The Russian Extremism Law has found a new target: South Park. The notorious Basmanny court announced that the show “bore signs of extremist activity” in response to a motion filed by the Moscow city prosecutors office. The Prosecutors office charged twelve cartoons, South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy (translated into Russian as the Griffins), Metalocalypse, Drawn Together (translated into Russian as Multreality), Lenore the Cute Little Dead Girl, Angry Kid, and others with “promot[ing] violence and cruelty, pornography, anti-social behavior, abound with scenes of mayhem, the infliction of physical and ethical suffering, and are aimed at invoking fear, panic and terror in children. . . Practically all the cartoons exploit the topic of suicide, and characters demonstrate readiness to risk their lives for the sake of deriving extreme sensations.”
Well, yes. That’s why they’re funny.
What is missing from most reports in the English press is that the request to look into South Park came from a Russian evangelical group. According to Ezhednevnyi zhurnal, “The prosecutor’s claim was proceeded by a request from Protestants from the Union of Russian Christians of Evangelical Faith (ROSKhVE) who demanded the opening of a criminal case against the channel (2×2) and prohibit the showing of the cartoon.” ROSKhVE began their campaign against South Park in March. Here is a their open letter (Russian only). What has caught the ire of ROSKhVE was South Park’s ridicule of religion, specifically the episode Mr. Hanky’s Christmas Classics.
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- By Sean — 10 years ago
Yaroslav Kuzminov, the head of the Higher School of Economics (VShE) in Moscow received a disturbing letter from the Main Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD). The letter strongly recommended that the dean expel “politically unreliable” students, reports Nezavisimaya gazeta. “Politically unreliable” in the police’s opinion, are those youth who participated in last December’s Dissenters March sponsored by “Other Russia.” Six students from VShE’s Economics and Political Science departments were detained as they were leaving the Mayakovskaya metro station on their way to the demonstration. They never made it. Now the police recommends that the university consider expelling them. NG reports:
The most specific passage of the document is: “Participation in unsanctioned protests are one type of extreme activity and have a high level of social danger that demands security organs to take the adequate measures of reaction.” GUVD asked “to examine the question about removing conditions that contribute to the perpetration of offenses” and “to decide on the necessity to continue educating the aforementioned persons.” After this the security organs spelled out the appropriate measures.
This is not all. The heads of two departments, political science and economy, were ordered to answer an inquiry into “extremists” and to force the most frequent perpetrators to sign declaratory statements. The names of “said persons” in the letter were numerous.
How VShE will officially respond remains to be seen. They have to make an official declaration by 4 Feburary. In the meantime, Tatiana Chetvernina, the university’s vice dean gave this comment to Nezavisimaya:
“The letter that came from the police was a recommendation. They, of course, have the right to recommend what they think is necessary. Just like the university has the right to make a decision in accordance with the workings of laws on the property of the Higher School of Economics. And namely, if a student participates in meetings and groups and if he is not breaking the law, then that is the private affair of the students. We live in a free country and we have a working Constitution. If they break the law then the university will look into it. But, certainly, this question is connected not so much with dismissal as with violating law and order. Participating in groups has no relation to studying.”
Olga Kolesnikova, the school’s press secretary, was more blunt. “We can dismiss students if they are underachievers,” she said. “But if they study well, what right do we have to expel them? They are not criminal offenders, why should we forbid them from studying? In a word, we don’t let anyone get at our children.”
Of course, the letter harks back to both Tsarist and Soviet times when students were expelled for participating in political activities. Except this time, in the words of Oleg Shchebakov, a Moscow lawyer, where the parameters of acceptable political ideology are murky unlike in Soviet times the ideological lines were clearer. “The punished understood and clearly accepted that he lived in a rigidly ideological political system.” Now, he contents, “There is no general ideology! We complain about its absence all the time. It is simply undeveloped! So excuse me, what kind of ideology should these students use that someone has established? Today fascists are even permitted to go out into the streets. And no one singles them out . . . Evidently, they are not politically suspect in the opinion of the authorities.”
Moskovskii komsomolets reports that similar letters were sent to other universities in Moscow. And apparently, the cops can’t even get their information straight when they send out such “recommendations.” Of the six students named in the letter to VShE, two don’t even study there.
- By Sean — 10 years ago
Stanislav Markelov had a lot of enemies. In addition to representing the Kungayev family, his other clients included: Khimkinskaya Pravda editor Mikhail Beketov (he’s on the verge of death), Chechen Yana Neserkhoyeva, a Nord-Ost hostage accused of helping terrorists in 2002, Zelimkhan Murdalov, a kidnapped Grozny resident who was tortured to death by an OMON officer, and AntiFa activist Alexei Olesinov. Representing these types of people will make you enemies of Russian nationalists, Chechens, local businessmen, police and security forces, and skinheads. There is also, of course, Colonel Yuri Budanov, whose release last week was opposed by Markelov.
That list of enemies makes for a long list of potential perpetrators. Logic dictates that Budanov is the chief suspect, but the colonel denies any involvement in the murder. “Do you think that after several days of freedom I had a burning desire to do more time?” he told Komsomolskaya pravda in an interview. He called the murder a “provocation.”
Some suspect skinheads did the deed given that Markelov was attacked by five of them in 2004. Apparently he received several SMS threats from skins in the says before his murder. But can we really expect skins to use a silencer? Their methods tend to be a bit cruder.
Then, as always, there is the Chechen angle. As it seems with most murders of high profile personalities in Russia, there is a conspiracy behind the conspiracy, where a Chechen or a deposed oligarch stands at the end of a complex nefarious web. Sometimes these are viewed as one of the same entity. But this time it’s solely Chechens, according to Vladimir Karchevsky, the lawyer for the Markelov family. “Budanov is a smokescreen for the real murderer,” the jurist told Izvestiia. “The real murderer probably timed his crime to coincide with Budanov’s release – in order to deflect suspicions.”
Izvestiia even suggested that Markelov might have known something about Anna Politkovskaya’s murderer. I’m sure that this is only the beginning of what kind of tales will be spun around this one.
While the list of potential killers is long, Markelov’s work also got him a lot of friends as memorials to his memory attest. Hundreds of people gathered at the site where Markelov and Anastatsia Baburova were slain on Monday. Even a Russian Orthodox priest stressed that Markelov and Buburova’s death fell on Epiphany. Hopefully this will translate into a social epiphany on the dangers Russian lawyers and journalists face. Gatherings of AntiFa activists occured in St. Petersburg and Moscow to honor Markelov and Baburova. Barburova’s writings focused on Russian neo-nazis and anti-fascism (Also see her Live Journal blog. OpenDemocracy.net has translated of some of her last blog entries.). Thousands marched in Grozny to remember Markelov’s work on the behalf of the war torn republic Chechnya. Apparently, Markelov even has friends among Razman Kadyrov’s government. Upon hearing of the jurist’s death, the Chechen hetman awarded him with a postumous medal to recognize “his merits to the Chechen Republic.” “Stanislav Markelov was held in special esteem in our republic,” Kadyrov said. “His name was a synonym for justice.”
In the end, the memory of Markelov and Barburova might be all people have. Justice in these cases is rarely forthcoming. Instead we have a kind of perpetual danse macabre between killers and their victims. As an editorial in Novaya gazeta reminds us, “The killers have no fear because they know they will not be punished. But neither are their victims afraid, because when you defend others you cease to fear.”
- By Sean — 9 years ago
As hundreds of thousands protesters fill the streets of Tehran and other provincial centers, one can’t help think that we’ve seen this all before. So much about the Iranian protests look like the “colored revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, (the failed attempts in) Moldova and Belarus. In fact, “colored revolution” has become a preeminent phenomena in our young 21st century. It’s scripted like a bad TV drama with recycled plot lines, characters, and props. Colored revolutions unfold like ready-made, recyclable skits. Their ingredients include a “managed democracy,” a contestable election where the opposition claims “foul,” mass protests, a prominent place for “social networking” technologies (SMS, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, and the like), and the adoption of a color to symbolize all political demands. The dramatic conflict plays out between the “state” and “the opposition” (whether the latter is actually outside the former matters little) over the legitimacy of the election. All that is missing is the canned laughter. Nevertheless, no matter how much one may deride how revolutionary colored revolutions actually are, they do provide a glimpse into the political unconscious of our age. Whereas the 20th century provided us with the template for communist/anti-colonial struggles, the 21st has already given us an idea of what liberal revolution will look like.
The connection between the boiling discontent among Iranians and the possibility of a “colored revolution” in the Islamic Republic hasn’t been lost on the hardline leadership. According to Abbas Milani, prior to the election, Sobhe-Sadeq, the main organ of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard “warned in a lead editorial that the opposition’s use of the color green had become dangerously similar to the kind of “color revolution” that dethroned governments in Ukraine, Lebanon, and Georgia.” With his eyes clearly on events in those countries, Supreme Leader Khamenei ordered the creation of a committee to investigate the possibility of “colored revolution” three years ago.
Nor has the “colored revolution” paradigm been far from the minds of observers. When protests erupted in Tehran, Joshua Tucker asked in the New Republic whether Ukraine could teach us anything about events in Iran. After pondering the question for a few days, he rejected the idea. Not because of the anatomy of the protests, but because “the Iranian authorities may have learned a number of specific lessons from their less fortunate post-communist counterparts.” But after more than a week of escalating protests, every lesson Tucker says the Iranian government learned have proved to be ineffective against a determined and growing opposition. The question is: are we witnessing a “colored revolution” in Iran? Given that events in Iran do appear similar to colored revolutions in the former Soviet republics, how do some in the Russian press see in the Iranian protests? After all, Russian journalists should know a colored revolution when they see it given all their experience with observing them in their near abroad or watching their state hysterically dedicate its security apparatuses to preventing one at home.
