Yana Teplitskaya: Wonderland

welcome to russia

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
September 4, 2018

Emotions are weird. I write “hogtie,” “taser,” and “Liteiny 4” [FSB headquarters in Petersburg] without feeling anything.

I wrote “interrogation in the middle of the night” and the tips of my fingers went numb.

I don’t understand what remains when you’ve run out of hatred and fear has faded.

Navigating your way through fear gives you a lot of strength, but it doesn’t last long.

Love and solidarity.

However, their supply is probably limited, too, since I feel so little strength.

***

“I have the sense we live so well that we should [help others].”

“But I know now this sense doesn’t get you far. My human rights work started from an overabundance of well-being, but I think it has been spent, that it has bottomed out.”

“Oh! So, no matter how much I do for the kids, I’m giving them a finite, rather than an indefinite, supply?”

***

As for basic trust in the world, I have the general sense that if you really have to do it, you will do anything. The deaths of other people and one’s own ailments take away that feeling. Just like the torture of Igor.

***

“Officials who are directly accused of torture: […] born 1993.”

:(

***

Excerpts from a funny [and seemingly really lousy] interview about “why you do what you do.”

*

“Would you like to be written up in the history books?”

“Uh, well, I’d like these cases to be written up in the history books. That would mean this nightmare had ended [and a new one had begun].”

*

“I have generally always been interested in the human rights movement and the struggle for the rule of law in Russia. I read a good number of autobiographies [of human rights activists and dissidents] while I was at school.”

“And your interests didn’t look odd to the people at school?”

“No, I think everyone else was also into something ‘odd.'”

*

“But why this way? After all, you could save people by being a surgeon.”

“Because it’s simple, while being a surgeon is really complicated. What we do is really simple. You simply show up somewhere and write down everything as it happened. Anyone could do it.”

***

I remember thinking while I was at school that it was fortunate I was finishing school during a period of authoritarianism. Under democracy and totalitarianism, I would have found it too messy to advocate human rights. I wouldn’t have even given it a thought, for different reasons: it’s too messy in a democracy, while it’s too dangerous under totalitarianism. So, if I had finished school in 2018, I would have hardly taken up human rights advocacy.

***

I see the circumstances in both Russia and Petersburg completely differently from the way I saw them ten years ago. Roughly speaking, ten years ago, the prisons were a topsy-turvy world, a “wonderland,” while the outside world was almost normal. In these circumstances, it made sense to rupture the impervious world of prisons, because doing so would in itself improve conditions in prisons. Rupturing this impervious world was simple. It was enough to hang around, both inside and outside, and flap your gums. In the outside world, you would jabber about  what was happening on the inside, and vice versa.

I no longer see things this way. With its aggressive propaganda, wars, and insane laws, the outside world is about the same as the topsy-turvy world, as “wonderland.” Therefore, my goals and methods have changed a bit.

Nowadays, perhaps, the role of the outside world is played by hypothetical readers of our reports “from the normal world,” meaning decent people on the internet and on the street, future readers, the UN Committee against Torture. Due to the need to navigate temporal and geographical borders, everything has become a little stricter. It has become vital to accurately record what is happening.

Yana Teplitskaya is a member of the Petersburg Public Commission for Monitoring Conditions in Places of Incarceration (“Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission” or “PMC”). Ms. Teplitskaya and her fellow PMC member Yekaterina Kosarevskaya were instrumental in uncovering and publicizing the torture by the FSB of the suspects the security agency abducted as part of its alleged investigation of the so-called Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. My thanks to Ms. Teplitskaya for her permission to publish her remarks in translation on this website. 

Network: Parents versus the FSB

Network: Parents of Anarchists versus the FSB
Alexei Polikhovich and Ksenia Sonnaya
OVD Info
July 30, 2018

Members of the Parents Network. Photo courtesy of OVD Info

Eleven antifascists from Penza and Petersburg have been charged in the case against the alleged “terrorist community” known as the Network. Many people have got used to news of the violence, threats, and electrical shock torture used against the suspects in the case, but the accused themselves and their loved ones will probably never grow inured to such things. The parents of the accused came together in a committee known as the Parents Network. They have been trying to do something to help their loved ons.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claims the Network is an international organization. Aside from Penza and Petersburg, secret cells were, allegedly, established in Moscow and Belarus. Yet no one has been arrested either in Russia’s capital or abroad. Meanwhile, the Parents Network is definitely an international organization. Aside from Penza, Petersburg, Moscow, and Novosibirsk, the committee has members in Petropavlovsk, the city in Kazakhstan where Viktor Filinkov’s mother lives.

Members of the Parents Network have appeared at two press conferences, in April and May of this year. They have established a chatroom on Telegram where they discuss new developments in the case, exchange opinions, share impressions of hearings and interrogations, and give each other support. In addition, the parents try and force reactions from Russian government oversight and human rights bodies. They write letters to Russia’s human rights ombudsman and the Presidential Human Rights Council, and file complaints with the Investigative Committee and the Russian Bar Association.

OVD Info spoke with members of the Parents Network.

Tatyana Chernova, Andrei Chernov’s mother, shop clerk
All this kicked off in March at the next-to-last custody extension hearing in Penza.

I went to see Ilya Shakursky. I knew reporters and human rights advocates would be there. I just approached the people who had come to the hearing and asked for help. One of those people was Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the movement For Human Rights. He responded and proposed meeting in Moscow.

I didn’t know any human rights activists. I didn’t know where to go or to whom to turn, since I’d never dealt with this. When I’d discuss it with my daughter, she would scold me, telling me we had to wait or we might make things worse.

My husband and I went to see Lev Ponomaryov. We said we didn’t know what to do. We had a lawyer. Our lawyer did his job, while we, the parents, didn’t know how to help. We were told to take a pen and sign up, that the first thing to do was unite with all the other parents. I found their telephones numbers and gradually called all of them.

Andrei Chernov’s family

I couldn’t get hold of Lena Shakurskaya. I sent her an SMS, saying I’m so-and-so’s mom, I want to talk, if you want to talk, write. She called me right back. Everyone was probably waiting for it. We shared a misfortune, and it brought us together. Our first meeting was at Lev Ponomaryov’s office. Lena came to Moscow for the meeting. It was only there she heard the whole truth. Mikhail Grigoryan, Ilya’s former lawyer, had been telling her a different story. The Pchelintsevs met her. They told her what was going on. Lena was made sick by what she found out.

We try to have each other’s backs. The blows are such that it’s hard to take. Yes, I have friends. But I can call Sveta Pchelintseva or Lena Bogatova, say, knowing they’ll know where I’m coming from, because this is part of our personal lives.

Yelena Bogatova, Ilya Shakursky’s mother, shop clerk
We had a lawyer, Mikhail Grigoryan. He warned me against communicating with the relatives of the other lads. He said each of us had to defend their own son. Nothing good would come of fraternizing. I listened to him.

In March, I saw Andrei Chernov’s mom. Again, at Grigoryan’s insistence, I didn’t go up to her or chat with her. Later, I had doubts. I wanted to talk to someone. God was probably reading our minds: it was then Tatyana Chernova sent me an SMS. We got in touch on the phone. I went to Moscow without telling the lawyer. We met with human rights activists. We discussed how to talk about the kids.

It’s really rough when you’re on your own in these circumstances, but now we are together. You realized you’re not alone and our boys are not alone. What we do is mainly for them. We put on these t-shirts when we go to hearings so they can see we are fighting. We have gone to all the hearings together so they see we’re all together.

At first, I was a “cooperative” mom. I was friendly with the investigator. We would talk. He said unflattering things about the other parents. Grigoryan would ask me to meet with Ilya to “talk sense” into him. The investigator would talk to me, telling me that if I was a good mom, I would get the message through his head, that is, if we had a good relationship, as I had told him. Then I would get to see Ilya for ten minutes.

Yelena Bogatova and Ilya Shakursky

In February, when Ilya signed a statement saying he had not been tortured, his uncle and I persuaded him to sign the paper. We didn’t understand a thing, of course. Grigoryan said Ilya had to sign the paper. He said he was working for us and Ilya shouldn’t be obstinate, but should sign everything he asked him to sign.

Ilya stared at me.

“Mom, what are you doing?” he said. “I’m not guilty of anything.”

“Sign it or things will get worse for you, and I’ll have it worse. I won’t see you again,” I said to him.

I was selfish, drowning in my own grief. I pushed my son into doing it because I felt sorry for myself. The FSB used me. Yes, you can see him, but make him to sign this. Hold his hand.

It’s psychologically easier for me now. I feel strong inside. I have the confidence to keep going and try and rescue the boys from the paws of the FSB. I don’t have any friends per  se anymore. At first, they would call and ask about things, but then they would do it less and less often. I don’t know, maybe they’re afraid of the FSB. They’re afraid of calling me once too much because they know my phone is bugged.

On the other hand, I have a sense of how many friends Ilya has. I communicate with the Parents Committee and Ilya’s friends, who are not afraid of anything. We talk on the phone. They visit Ilya’s grandma and help. They water the garden and go to the store, just like Timur and his friends.

Natalya, Viktor Filinkov’s mom, businesswoman
It was like a bolt out of the blue. Viktor’s wife, Alexandra, wrote to me. I was ready to go see him that very minute, but I was told it would be better for me not to show up in Russia for the time being. I live in Petropavlovsk in northern Kazakhstan, which is not far from Omsk. It’s sixty kilometers to the Russian border.

Then I could not wait any longer. I said I was going to Petersburg, come what may. Everyone was surprised I was allowed to see him. I was the first parent allowed to see their child. But it was so little time. It was so hard to talk to him through the glass.

“Mom, I’ve been tortured,” he said.

I could see he had a scar. He told me to stay strong and be reasonable about what was happening.

Viktor Filinkov

I’d never been interested in politics. Now, though, I’m interested. I’m interested in Russian politics and Kazakhstani politics, and I read all the news straight through. I read about what incidents happened where, who was tortured where, who has been framed, who has been protected. I read everything about what’s happened to antifascists and anarchists everywhere.

I think about why I don’t live in Russia, in Petersburg. I cannot move right now. It’s complicated to do the paperwork, register as an immigrant, and get a temporary resident permit. The thing that causes me the most pain is the thought they could ban me from entering the country.

Nikolai Boyarshinov, Yuli Boyarshinov’s father, artist
It’s a terrible state, which everyone has been through, when you suddenly find out your son has been arrested, and the charges are so absurd. You have no idea at all what to do. It’s a wall against which you beat your head. You quite quickly realize you’re completely powerless.

I joined the Parents Network when it had quite a few members. I was completely crushed then. At first, I imagined it existed for its own sake, to keep from going insane. But then I noticed it got results. By then I had completely recovered from my initial state, so I did things, thought about things, and discussed things. Being involved in the Parents Network was my salvation.

We have a chat page on Telegram. In contrast to the Network, which the FSB concocted, we don’t hide the fact we have a Network. If you think our children organized a criminal Network, then our Network is probably criminal, too.

Our actions get few results, perhaps, but it is this way, bit by bit, that you build up the desire to do something to improve the conditions in which the boys are incarcerated.  Publicity was their salvation, after all. It’s not a matter of getting them released yet. We are still thinking about how to keep them alive.

That was how it happened with my son. I saw him at the first custody extension hearing, a month after his arrest. I saw what he looked liked when he arrived at the courthouse. He looked drab and battered. He had fresh bruises on his head. You could see that it couldn’t go on for long like that. His friends, thirty people or so, came to the next hearing. When he saw everyone, he was happy. A new phase began after that. It was clear that at least they wouldn’t kill him.


Yuli Boyarshinov in childhood

It was a turning point for me. When everything went public, it saved my son’s life. Yet now I’m afraid the publicity will die down and the boys will again be isolated, and the nightmare will recommence. That’s why I never turn down an interview.

I go out picketing on Fridays. I had doubts when the World Cup was underway. The first day I had the sense I was preventing people from enjoying themselves, but I decided to keep going out. Something unexpected happens each time. A young man came up to me and said he knew nothing about the Network. He walked away, apparently looked in the internet, and came back. I told him about the other boys.

“I don’t share those views,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter now whether you’re leftist or rightist,” I replied. “What matters is that you have views, and that is sufficient grounds to arrest you and charge you with a crime.”

The Parents Network is now like a family. We’ve agreed that when this travesty of justice is over, we will definitely have a reunion with everyone. Everyone has become family. Viktor’s mom lives in Kazakhstan, and his wife had to escape, so when I take care packages to Yuli, I take packages for Viktor, too. I really want to meet all the boys. I’m worried sick about all of them. My wife sometimes reads an article about Dima Pchelintsev or Viktor, and she cries. We feel like they’re our children.

Yelena Strigina, Arman Sagynbayev’s mother, chief accountant 
The first to get together were the people in Penza, the Pchelintsevs and the Chernovs. I joined along the way. The defense lawyers had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, so we had to go public with all our problems.

I live in Novosibirsk. We all stay in touch through a certain banned messenging site. When we were at the hearings in Penza, we made t-shirts emblazoned with the logo “Free [son’s surname].” It might look like a game to outsiders, but we have to stay afloat. It’s important to do something. And to publicize everything that happens.


Arman Sagynbayev and his niece. Screenshot from the website of the Best of Russia competition (left); photo of a billboard in Moscow (right)

Arman has a serious chronic illness. There was no point in torturing him. His first testimony was enough to send him down for ten years. He testified against himself more than he did against the others. He was extradited from Petersburg to Penza. Along the way, the men who were transporting him opened the doors when they were in the woods and dragged Arman out. They promised to bury him alive. That was at night. In the morning, he was taken to the investigator for questioning. When people are under that kind of pressure, they would say anything. I would say I’d attempted to invade Kazan and blow up chapels.


Arman Sagynbayev in childhood

I kept the story secret from friends and relatives. But after the film about the case on NTV, everyone called and started looking funny at me. The news even made it to the school that Arman’s little brother attends. Imagine: your brother is a terrorist. It was a good thing honest articles had been published at that point. I would send people links to them. Thanks to those articles, people read a different take on events, and we have been protected from a negative reaction from society.

Svetlana Pchelintsev, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s mother, cardiologist
The Parents Network has empowered us a hundredfold. By joining together, we are no longer each fighting for our own son, we are fighting for all the boys. We love kids we don’t know at all, kids who are complete strangers, as if they were our own kids. Our hearts ache for each of them. I think it’s wonderful. A whole team of parents fighting for all the boys. What can stop parents? Nothing can stop them.

What has happened is terrible. Whether we like or not, we have to go on living while also helping the children. So, when one mom has a moment of weakness, she can telephone another mom, who is feeling the opposite emotions. It’s vital when a person hears that support.


Dmitry Pchelintsev in childhood

Dmitry Pchelintsev, Dmitry Pchelintsev’s father, engineer
We are a committee of parents. What we do is support each other. We live in Moscow, but our son is jailed in Penza. The parents who live in Penza visit our son. Our kids, as it turns out, belong to all of us. We were in Penza and we gave all the children all their care packages at the same time. If we talk with the warden of the remand prison, we speak on behalf of all the kids.

This has helped us and helped our children. We get emotional support. It’s one thing when you sit alone in a closed room and don’t know what’s happening to your child. It’s another thing when all the parents meet and discuss everything. Tiny facts come together into a big picture, and you more or less understand what’s happening.

In my view, publicity is quite effective. This has been borne out by the actions of the case investigator, Tokarev. If it makes Tokarev uncomfortable, if it makes Tokarev angry, it’s a good thing. As he said, “You raised this ruckus in vain. They would have been in prison long ago.” So, what’s bad for him is good for me. I visited the offices of the Investigative Committee in Penza. They couldn’t believe it was possible the FSB would torture people in a remand prison.

Lena, Ilya Shakursky’s mom, said Tokarev always referred to us and the Chernovs as “uncooperative” parents. He complained that, if it weren’t for us, our kids would have been sentenced to two years each in prison and that would have been it. How can a person say such things? You put a man in jail for nothing, and then you sit and clap.

The FSB are Putin’s hellhounds. Putin loosened their leash a little, and they grabbed everyone they could before the presidential election and the World Cup. Now it’s all coming to an end, and he’ll again say, “Heel!” Let’s see where it leads. Perhaps the plug will be pulled, unfortunately.

All photos courtesy of the parents and relatives of the accused and OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader.

***************

What can you do to support the Penza and Petersburg antifascists and anarchists tortured and imprisoned by the FSB?

  • Donate money to the Anarchist Black Cross via PayPal (abc-msk@riseup.net). Make sure to specify your donation is earmarked for “Rupression.”
  • Spread the word about the Network Case aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case. You can find more information about the case and in-depth articles translated into English on this website (see below), rupression.com, and openDemocracyRussia.
  • Organize solidarity events where you live to raise money and publicize the plight of the tortured Penza and Petersburg antifascists. Go to the website It’s Going Down to find printable posters and flyers you can download. You can also read more about the case there.
  • If you have the time and means to design, produce, and sell solidarity merchandise, please write to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters and postcards to the prisoners. Letters and postcards must be written in Russian or translated into Russian. You can find the addresses of the prisoners here.
  • Design a solidarity postcard that can be printed and used by others to send messages of support to the prisoners. Send your ideas to rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Write letters of support to the prisoners’ loved ones via rupression@protonmail.com.
  • Translate the articles and information at rupression.com and this website into languages other than Russian and English, and publish your translations on social media and your own websites and blogs.
  • If you know someone famous, ask them to record a solidarity video, write an op-ed piece for a mainstream newspaper or write letters to the prisoners.
  • If you know someone who is a print, internet, TV or radio journalist, encourage them to write an article or broadcast a report about the case. Write to rupression@protonmail.com or the email listed on this website, and we will be happy to arrange interviews and provide additional information.
  • It is extremely important this case break into the mainstream media both in Russia and abroad. Despite their apparent brashness, the FSB and their ilk do not like publicity. The more publicity the case receives, the safer our comrades will be in remand prison from violence at the hands of prison stooges and torture at the hands of the FSB, and the more likely the Russian authorities will be to drop the case altogether or release the defendants for time served if the case ever does go to trial.
  • Why? Because the case is a complete frame-up, based on testimony obtained under torture and mental duress. When the complaints filed by the accused reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and are examined by actual judges, the Russian government will again be forced to pay heavy fines for its cruel mockery of justice.

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If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and republish the recent articles the Russian Reader has posted on these subjects.

Is Maxim Shulgin an “Extremist”?

Maxim Shulgin

Open Russia Human Rights (Pravozashchita Otkrytki)
July 20, 2018

Remember the story of Maxim Shulgin, the Left Bloc activist from Tomsk? He was charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282 for posting songs on the VK social network. When Center “E” officers searched his flat in April and took Shulgin to their headquarters, they beat him up on the way there and pushed him against the heater in their car, causing burns to his body. We published his account.

Other Left Bloc activists were detained the same day. When they refused to testify against Shulgin, they were threatened with violence and told they would be charged with criminal offenses as well. When Shulgin was delivered to Center “E” headquarters with a bandaged arm, they decided the threats were real and answered the investigator’s questions.

Now the witnesses have recanted their testimony, recording a video in which they recounted what happened that day.

Our attorney Andrei Miller has been working on the Shulgin case. We immediately had Shulgin’s beating certified by a physician, and the evidence has been submitted to the Investigative Committe’s military investigation department. However, the issue of whether charges will be filed in connection with Shulgin’s bodily injuries has not yet been resolved.

_________________________

Human Rights Open Russia (Pravozashchita Otkrytki)
April 30, 2018

“‘Guys, I can’t breathe,’ I said. They kicked me and said, ‘Are you alive down there?'”

Maxim Shulgin, a 28-year-old Left Bloc activist from Tomsk, recounted how Center “E” officiers detained him and what happened to him afterwards.

Tomsk Center “E” officers raided the Left Bloc’s offices yesterday.

“We were standing there smoking when a GAZelle van without license plates roared into the yard at full speed. The door opened, and guys wearing masks and caps came running out. I thought it was neo-Nazis who had come to shut us down. But then I realized they don’t drive around in GAZelle vans.”

The Center “E” officers forced the Left Bloc activists to lie face down on the floor. They confiscated their telephones, meaning the detainees had no connection with outside world until later that night and were unable to tell anyone what had happened to them. The detainees were taken to Center “E” headquarters, while Shulgin was handcuffed and taken home for a search of his flat.

“There were four field officers, wearing balaclavas, caps, jeans, windbreakers, and sneakers. They were carrying pistols, and their faces were covered. They addressed one of their number as ‘Pasha’ or ‘Pavel.’

“The worst nightmare was in the van. I lay between the front and back seats, and the men put their feet on me. They deliberately turned on the heater under the front seat, although it was three or four in the afternoon and eighteen degrees Centigrade outside. They did this on purpose, so I would find it hard to breathe, and if I hadn’t put my arm against the heater, one whole side of my body would have been burned. ‘Guys, I can’t breathe,’ I said. They kicked me and said, ‘Are you alive down there? Be patient, bro. We’ll arrive soon, and everything will be okay.’ They also beat the left side of my body. When I took too long answering their questions, they would beat me just like that, apparently because they enjoyed it.

“On the way, they asked about our plans for May Day. They commented that Russian extremists had degenerated. Now I can’t really remember [what they said], because I could not breathe and my arm was burning.”

The Center “E” officers confiscated all the equipment and political campaign materials in Shulgin’s flat. Then they took him to their headquarters, where the other Left Bloc activists were waiting.

“When [the Center “E” officers] saw my arm was burnt, they got a bit scared. I rode in the back seat on the way from my house. One of them said, ‘Sorry, bro.’ Another one laughed and punched me in the side. Good cop, bad cop, in short.”

The field officers and a public defender forced Shulgin to testify, threatening to arrest him. He was shown an order to instigate criminal proceedings, dated April 27. The charge was violation of Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1, allegedly, for saving songs on the VK social network that “incited hatred towards a particular social group, i.e., law enforcement officers.”

“After they thrashed me, my thought was to get out of there first thing. I signed a form releasing me on my recognizance. The idea that policemen are a social group is laughable, of course. Apparently, there is the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and police officers.”

Along with the charge sheet, Shulgin was shown the results of a forensic examination that concluded that four of the songs on his VK page were “extremist”:

  • Chetverio, “Fuck, Pigs!”
  • Dukhi tsekha (Spirits of the Shop Floor), “Cop President”
  • Nichego Khoroshego (Nothing Good), “Molotov Cocktail”
  • Plokhie Dyadki (Bad Guys), “Cop”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Kicker Conspiracy

Go to Russia for a few World Cup fixtures, get rip-roaring drunk, hit on a married Russian woman, and you are an instant “Russia expert,” fit for print in the bloody Guardian.

And don’t forget to thank the Russian security forces for their professionalism in keeping your jet-setting, neo-colonialist, neo-imperialist ass safe while you’re making an ass of yourself.

Huge congratulations must go to the law enforcement that’s been put in place to stop both the most fighty Russians and the most fighty English from making their presence felt. But those responsible for the headlines with TOO MANY CAPITAL LETTERS should be ashamed. Not just for denying England fans these experiences, but for allowing the Russian people to feel demonised, and indeed for allowing Putin to capitalise on this othering of the Russian people to support his us-against-them narrative. Every English person that has a positive interaction with a Russian person is a step further away from letting the people in power turn us against each other … is what I drunkenly mumbled into Anastasia’s ear a few minutes before I learned she had a husband, and a few minutes after she’d said there are no good computer hackers in Russia, and about 20 minutes after I’d been singing “Football’s coming home”. We’re all living in our own fantasies I suppose.

_________________________________________

I wish everyone could read this detailed interview with the fearless Russian human rights activist Anatoly Kalyapin and head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture about the nearly ubiquitous use of torture by Russian law enforcement.

Under ordinary circumstances, I might even think about translating the interview and publishing it on this website.

But these are not ordinary circumstances. As the Putin regime ratchets up its “Great Terror Lite” apparatus, a frighteningly large segment of apparently educated and even liberal Russians and non-Russians have persuaded me that having fun, partying like it’s 1999, and staying glued to their TV sets watching World Cup fixtures trump petty considerations like human rights and international solidarity.

So, if you’d like to read this interview with a knowledgeable, brave man, run it through whatever online translation machine you prefer and see what miserable gobbledygook comes out the other end.

It has finally dawned on me how few people, both inside and outside Russia, really care to know anything about the real Russia, especially since Don Putin started kicking magical, psychedelic, multi-colored sand in their face with his twelve-billion-dollar “kicker conspiracy.”

I have no hope for a planet whose most powerful, empowered, and well-off inhabitants have such a strong will to be fooled and such an insuperable desire to kick up their heels as if they were teenagers. // TRR

Thanks to Lika Frenkel for the heads-up and the late Mark E. Smith (March 5, 1957–January 24,  2018) for not refusing his vision and sharing it with us so generously for so many years.

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Kicker, Kicker Conspiracy
Kicker, Kicker Conspiracy

J. Hill’s satanic reign
Ass-lickers, Keegan’s Team

Kicker, Kicker Conspiracy

In the marble halls of the charm school
How flair is punished
Under Marble Millichip, the F.A. broods 
On how flair can be punished
Their guest is a Euro-State magnate
Corporate-u-lent

Kicker, Kicker Conspiracy 

In the booze club, George Best does rule
How flair is punished
His downfall was a blonde girl,
but that’s none of your business!

Kicker, Kicker Conspiracy

Football fan at the bus stop
Stretched on the balls of his feet
In the Christmas rush
Had in his hands two lager cans
Talks to himself
At the back
At the top

But in the pavement on the club unit
Plastic, Slime, Partitions, Cocktail, Zig-Zag, Tudor Bar

Pat McCat. Pat McCat, the very famous sports reporter is
talking there.

Fans remember, you are abroad!
Remember the police are rough!
Remember the unemployed!
Remember my expense account!

Hot dogs and seat for Mr. Hogg!
Hot dogs and seat for Mr. Hogg
And his grotty spawn!

Lurid brochures for ground unit
How style is punished

Kicker, Kicker Conspiracy
Remember, don’t collect with the rough
Kicker, Kicker Conspiracy

Kicker, destroy the facilities!

Kicker Conspiracy

Source: The Fall, “Kicker Conspiracy” (1983); lyrics courtesy of The Annotated Fall

Torture as an Everyday Practice

They Were Suffocated with a Plastic Bag Doused with Ammonia and Punched in the Kidneys: How a Navalny Team Volunteer and His Friends Were Tortured by Police
Alexander Skrylnikov
MBK Media
May 31, 2018

Максим Гребенюк. Фото: личная страница ВКонтактеMaxim Grebenyuk. Photo from personal VK page

Maxim Grebenyuk, a volunteer with the Navalny Team in Voronezh, and his friends were tortured by police at a police station who were trying to force them to confess to stealing a mobile phone. Voronezh police offices handcuffed the young men and suffocated them with a plastic bag doused with ammonia so they would not faint from the lack of oxygen.

On the night of May 18, Mr. Grebnyuk and his friends Sergei Troyansky, Ilya Podgorny, and Andrei Biryukov were visiting an acquaintance of one of the young men, Yelizaveta Kurlyantseva. Two men named Roman and Vadim, whom Mr. Grebnyuk did not know, were also at Ms. Kurlyantseva’s flat. Mr. Grebnyuk spent no more than an hour at the flat, but a week later he found out that he and his friends had been summoned to Voronezh Police Precinct No. 4 as witnesses in the case of Ms. Kurlyansteva’s stolen phone. At the police station, it transpired the police did not want testimony, but confessions, and police officers employed torture to obtain them.

MBK Media asked Mr. Grebnyuk what methods of torture the Voronezh police used.

*****

When we went into the precinct, they immediately confiscated our telephones and internal passports. They took us in for questioning one at a time. Andrei was the first to go into Office No. 26. He was in there ten minutes. They let him go. Nothing happened to him.

Then I went in. There were two men in plain clothes in the room.

“Everything is fucked,” they said.

They made no attempt to find out what had happened and how. They said right out I had stolen the telephone.

I replied I hadn’t stolen it.

“Either you stole it or you tell us who did.”

I repeated it wasn’t me who stole it, and one of them slapped me. I tried to invoke my right not to speak to them without an attorney present, and they hit me again.

They kept asking me about the phone, but I said I’d hear it about only the day before. They warned me they were going to use “other methods.”

When I asked them why they were hitting me instead of figuring things out, they said, “We’re not hitting you now. We have other methods.”

What methods did they have in mind?

They put a plastic bag over my head twice, once without any ammonia in it, once with a minimal amount. I was running out of air. I was choking. When they saw it wasn’t having the desired effect, they doused the bag with lots of ammonia and put it over my head. It was unbearable. They did the trick with the plastic bag twice while simultaneously keeping me handcuffed with my hands behind the back of the chair. One of them held the chain on the handcuffs with his foot so I was unable to move.

Then they let me go and called Sergei into the room. The same thing happened to him. Later, the two guys I hadn’t met before, Roman and Vadim, were brought to the station. They said they were tortured in the same way, and one of them was punched in the kidneys.

After the police were done with me, it was my turn again. There were five men in the room. They did the trick with the plastic bag again. I screamed so loud the whole station would have heard it. One of the officers must have heard me, but there was no reaction. I was asked whether I could take much more of thatand, naturally, I said I couldn’t. I cannot stand torture.

They promised would get us dead to rights in several days if no one confessed and to torture us the whole time. They gave us ten minutes to decide who would take the rap. Otherwise, they promised to torture me again.

That didn’t happen, thank God. They forced us to give our written consent to a lie detector test and make statements that none of us had seen the telephone before letting us go.

How long did the torture last?

It was really hard to keep track of time due to my emotional state. It was something like half an hour.

What things did the police say?

They only insisted I confess and chatted among themselves. They didn’t try and figure out what had happened to the phone. They only insisted I confess.

How did you feel when they put the plastic bag doused with ammonia over your head?

It was awful. The bag is over your head, and you have to breathe. When you inhale, there is a really sharp pain and burning sensation in your lungs and nasal cavities. Your eyes tear up. You have to breathe, but you inhale two or three times, and the air runs out. When the air ran out, I wanted to faint so I wouldn’t have to go on feeling it, but the ammonia made that impossible.

Did you think about confessing at some point?

I felt like saying I stole the phone. Those thoughts came and went, although I hadn’t stolen the phone. I just wanted it to stop. When they threaten to keep doing this to you for two days, then anyone would say he stole the phone if the alternative was that the torture continued. The same thing happened to Sergei, and the others said the same thing happened to them. I don’t know how to describe it.

Do you see any link between what happened and the fact you’re a Navalny Team volunteer?

It’s entirely possible. The police focused on me, and they confiscated my internal passport, which I keep in a protective cover that has the phrase “Opposition Member’s Passport” emblazoned on it. The other guys don’t have anything to do with the opposition movement. The focus was on me. They interrogated me longer and more often.

Were you able to learn the names of the torturers?

Yes, I think so. One was named Oleg Sokolovsky, and another guy was named Sergei, but that was it.

Were you able to medically certify your injuries?

Yes, we were at a forensic medical exam yesterday on the orders of the investigator, and everything was certified there. The gouges made by the handcuffs have gone away, but there are still bruises on our wrists and forearms. Sergei and I have them in the exact same places.

Does the young woman who filed the theft complaint know you were tortured?

When she found out she was shocked. She had no idea stuff like that happened. She offered to withdraw her complaint, but I talked her out of it. Someone did steal the phone, so the complaint should be on file. And the guilty party should be punished, only not using such methods.

Will the policemen be punished for their actions? What do you predict will happen? What do you hope will happen?

I don’t know. I hope there will be publicity, and the case won’t be brushed under the rug. When we were signing the consent forms for the lie detector test, Sergei was told directly, “You can file a complain or not. Nothing will happen to us anyway.”

What has to be done to stop police officers in Russia from regarding torture as the norm?

As you well know, we have to change the system from the top down. Firing a few police officers won’t change anything.

*****

Navalny Team lawyer Danil Novikkov told us they filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee the next day. He also told us that one of the lie detector tests to which Mr. Grebnyuk and his friends consented had been postponed indefinitely after one of the police officers involved had been questioned at the Investigative Committee.

Novikov told us a little about Maxim Grebnyuk.

“He’s one of our oldest volunteers. He was expelled from the LDPR [the so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, chaired since its founding in the 1990s by the nationalist clown Vladimir Zhirinovsky] when they found out he supported Navalny’s views. He has been a co-sponsor of public events and campaign booths on many occasions, and he always attends protest rallies,” said Mr. Novikov.

The lawyer, nevertheless, saw no connection between the police’s torture of Mr. Grebnyuk and his opposition work.

“The police just turn a blind eye to tortue,” he said.

Police Precinct No. 4 in Voronezh declined to comment on the incident.

Thanks to Evgeny Shtorn for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Maria Kuvshinova: What Sentsov Could Die For

What Sentsov Could Die For
Maria Kuvshinova
Colta.Ru
May 25, 2018

Detailed_pictureOleg Sentsov. Photo by Sergei Pivovarov. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Colta.Ru 

On May 14, 2018, Oleg Sentsov went on an indefinite hunger strike in a penal colony located north of the Arctic Circle. His only demand is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. According to Memorial’s list, there are twenty-four such prisoners.

In August 2015, Sentsov was sentenced to twenty years for organizing a terrorist community and planning terrorist attacks. The second defendant in the case, Alexander Kolchenko, was sentenced to ten years in prison. Mediazona has published transcripts of the hearings in their trial. Around three hundred people have read them over the last three years. The transcripts make it plain the only evidence of the alleged terrorist organization’s existence was the testimony of Alexei Chirniy, who was not personally acquainted with Sentsov. It is police footage of Chirniy’s arrest while he was carrying a rucksack containing a fake explosive device that propagandists often pass off as police footage of Sentsov’s arrest.

Before his arrest, Sentsov was an Automaidan activist. In the spring of 2014, he organized peaceful protests against Crimea’s annexation by Russia.

“Yesterday’s ‘suicide bomber auto rally’ took place in Simferopol yesterday, but in quite abridged form,” Sentsov wrote on Facebook on March 12, 2014. “Only eight cars, six reporters with cameras, and twenty-five activists/passengers assembled at the starting point. I would have liked to have seen more. Unfortunately, most of the armchair revolutionaries who were invited were afraid to go. The traffic cops and regular police also showed up at the starting line, insisting we not leave for our own safety. We told them our protest was peaceful. We had no plans of breaking the rules, so we suggested they escort us to keep the peace for everyone’s sake.”

The second defendant, Kolchenko, admitted involvement in the arson of an office that was listed in the case file as belonging to the United Russia Party, but which in April 2014 was an office of Ukraine’s Party of Regions. The arson took place at night. It was meant to cause physical damage while avoiding injuring anyone.

The Russian authorities tried to prove both Sentsov and Kolchenko were linked with Right Sector, a charge that was unsubstantiated in Sentsov’s case and absurd in the latter case due to Kolchenko’s well-known leftist and anarchist convictions. Gennady Afanasyev, the second witness on whose testimony the charges against the two men were based, claimed he had been tortured and coerced into testifying against them.

Sentsov and Kolchenko’s show trial, like the show trials in the Bolotnaya Square Case, were supposed to show that only a handful of terrorists opposed the referendum on Crimea’s annexation and thus intimidate people who planned to resist assimilation. The Russian authorities wanted to stage a quick, one-off event to intimidate and crack down on anti-Russian forces. But two circumstances prevented the repressive apparatus from working smoothly. The first was that the defendants did not make a deal with prosecutors and refused to acknowledge the trial’s legitimacy. The second was that Automaidan activist Oleg Sentsov unexpectedly turned out to be a filmmaker, provoking a series of public reactions ranging from protests by the European Film Academy to questions about whether cultural producers would be capable of blowing up cultural landmarks. Segments of the Russian film community reacted to the situation with cold irritation. According to them, Sentsov was a Ukrainian filmmaker, not a Russian filmmaker, and he was not a major filmmaker. The owner of a computer club in Simferopol, his semi-amateur debut film, Gamer, had been screened at the festivals in Rotterdam and Khanty-Mansiysk, while release of his second picture, Rhino, had been postponed due to Euromaidan.

The Ukrainian intelligentsia have equated Sentsov with other political prisoners of the empire, such as the poet Vasyl Stus, who spent most of his life in Soviet prisons and died in Perm-36 in the autumn of 1985, a week after he had gone on yet another hunger strike. The Ukrainian authorities see Sentsov, a Crimean who was made a Russian national against his will and is thus not eligible for prisoner exchanges, as inconvenient, since he smashes the stereotype of the treacherous peninsula, a part of Ukraine bereft of righteous patriots. Sentsov’s death on the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup would be a vexing, extremely annoying nuisance to the Russian authorities.

Sentsov is an annoyance to nearly everyone, but he is a particular annoyance to those people who, while part of the Russian establishment, have openly defended him, although they have tried with all their might to avoid noticing what an inconvenient figure he has been. Although he was not a terrorist when he was arrested, he has become a terrorist of sorts in prison, because his trial and his hunger strike have been a slowly ticking time bomb planted under the entire four-year-long post-Crimean consensus, during which some have been on cloud nine, others have put down stakes, and still others have kept their mouths shut. Yet everyone reports on the success of their new endeavors on Facebook while ignoring wars abroad and torture on the home front. Sentsov represents a rebellion against hybrid reality and utter compromise, a world in which Google Maps tells you Crimea is Russian and Ukrainian depending on your preferences. To what count does “bloodlessly” annexed Crimea belong, if, four years later, a man is willing to die to say he does not recognize the annexation?

The success of Gamer on the film festival circuit, which made Sentsov part of the international film world, and his current address in a prison north of the Arctic Circle beg three questions. What is culture? Who produces culture? What stances do cultural producers take when they produce culture? There are several possible answers. Culture is a tool for reflection, a means for individuals and societies to achieve self-awareness and define themselves. It is not necessarily a matter of high culture. In this case, we could also be talking about pop music, fashion, and rap. (See, for example, the recent documentary film Fonko, which shows how spontaneous music making has gradually been transformed into a political force in post-colonial Africa.) On the contrary, culture can be a means of spending leisure time for people with sufficient income, short work days, and long weekends.

Obviously, the culture produced in Russia today under the patronage of Vladimir Medinsky’s Culture Ministry is not the first type of culture, with the exception of documentary theater and documentary cinema, but the founders of Theater.Doc have both recently died, while Artdocfest has finally been forced to relocate to Riga. The compromised, censored “cultural production” in which all the arts have been engaged has no way of addressing any of the questions currently facing Russia and the world, from shifts in how we view gender and the family (for which you can be charged with the misdemeanor of “promoting homosexualism”) to the relationship between the capitals and regions (for which you can charged with the felony of “calling for separatism”). Crimea is an enormous blank spot in Russian culture. Donbass and the rest of Ukraine, with which Russia still enjoyed vast and all-pervasive ties only five years ago, are blank spots. But cultural producers have to keep on making culture, and it is easier to say no one is interested in painful subjects and shoot a film about the complicated family life of a doctor with a drinking problem and a teetotalling nurse.

When we speak of the second type of culture—culture as leisure—we primarily have in mind Moscow, which is brimming over with premieres, lectures, and exhibitions, and, to a much lesser extent, Russia’s other major cities. So, in a country whose population is approaching 150 million people, there is a single international film festival staged by a local team for its hometown, Pacific Meridian in Vladivostok. All the rest are produced by Moscow’s itinerant three-ring circus on the paternalist model to the delight of enlightened regional governors. It matters not a whit that one of them ordered a brutal assault on a journalist, nor that another was in cahoots with the companies responsible for safety at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam, where 75 people perished in 2009. What matters is that the festival movement should go on. There is no room in this model for local cultural progress. There can be no free discussion generated by works of art when everyone is engaged in total self-censorship. After I went to Festival 86 in Slavutych, whose curators have been conceptually reassessing the post-Soviet individual and the post-Soviet space, I found it painful to think about Russian film festivals. This sort of focused conceptualization is impossible in Russia. It is of no interest to anyone.

