Jailbird Moms: Anna Shavenkova vs. Yulia Kruglova

Anna Shavenkova (left) & Yulia Kruglova (right)

It was just last April when Dmitri Medvedev approved revisions to Article 74 of the federal criminal code, supposedly eliminating pretrial detention for persons accused of nonviolent offenses. The stimulus for that move was the death of Sergey Magnitsy, a lawyer representing William Browder’s Hermitage Capital, which was the victim of a massive theft and extortion ring. This was meant to usher in an era of more humane treatment when it comes to “economic crimes,” as they’re called in Russian.

Skip ahead to the present time, when the 2010 summer’s sun is setting over a horizon of wildfire ash and subsiding heat-waves. Two court cases in recent weeks have given Russia’s bruised citizenry a few additional reminders that the world is a cruel, extremely stupid place to live. Both these cases involve mothers of young children, but the similarities pretty much end there. I’m talking, of course, about Anna Shavenkova and Yulia Kruglova. Continue reading ‘Jailbird Moms: Anna Shavenkova vs. Yulia Kruglova’ »

The Party Nearby

This party definitely isn't near power, but it is rather close to that porta-potty.

In light of the recent news about Georgy Boos’, I decided to translate an article that appeared last week in Gazeta.ru by Ol’ga Bolotova. The piece is about the electoral strategies of United Russia’s local party branches in Siberia and the Far East.

The gist of the text, as the title suggests, is that the EdRossy are shifting tactics when it comes to peripheral localities, trying to play down their ties to the political establishment in order to portray themselves as vehicles of people power and grassroots ingenuity.

A few brief remarks about the article: I wonder if Ms. Bolotova and others aren’t somewhat exaggerating the degree to which the EdRossy are pretending to be outside the Power Vertical. While there do appear to be efforts to promote ‘home grown’ projects (like remodeling cemeteries and gentrifying city centers), the foundation of even the regional party platforms remains firmly rooted in United Russia tenets: modernization, Putin/Medvedev, and anti-corruption. Continue reading ‘The Party Nearby’ »

Meet the Old Boss, Georgy Boos

Clear out your stuff, buddy. You're being promoted again.

Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos is out. This morning, United Russia unveiled its shortlist for governor candidates (from which Medvedev will select the oblast’s next leader), and Mr. Boos’ name was not on it.

Until just last week, most observers (including people who hated Boos) were confident that the governor would receive another term, despite mass protests earlier this year that were hugely embarrassing for the Kremlin and Russia’s most powerful political party. The likely media reaction to Boos’ ousting now will be to credit the opposition with having pressured a compromise from the president, whose office appointed Boos five years ago. Indeed, Vladimir Milov and Boris Nemtsov rushed to their LiveJournal blogs with updates. Nemtsov proclaimed it “a serious victory for the opposition,” whereas Milov qualified his celebration somewhat, saying “this is a big victory for the Kaliningrad opposition” (my emphasis).

So why did Boos lose his job? Continue reading ‘Meet the Old Boss, Georgy Boos’ »

The Federal Zakonoproekt 'On the Police'

Will Nurgaliev Be Next to Order?

A couple of weeks ago, I took some time to examine the important bits that did and didn’t make it into the FSB reforms that were eventually signed into law by President Medvedev. In that same spirit, I’d now like to turn to the latest splash in Russia’s world of legalism: the Federal Law Project ‘On the Police.’

For those who don’t already know, the Law on the Police is a 57-clause proposal from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) that updates the existing militsiia legal code from 1991. The project initially made headlines for two main reasons: (1) the legislation would change the name of the Bolshevik-named ‘milistiia’ (милиция) to the more standard ‘politsiia’ (полиция, or ‘police’), and (2) the entire text of the proposal has been posted online by the government (at http://zakonoproekt2010.ru), in an interface that allows citizens to comment on individual clauses, whether in high praise or sharp criticism. (Most of the commentary appears to be quite negative.)

Continue reading ‘The Federal Zakonoproekt 'On the Police'’ »

The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich

Aleksandr Pochkov (aka 'top_lap') & Vladimir Putin

The wild fires catastrophe has made this first week in August rather unpleasant for many in Russia. The death toll climbed to fifty people today, and more are likely to perish before the week’s end. Russia’s agriculture production is so threatened that the government is allegedly planning to ban grain exports. Hundreds of homes have burned to the ground and the ecological damage will last for decades to come.

In the whirlwind of all this destruction, a curious little episode emerged between Aleksei Venediktov (chief editor of Ekho Moskvy), an anonymous Internet-user, and Vladimir Putin himself.

A few days ago, Venediktov passed along to Putin an unsigned obscenity-filled open letter from a resident of the Tverskaia Oblast’ (since unmasked as Aleksandr Pochkov) criticizing the government response to the fires. It’s unclear why, but Putin actually responded to the anonymous letter — personally.

I’m sure many will read Putin’s response as another installment in his epic book of cool, but I happen to think this is only a plus for Vova insomuch as he wrote back at all. (If only we could all have our leaders for pen pals.) The actual content of his letter — its sarcasm and concluding offer to ‘return the fire alarm bell’ — seems to make light of a pretty serious problem, namely the embarrassing poverty of the Russian countryside. I enjoy the regular Putin wisecrack about American imperialism, but it seems like he should have left this one alone. At any rate, this is at least proof that the Kremlin’s top dog is paying attention.

As it turns out, Mr. Pochkov, aka “top_lap” on LiveJournal, is a 28-year-old Muscovite whose mother is rather ashamed that her son caused this whole scandal. (She pleaded with reporters not to make fun of him.) If that doesn’t discredit Putin’s ‘outreach effort’ enough, Pochkov also told Komsolmol’skaia Pravda that he plans to become president one day. He’s obviously a man of big ideas.

Read my full translation of the original exchange for yourself: Continue reading ‘The Tale of How Aleksandr Pochkov Quarreled with Vladimir Vladimirovich’ »

Ella Pamfilova, Fallen 'Star of Agitprop'

(Left) Kristina Potupchik, Nashi spokesperson, (Top Center) Liudmila Alexeeva, (Right) Ella Pamfilova, (Bottom Center) Alexei Chadaev

Last Friday, on July 30th, Ella Pamfilova, the head of the president’s advisory council on human rights and civil society, abruptly resigned from her post, without an official explanation or specifying what it is she will do next. This has naturally encouraged wild speculation about why she would suddenly leave the council, which is recognized as one of the few liberal outposts still with official ties to the Kremlin.

The first thing I realized when reading through the English-language coverage of this event is how little of the story the media seems to grasp. Nearly every major publication has decided to treat the incident as a clear-cut case of rebellion against the recently-enacted FSB-empowerment law. This is puzzling, given the fact that nearly every Russian-language article about Pamfilova’s resignation has focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the even-more-recent scandal that broke out between Pamfilova and the youth movement ‘Nashi.’ Neither do Western journalists seem interested in a related battle between Ms. Pamfilova and Alexei Chadaev, a United Russia party ideologist who, two days prior to Pamfilova quitting, began publicly lobbying for her dismissal. Continue reading ‘Ella Pamfilova, Fallen 'Star of Agitprop'’ »

Interviewed by Anatoly Karlin

A meeting of the minds!

Yesterday Anatoly Karlin of Sublime Oblivion interviewed me for his new series, “Watching the Russia Watchers.” Here’s an excerpt:

ANATOLY KARLIN: As I understand, you are not the biggest fan of the Russian liberal opposition. You believe their leaders kowtow to the West and couldn’t care less about the everyday concerns of ordinary Russians. But consider the case of a patriotic Russian who detests the corruption and proizvol (arbitrariness) of state institutions and genuinely wants to improve human rights – not just those of Khodorkovsky, but of prison inmates, conscripts, minorities, etc. What can she realistically do about it, apart from ranting about the return of neo-Soviet totalitarianism in front of foreign TV cameras?

A GOOD TREATY: People “do” all kinds of things. Thirty-six parents and teachers in Ulyanovsk went on a week-long group hunger strike to successfully protest the closure of several local schools. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a group of youths in the Far East, fed up with local law enforcement and inspired by a particularly trigger-happy version of nationalism, decided to arm itself and start attacking police officers. Some people make it their profession to work in the line of danger — people like Natalia Estemirova and Sergey Magnitsky. Others lead scholarly human rights organizations like Oleg Orlov of Memorial, dedicated to unearthing a Soviet past they believe is forgotten at Russia’s peril.

All of these people are patriots in their own heads, and who am I to disagree?

I don’t begrudge the liberal opposition for ranting hyperbolisms in front of foreign TV cameras. This is half the business of being in the Russian liberal opposition, after all: (a) they need to provoke/tempt the authorities into cracking down on their rallies, otherwise nobody would ever care, and (b) they need to attract the attention of the West — for financial aid, for international connections, and for status. The liberal literati are frequent visitors to the United States — even the younger, student-”employed’ members like Ilya Yashin (who recently concluded a cross-country tour of the U.S.) and Oleg Kozlovsky (who’s been Stateside for weeks and is currently attending some kind of not-at-all-propagandistic-sounding democracy workshop at Stanford University).

These boys are more than welcome to globetrot wherever they like, but I personally can’t help but see them as a bunch of spoiled brats, partying to their own celebrity and hopelessly out of touch with the needs of ordinary Russians. (I’ve made it a point on AGT to focus on their endless infighting in order to highlight how self-centered and oblivious they really are.)

For the whole thing, visit Karlin’s site here или здесь на русском языке.