Raivo Shtulberg: I Am the Pug Who Barked at Voldemort

“I am the pug who barked at Voldemort”: High school teacher in Ryazan Region forced to resign after refusing to campaign for United Russia
Darina Shevchenko
October 30, 2015
Yod

Reivo Shtulberg
Raivo Shtulberg

Raivo Shtulberg, thirty-six, taught physics, computer science, and German for thirteen years at the only secondary school in the village of Olkha, in Ryazan Region’s Ukholovo District. Before elections to the Ryazan Regional Duma, in September of this year, the school administration demanded that teachers persuade at least six villagers to vote for the ruling United Russia party. Instead, Shtulberg shot a video in which he explained how teachers were being forced to campaign and posted it on the web. Shtulberg was forced to resign, and can now longer find employment as a teacher. Yod learned the details of the story.

The teachers were given questionnaires and asked to return them filled out with the names and signatures of the people they had successfully canvassed. Shtulberg was outraged by this request.

“At first, we filled in the names of distant relatives so they would leave us alone, but we were told it had to be fellow villagers. I got angry then. We were doing repairs at home, but I had to canvas the village for signatures. Other teachers also resented this. In particular, one of them said something about ‘Russian idiocy,’ but they dutifully went out canvassing.”

Shtulberg recorded a video in which he related how teachers had been forced to campaign for United Russia and posted it on YouTube.

“I acted spontaneously. You might say it was the revolt of the underdog. I am like the pug who barked at Voldemort. Village teachers are paid tiny salaries. I wore the same blazer to work for eight years or so, until two years ago it was completely tattered and I had to buy a new one. The principals have bigger salaries, and they can be ordered to campaign, but a full belly does not understand an empty one. I am not against any party or politician: I cannot reconcile myself with the low quality of life of teachers. If tomorrow, United Russia provided good roads and decent wages, I would vote for them or anyone else [who does these things]. Ultimately, it is my legal right to choose whom I vote for,” says Shtulberg.

The video garnered around 15,000 views on YouTube. It was seen by Yuri Bogomolov, co-chair of the regional branch of the opposition Solidarity and RPR-PARNAS parties in Ryazan. On the basis of what he heard, Bogomolov filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office asking that United Russia be barred from the elections. It was after this, according to Shtulberg, that a crackdown against him was launched at school.

The school’s principal called a faculty meeting, which was attended by Shtulberg’s mother, who also taught at the school. Shtulberg did not attend the meeting himself. He says that the principal made it clear to his mother they both had better resign, otherwise they would be quietly “removed.”

“You can always find fault with a teacher. For example, by doing a full review of all the subjects he teaches and visiting his classes every day, then giving a series of quizzes and removing him for incompetency, and by carefully studying his record keeping,” says Shtulberg.

Yuri Bogomolov urged the disgraced teacher not to resign voluntarily and offered him legal assistance.

“I have no doubt that the campaign questionnaires were handed out at the school where Shtulberg taught. We know that employees at other schools, factories, and hospitals in Ryazan Region were forced to persuade people to vote for United Russia. In my recollection, Shtulberg is the only public sector employee who has openly and personally alleged violations,” says Bogomolov.

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Photocopy of the campaign canvassing questionnaire that Raivo Shtulberg and his fellow teachers were required to ask people in their village to fill out. “Why I will be voting in elections for the Ryazan Regional Duma on September 13, 2015. 1. Because I live in the land of Ryazan. 2. Because I am concerned about the future of my family, my region, [and] my country. 3. Because it is my civic duty. 4. Because it is our common cause. 5. Because I am certain that TOGETHER WE ARE A UNITED RUSSIA. Surname Name Patronymic __________________________ My mobile phone number: __________________________________ My email address: ____________________________.” United Russia received 62% of the votes in the election. Their nearest rivals, the Communists, received a mere 13%. Opposition party Yabloko failed to overcome the five-percent barrier.

Shtulberg turned down the politician’s assistance and voluntarily resigned. His mother also resigned.

“To be honest, I was scared. I was not ready for such an abrupt turn of events,” he says.

Shtulberg’s colleagues responded neutrally to his dismissal.

“Village teacher are mostly good people. They perform their duties conscientiously, but they try and not speak out on political topics, because [they think] it isn’t worth the effort.

“Sit tight, go along with things, do what they ask you to do, get your salary, and don’t dare oppose not only the authorities but even the principal. My colleagues told me reproachfully, ‘United Russia pays our wages. Why can’t [you] live peacefully like other people? We have to vote for whomever the boss tells us to vote,” says Shtulberg.

His fellows villagers were also indifferent to the teacher’s firing. Only the children whom Shtulberg had taught wrote him messages of support on a social network.

Shtulberg says he really loved his job.

“I tried every lesson to give [my pupils] something insightful. In German, I would often offer them extra texts of my own. I would try and make sure the computer games were more interesting, show them lots of videos, and do presentations. I would not say I was pals with my pupils. I kept my distance, but I treated them respectfully.”

After he was fired, Shtulberg tried to find a work at a school. At first, he was offered a job teaching computer science in a neighboring village, but then he was turned down for the job with no explanation.

“I cannot confirm it, but probably they called my previous place of employment and were told what sort of person I was,” says Shtulberg.

He tried to find a job at a school in Ryazan, but realized he would not be able to move to the city. A teacher’s salary would only cover the rent.

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His former bosses claim that the athletic Shtulberg is a binge drinker and alcoholic.

Shtulberg says that he now works as a copywriter and earns enough to get by.

His only regret is that his mother lost her job at the school because of him.

“Mom worked forty-five years at that school. She was an excellent public educator. Mom really misses the school and her pupils. She is in bad psychological shape now. I am very scared for my brother. He also works as a teacher, in a nearby village, and I am afraid he also might suffer because of me,” says Shtulberg.

At the Olkha Village School, Yod was told that Raivo Shtulberg had never worked there. In turn, the Ukholovo District Department of Education and Youth Policy told us that Raivo Shtulberg had taught at the village school in Olkha.

“The school’s principal had to cover for him all the time, because he drank and skipped classes. Because of his alcoholism, he recorded a video, posted it on the web, and dragged all of us through the mud,” our source told us.

Shtulberg is not surprised by these comments.

“I did not abuse alcohol and did not skip classes. But a response like this from bureaucrats does not surprise me. For the authorities, public sector employees do not exist as it were. We are these also-rans pottering about somewhere. We behave peacefully, do not ask for a lot of money, and that is fine. Public sector employees are viewed as a silent constituency that can be used at [the regime’s] discretion.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Our Swimmer
Our Swimmer

I guess I am a sucker for these stories of underdogs from the Russian hinterlands and margins of Russian society fighting the powers that be practically on their lonesome. There sure do seem to be a fair number of them in the press lately, which is encouraging.

They tell us two things. First, that it is a lie that Putin’s “base of support” is found in places like the village of Olkha in Ryazan Region, where the indomitable Raivo Shtulberg worked as a high school teacher until he was summarily fired for refusing to canvass for the ruling United Russia party in the run-up to regional parliamentary elections there this past September.

If people in places like Olkha “support” Putin and UR, it is not because these mighty rulers have improved their lives in any substantial way. It is because these people are passively afraid of losing what they already have and actively afraid of political authorities in general. History has taught them this lesson.

More importantly, in many cases, they are simply intimidated, upon pain of firing, into “throwing their support” behind the ruling party during elections.

So, among such “losers” like Raivo Shtulberg, Putin is not “popular.” On the contrary, he has been “popularized” among such “simple” and “disempowered” folk through a whole armory of tactics including relentless media propaganda, outright intimidation, and vote rigging.

When push comes to shove, as I hope and think it might someday, folks like Raivo Shtulberg’s fellow villagers will remember his “foolish” deed from several months ago or a few years back, and that will be all she wrote for Putin and UR.

All the pundits, analysts, and journalists who had been excitedly citing polls and 600% approval ratings for Putin in the interim will suddenly do an about-face and pretend they were on the side of the “ordinary people” all along.

Second, Putin’s real base of support is among those who have made out like bandits, either on a major or minor scale, over the past fifteen years. Some of these people might also, technically, be classified as “public sector employees,” like Raivo Shtulberg, but they do not work as village schoolteachers, and their pay grade is way higher. And the kickbacks and perks they enjoy are astronomically better.

And these real-live Putin supporters do not live, for the most part, in villages like Olkha, but in cities like Moscow, Petersburg, and even London.

It is a story too long and convoluted to tell in this slapdash afterword, but to some extent (although certainly not entirely), the Fair Elections movement of 2011-2012 was an attempt by a segment of this pro-Putinist class to save face in its own eyes and the eyes of the “civilized” world by opposing itself feebly to Putin’s “electoral dictatorship.”

Be that as it may, when you are tempted to imagine or encouraged by a lazy journalist or “analyst” to think that Russia’s anti-democratic woes are caused by Putin’s “popularity” among the simple toilers and rural yokels in the “heartlands,” think about what Raivo Shtulberg did and what happened to him, and think again. Russia is where it is today because well-educated people from Moscow and Petersburg with tons of connections to start with wanted it to happen that way.

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Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Russian Schools

“Moscow for Muscovites”: Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Moscow Schools
Darina Shevchenko
June 18, 2015
Yod

Russia had long made it possible for all children living in the country to get an education. The right of every child to an education was untouchable. Beginning this year, circumstances have changed. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) has obliged schools to expel unregistered children under the threat of stiff fines. Yod has tried to find out why Moscow schools are prepared to teach only children who hold Moscow residence permits.

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Alla, a Ukrainian national, arrived in Moscow last year from the city of Chernivtsi, located in Western Ukraine. Alla says that food prices have greatly increased in her hometown, and it has become hard to find work. In Moscow, she quickly found a manager’s job at a small company, rented a flat, and in spring of this year decided to move her son Alexander to Moscow. She went to School No. 1524 and asked what she needed to do to enroll him in the eighth grade.

Alla was told documents for enrolling in school were now submitted through the District Information Support Services (DISS). At DISS, she was informed that her child could be enrolled in school only if he had a yearlong temporary residence permit for Moscow. Alla and Alexander now have a three-month temporary residence permit. Their landlady has refused to register them for a longer period. At DISS, Alla was told that without this document her son had no right to study in a Russian school.

“Alla’s story is now typical. A family from Ukraine recently turned to us for help. For a whole year, a school had refused to enroll their son in the first grade. First, they needed a resident permit, and then they were denied enrollment due to the fact the child had turned eight, and eight-year-olds are too old to study in the first grade. This child’s parents were forced to return to Ukraine,” says Stasya Denisova from the Civic Assistance Committee.

According to the human rights defender, they now are dealing with a very large number of appeals from migrant and refugee families concerning expulsions and non-admission to schools. The most common reason is that their resident permits have run out. School directors cite Ministry of Education Decree No. 32, dated January 22, 2014. The decree divides children into two categories. Priority for admission to school is given to those who have permanent registration, while those who have temporary registration are admitted in second place.

“There is nothing in the decree about children without registration. Apparently, officials believe this means that such children do not have to be enrolled in school at all,” says Denisova.

Another human rights activist, Bakhrom Ismailov, says this year he has begun receiving many complaints from migrants whose children have been kicked out of school because they lacked documents.

“For a long time, Russia made it possible for all children who were living in the country to get an education. And the right to an education for all children was untouchable. The situation has changed this year. The FMS has obliged schools to expel children without resident permits,” says Ismailov.

“Just this week, I got several phone calls from Central Asian migrants who told me their children were going to be expelled from school because they had no medical insurance. Last year, a law requiring migrants to buy health insurance came into force. Without it, they cannot be employed. But we are talking about adult migrants. I don’t understand why high schools are making this demand on their pupils,” says Gavkhar Jurayeva, head of the Migration and Law Center.

Several teachers in different Moscow schools who wished to remain anonymous confirmed to Yod that at the beginning of the academic year, school principals were told at staff meetings that Moscow was now prepared to teach only children holding Moscow residence permits.

It is not only Moscow schools that now require residence permits.

“Our principal’s granddaughter, who is registered in Moscow, goes to school in the Moscow Region. At the school she attends, they demanded a Moscow Region residence permit from her. They said they were different budgets. Moscow was ready to educate only its own children at its own expense, and the region also educated only its own children at its own expense,” recounts a Moscow schoolteacher.

However, Isaak Kalina, head of the Moscow Education Department, does not agree with this take on the situation and says that stories of migrant children being expelled are myths.

“These stories are examples of journalistic myths. Any child who is legally in Moscow can study in Moscow’s schools,” says Kalina.

In February of this year, Uzbek national Nurbek, who has lived in Russia for ten years, was told by Vera Pankova, principal of School No. 34 in Tver, that his two teenaged sons, who had been pupils at the school since the first grade, would either have to be registered within five days or she would expel them.

“Not once in all these years had anyone at the school asked about my sons’ registration. The boys were good pupils, and they had no problems with their teachers. I also respect Russian law. I have always done all the paperwork for my family promptly,” recounts Nurbek.

The three-year residence permits of Nurbek’s sons had expired this past fall. Nurbek has a Russian residence permit, owns his own home in Tver, and is employed full time. Nurbek also wanted to apply for permanent residence permits for his sons and wife. But he was turned down on the grounds that his wife was unemployed, and the children were inscribed in her passport.

“I explained that my wife stays at home with our youngest son and our daughter. How can she work? And I own my own home and have a job. All the same, the boys were not allowed to get permanent residence,” says Nurbek, outraged.

The FMS also refused to register Nurbek’s sons, explaining that the boys had to exit and re-enter Russia.

“I earn forty to fifty thousand rubles a month [approx. 650 to 800 euros] for the whole family. I cannot afford to buy the children a two-way ticket. I have to set aside money and save up for this,” explains Nurbek.

In February, Nurbek was summoned by the principal, who demanded that he immediately present his sons’ registration. The school gave him five days to do the paperwork.

“The children were expelled the same day. They were required to turn in their textbooks. The school did not even suggest temporarily transferring them to home study. I asked that they be allowed to finish out the school year and promised to secure them their resident permits by this deadline. The principal replied that if she didn’t immediately kick out my children, the FMS would fine the school 400,000 rubles [approx. 6,500 euros]. The kids were very upset. The oldest loves school. He intends to study engineering at university, and then move to Germany. The teachers say he has great aptitude for foreign languages. After finishing school, my younger soon planned to study be a mechanic at vocational college. I have worked so much so that my children would not have to be uneducated street sweepers, and I decided to fight for them,” recounts Nurbek.

He filed a lawsuit against the school and won the case. According to the Civic Assistance Committee’s Stasya Denisova, the court ruled that the expulsion of Nurbek’s children had been illegal, because it violated the federal law “On Education,” the Russian Federal Constitution, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified.

“The demands of the local FMS office to expel children due to a lack of registration also had no legal grounds. The court ruled it was not the school’s business to identify foreign nationals among its pupils and expel them due to a lack of registration,” says Denisova.

According to Nurbek, Principal Pankova came up to him after the trial and said she would challenge the court’s ruling.

“She was very indignant that, I, a migrant, had dared file suit against a Russian school. I tried to convince her I had not wanted to humiliate or insult anyone. I just needed my children to get an education. Then she said, ‘If you have money for lawsuits, you can afford to pay for your children’s education,’” recounts Nurbek.

Pankova told Yod she had no plans to prevent Nurbek’s children from attending school.

“I only ask that they register as soon as possible. No, the FMS is not pressuring me. It just has to be done,” said Pankova.

Nurbek claims that his children have already received a temporary residence permit. They have been registered, a

The Tver Region FMS office accommodated Nurbek only after Civic Assistance Committee lawyers intervened.

“Secondary schools now require registration not only from Central Asian migrant children but also from Russian citizens who have moved to a new town and from refugees. For example, in the Moscow Region town of Noginsk we opened a school for the Syrian refugee children, who are not admitted to Russian schools despite the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We were unable to find common ground with the FMS office in Noginsk. When we arrived to meet them, their staff illegally checked the documents of the human rights defenders,” recalls Olga Nikolayenko, director of the Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children.

The FMS was unable to reply to Yod’s request for a comment before this article went to press.

Nikolayenko says she does not understand what the FMS hopes to achieve by forcing schools to expel migrant children for bureaucratic reasons.

“Some migrants will leave Russia due to the fact their children won’t be able to go to school here. But most will remain. Their children will also continue to live here, because things are even worse at home. I don’t think they will have a good attitude towards a country that has deprived them of the opportunity to get an education. World know-how shows that first-generation immigrants are never integrated. But it is easy to integrate the second generation if the host country makes a minimal effort,” says Nikolayenko. “For some reason, our government is trying to make sure that neither the second nor the third generation is integrated. It generates a number of people in this country who are excluded from social processes, and so society cannot tap their potential. These people could get a high school diploma or a higher education and pay taxes. I don’t see any logic in the actions of the schools and the local FMS offices. First and foremost, we are wantonly sabotaging ourselves.”

Ismailov says that observance of immigration law has now been put above the right of children to get an education.

“In the past two years, the requirements for migrants have become tighter and tighter. Pressure has been put on them via minors,” says Ismailov. “Why pressure children? Let the adults be fined and penalized. Children should not be treated so cruelly.”

Nurbek’s friend Abdul-Aziz, from the town of Elektrostal in Moscow Region, is planning to send his children back home to Tajikistan this week. Due to the lack of registration, none of his school-age sons and daughters is admitted to Russian schools.

“They can go to school at home. They will grow up and come to Moscow to work. There is no work in Tajikistan anyway. But if they don’t know Russian and your customs, that will be your own fault,” says Abdul-Aziz.

This is the second in a series of posts dealing with Central Asia, Central Asians, and immigration. The first post in the series, a translation of Sergei Abashin’s essay “Movements and Migrants,” can be read here. Photo, above, courtesy of Yod. Translated by The Russian Reader.

Dmitry Kozhnev: Anyone Defending Their Rights Is Branded a Fifth Columnist and Agent of the State Department

“Anyone who tries to defend their rights is a fifth columnist and agent of the State Department”
A trade union leader talks about pressure from the security forces and badgering from the National Liberation Movement
Darina Shevchenko
March 24, 2015
Yod

The automotive industry has been laying off employees around the country. Since the beginning of the year, the demand for cars has fallen 20-30%. Management has forced workers to quit, shift to part-time work or agree to significant pay cuts. The Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA) has countered with strikes and pickets. Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) has responded by taking measures against union members. Last weekend, Center “E” officers detained members of the ITUWA Kaluga local. They demanded that the activists confess to working for western secret services and acting to destabilize the situation in Russia. Dmitry Kozhnev, leader of the ITUWA Kaluga local, told Yod that the trade union has long had a difficult relationship with the local security forces, and more recently, members of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) have targeted workers for persecution.

The ITUWA was founded in 2006 by members of trade union organizations from the Ford plant in the Petersburg suburb of Vsevolozhsk and the AvtoVAZ plant in Togliatti.*** The trade union unites workers from more than fifteen companies. Its chair, Alexei Etmanov, was elected to the legislative assembly of Leningrad Region in 2011. The ITUWA’s motto is “Don’t cry, organize!”

On what grounds were trade union members taken in by Center “E” over the weekend?

Under the pretext that a robber who had hit a passerby with a bottle and stolen something had dashed into the room where we had gathered for a routine meeting. About forty security forces officers arrived. They detained fifteen of us, took us to a police station, and asked us about our activities, what protests we were planning. They told us that, under the guise of defending workers’ rights, we were spying for the US, destabilizing the regime, and engaging in provocations. We hear this song from Center “E” constantly. Apparently, law enforcement officers find it difficult to believe that an organization can be independent and act on its own.

Have Center “E” and the FSB showed interest in your activity before?

Our union emerged in 2008. During this time we have become stronger and our actions have gotten results. In [2012], a strike at the Benteler Automotive plant led to the workers signing a collective agreement that we drafted. We got the bonus included in the salary and a ban on duties other than those stipulated in the contract. At the Volkswagen plant we forced management to increase salaries by almost four times, from seven to thirty thousand rubles a month.

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Dmitry Kozhnev (left) on the picket line during the 2012 strike at Benteler Automotive

In the summer of 2013, Volkswagen management was changing equipment. They wanted to let the workers go for a week, and then have them work off the missed days on weekends. By law, management has a right to do this, but plant workers opposed it. They were furious at the prospect of working weekends in the summer, when every day off is worth its weight in gold. We told management they should pay the missed week as down time, while the workers would go to work voluntarily and at double the pay. Management stood their ground, and then we began to prepare for a strike. By the way, according to Russian law, it is almost impossible to strike. Management must be notified seven days in advance. During this time, management can succeed in appealing the strike in court and then the strike cannot start on time. So we start the strike and notify management simultaneously. That is what we did back then at Volkswagen. We also picketed dealerships and informed consumers that we could not vouch for the quality of the cars assembled during the strike. We got what wanted.

Now our trade union has influence at different plants and can exercise control over the situation. After the number of union members went over four hundred at Volkswagen in 2009, and we began doing street protests, Center “E” got on our case.

And as soon as relations between workers and management would heat up, Center “E” would show up and put pressure on us, including arrests, harassment, and surveillance. But pressure and persecution have only strengthened the organization.

Give an example of persecution by Center “E”.

As soon as our work started to produce results, we began getting summons to Center “E” and were threatened with criminal prosecution. Once they blocked my car on the street and took me down to the station. They tried to catch several comrades with allegedly faked sick leave forms, threaten to take them to court, and force them to inform on trade union leaders. One worker and trade union member had a weapon planted on him. He got into a car with security officials. They handed him a bundle, said it contained a gun used to commit a crime, and now he would either rat on his colleagues or be convicted for the crime. The comrade refused to be an informant and took the story public big time, and they left him alone. Another comrade of ours was press-ganged into the army. Because of a serious leg injury, the guy had been declared unfit for military service. During a routine medical exam at the draft board, he was suddenly declared healthy. He insisted on an independent medical examination. The guy was then abducted on the street and sent to the army. He served his term, and came back angry and able to use weapons. And he is working in the trade union again. The ranks of our trade union’s foes continue to swell. Recently, the National Liberation Movement (NOD) joined them.

How come? You don’t participate in opposition rallies, do you?

NOD considers us Banderites because anarchists carrying flags with anarchist symbols attend our rallies. They think that since the Banderites have black-and-red flags, and anarchists use the same colors, they are in cahoots. It is ridiculous, of course. It is useless to ask the NODites questions; it is better not to talk with these cartoon characters. Anatoly Artamonov, governor of Kaluga Region, has also called us agents of the West. And this is a guy who has built his region’s economy on cooperation with companies from NATO countries and has awards from NATO countries! This is the trend now. Anyone who defends their rights is a fifth columnist and agent of the State Department.

The security forces’ interest in you has to do with the crisis in the automotive industry and presumed activism on the part of trade unions. At what plants is the situation the most tense?

It is easier to say which plants have no problems: the plants that produce luxury-class cars. They are the only ones where everything is all right. All the other plants are undergoing layoffs, which are hidden for the time being. Workers are being persuaded to quit voluntarily, to accept part-time schedules and pay cuts. But I think the crisis will continue, and the actions of management will become harsher. But we will vigorously defend the interests of workers.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Russian Reporter

*** Editor’s Note. The ITUWA was originally known as the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA). It changed its name in 2013, although the union’s well-known abbreviation in Russian (MPRA) has remained the same.