The Case of Ekaterina Vologzheninova: Watch What You “Like”

Click on the Button and Get a Sentence
Latest “Extremist” Reposting Case Goes to Court
Margarita Alyokhina
October 14, 2015
Novye Izvestia

Ekaterina Vologzheninova
Ekaterina Vologzheninova

The first hearing on the merits of the criminal case against Ekaterina Vologzheninova, who has been accused of extremism for reposts she made on the social network VKontakte, will take place on October 27. In addition to distributing “inflammatory” matter (consisting, in fact, of pictures and poems, supporting Ukraine, that are freely available on the Web), the 46-year-old single mother [from Yekaterinburg] has been accused of associating with “undesirable persons,” which included activists from Memorial and International Amnesty.

Vologzheninova has been charged under Article 282.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity”). The authorities began pursuing Vologzheninova after she shared several items on VKontakte. These items, we should note, have not been included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

Experts from the SOVA Information and Analysis Center have commented on the case against Vologzheninova on their website.

“The poem ‘Katsaps,’ whose main idea is that Ukraine’s ethnic Russians will defend it from Russia, contains accusations that the Russian authorities have attacked Ukraine, but there are no aggressive appeals in it. As for the poster, it obviously calls on Ukrainian citizens to defend the country from occupation.”

As usual, the preliminary hearing in the case was held in closed chambers.

“The prosecutor read out the indictment. But she read it out in an interesting way, omitting the most absurd paragraphs,” Vologzheninova’s attorney Roman Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.

During the hearing, the defense moved to send the case back to the prosecutor’s office, since, according to Kachanov, the indictment did not meet the requirements of the law. It did not make clear what the charges were.

“The conclusion states that [Vologzheninova] committed acts aimed at inciting hatred and enmity on the basis of race, ethnicity, and origin. As for race and origin, we did not understand that at all. But as for ethnicity, the indictment turns on the social group ‘Russians,’ although in the items at issue, ethnic Russians, on the contrary, are assessed positively; it is argued that it is wrong to oppose Russians to Ukrainians. In one text, Russians fighting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine are mentioned proudly,” Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.

According to Kachanov, the indictment accuses Vologzheninova of inciting hatred toward the social group “Moscow occupier” [sic]. It also features the phrase “ethnic hatred and enmity toward the public authorities.”

Earlier, during the investigation, Vologzheninova had also been reproached for associating with “undesirable persons,” human rights activists from Memorial and Amnesty International.

“Formally, such charges were not brought against her, because there is no such crime. At the very end of the investigation, however, [Vologzheninova was interrogated] by a FSB field officer by the name of Khudenkikh. And he, apparently wanting to generate a negative psychological atmosphere, accused her of having dealings with Memorial, which is a ‘foreign agent,’ and with Open Russia, which is funded from the west,” Kachanov told Novye Izvestia.

According to him, on the eve of the court hearing, it transpired that Vologzheninova’s bankcard had been blocked.

“The situation is this. By law, if a person is suspected of extremist or terrorist activities, his or her name is put on Rosfinmonitoring’s black list. A court sentence is not needed for this. But it does not always happen this way. I know people convicted of extremist crimes who have continue to have use of their bank accounts,” the lawyer explained.

According to him, a person who goes on the Rosfinmonitoring list stays there practically in perpetuity. For example, the slain terrorists Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev are still on it. And since the list is openly accessible, for “extremists” like Vologzheninova it is an additional humiliation. As Novye Izvestia ascertained, Ekaterina Vologzheninova is indeed listed among terrorists and extremists on Rosfinmonitoring’s website.

Svetlana Mochalova, a linguist with the FSB’s crime lab in Sverdlovsk Region, performed the forensic examination in the case. As Novye Izvestia reported earlier, a whole string of verdicts in controversial “extremism” cases in the Urals have been based on her findings. Among them is the verdict in the case of Pervouralsk resident Elvira Sultanakhmetova, who was sentenced to 120 hours of community service for calling on Muslims not to celebrate New Year’s because it was, in her opinion, a pagan holiday. Mochalova identified “incitement of hatred and enmity towards persons who do not celebrate New Year’s, whose customs and festivals are manifestations of a lack of faith” [sic] in what Sultanakhmetova had written. In 2010, Mochalova found “statements calling for social strife and the violent overthrow of the Russian Federation’s constitutional order an integrity” in the article “Patriotism as a Diagnosis,” written by the attorney Stanislav Markelov, who had been murdered [by Russian neo-Nazis] a year earlier. The article was examined as part of the proceedings against civic activist and Tyumen State University lecturer Andrei Kutuzov. He was prosecuted for, allegedly, handing out leaflets calling for an end to political crackdowns. According to Mochalova, these leaflets incited hatred against the authorities and aroused social discord. Mochalova refused to reveal her examination procedure to the court on that occasion, claiming that it was marked “for official use only.”

