X-Judy Entry Number 2: Russia

The lovely-but-anonymous blogger at Transitionland submits the following entry:

Russia: Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova

On the afternoon of January 19th, 2009, in central Moscow, Stanislav Markelov, 34, one of Russia’s leading human rights lawyers, and his friend, journalist and anti-racism campaigner Anastasia Baburova , 25, were gunned down in broad daylight.


The masked gunman shot Markelov in the head at close range, killing him instantly. Seconds after witnessing the murder of her friend, Baburova chased after the assassin. He put a bullet in her too, before disappearing into a busy metro station. Hours later, on a hospital operating table, Baburova succumbed to her injury.


Markelov’s body lay on the sidewalk for hours as forensic investigators collected evidence. The international press arrived. Cameras lingered over the pitiful scene, the young lawyer’s slight frame slumped in a pool of blood. The street was still not fully cleaned by nightfall, when mourners gathered to place candles in the snow.


The extrajudicial killings of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova represent so much of what has gone so very wrong in Russia over the past decade.


Markelov was one of a dwindling number of human rights defenders willing to take on the powerful and well-connected. Minutes before his death, Markelov had come from a press conference at which he announced he would be filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the parents of Elza Kungayeva, a young Chechen woman who was abducted, raped and murdered by a Russian colonel in 2000. Kungayeva’s killer received a ten year sentence, and was paroled early.


Markelov was a long-time defender of civilian war victims in the North Caucasus, and took up dangerous and politically-charged cases –of police brutality, torture, war crimes, and corruption– that other lawyers refused to touch. To young people on increasingly marginalized left, Markelov was a trusted friend. He dispensed legal advice to youth anarchists, anti-fascists, and environmentalists and served as an unofficial mediator between these groups and the police.


The day after Markelov was killed, thousands took to the streets for a rare public airing of grief and outrage in the Chechen capital Grozny. In Moscow, hundreds of young protesters, many of them personal friends of Anastasia Baburova, carried signs accusing the government of Dimitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin of complicity in the killings.


A whole six days later, the Kremlin issued a statement of condemnation.


Anastasia Baburova was the third Novaya Gazeta correspondent to be killed or die under “suspicious circumstances” since 2000. Pavel Felgenhauer, one of Baburova’s colleagues, did not mince words in the Eurasia Daily Monitor when he wrote:


In the opinion of the Novaya Gazeta staff, of which I am a member, the Russian security services or rogue elements within these services are the prime suspects in the murders of Baburova and Markelov. The boldness of the attack by a single gunman in broad daylight in the center of Moscow required professional preliminary planning and surveillance that would necessitate the security services, which closely control that particular neighborhood, turning a blind eye. The use of a gun with a silencer does not fit with the usual pattern of murders by nationalist neo-Nazi youth groups in Russia, which use homemade explosives, knifes, and group assaults to beat up and stab opponents to death.


The offices of Russia’s rulers President
Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have not issued any statements expressing indignation or offering any condolences after the two murders. This follows the usual behavioral pattern of the authoritarian Putin regime when its critics are murdered in cold blood.


In an obituary, published by OpenDemocracy, the Novaya Gazeta staff remembered the rare courage of their slain friend and colleague:


Stanislav and Anastasia were simply decent people who could not tolerate what the majority in our country has accepted. That was enough for the lords and masters of Russia to issue their verdict, for those who are allowed to kill in our country.


These were the latest killings of those who did not fit within the present system. A 34-year-old lawyer who defended Chechens against Russia’s military, and defended Russia’s soldiers from their corrupt commanders. He spoke out against the neo-Nazis who are supported by the regime and defended Russia’s anti-fascists whom the regime sends to prison. Markelov defended journalists and rights activists nd was himself a defender of human rights. As a consequence in the elite milieu of the capital’s attorneys he was regarded as an outsider.


25-year-old Nastya Baburova was also a romantic rebel, an anarchist who took part in the anti-fascist movement and the Dissenters’ marches.


It was no accident that she found herself in such company: she quite consciously chose that path in life. In the eyes of the regime and ordinary people, who only want to keep out of trouble and quietly survive the present regime, Nastya’s choice also made her an outsider. Therefore few people in our country could die as she did, struggling to apprehend the assassin. In the office in front of which Stas and Nastya were shot people heard gunfire and even understood immediately what had happened. They were afraid to go out, however, or even to glance through the window.


Yes, Stanislav Merkelov and Anastasia Baburova chose their path, undoubtedly aware that it might one day lead exactly where it did on January 19th.
They fought the good fight, against silence, cruelty and impunity. In doing so, they lost their lives. This should not have happened, and should never happen.

I Am the Girl You Know…

I wouldn’t have thought we’d be needing the “beauty pageant” label again so soon, but here it is:

It’s springtime, and that means it’s time for the inmates of Women’s Correctional Colony No. 5 in western Russia to compete for the coveted “Miss Gulag” tiara. The pageant is an annual event in which contestants are judged on their presentation and on their performance during the talent portion of the competition. (No mention of a bathing suit contest…)

According to the prison director, participation in the pageant is “an important step toward rehabilitation.”

Pop Quiz for the Irony-Impaired

So, let’s say you’re a government that has been widely criticized for being intolerant of dissent. Let’s also stipulate that your enforcement agencies are implicated in a number of suspicious deaths of opposition leaders and dissident journalists. And, why the hell not, let’s say a very prominent international human rights organization has just released a blistering report accusing you of obstructing the work of not-for-profit organizations through unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks.

Now, let’s say the New York-based head of that Prominent International Human Rights Organization is heading to your capital city (we’ll call it “Shmoscow”) to present this report, and to hold discussions with governmental officials about harassment of human rights workers.

Do you:

  1. Yell “Hey! It’s the Goodyear Blimp!” and slink off while everyone looks for it;
  2. Welcome him with open arms and do everything you can to appear receptive to his message before quietly returning to business as usual once he leaves;
  3. Refuse him a visa to enter the country.

It turns out, if you’re Russia, the answer is a resounding “we’ll take visa refusal for $200, Alex” followed up two days later by an announcement that the Human Rights Watch delegation (including Director Ken Roth) lied on their visa applications. Cause that’s totally plausible and doesn’t look like harassment of NGO workers at all. Right.