Kommersant President vows to meet students again after censorship scandal
President Dmitry Medvedev assured Moscow University students that he would visit the Department of Journalism again and answer any questions, after his last visit ended in a censorship scandal last week.
Ivan Zasursky, head of the New Media Department at Moscow University (MGU) Department of Journalism and member of the Council on Human Rights and Civil Society, wrote on his blog that he received a phone call from presidential spokesperson Natalia Timakova who thanked the department “for its hospitality” and indicated that the president would visit again.
It appears that the only students admitted to a conference with Medvedev were on a special list that included primarily members of pro-Kremlin youth groups such as Nashi. Also, there is reason to believe that the students’ questions had been screened prior to meeting with the president last Thursday.
Reportedly, Khalimat Pikeyeva, a journalism student, was detained on campus by the Federal Guard Service for sporting a “Who beat Oleg Kashin?” T-shirt. Last year, Dmitry Medvedev promised to take the severely beaten journalist’s case under his personal control.
Several students, including Vera Kichanova, were not allowed into the building because they were carrying sheets of paper with tough questions for the president, such as “Did you consult the prime minister before coming here?” and questions about jailed businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Other students were temporarily detained for carrying posters asking, “Are the words ‘press’ and ‘pressure’ related?” Journalism dean Yelena Vartanova suggested that those students could have been held for disorderly conduct after jumping and throwing papers around.
The event triggered a heated debate within the MGU journalism community. Over 2,500 people signed an online letter to MGU Rector Viktor Sadovnichy and Yelena Vartanova saying that the department was used as a platform for a political leader’s campaign meeting and demanding “apologies from Dmitry Medvedev and a guarantee against similar events in the future.”
Journalism student Tatyana Gomozova said she had signed the letter to spite another online campaign launched by other students asking the student body “not to whip up this scandal.” She said she hoped the university would stop short of “sweeping the dirt under the carpet” and that “Vartanova would show that she is on our side.”
On Saturday, a group of anticensorship students staged a clean-up rally in the journalism building in central Moscow explaining they also wanted to “clean up their department’s marred reputation.”
“If this event had been announced as a meeting with pro-government youth, there would have been no question,” said journalism professor Oleg Lekmanov. But it was positioned as a meeting with journalism students in general. In reality, most of the participants came from other departments, and many journalism students who wanted to ask questions were not allowed to see the president. Many were detained by the Federal Guard Service which behaved as if it was in charge of the students and was authorized to censor unwanted questions.
Ulyanovsk: United Russia woos circus-goers and psych facility
United Russia has taken to sticking its campaign stickers on road-building equipment and putting up billboards near social facilities undergoing repairs. It seems they have taken campaigning into the realms of the absurd.
In Ulyanovsk a campaign poster with the United Russia and Russian Popular Front logos have been mounted on the wall of the regional psychiatric facility, and a circus tent flew the party flag.
A commission from United Russia’s Central Executive Committee has arrived in Ulyanovsk to assess the ongoing election campaign. The commission is headed by Viktor Kazakov who is in charge of the party’s Volga Federal District section.
Unlike neighboring regions, it appears that the party’s Ulyanovsk branch seems to be in a state of suspended animation. The party campaign fund is virtually spent because the branch’s new secretary quarreled with many influential United Russia members. The election campaign is progressing rather sluggishly. About a dozen billboards bearing Vladimir Putin’s portrait have been put up all over town. But this was not done on the initiative of the regional party campaign headquarters. Local campaign workers have won quite a reputation through their offbeat tactics.
Over the weekend, locals who took their children to the circus were surprised to see the United Russia flag fluttering above the tent. They couldn’t help but laugh.
The United Russia and Russian Popular Front logos on the regional psych facility’s wall no longer surprise anyone. The poster promises great things for the facility in 2011 – renovation work carried out and new equipment supplied.
However, no repairs are yet in sight, and the old buildings are falling into disrepair. They can soldier on, loyally supporting the party, until the elections. Incidentally, the hospital’s chief doctor is also a United Russia member.
“The leaders of United Russia’s Ulyanovsk branch indeed have a peculiar sense of humor […] They have turned campaigning into a farce, and all that’s left is for them to put their placards up in sex shops, saunas and steam-baths,” said Politics Professor Arbakhan Magomedov.
“This may seem to be solely United Russia’s problem,” Professor Magomedov continued, “but the placards on local hospital walls were financed out of the regional budget, rather than party funds: in direct violation of election laws.”
Sergei Polyakov, Editor of the magazine Political Technologies, said voters just laughed it off, and rightfully so, since tactics like that deserve no other response.
Political scientist Mikhail Tulsky slammed the Ulyanovsk United Russia team’s approach to election campaigning as “unprofessional – idiocy triumphant.”
Yekaterinburg residents want to nominate the song “Our Madhouse Votes Putin” for the Eurovision Song Contest and are collecting signatures in support of the idea. The music video was promoted on Andrei Navalny’s blog as part of a competition to find the best song against “the party of crooks and thieves,” racking up almost 300,000 views in just one week.
Russian March organizer charged with extremism
Two weeks before the Russian March traditionally held in Moscow on November 4, one of its organizers, former leader of the banned group Slavic Union Dmitry Dyomushkin, has been charged for saying he could rally up to 7,000 people who are “ready to fight.” He said he anticipates being subject to searches and even arrest.
Dyomushkin told the New Region news agency the city authorities are acting unwisely. “If they do not allow the march to go ahead, there will be clashes with the OMON riot police,” Dyomushkin said. “We can rally up to 7,000 people who are ready to fight.”
The Investigative Committee took his statement as a threat and initiated proceedings under Article 282 (extremism) of the Criminal Code.
“Dyomushkin is fostering unrest and has threatened to use violence if prevented from popularizing the idea of Russian supremacy,” committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin told Izvestia.
Dyomushkin’s lawyer Dmitry Bakharev said: “The Investigative Committee is acting as it always does: it did not even send through notification, instead publishing the news on its site,” Bakharev said. “That took place five days after Dyomushkin’s interview, unprecedentedly fast. Did its experts really have time to analyze his words and qualify them as extremist?”
Dyomushkin said they simply want to stop the Russian March.
“Requests were filed under my name because I have been the march’s official organizer for four years,” he said. “We will try to file new requests.”
Dyomushkin said the march, which may attract 15,000 people, will be held despite the threat of criminal persecution.
“If I continue preparations for it, the FSB may demand my arrest,” he said. “Or the police may search my colleagues’ premises on the day of or shortly before the march.”
Russian March organizers have clashed not only with law enforcers. The RusSovet association of nationalist movements, the National Sovereignty Party and the Imperial Youth Union decided to hold a separate march after Dyomushkin returned from a trip to Chechnya saying “Russia needs a Kadyrov for Russians.”
“No rightwing organization approves of Dyomushkin’s Chechen trip,” Viktor Shvedov, RusSovet’s ideology chief told Izvestia. “Six weeks ago we formally requested permission to hold a parallel Russian March with 5,000 people.”
The authorities have not yet issued any approvals. Public Council member Alexander Brod said they have additional reasons for a crackdown on radicals ahead of the elections.
“They are gunning for a place in power, threatening to march on the Kremlin and there is the danger of nationalist and protest sentiments merging,” Brod said. “Dyomushkin has been on a watch-list for the past 5-6 years. It is strange that he was not detained before.”
Another Russian March organizer, Alexander Belov (Potkin), former leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) who has twice been charged with extremism and given a 1.5-year suspended sentence, said during a march in Lyublino: “There was a man who held marches in Europe in the 1930s, but he was not as good.”
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