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Friday, October 13, 2006

Annals of Russian Cowardice: The Taras Zelenyak Story

So many movies have been made in English about the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, where perhaps 11 million Jews and other victims of German fascism perished; why are there so few films (indeed, are there any?) about the similar horrors of the Russian gulag archipelago? Is this a possible result of the liberal bias of Hollywood, inclined to expose fascists but not communists? Is it just a coincidence that we face far less danger of authoritarian disaster in today's Germany than we do in today's Russia?

There is a scene in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List where the hero is talking to the commandant of a Nazi camp at the commandant's home on a cliff overlooking the camp. From time to time, the commandant would take a high-powered sniper's rifle out on his balcony and randomly gun down a defenseless prisoner for sport. He thinks this makes him powerful, but the hero explains to him how much more powerful he would be if he exercised mercy and allowed the intended victim to go on living. Isn't the power to give life greater than the power to take it away? For a little while the lesson takes and the commandant glories in his newfound power. But soon he regresses to his old evil ways.

La Russophobe has always thought that the single most identifying characteristic of modern Russia is its hypocrisy, and this is nowhere better illustrated than in Russia's self-delusion of strength. Russians never tire of praising themselves for their alleged courage in dealing with foes ranging from their harsh climate to invading armies. Yet, when confronted by individuals like Anna Politkovskaya or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, their response is invariably that of the commendant, a craven show of weakness. Another example, and a better one, is Vladimir Rakhmankov, who cannot possibly be viewed as a "threat" even on the level of Politkovskaya or Solzhenitsyn, and yet stil found himself the target of the government's physical ire just for scribbling that Putin was a "phallic symbol." Is mighty Russia really afraid it can be undone by words on paper?

Russians are obsessed with the idea of looking "strong" before the world, yet they persecute defenseless writers for doing nothing more than scribbling words on paper, and the result is that the world perceives Russia as being one of the weakest, most cowardly nations in world history -- though certainly one of the most cold-blooded. This is classic Russian self-destruction. Is it really the only way Russians can respond to such criticism to kill the critic? Doesn't such an action prove, more conclusively than the writer ever could have, that the criticism was correct? Can't russians see that, as they said in Casablanca, "there will be always someone else," someone who will step in to fill the void? Can't they see that, as in Star Wars, they make the critic far more powerful by killing him and making him a martyr (recall how Obi Wan intentionally allowed himself to be struck down by Darth Vader, once Luke was watching)?

Apparently not. Apparently, Russians still live in the isolated, insular world of illusions propagated by the USSR. Even though they have more access now to information, they chose not to use it, just as they choose a proud KGB spy, the embodiment of a failed past, they choose self-delusion over a world of reform and work.

And Rakhmanov is hardly an isolated example. Take, for instance, the case of Taras Zelenyak as recently explained in a lengthy article in Ukrainskaya Pravda by Yevgeny Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and member of the Board of the International Association “Memorial” (Lidia Yusupova's organization).

Zakharov describes the events leading to Zelenyak's arrest as follows:

36-year-old resident of Novosibirsk, Taras Zelenyak, an ethnic Ukrainian and son of the well-known scientist Tadyei Zelenyak, originally from Lviv, is charged with committing a crime punishable under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Inciting ethnic, racial or religious enmity”. The sentence which Zelenyak could face is deprivation of liberty for a maximum of two years. The chosen preventive measure is a signed undertaking to not leave the area. The first hearing took place on 11 September in the Sovyetsky District Court in Novosibirsk, however a second was set for 4 October because witnesses for the prosecution had not appeared.

According to the prosecution, Taras Zelenyak commented on various events in social and political life in Russia and Ukraine on the forum of the Ukrainian website under the username novosibirsk-2. The prosecutor considers that these commentaries propagate hatred towards Russians, assert “the superiority of the Ukrainian nation over the Russian”, and are also full of the offensive terms “moskal” and “katsap” [Neither term is in itself especially offensive, but both are dismissive terms these days for Russians. - translator]As the prosecution’s conclusion states, the accused used words, expressions, comparisons and assessments of a provocative nature, not allowing any ambiguity in interpretation, and aimed at offending the national sensitivities of Russian people”.

What exactly were the expressions which the prosecutor is accusing Zelenyak of? It is difficult to give an exact answer to that question without seeing the case material. However all the reports which quote the prosecution conclusion (for example: – “We’ll resettle all the ruskies [katsapy] on new land, and I’d even be ready to give them a kick up the arse on their way”.– “Who will tolerate Russian swinishness in a Muslim republic?” and others) are basically quotes from a discussion about the conflict in Chechnya on the Ukrainian forum This discussion began on 26 January 2005 (the topic “And once again about the Republic of Ichkeria”). It lasted four days, was dynamic, occupied six pages on the forum and almost immediately turned into an exchange of insults from Russian and Chechen supporters. The emotions provoked by the discussion were anything but mild.

By 1 February already on the Novosibirsk Akademgorodok forum, a person with the username ringo, outraged by Zelenyak’s texts on the ProUA forum suggests finding the author (“Please look into the identity of the person going by the username novosibirsk-2”). Ringo copied the IP address of novosibirsk-2 and established that one of the users of the Novosibirsk provider “First Mile” had the same IP address. He directly quotes this IP-address and the email address of novosibirsk-2 from the Novosibirsk provider. With this information it’s now quite simple to find the owner of the computer. The network details for novosibirsk-2 stood on the Akademgorodok forum for just under an hour before being removed by the moderator as being against the rules of the forum to disclose network details of users.

Criminal proceedings against Zelenyak were launched only a year later. According to numerous publications, the director of the company “First Mile” allegedly approached the department of the Federal Security Service [FSB] for the Novosibirsk region (sic!) with a complaint about the comments of one of its clients, and the prosecutor launched a criminal investigation under paragraph one of Article 282 of the RF Criminal Code. Zelenyak’s computer was removed and all novosibirsk-2’s forum commentaries were found. A linguistic assessment confirmed that the expressions allegedly used by Zelenyak demonstrate a contemptuous attitude to Russians, although there are virtually no obscene words. In addition the accused was given a psychiatric examination which found him sane, but experiencing “a permanent feeling of being isolated and his desire to show how original he was”.
Zakharov concludes his analysis by noticing how disturbingly similar these events are to those which occurred during Soviet times:

The Taras Zelenyak case is extraordinarily reminiscent of the dissident cases under Article 190 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR where “for disseminating untrue stories which defame the Soviet State and social order”, as well as for preparing and disseminating works with such content”, people usually got sentences of three years deprivation of liberty. The KGB found untrue stories defaming the system in samizdat and tamizdat [works written in the USSR, but published abroad] – in books and articles which the assessment labelled as anti-Soviet. I am not aware of a single case where the fact of defamation, that is, of a deliberate lie was proven. During the period of perestroika all these books ceased to be “anti-Soviet” and were published. If one remembers that the Internet is the modern equivalent to samizdat and replaces “the Russian nation” for “the Soviet State and social order”, then what we have is a case which is painfully familiar. The same denunciation from someone outraged by a compatriot’s anti-state behaviour, the same expert assessment, the same disregard by the prosecutor for details in the evidence regarding the fact ofcirculation, the same … one would like to be wrong and not have to write “the same trial”. Just over forty years ago the writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel were declared particularly dangerous state criminals and sentenced to 7 and 5 years deprivation of liberty for having published their works abroad under the pseudonyms Abram Terz and Nikolai Arzhak. Is it not all very similar to the story with Zelenyak and novosibirsk-2? After all the texts on the forum are like literary works, their authors in this way express and affirm themselves, and losing themselves play, adopting different roles and personae. In history what begins as tragedy ends as farce.
He believes that this is the beginning of the end for the Internet in Russia: "the FSB is unambiguously demonstrating through this case that it intends to control the Russian Internet and put an end to the present free-for-all (see, for example, the publication on 29 April 2005 at: ). Representative of the FSB Centre for Information Security Dmitry Frolov has stated that the powers of the Russian services controlling communication systems and the Internet need to be widened. It should be remembered that at the present time Internet providers are already under the partial control of the security services, via the notorious system SORM-2 [System of Operative Investigative Activities]."

Thus revealed is the horrible pincer closing upon Russia's throat. On the one hand, the state which relies for its legitimacy on the concept of being strong and tough is revealed as pathetically weak, afraid of scribbling on the Internet. How can it hope to intimidate rivals given this public image? On the other, Neo-Soviet Russia once again closes off all avenues of information, walling itself up inside a tower where it can only perceive a warped reality and cannot respond to the genuine variety on the other side of its wall. At the same time, are we not ourselves repeating the mistakes of our fathers, standing slack-jawed and watching as the Iron Curtain once again descends across the continent, condemning our children to decades of struggle after the Neo-Soveit rulers have consolidated their authority?

And now La Russophobe must ask you, gentle reader, the question Sean Connery asked in The Untouchables: What are you prepared to do?


La Russophobe said...


If you feel that the actions of government officials described in this post don't reflect the attitudes of the Russian nation generally, then please give an example of a significant public protest by Russians seeking to protect the rights of the victim of oppression in this case. As for now, it appears that the government official is considerably more moderate than some Russians. After all, the victim here is merely being sent to prison, whereas Anna Politkovskaya is dead.

It's rather inconsistent for you to then claim that the writers are not defenseless and deserve what they get. Which is it?

Why is it that whenever a Russian fault is pointed out, Russophiles like you always say "look at other countries, Russia is no worse," but when a Western virtue is pointed out, Russophiles like you always say "you can't look at other countries, Russia is a special case"? Do you think this kind of jaw-dropping hypocrisy has anything to do with the fact that the Russian population is going extinct?

Penny said...

I love your blog, la russophobe, having recently found it. I had a Russian exchange teacher living with our family back in 1989. I had hoped for a better future for her and her family.

Sadly, the Russians ended 70 years of communism like geriatric zoo animals too dependent on the state to forage for themselves. Imprisoned too long to take real risks. They aren't horrified and taking to the streets as Putin re-Stalinizes the country. Their independent tv is gone, newspapers are muzzled, Yukos returned to the state, the parliment re-arranged to Putin's liking, journalists dead, well, Russians still have their daily bread and looking beyond their stomachs is too hard a task.

It's not suprising, but, sad to watch.

Oh, and, ugly raccoons, you come across as a typical fascist attack dog with your hyperbole and baseless facts.

La Russophobe said...

UGLY: Thanks for showing how to demonstrate factual knowledge and the absence of hyperbole! Your comment is so full of facts it really makes my head spin, and your calm, respectful, scholary dialogue is simply breathtaking. You're a beacon light of consistency and intelligence, a model for the future development of Russia . . . right into the ashcan of history.

La Russophobe said...

UGLY: OK, let's have your prediction. When will Russia's population loss cease?