Article 318: Criminalizing Protest in Russia

wehatecops

Criminalizing Protest Has Become a Tool for Combating Rallies
Experts Studied Use of Law Criminalizing Violence Against Authorities
Anastasia Kornya
Vedomosti
February 28, 2019

Defending Protest (Apologiya protesta), an organization that provides assistance to people detained at protest rallies, has analyzed the use of Russian Criminal Code Article 318 against people involved in protest events. Article 318 makes violence against authorities a criminal offense. Between 2009 and 2017, a total of 65,046 people were convicted on this charge. Typically, the charge has been filed against people involved in drunken brawls broken up by police units or people involved in roadside altercations with traffic police. But Article 318 has also become the primary tool for charging activists with using violence against the security forces.

Demonstrative Cruelty
There are no separate figures for protesters charged with violating Article 318, but between 2013 and 2015 the number of people convicted on such charges rose annually by 600 to 800 people before decreasing slightly. The authors of Defending Protest’s report argue this increase stemmed from a rise in the number of protests and protesters in 2012: it was on May 6, 2012, that the March of the Millions took place, leading to the show trials of the Bolotnaya Square Case. After the protests peaked in 2015, there was a cooling off period, and the number of convictions nearly returned to their 2009 levels. However, there has been a growing tendency to sentence people convicted under Article 318 to actual prison time.

The experts note that when defendants confess their guilt and are tried in special expedited trials, it should theoretically mitigate their punishments, but in reality it does not increase chances they will be sentenced to probation or other non-carceral penalties. Besides, courts in Moscow have made a point of not invoking the option, stipulated by law, of dismissing cases because the parties have been reconciled or defendants have sincerely apologized for their crimes, since, in the opinion of Moscow judges, cases cannot be dismissed in so-called double-ended crimes, crimes committed not only against the victim as such but also against law and order.

The report notes that customary Russian methods of criminal investigation and judicial procedure have now been applied to the cases of grassroots activists, including double standards in weighing evidence, the presumption that law enforcement officers tell the truth, and giving priority to testimony made by suspects prior to their trials. The experts note the charges in such cases can be trumped up easily. The key evidence in these cases is the testimony of the victim and witnesses, all of them police officers. If necessary, their statements can be coordinated and entered into the court record in literally identical form.

Nonpunishable Violence
The flip side of the process is the inability to hold police officers criminally liable for using violence against demonstrators, says Alexei Glukhov, head of Defending Protest. If justice is served, this happens only if and when the European Court of Human Rights rules on a case, although Russian policemen and security services officers have been dispersing peaceful demonstrations and detaining grassroots activists and random bystanders with ever-greater ferocity. But nearly the only well-known case in which a Russian police officer was held criminally liable for violence against protesters was the case of Vadim Boyko, the so-called Pearl Sergeant, who hit a man over the head with a rubber truncheon at a demonstration in Petersburg in July 2010. In 2011, Sergeant Boyko was sentenced to three and half years of probation.

It is common practice to reject complaints filed by victims of police violence by claiming they are means of self-defense against the counter charges faced by the complainants. Thus, in the formal refusal to open a criminal case based on the complaint filed by lawyer Mikhail Benyash, the police investigator wrote, “M.M. Benyash’s testimony should be treated skeptically because he is thus attempting to build his own defense against criminal charges and thereby avoid prosecution.” In turn, the police officers who denied they had beaten Benyash testified he had beaten his own head against the window, door, and other parts of the car in which they abducted him, and when they dragged him out of the car, he beat his head against the pavement.

No less noteworthy were the reasons police investigators gave for refusing to open a criminal case based on a complaint filed by Danil Bolshakov and Daniil Markelov of Krasnoyarsk. Their testimony was not corroborated since Markelov was a supporter of Alexei Navalny, “who is a well-known opponent of the leadership of the Russian Federation, as headed by President V.V. Putin.”

Crackdown
Generally, the police crackdown has been intensifying. Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky agreed Article 318 has been used to intimidate people.

“I would encourage everyone to compare the verdicts in the Bolotnaya Square Case, in which a demonstrator brushed away a policeman’s arm and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, with the sentences handed down in the wake of the recent unrest in France, in which protesters have been fined or sentenced to a few months in jail at most,” he said.

In fact, Agranovsky explained, any physical contact with Russian police would result in the “offender” being charged under Article 318. Ultimately, people have become wary of attending protest rallies, although, formally speaking, Russia has signed all the relevant international conventions encouraging  peaceful protest.

Agranovsky recalled that ex-Russian MP Vladimir Bessonov was stripped of the right to engage in politics after he was charged with using violence against police officers at a protest rally.

Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov agreed the police crackdown has intensified.

“There is a desire to extinguish protests, and that is something you can only do with a stick. The powers that be have run out of carrots,” he said.

Gudkov argued all the available tools have been brought into play in order to artificially criminalize protest. For example, the so-called Ildar Dadin article in the criminal code had been revived after it was all but outlawed by the Russian Constitutional Court. The article criminalizes repeated involvement in “unauthorized” protest rallies.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

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A New Face in Hell: Yuli Boyarshinov

“We Made It Worse for You, So Speak”: A New Defendant Emerges in The Network Case
OVD Info
April 11, 2018

30173702_10213690256883419_2044878347_1Yuli Boyarshinov, 2015. Photo by Maria Shuter. Courtesy of OVD Info

A new defendant has been added to the case of the so-called Network, Petersburger Yuli Boyarshinov. In the following article, OVD Info reports what it knows about how Mr. Boyarshinov was charged in the case, and about the pressure put on him in the remand prison where he is currently jailed.

Mr. Boyarshinov’s defense attorney Olga Krivonos told OVD Info that he was charged with involvement in The Network on April 11. Ms. Krivonos cannot discuss the particulars of the case, since she was made to sign a nondisclosure agreement concerning the preliminary investigation. Mr. Boyarshinov has been charged with involvement in a terrorist community (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 205.4 Part 2) and illegal possession of explosives (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 222.1 Part 1).

27-year-old Yuli Boyarshinov has worked the last several years as an industrial climber. From 2010 to 2015, he was a co-organizer of the Free Fair in Petersburg, events where people donated and took home all kinds of things free of charge. He [CENSORED BY REQUEST OF THE RUSSIAN ANARCHIST CENTRAL COMMITTEE]* volunteered at animal shelters.

yulik.jpgYuli Boyarshinov. Photo courtesy of Mr. Boyarshinov’s friends and OVD Info

Arrest
Mr. Boyarshinov was detained on the evening of January 21, 2018, in Petersburg’s Primorsky District, most likely accidentally. Several local residents told OVD Info that anti-drugs raids occured there frequently and police regularly stopped passersby.

Mr. Boyarshinov recounted that police from the 53rd Precinct struck him in the face and stomach several times: they did not like the fact the young man had refused to talk with him, citing Article 51 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees an individual’s right not to incriminate himself. The beating ended when another policeman entered the room, was outraged by what was happening, and asked his fellow officers not to “cause mayhem.”

Police found 400 grams of smoke powder, a relatively weak explosive obtained by mixing saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur, on Mr. Boyarshinov’s person. Smoke powder is now most often employed in the manufacture of fireworks, as well as by hunters and sport shooters who pack their shells manually. Mr. Boyarshinov has a hunting license, but not a firearms permit. Ms. Krivonos could not say why Mr. Boyarshinov needed the smoke powder, since it fell under her nondisclosure agreement.

On January 22, police searched the home the young man shares with his parents. Law enforcement officers confiscated equipment, books, and the anarchist magazine Avtonom.  He was then taken in a police cruiser to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Hospital staff did not ask him for either his internal passport or insurance policy. The detainee was given an MRI scan of the brain, and his blood was drawn. Mr. Boyarshinov told his lawyer the physician who administered the MRI scan was quite worried about his condition. After the examination, the young man was transported to the Temporary Detention Center. In conversation with his lawyer, Mr. Boyarshinov suggested he was taken to the hospital first so that it would be impossible to say he had been injured in the Temporary Detention Center. The doctors noted bruises on his face.

On January 23, Primorsky District Court Judge Yelena Tsibizova ordered Mr. Boyarshinov remanded in custody for thirty days. His relatives were not informed of the court hearing. Ms. Krivonos had not yet taken the case, and so Mr. Boyarshinov was represented by a state-appointed attorney. At that point, he had only been charged with illegal possession of explosive substances.

1523224346412_1Yuli Boyarshinov. Photo courtesy of Mr. Boyarshinov’s friends and OVD Info

Pressure in the Remand Prison
After the hearing, Mr. Boyarshinov was incarcerated in Remand Prison No. 1 aka The Crosses Two, where doctors noted his injuries: blows to the stomach and head, and a black eye.

As the young man told his lawyer, his cellmates immediately tried to chat him up.

“I’m also in for Article 222.1. I’ll tell you what’s what,” one cellmate said to him.

The anarchist symbol had been traced on the dusty glass in the cell’s window.

On January 31, Mr. Boyarshinov was visited by two men who gave only their first names, Kostya and Dima. Kostya had been present during the search at Mr. Boyarshinov’s home. When he asked where they were from, Kostya and Dima gave him their work number at the Petersburg office of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The supposed FSB officers listed the names of defendants in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and many other names, promising Mr. Boyarshinov that if he did not talk to them, “things would get worse” for him. The young man refused to speak with the FSB officers, again invoking his rights under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

“You’re making things worse for yourself, and you’ll go to prison,” the security service officers told him.

On February 12, Mr. Boyarshinov was transferred to Remand Prison No. 6 in the village of Gorelovo, Leningrad Region, on the orders of an investigator in the Primorsky District office of the Interior Ministry, allegedly, “for the purpose of conducting investigative procedures.” Ms. Krivonos said that then, after she filed an appeal against the extension of Mr. Boyarshinov’s remand in custody, staff at the Primorsky District Court telephoned her and asked her client’s whereabouts. They were looking for him to fill out papers. Ms. Krinovos argues the transfer to another remand prisoner violated her client’s rights. The Gorelovo Remand Prison is a former medium security correctional labor colony, and the conditions there are considerably worse than in The Crosses Two Remand Prison, which was built to satisfy the requirements of current legislation.

Mr. Boyarshinov told his lawyer he was placed in a cell where there were forty inmates, although it was designed for thirty-five. When he moved into the cell, his cellmates beat him up for no reason. They forced him to clean the cell, and because of this he was not let out for walks outside in the yard.

On February 13, FSB officers again came to talk with Mr. Boyarshinov.

“We made things worse for you. Now talk, or conditions will get even worse.”

Mr. Boyarshinov again refused to speak with them.

photo_2018-02-19_19-27-57.jpgYuli Boyarshinov and defense attorney Olga Krivonos at a custody extension hearing on February 19 in Primorsky District Court. Photo courtesy of Ms. Krivonos and OVD Info

On March 2, the remand prison was inspected by members of the Leningrad Region Public Monitoring Commission (PMC). Mr. Boyarshinov told his lawyer the Leningrad PMC members summoned the inmates one by one to chat with them in the office of a warden, who was present during their conversations.

FSB officers visited Mr. Boyarshinov again immediately after the PMC’s inspection. The very same day, he and another inmate (who had not spoken to the PMC) were transferred to a cell that held approximately 150 inmates: the number of inmates constantly changed. There were only 116 bunks in the cell, which was reserved for men charged with murder, rape, and robbery, and who had served time before. However, the inmates who smoked were not segregated from the nonsmokers. At first, Mr. Boyarshinov had to sleep on the floor.

“During the nearly two months of his incarceration in Gorelovo, no investigative procedures involving Yuli have been carried out. Due to the fact the conditions of my client’s imprisonment in terms of cell assignment and personal safety have been violated, his state of mind has deteriorated considerably,” said Ms. Krivonos.

On March 16, Sergei Shabanov, human rights ombudsman for Leningrad Region, and his staff member Sergei Gavrilovich visited the Gorelovo Remand Prison.

“There were no complaints and statements from the persons held in custody,” reads a report of the visit, posted on the remand prison’s website.

“He has not been tasered, but the conditions in which my client is being held are tantamount to torture,” argued Ms. Krivonos.

She also said that Mr. Boyarshinov has chronic tonsillitis, which has been aggravated by his living conditions.

9ac654e24a7baa41f22dbfeb5e102410Visit by Leningrad Region Human Rights Ombudsman Sergei Shabanov to Gorelovo Remand Prison. Yuli Boyarshinov sits with his back turned to the camera. Photo courtesy of Remand Prison No. 6 website and OVD Info

Petersburg industrial climber Ilya Kapustin was a witness in The Network case. He claimed FSB agents tasered him, after which he left Russia, requesting political asylum in Finland. Kapustin told OVD Info that, during his interrogation, investigators had asked him whether he knew Boyarshinov, when they had last met, and why he had telephoned him on the day he was detained.

“We had a professional relationship. I telephoned him around the time of his arrest to ask him whether he wanted a job shoveling snow off rooftops,” Kapustin explained.

  • Novaya Gazeta writes that the Gorelovo Remand Prison is considered a torture chamber. According to the newspaper, inmates are tortured and raped by order of the wardens. This was the reason Vladimir Malenchuk, former head of the local office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service was dismissed, and his deputy, Vyacheslav Tippel, who was involved in the torture, was sentenced to seven years in prison. However, the beatings and abuse of inmates at the remand prison have not stopped.
  • On March 16, antifascist Viktor Filinkov was transferred to Remand Prison No. 6. Mr. Filinkov has been charged with involvement in the terrorist organization The Network (Criminal Code 205.4 Part 2). The FSB claims members of The Network were preparing for the outbreak of unrest in Russia. Mr. Filinkov confessed his guilt, but later claimed he had done so under torture. Members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission noted numerous taser burns on the antifascist’s body. Businessman Igor Shiskin was charged in the same case. He did not complain of torture, but the Petersburg PMC likewise noted injuries on his body. The criminal investigation and arrests in St. Petersburg were sanctioned by a district court in Penza.
  • In October 2017, five young men were arrested in Penza. A sixth man was arrested in Petersburg, transferred to Penza, and also remanded to custody there. All of them have been charged with involvement in a terrorist community. The FSB claims the young men were also involved in The Network, which, allegedly, has cells in Moscow, Petersburg, Penza, and Belarus. The defendants in the terrorism case in Penza have spoken of psychological pressure, torture by electrical shock, being hung upside down, and having weapons planted by FSB officers in their cars and flats.

* There is no “Russian Anarchist Central Committee,” of course, but I was asked—twice—to expunge a perfectly trivial, innocent passage because it supposedly endangered Mr. Boyarshinov’s safety in remand prison. I dared to doubt out loud that the wardens at Gorelovo Remand Prison read my website and much less that they would happen on this passage. The anarchist authoritarian “we” was forced to repeat its peremptory request, referring to the meaningless fact that it was a “common decision.”

This is what you will discover about 99% of Russian “anti-authoritarian” leftists if you spend enough time with them. They do not understand that solidarity is a two-way street. So, God forbid, for example, that any of them would take the time and then have the guts to speak out against the Russian government’s crimes in Syria. But if something untoward happens with any of their own kind, you can be sure they will demand the world’s attention, because, at the end of the day, they are good “white people,” like the good “white people” in Europe and North America, so they imagine they do not deserve to be treated the way the FSB has been treating their antifascist comrades in Penza and Petersburg.

Of course, they should not be treated this way, but nor should anyone else on God’s green earth be treated this way, even if they do not happen to be good “white people.” 

The other thing you discover is that the mindset of most Russian “anti-authoritarian” leftists is completely authoritarian, which is no surprise because Russia has been an authoritarian country for most of its thousand-year history. There has been the odd decade here and there down through the centuries when Russia was not an authoritarian country, and Allah be praised, how sweet it was to live during one of those rare decades, as your humble servant did during the 1990s. 

Now, however, the country has endured nearly two decades of increasingly oppressive authoritarian rule, so it should be no surprise that people who nominally espouse democratic, progressive, “anti-authoritarian” beliefs would revert to authoritarian type when push comes to shove. 

During the ten-plus years I have been translating, editing, and writing this website and its predecessor, Chtodelat News, I have been clubbed over the head, slandered, and bossed around by my putative Russian “anti-authoritarian” leftist allies so many times I have lost count. On the contrary, the number of times I have been thanked for what I do or encouraged and vigorously supported by these selfsame so-called anti-authoritarians has been much less numerous.

They really don’t get it. Until they do, most of their efforts will be doomed to failure. Despite what Putin and his junta have done to Russia and its people, the country and its people are way past the point where they have the time of day for authoritarians of any stripe, whether nationalist, leftist, rightist, centrist, neoliberal, Anglican or Presbyterian. When and if they rise up to overthrow their oppressors, it will be a democratic revolution. Or it simply won’t happen at all. TRR

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade NN for correcting a typo.

Read more about the insane FSB frame-up of the wholly fictional Network aka the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” and related current cases involving torture and framing on the part of the security service once chaired by President Vladimir Putin and in which he proudly served as an officer for many years. It is their increasing dominance of politics and the economy that has pushed the world’s largest country to the brink of toxic governance and administrative insanity.

Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers

DSCN3525To give only one of a thousand examples, without Central Asian migrant workers, there would be almost no one left to do the heavy and, sometimes, dangerous work of clearing freshly fallen snow from rooftops and pavements during the winter. February 5, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Fists and Epaulettes: Xenophobia and Corruption Making Russia Less Attractive to Central Asian Migrant Workers
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Yulia Reprintseva, with Madina Kuanova
Novaya Gazeta
February 5, 2018

Novaya Gazeta continues to investigate the lives of migrant laborers in Russia. In our last issue, we discussed the magnitude of the corruption faced by immigrants when they apply for resident permits and work permits (“Luck and Labor,” February 2, 2018). However, even when migrant workers finally obtain these papers, their lives in Russia are not made any easier.

Police, Open Up!
In the run-up to New Year’s 2018, detectives from the Perovo and Kuntsevo police precincts in Moscow detained 520 migrant workers. All of them were taken to a police station, where they were forced to stand outside in the cold from six in the evening to two in the morning. According to Valentina Chupik, head of the human rights organization Tong Jahoni (Morning of the World), only those who gave the police 10,000 rubles [approx. 140 euros] each were released. The police said they were collecting money “for celebrating the holiday.”

The police regularly hold such “celebrations” for migrant workers. In a ranking of offenses against immigrants, the police take first place with a large margin (86% of all complaints). Most often, the police extort money during groundless document checks.

“In Russia, the attitude is he is an Asian, so he’ll give us money,” claims Chupik.

In police stations, up to twelve migrant workers are held in seven-meter-square cells for forty-eight hours and not allowed to go to the toilet. Police sometimes assault them. In October 2017, according to human rights activists, the officers at Perovo and Novogireevo precincts in Moscow beat up 39 people.  It was a tough month, apparently.

“Volunteer work days” are another police practice. According to human rights activists, migrant workers were forced to repair a police station in the Moscow suburb of Mytishchi on April 21, 2017.

The migrant workers complain, but to little effect. In 2016, Valentina Chupik filed 6,232 complaints with various police internal affairs departments in Moscow and Moscow Region, but only four of them were passed up the command chain for further review. Meanwhile, the system for expelling migrants on the basis of police complaints operates without fail. In 2016 (there is no data for 2017), Moscow courts expelled over 14,000 migrant workers from Russia for living somewhere other than their registered domicile. They expelled almost 12,000 migrant workers for being in public without their papers on them.

“The main problem is the right the police have accorded themselves to check the papers of migrant workers for any reason,” says Chupik.

“Yes, they do have this obligation, but only when a migrant worker is involved in a criminal case,” she says.

According the Interior Ministry’s latest orders, even a neighborhood police inspector can check someone’s immigration status. He can write the person up for a nonexistent violation, which is immediately entered into a special data base. Two violations are sufficient cause for deportation from hospitable Russia, explains Chupik.

Curiously, at the same time, migrant workers are far from the most dangerous social group in Russia, formally speaking. Moreover, the number of crimes committed by migrant workers has been steadily declining, which has been noted even by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. As reported by Kommersant, according to the Prosecutor General, foreign nationals and stateless persons committed 41,047 crimes in Russia in 2017, which was 6.6% fewer than in 2016. In November of last year, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev mentioned an even earlier nine-percent drop in crimes committed by migrant workers when presenting the new immigration policy. But what the top brass has said is not digested fully and immediately by rank-and-file police officers.

Commentary
Valentina Chupik, head of Tong Jahoni
State agencies and the police do not hate migrant workers because they are so despicable. The authorities pretend to hate them so it is less shameful when they rob them for their own profit. When you talk to on-duty cops, they claim eighty percent of crimes are committed by migrant workers. When you ask them to go to the Interior Ministry’s own website and take a gander at the stats, they switch to saying most crimes are committed by North Caucasians. Then they say, “Well, it’s just our policy.” When you tell them they should not implement a criminal policy because they are law enforcement officers, they get it. But they complain they have arrest quotas to fill. 

