Immigration Blues

Immigrant hopefuls would be deemed eligible and competitive based on the points they accrue through a set of criteria, including educational specialty or degree, age, English proficiency, and a high-salaried job offer. They would need to show that they “like our way of life,” a senior official said, and that they are capable of “patriotic assimilation.” They could demonstrate that quality by passing a civics test much like the kind someone might encounter at a U.S. college.

I never had to take a civics test at a US college. The only civics test I have taken was the highly politicized test on Russian history and Russian laws I took last summer, along with a Russian language test, as part of the application to extend my Russian residence permit another five years.

It was a bloody joke, explicitly designed to show I “liked [their] way of life,” which they do not like themselves.

So, for example, I had to choose from among four possible answers when asked whether the “RF” (“Russian Federation”) was: 1) a totalitarian country, 2) an authoritarian country, 3) a hybrid country or a 4) a democratic country.

russian state

The right answer, obviously, was No. 4. I had enough Russian Bizarro world street smarts to choose it, although it was right only on the exam. In real life outside the exam, meaning on the ground, the RF is a No. 2 that badly wants to go No. 1.

If you imagine the test’s authors laughed their heads off when they drafted questions like this, you would probably be right.

When I was getting my other papers ready at Petersburg’s shiny new Amalgamated Documents Center (where Russians themselves can apply for foreign travel passports and lots of other precious papers, seals, stamps, permissions, visas, etc.), an employee suggested to me that, if I paid twice as much for the test, I would not have to take it for real. The fee would be considered a fee for an exam prep course I would not really take, either. On the appointed day, I would report at a certain time to a certain room to pick up a certificate showing I had passed the test with flying colors, although I would have done no such thing in reality.

I decided to take the test for real. I studied for it by taking sample tests I found on the web.

In the event, I passed the Russian civics exam with flying colors the hard way: by studying for it for most of a day and then taking it the next day.

A few months later, the FSB raided the language text and civics exam prep center at the Amalgamated Documents Center, claiming, probably on good grounds, the test center was helping applicants scam the government, which was footing the bill.

But the Russian government generated the problem in the first place by insisting immigrants take a hokey exam that, I am sure, most government officials would not be able to pass, much less rank-and-file Russians.

How odd the US government, currently headed by an avowed Putinist, would suddenly propose setting up the same hurdles to legal immigration to the US (“United States”). {TRR}

NB. The illustration, above, is a screenshot of the question on a sample test found on the internet. But the same multiple-choice question, with the same set of four possible answers, was on the real exam I did take as part of my application.

Andrey Loshak: What the Krasnodar Police Did to Lawyer Mikhail Benyash

mikhail benyahsMikhail Benyash. Courtesy of Andrey Loshak’s Facebook page

Andrey Loshak
Facebook
September 24, 2018

Achtung! Uwaga! Attention! Yet another outburst of lawlessness is underway in Krasnodar, an experimental region of Russia where the authorities test ever more repressive techniques and see whether they can get away with them or not. When I was making a film about volunteers in Navalny’s presidential campaign, it was Krasnodar where I encountered the gnarliest fucked-up shit. Provocateurs in hoods and masks attacked young people attending an “unauthorized” protest rally, and the cops, who stood nearby, claimed not to see anybody in masks attacking anyone. It was really frightening. The provocateurs assaulted the activists and assisted the cops in loading them into paddy wagons. I was also detained then for the first time in my life, despite my attempts to prove I was a reporter. I was quickly released, however. They were still afraid of causing a stir in the Moscow liberal media.

Afterwards, my cameraman and I stood outside the gates of the police station until one in the morning filming the activists, who were mainly really young men and woman, as they were let go after they were formally charged and written up. The whole time this was happening, the lawyer Mikhail Benyash was trying to get into the police station, but the police kept him out. He stood by the gate, writing down the names and numbers of the released detainees. He sadly reported that, due to the court hearings of the detainees, whom he would be defending, he would not be making it back to his hometown of Gelendzhik anytime soon, although there he was in the midst of civil court cases involving hoodwinked investors in unbuilt cooperative apartment buildings.

I asked him why he bothered with all of it when no one paid him for his work. His answer stunned me. It transpired he and I had the exact same motives. He also liked the young people who had been detained, and he also saw them as a source of hope. He was the first romantic lawyer I had ever met. (Unfortunately, I did not know Stanislav Markelov personally.) It was no wonder I took a shine to him. Later, in our correspondence, he suggested titling the series The Ugly Swans, after the novel by the Strugatskys, and wrote me a detailed explanation of why I should do it.

Here is an excerpt from his letter.

“These were the kind of young people with whom you spoke on October 7: quite сheerful, cool, and kind. Unspoiled. Clever, a little naive, and free of feigned helplessness. They grew up on the internet, in the chats on VK and Telegram.

“Instead of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, they imbibed fantasy novels and movies about superheroes, and they fashioned all of it into a model for doing the right thing.

“Instead of Dostoevsky’s subservience, they absorbed the humor of Marvel Comics and a primitive albeit correct sense of right and wrong from movies about Batman, the Flash, and Iron Man. They fire back at priests of all types with quotations from Sheldon Cooper.

“Now I have been watching all these crazy comics serials, but not for entertainment or by way of procrastinating, but in order to understand the young people who grew up on them and so I can speak their language. I’m holding my own for the time being, but the kids are evolving rapidly.”

