I was riding tonight in a taxi driven by someone with a surprising name: Nasimjon. I was watching Solovyov’s show on my telephone. His guests were voicing the warmest feelings of devotion to the winner of the race.
“He got so many votes not because he had the administrative resource behind him, but because people love and respect him,” said Andrei Maximov, presenter of the program Duty Officer for the Country.
My [sic] Nasimjon was silently listening to this splendor with me. At some point, moved by the emotions of the people speaking, he voiced his own.
“I was so scared today.”
“What was wrong?”
“I typed the question, ‘How much did Putin get in Moscow?’ into Yandex. The answer I got was eleven percent for him, and seventy-three percent for Grudinin. I was frightened.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Because the situation in the world is such that where would be without Putin? Look what’s going on around us: England and America again. Who else can deal with them?”
“Why do we need to deal with America?”
“They dream of ripping us to shreds. They kill everybody. They occupy everybody and kill them.”
“Who have they killed?”
“Iraq, Afghanistan. They organized the coup in Ukraine.”
“Did you hear that on TV?”
“No, my passengers told me. Plus, the Americans think everyone else is stupid.”
“Who told you that?”
“My Armenian friend. He’s lived in America for twenty years. He says that in the textbooks over there it’s written that Americans are smart, and everyone else is stupid. But Putin has made everyone fear us.”
“That’s a good thing?”
“Maybe it would be better if we were respected and liked?”
“It doesn’t work that way with the Americans. We have to make them fear us.”
“So, how did this thing with Putin end? You believed the figures were real?”
“Yes, I did, and that’s why I got scared. But then I turned on Business FM Radio, and it turned out it was the other way around, that Putin had seventy-three percent, and Grudinin, eleven percent. So now everything here is going to be fine.”
“What’s going to be fine?”
“Putin’s friends have already had their fill of stealing. If new guys had come to power, it would have started all over again.”
P.S. “What the taxi driver told me” has long been a common genre in Russian social media, especially the Russophone segment of Facebook. In most such stories, whether true or fabricated, the taxi driver is a stand-in for (debased) popular wisdom, for the Russian folk (russkii narod), meaning “ordinary,” “rank-and-file” Russians, whom the Russian liberal intelligentsia have historically imagined as a benighted, homogeneous mass.
The twist in this particular variation on the yarn is that the taxi driver’s name, Nasimjon, indicates he is clearly not ethnically Russian, meaning he hales from the Caucasus or Central Asia, or he was born in Moscow, but his parents moved there from one or other of these regions.
Even with this “politically correct” update, the genre remains problematic. It is more a symptom of the liberal intelligentsia’s failure to account for its own role in generating and maintaining the successive tyrannies that have plagued Russia since the nineteenth century, when the intelligentsia per se could be said to have been born as a kind of social subclass or metaclass, than it is a window onto the world of the “common people.”
To put it less murkily, if you stop talking to “taxi drivers” and listen to what actual Russians of all shapes, sizes, colors, and classes have to say and find out how they have either adapted to the Putinist tyranny or resisted it, you are as likely to discover resistance and clear thinking among supposed members of the Russian folk, among the people whom liberal Russians contemptuously refer to as “philistines” (obyvateli), as you would among the self-identified liberal intelligentsia.
Over the last several years, this website has featured many such inspiring stories of grassroots, working-class and lower middle-class resistance to the current Russian despotism, including the saga of the country’s fiercely militant independent truckers and the tale of the so-called partisans of Suna, a group of pensioners in Karelia who camped out in their beloved local old-growth forest to protect it, its environment, and their own humble livelihoods from local officials and developers, who wanted to build a road through it and turn part of it into a sand quarry.
Of course, there have also been many tales of similarly fierce, thoughtful resistance by Russians who by virtue of their educations and professions could be classified as intelligentsia. It is just that the vast majority of such intelligenstia militants are too clear sighted to sink to the vulgar sociology and flagrant mythologeme that would blame uneducated, poor, downtrodden, disempowered, and mostly invisible Russians for the country’s problems and Putin’s long-lived and wholly engineered “popularity.”TRR
Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden, We used to kick routines and presence was fittin’ It was I the Abstract
And me the five footer I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter
Yo, Phife, you remember that routine That we used to make spiffy like Mister Clean?
Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen I don’t get the message so you gots to run the pigeon
You on point, Phife? All the time, Tip You on point, Phife? All the time, Tip You on point Phife? All the time, Tip Well, then grab the microphone and let your words rip
Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram I’m like an Energizer ’cause, you see, I last long My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong Now if you say my style is wack that’s where you’re dead wrong I slayed that body in El Segundo then push it along You’d be a fool to reply that Phife is not the man Cause you know and I know that you know who I am A special shot of peace goes out to all my pals, you see And a middle finger goes for all you punk MC’s Cause I love it when you wack MC’s despise me They get vexed, I roll next, can’t none contest me I’m just a fly MC who’s five foot three and very brave On job remaining, no I’m chaining cause I misbehave I come correct in full effect have all my hoes in check And before I get the butt the jim must be erect You see, my aura’s positive I don’t promote no junk See, I’m far from a bully and I ain’t a punk Extremity in rhythm, yeah that’s what you heard So just clean out your ears and just check the word
Check the rhyme y’all Check it out Check it out Check the rhyme y’all Play tapes y’all Check the rhyme y’all Check the rhyme y’all Check it out Check it out
Back in days on the boulevard of Linden We used to kick routines and the presence was fittin’ It was I the Phifer
And me, the abstract The rhymes were so rumpin’ that the brothers rode the ‘zack
Yo, Tip, you recall when we used to rock Those fly routines on your cousin’s block
Um, let me see, damn I can’t remember I receive the message and you will play the sender
You on point, Tip? All the time, Phife You on point, Tip? Yeah, all the time, Phife You on point, Tip? Yo, all the time, Phife So play the resurrector and give the dead some life
Okay, if knowledge is the key then just show me the lock Got the scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock With speed I’m agile plus I’m worth your while One hundred percent intelligent black child My optic presentation sizzles the retina How far must I go to gain respect? Um Well, it’s kind of simple, just remain your own Or you’ll be crazy sad and alone Industry rule number four thousand and eighty Record company people are shady So kids watch your back ’cause I think they smoke crack I don’t doubt it, look at how they act Off to better things like a hip-hop forum Pass me the rock and I’ll storm with the crew and proper. What you say Hammer? Proper. Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop
NC, y’all check the rhyme y’all SC, y’all check it out y’all Virginia, check the rhyme y’all Check it out, out In London, check the rhyme, y’all
The Tribe were always on point, although Phife, sadly, died in March 2016.
I am happy to say I saw the group perform at a club in Seattle in 1991 or 1992, and it was the most positive, funkiest show I have ever seen anywhere.
Meanwhile, the unhappy, far-flung, unfunky human shards of the collapsing new building once known as the Soviet Union are almost never on point, because the ones among them who clearly think they are the smartest, cleverest, and most cosmopolitan have been in semi-permanent national self-defense mode after it transpired the Kremlin tried its flat-out best to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election.
Two cases in point are ace reporters Julia Ioffe and Masha Gessen,* who seem to go back and forth all over the place on the “Russia question,” depending on the venue and the day. Here, they are, today, in full “Russophile” mode.
Here is the interview itself, broadcast earlier today on NPR.
“The bottom line is that Americans elected Trump,” claims Gessen in the interview.*
No, the bottom line is that reporters like Masha Gessen and Julia Ioffe, for whatever reason, want to control the public discourse on Russia in the US, so they have to reach over and over again for the bag of tricks, perfected in their worst incarnations by pseudo-intellectual mags like the New Republic and Atlantic Monthly in the nineties, that counter-intuitive reporting gets you, the reporter, the most attention, even if your counter-intuitive argument is utterly worthless when examined on the merits.
I could see no point whatsoever to NPR’s interview with Ms. Gessen and Mr. Chen, just as I can see no point flapping one’s lips about Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election until Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed.
It is not at all a straighforward question of dual loyalties or having been “flipped,” of course, but the genuine discomfort many Russians and Russian émigrés feel about the dire direction Russia has taken under Vladimir Putin. At the same time, parts of the Russian national and Russian émigré chattering class feel so utterly flummoxed by the way events have been unfolding in the last four or five years that they have gone, almost reflexively, into heavy spin mode while also trying to install themselves, in the west, as the go-to people when it comes to all matters Russian.
It would probably surprise NPR’s listeners to learn that Ms. Gessen, for example, did not exactly “flee” Russia, but chose to leave because she felt her non-traditional family would be safer in the US, where she emigrated with her own birth family when she was fourteen. She had every right and reason to do this, and if I were in her position I might have done the same thing.
It is nonsense, however, to say she “fled” because she was “persecuted” personally. The nonsensicality of this claim would be apparent only to people like me and my Russian reporter friend Sergey, who watched as Ms. Gessen “fled” Russia over the course of two or three years, generating an endless series of interviews and op-ed pieces about her “escape” as she was slowly packing her bags or whatever she was doing during her seemingly endless, slow-motion “flight to freedom.”
When you witness a journalist working so hard to make themselves the story, you start wondering what matters most to them—the truth out there in the world that needs to be investigated and reported or keeping the limelight fixed firmly on themselves.
I also happen to know that Ms. Gessen makes frequent trips to Russia on business. What sort of persecution-and-flight story is this, when you can fly back and forth between your “safe haven” and the “country you fled” at will, whenever you like, with no untoward consequences to your health and safety?
In fact, under Putin’s reign, there have been plenty of Russians who really have been persecuted in the most unambiguous sense of the word and have had to flee the country or face certain imprisonment, for example, Dmitry Buchenkov, the final defendant in the horrendous (and horrendously underreported) Bolotnaya Square case and its accompanying show trials.
Because both Ms. Ioffe and Ms. Gessen are terrific reporters and writers when they want to be, I wish they would spend more time telling us about the real Russia of unsung heroes like Dmitry Buchenkov, Yuri Dmitriev, Valery Brinikh, and the Penza and Petersburg antifascists tortured by the FSB on the fabricated pretense they belonged to a “terrorist” organization, and much less time making what really amounts to a half-assed quasi-defense of a very bad game (the Kremlin’s meddling in the internal affairs of countries the world over), seemingly only just to keep their charming mugs in front of the TV cameras and radio station microphones as much as possible.
