Pre G8 Zachistka in St. Petersburg?
We're one month away from the G8 festivities in St. Petersburg and although the city's regular militsia won't admit it, a special police taskforce has been called in for a preemptive crackdown on St. Petersburg's political activists.
"If there was such a task force, it would have to go through us. But we have not heard of anything like this, so it can't possibly exist," a representative of St. Petersburg police force told reporters for Novaya Gazeta.
But according to Yevgeny Kozlov, a student and one of the leaders of the Citizens' Initiative Government, an anti-globalization organization, the cops are lying. In the last few weeks, uniformed police officers have been paying unexpected house visits to political activists all across the city. Kozlov said that that the officers identified themselves as being from a unit called in from the Smolenskaya Oblast (about 200 miles east of Moscow) to help secure St. Petersburg for the G8 summit.
In each case, activists were asked to come down to the precinct for "prophylactic discussions," where they were interrogated, fingerprinted and photographed. The sergeant from Smolenskaya Oblast told Yevgeny Kozlov that the police are acting on a confidential security order whose contents could not be made public.
Is the Kremlin trying to breed a more tolerant government?
"Any remarks by the candidate, their legal representatives, or their campaign spokesmen regarding public matters...made in the media...must not call upon or justify extremist acts."
The quote above is excerpted from a new law regarding elected Russian government positions. The law, being pushed through the Duma by United Russia deputies, would exclude anyone found to have made extremist, xenophobic or nationalistic statements from any type of government election. It would function retroactively, so anything said in the past, no matter how long ago, is fair game.
Gazeta.ru has already called it the "anti-Rogozin law" (Rogozin is the charismatic former leader of the nationalistic Rodina party who was removed from his post after his party gained too much popularity on a nationalistic and anti-immigration platform), meaning that this law is the Kremlin's way of keeping the politicians who have fallen from grace out of office.
But in fact, the law is so broad in its definition of "extremist" that it could be used against pretty much anyone in Russian politics. Like "terrorism" in the US, who's going to try to defend someone accused of being an "extremist" (which has associations with racism and anti-Semitism)?
Military slavery going strong?
Colonel Alexander Pogudin -- an army commander stationed near St. Petersburg -- turned out to have taste for a bit of the old slave trade.
When Colonel Pogudin told private Maksim Guraev that he was going to be sent to look after animals at a nearby farm, the young conscript thought he was going to have it easy -- just him alone on a farm without the tiresome and sometimes brutal routine of Russian army life. Little did he know that he was being sold into temporary slavery.
According to Novaya Gazeta, Colonel Pogudin rented the recruit for an unspecified fee to a friend for manual labor. It didn't have to be as bad as it sounds. Why should the soldier care? Podugin reasoned. He'd have to slave somewhere, what did it matter if it was for the army or at some farm?
But the colonel's friend turned out to have a sadistic streak in him and in the months that followed he starved and repeatedly beat Guraev serf-style, turning him into his personal little Zed. In order to survive, Guraev had to eat the feed that was provided for the livestock.
The case came to a head when one of the rabbits in Guraev's care died. Enraged, the owner threw acid on the soldier's face and head. Back at his the military base, military doctors -- aside from the obvious burn wounds -- diagnosed Guraev with a concussion, a bruised liver, bruised kidneys, a ruptured spleen and a damaged solar plexus. He was on the verge of massive organ failure and spent over a month in intensive care.
When Guraev recuperated, Col. Pogudin gave the soldier a month off from army duties. Guraev recovered enough to report the case to the Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers to try and bring the colonel down through the military courts. And indeed it did make it to the courts, amazingly enough.
All throughout the trial, Pogudin maintained his innocence. According to him, Guraev was clumsy, and he got the acid burns by burning himself with a strong iodine solution. In the end, the colonel was found guilty of abusing his power and received a four-year sentence. It was later reduced to a one-time fine of 50,000 rubles, or just under $2,000. In other words, he had to pay back most of what he made on his slave sale. Talk about sending a message!