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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: November 11, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
International Memorial Society Accused of 'Undermining Constitutional System' of Russia for Criticism of War in Ukraine
Yesterday, November 11, the Russian Ministry of Justice, during the course of a scheduled inspection of Memorial Society, accused the leading research and human rights organization of "undermining the constitutional system of Russia, calling for the overthrow of the current government and changing the political regime," Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta reported.

The accusations were made in the form of a document signed by G.A. Aloyan, the chief expert on NGO affairs of the Ministry of Justice's main directorate, and P.V. Cheremnov, another expert from the same department. 

These experts decided that Memorial was actively involved in "political activity," and actively attempting to (translation by The Interpreter):

"form a negative public opinion about government policy, conducted by the highest agencies of the government, and also discredit the decisions of Russian authorities including judicial bodies."

This was quite reminiscent of Article 190-1 of the Soviet Criminal Code, abolished after 1991, that punished "deliberately false statements that defame the Soviet system and social order," sending thousands of people to jail for criticism of the state.

What bothered the experts the most was a statement that International Memorial, a group uniting Memorial chapters in Russia and other countries, issued about the war in Ukraine in which the signatories said that "Russia's actions against Ukraine fall under the definition of aggression" and also a news release indicating disagreement with a decision of the Zamoskvoretsky District Court regarding the Bolotnaya Square defendants sentenced to long terms of labor camp for an anti-Putin demonstration in May 2012.

The experts write, as if it were a preposterous statement:
In the opinion of the leaders of this organization, the matter even reached the point of direct participation of Russian servicemen in combat activities on the territory of a foreign country -- against the lawful government of a neighboring country. In the opinion of Memorial's members, investigators and judges, having fabricated this case [Bolotnaya], have committed a miscarriage of justice.
The oblique references are to the war in Ukraine, about which there is ample proof of Russian military involvement, such as documented in The Interpreter's report.

The experts said that since the Bolotnaya defendants had "organized mass disorders, taken part in them, and called for mass disorders and violence against citizens," then objecting to their sentencing was "an attempt to undermine the constitutional order."

Supporters and lawyers of the Bolotnaya defendants supplied evidence that they had not engaged in violence but were themselves attacked by police or police failed to supply evidence of attacks.

The statement by the experts is only a ministerial report and not yet an indictment but it constitutes an alarming departure from the already-troubling trend of defining activist NGOs as "foreign agents" of they engage in unspecified "political" activity and also have foreign funding.

Asked by Kommersant to respond on their experts' report, the Ministry of Justice had no comment.

Kirill Koroteyev, legal director of Memorial, told Kommersant that they did not know what to expect next from the Justice Ministry: the situation could result in a write-up of charges under the administrative code or the liquidation of the organization and the opening of a criminal case. They said the claims were politicized and they were prepared to respond to them.

Last week, on November 7 the St. Petersburg Memorial organization was declared a "foreign agent"  after months of threats, Human Rights in Russia reported, citing a BBC Russian Service news report.

Arseny Roginsky, a historian and the director of International Memorial Society, issued a statement:
"This is an enormous blow for all those who work on preserving the memory of Soviet terror. The Memorial Research and Information Centre is one of the most effective NGOs that deals with this issue."
The group St. Petersburg historians have survived through donations from their colleagues abroad. They maintain an archive, library, a space for exhibits and discussions and an online Gulag museum. It was founded in 1991 by Veniamin Ioffe to focus on research in newly-opened historical archives of the Stalin period, and had developed a data base of locations of mass graves of victims of political repressions.

The inclusion of the St. Petersburg Memorial brings to exactly 100 the number of NGOs on the "foreign agents" list. A number of the groups have been forced to close due to the increased scrutiny and demand for paperwork. Even those that have ceased foreign funding have found they are unable to get the definition removed. Very few have managed to get off the list after extensive court appeals, but even in those cases the stigma remains as they are reflected as "former foreign agents" on the ministry's web site.

Other recent additions are the Agora group of human rights lawyers in Kazan and Public Verdict in Moscow, a group that documented police abuse and torture and provided training for NGOs. Golos, the election-monitoring group that was supposed to be removed the list still remains as does the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies in Saratov.

Despite the threats to their existence, Memorial has continued its work undeterred. On November 3, they promote a petition from the coalition Komanda 29 (Team 29) on calling for free access to the archives of Russia's secret police over the ages (the Cheka, NKVD and KGB) which has garnered more than 50,000 signatures. The coalition is named for the article in the Russian Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and dissemination of information.

Blogger Serguei Parkhomenko reported on an action of Memorial's "Last Address" campaign in Maloyaroslavets, a provincial town where activists placed placards on buildings where a victim of the Stalin repressions last lived.

He  published a photo of Vasily Orlov, a lawyer in Maloyaroslavets, based on information from his two grand nieces.

This was the sixth such town where Memorial had performed the "Last Action" event, not without some controversy. Some people objected on Parkhomenko's page that it was wrong to force people who now lived in these buildings to have to look at so many plaques of victims from the Stalin era -- some buildings have multiple plaques, and there were more than 100 in this town alone.

The organized said they had over 900 requests for similar actions to be done in towns across Russia, a fraction of the towns affected by the Stalin terror.

On September 30, the same day that Russia began bombing in Syria, President Vladimir Putin ordered a monument be made to the victims of Stalin, a move that appeared to be an attempt to coopt the existing independent movement for such commemoration.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Conservative Parliamentarian Petrenko Protests Charlie Hebdo Cartoon with Plagiarized Image

Russians are still fuming about a cartoon made by the French Charlie Hebdo cartoonists that they felt was insensitive about the Metrojet crash.

Today, conservative Russian parliamentarians convened a press conference to display their own response to Charlie Hebdo in Russian cartoons, RSN and reported.

The charge against the French cartoonists was led by Senator Valentina Petrenko from Khakasiya, a conservative member of the Duma's Committee on Social Policy who chairs the Mothers of Russia organization, long the subject of Internet memes due to her shellacked perm.

Earlier, a campaign was launched on social media evidently with some official help called "Je NE Suis Charlie" (I am NOT Charlie) to counteract a campaign of solidarity begun last January when 12 cartoonists were killed by terrorists in their editorial office in Paris. The hashtag can be seen on numerous Twitter posts. Foreign minister spokesperson Maria Zakharova asked on her Facebook page, "Is anybody still Charlie?"

Petrenko held up a cartoon at the press conference lambasting the French cartoonists, with the caption, "Charlie Hebdo are monsters!" and "Hell for Charlie Hebdo."

Translation: Details, if anyone wants.

While she implied her cartoon was home-made, Russian bloggers were quick to discover a similarity between the one Petrenko showed and one drawn in 2013 by Ukrainian satirist Yuriy Zhuravel about EuroMaidan, where he depicted Russian President Vladimir Putin and deposed president Viktor Yanukovych in a kettle with their associates, under which were the iconic burning tires of the Maidan protest and a demonstrator in a helmet holding up the Ukrainian Trident.

Це одна зі сторінок ...

Це одна зі сторінок Карикадурки

View full page →
Nov 11, 2015 21:04 (GMT)

Translation: One of the pages of Karikadurka.

Karikadurka is a word made up from the Russian words "cartoon" and "fool" and is the name of Zhuravel's web site.

Petrenko didn't deny she wasn't the cartoonist, but would not acknowledge the original artist (translation by The Interpreter):

"No, that's not the artist who drew and supported EuroMaidan. There are too many kettles and hells in the world. It's not important who the author is, I endorse any picture where there is a kettle and hell. Hell is prepared to welcome such people for such actions."

A satirical account named "Putin's Cat" had a response to Pavlenko's knock-off:

Translation: Senator Petrenko could just as well not have shown the caricature of Charlie Hebdo, her own hair-do will instill horror in all of France.

Others picked up the joke: 

Translation: Petrenko: I also painted this picture.

