A “Coercive” Peace: The Harassment of the Leftist Press in Petersburg

In our last post, we reported on the confiscation of the latest issue of Chto Delat newspaper at the printing plant and the apparent connection between this and the arrest of another local Petersburg leftist as he was handing out his own newspaper, For Worker Power, to dockers at the Port of Saint Petersburg. In order to give our readers a better sense of how little it takes to get yourself or your newspaper taken into custody and threatened with charges of “extremism,” we have translated the article in For Worker Power (“A ‘Coercive’ Peace”) that seems to have gotten its editor (Alexei Drozdov) and the paper in hot water with the vigilant law enforcement authorities of Petersburg.The translation is followed by the editor/activist’s own account of his time in police custody, and a reasonably sympathetic report on both cases in the Petersburg popular press (“Hunting the Leftist Press”).

 

A “COERCIVE” PEACE

[by Alexei Drozdov]

An enormous number of articles in the press and TV news reports have dealt with the war in South Ossetia and Georgia. Most of them, however, have reflected the official position of Russian Federation authorities. This position is indistinguishable from the propaganda of one of the parties to the conflict.

Therefore it is important to know what role Russia played in starting this war. It is important to know not what the television and the newspapers tell us, but what they’re not telling us, what they’re hiding from us.

The Russian government granted Russian Federation citizenship to the inhabitants of South Ossetia, to Ossetians (while “forgetting” about Russians in the former Soviet republics and foreigners who work in Russia and would like to stay there—about all those who would once and for all be able to solve problems with residence registration, quotas, etc., were they given Russian citizenship). This passportization made it possible for the Georgian government to declare that the Kremlin was pursuing a policy of annexation and to compare it with the policies of Hitler in Fascist Germany.

At the same time, the Russian authorities hadn’t recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, which also provoked aggression on the part of the Georgian authorities, who presented their military action as the restoration of constitutional order on Georgian territory.

The Russian government prepped Russian public opinion for the war. It suffices to recall the recent anti-Georgian campaign, when Georgians were deported and the mass media represented them as criminals.

Although it hasn’t recognized the independence of South Ossetia, Russia has long had a presence there. Thus, during the 2004 presidential campaign, political agitation took place in South Ossetia: “Putin Is Our President.” Campaigning for the president of another country thus took place on territory that formally belonged to Georgia.

Georgia is a zone where the imperialistic interests of the US and Russia clash. Oil is at stake. The interests of Russian and western oil companies collide in the struggle over who will administer the transit of petroleum from Azerbaijan to Europe via the Turkish port of Ceyhan and who will take the profits for this transit.

The Russian leadership’s provocative behavior manifested itself after the NATO summit: an assistance pact with Abkhazia and South Ossetia was signed on April 16. As a result, the “peacekeeping” contingent in Abkhazia was expanded by the deployment of 1500 soldiers and heavy equipment. This violated the 1994 ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia.

Russian aircraft violated Georgian airspace, and Russia dispatched railroad troops to Abkhazia in June.

In late July, the Russian 58th Army participated in exercises near the border with Georgia—this same 58th Army would later play a key role in the war. The exercises are one link in a chain of events that allow us to hypothesize that the Russian army’s military operation in Georgia had been planned several months before August 8: the Russian government was simply waiting for the right moment. At the beginning of August, the Ossetians and Georgians exchanged fire over the course of several days. On August 7, the shelling and gunfire continued all day.

On August 8, after Georgian troops shelled Tskhinvali, Russia sent the army into South Ossetia.

As civilians in Tskhinvali were dying, the Russian Federation leadership took a long pause in order to justify its own actions. Thus, the Ossetians, Georgians, and Russians who perished were sacrificed to the Russian government’s hypocritical “peacekeeping” logic.

The Russian authorities hold their own citizens of no account. Over a fairly long period they were not informed that Russian troops were engaged in active military operations beyond the borders of South Ossetia: a number of cities, including the suburbs of Tbilisi, were bombed, and troops penetrated deep into Georgian territory. The Chechen 71st Motorized Company blocked Georgia’s main highway, and the town of Gori was occupied. The Russian army also occupied Zugdidi and Senaki, in Western Georgia, and took control of the roads near Kutaisi.

What happened in Zugdidi shows how the “peacekeepers” behaved in the occupied territories. Russian soldiers robbed the town’s administrative buildings, carrying off computers and other valuables.

The Russian authorities have insisted that this is a peacekeeping operation, that Russia has a “peacekeeping” mandate. But at the same time the Russian army bombed Georgian territory and civilians were killed. This demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Russian authorities and the true nature of their “peacekeeping” mission.

Some commentators justify the military operation by saying that Russia is defending the right of Ossetians to self-determination. But this argument doesn’t hold up to criticism. Russia has its own South Ossetia—Chechnya, whose right to self-determination the Russian authorities do not recognize and whose separatist movement was cruelly suppressed by the Russian army.

The war has revealed what usually lies hidden. It has raised the rot of nationalism from the depths of Russian society, and this has affected even some Russian leftists. Internationalists in name only, they have turned into Georgian nationalists and Russophobes, Russian patriots and chauvinists.

On the whole, however, Russian leftists (meaning those to the left of the Stalinists) have correctly noted in their public statements the imperialistic nature of this war.

The issue that has divided them is the recognition of the right to self-determination for South Ossetia, the right of the Ossetians to decide for themselves whether to remain part of Georgia or break away from it.

The differences come down to the fact that some leftists condition the realization of this right on the demand for a workers government in the new, united Ossetia, or they underscore the fact that the current government in South Ossetia is a puppet that acts in the interests of Russia. Other leftists advocate the unconditional recognition of South Ossetia’s right to self-determination.

On April 3, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed a law “On the Procedure for the Secession of Soviet Republics from the USSR.” In accordance with this law, each of the republics could secede from the Soviet Union and form its own state after conducting a referendum on secession. Article 3: “In a Soviet republic that contains autonomous republics, autonomous regions, and autonomous districts, the referendum is conducted separately in each autonomy.” The article goes on to state: “In a Soviet republic which contains regions where minority ethnic groups constitute the local majority, the votes in the referendum are tabulated separately.”

In March 1991, Georgian militias loyal to Georgian president Zviada Gamsakhurdia occupied Tskhinvali. Gamsakhurdia annulled the autonomous status of South Ossetia, which had been granted by the Soviet Constitution to the Ossetians of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

On March 31, 1991, a referendum was held to determine whether the GSSR should secede from the USSR.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia didn’t take part in this referendum. On January 19, 1992, South Ossetia held its own referendum to decide whether it should unite with North Ossetia, which is a part of the Russian Federation.

But nor does Georgia recognize the independence of South Ossetia today. Neither does Russia: otherwise, it would have to answer questions about Chechnya. If these questions don’t arise now, then they might come up in the future, and not only in connection with Chechnya.

But the recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence is not a panacea against future wars in the region. Statehood is, in essence, the exclusive right of the bourgeoisie to exploit “its own” people. In order to secure this right, the capitalists start wars and kill other people, or send others to their deaths.

Ordinary people, workers of various nationalities, don’t need wars. We need peace and class solidarity, not a solidarity darkened by nationalist fervor. We need unity against the warmongers—the unity of the international working class against the capitalists.

Down with Russian, American and Georgian imperialism!

Support the unity of the working class of Russia, Georgia, Ossetia, and Abkhazia!

Support the right of all peoples to self-determination!

Here is Alexei’s personal account of his time in police custody:

On the evening of Thursday, August 27, I was handing out the third issue of the newspaper For Worker Power  at the gates of the Sea Port. One of the port workers took the paper and began to read the article “A ‘Compulsory’ Peace.” Without reading it to the end, he crumpled up the newspaper, threw it on the asphalt, and said, “Such Marxists should be put up against a wall [and shot].” He said this and walked off a ways—he observed me from afar. A while later he returned and started talking. He began cursing. I was trying to change his mind and didn’t notice that two policemen with machine guns had turned up next to me. They asked me to go with them to their car. The patriotically minded worker was glad: “That’s right. Take him in.”

