Tag Archives: Putinism

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

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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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The Coming Russian Nationalist Theocracy (Part 2)

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Photos taken at a performance by the Young Zilovets Children’s Folk Dance Ensemble in honor of Defender of the Fatherland Day, February 23, 2009

Thanks to Comrade Fyodor for the heads-up.

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The Coming Russian Nationalist Theocracy

Rumata feels alarmed, as the kingdom is rapidly morphing into a fascist police state.

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ruskline.ru

On March 5, Varya Strizhak’s video “The Imperial Spirit, or, God Save the Tsar!” had its premiere.

Varya Strizak’s video “The Imperial Spirit, or, God Save the Tsar!” had its premiere yesterday, March 5. According to the songstress’s official biography, “Varvara Strizhak was born in Saint Petersburg on December 25, 1999. She is a schoolgirl studying in the seventh form at grammar school. Recording songs and shooting videos is just a hobby, without any pretenses.” We offer readers the video and lyrics to Varya Strizhak’s song “The Imperial Spirit, or, God Save the Tsar!”



Anthem of the Russian Empire (1833–1917)
Words: Vasily Zhukovsky
Music: Alexei Lvov
Words: Vladimir Shemchushenko
Music: Mikhail Chertyshev

1st Verse
The empire cannot die!
I know that the soul does not die.
From one end to another, the empire
Lives, truncated by a third.

1st Refrain
God, protect the Tsar!
Strong and majestic,
Reign for glory,
For our glory!

2nd Verse
A rebellious people’s will and peace
And happiness are mourned.
But my sorrow is of a different kind.
It is consonant with Pushkin’s line.

2nd Refrain
God, protect the Tsar!
Strong and majestic,
Reign for glory,
For our glory!
Reign to foes’ fear,
Orthodox Tsar.
God, protect the Tsar!

3rd Verse
Let the chain clank! Let once again the whip whistle
Over those who are against nature!
The imperial spirit is ineradicable in the people.
The empire cannot die!



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Teenaged Russian imperialist Varya Strizhak (far left) and friends (source)


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Boris Vyshnevsky
The Secular State Is Canceled
Novaya Gazeta
April 10, 2013

The State Duma has passed in the first reading a bill introducing criminal liability for “insulting religious feelings and beliefs.”

It passed the bill despite the harsh criticism it faced from experts, lawyers, and human rights activists when it was introduced six months ago, despite the president’s instructions to improve the bill after an expanded meeting of the Human Rights Council, and despite an alternative bill, drafted by the Council’s legal staff.

The bill voted on by the Duma was exactly the same version that Novaya Gazeta analyzed in its November 6, 2012, issue. It can rightly be seen as contradicting four articles of the Russian Federation Constitution, namely, Article 14 (on the secular state), Article 19 (equality of rights regardless of one’s beliefs and attitudes to religion), Article 28 (freedom of conscience, freedom of choice, and the promotion of religious and other beliefs) and Article 29 (freedom of thought and speech).

There is no doubt that even if the law is upheld in the Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights will reduce it to smithereens, because the relevant PACE resolutions clearly state that freedom of expression cannot and should not be restricted “to meet increasing sensitivities of certain religious groups” or “out of deference to certain dogmas or the beliefs of a particular religious community.”

In fact, restriction of such freedom is the bill’s main goal. One of its authors, United Russia MP Alexander Remezkov, declared this outright in the Duma, saying we “need effective legal instruments against blasphemers, scorners, and sacrilegers.” What kind of “secular state” can there be after such laws are passed?

In a secular state, laws may not contain such terms such as “blasphemy” and “sacrilege.” Blasphemy, if we accurately unpack the term, means insulting a god. Dear legislators, do you acknowledge that gods actually exist? And that the clergy are their legal representatives, authorized to decide what exactly offends their clients and to what degree? What century is this?

If the bill is passed into law, for “publicly insulting the religious feelings and beliefs of citizens, [and] debasing worship services and other religious rituals” you can be imprisoned for up to three years. How many times has the world been told one cannot “insult” someone’s feelings or beliefs! Feelings are an emotional response to one’s environment, while beliefs are conscious positions. They cannot be “insulted”: such “insults” are not objectively verifiable, and therefore they cannot be prohibited, and no one can be punished for violating such a prohibition.

Who will establish in court that someone’s feelings have been “insulted,” and how will they do this? It is impossible to rely solely on the opinion of the “insulted” party, whom nothing will prevent from being “insulted” by anything whatsoever, including the existence in the world of religions other than the one he professes. Finally, it is completely impossible to “insult” or “debase” worship services or religious practices, since they are altogether inanimate things.

What the bill, if passed, will mean in practice is clear: sanctioned persecution of any criticism of any religion and the relevant clerical authorities, who love teaching others “spirituality” and “morality.” I wonder whether people will be punished for reading Russian folk tales, which feature greedy priests and stupid sextons? Or for repeating sayings like “like priest, like parish” or “force a fool to pray to God” [i.e., “give someone enough rope”]?

This, of course, might seem ridiculous, but will soon be no laughing matter: essentially, a ban is being introduced banning the promotion of atheist views and the expression of such opinions as unacceptable to the newest group of permanently “insulted believers.” On the other hand, for burning books they do not like, something a group of Orthodox zealots did a month ago outside the offices of the Yabloko party, believers are not threatened by this law. Just like the scoundrel with the title of professor who publicly called atheists “sick animals that should be cured”: the feelings of non-believers are not subject to protection. After all, despite the fact that Article 19 of the Constitution stipulates the equality of rights and freedoms of man and citizen, regardless of one’s belief and attitudes toward religion, the bill puts believers in a privileged position vis-à-vis non-believers, introducing special protection for their feelings and beliefs.

All these things cannot exist in a secular state on principle, and the shameful law on its way to passage by the State Duma should be understood as overturning this constitutional principle.

However, we are moving down this road step by step. Its milestones include bans on exhibitions or performances that don’t catch the fancy of religious fanatics. And the ceremonial consecration of tap water. And requirements to teach creationism in schools alongside evolutionary theory. And the creation of a Department of Orthodox Culture at the Strategic Missile Forces Academy. And the adoption of laws for the punishment of “promotion of homosexuality,” based on quotations from the Old Testament and curses against “sodomites” and “perverts.” And, contrary to law, the obligatory introduction in schools of the subject known as “Orthodox culture” (as was said at the school my youngest son attends, “as recommended by the Patriarch”). And “Orthodox banner bearers,” “people’s councils,” “Cossacks,” and other characters, more reminiscent of the gray storm troopers from the novel Hard to Be a God.

Do you remember how the book ends? “Wherever Graydom triumphs, the blackbirds will always seize power.”

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“I offend your religious feelings.” Graffiti on wall.
Printer Grigoriyev Street, 1, Petrograd. November 25, 2012. Photo by Chtodelat News

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Feminism is a “very dangerous” phenomenon that could lead to the destruction of Russia, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has said.

“I consider this phenomenon called feminism very dangerous, because feminist organisations proclaim the pseudo-freedom of women, which, in the first place, must appear outside of marriage and outside of the family,” said Patriarch Kirill, according to the Interfax news agency.

“Man has his gaze turned outward – he must work, make money – and woman must be focused inwards, where her children are, where her home is,” Kirill said. “If this incredibly important function of women is destroyed then everything will be destroyed – the family and, if you wish, the motherland.”

“It’s not for nothing that we call Russia the motherland,” he said. . . .

source: www.guardian.co.uk

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Kremlin Backs Law Protecting Religious Sentiment – Spokesman

ULAN-UDE, April 11 (RIA Novosti) – The Kremlin favors the idea of adopting a law protecting the religious feelings of Russian citizens, the Russian presidential spokesman said Thursday.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, passed the bill in the first reading on Tuesday.

“The Kremlin supports the idea of the law, and the wording of the law is up to the lawyers,” Dmitry Peskov said. “The law is very difficult to enforce but it is absolutely essential in this multi-national and multi-confessional country,” he said.

Peskov failed to answer a journalist’s question on how a person could be punished in Russia for desecrating a holy site, saying “this is a judicial practice issue.”

The first deputy of the State Duma Committee on Affairs of Public Associations and Religious Organizations, Mikhail Markelov, said some 80 percent of Russians support the law, according to an opinion poll.

Under the draft document, those who offend religious feelings at church services and ceremonies face up to three years in jail, fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,700) or 200 hours of compulsory community service.

Those Russians who insult religious feelings at holy sites face up to five years in jail, fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,500) or 400 hours of compulsory community service, the document says.

The bill was submitted for consideration in the State Duma in September 2012. The idea of introducing punishment for offending religious feelings came after members of the female band Pussy Riot performed an anti-Kremlin “punk prayer” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral last February.

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Editor’s Note. This posting was updated on April 13, 2013.

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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”

[…]

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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