In July, teacher Alexander Byvshev, who had posted a pro-Ukrainian poem on a social network (unlike Vologzheninova Byvshev had written the poem himself), was sentenced to 300 hours of community service in the Oryol Region. Sentences for “likes” and reposts have practically become the norm this year. Thus, on September 28, Chelyabinsk blogger Konstantin Zharinov, who had reposted material from the banned Right Sector, was found guilty and immediately pardoned. On September 15, Krasnodar activist Sergei Titarenko was fined 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,400 euros] for reposting a political post. On September 17, the Lenin District Court in Cheboksary sentenced Parnas opposition party activist Dmitry Semyonov [and immediately pardoned] for reposting a caricature of Dmitry Medvedev.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

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A Currenttime.tv report about the criminal case at Yekaterinburg resident Ekaterina Vologzheninova, accused under Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code of inciting ethnic hatred and enmity against the Russian public authorities, residents of Southeast Ukraine who do not support modern Ukraine’s political course, volunteers from Russia fighting on the side of the Donetsk People’s Republic, and other absurd things. Posted on October 17, 2015. Thanks to Sergey Chernov for the heads-up

Soldiers Who Refused to Go to Donbass Sentenced to Prison

Maykop Contract Soldiers Who Refused to Go to Donbass Sentenced to Prison
Yevgeny Titov
October 13, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

Contract solders from Military Unit No. 22179, located in Maykop, have been sentenced to prison terms. Anatoly Kudrin has been sentenced to six months in an open penal settlement, while Alexander Yevenko, Ivan Shevkunov, Alexander Yenenko, and Pavel Tynchenko received one year each. Alexander Yenenko, who communicated most actively with the press, got the longest sentence [sic].

“It is disgusting,” says Svetlana Kimnatnaya, Ivan Shevkunov’s mother. “All the character references were positive, tons of peoples vouched for my son, and many people from the unit supported him. We had been hoping for probation.”

In autumn 2014, soldiers from Military Unit No. 22179 in Maykop were transferred to the Kadamovsky Firing Range in Rostov Region [eighty kilometers from the Ukrainian border]. Subsequently, contract soldiers left the range in large numbers. Many filed letters of resignation, which were not given due consideration by the unit’s commanding officers. The contract soldiers complained of poor living conditions and feared they would be sent to fight in Ukraine.

Regarding the conditions of their military service, the contract soldiers said they had been forced to sleep on boards, and there had often been no electricity and proper food. The topic of Ukraine had surfaced because separatists from the Donetsk People’s Republic were encamped near the Kadamovsky Firing Range. According to the soldiers’ parents, the separatists had agitated among the soldiers, offering them money to go fight in Donbass.

Subsequently, a group of soldiers was charged under Article 337.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (absence without leave for over a month). It later transpired that among other things they had not been paid the money due to them for temporary duty travel. One of the men, Alexander Yevenko, a veteran of the conflict in Chechnya, was ultimately paid thirty thousand rubles.

Alexander Yevenko
Alexander Yevenko

During the course of the investigation, another soldier, Alexander Yenenko, repeatedly informed Novaya Gazeta about illegal investigative methods, the use of psychological coercion, and threats. To verify this information, Novaya Gazeta sent a request to the Chief Military Investigation Department of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee. According to their reply, they cannot comment on the matter.

Alexander Yanenko
Alexander Yanenko

Alexander Yevenko (not to be confused with Alexander Yenenko) has said he intends to appeal the decision of the Maykop Garrison Military Court. The appeals hearing in his case will take place October 22 in the North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos by Yevgeny Titov. See his previous article on this conflict, “Why Are Maykop Contract Soldiers Resigning?” from the July 15, 2015, issue of Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). See also “Prison terms for Russian contract soldiers who refused to fight in Donbas,” Belsat TV, October 14, 2015 (in English).

Base?

pensions
Russia’s old-age pensioners: menace to Russian liberal democracy?

Slava Rabinovich
October 2, 2015
Facebook
#‎ConcreteWall‬

Inflation: 14-17% in rubles.

Consumer basket inflation: 25-70% in rubles (depending on the specific consumer basket).

Currency devaluation:  50%. The value of foreign currency has risen 100%.

The government has decided to index pensions for inflation only by 4% in 2016.

Pensioners vote for Putin.

Putin has stoked and burnt their money in Crimea, Donbass, and Syria, and on an insane military and security services budget, and has stolen trillions right from the same budget.

Pensioners vote for Putin.

Putin has lucked out with pensioners.

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And yet a little over ten years ago, it was the old-age pensioners (rather than portfolio investors like Mr. Rabinovich or the “rising middle class”) who mounted the first serious, massive grassroots challenge to Putin’s policies and his rule. 

Maybe the old-age pensioners have gone silent now and no longer want to mount such challenges to Putin’s rule. But it is quite amazing to observe so many able-bodied and mentally competent folks in the prime of their life engaged in casting around for whole (mostly imaginary, mostly disempowered, mostly lower) classes of people to blame for Russia’s slide into totalitarianism lite. What sense does it make to say that any whole class of people “votes” for Putin and constitutes his “base,” when we know that elections in Russia are rigged six  ways to Sunday? 

This is not say that Russia’s old-age pensioners shouldn’t be distressed by their deteriorating economic fortunes, as reflected in the distressing and real figures cited by Mr. Rabinovich, above, but the search for the “rubes” who have buttressed Putin’s rise to minor godhood should start with the classes of Russians who have really benefited from his rule. It has most signally not been the mass of old-age pensioners who have made out like bandits, although they may be more vulnerable, in some instances, to Putin’s propaganda machine and, at the local level, to the blandishments offered by the United Russia electoral machine.

If anything, my own (albeit limited) experience of grassroots protest campaigns in Petrograd has shown me that, more often than not, retirees and oldsters do more than their fair share of shouting, tussling, and scrapping with the powers that be.

But it must be nice for Russia’s worldly and well-heeled urban hipsters, thirty- and fortysomethings, and go-getters (whose brains, again in my limited experience, are no less addled by the popular prejudices of the Putin era, and whose bodies are no less averse to putting themselves in harm’s way) to imagine that Putin’s “base” is made up of old-age pensioners, the chronically poor, blue-collar workers, and residents of the Russian hinterlands.

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Putin Reforms Greeted by Street Protests
Steven Lee Meyers
January 16, 2005
New York Times

KHIMKI, Russia, Jan. 15 – Mikhail I. Yermakov, a retired engineer, has never before taken to the streets to protest — not when the Soviet Union collapsed, the wars in Chechnya began, the ruble plummeted in 1998 or President Vladimir V. Putin last year ended his right to choose his governor.

On Saturday, however, he joined hundreds of others in the central square of this gritty industrial city on the edge of Moscow in the latest of a weeklong wave of protests across Russia against a new law abolishing a wide range of social benefits for the country’s 32 million pensioners, veterans and people with disabilities.

Demonstrations were held in at least three other cities in the Moscow region, in the capital of Tatarstan and, for the fourth straight day, in Samara in central Russia. In St. Petersburg, several thousand demonstrators blocked the city’s main boulevard, with some calling for Mr. Putin’s resignation.

Taken together, the protests are the largest and most passionate since Mr. Putin came to power in 2000. They appear to have tapped into latent discontent with Mr. Putin’s government and the party that dominates Parliament, United Russia.

“It is spontaneous, and this is the most dangerous thing for the authorities,” said Mr. Yermakov, 67, as speakers denounced the government from a step beneath a hulking bust of Lenin. “It is a tsunami, and United Russia does not understand that it is going to hit them.”

The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, replaced benefits like free public transportation and subsidies for housing, prescriptions, telephones and other basic services with monthly cash payments starting at a little more than $7.

In a sign of bureaucratic inefficiency, some of those eligible have yet to receive any payments.

Mr. Putin and United Russia’s leaders have defended the law as an important reform ending a vestige of the old Soviet Communist system, but they clearly failed to anticipate the depth of opposition from those who relied most on the subsidies: millions of Russians living on pensions of less than $100 a month.

The protesters have denounced the payments as insufficient to cover the cost of the benefits and as miserly for a country that recently reported a budget surplus of nearly $25 billion.

As the protests unfolded in city after city across Russia, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksei II, who typically allies himself with what is known here as “the party of power,” questioned the law and the government’s handling of it.

“What counts is that this policy should be fair and effective,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “It should be met with understanding by the people. The latest events show that these principles are not observed in full.”

Aleksei P. Kondaurov, a Communist member of the lower house of Parliament, said the law and the protests underscored the shortcomings of the political system that had evolved under Mr. Putin, one dominated by United Russia, which has refused to debate with opposition parties, let alone compromise with them.

“It was clear that it was not carefully calculated,” Mr. Kondaurov said of the new law in an interview.

Mr. Kondaurov predicted the protests would grow and spread to other pressing social issues, which he said Mr. Putin’s government and United Russia were ignoring.

At a minimum, the protests have raised doubts about Mr. Putin’s other proposed reforms, including those in banking, housing and electricity, which were supposed to be the centerpieces of his second term.

“It’s not going to be like Ukraine,” Mr. Kondaurov said, drawing a parallel, as some have here, to the far larger demonstrations that overturned the election there for president in November. “But it is clear to me that a political and economic crisis is taking shape in Russia.”

After first brushing off the protests, United Russia’s leaders have begun scrambling to respond. They have accused the Communists and other parties of inflaming tensions and have tried to deflect blame to regional governments, which they say are responsible for implementing the benefit changes.

Some local governments, most prominently the Moscow city administration, have vowed to reinstate the benefits stripped at the federal level, but few other regions are wealthy enough to afford to do so.

On Friday, the chairman of Parliament’s social and labor committee, Andrei N. Isayev, said that next week, lawmakers would consider raising pensions by 15 percent in February, rather than 5 percent in April, as now planned.

Others in United Russia have also tried to distance themselves from Mr. Putin’s new government, which has been in place for only 10 months. The deputy speaker of Parliament, Lyubov K. Sliska, said Friday that she did not rule out the dismissal of Prime Minister Mikhail Y. Fradkov and his cabinet.

But the protests have continued to grow. They began quietly, with a rally organized by the Communist Party in Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow, on Jan. 9, the 100th anniversary of the 1905 uprising.

A day later, here in Khimki, several hundred people briefly blocked the main highway to St. Petersburg in what several of those involved called a spontaneous uprising. After a scuffle with the police, 12 elderly protesters were arrested, but initial threats to prosecute them were quickly dropped.

Since then the protests have erupted in at least a dozen other cities, drawing thousands. In Tula, 110 miles south of Moscow, aging protesters clashed with bus conductors who refused to allow them to board city transport without paying, prompting the city to post police officers on the buses.

In Novosibirsk, in Siberia, a dozen pensioners mailed their cash payments for transit — the equivalent of a little more than $3 — to Boris V. Gryzlov, the leader of United Russia and parliamentary speaker, according to the Regnum news agency.

The protesters here in Khimki’s central square on Saturday represented those who have fared the worst in Russia’s post-Soviet transition.

Mr. Yermakov’s monthly pension equals roughly $85 a month. As a resident of the Moscow region, a separate administration from that of the city government, he qualified for a supplement of $7 to replace the subsidies lost under the new law. The bus fare for three trips to the small tract of land he is allowed for planting a vegetable garden, four miles away, will take nearly half that amount.

Vladilena T. Berova, whose given name is an homage to Vladimir Lenin, served at the end of World War II as a corporal in Soviet intelligence and went on to work as a psychotherapist for five decades in Moscow. Now 78 and widowed, she survives on 2,000 rubles a month, about $71.

“The fascists took my youth,” she said, referring to the war. “And now these people are taking away my old age.”

The protests have included something still rare in today’s Russia: personal criticism of Mr. Putin, who has remained popular by projecting an image of stability, one carefully protected by officials and state television.

“Instead of listening to us, he is listening to an organ,” Mr. Yermakov said, referring bitingly to Mr. Putin’s participation in the unveiling of a newly restored organ in St. Petersburg on Friday with Germany’s president, Horst Köhler.

The benefits law has already been credited, at least in part, with a slip in Mr. Putin’s ratings, as well as a general decline in the public’s mood.

A poll by the Levada Center, released on Saturday, said that only 39 percent of Russians considered Mr. Putin the most trusted politician. That is still higher than anyone else, but a drop from 58 percent a year ago.

Sergei Y. Glazyev, a member of Parliament who challenged Mr. Putin during the election for president last year, said in an interview that “the people’s struggle for social rights” should be decided in a national referendum, rather than imposed by the Kremlin and its governing party. Voters, he said, had been fooled.

“A majority of those who voted for Putin,” he said, “had a quiet different expectation of what they would get.”

Mr. Rabinovich’s Facebook post translated by the Russian Reader. Image, above, courtesy of the Moscow Times

Andrei Marchenko: Closing Statement in Court

The Closing Statement of Andrei Marchenko
Industrial District Court, Khabarovsk, September 30, 2015
Grani.Ru

Exactly one year and two months ago, I had a knock on the door around this time of day. The people knocking identified themselves as election campaigners, but then a huge crowd of people with a video camera turned on burst in as soon as I opened the door. Because of one sentence on the social network Facebook, the FSB had come in connection with the criminal investigation opened against me.

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Andrei Marchenko. Photo by Alla Viktorova. Courtesy of Grani.Ru

It was my first search and a lesson for the rest of my life. You should never be afraid of anything, and must know and defend your rights.

Let us start with the fact that I was shown the search warrant in passing, as well as IDs. Apparently that is why I still do not know the first names or surnames of the men who came to search my place. Next, I was denied a telephone call and not allowed to ask neighbors to act as official witnesses during the search. (The official witnesses were soldiers brought by the FSB themselves.)

Naturally, pressure was put on me during the search. But it lasted only until they had checked everything and realized that what they had come for was not in my house (nor could it have been there). There was no money from foreign sponsors, no extremist literature, nothing.

The only thing that gladdened my visitors was the business card of Elizabeth Macdonald, a US consul in Vladivostok, although I do not understand why it is forbidden to communicate with foreigners. In a daze, I signed the search record (which was also a mistake), and they left. They departed, leaving me with a summons to an interrogation.

May it please the court to know that from the outset I considered this criminal case political, and I still do. The charges were filed only to silence me and force me not to voice my personal opinion about the current political situation in the country and the world.

May it please the court to learn that when they were conducting their investigation before criminal charges were filed, the investigators from the FSB Khabarovsk regional office during their so-called private chat with me were intensely and primarily interested in my role in organizing a flash mob in Khabarovsk six years in a row to protest the homophobic policies of the Russian leadership. They asked about my friends from the Khabarovsk LGBT community (both generally and about specific people). They asked about my meetings with a representative of the US Consulate in Vladivostok during her visit to Khabarovsk. I stress it was this aspect of my life that primarily concerned the investigators.

The investigators were also interested in my political views and my personal opinion about the anti-terrorist operation in the east of Ukraine.

I venture to guess that the FSB was investigating me as a “gay foreign agent.”

But after searching my home and questioning witnesses, the investigators at the FSB’s Khabarovsk regional office decided, nevertheless, to charge me with extremism under Article 280, Part 1 [of the Russian Federal Criminal Code].

May it please the court to hear that the forensic examinations made it clear I am not a terrorist and extremist but a simple Russian citizen who takes to heart all the news happening both to Russian citizens and other peoples.

Your honor, when rendering the verdict, I ask you to take into account the propagandistic hysteria that the Russian state media fanned during the summer of 2014.

It was in May and June 2014 that round-the-clock hysteria about “Ukrofascists,” “Banderites,” “crucified boys,” and so on wafted from every TV set. Russians were really being zombified. But I had and have the opportunity to get accurate information from different sources, including Ukrainian, European and American news and analysis channels, and programs on the independent Russian TV station Rain and the radio stations Echo of Moscow and Radio Svoboda.

It was then that my freedom-loving mind (my whole life has been a struggle for justice, for compliance with human rights and freedoms) revolted against all this, and I decided I could freely express my value judgment among like-minded people and friends on the American social network Facebook, which is not subject to Russian laws.

But it turned out (this is in the case file) that my behavior and statements had been monitored for a long while. Although, as a popular blogger, I had heard about total surveillance, it was a shock to me when I learned I was on the list of those being monitored.

Your honor, when I posted the statement for which I have been charged, I was not inciting anyone to carry out acts of violence. It was my impulsive and, perhaps, overly emotional response to the rubbish broadcast that night (Far Eastern Time) by Russian state television.

And, as follows from the results of the forensic examination (volume 2, pages 9–15), the post was my way of expressing my negative attitude towards a specific group of people in Russia who are supporters of fascism and terrorism, and who forcibly seized the territory of another country, Ukraine. I think that, just like me, every honest Russian citizen has a negative attitude towards this group of so-called volunteers. I should emphasize that, according to legal experts at the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, the current prosecution under Article 280 is unlawful. “Citizens of Russia [who are] supporters of fascism and terrorism and forcibly seized Ukrainian territory” are not a group protected by anti-extremist legislation and, therefore, the use of violence against this group cannot constitute foul play as stipulated by Article 280.

Your honor, I would also like to emphasize that publication of the post mentioned in the charges was nothing more than an expression of my personal point of view. I just wanted to draw attention to the news, to the lies of the propagandists on state television (using their own way of putting things), and to my [Facebook] page.

Your honor, as I have said, this case is purely political and was initiated not because of extremism, but because I, being openly gay and a media figure, have been very civically active and express my opinion, which differs from the general ideological line in Putin-era Russia.

Translated by the Russian Reader


Editor’s Note. According to Grani.Ru, Judge Galina Nikolayeva adjourned the trial until ten o’clock tomorrow morning, Thursday, October 1. It is expected she will announce a verdict in the trial then.

Update. According to an article on the news website Vostok-Media, on October 1, 2015, the Industrial District Court in Khabarovsk found Andrei Marchenko guilty as charged and sentenced him to a fine of 100,000 rubles, but immediately amnestied him as part of a general amnesty celebrating the seventieth anniversary of victory in the Second World War.

Andrei Marchenko celebrating his virtual victory in court. Photo courtesy of Vostok-Media
Andrei Marchenko celebrating his virtual victory in court. Photo courtesy of Vostok-Media

The “Gay Terrorist Underground” in Khabarovsk: The Case of Andrei Marchenko

Prosecutor Requests Two Years in Open Penal Settlement for Khabarovsk Blogger Marchenko
September 28, 2015
Grani.Ru

Prosecutor Olesya Demina has asked Khabarovsk’s Industrial District Court to sentence blogger and LGBT activist Andrei Marchenko to two years in an open penal settlement, as reported by Grani.Ru’s correspondent from the courtroom. Marchenko has been accused of extremism for posts he made on Facebook.

andrei marchenko
Andrei Marchenko outside of Industrial District Court in Khabarovsk. Photo by Alla Viktorova. Courtesy of Grani.Ru

During closing arguments, defense attorney Natalya Gladych drew the court’s attention to Marchenko’s positive character references, as well as the findings of a psychologist, who concluded that the defendant’s only purpose had been to draw attention to himself and to his position on the war in the east of Ukraine.

“Two years in an open penal settlement is an excessively severe punishment given that the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient. The prosecutor speaks of Marchenko as an out-and-out extremist, although the man was simply expressing his opinion. The harsh form in which he delivered it was due only to heightened emotionality,” said Gladych.

On Monday, the defendant was to make his closing statement, but Judge Galina Nikolayeva unexpectedly adjourned until Wednesday, September 30, when Marchenko will deliver his closing statement and the judge will return a verdict.

“I did not expect that the prosecution would request real prison time. There is not a single injured party in the case. There is only the one sentence on Facebook, which did not lead to any real consequences. And for this the representative of the state machine asks the court to sentence me to real prison time,” Marchenko commented to Grani.ru after the hearing.

Marchenko has pleaded not guilty and hopes for an acquittal.

On June 8, 2014, Trinity Sunday, Marchenko published a post on Facebook dealing with the events in the east of Ukraine.

“Impale all the terrorists!!!!!!!!” he wrote. “Kill all of them!! Blood Sunday! Free Ukraine from the fascist Russian terrorists on Trinity Sunday!”

The post was made visible only to Marchenko’s friends in the social network. Nevertheless, it was this publication that led to the blogger’s prosecution.

On August 28, 2014, FSB officers carried out a search at Marchenko’s home during which they seized all his office equipment and mobile phones. The following day, the blogger was charged at regional FSB headquarters under Article 280, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to extremism)

andrei marchenko-2
Andrei Marchenko. Photo courtesy of amurburg.ru

A week before the raid, the blogger had also been summoned to regional FSB headquarters. There he was shown screenshots of a certain site according to which Marchenko and another Khabarovsk LGBT activist, Alexander Yermoshkin, were the founders and masterminds of a “gay terrorist underground” that were pursuing the goal of organizing an “orange revolution” in Khabarovsk. As Marchenko noted, the FSB investigator was “utterly serious.” Marchenko was then asked why he did not like “Novorossiya.” He was told that his numerous posts in support of Ukraine and criticizing the Kremlin were the reason for the FSB’s concern.

On September 11, 2014, another five phrases from Marchenko’s summertime posts were sent off for forensic examination.

“Including phrases in support of Poroshenko and phrases about the fact that prices are higher but Crimea is ours,” wrote the blogger.

Two weeks later, it transpired that Rosfinmonitoring had placed Marchenko on its list of terrorists and extremists. However, the blogger kept his bank accounts only for withdrawing money he earned through official freelance bureaus from the WebMoney system. For many years, these earnings had been Marchenko’s only source of income. Thus, Rosfinmonitoring’s decision left the activist penniless.

“Now I don’t even have money for groceries,” wrote Marchenko.

The blogger expressed bewilderment at his inclusion in the list, noting that the court had not yet deemed him either a terrorist or an extremist.

On December 30, 2014, final charges were filed against Marchenko.

Translated by the Russian Reader

NB. Grani.Ru, the opposition news and commentary website that published this article about Andrei Marchenko’s plight is itself banned in Russia as “extremist” and can only be viewed there through VPNs, anonymizers, and mirror sites.

Update. According to an article on the news website Vostok-Media, on October 1, 2015, the Industrial District Court in Khabarovsk found Andrei Marchenko guilty as charged and sentenced him to a fine of 100,000 rubles, but immediately amnestied him as part of a general amnesty celebrating the seventieth anniversary of victory in the Second World War.

Andrei Marchenko celebrating his virtual victory in court. Photo courtesy of Vostok-Media
Andrei Marchenko celebrating his virtual victory in court. Photo courtesy of Vostok-Media

Russia vs. Russia: Political Art and Censorship

Victoria Lomasko
April 14, 2015
Facebook

During the last discussion at the Russland vs. Russland. Kulturkonflikte forum, the event’s title finally paid off.

Kristina Leko, an artist and teacher at the Berlin Institute of Art, opened the discussion. The organizers had invited her to comment on the forum and the exhibition of Russian “critical art.”

She wondered how much the objets d’art for Marat Guelman’s Perm project (documented at the forum) had cost, whether the money had come from the city’s budget, and if it had, whether the citizens for whose sake this monumental street art had allegedly been made had agreed with this. Leko noted that she had found it unpleasant to listen to the presentation of the project, during which it was stated that the residents of Perm were “insufficiently educated to understand art.” She also said that after carefully viewing the video documentation for MediaImpact, she could not understand where the audience for this sociopolitical art was. Did Russian “critical” artists even want to communicate with the general public? Leko asked whether it was possible to make “critical art” now without taking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine into account, and whether one could be a “critical artist” while ignoring gender and racial discrimination.

Her talk was suddenly interrupted by artist Alexander Brener, who burst into the circle of panelists and yelled, “All of this is shit! We must talk about what matters most!” Brener was not a forum participant. He had come every day to listen to the speakers and several times had expressed his dissatisfaction, but in much more acceptable form.

Brener had interrupted Leko’s talk and continued to shout about shit, but the panelists interpreted his stunt variously. One group sided with Brener, calling him a great Russian artist. This was a performance, a compliment to the forum’s organizer. The talk had been boring: let Brener have his say, they said. The moderator, sociologist Alexander Bikbov, demanded that Leko be allowed to finish her talk. He was backed up by cultural studies scholar Olga Reznikova, who told Brener that there had been many boring and offensive presentations over the past three days and asked him why he had not felt the urge to shout down a high-profile male who had been talking “shit.” The only Ukrainian participant in the forum, Vasily Cherepanin, director of the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv and editor of the Ukrainian edition of the journal Krytyka Polityczna, said he felt sorry for us, since we were accustomed to rudeness and could not tell the difference between it and art. As a manager of an institution, he himself kicks out such “performance artists,” no questions asked.

While this was happening, Leko’s hands were shaking. The German audience was shocked. One of the German participants asked perplexedly, “Why is there no solidarity among Russian artists?”

I am certain that the majority of men in Russia who identify themselves as “leftists” are incapable of uniting with women on an equal footing and dealing with our professional work appropriately, without loutishness. Personally, I have no desire to identify with those “leftists” or liberals who try talking down to me or do the same thing with other women. I had had enough of that at the Feminist Pencil show at MediaImpact.

I said that sexism was one of the causes that prevented people from uniting.

Hearing the word sexism, some of the Russian participants began laughing and making faces. They then pointedly left the room altogether when the topic of gender was picked up by Olga Reznikova, Heinrich Böll Foundation coordinator Nuria Fatykhova, and the German audience.

Vasily Cherepanin raised the next topic. He spoke about the war in Ukraine, stressing it was a war of aggression on Russia’s part. At the same time, many Russian socially and politically engaged artists have preferred to remain apolitical on this matter and not make anti-war statements. One of the Germans asked why the Russians were trying to depoliticize the discussion of sexism and the war in Ukraine. After this question, another third of the Russians dashed from the room, while the artist Brener, who had been sitting quietly in the corner, again broke into the circle of panelists, screaming at Cherepanin, “Fuck off!”

Moderator Alexander Bikbov summarized the discussion by noting that too few “critical” artists had stayed for its final part. As soon as the conversation had turned to the things that mattered most—politics within the art scene and the war in Ukraine—many were not prepared to discuss them.

But then at the farewell dinner, the participants who had left the discussion early continued giggling among themselves about gender and feminism.

____________________

Russia vs. Russia: From Censorship to Self-Censorship
New Russian laws—from a ban on swearing to protections for the feelings of religious believers—have made life difficult for artists. But the main obstacle to freedom of creativity has become self-censorship.
Yekaterina Kryzhanovskaya | Berlin
April 13, 2015
Deutsche Welle

lomasko-courtVictoria Lomasko, Prisoners of May 6, from the Drawing Trials project

For several years, Victoria Lomasko has been doing socially engaged graphic art, producing graphic reportages from court hearings and political rallies, and drawing the real stories of juvenile prisoners, migrant workers, rural teachers, and Orthodox activists. But the Russian woman can now longer speak openly about what concerns her through her drawings: now her black-and-white “comics” could be subject to the articles of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.

“My work Cannibal State, in support of political prisoners, today could be regarded as insulting state symbols. Liberate Russia from Putin clearly rocks the boat; it’s a call for rebellion, for revolution, and this is ‘extremism.’ A work from the Pussy Riot trial, Free the Prisoners! Shame on the Russian Orthodox Church!, featuring Patriarch Kirill, no doubt insults the feelings of believers,” the artist recounts.

Could she now, as she did earlier, freely post her political posters in social networks or show them at exhibitions?

“Hardly. But just two years ago several of them were even published in magazines,” notes Lomasko.

From censorship…

At the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts, held April 10–12 in Berlin, Lomasko was not the only one bewildered about the prospects of protest art.

“In Russia nowadays you cannot do anything,” states Artyom Loskutov, an artist and organizer of the annual May Day Monstration marches in Novosibirsk.

In 2014, the Monstrators took to the streets of Novosibirsk holding a banner that read, “Hell is ours.” When the Russian media were excitedly talking about the virtues of federalizing Ukraine, Loskutov and his allies announced they would be holding a March for the Federalization of Siberia.

