Russia Update: 5,000 Rally in Novosibirsk Against Censorship of the Arts in Russia

April 4, 2015
Thousands rally in Novosibirsk against censorship of the arts April 5, 2015. Photo by Anton Karliner/Meduza

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.


Special features:

Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: ‘It is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russia’

See also our Russia This Week stories:

Can We Be Satisfied With the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?

All The Strange Things Happening in Moscow
Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider (1959-2015)
Ultranationalists Angry over ‘Capitulation’ of Minsk Agreement

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5,000 Rally in Novosibirsk Against Censorship of the Arts in Russia

Thousands are marching today in Novosibirsk in defense of freedom for the arts, reports.

At least 5,000 are reported to have gathered on Lenin Square at a rally to hear Vladimir Lemeshonok, a Merited Artist of Russia and Deacon Andrei Kurayev, a dissident Russian Orthodox priest, expelled from his position as a professor at the Russian Orthodox Theological Academy for protesting against the jailing of Pussy Riot members and for exposing sexual abuse at the Kazan Seminary.

The demonstrators are protesting the firing of Novosibirsk Opera Theater director Boris Mezdrich on orders of the Ministry of Culture, for refusing to change his staging of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser, which religious believers found offensive.

At the behest of Metropolitan Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church, prosecutors opened an investigation of Mezdrich under Art. 158 (“offense against religious feelings of believers”) but then closed it later due to lack of evidence. Mezdrich was replaced  by Vladimir Kekhman.

Demonstrators are calling for the resignation of Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky as well as Kekhman and urging an end to censorship of the arts.

For the photo report from Meduza go here.

Vice Premier Rogozin to Fly to Vostochny Spaceport to Pay Striking Workers

Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin is personally flying out to the spaceport in Vostochny to deal with striking workers, reported.

Yesterday April 4, 26 construction workers at the airfield in Amur Region began a hunger strike. After they talked with Rogozin on the phone, the action was halted.

He said the reason for the strike was the bankruptcy of one of the sub-contractors at the air field who hasn’t paid the workers. They are building a 700-square-kilometer national civilian space port.

He also said that the prosecutor and other law-enforcement officers were brought in to find out who was behind the strike and press charges against them.

Prime Minister Natalya Timakova said that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had assigned Rogozin to solve the problem with the workers’ pay. A substantial amount of the money has come into the accounts of the plan and is ready to be paid out, TASS reported.

Yury Volkodav, acting head of Dalspetsstroi, the company at the spaceport promised to pay workers before April 10. Back wages now mean the bill is 14 million rubles.

This willingness to send a high official to immediately pay off workers in a high-profile project contrasts with the treatment given workers in Kaluga who formed their own union to deal with foreign car manufacturers. They were harassed and subjected to reprisals for attempting to gain better working conditions and overtime pay. Both these methods have a long history going back to the Soviet era when workers’ discontent was often dealt with by paying off some and punishing others to keep them all off balance.

Aleksandr Bastrykin of the Investigative Committee made it clear in his annual report this year that he viewed mounting workers’ protest as to be expected in the economic crisis and that law-enforcement was preparing for it by regarding it as “extremism” and taking a punitive approach.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Turkey Criticizes Russia Over Shut-Down of Crimean Tatar Station ATR
The government of Turkey has protested to Russia over the closure of the Crimean Tatar TV station ATR, reports. Refat
Chubarov, head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis or assembly said he is now
in Turkey and plans to appeal to the local community of Crimean Tatars
in Turkey to put pressure on the Russian government. Chubarov is now
barred from entry into Russia and occupied Crimea.

Chubarov said
he plans to hold a number of meetings with local Crimean Tatars in the
diaspora and use them as leverage in protesting to Russia.

Moscow continues its course, there will be responses of a
clearly-expressed nature,” he said. Chubarov believes the Crimean Tatars
are in a position to influence business in the Mediterranean and Black
Sea regions.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the
closing of ATR was “another example of oppression of the Crimean-Tatar
people,” Anadolu Agency reported. He said Turkey had delivered a letter to President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the TV station.

