Thursday, July 2, 2015

As in Stalin’s Times, ‘Big Zone’ and ‘Small Zone’ in Russia are Converging, Ponomaryev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 2 – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously divided the Soviet Union into two “zones.”  The GULAG about which he wrote was “the small zone,” while the entire rest of the country under Stalin’s rule was “the big zone.”  And he documented the ways in which these two zones interacted and affected one another in the most negative ways.

            Tragically, Moscow human rights activist Lev Ponomaryev says, despite “all the enormous changes” from Stalin’s times to Putin’s, these two zones still existence and interact, with no one having the ability to defend his rights and everyone left feeling “complete alienation from the authorities” ([NG1] [NG2] [NG3] ).

            Again as in Stalin’s times, “citizens believe” on the country’s leader, then the general secretary of the party, now the president, “and those incarcerated a little of what the procuracy demands.”

            In this situation, Ponomaryev continues, “social processes like liberalization, corruption, property differentiation, a harshening of morals and ever more frequent use of force by the authorities” in the “big zone,” “inevitably are reflected in the life of jails, colonials and investigative facilities” of the “small” one.

            And conversely, “the camp ‘caste’ system and criminal ‘understandings’ ever more fully enter into” the lives of people in society as a whole. Exactly as with regard to repressive practice.” And consequently, when the jailors behave worse or encourage their inmates to do the same, something similar will soon occur outside the barbed wire fences as well.

            Sometimes that happens because the inmates reenter the larger society or their jailors change jobs and bring with them the habits they acquired in “the small zone.” But sometimes it happens because the Kremlin sees something that works in the jails and camps and decides to copy it in “the big zone.”

            That should make what happens in the penal system a matter of priority concern for all Russians, Ponomaryev says; but he points out that it is necessary to remember that with regard to what the jailors do to the jailed, “the only restraining factor” is publicity, and he notes that the authorities are doing everything they can to block information from getting out.

            In Russia today, “we already feel the decay of the economy: unemployment and inflation are growing, production is falling, and real incomes and pensions are declining.” Moreover, “corruption is in no way decreasing. It is obvious that all these trends are felt in a still more troubling way behind bars.”

            Rights activists get reports on this every day, Ponomaryev says. “Tension in the colonies is growing,” as four “so-called bunts” in Irkutsk, Nizhny Novgorod, and Chelyabinsk oblasts and in Bashkortostan, show.

            “What has been the reaction of the authorities?” Ponomaryev asks. “On this side of the barbed wire, they are preparing for mass protests and tightening the screws.” On that side, they are imposing ever more draconian conditions on those incarcerated. And the two trends are feeding on each other.

            The crowning example of this interaction was the creation of the Anti-Maidan, “the militants of which openly attack on officially agreed to pickets and meetings” and go after journalists and activists with impunity, just as trusties do in jails and camps, Ponomaryev continues.

            “How does glasnost look in the big zone?” he asks rhetorically. The situation is not good. Anyone who speaks the truth about the violation of the constitution and international norms is accused of being “an enemy of the people” and part of “a fifth column,” just as he would have been under Stalin.

            “In general, everything is being done so that both zones have become as closed as possible and a single concentration camp” uniting the two zones into one “has taken shape.” That is suggested by things like the “’law of sadists’” which gives jailors virtually free rein to beat and otherwise mistreat prisoners.

            To prevent the situation in the small zone from becoming even worse and then spreading to the big zone, Ponomaryev says, five steps must be taken at once. First, “’the law of sadists’” must be annulled. Second, the government must eliminate all arrangements that give power to some prisoners over others.

            Third, arrangements must be put in place so that investigative organs and procurators will respond quickly to “all reports about crimes related to convicts.” Fourth, lawyers, activists, and others must be given “free access” to prisoners. And fifth, Russia needs to come up with a system in which prisoners are re-socialized before being sent back into “the big zone.”

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