At this point, we are not sure how we should title posts like the one you are about to read. Yes, you guessed it: another Russian social activist has been attacked by persons unknown and severely beaten. Unless you live in Solnechnogorsk, a town in the Moscow Region, or are a well-informed Russian social activist yourself, you have probably never heard of Yuri Grachev, editor of the oppositional newspaper Solnechnogorsk Forum and a deputy in the Solnechnogorsk City Council.
As reported on the website of the Institute for Collective Action (IKD), on February 3, this 72-year-old former officer was attacked by three men near the entrance to his house. The men pushed Grachev to the ground and began kicking him, landing most of their blows to his head. Grachev was taken to hospital, where he arrived unconscious, with an open wound on his head, a fractured nose, and a severe concussion. He regained consciousness only yesterday, and he is suffering from partial memory loss.
What did Grachev do to “deserve” this treatment? According to the IKD dispatch, Grachev is a well-known critic of the local authorities, in particular, Vladimir Nesterov, the head of the city and district of Solnechnogorsk. In 2006, Grachev was elected to the city council. There he focused on the municipal services sector, where he uncovered facts of corruption and inflated tariffs. He was also a member of the “Salvation Committee,” a coalition that was formed during the “anti-monetization” protests of 2005.
According to Elena Smirnova, another Salvation Committee member and a candidate in upcoming elections to the district council, the attack on Grachev should be linked not only to his active civic stance, but also to the ongoing election campaign. She also notes that the attack is yet one more sign of the “extremely abnormal situation” in her district and the region as a whole with regards to freedom of expression and criticism of the authorities. The most well-known episode in this cold civil war was the savage beating of Mikhail Beketov, Khimki activist and newspaper editor, in November of last year. In this respect, it is telling that Grachev’s attackers not only beat the living daylights out of him, they also took his bag. It contained articles for the next issue of his newspaper, which was again to have focused on corruption in Solnechnogorsk.
If you follow the link to the original IKD dispatch (which we have mainly summarized here), you will find a sample letter (in Russian), addressed to Mr. Nesterov, which Grachev’s comrades have asked that anyone concerned about this case sign and fax to +7 (495) 9940537. Given the scope of the terror that has now been unleashed against oppositional social, trade union and human rights activists in Russia in the past few months, it might also be a good idea to follow the advice of Comrade Will, at the Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for WAR website, and pen your own letter of protest and dismay to the Russian Federation consulate or embassy in your country. (You can find Will’s sample letter here.) In connection with the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, our comrades at dvizh.org have also suggested sending letters to the Russian Prosecutor General and Interior Minister. You can find the relevant addresses here. As you compose your letters or blog posts, please feel free to make liberal use of the translations and articles on this blog. God knows there have been too many of them in the past several months.
As you might guess from the sun-drenched seal of Solnechnogorsk (courtesy of IKD), reproduced at the top of this post, the name means “sunny hill” in Russian. But these are anything but sunny times in Solnechnogorsk or any other part of Russia. Despite the President’s recent clandestine tea party with Gorbachev and Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov (hailed as the beginning of a new “thaw” by the star-struck morons who pass for Kremlinologists these days), it has become clear as the sun over Solnechnogorsk that either the s0-called authorities have lost control of the so-called situation or vicious assaults like the one that Yuri Grachev was treated to the other day are, in fact, their way of dealing with the situation. In addition to having quiet little tea parties behind the high walls of the Kremlin, the authorities are also going into parallel-universe spin mode. Thus, an Interior Ministry spokesman has avowed that most killings of journalists in Russia are the result of “domestic” conflicts.
Let’s be clear. Only a more or less mass protest movement within Russia can end this wave of terror. But since we have no way of making that happen, and many of our own national governments are little better (or much worse) than the criminal-capitalist junta ensconced in Russia—and thus their “condemnations” of human rights abuses in Russia sound a bit false—it is up to us to take some time away from our local cares and struggles and express solidarity with our Russian comrades any way we can. The only other alternative is to watch helplessly as the world’s largest country once again descends into the dark night of terror.