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Belarus, a Russia’s Small Copy

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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.

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Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

April 29, 2010 at 00:02

Terrorist Attacks In Moscow: Citizens Under Double Threat

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35 are said to be killed in blasts at two of the Moscow’s busiest metro stations–Lubyanka and Park Kultury. I am shocked by this tragedy like everybody in Moscow. I and my friends are calling citizens to come at 9 PM to Mayakovsky Museum (Lubyanka metro, exit to Myasnitskaya St.) with flowers and candles to mourn the victims.

It is too early to say who organized this terrorist attack. Russian bloggers discuss mainly two versions: Chechen rebels and the state security services. However weird it may sound, the latter version is at least as popular as the former one. In any case, the police and FSB were so corrupted and so busy fighting the opposition that they didn’t find time for the terrorists. By the way, chief of Moscow police was going to spend this day in Moscow City Duma promoting a bill introducing imprisonment for participants of banned peaceful rallies. He must have considered them the biggest danger for Moscow citizens. No surprise terrorists feel less restricted in Moscow than human rights activists.

Whoever organized this attack, the government will surely try to use this tragedy to further “tighten the screws” and secure their own power–the way they did after Beslan hostage crisis in 2004. The only question is what exactly they are going to do.

Civil solidarity is now needed more than ever: to show that we are stronger than the terrorists (whoever terorrists are) and to defend our freedom from those who failed to defend our security.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

March 29, 2010 at 12:25

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United Russia on Me

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A funny news item appeared a few days ago at United Russia’s official youth site. Their author Ilya Ukhov condemns me using Stalin-times newspaper language. I am called there “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and my bio is retold like this:

Oleg started his illegal activities early: when he was 16, he joined a rat pack called Amnesty International, which is known for its furius support for different kinds of separatists, convicted by Russian courts spies as well as different petty criminals.

…In 2005 [Kozlovsky] founded Oborona–a kind of a youth fuse for organizing unrests and destabilization of the social-political regime. But the fate wasn’t so fortunate for the brainchild of foreign puppeteers.

Police has stormed his flat that was used for gatherings of liberal thugs and storing extremist literature.

We see with our own eyes establishing of liberal censorship, this lying and multiheaded hydra…

etc. etc.

If you read Russian, you’ll enjoy this article in original.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

March 20, 2010 at 02:56

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How to Beat FSB in 24 Hours

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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.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

January 22, 2010 at 23:13

FSB Bans Me from Travelling Abroad

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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.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

January 22, 2010 at 00:29

Blogger Dmitry Soloviev Wins “Extremist” Case

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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.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

January 11, 2010 at 18:11

One More Reason for the Struggle

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My daughter was born yesterday at 11 PM. I am happy and grateful to my wife Lada for such a Christmas/New Year gift.

I want my daughter to live in a free and civilized Russia. Now I have one more reason to struggle for it.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

December 27, 2009 at 17:10

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