Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Defending Human Rights in Russia’s Closed Cities Especially Hard, Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 6 – Almost by definition, what goes on in Russia’s closed cities remains largely unknown, and outsiders are prevented from finding out what happens or doing anything about it. That makes an article by Ekaterina Malysheva in the regionalist portal 7x7 especially valuable.

            In reviewing a 61-page report by Penza’s Civic Union about the state of human rights in that oblast over the last year (, she asked local activists for their views (

            Remarkably, one of the people Malysheva interviewed as Maksim Zotov, who describes himself as a human rights activist from Zarechny, a closed city of atomic energy workers not far from Penza. Both because of the rarity of such reporting and the content of his remarks make Zotov’s words noteworthy.

            The activist says that in his closed city, lawyers have lost their way and law enforcement has been corrupted. Attorneys won’t challenge anything those in power do but rather seek to have their clients confess to whatever the powers that be charge them with. They tell their clients that nothing else will work.

            What is especially disturbing, Zotov says, is that a few years ago, it was possible to complain and have a reasonable expectation that one’s complaint would at least be investigated. Now, complaining only gets those who do it in further trouble. People in the closed cities remain Soviet in their mindsets. They expect someone else will solve their problems.

            That is the height of naivete, he concludes.

            Oleg Sharipkov, the head of the Civic Union, which prepared the report, says that the situation in his oblast and in its closed cities didn’t come into existence “in a vacuum.” What is true there is true in many parts of Russia because this is “a typical provincial region” in which activism is fading and people feel them have no recourse but to go along with the powers.

            But another local activist, Anton Strunin, says that while conditions are getting worse, “civil society certainty is growing.” More people are willing to challenge officials; and while they haven’t achieved all that much so far, the fact that they are trying provides some basis for optimism about the future.

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