Spooky Knowledge and the Russian Police State

gabyshevOpposition shaman Alexander Gabyshev was detained while walking to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of yakutia.info

Superstitious Democracy
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
September 20, 2019

The arrest and possible criminal prosecution of self-declared shaman Alexander Gabyshev, who was en route to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin, whom the shaman had dubbed a demon, is less a consequence of Gabyshev’s involvement in protest rallies and more the outcome of a serious attitude toward superstitions and occult practices on the part of high government officials and the security forces.

On Thursday, Gabyshev’s traveling companions reported that security services officers, armed with machine guns and billy clubs, had raided their tent camp on the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk region, where the shaman was spending the night. The siloviki detained Gabyshev and spirited him away on a police bus that took off towards Ulan-Ude.

In the afternoon, the Buryatia Interior Ministry reported, without naming a name [sic], that Gabyshev had been detained by order of a police investigator on suspicion of his having committed a crime in Yakutia, and he would be extradited to Yakutsk. According to sources cited by news agencies and TV Rain, Gabyshev could be charged with extremism.

Gabyshev’s trek to Moscow had already been marred by the arrest of his traveling companions, which partly sparked the unrest in Ulan-Ude that led to a protest rally at which protesters demanded a recount of the recent mayoral election in the city and generated a tactical alliance between shamanists and the Communists.

In our age of smartphones and supercomputers, the attempt to exorcise demons from the Kremlin seems like a joke, just like the possible charge of extremism against Gabyshev: it transpires that occult rituals are regarded as real threats to the Russian state.

We should not be surprised by this, however. Many of our fellow Russians have lost faith in the rational foundations of the world order and the state system. The paucity of scientific explanations in Russian society has been compensated by superstitions and conspiracy theories, which are broadcast by national TV channels, among others.

But that is only half the problem. Such explanations of reality and occult methods are widespread among the highest ranks of the security services, that is, among people who have the ear of the country’s leaders. Cheka officers were intensely interested in occultism in the 1920s and 1930s, an interest shared, later, by the NKVD and the Nazi secret services.

In post-Soviet Russia, arcane practices were promoted by the late General Georgy Rogozin, who served as deputy chief of the president’s security service.

“There are powerful techniques that reveal psychotronics. This is the science of controlling the brain. […] In order to see the trajectory of a person’s life, their ups and downs, it is enough to know when they were born,” Rogozin told Komsomolskaya Pravda in an interview.

In December 2006, General Boris Ratnikov of the Federal Protective Service (FSO) told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the secret services had tapped into the subconscious of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and detected a “pathological hatred of Slavs” and dreams of controlling Russia. In 2015, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev reproduced this as Albright’s “statement” that Siberia and the Far East did not belong to Russia.

We can only guess what threats the current security forces were able to “scan” (concoct, that is) in Gabyshev’s subconscious.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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The Real State of Russia Today

fullsizeoutput_215fRussia is a great place for pipelines, dirt, weeds, and skyscrapers, but it is hell on its people. Photo by the Russian Reader

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Some of my friends say the regime will collapse soon, while others argue it is only picking up a head of steam. It occurred to me yesterday that we mistakenly use the word “regime” when talking about the processes taking place in our midst. A regime can last a very long time, and crackdowns, no matter how ridiculous or chaotic, are not symptoms of its demise.

Since ancient times, the state has had only two fundamental functions: defending borders and administering justice (making laws). Everything else—medical care, education, pensions, and bike lanes—is a recent superstructure. Political regimes can be different, from totalitarian to democratic, and they can forego treating people when they are ill, teaching them, and paying them pensions while still maintaining stability. But it must perform the basic functions; otherwise, it stops being a state.

In Russia, on the contrary, one of these foundations has been completely destroyed over the past decades. I am not talking about crackdowns. There has never been any justice either for so-called dissidents or people who randomly fall victim to the state apparatus. People understood this in the Soviet Union, and they understand it now: you fight the law, and the law whacks you upside the head. The majority of Russians do not dispute the state’s right to crack down on the opposition or meddle in the affairs of other countries.

I am talking, instead, about ordinary life and everyday justice, about what we find in the Code of Hammurabi, the Law of the Twelve Tables, and Yaroslav’s Law—about the promises the state makes to citizens, about the fact that you cannot just be beaten, robbed, and wrongfully accused for no reason at all.

And what about Russia? What should we think when, for example, as a friend told me, a youth gang orders food deliveries and then beats up and robs the delivery people, and they have been running this scam for nearly a year, but the police simply refuse to do anything about it? When a person cannot find protection from his bully of neighbor, who shoots at his windows? When you go to court because traffic cops confiscated your driving license for no reason and then solicited a bribe to give it back to you, and the trial drags on for a year and a half? When you even win the case but the time you spent on it was worth much more in monetary terms than the bribe itself?

I made a point of giving more or less innocuous examples. Any of us knows several such stories. What is the point of doing public opinion polls and asking people whether they trust Putin? Ask people whether they trust the Russian courts and Russian law enforcement agencies. Their answer will show you the depths of the disaster. The Russian state has forfeited its basic function, and so we are slowly returning to the state of nature. Scattered tribes roam the landscape, and whether you are safe or not depends on the biceps of your fellow tribesmen. Strong communities can defend their members, while loners and weaklings die off.

The current outrage at the prison sentence handed down to an actor is not about crackdowns, but about the degradation of the state’s basic functions. This protest will only grow because the state has been vanishing before our eyes. All that remains are armed men who have monopolized power. What will be next? No one knows.

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Andrey Tchabovsky
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Our Motherland

We returned from a conference in Kyzyl (Tuva).

Two Germans, a respected professor, and his wife and colleague, had supplied the event with its international credentials. For over twenty years, they have invested both their money and their labor in research in Tuva. They had become fans of the place. They had made friends. They were friends to numerous local zoologists and zoologists from other parts of Russia. The professor is an honorary member of the Russian Theriological Society, an affiliate of the Russian Academy of Sciences. For the conference, they minted very nice commemorative medals, paying for them with their own money, to present to their respected Russian colleagues.

Local officials of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education did not let them into the conference at the university and deleted their papers from the conference program. They were not even allowed into the building, all because of Kotyukov’s decree about interactions with foreign scientists. It is clear the decree can and should be roundly ignored regardless of whether it is legitimate or not. It is equally clear that many people will not ignore it because of the stupid need to stay on the safe side and, so, the decree will do what it was meant to do.

It is an utterly shameful disgrace.

Thanks to Natalia Vvedenskaya for her permission to translate and publish her remarks. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for bringing Andrey Tchabovsky’s remarks to my attention. Translated by the Russian Reader

School Daze

olimpiada_po_himii(21)Moscow schoolchildren were smart enough to win the All-Russian Chemistry Olympiad in 2017, but the Moscow police department thinks they are not smart enough to know and speak their own minds when it comes to politics. Photo courtesy of Mos.ru, the official website of the Moscow mayor’s office

Policewoman Tells Moscow Schoolchildren “You Are Kaput” and Threatens Criminal Charges If They Attend Protest Rallies
Mediazona
September 6, 2019

​On condition of anonymity, a pupil at a school in Moscow has told Mediazona that today, during a lesson, a woman in a police uniform who identified herself as an inspector for minors came to his class. She threatened the schoolchildren with criminal charges if they attended protest rallies and said they would be unable to go to university.

Our source recorded the policewoman’s monologue on his telephone.

“As you know, protest rallies have been going on here in Moscow. People who attend them face administrative charges for this and then criminal charges. When people say they just happened to be in the same place, it makes no impression on me. I just put them on the watch list, and they get visits not only from beat cops but also from detectives,” she says at the beginning of her speech.

The policewoman then says she plans to put children on the watch list without bothering to figure out what happened.

“I do not care whether you there or not there, whether you went to a rally or were on a ‘stroll,’ whether you were just going to the toilet or not. I am going to put you on the watch list and that is that: you are kaput,” she says.

On a second recording, made in a parallel class at the same school, the policewoman goes into more detail about the dangers of being placed on the watch list of the police’s commission for the affairs of minors.

“When you are put on the watch list you can forget about your future and your plans for the future because you will not be able to get into any university. I am not talking about not being able to buy cigarettes or [inaudible] on a park bench. This is really serious. [. . .] I think your parents could also have a rough time at work. And basically, it is no fun being on the watch list, something everyone finds out later. Because we alert everyone that their employee’s child has been put on the watch list for this reason and that,” she says.

The school’s deputy headmaster then addresses the pupils.

“The main thing you have to understand is that the people who try to get you involved in this are just manipulating you. They could not care less about your civic stance. You are just numbers to them. They count you up and say that a hundred people, a thousand people came out for the rally. During the war, people like this were called ‘cannon fodder,'” he says.

“Remember that every so-called stroll in quotation marks—because, unfortunately, all children say they were strolling there—can bounce back on you in the sense that your entire educational trajectory and all your plans can be ruined very bitterly. We just worked together to try and save a pupil in the eleventh form after this situation because he was planning to go to a higher education institution connected with the law enforcement authorities. A lawyer was hired to defend him and he managed to get the charges dropped because the kid really had participated in so many academic competitions that it played a decisive role. But I would not wish what he went through on anyone. So don’t do it. Be smart and realize that the money they [inaudible] will later turn into tears of blood shed by your parents in the form of heavy fines,” he says.

According to our anonymous source, the preventive talks took place in the ninth and tenth forms at his school. He speculated they had probably taken place in other forms, too.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Three Years in Prison for Touching a Policeman’s Helmet

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Kirill Zhukov was sentenced to three years in prison for touching a Russian National Guardsman’s helmet. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Number of Guilty Verdicts in the Moscow Case Reaches Five
Anastasia Kornya and Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
September 5, 2019

On July 27, 2019, during an “unauthorized” rally in support of independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma, Kirill Zhukhov raised the visor of a helmet worn by a Russian National Guardsman. Yesterday, September 4, he was found guilty of violence towards a government official, as punishable under Article 318.1 of the Russian Criminal, and sentenced to three years in a medium-security prison colony. The verdict said that Zhukov, acting intentionally and fully aware he was dealing with a government official who was performing his duties, struck him a single blow to the head with his left hand in an attempt to tear off the helmet, causing the victim physical pain.

State investigators conducted a special forensic test establishing, allegedly, that even a slight, upward blow with the hand to the helmet’s visor causes the head to tilt back and the strap to make full contact with the skin in the chin area [sic].

Zhukhov, on the contrary, tried to prove he had only waved his hand in front of the guardsman’s visor since he wanted to draw his attention to a woman injured during the rally. But the court reacted to his testimony “critically.” As the judge explained, Zhukhov’s purpose in testifying in this way had been to mitigate the severity of his crime.

On Wednesday, the Meshchansky District Court sentenced Yevgeny Kovalenko to three and a half years in a medium-security prison colony. He was found guilty of violence against two law enforcement officers. Allegedly, he pushed one of the officers and threw a garbage can at the other.

“Fully cognizant that the man before him, Tereshchenko, was performing his duties, [Kovalenko] pushed him on the right side of the torso with both hands, causing him to lose balance and fall from the height of his own height [sic] on the granite steps and experience physical pain,” the verdict stated.

Continuing to act with criminal intent, Kovalenko grabbed National Guardsman Maxim Saliyev by the body armor with both hands, abruptly pulling him and dragging him towards himself and thus causing him physical pain. After Tereshchenko pushed Kovalenko away, Kovalenko grabbed a trash receptacle and threw it at the guardsmen, hitting Saliyev in the lower back. According to the verdict, the guardsman experienced not only physical pain when falling but also emotional suffering since, at that moment, he remembered he had to perform his duties [sic].

During the trial, Kovalenko explained he had not intended any harm. He had only tried to frighten off policemen who were beating up protesters. However, the judge said the court was skeptical of his claims. They were refuted by the evidence in the case file and were an attempt to avoid punishment.

“The court notes the consistent and purposeful nature of the defendant’s actions, testifying to his criminal intent to employ violence,” the verdict stated.

The judge emphasized that arguments about police misconduct could not be considered during the trial and were not evidence of the defendant’s innocence.

Kovalenko’s defense counsel Mansur Gilmanov pointed out that the crime with which his client had been charged was a crime against the normal functioning of government. It thus followed that beating up peaceful protesters was one way in which the government normally functioned, he argued.

Svetlana Bayturina, Zhukov’s lawyer, called the sentence handed down to her client unprecedentedly severe: usually, such cases had resulted in fines for defendants or, at most, suspended sentences. The speed with which the case was investigated and tried was also unprecedented: the investigation took three days; the trial, one. Bayturina promised the defense would appeal the verdict and intended to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This was the second “judgment day” for arrested protesters. The day before, blogger Vladislav Sinitsa was sentenced to five years in prison for posting a tweet the prosecution had described as a call to harm the children of law enforcement officers. Technician Ivan Podkopayev was sentenced to three years in prison for spraying pepper spray in the direction Russian National Guardsmen, while businessman Danila Beglets was sentenced to two years in prison for grabbing a policeman’s arm. Their cases were tried under the special procedure: neither man denied his guilt.

Gilmanov noted there was no significant difference between the sentences given to defendants who made deals with the prosecution and those handed down to defendants who pleaded not guilty. This testified to the fact the verdicts were political. The sentences were decided by more senior officials and legal nuances did not matter much, he argued.

Protesters arrested and charged under Article 318.1 after a similar “unauthorized” rally in Moscow on March 26, 2017, were given much lighter prison sentences, between eight months and two and a half years. For example, Stanislav Zimovets, convicted of throwing a brick that hit a riot police commander in the back, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, while Dmitry Krepkin, who kicked a riot policemen’s hip or his billy club, was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Only Andrei Kosykh, convicted of punching one policeman’s helmet and kicking another policeman in the neck and lower jaw, was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison, but he was convicted under Article 318.2, which covers violence that could result in death or grievous bodily harm.

The sentences in the so-called Moscow case have been roughly the same as those handed out in the Bolotnaya Square Case in 2012, only this time the protesters had not resisted law enforcement officers at all, political commentator Alexei Makarkin noted. According to him, the sentences in the current cases were dictated by the new rules of the game.

“Whereas before if someone hit a policemen in the teeth and damaged the enamel, he would do hard time, now people are getting similar, slightly shorter sentences for lifting the visors on riot policemen’s helmets, while people who grabbed a policemen by the arms are getting two years in prison,” Makarkin said.

In the Bolotnaya Square Case, the official charges looked more serious, Makarkin argues. The confrontation on the square was much rougher. In some ways, it harked back to the 1990s, when people fought with policemen without incurring such long sentences, he noted.

“The Bolotnaya Square Case marked a new phase. We realized the state had made it a rule that if you raised your hand against a police officer, you would go to jail. If a policeman raised a hand against you, he would be commended,” Makarkin said.

This time, the security forces also wanted to punish a certain number of people, but they failed to put together a new Bolotnaya Square case.

“So they decided anyone who had raised their hand and somehow touched a policeman should go to jail. But since they failed to dig up anything serious, they chose from what they had to work with,” Makarkin said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Max Stropov: The Cop’s Sacred Body

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Max Stropov
Facebook
September 3, 2019

The trials in the so-called Moscow case, in which protesters have been charged with violence against “law enforcement officers” and sentenced to hard time in prison for touching policemen or Russian National Guardsmen, are yet another vivid illustration that violence is not even remotely the issue. The case more resembles lèse-majesté, “doing wrong to majesty,” a modern form of the crime of offending the dignity of sacred authority.

One of the most immediate and common incarnations of this power in the Russian Federation is the Cop’s Body, which has been endowed with more and more mana and has become increasingly taboo. Since the center of power is a void, the ring surrounding the center, the annulus, the sphincter—which, in fact, is the Cop’s Body—has increasingly gained weight. (The numbers of policemen and other “law enforcement officers” in the Russian Federation have been multiplying.)

The Cop’s Body is impersonal, non-individual, and plural. When they are cracking down on demonstrations, law enforcement’s so-called foot soldiers behave like a herd of animals or a swarm of insects. Their faces are concealed. As Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has argued, they are not citizens.

“In the line of duty,” when “enforcing the law,” their body is transformed into the law’s body. We could also argue, on the contrary, that the law itself is abstract. It means nothing. It acquires reality and efficacy only in the Cop’s Body, which also has no direct connection with the identities of the policeman who constitute it.

Attempts to out and name otherwise anonymous riot cops encounter such resistance not because the cops could get killed, but because they violate the sacredness of their Body.

As for the “physical” and “emotional” trauma they suffer, allegedly, when protesters throw paper cups at them, this trauma is purely symbolic since non-individual, plural, and impersonal power also suffers.

Generally, then, the Cop’s Body does not suffer nor, probably, does it ever die.

Such is the theology of the police. This summer, it would even seem Russian cops have surpassed Russian priests in their sacredness.

Thanks to Max Stropov for his permission to translate and publish this text. Image courtesy of Max Stropov. Translated by the Russian Reader

Five Years in Prison for a Tweet

sinitsa in dockVladislav Sinitsa in the cage during his custody hearing on August 5. Photo courtesy of Mediazona

Court Sentences Vladislav Sinitsa to Five Years in Prison for Tweet about Children of Security Forces Officers
Mediazona
September 3, 2019

Moscow’s Presna District Court has sentenced Vladislav Sinitsa, a financial manager from the Moscow Region, to five years in a medium-security penal colony for a tweet about the children of security forces officers, reports the Moscow News Agency.

Judge Elena Abramova found Sinitsa guilty of inciting hatred with the threat of violence (punishable under Article 282.2.a of the Russian Criminal Code). The prosecutor had asked her to sentence Sinitsa to six years in prison.

The court handed down the verdict on the second day of the trial per se.

The court questioned two witnesses: Russian National Guardsmen Alexander Andreyev and Artyom Tarasov, who, allegedly, saw Sinitsa’s tweet.

Andreyev said he regarded the tweet as a call to “kidnap the children of National Guardsmen and slaughter them.” However, he was unable to tell the court his own username on Twitter. He claimed he saw the tweet after searching for “Max Steklov,” which is Sinitsa’s username.

Tarasov also said he took the tweet as a threat.

After the witnesses were questioned, the prosecutor summarized the two volumes of the case file, including the findings of forensic experts from the Center for Socio-Cultural Forensic Testing [sic]. They found evidence in the tweet of calls for violent action against the security forces, and signs of threats and incitement of hatred towards them.

It has transpired that the people who performed the forensic examination for the prosecution had no specialized education in the field.

In turn, the defense questioned forensic experts who had examined Sinitsa’s tweets at its request: Elena Novozhilova, a linguist from the nonprofit Independent Forensic Testing Center, and Maria Kulikova, an analyst with the Center for Forensic Examination and Research.

Kulikova harshly criticized the forensic examination commissioned by the prosecution. Both experts spoke of its poor quality.

Mediazona has written at length abut the criminal case against Sinitsa.

On July 31, Sinitsa supplied his own answer to the question of whether it was a good idea to publish the identities of security forces officers in a tweet published under the username “Max Steklov.”

The tweet was quoted on national TV channels.

Later, on August 3, the Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation. Two days later, the Presna District Court remanded Sinitsa in custody.

Sinitsa has insisted he was not calling on anyone to do anything but had implied popular unrest could arise if the security forces continued beating protesters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Two Years Hard Time for Grabbing a Policeman by the Arm

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Prisoners of the Article 212 Case
Facebook
September 3, 2019

Yet another guilty verdict and yet another hefty prison sentence.

A court has found Danila Beglets guilty and sentenced him to two years in a medium-security penal colony. Beglets was accused of grabbing a policeman by the arm when the latter was detaining protesters.

Beglets has two small children. He is a businessman and the only breadwinner in his family.

Photo of Danila Beglets and his family courtesy of Prisons of the Article 212 Case. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. Ivan Podkopayev, another defendant in the Article 2012 case, was found guilty earlier today. He was sentenced to three years in a penal colony for, allegedly, spraying pepper spray in the direction of police officers.

P.P.S. Not all the news from the Article 212 Case was bad. Criminal charges against defendants Daniil Konon, Sergei Abanichev, Vladislav Barabanov, and Valery Kostenok were dropped today.