Friday, May 4, 2018

Totalitarianism Exists When Anyone is at Risk of Official Repression, Ponomaryev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – “Totalitarianism has many definitions,” longtime Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomaryev says; “but for [him] its chief characteristic is when under the wheels of repression can fall the most ordinary people who have not set as their goal political struggle with the regime.”

            That is what is now happening in the Russian Federation, he says, as the forces of repression have moved on from repressing opposition figures and demonstrators to repressing ordinary citizens who have done nothing that could possibly justify official actions against them (

            The stage for this tragic development was set in December 2017 when FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov said there was clear line of succession from the Cheka of Lenin’s times to the OGPU and NKVD of Stalin’s to the FSB of today.  “For those who haven’t lost their memory of history, this sounded like an evil warning.”

            “And now already we can assert that it is beginning to be achieved. The political initiative in internal cases of the country before our eyes is passing into the hands of the FSB,” just as it passes into the hands of its Soviet era predecessors with horrific consequences for the population at large.

            Unfortunately, it does not appear that many Russians are alarmed. “According to the latest polls of the Levada Center, only five percent of Russians are concerned about the limitation of rights and freedoms in the country,” apparently believing that the regime is directly repressive actions only against its declared opponents.

            Recent cases in which completely innocent and non-political people have been subjected to repressive actions by the security services highlight how this dangerous process is being repeated. First, the organs invent cases to go after opposition figures who have not taken any real action, and then, they use similarly invented cases to go after anyone in a random fashion.

             “Why were such cynical falsifications undertaken?” Some say that “the security forces want to demonstrate their vigilance” in advance of the World Cup competition. “But I think the causes are deeper,” Podrabinek says. Today, “the siloviki and the FSB in the first instance not feeling any limitations on their actions … are dictating their model of life in Russia.”

            The organs “hunt down civil activists, they fabricate cases for posts and likes on social networks, and they propose laws which limit the rights and freedoms of citizens. The ‘FSB Corporation’ has received power, it is expanding, and it is seeking work for itself.” Consequently, it is looking for new enemies to go after even if they don’t exist.

             Such institutions and their officers “will resolve any problem by force.” That is the way of security services, but in democratic countries, they are limited by effective courts and by public attitudes that will not put up with such violation of rights. Unfortunately, in Russia, both of those things are lacking.

            How then can Russians hope to limit the power of the siloviki?  According to Podrabinek, people “must fight for the maintenance of constitutional norms.” A good example of this is when 15,000 Russians went into the streets in Moscow to protest the government’s blocking of the Telegram messenger service.

            “We must also actively defend those against whom such invented cases are lodged or who are subject to torture,” the human rights activist continues.  And the time to do so is rapidly running out.

                According to Podrabinek, “the FSB is strengthening its influence in society. This is an inertial process,” and officers at all levels think that they can gain preferment and advancement by following the course of spreading repression.  “This is a chaotic process, but it is very dangerous for the country.”  

            If the FSB is not stopped, he says, then it will soon be able to arrest and send to prison anyone it likes regardless of what that individual thinks or does. “Hundreds of thousands of users of social networks will fall into the list of extremists [and] the next step will be massive political repressions.”

            Russia has seen this before:  it must not see it again.

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