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Sergei Nikitin on the case of journalist Ivan Golunov

posted 11 Jun 2019, 13:05 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Jun 2019, 13:10 ]

10 June 2019


In these blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.


Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2018. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.



Ivan Golunov is a correspondent for the online media outlet Meduza.io. In the past, he has been involved in researching political corruption.


He was detained on the afternoon of June 6th in the centre of Moscow, where he was set to meet with other journalists. Two young men in civilian clothing ran up to him. "They came up behind me, one of them grabbed my arm” one of the men said: ''You are being detained." I asked: "Who are you?" They said to me: “What, you haven’t guessed? Criminal investigators!” This only came to light on the morning of June 7th. The police claim to have found 3.56 grams of mephedrone on his person, as well as a number of bags containing an unknown substance at his home. Golunov believes he is being framed.


The Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow reported that Golunov was found in possession of five packets containing a powdery substance, with an additional three found in his home. The announcement was accompanied by photographs of packages containing white powder, laboratory glassware and bottles full of chemicals. A friend of Golunov claims that only one of these photographs was actually taken in Golunov’s apartment. Those containing evidence of drug possession, he believes, were staged elsewhere.


Despite the fact that Golunov was detained on the afternoon of June 6th, it was not until 3am on June 7th that investigator Igor Lopatin contacted Ivan’s friend, BBC journalist Svetlana Reiter, and suggested that she find a lawyer. Lawyer Dmitry Dzhulai told Meduza that Golunov had demanded to call for legal aid. The journalist also asked them to test his hands and nails to see whether he had actually touched drugs. However, the police refused. In addition to this, Golunov said that he was beaten by the police. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has denied this.


Meduza’s CEO, Galina Timchenko and editor-in-chief, Ivan Kolpakov; maintain that Golunov is innocent and that he is being persecuted as a result of his journalistic work. “We know that Ivan has received threats in recent months, and we think we know from whom. Meduza will follow closely every action taken by the investigators in Golunov’s case. We will find out who is behind this, and make the information public. We will defend our journalist by all available means.”


Golunov is known for his investigations of corruption within the Moscow mayor’s office and in the funeral services industry.


The search of Golunov’s bag took place in the presence of a witness, who appeared to be friends with the police. They took out a bag containing something multi-coloured from his rucksack. According to Golunov “It was a rectangular package, about the size of a passport.” There were small green-brown balls inside the package taken from his bag, which were shown to those present.


The evidence was packed into an envelope and sealed. Golunov refused to sign it, despite demands to do so. The journalist maintains that the package does not belong to him, saying: “This was the first time I’d seen it.” He noted that, during his arrest, the police were behind him and could have planted it in his backpack.


Golunov told police that he had never used psychoactive substances before.


Golunov has maintained his innocence and insists that the drugs do not belong to him. From the moment of his detainment, until 8:25am, no samples were taken from his hands or from under his nails, “because I’ve never used drugs, and never held them in my hands.” This lack of evidence may prove his innocence, he argues.


Pickets are being held to demand Golunov’s release in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs building in central Moscow. The Russian Union of Journalists has promised to obtain a statement from law enforcement agencies as soon as possible. The Presidential Council on Human Rights is needed to best understand the events. Duma deputy Sergei Shargunov has sent a request to the Prosecutor General.


On social media, many people are suggesting further legal action against journalists trying to expose the truth. As was the case with human rights defenders in the North Caucasus, it would seem that planting drugs has become a common method of dealing with political opposition in the capital.


For a chronicle of events in the case, see: Meduza


Translated by James Lofthouse

Sergei Nikitin: May 2019 - Female prisoners in Krasnoturinsk prison allege torture

posted 2 Jun 2019, 14:01 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Jun 2019, 10:48 ]

2 June 2019


In these monthly blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.


Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2018. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.



Krasnoturinsk is a town to the north of Ekaterinburg in the Urals region of Russia. Local human rights activists Aleksei Sokolov, Yana Helmel and lawyer Oleg Bakin regularly travel over 200 miles to get there from Ekaterinburg, meeting with female convicts in the local prison colony, IK-16, in order to provide them with legal assistance.

They arrived on May 22nd and entered the colony premises, where Bakin waited for the prisoners. However, the deputy head of the colony, E. Yesaulkov, came in their place and led Bakin to the convicts' quarters. The women, without ever going into the room, verbally declined to meet with a lawyer. No explanation for this refusal was given. The prisoners were then led away in an unknown direction. According to Bakin most of the girls looked depressed, answering questions evasively and quietly.

That afternoon, Bakin once again filed a request to the IK-16 administration to meet with the other convicts. However, as was the case earlier that day, the prisoners were led in by the same officers. These women, who were under close supervision, all quietly stated that they did not wish to meet with a lawyer.

As a result, Bakin was unable to provide legal advice to female prisoners, who had previously complained about instances of torture as well as failure to provide medical assistance in the colony.

Back in April 2019, Bakin, alongside lawyers Roman Kachanov and Olga Herman visited IK-16 to provide legal advice for female prisoners, who had previously reached out to a human rights organization for help, in connection with the violation of their rights. Yet subsequently, almost all of these visibly-distressed prisoners refused the lawyers’ help. Only one of the prisoners agreed to meet with the lawyers, but the colony administration decided to quickly move her to the municipal hospital in a police van, which remained outside the hospital until the lawyers had left the colony.

In March 2019, the Ural human rights activists came to this colony several times, meeting convicts and providing them with legal advice. During this time, female convicts complained of threats from Yesaulkov, who psychologically pressured them and demanded that they refuse the help of human rights activists.

Immediately after meeting with the convicts, activists filed a complaint, in which they highlighted Yesaulkov’s threats and other illegal actions.

The local prosecutor's office, however, decided that there were no grounds for sending the verification materials to the preliminary investigation bodies. Only one prisoner, Anastasia Porokhina, confirmed that she was under pressure. The rest of the women did not confirm whether or not they were subject to threats or intimidation from Yesaulkov.

In late March, all female convicts refused the help of human rights defenders.


Human rights defender Aleksei Sokolov (pictured left) says:

Women prisoners who complained of torture are now forbidden to call home and meet with lawyers or human rights activists. According to the prisoners’ relatives, those who disobey are immediately transferred to strict detention conditions, or are threatened by the colony administration.”

The guards of the colony, who have received numerous complaints from female prisoners, have since attempted to sue Sokolov. Additionally, they have tried to control the site "Human Rights Defenders of the Urals", which publishes information about instances of torture and the failure to provide medical assistance to the women held at IK-16.

The court date is set for May 27th, 2019 in Ekaterinburg. Sokolov says: “We are preparing for it, and the wardens can expect some unpleasant surprises."


Source: Pravozashchitniki Urala, 23 May 2019


Translated by James Lofthouse


Sergei Nikitin: April 2019 - the application of anti-extremism legislation in Russia; and violations of human rights in a Sverdlovsk prison colony

posted 6 May 2019, 11:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 May 2019, 09:50 ]

6 May 2019


In these monthly blogs, Sergei Nikitin presents a selection of materials about human rights in Russia.


Sergei Nikitin headed Amnesty International's Moscow office from 2003 until 2018. He is a member of the advisory council of Rights in Russia.



Below is an adaptation of an original text by the Sova Centre, headed by  Aleksandr Verkhovsky, on the official statistics from the judicial department of the Supreme Court related to the fight against terrorism in 2018.

In April 2019, the website of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation published statistical data about the activities of the Russian courts and the state of criminal convictions in 2018.

According to the department’s data, under the relevant articles, 731 people were sentenced in 2018, compared with 785 in 2017, that is 7% less than a year earlier.

In the words of the director of the Sova Centre, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, there are positive tendencies within the statistics. The main one was the fall in the total number of criminal sentences brought under articles of anti-extremism legislation regarding public statements.  “This concerns not only Article 282, but also Article 280 – the second most frequently used – and others. It’s possible that policy in this area is becoming more reasonable,” he told Novaya gazeta. The second tendency relates to the two most common articles of the Administrative Code – regarding symbols and distribution of banned materials – “the increase in the number of sentences is very small compared to previous years.”

Meanwhile, said Verkhovsky, with regard to Article 280 there was a noticeable reduction only in the first half of the year, the second half almost completely compensated for the fall in figures. He explained this as follows: “There were suspicions, that amid talk of decriminalisation of Article 282, cases would be reclassified under Article 280, since the boundaries between them were now blurred. It’s possible that is what is happening now.” Verkhovsky is worried by a rise in convictions under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code – participation in banned extremist organisations, which he cannot yet explain, and under Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code – for public incitement - or justification- of terrorism. “In practice, we don’t see any increase in terrorist agitation. This is the result of the FSB, rather than any real activity”, stressed Verkhovsky.

One nuance, he pointed out, is the increase in number of criminal cases on charges of propaganda or justification of terrorism against people detained or already in prison. Verkhovsky is doubtful about the legality of these charges: in prison, it is easy to fabricate evidence, and the question remains: “since it is not possible to incite anyone to terrorism except one’s cellmates in prison, it’s debatable that this could be considered public incitement.”

For more information see: 'Официальная статистика Судебного департамента Верховного суда в сфере борьбы с экстремизмом за 2018 год,' Sova Centre, 19 April 2019

Pictured: Aleksandr Verkhovsky

Translated by Mercedes Malcomson


Below is an adaptation of an orginal text by Aleksei Sokolov, executive director of the Inter-regional Human Rights Group, entitled: 'Systematic violation of human rights in Prison Colony IK-16 in Sverdlovsk region, in the Urals':

Three human rights activists from the Urals – the lawyers Roman Kachanov and Aleksei Sokolov and the expert Yana Gelmel from Ekaterinburg - have carried out extensive work to establish the presence of systemic bullying in this women’s prison.

The activists found that authorities in the colony devised and implemented a system of torture or degrading treatment and punishment for minor infractions or refusal to work for the authorities, i.e. to be a source of information for them.

The activists questioned five women who had served time in the prison colony, and two employees.

During the interview, they were given evidence supporting previously obtained information about torture. Additionally it was found that jailers had demanded that women write “statements of refusal to meet with the Public Oversight Commission”.

On 20 February 2019, human rights activists met with the deputy head of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service in the Sverdlovsk Region, A.V. Shek. He promised unrestricted access and confidential meetings with the women prisoners we summoned.

On 22 February 2019, Roman Kachanov, Aleksei Sokolov and Yana Gelmel interviewed nine prisoners. In total, fourteen prisoners and two employees of !K-16 were interviewed, and they confirmed that the colony practised torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, specifically:

Prisoners’ personal belongings are illegally confiscated: their towel, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, personal hygiene items and aluminium mug. The toothpaste, toothbrush and soap are returned to them only after they are locked up for the night, and after reveille, for ten minutes. Letter-writing paper and stamps are not issued.

While in isolation cells, female prisoners are prohibited from sitting on a stool. Women have to stand all day, which causes terrible pain, psychological and physical suffering. They can sit down only during meals: for ten minutes at breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the women interviewed said that an attempt to sit down could result in physical punishment.

IK-16 does not provide full medical care. Prisoners are not given medical examinations. According to those interviewed, all the women who died suffered pain before their deaths, but the colony did not receive help from doctors.

As ‘punishment’, prison staff may block access to the room where prisoners’ food is kept. There is a food room in each sector of the prison. The length of this punishment depends on the wishes of the prison workers and lasts from one to four days.

IK-16 has an established system of ‘punishment’ whereby prisoners are forbidden from making telephone calls to their children, spouse, parents or other relatives.

IK-16 deploys the dragging around of bags of manure as a system of group ‘punishment’. Regardless of their age, female prisoners bag up manure near the pigsty/barn, which is located in the production area, and carry it themselves to the living area, after which they spread it around in the living area, on the beds, regardless of the fact that the beds are being filled with manure. The manure dragging process lasts from eight to twelve hours a day.

Convicts are obliged to constantly, literally, yell, often In chorus, “Hello” – including by the officers who they see in the course of the day and from afar (for example, at a distance of 100-200 metres).

After activists from the Interregional Centre for Human Rights took the above information to  the General Directorate of the Federal Penitentiary Service in the Sverdlovsk Region, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sverdlovsk Region and the Investigation Department of the Russian State Investigative Committee in the Sverdlovsk Region, the most severe psychological pressure was applied to the prisoners they had interviewed, by various means.

Then, on 6 March 2019, the human rights activists held a press conference in Ekaterinburg, talking about torture in the prison colony.

A week after the press conference, persons unknown broke the windows of the car in which the lawyers from the Interregional Centre for Human Rights were intending to travel to Colony IK-16.

In April the human rights activists began to be refused meetings with prisoners at the colony, because the prisoners themselves did not want such meetings.

For more information see: Aleksei Sokolov, 'Аналитическая справка по итогам проведения общественного расследования по фактам системного нарушения прав человека в ФКУ ИК-16 ГУФСИН России по Свердловской области,' Pravozashchitniki Urala, 15 April 2019

Pictured: Aleksei Sokolov

Translated by Anna Bowles

Simon Cosgrove & Yuri Dzhibladze: Lessons of Oyub Titiev’s trial - The work of human rights defenders in Chechnya must continue

posted 6 May 2019, 09:30 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 May 2019, 09:41 ]

 6 May 2019



 By Simon Cosgrove and Yuri Dzhibladze 



 Pictured: Oyub Titiev at his trial




In the second week of March, as representatives of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, we travelled to Chechnya to observe the final day of the eight-month-long trial of human rights defender Oyub Titiev. Titiev is the head of the regional office in Grozny of a leading Russian human rights NGO, Memorial Human Rights Centre. Following his arrest on 9 January 2018, the prosecution of Titiev has become a major international concern and has prompted, along with statements by international organisations and heads of states, the launch of an investigation by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the so-called OSCE Moscow Mechanism. Since his arrest, Titiev has been held in custody. The charges laid against him of possessing drugs have been condemned by human rights groups as fabricated and Amnesty International has declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Since the end of the second war in Chechnya, the authoritarian rule of Ramzan Kadyrov has seen widespread violations of human rights, including the persecution of political opponents, disappearances, secret prisons, torture and extrajudicial executions, all conducted with apparent impunity. Human rights defenders who have sought to challenge this impunity have been particular targets. In 2006, the prominent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote extensively on human rights violations in Chechnya, was shot dead in Moscow after she had been threatened by Kadyrov. In July 2009, Natalia Estemirova, head of the Grozny office of Memorial, was murdered, also undoubtedly in connection with her human rights work. The following month, Chechen human rights defender Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov were murdered.

Trumped-up criminal cases and physical attacks against the critics of the government are typical for Chechnya. In 2014, Ruslan Kutaev, a civil society activist and an academic, was jailed for four years on trumped-up heroin possession charges after criticising Kadyrov in public. In 2016, Zhalaudi Geriev, a journalist with the independent Caucasian Knot news outlet, was sentenced to three years on drug charges. Both Kutaev and Geriev alleged they were tortured in custody to extract confessions. In March 2016, human rights defender Igor Kalyapin, head of the Joint Mobile Group of human rights defenders, was attacked by unidentified masked men in Grozny. More recently, Kadyrov has himself publicly spoken in support of honour killings; and over the last two years dozens of people suspected of being gay (as the Russian LGBT Network has documented) have been rounded up and tortured, and some have been killed, to international outrage.

Since 2009 when Titiev took over as head of Memorial’s Grozny office from his predecessor, Natalia Estemirova (for whose murder that year no one has yet stood trial), he has led the work of recording and publicising the continuing human rights violations in the region and challenging the impunity of those who perpetrate them. A few weeks before his arrest, he was investigating the case of the extrajudicial execution of 27 residents of Chechnya. This, as many observers say, could have triggered the attack against him. Others believe that the prosecution of Titiev was retaliation for Western personal sanctions against Kadyrov.

Whatever was the trigger, it is widely believed that Titiev’s prosecution has been intended to put a stop to the activities of human rights NGOs in the region altogether. After all the repressions against critics of the regime, Titiev was probably the last person in the republic whom local people trusted and to whom they were not afraid to speak about abuses by the authorities. In a detailed account presented at his eight-month trial, Titiev, well-known for his strong Muslim faith, healthy lifestyle, love of sport, educational work with young children and aversion to drugs and alcohol, claimed the drugs were planted in his car by police officers. By organising a criminal prosecution of this highly respected, morally impeccable and very decent person, the Chechen authorities aimed not only to put Titiev behind bars but also to discredit and present him as an immoral person and a fraud. They sought to intimidate the disaffected and undermine people's faith in justice and human dignity. After all, if such a person as Titiev, seen by many as a role model of dignity and moral integrity, eventually turned out to be a fraud, then literally no one can be trusted, and there is no choice but to obey those who possess power and would never renounce the use of violence.

Two weeks before Titiev’s arrest, Magomed Daudov, speaker of the Chechen parliament and Kadyrov's right hand, called human rights defenders ‘enemies of the people.’ Kadyrov himself referred to Titiev as a traitor and drug addict, openly ignoring the presumption of innocence, and claimed that after the trial is over, human rights defenders would be banned from Chechnya. Given statements such as these and the general lack of independence of courts in Russia in politically-charged cases of this kind, there was little chance the trial would be fair, all the more so in a region such as Chechnya where all areas of public life - including the justice system - are by all accounts dominated by the will of the individual ruler and his closest associates. No one in Chechnya, including judges, is supposed to dare openly to challenge the words of the strongman leader. Requests by defence lawyers to have the trial moved outside Chechnya to ensure its impartiality were rejected by the judge in the case, Madina Zainetdinova.

Before Titiev’s trial had even begun there was a general acceptance among observers that a conviction would be the predetermined outcome. The only question observers considered uncertain was the length of Titiev’s sentence.

Not surprisingly, Titiev’s right to a fair trial has been “repeatedly violated,” with the trial “marred by numerous irregularities” and the prosecutors’ case not standing up to “basic scrutiny”, as Amnesty International pointed out. Equality of arms was absent as almost all motions by the defence were turned down by the judge and Titiev’s claim that the drugs were planted by the police was not properly investigated. Evidence was clearly forged by the investigation. Some of the many examples include, for example, the fact that more than 15 CCTV cameras in the area where Titiev’s car was stopped and a plastic bag with marijuana was allegedly planted were suddenly not working precisely at that time; a sticky tape with Titiev's hair was for some reason attached to the plastic bag, while the same tape had been put on his head earlier during interrogation when the police imitated torture; and the only witness who testified that he had seen Titiev smoking marijuana, a repeated drug user who miraculously escaped imprisonment, did not recognise Titiev during cross-examination.

In his final address to the court Titiev issued an eloquent rebuttal of the charges in a speech pervaded by dismay and bitterness that he was about to be jailed on a fabricated charge intended to end his human rights work. Titiev also called for those responsible for his fraudulent prosecution to be brought to justice.

The trial proceedings we witnessed at Shali district court, as well as previous hearings, were closely followed by Titiev’s colleagues from Memorial and other NGOs from across Russia, representatives from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture, along with officials from the embassies of Germany, the Netherlands and the EU, and journalists based in Moscow and Europe.

The level of national and international presence was unprecedented throughout all eight months of the trial, accompanied by numerous statements by inter-governmental organisations and extensive media coverage. This encouraged local residents to speak up, defying the atmosphere of intimidation: almost twenty of Titiev's neighbours came to the court to testify, paying tribute to his moral integrity and saying that under no circumstances would they believe that he possessed drugs. Even some of the prosecution witnesses from among the police officers, forced by their superiors to provide false testimony against Titiev, were visibly uncomfortable. Locals whom we talked to on our way to the court all knew too well that the real reason Titiev was on trial had nothing to do with drugs. Authorities’ plans to discredit Titiev clearly failed: no one in Chechnya and beyond accepted the official line.

The massive international solidarity campaign has worked and brought the positive outcome no one really expected. On 18 March, one week after the final day of the trial hearings, Judge Zainetdinova read out her judgment over more than nine hours, sentencing Titiev to four years in a settlement colony, as opposed to the four years in a prison colony requested by the prosecutors. More importantly, the judge changed the qualification of the crime from one of a ‘high’ degree of gravity to ‘medium’ gravity, thus making Titiev eligible to apply for parole in May 2019 after having served one third of his term, counting from the day of his arrest in January 2018. Given the conditions in Chechnya under which the trial took place and the overall highly repressive atmosphere in the region, this is the best possible outcome one could have hoped for. In just two months, Oyub Titiev may be a free man.

The international attention focused on Titiev’s case was a powerful assertion of international solidarity with the human rights defender and an important statement of the absolute requirement for observance of international standards of fair trial. As Amnesty International has pointed out, the efforts by Titiev’s supporters within and outside Russia “provided a level of protection to Oyub Titiev against torture and ill-treatment frequently used in Chechnya and throughout Russia to extract ‘confessions’.”

It is vital in the aftermath of the trial that Titiev’s case continues to be the focus of public attention, both within Russia and internationally, to ensure his future humane treatment and rapid release after the parole request has been made in May. Titiev, who has decided not to appeal the verdict, intends on his release to continue his human rights work.

By putting Titiev, a courageous Muslim man who has dedicated his life to defending human rights, behind bars, the Chechen authorities have shown they are seeking to end the work of human rights defenders in the republic. International civil society and human rights organisations must rise to that challenge, working with governments, inter-governmental institutions and media outlets. The work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders in the Chechen Republic and the North Caucasus must continue.

Simon Cosgrove is chair of Rights in Russia, a British NGO working to promote information about the human rights situation in Russia and the work of human rights organisations. Yuri Dzhibladze is president of Moscow-based Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights. They both are participants and former board members of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, a network of NGOs from Russia and the EU working to strengthen links between civil society groups on the basis of shared values of democracy, rule of law, human rights, civic participation, and sustainable development.


Pictured: Simon Cosgrove (left) and Yuri Dzhibladze (right) outside the district court in Shali, Chechnya

Viktor Kogan-Yasny: Contemporary politics as revenge on Gorbachev

posted 2 Dec 2018, 08:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Dec 2018, 08:36 ]

16 September 2018


By Viktor Kogan-Yasny 



Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and a political adviser to the Yabloko party


To repeat what I’ve already written long ago:

What’s now being done under Putin, and of course some of this is a continuation of what began under Yeltsin, is all, forgive me for the rhetorical turn, revenge against Gorbachev. Gorbachev made a great many mistakes, but he dealt with the depth of the problems that he sought to resolve. What he had nothing of was this repulsive chauvinism that we have seen, now flaring up, now dying down, throughout the 1990s and up to the present time. Gorbachev never engaged in grandstanding and had nothing of the “We’ll-show-you” instinct of the backyard pack. Everything that emerged from the backyards and the prisons came later, and we were so very late and unprepared to see it for what it was. Force, force and yet more force...The answer to absolutely everything. Gorbachev insisted that “there were exceptions.” And they have been taking their revenge on him ever since.

That’s the “contemporary philosophy” that comes to mind.

16 September 2018


Viktor Kogan-Yasny: On the lack of focus

posted 2 Dec 2018, 08:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Dec 2018, 08:28 ]

14 August 2018


By Viktor Kogan-Yasny 



Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and a political adviser to the Yabloko party


The contemporary world is characterized, I would say, by individuals and communities that lack focus. And they are unable to achieve anything. I am far from being an advocate of the primacy of some kind of all-encompassing discipline as a source of movement ahead, but a lack of focus, a confusion that is both personal and social, do not allow any progress. As to the question whether the pervasive confusion (which we see with the immersion of the individual’s world in the personal smartphone) is capable of withstanding mass psychoses, totalitarianism, sects, terrorism - intuitively one senses that there is hardly likely to be any clear answer.

Thirty years ago a significant movement ahead came about thanks to universal solidarity and reasonable self-limitation of each party’s own subjectivity, thanks to the clear understanding that personal success, creative, professional and so on, cannot be achieved in a world that is wholly “parallel” to the worlds of other people. Now there is a different situation in this regard. And it is not within the powers of a frail humanity to qualitatively change the situation for the better.  

The contemporary world, both at the interpersonal level and at the level of relations between communities, is very difficult to predict. Everything is too subjective… (including, evaluations and predictions). Words such as “Putin will no longer…”, “America will…”, “Ukraine will behave….” have lost their predictive capacity. Every actor behaves in line with their own personal outlook on life and their own degree of energy. The world is very unpredictable, beginning with ordinary life and ending with military and political affairs. Moreover, the more we consider the so-called “elites,” the less the degree of predictability. These elites suffer from a very strong, but false, sense that “everything will be OK.”


I make no predictions. We must make every effort and exercise, in all senses, toleration and hope. Forgive the pathos, but I can find no other way to express this.


Viktor Kogan-Yasny: On the anniversary of Sajudis

posted 2 Dec 2018, 08:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Dec 2018, 08:24 ]




By Viktor Kogan-Yasny 



Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and a political adviser to the Yabloko party


One

When I think back and remember Sajudis, which I saw from its very beginnings when I was in Lithuania in the summer of 1988, I have a number of very different feelings.*

First of all, I remember my youth and that of my friends, the warmth of personal relationships, meeting exciting and interesting people. I remember the beginning of my own public and political activity that is directly linked to Lithuania and Sajudis in particular.

Secondly, I think about Sajudis as an illustration of how an historical window of opportunity can be used to fight successfully for truth and freedom.

Thirdly, it hurts when I think of mistakes that have been made - including by me - that resulted in deaths. I shall always remember those who died. We all share a moral responsibility with regard to those who lie in the Military Cemetery in Vilnius. And I share that responsibility because we failed to consider the situation in January 1991 in enough depth and with enough responsibility in the light of our moral duty.

Fourthly, and finally, when I consider the current situation, I feel sad that a community of people who are so important to me is playing a very small role in the main current political and social developments of today. Moreover, the phenomenon of Sajudis, which was of global significance, has passed into history and in such a manner that I fear not even all Lithuanian school children would immediately understand now what the word means.

Sajudis was a driver of change in the Soviet Union because it fought, above all, for the truth. Gorbachev boldly spoke about the truth, but while he brought the question to the forefront of contemporary discussion and into the realm of political decision-making, he did not himself know the scale of the tragedy of the past that he was opening up, or what to do about it.

Gorbachev opened the window of opportunity, but it was Sajudis that swiftly and demonstratively opened the door. But the window came first, and we must all remember that. I am totally convinced that Gorbachev, who bears major political responsibility for the deaths of people in Vilnius and Riga, does not bear criminal responsibility. And that is why now, almost 30 years on, and against the background of the ‘hybrid totalitarianism’ that characterises Russia’s current political trajectory, it would be appropriate for public figures in the Baltic countries to take a step towards recognition of this truly historic figure, a man who completely changed world politics at the end of the 20th century and who, for all the limitations of his views, put freedom at the centre of the political priorities for a state that until then had prioritised only brutal repression and violence against the individual.

