Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Regime Opponents, Under Pressure in Russia’s Regions, Flee to Capitals

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 17 – Less constrained than their counterparts in Moscow, police officials in Russia’s regions are currently putting so much pressure on those they identify as “extremists” that many of these people in many cases feel compelled to move to Moscow and St. Petersburg where they hope there is “still a chance to be heard.”

On the one hand, this situation means that the state of repression in the Russian Federation is much worse than it may appear to those who judge it on the basis of the situation in Moscow and St. Petersburg. And on the other, it suggests that the amount of opposition to the regime in the capitals may overstate the level of such opposition in the country as a whole.

Those are just some of the disturbing conclusions suggested by commentator Aleksander Litoy in an article the current issue of Moscow’s “New Times” weekly, an article that compares how interior ministry officers treat people in Moscow and the provinces and examines how opposition figures have adapted to this difference (www.newtimes.ru/articles/detail/38797).

Litoy notes that the E Centers have existed in the interior ministry since the end of 2008, when they replaced the subdivisions for the struggle with organized crime and when the majority of the staff of the latter passed into the former. But already then, after anti-extremist legislation was passed, “rights activists expressed concern” that these units would be used against dissent.

That is exactly what has happened. Litoy says. And as a result, “the “clients” of the centers” had only one option left to defend themselves if they were operating in the regions: “they could flee to the capitals where there are still media prepared to speak out on behalf of the repressed and where organizations defending rights are still active.”

Those who were in the regions had no such defense, and the operatives of the E section of the local interior ministry offices acted against them without much ceremony. Anna Polikova, the editor of the extremizma.net site, says that this reflects the anti-organized crime background of the officers involved.

Most of these officers, she suggests, view their new “charges” as no different than the organized criminal groups they had earlier been deployed against. Consequently, they “are not able to work any differently” toward political dissidents than they did toward real criminal groups.

Indeed, Polikova points out, “the regional ‘E-men’ consider the ideal situation to be when on their territory there are in general no political organizations or initiatives other than the official ones.” And consequently, given their past, they seek to suppress any independent action, viewing it through the prism of official definitions of “extremism.”

As a result, outside of the capitals, Litoy says, “the possibilities of those who struggle with extremism have only increased despite the continuing criticism by the media and human rights activists.” And that has led many political activists there either to cease their activities or, quite often, to flee to Moscow or St. Petersburg where their chances are greater.

Appended to Litovoy’s article are quotations from the late Galina Kozhevnikova or SOVA, Mikhail Maglov of Solidarity, who himself came to Moscow from Omsk, and Olga Ivanova of the Left Front who moved from Krasnodar to Moscow, all of whom support Litoy’s basic conclusions.

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