Better than a Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Stick

poke with sticks

Female Pensioner from Leningrad Region Beats Official with Stick
November 23, 2015

SAINT PETERSBURG, NOVEMBER 23. Criminal charges have been filed against a sixty-one-year-old woman who assaulted the head of a municipal district in the Lomonosov District.

As the press service of the Leningrad Regional office of the Investigative Committee informed Rosbalt, the official had gone to a village to deal with the populace’s discontent over construction of a parking lot. During the discussion, a local woman hit him with a stick.

She has been charged with the criminal offense of “inflicting violence against a public official.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of

Yelena Osipova: “Russia is a bird, not a bear”

Russia wants to be a bird: peaceful, honest, kind.  Russia: kind and hardworking. 2011: The bear can no longer be cured. Vote for the bird. Although it is wounded, if it is treated well, it can fly high. Vote for the hardworking bird

“Russia is a bird, not a bear”
Tatyana Voltskaya
November 21, 2015
Radio Svoboda

Elena Osipova’s “naïve” posters remind us of the link between politics and street protests

A cozy basement with uncomfortable pictures: that is how one might describe in a nutshell the exhibition of paintings and posters by Petersburg artist Yelena Osipova currently underway in the Petersburg office of Open Russia, which shares the space with the Petersburg office of the Parnas party.

Elena Osipova
Yelena Osipova

The exhibition marks a milestone—Osipova has turned seventy—but it is her debut exhibition. She has never been a member of any artist unions and groups, but she has stood outside in the rain, frost, and heat at nearly all the protest rallies that have taken place in Petersburg in recent years. The striking posters that Osipova holds at these rallies expose the latest injustices or crimes, warn of dangers, and empathize with the plight of others, whether they have been victims of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, dishonest elections or civil rights violations.

The exhibition was not easy to put together. The organizers set out to show not only Osipova’s best political posters but also her paintings, mainly portraits and landscapes. The show also includes two large genre scenes, the first featuring an ordinary Soviet beer hall, the second, a group of punks. Perhaps they are the link to the posters, which call to mind not only the tradition of political satire but also primitivist painting.

We are all hostages of violent, provocative imperialist politics.
We are all hostages of violent, provocative imperialist politics

​​“This exhibition is the first in my life,” says Yelena Osipova. “And I love the room and these vaulted ceilings and the fact you can see how my paintings segue into the posters. The latest poster, showing a mother with a dead infant, is about the dead Tajik boy Umarali Nazarov, while the first was prompted by the Nord-Ost tragedy in 2002. Then I went to the Mariinsky Palace [seat of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly] with a simple lettered poster, handwritten on a sheet of wove paper. I just could not understand why no one took to the streets then, why everyone was silent. On the fortieth day after the deaths of the hostages, I made a poster in which I painted a picture in acrylics on fabric.

In an Andersen story, a girl sold matches in Denmark in the nineteenth century: matches. (Read Andersen’s fairytales to children.) 2012, the twenty-first century. Children are commodities. This is the end of the world. Adoption should be free. Foster care should be free. In Russia, children sell narcotics: narcotics.

You are a professional artist. Where did you study?

​​“I graduated from an art school. It was then called the Tauride Art School, now it is the Roerich Art School. Marc Chagall had studied there in his day, though not for long. I had then wanted to apply to the monumental painting program at the Mukhina Academy. I had been influenced by the frescoes of Andrei Rublev and Dionisius, by the size of their figures and their schematic manner. But young women were just not admitted to the monumental painting program, and I have no regrets about it now. What would I have done? Painted murals in the subway? I am an artist and educator. I taught for over thirty years. We organized three art schools from scratch.”


So you mostly painted landscapes and posters, then Nord-Ost happened and you turned to posters. What exactly happened after Nord-Ost?

​​“An ever more horrible event: Beslan. No conclusions had been drawn! I had two posters: one was lost, while the other version is exhibited here. The lost version was two-sided. On the reverse side, the slogan “Moms of the world, give birth to little princes. They will save the world!” was written on a blue background. I made the next poster, “Don’t believe in the justice of war!” when the war in Iraq began. I stood outside the American consulate, the British consulate, outside the consulates of all the governments who had supported sending troops into Iraq. There was no reaction. When it was the anniversary of the Beslan tragedy, the mothers of the dead came to Petersburg and wanted to walk down Nevsky Prospect to the Russian Museum holding icons and candles. Ultimately, no one joined them. Just one other woman went with the Beslan moms, plus me with my poster. So we marched alone, amidst the general indifference.”

