Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

Marxism Today (or, The Soft Power Approach to Changing Perceptions of Russia)

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Join us for the first stage of Sarajevo-born artist Nada Prlja’s new commission Subversion to Red, a performative round-table discussion reflecting upon the relevance and application of socialist and Marxist ideals today.

Speakers include: Dave Beech, Hannah Black, Gail Day, Mark Fisher and Nina Power. Chaired by Vlad Morariu

As part of First Thursdays the gallery will be open until 9pm.

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In March 2011 the London arts foundation Calvert 22 and the Russian investment company VTB Capital have announced a strategic partnership designed to showcase cutting-edge Russian artists in London and widen the exposure of the British public to creative Russian culture as part of a wider artistic programme that presents culture from Russia, Central and Eastern Europe.

VTB Capital is positioned as Calvert 22’s primary strategic partner, providing support for the artistic vision and core activities of the organization. Calvert 22 and VTB Capital are committed to promoting global co-operation through cultural understanding. 

VTB Capital is the recognized leader in Russian investment banking, and one of the company’s key objectives is to promote Russian culture throughout the world. VTB Capital’s partnership with Calvert 22 provides a unique opportunity to engage an open dialogue with the British audience.

Working together, VTB Capital and Calvert 22 are committed to promoting and developing new possibilities for global cooperation through cross-cultural understanding and exchange by implementing an ambitious artistic programme that is part of the company’s soft power approach to the global community.

Nonna Materkova, Founder/Director of Calvert 22, comments:
“I am delighted to announce VTB Capital as our primary strategic partner and proud to be associated with such a highly regarded, trailblazing organisation. This partnership marks a truly exciting and significant new phase in Calvert 22’s development and one that will ensure the foundation continues to present the very best of contemporary Russian, Central and Eastern European art as well as supporting new artists and cultural practice from these regions so as to genuinely introduce fresh and original perspectives to the UK. We are immensely grateful for their support and look forward to working together.”

Olga Podoinitsyna, Member of the Board at VTB Capital, comments:
“Throughout the nearly 3 years of partnership between VTB Capital and Calvert 22 Foundation, we have made a considerable contribution to the showcasing of Russian art in London, and also promoting the understanding of Russia as part of the global community. We support Calvert 22 as a unique vehicle for bringing contemporary Russian culture to Britain, putting people in touch with the actual trends in the country and offering them a new perspective on Russia. Our company plays an important role in strengthening ties between the Russian and British business communities and the partnership with Calvert 22 is a key part of VTB Capital’s soft power approach to changing perceptions of Russia.

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VTB Bank (Russian: ОАО Банк ВТБ, former Vneshtorgbank) is one of the leading universal banks of Russia. VTB Bank and its subsidiaries form a leading Russian financial group – VTB Group, offering a wide range of banking services and products in Russia, CIS, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the U.S. The Group’s largest subsidiaries in Russia are VTB24, Bank of Moscow, and TransCreditBank.

VTB was ranked 236th on the FT Global 500 2011, The Financial Times’ annual snapshot of the world’s largest companies. It climbed to 82nd in the ranking of the 500 largest companies in Europe, the FT Europe 500 2011, and to 38th in the FT Emerging 500 2011, the list of the 500 largest companies on the world’s emerging markets. The Moscow-based bank is registered in St. Petersburg and came 65th in the British magazine The Banker’s Top 1000 World Banks in terms of capital in 2010.

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The main shareholder of VTB is the Russian Government, which owns 75.5% of the lender through its Federal Agency for State Property Management. The remaining shares are split between holders of its Global Depository Receipts and minority shareholders, both individuals and companies.

In February 2011, the Government floated an additional 10% minus two shares of VTB Bank. The private investors, who paid a total of 95.7 billion roubles ($3.1 billion) for the assets, included the investment funds Generali, TPG Capital, China Investment Corp, a sovereign wealth fund responsible for managing China’s foreign exchange reserves, and companies affiliated with businessman Suleiman Kerimov.

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As of September 2009, the Supervisory Council of VTB Bank consist[ed] of Alexei Kudrin (Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation), Arkady Dvorkovich (Aide to the President of the Russian Federation), Anton Drozdov (Chairman of the Management Board, Russian Pension Fund), Andrey Kostin (President and Chairman of the Management Board, JSC VTB Bank), Alexey Savatyugin (Head of Financial Policy Department of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation), Vitaly Saveliev (CEO, JSC Aeroflot-Russian Airlines), Alexei Ulyukaev (First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation), Grigory Glazkov (Independent Consultant), Matthias Warnig (Managing Director, Nord Stream AG), Nikolai Kropachev (Rector of the St. Petersburg State University) and Muhadin Eskindarov (Rector of Finance Academy under the Government of the Russian Federation).

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CALVERT 22 FOUNDATION

Founder and Director
Nonna Materkova

Board of Trustees
Nonna Materkova (Chair)
Alexey Kudrin
Margarita Gluzberg
Innokenty Alekseev
Dominic Sanders
Nigel Nicholson

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From 1990 to 1996, Kudrin worked in the Saint Petersburg Saint Petersburg City Administration under the liberal mayor and reformer Anatoly Sobchak. His first position was Vice Chairman of the Committee for Economic Reform. Until 1993, he worked in various financial positions in the city administration, before he was promoted to Deputy Mayor, in which position he served from 1993 to 1996. Future President Vladimir Putin was the other top Deputy Mayor of Saint Petersburg at the time. Kudrin was also Chairman of the City Administration’s Economic and Finance Committee.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin jokingly called former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin a “slacker” on Thursday [April 25, 2013] for refusing to rejoin his government, as the two jousted on live television over how to revive a weakening economy.

“I offered – he refused,” Putin told a live call-in show after Kudrin took the microphone to criticise his administration’s economic policies. Smiling, Putin added: “He’s a slacker and doesn’t want to work.”

The good-natured exchange indicated that, although Putin remains on good personal terms with Kudrin, who served as finance minister for 11 years before resigning in September 2011, their economic views remain far apart.

Since quitting, Kudrin has publicly sympathised with opposition protests over alleged ballot fraud in the ensuing parliamentary and presidential elections that secured Putin’s return for a third Kremlin term.

His presence in the audience of Putin’s annual question-and-answer session and his tough questions were probably stage-managed to show that Putin could tolerate hard questioning.

Kudrin, a fiscal hawk and economic liberal, told Putin it was important to find political consensus and take into account the concerns of people who want to invest money and create jobs.

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Filed under contemporary art, critical thought, international affairs, Russian society

Dolly Bellefleur, “Stop, Stop, Stop, Putin!”

On April 8, 2013, thousands of people protested in Amsterdam against President Putin’s homopobic laws and the general lack of human rights and free speech in Russia. “Beauty with Brains” Dolly Bellefleur made a protest song especially for this occasion

Thanks to the Free Pussy Riot! Facebook page for the heads-up.

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Filed under activism, feminism, gay rights, film and video, international affairs, protests, Russian society

Hello, Amsterdam!

Amsterdam welcomes the Russian president:

Thanks to Comrades Alexander and Elena for the heads-up. This posting was edited on April 14, 2013, after the Vimeo video originally featured here was removed.

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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. 

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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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Mattia Gallo: Interview with a Russian Comrade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was on Bolotnaya: arrest me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Putin’s War on the Left (International Solidarity Appeal)

socialistworker.org

Putin’s ongoing war on the left
February 25, 2013

Last May, before the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for yet another term as Russia’s president, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow in protest against the fraudulent election that gave Putin another victory two months before. Police descended on the peaceful demonstration and attacked protests, arresting 400 people.

Since then, Putin’s dictatorial regime has used the May 6 demonstration as a bogeyman to accuse various left-wing leaders of wanting to foment violence — when those truly bent on violence were his own security forces. In this statement, left-wing organizations in Russia — the Russian Socialist Movement, the Left Front and the Russian Anarchists — appeal for international solidarity against the government’s violence and repression.

Demonstrators in the streets of Moscow on May 6 (Sergey Kukota)

Demonstrators in the streets of Moscow on May 6 (Sergey Kukota)

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TWO MONTHS ago, we, representatives of the Russian left, asked for your solidarity in the face of the coming wave of political repressions in Russia.

Alas, today, this call is even more urgent than before. It is no longer an exaggeration to compare the political trials taking place right now to the prosecution of Russian populists in the late 19th century. The number of possible convictions resulting from the so-called “riots” of May 6, 2012 has steadily climbed over 20, and the majority of the detainees have already spent many months in jail awaiting trial.

Their names are Vladimir Akimenkov, Oleg Arkhipenkov, Andrei Barabanov, Fyodor Bakhov, Yaroslav Belousov, Alexandra Dukhanina, Stepan Zimin, Ilya Gushchin, Nikolai Kavkazsky, Alexander Kamensky, Leonid Kovyazin, Mikhail Kosenko, Sergei Krivov, Konstantin Lebedev, Maxim Luzyanin, Denis Lutskevich, Alexei Polikhovich, Leonid Razvozzhayev, and Artem Savelov.

The aim of the prosecution is self-evident: to break the will for political struggle of those unhappy with the current political regime and to systematically demolish the existing political opposition, a significant portion of which is situated on the political left.

The Investigative Committee — a structure accountable only to President Putin — has constructed the case as a wide-ranging conspiracy, stretching from rank-and-file street protesters to established politicians. Thus, on January 10, 2013, the Committee merged two trials: the May 6th “riots” (with 19 detainees, two people under instructions not to leave, and 10 hiding outside of Russia) and the “organizing of unrest” with which our comrades Konstantin Lebedev, Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov have been charged.

THE LIST of detainees continues to grow. On February 7, 24-year-old Ilya Gushchin was arrested and accused of using violence against a policeman during the May 6th “riots.” A little earlier, on January 17, while facing similar charges and imminent deportation from the Netherlands back to Russia, Alexander Dolmatov took his own life.

On February 9, Sergei Udaltsov’s status changed from instructions not to leave to house arrest. This means that his channels of communication with the outside world have been cut off, and that even the tiniest infraction will land him in jail.

In addition, the prosecution and the judges, guided by the Kremlin, keep on placing pressure on the detainees, further risking their health and lives.

Thus, for example, the eyesight of 25-year-old Vladimir Akimenkov has continued to worsen since his arrest on June 10, 2012. Akimenkov, a Left Front activist, suffers from congenital impaired eyesight, which has deteriorated in prison conditions and may soon turn into a permanent loss of vision. Akimenkov’s lawyer, human rights activists and over 3,000 petitioners have asked the authorities to release him. However, the prosecution and the courts have remained firm and extended Akimenkov’s arrest until May 6, 2013.

Another of the accused, 37-year-old Mikhail Kosenko, has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since his military service. Instead of granting him access to medication or releasing him, the court is preparing to send him to “forced treatment” in a prison hospital.

Leonid Razvozzhayev, 40, a coordinator of the Left Front, was abducted from Ukrainian soil by unknown parties and delivered to Moscow. After the abduction, a confession appears to have been extorted from Razvozzhayev under threat of torture and harm to his family. Once in prison, he renounced his “confessions,” but his words are still being actively used against others. Currently, Razvozzhayev has been transferred to the Siberian city of Irkutsk, where his freedom to communicate with relatives and lawyers is severely limited.

The trial will most likely begin in earnest in March. The prosecutor will claim the existence of a massive anti-state conspiracy in which the accused will be said to have played various roles. We have little doubt that this trial will be biased and unjust. Unless fought against, its probable outcome will be the broken lives of dozens of people (the charges carry imprisonment up to eight years), conspiratorial hysterics in the state-run media, and a carte blanche for new repression.

Your solidarity now is crucial for us. On the eve of this shameful trial, from February 28 to March 3 we ask you to stage protests in front of any consulates of the Russian Federation in your countries, to disseminate information about the political trials and to urge your government and relevant NGOs to act. Please send reports on solidarity action and any other information or questions to RussiaSolidarity@gmail.com.

The Russian Socialist Movement
The Left Front
Russian Anarchists

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International Day of Solidarity with Maria Alyokhina

CHERNOV’S CHOICE
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
January 16, 2013

St. Petersburg will demonstrate solidarity with Maria Alyokhina, an imprisoned member of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, by holding a roundtable titled “Class, Gender, Politics: Russia After Pussy Riot.”

International Day of Solidarity with Maria Alyokhina will be held Wednesday, with solidarity events planned in such cities as Berlin, Bonn, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Munich, Paris and Stockholm. Check www.freepussyriot.org for more information about the events.

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The campaign is scheduled to coincide with a court hearing called to decide whether Alyokhina deserves to be released, with her sentence exchanged for a suspended one, on the grounds that she is a single mother of a young child.

The hearing will take place in the IK-28 female prison colony in Berezniki in the Perm Krai, some 2,000 kilometers southeast of St. Petersburg.

Alyokhina has reportedly encountered particularly harsh conditions in her prison colony, being repeatedly punished for alleged “oversleeping” and confined to a solitary cell. There have also been reports of hostile attitudes toward her from her fellow inmates.

Together with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, Alyokhina was sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by hatred for a religious group.”

The Kafkaesque trial, which ended in August in Moscow, saw the defendants deprived of food, water and sleep, defense witnesses ejected from the court so that they could not testify, police dogs in the courtroom and the arrests of Pussy Riot supporters outside the court — most infamously that of former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who was then accused of biting a police officer.

Samutsevich was later released on a suspended sentence.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have been in prison since March 3, 2012, when they were arrested on the eve of the Russian presidential election.

Some see the unusually severe treatment of the band’s members as revenge by Vladimir Putin, whom the band confronted and ridiculed in their performances and videos.

Pussy Riot’s support group has urged people to organize readings, music festivals of support or public events. “Any sharing of information about the lawless imprisonment of Maria is helpful and may persuade the judge to release Maria,” they wrote in a statement.

St. Petersburg’s roundtable will be held at the Center for Independent Social Research at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

One of the topics of discussion will be whether Pussy Riot’s feminism really threatened the Russian constitution, which guarantees equal rights for men and women, as the Moscow court claimed.

[…]

Poster courtesy of Las Piqueteras, a socialist organization for working women. They will be picketing the Russian Federation embassy in Buenos Aires today.

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“Decent Work” and the Valentin Urusov Case: A Test of Sincerity

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“Decent Work” and the Valentin Urusov Case: A Test of Sincerity
Anna Wolańska

Like Russian politics, labour relations in Russia are rife with contradictions.

On the one hand, Vladimir Putin addressed the International Labour Conference in 2011 and marched with the trade unions in a 2012 May Day demonstration, portraying himself as a supporter of progressive labour legislation and the notion of social partnership. Russia has an established system of tripartism: no social issue can be decided on without being discussed by the country’s permanent tripartite commission.

To discuss the further development of tripartism and socially-responsible responses to the global crisis, the Russian government will host a major international conference on decent work in Moscow on 11–12 December 2012. Around 800 delegates are expected to attend, including prime ministers, government officials, trade unionists and representatives of employers’ associations from 80 countries.

Speaking in Geneva at a joint briefing with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder during the last session of the ILO Governing Body, Russian Federation Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection Lyubov Yeltsova invited all ILO member states to take part in the conference. She emphasised the importance Russia attaches to cooperation in furthering international labour and social standards, the protection of individual and collective rights, and the interests of workers. As she put it, “the concept of decent work makes it possible to seek solutions to key challenges facing the international community, such as job creation, poverty reduction, social stability and globalization, on a just basis.”

On the other hand, on the same day that the Deputy Minister declared her commitment to the principles and ideals of social justice, the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association issued its report on a complaint from Russian and international trade unions. The complaint, filed with the ILO in 2011, is brimming with facts that paint a picture at odds with the official one: constantly increasing pressure on trade union activists, harassment and persecution, threats of physical violence, repressive rulings against trade union organisers by local courts, and a ban on distributing trade union leaflets and educational materials for workers. This is all happening in parallel with the destruction of the social welfare system in a country where wages are shamefully low for a developed European nation.

The complaint submitted to the ILO describes, among other cases, the story of independent trade union activist Valentin Urusov (born 1974). Trade unionists in Russia and around the world have been campaigning for his release for several years. His story is not only an example of determination and sacrifice, but also a vivid illustration of the true relations between capital and labour in today’s Russia, where the largest employers are colluding with corrupt government officials to purposefully and methodically destroy the seeds of the new trade union movement, while Kremlin officials speak about social partnership.

Valentin Urusov

Urusov worked as an electrical fitter at an ore-processing mill owned by the diamond mining company Alrosa in the town of Udachny (Sakha Republic). An intelligent, persuasive leader, Urusov chaired the Profsvoboda trade union that was founded there and led the protest actions organised by workers.

Profsvoboda was founded in Udachny in June 2008. In mid-August of the same year, dissatisfied with low pay and working conditions, workers in the repair shops at one division of Alrosa announced a hunger strike, formal notice of which was received and registered by management.

The company’s director signed an order establishing a reconciliation commission to resolve the issue of workers’ pay. Profsvoboda was supposed to represent workers on this commission, and the following day it suspended strike actions. Despite its promises, however, Alrosa made no effort to conduct real negotiations, unleashing instead a crackdown against trade union activists. In response, workers began preparations for a large-scale protest rally.

On 3 September 2008, Urusov was detained on suspicion of narcotics possession. However, his arrest suspiciously coincided with preparations for the protest rally by Alrosa workers, a rally he himself was involved in organising. Equally “coincidentally,” the company’s deputy director of economic security was present as an official witness (such witnesses are a formality required under Russian law during police searches) when the drugs were allegedly found on Urusov’s person.

In a statement submitted by his lawyer, Urusov describes his arrest as a kidnapping accompanied by beatings and threats. According to him, the men who arrested him forced him to write a statement, confessing that the packet of drugs they themselves had planted on him actually belonged to him; they threatened to kill Urusov if he refused. Moreover, they demanded that Urusov confess that his deputy in the trade union had given the packet to him. A plan had been sprung to completely eviscerate the union’s leadership. Urusov, however, refused to give false testimony against his comrade.

“The charges against Urusov are based on the testimony of law enforcement officers and biased witnesses,” Urusov’s lawyer recounted. “The signature on the protocol documenting the confiscation of the packet of narcotics was obtained through humiliation and threats. Urusov was taken to the woods, where shots were fired near his head, and he was beaten with batons and told he should get ready to die.”

On 26 December 2008, the Mirninsky District Court (city of Udachny) sentenced Urusov to six years’ imprisonment. On 12 May 2009, however, the Sakha Republic Supreme Court overturned the conviction. Urusov was freed in the courtroom. Ludmilla Alexeyeva and Lev Ponomarev, well-known human rights activists from the Moscow Helsinki Group, stood as surety for Urusov.

However, after a retrial on 26 June 2009, the Mirninsky District Court again sentenced Urusov to imprisonment, reducing the sentence only by a year.

In May 2010, the police officer in charge of Urusov’s arrest, Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, was himself arrested and convicted of fraud and abuse of power. He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles (US$80 000) from Alrosa. This money was disbursed to Rudov shortly after he arrested Urusov.

All these circumstances have convinced Russian and foreign human rights groups that his employer, Alrosa, had fabricated the case against Urusov. Trade unions launched a campaign of solidarity with Urusov. Public protests and other actions have been mounted on his behalf, not only in Russia, but also internationally. An appeal in support of Urusov’s release was signed by dozens of European intellectuals, public figures, and the International Trade Union Confederation while the website LabourStart conducted an email campaign.

The report of the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association also questions Urusov’s sentence. The Committee asks the Russian government to indicate whether, during the investigation and trial, evidence relating to the persecution of Urusov for trade union activities was examined and analysed. It requests that the government launch a new investigation and take steps to ensure the trade union leader’s early release.

In addition, in its final conclusions the Committee mentions the inclusion of trade union leaflets in the Russian federal list of “extremist” materials. The Committee believes that the inclusion of publications with union slogans in the list of extremist materials significantly impedes the right of unions to express their views. As emphasised in the Committee’s conclusions, this is an unacceptable restriction on trade union activities and a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of association. The Committee recalls that the right to express one’s opinion, including criticism of the government’s economic and social policy, is a key element of trade union rights.

In fact, the leaflets in question contained only the most basic information about the opportunities available for workers when they form trade unions and touched on the threats posed by the spread of agency labour and other forms of precarious employment. The declaration of such texts as “extremist” is a clear attempt to render illegal all forms of trade union organising. The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association recommends that the Russian government take all necessary measures to remove trade union leaflets from the list of extremist materials as soon as possible. The government should also provide assurance that this situation will not happen again.

Despite the fact that the opinions rendered by the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association are only recommendations, the Russian government should pay heed to them. First, the body has repeatedly proved its impartiality when dealing with issues relating to freedom of association. Secondly, Urusov’s release and the implementation of the ILO’s other recommendations would serve as convincing proof that the concept of decent work really is part of the Russian government’s priorities. Such actions would be evidence that the eloquent declarations of its commitment to social partnership are not just a smokescreen concealing contempt for the principles of freedom of association and trade union organising, principles that form the basis of the ILO.

Anna Wolańska is the international secretary of NSZZ “Solidarność” and a member of the governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

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Protest at Russian Embassy, London (Thursday, November 29)

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Protest at Russian embassy – defend democracy activists

Free Russian democracy activists!

Free all members of Pussy Riot!

End the Repression!

London Protest:  Thursday 29 November, 6pm, opposite Russian Embassy, north side of Bayswater Road, corner of Ossington St  (Notting Hill Gate or Queensway tubes. Download the flyer here and sign up on Facebook.

Supported by Andrew Burgin, Ken Loach, John McDonnell MP, Derek Wall, Anticapitalist Initiative, Independent Socialist Network and Socialist Resistance

‘The continued oppressive treatment of dissidents makes a mockery of the pretence that Putin’s Russia is a tolerant and democratic country. I support the call for the immediate release of those imprisoned for political engagement. The true patriots are those who fight to end injustice and oppression in their homeland’.
—Ken Loach

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Saturday Night Russian Pin-Ups

Natalia Pereverzeva, Russian Miss Earth candidate:

But my Russia—it is also my poor, long-suffering country, mercilessly torn to pieces by greedy, dishonest, unbelieving people.

My Russia—it is a great artery, from which the ‘chosen’ few people are draining away its wealth. My Russia is a beggar. My Russia cannot help her elderly and orphans. From it, bleeding, like from a sinking ship, engineers, doctors, teachers are fleeing, because they have nothing to live on.

When we seriously begin to take care of our country, it will blossom and shine brightly.

_________

Alexandra Dukhanina, Russian political prisoner:

Alexandra Dukhanina is a 19-year-old woman, an anarchist and a vegetarian. She has been under house arrest without the right to correspondence for nearly six months. Dukhanina was arrested in connection with the so-called mass disturbances on May 6 in Moscow.

To find more about the crackdown against democracy activists in Russia and how you can show your solidarity with Alexandra and others swept up in the Putinist police state’s dragnet, go here or here.

A solidarity demonstration is scheduled for Thursday, November 29, 6 p.m., outside the Russian Embassy in London. More details here and here.

Photo of Alexandra Dukhanina by Rustam Adagamov

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