On September 9, which the Navalny Team had declared a day of protests nationwide, Benyash arrived in Krasnodar as usual to defend activists detained at the march, which, as usual, had not been authorized by the authorities. On the eve of the protest, nearly all Navalny staffers in Krasnodar had been arrested on a ridiculous pretext: all of them were jailed for, allegedly, disobeying police officers. There was not anything like this preventive crackdown in any other city in Russia.

On the way to Krasnodar, Benyash got a telephone call informing him he was under surveillance by the police. The caller also told him his exact location. Mikhail does not scare easily, so he did not turn around. Once he was in Krasnodar, he headed with a female acquaintance to the police station where the detainees would be taken.

Suddenly, a Mazda stopped next to him. Several brutes in plain clothes jumped out of the car, grabbed Mikhail, and tossed him into their car, where they forcibly confiscated his telephone as he was trying to telephone colleagues. The men beat him, choked him, and pressed his eyes with their fingers.

At the police station, he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and dragged to the fourth floor. In Krasnodar, experienced opposition activists know the fourth floor is the location of the CID and that if you are taken there, it means the police will put on the pressure and try and beat a confession out of you.

All of these events were witnessed by Mikhail’s female companion, whom the cops also brought to the station.

On the fourth floor, they beat the living daylights out of Benyash. Several blows to his face caused him to fall and hit his head on the corner of a safe.

Meanwhile, the news got out that Benyash had been detained. Lawyer Alexei Avanesyan tried to get into the station to see him, but the police would not let him in. At some point, the cops donned helmets and armor before announcing the station was going into lockdown mode, which happens when a police state is threatened by an armed attack from the outside. In fact, the police in Krasnodar go into lockdown mode every time they don’t want to let lawyers into the station to consult with detained opposition activists. When Avanesyan learned Benyash had been beaten, he summoned an ambulance crew to examine Benyash, who recorded and certified his injuries. By ten p.m., i.e., eight hours after Benyash had been detained, the lockdown was called off and Avanesyan was let into the police station.

There Avanesyan encounted Deputy Chief Papanov, who lied, telling Avanesyan Benyash was not at the station. Avanesyan is not the shy and retiring type, either. He took advantage of the confusion to make a break for the fourth floor, where he found the beaten Benyash in a room and three field agents huddled over him. Avanesyan was then allowed to consult with the detained lawyer Benyash. The police were trying to frame him on two charges: organizing an unauthorized protest rally and resisting the police!

Avanesyan alerted their colleagues via social media, asking them to come to Banyash’s court hearing. Seven lawyers showed up. Although the hearing was scheduled for nine in the morning, it didn’t kick off until ten in the evening. Apparently, none of the local judges wanted to get dirt on their hands.

The court clerk, who was drunk, didnot want to let the lawyers into the hearing, but she was forced to back off, but ordinary members of the public were not admitted into the courtroom.

Judge Buryenko denied all the motions made by the defense. He did not ask police officers to testify. He did not admit the video recordings into evidence, and he even refused to view them. He did not call Benyash’s companion to testify, although she was standing in the hallway.

Benyash was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to forty hours of community service and fourteen days in jail. Although the lawyer had nothing to do with organizing or running the protest rally, he was given the harshest punishment for his non-involvement in it, despite the fact that the number of detainees in Krasnodar also broke all records: around one hundred protesters were hauled in by the police on September 9.

I quote Mediazona, who cite the court’s written verdict.

“According to the police officer’s report, Benyash got into the car voluntarily in order to go to the police station and have charges filed against him, but in the police station parking lot the lawyer banged his head against the car window of his own accord and kicked open the door in an attempt to escape. The police officer claims Benyash refused to stop hitting his head against the wall [sic], which was grounds for charging him with violating Article 19.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code.”

But there is more. Benyash was supposed to be released from jail yesterday. Avanesyan arrived at the special detention facility, seventy kilometers outside of Krasnodar, where Benyash had been jailed, to pick him up. But instead of picking up his released colleague, he was shown a new indictment against Benyash, this time on criminal charges. Benyash was alleged to have violated Article 318 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code: “engaging in violence against the authorities.” Medical certificates attesting to the finger bites allegedly suffered by police officers and the enormous suffering they endured as a result have been admitted into evidence.

Benyash has again been detained: for forty-eight hours for the time being. Tomorrow, he will go to court.

Dear colleagues from Novaya Gazeta, TV Rain, and other independent media, please cover this case. Otherwise, the experiment in Krasnodar will very quickly  expand nationwide. Even the Brezhnev-era KGB did not stoop to beating up and imprisoning dissident lawyers.

Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

__________________________________________________

The Russian Reader is a website that covers grassroots politics, social movements, the economy, and independent culture in Russia and the Russian-speaking world. All the work on the website is done for free, and no fees are paid for the articles translated into English and posted on the site. Unless otherwise noted, everything published on the Russian Reader can be reproduced elsewhere so long as the Russian Reader is indicated clearly as the source, and a link back to the original post is included in the republication. In fact, you are encouraged to repost these articles on social media and share them wherever you like. Growing numbers of viewers and visitors are the only way I know whether the Russian Reader is accomplishing its mission: to make news and views from the other Russias more audible to the outside world.

 

Tatyana Schukina: Why Russian Schoolchildren Protest

reutersx

Tatyana Schukina
VK
September 10, 2018

“Gendarmes Savagely Nab Teenagers”

Who are the teenagers who go to protest rallies? Blind rebels who would oppose any system or children who have realized this country has no future?

Yes, I believe my views are oppositional, sometimes to extremes. But I want to at least try and examine this topic objectively.

I think there are both kinds of children at protest rallies. The scary thing is that if absolutely all children came to protest rallies merely to have a laugh, feel they were part of something meaningful, and yell at the government, basing their arguments on someone else’s words, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

At the [anti-inauguration] rally on May 5, my friends and I saw a boy who was six or seven. He wore a blazer and had a school bag on his back. He marched with the crowd. He was not yelling, but he was part of the rally.

One of my friends wanted to take the piss out of him.

“Our little rebel. You against the system, too?” he said.

“Systems are inevitable,” the boy replied. “I’m against this one.”

We freaked out. We delicately asked him whether he was frightened.

(The atmosphere was frightening. There were tons of paddy wagons and helmeted polizei wielding truncheons. The crowd was screaming. Protesters were getting nicked and marched off to the paddy wagons. Some people were crying.)

The boy laughed.

“It’s frightening when they explain to me at school why I could be punished if I’m strolling out here,” he said.

“You’re frightened you’ll be punished?”

“I’m frightened I don’t know why I would be punished,” he said.

I’m scared that children talk like that. I’m scared that children speak beyond their years and in their own words. I’m scared they could be sent to jail or expelled from school in their own city, yet no one can properly explain to them why. For pictures posted on the internet? For attending peaceful protest rallies? Even though the authorities herd children to a rally if it’s a pro-Putin rally. That’s the difference. Children are simply bused to pro-United Russia rallies and hold placards made ahead of time for them.

They go to opposition rallies on their own.

I know the schools are flooded with propaganda. I know because I was a schoolgirl until recently. I also know that political campaigning and propaganda is legally forbidden in schools.

I remember one September first, the first day of the school year. We sat in our classroom, and the teacher told us about the plans for the years. Another teacher walked around the room, taking snapshots of diligent pupils at their desks. A slide with an image of Putin flashed on the screen. It was captioned, “Russian Federation President V.V. Putin.”

It was no big deal. The next slide flashed on the screen.

“Wait, bring Putin back. I’ll take a snapshot of the class with him in the background,” the teacher with the camera yelled to the pupil running the projector.

It was a trifle. Totalitarianism is made up of trifles such as children seated in front of the supreme leader’s picture. But wait, it’s the twenty-first century. Everything’s cool. The picture is digital.

That teacher takes a class snapshot with Putin in the background. Another teacher stuffs ballot boxes on election day. Yet another teacher tells pupils why they are forbidden to attend protest rallies. Finally, a fourth teacher takes children to a pro-United Russia rally. But children don’t understand what’s happening. Children ask questions. Children are interested in politics. Children understand this is where they will have to live. Children watch investigative reports, children see the poverty, and children go to protest rallies.

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photograph courtesy of Reuters and Ms. Shchukina’s VK page

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. 

Lev Schlosberg: The Veil of Public Opinion

 

Lev Schlosberg is a member of the Pskov Regional Assembly and the Yabloko Democratic Party’s national political committee. Photo courtesy of Pskovskaya Guberniya Online

The Veil of Public Opinion: Russian Opinion Polling Has Become Part and Parcel of State Propaganda 
Lev Schlosberg
Pskovskaya Guberniya Online
1 March 2018

Public opinion polls are constant companions of politics and national election campaigns. In democratic countries, polls are reflections of the public discourse surrounding politicians, ideas, political platforms, and conflicts. They echo public opinion in all its fullness and thus facilitate the public discourse itself regardless of who is involved in it: the authorities, the opposition or society at large. In twenty-first century Russia, political pollsters have a different job. They are tasked with persuading society the regime is terrific and everything (or nearly everything) is going great. During elections, they are supposed to generate the illusion of nationwide support for the authorities.

Polling is a tool of political manipulation in the hands of bureaucrats. Polling data is meant not merely to testify to broad support for the authorities but also to persuade dissidents they are few and far between, to discourage them and sap them of their will.

There is a whole set of techniques behind manipulating public opinion. The findings of public opinion polls, allegedly obtained scientifically, by means of formal research methods, are supposed to convince people of their objectivity and impartiality.

Honest political polling and sociological research is something that goes on in free, democratic societies. When answering questions on a questionnaire or taking part in a group or individual focused interview, a person should be sure she can speak openly and safely, even when she criticizes the authorities.

Fear is the enemy of honest polling. In authoritarian and, especially, totalitarian societies, people are afraid of making critical statements with their names attached to them, whether that entails filling out a standardized questionnaire or answering a question openly and at length. The classic set-up is when the interviewer knocks on someone’s door or comes up to someone on the street and asks, “How would you rate Vladimir Putin’s performance? Do you support him completely, partially or not at all? To ensure the quality of our poll you may get a follow-up telephone call. Please give me your name and telephone number.”

How do you think approximtely 86% of respondents would behave? Well, that is, in fact, how they behave: by giving the “right” answer.” There are many examples of this.

Now put yourself in the shoes of rank-and-file Russians, who are regaled round the clock with tales of Putin’s 86% popularity rating by all manner of mass media: TV, radio, newspaper, the internet.  People who do not agree with the authorities but are not experienced in the nitty-gritty of politics will imagine they belong to an obvious, hopeless political minority. They are social outcasts, virtually bereft of kindred spirits.

This is the impression the people behind such political pressure polling want to achieve. A picture of absolute political domination stifles a person’s will and reduces his willingness to voice his stance and take action. This extends to getting involved in politics and voting in elections.

When a person feels insignificantly small, she is made tired and exhausted by the very feeling of her smallness and insignificance. Thoughts of emigrating often occur to people who feel they are in the minority, trapped in a political ghetto.

