Russia’s Unity Day: the transformation of majority

Nov 04 2015

Ten years ago, President Vladimir Putin cancelled the state celebration of the Day of October Revolution on November 7 (also known as The Day of Great October Socialist Revolution during the Soviet period).

Many people welcomed the move; in fact it should’ve been done back in 1993. But November 7 was replaced with the state holiday of November 4, known as Unity Day. Obviously, the unification of the Russian nation was meant to take place around Putin’s personality. And it did, for a while, but nowadays Unity Day has a tendency to turn into a set of unpredictable metamorphoses.

But let’s get back to a few years ago. In spite of all the attempts to popularize new state holiday (including a documentary movie made by one of the most prestigious Russian film directors Vladimir Khotinenko), most Russians still didn’t celebrate November 4. According to state polling data, in 2009 1 in 3 Russians didn’t know which holiday the country was celebrating, 1 in 10 thought that the it was to celebrate the October Revolution, and 1 in 15 thought that November 4 was the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan.

The only ones who knew exactly what to do during all these years were nationalists. That’s why for Russian journalists, November 4 is better known as the Day of Russian March. It’s worth noting that the 2005 Russian March was the first popular nationalist rally approved by the authorities. This also marked the period of Putin’s not entirely unsuccessful flirtation with Russian nationalists.

Several years passed but for the majority of Russians, November 4 remained no more than a day off. In 2014, however, a significant change took place, as Putin might as well have been celebrating not just Unity Day, but Unity Year all year long- literally. Each day after the annexation of Crimea, Putin slowly became the Father of Nation: his administration deputy chief Vyacheslav Volodin framed this sacral status, saying, “If there is Putin, there is Russia; and without Putin, there is no Russia”.

And even though few people know exactly what the “Father of the Nation” is, it seems to be someone who is responsible for everything that happens to the nation, both triumphs and tragedies. Four days ago, after months of triumphs, a tragedy took place: a Russian airplane crashed in Egypt, killing 224 people. The airplane in question was a charter flight full of tourists who were mostly from Saint Petersburg, Putin’s home city.

The catastrophe took place on Saturday, but “the Father” didn’t appear before the Nation until Monday. Putin didn’t give a national address, but instead expressed his deepest condolences on the spot before a meeting with the Transport Minister.

Apparently, Putin didn’t think it was worth interrupting his weekend for, or perhaps he simply didn’t want to. But the motive behind his decision doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the president wasn’t there. And for perhaps the first time ever, Russians have at last achieved real unity, the people’s unity; without any fake “Father of Nation”.

This has happened before: when Muscovites sheltered each other in their homes during the smog in 2010 and the authorities did almost nothing; when up to 200 000 people poured into the streets to protest against Putin’s return; when Russians raised millions for those who suffered in the terrible 2012 Krymsk floods; when Russians raise money for cancer sufferers every day because the government doesn’t provide the medication – it happens. It happened, unexpectedly, less than a month ago when the state-owned First TV Channel began a fundraising campaign to provide firewood for the elderly. Most intellectuals have called the fact that so many elderly people live in poverty a source of shame for oil – and gas-rich Russia. Democratic Choice party activist Stanislav Yakovlev fairly said he viewed “cautious attempts at peaceful, humanitarian, nonviolent nation-building as a civil unification through a noble cause”. The current sorry state of Russian nation – building, Yakovlev said, is the idea that “we look after our own”. This works when you either protect or fight someone; there is no other option. Only two weeks before the plane crash in Egypt, Yakovlev remarked that it was lucky that there hadn’t been a repeat of the Krymsk floods.

The plane crash in Egypt could easily become a second Krymsk; only this time it’s happening not during the prosperous years of high oil prices, but in a time when Russia is in the middle of two wars and an economic recession.

12184022_1675981825949092_8580114388156581437_o

Putin has clearly demonstrated that he is not able to consolidate the nation under the noble cause of nonviolent nation-building. But would “the union over military agenda” be able to survive when even Russian nationalists, many of whom are former good friends of Putin but who have since been arrested or imprisoned, protested today against dictatorship, political repressions and even war in Ukraine?

by Karina Orlova

Many people welcomed the move; in fact it should’ve been done back in 1993. But November 7 was replaced with the state holiday of November 4, known as Unity Day. Obviously, the unification of the Russian nation was meant to take place around Putin’s personality. And it did, for a while, but nowadays Unity Day has a tendency to turn into a set of unpredictable metamorphoses.

But let’s get back to a few years ago. In spite of all the attempts to popularize new state holiday (including a documentary movie made by one of the most prestigious Russian film directors Vladimir Khotinenko), most Russians still didn’t celebrate November 4. According to state polling data, in 2009 1 in 3 Russians didn’t know which holiday the country was celebrating, 1 in 10 thought that the it was to celebrate the October Revolution, and 1 in 15 thought that November 4 was the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan.

The only ones who knew exactly what to do during all these years were nationalists. That’s why for Russian journalists, November 4 is better known as the Day of Russian March. It’s worth noting that the 2005 Russian March was the first popular nationalist rally approved by the authorities. This also marked the period of Putin’s not entirely unsuccessful flirtation with Russian nationalists.

Several years passed but for the majority of Russians, November 4 remained no more than a day off. In 2014, however, a significant change took place, as Putin might as well have been celebrating not just Unity Day, but Unity Year all year long- literally. Each day after the annexation of Crimea, Putin slowly became the Father of Nation: his administration deputy chief Vyacheslav Volodin framed this sacral status, saying, “If there is Putin, there is Russia; and without Putin, there is no Russia”.

And even though few people know exactly what the “Father of the Nation” is, it seems to be someone who is responsible for everything that happens to the nation, both triumphs and tragedies. Four days ago, after months of triumphs, a tragedy took place: a Russian airplane crashed in Egypt, killing 224 people. The airplane in question was a charter flight full of tourists who were mostly from Saint Petersburg, Putin’s home city.

The catastrophe took place on Saturday, but “the Father” didn’t appear before the Nation until Monday. Putin didn’t give a national address, but instead expressed his deepest condolences on the spot before a meeting with the Transport Minister.

Apparently, Putin didn’t think it was worth interrupting his weekend for, or perhaps he simply didn’t want to. But the motive behind his decision doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the president wasn’t there. And for perhaps the first time ever, Russians have at last achieved real unity, the people’s unity; without any fake “Father of Nation”.

This has happened before: when Muscovites sheltered each other in their homes during the smog in 2010 and the authorities did almost nothing; when up to 200 000 people poured into the streets to protest against Putin’s return; when Russians raised millions for those who suffered in the terrible 2012 Krymsk floods; when Russians raise money for cancer sufferers every day because the government doesn’t provide the medication – it happens. It happened, unexpectedly, less than a month ago when the state-owned First TV Channel began a fundraising campaign to provide firewood for the elderly. Most intellectuals have called the fact that so many elderly people live in poverty a source of shame for oil – and gas-rich Russia. Democratic Choice party activist Stanislav Yakovlev fairly said he viewed “cautious attempts at peaceful, humanitarian, nonviolent nation-building as a civil unification through a noble cause”. The current sorry state of Russian nation – building, Yakovlev said, is the idea that “we look after our own”. This works when you either protect or fight someone; there is no other option. Only two weeks before the plane crash in Egypt, Yakovlev remarked that it was lucky that there hadn’t been a repeat of the Krymsk floods.

The plane crash in Egypt could easily become a second Krymsk; only this time it’s happening not during the prosperous years of high oil prices, but in a time when Russia is in the middle of two wars and an economic recession.

12184022_1675981825949092_8580114388156581437_o

Putin has clearly demonstrated that he is not able to consolidate the nation under the noble cause of nonviolent nation-building. But would “the union over military agenda” be able to survive when even Russian nationalists, many of whom are former good friends of Putin but who have since been arrested or imprisoned, protested today against dictatorship, political repressions and even war in Ukraine?

by Karina Orlova

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More

Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS More