Maxim Solopov’s Term in Police Custody Is Extended
Today, September 28, Khimki municipal court judge Ekaterina Kudriatseva ordered that Maxim Solopov’s term in police custody be extended for another two months.
This time, the hearing was held in open chamber, and twelve members of the public were present — Maxim Solopov’s relatives and friends, and journalists. Solopov’s lawyer, Yuri Yeronin, petitioned the court to enter into the case record the personal guarantees made by State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov and civil rights activists Ludmila Alexeeva and Lev Ponomaryov, as well as the good character statements made by Maxim’s university classmates and two university researchers, senior lecturer Dmitry Belyaev and Professor Galina Yershova.
Judge Kudriatseva notes that the guarantors were not present in the courtroom and that, perhaps, they “didn’t know themselves what they had signed.” On this basis, she decided that it was impossible to trust their guarantees. In addition, the judge that Maxim, as a university student, did not have a constant source of income and that this did not speak in favor of releasing him from police custody.
Maxim Solopov asked the court to release him from police custody because at present he is a final-year student studying towards a specialist’s degree. Next year this form of study will cease to exist, and if he is forced to miss classes this year, he will be unable to receive his specialist’s diploma. Maxim told the court that, whatever his sentence is, the lack of a higher education will have a negative impact on his life. Nevertheless, the judge decided to extend his arrest by two more months.
At 2:00 p.m. on September 29, the Independent Press Center (ul. Prechistenka, 17/9, first floor) will host a press conference on the case of the Khimki Hostages that will focus on the results of the pretrial custody hearings for Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov.
The whole story looks like another episode of the same old soap opera. Once again, the Russian Ministry of Culture is refusing to bring contemporary art to France. This time, it is a series of graphics called “Radical Abstractionism” by Avdei Ter-Oganian that was supposed to be shown at an exhibition at the Louvre. “The Ministry of Culture and the Russian Cultural Protection Agency didn’t let out these works because of their content,” said NCCA general director Mikhail Mindlin. They had an “unfriendly and provocative quality” and would incite political scandal and religious discord. In particular, Mindlin cites the combination of green and black in a piece overtly-ironically labelled as a provocation of hatred against Islam.
Several prominent participants of the exhibition have already reacted to this latest outburst of censorship: artists Yuri Albert and Diana Machulina have written open letters in which they announce that they are boycotting the exhibition unless Ter-Oganian’s work is included, and further open letters are rumored to follow. In that sense, something has changed. Artists have begun to politicize the conditions of their work, making use of their right to refuse participation. As Diana Machulina puts it, they are protesting not only this concrete case but “the triumph of ideological censorship that has beset the Russian Federation, along with the desire to prevent any possibility of irony or critique.”
So why were these particular works censored? “In connection with their content,” says Mikhail Mindlin, and by that he means the work’s textual dimension. Content is defined as the immediate presence of “unfriendly and provocative” topics, as a collection of keywords in an html metatag. It’s the mere mention of Islam, prostitution, or the Russian constitution that offends. A certain combination sets off a McCarthyist alarm. It is exactly this kind of tripwire reaction that the artist wants to provoke, showing how the managerial-administrative logic of the state rests upon stupid binary procedures that ignore the real content of the piece.
Because the real content of this particular series by Ter-Oganian is a little more complex. It is “offensive,” no doubt, but not to Muslims, Jews, or Russian Orthodox believers. Actually, the real object of his critique is art and the figure of the artist, as is almost always the case in his work. The whole point of this particular series is that there is a huge gap between the accusatory caption (an inverse image of the artwork’s political claim) and the image in question. They are clearly at odds, like in Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” That is, if one looks at the pictures themselves, they are not radical; one sees very little that might be inflammatory, except for iconic colors, or the schematic snout of a pig. These pictures are funny because they are impotent; that is, they are so “abstract” that even a superficial political reference uncoded through accusation cannot rouse anything but a smirk.
So, Avdei Ter-Oganian’s point is not just to make fun of over-vigilant bureaucrats. He also wants to ridicule contemporary art’s tendency to couch politics in opaque “abstractions” that, once named, serve as symbols of a critique they no longer perform. That is an old problem from the heyday of modern art in the early-to-mid 20th century, and one that became relevant again in the mid-2000s, when many former radical artists all over the world made a turn toward “formalism,” aestheticism, and the autonomy of art without ever relinquishing the radical claim of their work. In Moscow, one of the first battle cries of that turn was “abstraction,” called out by Anatoly Osmolovsky, formerly one of the most radical artists of the 1990s. Though the term was soon abandoned (it sounds naive), a more neutrally post-minimalist version of “urban formalism” came to dominate the Moscow art scene, always maintaining the claim of being secretly politically radical. Now, as a crisis-hardened bourgeoisie seeks to discard the remnants of glamor, and as the state looks to visualize its ideology of nano-modernization, that local brand of ‘political minimal’ looks more and more attractive as a new official language. But only as long as “content” remains safely hidden in the folds of form. When this kind of art is challenged and censored, when its content is named and revealed, its own political claim collapses. As the ridiculous and even ornamental pictures of Ter-Oganian’s “Radical Abstractionism” show. By engaging in self-censorship through abstraction, former radicals prove that reality itself is far more radical than any of their forms. Ter-Oganian reveals this as a self-cancellation that collapses into stupidity. Now not just in art, but in real life.
Sao Paulo is Burning:The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial
“The 29th Sao Paulo Biennial is anchored in the idea that it is impossible to separate art and politics.”In view of the events of the past 48 hours, there are serious reasons to doubt the honesty of this statement.
