Our Thaw

Sergei Yolkin, “Thaw.” Courtesy of RFE/RL via Radikal.ru

Our Thaw: a fair court decision as evidence of a catastrophe
The cautionary tale of an “extremist” comment
Ivan Davydov
Republic
April 11, 2021

Let’s start with the good news: “The Kalinin District Court of St. Petersburg refused to grant investigators their request to place under house arrest a local resident accused of exonerating terrorism. This was reported on Friday by the joint press service of the city’s courts. The court imposed a preventive measure against the defendant, Alexander Ovchinnikov, by forbidding him from doing certain things until June 6. In particular, Ovchinnikov is not allowed to leave his apartment between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, to be in places where mass public events are held and to use the internet.”

We should make it clear that we are talking about a terrible state criminal: “The 48-year-old Ovchinnikov was detained on April 7. Law enforcement agencies believe that in August 2020 he posted ‘comments justifying terrorism’ on the RT News in Russian community page on VKontakte.”

First, let us note the uncharacteristic humanity exhibited by the investigators in the case. They could have tried to get Ovchinnikov remanded in custody for such actions, but no, they reined themselves in and only sought house arrest for the perp. Second, this really is good news. The court refused to put Citizen Ovchinnikov under house arrest, deigning instead only to slightly complicate his life. Staying at home at night is much better than staying at home all the time. And sitting around with no internet is incomparably better than sitting in jail.

The court did not make a cannibalistic ruling at all – another reason to rejoice!

When hearing such news, it is customary to joke, “It’s the Thaw all over again.” And also to say (just as jocularly), “Another victory for civil society!” But in this particular case, the second joke is not particularly appropriate. Civil society was not interested in Ovchinnikov’s plight, and no one made any effort to fight for his freedom.

This does not mean that the criminal will escape punishment: the investigators are working, and the court is waiting. There is a good possibility that for his terrible acts (“committed using the media or electronic or information and telecommunications networks, including the internet”), Ovchinnikov could face a heavy fine measuring in the millions of rubles (it’s the going thing nowadays: the big bosses would do not agree to less — times are difficult, the state coffers are empty, people are the new petroleum) or even a stint in prison.

The price of meekness
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of comment Citizen Ovchinnikov left on “RT’s official page.” It is quite possible that it was something stupid. And this is a telling aspect of the story: as part of my job, I have to keep track of trending news via feeds from the wire services. A few years ago, Ovchinnikov would have been a star. All the sane outlets would have written indignantly that a person was being tried for a social media comment. The insane outlets would have written something like, “A dangerous accomplice of terrorists was neutralized by valiant law enforcement officers in the president’s hometown.” We would know, perhaps, not only what exactly Alexander Ovchinnikov did to upset Margarita Simonyan’s underlings, but also all the details of his biography.

Nowadays, however, Ovchinnikov’s case is routine. There are dozens of such cases underway, and you can’t keep track of all of them. A story like this would only arouse interest if a more or less well-known person was under attack. Or the context would matter. We shouldn’t forget that among the criminal cases opened in the wake of January’s pro-Navalny protests, there are two that directly involve social network posts – the so-called Sanitary Case* and the “Involving Minors in Unauthorized Protests” Case. People will be put on trial, and they will be sentenced to prison, fines or probation.

The lack of public interest is understandable and even, perhaps, excusable. But it says a lot about how the Russian state and Russian society have mutated. Everyone regards cases like Ovchinnikov’s as commonplace. Meanwhile, the powers that be have usurped the right to punish people for their words, including words that are obviously insignificant. (Terrorism, of course, is a disgusting thing, but it is unlikely that a comment, even on the page of a propaganda TV channel, will somehow contribute particularly strongly to the success of world terrorism, and I assure you that those who are eager to jail people for social media comments also get this.) The authorities have come up with a lot of different reasons to punish people for their words. Thousands of specialists are busy searching for the wrong words, lives are broken, and careers are made.

