This chronicle attempts to place several events that impacted our coalition of activists, artists, and thinkers during May 2009 within the broader context that generated and shaped them. We might have begun our chronicle of this “merry month” much earlier—for example, in July 2002, when the first version of the Russian federal law on “extremism” took effect. We should at least return to the equally “merry” autumn of 2008, when the Interior Ministry’s organized crime unit was reformed as the Department for Extremism Prevention, the so-called Center “E” whose operatives have played a key role in many of the events we mention here. This reform took place amidst public avowals by high state officials that they would not allow “extremists” and other malevolent forces to take advantage of the growing world economic crisis to “destabilize” the country.
The past autumn and early winter were also marked by a wave of attacks on Russian social activists (e.g., Carine Clément, Alexei Etmanov, Mikhail Beketov) that culminated in the murder of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, in January of this year. Meanwhile, in what might be seen as another salvo in Russia’s “history wars,” the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office raided the Memorial Society’s Research and Information Center in Petersburg on December 4, making off with hard drives containing archives on the history of state terror in the Soviet Union. While that case ended, in the spring, with a court victory for Memorial, other episodes of police and prosecutorial abuse did not. Anti-fascist Alexei Olesinov was convicted by a Moscow court of “group hooliganism” (for a minor incident outside a night club) after a trial his defenders denounced as a farce of justice. In echoes of the Loskutov case, Yakutia trade union organizer Valentin Urusov saw his conviction for drugs possession first overturned and then reinstated. A senior Moscow police official’s supermarket shooting spree, in late April, provoked the rudiments of a public debate on the urgent need for reform of Russia’s law enforcement agencies and belated revelations that such violence and abuse (albeit sometimes “milder” in form) were standard police “procedure.”
Events since May, however, have suggested that this reform could be a long time in coming. Center “E” and other police agencies have continued to intimidate, arrest, and prosecute activists and bloggers, “monitor” potential “youth extremists” (whose ranks, in Petersburg’s Primorsky District, were revealed to include fans of the defunct pop band Kino), raid anti-fascist concerts, and disperse public protests. Finally, continued violence in Russia’s North Caucus region—typified by the suicide bomb attack on Ingushetia president Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in June, and the kidnapping and murder of Chechen human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, in July—remind us that the “state of exception” now engulfing the rest of the country has been inspired to a great extent by Moscow’s own long-running “war on terror” (against separatists and so-called Wahabist fundamentalists) there.
Here are some facts that drasticly interfere into our life and provoke the composition of these issue of newspaper:
·May 1, 2009. Petersburg riot police break up a “Pirate Street Party” whose organizers had received official permission to participate in May Day demonstrations. Over 100 anarchists are arrested and bused to police precincts in various parts of the city, where they are photographed, fingerprinted, and charged with minor offenses such as “jaywalking” and “using profane language” before being released.
·May 9, 2009. A 24-hour experimental seminar entitled “Leftist Art. Leftist Philosophy. Leftist History. Leftist Poetry” (organized by Chto Delat and the Vpered Socialist Movement) is raided by special-forces police in Nizhny Novgorod under the command of Center “E.” Approximately thirty seminar attendees are taken to a police precinct, where they are questioned and photographed before being released a few hours later.
·May 15, 2009. Artist and university student Artem Loskutov is arrested by Center “E” operatives in Novosibirsk and charged with possession of 11 grams of marijuana. He and his defenders claim that the operatives planted the drugs there themselves and that the Center’s real motives for arresting Loskutov were his unwillingness to respond to a telephone summons that same day and his involvement with the annual May Day “Monstrations” in Novosibirsk. Loskutov is remanded to police custody pending trial. An unprecedented, massive campaign of solidarity actions and protests is launched throughout Russia and around the world.
·May 18, 2009. Police in Moscow violently break up a gay pride event, detaining over forty activists. A similar event in Petersburg takes place without incident.
·May 19, 2009.President Medvedev issues a decree to create a “Presidential Commission for Prevention of Falsification of History to the Prejudice of Russia’s Interests.” Using material provided by law enforcement agencies and academic institutes, the commission will monitor “attempts to falsify historical facts and events” that may undermine “the international prestige of the Russian Federation” and develop strategies for neutralizing such attempts.
·May 20, 2009.Residents of Pikalevo (Leningrad Region) storm a meeting of the municipal administration. They demand the restart of production at the town’s three idled cement plants and the resumption of hot water service to in their homes. Production at the factories was halted in the winter, leading to layoffs, unpaid compulsory leave, and half-time employment for the approximately 5,000 people who work in the plants (nearly half of the town’s working population). Unsatisfied with measures taken by the authorities, workers and residents block a federal highway on June 2. This leads to a flying visit on June 4 by Prime Minister Putin, who obliquely condemns the actions of the workers as unconstructive while also publicly forcing the management of the plants to resume production and pay back wages.
·May 28, 2009. Anarchist artists begin a “plein air” hunger strike outside Petersburg city hall. The artists demand that charges be filed against officials responsible for the dispersal of the Pirate Street Party on May 1; that a public commission be created to monitor the work of Center “E”; and that all charges against Artem Loskutov be dropped.