Andrei Babushkin: The Obninsk Saga - the Trial of Tatyana Kotlyar Continues

posted 3 Jul 2017, 07:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 Jul 2017, 08:14 ]
22 June 2017 

By Andrei Babushkin, head of the Committee for Civil Rights 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Blog of Andrei Babushkin
Obninsk [Kaluga region]. In what was formerly a kindergarten at 24 Prospekt Lenina, there is now a magistrate’s court presided over by a justice of the peace. There are small steps leading into the building, low windowsills, and neatly trimmed green bushes below the windows—all of which suggest that what goes on inside is something of a child’s game. But the decisions that are made here determine people’s destiny and are anything but childish. 

Though the purpose of a court is to determine the fates of an unending flow of people, I ask myself, “Where is this court driving us? What does it call on us to do?” 

For two weeks now, this court has been hearing the case against human rights defender Tatyana Mikhailovna Kotlyar [chair of the Kaluga Movement for Human Rights and an active campaigner for the protection of the rights of ethnic Russians seeking to return to live in Russia, stateless persons, migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees - trans.]. In the minds of most ordinary people, the term "human rights defender" conjures up confusion, rejection and anxiety provoked by the fact that they, as ordinary men or women in the street, do not live as they should. Comparison with a human rights defender is dangerous: this mad saint rushes around, talks, writes, and all to what purpose? If they just sat quietly, didn’t bother anybody, then they would be left in peace. If an ordinary person suffers disaster or is struck by tragedy, then they will rush for help to the human rights defender. But so long as everything is calm, why work oneself up? “That’s how those crazy human rights activists behave!” 

In the “case” being brought against Tatyana Mikhailovna Kotlyar, we hear the colloquial expression, “rubber apartment.”[3] This riles local residents. Their heads buzz with images of dozens of sullen Asian construction workers, crowded into a scruffy room stacked high with beds, lined up against the wall, being photographed by the police; of police cars screeching past with flashing lights; of handcuffs—and of thick wads of illegally-acquired money gripped by the owner of the “rubber apartment.” They think, “That’s how it is! They wanted to cheat the state! To rip us off! Our country is flooded with Tajiks! It serves you right!!!” [The term “rubber apartment” is a popular term meaning either an apartment inhabited by homeless migrants or one cited by them as their place of residence so they can register with the authorities as legal residents. See, for example, the website of the School of Russian and Asian Studiesaccessed 1 July 2017 - trans.]

But that is not how Tatyana Mikhailovna Kotlyar sees things. She herself put it best at the court hearing. For some reason, however, if an individual speaks in their own defence, few people are inclined to believe what they say. Therefore, let me tell you. Tatyana Mikhailovna did not flood Obninsk with illegal Asians, as she is often accused of having done. The documents cited in the investigation against her speak, in court language, of "176 episodes." That is to say, in 2015 she registered 176 people as living in her apartment with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

In this way she helped to legalize them – in other words, to enable them to legally live and work in the Kaluga region. Here are the surnames of those who have legalized their situation in this way: Taranenko, Kudreiko, Makovoz, Shcherbakova, Kasyanov, Nikitsky, Galich, Kuznetsova etc. Even from looking at their surnames it’s clear that these civilians aren’t from Uzbekistan nor any of the other scorching republics. These individuals are from a neighbouring basket case – that of Ukraine – or more precisely, they are refugees from Donbass. I won’t identify everyone on the list. If you’re interested, come to court and see that I have by no means misled you about the real nature of the charges. In addition to the surnames, the prosecutor also read out the dates of birth of these ‘lodgers’ in ‘rubber housing’. The list left quite an impression on me and I noted the following down for you: date of birth: 2008 (in 2015 they were 7 years old!), 1960 (57 years old), 2004 (11 years old), 2012 (3 years old), 1947, 2005, 2014 (the child would have been just year old in 2015!), 1963, 2011…That is, children and the elderly alike. These people, who make up almost half of the list, are those citizens labelled as ‘not capable of work.’ And thus in 2015, it turns out the cunning Tatyana Kotlyar, ‘who was aware of the criminality and the liability, acting knowingly, with criminal intent’, took an armful of these infant refugees, and accompanying both refugee mothers and elderly refugees aged 70 and above, she rushed to the passport office and got them temporary registration (free of charge, it’s worth noting) at her rental properties. 

Why did she do it? Well, had she not acted, both the young and the elderly would have been given 7 days to return to Donbass, under fire. 

The law states that in order to obtain official documents for temporary asylum in Russia, refugees who have arrived from Ukraine must be entered within 7 days on the migration register. Or they must leave Russia. Being placed on this register is something to which few local housing owners agree, while even if in the event they do, it’s not always possible to register because of various legal procedural delays. There is no state centre for the acceptance of refugees in Obninsk. Generally speaking, the refugees find themselves in an impasse. 

Frankly, the majority of Obninsk residents, were they in Tatyana Mikhailovna’s shoes, would have given in. More specifically, we know for a fact that the majority of the city’s residents don’t even try to do anything to help the refugees. They might give them 500 roubles. Or donate them a jacket…But when it comes to registering at your own home even one Donetsk-born baby…Who can honestly say they have done so? 

And Tatyana Kotlyar did it 176 times. Once again I specify: without monetary reward (the investigators scrutinized everything very closely, tried as they could). She wrote explanations to the local district police officers. She listened to the reprimands of other police. She received guilty verdicts. And now she is still facing prosecutions. As before, she won’t give up—she helps those threatened with expulsion into the crossfire of “fraternal” armies. Even though she herself has long been “in the sights” of local prosecutors. 

No one has made a film about Tatyana Mikhailovna yet. But I can roughly imagine what that film would look like. Have you seen Schindler’s List? It has just the same sort of situation: a German business owner, “acting with criminal intent”, saves members of society who are being persecuted from death. Of course, the heat of passion, powerful music and machine guns are not as palpable in Obinsk as in Steven Spielberg’s works. But Tatyana Kotlyar’s unselfish deed is no smaller. We could write music for it, add special effects, you get the idea. 

But what has happened to society? Why did none of the officials feel responsible for the fate of the refugees? Why did the servants of Justice sit in a kindergarten and, in all seriousness, discuss the possibility of punishing an outstanding individual who saves children from war? The judges, investigators, and prosecutors are all paid by the state and are supposed to stand guard over the interests of the state. Do they really not understand that putting people in prison for helping people is itself a crime against the State? If a state starts punishing good people for doing good, and encouraging callousness and indifference, then the state will perish. Plato spoke of that long ago. And I believe they still study him in law school. 

For your information (statistical data from the Russian Statistical Service for Kaluga)
From 2014-16 (from the start of military actions in Ukraine), the following numbers of people have arrived in Kaluga region: 
2,000 Ukrainian citizens (approximately one tenth of all migrant arrivals) 
1,000 Ukrainians have received advice from Tatyana Kotlyar (i.e. one of every ten Ukrainian arrivals) 
4,100 Ukrainians have left or were forced to leave in the same period 
7,900 Ukrainians remain on the territory of Kaluga region (a third of all migrants who have remained in the territory during that period, after arriving from various countries) 
36,910 total people were born in Kaluga region 
45,781 have died 
From 2014-2016 the population of Kaluga region increased by 5,228 people (not because of the refugees who have arrived?) 

Translated by Elizabeth Teague, Mark Nuckols and Nathalie Wilson 

For more information about Andrei Babushkin on Rights in Russia, see Rights in Russia. For more information about Tatyana Kotlyar, see Front Line Defenders, Front Line Defenders and Civic Assistance Commitee

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