A good place to start to identify what parallels Russian commentators see between Iran and post-Soviet states is a commentary by Andrei Kolesnikov published in Vedomosti. Kolesnikov sees the Iranian protests and the “revolutions” in CIS countries as symbolic of what Jurgen Habermas calls “catch-up revolution.” Kolesnikov writes:
This phenomena described in political philosophy is called “catch-up revolution.” The philosopher Jurgen Habermas labels a revolution in reverse rewind when a society painfully attempts to make up for years of induced stagnation. Moldova, lived through, like the majority of post-Soviet states, a national revolution but did not undergo a bourgeois revolution. The part of Iranian society disposed toward modernization were seriously disillusioned in the years of the predecessor of Ahmadinejad–the moderate reformer Khatami. And now 12 years after what began as Khatami’s rapidly unfurled “thaw”, and after came to be a genuine “frost”, results in a catch-up revolution, a revolution not so much of hope, but of persistent disappointment.
Whether a catch-up revolution is in the making is difficult to gage. Plus the whole idea of “catch up” suggests that a there is something to catch up top. Habermas’ idea, and Kolesnikov embrace of it, is based in the historical teleology that state’s political development follows a singular path toward liberalism. Still, one gets the feeling that Kolesnikov musing in political philosophy has little to do with Iran per se. Kolesnikov’s views speak more to his native country, Russia. Indeed, like so many around the world, the Iranian protests have been subsumed into the desires of the observers. Iran, therefore, only highlights the nadir of political change in Russia. “Perhaps,” Kolesnikov writes, “one of the few comparatively poor states, where a catch-up revolution is now impossible by force of the shapelessness of political protest is Russia. Our political revolutions occur in kitchens and social salons. And protest continues to be purely social, and Pikalevo-like.”
Perhaps this is why the Russian press lacks the adulation that one finds in the Anglo press. Whereas the American politicos see an Iran budding into a potential Persian America, the Russians are more pessimistic and emphasize the limits of political change; limits which undoubtedly stem from their own historical experience with “revolutions.” Take for example, Petr Goncharov’s opinion in RIA Novosti,
The situation in Iran indeed recalls something revolutionary. And the “green” opposition chose the green color of Islam as “a symbol of struggle against stranglehold of the regime.” The most recent circumstances gave the possibility to adherents of the “sacredness” of any order to see in it its “orange” essence. Today, every protest, slogan and other demands “for liberalization” have accepted the stamp of the danger of “orange” revolution. There won’t be a revolution. Neither “green,” nor “orange” for that matter. The revolution has been postponed. Postponed by Imam Khamenei the Supreme (and lifelong) spiritual leader of Iran.
Statements about the revolution being postponed are certainly premature. But the foreclosure that both Kolesnikov and Goncharov place on it speaks volumes. They both seem to be saying in their own disillusioned way that, “It’s happened in Iran, but it cannot and won’t happen in Russia.” Russia liberals, of course, are asking similar questions along similar lines. “Why isn’t Russia Iran?” asks Alexander Golts. The question must eat at liberals like Golts as they watch citizens of a theocracy excercize their rights while those in an arguably more open Russia remain idle. As for why this is the case, Golts gives this answer,
There are several objective factors which makes Iranian society more “passionate” than the Russians. First of all, the age of the [Iranian] urban population. Seventy percent are young people who absolutely don’t want to rot for several more years under the leadership of a narrow-minded fanatic. Moreover, in this theocratic state, as it’s been shown, political competition has a place with frank, you will laugh, debates on television. But the main conclusion is that Vladimir Putin does not mess with Russians to the degree and with such passion as Ahmadinejad does Iranians. The Russian government does not meddle, in contrast to the Iranians, in private life. However, I surmise that the effectiveness with which Vladimir Vladimirovich guides the national economy will very soon compel Russians to spit on his charisma and remember their right to choose . . .
Of course, Golts, in all his liberal hopes, forgets that while he thinks that the future of post-Soviet Russia is still up for debate, or rather than he and his ilk are part of that debate, the reformers in Iran are. As the last weeks have proven, the Iranian opposition is part of Iranian mainstream political culture however much the hardliners who back Ahmadinejad try to deny it and paint them as part of a CIA/Mossad plot.
For all intents and purposes, the Iranian opposition isn’t calling for an undoing of the Iranian Revolution. For the most part, their calls are for the regime to abide by its own rules. Their demands are still very much within its ideological and discursive confines, though as some note, the situation is so unpredictable that Islamic regime could be swept away as easily as its predecessor. This relationship to the past is what differentiates events in Iran with those in post-Soviet states. The “colored revolutions” in former Soviet states are in part an effort to break from the past, and in particular, move away from Russia’s orbit to face the West. In this case, they were a continuation of a process of national revolutions began in 1991. In Iran, the position of the opposition leadership appears to be for a retooling of the past, a return to the principles of the Revolution, rather than its utter disregard.