Lenta.ru reports that Ivan Bolshakov, the Moscow head of Yabloko Youth, was subjected to a criminal search and detention. He has now been released from custody. Bolshakov was detained in the Kursk train station in Moscow as he and Ilya Yashin waited to board a train to Nizhny Novgorod for a pre-election trip. According to Lenta:
They put Bolshakov in handcuffs, and after this they took him to the Ziuzinskii Interdistrict Prosecutor’s Office for questioning. As his comrade in arms [Yashin] emphasized that according to existing law a candidate to the State Duma can only be detained with approval of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. The officers who conducted the criminal search did not have this.
Bolshakov’s detention, according to Yashin was because he was accused of assaulting a police officer during the Butovo protests in June 2007. No charges have been filed against Bolshakov and Yabloko considers the accusations “a complete fabrication.”
Bolshakov’s brief detention comes right before Yabloko Youth submitted a complaint to the Central Elections Commission charging that the website Zaputina.ru is really a front for Putin and United Russia and not an independent project. According to Russian electoral law, all election advertising must be paid with funds from political parties’ coffers. United Russia would be violating the law if Zaputina.ru was registered as mass media.
Za Putina is run by Konstantin Rykov, who stands as United Russia’s candidate for Nizhni Novgorod, and features among other things airbrushed Putinist Realist photos of Putin, the faces of many Putin supporters, a game called “Putin Chess”, video, and other propaganda promoting all things Putin. The site is slick indeed. And since its establishment at the beginning of this month it has clocked over 70,000 pro-Putinites, the majority of whom come from Moscow.
“The site Zaputina.ru is obviously for agitational purposes, and its creators are obliged to pay for its activities from the electoral funds of United Russia. Moreover, it’s clear that this internet portal is not a private initiative, but an expensive pre-electoral project. There are video clips on the site that shape a positive image of the main candidate. On the sites material Putin is presented as a hero,” Yashin told Gazeta.ru.
Looks like the run up to the elections are shaping up as expected.
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- By Sean — 6 years ago
The trial and conviction of Pussy Riot has sparked a number of historical analogies. Never wanting for hyperbole, the Washington Post, among others in the West and Russia, argued that the trial echoed “Stalinism” (an analogy nicely rebutted by Mark Adomanis). The Pussy Riot case has also been likened to the 1964 trial of the Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, not to mention harking back to the trials of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in 1965. But historical analogies did not end with the Soviet period. Another common refrain was that the accusations and trial of Pussy Riot reflected medieval Russia. This comparison wasn’t hard given that Artem Ranchenkov, one of the case investigators, cited Orthodox canonical rules of proper church dress from the 4th century Council of Laodicea and the 7th century Quinisext Council. Nor was it difficult to call the affair “medieval” since the trial proceedings were often more like an ecclesiastical than a civilian court. The coup de grace for which was when Yelena Pavlova, a lawyer representing nine of Pussy Riot’s “victims,” called feminism a “mortal sin.”
Another common historical analogy making the rounds were excerpts from Article 231 of the Imperial Russian Criminal Code of 1845, which stated that “improper loud cries, laughter, or any other noise or unseemly conduct that causes temptation, averts attention of worshipers from their duty to God” carried a fine of 50 kopeks to a ruble or detention from three to seven days. If the disturbance occurred during church service, the sentence was prison for a period of three weeks to three months. The irony here was that under the “well-ordered police state” of Nicholas I, Pussy Riot’s sentence would have been far lighter. Yet, others listed other possible laws applicable to Pussy Riot from the 1845 code. One blog post listed 24 satutes, Articles 182-205, concerning blasphemy, sacrilege, and other violations of faith. The sentences varied from corporal punishment, forced labor in factories and mines, jail time and exile to Siberia. The only problem is that blasphemy and sacrilege are not in the Russian Criminal Code of 2012. That is unless it’s disguised as “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
But the historical semblances didn’t stop with references to bygone eras or now defunct imperial codes. Some of the more interesting ones were those that placed Pussy Riot within a broader historical tradition of Russian minstrelsy, where hooliganism, art, and protest collided into a staple of Russian medieval culture.
