Our Thaw

Sergei Yolkin, “Thaw.” Courtesy of RFE/RL via Radikal.ru

Our Thaw: a fair court decision as evidence of a catastrophe
The cautionary tale of an “extremist” comment
Ivan Davydov
Republic
April 11, 2021

Let’s start with the good news: “The Kalinin District Court of St. Petersburg refused to grant investigators their request to place under house arrest a local resident accused of exonerating terrorism. This was reported on Friday by the joint press service of the city’s courts. The court imposed a preventive measure against the defendant, Alexander Ovchinnikov, by forbidding him from doing certain things until June 6. In particular, Ovchinnikov is not allowed to leave his apartment between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, to be in places where mass public events are held and to use the internet.”

We should make it clear that we are talking about a terrible state criminal: “The 48-year-old Ovchinnikov was detained on April 7. Law enforcement agencies believe that in August 2020 he posted ‘comments justifying terrorism’ on the RT News in Russian community page on VKontakte.”

First, let us note the uncharacteristic humanity exhibited by the investigators in the case. They could have tried to get Ovchinnikov remanded in custody for such actions, but no, they reined themselves in and only sought house arrest for the perp. Second, this really is good news. The court refused to put Citizen Ovchinnikov under house arrest, deigning instead only to slightly complicate his life. Staying at home at night is much better than staying at home all the time. And sitting around with no internet is incomparably better than sitting in jail.

The court did not make a cannibalistic ruling at all – another reason to rejoice!

When hearing such news, it is customary to joke, “It’s the Thaw all over again.” And also to say (just as jocularly), “Another victory for civil society!” But in this particular case, the second joke is not particularly appropriate. Civil society was not interested in Ovchinnikov’s plight, and no one made any effort to fight for his freedom.

This does not mean that the criminal will escape punishment: the investigators are working, and the court is waiting. There is a good possibility that for his terrible acts (“committed using the media or electronic or information and telecommunications networks, including the internet”), Ovchinnikov could face a heavy fine measuring in the millions of rubles (it’s the going thing nowadays: the big bosses would do not agree to less — times are difficult, the state coffers are empty, people are the new petroleum) or even a stint in prison.

The price of meekness
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of comment Citizen Ovchinnikov left on “RT’s official page.” It is quite possible that it was something stupid. And this is a telling aspect of the story: as part of my job, I have to keep track of trending news via feeds from the wire services. A few years ago, Ovchinnikov would have been a star. All the sane outlets would have written indignantly that a person was being tried for a social media comment. The insane outlets would have written something like, “A dangerous accomplice of terrorists was neutralized by valiant law enforcement officers in the president’s hometown.” We would know, perhaps, not only what exactly Alexander Ovchinnikov did to upset Margarita Simonyan’s underlings, but also all the details of his biography.

Nowadays, however, Ovchinnikov’s case is routine. There are dozens of such cases underway, and you can’t keep track of all of them. A story like this would only arouse interest if a more or less well-known person was under attack. Or the context would matter. We shouldn’t forget that among the criminal cases opened in the wake of January’s pro-Navalny protests, there are two that directly involve social network posts – the so-called Sanitary Case* and the “Involving Minors in Unauthorized Protests” Case. People will be put on trial, and they will be sentenced to prison, fines or probation.

The lack of public interest is understandable and even, perhaps, excusable. But it says a lot about how the Russian state and Russian society have mutated. Everyone regards cases like Ovchinnikov’s as commonplace. Meanwhile, the powers that be have usurped the right to punish people for their words, including words that are obviously insignificant. (Terrorism, of course, is a disgusting thing, but it is unlikely that a comment, even on the page of a propaganda TV channel, will somehow contribute particularly strongly to the success of world terrorism, and I assure you that those who are eager to jail people for social media comments also get this.) The authorities have come up with a lot of different reasons to punish people for their words. Thousands of specialists are busy searching for the wrong words, lives are broken, and careers are made.

But for us civilians it has also become commonplace. We have got used to it, recognized the right of the authorities to do as they like, and stopped being particularly indignant.

When the state is focused on lawlessness, norms are shaped not by deliberately repressive laws, but by our willingness to put up with how they are applied.