Especially in the last instance, Ms. Gessen and Ms. Ioffe could use the mighty media soapboxes they have at their disposal to help eight innocent young men put through hell on earth so the FSB can tighten its grip on Russian grassroots society. But they don’t, probably because they have never even heard of the case, despite being the foremost go-to reporters on Russia in the US. TRR
** After I posted this last night, I thought about what Ms. Gessen’s reaction would be if, during a similar non-obligatory discussion on NPR (whose presenters, almost without exception, have no clue how to interview anyone, because their idea of interviewing involves lobbing slow softballs for their guests to slam out of the park) someone had said, “The bottom line is that Russians voted for Putin.”
It is easy to imagine how she would react, because she writes at length in her latest book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, about the 2011–2012 fair elections movement in Russia, sparked by a widespread (and accurate) perception amongst Russians that the December 2011 parliamentary and regional elections and the March 2012 presidential election had been anything but free and fair, to wit:
Even though the protesters belonged to different age groups, Putin had now been in power long enough that a majority of them had spent all or most of their adult lives in the era of supposed “stability.” Some of them had expected the Putin era to be like the Soviet past they remembered or imagined, the object of national nostalgia. According to these memories, that time was slow, predictable, and essentially unchanging. But in Putin’s era of “stability,” things refused to stay the same. The markets crashed because Putin said or did something. Innocent, randomly chosen people went to prison just because the government had declared a witch hunt against pedophiles. The spectacle of the Putin-Medvedev handoff and the experience of the farcical election served as reminders of how powerless Russian citizens were to affect any aspect of life. The protests were an attempt to renegotiate, to reclaim a little bit of space from the ever-expanding party-state— and it so happened that the party was the one of crooks and thieves. (Gessen, Masha. The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p. 349)
In the world’s third-largest country by population, that translates into 2,868,691 voters whose clearly voiced preference for Mrs. Clinton was utterly negated, as it were. Since Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory came down to razor-tight wins in a few key districts in a few key states, any extraneous or criminal factor that could have pushed voters in his direction has to be thoroughly investigated. This would have to be the case even had Mr. Trump won the popular vote. Given that the election campaign, the election, and its aftermath have been unprecedented in US history in such a myriad of ways, it stands to reason that Americans would be more than a little curious about what happened and why.
In Russia, where, as some “Russia experts” would say (although I would not say it myself), Mr. Putin is so popular he could win an election without cheating, Ms. Gessen thinks people have every right to protest the machinations of “crooks and thieves.” In her adopted country, the US, however, she thinks people should calm down, shut up, and accept the “bottom line” that they did this to themselves.
I doubt very much that Ms. Gessen, judging by her numerous books and articles on the subjects, would argue that Russians did Putin to themselves, although to someone like me who has been on the ground in Russia during most of his eighteen-year-reign, that does indeed seem partly to be the case.
I wrote a report on this Sunday’s elections. Don’t be lazy and read it to the end. You’ll learn a lot of new things.
Who Elects the Head of Adygea: A Political Portrait of the Republic’s Parliament
As you know, on Sunday, September 10, the State Council of the Republic of Adygea (in Adyghe, the Khase) will elect a new head for the republic. There are three candidates, but the outcome is predetermined. Who would doubt it? Correct me if I’m mistaken, but in the history of modern Russia this was probably the first instance when the outgoing head of a Russian region brought his own kinsman to Moscow so that Putin could view the bride, i.e. his chosen successor. Nor, we must note, were he and his kinsman immediately shown the door. This was probably taken by the petitioners from Adygea as a favorable sign.
Everything kicked off when, in March of last year, as it was about to give up the ghost, the members of the Adgyean parliament’s fifth convocation nearly unanimously voted (fifty yeas, four nays) to abolish direct, popular elections of the republic’s head, adopting a special law and making the relevant amendments to the Adygean Constitution. Having denied Adygeans the right to vote directly for head of the region, the “people’s” elected representatives formally explained their decision as a means of making the electoral process less expensive. However, no one abolished another law, a law of everyday life: cheaper doesn’t mean better.
So elections to the sixth convocation of the Adygean Khase, in 2016, took place with the understanding that it would be the new parliament, not the people, that would be picking the republic’s new head. So, the requirements for sifting out the winners were tougher than usuaul. It was boom or bust, literally, all or nothing. The powers that be backstopped its chosen candidates to the hilt, and the elections took place in a stifling climate of lawlessness, generated by the acting executive branch and the local office of the United Russia party. Functionaries of the Rodina (Motherland) party did everything they could to force the Adygean Central Elections Commission to remove the opposition party’s entire regional list of candidates from the ballot, although the party had a good chance of taking several seats in parliament. The billboards, posters, and flyers of all candidates and parties except United Russia and LDPR were destroyed hours, if not minutes, after they were posted. The vote tallies at the polling stations were skewed, and the votes received by candidates and parties that are not part of the so-called parliamentary grouping (United Russia, CPRF, A Just Russia, and LDPR) were totally nullified. The latter parties divvied up their shares of the vote totals in keeping with quotas that had been agreed in advance in Moscow. So, the current Adygean Khase consists of 38 MPs from United Russia, four MPS each from the CPRF and LDPR, and two MPs from A Just Russia. Two more MPs have to be elected in by-elections on September 10. There is no doubt that one of the two will be a United Russia member. Thus, MPs from United Russia make up 80% of the republic’s parliament, while the CPRF and LDPR have 8% of MPs each, and A Just Russia has 4% of MPs. Now let’s compare these proportion with the spread of MP mandates in the Russian State Duma. United Russia’s MPs occupy 76% of the seats; the CPRF, 9.5%; the LDPR, 8.7%; and A Just Russia, 5.8%. The Duma also has two MPs who are not members of these parties. One of them is a member of the Rodina party, the party that was successfully sent packing in Adygea. The outcomes are quite similiar, don’t you think? It’s as if the same templates had been used.
The lineup of MPs running in the 2017 elections has been thoroughly purged. Anyone who provoked the slightest doubts has been removed from the lists. Only five people who have been MPs for more than three convocations are left, and only nine MPS from the last three convocations are still in the running. Two of them are from the CPRF’s faction (Adam Bogus and Yevgeny Salov), while the rest are from United Russia. The other thirty-four MPs (out of a total of forty-eight) were elected during Aslan Tkhakushinov’s last two terms as head of the republic [he resigned in January 2017, after ten years in office], under the watchful eye of his team. In fact, they are part of his team.
Clearly, they express not the will of the people, but the will of their true masters, the men who got them elected. Thus, the clearly unelectable United Russian candidates Sergei Belokrys (District No. 16) and Rustam Kalashov (District No. 21) got the cherished mandates. During their party’s so-called primaries [the English word is used in Russian], they both took an honorable third place in their districts with 7% and 27% of the vote, respectively. Even more unelectable pawns were kinged after winning spots on United Russia’s party list.
They hardly all have the right to be called people’s representatives, if only because not all the MPs in the Khase’s sixth convocation were elected by the people on the new single voting day. Thus, seven of the winning candidates from United Russia list soon resigned for different reasons, and their mandates were automatically handed over to five new MPs from the party list (Yuri Gorokhov, Yevgenia Dyachkova, Zurab Zekhov, Azamat Mamkhegov, and Murat Shkhalakov). Two more MPs will be selected on September in single-mandate constituencies. LDPR’s list of of winners included party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the party’s regional leader Denis Ogiyenko, neither of whom took their seats in the Adygean parliament. Why Zhirinovsky did this is clear enough, but Ogiyenko works as an aide to an MP in the State Duma, where everything is grown-up and they feed you caviar sandwiches. The two LDPR leaders were replaced as Khase MPs by Valentina Chugunova and Tembot Shovgenov, thus technically bypassing the will of voters.
It is interesting to compare how much the majoritarian MP mandates in the republic’s urban districts and rural districts are worth in terms of votes cast by voters. Thus, Maykop, the capital city, is divided into nine electoral districts, inhabited by a total of 132,890 voters. One majoritarian mandate is thus worth, on average, 14,776 potential votes. The Maykop Municipal District [not to be confused with Maykop per se] has three electoral districts and 46,111 voters, so an MP’s mandate is worth slightly more there: 15,370 votes. The Teuchezh District has only one majoritarian mandate, worth 13,549 votes. The Takhtamukay District is home to 51,840 votes, and so its four majoritarian mandates are worth an average of 12,960 votes. In the Giaginskaya District, the mandates are worth a bit less (12,563 votes on average), while in the neighboring Shovgenovsky District, it is worth 12,482 votes. Adygeysk’s single majoritarian mandate is worth 12,029 votes, while the Koshekhabl District’s two mandates are worth 11,407 votes apiece. The Krasnogvardeyskoye District has the “cheapest” mandates: two at 11,013 votes apiece. But strangers do not roam the homeland of the sweet couple of Aslan Tkhakushinov and Murat Kumpilov [Adygea’s acting head and Tkhakushinov’s chosen successor]. They elect only their own people and only on the advice of their superiors.
It was not entirely accurate to distribute MP mandates generally (whether from majoritarian single-mandate constituencies or party lists) in terms of the number of voters in the districts. The largest number of voters lives in Maykop (39% of all voters in Adygea), and its goes down from there. The Takhtamukay District has 15% of voters; the Maykop District, 13.6%; the Giaginskaya District, 7.4%; the Koshekhabl District, 7%; the Krasnogvardeyskoye District, 6.5%; the Teuchezh District, 4%; the Shovgenovsky District, 3.7%, and the town of Adygeysk, 3.5%. Meanwhile, the MPs from Maykop have only 30% of the mandates in the Khase; Takhtamukay District, 20%; Maykop District, 14%; Giaginskaya District, 6%; Koshekhabl District, 10%; Krasnogvardeyskoye District, 8%; Teuchezh District, 6%; Shovgenovsky District, 4%; and the town of Adygeysk, 2%. The imbalance is obvious.
The sixth convocation of the Adygean Khase has only eight MPs (16.7% of the total number) employed in the state sector. Six MPs (12.5%) are party officials. The remaining MPs (over 70%) run businesses in different sectors of the economy. The largest number of them (21 MPs out of a total of 48) earn their money in construction, commerce (including wholesale commerce), and services. Four MPs (8.3%) get their income from agriculture. Three MPs (6.3%) work in banking and investing, while two MPs each (4.2% each) are involved, respectively, in the hotel and tourism business, logging and extractive industries, and industrial manufacturing. Yet the CRPF and A Just Russia factions are dominated by party officials (four out of six), while members of United Russia have a clear advantage in all other lines of work.
The sixth convocation of the Khase includes two high-profile businessmen with criminal pasts (according to the media): United Russia member Gissa Baste (aka Voloskevich) and non-partisan MP Adam Bogus (aka Mazai), who blocks with the CRPF faction. Several well-known businessmen from United Russia have close ties with different dubious firms and people with criminal pasts. In particular, nine deputies (six from United Russia, two from the LDPR, and one from the CPRF) are involved in the construction business in the Takhtamukay District, run by Azmet Skhalyakho aka the Foreman. According to the media, he earned the nickname not on the fields of his native Takhtumukay District, but by shaking down market traders in Krasnodar during the “wild” 1990s. The notorious prosecutor Murat Tkhakushinov, son of ex-republic head Aslan Tkhakushinov, worked in the same district until recently. The Takhtamukay District’s proximity to Krasnodar, the much lower prices for land in the district than in Krasnodar, and the total control over the black market for land plots by criminal gangs, who have fused with Adygea’s government agencies, have made the construction business in the district quite profitable. Especially if you are not bothered by the legality of particular transactions, do not waste money on pollution treatment facilities, and pay no mind to the quite costly environnmental requirements.
Questions also arise when you take a closer look at the life and times of Vladimir Narozhny, head of the United Russia faction and chair of the republic’s parliament. There are strange blanks in his CV from 1981 to 1991, which for some reason he does not particularly advertise. Judging by occasional references, he ran various agricultural businesses during this period. Currently, he is associated with a number of firms, also involved in agrobusiness, in Adygea and Krasnodar Territory. They have different names and legal addresses, and yet they have the very same Primary State Registration Number and Taxpayer Identification Number. Obsessive thoughts of criminal money laundering schemes come to mind, but I have probably read too many detective novels.
As a final touch to my sketch of the current Adygean Khase, I want to focus on yet another imbalance, which testifies to a deeply embedded problem, if not a chronic disease, that affects the regional authorities in Adygea. I have in mind the distortions in personnel policy that favor the so-called titular ethnic group, the Adyghe. This phenomenon, which I would dub the Adyghization of power in the republic, was especially rampant during Aslan Tkhakushinov’s second term and has kept evolving in the present. I would not argue it has anything to do with ethnic conflicts between two great peoples, the Russians and the Adyghe, but has been caused only by attempts by specific members of the so-called Ulyap clan, who have ruled the republic for the last ten years, to ensure they will stay in power for the indefinite future. This is done both by depriving the Adygean populace of the right to elect the republic’s leaders and local government officials in direct elections, and through a deliberate personnel policy of giving preference to members of the titular ethnic group when filling vacancies in state and municipal agencies—if possible, to members of one’s own clan and numerous kinsmen. This cup has also touched the republic’s legislative branch. Whereas the republic’s population consists of approximately 63% Slavs, 25% Adyghe, 3.5% Armenians, and 8.5% other ethnic groups, the Khase is dominated by members of the titular ethnic group, who hold 28 seats (or 58.33%), while the Slavs are represented by 19 MPs (or 39.58% of seats). There is also one Armenian MP in the parliament, and no one else. I do not insist on introducing ethnic quotas. (God forbid, we have already been through such attempts at achieving parity.) I merely want to draw attention to this obviously non-random outcome as the inevitable side effect of dishonest elections.
Adygean Court Drops “Extremism” Case against Environmentalist Valery Brinikh Agora
August 7, 2017
Maykop City Court today dropped the “extremism” criminal case against well-known local environmentalist Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research. Brinikh was on trial for, allegedly, having insulted the dignity of the Adgyean people by writing and publishing an article entitled “The Silence of the Lambs.” The court dropped the case for want of criminal culpability.
He was explained his right to exoneration. This news from courtroom was reported by Alexander Popkov, an attorney with the Agora International Human Rights Group, who represented Brinikh along with attorney Andrei Sabinin.
“Today in court, the state prosecutor filed a motion to drop the charges of incitement of hatred against Brinikkh and drop the criminal case for want of criminal culpability in his actions,” said Popkov. “The judge retired to chambers before he announced the decision to terminate the criminal case. The ultimate argument in favor of this decision was a forensic examination carried out by the FSB Criminalistics Institute, which found no traces of “extremism” in the environmentalist’s article. A total of four expert opinions and three forensic examinations had been ordered in the case, and only one of them supported the charges. The case lasted almost three years.
According to police investigators, in the fall of 2014, Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research, and ex-director of the Caucasus Nature Reserve (1999-2001) и the Daur Nature Reserve (1993-1999), had produced “extremist” matter, an original article entitled “The Silence of the Lambs.” The article dealt with the environmental mental problems caused by one company’s hog-breeding facility in Adygea’s Teuchezhsk District. The company was founded by Vyacheslav Derev, representative of Karachay-Cherkessia in the Federation Council.
The investigators claimed that Brinikh subsequently conveyed this matter to unidentified persons for dissemination on the internet. The environmentalist’s article was published on a local website. The defense did not agree with the prosecution’s argument, saying it was absurd, a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
On December 14, 2014, Maykop City Court ruled the article “The Silence of the Lambs” “extremist” matter. In March 2015, the Adygea Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision.
ADV-TV, published on YouTube on August 7, 2017. On August 7, 2017, Maykop City Court dropped the “extremism” criminal case against well-known local environmentalist Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research. Brinikh was on trial for, allegedly, having insulted the dignity of the Adgyean people by writing and publishing an article entitled “The Silence of the Lambs.“ The court dropped the case for want of criminal culpability. Brinikh was defended in court by attorney Andrei Sabinin and attorney Alexander Popkov, with the Agora International Human Rights Group.
* * * * * *
Court Refuses to Rule Biologist “Extremist”for Criticizing Hog Breeders Although Article Containing the Criticisms Remains on List of “Extremist” Matter
Anastasia Kornya Vedomosti
August 8, 2017
On Monday, Maykop City Court terminated the “extremist” criminal case (Russian Criminal Code Article 282) against Valery Brinikh, director of the Institute for Regional Biological Research. He was on trial for the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” about the environmental damaged caused by the Kievo-Zhuraki Agro-Industrial Complex. The news was reported Alexander Popkov, an attorney with the Agora International Human Rights Group, one of Brinikh’s defense attorneys.
The charges had been filed in December 2014. According to police investigators, the article contained a negative assessment of ethnic Adyghes. Ultimately, however, the prosecutor’s officer dropped the charges. The decisive argument was a forensic examination, conducted by the FSB Criminalistics Institute, which found no evidence of “extremism.” The article contains criticism of the republic’s authorities, “but criticism of persons engaged in political activity is the norm in a civic, democratic society,” the report concludes.
Investigators cited the conclusions of Sergei Fedyayev, an analyst at the Interior Ministry’s Criminalistics Center for Krasnodar Territory. Fedyayev argued that the negative connotations of the word “sheep” extended to the word “lamb,” as used in the article. On the basis of the report written by this same analyst and at the request of the republic’s prosecutor’s office, in December 2014, the Maykop City Court ruled that Brinikh’s article was “extremist” matter. Thus, Brinikh has been cleared of “extremist” charges, but his articles is still listed in the database of extremist matter.
Popkov argues that the ruling is a precedent. He cannot remember similar cases. Theoretically, one of the parties could petition the court to exclude the article from the list of extremist matter, but his client has not yet decided whether he will pursue this. The Adygea Prosecutor’s Office did not respond promptly to our request for a reaction to the ruling.
From a legal point of view, the case is not absurd, argues a source in law enforcement. The author of a text considered “extremist” may not be an “extremist” himself. In this case, the decisive role is played by the intent in his actions to incite hatred. It might well transpire that the individual had no sinister intent whatsoever, but after the text he authored has been published, it lives its own life.
Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Center, knows of cases when matter has been excluded from the official list of “extremist” matter, but not due to the acquittal of suspected “extremists.” That happens all to rarely. However, the case in Maykop is a good illustration of the poor quality of such judicial rulings, he notes. In approximately half of cases, matter is ruled extremist using a simplified procedure. Authors are usually not involved in the case, and so no dispute as such arises. Recently, the Prosecutor General’s Office tightened the procedure for applying to the courts with such requests. Now they can be made only by regional prosecutors and only after they have vetted the request with the Prosecutor General’s Office. Verkhovsky acknowledges that such measures have indeed worked, but they have not solved the problem of rubber-stamp court decisions on “extremist” matter, he argues.
Yesterday, the latest hearing in my court case took place. It began at 2:15 p.m.
First, Judge Vitaly Galagan read out the findings of the forensic handwriting analysis of signatures made, allegedly, by Mugdin Guchetl, a prosecution witness from the village of Gabukay, who testified at the hearing before last that he had not signed the written record of the testimony he gave to the police investigator. Instead, at the investigator’s request, he had signed blank sheets of paper in the right places. As expected, the signatures were deemed authentic, although there had been the possibility the investigator had forged not only the interrogation records but also the signatures of witnesses.
The judge then returned to my deferred motion to rule the Teuchezhsky District Council an illegitimate injured party. We had requested the prosecution present written grounds for its legal position, as the prosecutors had objected to granting my motion, arguing that the Teuchezhsky District Council was a legitimate injured party.
The prosecution outdid itself, submitting in writing not only its own objections to granting the motion but also those of the so-called injured party. Surprisingly, the arguments made by district council head Khachmamuk and state prosecutors Shvetsov and Orlova were identical down to the details. Someone probably guided their hands from on high as they scribbled away. But, as the saying goes, paper cannot blush.
The point of their objections was so simple and straightforward that it was completely untethered from the case, leading the reader off into the boundless expanses of the fight against terrorism and extremism.
It transpires that “the leading role in the fighting terrorism and extremism has been assigned to the district council,” while my article “has provoked extremist sentiments in society and has had a negative impact on the work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing extremism.”
Talk about the perpetrator blaming the victim, and without establishing any causal link between my article “The Silence of the Lambs” and the work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing terrorism and extremism!
Attempting to demonstrate the absence of logic and common sense in the objections raised by the injured party and the prosecutors, I reminded the court that the case files contained the January 22, 2015, ruling by the Maykop City Court, which has entered into force, rejecting the Teuchezhsky District Council’s lawsuit against me, in my capacity as author of the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” by way of defending its professional reputation. I also pointed out that the article contains no criticism of the Teuchezhsky District Council’s work in general (it is not even mentioned in the article) nor, in particular, of its work in the field of extremism prevention.
In addition, the district council’s authority extends only to events that have occurred within the district itself, while the article was published on the World Wide Web. The events covered in the article (the actions of the Kievo-Zhuraki Agrobusiness hog breeding facility, the inaction of authorities at all levels in dealing with the Teuchezhsky District’s environmental problems, and my meetings with local residents) in no way touch on the Teuchezhsky District Council’s authority in combating terrorism and extremism.