There are two more possible answers to the question of what culture is. Culture is propaganda. Or, finally, culture is only the marquee on a commercial enterprise profiting at the taxpayer’s expense. It is not a big choice, and the kicker is that by agreeing today to be involved in churning out propaganda, milking taxpayers, supplying optional leisure time activities, producing censored works, and colonizing one’s own countrymen for the sake of money, status, and membership in a professional community, the people involved in these processes automatically stop making sense. It is naïve to think the audience has not noticed this forfeiture. It is no wonder the public has an increasingly hostile reaction to cultural producers and their work.

No one has the guts to exit this vicious circle even in protest at the slow suicide of a colleague convicted on trumped-up charges, because it would not be “practical.” The events of recent months and years, however, should have transported us beyond dread, since everyone without exception is now threatened with being sent down, the innocent and the guilty alike.

Post-Soviet infantilism is total. It affects the so-called intelligentsia no less than the so-called ordinary folk. Infantilism means being unable to empathize, being unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes, even if that person is President Putin, a man with a quite distinct sense of ethics, a man who has been studied backwards and forwards for twenty years. Apparently, the message sent to the creative communities through the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov was not registered. If you want to be a dissident, start down the hard road of doing jail time for misdemeanor charges, facing insuperable difficulties in renting performance and exhibition spaces, becoming an outsider, and experiencing despair. If you want a big theater in downtown Moscow, play by the rules. Like your average late-Soviet philistine, Putin regarded the creative intelligentsia with respect at the outset of his presidential career. (See, for example, footage from his visit to Mosfilm Studios in 2003.) However, a few years later, he was convinced the creative intelligentsia was a rampantly conformist social group who would never move even a millimeter out of its comfort zone and would make one concession after another. A lack of self-respect always generates disrespect in counterparts.

By signing open letters while remaining inside the system and not backing their words with any actions whatsoever, the cultural figures currently protesting the arrests of colleagues are viewed by the authorities as part of the prison’s gen pop, while people who live outside Moscow see them as accomplices in looting and genocide. No one takes seriously the words of people who lack agency. Agency is acquired only by taking action, including voluntarily turning down benefits for the sake of loftier goals. The acquisition of agency is practical, because it is the only thing that compels other people to pay heed to someone’s words. I will say it again: the acquisition of agency is always practical. At very least, it generates different stances from which to negotiate.

Sentsov has made the choice between sixteen years of slow decay in a penal colony and defiant suicide in order to draw attention not to his own plight, but to the plight of other political prisoners. Regardless of his hunger strike’s outcome, he has generated a new scale for measuring human and professional dignity. It is an personal matter whether we apply the scale or not, but now it is impossible to ignore.

Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Maria Eismont: The Case of Ildar Dadin

Ildar Dadin, protesting the imprisonment of Ukrainian pilot Nadja Savchenko. Photo courtesy of Russian Avos
Ildar Dadin, protesting the imprisonment of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadja Savchenko. Photo courtesy of Russian Avos

Maria Eismont
The Case of Ildar Dadin
Why Society Has Not Ignored a Story about Torture in Prison
Vedomosti
November 10, 2016

The controversy provoked by activist Ildar Dadin’s letter about the torture and abuse to which he and other prisoners have been subjected in the Segezha prison colony has been simmering for two weeks. The longer the topic of the inhumane treatment visited on people in penitentiaries occupies the media, including state TV channels, which have been forced to join the discussion of Dadin’s plight, the more likely society will be able to change things. Daily publications containing fresh testimonies about torture in Russian prisons have shown Dadin’s case is not unique. However, no controversies over violence in prisons have yet led to serious reforms of the penitentiary system or even a significant descrease in the number of “torture” colonies.

So what is different about the Dadin case? First, even Dadin’s ideological opponents have recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. Who seriously believes in the necessity of sending somone to prison for a series of peaceful solo pickets? Second, his obvious innocence in the eyes of the rank and filke attracts the attention of people unable to sympathize with criminals to torture in prisons. Third, Dadin has declared he is fighting not just for himself but for all convicts who are beaten and humiliated. He has conveyed via his lawyer that he has no wish to be transferred to another prison.

“He is convinced he has no right to be saved if he doesn’t help those who stay in the colony,” said Ksenia Kostromina, his attorney.

His conviction, bordering on obstinancy, his idealism on the verge of naïveté, and his sincere willingness to sacrifice himself to save others have made Dadin a much greater threat to the system than its consistent and predictable foes.

Dadin and the prison wardens are two different worlds, worlds that do not understand each other. And when Dadin speaks about constitutional rights from a libertarian viewpoint, the prison wardens think they are being mocked in a sophisticated way,” Igor Kalyapin, member of the Human Rights Council, told Vedomosti.

This difference in outlooks manifested itself recently in the trial of Nizhny Novgorod policemen accused of employing violence against detainees. (Ultimately, they got off with probationary sentences.) Their defense attorney assured the court they had in fact been “fulfilling the president’s May decrees,” while the accused themselves claimed they had been “defending the Motherland.”

Yet there are reasons to regard the situation with cautious optimism. One of them is the offer made to Anna Karetnikova, the most active member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission’s last three rosters, to work in the Federal Penitentiary Service. The second is the unexpected encounter between activists who had gathered outside the Federal Penitentiary Service’s central office, after the publication of Dadin’s letter, with Valery Maximenko, deputy head of the service, and his public promises to meet regularly with the activists to discuss pressing issues. The third is the proposal to hold primaries for the Public Monitoring Commissions, which could result in the return of prominent human rights activists to the commissions. All this will be possible if civil society maintains its interest in the topic.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up.