Petrenko continued to maintain that she wasn't plagiarizing anyone: 

Translation: The senator's aide explained to me that "if an image is going around the Internet openly, it can be taken and used."

The cartoonist Zhuravel finally heard about the scandal and had this response to a TV Rain reporter's query as to whether he would sue (translation by The Interpreter):

"Honestly, I don't know if there will be any result, because the use of my works in Russia is unconscionable...I know that there is toilet paper in Russia with the images of Yanukovych, Yatsenyuk or Poroshenko. I don't know if our laws will reach Russia and they will made some sort of conclusion there. There, our people are sitting in prison for no reason, and here I'd be [complaining] about my copyright. There is little hope, but I think something may come of it. I am waiting for some sort of public apologies."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Judge Places Artist Pavlensky Under Pre-Trial Arrest for 30 Days on Charges of 'Vandalism with Ideological Hatred'
Moscow's Tagansky Court has ruled to place artist Pyotr Pavlensky under arrest for attempting to burn the door of the FSB on Lubyanka Square, Novaya Gazeta reports.

Judge Marina Orlova announced that Pavlensky will be placed in an investigative isolation cell for 30 days until December 8, in response to the pre-trial investigator's appeal, who cited the fact that Pavlensky has a foreign passport and might flee. Prosecutors at the hearing also approved the petition.

He is charged with "vandalism motivated by political, ideological hatred or enmity." 

The judge rejected the appeal of Pavlensky's lawyer Olga Chavdar that her client be released on bail of one million rubles ($15,500).

During the hearing yesterday, Pavlensky himself demanded that his act be defined as "terrorism" rather than "vandalism," in solidarity with Aleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov, two Ukrainians sentenced to 10 and 20 years of labor colony respectively on charges of burning the window of the local branch of United Russia and the building of the Russian Community in Crimea. He refused to any any questions and said he was taking a vow of silence until his demand was met.

Judge Orlova said changing the charges was outside her jurisdiction.

For Evgeny Feldman's photo report of the trial, go here.

Radio Svaboda interviewed Pavlensky in the court room (in Russian).

Translation: See video Pyotr #Pavlensky in Tagansky Court in Moscow, which is reviewing the issue of selecting the measure of restraint.

Translation: Pavlensky is a genius. And the photo should be on the cover of a textbook, "History of Russia in the 21st Century"

As we reported, Pavlensky staged his protect action, which was described as a work of art similar to his past performances, on the night of November 9. He was quickly arrested, along with several journalists who covered the scene, who were later released. 

Photo by Ilya Varlamov of Pavlensky standing before the flaming door quickly spread over social media.

Translation: An excellent Coub made of Pavlensky set to the main song with arson, No Church in the Wild.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Supreme Court Upholds Decree Making Casualties in Peace Time Secret

Russia's Supreme Court has issued a final ruling that the presidential decree making secret information about military casualties in peace time is lawful, Interfax and Novaya Gazeta reported.

As we indicated in our report, the decree signed by President Vladimir Putin in May was among legal and extra-legal methods used by the Kremlin to suppress reporting by journalists and activists on the deaths and injuries of Russian soldiers in combat in Ukraine.

The court rejected an appeal filed by a group of journalists and activists concerned about the suppression of news about Russia's war in Ukraine.

They are Grigory Pasko, a journalist and former naval officer once jailed on charges of espionage for publicizing environmental problems in the Sea of Japan and declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International; Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven charged with espionage for reporting to the Ukrainian Embassy that GRU troops near her home had left their barracks; Lev Shlosberg, a former deputy of the Pskov Region legislative assembly severely beaten by unknown assailants and removed from his seat for publicizing the deaths of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division; and also war correspondents Timur Olevsky of Ekho Moskvy and Arkady Babchenko and Pavel Kanygin of Novaya Gazeta.

The petitioners argued that by classifying military losses, the government was violating Article 7 of the Law on State Secrets under which information about "emergencies and disasters threatening public safety and health" cannot be suppressed. 

Putin's decree followed the publication of the deaths of GRU soldiers by two bloggers.
-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick