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Grigory Pasko: Democracy, Putin Style

Democracy, Putin Style On events in Samara on the eve of the Russia-EU summit By Grigory Pasko, journalist

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Photo of Volga riverbank in Samara by Grigory Pasko

The manager assured me over the phone that the «Rossiya» hotel is located right in the center of Samara. Once I actually got there and looked at a map, it turned out that the «Rossiya» is actually right on the edge of the city. A bit later it became clear that the city of Samara really doesn’t have a “center”, because it is geographically stretched out along the banks of the Volga River. And the central area for mass public rest and recreation turned out to be the riverbank in the vicinity of the Riverboat Station – which was indeed right next to the «Rossiya» hotel. The most beautiful place in Samara is the riverbank along the Volga. Fishermen have their lines out from early morning. People jog along the embankment. Alcoholics quaff their beer. Taxi drivers sit and complain about the roads. Young people hang out in the little park areas, with a bottle of beer in hand as a piece of standard equipment. Often the label on the bottle says «Zhigulevsky» – the locally brewed stuff, of quite decent quality.

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Photo of Samarans enjoying a day in a riverside park by Grigory Pasko

On the eve of the Russia-EU summit, there were reports from the region that officers of the UFSB [regional FSB unit] for Samara Oblast had apprehended an inhabitant of Primorsky Kray who was on a federal wanted list and had been travelling from city to city in Russia representing himself as a US citizen. As it turned out, he had been moving about the territory of the RF under the guise of a US citizen and native of Thailand who did not speak Russian, with the aim of visiting entertainment establishments, meeting young people, journalists at no cost to himself. No doubt this was an accidental “catch”, because they clearly weren’t on the hunt for such petty hustlers. (For example, in St. Petersburg, they uncovered a plot to assassinate the governor – now that’s a success for the special services. True, it’s hard to believe this story, because it smells more like a PR stunt by the FSB than the truth). Two weeks before the opening of the summit, the procuracy of Samara Oblast detained the mayor of the nearby city of Togliatti, Nikolai Utkin, and the head of the administration of land resources of the Togliatti mayor’s office, Natalia Nemykh, on charges of receiving a bribe in a large amount – 150 million rubles for the right to lease out a parcel of land for construction. The local newspapers couldn’t contain their excitement writing about how three billion rubles had been allocated from the federal budget for the conducting of the summit, and that the Oblast would add another 800 million and the city 40 million. Part of the funds will go specifically for the improvement and redevelopment of the Oblast center [i.e. the city of Samara itself]. I can testify that the quality of the roads in Samara did not get better from such a quantity of allocated money. Who knows, maybe after the summit, the procuracy will find the time to open a probe to discover just where these gigantic sums that never made it to road construction disappeared. Embezzled money isn’t news in Russia. What WAS news was that the Samara authorities had actually given the opposition permission to hold a “march of those who disagree”. True, they only did this after a corresponding declaration by the European Union and Angela Merkel. Later, in the days of the work of the summit, the march took place. But the leaders of the opposition weren’t present at it: they hadn’t been allowed to leave Moscow. On the eve of the summit, the local police authorities carried out unprecedented repressions in relation to the organizers of and potential participants in the march. Here is a far from complete list of the diligence of the police and FSB: 3 May: an application is filed for permission to conduct a “March of Those Who Disagree” in Samara on 18 May 2007. 8 May: the measure of restraint for criminally convicted National Bolshevik Ilya Guriev is changed from early release on parole to half a year in a colony for violation of the terms of parole. 8 May: Igor Shchuk and Yevgeniya Kosourova are detained for posting leaflets. 10 May: a search is conducted in the office of the human rights association “Golos”, which had spoken out in support of the detainees; police seize computer hard disks and documents; on the same day, a decree of the mayor of Samara is issued on the termination of the city’s lease contract with the association.

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Photo of Samara police keeping an eye out for dangerous elements by Grigory Pasko

10 May: a “Kommersant” correspondent and a film crew from REN-TV doing a report on the preparations for the march are detained. 11 May: police confiscate computers from the Samara bureau of “Novaya Gazeta” and the information agency “Volga-Inform” on suspicion of “use of unlicensed software”. 11 May: police undertake an unsuccessful attempt to accuse Mikhail Gangan of violating the terms of his parole with the aim of changing for him the measure of restraint from suspended to actual. 11 May: official permission for the conducting of the «March of Those Who Disagree» is received in the evening. 12 May: the organizers of the MoTWD were supposed to come to city hall to sign documents, but officers of the UBOP [Administration for Fighting Organized Crime] were standing on duty at the entrances to their apartment buildings; only after a phone call from the mayor to the UVD [Administration of Internal Affairs – the local police department] were two of the organizers able to get to city hall, while a third, Mikhail Merkushin, was detained along with his girlfriend, supposedly because “they look like the criminals who beat up an 11-year-old child at the poultry market”. 12 May: Kirill Ulchuk and Lyudmila Kharlamova are detained for posting leaflets; Ulchuk cuts open his veins. 13 May: AKM [Vanguard of Communist Youth] activists Andrey Kopeikin and Alexey Minayev are detained; agitational materials are taken from them. 13 May: activists of “The Other Russia” movement Anton Starodymov and Gleb Kochetov are detained by the police, supposedly for verification of identity. 13 May: RUBOP [District Administration for Fighting Organized Crime] officers detain a member of the march committee, Anastasia Kurt-Adzhiyeva, and the National Bolshevik Yuri Chervinchuk. 14 May: Veronika Vinogradova, an activist of the Vanguard of Communist Youth (an organization planning participation in the march), is abducted. 14 May: representatives of the Helsinki Group Sergey Shimovolos and Natalia Chebotareva, who had arrived in Samara in the capacity of observers, are detained. Also detained were editor-in-chief of “Novaya gazeta in Samara” Sergey Kurt-Adzhiyev and correspondent of the newspaper «Kommersant» in Samara Pavel Sedakov. On the eve of the march, program coordinator of the Moscow Helsinki Group Alexander Lashmankin was violently beaten (with baseball bats). One of the organizers of the march, Dmitry Treshchanin, was urgently drafted into the army on the eve of the action. (this “know-how” of the Russian special services will subsequently be repeated on 19 May in Chelyabinsk – author’s note). Some time before the start of the action, officers of the law-enforcement organs detain without declaring the reasons one of the leaders of the United civic front, Denis Bilunov; a journalist from the German magazine Focus, Boris Reischuster; and one of the leaders of the youth movement “Smena”, Stanislav Yakovlev. Likewise, the law-enforcement organs detained the leader of the youth movement “Pora!”, Andrey Sidelnikov, in Samara.

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Photo of “those who disagree” gathering for their march by Grigory Pasko

This is far from a complete list of the victims of the Putin regime. I think the only reason they didn’t kill anybody was because such a task hadn’t been assigned. At the same time as Putin was swearing to the high heavens in the “Volga Eyrie” about his commitment to democracy and asserting that the marches of those who disagree are being conducted by “marginals” [fringe groups] and do not bother him personally, the special services were detaining “The Other Russia” leaders Garry Kasparov, Eduard Limonov, head of the public movement “For human rights” Lev Ponomarev, as well as Wall Street Journal correspondent Allan Cullison, Dutch TV reporter Allard Detiger, Daily Telegraph reporter Adrian Blomfeld in the Moscow airport Sheremetyevo… In all, 27 persons were detained and barred from boarding flights to Samara under various pretexts. Journalist Pavel Sedakov told me that at the police station where he was taken after being detained, he heard policemen talking about how they’re doing all this on orders “from above”. It’s not hard to guess that the headquarters of the struggle with those who think differently in Russia is found today in the Kremlin. It was life as usual in Samara on the eve of the march of those who disagree. But after the march, many people no doubt got to thinking about why it is that people, despite all the repressions undertaken by the authorities against them, nevertheless came out on the streets with the slogans: “Down with the police state!”, “Russia without Putin and the successors!”, “The enemy of the people is the FSB!”. In a small square by a stone longboat one of the representatives of the Samaran youth told me that he will go to the march at the very least in order to take a look at those who did not fear the orgy of repressions on the part of the authorities.