Daily Archives: March 26, 2007

The Crackdown in Nizhny Novogorod

Last week, LR reported that the cowardly Kremlin had once again banned the peaceful protest march of Garry Kasparov’s “Other Russia” party, this time in Nizhny Novgorod (last time it was in Piter). The valiant party members marched anyway, and reader Penny, among many others, writes LR to point with horror at the weekend crackdown (pictured above). A reader reports that the police were much more aggressive this time in seeking to grab photographic devices and destroy records of their acts; yet, in the age of the Internet, some images will inevitably slip through their slimy fingers.

The AP reports:

Riot police wielding truncheons broke up an opposition rally in a central Russian city on Saturday, detaining dozens of activists and beating some of them in the third major crackdown on a demonstration in recent months.

The activists focused on local issues but also accused the Kremlin of stifling free speech, silencing dissent and depriving them of a free and fair political process ahead of December parliamentary elections and next year’s presidential vote. Authorities had not given permission for the rally in a central square in Nizhny Novgorod, saying a demonstration could only take place far from the city center. Hundreds of riot police in full gear cordoned off the central square. Still, organizer Natalya Morar said, several hundred protesters managed to hold a short rally – dubbed the March of Those Who Disagree – near the central square until police dragged them into buses that took them to police stations.

An Associated Press photographer saw dozens of protesters taken into custody by police and some beaten with truncheons. The photographer was briefly detained by officers, who later released him, saying there had been a mistake.

President Vladimir Putin, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term, has given strong hints that he would pick a favored successor. Opposition groups have accused the Kremlin of further consolidating control over the country’s political life ahead of elections to make sure its opponents stand no chance of winning.

State-controlled television channels made no mention of the rally in their newscasts throughout the day.

Oksana Chelysheva, another organizer and rights activist, said her group had received complaints from hundreds of people heading to the rally who said they were blocked by police from entering the city center. Morar said hundreds of activists had been pulled off trains and buses and detained on their way to the rally. She said several dozen journalists, including foreign reporters, were also detained.

Among those arrested was Marina Litvinovich, an aide to liberal opposition figure Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion turned fierce critic of Putin. Litvinovich told The Associated Press that she was detained, to prevent her from protesting, as she was driving into the city, on the grounds that her personal car was on a list of stolen vehicles. She was released several hours later, only to be arrested a second time for the same purported reason. Morar said two other organizers detained ahead of the rally were in custody on suspicion of terrorist activity. She said they have been accused of distributing pamphlets with instructions on how to become a terrorist.

Regional police spokesman Alexander Gorbatov said that only about 30 people had been detained for holding an unauthorized protest. It was unclear what would happen to the protesters who were detained. Under Russian law, police can hold suspects for up to 3 days, after which they must either be released or a court must sanction their arrest for a longer period of time, pending investigation.

The local news agency, Nizhny Novgorod, cited deputy governor Sergei Potapov as saying protesters were receiving funding from the United States and several European countries. “They are looking for pretexts for discontent for money,” Potapov was quoted as saying. Organizers denied the allegations. “The authorities are afraid of people, they feel highly insecure,” Chelysheva said. “They fear that people will express their discontent” during elections.

The rally in Nizhny Novgorod, about 250 miles east of Moscow, was the third such protest in recent months. While the first was allowed to take place in Moscow in December, police detained dozens of participants before and during the rally, according to organizers. Protesters then gathered for a second March of Those Who Disagree earlier this month in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, but the rally was violently broken up by police.

Since taking office in 2000, Putin has made steps to centralize power and eliminate democratic checks and balances. He has created an obedient parliament, abolished direct gubernatorial elections, tightened restrictions on rights groups and presided over the reining-in of non-state television channel.

The Sunday Times adds more detail:

DOZENS of opponents of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, were arrested yesterday as they tried to stage an antiKremlin demonstration that was broken up by riot police wielding batons. Clashes broke out as hundreds of policemen prevented the protesters, who accuse Putin of rolling back democracy and returning to Soviet-style authoritarianism, from gathering in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia’s third-largest city.