But to return to Sajudis: it fought for the whole truth about history to be made public, not just parts of it, so that each individual, and the country as a whole, should have full freedom. Moreover, everyone without exception whom one met and talked with at that time, despite differences in views about how and to what extent Lithuania should regain its independence - from those who were cautious to those who wanted to crudely ‘smash the system’ - thought that what was at issue was not just Lithuania itself. They were concerned about the whole process of liberation of countries and peoples that, in one way or another, had been part of the USSR, and above all about the liberation of each specific individual from the fetters of the totalitarian system.

That is why we made such good friends, worked out common positions and helped one another in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991 - and even somewhat later. I well remember how Sajudis’ publications were everywhere in Moscow, and for the sake of historical accuracy I will say that there were even more publications by the Popular Front of Latvia. What was not permitted to be published or organised in the Russian Federation was printed or done in Lithuania and the Baltic countries. Moreover, the Moscow archives acted as a source of information about the occupation of the Baltics and repressive measures against the people of those countries. We had to think and act on a very big scale, although in many ways we were naive and rather childish. Very many of us saw Sajudis as the driver of enormous change, change that was global in nature. For me, the ideas put forward by Sajudis chimed very well with the Paris Charter for a New Europe of 1990.

But it didn’t work out that way. And that is not simply sad. It is tragic.


Two

What happened to us?

The tragic barriers of distrust, provincialism and egocentricity are now plain for all to see.

In Russia there is today a neo-totalitarian or hybrid-totalitarian political regime that has generated very considerable difficulties and threats both within the country and outside it. This is no longer a secret to anybody, although even quite recently many, for their comfort, preferred not to notice. I do not want to exaggerate in terms of political assessments, and therefore will say that, as I very much hope, Russian neo-totalitarianism in no way corresponds to the notion of a “global evil.” I would urge everyone to avoid exaggeration and to reject misrepresentations because if we do that we will end up in a dead-end, in terms of our political views, and it will be impossible to make the right decisions. But those who have suffered from this voluntaristic, repressive and provocative regime, from its adventurism and lies, will be no better off if I were to prove in some sense the regime’s ‘moderation’ … But people will always have the right to make exaggerated comparisons. There is nothing to be done about this, and it will always be one of life’s tragic problems.

But the reasons for what happened in Russia and Russian politics do not lie solely within Russia in any sense. I would be so bold as to suggest that one important reason lies in the almost complete lack of a positive example. By the beginning of the 1990s, all the requisite external forces for reform in Russia had disappeared. World politics had become petty and narrow-minded, the ruling idea was that “all the main problems have been solved.” And we have now reached the point where, for all the negative assessments of Russian policy-making, similar threats are appearing in other parts of the world with such frequency that it is quite impossible to say which of them actually represents the greatest danger. And almost all the states of Eastern and Central Europe, even those generally considered exemplars of political and economic reform, as we very well see, have acquired many of the features of what can be termed a “state governed by private interests.” And this is all the more true of those countries that at one time or another formed part of the Soviet Union.


Three

From the 1990s, the West, infected with triumphalism, not only built its relations with Russia in the wrong way (forgetting, among other things, that Russia still has an enormous industrial and military capability, and that social and economic backwardness only served to strengthen the significance of this capability). The West also fell into a deep moral stagnation that in reality led to the replacement of a creative political class by a bureaucracy, to the loss of deep meaning, the replacement of meaning by form. And the next “iteration” of self-confident actors in charge of Western policy completely missed the fact that absolutely “non-systemic” actors are able to come to power and keep it not only in Minsk, Moscow, Dushanbe or Baku.

Nowadays it seems that there simply does not exist anywhere a creative political class capable of developing policy. Why it is like that in Russia, Belarus and Tajikistan, you’ll forgive me if I don’t explain. But it is much worse morally, and perhaps strategically more dangerous, that similar developments can be found in many other countries...

All previous projects of integration, including the most successful, have been based on a conflict between form and content. The integrationary form is confronted by disintegration and atomisation. Forms built on the observance of human rights are confronted by a deep moral crisis in societies that, from the outside, appear to be flourishing.


Four

My dear friends and colleagues Petras Vaitiekūnas, Egidijus Bičkauskas, Georgi Efremov, Nikolai Medvedev, Angonita Rupšytė, Alvydas Medalinskas, Darius Kuolys, Mechis Laurinkus, Asta Skaistgirīte, Algirdas Saudargas, Albinas Januška and others I have forgotten to mention!

To all intents and purposes we were, after all, a united group of people. What should we do now? Simply spend our time remembering the past, each of us “doing our own thing,” and observing the latest slogans and mantras go by?

I think despite all the difficulties in communication and the pressures of everyday life, together we can still do what we did then: speak the truth. And I mean the truth, not merely spouting slogans and condemnation. And in that way ensure that the truth has at least some small influence on the events taking place around us. We must ensure that phobias are overcome, that people and societies find a way of meeting, that ordinary people learn to understand each other and leave behind the habits of mockery and sneering that little by little has come to play such a role in the contemporary course of events. It is difficult. We shall have few allies in our endeavour. But at the very least we must attempt to do this.

26 May 2018

* Sajudis was established on 3 June 1988 with the goal of seeking the return of independent status for Lithuania (trans).


Viktor Kogan-Yasny: Taking Revenge on Gorbachev. Remembering the 1989 ‘Gorbachev-Sakharov’ Congress of Peoples’ Deputies of the USSR

posted 2 Dec 2018, 08:04 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Dec 2018, 08:19 ]

 


By Viktor Kogan-Yasny 



Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and a political adviser to the Yabloko party



Twenty-five years ago the first Congress of Peoples’ Deputies of the USSR was held. It was to be the apotheosis of Gorbachev’s perestroika and of Andrei Sakharov’s role as a public figure. At that time it had come to seem self-evident that words are deeds, that without freedom society has no future, and that fundamentally one bears responsibility for one’s own essence as a human being. It is not a matter merely of being ‘held responsible’ by public prosecutors or state security officials.


No one overthrew the Soviet nomenklatura at that time, and no one was planning to. But a number of important things were then said and accepted by everyone in a form of public consensus:


  1. Government officials cannot do just whatever they like.

  2. Everyone can participate in public life, and “taking part” is important and ought to be encouraged.

  3. The Soviet Union, at the cost of a marked decline in an influence that had been based on fear, was emerging from its provincial self-isolation.


It seemed there was no path back, that this was the historic choice of the country after 70 years of Bolshevism.


But that is not how it turned out.


Since what followed proved far more tumultuous than the predominantly chauvinistic and greedy elements of the party’s nomenklatura were ready for, very soon after the fall of the USSR the chief tendency among this political caste was the drive to survive. The nomenklatura’s revanche and the suppression of all creative social and political movements, at first little by little and then openly, became the political objective of many post-Soviet states, and above all the Russian Federation.


To care fanatically and exclusively about oneself was the essentially neo-Stalinist motto of the ruling elite in Russia back in the 1990s.


In this sense, it is quite amazing that Russian civil society has survived to this day and that it is only in a few post-Soviet countries, and not everywhere, that the ‘patriotic revanche’ from Moscow has helped crush attempts at democratic development. And only now has it reached as far as Ukraine.


The nomenklatura drew lessons from the precedents set in the Gorbachev years.


And here is another precedent we have recently seen: the change in the authorities’ rhetoric and the State Duma elections of 2011, as well as the mass peaceful protests that followed throughout the country. These protests showed there are citizens, even if only one percent of the population, ready to demand the right to a political alternative that has been stolen from them. And now Ukraine has ‘blown up’ as well.


I would think it clear to all political analysts that a ‘Ukrainian scenario’ is extremely unlikely in Russia. Everyone knows that in Russia liberal Westernizers traditionally fear revolution more than dictatorship and do not see revolution as holding the potential for positive political change.


But it is not a question of national revolution. What we are witnessing is fear amongst the elite that their own corporate system could begin to change its habits and ways of behaving if dialogue with citizens, civilian oversight of government, and the impact of a minority that is politically active become the norm. In those circumstances, the system might begin to work not just for the political elite, but for citizens, and then even the most cynical will be obliged to take steps to ensure their own positions. And that is precisely what they don’t want to do, which explains why what they are afraid of is not revolution, but a single hard-working, independent elected member of the State Duma, or a member of the Moscow City Legislative Assembly, or a member of a district council out in the sticks.


Before Gorbachev arrived on the scene the nomenklatura wanted to revive a ‘positive’ view of Stalin. At that time it didn’t work out. Now they think it is time for a revanche so that ‘everything can be put in its place.’ This means an end to fantasy; an end to all creativity. Let indifference reign, people must become ‘functional introverts’ carrying out office duties, responsible for the form, the outward appearance, of their work, but with no responsibility whatsoever for the actual results. This is neo-Stalinism and it is also the same spirit imposed to a great extent by the vulgar kind of globalisation.


And now we see the 25th anniversary of that historical Congress being “commemorated” by a revanchist aggression by the nomenklatura which is global in scale. What was done in Crimea is not simply a violation of international law, it is something in some sense more important: a demonstrative mockery of the procedure of a referendum, a signal for the crude abuse of any procedures, according to which the “will of the majority” is brazenly and without formality laid down by those who have the might of the state behind them. What is being openly and demonstratively created is a state that is based on something other than the rule of law. Twenty-five years after the attempt to seriously change course to establish the rule of law, and therefore to hold the Congress as, essentially, a huge public ‘constitutional assembly,’ which had been part of a movement throughout the post-Soviet realm, the regime in Russia has resolved to take on the role of the Bolshevik sailor Zheleznyak who dispersed the Constitutional Assembly in 1918.

From the mid-1990s the Russian oligarchic nomenklatura, making money out of political power, and yet more power out of money, made every effort to turn the Russian Federation into a version of the pre-perestroika Soviet Union. This nomenklatura, by intimidation and coercion, imposed a police state inside the country at a cost of many victims. Politics ceased to be a public, verbal and reflective process and became one based on coercion. The well-being of the country was once again equated with the well-being of the nomenklatura. The country’s prestige was equated with the prestige of the nomenklatura. Civil society, born as a necessary means to generate the right decisions and to ensure political leaders have feedback from society, became disposable ballast and an object of manipulation and coercion.

But civil society in Russia, and in other authoritarian and semi-totalitarian post-Soviet states, has survived; its sometimes weak and feeble form is not evidence of a lack of content.

In Russia, against the background of recent events, the nomenklatura has launched a brutal assault on “Westernized” political and civil society activists and groups, an assault that has a “catastrophic” emotional colouring, and rightly attracts the most bleak of associations. And furthermore the assault was landed not on the inhabitants of the glamorous ‘social superstructure’ that is used to the luxurious lifestyle of the Western rich, but on those who little by little gather knowledge and experience through work that often goes virtually unnoticed. The increasingly ‘fascistic’ nature of official decision-making and propaganda has risen markedly, while at the same time this is depicted as motivated by the ‘struggle against fascism.’

This harms people and makes impossible the implementation of projects that would advance the positive development of the country. Strategically speaking, in the long run this means the destruction of the country, but the ruling corporation pays no attention. Tactical self-preservation forces the elite to carry out the project of the ‘anti-Gorbachev revanche.’

These developments built up internally until they spilled over onto the outside. We we see an aggressive Eurasianism, mixed together with a pagan ritualistic and impersonal ‘Orthodoxy,’ elements reminiscent of the Leningrad party committee of the CPSU in the 1970s and 1980s, the views of the once famous ‘brave Soviet opponent of Gorbachev,’ Nina Andreeva, notions drawn from the ideologists of Greater Serbia and from the cheek and temerity of Kim Jong-un, along with a deal of ‘upside down Marxism’ from the devotees of the early 1990s. These latter, it should be noted, never went away but remain very successful and continue to enjoy reputations in the West while keeping their hands on whole sectors of political and financial power, promising success and amongst other things organising the ‘St. Petersburg Forum’ at which they  show themselves as ‘fighters for liberalism from inside the system opposed to reactionaries in the bureaucracy.’

So are we seeing the creation of what will be a long-lasting Eurasian dictatorship as a substitute for Soviet power, the very thing that non-Soviet Russian philosophers had feared as early as the middle of the twentieth century?

Why carry out this transition from authoritarianism to totalitarianism? Why try to make everyone the same, knowing full well that it is ultimately both harmful and impossible? Why take steps to ‘isolate the country’?

It is impossible to give a precise answer from inside this political situation, while these processes are going on. Nor is it necessary. What we must do is try in so far as possible to assess the signals that have direct bearing on each one of us.

Firstly, those who establish long-term and brutal dictatorships usually have very limited motives for action (even those large scale misanthropes inclined to brutality and authoritarianism like Alexander III consider it beneath them to seek to control everything by imposing extreme restrictions on absolutely all spheres of civic life and personal initiative).

Petty control is the preserve of the bureaucratic mindset and is not the outcome of political views or of education. Yet it is precisely this that may result in a real political catastrophe.

In order to prevent any change in the political and social atmosphere, the nomenklatura and oligarchic corporation resort to methodologies that can be summarized in terms of three components. The first element is to ensure that life ‘does not seem like honey.’ A minimum of comfort, basic security (in daily life) and social stability provides a positive environment for freedom and creativity. There was always little enough of this, but the purpose is to reduce it further. So a university professor, to ensure his relative intellectual subservience and restrict his capacity for thought, has to be made to write not 20 reports a month, as before, but 100, and to deliver them in person to uneducated youngsters in a very specific department, and furthermore that he has to earn more money for his family by giving private lessons on the side.

The second component is to make everything uncertain so that life is lived in an atmosphere of suspense and fear. As a result many will indeed lose their sanity and those who are more intelligent, ‘in the process,’ may end up incoherent and neurotic, like many, many others.

The third component is to link in the public mind, in so far as is possible, one’s real, and, most importantly, potential opponents with an ill-defined external enemy, an enemy quite unable either to confirm or refute its influence on regime opponents, and an enemy that could neither ‘give them up’ nor in any sense act effectively on their behalf. In history, as is well known, there have been various ‘centres’ of such ‘evil’ - ideological, mystical, class or racial. In the second decade of the XXI century the United States suits that role. On the one hand, the USA has always had ambitions to force other countries to adopt its views, and, on the other, the country has almost no ability at present to realise such ambitions. The USA hardly features on our domestic Russian stage, and rarely comes knocking on our doors. Yet it still seems to some that, in the United States, ‘life is better.’ And in itself this is taken to be a humiliation.

In general to ‘live better’ and at the same time ‘without us,’ is considered impermissible by the imperialist and nationalist nomenklatura. This relates to ‘group’ categories, such as possible major developments in Ukraine, or electoral, organizational or creative successes of the Russian opposition. It also relates to ‘individual’ categories, for example the case of someone living in a small town or on the edge of a megapolis who, at great personal risk, decides for ethical reasons not to allow themselves to be humiliated or to pay obeisance to local bosses. As a result, they are deprived of their livelihood and practically forced to live in poverty. In these ‘individual’ cases, by the way, there is a certain ‘innovation’ nowadays in comparison with the post-Stalin Soviet period. At that time, for socialist ideological reasons, the state provided a minimum of material well-being not only to those who actively supported the regime, but also to many independent-minded people, and even to those who were the regime’s opponents (generally speaking, since, it must be noted, in specific instances there were many tragic events, about many of which we know nothing at all). Today punishment for taking a stance on public issues, in losing terms of jobs and a reduction in material well-being - along with fear of such punishment, is merely a matter of course and effectively results in civic apathy, along with all kinds of surges of ‘mass enthusiasm’ orchestrated by the authorities.

The nomenklatura and its leaders speak in the name of the ‘majority.’ It would indeed  be possible to recognise that they have ‘their own truth’ in this matter if it were not for two circumstances. Firstly, the contrast between what they say and what they actually do, namely not the realisation of the position of the majority, but the suppression of the minority in the name of the majority. And furthermore, they determine the precise degree of such suppression. The suppression of the minority is not in any sense the exercise of power by the majority. It is a permanent exercise of coercion and intimidation. It is banditism.

Secondly, serious positive transformations in politics and economics are in principle impossible unless the opinions of the minority are taken into account. Moreover, while rejecting any notion that a minority should exercise domination over the majority, it must be fully recognized that the idea of the domination of the arithmetical majority over the minority, as historical experience and the resultant political and legal theory shows, has nothing in common with democracy. Continual reference to majority views on specific issues that may require sophisticated and professional competence speaks only of the populism of those in power, and of their readiness to use ‘the crowd’ if necessary.

If we speak about democratic procedures, then the arithmetic majority in fact does decide one very important question (though it must be said not always successfully, but here there is no way out!): to which individuals should political power - executive and legislative - be entrusted. But further down the road, this political power is obliged to act in the interests of everyone, based on conscience, professionalism, and respect for each individual. Moreover, political power, on specific issues, is obliged to rely on those who have relevant expertise, and and not simply take into account views that enjoy a certain popularity at a particular time. What is more important at a trial: an accurate recollection by one person who saw the criminal face to face, or the opinions of numerous neighbours and passers-by who actually saw very little, if anything at all, and may be even relying on nothing more than rumours that it came into someone’s head to spread? What is more important for someone who is ill: what the doctor actually does to them, or what the television says about their illness? It is the same in politics. The work of adopting legislation and taking decisions demands the greatest care and responsibility, and must not be undertaken merely for the purpose of ‘showing off.’ If you do that, people really will trust you. As for the support of the majority in terms of ‘the crowd’ and support of the majority in terms of trust, these are quite different things.

Government in our country rests on coercion, on money, and on ideological absurdities. There is a complete absence of trust. And this is government’s main problem. As a result, we see ill-thought out and brutal changes in political course, with the government itself probably knowing very little about where it is heading (though the majority always ready to declare its support!) and almost always failing to lead in the direction we should be going.

2013-2018


Viktor Kogan-Yasny: On the presidential elections, civil society, today's politics, Ukraine - and remembering Sajudis

posted 30 Jul 2018, 13:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Jul 2018, 13:25 ]

30 July 2018 


By Viktor Kogan-Yasny 



Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and a political adviser to the Yabloko party


A few more thoughts on the outcome of the presidential elections

The “despot with a human face” has won. No one doubted that, in the end, he would win. But there was a clear feeling that the breakdown of the result could have been different, more pluralistic and more positive. However, using the current situation to his advantage, he pulled in absolutely all of his potential electorate that he could. In this he was helped by his intuition, his advertising specialists, the intriguers headed by Navalny, and also by those Western politicians who, despite their public image and literally one day before 18 March, confirmed they are demagogues no less than our own.

So far as the most important factors are concerned, we must bear in mind - apart from the general system of political relations created over the many years of Putin’s rule, the situation in the media and culture, citizens attitudes to traditional authorities, and so on - one special feature we observe throughout the USSR and beyond.

The vast majority of the second post-war generation - who in our country were children under Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko, lived their youth under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and have lived the rest of their lives so far under Putin - is in my view little concerned with ideas, is pragmatic in both the Soviet and post-Soviet sense, unsentimental and does not favour things coming to a halt, delays, or references to Dostoevsky. In this they differ both from the older generation and from those who are very young today.

But today’s young people, who have courage and readiness to act, in their turn are simply lacking in knowledge and moral preparedness, and therefore are easily distracted by things that are in fact not even worth thinking about. As a result, the behavioural model we see everywhere is one whereby choices are made as it were honestly and bravely, but also quickly and to avoid all complications, and moreover with a desire to be “like everyone else” - at the workplace, in the village or on a university course.

As a result, anyone who takes ideas at all seriously - and ideas, even the simplest, are always a little complicated - finds themselves suspended between a “neoBrezhnevism” on the one hand and the pointless courage of those sitting on a couch, on the other. At the same time, the ideas themselves, even the most consistent, have not been developed in such a way as to make them maximally convincing and presented in the context of sincere communication. In this I would also blame myself, although perhaps it has been simply impossible to achieve this goal given that practically the same thing is nowadays happening everywhere, or almost everywhere, in our lives, in both the narrow and broader meanings of that term.

24 March 2018



On Civil Society

Civil society, even in the most difficult times of its existence, has its own very important internal logic. I have in mind beneficial, rational and purposeful procedures, peaceful means of defending one’s position, the resolution of local issues through discussion, the manner in which issues raised by civil society activists are taken up through diplomacy and public debates by politicians, and a commitment to voting in elections even in the most difficult circumstances. Rejection of logical reasoning in matters related to the development of society means the end of civil society. This is not the end of the possibility of political struggle, not the end of political showmanship, of manipulation, nor the cessation of conflicts - but the end of civil society.

Dictatorship itself, if it is not a totally repressive tyranny, cannot completely abolish civil society. An intellectual emptiness - the lack of logical thinking as the leading force of disagreement - does precisely this. So now, whoever fights for benches to be placed in the courtyard, for ancient trees to be protected in the park, and so on, for all those things that those in power will never do anything about, must in the first place appeal to this intellectual emptiness for the defence of their interests. Dear Emptiness, knowing your leading current political role, just one step behind the authorities, we appeal to you with a big ask: defend our right to a bench and an ancient tree in the courtyard...

26 March 2018


Remembering things past

In my not so short life I have met quite a number of people whom I remember very well, who influenced me, either through long discussions or by a single phrase. Some of them even lived part of their lives in the nineteenth century! These people were very different from each other.

They included people known to almost everyone, and people who are absolutely unknown to the general public, good, benevolent people - and people who didn’t have those qualities to any large degree. Among my acquaintances there have been people who were sometimes very difficult, whose influence on me was far from always for the best, people whose views on life were generally incorrect, who made mistakes, and I was mistaken in following them. I don’t want to name any names, it’s not necessary. And I may have already forgotten a great deal.

But what unites all these people for me is that they made me realise the importance of a commitment to logical reasoning and the need to reject the approach of “just any old how” with regard to any matter or issue. One’s logical reasoning, as we well know, can often be wrong, with fatal mistakes made in the course of it and in the result, leading to tragic errors made in good faith. But “just any old how” is wrong by its very nature, it is no path to the truth.

So you see - excuse me for a degree of pathos and speculation on the theme of “what would they have said now” - recalling the people I have known well, I can imagine some of them voting on the spur of the moment for Putin (let them forgive me). But I almost cannot imagine a single one of them supporting the “voters’ strike” (I can, anecdotally, imagine those who, as I remember, for their own reasons, have no interest in or knowledge of “politics,” doing so, but that is really another story). And for me this is decisive in coming to my own personal views on the matter.

26 March 2018


On Information Wars

What is happening nowadays of political significance in the realm of information is very often described as "information warfare," "infowar," etc. But this is not correct: I remember the real information wars of the 1970s and 1980s. Facts were used selectively, interpretations were based on ideology, the achievements of the USSR or the West were either exaggerated or diminished. The newspaper Pravda would publish two pages of news about a new Soviet spaceship, and at the same time twenty lines about a similar achievement by the US. But, after Stalin, it was rare that either side would use something that was definitely fake. To do that was too dangerous.

Now “fake news” has become a part of ordinary media and social network streams. It is not an information war, but purely propaganda and manipulation. Russia and its political rivals are too often playing an equal, symmetrical, role in this dangerous field. This leads to a global degradation of politics: if you cannot point to facts and will never make any apology for false information, then you cannot render any, even minimal, assistance to defending truth, justice and the rule of law which have been the goals of democratic policymaking since World War II. In these times, we are seeing the very rapid growth of a feudal kind of "solidarism' which is very far from solidarity…

If we are not able to defend the truth on a global social and political level, we shall sink into the degrading phenomenon of XXI century feudalism.

1 April 2018


On the current situation

What has direct political, and possibly constructive, significance for us in the future is that a real barrier could finally be put up against “our” dirty money. This should have happened 20 years ago and on the basis of a conscious decision. But then, and since (and now too) the leading economies of the West were rather too pleased that this money had reached them.

The negative aspect of this event, apart from its lateness resulting from the nature of political systems, is that it has come about almost by chance, as a result of the internal political situation in the USA and ubiquitous intrigues, and has not been the result of a conscious goal, of a responsible political will making decisions in good faith.

Other on-going developments include dangerous mysteries, stains on reputations, scandals that understandably arise but don’t quite make sense and have unforeseen negative consequences, the use of militant and militaristic rhetoric, and very bad leadership.

9 April 2018


Misrepresentation of facts

Putin is again using the main contemporary weapon in global polemics - misrepresentation of facts. For those who think he is doing this on purpose, I would point out that he is not alone, there are a great many doing the same thing. But for me personally it is important that he is doing this because this is very bad for my country. Others can answer for themselves.

What do I have in mind?

He talks about a coup d'état in Ukraine. But it is important to point out that there was no coup d'état.There was a constitutional upheaval in which parliament exceeded its powers. This happened in extraordinary circumstances which had only a very tangential relation to military action. In parliament, people voted who are very friendly towards the Russian Federation. The system of government was not violated. Elections were held that Russia recognises. There are dozens of people very friendly to Russia sitting in the new parliament and only the actions of our own leadership have not allowed them to have a positive impact on policy.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine can be reestablished and compromises can be sought. In fact, much more is possible than may seem. But nothing can be done without an essential first step by Russia, a step which is all but impossible. Official Russia must stop lying.

Unless this happens, there will be nothing except tension and war, now and in the future. Russia, which is the bigger and stronger country geopolitically, has adopted an aggressive stance, and her lies are a huge weight on her. Russia must as a state be the first to stop lying.

Once this has been done, it will be possible to put an end to all the lies and deception to be found in Ukraine. There is no such thing as a good lie. The lies of many in Ukraine are in no way better, and in some ways worse and more dangerous, than the lies of the political leadership in Russia. But both in terms of politics, and in terms of history, if we want to stop the movement to the abyss, we must begin with what is simple and obvious, and then move on to what is more complex. That is the only way.

Oh, we shall all come to a bad end unless the the Kremlin stops misrepresenting facts and repeating the same old whataboutism in response to every criticism.

25 May 2018


On the anniversary of Sajudis*

Part One

When I remember Sajudis, which I saw from its very beginnings when I was in Lithuania in the summer of 1988, I have a number of very different feelings.

First of all, I remember my youth and that of my friends, the warmth of personal relationships, meeting exciting and interesting people. I remember the beginning of my own public and political activity that is directly linked to Lithuania and Sajudis in particular.

Secondly, I think about Sajudis as a historical example of how to use a window of opportunity to fight successfully for truth and freedom.

Thirdly, it hurts when I think of mistakes that have been made - including by me - that resulted in deaths. I shall always remember those who died. We all share a moral responsibility with regard to those who lie in the Military Cemetery in Vilnius, and I share that responsibility because we failed to consider the situation in January 1991 with enough depth and responsibility in the light of our moral duty.

Fourthly, and finally, when I consider the situation today, I feel sad that a community of people who are so important to me is playing a very small role in the main current political and social developments. Moreover, the phenomenon of Sajudis, which was of global significance, has passed into history in such a way that I fear not even all Lithuanian school children would immediately understand what the word means.

Sajudis was a driver of change in the Soviet Union because it fought, above all, for the truth. Gorbachev boldly spoke about the truth, but while he brought the question to the forefront of contemporary discussion and into the realm of political decision-making, he did not himself know the scale of the tragedy of the past that he was opening up, or what to do about it.

Gorbachev opened the window of opportunity, but it was Sajudis that swiftly and demonstratively opened the door. But the window came first, and we must all remember that. I am totally convinced that Gorbachev, who bears major political responsibility for the deaths of people in Vilnius and Riga, does not bear criminal responsibility. And that is why now, almost 30 years on, and against the background of the ‘hybrid totalitarianism’ of Russia’s current course, it would be appropriate for public figures in the Baltic countries to take a step towards recognition of this truly historical figure, a man who completely changed world politics at the end of the 20th century and who, for all the limitations of his specific views, put freedom at the centre of political priorities for a state that until then had prioritised only brutal repression and violence against the individual.

To go back to Sajudis: it fought for all the truth about history to be made public, not just parts of it, so that that each person, and the country as a whole, should have full freedom. Moreover, everyone without exception whom one met and talked with at that time, despite the differences in views about how and to what extent LIthuania should regain its independence, from those who were cautious to those who wanted to crudely ‘smash the system,’ thought that what was at issue was not just Lithuania itself. They were concerned about the whole process of liberation of countries and peoples that, in one way or another, had been part of the USSR, and above all about the liberation of each specific person from the fetters of the totalitarian system.

That is why we made such good friends, worked out common positions and helped one another in 1988, in 1989, in 1990 and in 1991 and even somewhat later. I well remember how Sajudis’ publications were everywhere in Moscow, and for the sake of historical accuracy I will say that there were even more publications by the Popular Front of Latvia. What was not permitted to be published or organised in the Russian Federation was printed or done in Lithuania and the Baltic countries. Moreover, the Moscow archives acted as a source of information about the occupation of the Baltics and repressive measures against the people of these countries. We had to think and act on a very large scale, although in many ways we were naive and rather childish. Very many of us saw Sajudis as the driver of enormous change of a global nature. For me, the ideas put forward by Sajudis chimed very well with the Paris Charter for a New Europe of 1990.

But it didn’t work out that way. And that is not simply sad, it is tragic.

Part Two

What happened to us?

Tragic barriers of distrust, provincialism and egocentricity are now plain for all to see.

In Russia there is today a neo-totalitarian or hybrid-totalitarian political regime that gives rise to very considerable hardships and threats both within the country and outside it. This is no longer a secret to anybody, although even quite recently many, for their comfort, preferred not to notice. I do not want to exaggerate in making political assessments, and therefore will say that, as I very much hope, Russian neo-totalitarianism in no way corresponds to the notion of a “global evil.” I would urge everyone to avoid exaggeration and to reject misrepresentations because unless we do this we are in a dead-end in terms of our political views and it will be impossible to make the right decisions. But those who have suffered from this voluntaristic, repressive and provocative regime, from its adventurism and lies, will be no better off if I were to prove the regime’s ‘moderation’ … They will always have the right to make exaggerated comparisons. There is nothing to be done about this, and it will always be one of life’s tragic problems.

But the reasons for what has happened in Russia and Russian politics do not lie solely with Russia in any sense. I would be so bold as to suggest that one important reason lies in the almost complete lack of a positive example. By the beginning of the 1990s, all the necessary external forces for reform in Russia had disappeared. World politics had become petty and narrow-minded, the ruling idea was that “all the main problems have been solved.” And now we have reached the point where, for all the negative assessments of Russian policy-making, similar threats have appeared in other parts of the world with such frequency that it is quite impossible to say which of them actually represents the greatest danger. And almost all the states of Eastern and Central Europe, even those generally considered exemplars of political and economic reform, as we very well see, have acquired many of the features of what can be termed a “state governed by private interests.” And this is all the more true of the countries that at one time or another formed part of the Soviet Union.

26 May 2018

A hybrid-totalitarian regime is when, on the one hand, public independent and opposition subcultures remain active, comparatively small in size and without significant influence, while, on the other hand, “people within the system” submit to especially strict rules of conduct according to the orders of the power hierarchy and are ready, at any moment, to carry out any order, even ones that are absurd, since they cannot imagine their lives outside the system.

28 May 2018

* Sajudis was established on 3 June 1988 with the goal of seeking the return of independent status for Lithuania (trans).

Viktor Kogan-Yasny: Russia and Ukraine - Some Brief Observations

posted 4 Jun 2018, 12:56 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Jun 2018, 12:59 ]

5 January 2018 


By Viktor Kogan-Yasny 



Viktor Kogan-Yasny is chair of the NGO Right to Life and Civic Dignity and a political adviser to the Yabloko party



When the Soviet Union collapsed, the new Kremlin political elite spontaneously adopted as its new ideology the notion of “domination,” a notion that in practice meant militarism and imperialism. These ideas were convenient and advantageous for the elite. They were simple and easy to understand, especially against the backdrop of the collapsing monolith of the Soviet state. Adoption of these ideas required absolutely no kind of personal perestroika or creativity (a point made brilliantly in an article by Vasil Bykov immediately after the signing of the Belavezha Accords).

Back in 1992, lacking anything to do, Moscow demagogues discussed the issue of war between Russia and Ukraine, mocked the new ways of doing things adopted by the Ukrainian authorities, and proposed Crimea as “the main problem facing the world.” At the same time (this was in 1992!) Russia destroyed democracy in Tajikistan and threw that country into the abyss of the worst, indescribably bloody war, enabling the establishment there of a dictatorship of the most primitive kind; supported Niyazov in Turkmenistan; and carried out political interventions in Pridnestrovie and South Ossetia on the same model now being used to intervene in the Donbass.

As is well known, in 1993 Russia first annulled its own constitution, and then proceeded to shoot up its parliament. Even today there is no information about more than one hundred people killed by snipers in Moscow at that time. The legitimacy of the Russian state declined, and the quality of state institutions, never very high, fell even further, giving rise to public indifference. Against this background, the terrible war in Chechnya was fought, a war that made a mockery of the value of human life and of common sense. The Russian Federation, which began as an anti-Communist and pro-Western “political project,” had become, by the end of the 1990s, a country “with its own special path,” snarling at the West, and run for the benefit of its political elite, the military-industrial complex and those who had gotten rich by divvying up the spoils of Soviet property and money.

Putin’s accession to power saw a complete end to any kind of media freedom in the Russian Federation. This came abouthappened extremely quickly and hadthere was a definite logic behind it: even given the fact that most Russian citizens had muddled ideas, were unenlightened and misinformed, in conditions of media freedom Putin simply could not have become president with anything like the result he achieved in 2000. This moment also marked the effective end to free and fair elections in Russia: falsification of elections became the general norm throughout the country. At the same time, as is well known, Putin unleashed the terrible, cynical and long-drawn-out Second Chechen War which resulted, resulting in the creation of a regime based on his own personal power. Alas, this occurred with direct support from key actors in the West…

The act of terrorism at the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow was a turning point. It showed the top leadership of the country was ready not only to sacrifice the lives of hostages, but even to actually kill them for the sake of demonstrating the power of “the State” and the immutability of decisions taken, and commands given, by the leadership. Soon afterwards, this was to be repeated at Beslan.

To be wholly honest, although it is unpleasant for me to say this, I don’t believe that Putin, in political terms, can be fully categorized as part of the “world evil.” He is not an ethnic nationalist and he acts decisively in putting an end to manifestations of ethnic nationalism, something which presents an enormous danger to Russia. Nor is he inclined (for the present, at least), to murder particular individuals. He is an opportunist, as are very many people of his generation and education. If he sees an obstacle ahead of him, he is ready to stop. And it should be said that Putin is also ready to stop if people, to all appearances weak but not afraid to tell him they disagree with him to his face, put forward a position he personally finds convincing.

The most important task, both practical and intellectual, is to stop the militaristic and imperial trend in Russian politics, and thereby prevent what potentially could be innumerable deaths because of “new forces in new circumstances.” However, I fear this task cannot be successfully accomplished because of the very small number of analysts and advisers ready and equipped with the appropriate knowledge and experience, and because of the almost total absence in the realm of practical politics and officialdom of those ready to listen to them.

My very sad observation is that the demagogic and bureaucratic mindset, that is very easily consumed by hatred, can cause vast damage to people. This is distinct from the mindset of ordinary people who, in general, want peace, don’t want to kill or be killed, and desire access to education and essential health care. On the other hand, these ordinary people, when necessary, are ready to suffer and die where honour is at stake, as seen in the way numerous rank-and-file soldiers of the Ukrainian army have honestly and courageously stood up for the freedom of their country, and with whom I feel a real sense of solidarity.

*** 

In the political conditions of the USSR, which I saw in my lifetime, the regime of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in comparison with that of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, was more severe and repressive: many more people were sentenced to death, “dissidents” were punished more severely…At the same time, even then Ukraine was attractive because of its comparatively greater civic dynamism and the “threshold of the permitted” in Ukraine was somewhat lower than in Russia. For example, there was a little more available to read, and the authorities were not so actively opposed to those who wished to visit churches or see a priest. At the same time, the centralised system was configured in such a way that education and research, with rare exceptions, were concentrated in Moscow and in the RSFSR, while the wonderful Ukrainian national culture was neglected and became something of a backwater, failing to fulfil its potential.

All of us who dreamed in the 1980s of democratising life in the USSR are in debt to the people of Ukraine for the fact that it happened. Without the dynamism of Ukraine, the possibilities that arose under Gorbachev, including in terms of elections, would never have been realized.

Since then, the habit has developed in Russia of looking at Ukraine as a kind of model, in the vanguard of transformations and achievements – as well as possible mistakes. We can never escape from this habit, although among young people there is already a feeling that Russians and Ukrainians are simply two different peoples living in different worlds, peoples who do not want to have anything to do with one another.

…Ukraine gave Russia a multicultural wealth and the equivalent of a cultural bridge. It was similar with Belarus and the Baltic countries, but in relation to the Ukraine the scale was more significant.

*** 

Over the 22 years of peace, from 1992 to 2013, influential circles in Russia, and a part of the general population, tended to view independent Ukraine with disdain and as an object of expansion, on the basis of imperial thinking and a focus on particular features of Ukrainian public life such as the high level of corruption at all levels of society. At the same time, another and important part of Russian public opinion had more sympathy with independent Ukraine and the European vector of its policies. Many strove, as much as they could, to help Ukraine (and thereby Russia).

Among Russian political elites and oligarchs, as I have written on a previous occasion, plans to harm Ukraine were being put forward all the time. This was for straightforward imperialist motives, as well as, importantly, in order not to give Ukraine the chance to have a positive influence on Russia.

Russia’s interest in maintaining relations with the West, and in the stability of the Ukrainian bureaucracy, prevented her from taking any major steps against Ukraine. This was expressed first in the relations with Kuchma, and then, for example, in the “good relations” between Putin and Yulia Timoshenko, and later still in the “Yanukovich factor.” Indeed, Yushchenko was also quite good at “maintaining the balance,” and conflicts in the short period when he was directing diplomacy were, in general, of a purely ritual nature.

After Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 he began to hint at a desire to recreate so far as possible – via a Customs Union – something similar to the USSR. This was to be assisted by the myth of the (in Putin’s sense) pro-Russian and pro-Putin Ukraine which, in its turn, was supported for a long time by the myth of the “pro-Russian” Yanukovich. But, as so often happens, it turned out that things were not so simple and in fact were very different. The European Union began to oppose, insofar as it could, these neo-imperial ideas, and Yanukovich wanted to be closer to the EU than to the Kremlin. The USA at that time interfered relatively little, but, of course, supported the approach developed by Brussels.

As it turned out, the model that was developed, the “Eastern Partnership,” excluded extremes. The Eastern Partnership model served to calm that section of the Russian political elite and general public that has tended to panic over NATO. It satisfied them since it excluded any marked military or political measures and was based on the idea of “civilized development.” Alas, this did not last long! The Kremlin suddenly changed its mind, rather late but aggressively…Because what “works” for the Kremlin is not the phobia about NATO, but a view of the existential enemy – the West…

*** 

If we look a little more closely at 2013, we should add that the EU bureaucracy, with a characteristic lack of definition in its political views, of political will and of psychological nous, made at least two serious mistakes. First, the EU did not move rapidly to sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine, but set a mix of very different conditions, including a fixation on the Timoshenko imprisonment. And this was against the background, obvious as it would seem, that the roots of the political problems lay not in Kiev, but in Moscow. Second, the EU had nothing to say to Putin about Ukraine, and nothing to say to Russian public opinion. European officials monotonously repeated the mantra about the sovereignty of Ukraine, and either simply ignored Putin and his “view on things” or did not pay him sufficient attention. Insofar as negotiations were concerned, the EU took the view that Putin did not have full control of the situation, which he undoubtedly did, all the more so at that time. Putin-2013, when he was ignored, or when he thought he was being ignored, gave a predictably brutal “symmetrical response”: he began to ignore the EU and to act in the way he wanted…

The card he played was to forbid Yanukovich to sign the European Association Agreement. Yanukovich was frightened and put on a “short leash.” Alas, even then the EU they did not fully understand who they were in fact dealing with…

At that moment, in a way no one expected, the Ukrainian people entered the stage and Euromaidan took place. However, the political leaders of the Ukrainian opposition turned out to be of a highly provincial mindset and were unable to put together a responsible political agenda that suited the times. (I should point out that, more recently, concerning these events, the Russian propaganda machine has begun flirting with these leaders to counterbalance the European intentions of Yanukovich.)

*** 

After the bloody showdown in February 2014, these Ukrainian leaders had nowhere else to go and they declared that the terrible and strange tragedy that had happened, and for which they shared responsibility, marked a revolution in human dignity…

Those who died under the snipers’ bullets (snipers who remain to this day unidentified) have indeed set an example of human dignity for all eternity. Their families and friends have exemplified human dignity…But no revolution took place because there was no change in the organisation of society (and none could have taken place). No new, vital dream appeared that could have been implemented during the lifetimes of those who were killed…

In those days the political victors in Kiev were confronted by a great deal of scepticism among politicians and experts who set them serious questions, while at the same time de facto recognising their authority.

If Putin and those close to him had simply been neo-imperialist politicians, striving for political domination, they would have perceived the situation at that time as a political “gift of fate” to themselves and would either have simply waited, or would have put pressure on the new regime with significant chances of “success.” But at that moment they already had another, new task: to make a demonstrative response to the West and Russian liberals of various tendencies…

Some argue that Putin and his closest associates fear “the street,” especially after what happened in Moscow in 2011. According to this view, this explains their fear of Ukraine. While this is possible, I think the problem is much deeper. Putin and his associates had decided that the time had come to make a public and demonstrative anti-Gorbachev counter-coup, rejecting any kind of collaborative relationship with the country’s pro-Western citizens (for all the lack of definition of this category) and the Western political community as such with its pan-European political civilisation that annoys them.

Russia’s next step was the refusal to recognize the departure of Yanukovich from the post of president, which had in fact been his resignation, and to make very big demands of the new authorities in Kiev, demands that were completely impossible to carry out.

Based on this continued recognition of Yanukovich as president, and on the pretext of the provisions of the Treaty on the Black Sea fleet that allow very large military units to be moved to Crimea on grounds of Russian security concerns, the occupation of Crimea went ahead. This was followed by the declaration of independence of Crimea, allegedly “justified” in terms of international law by the precedent of Kosovo, and by its subsequent immediate annexation. Until a political resolution to the Crimea issue is found, Russia will continue to be accused of an act of direct aggression. (And many people will add, an act of aggression that, from the point of view of international law, has not been seen in Europe since the Second World War). The fact that mass bloodshed was avoided successfully in Crimea is in many ways thanks to the decisionmakers in Ukraine. They acted on the basis of humanity and common sense to prevent the powder keg exploding, although it was close to this. If such an explosion had happened, it is hard to say what the situation in the world would be like today…

Nonetheless, thereafter things began to develop rapidly and extremely tragically, leading to a very great number of victims, and an irreparable moral crisis …

*** 

As a result of the adventuristic decisions and excesses in the first months of 2014, a new stage in Ukrainian, Russian and, in general, world history began, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and poisoning the hearts and minds of millions. There was a spontaneous demand for the heroism of boys summoned to military conscription commissions, because one’s own land must be defended, even if it has been attacked by one’s own brother... There were quite unexpected instances of civic courage, openly or anonymously, where an individual, at their own risk, sought to secure truth and peace, albeit at a local level. And at the same time some of those considered to be respected public figures, speakers, intellectuals, bearers of goodness and enlightenment, began to spread hatred in various forms and “formats”… People who came together in herds to do evil, sought to justify evil, lies, and cruelty in terms of their own conceptions of “the public good.” It is extremely difficult to write about this. These events are fresh, terrible, not always understood, and are on-going. And anything said at a wrong moment, anything that is misunderstood, can result in the opposite of what is desired. For that reason, I shall stop my chronicle for the time being. I shall leave a large gap, and turn to my concluding thoughts.

*** 

How many people in Russia support Putin’s expansionism? It is impossible to answer this question because of the nature of the regime. I would point out that, although there are many incidental factors to be considered here, no referendum in Russia about Crimea was held …And it would be interesting to see the result after a campaign not only “for” but also “against,” in conditions of a free and fair vote, to find out the spread of voting in the regions…After all, a concert on Red Square and a nationwide referendum are not one and the same thing… But of course, this is all just fantasy on my part. If it were possible to actually imagine such a free and fair vote in the Russian Federation, that would mean freedom of expression, independent influential media, free elections: things that would mean the political course adopted by Putin would in principle be impossible.

*** 

The general question concerning the political regime in Russia, a regime built on neo-Bolshevik patrimonial relations, and the specific political line adopted by this regime (a question that concerns the whole inheritance of Bolshevik patrimonial relations throughout the former USSR) is this: how to defeat the dragon and at the same time not turn into a dragon? How to transform these societies and their institutions in such a way that militarism and vendetta (whether personal or “socio-historical” in nature) give way to efforts to achieve peaceful development, to a future society of responsible, creatively striving people, a society in which freedom and justice are the most important social values, values which people are ready to defend with great strength of character…and not merely seek to display? Let’s dream that is still possible.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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