazis murder antifascists in stairwells. But, in fact, at least one hundred ethnically motivated murders occurred in 2008–2009, and this should have been cause for concern.

BORN and Donbas: “They Have Been Hoodwinked”
I have tried as much as possible to follow the trial in the BORN case. It is complete nonsense that the accused are now pretending their actions were motivated by concern for the Russian people. This crazy fascism has nothing to do with defending ethnic Russians.

The boneheads (neo-Nazi and white power skinheads) were a product of society as it existed then. Maybe if Russia had been a democratic country, as it is on paper, the right-wingers would have had the chance to realize themselves in the political arena. In fact, all they had was street politics. The question is whether all those murders would have been committed had they been able to register their own political parties officially.

As we see from the testimony given at the trial by Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, the neo-Nazis tried to get their own political party, but to create it they needed a combat organization. By creating BORN (Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists), they were hoping to force the regime’s hand, to show they were capable of violence, but that there would be no violence if they had legal means of pursuing their ends.

The antifascists never had the goal of killing anyone. It was the neo-Nazis who first embarked on the path of violence, but this was because there was a certain political will for this. It is important to realize that, despite the street battles, until the mid 2000s the ultra-rightists did not see the antifascists as people whom they needed to shoot first. However, after Maidan 2004, the regime clearly tried to find support within society, including among potentially loyal young people. The nationalists were regarded as just such young people. There were lots of them, and they could be organized around football. This was when the first Russian Marches took place, and nationalists were allowed to set up semi-militarized training camps.

The neo-Nazis were supposed to oppose the so-called threat of orange revolution, the people dissatisfied with the current regime. Antifascists and anarchists were then considered part of this threat. This was when the turning point occurred: it was now considered a priority to destroy us.

Ilya Goryachev and Nikita Tikhonov, BORN’s ideologues, were apparently able to get the message to the presidential administration that they could confront left-liberals on the streets. And they would tell rank-and-file members of their gang that, for example, Pavel Skachevsky’s sister had been attacked by antifascists. This is complete nonsense: I know for a fact that antifascists Ilya Dzhaparidze and Koba Avalishvili didn’t do it. I don’t know whether Skachevsky’s sister was actually attacked at all. At the time, the website of DPNI (Movement against Illegal Immigration) was active, and it would publish information that was untrue, and simply meant to incite people. The fact remains that Dzhaparidze, who was murdered by the neo-Nazis, had nothing to do with this business. But the morons from BORN just believed it and did not even bother to verify the information. The same goes for why Ivan Khutorskoi was killed. It is, of course, complete rubbish that he broke the arms of underage nationalists. He might have talked to them and given them a slap upside the head, but no more than that.

The people from the far-right groups are no nationalists, of course. We know that many of them have gone off to Kiev to fight with the Azov Battalion, for example. This is not the same segment of nationalists that protested on Bolotnaya Square, but the marginal part of the movement, which took advantage of the fact that young people often go into denial when they see society’s existing problems.

I have the feeling that the BORN case, the case of neo-Nazis who sincerely believed they were defending the Russian people, has not taught anyone anything. We now see how this anti-Ukrainian hysteria has been whipped up. It is largely due to this hysteria that Russian citizens have been going off to Donbas to fight. They sincerely imagine they are going there to defend the interests of the Russian people. But in fact they have been hoodwinked. Like Vyacheslav Isayev and Mikhail Volkov, two of the defendants in the BORN trial.

Ukraine and Television: “Discrediting the Very Idea of Protesting”
Many people are too susceptible to television, to what they hear said on it. We have returned to 2004, when Maidan was a threat to the Russian regime. As then, our country’s authorities are trying to discredit the very idea of protesting against an existing regime.

We all remember the invasion of Crimea by “polite people.” It is clear that Ukraine has the right to resist—not their own populace, of course, but the armed men who entered their country and occupied government buildings. They entered the country, occupied cities, cut off access to information from the outside world, and pumped people full of propaganda.

Russia has done much to ignite chauvinist attitudes in eastern Ukraine, but neither have the Ukrainian authorities used all the means they have for negotiating. They should have introduced institutions of political competition and made their arguments with words. It would have been much better if they had tried to use democratic levers.

I know what European integration is fraught with. In Ukraine, all the political forces got behind integration with Europe. And then Russia suddenly adopted an antiglobalist stance. Yet it was obvious that being in a customs union with Russia would not have brought Ukraine any benefits. It needed reforms: hence the decision to unite with Europe. I do not agree with this decision, but I understand the arguments in its favor. At any rate, the choice for European integration was democratic. It is also telling that Maidan did not go massive when integration was being discussed, but only after the police forcibly dispersed a student demonstration.

I have much less access to information than people on the outside, but I believe the referendum in Crimea was held in such a way that it is impossible to say whether it was conducted properly or not. It is not possible to determine this right now, because even the current mood is largely shaped by propaganda that is broadcast in the absence of an alternative viewpoint. I cannot imagine holding a fair referendum at the moment, unless, perhaps, Ukrainian TV channels were allowed on the air there.

The question is who, exactly, will bear responsibility for its having happened this way.

Outcomes and Know-How: Why Be Involved in Russian Politics Today?
The verdict in our case, the closure of independent media, and all the hypocrisy around events in eastern Ukraine point to the fact the Kremlin has adopted a policy of self-preservation. This entire authoritarian system has begun to rot, but there are things allowing it to remain afloat. That is why it has to nurture the oligarchic elite, cops, and FSB officers.

This year has shown that banking on a majority consolidated at Ukraine’s expense and shutting out the twenty per cent who are dissatisfied with current policies is impossible without the loss of economic prosperity. Everyone has now been talking about restructuring our country’s resource-based economy. But why was this impossible to do over the past fifteen years?

You cannot constantly tighten the screws without the public welfare’s deteriorating. I have no illusions about violent revolution: however many people take to the streets and whatever it is they might oppose, there will always be more people from the security forces. So people have two ways of making an impact now: the first is going out and voicing their concerns, while is the second is quiet sabotage—leaving the country, not investing in anything. I know there are many people in business who are leaving because they cannot breathe here. The authorities can, of course, use the same scheme as they did on Bolotnaya Square, but that will trigger another outflow of people and capital; even more money will be taken out of the country. There will be fewer and fewer resources, but the salaries of the cops will still have to be paid. This, in turn, will lead to a split within the elite.

The current power structure is similar, in some sense, to the structure of BORN: it is just as completely opaque. Because of this, complete morons can be wind up at any point in the decision-making chain.

My sense is that the authorities will soon be forced to liberalize, to back off a bit. There will be breaks for businesses. For some, this will be enough to continue developing them. We will return to the old, slow path of growth. Maybe in some ways this is better than this crackdown and gradual slide into hell. They might stop dispersing opposition rallies or not jail Alexei Navalny, for example. The regime has many ways of avoiding a deplorable sequence of events.

Ukraine has shown that this pro-government crowd, who occupy niche positions, can just up and disappear one fine day. A year ago, no one knew that there would be tours of Yanukovych’s residence. When this happens, the old system has to be replaced with something.

The difference between federal and local politics in Russia is still not very great. This was shown well by the recent elections in my hometown of Zhukovsky, where local activists ran for city council and got half the votes, but in the end only two of them won seats.* This is not a good outcome. It has been impossible for activists to have an impact on anything. It did not work out when they wanted to defend a forest. The authorities shut down all such grassroots pressure campaigns.

It is not the outcome that matters nowadays, however, but the process of being involved, because what remains is a community with experience of solving problems. That community is not going away. And if certain changes suddenly begin in the country, then it is certainly a good thing such communities will already be there at the local level and can be the basis of new institutions. Yes, many people are now demoralized, but the desire to get justice and resist thievery has not faded.

Jail, Bolotnaya Square, and Me
I am certain that nothing would have changed had I not gone to the May 6, 2012, opposition protest on Bolotnaya Square, for example. No matter what I did, strange criminal charges would have been filed against me anyway. This is evident even from the news, where everything is presented in such a way that even popular TV presenters Tatyana Lazareva and Mikhail Shats, who were on the Opposition Coordinating Council [along with Gaskarov], are depicted as criminals.

The point is not Bolotnaya specifically, but the fact that if you are involved in activism, criminal investigations will be opened against you. That rubbish with Navalny and the stolen picture is a specific story stemming from Bolotnaya Square. I did foresee that this might happen.

I have no particular hopes for another amnesty. I have the sense the authorities might go for an amnesty for people convicted of economic crimes, because there is a theory that they could help improve the current economy, that the businessmen will one way or another add a fraction of a per cent to economic growth. The authorities could decide to do this. As for us, I have huge doubts. In prison, though, people always pin great hopes on amnesties. In reality, all the prisons are overcrowded: in violation of all European standards, there are two and half meters of living space per prisoner. And when Putin said, recently, that amnesties need not happen too often, he cannot but have known that practically no one got out under the first prisoner amnesty.

You can survive in the pre-trial detention facility, of course. There are no rats running around in the cell or moldy walls in here. And they take us out for a walk every day. True, the courtyard here is bare, and you cannot even see the trees. It is hard to keep track of the seasons: time flows differently on the inside. In short, they do not let you forget you are not at a health spa.

In terms of building relationships, the experience I gained while jailed for two months in the case of the attack on the Khimki town hall has come in handy here. I am used to the fact that people come and go at the pre-trial detention facility. You come across different characters. Recently, there was a guy in here who had lived in the woods for two months. He had been working in construction when he got screwed out of his pay. He didn’t know what to do and went into the woods. He drank hawthorn berry tincture there and had become something like a vagrant. He was nicked for stealing a bike.

I really want all political prisoners released as quickly as possible. And not only released, but released into a free country. I would like the space in which we all have to live to be freed up, to be less gloomy. This is my wish. That a thaw finally comes.

* City council elections took place in Zhukovsky, a town of 105,000 residents forty kilometers southeast of Moscow, on September 14, 2014, Russian general election day. Observers reported massive vote rigging, ballot box stuffing, and tampering with vote tally reports by polling station officials. A month later, members of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights brought the matter to the attention of Vladimir Putin. The president promised to order the prosecutor’s office to investigate the election violations in Zhukovsky, but the outcome of the election has still not been officially challenged or amended.

Editor’s Note. This translation was previously published, with an excellent introduction and afterword by Gabriel Levy, on People and Nature. Translated by The Russian Reader.