Showing posts with label Russian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russian. Show all posts

April 9, 2019

Russian Prisons Officials Stopped Yoga Claiming It Made Inmates Gay but An Educated Chief Not Convinced Reinstated It


Russian prison authorities have reinstated yoga for inmates after dismissing a claim by a religious scholar that the practice could make them gay.

Both a Moscow pre-trial detention center for women and the renowned Butyrka prison in the Russian capital introduced yoga classes last year, according to The Moscow Times. 

Theological professor Alexander Dvorkin wrote a document suggesting yoga could cause uncontrolled sexual arousal and homosexuality in detention centers, leading to riots, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomlets reported. Senator Elena Mizulina, who is known for her conservative views, used the document to appeal to the Prosecutor General's Office to check the legality of the yoga classes, and asked for them to be suspended, according to the paper. 

However the classes have been reinstated and Valery Maximenko, deputy head of the Federal Prison Service (FSIN) told a Russian radio station that the sessions had a “very positive” effect on inmates.

“We conducted a study, and among those people who practiced yoga, there was a sharp reduction in visits to doctors for help,” he told the radio station Govorit Moskva (Moscow Speaks).

Maximenko said that in addition to yoga, prisoners will also be taught qigong breathing exercises and dismissed any claims that it led to homosexuality.

“The whole world is engaged in it [yoga], and no one is harmed by it and no one will be drawn to homosexuality. Even it did, we live in a democracy and everyone has the right to choose their own way,” he added, pointing out that homosexuality was not illegal in Russia.

He said that Dvorkin had “outdated concepts” and added that “people of non-traditional orientation can occupy high positions, so we do not have the right to condemn anyone.”

Such a statement from a senior official in Russia is unusual. The country has a law banning so-called “gay propaganda” in which LGBT issues cannot be discussed or disseminated among children and young people. 

Human Rights Watch have said the law has contributed to a culture of persecution toward the LGBT community.

However, Dvorkin said his comments about homosexuality had been taken out of context and that his request also included for there to be checks on those who led the yoga sessions. He said the Kundalini yoga being promoted in the jails was associated with sects and its association with Hinduism means it may not be compatible with Christianity, which he says prisoners should be 

November 13, 2017

For A Brief Period The 1917 Russian Revolution Brought Freedom to The Gay Community

 In January 1921 Russian Baltic Fleet sailor Afanasy Shaur organized an extraordinary gay wedding in Petrograd. 
The guests included 95 former army officers along with members of the lower ranks of both the army and navy and one woman, dressed in a man's suit.
The city had never seen anything like it.
Shaur pulled out all the stops. He did not think guests would come if it had just been a party.
Russian sailors with young men dressed in women's clothes, 1916But he gambled - rightly - that a proper wedding with all the Russian traditions, bread and salt, a blessing from the proud parents, and a concert to follow, would be irresistible.
At the time Russia's gay community was enjoying a brief window of tolerance.
After the October Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks scrapped and rewrote the country's laws. They produced two Criminal Codes - in 1922 and 1926 - and an article prohibiting gay sex was left off both. But the wedding in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) was not all it seemed.
Afanasy Shaur was, in fact, a member of the secret police, and at the end of the festivities, the guests were all arrested.
It emerged that Shaur had arranged the whole event as a way to curry favor with his bosses. He claimed these former military men were counter-revolutionaries who wanted to destroy the young Red Army from the inside.
But despite Shaur's efforts, the accusations did not stick. The case was eventually closed and the "counter-revolutionaries" got away with nothing more than a fright.

How to recognize 'one's own'

Apasha and Apashka, Leningrad fashion iconsImage copyrightOLGA KHOROSHILOVA
Image captionApasha and Apashka, fashion icons of the NEP era, Leningrad, mid-1920s

Gay men had been part of a distinct underground community in Russia long before the revolution and they recognized each other by the "secret language" of fashion.
In St Petersburg, some wore red ties, or red shawls, onto which they would sew the back pockets of trousers.
Others powdered their faces and wore a lot of mascara.
After the revolution, the heavily made-up "silent film star look" became more mainstream and no longer just a fashion for young gay men. 
The upheaval of the revolution and civil war brought hard times to Russia and gay men were not able to match the flamboyant clothes and luxury accessories favored by some of their counterparts across Europe.

Legal but still persecuted

The Bolsheviks were indirectly influenced by Magnus Hirschfeld, a German scientist who founded the Institute of Sexology in Berlin. 
Hirschfeld often spoke in public of his conviction that homosexuality was not a disease, but a natural manifestation of human sexuality. 

Hansi Sturm, a famous Berlin drag queen of the 1920s.Image copyrightOLGA KHOROSHILOVA
Image captionHansi Sturm, a famous Berlin drag queen of the 1920s.

But although there may not have been an article relating to gay sex in the criminal codes of the 1920s, the community was still persecuted. Gay men were often beaten, blackmailed or sacked from their jobs.
Some wrote heartfelt letters to the psychiatrist Vladimir Bekhterev, considering him their last hope. They poured out their souls, asking him to help them cope with depression and even to "cure their illness".
These letters and other documents show that members of the gay community were incredibly brave - some wore women's dresses and corsets, wore their hair long and often looked like real women.

'Aristocrats' and 'simple people'

Curiously, even though the revolution abolished class division, gay men continued to be divided into social classes. There were two gay communities and they rarely mixed.
The first was the so-called "aristocrats" - representatives of the creative intelligentsia, nobles, officials, and officers of the Tsarist army and navy. 

Members of the Petrograd gay community's 'simple class'Image copyrightOLGA KHOROSHILOVA
Image captionMembers of the Petrograd gay community's 'simple class'

The other community was "simple" (the name, evidently, was invented by the "aristocrats"). It consisted of soldiers, sailors, clerks - people who had not been part of the fashionable St Petersburg salons before the revolution and who were not welcome guests of the "aristocrats" after 1917.
In the 1920s, German Travesti theatre - in which men dress as women and vice versa - became popular among Soviet gay men. They were particularly fond of Hansi Sturm, the star of the Berlin nightclub El Dorado.
"Aristocrats" only rarely invited handsome men from the "simple" ranks to attend their extravagant soirees. But the male artists who dressed as women were not restrained by class restrictions.

Drag queen dressed as Matilda Kshesinskaya, early 1910sImage copyrightOLGA KHOROSHILOVA
Image captionDrag queen dressed as Matilda Kshesinskaya

They became stars and impersonated, among others, famous ballerinas like Matilda Kshesinskaya, who was mistress to Tsar Nicholas II. 
Their wardrobes were full of beautiful costumes made by professional tailors. They used to rent them from the famous Petrograd tailor Leifert or have them made by him. 
Before the revolution, Leifert was a supplier to the imperial court and he also made costumes for the dancers of the Mariinsky Theatre.

And then it all came to an end

After Afanasy Shaur's plot to ensnare "counter-revolutionaries" with his spectacular gay marriage ceremony, there were no more high-profile weddings or arrests like this in the 1920s. 
Although homosexuality was tolerated, the community started to lose its freedom in the 1930s.

Russian 'Travesti' theatre, 1910sImage copyrightOLGA KHOROSHILOVA
Image captionRussian "Travesti" theatre, 1910s

In July 1933, 175 gay men from different walks of life were arrested in what came to be known as the Case of the Leningrad Homosexuals. 
While the full details of the case remain classified, it is known that all those detained were given prison sentences on a range of charges from working for British intelligence to "malicious counter-revolutionism" and "moral corruption of the Red Army".
It is thought that Shaur's "wedding" in 1921 played a significant role in this. The secret police had not forgotten his claims that "sodomizers were corrupting the army and navy".

Image captionThere is very little information about the life of lesbians in Russia before and after the revolution. Petrograd, 1916-1917

Those same assertions were repeated in the early 1930s, as well as in forced confessions obtained by the secret police.
The Case of the Leningrad Homosexuals led to the re-inclusion of the article outlawing homosexuality in the new Criminal Code of 1934 and Russia's short-lived tolerance of gay rights finally came to an end.
Olga Khoroshilova was speaking to BBC Russian's Anna Kosinskaya.
This page was published in Nov10,2017 in the BBC Europe

September 23, 2017

FaceBook is The Creator Frankenstein and Maybe It Can't Be Control for Russian Evil?

 Make sure you know what this is because it might be in your computer already. (Reuters pic)

Victor Frankenstein, looking over a creature he had made, eventually realized that he couldn’t control his creation. CreditHammer Film, via Photofest 
[This page was writen by in the The New York Times]
On Wednesday, in response to a ProPublica report that Facebook enabled advertisers to target users with offensive terms like “Jew hater,” Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, apologized and vowed that the company would adjust its ad-buying tools to prevent similar problems in the future.
As I read her statement, my eyes lingered over one line in particular:
“We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us,” Ms. Sandberg wrote.
It was a candid admission that reminded me of a moment in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” after the scientist Victor Frankenstein realizes that his cobbled-together creature has gone rogue.
“I had been the author of unalterable evils,” he says, “and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”
If I were a Facebook executive, I might feel a Frankensteinian sense of unease these days. The company has been hit with a series of scandals that have bruised its image, enraged its critics and opened up the possibility that in its quest for global dominance, Facebook may have created something it can’t fully control. Facebook is fighting through a tangled morass of privacy, free-speech and moderation issues with governments all over the world. Congress is investigating reports that Russian operatives used targeted Facebook ads to influence the 2016 presidential election. In Myanmar, activists are accusing Facebook of censoring Rohingya Muslims, who are under attack from the country’s military. In Africa, the social network faces accusations that it helped human traffickers extort victims’ families by leaving up abusive videos.
Few of these issues stem from willful malice on the company’s part. It’s not as if a Facebook engineer in Menlo Park personally greenlighted Russian propaganda, for example. On Thursday, the company said it would release political advertisements bought by Russians for the 2016 election, as well as some information related to the ads, to congressional investigators.
But the troubles do make it clear that Facebook was simply not built to handle problems of this magnitude. It’s a technology company, not an intelligence agency or an international diplomatic corps. Its engineers are in the business of building apps and selling advertising, not determining what constitutes hate speech in Myanmar. And with two billion users, including 1.3 billion who use it every day, moving ever greater amounts of their social and political activity onto Facebook, it’s possible that the company is simply too big to understand all of the harmful ways people might use its products.
“The reality is that if you’re at the helm of a machine that has two billion screaming, whiny humans, it’s basically impossible to predict each and every possible nefarious use case,” said Antonio García Martínez, author of the book “Chaos Monkeys” and a former Facebook advertising executive. “It’s a Whac-a-Mole problem.”
Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy, said in a statement: “We work very hard to support our millions of advertisers worldwide, but sometimes — rarely — bad actors win. We invest a lot of time, energy and resources to make these rare events extinct, and we’re grateful to our community for calling out where we can do better.” When Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004, nobody could have imagined its becoming a censorship tool for repressive regimes, an arbiter of global speech standards or a vehicle for foreign propagandists.
But as Facebook has grown into the global town square, it has had to adapt to its own influence. Many of its users view the social network as an essential utility, and the company’s decisions — which posts to take down, which ads to allow, which videos to show — can have real life-or-death consequences around the world. The company has outsourced some decisions to complex algorithms, which carries its own risks, but many of the toughest choices Facebook faces are still made by humans.
“They still see themselves as a technology middleman,” said Mr. García Martínez. “Facebook is not supposed to be an element of a propaganda war. They’re completely not equipped to deal with that.”  
Even if Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg don’t have personal political aspirations, as has been rumored, they are already leaders of an organization that influences politics all over the world. And there are signs that Facebook is starting to understand its responsibilities. It has hired a slew of counterterrorism experts and is expanding teams of moderators around the world to look for and remove harmful content.
On Thursday, Mr. Zuckerberg said in a video posted on Facebook that the company would take several steps to help protect the integrity of elections, like making political ads more transparent and expanding partnerships with election commissions.
“We will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere,” he said.
But there may not be enough guardrails in the world to prevent bad outcomes on Facebook, whose scale is nearly inconceivable. Alex Stamos, Facebook’s security chief, said last month that the company shuts down more than a million user accounts every day for violating Facebook’s community standards. Even if only 1 percent of Facebook’s daily active users misbehaved, it would still mean 13 million rule breakers, about the number of people in Pennsylvania.
In addition to challenges of size, Facebook’s corporate culture is one of cheery optimism. That may have suited the company when it was an upstart, but it could hamper its ability to accurately predict risk now that it’s a setting for large-scale global conflicts.
Several current and former employees described Facebook to me as a place where engineers and executives generally assume the best of users, rather than preparing for the worst. Even the company’s mission statement — “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” — implies that people who are given powerful tools will use those tools for socially constructive purposes. Clearly, that is not always the case.
Hiring people with darker views of the world could help Facebook anticipate conflicts and misuse. But pessimism alone won’t fix all of Facebook’s issues. It will need to keep investing heavily in defensive tools, including artificial intelligence and teams of human moderators, to shut down bad actors. It would also be wise to deepen its knowledge of the countries where it operates, hiring more regional experts who understand the nuances of the local political and cultural environment.
Facebook could even take a page from Wall Street’s book, and create a risk department that would watch over its engineering teams, assessing new products and features for potential misuse before launching them to the world.
Now that Facebook is aware of its own influence, the company can’t dodge responsibility for the world it has helped to build. In the future, blaming the monster won’t be enough.

September 22, 2017

According to FaceBook The Russian Trolling is WorseThan Anyone Thinks


Earlier this month, Facebook admitted that Russian-linked ad buyers had spent $150,000 on US political ads during the 2016 election campaign. But there could have been more ads bought than that, according to people briefed in recent days on the company’s closed-door testimony to Congress. And those ads probably also had more impact than previously assumed, because they led users to steady streams of other content.
Facebook executives appeared in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election earlier this month and today (Sept. 21). Two people briefed on the testimony told Quartz that Facebook first started looking at whether Russian ad buyers had tried to influence the 2016 US election this spring.
Facebook’s initial search was for buyers who took out potentially political ads and either self-identified as Russian, had Russian set as their language, had a Russian IP address, or paid for the ad in Russian rubles. That search turned up 2,000 ads worth $50,000.
Afterwards, Facebook “dove in,” said one of the people briefed, further investigating the buyers it had identified in the initial search. That uncovered an additional 3,000 political ads worth $100,000, which were linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm,” as Facebook disclosed this month.
Some Congress members, however, believe that the company has yet to quantify the full scope of the problem. “It is very likely there are other ads placed by Russians” that may have influenced the election, said a Congressional staffer briefed on the testimony. “It’s not that difficult to conceal your IP address by getting a VPN, and to use PayPal” to convert your payment from rubles. The $150,000 that Facebook has made public “is the low-hanging fruit,” the staffer said.
Facebook’s testimony also explained how the ads’ impact could have persisted long after the ads themselves stopped appearing. The ads weren’t all overtly anti-Hillary Clinton or pro-Donald Trump, the staffer said. Some touted gun rights, others championed secure borders, another was about liking dogs—and they all led readers who clicked on them to certain Facebook pages. If a user “liked” a page, it would send a regular stream of content onto that user’s Facebook feed.
Judging by US intelligence agencies’ January report (pdf) on what Russia was trying to do, Russia’s propaganda effort was focused on “denigrating” Hillary Clinton and harming her “electability and potential presidency.” But it is impossible for anyone outside Facebook to gauge whether that’s what these pages were doing, because Facebook has since taken the pages down. The company is sharing copies of the ads and of these pages with the Congressional committee and other investigators, say the people Quartz spoke to.
Facebook’s agreeing to hand over the ads marked a “shift in tone” from the company’s last testimony, said the staffer. Previously it had refused to allow Congress to keep the materials on privacy grounds.
In response to questions about the meetings, a Facebook spokesman pointed Quartz to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s statement today. “We will continue our investigation into what happened on Facebook in this election,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We may find more, and if we do, we will continue to work with the government.”
Quarts Media

April 17, 2017

Growing UpPentecostal in Russia at 23 Artem Kolesov Comes Out

 Artem Kolesov, 23. Any 50 Year old still in the closet should be ashamed
 by this courageous young guy (Adam)The following story is my birthday
present for last saturday.

A Russian teen came out as gay on YouTube despite his family’s intense opposition and threats of violence against gay people, and now he wants to be a beacon of hope for other LGBTQ teens who are afraid to admit their identity.

Twenty three-year-old Artem Kolesov told BuzzFeed he made a YouTube video to come out as gay. He made the video, Artem said, "because it breaks my heart to know how many Russian children and other LGBT youth around the world feel like they’re alone." Artem explained that growing up in Russia, his Pentecostal pastor parents instilled in him and his family a hatred of gay people.

 He grew up hearing gay people should be bombed, he said, and that if anyone in his family were gay they should kill them with their bare hands. This hatred led Artem, who says he knew he was gay from a young age, to years of depression and suicidal ideation. It wasn’t until Artem moved to Canada to attend school for violin that he learned to stop hating other gay people and himself, making him want to come out. 

Now, Artem wants to show other young people like him that their lives are worth living .
"We don’t come out for heterosexual people to know,” he says. “We don’t come out for the ones who hate us to know. We shout and make as much noise as possible just so other people like us who are scared and can’t be themselves would know that they are not a mistake and they are not alone.”

Artem's message is an important one. In Russia, a 2013 law bans "gay propaganda," which BuzzFeed notes Artem's video could be considered. The passage of that law led to increased anti-gay violence, according to the Guardian. Artem's video also comes after gay men in Chechnya, a region of Russia, are reportedly being rounded up and sent to makeshift prisons or killed. And in the U.S., proposed laws that question the Supreme Court ruling allowing same sex marriage and the ongoing debate on where transgender people do and do not belong can make it feel dangerous to come out as LGBTQ. In fact, LGBTQ people are more likely than any other group to be the target of a hate crime.

Artem's video is not only brave, it's important. Because he’s right: everyone deserves to live happily as exactly who they are. 

Artem Kolesov's video

Facebook: video.php BuzzFeed

March 27, 2017

Demonstrations in Russia Were Because the Absurdity of Corruption

 Dmitry Medvedev, So Rich He Buys a heated house
for ducks in the middle of his man-made pond and Mansion.
All his money like Putin is been made since He and Putin came to power

Sunday in Moscow was a bright spring day, chilly but clear, and by the time I made my way to Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s main thoroughfare, the sidewalks were full of people strolling up, toward Pushkin Square, and down, toward Red Square and the red-brick towers of the Kremlin. They had come out for a march led by Alexey Navalny, Russia’s savviest and most popular opposition politician, who had declared a nationwide day of anti-corruption action. The protest was one of mere presence, rather than any specific activity: a few people held signs, and every now and then a chant broke out, but the main political statement of the day was simply showing up.

The nominal cause for the march, and for similar gatherings in dozens of cities across the country, was alleged corruption that Navalny and his researchers had unearthed about Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s largely enfeebled Prime Minister. Earlier this month, Navalny had published a report detailing various far-flung properties, luxury yachts, and other high-end goods that Medvedev has allegedly acquired over the years, in part funded by contributions that Russian oligarchs made to fake charity foundations. But Sunday’s demonstrations were also about a creeping mood of public dissatisfaction and fatigue, a sense that, after seventeen years, Vladimir Putin’s political system was running out of arguments to justify its continued monopoly hold on power. Official corruption proved to be a more compelling rallying cry than civil rights or voting irregularities: less about abstract political freedoms and more about the insult of learning that your country’s Prime Minister had acquired a vineyard in Tuscany while disposable incomes dropped an average of twelve per cent since 2014.

The Moscow mayor’s office had not authorized the march route—it had instead offered organizers the use of a park outside the city center—and had cautioned that it could not “bear responsibility for any possible negative consequences” of the unsanctioned demonstration. The warning didn’t seem to keep people away. On Tverskaya, it was impossible to judge the size of the crowd, but it was easily several thousand. The official response seemed chaotic and inconsistent. Most people walked unimpeded up and down the street for hours. But Navalny himself was grabbed and thrown into a police van a few minutes after he arrived, with a pair of Nike sneakers hanging from his neck—a riff on one of the charges that he had levelled against Medvedev, who he said used a front company led by a loyal crony to buy himself running shoes.

Near the Central Telegraph building, where I stood, the flow of people passed unbothered, but by Pushkin Square riot police, wearing black body armor and helmets, arrested dozens of people, clubbing and beating them before dragging them away. By the end of the day, as many as a thousand people in Moscow had been detained, far more than in 2011 and 2012, the last time the capital saw demonstrations of this size. A reporter from the Guardian was caught up in the arrests; he was taken to a police station and charged with “holding an unsanctioned rally.”

I was struck by how many young people had joined the protest march. During the previous wave of large-scale demonstrations in Moscow, the crowds were largely drawn from the capital’s middle class—educated, professional people in their twenties, thirties, and forties. On Sunday, the presence of high schoolers and college students was immediately noticeable. “Never before have schoolchildren and students participated on such a massive scale in opposition protests,” Meduza, an independent news site that is home to some of Russia’s best journalism, declared. “Teen-agers easily experience feelings of envy, unease, of being trivialized—and they go out and they try to do something,” a seventeen-year-old, named Konstantin, told the site, explaining why he joined the demonstration.

In explaining Putin’s consistently high approval ratings, many analysts and journalists point to the fact that more than eighty per cent of Russians receive their news from state-television broadcasts. Younger Russians, though, are less likely to pay attention to state-controlled TV, and it seems that the Kremlin has less certain tools for reaching this demographic, let alone shaping its political attitudes. Even LifeNews, a usually servile, pro-Kremlin tabloid site, has admitted this new reality. In an article published on Monday, called “Farewell, Television,” a Life columnist acknowledged that “television, by focussing on the adult, even elderly, part of the population, completely missed the active and young audience.” Sunday’s protests, in the columnist’s view, represented an “extremely disturbing and serious warning sign” for Kremlin officials. “Television has failed, and its inefficiency as a mass ‘agitator and organizer’ will only intensify.”

Russia’s young people can truly be called “Putin’s” generation: those under twenty-five have no significant memories of any other Russian leader. Yet, as was the case during perestroika, in the nineteen-eighties, the authorities appear to have lost a certain sway over the country’s youth, and no longer speak their language. Two weeks ago, a remarkable video of a meeting between a principal and high-school students in Bryansk, a provincial city some two hundred miles from Moscow, surfaced online, and was widely shared. The students had been hauled in for a lecture after one of them had urged his classmates to attend the local version of Navalny’s anti-corruption protest.

The principal’s tone is hectoring and frustrated. “What Navalny is doing is a pure provocation. Do you get it? You still don’t understand this,” she tells the students. They push back against her claims. One says, “We basically took it,” referring to Crimea. Another tells her about evidence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine: “There are videos going around—you have no idea.” The argument goes in circles, with the principal trying to scare the students with talk of civil war and unrest, and the students answering her with talk of “justice,” or what one describes as “when the authorities care about their people, and not just about themselves; when they care about ordinary citizens, and not about their millions of dollars.” Losing her patience, the principal asks whether Putin and Medvedev have made life worse. No, a student answers, “but they’ve stayed too long.” Neither side convinces the other, but it is the students who sound more confident and clearheaded in their arguments; the principal’s voice is marked by a note of disorientation, the frustration of falling behind the times and no longer enjoying the easy authority she once had.

For the Kremlin, the geographic diversity of Sunday’s protests was just as unsettling as their demographics. Gatherings of various sizes were held in nearly a hundred Russian cities, including places where demonstrations hadn’t occurred five years ago, during the previous wave of anti-Kremlin protests. A couple of hundred people came out in Nizhny Tagil, an industrial stronghold in the Ural Mountains where, in 2011, factory workers had volunteered to travel to Moscow and, if necessary, use force against anti-Putin protesters. More than a hundred and fifty people were detained in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a republic in the North Caucasus where Putin got more than ninety per cent of the vote in 2012. It was clear that the Kremlin hadn’t anticipated anti-government activity in such regions, and that it had failed to give clear instructions to local authorities. As a result, in some places, the protests went on unmolested; in others, they were broken up roughly, as in Omsk, where authorities had snowplows drive out the crowd in the city’s central square.

The demonstrations were also tied up with Navalny’s political ambitions. He has declared his intention to run for President next year, when Putin is up for reëlection, though Navalny faces a years-old fraud case, which, if the Kremlin decides to pursue it, could bar him from the ballot—the sort of legal gray zone in which the Kremlin likes to keep the country’s opposition. Still, Sunday’s demonstrations put the Kremlin somewhat on the defensive, or at least in search of a new public-facing message of the kind that gives authoritarian governments such as Putin’s a sense of legitimacy.

Each of Putin’s Presidential terms has been bolstered by a different narrative. His first term, which began in 2000, centered on restoring the authority of the state and bringing a basic sense of order and competency to the administration of government. His second term, from 2004 to 2008, was about the redistribution of the country’s windfall oil-and-gas profits, fuelling a consumer boom and effectively buying the population’s political disengagement. And since 2012, when he returned to the office of the President after a faux withdrawal from power as Prime Minister, Putin’s rule has become defined by Russia’s standoff with the West, played out in Ukraine and Syria, which is really about restoring Russia’s self-image as a great power and an influential player on the world stage.

With elections a year away, it’s unclear what argument or bargain Putin wants to make with the Russian people in his fourth, and presumably last, term. The patriotic boost that the annexation of Crimea provided is starting to fade. Russia’s military operation in Syria is an even less potent propaganda tool. Putin and his political advisers don’t have a coherent answer to the populist and non-ideological anti-corruption message offered by Navalny. That doesn’t necessarily mean Navalny represents an actual danger to them at the ballot box. In 2013, Navalny lost the Moscow mayoral election, attracting twenty-seven per cent of the vote—an impressive number given the numerous disadvantages he faced, but perhaps a sign of his electoral ceiling. A recent poll by the Levada Center showed that the number of Russians ready to vote for him for President—which stood at thirty-three per cent in 2011—is now around ten per cent. In the end, Putin’s near-total control over the country’s electoral commissions, local legislatures, and court system at all levels means that his continued rule is likely to remain unchallenged.

Navalny’s real talent is in revealing the system’s weaknesses and blind spots, and in making it look awkward and unsure of itself. Last week, when unidentified pro-Kremlin activists threw green medical dye on him during a campaign rally, Navalny managed to turn his stained face into a popular meme. Sunday’s demonstrations were a clear success, not least because the Kremlin was so unprepared for them. They have awakened a sense of possibility in Navalny’s campaign, if it is allowed to proceed. On Monday, a Moscow court sentenced Navalny to fifteen days in jail for disobeying police orders—ostensibly a window the Kremlin wants to use to reassess its strategy toward Navalny and figure out what to do next. But, even if he figures out how to deal with Navalny, Putin will still face a trickier dilemma: How much longer will the cocktail of inertia, stability, and fear of the unknown keep him generally popular? And, if that political tincture loses its potency, what will his next offer to the Russian people entail? He may be able to delay answering those questions for some time, but not forever.

By Joshua Yaffa a New Yorker contributor based in Moscow. He is also a New America fellow.

March 26, 2017

Anti-Corruption Protesters Gather in 99 Cities in Russia

The Russian police arrested hundreds of people in nationwide anti-corruption protests on Sunday, including the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in Moscow, where thousands gathered for the biggest demonstration in five years against President Vladimir V. Putin.

The protest in the capital took the form of a synchronized walk along a major shopping street to avoid a ban on unsanctioned stationary gatherings. It was one of 99 similar rallies in cities and towns across the country — from Vladivostok in the far east to Kaliningrad in the west — according to the organizer, Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation.

All but 17 of these, the foundation said, had been declared illegal by the authorities.

In Moscow, some protesters tried to block security vans with cars, and the authorities deployed the riot police and surveillance helicopters. But they mostly avoided the brutal measures used in neighboring Belarus on Saturday against protesters in the capital, Minsk, and other cities.

The police in Belarus beat and arrested hundreds of people who tried to gather for the latest in demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

But while less heavy-handed than in Belarus, whose Soviet-style president is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” the police crackdown in Moscow could still complicate efforts by President Trump to deliver on pledges to “get along” with Mr. Putin.

In a statement on Sunday that reflected widespread wariness of the Russian leader in Washington, Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said: “Putin’s thugocracy is on full display. The United States government cannot be silent about Russia’s crackdown on peaceful protesters. Free speech is what we’re all about and Americans expect our leaders to call out thugs who trample the basic human rights of speech, press, assembly and protest.”

Shortly after the senator’s statement, Mark Toner, the acting spokesman for the State Department in Washington, said the United States “strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia on Sunday” and called for their immediate release. “Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values,” he added.

The protests in Russia on Sunday — nominally against corruption but also a rare show of public defiance against Mr. Putin, who has found a fierce and enduring critic in Mr. Navalny — were the largest coordinated display of public dissatisfaction since anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, after an election that was tainted by fraud.
Demonstrators called for the resignation of the prime minister over corruption allegations. Credit Maxim Shipenkov/European Pressphoto Agency
Protesters tried to prevent a police van from taking Mr. Navalny away and chanted: “This is our city. This is our city.” Others shouted, “Russia without Putin,” and held up pieces of paper denouncing the Russian president and his allies as thieves.

In a Twitter post, Mr. Navalny urged his followers to continue with the demonstration after he was grabbed by police officers as he tried to join the crowds along Tverskaya Street in the center of Moscow.

“Guys, I’m O.K.,” he wrote in a message in Russian. “No need to fight to get me out. Walk along Tverskaya. Our topic of the day is the fight against corruption.”

The Moscow Police Department said on its website that “around 500” people had been arrested in the city for taking part in an “unapproved public event.” OVD-info, a group that monitors arrests, said the number of arrests in Moscow was at least 1,000.

Instead of waving big banners with antigovernment slogans as in previous protests, most of those who joined Sunday’s walk on Tverskaya Street displayed their feelings discreetly. Some waved Russian flags, cloaking their opposition in the same patriotism that Mr. Putin has used so successfully to boost his popularity.

Others carried easily hidden signs featuring pictures of ducks, a reference to a claim by Mr. Navalny that corrupt officials even build houses for their ducks. Among those arrested in Moscow were Russian and foreign journalists, the leader of a small opposition party, Nikolai Lyaskin — who said he was hit around the head by police officers and taken to a hospital — and a British student, Gregory Hill, 17.

Demoralized and divided since the post-2011 election protests, which fizzled amid a wave of arrests, Russia’s opposition has struggled to make its voice heard over a din of pro-government sentiment on state-controlled television, which invariably presents opponents of Mr. Putin as traitors in cahoots with the West.

But Mr. Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption campaigner who helped lead the 2011-12 protests, has shown a knack for turning repressive action against him and his followers to his own advantage. When an assailant doused him in a green liquid in Siberia last week, he exulted that his face made him look like a superhero.

Instead of directly attacking Mr. Putin, who is hugely popular outside more liberal-leaning cities like Moscow, Mr. Navalny has focused on rallying support by exposing corruption, an issue that alarms even many of Mr. Putin’s supporters.
Russian officers detaining a man during the demonstration. Credit Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press
Mr. Putin, who is widely expected to seek another term as president in elections next year, has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since the former president, Boris N. Yeltsin, resigned on Dec. 31, 1999. He faces no credible opposition other than that mobilized by Mr. Navalny, the founder and leader of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption.

The opposition leader has declared his intention to run in the 2018 presidential race, despite a criminal conviction in February on fraud charges that made him ineligible to compete but was widely viewed as a political ploy to keep him out of the race.

Even if Mr. Navalny manages to compete for the presidency, he has little chance of winning. But his presence on the ballot would end what since 2000 have been a series of tightly choreographed presidential contests that resembled coronations.

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Dmitri Charishnikov, a 36-year-old web designer who answered Mr. Navalny’s call to walk up and down Tverskaya Street, said protests would change nothing as most Russians “believe what they see on television” and strongly support Mr. Putin. But he added that he still wanted to show that “another Russia still exists.”

Nearby, a police officer shouted through a bullhorn that all those walking in the area were “participants in an unsanctioned gathering” and must immediately disperse or risk prosecution.

State television, the main source of news for most Russians, responded to the protests by ignoring them.

In a report published this month, Mr. Navalny detailed how Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, a close ally of Mr. Putin’s, had built a lavish empire of mansions, country estates, luxury yachts, an Italian vineyard and an 18th-century palace near St. Petersburg.

Mr. Navalny called for the protests after Russia’s Parliament, which is dominated by United Russia — a political party loyal to Mr. Putin — ignored demands for an investigation into accusations of corruption by senior government officials.

By dusk on Sunday, the protests in Moscow had wound down after sporadic scuffles between the police and protesters.

Russian news media reported at least one police officer was taken to a hospital in Moscow with head injuries. A spokesman for the interior ministry in St. Petersburg denied reports one of its officers had died after being beaten by protesters.


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