Norms and savagery
Fining or jailing people for the comments they make on social networks is savage, after all. Savage but normal. In a short while we’ll be telling ourselves that it’s always been like this. For the time being, however, searching the homes of opposition activists’ parents who have nothing to do with their children’s activism, interrogating journalists and political activists in the middle of the night, and torturing detainees after peaceful protests do not seem to be the norm. But it’s a matter of time — that is, a matter of habit. None of these things have sparked outsized outrage, so they too will become the norm.

But I have a sense that harsh crackdowns on peaceful protests have almost become the norm. What is surprising is when the security forces behave like human beings, as was the case during the Khabarovsk protests, for example. You mean the police didn’t break up the demo? What do you mean, they didn’t beat you? Was something the matter?

I remember how I was struck by a news item reported by state-controlled wire services after the first rally in support of Sergei Furgal: a little girl was lost in the crowd, and the National Guard helped her find her parents. The cops did their jobs, for a change, and that was amazing. The normal performance of their duties by the security forces looked like something completely crazy. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, we are now surprised when a court makes an utterly meaningless ruling that is not at all cannibalistic. It’s the Thaw all over again!

The norm looks wild, and wildness is the norm. So, perhaps, it is possible to describe where the Putinist state has arrived in its political devolution over the past few years. This is its supreme accomplishment.

If we follow the dictionary definitions, we should conclude there has been no state in Russia for some time. This is a different, new growth, and it is most likely malignant.

But this only works in one case – if society capitulates. A creepy monster like ours can only flourish in the ruins of society.

P.S. A trenchant critic might object: as if “they” do not have such a thing — putting people on trial for their words, and persecute for comments. Yes, it happens, of course, it happens. The most democratic of the democratic countries are not averse to biting off a little piece of their people’s freedoms, while grassroots activists, militants guided by the loftiest ideals, are happy to trample on other people’s freedom, and new centers of power, like the social networks, do not want to lag behind.

Recently, Facebook blocked a page run by a group of Moscow amateur historians who posted a text about the capital’s Khokhlovka district for a month for “hate speech.” Try to guess why. [Because “Khokhlovka” sounds similar to “khokhly,” a derogatory term for Ukrainians — TRR.]

Yes, in some sense, the Motherland, having made it a matter of policy to distance itself from the wider world, is following a global trend, however strange that may sound. Well, so much the worse for “them.” And for us. It is thus all the more important to remember how valuable freedom is.

* “The Sanitary Case is a series of criminal cases initiated for alleged violations sanitary and epidemiological norms during the January 23, 2021, protests in Moscow. It has been recognized by human rights defenders as part of the ongoing political crackdown in the Russian Federation. The defendants in the case are FBK (Anti-Corruption Foundation) employees Lyubov Sobol, Oleg Stepanov and Kira Yarmysh, municipal deputies Lyudmila Stein, Konstantin Yankauskas and Dmitry Baranovsky, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, Alexei Navalny’s brother Oleg, head of the trade union Alliance of Doctors Anastasia Vasilyeva, and former FBK employee Nikolai Lyaskin.”

Image courtesy of Radikal.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader

Number Seventeen

The Belomor Canal Administrative building in Medvezhyegorsk, Russia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Medvezhyegorsk Resident Suspected of “Condoning Terrorism” over Posts on VK Group Page
OVD Info
October 31, 2020

Yevgeny Gavrilov, a resident of Medvezhyegorsk and the admin of the public page Cocktail on the social network VK, is suspected of “condoning terrorism” (punishable under Part 2 of Article 205.2 of the criminal code) over posts about the bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices [on October 31, 2018]. Gavrilov informed OVD Info about the case himself.

The criminal case was launched due to two posts about Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk offices of FSB, as published on the group page Cocktail (Kokteil’). In the first post, dated November 2, 2018, the author, identified as Yarey Tengri, argues that “Russia can look forward to People’s Will-style underground terrorism.” The second post is an attempt by the Telegram channel Awakening (Probuzhdenie) to analyze Zhlobitsky’s actions.

Gavrilov has no idea why these posts were classified as “condoning terrorism.”

“I’m not an expert. Apparently, they didn’t like something about them. They could have asked VK to delete them, and then launched criminal cases,” he said.

According to Gavrilov, the security forces searched his home, seizing all his computer equipment and devices. He is free on his own recognizance. He is a suspect in the criminal investigation.

“At first, in 2017, Cocktail was conceived as a humor project,” says Gavrilov about his group page. “Then, a year later, as there was nothing for people to eat, [contributors] started writing to me: ‘Let’s slowly switch [the page’s agenda] more to politics. Living on an empty stomach is not funny.’ We shifted to politics and the economy, and then to a focus on the news. Now, probably, we will refrain from all this, but we are not closing the group yet.”

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Yevgeny Gavrilov is the seventeenth person in Russia who has been investigated or prosecuted for, allegedly, “exonerating” or “condoning” the apparent suicide bombing by Mikhail Zhlobitsky on October 31, 2018. The others are Sergei Arbuzov, Alexander MerkulovAlexei ShibanovSvetlana ProkopyevaNadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

And Then There Were Sixteen (“Condoning Terrorism” Witch Hunt Continues)

Vologda Resident Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Comments about Bombing at Arkhangelsk FSB
OVD Info
October 18, 2020

On October 15, the Vologda Garrison Military Court sentenced Sergei Arbuzov, a resident of Vologda, to five years in a high-security penal colony for “condoning terrorism on the internet” (punishable under Article 205.2.2 of the criminal code) writes local politician Sergei Gusev on his VK group page.

Arbuzov was found guilty of “condoning terrorism” over several comments he posted on a VK public page under a news item about anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s suicide bombing at the FSB’s Arkhangelsk offices.

Photo of a page from Arbuzov’s case file, as posted on the VK group page The Nationalist Guzhev Is the People’s Politician 

In particular, Arbuzov was charged with writing, on November 1, 2018, “That’s who should be given the title Hero of Russia: he did not cut himself any slack.” According to Guzhev, the accused had admitted his guilt, repented [sic] and actively cooperated with the prosecution throughout the investigation.

In addition, according to the politician, Arbuzov has two young children and certificates of merit for volunteering in the social sector. Despite this, the court sent the Vologda resident to a high-security penal colony for five years.

Sergei Arbuzov is the sixteenth person in Russia who has been convicted of or prosecuted for, allegedly, “exonerating” or “condoning” the suicide bomber Mikhail Zhlobitsky. The others are Alexander Merkulov, Alexei ShibanovSvetlana ProkopyevaNadezhda BelovaLyudmila StechOleg NemtsevIvan LyubshinAnton AmmosovPavel ZlomnovNadezhda RomasenkoAlexander DovydenkoGalina GorinaAlexander SokolovYekaterina Muranova15-year-old Moscow schoolboy Kirill, and Vyacheslav Lukichev. Translated by the Russian Reader

Rospotrebnadzor Axes “Public Refrigerator” in Petersburg

“A Project like This Is Impossible in Russia”: Why the Public Refrigerator Has Closed Forever
The organizer of the first public refrigerator in Russia explains why European know-how did not catch on here
Julia Galkina
The Village
November 16, 2016

Public Refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of The Village and Svetlana Kholyavchuk/TASS

The first public refrigerator opened on Sunday, November 13, in Petersburg, outside the Thank You! charity shop on Vasilyevsky Island. The organizers had hoped that all comers would put unwanted food in the refrigerator and freely taked it. The refrigerator operated for exactly one day. (Read Greenpeace’s report about what that looked like.) On Monday, November 14, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor sealed the refrigerator, explaining, “We welcome charity, but the present case concerns not items for the poor, but food products. With all due respect to the organizers, if food poisoning happens and someone gets hurts, Petersburgers will blame us.” On Tuesday, November 15, the organizers abandoned the idea and removed the refrigerator, remarking that “the project is not compatible with Russian legislation.” Now they “are looking for other forms of foodsharing offline.”

Such public refrigerators exist in Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Poland, and other countries. Why can Europeans manage it, but we cannot? We talked about this with Alexandra Lyogkaya, founder of the project Foodsharing: I Give Away Food for Free.

“As far as I know, the public refrigerators in European countries also work on the person-to-person system, the same way we wanted to organize it. The authorities there do not interfere with the work of such projects. In Russia, on the contrary, it didn’t take off, unfortunately.

“Thank You! was the only team in the city who agreed to try out the public refrigerator project with us. They made their porch available. We did all the prep work together, printing stickers and distributing adverts. It was a completely joint project. We did not vet anything with officials. We thought about it, but probably we counted on the good experience in western countries.

Queue at the public refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace
Queue at the public refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

“People brought a lot of products—sweets, fruits, and so on—right at opening time. The refrigerator opened at twelve noon on Sunday, and Rospotrebnadzor sealed it on Monday around one-thirty in the afternoon. Even afterwards people came to pick up and bring food. As far as I know, they keep coming even now. They just leave it outside, and someone has picked it up a few minutes later.

“We had no restrictions. Anyone at all could bring and pick up food. Of course, many old women and old men came to get food. By the way, originally, the idea had been that the refrigerator would be used by people who could not get food through our group page on Vkontakte. Yet many old ladies said they were also willing to bring food themselves.

“I was ready for anything. That the refrigerator would be stolen, that it would break down, that the police and regulatory authorities would come. Rosprotrebnadzor’s visit upset me, of course, but I cannot say I was in shock or didn’t expect it. I tried to be mentally prepared for any outcome.

“Rospotrebnadzor told us that a public refrigerator was impossible in Russia. We could organize a cart to feed all comers or a public cafeteria, but not something in which anyone can donate products. So each volunteer would have to have the relevant papers. If you put pasties or jam in the refrigerator, show us your certificates listing the ingredients and how it was made, stored, and transported.

“Because our project is purely nonprofit (no money is involved), we would not be able to organize something big-scale like a cafeteria. For now, unfortunately, we have nopt come up with a way of doing an offline foodsharing project that would be legal and just as simple as the public refrigerator.

“I really liked the way people reacted well to the refrigerator. I think that matters more than what happened later. If the authorities had allowed us to put it there, but people had not understood the idea and been against it, it would have been much worse.  So we just need to find the right form. People both young and old are ready for such a project.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Smash the Kikes and Save Russia!”

Smash the Kikes and Save Russia (2015)
Hard on the heels of migrants and gays, another minority has begun to fear for its safety: Jews. Svetlana Reiter spoke with two women who feel directly threatened
Svetlana Reiter
March 2, 2015
Colta.ru

Leokadia Frenkel
Program Coordinator, St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center
I set up a volunteer program to help the children of migrants three years ago, in May. Basically, we teach Russian to children of migrants from Central Asia, primarily from Uzbekistan, but there are children from Kyrgyzstan and a few from Georgia. Twice a week, they have Russian lessons, and every Sunday in the summer we go to a museum, take a trip to Pavlovsk or Peterhof, or just walk around the city. The younger group, preschoolers and first graders, we teach conversational language through games. We teach the older children, who already know how to read and write, Russian as foreign language. There are fourteen children in the younger group, and eight in the older group. I cannot say that they attend constantly. Some get ill, while others leave the country.

I myself am a philologist by training. Previously, I taught Russian language and literature in schools. I am Jewish.

detailed_pictureLeokadia Frenkel

When we opened, practically no one was working with migrant children. There were no classes: it had occurred to no one that something needed to be done with them. Naturally, when we opened, various media visited us to shoot segments and write articles. When I read the comments to these articles, I often felt uneasy: people wrote very harshly about migrants and their children. But I could scarcely have foreseen what has happened now.

I posted an ad for volunteers in Facebook and VKontakte. We cannot take just anyone: we need professional philologists, people able to work with children. We cannot take the average person who just feels sorry for migrants, and real teachers are few and far between. So I am constantly posting ads in social networks: look at what wonderful children we have, come and help us.

Not long ago I posted two more ads. A group on VKontakte calling itself Morality reposted one. I had a look. Morality’s moderator, Mikhail Kuzmin, put together an album containing 161 photos of me and published a post in which he wrote that the kike-liberal public goes to protest rallies and teaches Russian to “black” (chernye) children. This group is absolutely fascistic and anti-Semitic. They are constantly writing that migrants commit the majority of crimes in Russia. That “black” children attend our schools and spoil our children, the migrant children are wild animals who are uneducable. And those are the mildest things they write.

