Advisory Committee (International)

On this page you will find statements and opinions by members of Rights in Russia's Advisory Committee (International).
For more information about the membership of this body, please visit Advisory Committee (International).

Jens Siegert: On prison camps and human dignity – a review of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's “My Fellow Prisoners”

posted 21 Jul 2014 05:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Jul 2014 05:32 ]

3 July 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

A book written by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the Great Russian Empire’s best-known prison inmate and a free man for just six months, has been published in German. The slim volume has the programmatic title “My Fellow Prisoners”. I believe that this book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand more about Russia, and there are two reasons why I say this. The first is that life in Russia’s prison camps is a reflection of society, perhaps more so than in any other country. The rules there differ very little from those which apply beyond the prison walls, and they are rooted not so much in the law as in the Russian notion of “zhit’ po ponyatiyam”, or “living by unwritten rules”. [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert on 'Gopniki'

posted 7 Jul 2014 02:58 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Jul 2014 02:59 ]

19 June 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

Each language, indeed each society, has certain terms which, whether they are written or spoken, function as gateways to whole worlds. No explanation is needed because people understand. These key words also say a great deal about the societies in which they arose, became heavy with meaning and are still used. Only what is sufficiently significant for a given society, which explains its meaningful differences and phenomena, will be given a shorthand which is succinct, eloquent and readily understood. The Russian noun “gopnik” is exactly this type of concept. It describes someone who behaves in a particular way. [Read more]

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts 

Noah Birksted-Breen: "Remember, Remember… The First Of July 2014…"

posted 28 Jun 2014 08:46 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Jun 2014 08:50 ]

18 June 2014

By Noah Birksted-Breen

Source: Sputnik Theatre Blog 

Since the end of communism, Russian artists have only rarely faced restrictions and persecution by the state. A law banning censorship was enshrined in the Constitution in 1993. The 2000s saw a resurgent authoritarianism under President Putin. However, even during the bad phases, it was always possible to find some rays of hope. After Putin’s re-election as President in 2012, there was a succession of laws restricting the public space for dissent. But the arts were not affected in any direct way.

And the bad news wasn’t the only story. At the same time, some theatres were booming. A far-sighted Culture Minister in Moscow, Sergei Kapkov, was providing funding for a number of daring younger directors to create work in a handful of medium-sized repertory theatres. The increasing variety and richness of the theatre landscape was a beacon of hope. As long as progressive theatre-makers were able to work freely, there was at least some room for independent thought. This was a silver-lining against a backdrop of increasingly harsh government rhetoric about ‘enemies within’ and ‘foreign agents’ and so on.

The 1st of July 2014 seems to represent a sea change. It is hard to see it as anything else but a point of no return. A new law will come into force which bans swearing in films, TV, literature and in the theatre. This is a law censoring the arts – it is the first of its kind since 1991.

The theatres which will be punished by this law are the most progressive ones. Russia’s most famous political theatre, Teatr.doc, is the only theatre which has, as far as I am aware, publicly refused to adapt its repertoire to suit the impending law. It is able to take a stance because it is an independent theatre. The vast majority of theatres rely on state funding. But Teatr.doc does not have large resources – it is run on a shoe-string budget. It is hard to imagine that the most innovative theatres will survive. The new law imposes significant fines for organisations which do not conform – around 1000 pounds, seemingly, for each time they break the law, i.e. each performance of a play which contains swearing.

This fateful date – 1st of July 2014 – could see the heavy hand of state censorship closing several key new playwriting venues. For the larger, richer repertory theatres it acts as a strong disincentive to stage new plays – at least, those works which are innovative or experimental.

This law also opens the floodgates to all sorts of other damaging changes which impinge on artistic freedom. This month, a newer law about the arts is being discussed in the Russian Parliament. Not about swearing this time. This newer law would ban positive depictions of the mafia in the cinema. It hasn’t been approved – but it gives a sense of what the future might hold, with any number of new laws introduced to ban this or that type of play or film. The point is that only the most conservative cultural products will thrive in this restricted public sphere.
Luckily, as Russian playwrights and directors face a bleak future, British theatres are stepping up to support them. I welcome Theatre 503’s initiative to commission both Russian and British playwrights to engage with the realities of Russia today. It was a quick response to a fast-changing situation. My own company, Sputnik, has been dedicated to bringing contemporary Russian playwrights to the UK since 2005 and we will continue to offer opportunities to Russian playwrights to develop their work in London, for many years to come. We are currently sourcing five new plays to present to British audiences in 2015.

This seems to be one of the moments in history which will be remembered, for all the wrong reasons. I applaud the playwrights and artistic directors in Russia who continue to follow their consciences, in spite of the consequences.

Noah Birksted-Breen
Artistic director of Sputnik Theatre Company
To join the Sputnik mailing list HERE

Jens Siegert: The hunt for “NGO agents” gathers pace – five NGOS forcibly declared “agents”

posted 22 Jun 2014 11:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Jun 2014 11:58 ]

10 June 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog 

My previous post on the hunt for “NGO agents” had barely been published when developments began to pick up speed. It was announced yesterday that the Ministry of Justice had exercised its new powers as early as last Thursday, when it entered five NGOs on its register of “NGOs which fulfil the function of a foreign agent” (to use the official title). The organisations concerned will henceforth be legally obliged to make it known that they are “an NGO fulfilling the function of a foreign agent” every time they make a public statement. Those which fail to do so will face costly fines in the first instance, and the closure of their organisations or possibly even criminal proceedings against those in charge if they commit repeated offences. [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert: The hunt for “NGO agents” more than one year on – an interim report of sorts

posted 22 Jun 2014 11:50 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 Jun 2014 11:51 ]

4 June 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog 

Over a year ago, in March 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia embarked on its large-scale hunt for “agents”. Between March and May, around 700 NGOs were “inspected” (to borrow the delightful euphemism which was used) in order to find out whether they were “complying with the law”. Public prosecutors subsequently issued notices to over 60 of them. Forty were “warned” that they may be violating the amended NGO Act and were advised to register as “agents”. Matters were even worse for the 20 or so NGOs accused of having already broken the law, since they were ordered to register immediately as “agents” with the Ministry of Justice. In most instances both the directors, chairs or presidents of the NGOs and the organisations themselves were fined 300,000 rubles (the individuals) or 500,000 rubles (the organisations). [Read more]

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert: Which ideas drive Vladimir Putin? Aleksandr Dugin's ideas?

posted 15 Jun 2014 09:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Jun 2014 09:51 ]

2 June 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Heinrich Boell Foundation Russia Blog 

Which ideas drive Vladimir Putin? What idea or ideas are behind the nationalist, conservative, geopolitical turn which Russian politics have taken? This turn is noticeable in both domestic politics, especially since the protests against Putin in the winter 2011/2012, and also in foreign policy, with the construction of a Eurasian Union, the annexation of the Crimea, the systematic destabilisation of Ukraine, and in general the increasing confrontation with the West which has again become ideological. Why? In response, Western analysts are now more and more often referring to one thinker: Aleksandr Dugin. Are they right? [Read more]

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts

Jens Siegert: A Holiday for the Soul

posted 2 Jun 2014 08:55 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Jun 2014 08:56 ]

22 May 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Boell Foundation Russia Blog

I just don’t know any more. As is so often the case in heated conflicts, the debates about Russia and Ukraine, Russia and the West, Putin and the 80% of all Russians who allegedly or actually support him, are dominated by radically opposing views, and the tone is set not merely by those who have a definite opinion, but by those who also have the chutzpah or the artlessness to act as though they are speaking the only truth. That is probably unavoidable, since times of crisis require action, action means decisions, and what decisionmakers need is clear alternatives set out by their advisers (there’s more to it than that of course, but I don’t have the space to go into it here). [Read more]

Jens Siegert: Putin's Rationality

posted 18 May 2014 12:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 May 2014 12:26 ]

8 May 2014

Many people in Russia are almost obsessively preoccupied with their country’s enemies, real or imaginary. One of the people they love to hate is US President Jimmy Carter’s former security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who, along with Henry Kissinger, is still regarded as the grey eminence of US global strategy. Whatever Brzezinski says is used to illustrate that Russia has been hemmed in by the West, with Brzezinski and his ilk pulling the strings. One explanation for this great fixation on Brzezinski may be his pursuit of many Russians' favourite hobby: geopolitics. [Read more]

Translated by Julia Sherwood

Jens Siegert: “Putin’s Stalinesque narrative” – interview with Cicero Online

posted 18 May 2014 11:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 May 2014 12:16 ]

5 May 2014

by Jens Siegert

Source: Heinrich Boell Foundation Russia Blog

In mid-April I gave a long interview to Cicero Online, which appeared under the title “Putin’s Stalinesque narrative”. Vinzenz Greiner was the interviewer.

Cicero Online: Mr Siegert, where does the West get all its money from? If you take the Kremlin at its word, the West is responsible for bankrolling more or less everything, from the vote-rigging protests following the elections to the Duma in December 2011 right through to the Maidan demonstrations.

Jens Siegert: According to the Russian version of events, the US alone has sunk billions into the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Maidan movement over the past few years. But what they’re really talking about is a deliberate tactic practised by the West. [Read more

Translated by Joanne Reynolds

Jens Siegert: On the sense and nonsense of the Petersburg Dialogue and others

posted 11 May 2014 08:38 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 May 2014 08:52 ]

28 April 2014

By Jens Siegert

Source: Heinrich Boell Russia Blog

On 23 April a meeting of the extended executive committee of the Petersburg Dialogue took place in Leipzig. There were words of welcome from the federal Land of Saxony, the city of Leipzig, the German executive committee chairman Lothar de Maiziere and his Russian counterpart Viktor Zubkov – his main role being Russian deputy prime minister. Afterwards there were two official speeches (from Herfried Münkler and Oleg Penkov) on the topic of “civil society and peace efforts from 1914 until today” (we are, after all, in an anniversary year of the great war, except that no one has any interest in 1914 in Russia; 1917 is far more important) and then a panel discussion with the speakers and Gernot Erler, the Russia delegate of the German government. [Read more]

Translated by Helen Corbett

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