The channel was forced off the air on March 31 due to claimed mistakes made in filling out forms to register.

ATR, the only Crimean Tatar channel in the world, had an audience of 5 million and most of their viewers were in Turkey.

Aksyonov, self-proclaimed leader of Crimea said that ATR’s problems
were “purely legal” but then criticized their editorial policy, claiming
they caused “tension” because they gave people the hope that the Crimea
would be returned to Ukraine. Aksyonov has ordered a more docile public
TV to be made from the Crimea Tatar audiences.

President Petro Poroshenko has also assigned staff to enable ATR to continue broadcasting from Ukrainian territory.

Turkish foreign minister said that an informal mission to observe the
human rights situation in Crimea would be sent soon. Turkish authorities
have given the Russian government a list of 100 people who have
suffered discrimination or have disappeared.

But analyst Viktor
Nadein-Rayevsky said that while the Crimean Tatar community displays
some concern about the annexation of the Crimea, it is “not decisive” in
Russian-Turkish relations.

Chubarov believes that in an election year, the Crimean Tatars of
Turkey will make an impact. “Our diaspora always plays a special role in
these elections. And Vladimir Putin will have to chose between
continuation of his policy and in his words, the strategically ipmortant
partner for Russia.”

According to Viktor Nadein-Rayevsky, senior
researcher at the
Institute for World Economy and International Relations, the Crimean
Tatars have broader rights in Crimea than the Kurds of Turkey ever had.
He thinks that Turkey is only playing the Crimean Tatar card in its goal

for Pan-Turkism said that despite good economic relations, Turkey and
Russia do have some issues, such as Russia’s support for Syria even as
Turkey supports Islamists fighting Assad.

While the Crimean Tatar community displays some concern about
the annexation of the Crimea, it is “not decisive” in Russian-Turkish
relations, he says.

Chubarov believes that in an election year, the Crimean Tatars of
Turkey will make an impact. “Our diaspora always plays a special role in
these elections. And Vladimir Putin will have to chose between
continuation of his policy and in his words, the strageically important
partner for Russia.”

Analyst Viktor Hadein-Rayevsky admitted that
despite good economic relations, Turkey and Russia do have some issues,
such as Russia’s support for Syria even as Turkey supports Islamists
fighting Assad.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Extremism Center Doesn’t Find Problem with Neo-Nazis, Just Labor Activists and Ukraine Supporters

As we noted earlier, the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Extremism Center, known as “E Center” did not find anything actionable about the neo-Nazis, ultranationalists and far-right party leaders who gathered in St. Petersburg March 22.

Instead, police rounded up several picketers who protested the fascist groups.

But meanwhile in Kaluga,  Anti-Extremism Center police raided an independent trade union meeting where activists had gathered to discuss the latest lay-offs at local auto plants, Yod News and reported.

Translation: Leader of the Kaluga Trade Unoin told us how E Center is pressuring them and NOD harassing them.

As reported (translation by The Interpreter):

Due to the collapse of the automobile market in connection with the
ruble fall, about 750 people may be fired, 600 from the Peugeot-Citroen
plant and 150 from the Volkswagen plant. Officials from the
Anti-Extremism Center, known as the E Center came to talk to the
detainees. This was considered a preventative measure by the

Fifteen members of the independent Interregional
Trade Union of Worker’s Association (MPRA) were detained. Labor
activists said that they planned to hold talks with the plant
management. if no agreement was reached to keep the jobs, the trade
union would turn out people to rallies and file a number of lawsuits.

Trudovoy, head of the MPRA said with upcoming lay-offs and strikes
possible, the detentions “were an act of intimidation.”

said they hadn’t made the arrests to stop a trade union meeting, but
because they had a report of a robbery.

Etmanov prominent activist in the trade union movement commented,
“These are the methods not of the 1990s, but of the 1930s.”

He said the
MPRA had gathered to discuss the lay-offs, and representatives of the
automobile companies were there. The regular police and then the
spetsnaz were sent in under a pretext. He said attempts were even made
to finger-print people.