After hearing all this, Judge Vitaly Galagan smiled cutely and retired to chambers at 2:50 p.m. As it turned out, he spent two and a half long hours in there. What could he have been doing all that time? It would be one thing if at least he had been consulting with smart folk on how to reasonably reject my motion. I realize it is illegal, but rehashing arguments that have nothing whatsoever to do with our case as grounds for rejecting my motion is not only illegal but also stupid. Basically, as they say in such instances, the mountain has brought forth a mouse.
According to the prosecution and Judge Galagan, who concurred with their arguments, the article “The Silence of the Lambs,” which I wrote in Maykop and published on the Internet, somehow diminished the vigilant work of the Teuchezhsky District Council in preventing extremism in the Teuchezhsky District, thus damaging the council’s professional reputation. In such cases, the saying goes, children are awfully sensitive. The district’s principle extremism preventer has been turned into a crybaby. Or, on the contrary, has the prosecution designated it the crybaby given the lack of actual injured parties?
As I listened to the prosecution’s counterarguments, I realized why our local councils take such bad care of local residents, why they take such bad care of roads, hot and cold running water, medical care and education, why everything is so bad: because our local authorities have bigger fish to fry. They have all left for the front to combat terrorism and extremism, and until they defeat the hydra of counter-revolution, the people will just have to suffer. And anyone who moans and groans and criticizes the authorities can be charged with violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
I want to give one more piece of sage advice to Russian judges. Lubricate the hinges of the doors to your chambers. Otherwise, the damn things squeak, and those of us sitting in the courtroom get all kinds of funny ideas about the secrecy of judicial deliberations being violated. Is their secrecy being violated, or is it just a draught of wind playing tricks with the door?
The next round in this exercise in umpiring is scheduled for today, July 5, at 10:00 a.m.
The latest hearing in my criminal trial took place on June 24, but it was no run-of-the-mill hearing. When, last week, the court turned down defense attorney Andrei Sabinin’s motion to examine a linguistics expert from the beautiful beyond via videoconferencing (although, literally right before this, two prosecution witnesses from Krasnodar had been examined in this manner), neither the prosecutors nor the judge suspected that soon they would have the honor of gazing at this linguistics expert in person. We provided them with this pleasure.
The linguistics expert smashed the so-called findings of official state expert Sergei Fedyayev to smithereens. She immediately pointed out that Fedyayev had violated the fundamental methodological principles of forensic examinations for identifying signs of extremism. First, such forensic examinations should be comprehensive, involving not only a linguist but also a psychologist and, better yet, a sociologist or political scientist (if social groups are at issue). By definition, a linguist cannot cope with all these tasks alone. Nor did linguistic expert Fedyayev cope with his task. His analysis of the article “The Silence of the Lambs” skids on the sharp turns like a Volga car. Hence the large number of mistakes and simple linguistic blunders he made, producing findings that were not only at odds with the principles of linguistics but also with common sense.
During her testimony, our expert pointed to a number of instances where Fedyayev clearly went beyond his competence as a linguist by giving legal evaluations of individual passages in “The Silence of the Lambs” and thus infringing on the court’s realm of responsibility. In addition, his findings contain a definition of the concept of a “group,” something only a sociologist or political scientist is competent to define. The Russian Supreme Court has directly ruled it is inadmissible to define the authorities (state officials) as a “social group.” But what does the Russian Supreme Court mean to Fedyayev when the Adygea Supreme Court is dealing the cards? Fedyayev’s analysis also contains probabilistic conclusions (i.e., dealing with the realm of possibility), which are inadmissible in a linguistic forensic examination.
Apologizing to the judge for infringing on legal issues, our expert noted that the article does not oppose one group to another, one nation to another, and that there is no evidence of incitement to enmity and hatred on ethnic and other grounds in the text.
Our expert also testified that lexical-semantic and lexical-stylistic methods should be used in analyzing the text, while the huge number of other methods listed by Fedyayev either were not employed or were superfluous. In particular, by not using conceptual analysis, Fedyayev was led to erroneous conclusions.
The overall conclusion of the linguistics expert we called to the stand in Maykop City Court yesterday was that the article “The Silence of the Lambs” was highly critical and chockablock with negative assessments of the authorities and the hog breeding business, but there was nothing in the article that could interpreted as inciting enmity and hatred. In particular, she pointed out to the court that the words “Adyghe” and “Adygean” are encountered in different contexts in the article, testifying to the fact that the author distinguishes between the notions, using them in the article to denote different things. While the word “Adyghe” clearly refers to an ethnicity, “Adygean” has several meanings, one of them being a resident of Adygea, without reference to his or her ethnicity, as in krasnodarets, sochinets, stavropolets, and so on. [That is, the Russian terms for residents of Krasnodar, Sochi, and Stavropol, respectively.—TRR.]
What mattered to me was our expert’s answer to the question of whether it was possible, having received an unfamiliar text in the morning, to carry out a forensic examination of it by the evening of the same day and discover grounds for suspecting the text of extremism by using linguistic methods. My question was prompted by the fact that on September 15, 2014, Fedyayev, at the request of the FSB’s regional office in the Republic of Adygea, conducted a linguistic examination of the article “The Silence of the Lambs” in ten hours, and his memorandum to this effect (not even an expert opinion) was the grounds for the Maykop City Court (Judge Irina Ramazanova, presiding) ruling that the article was extremist. Later, on the basis of the very same memorandum, whipped up in a single workday, the very same Fedyayev wrote up the expert findings that served as the basis for my indictment on criminal charges.
