Posts Tagged ‘articles’
From The Huffington Post.
July 12, 2010.
The building of autocracy in Russia is done in small steps. One brick was added to the wall this Friday by the State Duma. An act that further restricts public gatherings and protests in the country passed in its first hearing.
The most widely discussed “innovation” of the new act is that it obliges organizers of all actions involving cars or any other means of transportation (including trains, bycicles etc.) to de facto receive approval from the authorities. It is an apparent response to recent protests of car owners (the so-called “blue buckets”) and opposition actions in Moscow trains. The government and police found it difficult to stop or persecute participants of those protests, so now they’ll have a pretext.
Another paragraph of the act bans people who have previously (within one year) violated the law on public gatherings from organizing any public actions at all. Given the way Russian courts operate in such cases (i.e. simply approve police reports without checking them or listening to the other side), it’s going to become a handy means to prevent unwanted “troublemakers” from holding any legal protests. For instance, I will be personally affected by this law: I won’t be allowed to organize any more protests. This is an obvious violation of the Russian Constitution, by the way, as this ban is imposed without an explicit court rule. But who cares about the Constitution?
I think the world needs to know the authors of this act. Representatives of three parties signed it, namely, of United Russia, Just Russia and LDPR. The LDPR guy, Pavel Tarakanov recently called off his signature and the party surprisingly decided to vote against this act. A Just-Russia co-author, Mikhail Emelyanov, was in Unted Russia until 2007 and in Yabloko earlier.
But the most vocal apologist of the act is Sergey Markov. He is a former NDI (National Democratic Institute of the US) and Carnegie Center fellow turned Kremlin’s hardliner and United Russia’s deputy. He writes books on how to prevent “coloured revolutions” and tells Ukraine how they should teach their students history. He is also a member to the Ministry of Truth Presidential Commission for Prevention of Falsification of History to the Prejudice of Russia’s Interests and the Presidential Council for Facilitating the Development of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights of the Russian Federation. He is a frequent guest at international conferences and meetings. So if you meet him, please ask him to try and explain how he pushes for less freedom of assembly while still calling himself a democrat.
From Huffington Post.
December 23, 2009.
Yabloko, which had claimed to be the last registered democratic party in Russia, has officially broke up with the opposition. Its convention adopted [on December 19] a resolution last week that bans Yabloko’s members from participating in any opposition organizations, movements or coalitions.
Kremlin’s most hated “troublemakers” like The Other Russia and Solidarnost are explicitly mentioned in the resolution. Those who don’t leave these organizations within three months will be automatically expelled from the party, regardless if they hold high posts.
Yabloko had long struggled to balance the real democratic opposition and the so-called “system opposition” (i.e. controlled by the Kremlin). Members participated in Dissenters’ Marches and openly criticized Vladimir Putin’s regime while their official leaders were more busy attacking other democratic organizations and figures. Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko’s co-founder and former leader) and Sergei Mitrokhin (Yavlinsky’s successor) called themselves the opposition, but meanwhile supported the authorities when sensitive topics were concerned. They denounced any opposition’s attempts of consolidation, defended infamous Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov from accusations of corruption, and even went so far as to support United Russia’s candidate for mayor of Sochi against Boris Nemtsov of liberal Solidarnost.
But this display of loyalty wasn’t enough for the authorities. Yabloko hasn’t been allowed to win any major elections since 2003. The party also had huge debts after its lost campaigns. The latest Moscow Duma elections were a disaster for Yabloko when Mitrokhin lost his deputy seat. It became clear that Yabloko had no chances to win any elections without submitting to the Kremlin completely. The only other option was to join the opposition ranks and inevitably lose the official registration (i.e. the right to participate in elections, under current legislation) and face harsh repression. No wonder the party’s leadership didn’t want such a fate.
To guarantee the full loyalty of Yabloko, Mitrokhin needed to get rid of “troublemakers” within his own party. Such were the most independent and popular activists (like the head of St Petersburg branch Maksim Reznik or a well-known journalist Andrei Piontkovsky), who were already participating in different opposition projects. The latest resolution was therefore both a way to clean the party of its democratic wing and a signal that Yabloko was ready to surrender — A kind of a white flag visible from the Kremlin’s towers.
The latest decision makes Yabloko a part of the system of managed, or “sovereign” democracy built by Vladislav Surkov. This concept implies that all democratic institutions exist in paper, but are in fact imitated and controlled by the government. Elections are held regularly but their outcome is known in advance. Freedom of speech is praised but only exists on the Internet and in some papers with limited circulation. There are parties that call themselves opposition but they will never challenge the existing government or try to take its place. This system is used to fool and calm down people both inside and (maybe even more) outside Russia. “Our democracy is not perfect, but so isn’t yours,” they say to Western leaders. And there are always ones who prefer to believe (or pretend to believe) that this imitation is democracy.
The most ironic part of this story is that even after such a shameful surrender Yabloko has only a dim prospect of restoring even a part of its influence. As shows the experience of another wannabe pocket opposition party, Right Cause, Surkov doesn’t value his defeated opponents. Almost all candidates of Right Cause weren’t even allowed to run for elections this autumn. So there is a very slight chance that Yabloko will be able to win any elections after giving in to the Kremlin. Especially after they expel all their most promising activists.
From The Huffington Post.
July 20, 2009.
Natalya Estemirova, a prominent Russian human rights activist and a representative of Memorial, one of the most respected human rights NGOs in Chechnya, was kidnapped and killed last week. She just left her home in Grozny, Chechnya, in the morning of 15 July and was found dead later that day in neighboring Ingushetia. The assassins shot her in the head and in the chest; this was an apparent “extrajudicial execution,” as human rights defenders call it. The reaction of Russian civil society and international community was immediate: human rights and journalist organizations condemned the murder; so did many Western politicians, from leaders of US Helsinki Commission to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Dmitry Medvedev also said he was “outraged” with the murder and promised that “the killer will be found.”
However, this promise is barely worth anything. The death of Natalya Estemirova is not the first tragedy in the recent history of human rights activism in Russia and in Northern Caucasus in particular. Earlier this year prominent lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who had been defending victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in downtown Moscow along with young journalist Anastasia Baburova. Owner of a very popular and highly critical to the Ingush authorities Web site Ingushetiya.ru Magomed Yevloev was killed by a senior police officer in August 2008. The murder of famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006 was, perhaps, the most outspoken crime of this kind. But many more killings, kidnappings and assaults against human rights activists and journalists remain unnoticed. The performers, not to speak of organizers and masterminds of such attacks are never punished and suspects are rarely even named. Abusing human rights appears to be a safer business in Russian Northern Caucasus than defending them.
This unstoppable wave of violence was made possible thanks to the atmosphere of terror and lawlessness that exists in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan in recent years. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a former insurgent, now a proud and ardent supporter of Vladimir Putin, was given a carte blanche by the Kremlin to do whatever he wants as long as he controls the situation in the republic. This semiliterate but incredibly ambitious man looks extremely corrupted and cruel even by Russian standards. His love for flashy cars and other kinds of luxury as well as formal attributes of social status (for example, Kadyrov, who reportedly even lacks primary education, was awarded an honorary academic degree by the Russian Academy of Natural Science) have become a subject for jokes and gossips among people. His ruthless, medieval methods of punishing the insurgents are a reason for persistent criticism by human rights advocates. He isn’t even very popular among the ruling elite for ignoring all the rules and behaving in a provocative way (like meeting then-President Vladimir Putin in Kremlin wearing just a sport suit). But as long as Kadyrov does all the dirty work in the Caucasus for Moscow, he is invulnerable. He even extends his authority beyond the borders of Chechnya: his battalion of guards fought in the war in Georgia a year ago, now they are officially allowed to operate in Ingushetia.
Cruelty and cynicism are much in demand in the Kremlin. So we must realize that the death of Natalya Estemirova, who carried on her mission of helping ordinary citizens of Chechnya for many years despite the mortal danger for herself, will most probably be perceived there as a “side effect” of Kadyrov’s “efficient management.” The justice will not triumph yet. Her murderers will not be punished. The most we can do is remember Natalya Estemirova and believe that one day humaneness will be rated higher than barbarianism.
From The Huffington Post.
May 20, 2009.
He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.
Russia now has its own little Ministry of Truth. Dmitry Medvedev issued the decree to create a new body with a long but meaningful name: the Presidential Commission for Prevention of Falsification of History to the Prejudice of Russia’s Interests. This Commission will monitor “attempts to falsify historical facts and events” that may undermine “the international prestige of the Russian Federation” and coordinate efforts of government institutions of “adequate response to… and neutralization” of such attempts.
26 of 29 members of the Commission are either public servants or represent state bodies (or both), including FSB and SVR (External Intelligence Service). Head of Medvedev’s Administration will be the Chairman of the Commission. Only two professional historians are going to participate, both representing the semi-governmental Russian Academy of Science.
Although the Commission has no legal authority, there is no doubt that it may be very powerful thanks to its high status. Powerful–and useful for dealing with unwanted ideas. Since “falsification of history” is a very vague definition, their field of work is only limited by their own fantasy. Two topics are almost sure to be the first on the Commission’s agenda: Holodomor (famine in Ukraine and some other parts of the USSR, allegedly planned and organized by Stalin) and the occupation of Baltic states by the USSR. But soon, more subjects are probably to come. Russia’s newest history textbooks call Stalin an “efficient manager” and his mass political repressions “side effects of modernization”. KGB is rehabilitated and its proud successor FSB is the most powerful state agency. Any attempt to argue against these axioms will undoubtfully be considered a “falsifiaction of history” and equated with a thoughtcrime.
From The Huffington Post.
April 10, 2009.
Some countries are just more lucky than others. Moldova wasn’t lucky enough to be known in America or Western Europe. Indeed, it’s a small East-European ex-Soviet country, poorest on the continent, and there’s little of interest about it. Except maybe for the fact that Moldova is the only place in the world where Communists keep winning West-approved elections. So they did, or claim to have done, at general elections last Sunday.
What followed the voting was completely unexpected both by the government and the opposition. About 10,000 protesters, mostly students, held a protest in Chisinau on Monday again what they called fraudulent elections. The young people, who organized themselves via Facebook, Twitter and SMS, demanded freedom of press, creation of a broad opposition coalition and new elections. The protest was peaceful and ended same evening.The other day more young people came to protest and the situation went out of control. Police were taken by surprise as 30,000-strong crowd stormed the Parliament and President’s Residence. Organizers, both civil groups and opposition parties, couldn’t control their supporters and the demonstration turned into a riot. Hooligans, who were reportedly a minority of the protesters, vandalized and looted official buildings and even put the Parliament building on fire. Riot police arrived at the site in the night and arrested every young person they found. It looks like the police allowed the protests become violent intentionally or even infiltrated them with provocateurs in order to have an excuse for harsh action.
The governement is now in control of Chisinau and accuses the opposition of attempting a coup. Communist President Vladimir Voronin may now use the protests to crack down on the civil and political activists and the arrests are already said to have begun. Organizers of the Monday action, like youth leader Natalia Morar, deny the accusations and explain that they tried to prevent violence. However, the government doesn’t seem to be listening. If the crackdown continues, the whole democratic opposition in Moldova may be beheaded and the already threatened democracy effectively destroyed.
Western leaders are largely ignoring the dramatic events in Chisinau. Will they allow the pro-European democratic forces in Moldova to be crushed by the Communist regime? Will they be just as short-sighted as they were when Lukashenko destroyed the opposition in Belarus or when Putin established his “sovereign democracy” rule in Russia?
American and European leaders should speak up in support of peaceful solution in Moldova and call both sides to refrain from violence. They should offer their mediation between the government and the opposition. Voronin has already agreed to such negotiations, the opposition will surely do as well. Otherwise, another “last dictatorship in Europe” is going to appear in this unlucky country.
I start writing for The Huffington Post, one of the leading American political blogs. Here is my first column for their recently launched World News section, on the case of Anna Politkovskaya.
Murder of Anna Politkovskaya: The Trial Begins
December 5, 2008
Four men, two of them are officers of Russian special services and two others are Chechens, are being tried in the Moscow District Military Court now. They are accused of organizing the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of the most outrageous crimes in Russia’s recent history.
Who was Anna Politkovskaya?
Anna Politkovskaya was a prominent Russian journalist who worked for Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Most of her work was dedicated to the Northern Caucasus and in particular to Chechnya, devastated by two wars, poverty, terrorism and unbelievable lawlessness. She went where misery was too great for people to bear. She investigated police and army brutality; she helped Russian prisoners of war; she supported victims of terrorism.
She was respected and trusted by both the Chechen separatists and the victims of Chechen terrorist groups. She was the one who brought drinking water to 800 hostages in the Moscow theatre Nord-Ost in 2002. When terrorists seized a school in Beslan in 2004, she immediately went there to negotiate a peaceful solution of the crisis. However, she didn’t make it to Beslan. She was poisoned on the airplane, as her colleagues believe, by Russian secret services who didn’t want her to interfere into their own plan. She survived but while she was in the hospital, the Russian army stormed the school. 331 hostages were killed as a result, most of them children.
Anna wrote a highly critical book Putin’s Russia in 2004 and participated in a founding conference of the Other Russia opposition coalition in July 2006. Russian authorities as well as the pro-Kremlin Chechen leadership despised Anna for her activities and didn’t even try to hide it. When she was killed, then-president Vladimir Putin tried to defend himself against suspicion in a very cynical way by saying that “her death caused more harm than her work”.
Who killed her?
She was assassinated at the doorstep of her home in Moscow on October 7, 2006, on Putin’s birthday. Many people believe that such a bloody gift was given to the Russian president by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (he was appointed president of Chechnya by Putin a few months later). Russian authorities, on the contrary, declared immediately that it was Boris Berezovsky’s provocation against Kremlin. Such claims weren’t unexpected as this ex-oligarch serves as a scapegoat for probably every second bad thing happening in Russia. No proofs of that were found afterwards, however. It is still unknown who was the initiator of this crime but, according to the defendant’s attorneys, the file has clues that it was “a political figure inside Russia.”
The hitman was also not found. Detectives say that the man who shot five bullets at Anna is Chechen Rustam Makhmudov and is now hiding abroad. Two his brothers are under trial for organizing the murder of Politkovskaya. Two others defendants are a former officer of UBOP (police unit responsible for fighting organized crime but also used against political opposition), Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, and acting FSB Lieutenant-Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov. Novaya Gazeta staff organized their own investigation and said that these defendants were most probably involved in the crime but they played more a supportive role.
The very beginning of the trial was marked by a serious scandal that raised new questions. The process was initially open to the public but at the second hearing the judge, Evgeny Zubov, decided that no journalists will be allowed in the court room. The reason was the jury’s request to close the process: the jurors were reportedly afraid of the media.
However, the next day juror Evgeny Kolesov gave an interview and claimed that there had been no such request and nobody asked to get journalists out. He said that a court clerk entered the jury’s room before the hearings and asked them to sign a written statement that they want the process to be closed. All the jurors refused to sign it. But still, the judge didn’t care. Nineteen out of 20 jurors signed a petition to the judge saying that they don’t have any objections to the open process. Evgeny Kolesov sent the judge a letter in which he said that he didn’t want to participate in an “unfair trial” and refused to stay in the jury.
The judge had to reopen the process after these events. However, it is still unknown what he wanted to hide so badly. Is it some links to the murder that go high into the ruling elite? Or is it related to the FSB’s reported surveillance of Politkovskaya? We will hopefully know soon.
Update: Rustam Makmugov, the suspected killer, made a statement that he was ready to surrender himself to the police if fair trial is guaranteed for him. Unfortunately, such a condition is very hard to meet in Russia.
RobertAmsterdam.com has published my column on liquidation of SPS, the democratic party, which I used to be a member of. This party has always been very contradictive since it incorporated two different wings: liberal, which criticized Putin for establishing dictatorship, and conservative, which supported Putin for his economical policy or, later, simply because it appeared more pragmatical. Most recently, this party was literally sold to the Kremlin and liquidated at a staged convention last Saturday. Here is my insight into its history.
A Medical Report for SPS
November 19, 2008
On 15 November, Union of Right Forces (SPS), one of the two remaining democratic parties in Russia, was liquidated by its own members at an extraordinary convention in Moscow suburbs. This was, as openly admitted, a deal between the party’s leadership and the Kremlin. Some of the former SPS members will now join a new puppet party Right Deed (Pravoe Delo) while dissenters will participate in creation of Solidarity opposition movement.
SPS was a very contradictive organization from the day one. It appeared not long before the 1999 parliamentary elections as a coalition of liberal (in European sense) and conservative movements and parties. The liberals included the oldest democratic party in Russia, Democratic Choice of Russia (DVR), led by ex-PM Yegor Gaidar, and Boris Nemtsov’s Young Russia (Rossiya Molodaya) movement. Ironically, the name of Nemtsov’s organization was later taken by a Kremlin-sponsored group of provocateurs. The conservatives were represented by another ex-PM Sergey Kirienko (now a member of Government) with his New Force (Novaya Sila) movement and by the father of Russian privatization Anatoly Chubais among others.
The strange structure of the party caused ambivalence in its position and activities. The liberals criticized Putin for establishing authoritarian regime and wanted to join the opposition while the conservatives supported Putin’s economical policy and tried to cooperate with the Kremlin. The parliamentary campaign in 1999 was mainly influenced by the conservative wing with its slogan “Putin for president, Kirienko for the Duma!” Soon after this program was fully implemented, Sergey Kirienko left the Parliament and became Vladimir Putin’s representative in Volga Federal District. Some of his former colleagues like Boris Nemtsov were at the same time trying to oppose Putin’s crackdown on NTV, the most popular independent TV channel. But even this one of the earliest anti-democratic moves of the new president was done by the hands of Alfred Kokh, Chubais’ colleague and close friend! As Boris Nemtsov participated in protest rallies against the takeover of NTV, his fellow party members celebrated the success of this “special operation” (I have witnessed it myself).
The party’s schizophrenia was arguably the main reason for its loss of popular support. Putin’s followers who voted for SPS in 1999 switched their support to United Russia while the opposition voters didn’t believe SPS and simply stayed at home. As a result, SPS lost the 2003 elections and stayed out of the parliament. Many people hoped that this defeat would force the party to choose its side. However, it never happened. Since Kirienko left SPS, all of its public leaders were liberals, they maintained the critical to the Kremlin stance of the party and attracted new activists from the opposition. But the party’s funding was mostly provided (especially after the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the loss of elections) by Anatoly Chubais, many regional branches only existed de jure and consisted of UES (the state energy company headed by Chubais) employees. In addition, most of the party’s officers were paid by and therefore loyal to Chubais and his conservative wing but had to follow orders from party’s political leadership, mostly liberal. This made both wings of the party dependent on each other and predetermined its end.
Still, there were a few attempts to cure the party’s split personality. One of SPS’ leaders and ex-senator Ivan Starikov headed a riot against Anatoly Chubais and his conservative wing by going for the party chairmanship in 2005. He claimed that SPS must become a part of the opposition and shouldn’t compromise ideals of democracy for Kremlin’s favor. The conservative wing had no political figures to stand against Starikov and many expected that he would win. However, just before the national convention a compromise figure, Nikita Belykh, was introduced by Boris Nemtsov. Chubais’ closest deputy, Leonid Gozman, was to become the vice chairman of the party to counterweigh liberal Belykh. So, schizophrenia in SPS was saved (and even institutionalized by introducing the new vice chairman position) by both of its parts. They truly felt that they couldn’t do without each other!
Nikita Belykh tried to balance both wings of the party for several years but it was impossible. The more SPS hesitated to join the opposition, the more supporters it lost. Starikov and some of his followers were the first to leave the party in 2005. Eventually, Starikov joined Mikhail Kasyanov’s People’s Democratic Union and is now one of its leaders. I myself left SPS in April 2007 when Belykh supported an attempt of party’s apparatchiks to destroy the Moscow branch, which has always been liberal and opposition. The party’s support and influence was disappearing day by day.
The last attempt to bring SPS in opposition was made in late 2007 before the parliamentary elections. When Putin became #1 in United Russia’s list of candidates, it made impossible even for SPS conservatives to support him. The second reason was that Chubais ceased to sponsor the party and its dependence on him diminished. Nikita Belykh and other party leaders criticized the president in the media, campaign printed materials were openly anti-Kremlin, it even officially participated in a Dissenters’ March–something that had been severely punished just a year earlier. But the split hasn’t gone anywhere: some regional leaders refused to oppose the administration, some even changed sides, others simply didn’t know how to work under government’s pressure. After losing the elections SPS largely returned to its older state with two wings struggling against each other. It appeared, however, that the liberals were to win.
There was one other actor that didn’t like an idea of having a schizophrenic party in the country–the Kremlin. What they wanted to see is a controlled, predictable and loyal quasi democratic party, which might be used to convince the West that we’ve got pluralism. At first, they attempted to use spoiler parties like Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) but they couldn’t fool many people: SPS was still there. And the worst of all, SPS had an official registration that allowed the party to go for the elections. Since more and more people in SPS realized that there was no other option rather than to join the opposition, the Kremlin’s well-entrenched electoral system became endangered: it was based on not allowing any uncontrolled elements even to appear in the ballots. What would happen if Russian citizens had an opportunity vote for Kasparov or Kasyanov or even both? Nobody knows. And Kremlin surely doesn’t want to know. So it decided to liquidate SPS.
Of course, this special operation could be done by simply “re-checking” the party and taking away its registration, as it was done to the Vladimir Ryzhkov’s Republican Party of Russia before. But this would cause some political troubles for Putin, both domestic and international: SPS was a well-known and rather large organization. Therefore it was decided to destroy the party with its own hands. What still strikes me is how easily it was done! Gozman agreed to shut SPS down in exchange for a “pardon” from the Kremlin. Belykh left the party but didn’t try to prevent its liquidation. Only a small number of devoted liberals kept struggling against Gozman till the last day. Some of them even organized a picket near the place of the party’s convention and said, “If you have conscience, don’t vote for [the liquidation]“. According to the results of the voting, only 11 delegates had conscience out of 108.
At the end of the day, the liquidation of SPS may be a good thing. It’s true that this party had many true democrats and liberals but these people haven’t disappeared. On the contrary, now you can easily tell them from the others, who had nothing to do with liberalism but participated in the same party. The latter will join a new Kremlin’s pseudo-democratic party Right Deed, the first will join the opposition Solidarity movement or other opposition organizations. It is sad, however, that the only way to cure schizophrenia was decapitation.
Here is my latest column for RobertAmsterdam.com on Medvedev’s plan to change the Constitution.
First Amendment, Russian Edition
November 7, 2008
On 5th November the world’s attention was drawn to American presidential elections and the victory of Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Russian authorities used this day to declare an unprecedented reform in the country’s recent history—changes to the Constitution. Dmitry Medvedev in an annual address to the houses of the Parliament suggested that the presidential term should be increased from 4 years to 6 years and the Duma’s term—to 5 years.
There is no doubt that Medvedev’s “suggestion” will be regarded as an order by members of Parliament. They have already responded to his speech and expressed readiness to vote for any Kremlin’s amendments to the Constitution. A referendum on this issue is not required, so adopting the new legislation will be easy and quick. Some deputies have even said that Medvedev’s current term may be prolonged till 2014 instead of 2012 (and Duma’s till 2012 instead of 2011). Later and rarer elections will somewhat ease the Kremlin’s fear of an “electoral revolution”—its worst nightmare since the uprising at Kyiv Maidan.
The changes, if passed, will become the first amendment to the Russian Constitution since it was adopted on a referendum15 years ago. Medvedev’s predecessor, Vladimir Putin, has always been repeating that the Constitution doesn’t need any changes. He preferred to simply ignore it: when he abolished elections of regional governors, submitted the Parliament to himself, technically introduced censorship and political repression, violated independence of courts and property rights. But some things still couldn’t be changed without amending the Constitution, like the length of president’s term or the two-term limit. As usual with KGB, Putin didn’t do the dirty part of the work himself, he used Medvedev instead.
Ironically, the first changes to the Constitution were suggested by the person elected to his office at the staged and fraudulent elections that lacked even minimal legitimacy. Then they are to be approved by the undemocratically elected Duma lacking any real opposition and then by the Council of Federation whose members haven’t been elected at all. To add to this picture of cynicism, this is done while praising the Constitution and its standards of democracy at a pompous celebration of its jubilee planned for 12th December.
The plans to change the Constiution were immediately condemned by the opposition and don’t seem to be popular among regular people. The emerging united democratic movement Solidarity called Medvedev’s actions illegitimate and antidemocratic. The Other Russia coalition plans to hold a Dissenters’ March in December that will demand that the Constitution remains untouched. People who discuss the issue on the Internet and in the street also criticize the changes. The government, however, prefers to ignore the public opinion.
As the opposition candidate in the USA receives congratulations on winning presidential elections, Russian ruling elite shows once again that it’s not going to pass power to anybody else. Comparison of Russia’s first amendment to the Constitution to the American First Amendment perfectly symbolizes that development of democracy here has gone terribly wrong.
Below is my latest column for RobertAmsterdam.com dedicated to Dmitry Soloviev’s case and attempts of the FSB to crack down on bloggers.
FSB: a Final Solution for Bloggers
Dmitry Soloviev, a leader of the Oborona youth movement in Kemerovo region, faces criminal charges for criticizing the “siloviki” in a LiveJournal blog. He is accused by the regional prosecutor of posting information that “incites hatred, hostility and degrades a social group of people—the police and FSB”. According to the anti-extremist legislation introduced in 2006 (more specifically, the infamous paragraph 282 of the Criminal Code), he may face up to two years imprisonment if convicted.
I have just returned home from Helsinki where I had participated in the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum. It was a great opportunity to meet new colleagues and discuss problems of Russian democracy. I met Robert Amsterdam, who is well-known as a Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s attorney and an owner of the brilliant Web site, dedicated to Russia. Yesterday they published my new column with criticism of international human rights organizations. Unfrotunately, much of this criticism is also true of Russian human rights NGOs.
Wish We Had Your Problems!
June 10, 2008
There seems to be a tradition that whenever a foreign human rights organization publishes a report on Russia, Kremlin-backed politicians call it groundless and based on double standards. So, unsurprisingly, the Amnesty International World Report 2008 got cool welcome. For example, a member of Putin’s Civil Chamber, Anatoly Kucherena, immediately condemned the “wholesale criticism” and “ideological implications” of the report. However, if the “official” human rights activist had taken the time to read the report or, even better, to attend its presentation in Moscow, he wouldn’t be so upset.
Amnesty International presented their report in Moscow on May 28 along with their memorandum to Dmitry Medvedev. The press conference began with a statement that there was a positive change in the situation with human rights in Russia in recent years. This is something completely opposite to my observations that the country is drowning slowly into dictatorship, with new barbaric laws and new political prisoners appearing every month. Even the situation in Belarus under the infamous Alexander Lukashenko – “Europe’s last dictator” – sometimes seems more optimistic than in Putin’s Russia.
Two thirds of the press conference was dedicated to human rights abuses… in the USA and the European Union. From tortures in Guantanamo to school segregation for the Roma people in Slovakia—it seems that everywhere in the West you will face violence, injustice and suffering. At the same time, there was hardly any mention, for example, of the dozens of National Bolsheviks serving their terms in Russian prisons for nonviolent protest, or of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his colleagues being put in jail for not toeing the Putin’s line.
The conclusion that Amnesty’s speaker made out of this was paradoxical but it fit the picture well: European and American politicians don’t have the moral right to demand that other countries respect human rights as long as there are serious problems in the West itself. Otherwise, they are clearly conducting a policy of “double standards”.
Don’t get me wrong, I really hope that tortures in Guantanamo are stopped and schools in Slovakia desegregated. Pointing at such problems is very important as it lets the West remain a beacon of human rights in the world. But who can explain to me the point of telling all this to journalists in Russia? In Russia, where freedom of expression is technically abolished; where elections are forged; where police beats, arrests or even shoots at peaceful demonstrators; where dozens of opposition activists, businesspeople and scientists are in prison for political reasons; where dozens of others disappear without a trace every year in Chechnya and Ingushetia; where hundreds of soldiers commit suicide unable to bear dedovschina [violent hazing of recruits]? In Russian, one would say: wish we had your problems!
Of course, Amnesty International intended to appear objective and independent of the Western governments. They hoped that if they criticized Washington and Brussels, the Russian authorities wouldn’t accuse them of being “American agents of influence”. They believed that praising the Kremlin’s policy would make them more trustworthy in Medvedev’s eyes. Maybe this would be the case with some other government, but not with this one. Comments like that of Mr Kucherena were the only reaction from the Russian political establishment. I doubt that Amnesty will even get any response from the Presidential Administration, not to mention any real improvement of the human rights situation.
However, some people in Russia will surely make use of this press conference. It doesn’t take an expert to tell how the Kremlin’s propaganda will love such statements about the West’s “moral rights” and “double standards”. By the way, the day after that presentation, Vladimir Putin said in Paris: “All this talk about human rights is often used as an instrument of pressure on Russia, with the aim of achieving some goals that have nothing to do with human rights in Russia… Problems with human rights you have in any country”. Is he quoting Amnesty International or vice versa? Unintentionally, the Western human rights activists gave the Russian authorities an excuse for mass human rights abuses and weakened the not-so-strong attempts of the West to influence the Kremlin’s domestic policy.
P.S.: To be honest, Amnesty’s report does mention a lot of real and serious problems with human rights in Russia. Unexpectedly to me, they even recognized me as a prisoner of conscience for having served a 13-day term in jail for attempting to participate in a Dissenters’ March. However, this was done too late—a week after my release. Amnesty’s officer apologized and explained to me that they have too little staff in Russia and too much work.