The Russian government of Vladimir Putin has increased pressure against the activities of the Other Russia across the country, including in Moscow, during our primary election cycle. In recent days four delegate conferences have been blocked by the government. This is a significant escalation by the Kremlin because their actions come not against street protests or public demonstrations, but against formal meetings of people attempting to engage in the democratic process. Our conferences are open and transparent, but apparently even these democratic discussions have been forbidden by the Kremlin. This signifies a broad step onto totalitarian soil.
Participants in Rostov and Smolensk were taken into custody and later released without charges — clearly the only intent was to disrupt the conferences. In Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow, the conferences were blocked by the sudden withdrawal of permission by the host sites, which had been booked well in advance. The cinema in Moscow called to say they “needed the approval of local authorities” and that they were breaking our contract because we “hadn’t informed them of the political nature of the event.” Our backup site then sent a message saying it would be unavailable the date of the conference “due to a technical problem with the building.” Several of our members went to the site to notify people because we hadn’t had enough time to reach everyone. When we arrived, there were many police as well as a large “under repairs” sign.
So we tried the giant Izmailova hotel complex, where they also have a large conference hall and other facilities. This is where we have reserved rooms and meeting space for the September 30th Congress and we hoped they might save the day by hosting our Moscow regional conference there at the last minute. They accepted and received our down payment. But on Saturday they contacted us to say that the event couldn’t take place, with no further explanation. The owners had always put business first, but clearly that is no longer the case.
At a press conference today in Moscow, we publicly requested that the Izmailova representatives confirm our reservation for the 30th. This is a huge package with a substantial down payment that includes the conference hall, 400 rooms with food, etc. Their response was that they would “need approval from the local authorities.” It appears the same script has been handed out widely.
This is not just more of the same from the Kremlin. As Garry Kasparov put it in chess terms:
“This is an illegal move, a pawn jump from e3 to e6. Putin isn’t playing games anymore, he is simply banning a legitimate event with Russian citizens attempting to participate in a democratic process. And this is in Moscow itself, not in a distant region far from scrutiny. They don’t care anymore. The gloves are off and the iron fist reveals itself. It’s one thing to employ rule changes and tricks to prevent us from registering for elections, or to antagonize us in the street. This is as close as the regime has come to simply banning all opposition activities.”
Again we ask, if Russia is a democracy, why can we not participate? If Putin and his gang are not afraid, if they are so popular, why do they not allow us to meet and to organize? Their worst fear, it now becomes apparent, is not a few thousand marchers in the streets. It is a few thousand Russians participating in an open and democratic system and setting a bad example for the rest of the country.
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Burning books is considered passé these days in Moscow. Preference is given to quieter methods of keeping critical tomes off the shelves of Russian bookstores, or the Moscow International Book Fair. First, the largest Russian publisher, Eksmo, announced that Other Russia leader Garry Kasparov’s new book, “How Life Imitates Chess,” would not be released in time for the Fair as planned. First they said there was a delay due to a technical issue and now a spokesperson says it is because Kasparov’s contract with Eskmo has expired. Certainly it couldn’t be that it was deemed unwise to have a big display of an opposition leader’s face with elections so near at hand? After over seven years of Putin we simply don’t believe in such coincidences.
Now the new book of political activist Ruslan Linkov has also disappeared from the shelves. An unknown buyer purchased the entire print run of 5,000 books to ensure it wouldn’t be available at the Book Fair, where it was scheduled to be launched yesterday. The book delves into the mysterious assassinations of several Kremlin critics, including Galina Starovoitova, killed in 1998 in St. Petersburg. Linkov was her assistant and was himself shot in the head during the attack. Every copy of his book, “Notes from a Survivor,” were purchased by a single buyer before they were even printed. More will now be printed, but of course the book fair launch has been missed.