Posts Tagged ‘Oborona’
My interview for International Center on Nonviolent Conflict about Oborona and the Russian democratic movement in general.
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.
I visited Belarus a few days ago with a group of Oborona activists. We were meeting with local opposition organizations and leaders, observing municipal elections and participating in an annual march dedicated to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster–Chernobylsky Shlyakh.
Belarussian elections are largely similar to Russian in their predefined outcome, persisting abuse of power by the authorities and even methods of fraud. Like in Russia, they use preliminary voting as a means to both increase turnout and falsify the results (since the bulletins are kept at administration offices till the election day). As much as 30% of Belarussian electorate voted preliminary, according to official data. This unbelievable figure is more than even some of the most scandalous elections in Sochi a year ago (when the Kremlin was ready to do what it takes to prevent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov from becoming the mayor). Most opposition candidates were denied registration, so they couldn’t even get on the lists–the same we see in Russia. In the end, in many district it looks like the electoral commissions didn’t count the votes at all: they simply wrote the target figures. No suprise, not even a dozen seats were won by the opposition out of 20,000+.
The rally was attended by some 1,000 to 1,500 participants including several activists of Oborona. The Chernobyl disaster caused incredible damage to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and its consequences are still there. The march in Minsk has become a tradition since 1988; its demands concern environmental, social and political issues.
Alas, I didn’t make it to the march. I and two other Coordinators of Oborona, Maria and Alexey Kazakovs, were arrested an hour before the rally begun as we were leaving headquarters of an opposition party Belarussian People’s Front. A van stopped next to us, half a dozen spetsnaz (SWAT) troops put us into the van and left. Our friends and other eyewitnesses say that it looked more like a kidnapping than an arrest.
We were taken to the Sovetsky district police HQ and interrogated. The police were asking us, who we had met with, what was the purpose of the travel, what organization we were at, etc. etc. They threated to take us into custody if we refused to answer, but gave up after several hours. Then the infamous BT, Belarus state TV, tried to “interview” us right in the police, but were ignored. After 5-hour long interrogation police took our fingerprints, photographed us and even took DNA samples and let us go without any charges. A small crowd of Russian and Belarus activists greeted us at the police HQ doorstep.
Russian bloggers have a reason for a small celebration today. For the first time, a blogger was cleared of all extremist charges. Dmitry Soloviev could face up to two years inprisonment for criticizing the police and FSB on his blog. See more on his case here.
The investigation started in August 2008 and in March 2009 Dmitry (who is a member of Oborona, by the way) was charged with “inciting hatred, hostility and degrading a social group of people—the police and FSB,” a violation of the infamous paragraph 282 of the Russian Criminal Code. The blog posts dealt with “siloviki” participating in political repression and contained no calls for violence or even curse words. However, the investigator was very confident that Soloviev would be convicted, and so were the prosecutors: Dmitry’s persecution has been prolonged a number of times, most recently by Deputy Chief Prosecutors. The case lasted almost 1.5 years.
Persecution of Soloviev became a widely discussed topic, a committee in his support was found in Moscow; I was one of its members. Hundreds of bloggers signed a petition in support of Dmitry, but its addressees (Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin, State Duma, Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigative Committee) ignored it. Bloggers resorted to civil disobedience: dozens of them reposted the “extremist” entries on their blogs, some did it publicly at a Moscow’s central square. The government had to choose between persecuting hundreds people countrywide and ignoring this “act of extremism.” They chose the latter. The officer who was investigating Soloviev’s case was overwhelmed with letters and calls in support of Dmitry.
Ultimately, the detective began to give in. In mid-2009 he agreed to hold an independent examination of Dmitry’s texts outside Kemerovo (where it would be harder for him or FSB to press on the experts). Both such groups of experts, in Moscow and in Tomsk, found no signs of extremism in Dmitry’s texts. The investigation lost any sense after that and on the last day of 2009 the case was closed.
There’s not much to celebrate, however. More and more criminal investigations are being opened against bloggers in Russia, most connected to the same paragraph 282. Dozens of bloggers have been convicted of “extremism” or have been charged with it in last two years. There have been no cases (at least known ones) when bloggers were acquitted, and Soloviev is the first one who was cleared of the charges. Most are sentenced to either fine or conditional imprisonment. Some, like Irek Murtazin, former spokesman of Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiev, go to jail. Russian authorities justify such harsh measures by the growth of xenophobia, but in fact accusation of extremism is widely used to silence criticism of the government and bloggers are a target number one.
I haven’t recently had time to blog here a lot, sorry about that. Here are some interesting things that happened in the last month or two:
1. Oborona started its English blog (not so many entries yet) and held its second summer training camp Partizan-2009 near Volga river. The camp lasted four days and was packed with training, workshops, discussions etc. Journalists and guests from other democratic organizations participated along with Oborona activists.
Here are some camp photos and a video clip (in Russian):
3. For the first time, an individual is sent to prison officially for criticizing the government. Alexey Nikiforov, an opposition leader in Yekaterinburg, was sentenced to 1 year imprisonment for “extremism”: his “crime” was organizing of several peaceful and legal public protest actions. The court considered slogans “Down with the police state!” and “I don’t want to live in a fascist state” extremism. Previously, courts used to sentence “extremists” to conditional terms, not the real ones.
4. Another court in Krasnodarsky Kray found the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken” extremism and ordered to ban Novorossiysk Committee for Human Rights, which used that slogan at one public action. The court decision says,
…the call to “take” freedom means that individual rights have priority over the state’s [rights]. Thus, the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken” is of extremist nature.
5. While Dmitry Medvedev calls (once again) to “strengthen democracy” and even criticizes political repression (abstract, not the ones that take place in today’s Russia), one of the Moscow’s busiest metro stations Kurskaya now proudly features a quotation from the Soviet anthem of 1943:
Stalin brought us up — on loyalty to the people,
He inspired us to labor and to heroism.
6. All seven Solidarity’s candidates to the Moscow City Duma were denied registration by the Electoral Commissions. In some cases, the reasons were unbelievably absurd and almost unexplainable (like lack of certain unnecessary hints in subscription forms). Even members of the “official opposition” Pravoe Delo (Right Cause) party were also denied registration. Therefore, there will be almost no competition in these elections.
Oborona, the Russian youth democratic movement, has opened its Facebook page (in English). Welcome!
Yesterday, myself and two other activists of Oborona were arrested at a small action at the Moscow State University, my alma mater. We called students to participate in the Dissenters’ Day, which is planned for today. We had leaflets, a loudspeaker and a flag. The police arrested three of us and brought to the custody. Initially, they charged us with “a violation of the rules for conducting a public action,” which meant that we could be held in the custody for up to three hours and then be fined up to 1000 roubles (about $30).
While we were waiting for the police to prepare the documents, the maximum detention term expired. The police, however, didn’t want to let us go. One activist, Ilya Mischenko, managed to leave the police HQ unnoticed. They were upset and angry, blamed each other for this escape and feared sanctions from their bosses. By the way, leaving the police HQ before you are convicted by the court is not prohibited in Russian legislation.
I heard a phone call and s conversation of police officers that they’d received an order from somebody who they referred to as a “general”. They were told to detain my by any means for two days, so that I wouldn’t participate in the Dissenters’ Day (which I am an organizer of). After a short discussion, they decided to falsely charge me with “petty hooliganism,” an offence that allows them to hold a person for up to 48 hours before a trial and then to convict her to up to 15 days in jail. The police officers Mikhail Kotikov and Gennadiy Lemeshko wrote false reports that I had been swearing while conducting the action and a new charge was brought against me.
However, I was lucky enough to escape from the custody to the underground technical floor of the University and then outside and set myself free. I’ve been told later that the police were panicking, tried to search the huge building, failed to find me and were discussing who was going to be fired for the escape.
Oborona held a field training for its activists in Moscow yesterday. It looked like a game, a city quest, the very popular genre of youth activity in modern Moscow. The participants were split into several teams and had to complete certain tasks in different parts of the city. The difference from such regular games was the nature of those tasks. One of them was, for instance, to hand a banner on a bridge. The banner read “31 January Dissenters’ Day”. This is how it was performed by the trainees:
I am in New York, just a few hours ago I received the Human Rights Award 2008 from Human Rights First. Dissident Liudmila Alexeeva, human rights activist and senator Ted Kennedy and former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson (present at the ceremony) were among previous awardees. In fact, it was a complete surprise for me to win it. I’ve always thought that it takes a hero to get it but I don’t feel like a hero and I’ve never have. However, I know that there are many heroic young men and women in Russia who struggle for democracy together with me. I really see this award as recognition of their work.
Here is a fragment from my acceptance remarks:
When Oborona was born three years ago, almost nobody in Russia had the bravery to stand up against the re-emerging authoritarianism and tyranny in the country. And no politician would speak the truth about who created this system—Vladimir Putin. It was the youth that broke this conspiracy of silence and said, “Enough is enough”. Many old political leaders considered us dangerous freaks and predicted our defeat. Some of those politicians are forgotten now, but others eventually joined us. The movement that was born three years ago lives on and its activity, its very existence proves that every nation deserves justice, democracy, and freedom.
It is an honor for me to receive this award on behalf the hundreds of anonymous true heroes who risk their well-being, their freedom and sometimes their lives without expecting any awards for this.
I hope to post photos from the ceremony later today or tomorrow.
Before coming to New York, I spent several days in Washington D.C. I’ve had plenty of meetings with various NGOs like Freedom House, American Enterprise Institute, National Endowment for Democracy etc. I also met the officials of State Department and of Helsinki Commission and a number of journalists. The interest to events in Russia seems to be growing as Russian stocks fall and the popularity of Putinism is to follow.
Dmitry Soloviev, Oborona Coordinator in Kemerovo region, is accused of “inciting hatred, hostility and degrading” the police and FSB by posting several entries in his LiveJournal blog. The criminal case based on an FSB report was opened on August 11th by the regional prosecutor office. Police and FSB have already conducted a search at Dmitry’s home and work, confiscated his computer, disks and Oborona’s printed materials, and questioned him. Dmitry may face up to 2 years imprisonment according to the anti-extremist legislation.
The entries that FSB considered “extremist” in fact contain no incitement to violence or even strong words. Here they are (in Russian):
This is not the first such case. Several weeks ago, another blogger Savva Terentyev was sentenced to a 1 year of suspended imprisonment also for “inciting hatred” against the police in a LiveJournal comment. Russian Internet community seems alarmed by these cases because it makes millions of Russian bloggers potential “extremists”. Police is one of the most unpopular insitution in the country, despised by many for human rights abuses, inefficiency and corruption. Until recently, Internet and blogs remained the last media where Russian citizens could discuss these problems. Looks like the FSB have decided to put an end to this “unnecessary” freedom.
See more on this on Oborona’s Web site (in Russian).