We are publishing the following translation of an article that recently appeared on the website of the Institute for Collection Action and was distributed to various activist listservs. We are doing so only out of solidarity with our comrades in Omsk. Although we believe what they tell us, we are aware that the lack of details in this article might leave a reader in the outside world somewhat befuddled. We apologize for the vagueness of the article and promise that we will update this posting as soon as more details become available. Unfortunately, in recent days and weeks, another wave of harassment of Russian leftists, oppositionists, and human rights activists seems to have begun. With the blows coming fast and furious, not all activists have the means or the time to prepare detailed accounts of the state’s actions against them.
Authorities in Omsk have begun a campaign of persecution and coercion directed against members of the Siberian Confederation of Labor (SKT). The SKT, an interregional trade union organization, was founded in 1995 by the Confederation of Anarch0-Syndicalists. The SKT has a large number of supporters and is involved in defending their labor and social rights. The SKT also has a youth organization, the Union of Autonomous Youth (SAM), and supports a committee for the defense of former orphanage students. The SKT’s active political stance has attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies, who have begun persecuting SKT activists. In this sense, they now practically function as a political police.
The trouble began on August 31, when SKT activists organized a demonstration against the violation of civil rights and liberties on the part of law enforcement officers. The immediate cause for the demonstration was the recent murder of a man by two police officers. A large number of young people gathered for the event and the actions of the activists were widely publicized in the mass media. The authorities tested methods for disrupting the demonstration by using plainclothes provocateurs (who were, naturally, police officers) and the Young Guard of United Russia, who tried to interfere with the demonstration. After this episode, the authorities began in earnest to persecute SKT activists for their convictions.
Subseqently [in October] another policeman committed a double homicide [and then killed himself]. A demonstration was organized by the Yabloko Party youth organization in which SKT activists took part. Despite the fact that the demonstration had official permission, it was attacked by approximately one hundred plainclothes police officers, who used Russian flags as weapons. The site of the demonstration was entirely cordoned off with buses [parked there by police]. Journalists were on hand, however, and Novaya Gazeta published an article about the demonstration. This greatly angered the police and local authorities.
In order to have an official excuse to summon SKT members and demonstration participants for questioning, the police have begun fabricating a case against an activist from another organization, the Left Front, which, in the opinion of law enforcement officials, is influenced by the SKT. The reason a criminal case has been opened against him is that the police allegedly found Nazi leaflets in his possession. In reality, SKT members themselves have always publicly taken a consistently internationalist and antifascist stance.
Nevertheless, at a subsequent demonstration police provocateurs handed out a leaflet in which Elena and Vasily Starostin, two founders of the SKT, were accused of ties with the Nazi movement. In addition, the authors of the text alleged that the SKT manipulates former orphanage students by promising to solve their problems. In reality, the SKT has initiated more than 120 successful lawsuits and approximately fifty young people have been granted housing as a result of these court rulings.
After this incident, the police began interrogating activists whom they had been able to identify during demonstrations. The Starostins were among those summoned. They were told by their interrogators that they were a bad influence on young people and they should cease their activities. The authorities have begun to pressure Elena Starostin’s employer by conducting various inspections: the goal is to coerce him to fire her.
The authorities have also begun to pressure young people who participate in SKT actions through the university. They are summoned to the rector’s office for discussions of their “extremist” activity and they are threatened with expulsion. As if that were not enough, the police have begun summoning their parents in order to pressure them to stop the activities of their children. In one case, an activist’s mother has been threatened with being fired from her job, and other parents can expect the same fate.
During their interrogation, police announced outright to the Starostins that the young people who go to protests and participate in the SKT will be unable to find employment in the city. In addition, police have begun to hint that they are physically threatened, saying things like “Aren’t you afraid that skinheads will break your arms and legs?”
It is clear that the primary purpose of the actions of the police is to intimidate activists and make it impossible for them to organize new protests. Police officials do not want this story to go public beyond Omsk, and so SKT activists request that this information be distributed as widely as possible.