Tag Archives: Bolotnaya Square Case

Alexei Gaskarov. Bolotnaya Square, Moscow. May 6, 2012

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This is what our comrade Alexei Gaskarov looked like after riot cops got done with him on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. Yesterday, almost a year after the ominous events that took place there and the arrests, persecution and, in some cases, exile of several dozen opposition activists and ordinary citizens who were also there that day (and some who weren’t), Gaskarov was arrested while out buying food for his cat, transported to the Investigative Committee for questioning, charged with “rioting” and “violence against authorities,” and jailed. A Moscow district court will hear his case today and decide whether he will remain in police custody.

Thanks to an anonymous Facebook comrade for the photo.

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www.rferl.org

April 23, 2013
Russian Commission Blames Authorities For Bolotnaya Protest Violence
by RFE/RL’s Russian Service

MOSCOW — An independent investigation has blamed the Russian authorities and police for the violence that erupted at an opposition protest on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square last year.

The investigative commission, composed of leading public figures and rights advocates, released its findings late on April 22 at a public event in Moscow.

The report blames riot police for “excessive use of force” against demonstrators on May 6, 2012, resulting in numerous injuries.

Authorities have only recognized injuries sustained by police officers.

More than 20 demonstrators have been charged with participating in “mass unrest” and assaulting police.

Fifteen remain in pretrial detention and four are under house arrest. All face prison if convicted.

Georgy Satarov, the head of the INDEM think tank in Moscow and a former aide to Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, co-authored the report.

He told RFE/RL that the demonstrators’ reactions were understandable.

“They defended themselves and they defended others. Many of those who were not arrested and are now free would have done the same,” Satarov said.

The report says riot-police officers beat up “helpless, unarmed people,” including women and elderly people.

It blames police for deliberately creating bottlenecks by blocking the protesters’ path, contributing to tensions.

‘Agents Provacateurs’

It also accuses the authorities of sending a “significant number of provocateurs” into the crowd to spark clashes — a claim backed by witnesses as well as the Kremlin’s human rights council.

Satarov said the pieces of asphalt that some the defendants are accused of throwing at police had been placed on the square ahead of the rally.

“Bolotnaya Square was cordoned off overnight, it was surrounded by a tight fence inside which the asphalt was cut into pieces,” Satarov said.

“This circumstance was fully used by provocateurs. There are a multitude of other signs that indicate a planned provocation by authorities.”

One of the defendants in the so-called Bolotnaya case, Maksim Luzyanin, has already been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty and cooperating with investigators.

Authorities say their probe into the other defendants is nearing completion.

Investigators are still tracking down some 70 other protesters they suspect of disruptive behavior at the rally.

The investigative commission plans to send its report to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament, and the United Nations.

It was formed by the opposition party RPR-PARNAS, the December 12 Roundtable civil group, and the May 6 Committee. It includes top rights activists like Lyudmila Alekseyeva and a number of prominent public figures such as economist and former Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin.

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Statement by the Zhukovsky People’s Council on Alexei Gaskarov’s Arrest

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On April 28 in Moscow, Alexei Gaskarov, a member of the Zhukovsky People’s Council, was arrested on the street. After being questioned as a witness at the Investigative Committee, his status was changed to that of a suspect and he was charged with violation of Article 212, Part 2 (involvement in riots) and Article 318, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (use of violence against the authorities) as part of the criminal case surrounding the events on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.

During elections to the Zhukovsky People’s Council, over a thousand residents of Zhukovsky (Moscow Region) showed their confidence in Alexei Gaskarov. And that was quite natural, as Alexei has consistently spoken out for justice and defended the interests of its citizens over the years. He has been a defender of the Tsagovsky Forest, a grassroots observer of elections at all levels of government, and an opponent of infill construction in the town of Zhukovsky.

Gaskarov has been actively involved in the work of the Zhukovsky People’s Council, initiating new projects for developing the town. He was directly involved in shaping the concept for the “Zhukdor” movement for renovating the town’s residential courtyards and adjacent territories. Gaskarov is also one of the authors of a white paper on urban development in Zhukovsky that has been submitted to the town administration. Gaskarov has also been actively engaged in programs encouraging the personal development of young people in the town of Zhukovsky. In particular, he has organized a series of free seminars that featured screenings of documentaries on topical social issues.

We, the members of Zhukovsky People’s Council, earnestly declare that Alexei Gaskarov is a sober-minded, law-abiding person and an advocate of the peaceful reform of our country’s social and political system.

We believe there is no justification for remanding Gaskarov to police custody and are willing to vouch for the fact that, if released, he will not conceal himself from investigators or hinder the investigation.

We are outraged by the charges, and believe they discredit law enforcement agencies in the eyes of the public and have nothing to do with the observance of the law in a state governed by the rule of law.

People like Alexei Gaskarov are the best part of civil society, a society based on justice and decent lives for its citizens, a society that will surely be created in our country.

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Russian Anti-Fascist Alexei Gaskarov Arrested

avtonom.org

Well-Known Russian Anti-Fascist Alexei Gaskarov Arrested

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On Sunday, April 28, 2013, the well-known Russian anti-fascist Alexei Gaskarov was arrested in Moscow. He is an elected member of the Russian opposition’s Coordinating Council. The Russian Investigative Committee has accused him of involvement in riots and violence against officials on May 6, 2012, when OMON (Russian riot police) attacked a peaceful, authorized demonstration in Moscow.

May 6 was the day before Putin’s inauguration, and a mass demonstration had been called by the opposition. The winter and spring of 2011-2012 saw the biggest wave of political demonstrations in Russia in almost twenty years, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest election fraud. May 6 was also the first time authorities had moved to crush these protests. According to the opposition, more than 600 people were arrested that day, and 28 people have subsequently been charged in connection with these events, remanded to police custody, placed under house arrest or forced to emigrate.

On May 6, 2012, OMON officers beat Alexei Gaskarov with batons and boots. He filed a complaint against the officers who beat him up, but no one was charged. Now, a year later, and just a few days before the anniversary of the May 6 demonstration, as Gaskarov was preparing to lead a left-wing and anti-fascist column at May Day demonstrations, he has had a set of absurd charges brought against him and been arrested.

Alexei Gaskarov was born on June 18, 1985, and has been politically active since his school days.

Gaskarov gained fame in summer 2010, when, during the protest campaign against the destruction of the Khimki Forest, he was  arrested along with Maxim Solopov and accused of orchestrating an attack by 300 to 400 young anti-fascists, who supported the environmentalists, on the Khimki city administration building. In autumn 2010,  Gaskarov and Solopov were released from prison, thanks to a massive international campaign on behalf of the “Khimki Hostages.” In summer 2011, Gaskarov was acquitted of all charges.

Gaskarov has been actively involved in the mass demonstrations against electoral fraud in Russia since they began in December 2011. He was one of the speakers at the largest of the demonstrations, on December 24, 2011, on Sakharov Boulevard in Moscow. He was in charge of the security for that rally, where he had to stop neo-Nazi provocations.

Gaskarov is being held in the police jail at Petrovka, 38, awaiting a court hearing, scheduled for 11 am, April 29, 2013 at the Basmanny district courthouse in Moscow. Pending the court’s decision, Gaskarov will be remanded or released.

Additional information:
gaskarov.info@gmail.com
https://twitter.com/gaskarov_info
Svetlana Sidorkina (Gaskarov’s lawyer): +7 (926) 557-9016

Editor’s Note. We have slightly edited the original article to make it more readable.

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August 1, 2012

MOSCOW, August 1 – RAPSI. Opposition activist Alexei Gaskarov has filed an application with the investigative authorities, claiming that he was beaten up by riot police officers during the March of Millions, the Agora human rights organization told the Russian Legal Information Agency on Wednesday.

Gaskarov has also provided a video of the beating to the investigators.

Agora reported that Gaskarov went to the Interior Ministry’s Internal Security Department to speak with investigators about the Bolotnaya Square riots. During the questioning, he gave the investigators a four minute video demonstrating how he was beaten by police officers.

According to Gaskarov, the investigators said they would look into his statement within a month.

Gaskarov sent a statement about his beating to Moscow Investigative Department head Vadim Yakovenko.

Clashes with the police flared up on May 6 during an opposition march across Moscow, which had been granted official permission. Tens of protesters and police officers were injured. The police detained over 400 rally participants.

After May 6, the opposition continued its protests in the form of “people’s promenades.”

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The Argument Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Wasn’t Allowed to Make at Her Parole Hearing

[Originally published by The Russian Reader]

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Yesterday, April 26, 2013, a district court in Zubova Polyana, Mordovia, denied imprisoned Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s request for parole. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Judge Lidiya Yakovleva agreed with arguments made by prison authorities that it would be “premature” to release Tolokonnikova given that she “had been cited for prison rules violations and expressed no remorse,” and had not participated in such prison activities as the “Miss Charm Prison Camp 14 beauty contest.” Judge Yakovleva made her ruling without allowing the defense to make a closing argument, thus allegedly violating the Criminal Procedure Code. Tolokonnikova had written her statement out in advance. The translation below is of the Russian original as published in full on the web site of RFE/RL’s Russian Service (Radio Svoboda). Photos courtesy of the Free Pussy Riot Facebook page.

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“Has the convict started down the road to rehabilitation?” This is the question asked when a request for parole is reviewed. I would also like us to ask the following question today: What is  this “road to rehabilitation”?

I am absolutely convinced that the only correct road is one on which a person is honest with others and with herself. I have stayed on this road and will not stray from it wherever life takes me. I insisted on this road while I was still on the outside, and I didn’t retreat from it in the Moscow pretrial detention facility. Nothing, not even the camps of Mordovia, where the Soviet-era authorities liked to send political prisoners, can teach me to betray the principle of honesty.

So I have not admitted and will not admit the guilt imputed to me by the Khamovniki district court’s verdict, which was illegal and rendered with an indecent number of procedural violations. At the moment, I am in the process of appealing this verdict in the higher courts. By coercing me into admitting guilt for the sake of parole, the correctional system is pushing me to incriminate myself, and, therefore, to lie. Is the ability to lie a sign that a person has started down the road to rehabilitation?

It states in my sentence that I am a feminist and, therefore, must feel hatred towards religion. Yes, after a year and two months in prison, I am still a feminist, and I am still opposed to the people in charge of the state, but then as now there is no hatred in me. The dozens of women prisoners with whom I attend the Orthodox church at Penal Colony No. 14 cannot see this hatred, either.

What else do I do in the colony? I work: soon after I arrived at Penal Colony No. 14, they put me behind a sewing machine, and now I am a sewing machine operator. Some believe that making political-art actions is easy, that it requires no deliberation or preparation. Based on my years of experience in actionism, I can say that carrying out an action and thinking through the artistic end-product is laborious and often exhausting work. So I know how to work and I love to work. I’m no stranger to the Protestant work ethic. Physically, I don’t find it hard to be a seamstress. And that is what I am. I do everything required of me. But, of course, I cannot help thinking about things while I’m at the sewing machine (including the road to rehabilitation) and, therefore, asking myself questions. For example: why can convicts not be given a choice as to the socially useful work they perform while serving their sentences? [Why can they not chose work] in keeping with their education and interests? Since I have experience teaching in the philosophy department at Moscow State University, I would gladly and enthusiastically put together educational programs and lectures using the books in the library and books sent to me. And by the way, I would unquestioningly do such work for more than the eight hours [a day] stipulated by the Russian Federation Labor Code; I would do this work during all the time left over from scheduled prison activities. Instead, I sew police pants, which of course is also useful, but in this work I’m obviously not as productive as I could be were I conducting educational programs.

In Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn describes how a prison camp detective stops one convict from teaching another convict Latin. Unfortunately, the overall attitude to education hasn’t changed much since then.

I often fantasize: what if the correctional system made its priority not the production of police pants or production quotas, but the education, training, and rehabilitation of convicts, as required by the Correctional Code? Then, in order to get parole, you would not have to sew 16 hours a day in the industrial section of the colony, trying to achieve 150% output, but successfully pass several exams after broadening your horizons and knowledge of the world, and getting a general humanities education, which nurtures the ability to adequately assess contemporary reality. I would very much like to see this state of affairs in the colony.

Why not establish courses on contemporary art in the colony?

Would that work were not a debt, but activity that was spiritual and useful in a poetic sense. Would that the organizational constraints and inertia of the old system were overcome, and values like individuality could be instilled in the workplace. The prison camp is the face of the country, and if we managed to get beyond the old conservative and totally unifying categories even in the prison camp, then throughout Russia we would see the growth of intellectual, high-tech manufacturing, something we would all like to see in order to break out of the natural resources trap. Then something like Silicon Valley could be born in Russia, a haven for risky and talented people. All this would be possible if the panic experienced in Russia at the state level towards human experimentation and creativity would give way to an attentive and respectful attitude towards the individual’s creative and critical potential. Tolerance towards others and respect for diversity provide an environment conducive to the development and productive use of the talent inherent in citizens (even if these citizens are convicts). Repressive conservation and rigidity in the legal, correctional, and other state systems of the Russian Federation, laws on registration [of one’s residence] and promotion of homosexuality lead to stagnation and a “brain drain.”

However, I am convinced that this senseless reaction in which we now forced to live is temporary. It is mortal, and this mortality is immediate. I am also certain that all of us—including the prisoners of Bolotnaya Square, my brave comrade in arms Maria Alyokhina, and Alexei Navalny—have the strength, commitment, and tenacity to survive this reaction and emerge victorious.

I am truly grateful to the people I have encountered in my life behind barbed wire. Thanks to some of them, I will never call my time in prison time lost. During the year and two months of my imprisonment, I have not had a single conflict, either in the pretrial detention facility or in prison. Not a single one. In my opinion, this shows that I am perfectly safe for any society. And also the fact that people do not buy into state media propaganda and are not willing to hate me just because a federal channel said that I’m a bad person. Lying does not always lead to victory.

Recently, I got a letter containing a parable that has become important to me. What happens to things different in nature when they are placed in boiling water? Brittle things, like eggs, become hard. Hard things, like carrots, become soft. Coffee dissolves and permeates everything. The point of the parable was this: be like coffee. In prison, I am like that coffee.

I want the people who have put me and dozens of other political activists behind bars to understand one simple thing: there are no insurmountable obstacles for a person whose values  consist, first, of her principles and, second, of work and creativity based on these principles. If you strongly believe in something, this faith will help you survive and remain a human being anywhere.

I will surely use my experience in Mordovia in my future work and, although this will not happen until completion of my sentence, I will implement it in projects that will be stronger and politically larger in scale than everything that has happened to me before.

Despite the fact that imprisonment is a quite daunting experience, as a result of having it we political prisoners only become stronger, braver, and more tenacious. And so I ask the last question for today: what, then, is the point of keeping us here?

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Thatcher’s Britain and Putin’s Russia: Separated at Birth?

The Battle of Orgreave (June 18, 1984):

There were 95 miners arrested at Orgreave and prosecuted for riot, a charge that carried the potential for a long prison sentence up to a maximum of life. But a year later, on 17 July 1985, all 95 were acquitted. The prosecution withdrew, from the first trial of 15, after police gave unconvincing accounts in the witness box: it became clear that the miners had themselves been attacked by police on horses or with truncheons, and there was evidence that a police officer’s signature on a statement had been forged.

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The Battle of Bolotnaya Square (May 6, 2012):

According to a report by the newspaper Izvestiya, which cited a statement issued by the working group of the Presidential Human Rights Council: the events of May 6, 2012 on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow were provoked by the police and cannot legally be deemed to be riots. By the evening of Thursday, January 31, the statement had been signed by about half of the Council’s members. 

According to Izvestiya’s information, the statement had been signed by the journalists Leonid Parfenov and Ivan Zasursky, civil society activist Irina Khakamada, and head of the Russian Aid Foundation (Rusfond) Lev Ambinder. Having completed an investigation into the circumstances of the incidents at Bolotnaya, the human rights activists decided that the opposition protesters had been compelled to act the way they did. The statement calls for all the accused in the “Bolotnaya Case” to be released from custody. 

“Neither before nor since 6 May, have the police created such unbearable and provocative conditions for demonstrators,” the working group declared in their statement. Notably, the statement specifically drew on evidence provided by members of the Human Rights Council, who had been present at Bolotnaya as public observers. They stressed that the disorder arose as a result of the pressure caused by the huge police cordons, Lenta.ru noted. 

[…]

In May, at Bolotnaya Square the “March of Millions” escalated into clashes between protesters and the police. At present, twelve people involved in a criminal case pertaining to the alleged riots are awaiting sentence in custody. Investigators want to send one of the alleged rioters for compulsory psychological treatment and another five are under house arrest. The only sentence in the case – 4.5 years in prison – was handed down in November against Maksim Luzyanin, who confessed to attacking the police. 

Previously, in May 2012, Federal Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin had declared that there had not been any rioting at Bolotnaya Square, but merely isolated clashes between demonstrators and police. In November, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group proposed that a public inquiry be held based on Lukin’s findings. But on January 30, 2013, it emerged that an independent group consisting of people opposed to the government had already interviewed around two hundred witnesses to the disturbances and presented this information to independent experts.

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Now check out the surprise ending:

Putin Decrees 2014 as Year of British Culture
09 April 2013
The Moscow Times

With an eye on further improving ties with Britain, President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree designating 2014 as the year of British culture in Russia.

The decree, which is aimed at fostering closer relations between the two countries, also calls for a celebration of Russian culture in Britain next year, the Kremlin said in a statement Tuesday.

The head of the organizing committee on the Russian side will be Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, Interfax reported. Committee members will include Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, Kremlin cultural aide Mikhail Shvydkoi, and the heads of the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters and the Pushkin and Hermitage museums.

Relations between Russia and Britain have shown a revival in recent months after falling to a low point after Moscow’s refusal to extradite State Duma Deputy Andrei Lugavoi in connection to the 2006 poisoning death of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced in mid-March that Russia and Britain had agreed to set aside 2014 as a year to celebration of the other country’s culture.

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Photos courtesy of John Sturrock/Socialist Worker and politzeki.tumbler.com. Thanks to the invaluable Comrade Agata for the heads-up. Read her timely 2010 interview with artist Jeremy Deller, who re-enacted the Battle of Orgreave in 2001, here.

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Russia’s Political System Is “Overbearing,” or, One Day in the Life of Artyom Viktorovich

It turns out that for the past five years, at least, we’ve been looking at things the wrong way round. Distinguished Ghanaian-British writer and journalist Ekow Eshun and The Guardian have finally set us straight:

Two decades after the fall of communism, Russia remains a mystery to many foreigners. And from a distance, the country’s most visible aspects – showy oligarchs and an overbearing political system – hardly seem alluring.

But scratch the surface and a different story emerges. For the past year, I’ve been working with a London-based gallery to develop the Calvert Journal, an online guide to creative Russia. The journal is inspired by a generation of creative talent who are starting to remake the country in their own image.

You can feel their influence in Moscow and St Petersburg, where chic bars and restaurants and dynamic cultural centres are springing to life . . .

—Ekow Eshun, “How Russia’s creative revolution is changing the cultural landscape: Moscow, St Petersburg, and cities across Russia, are enjoying a creative boom that features design hubs, hotels, cafes and bars,” The Guardian, April 5, 2013

“Overbearing” is undoubtedly how political prisoner Artyom Savyolov, one of the twenty-seven people charged so far in connection with the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case, would describe the Russian political system:

There is nothing all much that is interesting [behind bars in the pretrial detention facility]. After the new year, I began reviewing “the case.” I do this five days a week, like I’m going to work. In the morning, I get up and drink tea, and then I’m taken to the case review. If I’m lead straight into the police investigator’s office, but he is late getting there, then I have a chance to read a book a little along with my fellow prisoners. Or first I might be taken to “assembly” (the place where prisoners are gathered before being sent to court, to investigators, etc.), and that’s also not bad.

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What is interesting is that despite ethnicity, what crimes people have been charged with, and age, people somehow support each other. Someone gives someone else advice about their case or makes a suggestion. If someone’s low on smokes or matches, people share theirs. Someone tells jokes and pokes fun, and everyone laughs. People get to know each other.

Until lunch, I review “the case.” It’s been a week since I managed to make them  take me for a lunch break [every day]. Then it’s back to the reviewing. By evening, I’m usually exhausted. There’s only time left to have tea with the lads, wash clothes or  do some other small things, and in the morning it all starts over again. 

Weekends, on the other hand, are like a holiday: I get to go for a stroll [in the prison yard] and chat with the lads with a clear head. We play dominoes with each other, with the losers paying in push-ups, and so on.

Sometimes I wish I were on a desert island. (The rules here prohibit leaving prisoners alone, and except for the cooler, it rarely, rarely happens that one gets to be alone.)

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I wish I were alone on an island with a box of soap and a case of vodka. I’d get washed up, belt out crazy wild songs, and walk for miles. I realize that’s not a very elegant wish, but it is a sincere one. Otherwise, my wishes are the most ordinary: to see loved ones and friends without prison bars between us, see how my apple trees are doing at the dacha without me, and lots of other, completely ordinary things.

They feed us okay: it’s just the ticket for Lent (laughs).

Communication [with the other prisoners] is normal: there are very few real evildoers here. Some have ended up here out of foolishness, while life somehow or another pushed others here. I like how at “assembly” one bloke compared  the “our country is a prison” situation with a line. You walk and walk the line, but sooner or later you stumble. If you’re lucky, you step to the right—and you stay on the outside. If you’re not lucky, you stumble or are pushed to the left—and you go to prison.

I’ve talked with lots of [other inmates], and many of them had thought, “I’m not planning on killing or stealing, so I’m the last person they’d send to jail.”

I want to close on a positive note. Everything that hasn’t killed us has only made us stronger. I’m alive and filled with cheerful anger, and that means we’ll battle our way through and everything will be okay!

“And only up high, next to the Royal gate, / Privy to mysteries, a child was crying / That homecoming is no one’s fate.” I read that somewhere and liked it.

P.S. This letter isn’t very cheerful, but in the future I promise to improve.

March 16, 2013

Artyom

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grani.ru

Artyom Savyolov Day
April 7, 2013

A campaign in support of the “prisoners of Bolotnaya Square” has kicked off in Moscow. On April 6, a rally took place in Pushkin Square. Starting on April 7, each subsequent day will be dedicated to one of the twenty-seven people accused in the case. The campaign will culminate in a large-scale protest action on the anniversary of the [May 6, 2012] events on Bolotnaya.

April 7 was dedicated to Artyom Savyolov. Activists told metro passengers and passersby about him.

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“The May 6 Case Is the Disgrace of the Putin Regime”

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Artyom Savyolov was arrested on June 9. Like most of the “Bolotnaya prisoners,” he has been charged under two articles of the Criminal Code: Article 212 (rioting) and Article 318 (violence against a government official). According to investigators, Savyolov shouted the slogan “Down with the police state!” and others, and grabbed a police officer by his arm and his bulletproof vest. A video recording clearly shows  that Artyom was on Bolotnaya Square for a mere three minutes. After being unwillingly pushed by the crowd past the police cordon, he was almost immediately detained.

Artyom has a severe stutter and is almost unable to speak. However, the claim that he was shouting slogans, recorded in the charge sheet of his administrative arrest [on May 6], has found its way into the criminal case against him.

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Photos of Artyom Savyolov and Artyom Savyolov Day courtesy of Grani.ru and Dmitry Borko. Thanks to Comrades Larry and Ilya for the respective heads-up.

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Mattia Gallo: Interview with a Russian Comrade

The following interview with our comrade Ilya Matveev was made by Mattia Gallo and originally published in Italian as “La Russia ai tempi di Occupy.” Our thanks to her and Ilya for their permission to republish it in English here.

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What is the Russian Socialist Movement? When were you founded? Who are its members?

The Russian Socialist Movement (RSM) is the product of a merger between two far-left groups: Vpered (Forward) and Socialist Resistance. It was founded in March 2011. Both groups were heirs to the Trotskyist tradition. Vpered was affiliated with the Mandelist USFI. However, the RSM is not explicitly Trotskyist: it was modeled as a broad leftist force capable of uniting the non-sectarian far left into the nucleus of a future radical mass party. In part, it was modeled on the French Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), although obviously on a smaller scale.

Currently, we have several organizations in different Russian cities. The largest RSM groups are in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kaluga. We have a smaller presence in Novosibirsk, Samara, and other places, as well as an affiliated group in Perm. Overall, we have some two hundred to three hundred members.

The Kaluga group is probably the strongest and most coherent. There is an industrial cluster in this city, and it harbors a rare thing in Russia, an independent trade union, in this case, a local of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (the ITUA, which is also present in Petersburg and the Petersburg area). Our members in Kaluga are union organizers, autoworkers, and radical youth. The RSM have taken part in strikes and in worker self-organization in Kaluga. In Petersburg, RSM also consists of union workers and activists, but its ranks also include radical intellectuals and artists. In Moscow, the RSM is mostly made up of intellectuals, and it has become increasingly popular in radical artistic circles.

Generally, despite some internal problems, RSM is slowly becoming a rallying point for the radical left in Russia, due to its open, non-sectarian character and strong intellectual foundations. We try and play a role in the trade union movement and various social movements, to bring radical politics into these milieux, not, however in typical sectarian “entryist” fashion, but by really working with people, talking to them, getting to know them. We are also working on developing a coherent leftist theory for our situation. Obviously, our success is limited, but at least that is what we recognize as our goal.

In today’s very difficult circumstances, the RSM is very much focused on defending political prisoners in Russia. One of them, Konstantin Lebedev, is a member of our organization. Another RSM member, Filipp Dolbunov (Galtsov), is currently seeking political asylum in Ukraine. The RSM is a driving force behind the international solidarity campaign against political persecution in Russia.

Apart from that major concern, we also work with independent unions and social movements, especially against neoliberal policies in education and health care, and in the environmental and feminist movements, as well as the anti-fascist movement. We organize various cultural activities, in part through our affiliated independent publisher, the Free Marxist Press. We publish a newspaper called the Socialist, and run a web site

When and how did Occupy Moscow begin? What things happened in Moscow? What demands did its activists make, and what difficulties did they face?

On May 6, 2012, a mass opposition rally in Moscow was brutally dispersed by riot police. The police violence was unprecedented, and in a twisted Stalinist move our government afterwards started arresting people for taking part in a “riot,” thus setting the stage for a latter political show trial. Still, after the events at the rally, a minority of the marchers, around a thousand people, refused to go home and began a game of “catch me if you can” with the police on the streets of Moscow. This group of protesters moved around the city, trying to outmaneuver the police. This lasted for two or three days. Finally, the group settled in a kind of permanent camp near the monument to the Kazakh poet Abay on a small square in downtown Moscow. People kept coming, and the police didn’t disperse the camp, probably because the new protest tactics disoriented them. That is how Occupy Moscow or Occupy Abay began.

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It should be noted that some leftist activists had tried to import Occupy tactics before these events, organizing small “assemblies.” The Spanish Indignados and the American OWS were of course important and inspiring for us. However, we didn’t really believe something like that could happen in Moscow—and yet it happened.

Occupy Abay was an OWS-style camp on a small square, with a thousand to two thousand people in attendance daily, and some fifty to a hundred people staying on site in sleeping bags overnight. It was such a fresh experience of self-organization beyond traditional leftist and social scenes! Leftists, including RSM members, and anarchists were truly energized by what was happening right before their eyes. Leftist activists grouped in a European-style “info point” on the square with literature and leaflets. We organized a series of workshops for camp participants on unions, social movements, and leftist politics. The RSM began publishing a daily Occupy Abay leaflet, which quickly became a kind of official newspaper for the camp. Other self-organized activities included a kitchen and cleaning shifts. The square was so immaculately clean that the authorities had to fabricate evidence to present the camp as a nuisance to the neighborhood. However, the most important self-organized activity was the general assembly.

From the beginning, there was tension in the camp (just as in the Russian protest movement as a whole) between rank-and-file participants and self-proclaimed “leaders.” Some established opposition personalities tried to name one person “governor” of the camp, but of course the people ignored them. The left presented an alternative—participatory democracy in the form of the general assembly. The process was very difficult in the beginning, but eventually the assembly became the real voice of the camp. The climax of this self-governing process was, perhaps, an episode during the final hours of the camp’s existence, when the police ordered people to go home. Opposition leaders asked to speak to the crowd. But they had to wait their turn in a queue, just like other regular participants. When their turn came, they made their case—to comply with police orders—but the assembly rejected their proposal. In retrospect, it was the correct decision, since the police didn’t disperse the camp for another day.

The whole history of Occupy Abay/Occupy Barrikadnaya/Occupy Arbat (the last two are subsequent names for Occupy Moscow, reflecting the sites it briefly occupied after Abay was broken up) didn’t last more than several days, but it was an incredibly rich period of improvisation, self-organization, political struggle, and agitation. It injected the ideas of participatory democracy and horizontal structures into the protest movement, which had almost completely lacked such ideas before. We are still reflecting on the political and social significance of this event.

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The major difference between Occupy Moscow and OWS, the Indignados, etc., is that the Moscow camp was not leftist as a whole. It wasn’t organized around social issues; rather, it was the temporary form that the opposition movement in Russia, mostly liberal, took in Moscow in May 2012. Therefore, the participants were not only leftists, but also liberals, even people from the far right (which was rather humble and didn’t cause trouble, being in a weak political position). However, only the left in Russia practices self-organization, self-government, and participatory democracy. Therefore, the left quickly became an essential force driving the camp and its activities.

Talking about civil liberties in Russia, the Pussy Riot case and the anti-gay laws enacted in several Russian regions and now proposed in the national parliament are emblematic in the eyes of the world. You wrote an article last November, “A Police Story (What Happened to Filipp Dolbunov),” about a Russian student abducted by the police. Can you tell us what happened? What is your analysis of civil liberties in Russia?

Well, I wrote about a specific case of police repression against one activist. Currently Filipp, who is my comrade, is seeking political asylum. He is in Ukraine, but this country isn’t safe for him, as the case of another activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, shows: Leonid was kidnapped in Kyiv by Russian security forces, tortured, and brought back to Moscow.

The situation with civil liberties in Russia is outrageous and rapidly becoming more and more catastrophic. More than twenty people are awaiting trial for taking part in the May 6 “riot” (i.e., the brutal attack on a legal, sanctioned rally by riot police). Most of them are in jail. Hundreds of detectives are working day and night to conjure a case out of nothing. One of the arrested confessed and was sent to prison for four and half years. On January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.

The police have merged the May 6 “riot” case with the Sergei Udaltsov case. Udaltsov is one of the few public opposition leaders from the left. He has been charged with “organizing the unrest” on ”evidence” presented to the entire country during a special broadcast on Russian state-controlled TV. Udaltsov and two other people, one of them, Konstantin Lebedev, an RSM member, are now accused of being the “organizers” of the “riot” that took place on May 6. There is an endless chain of fabricated evidence and trumped-up charges that is directed against the Russian opposition, but mainly the left.

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I was on Bolotnaya: arrest me!

Another group that suffers disproportionately from state repression are anti-fascists. Some of them have been sentenced to prison, while others have been arrested and awaiting trial for months on end.

Please read our appeal for solidarity to learn the details about the recent crackdown in Russia. The RSM and other left groups are in desperate need of solidarity, so any actions of support are most welcome.

Another article of yours, “The ‘Welfare’ State Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This,” talks about the situation of the “welfare state,” a term that in Italian and Russian translates to the “social state.” What is your analysis in this article? What are the social and economic problems in your country?

My basic point in this article is that Russia is not a welfare state, despite the fact that it’s called a “social state” in the Constitution. It lacks a minimum wage (which is set below official subsistence level, i.e., this minimum wage is not enough to avoid dying from starvation). Strikes are almost completely prohibited. The situation with housing, education, health care, childcare, science, and cultural institutions is scandalous, and it’s getting worse day by day.

Even though we now have more than 130 dollar billionaires and one of the world’s largest money reserves, teachers and university professors in some Russian regions are paid the equivalent of 150-250 euros a month, just like doctors and other public employees. Wealth inequality, according to some sources, is the greatest in the world.

Oil and gas-driven growth has not brought prosperity or a meaningful economic future to Russia. It is a country ruled by a parasitic, uncontrollable elite. And their answer to all problems is more neoliberalism, more deregulation. They are currently implementing neoliberal reforms in education, health care, and science and culture, just like in Europe. For example, schoolteachers are forced to compete for wage bonuses, just as schools are forced to compete for pupils. This deliberate introduction of market logic in fields completely alien to it, such as education, health care, and culture, is a basic sign of neoliberalism. And the result is European-style “budget cuts” in a situation where there’s nothing to cut to begin with. The social, scientific, and cultural institutions of the Soviet state are in shambles, and now they are being terrorized yet again by this new neoliberal assault.

What are the problems of universities in Russia? Is the education system under attack by neoliberal policies undertaken by the Putin government? What are the main changes and differences between the education systems in USSR and Russia today?

University teachers have been underpaid for decades in Russia. Average wages are 200-500 euros per month even for those who have degrees. In general, the share of educational spending in the federal budget is very low both in absolute and relative terms. Education amounts to about 4.5 percent of Russian GDP, lower than the OECD average—despite the fact that it needs to be rebuilt, not just maintained.

Another problem is university bureaucracy. The institutions of collegial self-government and university autonomy do not function. Both professors and students are subjugated to the will of the administration.

Some problems, such as the lack of autonomy, are inherited from the USSR; some are new.

For example, the authorities have embarked on a program of university reform. It is basically a neoliberal policy, which identifies “ineffective” institutions of higher learning and closes them or merges them with others. Students, professors, and society as a whole have no say in this.

Still, there are some encouraging signs. The atmosphere in Russia has changed since the protests began in 2011. It is not such an apathetic, depoliticized society as before. And university staff are becoming angry, too: when the education minister blamed them, in an interview, for their incompetence (which, he said, explained their low salaries), more than a thousand professors signed a letter of protest. A new independent university teachers’ union is being created. Just a few days ago, an activist at Moscow State University, Mikhail Lobanov, successfully avoided being fired after a strong campaign of solidarity on his behalf. This might be a small success, but it inspires hope: students are becoming more aware of their potential, and professors are, too. There is an incredible amount of work to be done, but it is much easier now to believe in our eventual success.

Photos taken from the Facebook pages European Revolution, OccupyAbay, and Elena Rostunova without permission but with much gratitude.

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