I will receive the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award this Thursday and participate in a workshop/round-table discussion at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The discussions will be dedicated to US and European relations with Russia and to the Russian pro-democracy movement and how it was changed by new technologies. If it sounds interesting and you are in Washington, please feel free to come by!
The first panel, After the “Reset:” US and European Approaches to Russia, will start at 2 pm. Michael McFaul, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, Kurt Volker, managing director of Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS, and former US Ambassador to NATO, and Angela Stent, director of Center for Eurasian, Russian & East European Studies at Georgetown University will discuss the issue.
At the second panel, Democracy: New Tools for the Struggle (starts at 4 pm), I will discuss how new technologies and new approaches are changing the Russian pro-democracy movement. Daniel B. Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Robert Guerra, project director for Internet Freedom at Freedom House, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, prominent Egyptian democracy activist, will share their comments.
The award was a surprise to me, but a good one. In the past several years, people like Adam Michnik (a former leader of Polish Solidarnost, now editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza) and Saad Ibrahim (leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist and scholar) received it.
I’ll spend a month in Washington, beginning November 18, so there will be plenty of time. If anyone out there would like to meet, leave a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday I made a speech at Youth Involvement in Demonstrations and Riots conference in Tallinn. I talked about the recent history, present state of, and prospects for, the protest movement in Russia.
Today I resigned as a Coordinator of Oborona after being at this position for more than five years–almost since its establishment. It was a planned decision. I want to help new leaders with fresh ideas emerge in the group. Russian opposition badly needs new faces and I don’t want to stand in their way.
As for me, I will most probably dedicate myself to a new project whose goal is to help the democratic movement in general overcome some of its worst problems. I will explain more about this project later, as it gets more specific, but anyway it shouldn’t be associated with any existing groups or movements.
I will keep doing all I can to strenghten the Russian civil society. I hope that now, I’ll be able to make it in a better way.
Clifford Levy’s recent piece in NYT reports how the Russian police use antipiracy laws to harass the opposition, NGOs and independent media—and how Microsoft helps it happen:
[Advocacy] group [Baikal Environmental Wave] fell victim to one of the authorities’ newest tactics for quelling dissent: confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software.
Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years. Security officials say the inquiries reflect their concern about software piracy, which is rampant in Russia. Yet they rarely if ever carry out raids against advocacy groups or news organizations that back the government.
As the ploy grows common, the authorities are receiving key assistance from an unexpected partner: Microsoft itself. In politically tinged inquiries across Russia, lawyers retained by Microsoft have staunchly backed the police.
It is understandable why Microsoft prefers to cooperate with the police in such cases: they don’t want to have troubles with the authorities. And despite all the statements about “commitment to respect fundamental human rights” their lawyers ad hoc in many (not all) cases prefer to support the prosecutors’ side, not the defendants’.
I see only one way to put an end to this tactic of persecution and to save the reputation of Microsoft. The software giant should go from words to deeds and really implement a program of providing licensed software to advocacy groups (whether registered with the government or not) and independent media free of charge or for symbolic price. Such a program was mentioned in the article, but there seems to be nothing more to it than just rumors; I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who actually participated in it.
It is not going to be a serious financial loss for Microsoft because such groups and media only make a relatively small portion of the market, and because many of them wouldn’t be able to pay for licensed software anyway. But this program, combined with a more responsible behaviour of the company’s lawyers, could prove that Microsoft is on the side of democracy, not repression.
Earlier this week, two Oborona activists were arrested in Moscow and later released without explanation. Head of the Information Department (i.e. official spokesperson) of Moscow police Col. Viktor Biryukov claimed that it was done to prevent some illegal protest action. He also added proudly that “the police learnt about preparation of this action while reading e-mail communications between Oborona activists.”
It’s not a news that the police monitors communications of the opposition, but it must be the first time it was officially confirmed by a high-ranking police officer. Apart from being antidemocratic and unconstitutional, it also violates the law, which puts rather strict limitations on this kind of activities.
Besides, immediately after Oborona issued a statement on this case and promised to arrange investigation of illegal activities of the Moscow police, Biryukov denied his own words. He said, “the Moscow police only work strictly within the law, and in the case of Oborona activists, their correspondence haven’t been monitored.”
The arrested Oborona activists are going to file a complaint to a prosecutor to demand investigation into Biryukov’s claims.
Kommersant publishes a new interview with Putin, where the dictator comments on opposition rallies:
Look, all our opponents support a Rechtsstaat. What is a Rechtsstaat? It is obedience to the existing law. What does the existing law say about [Dissenters'] Marches? You need to get a permission from the authorities. Got it? Go and protest. Otherwise you don’t have this right. If you go out without having the right, get beaned with a baton. That’s it!
Putin manages to lie three times in this short passage:
1. Rechtsstaat (“правовое государство”) is not just about obedience to every law. It is also about laws being fair, about everybody being equal before the law, about having independent judiciary system etc. Do we have anything of this? No. The government adopts any laws they want, including non-constitutional, they apply them discriminatively (e.g., United Russia has on many occasions organized rallies in violation of the law but nobody dared to “bean” them for that), and they control the courts, so that the protesters can’t defend their rights there. So what kind of “obedience” can Putin demand from the opposition? I’m not even asking if Putin heard about the term “civil disobedience” and that it is often used to effectively advance rule of law.
2. Even in Putin’s law, there is no such thing as a “permission” to hold protests. The Law on Gatherings, Meetings, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets, according to which all rallies are to be held, you only need to file a notice to local authorities that you are going to hold an action. Strategy 31 (which Putin most probably is referring to) makes it every time, complying with the law absolutely. And still, every time they get “beaned” by Putin’s riot police. So who is violating the law?
3. The last, smaller but remarkable lie: Putin also “forgot” that his own law forbids to use batons and other “special means” to disperse peaceful rallies, and the new Law on Police will forbid to “bean” people, i.e. beat them on the head. The law rightfully calls it “cruel treatment” and it doesn’t take a degree in law (which Putin kind of has) to understand why it is so. But if you yourself are a cruel person, this kind of treatment is just right: “That’s it!”