Monthly Archives: December 2010

Solidarity with Arrested Belarusian Students

Editor’s Note. The following appeal for solidarity has been lightly edited to make it more readable.

http://worvik.livejournal.com/201416.html

Dear colleagues and partners,

We address to you with the request for help in connection with the fact that in Belarusian higher education establishments students are now being expelled for their participation in the rally [against electoral fraud] on December 19th [in Minsk]. More than 600 people, many of them young people, have been sentenced to imprisonment for 10-15 days and are now in police custody. The trials that they had to go through right after the events on December 19th had nothing to do with justice. Their expulsion from educational institutions is being implemented in absentia: the students themselves are not present for the expulsion proceedings.

In this connection, we ask you to do the following: to send to the Minister of Education of Belarus, Mr. Alexander Radkov, letters or statements about the inadmissibility of the practice of expelling students at Belarusan educational institutions, as well as that of dismissing university instructors, in connection with their participation in the peaceful protest actions. We will be grateful if you spread this request among your contacts in the academic community and the universities of your country.

Sincerely yours,

Uladzimir Matskevich
Elena Tonkacheva
Tatiana Poshevalova
Tatiana Vadalazhskaya
International Association EuroBelarus

Address of the Ministry of Education of Belarus:

Sovetskaya str., 9
220010 Minsk, Belarus

Fax: (017) 200-84-83

e-mail: root@minedu.unibel.by

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The Protest They Didn’t Want You to See, The War You Don’t See

Scenes from an antiwar civil disobedience action outside the US White House, organized by Veterans for Peace on December 16:


www.commondreams.org
Black-Out in DC: Pay No Attention to Those Veterans Chained to the White House Fence
by Dave Lindorff

There was a black-out and a white-out Thursday and Friday as over a hundred US veterans opposed to US wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, and their civilian supporters, chained and tied themselves to the White House fence during an early snowstorm to say enough is enough.

Washington Police arrested 135 of the protesters, in what is being called the largest mass detention in recent years. Among those arrested were Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who used to provide the president’s daily briefings, Daniel Ellsberg, who released the government’s Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration, and Chris Hedges, former war correspondent for the New York Times.

No major US news media reported on the demonstration or the arrests. It was blacked out of the New York Times, blacked out of the Philadelphia Inquirer, blacked out in the Los Angeles Times, blacked out of the Wall Street Journal, and even blacked out of the capital’s local daily, the Washington Post.

Making the media cover-up of the protest all the more outrageous was the fact that most news media did report on Friday, the day after the protest, the results of the latest poll of American attitudes towards the Afghanistan War, an ABC/Washington Post Poll which found that 60% of Americans now feel that war has “not been worth it.” That’s a big increase from the 53% who said they opposed the war in July.

Clearly, any honest journalist and editor would see a news link between such a poll result and an anti-war protest at the White House led, for the first time in recent memory, by a veterans organization, the group Veterans for Peace, in which veterans of the nation’s wars actually put themselves on the line to be arrested to protest a current war.

Friday was also the day that most news organizations were reporting on the much touted, but also much over-rated Pentagon report on the “progress” of the American war in Afghanistan–a report that claimed there was progress, but which was immediately contradicted by a CIA report that said the opposite. Again, any honest journalist and editor would see the publication of such a report as an appropriate place to mention the unusual opposition to the war by a group of veterans right outside the president’s office.

And yet, the protest event was completely blacked out by the corporate news media, even as the capital was whited-out by a fast-moving snowstorm that brought traffic almost to a standstill.

If you wanted to know about this protest, you had to go to the internet and read the Huffington Post or to the Socialist Worker, or to this publication (okay, we’re a day late, but I was stuck in traffic yesterday), or to Democracy Now! on the alternative airways.

My old employer, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, showed how it’s supposed to be done. In an article published Friday about the latest ABC/Washington Post Poll, reporter Simon Mann, after explaining that opposition to the war in the US was rising, then wrote:

“The publication of the review coincided with anti-war protests held across the US, including one in Washington in which people chained themselves to the White House fence, leading to about 100 arrests.”

That’s the way journalism is supposed to work.

Relevant information that puts the days news in some kind of useful context is supposed to be provided to the reader.

Clearly, in the US the corporate media perform a different function. It’s called propaganda. And the handling of this dramatic protest by American veterans against the nation’s current war provides a dramatic illustration of how far the news industry and the journalism profession has fallen.

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John Pilger, The War You Don’t See:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Thanks to The Unrepentant Marxist and Lenin’s Tomb for previously posting these videos.

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Italy: You Cannot Arrest a Generation (Petition)

Please sign and circulate:

http://www.petitiononline.com/edu2010/petition.html

http://www.edu-factory.org/wp/petition-you-cannot-arrest-a-generation/

Call in solidarity with the students and precarious workers arrested the 14th of December in Italy

The 14th of December was another great moment of struggles in Italy. One hundred thousand high school and university students, precarious researchers and workers from all over Italy demonstrated in Rome on the day in which it seemed a vote of no confidence would be passed on the Berlusconi government. Berlusconi and the right saved themselves, but in the streets of Rome and many other Italian cities the movement expressed its mistrust of the government.

The response of the government was a huge repression: people were charged and beaten in the squares, and dozens of students and precarious workers were arrested. There is only one accusation: they resist the cuts to schools and university, to education and research, they speak up against the theft of their future, against precariousness and the lack of guarantees for their future. This is a resistance of a generation of students and precarious workers, in Italy as well as in Europe and all around the world.

We express our indignation in face of this act for people who have simply demonstrated their dissent. We affirm that we are on the side of freedom of thought and freedom to demonstrate dissent. We think that it is not acceptable to manage every protest as a police problem. We affirm that the university is a space of freedom, confrontation and the production of knowledge. We demand the immediate release of the students and precarious workers who have been arrested.

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Free Voina!

FREE VOINA!

When, during the course of an act of civil disobedience in September of this year, the art group Voina (“War”) overturned several police cars in Saint Petersburg, the Russian people’s unhappiness with the actions of law enforcement agencies acquired not only a verbal but also a visible expression.

Approximately two months later, on November 15, Voina activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were seized by police in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and tossed into a pre-trial detention facility. They have now been charged under Paragraph b, Part 1, Article 213 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“criminal mischief motivated by hatred or hostility toward a social group”).

The authorities are attempting to pin the motives of hatred or hostility towards a nonexistent social group (in this case, the police) on the two activists in order to increase the potential term of imprisonment to five years. The activists have been subjected to physical coercion while in detention. We thus see that the power of the law enforcement system is being used outside the limits and aims of the law; it is being used arbitrarily and in order to squash protest. Vorotnikov and Nikolyaev are charged with “criminal mischief” only because several of the Russian police’s innumerable cars were lightly damaged. The people who took part in the riot on Manege Square in Moscow on December 11, who fought with the OMON and beat up dozens of people in the Moscow subway, were released from police custody the very same day. Why, then, it is the two Voina activists, who caused no physical harm to any human being with their action, who have been charged with “criminal mischief”?

Today, the Russian state does not try to convince anyone that its laws apply equally to everyone. Notorious “cases” like the one against Voina should in fact prove that the reverse is true: they are meant to show everyone else not WHAT actions are unacceptable, but rather WHO is not permitted to commit such actions. To have the right to overturn cars or beat people, for example, one has to be a member of the group that Voina has now been charged with inciting hatred towards. Each case like the criminal case brought against Voina has nothing to do with obeying the laws: no one has given a damn about these laws for a long while, especially the people who draft them.  The case against Voina is a battlefield where our freedoms are being fought over. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR freedom will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR freedom will shrink. If this “case” falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

We appeal for solidarity with all those who have suffered in this battle: Seva Ostapov, who was given a one-year suspended sentence for being beaten up by police at the Sokolniki precinct station in Moscow; passerby Sergei Makhnatkin, who was sentenced to two and half years in prison because he defended a 72-year-old woman who was being roughed up by the police at a demonstration in Moscow; Left Front activist Grigory Torbeev, who is now threatened with ten years in prison for lighting a flare at the last Day of Rage protest in Moscow; artist Artem Loskutov, who “insulted” police officers in Novosibirsk by making critical remarks about their methods when they attempted to drag him and two female friends into a police truck; Belarusian anarchists, one of whom was practically kidnapped in Moscow and delivered to the Belarusian KGB, in violation of all extradition procedures; and the victims of police major Denis Yevsyukov and their loved ones.

1. We demand the immediate release of the Voina activists from pre-trial detention.

2. We demand that the court regard the act they committed not as criminal mischief, but as a public statement meant to draw society’s attention to the situation that has arisen around the country’s law enforcement agencies, as a desperate attempt to remind society of the police lawlessness that has become a fact of everyday life, lawlessness against which no one is safe.

3.  We call for an open trial in this case and demand that it and all other cases involving lawlessness and violence committed by police officers be tried before juries.

By securing the freedom of the Voina activists, we secure our own freedom from this lawlessness!

At the demonstration anyone who wishes can join Voina!

We likewise invite everyone to bring along their own artworks on the theme of War – that very same War in which everyone is involved, even if everyone doesn’t admit it. In addition, we will be collecting money at the demonstration o support the arrested activists.

The officially permitted demonstration in support of Voina will take place at 3:00 p.m., December 18, on Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow.

Free Voina! Initiative Group

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In this video, various well-known Russian cultural figures express their support for Voina. Here is a very concise summary of their remarks.

  • Artemy Troitsky (music critic, journalist). If the majority of young people in Russia joined Voina, then the most peaceful cultural revolution in human history would ensue. Even if you don’t join Voina, you can support them virtually, via the Internet, or by going to the demonstration in Moscow on December 18.

  • Andrei Erofeev (curator). Voina allowed themselves to commit minor acts of vandalism, but in fact society is filled with useful professions that involve “vandalism” as well: firefighter, policeman, forester, surgeon. All these professions involve a certain amount of destruction, but this destruction is useful to society, nature or the life of the individual. The profession of public artist also involves this sort of positive destruction, and the trial against the Voina activists should take this into account.

  • Alexander Ivanov (publisher). Voina should be released and reunited with their families. Only then can a discussion of the group’s artistic and other merits begin. Voina is reminiscent of the Belgrade students who brought down the regime of Slobodan Milošević in the nineties: an attempt to carnivalize political history in order to deal with painful social issues and show that the “king” (certain politicians and institutions) is naked. We live in a shell of words, and Voina’s carnivalization is a way of breaking through this verbal shell. The attempt made by many cultural commentators and art world figures to discuss whether what Voina does is contemporary art is quite unproductive because most of these people do not ask whether what they do themselves is art.

  • Boris Kuprianov (bookseller). When we talk about Voina, this discussion should not involve our own aesthetic preferences. The case of Voina is an important test for society: will it stand for such things (as the arrest of the group)? Everyone should go to the demonstration on December 18 because everyone is vulnerable to such persecution.

  • Andrei Kovalyov (art critic). Voina is one of the most progressive phenomena in contemporary Russian art, which to a large extent has given itself over to pseudo-formalist experiments. Voina, which has nothing to do with the market and art institutions, is thus a positive example. Most of the great art projects of the past also had nothing to do with commercial considerations.

  • Alexander Kosolapov (artist). Voina’s work is reminiscent of the work of American artist Chris Burden, who (despite obvious differences owing to geography and period) also used the artistic means at his disposal to protest social ills, in his case, the US war in Vietnam.

  • Andrei Loshak (journalist). Voina is not simply an art group; it is a civic resistance society. They are not the ones who declared war; it was the regime that declared war on us. It is not Voina who race down the roads in cars with flashing lights, killed peaceful, law-abiding citizens. It is not Voina who accepts bribes and protects criminals, like the Russian police do. Voina is simply an emotional reaction to injustice, but this emotionalism only speaks to the level of injustice in Russian society. Voina expresses the public’s indignation, as shown by the popularity enjoyed by videos of their recent actions on the Internet.

  • Sergei Pakhomov (artist). Remarks of a humorous nature that cannot be summarized, much less translated.

  • Oleg Kulik (artist). Real art is always a matter of individual responsibility, and Voina consciously bears full responsibility for their actions. These actions might seem infantile, but it is precisely this creative “infantilism” – this desire to match words with deeds, even in the most extreme and egoistic way – that Russian society lacks. In this sense, Voina might be the only honest people left in Russia. If the authorities want to make Voina famous, they should sentence them. If they want to make trouble for the rest of the art world, they should let them go.

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To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word, go to Free Voina.

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Defend Glodeni Sugar Mill Workers! (Moldova)

www.iuf.org

Glodeni sugar workers, Moldova – Arrested for trying to get their unpaid wages

Five union leaders from the Glodeni sugar mill workers’ union, Moldova, have been placed under house arrest to prevent them from trying to make sure their members get their wages and benefits.

The five – union chair Vasilii Guleac, vice chair Valentina Semeniuc and activists Anatolie Furtuna, Fiodor Svoevolin and Victor Colibaba – have been charged with criminal offences that could carry prisons sentences of between 3 and 8 years.

The arrests come after more than a year of campaigning by the union to defend jobs and get wage arrears paid after the plant owners, SA Glodeni-Zahar were declared bankrupt. Send a message to the Government of Moldova demanding that the union activits be released from house arrest and all outstanding benefits are paid to workers without delay.

Go here to sign and submit a letter addressed to the Moldovan president, labor minister, internal affairs minister, justice minister, and prosecutor general demanding that Glodeni workers be paid back wages and that the authorities release union activists from house arrest and drop all charges against them.

For more background on this conflict, listen to RadioLabour’s Solidarity Report from November 7 of this year (or download a transcript here).

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Jody McIntyre versus the BBC

Watching the BBC’s live, continuous coverage of the December 9 student protests in London against the ruling coalition’s plan to raise fees and slash funding, one couldn’t help but come away with the impression that this august and taxpayer-funded allegedly journalistic organization was very much operating on the side of the police. One of the victims of police abuse that night was Jody McIntyre, a blogger and activist who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. In this interview, Mr. McIntyre makes short work of the police agent who slipped into the BBC studios disguised as a news presenter. By the way, during the events in question, the “violent protesters” slapped a “Fuck” sticker on the man’s overcoat. Here he proves that he very much deserved that moniker.

Thanks to the increasingly essential Lenin’s Tomb for the heads-up.

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It’s a War on War (The Persecution of Voina)

To find out more about the work and history of the Voina group, the story of their arrest and updates in this case, and how you can help the arrested activists with their legal defense and in spreading the word about this case, go to Free Voina.

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http://vpered.org.ru/index.php?id=690&category=2

Free Voina!

At 3:00 p.m. on December 18, a demonstration entitled “Free Voina!” will take place on Pushkinskaya Square in central Moscow.

On November 15, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, activists of the Voina group, were captured in Moscow, transported to Petersburg, and thrown into prison. At present, they have been charged under Paragraph b, Part 1, Article 213 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code (“criminal mischief motivated by hatred or hostility toward a social group” – in this case, that “social group” is the police). The police continue to apply pressure on Vorotnikov and Nikolayev, including physical coercion.

Over the past two years, the actions of the Voina group have sparked a wide variety of public reactions. Some have admired their audacity and wit; others have doubted whether they what to do rightfully belongs to the realm of art; still others have condemned them for disturbing the peace. One thing cannot be denied: Voina has confronted society with the problem of its own powerlessness in the face of state tyranny and done this in a maximally poignant fashion.

Vorotnikov and Nikolayev are accused of “criminal mischief,” which consisted in causing minor damage to one of the Russian police’s numerous patrol cars. The reaction on their part was not long in coming: an assault team from Petersburg carried out a genuine special-forces operation in Moscow.

Today, the Russian state does not try to convince anyone that its laws apply equally to everyone. Notorious “cases” like the one against Voina should in fact prove that the reverse is true: they are meant to show everyone else not WHAT actions are unacceptable, but rather WHO is not permitted to commit such actions. It is no accident that such an important role in Russian repressive practice is played by various emergency “anti-extremist” laws and “aggravating circumstances” in ordinary cases of disorderly conduct: the exclusivity of such legal practice manifests our society’s formal inequality and stratification.

Law in this case forfeits all signs of universality and becomes the subjective right of a particular group to commit certain acts. To have the right to overturn cars or beat people, for example, one has to be a member of the group that Voina has now been charged with inciting hatred towards.

The legal defense of Voina should thus begin with self-determination on the part of each person: what group, community and class you belong to, and what rights you want to receive as a member of that group. Rich people, bureaucrats, and the police have special rights: they have the means to defend these rights and get the message out to everyone else that their rights must be respected. The activists of Voina, the farmers of Kushchevskaya, and the residents of Khimki are part of the huge majority, a majority deprived of any rights whatsoever, even the most elementary. Each of these rights – the right to strike, the right to a clean environment, the right to assemble freely – has to be fought and won. These rights even include the right to offend the police, if there are grounds for giving such offense: in Russia, there is more than sufficient cause to want to do this.

Each case like the criminal case brought against Voina has nothing to do with obeying the laws: no one has given a damn about these laws for a long while, especially the people who draft them.  The case against Voina is a battlefield where our rights are being fought over. At the end of the day, one of these rights is the right to speak ever more openly and loudly about our rights without fear of punishment. If Voina is convicted and sent to prison, the space of THEIR rights will become a little bit larger, while the space of OUR rights will shrink by the same amount. If this case falls apart, then it will be the other way round.

The case against Voina concerns each and every one of us.

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The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1634 (95), Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Banksy, Human Rights Activists Back Voina
By Sergey Chernov, The St. Petersburg Times

Human rights activists have criticized the imprisonment of two members of the radical art group Voina [“War”] as illegal, while British graffiti artist Banksy has joined the international campaign demanding the release of the artists.

Banksy pledged to donate the proceeds from the sale of a limited series of his prints to Voina. The 175 prints in the “Choose Your Weapon” series were sold Monday via the web site Picturesonwalls.com, reportedly generating 4.5 million rubles ($147,000) for the artists and their families.

Artists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov were arrested in Moscow last month and taken to St. Petersburg, where they were placed in a pretrial detention center.

Nikolayev and Vorotnikov reportedly took part in a stunt that involved overturning several police cars at night — some of which had police officers inside — and have been charged with criminal mischief motivated by political, racial, national or religious hatred or hostility, or motivated by hatred or hostility toward a particular social group. The offence is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Called “Palace Revolution,” the stunt was meant to demand, “metaphorically, the reform of the Interior Ministry and an end to police arbitrariness,” art critic and philologist Alexei Plutser-Sarno, described as Voina’s “ideologist,” told The St. Petersburg Times late last month. Within days, he fled to Tallinn, Estonia for fear of arrest.

The artists’ lawyer, Anastasia Yekimovskaya, said at a press conference Monday that the charges cannot be proven because the police lack credible sources of information, with the charges mainly based on a video that Voina uploaded onto the Internet.

The imprisoned artists, who have been in custody for more than three weeks, are refusing to speak to investigators, citing the constitutional right of suspects not to give evidence against themselves, Yekimovskaya said.

Analysis presented by the Moscow-based watchdog group Sova Center at the press conference argued that the law being used against Nikolayev and Vorotnikov is poorly formulated and being incorrectly applied, a fact that poses a threat to society.

According to Sova, Voina’s members did not commit a crime that could be qualified as criminal mischief or anything for which they could be persecuted under anti-extremist laws. It also argued that the imprisonment of the artists is not proportionate to their danger to society, pointing out that a suspect in the beating of a Cameroon citizen in St. Petersburg was released earlier this year after pledging not to leave the city before the court hearing.

Stefania Kulayeva of the Memorial rights group described Voina’s case as “political.”

“They expressed their protest — whether artistically or not — and they have been accused of committing a crime for this protest,” Kulayeva said. “It’s a political case. If they are sentenced to prison terms, we will all be guilty and pay with not only their freedom, but with ours too.”

Voina also hit the headlines earlier this year when they painted a giant penis on Liteiny bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St. Petersburg back in June.

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December 2, 2010
The Art of War
Rose Griffin
Russia Profile
The Arrest of Two St. Petersburg-based Artists Raises Fresh Concerns about Freedom of Expression in Russia

Russian guerilla art group Voina (War) have caused controversy over the last two years with a number of shocking and often grotesque actions aimed at the Russian establishment. But the group suffered a setback this month, when two members were charged over a protest against the police that took place in St. Petersburg in September. Another member of the group is now reportedly hiding in Estonia. With little support from their fellow artists in Russia, does this spell the end for the anarchic collective?

On November 15 Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolaev, both members of Voina, were arrested in connection with the “Palace Revolution” action staged by the group two months earlier. The project involved turning seven police cars upside down in the center of St. Petersburg as a protest against malpractice in the police force.

On November 26 the Web portal Russian News Service reported that Alexei Plucer-Sarno, one of Voina’s ideologists, had fled Russia for Estonia, quoting Plucer-Sarno as saying that he was under threat of investigation by the authorities. “Yes I’m in Tallinn, practically without documents. Some influential Estonian friends got me across the border,” Plucer-Sarno said.

This is a major blow to the coalition, which was founded in 2007 around a core group of philosophy students from Moscow State University. Their sometimes explicit actions have targeted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, as well as institutions such as the police and the Orthodox Church. It is, therefore, perhaps surprising that members of the group were not arrested earlier. Voina’s anti-Medvedev protest “F**k for the heir, Puppy Bear!” took place on the eve of President Dmitry Medvedev’s election and featured couples, including a heavily pregnant woman, having sex publicly in the Timiryazev Biology Museum in Moscow. “In Memory of the Decembrists – A Present to Yuri Luzhkov,” featured a staged hanging of two homosexuals and three central Asian guest workers, attacking the mayor for his homophobic stance and the dangerous living conditions for migrant workers in the capital.

“Palace Revolution” was not the first time the group attacked the police. In their “Cop in a Priest’s Robe” project, Vorotnikov, dressed in a priest’s cassock and a police hat, went into up-market grocery chain Sedmoy Kontinent, helped himself to food and alcohol, and left without paying, thus protesting against the church and police being above the law.

But although the group has built up a strong reputation and some support for exposing flaws in contemporary Russian society, it has received little help from the artistic community in the last two weeks. This is something which another Russian artist, Lena Hades, is familiar with. “It is rare for artists to support each other in such cases, although there are a few exceptions,” Hades said. “Since the arrests, we have seen nothing like the show of support that Oleg Kashin, for example, received from the journalistic community.” She puts this down to competitiveness and a lack of solidarity. “Each artist sees a rival, a competitor for attention, not a fellow artist,” Hades said.

Hades was convicted in summer of inciting hatred with two of her works, “The Chimera of the Mysterious Russian Soul,” which mocked several Russian institutions, and “Our Russia,” which featured an Orthodox prayer alongside obscenities.

There is a degree of solidarity between Hades and Plucer, however, and she said that when she was on trial, Plucer supported her by writing about her case. Hades is hopeful that the group will continue to operate, but stressed that the arrests and Plucer’s exile will take a huge toll. “At the moment, the group is really without a head, maybe they’ll get a new leader. I hope they’ll be able to continue,” she said.

[Article continued at link above.]

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