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Grigory Pasko: Political Prisoners in Today’s Russia – The PORTOS Organization

The PORTOS Organization By Grigory Pasko, journalist In 2002, the Moscow Oblast Court sentenced two activists from the “Poeticized Association for the Elaboration of a Theory of Social Happiness” (PORTOS) to deprivation of liberty for a term of from one year suspended to 2 years actual. According to the verdict, Vladimir Belanenko and Alexey Merkulov were found guilty of participating in an unlawful armed formation and of participating in the activities of an association infringing on the rights of citizens. In the summer of that same year, Irina Derguzova and Tatiana Lomakina, two young women who were “Portos” activists, were sentenced to lengthy terms of deprivation of liberty – 6 and 8 years. They were found guilty of creating an unlawful armed formation, depriving minors of liberty and tormenting them, as well as of creating a public association the activities of which are linked with violence. The court established that the activities of the “PORTOS” association were associated with aggressiveness and violence. As follows from the case materials, the organization “PORTOS” began to function on the territory of a former depot of the “Salyut” plant in the beginning of 2000 in the village of Mashkovo of Lyubertsy Rayon of the Moscow Environs, where the theory of “creating an ideal society on a self-contained territory” was being brought to life. The non-traditional methods of raising a new generation included the mandatory writing of poems and the keeping of a daily planning journal that had the name “external conscience”. In February 2002, the Moscow Oblast Court likewise sent two of the heads of the “PORTOS” organization, Yuri Davydov and Yevgeni Privalov, for forced medical treatment, holding them to be mentally incompetent. The court found Davydov guilty under all of the Articles of the Criminal Code of the RF under which he had been inculpated. Among their number – “creating and leading an unlawful armed formation”, “organizing an association infringing on the person and rights of citizens”, as well as “tormenting minors”. Privalov was imputed to have participated in an unlawful armed formation. In connection with the fact that during the course of the preliminary investigation, the accuseds were found mentally incompetent based on the results of a forensic medical expert examination, the court released Davydov and Privalov from criminal liability. Let me note right from the start that I don’t know the beginning of this case very well, because I myself was behind bars at that time. However, several years later, I did have a chance to meet with those members of “PORTOS” who had remained at liberty. I recall how amazed I was when the young people told me how the property of the organization had disappeared without a trace after the arrests of the “PORTOS”-ites and a search carried out by the police – over a dozen trucks, passenger cards, a decent-sized library, computers, video gear. Naturally, I already knew about the moral principles – or, more precisely, the lack thereof – of Russian policemen, but be so blatant about it… The theory of happiness The founder of the PORTOS organization, Yuri Davydov, first started to elaborate a “theory of happiness” back in the 1990s. Being an admirer of Pythagoras, he introduced Leninst ideas into the former’s teaching, complementing them with military-“patriotic” rhetoric and propaganda of a healthy lifestyle. Finding like-minded people in Saransk and the Ukraine, Yuri Davydov founded an organization the number of members of which steadily grew. The PORTOS organization was registered in the ministry of justice as a public association. Its branches existed in seven cities of Russia and Ukraine. In recent years, the members of PORTOS also began to engage in business activities, founding several experimental farms in Russia and the Ukraine, engaging in agriculture. The activists of this organization participated in the gathering of signatures during the time of Mikhail Gorbachev’s presidential campaign, and they served in city citizens’ volunteer patrols (druzhiny). Several years ago, Moscow vice-mayor Valery Shantsev (currently governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast) awarded the PORTOSites as the best druzhiny of the capital. A Foundation for Assistance to Pensioners and Veterans was founded alongside the organization. Members of PORTOS distributed groceries at reduced prices or for free to them. Today, four of the organization’s activists (Yuri Davydov, Yevgeni Privalov, Tatiana Lomakina, and Irina Derguzova) are behind bars. They spent more than a year under investigation [imprisoned on remand in an isolator—Trans.]. After the conducting of a forensic medical expert examination, their case was artificially divided in two. Davydov and Privalov were found to be mentally incompetent. In the opinion of defence lawyer Dmitry Arganovsky, this was done only so that Davydov and Privalov could not get a trial before a jury. Perhaps the investigation feared that the PORTOS leaders would be able to convince the jurors in the absurdity of the charges against them? And indeed, it is hard to imagine that two mentally incompetent persons, supposedly suffering from schizophrenia (and Privalov had done all the bookkeeping in PORTOS), headed an economically successful organization during the course of several years. The defence lawyers bring attention to the fact that certain evidence given by witnesses at the investigation appears to have been written using carbon paper. And the evidence of the minors does not seem to be very authentic. Thus for example, one of the adolescents testified at the investigation that censorship existed in PORTOS and that he could not write a letter home, to the Ukraine. But when the defence lawyers asked the boy what exactly censorship is, he replied: “That’s when you use swear words”. Derguzova and Lomakina are charged with creating an armed formation and the creation of an organization infringing on the person and rights of citizens. Certain Portosites carried gas weapons, bought under license, because they were often subjected to attacks by racketeers and robbers. But carrying gas weapons is not a violation of the law. It is known from the materials of the criminal case that the organization was visited at various times by officers of the Moscow-Environs OVD [police—Trans.]. Criminal investigation detectives would also visit. Judging from the reports drawn up by the policemen, none of inhabitants of the auto-town ever complained about the use of force with respect to them. Who was PORTOS bothering? There are theories that the Portosites had stepped on someone’s toes when they began to engage in business activities; that they were among the few participants in the Russian Congress of Esperantists who had signed a resolution against the war in Chechnya. No question, the FSB was interested in them as well, as it is in all informals. It seems to me that the hand of the power can be seen in the massacre of the Portosites. The power fears everything that doesn’t fit neatly into its notion of what sorts of things young people should be engaged in in a totalitarian country. And all the more so because the members of the organization are people who know how to think independently, and enjoy doing it. “We considered ourselves to be contenders for the status of real people, and were convinced that we still hadn’t done enough for the country”, said Lomakina at the trial. “We set ourselves the goal of understanding why society lives so poorly and how to correct this…” The elaborators of the “theory of the happiness of the whole people” didn’t hide the fact that they intended to develop their activities and gradually get to the federal level, drawing representatives of the youth into their ranks. Perhaps someone got scared of competitors in the field of youth politics? We did get to hear that the organization now being persecuted occupied the niche of the pro-Putin organization “Moving together”. In the opinion of human rights advocate Sergey Grigoriants, the special services need accountability in the conditions of their unrestrained expansion in Russia; they need to show that they’re earning their bread. The investigator in the “PORTOS” case became the deputy procurator of one of the rayons. The practice of turning the fates of people into a sacrifice to one’s own odious and petty interests is truly abominable…” Perhaps for the first time during the entire period of Putin’s rule, his subordinates have held people criminally liable for, among other things, their poems. What kind of poems were these Portosites writing? Here’s one of them:

Люди, вставайте. Страна обезумела, Стал не способен к ученью народ. Родина ждет полководца разумного, Кто нас к победам труда поведет. Ждут нас великие в жизни открытия. Ну-ка, вставай, поднимайся с колен. Тысячу раз побеждали и выстоим В этом бою среди тюремских стен. Нелюди лживые, воры и пьяницы Кто им позволил страну продавать? Ну-ка, вставай, а иначе ведь скатимся. Ясно, что делать, и кто виноват. People, arise. The country has lost its mind, The people have become incapable of being taught. The motherland awaits a sensible commander, Who will lead us to victories of labour. Great discoveries in life await us. Come on, arise, get up off your knees. We have vanquished a thousand times and we will persevere In this battle in the midst of prison walls. Deceitful subhumans, thieves and drunkards Who allowed them to sell the country? Come on, arise, for otherwise we’ll fall off. It is clear what must be done, and who is to blame.

If we consider that in the opinion of the Portosites, Putin wasn’t at all trying to become a “commander”, then yet another reason for such a strongly negative attitude on the part of the power towards informal people becomes clear.