Oleg Kozlovsky’s English Weblog

Politics, Democracy and Human Rights in Russia

Putinjugend Is Looking for Nazi

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The Russian blogosphere is discussing the Nashi’s latest faux pas: The young Putin’s followers opened an installation at the Seliger Camp that presents a number of Russian and foreign individuals as wearing Nazi hats. Among the “nazists” is the highly respectable lifelong human rights activist and vocal critic of the Kremlin Lyudmila Alexeeva as well as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Boris Nemtsov etc. (some photos and a description in Russians are here).

It’s not surprising at all to see Nashi calling Kremlin’s opponents fascists. In fact, Nashi have been doing this ever since they themselves were compared to Hitlerjugend in April 2005 (for instance, I was an organizer of one such action). The best way to fight such accusations, they concluded, is to call oneself an Antifascist Movement. As a proverb says, attack is the best form of defense.

There is another problem that some bloggers point to. The Seliger Camp is not a Nashi’s own playground. Thanks to their leader Vasiliy Yakemenko’s position in the government they made it an official state-sponsored event. It means that taxpayers’ money have been spent on mocking and blackmouthing political opposition and human rights activists. One can wonder how it goes with the principles of pluralism and impartiality of the state embedded in the Russian Constitution. Others would just say that instead of wasting budget money on this propaganda crap, the government should have spent them on pensions or, say, repairing roads in the province.

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Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

July 28, 2010 at 10:04

Russian, Finnish Civic Activists Write to Their Presidents

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These days I am participating in the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum in Helsinki. By coincidence (well, at least the organizers say it is a coincidence), Dmitry Medvedev and the Finnish President Tarja Halonen are also meeting not far from here. The participants of the Forum used this opportunity to adopt an address to the two:

Dear President Halonen,
Dear President Medvedev,

While you are meeting today in Finland, we, representatives of Russian and Finnish civil societies, are also gathering here to discuss how non-governmental actors can contribute to cooperation between our two nations and to building a common European space based on the principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights. We would like to draw your attention to the following concerns, which are in the center of our discussions today.

Like you, dear Presidents, we also want to see Russia a modern and prosperous country. However, we believe that without ensuring fundamental freedoms, building strong democratic institutions and an independent judiciary any technological modernization efforts will fail. It goes without saying that free and fair elections and independence of the media are essential to this process.

We want to share with you some of our immediate concerns, which require resolute actions that go beyond declarations.

In particular, we are convinced that the draft law granting new powers to the FSB contradicts not only the Russian Constitution but also recognized international norms. Therefore, it should not be signed by the President of the Russian Federation.

We are extremely concerned about continued persecution of human rights defenders, political activists, trade unionists and journalists in Russia. Instead of fighting terrorism and organized crime, thousands of law enforcement officials harass civic and political activists, often under the pretext of fighting extremism. This practice must be stopped. Murders of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers must be effectively investigated, and perpetrators brought to justice. Impunity simply must come to an end.

Lack of fair trial and due process fundamentally undermine access to justice in Russia. This includes torture in pretrial detention centers, politically motivated trials in cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and others; persecution of Alexey Sokolov and Oleg Orlov for their human rights work and Valentin Urusov for his trade union activism, as well as the lack of effective investigation of murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Sergey Magnitsky. In the case of Magnitsky it is even more blatant because the names of those responsible for his death are well known. This list is by far not exhaustive.

Freedom of assembly continues to be denied to the Russian public. Across Europe we are united in support of Russian activists who convene peaceful gatherings in the framework of ”Strategy 31.” In a week from now, we will again express our solidarity with Russian people in Helsinki, Prague, Brussels, Berlin and other cities across the continent. We call on you, President Medvedev, to guarantee the freedom of assembly on 31 July and in the future.

We hope, President Halonen and President Medvedev, that these concerns close to our hearts will form an important part of your dialogue and that future Russian-Finnish modernization cooperation will include concrete projects in such areas as building independent judiciary, strengthening the rule of law and developing robust democratic institutions.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

July 21, 2010 at 16:05

Russian Duma Introduces Even More Restrictions on Public Protest

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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.

2010-07-09-trolleybus.jpgThe 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.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

July 12, 2010 at 21:29

Washington Ideas

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I’m sitting in a cafe at Vienna Airport and have a few minutes for a short account of my visit to Washington DC. I was invited there to discuss the most recent Nations In Transit report by Freedom House. According to the report’s findings, Russia has experienced, unsurprisingly, the worst decline of democracy among all 29 post-Communist countries.

Before and after the discussion that took place at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I and Vladimir Milov (a co-author of the famous Putin. The Outcome reports) met with US policymakers, human rights activists and journalists. We shared our views on the current state of affairs and dynamics of the Russian politics and suggested what can the West do to improve it. One of my ideas was to connect the possibility of US investments into Medvedev’s favourite project of Skolkovo with meeting by the Kremlin of certain conditions of rule of law, independence of the judiciary system and real fight against corruption. Both the Russian society and the American business would benefit from fulfilling fulfilling these conditions, and it would be very difficult to argue against them.

Some other ideas are connected with the positive effect that the US high-tech companies can bring about in Russia. Specifically, I’d name two things: a small one and a big one. The small one is introducing Russian-language interfaces and generally promoting in Russia services like Twitter or flickr. The language barrier is still there despite the two decades of globalization, and even renaming the “Tweet” button into “Чирикнуть” could help a lot. Having more international and independent from the government online services would make RuNet freer and more protected against possible abuse.

The big thing is about bringing more Internet, most importantly broadband, to Russian regions. The vast majority of regular Internet users in the country still reside in Moscow, St. Petersburg and some other big cities while mid-sized and small towns remain offline. Increasing penetration rate is very important to make the Internet an influential medium, in social and political sense. This task is certainly easier to put than to complete, though.

A few minutes after sharing some of these ideas at the State Department, we learned that 10 men were arrested in the US and accused of spying for Russia (fortunately, I am still at large). Looks like the honeymoon between the White House and the Kremlin is over.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

June 30, 2010 at 10:20

People Protest Despite More Police Brutality

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This was another rally at Triumfalnaya Square in a campaign for freedom of assembly (the campaign is called Strategy 31 after the paragraph 31 of the Russian Constitution that guarantees this right). Although the organizers fulfilled all legal procedures needed for arranging a demonstration, the Moscow government banned it for the seventh consecutive time. The pretext for the ban was a spoiler event organized by United Russia’s Youth Guard.

According to the media, 1000 to 2000 people came to Triumfalnaya Square despite the ban, which is more than at any of the previous rallies of this campaign. 140 to 170 of them were arrested. The protest was completely nonviolent; however the police actions were quite brutal. Most people including myself were arrested without a warning and dragged into special police buses (autozaks) by force. A lot of them were beaten and verbally insulted by the police at the time of arrest. Men and women were treated alike (at least we’ve got some equality). When I and other people at my autozak protested against our illegal arrest and cruel treatment, police officers beat us with batons and fists and strangled. I was lucky not to get only bruises and scratches; another detainee, Gazeta.ru reporter Alexander Artemyev, had his arm broken by the police at the custody. After we were already arrested, police used tear gas to disperse the crowd that remained on the square.

I was held at the autozak and then the police station for 9 hours (the law only allows for 3 hours of detention). I was charged with “participation in an illegal public event” and “disobedience to a police officer’s lawful orders.” The proofs were forged: police officers wrote false reports (their texts had been prepared by the Moscow police HQ and were similar for all the arrested) on my alleged offence; the reports were signed not by the officers who had arrested me. The penalty can be a fine and/or detention for up to 15 days.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

June 2, 2010 at 01:56

Posted in arrests, events

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Putin vs. Obama: What People Search

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You can tell a lot about a political figure by just looking at what people want to know about her. One of the simplest ways to learn it is to use Google’s search prompt.

Let’s compare what people search for with Putin and with Obama as keywords:

Lines of the first pic translated top-down:
“putin and kabaeva” (there are rumors of Putin having an affair with young athlete, United Russia’s State Duma deputy Alina Kabaeva)
“putin” (plain and simple, yet less popular than the Kabaeva story)
“putin eats children” (it was a humorous slogan coined by Oborona in 2006 after Putin’s famous kissing of a small boy’s belly)
“putin crab” (this is a pun made of Putin’s well-known statement that he’d been working “as a slave at a galley,” which sounds in Russian close to “as a crab at a galley”)
“putin bio” (finally, at least somebody still wants to know something about this guy)
“dismiss putin” (a popular opposition slogan and a name of a Website where signatures for his resignment are gathered)
“putin jew” (the guys who tend to believe that Putin is connected with ZOG apparently want to check it)
“putin vladimir vladimirovich” (his full name, like if there are many different Putins around)
“putin must go” (it’s quite clear, right?)
“putin kabaeva” (they stilll want to know more about it)

The least we can say is, few users take Putin seriously. He is either a hero of tabloids, jokes and puns or someone people want to get rid of. Nobody wants to read his speeches, follow his blog (well, he has none anyway) or even learn about any of his proposals (most of them are too vague and populist to be taken seriously, too).

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

May 25, 2010 at 01:02

Posted in Uncategorized

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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.

Written by Oleg Kozlovsky

April 29, 2010 at 00:02

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