School Daze

11903767_1790243987869135_7759176638199755436_nArtyom Tyutrin

Svetlana Gannushkina
August 29, 2015
Facebook

On September 1 [the first day of the school year in Russia], this boy, Artyom Tyutrin, will not go to school but to court. His parents immigrated from Uzbekistan because they could not cope with the need to speak Uzbek in all institutions. They passed the exams in history, law, and Russian, their native tongue [now required of all migrants to Russia], received work permits, found jobs and a place to live, which they registered as their residence for three months. The headmaster of the school [where they live] told Svetlana, Artyom’s mom, that they had to be registered for a year [for Artyom to be enrolled], that in Russia, the Constitution only applied to Russian citizens. Svetlana was stunned: she had taken the exams and knew that Article 62 of the Constitution states, Foreign citizens and stateless persons shall enjoy rights and bear obligations in the Russian Federation on a par with citizens of the Russian Federation[.]”  Maybe it’s time to make everyone working in the education system sit for the same exams? And maybe not only them? During a court hearing, a judge once said to me, “I’m tired of you and your constitution!” It seems this was not just his own personal attitude to our basic law.

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Svetlana Gannushkina is chair of the Civic Assistance Committee in Moscow. Photos courtesy of her Facebook page

See my recents posts on this topic:

Lucidvox

lucidvox

Even a cheerfully depressive bad cop like me finally throws up his hands when he is inundated by the flood of extremely wretched news that has been coming from his usual beats this past week, especially after the short perfect summer of the last three weeks has suddenly turned to nonstop rain and gloom in this forgotten corner of the former Russian Empire.

So I am going try something newish on this weblog and introduce all you Russian readers to a band I have only just discovered today.

Lucidvox are four young women from Moscow who play psychedelic music with a touch of Krautrock. The group was formed in autumn 2013 after a hiking trip to Cape Fiolent. Originally, it was an instrumental quartet. Anna, the vocalist, played the flute, but then began to sing as well.

In July 2013, the band released the EP Drugoi chelovek (Another Man). In the following year, the group actively concertized.

On June 3, 2014, Lucidvox released the full-length album V Dvizhenii (In Movement), which the magazine Afisha-Volna listed among its top twenty Russian albums of the year.

Currently, Lucidvox are mixing an EP. They are planning to present the EP and a video to the one of the songs in early spring.

source: musicmama.ru

You can listen to all or nearly all of their back catalogue on their SoundCloud page, and listen to new tracks and keep up with their touring schedule and other goings-on on their VKontakte page (in Russian).

I know what kind of escapism and hipsterism this smacks of, comrades, but such borrowed escape valves and pretty exercises in youthful self-deception are at least as much a part of Russia’s currently violently “apolitical” political landscape as the regime’s out-and-out awfulness and the stunning heroism of the country’s so far badly outnumbered and outgunned activists and political prisoners.

And who knows what funny dreams of living somewhere and somewhen better and fairer are bound up in secondhand but enchanting music like this?

In any case, the sound couldn’t fit the current zeitgeist any better.

Lucidvox in concert at Jao Da in Moscow on March 19, 2014

On the Trolleybus

trolleybus-in-st-petersburg

A friend mailed the following story to me this morning.

I had an interesting trip to the agricultural fair yesterday. I bought some honey from Pskov and a few other things.

The most exciting part, however, was the trip back home on an overcrowded trolley bus.

It was filled with several distinctly different layers of passengers: old and not-so-old women who had been to the fair, young Tajik or Uzbek men, and students who seemed to be Russian. It was funny to observe how they interacted.

All the women from the fair first talked about various kinds of medical treatments and ways to “undergo serious medical tests” for free (by entering a program to test some new drug without actually taking the drug), but later everybody focused on the solo performance of an old woman who used to work in the Admiralty building.

She shouted that Putin and his gang were criminals, that they have destroyed the country, that there is no future for young people, and that she wanted her talented grandson to go abroad and not to have the life she and her son have had here. But it gradually transpired she hated Putin so much because he had sold Russia to the West and allowed “them” (meaning the Central Asians, as I understood her, because she was pointing at the young Central Asians on the bus) to “flood the country.”

She also said that Lukashenka was a great guy because he had not allowed this sort of thing to happen.

At the same time, she said that although “people chew out America,” she knows some people who went there and told her “the people there live wonderfully.”

So, the old women were rather agitated, the young Central Asian men smiled all the time (including at the angry old woman who was upset by their presence) and politely let them pass or sit down, and most of the Russian students stood with faces that did not express anything, except, maybe, a young woman who smiled at the woman’s speech and seemed to be interested.

The indignant woman was very well spoken and sounded educated. (And she was a “native Leningrader,” as she pointed out). She also came across as very reasonable and well informed—up to the point when she explained that Putin had sold the country to the West (and had betrayed Novorossiya, which in some way is probably even true).

She said that usually when she would talk about this, everybody would tell her they were not interested in politics. But then she said something that was hard to deny.

“Everyone says it’s all politics, politics, but it’s not politics, it’s life.”

She went on to say that, because she spoke about it openly and loudly, someone had once even attacked her on Insurrection Square, grabbing her by the arm. She had cried for help, but nobody had helped her.

Image courtesy of www.saint-petersburg.com

Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov Are Hostages

On Kolchenko and Sentsov’s Sentences
August 26, 2015
www.shiitman.ninja

179003Alexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov

It is important to realize that the sentences that Kolchenko and Sentsov received are a fiction.

No one actually takes the charges against them seriously.

Even the most loyal Putinists do not take the charges seriously. What terrorism? What does the Right Sector have to do with any of this?

Kolchenko and Sentsov are hostages. Their being held in a Russian prison is an act of intimidation directed at the Crimeans who stayed home but could have fought back. Their being held in prison is an act of intimidation directed against all the people of Ukraine and those Russian citizens who could have supported them.

The trial was a fiction. The verdict is a fiction. That is why I reacted without emotion to the sentences, although I understand the shock felt by many comrades, among whom there are close friends of both Kolchenko and Sentsov. Twenty years and ten years in prison? The Russian judges could have give them sentences of forty years and twenty-five years. Or given both of them life sentences. Or given them each six months in prison, then retried the case. Or they could have not announced the verdict at all, but just laughed and made faces. Or mannequins dressed in judicial robes could have replaced the judges. Nobody would have noticed the difference.

Kolchenko and Sentsov are in prison as long as the Russian Federation is ruled by Putin’s repressive, aggressive authoritarian regime. They cannot be freed using lawyer’s tricks. They cannot be freed via “diplomatic channels.” They can be freed only by defeating Putinist Russia. Or if it “defeats” itself by choking on its own rage and madness.

And when that happens, it will not matter a whit what numbers have been written in Kolchenko and Sentsov’s sentences. It doesn’t matter what the judges whip up in Savchenko’s sentence. The release of the hostages does not depend on the actions of lawyers. It depends on politicans and military men. And, in part, on the price of petroleum.

As soon as the “Russian bear,” who has turned out to be a rabid rat, finally kicks the bucket, all the regime’s hostages will be freed.

Translated by The Russian Reader. As is nearly always the case, my opinions might not coincide entirely with those expressed by the authors whose texts I translate and post here. But it has been strange to read the angry reactions of leftist progressive Russian comrades to this particular text given the almost total lack of any visible, public solidarity with Sentsov and Kolchenko on their part.

I won’t even go into the haziness they and many other “ordinary” “apolitical” Russian citizens experience when figuring out who to blame for the whole mess in Ukraine. But this is the privilege all imperialist, metropolitan peoples enjoy: pretending not to know or understand what is being done in their name somewhere else in the world.

_________

Russia’s Sentsov–Kolchenko case “an absolutely Stalinist trial”
Halya Coynash
August 21, 2015
khpg.org

The prosecutor has demanded 23 years for Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, and 12 years for civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko in a case with no crime and where all evidence was obtained through torture. Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova likens this to Stalinist repression, not a court trial.

Svetova has seen a huge number of trials over the last 15 years, but nothing like the “absolutely insane hearing” on Aug 19. She can’t remember a case where, with no elements of a crime, or criminal (terrorist) acts, the prosecutor should be seriously demanding 23-year and 12-year sentences. This, the fact that everybody expects the court on August 25 to convict two innocent men, and much more, she says, is reminiscent of Stalinist repressions where people were arrested for nothing.

Sentsov is charged with leading a ‘terrorist organization,’ Kolchenko of taking part in it and involvement in one specific firebomb attack on a pro-Russian organization active in helping Russia seize control of Crimea in 2014.  There is no evidence that an organization even existed, and the only specific charge against Kolchenko is one that has not previously been classified by any Russian court as ‘terrorism.’

“The prosecutor is demanding 23 and 12 years for people accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Today Sentsov and Kolchenko’s lawyers clearly demonstrated that there are no elements of a crime in this case, nor any criminal act. On August 19, 2015, I saw a totally Stalinist trial. Three judges were sitting there, a real ‘troika,’ with cold, virtually dead eyes who were listening to the prosecutor and the lawyers,” Svetova writes here.

Another of the disturbingly Stalinist features of this case has been the fixation on some demonized organization, in this case the far-right and nationalist Right Sector. Russia has constantly exaggerated this organization’s role in both Euromaidan and subsequent events in Ukraine.  There was even a Russian media attempt on the night of the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, 2014, to claim distortion of the election result after the Right Sector candidate gained a pitiful 0.9% of the votes. It was therefore no surprise that five days after those elections, the FSB should have claimed that it had uncovered a supposed Right Sector ‘terrorist plot.’  It has never produced any evidence at all, nor did any of the witnesses for the prosecution even demonstrate a clear understanding of what the Right Sector is, although they were all convinced it was dangerous, etc.  There is nothing to link Sentsov, the left-wing and anarchist Kolchenko or Gennady Afanasyev with the far-right organization. In court on Wednesday, the prosecutor Oleg Tkachenko changed their story, saying that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not accused of membership in Right Sector, but of having “taken on the ideology of this organization as a guide for action.” What this means remains a mystery since the court has not demonstrated any interest in seeking clarification on this subject or with respect to the numerous other discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.

At the final hearing on Wednesday, the defence demolished all of the charges against the two men, then Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, read out the account given by Gennady Afanasyev of how he had been tortured to get him to testify against Sentsov.

As reported, Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy were arrested at the same time as Sentsov and Kolchenko.  Their ‘confessions’ and testimony are literally all that the charges against Sentsov are based on. It is therefore of critical importance that Afanasyev retracted his testimony on July 31, stating that it had been given under duress.  He then spoke for the first time to a lawyer not provided by the investigators and gave a detailed account of the torture applied immediately after his arrest, and also the pressure placed on him to repeat this testimony in court. As well as threats against him, a FSB officer who appeared at the prison warned him that his mother “could have an accident” if he didn’t cooperate.

All of this information was read to the court. The judges simply looked down and did not react in any way, and the prosecutor continued to demand 23 and 12 years.  It should be stressed that the details in Afanasyev’s account fully coincide with those given by Sentsov, and Chirniy is also known to have told the Ukrainian consul that he had been forced to ‘confess.’

Unlike the players in this modern-day show trial, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has taken Afanasyev’s account seriously.  On August 19, it issued a statement recognizing Afanasyev as a political prisoner and warning of the danger he is now in. This follows a similar statement and damning assessment of the ‘trial’ of Sentsov and Kolchenko.

Sentsov’s final statement was, as all previous statements, courageous and moving. So too was Kolchenko’s, who spoke of the fact that the court had heard about the use of threats and torture by the FSB against Sentsov and Afanasyev.

“It’s interesting that people using such methods to obtain testimony have no qualms about accusing us of terrorism.”

He called the charges against them fabricated and politically motivated, and said that this trial, like those against Nadiya Savchenko, the Bolotnaya Square protester, and others are aimed at extending the life of the current regime.

“Yet throwing us in prison, this regime speeds up its end, and those people who still yesterday believed in law and order, today, watching such trials, have lost that faith. And tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, those people who are part of the 86 percent [supposedly supporting President Vladimir Putin – HC] will overturn this authoritarian regime.”

Kolchenko noted that, in the letter read out to the court, Afanasyev said that the FSB officer had told him that the day he gave testimony in court would be the most important day in his life.

“Seemingly, Afanasyev took those words to heart and interpreted them in his own way. I was very taken with this great and powerful act of his.”

Gennady Afanasyev is in danger; Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko are facing long sentences on preposterous charges.  And Russia is descending into a frightening Soviet tradition in which people are tortured for ‘confessions’ with neither the prosecutor nor the judges even batting an eyelid when this is demonstrated to the world.

Please write to all three men!

The website of the Solidarity Committee with the Crimean Hostages will try to get messages to them.

solidarityua.info

In the first box, write one of the following names one at a time:

Олег Сенцов (Oleg Sentsov)

Олександр Кольченко (Oleksandr Kolchenko)

Геннадий Афанасьев  (Gennady Afanasyev)

Then in the next box, write your name.

The next box asks for a telephone number if you wish to give it. An email address is, however, needed (the fourth box).

Finally, in the fifth box, write your message.

The key aim is to ensure that all three men know that they are not forgotten. The following would be quite sufficient (if you do write in Russian, please avoid anything controversial or overly political).

Мы восхищаемся Вашим мужеством и надеемся на Ваше скорое освобождение.

Спасибо, что нашли в себе силы остаться честным с самим собой.

Держитесь!

(We admire your courage and hope for your speedy release. Thank you for finding the strength to remain true to yourself. The last word is a word of support, like “take care!”)

The question under the last box asks whether you are on social networks: yes, no, in that order (or leave it blank)

Then hit SEND.

Thanks to Comrade SP for the heads-up. I have lightly edited the text to make it more readable.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina on the Sentsov-Kolchenko Verdict

Masha Alyokhina
August 25, 2015
Facebook

“I don’t know what is worth doing if you cannot die for it,” said Sentsov.

“We are discussing narrow questions,” said the judge, interrupting him.

Our “twofer” was piddly shit compared with this. Just imagine being locked up in a prison colony not for two autumns, but twenty, and for just as many winters. Sentsov is a single father who has been sentenced to twenty years in a maximum security prison by Russia.

His sister says, “We fear Oleg will be forgotten.”

If convicts in Russia can be forgotten by those on the outside, inside they can be killed. I hate this system under which it is so easy to kill.

The anarchist Kolchenko was sentenced by Russia to ten years hard time.

We must not forget them. They laugh at the verdict of a country that took them hostage.

Ten and twenty years in prison.

Hang in there, please, we are with you.

11889477_1182943075054229_5283665799208464809_nAlexander Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov

__________

Nadya Tolokonnikova
August 25, 2015
Facebook

“Well, what did you need to go and do that for? You’re a young, pretty girl, and what have you got yourself into? When you get out, who’s going to remember you? Who’s going to want you, silly goose? Why are you so stuck on politics?”

Coppers and screws always talk this way, because they don’t understand how someone could not break down and admit their guilt. After all, if you confess, they promise to reduce your sentence.

Oleg, you will get out earlier, of course. And whatever they say to you in there, we will not forget you.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Masha Alyokhina

Yesterday Was an Especially Good Day in Russia

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Sergey Abashin
August 25, 2015
Facebook

Today’s news is impressive even compared to the usual madhouse. The ruble has “stabilized” at just under seventy to the dollar. Vasilyeva, a minister’s lover who stole millions, was released “for good behavior” almost immediately after being sentenced [in May of this year], while the filmmaker Sentsov, who stole nothing and killed no one, was sentenced to twenty years in prison for “terrorism.” Rospotrebnadzor [The Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being], which has now replaced the chief sanitary inspector, has banned imported washing products in order to “protect consumers.” And someone else tried to block access to Wikipedia, because it contained “extremism” or something of the sort. The symptoms are clear.

Translated and annotated by The Russian Reader. Read my translation of Sergey Abashin’s compelling recent article “Movements and Migrants in Central Asia” here. Photo of Bruce Willis and Russian flag wavers courtesy of Google Images.

Ripe for Exploitation: How Syrian Refugee Children Are Treated in Russia

Ripe for Exploitation
Oleg Pshenichny
August 24, 2015
Grani.ru

This morning, instead of giving lessons, the teachers at a school for Syrian refugee children loaded the school’s belongings into a car. Classes had suddenly been cancelled, and the school closed. The proprietor of the room in a private house where classes had been held showed the children and teachers the door.

This happened after local Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) officers had shown up on Saturday at the house on Rogozhskaya Street where the school was located to carry out a spot check, which had mushroomed into a full-blown search. The officers inspected not only the rooms and the grounds of the house but also the personal belongings and furniture of both the house’s owner and the school.

The occasion for the spot check had been information about a Syrian terrorist who had, allegedly, been registered under false pretenses at the house. As the school’s organizer, Syrian journalist and political refugee Muiz Abu Aljail, told Grani.ru, the reason for the search was contrived. The local authorities had simply wanted to get rid of the school.

Classes had begun in May of this year under the auspices of the Civic Assistance Committee’s Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children, with assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Around thirty Syrian children who had settled in Noginsk in recent years were pupils at the school.

Olga Nikolayenko, director of the Adaptation and Education Center, told Grani.ru that Muiz Abu Aljail had actively helped his compatriots in the Moscow Region by providing legal and other assistance. When he found out that many Syrian children in Noginsk had nothing to do and were simply roaming the streets, Muiz organized a informal study group, initially in Arabic, after which the Civic Assistance Committee got involved and recruited professional teachers.

82065Muiz Abu Aljail and pupils from the Noginsk School for Refugee Children. Photo from Muiz Abu Aljail’s Facebook page.

“We organized a Russian language summer intensive course to prepare the children to enroll in regular schools in Noginsk in September,” said Nikolayenko, “As you know, there is now a lawsuit underway against the Ministry of Education in order to force Russian schools to enroll migrant and refugee children regardless of whether they have residence permits. [The Supreme Court will hear the case on August 27 — Grani.ru.] We are counting on winning and wanted to get the children’s Russian up to speed. But now the owner of the house has been thoroughly intimidated. They summoned her for questioning and told her they were looking for an agent of Al Qaeda. Classes have been disrupted.”

According to Nikolayenko, the Noginsk authorities had immediately reacted with hostility to the idea of setting up the school. When people from the Adaptation and Education Center had come to Noginsk in May to secure the assistance of the local education department, a meeting was held at which Alla Artyomova, head of the local FMS office, had categorically stated that no classrooms would be provided for the school, because on paper there were no Syrian children in Noginsk and no one cared about what happened to them.

At the same time, in neighboring Losino-Petrovsky, a similar school for migrant children has received a lot of assistance from the local authorities, who found classroom space and promised to help the children enroll in school. In Noginsk, however, the school was left to its own devices and had to hold classes in a private home.

“The kids really liked it,” says Elena Drozdova, a teacher at the school, “and we managed to get a lot done. After all, teaching a person to read and write Russian from scratch in three months is a big deal. But now we’ve loaded our things in the car, and we don’t know what will happen to the school, what will happen to the children, and after this incident, whether the parents will let their children go to school at all.”

82064Pupils for the Noginsk School for Refugee Children. Photo from Muiz Abu Aljail’s Facebook page. The placard reads, “We are not animals. Please give us the right to a childhood.”

Muiz Abu Aljail believes the problems are much more serious than red tape. Officials are not interested in helping the refugees to adapt since an unsettled community is a good source of bribes.

“There is a police and FMS mafia who have created a whole system of slave labor and extortion. I once published an investigation entitled ‘Slavery in Russia: A Special Dossier on Syrian Refugees.’ At every stage of the decision-making, the corrupt system gets tens of thousands of rubles from each person. For example, getting registrations costs twenty thousand rubles [approx. 250 euros at current exchange rates], another twenty thousand rubles for your wife, and another twenty thousand rubles for your children. It used to cost from sixty to seventy thousand rubles to get registration, but after the FMS ordered that asylum be granted automatically, the rate went down to twenty thousand rubles. But the price for being granted asylum has risen. In Moscow, a special business has been organized to this end. Getting into the queue costs fifteen thousand rubles. Getting a certificate stating your case is under review costs from three to fifteen thousand rubles. It costs forty thousand rubles to get temporary asylum. Without it, you will either not get a job or be forced to work illegally, which has led to the emergence of entire slave-labor enterprises.”

In September, Muiz Abu Aljail will himself be forced to leave Russia, because he did not pay bribes and was not granted asylum in Russia. And the Adaptation and Education Center for Refugee Children was evicted from its premises in Moscow in July.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up. See my recent post on this same topic, “Why Migrant Children Are Expelled from Russian Schools.”