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oD Russia

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"At the first shock I couldn’t help but groan and shake"

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:12:34 +0000

More details emerge around the Russian anarchist case, in which several people were tortured by the security services. In late January, Moscow birdwatcher and guide Anton Mironenko-Marenkov was investigated for holding an illegal mass demonstration. Illustration: Anastasia Vilkul.This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.As Russia’s presidential election draws closer, our weekly bulletin becomes ever more depressing. But this week we conclude with two items of good news.The case concerning alleged torture of anti-fascist activists during an investigation into terrorism in Penza and St Petersburg continues:- A defendant in the case in Penza, Ilya Shakursky, has described the torture to which he was subjected to his lawyer. He was tortured by electric shocks: “They told me to sit on the bench without raising my head. They blindfolded me, tied my hands and pushed a sock into my mouth. I thought they wanted to get my fingerprints on something or other. But they connected wires to my big toes. At the first shock I couldn’t help but groan and shake. They repeated the procedure until I promised to say whatever they told me to say. After that I forgot the word ‘no’ altogether and agreed to say whatever the officers told me to say.”- Shakursky’s mother was fired from her job as soon as the first publications about the Penza case appeared in the media.- Military prosecutors in St Petersburg have not investigated the allegation of torture made by computer programmer Viktor Filinkov. The young man told human rights defenders that he was tortured by FSB officers. Prosecutors forwarded the allegation to the FSB. - Dmitry Pchelintsev, a survival instructor and defendant in the Penza terrorism case, has withdrawn his allegations of torture. There is reason to believe he did this because he was tortured again. - Ilya Kapustin, a witness in the St. Petersburg case, has submitted a formal complaint about torture to the Investigative Committee.New details about pressure on Memorial staff come to light: - 37 houses in the centre of the Chechen village of Kurchalou are to be demolished. They include the house of the head of Memorial’s Grozny office, Oyub Titiev. Residents learned about the planned demolition on 5 February. They were given until 12 February to evacuate their homes.  - Oyub Titiev was arrested on the morning of 9 January. That evening, he was charged with possessing drugs - a packet with banned substances was allegedly found in his car. The next day the police forced Titiev’s relatives out of his home.- On the road leading from the place where Titiev was arrested to the police station where he was taken are four closed-circuit cameras. Astonishingly, the very day the human rights defender was arrested, all four cameras were оut of order. - Bakhrom Khamroev, a member of Memorial and leader of the organisation Erdam (“Help”) has been charged in Moscow with assisting in the fictitious residence registration of a foreign citizen.- According to Vitaly Ponomarev, a member of the board of Memorial Human Rights Centre, the charges against Khamroev are “merely a pretext for retribution against a human rights defender known for his work in defending refugees from Central Asia.”The homes of a number of nationalists in Moscow have been searched:- Law enforcement officers visited the home of Ivan Beletsky, the co-chair of the Party of Nationalists, who at present is not in Russia. Searches were also conducted at the homes of party members Dmitry Golikov and Konstantin Filippov. The two men, along with Golikov’s wife, were questioned by the FSB and released on condition of non-disclosure.  Two people were arrested as a result of a protest at the offices of United Russia (during the protest, one of the office windows was broken and a smoke bomb thrown in).- In a first reaction by the authorities, the home of animal rights activist El[...]

By defending Russian journalist Ali Feruz, we defend ourselves. Now we need to repeat it

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 10:33:06 +0000

The solidarity campaign for Ali Feruz, who faced deportation to Uzbekistan, has been successful. What can we learn from it? A column in support of Ali Feruz at the 19 January anti-fascist march in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. CC BY 4.0 Dmitry Horov. Some rights reserved.This article originally appeared in Russian on Socialist News.For almost a year, people have campaigned in support of Ali Feruz, a journalist with Russian independent media Novaya gazeta. He was first detained in March 2017 on suspicion of breaking Russian migration legislation. This came after the refusal by the Russian authorities to grant him asylum after he fled Uzbekistan, where he had been arrested and tortured by the brutal Karimov regime. For the last six months, after a Moscow court decided to deport him back to Uzbekistan, Ali has been held in a special prison for foreign citizens on the outskirts of Moscow.Yesterday, at 11.10am, Ali Feruz flew to Germany. The story of this journalist and activist, a friend and colleague, has caused a stir in public discussion — for the most part, thanks to the active campaign in support of Feruz. It goes without saying that Ali’s release is a victory for everyone who took part in the #HandsOffAli campaignUntil his arrest in August 2017, Ali covered the exploitation of immigrants in Russia and the crimes of Uzbekistan’s regime. He volunteered for human rights organisations, was an LGBT activist and a member of the Independent Trade Union of Media Workers. It was precisely because of these connections that when a Russian court threatened to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan — where Ali faced the threat of further imprisonment — a huge campaign was mobilised. Rights activists, trade unionists, LGBT activists — everyone joined in. And Socialist Alternative was one of the driving forces behind the public campaign in defence of Ali.Freedom for Ali is a victory, but a better outcome would have been to allow Ali to stay, live and work in RussiaIt’s worth reminding ourselves what’s been done. Activists conducted dozens of public demonstrations. We picketed the Russian Presidential Administration, the Interior Ministry’s immigration department and the courts. We took part in marches and protests, displaying placards in support of Ali. There were acts of solidarity in many other countries. The on-line petition on the platform collected over 70,000 signatures. There were fundraising evenings, collections to support Ali, his family and other immigrants who have found themselves held in the Sakharovo immigration prison. We distributed leaflets, recorded videos, issued press releases and held many meetings. In other words, we did everything possible to attract attention to Ali’s case and involve people who weren’t indifferent in action. In addition, of course, the lawyers and rights activists also conducted a huge amount of work.In essence, we were forced to fight only for the Russian state to observe its own laws. The authorities should have granted Ali the right to political asylum and not try to hand him over to Uzbekistan’s political police. When it became clear that obtaining political asylum was not going to happen, the demand to allow Ali to leave Russia for a third country became key. Ali Feruz in court, 7 August 2017. Source: YouTube / Euronews. I’ll venture an assumption that those people who, over the course of the past year, spread lies about Ali in the media and social networks will now claim that all he ever wanted was “to get out to the west”. By contrast, some people will think that leaving for Germany was the best outcome for Ali. But we don’t agree. Freedom for Ali is a victory, but a better outcome would have been to allow Ali to stay, live and work in Russia.Ali is needed here. Not just because he is known and loved. His professional experience and personal qualities were useful to Russian media, civic and political organisations who are fighting for the r[...]

С чего начинается "Родина"

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:06:06 +0000

Авторы спектакля "Родина" в московском Центре имени Вс. Мейерхольда Андрей Стадников и Дмитрий Власик – о роли коллектива в российской истории, Сталине и музыке как способе работы с памятью. В верхнем ряду - Андрей Стадников и Дмитрий Власик. Фото: Глеб Кузнецов. Все права защищены.От редакции. Эта статья – пятая в серии "Практически о памяти". Здесь вы можете прочитать о проекте.Режиссер и драматург Андрей Стадников и композитор Дмитрий Власик создали вместе шесть спектаклей. Постановки "СЛОН" и "Потомки солнца" были посвящены теме коллективного прошлого и исторической памяти. Спектакль "Родина" – новый проект Стадникова и Власика, премьера которого состоялась в конце 2017 года в Центре имени Вс. Мейерхольда, а следующие показы пройдут 29, 30 апреля и 1 мая – переосмысляет постсоветскую историю России. Художники задаются вопросом, когда и как началось наше настоящее. Зрители "Родины" занимают места на возведенной в центре зала огромной пирамиде, на и вокруг которой происходит действие. Помимо драматических сцен, раскрывающих механику принятия политических решений в прошлом и настоящем, существенную часть спектакля составляет созданная Власиком музыкальная партитура для 50 марширующих девушек. В отличие от актеров и актрис, играющих двух Сталиных, Троцкого, Бухарина, Якунина, Колоскова, Гинера и других персонажей, эти перформеры – не профессиональные исполнители. Стадников и Власик рассказывают о работе над спектаклем, человеческом факторе в истории и "Интернационале" в каждом из нас.Андрей Стадников: "С какого-то места Сталин тебе не виден, хотя он есть" Андрей Стадников. Фото: Глеб Кузнецов. Все права защищены.Сюжетами твоих спектаклей часто становились "истории угнетенных", которые по разным причинам не получали внимания в прошлом. В "Репетиции оркестра" был дан голос работникам Театра на Таганке, которые оказались исключены из истории театра. В "СЛОНе" советские пьесы 1920-30-х годов рассматривались в контексте лагерного театра. В последнем спектакле ты исследуешь механизмы политической власти. Почему именно этот спектакль называется "Родина"?Родина связана для меня с уникальным, двойственным устройством власти. Банальная мысль, но в нашей [...]

Новые иконоборцы: киевские архитекторы против "ФСБ в рясах"

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 21:00:26 +0000

Последние четыре года украинское гражданское общество доказывает, что готово на самопожертвования ради построения правового государства. К этому не готов Московский патриархат, который занят спасением власти, а не души. Митинг возле здания Апелляционного суда в Киеве, 5 февраля 2018. Фото предоставлено автором.В ночь на 25 января в киевскую полицию поступило тревожное заявление – в Десятинном монастыре Рождества Пресвятой Богородицы произошел поджог. На месте происшествия задержали двоих киевлян – архитекторов Александра Горбаня и Алексея Шемотюка. Они заявили, что это не просто поджог, а протест в адрес Украинской Православной Церкви Московского Патриархата (УПЦ МП), в ведомстве которого и находится монастырь. Акция Горбаня и Шемотюка стала не первой в ряду подобных протестов. Самовольное основание и строительство монастыря в самом центре Киева – на территории Национального исторического музея – уже более десяти лет служит поводом для конфликта между религиозной общиной и киевлянами. Хорошо организованное чудоДесятинная церковь – один из важнейших историко-архитектурных памятников в Украине. Построенная из камня в 996 году князем Владимиром, крестившим Киевскую Русь, она была разрушена в 13 веке монголо-татарами. Сохранился только фундамент – возле него и попыталась застолбить место Украинская православная церковь в 2006 году. Сначала это была палатка с крестом – скиния, установленная самовольно на территории, принадлежащей Национальному музею истории Украины. Служители УПЦ пришли сюда только отпраздновать Пасху, но остались надолго. "Сначала планировалось отслужить одну Божественную Литургию, но радость от происходящего и желание людей сподвигли испросить благословение на служение во время всей Святой седмицы. Наверное, по окончании Светлой недели, пришлось бы разобрать скинию. Но… Господь подарил всем чудо явления Своей Божественной Матери, Царицы Небесной Приснодевы Марии", – рассказывается на сайте Десятинного монастыря. Как утверждают служители этой церкви, это было первое чудо, которое явилось на праздник иконы "Живоносный источник" – сама Пречистая молилась перед ней. Икону привезли из США, где ее на[...]

If Russians are ignoring their upcoming presidential election, what are they talking about?

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:03:21 +0000

This year, local issues are the hidden focus of Russia's presidential election.  Photo: Emile Alain Ducke/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.If you follow events in Russia on the Internet, newspapers or TV, you may think that the country has been seized by the most important election campaign in a while. Russia is going to elect its president, the most influential person in the country, whose power is comparable with the Tsar’s. Surely it’s an important event, right? But in fact, while Russian public officials and politicians are ever so slightly losing their minds about thе election campaign, most ordinary people aren’t really aware of it.This is especially the case in Russia’s regions. I live in Ekaterinburg, a prominent city in the middle of Russia, located on the border of Europe and Asia. It has a population of 1.5 million, a comparatively developed economy and active media scene. But there are no serious conversations happening about the upcoming election. The winner is already known; the current president Vladimir Putin, who has ruled the country for 18 years, will triumph again on 18 March. So what is there to talk about – apart from whether Putin will receive 70% or 75% of the vote?The Kremlin’s long-term efforts to freeze political life in this country have produced the results intended. The political field around the president has been scorched clear, the parliamentary opposition is under informal control by the Kremlin, and Alexey Navalny, the only real opposition to Putin, doesn’t have access to TV, nor financial support from business. In these circumstances, the presidential campaign has become a grand simulation of an election, just like a lot of other things in Russia – from the parliament to the judicial system.For this column, I was asked to write about the election campaign as a catalyst of political processes in Russia’s regions. But I have to disappoint the editors. It’s actually the other way round – in Russia, the presidential campaign is freezing the country’s political life.Candidates are pretending to speak about local issues to try and drum up interest, but this more likely irritates people than engages themThere is an amusing image doing the rounds on the Russian internet: it shows a calendar that expires on 18 March, with nothing planned after election day. Indeed, it looks like the majority of officials, politicians and businessmen are limiting their planning horizons to this date. Personnel decisions, new projects and investments in the regions are postponed until an undefined “post-election” era. Since Russia’s new government will be appointed after the presidential election, some governors may be invited to take their posts in federal-level ministries and agencies. After the new ministers arrive, all the staff will be rearranged. Police chiefs, prosecutors, presidential representatives and so on are likely to be changed. In a word, the Russian establishment is facing a great change. Here it’s worth bearing in mind that in Russia, everything is decided by individuals, not organisations or institutions. One project can be supported by one official and sabotaged by another for a number of reasons, including personal ones. That’s why nobody starts any significant business before the presidential campaign – it’s usually followed by the change of officials.As far as I can tell, this campaign is viewed by most people as it should be – a kind of performance. Although candidates come to Ekaterinburg (and even attract some attention from the press), people see this as an insignificant political show. What does it matter matter what Ksenia Sobchak, Pavel Grudinin or Vladimir Zhirinovsky say when the winner is already known? Candidates are pretending to speak about local issues to try and drum up interest, but this more likely irritates people than engages them. Museum entrance at Ye[...]

"Невидимый батальон": как украинские женщины добились права воевать наравне с мужчинами

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 16:57:28 +0000

Украинское гражданское общество почти четыре года отражает российскую военную агрессию. Построение эффективной армии началось снизу, и активную роль в нем играют женщины – способные и желающие служить не хуже мужчин. Работает инструктор-парамедик Дарья Зубенко. Кадр из документального фильма "Невидимый батальон", 2017 год, Украина."У нас оборона хуже, чем оборона Челси"Лирический герой стихотворения Сергея Жадана "Военкомат" (2008) не хочет идти в армию. И его можно понять. Армия Украины до 2014 года являла собой жалкое зрелище – то ракета влетит в жилой дом, то склад боеприпасов взорвется. Внеблоковое государство на развалинах советской империи, небогатое и коррупционное, совершенно не ожидало, что ему придется всерьез от кого-нибудь обороняться. Финансы и внимание в вооруженные силы Украины вкладывались по остаточному принципу, техника ржавела, призывники строили генералам дачи. "Короче, ма, я пас, я не пойду" – как пишет Жадан, самый популярный современный украинский поэт.Все изменилось в 2014 году, когда после победы Евромайдана и побега из страны пророссийского президента Виктора Януковича империя нанесла ответный удар. Внезапная российская военная агрессия в Крыму и особенно на востоке Украины потребовала срочной обороны, и украинское общество отреагировало быстрее, чем государство. Помимо немедленно сформировавшихся для так называемой антитеррористической операции десятков добровольческих батальонов, которые воевали поначалу порой буквально в резиновых тапках, общество взяло на себя задачу обеспечения армии всем необходимым – от квадрокоптеров, прицелов и тепловизоров до гвоздей и скоб. На вооруженную агрессию украинское общество отреагировало быстрее, чем украинское государствоВласть отреагировала на ситуацию значительно позже – отчасти вкладывая собственные финансы и внимание, отчасти привлекая в свои ряды вчерашних волонтеров обеспечения (слово "волонтер" в Украине в последние три-четыре года намертво закрепилось за теми, кто собирает на свою карточку деньги на материальное обеспечение подразделения, закупает нужное и отвозит на фронт). Большинство добровольческих баталь[...]

This week in Russia: violence and impunity

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 14:27:56 +0000

The echoes of a planned national revolution continue to resound in Russia, as more people are swept up by the security services.  Penza's investigation prison No.1. Source: OVD-Info. This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.We’ve found more information about people prosecuted in connection with Vyacheslav Maltsev’s planned revolution for November 2017. Construction worker Vyacheslav Shatrovksy from Kostroma region has been charged with striking and choking a police officer, although in fact what happened was somewhat different. A police officer, using force, threw Shatrovsky over his shoulder, as a result of which Shatrovsky received an open head wound and numerous bruises to his head and face. The lawyer Konstantin Markin reports what happened to Shatrovksy on 5 November. You can read it here. Meanwhile, Shatrovsky is being held in pre-trial detention centre in Moscow and his health is deteriorating.In St Petersburg, human rights defenders have published a report about the torture of Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin, prosecuted in a new terrorism case which is yet one more echo of the “Maltsev revolution.” Both men have been found to have numerous bruises and burn marks from electric shocks on their bodies.Maltsev’s activities sometimes seem to surface in very unexpected ways. At the end of last year, police officers conducted a search of the home of a Kaluga resident and charged her with insulting and threatening the investigator who had conducted the search of Maltsev’s apartment in a post on the VKontakte social networking site. The woman herself asserts that until the charges were brought she had known neither the investigating officer nor Maltsev.Meanwhile, the echoes of the Bolotnaya Square prosecutions are gradually fading. Last week, Maksim Panfilov was released; this week the requirement that Mikhail Kosenko must undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment as an outpatient was cancelled. Both individuals had been found unfit to stand trial following the events on Bolotnaya Square of 6 May 2012. This week, the European Court of Human Rights awarded one other defendant in the Bolotnaya Square case, Vladimir Akimenkov, €10,000 in compensation.The last person to be prosecuted in the Bolotnaya Square case to date, Dmitry Buchenkov, who did not wait for his trial to end but left the country, is writing a book in emigration about the Russian courts and investigative authorities. Here we publish two chapters from his book.The article of the Criminal Code concerning use of force against a representative of authority, familiar to those prosecuted in the Bolotnaya Square case and to Vyacheslav Shatrovsky, may now be used against Alexey Navalny. Navalny was summoned to the Investigative Committee and shown the report of a police officer who asserts that Navalny struck him in the leg when he was detained on 28 January.However, there seems no rush to open criminal proceedings, or even to conduct a preliminary investigation, into an injury to the hand received by pensioner Turana Varzhabetyan at a protest that took place on 26 March. Meanwhile, the court has fined her a second time (the first fine was quashed). Varzhabetyan was also a victim of violence on Bolotnaya Square in 2012 when she was struck on the head by a police baton. No one has been brought to justice for the incident.In Krasnodar region, pensioner Raisa Pogodaeva has been arrested twice: first for a video about the arrest of a supporter of Artpodgotovka, and then for publishing a post on her VKontakte page about her first arrest. 8 February: investigators search Gamil Asatullin's home. Source: Andrey Lepekhin. An activist of the environmental movement STOP GOK, which campaigns to halt the construction of a mining and processing plant in Chel[...]

Ukraine’s blacklists in defence of democracy and national security are doing it no favours

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 13:38:12 +0000

Fresh bans on Russian and Ukrainian cultural production are signs that Ukraine could be losing its hard-won freedom. RU The legal import of books from Russia (previously massive in scale) has practically stopped. Photo: grunechka / Flickr. All rights reserved.In recent months, the wave of bans and blacklists in Ukraine’s cultural politics since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in the east of the country has reached new heights. Last November, Ukraine’s State Film Agency revoked registration for a popular sitcom, “In-laws” (Svaty), banning it from the country’s TV channels: one of the Russian actors had been put on a security service blacklist for publicly supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and regularly visiting the peninsula, making him an official threat to national security.Then in mid-January, the agency banned the Russian film Matilda, which depicts a love affair between the future Tsar Nicholas II and the half-Polish ballet dancer, Matilda Kshesinskaya (Valery Gergiev, the film’s musical director, had already been blacklisted for a long time). And two days later, The Guardian published an article by historian Anthony Beevor protesting the decision to ban the Russian translation of Stalingrad, his historical account of the 1942-1943 battle. An expert committee at the State Committee for TV and Radio Broadcasting included the book on a list of works that are banned from being imported to Ukraine from “the aggressor state”, because of its “provocative nature”.In the Ukrainian media world, news about yet another Russian cultural figure, film or book being blacklisted is hardly world-shattering. Over the last four years, the list has lengthened to include 118 people. The legal import of books from Russia (previously massive in scale) has practically stopped, and although the expert committee above regularly publishes lists of banned books (there are 25 at present), there is no indication of either the criteria used or checks on its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian public has split into two clear camps. One will support any action that limits Russia’s media and cultural presence (especially of the mass produced kind) in Ukraine’s public sphere. The other argues for a “ban on bans”, on the grounds that freedom of speech is an essential element of democracy, or that in our age of global communication it’s basically impossible to ban anything.The situation with “In-laws”, Matilda and Stalingrad is, of course, somewhat different from the ban on importing works by such figures as Zakhar Prilepin, a Russian chauvinist writer and Donbas combatant, or Zurab Tseriteli, a bonafide pillar of Russian “great power” culture and president of the Russian Academy of Arts, or the folk and pop singer Nadezhda Babkina. Scene from the movie "Matilda." Source: Youtube. Some rights reserved.“In-laws” is a popular sitcom produced in Ukraine. The secret of its success is its gentle use of contrasting family and cultural stereotypes: her parents and his parents, the city and the countryside, politeness and tackling things head-on. There have been six seasons so far, all equally well received, and a seventh was due for 2018. The news of its possible ban was the talk of the press, TV and social media for almost a week before Ukraine’s state film agency confirmed its decision. The average TV viewer, who couldn’t care less about book imports and was now used to the absence of Russian pop stars on TV or on stage in their home town or wherever, was outraged: “‘In-laws’ is our programme. What are they doing banning it?” The programme’s producer, the popular actor Vladimir Zelensky, recorded a message to the SBU, calling for it to “get rid of your nepotism first, then start fighting against our ‘In-laws’[...]

Let them pray for death: Belarus’ war on drugs

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 09:48:15 +0000

Belarus’ anti-drug campaign is imprisoning thousands of young people on possession charges. But the evidence often doesn’t add up – or warrant such strict sentences. Photo: Tanya Kapitonova. All rights reserved.On an ordinary evening in March 2015, Alexey Rassadnev returned to his parents’ home, a middle-class Soviet-style apartment complex in Minsk. After dinner, Alexey, 29, headed out to see his girlfriend who lived with her child nearby.When leaving the apartment block, he passed a neighbour who patted his shoulders in the place where police epaulettes normally go. He was trying to warn Alexey about the police. But Alexey wasn’t paying attention. By the time the young man saw the approaching officers, it was too late. He tried to run but was caught, beaten and dragged home to be searched. Alexey was lucky. The police found neither prohibited substances, nor paraphernalia. Alexey’s mother Galina says her son ate in front of the computer quite often, and she saw the police collect some dust and crumbs as evidence.That same evening a search was carried out in his girlfriend’s apartment, but again investigators did not find anything. A urine test confirmed, however, that the young couple smoked marijuana. That was enough for the police. Investigator threatened to imprison them both and send the child to an orphanage, so they signed papers confirming that Alexey had proposed to smoke weed together. According to Belarusian law, persons cooperating with investigations are exempted from criminal liability. But after a few short months on freedom, Alexey was sentenced to five years in maximum security prison for possession of 0.164 grams of marijuana. The court ruled that the material evidence (a paper package and a cloth bag) must be destroyed, and allegations that the testimony was given under pressure were groundless.Alexey was sentenced to five years in maximum security prison for possession of 0.164 grams of marijuanaAlexey was sentenced for distribution despite only sharing some cannabis with his girlfriend. Every year in Belarus, several thousand people go to jail for violating Article 328 of Belarus’ Criminal Code for “illicit trafficking in narcotic and psychotropic substances, their precursors and analogues.” The duration of imprisonment ranges from two years for manufacturing, acquisition or possession of drugs without intent to 25 years for drug dealing if it results in the death of a person.In the first half of 2017, 1,568 people were convicted of drug-related crimes, according to official reports. In 2016, courts in Belarus sentenced 3,608 people and almost 4,000 a year earlier. Independent lawyers and human rights activists believe that about 12,000 to 13,000 young people have been convicted in the past three years.From Asia to EuropeAs a transit state, Belarus has faced drug trafficking since Perestroika. Back then, most of the banned substances were transported from Asia to Ukraine and Europe. In the 1990s, the small city of Svietlahorsk in south-eastern Belarus was affected not only by depression caused by the collapse of the Soviet union, but also by the influx of drugs. As a result, Svietlahorsk has become notorious as an HIV epicentre, and the number of HIV-positive people has risen again in recent years.The largest share of drug trafficking, according to representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, comes from Russia. The two countries share an unregulated land border as members of the Union State. Despite the fact that earlier last year a few border zones were restored by Russia, the investigative committees of both countries state that it is still extremely difficult to block drug trafficking channels. Photo: Tanya Kapitonova. All rights reserved.Around 2009, “spices” or so-called “designer d[...]

"Защищать невиновных сложнее всего"

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 13:41:04 +0000

Российские следователи становятся все более виртуозными, преследуя граждан по политическим мотивам. Каждое новое уголовное дело против участников протестных митингов не только дает наработку органам, но и уменьшает степень общественного резонанса. English Адвокат Светлана Сидоркина и Александр Кольченко. Фото: Антон Наумлюк. Все права защищены.Светлана Сидоркина, адвокат международной правозащитной ассоциации "Агора", на протяжении почти всей карьеры защищает в суде тех, кто подвергается политическим преследованиям в России. В списке ее подзащитных – участники протестов 6 мая и 26 марта, общественные деятели, публицисты и политические активисты разных движений, а также те, кого лишили свободы за репосты в социальных сетях.По первому образованию вы историк. Как пришли в адвокатуру? До того как поступить на историко-филологический факультет Марийского госуниверситета, я подавала документы на юридический факультет Казанского университета, но не прошла по конкурсу – было почти сто человек на место, и мне не хватило баллов. А историю я всегда любила, и чтобы не терять время, пошла на исторический. Юриспруденция же была моей главной мечтой после окончания школы, поэтому чуть позже я получила второе образование и все-таки пришла в профессию, к которой изначально стремилась.Когда вы выбирали юриспруденцию, то представляли, с чем именно будете работать? Нет, когда я заканчивала школу, вообще ничего не знала о профессии юриста, была в розовых облаках. У меня обыкновенные родители: мать всю жизнь проработала бухгалтером, отец — инженером-механиком, никакого отношения к юриспруденции они не имели. Представления об адвокатской деятельности были на основе романов, скорее детские мечты о добре и справедливости, об оказании людям помощи. Сейчас я вижу совсем другое. Работать очень сложно. Возможно, если бы тогда я лучше понимала реальность, то не пошла в профессию. То, о чем мечтала, сбылось лишь наполовину. Какие дела для вас были самыми сложными?Вспоминаются самые свежие. Одним из наиболее трудных мне представляется дело Дмитрия Бученкова — он по[...]

Svetlana Sidorkina: “Defending the innocent is the most difficult thing of all”

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 13:01:46 +0000

Svetlana Sidorkina, one of Russia’s leading human rights lawyers, talks about how hard the Russian justice system can be to beat. RU Lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina and Alexander Kolchenko. Photo: Anton Naumlyuk. All rights reserved.Russian investigators are becoming ever more skilled at prosecuting citizens for political reasons. Every new criminal case launched against Russian protesters means more experience for the law enforcement apparatus, but diminishing interest from the wider public. Svetlana Sidorkina, a lawyer for the Agora international human rights group, has been defending people who have fallen victim to politically motivated prosecutions throughout her entire career. Sidorkina’s clients have included public figures, social commentators, political activists of various stripes, individuals who played a part in the 2012 Bolotnaya Square protests and the March 2017 anti-corruption rally, as well as those who have been imprisoned for reposting content on social media. As part of oDR’s series on human rights lawyers in the post-Soviet space, I spoke to Svetlana Sidorkina about her career, her defendants and how Russia’s law enforcement are upping their game. You’re a historian by training. How did you end up in the legal profession?Before entering the History and Philology Faculty at Mari State University, I’d applied to the Law Faculty at Kazan — but didn’t get in. There were a hundred candidates per place. History was a subject I’d always loved, and I went down the history route so as not to lose any time. Doing law was my biggest dream after leaving school, so I subsequently retrained and worked my way into the profession I was initially desperate to enter.When you chose law, did you have an idea of what your work would specifically involve? No. When I was finishing school, I didn’t have a clue what being a lawyer entailed. My parents were ordinary people: my mother worked as an accountant all her life, my father was a mechanical engineer, and they had no links to the legal profession. My ideas about the work of a lawyer came from novels, they were little more than childish pipe dreams about good and justice and helping people out. Now I see things entirely differently. The work is very challenging. If I’d had a better understanding of how things really were, perhaps I’d never have gone into the profession. Only half of what I dreamed of came true. What cases have proven the most challenging for you? The case of Dmitry Buchenkov, the last of the Bolotnaya Square defendants, was one of the most difficult [Buchenkov fled Russia in November 2017]. It was difficult because he’s innocent! Dima didn’t do the things he stood accused of doing, and defending an innocent man is the hardest thing of all. The burden of responsibility for the court’s eventual ruling lies on you. One would think that the final word doesn’t rest with the defence, but, in presenting the defendant’s alibi and arguing his innocence, you nonetheless take on a very significant degree of responsibility — more so than if you knew that the person had actually committed some sort of act. Dmitry Buchenkov. Source: Vkontakte.In cases like this you make the highest demands on yourself. Even the knowledge that you’ve done everything in your power in the given situation isn’t enough to settle your mind. An internal struggle plays itself out inside your head — you can’t help but think you could have done more.From the point of view of Russian legislation, will he ever be able to return to Russia?No. Dmitry has said that he’s requested political asylum in an EU country. The very essence of political asylum testifies to this fact — it is intended to protect people who cannot re[...]

Protest in Russia's paper town

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 23:11:56 +0000

This corner of Karelia is known for two things: its paper mill and its prison. But its residents are fed up with poor quality housing, inefficient public transport and an unresponsive state — and are trying to do something about it. RU Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.In Segezha, most people are either “paper people” (workers at the local pulp and paper mill) or officers at the local prison colony. Indeed, Segezha’s Colony No.7 has a reputation: Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent two years in prison here, and in 2016, another political prisoner, Ildar Dadin, revealed he’d been brutally tortured at the colony.Residents of Segezha recently took to the streets to demand the resignation of the town’s mayor. I went along to find out more – and found people exchanging their frustrations on local issues.Between the prison and the paper millIn the early 1990s, this typical company town was the second largest settlement in Karelia, which shares a border with Finland, but in the last 15 years it’s lost a quarter of its population. Residents, especially young people, are leaving for bigger cities.The massive Segezha Group Pulp and Paper Mill, Russia’s largest producer of packaging paper and paper bags, appears a flourishing and busy company: it’s modernising its operations with the installation of new, up to date equipment. But this industrial progress is having no effect on the lives of the local people, one in ten of whom work for the company. Segezha paper mill. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.Segezha’s town centre may look relatively prosperous and, but its three outlying districts – DOK, Leyguba and Goristaya Street – are stuck not in the 1990s, but the 1960s. Here, the potholed roads, which the town’s buses won’t travel along any more, are lined with ramshackle barracks, and the ubiquitous 1960s five-storey blocks of flats known as “Khrushchevki” are in no better shape. The town has 157 condemned residential buildings, with a cumulative area of 63,000 sq m. But the mayor’s office is in no hurry to include them in its plan for moving people out of unsafe housing, while the construction of new housing supposedly going up as part of the plan is on hold. Sub-contractors are constantly replaced and endlessly fighting one another through the courts.A unique deputy“The call for a rally came from social media,” Andrey Rogalevich, a deputy in Karelia’s regional legislature, tells me, commenting on the 3 February protest. “I still don’t know whether it was a cry from the heart or a provocation, or somebody was setting me up. But it did happen and was directed at me, so I decided to take it on and organise it. Some people who promised me help on the day ended up under too much pressure [from the authorities] and dropped out, but I went ahead and organised the protest.”Rogalevich was born and bred in Segezha, and in September 2016 became the only deputy to beat a United Russia candidate in a single-member constituency in elections to the regional parliament. True, with a majority of just two votes over his rival.    The young politician, who in the last elections stood as a candidate for the Just Russia political party, is well known for his active politics and attempts to use his status for the good of his district. Rogalevich had no hesitation in criticising not just the local, but the regional authorities. Indeed, he was so active in the assembly that when the party leadership refused to select him as their candidate for his home constituency, it seemed to many a sign of a conspiracy between Just Russia and the ruling United Russia party to sideline a strong candidate. Andrey Rogalevich[...]

Protecting the environment is becoming a deadly occupation in Russia

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 06:56:38 +0000

Environmental activists in Russia’s North Caucasus are fighting not just for the environment, but their own lives. RU December 2017: public inspection of illegal construction in a Krasnodar forest, after which Andrey Rudomakha (pictured right) was attacked. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.Over the last two decades, successive Russian governments have done their utmost to destroy any emerging elements of civil society. This has included passing increasingly restrictive legislation on NGOs, including the infamous “foreign agent” law, and it is now attacking a new target — the internet — with a media law that is trying to make “foreign agents” out of bloggers.Until now, the only thing they haven’t resorted to — or at least, not openly welcomed — has been physical attacks on civil society campaigners. But there are already “pilot regions” where activists, including environmental protesters, have been facing violence for some time. And the worst area in this respect is the North Caucasus.Land of spontaneous protestsEnvironmental activism is less developed in the North Caucasus, and southern Russia in general, than in any other Russian region (apart from sparsely populated parts of Siberia and the far north). This is a legacy of the cultural-historical and socio-political specifics of the region: the North Caucasus has traditionally had a fairly loose connection with Russia’s judicial system. And it’s not just Chechnya, as people assume: the entire region between the Black Sea and the Caspian is in the hands of local clans who enjoy individual relationships, some more successful than others, with the Moscow government.Environmental protesters in the North Caucasus have been facing violence for some timeIn return for their loyalty and the right election results, local officials have carte blanche from Moscow to do what they like on their own patch. The result is a systemic infringement of the public’s rights and freedoms on a horrendous scale. And when people’s basic rights are breached, environmental issues have to take second place to the right to life, personal inviolability and so on. Eco-activism is, however, alive and well in the region.One case, for example, has been the longstanding fight by residents of southern Dagestan for the Samur river, which marks the border with Azerbaijan. Unsustainable use of its water in both countries led to the near disappearance of the unique tropical liana forest in its delta, while lowered levels in the river and the surrounding groundwater put at risk the Magaramkent district’s fruit orchards, on which its economy depends. width="460" height="259" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media">December 2013: 15 people are arrested after protesting the construction of a water station on the Samur river. Source: Caucasian Knot In 2013 plans to create another fifty water catchment areas in the delta, to supply water to the cities of Derbent and Izberbash, triggered social unrest in the region: people held spontaneous rallies and were ready to build a protest camp. In December of that year the army was brought out to put down the protest, although fortunately no one was killed.Now Dagestanis are actively engaged in direct action against illegal private mini oil refineries. A couple of years ago a crowd of young people almost trashed one of these in a suburb of the capital Makhachkala: its waste dumping was really annoying the locals and the city authorities were doing nothing about it. So the residents got organised and took the law into their own hands.Spontaneous “radical” (although fairly brief) e[...]

По призыву из соцсетей

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 22:36:43 +0000

Жители карельского города Сегежи вышли на митинг и потребовали отставки мэра. English Митинг за отставку мэра Анатолия Лотоша. Фото предоставлено автором. Все права защищены.В карельском городе Сегежа, где две основные профессии – "бумажник" (работник целлюлозно-бумажного комбината) и надзиратель (в исправительной колонии), 3 февраля прошел митинг за отставку мэра Анатолия Лотоша. На центральной площади собралось более 200 человек. Организатор митинга, депутат Законодательного собрания Карелии Андрей Рогалевич, дал "выпустить пар" всем желающим. Между колонией и ЦБКСегежа – типичный карельский моногород. В начале 90-х он был вторым по величине населенным пунктом республики, но за 15 лет Сегежа потеряла больше четверти населения. Люди, в первую очередь молодые, уезжают отсюда.Градообразующее предприятие – лесопромышленный холдинг "Сегежа Групп" – вроде бы находится на подъеме и переживает очередной цикл модернизации: развивается деревообрабатывающий комбинат, на Сегежский ЦБК, российский и мировой лидер в производстве упаковочной бумаги, поставляется новое оборудование. Но на жизнь города, каждый десятый житель которого работает в структуре "Сегежа групп", это производственное благополучие, кажется, никак не влияет. Сегежский ЦБК. Фото предоставлено автором. Все права защищены.Если центр Сегежи выглядит относительно благополучным и ухоженным, то три отдаленных района города – "ДОК", "Лейгуба" и улица Гористая – застряли даже не в 1990-х, а в 1960-х годах. Вдоль разбитых дорог, по которым перестали ездить муниципальные автобусы, стоят разваливающиеся деревянные бараки, да и пятиэтажные "хрущевки" выглядят не лучше. В городе 157 аварийных домов (или 63 тысячи квадратных метров), жить в которых опасно. Но мэрия не спешит включать их в целевую программу переселения людей из аварийного жилья. А новые дома, которые возводятся по этой программе, никак не достроят: подрядчики меняют друг друга и судятся между собой.Известна Сегежа и расположенной на ее территории исправительной колонией, печал[...]

Вечный конфликт? Как растет пропасть между украинскими и российскими обществами и кто пытается ее преодолеть

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 12:41:58 +0000

Украина и Россия находятся в ситуации самовоспроизводящегося конфликта: агрессия подпитывает изоляцию и провоцирует дальнейшую агрессию. Украинские и российские активисты видят эту проблему – но смогут ли они ее перебороть? Киев, 2015 год. На фото слева направо: Андрей Игнатчук, актер из Минска; Варя Даревская; киевлянка Наталия Бугреева. Фото: Елена Подгорная.Из всех возможных постсоветских образцов поведения в условиях сепаратистского конфликта Украина, похоже, выбрала самый неудачный – азербайджанский, блокируя неподконтрольную территорию и ограничивая контакты с соседней страной. Реальный повседневный опыт жителей обеих стран в таких условиях легко подменяется пропагандистской бравадой, а любые попытки народной дипломатии становятся рискованными. Конфликт как будто подключается к "вечному двигателю", воспроизводясь на всех возможных уровнях и заставляя уже местные правительства безостановочно крутить этот маховик противостояния. Выступая против войны на Донбассе и не имея возможности свободно действовать в России, некоторые россияне пытаются участвовать в жизни украинского общества – но и тут их встречают без энтузиазма. Действуя из лучших побуждений, российские активисты разочаровываются, когда наталкиваются в Украине на стену неприятия. В Киеве или Днепре уже не ждут великодушных жестов – ждут только того, чтобы Россия оставила Украину в покое, и переносят все свои обиды с тех, кто действительно виноват (конкретных политиков), на тех, кто ближе (активистов и волонтеров). Обида быстро становится взаимной: российские антивоенные активисты ожидают от украинцев, что и те тоже будут выступать против продолжения вооруженного конфликта на Донбассе, едва ли понимая, что невозможно протестовать против войны оборонительной.  "Ваш страх ничуть не лучше нашего страха"– В Горловке у меня была одна встреча с местной молодежью: я предложила присутствующим на ней написать письма в Киев. Они так обрадовались: "Что, прямо в Киев?!" Для них это было все равно [...]

The symbolic meaning of the presidential elections for Russian liberals

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 06:43:13 +0000

The Sobchak and Navalny campaigns are two very different options for the future of Russia’s democratic movement. Navalny's "electoral strike" could transform the boycott from a traditional passive act into a mobilising one. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Image. All rights reserved.This article originally appeared on Republic in Russian. On the pages of Vedomosti, I recently analysed the electoral options that democratically-oriented voters have under various electoral systems and various pre-electoral choice of candidates. I would now like to draw attention to the long-term strategic consequences of these options. Let’s admit that what matters is not the maths behind the results presidential elections this March, but the symbolic choice made on election day.Today, democratically oriented voters have two options: to participate in Alexey Navalny’s “electoral strike” (that is, to boycott the elections) or to vote for Ksenia Sobchak, the most active of all the democratic candidates allowed to stand. New majority vs mobilised minorityIt might appears that the campaigns of Alexey Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak are about almost the same thing. But they are, in fact, fundamentally different, and will lead to different outcomes. In reality, what may seem like “stylistic differences” can define almost everything. What matters is the hierarchy of issues, the sense of how far you’re willing to go, time and place. In politics, as with any technology (and almost everything in life), what matters is consistency, and breaking it can make the solution of any problem impossible. What is alike on the outside can be actually very different and lead to completely different results in the long run.What is Navalny’s campaign about? While he is undoubtedly a man of democratic views (nobody doubts his devotion to the ideals of civil rights, private property, political competition, European values), Navalny nevertheless tries to talk to Russian society in a language that is understood by the majority, and in a language which this majority is ready to listen to. He translates liberal discourse into a language that is understood by the majority, with the help of self-evident examples. Navalny blends the themes of freedom and justice, and his key theme, the fight against corruption and misuse of public resources, implies clearly both social justice and equality of rights. Are other civil rights – such as the right to privacy, freedom of conscience and so on – important to him? Undoubtedly, but his hierarchy of issues is built for the widest audience. Navalny tries to create a new majority by translating a liberal discourse into a “human language”, and this is precisely why he is a threat to the authorities. Ksenia Sobchak speaks at a demonstration in support of fair elections, Novy Arbat, Moscow, 10 March 2012. Photo CC BY-NC-SA 2.0: / Flickr. Some rights reserved.Everything at the core of Navalny’s image and political programme are either absent or at the fringes of Ksenia Sobchak’s campaign. Conversely, everything that is implied by Navalny’s programme but unimportant from the point of view of the struggle for mass electorate is central in her campaign. Whether Crimea is “ours” or not, European values, sanctions against Russia, legalisation of soft drugs, LGBT rights, secularisation of society and so on – all these are important issues, but from the point of view of the ordinary voter they are not issues of first, nor second, not even third importance. Because the public image and hierarchy of issues is different in Sobchak’s case, her [...]

Academic freedom in Tajikistan endangered: what is to be done?

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 17:44:32 +0000

In Tajikistan, academic freedom is severly under threat. But how should the international academic community respond?  A state medical university in Tajikistan | Photo by Foteh Rahimov via Wikimedia Commons.This article originally appeared on EurasiaNet.Academic freedom is imperiled in Tajikistan, and determined action by the international academic community is needed to encourage Tajik authorities to ease pressure on scholars.The dire situation today concerning academic freedom sharply contrasts with that which existed during the late 1990s and early 2000s. A few decades ago, at a time when Central Asian Studies was beginning to establish itself as an international academic field, there was a surprising degree of freedom to conduct research in Tajikistan, despite the lingering effects of the country’s civil war. Universities and the Academy of Sciences had emerged from the dark years of the war with a willingness to collaborate with all-comers, and visiting academics were welcomed. At the time, there were few practical barriers to conducting research.In some respects, this relationship was "extractive" and problematic. Foreign academics would arrive, hire research assistants whose contacts and skills they would rely upon, and extract data to write doctoral dissertations, or complete externally funded projects. Tajik academics and independent research organizations became dependent on external funding. Meanwhile, scholarship programs attracted the best young Tajik researchers to study overseas, and some understandably did not return. The country faced shortages of funding, expertise, and anaemic support — something that is particularly acute in post-conflict environments.But today these growing pains have been replaced by problems on a whole new scale. Similar to what occurred in Uzbekistan in the early 2000s, over the last five years it has become increasingly difficult to collaborate with Tajik colleagues, as the government has enforced a growing number of formal and informal restrictions.Authoritarian regimes are in need of “intellectuals” — people able to draft policy, outline strategy, to construct an ideological foundation for the ruling elitesInternational scholars who have sought to make research cooperation less extractive by co-designing and co-publishing with Tajik scholars inadvertently put them at greater risk. In 2014, for example, our colleague Alexander Sodiqov was arrested, detained and charged with espionage after conducting an interview with an activist in Khorog. It took 36 days for the security services (SCNS) to be persuaded to release him.Since 2014, the situation has kept deteriorating. We know directly of five further cases (including this one) of academics forced to leave Tajikistan because they faced pressure from the security services. While we have only worked directly with two of these six scholars, all have worked extensively with foreign academics, and all have been subject to SCNS investigations, or the threat thereof.The evisceration of academic freedom in Tajikistan is rarely discussed publically. It was not even mentioned in the June 2017 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye.Anonymous and/or confidential accounts provided to us reveal the mechanisms by which the repression of academics is occurring in Tajikistan. Most troubling is the fact that repression, although instigated by the SCNS, typically takes place with some level of cooperation, whether tacit or overt, of fellow scholars and state academic institutions. In other word[...]

If Paul Day builds a monument to late Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, the blood of his victims will taint the artist’s work forever

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 11:07:37 +0000

Open letter from Uzbek human rights activists to British sculptor Paul Day, commissioned to commemorate former President. The sculpture is to go outside the Uzbek embassy in Moscow.  Islam Karimov ruled Uzbekistan brutally from 1989 until his death in 2016. (c) Bernd von Jutrczenka/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Dear Mr Day, Thanks to the man you plan to celebrate with your latest sculpture, none of us have been able to visit our homeland for many years. During Islam Karimov’s reign of terror, we lost loved ones, family members, friends. Brutal crackdowns by the security forces he controlled have denied countless of our fellow Uzbeks the kind of reunion captured by your talented work, the Meeting Place at St Pancras station. You must already know that Karimov ordered the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters in Andijan in 2005. It is unlikely we will ever know the exact number, because he had the bodies hidden in mass graves. Those who tried to show them to the world were silenced. You must know that before he died in 2016, Karimov subjected millions of people, including young children, to slavery in the cotton fields. That he imprisoned thousands of real or imagined opponents. That he had them tortured, sometimes to death. That he attacked artists who dared venture into politics and imposed strict censorship on the media, social sciences, literature and arts. These are the values you will be celebrating with your homage to his legacy. How much are you being paid to heroise a monster, Mr. Day?  You should know that the money you receive for this sculpture is dirty money. Karimov and his family abused their power to steal millions, if not billions of dollars from the state. They extorted lavish bribes from Western companies seeking to do business in Uzbekistan. His eldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, extorted hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes from international telecom companies. She laundered this money through dozens of offshore companies. Now the US has placed Gulnara Karimova on the Magnitsky sanctions list and her assets have been frozen.  The Islam Karimov Foundation paying you was formed by his younger daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillayeva. Its purpose is to whitewash her family’s soiled reputation. Let us tell you where her money comes from. Under Karimov, Lola’s husband Timur Tillayev mysteriously gained control of Abu-Sahiy, a huge wholesale market in Tashkent. For years, they paid a meagre $625,000 in tax a month on this business empire. With Karimov gone, the market was wrested from the Tillayevs’ control in November last year. In the first two weeks of December alone, the market generated around $4.4 million in taxes, suggesting they were paying only a fraction  of the taxes due. We are campaigning for the Uzbek authorities to dig deeper into the origins of the Tillayevs’ wealth. We suspect they will discover evidence of tax evasion and money laundering. If they do, the Foundation and any payments to you will come under the spotlight. Should the assets be frozen, you may never be paid in full. Yet money should be the least of your worries. What of your artistic legacy? One of your most famous works, Battle of Britain, pays tribute to the men and women who risked their lives to save civilians from Adolf Hitler’s bombing campaign. Liverpool is raising $2.5 million to build your Battle of the Atlantic Memorial. We assume you would not taint their legacy and yours by building a homage to Hitler. Why are yo[...]

Russia’s car industry, where even the dead work overtime

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 09:47:31 +0000

Once the pride of the Soviet Union, Tolyatti’s car factories are cutting workers and raising production quotas by the year. The cost is all too human. Tolyatti is Russia’s Detroit. Situated on the Volga River not far from Samara, the city is home to some 700,000 people, and its workshops – which produce Ladas, Renaults, Nissans and Datsuns – are still the core of Russia’s automobile industry. Russian website recently published this reportage from AvtoVAZ, which shows the human cost of overtime and overwork at the city’s principal employer. With weak labour protections and union organising, Russia’s car workers face significant exploitation at the hands of management. We are grateful for their permission to publish a translation of it here.At the end of November, a 58-year-old man died at Tolyatti’s AvtoVAZ car plant after a 12-hour shift. His colleagues said that he couldn’t take the extra shifts. Workers at other parts of the plant confirmed that they often do overtime and weekend shifts. We went to find out how automobile workers live at AvtoVAZ – and what keeps them there. No compensationFive years ago, Anna Perova, a worker at AvtoVAZ, had her fingers ripped off her right hand. A rod had fallen out of the control unit of the press she was using, but as soon as Anna decided to fix it, the press started working all by itself. Anna whipped her hand out of the press, but her fingers had been stamped into the glove she was wearing. The press continued stamping away. Anna’s colleague was waiting for parts from Anna, and was about to kick up a fuss, but when she turned around she saw Anna pressing her hand with a oil-wet glove. The foreman, standing in front of them, didn’t understand what had yet happened because of the noise of the machines. “What’s up, Anya?” he asked Perova with a smile on his face. She showed him her injured hand, and the foreman began to sway from what he’d seen. “I’m the one that’s in a bad way, not you,” Anna snapped. Anna Perova, 62, a transport worker at the AvtoVAZ plant, chairman of the trade union committee of the Unity trade union. Photo: Anton Karliner. All rights reserved.An inspection at the factory revealed that the equipment Anna had been using was defective, even though it had been repaired. But the factory management didn’t admit wrongdoing. Perova decided to go to court, but the judge decided to consider the loss of Anna’s fingers a “light” injury, and ordered the factory to pay her 50,000 roubles (£627) compensation. “This would be 50,000 euros abroad,” Perova said in court, but no one listened to her. Perova could no longer work in a workshop making roofs, doors and other parts for cars. Her monthly wage was cut by more than half, from 25,000 roubles (£313) to 14,000 (£175) – you’ll have less work to do now, they said.Take a look at your hand, and imagine that Anna has nothing up to the knuckle. Perova believes she was lucky. In the same workshop, six months later, one worker lost three fingers to the press. Another lost her whole hand.Overworked, underprotectedIt’s just before 11 in the morning, but Anna’s kitchen is already filled with the smell of a lunchtime cafeteria – marinated cucumbers, meat with pineapples, pig fat, herring and bread. It’d be hard to imagine this on a weekday – Anna has to be up at five for work. But it’s Saturday, and Anna has a day off. Today, other women are working at the factory for double time. Anna is holding a kettle wi[...]

Nagorno-Karabakh’s militarised social democracy

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 09:32:38 +0000

With flat-rate taxes and sky-high growth rates, some call Nagorno-Karabakh a “Caucasian Tiger”. Meanwhile, money from abroad funds a generous but militaristic social welfare system — maintaining border villages and swelling the army’s ranks. Soldiers of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army on the central square in Stepanakert, capital of the self-declared republic, May 2017. Photo CC BY 2.0: David Stanley / Flickr. Some rights reserved.This article originally appeared at Open Caucasus Media. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.For three decades the border between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan has echoed with the crack of gunfire: the ceaseless noise of the oldest ‘frozen conflict’ in the former USSR. Yet for those living in Nagorno-Karabakh since the ceasefire of 1994 was signed, this border has seemed to drift further and further away, almost vanishing from the horizon of relevance. Gegham Baghdasaryan, the head of the Karabakh Press Club, illustrated this in an anecdote: at an international conference years ago, a young Armenian woman from Karabakh was called to the floor. She was asked about the relationship between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. She replied, “what is my relationship to Azerbaijan? I don’t have a relationship. I just want to be left alone.”This opinion was far from unique, and was echoed by many in Karabakh. One respondent, a young man in his mid-twenties, said that the events of April “opened his eyes” to the “real danger” that Azerbaijan presented. For him and for other young people, the ceasefire had been all they had ever known, and for all the bellicose rhetoric and the slow but constant deaths on the border, it had become background noise, as fixed and permanent as the hills and sky. The ceasefire is all Karabakh’s youth have ever known.  Bellicose rhetoric and deaths on the border have become background noise, as fixed and permanent as the hills and sky Since the clashes of April 2016 — four days during which fierce fighting erupted along the line of contact, and ended with over a hundred fatalities, and the seizure by Azerbaijan of several key positions formerly controlled by Armenian forces — the conflict has taken on a shrill immediacy. The shock which initially gripped the population of Karabakh transformed into anger both at Azerbaijan and at the loss of a sense of normality. A few years ago, flare-ups in the prolonged conflict might have been seen both by residents and politicians as exceptional, but this most recent violent eruption seems to have solidified in their minds a sense that rather than an exception, war is in fact, the normal state of affairs, and that military interests must circumscribe and submerge all other pursuits.The Karabakh war lasted from 1988–1994. It claimed over 30,000 lives, displaced almost a million people, and utterly devastated Karabakh’s economy and infrastructure. The region suffered an estimated $5 billion in damage (with a population of only 140,000) — further compounded by the deindustrialisation that followed the USSR’s collapse. Nevertheless, Nagorno-Karabakh endured. With generous aid from the Republic of Armenia as well as donations from the global Armenian diaspora, Nagorno-Karabakh was rebuilt. By 2007 it had the fastest growing economy in the wider region, with GDP growth rates fluctuating between 10%–15% per year. Moreover, unlike Armenia, it did not suffer from demographic declin[...]

The rise of Russia’s vice squad

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 21:36:43 +0000

Developments in Russia’s intellectual community confirm that the worst Soviet practices and institutions are being restored. They have no place in Russia today – yet they’ve already become entrenched in it. RU Students and EUSP staff at the conference. Right in the last row – Alexander Kondakov and Evgeny Stororn. Photo from the author's archive.Academic research in Russia, particularly in the social and political sciences, is increasingly being directed by the law enforcement agencies. Two ongoing developments in St Petersburg confirm this trend. The first is the crisis that has enveloped the European University at St Petersburg (EUSP); the second is the story surrounding Evgeny Shtorn, an employee of the city’s Centre for Independent Social Research who has been forced to flee Russia.For more than a year now, EUSP has been battling to claw back its educational license, which it almost lost in December 2016, before being stripped of it completely in summer 2017. The Federal Service for the Supervision of Education and Science (Rosobrnadzor) alleges that the university is ill equipped for teaching, citing various technicalities as evidence (there’s no swimming pool, you see, and the lift doors are too narrow). As for Shtorn, his “transgression” was simply working for an academic organisation – Petersburg’s Centre for Independent Social Research – which, in 2015, was added to Russia’s “foreign agents” registry. It was precisely on these grounds that Shtorn was refused Russian citizenship, for which he (a stateless person) had applied according to standard procedure. The formal justification for the refusal was entirely unrelated to Shtorn’s research work and social activism (which encompasses LGBT issues). In reality, however, it was precisely these factors that were behind the pressure on him.In both cases, the final decisions were formalised in accordance with administrative law yet inspired by ideological control. A Rosobrnadzor commission pays a visit to EUSP and stuffs its final report with vague objections: the university’s auditoria, claims the report, are not “logistically equipped” for the teaching of political science and economics. What this might imply is a subject for esoteric speculation rather than legal interpretation. Nevertheless, the wording is perfectly legitimate: the licensing of educational activities can be denied on its basis.The FSB deliberately and knowingly breaks Russian laws when it interferes in the procedures of other agencies As regards citizenship denial, the law provides a closed list of potential reasons. Shtorn was refused citizenship because he allegedly gave “false information” about his place of residence. When district police officers arrived at the address he’d indicated on the form, he wasn’t at home. As far as the factual side of things is concerned, it’s important to note that they arrived during working hours, when Evgeny was, well, at work. As regards the instrumental deployment of the law, however, what matters is the fact that a norm can now be used against a person: if he’s not at home, perhaps he’s actually lying when he claims to live there.Now, as for Rosobrnadzor’s technical gripes with the EUSP, many struggled to believe they were genuine throughout the affair. Ever since the legal battle between the university and the state got underway, commentators have concurred that these developments constitute an organised ass[...]

Torture, Penza, Petersburg

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 14:11:26 +0000

More information on the Russian security services' arrest and torture of anarchists and anti-fa in Petersburg and Penza emerges.  31 January: a picket at FSB headquarters in Moscow in support of Pavel Nikulin. Source: Journalist and Media Workers Union. This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.We would like to stress how important it is to sign an agreement on legal representation with a good lawyer, designate an authorized representative who in case of your arrest will know what to do, and also to strengthen the security of your electronic devices.  Last week, we reported that the computer programmer Viktor Filinkov went missing on his way to Pulkovo airport and two days later a court remanded him in custody on charges of terrorism. - The day following Filinkov’s arrest he was visited in detention by members of the local Public Oversight Commission. The observers identified numerous traces of burns from an electric shock device on his chest and on his right thigh, and also a bruise on his right ankle. Filinkov has said that people in masks took him to a forest, beat him for five hours, and demanded that he make a confession using specific words they insisted he should learn by heart. In other  words, he was tortured.- Filinkov’s lawyer says that when he visited his client in a pre-trial detention centre, an attempt was made to open his bag containing documents, a telephone and a laptop.   Viktor Filinkov. Source: Facebook. - Filinkov also said that he was visited in the remand centre by an FSB officer who had taken part in the torture. He told the computer programmer that the “games being played by the Public Oversight Commission” were not in his best interests and sought to persuade the young person to collaborate with him.- On 25 January, Igor Shishkin, a Petersburg resident, went missing after he took his dog for a walk. Law enforcement officers subsequently turned up at his apartment with the dog and proceeded to conduct a search of the property. The Court remanded Shishkin in custody on the same charges as Filinkov. Journalists were not allowed into the court hearing and some were detained. Those who saw Shishkin in court reported that he was covered in bruises..- “Don’t write to me, don’t bring me anything, go away, the farther the better, and don’t ask about me, it’s all over with me”: we have published an article about the terrorism investigation ongoing in Penza, out of which the prosecution and torture of St Petersburg left-wing activists has derived. The defendants in the case have alleged unlawful use of force, torture, psychological pressure and the planting of weapons by FSB officers. - MediaZona has published the story of one other Petersburg resident Igor Kapustin, who works as an industrial climber, who has been tortured by means of electric shocks and questioned about Penza.The home of journalist Pavel Nikulin was searched. He has been questioned as a witness in a terrorism case. - The law enforcement officials visited Nikulin on account of his article “From Kaluga on Jihad,” published in The New Times. The article contained an interview with a Kaluga resident  who “became disappointed with Russia, anarchism and the workers’ struggle,” adopted Islam and left to fight in Syria. Pavel Nikulin's apartment after it was searched by police on 3[...]

Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 06:02:21 +0000

2018 is an election year in Azerbaijan. The authorities may have the streets on lockdown, but the fight against dissent in cyberspace is just beginning. Last week, somebody broke into MeydanTV’s Facebook. By Monday, the Berlin-based online news platform finally restored its access to the page — but had lost years of posts and nearly 100,000 subscribers (the publication had experienced a series of DDoS attacks on its site earlier in January). Anybody who knows the parlous state of freedom of speech in Azerbaijan knows of MeydanTV. The site’s independent journalism has won it no friends in the South Caucasus state, where its journalists are routinely harassed.In recent weeks, reports have abounded of DDoS attacks and hacking of Facebook and email accounts of Azerbaijani dissidents and their supporters. Both of us can attest from personal experience that the attackers have upped their game — using surveillance technologies such as Deep Packet Inspection (DIP) and spearphishing attempts. As we enter 2018 and a presidential (re)election in October, these moves attest to a digital crackdown in Azerbaijan – policing the internet and deterring online activism. The block doctrineOne development at the end of last year showed a new stage of regime mobilisation against online dissent. A legal amendment last year allowed Azerbaijan’s state institutions to block websites on the grounds of national security — and MeydanTV’s was among them.Furious, five blocked media outlets contested the ruling. During an appeals hearing on 19 December 2017,  a representative from the Ministry of Communication (the government body that carried out the blocking) said the websites were blocked not at his ministry’s orders, but by the prosecutor’s office. MeydanTV’s website as accessed from outside AzerbaijanBakhtiyar Mammadov, who testified on behalf of the ministry, declared Meydan TV, Radio Azatliq (RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service), and the independent Azadliq newspaper (unrelated to Azadliq Radio), Turan TV, and Azerbaijan Hour were to be the first on the list of websites to be blocked following the amendments. “We received a letter from the prosecutor’s office telling us to take immediate measures against these websites,” said Mammadov.While Mammadov urged the judge to dismiss the lawyers’ appeal to unblock the websites, he argued that blocking only boosted their readership, and that dedicated users can still find ways to access them. At the end of the day, the court in Baku ruled against unblocking the online news outlets.Hacking away at the oppositionWith the right know-how, getting around a block isn’t too difficult — you can use a VPN or a mirrored website. Too bad that the authorities are eager to target those who’d want to do so.In a recent interview, a dissident activist from Azerbaijan told us of two types of politically-motivated hacking that the regime uses today. Firstly, there’s hacking of Armenian websites (Azerbaijan technically remains at war with its western neighbour over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh), secondly, there’s the hacking of civil society activists’ email and social media accounts. In the case of civil society activists, a hacker picks his target, acquires access to just one account and once in, has access to emails and contacts of everyone else in the contact list.  It seems clear that the authorities have[...]

“Anyone can find themselves in prison, it doesn’t take much courage”

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 00:01:45 +0000

After 13 months in pre-trial detention, Russian historian Yury Dmitriev talks about his prison experience, forgotten cemeteries and forced exiles. RU Yuri Dmitriyev. Image: Anna Yarovaya. Yury Dmitriyev, a researcher of Stalin-era repressions and head of the Karelian branch of “Memorial”, spent 13 months in pre-trial detention. In a case that has attracted solidarity and support in Russia, Dmitriyev was arrested in December 2016 and charged with producing child pornography, the supposed evidence for which consisted of photographs of his adopted daughter. As part of the police investigation, two experts were called upon to evaluate the photos: one of them considered them pornographic; the other not. (Read Natalia Shkurenok on the evidence against Dmitriyev.) The case is still running, but a court has now ruled that there was no need for Dmitriyev to remain in detention and on 27 January he was released from custody on condition that he not leave the country. Dmitriyev returned home on the eve of his 62nd birthday. Here’s my interview with him. You had your birthday the day after you were released. How did you spend it? The usual way, among family and friends. It was great. Write that down. Still, this birthday must have been special somehow. What was special about it? When you get to 50, you realise that every birthday just brings you closer to the next big event.  What was it like last year? Cake, coffee, strong tea. Also among friends, you could say – cellmates. There was no particular celebration, of course: no singing along to a guitar. But there was tea and coffee and we organised a slightly better dinner than the usual prison fare.  But how did you celebrate? You were with strangers, after all…  They weren’t strangers. We had lived together for several months. People are herd animals. From the morning on, people would joke, “Happy jam day!” [the Russian word for “jam” rhymes with “birthday” – ed.] They all wished me freedom, an end to this nightmare.  Did you know that single person pickets were taking place in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, on your birthday? Yes, yes. Katerina [Dmitriev’s daughter – ed.] told me. I really appreciated it. This year your family and friends that you spent the day with gave you a new computer as a birthday present. Have you got your head round it? I’m doing my best, but I’m scared of breaking it. I’ve been reading everything that’s been written about me over the last year — all the different opinions and tendencies. But as soon as I get some idea of how the computer works, I’ll start getting on with my book again. I need to find all the documents on my case; they’re somewhere around.  You’re talking about the book you were working on before your arrest? That’s right, the one about the “special resettlers” [people exiled to remote regions during the Stalin era without any legal formalities – ed.] in Karelia. There were about 126,000 of them, dispossessed kulaks, and the government sent them here and forgot about them. Half of them died, but their descendents still live here and make up about a quarter of the Karelian population. I want to tell them about their grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-grandfathers. Where they came from, where their roots were, their family home. I’d also tell them how their rela[...]

Чтобы оказаться в тюрьме, большого мужества не надо

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 14:39:41 +0000

После 13 месяцев, проведенных в СИЗО, Юрий Дмитриев рассказывает о тюремном опыте, забытых кладбищах и карельских спецпереселенцах. English Юрий Дмитриев. Фото предоставлено автором. Все права защищены.Исследователь сталинских репрессий, руководитель карельского отделения общества "Мемориал" Юрий Дмитриев больше года провел в СИЗО. 13 декабря 2016 года он был арестован по обвинению в изготовлении детской порнографии. За время судебного разбирательства было проведено две экспертизы снимков несовершеннолетней дочери Дмитриева — одна признала фотографии порнографией, вторая — нет. Суд еще не окончен. Однако судья решила, что находиться под арестом Дмитриеву не обязательно, и с 27 января он находится под подпиской о невыезде. Домой правозащитник  вернулся накануне своего 62-го дня рождения. С Юрием Дмитриевым побеседовала Анна Яровая.На следующий день после выхода из СИЗО у вас был день рождения. Как вы его провели? Нормально. В кругу семьи и друзей. Замечательно. Вот так и напишите.Все равно этот день рождения должен быть какой-то особенный.Чего он особенный-то? После полтинника ты понимаешь, что с каждым днем рождения ты все ближе и ближе к следующему поводу.А каким был этот день год назад?Торт, кофе, крепкий чай. Тоже в кругу, так сказать, товарищей, сокамерников. Торжества особого не было, конечно. Песен под гитару не было. Ну, вот, чай, кофе, немножечко улучшенный паек мы себе организовали вместо казенного обеда.А как вас там поздравляли? Все же незнакомые люди...Знакомые. По нескольку месяцев рядышком живем. Человек существо стадное. С утра сказали: "С днем варенья". Пожелали, как всегда, освобождения, чтобы кошмар этот закончился.Вы знали, что в этот день год назад в вашу поддержку были одиночные пикеты? Да, да. Катерина (дочь Юрия Дмитриева - ред.) мне рассказывала. Очень благодарен.В этом году друзья и близкие, с которым вы вст[...]

Чувствительность к свободе. Черные списки на страже безопасности и демократии

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 12:58:24 +0000

Волна запретов и черных списков, не утихающая в украинской культурной политике с начала российской аннексии Крыма и агрессии на востоке Украины, за последние несколько месяцев взяла новые высоты. English За ввоз "антиукраинских" книг из России будут штрафовать. Фото: grunechka / Flickr. Все права защищены.В ноябре прошлого года Государственное агентство Украины по вопросам кино отменило регистрацию сериала "Сваты" и запретило его к показу на территории Украины: один из российских актеров этого популярного сериала украинского производства попал в "черный список" СБУ из-за публичной поддержки аннексии и неоднократного посещения Крыма. "Черный список" – это список лиц и произведений, создающих угрозу национальной безопасности Украины. В середине январе Госкино запретило к показу фильм Алексея Учителя "Матильда" – в "черном списке" уже давно числится музыкальный продюсер фильма Валерий Гергиев. А буквально через пару дней The Guardian опубликовала протест британского историка Энтони Бивора против запрета украинскими властями русского перевода его книги "Сталинград". Экспертный совет при Госкомтелерадио Украины решением от 10 января включил "Сталинград" в список книг, запрещенных к ввозу с территории "государства-агрессора" на территорию Украины, из-за его "провокационности".В украинской медиа-сфере новости об очередном российском культурном деятеле, фильме или книге, попавших в "черный список" – уже, можно сказать, и не новость. За последние 4 года список вырос до 118 имен. Легальный импорт книг практически прекратился: хотя Экспертный совет при Госкомтелерадио Украины регулярно публикует списки запрещенных книг – в нем 25 наименований, – ни критерии, ни механизмы проверки, учитывая предыдущие объемы импорта книг из России в Украину, не понятен. А общественность довольно четко поделилась на тех, кто поддерживает любы[...]

Where is Ukraine’s new police force?

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 06:04:56 +0000

Two years ago, the Ukrainian government decided to create a new national police force. But aside from the name, not much has changed. RU Photo: Bogdan Genbach / Flickr. All rights reserved.The huge investment, both financial and human, poured into reforming Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies has been less of a reform than a PR campaign – a calling card for global consumption, designed to persuade donors (ICITAP, EUAM, the US and Canadian embassies) that real change is taking place. Uniforms were paid for by the US, police cars funded by Japan. Numerous training events were conducted by foreign experts, with training manuals and trips abroad for Ukrainian police management. According to official Ministry figures, 92.3% of militia staff went through re-assessment and stayed in their jobs, but now as part of the new police body. As for the 7.7% who were fired, they were reinstated by the courts, and received €1,676,681 in compensation for their forced absence from work. Where is Ukraine’s new police force and why has the reform been so ineffective?Police vs. militiaIt took the tragic events of the 2013-2014 Maidan protests to make people realise that real change was needed in Ukraine’s law enforcement sector. The militia, who should have been defending the country’s citizens, instead obeyed orders from the criminalised authorities, using violence and firearms to disperse peaceful demonstrations. In the regions, the militia and courts were used to hound and intimidate civil activists who were supporting Maidan in their own small towns.After Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power in February 2014 and fled to Russia, Arsen Avakov, a Kharkiv politician, was appointed Acting Minister of Internal Affairs. One of Avakov’s first moves was to create a Public Council, which was charged with drawing up a plan for national reforms. Up until then, independent Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies had spent all 24 years of their existence following rules and regulations laid down in the Soviet period, and Ukraine’s “Law on the Militia”, a calque of the corresponding Soviet law, was still in force. Real reform was not in the interests of the country’s ruling circles, as the militia was useful for covering up their criminal activities and ubiquitous corruption.“Since 2014, the repressive potential has grown – we are now observing a process of additional centralisation”According to Denys Kobzyn, director of the Kharkiv Institute of Social Research, Ukraine’s post-Soviet police force became a corrupt and bureaucratic institution – a huge machine designed to collect money, work “according to quotas” and with the potential for repressive action. The militia was highly integrated into the power vertical of Ukraine’s executive branch, extremely centralised and closed off from society. “Moreover, since 2014, the repressive potential has grown – we are now observing a process of additional centralisation, when the migration service, militia, emergency services and border guard have all been concentrated inside the Interior Ministry.”Maidan revealed that change was unavoidable: the Ukrainian public was no longer prepared to put up with humiliation from the authorities, and wanted to live in a country governed by the rule of law. The reform o[...]

Extremists by any another name: how Karelian pensioners fought against a mining company – and won

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 23:34:37 +0000

Local conflicts in Russia are often written off as paternalistic. But sometimes, people win. RU The camp. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.Almost a year ago, in March 2017, a conflict over a forest in Karelia that had long raged between local residents and entrepreneurs and the authorities finally drew to a close. Surprisingly, though, it was local residents and activists who triumphed in Sunsky Bor.Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, recently hosted a screening of Extremists, a film by director Alexey Tikhomirov inspired by the struggle waged by the forest’s defenders. Though Tikhomirov insisted during a presentation of his film that he’d made a “good-natured movie”, this was grasped neither by the organisers of the ArtDocFest documentary festival, who paired Extremists with a film about Pussy Riot, nor by the festival audience, whose reaction to the story was brusque and aggressive. The audience in Petrozavodsk, however, proved capable of appreciating the film’s true worth.“Now it comes across almost like a comedy,” murmurs Tatiana Romakhina, one of the film’s protagonists, as she listens to the terse yet weighty pronouncements of Vasily Diykov, the story’s leading man. “But what did this victory of ours cost us.”Investors are more important than peopleIn June 2011, Karelia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology issued the company Saturn Nordstroi with a license to conduct geological surveys and mine sand at the Yuzhno-Sunskoye deposit, some 40km from Karelia’s capital of Petrozavodsk and just 600m from the village of Suna. This move wasn’t particularly unusual for a republic whose entire territory is bisected by a federal highway connects Moscow, St Petersburg and Murmansk – and requires constant maintenance. Yuzhno-Sunskoye is only one of almost 100 sand-and-gravel deposits dotted throughout Karelia, which borders Finland. The regional government grants licenses, entrepreneurs mine sand and gravel – and the local population swallows the dust and trembles at the explosions of hard rock.In the majority of cases, few residents try to actively defend their right to healthy and comfortable environmentThe regional authorities follow a straightforward logic: investors of any and all stripes are more important than the local population, boosting as they do the republic’s meagre coffers. Sometimes, though, local residents resist: in 2009, the town of Lakhdenpokhya held a referendum on the construction of two gravel quarries within town limits, and 77% of voters voted against the proposal. But the authorities and big business didn’t admit defeat: the administrative boundaries of Lakhdenpokhya were altered at the instigation of its mayor in 2011, leaving the quarries beyond town limits. The developers promptly began blasting operations just a few hundred metres away from residential areas.In the majority of cases, few residents try to actively defend their right to healthy and comfortable environment – in other words, a quiet, explosion-free life. And the further you go from the big cities, the fewer and further between the activists get. In Suna, however, things panned out differently.A socially significant forestSunsky Bor is relatively small in area (a few hectares) and c[...]

Реформа полиции в Украине – профанация?

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 22:07:24 +0000

Реформа полиции стала одной из первых и громких реформ в Украине после Майдана и бегства Януковича. В нее были инвестированы огромные средства. Однако о реальных изменениях говорить не приходится. English Фото: Bogdan Genbach / Flickr. Все права защищены.Основными международными донорами украинской реформы стали ICITAP, EUAM, посольство Канады, посольство США. Полицейской формой обеспечили США, автомобилями – Япония. Международную техническую помощь составляют многочисленные тренинги, проведенные иностранными экспертами, разработка учебных материалов, обучающие визиты для украинских полицейских в другие страны (в основном для руководства полиции).Столь большие инвестиции, как денежные, так и человеческие, в реформу органов правопорядка обернулись для Украины ничем. Состоялась не реформа, а отличная PR-кампания. Реформа стала визитной карточкой украинской власти на международной арене в ситуации, когда нужно убедить доноров в наличии изменений в Украине. Но реальных изменений не произошло – констатируют эксперты.Создать Национальную полицию и ликвидировать милицию было решено два года назад. На деле – милицию как институцию ликвидировали, а старых сотрудников оставили. Согласно официальным данным Министерства внутренних дел Украины, 92,3% бывших милиционеров прошли переаттестацию и остались работать, но уже как сотрудники новой украинской полиции. И те 7,7%, которые были уволены, восстановились на работе через суд, и государство им выплатило около 1, 676 681 евро компенсации за время вынужденного прогула. Где же новая полиция и в чем причины неэффективности реформы?Полиция vs. милицияПолное осознание того, что нужно что-то реально менять в системе правоохранительных органов пришло лишь после трагических событий во время протестных митингов на Майдане зимой 2013-2014. Милици[...]

What would happen to Russia’s elections if the regional authorities stopped controlling them?

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 06:22:48 +0000

Russia's northern republic of Komi used to be known for its consistently high turnout on election day. But after a corruption investigation felled the region’s leadership, the future of managed elections is unclear here. RU Komi's Central Election Commission. Source: siktivkar.bezformata.ruIn mid-November 2017, the electoral commission of Russia’s northern Komi Republic accepted documents from an advocacy group for a referendum on moving the region’s capital — from Syktyvkar to Ukhta. Ten days later, the referendum was almost unanimously approved by Komi’s regional parliament, and was set to take place on the same day as the Russian presidential election on 18 March. But on New Year’s Eve, Komi’s electoral commission quietly cancelled it. The majority of the republic’s loyal media outlets (which had hotly debated the prospects of changing the capital) remained silent on the matter of the cancellation.Now Komi, which witnessed consistently high election turnouts under the previous leadership, risks collapsing the turnout for the elections in March 2018.Apartments, cars and “firewater”The Komi Republic earned the nickname of Russia’s “Chechnya in the north” after local turnout in the December 2011 legislative elections exceeded 72%, with the ruling United Russia party garnering almost 60% of the votes. Chechnya is known for reaching improbably high turnouts at national elections, with one district in the 2012 presidential run famously reaching 107% turnout.Back then, the republic was headed by Vyacheslav Gaizer, who, since September 2015, has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo detention centre, where he has been jailed on charges of creating and managing a organised crime group. Also being held in Lefortovo is Gaizer’s former first deputy Alexey Chernov, who was responsible for election-related issues and did much to ensure high turnouts in the republic. Vyacheslav Gaizer. Photo CC BY 4.0: Wiki. Some rights reserved.Since Gaizer’s arrest, criminal proceedings against high-standing officials have become commonplace in Komi. Witness testimonies constitute the most interesting aspect of these trials. Take, for instance, one of the hearings in the case against Syktyvkar’s former mayor Roman Zenishchev, where a witness described how the ex-mayor handed Chernov a briefcase full of money destined for United Russia’s election campaign. A former United Russia strategist, Kirill Arabov, confirmed this in April 2017 when he appeared as a witness at the trial of another former Komi mayor, Pavel Smirnov. In Komi, it seems, all municipalities were obliged to raise a certain sum, and the republic’s leadership kept close tabs on their progress.Big business, too, played a role in the financing of elections in Komi, only on a lawful basis. A promotion called Popadi v desyatochku! (Hit the Top Ten!) came to be a traditional means of coaxing voters to polling stations, with apartments, cars and more modest prizes up for grabs. And for this, you need money. This well-oiled arrangement, which encompassed fundraising activities and various campaigning methods, broke down after the arrest of Gaizer’s team in 2015Turnout strategies known as “Outcast” (marginal)[...]

Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 20:21:54 +0000

New legislation banning Russian news from Moldova’s media market seems less about countering disinformation, and more about defending vested interests. RU The man watches the broadcast of the speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the annual message to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, December 2016. Photo (c): Konstantin Chalabov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.Next month, a ban on rebroadcasting Russian news and analysis will come into force in Moldova. The ban, legislated via amendments to the country’s broadcasting code, will apply to all foreign news and analytical programming produced outside the EU, the United States, Canada or other signatory countries of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. Broadcasters that violate the law will face an initial of fine of 40,000-70,000 lei (£1,700-£2,950) and subsequent fines of 70,000-100,000 lei (£2,950-£4,200)The ban’s instigators, a group of MPs from Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party, say the ban is necessary “to safeguard the infosphere” and “protect society from attempts to disseminate disinformation and/or manipulate information from without”. The ban was signed into law by Andrian Candu, the speaker of the Moldovan Parliament who is currently acting president, on 10 January. “The confrontation between Dodon and Plahotniuc is fake”The Democrats’ intention to ban Russian news broadcasts became public knowledge back in the summer of last year. Announcing the plans, Vladimir Plahotniuc — leader of Moldova’s Democratic Party, oligarch and media magnate — asserted that “Moldova is vulnerable to media manipulation campaigns waged from without. The content [of Russian news broadcasts] is very frequently defamatory towards our country and our development partners from the USA and the EU.”Plahotniuc issued the announcement only weeks after making an official visit to the US, where, as reported by the Democrats’ press service, he held meetings with representatives of Congress and the State Department.A unique situation has arisen in Moldova. Although the Democrat leader does not occupy any official government posts, Plahotniuc is invariably the one to break the news about key decisions or the authorities’ immediate-term plans. Towards the end of last year, for example, Plahotniuc announced new appointments to the Cabinet of Ministers. The opposition, repeatedly alleging that key decisions in Moldova are made by Plahotniuc alone, has accused the politician of usurping power.“Plahotniuc has no interest in combating propaganda — if he did, he’d have refused to rebroadcast Russia’s Channel One a long time ago”Plahotniuc announced the “Russian propaganda” ban on 13 June. Later that same day, the bill was registered in parliament by a group of Democrat MPs — and forgotten about for six months. The Democrats turned their attention back to the bill in early December, when Plahotniuc was scheduled to visit the United States, and Russia issued an arrest warrant for the Moldovan billionaire on charges of attempted murder.The following day, Parliament passed the bill in two readings, with Moldova’s Liberals, Liberal Democrats a[...]

Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 12:50:00 +0000

Last year, this fearless journalist was abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and wound up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. We need more like him.  Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi. Image via Kavkazskiye Novosti / YouTube. Some rights reserved.Afgan Mukhtarli and I first met in early 2015, at Prospero’s cafe in central Tbilisi. We were both recent arrivals to Georgia: I was here because an upstart Azerbaijani media outlet had failed to attract a more qualified candidate, and Afgan because his investigative reporting — particularly on the corruption of the country’s military and its ruling Aliyev family — had forced him to flee neighbouring Azerbaijan to end the government’s harassment of him and his family.However, it didn’t stop. Family members who remained in Azerbaijan were still threatened, still followed, and still harassed. Neither did Afgan, who kept reporting, supporting struggling members of Tbilisi’s then-thriving Azerbaijani exile community, and kept protesting. Then in May of last year, the Azerbaijani government escalated their war on Afgan by having him abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and whisked away to a prison in Baku. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to six years in prison.Where silence is goldenThe Azerbaijani state’s attacks on its discontents are always deeply personal. One journalist saw her brother, a rural day labourer whom she credibly believed had never read a word she’d written, sent to prison for a year on fabricated drug charges. Afgan was no exception. He had volunteered to fight in the Nagorno Karabakh War as a young man, and it clearly bothered him that the same state he had once risked his life for was now doing its utmost to destroy him and his family.Afgan’s legendary stubbornness served him well as an investigative reporter, but it also roused the ire of certain parts of the Georgian state. There was no protest he wouldn’t attend — there is a picture, lost somewhere deep in Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm, of Afgan protesting the sentence of youth activist Qiyas Ibragimov with a group of Georgian street punks half his age - and both the Georgian police and the quasi-official security contractors hired by SOCAR, the Azerbaijani took notice.Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or burning hazelnuts to keep warm?In the same cafe where Afgan and I first met, less than a year and a half later, Afgan’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva would be interviewed about how the Georgian state abducted Mukhtarli and arranged for him to be “caught” by Azerbaijani border guards while smuggling over $10,000 across the border, in the middle of the night and without his passport. Six months and multiple indignities passed before Afgan was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal border crossing. His lawyers are appealing, but much damage has already been done.He has been denied proper medical care for his type two diabetes while in custody, and the Azerbaijani court declined to permit him to travel to the funeral for his sister, niece, and nephew in the town of Zaqatala[...]

Russia’s presidential elections: predictable results with an unpredictable aftermath

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 10:51:00 +0000

This March, Russia goes through the motions of yet another (re)election. Here are the contenders, and a few reasons why their contest may just be worth watching. “A strong president for a great country”. Campaign office for Vladimir Putin’s (re)election, Kazan, January 2018. Photo (c): Maksim Bogodvid / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.This article originally appeared on LeftEast, and was translated from Russian by Joseph Livesey. We are grateful for their permission to republish it in full.According to forecasts, the upcoming 18 March presidential elections in Russia will proceed without any surprises, as just the latest legitimisation of another presidential term for Vladimir Putin. However, this foreseeable “victory,” gained via massive pressure on the electorate and the Kremlin’s tight control over the political sphere will still point to a deep crisis within Putin’s model of “managed democracy.” During Putin’s current third term, his regime has become much more clearly based on personality, while the fact that its “democratic” elements are a mere façade has become evident beyond all reasonable doubt. Over the past few years, the rhetoric of Russia as a “besieged fortress,” and rallying around a “national leader” in the face of external enemies has meant that elections at almost every level have become plebiscites for confirming faith in the country and loyalty to the government.The turnout problemAn ongoing economic crisis, a decline in most people’s incomes, and increasingly glaring social inequality, are causing a mood of protest that can no longer be expressed within existing political institutions. Passive discontent is increasingly manifest in absenteeism, or in people “voting with their feet.” As a result, the most recent parliamentary elections in Autumn 2016 were an alarm bell for the authorities — turnout was 47.8% across the country, while barely over 30% of voters turned out in major cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. Russians’ low interest in elections has been a boon to the authorities in the past, making election results more predictable, and helping Russia’s ruling party United Russia get into power. However, low turnouts in today’s political climate have become a clear threat to the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin’s upcoming victory. In December, polls indicated that 58% of voters were planning on voting in the presidential elections, 30% of whom only answering that they would “most likely” be turning out to vote. Increasingly glaring social equality has caused a mood of protest that can no longer be expressed within existing political institutionsAhead of the March 2018 elections, the Kremlin administration has unofficially promoted a “70-70” scenario, whereby Putin would receive 70% of votes from a 70% turnout. Yet the Kremlin has repeatedly stressed that such a sharp increase in electoral activity cannot be achieved at the local level solely through so-called “administrative resource” — mobilising budget-dependent employees and pensioners who rely on local authorities. According to the Kremlin’s pl[...]

Идеологическая полиция нравов: как истории ЕУСПб и Евгения Шторна раскрыли новый контрольный орган

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 21:57:41 +0000

В российском интеллектуальном сообществе разворачиваются истории, подтверждающие восстановление худших советских практик и институтов. Им нет места в новой России – но они уже в ней обосновались. Слушатели и сотрудники ЕУСПб на конференции. Крайние справа в последнем ряду - Александр Кондаков и Евгений Шторн. Фото из архива автора.Научные исследования, особенно в области социальных и политических наук, все чаще становятся объектом контроля со стороны силовых структур. Примером тому могут служить как минимум две истории, разворачивающиеся в Санкт-Петербурге: кризис в Европейском университете в Санкт-Петербурге (ЕУСПб) и вынужденное бегство из России сотрудника Центра независимых социологических исследований Евгения Шторна.ЕУСПб уже больше года борется за образовательную лицензию, которую почти отобрали в декабре 2016 года и отобрали совсем летом 2017. Госорганы в лице Рособрнадзора утверждают, что университет не готов обучать студентов, всякий раз высказывая разные формальные претензии (от отсутствия бассейна до слишком узких дверей лифта). Что касается Шторна, то его "вина" заключалась в том, что он работал в научной организации – в Центре независимых социологических исследований (ЦНСИ), – внесенной в 2015 году в реестр "иностранных агентов". Именно на этом основании Шторну было отказано в оформлении российского гражданства, на которое он (человек без какого-либо гражданства) подал в установленном порядке. И хотя формальные причины отказа были указаны совсем иные, как и в случае с ЕУСПб, истинной причиной давления на Шторна стала его общественная и исследовательская работа (в том числе, в области прав ЛГБТ).В обеих историях финальные решения оформлены в соответствии с администра[...]

Russian authorities take aim at anti-fascists in St Petersburg

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 16:13:43 +0000

Extra-judicial means are being used to pressure and detain anti-fascist activists in Russia.  Viktor Filinkov, who disappeared on 23 January, only to appear in a Petersburg court. Source: Personal archive. This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.Please remember that you can get advice about what to do if you are arrested via our telephone hotline 8-800-707-05-28, this cartoon, and our detailed instructions. We also provide a bot in the Telegram service by means of which you can get in touch with us, and also receive advice on what to do if you have ended up in the back of a police van. Knowledge is power.The authorities are intimidating anti-fascist activists - Four people were detained for allegedly covering their faces with scarves during the anti-fascist march in Moscow in memory of the murdered lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasiya Baburova. All four were officially notified of infringements- After the antifascist march, Left Bloc activist Ilya C. was assaulted with the words, “So you’re from the Markelov rally?” He was beaten on the head and pushed to the ground- Anti-fascist Viktor Filinkov from St Petersburg went missing en route to Pulkovo airport. Two days later a court remanded him in custody on terrorism charges. According to the Investigative Committee: “Filinkov and other unidentified persons who share an anarchist ideology took part in a branch of a terrorist group for the purposes of carrying out acts of terrorism, propaganda and justification and support of terrorism.” The joint press service of St Petersburg courts stated that the activist has admitted the actions of which he is suspected.- FSB officers conducted a search at night of an anti-fascist’s apartment in St Petersburg. They seized equipment and detained one person. The activists are concerned that searches may be conducted at the homes of all those anti-fascists whose names are on the register of the police department for combating extremismPressure on Memorial in the North Caucasus continuesUnidentified persons set fire to a car belonging to the office of Memorial  Human Rights Centre in Dagestan in which the lawyer of Oyub Titiev (head of the Grozny branch of the organization recently charged with possessing drugs), had travelled to Chechnya. Text messages containing threats have been received by the mobile phone of Memorial’s office in Makhachkala: “You Are On The Edge Of The Abyss Shut Down! Next Time We’ll Set Fire To You As Well As The Office Your Car A Warning”. Oyub Titiev. Titiev himself has been remanded in custody. The 60-year-old man is charged with possession of drugs.Finally two pieces of good news:- The police have not found any evidence of guilt of the mathematician Dmitry Bogatov. Assessment of the notebooks and memory sticks seized by the police lasted eight months. Bogatov’s lawyer believes that all the charges against his client may be dropped in the near future. - Bogatov has been charged with preparing to organize larg[...]