Tag Archives: Dmitry Medvedev

International Women’s Day Special: Elena Kostyuchenko on Fighting Russia’s Anti-LGBT Law

March 8 marks the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day celebrations in Russia. This is the first in a series of posts focusing on the work and plight of several different women involved in political and social activism in Russia today.

Journalist and LGBT activist Elena Kostyuchenko was interviewed by Filipp and Tikhon Dzyadko on January 24, 2013, for the TV Rain program The Dzyadko Three. The following day, January 25, the Russian State Duma passed in its first reading a law bill banning the “promotion of homosexuality” among minors. The bill will have to undergo two more readings, and then by ratified by the Federation Council and signed by the Russian president before it becomes law.

 

 

Dzyadko Three: Our guest is the LGBT activist and outstanding Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchenko. Today, we would like to discuss the latest incredible decision our legislators are about to make or are, at least, discussing. That is, the Duma intends to pass a law banning the promotion of homosexuality among minors.

There are many details to this, which we’re going to talk about now. This week, a protest against it called the Day of Kisses took place, and our guest, Elena Kostyuchenko, was one of the organizers. Please tell us about what happened. Basically, everyone more or less knows what happened. Everyone they managed to get hold of got beat up, and that was it, right?

Elena Kostyuchenko: This was actually the second time we staged the Day of Kisses. This time, more people came out; there were about thirty people. TV Rain reported that these were members of the LGBT community, but actually, it was about fifty-fifty LGBT and heterosexuals who came out to support us. There were also people who call themselves Russian Orthodox activists, and some roughnecks itching for a fight. Two of my friends got their noses broken, and they beat up my girlfriend. They attacked people during the protest, as protesters were approaching the protest site, and when they were going back to the metro. They were waiting for most of the people to leave and then attacked those who were left.

DT: But you knew this would happen?

EK: Well, I had anticipated the possibility because they had been discussing on VKontakte [a Russian social network modeled on Facebook—trans.] about whether to take baseball bats and knuckledusters with them.

DT: What do you think of today’s demonstration? Did it come off? Was it worth it?

EK: Of course it was.

DT: Why?

EK: Because doing something is always better than sitting at home and waiting around for Duma deputies to declare you a second-class citizen.

DT: Could you describe background of this law? Discussion of most of these [legislative] initiatives has been going on for almost a year, yes?

EK: These kinds of laws were first passed in several regions, and the other regions are now rushing to pass these laws in order to kowtow to the federal center in anticipation of the law being passed nationally. For instance, they’re rushing to pass a law in Kaliningrad, but there [they’re planning to ban] the promotion of homosexuality in general. If you want to watch the film Total Eclipse and you’re from Kaliningrad, the government will take care of you. Naturally, it is the United Russia party [the ruling party in Russia—trans.] that is primarily pushing all of this through.

DT: And yet the party’s leader [former president] Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with the big five TV channels that he doesn’t see the point of the law.

EK: We all know that his leadership is a formality. He doesn’t actually decide anything.

DT: Have you considered appealing to him?

EK: No, I haven’t considered it.

DT: Whom does it make sense to appeal to?

EK: To the public and to the people who call themselves Duma deputies. Aside from our protest action, we’ve launched a website, loveislegal.ru, where anyone can submit photographs of themselves and voice their stance against this law. Last time round, we submitted more than six hundred photographs. Tomorrow, we’ll deliver a hundred and fifty more.

DT: To where? To the Duma?

DT: Speaking of your website, here is an excerpt of a text you can read there, addressed to the Duma. “We hope that before you discuss and vote on this bill, you will familiarize yourselves with the academic literature on the subject and learn that homosexuality is not a disease and that promoting it, like promoting left-handedness, is impossible.” I read this text, and it’s right, there is just one thing I don’t understand.

EK: This text doesn’t come from the website. It’s an excerpt from one of the letters we submitted with the photographs.

DT: That you submitted to the Duma. If there are people you need to tell that homosexuality isn’t a disease and, like left-handedness, it is impossible to promote it, then besides that, you need to explain to these people they shouldn’t snort laundry detergent but use it to wash clothes, or that toothpaste isn’t dangerous if it is used correctly. These are obvious things. Can there be any hope if you have to explain these basics to people?

EK: You have to explain the basics to people because the lawmaking and rhetoric that has been going on lately in the Duma gives one the impression that the people saying these things don’t have a higher education and may not have even finished high school. When I travel and speak to vocational school students, many of them make better arguments and are more articulate in expressing their views than certain Duma deputies. Yes, there are people who don’t know that homosexuality has long since been removed from the list of diseases. They really don’t know that if a child hears the word “lesbian,” it won’t make him or her a lesbian, and so on and so forth.

DT: Let’s talk about methods a bit. Your Day of Kisses is clearly a provocative action to some extent. It’s what they call “trolling” nowadays. You’re going out to people you know for sure don’t accept you, and you know some lowlifes will show up and pour ketchup on someone, in the best-case scenario, and this will be an excuse for the press to cover it. TV Rain will broadcast a report, there will be photos on various websites, and it will generate buzz around the issue. Are you just protesting to be sensational?

EK: Absolutely not. I don’t consider our protest action provocative. We aren’t doing anything terrible. We are just going to the Duma with a mixed group of people, homosexuals, heterosexuals, couples, singles, and, for those who have them, significant others. If a person doesn’t have anyone to kiss, they just hug whoever is standing next to them. There is nothing provocative in expressing natural human feelings. We aren’t taking our feelings to the hideouts of the nationalists or the apartments of Russian Orthodox activists. We are walking through our own city and going up to a government building.

DT: But this action is aimed at causing conflict from the outset. You know that these people are against you, and that the Duma is going to pass this anti-gay law. You know that the Duma deputies are against you, and you read VKontake and see that the Orthodox activists are planning to go there and try and beat you up.

EK: Listen. If you’re afraid of bullies, you shouldn’t go anywhere. The scumbags go after us when we stand outside with placards; they follow us when we go to make a television appearance. Yesterday, after the taping on Kontr TV there was a whole group of them waiting outside for me.

DT: But when you protest like this, you’re the one provoking them.

EK: No. I am completely convinced I am not provoking them. For example, at protest action that took place on Tuesday, the Day of Kisses, the [Orthodox] activists showed up twenty minutes before it was supposed to start to take their places. Then the journalists showed up early as well to check out the scene, figure out where they should stand. But the activists were so eager to fight that even before the gay people came, they started attacking the journalists. Were the journalists provoking them by standing outside the State Duma with their cameras? No. These people just wanted to beat someone up. And by the way, I want to warn all the journalists who will be attending tomorrow’s protest. [The Orthodox activists] have been writing on their forums that they will be attacking journalists first and foremost in order to prevent them from filming the beatings and fights. They want to make the journalists know that they can’t come there and film the protests.

DT: […] What kinds of protest tactics are available today and how effective are they? What do you think will work? […] How else can you demonstrate that homosexuality is normal?

EK: Well, everyone does what he or she can. I am not the center of LGBT activism in Russia. I actually don’t do that much activism: I have a lot of other work. It’s just that I’ve been focusing on it this past week because I know that my life specifically will be severely affected for a long time, as will the lives of millions of gays and lesbians in Russia. We created this website because we have a guy who knows how to make websites. Some people in Petersburg, a group of specialists, doctors and psychologists, put together a thorough analysis of this legislative bill, an analytic report for Duma deputies, where they write about how homosexuality is not a disease and cannot be promoted. Some people go into the street with placards and do one-man pickets. Some people campaign for international support. Some try to get other governments involved in this issue. Everyone does what he or she can. That is why when people tell me that I’m doing this wrong, I say, “Do it yourself, you have the means.” It’s just that right now there is a week left. I think the majority of your audience has more than reasonable ideas on this issue. Homosexuals don’t feel like they need to hide from you, and the majority of you have gay and lesbian friends. If you don’t want these people to be officially declared second-class citizens within a week, if you don’t want them to be subject to fines for no reason or have to pay fifty thousand rubles [approximately 1,250 euros—trans.] every time they go out on the street, you should do something about it. There is not much time left. We are doing what we can. If you are concerned, you should also do what you can.

DT: If and when this law is passed, what threat does it actually pose to homosexuals?

EK: The problem is that “promotion” is not at all defined in the legislation. We know why this is: it is difficult to describe a phenomenon that doesn’t exist. Apparently, the deputies lack the literary skills to define it.

DT: Or they lack the imagination.

EK: Yes. In an explanatory note to the law, it says any reference to homosexuality as normal or same-sex relationships as being equal to heterosexual relationships is deemed “promotion.” Thus, this program we’re taping today will a month from now be deemed “flagrant promotion of homosexuality,” as they put it, and your channel will be fined half a million rubles [approximately 12,500 euros—trans.]. In a month, a show like this will be impossible. In addition, because it is the [Russian federal] administrative offenses code that is being amended, it will be up to the police to enforce the law. Thus, the police department of, say, the city of Bryansk, which knows full well who is gay in their precincts, may see a couple holding hands, approach them, and make some money off them [through fines]. Especially since the gay community, like the Russian population at large, is rather illiterate when it comes to legal matters.

DT: When we were putting together the issue of Bolshoi Gorod about homosexuality, back when they were passing this law in Petersburg, a number of experts told us that the main problem is that many young people who are homosexuals will [after passage of the law] have all the more reason to be closeted, which leads to a large number of suicides. In the end, we will be left without any means for dealing with this huge problem.

EK: Unfortunately, we have very little data on suicide in general, even though Russia has among the highest number of teen suicides in the world. In fact, there are no statistics about the LGBT community in Russia. None. But there are American statistics. In the US, LGBT teenagers kill themselves three times or three and half times more often than their heterosexual peers. These are the official numbers from the US Department of Health [and Human Services]. It’s because even in America, there’s such a thing as harassment. I don’t even want to think about what goes on in Russian cities. I grew up in the relatively cultured and affluent town of Yaroslavl, but I know homosexuals from many different parts of the country. When they tell me about their school days, it’s scary. I mean, my God, last time we had a protest outside the Duma, a sixteen-year-old boy came out and showed the journalists his passport. He said, “I’m sixteen. These people think that they are protecting me and my morality. Meanwhile, when I was walking here from the metro, these Orthodox fanatics punched me in the jaw—twice.” These children go to our schools, they’re part of our society, and yet they’re constantly hearing that gays are degenerates, gays are scumbags. If today they can go online and see that is not true, once this law passes, when it actually goes into effect, they won’t have access to this information. Right now, there’s a hotline for the LGBT community where people, no matter their age, can get legal and psychological support. This hotline will be shut down. The LGBT organizations currently working in the provinces will be shut down. Whether legally or illegally, these organizations have been holding support group meetings, monitoring legal cases, and providing people with lawyers.

DT: Are the consequences after the law goes into effect and what people will have to do being discussed?

EK: They will have to go deep underground or risk being fined every day. There are also a large number of people who are same-sex couples with children. There really are a lot of them, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. There aren’t statistics on this, but when these laws are enacted, imagine the effect they will have on the lives of the children of same-sex couples. Every day, their parents could be fined fifty thousand rubles.

DT: This question comes up every time people take to the streets. Can you explain why, if, as you say, your demonstration went off rather well, there were only thirty people there? The problem with children alone or the problem of teenage suicide affects everyone, especially members of the LGBT community. And yet, only thirty people came out to kiss outside the State Duma.

EK: I am proud of every one of those thirty people. Why so few? Well, are you yourselves going to come to the protest tomorrow? It doesn’t occur to some people that they need to go protest. Others don’t have the time. Some people are actually scared—not of the fists of Orthodox activists, although as someone who has gotten hit in the head I can tell you it’s an unpleasant feeling. What people are more afraid of is that they’ll be found out at work or that mutual acquaintances will find out. Very few LGBT people feel safe being out.

DT: But this is a contradiction. On the one hand, they are afraid of being out, and on the other hand, they want to be treated decently.

EK: The problem is that LGBT activists believe in a gay superman who will suddenly appear in our country and instantly solve all of these problems. That Harvey Milk will be reincarnated and everything will be great. Let’s be more realistic. Harvey Milk isn’t going to be resurrected. He’s dead, he was murdered, and on top of that, he wasn’t even a Russian citizen. I also didn’t go out into the streets for a long time. For a long time, I thought that this situation didn’t affect me since my life was basically good, theoretically. Then I acknowledged that there was no one who could [protest for me]. So I went out and a few people followed me. Yes, it’s not very many people, but no one is stopping you from joining us if you truly believe this is an issue that deserves attention.

DT: If homosexuals are, for the most part, afraid to be open, then the law isn’t really going to change anything for them. Another issue is that it is well known that there are a large number of members of the LGBT community in the Russian government. Well, not a large number, but the same number as in any other segment of society. And yet, some of them are the very people signing off on this legislation or at least not getting in the way of it. Why don’t you appeal to them directly?

EK: Well, you know, it’s not like we have some kind of secret gay telephone number where we can dial them up.

DT: Instead of holding a protest where, as you said, your girlfriend got beat up, why don’t you try and take a constructive route?

EK: Like what?

DT: Dialoguing with the authorities.

EK: Listen, tons of petitions have been sent. And tons of appeals. There were round tables in Petersburg.

DT: To whom were the appeals addressed?

EK: To Duma deputies, to bureaucrats, to the government. There are different LGBT organizations. Before the law was heard in the first reading, tons of letters, tons of petitions were sent. I’m not saying that it’s not important to do that. I’m just saying that protesting is also effective. There are four hundred fifty deputies in the Duma—

DT: Are any of them openly gay?

EK: No, but according to statistics, twenty to twenty-five of them should be. These people do not speak openly about their orientation.

DT: Who do you suspect is gay? Who could you get the most effective response from?

EK: Look, if a person, out of considerations of party discipline, service to the state, and all that nonsense is going to support homophobic rhetoric and put seven million people just like him deep underground, I don’t think if I say, “Come on, dude, save us,” he’s going to do it.

DT: No, I don’t mean that. Whom do you consider—

EK: Who do I think is gay? My Lord, no one.

DT: I mean sympathetic to your cause in the State Duma, someone you can discuss this with and get results.

EK: I don’t know. The only Duma deputies I know, because the last time we did a demonstration, they came out of the Duma to watch, are Ilya Ponomarev [a well-known leftist currently a member of A Just Russia party] and [former heavyweight boxer and United Russia party member] Nikolai Valuev. You know what they look like. Ponomarev is slightly taller than me, and Valuev is Valuev. Valuev stood off to one side and watched these guys battering young men and women five on one, while Ponomarev ran to try to break the fights up. I don’t think this has anything to do with sexual orientation. I just think it has to do with someone’s personal orientation.

DT: Thank you. This will probably be the last question. Can you explain why all of this is going on? These same deputies were fine without this law against the promotion of homosexuality.

EK: This is part of a general trend going on in our country. Right now the government, all of the government’s rhetoric, Putin’s rhetoric, is about the Russian Orthodox Church, sovereignty, and nationalism. A year ago, women’s rights to abortions were seriously limited. Then the Pussy Riot case happened. Now, they are also trying to pass a law against insulting the feelings of religious believers. There are a lot of initiatives along these lines, including ones in the field of education, about teaching Russian Orthodoxy in schools. This is just another link in that chain. Of course, LGBT activists played a role in the voter fraud demonstrations and in the overall protest movement that has been going on for over a year now. I also think this law is a first trial balloon for implementing censorship in the media. […] I also personally believe that this is a tentative attempt to see how the journalist community will respond and whether it will be possible to bankrupt publications with million-ruble fines.

DT: Do you think sports and culture celebrities should get involved, write angry letters, saying “I’m gay, there’s nothing wrong with me, this is not a disease,” and so on?

EK: Anyone can get involved. I am personally calling all of you to get involved while you still can.

Translated by Bela Shayevich, with assistance from Chtodelat News

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loveislegal-emy

A letter and photo posted on loveislegal.ru:

My love is a great happiness. It gives me strength and the desire to change for the better, to move ahead and realize my dreams. It just so happens that my beloved is a woman. It just so happens that my relatives consider this a disease and a great misfortune. Ignorance, aggression and unmotivated malice: that is what Article 6.13.1 [the proposed amendment to the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code] will legalize. Be bigger than that. Amy, Kaliningrad.

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Welcome to Brazil!

brazil

“Civil unrest”?

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The United Russia Guide to Winning Hearts and Minds. Strategy 4: Arrest “Unruly” Students at Russia’s Premier University

krasnoe.tv

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http://www.rosbalt.ru/moscow/2011/11/19/914449.html

Students planning to protest UR campaign propaganda arrested near Moscow State University

Moscow, November 19. Fifteen students, grad students and alumni were arrested on the campus of Moscow State University this afternoon after the protest action “Students against the Use of Moscow State in the United Russian Election Campaign.” Uniformed police and plainclothes officers, who refused to identify themselves, made the arrests in a quite brutal manner: eyewitnesses told Rosbalt that they grabbed the students, dragged them across the ground and beat them.

From one p.m. to two p.m. today, during ceremonies marking the 300th anniversary of Mikhail Lomonosov’s birth, Moscow State students and teachers had planned to hold a picket outside the Universitet metro station to express their disagreeme3nt with the use of  the university’s name by members of the university administration in pre-election campaigning for United Russia. However, despite established practice, in this case at the last minute it transpired that the prefecture of the Western Administrative District had not authorized the protest, MSU employees noted. Despite assurances by telephone that everything was in order, when protest organizers received a written response [from the prefecture] on Friday, they learned that [the authorities] proposed moving the picketing site to the Taras Shevchenko Embankment [a “ghetto” that Moscow authorities often send protesters to keep away from public view].

Disagreeing with the prefecture’s decision, students decided to gather outside Universitet metro station to discuss the situation and hold a series of one-person pickets, which by law do not require prior approval by the authorities. The behavior of the police officers [at the metro station] and conversation with commanding officers made it clear that they had been ordered to repress any action on the part of activists, including one-person pickets. In particular, the police warned that if the [protesters] moved off together in the same direction, this would be regarded as a demonstration and arrests would begin.

The protesters decided not to give the police reason to arrest them and went off to have an informal discussion of the situation, without posters and slogans, in the park at the Eternal Flame, which is located opposite Academic Building No. 1.

During their discussion of self-government at the university, police officers, who did not identify themselves, began forcibly pulling students and graduate students from the group and arresting them for [holding] an “unsanctioned rally.” According to our sources, police colonel Kostin supervised the arrests. The students were then taken to Ramenki police station in police cars U7120, U7160, and U7134.

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MGU Is No Place for Discussion
The Moscow Times
24 October 2011
By Victor Davidoff

The dramatic events that took place on Thursday in Libya will ensure that this date will be remembered in history. An important event took place in Russia on that day, too, and while although it was far less dramatic than the death of Moammar Gadhafi, it was rich with symbolism.

On Thursday, President Medvedev met with students and representatives of youth organization at the journalism department of Moscow State University.

The choice of venue and conditions of the meeting were a vivid indicator of the current status of freedom of speech in the country at present and what it is likely to be under a continuation of the ruling tandem.

First, the event wasn’t announced anywhere and was planned in absolute secrecy. The students at the journalism department didn’t know about it, and even the dean, Yelena Vartanova, was informed about the president’s visit only the day before. She was just asked to make sure that two auditoriums were free — one for the meeting and the other for a buffet.

On the morning of the meeting, hungry students drooled over a huge amount of food and drink that was brought in for the buffet — hungry in the literal sense because the Federal Guard Service, which provides security for the president, closed the departmental cafeteria as a security precaution.

The security detail closed off the entire building and carried out its own special face control, not letting in students whose names were on their blacklist. Some faculty members were barred from the building, too.

But that was a minor inconvenience, as one student, D-lindele, wrote on his LiveJournal blog, : “That was nothing compared with what happened next. The journalism students were shocked to learn that the ‘students’ at the meeting with the president would really be dozens of activists from Nashi and other similar organizations.”

But the author was mistaken. In fact, there were about 30 students from the journalism department — about one-tenth of the audience. Only the most trustworthy students were invited, including the attractive girls whose half-nude photographs graced a calendar made for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s birthday last year. Other less-trusted journalism students were only allowed to greet the president when he entered the hall and went up the stairs.

In a video on YouTube showing the meet-and-greet episode, you can see an unidentified student about a meter from Medvedev holding up a hand-made sign the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Then security guards close in on him, and he disappears behind their backs.

That wasn’t the only protest that the president chose to ignore. Student Igor_malinin wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “Just then a group of enterprising guys held up oppositional signs, like ‘Press isn’t from the word oppress’ and ‘Why do you tweet while Khodorkovsky rots in jail?’ Right now they’ve been detained by the Federal Guard Service and are being held in the auditorium.’

Three female students were detained for protesting by the entrance to the building and spent several hours in a police precinct. Altogether, seven journalism students were detained. Typically, the detention of protesters was not mentioned in any of the television news reports.

Budur, a blogger from the journalism department, wrote: “Citizen Medvedev humiliated and insulted the dignity of seven members of our community. The seven did not organize a rally or do anything against the law or against university bylaws. They were just doing their civic duty. This is the first time since the 1930s that people were arrested right on the campus of the university.”

After the meeting, one of the journalists managed to ask Medvedev what happened to the students who had been detained. “Is someone being detained some place?” Medvedev asked. Apparently he was the only one who didn’t know.

And that evening, Medvedev sent out a cheery tweet on Twitter: “The meeting at the journalism department was good. I see that everyone had a good time. Thanks for the comments. Sweet dreams.”

Perhaps Medvedev actually thinks that a staged event with a paramilitary security operation during which protesters were arrested in his presence was a “good meeting.” And perhaps he thinks that it was held with full respect for the law and everyone’s civil rights. Or perhaps he thinks that the most important aspect of the event was that everyone had a good time.

If so, it shows how little he understands the country that he is ruling, where an increasing number of people have a completely different notion of civil rights than Medvedev and his security advisers. And eventually they will find a way to make the authorities play by their rules in politics.

In the meantime, sweet dreams, Mr. President.

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Olga Kuzmenko and Vera Kichanova, two of the Moscow State University students detained before President Medvedev’s speech in October, talk about the experience with MK-TV:

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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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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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Medvedev to Obama: “You have carried out vital social reforms”

Now we get it…

Dear Barack, you have reached this milestone in your life with a great store of professional and personal achievements. […] Despite the serious global challenges and political risks faced during your term in office, you have successfully carried out vital financial and social reforms for the benefit of the United States and its future. You have set new benchmarks in foreign policy and vividly demonstrated how to “listen and hear” and successfully tackle even the most complex issues. (“Medvedev greets Obama on 50th birthday,” ITAR-TASS)

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Khimki One Year Later

Khimki One Year Later: July 28, 2010 – July 28, 2011

July 28 marked a year to the day since the famous demonstration in Khimki during which 300-400 young anarchists and antifascists from Moscow and the Moscow Region marched from the train station to the Khimki town hall (to the applause of local residents), where they set off smoke grenades, pelted the building with stones, and spray-painted several slogans on its walls.

It was a protest not only against the blatant clear-cutting of the free Khimki Forest to make way for a Moscow-Petersburg paid highway of dubious worth, but also against the methods the woodcutters employed to shield their actions from public protest. Environmentalists who tried to get in the way of the construction equipment were dispersed not only by police but also by masked soccer hooligans. When their masks slipped off, the protesters recognized several of them as ultra-rightists.

The demonstration was spontaneous: it was held instead of a concert by two Moscow hardcore groups. During the demonstration, Pyotr Silayev, the singer for one of these groups, Proverochnaya Lineika, encouraged the demonstrators with chants shouted into a megaphone. The megaphone is one of Silyaev’s traditional “musical instruments”; you can find old videos on the Web where it is clear that he is shouting his fight songs into a megaphone: “It’s time to take the consequences for your culture! It’s time to take the consequences!”

Pyotr has been taking the consequences ever since: after managing to flee the country the day after the demonstration, he has spent time as a homeless vagrant in Western Europe, a squatter occupying abandoned dwellings, and a prisoner in a Polish camp for illegal immigrants. He is now applying for political asylum in a country neighboring Russia.

Another of the “defendants,” Muscovite Denis Solopov, an antifascist activist, artist (the first exhibitions of his paintings took place recently in Kyiv and Moscow), and a jeweler by training, was held in Lukyanovsky Prison, Kyiv’s notorious pre-trial detention facility, from March 2 to July 13 of this year. During this time he managed to catch pneumonia and spent Victory Day, May 9, in solitary confinement. Denis was meanly arrested outside the offices of the Kyiv Migration Service, which had rejected his asylum request. The fact that at the time he had already been recognized as UN mandate refugee and that this status had been confirmed by the Kyiv office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, did not stop the Ukrainian jailers: they had in hand a request to extradite Denis to the Russian Federation. However, all the protests actions organized by comrades in Kyiv, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and other cities were not in vain: on July 28, 2011, Denis Solopov left Ukraine and went further into exile, traveling to a third country [the Netherlands] which had agreed to admit him as a political refugee.

Two more participants in the Khimki demonstration heard the Khimki city court’s verdict in late June. Alexei Gaskarov, a correspondent for the web site www.ikd.ru (the Institute for Collective Action has specialized in coverage and analysis of social protests in Russia for nearly seven years, and Alexei has worked for them most of that time), was acquitted, while Maxim Solopov, a student at the Russian State University for the Humanities, was given a two years of probation. It was a surprising decision, considering that one and the same witnesses gave contradictory testimony against both of them, and that the defense had challenged claims that these witnesses had actually been in Khimki during the demonstration.

This largely “vegetarian” sentence was preceded by the stint Alexei and Maxim spent in the Mozhaisk Pre-Trial Detention Facility during the first phase of the preliminary investigation (from late July to mid-October 2010), as well as a vigorous public campaign for their release. Thus, during the first international action days on their behalf (September 17-20, 2010), thirty-six protest actions were held in thirty-two cities in twelve countries in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as in North America. Protests also took place in Russia, Siberia, and Ukraine, of course. The Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages managed in a short time to mobilize not only people in Moscow, Petersburg, and Kyiv in support of the young Russian activists, but also people in Krakow, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, London, and Berlin. In Athens and New York, protests for the release of Alexei and Maxim took place on two occasions in late September.

Political refugees from Moscow who (unlike Denis Solopov and Pyotr Silayev) have not made official asylum requests, continue to take the consequences for the Khimki demonstration, as well as for their protest culture, including the stones, smoke grenades, and spray-paint cans. They have dispersed to various cities and countries. They have not seen friends and relatives for a year now, and they are still afraid to return home. They were forced to flee Moscow a campaign of mass intimidation unprecedented in recent Russian history. The campaign has focused on the youth subculture scene to which many of them belonged – the antifascist punk/hardcore community. Arrests, searches, interrogations, and beatings took place throughout most of August 2010 not only in Moscow and the Moscow Region, but also in other regional capitals, including Nizhny Novgorod and Kostroma. In Zhukovsky, a town in the Moscow Region, seventy people were arrested before a concert, while in Kostroma more than 260 people were arrested in similar circumstances. The police officers who interrogated antifascist Alexander Pakhotin promised to cut off his ear, and it took him several weeks to recover from the beating he suffered at their hands. But they haven’t left him alone even now, a year later. In early July of this year he suddenly got a phone call inviting him to report to Petrovka, 38 [Moscow police HQ], for an informal discussion. Alexander reasonably replied to the caller that he preferred to talk with police investigators only after receiving an official summons. For Moscow police investigators, however, an official summons is, apparently, something incredibly difficult. It’s probably easier for them to hunt down and beat up obstinate witnesses – which is exactly what happened to Alexander Pakhotin.

Further evidence of the secret police’s abiding interest in the people who took part in last year’s Khimki demonstration is the canard that circulated in the Russian media in late June: Pyotr Silayev had allegedly been arrested in Brussels by Interpol at the request of Russian law enforcement authorities. Antifascists quickly refuted this lie: at the time, Pyotr was fishing, and he was not in Brussels. Apparently, the authorities were trying their best to patch up their reputation after losing the casing against Gaskarov and Solopov in the Khimki court.

And all this time the saga of the Khimki Forest per se has continued. There was last year’s big demonstration on Pushkin Square [in Moscow] with headliners music critic Artemy Troitsky, rock musician Yuri Shevchuk, and Maria Lyubicheva, lead singer for the popular group Barto. Then was there the temporary halt to the logging of the forest. This was followed by a vicious musical parody of the activists by a musician [Sergei Shnurov] who had been previously seemed like a member of the “alternative scene,” but now turned out to be singing almost with the voice of the Ministry of Truth. There was wintertime tree-hugging and springtime subbotniks. And finally, there was Russian president’s meeting with public figures and his announcement that the highway would go through the forest after all. Subsequently, we’ve witnessed the Anti-Seliger forum, to which two of every species of oppositional beast came (where were all of them during the constant demos and clashes in Khimki?), and their using the misfortune of the Khimkians to grandstand in the run-up to the 2011-2012 election season. Finally, there is the tent camp set up by the Rainbow Keepers and other eco-anarchists, which opened on July 27, 2011, the eve of the first anniversary of the famous demonstration.

What has this past year shown us? That in our country, any project, even one that is obviously directed against society, will be forced through all the same if big money and the authorities back it. That there is still no control over criminalized local authorities: not only have none of the officials mixed up in dubious affairs been put on trial, but none have even been fired. That the power of social solidarity still counts for something: if it cannot stop harmful projects, it can at least defend activists who have fallen captive to the penal system and get people out of jail. That radical political action (of which last year’s demonstration was an instance) is quite effective at drawing attention to acute problems, but that it must be effectively deployed and backed up with infrastructure, however informal; otherwise, the emotional, political, and physical toll on the movement will be too high and may jeopardize its very existence. This, perhaps, is the most important lesson for the social movement, but it bears repeating. As you know, in our country, even if you have brains and talent, it takes a huge effort to roast your enemy over the fire. For if you relax for just a second, lo and behold, he’s already roasting you over the fire. But there is hope, and the future still hasn’t been written.

 —Vlad Tupikin
July 27-31, 2011

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