The work that is shaping up to become the most interesting at the Sao Paulo Biennial has not been made by any artist, but by the institution itself, when it issued the order to cover some imposing panels with plain paper, to prevent visitors from seeing two large photographs: the friendly, attractive face of Dilma Rousseff opposite the sour expression of José Serra, her Social Democratic rival in Brazil’s presidential elections.
The Argentinean artist Roberto Jacoby’s work for the biennial consisted of socialising his space and allowing it to be managed by the Argentinean Brigade for Dilma, which openly proceeded to spread propaganda in favour of the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate as Lula’s successor, choosing to be part of an exceptional historic moment of unity, solidarity, redistribution and democracy that is opening up in Latin America.
According to the – not very convincing – justification that has been issued by the Sao Paulo Biennial Foundation, a report by the Electoral Attorney General’s office has decreed that the work qualifies as an “electoral offense” in that breaks the law that prohibits the “transmission of propaganda of any nature” in spaces that are run by public authorities. However, the Biennial itself had contacted the legal authorities in the first place to report the work that they had invited.
In a statement to the press, one of the curators of the Biennial, Agnaldo Farias, declared that “we can not contest the court ruling, because we even run the risk of going to jail. If we had known in advance that the work dealt with Dilma, we would have warned the artist, because we’d have known there would be problems.” The curators’ arguments that they had been “taken unawares” by the evolution of the work does not stand up to scrutiny, given that the censured photograph is included in the Biennial’s catalogue and web site.
The only possible response to this cowardly statement is a question: what does an established art curator think he is asking for when he invokes the word “politics”? Aside from this specific case, it is not unusual to see curatorial projects that use the link between “art and politics” to exhibit documentary cemeteries or portraits of faraway strange or poor people. Jacoby’s political artwork at this Biennial effectively opposes the disempowerment of political art that is currently exercised in the institutional mainstream.
So what happens when an artist is serious about the need to turn an artistic space into a public space, in order to generate political confrontation – rather than false consensus – in real time, and in the very belly of the art system? El alma nunca piensa sin imagen / The soul never thinks without images – which is the title of the work – does not just consist of electoral propaganda in favour of Dilma: the section of the exhibition allocated to Jacoby was also transformed into a machine for producing antagonism between different opinions, taking sides and forcing the art establishment to become involved in a discussion on the verifiable fact that, today, in a geopolitical space like Latin America, there is more experimentation, more creativity and – ultimately – more hope in the realm of politics – from institutions to social movements – than in the contemporary art system.
Jacoby is participating in the Biennial on two counts, given that he is also part of the collective of artists, sociologists and militants from several Argentinean cities who produced the historic exhibition Tucumán Arde (Tucumán is Burning) in 1968, a project that is mistakenly documented on the Biennial web site – and this is a serious and telling symptom – as a work by the Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia of the city of Rosario. Tucumán Arde was closed down at the labour union headquarters in Buenos Aires, due to pressure from the army during the dictatorship of General Onganía: its provocation consisted in overflowing the art system in order to embrace the social protest against the existing system. The other way round, El alma nunca piensa sin imagen seems to have been censured for having brought into the centre of the art system an activity in favour of a non-artistic process that takes place in the political institution. The Argentinean Brigade for Dilma exhibits it as something much more real – in that it is more imperfect and ultimately complex – than the immaculate halo that usually surrounds the word “politics” in curatorial texts.
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Members of the Argentinean Brigade for Dilma:
Adriana Minoliti, Alejandro Ros, Ana Longoni, Alina Perkins, Cecilia Sainz, Cecilia Szalkowicz, Daniel Joglar, Fernanda Laguna, Francisco Garamona, Florencia Hipolitti, Paula Bugni, Hernán Paganini, Javier Barilaro, José Fernández Vega, Julia Ramírez, Kiwi Sainz, Laura Escobar, Lidia Aufgang, Lucas Rubinich, Mariano Andrade, Mariela Scafati, Mariela Bond, María Granillo, Nacho Marciano, Roberto Jacoby, Santiago Villanueva, Syd Krochmalny, Tomás Espina, Víctor Florido, Victoria Colmegna.
Supporting this declaration (updated: 25/9/2010)
Marcelo Expósito (Barcelona/Buenos Aires), Gachi Hasper (Buenos Aires), Diana Aisenberg (Buenos Aires), Cecilia Sainz (Buenos Aires), Federico Geller (Buenos Aires), Helena Chávez (México), Fernanda Nogueira (Sao Paulo), Miguel López (Lima), Francisco Reyes Palma (México), Marina de Caro (Buenos Aires), Octaviano Moniz Barreto (Bahia), Damián Ríos, Inés Patricio (Rio de Janeiro), Hugo Salas, Guadalupe Maradei (Buenos Aires), Federico Brollo (Buenos Aires), Hugo Vidal (Buenos Aires), Leo Ramos (Resistencia), Ramiro Larraín (Buenos Aires), Inés Martino (Rosario), Compartiendo Capital (Rosario), David Gutiérrez Castañeda (México/Bogotá), Hernán Rodolfo Ulm (Argentina), Beba Eguía (Buenos Aires), Ricardo Piglia (Buenos Aires), Mariana Serbent (Mendoza), Laura García Hernàndez, Magdalena Jitrik (Buenos Aires), José Curia, Leandro Katz (Buenos Aires), Adrián Pérez (Buenos Aires), Eduardo Grüner (Buenos Aires), Carolina Senmartín (Còrdoba), Mariana Botey (México), Carlos Aranda (México), Daniel Duchowney (Argentina), Aldo Ambrozio (Brasil), Carlos Banzi (Argentina), José Luis Meirás (Buenos Aires), Gabriela Nouzeilles (Princeton), Lía Colombino (Asunción), Museo del Barro (Asunción), Taller Crìtica (Asunción), Fernando Davis (Buenos Aires), William López (Bogotá), José Ignacio Otero (Buenos Aires), Leonardo Retamoso Palma (Santa María), Emilio Tarazona (Lima), Ricardo Resende (Sao Paulo), María Cristina Pérez (Rosario), Gustavo López (Bahía Blanca), Marcelo Diaz (Argentina), José Luis Tuñón (Comodoro Rivadavia), Carlos Dias (Brasil), Claudia del Río (Argentina), Juan Manuel Burgos (Còrdoba), Marcos Ferreira de Paula (Sao Paulo), Amalia Gieschen (Argentina), Suely Rolnik (Sao Paulo), Cristina Ribas (Rio de Janeiro), André Mesquita (Sao Paulo).