The conclusion of the expert we called to the stand was unequivocal: it would be impossible. Sometimes, explained the expert, who is a past master at linguistic and comprehensive forensic examinations, analysis of a single sentence might take three hours. So, personally, she takes two weeks to perform such examinations.
In general, the testimony or, rather, the lecture by the linguistics expert we called to the stand was so thorough that neither the judge nor the prosecutors could think of anything substantive to ask her. Thus, by presenting critical reviews of Fedyayev’s forensic examination, we have drawn a thick line under it, making it completely impossible for it to be used as evidence for the prosecution in the criminal case against me.
The next hearing has been scheduled for 2:15 p.m. on July 4. Most likely, we will file a motion to have the forensic examination redone, asking this time for a comprehensive, rather than linguistic, examination.
The latest hearing in my criminal case took place in Maykop from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 17 of this year. This time, the prosecution’s last two witnesses were finally questioned, albeit by a videoconference link with the Soviet District Court in Krasnodar. Vyacheslav Potapov and Vitaly Isayenko were supposed to answer questions about the operations of the website For Krasnodar, on which the article “The Silence of the Lambs” was posted.
It seemed to me that Sergei Shvetsov, senior deputy prosecutor of the Republic of Adygea, was not prepared to examine the witnesses today and the questions he asked them sounded like childish prattle. Even the judge noted this and advised the public prosecutor to concentrate. Ultimately, however, the second public prosecutor, Inessa Orlova from the Maykop City Prosecutor’s Office, took the microphone from Shvetsov and asked the witnesses specific questions.
I was personally interested in Isayenko’s responses to two sets of questions, first, about the circumstances of his interrogation on December 12, 2014. On that day, after the search [at his house], he was brought from Krasnodar to Maykop and interrogated until evening. It was night when they sent him back home to Krasnodar. As Isayenko, who suffers from Type 1 Diabetes, explained, he spent almost half a day at the Republic of Adygea Investigation Department with no food and, much more dangerously, with no insulin. They gave him only water. And yet they interrogated him intensively, trying to squeeze testimony against me and Vyacheslav Potapov, editor of the website For Krasnodar, from him. I was being interrogated in the next room, and I could hear Senior Investigator Kirill Kustov screaming at him. The stress he underwent and the long period he endured without food and insulin landed Vitaly Isayenko in the hospital the day after his return from Maykop. His diabetes flared up and he suffered from other ailments.
I was also interested in Isayenko’s comments, as a computer specialist, on certain statements in the inspection report on the computers seized at Isayenko’s house, an inspection carried out by Senior Investigator Kustov on the night of December 12, 2014. In particular, the report states that three processors were discovered in one of the computers. Isayenko explained there had been only one processor in the computer. He did not know nothing about any other processors.
In general, the witnesses said nothing new. They only confirmed what was already contained in the minutes of their interrogations.
After the witnesses were examined, my attorney, Andrei Sabinin, attempted to request that Elizaveta Koltunova, a linguist from Nizhny Novgorod, be examined via videoconference, but the prosecutors objected, and Judge Vitaly Galagan did their bidding. Our request to examine the linguist by videoconferencing was rejected. According to the defense, this stance on the part of the prosecution and the court contradicts the adversarial nature of judicial proceedings and the principle of the equality of arms.
Much more unexpected and even amusing was the procedural action, which took place after lunch, of obtaining handwriting samples and a signature from prosecution witness Mugdin Mossovich Guchetl, a resident of the village of Gabukay. Everything would have been alright if the witness had simply produced his signature in silence, but instead he recalled another circumstance that I think gave the prosecutors a slight shock. Guchetl recalled that in February of last year, when Investigator A.S. Rudenko of the Investigative Department of the Republican Investigative Committee’s Teuchezsky District office took Guchetl’s written testimony, he asked him to sign blank sheets of paper, because, as Rudenko explained, allegedly, he would later type out Guchetl’s handwritten testimony on the computer, but he needed the signatures right away so he would not have to make a return trip to Adygeisk.
The investigator thus clearly violated the procedure for processing interrogation reports, a procedure strictly regulated by criminal procedural laws. At the same time, the investigator committed forgery by inserting things Guchetl did not say into the report. Today, after reading the interrogation report, which is part of the criminal case file, Guchetl categorically stated he did not say to the investigator what was written in the penultimate paragraph of his printed testimony, which reads as follows: “I want to clarify that I strongly disagree with the contents of the article entitled ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ because I think the article has defamed my honor and dignity as an Adyghe, as well as insulting all Muslims. The article compares us to pigs and cowards, and claims we have no sense of self-esteem.”
Basically, it was for the sake of this passage that the investigator obtained Guchetl’s testimony. In fact, the investigator could have written something even rougher on Guchetl’s behalf, because he already his signatures on blank interrogation report forms.
Finally, I made a motion to rule the Teuchezhsky District Council an illegitimate injured party in my case, since it did not satisfy the grounds set out in Article 42 of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedure Code. When the prosecutors objected as usual, spouting platitudes about the proper recognition of the local authorities as an injured party, we demanded the prosecution present legal grounds for its stance. We were quite curious to find out how exactly the district council had been injured, if, as they themselves have said, the article had caused moral injury to the residents of the Teuchezhsky District.
The prosecutors drew a blank and requested a time-out until the next hearing, at which they promised to provide a written justification for their objection. That suited us just fine, as it did the judge, who postponed consideration of our motion until next time.