The Chtodelat News Challenge: A Friday Night on the Town in Petersburg’s Cultural Capital

As an exercise in close reading, we’d like to see what you, our readers, can make of these two hyper-fresh dispatches from Petersburg, Russia’s so-called cultural capital.

Mosque Raid Causes Outrage
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Human rights organizations in Russia, Tajikistan and Georgia on Tuesday protested mass arrests and reported harassment and beatings of mostly Central Asian and North Caucasus migrant workers during Friday’s raid on a marketplace in central St. Petersburg.

They are demanding a thorough investigation by Russian and Tajik authorities into the actions of law-enforcement officers who raided Apraksin Dvor, the marketplace in downtown St. Petersburg, during a service at a mosque on the market’s territory.

The Investigative Committee put the number of those detained at 271, but Fontanka.ru reported that “no less than 700” had been arrested, while human rights activists say that the number of arrests could be as high as 1,000.

Officially, the raid was part of a criminal investigation into “public incitement to terrorist activities or public justification of terrorism” and “inciting hatred or hostility as well as humiliation of human dignity” and was conducted jointly by several law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Security Service (FSB) and counter-extremism Center E. Smaller raids were held elsewhere in the city.

But only one person of the hundreds who were arrested is a suspect in that case.

Mass beatings were reported to have taken place during the raid at Apraksin Dvor.

“People who were victims of the mosque raid there and their relatives keep approaching us since the raid took place,” said Anna Udyarova, a lawyer with the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, on Tuesday.

“For instance, one citizen of Uzbekistan said he had gone there with his sons, the youngest of whom was 10, and security service officers had used force against him, had beaten him as well as his adult sons, and all this had happened before the eyes of his 10-year-old son.

“Witnesses who work nearby in Apraksin Dvor said about 200 people were beaten, and some sustained injuries as serious as broken arms and legs, but they refuse to file official complaints or document their injuries because they’re afraid of how the authorities will respond. But in conversation with us, they say that all the men who were at the mosque during the service were beaten.”

The only person detained as a suspect within the investigation, according to the Investigative Committee, was Murat Sarbyshev, born in Kabardino-Balkaria (a republic in the south of the Russian Federation) in 1988. He is suspected of having uploaded “extremist literature and videos depicting terrorist attacks on the Internet in a period between October 2010 and April 2011,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement Saturday.

“We are trying to understand why such a large-scale special operation was held to detain just one person — who turned out to be a citizen of Russia — and with such a large number of people suffering as the result of harassment and beatings,” Udyarova said.

“It had an intimidating effect not only on those who were at the mosque at the time, but also on all the foreign citizens, mainly of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, who are based in St. Petersburg and Russia, who learned about this incident and perceived it as a threat to themselves.”

According to Udyarova, up to 1,000 people may have been detained in the city on Friday.

“We were told that about 1,000 were detained, because this special operation took place not only in Apraksin Dvor, but in other places in the city simultaneously,” she said.

“Differences in numbers can be explained by the fact that not everybody who was detained was taken to a police precinct; only those who had problems regarding their immigration documents.

“Even if, as the Interior Ministry’s representative claimed, the objective of this campaign was not to expose illegal migrants and they were in fact looking for suspects in a criminal investigation, as usual, innocent people — foreigners — who were there are the ones who suffered.”

She said the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center will provide legal support if at least one person who is not intimidated enough to file a complaint is found.

According to the Investigative Committee, those detained included citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and the regions of the North Caucasus, as well as one citizen of Egypt and one citizen of Afghanistan. Ten had personal documents showing signs of forgery, and twenty had no documents at all, the agency said in a statement Saturday.

Of those detained, seven were deported and one more was awaiting deportation in a detention center for foreigners, Interfax news agency reported Monday, citing a source in the police.

With the exception of them and the suspect Sarbyshev, all those detained during the raid were released with no charges pressed, it said.

Late on Tuesday, Interfax quoted a source with the FSB who claimed that the deported seven had links to an “international terrorist organization.”

_______

[...]

The polarisation of Russian nightlife is undoubtedly tied to the polarisation of wealth in Russian society. Is the arrival of places like Dom Byta [in Petersburg] — that shun the glitzy veneer that has been the hallmark aesthetic of Russian affluence since the Nineties — evidence of the emergence of a new middle class? Burtsev certainly thinks so. “A new generation has arrived that can travel, that can do projects, and the people remaining from the old generation are also willing to give things a go. They’ve made it possible to create this sort of good community.” For Burtsev, this change is starting to have a real impact on city life. “This young generation has already created its own space online,” he says. “They work in jobs like design, in a space beyond the reach of the government. And now we’re seeing people moving gradually, very gradually, to doing projects in real, concrete spaces.”

The transformation of Russia’s entertainment scene is dependent on two factors: time and travel. During the Soviet period, isolation, centralisation and a certain puritanism pushed Russian food culture to the brink of extinction: as a result foreign imports, like the ubiquitous sushi, have dominated the restaurant scene for the past two decades. But open borders have also allowed young Russian chefs, barmen and entrepreneurs to pick up best practice in Europe and America. Frequent trips to Paris, Madrid and Rome have also educated their potential audience. Along with new infrastructure such as better farms, catering schools and supply networks, which all take time to bear fruit, it’s this cosmopolitanism that has laid the foundation for the current renaissance in Russian food and drink.

An avowed Anglophile — Dom Byta has English beer on tap — Burtsev, who is just shy of 40, exemplifies the impact of Russia’s new-found wanderlust. “When we opened Solyanka six or seven years ago we were really influenced by places in London, in Shoreditch,” he says. “We would look at the people, at little details, at the general atmosphere.” His establishments meet the needs of a more educated audience: “The more people travel the more they get used to things: in London or elsewhere in Europe you can just pop in somewhere nice and get a bite to eat, or sit down and work with your laptop and feel relaxed about it.

[...]

Jamie Rann, “High spirits: what’s fuelling St Petersburg’s bar renaissance?,” The Calvert Journal

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How would you, dear readers, read these two stories together? Send us your answer (500 words or less) to our email address (chtodelatnews [at] googlemail [dot] com) or in the comments, below. We’ll post the most convincing entry on this blog as a separate, headlined posting. We’ll also mail the winner a complete set of the Chto Delat group’s popular, award-winning  songspiel films on DVD. And, as if that weren’t enough, we’ll treat the winner to a night on the town in Russia’s stunning cultural capital, Petersburg, including dinner at a restaurant featuring the cuisine of one of the city’s beloved ethnic minorities, followed by all the English tap beer they can drink at Dom Byta. (If “face control” lets us in, that is, and provided, of course, that the winner makes their own way to Petersburg.) The deadline for entries is next Friday at midnight Petersburg time (GMT + 0400).

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