Tag Archives: Valentina Matviyenko

The Campaign against Petersburg’s Proposed Homophobic Law

Breaking News: Interfax, Gazeta.Ru and other sources are now reporting that during its session today (November 23), the Petersburg Legislative Assembly has decided to postpone indefinitely the second reading of its draft law banning the “promotion of homosexuality.” United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov, the bill’s author, is quoted as saying that the postponement was necessary in order to “clarify all the legal definitions involved in this law.”

The Mariinsky Palace, home of the legislative assembly, was picketed this morning by several dozen LGBT activists and their supporters.

It’s clear that the spirited fightback by local activists and the extremely negative publicity the proposed bill has generated in the international press and international public opinion have begun to sway minds in the legislative assembly.

Help activists keep up the pressure by:

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Amnesty International Slams Gay Law
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
November 23, 2011

A protester holds a sign Sunday reading ‘I’m a lesbian. A person, not propaganda.’ Photo: Sergey Chernov

The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly is encountering increased criticism from within Russia and abroad as it gets ready to pass United Russia’s anti-gay law in a second reading. Meanwhile, Russian officials are talking about expanding the anti-“gay propaganda” law proposed by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev’s party to the entire nation.

Amnesty International, which condemned the draft law as “draconian,” warned that the measure will rule out nearly all public events carried out by or on behalf of LGBT people and organizations and their reaching out to the media and the Internet, severely curtailing the publication of anything relating to LGBT rights or providing assistance or advice.

“This bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city,” Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duckworth said in a statement Friday.

“The notion that [LGBT] rights activists are somehow converting Russia’s youth through ‘propaganda’ would be laughable if the potential effects of this new law weren’t so dangerous and wide-reaching… Instead of seeking to restrict freedom of expression and assembly for [LGBT] people, the Russian authorities should be doing more to safeguard their rights and protect them from discrimination and violence.”

Earlier, the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights addressed the Legislative Assembly in an open letter, reminding it that Russia is party to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which make clear that the freedom to receive and impart information cannot be limited, except under the ambit of public order.

“We’re getting great behind-the-scenes support, with certain [European] deputies and ministers calling the Legislative Assembly’s deputies and [its United Russia chair Vadim] Tyulpanov and speaking to them,” said Igor Kochetkov, director of the LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out).

“Sometimes even we don’t know who exactly is calling, but we know that it’s happening.”

The All Out web site launched a petition against the bill Monday. It had been signed by 115,345 people around the world by Tuesday evening. [Editor’s Note. On Wednesday morning, it had been signed by 157,265 people.]

On Saturday, LGBT activists seized the podium of a forum for NGOs from Northern Europe and Russia, whose priority topics were equality, tolerance and gender equality. Local officials spoke about the tolerance program and human rights protection in the city.

Kochetkov, who managed to get hold of the microphone between the speeches, urged the forum to draft a resolution on the issue, and the forum’s international participants to inform their governments about gross violations of human rights in Russia.

Activists in the audience had posters, one of which read “Tolerance is for society, not only for international forums!”

The draft law, which was introduced by the chair of the Legislative Assembly’s legislation committee and United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov on Nov. 11, was passed by the Legislative Assembly almost unanimously in its first hearing on Nov. 16.

Thirty seven deputies voted for the law, one against and one abstained.

The second hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 23. The bill will become a law when it has passed three hearings and is signed by the governor.

In the past week, the bill was backed by a federal official and a number of Moscow deputies who suggested a similar draft law might be introduced in Moscow as well.

Valentina Matviyenko, Chair of the Federation Council and former St. Petersburg Governor, supported the bill when speaking in the Ryazan Oblast on Thursday, adding it might be expanded throughout the whole of Russia.

“If I were a member of the Legislative Assembly, I would support this bill, because no one has the right to involve a child in things like that,” Matviyenko was quoted as saying.

“And everything that destroys the mind and health of a child, a minor — all this should be strictly blocked. If this law has a positive effect, then we can consider expanding it to the national level.”

Natalya Yevdokimova and Ksenia Vakhrusheva of the Yabloko Democratic Party see the bill as a populist pre-election stunt by United Russia as polls show the party rapidly losing popularity.

Alexander Vinnikov of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council sees the bill as more than just a pre-election stunt.

Drawing comparison to anti-gay legislation in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that adopted laws punishing homosexuals in the 1930s, Vinnikov explained the bill as an attempt at consolidating society on the foundation of hatred toward a minority.

“Every totalitarian regime started from persecuting gays. I urge the public to condemn this bill as a drift toward totalitarianism,” he said Tuesday.

As public protests in St. Petersburg continued, the activists encountered arrests and violence. Two activists were detained outside the Legislative Assembly on Nov. 16 and charged with holding an unauthorized rally.

On Sunday, after the largest rally against the bill held so far, which took place on Palace Square near the Winter Palace, several supporters were beaten by young men wearing black coats and hoods. The rally consisted of a dozen activists standing with posters, while about 150 supported them with applause.

A group of social workers were assaulted soon after the rally as they walked near the Moika River, close to Palace Square. Six to eight attackers charged them, punching and kicking them, activists said.

The attack left a young Russian woman with a bruised face, another with a cut lip, and one German man with a broken tooth, according to Vykhod’s press officer Gulya Sultanova.

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http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/russia-st-petersburg-urged-to-halt-draconian-anti-gay-bill
November 18, 2011
Russia: St. Petersburg urged to halt draconian anti-gay bill

Amnesty International today urged authorities in Russia’s second largest city not to enact a homophobic bill, saying it would threaten freedom of expression and fuel discrimination against the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

The bill, which St. Petersburg’s city assembly passed nearly unanimously on the first of three readings on Wednesday, effectively bans public events by LGBTI people and organizations under the pretext of protecting minors.

If enacted, the law would allow authorities to impose fines of up to the equivalent of US$1,600 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.”

“This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.

“The notion that LGBTI rights activists are somehow converting Russia’s youth through ‘propaganda’ would be laughable, if the potential effects of this new law weren’t so dangerous and wide-reaching.”

Local LGBTI rights activists have blasted the law, saying it will provide legal cover for banning any of their actions, including the distribution of information leaflets or even actions against homophobia.

Under the measure, freedom of assembly and expression for LGBTI groups would be prohibited anywhere children might be present. This would rule out nearly all public events carried out by or on behalf of LGBTI people and organizations.

The publication of anything relating to LGBTI rights or providing assistance or advice – including informative leaflets as well as publications in the media and on the internet – would also be severely curtailed.

Other Russian cities like Moscow have planned legislation to ban “propaganda for homosexuality”, while Arkhangelsk and the region of Riazan have already introduced such legislation.

Although consensual same-sex activity was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, LGBTI people still face widespread discrimination and violence.

LGBTI activists’ attempts to organize Pride marches, cultural festivals and other events in major cities, including St. Petersburg, have frequently been met with official red tape and violence from anti-gay groups, among them people associating themselves with the Orthodox Church. Violent attacks against LGBTI activists often go unpunished.

“Legislation like that proposed in St. Petersburg will only further marginalize LGBTI people, and must be stopped,” said Nicola Duckworth.

“Instead of seeking to restrict freedom of expression and assembly for LGBTI people, Russian authorities should be doing more to safeguard their rights and protect them from discrimination and violence.”

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Filed under activism, feminism, gay rights, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, racism, nationalism, fascism, Russian society

The Storming of the Aurora

Power to the people
One of the people to ‘storm’ the Avrora last month discusses the message behind the stunt.
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
November 9, 2011

Yevgeny Schyotov recently spent seven hours on the mast of the Cruiser Avrora — one of St. Petersburg’s main tourist attractions and an iconic Soviet symbol — and 10 days in prison in the name of art and revolution.

Better known as Flor, Schyotov is a member of Narodnaya Dolya (The People’s Share), a new anarchist art group calling itself a party, which occupied the cruiser, now a museum, to protest against poverty, corrupt authorities and oligarchs.

While three activists climbed up a mast using mountaineering equipment to unfold a modified Jolly Roger (the logo of The People’s Share) and another fired a large firework from the Avrora’s cannon, (which in October 1917 fired a blank shot to signify the start of the Bolshevik Revolution), the anarchist movement Food Not Bombs distributed free vegan food to the homeless onshore.

Called “Memorable October, or the Resurrection of the Avrora,” the event took place on Oct. 16 to mark the International Day to Eradicate Poverty.

Television reports and videos show Avrora’s crew — consisting of naval conscripts — attacking the activists and trying to knock them off the mast with two high-pressure water hoses.

“The nozzle on one of the pressure hoses came free and the conscript operating it got water all over himself; they also sprayed some casual visitors,” Flor said.

“It looked ridiculous; they did a great job of adding more absurdity to what was happening.”

Flor, who was on the mast with two other activists, said they climbed down to be arrested seven hours later, after their demand was met that activists being held by sailors in the ship’s hold be brought out where they could be seen. Efforts by the crew, OMON special task police, a team from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and river police to talk the activists down from the mast proved futile, he said.

The police arrested 15 activists out of about 40, but two of them escaped from the police precinct, so only 13 ended up in court. Flor was sentenced to 10 days in prison, while three other activists were given five days each. Several others were fined and the rest had their hearings postponed due to the lack of a lawyer.

“The hearings were postponed to Oct. 20, but as far as I know, none of the activists turned up,” Flor said.

The police, who charged the activists with disorderly conduct, wrote in their reports that those arrested had been swearing and swinging their arms and refused to react to reprimands. Flor says he contested the charges but was overruled by the judge, who he believes was pressured to find the activists guilty.

One of the Avrora event’s more obvious references was to an infamous party held on the historic ship — which officially belongs to the Navy and is a branch of the Central Naval Museum — by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and attended by then St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2009.

Described by the media as “debauchery,” the glamorous party was attended by the forum’s VIP guests, who were entertained by performances from Leningrad frontman Sergei Shnurov, ballet dancers and suit-clad actors who jumped into the waters of the River Neva.

“We considered jumping into the water, but couldn’t get wetsuits due to a lack of funds,” Flor said. “We could only use the little money that we had.”

Before the Avrora event, Flor was known as a member of the Affinity Group, which was originally created to hold a May Day anarchist event as part of the official May 1, 2009 demos, which were broken up by the police, who arrested nearly 200 participants and charged them with crossing the road in the wrong place.

Flor was later seen participating in an artists’ hunger strike near City Hall calling for the release of imprisoned Novosibirsk anarchist artist Artyom Loskutov, and in a series of art exhibitions focusing on police lawlessness. More recently, he was involved in vandalizing “Media Strike,” an exhibit of protest art set up as part of the 4th Biennale of Contemporary Art in Moscow in September.

“We essentially buried the Affinity Group by vandalizing the Biennale’s opening in Moscow,” he says.

“[The exhibit] was ridiculous and idiotic, so we wrecked and ruined everything, and I think that the Affinity Group will never be invited anywhere again. The exhibit was absurd; you can’t institutionalize protest, which they were doing, with such a number of state sponsors.

“They threatened to call the police, and it’s a pity they didn’t, because it would have been the apotheosis of the absurd: To display art that opposes the law, and call the police at the same time! So it was the conclusion of a project that had grown rather institutionalized itself, to a certain degree.”

Forming the People’s Share as a party was an attempt to break out of the limitations of a small art group, according to Flor.

“In activist art, it’s activism that should be at the forefront, rather than art; it should draw attention to social problems,” he says.

“There are too many art groups that have become institutionalized, and I don’t think this is right.”

The People’s Share party was formed at a congress in Moscow on Sept. 1 and held its first event the same day, bringing six live piglets to the Ministry of Education as protest against educational reform. The piglets had the names of state corporations such as Gazprom, Aeroflot and Sberbank written on their backs.

“[The piglets] defecated all over the place, and got a lot of coverage, so that the Minister of Education [Andrei] Fursenko had to comment on the event,” Flor says.

The group’s name is a reference to Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will, or The People’s Freedom), the late 19th-century illegal revolutionary organization responsible for killing Tsar Alexander II with a bomb on March 1, 1881, and for a series of other attacks and assassinations of state officials. Five members of the People’s Will were hanged and many imprisoned.

The logo of The People’s Share is a skull and bones, but the skull has its frontal lobe removed, while the motto calls for the people’s freedom from tyrants and for the people to get their share of oil and gas profits.

“The flag with our logo was mistaken for the Jolly Roger, but we didn’t even try to point that out, because the aspect of piracy was also apparent in the Avrora event,” Flor says.

The activists also hung a sign with the word “Restoration” on it as a comment on the changed political situation, after President Dmitry Medvedev announced in late September that he would not run for presidency in 2012 and invited Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to return to the post.

“Of course, Putin helped us a lot, because Medvedev declared modernization, but Putin forced him to drop his claims to the presidency,” Flor says.

“The modernization epoch has ended and been substituted by the post-modernization epoch. Real postmodern!”

According to Flor, the media reaction to the Avrora event surpassed the group’s expectations.

“I didn’t expect that we would be shown on Channel One,” he says.

NTV Television’s report showed St. Petersburg police chief Mikhail Sukhodolsky criticizing the activists, saying that while they were fighting “for freedom and rights, the rights of other citizens who wanted to visit the Avrora were infringed.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In reality, the group boarded the Avrora several minutes before entrance to the ship closes at 4 p.m., Flor said. “They also claimed that the Avrora lost money, which is also not true, because entrance is free.”

Although many media reports described the activists as “hooligans,” Flor says that exposure probably made people read the group’s original materials on the Internet, adding that a blog entry about the event made No. 4 in a Russian blog rating last week.

“Even policemen say that television lies, so people should want to have independent information,” he says.

“We described in great detail how drastically living standards have dropped in Russia, while the number of billionaires has increased. People understand this on the level of class feelings, but exact figures are seldom available.”

While preparing for the event, the activists agreed not to use violence, which, Flor says, they later regretted, because the sailors behaved aggressively, attacking and beating activists.

“One activist tried to defend himself with a large plush cat,” Flor said. “We tried to bring the situation to the totally absurd. Our speaker wore a black ski-mask — like an aggressive radical — but with a red pompom.”

The detention center Flor was put in was, symbolically, a 19th-century political prison on Zakharievskaya Ulitsa, where Vladimir Lenin and members of the People’s Will were once held.

“On the first day, the guards who were on duty called me in and said, ‘Tell us how it was in reality, because we know that what they are reporting on television is all lies,’ so I spent the whole day giving political classes to them,” Flor said.

Flor believes that the authorities and oligarchs may underestimate the people’s potential.

“The Russian people keep silent and endure as they are bent further and further, but when they find themselves with their faces in the dirt completely, they will snap up all of a sudden,” he says.

“In January 1917, Lenin said that only the youth of that era would live to see the coming revolution. He couldn’t even imagine what would happen in February.”

While the People’s Will made bombs, the new art group works with the media and information, Flor said.

“I am not going to get involved in terrorism of any sort, except for the informational kind. In our times, bombs are different. There’s no point in blowing up anybody. We should blow up information space; it’s more effective.”

On Monday, Interfax reported that individual visitors were temporarily unable to visit the Avrora, which was only open to guided groups. The restrictions were explained as being “winter measures.”

Photos by Sergey Chernov and The People’s Share.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Sergey Chernov.

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

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

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

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

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

— Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

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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.

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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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“Noblesse Oblige” as a Wrecking Ball (Paradny Kvartal, Petersburg)

Legality of Demolition of Historic Barracks Contested
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
May 11, 2011 (Issue # 1655)

Another planning controversy is developing in the city, as more historic buildings in the center were demolished last week to make way for luxury apartment and office buildings.

Built by architect Fyodor Volkov in the early 19th century, the demolished buildings on the corner of Paradnaya Ulitsa and Vilensky Pereulok are known as the Preobrazhensky Regiment’s Barracks and used to house one of the Russian army’s oldest regiments, formed by Peter the Great in the late 17th century.

Following a public outcry, Governor Valentina Matviyenko ordered an internal investigation into the legality of a construction permit issued by the St. Petersburg State Construction Supervision and Expertise Service (Gosstroinadzor). The agency is subordinated directly to Matviyenko.

Matviyenko’s orders were based on a memorandum sent to her by City Hall’s Heritage Protection Committee (KGIOP) after the last building was demolished on May 3.

Yulia Minutina, a coordinator of preservationist group Living City, said that Gosstroinadzor issued the construction permit that contradicted the protected zones law.

The local press suggested that the investigation may result in the dismissal of Gosstroinadzor’s head Alexander Ort. Preservationists and public figures such as film director Alexander Sokurov asked Matviyenko to dismiss Ort in a petition in January.

The developer failed to show the demolition permit, according to Minutina.

“Demolition is a separate type of work that requires a separate permit,” Minutina said Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, it was not presented to us, nor have they seen it at the KGIOP and I’m not sure it ever existed. Of course this is a violation.”

“Besides, buildings in the center can only be demolished if they are in a poor condition, but we haven’t seen any document stating that the building was in a poor state and impossible to restore either.”

Minutina said the demolition was one of the issues the preservationists are planning to raise during a planned meeting with Matviyenko on Thursday.

While the last building was being destroyed during the May Day holidays, the authorities did not react to the appeals of concerned residents. At the same time, police reportedly harassed activists who picketed the demolition site, rather than checking whether the developer had the necessary permits.

“We waited for two hours for the police to arrive,” Living City’s Pyotr Zabirokhin said.

“But instead of stopping the demolition, they started checking our passports, copying our placards into their notebooks and threatening to disperse us if we didn’t go away.”

St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Deputy Sergei Malkov has written a complaint regarding the police actions to the St. Petersburg police chief Vladislav Piotrovsky.

The tactic of demolishing historic buildings during public holidays was recently used when a large portion of the 19th-century Literary House was destroyed on Nevsky Prospekt during the Russian Christmas holidays in January, Zabirokhin pointed out.

“It has turned into a bad tradition that not entirely legal cases of demolition start during or just before holidays, when people are not ready to get mobilized quickly, and while officials are on holiday and nobody can be reached,” he said.

According to the project’s web site, the area previously occupied by the Preobrazhensky Regiment Barracks will be home to an “exclusive” Paradny Kvartal, an isolated “mini city” of 16 office and residential buildings.

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“The true adornment of the quarter’s center will be a square with a fountain, comparable in size with that in front of the Kazan Cathedral,” the web site said.

However, apparently as a result of the controversy, the site was no longer available on Tuesday, redirecting to the web site of the developer, Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga. The original site can be viewed as files cached in Google.

Anna Mironovskaya, the marketing director of Vozrozhdeniye Peterburga, a subsidiary of the LSR Group, said Tuesday her company was only a sub-investor and was not in charge of legal matters and permits, citing the Ministry of Defense as the project’s developer and the Pyotr Veliky Construction Company as the commissioner.

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http://paradny.ru/questions/

— Who acquires real estate in Paradny Kvartal?

One of the main advantages of Paradny Kvartal is the social homogeneity of [one’s neighbors]. Our buyers are people of high social status. That is why we will be able to create “our own world” in which it will be pleasant and comfortable to live.

[…]

— What does the phrase “noblesse oblige,” which is frequently applied to Paradny Kvartal, mean?

The well-known phrase has rightly become not just the slogan but the authentic motto of Paradny Kvartal. It translates as “[one’s] station obliges [one].” For in Paradny Kvartal each detail underscores the project’s elitism, its exclusivity.

_____

Photos courtesy of Zaks.Ru and Chto Delat.

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May Day: The Missing Stanza (Saint Petersburg)

May Day: The Missing Stanza

Directed by S. Krainykhvzlgliadov and Eugene Nevermind; voiceover texts by the directors and Bertolt Brecht

Who? The [May Day] column organized by the Center for Workers’ Mutual Aid (TsVR)

Today is May 1, 2011. The place: Petersburg.

TsVR’s column has been given a permit [to march] by the authorities. The groups planning to march in this column include trade unionists, the Rubezh union [of co-op garage owners], Novoprof [a newly formed trade unions association], organizations protesting the eviction of residents from [former factory and workers’] dormitories, the Petersburg Parents organization and school teachers, as well as university students and instructors who are in solidarity with them, leftist political groups, Autonomous Action, anarchists, the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (DSPA), and the Russian Socialist Movement.

May 1 is [officially known as] the Day of Labor and Spring, but the majority have come for a demonstration. May 1 is the only day of the year in Petersburg when it is permitted to march down the city’s central thoroughfare and voice one’s demands. All the other days of the year, the city is shut down tight against such demands. City Hall diverts protest actions to the ghetto of the bedroom districts and encircles them with metal detectors and ranks of riot police.

Activist: First, we’ve come to once again voice our civic stance. We’ve merged with TsVR’s May Day column in order to say once again to the authorities that we remember everything. We remember Parnas, and sooner or later someone will have to pay for this.

What? The police

Come here, they say.
You’re a good man.
You’re incorruptible.
But so is the lightning that strikes a house.
You don’t back down from what you said before.
But what was it that you said?
You’re honest: you say what’s on your mind.
But what’s on your mind?

Who? The oppressed

The classical Marxist definition of the state as a coercive apparatus remains true for Russia today. The police, the militia, and other [expletive deleted] are incapable of countenancing a critical stance towards the world they defend. Their argument is the billy club and superior numbers. [Russian] society has become inured to direct violence on the part of the state and right-wingers. The use of brute force has become the norm in politics. The crisis of political power and society exposes chains adorned with flowers.

Man off camera: He cannot tell me why those people were detained.
Police commander: So you’ve stopped your column and don’t want to go any further, right? So now you have to fold up your flags and disperse, or else you’ll be charged with an administrative offense.

You are bold,
But in the struggle against whom?
You are intelligent,
But whom does your intelligence serve?
You are not concerned about your own gain,
But whose gain are you concerned about?
You are a good friend,
But are you a good friend of good people?
Listen, friend!
We know you are our enemy.

Police commander: …cans of mace, paint cans, knives, and so forth – things [the law says] have to be investigated at a police precinct. […] As far as I know it was anarchists who were detained, on whom we found knives, cans of mace….
Man off camera: What sorts of knives?! Hunting knives? I also have a knife in my pocket: I always carry it.
Police commander: Well, I don’t [carry a knife].
Second man off camera: Did you search the fascists to see what they’re carrying?
Police commander: Fascists? There are no fascists here.

Who? Those who show solidarity

Activist: We have to stay here as long as possible, until a confrontation begins.
Man off camera: But what are we going to do if they took [the anarchists] away?
Activist: Let [the police] bring them back. It’s their fucking problem: they arrested part of [our] column.

Activist with megaphone: [This is] lawlessness directed against absolutely innocent people, against the participants of this demonstration. Comrades of ours who were marching in our TsVR column have just been arrested. These actions on the part of the police were not explained in any way. Therefore we are not moving this spot until our comrades and fellow marchers are released.

Forty members of our May Day demonstration have been arrested. For us, the demonstration is not a demonstration if our friends are not with us. Solidarity. So-li-da-ri-ty. It’s not a empty word for us, but rather the only means for confronting violence.

Petersburg, 2011

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Anarchists Arrested Ahead of May Day Celebrations
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
May 4, 2011

St. Petersburg authorities arrested dozens of anarchists and left-wing activists to prevent them from marching as part of the May Day demonstrations on Nevsky Prospekt on Sunday.

Spearheaded by St. Petersburg Governor and pro-Kremlin party United Russia member Valentina Matviyenko, a wide range of political parties and movements, trade unions and pressure groups took part in the demonstrations.

The main demands of the opposition in St. Petersburg were the dismissal of Matviyenko and the restoration of gubernatorial elections that were abolished by then-President Vladimir Putin in 2005.

More than 50 anarchists, including 14 minors, were approached by the police at the assembly point on Ligovsky Prospekt and arrested without any reason given, they say. Videos uploaded on anarchists’ web sites show them being dragged roughly into a police bus while trying to raise an anti-Nazi banner and shouting, “Down with the police state!”

The arrested activists were due to march as part of a column of leftist groups led by the Center for Workers’ Mutual Aid (TsVR), which had been authorized by City Hall. The other activists in the column refused to march until the anarchists were released, and remained at the gathering point, preventing columns of democrats and nationalists from moving forward for some time.

In a report on the TsVR Livejournal.com community blog, they said they stood on the spot for an hour and a half and left only when police threatened to disperse and arrest them.

According to Tatyana, an anarchist who did not wish her last name to appear in print, the arrested activists were charged with violating the regulations on holding public events and failing to obey police orders.

Later, seven more anarchists were arrested when they attempted to block the United Russia column — the largest group in the march, estimated by officials to number between 15,000 and 20,000 supporters — on Nevsky Prospekt. The police promptly dragged the anarchists away after they lay down on the ground and interlocked their arms. Later, two managed to escape from the police precinct they were taken to, while another two were sentenced to two and three days in prison, respectively.

Two years ago, more than 100 anarchists were arrested in a similar manner — despite having a permit from City Hall — before they started their May Day march, but last year they were allowed to march on Nevsky Prospekt. They moved down the street in a close group wrapped in banners, with their arms interlocked to counteract possible arrests.

Commenting on the arrests on 100 TV channel the same day, Matviyenko claimed that “every political party or group that was legal was allowed to march on Nevsky.”

Under the Soviets, people were asked to participate in marches to demonstrate their support for the state and the party either to obtain benefits or under mild threat. In modern Russia, the holiday has remained, though it has been renamed from International Workers’ Solidarity Day to Spring and Labor Day.

Although the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) was banned by Moscow City Court a week ahead of May Day, the nationalists had no problem in marching in St. Petersburg on Sunday. City Hall had authorized their demo when they applied as private citizens.

In the same television interview, Matviyenko denied that nationalists had taken part in the rallies, despite the fact that they marched on Nevsky with “imperial” Russian flags and nationalist banners.

LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) activists were not authorized to take part in the marches by City Hall. They were invited to hold a standup meeting instead in a distant park, but late last week they were told that the site would be occupied by a different event.

City Hall’s new suggestion for the LGBT group Ravnopraviye (Equality) was to hold a meeting outside the city, at a location described by an activist as a field between a forest and a lake.

Eventually, a small group of LGBT activists joined the democratic group featuring the Yabloko Democratic Party and Solidarity Democratic Movement, marching with rainbow flags and posters.

One hundred and eighty activists of The Other Russia party, twelve members of which are under criminal investigation for alleged extremism, marched with the banner “You Can’t Jail Everybody” and shouted slogans against Putin and Matviyenko. No one was arrested.

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International Leaking Roofs Day (Saint Petersburg)

ROOF LEAKS UNITE RESIDENTS
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
April 13, 2011 (Issue # 1651)

Residents, artists and anarchists united Sunday to protest the St. Petersburg authorities’ failure to deal with housing issues by celebrating the fictitious International Leaking Roofs Day in the courtyard of a 19th-century building on Kolomenskaya Ulitsa.

The celebration, which included a discussion, an outdoor art exhibition and tea party, was organized by Verkhotura art group, one of whose members, Polina Zaslavskaya, lives in the building.

“The main idea was that people should unite and organize themselves to fight the problem, rather than deal with it alone,” Zaslavskaya said.

“And we came up with this humorous form: An exhibition, to invite artists to unite and tackle the problem with their artistic means. The housing problem is a common one; it doesn’t matter what you do, the main thing is to do it all together.”

Called “Everything Leaks and Everything Abides,” the art exhibition featured satirical posters criticizing the city’s housing services for the lack of transparency and alleged corruption, as well as documenting the effects of leaking roofs — a problem that affects thousands of the city’s households.

Zaslavskaya painted a series of watercolors with titles such as “Roof Pierced By a Crowbar,” “Electrical Wiring Has Burnt Out” and “Leak in the Kitchen. A Hot Water Pipe Burst in the Attic.”

The anarchists — some of whom held a regular Food Not Bombs event nearby, distributing free vegan food to underprivileged and homeless people — provided vegan snacks and hot tea as well as background music.

According to Zaslavskaya, the date was chosen to mark the first anniversary since the roof of her building, located at 38/40 Kolomenskaya Ulitsa, first started to leak. Despite promises from St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko to fix city roofs, the leaks returned last winter.

Zaslavskaya attributes this to corruption and inefficiency. “When such housing horror occurs, when things are on the verge of catastrophe, it immediately becomes clear to everybody how everything works,” she said.

“The Housing Code was issued back in 2005, but it still doesn’t work. City Hall came up with the “St. Petersburg Roofs” program in which they replaced old roofs with new ones, but it made things even worse because they were poorly made.

“It’s an example of solidarity among thieves and completely insane corruption, because incredible amounts of money are just draining away.”

The exhibition’s title, “Everything Leaks and Everything Abides,” is a play on words on Heraclitis’ quote “Everything flows and nothing abides” (in Russian, there is one word for both “leak” and “flow”), and was used on a poster that Zaslavskaya and her friends made for a rally against leaking roofs last month.

“The residents asked us to do something like ‘Valya, Fix Our Roof,’ which was an almost supplicating tone,” she said.

“I don’t know how productive that is. Quite the opposite, I think it makes sense to say, ‘Let’s battle, let’s unite, let’s organize ourselves and take everything over.’ There should be moods like that.”

Zaslavskaya believes that outdoor art events could overcome alienation and unite people — at least the residents of a specific building.

“There are severe problems now, and they can be used to try and stir up people,” she said.

“To overcome total loneliness and isolation, because I think it’s sad.”

Photos by Sergey Chernov. They are used here with his permission.

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