Political pressure polling is a new means of combating dissent, of attacking the opposition.

VTsIOM recently reported that, according to the findings of an extensive telephone poll (one of the least reliable polling methods), 81% of voters plan to vote in the March 18 Russian presidential election.

Enthusiastic nationwide support is the dream of all dictators. As people who suffer from hypertrophied inferiority complexes, dictators compensate by demanding the entire nation love, adore, and admire them. This popular love must be constantly corroborated by public opinion polls and elections.

Under authoritarian regimes, all authentic democratic institutions are reduced to imitations and desecrations, and public opinion polls are very revealing instances of this.  The mirror of society is turned into a fake painted on a blank wall.

Political pressure polling performs another vital function by setting the bar for electoral fraud.  If the polls anticipate a voter turnout of 81%, officials at all levels will work to ensure an 81% turnout. If the polls say 70% of Russians support the so-called national leader, officials will encourage election commissions at all levels to ensure he takes home 70% of the popular vote.

A vicious circle is produced. One lies begets another, and the lies generate fear and violence. To top it all off, lies generate aggression. Public opinion research serves as a means of zombifying and corrupting public opinion.

Instead of a portrait of society, we see a caricature of society.

At the same time, the authorities lose society’s feedback. They do not know or understand what people think and want, sending themselves and the entire country into a dead end. In the absence of honest polling, the authorities and society are blinded. God knows where the road could lead if no one can see the road itself and no one understands where the country is headed.

Political pressure polling is a veil that conceals the truth of events from the authorities and from society. This is quite dangerous and can produce tremendous shocks.

Until the last minute, the dictator has no clue what people think about him. Then the moment of disaster dawns. On the eve of his overthow and execution, Nicolae Ceaușescu’s official popularity rating was 95%. It did not protect him, but rather hastened his terrible demise.

Currently, Russian society lacks a reliable map of public opinion, because fear has paralyzed many people, and because when the authorities pimp an honest profession, far from all of the people who practice it remain faithful to its standards. Doing so is difficult and takes great courage.

Enveloped in such darkness, we need to understand a few things.

First, it is impossible to stop the course of history. An unfree society will yield to a free society. Our responsibility is to go in the right direction.

Second, the less the authorities know the truth, the sooner the regime will come to an end. It takes time and patience.

Third, in order to know and understand the truth, it is enough to ask yourself, “What do I think? What do I believe? What are my convictions?” Under no circumstances should you give up on yourself.

The job of free people in today’s Russia is not to lose face.

Ultimately, it will change the face of the entire country.

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

Locos In Loco Parentis (Perfecting the Russian Police State)

DSCN1069

Making as many ordinary people as possible de facto accomplices or targets of thoroughgoing injustice, an endless series of crimes great and small, daily repression, and ubiqitous surveillance smacks more of totalitarianism than it does of the run-of-the-mill authoritarianism that, if you believe the most progressive political scientists, currently rules the roost in Russia. TRR

Culture to Be Equated with Cigarettes and Alcohol
Fontanka.ru
October 17, 2017

The Culture Ministry has drafted a bill which, if adopted into law, will vest ticket sellers and ticket takers at theatrical and entertainment events with the authority to check people’s passports. In addition, the Culture Ministry wants to legally forbid persons under the age of eighteen from attending events with an 18+ rating. Currently, the rating is advisory in nature, and parents make the final decision.

The media were informed on October 17 that a document containing such provisions had been drafted by the Culture Ministry. They were referred to Natalya Romashova, head of the ministry’s legal and regulatory department. According to Romashova, the draft amendments to the law “On the Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development” will shortly be submitted to the State Duma.

“The organizer of an entertainment event containing information prohibited for children is obliged to take measures eliminating the possibility that persons under 18 years of age attend the event,” the draft bill reads. “Failure by the organizer of the entertainment event to take the measures indicated shall entail liability as established by Russian federal legislation.”

At the same time, the draft law bill specifies that the documents checks will also affect foreign nationals and stateless persons. The list of admissible documents should be established by an executive body authorized by the government.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up

When the Masks Come Off

800px-Red_Guards

Alexander Skobov
Don’t Underestimate the Enemy
Grani.ru
May 14, 2015

Igor Yakovenko has questioned the sanity of those MPs who supported Red Guardist Irina Yarovaya’s latest amendments to the anti-extremism laws. At issue is a ban on travel abroad for people whom the FSB has issued a warning about the inadmissibility of activities that, in the FSB’s opinion, are potentially fraught with terrorism, war, and genocide. Under the current rules for issuing warnings, no formal grounds are needed except the opinion of the agency issuing the warning. Meaning that if it wishes, the FSB can crank out warnings to anyone whose activities the authorities simply do not countenance.

Yakovenko asks, why not let the undesirables leave the country if you cannot stand them? Let them leave and thus reduce the ranks of the so-called fifth column. These measures will not stop an increase in protests, and if protests do kick off, they will only add fuel to the fire. Yakovenko’s conclusion is that the folks on the other side of politics are completely off their rockers. But I would not underestimate the enemy’s intellectual capacities. Yes, they suffer from an acute totalitarian itch to ban and restrict. But they know what they are doing.

In my opinion, Yarovaya’s notorious amendment to ban travel for “warnees” is absolutely rational and quite precisely calculated. It is targeted at the segment of Russian society that,  according to Yakovenko himself, suffers from pathological anemia and dystrophia of the will. These are successful and well-off people who still believe that if they have done nothing unauthorized, they will get off scot-free for their not entirely loyalist public activism. They have become accustomed to the fact that one can be involved in not entirely loyalist but quite respectable and moderate media, cultural, and human rights projects without especially risking one’s own comfort. Our stunted civil society largely rests on such lovers of performing  “small deeds” in their spare time.

And now take a guess at what percentage of these outstanding people would be willing to sacrifice travel abroad for the sake of continuing their outstanding social activism, who would be willing to sacrifice the principal attribute of the post-Soviet lifestyle, without which life would be unthinkable? Anyone like Yarovaya would realize that the majority of them will choose either to give up their activism or leave the country before receiving a warning. To predict these people’s future behavior it suffices to recall Ksenia Sobchak’s recent philosophical musings about the lives of frogs.

And where will all these popular newsmakers find themselves if they are banned from leaving the country for the piquant statements they occasionally permit themselves in public? This is not to mention the fact that many civic initiatives will simply be paralyzed if the people involved in them cannot take numerous business trips and attend various international clambakes.  The current regime is quite consistently pushing for the complete suffocation of not only the independent but even the semi-independent civic organizations that have managed to stay afloat. The period when Putin’s clique had a stake in maintaining a legal oppositional ghetto on the margins of public life, thus imparting a certain seemliness to its own image, has come to an end. In recent years, this image has become so disfigured the Kremlin has lost interest in touching it up. It has realized it no longer has anything to lose.

And so there will no longer be any legal bounds vouchsafing the opposition from crackdowns. Any public organization that violates the informal ban on discussing issues the regime finds touchy will be crushed. All the Kremlin’s recent significant steps, beginning with Moskalkova’s appointment and ending with the latest round of purges of semi-independent media, have been focused on this. In this long series of steps, however, the ability to ban any undesirable from traveling abroad is a symbolic step. It finally undermines the social milieu whose entire life strategy was built on the proposition that however disgusting Putinist authoritarianism was, it was better than Soviet totalitarianism because the freedom to travel abroad existed. That meant one could live with it, adapt to it, and come to terms with it. By obeying certain rules imposed by the regime, one could maintain a minimal amount of freedom.

This slightly dissatisfied milieu has become used to living high on the hog. Our consumptive civil society must come to its natural biological end. It must be replaced by professional revolutionaries who will have no such problems since their activism conforms with the law as interpreted by people who have arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to interpret it. For them, Yarovaya’s fascist laws will be neither more nor less than a profound insult to their moral sensibilities.

Alexander Skobov, a left-liberal writer and activist, is a former Soviet dissident and a political prisoner. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

General Bastrykin Teaches a Lesson in Democracy

This is the mouse, this is the cat.
This is the watch tower, this is the camp.
And this is Time that, on the sly,
Sentences Mom and Dad to die.

source

Participants of the national Miss Russia 2016 beauty pageant on the stage of the Barvikha Luxury Village concert hall. Courtesy of Sputnik/Iliya Pitalev
Participants of the national Miss Russia 2016 beauty pageant on the stage of the Barvikha Luxury Village concert hall. Courtesy of Sputnik/Iliya Pitalev

Greg Yudin
Facebook
April 18, 2018

I really like it when a big man in uniform speaks out with fanfare on perennial topics like the structure of society. You think it’s funny they all get Ph.D.s, but they really do consider themselves major theorists and are always willing to teach lessons in wisdom in their spare time. An entire genre has even emerged in Russian newspapers: lessons in political philosophy by generals.

For example, in today’s issue of Kommersant, General Bastrykin casually gives readers an unexpected lesson in democracy.

“For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society,” he writes.

It must be admitted that this is the pure, unadulterated truth. We might rejoice that democracy in Russia has found a new supporter.

Then, however, Bastrykin the democrat’s argument takes an unexpected turn. He proposes setting things up so that he, Bastrykin, would decide himself what information should be considered extremist, and would limit Internet access without a court order! In addition, he would also decide in which cases providers are obliged to provide him with the personal information of their clients.

There are lots of other tasty tidbits in his article, including innovative tactics for fighting terrorism by confiscating property, but that does not concern us here.

So somebody comes and says, Now I am going to decide who is an extremist and who can read what. You will also be informing me everyone’s personal information. If this is not “absolute freedom and the arbitrary will of an individual member of society,” then what else would you call it?

I am going to have to upset Mr. Bastrykin. Democracy is, in fact, people power. Therefore, the main objective of democratic governance has been and will be preventing the usurpation of power, not defending the people from the machinations of external foes, not hunting down traitors, not surveilling unreliables, but combating usurpers. And so democracy’s main enemy is the guy who comes out and says he is going to decide who the extremists are round here.

The problem with these scholarly generals is that the only form of social organization they are capable of conceiving is the prison camp. And so whether they write about democracy, traditional values or economic progress, the same speech in defense of the prison camp always comes out.

* * * * *

“It’s time to erect an effective barrier against the information war”
Alexander Bastrykin, chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, on methods of combating extremism in Russia 
Kommersant
April 18, 2016

Chair of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee, general of justice of the Russian Federation, doctor of juridical sciences, Professor Alexander Bastrykin, special to Vlast magazine, on the ways and methods of combating extremism in Russia 

In  2015, the Russian Federation witnessed negative trends in criminal extremism and terrorism.

1,329 extremist crimes were recorded, which was 28.5% higher than in 2014 (1,034 crimes). A growth in this type of crime was noted in fifty-six regions of the Russian Federation.

The numbers of such crimes as public calls to extremist activity (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280) and inciting hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity has soared by nearly forty percent in comparison with 2014.

The crime of organizing an extremist organization was recorded 42 times (+2,4%).

A significant increase (+36.3%) in terrorist crimes committed in the Russian Federation has been noted. A total of 1,538 such crimes was recorded in 2015 (as opposed to 1,128 in 2014).

Seventy such crimes were prevented at the stage of planning or during the attempt. 133 terrorist crimes were committed with the help of the Internet network.

A particularly difficult situation has been observed in the North Caucasus Federal District, which accounts for the bulk of terrorist crimes: 1,168 crimes or 75.9% of all such crimes (leading to an increase of 32.3%). (In 2014, 883 such crimes were committed.)

Both external (geopolitical) and domestic political factors have contributed to the growth of this type of crime.

Over the past decade, Russia and a number of other countries have been living through a so-called hybrid war, unleashed by the US and its allies. The war has been conducted on various fronts, political, economic, informational, and legal. In recent years, it has moved into a new phase of open confrontation.

Professor Bastrykin
Professor Bastrykin

The main elements of economic pressure have been commercial and financial sanctions, dumping wars on the hydrocarbons market, and currency wars. Skillfully manipulating the huge number of dollars in circulation, the States have brought down the national currencies of developing countries. Russian organizations have had their access to channels of external long-term financing blocked, channels that formed the basis of investment for developing the real (productive) sectors of the economy. It is noteworthy that restrictions on the movement of financing have not affected short-term financing, which currently has been widedly employed to exert speculative pressure on our national currency. In many respects, the outcome of these measures has been the deep devaluation of the ruble, falling real incomes, a decline in industrial production, and economic recession. There has been a budget deficit and ensuing consequences in the form of cuts in expenditures, as well as an increasing fiscal burden to raise revenues.

Unfortunately, international law and the justice based on it have increasingly become tools of this war.

Obvious examples are the decisions in the Yukos cases, the decision in the murder case of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, the report of the Security Council of Netherlands on the investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the FBI’s investigation of the legitimacy of awarding the right to hold the World Cup to Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, and the extradition of our citizens Victor Bout and Konstanin Yaroshenko to the US and their sentencing to long terms of imprisonment.

However, the information war has caused the most devastating effects. By supporting radical Islamists and other radical ideological tendencies, the US has completely destabilized the situation in the Middle East. The effects of artificially initiated coups, revolutions, and crises in this region are still being experienced by Europe, overrun by mobs of refugees who profess qualitatively alien sociocultural traditions and have displaced the local population. Islamic State, the Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaida, and other terrorist organizations involved in the armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic have also been an effect of this policy. Manpower for replenishing these organizations are recruited all over the world, including in Russia.

More than a thousand Russian citizens have gone to the Syrian Arab Republic to participate in the armed conflict. 469 criminal cases have been filed against these persons. 135 of them have been killed in armed clashes with Syrian government troops.

The main channels of entry for Russian citizens into areas of heightened terrorist activity have been Turkey and Egypt, where they travel both directly and through third countries (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova) under the pretext of holidaymaking, receiving theological education, doing business, etc.

The main technique of the information war is the manipulation of an ideology that a particular social group finds congenial by radicalizing it. It is clear that the system of religious, ethnocultural, and confessional values is the segment of social existence that defines the most significant feature of any nation (ethnic group) and other such social groups as self-identification. Many of these values were shaped,  preserved, and passed from generation to generation for centuries. Therefore, no nation is willing to give up its identity. Perhaps it is the only universal value it is willing to defend with arms and, as they say, until the last drop of blood is spilled.

Aware of the devastating effect of conflicts based on ethnic hatred, the US has bet on this informational element. At the current level of understanding of the issue, it is clear that the subversion of the Soviet Union’s ideological foundations, which were based on the principle of the brotherhood of nations, was also initiated from the outside and based on methods of ethnic strife. It was no accident that in the early 1990s numerous ethnic conflicts (Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia-Abkhazia, Ossetia-Ingushetia, Transnistria) broke almost simultaneously. At this time, the first mass rallies of nationalist-minded citizens took place in Kiev. In addition, the subversion of state power was carried out by means of anti-Soviet agitation and financing of the political opposition in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, and other countries.

Of course, in the minds of the local populace, those events were then regarded as local conflicts. However, it is now completely obvious that all these clashes were elements of the initial, as-yet-hidden phase of the information war.

Undoubtedly, the informational-ideological “weapon” will be deployed in the future. This is evidenced by the increase in US government spending on programs for the so-called development of democratic institutions in countries bordering on Russia and in the Central Asian states. The true meaning of these assets becomes clear from the name of this budget item, “Countering Russian aggression through public diplomacy and foreign aid programs, and the creation of stable government in Europe.”

About 4.3 billion dollars have been allocated under his item in 2017, and around a billion dollars will go to programs for the so-called fight against corruption and supporting democracy in countries neighboring Russia.

Funds already received under this program have been spent by by various non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes. The outcome has been the incitement of anti-Russian moods in neighboring countries, the shaping of the pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism within our country.

Recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh witness to the repeated attempts of forces opposed to Russia to undermine the peace between the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples and establish yet another hotbed of war on Russian’s borders.

It seems it is time to erect an effective barrier against this information war. We need a tough, appropriate, and balanced response. This is especially relevant in light of the upcoming elections and the possible risks presented by the stepping up of efforts by destabilizing political forces. Enough of playing at pseudo-democracy and following pseudo-liberal values. For democracy or people power is nothing other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. It is possible to achieve these interests only by means of the common good, and not through the absolute freedom and arbitrary will of individual members of society.

