A few news items from the past few days that you probably won’t see on the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel Russia Today, which has begun affectionately calling itself “RT.”
Raid on Left Front Headquarters in Moscow
On the morning of October 31, police raided the Moscow headquarters of the Left Front. The police allegedly didn’t present a warrant for any of their actions, explaining only that the raid was part of a criminal investigation into the “creation of an extremist association.” During their search of the premises, they confiscated the hard disk from the office’s computer, as well as two laptops, flags, newspapers, and leaflets. They also beat up and arrested the six Left Front members who were present in the office during the raid. The six were taken to Tverskoye police precinct, where they were charged with “disobeying police officers,” which is an administrative offense.
On its website, the Left Front alleged that the raid was meant to intimidate the leftist opposition in the run-up to a demonstration planned for November 7 on Red Square. They also connected it to the growing public activeness of their own organization.
Happy Birthday, Center “E”!
Later that same day, also in Moscow, anarchists marked the first anniversary of the Interior Ministry’s notorious Center for Extremism Prevention aka Center “E.” This theatricalized action included voluntary “registration” of “extremists,” who were given commemorative IDs for their honesty. Similar actions were held in a number of Russian cities.
The activists made four demands: 1) disband Center “E” as an institution that endangers society; 2) excise the concept of “extremism” from Russian laws; 3) abolish Russian Federation Law No. 114 “On the Prevention of Extremist Activity”; 4) allow Russian citizens to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and a free press.
Although the activists had obtained permission for the event, the police found an excuse to arrest seven of them. They were charged with petty hooliganism, an administrative offense.
More details (in Russian) here.
Thanks to anatrrra for the photograph. You can see their full photo reportage of the action here. The website of the campaign to put an end to Center “E” and stop the persecution of “extremists” is here (in Russian). You can read the campaign’s manifesto (in English) here.
A Road Trip to Naberezhnye Chelny
We’ve been there and probably won’t be going back. But if we do decide to revisit that green and pleasant city in Tatarstan, home of the KamAZ truck factory, we wouldn’t like to do it the way that The Other Russia activist Sergei Yezhov did. According to Yezhov, on the evening of October 23 he was approached by three plainclothes police officers outside the Vodyni Stadion metro station in Moscow:
They put my arms behind my back, led me across the road, and put me into a silver-colored Mitsubishi. Two of them sat on either side of me, while [the third] got behind the wheel. They all began persuading me to ‘cooperate’ with law enforcement authorities. They confiscated all my personal belongings, including my telephone, money, keys, passport, etc. They beat me and demanded that I turn in my comrades, supporters of Eduard Limonov. They demanded that I call my comrades right away and arrange to meet them; they would also be arrested at these meetings. I refused. That is when they threatened to take me out of town, where anything whatsoever might happen to me. In some sense they followed up on this threat. They took me to Naberezhnye Chelny, where, I was told, I would be a witness and have to give testimony in some criminal case whose nature wasn’t made clear to me. We were on the road around fourteen hours, and during that whole time they didn’t let me contact my relatives or my wife.
“The People Who Caused the Crisis Should Pay for It” Is an Extremist Slogan
When the Russian authorities aren’t seizing computers, clamping down on anarchists or driving people to Naberezhnye Chelny in silver Mitsubishis as part of their non-stop efforts to root out extremism, they are busy adding items to their official list of “extremist literature.” The Institute for Collective Action reports that the new version of the list features six new items — leaflets issued by the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) and the leftist organization SotsSopr (Socialist Resistance) that were ruled “extremist” by a court in Tver on August 28, 2009. Among the offending slogans were:
- The People Who Caused the Crisis Should Pay for It
- Against Irregular Employment
- We Should Not Have to Pay for Their Crisis
Don’t Ask Any Stupid Questions and We Won’t Give You a Concussion
Unfortunately, some individuals in Russia aren’t impressed by all these nimble displays of police work. One of those morons is Petersburg civil rights lawyer Grigory Solominsky. As Zaks.Ru reports, Solominsky is now facing criminal charges for “publicly defaming a representative of the authorities during the performance of his duties.” How did he do that, you ask? It’s really quite simple.
When Solominsky, who has been defending traders at Petersburg’s Khasansky Market from attempts by city authorities to shut the place down and auction it off (thus leaving some 400 traders high and dry, and a few thousand people out of work), heard on October 9 that police had arrived there and were carrying out a search of the market’s administrative offices, he rushed to the scene. When he arrived he found a group of plainclothes police had blocked off part of the market with their cars. He asked them why they were preventing the merchants from doing their work; he also asked them to show him IDs. That was the last straw:
In response, they jumped on me, hit me in the face, threw me on the pavement, hit me again hard a few more times, threw me into a VAZ 2109 car without police license plates, and drove me to the 13th Police Precinct.
Solominsky was later taken by ambulance to the Alexandrovsky Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.
Although he tried to file charges against the arresting officers, the investigating officer refused to open a case. Instead, Solominsky himself has been charged with violating Article 319 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code. All his “victims” and their witnesses have testified that Solominsky offended the policemen by using “extremely foul language.”
If convicted, Solominsky faces a maximum sentence of six months to a year of hard labor.
Just Say No to Racism — And Show Us Your Papers
On October 31, Petersburg’s anti-racists and antifascists held their annual March against Hatred. This is practically the only opposition “march” that the authorities still allow to actually march anywhere — in this case from the Yubileiny Sports Complex, on the Petrograd Side, to Sakharov Square, outside Saint Petersburg State University. Once they arrive there, the marchers hold a rally to express their outrage at the extremely heavy toll of beatings and murders exacted by neo-Nazis on the city’s anti-racist and antifascist activists, ethnic minorities, and foreign visitors and residents. (To see the body count as of winter 2008, check out the centerfold map in the BASTA! special issue of our newspaper.)
When they arrived at Sakharov Square yesterday (as always, with a heavy police escort), they found representatives of the Federal Migration Service waiting for them. According to local channel TV100, the FMS checked the residence permits of several marchers, although they didn’t go so far as to detain anyone. The demonstrators demanded that the FMS spooks either leave the square or join the rally.
On the other hand, what are those marchers making such a fuss about? After all, Petersburg just won a prize from UNESCO for its “constructive efforts to inculcate mutual respect and tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and to prevent and eradicate all forms of discrimination.” However, as Alexander Vinnikov, one of the march organizers, has pointed out, “The UNESCO decision came as an even bigger surprise than the news about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. […] Neither winners have done anything to deserve the prize, which means the awards were given for political reasons, unfortunately.”
Let’s Declare War on the Old-Age Pensioners
Okay, so you’ve taken care of all the “extremists” — the leftists, anarchists, Limonovites, trade unionists, market traders, civil rights lawyers, and anti-racists. Is there any other group of potential or real Russian extremists you’ve forgotten about? Of course, the old-age pensioners! The Moscow Times has all the thrilling details:
Interior Ministry officers tested out their newest techniques for dispersing rallies Thursday, in exercises that news agencies said were focused on dealing with angry pensioners.
According to the ministry’s scenario for the drill, a group of pensioners gathered for an unsanctioned demonstration and blocked an important highway to seek social support, Interfax reported. Within several minutes, the crowd was dispersed with water, tear gas and stun grenades, while some of the elderly demonstrators were arrested.
Demonstrators have blocked several roads this year, most notably in the Leningrad region town of Pikalyovo.
The Interior Ministry later said in a statement that the information about the dispersed pensioners was incorrect and that special equipment was not “used and is not generally used in practice, except for psychological influence.”
The mock demonstration of force came ahead of Russia’s traditional protest season, with opposition movements planning to hold a series of rallies in early November coinciding with National Unity Day and former Soviet holidays.
“The fall is a period of heightened public activities, largely driven by the recent election campaign,” said Mikhail Sukhodolsky, a deputy interior minister, RIA-Novosti reported. The end of the summer holidays and seasonal employment would add to the size of demonstrations, he said.
The ministry also showed off new technology, including the Groza and Shtorm water-canon vehicles. Clips of the drills, held in the Moscow region town of Balashikha, were shown on Vesti-24 state television.
The exercises were part of the Interpolitekh-2009 international fair of law enforcement equipment. Reporters in attendance were also shown a mobile policeman robot, Metallist, Interfax said.
“Most of the samples presented today in the course of the exercises were made in Russia and are or will soon be taken into service,” Interior Ministry Rashid Nurgaliyev said.