A diary of Russian political activist

Sunday 2 December 2007

Choice with no choice or the Russian State Duma elections 2007

The results of the last elections to the State Duma (Russian Parliament) are not counted yet. But nobody doubts that the winner is Vladimir Putin and his party United Russia. The authorities did all their best in order to make the elections just a formality. The quantity of people who vote don't bother any more. Even the voices of Putin and his daughters are enough for announcing the elections legitimate. The barrier of 7% (instead of the recent 5%) for a party to get in Duma is so high that Russian opposition has no chance to reach it. We had no right to vote against all. And so on and so on. But all these measures could not satisfy the authorities. They did all they could for making these elections look like an absurd comedy:
  • The president and the government of all levels agitated for the "State" party (United Russia) without any shame.
  • Our mass media gave all the time in the news and political shows for the only party (United Russia).
  • The process of counting of the votes was usurped by one party (United Russia).
  • There was lack of observers from the foreign countries, even more, more than a half of electoral districts was observed only by the members of United Russia.
  • And finally, even before the beginning of the elections a great quantity of posters telling about the shattering victory of Putin's party (United Russia) was printed.

How could I believe that these elections were legitimate? What could I do if anything was counted before they had begun?
  • If I voted for an oppositional party (instead I don't like any of existing oppositional parties in Russia), I could not be sure that my voice was counted correctly.
  • If I voted for a party who had no chance to pass the barrier, in fact I would give one more place in the Parliament to United Russia.
  • If I spoiled the bulletin, I couldn't be sure that it wouldn't be changed by a new one (with a vote for United Russia of course).
  • If I just stayed at home, the people in the commission of my electoral district could simply vote instead of me.
  • If I took my bulletin out of the electoral district, they would simply put a new one on its place.

No variants, you see. In such situation the question of voting resembles the question of how to behave during an act of rape. I guess if you can't avoid the rape it is better to take a position in which you won't feel the pain. So I decided to take my bulletin away.

I got to my electoral district, took a bulletin and asked the member of commission to mark in her journal that I didn't want to vote and took the bulletin away. The reaction was amusing. This madam began to cry that I would be arrested because of my unlawful actions. I tried to explain that in the law nothing is written about taking bulletins away. I told also that I payed all the taxes, and the elections were organized on my taxes as well, so the bulletin was my property and I could do with it anything I wished. All in vain. This madam tried to stop me using her own power and the power of the observers (supposedly the observers of United Russia). They blocked me up the way out of the electoral district and demanded me to give them my bulletin if I didn't want to vote. I don't know what would be the end of this story if my husband, who went there with me, didn't help me by clearing the way by force. So after a thrilling show we could go home and get pleasure from spoiling the bulletin. Here is my opinion about these elections and our authorities in general:

(A rough translation is: "Suck my dick instead of getting my voice!" A cannabis leave is a sign of my solidarity with comrades from Cannabis Legalize League who spoiled bulletins by drawing a leave of marijuana on a bulletin.)

And here you can see one of the best examples of falsification:

The question WHAT FOR stays without any answer. Our authorities could easily win without any additional illegal actions. The laws they had changed just before the elections gave them all the chances. But Russia is surely a very special country. And our democracy is also very special.

Friday 1 June 2007

May, 27 - the second Moscow gay-pride or the peculiarities of Russian hospitality

I took part in the Moscow gay-pride as an observer. My aim was to note all the cases of injustice and violation of human rights and to try to prevent the violations without being arrested. It was my debut in this role and I can't say whether my work was as effective and useful as it could be. Anyway I did all my best.

At 12 noon we received information about the first people arrested just behind the building of Moscow Mayor's office. My husband Sergey and I moved to the police department 'Tverskoe'. After our arrival we needed some time to think over our further activities. So we called one of our friends who had been arrested at the demonstration and asked him to tell us about the situation inside the police department. When we got confidence that the activists are treated correctly we decided to buy water and try to penetrate into the police department where we could render activists legal support. But one small obstacle changed our plans. We saw a special car for hardened criminals arriving to the police department and decided to wait a minute. How surprised we were when Marco Cappato (MEP) and Ottavio Marzocchi (an official of European Parliament) went out of that car! My first reaction was to ask them call me to the police department as their translator. This idea seamed to be a successful one. In two minutes I entered the building and nobody managed to throw me away. Soon Sergey carried us some water. So I found myself in a lovely company of arrested lgbt-activists, a couple of human rights activists and famous politicians.

The rest of the day I felt myself a heroine of a strange and exciting quest. I played a role of translator for Marco and Ottavio and tried to give some legal support to them. It was extremely difficult because I had almost no chance to speak English for about five years - from the time I graduated school. But in spite of all the difficulties I could explain the right strategy of behavior in Russian police departmenets and we managed to receive the copies of protocols and the copy of decision of the police. I was not surprised when the policemen told us, that Marco and Ottavio were accused in crossing the street in a wrong place. I had no illusions about our police. But suddenly repressions against the participants of Moscow gay-pride became a part of Russian foreign policy, so we got a unique opportunity to write such a claim on the actions of Moscow police which the authorities won't be able to suppress. In fact we got a chance to make our police or our officials answer for their infinite lawlessness. And it was a real fortune.

When we got out of the department we learned that the arrested activists are accused in non-obedience to legal requirements of policemen, so they could receive up to 15 days in a jail and had to spend in the police department at least one night before their cases would be listened at the court. We decided to buy some food for the activists but in a few minutes we found out that it was impossible to reach any shop. Just at that time a large group of nationalists, neo-fascists and Orthodox Christians gathered in front of the police department. They pulled eggs in us, an Orthodox priest even tried to beat one of our activists. Besides these people followed anyone who tried to make several steps left or right from the police department in order to beat him. For the first time in my life I met with such hatred face to face. It was really frightening. I felt myself helpless and could do nothing with it: I knew that these people could not only beat but kill us without any hesitation. Here are their faces, the faces of Russia, those an ordinary tourist will never see. They really consider themselves to be the future of Russia:

(The photo was made by one of the guys who followed us. I have found it in his blog, where he boasted of the fights against lgbt-activists.)

We were standing near the police department without any ideas of what to do for about half an hour when the deputy of Russian State Duma Alexei Mitrofanov arrived. He understood the situation quickly and proposed us his personal cars to go away in safety. This proposal sounded very attractive, but we decided to leave the police department without any help all together.

We walked for about 50 metres when we noticed that these guys were following us. The distance between us shortened and shortened and I began to regret that we didn't follow the advice of Mitrofanov. Finally we reached Tverskaya street where we took three cars and gone away under supervision of a policeman.

The next morning I arrived to the court where the cases of Serge Konstantinov, Nikolai Alexeev and Nikolai Khramov should be listened. This trial was the funniest one in my life. All formalities were kept, all the participants of this listening were serious or trying to look serious. Nevertheless one could observe a very thrilling show. The situation itself made the judge crazy. According to the source which I can't name right now, before the beginning of the listening she received an order to give administrative arrest at least to Alexeev. But what could she do, when the witnesses were famous European politicians: Marco Cappato, Ottavio Marzocchi and Volker Bek (a deputy of Bundestag)? She tried to move the listening to another day because there were no translators. But the deputy of the State Duma Mitrofanov asked the permission to be a translator and she had no reasons to refuse him. Observing the changes in the voice of the judge, seeing her completely at a loss I got the greatest aesthetic pleasure in this year. No decision was brought up that day but now I am absolutely calm. I know that all the activists won't be imprisoned. Our authorities would never risk their reputation so much. This judge will never risk so much her career.

Finally as I told nothing about the very pride I'd like to put here a collection of links on different videos, so that one can see it by his own eyes. IMHO, these sequences need no comments:

Saturday 12 May 2007

Global Marijuana March in Moscow: the total madness of Moscow authorities

People can adapt to any conditions. A lot of things in Russian street activism that seem strange for foreigners are so usual for us that we just are oblivious to their absurdity. We are used to the fact that our Constitution has no real value, and that human rights mean nothing in our country. But the events which took place in Moscow on the 5th of May shocked even us.

We prepared Global Marijuana March for two months. We received millions of warnings from our authorities and The Federal service of drug control. Finally we asked Moscow council a permission to organize a demonstration on one of three routes that we suggested. Everything was done in the order described in the Federal law. When we received the answer and learned that the demonstration was prohibited, nobody was surprised. According to the laws and Russian Constitution nobody can prohibit demonstrations. The only thing that our authorities can do is to change the time and the location of a rally. As they did not leave us a right of choice we decided to participate in the march nevertheless.

We knew that taking part in the march could be dangerous, that is why we kept the place of our demonstration in secret. Only familiar activists and journalists were invited to participate in the march. At 12 noon we gathered at one of the stations of the Moscow metro and went to Arbat Street where we decided to begin the march. Arbat is one of the oldest streets in Moscow without any street traffic and traditionally it is a place where musicians, painters, hippies and punks gather to spend their free time or earn some money.

We noticed a great number of policemen at Arbat and wanted to change the route of our march but the policemen showed such a great interest in our people that we had no opportunity to discuss our further activities, and we had to begin the march immediately or be arrested before anything would be done.

So 4 of us unrolled a "Legalize Cannabis!" banner and the march began. Several activists carried flags of Cannabis Legalize League. These flags and the banner were the only means of visual agitation we had. Nevertheless it was enough for our police to decide that we were propagandizing narcotics. We hardly walked 100 metres when the policemen attacked us and began to beat us. My husband and I decided to leave Arbat, because we wanted to participate in the Cannabis Walk in the park at the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, the second part of GMM in Moscow. (The park is located at the VDNKH metro station on this Moscow metro map: http://www.wtr.ru/moscow/eng/metro/metro.html - Arbat Street is located between the Arbatskaya and Smolenskaya metro stations.) But first we went to the police department named "ARBAT" where our comrades would be delivered. So did two of our friends.

At the side street near the police department we met three or four policemen who wanted to look at our documents and arrest us. According to Russian laws policemen should first show their identification and explain the reason of arrest. As they didn't do it we asked them to explain to us their claims. Instead of answering our question the policemen attacked us, began to beat us and threatened us with weapons. My husband and I were carried by force to the police department and put in different wards. Our friends managed to run away. In several minutes 3 activists arrested at Arbat were also delivered to the police department and put in a ward with my husband.

Immediately we began to call to advocates, journalists and human rights activists. We asked any kind of legal and media help. Human rights activists promised us that an advocate would arrive as soon as possible. We were at the police department no more than half an hour when nine other activists were brought in. We could see all the violence which the policemen used to make them obey. These activists told us how they were arrested. They just came to the police department to give us water and food and stood near the building discussing their further activities. One of the policemen came near them and ordered them to go to the police department. After the activists asked the reason for this command they were severely beaten. Policemen banged young men by their faces about parked cars, placed them by their faces on the ground. Even the girls were beaten: policemen dragged them upon the ground and strangled them. The cruelty of this reprisal shocked even journalists. Here is a short video of the reprisal near the police department:

So during 30 minutes 13 activists were arrested in different places and in different conditions. But these circumstances didn't bother the policemen. They accused all of us under the same administrative infractions according to articles 19.3 (non-obedience to legal requirements of policemen), 6.13 (propaganda of narcotics) and 20.2 (participation in illegal meeting, demonstration or picket). How could people propagandize narcotics near the police department? Is a political demand a sort of propaganda? What were the legal requirements of policemen? All these questions stayed rhetorical. Instead of paper we asked for in order to write a claim, we met the most keen humiliations of human dignity we could ever imagine.

We were offended, blackmailed by planting drugs on us, and beaten for any attempt to remind policemen about our rights. Our friends bought us mineral water and carried it to the police department. The policemen didn't want to give us this water. They said to drink from the restroom! The restroom was so dirty that one could hardly enter it. Besides there was no light in the restroom. So we could satisfy our natural requirements only with an open door. We were searched without any witness. The policemen illegally took our mobile phones and cameras. We were forced to be photographed against our will. Our attempts to hide our faces led to violence and beatings. When our advocates arrived they were thrown out of the police department, so our right to legal assistance was blocked. Each one of us had to pass through several interrogations where not only policemen took part but also unknown non-uniformed people, and also representatives of The Federal service of drug control. The pressure on each activist during the interrogations was enormous. Some activists were even beaten. One of us had an insulin-dependent diabetes. He needed urgent medical help, but the policemen denied any assistance to him. We had to call for first aid and our comrade was hospitalized. In such conditions we spent about 5 hours, than we were delivered at The Presnentsky administrative district court.

We had to wait in a cramped car for about an hour. The girls were sitting at the knees of the young men, because there was not enough space in the car. We were not allowed to go out of the car or to enter the court. Nevertheless we managed to write motions about moving our case to another day because of a necessity to consult with defense counsel. These motions were given to the judge just after she started the hearing of the first case. The judge gave us an hour to find a defense counsel. In fact she defeated the motion, because it is impossible to find a defense counsel at the evening of a day-off (Saturday) without any documents (our passports were in the court) and without a right to leave the court. At that moment we began to prepare for the worst.

The hearing of the first case of Julia Bashinova began at about 8 P.M. and lasted for more than 3 hours. As a result - a fine of 4500 rubles (about $175). The next cases were very similar. The judge defeated all the motions. The witnesses for the prosecution gave false evidence and were several times caught in a lie. The proofs were falsified right in the court. We could not call anybody who was not in the building as a witness. We were treated worse than criminals.

The judge worked through the whole night without a rest. The last hearing finished at 9:30 A.M. Sunday May 6. All this time our friends were waiting for us behind the court, but the judge didn't allow them to enter the building and attend the hearings. We were judged in a closed regime as if our cases concerned a State secret. The whole night we had no opportunity to sleep nor to eat properly nor to rest. Extremely tired and exhausted we had to defend ourselves from the punitive machine of Russian justice. Finally all the girls were given a fine of 4500 rubles (about $175 - the maximum for these laws). The main organizer of the march Sergey Konstantinov was sentenced for 15 days in jail and immediately announced a hunger strike. All the other young men got 10 days in jail each.

Should I add that reviews of the sentences had no effect? In our country it is so usual! My husband with 6 other activists is now in a jail without right to see anybody except his defense counsel. The only thing I can do is forward him some food and spread the information about Moscow GMM on the Internet. Nothing that could be a bit more useful for him: in the conditions of the police State the only right that one has is to agree with the authorities or keep silence.