They took me to the Seventh Police Precinct. As we drove there, the policeman who was at the wheel told me that nowadays everything suited him: life had got better; anyone could earn money, you just had to work. The Bolsheviks had destroyed the royal family, their children; had started a civil war and organized the genocide of the Russian people. The second policeman was quiet the whole way; later, he would testify at my trial as a witness.

At the precinct, they confiscated the newspapers that I hadn’t managed to hand out (314 copies). I was given the runaround the whole evening because, so they told me, I had put my foot in it: my case was being personally overseen by Piotrovsky (the head of the city police). They told me the prosecutor’s office had already opened a case in connection with this “extremist” article. The guys from the organized crime unit showed up: they took my mobile phone, copied the contacts in it, and took my statement. One of the organized crime guys demanded that the duty officers hold me for forty-eight hours. (I found out about this the following day.) Three hours had come and gone long ago [i.e., the time during which a detainee has to be charged or released], but I was told this was a special case: the bosses were deciding what to do with me next. And so I waited until two in the morning for these bosses to arrive. I wasn’t locked up: I sat in the duty room the whole time. Afterward, the precinct workers showed me “kindness”: they advised me to settle down in the monkey cage. But it stank there and there were puddles of some sort [on the floor]—I didn’t want to breathe that in all night.

The whole time I wasn’t treated like other detainees: after all, I was being “overseen.” They took an interest in me. It seems that all the policemen in the precinct who could read, read this article. They told me what they thought about it—for example, “Who gave you permission to publish your opinion in a newspaper?” Or: “I feel sorry for our peacekeepers, who died because of some wogs. No, I have nothing against wogs, nothing against negroes. I just feel sorry for our boys.” All the policemen to a man condemned the article.

There was some kind of supervising inspector at the precinct in the morning. As he was leaving, he said to his subordinates (pointing to me), “Feed him.” As soon as he had left, they discussed this “order” with each other: “What, are we fools who would feed someone out of their own pockets? We’re not a charity organization after all.” Night had passed, morning had passed: a day had gone by since the last time I’d eaten.

The organized crime guys showed up again. They’re “nice” guys: they tell me it’s good for me not to eat. They wanted to take me down to “the office” in order to take my statement there and so their bosses could get a look at me.

I was hauled to a justice of the peace. There I got the standard charge: “Used foul language, quarreled, didn’t respond to the instructions of police employees.” I had no witnesses testifying in my defense, while the prosecution has the policeman, who perjured himself by saying that I had been distributing literature that showed some kind of signs of something, that I’d used foul language when they were arresting me, etc. The judge said that the newspaper wasn’t part of the case, that all she was examining was foul language, cursing, etc. After this “witness” had testified, I told the judge that she could summon any number of witnesses on my behalf who would confirm that I don’t swear at all. Her reply to this was that she didn’t need any such witnesses: did I have witnesses to the fact that I didn’t swear right there, when I was being detained? In short, she fined me 500 rubles.

This really didn’t go down well with the policeman who accompanied me: they wanted to detain me for another twenty-four hours. After the judge gave me the court’s ruling, I asked whether I was free to go. She replied, Yes, you’re free. But the policeman says right there that I have to go with him; that if I refuse, then he’ll arrest me again as I exit the court building.

So under guard I head with him to a Pyaterochka store to buy myself something to eat. The lines there were long: the policeman took me to the checkout without waiting on line.

Then it was back to the precinct, and from there to the organized crime squad, to their department for combating political extremism. They asked about my sources of financing, where I get the money for the newspaper. They also had their fun and games. While I was being questioned, one of the investigators sharpened a pencil: he said it was for poking [me] in the eye, and he smiled. Another investigator kept saying that the article was grounds for charging me with Article 282 [of the RF Criminal Code] (incitement of hatred). You’ve put your foot in, he says; we’ll put you in the Crosses [prison] and sick the [non-political] criminals on you. Such are their working methods.

It was only in the evening that I found out that my comrades had been looking for me and couldn’t find me. One bad cop told me, “A girl came for you. She was told that you would soon be released and she went home.” In fact, as I found out later, they didn’t let her into the precinct for a long time. They lied to her and said I wasn’t there (they were “working” with me on the second floor). When she insisted on being told where I was, they wanted to arrest her, but then they decided not make any extra problems for themselves and just rudely pushed her out of the precinct. It was the same story the next day, when they couldn’t say intelligibly what court they’d taken me to and where I was at any given moment.

The most unpleasant part of this story is that poked around in my mobile, copied down telephone numbers, and promised to summon me for another conversation. I have no desire to talk with them.

 

Hunting the Leftist Press

In Petersburg, it would appear that a hunt on the leftist press has been announced. On Thursday, the police seized the print runs of two newspapers, For Worker Power and Chto Delat. Leftist organizations are avoiding commenting on this event, fearing further persecution. Law enforcement agencies report that the publications in question will be examined for extremism. If nothing criminal is found in them, then the editions will be returned to their owners.

The last time that leftist political newspapers attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies was during the G8 summit, in 2006. The police did everything they could to hinder their distribution amongst anti-globalists (who gathered at the now-demolished Kirov Stadium to protest against the existing world order). The security forces ended up with thousands of newspapers on their hands. During those days it was also difficult to buy opposition newspapers at traditional distribution points (for example, the famous “wailing wall” next to Gostiny Dvor). After the summit was over, leftist periodicals could breathe more or less easily, and they experienced no difficulties with publication. Only on the eve of the Marches of the Dissenters did the police confiscate newspapers specially published in connection with these actions. (They were usually returned a month later.) Strange as it may seem, the reasons for the present exacerbation of the struggle with puny radical leftist initiatives should be sought in the current peripeteia of international politics.

On the evening of August 27, loner activist Alexei Drozdov was standing on the Mezhevoi Canal and handing out his publication, For Worker Power, to dockers from the Petersburg Sea Port. The number’s lead article dealt with the events in South Ossetia and Georgia. In the text, they were evaluated from an internationalist stance, and the ultimate responsibility for the conflict was laid on Russia.

As Alexei Drozdov told a Fontanka.Ru correspondent, he was caught up in a debate with a patriotically minded elderly worker when two policemen approached him. Without asking Drozdov to present his documents, they immediately invited the activist to follow them to their car. The detainee was taken to the Seventh Precinct.

Alexei Drozdov explained the cause of his misadventures: “I was told that I was in big trouble, that the newspaper and this article had alarmed everyone right up the chain of command to Piotrovsky.” (Vladislav Piotrovsky is the head of the Petersburg General Directorate for the Interior Ministry – editor’s note.)

He would end up spending nearly twenty-four hours in police custody. Moreover, he was not treated like other arrestees: he wasn’t placed in the “monkey cage,” sitting the whole time on a chair next to the on-duty desk. He wasn’t given anything to eat. Even when a certain police commander (before whom, according to Drozdov, the entire precinct staff stood at attention) appeared at the precinct the next morning and ordered that the detainee be fed, rank-and-file policemen reacted behind his back with perplexity—they didn’t want to pay out of their own pockets after all. At the same time, they didn’t allow the activist to go anywhere.

However, the police showed a heightened interest in Alexei Drozdov. According to him, various officers came to the precinct to look at him. Precinct employees sat down next to him, read his article about Ossetia, and shamed the young man for his unpatriotic and anti-Russian stance.

At around noon on this same day Drozdov was taken to a justice of the peace. The policeman who had arrested him testified that the young man had argued with the officers, used foul language, and ignored their instructions. The court fined the accused five hundred rubles for petty hooliganism. The story didn’t end there, however.

“The policemen were quite surprised by the sentence. They didn’t care about the fine. They needed to hold me a while longer so that the organized crime unit guys could talk with me. They told me this in the car before the trial,” Alexei Drozdov recounted. Therefore the activist wasn’t released after the trial was over. He was threatened with re-arrest if he tried to disobey.

And so Alexei Drozdov was interrogated once more. He was grilled about his work, family, and political views. The police were curious about who financed his newspaper. “That surprised them most of all—that I pay 3200 rubles out of my pocket to have the paper printed. No one could believe me. In their opinion, this isn’t sensible,” said the oppositionist.

The policemen were likewise particularly interested in how a single person could manage the publication of a periodical. (Alexei Drozdov is the author of all the articles, which he prints under several pseudonyms, and he handles the design of the paper himself.) In particular, they asked whether the activist had his own printing press. To this the young man replied that he printed the paper at a modest-sized printing plant called North Star.

The printing press was searched forthwith. At this time, the freshly printed run of another publication, the artistic-political newspaper Chto Delat (whose authors also don’t hide their leftist views) was on the plant’s premises. This edition was also immediately confiscated.

Drozdov was released around six p.m. on August 28, nearly twenty-four hours after he was arrested. Police promised him that he would definitely be summoned for questioning once more. At around this same time, the editor of Chto Delat, artist Dmitry Vilensky, was meeting with law enforcement authorities in connection with his own publication. He told a Fontanka.Ru correspondent that he didn’t understand why the edition was confiscated: “There was nothing radical there, as in our early issues—just purely artistic stuff.” Major Andrei Vatamaniuk, of the Kirov District Directorate of the Interior Ministry, was curious, for example, about the meaning of the following lines, from a play published in the newspaper:

Add to this pair the KGB Spook and the Mafioso

And you’ll have the ideal band.

To pillage the country!

To torture the people!

Stop before it’s too late, Democrat!

Money and power!

According to Dmitry Vilensky, his references to the ironic tradition in literature didn’t inspire trust in the policeman. And it didn’t matter anyway. Yesterday, the prosecutor’s office got involved in the case. Kirov District prosecutor Olga Moiseenko plans to conduct an inquest into whether the contents of both publications violate the Constitution. Dmitry Vilensky claims that this was a surprise even for the police, who had wanted to let the case go away. According to him, the police didn’t conceal the fact the district attorney showed an interest in the case allegedly at the behest of the FSB, which had been coordinating the entire operation. For the time being, it is not known how long the inquest of the papers will last and what its consequences might be.

Footnote

For Worker Power has been in existence since November 2007. It is produced wholly through the efforts of one man, Alexei Drozdov. Five issues have been published (the first two under the title Workers). The themes of the articles are traditional ones for such self-produced radical leftist leaflets: trade union and antifascist activity, foreign and Russian revolutionary practice, criticism of the Russian political system, as well as the unmasking of official communists and other leftist tendencies that distort Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

The newspaper Chto Delat has been in existence since 2003. It is a sixteen-page publication, and nineteen issues have come out. Among its contributors are political scientist Artemy Magun, poet and translator Alexander Skidan, artist Anatoly Osmolovsky, art critics Viktor Misiano, Olesya Turkina, and Ekaterina Degot, and sociologist Elena Zdravomyslova. The latest issue of the publication focused on an evaluation of perestroika. It is worth noting that the newspaper is published with support from the European Union Cultural Programme, which in view of the chilling of relations with the west might also have attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies. Like For Worker Power, Chto Delat officially has a print run of 999 copies. Therefore the publication doesn’t require registration. However, according to the official police report, an entire three thousand newspapers were confiscated at the printing plant.

—Nikolai Konashenok & Alexei YaushevFontanka.Ru

 

 

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One response to “A “Coercive” Peace: The Harassment of the Leftist Press in Petersburg

  1. Pingback: The Confiscation of Chto Delat Newspaper: Update and Thank You « chtodelat news

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