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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Russian Activist Navalny Sentenced for Financial Crimes.


History never dies. It is reborn every minute of every day.

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In the old Soviet Union, activism got you a diagnosis of mental illness and life in a mental institution. In Vladimir Putin's Russia the preferred charge for activism seems to be embezzlement or corruption. Somehow financial crimes have a better ring in the age of post communist turbo-capitalism.


 THE FACTS: The Putin Regime in Russia would like you to believe that there has been freedom of protest and a free press since Gorbachev, last premier of the Soviet Union, brought in a policy of "Glasnost" or 'Openness" in 1986- and certainly a free, healthy and very noisy press sprang up for a short period of time on the eve of the fall of the SVciet Union. In the new Russia, the press has received direction by threats, violence and occasional murder rather than by the state decree of the old Czarist and Communist regimes.  Indeed, if Prime Minister Putin has declared that Russia is a "managed" democracy, with ownership of the means of election in the hands of the government party and the intimidation of opposition candidates, it has the same sort of "managed" press freedom. In wake of Soviet oppression, the Kremlin is unlikley to table any broad-based censorship law, preferring more mysterious, indirect methods. Journalists who have been murdered have generally been critical of the government, the Russian Mafia or the oligarchs, the latter almost entirely friendly with Putin after he put the less docile barons in their place. An alternative way of "managing" the media is by closure or takeover- for example Putin's effective nationalization of TV-6 in 2002, although the manager of TV-21 was merely shot to death in 2003. In the same year, TVS was closed for "financial reasons." By the end of 2003 the Putin government owned all of Russian television media. Print journalists have regularly been beaten or murdered. Routine investigations are launched and suspects arrested but amost no one has been convicted. The celebrated Anna Politskovskaya was murdered in 2006 while investigating abuses by the Russian military inChechnya. It's not as if the Kremlin orders the killing of journalists; rather, it seems as if certain elements in the lower apparat or on the margins are free to do what they know will gain approval, and almost certainly with impunity.

Systematic censorship in Russia can be traced back to Catherine the Great's fear of the subversive power of the ideas of the American and French Revolutions (1776-1792). After alternating periods of liberalization and repression censorship increased steadily in the 19th century with the growth of homegrown revolutionary movements like the Decembrists (circa 1820-1850).  The liberal anarchist Herzen and his circle were forced to publish in England. As revolutionary agitation took on the character of a war against the state and assassinations increased, censorship became increasingly severe. At the end of the cenutry, a brief thaw during the reign of Nicholas II allowed a voice to numerous Marxist periodicals before the Czar personally brought back censorship. Lenin imposed censorship to ensure the loyalty of the Red Army and staunch reaction to the execution of the Royal Family. A major reason for Stalin's control of the press was the politically induced famine in the Ukraine which killed millions. The great novelist Alexander Solzenitsyn benefited from Krushchev's attack on Stalin's personality cult, only to syffer censorship under the Breszhnev regime. Like Herzen, Solzhenitsyn was forced to publish outside Russia. The human rights campaign in the west, epitomized by the Helsinki agreements of 1977 brought about a crackdown on dissidents. The sudden and anarchic press freedom brought in by Premier Gorbachev's Glasnost movement, went the same way as did political and economic freedom after the fall of the old Soviet system: under putative democracy, censorship was resumed in the form or violence, intimidation, buy-outs and closures, rather than by formal, old-fashioned censorship.


Russia Responds t the French Revolution with censorship.

1787- in response to American Revolution and unrest in France, Catherine the Great imposes heavy censorship, undoing much of her own Russian enlightenment.

1789- the French Revolution is followed closely by liberal aristocrats, intellectuals and merchants.

1796-1801- Paul I- restricts travel and imposes censorship.

Alexander I- relaxes censorship.

Censorship stiffens with Homegrown Revolutionary Movements

1825- the liberal aristocractic Decembrist plot. In reaction, Nicholas I brings in heavy censorship and expands an extensive network of police spies.

1849- Fyodor Dostoesvsky arrested for taking part in the Decembrist or Petrachevsky plot, a conspiracy or liberal nobles. After being sentenced to death and spared by a mock firing squad- he is sent to four years in Siberia.

