Month: May 2009

Russian journalist seeks political asylum in Finland [FinRosForum]

Yelena Maglevannaya, Russian journalist working for the Volgograd-based newspaper Svobodnoe Slovo (Free Speech), has applied for political asylum in Finland. Ms Maglevannaya has collaborated with several human rights organisations in Russia. She has focused on cases of persecution against Chechens in particular.

Ms Maglevannaya has become the target of persecution herself after revealing facts about torture in Russian prisons. On 12 May 2009, she was found guilty of defamation and fined RUR 200,000 (EUR 4,600) after she released information about torture in a local prison. Ms Maglevannaya considers the sentence unjust, and has no intention to retract her articles.

Yelena Maglevannaya, 27, took part in the third annual conference of the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum, FINROSFORUM 2009, in Helsinki on 25-26 May 2009. Speaking on the second day of the conference, Ms Maglevannaya recounted the fate of Chechens held in Russian prisons, particularly that of Zubair Zubairaev, whose case she has championed.

Yelena Maglevannaya @ LiveJournal

Svobodnoe Slovo

See also in this blog: “Institutionalized lawlessness”: Russian journalist fined for prison reports

The missing graves

Meditating from Ukraine on the new draft law that Russia plans to introduce, which will criminalize “denial of the Soviet victory in World War II” — i.e. criticism of the idea that in postwar Europe Soviet troops had a right to occupy Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic States after the hostilities were ended, because hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers and officers sacrificed their lives to liberate those countries — Halya Coynash points to one of the glaring lacunae that after 70 years still characterize the landscape of what was once Soviet and Soviet-occupied territory:  the absence of graves.

…there is so little humour in the situation that we should be shouting to the world. Anniversaries are approaching which will be commemorated by the leaders of all democratic countries. Seventy years ago, on 1 September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland with this directly leading to World War II. They will also be remembering 17 September when the USSR, as Hitler’s ally, invaded what was then part of Poland. Historians can provide a huge number of dates and details which did not get into the arsenal of Soviet propaganda about the War.

Do they really hope in the Kremlin that such a law will force everybody to tremble and avoid “indelicate” facts? As if anyone in their right mind would deny the crucial role placed by the USSR in the victory, however if you read the draft law carefully, it is clear that its scope is much broader.

I recently came upon the following phrase: “Memory about millions of victims is a key element in State creation.” Winced, I can’t deny, and the mere thought of substituting for the first part either Holodomor or the Holocaust makes me feel very sick. There was similar squeamish disgust at how the Soviet regime plugged its propaganda version of the “Great Patriotic War”, trying to conceal its ideological nakedness and bankruptcy. It is galling that the Kremlin has decided to drag Russia along this lie-ridden path.

If we are speaking of those in Russia for whom Soviet has long meant Russian, and both are inimitably positive, then all is clear. However when some political forces in Ukraine, instead of offering specific measures to put the country out of permanent crisis try to win votes by playing on old bitterness, and using monuments to the dead for their games, then it is worth considering precisely what their motives are.

If such politicians wish to serve their long-tormented country, let them spend less time trumpeting about the transfer of monuments to the fallen, and instead look for the graves their Soviet counterparts lied about. 70 years after the Terror we still have no graves on which to lay flowers and light candles of remembrance.

Dangerous driving

In the Moscow Times, Yulia Latynina dissects the failed Georgian coup. Excerpt:

Before the recent events in Georgia unfolded, we heard warnings all across the Internet that Georgian opposition would take to the streets and that Saakashvili’s regime would fall on April 9. Meanwhile, Russia once again mobilized its forces along the South Ossetian border, as it had done in the weeks before the August war. Russian sent its tanks to Tskhinvali and dispatched its ships to patrol the Black Sea waters near Georgia.

In short, everything was pointing to an imminent coup. That is what happened in 1978, when Babrak Karmal and the Moscow-backed People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan overthrew the Kabul government. Moscow later installed Karmal as president of Afghanistan. But that scenario seemed unlikely for Georgia. After all, where would the Kremlin find a Georgian version of Karmal? But it did find one — and not just one but three: Kobaladze, Karkarashvili and Gvaladze.

The failed coup certainly looked like something from the “Keystone Cops.” The whole affair was rife with incompetence, if not idiocy, but this is no excuse. When plotting a coup, idiocy is an aggravating circumstance and not a mitigating one — like when an intoxicated driver is guilty of causing a severe accident.

Mukhrovani mutiny – details []

Senior MP Says 33 Held over Mukhrovani Mutiny

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 23 May.’09 / 01:16

A senior lawmaker from the ruling party, Givi Targamadze, said that total of 33 persons were arrested in connection to the Mukhrovani mutiny.

MP Targamadze, who chairs parliamentary committee for defense and security, said in Rustavi 2 TV’s weekly program, Position, late on May 22, that 32 persons remained in pre-trial detention and one was released on bail.

Twelve out of 32 persons remaining in the police custody are civilians and twenty – military officers, MP Givi Targamadze said.

He also said that relatives of one of key suspects, Koba Otanadze, who according to the Interior Ministry was injured and arrested in a police shootout late on May 20, were held briefly by the police for interrogation. He said that information obtained as a result of those interrogations helped the police to arrest Otanadze. Another suspect, Levan Amiridze, was also injured and arrested and the third one – Gia Krialashvili was killed in the shootout with the police, according to the Interior Ministry.

Otanadze’s brother, Jimsher Otanadze, the latter’s wife and their son were detained by the police at about 3am on May 20. But their detention was not formally registered by the police and defense lawyer and representatives of the Public Defender’s Office were not able to find detainees’ whereabouts. They were released about 21 hours later after the arrest of Koba Otanadze. After their release it emerged that at least 11 other relatives of Otanadze were also detained in the same period. Otanadze’s defense lawyer, Onise Mebonia, said that this type of detention amounted to kidnapping.

The Interior Ministry made the first official statement on the matter on May 22 in which it confirmed detention of “some of the family members of Koba Otanadze” citing that some of them were held with status of “suspects” and others with status of “witnesses.” It also said that information obtained from their questioning helped the police to arrest Otanadze.

Another brother of Koba Otanadze, Nugzar Otanadze, was also arrested a week after the Mukhrovani incident. He was charged with resisting police and sent to a two-month pre-trial detention. The defense lawyer said Nugzar Otanadze was beaten and “tortured” by the police after the arrest; the Interior Ministry denied that and said Nugzar Otanadze sustained injured while resisting the police arrest.


Senior MP Claims Russian Link to Mukhrovani Mutiny

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 23 May.’09 / 02:41

Givi Targamadze, an influential lawmaker from the ruling party, claimed that the failed Mukhrovani mutiny was sponsored by a Russia-based tycoon with links to Russian PM, Vladimir Putin.

MP Givi Targamadze, who chairs the parliamentary committee for defense and security, said while speaking at the Rustavi 2 TV’s weekly program, Position, late on May 22 that the goal of the plot was “to at least trigger disorders” in Georgia or “at maximum to pave the way for entry of the Russian occupation forces in Tbilisi.”

“I have been refraining from naming a person who has organized everything, unless this person himself announced that after this failed mutiny he could no longer wait and would run for presidency in the next elections – this is Mr. Ebralidze; and if there is someone who may think that in Today’s Russia it is possible to be a billionaire oligarch in St. Petersburg uncontrolled by the most famous St. Petersburgian, i.e. [Russia’s PM Vladimir] Putin, is very wrong,” MP Givi Targamadze said.

Alexander Ebralidze is a St. Petersburg-based tycoon, an ethnic Georgian originally from Batumi, who has been living in Russia for over thirty years already. This month he announced having ambition to become a president of Georgia. He made the announcement at an “assembly of peoples of Georgia” in Sochi. The announcement triggered protest of some of those participants of the event, who arrived in Sochi from Tbilisi; outspoken critics of the Georgian authorities were among those participants who walked out from the meeting hall after Ebralidze’s announcement. After announcing about his presidential ambitions, Ebralidze said: “I have been waiting for 20 years, but now I am giving up my modesty.”

He also said that starting from January, 2009 several meetings were held in “one of the CIS-member states”, which he did not specify, with participation of “some of the mutineers” with a purpose of plotting the mutiny.

“These meetings were held under the leadership of Tariel Oniani [Russia-based criminal authority] and Bondo Shalikiani,” MP Givi Targamadze said.

On May 18 President Saakashvili said that Bondo Shalikiani was among “active sponsors” of the ongoing protests in Georgia. Shalikiani, a former lawmaker and once a tycoon with assets in western Georgian region of Imereti, was arrested in early 2004 for alleged embezzlement, but was released after agreeing to hand over some of his assets to the authorities. He then left for Russia and resides there. On May 18, the Georgian weekly, Kviris Palitra, published an interview with Shalikiani in which he says: “I will spare no efforts to make him [Saakashvili] held responsible for everything he has done.”

A month before the launch of ongoing protests, Vano Merabishvili, the interior minister, said on March 6 that Tariel Oniani and some other former Georgian officials who fled the country after the Rose Revolution would be among sponsors of the Georgian opposition to help them organize protests.

“But at the same time I want to tell you that these people are not key figures who will finance the Georgian opposition or other provocations that may take place in Georgia; such sponsors will be more serious figures,” Merabishvili said on March 6.

Russia undertakes military action in North-East Caucasus

Joint military and police operations by Russian FSB and defence ministry forces are currently underway in the North Caucasus republics of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. Jamestown’s Mairbek Vatchagaev writes that “the current year will be no exception to the general trend of increasing rebel fighter activity in the spring and the summer.” In Chechnya, all law enforcement agencies are on heightened alert and all military units have been placed on standby for an unspecified period of time. 

"Institutionalized lawlessness" – 2

OMCT (Organisation mondiale contre la torture) has released a follow-up appeal on the case of the torture and harassment in a Russian prison of the Chechen national Zubayr Zubayrayev, which has attracted attention worldwide. See also this post.

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Russian Federation: Follow-up of case RUS 190209_Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev to be transferred to a high security prison_Fear for safety

Case RUS 190209.3
Follow-up to cases RUS 190209, RUS 190209.1 and RUS 190209.2

Transfer to a high security prison/ Lack of adequate medical care/ Fear for safety
20 May 2009

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) has received new information and requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in the Russian Federation.

New information

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), a member of OMCT SOS-Torture Network, that on 17 May 2009, Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev, a 30-year-old man from Chechnya, was taken from penitentiary colony ßÐ-154/15 (also known as LIU-125 prison hospital) in Volgograd, Southern Russia, to be transferred to a high security prison following a court ruling on 12 May 2009. However, his current whereabouts remain unclear. His lawyer believes that he is being moved to Krasnojarsk (about 4000km from Volgograd) but he has been provided with no precise information on Mr. Zubajraev’s new place of detention.

According to the same information, Mr. Zubajraev’s lawyer unsuccessfully brought an appeal to the Regional Court against the ruling of the lower Court. Mr. Zubajraev is reportedly due to serve his three years remaining prison term in a high security prison. OMCT recalls that the prison administration had justified the request of transfer on the basis of two claims: firstly, Mr. Zubajraev was accused of having kept “banned” pain-killers, which is contested by Mr. Zubajraev’s lawyer, and secondly, he would have quarrelled with another inmate, although the latter did not file any report or complaint about the alleged quarrel.

The OMCT International Secretariat is seriously concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Zubajr Isaevich Zubajraev. OMCT condemns his transfer to a high security prison as it seems exclusively motivated by a wish to punish him following the allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment (see background information)[1]. OMCT fears that Mr. Zubajraev will be further isolated as it will be become very difficult for his family and lawyer to visit him. Furthermore, OMCT has received information that his health condition is very poor, requiring immediate appropriate medical care.

OMCT therefore repeats its calls on the competent Russian authorities to guarantee his safety at all times, to refrain from transferring him to a high security prison, and to carry out a prompt, effective, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, in order to bring those responsible before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and apply penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law. OMCT recalls the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and recalls article 11 of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment stipulating that, “Each State Party shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of torture”.

Deals and deterrents

Jamestown’s Eurasia blog has the condensed summary of a recent interview with Jamestown senior analyst Pavel Felgenhauer on topics that include U.S.-Russian relations under the Obama administration, the controversy surrounding the pending sale of S-300 advanced air defence systems to Iran by Russia, and the role played in it by the UAV deal with Israel,  the pace and content of the military reforms undertaken by Russia’s Defence Minister Serdyukov, and the possibilty of a  resumption of hostilities in Georgia.

Diplomats say military threat to Georgia growing

Security talks between Georgia and Russia have resumed in Geneva, RFE/RL reports. There had been a delay caused by Russia’s withdrawal from the talks after the Abkhazian authorities refused to send a delegation.

Meanwhile the New York Times has published an op-ed article by three former diplomats, Denis Carboy, William Courtney and Kenneth Yalowitz, expressing apprehension about the current situation in Georgia, which they say is still under a growing military threat from Russia. They call on the United States government to head fresh efforts to prevent a “new tragedy” in Georgia. Denis Carboy is interviewed by RFE/RL.

Bridging the gap

I don’t usually cross-post between different blogs, but this post from Nordic Voices in Translation is one that I want to publish here as well, as it fits into the general subject-area of A Step At A Time. The post is called Bridging the Gap: History and the Nordic World, and it forms part of an ongoing debate I’ve been having with Nordic translators Eric Dickens and Harry D. Watson:

I thought I’d continue out here in the open the discussion that started in the comments to Harry’s Bredsdorff post. Eric wrote:

While nowadays I am more on the right in economic and social-cohesion terms, I still read the former Communist weekly Ny Tid, partly out of nostalgia, partly because of its good cultural coverage, and partly because it is always useful to read opposite views. When I was at UEA and in Åbo, the Communists I knew were almost painfully middle-class offspring. They’d never been within an armsbreath of a worker. But I admired their idealism. And I hope that we people that kick against the cultural pricks of bestsellerdom and xeno-ignorance in the UK can adopt an even-handed approach in political terms.

I have to admit that my political sympathies are mainly centre-right/libertarian. This, I think, is partly a result of the relatively long ime I spent during the 1970s and 80s — after periods in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe — trying to do something to lift the veils of wilful ignorance that surrounded the view of the Soviet Union then prevalent among Western democrats, most of whom were apparently unable to perceive the true nature of global Communism. It’s also probably a result of the time I spent the United States during the same era, when the discussion of these issues had a different configuration from the one that characterized debate in the UK and Europe. Today, if I were still in the U.S. I suppose I would probably sympathize most with “right-wing Democrats” and “left-wing Republicans”.

This political stance caused me some problems when I met writers and intellectuals in the Nordic countries, most of whom held views that were even more the to the left than those of their counterparts in Britain. On the other hand, I became aware that — as Czeslaw Milosz pointed out in The Captive Mind — totalitarian ideology has the power to enslave the minds of individuals who are otherwise decent and intelligent, and that behind the ideological enslavement and blindness often lie beauty, truth and honesty. That is particularly true of writers and poets, I think. In Finland, for example, I found some poets who, though they professed to be Communists, were writing poetry that would never be accepted in the framework of Soviet literary dogma, and was even far removed from anything could be called “left wing”, or “politically committed”.

It wasn’t until I got to Estonia in the early 1990s that I began to meet writers and intellectuals from a Nordic cultural background who also had direct and personal experience of Soviet reality, and who because of that had managed to (even had to) bridge the gap between the personal and the public/political – much in the way that W.H. Auden had done in England and America decades earlier, though from a very different experiential base. These writers knew what Communism was and what it did to people, had felt its physically and mentally destructive force, which was similar to that of Nazi ideology and practice. Meeting these people was confirmation for me that even though in the rest of the Nordic world the influence of the Soviet threat and Soviet propaganda had put blinkers on many minds, there was a Nordic cultural reality that stood outside that limitation and beyond it.

I agree with Eric that the labels of “right” and “left” have become less meaningful since the fall of Communism – yet the old dichotomy remains, now mostly polarized around opposition to or support for the United States and its cultural and political role in spreading the values of liberty and democracy throughout the world. But also, for cultural and historical reasons, and probably because I’m British rather than European, the Nordic world has always seemed to me to stand somewhere between Europe amd America, and I guess I still see it as a kind of bridge between those two inwardly diverse but outwardly monolithic entities.