Friday, February 22, 2019

Increase in Number of Terrorist Cases in Russia Takes on a Life of Its Own

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – Two novels about Stalin’s purges present diametrically opposed views on how things happen in totalitarian conditions.  Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon suggests everything is a result of the decisions of the dictator, while Victor Serge’s The Case of Comrade Tulayev says the dictator may start the process but then it takes on a life of its own.

            Koestler’s book is far better known, but as ever more information comes out about what happened in the 1930s, it is clear that Serge’s is the more insightful not only for that period but even more for what has been taking place in the Russian Federation as Vladimir Putin has sought to repress ever more groups.

            There is no question now or in the 1930s that the dictator makes the decisions about broad policy directions but that individuals down the power pyramid apply them in ways that serve their interests by attracting attention, gaining promotion or even getting others who may be restricting the scope of their activity out of the way.

            That has at least three consequences. First, it means that dictators often are able to escape blame both at the time and later because there is little or no direct evidence to link them to their crimes. Second, the repression drives they spark often spread faster and further than even they intend. And third, such drives, having a momentum of their own, are not easy to stop.

            This pattern has been repeated again and again under Vladimir Putin.  The most recent example involves the rapid increase in the number of charges and convictions  for extremism and terrorism, a trend documented by Memorial and analyzed by Igor Yasin for Radio Svoboda’s IdelReal portal (

                Memorial’s Darya Kostromina tells Yasin that a major explanation for the explosive growth of such cases has been that officials who launch and carry through such cases to conviction, having received signals that this is what the center wants, know that by doing so, “they will receive promotions after a certain time.”

                “This is a self-reproducing atmosphere,” she continues, adding that “I do not think they have any plan. More likely, this is [the product of] their own career motivation in the majority of cases.” Defense lawyer Timofey Shirokov agrees and says that this drive for promotion works throughout the court and justice system.

            Each new repressive law, when the center gives the signal, works in the same way, he suggests. But fortunately, there is now one way out for the victims of this process that they didn’t have in Stalin’s time: the possibility of appealing to the European Court for Human Rights and embarrassing the Russian powers that be into better behavior.

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