“If people in Russia hear every day that separatism in Ukraine turns out to be a good thing, that cannot slip through the cracks. We have simply hastened the next stage, when separatism will be seen as good for our country as well,” Loskutov emphasizes.

Russian federal media watchdog Roskomnadzor responded by sending fourteen letters to various media, including Ukrainian publications and even the BBC, demanding that they delete even mentions of this protest.

…to self-censorship

According to many forum participants, however, censorship was not the worst that was happening to them today.

“The worst thing that infiltrates our heads is self-censorship. It is impossible to know about the new laws and not to think about the consequences if you make a work about something that really concerns you,” argues Lomasko.

A congress of ultra-rightist nationalists was held in March in Petersburg, completely legally. And yet the media could not publish photographs of congress participants in clothes featuring swastikas because they would be fined for extremism.

“I really want to speak out on this subject. But if I were to draw something, I could be accused of spreading fascist ideas. And if I put it on the Web, everyone who reposts the picture automatically becomes my accomplice,” explains Lomasko.

Consequently, she said, there have been almost no artworks openly criticizing the annexation of Crimea or the war in Ukraine. Doubts about the legitimacy of Moscow’s actions are now also subject to the Criminal Code.  A rare exception is the graffiti piece Broads Will Give Birth to New Ones, in which a pregnant woman holding a Molotov cocktail is depicted with an infant soldier in her belly. But it was produced anonymously by members of the Petersburg group Gandhi.

Monumental propaganda

On the other hand, you can express your joy over the actions of Russian politicians without the sanction of officials. Thus, on the eve of the referendum in Crimea, a monumental graffiti proclaiming “Crimea and Russia: Together Forever” suddenly appeared on the wall of a house in Moscow’s Taganka Square where an officially authorized map of the Tagansky District was supposed have been painted.

“The contractor himself decided that the Crimean agenda was more topical and interesting, and he willfully painted what he did, not the map he had been commissioned to paint,” explains Anna Nistratova, an independent curator, researcher, and artist.

0,,18377432_401,00Victoria Lomasko

Later, such monumental propaganda began to appear all over the country, both as commissioned by the authorities, and at the behest of the population, including activist artists, many of whom also believe, according to Lomasko, “Crimea is ours, Donbass is ours, and Ukraine basically doesn’t exist.”

“In matters of propaganda, orders from the top are not obligatory. Our citizens themselves are capable to taking the initiative,” notes Nistratova.

__________

IMG_5964“Memory” (P = Pamiat’), one of a series of “graffiti” murals produced by the pro-Kremlin youth group Set (“Network”) to celebrate Vladimir Putin’s birthday in October 2014. The five murals, which appeared in different cities, each featured a different letter from the president’s surname; each letter was associated, children’s primer-style, with a different “patriotic” virtue (e.g., such as “memory” of the war). This mural was painted on an apartment block on Petersburg’s Obvodny Canal. Photograph by The Russian Reader

__________

Lost status

Nistratov points out that there are very few artists involved in political art in Russia. Besides, neither exhibitions nor the very best artworks nor inscriptions on the streets have any effect on society, in her opinion.

“The artist in Russia today is a strange, marginal subject. His status as an intellectual, as a moral exemplar, which existed earlier, has been completely forfeited,” says Nistratova.

Confusion is, perhaps, the feeling that is prevalent throughout the talks given by the participants of the forum Russia vs. Russia: Cultural Conflicts. By and large, the activist artists have no clear strategies for operating under new conditions.

“The only thing that seems to me worthwhile is maintaining one’s own little environment, a bubble inside the shit. Because if this nightmare ever ends, we have to make sure we are not faced with a scorched, absolutely bare field, bereft of political and social art, activism, and civic consciousness,” argues Lomasko.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

This is a real courtyard in my neighborhood, near a playground. Parents stroll around the yard with their children, discussing the news from “fascist” Ukraine.

Do I have the right to draw and show you this landscape featuring a swastika, a landscape that is fairly typical in Russia? During the recent trial of the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists (BORN), their lawyer argued that the anti-fascists are just another street gang like the fascists. So why not label any denunciation of fascism “propaganda” of fascism itself?

Nationalists freely held an international congress in Petersburg in March. The only people the police arrested were the anti-fascists who protested the congress. Nationalists can walk around sporting neo-fascist symbols, but the authorities will prosecute publications that dare to publish photos of them. Juvenile prisons are filled with skinheads, but nationalist ideas are fomented on television.

Attn: Center “E”. I am opposed to fascism.

fashizm_colourThis yard is not in Ukraine. There are many swastikas in Russia, too. But if Russian citizens try to expose fascism, they can be charged with “extremism.” Inscription on wall: “Russ [sic] is ours!”