Archive for June 2010
I’m sitting in a cafe at Vienna Airport and have a few minutes for a short account of my visit to Washington DC. I was invited there to discuss the most recent Nations In Transit report by Freedom House. According to the report’s findings, Russia has experienced, unsurprisingly, the worst decline of democracy among all 29 post-Communist countries.
Before and after the discussion that took place at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I and Vladimir Milov (a co-author of the famous Putin. The Outcome reports) met with US policymakers, human rights activists and journalists. We shared our views on the current state of affairs and dynamics of the Russian politics and suggested what can the West do to improve it. One of my ideas was to connect the possibility of US investments into Medvedev’s favourite project of Skolkovo with meeting by the Kremlin of certain conditions of rule of law, independence of the judiciary system and real fight against corruption. Both the Russian society and the American business would benefit from fulfilling fulfilling these conditions, and it would be very difficult to argue against them.
Some other ideas are connected with the positive effect that the US high-tech companies can bring about in Russia. Specifically, I’d name two things: a small one and a big one. The small one is introducing Russian-language interfaces and generally promoting in Russia services like Twitter or flickr. The language barrier is still there despite the two decades of globalization, and even renaming the “Tweet” button into “Чирикнуть” could help a lot. Having more international and independent from the government online services would make RuNet freer and more protected against possible abuse.
The big thing is about bringing more Internet, most importantly broadband, to Russian regions. The vast majority of regular Internet users in the country still reside in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other big cities while mid-sized and small towns remain offline. Increasing penetration rate is very important to make the Internet an influential medium, in social and political sense. This task is certainly easier to put than to complete, though.
A few minutes after sharing some of these ideas at the State Department, we learned that 10 men were arrested in the US and accused of spying for Russia (fortunately, I am still at large). Looks like the honeymoon between the White House and the Kremlin is over.
This was another rally at Triumfalnaya Square in a campaign for freedom of assembly (the campaign is called Strategy 31 after the paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution that guarantees this right). Although the organizers fulfilled all legal procedures needed for arranging a demonstration, the Moscow government banned it for the seventh consecutive time. The pretext for the ban was a spoiler event organized by United Russia’s Youth Guard.
According to the media, 1000 to 2000 people came to Triumfalnaya Square despite the ban, which is more than at any of the previous rallies of this campaign. 140 to 170 of them were arrested. The protest was completely nonviolent; however the police actions were quite brutal. Most people including myself were arrested without a warning and dragged into special police buses (autozaks) by force. A lot of them were beaten and verbally insulted by the police at the time of arrest. Men and women were treated alike (at least we’ve got some equality). When I and other people at my autozak protested against our illegal arrest and cruel treatment, police officers beat us with batons and fists and strangled. I was lucky not to get only bruises and scratches; another detainee, Gazeta.ru reporter Alexander Artemyev, had his arm broken by the police at the custody. After we were already arrested, police used tear gas to disperse the crowd that remained on the square.
I was held at the autozak and then the police station for 9 hours (the law only allows for 3 hours of detention). I was charged with “participation in an illegal public event” and “disobedience to a police officer’s lawful orders.” The proofs were forged: police officers wrote false reports (their texts had been prepared by the Moscow police HQ and were similar for all the arrested) on my alleged offence; the reports were signed not by the officers who had arrested me. The penalty can be a fine and/or detention for up to 15 days.