Judge Galanova Has Revoked the Presumption of Innocence
This morning, Judge Svetlana B. Galanova, the temporary acting chair of the Khimki Municipal Court, ruled that social activist Alexei Gaskarov should be kept in police custody for another two months. Alexei has been charged with disorderly conduct (the maximum prison term for which is seven years) for his alleged involvement in a demonstration on July 28, 2010, outside the Khimki town hall. The other person charged in the case, Maxim Solopov, is also still in police custody, and the court hearing that will decide whether to extend his arrest is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow in Khimki.
According to Anya, Alexei Gaskarov’s girlfriend, today’s hearing was semi-closed to the public: only lawyer Georgy Semyonovsky, Alexei’s mother Irina, and Kommersant journalist Alexander Chernykh were allowed into the courtroom. The approximately fifteen people who came for the hearing – including Alexei’s friends, Anya herself, and other journalists – were forced to wait in the hallway. According to one of them, Alexander Malinovsky, Alexei appeared grim but held up like a champ. His supporters only had a few seconds to look at Alexei as he was led by guards down the hallway.
When I write that Judge Galanova has revoked the presumption of innocence, I have in mind not only her decision today to extend the police custody of Alexei Gaskarov, in relation to whom no investigative actions have been conducted for a month already (that is, he has not been interrogated, summoned to meet with the investigators, etc.)
I also have in mind the amazing document that Spanish trade unionists from the CNT-AIT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) received from Judge Galanova in reply to their inquiry about the fate of Alexei Gaskarov.
In a letter dated September 15, 2010, and marked No. k-9, temporary acting chair Galanova writes as follows:
“As a result of the criminal case materials presented by the investigative organs, the court ruled that he be remanded to police custody. Suspect Gaskarov can be freed from criminal prosecution if evidence is presented of his lack of complicity in the circumstances that served as the basis for the opening of the criminal case.”
Judge Galanova's Letter to Spanish Trade Unionists
For all intents and purposes, temporary acting chair Galanova declared that Alexei Gaskarov would remain in prison until his innocence is proven.
According to the presumption of innocence – the fundamental legal principle on which the criminal investigative and judicial system is based throughout the world, including the Russian Federation – suspects are not required to prove their innocence. On the contrary, police investigators and prosecutors must present evidence of a suspect’s guilt.
So it would appear that Svetlana B. Galanova, temporary acting chair of the Khimki Municipal Court, is simply ignorant of the law.
How then is she able to chair a municipal court, to work as a judge, to make judicial rulings that affect the lives of other people?
Galanova, however, does serve as a judge. Today she extended the term of Alexei Gaskarov’s confinement in police custody.
We were about to publish a summary of the recent international days of action in solidarity with Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov issued by the Campaign for the Release of Khimki Hostages, when we received word that this morning the court in Khimki extended the police custody of Alexei Gaskarov for another two months. The web site of the Russian edition of Newsweek has the details (our comments are in square brackets):
A Kommersant correspondent has informed Newsweek that antifascist Alexei Gaskarov’s term in a pretrial detention facility [in Mozhaisk] has been extended by two months. The court hearing was held in open chamber. However, a small room was chosen for the hearing, and therefore only one journalist and Alexei Gaskarov’s mother were admitted inside.
Gaskarov’s lawyer told Judge Svetlana Galanova that his client had only been summoned for questioning on three occasions over the course of his time in police custody. [Gaskarov has been in police custody since July 29.] He also noted that over the past [two] months no investigative actions had been conducted [with his client], although over 100 people have already been questioned. [Our sources in the campaign say that this figure is closer to 200]. There is therefore no need for Gaskarov’s continued confinement.
He also noted that three State Duma deputies and three public figures had vouched for Alexei Gaskarov’s good character — the first time this had happened in his practice as a lawyer.
Gaskarov said that he does not consider himself guilty as charged, and that he was in Khimki during the time of the events as a correspondent for the Institute for Collective Action. He requested that the judge order him released from the pretrial detention facility because of the onset of cold weather.
The prosecution justified its request for Gaskarov’s continued confinement to police custody by arguing that Gaskarov had acted as part of a group of persons whose identities had not been established. He could not be released from the pretrial detention facility because this might impede further investigation of the incident.
The hearing in Maxim Solopov’s case will take place tomorrow.
So our campaign continues. Swedish activist Tord Björk reminds us what it’s all about:
Go to khimkibattle.org for updates on the case and the campaign, and to find out what you can do to help.
International Days of Action in Solidarity with the Khimki Hostages: Results and Lessons
September 17 marked the start of four international days of action in solidarity with Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, which were initiated by the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages, an independent coalition of antifascist and non-authoritarian leftist activists and groups. The campaign was organized in response to the arrest of two young activists and antifascist spokespeople, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov after a spontaneous act of mass civil disobedience on July 28 in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Practically speaking, Alexei and Maxim have been taken hostage by the authorities in revenge for this demonstration. Hence the main slogans of the international solidarity were and remain Freedom for Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov! and End the Persecution of Forest Defenders and Antifascists!
The geographic scope of the solidarity actions has been extremely wide. The destruction of the Khimki Forest has become an event in our new, globalized world. The Khimki municipal administration, the French construction company Vinci, its Russian business partners, and Russian federal ministries and agencies have all been seen to be pursuing narrow commercial interests in this case. When the social and environmental rights of local residents are regularly violated in this globalized world, and national law enforcement agencies take revenge for acts of civil disobedience with the implicit consent of international companies, the response is civic action that is no less global in scale. The days of international solidarity in defense of Gaskarov and Solopov were a vivid confirmation of this: from September 17 to September 20, activists and concerned citizens carried out thirty-six solidarity actions in thirty-two cities and twelve countries around the world, including Saloniki (Greece); Berlin, Hamburg, Bochum, and Düsseldorf (Germany); Seattle (USA); Kraków (Poland); Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ternopil, and Zaporozhye (Ukraine); Lucerne (Switzerland); Istanbul (Turkey); London (Great Britain); Stockholm (Sweden); Rome (Italy), and Copenhagen (Denmark). Paris (France), Athens (Greece) and New York (USA) hosted two actions each. In Russia, protests took place in Izhevsk, Irkutsk, Kazan, Saratov, Cheboksary, Moscow, Petrozavodsk, Petersburg, Omsk, Tiumen, and Yaroslavl, and in some of these cities, two protests took place. We also have heard of three other protests – in Mexico City, Budapest, and Ufa (Russia) – but we have not yet received photos or written accounts of them. We should also note that in late August and early September, before the official launch of our campaign, spontaneous actions in support of Gaskarov and Solopov took place in Tel Aviv, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Kyiv, Minsk, Petersburg, and Izhevsk.
How and why we protested. The key feature of these international days of action was the fact that protesters combined two kinds of demands: against environmental destruction and against police repression. The French construction giant Vinci, which is involved in the destruction of the Khimki Forest and the planned construction of a toll highway through it, became the target of a pressure campaign: in Bochum and Düsseldorf, protests took place outside the offices of its subsidiaries and business partners. In other cities, Russian embassies and consulates were picketed. In Athens, several activists from the Greek Social Forum and a Greek MP picketed the Russian embassy. They succeeded in meeting with an embassy official, to whom they explained that “forests have no boundaries,” that their destruction leads to the degradation of the quality of life in cities all over the world, and that the arrest of the two activists is an outrage. In Kyiv, activists performed a political play outside the Russian embassy. In Paris, activists took their protest to a Russian film festival. Around 150 people attended a demonstration in Petersburg, while between 300 and 400 people came to a rally the same day in Moscow. Moscow protesters were addressed by spokespeople for a variety of different social movements and organizations. They also had the chance to sign a petition urging the authorities to build the Moscow-Petersburg toll highway along a different route and to fill out postcards demanding that the Russian authorities release Gaskarov and Solopov. In all the cities where protests took place, environmentalists, public and cultural figures, antifascists, journalists, leftist activists, civil rights activists, and concerned citizens joined together to call for the release of the two young men.
Another important feature of the international days of action was the fact that information about the case was distributed to the public and published in the national media of the countries that took part in the campaign. This can be gauged not only by the thousands of leaflets handed out during protest actions and the banners hung throughout the participating cities, but also by the large number of media publications that appeared during the course of the week. If before this moment, manifestations of solidarity with the Khimki hostages came mainly from other activists, then September 17–20 saw the start of a wave of publicity about the case in the popular press and responses from the general public. The scope of the solidarity campaign and the variety of people involved in it show that the case of the Khimki hostages is regarded throughout the world as matter of international and public concern.
Observers and activists around the world have been particularly outraged by the repressive actions taken by local authorities and Russian law enforcement officers, who have employed physical torture and mental coercion against activists, sent thugs and ultra-nationalists to attack Khimki Forest defenders, and have thus as a whole destroyed the foundations of civil society and the possibility of dialogue between local residents and state officials. In essence, the crude actions of the Khimki municipal administration and Russian law enforcement have once again reinforced the image of Russia as a harshly authoritarian and repressive country, an image that it had managed to overcome with great difficulty only a relatively short time ago. International observers, journalists, activists, and protesters have made it clear that the taking of hostages by the authorities and their repressive style of dealing with activists are a blight on contemporary Russia’s image. But they are also a reason to seek sanctions against both the Russian authorities and the international companies who are participating in this violent game. In their communiqués, the participants in the international solidarity actions emphasized that it is unacceptable for the Russian authorities to respond to civic protests with repressive measures, for local and federal officials to sanction violence against activists.
The worldwide wave of solidarity and media attention will continue to grow until Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov are released and the false charges against them dropped.
Other highlights of the campaign. Dozens of faxed messages were sent to the Khimki municipal court, the Moscow Region prosecutor’s office, and the president of the Russian Federation from cities around the world. Russian state and international organizations received hundreds of emails pointing out the collapse of the rule of law in Khimki and calling on the addressees to stop these repressions and free Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov.
During protest actions in Russia itself, campaigners collected more than 700 postcards addressed to the Russian president: the signatories asked him to release the Khimki hostages. On September 23, campaigners delivered these postcards to the public reception office of the presidential administration in central Moscow.
Open letters. September 7 saw the publication of an open letter of support for the Khimki hostages signed by representatives of fifteen leading environmental and civil rights organizations from a number of countries: Patrick Bond, Centre for Civil Society Environmental Justice Project, Durban, South Africa; Mark Barrett, Climate Justice Action London, UK; Mark Brown, Art Not Oil/Rising Tide, UK; Carmen Buerba de Comite de Defensa Ecologica Michoacana, Mexico; Nicola Bullard, Focus on the Global South, Thailand; Ellie Cijvat, Friends of the Earth Sweden; Joshua Kahn Russell, Ruckus Society, USA; Tom Kucharz, Ecologistas en Acción, Spain; Maduresh Kumar, National Alliance of People’s Movements, India; Marea Creciente Mexico; Adriana Matalonga, Miguel Valencia and Mauricio Villegas, Ecomunidades and Klimaforum10, Mexico; Tannie Nyböe, Climate Justice Action, Denmark; Uddhab Pyakurel, South Asian Dialogue on Ecological Democracy, India; Josie Riffaud, Via Campesina, France; Marko Ulvila, Friends of the Earth Finland; Thomas Wallgren, Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Finland.
On September 20, more than fifty Russian public figures and human rights activists signed an open letter to the Russian president. Its authors pointed out to the president that “this kind of lawlessness has no place in a democratic state based on the rule of law.” They called on the president to protect “two socially conscious and publicly active young people from reprisal and to stop the terror against journalists and social activists.” The signatories include Ludmila Alexeeva (chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group), Lev Ponomaryov (For Human Rights), Boris Strugatsky (writer), Oleg Orlov (chair, Memorial Human Rights Centre), Yuri Samodurov (curator), and Gleb Yakunin (Public Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience).
What we should not forget. Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were arrested on July 29, a day after a spontaneous protest involving hundreds of young antifascists took place in the town of Khimki. This was not a pre-announced, pre-planned or “permitted” action, but a demonstration of civil disobedience. No one was arrested during the action itself. Its aftermath has been twofold. On the one hand, the controversy surrounding the destruction of the Khimki Forest received much more attention from society, the media, and high-ranking Russian state officials. As a result of this attention, the Russian president ordered a temporary halt to the project to build a toll highway through the forest. On the other hand, local officials and law enforcement agencies launched a campaign of intimidation against activists the very next day. Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were summoned by the police for “discussions” and arrested. Police and prosecutors have falsified their arrest protocols and fabricated eyewitness testimony and other evidence in the case. Over the following month and a half, more than 200 young people were detained and interrogated in Moscow and the Moscow Region, as well as in Nizhniy Novgorod, Kostroma, and Samara. These interrogations involved systematic, extremely crude violations of the detainees’ rights on the part of the police and physical violence, although in the majority of cases these violations and acts of violence have not been documented. However, thanks to the courage of three detained activists – Alexander Pakhotin, Emil Baluyev, and Nikita Chernobayev – we have eyewitness accounts of these crimes. After their interrogations, they sought medical attention (to document their injuries) and filed formal complaints against the illegal actions of law enforcement officials.
The disproportionate, violent response of Russian officials to this act of civil disobedience, whose goal was to criticize the Khimki town administration, continues. Over the past three years, Khimki officials have used repressive police methods against activists and residents and given their implicit consent to violent criminal attacks against forest defenders. As our international days of action have shown, the response to the illegal coercion employed by the authorities will be growing international support for Russian activists, the return of Russia’s negative image, and international sanctions against Russian government agencies and organizations.
The English translation of The Occupation Cookbook, authored by the University of Zagreb students who took over the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for thirty-five days last year, is online now. Here is an excerpt from Boris Buden’s introduction:
In Europe today, wherever people resist in the name of the old social rights, they become the enemies of progress and prosperity, freedom and democracy; in short: they become the enemies of Europe whose acquired social rights, such as the right to education, appear as the privileges of the social parasites, which are to be abolished on the road to better future. So this is how it has been in Zagreb last year, this is how it was and is in Vienna and wherever one dares to challenge the existing hegemony. But what divides this world, what the students have stood up against to, unites them too, wherever they raise their protests. Thus, they are today fighting neither in the center, nor in the periphery of the neo-liberal capitalism – they are fighting this very difference, that is to say the hegemony that forces us do differentiate the world in such a manner. Solidarity is neither the prerequisite nor the product of this struggle, but its actual form.
Artists, curators, theorists, and “correspondents” will come together during the workshops which are part of the Potosí Principle exhibition to discuss and elaborate the following topics: How can we describe colonial as well as contemporary global contexts with Marx’s principle of “primitive accumulation”? How and where is cultural hegemony being produced? Which artistic interventions or practices and which dissenting voices can undermine the standards of a “universal museum” within an internationalised world?
With: Thomas Kuczynski, Silvia Federici, Peter Linebaugh, David Riff, Tom Flynn, Anthony Davies, John Barker, Edgar Arandia, Maria Galindo (Mujeres Creando), Elvira Espejo, Eduardo Molinari, Isaías Grinolo, Matthijs de Bruijne, Sonia Abian, Konstanze Schmitt, Christian von Borries, Zhibin Lin and Sun Heng (Migrant Worker Museum) as well as the curators of the project.
Cyclists will ride around a canteen in the shape of a hammer and sickle Sunday as they try to halt developers from knocking the building down in the Volga city of Samara.
The Maslennikov factory canteen, otherwise known as the Fabrika Kukhnya or Factory Kitchen, was built in the early 1930s and remained in use till the early 1990s. It had three conveyor belts in the hammer part of the building that delivered cooked food to the sickle-shaped canteen.
The canteen produced 9,000 meals per day, but it now stands empty. It remains a treasured building of Soviet avant-garde architecture and a symbol of Samara, said the event’s organizer, Vitaly Stadnikov.
Stadnikov, who is traveling from Moscow for the event, called on any architecture lovers to come and join the “Veloden,” or “Bike Day,” which will go on to take in the sights and sounds in one of the country’s most architecturally eclectic cities, taking in art nouveau to constructivism to 19th-century traditional wooden buildings.
The canteen’s former owner reversed plans to knock the building down two years ago after an outcry in local and foreign media, but officials from the current owners, Samarsky Passazh, said in July that they would knock it down and replace it with a 30-story shopping complex.
The campaign has even inspired a techno song with the lyrics, “Factory Kitchen, you are everything,” by local singer Fedun Chyorny. It’s available for download on the “Veloden” web site.
Local preservation campaigners say any demolition would be illegal because the site is on a list of buildings that are pending landmark status. It has been on the list for 17 years.
Past experience in Samara, a city that has lost hundreds of historical buildings in recent years, makes campaigners fear the kitchen factory will be demolished even if that is illegal.
Campaigners have sent a letter to President Dmitry Medvedev asking him to intervene and give the building official landmark status.
“Veloden” starts at 10 a.m. on Sunday at the Maslennikov canteen. 149 Novosadovaya Ulitsa, Samara. Tel. (909) 329-8294, www.veloden.ru
Maslennikov Factory Kitchen
Editor’s Note. At the Veloden web site you can download a .pdf of the 262-page Samara: Guide to Modern Architecture, a lavishly produced book in Russian and English that should be essential reading for all students of modernist architecture. It will also give you a good idea of what the cyclists will be fighting to preserve this Sunday.
The article below, which we have translated from the original Russian, explains in great detail how Russian law enforcement officials have been constructing their case against the Khimki hostages, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov. It is our hope that after you read this you’ll be moved to do what you can to help secure their release.
We now know for certain that another pretrial custody hearing in the case has been scheduled for September 27. So it is imperative that you go now to khimkibattle.org and find out what you can do to support them. The faxes and e-letters you send in the next few days will be crucial in deciding whether Alexei and Maxim remain behind bars or are set free.
Hunting the Antifa. They introduce themselves as FSB agents. They detain young people and force them to testify about the riot in Khimki and demand that they sign cooperation agreements. Several victims of this police abuse have already sent complaints to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chayka. The New Times has found out about the methods the siloviki are using to achieve their ends.
“When I said I didn’t know anything, they began beating me in the area of my liver and then my kidneys. I told them that I’ve suffered from a heart defect and hepatitis C since childhood, that there are problems with my liver, but they smiled in reply. One of them slammed my head against the table,” recounted 25-year-old Alexander Pakhotin of his interrogation at the police station in the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky.
A Cage for Detainees
On August 21, antifascist Alexander Pakhotin arrived in the town of Zhukovsky with a large group of young people on a commuter train from Moscow. They were planning to attend a charity concert there. As he explained to The New Times, the concert did not take place that day. Instead, seventy people were detained by police without explanation and taken to the Zhukovsky police station.
According to Pakhotin, police officers copied down the young people’s personal information right in the police station courtyard. They were then herded into a large cage that had been set up outside. When Alexander approached the cage to find his friends, unidentified plainclothes officers grabbed him by the arms and took him into the station building.
“They said that I had been involved in the riot in Khimki and that I would do prison time,” Alexander recalls. “I told them I didn’t know anything, but they put me in a holding cell. There were several locals in the neighboring cell, people who had been detained for some kind of disorderly conduct. They tried to frighten me by saying they would piss on me through the bars. Then I was again taken upstairs to an office and the interrogation continued.” Alexander says that he asked for a lawyer, but his request was ignored. Plainclothes officers who identified themselves as FSB operatives showed Pakhotin as photograph taken on July 28 in Khimki not far from the town hall building. (On July 28, 2010, dozens of people in masks threw bottles and rocks at the building. On August 4, antifascists Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov were formally charged with involvement in this riot and remanded to pretrial police custody.)
“There were no people in masks in this photograph,” says the antifascist. “In it, some young woman is standing next to me. They explained to me that I wouldn’t get off with a misdemeanor, that I would be charged with organizing a riot. I really was in Khimki on July 28, but I had gone there for a concert and I wound up near the town hall by accident. My interrogators weren’t satisfied with my answers: they wanted me to tell them that Maxim Solopov (arrested on July 30 – The New Times) and Pyotr Silayev, who is now on the wanted list, participated in the Khimki riot.”
I’ll Cut Off Your Ear
According to Pakhotin, at nine o’clock that evening he was taken to the Khimki police station. “They took me to an investigating officer. The people who had identified themselves as FSB agents were present during the interrogation. The investigator didn’t like how I was answering his questions, and so then one of the officers who had beat me in Zhukovsky placed my head on the table, put a pair of scissors next to my right ear, and said, ‘I’ll cut off your ear right now unless you say what we tell you to say.’ They threatened to take me out into the forest, and since I’m a Belarusian citizen and have no relatives here, no one would search for me.”
After a ten-hour interrogation, Alexander signed what he was asked to sign. Then, at two o’clock in the morning he was taken to the second municipal police precinct in Khimki. Police officers there woke him up at six in the morning and forced him to sign yet another document. As it turned out later, this was the charge sheet for a misdemeanor. It states that at 1:50 a.m. on August 21, at Mayakovsky Street, 13, in the town of Khimki, an inebriated Pakhotin had used foul language, thus disturbing the peace.
Alexander Pakhotin was thus charged with two misdemeanors: first, using foul language on Mayakovsky Street in Khimki on August 21, and second, for participating in an unsanctioned picket of the Khimki town hall on July 28.
The Court Sides with the Antifascist
Alexander finds the charge outrageous. “On the night of August 21 and the morning of August 22 I was in Moscow. I was detained on the afternoon of August 22 in Zhukovsky. But as the lawyers explained to me, the officers at the second police precinct in Khimki backdated my arrest protocol to justify my arrest.”
On August 23, justice of the peace Olga Zabachinskaya of Court No. 258 in the Khimki District of Moscow Region found Pakhotin guilty of “minor disorderly conduct” and fined him 700 rubles [approximately 17 euros]. She also intended to rule on the second charge against Pakhotin that same day. But he requested time to find a lawyer.
A week later, on August 31, justice of the peace Alexander Yatsyk returned a surprising verdict: finding no evidence to corroborate the charge, he declared Pakhotin not guilty of attacking the Khimki town hall.
Now Alexander’s conscience is troubled by the fact that he gave testimony in the investigation of the riot. “They beat the testimony out of me forcibly, but because of me people who are in prison have suffered. That is why I have appealed to Prosecutor General Chayka,” the antifascist told The New Times.
Pakhotin's Complaint to the Prosecutor General
A Signed Agreement to Cooperate
Emil Baluyev does not consider himself a member of the antifa movement. He is an activist in the animal rights movement, and he often takes part in environmental protest actions. Like Pakhotin, he was detained on August 21 in Zhukovsky. “Emil says that he was interrogated by people who identified themselves as FSB officers,” Olga Miryasova, an activist in the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages, told The New Times. “They were also interested in the details of the riot in Khimki. But on the day of the riot, Baluyev was in Ukraine. During the interrogation he was handcuffed. He was made to bend over and beaten on the head and legs. After that they forced him to sign a cooperation agreement.”
According to civil rights activists, law enforcement officers beat at least ten of the seventy people detained on August 21 in Zhukovsky. Who were these unidentified men in plain clothes that beat the arrestees and also forced some of them to sign cooperation agreements? They did not reveal their last names; they only waved IDs at the detainees and said that they were from the FSB.
One of the detainees recognized a certain Maxim among these men, a person he had seen often at youth protest actions and concerts. This man had videotaped the protest actions of antifascists and environmentalists.
“As far as I’m know, officers from our Department for Extremism Prevention did not interrogate anyone there,” Yevgeny Gildeev, press secretary for the Moscow Region Chief Directorate for Internal Affairs told The New Times. Gildeev was aware of the complaints that antifascists had filed with the Prosecutor General, but he refused to comment on them. Another spokesperson for the Moscow Region police told The New Times in conversation that he did not rule out the possibility that FSB and Center for Extremism Prevention officers had participated in the interrogations. The New Times sent a formal inquiry to the FSB, asking them to inform us whether its officers had participated in the interrogations, but as this issue goes to print we have not yet received a reply from them.
Saving Her Son
Unknown men who also identified themselves as FSB officers searched long and hard for Nikita Chernobayev, a 19-year-old antifascist from the Moscow suburb of Ramenskoye. They went to his mother’s workplace and made inquires about her. On August 26, Nikita was summoned to the local police station on the pretext that he was being drafted into the army. According to lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, FSB officers were waiting there for the antifascist. Nikita managed to telephone his mother and tell her that he was being beaten. Nikita signed the testimony the men wanted him to sign, as well as a cooperation agreement.
“Nikita told his mother that they hit him in the solar plexus,” says Trepashkin. “They put a plastic bag over his head so that he couldn’t breathe.” Chernobayev was released from the police station at one a.m. The next morning his mother called an ambulance. Nikita was admitted to the Ramenskoye Central Municipal Hospital. According to our information, Mrs. Chernobayeva soon thereafter had her son transferred to a Moscow hospital: a frightened Nikita had phoned her from the Ramenskoye hospital because he saw through the window that that men who had beaten him up at the police station were walking through the hospital courtyard.
Chernobayev's Statement to Russian Civil Rights Activists
In the hospital discharge summary, a copy of which The New Times has obtained, it is stated that Nikita Chernobayev was diagnosed with a closed craniocerebral injury, a brain concussion, bruises, and abrasions to the face.
Nikita’s mother is now preparing a detailed complaint that she will file with the Prosecutor General’s Office.
So this is how the unknown men who identify themselves as FSB officers have been investigating the riot outside the Khimki town hall building. What explains their cruelty towards antifascists? “Earlier, the antifascists stewed in their own juices. They went to concerts and organized protest actions of some sort,” says Olga Miryasova. “In Khimki, they encroached on the authorities for the first time. My guess is that a signal came from the top to deal with them in a serious manner. In any case, a large group of operatives and investigators has been formed to work on the Khimki case. They have to find the guilty parties and witnesses, but that isn’t so easy after all. And while they’re at it, they want to add new information to their database of extremists: all the detainees have been fingerprinted and photographed.”
It is unlikely that a criminal case will be opened against those who interrogated and beat antifascists in Zhukovsky, Khimki, and Ramenskoye. The special agents did not give their last names, and the Prosecutor General’s Office might decide that no one beat up the antifascists, that everything written in their complaints is a product of their wild imaginations or an attempt to escape responsibility.
Students in Buenos Aires have taken to the streets in protest against the appalling conditions to be found in many of the city’s schools. A lack of heating in the cold winter just coming to an end has brought to a head a state of neglect which has been building up for several years. In the inimitable style of Argentine tradition, there have not only been occupations of at one point as many as forty of the city’s secondary schools, but classes have been taking place in the street. The protests have been going on for a month, and have now been been joined by university students belonging to several faculties where buildings are in similarly bad condition.
This was not what I was expecting to find when I arrived in Buenos Aires to give a talk about teaching documentary at an event promoted by the Ministry of Education and intended primarily as a showcase for creative practices in the universities. I was also supposed to be speaking at the University of Buenos Aires, which was cancelled when Social Sciences, the faculty where this was due to take place, was occupied when a window fell on one of the students. So instead I go to film the occupation, and the demonstration being mounted outside the Ministry of Education. Here’s the result.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Television channels allocated to Universities
What I did expect was debate about the new audiovisual law introduced by la Presidenta, Cristina Kirchner, which is exercising the numerous film departments in universities up and down the country because the universities are among the beneficiaries. On the face of it, the measures appear progressive. The object of the new law is to limit the monopoly of the two leading media groups belonging to the newspapers Clarín and La Nación, and to promote plurality and diversity by allocating television channels to non-profit organizations, including unions, human rights groups, churches and universities. However, there are several catches which reveal the peculiar nature of what is called Kirchnerismo (Cristina’s husband having been President before her).
Supposedly the Kirchners belong to the Peronist movement, but since Peronism is extremely difficult to define—it has its own left and right wings—this leaves plenty of room for political vacillation. Moreover, Kirchnerismo does nothing to counter a high level of corruption among politicians. I am told, for example, that what lies behind the schools crisis is that Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, has appropriated huge sums of money to support his campaign for next year’s presidential elections, thus reducing the city’s education budget to a few per cent of what it’s supposed to be. The students are trying to obtain commitments for a programme of works to put the schools in order and remain dissatisfied with what has been promised so far, so for the moment the occupations continue—and indeed La Presidenta herself has given the schools protest her approval (but not that of the university students, because the universities fall under the national budget, not that of the city).
The story behind the new audiovisual law is much more complicated. For one thing, it goes back to 1976, when the military dictatorship bought into Papel Prensa, the country’s monopoly supplier of newsprint, and thus the basis of the newspapers’ media empires. No government until now has dared to challenge the old arrangements, and a revision of media legislation dating back to the military dictatorship is clearly long overdue. For this reason, some of my friends in Buenos Aires, without being Kirchneristas, nonetheless support the measures now proposed, along with the producers. Others, however, point out that this is no solution, since the package is designed to keep the Kirchners in power by giving the advantage to media interests who are more friendly to them—or easier to buy off. The most unpopular part of these measures is the order now coming up for debate in the legislature to close down the Internet service provider Fibertel, which has 55% of the market, and last year merged with cable television provider Cablevisión, owned by Clarín. A more radical answer is the proposal by Fernando (Pino) Solanas, who will be known to readers of this blog as a film-maker, co-director of The Hour of the Furnaces back in 1968, and co-author of the manifesto ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, but now an elected senator at the head of a grouping called Proyecto Sur. Solanas has proposed that both Internet and mobile phone provision should become public services. He is also a possible candidate in next year’s presidential elections, and has just formed an alliance with the Socialists, despite certain differences but with the aim of creating a strong centre-left platform.
Meanwhile, one of the problems with the proposal to allocate television channels to the universities is where production funds are to come from. It seems that programme-makers will either be dependent on the state film institute INCAA, or the universities will have to subcontract content to commercial operators. Another problem is that content will be controlled by a series of gate-keepers, in a structure that seems to be designed to ensure that politically critical programming will be practically impossible. Nevertheless, Argentine cinema, both fiction and documentary, continues to thrive, and Buenos Aires remains a city of cinephiles as well as tango.
As for the students, their protests are part of wider polarisation between the political and the popular classes, an observation made by both Adrian, the political science student in the video, and the socialist politician (and ertswhile presidential candidate) Luis Zamora, who I met on the street observing the secondary school students’ demo. Zamora, and my friend Guillermo De Carli, my host in Buenos Aires, who teaches documentary in the very department which is under occupation, also both remarked on the spontaneity of the students’ actions and the joyous and celebratory atmosphere. In other words, despite the official disposition to suspect the hand of militant revolutionary groups like the Trotskyists (of whom there were only a few at the demonstration), the collective resolution of the students, their sense of discipline, the vigorous debate in their assemblies (judging by the one I Iistened to on the street), and the possibility and even likelihood that the protests will spread—all this suggests that something else altogether is afoot.
A final observation. These occupations have not been reported in the English-speaking media, and judging by a quick Google search, hardly in Spanish outside Argentina itself either. A student interviewed in the Argentine publication Pagina 12 comments that the students’ growing politicisation is rejected by both the political leaders and the mass media, who do not want to see young people developing a critical consciousness that could bring about change. One can only suppose that this also applies elsewhere. Politicians live only for short-term gain, the media inculcate amnesia, but in both cases they themselves doubtless remember the student movement of the 1960s, and I expect they’re becoming scared.
For receipt of the link to Michael’s incredibly important, eye-opening blog post and documentary video, we are grateful (as always) to the edufactory mailing list: