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Civil anomaly
Written by ,   
, 30 2008
Why do the authorities fight against people for whom the fight against the authorities is not an end in and of itself?

The reason for any journey is curiosity. Whydoes Nizhny Novgorod seem such an exotic spot on the map of Russia? Until recently here flourished the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, but it has already joined the common denominator. Andyet, why were both torture lawsuits in Strasbourg from Nizhny Novgorod? Whatexplains this anomaly? Perhaps even palm trees grow there?

Sorting everything out

We are not disclosing a huge state secret if we tell you know that two of the most scandalous items in the news have recently come out of Nizhny Novgorod, enterprises created by one man with a never-ending thirst for higher education technician, businessman, and now lawyer, Igor Kalyapin. Hedid not do it all on his own, of course, but it was only due to his special brain that two fantasies came true: the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and the Committee Against Torture.


Just before my departure from Nizhny Novgorod, Kalyapin and Iwere able to talk in a McDonald's near the train station. Itturns out that the businessman does not have a car, and a nearby cafe that would seem to be a better spot for a conversation was hosting a wedding reception. Theknitted cap over Kalyapin’s brow did not make him look like a Wahhabi fanatic, but on the contrary, more like a Special Forces major. Copsoften take him for one of their own, only more senior. Asa matter of fact, he occasionally drinks vodka with the SWAT police who crushed him back in the early 1990, and then, for some reason, befriended him, even though it is difficult to understand what they might have in common.

Kalyapin does not understand violence, and back in the late 1980s, when he was working in Khabarovsk in a construction battalion that was mainly ex-cons and other ‘lumps’, he never made it to the officer ranks.

Kalyapin cannot quickly explain how the above-mentioned non-governmental organizations were created, but, while following his story, Igradually began to understand. After he returned from the construction battalion, he took night school while working in a research institute. Themcame the 1989May Day demonstration, which began when they emerged from the institute's ‘smoke break room’ bearing the Tricolor, which many educated bystanders took to be an inverted Yugoslavian flag. Itended, however, with all of the demonstrators being fired from their jobs. Timeflew by, and in the fall of 1991the president’s representative to Nizhny Novgorod was Nemtsov, an alumnus of that very same ‘smoke break room’ at the institute.

The city formerly known as Gorky was clothed in a joyful democratic porridge of the ‘Dem-Soyuz’, though it might have been called something else. TheNizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society was created, based on ideas laid down by the Moscow dissidents. Kalyapin, never ceasing to hold demonstrations, used the experience of ‘samizdat’ (ed: revolutionary-era home printing presses) to create a makeshift press that immediately received orders for election leaflets. Hebegan to publish and sell a newspaper. Hethought up a way to connect the old-fashioned memory banks of institutes with an IBM he had on hand, and soon regional newspapers we asking for help with this new technology. Hebegan publishing calendars and other sorts of rubbish, and, as a result, in 1992Kalyapin spent three months in prison. Hewas later found innocent, but by then his business had already been pilfered.

There were other, no less successful projects that did not fully blossom without aid from the state budget, but Kalyapin finally started a solid business in the late 1990s. ‘Polymer Supply’, based on his vision for marketing plastic bags, plates, and forks, still feeds Kalyapin, though it does not make a large enough profit to make others envious. Hedoes not make anything from plastic, but at any given moment he knows where, how much, and when a person may need these items, and whether or not that person will pay. Hemanages through some innate ability to sort everything out and keep it straight in his head. Buthe cannot get by without help. Inlate 1994, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky from the Dem-Soyuz and some police friends began to talk to Kalyapin about Chechnya. Twocompanies of SWAT police had left Nizhny Novgorod for Grozny, and only one came back. Kalyapin realized that there was a hole in his systemic vision of the world, and he had no information with which to fill it. Sohe agreed with ‘Stas’, that they should go and see for themselves.

History of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society

Back then Kalyapin did not really have a good idea where the Caucasus even was, and all he knew about Chechens was based on his experience in the construction battalion, that they were “kind of like Georgians.” In mid-January of 1995he and Stas Dmitriyevsky boarded a plane for Minvody (ed: Mineral Nye Vody). Fromthere they took a bus to Nazran, then hopped a ride on a truck to Grozny with some Chechen militia, who at stops fed flat bread to old Russian women who climbed out of their cellars. Since they considered themselves human rights activists, their trips to Chechnya were not limited to cognitive objectives. Theyimmediately went looking for a young soldier whose father they had met in Grozny, and ended up meeting Basayev, who fed them soup. Theygot the boy from Basayev, then a Chechen boy from the Russians, and so on. Atthe time there was a lot of that going on in Chechnya.

By 1994Stas Dmitriyevsky had begun to recover from ‘Dem-Schizophrenia’ and returned to his master's thesis on “the link between archaeology and the Lives of Saints.” To this day the former Russian-Chechen Friendship Society lives on in a miraculously preserved section of Nizhny Novgorod that is famous for its wooden buildings. Dmitriyevsky is in charge of all necessary licenses and letters of authority. Onecannot say that he loved the Chechens more than anyone else before the creation of the Society, and the same is true for Oksana Chelysheva, who taught English and Latin in the university during the first Chechen war. Shehad a Chechen girl in her group named Louisa, and one day along came some Americans who began to ask students about Chechnya. Thestudents all shrugged and turned to Louisa: behold, she is from there. Louisa slid even farther to the edge of her bench and said: “Why me? TheRussians Igo to school with don’t ask me about it.”

Louisa told them how, under the bombs, they had fled from there, and that almost all of her classmates in Grozny had been killed. After this the whole group became friends with Louisa, and this Russian-Chechen friendship was clear to them all. In1996, Dmitriyevsky helped Nemtsov in Nizhny Novgorod with his goal of gathering “a million signatures against the war in Chechnya.” In reality there were only three or four hundred thousand, but the war did stop. Oksana became friends with Dmitriyevsky through a shared love of wooden architecture, but it was not until 1999that she took up the Society’s matters when it needed some documents translated into English.

In August of 2000, Stas and Oksana brought 30children from Chechnya to summer camp for rehabilitation. Eventhough viewers on every television channel voted against it with a margin of ninety percent, the Chechen children unexpectedly gained the support of Governor Sklyarov, and they settled in alongside the Russian children. After a week to let the children get used to each other, journalists came with cameras and were confused. Theycould not pick out the Chechens in amongst the running and jumping children: all the children spoke Russian equally well, and no one gave them away. Thiswas shown on television, and soon grandmas were bringing pies to the camp. Atthe end of camp the children gave a concert, and the choir sang one song in particular: “We are ready every day and hour to serve the fatherland, the victory banner is calling us with the green color of life.” This was, perhaps, a bit much, but it was the children’s own initiative, their little secret, and in the end this friendship was all too clear.

The Nizhny Novgorod Russian-Chechen Friendship Society also established a network of correspondents in Chechnya, and organized a news agency. Stasand Oksana said that by this time they did not look at Chechens through glasses colored by the liberation movement. There were still some normal people in Chechnya who had to be helped against the main threat: fundamentalism. There was also their attempt to print a newspaper to be distributed in Russia and Chechnya that published appeals for peace by Maskhadov and Zakayev. Theyalso traveled to the Caucasus, but Stas and Oksana did not find many sane people among the leadership of the federal military. Inthe winter of 2004, the village of Serzhen-Yurt was shelled during a funeral. Theadults managed to take cover, but a 9-year-old girl, who had come from Volgograd, was hit in the back by shrapnel. ARussian colonel came, and on seeing him, the girl went into hysterics. Theofficer quickly left the room, while his aids ran after him in case someone out of anger would make an attempt on his life. Thecolonel was in the back yard, weeping, and you could just make out his words: “They’re all drunks, they draft criminals” Among combat officers there were some normal people, but above this level they only understood one command: “Wipe them out!”

By this time state television propaganda had turned the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society into a chimera, while at the same time there were fewer and fewer Chechens other side that wanted to befriend Russians. TheSociety, however, remained untouched up until Oksana decided to get involved in the Beslan events. OnSeptember 1st, 2004, she had just seen her daughter off to school in Nizhny Novgorod when a correspondent from the agency, who was in North Ossetia quite by accident, called and started screaming that there was something terrible going on. Oksana called Moscow and learned about the assault, and that Anna Politkovskaya, who was trying to get to Beslan, for some reason never made it there (only later did it become known that someone had tried to poison her on the plane). Oksana picked her daughter from school, but she could only picture what was happening to other people’s children in Beslan. Thenshe remembered that a year ago someone had left in a note with a number on it. Supposedly it was where one could reach Achmed Zakayev, whose appeals for peace they had been printed.

Chelysheva was quickly able to connect with Zakayev. Right away he gave a telephone interview in which he condemned the hostage taking on behalf of President of (the so-called Chechen state of) Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov was only a two-hour march from Beslan, and was ready to go there for negotiations. Zakayev’s interviews, as well as an interview that Aslan Maskhadov soon gave Chelysheva, were immediately posted on websites and published in English. Thestorming of the school began an hour and a half after the publication of a statement by Maskhadov that spoke of his willingness to work with the hostage rescue operational headquarters.

Chelysheva’s story coincides with what Ruslan Aushev later said in an interview with Dmitry Muratov in ‘Novaya Gazeta’. Weare not interested in what happened in Beslan, however, but with what happened later in Nizhny Novgorod. Aday later there was an unsigned editorial in a local filial of the newspaper ‘Moscow Komsomolets’, titled: “What to do with the Russian friends of the Chechen people?” This article, along with a letter to the public prosecutor’s office, not the one in Nizhny Novgorod, but for some reason in the city of Samara, was used to initiate a criminal case against Stas Dmitriyevsky. Atfirst the investigation was led by the FSB, and it accused the news agency head of ‘extremism’ under Article 280of the Penal Code. Thenit was changed to Article 282, ‘incitement of ethnic hatred’, while the FSB kicked the rotten mess over to the prosecutor. Theprosecutor’s office initially suspended the case because the authors of the published manifestos could not be apprehended, while the role of the news agency was only in publishing the interviews. Butin the end, on February 3rd, 2006, Dmitriyevsky was found guilty of ‘incitement of ethnic hatred’, and received a two-year suspended sentence and 4years probation. Thelatter is still in effect, and any activity Stas engages in is fraught with the threat of his probation turning into a real prison sentence.

How they torture the police

Two exotic plants began to grow in Nizhny Novgorod, springing from the same root, that is, the imagination of Kalyapin the entrepreneur: the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and the Committee Against Torture. Ifthe former, for obvious reasons, withers, the second branch still looks as strong as a pine tree in the wind.
Simply simply sorting everything out in his head does not satisfy Kalyapin. Ifsomething is not found where it should be, or is found where it should not be, then, like someone with a background in physics, Kalyapin performs experiments. Backin the late 1990s his interest was in the phenomenon of torture. Everyone who has been behind bars says that there is torture, while the police swear that there is no such thing, but until recently it was impossible to prove this.

The first time that a Russian court in Nizhny Novgorod uttered the word ‘torture’ was on November 30th, 2005, when two policemen from the Leninsky district police department were found guilty of abusing Alexei Mikheyev. OnSeptember 19th, 1998, they beat a confession out of Mikheyev, making him admit to murdering a female acquaintance. Asa result he jumped from a window and was severely disabled, while the girl was found, alive, the next day. In2001, after losing any hope for justice, Mikheyev’s mother turned to the Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society, back then known as the Committee Against Torture. Theyhelped her to write a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. Theprosecutors and the courts had to reverse 26resolutions that had dropped charges against the police. Thesentence imposed by the Russian court 7years after the fact did not save the government from having to pay Mikheyev: on orders of the European Court of Human Rights he received 130thousand euros in pecuniary damages, and 120thousand for non-pecuniary damages (ed: pain and suffering).

The European Court’s decision in the Mikheyev case was issued on January 26th, 2006, and on July 4th, 2007, the same court decided the Maslova case, which was also from Nizhny Novgorod. TheRussian court was forced to admit that Maslova had not only been subjected to torture, but on November 25th, 1999, she had been raped at the police station and in the Nizhny Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office. Shewas then forced to confess to selling a stolen key chain. TheNizhny Novgorod Committee Against Torture was able to prove destruction of evidence of the torture and the rape (a medical examination and used condoms).

One can learn about other investigations by the Committee, as well as their results in the form of indictments and convictions, on the organization’s website. Currently the Committee has 217ongoing cases. Inthese 65cases of torture have been proven, 39people have been convicted, and 35complaints were sent to the European Court. 282illegal legal rulings have also been vacated.

Oleg Habibrahmanov talked with me about the activities of the Committee Against Torture. Heis Kalyapin’s deputy, and a man from a different generation and of a different type than the former members of the Dem-Soyuz. Helooks more like the manager of a commercial business. Heprefers to talk about legal technology, which the Committee uses against the cops. Habibrahmanov answers personal questions only reluctantly. Heis from Kazan, and his mother and father are retired police officers. Healso graduated from the police academy in Yelabuga, and spent four years working in Kazan as a policeman. Hewas disappointed with the fakery that went on in place of solving crimes, and the constant use of qualified operatives in meaningless nonsense. Through the human rights organization that he founded with a classmate in Kazan, Habibrahmanov joined the Nizhny Novgorod Committee Against Torture. Proud of his parents, and also wanting to be an honest cop, in the end he became one. Thefact that there are not a lot of honest cops on the police force needs to be fixed, and the Committee is trying to do just that.

Oleg Habibrahmanov’s recipe for success is to see that everything must be organized very clear and legal. Theyno longer receive resistance from the courts or the prosecutors. There used to be, but one, well, two court judgments were enough to set precedents. Isthere torture? There is now. Dowe need to fight it? Whois against that? Nopolitics, God forbid.

The causes and consequences of the Nizhny Novgorod anomalies

The Soviet authorities were great masters at creating enemies from among their own people. Today’s authorities, though trailing their predecessors in numbers, sometimes surpass them on technical sophistication. Witha flip of a switch, which in itself is the result of a mass of accumulated technologies, criminal proceedings can now be brought against you for having ‘unlicensed software’ on your computer. Alsoremember that your organization no longer exists, and you yourself are still on ‘conditional’ parole because you are unworthy of freedom.

The short study we undertook of the Nizhny Novgorod abnormalities showed us that it is not a matter of the climate here, but the people. Andthey are not even unique they just managed to manifest themselves here during a period of favorable historical circumstances, which suddenly came to an end. Therefore we must address what we have noted first of all to the organs of the FSB. Ifthere are any so-called analysts there, can they ask themselves one simple question: Why? Whymake into enemies people who never had any motives other than civil honesty, civil curiosity, and compassion, qualities that are still inherent in the Russian people in some places? Withregards to fighting against Chechen fundamentalism, the Nizhny Novgorod Society took upon itself and dealt effectively with a government task that is impossible for a government organization. TheCommittee Against Torture is also busy with the same, and it has proven to be many times more effective at eradicating crime in the police force than the prosecutors and the courts. (Habibrahmanov, by the way, understands that they will also be coming after his committee.)

These are questions that Kalyapin the entrepreneur, who is deceptively similar to a police major, sometimes discusses with his friends in the SWAT police over a glass of vodka. Theyhave their work, but they are far from thrilled with it. Fourofficially proscribed ‘Natsbols’ (ed: National Bolshevik Party members) came to work for the officially proscribed Nizhny Novgorod Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which still exists as a branch somewhere in Finland as the Foundation for Tolerance. Fiveyears ago the four had been picketing against Russian-Chechen friendship, and then they found out that someone had signed their names to a false leaflet condemning Dmitriyevsky and Chelysheva, but when they looked into it, they ended up befriending them. Fora long time Dmitriyevsky was worried about all sorts of trouble when he hired a girl named Lena, until it emerged that she had already served a year in jail over the ‘Decembrists’ case (ed: in December of 2004, 39National Bolshevik members seized a presidential office and demanded free elections and Putin’s resignation).

What do the authorities want from people for whom the struggle against the authorities was never an end in itself, but merely a consequence of the authorities’ misanthropic and often very clumsy actions? Dowe really have to blame Stas Dmitriyevsky for the consequences of a Chechen war that we will still be hashing out in a hundred years? Orblame Oksana Chelysheva for the deaths of children in Beslan? Orblame Igor Kalyapin and Oleg Habibrahmanov for Russia losing legal cases in Strasbourg because its cops use violence against suspects? These people in Nizhny Novgorod will, of course, write a history of early 21st-century Russia, and it will differ markedly from the official version, but only the official version that exists today. Whoknows what tomorrow will bring? Archaeology, to which Dmitriyevsky dreams of returning after he finishes writing a book about the crimes of Russian servicemen in Chechnya, is not the only way of proving tales to be true. Stasis not going to send his work to Strasbourg, but to The Hague, where an international tribunal for criminal cases has been formed. (Just in case, his files have been duplicated many times. Theycannot be burned, like they used to do in the old days, or be made confidential by being linked to some secret criminal investigation.)
It seems to me that our society’s problem is due to an absence of imagination on the part of those cops who have seized control of the country. Theycannot imagine any motives that could be different from their own. Butone cannot live in a complex society without other motives, much less manage drive from it those authorities that desire to make society even more primitive for this they invent ‘spies’ and ‘extremists’. Andwe know, from what happened in Russia just 70years ago, what will happen next.

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