The following measures can be proposed to counter extremism.

It is extremely important to establish a concept of state ideological policy. Its basic element could be a national idea that would genuinely unite Russia’s unified multinational people. The concept could stipulate specific long-term and medium-term measures, aimed at the ideological education of our younger generation. Conscious resistance to radical religious and other ideologies could knock out the foundations on which current extremist ideologies are constructed. With this protection in place, even the most generous outside financing of destabilizing the situation in Russia will prove useless.

It is also important that youth are regarded by terrorist groups as a natural reserve. From this it follows that everything must be done to seize the initiative, to include young people at risk in the development and implementation of programs for countering armed extremism.

It seems appropriate for the supervisory and regulatory authorities to organize a wide-ranging and detailed verification of the compliance with federal legislation of all religious, ethnocultural, and youth organizations, suspected of engaging in banned extremist activity.

Using the know-how of the Northern Caucasus, we should organize specific and narrowly targeted preventive work with members of informal youth associations in order to adopt measures aimed at procuring information about negative processes underway in the youth milieu and identifying the ideologues and leaders of radical organizations who involved young people in extremist activity.

The positive know-how of the Republic of Ingushetia is also worthy of support. They have established a military-patriotic club that unites the children of law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty and children of neutralized members of the bandit underground, which facilitates their rapprochement and shapes an atmosphere of mutual understanding among them.

The proposed concept sees it as expedient to define the limits of censoring the global Internet network in Russia, since at present this problem is causing a heated debate in the light of the stepping up of efforts by advocates of the right to the free receipt and dissemination of information. Interesting in this sense is the know-how of foreign states, opposing the US and its allies. Due to unprecedented pressure from information, they have taken steps to restrict foreign media in order to protect the national information space. Thus, for example, on March 10, 2016, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology  introduced a ban on electronic media fully or partly owned by foreign residents. These media will no longer be able to disseminate information through the Internet and, in the best case, by means of print publications. Chinese media will cooperate with foreign online media only with the permission of the ministry. Only Chinese nationals will be able to work in the management of national media. Online media servers can be located only in the People’s Republic of China.

It seems this know-how could be employed in Russia to a reasonable extent.

Internet providers must be furnished with a integrated set of rules for storing the personal information of their clients and users in the right amount in the event that such information is required when investigating cyber security violations.

In public places (libraries, schools, and other educational institutions) with access to the World Wide Web, filters restricting access to sites containing extremist content should be established.

In addition, it seems appropriate to stipulate an extrajudicial (administrative) procedure for including information in the federal list of extremist content and blocking the domain names of sites that disseminate extremist and radical nationalist information. However, if the proprietors of this information do not consider it extremist, they can appeal the relevant actions of the authorized government agencies in court and prove their innocence there. This procedure will enable a faster and more effective response to the promotion of extremism on the Internet. It is necessary to step up work on introducing modern technology for the effective monitoring of the radio waves and the Internet.

It is necessary to expand the range of criminal law measures to stop the illegal actions of terrorist organizations committed on the Internet network involving recruiting. To this end, we should consider the criminalization of possessing such materials, collecting them or uploading them from a computer. Modern evidence technologies make it possible to present to the court and confirm technical elements of intercourse on social networks that testify to the connections between the accused and the relevant electronic messages.

To expose the real aims and intentions of Islamic extremists and establish the insolvency of their theoretical approaches, which contradict the realities of the modern world and the fundamental interests of Islamic countries, it would seem useful for the State Duma to regularly hold special hearings involving experts from the Federal Security Service (FSB), eminent Islamic scholars and authorities, and scholars of Islam. The hearings should be widely covered in the press.

Particular attention should be paid to the migration process. Migrants are often targets of espionage recruiting and radicalization. Many of them have overstayed their limit in Russia, dropping out of the sight of law enforcement. We must analyze the regulatory acts governing the presence of foreign nationals and persons without citizenship in the Russian Federation. Based on our analysis, we should take additional measures for improving the legislation.

It is necessary to improve the work of precinct police with foreign nationals in the realm of monitoring compliance with the established rules of residence in Russia (monitoring of persons letting and renting residential premises in the precinct, and obtaining information about the nature of these persons’ employment). The internal affairs departments of agencies should exclude possible corruption here. Full use of the public’s assistance should be made.

Certain features of extremist activity have taken shape in the Crimea Federal District, where attempts have been made to mold anti-Russian moods, by means of falsifying historical facts and distorting the interpretation of modern events, and call into question the outcome of the referendum on Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. This act of the legal expression of the Crimean population’s popular will has become an integral part of Russian constitutionalism. Considering the place of this act in the hierarchal system of values of Russian state and society, it is certainly in need of special legal protection, including by means of criminal legal coercion.

It should be noted that criminalizing the denial or falsification of historical events of particular importance to a state and society is a widespread practice. For example, in many countries, including Russia, criminal punishment is stipulated for promoting fascism. France and a number of other countries have introduced criminal liability for denying the Armenian genocide. The State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly is considering a similar law bill, No. 938567-6 (“On Criminalization of Public Denial of the Genocide of the Armenian People in Western Armenia and Ottoman Turkey in 1915-1922”). In Israel, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust.

In view of the above, it seems necessary to supplement the notion of extremist activity (extremism) contained in the federal law “On Countering Extremist Activity” with such a manifestation as denial of the outcome of a national referendum. It is necessary to decisively counteract the deliberate falsification of the history of our state. In this connection, we might also propose that Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 280 (public calls for extremist activity) include an additional stipulation, which would qualify the falsification of historical facts and events as a call for extremist activity.

In addition to countering the ideological component of the information war being waged against Russia, it is important to step up efforts to combat financial support for this activity, including tightening control over cross-border capital flows. As experience has shown, terrorism is often financed by virtual cryptocurrency, which has no central issuer, no single point of transactional control, and features anonymous payments. In addition, as a result of their wide dissemination, these currencies can displace legal money from the market, which threatens the state’s financial stability. It is therefore suggested that criminal liability be introduced for the illegal issuance and circulation of cryptocurrency and other money substitutes.

We should also review social security legislation concerning the close relatives of persons involved in terrorism, entitlement to survivor’s pensions, and other benefits. A person who is going to commit such crimes should know that in the event of death not only will he be buried in an unmarked grave but he will also deprive his loved ones of support from the state.

Another measure that would contribute to the effective fight against extremism, terrorism, and other dangerous criminal manifestations is confiscation of property as a form of criminal punishment. As we know, the relevant legislative proposals have been prepared and are in need of speedy legislative implementation. Unfortunately, this process has been unduly delayed.

No less important is improvement of the legal mechanism of international cooperation among law enforcement and other state bodies empowered to counter terrorism and extremism.

Russian law regulates only the procedure for submitting an international request for legal assistance, whereas international acts in this field stipulate the possibility of closer integration, including the establishment of international investigative teams. Such cooperation would help in cases where Russian investigative authorities need to perform a number of investigative procedures or even perform a preliminary investigation in a foreign country and that country has agreed to provide such assistance. This gap became apparent during investigation of the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 and the terrorist act committed on board the Russian Airbus 321 over the Sinai Peninsula.

Translated by the Island of Misfit Toys. Thanks to Greg Yudin for his courage.

He Is Trying to Scare Us, and We Are Frightened

Photo by Aleksey Myakishev. Courtesy of http://shattenbereich.livejournal.com/1208934.html
Photo by Aleksey Myakishev. Courtesy of shattenbereich.livejournal.com

When Will We Hear “Shoot Them like Mad Dogs”?
Boris Vishnevsky
echo.msk.ru
January 13, 2016

“Enemies of the people,” “traitors,” “nothing is sacred,” “dancing to tune of western intelligence services,” “tried, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”

These are not snippets from a 1937 edition of Pravda or a speech made at a Party meeting during the same period.

This is how Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Republic of Chechnya, speaks of the opposition to Vladimir Putin and his regime.

For a complete resemblance to Stalin’s time all we are lacking are references to “monsters,” “humanity’s garbage,” and a “despicable bunch of scoundrels,” and demands to “wipe them off the face of the earth” and “shoot them like mad dogs.”

But never say never. We might hear these phrases soon as well.

Equating the opposition with a hostile force is a key feature of a totalitarian regime, which Russia is building at an accelerated pace.

In a normal country, after making such statements, Kadyrov, Jr., would be booted out of office overnight, at least.

In a normal country, however, he never would have been able to take office.

Boris Vishnevsky (Yabloko Party) is a deputy in the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

mad-dog
Photo courtesy of allcatslookmad.com

Putin ally says opposition should be tried as enemies of the people
Andrew Osborn
Reuters
January 13, 2016

MOSCOW (Reuters) – One of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile allies has accused the opposition of trying to exploit the economic crisis to destabilize the country, using Stalin-era rhetoric to suggest unnamed individuals be put on trial for sabotage.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, called the liberal opposition, which has only one lawmaker in the 450-seat parliament, enemies of the people, a phrase recalling language used during the reign of terror unleashed by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the 1930s.

“Representatives of the so-called … opposition are trying to profit from the difficult economic situation,” Kadyrov told reporters, according to a statement issued by his office late on Tuesday.

“Such people need to be regarded as enemies of the people and traitors. They should be put on trial, with maximum severity, for sabotage.”

Opposition figures and rights activists said they were alarmed by his words with some suggesting the police should look into them.

Mikhail Kasyanov, one of the opposition’s leaders and a former prime minister, said: “There is no such concept in our constitution, but from Soviet history it is widely known that in Stalin’s time that is what they called anyone who thought differently … and that such people were liquidated.”

Battered by low oil prices, Western sanctions and a falling ruble, real incomes are on the slide in Russia for the first time in Putin’s 15 years in power, presenting the Kremlin with a challenge of how to stop discontent bubbling over.

Kadyrov made his remarks ahead of a Russia-wide parliamentary election in September amid so far only limited signs of social discontent.

Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief-of-staff, said on Tuesday “radicals and extremists” must be prevented from getting into parliament in that vote, raising fears among the opposition that they will find it harder to contest such elections.

Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya since 2007 and Putin’s most high-profile ally in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus area of southern Russia, did not name the opposition figures he thought should be put on trial.

Starved of access to state media and restricted by strict laws on protests, Russia’s liberal opposition is still reeling from the murder last year of Boris Nemtsov, one of its leaders.

One of the suspects awaiting trial for carrying out Nemtsov’s murder, Zaur Dadayev, used to serve in Chechnya’s police and was described by Kadyrov after the killing as a “true patriot of Russia.”

Nemtsov’s daughter has said she wants police to question Kadyrov in connection with the case. Kadyrov told a Russian radio station in October the idea he was a suspect was “total nonsense.”