Many of those detained were taken off trains as they travelled to the city and even journalists covering the demonstration were arrested. According to unconfirmed reports, two of the protest organisers were accused of distributing a terrorism manual that their colleagues said did not even exist. If so, the two could be tried on terrorism charges and face a lengthy jail sentence. “It’s shocking that the authorities would go to such lengths and expense to stop people from voicing their opinions,” said Denis Bilunov, one of the protesters and a close aide of Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion who has become one of Putin’s fiercest critics.

“As far as I know, all the organisers have been arrested. The Kremlin calls this a democracy.”

Yesterday’s crackdown, in which several protesters were said to have been beaten by police, is part of a Kremlin campaign to crush opposition to Putin’s rule and to ensure that the candidate he chooses as his successor wins next year’s presidential election. The Russian constitution bars him from serving more than two terms. During Putin’s seven years in power, the Kremlin has brought all national television channels and most newspapers under its control. Opposition figures have been jailed, driven into exile, threatened and in some cases — never proven to be linked to the Kremlin — gunned down. Genuine opposition in Russia’s next parliament will be further neutered after the supreme court announced last week that it had closed down the small Republican party for having too few members.

Censorship is so strict that TV journalists are provided with unofficial lists of politicians they are not allowed to mention in reports. “We have long been told that as far as we are concerned, those on the list don’t exist in Russia,” said a TV reporter.

News bulletins paint Putin and his policies in glowing terms — a practice reminiscent of Sovi-et-era propaganda. Parliament, a source of fierce opposition under Boris Yeltsin’s rule, is now a rubber-stamp assembly.

The two main parties that dominate both houses, United Russia and A Just Russia, are fervently pro-Kremlin and are headed by close allies of the president. In a move widely condemned as antidemocratic, Putin has abolished regional elections and now has the power to nominate and sack governors. Officially the president’s candidates need approval from local legislatures but the procedure is a formality. “The average voter is neither expected nor able to influence policy in the slightest,” wrote Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent member of parliament whose Republican party was banned last week. “The voter’s only function is to confer a sort of legitimacy on the authorities by voting in rigged elections.”

The Kremlin denies it is back-tracking on democracy and says elections are free and fair. But it makes no secret of its wish to end the splintered party system that plagued Russia in the 1990s. Putin has recently taken further steps to ensure the outcomes of parliamentary elections in December and the presidential poll in March 2008 are the ones he wants. Small political parties seeking to stand find the barriers all but insurmountable. Even Yabloko, the country’s best known opposition party, was struck off the ballot in local elections in St Petersburg earlier this year. A protest vote is no longer possible since the Kremlin recently had the option of “against all” taken off ballots. Nor are demonstrations tolerated. Yesterday’s march was one of many banned or broken up by the authorities.

About 100 protesters were detained earlier this year when members of Other Russia, a coalition of small opposition groups led by Kasparov, demonstrated in St Petersburg. Kasparov told reporters last week he feared for his safety in Russia. He has moved his family to New York and employs bodyguards. He also tries to avoid flying on Aeroflot, the state airline. “There is a risk of becoming a victim and I have to reduce the chances,” said Kasparov. “But I take it as part of my moral duty that I am carrying on.”

Other opposition figures have given up. Last week Sergei Gla-zyev, a former presidential candidate, announced he was leaving politics as Putin now wielded more power than the tsars. “Policy in this country is determined by one man,” he said.

Neo-Soviet Russia Seeks to Ban Reporting on Race Crimes

Yusuf Sultonov, whose 9-year-old daughter
was beaten and stabbed to death in
St. Petersburg on February 9, 2004 (TASS)

Remember the bad old days when the USSR, instead of actually trying to solve a problem, simply prohibited anyone from mentioning it (killing or imprisoning or exiling those who broke the rule)? Remember how that crazed policy destroyed the country utterly? Remember how certain even more crazed idiots in the West said it could never happen again?
Radio Free Europe reports:

A bill under consideration in Russia’s parliament would forbid the media from revealing the race or ethnicity of both suspected criminals and crime victims. The bill’s supporters say such legislation is necessary to fight racism, but journalists and human rights activists say it will have the opposite effect.

Each year in Russia, hundreds of ethnic minorities are attacked and scores are killed in what human rights activists describe as hate crimes. Proposed amendments to the media law would also forbid the publication or broadcast of the religion of crime suspects and victims.

Fears Of Increased Attacks

Journalists and human rights activists say the changes — if enacted — will actually do little to reduce racially motivated attacks — and could actually make the situation worse.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Russian Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, says, “If this law really comes into force, then people will not know about the victims of skinheads, nationalists, and fascists.” Police and prosecutors in Russia have long been reluctant to recognize racially motivated hate crimes as such. When such crimes are prosecuted at all, they tend to be treated as simple cases of “hooliganism.” Analysts say legislation effectively banning the media from reporting on racial attacks would just push the problem deeper and deeper into the shadows.

Galina Kozhevnikova, the deputy director of the Sova Center, a Moscow-based organization that tracks hate crimes, says her group has already witnessed a tendency to hide this kind of crime. “Even without any laws, newspapers are reporting less and less about these types of crimes when in reality they are happening more and more. This partially comes from the law enforcement bodies who are trying to hide the magnitude of the problem,” Kozhevnikova says.


Analysts also say that those who wish to spread ethnic intolerance through the media would still be able to do so. “We have seen hostile language in the press. And we are also witnessing the manipulation of neutral rhetoric that can also be interpreted as ethnic,” Kozhevnikova says. “The word migrant, which is social rhetoric, is today used in Russia exclusively to mean non-Russians” Arlene Morgan, associate dean of the Columbia University Journalism School in New York, says U.S. and Western media organizations are careful not to perpetuate racial and ethnic stereotypes in their reporting. Such practices, she says, are voluntary and are the subject of professional ethics. “You really need to think very carefully about why you are including the race or ethnicity or religion of a person. It has to really be meaningful to the telling of the story,” Morgan says. “And I think those guidelines serve us pretty well because you don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes and you don’t want to perpetuate racial hatred. But you also need to be pretty clear when that [a person’s race or ethnicity] is germane [to the story],” she adds.

But Morgan, who specializes in issues of race and ethnicity in media, said she sees no benefit in an outright legislative ban like the one proposed in Russia. Moreover, Morgan says identifying a victim’s race, ethnicity, or religion is absolutely necessary when reporting on hate crimes. “It [the proposed ban] doesn’t make any sense to me because if it is a hate crime there has to be a reason for the hatred. Usually it is because of somebody’s race or ethnic or religious background. I mean that’s what the whole thing is about,” Morgan says. “So to basically ban reporters from delving into those issues, I mean, you’re just tying their hands and their voice obviously, [and preventing them] from telling the real story. You might as well not do the story. Which, it seems to me is what they are trying to do. To try to curb any kind of storytelling around these issues.”

Silencing Journalists

And many analysts say this is exactly the point of the legislation — preventing troublesome journalists from reporting on a troubling issue. Panfilov from the Russian Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations says the law, if approved, will be used selectively. “If this law comes into force it will be used only against independent journalists and against those journalists that criticize the authorities,” he says. The Moscow city legislature has submitted the legislation to the Russian State Duma. Moscow City Duma Speaker Vladimir Platonov was unavailable for comment. As a result of the growing concern about the legislation, the Russian Public Chamber, which oversees and evaluates the work of parliament, has announced plans to hold hearings on the bill’s possible effects.

Recall RFE’s August 2005 report on the horrifyingly deep roots of Russian racism:

More than half of Russians have xenophobic views — that is the charge coming from Russian human rights campaigners today. In a new report, rights groups say that — despite progress in some areas — racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism remain rife in Russia. But what worries watchdogs most are recent moves by nationalist-patriotic movements to form paramilitary groups.

Russian human-rights advocates gathered in Moscow today to assess the level of racism, ethnic discrimination, and anti-Semitism in the country for the first half of 2005. The results, they told reporters, are not encouraging. Semyon Charny is an expert at the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and the author of the new report. He said xenophobic feelings remain widespread in Russia. In a recent nationwide poll, Charny said over half of the respondents espoused nationalist views. “The level of xenophobia remains stable and high,” he said. “Between 50 and 60 percent of the population sympathize, to various degrees, with nationalist slogans such as ‘Russia for Russians’. The first people to inspire irritation are the Caucasians, Central Asians, and Chinese. Jewish people rank third or fourth.”

According to the report, Chechens continue to top the list of the most-hated people in Russia. It is a hostility human rights advocates largely attribute to the war in Chechnya that has been claiming lives daily on both sides for most of the past decade. But there was also encouraging news. The report said the number of racially motivated murders has dwindled in the first half of this year, with 10 foreigners killed. That number was three times higher during the same period in 2004. The number of such attacks and killings, however, still remains much higher than in European countries.

The report comes just days after two Polish diplomatic personnel and a Polish journalist were beaten up and hospitalized in Moscow, sparking a diplomatic row. Human rights groups say some progress has also been made in recognizing racially motivated attacks and punishing assailants on charges of incitement of ethnic and religious hatred. Russian law-enforcement agencies have long angered watchdogs by dismissing racial attacks as mere hooliganism.

In the first half of 2005, however, five people have been sentenced for inciting ethnic and religious hatred. Only one person was sentenced on the charge for the same period last year.
Despite these positive trends, rights advocates expressed strong concerns over recent moves by Russian nationalist-patriotic groups to form their own armed groups. Alla Gerber, who heads Russia’s Holocaust Foundation, said these political organizations are rapidly trading propaganda speeches for weapons. “The most deadly for me is the transition of national patriotic parties and movements from propaganda to calls for terror,” she said. “This is the latest and most important development. Before, there were words, propaganda, but now there are calls for an open, organized terror.”

Charny said Russia’s numerous nationalist-patriotic movements are beginning to openly state their plans to form armed paramilitary groups and seize power by force. Some of these groups, Charny added, organize forums during which they explain to their members how to get hold of weapons. Slavyansky Soyuz (Slavic Union) is one of these groups. It is known to have called for an armed uprising and broken into the websites of Russian human-rights organizations. Slavyansky Soyuz’s own website features the group’s insignia, a symbol approximating the Nazi swastika. It offers links to a prominent skinhead website. It also displays pictures of youths with their right hand raised in the air in imitation of the Nazi salute, and a series of articles disparaging various ethnic and religious groups.

In parallel, Charny says skinhead groups are also on the rise and are now active in all Russian regions: “Concerning skinheads, their numbers are definitely growing, they are spreading to more and more cities. Now, we can say there is not a single region that does not have a band of skinheads.” According to official figures, there are 10,000 skinheads in Russia. But human rights groups and experts contend the real figure is more than five times higher. According to the report, skinheads were responsible for most of the racially motivated attacks and killings this year.

How Does Russia Despise Foreigners? Let LR count the ways . . .

The Moscow Times reports:

Expatriates beware: You now have to prove that you aren’t a drug addict to work in Russia.

A little-noticed regulation came into effect at the start of this year that requires foreigners who work or intend to work here to have their blood tested for traces of drugs. Evidence of the drugs is reason for authorities to refuse to issue a work permit. The regulation indicates that authorities want to know whether a foreigner is addicted to hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin, not marijuana or hashish. “On receiving a work permit, the employer must present medical certificates confirming the absence in the employee of illnesses associated with drug addicts,” the regulation says.

Foreigners should not be concerned about the fact that the certificate is only valid for three months, the Federal Migration Service said. “The regulation says that documents are to be submitted once in a year,” a service spokesman said Thursday. “So a certificate of a drug test will also be needed only once.” But if a foreigner wants to undergo an operation at a hospital or apply for a loan at a bank, he will need to present a certificate that is still in effect. If that comes more than three months after the test when the work permit was issued, the foreigner will have to go for a second test. Essentially, the arrangement is the same as with HIV testing, which is mandatory for both work permits and one-year visas. A 1995 law aimed at preventing the spread of AIDS requires the HIV test. That certificate also lasts for three months, and a foreigner may need to take the test again to receive certain goods or services during the year.

Foreigners contacted Thursday were in the dark about the drug test regulation. “I’ve never heard about such tests,” said Richard van Wageningen, a Dutch citizen and CEO of British Telecom for Russia and the CIS. “I barely needed my HIV test.” Roland Nash, a Briton and head of research at Renaissance Capital, expressed surprise. “They are just increasing the number of hoops that one has to jump through for the honor of working in this country,” Nash said. He said Russian bureaucracy seemed to be getting worse. “It is just another inconvenience that makes things more complicated,” said Marisa Fushille, director of the Moscow American Center, a public library. “But if it is a law, there is no way to avoid it.”

First the British, now the French

First it was the British whose energy investments in Russia were targeted and ejected; now it’s France’s turn. The Moscow Times reports:

Natural Resource Ministry officials have found widespread violations at Total’s main oil field in Russia and may call for the French company’s license to be revoked, a ministry spokesman said Thursday. “There are many significant geological violations, including production violations,” spokesman Rinat Gizatulin said. Vladimir Smolin, one of four deputy heads of the ministry’s environmental watchdog, is due to wrap up a two week long audit of the Kharyaga oil field on Friday, he said. Renewed pressure on the Total-led Kharyaga field comes as the government seeks to ensure that state-linked firms gain majority control over all large natural resource projects.

Total, which runs the field under a production sharing agreement, or PSA, with the government, owns 50 percent of the project. Norway’s Norsk Hydro holds 40 percent and an oil company owned by the Yamal Nenets regional government owns the remaining 10 percent. The project sits on 97 million tons of oil. A decision on Total’s operating license will be made after officials submit a report on the audit, Gizatulin said. Spokespeople at Total declined to comment on the audit. Moscow has been pushing to exercise an option in the Kharyaga PSA that allows a Russian company to buy 10 percent from both foreign participants.

A Russian Blogger on the Russian Elections

The Russian Blogger at Russian News Analysis (now, perhaps bitterly, renamed “Whims of Fate”) offers the following review of the blogosphere in regard to Russian elections:

When a regime is so corrupt and unstable that it is constantly trying to take every measure to insure it’s total power monopoly, it produces a sense of desperation in a country as big and as varied as Russia. I have been watching several Russian forums one on Fontanka.ru which is a independent online news site from St.Petersburg which has a very popular forum and treli.ru which is the site of Vladimir Soloviev who is a host of a circus like but open debate Russian TV show “K bariery!” (“To the Barrier!” or “On the Stand”), broadcast on NTV channel.

The forum on Fontanka.ru had a huge discussion about the March of the discontented which reached over 2000 posts. A lot of people posted why they went to the march and what exactly when on there and how authorities had busted peoples heads and dragged old ladies away in handcuffs.

The forum on Solovyov’s site is also very popular and after every program which features actual opposition there’s a heated discussion. The discussions from what I could tell usually fall into three camps, those for the status quo, those whoa re fed up with the lies and scams and want genuine change, and those that are completely jaded and hopeless and are rabidly anti-American but also against the current vlast. What is very encouraging is that there are many people who are genuinely concerned and have experienced the ravage corruption of the Putin era.

This is an excerpt from one of the posts I translated roughly from Saint Petersburg on elections.

“As it was then found out, Единоросы(United Russia) handed out grocery sets(food bundles), and Fair Russia distributed to pensioners envelopes with money. Opposite to tables where legalized papers, there were tables for filling where pensioners, and all commission closely watched their voting. Curtains on кабинках(voting booths) for voting, very much reminded emblem ЕР(United Russia), and they could not be drawn, that you did not see. The youth on elections was not present at all.

The extent to which the elections are a sham can be seen from the fact that all the non-government parties which are the Communists, Zhyrinovsky (LDPR) and SPF are contesting the election in all 14 regions. And this is the Kremlin approved opposition! With United Russia and Just Russia (both Kremlin creations) simply bribing and using all kinds of techniques which even Karl Rove would not approve of . So the approved opposition is screaming that this is unacceptable, while Putin fires the Central Election Commissions Chairman (Veshnyakov that was brazen enough to critique certain changes to election laws. So now Putin control’s the elections completely without some somewhat principled individual to offer his comments. What this all leads to is the complete Kremlin control who’s ultimate aim is to squeeze out ALL but the two Putin approved parties. While this may be seen by some naive observers as Putin’s way to ensure democracy and plurality of opinion it is not so as the parties of power only care about gaining power, influence and stripping the country of resources for its own benefit.

This is the worse possible thing for Russia which already has experienced so much looting and criminal capitalism on a colossal scale. What is the result of a powerful security services, almost entirely no check & balances, huge monopolies in natural resources and no independent judiciary or parliament. This leaves Russia both weak and hugely unstable. As show by the March of the discontented a movement that is more actively anti government is growing.

The Propaganda from Russia Blog Continues Apace

Despite the fact that she banned him from submitting comments to this blog for his personally abusive remarks (until he apologized), Charles Ganske of Russia Blog continues to do so, in a harassing manner. Naturally, these comments will not appear in the comments section, and usually they are so devoid of substance as to be unworthy of notice, but recently he left one which is rather enlightening to review. He stated:

Here is a photo of my recent visit to Moscow, where I regularly enjoyed granulated powdered sugar in my tea.

This harkens back to a comment La Russophobe made back in April of last year, in this blog’s first month of existence. LR remarked upon a photograph of a cake appearing in Russia Blog that powdered sugar was rather diffcult to come by in Russia, especially in the “provinces” outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, and that when you could get it the product was inferior to the Western variant. Russia Blog claimed it was common and just as good as that in the West, whereupon LR challenged RB to “name a single Russian city outside Moscow where they’d been able to buy powdered sugar.” Nearly a year has passed since then, and Russia Blog still hasn’t even attempted to rise to LR’s challenge.

As indicated in LR’s post, at the time of the original powdered sugar discussion, Ganske admitted that even though he was the editor of a Russia blog he had never been to Russia once in his whole life — so obviously, he was in no position to know whether powdered sugar could be purchased in province shops easily or not, much less how it tasted. Instead, he was relying blindly on the statements of his boss Yuri Mamchur, without demanding that Yuri give any specifics about where he’d been able to purchase powdered sugar or when. Apparently, now that he’s made his first visit, he considers himself an expert.

Now, let’s leave aside the fact that the photo is from a post in January, hardly recent. Let’s leave aside the fact that it doesn’t show Ganske enjoying any kind of sugar, much less powdered (asking the editors of Russia Blog for anything like journalism or actual evidence is simply a waste of time). Let’s leave aside the fact that he apparently means “powdered granulated” not “granulated powdered” since the latter would be an oxymoron (asking them to write well is an even more fruitless endeavor). And let’s leave aside that dissolving powdered sugar in tea has nothing to do with eating it raw.

Let’s focus instead on three basic points: (a) LR’s challenge had to do with cities outside of Moscow, not Moscow. Apparently, Ganske did not spend enough time in Russia to find out that people in Moscow live rather differently, and that how they live has nothing to do with how real Russian people live. (b) LR didn’t say it’s impossible to get hold of powdered sugar, she said that in her experience it’s very hard for ordinary people to buy it in shops (in other words, what’s made is generally taken up by factories for commercial use). Ganske may be oblivious to the fact that a person with a blender can make powdered sugar from granulated sugar quite easily (as he’s oblivious of just about everything) — meaning that just because you’re served some doesn’t necessarily mean it was bought in a store. His comment doesn’t say a word about purchasing powdered sugar in shop (much less where, when, who, how). (c) LR also said that when you can get powdered sugar in Russia, it’s inferior to the Western variant. Ganske ignores this too.

Do you notice, dear reader, how Ganske studiously avoids all these points, preferring instead to invent his own idea of what LR said and attack that instead? That’s classic Soviet propaganda at work. Do you also notice how he’s still obsessed with this idea after one year? Bizarre, isn’t it? Especially since he chose to totally ignore LR’s challenge all this time. Did it really take that long for him to come up with this feeble response? Is Russia Blog really that desperate to find some sort of mistake by this blog they can attack?