Saturday, December 13, 2008

Russia: Freedom springs eternal

Via Robert Amsterdam, an article from The Economist about acts of civic courage by ordinary Russians: a juror in the Anna Politkovskaya murder case going public to dispute the judge's claim that the jury has asked for the trial to be held behind closed door (causing the trial to be opened to the public and the media again), drivers in Moscow taking over a special lane reserved for high-level government officials. And there's more.

On December 5, the Basmanny district court in Moscow -- a court whose past actions have made it a synonym, among Russian dissenters, for a kangaroo court doing the government's bidding -- acquitted writer and political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky of charges of "extremism." The charges against Piontkovsky, a pro-Western, outspoken critic of the Putin regime, were based on the prosecutors' conclusion that his book Unloved Country contains incitement of ethnic hatred and "statements demeaning to Russians, Jews, and Americans." (No specific examples were given.)

Three experts from the Russian Federal Center for Expert Witnesses concluded that nothing in Piontkovsky's book could be interpreted as incitement to hatred or violence.

Said Piontkovsky (alas, Russian link only):

The FSB and the prosecutors, armed with the new law on extremism, tried to conduct a show trial and create a precedent for criminal prosecution for criticism of the government.

The highly professional conclusion of Andrei Smirnov, Olga Kukushkina and Yulia Safonova, buttressed by scholarly arguments, has knocked -- for a long time, I hope -- this "punishing sword" out of the hands of the repressive machine.

The official conclusion of these three remarkable and courageous professionals should be disseminated by the media as much as possible. It is our small Magna Carta, a charter of freedoms -- a first step toward the restoration of freedom of speech traitorously stolen from society by the KGB lieutenant colonel who fancies himself "the father of the nation."

And there's more. On December 6, the half-hour comedy show ProjectParisHilton on Russia's Channel One, in which four comedians discuss current events, included a segment on Putin's December 4 televised "question and answer session" with the people that was virtually an overt parody of the Vladimir Show, with the comedians offering to field audience questions that "Putin didn't get a chance to answer" and giving Putin-style vacuous answers. (Video to come, once I have a chance to add subtitles.)

In the meantime, another video. As Russia officially celebrated the 15th anniversary of its post-Soviet Constitution -- ironically, just as this constitution is about to be hastily amended to extend the presidential term from four years to six -- Medvedev's speech at the anniversary conference at the Kremlin was interrupted by a heckler. No less remarkably, a report on the incident was broadcast on television, though only on a local St. Petersburg channel.

Before we get all optimistic, the next day Dobrokhotov -- an activist with the opposition group "We"-- lost his job as the host of a weekly one-hour debate program on the "Moscow Speaks" radio station. The station chief claims that this was a planned layoff affecting all free-lance workers at the station. Interestingly, Dobrokhotov seems to give this explanation some credence, saying that the chief has always been candid with him in the past and that his participation in public protests has not previously affected his job. Still, the timing in suspicious at best.

On Sunday, "marches of dissent" are planned in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Stay tuned.


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