Artist Yelena Osipova holds a poster that reads, “Don’t believe in the justice of war,” during an unauthorized anti-war protest outside Kazan Cathedral in Petersburg on March 15, 2014. Photo by Sergey Chernov

But this indifference has continued. Look how many people came to the rally protesting the death of the Tajik baby Umarali Nazarov, who was taken away from his mother.

“Yes, but more people are coming than before. Civil society is slowly emerging. We have had the Marches for Peace, and certain rallies have drawn a good number of people. It used to be that no one came to these things at all.”

Elena Osipova, Portrait of an Artist, 1975. Oil on canvas

Have you been detained at protests?

“Of course I have been detained. There was a G20 summit here one summer. I went there with two posters: Don’t believe in the justice of war! and another one about the disposal of nuclear waste. The police detained me then, and I have been detained many times since, sometimes quite roughly. There were unpleasant incidents outside the Mariinsky Palace on St. Isaac’s Square when the war with Ukraine began. Yet the people who go to these events think like you do, and that is quite important. You feel you are not alone with your thoughts, that there are other people who think the same way. Okay, so there are not so many of them, but they are out there.

Free political prisoners!
Free political prisoners!

​​“Now, perhaps, it will become more difficult, and people will retreat to their apartments, as they did in Soviet times. The laws that have been passed [restricting public protests] are tough to deal with even financially. It used to be that the biggest fine I got was five thousand rubles. People collected the money on the web, and later I sent it on to the Bolotnaya Square prisoners. But the fines now are so high that you cannot pay them. It is too bad that society resigned itself from the outset and did not oppose these laws. After all, they could have resisted and taken to the streets, but, unfortunately, when people have begun to live better, they become indifferent.”

Are there any landmark works, works important to you at this exhibition?

“Yes, for example, Theater Entrance. I painted it during my fourth year at art school. I was really into the theater then, and my thesis painting had a theatrical motif. There are also three paintings here from my Vologda series, pictures of fields in Vologda. There is a landscape painting of Gurzuf, in Crimea. The big painting shows a beer hall that was behind the Nekrasov Market. It had these big round arches, and the beer was poured straight from a tap. You could meet professors and students and artists there. I have painted Russia there with a halo, looking sad. It was the nineties, a very complicated time. And my other painting on this subject is Punks in the Subway. I knew all those kids.

The musical Nord-Ost, October 25, 2002. Stop the war, people! Learn the truth!

​​​And what is Oh mania, oh mummy of war…, featuring two crows?

“It’s an anti-war poster. I drew it after Boris Nemtsov’s murder. I used a poem by Marina Tsvetayeva. She wrote it in Germany, and I saw the resemblance with our circumstances. The poster Not everyone who is naked is needy is about the death of Berezovsky. I play on the birch motif [Berezovsky’s name is derived from the Russian word for birch tree, berëza], and there are funereal crows.

Artist Elena Osipova at the opening of her exhibition on November 14, 2015. She stands next to posters that read, “August 6, 1945. August 9, 1945. Moms of the world against atomic energy,” and “Ukraine, forgive us: we let it happen.”

Do you appreciate some of your posters more than others?

Maybe this one, Don’t believe in the justice of war!, and the Beslan poster. In fact, the political posters about tragedies I always rendered in the three colors of the Russian flag.”

Will you continue to make new posters and freeze on the streets?

“At one point I though that maybe there was no need for this and I wanted to quit, but people said I should do it and told me I gave them hope.”

At the entrance to the exhibition is a small poster, Vote for the bird. At the bottom of the poster is a heavy United Russia, pumped full of oil; on the top is a bird.

“The bird has always been the symbol of Russia,” argues Elena Osipova.

Syria. Russia
Syria, Russia, Russia (2015)

And to her mind, Russia’s color is blue, as in a certain painting by her beloved Wassily Kandinsky. True, Osipova now sees less and less of the color in her homeland’s plumage.

Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos by the Russian Reader except where otherwise indicated. Yelena Osipova’s work will be on view at 19 Fontanka Embankment until November 25, 2015.

“Rotenberg Is Worse than ISIS!”: Russian Truckers on Strike in Dagestan and Elsewhere

“On November 30, we will go to Moscow and shut down the Moscow Ring Road!”: Major protests by truckers in the Caucasus
Irina Gordiyenko | Dagestan
November 22, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

A major protest by truckers is taking place in the Caucasus. Officials are trying to ignore it, and in response truckers are threatening to move on Moscow 

“No to Platon! On November 30 We Block the Moscow Ring Road.” Photo: Irina Gordiyenko/Novaya Gazeta

Strikes by truckers against the introduction of a new road tax have swept across Russia. The biggest of them is still underway in Dagestan. Hundreds of truckers have lined up along dozens of kilometers of highway. Manas, Khasavyurt, Kizlyar, and Kayakent are the spots where people have been striking for a week. The protests have been ignored. Officials have avoided contacting the strikers, while television has refused to cover the strike. Amateur videos posted on the web are immediately removed and their users blocked.

The strikers are determined. If their demands are not heard, they intend to move on Moscow on November 30.

The roadside of the Rostov-Baku M29 highway near Khasavyurt looks gaudy at the moment. Trucks with yellow, red, blue, and green cabs are parked in two tight rows next to each other. The trailers are hung with enormous posters reading, “Hands off long-haul trucking!” and “Stop robbing the people!” The chain of trucks stretches for dozens of kilometers, and at any moment the annoyed truckers could block this federal highway.

“We don’t want to do it,” says Dibir, a trucker from a small village nearby. “We know it will be violently dispersed. But they don’t want to hear us. We went to the city administration, to the Ministry of Transportation, and to Rosavtodor (Russian Federal Road Agency). They wouldn’t even let us in the door. We called the TV channels: they have refused to come cover us. Instead, they sent in trucks of riot police.”

An excited crowd of around two hundred people stands around an improvised stage. From time to time, someone mounts the stage to appeal to the truckers not to give up and stand their ground.

They have been here for five days. They sleep in their cabs, cook their own food, and during the daytime they welcome the growing number of colleagues who have been joining the strike. They are no strangers to hardship. They have been tempered by runs on rough roads lasting many days.

As of November 15, vehicles weighing over twelve tons are charged an additional fee for each kilometer of federal highway they travel. The government issued a decree setting the fee at three rubles six kopecks per kilometer. The new system of taxation has been dubbed Plato. In effect, truckers (or trucking companies) are obliged to register with Plato and choose one of two methods of payment. They can either buy a special onboard device that counts the kilometers of federal highway they travel and then calculates the fee, or before each run, they can buy a detailed route map from the company running Plato.

If they refuse to pay, individual entrepreneurs can be fined 40,000 rubles [approx. 580 euros]; legal entities, 450,000 rubles [approx. 6,500 euros].

In the best case scenario, you can make forty to fifty thousand rubles per run,” says Dibir. “The [new] tax adds an additional fifteen thousand rubles in costs. What are we going to live on?! We are not on the Forbes list.”

All Russian truckers now know about the Forbes magazine list of Russia’s wealthiest people and the spot occupied on the list by Arkady Rotenberg.

The surname Rotenberg is now quite popular in Dagestan. Posters bearing it can be seen all along the the M29, for example, “Rotenberg is worse than ISIS” (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) and “Russia without the Rotenbergs.” Every trucker now knows that billionaire Arkady Rotenberg is a friend and supporter of President Putin, that Arkady Rotenberg has a son named Igor Rotenberg, and that Igor Rotenberg owns a little company that mysteriously signed a contract with the government farming the new federal transportation tax out to this private company.

Truckers are not only the people who haul loads from their own regions to other regions, for example, Dagestani cabbage. (There are several districts in Dagestan that traditionally cultivate green cabbage on an industrial scale and then supply it to other parts of Russia during the winter.) Truckers are one of the foundations of the Russian produce economy.

Watermelons, tomatoes, onions, aubergines, pomegranates, and oranges: all this produce is brought from Iran and Azerbaijan, and the geography of further transshipments covers the entire country. For example, Dagestani truckers literally “pick up” and transport the entire harvest of Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, Astrakhan Region, and Volgograd Region to other parts of the country. They supply the major markets of Moscow and Saint Petersburg with produce.

“We are in the fifth day of our strike. Around three hundred train carloads of persimmons have piled up on the Azerbaijani border, right in the middle of the fruit’s season,” one of the strikers explains to me. “Three hundred train carloads is nine hundred truckloads that we should have delivered to Russian markets. Instead, the produce is spoiling. Take a look at how much persimmon prices skyrocket now.”

“Rotenberg is worse than ISIS.” Photo: Irina Gordiyenko/Novaya Gazeta

There are over two million heavy trucks officially registered in Russia. Around half of these are registered in the south of Russia. Cargo transportation is now in the truest sense one of the most important sources of income in Dagestan, a republic of three million people.

Take, for example, the large village of Gudben. Its population is around fifteen thousand people, and it has two thousand registered trucks. The average family in Gudben consists of five people, so at least ten thousand residents of Gudben survive on the money earned from cargo runs.

“We would love to find other work,” says Guben resident Tahir, “but there is just no other work in Dagestan. This is the only way we can feed our families.”

The second major site of the trucker protests is the federal highway near the small village of Manas. Several days ago, outraged truckers blocked the highway, demanding that authorities come meet with them. The authorities did come, but incognito. They threw up their hands and left. Then they sent in truckloads of riot police, who dispersed the protest.

So far the truckers have agreed not to block the highway. They are waiting. But riot police are on duty there. Every day they detain dozens of people, charge them with misdemeanors and send them to jail for ten days, videotape the truck drivers, and rip the license plates from their trucks.

The truckers are philosophical about such methods of coercion. We will not succumb to provocations. We want to be heard, they say.

The Dagestanis have been joined in their protests by truckers from other regions.

“I cannot imagine how we will go on living. This is going to be a big blow to our wallets,” says Vladimir from Saratov.

A couple days ago, Vladimir unloaded a cargo of Sakhalin fish in Krasnodar. Hearing that a big strike was underway in Dagestan, he decided to join it.

“In other parts of Russia, the protest actions have quickly come to an end. They have been quickly dispersed. But the folks here are stubborn,” says Vladimir.

And Vladimir is not alone. Many truckers from other regions who made runs to the south over the past week have joined the Dagestanis, including Chechens. In Chechnya itself, there is a strict taboo on any protest, so they are forced to travel to neighboring regions to strike against the injustice.

“A liter of diesel costs thirty-three rubles. For example, you need half a ton [of fuel] to get to Moscow,” continues trucker Tahir. “Under Medvedev, the price of diesel went up by seven rubles and we were promised a decrease in the transportation tax. We believed them. But the tax never was decreased. And now a new tax has been introduced to boot.”

In addition to fuel, every trucker has to pay the transportation tax (around forty thousand rubles a year), insurance (around fifteen thousand rubles per run), and customs duties (if the produce hails from Iran or Azerbaijan), plus license fees and a ton of other related formalities. We should also consider that any breakdown is the driver’s responsibility. Spare parts for all trucks, whether they are Volvos or KamAZes, are expensive.

“I ran into a pothole on a dark highway in Volgograd Region. I was stuck there for a week. I paid twenty thousand rubles [for repairs]: that is about half of what I earned from the run. You cannot imagine how awful the roads are around Volgograd and Samara! And for this we have to pay more?!” relates one trucker.

But there is yet another nuance. The new road tax will inevitably lead to higher rates for cargo transportation. The truckers will be forced to include them in the cost of their services, and so prices for the goods they transport will increase nationwide.

“We do not want to do it. People here live very poorly as it is,” says the trucker Dibir. “Price have gone up at the markets in Khasavyurt. We will fight to the last. And if they do not want to hear us, we will drive to Moscow and set up camp on the Moscow Ring Road. We are used to living in field conditions.”

“Peace to the world. No to Plato!” Photo: Irina Gordiyenko/Novaya Gazeta
Translated by the Russian Reader


Further reading (in Russian):


UPDATE (?) Carl Schreck, “Road Warriors: Russia Yields On New Transport Tax After Long-Haul Trucker Protests,” RFE/RL, November 20, 2015. Thanks to Comrade SC for the heads-up

Ivan Sotnikov (1961-2015)

Ivan Sotnikov
Ivan Sotnikov. Courtesy of

Energy Exchange

I should say right at the outset that Ivan Sotnikov is one of the most highly esteemed and deeply cherished painters in Petersburg. When he was still a young man of twenty-three, the legendary Vladimir Shagin offered him one of his paintings in exchange for Sotnikov’s painting Alien (Homon LTD). Two years previously, Sotnikov had etched his name in art history along with Timur Novikov. The two friends had their picture taken in the empty aperture of a stand at a group show organized by the TEII (Society for Experimental Visual Art).

Ivan Sotnikov and Timur Novikov, Zero Object, 1982. Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad
Ivan Sotnikov and Timur Novikov, Zero Object, 1982. Kirov Palace of Culture, Leningrad

They had dubbed the picture frame, à la Malevich, the Zero Object. They turned the popular amusement of sticking one’s head through a hole—for example, the “porthole” of a plywood rocket ship—and having one’s picture taken into an avant-garde act, a nullification of routine and a relaunching of vital systems.

Sotnikov has not specialized in performance art. It has, however, been a natural consequence of his life-as-art approach. The inventor of the musical instrument known as the utyugon, on which he performed at the notorious happening that has gone down in the history books as the Medical Concert, he has perused art shows without dismounting from his bike and walked the streets with a net on his head, like a gladiator escaped from the arena. (He was then either returning from a production of The Biathlete or, on the contrary, had been walking around before showing up to the performance, giving it a much needed visual jolt.)

The utyugon
The utyugon

In one of his principal but little-known performances, he showed how life and art are indeed inseparable. In 1996, Sotnikov was ordained as a Russian Orthodox priest and some time later was assigned to a parish in the village of Rogavka, where St. Xenia of Petersburg Church had been set up in the former Blue Danube beer hall. Armed with Novikov’s recomposition method, the first thing Father Ioann did was fashion a belfry. He made the bells by cutting the bottoms off of natural gas canisters.

sotnikov-at my place (1983)
“At My Place” (Portrait of Kirill Khazanovich), 1983. Mixed media on canvas. 75.7 x 97 cm. Courtesy Russian Museum

If we adopt a Kharmsian method of analysis, the passage through the Zero Object was a reversal of Malevich’s transformation at the 0.10 Exhibition. Sotnikov and Novikov lunged backwards from the infinite (the transfinite) through the zero into the finite (cisfinite) realm we inhabit. In the person of Ivan Sotnikov von Stackelberg, the cisfinite world has, perhaps, found its most obliging and kindred artist. Who else loves our fragile world so furiously and is able to transform it into such an intense and beautiful pictorial surface? Georgy Gurjanov once admiringly showed me new paintings by Sotnikov on the screen of his iPhone: a gorgeous baby Heracles, a boa constrictor, shampoo bottles in a bathroom, and mobile phone casings succeeded each other in no particular order like flashes of the iconosphere, like the bright blossoms of an organic imaginary.

sotnikov-blue firs (1989)
Blue Firs, 1989. Acrylic on canvas, 73 x 83 cm. Courtesy Vladimir Dobrovolsky

Sotnikov, however, does not mechanically accumulate images of life. He is not a postmodernist artist-cum-recorder, but a creative transfigurer of vital impulses into a grotesque and grand panorama of interacting energies, even when it comes to the particulars and small formats. Electric light from windows slashes through the dark night like the plangent signal of a commuter train (Aeronautical Park). In a still from a TV report, a Mriya transport plane carries the Soviet space shuttle Buran, and these seemingly animated machines, as they fly through the heavens above the earth and the clouds, are something like a symbolic picture of our entire world, just as miniature books of hours once were. The burning headlights of riot police trucks crush space (Elections). Snow falls on pines and the hipped roof of Vyritsa Church, or night descends on the churchyard, day after day, one painting after another, as it were affirming the inescapability of this landscape, in which the artist’s soul was reborn. Sotnikov’s depictions of New Year’s trees are marked by such a cornucopia of form and emotion that this motif alone is revealed as an entire theatrum mundi.

Ivan Sotnikov, Battle with the Squirrel. Courtesy Navicula Artis Gallery
Ivan Sotnikov, Battle with the Squirrel. Courtesy Navicula Artis Gallery

This theater, it bears pointing out, is always in the realm of art. It is realized in the field of painting, whose subject is the interplay of light and volume. It is no coincidence that, despite his penchant for the grotesque, Sotnikov never depicts the inhabitants of these spaces when deploying his favorite motif of lighted windows at night. He is attracted by the glow of these seemingly blank façades in the dark. In both streams of his painterly work, paintings from life and imaginary scenes, Sotnikov is paradoxically unique while being traditional at the same time. He is modern, but his original impulse comes from within the world of art. In his landscapes and still lifes, he strives to emulate the paintings of so-called third-way Soviet artists: Georgy Rublyov, Yuri Vasnetsov, Vladimir Grinberg, Vladimir Lebedev, Nikolai Lapshin, and Vladimir Shagin. As they navigated their own paths between the ideologies of the avant-garde (constructivism) and socialist realism, these artists stubbornly keep faith in painting as the only basis of life. In his conceptual series (Cars, Computer Games, Snowflakes, Fir Trees, and so forth), Sotnikov sets his bearings on folk art. Thus, car icons in computer games acquire the status of modern pictograms, like solar signs in traditional art. While focused on the artistic tradition, Sotnikov does not delve into history, into the past, since he sees shape and texture as part of the current organic world, which draws its colors from everywhere, launching a cyclic exchange between plants and sunsets, embroidery and carving (e.g., the stone reliefs in the Montenegrin town of Kotor), pictures and, once again, forests and sunrises.

Sotnikov’s fellow “savage” painter and collaborator Oleg Kotelnikov captured the evolution of Sotnikov’s pictorial expressions best of all. In the eighties, said Kotelnikov, “He did it with his legs, but now he is doing it with his hands.” The New Artists and Kotelnikov stopped doing it with their legs circa 1987. Artists who “used to paint with mops and brooms,” according to Novikov, switched to stencils and manual work. Drawing with the legs is like having eyes in the back of one’s head or having an ear for painting. When you have this skill down pat, it is time to go back to traditional painting. Sotnikov is a rare master of organic expressionism: his work possesses the unity of a tableau vivant and reminds me of a dormant volcano. There is beautiful scenery on its slopes, but fiery lava churns in its crater, and the temperature and pressure are no lower nowadays than they were in the 1980s. His paintings Death-Defying Stunt, St. George’s Porcelain Set, and Lenin in Razliv are now among the few genuine historical witnesses of our time.

Concert, 1983. Oil on fiberboard, 121 x 143 cm. Courtesy Russian Museum
Concert, 1983. Oil on fiberboard, 121 x 143 cm. Courtesy Russian Museum

Few people manage to do in life what Father Ioann has done, I thought to myself once as I watched him storming the door of his studio and insistently muttering “I can’t get no . . .” under his breath after returning from performing mass. Rolling Stones fans get the most satisfaction from singing this song, it has been said. That is how to live the life of a painter: to never stop searching for satisfaction while repeatedly intervening in the war between heaven and earth, between life and death, and portraying the frontline—self-identity in the opening of being—so attractively.

Ekaterina Andreyeva

Translated by the Russian Reader

This essay was originally written for the forthcoming catalogue of a retrospective of works by Ivan Sotnikov that will open at Novy Museum in Petersburg in mid December. My thanks to Dr. Andreyeva for permission to reprint the translation of the essay here.

Mr. Sotnikov died on November 16 and was buried yesterday, November 19, in the cemetery of Our Lady of Kazan Church in the village of Vyritsa.

Moscow Police Abduct Leftist Activists Elena Bezrukova and Alexander Ognev

AST-Moscow Statement on the Detention of Elena Bezrukova and Alexander Ognev
November 18, 2015

Elena Bezrukova

Police raided the Moscow flat of leftist activist Elena Bezrukova in the early morning of November 18. They searched her home, and our comrade was detained and taken to the Troparevo-Nikulino police station. As of this writing, police officers have refused to provide any information, denying that our comrade is being questioned. Police are denying her basic human rights by not allowing contact with loved ones. Attorney Dmitry Dinze has also not been allowed to see her.

Currently, the whereabouts of our comrade Alexander Ognev, the police’s principal target, are unknown. A native of Lipetsk, Ognev organized protest rallies in his hometown during the nationwide mass protests of 2011–2012. Ognev’s civic stance has come back to haunt him in way that has become common in Putinist Russia. The document exempting him from military service miraculously disappeared from his medical records, and then Ognev received a draft notice. As a conscientious objector, he ignored the call-up, after which he was summoned to the Investigative Committee for questioning. Ognev was then taken to the military recruiting office, where he was illegally detained for three days, choked, and threatened to be sent to “a unit in Dagestan from which [he] would not come back alive.” After his release, the opposition activist’s bruises were documented.

Alexander Ognev: “Article 11.3 of the Federal Law on Trade Unions: ‘The level of wages will be agreed with the trade union…’ Thanks to the FNPR (Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia) for low wages.”

Today’s search was connected with plans to file desertion charges against Ognev. It is not clear how it is possible to desert the regular army without spending a single day in the service, but Russian investigators, who serve the criminal regime now established in the Russian Federation, have their own way of thinking, which is not accessible to ordinary citizens.

At this moment we are doing everything possible to find out what has happened to Elena and Alexander and facilitate their release. We are hoping for the best, but Russian realities are such that we should be mentally prepared for any eventuality. Now we really need the support of all libertarian activists. Circulate information and make plans for protest rallies against the latest politically motivated criminal charges, which may be filed against our allies. Remember that only the solidarity of working people can break this system, which cynically ignores basic human rights.

Silence of the Lambs, Part 2: The Case of Valery Brinikh

Adygean Environmentalist Valery Brinikh
Adygean Environmentalist Valery Brinikh

Adygean Environmentalist Charged with Extremism
November 17, 2015 | Republic of Adygea
SOVA Center

Environmentalist Valery Brinikh accused of ethnically motivated humiliation for writing an article about the problems caused by pig farming in Adygea

On November 17, 2015, it transpired that a new charge has been filed against Adygean environmentalist Valery Brinikh under Article 282.1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (humiliation of a group of persons on the grounds of ethnicity and origin, committed publicly using the Internet). Earlier, the 51-year-old director of the Institute of Regional Biological Research had been accused only of aiding and abetting the distribution of extremist matter, the article “The Silence of the Lambs.”

“Now the Investigative Committee considers him the author of this article,” explained Alexander Popkov, the environmentalist’s attorney.

Criminal charges were filed against Brinikh on December 11, 2014, for publishing the article on the website For Krasnodar! [Translator’s note. The website now seems to have been removed; it was still functioning in April 2015, when I first posted on this case.] The article deals with the environmental pollution caused by the pig-breeding facility Kievo-Zhuraki JSC. On December 17, 2014, the Maykop City Court ruled “The Silence of the Lambs” extremist, and the Adygean Supreme Court upheld this ruling in March 2015. In court, Brinikh denied both that he had written the article and that he had posted it on the website. On October 1, 2015,  the environmentalist was charged for the first time (under Articles 33.5 and 282.1  of the Criminal Code).

The author of the article “The Silence of the Lambs” accuses residents of Adygea’s Teuchezhsky Distriction, where the polluting facility is located, of giving in to the authotiries and failing to defend their own interests vigorously. Nevertheless, his remarks are not grounds for a criminal prosectioon: they contain no evidence of incitement of hatred. As for the phrase on which the article ends (the author quotes Voltaire’s remark that God helps those battalions that shoot better), given the context it should be interpreted as a rhetorical device rather than a call for extremist action. Obviously, local authorities could have been using the article to put pressure on Brinikh. We should note that the owner of Kievo-Zhuraki JSC is Federation Council member Vyacheslav Derev. On March 5, 2015, the Maykop City Court fined Brinihkh 100,000 rubles [approx. 1,400 euros] for slandering Derev.

Source: Diana Gutsul, “Environmental Brinikh Faced with New Extremism Charges,” RAPSI, November 17, 2015 (in Russian)

Translated by the Russian Reader


Our Swimmer
Our Swimmer

I would bet 99.99% of Russians could not find Adygea on a map, and 99.99999% of Russians have not heard of Adygean environmentalist Valery Brinikh, but Putinist power exists there, too, and it is being used to crush Mr. Brinikh into the dirt for stating the obvious too loudly. (Meaning he committed “extremism,” of course.)

So here is that map (courtesy of

Adygea (in red) on map of Russia
Adygea (in red) on map of Russia

Free Sergei Nikiforov!

Free Sergei Nikiforov!
Natalya Kalinina
November 6, 2015

On November 5, 2015, a public event in support of a political prisoner was held in Blagoveshchensk, administrative center of the Amur Region. It took place a week after Russia commemorated the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, a week after Amur Regional Governor Alexander Kozlov had told the region’s residents, “Today’s date reminds us of the innocent victims of injustice, false accusations, and ideological wars. Our duty is to preserve the memory of the victims of insane political terror so that such things never happen again.”

No, today’s subject is not a rally in memory of the martyred victims of political repression in the Gulag during the distant 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

It is more trivial and terrible. Evenki leader Sergei Nikiforov has been thrown in prison after leading a protest movement of his tiny people in the Selemdzhinsk District. As village head, he had been organizing resistance to the expansion of gold mining companies attempting to take over tribal reindeer pastures and hunting grounds.

Sergei Nikiforov. Photo: Ampravda.Ru

Earlier, attempts by district and regional officials to close the village’s Evenki ethnic kindergarten were thwarted. Of course, without the unanimous support of his fellow villagers, Sergei Nikiforov could not have done this. But officials understood they would be unable to quietly seize Evenki lands, a real Klondike for miners, while the Evenki had such a “chief.”

Blagoveshchensk City Court sentenced Nikiforov, the father of five adopted children, to five years in a maximum security prison and a fine of 16 million rubles [approx. 232,000 euros] for bribery and embezzlement. The fellow villagers who were present in the courtroom have reached their own conclusions about the court’s bias. The court disregarded all the particulars that pointed to the defendant’s innocence, for example, the fact that at the time the bribe was made in Blagoveshchensk, Nikiforov was in Ekimchan, administrative center of the Selemdzhinsk District, hundreds of kilometers away, and the fact that the only witness was unable to identify Nikiforov in court and testified she did not know the man. Nor was the bribegiver arraigned. According to the Evenki, the trial was clearly a frame-up.

Nikiforov was convicted in Blagoveshchensk in late October of this year. On October 3, all the residents of his native village of Ivanovskoye who were not out on the hunt attended a protest rally in defense of Sergei Nikiforov.

"No to kangaroo courts!" Residents of the village of Ivanovskoye demonstrate in support of Sergei Nikiforov
“No to kangaroo courts!” Residents of the village of Ivanovskoye demonstrating in support of Sergei Nikiforov, October 3, 2015

You cannot fool the people. If the village head had really been stealing money from the already meager village budget, who would have come out to support him?! You cannot hoodwink villagers, as people who have lived there would know.

After the protest, the regional authorities kept a low profile. Nowhere in the media did anyone comment on the trial of the disgraced village head. A small group of Evenki woman managed to travel to the regional center, overcoming hundreds of kilometers of bumpy roads on an UAZ off-road vehicle.

The Amur branch of the Yabl0ko Party gave due notice of plans for a protest rally on Lenin Square. Officials made a fuss. None of them wanted to see Evenki waving placards under the windows of the regional government house. I was contacted and asked to move the protest behind a department store, “out of sight of the authorities.” Clearly, it would have been pointless to protest behind a department store. So we were forced to to alter the format of the protest, but not the purpose and place.

We held a series of solo pickets in downtown Blagoveshchensk. People stood alone at a distance of a several dozen meters from each other on both sides on Lenin Street in the vicinity of the eponymous square. Just opposite the windows of the regional government house, legislative assembly, and the public reception office of the Russian President stood women (wives and daughters of hunters and reindeer herders) holding placards with the slogans “The Evenki need S.S. Nikiforov,” “Free Sergei Nikiforov,” “Sergei Savelyevich, we are with you!” “We ask the Russian federal authorities to pay attention to the criminal case of S.S. Nikiforov,” “We want a fair trial!!!” “No to kangaroo courts!” “The rule of law, not a tribunal!” and “Put an end to political reprisals.” They hoped to attract the attention of authorities to the injustice perpetuated in the Amur Region.

The reaction of officials was unexpected. No, neither the governor nor lawmakers came out to meet with their constituents. Nor did the chair of the regional court or the prosecutor show up. No, it was much more tedious. Frightened by the female protesters, the officials summoned several pieces of maintenance equipment from the City and Trade Services Center Municipal Enterprise (MP “GSTK”). A tractor drove on the sidewalk back and forth exactly where the protesters were standing. At times we imagined that the driver (a young chap with a brazen face) was defiantly trying to run over the small, fragile women, who would barely dodge out of his way. The oldest protester later said that she had physically sensed the tractor was about to run her over. It was noticeable that the moron behind the wheel was clearly getting some kind of sadistic thrill from his attacks on the defenseless women. Despite the fact the tractor was driving on the sidewalk, no special warning signs had been set up to this effect.

As soon as the picket ended, and the protesters left the square, the special maintenance equipment hastily turned around and drove away. By the way, the policemen on the square were quite polite. They were not at all keen to detain us “protestants,” apparently supporting us in their hearts.

Of course, it is too early to say that a protest rally was held and Nikiforov will be released tomorrow. Of course, that will not happen. We need to do much more. Maybe the next item on the agenda is a trip by Evenki to the capital and pickets on Red Square? In any case, people are becoming citizens and learning to assert their rights in practice. That is worth a lot!

"We want a fair trial!"
“We want a fair trial!”
“We ask the Russian federal authorities to pay attention to the criminal case of S.S. Nikiforov.”
“The Evenki need S.S. Nikiforov.”
“Sergei Savelyevich, we are with you!”
“Put an end to political reprisals!”
“The rule of law, not a tribunal!”
“No to kangaroo courts!”
“Free Sergei Nikiforov!”

N.B.  I wish to inform Valentina Kalita, mayor of Blagoveshchensk, and MP “GSTK” head Igor Banin, United Russian party members and partners of ex-mayor Alexander Migulya, now under investigation, that actions aimed at disrupting a public event (to which every citizen of Russia has a constitutional right!) are covered by Article 149 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“Obstruction of assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets or involvement in them”).

Finally, Igor Banin, the driver of the tractor, who spread dust and rubbish over the square today, deserves a bonus. The lad tried really hard to carry out your orders (which had nothing to do with the cleaning the sidewalk, as you know).wink

The wild municipal services tractor
The wild Blagoveshchensk municipal services tractor and street sweeper
A letter from Blagoveshchensk Mayor Valentina Kalita, dated November 2, 2015, and addressed to protest rally organizer Natalya Kalinina, stating that MP “GSTK” had planned to carry out preparatory work for building a “snow fortress” [sic] on Lenin Square for 2016 New Year’s celebrations at the same time as Kalinina and her group had informed the authorities they would be protesting there. Mayor Kalita therefore asks that the venue be switched to the area in front of the Central Shopping Center on the Amur Street side, and that the rally be turned into a series of pickets from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on November 5, 2015.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AD for the heads-up