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Muhiddin, a janitor. Photo by Vlad Dokshin. See Muhiddin’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Xenophobia Has Momentum
On January 12, the body of 41-year-old Tahirjan Hamrayev was found in Noginsk, Moscow Region. Hamrayev had been stabbed over twenty times. Hamrayev left Kyrgyzstan as a migrant worker in May 2017 and got a job on the construction site of a multi-storey residential building. As reported by Kyrgyzstani media, the dead man’s mother, Hairins Hamrayeva, said her son was supposed to have come home for the New Year’s holidays, but decided to stay in Noginsk since his employers, impressed by his work, had offered him extra jobs. On the fateful day, Hamrayev went into a shop and fell into the hands of at least ten neo-Nazis, local law enforcement official claim, citing an eyewitness’s testimony.

In the various ultra-right groups on social media where the incident is discussed, commentators occasionally write languidly that Hamrayev got what was coming to him. Generally, after the security services were pressured by the Kremlin into mopping up the sector, nationalism and neo-Nazism have died out as phenomena [sic], and nowadays assaults on migrant workers have gradually become something out of the ordinary,although in Petersburg on January 31, for example, a Tajikistani national was attacked with a knife in the subway.

No one, however, has abolished xenophobia, which, although it has displayed a downward trend [sic], is still firmly entrenched in the minds of Russians.

In early 2017, Tong Jahoni published the findings of a study on nearly 50,000 housing rental ads in Russian media. Only one out of every twelve ads was free of xenophobic  insinuations. Most of the people who placed the ads wanted to rent their flats or rooms to “Russian citizens” (50%), “Slavs” (28%), and “ethnic Russians” (7%). The picture presented by help wanted ads was even more distressing. Only one in twenty ads among the 20,000 vacancies examined did not contain xenophobic allusions. Fifty-six percent of employers were seeking “Slavs” to fill the jobs, while 35% were eager to see “Russian citizens” in the positions.

Human rights activists say the situation is typical, and no one wants to change it for the most part. In turn, the media fuel the fire. In 2016, there were approximately 120,000 news reports involving migrant workers. News search websites focused mostly on crime reports, which constituted nearly 98,000 of the news reports filed.

However, the attitude to migrant workers on the part of the rank-and-file population is often quite neutral when they encounter each other face to face. Moreover, human rights activists can cite instances in which the police have helped migrant workers. But in terms of society at large, although xenophobia decreased by 10% last year, according to the official estimates produced by the Russian Federal Public Chamber, it still remains a serious problem. According to pollsters VTsIOM [sic], two thirds of the people they surveyed believed migrant workers took jobs away from Russian citizens.

Commentary
Alexander Verkhovsky, director, Sova Center for Information and Analysis 
There is xenophobia as a mass phenomenon: people’s attitudes and emotions. In this case, we can track changes through public opinon polls [sic]. I am quite glad that there is a growing number of people who, when asked about the feelings they have towards migrant workers (e.g., fear, apprehension, hatred, love), respond that they feel nothing, that they could not care less. The perfect relationship is precisely this, when people do not see a group as something that provokes emotions. They are just other people.

There is xenophobia as discrimination, when seeking employment, for example. Unfortunately, practical discrimination has been underresearched. What matters most is that people do not even perceive some forms of it as discrimination. For example, people are not ashamed to write in an ad that they will rent a flat only to a Slavic family. It is useless to fight this. It is a matter of the social atmosphere [sic].

Finally, the most aggressive form of xenophobia is physical violence. In recent years, the figures have been steadily declining. Just the other day, Sova Center published a new report based on the figures for last year. I would note there is not necessarily a meaningful connection with the decline of popular xenophobia, because assaults are not committed by the masses, but by ideologically motivated young people, who might have completely different opinions from the masses. This is more likely the consequence of a depression amongst radically minded young people. They are scared. They don’t really want to commit assaults [sic]. In the previous decade, they did not know the fear of God at all, as the saying goes, but then Center “E” [Russia’s “anti-extremism” police, established from disbanded anti-organized crime squads during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency] went after them. Many street fighters went to prison, and this changed the situation.

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Shirinsho “Handsome” Vohidov, from Tajikistan. Photo by Anna Artemieva. See Shirinsho’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

Medical Disenfranchisement
When migrant workers take ill in Russia, it is no simple matter for them to recover.

“To enroll at a district outpatient clinic, you need to have a temporary residence permit or residence permit, permanent registration,” says Daniil Kashnitsky, a junior researcher at the Higher School of Economics. “However, a poor command of information and the Russian language, as well as a lack of legal knowledge, means that when migrant workers are yelled at by employees at the intake desk, they leave and do not come back. There are many such instances.”

There is the option of going to a private clinic, but sometimes only a state clinic can help, for example, when tuberculosis is diagnosed. It can help, but it is not obliged.

“Tuberculosis has a dangerous phase when it is communicable through airborne droplets. Patients must be hospitalized during this phase. They should stay in hospital until the tuberculosis bacterium goes away, and they are no longer a danger to others. This usually takes two or three months,” explains Kashnitsky.

If migrant workers are hospitalized due to an accident, the treatment is free, of course, but the attitude towards them will be correspondingly shabby. Last year, when a busload of migrant workers was hit by a train near Vladimir, killing seventeen people, the local hospitals treated several severely injured people.

“I asked that an injured child be sent to Moscow. Two days later, he died in our regional hospital. I remember the child. He was a year and a half old, from an Uzbek family. I said, ‘Why did you send him to our hospital? Call a helicopter and take him to Moscow: he’ll get better help there.’ I was told the decision had been made by the health department,” recounts Alla Boyarova, director of an employment agency for migrant workers. On the morning of the tragedy, her husband had rushed to help the affected immigrants.

Zoyir Karimov, Boyarova’s husband, is deputy chair of the Tajik diaspora in Vladimir. He recalls that the adult victims had huge problems.

“Two of them did not make full recoveries in hospital. They were not operated on and were sent back in this shape to Uzbekistan. They were told they could buy special plates, but they had no money. One broke his shoulder, the other, his leg,” says Karimov.

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Infographic No. 1: Sources of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, per information gathered by the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. Police — 1,814 incidents (86.3%); immigration centers — 196 incidents (9.3%); migration service — 53 incidents (2.5%); other state agencies — 29 incidents (1.4%); other organizations — 11 incidents (0.5%). Infographic No. 2: Forms of corruption in the migrant labor sector, 2017, according to the human rights organization Tong Jahoni. “Verification” of registration status — 5,304 incidents (78.3%); arbitrary interpretation of the law — 896 incidents (13.1%); threats by police to file trumped-up administrative charges — 340 incidents (5.0%); high-pressure selling of unnecessary “services” — 196 incidents (3.0%); forcing migrant workers to use a particular middleman when filing papers — 41 incidents (0.6%). Infographics courtesy of Veronika Tsotsko and Novaya Gazeta

Blockchain to the Rescue
It is tempting to dub what is happening in the Russian migrant labor sector a mess. In fact, however, it is more likely a restructuring of the system after the Federal Migration Service (FMS) was incorporated into the Interior Ministry in 2016. The relationship with migrant workers has changed because what the Interior Ministry does most of all is punish people. Many of the organizations that dealt with drawing up papers for migrant workers have been turned into limited liability companies, meaning it has become nearly impossible to monitor their policies, and human rights activists have huge gripes with the new state-run immigration centers. New law bills that have been tabled will only aggravate the circumstances, reducing migrant workers to semi-slave status in Russia.

The question is simple: what to do? At a January 29 meeting of human rights activists to discuss the issue of immigration (a meeting not attended by diaspora leaders) various proposals were voiced. Vladimir Khomyakov, co-chair of the grassroots movement People’s Assembly (Narodnyi Sobor), made the most radical and regressive proposal at the round table.

“We need the strictest possible oversight of each person’s stay in Russia, not just this buying a work permit and hanging out wherever you want,” said Khomyakov. “We need a system of mutual obligations. We need a single government agency that would deal with immigration and use a single database.”

People who intend to travel to Russia should obtain all the papers they need at Russian consulates in their own countries, and each migrant worker should be assigned an ID number under which all information about him or her would stored, argued Khomyakov.

Totalitarian oversight in return for peace and quiet.

But Khomyakov’s idea was not met with unanimous approval by round table participants, just like the proposal, made Vyacheslav Postavnin, former deputy head of the FMS and president of the 21st Century Immigration Foundation [sic], to move immigration registration online or, at least, make it obligatory for immigrants to check in with the migration service by telephone. Some human rights activists were outraged by the fact this would make it easier for terrorists to hide [sic].

“Terrorists never violate immigration laws. Terrorist acts are complicated operations. What, they are going to put themselves at risk of being stopped by police for failing to reregister on time?” Postavnin countered crossly.

He was told that hackers could erase or damage the entiere online database, to which the former deputy head of the FMS showed off his knowledge of the word “blockchain.”

“Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t erase it,” he said.

Tatyana Dmitrieva, deputy head of the Department for Coordinating Local Immigration Offices and Accountable Forms in the Immigration Directorate of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow Office, did not like any of these proposals. She only remarked that the ministry wholly supported a new law bill that would punish legal entities for providing fictitious registration, and that a consensua had to be reached with regard to thorny issues.

The discussion’s moderator, Fyodor Dragoi, chair of the Committee for Safety, Public Diplomacy and Public Oversight at the Council for Ethnic Affairs in the Moscow City Govermnent, suggested drawing up a list of proposals after the discusssion, since “this tumor [could] burst any minute,” and the problem had to be solved.

Another, autonomous proposal has been made by the Center for Strategic Research (CSR), which has published its report on immigration. Recognizing a decline in migration flows from the CIS countries in recent years—2017 saw an increase the numbers of migrant workers from many countries, but the numbers have not returned to pre-crisis levels—the report’s authors propose their own measures for maintaining a migration flow of 250,000 people to 300,000 people annually, which they claim is a necessary number for modern Russia. In particular, they propose introducing something like a green card for highly qualified immigrants in order to stimulate the influx, as well as work cards that would make it easier to obtain a residence permit.

Something has to be done, since Russia will have lost thirteen million able-bodied people by 2030, but internal resources for population growth have been exhausted.

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Viorel, a Moldovan, on a lunchbreak with his workmates. Photo by Viktoria Odissonova. See Viorel’s story in Novaya Gazeta′s special project Muscovites

The problem is that there are not unlimited numbers of highly qualified immigrants, and the ones there are drift in other directions. To take one example, the number of migrant workers from Moldova has decreased over the last two years by more than one and a half times, from 250,000 to 157,000. They have begun looking towards the European Union.  The number of migrant workers from the Eurasian Union has been growing, but their numbers are also limited, especially because Kazakhstani workers, for example, are needed in Kazakhstan itself, a country that, due to geographical proximity, grabs Kyrgyzstani workers away from Russia. The number of immigrants from Tajikistan have been growing steadily. On the other hand, while the number of Uzbekistanis coming to Moscow has grown over the past year, to a million and a half registered nationals, it would seem the numbers will eventually decline, since more convenient job markets have opened up to them.

“Turkey and the Emirates are currently very interesting and attractive to migrant workers from Asia,” says attorney Yulduz Ataniyazova. “The economy there is civilized, and there is a niche in the economy for unskilled workers. At the same time, the workers are provided with normal working conditions. For example, I know that in the Emirates migrant workers who clean houses and work in restaurants note that the cleaning liquids there are less harsh [sic]. This has now become important to them.”

However, the wages there are less than in Moscow, generally, but it depends on how you look at it.

“Uzbeks start doing the maths, and it turns out that here they will pay out more in bribes, whereas in Turkey a policeman would never approach them for no reason at all,” explains Chupik.

Workers from the CIS will keep coming to Russia for some time, of course. But if Russia toughens the rules for migrant workers, even the most desperate adventurers from the CIS countries will prefer, in time, to go somewhere else, to a place where they can work without risking their lives, health, and human dignity, not to mention their wallets.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Perhaps I should have a three [sic]s and you’re out rule on this website, but despite the number of dubious or simply odd claims made by the article’s authors and the experts they quote, I thought there was enough important information and nontrivial viewpoints in the article to make it worth my while to translate and your while to read.

However, on one point—the claim that nationalists and neo-Nazis have come to naught in Russia, and hence the number of assaults on migrant workers has precipitously decreased—I was so bothered I turned to my friend W., a person who has been involved with immigrant rights in Russia both professionally and personally for many years. Here is their response.

“They are engaging in wishful thinking. Nationalism and neo-Nazism have not gone away. It has become very difficult to keep track of attacks. Officially, such reports are not welcome and are rarely discussed in the media. This is the current trend. None of this exists anymore in Russia, allegedly, while in Ukraine, for example, there has been a serious increase in anti-Semitism. According to the official interpretation, there is almost no anti-Semitism in Russia, although there were several egregious incidents in January. Basically, nobody cares about this business, and Jewish organizations mainly smooth over the potentially negative consequences of vociferous discussions.” 

I should also point out the folly of relying on public opinion polling data in an authoritarian country like Russia, where respondents can be expected to give what they think is the “right” answer out of a fear bred into the society in Soviet times.

Nevertheless, in the absence of free elections and other real political freedoms, the Putin years have been a boom time for the country’s main pollsters, VTsIOM (mentioned in this article), FOM, and the supposedly independent Levada Center. They have polled away with merry abandon, and Russian and international journalists, many of them too lazy or lacking the time to do real reporting, have become increasingly dependent on the utterly falsified portrait of “average Russians” the country’s troika of loyalist pollsters has been painting over the last eighteen years. I have dubbed the phenomenon “pollocracy” and discussed it many times on this website. TRR

Nikolay Mitrokhin: The Church Militant, The Radio Complicit

Father Vsevolod Chaplin. Photo courtesy of Realnoye Vremya and Anna Artemieva (novayagazeta.ru)
Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the Russian Orthodox priest who recently argued on Russian radio station Echo of Moscow that it was sometimes necessary and possible to “destroy” whole groups of people as “internal enemies.” Photo courtesy of Realnoye Vremya and Anna Artemieva (novayagazeta.ru)

“For the Church, Violence Is the Norm”
Valentin Baryshnikov
Radio Svoboda
August 16, 2016

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, long-time head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Synodal Department for Cooperation between Church and Society, made an appearance on Echo of Moscow radio in which he shocked many people by saying that some people “can and should be killed.”

