On 6th of May 2012 Russian opposition groups held a mass rally in Bolotnaya Square (or Swamp Square in English) to protest the inauguration of President Putin following the fabricated election results documented by multiple independent observers. Despite a legal permit the peaceful protest rally was violently attacked by the police and special security units with many arrests. More than one year later twenty eight people are currently held in prison, under arrest pending trial. They belong to different social groups and have different beliefs and political views; many of them are far from politics and joined the meeting only because their consciousness demanded it. A few examples: Michail Kosenko, born 1975, an invalid and receiving the health pension was arrested on 8th of July 2012. While serving in army Kosenko suffered a serious head trauma which provoked schizophrenia. He needs constant supervision from a medical specialist and calm environment. Despite his serious illness which grossly worsened through over a year of detainment Kosenko was refused to be moved from prison to house arrest. Vladimir Akimenkov, born 1987, activist of ‘Left Front’, was arrested on 10th of June 2012. Akimenkov suffers a congenital illness. During his detainment in a dark cell his eyesight has deteriorated dramatically: one eye now is now left with 10% vision and the other – 20%. However, according to the words of the judge, “it is not sufficient for release on health reasons complete blindness is required”. Denis Lutskevich, born 1992, a student of the State University of Humanitarian Sciences, an assistant of the dean of the Department of Culturology and ex-navy. Lutskevich went to Swamp Square together with his girlfriend and also with his University students and academics. He has never attended political meetings before and never expressed the opposition of political views. During the meeting while attempting to help his girlfriend (the police tried to arrest people around her so she was being crushed) he was beaten up by the OMON (special police): the hospital later registered injuries to the back of his head, hematoma of the right ear, and multiple injuries to his back and hands. He was arrested in one month, on 9th of June 2012.
Alexei Gaskarov, born 1985, ecological activist, antifascist, the leader of the social antifascist movement ‘Atifa’, and member of the Coordinating Counsel of the opposition. The episode the soldiers of OMON beating him with their batons and kicking him in his face is recorded on video (the beating occurred after Gaskarov attempted to stop soldiers drugging another demonstrator on the concrete). He tried to lodge a complaint and was arrested on 28th of April 2013.
These prisoners were carefully chosen to represent all layers of Russian society and belong to the spectrum of opposition parties and many to no political organization at all. The message from the regime is simple, what has happened to them can happen to you. Anyone who disagrees and sticks out will share the protesters’ fate.
The constitution states the citizens’ rights for fair elections, and also the right for non-violent protests and meetings. The participants of the meeting on the Swamp Square including the arrested did not violate the law in any way but they were violently diffused and scattered, many were violently bashed, and then those who were bashed were imprisoned – not those who assaulted them. To those who have the misfortune to suffer serious chronic illnesses, the measures applied are targeted to ruin their health completely and may yet cause their death in some cases. Kosenko’s case is especially instructive: for anyone with his diagnosis being in a prison cell equals slow murder. This is something like torture in the formal frame of the law. Moral torture is added to physical abuse by slander and insinuations in the state government mass-media which show the prisoners as provocateurs bought by the West.
The story of the ‘Swamp prisoners’ is not just another manifestation of a ‘totalitarian regime’. Right now, while the author is writing this, three ecological activists have just received 8, 11, and 13 year sentences respectively for opposing the destruction of the forest in the national reserve where Putin and Patriarch Kirill are now building their personal mansions. Russia is long passed the stage of totalitarian government and has entered a fascist stage, with Goebbels-like cinematographic propaganda, theatrical court processes broadcast live on major TV channels, daily arrests, beating, tortures and murders of the members of the opposition and anyone else who is “inconvenient”. Its most worrisome feature is the essential component of any fascist state: a messianic leader combined with the idea of ethnic identity and a special mission. In the case of Russia, the messianic idea is created by twisting Orthodoxy (Eastern Christianity) and presenting Russians as “the most moral and ethical people in the world”, “most beloved by God”, “the saviour of civilization from the morally corrupted, degenerated West”. It is not an exaggeration to compare the position of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) with the position of the Christian Churches at the time of the Third Reich. Like that time, the ROC is now separating into those who submit to the fascist regime and those who, being faithful to Christ, will not. The latter are prosecuted within the Church just as badly as the secular opposition. Disagreeing Christians are silenced, harassed, and driven out of the country, some even murdered. The Church is now as full of fear as the whole nation and is not raising its voice to defend the Swamp prisoners or others. The reader may not see a clear connection between the Russian fascist state and the Russian Church. It is impossible to see that connection unless one has a knowledge of Russian history of 20-21cc. The attached picture shows graphically the relationship between FSB and Russian Church but for a full analysis please see
‘Reinventing fascism’ http://orthodox-christian-icons.com/writing /reinventing_fascism.htm
There is a recent symbolic event which is known to almost everyone in the West: the performance by ‘Pussy Riot’ in the number one Moscow cathedral lasting five minutes for which two participants are now serving a two year sentence. They sang:
“Black priestly dress, golden epaulets (…) Patriarch Gundyav believes in Putin, Better if he, bitch, believed in God”
They portrayed the intercourse between the state government and the bishops of Russian Church who are themselves FSB agents. This crucial fact was missed by the outside world. It is impossible to understand the situation in Russia without taking the link between its religion and current political ideology into account.
The Swamp protest united those who could not continue watching the destruction of their country by the state and its slip into a full-blown fascism. While it is the task of Russians to bring about change there is much that can be done by ordinary people around the world to show them our support. Receiving letters in a foreign language (or even in poor Russian using Google translate) from other countries will tell the prisoners, their supporters and the government that they are not forgotten and abandoned by the rest of the world. This is a very small step but it can be done now (today) and it would mean a very great deal to them.
Please find out more about individual prisoners and take action today by directly writing letters of support to them. This can be done electronically through the links on the following website:
- Anna Terentieva
Anna Terentieva was born in Moscow, then in the U.S.S.R. An important childhood influence was her grandfather a distinguished Soviet space scientist imprisoned under Stalin. Anna grew up alongside senior military and KGB officers. She received a classical education in fine arts with four years of study at the Moscow Art College, and then at the Moscow State University of Printing Arts – a unique institution dedicated to the art of exquisite bookmaking. From there, after five years of further study, she received her Master’s Degree in Graphic Arts.