Staunton, March 24 – This past week, by means of a denial of service attack, the Russian authorities have shut down the Free Urals portal, Andrey Romanov, its editor says, an action that no Russian opposition group or Western government has protested but one that shows that the Kremlin is more afraid of regionalism than of many other things that get more media attention.
Moscow has been working to shut down regionalist sites and organizations in recent months. But the moves against Romanov’s portal appear to represent a step up in repression. For background, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/01/moscow-steps-up-campaign-against.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/03/ever-more-active-idel-ural-movement.html
The Urals regionalist treats such attacks as an indication of the success his movement has had, a movement that is entirely the work of people in that region and that enjoys no sponsorship from other opposition groups or from Western NGOs or governments. “None of today’s opposition resources, even those outside of Russia have achieved such results as we.”
Moscow’s moves, he says, reflect the fact that the Free Urals movement is engaged in “real struggle and not the imitation of struggle.”
Russian opposition groups must understand, Romanov says, that “America does not owe [them] anything. That [they] must be interested in the liberation of their own people from Muscovite occupation, that [they] must work not for money but for an idea, that this msu tnot be [their] work but [their] life.”
Just how difficult that life can and will be is suggested by a profile of the 43-year-old Romanov by Helsinki’s Iltaleht newspaper (iltalehti.fi/kotimaa/a/8d303168-f47c-4b88-b1d4-36f05da2648e; in Russian at inosmi.ru/social/20190323/244793922.html). It suggests that he has been reduced to collecting bottles to sell in order to have enough money to eat.
Romanov’s path to dissidence and the promotion of independence for the Urals region began in 2004 when the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine at which he worked was sold off and he and other workers began to suffer as a result. They weren’t paid and organized a group to demand that the owners pay them what they were owed.
In 2010, he was laid off, an action he challenged in court. He took part in a protest, a video of which was posted on line, and he soon became the object of the attentions of the police because officials said the video promoted hatred of “a specific group of people – those serving in the police force.”
Things got worse when Moscow invaded Ukraine. Romanov and his wife were opposed and spoke out against the Anschluss. He wrote and posted on line an article which argued that Russians could have a better future only if Putin were driven from office and featured a photograph with the legend ‘Death to the Crimean Occupiers!’”
For that he was charged with anti-government activities; and fearing the worst, he, his wife, and their daughter fled to Finland where in 2015, they received political asylum. On arrival, he began to participate in the Free Idel-Ural movement, a group which calls for the independence of the Urals region from Russia.
His wife and daughter did not take part in this; and after a certain time, the Finnish paper reports, they left him. He subsists on money from the Finnish government, but 80 percent of what he gets goes for rent and to have enough money to eat, he collects bottles on the street and sells them for recycling.
But Romanov considers himself fortunate: he has asylum in Finland. The number of Russians seeking that status has risen from 192 in 2016 to 490 last year, but the number who have been granted asylum has remained small. In 2016, 56 Russians were; last year, only 16 – and most of those were Jehovah’s Witnesses rather than political opponents of the Kremlin.