Indeed, there were two references to Russian medieval minstrels, or skomorokhi, in the trial. When one of the prosecutors asked Stalnisalv Samutsevich, the father of Pussy Rioter Yekaterina, if he believed “it was acceptable to say ‘Holy shit’ in a church”, he compared his daughter’s act to that of the skomorokhi of the sixteenth century. Likewise, in her statement to the court, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said that Pussy Riot were in the tradition of the skomorokhi. “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools. We didn’t mean any harm.”
Skomorokhi were minstrel entertainers in Kievan and Muscovite Russia that performed for public and Tsar alike. They were wildly popular as they performed songs and folktales or acts of trained bears to the delight of onlookers. Despite their entertainment value, like Pussy Riot, they combined entertainment and mockery with unruliness. Unlike the balaclava-clad feminists, however, the lawlessness of the skomorokhi mostly involved theft and pillage. One famous story told of a band of minstrels distracting the peasants of Likovo with their performance, while their comrades were busy rounding up the villagers’ sheep. Other incidents told of skomorokhi ransacking barns, raiding animal pens, and making off with whatever they could grab. According to Russell Zguta, a historian of the minstrels, “The performing minstrels would frequently allude in song and proverb to the mischief their unseen comrades were engaged in, but no one was wiser until it was too late.”
Sometimes minstrel “hooliganism” was sanctioned, especially by Ivan IV, who was known to use them to mock and heap scorn upon his enemies. These acts were sometimes sacrilegious. One story told of Ivan having Archbishop Pimen of Novgorod placed on a white mare which paraded him around Moscow accompanied by a band of minstrels. In fact, Ivan Grozny was no mere observer. Sometimes he was a participant in the revelry. In the later part of his reign, he was known to put on a mask himself and dance and frolic with the skomorokhi.
As Ivan’s unleashing of the skomorokhi on the Archbishop suggests, the minstrels had few friends in the Orthodox Church. Church officials viewed the skomorokhi as disseminators of paganism, purveyors of “shameful performances” on street corners and marketplaces, and disruptors of church rituals. Weddings garnered many priests’ ire as the minstrels’ performance often overshadowed the religious sanctity of the nuptials. Sometimes confrontations between priests and skomorokhi descended in fisticuffs. In his biography, Ivan Neronov, a leader of the Orthodox Zealots of Piety, told of an incident in the mid-1640s where he attacked a group of minstrels, seized their instruments and smashed them. Angered, the skomorokhi severely beat clergyman in return. But the zealot was undaunted. As Zhuta reports:
Henceforth [Neronov] and some of his students patrolled the streets of the town during the major festival periods such as Koliada in order to discourage the skomorokhi from performing. But, says the author, students “received not a few wounds at the hands of the skomorokhi, those servants of the devil, and they bore these bodily wounds with joy as they returned to their homes, bloodied but alive.”
Avvakum too had confrontations with skomorokhi. When a band of minstrels with dancing bears arrived to his village of Lopatishch in 1648, he quickly set to drive them away. “I, a sinner, being zealous in the service of Christ,” he wrote, “drove them out and destroyed their masks and drums, one against many in the open field, and I took two great bears from them—one I killed but he later revived, the other I set free in the open field.”
Neronov’s patrols and Avvakum’s clash with the minstrels provide a whole new historical context for the recent call by Ivan Otrakovsky, head of Orthodox Christian movement Holy Rus, for Orthodox activists to form patrol squads to protect worshipers from the “enemies of faith.” “The time has come to remind all apostates and theomachists that it is our land and we forbid blasphemous, offensive actions and statements against the Orthodox religion and our people,” Otrakovsky wrote in his appeal to the faithful. A modern day Zealot of Piety, I’d say.
Though skomorokhi enjoyed the patronage of Tsars Ivan IV, Fedor I, and Mikhail Romanov, the latter’s son, Alexei, took stringent action against minstrelsy. Urged by his confessor and leader of the Zealots of Piety, Stefan Vonifatev, and pushed to reestablish public order in the wake mob violence in Moscow and revolts in Ustiug, Solvychegodsk, Yaroslavl, Tomsk, Novgorod and Pskov, Alexei issued “On the Righting of Morals and the Abolition of Superstition” in December 1648 against the skomorokhi. Aleksei was alarmed by the “drunkenness and devilish amusements” of the skomorokhi, which turned the people away the Orthodox faith and God and to the worship of the minstrels. The 1648 edict unleashed a wave of repression against minstrels, including the confiscation and destruction of their instruments, and penalties such as knouting and exile for performing skomorokhi entertainments, as well as prohibitions on a whole host of pagan rites, festivity, games, and practices. Even priests questioned confessors about their connection to the skomorokhi. They asked penitents: “Did you seek out the games of the skomorokhi? Did you seek out Satanic games, look upon these, or yourself take part in them?” If they answered yes, the penitent was required to recite, “I have sinned, I delighted in hearing the sound of gusli and the organon, of horns, and all manner of skomoroshestvo, of Satanic sayings, and for this I also paid them [that is, the minstrels].”
The skomorokhi hobbled along after 1648, but thanks to Alexei’s crackdown, they never regained their popularity, notoriety, or cultural significance. While the practices of the skomorokhi certainly continued in different forms, according to Zhuta, historical references to them died out after 1768.
But as the Pussy Riot affair shows, the memory of the skomorokhi lives on in Tolokonnikova’s “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools.” And perhaps thanks to her, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevitch’s “punk prayer” they will live again, in all their former anarchic glory.
All references come from:
Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.
- By Sean — 11 years ago
T-minus five days and counting. Here’s today’s roundup. The Christian Science Monitor, which I heard was once known for its objectivity, has apparently dumped it. In an editorial titled “Putin’s Potemkin Election,” CSM states that the Duma elections signal the end of Russia’s multi-party system. “In reality Russia is becoming a one-party state. One need only examine the coming parliamentary elections to see how this tragedy is happening.” Only two parties will remain in the Duma–United Russia and the Communists. Changes to the electoral law has made it “harder to run for elections.” In 2004, the law was changed to say that a political party must have a membership of 50,000 (up from 10,000) to register and 200,000 signatures to be on the ballot. This and other changes are what makes the Duma election “Potemkin.”
This is really funny, especially when you consider electoral law in California. For a new political party to get registered in the Golden State, it must have 88,991 people (or one percent of the state electorate) complete “an affidavit of registration, on which they have written in the proposed party name as the party they affiliate with.” To get on the California ballot, a party must have 889,991 signatures (or ten percent of the state electorate) from California alone. Strangely, I don’t recall any articles about California elections being referred to as “Potemkin.”
Such pontificating and hypocrisy are expected from the West. In addition to noting the obvious facade of the Duma elections, Western governments are continuing to line up to condemn the arrests of participants in anti-Putin protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg. To think President Bush had to nerve to throw his two cents in. “I am deeply concerned about the detention of numerous human rights activists and political leaders who participated in peaceful rallies in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, and Nazran this weekend,” he said. “I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them.” You gotta be kidding me. I don’t recall any statement when the NYPD locked up 1000 people protesting the RNC Convention in 2004 in what became known as “Guantanamo on the Hudson.”
It should come as no surprise that Moscow’s Meshchansky Court upheld Kasparov’s arrest.
Sure it’s easy to point to the hypocrisy. But I have one more. Or really it’s a request. Can anyone explain to me what Anne Applebaum’s point is in her column on Slate called “The New Dissidents“? Among other things like comparing Other Russia to Soviet dissidents of yore, she writes, “Odder still is the fact that we hear anything about [Other Russia] at all.” What!? When is the last time she’s done a Google News or Yandex News search? Apparently she’s the only one that finds the voluminous amount of reporting in English and Russian on Kasparov et al. as “odd” I mean Kasparov is a contributing editor of the Wall Street Journal of all things.
The Russian Duma elections will not be fair or perfect by any standards. Sure Putin’s United Russia is popular and would win even if they had one hand behind their back. Even so, that doesn’t mean that in some nefarious ballot stuffing won’t take place in Russia’s nether regions. The election might be a hark back to the days of Stakhanovism when competitions between factories pushed productivity quotas beyond capacity. I’m sure no regional governor is going to let the other eclipse his own sycophantic pandering to the center. No one seems to deny this. A senior election official quoted in the Moscow Times says that “have been ordered to make sure that United Russia collects double the number of votes it is expected to win in State Duma elections on Sunday — even if they have to falsify the results.” How would this be done? The best way according to this unnamed official is to change the polling station’s protocol, that is the record of how many people vote and how many votes go to a party. “During past Duma elections this was the most common way to falsify the results,” he told the Times. “We would do it in front of foreign observers because they didn’t understand anything on what was going on.” If this is true, I sure hope that whatever elections monitors arrive, they aren’t as stupid as the last ones.
I assume this how election monitors from Nashi will spend their time. According to Lentna.ru, Nashi, along with VTsIOM and FOM, will be conducting exit polls. Exit poll monitoring will be one of the ways “Our Elections,” a coalition of Nashi, Young Guard, and Young Russia, will ensure that the ballots don’t get hijacked by colored revolutionary wreckers and saboteurs–all of which they label one kind of fascist or another. One wonders if they will do something like posing as “vampires” of votes, rather than vampires of blood like they did in an action to get Muscovites to donate blood in September. I can see it now. Nashisty running around saying “I’ve cum to suck yur votes!”
The Kremlin appears ready to fight election fraud of its own. Election Commissioner Vladimir Churov called upon voters to “not subvert” the elections by drawing “smiley faces, horns, or any other drawings” on or next to parties on ballots. Voters are also urged to not make the ballot an editorial. So, he warned, no one is to write “this party is the worst of all” next to the party of their choosing. Also, election workers are to avoid engaging in “boisterous discussions” with voters who share different opinion. Man, Churov is taking all the fun out of voting!
And by far the best election story of the day comes from Dagestan. There, Nukh Nukhov, a candidate for SPS, has been charged with “hooliganism,” “causing bodily harm,” and “illegal possession of weapons.” According to Lenta.ru, the story began way back in March this year. On 11 March, during the regional Dagestani elections, a “skirmish” broke out between Nukhov, who was then standing for reelection, and four of his people with Mohammed Aliev, who is the head of Dakhadaevksii district and United Russia, and his brothers. When the smoke cleared two of Nukhov men were killed and two, including Nukhov, were wounded. Aliev and his men fled the scene but a subsequent investigation landed his brothers in jail. Nukhov is said to have “fled with help of his contacts with security organs.”
Nukhov has been in hiding all this time. Or so says the Dagestani prosecutor. But Nukhov dutifully showed up to the court to answer for his behavior. There was even a 200 person strong protest calling for his immediate release. OMON quickly showed up and cordoned off the square.
The Nukhov-Aliev brawl makes me wonder. How much of this election is really about politics and ideology? Perhaps, especially in the localities, it is about clans from the top of the power vertical to the bottom securing their continued right to plunder. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to dump all the finger wagging about “democracy” and see Russian politics for what it is, rather than what we want it to be.
- By Sean — 9 years ago
Yesterday, December 1, was 75 years since the assassination of Sergei Kirov, the first secretary of the Leningrad Party Organization, and Stalin ally. It was on the night of December 1, 1934 that a certain Leonid Nikolaev, a disgruntled party worker, shot Kirov in the secretary’s third floor office. Nikolaev was immediately caught and interrogated under Stalin’s personal supervision. He was executed shortly thereafter.
Rumors have been circling for years as to what Nikolaev’s motives were. Some have suggest that Kirov was having an affair with Nikolaev’s wife. Others have suggested that he had a personal or work beef with Kirov. These questions remain mostly unanswered. Partly it is because they are unanswerable. But also because the majority of historians believe that Nikolaev did not act alone. For them, Stalin was the main culprit and wanted to get rid of Kirov because of his popularity. Since Kirov has been held up as a “moderate” and even “opponent” to Stalin. Nikolaev, therefore, was merely a patsy in a more sinister plot on the part of the vozhd to justify the use of terror against his enemies, real or imagined.
The idea that Stalin had ordered Kirov’s murder was not solely concocted by historians. According to NKVD reports, it was also one of the most widespread rumors at the time. But it wasn’t the only one circulating around. As Matthew Lenoe noted in an article on the historiography of the murder in the Journal of Modern History, rumors ranged from Leningrad NKVD chief F. D. Medved or his number two Mikhail Chudov personally committing or ordering Kirov’s assassination, to German, Finnish, Polish, or Turkish secret agents carrying out the plot, to speculation that a worker angered by the recent cuts in bread rations did Kirov in. Others thought that the killing was part of a larger plot of murder Maxim Gorky, Lazar Kaganovich, and the German Communist leader Ernst Thaelmann. But the idea that Stalin was behind it all swirled and swirled from mouth to ear, into exiled socialist commentary, on to the pages of defectors’ and so-called confidants’ tell-all memoirs, until it reached scholarly dictum through its reproduction ad nauseum by historians.
A minority of historians, most interestingly Oleg Khlevniuk and Alla Kirilina, who are no Stalin apologists and based their research on new archival evidence, have argued that the Stalin as culprit is “almost entirely myth,” according to Lenoe. The debate continues to rage, however, and will probably go on forever. But as Lenoe notes, ” In the end it does not matter for our overall understanding of Soviet history whether [Stalin] plotted Kirov’s assassination or not. There are far more important questions that need answering in the field.”
Indeed. Whether Stalin actually ordered the hit on Kirov doesn’t erase the fact that regime’s response to the assassination was a blind fit of violence that led to the arrests and execution of hundreds, if not thousands, in the weeks following, culminating in the eventual arrest, trial, and execution of Grigorii Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, the so-called “Moscow Center.” The lives of hundreds of thousands of others followed. There is also no doubt that Stalin used the Kirov’s assassination to his political advantage to eliminate his political opponents. We don’t need to pin the Kirov murder on him to recognize that.
Perhaps, the biggest lesson of the Kirov murder was not its use by Stalin from 1936-38 to justify terror. The lesson is in the quick adoption of “On Amending the Present Union-Republic Codes of Criminal Procedure” or the so-called Kirov Law on December 1, 1934, that gave terror legal justification. The law was as follows:
To amend the present Union Republic codes of criminal procedure with regard to investigation and trial of cases of terrorist organizations and terrorist acts against the functionaries of Soviet power:
- Investigation in these cases shall be concluded in not more than ten days.
- The indictment shall be handed to the accused 24 hours before the trial.
- The cases shall be tried without the parties present.
- There shall be no cassational review of the judgments or acceptance of petitions for clemency.
- The sentence of the supreme punishment shall be executed immediately upon rendering judgment.
This law is ominous in its brevity. It is this law that was the first legal step to wage terror. What the law giveth, the law taketh away. So in the end it is not Kirov’s assassination that should be remembered but how such events can provide the justification for extraordinary measures to be legally enacted. It is a reminder that the “state of exception” is always enacted by the sovereign in an attempt to preserve the “public good.”