Pavel Chikov: Born of “revolution” - how the Artpodgotovka movement met its demise

posted 17 Nov 2017, 09:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Nov 2017, 08:01 by Website Service ]

8 November 2017

By Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora international human rights group 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: РБК]

The outcome of the movement’s activities has turned out very strangely: thousands of activists, a few hundred detainees potentially facing real terms in prison, and possible medals for FSB and Interior Ministry officers for preventing a “revolution”.

On 5 November, the long-announced “revolution day,” the Interior Ministry reported the detention in Moscow of more than three hundred members of the “Artpodgotovka” movement – a group banned in Russia as extremist. Most of those taken to police stations were questioned as witnesses in relation to a criminal case involving terrorism. The day before, twenty Moscow addresses were simultaneously searched by the FSB and police. They found brass knuckles, masks, weapons of self-defence, grenades and examples of the movement’s paraphernalia.

Just before, on 26 October, the Krasnoyarsk regional court recognised the inter-regional social movement Artpodgotovka as an extremist organisation and banned its activities on the territory of Russia. The Krasnoyarsk prosecutor’s office filed a corresponding administrative claim on 28 September. The decision has not yet come into force, as the appeal window at the Supreme court lasts until 26 November. [As of 8 November], Artpodgotovka is not yet listed on the register of extremist websites of the Ministry of Justice. But the YouTube channel of movement leader Vyacheslav Maltsev, which was launched in 2011 and has over 140,000 subscribers, is blocked to internet users in Russia, as is the movement’s website. Across the country, a barrage of criminal cases have been opened against its activists.

To date, no nationwide civil society movement has been subjected to such an intensive crackdown in such a short time. Others were “sorted out” gradually, as happened with the National Bolsheviks and religious radicals, or locally, as with the mejlis of the Crimean Tatars (labelled extremist and banned on Russian territory).

In view of the fact that Maltsev’s movement is a quite unusual phenomenon that came out of nowhere, has no real systematic structure or membership, and is not really recognised by other players in the opposition, the reasons for such a massive attack deserve more serious scrutiny.

A new opposition

The political programme of Artpodgotovka consists of twenty-two items and is redolent of naked populism. The disbandment of security services, a purge of government officials, the abolition of taxes, action against corrupt officials, the introduction of payments for families that have suffered because of the criminal authorities. Not very nice but definitely old-style socialism and nationalism in the same package. Its social base is those aged 30 to 50. Not the poor, but the middle classes, primarily in the regions. This Russian version of the American white supremacists burst quickly onto the political scene in the wake of the rhetoric of Donald Trump. This is quite a large social stratum, who were young in the ‘80s and ‘90s, who absorbed the concept of political freedom but have not been successful in their take root in their lives. This potential protest electorate, which blames corrupt officials, immigrants from Central Asia and Jews for its own failures, has not been embraced by any opposition movement outside the system. The nationalists were defeated, and their leaders (Aleksandr Potkin, Dmitry Demushkin, Maksim Martsinkevich) were convicted. The older dissenting electorate traditionally votes for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. It seems that politically active youth aged from 16 to 30 have been captured by Aleksei Navalny. Maltsev works with the generation between the two.

A strange mission

In any case, almost the only registered opposition party which could aspire to a seat in the State Duma if it overcame the five per cent barrier, has been neutralised as the result of a powerful campaign to discredit from outside (the publication of secret video recordings with Kasyanov and a series of special reports on state television channels) and an internal split over the figure of Maltsev.

Willingly or no, the Artpodgotovka movement has fulfilled its strange political mission. It drew in several few thousand supporters, harnessed their potential for protest, and provided an opportunity for FSB and Interior Ministry operatives to actively work to prevent “a revolution,” although there turned out not to be any real revolutionaries among Artpodgotovka’s supporters.

How the matter unfolds further will depend on many factors, but it can be supposed that the majority of those detained on 5 November will prefer cooperation with the investigation and a plea bargain: admission of guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence of not more than two thirds the maximum sentence. We can also predict that, in spite of the considerably larger number of accused in comparison with the famous Bolotnaya Square case, the public response to the trials of the “Maltsevites” will be an order of magnitude smaller. Far from the capital, the Artpodgotovka activists just won’t attract such attention.

Translated by Anna Bowles