“There were no charges made against anyone but
it was a very broad hint that no one should actively fight for their
rights. I am certain that this is 90% the initiative of the region’s
leadership. There are a lot of foreign countries here, and a clear
signal has to be sent that you shouldn’t demand your rights too
actively.” learned that about 40% of employees will not
have their contracts renewed after March 31. In February, Volvo halted
production and about 200 people lost their jobs.

YodNews writes that there is a 20-30% reduction in automobiles and cut-backs in staff all over Russia. Either workers are fired, or they work a part-time work, or they agree to a substantial reduction in pay. The MPRA has been conducting strikes and pickets and the attracting the harassment of E Center. Activists said they were pressured to admit they worked for Western intelligence agencies and were now targeted by the ultranationalist group National Liberation Movement (NOD).

The group was formed in 2006 to represent the interests of works at the Ford plant in Tolgiatti. More than 15 plants are in the union. Aleksei Etmanov is the chair and was also elected as a deputy to the local legislature in Leningrad Region.

Kozhnev said the E Center claimed that a robber had hit someone over the head with a bottle then come running into the building, which is why 50 police had to come and detain 15 people. When they were taken to the station, they were asked not about the thief and the bottle but trade union activity.

The union has been successful, going on strike in 2013 with the Benteler Automotive which led to the signing of a collective bargain agreement. At Volkswagen, they managed to increase their salary fourfold, from 7,000 to 30,000 rubles, and also to get overtime when asked to work weekends.

Under Russian law, it is very hard to go on strike because workers are supposed to notify the employer 7 days in advance, and the management can use that time to go to court and have the action declared illegal. The union has grown to more than 400 people at Volkswagen and has grown stronger. And that’s why E Center has begun to make arrests, put surveillance on people, intimidate them to get them to cease their activities.

Says Kozhnev (translation by The Interpreter):

As soon as our activity began to bring results, they began to summon us to E Center with notices and threaten with criminal prosecution. Once my car was blocked on the street and I was taken to the precinct. Some comrades were caught showing fake medical excuses and were threatened with court and forced to collect information on trade union leaders.

One worker had weapons planted on him. He got into a car with law-enforcers, they gave him a package and said there was a pistol with which a crime had been committed, and either he had to inform on his colleagues or face trial. This comrade refused to inform, he publicized this situation widely and they backed off.

Another comrade was sent to the army. Due to a serious leg injury, the guy was not fit for armed service. But suddenly he was pronounced healthy during a medical exam. He began to demand an independent exam, then he was abducted and sent in the army. He served his term, and returned any and now able to handle a weapon. And is working in the trade union again. There are more people who don’t wish us well. NOD [National Liberation Movement] joined them recently.

NOD considers us Banderovtsy [followers of the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera–The Interpreter] because anarchists come to our rallies with flags with the anarchist symbol. Their logic is such: if the Banderovtsy have a black and red flags and anarchists have the same colors, then they are the same. Hilarious, of course. It is pointless to ask questions of the NODites, it it better not to talk to those ridiculous people. Anatoly Artamonov, governor of Kaluga Region, also calls us agents of the West. And this is a person who builds the economy of his region on NATO countries and himself has awards from NATO countries! There is a trend now: everyone who defends is rights is a fifth columnist and an agent of the State Department.

GM has also laid off about 1,000 workers in St. Petersburg as it discontinued the Chevrolet and Opel.

The E Center has also targeted students in Saratov who wore blue and yellow ribbons.

Translation: In Saratov, they arrested the guys just for wearing yellow and blue ribbons. Shocking contrast.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Communist Leader Zyuganov Hints Medvedev Government Should Resign

Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist party of the Russian Federation, called for the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Tatarstan’s Business Gazette reported.

Zyuganov spoke at the Mercury Club, a prestigious membership organization headed by former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov which brings together politicians and business people.

Said Business Gazette:

Finally, Zyuganov grew quite bold and said what likely he would never say from the podium of the Duma: the government must be dismissed.

“These people are not capable of dragging the country out of its systemic crisis neither by their resumes, or their capabilities, or their team which is around them. Either the president will replace the staff, or the situation will grow more acute,” threatened Zyuganov. But he immediately said he himself did not want any aggravation.

But wrote a bit sarcastically of the meeting, saying in a headline of a brief story, “Politicians
and Economists
Have Found the Culprit for the Crisis in Russia,” and explained that it
was “neo-liberals.” didn’t mention Zyuganov’s implication that the
government to resign, but noted his remark that “either the president
will replace the staff or by fall the situation will be grow severely

Primakov himself spoke, picking  up the themes of his last speech in January which blogger Pavlo Praviy had characterized as “an ultimatum” to the Putin government to change.

In this speech, Primakov, unlike his previous talk, did not mention Ukraine, but focused on four aspects of the domestic economic crisis:

First, 40% of exports are oil, or even more than 70%, if we count petroleum products. Meanwhile, 75% of the country’s most vital items including technology are purchased abroad; 70% of medicines and 40% of food, which were also making Russia dependent; other countries produce their own products in these sectors. The ratio of net export to the GDP is higher than in China and Germany — 9 %, whereas it is 5-6% for those countries.

Second, poor infrastructure in the regions, hidden unemployment, and poor management are causing capital flight, which Primakov sees as being cured by decentralization of decision-making.

Third, the banking system works not from domestic savings by the population but from “cheap resources from abroad” which turn out not to be so cheap when there’s a crisis.

Fourth, there is a “de-professionalization” of the cadres — ineffective privatization, low pay, excessive bureaucracy, and inflated, high-paid state monopolies, which he saw fixable only by better rules of the game for business, particularly small business, and import replacement, i.e. stimulating domestic products over imports.

Oksana Dmitrieva, a deputy of the State Duma, called for the key rate of the Central Bank to be lowered and said it should be lower than inflation. But Primakov noted that while there were those proposing to reduce the key rate to 6-8% with 15% inflation, in a market economy the rate should not be lower than inflation.

Serge Glazyev said “not in a single scholarly publication is there proof that targeted inflation should be accompanied with letting the ruble float.” He blamed the Central Bank for heeding IMF recommendations.

One speaker who didn’t look for scapegoats, said was Anatoly Artamonov, governor of Kaluga Region, who said loans should be provided for techological renovation, tax breaks and tax holidays should be created. While the amount of funds lost by the budget would be 42 billion rubles, it would bring in 150 billion revenue in rubles ultimately.

An auditor of the Accounts Chamber, former State Duma deputy Maksim Rokhmistrov, said that there were only 1.2 participants per bid for state purchases. Asked why this was the case, he found people said “either you have to have an uncle in uniform or money to give” — for bribes.

Russia has 36 inspection organizations, which Rokhmistrov siad had to be removed as they stifled business. “Business is not disabled, you don’t have to support it, he said. “You have to develop it.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Interior Ministry Anti-Extremism Center Finds No Problems with International Conservative Forum
The Anti-Extremism Center at the St. Petersburg Department of the
Interior Ministry, known as “E Center”, replied to an inquiry from
deputy Boris Vishnevsky on the matter of the International Russian
Conservative Forum (MRKF), organized on March 22 by the Rodina Party, reported.

to the Center’s information, the parties who participated in the forum
are not banned in Russia, and some in fact are deputies, in their own
countries and in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, there were
checks before and after the forum. According to the reply received
(translation by The Interpreter):

During the activities
conducted, facts of violations of Russian Federation law by the MRKF
participants, including public calls for extremist activity, incitement
of racial, national, religious or other hatred, humiliation of a person
on these grounds of affiliations to a social group were not recorded.

while the nationalists who organized the meeting were left alone, those
who staged counter-protests “violated public order” and four of them
were detained.

A Russian blogger asked why the authorities didn’t
object to the forum. Among the participants were neo-Nazis and they were
meeting in a city where one million people lost their lives in the
Nazi Siege of Leningrad.

Translation: Does it really suit survivors of the Blockade
and other veterans that pure-bred neo-Nazis have gathered in St.
Petersburg and openly conduct their forum?

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick