Ukraine’s political life has been shaken by the car-bomb killing of Pavel Sheremet, the Belarussian journalist, in Kyiv on Wednesday – a brazen, brutal murder in broad daylight in the city centre.
Sheremet was an extraordinarily talented and honest reporter, which is why many people with power and money hated him. He was jailed, beaten and harassed by the authorities in Belarus; worked on Russian state television and then quit in protest at its one-sided coverage of Ukraine; and moved to Ukraine where he worked on television and on Ukrainska Pravda, the largest news web site.
Sheremet graduated from a prestigious university of international economic relations, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. “My classmates became oligarchs, ministers, diplomats – and, true, some of them ended up in jail. When I moved from a bank job to work on TV, everyone said I was mad, but I never regretted it”, Sheremet said in an article, published by his colleagues this morning, entitled “Every Day As If It’s the Last: Rules for Living”.
The early 1990s was a golden era for journalism in the former Soviet Union. Sheremet hosted a popular news analysis programme on Belarussian state TV that was banned by president Aleksandr Lukashenko in 1995. Sheremet switched to Russia’s main state channel, ORT, as the head of its bureau in Minsk.
As Lukashenko’s regime descended into authoritarianism, Sheremet became a prominent dissident and spokesman for the Charter 97 human rights organisation. In 1997 his classic reportage on smuggling across the Belarussian-Lithuanian border earned him a two-year prison sentence. After serving three months he moved to Moscow.
The spirit of media freedom was still alive and kicking in Russia. Sheremet investigated the disappearances of Belarussian dissidents, some of them his close friends, and made cutting-edge documentaries, including one about the Chechen war. He set up Belaruspartizan.org, the most effective Belarus-focused dissident web resource. He won the International Press Freedom Award in 1998, the first of a string of such prizes.
“Pavel was a really rare bird among post-Soviet journalists”, wrote the Russian journalist Konstantin Eggert in one of a host of tributes. “He very well understood Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and maybe because of that he was a European – and not a Russian, Ukrainian or Belarussian – journalist.”
From 2010, Sheremet began to spend more time in Ukraine, and then moved to Kyiv, continuing to work for the main Russian state TV channel (ORT, later renamed Channel One). But in July 2014, four months after the overthrow of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich by the Maidan movement, Sheremet resigned from the station, complaining that those who contradict Kremlin propaganda were “hounded”.
“The TV still gives the impression that nothing has happened. That irritates people”, Sheremet wrote in the article published today. “The life people actually live is one thing, and then they turn on the TV and see a completely different picture. I quit [Channel One] because it became impossible to work there and preserve my reputation and good name.”
The news web site Ukrainska Pravda, where Sheremet worked for the last couple of years, along with broadcasting commitments, was his natural home. The site was set up in 2000 by Gyorgy Gongadze, another fearless child of the post-Soviet boom in free speech.
In September 2000, Gongadze was kidnapped and murdered by three police officers, who were many years later jailed for their part in the crime. The killers were clearly acting on the orders of elements in Ukraine’s political elite – although the connections beyond the internal affairs minister of the time, Yuri Kravchenko, who also died violently, were never completely clear.
The Gongadze case became a watchword for democratic rights in Ukraine. Rising to the challenge of censorship by thuggery, Gongadze’s colleagues turned Ukrainska Pravda from a penniless blog into the country’s prime web-based news resource, a position it enjoys to this day. Its news output is underpinned by comprehensive reporting on Ukraine’s oligarchs and the corruption that surrounds them. After the Maidan events two Ukrainska Pravda journalists, Sergei Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayyem, entered parliament on an anti-corruption platform.
Sheremet fitted in well in this company. The car he was driving when killed belonged to Aliona Prytula, Ukrainska Pravda’s co-founder and owner. The police at first suspected she may have been the intended victim, although on Thursday it was reported that investigating officers now thought the attack was most likely targeted at Sheremet himself.
There is no guarantee that we will ever know who killed Pavel Sheremet, and who ordered the killing. In the cases of many of the journalists murdered in former Soviet countries in the past 25 years, the trail of infamy that led to their deaths has been successfully covered up, often with the help of law enforcement agencies.
All we can be sure of is that the military conflict unleashed in eastern Ukraine over the past two years makes murders such as Sheremet’s more likely.
The complex clashes in eastern Ukraine that followed from Yanukovich’s removal were turned into war by the influx of huge quantities of military hardware and volunteer fighters from Russia, an influx for which the Russian state bears the main responsibility. Human life has been cheapened; more than 9400 people have died; human rights organisations now routinely issue reports (the most recent from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on 21 July) of torture, disappearances and arbitrary detentions.
All this has ratcheted up the danger to people like Pavel Sheremet, who so well understand the dynamics of such conflicts, and could explain them with frankness and good humour to their fellow citizens who don’t believe most of what the media tells them. (Pavel’s recent blog posts ladled sarcasm and wit on Russian war propagandists, Ukrainian business oligarchs and Ukrainian “volunteers”-turned-criminals alike, leaving us none the wiser about which of his enemies might have been involved in his killing.)
I have been travelling to Russia and Ukraine for the past 25 years as a journalist and a researcher. It’s easy for me: I have a British passport in my pocket and can leave at any time. For many like Sheremet, who in recent years I counted not just as a colleague but as a good friend, there is no such protection.
My thanks to Simon Pirani for his permission to reproduce this obituary here. TRR
After Apologizing for Genocide of Crimean Tatars, Vasily Gatov Attacked by Russian Channel One Employees 15 Minut
May 20, 2016
Well-known journalist and media manager Vasily Gatov, grandson of Ivan Sheredega, the NKVD Internal Troops commander who, in 1944, oversaw the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, has been targeted by his former colleagues at Russia’s Channel One after publishing a post on Facebook.
“Today is the anniversary of one of the most shameful events in the history of the Soviet Union, the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people. I don’t find it so easy to write these words: my own grandfather commanded this ‘operation.’
“In May 1944, the Soviet Army was in the midst of liberating the lands of Europe from the Nazi genocide machine, and the concept of ‘death camps’ was clear to the soldiers and officers. During these very same days, Stalin decided that another entire people, from its children to its heroes, was the ‘enemy.’
“As it is euphemistically called in the relevant documents, the ‘expulsion’ of the Chechens, Balkars, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians is nothing but a form of genocide. A genocide that has never been recognized, that has never been mourned, and that has never been paid for.
“The Crimean Tatars, Chechens, and Ingush are nations that have suffered at the hands of both the USSR and Russia.
“It is not only a shame. It is not only a sin.
“It is a crime that has been committed twice, an aggravated conspiracy by a gang whose objectives completely fall under the definitions of the crime as laid down by the International Court.
“And until a trial takes place in one form or another, any reasonable and sober person will have to repeat the same words:
“Forgive me if you can.”
Gatov also published his comment on the condemnation of his actions by his former colleagues on his Facebook page.
“Towards evening, I read the [minutes of] the long-distance Party meeting held on Facebook by Channel One employees and a few invited guests in order to condemn me. My thanks to Ksenia Turkova and Arina Borodina for their efforts to defend me in circumstances in which I cannot even reply to Svetlana Kolosva (director of Channel One’s documentary films department) and her fellow Party members.
“As for the claims made there, I have the following to say. Only a complete raving lunatic whose head was chockablock with propaganda and had been made insecure by continually lying to himself and others could have read into what I wrote yesterday everything my former friends and acquaintances discovered there. Basically, that’s all I have to say.
“Actually, it’s not quite everything. I discovered several interesting likes from people I didn’t expect to see on the list of invitees to the Party meeting. However, upon reflection, I concluded that the people who left those likes also completely fit the definition written above.”
You always want to avoid drinking with somebody during the holiday season. Maybe it’s that politically incorrect uncle of yours. Or maybe it’s a nagging in-law.
The well-known host of a health show on Russian state-run First Channel has another suggestion: shun those whom she calls “people of the Mongoloid race.” But it’s for their own protection, of course.
The segment, titled “whom not to drink with on New Year’s” begins with Yelena Malysheva, host of the program “Live Healthfully,” inviting an audience member up on stage.
A man named Shukrat, who identifies himself as an Uzbekistan native, is met with hearty laughter when he explains that he “wouldn’t want to drink with the police or the Federal Migration Service.”
Then Malysheva gets into the meat of her presentation, noting that Russians are “a white race, a Slavic one ” and “now we will talk about what race not to drink with on New Year’s.”
And just so there are no misunderstandings, she adds, “There is no discrimination here, just an understanding of the physiology that makes every race different.”
Shukrat then cuts in, noting that he “grew up in the Soviet Union, so I’m not a nationalist” and “can drink with black people and all people, to be honest.”
Malysheva reiterates that “when we talk about who not to drink with this New Year’s, we do not mean to cast scorn on anyone. We’re talking about the threat to their own health.”
She then turns to Dmitry Shubin, a “doctor” on her team and asks him to explain who not to drink with.
“In the interests of safety, one shouldn’t drink — no, not shouldn’t but mustn’t — drink with people who come from the Mongoloid race,” Shubin says, using a term to describe Asians that can be seen as derogatory. This group, he explains, includes Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and others in the Russian Far North.
Perhaps worried there may be confusion, Malysheva, using her fingers to press her own eyes together, explains that these “Mongoloids” can be identified by their narrow eyes and round facial features.
Just in case it still isn’t clear, she exhibits a slideshow of Asian-looking faces to avoid when in the presence of alcohol.
Shubin then explains the reasoning: Asians have a “genetic defect” that prevents them from properly metabolizing alcohol.
To demonstrate, he gives Shukrat and Malysheva liver-shaped containers, which are each apparently filled with black liquid (they don’t actually show what’s in Maysheva’s container before the experiment). As they both pour alcohol into their respective livers, Shukrat’s remains black. Malysheva’s becomes clear.
“Mongoloid: people with narrow eyes and crescent-shaped faces — [for them] alcohol is toxic,” Malysheva says, pointing to the fake liver a perplexed-looking Shukrat is holding. “And so the first people you should never drink with on New Year’s are representatives of the Mongoloid race. It is bad for them”
Research has shown that some people of East Asian descent — about one-third according to one expert — have a gene that causes difficulty in breaking down alcohol that could lead to long-term health consequences.
But doctors don’t generally recommend that non-Asians take the matter into their own hands by excluding people of Asian ethnicity from social drinking.
In Russia itself, according to a recent study in The Lancet medical journal, a quarter of Russian men die before the age of 55 — a rate far higher than the rest of Europe. And one of the chief causes is excessive alcohol consumption.
“WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT TO, YOU HAVE TO GO”
December 12, 2014 adcmemorial.org
From Tajikistan to Russia: Vulnerability and abuse of migrant workers and their families
Paris, St Petersburg, 10 December– The situation of Tajik migrants in Russia is deteriorating, said FIDH and ADC Memorial in a report released today. Increasingly restrictive migration laws are pushing migrants into irregular situations and increasing their vulnerability, while exploitation goes unchecked.
The dire economic situation in Tajikistan, where around 40% of the population of working age is unemployed, continues to push hundreds of thousands of men and women to leave for Russia every year. According to official statistics, in 2014 there were over a million Tajik citizens in Russia. The remittances sent back represent 47% of Tajikistan’s GDP, the highest percentage of any country worldwide. For most families, they are the main source of income. This trend looks set to continue.
Despite recent measures announced by the Tajik authorities, migrants remain highly vulnerable to abuse. As a result of increased restrictions on entry and stay in Russia, deportations have multiplied and tens of thousands of migrants have been subjected to re-entry bans. Migrant workers interviewed by FIDH and ADC Memorial reported extortion by Russian police and border guards, arbitrary arrests and police violence. Fuelled by xenophobic political discourse and media reports, vigilante attacks on migrants are on the rise. Those responsible for attacks benefit from almost complete impunity. The report also documents non-payment of wages, poor living conditions, and lack of access to medical treatment.
“The multiplication of legal restrictions, raids on migrants like Operation Migrant 2014, launched this November, and rising xenophobia are resulting in serious violations of migrants’ human rights. We are deeply concerned about recent acts of violence against migrants, on the part of the police and civilians, which have gone unpunished”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “In December, it became clear that Operation Migrant 2014 would be ongoing. Mass arrests and detention of migrants in Moscow and St. Petersburg continue.“
The report addresses the human rights impact of migration on women in particular. Hundreds of thousands of women are left behind in Tajikistan to bring up children, working in the fields and markets, and depending on their in-laws for support. Those whose husbands stop sending money or disappear completely can find themselves destitute. Over the past several years, there has also been a sharp increase in numbers of Tajik women migrating to seek work. It is estimated that today around 15% of migrants are women. Women migrants, especially those who leave the country alone, are seen as challenging traditional roles and often suffer stigmatisation from their families and communities in Tajikistan, while in Russia they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence.
In 2012, Tajikistan was examined by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The Committee raised particular concerns about corruption among border guards and some consular staff and the lack of effective complaint mechanisms for victims of abuse.
“Consular protection for Tajik migrants in difficulty in Russia remains inadequate and the Tajik Migration Service has not established an effective complaints procedure. Cases of exploitation by employers and intermediaries, including forced labour, are not properly investigated by the authorities of either country,” said Stefania Koulaeva, head of ADC Memorial.
Since 2011, FIDH and ADC Memorial have undertaken a series of joint investigations to document the situation of Tajik migrant workers in Russia and the violence, xenophobia and serious violations of economic and social rights they face there.
Interview with Stephania Koulaeva, head of the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Centre, on the situation of migrants in Russia
At the end of October the Russian government launched a huge operation called Migrant 2014 to crack down on migrants in an irregular situation in Russia. FIDH and ADC Memorial reported 7,000 arrests during the operation. What happened to those migrants and their families? Where are they now?
When we first reported on the 7,000 arrests, Migrant 2014 had only just begun. According to official figures published by the Moscow police and Moscow department of the Federal Migration Service (FMS, by the end of the operation on 4 November, over 50,000 migrants had been arrested by the police. Almost 2,000 expulsions were conducted and hundreds of migrants were detained. Simultaneously, the FMS in Moscow carried out a wave of inspections that resulted in the expulsion of 1,500 people. Another 3,000 people were barred from re-entry. The total revenue from penalties imposed on these migrants was almost 50,000,000 rubles (approximately 1 million Euros.)
Repression of migrants in Moscow alone during the week-long operation resulted in more than 3,500 expulsions and tens of thousands of cases of administrative punishment.
As to the current whereabouts of the arrested migrants, we can assume that many of them had to leave the country, often with a ban on coming back for a number of years. Although others could continue their life and work in Russia, they have had to pay a high price for permission to do so.
What does this operation say about the Russian government’s approach to migration? How does the Russian migration policy impact other countries in the region?
The Russian government policy on migration is controversial. On the one hand, it has close ties to the main business structures that employ migrant workers, in such fields as construction, communal services, and sales. This system allows Russia to benefit from a cheap labour force without spending on social needs. On the other hand, the very people who profit from the hard work and low wages of migrants are the ones who organised the operations against them, and use xenophobic rhetoric in the government-controlled media in order to pander to nationalist sentiments of the population. Migrants have become scapegoats for the immense problems that Russia now faces on the political and economic level, despite the fact that the country cannot function without migrant work.
The Russian government plays a complicated strategic game in the region on migration issues. For example, Russia allows Tajik migrant workers to work in Russia in exchange for military and geopolitical support from Tajikistan. Tajikistan meanwhile benefits from the remittances that working migrants send back to their families.
What are the main problem faced by migrants in Russia?
Migrants in Russia face a multitude of problems, including widespread discrimination, the stigma of illegality, the risk of detention and deportation, and xenophobia, in particular towards migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Those who are not formally employed face a prohibition on staying in Russia longer than three months, which, in practice, forces almost all children of migrants into illegal status.
Migrant workers receive lower wages for the very same work done by Russian nationals and suffer from the absence of social security in case of illness, injury or death.
Conditions of detention are another major problem. There is an absence of judicial control over the duration of detention of migrants accused of violating migration laws, which can last up to two years on purely administrative grounds.
These problems are compounded by the lack of support demonstrated by the migrants’ countries of origin. In some cases, such as in Uzbekistan, migrants even face repression from their government for working abroad.
Editor’s Note. I have lightly edited this article to make it more readable.
Migrant workers are leaving Petersburg: soon there won’t be anyone to work in construction and communal services
December 17, 2014 Gorod 812
On January 1, new rules for migrant workers, allowing them to work almost anywhere without restrictions, will be introduced in Russia. The authorities hope this will increase the flow of cheap labor from the CIS. In fact, the opposite is happening.
The Russian Federal Migration Service, which initiated the new rules, has said they fundamentally change the approach to labor migration. As of January 1, 2015, quotas will be abolished on the numbers of migrant workers from the CIS and other visa-free countries who can be employed in Russia.
The need to obtain a work permit will also be abolished. Instead of this document, migrants will need to buy a license. Its price will be different in each region, as set by the local authorities. In Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, it will cost 3,000 rubles; in Moscow, 4,000 rubles. As of January 1, each legally employed migrant worker, except for those who still have valid, previously issued documents, must have this license, no matter where they work.
The abolition of quotas means that any number of migrant workers can be employed at any enterprise. When there were quotas, the number of migrant workers in each sector of municipal services and industry were strictly regulated. For example, in 2014, only 164,000 migrants could legally work in Petersburg within the quotas. [Although the actual number of migrants working in the city is undoubtedly much higher.]
As of 2015, this ceiling will not be limited in any way. It would seem that the city should be flooded with migrants, but it isn’t, and the reason is the economy.
“The quotas are abolished, but there won’t be more migrants. They are already leaving the city. If the exchange rate of the ruble does not grow, they will stop coming here altogether, because it is not worth it. Salaries paid in rubles are not increasing in value. For example, if a person working at a construction site used to get 25,000 rubles a month, and that was roughly equivalent to 750–800 dollars, now it is worth 400–450 dollars. That does not even cover the person’s expenses. It is easier to make money at home,” says Suratbek Abdurahimov, chair of Uzbegim, the Uzbek National Cultural Autonomy of Saint Petersburg.
According to him, it makes no difference to migrants whether they have to get a license or a work permit. It is expensive and troublesome all the same. There is, however, an obvious drawback: after the new rules are adopted, the official price of a license in Petersburg will increase from two to three thousand rubles. But the real price of the document cannot be predicted at all. Given the cost of medical certificates, insurance, and everything else, migrants now pay between twelve and fourteen thousand rubles for a license, while getting a work permit costs around twenty thousand rubles. Abdurahimov believes that under the new rules a license will also cost at least twenty thousand. It is cheaper to stay at home.
Mahmut Mamatmuminov, board chair of the Assistance Fund for Migrant Workers from Central Asia, agrees with him.
“Of course, soon it will make more sense economically to stay at home. First, because of the exchange rate. Second, because migrants have to take exams in Russian, history, and law. It is hard: even an educated person finds these tests confusing. I have heard that exam certificates are already selling on the black market. Also, the number of migrants is dropping because the Federal Migration Service in Petersburg has banned many people from entering the country for different violations. According to Federal Migrant Service statistics, more than a million migrants have been banned from entering Russia over the past year,” says Mamatmuminov.
The major sectors in Petersburg where guest workers are employed are construction, retail, street cleaning and housing maintenance, services, and transportation. According to experts, if migrant workers pull up stakes and fly home en masse, there will soon be no one to do this work in Petersburg.
Staunton, December 20 – The collapse of the ruble and the test of Russian language knowledge they will soon be required to take are prompting gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation to leave in massive numbers, with the leader of the Federation of Migrants now predicting that more than a quarter of them will depart by early next year.
While some Russians may be glad to see them go, their departure will make it more difficult for the Russian economy to escape the looming recession. But even more seriously, their return to their homelands in such numbers will create problems there, given that none of those economies can easily absorb them.
The returning migrants are thus likely to become a source of additional instability in places that in many cases already are far from stable, and to the extent they are not absorbed into the economies, some of them may become recruits for radical Islamist groups that want to overthrow the existing order.
Mukhammed Amin, the head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia, told Newsru.com yesterday that “more than 25 percent” of the more than 10 million immigrant workers in Russia plan to return home or move to other countries in the coming months (newsru.com/russia/19dec2014/ishod.html).
He suggested that the main reasons for that are two: the collapse of the ruble exchange rate means they have less money to send home – most of their transfer payments have been in dollars – and concerns about the impact and cost of the test of Russian language knowledge they will be forced to take as of January 1.
Karomat Sharipov, the head of the Tajik Labor Migrants organization, confirmed that this is the case and said that many of his co-nations intend to leave Russia. He added that because jobs at home are scarce, at least some of them might join the ranks of extremist groups as mercenaries in order to support their families.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service had already reported that with the decline in the value of the ruble, the size of transfer payments by gastarbeiters in Russia to their homelands had sharply fallen (newsru.com/finance/12dec2014/migrants.html). That too will harm the economies of countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan from which most migrants have come.
Some Russians are pleased by the departure of the gastarbeiters, either because they view such people as culturally alien or because they think that such foreigners are taking jobs that Russians should get. But Russian officials are more concerned by the possibility that those leaving will join radical Islamist groups or become part of “so-called ‘Jihad tourism.’”
That term refers to Muslims from one country who travel to another to take part in and make money from radical Islamist groups fighting elsewhere. According to the Russian government, there are at least 1500 such people from CIS countries now fighting for the Islamic State; the departure of the gastarbeiters will likely boost that number further.
Russian officials fear that these people will not only destabilize neighboring countries but also in some cases return to push their causes within the borders of the Russian Federation, yet another frightening consequence of Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine.