Dear La Russophobe,
You may be aware of the crude propaganda article which appeared in The Independent last month, praising Valentina Matviyenko, the unelected and corrupt governor of St. Petersburg, as ‘Russia’s Thatcher’. That was, of course, a direct consequence of the Independent being sold to a veteran KGB spy Alexander Lebedev. Lebedev also owns the Evening Standard and has today launched another daily newspaper in the UK, called ‘i’.
We have complained about the Matviyenko article to the Press Complaints Commission and they have confirmed yesterday they are investigating it. The complaint is signed by St. Petersburg regional leaders of all major opposition parties and groups (‘Solidarity’, ‘Yabloko’, ‘United Civil Front’, People’s Democratic Party), leaders of St. Petersburg’s independent NGOs (including the city’s association of small businessmen and the trade union of small business employees, as Matviyenko is notorious for her stifling of small businesses), and other eminent Russians in St. Petersburg as well as several Russian exiles in the UK such as Vladimir Bukovsky and myself.
Although we do not discuss the question of undue influence from Lebedev in the text of the complaint, we are quite prepared to make such allegations on the record, tell about the common business interests Lebedev has with Matviyenko, and suggest that’s probably what was behind the article.
One of the issues in the complaint is the controversy about the Gazprom sky-scraper project, designed by the British firm RMJM, which is opposed by many in St. Petersburg. It was recently reported in Russian press that Charles Phu, the project’s chief architect, said at a public meeting that RMJM was getting regular ‘memoranda’ from Putin, encouraging them to go ahead with the project and promising support from the government. It is also reported that Anton Glikin, the Chairman of the Russian division of the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU) has written to the INTBAU’s patron, the Prince of Wales, about Putin’s improper lobbying of the RMJM.
Following the jump is the Complaint filed against The Independent.
19 October 2010
Dear Sir or Madam,
 This is a complaint against the article ‘Meet Russia’s Thatcher, the chemist who could end up in the Kremlin’ by Mary Dejevsky, published on page 27 of The Independent on 6 September 2010, and reproduced at The Independent .
 The article is an extremely flattering profile of Valentina Matviyenko, the present Governor of St. Petersburg, Russia. Importantly, it appears as a news story and not as an opinion column.
 We contend that the newspaper and the web-site are in breach of the Editors’ Code, Articles 1 (accuracy) and 2 (opportunity to reply).
 The article contains a number of inaccuracies and misleading statements which are flattering to Mrs. Matviyenko and therefore unfair to her political opponents.
 The article exaggerates Mrs. Matviyenko’s popularity, thus misrepresenting the views of St. Petersburg’s population.
 Mrs. Matviyenko’s critics were not given a fair opportunity to reply.
 The article misleadingly suggests Mrs. Matviyenko is a democratically elected governor.
 The emphasis placed on Mrs. Matviyenko’s alleged popularity misleadingly diverts attention from the authoritarian means used to sustain her regime, such as persecution of political opponents, suppression of dissent, and brutal dispersal of opposition rallies. None of that is mentioned in the article.
 The article appears to give Mrs. Matviyenko the credit for attracting investment in St. Petersburg in 2000-2003, whereas in fact she only came to power in 2003. The article incorrectly states the investment came from Russia’s ‘central government’, while in fact most of it came from the city budget and the private sector.
 The article misleadingly suggests the condition of St. Petersburg has improved since 2003 and implies that ‘huge’ construction projects facilitated by the Administration were unreservedly welcomed. It fails to mention the criticism for the destruction of historic buildings, parks and squares, and unlawful seizure of private land.
 The article misrepresents the nature of the controversy around the Gazprom sky-scraper project. The objections to the project are not limited to ecological ones and concerns about the skyline. There are also grave objections concerning preservation of cultural heritage, as well as legal objections.
 The article inaccurately states the architect of the project is Sir Norman Foster. In fact, the project was designed by RMJM company. Sir Norman was on the jury of the design competition at an early stage, but famously walked out in protest against the adoption of RMJM project.
 The article misleadingly suggests that Mrs. Matviyenko is an impartial judge of the sky-scraper controversy and not a party to it. In reality, she has been well known as one of the staunchest supporters of the project.
 The article misleadingly implies that the level of corruption in St. Petersburg is lower than in other regions of Russia. The article praises Mrs. Matviyenko’s policies which purport to ‘tackle corruption’, but does not mention the allegations of widespread corruption in the Matviyenko Administration.
 The article misleadingly implies that Mrs. Matviyenko’s economic policies are Thatcherite and business-friendly.
 The article flatters Mrs. Matviyenko by inaccurately describing her as a ‘chemist’, thus supporting the notion of her similarity to Lady Thatcher. In fact, Mrs. Matviyenko has never worked as, or been educated as, a chemist.
 It is axiomatic that media reports about politicians concern their political opponents as much as themselves. By definition, a favourable profile of a particular politician is damaging to her opponents. Accordingly, misleadingly flattering that politician in a published article is unfair.
 Likewise, any such report necessarily concerns the people governed by the politician featured in it. For example, if a report exaggerates her popularity among a particular group of people, it is unfair to those whose views are thus misrepresented.
 The complainants in this case are political opponents of Mrs. Matviyenko, or residents of St. Petersburg, or (in most cases) both. Therefore, we believe the newspaper and the web-site were unfair to us in publishing the article.
Mrs. Matviyenko is not an elected politician
 The article compares Mrs. Matviyenko, who has been appointed the Governor of St. Petersburg by Vladimir Putin in 2006, to such well-known elected leaders of the West as Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel. The reference to ‘her whole career – from local Communist Youth leader… to elected governor of the city that styles itself Russia’s second capital’ suggests Mrs. Matviyenko still remains the elected governor of St. Petersburg. The article further refers to Mrs. Matviyenko having been ‘convincingly elected’ in the context of discussing certain details of the election campaign.
 Thus the reader is inevitably misled to believe that Mrs. Matviyenko is a democratically elected Governor – and, by implication, that elected regional governors still exist under the present Russian regime.
 In reality, the elected governors of Russia’s regions have been replaced with appointed ones by the Federal Law 159-FZ dated 11 December 2004. In 2006, Mrs. Matviyenko formally resigned as the elected governor of St. Petersburg, one year before the end of her term, to be immediately re-appointed to that position by Vladimir Putin, the dictator of Russia. Since that moment, she is legally accountable to the Kremlin and not to the voters.
 The article makes no mention of this. The last paragraphs mentions that Mrs. Maviyenko was ‘spotted and promoted’ by Vladimir Putin, who ‘gave her the big break: the transfer to St. Petersburg’. That clearly refers to the events of 2003 – when she was appointed the ‘President’s Special Representative in North-West Federal District’ and then elected with Col. Putin’s backing – and not of 2006, when she voluntarily exchanged her electoral mandate for Putin’s patronage, making it clear where her loyalty lied.
 In their subsequent letters to the editor, three of the complainants (Mr. Sergeev, Mr. Bukovsky, and Mr. Kudykov) specifically stressed Mrs. Matviyenko’s position as an unelected governor. The letters from Mr. Bukovsky and Mr. Kudykov were ignored. Mr. Sergeev’s letter was published in part on the Letters page of The Independent on 14 September, but the last paragraph – which mentioned the lack of free elections in St. Petersburg and the position of Mrs. Matviyenko – was excluded.
 Surely, the difference between an elected governor and un unelected one is significant enough to merit a clarification; and the nearly full page allocated to praising Mrs. Matviyenko provided enough space to make this clarification.
The human rights situation
 The emphasis placed in the article on Mrs. Matviyenko’s alleged popularity reinforces the false impression that her position and powers depend on the popular vote. This is a gross misrepresentation of Russia’s present political system as well as Mrs. Matviyenko’s government of St. Petersburg.
 In reality, Russia is governed by an authoritarian regime, where the power of the rulers depends on the ruthlessness of political repression rather than their popularity among the people. Mrs. Matviyenko’s position as the Governor is no exception to that rule, and the article should have reflected that.
 For instance, on Mrs. Matviyenko’s coming to power in 2003, the article only tells about campaign posters and poll results; but it does not mention the Stalinist-style purge allegedly organised by the Kremlin to oust the previous government of St. Petersburg. Mrs. Matviyenko’s predecessor as the Governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, was allegedly pressurised to resign amid threats that his wife and son would be imprisoned on fabricated charges. Criminal cases were allegedly fabricated against a number of Yakovlev’s associates, including Vice Governor Alexander Potekhin, Vice Governor Valery Malyshev, and the Head of St. Petersburg’s Kirov Area Vladimir Yarmin. Mr. Malyshev subsequently died while under pre-trial investigation. Mr. Yarmin spent a year in prison and was then acquitted in court. Another associate of Mr. Yakovlev, Andrei Korchagin, who is one of the complainants in this case, was allegedly forced to resign his position of the Head of Nevsky Area under threats of being imprisoned on fabricated charges.
 Surely, so dramatic circumstances of Mrs. Matviyenko’s coming to power deserved at least a brief mention in the article; without that, Mary Dejevsky’s account remains misleading.
 There have been further criminal cases fabricated in order to strengthen Mrs. Matviyenko’s regime in St. Petersburg. Thus, in 2007 the FSB (former KGB) fabricated a criminal case against several young Muslims (Ravil Muratov, Timur Saidgareyev and Vladislav Baranov) accused of a conspiracy to assassinate Mrs. Matviyenko. The case was widely criticised as a propaganda trick initiated by Mrs. Matviyenko herself. Fortunately, all the charges failed at a jury trial in 2008; but not before Mr. Muratov, Mr. Saidgareyev and Mr. Baranov spent about a year in prison, awaiting trial.
 Those fabrications were mentioned in Mr. Bukovsky’s letter to the editor and, in greater detail, in Mr. Stroilov’s letter. Neither was published.
 Mrs. Matviyenko is personally responsible for repeated unlawful bans of peaceful protests on the streets of St. Petersburg, which are then, as a rule, brutally suppressed by the police. Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by Article 31 of Russia’s Constitution, which has direct legal effect; Mrs. Matviyenko has no legal power to restrict that freedom in her city. Russian web-sites and blogs are full of photographs and videos of the police brutality towards the protestors in St. Petersburg. Several photographs are available at Mr. Sergeev’s blog: http://na6ludatelb.livejournal.com/973581.html. More photographs of the infamously brutal suppression of the rally on 31 July 2010 are available at this link: http://community.livejournal.com/spb_ru/4323122.html; a video can be seen at this web-site: http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/26688/.
 A detailed and comprehesive overview of the human rights situation is available in the annual report of St. Petersburg Human Rights Council at this link:
 Those are the means by which Mrs. Matviyenko sustains her power over St. Petersburg; no report on the subject which fails to mention at least some of them can be regarded as accurate or fair.
The popular mood in St. Petersburg
 The article asserts that Mrs. Matviyenko’s rule has brought about ‘transformation of the public mood’, so that ‘people on the streets of St Petersburg seem confident and content with themselves’. The caption under a photograph of Mrs. Matviyenko refers to her as ‘the woman who transformed the city of St. Petersburg’s skyline and put a smile on residents’ faces’. The article mentions she was ‘convincingly elected’ and describes her career as ‘a near-ideal reflection of her country’s experience’. The article does not mention any criticism of Mrs. Matviyenko. All this misleads the readers to believe that Mrs. Matviyenko is overwhelmingly popular in St. Petersburg.
 There are no precise means to assess the public mood under an authoritarian regime, with no freedom of expression and no free elections. Due to the excessive zeal of electoral commissions, elections in some regions of Russia may show the government popularity to rate as high as 109 per cent. Needless to say, such a figure is in no way illustrative of the real mood of the public; nor is any poll in today’s Russia.
 Nevertheless, significant evidence is available of the growing discontent in St. Petersburg. In spite of the brutal suppression of opposition rallies, the number of protestors is growing steadily. On 31 August 2010 – just a week before the publication of the article – over 1,000 people went to the streets of St. Petersburg to defy Mrs. Matviyenko’s ban of the rally in support of freedom of assembly. Undoubtedly, this fact is very significant and very relevant to the issue of Mrs. Matviyenko’s popularity; and yet, it is not mentioned in the article. Mr. Kudykov made this point in his letter to the editor, but it was never published.
 Although any critic of the authorities is automatically at risk of persecution in today’s Russia, the criticism of Mrs. Matviyenko is widespread in the independent media and blogs. The petition for a resignation of Ms. Matviyenko at the web-site http://piter-bez-matvienko.ru/ has been signed by 5,706 people and the number is growing. It is obvious that by making their names public, the signatories expose themselves to considerable risk.
 Therefore, the popularity of Mrs. Matviyeno among the people she governs is by no means an undisputed fact. The article should have either presented some credible evidence in support of that assumption or mentioned the alternative view.
The state of the city infrastructure
 The article states: ‘Vast investment of the central government improved the city’s dilapidated fabric in time for the 300th anniversary in 2003’. In the given context, the statement misleadingly creates an impression that the investment was attracted by the successful government of Mrs. Matviyenko. The article fails to mention that Mrs. Matviyenko only came to power in 2003, and therefore most of the investment had been made under her predecessor.
 Nor is it correct to give all the credit for that investment to ‘the central government’, since most of the investment came from the private sector or from the city budget.
 Furthermore, that statement implies that the ‘city’s fabric’ under Mrs. Matviyenko remains in a good condition. The article continues: ‘But the bigger changes have happened since, with huge new housing and commercial building projects’. The rest of the article contains not a word on the matter.
 In reality, St. Petersburg under Mrs. Matviyenko has been reduced to its former dilapidated state. The historic embankment of the Griboyedov Canal in Central St. Petersburg has collapsed this July and has not been repaired since. The New Holland area, with its unique historic architecture, lies in ruins. This winter, the city’s streets and canals were blocked with huge piles of snow, while the Governor was spending her vacations away from the city. Predictably, piling snow in the canals resulted in devastating floods this spring. The road network maintenance, with the exception of several major routes, is in a dreadful state – the popular opinion blaming the corruption, insider dealings and embezzlement in the industry. This list could be continued on and on.
 Illustrative photographs are available on countless Russian web-sites and blogs; see, for example, Mr. Sergeev’s illustrated response to the article on his blog: http://na6ludatelb.livejournal.com/973581.html.
 More photographs of the condition of Griboyedov Canal Embankment can be seen, for example, at http://www.fontanka.ru/2010/07/29/138/picture.10.html.
 More photographs of the present state of New Holland can be seen at the following web-links:
The construction projects
 It is true that the Matviyenko Administration is responsible for the ‘huge new housing and commercial building projects’ in 2003-2010. However, the article misleadingly implies that those projects were necessarily good for the city. Mrs. Matviyenko’s policies in this respect are widely criticised; the article should have mentioned that criticism. At the same time, considerable evidence is available that high-ranking officials in the Administration have vested interests in those projects; the article should have mentioned those allegations.
 These projects cost the city the destruction of its historic centre. The incomplete list of over 100 such buildings destroyed in Central St. Petersburg during Mrs. Matviyenko’s reign has been published by the ‘Living City’, a leading single-issue group campaigning against that very policy:
 Six historic buildings were demolished at the city’s high street – the Nevsky Prospekt – alone. This was often compared, unfavourably, to the Nazi German blockade of Leningrad during the Second World War, when only two historic buildings were destroyed on Nevsky.
 Parks, squares, and other ‘green’ zones in the city are being systematically destroyed to clear the space for those construction projects. Only this June, the Governor was widely criticised for removing the protected status from at least 800 more parks and squares in the city.
 Many private car parks and private garages have been unlawfully seized by the Administration to secure the land for the construction projects in question.
 The new housing remains unaffordable for a vast majority of residents, being sold for £2,000 per sq. meter, the average salary in the city being about £500 per month.
 All these points were made, inter alia, in the collective letter by Oleg Basilashvili, Yuri Shmidt, Nina Katerli, and Dr. Irina Levinskaya. However, the newspaper has chosen not to publish the letter.
The Gazprom sky-scraper controversy
 The article states: ‘Her detailed answers started with her support – or not – for the Norman Foster tower that the Russian gas giant, Gazprom, wants to build in her city. On balance, she seemed to support it, in the face of fierce ecological objections, but not in a dogmatic way that would prevent compromise with protest groups concerned about damage to St Petersburg’s skyline.’
 This is a serious misrepresentation of the nature of the controversy as well as the position of Mrs. Matviyenko.
 It is incorrect to refer to the project as a ‘Norman Foster tower’. The architect of the project is the UK-based firm RMJM and not Sir Norman Foster. Sir Norman used to be on the jury of the design competition at an early stage. Not only did he oppose the RMJM project, but famously walked out from the jury, along with two other internationally renowned architects, in protest against the barbaric destruction of the historic layout of St. Petersburg.
 The objections to the project are not limited to ecological ones or concerns about damage to the skyline.
 The project is also widely criticised on the grounds that it would bury several unique archaeological sites, namely the medieval Swedish fortresses Landskron and Nyenschantz, an early medieval Russian town, and a pre-historic settlement.
 There are also significant legal objections to the project. The legality of Mrs. Matviyenko’s decision to give permission for the project was officially examined by a government watchdog – Federal Service for Supervision of Compliance with Legislation on Preservation of Cultural Heritage (Rosokhrankultura) – which concluded the decision was unlawful. This was widely reported in Russian press (see, for example, Kommersant, 10 October 2009). In particular, the legal protection given in Russian law to such archaeological sites as the Nyenschantz fortress includes a ban on the construction of any buildings higher than 40 meters.
 The law of St. Petersburg also requires that ‘public hearings’ must be held before a construction project at this scale is given a permission, where supporters and opponents of the project can put their views on the record. The ‘public hearings’ on the Gazprom project took place on 27 June 2008. As was conclusively shown in countless press publications, the ‘hearings’ were packed with dozens and possibly hundreds of ‘supporters’ of the project recruited for that role for 400 roubles per person; some of them were professional actors. Some others – unfortunately for Gazprom and the authorities – were undercover journalists, who secured tape records of the recruitment, instructions given to the fake ‘members of the public’ and other evidence of the foul play. Furthermore, mid-way through the ‘hearings’, riot police troops armed with batons stormed into the hall, handcuffed and apprehended numerous opponents of the project. Some of the press reports are available in Russian at these links:
 It is incorrect to present Mrs. Matviyenko as an impartial judge of the argument who, ‘on balance,.. seems to support it… but not in a dogmatic way’. In reality, she is one of the principal parties to the controversy. As has been widely reported in Russian press, the Gazprom and Mrs. Matviyenko’s administration have been jointly lobbying for the project since 2005. At present, Mrs. Matviyenko is well known as one of the project’s most ardent supporters. The implementation of the project required her personal formal authorisation, which she gave on 6 October 2009.
 It is also inaccurate to suggest that Mrs. Matviyenko may be prepared to make concessions to the opponents of the project. Several compromise proposals have been made, such as reducing the height of the building or moving it to a different area in St. Petersburg, all of which were contemptuously rejected by the Governor. Indeed, Mrs. Matviyenko is notoriously adamant in her support for the present project.
 Mrs. Matviyenko’s position on this matter was correctly outlined in the letter to the editor by Ilia Gourevich, and the collective letter by Oleg Basilashvili, Yuri Shmidt, Nina Katerli, and Dr. Irina Levinskaya. None of those letters were published.
 The article asserts that Mrs. Matviyenko “seemed to be one of very few Russian politicians to be actively tackling corruption. All council meetings are now shown live on the internet as are auctions for building land. The price of land, she gleefully recounted, rose more than tenfold when auctions started to be held in public, showing just how much the public purse had lost to corrupt middlemen. There is a hotline for citizens to complain anonymously about bribe-takers and advertisements which make clear that bribe-givers, as well as bribe-takers, are breaking the law.”
 This statement misleadingly implies that the level of corruption in St. Petersburg is lower than in other Russian regions, which is demonstrably untrue. The article does not mention the notoriously widespread corruption in the transport police, other law enforcement bodies, authorities regulating the construction industry, etc.; or numerous allegations of corruption in various forms among high-ranking officials in the Administration. Nor does it mention the remarkable position of Sergei Matviyenko, the Governor’s son, who, during her period in office has become one of the richest businessman in St. Petersburg. There have been widespread and credible allegations that Mr. Matviyenko’s success in business was largely facilitated by nepotism and insider dealings.
 The statement further misleadingly implies that televising council meetings and auctions was an effective anti-corruption measure. The article fails to mention that those broadcasts are widely criticised as pure propaganda performances which have nothing to do with the real decision-making.
 The article also fails to mention that large sites of very valuable land are being sold by the city Administration to friendly commercial companies bypassing the televised auctions; or widespread allegations of bribery and insider dealings in this connection. It is not unknown for companies owned by Sergei Matviyenko to benefit from these behind-the-scene deals.
 Grigory Solominsky’s letter to the editor pointed out that Sergei Matviyenko was “the greatest beneficiary” of his mother’s “campaign of unlawful raids against St. Petersburg’s small businesses”. The reference to Sergei Matviyenko was removed from the published version of the letter.
 Similar allegations of widespread corruption and references to Sergei Matviyenko’s position were made in the letters to the editor by Mr. Sergeev, Mr. Bukovsky, Mr. Luchinsky, Mr. Gourevich, Mr. Tyukov, and the collective letter by Oleg Basilashvili, Yuri Shmidt, Nina Katerli, and Dr. Irina Levinskaya. None of those letters were published.
Economy and business
 In the minds of an overall majority of readers, the name of Margaret Thatcher would certainly be closely associated with pro-market, business-friendly economic policies. Therefore, the comparison between Mrs. Matviyenko and Baroness Thatcher clearly implies that the economic policies of the present administration in St. Petersburg can be fairly described as Thatcherite to a greater or lesser extent.
 The comparison is misleading in this respect, too. In reality, Mrs. Matviyenko’s policies are directly opposite to those of Margaret Thatcher. Those policies are notoriously hostile to the small and medium-sized businesses. The Matviyenko Administration encourages monopolisation of the economy by big companies, often owned by friends and relatives of high-ranking city officials. The details are given in Mr. Solominsky’s letter to the editor.
Mrs. Matviyenko is not a scientist
 Both the title and the text of the article inaccurately describes Mrs. Matviyenko as “a natural scientist” and “a chemist”, in order to strengthen the far-fetched parallel with Margaret Thatcher (the only other similarity noted in the article being the female sex).
 In fact, Mrs. Matviyenko graduated from Leningrad Institute of Chemistry and Pharmaceutics in 1972, but as a pharmateucist and not a chemist. Moreover, she has never worked even as a pharmaceutist. For her entire career, she only worked for the Komsomol, the Communist Party, and the state apparatus. See the biography at the official web-site of the City Government: http://eng.gov.spb.ru/gov/governor
 This inaccuracy strengthens the misleadingly flattering comparison between Mrs. Matviyenko and Baroness Thatcher.
 In his letter to the editor, Mr. Gourevich sought to correct the inaccuracy. However, the letter was not published.
 It is proposed that the newspaper and the web-site should publish a critical article about Mrs. Matviyenko, of similar size, and giving it similar prominence, as the article published on 6 September.
 The complainants undertake to submit such an article written by a reputable Russian author. Alternatively, the newspaper may nominate its own journalist, who must be known as impartial on Russian affairs. In that case, the complainants undertake to supply all necessary material to support their criticism of Mrs. Matvitenko.
 The complainants authorise one of their number, Mr. Pavel Stroilov, to act on behalf of them all in the future proceedings on this matter.
 The complainants are aware of the separate complaint against the same article made simultaneously by the coordinators of the Living City, the non-governmental public movement for the protection of St. Petersburg’s architectural and cultural heritage. The Living City complaint is based on similar, but narrower grounds. We have no objection to the both complaints being considered and resolved together if the Commission deems this necessary and appropriate.
Danila Aleksandrov, mathematician
St. Petersburg, Russia
Vladimir Bukovsky, author; former Soviet political prisoner; member of the Political Council, SOLIDARITY United Democratic Movement
Tel.: 01223 328 735, e-mail: email@example.com
Anna Egorova, student, Russian political exile in the UK
Tel.: 0794 758 6394
Svetlana Egorova, lawyer, Russian political exile in the UK
Tel.: 0794 758 6350
Valery P. Fedotov, mathematician, associate member, International Informatization Academy
Tel.: +7- 901- 3200857; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Georg L. Gabrielyan, political scientist, Chairman of the Initiative Group, Russian National Christian Democratic Movement
Tel. +7 (905) 223-8313; e-mail: email@example.com
Ilia V. Gourevich, writer and traveller
Tel. +7 901 313 59 66; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dmitry A. Gurov, Member of the Political Council, St. Petersburg Civil Committee
mob.tel.: 8904-630-29-89; e-mail: email@example.com
Nina Katerli, writer, member of St Petersburg PEN Club.
Andrey Korchagin, former Member of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg (1998-2001), former Head of the Nevsky Area (2001-2003)
St. Petersburg, Russia
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; blog: http://ae-korchagin.livejournal.com/794.html
David Kudykov, President, Authors and Publicists International Association (APIA),
Tel 02089053824; e-mail email@example.com
Olga Kurnosova, leader, St. Petersburg Division, United Civil Front; executive director of the United Civil Front; bureau member of the Federal Political Council, SOLIDARITY United Democratic Movement
Tel.: +7-921-934-76-91; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sergei V. Kuzin, Member of the Coordinating Council, St. Petersburg Division, SOLIDARITY United Democratic Movement
Tel. +7-950-049-17-85; e-mail: email@example.com
Yuri Luchinsky, lawyer, former member of Russian parliament (1990-1993)
St. Petersburg, Russia
Tel. +7 911 2192390; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Timofei V. Malashin, editor
St. Petersburg, Russia
+7-905-272-93-71; E-mail: email@example.com
Victor A. Nikolaev, journalist
Tel. +7-921-9743222; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Ivan S. Novikov, member of the Nevsky District Committee of the Communist Party of Russian Federation
Tel. +79216525953; e-mail: email@example.com
Andrei S. Pivovarov, Chairman, St. Petersburg regional department of the Russian Democratic People’s Union
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Tel. +7 9119899456
Vladimir Pribylovsky, President, ‘Panorama’ Information and Research Centre (non-profit NGO); co-author (with Yuri Felshtinsky) of The Corporation: Russia and the KGB in the age of president Putin.
Maksim L. Reznik, Chairman, St. Petersburg Regional Division, Russian United Democratic Party YABLOKO
St. Petersburg, Russia
Yuri Shmidt, attorney,
Alexander O. Shurshev, Member of the Municipal Council of Admiralteisky Area, St. Petersburg; Deputy Chairman, St. Petersburg Regional Division, Russian United Democratic Party YABLOKO
Tel. +7-911-2281382 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dmitry Slugin, Coordinator, the Ingria Club
Tel: +7 911 1297128; e-mail: email@example.com
Grigory Solominsky, President, St. Petersburg Association of Small and Middle Business Entrepreneurs,
tel: +7-812-926-98-77; +7-921-368-18-17; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pavel Stroilov, historian, Russian exile in the UK
Tel. 0778 739 5060, e-mail: email@example.com
mob +7 950 00 44 945; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sergei Vesnov, Chairman, ‘Nashe Prave’ (‘Our Right’) Interregional Trade Union of Small and Middle Business Employees.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Tel. +7-921-357-44-67; E-mail: email@example.com
Boris Vishnevsky, journalist, ‘Russia’s Golden Pen’ Prize winner, bureau member of the YABLOKO Party.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Tel. + 7 921 962 21 01 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mikhail M. Voitenkov, journalist, member of St. Petersburg Union of Journalists, Member of the Political Council of St. Petersburg Civil Committee
St. Petersburg, Russia
mob.tel.: 970-499; e-mail: email@example.com
Vladimir Volokhonsky, lecturer, Saint Petersburg State University, Psychology Dept.,
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Tel. +79219251139; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Vorontsov, engineer
St. Petersburg, Russia
Eduard V. Yakushin, artist.
St. Petersburg, Russia
mob.tel: +7-952-214-50-40; e-mail email@example.com
1. A copy of the article in the paper edition (will be submitted by post);
2. A copy of the published version of Mr. Solominsky’s letter to the editor (will be submitted by post);
3. A copy of the published version of Mr. Sergeev’s letter to the editor (will be submitted by post);
4. The original letters to the editor from the complainants, in chronological order:
From: Andrey Sergeev
Date: Thursday, 9 September, 2010, 1:46
Mary Dejevsky writes (6 September) that ‘for the first time in more than 30 years, people on the streets of St. Petersburg seem confident and content with themselves’.
No wonder the article has caused a storm in Russian political blogs and independent media. Like Ms. Dejevsky, we have every reason to be pleased with Governor Matviyenko – for hewing out some 800 parks and squares, for the collapse of the transport network, and for her program of reducing the number of schools.
Good for her to have demolished the Hasansky Market, with all its cheap goods and excellent repair shops, and left thousands of people jobless – in order to build a shopping mall owned by her son Sergei. What an example of maternal care!
Every other month, Matviyenko bans our rallies in defence of freedom of assembly. The riot police enthusiastically follows her courageous stand and beats us with truncheons, and we enthusiastically look forward to getting a portion of our Governor’s love.
Her imaginative environment policies have also inspired gratitude from the subjects. Why carry the snow to a waste-yard if you can simply pile it in the downtown canals? More thanks for the constant supplies of toxic nuclear waste, re-charging the citizens’ batteries.
This beautiful woman deserves special gratitude for preservation of St. Petersburg historic heritage. Citizens and visitors admire the collapsed embankment of the Groboyedov Canal, while Czar Peter’s New Holland lies in picturesque ruins. Matviyenko has demolished over a hundred of historic buildings in Central St. Petersburg. Even the Nazis only destroyed two buildings at Nevsky during the WWII, and Matvienko has already managed six. Her superiority to Hitler is evident.
Special thanks for the Gazprom-City skyscraper project, which will destroy the historic layout of the city and bury unique archaeological sites (remnants of a 4,000-years-old pre-historic settlement, a medieval Russian town, and two Swedish fortresses).
Above all, as Mary Dejevsky reminds us, Matviyenko is ‘actively tackling corruption’. It is not for nothing that, in every construction project, bribes to officials amount to a meagre 50 per cent of the overall cost. In transport police, the number of corrupt inspectors hardly exceeds 100%.
This list of achievements could go on and on.
So, although the residents of St. Petersburg are deprived of the right to elect their governor, all of us are enormously grateful to the unelected one for her monstrous care. Sorry, I meant ‘maternal’.
13-11, 10-Krasnoarmeiskaya St.,
mob. tel. 007 901 307-64-24
P. S. For more details and illustrative photographs, please see my blog at http://na6ludatelb.livejournal.com/973581.html
From: Grigory Solominskiy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Mary Dejevsky article on 6 September
Date: Friday, 10 September, 2010, 0:12
I would have never expected to see an article like ‘Meet Russia’s Thatcher, the chemist who could end up in the Kremlin’ (6 September) published anywhere except in a Russian propaganda medium. In St. Petersburg, the article reads as a piece of satire. Every disastrous problem of St. Petersburg – from endemic corruption to popular discontent, and from economic ruin to the Gazprom sky-scraper and destruction of the historic centre – are turned inside out and presented as great achievements of Governor Matviyenko.
Far from being a ‘Russian Thatcher’, Matviyenko is personally responsible for the campaign of unlawful raids against St. Petersburg’s small businesses, overseeing hundreds of companies being replaced or taken over by relatives and friends of the city officials. In the course of that campaign, independent entrepreneurs suffered every dirty trick known to Russian kleptocracy, from fabrication of criminal charges to unlawful eviction of tenants and from administrative pressure to physical violence (including several cases of arson and murder). Unsurprisingly, the greatest beneficiary of that campaign has been the Governor’s own son Sergei Matviyenko.
The resulting devastation can be seen in every sector of the city’s increasingly monopolistic economy. In just a few years, the number of passenger transport operators was reduced from 60 to 6; all private providers of housing and communal services were driven out of business; the level of monopolisation of consumer markets has reached 80%. Hundreds of small shopowners were unlawfully evicted from large shopping centres (“Khasansky”, “Staraya Derevnya”, “Finlyandsky”, “Apraksin Dvor”), which were then taken over by big businessmen linked to the administration. No compensation was ever paid to the evicted entrepreneurs for the property they owned or for the improvements made during a lease.
Needless to say, that avalanche of takeovers has resulted in a loss of jobs, sky-rocketing prices, lower quality of goods and services – and enormous enrichment of such families as Matviyenko’s.
Against this background, Mary Dejevsky’s hymn to Matviyenko is, frankly, reminiscent of those infamous ‘zakaznye statyi’ (‘paid-for articles’) which we so often see in Russian media. This week, a number of respected Russians have voiced accusations of this kind against the Independent, while Matviyenko tactfully thanked Ms. Dejevsky in a public statement. Free Western media should know better than risk its reputation in such a way.
Grigory Solominsky, President, St. Petersburg Association of Small and Middle Business Entrepreneurs,
Piskarevsky pr., 40-76,
St. Petersburg, 195067
10 Sep 2010
Date: Monday, 13 September, 2010, 4:47
Mary Dejevsky should know better than hailing Valentina Matviyenko, the unelected Governor of St. Petersburg, as ‘Russia’s Thatcher’ (6 September). There is nothing whatsoever outstanding about Mrs. Matviyenko’s career as a communist apparatchik and then a loyal member of the KGB mafia which runs Russia today – except, perhaps, her comparatively moderate drinking, which once earned her a contemptuous nickname of ‘Valka Half a Glass’ among Young Communist activists in Leningrad. In this post-communist age, however, it has transformed into a more respectable ‘Valka Full Glass’.
Jokes aside, it is hardly fair to praise Matviyenko’s regime in St. Petersburg without mentioning the widespread criticism of her administration for corruption, insider dealings, stifling of small businesses, barbaric destruction of historic buildings and monuments, and favours bestowed on such big businessmen as the Governor’s son, Sergei Matviyenko. Nor is it fair to ignore her record on human rights, from fabrication of criminal cases against her political opponents to violent and brutal suppression of street protests.
If Mary Dejevsky is so keen to draw parallels with another ‘chemist’ in government, it should be Elena Caeusescu, not Margaret Thatcher.
When the rule of law is restored in Russia, Mrs. Matviyenko will have to give a full account for her role in the atrocities of the Putin era. Before that happens, your paper would be well-advised to show greater discretion in flattering the Gauleiter of St. Petersburg or any other Russian city. A day may come when you will be ashamed of such friends.
Author, former Soviet political prisoner.
145 Gilbert Road, Cambridge CB4 3PA
Letter to the editor by Yuri Luchinsky, e-mailed 13 September:
As a former member of Russian parliament (1990-1993), I cannot agree with Mary Dejevsky’s speculation (6 September) that Vladimir Putin may appoint Valentina Matviyenko, the Governor of St. Petersburg, to be the next president of Russia. Conversely, a president appointed by Putin alone would be illegitimate in any case – the president is supposed to be elected. This aside, even Putin, despite his poor judgement as an average KGB officer, must know Matviyenko is not up to it.
To begin with, she is too weak intellectually, incapable to foresee long-term consequences of her decisions. Each her decision is but a sporadic and feverish reaction to the events.
Contrary to what Mary Dejevsky writes, Matviyenko is too deeply involved with her old chums from the Soviet nomenclatura, who now occupy the key positions in St. Petersburg, and consequently her regime in is too Soviet in style. The city’s economy is based on unlimited protection offered to monopolies affiliated to the administration, while small and medium-sized businesses are ruthlessly stifled.
Finally, Matviyenko is too compromised by all sorts of political and economic favours she bestowed on her son Sergei and her other cronies, including even direct repression of their business rivals by law enforcement agencies.
So, I am afraid Mary Dejevsky has got it wrong. Worse still, she has sparked all sorts of rumours in Russia to the effect that Matviyenko is being endorsed by powerful forces in Britain. If it is really your paper’s intention to back Matviyenko, you are making an enormous mistake.
198515, Ul. Kropotkinskaya, 6-40, Strelna
St. Petersburg, Russia
Tel. +7 911 2192390
From: Ilia Gurevich
Subject: Letter about article about V. Matviyenko
Date: Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 13:53
A combination of flattery and inaccuracy is hardly typical of the
British press; and yet, this Monday you have published an article which
even a Russian propaganda newspaper would hardly accept (‘Meet Russia’s
Thatcher, the chemist who could end up in the Kremlin‘, 6 September).
To begin with, Valentina Matviyenko, the Governor of St. Petersburg, is
not a chemist. She is a pharmacist by education but only ever worked as
an apparatchik; and this is hardly the only difference between her and
Thatcher. Can you imagine Margaret Thatcher rolling the budget of London
through a bank owned by her own son, or demolishing historic buildings
to replace them with ‘elite housing blocks’, or hewing out Hyde Park to
free the space for property development? Did she stifle the small
business, sell municipal property to cronies for a few kopecks (or
pence), destroy tens of thousands of private garages, bar opposition
parties from participating in elections, or send riot police to disperse
every street protest?
Matviyenko does all that regularly; I am amazed how this could pass unnoticed by Mary Dejevsky.
She does, however, mention the problem of the Gazprom sky-scraper
project; but her account of Matviyenko’s position is misleading at best:
‘On balance, she seemed to support it… but not in a dogmatic way which
would prevent compromise with protest groups’. Every competent
journalist would know that Matviyenko has declared herself a fanatical
supporter of the project on countless occasions, and arrogantly
dismissed its opponents as ‘vociferous defenders of the historic centre’.
Mary Dejevsky’s sources are easy to guess: the spin doctors from St.
Petersburg administration, who have already thanked her in a public
statement. Nor is it the first time when Ms. Dejevsky’s reporting on
Russian matters is less than perfectly balanced: it did not pass
unnoticed that she insisted on Kremlin’s innocence in the 2006 murder of
Alexander Litvinenko and took Russia’s side in its 2008 war in Georgia.
Perhaps, the British public is naïve enough to take such articles at
face value; but Russian commentators have spent this week speculating on
how much Ms. Dejevsky was paid and whether the money came from
Matviyenko’s own pocket or from the city budget. Of course, deals of
this kind are unthinkable in the West; but we in Russia have learned to
view such articles as Ms. Dejesvky’s with suspicion. She should take
better care of her professional reputation.
Ilia V. Gourevich
Writer and traveler
+7 901 313 59 66
S-Petersburg, Blukhera av. 61-1-213
From: Boris Vishnevsky
Subject: Letter to The Independent from St.-Petersburg, Russia
Date: Tuesday, 14 September, 2010, 16:10
Mary Dejevsky’s article about the Governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko (6 September) is quite misleading about the real state of affairs in St. Petersburg. According to Mrs. Dejevsky, the seven years of Matviyenko’s rule consisted of achievements alone: the city has changed to the better, people on the streets are confident and content with themselves, Matviyenko has improved every aspect of the city’s life from housing to demography to tourism and is ‘actively tackling corruption’.
We in St. Petersburg see it very differently.
If Mrs. Dejevsky reports about Matviyenko’s ‘huge new housing and commercial building projects’, she should have mentioned that they include wide-scale destruction of squares and parks in the city; and that the residents’ mass protests against that are always ignored by the administration. Only this June, the Governor signed a new law threatening 800 more parks and squares with demolition to clear the space for new construction projects. And what about Matviyenko’s policy of destruction of St. Petersburg’s city centre and demolition of historic buildings?
As for the new housing, it remains unaffordable for a vast majority of residents, being sold for £2,000 per sq. meter, the average salary in the city being about £500 per month.
There are many other things which Mrs. Dejevsky ignores in her article. Tens of thousands of privately owned garages are being demolished by bulldozers without any real compensation. Unfair discrimination in favour of big chains and against small businesses has become endemic. The city administration bans every political rally or street protest directed against Matviyenko’s policies, opposition rallies are being brutally dispersed by riot police, and opposition politicians are kept out of the elections. The city budget is being used to finance wasteful projects, which are only profitable to certain commercial contractors – that is ‘actively tackling corruption’ Matviyenko-style for you. This January, the administration has failed to remove huge piles of snow from the streets, so the residents, ‘confident and content with themselves’ could not move about the city while Matviyenko enjoyed her vacations away from St. Petersburg. It was Matviyenko’s decision to erect a memorial board to Grigory Romanov, one of the most infamous Soviet-time leaders of Leningrad, who is best known for his persecution of Iosif Brodsky, Sergei Dovlatov, Sergei Yursky and Arcady Raikin, whom he forced into exile from the city or even from the country. In spite of the protest from Russia’s most eminent cultural figures and academics, Matviyenko refused to change her decision.
All of this is being extensively discussed in St. Petersburg’s media, and it would have been very easy for Mary Dejevsky to find an alternative view on the situation. Yet, she decided to base her article on her meeting with Matviyenko alone. No wonder the picture she has drawn is very far from the truth.
Above all, Mrs. Dejevsky’s assertion that the Governor may be prepared to make concessions to the opponents of the 400-meters-high Gazprom sky-scraper, such as ourselves, is simply not true. Matviyenko’s position has been extensively reported in the media: she wholeheartedly supports this project in spite of the damage to St. Petersburg’s skyline, and she rejects any compromise proposals, such as reducing the height of the building or moving it to a different place in St. Petersburg.
We have always believed that the British media is renowned for its unbiased and professional reporting; but Mary Dejevsky’s article drastically deviates from that tradition.
Oleg Basilashvili, actor, Bolshoy Dramatic Theatre,
St.-Petersburg, Fontanka river embankment, 65 (theatr), tel 7-812-713-55-56
Yuri Shmidt, attorney,
St.-Petersburg, Moyka river embankment, 30, apt.2, tel 7-812-315-59-36
Nina Katerli, writer, member of St Petersburg PEN Club, ,
St.-Petersburg, Polozov str., 6/17, apt.4, tel 7-812-232-13-25
Dr Irina Levinskaya, senior research fellow of St Petersburg Institute of
History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, member of St Petersburg PEN
club, Visiting Fellow of the Faculty of Divinity of Cambridge University,
St.-Petersburg, Grivtsov str., 9, apt.16, tel 7-812-315-86-68
From: Mikhail Tyukov
Subject: About the article 27th page on 6 September
Date: Wednesday, 15 September, 2010, 10:56
As a resident of St. Petersburg, I cannot agree with the praise for
Governor Matviyenko which fills your 27th page on 6 September. During
her term in office, we have seen a very different picture from the
idyll portrayed there.
The city’s historic centre is being destroyed. At Nevsky Prospekt (St.
Petersburg’s high street) alone, six historic buildings were
demolished; even the Second World War had only destroyed two.
A 400m.-high Gazprom skyscraper is being boldly constructed over a
unique archeological site.
The green zones of the city are being given to property developers one
by one, while the citizens’ mass protestations to the governor are
Private car parks are being systematically demolished to clear the
space for corporate construction projects.
The maintenance of the road network is limited exclusively to the
route of the Governor’s car procession and the road to Pulkovo
The corruption has become endemic, making St. Petersburg the second
most corrupt city in Russia after Moscow. The police, transport
police, the Construction Committe and the administration are
especially notorious for it.
During Matviyenko’s term in office, her son Sergei Matviyenko has
become the richest businessman in St. Petersburg and is chairing the
board of the state-owned bank VTB-Capital.
I am surprised none of that has been mentioned in your paper.
Kolpino, Tverskaya 31,
mob +7 950 00 44 945
From: Stroilov, Pavel
Sent: 17 September 2010 18:56
Mary Dejevsky writes (‘Meet Russia’s Thatcher, the chemist who could end up in the Kremlin’, 6 September) that the career of Valentina Matviyenko, the Governor of St. Petersburg, is a ‘near-ideal reflection of her country’s experience‘. This is only half-true: Mrs. Matviyenko has never been in prison, has never starved, and has never been beaten by the riot police – like it happens with thousands of democratic protestors in her city nowadays. She is not a typical Russian citizen – she is a typical Russian apparatchik. This hardly puts her on a par with Margaret Thatcher, as Mrs. Dejevsky purports to do; nor does this merit a nearly full page of vociferous, unreserved praise for Mrs. Matviyenko in your paper.
Mrs. Dejevsky’s account of her career is flattering to the point of bias. In the Soviet times, Matviyenko was not simply a ‘local Communist Youth leader’. She was a protégé of Leningrad’s communist leader Grigory Romanov, notorious for his persecution of the intelligentsia; later, she rose to the second most influential position in the communist administration of the city.
Her return to power under Putin had all the marks of neo-communist restoration. Her predecessor Vladimir Yakovlev had to resign under pressure from Putin’s KGB clan, who threatened to fabricate criminal charges against Yakovlev’s family. A number of Yakovlev’s associates were prosecuted and even imprisoned on fabricated charges; Vice Governor Valery Malyshev died in prison. More fortunate ones were removed through a smear campaign in the press. That purge cleared the space for Matviyenko and her old cronies from the Soviet nomenklatura. No wonder that (contrary to what Mrs. Dejevsky writes) the style of today’s government of St. Petersburg is so reminiscent of the Soviet times.
Apart from suppression of dissent, persecution of political opponents, barbaric destruction of historic St. Petersburg and corruption, the Matviyenko Administration is notorious for its propaganda tricks. The most infamous of them was the 2007 fabrication of a criminal case against several young Muslims, accused of a conspiracy to assassinate Matviyenko. Fortunately, the case collapsed at the trial by jury, but not before the innocent boys had spent about a year in prison.
So, it is hardly surprising that Matviyenko’s spin-doctors feed pure propaganda to the Independent; what is surprising is that the Independent swallows it.
Pavel Stroilov, historian, Russian exile in London
Alpena Villa, 157 Sebert Road, London E7 0NP
0778 739 5060
From: David Kudykov
Subject: V. Matviyenko
Date: Sunday, 19 September, 2010, 17:31
Newspaper “ The Independent”
It has not been long since the sale of the Independent to a KGB veteran, Alexander Lebedev, sparked fears that your paper would soon start publishing Russian-style propaganda articles. ‘Meet Russia’s Thatcher, the chemist who could end up in the Kremlin’ by Mary Dejevsky (6 September) hardly helps to dispel those fears.
Ms. Dejevsky deserves credit for spotting the remarkable similarity of sex between Margaret Thatcher and the present Governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko. However, she should have also mentioned some important differences – for example, that Matviyenko’s credentials are never tested at free elections.
The article gives us an idyllic picture of Matviyenko’s rule in St. Petersburg – which is, in fact, notoriously oppressive and incompetent. Claims that she “put a smile on residents’ faces” and that the people on the streets are now “confident and content with themselves” read as a bad joke. What Ms. Dejevsky forgets to mention is that thousands of people rally at St. Petersburg’s streets regularly to demand Matviyenko’s resignation; and there would have been many more of them if the riot police was less cruel in beating the protestors.
David Kudykov, President, Authors and Publicists International Association (APIA),
51 Edgwarebury Gardens, Edgware, Middlesex, HA8 8LL