When this community was informed that a Jewish woman was teaching migrants, they were faced with what they understood as pure evil. Three and a half thousand people gladly lashed out at me. Kuzmin posted information about my son and my husband, and published an additional post about my family. He was outraged: how could it happen that kikes were teaching savages?! There is no place for either group in our society. Down with the kike-liberal opposition! Moreover, judging by his photographs, Kuzmin himself goes to LGBT rallies and beats up gay activists. He has an athletic physique: he practices boxing and fisticuffs at Sosnovka Park. In one photo, he is wearing a police uniform and sporting a badge. I don’t know whether he is really a policeman, but the photograph exists, just like snapshots where he is giving the Hitler salute or standing next to Deputy [Vitaly] Milonov [author of Petersburg’s infamous homophobic law].

The worst thing, of course, is that he not only haunts the social networks but that he walks the streets. I complained to the administration of VKontakte. They replied that if I didn’t like this group, I shouldn’t look at their postings, and that they close only those groups that directly threaten someone’s life.

I have said nothing to the migrant children. I am a good teacher; I know how to work with children. Ultimately, my job is to help those who have it worse than I do, not to make their lives even more unbearable. You see, in the schools these children accumulate hatred: teachers don’t like them and classmates fear them. These things give rise to reciprocal aggression.

It is hard to say whether the folks from Morality are threatening my life. If they practice fisticuffs at Sosnovka Park, what prevents them from visiting our Jewish center? Maybe one of their three and a half thousand subscribers will decide to harm me directly. And you know, I am less afraid to read things like “the black-assed bastards are uneducable, ask any teacher” and “the kike lady is out of her mind for black-assed goys” than to read what Kuzmin wrote about my son and my husband. I’m really afraid for my family.

The level of aggression is now completely crazy. Some moron could show up when I am teaching the children. We have no security guard armed with a machine gun at our center. The only thing I can do to protect myself somehow is talk about it publicly.

I always remember that the migrants have it worse off than I do. Their children have no beds. They sleep on the floor, and they are lucky if they have a mattress. And yet they go to school and study as much they can until they leave for home.

I have noticed that if I really come to like a pupil, he or she leaves immediately. Rarely do they study with us longer than two years. There were two lovely girls, half Kyrgyz, half Uzbek. They drew beautifully and sang beautifully. They were here for three years, now they have gone back home. I still correspond with one girl from Uzbekistan, Sitora, who is now seventeen years old. I remember she once told me she had never been to the theater in her life. Not once, can you imagine? But we take the children to the theater when we get free or discounted tickets.

During the winter break, we went to the Kunstkamera. Some Uzbek girls later asked why the Chinese have such strange, narrow eyes. And I told them, “Well, I have a big nose. What’s strange about that? All people are different.”

Tamriko Apakidze
Former lecturer at the Petersburg Institute of Jewish Studies
I moved to Germany this fall. I am trained as an Orientalist and religious scholar, and I taught at the Institute of Jewish Studies in Saint Petersburg. I encountered the Morality group quite by accident. A year ago, on March 14, I went to a demonstration at Kazan Cathedral. I had two small placards with me: “Crimea is Ukraine” and “Make love, not war.” Despite the warnings, I took the placards out periodically, not realizing that they turned my actions into a solo picket, especially because there were other people with placards.

fileTamriko Apakidze. Photo by Nikolai Simonovsky

The police nabbed me fairly quickly, at first along with my husband, but he was soon kicked out of the paddy wagon, and I spent four hours in the company of seven rather rude, in my opinion, police officers. It was they who took me to the station.

I had never been to a police station before, so at first I thought it was fun. But when they confiscated my internal passport and did not let me make a phone call, I was not amused. Aside from the rude cops, there was a nondescript young man who was quite polite. He listened courteously and attentively to the questions the police were asking me. He got quite excited when he heard I worked at the Institute of Jewish Studies. He asked what I taught there and whether I had worked there long. Then this guy was released, and I was given an arrest report and told to wait for a summons to court.

I left the police station late at night, believing I had got off very lightly. The next day, acquaintances sent me a link to the group Morality. It turned out that my companion at the cop shop had been Mikhail Kuzmin, the group’s moderator. He had posted his report, where he wrote something to the effect that he had being going to God’s temple to pray, but the police took him for a liberast and arrested him. The report was entitled correspondingly: “Who attends liberast rallies.” My entire biography was there. What surprised me most was that there were details there that he could not have found out from our conversation. He quite obviously had access to other sources.

Naturally, it said there that I worked at the Institute of Jewish Studies but that I pass myself off as a Georgian, although it is not clear who I am. There was this phrase: “The young woman herself is not involved in homopiggery, but she supports homos.” And the best part was an album of photos of me, twenty-five of them: one from the protest rally, and the rest pilfered from Facebook. This was so that the comrades would know their enemy by sight. The album’s crowning touch was a screenshot from the Institute of Jewish Studies website containing my schedule. I felt sick.

I looked at the pictures of Kuzmin himself: he was giving the Nazi salute and wearing a Nazi uniform. My husband wrote, “You shitty Nazi, remove the photographs of my wife immediately.” “I’m not a Nazi, because all Nazis are kikes,” Kuzmin eagerly replied. There was no more discussion with him, but his comrades in the struggle wrote comments under the photographs of me: how many Banderites had fucked me, and stuff like that. I never thought that I would encounter something like this in life. We sent a complaint to the management of VKontakte, but the group was not shut down.

For a while, I was very afraid. Of course, this was not the reason we left for Germany, but when I saw that screenshot of my schedule at the institute, I was quite scared to go to work. I became paranoid that I would be assaulted on the street or that our dog would be poisoned. I suspect that Kuzmin works in tandem with the police. First, I think he was with me at the police station as a provocateur. Second, when I was in the paddy wagon, the cops uttered his surname several times.

We moved to Germany at the end of August. We had been planning to do this for a long time, but had kept delaying and putting it off. After last March, my husband immediately found a job and we left Russia. I haven’t heard anything more about Kuzmin.

The community Morality has been active on the VKontakte social network for a year and a half. At present, the group numbers around four thousand subscribers. The group’s founder and moderator, Mikhail Kuzmin, was born April 12, 1986. He is married, a graduate of the Northwest Branch of the Russian Academy of Justice, and a member of the Petersburg branch of the Great Russia party.

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VKontakte group close for inciting hatred
Ethnic strife flares up on the social network. Petersburg woman with Jewish surname fears for her life
Polina Khodanovich
March 4, 2015
Metro

Petersburger Leokadia Frenkel, who teaches Russian to migrant children, has been victimized by the social network group Morality and its administrator Mikhail Kuzmin.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 1

Mikhail Kuzmin. Screenshot courtesy of Metro newspaper

“He reposted 161 photographs of me and wrote a text to accompany them entitled ‘The Kike-Liberal Opposition,” Frenkel told Metro. “That Jews were teaching migrants was the ultimate source of indignation for him.”

According to Frenkel, openly threatening comments appeared under photographs of her, and she seriously feared for her life.

“But when my friends complained to VKontakte management, they got evasive replies to the effect that if you don’t like this group, don’t look at it.”

Mikhail Kuzmin himself likes to do the Nazi salute and have his picture taken in Nazi uniform. He invariably refers to Jews as “kikes,” and conducts surveys on topics such as “Should migrants be sterilized?” The group consists of about 3,500 active participants. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Mikhail Kuzmin for comment.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2

“Morality” group  page on the VKontakte social network. The highlighted passage reads, “Reminder: only the total deportation of ALL the Central Asians and Сaucasians who have overrun the country in recent years can solve the problem. For us there is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrants. For us there are only occupiers.” Screenshot courtesy of Metro newspaper

Metro asked the Saint Petersburg office of the Investigative Committee’s Investigative Department to comment on the situation. Sergei Kapitonov, head of their press service, was terse.

“Anything is possible anywhere. I don’t understand what the matter is. I suggest you send an official inquiry addressed to our general and explain what you want to him.”

Roskomnadzor told Metro that they could do nothing themselves.

“The law on extremism in the Internet is administered by the Prosecutor General’s Office,” press secretary Vadim Ampelonsky said. “Only they can send us a request to block the group.”

Ultimately, Metro had no choice but to personally ask VKontakte’s press secretary Georgy Lobushkin to pay close attention to the controversial group Morality. And soon the newspaper received the following reply: “Good day. Our moderators are now checking this group for violations of website rules and Russian federal laws.”

On the evening of March 3, the group was temporarily blocked “for incitement to acts of violence.”

Vera Alperovich, expert on nationalism and xenophobia, SOVA Center for Information and Analysis:

“Any incitement to ethnic violence is covered by Article 282 of the Criminal Code. The activities of this group and its administrator should definitely be investigated. That the Investigative Committee is paying no attention to this group means they are waiting until someone is killed. In addition to a criminal complaint, one could start with a warning, which can facilitate getting the offending content deleted. Aside from the Criminal Code, there are also ethical norms. Such groups should cause a wave of public outrage.”