1850s (circa) - many Russian political journals and thinkers like Herzen, as well as poets and novelists, are published in London to avoid censorship

1881- assassination of Alexander II.

1881-94- Alexander III- in response to the assassination of his father, he tightens censorship, revives religious censorship.

Marxist Publications appear as Censorship Relaxed.

-late 1890s- due to relaxation of censorship, Marxist periodicals start to appear.

-Nicholas II disregards laws easing censorship.

Red Army Loyalty and Execution of Royal Family bring Communist Censorship
1918--the Bolsheviks use political commissars as well as the Cheka, or secret police gangs to insure the loyalty of the red Army along well as the fusion of the party and state in a single authority.
 1918- after the execution of the royal family, Lenin imposes censorship and had literature of dissident workers confiscated.

Stalin Hides his Crimes.
1929-1932- Stalin uses widespread censorship to prevent the emergence of the collective-induced Great Famine in the outside world.
1945-1953- novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, while on military duty in East Prussia, is arrested for criticizing Stalin in private correspondence and sentenced to eight years hard labour.

1965- Solzhentsyn subjected to severe censortrship.
1970- Sozheitsyn wins Nobel Prize for Literature.
1973- First volume of Solzhenitsyn's Gulafg Archipelago appears.
1974- Solzhenitsyn exiled from Societ Union..

Soviets React against Helsinki.

1977- the Soviet Union, embarrassed by the Helsinki human rights movement, cracks down on dissidents throughout the country.

-Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a Georgian historian, intellectual and dissident is sentenced to 6 years in Sagestan for 'anti-soviet activities'.

1977- Natan Sharansky, a Jewish human rights activist, is arrested and sent to 14 years hard labour in Siberia.
1978- Solzhenitsyn's 'First Circle' published in Russia.

1984- Elena Bonner, journalist, human rights activist and wife of Andrei Sakharov is also sentenced to 5 years exile in Gorki for "anti-Soviet slander."

Gorbachev's Glasnost Removes Cemsorship.

1986- Gorbachev introduces Glasnost, or democratic reforms. He attempts the impossible modernizing and democratizing the Soviet Union without dismantling it. First apppearance of an independent press in Russian history as new publicationns spring up.

The Press under Putin.

2000- Putin, former president Yeltsin’s protégé, is elected president.

2001- Sept. 18- Eduard Markevitch editor of Novy Reft, critical of government, is murdered.

2002- March 8- Natalya Skryl ,journalist critical of Russian corporations is murdered.
April 29- Valery Ivanov, editor of the Togliatti Review which reported on the Russian mafia, is murdered.

-Russian TV station TV-6 is forced off the air by the government and reinstated with Kremlin managers at TVS.

2003- April 18- Dmitiri Shvets of TV-21, Murmansk, shot after investigative reporting on local politicians.

-Russia closes the TVS television station, allegedly for financial reasons.

-July 23- Yuri Shchekochikhin about to report jounralisic investigation of FSB to FBI- for Novaya Gazeta when he was murdered.

-Oct 9- Alexei Sidorov, successor at Togliatti review, reporting on Russian Mafia, is killed.

November- the Putin government has taken over all Russian TV stations.

2004- -July 9- Paul Khlebnikov, editor of the Russian Forbes critical of relations between the Oligarchs and the Kremlin-- is murdered.

Murder of Anna Politskovskaya

2006- Oct 7- Anna Politskovskaya, editor of Novaya Gazeta, investigating abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya- is shot to death.

2007- Kamzan Kadyrov, a suspect in the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, is elected president of Chechnya.

-under a new law "extremism" is defined as "public slander toward figures fulilling state dities."

-April 8- Marina Pisareva- head of German media group Bertelsmann, murdered.

Aug. 27- 10 suspects are arrested in the murder of journalist Anna Politskovskaya.

Death of Magnitsky, anti-corruption lawyer

2009-  Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer who had alleged wide-scale tax fraud, was prosecuted on trumped-up charges and died in pre-trial custody.

2009- summer- -Nataliya Estimatova, a human rights worker is found dead in Chechnya.

2010-November- Russian journalist Adam Adamchuk beaten after critical reports on protested highway project through the Khimki forest.

New Charges against jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky

2010 December - Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, already serving a a sentence for tax evasion imposed in 2005, is found guilty of embezzlement and money-laundering in a trial critics say is politically motivated.

2011- In Chechnya the 2009 murders of three activists—Natalya Estemirova, Zarema Saidulaeva, and Alik Dzhabrailov—remain unpunished. Impunity for these murders has had a chilling effect on Chechen activists. In at least two cases in 2011, activists were subjected to severe harassment by officials, but made no official complaints for fear of retribution.   (HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH)

2011- June- In June 2011 two unidentified men severely beat Bakhrom Hamroev—Central Asia expert with Memorial Human Rights Center (Memorial), a leading Russian human rights group—in his Moscow apartment building. It was the second such beating he had endured in less than six months. Both attacks remain unpunished. (HRW)

 Suppression of the band, 'Pussy Riot.'

2012- Feb 21: Four members of the band "Pussy Riot" play a protest set at the Russian Orthodox Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. The set lasted just five minutes before it was put to a stop. The band still had time to play their songs “Holy Shit” and “Madonna, Drive Putin Away.” They later said the performance was meant to highlight the “close relationship between the church and state.”
 2012- June 9- An onerous law regulating protests went into effect after parliament passed it quickly. The bill raised fines for unsanctioned protests to about $9,000 for individuals, up from $60, and as much as $48,000 for organizers, up from $1,160. Those unable to pay would be ordered to perform up to 200 hours of community service. Those unable to pay would be ordered to perform up to 200 hours of community service.

2012- Aug 17- the three members of "Pussy Riot" receive a verdict of two years in prison camp "Former chess champion Garry Kasparov and dozens of others are arrested outside the court, while protesters gather outside of the Russian Embassies in New York and London to protest the ruling. The three women plan to appeal the verdict in the European Court of Human Rights."


1880-1980: In the late 19th century, the iron-fisted rule of Alexander III led in turn to attempts at liberalization under Nicholas II. But Nicholas' policies were contradictory and his rule wavering and weak: he liberalized censorship, then ignored his own decisions. By then Bolshevism had already got its start and the revolution was on its way.
The Russian autocracy rarely allowed the freedom necessary for the growth of the educated middle class that could push for democracy and economic development as it did in other countries. State-assisted capitalism made a belated appearance at the end of the reign of Nicholas II. With a lack of modernizing institutions developing at home, almost every idea continued to be imported from abroad. Marxism was imported from Germany, soon to become Soviet Communism. In every case however, authoritarian rule, the only system that ever went unquestioned, would be seen as necessary to protect Orthodoxy, Monarchy, Communism, Republican Authoritariansim (Putin) or whatever new system developed or was imported-- from internal dissent.
Unnerved by the attempted revolution of 1905, Czar Nicholas II brought back the Russian parliament, known as the 'Duma'. Elected by indirect and unequal suffrage, the body was divided into class-based electoral groups of landowners, townspeople, peasants and workers declining in representation in the same order. A higher body, the 'State Council', was made up of officials either appointed by the Czar or elected by the nobility, the Zemstvos (village councils) clergy and other constituencies based on wealth or land. Faced with opposing majorities , however, Nicholas dissolved the first two Dumas in 1906 and 1907. By limiting qualifications for election, he produced a third, more conservative Duma which lasted from 1907 to 1912 and produced some reform. The fourth Duma of 1912-1917, though conservative, was weak. Its crucial reform proposals were quashed by a higher reactionary body, the State Council. With the onset of revolution in March, 1917, the Duma disintegrated. Meanwhile, the liberal revolutionaries of February, 1917, sought to make the Zemstvo the basis of a democratic revolution. When the Bolsheviks took power in 1917, the Zemstvos lost what democratic independence they had had when they were converted into Soviets. The Duma, meanwhile became a liberal provisional government under Alexander Kerensky but when his reforms failed to halt the growing anarchy, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, seized power in October.
Lenin's Poltiburo, the policy-making body of the Bolshevik Party elite steered the revolution while executive powers were held by the Secretariat. The Party Central Committee administered the Party itself. In 1918, after the Bolsheviks failed to win a majority in the Constituent Assembly, they seized power by force and outlawed the opposition. To consolidate the power of the new government, the Bolsheviks used political commissars and roving gangs of the 'Cheka' or secret police to insure the loyalty of the army and other bodies like the Soviets, to the Bolshevik Party.
In 1922, Joseph Stalin headed the Party Central Committee, Leon Trotsky headed the army and Zinoviev ran the Comintern, the body responsible for spreading the revolution internationally. Stalin, meanwhile, gathered power inside the executive body, the Secretariat, by having the latter assume the policy-making powers of the Politburo. On 30 December of that year, the Soviet Union was founded. Under the Soviet system the Supreme Soviet formed a legislative body of delegates from the Soviets of all the Soviet Republics. The system was pyramidal with each Soviet subordinate to the ones above it. Democratic in theory, the system was really a massive, hierarchal bureaucracy answerable to the Secretariat. (Opposition members in Russia have complained that Putin does not run a democracy but only an administraion) By 1924, Stalin was First General Secretary of the Communist Party. In 1927, he expelled Zinoviev, Trotsky and Kamenev from the party. As Stalin eliminated his rivals, the position of First General Secretary of the party would become, de facto, the title for all leaders of the Soviet Union. During his great purges of the1930s, Stalin ruled from the Secretariat, strengthening his grip on the Politburo and used his secret police, the NKVD, to snuff out all opposition, including mere difference of opinion.
In 1956, the late Stalin's successor, Nikita Krushchev, denounced Stalin for crimes against the party and for building a personality cult. The following year he resisted an attempt to unseat him by invoking the Politburo's traditional responsibility to the Party Central Committee. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, Krushchev's successor, Leonid Brezhnev ,brought back some Stalinist policies for strengthening the leadership.

1986-2009: In 1986, Soviet premier Gorbachev introduced 'Glasnost', a campaign of democratic reform, free speech and openness to historical and political truth. He abolished the Politburo. But the spirit of criticism unleashed by Glasnost led to Gorbachev's own downfall and the break-up of the Soviet Union. After a presidential democracy was brought in, in June, 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first Russian leader to be elected, winning 57% of the vote. On 19 August, 1991, Premier Gorbachev was surprised by an attempted coup by hard-core Communists, Yeltsin mounted a tank, asked for the allegiance of the Soviet army and declared that the Russian parliament should be cleared of reactionaries. The army refused to participate in the Communist coup which then collapsed. Gorbachev suspended the Communist Party on August 29 and closed the Party Central Committee. In December, the leaders of the former Soviet republics began to secede from the old union and Gorbechev resigned. Yeltsin persuaded the parliament (the former Supreme Soviet) to give him emergency powers to reform and liberalize the economy. The new regime brought in a period of lawlessness which allowed both the new capitalist class of 'Oligarchs" and (potentially) the state to garner unchecked power. In 1993, Yeltsin brought in a new constitution by which presidential powers were greatly strengthened. Russia became a federation and a presidential republic with the president head of state (eligible for election for two, four year terms) and the prime minister head of the government, which also served as the executive. There were two houses of parliament, the Federation Council and the State Duma. The latter had last been seen as the pre-revolutionary parliament, the name 'Duma' being revived. But the Duma contained so many splinter parties that it was difficult to find a sustainable majority. An attempt to impeach Yeltsin by the far right and the far left provoked him to launch a military attack on the Duma Nevertheless, Yeltsin's prestige was severely weakened.
Vladimr Putin, Yeltsin's own desginate, as well as his security chief, took power after Yeltsin retired. In the wake of the elections of 1999, however, the Duma ratified Putin's victory with a majority and the Duma regained some of its authority. There followed Putin's campaign of law and order as he cracked down on crime and on the oligarchs. Many Russians came to regard him as a savior, earning him a good deal of leeway in gathering of autocratic power with increasing indifference to human rights. In 2002-2003 Putin closed almost all independent TV and radio stations. The arrest and trial of Mikahil Khordokovsky, owner of the energy giant, Yukos, for tax evasion, seemed almost part of a personal vendetta launched by Putin against the Oligarchs. In 2004, Putin was re-elected in a landslide. Russia's use of force in dealing with separatism, Chechen terrorism inside Russia, gang wars among the Oligarchs were seen to justify his increasing presidential power and crackdowns on the media. In 2004-2005- Russia's own Gazprom won contol over Yukos. Putin, meanwhile seemed to have surrounded himself with his own, approved millionaires, apparatchiks in his government. The state, if not a private enterprise itself, appeared to be moving toward a monopoly on private enterprise. In 2005, Putin replaced the election of regional governors with direct appointment by the president. In turn, the power of the Duma has come to be limited by Federation Council (as it was by Czar Nicholas' State Council) which is filled with deputies from the republics who apparently take their voting instructions from Putin and the executive rather than cooperating with the Duma as intended in the constitution. January of 2006 saw Putin award himself increased powers to combat what has been seen to be the menace of Non-Governmental Organizations. In November of that year, Aleaxander Litvinenko, a former KGB man and then a prominent Putin critic was murdered in London by means of polonium nitrate poisoning. Another former KGB officer, Aandrei Lugovoy, is wanted by Britain in connection with the slaying, but Moscow is refusing to extradite him. (He remains close to the Kremlin and won a seat in the Duma or his Liberal Democratic party in the rcent elections) In the run-up to the December, 2007 elections, Putin's United Russia party retains powerful support from Putin's own clean-living cheer-leading youth group, 'Young Russia'. The opposition parties, including that of Liberals and the party of former chess champion Gary Kasparov, have endured harassment and arrests as well as police crackdowns on free speech, public gathering and street protests. 'United Russia', the government party has insured it has the monopoly on media and campaign advertising. Sure enough, in early December, United Russia wins a landslide, with Putin re-elected as president.

The new year, 2008, is greeted with continuing tensions between Britain and Russia over the Litvenenko affair, while Russia flexes her muscles further with naval manoeuvres off France in the Bay of Biscay, reviving uneasy memories of Soviet practices. In March Putin holds on to power with plans to take a powerful back seat as Prime Minister while Yvgeny Medvedev succeeds him in presidential elections.

In spring, 2007, Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway province of Abkazia becomes restive again and in August all hell breaks loose as Georgia invades South Ossetia to staunch separatist movements, provoking a full scale invasion by Russia. Russia crushes the Georgia;s military bid and occupies Ossetia and parts of Georgia until France brokers a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces. Medvedev scores a rhetorical victory and angers the west by declaring independence for Abkazia and South Oossetia.

The credit crunch hits Russia in September and a month later, the parliament votes a $68 billion dollar fund to bail out Russisn banks. While Russia appears financially to move in step with the West, Medvedev defies American plans for a missile shield in central Europe by announcing intentions of placing short range missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave. In Moscow, meanwhile, the executive is further strenghtened with the extension of a presidential term from four to six years.

The arrival of 2009 witnesses a squabble between Russia and Ukraine over the price at which Russia is selling gas to the Ukraine and Ukraine's unpaid gas bills with Russia. Russia shuts off the gas, freezing the Balkans and Greeze. Better news develops in Central Europe as Medvedev cancels plans for missiles in Kaliningrad in response to Obama's decision to scrap the plans for a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. The warming of relations is followed in April by an agreement to replace the old 1991 Start-1 Nuclear Disarmament treaty with a new approach to nucular disarmament.

In October, the focus returns to Russia's ever-strengthening executive as the United Russia Party sweeps local elections across the country, despite opposition claims of widespread rigging of polls.

600-1870 The causes of Russia's chronic authoritarianism are often debated but it is clear that it has been cumulative and self-perpetuating. Russian civilization began at a much later date than that of its European neighbours. In a sense it has been playing a thousand year game of catch-up which can been seen in the ruthless social policies of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Stalin. In every case an emergency of some kind was seen to put the leadership's authority beyond criticism in an effort to accelerate the pace of change. It also entailed refusing education to the masses. By 600 AD, eastward migrating Slavs had occupied a marshy wilderness between the civilizations of Europe and East Asia. A new civilization, they developed a tendency to borrow thier governing institutions from abroad. Time and again, burdened with a population far less advanced than that of Europe, force would be seen to be necessary in dealing with threats or competition from outside powers.
Benighted as they were, the early Slavic inhabitants invited the Varangians from the north west, first as mercenaries, then as rulers. By 1000 AD the Varangians had founded Kiev and Vladimir I of the Varangian kingdgom of Rurik had imported Byzantine Christianity. Settlers from Kiev formed 'Rus' around Moscow and endured the Mongol invasions. By the 14th century Moscow had succeeded the Mongols as the power in the region and a Council of Boyars became Russia's first Duma. In the 15th century, Ivan III, 'the Great' used Tartar (Mongol) concepts of bureaucracy and centralized rule as well as European ideas to make Russia into a regional power. He borrowed the word 'Caesar' (Czar) as the title for the monarch.
Ivan III was succeeded by Ivan IV, "The Terrible", who formed a vast secret police, Oprichina, into a service nobility to suppress and expropriate the powerful Boyars, or nobles; the Oprichnina were given Boyar lands in return. However the lands were to revert to the state upon death to deprive them of any hereditary power base. His autocratic methods were derived from the theories of his political advisor, Ivan Peresvetov. Determined to secure land for the state, Ivan extracted as much as possible in rents and in territory from serfs and noblility alike and eroded the traditional liberties of the serfs. Driven to revolt, peasant rebellions erupted, the most famous of which was that of Stenka Razin. Like all the others, Razin and his followers faced mass execution.
In the early 18th century, Peter I, "the Great" used autocratic force and repression to westernize the country under the guidance of European experts. Under the 'Entitlement Act' of 1714, he restored the nobility that had been crushed by Ivan the Terrible as well as giving the descendants of Ivan's service gentry the right to bequeath land to their heirs. Inevitably, as Russia Europeanized itself by force, it moved backward politically. At the end of the century, Catherine the Great further strengthened the nobility while repressing the serfs. At the same time, she imported the European enlightenment but began to suppress it as soon as she became aware of the French Revolution. While liberal nobles and intellectuals followed it closely, fear of the French Revolution and all European revolutions to follow was one of the chief causes of most Russian reaction and repression to come
Alexander I, who vanquished Napoleon's invasion of Russia, was relatively liberal and relaxed censorship. In 1809, he attempted to give some legality to his rule by instituting separated executive, legislative and judicial powers which were nevertheless individually responsible to the Czar. Their power was partially limited by a Duma whose election was based on landownership and hence without representation of the serfs. In time, however, those bodies were reduced to a single State Council armed with little but advisory powers. The younger generation of Alexander's successor, Nicholas I, had begun to feel inspiration from the French Revolution but plots like the Petrachevsky conspiracy, for which Dostoesky was sent to Siberia, caused Nicholas to turn to repression and tighten censorship.
1861 saw the institution by Alexander II of 'Zemstvos" or rural village councils of elected officials. But representation was in direct proportion to ownership of land and divided among landowners, townspeople and the peasantry. The Zemstvos elected executive committees to the povincial assemblies. Their Zemstvos' pushed through important local reforms which were, however, seriously impeded by the federal bureaucracy. In 1870, municipal 'Dumas' became the counterpart to the rural representative bodies known as 'Zemstvos'.

CROSS-CENTURY SUMMARY: Forced, rapid change and "revolution from above" bolstered by a sense of emergency, had its causes and justifications in Russia's early history. Ivan IV and Peter the Great increased Russia's power at whatever cost. By the 19th century, ho
wever, Russia was a strong European power and had less excuse for the reactionary policies which continued to keep its population in a state of backwardness. The response to liberal ideas from Europe was panic and repression which further revolutionized the left-wing intelligentsia. The absence of an effective middle class did not help things. It could be argued that Russia's 19th century rulers failed her. Their enduring legacy is to be found, among other things, in the heavy state censorship wielded by the Soviet Union and the post-communist Kremlin.

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