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Feature Story February 19, 2004
Solidarity Forever!
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
Page 3 of 5
But some people still considered her a threat. In a shocking article by Valentin Zubkov in last September's issue of Rossiskaya Federatsya Sevodnya, the Federal Assembly's monthly publication, Stevenson was accused of being a US agent out to overthrow the Russian government. The article begins with the ridiculous assertion that, "Life is getting better; life is more fun now." He then argues that the reduced number of workers' actions is because "workers correctly understand the temporary nature of such hardships as" low wages and high injury rates.

Nine months after her expulsion, someone deemed her attempts to return enough of a threat to warrant commissioning this article, which is reminiscent of Stalin-era diatribes about wreckers. Among other totally insane arguments Zubkov makes, he writes, "The ACILS [Solidarity Center] pays particular attention to unions operating in the vital industries of Russia, in the military-industrial complex. The fate of weak unions of poor teachers, doctors, cultural workers doesn't seem to worry the Americans." He continues to say that some surveys distributed by Stevenson "could be of interest to the special services (!)."

Stevenson assumes that this article was commissioned by Norilsk, as the second half of it is devoted to a brewing strike there by what Zubkov implies are maverick workers and potential terrorists. Seriously. He calls them terrorists, presumably for not correctly understanding the nature of their poverty in relation to Potanin's wealth. The workers at Norilsk also received counsel from the law centers; hence the attack on Stevenson in the article.

In fact, according to Vokhmin, the labor dispute stemmed from a management change. The workers wanted more transparency in the company, an unlikely request from residents of a town that, 13 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is still closed to outsiders. When the union began the procedures to launch a strike, however, the company used aggressive tactics to smash the movement. Regardless of the nature of the strike, though, if articles in a government publication are accusing Stevenson of being public enemy number one, she's probably not going to be coming back to Russia any time soon.

The emotional strain on Stevenson after being ejected has been intense. One of the most tragic elements of her expulsion is that she wasn't an ex-pat so much as an emigre. She speaks beautiful Russian and was totally integrated into Russian society, avoiding ex-pat hangouts and preferring tea in friends' kitchens. I imagine getting kicked out was like being sent into exile for her. "This has been an extraordinarily difficult year. My life was connected to Russia since 1981. There are two things that I believe in greatly: one is Russia and the other is Labor. It's not just my work, it's all my friends. I've got my own little Berlin Wall."

She has been living in Washington DC for the last year. At first she continued her work at the AFL-CIO, but has been on an unpaid leave of absence since October, during which time she has tried to figure out what her next step will be. Recently she applied for a Central Asian position similar to the one she had in Moscow, but even if she gets it she is unsure if she'll take it. On one hand it would allow her close friends to visit, but she doesn't know if she can devote her substantial energies to another job just yet. "I need to work, and I find American society very baffling. I want to go back to my part of the world. And I'm close to my friends, and they can come visit me. I haven't made any decisions, and they haven't made an offer, but it's one idea."

She claims the actions taken against her haven't been effective in the least, just unnecessarily cruel. "It's not the Soviet Union, where you had to arrange a call three days in advance," she said. She can continue to exchange information and organize from the States. It is more of a personal punishment, depriving her of physically being with her friends. They can't control information like the Soviets, but they can carry out these vendettas.

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The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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