Posts Tagged ‘travel restriction’
I’m currently in Vilnius, Lithuania, at a conference organized by Community of Democracies. It’s a loose intergovernmental organization, which includes most democratic countries (and, for some reason, a few undemocratic ones).
Tonight I met, together with a group of activists from other countries, with Hillary Clinton. The meeting itself was off the record, but I may publish what I said.
One of the major problems of the Russian political system is the impunity of those responsible for attacks on activists and journalists. International sanctions directed against these individuals could not only restore justice to some degree but also deter others from participating in persecution. I am pleased to see that Sergei Magnitsky Act that can help implement such a policy is being considered by Congress. I also hope that the European Union will enact similar legislation. I wish the State Department took some steps of its own regarding this issue.
At the very least, those involved in human rights abuses should not receive support from democratic countries. For instance, a number of Western companies, including Cisco and Ernst & Young, are among the sponsors of a large Seliger Forum that will open tomorrow. Its organizer, the former leader of the infamous Nashi group, Vasiliy Yakemenko, is widely believed to be connected, among other things, with the attempt to assassinate journalist Oleg Kashin. I think that a strong statement from US officials could discourage such irresponsible corporate behavior.
There is a lot of pessimists In Russia and abroad who say that our country is so badly lost, so hopeless that you can’t really change anything from below. I consider it just as wrong as the opposite extreme—bullish optimists who see no problems in Russia and believe that everything will be fine without our involvement. In fact, we have a lot of very serious and difficult problems and the powers that be are not going to resolve them (this is what my blog is about), but we are not helpless too. Even in an authoritarian and corrupt state like Russia we can change things. Some examples of these victories you can find in my blog. Here is a new one, which shows that bloggers in Russia are becoming an increasingly powerful community.
Here is an approximate chronicle of my struggle with FSB over my passport:
Wednesday, 12 PM: I visit my local FMS (Federal Migration Service) department to get my passport after almost two-month wait. Instead, I am given a formal notice that my application is postponed for unknown term because FSB is refusing to give their approval.
Wednesday, 4 PM: I file a complaint to the Prosecutor. They say, the investigation will take a month. But I have to go to the USA in 10 days.
Thursday, 11 AM: I visit the FMS department again, their officers say that I’ll have to wait at least a few months. They know that it is against the law (which only gives them one month to issue a passport), but they wouldn’t argue with FSB.
Thursday, 7 PM: I describe the situation on my blog and on Twitter. The post (in Russian) receives 100+ comments and is reposted by more than 60 bloggers.
Thursday, 7:40 PM: The post is first republished by the media, an online news Website Kasparov.ru.
Thursday, 9:30 PM: Echo Moskvy radio reports on the matter.
Friday, morning: Head of Russian FMS Konstantin Romodanovsky orders that the problem is settled immediately.
Friday, 3 PM: I am invited to the local FMS department and told that FSB gave all necessary permissions.
Friday, 5 PM: I receive the passport.
Thanks to the bloggers’ active support, we managed to defeat the seemingly undefeatable FSB machine—in this concrete case. Instead of silently and patiently waiting for months, we managed to solve the problem in less than 24 hours.
Of course, not every problem may be solved like this. In fact, I was lucky both because my post caused such an outcry (if I weren’t an activist, few would care) and because Gen. Romodanovsky decided that his agency shouldn’t be responsible for FSB breaking the law. However, the very fact that the civil society can make the powerful FSB reverse their decisions says that Russia is far from being hopeless.
When one speaks of advantages of the Putin’s regime over the Soviet system, one achievement is almost never disputed—the freedom to travel abroad. In the USSR, very few people were able to visit the Soviet Bloc countries, and only a tiny minority could see the “capitalist world.” But after the USSR collapsed, Russia opened its borders, removed numerous obstacles for international travel, and millions of Russians could travel the world. After Putin came to power most of the freedoms we had enjoyed were reduced or eliminated, but this one was left almost untouched.
For me, this freedom seems to be over. Yesterday, I was informed that FSB is refusing to give their approval for re-issuing of my passport. The official reason is, they failed to receive information about whether I had access to any state secrets during my military service (which I, of course, hadn’t). Ironically, I was drafted into the army two years ago with direct involvement of FSB when they tried to isolate me during the presidential campaign. Now, they use it as an pretext for not letting me out the country.
Unfortunately, the FSB’s decision is already ruining some of my plans. In early February, I was going to visit the USA to speak at American Enterprise Institute about the freedom of assembly in Russia and to read a lecture for students at Principia College. These events will now be postponed or cancelled.
FSB is violating the law, which clearly says that a passport has to be issued within a month (almost two months passed already). I have filed a complaint to the prosecutor, but officials say, “You can’t beat FSB, they will always win.” True, FSB as a KGB successor consider themselves above the law and never mind to violate it in their interests. But I will use any legal methods and will eventually make them obey the law.
PS: Thanks to Robert Amsterdam for writing about the story.