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The Fall of “Morality”
A neo-Nazi group on VKontakte that has bullied a Jewish woman was closed only after public pressure
Veronika Vorontsova
March 5, 2015
Novye Izvestia

Yesterday, after repeated requests by users, administrators at the social network VKontakte blocked the group Morality. The community had positioned itself as a platform for instilling “Slavic values,” but in fact it contained a lot of material prohibited by law, including neo-Nazi material. The group’s closure had long been sought by a female Saint Petersburg resident against whom group members had organized a genuine hate campaign. For a long while, administrators at the social network had turned a blind eye to her complaints, and she succeeded in having the group blocked only after broad publicity and intervention by the media.

The group Morality, which allegedly promotes “moral education based on historical Slavic values,” has been closed for a month for calls to unlawful actions, VKontakte spokesman Georgy Lobushkin informed Novye Izvestia. If the community’s creators do not remove the illegal content within thirty days, the group will be blocked in perpetuity.

The cause of the group’s closure was the campaign of persecution its members organized two week ago against Leokadia Frenkel, program coordinator at the Saint Petersburg Jewish Community Center, whose activities include teaching migrant children and helping socially adapt.

1425494405051Leokadia Frenkel

It all started when Frenkel placed an ad on the social network recruiting volunteers to work with the children at the center. The call was copied to the Morality group, where it was commented in an abusive and illegal manner. As Frenkel told Novye Izvestia, a genuine campaign of persecution was unleashed in comments to the post: group members insulted her ethnicity, and some threatened her with violence. Later, the group’s moderators made a selection of photographs featuring not only Frankel but also her husband and her son, placing it in open public access.

Frenkel decided to send a written request to VKontakte to close the group. Many of her friends followed suit. They soon received a rejection letter. The social network’s administrators explained there was nothing illegal in the information contained in the community. “If you do not like the group, do not look at their materials. We close only those groups which directly threaten someone’s life.” This was the response from VKontakte management.

This explanation did not hold water, says Frenkel. She notes that VKontakte’s published rules contain a list of actions prohibited by company management. Paragraph “e” disallows the “incitement of racial, religious, and ethnic hatred, as well as the promotion of fascism or racial supremacist ideology.” In the group Morality, which was completely open to the public, one could see many images of swastikas and direct calls for violence. Examining group moderator Mikhail Kuzmin’s personal page, Novye Izvestia also found many images of Nazi symbols. In some photos, he was posed in a Wehrmacht uniform; in others, in front of a Russian imperial tricolor.

Initially, VKontakte administrators really did see nothing illegal about the group, the social network’s press secretary Georgy Lobushkin explained to Novye Izvestia.

“There are many discussion communities where users discuss various issues. We do not block them, even if some comments are outside the scope of the Constitution,” he said in conversation with Novye Izvestia. However, “after a more thorough study of this group, experts nevertheless concluded that it contains incitements to violence.”

Two weeks passed between the time of Frenkel’s complaint and the group’s closure. She believes the reason for a more thorough review of her complaint was several reports in the media and the broad publicity they generated.

Although the group Morality has been closed, Novye Izvestia has found a number of similar communities where Frenkel’s identity and ethnicity continue to be discussed to the hilt.

As Novye Izvestia reported yesterday, early in the week, a court ordered Smolensk journalist Polina Petruseva to pay a fine of 1,000 rubles for “promoting Nazi symbols.” The court case was occasioned by Petruseva’s publishing a photograph of her own building’s backyard during World War Two on her social network page. The photograph shows German soldiers standing in formation next to the flag of the Third Reich. On Tuesday, the Russian Constitutional Court confirmed the ban on displaying any Nazi paraphernalia or symbols.

But law enforcement agencies have not yet responded to the controversy involving Leokadia Frenkel. The police are reluctant to accept such complaints, because there is almost no mechanism for working with such cases, Mikhail Pashkin, chair of the Moscow Police Union’s coordinating council, told Novye Izvestia. According to him, criminal charges are filed in such instances only to make an example of someone, “which is probably what happened in the case of the journalist from Smolensk.”