Nadya Tolokonnikova: There Is No “People”

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Nadya Tolokonnikova
June 18, 2015

It is not for nothing they are so fond of the amorphous and faceless word narod, “the people.” There is no “people.” There is you and me, and that guy with the mustache, passing by on the street. “The people” smacks of prison camp standardization. They say “the people” so the individual feels like a tiny grain of sand, faceless and alone.

“We should not have got involved in this Ukrainian business . . . But generally I don’t like talking about politics,” my acquaintance from a small Russian town quietly whispers to me. Political miracles begin to occur when the belief she has a voice is born in my acquaintance, the belief in her own stance, which might differ from the majority’s position and still have the right to exist.

So that this belief does not emerge, she is told she is “the people.” But do something to make her realize she is not alone. Show her people who think like she does. Let her believe there is something besides atoms, separated and frightened by TV and mutual distrust, hidden in the cells of their nuclear families, and venting their anger and resentment within those families.

Source: Facebook

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Images courtesy, via a Google image search, of the website Pereprava, where, unsurprisingly, the exact opposite sentiments are expressed.

Petersburg Activists Rally in Support of Saratov Antifascist Sergei Vilkov

Petersburg Activists Rally in Support of Saratov Antifascist Sergei Vilkov
David Frenkel
Special to The Russian Reader
June 1, 2015

On Saturday, May 30, activists from the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) organized a theatrical protest rally, entitled “#I Am Sergei Vilkov, or Pinning Labels,” on the Field of Mars in central Petersburg.

OcGK7I5KI2qAlMWt3NJlkWQM5OqzEtspCIMaIVL0MEsSocialist activists rallying in support of Saratov journalist Sergei Vilkov in Petersburg, May 30, 2015. The placard on the far right reads, “Antifascism is not a crime, journalism is not extremism. I am Sergei Vilkov.”

The activists demanded an end to the persecution of Sergei Vilkov, an independent journalist and antifascist in Saratov, who was physically assaulted in January of this year by two unknown assailants and has been accused by various local authorities of “extremism.” In one particular instance in April of this year, Vilkov was fined 1,000 rubles by a Saratov court for having posted, in November 2011, a caricature on his personal page on the VKontakte social network that fused the logo of the ruling United Russia party and a swastika.

Vilkov has blamed his troubles on Saratov businessman and Saratov Regional Duma deputy Sergei Kurikhin. Earlier, Vilkov had published articles in the local monthly news magazine Obshchestvennoe Mnenie (Public Opinion), exposing Kurikhin’s dubious political and business dealings.

Activists at the rally on the Field of Mars held placards demanding prosecution for the persons who, allegedly, assaulted Vilkov in January and decrying censorship.

Symbolizing the alliance between the authorities and business, two activists were dressed as a judge and a “new Russian,” who wore a crimson jacket, popularly regarded as typical attire for gangster businessmen during the “wild nineties” in Russia.

IMG_0592“New Russian” and “Judge” at Saturday’s protest rally

The “judge” and the “new Russian” brought with them a criminal case file full of labels, such as “foreign agent,” “atheist,” “fifth columnist, “tolerast” (an insulting slang term applied to people regarded as having excessively politically correct values), “forbidden by censorship,” and “offends religious sensitivities.” These labels and epithets are typically applied to critics and opponents of the current Russian authorities.

The two men hung and pinned these labels to the other activists who were present in order to “make them feel like Sergei Vilkov.”

IMG_0717“Judge” labels activist a “tolerast” at Saturday’s rally.

The socialist activists are convinced that Vilkov’s case is not an anomaly. Travesties of justice in the courts, political crackdowns against opposition activists, censorship, corruption, and the fusion of political authority and business are rather typical of Russia, they argue.

All photographs by and courtesy of David Frenkel

Solidarity, Community, Internationalism (and Good Public Broadcasting)

Yle, the Finnish public broadcaster, asked four recent immigrants to Finland, people who are still in the process of studying Finnish and integrating into the society, to interview representatives of the country’s main political parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections, which will take place there on April 19.

The catch was that Yle also asked the parties to send as interviewees party members who were immigrants and had themselves learned Finnish as adults or teenagers. Among other things, the interviewees were asked to explain how they had come to join the particular parties they now represented.

Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset), notorious for its anti-immigrant views, was unable to provide an interviewee for the program.

The Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) sent as its representative Suldan Said Ahmed, a young entrepreneur and politician originally from Somaliland. (Somaliland is an autonomous region of Somalia that seeks recognition as an independent country from the rest of the world, but as yet hasn’t got it.)

According to Said Ahmed, solidarity, community, and internationalism are the three words that best sum up the Left Alliance for him.

If like me, you are someone studying Finnish, you should love listening to Said Ahmed, because his Finnish is much easier to understand and “correct” than that spoken by “real” Finns, what with their variety of local dialects and reliance on puhekieli (conversational language), which is often shockingly at variance from the “proper” textbook Finnish we foreigners and immigrants learn on courses.

I found a recent article profiling Said Ahmed in the leftist Finnish newspaper Kansan Uutiset.


Suldaan Said Ahmed. Photo: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

It seems Said Ahmed has political ambitions in his native Somaliland as well. He would like to become the youngest MP there and is planning to stand, apparently, in this year’s upcoming parliamentary elections there.

Said Ahmed would also like sometime in the future to be president of Finland, but that job, alas, is constitutionally only open to native-born Finns. (So far, I would like to think for his sake.)

I find all of this so fascinating in part because, just last week, I had to go verbally postal on a few of my classmates in the advanced Finnish course I have been taking here in the former capital of All the Russias. For the second or third time this semester, they regaled the rest of us with dark tales of how Somalians like Said Ahmed are ruining the fair country of Finland by moving there in droves to become—yes—welfare scroungers. Meanwhile, the government has decided, allegedly, not to let more Russians to move to Finland, even though generally it wants to encourage more immigration to the country to help care for its aging population, etc.

You get the drift.

It might rock my classmates’ world to find out that one of the interviewers in the “Let’s Meet the Parties” program (along with a man from the Philippines, a woman from Lithuania, and a woman from South Korea) is Svetlana Siltanen, who emigrated to Finland from Russia last year.


Svetlana Siltanen. Photo: Mikko Kuusisalo / Yle

My “dream a little dream” today would be to put Yle in charge of public broadcasting for a year in Russia. What a difference that could make to people’s outlooks here.

The Russian State’s War against the Boy Next Door (Alexei Gaskarov)

Alexei Gaskarov, Civic Activist, Opposition Coordinating Council Member,
and Anti-Fascist, to Remain in Police Custody until October 6
Natalya Zotova
Novaya Gazeta
June 25, 2013


“Phones on vibrate mode, keep your comments to yourself. Young woman, don’t talk to him!” a bailiff interrupts a young woman in a “Free Alexei Gaskarov” t-shirt (Gaskarov’s fiancée Anna Karpova). Gaskarov himself stands behind bars and peers into the courtroom. Today is a hearing on whether to extend his detention in police custody and thus one of the few days when family and friends can see him.

Defense counsel Svetlana Sidorkina motioned for several pledges to stand surety, including those made by Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov and Rain TV owner Alexander Vinokurov (who came to court in person), to be entered into the record, as well as positive character references of the defendant submitted by the Opposition Coordinating Council (to which Gaskarov was elected with twenty-two thousand votes) and its local analogue, the Zhukovsky People’s Council. Igor Volk, a cosmonaut and Hero of the Soviet Union, and Vladimir Kondratenko, a distinguished Soviet test pilot, also honored Gaskarov with positive letters of reference. Sidorkina likewise motioned for a petition, signed by five hundred residents of Zhukovsky (where Gaskarov was born and lives), calling for less severe pre-trial restrictions, and media articles detailing Gaskarov’s activities as an anti-fascist and public figure, to be entered into the record. “Would someone hiding from the law be engaged in social activism?” she asked.

Investigator Alexei Bykov predictably asked the court not to admit most of this into the record: “The main character reference for Gaskarov—that he was part of a group of people that attacked police officers—is quite sufficient.” From his cage, Gaskarov reiterated to the judge that he had pulled a police officer away from a demonstrator whom the officer was attempting to detain, but that he did not regard this as a violent confrontation: he had no intention of hurting the policeman and caused him no physical harm. Gaskarov himself was beaten on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and soon afterwards he filed a complaint against the riot police who had attacked him, along with a medical report on his injuries. “This shows I had no intention of going into hiding,” he explained to the judge in the quiet, calm voice one uses to pacify a child.

Bykov read, it seems, from the same document as during Gaskarov’s arrest hearing in April, because the language was the same: “[Gaskarov] led a secretive life, changed places of residence, and planned to go into hiding abroad.” Except before it had simply been “abroad”; now the record also contains “countries with anti-Russian sentiments,” where, according to the investigation, Gaskarov often traveled.

Yegor Ozherelyev, a colleague of Gaskarov’s from the consulting company Expert Systems, came to court in person to deny that Gaskarov had been in hiding before his arrest. He showed that Gaskarov was a responsible employee who successfully coped with any task and came to work punctually, being absent only when he had been met outside the office by members of the security services and taken away for a “chat.”

Sidorkina moved that Gaskarov be released on bail: his mother had pledged her apartment, which is valued at 3.5 million rubles [approx. 81,000 euros] and where her son is officially registered. “He owns no apartment. The mom is a different person,” said the prosecutor in his objection to the motion.

A new witness has emerged in the Gaskarov case. His identity is classified, like that of the previous two witnesses, but unlike them, he is not a police officer but someone who identifies himself as a member of the anarchist movement. According to his testimony, he fears for his life, because “activists don’t like cooperating with the police.” He claims that the goal of the anarchists is confrontation with the state system, and their ideology centers on violent action.

“They’re following the Khimki scenario. When they don’t have enough evidence, they put together false testimony. I think this person doesn’t exist,” says Gaskarov’s girlfriend Anna Karpova.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Svetlana Sidorkina delivered an impassioned speech.

“Since I have gotten to know him better, I have begun to respect my client five times more. I have never met a person with such ideal character references: everyone, young and old, speaks of him as a remarkable man. If he were freed, he would be of far greater benefit to the country. The investigator has not specified how Alexei could hinder the investigation [were he released from police custody].”

“Sufficient grounds have not be adduced for not extending the arrest,” the prosecutor said laconically in closing. People in the courtroom laughed helplessly.

Judge Skuridina extended Alexei Gaskarov’s arrest for three month and eight days, until October 6.

Photo by Yevgeny Feldman for Novaya Gazeta

Original article in Russian


Moscow activist Ilya Budraitskis:

Today Alexei Gaskarov’s detention in police custody was extended until October 6, that is, until the official conclusion of the Bolotnaya Square investigation. I no longer have the strength to describe all the shit that went down at the Basmanny district court. The only thing worth noting is the expanded version of the report issued by Center “E” [the “anti-extremism” police], which was read aloud by Judge Skuridina. Autonomous Action and “other radical leftist groups” are now openly identified as sources of permanent anti-state violence, and the motive for keeping Alexei in custody is his “authority within that milieu.” This in fact is the answer to a frequently asked question. How does Gaskarov’s case stand out from the Bolotnaya Square case as a whole? By its clear, no longer merely political, but ideological orientation. We are dealing here with a show trial aimed specifically against the radical left, publicly recognized as a potential threat. And disrupting it is a matter of our common future. So follow the campaign at Make suggestions, participate and, most important, don’t lose heart.


Lyosha Gaskarov: Not a Word about Politics