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The Real Russia. Today. Language politics, higher pay to stop prison torture, and rockers drop out of a ‘militarized’ festival

Meduza

Wednesday, July 25, 2018 (Dear readers, Meduza’s newsletter is going on a short hiatus and will return on Wednesday, August 1.)

This day in history. On July 25, 1980, the acclaimed Russian musician Vladimir Vysotsky died at the age of 42, after a lifetime of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse. To this day, Vysotsky remains one of Russia's most celebrated cultural figures.
  • Lawmakers move ahead with controversial ‘freedom to choose’ language legislation
  • The Yaroslavl prison torture scandal: the UN wants answers, and a human rights official says guards need higher pay
  • Pussy Riot activists get small fines for wearing police uniforms on their World Cup streak
  • Monetochka joins the growing list of musicians dropping out of a major festival because of organizers' military ties
  • Russia's human rights commissioner wants two jailed women accused of extremism to be released on house arrest
  • Russia is getting a new independent investigative news outlet
  • The State Duma appoints an avowed Stalinist to head its Culture Committee

Classroom politics 📚

The State Duma has adopted the third and final reading of legislation that will shore up families’ freedom to choose their children’s language of instruction and studied native language. The head of the Duma’s Education Committee admitted that implementation of this right could be limited by the available resources at specific schools in particular regions.

The reforms should consolidate students’ right to learn in their native languages (so long as it’s one of the languages of a people formally belonging to the Russian Federation), as well as the study of their native language or the official language of their region. Sources in Yakutia and Tatarstan told the newspaper Kommersant that they fear many students won’t risk studying their native languages, because college-entry standardized testing is only in Russian.

Language study became a national policy issue last year, after Vladimir Putin said publicly that regional governments shouldn’t force students to learn national languages (other than Russian). The debate was especially heated in Tatarstan, which has its own fiercely held identity: local officials accused schools of imposing the study of Tatar as a native language. Teachers, on the other hand, started complaining about class-load cutbacks and layoffs.

The Yaroslavl prison torture scandal 👊

The United Nations’ Committee Against Torture has asked Russia’s UN delegation to comment on the Yaroslavl prison torture video leaked to the media last week. According to the newspaper Kommersant, the committee wants to know what protection the authorities are providing to Irina Biryukova, the human rights lawyer who fled Russia after learning of threats against her. (Biryukova is the attorney of the inmate who was tortured in the video, and she is the one who turned the footage over to reporters. Read Meduza’s interview with her here.)

💰 Just pay them more?

Presidential Human Rights Council chairman Mikhail Fedotov says Russia’s penitentiary system should introduce stricter standards and higher pay when hiring prison guards, in order to reduce the mistreatment of inmates. “The work is complicated, to put it mildly,” Fedotov said on July 25. “And the salary is, to put it mildly, low,” he added, saying that junior inspectors earn just 25,000 rubles ($400) per month.

Fined for World Cup activist shenanigans ⚽️

The Pussy Riot members who streaked across the soccer field dressed as police cadets during the World Cup final have been fined 1,500 rubles (about $25) for illegally wearing police uniforms. The activists are currently serving 15-day jail sentences for disrupting the sporting event. Also they are forbidden to attend other sporting events for the next three years. The activists say they wanted to draw attention to political prisoners in Russia and the country’s lack of political competition.

Another one bites the dust 🎤

Elizaveta Gyrdymova — aka “Monetochka” (Lil’ Coin) — has pulled out of the 2018 Nashestvie (“Invasion”) music festival, which will take place in early August. “I’m sorry that I didn’t warn you sooner. Peace to everyone,” Gyrdymova wrote on Vkontakte on Wednesday. Organizers told the magazine RBC that she dropped out of the festival “more than a month ago.”

Monetochka joins a growing list of musicians who have canceled their performances at the festival because of the organizers’ continued cooperation with Russia’s Defense Ministry. The musicians argue that rock music is “incompatible with militarism.”

Meduza wrote an extensive review of Monetochka’s latest album. Read it here.

Let the girls go 👮‍♂️

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova is asking a court to release two extremism suspects on house arrest. In March, Moscow arrested six people who allegedly belong to an extremist group called Novoe Velichenie (“New Greatness”). Four of those suspects are currently in pretrial detention, including Maria Dubovik and Anna Pavlikova, whose mothers published a video appeal to Vladimir Putin in early June, demanding that he order their daughters’ release and punish the officers who “framed” them. Moskalkova says these two young women shouldn’t be in pretrial detention.

The mothers claim their daughters merely liked to hang out at the same McDonald’s as several older people who were responsible for the “New Greatness” opposition movement. The mothers also accuse the police of fabricating documents as evidence against their children. “Do you really have no other enemies than my daughter?” Pavlikova’s mother asks in the video.

According to the websites OVD-Info and Medizazona, the Moscow police had at least one officer embedded undercover in the movement’s leadership.

A new investigative outlet on the horizon 🗞

Roman Badanin, the former chief editor of the independent television station Dozhd, is launching his own media outlet, and calling it Proekt (“Project”). The new outlet will have its own website, release podcasts, and publish content on YouTube.

Badanin told the newspaper Vedomosti that the newsroom will comprise a staff of 10 people, starting with a budget of $500,000. “I’ve got one goal, simple and clear: to become the main investigative media [outlet] in Russia,” he explained.

Roman Badanin served as the chief editor of Dozhd from 2016 to 2017. Before that, he was the online chief editor of the magazine RBC.

Meet the new boss 😳

The State Duma has formally appointed United Russia deputy Elena Yampolskaya to replace Stanislav Govorukhin, who died on June 14, as chairperson of the Committee on Culture. The chief editor of the newspaper Kultura, Yampolskaya is infamous for her statements in support of Joseph Stalin and Russia’s ban on so-called “gay propaganda.”

Here are a few of her more noteworthy public comments over the years:

  • On God and Stalin: “There are two forces that can keep Russia from the abyss: the first is called God, and the second is Stalin.” (February 2007)
  • On nationalism: “Nationalism is more than economics, politics, and social injustice. It’s the answer of the body and soul to the imposed erasure of borders and the globalization of our more than intimate (our genetic) space.” (January 2011)
  • On homosexuality: “You know, the noticeable growth in our readership this last summer is due to the fact that Kultura supported the law banning gay propaganda.” (October 2013)
  • On pension reform: “Early retirement isn’t something sacred for us. For many — not for everyone, of course — but for many, this isn’t some urgent need, but a matter of habit, in the same zone as psychological comfort — and only psychological.” (July 2018)

Yampolskaya has served in the Duma since 2016. She was previously the first deputy chairperson of the Committee on Information Policy, Information Technology, and Communications.

Yours, Meduza