Monthly Archives: August 2011

Anatomy of a “Landslide” (Saint Petersburg Municipal District By-Elections)

Editor’s Note. We have it on good authority from a reliable source that the approval rating of Valentina Matviyenko and her administration stood at a whopping 7 (seven) percent before her miraculous landslide victory in the so-called municipal district by-elections held this past weekend in Saint Petersburg. We are almost certain this explains the sick farce described below.

_____

Opposition Slams Election Landslide
By Alexandra Odynova
The St. Petersburg Times
August 24, 2011

The opposition has denounced as a farce the municipal by-elections won by former-Governor Valentina Matviyenko at the weekend.

United Russia was triumphant over the results, calling them “record-breaking” and “overwhelming,” but the opposition, which had criticized the elections for not being announced in advance as required by the law, refused to recognize them.

Matviyenko, who ran in two St. Petersburg municipal districts, was announced to have won 97.92 percent of votes in the Krasnenkaya Rechka district and 95.61 in the Petrovsky district. She accepted the seat in Krasnenkaya Rechka. Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, who occupied the speaker’s seat in the Federation Council that Matviyenko is expected to take but was ousted by United Russia in May, described the elections as “a farce and a shame.”

“They got those kinds of percentages only in the Soviet Union,” he said.

Matviyenko was confronted by a journalist at a press conference Tuesday who described her results as “Turkmen or North Caucasian.” The former governor retorted: “Sympathy one receives for nothing, envy must be earned,” quoting the aphorism by German television presenter Robert Lembke.

The two St. Petersburg districts rolled out bread and circuses to lure voters to polling stations Sunday. Any other time, municipal by-elections would go unnoticed, but votes in the tiny districts of Petrovsky and Krasnenkaya Rechka were too crucial a step for Matviyenko, who needed to become a legislator to be eligible for the speaker’s seat in the Federation Council.

Estimates by election officials showed that turnout was 36 percent in the Petrovsky district and more than 28 percent in the Krasnenkaya Rechka district — astonishingly high levels for a by-election.

The elections followed a campaign filled with scandal and tarnished by the abundant use of “administrative resources,” which were required to help the Kremlin replace the unpopular governor ahead of State Duma elections while filling a Federation Council speaker’s seat with a loyal politician.

Clowns offered free ice cream on Sunday, and acrobats performed tricks outside the polling stations, while inside, stalls were stocked to the ceiling with cheap buns, Interfax reported.

Health-conscious voters could get medical examinations right on the premises, including from the chief pediatrician of the city government’s health care committee, Lev Erman, the report said.

Pets were not forgotten either, with owners given the chance for free checkups for dogs and cats at some polling stations.

Also on offer were free tickets to the circus, an oldies pop concert and a football workshop with Yury Zheludkov, a Zenit St. Petersburg star of the 1980s, Fontanka.ru news site reported.

The campaign kicked off in June, when President Dmitry Medvedev proposed to make Matviyenko, 62 and St. Petersburg’s governor since 2003, the new speaker of the Federation Council.

The federal government was also interested in replacing Matviyenko, who never quite gelled with Petersburgers, before the Duma elections, analysts said.

An elected legislator of any level can be made senator, but Matiyenko’s road to the seat turned out more thorny than the Kremlin probably expected, not least because of A Just Russia, which promised to battle her on the ballot.

To prevent oppositional candidates from challenging her in the elections, Matviyenko kept silent on which constituency she would run in. The news became public only after registration for the vote was closed.

The opposition cried foul, saying district officials had refused to disclose information on upcoming elections, despite being obliged to do so by law, while the districts’ newspapers announcing the elections were printed after registration was closed, but their lawsuits were thrown out.

In the end, Matviyenko faced no competition to speak of. Most rivals were complete unknowns. Among her competitors were three United Russia members, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, a Peterburgteploenergo official, a cloakroom attendant, a railroad maintenance worker and two ex-members of A Just Russia whom the party denounced as renegades.

Some 8,000 voters are registered in Petrovsky, and another 13,000 in Krasnenkaya Rechka. Three mandates were up for grabs in each district.

The opposition tried to convince locals to vote against all candidates by marking all of their names, thus making their ballots invalid, or to vote for any candidate except Matviyenko and those from United Russia.

But authorities did their best to prevent this, briefly arresting liberal politician Boris Nemtsov and former Kamchatka Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev over the calls and seizing 145,000 copies of A Just Russia’s newspaper that contained materials urging voters to vote against Matviyenko.

Later, the police spokesman said that Mashkovtsev was “giving away money in exchange for voting against all the candidates.” Mashkovtsev denied the accusation.

The elections have no minimum turnout requirement, but local authorities wanted a high enough turnout to secure the legitimacy of Matviyenko’s legislature bid, Fontanka.ru reported earlier this month. The report was soon deleted, allegedly over legal concerns, and its author, Alexandra Garmazhapova, resigned from the news site.

The report also provided a detailed list of entertainment events planned by local officials and entrepreneurs to keep voters in the city on Sunday — a description that was uncannily similar to what actually happened. No information was available on how much it cost to stage the events.

Reports on violations were, meanwhile, easy to come by. Gazeta.ru reported, for example, that in violation of the law its reporter was denied access to the vote records at a polling station in Petrovsky.

Observers with the unregistered Party of People’s Freedom (Parnas) spotted one voter — out of a large group who looked like plainclothes military cadets — cast three ballots wrapped in one, while at another station, opposition monitors were barred when trying to count the turnout, said Ilya Yashin, an activist with Parnas and the Solidarity movement.

He called the elections “a special operation” implemented with “unprecedented administrative resources.”

“I haven’t witnessed anything like this even during presidential elections,” Yashin told The St. Petersburg Times after visiting several polling stations.

“A few voters complained that the authorities only do something good for voters when they want something in return,” Yashin said.

The local elections committee said there were no “significant” violations, Interfax reported.

Additional reporting by Sergey Chernov.

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Load up on guns and bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey, yay

I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little tribe has always been
And always will until the end…

— Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

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Join Khimki Forest Solidarity Actions August 26th!

We’re asking you to make actions of solidarity and to distribute our petition!

http://www.change.org/petitions/russian-president-dmitri-medvedev-halt-the-destruction-of-khimki-forest

August 26th, 2010, is a historic date for the grassroots protest movement in Russia.

That is the day, just one year ago, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev halted construction of the Moscow to St. Petersburg highway because it would destroy the Khimki Forest, one of the nation’s few protected old-growth forests.

His action was forced by a massive outcry of thousands of people who said “no” to more environmental degradation and “no” to the corruption, intimidation, violence and arrests.

Back, then a year ago, the Khimki Forest defenders were credited with sparking one of Russia’s “broadest protest movements in years” and the fact that the President listened was very important. Medvedev even admitted that the selected route through Khimki happened because of corruption — where officials got to profit from the selling of valuable undeveloped forest land.

A lot has changed in the last year.

Medvedev had promised public and expert hearings on the project. Instead, without public input, he has allowed construction to begin again. Trees are being cut, and protesters in the forest are confronting bulldozers every week.

The shameful company benefiting from this corruption is Vinci, the transnational company based in France that is leading the concession to build the highway.

This company has pressured the Russian government to begin construction quickly, which has led to more violence in the forest. Vinci is complicit in human rights abuses with its involvement in this project and investigations reveal its offshore tax havens, which is why 25,000 people have signed another protest petition against Vinci and international demonstrations have been made.

Please join us in solidarity as we work to halt construction again and save this forest. Sign the petition, and email us at savekhimkiforest@gmail.com if you can hold a solidarity protest on August 26th, 2011.

We will not give up.

— The Save Khimki Forest Movement

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Vysočany Congress (Learning Film Group, 2008)

Vysočany Congress
Video film, 36:10, 2008
Learning Film Group (Nikolay Oleynikov, Yevgeny Fiks, and Ilya Budraitskis)

The Secret Vysočany Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party took place in August 1968, just two days after Soviet tanks invaded Prague. For this re-enactment, the artists found the actual place (the ČKD Factory in Vysočany, a suburb of Prague) where the congress took place. They interviewed the organizers of the event, workers who are still employed at the plant, and they invited artists, critics, historians, and leftist activists in the present-day Czech Republic to discuss the congress, its meaning and its impact.

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Filed under alternative education, contemporary art, film and video, international affairs, leftist movements, political repression, protests

How’s It Going with That (Classist, Racist, Neocolonialist) Neoliberal Austerity Thing?

Tottenham is ablaze.  Not for the first time in its history.  Not for the first time over police violence and killing either.  But nor is this is the first major riot since the Tories took office.  It may well be the first to make a serious impact on national politics, but remember the riots in Bristol and Lewisham.  The party of order expected this.  That is why the police handling of protests has been so provocative and brutal.  That is why ‘exemplary’ sentences have been handed out for minor protest offenses, with even Murdoch’s pie-man being given a custodial sentence.  The intention has been to show that the party of order can keep control throughout the coming battles.  I hope, with every fibre in my being, that they cannot.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

Because in Israel the colonial dynamic still predominates, and because the vast majority of Israeli workers have not begun to break with Zionism, and indeed many could reasonably claim to get some benefit from it, how these social antagonisms and elite fissures work out depends primarily on the regional context.  If the Arab Spring continues and radicalises, the weakening of Israel’s position, its usefulness to Washington, and its ability to sustain military policies that sections of its ruling class already find burdensome, then the prospects of major social struggles in Israel are increased.  If not, then I suspect the Israeli ruling class can resolve its difficulties at the expense of the Palestinians and take a further lurch down the road to some sort of fascism.

Moreover, the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September imposes a deadline of sorts on the protesters. If Palestinians react by marching on Israeli army checkpoints to demand freedom, Israeli protesters will have to choose between losing internal support by siding with the Palestinians, or abandoning any claim of a pro-democracy agenda by siding with the Israeli soldiers charged with suppressing them. Before September comes, the protesters must first secure some more earthly achievements, like rent control in Israel’s larger cities, or perhaps, as the placards demand, even bring down Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government. Only then could a sense of victory and democratic empowerment propel Israelis toward challenging the occupation, which remains the single greatest obstacle to social and political justice on either side of the Green Line.

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Filed under film and video, international affairs, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, urban movements (right to the city)

Valentina Matviyenko Teaches Petersburgers a Lesson in “Sovereign Democracy”

World Affairs
August 2, 2011
Vladimir Kara-Murza
The Kremlin’s Know-How: A Secret Election

For all the tricks the Kremlin has perfected over the years to ensure “correct” voting results, what happened last week in St. Petersburg was in a league of its own. The Russian authorities may have invented a new authoritarian know-how: an election organized in secret from candidates and voters.

In June, President Dmitri Medvedev proposed that St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko should become the new speaker of the Federation Council, the Russian Parliament’s upper house. The fact that the president has decided who will lead the legislature surprised no one; such trifles as the separation of powers have long lost any meaning in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The difficulty lay elsewhere: the Federation Council is formed from among municipal and regional legislators—and Matviyenko is neither. To allow the governor to run for a seat, two municipal councils in St. Petersburg—Aleksandrovskaya and Lomonosov (the former imperial residence of Oranienbaum)—hastily called special elections. Vowing to give the governor a run for her money, opponents began preparations for the contest. A wide spectrum of opposition groups—from the radical Another Russia to the liberal Yabloko party—nominated their candidates. Unlike federal elections that feature only government-registered party lists, contests on the local level are still open to individuals and thus allow for opposition participation.

Even with the expected administrative pressure, Matviyenko’s victory was far from assured: the governor, in office since 2003, is widely unpopular in the city for her administration’s incompetence in running basic services, the destruction of historic architecture, the harassment of entrepreneurs, crackdowns on peaceful rallies, and allegations of abuse of power surrounding her family. Experts wondered how Matviyenko—and Putin’s United Russia party, which nominated her—would escape humiliation at the hands of voters.

The solution was simple and brilliant. On July 31, Matviyenko announced that she had been nominated to run for election to the municipal councils of Petrovsky and Krasnenkaya Rechka districts. The deadline for nominations in both jurisdictions had passed on July 27. No one—not even the St. Petersburg City Electoral Commission, not to mention opposition parties—was aware that these elections had been called. The only ones in the know, apart from the authorities, were a handful of puppet candidates who will imitate “competition” to the governor. Despite opposition calls for an investigation, the sham vote, scheduled for August 21, has already been ruled lawful. In a few weeks, Valentina Matviyenko will become speaker of the upper house—nominally, the number-three position in Russia’s state hierarchy.

“No one except your minions and clappers will consider this procedure to be an election,” Boris Vishenvsky, one of Yabloko’s leaders and a former legislator himself, wrote to Matviyenko this week. “It will be considered a political swindle. You will leave St. Petersburg in disgrace and will be remembered as a weak and cowardly governor who was afraid of elections.”

There is at least some good news in all this for the citizens of St. Petersburg. One way or another, they will soon be rid of their unpopular governor.

_____

The St. Petersburg Times
August 3, 2011
Sergey Chernov
Opposition Slams Governor for ‘Secret’ Vote

The opposition has slammed Governor Valentina Matviyenko for running in “secret” elections which City Hall has concealed from the public for more than a month.

City Hall said on Sunday that Matviyenko would run in the elections for municipal deputies in the Krasnenkaya Rechka and Petrovsky districts, making the announcement four days after the registration of the candidates had ended. The elections are due on August 21.

Previously, local opposition leaders and activists said they would run at the same elections as Matviyenko and registered in the municipal district of Lomonosov, where four United Russia and Just Russia deputies had resigned simultaneously in what was seen as an attempt to clear the way for Matviyenko’s election.

A United Russia deputy in the municipal district of Posyolok Alexandrovskaya also resigned, which led to speculation that Matviyenko might also run there.

But, surprisingly, it turned out on Sunday that she would run in two different municipal districts instead, with registration already closed, thus preventing key opponents from standing against her.

In St. Petersburg, a municipal district or okrug is a lower-tier administrative division.

President Dmitry Medvedev offered Matviyenko the job of Chairman of the Federation Council, which became vacant when the former chairman and A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov was dismissed by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia in June. The new position forces Matviyenko to give up her current position as St. Petersburg Governor.

Despite Medvedev describing her as an “absolutely successful governor,” the media and opposition have claimed that the decision resulted from Matviyenko having fallen out of favor with the Kremlin as a result of her unpopularity among St. Petersburg residents, in turn caused by mismanagement and an unprecedented rise in corruption.

The Kremlin was said to have had doubts about her ability to secure The United Russia’s victory at the State Duma election, due in December.

Matviyenko, however, needs to be an elected deputy to occupy the seat of Chairman of the Federation Council.

The Other Russia political party’s local chair Andrei Dmitriyev, who submitted an application for candidacy in Lomonosov and was in the process of collecting signatures, described the scheme as a “cover-up operation.”

“I can imagine her PR people laughing about how they deceived everybody, but in reality they’ve done a disservice to her,” Dmitriyev said.

“It’s obviously dishonest, it’s illegal, it’s simply ugly. It shows that Matviyenko is afraid of competition and of St. Petersburg residents.

“In reality, it makes it easier for the opposition. We will not compete with one another, but unite our efforts to block Matviyenko from the municipal district and, further, from the Federation Council.”

Yabloko Democratic Party said it does not recognize the elections, which were not properly announced and thus illegal in a statement on Monday, which described them as a “shameful and undignified farce.”

It said that Matviyenko has a “panicked fear” of any democratic procedures and the scheme’s goal was to save her from any political competition at the election.

“It’s an utter shame and disgrace,” said Yabloko’s local chair Maxim Reznik by phone on Monday.

“And this is a person who once was the governor! She simply humiliates herself.”

A Just Russia party’s local chair Oksana Dmitriyeva said in a statement Monday that none of the municipal districts except Alexandrovskaya and Lomonosov had confirmed it would be holding elections over the next few months when replying to the party’s official letter sent to every municipal district.

She said that the St. Petersburg Election Commission was also not informed about the upcoming elections, referring to a written reply from its head Alexander Gnyotov.

Dmitriyeva said her party would sue Matviyenko over the upcoming elections, so that their results would be dismissed as illegitimate.

“This is surrender and shameful defeat from the very start,” she said.

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Committee to Stop FBI Repression: Support Carlos Montes!

Committee to Stop FBI Repression (stopfbi.net)
Support Carlos Montes as he goes to court Friday, August 12
Call
President Barak Obama at 202-456-1111

Attorney General Eric Holder at 202-514-2001

Sample call: “My name is ________ and I am calling from [city, state]. I’m calling about Carlos Montes of Los Angeles. He is one of the anti-war activists being targeted by the FBI. I want you to tell Attorney General Holder [or President Obama]:

1. Drop the charges against Carlos Montes!

2. Stop the FBI and the Grand Jury repression of the other 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists.

3. Return all property to Carlos Montes and the other activists raided by the FBI.

The U.S. government should not be prosecuting us when we exercise our rights to freedom of speech and dissent.”

On Friday, August 12, Carlos Montes will appear in a Los Angeles court again, for a preliminary hearing. At his last court date on July 6, Carlos pled not guilty to six charges, including a felony charge each for a firearm and ammunition, and four related to the permits’ paperwork. Like millions of Americans, Carlos has for many years held legal permits. So why is it that all of a sudden the government is saying there is a problem? These charges are a pretext to attack Carlos for his years of activism.

Please join us in calling U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, demanding a stop to the prosecution of Carlos Montes. We need to stop the persecution of political activists like Carlos, like the 23 Midwest anti-war and international solidarity activists, people like you and me.

Make no mistake: the U.S. government’s trial of Carlos Montes is an attack on the immigrants’ rights and anti-war movements. So please call today and let Holder and Obama know we are building a movement that will not bow down to dirty tricks and political repression.

In addition, the Los Angeles Committee to Stop FBI Repression is mobilizing to pack the courtroom on the morning of Friday, August 12, in Department 100 at the Criminal Courts Building, 210 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles, when Carlos Montes appears.


About Carlos Montes:
Carlos Montes is a veteran Chicano activist known for his leadership of the 1968 East Los Angeles education reform movement (see film Walkout), the historic Chicano Moratorium against the U.S. war in Vietnam, and the recent immigrants’ rights mega-marches of 2006. Carlos Montes was a co-founder of the Brown Berets, a Chicano youth organization that stood for justice, equality, and self-determination.

With the 2003 Bush administration war and occupation of Iraq, Montes helped form and lead L.A. Latinos Against War. In recent years, Carlos helped initiate and organize the Southern California Immigration Coalition, to fight against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and police repression.

About this case:
Now Montes himself is the target of government repression and the FBI’s dirty tricks. When the FBI raided several Midwest homes and served subpoenas on September 24, 2010, Carlos Montes’ name was listed on the FBI search warrant for the Anti-War Committee office in Minneapolis–the organizing center for the 2008 Republican National Convention protests, where Carlos participated.

Then on May 17, 2011, the LA Sheriffs broke down Carlos’ door, arrested him, and ransacked his home. They took political documents, a computer, cell phones and meeting notes having nothing to do with the charges. The FBI attempted to question Montes while he was handcuffed in a squad car, regarding the case of the 23 Midwest anti-war and solidarity activists.

On June 16, 2011, Carlos appeared in court and obtained the arrest documents showing the FBI initiated the raid. A reporter interviewing a Los Angeles Sheriff sergeant confirmed that the FBI was in charge. Carlos Montes is facing six felony charges with the possibility of 18 years in prison due to his political organizing. Carlos Montes case is part and parcel of the FBI raids and political repression centered in the Midwest. We need you to take action against this repression.


You can also invite Carlos Montes to speak using a live Internet video call. It is easy to do and works well. More details on the video calls coming next week.


Please sign the petition for Carlos Montes on the International Action Center website.

Visit www.StopFBI.net or write StopFBI@gmail.com or call 612-379-3585.

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Filed under activism, immigration, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, war & peace

Chto Delat Summer School (Visby, Sweden)

www.balticartcenter.com

CHTO DELAT SUMMER SCHOOL
WHAT IS OUR CONTEMPORARY?

The Russian collective Chto Delat has been invited to realise a project within the framework of the Production-in-Residence programme at BAC. This programme aims to support any aspect of an artistic process, to experiment with how to understand artistic production, and to reflect on the conditions for producing art.

Chto Delat has chosen to use this invitation to realise an alternative summer school in Visby hosted by BAC with a number of invited international participants. The summer school takes place August 8 – 12, and hereby coincides with The Medieval Week on Gotland. During this week a large-scale re-enactment of the medieval times takes place on the island with Visby, being a well-preserved medieval town and a Unesco World Heritage Site, as the epicentre. In this context, the Chto Delat summer school will pose the question, “What Is Our Contemporary?” – a question that constitutes the guiding line for all seminars, lectures and talks throughout the week. The outset for the project is a text by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, “What is the Contemporary?”, in which he contends that to be properly of one’s time means to acknowledge the element in the present that will always evade us.

The summer school is an opportunity to share knowledge and explore the potentials for collective learning. Chto Delat describes the motivation for the project as follows:

How should we grasp this contemporary moment, marked by the crisis of neoliberal capitalism and, at the same time, by the uncertainty of an alternative? As the recent Mediterranean revolutions and the European revival of students and precarious workers’ struggles have demonstrated, we are, perhaps, at the threshold of different times, when the crisis will be resolved in a new cycle of contestations of the global neoliberal regime and its final decomposition. We need to think through this ‘contemporariness’ in order to get a strategic orientation in our struggles.”

Chto Delat (What is to be done?) is a group of artists, philosophers and writers from St. Petersburg and Moscow. The platform Chto Delat was founded with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism in early 2003 in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

www.chtodelat.org

The Production-in-Residence programme is kindly supported by Stiftelsen Framtidens Kultur.

Baltic Art Center     Visby, Sweden   +46 498 20 03 35   contact@balticartcenter.com

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