Here is an excerpt of Father Chaplain’s appearance on Echo, which began with a discussion of erecting a monument to Ivan the Terrible in Oryol.

Presenter: Yes, but with that rationale you can also justify Stalin, for example. Sure, there were excesses, but he was an effective manager, they say.

Vsevolod Chaplin: He did a lot. Listen, at the end of the day what is wrong with destroying a certain number of internal enemies?

Presenter: “Destroying” people, that is what is wrong.

Vsevolod Chaplin: What is wrong with that?

Presenter: You cannot kill people!

Vsevolod Chaplin: Why not? Some people can and should be killed. That is for sure.

Presenter: “Some people”? Which ones are those?

Vsevolod Chaplin: So it is no accident that criminals are destroyed, and no accident—

Presenter:  I would remind you the death penalty has been abolished in Russia.*

Vsevolod Chaplin: I am not sure that was the right decision. Look, even God, if we read the Old Testament, if we read the Apocalypse, that is, the New Testament, directly sanctioned and sanctions in the future the destruction of a huge number of people for the edification of others.  For the edification of societies, it is sometimes necessary to destroy a certain number of people who deserve to be destroyed.

* In fact, capital punishment has not been abolished in the Russian Federation. President Yeltsin placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 1996 so that Russia could meet the requirements for joining the Council of Europe. The moratorium has remained in effect since then, but the death penalty is still listed in the law books as a legal punishment for certain crimes. TRR

When asked whether Chaplin’s statement was his personal opinion or a reflection of conversations within the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Nikolay Mitrokhin, a sociologist of religion and author of the book The Russian Orthodox Church: Its Current State and Challenges, confidently replied that church insiders think this way.

Nikolay Mitrokhin: The majority of rank-and-file clergy and the bishops are quite militantly minded. They do not rule out violence. Violence is the norm in ecclesiastical practice. Bishops hit priests who do something wrong on the altar. Its is a popular subject of stories told within the Church. In turn, priests are capable of hitting sacristans and subdeacons. The Church is now also the leading social institution that has come out against so-called juvenile justice, in other words, against bans on beating children. So for the Church, violence is the norm.  The Church supports militarist rhetoric. The Church supports the numerous military-patriotic clubs operating under its auspices. If you chat with a rank-and-file priest, he will surely talk like Chaplin or worse. It is another question whether it was worth putting Chaplin on the radio and giving his cannibalistic ideas a platform.  However, that is the stance of Echo of Moscow, which has given various kinds of fascists the chance to speak out on its airwaves. Let us not forget that several right-wing radicals have their own programs on the station.  So it all fits, in the first place, not only the mindset of the ROC but also the mindset of Echo of Moscow.

Echo of Moscow actually plans not to publish the transcript of this speech and, as far as I can tell, will not be inviting Father Chaplin on the air again.

With Chaplin’s appearance, they have reached a point where a lot of people have wondered whether the prosecutor’s office is asleep at the wheel and whether they should not file a complaint against Echo of Moscow radio station. In this case, they face quite specific criminal charges. But the reason they invited Chaplin to appear on the air is itself quite obvious. Yet again they had to rile up the liberal public with harsh statements so that a discussion would emerge around them. They are not shy about inviting someone who on several occasions has voiced his tough and, quite frankly, fascist stance. So I think this was a big mistake on the part of Echo of Moscow, which is no less liable for the statements than the person who made them.

When Chaplin says this, when priests en masse within the ROC hold such positions, does this somehow link up in their minds, if I can put it is this way, with the concept of Jesus Christ, who spoke of love and non-violence?

As we know, there is no Christ in the ROC. There is Orthodoxy in the ROC, but there is no Christ in the Church in the sense in which the idea of Christ was shaped by the Russian intelligentsia in the early twentieth century. For centuries, the phrase that Jesus is love just did not make sense. It was not a subject the clergy considered. From that point of view, it is not clear why it should be considered now. The concepts that the liberal intelligentsia have been attempting to discuss are all seemingly variations on western Christianity, so-called post-Holocaust thought, which has nothing to do with what the majority of the ROC’s ordinary parishioners think and believe. They see Orthodoxy as the national religion, which provides them with spiritual strength to oppose the “godless” west, and so on.  So Chaplin, who was driven from his post in the Church, deliberately shocked the audience by divulging what the conservative half of his brain thinks. The audience talked about it. Basically, though, any average Russian priest, whomever you approach, thinks exactly the same thing.

Does it come from the Church? Or does the Church trail behind its flock?

It comes from the Church, of course. Within the Church there has long existed a concept, which has been its main content, that has to do with Russian nationalism and militarism. The vast majority of the clergy espouse these ideas and communicate them to parishioners in one form or another. It is another matter to what extent the Church’s leadership controls all of this. To what extent are the clergy permitted to speak out or keep quiet about political issues? This is something that the Church’s leadership monitors. When it wanted the ROC to have a fairly decent image in Ukraine, priests were told they should not travel to Ukraine and help the separatists. A couple of people who violated the ban were banned from the ministry. The Russian clergy immediately began speaking carefully about Ukraine. The clergy can keep thinking as aggressively as it likes. The question is the things it will say in ordinary life. This is something that can be regulated both by society and the state.

Let us come back later to the question of regulation on the part of society and the sate. Let’s talk about the situation within the Church. Are there priests who follow the idea that God is love?

This is a concept common among a very narrow segment of Moscow and Petersburg intelligentsia, among university-educated intellectuals in the broad sense. The majority of clergymen have no secular education whatsoever (I mean higher education), and they have had a very average secondary education. Many of them either do not know about this concept or regard it as a bit of intellectualizing. There are individual priests (among the ROC’s 20,000 priests you might find several hundred, at best) who espouse this concept. But they are outside the mainstream of the Church and do not constitute a respected or influential minority.

Are they persecuted within the Church?

No, but these ideas are so remote from what priests really do it is impossible to say they in any way define the life of the Church. Especially because ideas of this sort are clearly articulated only by individual priests, priests who are closely associated, again, with liberal circles. One level down, in the provinces, a priest can very well tell his parishioners that Christ is love while running a military-patriotic club. It all gels perfectly in their minds depending on their personal views and the last book they read ten years ago. Nothing contradicts anything else. That is why priests with distinctly liberal views who are willing to say that God is love amount to a dozen. They are known to journalists, who turn to them all the time. Beyond the confines of this narrow circle, such concepts are not particularly popular, and they are not subjects of conversation.

The real life of the clergy and the real ideas in their minds are so diverse, so not amenable to systematization, that we can speak of a society, an ideology, that is in fact unknown to us. We can speak of their militarism. But for some priests this militarism is clearly defined—they wear camouflage all the time except during services—while other priests have these ideas in their heads, but they do not express them too publicly, because they think they should say something else to their parishes. In addition, there are the changes that come with age. When they are young, people’s blood runs hotter. As they age, they become smarter, but in old age, on the contrary, they lose their heads, senility sets in, and they can say things that completely contradict what they had said fifteen or twenty years earlier. For example, Father Dmitry Dudko became a communist in old age, although his whole life he was a harsh anti-communist. It is a dynamic environment of generally anti-liberal ideas, but certain noble notions can be found in what they think or say.

What about the natural objection that, in the twentieth century, a huge number of Russian Orthodox priests were murdered by the Bolsheviks on the same grounds that Father Chaplin cited? Does this objection just have no effect on these people? Do they not feel they are the successors to those priests, to the church that was destroyed by this massive crackdown?

They feel like this when it suits them. When they have to argue with the former collective farm chair and current local council head that the church needs paint, they remember the new martyrs. Generally, a person who is willing to remember the new martyrs was probably a Party or Communist Youth League member or even a political officer in the Soviet Army (that is a quite common case) or a local university graduate who wrote pro-Soviet articles. The fact is that there are very few people directly associated with the new martyrs in Russia, and there are fewer of them as the years go by. The bulk of the Church consists of former Soviet people who until 1991 believed in socialist ideas of some kind, were card-carrying Party members, were involved in political organizations, and did not give a second thought to anything religious. Ideas about the regime’s responsibility, ideas about the memory of the mass repressions, all had some importance in the late 1980s, but then quickly came to naught. In this case, what is urgent for the ROC is the question of so-called post-Holocaust thought that the intelligentsia has proposed, meaning the awareness of guilt and the needlessness of so many victims, but the Church has consistently rejected all this now. It believes you can kill, but you have to pick the right group to kill, as Chaplin said. This is the basis of the current ROC’s ideology.

Nikolay Mitrokhin is a research fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. He is the author of important books on the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian nationalist movements in the postwar Soviet Union. Read his previous reflection on the fascization of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Right-Wing Saints.” Translated by the Russian Reader

Sparta F.C.

Russian football hooligans attacking an opponet in Marseille. Photo courtesy of tribuna.sports.ru
Russian football hooligans attacking an opponent in Marseille. Photo courtesy of tribuna.sports.ru

Come on I will show you how I will change
When you give me something to slaughter
Shepherd boy (Hey!)
Everybody sing (Hey!)
Better act quick (Hey!)

Be my toy
Come on have a bet
We live on blood
We are Sparta F.C.

The Russian National Football Hooligans Squad: The Russia They Represent in Marseille
Sergei Medvedev
Forbes.ru
June 14, 2016

Russia has fought yet another small victorious war. On the eve of the national squad’s first match in Euro 2015, a couple dozen Russian fans routed the numerically superior forces of the English fans in the Old Port of Marseille. A day later, right after the match, they went berserk in the English sector at the stadium, beating up everyone in their path, including spectators with families and elderly people. The results were distressing. At least thirty-five people were injured, and a fifty-year-old English fan who was crowbarred over the head is at death’s door. As punishment, UEFA has provisionally suspended the Russian team until the end of Euro 2016 (if the violations are repeated, we will be completely disqualified from the championship) and fined the Russian Football Union 150,000 euros, including for the racist behavior of the Russian sector during the match against England. On June 14, French police detained fifty people from the Russian Union of Supporters, led by the notorious Alexander Shprygin (aka Kamancha) and held them for twenty-four hours. Russian fans made the top world news headlines (isn’t it what they wanted?), and Russia’s chances of losing the right to host the 2018 World Cup have seriously increased.

This shameful episode perhaps should not deserve such attention. Football hooliganism has long ago turned into a sanctuary of violence and a near equivalent of world war. Fans of all countries fight and run rampant, and massacres happen too, like the tragedy at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, which left thirty-nine people dead and led to all English clubs being banned from UEFA competitions for five years. And Marseille well remembers the English fans during the 1998 World Cup, who staged a donnybrook with fans from Tunisia and smashed up half the town.

But the difference lies elsewhere. While in England, supporters are unanimously condemned by society and politicians in the wake of such scandals, over the last few days the football hooligans have figured almost as national heroes in Russia. Dmitry Yegorov, a reporter for Soviet Sport, live tweeted the carnage, commenting it like a football match and admiring the organization and physical training of the Russians. Social media have been buzzing with approval for the supporter, who smacked the spineless English upside the head and stood up for Russia like the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae. A blog by sports journalist Andrei Malosolov entitled “Why the Victory of Russian Supporters in the Port of Marseille Is Cool!” has been especially popular.

What is even more curious, the Russian hooligans have enjoyed the backing of high-ranking officials. Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin commented on the reaction of the Marseille authorities on Twitter, calling the Russian fans “well-trained fighters.”

“A normal man, as he should be, surprises them,” he wrote. “They’re used to seeing ‘men’ at gay parades.”

LDPR State Duma deputy Igor Lebedev (whose aides include Shprygin aka Kamancha), a member of the Russian Football Union’s executive committee, wrote, “I don’t see anything terrible about fans fighting. On the contrary, our guys were great. Keep it up!”

“If [Russian sports minister Vitaly] Mutko had been with the fans in the stands, he would have fought too,” Lebedev suggested later, in an interview.

Here we have to acknowledge one unpleasant thing. The fans in Marseille supply a honest picture of official policy and conventional wisdom in post-Crimea Russia.

They are waging the same hybrid so popular in our propaganda, infiltrating well-trained fighters, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and disguised as “holidaymakers,” into France, using force selectively and purposefully, attacking in unexpected places. The web is now full of rumors the hooligans were really Russian military intelligence (GRU) special ops units, who had infiltrated the championship to intimidate Europeans, so pumped-up, organized, and sober did the Russian hooligans appear in the numerous videos, but we shall leave this hypothesis to fans of conspiracy theories. As I imagine it, a joint detachment of so-called ultras from different “firms” of fans, fighters experienced in street brawling, converged in Marseille, attacking beer-bellied English “Kuzmiches,” i.e., simple fans who had come not fight, but to cheer and show off, some accompanied by their families.

One Russian fan admitted as much in an interview that our guys had come to fight.

“It doesn’t matter what cities our fans are from and what teams they support. What matters is that we are from Russia and are going to fight against the English. They have always said they are the main football hooligans. We are here to show that English fans are girls.”

Russian football hooligans displaying captured English flags. Photo courtesy of tribuna.sports.ru
Russian football hooligans displaying captured English flags. Photo courtesy of tribuna.sports.ru

So even if the Russian assault was not really a planned military operation, such rumors do not come out of nowhere. First, Russia is not a novice at “hybrid” interventions in social movements in Europe. It has organized rallies and agitprop campaigns, worked skillfully through the media to fuel anti-immigrant sentiments, cooperated with right-wing radical and neofascist movements, and supported scandalous populists and European separatists. Just as in Soviet times the Comintern engaged in subversion in western countries, Russia has been worming its way into the cracks and fissures of European society. It has been trying to weaken the west from within, explaining it in terms of a total “information war.” Alarmed Europeans see the Russian ultras in this light.

Second, football supporters really are one of the combat units of the regime, which has an irresistible attraction to various groups of mummers who try and make a show of strength, such as Cossacks, bikers, and football supporters. Members of these stern fraternities are invited to drink tea with high officials. They are identified as exemplars of patriotism. They are awarded civil society development grants. And when push comes to shove, they are sent out on so-called Russian Marches and sicked on opposition rallies and individual dissidents. However, the football hooligans are as alien to the football tradition as the Surgeon’s latex bikers, with their Orthodox banners and Saint George’s ribbons, are to the rebellion and freedom of Easy Rider, and the paunchy “Cossacks,” with their glued-on topknots and cardboard medals, specialists in fighting gays and theater productions, are to the honor and glory of Russian Cossacks. They are all fakes in the era of Putin and Pelevin. When “the public” is a total simulation, protest countercultures turn into vehicles for dull officialdom and perfunctory patriotism, into tamed grant recipients.

Finally, the Russian fans (at least the ones who are photographed by reporters) are the readymade products of official propaganda, reproducing on their clothes and bodies all the typical corny kitsch of the era of Crimea and “getting up off our knees”: t-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “polite people” and “we don’t abandon our own,” budyonovkas and earflap caps twinkling with red stars, banners displaying toothy bears and Slavic Siegfrieds, kids in Armata tank t-shirts and, as the apotheosis of all this patriotic trash, a gigantic tricolor, covering half the Russian sector at the stadium, inscribed with the message “YOU’RE FUCKED.” Apparently, these people see this as the new Russia’s national idea.

This mayhem, however, kicked off long before Crimea. Russian fans have usually reserved the most boorish displays of great-power chauvinism and racism for trips abroad. In the Czech Republic, Russian hockey fans unfurled banners emblazoned with tanks and the promise to reprise 1968. In downtown Warsaw in 2012, football supporters staged a march in honor of Russia Day, nearly provoking a battle royal with Polish ultras. Fueled by beer and egged on by propaganda, Russian resentment shows itself to the hilt in the stands at football and hockey matches, taking symbolic revenge for the Soviet empire. Yeah, we forfeited a great power and never have learned how to play football, but we can smash chairs and smack Europeans in the kisser, “kick the shit” (otbutskat) out of them, as Vladimir Putin once put it, invoking a football supporter coinage. Ultimately, wasn’t it Putin who shared a bit of popular wisdom drawn from a tough childhood in Petersburg’s courtyards, i.e., you have to hit first?

The fans in Marseille did just that, and in this sense they are worthy ambassadors of Putin’s Russia.

As MP Lebedev would have it, they should be greeted at the airport as heroes, just as the bikers have been greeted when they return from their patriotic motorcycle rallies. They should be secretly awarded state honors, as the “polite people” were in their time for bringing Crimea back into the fold. And they should be elected to seats in the Public Chamber and State Duma. Football hooliganism is a matter of national importance in hybrid Russia.

The term “football hooliganism” (okolofutbol) quite precisely reflects the essence of events. Despite the adult budgets of its premier league teams and national squad, despite the purchase of international stars (a typical strategy of superficial modernization), Russia has remained an average performer in the world rankings, both in terms of its own national championship and the performances of its national team. Before the start of the Euro 2016, our country was ranked twenty-ninth in FIFA’s world ratings. But, at the same time, a fan movement based on the British model has very quickly and naturally put down roots in Russia. Books by Dougie Brimson, who has written authoritatively on England’s football fan culture, have achieved cult status among Russian supporters. Without becoming a world football power, Russia has succeeded brilliantly in hybrid football hooliganism, spewing its entrenched and publicly recognized culture of violence onto the international arena.

But Russia has been engaged in the same hybrid “football hooliganism” in Ukraine, where it has not been waging an open war, but delegating well-trained groups of fighters, and in Syria, where it arrived with its own agenda and has been bombing targets for reasons known only to it, and in Europe, where it has banked on populism, separatism, and breaking up the European Union.

Football hooliganism substitutes fair play, real work, and the painstaking cultivation of institutions with violent action and demonstrative bullying. This is not the first year the entire Russian state has been playing at football hooliganism. The hooligans in Marseille are merely its away side.

Sergei Medvedev is a journalist, historian, and faculty member at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader

__________

The Beautiful Game

Young Russian football fans at the European Championships in France. The youngster on the far left, draped in a Russian flag, is a wearing a t-short that says, "You're all fucked. T-14 Armata." The T-14 Armata is a new Russian battle tank that made its debut during the 2015 Victory Day parade in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Andrei Malgin
Young Russian football fans at the European Championships in France. The youngster on the far left, draped in a Russian flag, is a wearing a t-shirt that says, “You’re all fucked. T-14 Armata.” The T-14 Armata is a new Russian battle tank that made its debut during the 2015 Victory Day parade in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Andrei Malgin

It’s not cheap entertainment, especially during a crisis, to travel to France. And well, well, people who are far from poor arrived there and made a bloody mess. This is how the Russian elite has a good time now, fueled by alcohol and Great Russian chauvinism, with encouragement from Russian TV.
—Alina Kluchevskaya, June 12, 2016 (Facebook)

“You could easily see who they were. They had black T-shirts with Russian writing on, and were all extremely muscular. They didn’t muck about. They picked out English blokes to attack, and then ran off when the police arrived.”

Russians in Marseille. Photograph: Stewart Kendall/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Translation of Alina Kluchevskaya’s remarks by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade DK for the heads-up on the photo of the cute kids.

The Orangutan Project

saveforest03-400x400

Last Saturday night, I read this story by Lika Frenkel on her Facebook page:

Near my house, just off Nevsky, two drunken Russian FC Zenit fans assaulted an Uzbek worker repairing the porch. They were giving him a ferocious beating, but when I cried for help, a a Russian dude popped up and yelled, “Young lady, those are our own Russian lads. They’re doing the right thing!” Thank God, another [Uzbek] worker came running and fought out his countryman’s attackers. I called the police. The Russians dashed off down Nevsky. Only a skateboarder reacted to my heart-rending cries of “Stop them! They beat up a man!” But it was too late: the fascists got away. The police went looking for them. I returned home and brought the Uzbeks clean towels. The young man’s head was badly injured. The other man turned out to be his brother. He said to me, “You think this is the first time? My brother is a doctor himself. He just arrived [in Russia]. I’m used to it. I would have given them what they had coming, only there are cameras everywhere here, and I don’t want to draw attention to myself.

Just like my fierce friend Lika Frenkel, Al Jazeera’s doco about former Perth zookeeper Leif Cocks and his Orangutan Project, below, will restore your faith not in humanity per se but in the fact that our planet still occasionally produces actual human beings, people capable of seeing and actively defending the humanity in Tajiks and Uzbeks (as in Lika’s case) and personhood in endangered and captive orangutans (as in Leif Cocks’s case).

If you are wondering how I make such absurd thematic leaps, it’s simple. After reading Lika’s late-night story, I got into bed and listened to this interview with Leif Cocks on ABC Radio National before drifting off to sleep.

Needless to say, a double dose of militant empathetic humanity like that made me sleep like a baby all through the night. All is not right with the world, to be sure, but there are heroes in our midst like Lika Frenkel and Leif Cocks. We need to identify them, celebrate them, and, most of all, emulate them.

Story translated by the Russian Reader. Image, above, courtesy of the Orangutan Project.