A Call for International Days of Solidarity against Political Repression in Russia, November 29—December 2, 2012
An appeal from Russian leftists to their comrades in the struggle
Today we, members of Russian leftist organizations, appeal to our comrades all over the world for solidarity. This appeal and your response to it are vital to us. We are now facing not just another instance of innocent people sentenced by the punitive Russian “justice” system or another human life wrecked by the state. The authorities have launched a crackdown without precedent in Russia’s recent history, a campaign whose goal is to extinguish the left as an organized political force. The recent arrests, threats, beatings, aggressive media attacks and moves towards declaring leftist groups illegal all point to a new general strategy on the part of the authorities, a strategy much crueler and much less predictable than what we have seen in recent years.
The massive protest movement that began in December 2011 radically changed the atmosphere of political and social passivity established during the Putin years. Tens of thousands of young and middle-aged people, office workers and state employees, took to the streets and demanded change. On December 10 and 24, 2011, and, later, on February 4, 2012, Moscow, Petersburg and other major Russian cities were the sites of massive rallies, demonstrating that a significant part of society had undergone a new level of politicization. The “managed democracy” model crafted by the ruling elite over many years went bankrupt in a matter of days. Political trickery stopped working when confronted by real grassroots politics. The movement, whose demands were initially limited to “honest elections,” quickly grew into a protest against the entire political system.
After the elections of March 4, 2012, during which Vladimir Putin, using a combination of massive administrative pressure on voters, massive vote rigging and mendacious populist rhetoric, secured another term for himself, many thought that the potential for protest mobilization had been exhausted. The naïve hopes of the thousands of opposition volunteers who served as election observers in order to put an end to voter fraud, were crushed.
The next demonstration, in whose success few believed, was scheduled for downtown Moscow on May 6, 2012, the day before Putin’s inauguration. On this day, however, despite the skeptical predictions, more than 60,000 people showed up for an opposition march and rally. When the march approached the square where the rally was to take place, the police organized a massive provocation, blocking the marchers’ path to the square. All those who attempted to circumvent the police cordon were subjected to beatings and arrests. The unprecedented police violence produced resistance on the part of some protesters, who resisted arrests and refused to leave the square until everyone had been freed. The confrontation on May 6 lasted several hours. In the end, around 650 people were arrested, some of them spending the night in jail.
The next day, Putin’s motorcade traveled to his inauguration through an empty Moscow. Along with the protesters, the police had cleared the city center of all pedestrians. The new protest movement had demonstrated its power and a new degree of radicalization. The events of May 6 gave rise to the Russian Occupy movement, which brought thousands of young people to the center of Moscow and held its ground until the end of May. Leftist groups, who until then had been peripheral to the protest movement’s established liberal spokespeople, were progressively playing a larger role.
Those events were a signal to the authorities: the movement had gone beyond the permissible, the elections were over, and it was time to show their teeth. Almost immediately, a criminal investigation was launched into the “riot,” and on May 27, the first arrest took place. 18-year-old anarchist Alexandra Dukhanina was accused of involvement in rioting and engaging in violence against police officers. The arrests continued over the next few days. The accused included both seasoned political activists (mainly leftists) and ordinary people for whom the May 6 demonstrations were their first experience of street politics.
Nineteen people have so far been accused of involvement in those “disturbances.” Twelve of them are now being held in pre-trial detention facilities. Here are some of their stories:
⁃ Vladimir Akimenkov, 25, communist and Left Front activist. Arrested on June 10, 2012, he will be in pre-trial detention until March 6, 2013. Akimenkov was born with poor eyesight, which has deteriorated even further while he has been in jail. His most recent examination showed he has 10% vision in one eye, and 20% in the other. This, however, was not a sufficient grounds for the court to substitute house arrest for detention. At Akimenkov’s last court hearing, the judge cynically commented that only total blindness would make him reconsider his decision.
⁃ Mikhail Kosenko, 36, no political affiliation, arrested on June 8. Kosenko, who suffers from psychological disorders, also asked that he be placed under house arrest rather in pre-trial detention. However, the court has declared him a “danger to society” and plans to force him to undergo psychiatric treatment.
⁃ Stepan Zimin, 20, anarchist and anti-fascist, arrested on June 8 and placed in pre-trial detention until March 6, 2013, after which date his arrest can be extended. Zimin supports his single mother, yet once again the court did not consider this sufficient grounds to release him on his own recognizance.
⁃ Nikolai Kavkazsky, 26, socialist, human rights activist and LGBT activist. Detained on July 25.
Investigators have no clear evidence proving the guilt of any of these detainees. Nevertheless, they remain in jail and new suspects steadily join their ranks. Thus, the latest suspect in the May 6 case, 51-year-old liberal activist and scholar Sergei Krivov, was arrested quite recently, on October 18. There is every indication he will not be the last.
If the arrests of almost twenty ordinary protesters were intended to inspire fear in the protest movement, then the hunt for the “organizers of mass disturbances” is meant to strike at its acknowledged leaders. According to the investigation, the so-called riot was the result of a conspiracy, and all the arrestees had been given special assignments. This shows that we are dealing not only with a series of arrests, but with preparations for a large-scale political trial against the opposition.
On October 5, NTV, one of Russia’s major television channels, aired an “investigative documentary” that leveled fantastical charges against the opposition and in particular, against the most famous member of the left, Sergei Udaltsov. This Goebbelsian propaganda mash-up informed viewers of Udaltsov’s alleged ties with foreign intelligence, and the activities of the Left Front that he heads were declared a plot by foreign enemies of the state. By way of decisive proof, the broadcast included a recording of an alleged meeting involving Sergei Udaltsov, Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, Russian Socialist Movement member Konstantin Lebedev, and Givi Targamadze, one of the closest advisors to the president of Georgia. In particular, the conversation includes talk of money delivered by the Georgians for “destabilizing” Russia.
Despite the fact that the faces in the recording are practically indiscernible and the sound has clearly been edited and added separately to the video, within a mere two days the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s Office (the state law enforcement agency playing the lead role in organizing the current crackdown) used it to launch a criminal case. On October 17, Konstantin Lebedev was arrested and Sergei Udaltsov released after interrogation, having signed a pledge not to travel beyond the Moscow city limits. On October 19, a third suspect in the new case, Left Front activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, attempted to apply for refugee status in the Kyiv offices of the UNHCR. As soon as he stepped outside the building, persons unknown violently forced him into a vehicle and illegally transported him across the Ukrainian border onto Russian territory. At an undisclosed location in Russia he was subjected to torture and threats (including regarding the safety of his family) and forced to sign a “voluntary confession.” In this statement, Razvozzhayev confessed to ties with foreign intelligence and to preparations for an armed insurgency, in which Konstantin Lebedev and Sergei Udaltsov were also involved. Razvozzhayev was then taken to Moscow and jailed as as an accused suspect. Razvozzhayev has subsequently asserted in meetings with human rights activists that he disavows this testimony, which was obtained under duress. However, police investigators have every intention of using it. We know of the existence of “Razvozzhayev’s list,” a list beaten out of him by torture: it contains the names of people who will soon also become targets of persecution.
The scope of the crackdown is steadily growing. The Investigative Committee recently announced an inquiry into Sergei Udaltsov’s organization, the Left Front, which may well result in its being banned as an “extremist” organization. Pressure against the anti-fascist movement is likewise building. Well-known anti-fascist activists Alexey Sutuga, Alexey Olesinov, Igor Kharchenko, Irina Lipskaya and Alen Volikov have been detained on fabricated charges and are being held in police custody in Moscow. Socialist and anti-fascist Filipp Dolbunov has been interrogated and threatened on several occasions.
It is hardly accidental that most victims of this unprecedented wave of repression are involved in the leftist movement. On the eve of the introduction of austerity measures, curtailment of labor rights and pension reforms in Russia, the Putin-Medvedev administration is most afraid of an alliance between the existing democratic movement and possible social protest. Today’s wave of repressions is the most important test for Russia’s new protest movement: either we hold strong or a new period of mass apathy and fear awaits us. It is precisely for this reason, faced with unprecedented political pressure, that the solidarity of our comrades in Europe and the entire world is so crucial.
We appeal to you to organize Days of Solidarity against Political Repression from November 29 to December 2 outside the Russian Federation embassy or any other Russian government misson in your countries, demanding the immediate release of those who have been illegally arrested and termination of the shameful criminal cases and preparations for new “Moscow trials” based on torture and fabrications. We also ask that you use the specific names and details we have provided in this appeal in your own protests and demands. This is crucial for every person now behind bars.
Please send your reports on solidarity actions and any other information or questions to the following email address: email@example.com
Solidarity is our only weapon! United, we will never be defeated!
Russian Socialist Movement, Autonomous Action, Left Front
*Editor’s Note. Originally published in Russian here, and in English here. The original English translation has been edited slightly to make it more readable and accurate.