But for us civilians it has also become commonplace. We have got used to it, recognized the right of the authorities to do as they like, and stopped being particularly indignant.

When the state is focused on lawlessness, norms are shaped not by deliberately repressive laws, but by our willingness to put up with how they are applied.

Norms and savagery
Fining or jailing people for the comments they make on social networks is savage, after all. Savage but normal. In a short while we’ll be telling ourselves that it’s always been like this. For the time being, however, searching the homes of opposition activists’ parents who have nothing to do with their children’s activism, interrogating journalists and political activists in the middle of the night, and torturing detainees after peaceful protests do not seem to be the norm. But it’s a matter of time — that is, a matter of habit. None of these things have sparked outsized outrage, so they too will become the norm.

But I have a sense that harsh crackdowns on peaceful protests have almost become the norm. What is surprising is when the security forces behave like human beings, as was the case during the Khabarovsk protests, for example. You mean the police didn’t break up the demo? What do you mean, they didn’t beat you? Was something the matter?

I remember how I was struck by a news item reported by state-controlled wire services after the first rally in support of Sergei Furgal: a little girl was lost in the crowd, and the National Guard helped her find her parents. The cops did their jobs, for a change, and that was amazing. The normal performance of their duties by the security forces looked like something completely crazy. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, we are now surprised when a court makes an utterly meaningless ruling that is not at all cannibalistic. It’s the Thaw all over again!

The norm looks wild, and wildness is the norm. So, perhaps, it is possible to describe where the Putinist state has arrived in its political devolution over the past few years. This is its supreme accomplishment.

If we follow the dictionary definitions, we should conclude there has been no state in Russia for some time. This is a different, new growth, and it is most likely malignant.

But this only works in one case – if society capitulates. A creepy monster like ours can only flourish in the ruins of society.

P.S. A trenchant critic might object: as if “they” do not have such a thing — putting people on trial for their words, and persecute for comments. Yes, it happens, of course, it happens. The most democratic of the democratic countries are not averse to biting off a little piece of their people’s freedoms, while grassroots activists, militants guided by the loftiest ideals, are happy to trample on other people’s freedom, and new centers of power, like the social networks, do not want to lag behind.

Recently, Facebook blocked a page run by a group of Moscow amateur historians who posted a text about the capital’s Khokhlovka district for a month for “hate speech.” Try to guess why. [Because “Khokhlovka” sounds similar to “khokhly,” a derogatory term for Ukrainians — TRR.]

Yes, in some sense, the Motherland, having made it a matter of policy to distance itself from the wider world, is following a global trend, however strange that may sound. Well, so much the worse for “them.” And for us. It is thus all the more important to remember how valuable freedom is.

* “The Sanitary Case is a series of criminal cases initiated for alleged violations sanitary and epidemiological norms during the January 23, 2021, protests in Moscow. It has been recognized by human rights defenders as part of the ongoing political crackdown in the Russian Federation. The defendants in the case are FBK (Anti-Corruption Foundation) employees Lyubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov and Kira Yarmysh, municipal deputies Lyudmila Stein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Dmitry Baranovsky, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, Alexei Navalny’s brother Oleg, head of the trade union Alliance of Doctors Anastasia Vasilyeva, and former FBK employee Nikolai Lyaskin.”

Image courtesy of Radikal.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Stopping His Torture Is Our Common Cause”

OVD Info
Facebook
April 6, 2021

Grassroots activist Anna Margolis has been detained near the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. In her solo picket, she called for an end to the persecution and torture of [Alexei] Navalny.

Margolis has been taken to the police department in the Meshchansky District.

https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2021/04/06/u-zdaniya-fsb-na-lubyanke-zaderzhali-piketchicu-s-plakatom-protiv

Poster: Anna Margolis. Photo: Maria Kokovkina

“Navalny’s views are his business. Your opinion of him is your business. Stopping his torture is our common cause! ‘There are countries in which corporeal punishment has been abolished whereas in our country the question of a whether a man should be flogged or not is still a matter of dispute. […] You would be perfectly justified in showing your compassion for the victims, then why don’t you?’ A[lexander] Herzen, [‘Letters to an Opponent’], 1864.”

Thanks to Elena Zaharova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Special Detention Center Days

Special Detention Center Days: How the Security Forces Have Tried to Intimidate Protesters
Sonya Groysman
Proekt
February 15, 2021

After three “unauthorized” protest actions in support of Alexei Navalny (January 23 and 31, and February 2), more than a thousand people were sentenced to serve time in jail: this is a record for [post-Soviet] Russia. In this video, protesters who have already been released tell us how their days in police departments and special detention centers went. Do they now regret having been involved in the protests? Most importantly, were the authorities able to intimidate them?

24 mins, 19 seconds. In Russian, with Russian subtitles

At the 21:00 mark, an unidentified young man, just released from a special detention center, says the following on camera:

“Russia is definitely going to be free. […] They didn’t intimidate anyone in the slightest [by arresting and jailing them]. On the contrary, folks banded together even more. [The authorities] only incited more hatred. […] We are young, after all, and time is on our side. It’s only a question of time. We’ll even the score.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sway

When the Night Lanterns Sway: It’s Useless to Try and Beat the State on Its Own “Legal Turf”
Alexander Skobov
Kasparov.ru
February 13, 2021

On February 9, Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s network of local teams, announced a flash mob for February 14, Valentine’s Day: residents of large cities should go into their courtyards at 8 p.m. and turn on their mobile phone flashlights. This is an attempt to adopt Belarusian know-how [see the article, below]. The idea is that residents of the same yard who are sympathetic to the protest movement but don’t know each other can get acquainted and create a grassroots network for rapid notification and mobilization.

Putin’s occupation army has reacted hysterically to the undertaking. A yahoo from the Assembly for Approving the Cutie Pie Slutsky’s Sexual Harassment (colloquially known as the State Skank) compared the flashlights in the courtyards with the signals of saboteurs guiding German bombers to their targets. The Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor General’s Office declared it a call for “mass rioting” and threatened potential flash mob participants with criminal charges. Roskomnadzor has been chasing down internet media officially operating in Russian Federation and forcing them to delete reports about the planned event.

The point here is not a “shutdown of law in Russia,” which, according to Vladimir Pastukhov, occurred after Navalny’s return. A completely anti-legal, multi-level system for cracking down on street activism has long been erected in Russia. It consists of three elements: 1) laws aimed at restricting the right to public expression of opinion; 2) a dishonest and broad interpretation of these laws by the police and the courts; 3) and pure lawlessness, as when the police engage directly in frame-ups and fakery, and the obedient courts pretend not to see it.

Those who tried to defend the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution [“Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”] focused mainly on the third element and sluggishly butted heads with the authorities over the second element, while almost ignoring the first element. Meanwhile, it was all about the first element. The second and third elements were just an appendix to it.

The Code of Administrative Offenses contains an article that punishes involvement in unauthorized events. The shapes and features of this involvement are not described. They are listed in Federal Law No. 54 (“On Mass Events”). In particular, it says that at a mass public event, participants express their attitude to current socio-political problems by chanting slogans and holding up placards.

For many years, opposition activists have been looking for an “unauthorized” way to publicly voice their opinions that would not get them detained. For a long time, they unsuccessfully tried to prove in the courts that if they did not chant slogans and did not hold up placards, there was no protest rally as such. However, the list of ways of participating in a rally, as enumerated in Federal Law No. 54, is not exhaustive. That is, any way of voicing one’s stance is considered an indication of having participated in a public event. That is, expression of a position as such is considered “participation.”

The phrase “expressed [his/her] attitude to current socio-political problems” is often found in police reports on the arrest of people involved in unauthorized public events. The phrase sounds crazy and comical when it comes to legally justifying arresting people and charging them with administrative offenses. It was not invented by the police goons, however. It was borrowed from the definition of a protest rally contained in Federal Law No. 54.

In fact, this coinage, found in police reports and “court” rulings, expresses the collective unconscious of the bureaucratic police regime—its dream, its loftiest ideal. Ordinary citizens should not publicly voice their opinions on current socio-political issues. It is better for them not to have such opinions at all. Voicing opinions is the prerogative of the authorities.

Hence, the very fact that an ordinary citizen voices their socio-political position is considered an anomaly, a deviation from the norm, a violation of public order. And when you start arguing with the authorities at the police station or in “court,” asking them what socially dangerous or simply harmful actions were committed by a citizen who was detained for publicly expressing their position by attending an outdoor rally, they sincerely don’t understand what you are talking about. It is clear to them that publicly voicing a position itself is a socially harmful action if ever there was one.

Since (they say) the greatest geopolitical catastrophe happened, and we are now forced to temporarily recognize a citizen’s right to voice their position at least formally, we’ll load your opportunity to exercise this right with so many conditions that you’ll rue the day you tried to do it. And they really have been doing just this—purposefully, consistently, for the entire length of Putin’s rule.

The lawless authorities refuse to authorize opposition rallies at central and iconic locations under completely far-fetched and false pretexts, and our “managed” injustice system almost always takes the side of the authorities. On the other hand, the “legislators” in the State Skank seek to block any chance people have to publicly voice their stance without prior approval. As soon as the opposition finds a new way of protesting, enabling it to circumvent previously imposed bans, a new amendment or a new law immediately follows, sealing this loophole as well.

It is useless to try to win against the state on its own “legal turf” as long as it has the will and power to shut society up. The state’s will can be opposed only by society’s will not to obey anti-legal prohibitions. The point of unauthorized public events is that they demonstratively violate prohibitions on “unauthorized” expressions of one’s opinion.

I have already had occasion to write that prohibiting people from publicly expressing their attitude to current socio-political issues without permission is an important part of the system for manipulating the admission of players to the “political market.” The entire social and political system that has taken shape in Russia is based on this system of manipulation. In order to reliably guarantee citizens their constitutional right to freely express their attitude to socio-political issues peacefully and unarmed, we have to replace the entire socio-political system.

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sing

When the night lanterns swing,
And it’s dangerous for you to walk the dark streets,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I can’t love anyone anymore.

The girls kissed my feet like they were crazy,
A widow and I drank through my father’s  house.
And my cheeky laugh
Was always a success,
And my youth has cracked like a nut!

I sit on a bunk like a king at a birthday party,
And I dream of getting a drab ration.
I look out the window like an owl:
Now I don’t care!
I’m ready to put out my torch before anyone else.

When the night lanterns swing,
And the black cat runs down the street like the devil,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I’ve broken my lifetime record forever!

Lyrics by Gleb Gorbovsky. Source: a-pesni. Performance by Beseder and Lyonchik. Translated by the Russian Reader

A protest in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Belarusian Courtyard Protests Model for Latest Navalny Tactic
Window on Eurasia
February 13, 2021

Staunton, February 11 — The Navalny organization’s decision to shift at least for a time from mass public protests to smaller but perhaps even more numerous demonstrations in the courtyards of Russian apartment blocks is not a unique Russian innovation. Instead, it has its roots in what Belarusian protesters have been doing since last fall.

In Belarusian cities, MBKh journalist Arina Kochemarova says, this shift has led to the emergence of whole areas devoted to protests and to the first flowering of what many people there hope will result in the formation of local self-administration, yet another way they hope to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.

In these Belarusian courtyards, she points out, places that people have christened “squares of change,” people fly the white-red-white Belarusian flag, organize concerns and flash mobs, and in many cases get to know their neighbors better than they ever have in the past, something that by itself promotes solidarity against the government.

Yegor Martinovich, editor of Belarusian Nasha Niva newspaper, says that Belarusians made the shift because of the rising tide of repression and arrests of those taking part in major demonstrations. Fewer people are taking part in the courtyard protests, but at the same time, he suggests, courtyard meetings are forming a sense of solidarity for the future.

Courtyard protests are not only harder for the authorities to counter, but they also can take a variety of formats ranging from flash mobs to the emergence of genuinely independent community organization. “Civil society has begun to flourish everywhere which in general is a good thing. People have begun to unite,” the editor says.

The biggest problem with this shift, Martinovich says, is that the media pays a great deal more attention to one big demonstration than it does to many smaller ones, even if the smaller ones collectively include more people and have a greater impact. Moreover, Lukashenka is learning how to react, cutting off utilities where there are white-red-white flags.

Now, this Belarusian tactic is coming to Russia, intensifying fears among the authorities that the Navalny movement could develop the way in which the Belarusian one has. Russian officials have already made clear that they will crack down hard early on lest the shift from the streets to the courtyards takes off.

The City of St. Peter the Apostle

MBKh Media Northwest
Facebook
February 12, 2021

On Palace Square, accompanied by an orchestra, Vyacheslav Makarov, chair of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly, presented letters of thanks and certificates of honor to the soldiers and officers of the Special Police Regiment who worked at the pro-Navalny protest rallies. This news was reported on the parliament’s website.

“Your faithfulness to the call of duty and exemplary attitude to the performance of your duties vouchsafes the defense of law and order, and the protection of the lives and safety of our citizens. You have been entrusted with the huge responsibility of being the guardians of our beloved city of St. Peter the Apostle,” Makarov said.

According to OVD Info, the security forces detained 575 people at the protest rally on January 23 in St. Petersburg, and 1,336 people at the rally on January 31.

Photos courtesy of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly’s website. Thanks to Nancy Enskaya for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader

Blockade

“See the rally? It’s there.” How downtown Petersburg was cordoned off with snowplows and fences, although there were no protests
Anastasia Rozhkova
Bumaga
February 6, 2021

On the afternoon of February 6, downtown Petersburg was cordoned off with fences and snow removal equipment. Public transport did not run on the Nevsky and the surrounding streets, and the subway stations Nevsky Prospect and Gostiny Dvor were closed for entry and exit. People had to descend to the icebound Fontanka and Moika rivers to cross the road. No protests were held, however.

Bumaga shows and tells you what the city center looked like on Saturday afternoon.

On Friday evening, fences were installed on Nevsky Prospect and Palace Square. On Saturday morning, even more fences appeared, on Gorokhovaya Street and the Fontanka and Moika embankments. Security forces were also sent into the city center.

At 1:00 p.m, Nevsky Prospekt and Gostiny Dvor subway stations were closed for entry and exit. Around the same time, vehicular traffic was stopped on Nevsky Prospect and surrounding streets. Buses, trolleybuses, and trams were switched to shortened routes. The map of road closures looked something like this.

It was impossible to turn onto Nevsky Prospekt from Liteiny Prospect. Security forces told people to go to Ploshchad Vosstaniia [Insurrection Square] and from there to take Ligovsky Prospect.

Even ambulances had trouble getting through.

Bumaga’s Twitter account: “Vosstaniia Street is closed from Zhukovskogo to Nevsky. A reader reports that even an ambulance was not allowed through for several minutes.”

Last Sunday, downtown Petersburg was also shut down, but the security measures had to do with protests in support of Navalny and against the current government. This weekend, the opposition leader’s headquarters had not planned any rallies, and the authorities were unable to explain the restrictions.

The governor’s press secretary, Inna Karpushina, told Bumaga that questions about the street closures should be addressed to the local Interior Ministry office, where we were told this was not the case and referred to the city transport committee. However, earlier in the day, on its official Telegram channel, the transport committee had published a message saying that the subway would be closed by order of the Interior Ministry.

A Telegram message from the Petersburg city transport committee, informing readers that Nevsky Prospekt subway would be closed at 1:00 p.m. n orders from the Interior Ministry

The city center was shut down because of messages on Telegram, Fontanka.ru‘s source at the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] said. There had indeed been posts announcing a protest action on February 6: unknown organizers had asked people to bring flowers to the Monument to the Victims of Political Repression on the Voskresenskaya Embankment. Due to the road closures, the event was canceled, and consequently only seven people attended the event.

Flowers and a sign reading “It must not be repeated” on the Monument to the Victims of Political Repression in Petersburg. Photo: Yevgeny Antonov/Bumaga

Petersburgers furiously criticized the closure of downtown. People complained that they could not get to their jobs and doctor’s appointments. One social media user wrote, “For the first time in my life I made my way to a museum through the courtyards.”

“This is me this morning with a marshmallow cookie in my month reading the news that Nevsky and the subway stations from which I go to work on Nevsky were closed.”

Because of the road closures, Petersburgers were forced to take to the ice. “The Fontanka and the Moika [rivers] were completely blocked, so people just walked on the ice. At some point on the Moika, [the police] shouted through a megaphone about safety and ordered people to leave. Everyone was escorted off the ice, but five minutes later, there were a lot of people out there again,” Mediazona correspondent David Frenkel told Bumaga.

Petersburgers walking on the Fontanka River near Nevsky Prospect, 6 February 2021. Photo: David Frenkel

The street closures immediately became the subject of memes. Petersburgers joked about “phantom rallies,” which the police and the Russian National Guard had come out to disperse.

“See the rally?” “No.” “It’s there.”

In the morning, police searched the homes of thirty people in connection with a criminal investigation of the “blocking of roads” on January 23. [The “crime” allegedly committed by anti-Putin protesters in Petersburg on January 23.] Police raided the homes of former Vesna Movement press secretary Artem Uimanen, former municipal district councilor Svetlana Utkina, and other opposition activists. Some of them had their electronic devices confiscated.

“Terrific! In Petersburg, the day has begun with [police] searches of the homes of activists as part of the ‘roadblocking’ case, and then the pigs blocked the roads and closed the subway themselves.”

By evening, there were almost no traffic jams downtown Petersburg, and the fences installed earlier were being removed.

_______________

Read about the January protest rallies in Petersburg. To summarize, there are more and more dissatisfied people, the security forces and protesters have become more aggressive, and the authorities are not open to dialogue. Here you can read about the spontaneous protest rally that took place on February 2, at which police used stun guns on people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Evil vs. the People

Khabarovsk, January 31, 2021. Photo: Yevgeny Pereverzev. Courtesy of Vitaliy Blazhevich

Vitaliy Blazhevich
Facebook
February 5, 2021

The most important observation of the last few weeks is that there were more than enough riot police for all the cities: each detainee was dragged away by five or six riot policemen. They have enough batons, shields, and paddy wagons, they have stun guns, rubber-bullets pistols, and even combat firearms. Evil was prepared for the new wave of protests. Evil did not sit idly by all this time: it built up its strength and increased its forces. Evil has stolen enough from the people to maintain and equip this vast army.

Well, never mind, we’ll see who comes out on top. After all, it is quite obvious that this time Putin is not opposed by a particular social stratum, by a particular political force, or by one region. The entire country and the entire people have risen up, and Putin’s “power vertical,” including the riot police, cannot be regarded as part of the people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

There Are No Exceptions to the State of Exception

Sergey Abashin
Facebook
February 2, 2021

I have always said that many practices that are later transferred to Russian citizens are first tested out on “migrants.” Mechanisms for securing human rights and ordinary social rights and living conditions first stop functioning for migrants. They were the first to get what amounted to criminal punishments for administrative violations. They were the first to be stripped of their rights as workers. They were the first to be subjected to a universal system of total electronic surveillance. It is hard not to notice, for example, the link between the concept of “illegals” and the concept of “foreign agents.” It is symbolic that people illegally detained in Moscow for coming out to protest an anti-constitutional regime are now being transported to Sakharovo, a place where foreign nationals are imprisoned, often illegally. It’s very simple: there can be no human rights and rule of law if even one group is (initially with the public’s general consent) excluded from the protection of these laws and rights. Sooner or later, the exceptions will apply to everyone else.

Darya Apahonchich
Facebook
February 1, 2021

Re: the police search

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT, AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY, PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

While have never been a neat freak, I have never let things get like this. I had collected the posters for the Museum of Political History, and now I am sorting them out. Thank you for your words of support and anger: they help a lot. The children are still with relatives: I want to clean the place up before they come back. In the meantime, I have restored our SIM cards and bought new phones for myself and my daughter.

You ask how you can help? Stop by if you’re going to be near Vladimirskaya subway station today or tomorrow: we’ll drink coffee and rummage through my things. I’ve also been asked whether I need money to buy computers. [The police confiscated all the electronic devices in Apahonchich’s flat.] Of course, they’re obliged to return them, but in practice they often take their time doing it. They might turn them over in six months or give them back broken.

And I want to say a huge thank you to the advocates who were on duty in the help groups. Yesterday I watched how these wonderful, brave people work, and I was filled with admiration for them.

I am very worried about all the victims [of the mass arrests on Sunday, January 31].

I’m writing my [Sberbank] card number down here. If I get more money than I need for new computers, I will transfer the surplus to Mediazona and OVD Info.

4276 5500 7321 7849

Although I look rumpled (I didn’t sleep for almost two days), I’m in good spirits.

Svetlana Prokopyeva
Facebook
February 1, 2021

More than two years ago, I wrote a column about how the law enforcement system in our country had turned into a system of repression, and the state’s monopoly on violence had been turned against ordinary citizens who had grievances with the regime. As an example, I cited the arrest of Artyom Milushkin, the organizer of an authorized rally against corruption. On his way to the rally, he was thrown face-first into the mud by two men, who didn’t identify themselves. It later transpired that they were police officers.

It seems like such a minor thing today, doesn’t it?

And it is not surprising, given that the official response to my opinion piece was a criminal case against me, not an attempt to explain or discuss anything.

Of course, I was not the first to catch this trend, but it seems that I was the first to get such a clear and abrupt response. It was my text, the ideas I expressed, and my individual judgment that were declared the corpus delicti. My criminal case seems to have marked a watershed: we can no longer have our own opinions. People are tried for their opinions. Don’t ask questions.

What is happening on the streets today shows how cohesively the state repressive machine has crystallized. I don’t know what kind of orders those dashing fellows in helmets receive before going to disperse the guys and gals, but it is clear from the confident swings of their billy clubs that they see the enemy before them. The regime they serve has declared war on those who accuse it of theft and murder, although it seems that they already constitute a majority.

This is the death certificate for public politics in Russia, which was the point of my column “Crackdowns for the State.” For publishing it, I was found guilty of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code) and fined 500,000 rubles. I have an appeals hearing tomorrow at 10 a.m., but I don’t think we’ll be able to overturn the verdict, especially at a time like now.

I wrote that column in the belief that dialogue was possible, that it was not only necessary, but a real possibility, that it was still possible to prevent and stop what was happening, to force the authorities to think hard. Unfortunately, I no longer have that feeling.

(The photo, above, shows me halfway to the paddy wagon, but I never made it there because “Sorry, we didn’t figure out right away [that you were a journalist].”)

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Empire Strikes Back

. . . in the heart of the old imperial capital, Saint Petersburg.

We can thank Vladislav Ivanov for the “footage.” (And I thank Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko for sharing it with me.) In keeping with the message of this video, if not its jocular tone, a friend in Petersburg just wrote to me, “Tomorrow we are going for a ‘walk’ on the Nevsky. It was already flooded with police and National Guardsman on Saturday. It’s scary. But we try and overcome our fear, taking our cue from the younger generation.” \\ TRR

 

Putin’s Base

Jenya Kulakova
Facebook
January 30, 2021

A random interlocutor told me about their friend, a Russian National Guardsman. Last Saturday, he worked the protests in St. Petersburg from 9 am to 10 pm without a single lunch break. After the elections in Belarus, his unit was taken to Pskov, where they removed all their insignia: if necessary, they could be shipped to Belarus to beat up the protesters. For a week, two hundred of them lived in a school, sleeping on mattresses tossed on the floor: “It was great way to get covid! But nobody gives a shit.”

They weren’t exported to Belarus, so they went home. The friend makes 40 grand a month. [40,000 rubles is approximately 435 euros at the current exchange rate.] “Do you think he loves Putin? No. But he took out a mortgage, and he has to pay it back.”

I wonder: do they really do what they do for forty thousand rubles a month and humiliating “working conditions”? Or do they do it out of conviction?

But they are now being forcibly vaccinated, and so the friend is thinking about quitting. Not because he has to harass peaceful fellow citizens, mind you.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
January 30, 2021

All day I was planning to write about the awful things that the regime has done, but every time it seemed that they couldn’t do more and go lower, it turned out that no, they could, and then some. So, now I will summarize what were probably the most egregious things that happened during the day to remind you once again that we are not dealing with “police,” “judges,” and “prosecutors,” but with people (?) who are ready to commit any crime in order to preserve their power, salaries, and AMP license plates.

In Tver, the security forces came for the deputy coordinator of Navalny’s local HQ, Pavel Kuzmin. When he refused to come out, they cut off his electricity and internet, and then grabbed his fiancee. He surrendered.

In Yakutsk, the security forces came for Sergei Tikhy and Viktoria Postnikova, a couple who support the shaman [Alexander] Gabyshev and have a large family. The security forces shined a laser in their windows (apparently they had the family in their sights), and it seems that they still have not left.

In Moscow, the security forces came for the editor-in-chief of Mediazona Sergei Smirnov when he was out walking with his young child. Now he is in the holding cage at the Tverskaya police precinct, a place I know well. He is accused of participating in the demonstration on January 23, although at the time he was at home coordinating his website’s news coverage of the event.

In Nizhny Novgorod, the security forces came to the special detention center to visit the coordinator of Navalny’s local HQ, Roman Tregubov. They threatened him into reading on camera a text renouncing the protests (which he has now disavowed). I should explain that Roman had every reason to take the threats seriously: Nizhny, which is only three and a half hours from Moscow by train, is known for the insane torture that the local “anti-extremism” police practice. They made one guy sit naked on an anthill, and then for a long time publicly mocked him on “anonymous Telegram channels.”

The security forces in Nizhny also came for my friend Mikhail Iosilevich, who had already been charged with two felonies for cooperating with Open Russia and for not informing the authorities about his dual citizenship. Terrible crimes! Today, a court changed his pre-trial restrictions and remanded him in custody to a pre-trial detention center, and in this case too they hastened to mockingly report this fact on an “anonymous Telegram channel.”

It was after her apartment was searched as part of the case against Ioselevich that Irina Slavina set herself on fire and died.

This story is very personal to me. I know Ioselevich and knew Slavina, and I like visiting Nizhny. Mikhail was always willing to help me and local activists, and he had fun founding the local branch of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Church. But only cops—angry, offended, and embittered—can “have fun” in Russia nowadays.

I used to appeal to the reason of the “other side,” but now I understand that it’s like admonishing a mad wolf to go vegetarian. It’s useless. The conversation is over, and the wolf, no longer a man, has pounced.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader